The film starts at the end of the tale and winds its way back to the beginning in a manner that wouldn't be out of place from an Agatha Christie's novel - except with furry animals. It all begins as a feathered and furry assortment of cops and detectives turn up at Granny's cottage in the woods to answer a rather disturbing domestic disturbance call. It looks at first to be just another open-and-shut case of a Woodsman assaulting a Wolf impersonating a Granny, with an assortment of other criminal charges - including breaking and entering, intent to eat and wielding an axe without a licence. Never mind the enchanted forest, this sounds more like a Friday night in my local town!
Still, as every juror knows, looks can be deceiving and in order to find the truth behind matters Nicky Flippers arrives to interview the suspects. As they are questioned one by one, it becomes clear they're not your usual suspects - yet the investigators must use their clashing eyewitness accounts to solve the increasingly convoluted riddle of who among them has committed a crime. When at last the wicked villain's true identity is revealed, it's up to Red, The Wolf, The Woodsman and Granny to put aside their differences and find their own original twist on happily ever after.
Being made up entirely from computer animation you'd expect the picture to be in tip top shape - especially since the image has been in the digital domain from start to finish. Naturally, everything is indeed in perfect shape, with transfer bit-rate that ranges from anywhere between 4.4 to 9.8 Mb/s, producing a wonderfully sharp and rich image that seems to increase in quality the larger the viewing source. Even on my relatively low resolution, and non-HD plasma screen, it looks simply gorgeous with a extensive range of colours and no sign of artifacting, outlining or pixelisation issues due to the DVD encoding process. Still, for CGI animation I wouldn't expect anything less than pixel perfect reproduction.
The only image quality issue raised from other reviewers, especially during the theatrical run of the film, is the quality of the animation - with some claiming that Red emotionless eyes looking a bit like a crack addicts. Naturally, our pampered reviewers have been brought up on a diet of mega budget Shrek and Toy Story style films for too long and, with their fairly limited budget, I felt that the producers didn't do a bad job at all. In fact, I think it makes the film more original that most other CGI animated films.
The 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is simply wonderful with every channel making its presence known in the film at one point or another. Although the majority of the film is dialogue based, the front stereo channels still offer some good stereo steerage - especially during the various musical "interludes" - whilst the centre channel keeps the dialogue firmly anchored in the centre of things. The rear channels are also kept busy with the musical score along with being put to good use during the many action scenes. Even the LFE channel rumbles into life in all the right places, making the entire soundtrack an involving and highly entertaining one.
Once you get past the trailer for the mixed live action and full CGI film Arthur and the Invisibles staring the likes of Madonna and David Bowie, the menu system is pleasantly animated and scored with a background that shoots around a wall with pictures of the characters and snippets of the film playing in small windows. However, once you get to the extras menu it all becomes a disappointingly static and silent affair. Still, the collection of extras is a rather good one and adds some excellent value to the package.
The Audio Commentary is provided by director Cory Edwards and co-directors Todd Edwards and Tony Leech. The guys certainly have a good time talking about the film and it's a very enjoyable and engaging track. Although there is very little technical detail about how the film was actually animated, they concentrate on the actual film in front of them, the storyline background and the critical feedback from the test audiences and reviewers. They even make a comment about reviewers now reviewing the DVD commentary - so it would be rude not to make a comment! However, just make sure you listen to the commentary after watching the film, otherwise the chief villain is revealed during the film (although I dare say you'll have already worked it out by the time the guys talk about the character).
The Deleted and Extended Scenes are also available with an optional commentary track. Although the film isn't overly long in the first place, it seems like the scenes were simply removed or shortened for timing and pacing reasons. With a mixture of fully rendered animated scenes (albeit at a much lower quality) and a single storyboard with character voices, and given that the majority of the commentaries say how wonderful the scenes were, it's a great pity they weren't inserted back into this DVD and titled as a Director's Cut. Never the less, it's all worth checking out for an extra laugh or too.
I'm not sure of the purpose of the three and half minute Critters Have Feelings Music Video but, unlike the actual main feature, the quality of the animation is definitely more akin to your average computer console. However, in an age where no film is complete without a promotional music video of one sort or another, I can only assume it was developed for this purposes - even if there's no hint of actually promoting Hoodwinked. Still, it's quite a ditty of a tune and if you like the film visuals then you're sure to enjoy the video too.
With plenty of clips from the film and interviews with the writers, directors and producers, the twelve minute featurette How to Make An Animated Film is laden with facts about the film. The made for television feature looks how the idea, and ultimately, the film came about. The feature take us through most of the development process, including plenty of sketches and storyboards on how the characters and script came about. However, whilst the actual CGI creation process is touched on (like the title of the feature implies), it's far too short for a CGI based film. Never the less, it's still very interesting and well worth a watch and you get to put some faces to their respective character voices. Things are all rounded off nicely with one minutes worth of Theatrical Trailer.
Hollywood has become rather delusional about just how much money a CGI film can make and there seems to be an endless collection of animated films released on a near weekly basis. After all, all you need to is animate a rabbit, give it some fancy fur courtesy of some complex algorithm and a super-computer, throw in some water effects for good measure and then simply sit back and watch the money flow in. The only trouble with this approach is that they tend to forget to write a script to go with the bunny. With Cars, Open Season and Barnyard all being major disappointments in 2006 it really looked like the goose that laid the golden egg had finally been killed and eaten for Christmas.
But, as with the storyline of the film, looks can be deceiving, and Hoodwinked quickly turns into a bit of corker and out right homage to some of the best (and, um, worst) Hollywood films of recent years. Simply keep an eye out for nods to xXx, The Matrix, Fletch, Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects plus a plot thread that unwinds faster than 2 Days in the Valley or Magnolia. In fact, you could almost class this film as the animated equivalent to The Usual Suspects - including the rather bizarre plot twist! With plenty of fluffy bunnies, plus a huge array of daft characters - the singing goat had me in stitches - it will keep the kids well and truly occupied whilst you have a good laugh.
So why does Hoodwinked succeed where others have failed? Well for a start, it was made on tiny budget - if you consider the estimated $15 million dollars a tiny budget that is - and it's was made away from the interfering fingers of the Hollywood executives. And let's not forget that all important storyline, a fairy tale so turned on it's head that you really have to wonder just what the heck those script writers were smoking during their head banging sessions. With it's box office success came the inevitable envious finger pointing from the other studio bosses - with the computer console quality of the animation being the focus point for their disgust. However, whilst I agree that the animation is no way near the quality of your average Disney/Pixar productions, it's not an issue and the strong storyline more than negates the standard of the animation.
With the disc providing a good collection of extras, plus a profitable return from the box office spawning a sequel, you can only expect good things from the DVD sales. If you missed this film at the cinema then don't be hoodwinked into ignoring this DVD. It's an animated fun poking classic in the making - just sit back, laugh and enjoy. Highly recommended.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Critters Have Feelings Music Video
- How to Make an Animated Film
- Commentary with the Film Makers
- Theatrical Trailer