Duck Duck Goose (2018) Review
A LAME DUCK
In the world of animation, various animal creatures have taken center stage in full-length animated feature films, populating its cinematic world in order to tell a cartoon tale. While the degree of these creatures has ranged far and wide within the animal kingdom, the usage of different types of winged creatures from the bird family has been used and utilized in these animated motion pictures endeavors. Of course, they’ve been used in supporting roles, but have been also used as the primary set of characters in these cartoon features. This includes the colorful singing and dancing escapades in 2011’s Rio (and its 2014 sequel), the WWII themed tale in 2005’s Valiant, the epic fantasy adventure in 2010’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga”Hoole, the thanksgiving buddy journey in 2013’s Free Birds, the boisterous video game adaptation in 2016’s The Angry Birds Movie, as well as several others. Now, Original Force Animation (along with Wanda Media Co. and GEM Entertainment) and director Chris Jenkins present the latest “feathered” adventure for animated birds with the movie Duck Duck Goose. Does this latest movie in children’s animation soar to new heights or is it a flightless (and boring) lame duck of a feature?
Set in the land of China, Peng (Jim Gaffigan) is a freewheeling bachelor goose who’d rather do anything than follow mundane practices tasks for his gander’s upcoming migration. Believing he’s better than everyone else, Peng, his time attempting cray stunts, trying hard to impress his girlfriend Jin Jing (Natasha Leggero) and drawing ire from her father Bing (Diedrich Bader), who happens to be the flock’s leader. However, after trying to perform one daredevil stunt, Peng flies too near the ground and accidentally hits a flock of young ducklings and separates brother and sister, Chi (Zendaya) and Chao (Lance Lim), from the rest. Injured with a broken wing and lost his flock during the migration, Peng, along with Chi and Chao, must make their migration south on land, tackling obstacles and challenges as the carefree goose must contend with the duckling’s youthful shenanigans and their need for him to become their nurturing guardians. However, a villainous cat named Banzou (Greg Proops) is hot on their trail, scheming of a way to have the two wayward ducklings for a delicious and savory meal.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve always stated before, animated films ususally have a special place in my cinematic movie heart, especially some of the classic Disney ones as well as some fan favorites from various other animation studios. From the varying animation styles, to the wide range of voice talents used, the lighthearted slapstick comedy gags, to the story being told, animation movies have always been favorite personal movie genre choice. What can I say…. I’m a kid at heart. Like a lot of cartoon movies out there, the usage of animals (most in particular of the winged bird creatures) have always been interesting, using the colorful creature in order to tell their story. As I said above, there’s been several bird-centric feature films out there, with Rio, Happy Feet (yes, penguins are considered birds), and The Angry Birds Movie being some prime examples of this endeavor. Perhaps my two favorite ones are Rock-a-Doodle (definitely a classic of Bluth’s movies) and The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (wished they would make a sequel to the 2010 film).
This brings me to talking about the 2018 animated movie Duck Duck Goose. To be honest, I really hear much about this movie. Granted I saw the trailer for this movie several times in theaters (every time I went to see a kid’s PG movie) and really didn’t think much of it. To me, judging from the trailer, it looked like a knock-off adequate animated film that seemed quite generic. Still, been an aspiring movie critic, I was planning on seeing this movie when it got released in theaters (a release date set for April 20th, 2018). However, as I entered the summer of 2018 season, the movie sort of went quiet as I really didn’t see the trailer for Duck Duck Goose and anymore and sort of vaguely wondered what became of this movie. Then (out of the blue) I saw that one of my fellow bloggers and seeing and reviewed this movie; reading his post and saw it was on Netflix. Shocked and a bit puzzled. After doing some quick research, the movie, which was gonna be theatrical release and distributed by Open Roads Films, was quietly removed from a schedule release date in April 2018 and was then bought by Netflix (debuting on the streaming platform on July 20th, 2018). Given this decision on switching release platforms, I had a feeling that the minds at Open Roads Films didn’t think Duck Duck Goose stood a chance at a theatrical run. Was the movie that bad? Thus, I decided to watch the movie on Netflix and see for myself. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, it’s not good (but you could already surmise that). Duck Duck Goose is too broad and too bland; painting very broad strokes in pandering to its demographic target, but misses its mark at being both entertaining and / or memorable. In short, it’s generic and boring.
