One must admit that the people behind the recent live-action adaptations of once popular cartoons have not been all that worried about pleasing an adult audience – the Yogi Bear, The Chipmunks and the Smurf movies have been varying degrees of cinematic cancer yet for some reason kids seem to love them – but a new level have of terrible filmmaking has been reached with the recent release of the Woody Woodpecker movie. Now before I go any further into this review an important factor must be stated here; this film would not exist if it weren’t for the character’s immense popularity in Brazil, where it is known as Pica-Pau, and because of this, Universal made a live-action Woody Woodpecker film almost entirely for that market.
Aside from being about one of the most annoying cartoon characters in history – Woody Woodpecker is the poster boy for obnoxiousness – this film is also guilty of being absolutely free of any semblance of originality in its entire ninety-minute running time, and as a whole, it is nothing but a complete mishmash of films like the Yogi Bear movie, The Nut Job and the Brendan Fraser bomb Furry Vengeance. If you like fart jokes and lame slapstick this could be the film for you.
The basic plot to Woody Woodpecker is that a couple of redneck poachers (Scott McNeil and Adrian Glynn McMorran) want to capture Woody (Eric Bauza) because he is, apparently, a rare species of woodpecker and worth a great deal of money, but that isn’t enough conflict for this movie because we are also introduced to corporate lawyer Lance Walters (Timothy Omundson) who after being fired by his law firm he decides to visit some inherited land he has near the Canadian border, land occupied by one Woody Woodpecker, and while there he will build some horrible atrocity of a house which could then be flipped for big bucks.
Yet two nasty poachers and a lawyer with bad taste are still not enough conflicts for this movie so we also get Brittany (Thaila Ayala), Lance’s “I hate nature” fiancé, whose sole purpose in this film is to be pooped on and humiliated by Woody, then there is Tommy (Graham Verchere). Lance’s son, who was forced upon him for the summer by his ex-wife and who is in dire need of a best friend, and finally there is local forest ranger Samantha Bartlett (Jordana Largy) who is bound and determined to catch those rascally poachers. What follows is the usual slapstick hijinks of a collection of idiots up against a cartoon adversary who is defending his territory; the poachers will accidentally shoot themselves with tranquillizer darts, a beehive will be dropped amongst the construction workers, Woody will fill Lance’s car with cement and the bird will also blow up Lance’s fiancé…wait, what was that last bit?
This movie may be aimed at kids but the whole thing works better if considered as a horror movie, with Woody being some maniacal demon murdering campers, as not only is the CGI for Woody Woodpecker just awful but the animation and voice work are so bizarre and off-putting that one is more afraid of this demented bird than amused by him. He’s fucking terrifying at times. So to remind parents that this is a film for children we get some “classic” toilet humour, with Woody machine-gunning out farts after eating some beans, him repeatedly shitting on Brittany and the poachers, and in one instance Woody shits on some ice cream so that we can enjoy watching one of the poachers eat it. I’m not exactly familiar with the sense of humour of the Brazilian people but if this is what passes for comedy in that country I will now have to apologize to France for my comments about them and their love of Jerry Lewis.
The key thing here is that Woody is a sentient and “intelligent” creature, one who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience in moments that make little to no sense, but he isn’t an actual talking animal as was Yogi Bear in his movie, because here, even though Woody can seemingly talk and understand what people are saying none of the humans can understand him. This illustrates that the filmmakers had no idea as to what kind of film this was supposed to be. In adapting such cartoons as Yogi Bear and The Chipmunks to live action you have to embrace the goofiness of the idea of animals that can talk because if you just half-ass it, as they do here, you leave the audience rather confused.
And just how confusing is this script? Well at one point Lance goes to complain to Ranger Samantha about this annoying bird who is plaguing his work site and she tells him that the bird he is describing has been extinct for a hundred years, making cracks about him being on medication, and then in the very next minute Samantha informs him that this particular woodpecker he is describing was believed to be a god of chaos that harassed the Native Americans until they fled the area, but when he asks if he can just kill the bird she tells him that it is a protected species and that killing it would result in a $10,000 fine and two years in jail. But which is it? Is Woody’s species extinct, mythological or endangered? Make up your mind lady!
Lance then asks Samantha how he should handle his problem with the woodpecker and she tells him, “Learn to live with it. There is plenty of room for both of you.” So she is asking him to learn to live with an extinct mythological being that is protected by the Wildlife Fish and Game Conservation. I think it is Samantha who should be checking her medication. Now I don’t expect a movie about Woody Woodpecker to make a lot of sense but even the goofiest movie has to maintain some kind of internal logic and continuity, and the dialogue in this film is clearly thrown in to simply fill screen time between the next poop joke and Woody brutally murdering people.
The writers of this film and there were four of them for this piece of crap, obviously knew it would be next to impossible to fill a ninety-minute movie with just scatological humour so we are subjected to a subplot of Tommy going into town where he meets a cute girl (Chelsea Miller), who asks him to join her band so that they can play at the local Firefly festival, and I’m assuming these quaint town festivals are required by law for this kind of film, and Tommy also gets harassed by random bullies because I guess the movie needed a little more drama.
Note: When Tommy first encounters the woodpecker he names him Woody but earlier we saw Woody pecking his full name into the bark of a tree, so either Tommy is an incredibly gifted guesser or Woody telepathically lets the kid know his real name.
Can Lance bond with his estranged son before it’s too late? Will romance bloom between Lance and that cute forest ranger? How will Woody keep out of the merciless clutches of those poachers? All these questions and more will be answered by Universal’s Woody Woodpecker, but why anyone would actually pay to see this ornithological turd is the bigger mystery on hand.
Woody Woodpecker was released theatrically in Brazil back in October of 2017, finishing second at the Brazilian box office behind Blade Runner 2049, and is now on Bluray and DVD for the rest of the world to experience, where I’m sure it will quickly find its way into the $2 bargain bins at your logical grocery store.
There isn’t anything in this film that would allow me to recommend it to anyone, not even to a family with little kids who thought the Yogi Bear movie was funny, because not only is the acting in this movie bad but the special effects were so terrible that you never once believe Woody is actually occupying the same space as the people he is supposedly interacting with. Every story element on display here has been used before and by “better” films on multiple occasions, and one can only hope that this film will soon vanish into the cinematic dustbin of history.
• Lance is fired after winning a big case for an oil company because he bad-mouthed the environment on television. In reality, this most likely would have resulted in him getting a partnership.
• The town’s Firefly Festival ends with some dude releasing a bunch of fireflies from a big jar. I’m guessing the town didn’t have a fireworks budget.
• Tommy and his girlfriend cannot sing and should rethink their career choices.
• The poachers hold an online auction to sell Woody and then the winner pays $900,000 dollars for the bird to be stuffed and mounted, but wouldn’t a supposedly extinct bird be worth more alive to an ornithologist than stuffed?
Woody Woodpecker (2017)
The only fair audience this film should be targeted at is coma patients as it could very well induce them to wake up just so they can turn off the television.