Shrek meets Shakespeare to winsome if unmemorable effect in "Midsummer Dream," an ambitiously conceived, by Euro standards, CGI toon that looks terrific but smacks too much of the factory. Made for around $10 million, pic has clearly studied the rulebook, but its simplistic plot, helter-skelter pacing and lack of a distinctive central character mean it never gets an emotional grip.

Shrek meets Shakespeare to winsome if unmemorable effect in “Midsummer Dream,” an ambitiously conceived, by Euro standards, CGI toon that looks terrific but smacks too much of the factory. Made for around $10 million, pic has clearly studied the rulebook, but its simplistic plot, helter-skelter pacing and lack of a distinctive central character mean it never gets an emotional grip. Like 1997’s successful “The Living Forest” from the same production company, toon timelessly pitches imagination against greed, but lacks the vital touches of irony that would make it appeal to anyone over 12.

Made with universal appeal in mind, “Dream” has sold to more than 60 territories, and the Eng language version will feature Brian Blessed, Rhys Ifans and Miranda Richardson, all higher-profile thesps than their Spanish counterparts.

King Teseo (Antonio Galvez) is a kindly, eccentric inventor who fabricates his crazy creations assisted by maladroit but well-meaning Lisandro (Gabino Diego), who harbors an infatuation for Teseo’s daughter, Elena (Yolanda Mateos), who’s openly critical of her father’s useless ideas. Teseo’s latest project, a massive, unsupported building, collapses just before completion and smarmy, pencil-mustached banker Demetrio (Luis Bajo) offers Teseo a tradeoff: He’ll put up the money to complete the project if Teseo gives him Elena’s hand in marriage.

Teseo refuses Demetrio’s offer and falls ill, muttering the name of Titania (Viky Angulo), the Queen of the Fairies. Elena decides that to save her father’s life she must find Titania and, accompanied by Lisandro, Demetrio, elf Perecho (Sara Vivas) and Oberon (Juan Perucho), the King of Dreamland, heads off on Saint John’s night — when traditionally in Spain, humans can make contact with the supernatural world — to find her. Toon picks up visually as soon as the story enters Dreamland, taking the characters through some wonderfully-imagined terrain.

Plot unfolds with nil surprises, though the lengthy final good/evil showdown — Demetrio turning from human to monster — is a particularly well-handled free-for-all, with some neatly composed frames showing Dali-esque surrealism.

Toon aims to give its traditional motifs a contempo feel, showing the world of fantasy as under threat from corporate guys like Demetrio. Elena, who starts out skeptical about the value of her father’s imaginative projects, ends up understanding the importance of dreams.

Much time has been devoted to making the human characters as realistic as possible, but this doesn’t make them interesting. Character design is basic at best, with Elena in particular feeling flat.

As the source of the pic’s evil, Demetrio lacks a sense of menace and never seems capable of repping a serious threat to the good guys. Main interest comes in the smaller parts — in the unhappy Oberon, the only character with any real internal conflict, and the subterfuge of Perecho, the mischievous and fabulously ugly sprite. Humor is mostly all-purpose slapstick rather than verbal. Music is fine, apart from a couple of bog-standard Spanish rock songs, but voice work, at least in the Spanish version, is undistinctive.

Midsummer Dream

Spain-Portugal

Production

A Buena Vista Intl. release of a Manolo Gomez presentation of a Dygra Films (Spain)/Appia Filmes (Portugal) production in association with TVE, TVG. (International sales: Lumina Films, London.) Produced by Manolo Gomez. Executive producers, Tania Pinto da Cunha, Pedro Caio Goncalves, Marina Fuentes, Manuel R. Cristobal. Directed by Angel de la Cruz, Manolo Gomez. Screenplay, de la Cruz, Beatriz Iso Soto, based on "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare.

Crew

Editors, de la Cruz, Mercedes Arcones Schallmoser, Juan Galinanes; music, Arturo B. Kress, Artur Guimaraes; art director, Alberto G. Taracido; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlos Faruolo; animation director, Julio Diez. Reviewed at Cine Avenida, Madrid, July 9, 2005. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Voices: Gabino Diego, Carmen Machi, Yolanda Mateos, Luis Bajo, Juan Perucho, Jose Luis Gil, Sara Vivas, Antonio Galvez, Viky Angulo, Emma Penella, Gemma Cuervo , Isabel Ordaz. (Spanish dialogue)
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