It had to happen sometime - what with all the touting and temptation. At some point in every gimmick's lifetime, the stunt destroys its intended target. Now, not the audience (in the case of the creaky ploy being discussed today - 3D), but the user of such a device. In the case of Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, the decision to add a dimension more or less undermines what the original fairytale satire was attempting. Trying to avoid the formulas and stereotypes that seem to plague the animated family film, this sly spoof poked fun at everything we've come to expect from the pen and ink genre...and then some. Now, however, the bloom is off the CG rose and the cliched chickens have come home to roost. While the majority of the movie is forgettable farce, the overuse of 3D in various action scenes renders the rest moot. We spend so much time dipping and diving around the motherboard managed backdrops that we need an air sickness bag. In fact, another for the movie itself wouldn't be a bad idea.
While Red Riding Hood - aka Red (voice of Hayden Panettierre) is out getting special training at the Sisters of the Hood mountain retreat, her companions at the Happy Ever After Agency - Wolf (Patrick Warburton), Granny (Glenn Close), and Twitchy (Cory Edwards) - are neck deep in some new trouble. A witch (Joan Cusack) has captured Hansel (Bill Hader) and Gretel (Amy Pohler) and is preparing to do away with them. While they thwart the attempted baking, the evil woman rides off with her hostages in tow. Once back on the case, Red consults with HEA leader, Nicky Flikppers (David Ogden Stiers) and discovers that the entire plot revolves around a secret candy truffle recipe that only a few in the Sisterhood know about...including her own grandmother. When the witch captures her favorite relative as well, our heroine heads to the big city in order to shakedown a magic harp (Wayne Newton) and his ogre owner (Brad Garrett) for information. When she discovers the truth behind what's going on, she'll need all the help she can get - even a certain bumbling and lazy lupine.
Groan. As a perfect case of letting success (or in the case of this film, a minor cult accomplishment) run right up and through your better judgment, Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil is unnecessary and uninspired. Trying to Trump the Rashamon meets Mother Goose of the first film, this bungle gets bogged down in dopey dialogue, even stupider storylines, and a decision to go dimensional that all but kills it. In fact, it's safe to say that if this movie didn't have its numerous POV sequences with critters and other accessories careening up, down, around, and through various physics-challenged terrains, we'd have a solid short on our hands. Take the opening. Red is out training, leaving the Wolf and his hyperactive squirrel buddy on the case of Hansel and Gretel. After an ambush, the duo take to a flying broom and try to stop the kidnapper. As a result, the camera angle shifts and suddenly we are diving in and around trees, tripping up and over mountains, and in perhaps the most egregious and obvious move, in and through a bunch of windmills. On the small screen, sans 3D, the ruse is obvious. In the theater, with glasses firmly affixed to face, the effect is decent, if decidedly anticlimactic.
That's the problem with Hoodwinked Too! Everything promises to be eye-popping spectacle but ends up coming across as calculated and cold. Again, we take off into the cinematic stratosphere as Red and her buddies try to outsmart the Giant (of "Beanstalk" fame) and make off with some valuable evidence. As we traverse down long green avenues of CG vines, we get caught up in just how cheesy this is. It's like an amusement park ride without the legitimate thrills. It's all fake and phony, as are the attempts at humor and wit. While the first film got by on the fact that it was deconstructing favored fairytales, Hoodwinked Too! treats this concept with a cynical "been there, done that" approach. Instead, it wants to stand next to Pixar and proclaim its comparability to Blue Sky and Dreamworks. Unfortunately, it can't, and when that strategy fails, the films goes overboard into desperation mode. It's at this point where the plot really bogs down, turning into a weird Godzilla riff with rotund German kids as the creatures and our heroes as hampered outcasts from The Incredibles.
Indeed, the biggest obstacle this movie faces ultimately is the notion that it can never compete. The work of Mr. Lasseter and the gang is so uniformly good (Cars 2 aside) and overflowing with imagination that something like Hoodwinked Too! feels like a direct to DVD rip-off. Similarly, for all their pandering and predictable stunt casting, works like Ice Age and How to Train Your Dragon prove there is limited life outside the whole House of Mouse dynamic. While the character design and backgrounds show promise (actually, they are the only imaginative thing here), the rest is just recycled. The whole 'Red training at a dojo' routine is clearly borrowed from better films, while anything involving Twitchy seems copied from Fox's fave - Skrat. Even the voice work appears second tier. While Warburton and Close return, original cast members Anne Hathaway (Red) and Jim Belushi (Kirk the Woodsman) are gone, replaced by Ms. Panettierre and Martin Short, respectively. While bright and colorful enough to keep the kids semi-occupied, this otherwise ordinary effort reminds us that, sometimes, it's better to leave well enough alone. The original Hoodwinked was a lot of fun. The sequel is a slave to such a money-grubbing mentality.
Since the animation is barely average, no amount of bells and Blu-ray whistles can make is shine. Even with a 1080p, 1.78:1 MPEG-4 MVC encode, the image is flat and lifeless. There is a far amount of shimmer around the characters, something that is clearly inherent in the production process, not the disc reproduction, and the colors can come across as dark and indistinct. There is a nice level of detail, but without the onerous option of 3D, everything else appears lacking in depth. It's a good enough transfer, but far from reference quality.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack is also a disappointment. It's short and superficial, lacking depth and a directional quality. Sure, the various action scenes get the speakers going, but almost everything else stays decidedly front and center. The dialogue is occasionally hampered by chaotic sound effects and the whole experience seems at once acceptable and over the top and anarchic. Again, this is not Pixar or some other big time professional production house. Still, the lack of solid tech specs undermines the necessity for the HD format.
We are offered a weird collection of added content as part of this Blu-ray release. There are three music videos (ugh!), a look at the actors who voiced the characters, and an overview of the various storyboard sequences and production artwork. That's it. No commentary. No attempt to place this project in perspective...and definitely no discussion of the long and legally arduous process behind the film's many delays and eventual release. Just some standard electronic babysitter pleasantries, nothing more or less.
Though many claimed the film was too "adult" to be geared toward kids (many of the references would fly directly over the average anklebiter's bullet head), Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil is actually a perfect vehicle for the underaged viewer. They won't care about the lack of consistency, flagrant pandering, and the nauseating - literally and figuratively - use of 3D. While it screams for a rating of Skip It, a score of Rent It will be a better judgment. This way, parents can decide if they want to stunt their kid's creative growth with such subjective swill. Again, the original movie has its moments and is definitely worth checking out. As for this sequel, all it has it a gimmick - and not a very good one at that
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