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Photo: ‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’
For the second time ever, I’m going to be reviewing a graphic novel-based, CG-animated Netflix original about a rabbit character in a world of talking animals. I could make a joke about how I never thought that would be a sentence I’d ever say, but I’m a guy who watches all sorts of strange animation, and there are certainly stranger sentences I could be saying right now. Anyways, today’s movie is based on the ‘Chickenhare’ series of graphic novels written and illustrated by Chris Grine. Originally announced all the way back in 2011, a movie based on the comics was planned to be made with the help of Sony Pictures Animation. While these plans went under, the project resurfaced years later as a collaborative effort between Sony Pictures International Releasing and Belgium company nWave Pictures. Netflix obtained international streaming rights, and the result became ‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’, a film that can now be streamed here in the States.
‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’ follows the titular Chickenhare, a boy who was born half hare and half chicken. Found and adopted by an adventurer who went on to become the king of a kingdom called Featherbeard, Chickenhare aspires to be a great adventurer like his father was, but is held back by his insecurity over his own identity. When he accidentally frees his evil uncle Lapin from prison, he must embark on a journey to retrieve an ancient artifact known as the Hamster of Darkness before it falls into his corrupt relative’s hands.
‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’ – The Story
‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’ was co-directed by Ben Stassen, a Belgian director who’s responsible for quite a few 2010’s animated films you might not have ever heard of, such as ‘A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures,’ ‘Son of Bigfoot’ (whose sequel was also released as a Netflix original), and ‘The House of Magic’. Despite not particularly liking what I saw of ‘A Turtle’s Tale’, I was curious to see what this film has to offer, as I’ve recently begun developing a soft spot for European animation. There’s a surprising amount of creativity and uniqueness to be found in animated shows and movies from the continent that unfortunately never quite make it mainstream. With this being my first Ben Stassen film to see all the way through, I can say that it’s a pretty decent effort. While this film isn’t particularly great in the humor department, the adventure aspect is surprisingly fun, as are a few other aspects.
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The opening of ‘Chickenhare’ invokes a strong ‘Indiana Jones’ feel that the film continues to wear on its sleeve, with two characters visiting a temple in the middle of the jungle, one wearing a leather coat and a fedora and the other carrying a whip. The inspiration couldn’t be more obvious during this first scene, but as the film progresses, ‘Chickenhare’ makes sure to never be too derivative of the iconic franchise and gives itself its own sense of identity. It also has a pretty decent message about embracing oneself and not worrying if others judge you unjustly for the things that make you different. It’s a message that’s relayed in a thoroughly unsubtle manner, but it’s something that this film’s target audience can really benefit from learning. We see how Chickenhare’s early attempts to hide his “chicken” side get in his way, and how he gradually begins to learn how to use such a side to his advantage.
As I already alluded to, the one thing holding this movie back from being truly great is the way humor is implemented. As expected for a movie about talking animals, this film is very heavy on the comedy, with almost constant comedic quips and an ever-present humorous undertone. I mean, the MacGuffin that the very film is named after is called “the Hamster of Darkness”, you don’t need me to tell you that this film doesn’t take itself that seriously. The only problem is that a majority of the humor simply falls flat, as most of the quips feel very half-hearted both in writing and delivery. They felt more like an obligation than anything, almost like the filmmakers thought that because this is a children’s movie in a world of talking animals, there needed to be as much humorous dialogue as possible.
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I also wasn’t a big fan of how one side character was treated. Early on, Lapin reunites with a Gorilla character named Luther, who in the time that Lapin has been in prison, has gone from a ruthless, violent criminal to a family man who keeps his baby with him to look after. Only a few scenes later, Lapin realizes that Luther won’t be of any help to him and tells him to return to his wife, which he promptly does. Without spoiling anything else related to this movie’s overall plot, Luther never returns at any later point in the movie, and his inclusion in the movie is completely pointless. I’m not sure if he played a larger role in an earlier draft of the screenplay, but as far as the final film is concerned, the way such a character was introduced and dropped just like that comes across as flat-out bizarre from a writing perspective. What was the point of bringing Luther into the movie at all?
This movie was released theatrically in the countries that had the largest hand in producing it, and it shows. While the animation doesn’t quite reach that level that big-name Hollywood studios reach, it still all looks really nice, with some nicely designed environments. The look of the main characters isn’t particularly unique, but they do move well, with a realistic sense of flow and weight. There’s also some really creative animation involving a tribe of pigs that have a tendency to join together and form structures, squishing themselves into cube shapes in the process. Their controlled patterns of movement add to this sense of quirkiness they embody, making the entire sequence of the film they’re featured in one of the more memorable ones in the film.
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How Does It Sound?
‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’ stars a variety of American voice actors, including Joe Ochman, who’s voiced Disney’s Jiminy Cricket in various pieces of media since 2014. The actors here do a fine job, with little to criticize.
The movie’s score was composed by Belgian band Puggy, who previously scored Stassen’s ‘Bigfoot’ duology. Their music here, which largely consists of standard film music, is generally fine, though there are a few moments where it stands out, giving scenes an extra sense of personality. These include a brief fight scene in the back of the tavern, which uses a fast-paced and comedic mariachi-inspired theme, and the introduction of the aforementioned pig tribe, which makes use of brassy, big band-type instruments that once again add to the pigs’ quirky nature.
In Short: Who’s It For?
Although I don’t see this film getting nominated for Best Animated Feature next year, it is a pretty solid movie that I think kids in its target audience might enjoy. Despite not being that funny of a movie, the adventure aspect does work fairly well, and the themes regarding differences and personal identity are important ones to learn. If you’re a parent whose kids are outgrowing the likes of Nick Jr, but aren’t quite ready for “heavier” films like ‘The Incredibles’, this film works as a safe middle ground, as it’s never too crude or violent. Adults might not get that much out of ‘Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness’, but as someone who’s always willing to give new animated works a chance, I’m glad I saw it.
Cast & Crew:
Directed by: Ben Stassen, Benjamin Mousquet
Written by: Dave Collard (screenplay), Chris Grine (based on the comics by)
Cast: Jordan Tartakow, Joey Lotsko, Laila Berzins
By Austin Oguri
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Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.