I found myself asking that a lot during The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, as I was watching what the filmmakers behind the film thought they could serve to children. Judging by box office numbers, life-size colourful creatures jiggling around and trying to find magic balloons for a surprise party for their talking pillow proves kids do; as well as parents paying the price of admission.
The film is directed by Academy Award nominee Matthew Diamond – which is a credit that the trailer pointlessly and shamelessly uses. However, the most important component to this film is that it’s been created by Kenn Viselman.
Kenn Viselman played a key role behind-the-scenes on Thomas the Tank Engine and the Teletubbies, two major programs that taught kids how to follow a basic narrative along with very basic sociable skills. Kids absolutely ate these phenomenons up.
As you may know, The Oogieloves and the Big Balloon Adventure tanked in North America; earning the film the title of “biggest box-office bomb of all time for films released in at least 2,000 theatres”. After the film fizzled out of theatres, Oogieloves’ screenwriter Scott Stabile addressed the bad press and negative feedback in a very personal, very well-written and collected letter.
“We set out to make something different for very young kids to have fun and cheer and sing songs and dance in a movie theater, without parents having to worry about anything violent or scary or inappropriate on the screen.”, says Stabile innocently. In that statement, Stabile unintentionally nails why the film isn’t very good and why it generated so little interest during its fleeting theatrical run.
The Oogieloves are geared towards a very young audience. If I had to pin down the demographic, the film feels as if its intended for toddlers making the leap from 45-minute straight-to DVD movies to full length features that would require more patience from the tots.
As adult moviegoers (including parents), we’re always striving for original films. As soon as the next remake or reboot is greenlit, we’re usually fairly cranky. For toddlers, it’s a horse of a different colour. They want to recognize what’s in front of them.
If a parent takes their child to see The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, they’re throwing all their eggs in one basket and hoping their kid will be interested in these unknown characters. Viselman, Diamond, and Stabile have their hearts in the right place, but there’s a lack of familiarity in the film that will have youngsters disinterested. Prior to the release, no one knew what an Oogielove was. In that case, there was already a strike against the film for not slowly introducing a new audience to these characters.
Second of all, the film takes its time to issue the main adventure – the search for these magical balloons that J. Edgar – the talking vacuum – has lost. A toddler has a limited attention span and needs to have their interest ignited within the first few scenes. They may be attracted to the bright colours, but the pacing will sure make those young ones fidgety.
The Oogieloves embark on five missions to save each balloon. That’s three too many. They run into different characters along the way, but the structure of each run-in all follow the same beats.
But, it’s as if the film can’t decide if it wants to be entertainment or edutainment. When it’s aiming to teach kids about simple topics, it drops the ball for not widening it’s horizons. The content is very condensed – even for a film intended for children.
When the Oogieloves run into Dottie Rounder and her daughter Jubilee (played by Cloris Leachman and Kylie O’Brien), the duo explains their fascination with shapes – sort of. Y’see, Leachman loves circles and O’Brien loves squares. O’Brien has ponytails in the shape of squares and Leachman spins around in circles and shows our leads things that are circles, like bouncy balls and polka dots.
However, that’s where the learning ends. There aren’t any more examples of other shapes – just more of the same round examples over and over as Leachman hams it up. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Leachman and O’Brien were sparing with each other about which shape was better, cueing the Oogieloves to show them how squares and circles make up different objects like trains and houses? This would be like me teaching a pre-school class about the colour wheel and only telling them it consisted of blue and green.
Leachman isn’t the only one hamming it up though, which sadly hampers – and adds an off putting vibe – to the “entertainment” segments. The weirdest outing is one featuring Cary Elwes as an unsteady cowboy with a bubble obsession named Bobby Wobbly. It’s good to know Elwes is game to act goofy for the kids, but his performance is too exaggerated and wide-eyed. It looks as if he’s doing an impression of Jim Carrey doing an impression of Gary Busey. The film is laying on the silliness a little too thick.
Let’s not forget the interactivity of the ordeal either. Throughout the film, there are cues telling kids in the audience to stand up and dance (fluttering butterflies) and to sit back down when the song is over (a group of walking turtles).
It’s a creative idea to get kids moving and to break up the dullness in the movie’s repetitive pattern, but the film is constantly throwing butterflies and turtles at the screen. From all the standing, dancing, and then sitting back down, I’d imagine children will be exhausted 30-minutes in. The Oogieloves is shy of an hour and a half.
To pile onto the film even more, the songs are iffy – to say the least. A dance sequence involving Jamie Pressley and Christopher Lloyd (who only speaks with his bongos. Don’t ask why. I’m still trying to figure it out) has a dance move involving slapping yourself in the face and Elwes’ dance tells kids to step to the left and right but the camera keeps cutting to different angles to a point where the perspective is skewed.
A real questionable moment is during a ponderous song sung by Toni Braxton. Braxton plays a music diva who loves roses, but she’s allergic to the flower which causes her to sneeze ad nauseam. She sings that when you’re sick, you should stay in bed – which is a simple, straight forward message.
The verses I would have trouble swallowing as a parent would be when Braxton sings “you gotta cough and sneeze” and acts it out, yet there’s no mention of covering your mouth or anything else hinting at manners. A little nitpick on the surface but if the film wants to teach kids, why not add a little substance with a ‘lil Manners 101?
There’s also a mixed message during Braxton’s bit hinting even though something makes you sick, you should still hang onto it because you love it.
As you can see, The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure isn’t good in the slightest. It’s a film that looks and feels dated and is bound to confuse and exhaust young moviegoers.
But to paying parents: beware the Oogieloves. Your sons and daughters will grow not only fidgety over the plodding pace, but don’t be surprised if they take a nap or ask to leave. This is a film that is extremely out of touch with the youth of today from a production company that is usually in touch.