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(2020) (voices of John Krasinski, Ian McKellen) (Not Rated)

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Computer Animated Dramedy: After giving up the circus life introduced to him by his uncle, a young man is pulled back into that world by another uncle trying to steal the secret that made his brother's circus so successful.

Once upon a time -- the 1960s to be exact -- Horatio P. Huntington (voice of IAN McKELLEN) and his brother Buffalo Bob (voice of JAMES ARNOLD TAYLOR) ran a successful circus. But then a woman -- Talia (voice of TARA STRONG) -- came between them, causing the siblings to go their separate ways, Bob with Talia and a magic box of animal crackers given to them by Talia's aunt.

Years later, and having grown up around the circus, Bob's nephew, Owen (voice of JOHN KRASINSKI), is hoping to keep doing that for the rest of his life with fellow circus fan Zoe (voice of EMILY BLUNT) as his wife. But her father, Mr. Woodley (voice of WALLACE SHAWN), is so against the idea that Owen gives that up to marry Zoe.

Seven years later, they have a daughter, Mackenzie (voice of LYDIA ROSE TAYLOR), but Owen is miserable in his job not only due to taste-testing dog biscuits every day, but also because of the constant belittling at the hands of his father-in-law as well as coworker Brock (voice of PATRICK WARBURTON). At least he has a friend in Binkley (voice of RAVEN-SYMONE) who's hoping to make those biscuits taste like human food.

While all of that is happening, Horatio -- still holding a grudge against his brother -- tries to steal the secret that's made Bob's circus so successful, but ends up catching his carriage on fire, causing all involved -- including Chesterfield the clown (voice of DANNY DeVITO), canon-fired Bullet-Man (voice of SYLVESTER STALLONE) and fat lady Petunia (voice of DONNA LYNNE SAVA) to believe that Bob and Talia perished in the fire.

With them out of the way, Horatio declares he's taking over his brother's circus and orders his henchmen -- motorcycle riding Mario Zucchini (voice of GILBERT GOTTFRIED), strongman Samson (voice of KEVIN GREVIOUX), knife-thrower Stabby (voice of TONY BANCROFT) and fire-breather El Diablo (voice of ANTHONY SAVA) -- to get their hands on the magic box of animal crackers now in Owen's possession.

But with him not knowing what they are, he ends up eating one and turns into the animal from the shape of the cookie. From that point on, and changing into various other animals, Owen tries to resolve his work-life all while contending with his uncle and that man's goons.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

Like most kids of my era, we grew up with cookies in the house, both of the homemade kind and the store-bought variety, such as Chips Ahoy, Nilla Wafers, Fudge Stripes, and so on. But the ones I can't seem to recall having IN the house were Animal Crackers.

For some reason -- excuse the haziness as it's been around half a century -- I only recall having them in the car, likely purchased at some store that possibly had exclusive distribution rights in our area.

Whatever the explanation, they resultantly were something of an occasional treat -- not particularly due to the taste (just being somewhat bland sugar cookies) -- especially since, natch, they came in the shape of animals.

Back in the day, a full-length animated film about them might have likewise seemed special, especially if seen in a movie theater where the concession stand would be selling -- yes, you guessed it -- animal-shaped cookies.

Nowadays, I have no idea if they're still made and are readily available, but animated offerings certainly are and thus the first film ever made about them -- the imaginatively titled "Animal Crackers" -- doesn't feel that special or unique. Then again, really young kids might still view this offering as something of a treat, so I guess there's something to be said about that.

The one thing that can definitely be said is that it's been a long and torturous road for co-directors Scott Christian Sava and Tony Bancroft who debuted the movie three years ago, only to have Relativity Media go belly up and subsequent takeover studios Serafini Releasing and Entertainment Studios acquire and then dump the flick until Netflix rescued it from the cinematic garbage heap.

Which is somewhat surprising considering the vocal cast. While the computer-rendered animation is nothing to write home about, the 100 or so minute offering features an impressive vocal cast including dialogue work from the likes of John Krasinski and his wife Emily Blunt, Ian McKellen, Danny DeVito, Patrick Warburton, Raven-Symoné and Sylvester Stallone who doesn't say much to the end other than his character's name.

It takes a bit for the story -- that Sava co-wrote with Dean Lorey -- to get into its main plot thrust. As occasionally narrated by DeVito's clown character, we learn of two brothers (one of them voiced by McKellen) who ran a successful circus together until a woman came between them, causing a riff, especially since the success only followed one of them (the one who got the girl) thanks to a magic box of animal crackers given to them by the young woman's aunt.

Flash-forward a bit and their nephew, Owen (Krasinski) meets and falls for a girl, Zoe (Blunt), but ends up giving up his dream of working in the circus to appease her demanding and belittling father (Wallace Shawn). While he contends with his thankless job (a dog biscuit taster) and a mean coworker (Warburton), his uncle hasn't let bygones be bygones and wants to find the secret to his brother's success.

That results in the box of animal crackers -- with their shape-shifting ability once consumed -- coming into play, with McKellen's Horatio wanting to get his greedy hands on them for profit. Accordingly, he sends his main henchman (Gilbert Gottfried) to steal them, all while Owen goes through a progression of animal changes until the big, action-filled finale.

Any teen or adult who's ever seen any animated film will likely be a step or two (or 300) ahead of the plot and grow bored of the forced humor and familiar trappings, but little ones might just be entranced by what the flick offers. And thus "Animal Crackers" might just be a treat to them, just like the namesake cookies were for me all those years ago. Not as tasty as it could and should have been but a decent diversion for the preschool set, the film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 20, 2020/ Posted July 24, 2020

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