Friday, April 12, 2013

Guest Post! Hoodwinked with Jesse

So, because it is looking doubtful that a book review is going to be posted today (I’m sorry guys; I know I’m so behind. April has been stupid busy at both jobs, I’ve got a show opening tonight, and it’s not that I’ve been procrastinating on writing the reviews — I honestly haven’t had time to read the books), have a guest review from Jesse (codedlockfilms)!

Fairy Tale Reviews: Hoodwinked! by Jesse Coder

Hail and well met, friends. So, I am a big ol’ fan of fairy tales that have been deconstructed and told from another perspective. This penchant of mine began in the early 90’s when I first read Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, a short children’s book of parody fairy tales, including such stories as “Cinderrumpelstilskin,” “Chicken Licken,” and yes, “Little Red Running Shorts.” My love for this type of story continued with some of Scieszka’s other books, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Frog Prince, Continued (seriously, if you have not read any of Scieszka’s books, give them a look) and has continued to this day. Into the Woods is one of my favorite theatre productions ever, I adore the Maynard Moose Tales by Willy Claflin, and I greatly enjoy Enchanted, which is, in my opinion, one of Disney’s most underrated movies.

And yet, for as much as I love this type of story, I had not seen Hoodwinked! until about 6 or 7 years after it came out. This was not a movie that advertised itself well. The trailers looked dumb, the animation looked really half-assed, and it just seemed generally unappealing. I probably would have never seen the movie at all if not for my friend Jethro, and when I saw this movie for the first time, it reminded me of something. You see, no matter what your preconceptions are, no matter how well you might think you have something pegged, no matter how often your instincts about your entertainment are proven correct, you should at least give everything a chance, because stuff can still surprise you. Hoodwinked! is not only one of my favorite fairy tale adaptations; it is also a proud member of my personal favorite-movies-ever list. So let’s take a look at the film, shall we?

Hoodwinked! begins with the climax. Interesting choice. Okay, it doesn’t begin with THE climax, just A climax. Specifically, the climax of the Red Riding Hood story with which we are all familiar. Red Riding Hood enters her granny’s house and finds the wolf in her grandmother’s bed, wearing a conveniently provided costume, complete with a novelty mask. Where he got that, we don’t know. At the moment. More on that shortly. They do that whole “what big blanks, the better to blank you with” deal (wow, that sounds really bad when worded like that) and the Wolf swiftly loses his cool. He and Red square off, Granny stumbles out of the closet all tied up, and the Woodsman bursts through a window, swinging his axe and yelling like a crazy person. The title screen then pops up, and we cut to shortly thereafter, where the police have the place surrounded and cordoned off, with Red, Granny, the Wolf, and the Woodsman all in custody. The police chief, a grizzly bear, decides to just take them all downtown, though as one of the officers points out, they don’t have a downtown, this being the woods and all. But before he can do so, a famous frog detective by the name of Nicky Flippers stops by to get to the bottom of the case. He begins to interrogate each of the suspects to get their respective versions of the story, beginning with Red.

She begins her day like any other, making deliveries for her Granny Puckett’s sweets shop. See, the forest in which this story takes place has something of a pastry-based economy, where the only goods that ever seem to get exchanged are cakes, crumpets, muffins, things of that sort. And schnitzel. But we’ll get to that. Red spends a short amount of time talking to a bunny named Boingo, who tells her that he is no longer able to make deliveries for the Muffin Man. This is because the Muffin Man is the latest victim of a criminal known as the Goody Bandit, who has been stealing recipes all over the forest, putting everyone out of business. Red decides to take the recipe book from her shop and make the dangerous trip up the mountain to her Granny’s house, where she believes that the recipes will be safe. She disguises the recipes within a fake basket of goodies and takes a short cable car ride towards the mountain peaks, but ends up accidentally falling out of the car and landing completely unharmed in the middle of the woods, because this is a cartoon, and you can do things like that. She encounters the Wolf, who asks her a bunch of questions and acts generally suspicious before attempting to take the basket from her. She proceeds to beat the crap out of him and escapes by tricking him into falling into the river. Awesome. She then finds a path up the mountain and encounters Japeth the mountain goat. And please, if you go the rest of your life without seeing Hoodwinked!, please at least watch this one scene. It’s edited for time; it’ll only take you three and a half minutes, and you will be glad you watched it. Just trust me, no summarization could possibly convey the humor of this scene adequately. Go on, watch it. I’ll wait.

