Movie review: 'Animal Crackers' (2017)
Animal Crackers (trailer) is a 94-minute computer-animated children's movie. The brainchild of Scott Sava, it caught the early attention of furry fandom at least as far back as 2015. Concept animation showed a guy haphazardly munching on animal-shaped cookies that turned him into the animals. As time went on, Sava brought in financial backers, a co-director (Tony Bancroft, who'd worked on several Disney movies), and a co-writer (Dean Lorey). The finished product premiered at the Annecy Film Festival in 2017... and then vanished.
It turns out that Sava had made the mistake of not securing a distributor ahead of time. With very little bargaining power, it eventually got shown in China in 2018, and some other countries in 2019.
The film's backstory starts with two brothers, Bob and Horatio, who run a circus together. Horatio, an egomaniac, is the star of the show, and becomes consumed with jealousy when Bob marries Talia, the niece of the fortune-teller. Bob and Talia leave to start their own circus, which proves wildly successful. Horatio, obsessed with wanting to discover their secret, breaks into their place and accidentally starts a fire.
Now let's meet Owen, our protagonist. He was adopted by Bob, grows up in the circus, falls in love and wants to marry a woman named Zoe. Zoe's father, an asshole, only consents to their marriage if Owen quits the circus and goes to work at his business, making dog biscuits. He gives Owen the worst job in the factory. Still, Owen and Zoe truly love each other and are raising a three-year-old daughter named Mackenzie.
After the fire and funeral service for Bob and Talia, Owen finds out he's inherited the circus. He isn't willing to try running it, but Zoe is. The secret of the circus' success turns out to have been a box of magic cookies that Bob received as a wedding present from Talia's aunt, a gypsy. Hijinks ensue.
On IMDB, Animal Crackers has a rating of 5.4 out of 10, which is pretty accurate. The sad thing is, watching it, you can feel the potential, it just never achieves it. It's the writing mainly; the animation is fine! Owen (voiced by John Krasinski) is a boring guy, has trouble standing up for himself, and is utterly useless at keeping the magical box safe. Zoe (Emily Blunt) is more engaging than he is, but there's not much to her either.
Most of the characters are one-dimensional. Once you've seen their thing, that's pretty much it for the rest of the film. For example, Horatio's main incompetent henchman is "The Zucchini", whose thing is... well, being Gilbert Gottfried, and constantly referring to himself in the third person. How about a kind-hearted but annoying clown? That would be Chesterfield, voiced by Danny DeVito, whom I'm not a fan of.
On the positive side, the film pulled in some decent voice acting, hoping to benefit from star appeal. Sylvester Stallone had a small part. Patrick Warburton shows up as a high-level employee at the factory. He's got some oddly fun animation, and is also a jerk-ass. (I'm not sure if that's under orders from Zoe's father or not.) And then there's Horatio - voiced by Ian McKellen! Oh boy, does he go full ham! It's glorious. Not enough to save the movie, but I'll salvage what I can from the experience.
Now you may be wondering about the cookies. Can't talk about them without spoilers, but for you transformation people, it's the instant puff-of-smoke variety. There's a trick to changing back to human form, of course. When I described the film's plot to Tempe O'Kun, like any furry fan he immediately wondered how the magic could be experimented with. The box has rules which are largely unexplored or hand-waved away.
The cookies are a big part of the film's unreached potential. Zoe and Owen realize that their run-down circus won't be able to succeed... unless they use the box to make dazzling animal performances. So that's the circus covered. What about the film? With a title like Animal Crackers, I don't suppose the writers thought the audience would like to be entertained by... I dunno, animals?
Nope! The cookies and animals don't really become a thing until the second half of the movie, and are vastly under-used. It delivers in its dramatic climax, but I don't think the film is really worth sitting through to reach that point. So overall: Boring protagonist, one-schtick characters, under-used plot device, some good voice acting, good animation and ending. Oh, and I hope you like clowns.
Where can you find this film? ...Good question. I watched a pirated version that had occasional Chinese subtitles, and had re-named it to Magical Circus: Animal Crackers. If you do a search for it, don't confuse it with the 1930 Marx Brothers film. On the other hand, what year do you use instead? Some sites list it as 2017, others as 2018 or 2019. Maybe it'll eventually show up on one of the streaming services. Until then, you're not missing much. Might work for really young kids.