Friday, 7 July 2006

Hoodwinked (2005)

Little Red Riding Hood gets the Rashomon treatment for the kids!

During the last decade, there has been a fad in the world of children’s literature. Old folktales have been given the makeover treatment, often by feminists and other spoilsports indignant at the simplistic moralising and depiction of weak, defenceless trophy heroines in fairy tales. Hence, on one hand, we have the standard Brothers Grimm fairy tales with their bowdlerised, watered down kiddie-friendly fare that no longer entertains savvy children of the modern age; and on the other hand, dreary and self-righteous modernised revisions of fairy tales that owe more to the manifestos of political correctness and universal victimhood than to any entertainment value. Aside from Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples and Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, there aren’t many examples of entertaining and thought-provoking fairy tales redone with a modern sensibility.

Until now. Everyone is familiar with the age-old tale of the Little Red Riding Hood. It’s true that the Brothers Grimm version is a watering-down of older and darker versions, but today’s audience will no doubt be familiar with and perhaps will know only of this version. Edwards, Edwards and Leech offer us not one, but four retellings of the fairy tale, and package them in the form of a comic Rashomon meets The Usual Suspects and Shrek.

In the aftermath of a crazed woodsman breaking into Granny’s house and frightening Red, her Granny and the Big Bad Wolf out of their skins, the cartoon police (led by a long legged frog and two of the Three Little Pigs!) decide to step into the situation to find out who to prosecute and at the same time, solve the mystery of the Cookie Bandit, whose nefarious deeds have put members of the fairy tale snacks industry out of business. Not only is there a definite criminal in the strange kidnap/abduction/impersonation/breaking and entering case at Granny’s, one of the 4 suspects might also be the Cookie Bandit.

Like the Rashomon story, each of the main characters in the Little Red Riding Hood tale are not what they seem, the stories they tell the police are not exactly the truth or the whole truth, and part of the fun is how their little secrets are revealed in a way that satirises the entire fairy tale concept, and adds a fun (and not at all dreary or preachy) modern spin to an old tale at the same time. Even the obligatory musical interlude/showpiece of cartoons are made fun of, a touch that had me laughing and entertained by the songs nonetheless.

Hoodwinked was made on a very low budget (USD 20 million), but the well-constructed and zippy plot and the sheer entertainment value makes this feel like a real gem. Animation style is simple – the creators waste no time and resources on self-indulgent extras like over-realistic skin pores, shiny bobby hair, or hyperreal blades of moving grass, but manage to create character models with sufficient character to carry the cartoon. In the 3D animiation industry where looks and effects sometimes override originality of plot, Hoodwinked is a sign that all is not lost, that cartoons can still be enjoyed for the value of their stories and strength of their ideas.

First published at incinemas on 20 July 2006

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