The Weinstein Company (April 29 2011), Anchor Bay Entertainment (August 16 2011), 1 Blu-ray plus 1 DVD, 87 mins plus supplements, 1080p high-definition 1.78:1 widescreen, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Rated PG (for some mild rude humor, language and action), Retail: $34.98


Red Riding Hood returns in a belated sequel that sees her cutting her training with the Sisters Of The Hood short in order to track down the missing Hansel and Gretel.

The Sweatbox Review:

Creatively and visually crude, relentlessly tiresome and repetitive, and desperately way behind the times, is there any reason anyone out there would want to watch a movie that makes the likes of Mars Needs Moms look like a masterpiece?

I was, back in 2005, quite a fan of the original Hoodwinked, the out-of-nowhere independent animated surprise that on paper sounded absolutely awful: full of Shrek-like fairytale fractures, celebrity voices and animation that would have looked dated in any videogame five years previously. But the resulting movie somehow rose above any of its shortcomings, and Hoodwinked proved to be a surprising hit with critics and audiences alike, who overlooked the budget animation and appreciated the value of the vocal performances and a razor-sharp script filled with first-class witticisms.

Hoodwinked’s success was not lost on the brothers Weinstein who, after having left Disney’s Miramax and seen from the inside how much money could be made from a big hit animated movie, were intent on making a name for themselves in the medium by serving up more of what was popular at the time. Shrek was the name of the game, and plenty of fairytale spoofs and pastiches we got; against the odds, Hoodwinked was one of the best. A sequel was announced before the first had left theaters, but lengthy production hiccups, not to mention the producers’ own divorce from Disney and the setting up of their new Weinstein Company, delayed Hood Vs. Evil from reaching the screen in time to cash in on the first film.

Released earlier this year, it can’t just be said that it’s the passage of time that might have dampened audiences’ enthusiasm for the film: it is, in a word, just plain bad. And, since the first film’s intentionally clunky animation, even lower budgeted CGI fare aimed directly at the youngest kids, such as The Reef or Alpha And Omega, can sport the kind of visuals that don’t totally embarrass themselves. Also, the Shrek bandwagon has well and truly moved on, with even that franchise having ended after four chapters.

Perhaps the Weinsteins saw themselves providing something to fill the gap in the wake of Shrek’s happily ever after, but with so many fairytale comedy knock-offs, the Hoodwinked that originally seemed so on the cutting edge of being among the first films to run with the concept now feels like a franchise that’s returned long after the other storybook characters have gone home. Certainly lead vocalist Anne Hathaway, as Red Riding Hood, has moved on to bigger and better things, leaving Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere – herself in danger of becoming a serial budget CGI regular after Alpha And Omega – to pick up the slack.

The rest of the cast is largely intact, including original director Cory Edwards, now under the supervision of Mike Disa, although what made everything feel fresh first time around now feels instantly tired and old. Glenn Close returns, clearly having fun as Granny, but David Ogden Stiers seems to be going through the motions, Joan Cusack – as the new wicked witch villain – seems intent on featuring in bad animated films after Mars Needs Moms, and Patrick Warburton, great as he used to be, has now turned into a parody of himself, going from an initially unique brand of performance, through over-saturation, and now almost self regurgitation.

Perhaps the length of time it took to bring Hoodwinked Too! to the screen took its toll, but then many of the gags feel dated to two or three years ago. One can maybe forgive this if the film had been completed and sitting on the shelf for a length of time (details as to why it was held up are sketchy) but not if those delays were to do with revamping the movie over, which seems more likely, and certain gags were left in without being updated or reworked to be funnier. It’s also saying something when a sequel has to open with a recap of what happened in the original, just to remind everyone of why we’re here even though it feels redundant and more than a little desperate: you liked that movie, right? So you’re going to love this one, right? Right!?

Replacing Hathaway, Panettiere is interestingly in about the same career position as her predecessor was when she wore Red’s cape, though there’s very little to discern between them and I would doubt most would even notice the switch. Then again, it doesn’t seem the animators were paying much attention to the vocal tracks anyway: the budget lipsync isn’t the best at any rate, but sometimes the mouths routinely don’t seem to be saying what the voices are (some comments in the supplements suggest that at least some of the actors are trying to sync to pre-rendered lines, which explains much of these issues).

