Though most of the films from the Czech Republic that I’ve seen are those of the surrealist Jan Švankmajer, I had, prior to watching Kooky, never seen a Jan Svěrák film. The son of actor and director Zdenek Sverák, Jan Svěrák is apparently known for his comedy and drama work, and this is his first foray into a children’s film of this nature. Kooky is apparently a family effort of sorts, with Jan’s father and son playing key roles. Given the strange character design and fairy-tale feel, this unique tale about growing up made its way to the top of my watch list pretty quickly.
An asthmatic child named Ondra (Ondrej Sverák) is forced to throw away his childhood toy by his mother, who insists that the stuffed bear name Kooky (voiced by Ondrej Sverák) is aggravating his condition due to his stuffing, and the fact that he isn’t machine-washable. Ondra sneaks out later and retrieves Kooky, only to discover him missing come morning. Assuming the worst, Ondra prays for the safety of Kooky. In the city dump, Kooky comes to life just in time to escape being crushed by a garbage machine. After being pursued by a pair of garbage creatures made of plastic bottles and plastic bags who insist he must stay in the dump, Kooky arrives in a vast forest.
Here he meets the forest “gods,” strange beings who seemed to be composed of various bits of forest debris and garbage. They are led by the cranky Goddamn (voiced by Zdenek Sverák)(named Hergot in the Czech version, which, from what I’ve gathered, is apparently still an expletive), who is considered the guardian of the forest. Goddamn is at odds with Nuschka (Jirí Machácek), the son of the previous guardian who is attempting to wrestle control from Goddamn, declaring him senile and unfit to lead. Though Kooky simply wants to return home to Ondra, he ends up accompanying Goddamn on an adventure to rescue a distressed animal, in order to keep his position as forest guardian. Nuschka and the aforementioned garbage creatures attempt to thwart them at every turn, and Kooky must step up to the plate to help his new friend.
Using what appears to be mostly practical effects, the denizens of the forest move via live action puppetry, as well some digital and some stop motion, and though often not especially convincing, it’s enough to not be a major point of distraction. I was initially drawn to this film because of the art direction, led by the game company Amanita Design’s Jakub Dvorský. Like many of his character designs, the creatures of Kooky look like they come out of a storybook, which fits the tone of the film like a glove. Many of them look like a mismatched assortment of shells, twigs, leaves, and the occasional bit of garbage, and though most of time their range of movement is fairly limited, the voice acting imbues them with enough character to make them acceptable. The human characters don’t get very much screen time, but the brief performances given are perfectly adequate.
Oddly enough, Kooky, though ostensibly a children’s movie, has plenty of cursing from the character Goddamn (I mean, even his name is curse word), and a few other characters as well. This is presumably not that big of a deal in the Czech Republic, especially given Goddamn’s role as a “crotchety old man” who is likely expected to swear. When it’s all said and done, the conversations between Goddamn and Kooky are pretty humorous, consisting mostly of the “get off my lawn” variety.
Overall, Kooky was an enjoyable watch, punctuated with plenty of weird bits that livened up what would have been a slightly lackluster storyline that drags on occasion. I would imagine children would find it fairly entertaining as well, if not sometimes frightening during a scene or two. Lacking the higher budget and technical wizardry of a Jim Henson film, Kooky still manages to entertain along the same vein of family films.
I’m not really into making sales pitches,
but as of this writing, Kooky is still available with an English dub for just over a week from the Humble Botanicula bundle, as long as you pay over the average purchase price. The Humble Bundle program offers indie games at a price determined by the purchaser, and this particular bundle contains most of Amanita Designs games which are all excellent, visually amazing games. You also have the option to give some or all of your purchase money towards charity, if you so choose. The sale is over, but the film is still available on iTunes.