A few broken pieces don’t taint these fresh cookies.
A lesson I’ve acknowledged as a young film critic is that when movies keep getting pushed back, they can be disastrous. But once in awhile, some tend to surprise you. For instance, “Animal Crackers,” originally made in 2017, is a versatile and fun animated feature that may goof off at times, but has more courage than some dreadful Disney wannabes like “The Nut Job,” “Free Birds,” or “Legends of Oz.”
After years of being scraped from the release schedule, due to financial conflicts with other small distributors, Netflix has agreed to share it with its streamers. It worked with “Klaus,” “Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie,” and “The Willoughbys,” and now, “Animal Crackers” joins the club.
The plot is plain and simple for kids to understand: a magic box of animal cookies turns you into an animal, and each time, a cookie version of you appears in the box. That is your only hope of becoming a human again. Like “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Spies in Disguise,” the movie takes advantage of the therianthropy premise without seeming all self-congratulatory.
The protagonist Owen (voiced by John Krasinski) eats these cookies, and in his animal forms, you can tell it’s him by his blue eyebrows. Before we get to the transformations, we see him as a family man with a wife named Zoe (voiced by Emily Blunt), a little girl named Mackenzie (voiced by newcomer Lydia Rose Taylor), and a lousy job tasting dog biscuits and working for his disapproving father-in-law (voiced by Wallace Shawn).
But he also becomes the heir to a once successful circus, after his aunt (voiced by Tara Strong) and uncle (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) are both presumed dead. Just as his cynicism convinces him to grow up, and as the grand re-opening goes down the tube, Owen must give the audience an animal extravaganza.
That’s when Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” gets wisely used in the montage. And that’s when Owen’s evil uncle Horatio (voiced by Ian McKellen), a would-be circus legend, covets the magical cookies for absolute fame and power.
The movie’s high spirits reminded me of the circus animated movies “Dumbo” and “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” because of the bright colors, flexibility, and patience. Watching these kinds of movies is always delightful, and I’m able to see the rainbows inside the characters and tone.
The characters I’ve personally enjoyed would be Owen, who barely follows the therianthropy cliches and learns to regain his childhood joy; Horatio, who provides the mannerisms of McKellen (anything but a CGI cat, if you know what I mean); and Chesterfield the clown, who’s voiced by and looks like Danny DeVito, and knows about the power of the cookies.
On the lame side, it does rely on some supporting characters who force themselves to be comical. Like one of Horatio’s henchman Zucchini (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried), who constantly thinks Horatio is his henchman, even when corrected otherwise. Or Sylvester Stallone only saying his name “Bullet-Man” until the third act. Or even a pompous businessman (voiced by Patrick Warburton), who pokes fun at Owen. And it lacks the depth and emotion of the best animated movies of all time, because it gives us some obvious plot twists and obligatory belching humor.
But once you get through its weaknesses, you’ll be able to see that “Animal Crackers” has a lot of charm and energy for kids and an intriguing summary for their parents. Note, there’s a difference between summary and plot twists. And to me, it has a positive attitude and a delightful vibe.
Available on Netflix This Friday