Thursday, June 23, 2016

Underdogs Is the Worst Animated Movie You've Never Even Heard Of

Harvey and Bob Weinstein really wanted to get some payback at their old bosses at Disney, who they continuously clashed with at their times as studio heads of the then-Disney-owned company Miramax. As Harvey and Bob set out on their own with The Weinstein Company, they looked to have their own steady output of animated cinema to get back at Disney and their animated motion pictures. But in the decade since they started up the company, well, they've hardly made a dent in the world of American animation cinema. Films like Hoodwinked Too! and Escape From Planet Earth faced production woes while others experienced numerous release date delays until they were just pulled off the schedule altogether. Underdogs is in the latter category of animated cinema that comes from The Weinstein Company.

Originally released as Metegol in its country of origin, Argentina, the film was released in its home country and other foreign territories in 2013 while The Weinstein Company planned to unveil it in August 2014. Then it got delayed to January 2015. Then April 2015. Then August 2015. Then it vanished altogether despite a trailer for it running on pretty much every family film released between January and June 2015. And then, just yesterday, I discovered that Underdogs had been released on Netflix to zero fanfare (Netflix didn't even announce it was coming to the streaming service this month in their monthly announcement of new forthcoming titles) last Wednesday before it will be supposedly given a direct-to-video release next month. It's not hard to see why The Weinstein Company (a studio that felt Doogal was fit to be released into over 2,300 theaters mind you) tried to bury this one because Lordy is it bad. I'm talking Norm Of The North/Planes/Hoodwinked Too! level of bad here.

The plot, even by crappy computer-animated kids movie fare, is absolutely atrocious. Jake (Matthew Morrison) is a socially awkward Foosball player whose dweeby nature makes Professor Frink look like Ryan Gosling by comparison. His little town is about to be overrun by Ace (Nicholas Hoult), an egomaniac soccer player who has only lost once in his life; to Jake in a childhood foosball match. Ace kidnaps Jake's not so secret crush Laura (Ariana Grande) and in a moment of sorrow, Jake sheds a tear that brings one of the characters from his foosball game, Skip (Taran Killam) to life. From there, they must find the other foosball characters (who are also now for no reason given alive despite it being explicitly said that only Jake's tears, that are somehow magical, being the reason Skip came to life in the first place) and save their little town.

It's a mish-mash of a plot that doesn't really go anywhere. It feels more like there were two separate storylines concocted for the premise of a movie revolving around foosball characters come to life and then this abomination of a movie decided to smush them together and hoped it would all turn out well. The first storyline revolves around rescuing Laura and some of the Foosball characters from Ace's lair and the second centers on Jake trying to put together a ragtag group of townfolks for a soccer team to face off against Ace and his more experienced players. Neither one is entertaining to watch in the slightest and they don't build off each other at all. They just abruptly switch gears in the middle of the movie from a quasi-heist movie to being a generic inspirational sports thing.

And none of the aforementioned plot elements utilize the concept of those tiny foosball players coming to life. No, seriously, these guys are so extraneous to the plot its baffling. The closest they come to participating in the story in a meaningful way is attempting to help Jakes struggling team in the big soccer match, but that lasts maybe two minutes until Jake tells them that what they're doing is technically cheating. And they're not the only element of Underdogs that feels like utterly pointless. There's a brief diversion where Ace wants to use genetic engineering to combine the foosball players with his shoe....for some reason? At the start of the story, Laura says she's going to an artsy college and moving away from Jake...and this is never brought up again! The film just forgets this in order for her to stick around and be a paint-by-numbers love interest for Jake! Maybe this all made more sense in the original Argentina version of Underdogs, but the Americanized variant is what I got to work with and good Lord is the script for this form of the movie an abysmal mess.

Something else that comes with the American version is a new dubbing from voice actors primarily based in America (with the exception of individuals like Nicholas Hoult) that seems like it was done without even viewing the finished film first. It's no exaggeration to declare that at least 98% of the voice work does not match the body language or facial expressions present in the animation one bit, creating a dissonance between the characters and their voices that enters the realm of pure bewilderment. Even more bewildering is why comedy legend Mel Brooks (yes, the guy who made Spaceballs) is in this movie, playing Ace's agent. And somehow even more confounding than this guys presence is how on Earth a movie of this level of quality was ever fit to be released to the masses. The artotcious trailers for Underdogs made it look pretty awful, but the movie itself is somehow both even worse and more bamboozling than anyone could have imagined.

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