"Re-Animated" premiered last December as Cartoon Network's first original live-action film, but don't worry if that seems incongruous. The movie is live-action, but its plot plays out with the lapses in logic and the simplified storytelling you'd get in a cartoon.
It's not bad, as these things go. It's about Jimmy (Dominic James), an unassertive and unpopular seventh-grader who gets in an accident at Golly World (think Disney World) and winds up with the brain of beloved cartoon creator Milt Appleday (Fred Willard) transplanted into his head. With Milt's brain in place, he sees what Milt used to see: cartoon characters hanging around, talking to him, telling him what to do, and giving him creative inspiration.
The Appleday company installs Jimmy as its new president, since he has their founder's brain. This upsets Milt's evil son, Sonny (Matt Knudsen), who plots to get his dad's brain back from Jimmy by whatever means necessary. Meanwhile, bogged down by his new duties of trying to launch a new cartoon featuring Milt's old characters, Jimmy neglects his best friend Craig (Micah Karns) and Craig's sister, Robin (Eunice Cho), who has long been the object of Jimmy's crush.
There are actual cartoons in the film, of course, as we meet the Appleday characters like Golly Gopher (voice of Paul Reubens) and his friends who cling to Jimmy and can only be seen by him. The mix of live-action and animation is obviously low-budget and is not particularly convincing. We're not talking about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" quality. More like "Cool World."
But even aside from that, the movie itself feels like a cartoon, packed with strange, funny details that often made me laugh. (And I'm a grown-up. I assume kids in the right age group -- say, 6-11 -- will be in hysterics.) Jimmy's dad (Bil Dwyer) is like a dopey, adult-sized kid. His mom (Rachel Quaintance) is an astronaut. His sister (Rhea Lando) is a green-skinned alien. There's a llama standing around in the science classroom. These details have nothing to do with the story and are usually not explained.
I like the digs at Disney inherent in all the Milt Appleday stuff. Golly World is particularly rife with it, complete with ludicrous costumed characters walking around, and a hall of history where an animatronic Milt bores children with his life story. ("I'm Milt Appleday," he says, "the greatest man who ever lived.")
A lot of what Matt Knudsen does as the over-the-top sinister Sonny Appleday walks the line between funny and annoying. It may be something that kids have a greater tolerance for than I do, though I did think some of his clownish scheming was funny.
This is essentially a live-action cartoon for kids. It's not too dumb or condescending, and it has some subtle jokes along with the broad, slapstick ones. It's not something adults would enjoy on their own, but they'd probably be amused by it sitting next to their children on the couch.
There are optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. There are no alternate language tracks.
There are a few silly Easter eggs featuring Sonny.
Just an observation: The movie is only 78 minutes long. It originally aired in a two-hour block on Cartoon Network. Usually, a two-hour block of television includes between 28 and 32 minutes of commercials. In this case, however, there must have been a whopping 42 minutes of ads constantly interrupting the movie. I bet the kids loved that!
VIDEO: The non-anamorphic widescreen (1.85) picture is vibrant and colorful. It's pretty par for the course for a modern made-for-TV movie.
AUDIO: Basic Dolby Digital 2.0. Good enough.
EXTRAS: There's an audio commentary by director Bruce Hurwit and writers Adam Peava and Tim McKeon. (When you select the commentary at the beginning, motionless silhouettes representing the three men appear at the bottom of the screen, a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000.") It's a pretty useless commentary. A lot of it is just the guys telling us what we're seeing ("This is Jimmy sneaking into the ride," someone says as Jimmy ... sneaks into the ride). The rest of it is them ruining the movie's jokes by pointing them out and explaining them.
"Hero in Train-ing," Milt Appleday's Golly Gopher cartoon that's seen briefly in the movie, is shown in its entirety (2:44) as an extra.
Finally, there's a brief (5:10) featurette explaining in simple terms how some of the movie's special effects are accomplished. It's a nice introduction for kids to the magic of Hollywood.
It's hard to gauge which movies kids will latch onto and watch over and over again, but this one seems like a reasonable candidate. Of course, maybe that's a reason NOT to buy it....