Review: Around the World in 80 Days is a mediocre animated movie

Around the World in 80 Days (PG, 82 minutes)

2 stars

Some titles have become more familiar from screen adaptations then from the original novels. Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days might be in that company now: unlike, say, Jane Austen's books which hold their own despite multiple adaptations, Verne's books seem to have faded somewhat, at least in Anglophone popular culture.

Phileas, left and Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days. Picture: StudioCanal

Phileas, left and Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days. Picture: StudioCanal

That's not to say the idea of a round-the-world adventure doesn't spark the imagination. Verne's book had had many versions on both film and TV, notably the cameo-laden but somewhat lumbering 1956 Oscar-winner.

It's not surprising, then, that yet another version of Verne's story has come to the cinema.

This time, it's an English-language version of a Belgian-French animated co-production (there are no distracting lip-sync issues). The Anglophone cast is made up of voice actors rather than movie or TV stars cast for their perceived name value.

Animals take the place of humans here but the basic idea - of the adventures to be had while circumnavigating the glove on a bet within a specified period - obviously retains its appeal and remains intact.

In a small coastal town, young marmoset Passepartout (Cory Doran) lives with his overprotective mother (Shoshana Sperling) and dreams of becoming an explorer like his hero Juan Frog De Leon, whose book he reads obsessively and who circumnavigated the globe in 90 days.

When Passepartout is allowed to go outside, he is bullied by a bunch of crustaceans, especially Herman (Brandon McGibbon), who runs a daily bet on how long it will take for him to make the young monkey cry.

His life is changed when a frog surfs into town. Phileas (Rob Tinkler) - Phileas Frog, geddit? - in his short shorts, thongs and Hawaiian shirt is a charismatic smooth talker but there's something a little dodgy about him. Agent Fix (Heather Bambrick), a gerbil who polices the town, certainly has her suspicions about him.

Soon enough, the bet is made and the adventure begins, though Phileas initially attempts to ditch Passepartout.

They travel through exotic locations - deserts, jungles - with their encounters including bikie scorpions and the princess Aouda (Katie Griffin) - an aerial adventurer - along the way.

And they take and send "shellfies" along the way to prove they've travelled to various locations.

Meanwhile, Fix is in hot pursuit - Phileas is suspected of a bank heist - and never seems to be far behind.

This film is Samuel Tourneux's feature directorial debut after a bunch of shorts and perhaps his inexperience is to blame for some of the problems. Granted the story is episodic by nature, but the pacing is clunky: the story takes a long time to get going and some sequences are laboured while others whiz along.

The character design here is fun, with the contrasting looks and movements of the characters well contrasted, with many different species in the mix.

Effects such as water and fire are less impressive, rendered in a blobby style that looks old-fashioned and lazy now - the state of the art in animation has changed and expectations are higher.

There's a certain level of self-awareness here - the cliched idea of a final dance sequence is raised, and sure enough, it happens - and there are some amusing moments in the dialogue, with some inventive use of words in place of naughty ones.

But there's not enough of this cleverness and no great heart to the film. The bonding of Phileas and Passepartout isn't terribly convincing and a late encounter between the frog and his father isn't especially moving: it, like much of what happens, just seems to delay the ending.

In fairness, the small children in the Dendy cinema in which I saw Around the World in 80 Days were quiet throughout. One father and daughter I spoke to afterwards said they both enjoyed it.

Perhaps this is the best audience for the film: the kids can enjoy the colour and action and the parents can smile at some of the gags - visual and verbal - aimed at them.

This story Animated adventure doesn't go far first appeared on The Canberra Times.