Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Cinema File #51: "Ronal The Barbarian" Review

In one of the best years for animation in recent memory, perhaps it is too much to ask for a straight to DVD dubbed movie from the Netherlands to live up to the likes of Paranorman, Wreak It Ralph, or Rise of the Guardians. It doesn't, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot to like about Ronal The Barbarian. A CG send up of sword and sorcery movies with a heavy metal sensibility and a surprisingly adult tone, I found myself enjoying this movie much more than I thought I would.

Ronal The Barbarian follows the titular would be hero, a cowardly weakling among a tribe of muscle-bound warriors who just wants to do whatever he can to get out of the quests his people constantly venture out on. When they're kidnapped by a black knight, Ronal is thrust into an adventure right out of Dungeons and Dragons to claim a sacred sword and kill the bad guy before he can summon the beasts of Hell. Being an English dub of a foreign film, the mouth movements don't always fit the words just right, and it can get distracting from time to time, but if you can get past that, I found that it was otherwise very easy to get into.

I can't help but wonder how this will sell to an American audience that's used to this medium being strictly kid friendly fair. Ronal looks like what we would think of as a kids movie, but it isn't. Characters curse, a lot, ball sacks and boobs flopping around in flimsy garb are a running sight gag, and the bad guy successfully summons the Devil by harvesting the blood of our hero. But it all looks so cartoony. I found it refreshing personally, but I worry that some parents out there will see the goofy imagery on the cover and not look too closely at the rating or the content, and wind up sitting their kids in front of something they'll regret. Also, the state of Netherlands animation is evidently not quite up to modern American standards. The film isn't ugly by any means, but there's a stiffness to the movements of the characters that looks a bit dated next to modern movies we get here in the states.

Though it clearly feels like the people involved are well versed in the tropes of fantasy movies, as a fan of the genre being parodied, I must say I felt they could have done a lot more with this concept. A few more monsters and magic maybe. Also, some of the adult humor feels a bit over the top. There's a voodoo oracle that's just unnecessarily crass, and there's an extended sequence involving an invisibility lotion that had me laughing at first, but goes on a bit too long past the point where we got the joke. And if this were an American movie, I would swear they stole another scene from one of my favorite episodes of Futurama, with a clan of frisky Amazonians, but they don't really do anything with it to justify the new set piece.

The characters are all generally likable, with Ronal joined by a sex obsessed bard's apprentice, a warrior maiden on a mission, and an overly touchy Elven guide, all of whom fit well into the adventure and get their moments to shine by the end. The love interest of the main character has an interesting motivation in her need to constantly challenge men to fight to the death, needing to be defeated in battle before she can be married, and it weaves into the story in a satisfying if predictable way. The bard with the inexplicably southern accent and the vaguely effeminate stereotype Elf both started out a bit grating, but ultimately redeemed themselves, at least for me. The foul mouths of the characters and off color jokes, including a Barbarianess using her mighty boobs as a vice-like weapon, serve to mask a story that would otherwise be right out of Disney, with a young person learning to be confident and believe in himself. It's done well enough that I don't groan at the cliches, even if I expected a bit more twists from a foreign production.

Overall, Ronal The Barbarian was an entertaining way to spend a few hours that I didn't regret for a second, which is more than I can say for a lot of the movies I watch. It's not a classic movie that I'll go back to again and again, but its worth your time. I'd say on the line of animated films I've seen this year, its well below Wreck It Ralph and the great ones I mentioned earlier, but well above Brave and Frankenweenie, two animated films this year that failed to captivate me the way others have so easily. If you liked any of the movies I've brought up in this review, its a safe bet you'll find something in Ronal to enjoy.


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