Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Think of the Children! Tuesday: 'Hoodwinked' Didn't Age Well...

So, the thing is, I remember when Hoodwinked originally came out. I saw it in theaters all the way back in 2005, and at the time I distinctly recall thinking that this was a totally state of the art, cutting edge retelling of fairy tale narratives. Like True Story of the Three Little Pigs or Blame It on the Wolf, here was a story that dared to reconsider the tired and worn out fairy tales to examine them from other points of view. How novel! How droll! And such high tech computer animation, right?

Upon watching it now, however, I have come to the conclusion that it's a teensy bit dated. Still good, actually, but definitely early '00s computer animation style, and totally the level of rhetoric and self-awareness that we were all trying to mimic in the post-Shrek era.

And, if anything, this movie just makes you kind of want to go watch Shrek again. I might not love where that series went, and I will always resent it for the number of times I've had "All Star" stuck in my head, but that's a good freaking movie and a spectacular subversion of fairy tale tropes. Hoodwinked is no Shrek, but that's not to say it's a bad movie.

Because it isn't a bad movie. Really. While Hoodwinked is never going to make it onto a list of "forgotten gems from the early 2000s"*, it's still a solid and interesting take on your classic fairy tale storylines. The characters are all relatively inventive takeoffs that manage to challenge the typical tropes, and the whole thing works pretty dang well together, even if it is a little wooden and stiff and visually unpleasant to watch.

Okay, that really does bear mentioning before we go any further. While children are not apt to notice or care that the animation in Hoodwinked was poorly done even for 2005, adults will, so brace yourself. Even as a ridiculously non-visual person myself, I am well aware of how clunky it all looks. 

People's cheeks bulge in perfect circles, everything is suspiciously shiny and smooth, and their lips are never quite synced with what they're saying. It's not the end of the world, but it's definitely uncomfortable to watch, especially when you think about how much better this movie would be literally if they just made it with better animation software. Anyway.

The general plot and theme of Hoodwinked is a pretty standard, "Don't judge a book by its cover," fable, but with some funny twists. The story starts at the very end of our usual Little Red Riding Hood story, where Red (Anne Hathaway) confronts the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) in Granny's house. The interesting thing is that the story then immediately has both Granny (Glenn Close) and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi) popping up, then all of them getting summarily arrested and sat down for questioning by Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and the very mysterious Special Agent Flippers (David Ogden Stiers). 

The movie, then, is actually a rashomon, where each character tells their own version of the story so far. Chief Grizzly has arrested all of these characters because he suspects that one of them is actually the "Goody Bandit", some terrible scourge of the forest who's been going around stealing everyone's recipes for goodies and putting nice mom-and-pops out of business. He suspects that it's Red working for Granny, but Flippers isn't so sure. 

The rashomon part comes as each character is interrogated and gives their own explanation for how and why they wound up in the house that night.

We start with Red explaining how her day started off pretty normally. She made some deliveries, chatted with her bunny friend Boingo (Andy Dick), and watched sadly as yet more goody shops in the forest had to close. She decided that, because there was no telling what was safe, the only way to save the family recipe book was to take it with her up the mountain and give it to Granny for safekeeping.

Only Red's trip to Granny didn't go as planned. She fell out of Boingo's cablecar and landed in the woods, where a scary wolf accosted her and tried to steal the recipes. She ran away, and eventually found a mountain goat (Benjy Gaither) who sang a really long (hilarious) song about horns and then helped her get to Granny's. Also there was an avalanche. At Granny's, Red confronted the Wolf and then the cops showed. She's innocent. Or at least she says she is.

Next is the Wolf, and his side of things is pretty different. See, the Wolf isn't just some fairy tale bad guy. He and his squirrel sidekick Twitchy (Cory Edwards) are investigative reporters, trying to get a scoop on the Goody Bandit. When they accosted Red, they weren't trying to scare her, they were trying to interview her. It was an accident that led to the Wolf roaring at her, then Red beat him up before he could explain. He only got into Granny's clothes and hid on the bed because he thought Red would actually spill her guts to her own grandmother.

Then there's the Woodsman, who is actually named Kirk and has the best story. By which I mean that he has basically no story at all. He's not even a Woodsman. Nope. Kirk is a part-time worker who drives a Schnitzel Truck and had an audition that day to sell "Paul's Bunion Cream" - he was in the woods trying to get in touch with his "inner Woodsman" as per his director's orders. In other words, Kirk is an airheaded actor, a big muscley lunkhead who's very sweet and gentle and definitely uninvolved. He ended up in the living room because he basically fell there. Alrighty then.

