Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #29- "HELP! I'M A FISH."









PRICE: £1.00


I mean, seriously, it's great isn't it? I think titles are often overlooked by filmmakers with regards to getting bums in seats. Sometimes all I have to do is hear what something's called, and I'm there. I was like that with "Lesbian Vampire Killer," I knew nothing about it other than the title, but I couldn't wait to see it. Then I saw the trailer and all that desire went away, but that's beyond the point. With this one, the title was all it really had going for it, what with the box art looking so generic and uninspired. It's fun to read, it's even more fun to say (I can't help but yell the "HELP!"), and it tells you pretty much all you need to know about the flick before you've even put the disc in your player. A bit like Ben Affleck's directorial debut, "I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three Picture Deal at Disney" (I assume it's not autobiographical).

I didn't realise this until it was pointed out to me, but this has the honourable distinction of being the first animated film I've written about since I started this. I don't actually know why that is, because I love animated movie, and have been known to be the only adult in a cinema not accompanied by an adult to enjoy one on the big screen (and yes, I do get funny looks. Once a woman point-blank told her children not to sit next to me and eyed me in a manner that makes my blood run cold to this day thinking about it. She was ready and more then willing to kill me at a moment's notice). I just hadn't really found anything that looked interesting to me until I stumbled across this. Considering it's the first example of it's medium that will get my usual once-over, I think it's appropriate that it's a little bit different than the usual fair. For a start, it's animated mostly in the traditional, hand-drawn style, which was quickly dying out even back when this was first released (late 2000). It's also not an American production, but rather a Danish one, put together by Denmark's respected "A. Studios" and originally released as "Hjaelp, jeg er en fisk" (that's as close to the original title as I can type. The "a" and "e" in "hjaelp" are supposed to be joined up, but I don't know how to do that, so sod it), which got a release over here with a new English voice track almost a year after it's debut in it's home country, and didn't get a North American release on DVD until 2006.

Okay, with that useless trivia out of the way, onto the film.

Following some white text on a black background and the logo appearing in all its shiny (and even that's cool- it's shaped like a fish, and it's been designed in such a way that the dot of the exclamation point also doubles up as an eye and the "H" looks a bit like a mouth), we get to see some fish swimming around in the ocean, presented in the customary CGI that all hand-animated films felt they needed to employ the second the technology became available, that always looks out-of-place and never ages well (hello, the ballroom dancing sequence in "Beauty and The Beast"). This doesn't look great either, but I still quite like it, as it's got this quirky, stylised, almost cell-shaded look to it, and I think it's fared better than a film that's nearly a decade old really should (wow, I just realised I wasn't quite 17 when this first came out. That's sobering). Then suddenly we're in the bedroom of a young boy named Fly who's about to go fishing (geddit? Fly? Fishing? Fly fishing?), until he finds out his parents are going out for the night, meaning his aunt and cousin Chuck (fat, genius, you know the drill) have come over to babysit his little sister Stella, and that he's expected to stay at home and keep Chuck company. Of course this doesn't last, as the second his Aunt is asleep, Fly bribes Chuck into going fishing with him and Stella. So far everybody fits into their stereotypes nicely- Fly is impulsive and brash, Chuck is intellectual and cowardly, and Stella is, well, pretty much just a toddler. There's very little depth to the characters, but then there's not supposed to be, there's only supposed to be enough to make it obvious they've Learnt A Valuable Lesson by the end.

The fishing trip starts fairly uneventfully, with Fly (and God is that an unnatural name for a character. You wouldn't believe how many time I've put "Fry" down instead and had to go back and edit it once I noticed. And all for a joke that's not even that funny) accidentally catching a Sea Horse that Stella instantly falls in love with and names Sasha, before tearfully returning to the ocean. Deciding the traumatic event is a sign they should call it a day, they go to leave. ONLY THE TIDE'S COME IN! AND THERE'S NO WAY OFF THE LEDGE THEY'RE ON! NOTHING CAN SAVE THEM NOW, EXCEPT... A HIDDEN DOOR IN THE ROCKS!!!!! And of course, this door leads then to the workplace of Professor Mac Krill (geddit? Mac? Krill? Mac Krill?)(at least he's voiced in this version by Terry Jones, so they get bonus points for a Python). His reveal is actually fairly well done- as they wander around looking at all his experiments and artifacts, including a half-fish, half-mouse happily munching on some cheese and a toy Californian Fly Fish hanging from the ceiling that Fly proclaims to be "great looking" (thank you, Troy McClure), he comes lurching at them from the shadows, only to have the light turned on and be shown as a kindly-looking and eccentric (read: completely insane) scientist, who for some reason instantly starts telling these children he's only just met that he's created a potion that turns people into fish, in order to save humanity when the Polar Ice Caps melt and The World becomes flooded (hello, Al Gore). Actually, he doesn't tell them this so much as he does sing them this. Now, I've mentioned before that I love musicals, and I do, but the songs in this film (and mercifully there are only two of them sung by the cast, the rest are just bland upbeat pop played over the top of whatever's going on) are not very good. This one in particular is awful, with Jones trying to save it by being all wacky, but it's no good. At least it's mercifully short. The best part of it is when he says the name of the potion that turns people into fishes is (wait for it...) Fish Potion. That's it. They weren't even trying to be clever or creative. It's Fish Potion. FISH POTION. And it's kept in a bottle with a big fish on it, so there's absolutely no mistaking it for any other kind of potion he'd have lying around.

