FILM: Water Lilies (2007, Céline Sciamma)

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French coming-of-age drama Water Lilies is distributed by Haut et Court, following its premiere at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The film follows the lives of three 15-year-old girls during the summer. As they get to know each other, Marie (Pauline Acquart) finds herself fascinated by Floriane (Adèle Haenel), who ultimately begins to use and manipulate her. As Marie spends more and more time with Floriane, her life-long best friend Anne (Louise Blachère) is left feeling neglected and abandoned, as well as frustrated that of all the people Marie could be investing time in it is Floriane.

PROS

  • In her direction, Céline Sciamma keeps a tight focus on characters with a tight pace, and even makes the synchronised swimming sequences (which boast magnificent underwater shots by cinematographer Crystel Fournier) engaging by focusing on the characters’ emotions and dynamics.
  • In her screenwriting, Céline Sciamma creates an engaging and realistic depiction of how confusing an age 15-years-old can be as the characters try to understand their identity and place in the world, and (in two cases) question their sexuality. Furthermore, Sciamma depicts realistically what school-life is like for teens that age, as characters look to enter relationships and rumours about individuals get out of hand.
  • Three excellent leads in Pauline Acquart, Adèle Haenel and Louise Blachère, who realise well their characters’ complexities and how difficult and confusing it is to be a teen trying to understand their place and identity.

CONS

  • Although they are occasionally referenced, the parents and guardians of the teenagers are curiously absent, and it becomes harder to invest in the characters and their emotional journeys as a result, due to not being able to fully understand the characters as we have no sense of their familial dynamics.
  • While the concepts are realistic, some of the specific moments that depict Marie becoming fascinated by Floriane feel quite forced and contrived (if you are a germophobe then avoid one scene in particular!), while the ending is rather abrupt and does not explore the aftermath of the climax in any real depth.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Ema (2019, Pablo Larraín)

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Following its premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, drama film Ema is distributed in the UK by the streaming service MUBI. After their attempts to raise an adopted child have gone awry, Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gastón’s (Gael García Bernal) marriage begins to fall apart, and Ema ultimately goes on a self-destructive path.

PROS

  • Director Pablo Larraín goes for a slow-burn approach with his direction, which beautifully compliments Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno’s character-driven screenplay, which explores well how people will end up being self-destructive as they try to avoid confronting their true feelings over a difficult situation.
  • Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal give two dynamic and engaging leading turns, realising the true emotional complexity of their characters, whom they play with nuance and raw emotion.
  • A visually arresting film, with cinematographer Sergio Armstrong utilising a magnificent colour palette and making great use of silhouettes, while the dance sequences are spectacularly choreographed.

CONS

  • Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno’s screenplay is at times unfocused and disjointed, as it chops and changes a lot between the different aspects of Ema and Gastón’s work and personal lives.
  • Despite a number of supporting characters having an important role in the lives of Ema and Gastón, they receive little characterisation, serving more as plot devices.

VERDICT: 7/10

TELEVISION: The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019)

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American sitcom The Big Bang Theory originally aired on CBS and ran for 279 episodes. Roommates Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) are two super-intelligent Caltech physicists who, along with their friends and colleagues Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar), spend their leisure time engaging in all manner of nerdy activities. When Penny (Kaley Cuoco) – a stunning waitress and aspiring actress – moves across the hall, she joins their friendship group, and from then on the lives of these socially-awkward nerds gradually change, as they learn social skills and begin to pursue romance.

PROS

  • All of the main characters gradually develop and grow as people over the course of the series’ run, and over the course of 12 years the central cast develop a charming and engaging on-screen chemistry with each other, and they each realise their characters very well.
  • The producers and screenwriters showed their commitment to the series by hiring scientific consultants to ensure that the series bore excellent authenticity and scientific accuracy in its screenplays and mise-en-scene.
  • While not rib-breakingly hilarious, the series’ gags (particularly in earlier seasons) are amusingly pop culture-centred and witty in their depictions of men awkwardly interacting with women.

