Free Jimmy (2006) / Animation-Comedy
aka Slipp Jimmy fri
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would definitely be R for strong graphic violence, drug content, language, and a graphic scene of sexuality
Running time: 86 min.
Cast (voices): Woody Harrelson, Simon Pegg, Phil Daniels, Jay Simpson, Kyle MacLachlan, Kris Marshall, Emilia Fox, Samantha Morton, Lisa Maxwell, James Cosmo, David Tennant, Jim Broadbent
Director: Christopher Nielsen
Screenplay: Christopher Nielsen (English screenplay translated by Simon Pegg)
Review published July 2, 2007
Writer-director Christopher Nielsen must think that the three "D"s in "3D animation" must stand for Dreary, Disenchanting and Disgusting.
The first Norwegian film to be completely animated by computer graphics, and one of their most expensive films to date, Free Jimmy (the title is a take-off inspired by Free Willy) is one of those films that could impress from a technical standpoint, if only the story underneath weren't so derivative and repugnant. The English-language version, adapted by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) himself, sidesteps a proper setting, although it's clear from the signs that it takes place somewhere in Scandinavia, though no explanation for the different dialects (mostly a mix of American and Brit accents) is afforded. It's just one of many confusing things about the film, which one can chalk up to the Norsk jokes being lost in translation. Indeed, the film is dedicated to Nielsen's musician brother, Jokke, who died of a drug overdose. Not many outside of Jokke's fans would get that the film is probably a metaphor for his life as an entertainer.
Woody Harrelson (A Prairie Home Companion, The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio) voices lowlife Roy Arnie, who has a yen to run his own circus. He and his cohorts get their chance by joining a rag-tag Russian circus traveling through the area. One of the big star attractions of the circus is Jimmy the elephant -- abused, neglected and kept under constant sedation through a steady diet of downers. Meanwhile, a group of militant straight-edge animal rights activists are out to spring Jimmy and save him from a life of captivity. They get their wish, sort of, as Arnie's dreams begin to slip away when Jimmy gets some speed instead, bolting out and running away. All parties are out to get the circus star, including a mad hunters and a group of mafiosos looking to score by putting the pachyderm on ice.
Like so many others, Christopher Nielsen's tale emulates some of the comic thrillers that have come out over the past decade, and in fact, it very much feels like an animated predecessor to Joe Carnahan's Smokin Aces, except with an elephant as the being that everyone is trying to get to. However, that film was a great deal like the other wise-cracking crime comedies that have come out since Tarantino's debut, often encroaching into Guy Ritchie territory, except without the skillful writing or wit required to make these eccentric oddball characters remotely appealing.
Although the computer animation isn't exactly amateurish, it is a bit herky-jerky in terms of character movements, particularly when performing simple actions like walking. The characters themselves have a distinct look, although everyone tends to look on the sickly side, and some of them look too similar to tell apart except when you hear their voice, and further confusion is raised by the fact that several appear androgynous. It's hard not to feel sorry for the drugged-up elephant at the heart of the story, which is probably why a great deal of the humor falls flat on its face. When you see that everyone is having a great time using and abusing the beast for their own purposes, it makes us despise all of these opportunist characters to the point where we find nothing they do to be funny -- more like disheartening, really.
Although it is animated, parents should be warned that this is very adult material, with an inordinate amount of scenes that go for shock laughs, as heads get blown off and limbs severed. There is one fairly ranchy sex scene early in the picture, and gross-out moments, such as a scene where some of the characters are submerged in elephant puke (the elephant having a bad reaction to overdosing -- isn't that funny???), so I'd say that the film is definitely only for those who find themselves snickering at anything that remotely dabbles in envelope-pushing vulgarity.
Although gags are plentiful, I must say that Free Jimmy failed to make me laugh even once, and more often made me feel repulsed in its unwavering adherence to lewdness as a crutch to seem punchy and irreverent. It's more a menagerie of the grotesque rather than something to amuse or delight. To date, I'd say that it's the worst 3D animated feature I've ever seen. You might need a few uppers, or at the very least, some aspirin, by the time this noisy, scurrilous assault on your good spirits is over.
©2007 Vince Leo