Stockwell review: Animated kids comedies reimagine classics

‘Hoodwinked,’ ‘Lego Batman Movie’ big on laughs

Here we are at the end of February, which is usually reserved for the annual Oscar ceremony celebrating the top films of the year. For only the fourth time in a 93-year history, it has been postponed (this time because of the pandemic) and will take place Sunday, April 25, 2021.

Along with this move, there are some changes to categories as well as eligibility requirements. As the event develops, we’ll share updates with you, for it should be unique, interesting and still a way to acknowledge the great contributions to the world of cinema.

Until we know who is nominated for what, let’s go back to the two-for-the-show format for our at-home viewing pleasure. For this week, we have two animated films that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. So let’s go get a snack, sit back and get ready to laugh.

Speaking of snacks, why did the cookie go see his doctor?

He was feeling crummy.

“Hoodwinked” (2005)

We’ve all heard the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and occasionally the story is adjusted based on who is telling it. That is the premise behind this 80-minute animated film. When police are dispatched to Granny’s house for a domestic disturbance, they find the owner, her granddaughter (Red), the woodsman and the wolf. Even though it appears to be a simple case of breaking and entering, Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and detective Bill Stork (Anthony Anderson) follow protocol and question the witnesses.

What unfolds next is that each character has a different version of the events that occurred, making the situation more complex than first thought. Enter Nicky Flippers (the great David Ogden Stiers) who realizes there is one consistency in each story, which may help crack an even bigger case plaguing the mountaintop. Someone is stealing all the recipes for the goodies made around the village, and Granny’s cookies (see, the joke) are the latest target.

What makes this movie so fun is the refreshing spin on the classic tale – heightened by the storyline alternative versions and by turning the perspectives around. It is written and directed by Cory and Todd Edwards along with Tony Leech, whose tag-team approach aids in that effort. We always expect the bad guy to be the wolf, but the spin doctoring of the versions of the crime is creative.

The voice cast is stellar, as one would expect from a Disney film. Anne Hathaway is Red, giving the role a girl-next-door charm mixed with a know-it-all teenager. The versatile Glen Close tackles Granny, making her out to be not your average grandma. Jim Belushi is the Lumberjack, who actually is an actor trying to get a part as a lumberjack. By design, he is hard to understand, the performance is excellent. The directors also take turns voicing side characters that weave into the fabric of the movie.

It is, however, Patrick Warburton who steals the show. His deep voice and paced delivery fit the role of the wolf like a glove. He deadpans his lines, which adds to their hilarity. Much like some of his other works (namely Kronk in “The Emperor’s New Groove”), he is lovable and fun – a teddy bear in wolf’s clothing.

The film got panned by critics because of a variety of factors, one being the multiple storylines. But that concept is really what makes the film unique. The attention to detail by the production crew is awesome because they fit it together seamlessly. Older children will enjoy this element; younger children will like the animals and the fun songs. All in all, it’s a great way to spend an evening after making snowmen in the yard. You can find it on Disney Plus or Prime for $3.99.

“The Lego Batman Movie” (2017)

After the success of “The Lego Movie” in 2014, Warner Bros. took another swing at the Dark Knight story. Retaining all the elements from the Batman universe, it captures another incarnation of the caped crusader.

When Joker (Zach Galifianakis) attempts to take over Gotham City (again), Batman (Will Arnett) foils the plans. In a very dramatic moment, Batman refuses to acknowledge the special relationship (he doesn’t do “ships”) with the Joker, and releases him to save the day. Joker is upset because he felt he was Batman’s “greatest enemy.” He then sets out to prove that they have something special.

First of all, the film is beyond hysterical. The Batman franchise has been retooled, rebooted and redone, a point this film comically points out as it provides a welcome twist on the superhero. The story is superb as it follows him through the process of realizing he can’t do it alone. The character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is remarkably deep, too. Actor Morgan Freeman stated he thought this was the best version of Gotham’s silent defender.

The actors who supply their voices are a who’s who of Hollywood – from Michael Cera (Robin) to Hector Elizondo (Commissioner Gordon), Mariah Carey (Mayor McCaskill) and Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth. There is even a funny use of Google’s Siri as Batman’s ‘Puter (which I use with my students these days – that I will see them next time on the ‘Puter).

The action sequences are lighthearted yet exciting to watch, as the Lego blocks flip back and forth into items. There are some wonderful references to pop culture as well as other superheroes (the Bat computer password is roll-on-the-floor funny), and the climax of the film is pure comedic genius. The music is blended into the film by Lorne Balfe who worked in the music department on “The Dark Knight,” devising a similar feel for the audience.

Please make no mistake, it is a Batman movie and deserves to be mentioned with the live-action versions. It is a tremendous film, great acting, excellent storytelling, and the jokes flow through the 104-minute run time with humor and style. There are dozens of one-liners that you will be quoting for weeks afterward, and the animation is nothing short of outstanding. It is a must-see for any fan of Bats.

The PG-rating might be a little strong (the violence is less than you would see in any commercial), and Prime has it for $3.99 as well. Get some hot chocolate or Lobster Thermidor, whatever you like.

Happy viewing of these fun, family-friendly films to finish February fantastically.

• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at McHenry County College, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.