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Good-not-great ‘Animal Crackers’ offers animated fun

July 27, 2020
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When you hear that a movie has been on the shelf for an extended period, you’d be forgiven for having some doubts regarding its quality.

“Animal Crackers,” an animated film from Blue Dream Studios, might raise some of those questions. The movie – adapted from a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava – was a collaborative effort between American and Chinese companies and was actually released in China a couple of years ago. However, numerous attempts at domestic distribution fell through in the subsequent years, with Netflix finally taking the reins and releasing it on their service.

It’s too bad, because this film doesn’t deserve the stigma that comes with its lengthy remove. It might not be great, but it’s plenty good enough to have received a theatrical release here. There are a lot of quality pieces here – an exceptional cast, some great music – and while the animation is a bit low-rent and the story is meh, I’ve sat through much worse films that received far more attention.

Many years ago, the Huntington brothers ran a traveling circus together. Horatio (Ian McKellen, “Cats”) is the flashy face of the operation, while Bob (James Arnold Taylor, TV’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”) quietly works behind the scenes. But when the beautiful Talia (Tara Strong, TV’s “Teen Titans Go!”) arrives, things get complicated. The selfish Horatio wants to woo her, but she only has eyes for Bob. Enraged, Horatio delivers an ultimatum – Talia goes or he does.

Bob chooses love.

He goes on to start his own circus with Talia – Buffalo Bob’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Animal Circus, world-renowned for the incredible animal acts. Along the way, Bob’s nephew Owen – a regular audience member – meets a little girl named Zoe. The connection is immediate and the two grow closer as they grow up. So close, in fact, that grown-up Owen (John Krasinski, TV’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) and grown-up Zoe (Emily Blunt, “Mary Poppins Returns”) decide to get married.

Of course, Zoe’s dog biscuit factory-owning father Mr. Woodley (Wallace Shawn, TV’s “Young Sheldon”) disapproves; in an effort to be conciliatory, Owen takes a job as a taste tester. Despite the disdain of Mr. Woodley and his right-hand man Brock (Patrick Warburton, TV’s “Family Guy”), he tries to help, teaming up with scientist Binkley (Raven-Symone, “Mighty Oak”) to try and develop new biscuit flavors.

But when a fire destroys Buffalo Bob’s circus and Bob and Talia go missing, the circus falls into Owen’s hands. The circus … and a mysterious box of animal crackers. Animal crackers that, when eaten, turn a person into an animal (as Owen accidentally discovers). Head clown Chesterfield (Danny DeVito, TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” explains it all to Owen and hopes that he will take over the circus.

Meanwhile, Horatio – along with his minions – is willing to do whatever it takes to get his hands on those animal crackers. It’s up to Owen, Zoe and their daughter Mackenzie to do whatever it takes to save the circus and help their friends.

The best way to describe “Animal Crackers” is … busy. There’s a lot going on here and it’s all moving very fast. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the rapidity of pace helps to mask some of the film’s shortcomings on the animation side. However, some of the narrative detail does get lost in the shuffle. Not that it really matters, because the film has one too many subplots; the movie feels thin and padded at the same time.

There’s plenty of good stuff, though. There are some legitimately strong visual gags to go with some age-appropriate humor – “Animal Crackers” unapologetically operates on a dad joke level and it definitely works. Also, the music is on point; Bear McCreary handled the music and there are original tunes from varied artists like Huey Lewis and the News, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Michael Bublé. Plus, McKellan sings twice, including once with his diminutive stuntman henchman Zucchini (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, because of course he is).

And that voice cast is stacked. Real-life couple Krasinski and Blunt are solid in the lead; theirs aren’t the most exciting parts, but they – along with young Lydia Rose Taylor as Mackenzie – are the heart and soul of the movie. McKellen hams it up delightfully as Horatio; his inherent grandiosity is dialed all the way up here and it’s great. DeVito is just right as the portly Chesterfield. Shawn’s officiousness and Warburton’s meatheadedness are both first-rate. Raven-Symone does a lot with a little, while Gottfried absolutely crushes as the delusional third-person-speaking Zucchini. Oh, and Sylvester Stallone is here as Bulletman, the circus’s human cannonball. Like I said – stacked.

“Animal Crackers” isn’t the best animated film you’ll ever see, but it is FAR from the worst. It has its flaws to be sure – the quality of animation is iffy and the story gets a little overstuffed. But the vocal cast is across-the-board talented and the music is great, while there are some strong gags and a few heartwarming moments. Imperfect, sure, but kids will almost certainly dig it. And really – isn’t that all you really need?

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 27 July 2020 12:09

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