‘Animal Crackers’ a step above for Netflix


Blue Dream Studio’s loss is Netflix and its subscriber’s gain with the animated feature “Animal Crackers.”

The movie about a circus fueled by magical animal crackers that changes the person who eats them into the animal the cookie is shaped after doesn’t measure up to a Pixar or a Disney production, but it does fit the bill as a solid piece of family entertainment that’s not only safe for an all-ages audience but also enjoyable enough for adults.

The movie, which opened in Europe in 2017 and China in 2018, was saved by Netflix when a series of U.S. distribution deals fell apart. While the movie might have had a difficult time finding traction in U.S. theaters, it is above average from Netflix’s usual less-than-dynamic animated fare.

Based on a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava, who wrote the screenplay along with Dean Lorey, the film features an outstanding voice cast that includes John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Ian McKellen, Danny DeVito, Raven-Symone, Harvey Feirstein, Sylvester Stallone, Wallace Shawn, Gilbert Gottfried, Patrick Warburton.

Sava and Lorey’s plot plays like they fired it out of a shot gun with pellets of story scattering all across the screen before the movie settles on its primary trajectory — the story of the magical animal crackers that have been passed down within the Huntington circus family for a couple of generations.

Owen (Krasinski) grew up around the circus, owned by his uncle Buffalo Bob and aunt Talia, and he met his wife Zoe (Blunt) in the audience while they were children. Though Owen loves the circus, he took a job in his father-in-law’s business as a dog-biscuit taste tester to please him. However, when a fire strikes the circus, he inherits it from his aunt and uncle, and after a series of mishaps with the magical animal crackers, he leaves his job and joins the circus with his family in tow.

The only trouble is his other uncle, the greedy Horatio (McKellen), wants the circus for himself and with a gaggle of henchmen is ready to do whatever it takes to make his dreams of big-top stardom come true.

That’s just a brief overview of a very busy — too busy — movie that would have been better off if the plot had been whittled down and focused. That said, the character work in the disparate plot threads are fairly entertaining when considered individually. Certainly, the movie has a generic quality, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of its art design and the performances rendered by CGI artists in combination with the talented voice cast.

McKellen is magnificently over the top as the braggadocios Horatio, who fancies himself as Elvis of the circus set, with blond pompadour and white jump suit to boot. DeVito shines as Chesterfield the clown, the narrator of the story, and Krasinski and his real-life wife Blunt infuse a good bit of heart in the Owen-Zoe relationship.

“Animal Crackers” certainly won’t be remembered as a classic, but it was a pleasant enough and a step above much of what passes as family entertainment on Netflix.

(PG) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: C

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Classic Corner – Ball of Fire

If you’ve ever wondered what “yum, yum” meant in 1940s-era slang, director Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy “Ball of Fire” might be just the light and airy movie for you.

The film is featured on Turner Classic Movies’ series “The Essentials” at 7 p.m. (Central) Saturday in which host Ben Mankiewicz discusses a classic movie with a guest expert. This season the guest is director Brad Bird, who steered “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” and “The Iron Giant.”

The film features a fantastic cast led by Gary Cooper as Prof. Bertram Potts and Barbara Stanwyck as nightclub performer Katherine “Sugarpuss” O’Shea. Potts, a grammarian, along with seven other older professors are working and living together in a think tank of sorts to compile an encyclopedia of human knowledge.

Potts meets Katherine while doing a bit of independent research on slang, and finds that she is a virtual fountain of knowledge on the subject. She agrees to move in with the professors and help Potts in his research in an effort to hide out from the police who are looking for her and her mob boss boyfriend Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews).

The movie is a thinly veiled parody of “Snow White in the Seven Dwarfs,” mobster style. Lilac proposes to marry O’Shea not because he loves her, but so she won’t have to testify against him in court. A series of mishaps and madcap capers ensues as Bertram and the professors end up squaring off with Lilac and his mob over Katherine.

The movie is charming, and Cooper and Stanwyck, who also starred in “Meet John Doe” also in 1941, have charisma galore with him doing his naive schtick and her playing the quick-witted, street-wise gal once again. Andrews and Dan Duryea, as Duke Pastrami, one of Lilac’s henchmen, work as excellent foils to Cooper, and S.Z. Sakall is a scene stealer, like always, as Prof. Magenbruch.

Hawkes makes all the madness of the Thomas Monroe and Billy Wilder script work with aplomb. He gives all of his performers plenty of room to be the stars that they were.

Though this movie isn’t considered the best work by Copper or Stanwyck, it certainly is fun to watch the two play off each other under Hawkes’ deft direction.