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snowflake

Realized through a mixture of live action and computer-generated animation, this Spanish-produced film follows the fortunes of Snowflake, the world’s only albino gorilla, who as a child is taken by force from her parents in Spain’s colony of Equatorial Guinea and sold to a zoologist, who gives Snowflake to his daughter Wendy (Claudia Abate) as a pet. Wendy and Snowflake become bosom companions, but Snowflake’s life is again upturned when Wendy’s father deems her too old and troublesome to be kept as a pet and sends her to live instead in a zoo with other gorillas.

Unfortunately for Snowflake, the papa gorilla is prejudiced, takes an immediate disliking to her, and would rather his two children, Petunia and Elvis, had no association with her. Snowflake is understandably ashamed at being different, and sets out with friendly red panda Jenga to find the Witch of the North (Elsa Pataky), who can turn Snowflake into a normal, black gorilla so she can fit in with her peers. Meanwhile, the evil and superstitious Dr. Archibald Pepper (Pere Ponce) has designs on Snowflake’s heart, not in the emotional sense, but as an ingredient in a potion he hopes will give him eternal life.

Children will enjoy this simple story, the innocent Snowflake being an impossible heroine to dislike. The animation ranges from tolerable to excellent, and the jokes, of the “monkeying around” variety of wordplay, are hit-and-miss; but the film is sufficiently fast-paced to keep both young and old from falling asleep. Voice-over actors in the English-dubbed version include Christopher Lloyd as the goofy Dr. Pepper, David Spade as zen-aspiring red panda Jenga, and Keith David as the father gorilla. Surprisingly, the English version even includes an allusion to David’s role in John Carpenter’s alien invasion classic They Live, when, aping (no pun intended) Roddy Piper’s character in that film, he says, “I do two things: eat bananas and kick butt. Looks like we’re almost out of bananas.”

Jenga sums up the movie’s lesson when he says, “At the end of the day, being yourself always means being a little different.” In addition to the prevailing messages of tolerance and self-esteem, young audiences are also reminded of stranger danger and of the value of family. Mildly gross humor includes nose-picking, with cartoonish violence fairly frequent. Potentially objectionable moments include Dr. Pepper chasing Snowflake with an axe and brandishing a machete as he threatens the beautiful Witch of the North, “You won’t be pretty when I’m done with you.” Mothers may also want to be aware of one borderline raunchy scene in which Jenga, understandably eyeing the Witch’s shapely rump, observes, “Ooh, you know I might be missing out on some stuff with all this purification.”

3 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Snowflake the White Gorilla is:

11. Class-conscious. Dr. Pepper, though wealthy, is a miserly tipper.

10. Media-critical. Media reliability is implicitly questioned when a news broadcast about Snowflake erroneously uses footage of Petunia instead.

9. Pro-police. Cops, after catching Pepper, flash peace signs.

8. Secularist/skeptical. Reason is more valuable than superstition or new age spiritual notions of karma and meditation, Jenga’s jargon stock-in-trade.

7. Animal rights militant. Hunters, ivory collectors, and other victimizers of animals are depicted negatively.

6. Anti-colonial. Just as progressivist wisdom dictates that the Third World must liberate itself from its western masters (even when, as in the case of Equatorial Guinea, this invariably results in terror, tyranny, and a degraded standard of living), it is part of Snowflake’s coming of age that she separates from her adoptive family of humans and self-actualizes among her own kind. (To the extent that the representative of the colonized country is an animal, the film is perhaps unintentionally racist.)

5. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger. Jenga, making the racial subtext of the film explicit, says, “She wants to be black, you moron. It’s actually not uncommon in teenagers.” Snowflake and friends, during the end festivities, do a negroid dance to kiddie hip-hop. Jenga sassily calls Snowflake “girlfriend”.

4. Mildly feminist. Snowflake is tough and adventurous. Wendy’s mother, though the typical homemaker of Franco’s traditionalist Spain, perhaps hints at the advantages of sexual equality and women in the workplace when she observes, “It’s not easy living off of one income.”

