CAST: Olivia Cooke, Kenneth Branagh, Laurie Holden, William Shatner, Maya Misaljevic, Ryan Garcia, Wilex Ly, Mara Junot, Scott Humphrey
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
BASICALLY…: In 1930s New York, a young woman (Cooke) disguises herself as a boy in order to become a firefighter…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Originally scheduled for a theatrical release back in February, until the fear of the Omicron variant wiped it off the schedule, Fireheart has now been dumped onto Sky Cinema as a rebranded “Sky Original”. Honestly, it was the right call since the animated film, in addition to not being particularly great, is an unexpectedly bizarre fever dream that would have seriously confounded moviegoers had this been released in cinemas, mostly for the numerous odd choices that sully its otherwise noble intentions.
Set in early 20th century New York, the film introduces us to a young woman named Georgia (voiced by Olivia Cooke), who all her life has dreamed of becoming a firefighter, despite her father Shawn (Kenneth Branagh), himself a former fireman, telling her that she can’t because she’s a woman. Georgia gets her chance when the city’s firefighters disappear at the hands of a mysterious arsonist, forcing Shawn to come out of retirement and lead a new team of firemen to combat the arsonist’s wrath on Broadway: disguising herself as a moustached young man named Joe, Georgia manages to get on Shawn’s ragtag team of inexperienced firefighters, and attempts to prove herself to her father as someone just as worthy as any man to take on the mantle.
On the surface, it’s a harmless empowerment story involving the very heroic act of firefighting, clearly inspired by the many women who have signed up to the role over the years, which is something great and even inspiring to highlight. However, it’s one of those films where, unless you’re a young child, you can very easily point out exactly where most of it is going from the very first few scenes; you know exactly what the morals are going to be, how certain characters are going to change by the end of it, and even who the real threat may be (despite the blatant red herrings it constantly throws your way). It is a very predictable movie, sticking close to the formula used by everything from Twelfth Night to Mulan, which all do more ambitious and interesting things with this kind of plot than Fireheart does in all its (mercifully quick) 80 minute runtime.
The film was made by L’Atelier Animation, the Quebec-based studio that’s perhaps best known for their wholesome hit film Ballerina (or Leap!, in the States), and while like that movie Fireheart doesn’t boast the best animation in the world, it’s not as though it’s as unpleasant or oft-putting as some of the far worse mainstream examples out there. There is a strong Looney Tunes cartoonish vibe to how some of the characters move, react to things, and even partake in slapstick, and at its most vibrant it can look very colourful; a lot is done with cosmic-like purple hues to create this very unique-looking fire and debris, like it’s suddenly popped out of a Marvel movie, which does at the very least make it interesting to look at.
However, when it goes weird, it does so pretty fast, to a point where you don’t have much time to even comprehend the logic behind most of it. The villain’s plot, once revealed, really doesn’t make that much sense and feels crammed in to match with the central empowerment theme, not to mention how unbelievably easy and quickly it’s resolved during the climax. There are side characters who have mostly little function throughout the movie until their abilities are most needed, and few of them are memorable enough to justify them even playing a part in any of this. Then, there’s some of the absolutely bizarre choices in voice acting; while Olivia Cooke manages to escape unscathed, you’ll have veterans like Kenneth Branagh and William Shatner (as the city’s mayor) speaking as though they’re just simply reading their lines off a teleprompter, while some of the more ethnic characters sound like they’re voiced by a white guy that’s putting on an exaggerated accent (which I know for a fact isn’t the case, but that’s still how it audibly comes across). Strangest of all, however, is a police chief who, for whatever reason, speaks every single one of his lines with a high-pitched tone that sounds like one of the Monty Python troupe whenever they play women, and it’s such a weird choice of voice acting that it makes things insufferable whenever this character shows up, which is unfortunately quite a bit.
So much time is spent trying to figure out what exactly the makers of this movie were on while they were crafting it, that you forget to actually view it as its own movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much movie to project across; it’s probably okay enough for very young kids, but don’t expect to be wowed or even that interested in what it’s trying to accomplish if you’re any older than the age of eight. Again, it was a good decision to shelve the theatrical release: streaming is where a forgettable movie like this belongs.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Fireheart is a forgettable family movie whose noble intentions and decent animation are unfortunately sullied by overly predictable writing, a plot that lacks cohesive logic, bizarre voice acting choices, and nothing to really stand out as even a middle-of-the-road view for anyone over a certain young age.