After watching Hoodwinked, the Weinstein Company’s first foray into animation, one is not surprised to learn that the film has three directors (brothers Cory and Todd Edwards, and Tony Leech). In fact, the news is somewhat reassuring, because it potentially offers some explanation for the wildly schizophrenic work they have produced. Lurking beneath the surface of this (relatively) low-budget, modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood are at least three distinct films. First is the traditional sweet animated story, complete with a bicycling, singing heroine who is briefly beset by an easily-resolved family conflict. Second comes the edgy, sarcastic 21st century cartoon, where all of the characters make knowing jokes, and people say things like “fo shizzle.” And, third, there’s the wildly unhinged, new style of animated film which stars a conniving, insane villain and his singing, action figure sidekicks. While all three would be fine on their own - the third, in fact, is fantastic - thrown together they result in an unfortunately uneven mess.
In the hands of the three directors (who also collaborated on the script), the Little Red Riding Hood story is extravagantly unfolded. Not only is each of the four principle characters (Red, Granny, Wolf, Woodsman) fleshed out but, in the tradition of Rashômon, each is also allowed to give their own interpretation of the events that led to them being found together in Granny’s house. Red (voice by Anne Hathaway), turns out to be as schizophrenic and the movie itself. In each telling of the story, she’s sweetness personified, running the forest’s sweets delivery service from the seat of her trusty bicycle, befriending a lonely bunny (Boingo, given life by the shockingly good Andy Dick), and singing from time to time. When the story returns to the present day, however, Red suddenly has a serious attitude. She pouts constantly, and mouths off to the Police Chief (Xzibit) at every opportunity. It’s incredibly confusing, and makes it virtually impossible to understand the character or her motives.
Granny (Glenn Close), on the other hand, is just pretending to be sweet and innocent. In fact, she’s an extreme sports junky known as “Triple G” (it’s tattooed on the back of her neck) to her peeps. Her speciality seems to be snowboarding, but she’s got a closet full of trophies and medals in a mind-boggling array of sports. Though there is undeniably something insulting about the assumption that a gag as unsubtle as an old lady who likes extreme sports can be funny for more than about two minutes, the enthusiasm with which the movie throws itself into the gag makes it hard to resist. The ‘Granny rap’ is absurd, and a lengthy, mountaintop conversation during which Granny is called “playa” and (of course) says “fo’ shizzle” is silly but, somehow, the whole sequence ends up charming, in spite of itself.
The Woodsman, however, is nowhere near so winning. His character - and, in turn, his section of the movie - is easily the weakest of the four. In the original story, the character had even less personality that did Red and Granny - essentially, he’s a killing machine who barely speaks. So, in place of violence personified, Hoodwinked gives us an idiot. In a lot of ways, The Woodsman (James Belushi) reminds one strongly of The Simpsons’ Rainier Wolfcastle (who, in turn, is an awful lot like a certain governor of California) - he speaks in a vaguely Eastern European accent, is abnormally large, and does something that he likes to call “acting.” The primary difference, really, is that The Woodsman has goals: though to make ends meet he drives a Schnitzel truck (like an ice cream truck, except for schnitzel), what he really wants to do is yodel. Though there is a brief, bizarrely wonderful moment when his truck is surrounded by demented, flat-faced customers, as a whole the Woodsman sequences are awkward, and lack the uneven charm that can be found elsewhere in the film.
As opposed to the paper thin Woodsman, The Wolf (Patrick Warburton, who has yet to meet an animated venture he couldn’t enhance) is the most complete character in the film. Clad in a hooded sweatshirt and tailed by a manic squirrel, the angry predator turns out to be an investigative reporter who, just like everyone else, is trying to figure out who is stealing all the goodies. Though The Wolf isn’t written any more creatively than the characters that surround him, Warburton’s perpetually deadpan delivery instantly grants him greater depth, because it suggests an awareness of the world and of himself that is completely lacking from everyone else in the story.
The film’s general unevenness, usually just mildly irritating, becomes infuriating during its last 15 minutes, for it is only then, when the mastermind goodie thief is seen in his lair for the first time, that Hoodwinked truly takes flight. Gone are the sweet songs, the extreme sports, and the predictable characters, and in their place is utter madness. The goodie thief is and unashamedly evil egomaniac, who is bent on the destruction of not only the forest but its surrounding town as well - and he’s gleefully without remorse. While insane, evil characters are nothing innovative, even in children’s films (after all, madness is an easy way to avoid explaining motivation), what’s different here is that the madman is a character we’ve come to know and have developed affection for over the course of the film. But, now that his evil has finally been revealed, his joy is irrepressible - there’s even a nasty song (complete with dancing henchmen), and a sadistically happy good-bye to the Red he assume he’s killed. The character’s transformation is so outrageous partly because it’s totally out of place in the movie that Hoodwinked thought it was up to this point: it will confuse and probably scare children, and it has nothing to do with the tone of the movie that has come before it. Despite all that, though, the energy and creativity that positively explode out of the sequence - so this is the glory that was hidden beneath that disguise of trendiness and conventionality! - are so truly awesome that you’re left rooting for the movie and its trio of directors to succeed.