3. Arguably irreligious, specifically constituting a coded attack on Catholicism. Dr. Pepper derives his outmoded superstitions from an ancient Latin text full of arcane lore and prescriptions, and his devotions include the lighting of candles on an altar. His beliefs and his yearning for eternal life are psychologically unhealthy “childhood hangups”, the viewer is told. Jenga mocks him and possibly alludes to Jehovah’s Witnesses when he says, “Shouldn’t you be going door to door telling people about your weird obsession?” The Witch of the North, looking into Dr. Pepper’s favorite book and seeing what it has to say on the subject of white gorillas, objects, “Oh, my God, that must be a mistake.” Religion, Snowflake the White Gorilla teaches, must be bent to accord with social progress. Subversively, the Witch is the more likable character.

2. Pro-family. Families, though not perfect, are generally useful and loving units. Wendy, thinking she might die, reflects, “I should have been nicer to my parents.”

1. Pro-miscegenation and anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn). The film ends with a white gorilla/black gorilla kiss. A red panda may also have the hots for a human.

The horror genre took a big leap backward when computer-generated effects took over from prosthetics and animatronic monsters.  Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, a C-grade Universal Studios rehash, makes this abundantly clear with its baboon-like lycanthrope bounding through a central European forest and maiming villagers to less-than-thrilling cinematic effect.  Unoriginal and unlikely to do much for the theatrical fortunes of furry monsters, Werewolf is still far from being a total loss.

Though plainly rooted in Universal horror tradition, Werewolf also borrows from that other venerable genre of golden age Hollywood, the western, with the plot revolving around a bounty and Ed Quinn playing his beast hunter as a Wild West gunslinger.  Also part of the motley posse are tough broad Kazia (Ana Ularu), mannered annoyance Stefan (Adam Croasdell), and – though the group only accepts his assistance reluctantly – newsboy-capped whippersnapper and medical student Daniel (frequently shirtless Guy Wilson).  Party Machine‘s Nia Peeples, meanwhile, displays her cleavage capably as Daniel’s mother.

V for Vendetta‘s Stephen Rea brings a haggard air of a life lived painfully to his part as Doc, Daniel’s mentor and the man who must deal with the mounting heaps of corpses as the werewolf attacks increase.  Rea has the best and most interesting face and presence of any of the actors, and could have enhanced the film still further had his screen time been extended at the expense of the broader, less individual characterizations.

The action sequences are adequate, but marred by hyperkinetic camera work and such gimmicky moments as the hackneyed following of a bullet in close-up as it makes its way toward its target.  Because Hollywood has yet to produce a convincing and truly frightening creature via computer animation, periodic recourse is had to lurid shots of nicely realized gore and guts to keep the audience alert.  None of this would have been necessary, however, had the script amounted to something more than recycled ideas, and if director Louis Morneau had borne in mind the infallible Val Lewton formula for suspense, in which shadow and suggestion rather than show are of greatest importance.

2.5 of 5 possible stars.  ICA’s advice: watch I Was a Teenage Werewolf again instead.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is:

6. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  A village bigot suggests that, rather than going after the werewolf, the people ought to be hunting “stinking gypsies”.

5. Racist!  Notwithstanding the above, Werewolf perpetuates the positive gypsy stereotype of ancient, arcane wisdom.  Also, one character (a gypsy?) embodies the unwashed, dishonest archetype of the bandoliered Mexican bandit of yore.

4. Feminist.  More than one woman must violently assert her dignity when a man rudely puts his paw on her.

3. Anti-vigilante.  Thuggish villagers more than once shoot innocent people in error.

2. Class-conscious.  Daniel’s rich girlfriend’s father fires a warning shot to make clear the lad is unwelcome.  From the moment the cocky vampire Stefan calls Daniel “peasant boy”, his comeuppance is inevitable.

1. Secularist/anti-religion.  The spiritual paraphernalia of monster combat are absent, with lycanthropy characterized as a biological contagion rather than as a curse.  Daniel, in a moment of intense stress, picks up a book (probably the Bible) briefly but throws it to the floor in despair.  Christian symbolism is utilized, however, with a werewolf suspended from a tree in a sympathetic monster-as-martyr crucifixion pose.  (As in the classic I Was a Teenage Werewolf, a young man’s monstrous adolescent angst is exacerbated and manipulated with unwholesome ambition by an older, morally corrupt authority figure.)

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