One or two lines may raise a slight chuckle – “Suspect is enchanted and extremely dangerous” gave me a giggle – but there’s often too much going on in the soundtrack department to try and appreciate it all, not least Murray Gold’s repetitive Incredibles-knock off music score, which itself is buried under the non-stop talking. The Incredibles’ influence may feature strongly on the soundtrack, but it’s Men In Black that seems to inform the visual approach, but just what is it with “international espionage” in CG cartoons of late!?

It’s this kind of thinking that makes Hood Vs. Evil feel old even before its really found its groove, not that it really has one, and simply adds it to the pile of CG comedies that stretches its “gags” – basically the same old riffs on all manner of pop culture – out to breaking point. Thus Granny sports Uma Thurman’s black and yellow combo costume from Kill Bill, but that itself was already a nod and a wink homage to Asian cinema. The film’s opening itself, where we find Red in training, does little to make it feel original in any way, mixing in familiar elements from Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Batman Begins and Star Wars.

The first Hoodwinked’s success was in its writing, spoofing not just fairytales but animated fairytale films themselves, but here they outwardly attack them for laughs, and even snigger at animated movie bloggers – not the best way to impress those who write about such dross or help to get a good review. But the fairytale references have here been greatly reduced in favour of lazy pop culture pot-shots. The best element in the film is a briefly seen mobster giant, reminiscent of Willie from the Mickey And The Beanstalk sequence of Fun And Fancy Free, though even here they resort to none other than Joe Pesci’s shtick from Goodfellas!

It just all feels so old: I mean, really, Silence Of The Lambs Hannibal Lecter jokes? Really? Still? And how many in the audience are going to get “soylent green” on a shopping list; certainly the under-strain adults aren’t going to be laughing. Maybe they’ll chuckle instead at old, tired lines from Scarface, Terminator 2 or Die Hard 2? No, maybe not. But never mind, there’s always another playing of Kung Fu Fighter or an Atari Pac Man nod to keep a small portion of the audience amused. Hoodwinked Too! even finishes with a Starsky And Hutch reference that even Disney’s sub-contracted The Wild had the sense to pass over.

The direction can be half-decent at times, but there’s too little refined editing and too much whipping of the camera around too sharply in its place. The plot sets in motion without any real cause or effect – it just begins and then trundles on because it must – and there’s no dramatic tension because unlike the first film this is not a straight pastiche of any specific story and so Hoodwinked Too! struggles to fill its length with any kind of focus or characters that elicit any kind of sympathy.

After the artistic success of Gnomeo And Juliet, I was surprised to see Starz Animation’s name appear in the credits as one of the animation vendors. I guess they had to match the quality of work from other studios, but everything they learned on Gnomeo seems to have been thrown out of the window, because it’s as if things haven’t moved on since the first film. Characters have set walk cycles, for instance, which play whatever their mood: Red’s striding isn’t always what’s needed at various times, but that’s how she walks and so that’s how she walks. Also in the credits, it’s nice to see a presentation of concept production art spread throughout the text, but it’s clearly a ploy: so anxious to pad out its running time, the cast list of characters is repeated three times!

Ultimately, its hard to care or want to invest much time or energy into Hood Vs. Evil and, when a store front “hilariously” pokes fun at the Disney logo (it’s a wonder they don’t sue!) and ethos, one isn’t just reminded of much better films that show how it should be done, but of Hoodwinked Too!’s lowly position in the great scheme of things, way, way down at the bottom of the barrel. Over familiar, routinely formulaic and going through the motions so desperately, it thinks it’s still cool to have Cheech and Chong turn up in a cameo.

Goodness knows what Mike Disa is going to end up doing to the quintessentially British Postman Pat in his just-announced next feature assignment, but I fear the film certainly won’t present the charming mail man how we remember him. However, we can only hope it’s better than this: with bad continuity or any sense of logic, stick with the superior first film. Anyone watching Hood Vs. Evil is only going to be hoodwinked themselves!

Is This Thing Loaded?

Now here’s a unique occurrence that I don’t think I’ve seen in a while when dealing with Blu-ray and DVD combo packs: both discs here present the exact same content on both platters, which is quite handy that one isn’t limited to having to swap discs over in different players to go through the extras or watch the movie in another format. Not that there’s necessarily too much of interest that anyone would want to watch over and again…!

Top-billed are a trio of Music Videos: Hayden Panettiere’s I Can Do It Alone (3:30), which often looks painful for her to sing, Lavay Cole’s more fun theme from the movie You Know It (2:57), and CeeJ’s Perfect Two (3:07), which is your standard bubblegum pop and pretty catchy by those standards. All three clips are presented in full, and follow the same animated video song rules by intercutting their performing artistes in with scenes from the movie, being decent examples of this kind of promotion.

