Review: 'All Creatures Big and Small' (2015)
Better late then never, they always say, and that is never more true than with movies. For it does not matter how old a movie is; if it is good, and timeless, it won't be dated five years later.
So, one year after its worldwide premiere, I am reviewing All Creatures Big and Small, a movie that everybody forgot immediately after it came out. Apparently, nobody thought it was very good (which is probably what you heard). But let me tell you this: it is good, and if you give it a chance, you will see why I say this.
Let's get to the main reasons this movie was overlooked: it has multiple titles, with the one being used the most sounding really uninspired. A potential viewer would only need to glance at Ooops! Noah is Gone!, and immediately look away. Adding to the uninspired title, there is also the deceiving cover appearance of a cheaply done generic kiddie flick that normally goes straight to a DVD bargain bin.
So, to dissuade you from thinking of the movie as bad, I will be referring to it by one of its alternate titles, All Creatures Big and Small.
All Creatures Big and Small, as the name suggests, is another retelling of the Noah's Ark story, only with some twists (or rather, a lot of them). The story starts with a family of Nestrians, a species you never heard of, greatly resembling the heffalumps from Winnie the Pooh. The small father-and-son family have been traveling all their lives, since apparently Nestrians can never find a place to call home, being forced to move from one location to the next, not really fitting anywhere. Fortunately, Nestrians are also the world's best home builders, able to construct very cozy dwellings in a matter of minutes. As the father is about to put some finishing touches to their new house, his son runs back telling about finally having made real friends in the area, something he always dreamed of. Much to his son's dismay, the father informs him that they will have to move, again. The son (named Finny), refuses to go, but the father (unnamed in the movie) says how it is different this time, for a human has requested all animals to be present for a special gathering regarding a dangerous flood that will soon come to the land. As the rain suddenly starts, the two leave their new home for the gathering.
At the gathering, we meet all the other animals, including another new species you never heard of, a mother-daughter family of Grymps, a feline/canine tough-and-proud hunter/loner type. Unlike the Nestrians, who are presented as nice and friendly, they don't believe in making friends, and strongly prefer to "survive on their own". The daughter (named Leah) refuses to make friends with Finny in a brief scene, and the meeting starts. A lion informs the animals about a great flood that will wash away everything, and how a human (who? the animals never heard of a "human") named Noah has built a great ark that will carry everyone to safety. Apparently, Noah has put the lion in charge of the rescue operation, as well as in charge of who gets on, by giving a list of all the species welcome. Oh, and the "carnivores cannot eat herbivores" starts now!
All the animals then enter a cave, where the lion with a few helpers sort through the lot, based on who's included on the list. Most get accepted, while a few don't. By the time the Nestrian father comes before the lion, he is told that his kind is not on the list, and should just go away. The father pleads to be let on anyway, and an argument breaks out. It is here we are introduced to another of Nestrians' traits: when scared, they emit a strong blue gas from their trunk as a defensive measure (which suggested to be a reason why nobody likes them). The father is driven away, and starts building another new house next to the ark, knowing full well they'll be left behind. But after Finny comes to ask him how things went, he fills himself with determination, and promises his son that they will get on the ark, one way or another.
On the next day, at the ark's check-in, we are introduced to a few other major characters: a pair of gorilla guards that will maintain order on board, and a husband-and-wife pair of carnivore bat-like creatures (also not on the list, as they get kicked out). The Nestrian father's brilliant plan of getting himself and his son aboard the ark is making the best Grymp disguises he could for them, out of random trash and two halves of a coconut. The very angry Grymp mother (unnamed) doesn't want anything to do with this. However, through rather clever comedic dialogue and lucky timing, the guards end up being fooled into thinking they are dealing with a dysfunctional Grymp family and their two kids, letting the four of them board the ark.
And it is here, when the introduction ends, and the plot starts. The two kids make a risky decision to see the flood arrive from the ark's observation deck. Due to running into one of the gorilla guards and some bad choices, the kids end up (unknowingly) jumping off the ark, onto one of the support ramps. As the flood finally comes, the ark is swept away and the children are stranded on their own, at the mercy of the flood that is slowly swallowing the land. Despite the Grymp girl being raised to be independent and alone, she begrudgingly accepts Finny's offer to work together, and they begin their journey to get away from the water, hoping their parents will eventually come rescue them before it's too late. The parents, meanwhile, spend their time trying to make the powers that be turn the ark around. The parts with the parents and parts with the children are used interchangeably, and these two parts become the rest of this movie.
So far, I have been explaining the premise and telling you about the characters. But if I went on, this would become a very boring 10,000 word article, rather than a review. So I better stop that, and start telling you about how the movie looks and feels, without spoiling more of the story (which I consider to be very good).
The way All Creatures Big and Small looks is a mixture of very impressive and very okay. CGI, in the wrong hands, tends to look plastic, lifeless and boring. This movie is none of those things. The creators are a group of brand new people, but they certainly had the skills and knowledge required for a CGI production. While the budget was more limited than, let's say, Kung Fu Panda 2, it was used wisely. Some of the rock textures are not that impressive, some tree trunks are no sensation and ice is kind of meh. The grass on the other hand is very good and fur and feathers on the animals is nicely done (even when wet), and the water is really good. Rain effects are nice, although since it doesn't rain in every scene (does that count as a spoiler?), we don't get a closer look at it too often. A particular standout (for me) were the eyes of all the characters. If someone's eyes aren't simple dots, you will love them. Beautiful eyes, man ... The lighting and color, while not award-winning, are always proper, and many a scene could become a good wallpaper. To make it easier to understand how the film looks overall, imagine a top tier looking CG production, and the first Ice Age. Then take bits and pieces of both and make a movie out of them.
And what of the writing? Well, let's just say I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it not awful (as it so often goes with generic kiddie movies), but surprisingly good. The plot, even though I spent five full paragraphs describing it, really takes the backstage, and the front is given to the various scenarios the characters find themselves in, with really good cartoon timing (I will bet the team used 2D rough animation as a base to achieve that precision) and well above average dialogue. Certain scenes, lines and animations will surprise you, in a good way. I have seen many movies (many of them animated) throughout my life, and this movie still surprised me on several occasions, and it did make me laugh. In addition to some good lines, there is much foreshadowing in this movie, and a lot of things in the end will make all the sense in the world, especially if you pay attention all the way from the beginning. To add to the smartness of the script, the overdone themes of "friendship is important!" and "let's work together!" are rightfully relegated to the background, and left as sub-plots. The main theme of the movie is actually something different, and something I should rather not mention since it may just reveal too much and spoil the ending.
Oh, and did I mention the voice acting is excellent? Because it is! There is not a single bad line delivery that I noticed during my two viewings. I dare you to find any.
So, in conclusion, All Creatures Big and Small is a funny, well written, well acted, well animated movie that is way smarter than it may appear on a poster or in a trailer. For its relative obscurity and low IMDB score I blame bad marketing, bad choice of name, poor distribution and people's general disinterest in finding something unknown and checking it out. After all, why seek out your own entertainment, when you can just go and see Star Wars for the seventh time!
P.S. Happy 2016!