I’m almost positive that no one behind Riverdance: The Animated Adventures ever thought someone would review it. I’m not even sure Riverdance can be reviewed. Heck, I’m not even sure it’s possible not to talk about it without coming off like a babbling loon.
Critics like to joke about trying to divine who the audience for a movie might be, but in the case of a children’s computer-animated film based on Riverdance, I am genuinely at a loss. I don’t envy Dave Rosenbaum and Eamonn Butler’s task of trying to make a movie centered around step-dancing. There’s only so much you can do.
Rosenbaum and Tyler Werrin’s script is a fever dream of children’s entertainment. Picture in your mind, not Ireland as you may know it or have imagined it, but an Ireland that eats, sleeps, and breathes river dancing, and when they’re not step dancing, they’re partaking in the great national pastime of Hurling. Now keep that image in your head because you’re going to need it when the mythical giant deer, the Megaloceros Giganreus, who keep the rivers flowing because of their step-dancing, show up.
Riverdance is one of those instances where it’s less a story and more an excuse. An excuse to weave a Celtic tale about a lighthouse that keeps the ships from crashing against the rocks but also keeps the Huntsman (Brendan Gleeson) at bay. The Huntsman you see wants to kill the Megaloceros Giganreus. Why? Because.
Gleeson, however, makes what little screentime he has, count. His Huntsman is a genuinely eerie and menacing creation. Of all the cast, he does the best bringing a character to life with arguably the least.
Keegan (Sam Hardy) lives with his granddad (Pierce Brosnan) and grandma (Pauline McLynn), keepers of the lighthouse. His grandpa dies and at his funeral is what I presume is the perfectly normal everyday Irish Riverdance funeral jig. It’s hard to put into words just how equal parts bizarre and underwhelming it is to watch computer-animated step-dancing. The motion is too smooth, and the rhythm of the movement is unnatural. Granted, that could be said of the actual Riverdancers as well, but in the animated form, it’s just damn unsettling.
Once the Megaloceros Gianerus start dancing, it gets even weirder. Moya (Hannah Herman Cortes), Keegan’s best friend, takes him to a magical land to say goodbye to his Grandad. Though by doing so, he has left the lighthouse unattended and unlit, and the Huntsman makes his way to shore to kill the Meg-Irish Elk, okay? They’re just Irish Elk, a now extinct deer who had big horns and apparently danced and played Hurling, and that’s why Ireland has so many rivers.
Riverdance is a brightly animated kids’ movie. But that’s about the most I can say about it. Rosenbaum and Butler have little interest in doing more than just making an animated Riverdance movie dragging out Irish stereotypes be damned. Bill Whelan, the same composer as the “Riverdance” show, composed the music. Still, it doesn’t mean anything because Riverdance never feels like anything other than a poorly disguised infomercial.
Hardy and Cortes are fine, but the way Riverdance is animated and edited makes their performance seem a weird mixture of choppy and off-balance. There’s no rhythm to their conversations, and the character design makes sense for the Riverdance idea, but it seems odd that everyone is a twig with muscular thighs. It’s a movie with extinct dancing creatures; why be so wedded to realism now?
There’s an over-reliance on fat jokes involving one of the Irish Elk Benny (Jermaine Fowler) and his tiny horns. Benny and Penny (Lilly Singh) are supposed to be the comedic companions to Keegan and Moya but come off grating and unnecessary. Especially considering how little they contribute to any number of the random storylines Riverdance is throwing against the wall in the vain hope that one of them sticks.
I can not imagine a child who has any interest in watching this. My joy was rooted strictly in a morbid fascination. It’s hard to be bored when you can’t predict that Moya, a Spanish girl, will teach Penny to dance the flamenco because she can’t seem to nail the step-dancing. The Irish step-dance and the Spanish dance the flamenco; makes sense.
I haven’t even got to the subplot involving a pair of frogs and their brood searching desperately for one of their lost tadpoles. What, you might ask, does that have to do with everything else? Nothing. It’s there to pad out the runtime. Simple as that.
But it does lead to the scene at the end after Keegan, Moya, and the others have saved the day, they find the lost tadpole-now a tiny frog. They return the lost son to his family. The other tadpoles jump into the air in celebration only to change into frogs in mid-air, making rain tiny frogs onto our heroes.
Rare is the movie that ends where I have more questions than answers. But the one that will haunt me to my grave has to be, why does a Riverdance party need a DJ?
Riverdance begs the question: How much money does a person have to have before they glibly hand it over to a studio to finance and produce a children’s animated movie about Riverdance? Whatever the answer is, it’s too much.
Images courtesy of Netflix
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