2005 hasn't been a banner year for animated releases, with all of them falling into two categoriesthe slight and amiable ("Robots
," "Chicken Little
") and the purely disposable ("Madagascar
," the mind-bogglingly acclaimed "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit
"). It comes with relief, then, that the year's last animated film also might be its best. "Hoodwinked," one of the first big efforts from The Weinstein Company, probably would not exist if it weren't for the inspiration of "Shrek
"both are skewed versions of fairy talesbut that doesn't make it any less delightful or inventively savvy.
A literal take-off of "Little Red Riding Hood," "Hoodwinked" begins at the end of the well-known children's tale, with the caped Red (voiced by Anne Hathaway) arriving at the quaint cottage of her Granny (Glenn Close), only to encounter the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) in bed posing as the octogenarian and Granny tied up in the closet. Just as Wolf is seemingly about to attack, the Woodsman (James Belushi) smashes through to window to save the day. Or so it would seem at first glance.
"Hoodwinked" has many of the well-trodden hallmarks of the animated genrea resourceful heroine, talking creatures, a half-goofy/half-devious mastermind plotting destruction and dominationbut puts a twist on it by telling the story out of chronological order and setting the plot up as a mystery. The experience is almost like watching a PG-rated, kid-friendly cartoon version of a Quentin Tarantino production, which assuredly sets the film apart from the rest of this year's animated lot.
As frog investigator Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) and Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) question the four suspectsRed, Granny, the Wolf, and the Woodsmanany of whom might be the wanted Goody Bandit who has been stealing recipes and putting bakery shops out of business, each of their individual stories unspool one at a time. Red, a delivery girl, sets out through the woods to her Granny's house when she discovers their family shop has been vandalized and their own cookbook threatened. The Wolf, who Red claims was stalking her on her trip, argues in his story that he was simply trying to get to the bottom of the Goody Bandit's identity himself. The Woodsman, meanwhile, is actually only practicing to be one for an acting gig; in actuality he is the lowly vendor of Schnitzel Stick who accidentally stumbled through Granny's window. And in Granny's version, she reveals that she is an Xtreme sports nuta secret that Red feels betrayed aboutwho got tied up in the closet in a way no one could anticipate.
The charm of "Hoodwinked," written and directed with energy and originality by Cory Edwards and co-written by Todd Edwards, is in the way the plot has been constructed, turning the "Little Red Riding Hood" fairy tale on its head. Told from four separate points of view, with each of the characters crisscrossing into one another's stories at unexpected times, the mystery of the Goody Bandit is ingeniously unraveled in the process.
Kids of all ages will be thrilled by the breakneck pace, the brightly developed and performed characters, and the lovely animation that mixes modern computer-generated technology with an old-fashioned style and feel that befits its fairy tale origins. This latter elements personifies the forested setting as a memorable character all its own, and makes the most of its set-pieces, including a rickety wild ride on a roller-coaster-like mountain track and a runaway cable car. Because the script is a little more narratively complex than the norm, the picture also has something extra to entertain adult viewers. Older audiences will be able to guess many of the one-liners and plot developments before they arise, but this does not deter one's enjoyment of an 80-minute movie that feels like it last less than an hour. A second viewing only confirms that the script is even slyer and more watertight than it at first seems; as the characters weave through each side of the story, there are a bevy of tiny details that only make sense once the film is seen as a complete whole.
With a diverse cast of standout voice talentsAnne Hathaway (2004's "Ella Enchanted
"), as the feisty Red, and Andy Dick (2003's "Old School
"), as bunny Boingo, are especially on targetand an above-average soundtrack of original songsthe lovely "Red is Blue," performed by Ben Folds, is beautifully used during a sequence in which Red tries to come to terms with the secrets Granny has hidden from her for years"Hoodwinked" is a comedic end-of-the-year goody bag for families who have already worn themselves out on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
." While not quite on the lofty level of Pixar's best (2003's "Finding Nemo
" and 2004's "The Incredibles
"), "Hoodwinked" garners a place for itself as a sunny, imaginative animated effort with an underlying sweetness that is irresistible.