Origially completed in 2017, first time director Scott Christian Sava turned his screenplay, Animal Crackers into a delightfully sweet animated feature with an all-star cast.
The story begins with three brothers, Ring Master, Horatio P. Huntington (Ian McKellen), Clown, Chesterfield Huntington (Danny DeVito) and Animal Trainer, Buffalo Bob Huntington (James Arnold Taylor) run the family circus, but when Gypsy Esmerelda (Harvey Fierstein) introduces her gorgeous niece Talia (Tara Strong) to the brothers, jealousy arises as she chooses Bob over Horatio. Forced to choose between loyalty to his brother and the love-of-his-life, Bob chooses Talia and bitterness between the brothers runs deep for over a generation causing a family tragedy like no other.
Fast forward and Buffalo Bob’s nephew Owen (John Krasinski) works a miserable job for his wife Zoe’s (voiced by his real life wife, Emily Blunt) father, Mr. Woodley (Wallace Shawn) as an dog snack tester and dealing with professional rival, Brock (Patrick Warburton). The only person who takes Owen seriously at the doggie treats factory is scientist Blinkley (Raven-Symoné) who develops a machine to make all the snacks taste like human food. Unfortunately, Brock continuously sabotages Owen’s efforts in trying to take over the company.
In all the struggles that follow, Owen, Zoe and their daughter Mackenzie (Lydia Rose Taylor) discover the mystery of his uncle’s incredible ability to be the greatest animal trainer in the world. Unfortunately, Zucchini (Gilbert Gottfried), Horatio’s henchman has discovered the secret as well and tries to steal the secret to revive his own dying circus.
“Scott Sava is a 4th-dimensional creator of the highest order. If he was a first-time director you’d never know it as he works with all the skill and prowess of a seasoned veteran. Voicing Samson was a dream come true for a voiceover actor. It’s rare that you get to play these kind of roles in a CGI movie, and Scott, being the generous creator that he is, gave me a tremendous opportunity for which I will be eternally grateful,” said filmmaker, animator and comic book creator, Kevin Grevioux who voices Sampson in Animal Crackers.
Gervioux’s sentiments ring true as this isn’t just your ordinary family adventure film. There aren’t any specific gender role tropes or one hero rolling around with a bumbling sidekick. It’s a loving nuclear family that seeks to salvage the legacy of their extended family through the passion and love for the circus.
Usually, in American storytelling it is the solo, almost hermetic hero who keeps outsiders at an arm’s length because they have to do everything on their own, but Sava’s mixed race Italian-Assyrian cultural influences show the communal aspect of life and it reflects in the delivery of Animal Crackers. It is refreshing to see the hero’s journey to expand beyond the hero who reluctantly accepts people’s help to having it apart of his existence from the first image show on screen.
The story of Animal Crackers is almost flawless but only one thing truly confused me. The film follows the three Huntington Brothers, however Owen is also a Huntington, but he refers to all as his, “uncle.” It was unclear who the fourth brother was and his relation to these circus folk.
Even Sylvester Stallone who voices Bullet-Man is hilarious in his delivery of repeating his own name followed by a compelling monologue in the third act.
Beyond that I have no complaints. If I hadn’t known that this was Sava’s first feature film after listening to his interview Assyrian Podcast, I would have called anyone a liar for making that claim. Sava has had an incredible life of his won and could warrant his own biopic.
Animal Crackers is available today on Netflix and I will be definitely watching it again later this week.
Animal Crackers is a family film that is worth revisiting time and again. Even if you don’t have your own kids, it will remind you as to the true meaning of family.