CONS

  • There are good supporting characters, but a number are not used to their full potential, which is most noticeable with how poorly Stuart (Kevin Sussman) was utilised in latter seasons, even after being upgraded to a main character.
  • As the series progressed, it became more of a soap opera with odd gags thrown in, as it dealt more with life’s dramas in a serious and (at times) mean-spirited way. Furthermore, the self-contained episodes became very uninspired, which they try to disguise with an over-abundance of one-liners.
  • Cameos by pop culture icons become increasingly contrived over the series’ run, and the screenwriters end up insulting viewers by assuming that we want to see nerd icons instead of good quality narratives.

VERDICT: 5/10

PREVIEW: June 2020

Is it really only the end of May? Over two months of living under Lockdown later and I feel like it has been far longer, although – Praise the Lord! – there is now light at the end of the tunnel. It has been an odd month for content with a bit of an eclectic mix. Next month will be the same, but the content will remain regular, although as cinemas in the UK will not reopen until at least July I cannot say for certain what June’s content will include. There will be some, so do not worry on that front, and I promise to review some more Roald Dahl books in preparation for Post 1000 later this year.

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and regardless of the type of content I post during June, I wish you Happy Reading for the month ahead!

Top 10 Only Fools and Horses Moments

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It has been 39 years since Only Fools and Horses began, 24 years since its original finale aired, and 17 years since its three-part revival concluded. Today John Sullivan’s creation remains one of the most beloved series in British television history, with daily repeats on UKTV Gold and several fan conventions held every year. I hold a soft spot for it as I began watching it at aged 9, and it is ultimately what started my love for sitcoms. There were countless wonderful moments thanks to Sullivan’s wonderful gift for writing and the incredibly talented ensemble cast but, like with every television series, there are ten moments which are the best of the lot, and these are the ones I consider to be the best from Only Fools and Horses. Do bear in mind that these are moments, not episodes, as some of the best moments of the series occur in episodes which would not make a Top 10 list. So without further ado, here we go with…

10) The Concluding Family (Episode 64 – Sleepless in Peckham)

Look, I will not beat about the bush here, the 3-part revival was not that great, even though it had good moments. However, despite this it ended on a high-note! The Trotters had lost their fortune in a stock market crash and, bankrupt, they had been forced to move back to Nelson Mandela House only a few days before Uncle Albert’s death. Owing the Inland Revenue £53,000 and only having two weeks left to raise the money, it looked bleak for the Trotters…until Del and Rodney learn that they have inherited £290,000 from Albert.

Moments after learning this, they rush to the hospital where Cassandra has just given birth to Rodney’s firstborn – a little girl whom they name Joan. With Del, Raquel and Damien looking on as Rodney and Cassandra welcome their baby into the world, the viewer is left overjoyed that Rodney and Cassandra finally have the child whom they have been trying for for years, and that financially the family will be okay. While the revival was underwhelming as a whole, it ended on a high note for the beloved sitcom family and left many a long-term fan reaching for a tissue.

9) “Cwying” (Episode 51 – Stage Fright)

When Del is asked to arrange a double-act to sing at the birthday part of Mrs. McCarthy, mother of local gangster Eugene, he hires Raquel and Tony Angelino, a local pub singer who is popular with the more mature woman. When the double-act start singing “Crying” it starts out well…until Tony starts singing the titular word as “Cwying”, leaving a horrified Del speechless.

Earlier in the episode there had been little hints that things would not go according to plan – namely Tony saying that there were certain songs that he could not sing, and Raquel being even more nervous after rehearsals – but the pay-off in this moment was not only unexpected, but utterly hilarious. From David Jason’s brilliant expressiveness as Del, to Philip Pope’s brilliant energy as Tony, this revelation of “pwonunciationism” (as Tony describes it in a later scene) was unexpected and is as funny on the tenth viewing as it is on the first.

8) Coming to Terms with Loss (Episode 25 – Strained Relations)

When Lennard Pearce sadly passed away during the production of Series 4, Grandad was killed off – not something which sitcoms had ever really done before – and Del and Rodney meet his long-lost younger brother, Albert. When Albert is suddenly left without a roof over his head, Del is reluctant to take Albert in, which disgusts Rodney, who was already furious with Del over his brash behaviour at the wake the day before. As the two brothers bicker, their grief and frustration boils over as Del reveals that he is devastated by Grandad’s death but does not know how to express it or how to be vulnerable.

