The Film With Many Titles Succeeds on Many Levels
In the event that you never heard of All Creatures Big and Small; there’s a good possibility that’s because this film goes by a lot of different names. Sometimes it depends on where you happen to be in the world. Other times even that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s also known as Ooops! Noah is Gone, other times it’s titled Two by Two, and even at times Ooops the Ark has Gone. Regardless of what the cover says, all these titles lead back to the 2015 German-Belgian-Luxembourg-Irish 3D computer-animated adventure that takes the classic Biblical tale of Noah’s Ark and tells it with a comedic twist from the perspective of the animals involved.
In theme and delivery, the piece feels a bit like the Ice Age series from Blue Sky- with the antics of small fuzzy animals playing against the contrast of larger more underlying themes of doom and extinction. However, while the Ice Ages seem to rely heavily upon slapstick and visual humor, All Creatures Big and Small contains a surprising deal of layered humor. Kids will laugh at the visual gags, complete with cuddly main characters and some beautifully done action sequences but adults tuning in may find a bit to enjoy as well; especially by the end when the film manages to tie up some potential loose ends brilliantly.
The story centers on a pair of nestrians, a partially fictitious species of animal (rumored to have been inspired by a very real rare aquatic sea slug called Glaucus Atlanticus) who are summoned to report to a meeting concerning all the animals of the world. There they receive word that am impending flood approaches and only those animals selected for passage upon the ark stand a chance for salvation. It should be noted that not unlike staple entries to the genre from Pixar A Bug’s Life and Cars, not a single human makes an appearance in this film. Noah, in fact, is referenced only by name.
Discovering that they are not on the invite-only list for Ark passage, father nestrian Dave disguises he and son Finny to look like grymps; small solitary cat-like creatures that do indeed make the grade for board-age. Should be a simple cruise until the floodwaters retreat except for one minor snag: young nestrian, Finny, and the young grymp, Leah, soon find themselves outside the Ark’s deck when the flood arrives. From here the film focuses on Finny and Leah’s attempts to survive the rising waters in hopes that the Ark will come back for them while their parents do everything they can to convince the ship’s animal crew to turn the vessel around for their children.
The visuals and animation cycles here are fantastic with a nice vivid color pallet, crisp editing and character models that manage to look remarkably similar to the real-life animals they are replicating without ever losing the cartoony base. Critics the world over seem to find fault with the look of the film but it’s clear many of them have never worked in animation or the CG medium. Textures of fur and plant, water and droplets are all first-rate here from the first frame to the last. Lighting too is spot on- and some of the luminescence effects under water give up nothing to Pixar’s much celebrated firefly effect from The Good Dinosaur.
Pacing too is excellent with neither scenes that drag on unnecessarily long nor moments that feel as if they were added as filler to hit the correct run-time. Rather, every single sequence in the film comes off as a catalyst to advance the story.
Voice acting is also delightful- many of the jokes work off the dynamic of character interaction and the cast of actors here show seasoning and excellent timing as almost all of the humor contained within hits its mark.
It’s not entirely clear to me why the film manages to receive as many poor reviews from critics as it does. Regardless of whether viewing it for its technical merit, narrative, originality or entertainment value, the piece does a lot of things right.
The core themes of friendship sprouting up from unlikely duos, the awe-demanding power of nature, and even the absolutely brilliant reason not all animals were selected to board proves that no part of the screenplay was left to chance.
This is one of those rare moments where my best advice would be to ignore the critics, skeptics haters and naysayers and give this one a chance. Just remember you may have to do a little research first to find out what it’s called in your area.