Curse turns Freddie into a frog, then casts him in terrible cartoon

September 01, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

The only thing wrong with the British animated feature "Freddie as F.R.O. 7" is that it's overlong, overstupid and over here.

A completely fruitless attempt to go mano a mano with the stately and vivid Disney animated tradition, the piece surely proves the relativity of time: At an hour and a half, it feels long enough for you to procreate, raise and send off to college a few new relatives!

The story attempts to meld two separate traditions, the painterly, "classic" medieval vein that Disney mined so well with "Beauty and the Beast," and the high-tech showboaty pleasures of the James Bond oeuvre. This isn't a case of it sounding good on paper but not working out on film; clearly, it sounds bad on paper.

In any event, Freddie is actually an enchanted prince left over from the 12th or so century who lasts into our time as a 6-foot-tall frog. He's French, which gives the distinguished British actor Ben Kingsley a chance to indulge in his Maurice Chevalier imitation for nearly an hour and a half. But can anyone tell me the logic of hiring Ben Kingsley and requiring that he speak with a French accent? What's the point?

In his modern guise, Freddie is a top French secret agent, brought in when some strange force possible only in cartoons has begun kidnapping famous British monuments, as a way of sapping the British of their famous pluck. Of course it turns out that the enchantress behind the abductions is the same one who entered Freddie in the amphibian kingdom lo those many centuries ago.

The animation is quite pitiful but the business it animates is even more pitiful. This stuff makes the typical American Saturday morning toon look like Dostoevski! And the pacing is so slow it nearly drove me to murder. There's about a Gerald rTC McBoingBoing cartoon's worth of plot, and the rest is filler and reverie -- skating frogs, bad musical numbers, wretched pratfall comedy. Each plot point is put off as long as possible, to ensure that the maximum number of children are distracted, discomfitted and, ultimately, reduced to tears.

In fact, the movie makes very little sense as an animated feature, but as an assault on the family value system, it's devilishly effective. Has anybody informed Dan Quayle?

'Freddie as F.R.O.7'

Starring the voice of Ben Kingsley.

Directed by Jon Acevski.

Released by Miramax.

Rated PG.

*

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