As odd as the following sentence may sound- My Friend Bernard's biggest crime is simply that Pixar and DreamWorks have already shown us what clever computer animated feature films can be.
In the event that such a correlation makes no sense to you, allow me to elaborate: Children standing before the Redbox kiosk and parents shopping here online have been spoiled into associating CG features with charismatic characters, witty banter and cleverly layered humor to keep the parents entertained while the young-ones revel in the bright, rich visuals. To be frank, My Friend Bernard lacks all of these traits. That isn't to say it's a bad film per se, or that it's a complete and total failure so much as knowing what to expect going in can make the difference between a decent family movie night and counting the number of popcorn kernels in the bowl.
The film comes in at a runtime of 70-minutes and wears a PG rating though often times it seems closer to the Rated G mark this type of movie should be targeting.
My Friend Bernard tells the story of a little boy riddled with fears named Sam and his trek through the arctic where he encounters a polar bear named Bernard and a pair of penguins (Lloyd and Eva). Rest assured it should be no real spoiler to say that the core of the tale centers on the idea that fearless Bernard, through flying, snowboarding and hunting, teaches the timid Sam that life isn't the scary place he's built it up to be.
As the summary hopefully reveals, individuals expecting the type of cleverness of say Monsters Inc. or the sheer comedic efforts of Shrek are in for a disappointment. The catalyst here is a magic necklace given to Sam by a bird that has the ability to generate a magic tea cup driven by a rat with the ability to transport occupants to anywhere in the world. Talk about extremes, Sam chooses to visit the arctic and the Sahara desert before calling it a day.
Visually the film is surprisingly solid. No it takes nothing away from Toy Story 3 or Rise of the Guardians (just to name a few), but the characters are pretty charming; especially the pajama-clad lead character Sam as he timidly moves about his parents' house.
The biggest detractor here is the audio- specifically the dialog as, believe it or not, there is none to be found. The entire movie is narrated by a single voice. While this may not sound detrimental on paper (or in pixels on your screen as the case may be), the truth is this could be a deal-breaker for many.
In delivery, it actually feels as though you are being read to- that the onscreen action is merely the animated equivalent to the pages of a children's bedtime storybook. Oftentimes the narrator simply reiterates precisely what is clearly happening onscreen and other times he takes a bit more interactive role by asking the onscreen characters questions that go unanswered.
The bigger problem here, at least in my opinion, is that this method of exposition makes it extremely difficult to isolate a specific audience for the piece. Adults will likely be bored beyond measure as what cute charm contained within the prose becomes buried behind silliness and narration. Likewise, younger kids- those who would likely appreciate magic necklaces and transporter teacups, seem to lose interest simply because not a single character speaks for the duration of the movie.
From the perspective of a small independent studio on a tight budget, the reason for this unique approach makes perfect sense: No need to worry about syncing mouth flaps to dialog (often the most time consuming and tedious aspect of animating), only a single voice actor required, far simpler directorial sequence timing and on and on. However, director and writer Aaron Lim would really have done himself a favor by studying the Pixar Animated Shorts and their method of seamlessly integrating dialog-less animation with the cleverness of the medium. I am personally of the opinion that a narrator in film exists only as a fix for when the narrative of the story fails to cleanly reach the viewer on its own.
I suppose there may be a very slim age group out there capable of appreciating the morals presented, the charms of the visuals and the necessity for full-length narration but if that doesn't sound like you or yours, you may want to keep this in mind when deciding if this one's worth a rental or a purchase.