Don't play with your food
Scout's honor, I'll get to the review part of the review in a minute, but I can't go into without getting something off my chest, which is that Foodfight! is monstrously unattractive. I would swear at The Hague that this is the absolute ugliest bastard of an animated feature that has ever been released by something resembling an actual animation studio, though in the case of Threshold Entertainment, that resemblance is fucking meager. The whole production history, which would make a movie that's vastly more entertaining than this one, starts with Lawrence Kasanoff, chief executive officer at Threshold (a company specializing in producing short projects for theme parks and such exploiting existing intellectual property), who came up with the kind of must-miss idea that only a studio executive with no connection left to humanity could have whipped up: what about, like, Toy Story with food corporation mascots instead of beloved childhood toys?
That was in 1999. The next couple of years found Kasanoff greasing the necessary palms to get the ultimate experience in grueling product placement off the ground, and beginning production on the thing, with Kasanoff himself as director. It all purred along nicely, until the drives containing all the completed animation were reported stolen in 2002. It would be delightful to assume that this was part of some plan to defraud the investors and corporations who'd paid to have their characters come to life in this film, but that seems hard to square with the rest of the story, which gets vastly more bizarre. Kasanoff, you see, was undaunted by this loss, and attempt to throw himself back into completing his marketing opus, though as recounted in a 2013 New York Times article that reads more like the eyewitness reports of a plane crash than a making-of piece, he didn't know much about directing animation, and his animators didn't know much about the specific tasks they were suddenly forced to do. At this point, the film - now to be carried out using motion capture, which in 2004 was about to score its first major success with the zombie horror film The Polar Express - managed to secure a distribution deal and a release date in 2005 that zipped by without notice; another went by in 2007. Then came the legal action, and in 2011 the film was auctioned off by the insurance company for immediate completion and distribution: the honors went to Viva Pictures, who silently dropped the thing into UK theaters in 2012 for hardly any time, and released it directly to DVD in the United States in 2013, after securing a favorable deal with Wal-Mart.
And under those circumstances, it's no surprise that Foodfight! - see, it's fun because it has an exclamation point! - looks like pulsating ass. It was made quickly by animators who didn't quite know what they were doing with software that wasn't right for the job and given instructions by a man with no clue about anything to do with technology and craft. Still, knowing why something isn't exactly anybody's fault is by no conceivable stretch of the imagination the same thing as making it not an outrageous crime against art and humanity.
And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
In addition to images that look like what would happen if John Lasseter had the DTs, Foodfight! has a plot. And that plot is this: in the small, traditional grocery store Marketopolis Market, when the shop closes up for the night, the aisles turn into a thriving city populated by all the corporate mascots for all the products sold there - "Ikes", they're called, in recognition of their innate love for the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower* - who spend their days enacting '40s movie tropes and concocting shitty puns. The most level-headed and admired of all the Ikes is Dex Dogtective (Charlie Sheen), a cereal mascot who works as a private eye disrupting the surprisingly robust criminal underground of Marketopolis. He's just cracked his 500th consecutive case, and he plans to celebrate by finally proposing to his girlfriend Sunshine Goodness (Hilary Duff), who with a name like that is amazingly not the logo for a line of racy leather underwear. She's a catgirl who sells raisins. And Dex gives her a four-carrot ring, do you get it, because the three credited writers had a drinking habit to get back to.
Before he can pop the question, though, Sunshine goes missing. And that's not all that's about to shatter the beatific world of the Marketopolitans: the owner of the supermarket has just been strong-armed into stocking the new Brand X by a corporate salesman named Mr. Clipboard, who is voiced by Christopher Lloyd and designed like a level boss from one of the first House of the Dead games. As soon as Brand X shows up on the shelves, its own related Ike, Lady X (Eva Longoria) enters the community, and it's around now that one starts to wonder if the writers actually know what "generic" actually means, This happens, by the way, on the same day that a grim-faced Dex is opening his new club, Copabanana, to drown the sorrows of his lost love and the career that he sent down the shitter when she vanished. It takes absolutely no time before Lady X and her fellow off-brand Ikes begin to take over the city, murdering Ikes left and right, which apparently makes their product taste bad, or not work, or whatever. The film does not clarify its rules. It brags about how much non-clarity its rules have. It straddles the viewer and teabags us with its zeal for not having clear rules.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
Anyway, the whole thing is a clumsy attempt to do bright CGI noir with Dex Doggevtive - I mean, what the fuck. "Dogtective" is not a word that a native speaker of English can pronounce. Longoria, who has to say it the most times, doesn't even try. She just calls him "Dex Dog Tective". But as I was saying, Dex Doveffiv is Humphrey Bogart, trenchcoat and hat and all, and the movie keeps lifting huge chunks of Casablanca in the apparent assumption that it would have violated the dignity of Warner Bros. to try and stop it. This does, incidentally, mean that Foodfight! needs Nazis. And Nazis it gets: the Brand Xers are about as unambiguously Nazi-esque as you can get in a kids' film, right down to the part where they torture an elephant to death with a dentist drill in a kids' film.
