CAST: Adam DeVine, Rachel Bloom, Zazie Beetz, Ken Jeong, Jim Jefferies, Catherine O’Hara, Reggie Watts, Alex Borstein, Steve Aoki, Jason Hightower, David Silverman, Benedict Wong, Nick Frost, Tom Hollander, Henry Winkler, Richard Kind
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins
BASICALLY…: A pair of rare “Flummels” (DeVine and Bloom) learn that their species is destined for extinction…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Who would’ve thought that an animated movie about two donut-shaped animals travelling through time via magical flowers to prevent their species from going extinct would turn out to be so weird?
I’ll give Extinct some credit for embracing its surreal concept as much as it can, but it’s still a very strange thing to behold, even for young kids who might be equally as perplexed by its awkward weirdness as any older viewers.
We begin this very odd story in 1835, on an island in the Galápagos that is home to an ancient species known as “Flummels”, which are basically small furry creatures with giant holes in the middle of their bodies. Two such Flummels, Op (Rachel Bloom) and Ed (Adam DeVine), are siblings who struggle to fit in with the rest of their tribe, but when they come across a mysterious flower they are suddenly transported to modern-day Shanghai – did I mention that this was also a Chinese co-production? – where they learn that Flummels have gone extinct from a volcano eruption. Op and Ed must now travel to different points in time in order to save their species from the volcano, and they are helped along the way by Clarence (Ken Jeong), a small dog that belonged to missing scientist Dr. Chung (Benedict Wong) who first discovered the flower’s time-travelling capabilities, and a group of fellow extinct animals including dodo Dottie (Zazie Beetz), Tasmanian tiger Burnie (Jim Jeffries), an Macrauchenia named Alma (Catherine O’Hara) and Hoss the Triceratops (Reggie Watts).
Concept aside – and if you can make sense of its wacky plot, then give yourself a good pat on the back – Extinct is a confounding watch, because it certainly contains a lot of expected kids’ movie tropes, from the modern lingo (even in 1835, where this isolated community of Flummels even has a DJ which, of course, is styled after and even voiced by Steve Aoki) to the out-of-place movie references, including one that ties back to North by Northwest of all things, but there’s something a little off about its execution. Director David Silverman has worked on plenty of high-profile animated projects in the past, including The Simpsons Movie and Monsters, Inc. (which he co-directed), but here you can clearly tell that while he manages to get the voice acting and gag rate to function at a normal-ish speed, a lot of other areas feel unbalanced. For example, the sound design will often be absent in a number of montages as our heroes travel to different places in time, while the musical score sometimes feels like music you’d hear in an elevator, even during some high-energy action sequences. It makes the film so awkward to watch, even though you can clearly tell that Silverman and a lot of the voice cast aren’t exactly phoning it in.
Neither are the animators, because while it’s obviously nowhere near the level of Pixar or one of the other high-end studios, the animation in this isn’t bad. You can clearly make out the textures on some of these animals, and while their designs are certainly cartoonish they’re not horribly rendered either; the Flummels themselves are surprisingly complex designs, especially when it comes to getting things in the background to show through their holes while the characters themselves are standing in the foreground, so much so that half the time you’re focused way more on what you can see through said holes than what they’re actually talking about. Again, it’s not the most sophisticated animation in the world, but at the same time there are far, far worse examples than this (apparently, there was a Bobbleheads animated movie released late last year, and there’s a very good reason as to why that went completely under everyone’s radar).
However, a movie can look fine and still be very hard to cipher from a conceptual point of view. Again, props to the writers and animators for deciding to go as weird as they realistically could with the (presumably) limited budget they were working with, but at the end of the day you’re still left with a rather awkward and weird movie that often feels extremely random – character motivations and even entire romances will pop up out of nowhere – and not nearly as funny as it could have been (though there are a few times where I did let out a big laugh, just from the unexpectedness of certain things). Kids will probably like it okay, but even they might be somewhat taken aback by the crazy plotting which can get rather convoluted, especially with the whole time-travel concept. For some adults, I can honestly see this as being something that they watch after getting super-high first, because there’s enough weirdness on display here that a few bong hits might help the viewing experience.
While it’s not entirely DOA, Extinct is too far gone to be anything other than endangered at the very least.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Extinct is a weird and awkward family animated adventure which admirably embraces its surreal plot, but doesn’t give enough humour, heart or logic to work as well as it wants to.