Archive | August 2017

An Animated Dissection: Freddie as F.R.O.7. – the ‘Best Worst Movie’ of animation?

In this day and age, we have access to a number of films. Some are great, others good…and a lot of them that are just plain bad!

Over the years, small ‘cults’ of fandom have grown around such titles as Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, and The Room. They’re poorly-made films, with horrendous acting and absurd stories, and yet many cannot turn away from the pull of their abysmal production values.

In recent years, there’s been a few animated films that have gained prominence due to their ‘bad-ness’ as well. These range from films like the $60 million animated production Foodfight, to the Rob Schneider-voiced  Norm of the North. However, I submit for your consideration, an animated film that premiered 25 years ago, in the United Kingdom: Freddie as F.R.O.7.

__________

Freddie started out his life as the young Prince, of an unnamed Kingdom in France. Unlike an ordinary family, his was imbued with magical powers. However, Freddie’s Father ended up being killed by his shape-shifting Aunt, Messina. Once she had taken over the kingdom, she then turned him into a frog, and attempted to kill him!

FRO7-17

Original US Release Poster

However, Freddie escaped, with some help from Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After fleeing the kingdom, Freddie ended up hiding out with a group of frogs, far away from his home. He soon grew to human-size, and went off into the world, eventually becoming a secret-agent for the French government.

After an indeterminate number of years working for them as a spy (though how/why they decided to hire a man-sized frog, we’ll never know!), he is called to England. At the request of a man known as Brigadier G, Freddie is tasked with finding out what is causing a number of the country’s famous monuments, to disappear. For the mission, Freddie is teamed up with a martial arts expert named Daffers, and a Scottish weapons-expert, named Scotty.

It soon turns out the monuments are being stolen by a bombastic figure named El Supremo, and, he’s in cahoots with Messina as well (who largely stays in her snake form during their time together).

__________

-What kind of story is this!?-

Ok, that was a pretty ‘basic’ summary of this film..and reading over what I just typed, even I have to wonder just how this film got made!

It would be enough if maybe this had been a new take on The Frog Prince (like what Disney did in 2009), but this story decides to create a veritable train-wreck of ideas, as if it was an Italian rip-off film, or a Golan-Globus production.

FRO7-13Over the years, many of us have seen stories that can take a bunch of strange items, and actually make you accept them. Both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series are prime examples of this done right. They ground you with enough information in their worlds, to feel acclimated to them.

With FRO7, the storytelling bounces around so much, that you’d swear you’ve gotten whiplash!

The fault for this may actually lie, with writer/producer/director, Jon Acevski. Word was Acevski’s son had a toy frog as a child, and Jon would avail him with numerous tales about it.

Once you think about that, the plot for FRO7 seems as obvious as a through-line bedtime story. Freddie’s tale dips and dodges around, like an adult trying to keep their child entertained. Stuff just feels like it was added in, as if to enthrall a young kid to keep interest in a tale, that should have ended several bedtimes ago.

FRO7-3Even the reasoning behind El Supremo stealing the monuments is rather ‘boring.’ Basically, he has a machine that can shrink them down, and using a special crystal, plans to drain the essence of the country’s history from them, putting it’s people to sleep, allowing for him to invade the country (once again, I am not making that up).

Thinking about all of these strange twists and turns, reminded me of The Nostalgia Critic’s words about another train-wreck of a film, 1988’s Felix the Cat: The Movie. The Critic claimed that Felix felt like a film that had “way-too-much story,” and that’s what it feels like we have here with FRO7.

In looking up more information on Acevski for this blog post, I found relatively nothing (even his IMDB bio only lists credits for FRO7). Word was this had been a dream-project that he’d wanted to have made since the 70’s, though the story as to just how he got production capital and created a studio to make the film, seems to have been lost to time.

__________

-Explain, Movie! Explain!!-

Going over the film’s story several times, I can only assume that FRO7 was either put together by a committee who had no idea how to tell a good story, or they were simply given Jon Acevski’s rough outline, and told to just work straight off of it!

So much of the film feels like a patchwork quilt of ideas/scenarios/etc, that makes very little sense if you start questioning it’s logic.

