Netflix’s Animal Crackers (2020) is the perfect school holiday snack

Netflix’s latest family-friendly offering is a movie which once again, unsurprisingly, has had a troubled path to the screen. Originally premiering at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 2017, it was due to be released first by Relativity Media, then Serafini Releasing and Entertainment Studios before eventually ending up with Netflix for a release some three years later. Usually, this might set off alarm bells but be assured it wasn’t the film itself which was the reason for the game of pass-the-parcel and, by holding the package when the music finally stopped, Netflix found themselves unwrapping something of a hidden gem. “Animal Crackers” is a super-cute animated movie, with a stellar cast and a fun central premise that just begs to be turned into an ongoing Saturday morning cartoon adventure series.

When Owen and Zoe Huntington unexpectedly inherit Owen’s father’s rundown circus, they find out they are also the owners of a magical box of biscuits which may be the key to saving the circus and keeping it out of the hands of their dastardly uncle Horatio Huntington.

Although it suffers a little from a meandering and muddled beginning as it sets out its stall, “Animal Crackers” really gets going once Zoe (Emily Blunt) decides to quit her father’s Dog Biscuit factory to work in the circus, against the wishes of Owen (John Krasinski) who’s spent his life trying to run away from the circus. There are shades of Willy Wonka and more than a dash of Tim Burton thanks to the kooky circus setting and the presence of Danny DeVito plus a garnish of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” too in a distracting and ultimately unnecessary side plot involving the development of dog biscuits which taste of human food. Although harmless, the side plot of the Dog Biscuit firm isn’t really needed by the film nor is the question of who will take over Zoe’s father’s business (as it’s clear that everyone we might care about doesn’t want it anyway) but it at least features plenty of slapstick silliness from ambitious executive Brock (Patrick Warburton) which younger kids will find endlessly amusing although older viewers may quickly tire of his repetitive antics – at least until he gets his backside out.

It’s much more fun, though, once the magical animal crackers come in to play. It’s such a delightful idea, not just in how it revitalises the circus but also in how it plays out to the film’s own internal logic, including the issue of broken biscuits. Fantasy is always more satisfying when the world that’s built has well-thought-out rules and here, every what if? question around the magic of the biscuits seems to have been anticipated and answered organically in the storytelling. There’s a tremendous build-up of fun and adventure as the box of crackers becomes increasingly sought after and fought over with some really well-designed action sequences under the big top. The animation is good and the character design is as quirky as you’d expect from Carter Goodrich, who did the character design for “Despicable Me” and you can’t really go wrong with a cast which includes the likes of SIr Ian McKellan, Tara Strong, Gilbert Gottfried, Wallace Shawn Harvey Fierstein, Raven-Symoné and Sylvester Stallone in an inspired Groot-style performance as ‘Bullet Man’.

It’s a more than pleasant way to spend 100 minutes and while it may not be as iconic as the many movies it draws inspiration from, it’s one that will definitely stand up to the repeated viewings that your kids will likely demand (mine have already watched it twice) during these long school holiday staycations, which I guess is exactly what Netflix were hoping for.