The Weinstein Co. may be nowhere near the gold standard set by Pixar in the imagination and technical ability of its animation, but it beats all 10 of the champion’s justifiably lauded classics in one category. Pixar has yet to produce a single film with a female hero, while “Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil,” has two: both brave, strong, compassionate, loyal, smart and independent.
As the film’s director Mike Disa recently noted, female characters in animation — the human ones, anyway — are nearly always focused on love and family. “How many animated films have you seen where the female lead is little more than a cliche object for the hero to impress in the last reel? Face it, if you want to be a strong female character in animation you are better off as a mouse.” He was determined to make a movie for girls and boys with female characters whose idea of happily ever after did not necessarily mean the perfect date.
The first “Hoodwinked” movie was a fresh and funny take on the tale of Red Riding Hood, with appealing characters and a clever script to make up for animation that tended to be static and pedestrian. We entered the story at the climax, with the woodsman breaking into Granny’s house just as Red realized it was a wolf wearing Granny’s nightie. As each of the characters explained what happened to a patient cop who happens to be a frog, we learned that everything we thought we knew about the story was wrong and any assumptions we had about the intentions and capabilities of the characters was entertainingly turned inside out and upside down.
As the sequel begins, Red (Hayden Panettierre, replacing Anne Hathaway) has taken a leave of absence from working with the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) at a super high-tech law enforcement operation called HEA (for Happily Ever After). She is studying with the Sisters of the Hood, a training camp high in the mountains with a combined program of martial arts and cooking.
Surveillance experts Bo Peep and her sheep, stationed at the control center’s bank of monitors, report that two children have been seen in the vicinity of a house made out of candy.
Wolf tries his best, but this time huffing and puffing won’t blow the door in. To rescue little Hansel (Bill Hader) and Gretel (Amy Poehler) and Red’s Granny (Glenn Close) from a masked wicked witch named Verushka (Joan Cusack), he needs some help.
Red has yet to learn the Sister Hood’s most carefully guarded secret, the missing ingredient in the magic truffle recipe. She still makes the mistake of getting distracted from her task by impetuous pride and impatient insistence on doing things herself. But those lessons will have to wait — or be learned on the job — as she races to the rescue.
Red and Wolf get the help of old friends: the frog cop (who mutters “mammals!” when things get out of hand); Twitchy, the over-caffeinated squirrel (voice of co-screenwriter Cory Edwards); a banjo-playing goat; the yodeling huntsman (voice of Martin Short), and even an old enemy — Boingo, now confined, Hannibal Lecter-style, in prison.
Welcome new additions include Wayne Newton as a singing harp, Cheech and Chong as two of the three pigs, and David Alan Grier as Moss the Troll, who tries to keep Red from crossing his bridge.
The jokes come very fast, with a whirlwind of pop culture references from “Happy Days” to the Food Network, “Goodfellas,” blogging and the Disney classic “Mickey and the Beanstalk.” There are some nice 3-D swoops and drops, but the more vertiginous entertainment of the film is in the script, as once again what we think we know about fairy-tale heroines, villains, mean girls, old ladies, witches and happy endings are deliciously turned upside down and inside out.