Friday, July 3, 2015

The Adventures Of The American Rabbit

When I mention "patriotic superheroes" odds are you think of a lot of the standards.  You have Captain America, the soldier who never stops fighting for the ideas the nation was founded on.  There's Superman, the ultimate embodiment of the immigrant who comes to America and is successful.  Uncle Sam (yes, there's a comic book character by that name) frequently leads the fight against threats to America over in DC comics...until his book gets mired down in continuity and is cancelled.  Again.

Then there's the patriotic heroes who aren't American.  Captain Britain's powers are directly proportional to how close he is to his homeland's soil.  Sabra is the super-powered defender of Israel.  The Winter Guard protects Russian interests, though they're often portrayed as bad guys or "misinformed."  

These all pale, though, before the greatest American hero of them all.  

I present...the American Rabbit.

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The film opens with that most iconic of disasters for superheroes to face, bursting dams!  Seriously, go back and watch the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie, it wasn't uncommon.

Fortunately, our brave hero is on the scene, rushing forward and picking up speed, changing into the American Rabbit!  

Normally I hate corny, cheesy designs, but, I honestly can't say I have anything but complete affection for that goofy look.  Starry ears, a striped body with a white belly, and skate wheels stuck directly into his feet.

Oh, did I forget to mention the skates?

That's just incredible.

And before you complain, I'll have you know that the modern day roller skate (as we know them today) was invented by James Plimpton, born 1828 in Medfield, Massachusetts.

Grabbing a rocky outcropping, the American Rabbit is able to plug the hole in the dam, and we jump to a wonderfully 80s opening title sequence complete with multicolored stars and really bland white credits.

I do want to point out some of the names, though.  One of the co-directors of this series is Fred Wolf, who would go on to cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ducktales, and that forever-lasting classic, James Bond, Jr.  Shingo Araki is also connected to it, and he would later be famously known for everything from Japanese series and movies like Cutie Honey, Goodbye Battleship Yamato, and Saint Seiya.  He would also be linked to American series that would be outsourced to Japan, like Inspector Gadget and the G.I.  Joe animated movie.

The film begins in the small, sleepy village, Unknownville, looking like most great sleepy American towns.

It's probably somewhere in Wyoming, right?

The whole village is excitedly stopping by to visit (editor's note: the parents collectively aren't named here, though the father's name is spoken but hard to understand.  It ends in "-il."  Bill?  Gil?  Get the names, come back later and fill this spot in) and their newborn son, Rob.  Amongst the guests is an older rabbit with a red scarf who starts spouting compliment-laden vague statements about "a great future" before suddenly vanishing in the midst of being thanked for the kind words.

Jumping forward a few years, we have "Dad" (editor's note: seriously? No names yet?  Okay, keep watching, you should get names eventually, right?) escorting Rob to a field for a game that's a lot like soccer, except you can also dribble the ball to get it down field.  For the sake of this review, I'm calling it "the ball game."

As "Dad" cheers from the stands, an older rabbit, now in a yellow shirt and blue cap, comes by and gushes about "that one boy" who's doing so well, pointing at Rob.

The old man implies that Rob must have "the will to win!  To win at any cost!" but "Dad" corrects him, stating that Rob only likes to win if he (and, by proxy, his teammates) have "earned" the win.  He plays up how honorable Rob is, never being willing to cheat or anything like that to get ahead, and after Rob scores an important... goal? ... in the ball game, the Dad glances over to say something and realizes that the old guy has once again vanished.

From there we cut to a piano lesson held by "Mom" (editor's note: seriously? No names yet?), and we once again get the old rabbit bumping into a neighbor outside, where the neighbor dotes on how talented Rob is at music.  I... really don't know how that applies to what's coming up, but okay, we can work with it.