Following this, The Professor is about to use the potion on himself, before he remembers he needs the Antidote (which comes in a square bottle and also has a picture of a fish on the side, only this one has a red cross over the top of it). Whilst this is going on Stella takes a sip of the potion and seemingly starts tripping off her balls- everything starts distorting, there's a smashing glass effect for seemingly no good reason, and she staggers around for a second, disorientated and seemingly in more than a little bit of discomfort, before collapsing (and it's worth mentioning that seeing this happening to a small child, even a cartoon one, is more than a little bit disturbing). The others reenter the room and see that she's disappeared. They start to look for her, with Fly instead finding what he describes as a "strange looking fish." Strange-looking? It's a Starfish with pig-tails wearing a pink skirt! He shows it to Chuck, who says he need to get it into salt water before it dries out (he also misses the unusual traits of hair and clothing this sea creature exhibits). Fly then throws it out the window just as Chuck checks the video camera to see footage of Stella turning into it. Cue them all now sailing around in a tiny boat during a ferocious storm, seemingly sifting through the entire ocean in attempt to find her. Realising this is pointless, Fly and Chuck take the potion themselves, turning into (surprise surprise) a Californian Fly Fish (still wearing his baseball cap) and a Jelly Fish (still wearing glasses) respectively. They now have two days to find Stella, before they're trapped as fish forever.

The action now mostly takes place under water, and again the film's a little bit clever with this section of the film. Instead of just having all the creatures be able to talk, they actually make them acquiring this ability into a plot point- the boat Fly and the others were sailing on ends up sinking, and the Antidote goes down with it, opening as it does so and ending up being drank by a Clown Fish and a Shark (who has an Australian accent, which at first lead me to assume they were ripping off "Finding Nemo," until I realised the English-speaking version of this film came out a good two years before that movie did, which is... interesting), causing them to evolve and develop the ability to speak. You see, since the Fish Potion turns humans into fish, that Antidote would have the reverse effect. The Clown Fish is named Joe, the main villain of this film, and he's voiced by Alan Rickman. I love Rickman's voice, I don't know how he does it, but he somehow manages to sound dignified and sleazy all at the same time. He's like a Victorian gentleman who's secretly wearing lady's stockings under his britches. And he's in full swing here, livening up what is a fairly bland script with a his marvelously lecherous delivery. Most of the voice acting in this movie is utterly forgettable (whoever does the voice for Chuck is especially guilty of this), but Rickman has nothing to be ashamed of.

After Chuck and Fly find Stella (which seems to happen in about five minutes) and the Sea Horse Sasha (ditto), they begin to worry about what they're going to do now, since as far as they know The Professor went down with the boat and the Antidote is lost. They then stumble across some more talking fish, and after the initial shock, they get on the bus with them (the bus is actually a whale with the number 88 pained on it's face) and are taken to the place where Joe is creating his new society of intelligent fish, which is housed inside a massive sunken tanker. Visually this bit of the film is easily the best- it's surprisingly dark and dystopian, and maybe it's just me, but I thought there was something a bit Third Reich about it all. The crossed-out fish symbol on the bottle has now been appropriated by Joe as a symbol of what he's preaching, and once the three of them get inside the hall, they see him selling addressing row-after-row of fish at what looks, well, very much like a rally. Christ, even the fact that he's trying to make these creatures genetically superior to others of their kind fits in with what I think I'm seeing.

