By the standards of today's state-of-the-art, computer-animated blockbusters, Hoodwinked looks a little rough around the edges. That's forgivable since it was made independently for a paltry $15 million, a fraction of the budgets of big studio efforts like Cars ($120 million) and Ice Age: The Meltdown ($80 million).
It's curious though that the movie copes admirably with spectacular action sequences like a cable car outracing an avalanche but it falls down on things that I (a confessed animation ignoramus) would assume to be simpler, like the way the characters' faces move. For example, its heroine, Little Red Riding Hood looks disconcertingly like a ventriloquist's dummy.
Flaws like this can be overlooked when a film is as charming and witty as Hoodwinked. It's a scrappy spoof of fairy tales, not a million miles from Shrek in concept but with its own brand of deadpan humour. It's like a very smart pantomime, with plenty for the kids to enjoy and plenty more for the grown-ups.
The story begins when the fairy tale cops are called to a fairy tale domestic disturbance involving Little Red Riding Hood (voice of Anne Hathaway), her Granny (Glenn Close), the Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton) and a beefy Austrian woodsman wielding an axe (James Belushi). What's going on and how does it relate to the case of the mysterious bandit who's been stealing cake recipes? Detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) interrogates each suspect separately and finds there's more to this than meets the eye.
The script's Usual Suspects-style approach (or Rashomon-style approach if you're a proper cineaste!) gives Hoodwinked a clever angle and keeps the plot moving. The film's three co-writers and directors, Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech don't take their story too seriously - somehow it all ends like Where Eagles Dare - and they feel free to go off on wild tangents if there's humour to be found.
Anything for laughs is the movie's philosophy and it does provide them, from the very obvious - James Belushi does a broad send-up of his old Red Heat partner, Arnold Schwarzenegger - to the surprisingly subtle: the Big Bad Wolf's story is played as a homage to a certain 1980s action-comedy but you'd have to be quite familiar with the movie in question to spot that.
Other than technically, Hoodwinked differs from its mainstream Hollywood counterparts in its lack of sentimentality. There are none of the lump-in-throat moments you get in the Pixar and Dreamworks films. Everything really is for laughs. Maybe Hoodwinked owes less to animated movies than to animated TV shows like The Simpsons, which value satire more than heart. That leaves it a little colder than the likes of Cars and Over The Hedge but also refreshingly different.
At just over eighty minutes long, this is a short, sweet comic gem that should please children and adults alike. Seriously, adults, you'll enjoy it. If you're faced with a choice between this and Click, don't be too embarrassed to see the kiddie flick that's much, much funnier.