We jump even further ahead to the family having a picnic near a tall cliff.  Rob's practicing with his ball while his parents set up a cloth and plates.  His parents talk about what the future might have in store for their son when he heads off into the world.  Fate, however, seems determined to ruin the picnic when a large boulder suddenly starts falling down the cliff-side right towards Rob's parents!

Rob rushes forward to try to save his parents, not realizing that as he does so, he starts to undergo a transformation.  His glasses vanish (?), his fur changes colors, and wheeled shoes sprout out of his feet.  Rob, acting off pure instinct, is able to fly up, catch the boulder, and deposit it safely off to the side.

Rob's parents don't recognize him (despite him skating up and the first thing he says is, "Mom, Dad, are you all right?"), but fortunately a mysterious stranger is able to come along and explain to everybody what's going on.

Wizards in moon and star robes.  Those are distinctively American historical fantasy figures, right?

The wizard invites himself to the picnic to explain what's going on (and promptly starts eating their food).  He explains that this sleepy village is home to a "legacy," where a hero from the village will go out into the "outside world" and make things better.  Rob, it appears, has been picked to be the newest hero during the current generation, and will be the "American Rabbit."

Rob's mother takes this about as well as can be expected, bursting into tears and needing to be comforted by her husband.  They ask if Rob's too young for such a responsibility, but the wizard brushes it off with some nonsense about the hero needing to be "quick" and "strong" and "keeping all sorts of weird hours."

The parents sadly accept Rob's fate and let him go off into the distance by himself.  As Rob passes by some invisible barrier, his homeland vanishes behind him (!) leaving him on a country road by himself.

Okay, I need to take a break from the review here to ask a few questions.  Was that boulder falling "destined" to happen?  Did the old wizard just happen to be waiting behind a corner just in case Rob had a chance to turn into the American Rabbit?  Or did the wizard plan the whole thing, dropping the boulder off the cliff as a final "test?"  What would have happened if Rob had froze in fear, or the parents had actually been able to run to the side out of the boulder's path by themselves?

Also, do villages in Wyoming frequently disappear when you leave them behind?  I'm still thinking this must be Wyoming.

Anyway, with no money and no real knowledge of the limits of his powers, Rob heads off across the countryside and eventually makes his way to the "Big City" which I'm just going to call San Francisco, because let's be honest here.  That's the Golden Gate Bridge.

A group of jackal bikers (and their buzzard, for some reason) come tearing across the bridge and happen upon Rob, threatening him with such harsh language as, "Hey, you, long ears.  What's with you?"  Clearly, this is a gang to be feared.

I don't want to imagine what it takes to shave a mohawk onto a creature typically covered in fur.
In one of my favorite parts of the series, Rob tries to assuage the leader of the gang by complimenting his helmet, but the leader protests that it isn't a helmet, it's a kettle.

You can see him in that picture above.  Anybody who's ever tried to cook anything on a stove or in an oven knows that you can't really cook very well with a round-shaped cooking utensil, much less one with a figure welded to the top/bottom.  The leader asks Rob if he knows what gets cooked in a kettle like that, and when Rob suggests "soup?" the leader is aghast, pointing out to the "pathetic little pipsqueak" that you cook soup in a "soup pan."  Not a kettle.  I honestly can't tell if this is supposed to just be the guy messing with Rob or if his culinary sensibilities were genuinely offended at Rob's lack of knowledge of such things.

Apparently what you cook in a kettle with holes in the sides and a shape keeping it from resting squarely on a heating surface is "rabbit stew."  The leader indicates that one day he and Rob should do "dinner," and the gang rides off into the distance.

In the city itself, Rob spots a sign in a window of a night club (called the Panda Monium) stating the place is looking for a piano player.  Inside, he meets the club's owner, Theo, whose voice actor apparently was told "okay, take Peter Lorre's voice, strip it of any accent, remove the long consonants and breathiness, and make it somehow creepier."  We also meet Bunny O'Hare (ha!), the night club's booker and probably the romantic interest for this film.

