I won’t lie guys, that exclamation mark frickin’ terrified me. Unless a movie is a prestigey old-timey musical, an exclamation point has no place in its title. You know what other independently produced CGI movie has an exclamation point in its title?
Fortunately, Hoodwinked! is not as bad as The Abomination and it’s not even the worst movie I’ve reviewed this year (although that is more an indictment of the year than an endorsement of the movie).
So what is Hoodwinked!?
Gah, see, this is the problem with having an exclamation point in the title. It looks like I’m screaming in panic.
Now Hoodwinked! was a movie that I was tangentially aware of. I’d never watched it, but I’d occasionally see it across the crowded room that is the modern animation landscape. And it would wink at me. And I would pretend I hadn’t noticed because it looked like the ugliest fucking Shrek rip-off I had ever seen and there wasn’t enough booze in the world for me to go home with it. But, like anyone who creates content on the internet for long enough, soon enough you find yourself doing things you never would have imagined doing. I watched Hoodwinked!
Funny story. Back when my brother and I were doing our YouTube channel we had an impression-off where we had to pull random characters out of a hat.
I pulled “Charlie Kelly from It’s Alway Sunny in Philadelphia” which I had never seen before. However, my flustered confused, panicky, high-pitched rambling attempts managed somehow to translate into a near pitch perfect impression of a character I knew absolutely nothing about.
Somehow, despite neither reading, understanding or even particularly liking Batman, Tim Burton’s sensibilities as a director were such a perfect fit for the character that he created probably the most influential depiction that there has ever been.
And it was huge, a box-office, critical and merchandising golden god that conquered all before it. Now, Burton had not enjoyed his time directing that film, so Warner Brothers offered him the one thing no Hollywood director can refuse; pure uncut Grade A coc…I mean, COMPLETE CREATIVE CONTROL.
And he did do it again for Uncle Warner, and what he did remains probably the most divisive Batman movie of them all. You probably either love it or hate it, there’s very little inbetween.
Whatever your opinion, I think we can all agree: It’s a Tim Burton movie.
In fact I would argue that it is THE Tim Burton movie.
Hello everyone. Recently I decided to get back into acting and I’m going to be appearing in a production of Comedy of Errors in two weeks time as Dromio of Ephesus aka the best Dromio.
Also, Spouse of Mouse is on a business trip leaving me with two orphans crying plaintively for their mother night and day.
Also, I have a really tight writing deadline to meet this week.
Ergo, review short. Soz.
Normally, a film like John Carter is exactly the kind of movie that I dread to review.
It aroused no strong feelings in me. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. But honestly, the more I watched it the more I realised…this is kinda good? I mean, the elements are really strong. For being a decade old, the effects hold up a lot better than most of what Disney is putting out today.
The cast is full of actors I love or at least have no ill will towards (I like Taylor Kitsch, y’all are just mean). The script is nothing spectacular but perfectly solid. There was clearly a lot of thought and love and creativity and subtle world-building that went into the design of its fictional Martian setting. And there’s some strikingly beautiful cinematography. Like this scene where John Carter is fleeing on horseback across the Arizona Territory pursued by Union Soldiers:
Just gorgeous, old fashioned film-making. There is a lot to like in John Carter.
And yet, and yet…something isn’t working here. Some wheel just ain’t clicking.
Some of you in the comments have noted that I’ve been a little, shall we say, down on the movies I’ve reviewed this year.
And some of you likewise professed that you enjoyed my review of Batman ’66purely because it was nice to see me actually praising something for once. I get it, I do. Negativity can be draining.
But, if it helps, this review will be less “negative” than “absolutely incredulous”.
What. The. Fuck. Is. This?
You know what’s weird? I remember seeing trailers for this movie! I remember thinking it looked quite good!
This was not some obscure direct to video release, this was in theatres! With a pretty top-tier cast!
This is not an amateur production, this clearly had a lot of money behind it and was released in the early nineties, an absolute golden age for feature animation where even lesser known (or, to be frank, lesser quality) films still have passionate fanbases of ageing elder millennials desperately clinging to the nostalgia of their fading childhoods in the face of an increasingly bewildering and terrifying present (no judgement, we’re all in the same boat).
And THEN I learned that this is the first and only film written and produced by Jon Acevski, a British businessman who decided to make an animated film based on stories he told his son about his toy frog (his son’s toy frog, I mean. I don’t believe Mr Acevski has a toy frog and if he does it is none of my business). And that’s sweet, that really is.
See, the thing about making movies is, they’re very expensive. And the people who back movies usually give their money to people who have demonstrated at least some competence in their field. But every so often, every so often, someone comes along who has no experience with writing, directing or anything really to do with the film-making process. But they do have money.
And when that happens? Oh, my friends, when that happens. That’s when you get the shit that makes my life worth living.
“Inexplicably popular” is a phrase that gets bandied around a lot. There’s plenty of books and movies and so on that achieve monumental success despite being, by any fair assessment, fucking terrible. But what about things that are inexplicably unpopular? What about those works that attract passionate, fiery loathing despite being very, very good indeed?
