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Movie Review

POLICE LINE — DO NOT CROSS. A cottage deep in the woods is taped off by that intimidating yellow barrier as patrol cars sit idle, lights flashing. Inside, a cool, calculating frog named Nicky Flippers interrogates four figures found at the scene of a domestic disturbance: Little Red Riding Hood, her sweet old grandma, an axe-wielding woodsman and a hungry wolf. A simple case of breaking and entering? Hardly. As each gives an account of his or her day leading up to the chaotic crescendo at Granny's house, we discover that things may not be what they seem. Their testimonies converge in the present, which results in the unmasking of the forest's notorious Goody Bandit, a recipe thief who leads authorities on a wild chase in pursuit of happily ever after.

"Our take was that, thanks to music videos, commercials and especially video games, kids are now quite used to non-linear stories—what we call 3-D storytelling," says writer and first-time director Cory Edwards. "So, in Hoodwinked, we thought they'd have a lot of fun going back in time to learn how these four classic characters they thought they knew so well ... all ended up in the cottage on that fateful night in the first place. Anybody who thought they knew the story of Red Riding Hood is bound to be in for some surprises." Fortunately, they're pleasant surprises suitable for young children and smart enough to charm the rest of us.

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Positive Elements

Red Riding Hood faithfully makes deliveries for her entrepreneurial, goody-baking grandmother. Granny explains to her that she's part of a bigger story ("When you put that hood on, you carry on a grand tradition"). Despite a George Bailey-esque desire to grow up and see the world, Red remains loyal to this time-honored family "cottage industry." Also, tensions and secrets dividing the pair are resolved.

While a gruff police chief rushes to judgment, Nicky Flippers and a reporter are diligent in their quest for truth. By taking the characters in unexpected directions, Edwards reminds us that stories have multiple sides. Circumstances also show how easily muddled messages and misdrawn conclusions can lead to conflict. The movie—self-aware but not cynical—promotes honesty, teamwork, forgiveness, selfless service, kindness and finding one's place in the world. The woodsman takes pleasure in bringing children joy as the forest equivalent of a Good Humor man. A song yodeled by a mountain goat includes the lyric, "You've got one life so handle it with care."

Spiritual Content

The wolf starts a sentence with "God as my witness..." and matter-of-factly mentions saying grace before meals. A rock band comprised of woodland critters sings the line "my mother is nature." A goat tells Red that a mountain witch put a spell on him 37 years ago—the only reference to magic or fairy tale fantasy in this film, which grounds itself in the real world.

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

Several scenes, including the melee at Granny's place, feature hand-to-hand combat and karate moves, some bits in Matrix-style slow motion. A cop jolts the wolf with a cattle prod. Red sprays mace in his face. Dirty competitors on a ski slope put good guys in peril, sabotaging their equipment, knocking them down and pelting them with snowballs before getting a few icy projectiles fired back at them. Other characters get tossed around in cartoon fashion.

Other moments involve peril more than outright violence. An avalanche threatens people. A runaway redwood nearly steamrolls the woodsman. In separate scenes, Red, Granny and the wolf all fall from great heights, but aren't badly hurt. Dynamite blows up a stretch of track, sending a mine car flying through the air with passengers inside. Blinded, a driver crashes his car into a tree, but announces that he's OK. The Goody Bandit intends to blow up a rival with lots of dynamite (which eventually explodes out of harm's way).

Crude or Profane Language

An exclamation of "oh schnitzel."

Drug and Alcohol Content

None, in the traditional sense. We learn that the Goody Bandit's evil plot involves cornering the munchies market by creating increasingly addictive snacks. There are things Red doesn't know about her grandmother, in part becasue Granny hasn't been completely honest with her.

Other Negative Elements

An investigative reporter habitually lies about his identity and intentions in order to gather information, implying that the end justifies the means.

Conclusion

With Hollywood eager to sell more tickets by pronouncing everything short of Quentin Tarantino films "fun for the whole family," it's refreshing to find a movie that really lives up to that label. Hoodwinked is clean, clever and fast-paced. I'm not sure why it earned a PG rating. The official word from the MPAA is "mild action and thematic elements." I suppose that's fair, but I've seen G-rated entertainment that bothered me more as a parent of young children (Chicken Little anyone?). And unlike Shrek's shotgun tweaking of all tales fairy, this witty CG feature deconstructs a single fable and does it without resorting to crude language, double entendres or bathroom humor.

Furthermore, I didn't feel like I was doing penance sitting through it a second time with my kids. Older, more sophisticated viewers will appreciate the story for its intricate architecture, snappy dialogue, outstanding voice work (Patrick Warburton steals the show as the wolf) and subtle cultural references. I also enjoyed the quirky blend of pop, rock and hip-hop tunes written for the movie by director Cory Edwards and his brother, co-creator Todd Edwards. If the film has a shortcoming it's in the computer animation, which is very good most of the time but looks unpolished in spots. Savvy Pixar fans will notice those seams. Still, the story is so engaging and rewarding that we don't have long to focus on technical flaws.

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