“Animal Crackers” stars John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Ian McKellen, Danny DeVito, Sylvester Stallone, Raven-Symoné, and Patrick Warburton. Released on Netflix on July 24, 2020, the film has a couple using the mysterious box of animal crackers to save their circus.
The film is directed by Scott Christian Sava and Tony Bancroft, an animator who is mostly known for directing “Mulan” with Barry Cook. It is loosely based on the graphic novel by Sava. Everyone loves the taste of animal crackers. They’re basically crackers that shaped like your favorite animals. You can eat them without worrying about being called a heartless monster. But what if this harmless afternoon snack has the power to transform its user into an animal? Imagine the sales going through the roof if that’s actually the case. This latest animated film from Netflix went through plenty of challenges to get itself out to the public. It had already made its debut at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival on June 12, 2017 and in China a year later, but the U.S. release is a different story. Originally set to hit theaters, the film faced several delays because of their respective studios facing financial difficulties. It was scheduled for a 2017 release by Relativity Media, but it was cancelled due to the company facing bankruptcy. It was then set for a fall 2017 release by a new film studio known as Serafini Releasing, but the studio was unfortunately shut down, resulting in that release date being cancelled. Sometime later, it was announced that Entertainment Studios would distribute the film and have it release in August 2018. The deal was later dropped in June 2018. It was possible that the film would never see the light of day until Netflix swooped in to save the day as usual. This is why Netflix is still the best streaming app to get during the pandemic. Now that it is finally released for every child and every parent to see, let’s see if this animated comedy is a performance worth remembering or it it’s something that should’ve stayed hidden.
The story follows Owen Huntington (Krasinski), a down-on-his-luck husband who’s stuck with a miserable job at a dog biscuit factory run by his father-in-law (Shawn). His life soon changes when he finds out that his uncle and circus owner Buffalo Bob (James Arnold Taylor) has passed away and left his rundown circus to him, along with a box of animal crackers that can magically transform the user into any animal. With the help of his wife Zoe (Blunt), his daughter Mackenzie (Lydia Rose Taylor), and a bunch of circus performers, Owen will have to use the crackers to bring the circus back to its glory days while trying to prevent them from falling into the hands of his evil uncle Horatio (McKellen). As one would expect based on the plot alone, this is another film that attempts to entertain its younger viewers with its sense of magic and deliver a thoughtful message about the importance of family. Given the circumstance that we’re still in right now, this is something that we all need to keep ourselves from going insane. But does it mean that it’s also watchable? Is it something that adults can enjoy with their children? I was a little bit concerned on how it will turn out because releasing a certain film to the public a couple of years after they were completed is usually one of the signs that signal their downfall in terms of their quality. However, after I watched it for myself, I was genuinely surprised to see that there was an attempt to tell a decent story that’s based around a bunch of magical crackers. Even though its plot wasn’t as majestic as the actual circus, its script was tolerable enough to keep things from being too formulaic and keep the kids’ parents distracted from its sense of predictability. As usual, this is another animated film that features a bunch of well-known celebrities voicing their cartoon characters, such as Krasinski, Blunt, and DeVito. While the actors did put on a good show with their vocal performances, especially McKellen as the villainous Horatio, I couldn’t help but feel that Wallace Shawn was miscast as Mr. Woodley, Zoe’s father and Owen’s father-in-law, mostly based on his character design alone. The casting of Krasinski and Blunt as Owen and Zoe respectively made sense because these actors are a couple in real life just like their characters, but Shawn? I just didn’t see it, but that’s just me. Speaking of which, I thought that most of the characters were likable in their own right, like Owen, Chesterfield the clown (DeVito), and Horatio’s minion Mario Zucchini (Gilbert Gottfried), but there were also a couple of characters that I found to be either generic like Horatio or intolerable like Mr. Woodley’s employee Brock (Warburton). They’re not awful characters, but they’re far from interesting. The film’s animation wasn’t too bad, either. It’s not exactly superb compared to the films from DreamWorks and Disney when it comes to the quality, but it had a fair amount of razzle-dazzle to keep younger viewers engaged, with the prime examples being the circus sequence and the two musical numbers performed by McKellen. I’m not joking, the actor who played Magneto from “X-Men” and Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings” actually sang twice throughout the entire film. He better get a good paycheck for that.
Overall, “Animal Crackers” may not have a fantastic story underneath its red clown nose, but it’s an enjoyable performance regardless. Thanks to its respectable voice cast, its animation, and a tolerable script with a thoughtful message, the film is another fine addition to Netflix’s collection of family-friendly content. This could’ve been a huge failure given the fact that it was shelved for three years, but because of the effort that was put into the film by Scott Christian Sava, I’m glad that it wasn’t. It’s not a must-watch for everybody due to its run-of-the-mill plot, but I would say that like the crackers themselves, it’s a harmless treat that’s suitable for families who are hungry for more kid-friendly content in the midst of the pandemic.