Bunyan & Babe is an animated family comedy starring John Goodman and Jeff Foxworthy as our titular heroes with Kelsey Grammer providing the voice of Blackstone and Norm Blandsford, the villains and Johnny Orlando and Lola Wayne Villa as Travis and Whitney, the main characters of this film. The film also features Mark Hamil as the voice of Travis and Whitney’s Grandpa, Kay Cole as their Grandma, and Dorien Davies as Iris, the secretary to Blandsford. Set in rural farmland, Delbert County, this film was originally to be a live action/CGI hybrid set to be released in the late 2000s. After being stuck in development hell for over a decade, the film was finally released on February 3, 2017 with Cinedigm as the distributor and Toonz Entertainment and Exodus Film Group providing the animation and budget respectively.
The film follows Travis and his sister, Whitney, as they’re forced to spend their summer with their grandparents in Delbert County. While there, Travis discovers the hypnotist, Blackstone, using his hypnotizing medallion to force the local store owner to sell her property to his brother, Blandsford. Blackstone has his assistant chase after Travis, who gives him the slip by hiding in a tree; which leads him to the home of the legendary giant lumberjack, Paul Bunyan and his talking blue ox, Babe. They take Travis back home and discover times have changed since they had last seen America. But sight seeing is put to the side when Babe goes missing and it’s up to our heroes to find him.
I honestly was looking forward to this because Paul Bunyan has seldom been adapted into film. The most notable adaptation of the Paul Bunyan legend is Disney’s 1958 short with Thurl Ravenscroft voicing the character. The film itself unfortunately does not share even a shred of creativity that the short did as it comes across as your run of the mill kids movie. This is most evident when Paul Bunyan and Babe don’t officially appear until 20 minutes in to the movie despite their names being in the title. Misleading title aside, the characters themselves are mostly bland; I say this because while Paul is a well developed character, Babe just…isn’t. Babe is reduced to the comic relief stereotype and nothing he says is remotely funny (although I will give Jeff Foxworthy for trying, given the material he had to work with). Paul on the other hand is a much better character who’s laid back and optimistic personality make me almost forgive his lack of screen time. Plus, John Goodman was perfect casting as Paul Bunyan as he just sinks into this role and makes me believe that he is Paul Bunyan. Yes, this film would’ve benefited if Paul Bunyan and Babe were the main characters as opposed to the kids. Speaking of which, the kids are really generic as with the rest of the characters. Travis is the city boy who learns to appreciate the country life, Whitney is the know-it-all girl, Blackstone and Blandsford are the evil villain stereotypes who want to make money for their own personal gain, Iris is the naive secretary and Travis and Whitney’s grandparents are oblivious to everything that’s going on around them.
This film also has some very stiff animation and character designs. I honestly don’t know what the animators of Toonz Entertainment were going for. Whatever the intent, what we have is something that looks really lifeless and cheap. The characters look more like layout models as opposed to actually rendered characters. The animation is also very weak, as whenever Paul moves, he doesn’t fell big and life like as he could’ve been. I very much believe the budget for this movie was very cheap because the backgrounds aren’t really creative or interesting.
Overall, I think Bunyan & Babe was a missed opportunity when adapting one of the greatest American legends to the big screen. With a predictable plot, generic characters, lack of humor and stiff animation, this film feels like a it was written by a child who thought the country side was so boring, he wrote an essay about it and through in Paul Bunyan and Babe to make it more interesting. Ultimately, this film is not worth recommending to any family looking for a good film to show the kids. If you wish to see a proper adaptation of Paul Bunyan, the 1958 Disney short is a quick YouTube search away.