It is an incredibly poignant moment to watch as we see the true vulnerable side of Del, which had only ever been hinted at a few times in a previous episodes, and it shows not only how well John Sullivan had realised his central characters but also showed for the first time in the series what a true gift for dramatic writing he had. It is even more poignant to watch when bearing in mind that this episode was filmed not long after Lennard Pearce’s funeral, so David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst’s powerful performances were fuelled further by their real-life feelings of grief and loss.

7) Outwitting Slater (Episode 20 – May the Force Be With You)

Del received the shock of his life when he encounters his old classmate Roy Slater for the first time in years, his horror stemming from the fact that Slater – played exceptionally by Jim Broadbent – is a Detective Inspector and one of the nastiest cops in London. Having arrested the Trotters for possession of a stolen microwave, Slater threatens Grandad and Rodney, which convinces Del to go against his principles and become one of Slater’s grasses, so that all charges against the family will be dropped.

After getting immunity from prosecution, a seemingly broken Del reveals that he was the thief and had been playing Slater like a fiddle all along. This is a fantastic moment for several reasons. Firstly, it is hilarious to see Del reveal what he had been doing all along, made even more so by David Jason and Jim Broadbent’s expressiveness. It is also a very clever twist from screenwriter John Sullivan, which not only reminds us how crafty Del can actually be, but provides a huge sense of relief after we spend several minutes thinking Del has been broken. Del may have outwitted Slater in two later episodes, but this first time is the best of the lot.

6) Celebrating New Fortunes (Episode 61 – Time on Our Hands)

In what was originally the series finale, Del and Rodney finally achieve their dream of becoming millionaires after an antique watch which they had acquired years ago in a house clearance auctions for £6.2 million at Sotheby’s. That evening they go to The Nag’s Head to celebrate, where word has already gotten around. As the family enters the pub, they receive a standing ovation from old friends and fellow local traders alike.

It is a beautiful moment, and the last time that the beloved ensemble which had defined the series in recent years were all together – sadly both Buster Merryfield and Kenneth MacDonald passed away before the revival 5 years later. After 61 episodes and 15 years of investing in Del and Rodney, it is wonderful to see their years of struggling come to an end, and the greeting of the family at the iconic sitcom pub testifies better than any other moment in the series how beloved this double-act had become, not only within the fictional world of Only Fools and Horses, but in tens of millions of living rooms around the world.

5) Batman and Robin (Episode 59 – Heroes and Villains)

On their way to a fancy dress party, the iconic yellow three wheel van breaks down in Peckham, and Del and Rodney are then forced to run through the alleys and side streets dressed as none other than Batman and Robin. Their route takes them in the direction of the council offices, where a gang of muggers are trying to steal Councillor Murray’s handbag. The gang are terrified by the sight of a lanky Robin and a stocky little Batman running towards them out of the darkness, and flee in horror.

This has become one of the most iconic Only Fools and Horses moments of all-time, and rightly so. It was a totally unforeseen moment, terrifically shot and edited and played with real energy by all involved, while the general hilarity of it is made more so by the fact that the Batman theme tune from the 1960s’ television series is used here. This moment had me in stitches when I first watched it at aged 9, and still makes me laugh 19 years later. Some sitcom moments never get old, they remain iconic for years to come and hold up very well to repeat viewing, and this is one of them.

4) Meeting Damien (Episode 54 – Three Men, a Woman and a Baby)

With the last few episodes having seen Raquel get increasingly pregnant with her and Del’s child, and Rodney become increasingly paranoid that he was going to become uncle to the Antichrist, this episode saw the birth of baby Damien, and Del become a father after years of wanting a child. While the intense birthing scenes actually provided several hilarious moments, it was when Del looked out the window with his newborn son in his arms that we see the heart of the episode and the series.

