In the early 2000s, Shrek practically changed everything for animated films in America. Beforehand, Disney’s model of hand-drawn fairy tale musicals was the status quo. Almost every other major studio, aside from a few, such as Don Bluth or Pixar, followed this trend. But with Shrek satirizing the cliches and tropes of Disney films with the usage of the rising medium of computer animation, the trends shifted overnight, and studios focused on copying what it did since it made a lot of money. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the strength of the story and characters that elevated the comedy of Shrek, most decided to take the bare essentials of 3D animation, celebrity casting, and crude comedy as the direction to go. As a result, most other studios, such as Blue Sky and Illumination, felt like they were chasing the shadows of Shrek and Dreamworks in general as opposed to carving their own identities. Even when Dreamworks started making more unique films more divorced from Shrek’s characteristics, like Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, it still feels like its influence permeates how animation is presented in America even today.
However, alongside this trend, there was an even briefer and even more rushed one: fairy tale parodies. Given that Shrek’s main attribute was its satire of Disney, other studios decided that following suit would be a good recipe for success. But, like with the overall direction studios took after Shrek, they missed why the film worked in the first place. From cheaply made films like Happily N’Ever After to Disney trying to emulate a modern satire of classic stories through Chicken Little and early versions of Tangled, there wasn’t much here aside from simply doing what Shrek did because it did well.
And then there is the curiosity known as Hoodwinked. On the surface, it looks like any other post-Shrek animated film—a CGI comedy with celebrities focusing on modern humor and lampooning fairy tales. The animation looked far cheaper than most other films trying to copy Shrek. However, looking deeper, not only do you find a movie that doesn’t intend to be a response to Shrek in the first place but actually avoids most of the problems most studios had trying to emulate the success of that film.
Hoodwinked is Little Red Riding Hood but presented as a crime scene mystery. Each of the main characters, Red, The Wolf, Granny, and The Woodsman, are interviewed and give their own side of the story. At first, the fairytale is played mostly straight with Red’s perspective, but each of the other leads gives their takes that not only add layers to the story but subvert the classic narrative. These subversions range in a wide variety of angles that show different elements of how each story was affected by their presence. The Wolf turns out to be an investigative reporter who only goes after Red due to suspicions that she is part of a series of recipe robberies across the forest and only appears more aggressive out of accidental circumstances. The Woodsman is a commercial actor who only pretended to be a woodsman to get a callback and basically got involved with the stories of the other characters by accident. Finally, Granny is a thrill junkie at a skiing competition while Red is on her way to her house.
Unlike Shrek, where the joke is mostly done to subvert traditional Disney tropes, the subversions here feel like they were done to service the story and the jokes. As mentioned before, when you see every aspect of the four stories, you notice elements within each that connect. Examples include how an avalanche in Red’s story was caused accidentally by Wolf or how, when Red thinks she sees a vision of her Grandma in the clouds, it’s later revealed she’s actually there paragliding. The stories also tie into the aforementioned recipe robberies, and the eventual culprit has a presence in all of the tales. Even if the mystery is likely easy to pick up on, it’s still a neat way to convey it throughout the film. These elements make the overall film an interesting experience since you slowly figure out what is going on alongside the characters and can pick up clues as it goes along. Through the subversions, the characters and their stories are given fun personalities and traits that make them feel distinct and enjoyable. The film has a unique story structure, and it honestly takes good advantage of it both in the content and the execution.
Regarding the comedy, though, the element that Hoodwinked takes from Shrek isn’t pop culture references (even though there are a few). It’s comedy through dialogue, character interactions, and delivery. An element of Shrek’s humor that has been underlooked is how the delivery of the lines sells the jokes far more than the writing itself. Mike Myers uses his Scottish accent and delivery to make mundane lines funny, and his chemistry with Eddie Murphy makes their interactions the film’s highlight. While Hoodwinked is no Shrek in terms of comedy, it does share the element of dialogue and actors elevating the material. The actors and their delivery of the script do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of providing personality and small comedic touches to the film, with Patrick Warburton as The Wolf, in particular, providing a snarky and fun flavor to the proceedings. However, there are also a lot of quick and subtle jokes, as well as ones that are bizarre and come from the situations and interactions between characters. Wolf meets up with an informant, a sheep with an Italian accent, a gold chain, and slicked-back hair. Granny performs crazy stunts on the mountain while avoiding a ski team hired by the recipe bandit and (a particular audience favorite) a goat Red meets who claims he is cursed only to sing when he speaks. Even the references there are more subtle in terms of only being visual rather than blatant and out loud. The dialogue is modern, but it feels like the characters are speaking with more modern vernacular instead of trendy catchphrases. It feels like a script written less to attract kids immediately and puts more effort into making the dialogue natural and genuine. Unlike other animated films of its time, it is clear that this movie isn’t trying to copy Shrek but instead gives itself its sense of humor, and I feel that it works pretty well in this department.
Moving on to animation, one would likely assume that this was made cheap by a big studio to rush out the film for a specific release since it looks worse than Toy Story, which was released a decade before and was the first computer-animated film ever. And yet, even the animation, while being very cheap and rough, has a distinct charm to it. It isn’t often noted, but Hoodwinked was independently produced, and the animation team in the Philippines had to learn how to animate as they made the film. The film was picked up later by a larger distributor who only gave a few notes and asked to add celebrities to the cast. Knowing this makes it far more understandable as to why the film looks like this.
On top of that, it does feel like it works smartly within limitations, such as animating the characters like they are in stop motion and trying to be simple with its textures. It works better than most cheaply made animated films because
Ultimately, while this film is no forgotten classic, it is an interesting curiosity that is much better than one would suspect. Even now, over a decade since the Shrek films lost their large-scale relevance, I still feel that Hoodwinked can be appreciated for its oddity both because of when it came out and what it is as a film in general. The fact that of all the movies that followed Shrek, the low-budgeted, independently funded one, would be the film that tried the hardest not to try and copy its influence as blatantly as others. Even its faults are still relatively charming and give the film more personality. As for its recognizability, while it’s not entirely forgotten, I do feel it is under discussion in general. Who knows, though, maybe it could re-emerge as a cult film of sorts under the right circumstances since it is weird enough to appeal to that kind.