Arc Entertainment // 2010 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // April 8th, 2012
Get Ready For The Survival Of The Funniest!
Based loosely on Erich Kastner's 1949 book, The Animals' Conference, in which animals from around the world band together to bring about peace, while mankind plans for war; Animals United updates the story to focus on mankind's destruction of the environment.
When the annual flood fails to arrive on the African savanna, a group of animals go in search water they rely on to survive. Led by Socrates the Lion (Stephen Fry, Blackadder), the animals soon discover a whole other group -- including a polar bear and kangaroo -- have arrived on the African continent. It's not long before the animals find the cause of their problem is a huge dam, built to facilitate a luxury resort that will soon be opening. Realizing they all share a common enemy -- mankind -- the animals unite in an effort to stop the humans destroying their habitats.
My eldest son has two great loves: dinosaurs and animals. It's not uncommon for me to come home from a day's work to find the living room floor covered with a menagerie of toy animals. It's quite a sight to behold, as elephant, horse, alligator, and rabbit stand side-by-side, seemingly unaware of their differing positions in the food chain. With that in mind, it's little wonder he absolutely adored Animals United, as it brings together polar bears, Tasmanian devils, tortoise, and just about every creature you could imagine in one big adventure. Unfortunately, unless you too are three years old, this movie will prove to be utter tedium.
Even for a kids film, Animals United is desperately lacking in substance, seemingly made up of barely related set pieces, which spend an alarming amount of time on unfunny gags that do absolutely nothing to further the story. I'm sure on paper a ten-minute sequence where a Tasmanian Devil destroys a honeymoon suite while a Lion gets confused by a treadmill seemed like a laugh riot, but in execution it falls flat. This is typical of a film where infuriating musical numbers are relied upon to add length-but not depth. I never thought I'd find The Beach Boys an unpleasant sound, but apparently all you need is a few CGI critters splashing around to completely destroy the otherwise glorious "Surfin' USA."
What little story there is revolves around an ill-conceived eco message. I'm all for children being taught the importance of looking after our planet and the creatures that inhabit it, but why must we endure Vanessa Redgrave delivering a speech on how rotten mankind is? Is there no better way of getting this message across? Considering the film's target audience is the under ten set, you'd think the writer's might have thought twice before accusing them of being a filthy, murderous species.
Given the film's biased view, human characters are few and far between; those we do meet being faceless monsters with no regard for their furry counterparts. The one exception comes in the form of Maya (Kim Holland), an environmentally aware girl who does her best to help the animals at the expense of her father who runs the resort where all the trouble started. Yet even here the writers come up short. Just like every other character in the film, Maya offers far too little for the viewer to invest in, and what could have been a pivotal conflict of interest fails to resonate.
Much like the character designs, which are hardly inspiring, the voice cast is bland; and considering the likes of Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady) and James Corden (Gavin and Stacey) are involved, that's not only surprising, but pretty tragic. There's seemingly very little effort to inject any real character into these critters, which leaves Animals United feeling like a cheap direct-to-video release.
Now the good news: Presented in standard definition 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Animals United features a quite stunning transfer. Sporting lush colors, and complemented by rich black levels, the picture really is lovely to look at. There's a remarkable amount of depth to the image, which is razor sharp and packing in huge amounts of detail. The Dolby 5.1 mix also excels with crystal clear dialogue supported by a beautiful score that uses the rear speakers to deliver an all-encompassing soundtrack.
The total lack of extras on the disc is simply unacceptable. Surely a featurette on Kastner's original book, or a few interviews with the voice cast wouldn't have been too much to ask for?
Other than an impressive audio/visual presentation, Animals United offers so little that I'm left with no recourse other than to recommend you steer clear. Though it will undoubtedly entertain the under fives, everyone else will quickly tire of its unimaginative slapstick and insipid storytelling.
Oh, one final thing: Why does a male Kangaroo have a pouch?
Review content copyright © 2012 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Arc Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 3.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated