I really had high hopes for this film. Twelve million dollar budget, digitalanimation, star-packed cast (John Cleese, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Toni Collette, Jack Thompson), fond memories of the Norman Lindsay story and the promise that it was going to mark a new direction in Australian mainstream animation.
Well, five minutes in and I was ready to leave. Most of the audience (packed to capacity with kids and adults) looked fidgety and bored. It's hard to remember a film that fails so comprehensively.
Looking forward to state-of-the art digital animation? Well you will have to be content with shoddy eighties-style Yoram Gross animation with a few digital lens flares. Yes, washed out watercolour backgrounds and sub-Disney style characters with bad inbetweening are back! Oh yes, and atrocious lip-syncing. At several points, Bill Barnacle's mouth doesn't even move when he talks!
Want a good story? Well this confusingly paced film had most of the kids restless and scratching their heads as they tried to figure out what was going on. For adults and fans of the Lindsay original, it manages to tick-off the original in plot points and scenes without any of the warmth or character of the original. It also introduces new elements such as Bluegum's lost parents that please no one. It reminded me of the old Rankin Bass "animated classics"; exciting stories leeched of their quirkyness and originality through a pedestrian TV-style telling.
Great voice acting and dialogue? Well if you can get past John Laws as Bumpus, the voice acting is okay. The dialogue however is awful. Poor old John Cleese is left to seemingly improvise old Fawlty Towers/Monty Python material while Geoffrey Rush utters some insipid stuff as Bunyip Bluegum. And yes, I know it's a kids movie!
Top musical numbers? Well the musical numbers pop up at unexpected moments but are mercifully brief. Most of them are passable eighties fare with the exception of one sickly-sweet Celine Dion power ballad by Bluegum's mum. In a week, I will have forgotten how they sounded.
The rest? Well did I mention the Saturday morning cartoon gags complete with musical "stings" or the TV-style direction (no swooping digital camera techniques here). Think of the The Silver Brumby and you'd be close..
This is not a clever movie. This is a dumb TV cartoon writ large. It shows no love for Lindsay nor any understanding of what a modern kids movie should be.
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