Hoodwinked is best described as the computer-animated version of a Rankin-Bass cartoon from the '70s or '80s. You remember-the ones with the cheesy songs, B-list vocal casts and stiff hand-drawn animation. Even for those of us who grew up on those cartoons, it was always very clear that they were the poorer cousins of the big Disney releases. Perfectly suitable as video babysitters, but not exactly examples of animation at its finest. (The one possible exception to this rule was their haunting version of The Last Unicorn, which sent many kids to bed with nightmares.) Likewise, Hoodwinked would be a lot more entertaining if you stumbled across it on television one day or rented it on a whim from the video store. But it's simply not worth the effort or expense of a family night out at the movies, particularly when you could get the same experience (with better animation) by just popping the Shrek movies into your DVD player again.
The adventures of the big green ogre serve as an obvious model for Hoodwinked, which takes a fractured-fairy-tale approach to the story of Little Red Riding Hood. In this version, Red (voiced by Anne Hathaway) is once again on her way to her grandmother's house, where a wolf (Patrick Warburton) lies waiting for her in Grandma's bed. Before the girl becomes dinner, an axe-toting woodsman (Jim Belushi) crashes through the window to save the day. But wait! It turns out the story doesn't end there. Later that evening, the police turn up to investigate this domestic disturbance, which they believe is linked to a series of thefts in the forest. Someone is stealing the recipes to the community's favorite treats, driving hard-working creatures of all species out of business. So one by one, Red, the wolf, Grandma and the woodsman recount their versions of events Rashomon-style to the investigating officer, a suave frog named Flippers. Secrets are revealed, pop-culture references are made and eventually the real thief is brought to justice so that everyone can live happily ever after.
With this amusing (if highly derivative) premise, Hoodwinked probably would have made a fun short film. While the script contains a number of groaners, there are some genuine laughs to be had here, many of them courtesy of Warburton, who remains one of the most unsung comic talents working today. But all too often, it feels like the filmmakers are straining to fill the 95-minute runtime. There's one musical number in particular that serves no purpose except to act as padding. As the movie progresses, it also becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the bargain-basement animation, which highlights all of 3D's flaws (bland backgrounds and character designs, jerky camera movements) and none of its strengths. Over the closing credits, we are shown hand-drawn portraits of the characters, and the difference between those sketches and the finished film is striking. In 2D form, Red and the gang actually have some personality. Blown up to 3D, though, they all resemble computer-generated mannequins, right down to the frozen facial features and rigid body posturing. It's just another reminder that no matter what Hollywood would have you believe, CGI isn't inherently better than old-fashioned hand-drawn animation.