As the resident movie guy at the Marquette Tribune, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy, insane and just plain embarrassing films. I’ve seen both Justin Bieber and Katy Perry’s 3-D concert movies – and tried to enjoy them. I watched “Rubber,” a movie about a killer tire named Robert that blows up its enemies’ heads with telekinetic powers. I even stomached “The Human Centipede 2.”
Throughout all my years of watching movies, however, I have never been a part of a cinematic experience as deranged and as bizarrely nonsensical as “The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure.”
For those who haven’t heard of the movie (i.e. most of America), “The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure” is a children’s film from the American creators of “The Teletubbies.” Despite a marketing budget rumored around $40 million, the movie hit theaters with a legendary thud, becoming one of the worst nationwide openings in Hollywood history. According to Box Office Mojo, its opening weekend gross equals out to fewer than two people a showing.
Kenn Viselman, the movie’s producer, deserves recognition for his noble attempts to spin the box office results into a positive, noting that it could “pay off in the long run” (Viselman still wants to make a TV show and sequel). I never thought I’d see someone take the plan from “The Producers” as a legitimate business strategy.
Though I doubt the fail-so-hard-that-you-succeed strategy will be a pitch we’ll see more often, it has drummed up a good amount of curiosity for “The Oogieloves.” Does it really merit the legacy of being one of the biggest flops in Hollywood’s history? Do audiences have another “The Room” on their hands – a film that’s so awful, it’s brilliant?
After a few dares – as well as a steady diet of Fruit by the Foot and Capri Suns to get myself in the correct mindset – I set off to see “The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure.” I got my ticket (which also came with a butterfly-shaped glow stick for maximum embarrassment), bought some gummy worms and sat myself down.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, I was the only one in the theater. Though on second thought, maybe I should be happy since the presence of a lone scruffy-bearded man wearing a hoodie in “Oogieloves” could have led to me being asked to leave the theater. I know this is a legitimate possibility as well since during my Saturday afternoon shift working at the theater, a parent asked me to keep an eye on a lone, probably very confused elderly man in their showing.
As the movie begins, we are introduced to the Oogieloves, three terrifyingly oversized costumed characters named Goobie, Zoozie and Toofie. I think they’re supposed to be charming, but their freakish eyes gave me nightmarish flashbacks to “Child’s Play.”
They also have friends, including a window with a Southern accent named Windy and a man-sized vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar. Due to reasons of being completely alone, I didn’t get to ask any children if they got the reference to the first director of the FBI, but I’m assuming the answer would be no.
The Oogieloves play several intro songs – one about themselves, another about pancakes – to get the audience into the spirit of things. The movie strongly encourages dancing (as long as you ask “the big person” you came with if it’s OK): sparkly butterflies float across the screen to symbolize the start of a dance number, and crawling turtles mean it’s time to stop. I did not need these messages, as I greeted each number with grim apathy, pushing my glow stick into my head to hopefully de-numb my brain.
The story starts when J. Edgar loses five magical balloons meant for Schluufy the Pillow’s birthday. The Oogieloves, as well as their grumpy, manic depressive fish Ruffy, go on an epic quest across Lovelyloveville (real name) for the balloons, each located in a different place with a different celebrity cameo and accompanying song number. Each balloon, when retrieved, grows a face. It’s creepy.
One balloon ends up on top of a tree occupied by Cloris Leachman and her overly cheerful daughter who keeps calling the Oogieloves “square.” I don’t think she knows what “square” means, though, since she seems to mean it as a compliment. At the end of this segment, goofy Toofie’s pants fall down. This happens five times in the movie as part of an overarching lesson about wearing belts.
The characters move on to find more balloons scattered about Lovelyloveville (again … seriously?). One balloon winds up in a milkshake shop run by “The Usual Suspects’s” Chazz Palminteri and a talking cow; another gets stuck on an airplane owned by the rose-loving pop star Rosalie Rosebud (a whispy-voiced Toni Braxton), who is also tragically allergic to roses. There’s potential for a Shakespearean tragedy involving her love for the sneeze-inducing flowers. Perhaps they’ll use that for the sequel.
There are two final stops on our big balloon adventure. One involves a bubble-loving cowboy Cary Elwes who can’t stop wobbling and looking like a demented caricature of George W. Bush. It’s sad that the actor who once played Westley in “The Princess Bride” thought this was a good role. This performance should be shown in acting classes as a cautionary tale.
The last pair of cameos come in the form of Jaime Pressly and Christopher Lloyd as a salsa-dancing couple who live on a flying sombrero. This is actually one of the more enjoyable parts of the entire film, especially because the grumpy fish – the most normal member of the cast – is given more screen time.
The Oogieloves wrangle together the five balloons, and Schluufy’s birthday party is a wild success. Then the credits hit, which was my cue to sprint out of the theater, ineffectively hiding my face with my glow stick.
So does “The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure” deserve the notoriety of being one of the worst movies of all time? Frankly, I’m not sure.
True, the economic thinking behind the film is awful. Why release a kid’s movie with no brand recognition during school? It was released over Labor Day weekend when most families would rather enjoy the last gasps of summer, not watch three creepy costumed characters rap their jingle for the quintillionth time while celebrities feign amusement.
However, I’m about two decades older than the film’s target audience. Maybe kids would love it. Back when I was a kid, I watched stuff like “Sesame Street,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” The entertainment for kids these days is trippy, with bright colors and goofy nonsense. It’s a different breed of entertainment that I could never hope to understand.
But you can’t say that I didn’t try.