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Lots of Amazonian colour but an equal amount of strangeness
Saw this as a huge lifelong animation fan (as has been said many times, and it goes beyond just the biggest influences Disney and Pixar) and as equally a big fan of Tim Curry (especially in villain roles, a type of role that he is one of the masters at).
'Ribbit' turned out to be something of a strange film for me and a hard one to review. It is not a terrible film and effort was clearly put into it. It is also a heavily flawed film and a not particularly good one, that could have been better if it tried to do less and had more of an idea/focus on who its main target audience was. To me it seemed like it was trying too hard to appeal to a wider age demographic and ended up being a very colourful film with some good elements but also a very muddled one that gave an uneven quality.
There are good things. A good deal of the animation ranges from very nicely done to great. The lush, vibrant colours are absolutely gorgeous on the eyes, Terence the toucan here has a fascination for colours and we are as fascinated as he is. The Amazon setting is brought to vivid life in the incredibly rich in detail backgrounds. The two main characters and Terrence are drawn well and there was attention to detail in the little things and a few bigger effects, particularly noteworthy in the "Magical Moment" sequence. The soundtrack is energetic and catchy and is as easy on the ears as the animation is on the eyes. The beautiful "Magical Moment" accompanies some of the film's best animation where the whole scene soars.
When it comes to the characters, the best faring are the title character and Sandy, both of whom are very likable. Especially Sandy (also the film's most sympathetic) and really appreciated how the title character was easy to relate to and grew in personality rather than being too perfect and never annoying. A lot of effort is put in developing the relationship between the two, the heart of the film, and it has an effect that's both charming and affecting. The side characters are amusing, Terrence being the most interesting and exuberant. Deepak is a scene-stealer as well, though the character and accent will be divisive.
Voice acting from Sean Astin, Cherami Leigh and particularly Tim Curry is fine. Astin is whiny at times but his ability to make Ribbit and his situation worth investing in comes over successfully and he allows him to grow. Leigh is sassy and endearingly sympathetic, her voice work being instrumental as to why Sandy works as well as she does. Curry is a camp delight as Terrence and brings the most energy out of everyone, camp can be overdone in animation (like it was to hammy effect with Richard E. Grant in 'Khumba') but Curry makes Terrence both funny and amiable, proof that he should do more comedic/good guy roles because he does do them (like with Nigel Thornberry) he shows that he is as good at them as he is playing villains. Russell Peters has fun as Deepak. Really appreciated the very well-intentioned positive messaging and values, the never preachy handling of them.
However, 'Ribbit' has problems. The story is both thin and predictable, with only the protagonists' chemistry and Terrence providing its spark, but more of an issue was that it was also muddled and tries to do too much to seemingly hide the thinness of the story by padding it out. 'Ribbit' does try to cram in too many characters, particularly villains (none of which particularly menacing or interesting, that witch doctor just didn't fit), and too many misadventures and near-escapes that can feel random and unresolved (a few even irrelevant), seeming there only to pad out the story. Too many of the characters are in the film too briefly to be properly developed or memorable.
As for the rest of the voice acting, it was marred by a truly bizarre mishmash of (in some cases, others being generically-said accent) very approximate accents (Australian, German and Indian being but a few) that confuse an otherwise clear setting. The peril scenes strive for suspense but come over as overly-dark and not for the most easily-sensitive child. The last 20-30 minutes feel too much like a completely different film altogether, with a side plot and characters that are too jarringly unrelated with the rest of the film.
Comedy has amusing moments but not enough but only comes in spurts, when it does happen there's nothing hilarious or clever and some adults may struggle to even utter a titter. The only things that come off well in the story are the messaging/values and the relationship between Ribbit and Sandy. While most of the animation impresses, most of the character designs (where the low budget really shows) outside of the protagonists and Terrence are stiff in movement and blocky in character animation, some of the designs like the Alligator and the Witch Doctor are weird. When it comes to big effects animation, mostly it's pretty safe.
Altogether, colourful but strange. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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