The phone from the great cartoon beyond is ringing! It’s
Frederick “Tex” Avery, and he wants
his gags back! And Chuck Jones is on line 2!
The Mask (1994) was a film where Jim Carrey played
a cartoon aficionado who encounters the titular prop, which endows
the wearer with the limitless powers of the Norse god of mischief,
Loki, and also with the similarly limitless powers of the gods of
special effects at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Together,
they channeled the spirit of one of the greatest of the Warner Bros.
cartoon directors of the 1940s, Tex Avery, and produced an effects
movie that successfully blended cartoon effects into a live-action
film. If this weren’t enough, you had a pre-anorexic Cameron
Diaz who stole the show, at least for heterosexual male
A sequel was as inevitable as corrupt politics in Mr. Tex Avery’s
native state. At least Son Of The Mask isn’t as bad
as all that, but it is bad.
It is, in a word, formulaic. Isn’t that the problem with
most all sequels? With Son Of The Mask, the filmmakers
chose to concentrate again on cartoon sensibilities. I’m sure
that this decision makes financial sense, but it leads to some rather
obvious and shameless pandering. They even named the main character
“Tim Avery” and made him an aspiring animator. There
has just got to be some hidden joke about the substitution of “Tim”
for “Tex.” I wish someone would explain it to me because,
if there is no hidden joke, this movie is about the lamest homage
in the history of film. Did they bother to change anything this
time around, in order to try to keep the film fresh? Sure! They
decided to lift ideas from another Warner Bros. animator of the
period, Chuck Jones.
I don’t mean just little stylistic touches. They bite whole
chunks out of his cartoons and vomit them back on the screen with
scarcely the slightest evidence of any digestive process. Of course,
I shouldn’t be so quick to condemn. I personally can’t
stomach Chuck Jones either; he is simply too saccharine. Instead,
why-oh-why couldn’t they have stolen from Bob Clampett?!
In a family-values, post-9/11 world, it is pretty obvious why
they turned to Chuck Jones for “inspiration.” Son
Of The Mask has been sanitized for your protection. It is cute,
cute, cute. The title refers to an actual male baby to whom director
Lawrence Guterman applies the lessons learned in
anthropomorphism from his previous film, Cats And Dogs.
Outside of Jeff Goldblum, what was not to like
in that film? Everybody loves babies even more than pets! How could
you lose? An anthropomorphic baby! What will they think of next!
I know! I propose a sequel to Cats And Dogs: Kittens And Puppies!
If it were my own money on the line, I might even team this writer,
Lance Khazei, with director Guterman again. For
all my ranting, this film really isn’t that terrible, just
boring. They do push the envelope in filmic scatological humor.
Provided that ILM comes in under budget, that is probably enough
to insure a profitable film in America. I’d keep Randy
Edelman, who has created a musical score that is more than
adequate and didn’t just rehash his winning score for the
original The Mask. ILM’s effects would be required,
of course. Here, they have some very impressive details, but, apart
from the warts and hair, the essential look hasn’t changed
as much as you might think in 10 years’ time. That would have
been too big a risk.
You have to admire the actors who labor in this hopeless cause.
Jamie Kennedy, playing the frustrated animator, is entertaining
and likable, except where he is asked to fill Jim Carrey’s
shoes, with predictable results. I’m not the biggest fan of
Carrey, but I’ll admit that there are very, very few who can
approach his gift for physical comedy. Kennedy can’t, but
I don’t think it was very fair to ask him to try. Traylor
Howard is no Cameron Diaz, but her character is all over
the new family-values thing. I found her misfortune the most humorous
thing in the movie. It is to her credit that I remembered that it
really isn’t very nice to beat up mom.
Alan Cumming as Loki and Bob Hoskins
as Odin are blessed relief and will escape this film as blameless.
Cumming has three of the film’s four genuine laughs. It is
always nice to see the two great living artists of deadpan, Steven
Wright and Ben Stein, if only to know
that they are still alive. Just think! A competition between those
two would have made this film historic.
So, please go track down a cartoon collection with the genuine
Tex Avery masterpiece, Red Hot Riding Hood (1943). Many
more movies like this one will make the eyeballs-popping-ten-feet-out-of-the-head
gag seem stupid and childish. Watch the gag done by the master and
see why it is so tempting to try to channel Tex Avery, though some
would do better to let him rest in peace.