Movie review: 'Animals United'
Animals United is the British dub of a 2010 German 3D production, Konferenz der Tiere (Conference of the Animals), based on a 1949 children's book by Erich Kästner. More accurately, the movie took bits and pieces from the book and ignored the rest. It had been adapted into animation once before, in 1969.
You know you're in for a bad film when the second conversation involves independently re-inventing the game of golf and has the following dialog: "Yes, but what was that?" - "Only hard-as-a-rock, sun-dried hyena poo-poo." Sadly, this becomes relevant later on.
Basic story: African savanna. The annual flood hasn't shown up, everyone needs water, so Billy the meerkat risks venturing into the Valley of Death and discovers a giant man-made dam that's trapped the water for an artificial lake and luxury hotel. He's joined by his friend Socrates the lion and a gang of other animals not native to Africa.
They disrupt a human conference on climate change and run for it, hunted by an evil human (creatively named... Hunter), and aided by the hotel's resident chimpanzee. Everyone escapes except the lion, who gets locked up. Returning to the savanna, they rally the other animals together, return to the dam, create some chaos to rescue Socrates, and break down the dam due to luck and narrative convenience. Dance party. The animals then travel to America to make mankind aware of their plight. The end. (Plus some extra scenes during the credits.)
It's horribly written and badly paced. There aren't any really good jokes in it, save for some predictable gags when the lion explores the hotel gym. It's all downhill from there, not that there's much of a slope to begin with; I doubt even little kids would enjoy this crap. The characters are pretty one-dimensional and the schtick gets tired fast. The giraffe obsessing over her appearance. The swishy monkey hairstylist. The capitalist human hotel owner and his voice-of-reason kid. The revolutionary French rooster who gets far too much screen-time. The Tasmanian devil who explosively farts a huge noxious cloud of green gas out of multiple orifices – which, I gotta tell ya, fails to increase in hilarity each time he does it.
This is the kind of movie where you feel compelled to shout at its stupidity. If the savanna animals have never heard of humans before, how come they know how to sing "Splish Splash" and "King of the Road"? What kind of lion parents would name their cubs "Socrates" and "Mambo"? What ocean course does a floating bathtub take in order to pick up animals from Australia, the Arctic and the Galápagos, to eventually land in Africa? How does Hunter teleport from the top of the dam to the other side of the valley, driving a jeep? Why would a hotel own a biplane equipped with a missile? Where'd that motorboat come from?? If your token child character is supposed to be wiser than the adults, why would she think it's safe to pet or release a caged lion?! If you're going to build a giant hydroelectric dam to generate electricity, why aren't you running water though it?!? MALE KANGAROOS DO NOT HAVE A POUCH!!
(Deep breaths) On top of this, it's hitting you over the head with environmentalist themes with less subtlety than a Miyazaki film. Especially the tortoises, who have to point out just how bad humans are to the planet, which takes four-and-a-half grinding minutes.
Now comes the difficult part of this review: Can anything positive be said about the film? Well, except for the kangaroo's buzz-cut, pouch and floppy ears, I thought that visually-speaking, the character designs were good. Some models were obviously overused, like the cape buffaloes and rhinoceros. But if you're a lion or meerkat fan who needs online user icons, you might be able to snag some from this film. Particularly if you need a meerkat with a good cartoony expression of panic.
Despite trying to tempt audiences with known British entertainers, the voice-acting is pretty dull. Because the film was originally in German, the speech doesn't always sync up properly. The main character, Billy the meerkat, is voiced by James Corden. Unfortunately, because Billy is a scatterbrain, Corden can't deliver lines with gravitas, and ends up sounding like a high-pitched cartoony goof.
The only attempt at depth is a shallow side-plot involving Billy's son being teased because of his dad's uncharacteristic dark fur color. Billy's unreliability ends up with him being told off by his own son. ("You're not my father anymore.")
Socrates the lion is far more interesting as a character, and is voiced by Stephen Fry, so he sounds great! Unfortunately he's the most lazy lion imaginable, so his plot potential is handicapped right from the start. For the second half of the film he's largely absent due to being locked up. Still, he's the smartest character in the whole thing (relatively speaking); we get to see flashbacks from his younger days, and he has the odd quirk of being a vegetarian. I wish the film had done more with him!
Overall, this movie isn't worth bothering with. In furry circles, it might be useful at a furmeet, if only as something to play in the background with the sound turned off. If the meet's energy is low, or if some folks are shy, or if you don't want the TV used for something else, Animals United can serve as a momentary distraction without being engaging enough to prevent people socializing.
There are lots of films like this; Alpha and Omega, Roadside Romeo, The Missing Lynx, Animalympics... not good enough to really entertain, but not bad enough that they can't lend a little silent background atmosphere to a gathering. That's about as good as it gets sometimes.