Here are “a few” logic gaps that I’ve catalogued while watching the film:

  • Freddie grows into a human-sized frog, yet seems to have totally thrown away the thought of taking care of his evil Aunt, or maybe helping out the Kingdom that he is entitled to inherit the throne to! He also makes no allusions to ever having been human, to any of his cohorts.
  • FRO7-6When a number of large monuments are stolen from Britain, NOONE sees where these things go…and there are even people standing in front of them, AND snapping pictures! Also, once it is found out that this is not an isolated incident of just one monument being stolen, it is never considered to send troops/planes/tanks/etc to guard the other remaining monuments after the first few go missing!? Plus, even though the buildings are taken from high-traffic areas, noone notices them being taken (not even with the giant shadow looming in the pic above, when the Tower of London is taken!!).
  • Freddie lies to Daffers and Scotty at one point, and pretty much gets them all captured by El Supremo, during a stake-out (he also takes the batteries out of their walkie-talkies so they can’t contact the Brigadier!). At first they are angry with him, but a few scenes later, they’re casually talking to Freddie, as if they’ve forgotten what he just did!
  • Why is almost anything with two X chromosomes attracted to Freddie!? (seriously, aside from Messina, it seems every female character/creature makes ‘goo-goo eyes’ at him!).
  • FRO7-4Freddie drives around in an anthropomorphic green car (see right), that has a face, makes croaking sounds, and spouts little hearts from it’s exhaust pipe. We never know just where Freddie got it from, or how it came to life (and it also seems to have a crush on him too!). Maybe she’s the girl-frog he was impressing in an earlier scene, and he just magically turned her into a car?
  • Freddie claims he uses his ‘mind powers’ to combat evil, but we only ever see him use these for a few seconds near the end, while the other times, he engages in hand-to-hand combat.
  • In one scene, our ‘heroes’ are face-to-face with some enemy soldiers with guns. The soldiers fire off the guns from a distance, but when our ‘heroes’ are right in their face, they forget how to use them!
  • Though the Brigadier is surprised to find Freddie is actually a frog, noone else freaks out upon encountering a 6-foot-tall, walking-and-talking frog!
  • In the modern-day(?), Messina has teamed up with El Supremo, but we’re never told exactly when they formed their alliance, or even if Supremo knows that his partner-in-crime/possible-love-interest(?!?), is even human (note: she sings in English around him, but the rest of the time, just makes hissing/squeaking sounds).
  • FRO7-7Though we see Freddie can talk to other humans (I assume this is because he was originally human), we are never made to be aware if a number of non-magical creatures we see (such as these punk-crows(?!?) on the right), are even able to be understood (even though we can hear them babbling in English).

I had to stop myself there, lest I just rattle off an Everything that’s Wrong with FRO7 list that could stretch on further (maybe one of these days, I’ll make a video of it!).

__________

-A Glimmer of Hope, that quickly dies out-

Sometimes, I curse my ability to find little pockets of ‘good’ in things (one reason why I can never fully hate the Star Wars prequels). Going over the story, it feels like there could have been a decent story buried in this train-wreck of a film.

FRO7-2

The opening scenes where Freddie is turned into a frog and Messina attempts to kill him, are pretty intense. The music and visuals are rather dark, and the wailing chorus we hear, makes it seem as if we’re watching something out of a Don Bluth film. However, that scene is about the most intense thing the filmmakers could put together, when it came to this film.

It feels like they also could have just had Freddie escape into the nearby countryside after the encounter, and team up with other witches and wizards to take back his kingdom. He could also encounter some other animal friends along the way, but I’m thinking in a far simpler way than the writer/producer/director could have envisioned.

__________

-Flimsier than Cardboard Characterization-

One would assume that there might be some decent characters to like here, but overall, they all feel like stock characters, put on an assembly line, and spat out onto celluloid.

Having been a young Prince traumatized by his evil Aunt, one would assume maybe Freddie would have an interesting character arc. Instead, he seems to have been hit with the amnesia ray, let alone the ‘blase bazooka.’ He never makes mention to his cohorts about his royal heritage, let alone mention that he is related to Messina, when they are face-to-face with her the first time (and when he calls her his ‘dear Aunt’ later on, neither of his cohorts question how a snake could be related to a frog!).

FRO7-8Freddie approaches almost every situation with a smug smile on his froggy face, as if he knows he’s bulletproof in surviving his own story. For being one of France’s top agents (and why would they publicize that, by the way!?), Freddie seems pretty incompetent. My guess is that he simply got all his more competent partners killed in the field, and smilingly took the credit for their exploits, elevating him to a position of  prominence, simply by being the ‘last frog standing.’ It’s possible they may have also been trying to make him a bit like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series (given how he seems to solve or get out of most situations by sheer dumb luck!).

Ben Kingsley voices the adult Freddie, who spends most of his time sounding like he’s trying to do his best impression of Mel Blanc’s Pepe le Pew. This is definitely not one of Kingsley’s better voice roles, with some areas sounding like he’s rambling, just to put words in pre-animated scenes (btw, if you want to hear him at his best, check out his role as Archibald Snatcher in the Laika production, The Boxtrolls!).

