Film Review: The 7th Dwarf

Third film in a German trilogy whose previous entries weren't released in the U.S., this animated dummkopf unsuccessfully tries to annex both DreamWorks and Pixar films.
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The German sense of humor is as famous as the Italian sense of quietude or Irish poets' sunny disposition. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the dubbed The 7th Dwarf (Der 7bte Zwerg, 2014), a fractured fairytale whose moral is that Shrek pop-culture satire and Pixar Randy Newman songs don't translate well to a culture in which "ich liebe dich" is less a plaintive "I love you" than a declarative "I will love you."

Fair's fair, and I should point out that 2004's 7 Zwerge–Männer allein im Wald (7 Dwarves–Men Alone in the Wood) and 2006's 7 Zwerge–Der Wald ist nicht genug (7 Dwarves: The Forest Is Not Enough) each apparently did well enough to warrant the franchise continuing, albeit nearly a decade later. There does seem to be a question of what decade it's in—the animation quality equals that of the 1990s CGI TV series "ReBoot," which was great…for the 1990s. And the design of the dwarves is odd: A couple of them are as tall as our hero, Jack (voice of James Frantowski), and while they seem to be adult dwarves, one of them, Bobo (voice of Joshua Graham), carries himself like an adult and makes key decisions that help save the day, yet is childishly naive and, most confusingly, brags that he knows how to tie his shoes—which he doesn't do well, by the way, so is he a grownup? A precocious child? Developmentally delayed? When the dwarves ride on the back of a dragon, are they really riding a short-bus?

As vaguely disturbing as all this is—the songs can be downright creepy, and the dwarves' nonsensical motto, "All for one and all at once," sounds some like kind of serial-killer code—the movie tries to impart lessons on the value of friendship, facing your fears, and not giving up when things look tough, which is how I'm getting through this review. Think I exaggerate? The friendship lesson involves a clinically depressed dragon, Burnie (voice of Norm MacDonald), tying a giant block of stone around his neck and preparing to toss himself over a cliff to commit suicide. Hah! That's a knee-slapper! No, really, Johnny, let me explain why depression and death are comical…

If you're still planning to take your kids to this, and have put away funds for their therapy, the story sees Princess Rose (voice of Peyton List—the Disney Channel "Jessie" star Peyton List, not the Jane Sterling on "Mad Men" Peyton List) as a Snow White manqué who will go into deep sleep, along with all others in the castle, if she is pricked by a sharp object before her 18th birthday. The witch in this version is Dellamorta (voice of punk-rock godmother Nina Hagen), who has ice powers like Elsa in Frozen—so, let's see, DreamWorks' Shrek series, Pixar's Randy Newman songs and now Walt Disney Pictures…yep! The filmmakers have appropriated the animation trifecta! And badly, too!

Kitchen boy Jack—who can give one-percenter Rose "true love's kiss" in the kind of cross-class romance that's truly the stuff of fairytales—is kidnapped by Dellamorta, and the dwarves must rescue him and return him to the castle, while making sure not to get killed by the dragon. This all sounds pretty normal—right up to where they meet a jive-talking, bling-wearing walrus (voice of Dov Gray) and sea lion (voice of Kevin Morris) named Herman the Merman and Sherman, a.k.a the rap duo Seaweed Clan. While their Facebook music-video is the only bit I found amusing, I hated myself for it since the characters are such blatant stereotypes I'm surprised the Germans didn't put them in actual blackface. And isn't hating yourself what we go to children's movies for? As if all that cluelessness weren't enough, this surreally bad film even includes what's now a 20-year-old trope in The Matrix's slow-motion avoid-projectiles bit.

Don't get me wrong: I love much German cinema. Give me a Werner Herzog or Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie any day of the week. Just don't let them direct a children's movie. I don't want to see the animated version of Even Dwarves Started Small.

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