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Terkel is a 6th grader, who is responsible for the suicide of the classmate, who's in love with him! Suddenly it's not just his annoying sister and his alcoholic uncle Stewart Stardust he has to deal with, he receives death treats. Only the new teacher, a young handsome and idealistic man, who the class just loves from day one, is able to help Terkel. But then it all culminates in a school trip. Written by
Gleefully Naughty Danish cartoon puts a sunny, blithely jocular smile on a naturally dark story
Commencing SIFF's "Midnight Adrenaline" program in 2006, "Terkel in Trouble" is Denmark's first CGI feature-length cartoon, and no doubt it's the kind that would make Pixar nervously clench their throat. A film that feels like a cross between a nerve-rackingly suspenseful after-school special and an R-rated Disney musical, it's tale of adolescent angst and suburban paranoia varies loosely between tones of high-energy recklessness, nerve-rattling tension and jocular naughtiness. It's a definite crowd-pleaser for only certain types of crowds.
Our teenage protagonist is the hapless Terkel, a gawky almost-teenager with peeled-back red hair and a canyon-wide half-smile (with lips that blithely remain divided at all times to show his lopsided teeth), his face seems etched in a permanent state of bemusement and tremulous vigilance. Being perpetually stalked by two well-dressed, bawdy schoolyard bullies (one, a verminous schoolboy that seems to be a blonde mop-topped Ratzo Rizzo mended into an uber-confident junior-high bad-boy; the other, a portly, none-too-bright sidekick that looks like a "Sopranos" castoff), he always has to keep checking over his shoulder to see when they're going to strike next.
Not that home-life provides much solace; inside the walls of his suburban pad, his family unit seems like a Monty Python sketch of mild domestic dysfunction. From a father who literally can only say "No", a mother that's basically a walking chimney as she always seems to be lighting a new cigarette in her mouth, and a sister who haplessly seems prone to endless pratfalls and accidents that continue to escalate into brutal absurdity. Let's not forget to mention the comically drunken, not-so-sane uncle (perpetually donning a sea captain outfit) who spews endless string of wildly inappropriate, booze-tingled comments (many of which I can't repeat here) to those he supposedly means to help.
His only pal seems to be Jason, a constantly profane, sullen, rap-obsessed confidant, who always carries an iron pipe in his backpack, because, well, you never know when you might need it in the 'burbs.
As Jason continues to grow distant, the schoolyard bullies ratchet up their torment and his family becomes increasingly unsympathetic and remote, Terkel's only chance at personal redemption seems to be through his new homeroom teacher, a joyful, often-crooning embodiment of the sunshine-liberal spirit that offers a much-needed ray of light to Terkel's otherwise unwelcoming world.
However, Terkel starts receiving anonymous death threats out of nowhere, something that increases our anti-hero's already tense plight through the dangerous halls of his suburban junior high.
And toss in a lot of remarkably upbeat and often very naughty musical numbers (including the most lewdly joyful and potty-mouthed romantic anthem ever captured in a cartoon, a dynamic Danish rap sequence and a nightmarish episode that cleverly riffs on Michael Jackson's "Thriller"), a lollipop-colored visual design with a few ornery sight gags, and plenty of very intense moments of rampant neurosis and paranoia for it's hapless anti-hero, and that gives you "Terkel in Trouble", one that will make you, if all things, glad you're no longer thirteen.
Suburban angst tales are hardly innovative territory for storytelling, but this one is an especially inspired and gaudy one: clearly the filmmakers want their audiences to both look in awe and squirm in their seats, overwhelmingly enjoying it and feeling uncomfortable for doing so at the same time, and they often succeed in both. Likely it will seem both odd and oddly familiar for the American viewer, as those weaned on "South Park" and "The Simpsons" will likely be confounded by its joyful idiosyncrasies as well as giddily amused by its array of jokingly miserable characters.
The setting of an anonymous western Suburb, populated with cruel, spoiled and unscrupulous beings that remain completely distant to those they view as friends and family but get belligerently compassion when protecting them from harm, forms a central identity that's both cynical and warmly ironic, a mixture American audiences have come to know very well. Yet the style is splashed in a colorful, consistent loopiness, balancing the murky, sordid traits that accompany the film's harsher moments with an often blithely facetious, bright-as-neon smile to many of the issues at hand. In short, it's portrayal of familiar themes could only be told with a distinctly Scandinavian-bad-boy personality.
Given, it's balance of bright light and darkness doesn't always succeed, as some scenes that seemingly want us to laugh at events involving teen suicide and child abuse just feel downright sour and snide, even by the standards of the film's often enduringly nasty charm. And the film occasionally gets a little too gruesome for it's own good, including Terkel's sisters increasingly bizarre series of brutal pratfalls, a previously mentioned teen suicide sequence and his uncle's drunken, brutal confrontation with Terkel's unforgiving bullies after Terkel ignites a failed beer bust, to name a few (and you can make sure that Jason's iron pipe doesn't go unused).
But with a film that naturally likes to bask in a motley, playful naughtiness, "Terkel in Trouble" is often brazenly splendid. With three directors and voiced completely (with an amusingly tongue-in-cheek and shape shifting poise) by stand-up comedian Anders Matthesson, "Terkel in Trouble" is an achievement, not only for being the landmark CGI-cartoon for it's native Denmark but also melding the idea of a "kids" movie to a straight-forward, non-condescending approach that happily lets them indulge in their joyfully vulgar pleasures rather than forcing them to endure aloof, stilted and often foolish preaching. It's a film for adults to let out the crude inner-child inside all of us, back when we gleefully embraced an immoral spirit rather than condemning it.
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