Finally it's Granny, who has to shamefacedly reveal that she wasn't there to answer her granddaughter's questions because she was busy doing extreme sports. Granny's favorite hobbies are all death-defying and intense, so her version of events is just one big action scene about bad guys trying to kill her and narrow escapes and fantastic skiing and oh yeah, starting an avalanche. The Goody Bandit is after her too, but she's not going down without a fight.

In the end, the bandit isn't any of them, it's a different character who is easy to guess if you watch a lot of police procedurals, but it kind of doesn't matter. The point of the movie has already been made: don't judge a book by its cover and don't assume that your version of events is the only version or even the true version. As we see especially in Red's and the Wolf's, reality is pretty dang subjective when it wants to be. 

For all my complaints about this movie's quality or lack thereof, I do think that this is a message worth sending to children. It's fantastically easy to write people off, but it takes real courage to pry beneath the surface and wonder if they might have a motivation just as valid as your own. I get that and I love that. I think it's a big part of why, when I first saw this film in 2005, I loved it so much. It might have the narrative subtlety of a lead brick, but the movie has a positive message.

And really that sums up my feelings about this film overall. It's not subtle, oh is it not subtle, but that doesn't mean it's bad. In general, I tend to favor art that really commits, that is beautiful and well-crafted, that shows that every person in the whole operation was giving their all. 

To be honest, big parts of Hoodwinked feel like someone was phoning it in. Somehow, though, I manage to forgive this film. It's not high art, but it's still fun and silly and has some spectacularly catchy songs. And there are worse things than a movie that's a little too aware of its own message.

As for the characters, while the idea of subverting basic fairy tale tropes by making the characters slightly different seems old hat now, it was pretty surprising at the time. I love the idea of making the Wolf actually an investigative reporter, and I have to admit that I would watch a whole film of him and Twitchy trying to break a big story. They have a great character interplay, and they're both really fleshed out in a way the others aren't. Hell, they even have informants and wear disguises and it's fabulous. So definitely a fan of that.

Granny, too, is a fun take on the usual "badass grandma" schtick that turns out. There's something still quite satisfying about a film where the granny is the action hero who gets all the badass shots and the big save in the finale. That's great. Granny might be an amalgamation of every stereotype about women who "aren't like the other girls", but she's still a fun character and definitely a valuable image for little kids. I mean, we can always use more reminders that women are capable of leading full and interesting lives even when we're old and wrinkly, and she presents the idea that you can like baking cookies and doing extreme sports without contradiction.

Red, on the other hand, stands out as the character who underwent the fewest changes and suffered greatly for it. She's really just a more teenaged and modern version of who Little Red Riding Hood has always been: a girl too curious for her own good who wants more than is available to her presently. So while it's nice that the movie validates Red's desire to have a more adventurous life and do cool things, it's a pretty bland desire in the first place.

It's funny to look back on this now and criticize it, actually, because when I was a teenager and watching this movie for the first time, I loved Red. She was punky and cool and voiced by Anne Hathaway who was just starting to be famous and she had flared jeans and a cute little skirt over her pants and oh my gosh she is so 2005 it hurts. She's all Girl Power and vague feminist leanings without strong feminist ideology. Not that this is bad, mind, just that I remember being Red Puckett, and I find that very odd now.

I guess overall that was my impression of the film too. It's not a bad film by any stretch, but it's not really a good one either. I'm not sure if children now would appreciate it, especially since we've got such expressive and beautiful films now that give pretty much the same messages. It's fine if you want to go on a trip down memory lane or if you desperately need to get a fairy tale fix, but you'll live if you don't see it. I promise.

So why are we talking about this movie at all right now? Well, to be totally honest it's mostly because I haven't been able to see Zootopia yet, so I had to talk about something on here. But also because I wanted to sort out how I really feel about this movie. I remember it being clever and subversive and hilarious, and while it didn't live up to my memory, I don't feel bad about having seen it again either. It's funny to think about how a lot of a films, over time, just fade in their necessity and relevance. 

Hoodwinked is so a product of its time that it's largely irrelevant in ours. Which is sad, yeah, but also not sad. Like how Granny and Red and the Wolf end the film by starting their own little team to solve fairy tale crimes, we've moved on from this movie and the movies like it. We're better now, and that's okay.

It's okay to admit that you loved movies that you no longer care about - it doesn't diminish the memory and it doesn't diminish you to realize that you don't love them as much anymore. 

What's important is appreciating how good it was to have those films to influence you when you needed them. I do think that loving Hoodwinked made me a better person, even if now I watch it and wonder what the hell I was thinking. It's all part of growing up.

But even as an adult, I would still watch a movie about Wolf and Twitchy. Someone make that happen.

*Well, probably. Buzzfeed makes so many of those damn lists that they're bound to use up the actual gems sometime and start reaching.