No Turning Back (2019) – No, Turn Back!
Released: 7th November
Seen: 27th November
So, this year has been kind of bad for animated films, at least in my experience it has. Maybe I’m unique because I’m the idiot who went to see Flying the Nest, Cats, Here Comes The Grump and Wonder Park all in the same year but it feels like there just aren’t really that many great kids films this year. Sure, Toy Story 4 was really good, Missing Link was amazing (though seriously slept on by most audiences) and there were some bright spots but most of the animated films I’ve seen this year have been on the bad side. It’s almost a respite from the badness that Arctic Justice (AKA Arctic Dogs, AKA Polar Squad AKA “Look, if we keep changing the name then eventually people might think we’re actually worthy of getting their ticket money”) is just stupid and boring instead of just outright hateful towards its audience.
Arctic Justice follows Swifty (Jeremy Renner), an Arctic Fox who works in the mailroom of a small-town post office and has an unhealthy obsession with the dogs who deliver the packages, in particular the main dog Duke (Michael Madsen) who Swifty obsesses over so much that I’m kind of stunned he never talks about his obvious desire to wear Duke’s skin and pretend to be him. Due to circumstances that are stupid and involve evil Puffins, all the Huskies don’t turn up to work one day so it’s up to Swifty to deliver the mail and save the day. While he’s out delivering, he happens to deliver a package to a walrus named Otto Van Walrus (John Cleese) who happens to live in an evil lair with evil puffins and has a giant drill that Swifty sees and thinks nothing of, until more people go missing and an evil plan is revealed that involves global warming, a giant drill, gas deposits and evil Puffins. I can’t stress enough that there are evil Puffins in this movie and that should be the funniest thing on the planet but it isn’t.
There’s nothing funny on this planet. Nothing, zero, nada. No jokes that work at any point. If I’m honest, the one time I think I laughed was when they clearly tried to make a joke, it fell completely flat and I laughed at their incompetence. The only member of this entire cast who is actually trying to do something funny is, naturally, John Cleese. When John Cleese can’t make your material work, you’ve written a bad script and you don’t get to do any more comedy! That’s the law, that’s a law that I just made. When John Cleese is unable to make a joke work, can you imagine how badly everyone else fails? Everyone just sounds like they’re desperate to get this done, like they caught Alec Baldwin with a spare 40 minutes before he had to do an SNL gig and they only got a single take for every one of his lines. It’d be amazing if they weren’t trying, but judging by the actual animation I think someone is actually trying.
The actual animation isn’t as horrific as I expected. It’s not even close to what one would consider good, but at least everything here is distinct enough that it’s got something going for it. I can at least see where there’s some design ideas, some potential. Keep in mind, my low bar is pretty low at this point (Thanks Flying the Nest and Cats) so basically competent feels like a gift. I can look at the screen without wondering how this got put in a cinema and without going “I know first-year animation students who could do better than this”, that’s a step up… third-year animation students could do better than this, but still. I didn’t want to stab my eyes out, we’re going to call that a compliment because it’s the best that this film is going to get out of me.
I genuinely do wonder if this film was secretly a The Producers-style scam where they intentionally made a film that was so bad that they could run away with the budget. That has to explain it because I’m not sure where the $50million dollar budget went. I mean, I know the actors probably cost a fair amount but there’s no way you spent all that money on this cast. This cast that clearly didn’t care that much or do more than a single take. You know your casting isn’t going well when you need to get Heidi Klum to do two voice roles. Seriously, Heidi Klum, someone whose IMDB page is 95% “As Herself”, plays two roles in this film. It’s just a shockingly bad performance by every cast member, and considering the calibre of cast… seriously, I think a few producers took a million dollars and ran to Rio.
While the producers were in Rio, they probably got to experience some global warming and called back to forcibly work that message into this film. Here’s the thing, I’ve got literally no problem with political messages being put in art (the fact I am calling THIS art is disturbing to me) and a message about global warming is a good one because we need to do something about the whole “The planet is on fire and it’s getting worse” thing. I’m all in on a good animated film pushing a message about global warming… operative word being GOOD. This film is not good and doesn’t handle the message well. It certainly tries, pointing out that global warming will cause the polar ice caps to melt which means everyone is very dead but instead of pinning the blame on its actual source (rampant capitalism that drives noted shit-eaters like Bob Murray to dig up coal and put toxic substances in the air), it’s all because of an evil British walrus and his evil puffins who did it because everyone ignored his genius and he wants revenge. It’s stupid, it’s not funny and it says nothing of importance. Hell, Ferngully was better at this and the only thing Ferngully is remembered for is getting Tim Curry to make everyone want to have sex with smog.
Arctic Justice is, purely and simply, bad on every front. There is nothing here that’s worthy of your time. Its animation is just barely acceptable, the voice acting feels like everyone just wanted to get this over with and the script is so bland that I’m confident it was printed in an off white font just to match how dull it all is. It’s not even offensively bad, that would mean I felt something other than the strong desire to recline in my seat and take a nap.