The children’s fantasy “Animal Crackers” didn’t deserve to be left on the shelf, which I am sure the folks who made it will be relieved to hear.
It’s been finished since 2017, never gaining distribution in North America, barely being shown anywhere else.
It attracted a dazzling voice cast — Sir Ian McKellen and Danny DeVito, Raven-Symoné and Stallone and Wallace Shawn, Hollywood Hot Couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, and such cartoon voice mainstays as Harvey Fierstein, Patrick Warburton and Gilbert Gottfried.
And the animation — by Spain’s Blue Dream Studio — is playfully designed, whimsically colored if not quite of the expressive texture of the best of Pixar, Dreamworks or Blue Sky.
But even as children’s entertainment, this ‘toon about a circus whose animal acts are actually humans who have eaten from a magical box of Animal Crackers — thus stripping “animal cruelty” right out of the whole lion-tamer, horse high-diving into a pool business — never amounts to much more than background noise kiddie entertainment.
The songs include Queen retreads and Huey Lewis never-weres, and some even blander fare as filler. The sight gags work, here and there, but the dialogue never rises far above the “corpulent clown” Chesterfield’s (DeVito) go-to line.
“Pull my finger!”
Even small children may pick up on “Meh, don’t need to pay much attention to this. Know where it’s going, seen it all before.”
The Huntington Family Circus used to be run by siblings. But vain showboat Horatio (McKellen), in Gunther Gebel Williams bouffant and jumpsuit, gave his mild-mannered younger brother “Buffalo” Bob an “It’s her or ME” ultimatum when Bob fell in love with a Gypsy aerialist, and was ousted.
Years later, embittered Horatio accidentally burns the circus down, leaving it to more distant relative Owen (Krasinski) who might finally get to quit his job at his father-in-law’s factory, a job he takes and keeps because he wants to please the old crank ( Shawn) and wife Zoe (Blunt).
“I taste DOG BISCUITS for a living!”
To make a go of the struggling circus, they’ll need the crackers. Eat one, and you turn into an animal, the night’s star attraction — a giraffe, elephant, rhino, horse, etc., with human showmanship skills.
It’s an accidental discovery which Owen makes, transforming into a hamster, shocking Zoe as she’s driving.
“For the love of TOM AND JERRY, please stop PUMMELING me with your purse!”
But Horatio is around, and with his sidekick, Zucchini (Gottfried), who thinks HE’s the villain and Horatio’s HIS sidekick, he aims to reclaim the circus for himself. Zucchini refers to himself in the Third Person, which is cute.
“Suffering SEVERE internal injuries, Zucchini continues his pursuit!”
The voices are fun, with Warburton doing a vintage Warburton toady trying to sabotage Owen and his scientist pal Binkley (Raven-Symoné) at the dog biscuit works, Shawn sputtering and Sly Stallone taking a sort of “I am Groot” role as BulletMan, the fellow they shoot out of a cannon to entertain the kids.
None of it adds up to much, although a car chase and an action-packed finale, with characters changing bodies willy nilly, eating crackers to win a sort of “rock, paper scissors” battle with the shape-shifting villains, pay off.
Grab me as a horse? Try holding on…to a PORCUPINE.
It’s all harmless, if almost charmless, rendered in different shades of “bland.”
MPAA Rating: TV-Y7
Cast: The voices of Ian McKellen, Emily Blunt, Raen-Symone, Danny DeVito, John Krasinski, Patrick Warburton, Harvey Fierstein, Gilbert Gottfried, Wallace Shawn and Sylvester Stallone.
Credits: Directed by Tony Bancroft, Scott Christian Sava and Jaime Maestro. Script by Scott Christian Sava and Dean Lorey, based on a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava. A Blue Dream Studios/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:41