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Movie Mom

The Weinstein Company may be nowhere near the gold standard set by Pixar in the imagination and technical ability of its animation, but it beats all ten of the champion’s justifiably lauded classics in one category. Pixar has yet to produce a single film with a female hero, while “Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil,” has two, both brave, strong, compassionate, loyal, smart, and independent.

As director Mike Disa wrote in The Huffington Post, female characters in animation – the human ones anyway – are nearly always focused on love and family.  “How many animated films have you seen where the female lead is little more than a cliché object for the hero to impress in the last reel? Face it, if you want to be a strong female character in animation you are better off as a mouse.”  He was determined to make a movie for girls and boys with female characters whose idea of happily ever after did not necessarily mean the perfect date.

The first “Hoodwinked” movie was a fresh and funny take on the tale of Red Riding Hood, with appealing characters and a clever script to make up for animation that tended to be static and pedestrian.  We entered the story at the climax, with the woodsman breaking into Granny’s house just as Red realized it was a wolf wearing Granny’s nightie.  As each of the characters explained what happened to a patient cop who happens to be a frog (elegantly voiced by David Ogden Stiers) we learned that everything we thought we knew about the story was wrong and any assumptions we had about the intentions and capabilities of the characters was entertainingly turned inside out and upside down.  The wolf (with the impeccably wry voice of Patrick Warburton, “Seinfeld’s” Puddy) was merely a reporter trying to get a story. Granny (voice of Glenn Close) had a secret – she was an X-games champion.  The burly, ax-wielding huntsman was a gentle soul who just wants to yodel.  Red did not need to be rescued by anyone.  And the real villain turned out to be the adorable little bunny named Boingo (voice of Andy Dick), who was trying to steal Granny’s recipes.

As the sequel begins, Red (voice of “Heroes’” Hayden Panettierre, replacing Anne Hathaway) has taken a leave of absence from working with the Wolf at a super high-tech law enforcement operation called HEA (for Happily Ever After). She is studying with the Sister Hood, a training camp high in the mountains with a combined program of martial arts and cooking.

Surveillance experts Bo Peep and her sheep, stationed at the control center’s bank of monitors, report that two children have been seen in the vicinity of a house made out of candy.

Wolf tries his best, but this time huffing and puffing won’t blow the door in.  To rescue little Hansel (voice of Bill Hader) and Gretel (voice of Amy Poehler) and Red’s granny from a masked wicked witch named Verushka (voice of Joan Cusack), he needs some help.

Red has yet to learn the Sister Hood’s most carefully guarded secret, the missing ingredient in the magic truffle recipe.  She still makes the mistake of getting distracted from her task by impetuous pride and impatient insistence on doing things herself.  But those lessons will have to wait – or be learned on the job — as she races to the rescue.

Red and Wolf get the help of old friends: the frog cop (who mutters “Mammals!” when things get out of hand), Twitchy the over-caffeinated squirrel (voice of co-screenwriter Cory Edwards), a banjo-playing goat, the yodeling huntsman (voice of Martin Short), and even an old enemy – Boingo, now confined, Hannibal Lecter-style, in prison. Welcome new additions include Wayne Newton as a singing harp, Cheech and Chong as two of the three pigs, and David Alan Grier as Moss the Troll, who tries to keep Red from crossing his bridge.

The jokes come very fast, with a whirlwind of pop culture references from “Happy Days” to the Food Network, “Goodfellas,” blogging, and the Disney classic “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”  There are some nice 3D swoops and drops, but the more vertiginous entertainment of the film is in the script as once again what we think we know about fairy tale heroines, villains, mean girls, old ladies, witches, and happy endings are deliciously turned upside down and inside out.

Parents should know that the film has some fantasy-style peril and violence and some mild crude humor.

Family discussion:  Why was Verushka angry?  Whose fault was it?  Why was it hard for Red to be on a team?  What did she learn?

If you like this, try: the first “Hoodwinked” and “Kung Fu Panda”

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