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For the 190th review, I had a multitude of directions to go, in terms of what I wanted to review. I want to talk about a film that has an interesting development history, or something that is honestly fascinating about it. Today, we get a movie that’s both fascinating and had a rough development history, Animal Crackers. Based loosely on the graphic novel by Scott Cristian Sava, written by Sava and Dean Lorey, and directed by Sava and Tony Bancroft, Animal Crackers is a CGI animated film that showed up at the Annecy International Film Festival in 2017. It was one of the few US-produced animated films to be at the festival that was already stacked with films like Lu Over the Wall, In This Corner of the World, and Loving Vincent.
It was set to be released in the states soon after, but this is where the troubles began. It was originally going to be released by Relativity Media, but they went under. It was then going to be distributed by Serafini Releasing, but they also shut down in the same year. In 2018, the film was going to be released by Entertainment Studios, but the deal fell through a little bit before it was released, and Entertainment Studios went on to distribute Arctic Dogs, one of the worst animated films of the 2010s and one of the worst-performing animated films of all time. The film was released in China, but there was no real word about it ever getting an official US release, until Netflix saved the film and released it on July 24th, 2020 to mostly positive reviews. What do I think about this film that finally got an official release? Well, let’s take a look under the big top.
Our story revolves around a young couple named Owen and Zoe, voiced by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. They both work at Zoe’s dad’s dog biscuit factory up until one day, Owen gets a call from the top clown at his uncle’s circus named Chesterfield, voiced by Danny DeVito. Owen’s uncle and aunt supposedly died in a fire, and Owen and Zoe are offered the chance to run the circus again, and Chesterfield offers Owen a box of supposedly magical animal crackers. Owen takes the box with him and Zoe to head back home for the day, and Owen finds out first-hand that the crackers are magical. It is up to Owen and Zoe to help bring back the circus with the help of their friends and those magical cookies, and avoid the evil rule of Horatio P. Huntington, voiced by Ian McKellen.
First off, I know circuses don’t have the best reputation with animal safety and health, but this film isn’t about any of that. It’s a fairytale-like film, so if you are going into this with the exact rage you had for something like The Greatest Showman, you are reviewing this film incorrectly. Judge it for what it is.
Let’s get the most obvious element about this film out of the way next, the animation. This film had a supposed budget of $17 mil, and if you are going to go down the route of comparing its visual quality to some of the bigger films of 2020, it’s not up to par. That’s a pointless observation to make to me because it seems like it’s too obvious of a comment. To me, the film’s visuals, textures, and animation might be lacking, but the designs to me help make the smaller budget stand out. The designs are cartoony, and that helps the visual style. I like the look of the overall film, and the animations are still pretty good. Some characters have a bit more intricate details to them than others, but I think it looks nice for a film that cost $17 million. It looks better and appropriate for films of that budget compared to ones that supposedly cost $50 to $100 mil like Wonder Park and/or Arctic Dogs, but do not show it.
Now that we have that out of the way, while the animation might lack in terms of visual fidelity, it makes up for it with a pretty snappy script. While the pop culture references abound and were hit-and-miss, there were many times where I chuckled or downright laughed at the dialogue. Everyone has good chemistry, and I think the directors and writers got the best out of them, and they had the proper amount of improved dialogued within the script. Anytime Owen and Zoe were on screen or Horatio and Zucchini (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) were on screen, or when Dany DeVito was there, they usually had the best lines. Even Sylvester Stallone’s Bulletman character was used effectively. Of course, the scene-stealer himself Patrick Warburton as Brock is always a delight. I also like how the film tackles the arc of people following their passion. At first, Owen doesn’t think he could make the circus great again, because it wouldn’t bring in the money, and he wanted to do what would pay the bills. I think, for the most part, it tackles that topic well. I also love that they give simple rules to the crackers in general. They don’t try to explain everything about them, and the film’s dialogue even shoots down the people who love to nitpick films to death for no real reason. Sometimes, you need to sit back and just enjoy a more fantastical story. Not every little detail needs to be explained!
With all of that said, I do have some issues with the film. I love the ambition of some parts of the film, but it is stretched thin. For example, while the songs in the film were okay, I felt like they should have either committed to being a Disney-like musical or just use normal songs. I thought some of the lines in the songs also didn’t flow well within the film. Animal Crackers also overstays its welcome a little, as while it might be a little over 100 minutes, it takes a while for everything to happen and fall into place. The dog biscuit subplot also feels more like filler. It matches some parts of the overall story, but I cared much more about the circus stuff than the dog biscuit subplot. My final criticism is that Horatio’s villain motivation is, unfortunately, razor-thin. It’s a weak drive when maybe they could have done a darker backstory for what happened with Horatio. I don’t know how dark they wanted to go with this film, but it would have made him more of a threatening and or interesting villain, than, well, what we got. He’s more like the villain from The Curse of the Wererabbit in terms of being a delightful and amusing villain, but not a compelling one.
It might be rough around the edges, and I know not everyone is as on board with this film as I am, but I enjoyed it. I thought it was a pretty good and charming family film. I would put it over most of Netflix’s other film releases this year in terms of animation. I would say I highly recommend watching this film, but since it was a huge viewer hit for Netflix, I don’t need to, but do watch it if you are curious about this film’s history. So, next time, we will be talking about one of GKids’ newest features that they picked up from Annecy, On Gaku: Our Sound.
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Rating: Go See It!