Sunday, July 1, 2018

Woody Woodpecker: The Movie

I don't think Cartoon Network ever showed reruns of Woody Woodpecker cartoons...if they did, they came and went. Universal Pictures owns the character, but I don't think they even air his cartoons on their children's programming cable channel, Universal Kids.

So...is the out-of-nowhere emergence of a live-action/CG Woody Woodpecker movie akin to when DreamWorks made the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie? If so, Woody's lucky he's not owned by Sony, who didn't greenlight a Popeye directed by the sole individual responsible for making the Hotel Transylvania movies look good..because they're just not that into Popeye.

But that's not so...Woody Woodpecker cartoons are still very popular in Brazil, where it's still shown daily, so this movie is explicitly aimed at that fanbase. It's the same logic that resulted in those two (!) animated Top Cat feature-length cartoons that premiered in Mexico and an upcoming film adaptation of the obscure DePatie-Freling cartoon series, Here Comes The Grump. If there's a surefire guarantee of a profit to be made, they will make a film. I'm hoping some other country out there is also into Crazylegs Crane or The Mumbly Show. Jabberjaw?

So it's because Brazil was the original target audience for this film that native Brazilian actress Thaila Ayala (who kinda reminds me of Law & Order actress Annie Parisse) gets top-billing in her English-language acting debut as co-lead alongside Psych co-star Timothy Omundson (barely recognizable with the grubby-looking beard). Ayala plays the dimepiece girlfriend/fiance to Omundson's yuppie and bails on him after enduring Woody Woodpecker's pranks one too many times. This allows Omundson's character the opportunity to reconcile with his estranged pre-teen son and cultivate a flirtation with the cute forest ranger...wait, I haven't explained the plot yet..

Have you seen Peter Rabbit? How about Yogi Bear? Kangaroo Jack? The Smurfs? The Smurfs 2? Garfield? Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties? Alvin and The Chipmunks? Alvin and The Chipmunks 2, 3, 4?

The plot of Woody Woodpecker isn't particularly innovative. The yuppies hope to flip lakefront property by building a luxury cabin by the lake (oddly enough, thry make a curious decision to aint the outside of the cabin entirely in blue...if this were a "Pink Panther" CG movie, the plot would be about the panther painting the cabin pink...do NOT be surprised if the rumored Pink Panther CG film has that plot), only to blow their budget by recouping from loses made by Woody - who didn't want them disturbing his habitat - but manage to complete the project after achieving a truce after the bird gets along with Omundson's son. By then, Ayala's character has split around the 45-minute mark (the "screenwriter" neglected to have her say, "Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue", but I'm not sure if they air reruns of Green Acres in Brazil) and the rest of the film is devoted to the reunited father-and-son rescuing Woody from goofy poachers and helping the son jam in a rock band with local kids.

It's predictable, familiar, not particularly cinematic, unambitious in scope, clumsy yet competently well-done. If most of the live-action/CG hybrid movies I mentioned earlier felt like stuff that you would think would have the decency to premiere on television like those 3 weird, but harmless  Fairly Oddparents live-action TV movies Nickelodeon aired a few years ago, well, this debuted straight-to-deal everywhere else. Popularity of Thaila Ayala in Brazil notwithstanding, I couldn't help wondering if this cast was really first choice. Were Brendan Fraser and Carmen Electra really unavailable? Was Fraser really reluctant after appearing in similar fare for over two decades? Or really too-expensive?

How was the eponymous title character? Woody was just fine. Perhaps the fact that this wasn't particularly high-profile prevented any superfluous superficial design tinkering that would've led to ghastly results. Eric Bauza does a great job recreating the voice. I thought the scale for the interiors of Woody's treehouse home looked too small for him to actually dwell in, but it's nothing terrible. The film's greatest accomplishment is that it fits right in with the other films in this recent genre of live-action/CG hybrids and gets away with doing so on a cheaper budget. As a bonus, if you sit through the end credits, a restored print of a vintage Woody Woodpecker cartoon Niagara Fools plays (albeit in 3:2 format ratio instead of full-screen - odd, since the live-action film was in full-screen). The plot ofthe cartoon involves a goofy park ranger's attempts to prevent Woody from recklessly jumping over Niagara falls in a barrel. I remember this was broadcast as a heavily-edited instrumental music video during the late-80s and early 90's reruns and the complete cartoon had been rarely seen thereafter...possibly because Woody's efforts could be misunderstood as attempted suicide...or the park ranger repeatedly surviving the falls in the barrel might confuse misguided children into jumping off waterfalls or cliffs..whatever. it's nice to see it again. If the Woody Woodpecker cartoons aren't as acclaimed as the Looney Tunes or Disney cartoons or even Hanna-Barbera cartoons, they usually had a faster pace that kept them from wearing out their welcome..that's why his balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade endured as long as it did. Certainly longer than Popeye's.

"Bugs (Bunny) must always be provoked into action...if he isn't provoked, he runs the risk of becoming an unmotivated bully, like Heckle and Jeckle, or Woody Woodpecker at his worst." - Chuck Jones

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