FRO7-5Daffers as the ‘female spy/love interest,’ is just as bland. She’s basically there just to take one look at Freddie, and fall in love…as well as provide one of the most shocking ‘non-kid’ joke-shots in the film (“Well, I don’t have any concealed weapons,” she tells Freddie, leading to this scene on the right…and yes, that is in the actual UK release!)

The third member of their group, Scotty, is pretty much the third-wheel ‘gadget-master’ of the group, and that’s about all I have to say about him.

The modern-day villain of the piece is El Supremo, voiced by Brian Blessed. His character just hisses, bellows, and yells throughout his entire role, supposedly making the kids in the audience know that he wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD (or Britain, at least)!! There are even some points where Supremo could very well kill Freddie, but he instead just stands around, monologuing and laughing in front of Freddie, to the point where I was yelling, “he’s right in front of you, just kill him already!!”

FRO7-14

And then there’s Messina, Freddie’s evil Aunt. While she does get the story going, she serves little purpose going forward, but to be threatening only a few times, and the rest of the time, just be as incompetent as Supremo.

However, as much as she claims she needs to get rid of Freddie to be all-powerful, it seems she has enough powers to actually get the job done (plus, it doesn’t seem like he’s devoted any of his time to trying to track her down or stop her up to this point!). The filmmakers show that she has a poisonous bite, can strangle others, hypnotize them, change people into things, let alone conjure up gale-force winds that can destroy a wooden ship!…and yet she’s as competent as Skynet in a non-James-Cameron directed Terminator film.

There are so many scenes, just like the ones with Supremo, where she could easily take out Freddie, and yet shows total incompetency to do so. While she can turn herself into other dangerous creatures, it seems the only one that does her any good (if ever), is her ‘default’ snake form.

FRO7-15Freddie even lets her get away in the end, and when the Brigadier in the film sees the Aunt, flying away as a strange bird, Freddie claims it was “noone of importance.”

…really, Freddie? You have an evil, shape-changing, poison-fanged, hypnotizing, world-domination-planning Aunt you just let get away…AND THAT WAS ‘NOONE OF IMPORTANCE!!?’

(btw, Daffers and Scotty just laugh at this, so if people did end up getting killed by Messina, I hold those two just as responsible for not telling anyone, as Freddie!!)

The film’s Brigadier who hires Freddie and is in charge of keeping Britain safe, is portrayed as worried-yet-bumbling old man. The filmmaker even try to make him our ‘comic relief,’ by making him so befuddled about the loss of Britain’s landmarks, that he ends up being constantly tangled in phone cords. However, the timing just never works to make us laugh at his predicaments.

In truth, the Brigadier actually gets in probably the only funny line in the entire film.

FRO7-9

It comes when he makes mention that a number of his best agents have been lost in the field, leaving him noone to call upon from Britain, to investigate the disappearing monuments.

“003 in China,” he moans, looking at a globe. “005 in Russia, 007 in Hollywood.”

There’s even a very small subplot about a spy for El Supremo, within the Brigadier’s group of assistants, but the film doesn’t give us enough evidence to really even suspect him (well, there’s one split-second shot, but, it makes little sense when you see it). Sure, they give the spy shifty eyes, a placid face and a snide voice, but he looks just as strange as the other men assisting the Brigadier.

They even try to throw the spy (voiced by Jonathan Pryce) into some scenes just chuckling and smiling to himself, but I felt his actions, were just him laughing at how much of a wreck the Brigadier was, or maybe this man in question, was hoping the Queen of England would eventually replace the Brigadier with him instead.

__________

-A Soundtrack of Silliness-

I don’t know what it is, but it seems that when it comes to animated films, studios like to entice singers or musicians, to showcase their talents in a ‘kids film.’ I’ve seen that with films in the past, suck as Rock and Rule, Jetsons the Movie, and a number of others. My guess is before every studio decided to spend that money on hiring big-name actors to voice everything, they just felt that movie soundtracks were how they’d keep the extra royalty money rolling in.

Of course, the musical choices for much of this film, make one wonder what they were thinking.

FRO7-12

The opening song (sounding like a leftover tune from the 80′), is called Keep Your Dreams Alive. Sung by George Benton and Patti Austin, this almost sounds like it would be the love ballad to play over the end credits, but maybe the filmmakers felt that it would somehow make the audience believe that Freddie was a competent hero…though the song plays over a rather strange opening scene.

Some may be wondering why a human-sized frog is driving around Paris in an anthropomorphic car, but there also is the strangeness, that he’s doing so, in a deserted major city (most likely, there wasn’t enough time or money to animate crowds for these scenes?).

