Review by C.J. Bunce
Back in 2006 artist-writer Chris Grine published his first of a two-volume Eisner-nominated comic called Chickenhare, featuring a unique hero in a strange new anthropomorphic world, mixing adventure and dark comedy. This weekend his hero makes it to Netflix in his own animated movie, Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness. The creator himself has acknowledged in the past the scripts in development for the movie were different than his source material. The artwork looks nothing like Grine’s characters. Fans of Grine will find little in common with the new movie, but it’s relatively harmless for really little kids, or older kids who have already seen far better treatments in the talking animal genre, notably Zootopia and Chicken Run–actually all the Aardman Animation shows–and major studio efforts like Ferdinand.
Chickenhare is a rare hybrid part chicken, part rabbit, who has a Moses type origin when two brothers find him after botching a scene-by-scene Raiders of the Lost Ark opening adventure. The high points visually are that opening scene and a cleverly designed gauntlet, both occurring in the story’s first act. Chickenhare seems happy with who he is, but he allows two tangential characters, a full rabbit and full chicken, harass him into feeling like he’s something less, calling him a freak. Ultimately his uncle joins in as the film’s villain, seeking a lost scepter called the Hamster of Darkness. He also calls Chickenhare a freak and attempts to kill him at one point. Ultimately the uncle seems far too dark and nasty for the tenor of the show and a young audience. Chickenhare as hero is completely sympathetic (Abe maybe more so), but the overall tone lacks heart. The exception is the relationship between Chickenhare and his adoptive father, which is nicely carried out.
A European small studio production, the film lacks the subtlety and nuance of kids storytelling post-Sesame Street. It’s worth noting this is a French production, and French humor doesn’t always translate well to typical modern American stylings. Why is turtle friend Abe–a character from the comics–changed into being a manservant instead of equal pal to Chickenhare? Why doesn’t Chickenhare have a name like everyone else? Why is this another epic adventure practically devoid of female characters? Just a token skunk named Meg. The problem is a stale script from a screenwriter whose key work seems to be from Family Guy of 20 years ago. All the improvements in children’s storytelling in the intervening years are simply absent.
The story gaps are unfortunate, because the visuals, especially Chickenhare himself, appear at times on par with Zootopia, and visually this could have been a sequel to that film had this contained a more worthy story. It also has a boisterous musical score.
With more thought and consideration, Chickenhare could have been a great pairing with Judy from Zootopia. Ultimately Chickenhare seems to be a relatively harmless film to sit little, pre-impressionable kids in front of for 90 minutes, but there’s likely not enough here to keep discerning adults or older kids engaged. There is so much more, better content available to get through first. Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness is now streaming on Netflix. The comics are available here at Amazon.