Of course this is a children's film, so he's not going to be in front of them ranting and raving. Instead, he starts singing another song about how he can improve their lives. This one is better than the one from earlier, I'll say that much, but I can barely remember anything about it without first watching that scene back, so it's not what you'd call memorable. There also flaws in the presentation, because Joe is telling the crowd that he can make them more human, whereas they already look more human than any other fish I've ever seen, with large expressive eyes and mouths bent into adoring smiles. An annoying moment of inconsistency. Fly tries to make a grab for the bottle, but Chuck screams at him not to drink it, as they're at the bottom of the ocean and would drown. Realising these three know what the stuff he's using is, Joe has them captured and attempts to get them to make more for him, as he's running low, only to become displeased when they say they have no idea how it's made and have them locked up in a cage until they remember. I'd have no problem with this little development, were in not for one small thing- ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IS A JELLY FISH! HE'S AN INVERTEBRATE! HE'S GOT NO SPINE! HE SHOULD JUST BE ABLE TO SQUEEZE THROUGH THE BARS NO PROBLEM! But he doesn't do this, leading me to believe he must be the first Jelly Fish in existence to have achieved something close to solidity. Instead, they escape with the help of Sasha, who tricks the crab guarding them (all the crabs that drink the potion become soldiers and somehow grow helmets, which I thought was wacky but fun), before making a break for it.

So now the kids are in trouble, as they don't have the Antidote and they apparently only had twelve hours left before they have to spend the rest of their lives as fish. This film's strength is also up their with it's biggest weaknesses- it's really short (the box says 76 minutes, but really not including credits it's just under 70), so it moves at a brisk pace and doesn't outstay it's welcome, but at the same time it's sense on time and pacing is completely thrown out of whack. I mean, how have these events taken a day-and-a-half? How long were they looking for Stella? How long were they in that cage, for that matter? It doesn't help that we occasionally return to the surface world to see their parents looking for them, and up there all this seems like it's happening in a single night. But I guess the only reason they threw that in was to add a ticking clock to their mission and try to get a bit of dramatic tension going, and in the end decided drama was more important than logic. Fly says they can make their own potion, seeing as all the ingredients are under the sea, and when Chuck says they don't know what was in it, Fly reveals he does, as he remembers the words from the song The Professor sung earlier. Wow, they managed to tie that terrible song into the plot. That almost makes it worthwhile. They collect the ingredients, which mostly consists of them mutilating underwater wild life, with the last one being the ink of an octopus. Sadly, the only reason the octopus was scared in the first place was due to the arrival of Joe, he shark friend and an army of crabs.

It's around this time that a mini civil war breaks out amongst the ranks of the supposedly intelligent fish, as both the shark and and of the crabs start to make cases for why they should be in charge. The crab tries to improve his standing by drinking more of the potion and becoming more evolved. Not wanting to give up the potion they've just created without a fight, Fly refuses to let go, only to be struck hard by the crab and... OH MY GOD HE'S BLEEDING! And not from a cut either, like you sometimes see in these films, blood is actually oozing out of one of his gills, implying horrible internal injuries. That's... really rather shocking! They're saved by what at first looks like a tornado (and even the movie is aware enough to have one of it's characters ask if it's possible for tornadoes to exist under water), sucking up and/or scattering all the other fish around them, which is quickly revealed to be The Professor and Fly's Dad (who've now met up) pretty much hoovering the ocean in an attempt to find them. This seems like a brief reprieve however, as Fly is now seemingly at Death's door, and they have approximately 12 minutes before they're out of time. Even Fly, who has been portrayed throughout this movie as a hopeless optimist, has given up hope.

And so it's Chuck's turn to prove he's worth a damn and save his friends from eternal damnation (sorry about that, I think I turned into Frank Miller for a second there). He remembers that The Professor had a spare bottle of Antidote in his lab, and comes up with a plan that involves them getting there through one of the many metal pipes he has tapered out into the ocean, flooding the place and opening the bottle, all in six minutes. It's all going well, and many aspects of the plan itself are fairly ingenious, including a balloon to cushion them from hitting anything and using the evil piranhas to block one of the filters and flood the joint. Sadly, Joe had been in hot pursuit the whole time and fowls things up for them, seemingly making off with the Antidote. As Chuck is dealing with the piranhas, knocking them all out one-by-one with a single punch (see? SOLIDITY!), Fly decides to, and I quote, "Use my brain for once," and heads off after Joe. He uses his fatal flaw, that being his need to be more intelligent, against him by asking him questions he doesn't know the answers to, leading to him drinking more and more of the Antidote and continue mutation until he's this grotesque parody of a human. Fly's final question? "Can a human breathe under water?" The answer in no (obviously), and Joe's lifeless body floats silently back down the pipe.