No, seriously, I’ll wait. This post will still be here in three and a half minutes. Go.

…Did you watch it? I hope so, because all I am going to say is, “I know! Amazing, right?” And you’ll need to know what happens in that scene to understand some of the stuff I talk about in the rest of this post. No, I am not giving you a choice. Watch the damn scene.

Red then arrives at Granny Puckett’s house and the opening climax happens again, albeit primarily from Red’s point of view. The detective then begins to question the Wolf, because there are a few distinct holes in Red’s telling of the story. The Wolf, as it turns out, is actually an investigative reporter who formerly worked on the old Stiltskin case, chasing down leads on his real name. Cute. He is currently investigating the Goody Bandit case, and believes that Red is a prime suspect, since more goodies pass through her hands than anyone else in the forest. He follows her around looking for evidence, and approaches her in the woods to ask her the questions we saw him asking earlier in the movie. Through this, we get new insight into the events of the scene in question. For instance, Red heard him growling before coming out of the bushes, but it was really his stomach growling because he skipped lunch. Also, his supposed “attack” on her was actually just him crying out in pain as his tail gets caught in his photographer’s camera winder. The reason he asks questions of her is not because he wants to eat her Granny, but because he is a reporter. The reason he tries to steal the basket is because he thinks the stolen recipes are inside. That sort of thing. We also learn why the track that Red was on earlier was blown out. (Told you you’d need to watch that scene.) He then shows up at Granny Puckett’s cottage looking for more clues. In an attempt to get some answers out of Red, he disguises himself using some novelty Granny Puckett merchandise (remember, she runs a famous sweets shop) and the opening climax plays again from yet another perspective.

As with Red’s story, there are still some holes left over, so the Woodsman is questioned, and as it turns out, he actually has very little to do with the story at hand. He’s not really a woodsman; he’s a struggling actor named Kirk who tried out for a part in a commercial for Paul’s Bunion Cream. His day job is driving a schnitzel truck for a bunch of nightmare fuel children. He got a callback for the audition and was in the forest doing a bit of method acting when he chopped down a particularly large tree and ended up accidentally on top of it. He rolled down a hill and crashed through Granny Puckett’s window, screaming in terror. Like you do.

With Kirk not being much help, it’s Granny’s turn to be questioned, and she confesses her big secret: She is an extreme sports junkie that goes by the handle of “Triple G.” I am so not even kidding. She is in the middle of competing in a high-speed downhill ski race when she is attacked by the “European team,” a team secretly made up of mercenaries sent by the Goody Bandit to put Granny out of commission. If you haven’t yet figured this out, this movie is kind of insane. To get rid of them, she uses a few grenades (because of course she has grenades) to cause the avalanche that almost inadvertently killed Red (I really wasn’t kidding when I said you would need to see that scene) and parachutes down to her cottage. She accidentally lands in the chimney, gets tangled up in the parachute, and stumbles into the closet, which is why she is tied up in the opening climax.

With the questioning done, Nicky Flippers considers the evidence, while Red slips away to have an existential crisis about what it actually means to be a Puckett, since basically everything she knew about her grandmother is a lie. This is honestly the weakest part of the movie, and while it’s mostly played for laughs, it’s still kind of forced. But it’s only a small flaw in an otherwise solid movie. Nicky puts everything together and deduces that the Goody Bandit is actually the rabbit Boingo, since he was mentioned in all their stories at some point. It’s more complicated than that, but this is a summation, after all. Suffice it to say that you pretty much knew it was going to be him from the beginning, given that he was voiced by Andy Dick. See, Boingo was sick of working as a low-rate peon for the likes of Granny and the Muffin Man, so his plan is to steal every recipe in the woods, then blow up the entire forest and build a massive factory, where he will put addictive chemicals into his sweets and take over the market. Yeah…

Um, Boingo, I get that you’re the cartoonishly evil villain and everything, but how exactly do you plan on controlling the entire market for sweets when you’re about to blow up the forest that the market exists to serve? I don’t care how addictive your goodies are; you can’t sell cookies to smoking piles of rubble and charred flesh. You just don’t seem to have really thought this one through, is all I’m saying. My advice is to not be voiced by Andy Dick if you can help it; he doesn’t really possess the ability to play characters with actual dimension.