Is it even worth trying to figure out why female animals wear full outfits while male ones are often naked or just wearing half of an outfit?  I mean, I'm not calling for it all to be one way or the other, but a little consistency would be appreciated.

Rob starts playing some of the classical music he learned growing up, but when the others point out that Panda Monium is a "rock joint," Rob's able to pick up how to play rock and roll music pretty quickly.  Unfortunately, the jackal gang from before shows up hoping to extort some money for "accident insurance."   Theo tells them to get lost, and the gang leaves, but not before what might be one of the most impressive juggling acts I've seen is done by the mohawk biker, who juggles six drinking glasses and then catches them all, one inside the other, without any real effort.

Dude, why are you wasting time as a biker?  Get on America's Got Talent or something.

That night, the Panda Monium hosts the White Brothers Band, and before you start thinking that's racist, I'll just point out that all of the members of the band are actually white rabbits.

You may now go ahead and debate if that's racist or not, and if so, why.

The party's ruined, however, when the jackal gang shows up on their bikes, driving into the establishment and trashing it.  Apparently Theo didn't think it was worth contacting the police, and I find it rather puzzling that the band (and Rob) just keep on playing while the place gets demolished.  Bunny and Theo decide the right course of action is to arrange a march to protest the jackal gang.

Meanwhile, at the jackals' hideout, their boss finally makes an appearance.

Their boss, so far unnamed, orders the jackals to ride in the march "at the rear," insisting they never move forward at all, because Vultor (wait, is that him or the name of his bird or the organization?) is going to make an example of those who would are be against him.

At the bridge the next day, we're introduced to a gorilla named Ping Pong(voiced by one of my favorite voice actors, Lorenzo Music, known for Garfield and Peter Venkman) who spots the jackals harassing people at the end of the parade.  He gets Rob's attention, but Rob is distracted by the appearance of the buzzard/vulture, who lands on one of the bridge cables and then starts pecking through steel cables.  That's one powerful beak.

So, in order to stop a rally march from happening, the bad guy decided the best plan was to do his best to create a scene later ripped off by Final Destination 5 and kill hundreds of people.  Fortunately, Rob is able to sneak away from the crowd (by jumping over the side of the bridge to a walkway that runs underneath) and transforms into the American Rabbit, tying off the cables as fast as the buzzard can peck through them.

Having just almost been murdered, the rally cheers for the American Rabbit (even knowing him by name already!) and ... resumes the march like nothing happened.  When Rob rejoins the parade (from ahead of them), Ping and Theo explain what happened to him.  At the rally part of the rally march, Theo reveals that he's going to rebuild the Panda Monium using money earned from a nationwide tour of the White Brothers.  It will be going to such great concert locations as the Grand Canyon and New Orleans.

Now, New Orleans I get.  Is the Grand Canyon really much of a concert series destination?

At the bad guys' hideout, the jackals' boss declares that their new plan is to destroy the American Rabbit.  They just need someone who can go toe-to-toe with him, and it appears the only being who could ever match him in strength is Ping Pong the gorilla.  However, since Ping Pong is a good guy, they need to find a way to "make" him fight the American Rabbit.

One of the jackals disguises himself as a messenger and uses a fake telegram to lure Ping Pong to an empty train yard, they're able to inject him with some drug to knock him unconscious, load him onto a train, and carry him off to some destination unknown.

The next day, at the train yard, Rob, Bunny, Theo, and the White Brothers Band try to investigate what happened to Ping.  Their only clues are an abandoned motorcycle, Ping's comb lying by some tracks, and an empty needle on the ground.  Theo, proving himself every bit the detective as, say, Batman, latches onto the evidence with this statement when Rob points out that the comb belongs to Ping Pong: "And that's a hypodermic needle, so what?"

The others talk Rob into heading out, and after driving for a while, they come to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where Rob suggests they raft the rest of the way to the "hippest club in the Grand Canyon," the Trap Door.  Fortunately, they just happened to have rafts with them, because every band on tour carries rafts with them.

