A movie directed by John Hillcoat
I like to consider myself free of animation film snobbery. Sure I enjoy the latest Pixar or DreamWorks big budget blockbuster as much as the next guy but a little research reveals that there is a whole truckload of computer generated feature films on DVD that slip into the market without hype, hoopla or fanfare.
The Snurks is precisely a strong example of the latter. The film began life in Germany by Ambient Entertainment under the name Back to Gaya in 2004. It celebrates the honor of being the first German film to be completely computer generated! It was then brought to the United States by First Look Pictures in 2005 under the new, catchier name The Snurks. The entire film was dubbed in English with a vocal cast including Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame and Emily Watson to mention a few of the talents recruited for the task.
The story goes something like this: The beautiful world of Gaya is home to a community of big-eared humanoid creatures who are much smaller than humans despite an uncanny resemblance. The exploits of these tiny folks just so happens to be a popular children’s fictional television show- particularly a pair of heroes named Boo and Zino and a group of villainous "Snurks".
The whole lot of them gets transported into our world by a mad scientist trying to steal the ultimate power, a small orb that happens to be a part of the fictitious world these characters inhabit.
Sound strange so far? Oh it is! I mean not to bog this critique down on technicalities but does anyone else find the idea of a mad scientist, angry because his television show got cancelled, who develops a machine that can suck anything out of the TV and turn it into reality, a bit odd? I mean his intentions as the villain are about as muddled as it gets. First we are led to believe it’s this orb he lusts after, then we find out he is disgruntled and vengeance seeking, then by the end it appears even he isn’t sure what he’s angry about. But that’s only one part of the peculiarity at hand.
Contrary to common misconception, the visuals are quite stunning even today (and remember this was created in 2004). The creatures and their magical realm are very, very reminiscent of the Naughty Dog video game series Jack and Daxter (which was particularly popular on the Playstation 2 platform at the time). And though the concept of bringing these fantasy pawns into the real world is certainly novel, the delivery is so jumbled up that the majesty in the presentation is meaningless.
The story continually flirts with some great potential; I mean in fact in one sequence these little fictional characters meet their creator in our world and the feeling that a great revelation is on the horizon starts to build (like maybe there is no such thing as fiction, that what we believe to be figments of our imagination is in fact just contact from another reality).
But instead the heroes are told that their world is all made-up nonsense and that there they have no free will: all their thoughts, all their actions are simply the result of the human who created them’s will. Huh? What kind of message is that?
One can only hope that the plot holes and inconsistencies are the result of inaccurate translation but it’s questionable; a situation made worse by very inconsistent pacing. The film skips over critical details then slows to a grinding halt at some of the oddest moments. What this results is a film that feels much longer than it’s 88-minute run-time.
Oddly enough for a children’s movie there are some pretty intense profanities within the bonus material (particularly the “thoughts from the characters section”). Parents, be advised.
In all, The Snurks is about one of the oddest animated features I’ve yet to encounter in my travels and, to my surprise, not at all for the reasons I expected. Visually this film is a stunner, even now, six years after the fact. The scoring is top notch as well (this would end up being composer Michael Kamen's last score; he died before he could complete it and his musicians were forced to fill out the unfinished sketches). The plot itself and the pacing are muddled but the younger set will definitely be able to overlook these nuances to enjoy the characters and the visuals. Which is fine so long as they don’t venture into the special features!
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