Friday 5 July 2019

"The Queen's Corgi" (Guardian 05/07/19)

The Queen’s Corgi **
Dirs: Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen. Animation with the voices of: Jack Whitehall, Julie Walters, Tom Courtenay, Sheridan Smith. 85 mins. Cert: U

Is this a sign of things to come? The premise of this animated screenfiller has been locally sourced: these are indeed the misadventures of one of Her Majesty’s pluckier and more resilient canine companions. Much of the action thus takes place in and around a functionally rendered Buckingham Palace, complete with photorealistic Liz-and-Phil (in Union Jack slippers). And yet a cursory glimpse at the credits reveal that most of the key creative personnel – headed by directors Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen – are unmistakably… Belgian. At risk of drifting towards protectionism, is there no-one on this side of the North Sea who could digitise a few poop gags for tuppence-ha’penny? Or would that bring the animators responsible perilously close to charges of treason?

Since 2008’s Fly Me to the Moon, Stassen’s Brussels-based nWave studio has generated cheap and cheerful product for harassed parents to make do with if the Pixar’s sold out. Corgi’s script, by Gnomeo & Juliet scribes Rob Sprackling and Johnny Smith, affords this team a handful of goofy ideas to play with. Protagonist Rex (voice: Jack Whitehall) is exiled after disgracing himself while resisting the aggressive advances of President Trump’s female corgi; on Poverty Row, he falls into an underground fight club overseen by a hulking mastiff inevitably called Tyson, and lent Ray Winstone’s booming tones. Upon the latest mirthless rehash of the rules of a now 20-year-old David Fincher film, you realise this is something like if the first Toy Story had referenced The Conversation or Harold and Maude.

That both developments raise the spectre of assault reflects the absence of that safety testing present in more sophisticated animations. Kesteloot and Stassen are too busy scrabbling for content – basically fine, largely indifferent, sometimes misjudged – to fill the gaps between frenetic setpieces. Any semi-original flourishes are outnumbered by secondhand bits of business: while a passing trans character strikes the eye as progressive, the accompanying “queen” joke dates from roughly 1973. Everything cancels itself out. The voice cast at least ensure the whole falls at the livelier end of tat: Winstone seems to be having fun in the recording booth, and there’s a certain novelty in hearing Prince Philip talk like Tom Courtenay. If they bother with a sequel, they should stick him in a Range Rover.

The Queen's Corgi opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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