The jackals capture Rob after he pushes off the rest of the group from shore (volunteering to go "over land" to meet up with them), and toss him down an actual trap door.  Meanwhile, Ping is trapped in a giant glass tube being filled with water, with the bad guys trying to talk him into joining them.

However, attempting to threaten Lorenzo Music is like trying to beat up one of those inflatable arm-waving figures outside of stores desperate for attention.  It's not very long before the bad guys lose all of their enthusiasm for it and the leader utters a great out of context quote for the ages, "Wash this ape out of my life."

The jackals guarding Rob are tricked into letting him go by a means so stupid I'm not even sure I can really do it justice by describing it.  It involves Rob pretending to be a professional tap dancer, and let's just leave it at that.

It does let him transform into the American Rabbit, though, where he drops two jackals with a flying headbutt and then frees Ping Pong from captivity.  Upon reaching the surface, the two are able to catch up to the rest of the group, but Rob notices that the raft is headed straight for a waterfall.  He sets Ping Pong down near a campsite, and then hurries over, but not before Theo and Bunny are knocked into the river by a random rock poking out.  They're saved by the American Rabbit, too, and Bunny immediately tries to put the moves on their savior and I swear I'm not making any of this dialogue up:

"You must be exhausted.  Why don't you come over here by the fire and rest for a few moments.  And get warm."

Note, that was said with the above expression and a breathy voice.
"Warm, huh?  No, no.  I got to save the White Brothers.  They're one heckuva band.  And, by the way, ma'am, there is no fire.  But maybe you can get one going."

You see, Rob, the subtext is that the "fire" in this case is her "biologically mandated sex drive," and by "get warm" she meant- oh, never mind, if your unnamed parents didn't have time to teach you this stuff, I certainly don't.  I do want to point out that Bunny's recommending that the American Rabbit just hang out for a bit and NOT save her friends and the band whose music is going to be responsible for rebuilding Theo's establishment.

The American Rabbit saves the White Brothers at the last second (THANKS, Bunny, for delaying him!) and then flies off, just to appear moments later as Rob again, pulling the same "gee, guys, I finally found you, did I miss anything exciting?"

So, with no money coming from the Grand Canyon part of the trip, the group makes their way to glamorous New Orleans!

...okay, first off, what kind of animal is that orange thing?  A miscolored skunk?

Second, that is clearly an intoxicated dog-creature on the right with his arm around what might NOT be a prostitute, but I wouldn't bet money on her not being one.  Also, that dog in the orange coat is clearly trying to sell stolen watches.

Third, is that a YMCA in the background there, all boarded up?

Fourth, what is that thing in the foreground?  A box of broken glass?

Geez, guys, way to make New Orleans look like the worst of the worst places to be in the nation.

Finally they get to the club they're supposed to perform at just to find that it's been burned to the ground the night before.  Apparently a messenger showed up luring the manager across town, and when he got back, the place was burned down.

Then this amazing piece of dialogue happens:

"Um, was this messenger, um, by any chance, was he a jackal?"

"Hey, hey, I'll tell you something, kid.  That stuff don't mean a thing to me.  You may not realize it, but look at me.  I'm a pig."

Congratulations, movie, you just confirmed that racism is alive and well in this world.

So that's two tour destinations (out of two) a total bust, but Bunny is able to spot a sign in a window advertising that a band is needed for a place called the "Paddlewheel to Paradise."  Not surprising to anybody following the story, the "manager" of the place winds up being a jackal, and he immediately gives the band a job without an audition, and Rob figures out something definitely "up" when he realizes that the manager is wearing a shirt under his vest with the gang logo on it.

So what's the plan this time?  Well, simply put, the bad guys lure the good guys onto a paddle steamer, take it out to the middle of the river, then light it on fire after locking everybody on board.

