Wednesday, September 27, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, cosmological*

These feature-length cartoons were designed for undemanding kids who would be willing to view direct-to-video discs rather than re-watching the latest Disney/Pixar. I've no delusions that anyone would use my reviews to help them suss out what their kids should watch: my interest in visiting these one-shot wonders is purely to see if any of them conform to my theory of the combative mode.

I've never read any of the juvenile adventure-books in the DINOTOPIA series, but found the television adaptations to be subcombative in nature. I didn't really expect that DINOTOPIA: QUEST FOR THE RUBY SUNSTONE would be any different, even though it discarded any of the regular characters and tried to launch its own franchise (possibly inspired by elements of the books and its video games). Nevertheless, since it featured Malcolm McDowell voicing the above-seen villain "Ogthar," I felt SUNSTONE deserved a look.

Twelve-year old orphan "Kex" (odd name for the hero) tries to escape his lot at the orphanage by stowing aboard a ship, but he's washed overboard. The good news is that he ends up on a remote island, Dinotopia. It's a mark of the movie's superficiality that when he meets the first of several talking anthropomorphic dinosaurs, he's amazed more by the survival of dinosaurs than by the fact that they can talk. The first one he meets is a little female triceratops named "26." She gives Kex a guided tour of the incredible island, whose existence is masked from humanity by magical "sunstones." Kex also meets a 12-year old girl named Mara, who gives him the sort of attitude that would connote a romantic hookup were we dealing with older kids.

The most interesting character is indeed nasty Ogthar, a former tyrant resurrected by two bumbling comic-relief dinos. Though he, like a lot of characters, uses too much contemporary slang for my taste, Ogthar at least takes his villain duties seriously, and proceeds to go after the prize of the Ruby Sunstone.

None of the principals-- Kex, Mara, or 26-- are the least bit formidable, though they gain the help of an ally, a talking T-Rex, when they do him an "Androcles and the Lion" favor. The T-Rex provides a brief battle when it takes on a scorpion-shaped vehicle driven by Ogthar, but this battle is not the climax of the story. Rather, Ogthar chases 26 up the side of a volcano, trying to obtain the sunstone, and the quakes on the volcano drop both of them into the lava. 26 gets a last-minute save, while Ogthar manages to activate some spiffy armor that perhaps saves him from the molten rock. He probably would have come back had the video sold well. Certainly, had there been any more of these bland adventures, Ogthar probably would have still been the best element.

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER hasn't even got a good central villain to offset its bland heroes, though another big name, Sigourney Weaver, is drafted for the voice-work. In "Fairy Tale Land," where apparently the stories of the folklore-inhabitants repeat themselves over and over, Freida, evil stepmother to Cinderella, gets hold of a magical wand owned by the wizard who rules the land. Since Freida is sick of seeing heroes and heroines get their just desserts, she decides she'll use her new powers to put all the evildoers of Fairy Tale Land in charge, and reduce the heroes and heroines-- not least her stepdaughrer Cinderella-- into disarray.

Frieda isn't the only thing wanting to rewrite the old stories. Apparently, during all the times that Cinderella has been getting hooked up with the Prince, there's a kitchen-boy named "Rick" who's been Cinderella's best friend, and the guy she always overlooks. Because of the chaos Frieda wreaks, Rick finally gets a chanced to make a play for the heroine.

Though the setup in Fairy Tale Land makes no real sense, there are a couple of decent moments. I'm a bit of a sucker for convocations of famous villains, so I like seeing Freida bring together all the giants and ogres who usually lose out. (Admittedly, the SHREK series did the same thing, and better.) The only good designs are the Seven Dwarves, who are made into jovial hicks. However, Rick, Cinderella, and the evil stepmother are tedious in the extreme. The film's so predictable that the moment I knew that Sarah Michelle Gellar voiced Cinderella, I thought, "I bet she gets a girl-power moment where she decks the villain." Sure enough, she does-- and even that tiny payoff was boring.

Yet both of these films have at least a predictable consistency, next to 1992's FREDDIE AS F.R.O.7.
This British kiddie-cartoon sports a wealth of well-known voice-actors-- Ben Kingsley, Billie Whitelaw and Brian Blessed-- but the script, co-written by director Jon Aceveski, is lame beyond words.

The "F.R.O.7" of the title is an incoherent play on both the word "frog" and "James Bond, 007," because it features what is presumably the world's only secret-agent frog. Aceveski devotes a third of the film building up the idea of how "Freddie" became a humanoid frog, though nothing is said about how he managed to become a French secret agent in a world where he's the only anthropomorphic being. But no "Howard the Duck" alienation for Freddie the Frog; he's a walking caricature of "the French Romeo," making passes at a lady secret agent while he gets his new assignment. It seems a dictator, El Supremo, has been stealing national monuments for some nefarious purpose, so Freddie and a couple of human agents are assigned to take the evildoer down. Perhaps to justify his secret-agent status, Freddie is actually seen fighting with the villains a few times, combining kung fu with frog-fu (taking really big leaps high in the air).

Like the other features covered here, FREDDIE should be relentlessly unfunny to anyone but a really young kid who's never heard any of the jokes before. That said, a really young kid probably wouldn't appreciate the film's main joke: that Freddie is a "frog" not only by virtue of his green skin, but also because he's French. "Frog," "frog-eaters"-- get it? The oddest thing in FREDDIE is as follows: he gets turned into a frog by his sorceress-aunt back in medieval times. Centuries later, Freddie "magicks" himself into the form of a humanized frog, and somehow escapes the perils of anti-frog prejudice in order to become an agent of the French secret service. Finally, he learns that his sorceress-aunt is still alive, partnered with El  Supremo--and though Freddie gets even with his aunt by foiling her plot, never once does he consider getting her to reverse her spell and make him human again.

Maybe, as Kermit memorably said, "it ain't easy bein' green." But if that's not really the way you were born, and you got the chance to stop being green-- why wouldn't that be the first thing on your mind?

NOTE: Wikipedia speculates that, had there been a sequel to the flop frog-flick, the hero might have confronted his aunt again and been restored to humanity. Still, it's idiotic that, in Freddie's only outing, the idea of re-humanization doesn't even occur to him.

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