Tuesday October 14, 1997
"Napoleon" labors under what its plucky little hero characterizes as the curse of cuteness. Think of "The Incredible Journey" with an Australian accent, and there isn't that much more to think about except how you can keep yourself from sighing "awwwwww . . ." every time an animal does something adorable on screen.
The story begins where most trouble begins: at a children's birthday where Muffin (voiced by Adam Wylie), a golden retriever pup living a cozy fenced-in existence with his mum, dreams of being among the wild dogs of the Outback, where he is known as Napoleon. Somehow he finds himself in a basket with enough balloons to lift him out of his backyard and out to sea.
A galah (sort of a pinkish parrot) named Birdo (Bronson Pinchot), who's somehow strayed from his flock, helps Muffin/Napoleon come to a safe landing on a south Australian beach. The pup thinks he's finally found the frontier he's been searching for.
Except he's still afraid of water. (I thought all dogs were natural swimmers. Let's move on.) Nevertheless, no pond, stream or waterfall can keep Napoleon from finding the source of the howling he hears in the distance. Not even a psychotic house cat who's been stranded in the wild for so long he thinks the puppy's a big yellow mouse.
Think I'm making this up as I go along? I'm not, but it often seems as if the people who made this movie did. The pokey storytelling has some charm, and the animal encounters are well-edited enough to make you wonder how they managed to get birds, beasts, lizards and koalas to coexist so well on screen. The encounter between the puppy and a slumbering iguana is as startling as anything recalled from one of those Disney true-life adventures of the 1950s.
A few famous voices pop up here and there on screen. Dame Edith Everage sings a very silly hippety-hop tune as--what else?--a kangaroo. Joan Rivers is heard briefly as mother to a vacationing family of penguins. The use of light and landscape is adroit, and the dingo pups are almost as beguiling as Napoleon. Bill Conti's music, though not his best, serves the story well without getting in its way.
Because the real-life animals talk like humans, comparisons will be made to "Babe," especially since both films share an Aussie pedigree. But not only don't the creatures here have computer-generated moving mouths, they don't have nearly as many interesting things to say. A few dumb jokes slip in here and there, but they don't add up to enough to make "Napoleon" anything more than the sweet-natured trifle it is.
If I were between 5 and 9 years old, I'd love "Napoleon." Beyond that, I doubt I'd push it too hard.
Napoleon, 1997. G. A Film Australian Herald Ace and Furry Feature Films Production. Director Mario Andreacchio. Producers Michael Bourchier, Andreacchio. Executive producers Ron Saunders, Masato Hara, Andreacchio. Screenwriters Bourchier, Andreacchio, Mark Saltzman. Music Bill Conti. Photography Roger Dowling. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Adam Wylie as Napoleon. Bronson Pinchot as Birdo. Debra Mooney as Cat. Wendy Makkena as Napoleon's Mom. David Ogden Stiers as Owl, Koala. Joan Rivers as Mother Penguin.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times