The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure
Today is a special day in LovelyLoveville: It's Schluufy the Pillow's birthday!
Schluufy, you see, lives with the Oogieloves, three larger-than-life characters named Goobie (the green one with glasses), Zoozie (the yellow one with red hair) and Toofie (the purple one with the yellow faux-hawk). Helping look after them all is a vacuum cleaner named, what else, J. Edgar, as well as the Oogieloves' magical mirror, Windy Window, who gives them glimpses of what's happening all over LovelyLoveville.
Everything was going as planned for the party until the moment J. Edgar tripped … and lost the five magical balloons he and the Oogieloves were going to give Schluufy for his birthday.
Luckily, the Oogieloves love a lovely little adventure. And so they set out to retrieve the prodigal balloons, with J. Edgar and Windy Window guiding them via makeshift walkie-talkies and Windy Window's magical visions of each balloon's location. Joining them on their quest is their pet fish, a grumpy fin-flapper named Ruffy.
It's not long before they find the first balloon, which has gotten trapped in the tree-pot—that's right, a teapot melded into a tree—where a young teen named Jubilee and her grandmother, Dotty Rounder, live. Some singing, some dancing, a bit of magic later and, voilà, Balloon No. 1 is back in the Oogieloves' possession.
And so it goes as these three colorful characters traipse—as well as sing and dance, inviting children in the moviegoing audience to do the same—across Loveleyloveville. Before they're done, they'll visit the sweet diner of Marvin Milkshake, meet (and perform with) the international singing sensation Rosalie Rosebud, step into the bubble-blowing world of bubble-lover Bobby Wobbly and take a ride to the top of a huge windmill courtesy of the flying sombrero that the aptly named Lero and Lola Sombrero call home.
They'll manage all that in just enough time to make sure they get home for Schluufy's birthday party—balloons in hand, of course.
This film gently illustrates the virtues of friendship, teamwork, kindness, generosity and, perhaps most directly, the power and importance of love. When the magical balloons are briefly blown away once more near the end of the movie, they communicate that only the power of love—not physical exploits this time—can bring them back. "There's only one force stronger than the wind," the balloons say. "Love."
The land of LovelyLoveville is a whimsical, enchanted place. Windy Window magically shows J. Edgar the location of each balloon; the balloons themselves come to life and deliver affirming messages when each is rescued; there are talking animals and pillows and vacuum cleaners; and a flying sombrero—powered by the spirited salsa dancing of its inhabitants—is home to the Sombreros.
Rosalie Rosebud thanks "the gods" for both her beauty and her voice.
Rosalie wears a cleavage-baring dress. She's repeatedly shown dancing, sashaying and swaying (a bit sensually) as she sings. In a similar vein, Lola repeatedly shakes both her chest and her backside as she does a Latin dance.
Lola gives Ruffy (the curmudgeonly fish the Oogieloves take with them in his fish bowl) a big kiss for good luck, after which she exclaims with satisfaction, "Holy mackerel!" And when someone suggests perhaps Ruffy could help retrieve one of the lost balloons from a tree's upper branches, he replies, "I'm a lover, not a climber."
J. Edgar has a crush on comely Windy Window, blushing when he looks at her and relishing the moment he gets to comb her "hair."
Crude or Profane Language
A half-dozen uses of "gosh" and one of "gosh darn."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Because Toofie doesn't wear a belt, his pants repeatedly fall down, revealing his boxer shorts underneath.
Grandma Dotty coaches the Oogieloves in a dance, saying, "You have to really shake it, as much as you can." Another song and dance, led by Bobby Wobbly, includes the line and corresponding action, "Wobble, wobble all around and give your tush a pat." (Characters slap their backside.)
Ruffy belches loudly.
Ooglieloves creator Kenn Viselman, the man who helped import Teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine from Britain to America, has two things in mind with his latest project: First, he wants to revolutionize the moviegoing experience for cinema's youngest ticketholders. Second, his storytelling style and approach are informed by the simple themes of the 1950s. And the latter, ironically, might ultimately prove a significant hindrance to the former.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Viselman talked about spending years "deconstructing the entire moviegoing experience" of a child. "Why would a child not be happy in a movie theater?" he asked. "Eventually, what it really breaks down to in really simple terms is that young kids are asked to be adults when they go into the movie theater. They're asked to go there and be quiet, don't talk, eat your popcorn and drink your soda and just be quiet. That's not the way children interact."
After watching an audience offer advice out loud at a Tyler Perry movie, combined with a friend telling him about the participatory element in ongoing screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Viselman had a brainstorm: Invite children to actively participate in the story through song and dance and motions.
"What we need to do is allow children to be children, allow them to behave the way they would behave," he said. "And so if we created a film that allowed for that, that actually embraced it and encouraged it, we would have an incredibly different experience—not only would it be a different experience on the screen, but it would be a much more successful experience on the shelf. Because you can bond with these characters in a way that you can't bond in another film, because now they're your friends, now they're asking for your help. We break the fourth wall down—we use auditory and visual cues to tell kids when to stand up and sit down. Literally, they are the catalyst for the adventure. And it changes the whole experience."
So, can a movie reach forward like that while simultaneously pulling us backward?
Viselman also told The Hollywood Reporter, "Everything I do comes from what life was like in the 1950s. The idea for me is the safety that you felt in the 1950s, where you didn't lock your door, small-town America, everybody knew each other, people said thank you and held doors for each other, it was just a very sweet, polite, loving time where there wasn't a lot of fear. It's never really about being overly technological, just about being more compassionate and more loving and more understanding of your child."
To its credit, that earnest, loving spirit comes through loud and clear in The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure. But even though it was obviously a labor of love, it also feels like a movie that has no concept, aesthetically speaking, of what it's up against in the modern American marketplace. It's as if it thinks Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks Animation and Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon don't exist. As much as I would like a movie with Viselman's ideas to succeed in the way he hopes, its storytelling and approach would have felt wooden and dated in 1972 … let alone 2012. As a father of children who are precisely in this film's target demographic, 2, nearly 4 and nearly 6, I just don't think its story would hold their attention long—even factoring in the interactive components.
And if the goal here is 1950s "safety," why does The Oogieloves spend so much time showing off Toni Braxton's plunging neckline? With watching her shimmy sensually? I don't want to have to explain to my kids why Jaime Pressly keeps shaking her breasts and backside in a sultry Latin dance. For that matter, I don't need my kids to see a puppet's boxer shorts or learn dances where they're smacking their rump.
In other words (Viselman's), "What we need to do is allow children to be children." It's too bad The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure doesn't quite accomplish that, bighearted and full of would-be revolutionary zeal though it may be.