Over the years, animated films have made leaps and bounds in both the quality of writing and the animation itself, ranging from the family-friendly fair at Disney to the more adult works of Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat and Wizards. But with the Danish animated film Terkel in Trouble, we get a crasser and lower-budgeted entry, one that pushes the envelope of crude and violence to a whole new level. If you think Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was an edgy movie, wait till you see what stand-up comedian Anders Matthesen does with this story about parental neglect, bullying and suicide.
Based on a long-running radio show for teens and preteens, Terkel in Trouble follows the sad adventures of a 6th-grader named Terkel (Adrian Edmondson) whose home life is only slightly less stressful than his time at school. At home, he has his chain-smoking mother (Olivia Colman) who, while creating clouds of cigarette smoke, constantly fills Terkel with warnings about getting Anthrax from lack of sleep or contracting cirrhosis of the liver due to his milk allergy, and then there’s his father who responds to everything with a simple “No,” and thus is somehow even less helpful in a bad situation than his clueless mother is. On the other hand, school is even worse, made hellish by Nigel and Saki, the two merciless “bully-boys” who constantly refer to Terkel as a copycat and a “momma’s boy.” A vicious pair, if a little uncreative, but they are just a couple of raw elements in Terkel’s life.
The only person that Terkel can turn to is his best mate, Jason (Ben Bishop), but he’s not all there himself as he carries an iron pipe around with him at all times because “You never know when you’re gonna need an iron pipe.” Then there is poor “Dumpy” Doris (Helena Roman), an overweight student who is heartlessly picked on by Nigel and Saki, but when she declares her love for Terkel, it’s his siding with the two asshats, “No, there’s no way I love that fat cow!” which results in the bullies focusing on her but off of him. leads to her suicide by leaping out of the fourth-floor window. To say Terkel in Trouble is a dark film would be a vast understatement; it was the first computer-generated film to be rated R and contains gore, profanity, and references to pedophilia, but as the movie progresses, one starts to get the feeling that “Shock Value” might be all the film has going for it. For a film to work, one must somewhat identify with the protagonist, and though I’m sure many a viewer can relate to being a child dealing with school bullies and obtuse parents, the problem I had with Terkel in Trouble is that Terkel himself was just so bloody unlikable. He’s callously cruel to his little sister and he even ditches his best friend to hang out with bullies Nigel and Saki — them now being friends after Terkel threw poor Doris under the bus — and his constant moaning and complaining do little to endear him to us. When some mysterious maniac starts to threaten his life, we have to question, “Just whose side are we supposed to be on?”
It’s the combination of crude behaviour and equally crude animation that works in the film’s favour — and it does have a bizarre charm to it — we are obviously not supposed to side with any of the main male characters, while the female characters themselves are either shrewish idiots or sad victims, and are basically tertiary to the story’s central plot. It’s apparent, however, that this was part of the filmmaker’s intent by achieving this high “shock value,” and they clearly had no intention of delivering a “moral to this story,” but instead, we get a movie that runs the viewer over like a vulgar freight train. It’s almost an assault on the senses, which could be very off-putting to some viewers, but quite entertaining to others, which makes Terkel in Trouble a hard film to recommend, as it depends heavily on the sensibilities of the audience.
• Substitute teacher Justin (Toby Stephens) explains how their previous teacher died: “She tripped and fell down her stairs, rolled all the way into the main road during rush hour, the one you must never cross without a grownup, and the cars had no chance to brake in time.”
• Terkel’s short-tempered, alcoholic and violent uncle bite’s off one of the bully’s ears, an injury the animators forget about later.
• The uncle also mans a “Child Support” phone line, but he offers no real advice and often just leaves the answering machine on, which at one point resulted in a boy being beaten to death by his father.
• During a field trip, Justin sings a song about a little boy in Thailand who gets up every day at 5:00 am to dive for pearls — among the sharks — to put food on the table for his family, supplies them with glue to huff, but he also makes extra money selling his body to older men for sex. Yikes!
Disney and Pixar are certainly not worried about the Danish film industry horning in on their territory, and Terkel in Trouble’s follow-up film Checkered Ninja was also not quite cutting into their key demographic, but that is not to say they should be ignored, especially when they can come up with stuff like this. So, in conclusion, I’ll say that Terkel in Trouble was an “interesting” film, and once you get past the wonky animation — which was most likely created with some software they picked up at Wal-Mart — there is a lot of fun to be had here, but like I’ve pointed out, this is a dark fucking movie and not for kids.
Terkel in Trouble (2004)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
It’s not typical for foul language, sex, and violence to be found in mainstream animated films about sixth-graders but the filmmakers behind Terkel in Trouble certainly thought there should be and they push boundaries and expectations in this rather bizarre and audacious entry.