Animation that’s less fussy and gimmicky makes room for this film’s storytelling and characterizations to shine through.

By:Bob Brown
   Little Red Riding Hood" has been psychoanalyzed and spoofed so often, it’s hard to think of the classic tale without the humor or the sex. If you’re into Freudian interpretations, you can read it as a story of a young woman’s sexual awakening. If you’re into the social history, you note that the professional garb of 17th-century French prostitutes was a red cloak. A widely circulated science parody, "Impure Mathematics," begins, "Once Upon a time (1/t), pretty Polly Nomial was strolling across a field of vectors when she came to the boundary of a singular matrix."
   The Brothers Grimm published two versions of "Little Red Cap," both instructively bloody. Now come the Brothers Edwards, Cory and Todd, with a decidedly offbeat animation that’s as clean as a whistle yet delightfully funny both to kids and adults (more about the humor later). Given the Edwards’ upbringing in a Christian home, they come by their pure thoughts honestly. Their father, James L. Edwards, is president of Anderson University, a small Indiana school founded by the Church of God.
   Although Hoodwinked is among the new wave of digital animations, the Edwards boys are mere Davids to big studio Goliaths such as Disney and Dreamworks. They’re a virtual one-family shop, having written and directed the film as well as contributing animation and song-writing skills, along with a relatively small team. Where that’s noticeable is in the production values. It’s not that the look is "cheesy," as some critics have said — it’s that the look is less fussy and gimmicky than the bigger productions we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s closer to Jimmy Neutron and Saturday-morning kids’ shows on Nickelodeon than to Shrek.
   For example, Little Red Riding Hood ("Red"), a retro-looking, bug-eyed Betty Boop in balloonish embroidered bell bottoms, dispenses her Granny’s goodies from a crudely rendered bicycle, which she rides through the flattish landscape. The simplicity, it turns out, is all to the good, because it lets the film’s storytelling and characterizations shine through. The point may even be that the hokey, plastic look, especially of Red (voiced by Anne Hathaway) and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi), is itself a parody of the more laboriously rendered characters in expensive animations.
   The Edwards tell the tale, not as a parody retelling, but as a reconstruction, parts of which are seen by different participants at different times. This narrative method is common in contemporary independent films today, such as Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train. The mystery here is to find who has been stealing all the recipes that goodie purveyors throughout the forest have been using to create sales. Goodie stores are being driven out of business in turn. (How a market economy got started with so many retail locations serving such a small population is never explained.) Only Granny’s recipes, and her goodies, are left.
   The film sets up the familiar climactic scene, Red’s entry into Granny’s house. She confronts the disguised Wolf (Patrick Warburton of Seinfeld and Less than Perfect), then Granny (Glenn Close) pops out of the closet and the Woodsman crashes in with his axe. Cops, led by Chief Grizzly (Xzibit), intervene, until they are interrupted by a smooth-talking frog, Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers). Flippers coaxes Red, the Wolf, the Woodsman, and finally Granny to re-create, in turn, how they came to this point.
   Each one’s adventure is more outlandish than the rest, but the facts all support each other until the final surprise. Adding to the fun are characters like Twitchy (Cory Edwards), the Wolf’s motor-mouthed squirrel sidekick; Boingo (Andy Dick, also of Less than Perfect), a bunny who seems to turn up everywhere; and Japeth (Benjy Gaither), a multi-horned, banjo-picking goat, who claims a spell prevents him from talking — he only sings in hill-billy-goat style.
   There are plenty of hair-raising chase sequences (mostly on a runaway ore-train, which bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, goat and all). The score and songs by Cory Edwards are catchy, clever and, in a few cases, side-splitting (the Schnitzel Truck routine is to die for).
   The subject matter and the posters for this movie suggest that the whole family will enjoy it. However, the chopped narrative and some of the dialogue may go over wee ones’ heads. Expect them to become fidgety a little over halfway through the picture.
   Otherwise, be forewarned: if your idea of quality is self-consciously fussy digitization, or animation that shouts, "See how amazing I am!" then you are going to be impatient with Hoodwinked. There’s no accounting for tastes in humor, either. If your funnybone isn’t tickled by the inane and the stupid, this movie may not strike you as hilarious. For the rest of us, there’s plenty to enjoy in Hoodwinked. Maybe it will even earn the Edwards brothers enough points to get a bigger animation budget next time.
Rated PG. Contains some mild action and thematic elements.