As computers get more sophisticated and high-end animation programs improve, CGI is becoming the animation equivalent of digital video: a democratizing technology that significantly drops the price tag of filmmaking, but which also often produces damn ugly movies. For instance, Hoodwinked. The Weinstein Company's first animated outing was reportedly made for a rock-bottom $15 million (less than half the budget of the similarly ugly Valiant), and it looks it. The script is clever and perky, and even the all-but-obligatory big musical number is handled well, but the film still has an uphill battle against its stiff, doll-like characters and cheap-looking plasticine surfaces.
Anne Hathaway voices Red, a sassy, dissatisfied version of folklore's Little Red Riding Hood, basket of goodies for grandma and all. As the film begins, she's confronting the Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton), who seems to have tied up her sweet little granny (Glenn Close) and shoved her into a closet, then disguised himself as Grandma in order to get girl and goodies alike. Then the heroic woodsman (James Belushi) leaps in to save the day with his axe. Except that when the police slap everyone in handcuffs and a natty frog investigator (David Odgen Stiers) begins grilling the suspects, it becomes clear that their stories don't match up, and that appearances are highly deceiving. If the movie's initial pitch wasn't "It's Little Red Riding Rashomon!", it certainly should have been.
But unlike with Rashomon, the witnesses' stories all fit together perfectly, producing a tangled satirical story that throws an up-to-the-minute postmodern gloss on an old fable. Tony Leech, Todd Edwards, and Cory Edwards (who does double duty as the voice of a frenetic squirrel who seems suspiciously reminiscent of animated Internet phenomenon Foamy The Squirrel) seem to have a lot of fun with their irreverent script, which combines gimmicky one-liners, pop-culture references, and celebrity spoofs into a cheesy but generally amusing stew. But there's no getting around the fact that it all looks like a cutscene from a kiddie video game. It's a great showreel. Now someone give these folks a real budget so they can make a movie that looks as good as it sounds.