Saturday, January 15, 2011

Where did all the money go? Not to the screenwriter, I hope

As a relatively new parent, I've been subjected to all kinds of new experiences (horrors) and have picked up quite a few interesting habits along the way: co-workers have caught me singing "C Is For Cookie" in the kitchen, I get cranky around 9 AM and again at 1 PM (the same times Fee takes a nap), and my ever-suffering wife constantly walks in on know, when I'm practicing my Elmo voice.

But enough about me. All you Dads know exactly what I'm talking about, and all you non-Dads are preparing to go Oedipus and stab your own eyeballs out due to the overwhelming sentimentality of that opening. What I really want to talk about is film. One film in particular. It goes by the name of The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.

Let me start by saying that the film sucks.

Before you all you Elmo band-wagoners get your muppety fur in a bunch, just hear me out.

When will they ever learn that story is key? The plot centers around this Johnny-Come-Lately, a.k.a. Elmo, trying to recover his lost/misplaced/stolen blanket. Our hero, for lack of a better word, must have grown up listening to Bob Dole, because he (is it a he?) continually refers to himself in the third person. Elmo this, Elmo that.

My first problem with the story is that it's horribly contrived. Early on, Elmo bares his selfish teeth in not sharing (i.e. giving away) his blanket to his best friend, Zoe. And then the blanket just so happens to be magically transported to Grouchland, where everybody's favorite Oscar originally hails from. Grouchland just so happens to be ruled and terrorized by an evil selfish man, Huxley, who's played by pre-Criminal Minds, post-The Princess Bride Mandy Potankin. (Yes, his first name is really Mandy.) Elmo, with the help of his sidekicks (i.e. the rest of Sesame Street anymore), must reclaim what is rightfully his and thus defeat out-selfishing him, of course. But my main beef is this: what are the chances that Elmo would have a problem with selfishness and that his blanket would be accidentally transported to Grouchland, which just so happens to be ruled by a selfish man and which just so happens to be the perfect venue for Elmo to learn his life lesson?

I mean, come on.

Problem number two: Since when did Sesame Street start feeling the need to have a moral to every story? Seriously. Did Steven Spielberg secretly wrest control of this property from Jim Henson?

My third issue is with the moral of the story itself. Basically, Elmo is evil because he believes in private property. And his enemy is the ultimate straw-man, as one-dimensional as they come: a tyrant who steals from everybody else and has no friends. It's like they made this movie for kids or something. WTF, right?

Apparently, in the universe of Sesame Street, you can either be selfless and good or you can be an evil, sadistic, self-loathing man whose only pleasure in life comes from taking what is everybody else's. Elmo's victory in reclaiming his lost blanket from the clutches of Huxley - what we've been waiting for a whole 73 minutes and what should be so satisfying! - rings hollow. That is, it's hollow until Elmo offers his most prized possession up to his best friend Zoe. He's only allowed to be happy when he's denying himself - Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave. They might as well rename it Communist Street.

Finally, Elmo breaks the effing fourth wall repeatedly. How annoying is that?! I don't want to be reminded that I'm watching a movie. Stop turning to the audience and asking us questions, because you're just calling attention to the artifice. I want to maintain the illusion. I don't care that it's a bunch of puppets and stop-motion and ridiculous sets and actors playing parts...I just don't want to be pulled out of the story!

All of this would be forgivable of course if it weren't for the fact that the rest of the gang gets such short shrift in the story. Grover/Super Grover is relegated to a slapsticky cameo, reminiscent of Jerry Lewis way past his prime. Cookie Monster, the fucking king of the one-liner, gets to speak twice. You can tell this career-turn is having an effect on Cookie too, because his performance just ain't up to snuff. And everybody's favorite enormous yellow bird - he's gone from centerpiece in Follow That Bird to the punchline. All of our favorite characters are being nudged off the stage, because it just isn't big enough for them and Elmo's enormous ego.

I want to know where they spent all the money on this movie. According to wiki, the budget was a whopping $26,000,000! With $26,000,000, we could take over Cuba for God's sake, and that way, none of us would have to sneak these cigars past airport security anymore. IMDb lists the film's budget as a more modest 17 mill. They had to shell out some scratch for Vanessa Williams's five minute turn as the Queen of Trash (type-casting, much?), and of course some serious dough went to Mandy "You Killed My Father You Sick Serial Killer" Potankin, who does a lot with a little...but where did the rest of it go? And, if box office and reviews and Internet gossip are any indication, I am not alone in my opinion about this movie: it only made back 11 mill at the box office and enjoys a generous 5.5 rating on IMDb.

How the mighty have fallen....


Of course I'm taking the piss with this post. Fiona adores this movie, which means I do too. All you non-Dads can now proceed to stab your eyeballs out.