In popular culture, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is well known: Red visits her grandmother one morning only to find that she’s been devoured by a wolf, and then a lumberjack swoops in and saves the day. With Hoodwinked!, a bunch of filmmakers have reinvented and produced a fresh new take on the time-worn tale. A Rashômon-style approach has been adopted to deconstruct the story and allow the four central characters – Red (Hathaway), the Grandmother (Close), the Big Bad Wolf (Warburton) and the Woodsman (Belushi) – to give their own accounts of what they did that caused the well-known events to transpire. See, a string of crimes have transpired in the area, with unique recipes being stolen by an unknown bandit. The policemen who show up to question the four principals believe that the events may be linked to the “Goody Bandit” crimes.

By telling the story out of chronological order and setting the plot up as a mystery, the experience of watching Hoodwinked! is like viewing a PG-rated, kid-friendly cartoon version of a Quentin Tarantino production; assuredly setting the picture apart from other recent animated efforts. The picture may seem slight the first time around, but it demands multiple viewings – it is more enjoyable the second or third time around simply because it’s easier to catch more things. For instance, the narrative substantially resembles The Usual Suspects on top of the obvious Rashômon homage. Meanwhile, the Big Bad Wolf wears the exact same outfit sported by Chevy Case in the classic ’80s comedy Fletch. Heck, entire sequences reference moments from Fletch, complete with variations on the music. However, Hoodwinked! remains more conceptually clever than completely satisfying. The picture gets bogged down in the middle and goes overboard with the climax. The ideas behind the picture work fantastically well, but the writing and pacing are not quite up to scratch. Hoodwinked! isn’t biting or funny enough to be Shrek, nor is it polished enough to be Finding Nemo or The Incredibles.

To state the obvious, Hoodwinked! was clearly made on the cheap as it flaunts some of the poorest computer animation in recent memory. The characters have plastic looks, while the backgrounds are too simple, colourless and one-dimensional. On more than one occasion, it looks like a cheap television show. Compared to the visual standards set by Pixar and DreamWorks, Hoodwinked! is far below the curve. Though, to be fair, one has to feel sorry for the filmmakers behind the picture (Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech). These guys conceived of a genuinely clever idea, began producing the movie on laptops in their apartments, and spent years working on it. And then the Weinstein Company picked it up and attached such names as Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson and Andy Dick. Due to the low-budget nature of the animation, crowds who came to see Hoodwinked! were decidedly underwhelmed. And now, for the rest of their lives, the filmmakers have to footnote “we only had 15 million!“. Oh well, the boys made themselves a nice profit, with their movie grossing about $110 million worldwide. Not too shabby considering the humble origins and incessant criticisms…

The voice work of Hoodwinked! is stellar, fortunately. Anne Hathaway is a good fit for the role of Little Red Riding Hood; ably bringing a sarcastic teenage ambience to the character. Patrick Warburton (immediately recognisable as the voice of Joe in Family Guy) was an excellent choice as the lovably goofy Big Bad Wolf, who is in fact an investigative newspaper reporter. Meanwhile, Glenn Close created a fun, crackly-voiced Granny, and James Belushi is bursting with bluster and buffoonery as the Woodsman. In the supporting cast are such names as Anthony Anderson, Andy Dick, David Ogden Stiers and Xzibit, all of whom are uniformly solid.

Like most computer animated feature films released in this day and age, Hoodwinked! is brimming with pop culture references, frenetically-paced humour and a cheeky attitude. The quality of the computer animation pales in comparison to similar recent releases, but a number of bright spots and clever ideas are almost enough to overcome these technical shortcomings. At least there is a bit of humour, even if the movie could have been funnier. In truth, Hoodwinked! has enough positive elements to make it an enjoyable viewing experience, but it seems like more as a direct-to-DVD flick or a TV special than a theatrical offering.