Del tells his late Mum’s spirit that she is now a grandmother and tells Damien that he is the luckiest boy in the world due to his wonderful, loving family, and that “This time next year we’ll be millionaires”. It is a beautiful moment, wonderfully acted by David Jason, and full of real heart, which testifies to John Sullivan’s gift for dramatic writing by reflecting wonderfully that the heart of the show really is family, and that the central family has now changed in a truly wonderful way.

3) A New Chapter for Rodney (Episode 46 – Little Problems)

Series 6 saw a major shift for the series. Not only did a minimum of 50 minutes become the standard runtime, but Del and Rodney both grew with age and began looking to settle down, which is exactly what Rodney did by marrying Cassandra. In the episode’s final minutes, just before he heads off for his honeymoon, Rodney speaks to Del and thanks him for everything he has done for him, while Del reflects with pride and held-back tears that his baby brother is embarking on a wonderful new chapter of his life.

After Rodney and Cassandra leave, Del is eventually the last one in the reception venue and, as he reflects upon how much Rodney has been through and changed, takes the groom topper from the wedding cake. This moment is a real tearjerker, as we are reminded once again of just how much Del loves Rodney, despite the constant teasing, as well as just how sensitive a soul lies under Del’s brash exterior, and David Jason plays beautifully this moment, which testifies to how wonderfully John Sullivan could write drama.

2) The Chandelier (Episode 14 – A Touch of Glass)

Inspired by a memory his father had once shared with him, John Sullivan wrote this moment as the climax of an episode in which Del manages to convince Lord Ridgemere to hire the Trotters to polish his priceless Louis XIV chandeliers. As Del and Rodney stand on ladders, waiting to catch the chandelier which Grandad is loosening above their heads, we the viewers know that something is going to go wrong.

When first watching this episode at aged 9, I was fully expecting a pratfall which would most likely be Rodney falling off the ladder. So when that second chandelier fell and shattered in the background, leaving the Trotter brothers slowly realising what has happened, I roared with laughter until my eyes watered (and it still makes me laugh hard every time I rewatch it). The brilliantly tense build-up guarantees that you will react in this manner, as the tension is broken in such spectacular fashion, which testifies to just how brilliantly John Sullivan understood comedy writing techniques.

1) The Wine Bar (Episode 41 – Yuppy Love)

Now aged 43 and inspired by Wall Street, Del is trying desperately to fit in with the yuppies that are gentrifying Peckham by going to nice wine bars. He is joined in one by Trigger and, after eyeing up some attractive women nearby, gets ready to go and speak to them. Telling Trigger to play it nice and cool, he goes to lean on the bar flap but does not realise that it has been lifted up by a barman…and Del subsequently falls through it. This moment is comedy gold for several reasons, not least the fact that you do not see it coming. One great reason is that David Jason did not  glance at where he is meant to fall, which he could so easily have done, plus it was not an over-exaggerated tumble, he simply went down.

However, what elevates this moment from brilliant to a comedy masterpiece is Roger Lloyd-Pack’s reaction as Trigger, which so often gets overlooked. The brilliance of the Trigger character is that he considers himself intelligent, so rarely looks genuinely confused, which is exactly how he looks in this moment. Lloyd-Pack is brilliantly expressive here as he looks for Del in bewilderment, which is simply hilarious to watch. This moment is not just the best in Only Fools and Horses, but is regularly voted the Best British Sitcom Moment of All-Time, and will have you laughing every time you see it!

LITERATURE: Doctor Sleep (Stephen King, 2013)

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American horror novel Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, and was originally published by Scribner. Many years after the traumatising events at the Overlook, Dan Torrance is a recovering alcoholic and hospice worker, whose use of the Shining to comfort patients in their final minutes has gained him the nickname “Doctor Sleep”. Through the Shining, he has also begun communicating with Abra, a young girl with a far greater Shining than he ever had. As such, Dan becomes the one whom Abra turns to when Rose the Hat and the True Knot start hunting her, determined to kill her and feed off her Shine.