So they've got the Antidote, they're about to drink it, when suddenly their parents burst into the room and all the water starts rushing out. Chuck and Stella manage to drink some and become human again (they're also somehow wearing clothes), but we don't see Fly do so, and when the smoke (or rather water) clears, he's nowhere to be found. Chuck starts frantically looking for him, finding the lifeless body of a fish that looks to be him. This scene is actually quite emotive, with Chuck trying to create a new potion on the fly (no pun intended), as his parents and The Professor tell him it's hopeless, and somewhere amongst all this Chuck's mother somehow steps on the fish. There's a squishing sound-effect and everything. Literally one second after this happens, Fly is revealed to be human and pretty much fine, his battered insides somehow translating into only being a broken leg. I found it unintentionally humourous how quickly they went from ultimate despair to Happy Happy Fun Times. It's like they were saying, "Okay, I think we may have gone too far with the Aunt stepping on him, show he's alright before the kids start crying." And what was the other fish, you ask? It was the toy from the beginning of the movie. Continuity! So now everything's alright, the kids have a new found respect and love for each other, The Professor has turned his research equipment into a collection of water slides, and perhaps most bizarrely of all, Stella is reunited with Sasha again (after tearfully saying goodbye to her again), then Chuck and The Professor perform an experiment on her to make her half a real Horse, that Stella rides around on as everybody laughs. Yay playing God! Yay horribly-mutated abominations! YAAAAAAAAY!

Once again, I find myself torn over what to do with a movie I've just watched. There were some good things about it. The animation started off looking a little bit ropey, but by the end it looked really good. There are some clever ideas scattered around too. But overall, I didn't really enjoy it all that much. It wasn't for me. And that's just it- it wasn't for me. This movie clearly wasn't made with the intention of entertaining 26-year-old men. It was made to be a fun romp for children. And this isn't like some of the family films I've watched where I've struggled to see how anybody could enjoy them, I could definitely see young kids, from say six-to-ten years old, liking this. And I'm not sure I have it in me to punish a film simply because I'm old. It's like...

... forgive me if I lose it, this has been building up for a while...

... I love Pixar. I love Pixar. But in many ways, they have alot to answer for, mostly the fact that they've almost single-handedly created a generation of young parents that now think it's their God-given right to enjoy everything their children do. It's like with that film about the talking Chihuahuas that was released last year. I can't remember the title, and I can't be bothered to look it up. Whatever it was called, that film looked awful, I'm not going to say otherwise. And of course The Internet was giddily tearing it a new one in the sarcasting manner that it's known for. However, amongst all the fun, there was a post made by somebody that really got to me. There was a guy on there saying that his son really, really wanted to see this movie. He was asking him literally everyday if he'd take him to see it. And the guy kept saying no, because he thought the film didn't look like something he'd enjoy.


Bullshit. So he wants to see a bad movie. Big deal. Does this guy think his parents enjoyed all the movies he was taken to see as a child? Of course they didn't. I know mine didn't. I mean, yeah, some of them were good- "An American Tale," "Honey I Shrunk The Kids," "All Dogs Go to Heaven," these are movies my parents remember fondly. But those were not the only movies I watched growing up. Sometimes I went to see boring movies about secret agent frogs with French accents. There was one film I watched on video, I think it was called "Pound Puppies & The Legend of Big Paw," that I watched so many times that I can still vividly remember certain scenes, and even lyrics to some of the songs. And that movie was dreadful. It was pure shit. And yet, every time I was at the video shop, and I came to my parents with that in hand, that's what we went home with that night. Because they loved me and they were willing to sit through that just to make me happy. That's what you do with you're a parent. You take your child to the fucking movie about the fucking talking Chihuahuas and you sit there with a fucking grin on your face pretending to have a good time as the small person sitting next to you laughs their head off. And if you're not willing to do that, well I'm sorry, but you're not a good parent.



My disproportionate rage and desire to not be one of those people has seen to it that I show this film more mercy than I have most. This is not going to be the norm, so don't get used to it.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and sometimes it's better down where it's wetter, take it from me.


CJ Holden said...

I remember when this film came out. They tried to push it very hard in Germany. Don't know if they succeeded, but I remember seeing posters for this everywhere!
And I also watched the Giant Paw movie over and over as a kid. I'm scared to watch it today, because I know that it won't hold up.

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

I caught a bit of the "Pound Puppie" movie again recently, and it was a bit sad to realise it doesn't really hold up at all. But never mind, at least I still have fond childhood memories of it.