Rental Corner: “Smoochy ” curious misfire
Never has there been a comedy I’ve seen in a while that comes close to what its satirizing and yet feels misguided. Well, “Death to Smoochy” knows what its trying to parody but at the same time missing a lot of opportunities. Now granted, the film wasn’t a big hit at the box office but somehow was able to get new life on home video and television. I can see why considering its main target is the Barney craze we went through in the 1990s. We all remember when that big and happy purple dinosaur entered our living rooms teaching us things we knew in pre-school. I have the unfortunate task of saying I was one of those kids who grew up on the show. However, I also favored more PBS programs like Sesame Street and even Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood at the time for being diverse and not shying away from big topics. Its ironic because “Smoochy” tries to be this dark farce of children’s show hosts but yet somehow feels watered down. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when it tries to be really hard but it doesn’t really raise the bar or sometimes plays itself very safe.
Edward Norton is a goody named Sheldon Mopes who is so “squeaky clean” he would qualify for a Nobel Peace Prize. He has a character named Smoochy the Rhino that is obviously a loose Barney as he tries to keep a clinic open for drug addicts. He gets picked to replace a former entertainer and is let upon a world of evil executives, back stabbing agents and even hostile charities. On the upside, his show Smoochy’s Magic Jungle is a huge hit as Mopes tries to keep the good nature while battling against typical corporate. Meanwhile, a washed up children’s show host named Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) seeks revenge against the rhino that took his timeslot seeing the show gets canned and its creator/executive producer is seen for the fraud he is.
Again, there is so much ridding on this movie with a lot of great ideas and concepts but nothings is really exploited that much. I remember reading in Jim Henson’s biography how the merchandise for Sesame Street helped fund the show and how during a deal with Disney that Michael Eisner failed to get control as Jim refused to let what funded the show be misused. Elements like that do appear with an Ice Show that serves as the climax but nothing really pays off or feels fully parodied. For example, the Mopes character somehow makes it so most of the snacks are healthy but also free. Not to nitpick too much, but you have to hire some vendors who are willing to pull off such a miracle to provide no cost munchies. On top of that, you should be using the revenue of food for added funding towards your charity work and not just ticket sales. Little things get in the way very easily for to question just how much reality can you bend for your viewers when you know how things work in real life.
Ok, so maybe the Barney aspect is a hoot? Well, the style of the show they lampoon tries to not only do the purple dinosaur justice but also other shows too like Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Captain Kangaroo. I found this weird seeing how much I was expecting a mean spirited jab at the infamous PBS show but surprised to see other elements the mix. The Mopes character, in fact, reminded me of Paul Rubens a lot and how he wanted his Saturday Morning show to be more than just a show. Like Reuben, Mopes tries to be a big role model and live up to being a saint for kids. This is a good thing as we get a lot of psyche on the character’s good-will attitude and we sympathize how it can be hard to live up to being a good man while a respectable idol for kids. This backfires because of how too much a goody he is and that could make him either unbearable for some or just be forgettable. We all know the world isn’t a perfect place and trying to be a good guy is tough. They try a little of that near the end when he has to make an ethical decision but it doesn’t pay off as much. I can’t say its a bad character but I wish more was done.
Speaking of which, if you have noticed by now, not much is talked about Robin Williams’ character and that’s because there isn’t much of him despite top billing. Randolph is built up to be this big character but it feels like Mopes is more of the centerpiece. Its a shame because there’s so much that could be done to Robin’s character but he’s left with trying to work with very little. I guess they are going for this Sideshow Bob route but it doesn’t come together. He tries these schemes to set up Mopes by tricking him into giving out phallic shaped cookies and even go as far to get him to perform in front of a Nazi rally. These plans almost feel short of Willie Coyote (Super Genius) levels and don’t really pay off. To be fair, it leads to some decent laughs but nothing really memorable. In fact, we get so little moments with the Randolph character that we don’t side with him as much. You could cut out almost all of Robin’s scenes and the plot wouldn’t be drastically altered. I feel bad for saying this seeing Robin is a comic genius. And when a good actor is giving little to work with, we too feel the strain.
Even for a dark comedy, Smoochy feels really inconstant. I guess you could argue the dark elements are mostly in the dirty things on a kid’s show (behind and in front of the camera). From time to time, they go that route and it plays fine. But once in a while, it tosses a really uncomfortable joke that almost feels like its trying way too hard. For example, there’s a number Mopes sings on the show about step-dads and how they having a hard time trying to adjust. I don’t want to feel like a prude but the whole joke itself just flat out offended me as it hammers in teaching broken marriages to kids. Even Mrs. Doubtfire was better at things like this. If that wasn’t enough, it will really dig into the dark bin too deep with things like a guy getting an ax to the head from an Irish mafia. You heard me right! To be fair, the axing is off-screen but the scene is shot in such an intense manner that it nearly made me turn the film off. I know the idea of dark comedy is to shock viewers with a laugh but things like that are almost straight out of a nightmare.
Outside from that, is there anything good to talk about? Well, the performances are good. The actors do a good job trying their hard to make a weak script work. Its shame because there’s a lot of great talent behind it with even Danny DeVito in the director’s chair. But most of the time, his choice of angles and shots can get a little odd. The side characters can be likable including a group of Irish mobsters who surprisingly have so much great chemistry with the Mopes character that I wish they had their own movie. But is that enough to give a solid recommendation? Sadly, no.
“Death to Smoochy” had so many open opportunities for jokes that it either hammers them in, missuses them or skims over certain ideas like the popularity of a TV show or network censors which could have made way for a lot of good jokes. Even right down to the cinematography, “Smoochy” is lost in trying to be a gritty dark comedy or a silly parody when the color scheme is too vibrant and bright for this kind of film. I would have loved to see a more darker look like maybe something along the lines of Blade Runner trying to be PBS. Or perhaps have someone else do a better take that is able to balance the dark and cartoon nature like Frank Oz or Bobcat Goldthawit? Heck, even Bobcat did better with “Shakes the Clown” leaving viewers in a whole world were clowns were the highest form of acting and entertainment while knowing when to balance drama with silly fun.
While I didn’t find myself hatting it like most critics do, I wasn’t too crazy for it either. Its really half and half for me. Some parts of it work while other factors just didn’t add up. I know this movie has a cult following and will probably get bigger in the years. But if your looking for a really mean comedy that takes your beloved childhood icon and smashes it while making your laugh, this rhino is not worth mounting on your wall for.
Posted on May 15, 2015, in Rental Corner, Why the Hate? and tagged Barney, Danny DeVito, Dark Comedy, Death to Smoochy, dinosaur, Edward Norton, Robin Williams. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.