Animation has long enjoyed re-appropriating and subverting centuries-old fairy tales and myths, with cartoon kings Disney having just about run through the roster of Grimm’s and Hans Christian Andersen and other standard tales over the course of the last 80-odd years. In more recent years, it is not simply enough to retell the tales, but to add a ‘modern twist’ and liberal doses of comedy into the mix. The most successful of this breed has undoubtedly been Dreamworks’ Shrek series, along with lesser efforts such as Happily N’Ever After, so much so that even the most recent Disney effort Tangled has in many ways aped this formula. Upstarts Blue Yonder Animation gave us their own spin on the classic “Red Riding Hood” in 2005 with Hoodwinked!, painting the well-loved story as a kind of whodunit.
In Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil, the heroes of the first chapter are now working for the Happily Ever After group (or the HEA), ensuring that all fairy tale endings go smoothly. The Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton, TV’s Family Guy), his pal Twitchy and Granny Puckett (Glenn Close, TV’s Damages) make an uneasy team, with Wolf in particular quite bitter about Red’s (Hayden Panettiere, Scream 4, replacing Anne Hathaway) absent due to secret martial arts training at the Sisters of the Hood. When Hansel (Bill Hader, Paul) and Gretel (Amy Poehler, TV’s Parks and Recreation), along with Granny, are kidnapped by a wicked witch (Joan Cusack, Toy Story 3), Red and Wolf must form a reluctant partnership to save the day.
Despite its rough animation style, the original Hoodwinked! was disarming in its use of comedy and film references to win over both adult and kiddie audiences alike. Taking a Rashomon meets The Usual Suspects approach to the old allegorical tale, Blue Yonder created something wholly unique in a way that this year’s Red Riding Hood failed to achieve. Yet even with a marked improvement in the animation since the first instalment, albeit still retaining the blocky character design that distinguished the earlier chapter, returning writers Cory and Todd Edwards and Tony Leech seem to have completely forgotten what to do with their creations. Robbing themselves of the cinematic conceits that made Hoodwinked! so hilarious, Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil instead plays as a straight rescue farce that may have worked if the characters had retained their sass. However, at some stage each of the crew seems to have experienced a brain transplant before embarking on a second adventure. Rather than carefully considering what each character can bring to the proceedings, a series of big name voices have been thrown into the void in the kind of stunt casting that has plagued recent Hollywood animated films.
With the exception of Anne Hathaway not returning for this sequel, replaced by Hayden Panettiere and Martin Short respectively, all of the other high profile cast members have reprised their roles. Yet something is missing, or more accurately, something is a bit different. For example, the cursed mountain goat, enchanted to sing all he says, is no longer sage and “prepared for anything”, but instead becomes a Scrat-like character (à la Ice Age), and is merely used as a comic foil in a series of near-death experiences. Everything else about the film either assumes the short memories of its intended younger audiences (who admittedly seemed to love it at our screening), or doubts their intelligence. The plethora of filmic references have been replaced by obvious set-ups and predictable gags, and the obligatory giant showdown with the big bad. Those pop-cultural references only get them so far this time, and gags about Kill Bill are now a half-a-decade out of date. The film is not completely without its charm, with plenty of visual gags for younger audiences, but the much darker tone of the film (occasionally outright frightening for kids), coupled with the ‘dumbing-down’ of most of the characters, nets audiences a sub-standard sequel.
The Reel Bits: A disappointing, and some may say unnecessary, follow-up to one of the surprise gems of the last few years. The humour levels are aimed squarely at the younger audiences, but these same kids may struggle with some of the scarier moments in the flick. It’s still better than Red Riding Hood.
Sequels, franchises, remakes and re-imaginings seem to be the scourge of cinema audiences everywhere, and – based on the current slate of features in or about to be in theatres – rightfully so. With the latest Scream and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid films still showing, the Fast And Furious franchise up to its fifth iteration, the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean about to drop, sequels The Hangover 2 and Transformers 3D, and prequel X Men: First Class on their way, and remakes Brighton Rock, Arthur and Burke And Hare on screens, avoiding a movie that falls into the aforementioned categories is nigh on impossible. Before second efforts in the animated Kung Fu Panda and Cars series start to regale the youthful audience, a similarly placed continuation of the Hoodwinked! revamped fairy-tale franchise has emerged. However, despite its playful title of Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs Evil, and market dominance before the bigger films hit town, the second effort from returning writers Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech is as loud and obnoxious as kid-friendly features come.
Marking the feature debut of director Mike Disa (after helming direct to video efforts The Origin Of Stitch, Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic and Dead Space: Aftermath previously), Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs Evil is exactly the type of children’s flick that parents tend to hate. And with good reason, for the frenetic and frenzied feature underwhelms from the cursory recap that doubles as an introduction to the overblown finale that ramps up the action yet keeps the emotion low-key. With enough distracting celebrity voices to keep star spotters busy for the entire 86 minute duration, all the meta-myth moments such an offering should have (name dropping “Jack And The Beanstalk”, “Three Little Pigs”, and, of course “Hansel And Gretel”, among others), and the usual assortment of adult-oriented pop culture references (the audience inappropriate The Silence Of The Lambs, Scarface and Goodfellas, for example) and shout-outs (including Twitter, Comic Con and American TV chef Rachael Ray) to prove the film’s street cred, the movie attempts to disguise its severe lack of story (a simple hero caper), blocky style (resembling a video game from early in the last decade), and concerning content ( a dramatic arc that centres on a grandmother chained to a kistove, literally). Sadly, the film is unlikely to fool even the younger demographic, with anyone that survives unscathed likely to feel taken advantage of in the manner suggested by the title.
The Reel Bits: Unnecessary sequel Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs Evil may provide the second worst depiction of Red Riding Hood seen on screens this year, however don’t be fooled by its marginally better standing. A film that manages to include all the elements that adults despire about kid’s fare, the feature is a hyperactive mess of muddled animation and mixed messages that achieves very little other than wasting time.
Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil was released in Australia on 12 May 2011 from Roadshow Films.