So Red confronts Boingo, but it turns out that he knows ear-based kung fu, so he beats her and straps her into the cable car that is set to blow the forest sky-high. If it seems like my descriptions are a little dry here, please understand that it is only because this is the kind of movie where such bizarre things happen that I think the best way to make it entertaining is to just tell you what happens and let the events speak for themselves. Luckily, the Wolf, Kirk, and Granny are able to mount a rescue, since the cops have already gone in the wrong direction, expecting to find the Goody Bandit robbing Red’s cottage. The cable car is sent down the mountain, but Red manages to free herself from her restraints as Granny grinds down the rail on a muffin pan to help her escape. They free the cable car from the line, and it falls into the river, and since the explosives powerful enough to level a forest were underwater when they went off, no harm is done. Cartoon, remember? The villains are captured and sent to prison, the recipes are returned, and Nicky Flippers invites our protagonists to join a secret team that travels the world ensuring that stories have happy endings. And our movie comes to a close.

Hoodwinked! is a movie that only exists because of a lot of luck. Its animation is distinctly subpar, the result of a less than 8 million dollar budget, which is pocket change in the world of animation. But the animation they could afford is used to great effect. It may not look smooth overall, but each character is animated with a distinct personality and the comedic timing is flawless. This is a movie that was made not because some big studio thought it would make a ton of money, but because a tiny team of creative people knew they had a good idea and fought tooth and nail to make it happen. It had a fantastic cast of voice actors, including the talents of Glenn Close, Anne Hathaway, Patrick Warburton, Jim Belushi, and many others. But does it hit the important points on Cassie’s list?

1. Make Little Red less of an idiot. Absolutely. She is portrayed as very intelligent, independent, and able to take care of herself, as well as being much more proactive. It’s her idea to take the recipes to Granny for safekeeping, it’s her that confronts the villain first, and thankfully, she also didn’t fall for the Wolf’s disguise. She just wanted to keep him talking long enough to get him to incriminate himself, since she thinks he might be the Goody Bandit. She has a distinct character arc, if a relatively small one, and was a very enjoyable protagonist.

2. Develop the world. Yes. The forest has a defined geography, culture, and even an economy. It’s not just the wolves who talk; it’s all the animals, to the point that humans are actually a very small minority. The wolf doesn’t want to eat the humans; he wants to get a scoop on the Goody Bandit. The wolf isn’t mistaken for Granny; that is an act on Red’s part. A little girl is allowed to go by herself into the woods because the animals are all completely sentient and possessed of human-level intelligence, so they are safe to interact with unless they happen to be evil. The only question that isn’t really answered is what the carnivorous animals eat. It’s sort of implied that they do get hungry for meat, but we can probably just assume that they subsist mainly on sweets, just like everyone else.

3. Give me a point. Yes. In fact, that is the whole idea behind the movie: To give the original story a point by looking at the perspectives of each of the characters involved and figure out what is really going on with the story at hand. The reason we are telling this story is to finish telling the story. If that makes sense. There are even little messages about growing up and moving on, as well as teaching the value of honesty. Plus a message about being prepared. Quite well done.

As I have said, Hoodwinked! is not a movie that I expected to enjoy. But as I sit before you, behind the words and lines of code, through the tubes of the Internet and back onto my computer where I am typing this long before you will see it, I say to you that despite its limitations, it is brilliantly constructed, brilliantly acted, and it is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen in my entire life. Do yourself a favor and see it at least once. I guarantee that you will not regret it. Or at least watch that one scene. The link’s still up there, if you haven’t looked already.

Do it.

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