100% WOLF

Producers: Barbara Stephen and Alexia Gates-Foale    Director: Alexs Stadermann   Screenplay: Fin Edquist   Cast: Loren Gray, Jai Courtney, Samara Weaving, Magda Szubanski, Rhys Darby, Ilai Swindells, Akmal Saleh, Rupert Degas and Jane Lynch   Distributor: Viva Pictures 

Grade: C

Innocuous but highly derivative, this Australian animated kidflick, based on the 2009 children’s book by Jayne Lyons, should amuse very young viewers, but is too bland for anyone over ten or so.

Freddy Lupin (voiced as a child by Jerra Wright Smith before Ilai Swindells takes over) is a boy who’s part of the werewolf pack headed by his daddy Flasheart (Jai Courtney), but he hasn’t yet reached the age of transformation.  Nonetheless he longs for the adventure of accompanying the pack on their excursions—which involve not terrorizing people but rescuing them from fires and other misfortunes.  These werewolves might look ferocious, but they’re actually heroes—no surprise in today’s movie environment. 

One night Freddy follows the pack, bringing along its treasured moonstone ring as a GPS, but things turn out badly: Flasheart is apparently killed and the ring lost.  That gives Freddy’s nefarious uncle Hotspur (Rupert Degas), who longs to be top wolf himself, his opportunity, especially after Freddy morphs for the first time not into a wolf but a poodle.

That sends him out into the world on his own, where he fortuitously links up with a stray called Batty (Samara Weaving), who despite her cuteness was released into the wild when she failed to be adopted.  They’re initially cool to one another, since wolves and dogs are antagonistic to each other, but of course overcome that and are soon fast friends and allies.

Their companionship serves both well when they have to contend with not only a wacko ice cream vendor named Foxwell Cripp (Rhys Darby), who’s obsessed with tracking down what he believes to be ravenous werewolves, but a mad scientist called The Commander (Jane Lynch), who plans to rid the world of dogs through her control of the pound to which Freddy and Batty are sent after they’re caught by the typically bozo dogcatchers.

There, after some hostility with the other mutts, whose unlikely leader is a pint-sized Chihuahua called Twitchy (Loren Gray)—it’s a running gag, of course, that he goes ballistic whenever somebody called him little—they all combine against their common foes.  Meanwhile the redoubtable Mrs. Mutton (Magda Szubanski), who oversees the werewolf mansion, becomes aware of Hotspur’s scheme and decides to intervene, grandma-ninja style, against The Commander’s lair.  

By the close Freddy, reverted to human form (embarrassedly, as he’s stuck in public without clothes), has donned a superhero’s tights and cape and leads the dogs and wolves, now brought together in friendship, to defeat both the misguided Cripp and the all-too-rational Hotspur.  By the close normalcy has been restored at werewolf estates, with the major alteration that canines and wolves are now comrades-in-arms and even a poodle has everyone’s respect.

There’s a good deal of “The Lady and the Tramp” at work here, as well as the obvious dependence on “The Lion King,” and the dose of scatological humor obligatory in today’s children’s entertainment is a given.  But the animation is colorful (Shane DeVries is credited as art director and Heidy Villafane as DP), while editor Simon Klaebe works with director Alexs Stadermann to keep things moving at an energetic—sometimes excessively so—clip and Ash Gibson Greig’s score adds to the hectic feel.

The result is a barely tolerable diversion for the younger set, though even they will find it awfully familiar.