Because the Adam West Batman series is just the tops. It is genuinely one of the best tv comedies of its decade. It’s smart, it’s funky and it just captures the vibe of the sixties so well.
No, no, no. Not THOSE sixties. THESE sixties.
There, much better.
And yet, for the longest time it felt like the Adam West series was loved by everybody but Batman fans. And sure, having to listen to the millionth tired joke about “BIFF BAM KAPOW!” and shark repellant got real old, real fast, but that wasn’t the show’s fault.
Less forgivable was the frankly toxic level of vitriol that a subset of the Batman fandom had towards this show. Not quite Phantom Menace levels but close. And this rejection of everything that even vaguely resembled Batman ’66 was, I would argue, a big reason why the nineties in comics were so fucking try-hard and asinine, as the medium went through its angsty adolesence loudly proclaiming that comics are ACTUALLY REALLY DARK AND MATURE, MOM.
Thankfully, things seem to have turned a corner. As comics became mainstream and lost their stigma, the show has undergone a reappraisal as younger generations have discovered the series and realised that
The facts of the case, they are simple. Strange World, the youngest heir of a very long, very respectable line of animated features, went missing from the box office in the winter of last year. A few months later, it was found, face down in a cold stream of content. There are many possible suspects. The movie boasted Disney’s 98th first gay character. Perhaps this was a hate crime? Or perhaps Covid 19 was to blame? But no, I believe there can be only one killer. Monsieur Disney, J’ACCUSE!
(Man, I have GOT to write a Knive’s Out style murder mystery with sentient Disney movies, I have to do that.)
You’re all asking the wrong questions, you know.
The mystery is not “Why did Strange World flop?” I can tell you that right now.
Last year I sat down to plot out my review schedule for the next decade or so (I will never, ever, ever auction reviews off again. That was stupid. I was a stupid Mouse).
And this was an honest to God chain of thought I experienced:
Oh hey, I should probably put aside a slot to review the next canon Disney movie.
Oh damn, what even IS the next canon Disney movie?
Oh shit. Strange World? I haven’t heard anything about this. When is it coming out?
Oh fuck. It’s in theatres NOW.
Yeah. I’ve been reviewing the Disney canon since Obama and I both still had black in our hair and even I knew nothing about this thing. It didn’t fail because it as too gay or not gay enough or because every time Disney tries to make a sci-fi animated movie the monkey paw exacts a terrible price, NO. It failed because Disney didn’t market it and bad word of mouth delivered the coup de grace.
But what I can’t really get my head around is why Disney buried this so hard. I mean, it’s definitely bad, but it’s a kind of bad that Disney can and have managed to sell before. To take the most recent examples, Rayaand Wreck It Ralph 2 ate the box office alive and those are both, I remind you, hot effing garbage.
Was it really the fact that the main character is gay? I’ve always found that line of thinking flawed and conspiratorial. If a studio doesn’t want to release a movie with a gay main character, they can just, y’know, not make the movie and save the estimated €180 million dollars. But in this case…I dunno, maybe? It definitely feels like Disney has dropped bigger turds than this and yet was able to convince a sufficient amount of the population that it was selling them chocolate ice-cream. And hell, the reviews for this were actually very positive (not from me, I’m gonna dance on this thing’s fucking head) but most mainstream critics dutifully cooed “representation”, dropped a handful of stars and clocked off for lunch. It really was the audience reaction to this that was sharply negative. Maybe that was a homophobic backlash? Or maybe it was just the burgeoning realisation that most of Marvel/Disney/Pixar’s recent output has been trending worse and worse and people are now treating the brand less as a mark of quality than a warning label.
I don’t know and I’m not going to try to guess. I am DONE trying to game this kind of stuff out. Back in my Raya review I said that the age of Disney movies being big, unifying cultural events was over only for Encanto to come along and be that exact thing. I cautiously mused that Encanto might be the Disney ship righting itself only for Strange World to come along, cough once and die on my carpet so fuck it. I am just going to review the damn movie and leave the big pronouncements to people who actually know what they’re talking about.
Hey kids, know what time it is? It’s “Mouse uses his folklore degree” time!
I know, I know, I’m excited too.
So, do you want to know what the difference is between a myth, a legend and a fairy tale (or “wonder tale” as the cool kids call them)?
A myth is a narrative relic from a now defunct religion. Thor, Odin, Zeus etc were all once worshipped, so any stories relating to them are myths.
A legend takes place in a real place and time, and may feature real historical figures but is nonetheless fictional or even fantastical. So, Saint Patrick casting out the snakes from Ireland is a legend. He was a real person, Ireland is a real place (I mean, I hope) but the events described are fictional. That’s a legend.
And lastly, a wonder tale takes place in a far off land in an unspecified time and is wholly fictional. Anything that begins with “Once Upon a Time, in a Land Far Far Away” will be a wonder tale. So Snow White, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, you get the idea.