Fortunately, Rob is able to duck into the kitchen and transform quickly enough to carry everybody out before the whole ship explodes, but it does leave the problem of "wait, what happened to Rob?"  You see, these people who the American Rabbit keeps showing up to save can just never really catch on that Rob's "never around" when he is.

Rob is able to catch up to the bad guys long enough to learn that they're going to New York next, and instead of trying to capture them immediately, he instead goes and rejoins his friends.  Once reunited he convinces them that the best thing to do "is get far away from here" and try to avoid the jackals from now on.  Hey, how about a trip to New York?  They'll NEVER bump into each other there!

Hitchhiking and making their way across the landscape, the group finally gets dropped off 50 miles outside of New York by a friendly truck driver and- hey.  HEY.

You couldn't take them directly into town, man?  You just had to drop off your "chosen one" 50 miles outside of town?  And Rob, how did you not recognize him?

After walking for an indeterminate amount of time, they finally get picked up and driven into town by a moose and his son who own a chocolate company (get it? Did ya get it?).  Once they're dropped off, though, the moose and their truck start getting harassed by the jackal gang (which is a really strange random occurrence, since the jackals think the good guys are dead).

The good guys try to get some instruments (all of theirs were lost in the fire) from some friends of Theo's who run a corporation, but between the double talk, fees, and the phrase "come on back when you have the funds, and bring a check," it's apparent they're going to get no help there.  They leave, but the bad guys show up immediately and start talking to the same corporate figures about renting the Statue of Liberty for a day.

How a corporation can just "rent" the Statue of Liberty is something I don't understand and don't want to understand.

In a basement somewhere, the moose and his son are chained to a wall, and they're both as confused as I am as to why the jackal gang would capture the owner/operator of a chocolate factory.

I'm not going to go into the details, but at one point the bad guy (whose name is Walt, apparently) says, "He who controls the chocolate, controls EVERYTHING."

At the Statue of Liberty (which still looks like a person, strangely enough), the good guys show up to get "free chocolate" but Rob is smart enough to sneak off.  He discovers that the Statue of Liberty is actually packed with dynamite.  Walt comes on the loudspeaker system with a "join me or get blown up" ultimatum, which means we FINALLY get a fight scene!  The American Rabbit leaps into action, knocking aside the jackals and tackling Walt, who promptly pops and deflates into an empty set of clothes.

It turns out the real mastermind, the big talker, the criminal genius behind everything this whole time was really...

No, just kidding.

It's the buzzard.

The bad guy forces the American Rabbit to fly around Lady Liberty and read a prepared statement saying that the bad guys "won" and are in charge, because there are NO POLICE IN THIS WORLD.

Correction, there are police, but their reaction is to never leave their station until the jackals show up, then they just sadly walk away.  Clearly, there's nothing they can do about this.

So without any authority figures at all to oppose them, the gang soon has complete control of New York.  However, anybody who ever watched any movie where a bad guy tries to act tough in New York (Spider-Man, anyone?) knows that eventually New Yorkers get sick of being pushed around and turn on you.

This is no different.

The good guys are even able to free the moose and his son, because someone finally realized "we have a giant gorilla on our team, and they're not really all that strong."

The buzzard is outraged by the failure of his squad, and when the lead jackal indicates that part of the problem is that people "just don't like them," the buzzard threatens to trigger "the doomsday switch."

Meanwhile, Rob's shuffling his way through town, feeling like a failure, when a familiar face with a cab shows up to offer him a lift.

The wizard tries to convince Rob that "you don't get to win them all," but there's no reason to give up hope.  He gets a few ideas in Rob's head that he can't give up yet, and then drops him off near a travel agency with a sign in the window advertising Niagara Falls.

This is where the story gets bonkers, since the American Rabbit's master plan is to go to Niagara Falls and stop the water figuring it will make the turbines stop, causing all of the power to go out, therefore the "doomsday switch" won't be any good!

How does he stop Niagara Falls?  Well, he just uses his powers of HOLY CRAP.

