Norwegian-Brit co-prod “Free Jimmy” plays like some unholy cross between “Dumbo,” “Fritz the Cat” and “Requiem for a Dream.” Plot pivots round Jimmy, a heroin-addicted circus elephant, on the run and pursued by all sorts across a Nordic landscape. Computer-animated pic has so far snuffled an intoxicating $1.3 million up its trunk in Norway with a Norsk-language version, but despite use of name voice cast for English-lingo incarnation shown in Cannes, pic could be too dark, dirty and insufficiently funny to achieve more than cult success offshore.
Dialogue never mentions where story takes place, but visual clues leave no doubt this is somewhere in Scandinavia, even if characters speak with a mishmash of British and American accents. Although translation of script by helmer Christopher Nielsen in English by comic thesp Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) is fluent and frequently piquant, pic’s satirical edge feels blunted by blurry sense of which society is being skewered.
In unspecified city, a trio of Cockney-voiced druggies (voiced by Pegg himself, Phil Daniels and Jay Simpson) are asked by their American friend Roy Arnie (Woody Harrelson) to come to the sticks to help him take care of Jimmy, an Indian elephant who’s the star attraction at a decrepit circus run by Russian ringmaster Stromowski (Jim Broadbent).
Roy Arnie really needs the guys’ assistance not so much to feed Jimmy his daily doses of heroin and speed, but to help him kill the creature in order to extract a huge stash of smack surgically sewn under his hide. Three menacing-looking characters (Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, all from cult Brit TV series “The League of Gentlemen”) from the much-feared Lapp Mafia are also after Jimmy for the same reason. Meanwhile, a gang of militant animal-rights activists led by Marius (Kyle MacLachlan) want to set Jimmy free. A string of mishaps result in Jimmy roaming wild on the moors. Cut off from his dope supply, Jimmy starts to go cold turkey, but is helped through his ordeal by a kindly, fleet-footed moose.
Plot doesn’t stint on the dark stuff given a sizeable swathe of the character ensemble end up dying bloody deaths. A graphic sex scene early on and the swear-word-laden dialogue establish from the off this is most certainly not kids’ stuff, but even adult auds will still flinch at the cruelty meted out here to man and beast alike. Lack of sympathetic characters, apart from the hapless eponymous pachyderm and his alcine friend, make whole bale of hay a bit of downer.
Script also is a bit light on the kind of outright funny one-liners needed to generate good word-of-mouth among auds most likely to buy into such product. Sensibility is closest to adult-oriented comic books, which is where writer-helmer Christopher Nielsen’s career started before he moved in shorts and TV production. With its simplified backgrounds and often clumsy character movement, pic’s production values suggest budget considerably lower than the average Pixar or DreamWorks pixelpic. Deliberately grotesque character design is somewhat ungainly, though Jimmy himself is a finely rendered beast, empathy-generating and genuinely realistically elephantine at once. The Lapp gangsters, with their ruthlessly cut cheekbones and traditional jester hats, likewise rep standout caricature work.