PROS

  • A logical follow-up to The Shining that looks at the long-term impact which the events of that novel had on Dan, while also expanding its world by exploring the degrees to which many people have the Shining, how they learn to use it and live with it, and through this Stephen King does an excellent job with characterisation, the main characters having very well-realised personalities, relationships and Shining abilities (or perspectives upon it).
  • In Dan we see Stephen King channelling his own experiences of being a recovering alcoholic, as he explores not only the inner battles which Dan experiences, but also the different opinions which people express about alcoholism, and the dynamic of AA meetings. The writing in these moments feels very personal and sincere.
  • Rose the Hat is a highly sinister antagonist, due both to her two-faced, manipulative nature and how powerful her own Shining abilities are, and how she uses them makes for some very chilling moments in the narrative. Furthermore, the True Knot are a very unsettling and ingenious antagonistic force – people who are no longer quite human, due to having fed on Shinings in an effort to be immortal – and they pose a good sense of threat.
  • The climax of the novel, while a tad rushed, is very exciting and is a great culmination of everything which had gone before, where Dan faces his past demons head on, and he and Abra use their Shining abilities to incredible effect. Furthermore, Stephen King threw in a risky twist, which works very well due to the logical detailing and backstory given to it.
  • Epilogues are always a risk and Stephen King does not always pull them off, but he manages to here by looking at the impact which the climax’s events have on the characters and how they try to live with and rationalise those events.

CONS

  • There are several moments that feel like wasted potential, such as the exploration of Dan recovering from the Overlook as a child not receiving as much focus as it could have, while the climax does feel a tad rushed overall.
  • Several members of the True Knot receive very little characterisation, meaning that it is harder to fathom the true extent of the threat which they pose to Abra, among others.
  • Given how often there are conversations which happen via Shine, it is very noticeable that there is no punctuation in these lines of dialogue.

VERDICT: 8/10

TELEVISION: Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009)

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The Opening Title Screen.

American sitcom Flight of the Conchords originally aired for 22 episodes on HBO. Playing fictionalised versions of themselves, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are the titular Flight of the Conchords, a folk music duo originally from New Zealand. The series follow these shepherds-turned-musicians as they adjust to day-to-day life in New York, where they have moved to in the hopes of getting their big break. However, their chances of getting said break are regularly hampered by their well-meaning, yet incompetent manager Murray (Rhys Darby), who works at the New Zealand Consulate.

PROS

  • The screenwriting is fresh and engaging due to the wonderfully dry humour (which even makes jokes at the expense of stereotypes amusing), much of which is very quirky and well paced across an episode’s run, while the premise of musicians trying to get a big break in New York is very well realised.
  • Most episodes feature at least two songs by Flight of the Conchords, around which the narratives revolve, the scenes with songs shot like music videos. The songs are catchy and quirky, and their place in episodes never feel contrived, and often express Bret and Jemaine’s internal monologues.
  • Two engaging leads Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, who have a great on-screen dynamic and do dry humour excellently. They are very well supported by Rhys Darby, Arj Barker and Kristen Schaal in particular, each of whom play their roles hilariously.
  • By believably depicting two immigrants trying to find their place in New York, the series features a number of memorable guest characters, each of whom has a role in the lives of Bret and Jemaine which feels wholly plausible.

CONS

  • Several recurring characters, such as Greg (Frank Wood), Eugene (Eugene Mirman) and Doug (David Costabile), have minimal characterisation due to only really existing for the sake of some lesser running gags.
  • The series finale is very underwhelming as it wraps everything up in a rather rushed and contrived manner, which even the dry humour could not distract from.

VERDICT: 8/10

TELEVISION: Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000-2001)

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American science-fiction cartoon series originally aired for 65 episodes on Disney’s One Too line-up, and was inspired by and is a spin-off of the Toy Story franchise. Star Command is a peacekeeping organisation which serves to deal with threats to the Galactic Alliance of planets. Star Command’s most renowned Space Ranger is Buzz Lightyear (Patrick Warburton) who, along with his team, stop various threats, most of which stem from the Evil Emperor Zurg (Wayne Knight).

