Animals United -- Film Review

Bombastic CGI-effort that aims at the big leagues, but preaches too much while entertaining too little to unite internationally.

BERLIN — With this ambitious entry into the 3D-animation field, production company Constantin Film and directors Reinhard Klooss and Holger Tappe clearly aim compete in the worldwide market with the likes of such U.S.-tentpoles as “Madagascar” and “Ice Age.” Loosely based on Erich Kastner's 1949 novella “Die Konferenz der Tiere” and after a three-year production schedule, “Animals United” tries to combine the humor and action of its American cousins with an often preachy message about humanity's incessant destruction of habitats and resources for animals.

In the end, this effort is undone by the sheer size of what the production tries to achieve, which should limit sales as well as its audience. The film will mostly play to rather young kids and accompanying parents.

Starting out with Billy, a likable but somewhat goofy Meerkat, the film brings a rowdy gang of animals to Africa's Okavango Delta, including a Gallic cock, a polar bear, two wise turtles and a Tasmanian devil that should be a little too close in appearance and behavior to a certain Warner Brothers character for legal comfort.

Getting all these diverse species united in one place takes its time and its toll: The first 30 minutes play like an animated public service announcement mixed with toddler-friendly humor. What comes next does not fare better. The animal's journey to the nearby hotel resort, conveniently the site of an international political summit, is cute enough, but lacks the verve and fun needed to keep anybody over 10 sufficiently entertained.

While things perk up during a truly hilarious romp at the resort itself, a real downer waits just around the corner, with dying, thirsty animals listening to a long speech by two turtles about the destruction humankind has wrought, aptly pictured in gigantic scenarios of death, industrial pollution and doom to all the planet's inhabitants.

While these scenes, which depart from the film otherwise colorful palette, are devastating and should give kids and parents nightmares for years to come, they point to the film's biggest flaw: an inability to unite the serious tone and preachy message of “Animals United” with its slapdash storytelling and somewhat humorous interludes.

Tech credits are truly impressive considering that an animated project of this size and scope has never been attempted in Germany. This shows most during the wide vista shots, which go for a photo-realism that is at the top of the international CGI-game, while the action sequences use the 3D-effect effectively if not originally The same goes for character-drawing and development.

Only David Newman's score masters the film’s schizophrenic gap, providing bombastic gusto when it message is front and center and playful accompaniment for the action and fun. 

Opened Oct. 7 (Germany)
Production companies: Constantin Film, Ambient Entertainment, White Horse Pictures
Cast: Ralf Schmitz, Thomas Fritsch, Christoph Maria Herbst, Bastian Pastewka, Oliver Kalkofe
Directors: Reinhard Klooss, Holger Tappe
Screenwriters: Oliver Huzly, Reinhard Klooss
Producer: Reinhard Klooss, Holger Tappe
Executive producer: Martin Moszkowicz
Production designer: Henning Ahlers
Music: David Newman
Editor: Alexander Dittner
No rating, 93 minutes