Not that Foodfight! has a very clear sense of what it means to be a kids' film. The filmmakers apparently had heard that some family movies have jokes that are mostly for the kids but also some subtle innuendo that's meant for their parents, and they tried their hand at it. This means that Dex's sidekick buddy, Daredevil Dan (Wayne Brady), an incompetent flying squirrel who sells chocolate and is a mind-boggling racist caricature, gets to sneak in such subtle winks and nods to the adults like: "How about some chocolate frosting? I'd like to butter your muffin!" and "I never even got a chance to play 'lick the icing' with Sweet Cakes". or there's this chestnut of seductive dialogue between Dex Doggive and Lady X:
"There are some stains you can never wash out."Later, Dex calls her a "cold-farted itch", which isn't just horribly dirty, it doesn't make any sense. But you, know, for kids! They love the farts. Which is probably why the second thing that in any way resembles a gag in the whole movie is a a frog farting, a propos of nothing.
"Let's try. I want to scrub your bubbles, Dex."
Though to be fair, the context for a frog farting would probably never make more than an incidental kind of sense.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
But I was just starting to talk about the Nazis! There are Nazis. There are Nazis trying to take over the city of corporate mascots, using food-based tanks and all. One of the main Nazis, voiced by ace voice actor Jeff Bennett, who I suppose was just glad for the work, discovers in the moment of his death that he's sexually aroused by urinating on himself, and that is not a lie. It's not even an exaggeration.
The screenplay for this film is unforgivable, pure and simple, between the leering sex, the awful puns on corporate names and slogans (which is, for the most part, as close as it comes to its mission statement of combining corporate mascots in a fun shared universe; any character who has anything to do of real importance in the plot is either original or a terrible knock-off), the goddamn Nazis murdering people and taking over their city, the shameless Casablanca thievery. Even so, the screenplay deserved better animation.
There aren't words for how off-putting Foodfight! looks. The characters look like hell, with weird, stiff faces and body movement that has as many points of articulation as a cheap action figure. Most of them have just the one expression, which is how we have a (wildly, wildly sexist) climax in which Sunshine Goodness beams her ecstatic "I love all the world and especially RAISINS!" smile as she wallops the tar out of Lady X, who grimaces with the exact same "I want you inside of me right now, humanoid dog" smolder she's worn all through the film.
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
It is insulting to primitivism to describe this as primitive. There has never been a period in the history of commercially-released computer animation where the technique was as clumsy as it is in the very best moments of Foodfight! Hair moves with heads like a thick plastic helmet; liquids slump across surfaces like tar on a frozen day; the backgrounds are fuzzy and indistinct and the foregrounds tend to be slabs of smooth colors with indifferently-applied lighting techniques. If this was a video game and you were playing it in 1996, you might think it looked okay, though not the best thing you'd ever seen. For a theatrical release in the 21st Century, it's an outright insult to the time of the hoped-for audience to think they'd tolerate this for even a minute. Which is a lot longer than I was able to tolerate the unchanging expressions, the unbelievably crude effects work (in the early going, a character cries, and it looks like he's shooting Tylenols out of his eyes - fuck, maybe that's another piece of product placement) and the way that no two objects seemed to be interacting with each other properly.
I'd say that I'm happy that something born from such a vile, mercenary place turned out so poorly and tanked so badly, but compared to the abject misery that is watching Foodfight!, even that happiness is fleeting. This is, in all sincerity, one of the very worst movies I have ever seen, not worthy of even the most morbid ironic fascination. It is dreadful, ugly, stupid, filthy-minded, and morally bereft on multiple levels. Also, you can totally see it for free on YouTube.
*Actually, it's short for "Icons", but the film doesn't bother clarifying that, so I can disregard it as non-canon if I damn well want to.