'Hoodwinked Too' All Sheep's Clothing
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Who can fathom the taste of a tot? Will rug rats chortle with delight at the long-awaited (surely someone must have been waiting?) sequel to 2006's "Hoodwinked"? Just how many little ones actually toddled off with Dad and Mom to fidget through that first dully animated fracturing of "Little Red Riding Hood"?
Bolstered by a bigger budget and gussied-up graphics, "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil" was ready for release over a year ago, then delayed by corporate roadblocks and lawsuits. (Gotta wonder what demographic hoodwinkery led The Weinstein Co. to believe that the preschool elite was jonesin' for more of Red Riding Hood's grrrl power.) Despite cosmetic surgery, this 3-D sequel reprises the original's formulaic failings: infantile humor, unrelenting wisecracks and popcult references, and flat characters who don't engage one's eyes or interest.
While Red (Hayden Panettiere, replacing Anne Hathaway) is off training at some top-of-the-world temple with the Sister Hood of Kung-Fu Bakers (a culinary branch of the Traveling Pants?), her posse carries on as best it can under Happily Everafter Agency director Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers), a suave frog with a lounge lizard mustache. (Check out the cartoon-family resemblance to Michael Caine's urbane Aston Martin in "Cars 2.") Naturally, the awesome ineptitude of the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) and Twitch (Cory Edwards, the film's co-scripter), a squirrel so manifestly on crack he should be called Tweak, results in Red's Granny (Glenn Close) getting kidnapped by a wicked witch named Verushka (Joan Cusack), who also has unsavory plans for adorable little Hansel and Gretel (Bill Hader and Amy Poehler).
OK, you've noticed the incredible voice talent abroad in this trifle. Too bad that funny soon segues into tiresome, once you get an earful of Ogden Stiers' silky delivery, Warburton's clueless drawl, Hader and Poehler going all Nazi SS as the villainous über-kinder ("Ve haff vayz off making you talk"). No variations on the vocal theme are forthcoming, and don't look for these animated personalities to deliver any real surprises. Cruelly, Cusack's voicing of insanely jealous Verushka goes generic, bereft of the berserker-shrill she's so good at.
Hilarious (not) how "Hoodwinked Too" invokes Tarantino when it comes to its heroines. Her white hair towering in a beehive, Red's kick-ass Granny squeezes her droopy-boobed, pear-shaped self into The Bride's form-fitting yellow bodysuit, her extreme athletics backed by "Kill Bill" riffs. For the genderless, charisma-challenged Red (think garden gnome rather than three-dimensional Rapunzel), there's special martial arts training with a grotesque gallery of old-lady sensei, climaxing in a final test ... or two.
In the first challenge, Red kung-fus the heck out of a four-armed sumo wrestler who resembles a deformed Shrek. Her second is Trial by Truffle, in which the tyro must cook up a legendary recipe for a confection so powerfully delicious that whoever eats it becomes "unstoppable." Recalling cake that made Alice grow until she hit the ceiling, this truffle can turn you into a Macy's Parade balloon -- with muscle.
The theft of this magical recipe is what makes the plot, such as it is, go round. Not surprisingly, one's attention drifts off into subtext: Why is "Hoodwinked Too" so hooked on gigantism, hair-raising obesity, and culinary metaphors for good and evil? Sure, fairy tales are full of giants, good and bad, but this cartoon takes special relish in pitting normal-size folk against real biggies: that Shrek lookalike, a Joe Pesci mobster two stories high, and the super-sized Nazi siblings who gaze down from a skyscraper roof, reveling in contempt for the "tiny people" below.
Perhaps "Hoodwinked Too" is a thinly disguised polemic against childhood obesity, a warning writ large by Boingo (Andy Dick), the psychotic bunny, when he channels Hannibal "Cannibal" Lecter. Has first-time director Mike Disa tapped into primal fast-food fears, of malevolent children so fat they fill up streets and smash down cities down like heaps of wooden blocks? Oh, wait, I've slipped sideways into the vivid environs of "Paprika," the thinking adult's anime. Seems likely director Disa was not unfamiliar with this masterpiece, in which a redheaded girl embarks on a hero-quest into true nightmare, where a giant baby hungry enough to eat the world is no joke.
For me, the most enduring image of "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil" is of Japeth the singing goat. No matter what locale this vagabond, ukulele-strumming ram seeks out -- "Nothing can happen to me here!" -- mayhem always finds him. At the end of his rope, the goat suddenly kneels and bursts into a heartrending aria from "Pagliacci." Sad and funny and absurd, like the human condition. Will tots laugh?
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool.") She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.