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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2005 12:41 pm

movie review

Son of the Mask

Son raises the bar for animation

When aspiring cartoonist Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy) comes into possession of an ancient wooden mask, he’s profoundly underwhelmed. “This is the crappiest piece of crap in Craptown,” he declares. That’s precisely the reaction I expected to have to Son of the Mask, the sequel to the 1994 Jim Carrey hit. As it turns out, Son is far more than just a knock-off of a well-known title sitting in New Line Cinema’s archive. Director Lawrence Guterman has created a loving, manic homage to Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and other pioneers of classic animation. Not only are there sly allusions to these artists’ vibrant masterpieces, Son holds an important lesson about growing up at its heart.

Avery is on the verge of making a breakthrough at the animation studio but needs the gumption to approach his stoic boss (Steven Wright) and pitch his brilliant idea. Unfortunately, he has as much confidence as a wilting wallflower. That all changes when he prepares for the company Halloween party by trying the ancient mask his dog, Otis, brings home. Avery has no idea that this mask was created by the Norse god Loki (Alan Cumming) and that it unleashes all repressed thoughts from the wearer’s id. Before you know it, Avery is a hit at the party, a literal whirling dervish whom his boss can’t ignore. Needless to say, Avery’s wife, Tonya (Traylor Howard), can’t ignore him, either, and that night, while Avery is still wearing the mask, they conceive a child.

Alas, the fruit of this union, baby Alvey (Ryan Falconer), is born with the mask’s powers, ensuring that all hell will break loose. As if that’s not bad enough, Loki is on the hunt for the mask and Otis the dog, ignored and resentful, sets out to destroy Alvey.

Son is a busy movie in the way New York’s Grand Central Station is busy during rush hour, and that proves both exhilarating and exhausting. Still, it’s hard to be too critical of a film that brims with skill and imagination. Guterman’s film is chockfull of eye candy, both in the foreground and background (check out the wallpaper on the ceiling of Otis’ doghouse or the sand sculpture of Loki when he’s on the beach) as the director fills in every nook and cranny of the frame with one visual delight after another. This is truly a masterwork by a master animator.

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