Over the years, I think some would agree that the most memorable song, is the one sung by Messina (with singer Grace Jones providing these vocals). She gets a villain’s song titled Evilmania, though strangely enough, even though we’ve seen her take human form, she performs the entire song in her snake-form…and for much of this piece, she’s slinking around, swaying her ‘snake-hips'(!!?) to the piece.

FRO7-10Messina sings about all the ways she can control or kill a person, yet one has to wonder if it’s all just for show. What she does to several people during this song, could have come in handy at the end of the film, when she dawdles and is just plain incompetent in taking down her nephew and his friends.

The song is also memorable for a number of ‘evil figures’ that are bopping along to the song…including a few that would be considered ‘questionable’ in this day and age!

Sometimes, the worst thing a film can do, is just stop, and have a song moment for no real reason.

That happens when Freddie encounters Nessie again after all these years(!?!), and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance…she takes him underwater to meet her family, and sing a song ‘in his honor’!!? And what does Freddie do? Remind Nessie that the fate of Britain and his comrades are at stake? Nope, he just goes along with it (and changes outfits at least 2 times during the song!!).

FRO7-11Nessie gets a song to sing called Shy Girl, with vocals by Barbara Dickson. When watching the scene, it feels like the film’s blatant attempts to rip off Under the Sea from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. However, THAT song actually had a purpose to it’s story.

There are even songs contributed by Boy George, and Asia, though they’re little more than clips used in the film.

There’s even a dance-mix style end-track about Freddie, sung by Holly Johnson (aka the lead singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The song reminds me of some hero songs, that make the lead character sound even cooler than he actually is. I will admit, it is strange that after all these years, this song hasn’t found it’s way into any club remixes.

Though the film is rather obscure, I am surprised that even Lucasfilm never came down on the production. Why? Well in a few scenes, the film actually uses John Williams’ music from Star Wars: Episode IV!! I kid you not, as soon as I heard that music I had heard probably a thousand times before, I could not believe George Lucas had not sued the production company!

__________

-Big Plans Die Hard-

Believe it or not, the studio making Freddie, actually thought they had a viable franchise on their hands!

FRO7-16At the end of the film, it’s hinted at that the Americans need Freddie’s help with something, and the Brigadier seems eager to send him across the pond (however, if that heart-shaped closing image is any indication, Freddie and Daffers are gonna partake in a little…what do you call it…beastiality?).

My guess is there’d be plenty of expendable FBI agents for Freddie to use as cannon-fodder, but the already-titled Freddie Goes to Washington never got off the lily pad, as FRO7 floundered at the box-office in Britain, and fared even worse when released in the US, 2 weeks later (courtesy of Miramax Pictures).

FRO7-18

With the death of the sequel, so too went Hollywood Road Film Productions Studios (dang that’s a mouthful!)  as well as any word on just what the sequel would have been about. However, given that Freddie nonchalantly let his power-hungry Aunt get away(!!!), it is most likely she would be behind the troubles across the pond.

A few years after it’s dismal theatrical release, FRO7 was released on video in the US (see cover on the left), this time as just Freddie the Frog. Unlike it’s theatrical release, this one would be a little different. James Earl Jones was now voicing several narrative bits, and the film had been edited down in some places (such as the Evilmania song routine, that was now nowhere to be found!).

Since then, there hasn’t been an official release on DVD or Blu-Ray for Freddie (in regards to it’s original release), and most viewers have had to make due with versions floating around in cyberspace, or on Youtube. However, if you are feeling curious, seek out the original British release, but be warned…I recommended it to a friend, and this film ‘broke him!’ And no, I am not making that up.

__________

Overall, FRO7 is a mess of an animated film. It doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and I can’t help but wonder how it got all the way through it’s production, with noone actually questioning how all-over-the-place the plot is. Then again, maybe the studio producing it, felt that the kids would just be so enthralled, and drag their parents back to it multiple times (like with those Minions movies).

Personally, I’d love to see the film skewered by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000. With the show having come back on Netflix, they’ve shown in their most recent season, that there’s still plenty of bad movies out there to roast, and this would make a fine introduction to the world of animated features, if they so wished!

However, for now, Freddie will just exist out here in cyberspace, where adults will think of it fondly, and others of us, will just shake our fist at the smug frog, mocking us as we strive to make sense out of the illogical mess that is his ‘perfect little world.’

Oh, one more thing. Ever wonder why Freddie is called F.R.O.7.? Well, apparently the letter ‘G,’ is also, the 7th letter in the alphabet, so…it kinda makes sense?…

Advertisements

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 4) – Toffee

And here we are: the fourth episode, the final part to Season 3’s Battle for Mewni storyline.

