2½ stars (out of four)
"Hoodwinked"--which is the latest cartoon recycling of that oft-told fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood"--may be a bit scrappy-looking, but it's also pretty funny at times. An animated feature pitched as the media-savvy, TV-sophisticated post-"Shrek" generation of kids (and their parents), it doesn't beguile or impress you as "Shrek" or the Pixar films do. But, when it's cooking, it does make you laugh.
It's a slightly slapdash computer-animated cartoon feature that takes the venerable "Riding Hood" and updates and reconfigures it into a sendup of police-procedural mysteries such as "Law and Order" or "NYPD Blue" while adopting (no kidding) the multiple-perspective storytelling strategies of Akira Kurosawa in "Rashomon."
"Hoodwinked" treats "Red Riding Hood" as a detective story we've never really understood until now, with nuttier motivations, more complex characters and a screwier climax. One by one, under the suave interrogations of a dapper, pencil-thin-mustachioed police detective frog named Nicky Flippers (voiced with zero-cool glibness by David Ogden Stiers), we get the separate accounts of adventurous Red (Anne Hathaway), ultra-feisty Granny Puckett (Glenn Close), a bozo Woodsman (Jim Belushi) and a hipster Wolf (Patrick Warburton), all of whom were thrown together in Granny's forest house in a brouhaha that somewhat resembles the story we know.
As Flippers and his less astute funny-animal cop associates--bully-bear Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and Det. Bill Stork (Anthony Anderson)--keep grilling these unusual suspects, the story gets crazier. It seems that Red is a professional goody delivery-girl, Granny is a goody-baker and secret extreme-sports devotee, Wolfie is a tabloid journalist with a popular gossip column and the Woodsman also delivers goodies, besides having some addled acting aspirations. (He was developing that Woodsman part for a TV commercial job.)
All four of them, plus most of the other forest critters, are caught up in a goody war with the mysterious master criminal, the Goody Bandit, who has been pillaging the woods food industry and slashing livelihoods by stealing every snack and recipe in sight.
Who is this treat-destroying miscreant? He seems to be connected to a brash little bunny named Boingo (Andy Dick) as well as an exotic troupe of villains headed by muscleman Dolph (Tye Edwards), a heavy who looks and sounds suspiciously like "Governator" Schwarzenegger. Other bizarre creatures somehow involved include the funky sheep Woolworth (Chazz Palminteri), the motor-mouth coffee-junkie squirrel Twitchy (played by a sped-up Cory Edwards) and the country-singing mountain goat Japeth (Benjy Gaither, who's a hoot). As the mystery is uncovered, a clash between the forces of goodies and evil seems inevitable; it comes with lots of kung fu, chases and big bangs.
The movie, from the newly formed Weinstein Co. , is no great shakes visually. Most of the CGI animation, done at a computer studio in Manila, lacks the finesse of the local studio product. But the voice cast is tops, the songs (by Todd Edwards) are catchy and the script is clever. Satirizing everything from TV cop and news shows, to folk music, fast food commercials and "The Three Little Pigs," it packs more verbal wit and surprise than the usual cartoon. The best parts reminded me of the old Jay Ward-Bill Scott TV masterpiece "Rocky and Bullwinkle," the hell-for-leather show that took cartoon dialogue to its highest Marx-Brother-ish level. (Remember, the visuals on "Rocky" weren't so hot either.)
As a "Riding Hood " parody, "Hoodwinked" lacks the pizzazz and great shape of that all-time classic MGM short, Tex Avery's immortal 1943 "Red Hot Riding Hood," with its lecherous Wolf, hot-to-trot Granny and sizzling Red. But "Hoodwinked" is a good demonstration of how sophisticated cartoon voice-over casting and acting has gotten these days. That entire all-star cast has a lot of fun, especially Stiers and Warburton.And Glenn Close's Granny is something else.
Somehow Close supplies a voice that's a perfect match for her role as a cartoon Golden Ager leading an amazing double life: baking, crocheting and then hitting the local mountains to ski and surf-board down a slope, yelling "You ready to get spanked?" and bashing that Schwarzeneggerish villain. Close won't get an Oscar nod for roles like Granny. But it's nice to know she's willing to play them.
Directed by Cory Edwards; co-directed by Tony Leech, Todd Edwards; written by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards, Leech; songs by Todd Edwards; music by John Mark Painter; produced by Maurice Kanbar, Sue Bea Montgomery, Preston Stutzman, David K. Lovegren. A Weinstein Co. release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:21. MPAA rating: PG (for some mild action and thematic elements).
Red - Anne Hathaway
Granny Puckett - Glenn Close
The Woodsman - Jim Belushi
The Wolf - Patrick Warburton
Nicky Flippers - David Ogden Stiers
Det. Bill Stork - Anthony Anderson
Chief Grizzly - Xzibit
Woolworth - Chazz Palminteri
Boingo the Bunny - Andy Dick
Twitchy the Squirrel - Cory Edwards
Japeth the Goat - Benjy Gaither