[Screen It]

(2005) (voices of Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close) (PG)

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Animated Comedy: After being arrested by the police in relation to a spate of goody thefts, four participants in the classic Red Riding Hood tale tell their version of the story.
Little Red Riding Hood, a.k.a. Red (ANNE HATHAWAY), is on her way to see her Granny (GLENN CLOSE), but isn't fooled by the Wolf (PATRICK WARBURTON) who's dressed up like her in bed. Just as she outs him and Granny literally comes out of the closet, the Woodsman (JIM BELUSHI) comes crashing through the front window, wielding an ax and an anxious look on his face.

Soon thereafter, the cops arrive in the form of Police Chief Grizzly (XZIBIT) and his subordinate Bill Stork (ANTHONY ANDERSON) who wonder if this might be related to the work of the Goody Bandit who's been stealing recipes from local shops. The four participants try to tell their version of the story, but it's up to debonair detective Nicky Flippers (DAVID OGDEN STIERS) to listen to each tale and then try to figure out who's telling the truth.

As Red, Wolf, the Woodsman and Granny tell their stories one by one, and we hear of other characters that might be involved such as Wolf's hyperactive squirrel assistant Twitchy (CORY EDWARDS) and Red's questionable rabbit acquaintance Boingo (ANDY DICK), Nicky and the others try to sort through their tales that all are told from similar yet different perspectives.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Aside from one of the title characters in the Rocky and Bullwinkle show that aired many, many moons ago on TV (and then in the ill-fated theatrical movie that was a bust), squirrels have gotten the short shrift when it comes to starring in animated films. Dogs and cats obviously get many of the leads, but two of the most famous ones have been a mouse and certain bunny who will likely live on long after certain lions, clownfish and such disappear from our collective memory.

That said, the highlight of the otherwise mediocre "Ice Age" was the prehistoric squirrel Scrat who never really appeared with the rest of the characters and didn't exactly speak. Instead, he was only interested in his precious acorn that bedeviled him from start to finish (in the movie, previews for it and other animated shorts) and provided the film with its best moments.

The same can be said for Twitchy, the hyperactive squirrel in "Hoodwinked" who may just be a minor character in the overall scheme of things, but nevertheless steals every scene in which he appears. Like "Ice Age," this comedy -- that tries quite hard to provide plenty of entertainment for both kids and adults alike -- is anything but cutting edge when it comes to the quality of its animation.

In fact, it makes "IA" and other sub-state of the art fare such as "Jimmy Neutron" look like photo realism in comparison. Most of the characters here look like those half-rendered versions you see in the DVD supplemental materials showing how other films looked halfway in progress. To sum up the work, it's on or below par with similar computer-generated offerings seen in children's TV programming.

As I've said before, however, I can tolerate bad animation and other such mediocre to poor visual quality if the story's any good and its plot and characters engage me in some fashion. And this one certainly has potential. Taking a page from the "Fractured Fairy Tales" that used to air in the middle of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, writer/director Cory Edwards and fellow scribes Todd Edwards and Tony Leech have put what seems like a clever spin on the classic Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

In fact, it could have been called "Little Red Rashomon" as the filmmakers have taken that classic Japanese storytelling technique -- where a crime is interpreted by various witnesses and we see the same event repeated several times from their different perspectives. Here, the film starts with Red finding the Big Bad Wolf in her grandmother's bed and bed clothing, followed by a woodsman crashing through the front window. The police arrive, as does a dapper investigator, and we then rewind several times to see the events leading up to that pivotal moment.

It's a fun twist on both the fairy tale and original Japanese movie, and the filmmakers receive kudos for that as well as landing a terrific vocal cast including the likes of Glenn Close, David Ogden Stiers, Patrick Warburton and Anne Hathaway. Yet, while it's cute and occasionally humorous, it's not as smart and especially not as funny as it appears to believe it is (and it's certainly not as clever or imaginative as the "Shrek" films in twisting around classic fairy tales and their characters).

Edwards (who also voices the aforementioned squirrel) certainly keeps things moving at a pace that's about as frantic as Twitchy's hyperactive demeanor and vocal pattern. Accordingly, kids will probably love it and adults dragged along to see it won't ever be bored. There are plenty of verbal and visual jokes, cultural references and nods to its animated predecessors.

But it's just one of those productions where everything feels off just enough -- both in tone and final execution -- that it simply doesn't work as well as obviously intended (that's especially apparent with the entire "Granny's really into extreme sports" turn that simply doesn't work).

And when the jokes aren't as funny as intended and the story starts spinning its wheels through the repeated plot, the only thing your mind is likely to go back to is the sub par animation that's even below that of the original "Toy Story" way back in 1995. I know I sound like a broken record, but the Pixar team is still tops in terms of delivering eye-popping entertainment where the stories and characters are so sharp and enjoyable that you forget you're watching an animated offering.

With "Hoodwinked" failing on both counts in comparison, you're only reminded of how much better its competitors have been. Aside from the jittery rodent with the bushy tale, this film lives up to its title in promising one thing, but delivering something else altogether. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 2, 2005 / Posted January 13, 2006

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