In the years after Toy Story (1995) reinvented the family feature, cinemas were quickly flooded with CG imitators.
Pixar established itself as the pack leader, but DreamWorks was close behind with both Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004) proving knockout hits that smartly retooled fairy-tale tropes with dollops of snark, heart and a healthy hit of meta fun.
By 2006, the market had become fully saturated, so when a little film named Hoodwinked! was released – itself a wry spin on fairy tales – it looked set to sink without a trace.
Surprise, then, that it’s actually one of the smartest and – whisper it – best entries in the genre, its success a veritable coup d’etat, not least because the animation is terrible. Indeed, a cursory look at the DVD case may suggest this is bargain-bin fare, the kind of irritating toddler fodder that drives parents to a mid-morning nap. But as the film itself says in the opening moments, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
For what Hoodwinked! lacks in visual slickness, it makes up for with the kind of cinematic literacy most children’s films – hey, most films, period – can only dream of. Because, buckle up: it’s basically a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950).
On the surface, the plot is pedestrian: Red Riding Hood (Anne Hathaway) comes home to discover the Big Bad Wolf pretending to be Granny (Glenn Close). But when a woodsman (Jim Belushi) bursts in, the whole gang are arrested on suspicion of links to the ‘Goody Bandit’, a thief wanted for nefarious recipe robberies.
As each protagonist tells their tale, every new one intersecting the previous ones, the question of whose is the definitive account becomes problematic. A profound meditation on the nature of truth is not what your average family flick aims for, but Hoodwinked! pulls it off, with a real lightness of touch.
Had the animation been up to scratch, this would be recognised as a modern masterpiece, given the stellar cast and sharp script. It’s an entry point for nippers to the deeper waters of classic cinema. Despite its limitations, it remains superior entertainment, far worthier of repeat viewing than many of its peers… or is it just me?
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