I don't- how- I don't even-

Okay, let's just believe that's something he can do and move on, because I've got NOTHING I can say about that.

The rest of Rob's friends and the two moose show up to watch, but the buzzard does, too, and gets the idea to pick up the moose's son and toss him down in the path of where the water will fall if the American Rabbit lets it go.  The moose's father climbs down after his son, and calls out to the American Rabbit to "do what you have to do!" as he holds his boy close.

So far we have attempted murder via bridge, neglectful homicide attempt through innuendo, arson, racism, and so many other things I never expected (or remembered) from a children's cartoon, and now we have a father telling the hero "it's okay, let me and my son die if it means you get the bad guy!"

That's a pretty powerful sacrifice.

Or it would be, if the good guys didn't remember once again that they have a really strong gorilla that can climb down, grab the moose and his son, and carry them back up the side of the falls again.

So, with that conflict out of the way (though I don't think I'll ever get the mental image of a moose screaming "DO IT!  DOOO IIIT!" as he waits for death out of my head again), the American Rabbit takes off after the buzzard into what's either Canada or Maine in April, because a full-on blizzard is suddenly happening.  The buzzard starts to get weighed down by snow as the American Rabbit chases him through the sky, and after trying one last time to attack the rabbit, he gets weighed down where he can't fly any more and collapses into a snow bank.

Where the American Rabbit leaves him to die.  Seriously.

He returns to Niagara Falls, changes back into Rob, helps Ping and the moose get the rest of the way up the side of the falls with some rope, and gets a kiss from Bunny O'Hare as nobody ever suspects Rob was the hero that saved them all.

And that's the end.

The Good:

This movie doesn't pull its punches.  Abandonment, growing up, sex, racism, murder, blackmail, this movie has all the stuff you would expect to see from the next Sin City film, minus the guns.

There's some really clever dialogue in this movie, and the voice work is extremely well done.  The voices match the characters, even the bit ones like the penguins working for the massive company that tries to rent out instruments to the band.  There's some cute humor in it that kids will enjoy, a neat twist in the real identity of the villain.  A lot of the animation is extremely clean and neat.

Also, even with those ridiculous skates, I still love the American Rabbit's design, I don't care how goofy it is.

The Bad:

While the animation was clean, it was inconsistent.  During the end, cuts between the buzzard and American Rabbit show that it's snowing where the buzzard is and raining on the rabbit.  Maybe he just radiates a lot of heat from his body (that "fire" that Bunny was talking about?), but it's noticeable.  There are other shots where a room will be laid out one way, then in the next shot things are moved, or a cave will curve one way in one shot then curve another way in the next shot.  It needed a bit more editing, I think.

The story is bananas.  Nobody catches on that Rob is the American Rabbit despite him being the ONLY OTHER PERSON PRESENT most of the time.  At least they have to take into account the entire population of Metropolis in order to conclude that Clark Kent is Superman.

I'm not sure where that mystery village at the beginning was supposed to be, but I can't help but wonder how much of the Superman origin story they were going for by having America be the "outside world."  Could Rob ever find his way back?  Will he never see his family again?

How does animal racism work?  Who do the jackals represent?  The pig clearly considered himself part of a minority, but which one would be stereotypically represented with a pig?  People from the Philippines?  The Jewish?  Libertarians?  Maybe it would be better to just leave the racism out, hm?


Man, I did not remember this movie as well as I thought I did.

I had vivid recollections of scenes of this movie that apparently don't exist, because not a single one of the things I thought I remembered happening actually happened.   I remembered a huge underground complex under a dam that was flooding.  I remembered there being at least thirty animals being stuck somewhere in a cell needing to be rescued.  I have no idea what I thought I was remembering, but it sure wasn't this.

If you have young (and I mean really young) kids, you might let them watch this, because they won't catch any of the stuff that made me, as an adult, go "wait, what?"  

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