- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

For a guy who specializes in hard liquor, Maurice Kanbar sure knows his way around fluffy little animals.

The co-producer of “Hoodwinked” — founder of both the new Kanbar Animation Studio and SKYY Spirits — may be best known for his celebrated SKYY vodka, but that may change thanks to this edgy (and cute) animated take on “Little Red Riding Hood.” The traditional fairytale is transformed into a classic whodunit, with a dapper frog (David Ogden Stiers) at the helm of the investigation and enough quirky characters to keep the kids squealing the whole way through.

“Hoodwinked,” like any good true-crime investigation, begins at the scene of the “crime” — a suspected case of recipe theft — with Granny (Glenn Close) tied up, Red (Anne Hathaway) wide-eyed and screaming, the Big Bad Wolf roaring and the ax-wielding Woodsman (Jim Belushi) about to give them all a coronary.

Each character maintains a different version of what happened, and the film wastes no time in jumping right into their wild stories. The accounts, told under the watchful eye of Police Chief Grizzly (rapper Xzibit of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride”), are layered one upon another, ensuring plenty of clever “aha” moments that might fly over preschoolers’ heads but will delight older audience members.

Although the story’s momentum is sluggish at times, the mostly unconventional characters more than make up for it, especially Granny, a rock-climbing, trophy-winning, snickerdoodle-making daredevil who drops more hip-hop lingo (“For shizzle”) than Xzibit and sports a beehive worthy of a John Waters film.

The Big Bad Wolf isn’t much of a predator at all, rather a sly investigative journalist — writer of the local paper’s “Fact and Fairy Tales” column — out to catch the forest’s “Goody Bandit,” suspected of stealing the treat-loving community’s most beloved sugary recipes.

The film’s voice choices are superb. Anne Hathaway (“The Princess Diaries,” “Ella Enchanted”) provides the perfect deadpan delivery for the cynical, teenage Red. Loud-mouthed Andy Dick excels as a bouncing — if not slightly crazed — bunny, and Jim Belushi makes for a mirthful, schnitzel-selling Woodsman, an aspiring actor who dreams of starring in a commercial for Paul Bunyan foot cream. Writer/director Cory Edwards provides the voice for scene-stealing Twitchy, an overcaffeinated squirrel that’ll have the kids in stitches.

It’s unquestionable that children will love the entire film (despite a couple buzzkilling dance numbers), and in the tradition of “Shrek” and “Toy Story,” adults are sure to get a kick, maybe even a belly laugh or two, out of the film’s smart dialogue and wacky stars.

For a new animation studio’s first film, the characters are dazzlingly lifelike (and, yes, fluffy), and the sharp-tongued plotline — boosted by a punky-pop soundtrack — may just teach kids the worthy lesson that there’s always more than one side to every story.

***

TITLE: “Hoodwinked”

RATING: Rated PG for some mild action and thematic elements.

CREDITS: Directed by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards (co-director) and Tony Leech (co-director); Written by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech.

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes

WEB SITE: www.hoodwinkedthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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