Over the Labor Day weekend, The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure had the worst box office opening ever. According to The Wrap, The Oogieloves made $448,000 from 2,160 screens last Friday to Sunday. That’s an average of $207 per screen for a movie that cost an estimated $60 million.
My first thought: “Where did all that money go: felt?”
My second thought was: “I have to see this.”
I’m not a glutton for punishment. I’m just genuinely amazed when adults spend tens of millions of dollars on concepts that I know won’t work: Let’s make a romantic comedy based on a pregnancy guide! We need to remake Straw Dogs with James Marsden!
Or in the case of The Oogieloves: Let’s make an interactive children’s movie featuring three life-size puppets that resemble the offspring of the Phillie Phanatic and a circus clown! We will give them voices as soothing as a dentist’s drill! It’ll be huge!
Yesterday, I attended the 11:10 a.m. showing of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure at AMC Hamilton.
Here’s how I fared.
11:03 a.m.: As I enter the building, the ridiculousness of my endeavor hits me: I’m a 35-year-old bearded man with no children watching a kid’s movie on a weekday morning.
11:07 a.m.: The cashier doesn’t sense my discomfort. “Do you want a wand?” she asks cheerfully.
11:09 a.m.: Wand in hand, I get to the theater. It seats about 230. There are five other people—two women and three little girls—in attendance. I give them a two-row buffer zone. The women, presumably moms, scramble to recall if they saw any windowless vans in the parking lot.
11:20 a.m.: Our featured presentation begins. No one else has arrived, which begs the question: Why release a kids’ movie, even if it is from the creator of the Teletubbies, right before the school year starts for millions?
11:21 a.m.: Meet the Oogieloves! The green-tinged Goobie is the scientific one. Toofie, purple, is the adventurous one and sounds like a five-year-old who chain smokes. Zoozie, the lone girl, is fluent in every language.
They also introduce the movie’s concept. When we see butterflies, the audience is supposed to sing and dance along. When turtles appear, everyone sits down. Before letting loose, we should ask the “big person” with us if it’s OK.
That’s great for the kids, but who the hell am I supposed to ask?
11:25 a.m.: After a song, we’re whisked away to the Oogieloves home, LovelyLoveville. The film’s website describes LovelyLoveville “as a throwback to the 1950s, [where] all of its inhabitants support and bring out the best in each other.”
Ah, yes, that innocent time of segregated drinking fountains and stifling conformity.
11:27 a.m.: The Oogieloves live in a neat home featuring a talking window named, “Windy.” When prompted with the chant of “1 … 2 … 1 … 2 … 3, Windy Window what do you see?” the kindly pane offers a view of what’s outside.
The movie’s great skill is bombarding us with obnoxiously repetitive, hooky songs that will override any important knowledge. I no longer know my mother-in-law’s birthday but I can hum “The Oogielove Dance.”
11:30 a.m.: Windy spots J. Edgar, an animate vacuum, heading toward the Oogieloves’ abode. But, oh no! He loses the magic talking balloons for Schluufy, the gibberish-speaking pillow whose surprise party is being held that day.
11:33 a.m.: I cracked the wand, which produced a green glow, about 15 minutes ago. It may have produced something else. The plot kind of makes sense.
11:36 a.m.: After a sensible breakfast and strapping on their bicycle helmets, the trio sets off to retrieve the first of five balloons, which lands on the house shared by Dotty and her granddaughter, Jubilee. Jubilee loves squares and Dotty loves circles. Cloris Leachman, God bless her, plays Dotty like a drunker, older, shape-obsessed Blanche DuBois.
Jubilee is played by Kylie O’Brien. I’ll just say this: In about 12 years, scores of teenagers will be very confused about why they get aroused whenever they see a square.
11:45 a.m.: J. Edgar clearly has a thing for Windy. I spend some time figuring out how a relationship could possibly work between the two. The filmmakers really should have pursued that.
11:47 a.m.: The gang heads to Milky Marvin’s Milkshake Manor for the next balloon. As Milky Marvin, Chazz Palminteri punctuates his lines with short, breathy “oohs,” which makes it sound like he’s climaxing every two minutes. Insert inappropriate milkshake joke here.
11:52 a.m.: The kids in front of me have barely moved at this point. And the Oogieloves barely move their lips. It’s creepy.
11:55 a.m.: Rosalie Rosebud (Toni Braxton) has the next balloon. Braxton is actually amusing as the oblivious diva. Too bad no one will see this performance—or behold her crooning about “Scratchy Sneezy” as a band of three endomorphic puppets accompany her.
12:02 p.m.: I’m an hour into this thing, and it’s puzzling but not the worst thing I’ve seen this year. Then there’s this: I find myself singing along. “Goofy Toofie, pick up your pants!”
There goes my ATM code.
12:10 p.m.: Who plays Bobby Wobbly, the bubble-loving cowboy truck driver who has the fourth balloon? Cary Elwes, the hero of The Princess Bride, and my childhood’s answer to Errol Flynn.
12:12 p.m.: With his mouth agape and a constant wobble, Elwes gives a performance that is horrifying—and positively transfixing. It’s like watching Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs hosting a children’s show.
Here I have a revelation. Forget the Oogieloves, who are simultaneously bland (good manners are their superpowers, apparently) and obnoxious, or the illusionary plot. The reason The Oogieloves tanked is that it firmly resides in the valley of the bizarre. A talking vacuum cleaner that runs the household? Go ahead. A goldfish patterned after Don Rickles, only without the humor? Sure, make him the comic relief.
Those qualities are also why it’s kind of great.
After Elwes’s face-contorting, ass-slapping performance, I was hooked for the remaining 25 minutes. What else is there for you to enjoy: How about an offensive attempt to embrace diversity by casting Jaime Pressly (with an accent inspired by Ricky Ricardo) as a flamenco dancer who travels in a flying sombrero? Or what about those magic balloons appearing in an animated musical number that I can only guess were inspired by Terry Gilliam on cold medication? And Schluufy makes Eeyore look like a game show host. The pillow mumbles his responses, has no appendages, and sleeps until the afternoon. Finally, a nation has the depressed, amputee hero it has longed for.
But did the little ones, or at least the three whisked away on this dreary Wednesday, enjoy it? After all, that’s the intended audience. They were quiet for the most part. But then at the very end, the girls danced the way happy little girls do—jumping up and down, limbs flailing—and they continued as the credits rolled.
“What did you guys think?” I asked as we left the theater.
“They liked it,” one of the moms said, referring to the kids.
I’m glad someone did. Cynicism can wait.