As a film critic I strive to be as fair and objective as possible when looking at a film. It is very important for me to give everything a fair chance and to remember the years of struggle that go into each film I watch. However, there are times when it is harder than others. For example, at Sundance they have panels with the creators talking about all the effort and time they put into the films and as a lover of independent film those narratives definitely pull at my heartstrings.
However, I try my best to still give a fair review. Another example of this type of conflict happened this week with a new animated film on Netflix called Animal Crackers. As an animation fan I became aware of this film way back in 2017 when it premiered at the Annecy Film Festival in France. Then I waited for it to be released in 2018, then 2019 and finally here in 2020. In 2018 Cartoon Brew published a storyabout the problems creators were having finding a distributor for the film.
Since then I have followed the project through the ups and downs as it seemed like they would never be able to distribute their hard work. Then finally Netflix optioned it and audiences were finally able to view it starting last Friday. I even had the privilege of interviewing the directors Tony Bancroft and Scott Christian Sava over on rotoscopers.
With all that said I finally got to watch the completed film, Animal Crackers, hoping to love it and I must own that I did not. I don’t think it was a complete disaster by any means but I’d be lying if I said it all worked for me.
Let’s start out with the positives. First off, I like the basic concept of the animal crackers changing you into the animal and then eating a human cookie and changing back to your human form. That’s clever. It reminds me of the ‘eat me’ cookies in Alice in Wonderland. There is also a fight towards the end where they quickly keep changing characters and it reminded me of the Wizard’s Duel in The Sword in the Stone.
The animation also moves nicely and has a bright appealing aesthetic especially for a small budget of 17 million. In addition, the voice cast they assembled is impressive with everyone from John Krasinski, Danny Devito and Emily Blunt.
The problem with Animal Crackers lies in the convoluted story with too many characters to become invested in. You have Bob and Horatio who are both in love with Talia. Then you have Owen and Zoe who run a circus but decide to use the animal crackers to make it a success. You also have Owen working for Mr Woodley with scientist Binkley to make a new type of dog biscuit and he might want to manufacture the crackers. Owen becomes an animal permanently at one point and then Horatio comes back. The whole thing gets so complicated I struggled to stay engaged in the film.
It’s a real shame because in many ways story is king. You can have great animation, music (which is also fun in Animal Crackers), voice casting and character design and it won’t matter if the story doesn’t work. Hopefully this proves to be a jumping off point for all involved because I see potential there. Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me this time but I give them all the encouragement in the world to keep trying to tell new and creative stories in the world of animation. I know I’ll be ready for it!
4 out of 10