Making his directorial debut with Duck Duck Goose is Chris Jenkins, who has a background in working as an animator for several Disney movies (i.e. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Lion King, Hercules) as well as a writer for the animated film Surf’s Up. Given his background in animation, Jenkins seems like a suitable choice to direct such a feature like Duck Duck Goose. At its core, Jenkins make the movie follow a formulaic path, but a well-trodden one that many youngsters are able to identify with the film’s various animated characters. Yes, it’s the metaphor story / plotline we all know: a self-centered character believes he’s better than everyone else and (through an unforeseen circumstances) must overcome several obstacles; learning a thematic message during the duration of his journey. To his credit, Jenkins does follow through with this notion, making the film’s moral / message valid by the film’s ending feel importance a good life lesson for kids to learn (i.e. the importance of friendship and knowing your limitations). In the end, Jenkins (for better or worse) makes the movie have a good fundamental message for kids to learn.
In terms of animation, Duck Duck Goose is a mixed bag. Their character designs for all the various characters are all adequately rendered. I’m not saying that they are terrible put together as I do know that the movie is done by a smaller animated company and not by one of the animated powerhouse studios (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or Illumination Entertainment). That being said, it’s still quite hard not to compare this movie up against other recent (and more notable) motion picture releases and notice that the animation style in Duck Duck Goose is a bit subpar. Some one of the animation character design are good, while other ones look like they were done back in 2005. The background, however, is probably ten times better than the actual character design. Much like Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, the backdrop setting in the movie looks beautiful and does great some very picture-esque vistas and locales throughout the movie. Thus, a good “kudos” job on those animators who worked on the film’s background as well as the art direction team. The rest of the technical merits (from film editing to production design) are just okay in the movie. There’s not super bad, but nothing really worth saying it’s fantastic (i.e. more adequate looking than great). Even the film’s score, which was composed by Mark Isham, was just okay. It good (at its moments), but hardly not his best work in film compositionally scoring.
Unfortunately, Duck Duck Goose mostly falters under his ambition (or rather lack of ambition) and doesn’t really make a splash within its own water, letting alone in the world of children’s animated flicks of recent years. Perhaps the main reason for this is that the movie rarely (if not at all) does anything remotely original or innovatively new per se. The movie itself is completely generic and it’s a story narrative that has been told many times before. Repurposing some common storytelling threads and moral lessons is all well and good, but only if the movie itself is well-crafted with enough creativity and originality to mold those tried and true thematic messages into makes them the film’s own. Unfortunately, Duck Duck Goose, despite having an important message, just lacks creativity and (mostly) originality, with the film taking cues and scenarios from other animated features. The film’s screenplay, which was penned by Jenkins along with Rob Muir, Scott Atkinson, and Tegan West, doesn’t help as well, providing the basic storyline narrative that rarely goes outside the lines of originality, making Duck Duck Goose a paint-by-numbers endeavor. Additionally, there’s hardly any substances in the film’s script. Yes, there’s several problems to overcome, but lacks depth (even for a kid’s movie), but (again) the movie just seems to be going through the motions, plowing through generic scenes and scenarios that lack…well… substantial cartoon narrative material. The whole movie just screams generic and a overall blandness that doesn’t even really tried hard, producing a film that carries a lazy plot in an equally lazy (and vanilla) script.
The next thing is the film’s humorous jokes and gags, which are a bit undercooked. It’s okay to have lower-based jokes in a kid’s movie (i.e. poop and fart gags), but they have to situated and presented in such a way that makes him fun and humorous. The usage for them in Duck Duck Goose, however, feels forced and cheap. What makes it worse some jokes just seem really out of place, like a joke (at the beginning of the film) about hashtag. Really? A hashtag remark in a movie about goose migrating south. Ugh! It’s almost like the Jenkins and the writers are just trying to pander the millennial youngsters of social media. The rest of the movie’s comedy is subpar as I rarely found it to be funny (maybe a few chuckles here and there), but nothing grand. Basically, Duck Duck Goose’s comedy bits are more misses than hits, which isn’t a good thing for a kid’s animated feature.
Another annoying thing that the movie (along with its out of place jokes) is the usage of punk / pop songs in the movie. Again, it’s not an uncommon thing for kid’s cartoon movies to feature a variety of musical songs that one would hear on the radio now and again, but it has to fit within the context of the movie’s setting and / or plot. Duck Duck Goose’s usage of pop / punk songs, including Dave Bassett’s “Paradise” and “Thunder to the Ground” and Windy Wagner’s “Take Off” seems completely shoehorned into the movie (again, to try and speak to the more millennial youngsters) and just feels really out of place. Speaking of which, the film’s setting, which takes place in China, seem underutilized as well. Besides the classic “Great Wall of China” mention and few other Chinese nuances, Duck Duck Goose just lacks that mention of anything really of the nation’s heritage / culture (something like what Moana and Coco were able to achieve). I know the movie was a joint production venture between the United States and China, but (beyond a few topography scenes and food references), the movie just lacks the aspect into China’s insight, which seems like a missed opportunity from Jenkins and his team.
