Voices: LONDON–A shake ‘n’ bake mixture of virtually every toon genre going, “Freddie as F.R.O.7” makes up in energy what it lacks in originality. Lumbered with an unattractive title, this likable enough saga of a super-agent frog looks unlikely to hop into the big time. Miramax releases Stateside with 1,400 prints on Aug. 28 after London bow last week.
South London-based Hollywood Road Films deserves plaudits for independently producing a full-length animated feature in the United Kingdom. But somewhere during the three-year production period they forgot about the script. Storyline lurches around like a paper cup in a storm.
Billing itself pre-main title as “an amazing fantasy of a new kind,” pic delivers plenty of the former but shortchanges on the latter.
Yarn starts out as a never-never-land fairy tale, segues rapidly to Disney-like anthropomorphism, and finally launches into James Bonderie with a sprinkling of sci-fi elements for the “Star Wars” generation.
Plot kicks off with Freddie reminiscing about his origins as young Prince Frederic, turned into a frog by shape-shifting Aunt Messina and saved from her cobra alter ego by kindly Nessie, the Loch Ness monster.
Growing up underwater, he later dons blue jeans, red scarf and Gallic blouson and relocates to Paris as super-agent F.R.O.7.
Rest of the movie limns his battles against the wicked Messina, who’s teamed up with megalomaniac El Supremo to take over the world. Stage one is to bring Blighty to its knees by shrinking its national monuments and unleashing a magic ray to put the population to sleep.
In place of a properly developed plot line, director Jon Acevski busies the screen with characters and incident, every now and then breaking into a musical number for sheer effect. The songs are pleasant enough and wittily staged, but don’t advance the action a jot.
Pic’s other major flaw is its reliance on stereotypes–from toffee-nosed Brits to Freddie himself as a super-elegant Gallic dude.
That may be OK for starters, but the filmmakers don’t develop them into anything more substantial. Freddie’s plummy-voiced femme sidekick, Daphne (“Daffers”), is introed as a martial arts specialist but largely left on the sidelines.
Voice cast features a heavyweight lineup of British talent, with Brian Blessed standout as the booming El Supremo and Billie Whitelaw excellent as the hissing Aunt Messina. Ben Kingsley’s Clouseau-like Freddie is surprisingly mild; Jenny Agutter’s Daffers sounds mismatched to the character.
Technically, the movie is light on in-betweening, with distracting strobing in traveling sequences and loss of detail in action scenes. Still, the latter are fast and frequent, and pic can’t be faulted for its antsy energy and dramatic play with perspective and depth.