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I took the 6-year-old who lives in my house to the Sunday-afternoon sneak preview of Furry Vengeance. The boy’s a savvy consumer of kids’ popular culture—my greatest parenting triumph thus far. He knew from the myriad Disney Channel commercials (the movie stars Matt Prokop of High School Musical 3) that the film featured computer-generated animals inflicting all manner of cruel wackiness upon humans, and so he asked, “Is it in 3-D? Because every other kids’ movie is.” I told him no (he was crushed—crushed) and that if he’d seen the commercials, he should know we’d be lucky it if were in focus. Ninety minutes later, we agreed that Furry Vengeance was B-A-D. Well, I decided this—he argued that it was actually quite hilarious.
The simple thesis of the movie is very much made for the 6- to, oh, let’s say 6 1/2-year-old set: People do bad things to the planet. Like build sprawling housing developments where they shouldn’t—in this case, an unspoiled forest populated by pissed-off woodland creatures who’ve wrought generations’ worth of hilarious pain upon would-be settlers. (As opposed to building sprawling subdivisions on top of sacred Indian burial grounds or portals to Hell—different movies entirely.)
Furry Vengeance isn’t really a movie at all; it’s a message provided by the good people at Participant Media, who’ve brought you, among other entertainments, Food, Inc. (which will make you never want to eat again), The Cove (which is kind of like an espionage caper, only it ends with the real-life slaughter of hundreds of dolphins) and the forthcoming Climate of Change (a Tilda Swinton-narrated doc about ordinary folks’ efforts worldwide to combat global warming). The film’s website offers kids an activity guide and redirects them to the Endangered Species Coalition, the Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife. They all but print the lesson plan on biodegradable popcorn boxes.
Brendan Fraser plays Dan, a pudgy schnook who uprooted his family (including Brooke Shields, who has never looked comfortable playing funny) to the wild in order to tear it down at the behest of his boss. The boss, incidentally, is played by the increasingly ubiquitous Ken Jeong—who, when he’s not saying things like, “It’s not about green; it’s about the shades of gray,” will occasionally speak in high-pitched Japanese, thus rendering Furry Vengeance both eco-friendly and vaguely racist.
When the animals—chiefly, a raccoon and a squirrel—catch wind of the developers’ plan to pave, baby, pave, they revolt. And, yes, this sounds exactly like a cross between the Eddie Murphy Doctor Dolittle movies (which were, oddly, more clever—though I can’t and refuse to recall exactly how) and the animated Over the Hedge, in which the raccoon was voiced by Bruce Willis and Steve Carell played the squirrel who became addicted to humans’ junk food and equally crap culture. The animals here don’t talk; that’s the movie’s one saving grace. Their facial reactions and gestures are still computer-augmented, though, and during the climactic smackdown, most of the creatures are entirely CG. It’s not a cartoon, but it almost is.
Fraser is put through the ringer—I’ve never felt sorrier for an actor. Clearly, he lost a bet to Participant founder Jeff Skoll. Then again, my kid was tickled by the sight of a dude with a huge belly being slathered in bird shit, skunk spray, gallons of tomato juice and Port-O-Let piss. Maybe not such a parenting triumph after all.
Furry Vengeance was directed by Roger Kumble; written by Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert; and stars Brendan Fraser, Matt Prokop and Ken Jeong. Rated PG. Countywide.
This review has been expanded. A shorter version appeared in print as "Save the Raccoons! Furry Vengeance is a movie with a message—and not much else."
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