Sunday, June 14, 2015

5Q Movie Review: "The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown"

Q: Is this just for kids, or can grown-ups enjoy it, too?
A: Well, I'm a grown-up--more or less--and I enjoyed it! I haven't shared it with my kids yet, but I think the question may be more, "Will kids enjoy it as much as the grown-ups?" Sadly, the Flintstones may not be relevant to today's youth. I do realize it is partly my generation's responsibility to rectify that situation. With that in mind, if my kids don't like it, then I'll show them the classic episodes, and by cracky, they'll like those if they know what's good for them.

It's entirely appropriate for kids, at least, though there are some PG elements like some cartoony violence, Fred drooling over the animated equivalents of the Bella Twins, and Fred drooling over Wilma showing off a new bikini (Good Lord, I hope that last statement doesn't actually sell more copies of the DVD). Also, a few touches like a character meant as a Phil Silvers homage will make the adults smile and go over the kiddies' heads...unless their folks are doing the right thing and showing them Phil Silvers' work  as part of a healthy balanced television diet.

Q: Does it FEEL like the Flintstones?
A: It feels enough like the classic version of the show to me. I give the franchise a little slack here; after all, there was not only the original prime-time series, but there were the Fruity Pebbles ads, the Fred and Barney Comedy Hour, and all kinds of revivals. "Stone Age Smackdown" fits in nicely with all of these versions, and it does capture the spirit of the one that started it all. We get names like John Cenastone, animals performing mechanical tasks, and the modern streamlined animation manages to make Bedrock look fine. It's not like Hanna Barbera's television department was known for its lush visual masterpieces, anyway.

The voice work has varying success. I thought Wilma and Betty were fine, but Barney was off to me. Again, even Mel Blanc used several voices as Barney in the original run, so there's not necessarily one sound the character "should" have, but I didn't care for this portrayal, which seemed a little closer to Blanc's early higher version that the later one that I consider MY classic one. As Mr. Slate, John O'Hurley doesn't do anything wrong, but his voice and persona are too established, and it's distracting.

As Fred, though, Jeff Bergman is outstanding, summoning the original flavor of Alan Reed's portrayal. He doesn't just do an imitation, but does subtle things with the way he does the character. This more than any one thing makes this movie "feel" like the Flintstones.

Q: Does it FEEL like the WWE?
A: Let me put it this way: Fred actually uses the term "sports entertainment" at one point, and, yes, even in a cartoon it irritates me to see Vince McMahon's corporate buzzword replace the word "wrestling." The in-ring action itself is tame and nowhere near as exciting as you'll see on the average WWE pay per view, but it gets the job done.

Fred is an amateurish promoter, but he does have some good instincts. I was stunned to see "Vince McMagma," in this story, as a businessman who basically takes Fred's idea for "sports entertainment" and is inspired to run with it. This has to be the only time Vince McMahon has ever not taken credit for inventing modern wrestling, and it's stunning to see even in this format!

The weirdest thing here is that on the "heel" side of the WWE guest list, we only get Mark Henry and CM Punk. Punk is no longer with the country, and Henry was a bigger deal when this was produced but doesn't have much to do here. Punk is fun as the bullying villain of the story, but it would have been nice to see someone else on that side of things to balance John Cena, Undertaker (semi-retired), and Rey Mysterio (also no longer with WWE). The Bella Twins have heelish interactions with Wilma and Betty (I hope THAT doesn't sell a few DVDs), but they don't really wrestle.

The characterizations are fine, though, with the real-life wrestlers bringing exactly what you would want/expect them to bring. I really enjoyed Vince McMahon as Vince McMagma, and I thought he was underutilized.

Q: How in the world do they manage a WWE/Flintstones crossover? Time Travel?
A: I always welcome time travel in cartoons, but in this case, it's not really John Cena and CM Punk interacting with the Flintstones. It's John Cenastone and CM Punkrock. They and the other characters just happen to remind us of current WWE performers.

Fred and Barney are running a charity scam--uh, a charity event enabling people to box with Hoppy, and once CM Punkrock starts beating up the poor hopparoo, owner Barney comes to his rescue, things get physical in the ring, and things go from there. Betty isn't happy about Barney getting in the ring, but Fred sees dollar signs and promotes a wrestling event featuring friends like new co-worker Cenastone and people like The Undertaker. Yes, his character is so protected, he doesn't even get a stone-aged name makeover.

Q: So, bottom line, is it worth it?
A: I laughed out loud several times and enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, but I'm in the target audience that would be open to this kind of stunt. I think fans of Flintstones AND modern-day WWE will love this, but they should look for a deal. The feature is only about 50 minutes long. I haven't seen the Scooby-Doo/WWE crossover movie (though after seeing how good this one is, I want to do so), but that one is long enough to be a legit animated feature.

The DVD is filled out with two classic TV episodes--one wrestling-themed, the other baseball-themed. I'm not sure why they include the latter. Perhaps an episode with Wilma's mother-in-law would be more appropriate; she's a bigger heel then even CM Punkrock at his nastiest. It's nice Warner Brothers added these, but the DVD still feels a tad slight.

Still, "Stone Age Smackdown" is a lot of fun, providing family-friendly entertainment in the vein of the original series and adding elements of modern-day WWE-style pro wrestling. If that sounds appealing, you ought to give it a shot.

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