Given the title and imagery you’ve seen so far, it’s a good bet that a certain lizard-creature, is going to come into play in this story. So, let’s get on with it!

__________

StarEp34-1

– Toffee –

On her own, Star manages to infiltrate her family’s castle, but reveals to Ludo what he doesn’t know…that Toffee, whom he thought was long-gone, is inside his ‘wand-hand,’ and is controlling him!

Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Ludo, and he wants this problem taken care of. Star believes she may have a solution…but it soon leads to revelations and much more, than she and her friends could possibly have conceived of!

__________

Watching the whole Battle for Mewni storyline, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like, if these four episodes had finished off Season 2 (instead of the cliffhanger we received). With this episode, it truly feels like a rollercoaster ride of a 22-minute story…and this is just the fourth episode of the new season!

Going over this story, I couldn’t help but feel that while it had some little ‘filler’ bits here and there, it’s one of the few stories that seems to quickly put aside nonsense, and throws us into the fray. This is one of those episodes where a number of revelations are revealed to us…and it feels like a lot of things that we have been wondering about for awhile, have finally been given some attention!

Since he disappeared at the end of the first season, many of us in the Star fandom have had numerous theories regarding Toffee and his ‘end-game.’ We’ve seen he can be an enigmatic puppet master, but it feels that with this episode, he has (so far) cemented himself as one of the series’ top baddies (sorry, Ludo).

Michael C Hall returns with his calm, enigmatic voice, that just gives Toffee that air of menace that makes him so scarily enjoyable to watch! Most notable is one scene, where he gives the equivalent of ‘three mic drops,’ in under 2 minutes!

StarEp34-4

Though Toffee figures into the story, it’s main character is Star, as she braves a number of dangers, and gets in over-her-head, in ways that I’m sure had many fans gasping at the events that unfolded before us!

Star last mentioned that she is not one to come up with plans, and we somewhat see that work both for, and against her in this story. She makes choices one would almost consider foolish, AND does things that show maturity, showing how far we’ve come from that first image, of a girl who conjured up a flaming rainbow in the first episode.

Aside from Toffee and Star, the rest of the cast are there largely as supporting players.

Ludo has a smaller role in this piece, but will probably get one of the episode’s most memorable moments.

Marco Diaz, Queen Moon, and Buff Frog show up for this episode as well, but seem to largely be here for ‘moral support.’ Even so, they play their parts well, with Moon getting probably one of the more emotional moments of the episode.

StarEp34-5

It was nice to also see how the previous episode Puddle Defender, brought Moon and Buff Frog together as allies, and makes me hope we’ll get more of this going forward.

This was the first episode I can recall, that while there are mysteries still unfolding, it felt complete (and emotional) enough, to jump to the top of the list of my favorite 22-minute episodes for the series (so far). I remember watching Gravity Falls, and being surprised that Disney was allowing some shocking-yet-amazing storytelling and graphics. It appears that taking of chances, has also been allowed with this series as well.

While there are some moments that seem to slow down for a comedic joke or three, there is more drama and emotion that overrides them, to deliver one of the best episodes the series has to offer!

Final Grade: A

StarEp34-2

Best line from episode (said by Toffee): “Poor little butterfly…you’ve lost your wings.”

__________

StarEp34-3

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Ludo): “It turns out you’re dead!”

__________

Toffee proves to still contain secrets and questions within the world of Star vs the Forces of Evil, but it brings forth enough drama, emotion, and revelations, that it ends up becoming one of the best episodes the series has produced!

Even with some minor comedy moments that seem like ‘speed bumps’ in the overall story, there’s plenty of great stuff going on, to make one forget most of it’s underwhelming moments.

__________

And with that, The Battle for Mewni is now over…but what other adventures await Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and their family and friends in the next episodes of this season? Questions still abound related to some items in the series. Plus…(former) Queen Eclipsa, is still alive!

Sadly, we’ll have to wait until November to find out! Yep, another hiatus, and then we’ll see what happens next. My guess is, given the new opening and closing segments that show more dimensions, let alone Star being back in the Kingdom of Mewni, this season may take place over Star and Marco’s “summer vacation” time.

Starit’s called summer,” Marco told Star in the Season 2 episode, Starcrushed. “And it’s gonna be great.”

It may sound great, but we’ll have to wait a few more months to see just what the rest of this season has to offer.

Until then, expect a few little Animated Dissection posts regarding the series (and the possibility that I may be reviewing the new Ducktales series!).