What if the massive monster battles weren’t apocalyptic orgies of destruction, as in the world of Godzilla vs. Kong, and instead became a source of fierce joy and pride, as in the audience of Godzilla vs. Kong? This is the question behind To scold, a new animated feature film from Reel FX, which previously made the inventive Book of life and the bad omen Free birds. To scoldThe vaguely futuristic alternate world where the titans and kaiju of old have become sports franchises represents a bold gamble for a studio without a big brand and a burst of savvy imagination that the filmmakers, including the director / co-writer and veteran from DreamWorks Hamish Grieve, I have a hard time keeping up.
That’s because the oddly endearing rules and questions of this world where gigantic talking monsters coexist with humans (where monsters live ?!) must compete with a more personal and less interesting backstory. Almost all of these involve daddy issues; it is apparently never too early to ask 8-one-year-old wrestling fans must ask themselves if they are living up to the reputation of their fathers (always their fathers). Winnie McEvoy (Geraldine Viswanathan of Blockers and Bad Education) is the teenage daughter of a monster trainer who made their hometown of Stoker famous through her coaching of Rayburn (Charles Barkley). Now those two icons are gone and Stoker’s last champion Tentacular (Terry Crews) pulls a LeBron and leaves Stoker for richer pastures.
This endangers the posh monster fighting stadium of Stoker, which has put the city in debt – a situation that does not come as a warning of the wasted indulgences of building the stadium, but rather the folk equivalent of banding together to save a beloved old theater or clock tower. Burned down by misdirected economic anxiety, Winnie sets out to bring a new franchise to a monster in Stoker. She reunites with Steve (Will Arnett), a hapless loser paid to start fights, who also happens to be the son of beloved Rayburn. Eventually, Winnie learns that Steve’s true passion is dancing, not fighting, and she trains him to incorporate his sophisticated footwork into wrestling matches.
It all seems useful enough to fuel a movie about a kaiju underdog and his human pal reaching for the top, but it tangles up in a chain of absurd motivations. Steve likes to dance, not to fight. Corn he continues his career as a fighter in order to live up to his father’s name. But he doesn’t use his father’s name because he wants to set up on his own. But the career he establishes involves being paid to lose, and he is reluctant to accept Winnie’s offer. So what is he establishing again, and why? Although produced by WWE, To scold is a wrestling image for children who feel deeply confused as to why, how or if someone enjoys wrestling.
It’s rare to see a big studio cartoon where the sets are economically ravaged or, in the case of the town Winnie visits to find Steve, downright seedy. After about half an hour, however, the local color fades, most of the jokes dry up, and the movie unfolds at such a choppy, haphazard pace that even a practice edit can’t be completed with basic consistency. Delicious drawings of monsters paraded at first, like King Gorge, a gigantic bulldog with ox-shaped horns and a brooding expression, give way to more time with Steve, who looks pretty much like a guy. There is liveliness in the design of To scold, jostled by the demands of formulas that no one has bothered to understand.