In truth, Duck Duck Goose is like one of those off-brand movies you see a preview for during home release film (on a DVD / Blu-Ray before heading to the movie’s menu screen). It definitely has that DTV (Direct-to-Video) vibe throughout and hardly is truly entertaining. A movie, especially a children’s animated movie shouldn’t be a chore to watch and Duck Duck Goose is. In short, it’s just seems like a cheap knock-off movie.
The voice talents in Duck Duck Goose is also fairly adequate, but many of the selected actors and actresses don’t particularly match up to their respective characters. The vocal performances are noteworthy, but not really great nor memorable in this movie. At the head of the pack is comedian / actor Jim Gaffigan, who provides the voice for the film’s central protagonist character of Peng. Gaffigan, known for his roles in Away We Go, Chappaquiddick, and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, actually does the best vocal performance in the entire movie (and that’s not same much…. trust me). Gaffigan almost utilizes his own natural sounding voice in voicing Peng and bring a sense of nonchalant / carefree bravado in bringing Peng to life throughout the movie; whether that’s in comedy or drama beats. The other standout performance in the movie is the character of Chi (one of the two lost ducklings who Peng must watch over), who is voiced by actress Zendaya. Known for her roles in K.C. Undercover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and The Greatest Showman, Zendaya handles herself well in voicing, acting as the older of the two duckling siblings and does provide some of the more humorous bits (the good ones) in the movie. However, the character of Chi is still pretty one-dimensional and Zendaya’s voice (no matter how much effort she puts in her vocal acting range) is underutilized in the role. Likewise, actor Lance Lim, known for his roles in School of Rock, Growing Up Fisher, and Independence Day: Resurgence, doesn’t really seem like a memorable role as Chi’s little brother Chao. Lim’s voice is fine, but it sounds a bit off to the character on-screen. Again, nothing really remarkable. Just vaguely adequate.
As for the main antagonist of the film, actor Greg Proops, known for his roles in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and Easy to Assemble, voices the nefarious cat Banzou. Proops voice is okay in the part, mustering a villainous voice for the feline character that’s both evil and slightly off-kilter / goofy. However, it’s hard a memorable role for both him and the character itself. In truth, I found the character of Banzou to be odd as if Jenkins (along with Muir, Atkinson, and West) were trying to make cat version of Tolkien’s Gollum character (i.e. having a spilt personality). The concept is interesting enough (a shared duality of two distinct characters), but the usage of it in Duck Duck Goose seems lame, which makes the character annoying and feel like cheap knock-off.
The rest of the cast, including actress Natasha Leggero (Let’s Be Cops and He’s Just Not That into You) as Peng’s love interest Jin Jing, actor Diedrich Bader (Office Space and Napoleon Dynamite) as Jin Jing protective father Bing, musician / beatboxer performer Reggie Watts (Pitch Perfect 2 and Keep in Touch) as the squirrel Carl, actor Carl Reiner (Ocean’s 11 and Dumbells) as the turtle Larry, and actors Stephen Fry (Gosford Park and V for Vendetta) and Craig Ferguson (How to Train Your Dragon and The Drew Carey Show) as a pair of quibbling birds Frazier and Giles. Most of these voice talents are recognizable from past endeavors in movies, TV shows, and other media outlets, but the voice layer over for these characters are (again) lackadaisical and don’t quite match up, which is kind of a bad thing for an animated feature. In short, there just not that memorable in both the characters and the voice talent performances. Such a waste!
Peng must return to his flock and must look after two lost ducklings (Chi and Chao) along the way in the movie Duck Duck Goose. Director Christopher Jenkins latest film is a light and breezy animated feature that doesn’t really color outside the lines, but provides enough cartoon fluff to pass along a good thematic (tried and true) message for kids to learn. Unfortunately, the majority of the film is utterly forgetful. While the animation itself is a mix between good and adequate, the movie just never comes into its own and just feel generic. Coupled with a lazy story, a lackluster / predictable journey, weak jokes and gags, uneven vocal performances, and some odd decision throughout, the movie just never takes offs and just feels a hallow run-of-the-mill DTV (direct-to-video) animated endeavor. Personally, I thought this movie was so boring and bland. Yes, I wasn’t really expecting much from it and they were a few parts that I did like about it, but it’s hardly animation gold and just seems like a knock-off cartoon endeavor. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is definitely a “skip it” as there’s not a whole lot of reason to see it, especially since there are other (and better) kid animated movies. Even though it’s free to see on Netflix (for however long it is on there), Duck Duck Goose is a perfect example of how an animated feature can be tedious, lazy, and just simply generic. In short, the movie is a “lame duck” …. plain and simple.
2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: July 20th, 2018
Reviewed On: July 30th, 2018
Duck Duck Goose is 91 minutes long and is rated PG for rude humor and mild action / peril