Great Pink Rhino, Endangered Species
"Death to Smoochy" aims to be a dark comedy about children's television, a biting satire behind the scenes full of commercialism and secret dealings. And in many ways it is as we have presenters taking back handers, producers more worried about the merchandise, agents trying to get their cut as well as various mob bosses who have their finger in the pie. But the trouble is that whilst "Death to Smoochy" is laugh a minute it is not dark or biting enough and so never really feels like it is ripping into children's television. Having said that the performances, the jokes, the costumes, songs and characters are all brilliant and even if it doesn't go for the jugular it will have you laughing from start to finish.
Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams - Bicentennial Man) is the number one children's entertainer, so much so that parents will pay to have their children on the show. But thanks to an FBI sting Randolph's career is over when they expose him for taking back handers and so in desperate need of a new kids presenter, producer Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) finds Sheldon Mopes aka Smoochy the Rhino (Edward Norton - The Score) and offers him the gig. Soon Smoochy is the number one children's show but unlike everyone else in the industry Sheldon is not after money but believes in being nice and doing the right thing, a little bit too naively as various people come out of the wood work wanting their slice of Rhino. And there is still Randolph who having been left without anything blames Sheldon for his demise and vows to get his revenge.
Now what "Death to Smoochy" tries to be is a dark comedy about behind the scenes of children's television and with us having a mauve rhino in Smoochy it is obvious that it is trying to have fun at the expense of Barney. Now in fairness the story is good from Rainbow Randolph being exposed in a sting, losing everything in the process to Sheldon Mopes being a naive good guy who doesn't realise he is being used. It is full of fun ideas from dodgy agents and producers just trying to get their cut from the commercial prospects of Smoochy to the way Randolph becomes more and more crazed in trying to get his revenge, be it through penis shaped cookies or tricking Sheldon into appearing at a Nazi rally. The trouble is that whilst it's good with a lot of fun ideas it never really takes a bite out of children's television as you would expect from a dark satire.
Now in fairness there is plenty of good dark humour but in a strange way because there is also so much fun that the dark humour ends up being over powered. It's impossible not to love the naivety of Sheldon, from him fetching a Frisbee that someone throws at him in anger to being a friend to the Irish mob and seeming shocked when he hears what they do. But then you love just as much the manic Rainbow Randolph as he tries to ruin Sheldon's career and when he plants penis shaped cookies on the Smoochy show it is impossible not too laugh. And that is the thing, everything about "Death to Smoochy" is simply too much fun and so the darkness of it ends up being over powered.
Now there are a lot of brilliant characters and performances in "Death to Smoochy" from Catherine Keener as producer Nora who has a thing for kiddie entertainers to Pam Ferris as big busted Tommy Cotter the Irish mob boss. But in truth whilst all the characters and performances make you smile it is Robin Williams and Edward Norton who make it so much fun. Williams sense of manic entertainment is brilliant as he becomes more and more obsessed in trying to get his revenge whilst Norton makes Sheldon like a child who has never grown up, innocent, naive and over enthusiastic. Every single scene that features either Williams or Norton is full of laughs and it means the whole movie is cram packed with so laugh after laugh.
What this all boils down to is that as a dark comedy "Death to Smoochy" doesn't quite work because whilst satirizing the children's entertainment industry is not biting enough. But then it is so much fun that from start to finish you will have a huge smile on your face and aching from laughter thanks to the brilliance of Williams and Norton.