Monday, July 29, 2013

Famous Flops: The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

This is the latest in my monthly series Famous Flops, in which I watch one movie per month that is noted for how terrible or how unsuccessful it was, then write about it here.

Okay. Whew.

Having reached an undignified low last month when I actually sorta liked The Hottie and the Nottie, I grabbed hold of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure for dear life, hoping beyond hope that I would not like it.

Indeed, I didn't like it. Whew.

However, I do have to say one thing about it: If The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure were just a dumb television show, it would hardly warrant a mention outside the children's TV circuit. By having the gall to release itself theatrically -- and thereby accruing the lowest U.S. box office opening weekend for a movie opening on more than 2,000 screens, just $448,000 and change -- The Oogieloves reached for a place in movie infamy history.

Yes, this movie is bad, but it's probably not sufficiently ridiculous to be far worse than some other entertainment aimed at very young children. It's the fact that it thinks so much more of itself that makes it such a misfire. You can really tell that the creators of The Oogieloves thought they were launching a phenomenon, and they simply weren't.

One of the pieces of hubris of which they are guilty is that they thought they were going to create an interactive movie experience that would become addictive to children. This nominal "adventure," carried out by three Barney-like creatures named Goobie, Zoozie and Toofie, is punctuated by a series of songs and dances that are supposed to bring children in the audience to their feet. At the start of the movie, the Oogieloves explain that any time the butterflies fly across the screen (and there's a message they may not be able to read that says "It's time to get out of your seats!"), they should stand up to sing and dance with the Oogieloves. When a handful of turtles cross the screen ("It's okay to sit down now"), the song and dance portion is over for now.

I guess you can't blame them for trying, yet we do anyway. It takes a certain amount of ego to say that you're going to love what we're offering you so much, you'll want to get up out of your seats and dance. Things like that tend to spring up organically -- say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- so when someone tries to make them happen artificially, that person seems a bit too proud of him/herself. However, you'd be right to ask how they're supposed to create this interactive experience, if not by weaving it into the fabric of the movie. Guess it's kind of a catch-22.

Anyway, kids didn't go for it. If they had, their parents would have told other parents, and the movie would have made more than $206 per screen.

The deck was stacked against this movie with parents from the start. After all, with their felt costumes and their dopey eyes, the characters do resemble Barney more than they resemble anything else in the children's landscape. Barney is an oddity -- he's a smashing success, despite the fact that almost any adult you talk to will say they hate him. That kind of thing doesn't come along every day, and one look at the Oogieloves made most parents say "Uh uh. Not again."

So far I've been talking mostly about things I could have gleaned without even watching the movie. So, how about some actual stuff from the plot?

It's goofy as hell from the start, but "goofy" is too amiable a word, not nearly insulting enough. It appears that the Oogieloves are throwing a birthday party for their friend, Schluufy, who is a very sleepy pillow. In fact, Schluufy spends almost the entire movie sleeping, which doesn't do much to make us worried whether his pals can reclaim five lost golden balloons that they mean to bring to his party. The Oogies leave Oogie headquarters (or whatever it is) to go find the balloons. Staying back home is their friend, a vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar. (Hoover, get it?) J. Edgar watches what's going on because the window in their HQ, called Windy Window, can magically show him what the Oogies are doing at any given time. Windy Window is a human face looking not unlike the Wizard of Oz, except she's a woman with a Southern accent.

Still with me?

So the Oogies go out and meet a variety of human characters played by the likes of Chazz Palminteri, Cloris Leachman, Cary Elwes, Toni Braxton, Jaime Pressly and Christopher Lloyd. Each character they meet (Pressly and Lloyd are in the same scene) must help them get back one of the balloons, which have followed a particularly unusual diaspora for having all presumably been released from the same person's hands. (Or the same vacuum cleaner's hands -- I believe it was J. Edgar who lost them.) Each time they must engage in a song and dance, before ultimately doing what they need to do to collect the balloon. There are also dance routines that recur, like the Oogies' special Oogielove chant whenever they have a success, and the little song they sing to the belt-less Toofie every time he drops his pants, which is a lot.

Still with me?

The human actors are perhaps the only thing to even remotely recommend this movie, and only a couple of them. It would be fair to say that each actor pours his or her all into the various roles, so that's one thing. Braxton gets some laughs as a loopy songstress, Palminteri is sort of sublime as a man in a diner serving milkshakes with animatronic cows, and Pressly and Lloyd do their best as Mexican dancers. The most annoying human character is Elwes as a cowboy named Bobbly Wobbly, whose thing is that he wobbles when he walks. While many of the others seem like they might be winking at the camera, Elwes is just mugging, and it grates in no time.

There were a few times when I was watching when I wondered if there weren't something subversive going on here, if this weren't the biggest parody ever pulled off with a completely straight face. Ultimately, though, I decided that really terrible movies have a way of seeming like they were intentional, simply because the decisions are so bad that you have to wonder how someone with money approved them. So I dropped the theory that The Oogieloves might be a massive joke, and just settled on the most obvious interpretation of its quality.  

This is about all anyone needs to write about this movie, so I will stop now.

I'm cheating in August. Oh, it's a big flop alright, enough of a flop to have become sort of a success: It's Tommy Wiseau's The Room, which has become sort of the heir apparent to the aforementioned Rocky Horror Picture Show. The cheating part? I've already seen it. I just watched it at a midnight show last night, meaning a couple days before the beginning of August. But they, I'm moving to Australia in just over three weeks, so you'll forgive me if I have to engage in a little bit of cheating.