OMGIF: Little Red Riding Hood Meets 'Dragnet' In 'Hoodwinked'

"Hoodwinked": Pretty grim, brother. (Weinstein Co.)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 13, 2006

Of all the tales that didn't need to be told again, "Little Red Riding Hood" is the most un-tell-worthy. There's always room for one more "Anna Karenina," but another "Red"? Grandma, what familiarity you boast! Grandma, how banal you are! Grandma, how unsurprising you are! Grandma, how dead you are!

The angle that animation filmmakers Cory Edwards and Todd Edwards take in "Hoodwinked" -- their unnecessary variant of the story -- seems to have more to do with marketing than storytelling: It's to reinvest the Grimm Brothers story of the little girl stalked by the wolf who has disguised himself as her grandma in the idiom of the ancient television series "Dragnet."

Anyone familiar with that early-TV classic will recognize the tropes: the solemn narrative arranged in strict chronology as keyed to a time signifier ("3:42 P.M."), the deadpan tone of the narrator, the use of police code ("a 3-42 in progress") as the story is broken down and reassembled in the form of an investigation. Except this one is dumb-de-dumb-dumb, and if you get that, you're as ancient as the far hills.

Who will be familiar with these stylizations? The answer: grandparents. Us old boomers, that was the reality TV of our youths -- watching in black and white as Sgt. Joe Friday glumly tracked down this week's miscreants in 24 minutes of morality play, his mug uncreased by joy, fear, worry, love or human awareness. He was duty.

So when we take our grandkids to the flickers, we'll connect, and the grandkids, being somewhat undiscriminating, will like the funny animated creatures, the bright colors, even if the "Dragnet" stuff flies over their heads. It's cleverly engineered to bypass today's parents, who, in their twenties and thirties, have no acquaintance with the antics of the Badge 714 boys and no patience for jumpy green amphibian things (the chief investigator is a frog!). They're too busy downloading their CDs into MP3s, drinking Tab Energy and playing shoot-'em-up games or whatever it is they do.

So as marketing theory, "Hoodwinked" makes a little sense. Too bad, then, it's so crummy.

As animation, it's far from state of the art; the creatures seem more like rubber toys than animated beings and their faces are without nuance or vividness. It's hard to become emotionally involved in the fate of rubber objects. In movement, especially, do they lack grace and conviction. It seems like the recent breakthroughs in computerized magic have bypassed the poor Edwards fellows, as it looks stuck somewhere in the 1970s, or maybe even earlier. In fact, before he made monsters mash and saucers saucy, the great stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen spent the late '40s and early '50s on a series of fairy tales including a "Little Red Riding Hood," as well as a "Rapunzel" and a "Hansel and Gretel." They are what "Hoodwinked" most resembles, though it lacks the novelty and charm of Harryhausen's splendid work.

Then there's the vocal cast. It's a combination of has-beens and almost-weres. Glenn Close: Over. Anne Hathaway: Never happened. James Belushi: Over. Patrick Warburton: Patrick who? He was Puddy, Elaine's self-absorbed boyfriend on "Seinfeld." Never was and Over, simultaneously. David Ogden Stiers! Good lord, David Ogden Stiers ! Really.

Hoodwinked (80 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for mild action and thematic elements, presumably the theme of large furry carnivores devouring helpless redheaded stepchildren.

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