PROS

  • The episodes are have quite energetic pacing, and a good sense of adventure and science-fiction throughout, but there is also heart in the developments to Team Lightyear’s dynamic.
  • A clever science-fiction setting with political systems established during the series, which boasts real creativity in its design, particularly where the character and race designs are concerned, and a rich and bright colour palette.
  • Good voice performances from Patrick Warburton, Nicole Sullivan and Stephen Furst, as well as Wayne Knight (who voices Zurg with real energy).

CONS

  • Despite occasional references to past episodes, characters never really seem to learn from their past encounters with each other, due to the unnecessarily and frustratingly self-contained nature of the episodes’ narratives.
  • For an Evil Emperor and genuine threat, Zurg is quite one-dimensional and unbelievably goofy, which is just part of the series’ wider struggles with handling antagonists – there are a ludicrous number introduced over the series’ run, who are all very underdeveloped and present little real threat.
  • A number of unamusing running gags, many of which involve the slightly annoying XR (Larry Miller/Neil Flynn).

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: My Spy (2020, Peter Segal)

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Action-comedy My Spy is distributed by STXfilms. When CIA agents JJ (Dave Bautista) and Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) are on a surveillance job, they get busted by 9-year-old Sophie (Chloe Coleman). Finding themselves at her mercy, JJ reluctantly agrees to hang out with Sophie and teach her some basic spy stuff. However, as they spend time together and JJ meets her mother (Parisa Fitz-Henley), they bond and JJ realises what he has missed out on by never settling down to start a family.

PROS

  • There is a good sense of energy to this film, thanks to fast edits and a cast who throw themselves into the project, making it fun and enjoyable to watch.
  • Dave Bautista does dry humour quite well and develops a great chemistry with Chloe Coleman over the course of the narrative.

CONS

  • The chase sequences and fight sequences are quite sloppy due to their frantic direction and fast edits.
  • The jokes for the most part are not that funny due to the over-reliance on cheap slapstick gags, self-aware jokes which are not amusing, and cheap gags at the expense of negative stereotypes.
  • Serious issues such as cyber-bullying and equal pay are touched upon at a very surface-level, which is made more frustrating by the fact that they are played for laughs.
  • A poorly utilised supporting cast who get nothing much to work with (not least due to minimal characterisation). Ken Jeong’s comedic talents are not used well, while Kristen Schaal’s are not done so until the climax.

VERDICT: 4/10

SIDE THOUGHT: similarly to Sonic the Hedgehog, this film feels like one of those kids/family films from the early-mid 2000s – a fun film which ultimately does not hold up when scrutinised.

FILM: Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf (1988, Ray Patterson)

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Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf is a made-for-television animated film in the wider Hanna-Barbera media franchise. Count Dracula (Hamilton Camp) needs a new werewolf for his annual “Monster Road Rally”. He transforms Shaggy (Casey Kasem) into one, and agrees to turn him back into a human if he wins, but Dracula is not afraid to play dirty to sabotage Shaggy’s chances of victory.

CONS

  • A highly predictable narrative which is very dull to watch for that reason and the fact that it has quite a slow pace for much of the runtime, plus Scooby-Doo (Don Messick) is not that big of a presence. Furthermore, it just is not a funny film to watch, due to lazily written verbal gags and poor quality slapstick/cartoon violence. Plus the ending leaves it open for a sequel (which thankfully never happened).
  • By the time this film was made Scrappy-Doo (Don Messick) was considered an awful character, so his big presence is not just annoying, but further shows that screenwriter Jim Ryan did not know what fans wanted. However, even Scrappy is not as irritating or pointless as Shaggy’s girlfriend Googie (B.J. Ward).
  • An abundance of classic horror film monsters in one film could be fun and could potentially pave the way for viewers discovering classic horror films, but the majority of the monsters serve no real purpose (other than being used for very cheap slapstick) and are little more than extras.
  • Poor quality animation, as in even poorer than the original Scooby-Doo cartoons from 19 years earlier. The character designs and expressions feel lazy and rushed, the amount of background detail is minimal, and the colour palette feels very drab and dreary, meaning that the animation in its entirety feels boring and soulless to look at.

PROS

  • The race itself is actually quite fast-paced and energetic, with a couple of fun moments in it.

VERDICT: 1/10