January 19, 2006

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FILM: Hoodwinked (PG)

by Amy Diaz

The search for the pot of gold that is the all-ages-friendly, slightly-smart-ass, kid-adoring animated movie (Shrek) continues with the fairy tale-riffing-on Hoodwinked, a Usual Suspects take on “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Cleveritis — it’s not a fatal disease but it is highly communicable and has infected nearly every kids’ movie released in the last five years. Unlike other diseases spread in Hollywood, cleveritis is born of good intentions. Shrek made a lot of money but it did for the best possible reason, which is that it was a good movie. Its story was well-constructed; the writing was tight; the characters were engaging, from the quirky Princess Fiona (with Cameron Diaz’s not-your-average-princessy voice) to the grumpy hero Shrek (voiced with pitch-perfect exasperation by Mike Meyers). The movie felt fresh and had just the right mix of child-friendly fairy tale and adult-friendly sarcastic asides.

Here’s the thing, though: Shrek’s been done. To make a movie that’s like Shrek, that gets the same audience response, you have to make a different movie.

Hoodwinked takes a Dragnety approach to the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” — with the pigs, pelicans and frogs who make up The Woods PD showing up at Grandma’s house. Red (Anne Hathway), the Wolf (Patrick Warburton), Granny (Glenn Close) and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi) sit cuffed and each possessing of a different story of what went down. Detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) doesn’t believe that it’s quite the open-and-shut case it initially appears. The all-sass Red is sure that Wolf is the bandit who’s been stealing the baked good recipes from snack bars and bakeries all over the Woods and is now gunning for Granny’s recipes in an attempt to shut down her bakery. The Wolf thinks that Red’s the culprit and is working for Granny to help put the competitors out of business (it turns out that the Wolf’s big mouth isn’t all the better to eat Red with but to talk about what an excellent reporter he is — along with a manic squirrel he digs up the dirt for the local newspaper). Granny isn’t as worried about the goodie recipe bandit as she is about her family finding out her pastime: turns out Granny’s an extreme sports enthusiast, snowboarding and base jumping when she’s not making muffins. And then there’s the Woodsman, who didn’t so much crash through the window to save the day but appeared after an elaborate accident caused as he practiced swinging an ax for his callback for a commercial.

Hoodwinked is, well, cute. Cute in the “oh, look, a SpongeBob Pez dispenser” way. It’s got that tinge of irony (kid presentation with adulty references); its characters are shiny and round like novelty gifts you’d buy at Newbury Comics and with the same sense of implied mild sarcasm. Some moments work and elicit actual laughs (an enchanted mountain goat; the Wolf’s tabloidy approach to investigation); some moments don’t (just about every Granny-as-snowboarder joke; most of the groaners involving the cop pigs). The bulk of the movie is somewhere in the middle, with adults smirking and way too many moments of clever-ish conversation breaking up the action that would keep younger kids engaged. Hoodwinked is the film equivalent of a rising-crust frozen pizza — it’s not a bad way to fill your tummy but still not as tasty as the fresh stuff.

C

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