The Voices Of Hoodwinked Too! isn’t a featurette-sized chunk of the voice cast intercut with their characters from the film, but rather a series of bite-sized interview moments with the performers that feature them behind the microphone and speaking about their roles, alongside comments from director Disa, who predictably bigs up his cast. In a Play All configuration, it’s actually a welcome peek into the film’s making (the only such feature in this set) and runs to almost 20 minutes. Those speaking are Panettiere, a camera-conscious but pleasingly straight-arrow Warburton, Heidi Klum, Wayne Newton and Ogden-Stiers, being incredibly professional but way too polite about the production.

A genuine surprise is the inclusion of two Storyboard Sequences (The Bridge and HEA Invasion, 4:30), which basically present their scenes against rough vocal tracks, and they’re primarily interesting to watch not so much for revealing too much about the staging aspects of the production but just to see how rounder and more appealing the characters would have looked had this been traditionally drawn. Also good is a collection of Production Artwork, and although it repeats many of the same images as seen floating by in the movie’s end credits, it’s still appreciated to be able to look at them a little closer, and there are a few more of them at around 40 images.

The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay have also stuffed in a couple of spots for a pair of Hoodwinked Too! mobile games and a package of previews for their other upcoming family product, including Spy Kids 4, but the best thing on the disc is showing off how stunning Fox/Blu Sky’s Rio looks in high definition. There’s possibly a half-decent supplemental package to be had here, but I guess any movie only gets the supplements it deserves and if this is the case then Hoodwinked Too! has been much better served than it should be.

Case Study:

Available in a variety of ways, this two-disc Blu-ray/DVD edition comes housed in a standard Blu-ray case without any kind of slipcover enhancement (that’s saved for the premium 3D pack). The front cover may or may not intentionally be a pastiche of The Goonies’ poster from the 1980s, but it’s almost a direct lift and, if so, just relays again how dated and obscure the gags are. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Nell Minow apparently found Hoodwinked Too! “Hilarious!”, although the sleeve isn’t letting on how that word was used in the rest of the sentence. Inside, there’s the chance to enter the Hood Vs. Evil Sweepstakes, where prizes include…Hoodwinked Too! Good Vs. Evil combo packs and DVDs. I don’t think we can really explain the lack of logic in this, especially when they can’t get the name of their own movie right (that’s their mistake, not mine)!

Ink And Paint:

Like the most recent rash of CGI family movies, Hoodwinked Too! was presented in 3D theatrically, and is also offered in a 3D pack on home video, alongside the regular “flat” high-definition Blu-ray pack under scrutiny here and the standard DVD edition, featured in this combo or on its own.

Bypassing too many further comments about the animation (it’s no better or worse than in the first film, though whereas that had a decent script to distract, Too! just hasn’t acknowledged that even budget animation has moved on), the image is expectedly solid on both the BD and the DVD. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help disguise the low-cost origins, the Blu-ray especially rendering the locations in all their texture mapped badness. I can only say thank goodness we didn’t have to sit through the 3D edition, as I don’t think my brain would have been able to cope!

Scratch Tracks:

Again attempting to bypass further comments about the same-note vocal casting and performances, Hoodwinked Too! in all other respects is totally fine, though certainly nothing special. I had been interested to hear what composer Murray Gold, who has been adding a bombastic blast to the BBC’s revamped Dr. Who series of late, would bring to an animated comedy and it has to be said…not much, actually. Although he’s not been left stuck with a synthesized orchestra and has been given the funds to use a real orchestra, which does raise the film’s production value up a tad, the music here feels weakly reminiscent of The Incredibles much too often and never strong enough to establish its own identity, especially as it fails to compete in the mix against everything else being filtered through the soundtrack every few moments.

Final Cut:

I’m not sure there’s a lot that can be added here that wouldn’t only repeat the negative aspects of a needlessly undercooked sequel further. While it’s not the worst animated film you’ll ever see, there are simply too many problems with Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil to overlook. The issues are two-fold: in a nutshell it deviates away from what made the first film work, while also hitching its wares to a sub-genre that it may have one-time mocked well but that has been too flooded with similar low-standard fare. The lack of originality doesn’t help, and neither does the lack of the kind of sharp script the first film had. Don’t get hoodwinked into seeing this: if you really, really must then I recommend waiting for it to turn up on TV for free. Even then, it’s not worth the wait.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?