Ever have a friend, like back in college say, who was just the funniest guy you knew? Always coming up with great jokes completely out of left field, or riffing on whatever was happening at the moment? You graduate and go your separate ways, then six years later you meet up again. You can’t help but notice he dresses a lot better than he did in school. He still tells jokes, only now a lot of them are what he heard last night on Leno, or he’s quoting the catchphrase of the moment. It was fun seeing him again, but it’s not the reunion you were hoping for, the one that would recapture those great moments back in school.
That’s how I felt walking out of Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs. Evil.
The first Hoodwinked was one of the funniest animated features I’d seen in a long time, its bargain-basement animation more than redeemed by a snappy script, great voice work and excellent direction. It was a sleeper when it premiered in ’05 and made a lot of money for the Weinsteins.
Hoodwinked Too! makes a left turn into DreamWorks territory – the throw-in-a-pop-culture-reference every five minutes DreamWorks, not the story-told-from-the-heart DreamWorks. The animation’s been kicked up a notch and a half – the features on the Big Bad Wolf’s face actually look like they’re attached to his head, while fur textures and cloth dynamics have taken a quantum leap forward. (In the first film Red Riding Hood’s bell bottoms looked like they were made of stiff painted plastic, but show some life here.)
Someone (Mike Disa, who’s taken over from Cory Edwards as director and joined the writing team as well?) has been following Robert McKee’s advice regarding story structure a little too closely: setbacks to our heroes’ quest abound while relationships and characters go through any number of arcs: Red Riding Hood isn’t doing all that well at the Kung-Fu Panda-type temple where she’s trying to join the order of the Sister Hoods, her self-inflicted pressure to be as good as her granny getting in the way. (There’s a ‘be yourself’ message in here somewhere.) Meanwhile, the Big Bad Wolf is screwing up big-time trying to rescue Hansel und Gretel from a wicked witch (her glowing eyes turn on and off with a loud click!, a nice touch) and once reunited Red and Wolf waste no time accusing each other of screwing up. (It’s not a good year for Hansel and Gretel by the way, they’re in for some rough treatment in DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots a few weeks down the road.) And wouldn’t you know it, the witch and Granny have issues of their own dating from their mutual past, issues you can bet will be resolved by film’s end.
All of the original cast of characters return, although Martin Short substitutes for Jim Belushi’s woodsman (who’s turned a little fey now that he’s a yodeling celebrity) and Hayden Panettiere has taken over Red’s role from Anne Hathaway (who’s grown feathers and flown over to Rio). Andy Dick’s lunatic Boingo the Bunny makes a welcome cameo appearance, strapped to a stretcher in a prison cell behind a glass wall. (Can we declare an end to Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal Lecter gags?) Some new folks join the cast, led by Bill Hader and Amy Poehler as the aforesaid siblings, and Cheech and Chong as a pair of hit pigs.
Speaking of movie gag references, the giant who runs his crime business from a nightclub atop the beanstalk does a Pesci-style ‘you think I’m funny?’ routine. (I did like the fact he’s so big you have to ride an escalator to his table top.) I will give them a pass on turning the Witch’s gingerbread house into a candy-coated version of Psycho’s creepy Victorian edifice since I’m such a big Hitchcock fan.
Be aware I’m not saying don’t go. (The film’s in 3D, which is not used to any particular advantage, so save a couple of bucks and see it flat if you can.) It might not sound like it from the above, but I had a good time at Hoodwinked Too! Gags like a villain’s crimes including “blogging about animated films” hit the target (namely, me), and it was great to see some old friends back in action. It’s just that I miss the energy and freshness of that first film (not to mention the songs, which were one of the highlights of the original), just like I miss the college version of my old chum.