DVD Review: Woody Woodpecker

Taking an old license and recreating it in the modern day is commonplace these days; however, just because a character or series may have been popular or stood the test of time in terms of recognition, doesn’t mean that you can simply take these characters, toss together a bland, by the numbers script and expect success.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened with Woody Woodpecker, a character who’s definitely recognizable to parents and grandparents out there who grew up watching the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. Now, while the older audience may be aware of Woody, I’m not sure how many kids today would recognize him from a picture like they would Snoopy or Winnie the Pooh, so the film’s writers Alex Zamm (who also directed the movie) and William Robertson had an opportunity to introduce a new generation to this rascally Woodpecker in a fun and heartfelt way.

Instead they chose to just go completely slapstick, and create an utterly boring flick that just won’t fly with all the other options for younger audiences that are out there today. Yes, on most levels they stay true to the character and attempt to make the movie a live-action cartoon, with crazy over-the-top shenanigans, and Woody causing all sorts of trouble for those invading his land. In short: the writers took a premise that would work really well in a 5-10 minute animated short, and stretch it out to a painful 90 minutes.

The story sees big city lawyer Lance Walters (Timothy Omundson) fired from his job, so in order to make enough money to start his own firm he plans on building a giant, stylized house on some lake property his grandparents left him. So he takes his fiancée, Brittany (Thaila Ayala) and his son Tommy (Graham Verchere) with him to oversee the building process. Now, he has to take his son because his wife has a family emergency where her dad is in the hospital and she has to go be with him. So there’s a rift between them during this trip, so much so that Tommy calls his dad Lance instead of dad.

Now, we all know the predictable nature that the story will take and that’s okay. It’s fine to know that odds are Tommy and his dad will learn to love one another on this trip, and that their bond will grow because of Woody Woodpecker. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned Woody yet, and that’s just the obvious route for the story to go. And that’s okay, so long as the story has heart and their journey is meaningful…spoiler alert: it’s doesn’t and it isn’t.

So the film begins with two poachers out hunting, and they stumble across Woody. Well, actually, Woody notices them, and instantly goes on the attack, eventually leading the two hunters to tranquilize one another. Jump to night time, where Woody is looking out over the lake and says that nobody will get away with invading his land, and it’s now peaceful once again. Then he burps. Yep, that’s the humour you can buckle yourself in for over the next hour and a half.

There are just too many really, really good kid’s films these days to throw out this kind of abysmal movie and truly believe it’s worthy of any of the money that went into making them. That’s not to say that this couldn’t have been a good movie, as I’m sure it could’ve been, but the writers just didn’t care enough to go that route. Or they were too worried about staying 100% true to source material that they ruined the movie because of it. There’s really no reason why certain liberties couldn’t have been taken with Woody as a character to help give this movie some heart and emotional stakes.

Not every movie has to be an emotional roller-coaster, and sure there can be movies that are just made for fun, but they should still have a story that isn’t just a bunch of nonsense. So at the start of the movie, Woody defends his home from the hunters and all is well. Then, that night he could be sitting alone and instead of a ridiculous burp joke (it’s actually a disservice to the word joke to refer to that moment as one) he could maybe show signs of being lonely, and wishing he could find someone he could connect to.

It doesn’t have to be spelled out or laid on thick, but just something. One of the major themes of the movie is family, and Woody out of nowhere just realizes that these people were the family he never knew he wanted to be a part of. What?! It’s just so out of left field. Sure he has a weird connection with Tommy – even though that’s not fleshed out beyond, “Hey, that kid gives me peanut butter cookies…I guess I’ll kind of watch out for him in a scene or two,” – but there’s no reason for us to care as an audience because Woody has been an annoying, crazy Woodpecker from the first minute we see him, right up until the end.

So why not build that foundation? You have 90-minutes to work with, so instead of wasting time with the mom having a family emergency and needing to drop off her son, just make it be Lance’s weekend with him, he forgot, and now he’s stuck with him and Tommy has to tag along. Bam, there’s ten minutes of meaningless movie saved.

Now take that time and build up Woody Woodpecker as a character. Maybe show that he’s annoyed all of his animal neighbours away with his antics, and that he doesn’t have a mom and dad, and maybe that makes him sad? I mean, we see a chiseled out family portrait of Woody and his parents, but did he just move away? If that’s the case, why does he all of a sudden feel so happy being a part of a family? And if they are gone, maybe build on that. Maybe show that that’s why he acts out the way he does.