Pinocchio is a book. With an accredited author. Published just a century before I was born. It is not a piece of ancient world folklore. So when Pinocchio and Gepetto showed up in Once Upon a Time, a series puportedly about “fairy tale” characters, I was a bit confused because they have about as much in common with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Hermione Granger. But of course, we all know why they’re actually here. Because this is a Disney show (well, an ABC show) and Disney made Pinocchio in 1940 (AND WISELY NEVER TRIED TO MAKE IT AGAIN).
And look, I’m sorry, I’ll get into the merits of the show in a bit, but something about this makes me deeply uneasy. Okay, here’s the premise of Once Upon a Time:
In a magical Fairy Tale Land, Prince Charming wakes Snow White and they get married. But the Evil Queen puts a spell on them that pulls them all into the real world and places them in a town called Storybrooke (sigh) where they spend decades living the same lives and never age. Only the Queen’s adopted son, Henry, seems to know the truth, as he has a magic book of fairy tales and has been able to piece together which fairy tale character everyone in town actually is. So what’s my problem?
Well, let’s take Grumpy. Grumpy is just one of the seven dwarves who we see in the background as Snow White’s story plays out. Now, this is very clearly not the 1938 Disney Snow White. The characters all look different, sound different, are costumed differently.
This is not based on the movie but a new version based on the original folk tale, right? All the elements we see here, Snow White, the Prince, the Queen, the magic mirror, the dwarves, are all from the original story. I mean, that’s the clear implication. But here’s the thing.
Grumpy is a Disney character. They created him. In the original story, the dwarves don’t have individual names or personalities. The famous names we know today were all Disney’s invention. And by including original Disney characters like Grumpy and Jiminy Cricket it feels like Disney are trying to Trojan horse them in to the canon of European folklore. It feels like an attempt to make Disney’s Snow White the ONLY Snow White, subtly implying that their version is the definitive one. And yeah, I know that it probably wasn’t intentional. I know the creators probably just thought “hey, we have the rights to Elsa from Frozen let’s use her”. But when has giving Disney the benefit of the doubt worked ever out well for anyone?
I keep doing this, y’know. This is like when I reviewed the Universal Dracula and Frankenstein, and just assumed that because they were both horror movies made in the thirties by the same studio they must be roughly equivalent in quality.
Not so, dear reader. Not so.
Now, The Batman, the first big screen outing of the caped crusader, was not a good film. Even looking past its use of yellowface and a stance on the internment of Japanese Americans that could charitably be called “a bit unwoke”, it was very much a movie serial of its time: cheap, poorly paced and of interest to the modern viewer mostly as a curiosity. But hot damn, compared to its sequel it is a masterpiece.
Take it from me, the gap in quality between The Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949) is on par with that between The Batman (2022) and Batman and Robin (1997).
So much so, that I genuinely needed to resort to watching the Rifftrax version to even make it through the damn thing.
Before we begin, please take a look at these quotes:
“So one of the things that surprised me about this movie on re-watching was that it is much better than I remembered, or at the very least far more interesting. Thor exists in a much richer emotional universe than the two IronMan movies or Hulk.”
“Something that I don’t think gets talked about when it comes to [Thor 2] is just how gorgeous it is. Seriously, the art design in this is just jaw dropping, it is hands down the best looking picture in the MCU.”
“A thought occurred to me as I watched Thor and the Revengers speeding towards a giant wormhole called the devil’s anus while blasting spaceships with lasers while Mark Mothersbaugh’s awesome techno score rippled in the background: is this movie the greatest thing ever? Yes. Yes it is.”
“Wow” you might ask. “What pathetic, gushing, blinkered, Thor-fanboy said THAT?”
“Um, me” I reply.
“Oh. Well, this is awkward” you might answer.
“Yeah. Yeah, maybe think before you say something really hurtful” I sob.
Sorry, feeling a bit emotional today. I put those quotes above to give some context. If there’s an internet reviewer who’s been as unstintingly positive to the Thor series as me I am unfamiliar with their work. I have gone to bat for this series again and again. I made Thormy highest ranked of the Phase 1 origin movies. I made Ragnarok my number one movie of the entire MCU. I HAD NICE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THE DARK WORLD.
So when I say that Love and Thunder is not only the worst Thor movie but the worst movie in this entire 30 film franchise, I hope you understand that this is a big deal. Something that I loved has betrayed me and left me angry, appalled and ready for revenge.
It’s probably a testament to just how jaded I am that my first thought when watching The Polar Express was “actually, this animation isn’t half bad”. The Polar Express is notorious for being the start of Robert Zemeckis’ turn to the dark side, where one of the most respected directors of genre cinema became a professional corporate necromancer.
And The Polar Express was his first attempt at making an all CGI mocapped film and is infamous for being utterly, skin-crawlingly unsettling in its depiction of human characters. And yet, maybe it’s because I‘ve seen the absolute depths to which this accursed path would lead Zemeckis I found myself not minding the animation too much, for the most part at least. It just looks like a computer game cutscene. And, if I’m being scrupulously fair, there are even shots that I think are honest to God beautiful.
My, this review is trending rather positive isn’t it? I wonder if that will last.