I get they wanted to stay true to the fact that Woody Woodpecker has always been an annoying woodpecker that gets into and out of situations through various slapstick methods, and that works in quick animated shorts, but it’s just not good enough when making a feature film. This is where you help make Woody grow as a character, and in doing so you make him someone audiences can get behind. Instead, he’s just this really annoying, hyperactive bird that’s never not on. He’s just there to set up terrible jokes and meaninglessly talk to the audience while causing the human actors to flip and flop all over the place due to his antics.

Okay, so the plot is terrible, but what about Woody himself? Oh, he looks horrible as well! When mixing CGI into live action, it’s always best to try really, REALLY hard to make it so the CGI doesn’t look like it’s 100% fake. It’s not the easiest task at all times, but you have to do better than what’s done with Woody here.

Right out of the gate he seems like a character that was added in during post. Now, of course he was, but we’re not supposed to always feel that way. We’re not supposed to be taken out of the movie (not that you’re likely engrossed in what little plot there is anyway) every time he shows up on screen because it looks like a cartoon. Nothing about Woody feels like he’s actually interacting with these people, and that’s a problem. Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out in 1988 and it completely blows this movie out of the water, and this one has 30 years of technology on its side.

And his voice! I’m sure they were trying to stay true to the original material and make Woody’s voice sound like it’s being recorded in a tin can, but it’s hugely distracting and separates Woody from anything happening on screen arguably more than his cartoonish visuals do. Again, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have just recorded the voice like normal. I don’t think there are Woody Woodpecker lovers out there that’d boycott the movie because he didn’t sound like he recorded his lines from within a locker.

I’m not even going to get started on the human actors, as Omundson is okay (though saying someone “is okay” isn’t a ringing endorsement either,) but everyone else is just…they’re just bad. Really, the entire movie is embarrassing, and while it could be said that it’s just supposed to be a fun kid’s movie so it shouldn’t be taken so seriously…that’s really no excuse for it to be THIS bad.

I enjoy movies for what they are, and have no problem with silly movies being made to just be silly, or action movies being made with a fairly generic plot just so it can focus on crazy action sequences and visuals. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those types of movies, but they still have to be treated with some care or else they’ll turn out being a mess and fall flat. They’re almost always better if the writers and filmmakers put in the extra effort and actually try and build up a story with an emotional connection of some sort with the audience to help get them invested.

Woody Woodpecker is a movie that shouldn’t have been made if this was always going to be the final product. There are no likeable characters to be found, nobody to relate to, and no reason to care about anything that’s happening. Even if you’re just looking for a pointless movie filled with slapstick moments there are lots of better options out there. There’s really no scenario where I’d recommend this movie to anyone, which is unfortunate because Woody deserved better. If you’re a fan of Woody or want to introduce your kids to him, I’d say stick with the DVDs of his old cartoon shorts.

The DVD visuals look pretty good. I mean, there’s not much to say, as it looks like a movie. The blacks aren’t muddy or distracting, and nothing is washed out. As mentioned before, Woody never feels like he’s actually interacting with anyone on screen, and his voice sounds horrible. It was likely recorded like that on purpose, so it’s not really a knock against the audio mix.

Special Features:

Guess Who? The Evolution of Woody – This gives a brief look at the evolution of Woody, what got the filmmakers interested in making the movie, and why Woody has lasted all these years.

The Making of Woody Woodpecker Again, this briefly touches on the making of the film, and how they used a plush Woody Woodpecker doll to give the actors something to work off of. The director talks about loving Woody Woodpecker and being so happy for being able to write and make this movie, and how it was a dream come true. It’s very weird to hear this considering the final product…the word nightmare comes to mind a lot sooner than dream does.

Working With Woody – This sees the actors talk about working with the plush, trying to do scenes with nobody there, etc.

Universal Pictures Presents Woody Woodpecker. Directed by: Alex Zamm. Written by: Alex Zamm & William Robertson. Starring: Timothy Omundson, Graham Verchere, Thaila Ayala. Running time: 114 Minutes. Rating: 18A. Released on Blu-ray: Nov. 14, 2017.

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