A Wizard’s Tale

The Saturday morning cartoon Here Comes The Grump lasted only one season; airing on NBC from September 1969 through December that same year. NBC reran the show through the end of 1970, and other channels picked it up for broadcast throughout the years. Its most recent airing was on the Syfy Channel in the 1990s. In its heyday of mild success, only one piece of merchandise was ever created for the show- a Halloween mask of the titular grumpy wizard.  While the old show was put to DVD in 2006, it has since gone out of print.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, there is now a computer animated movie based upon the show. The film Here Comes The Grump, alternately titled as the far more generic and awful  A Wizard’s Tale, and the show both follow Terry Dexter (Toby Kebbell), a young man running his grandmother’s amusement park. Since her death, Groovyland continues to lose profits, in part because Terry refuses to change a thing about the park. Grandma Mary (Emma Tate) and he were very close, and her death has left him unsure of his future.

One day while messing with an odd blimp-car hybrid, presuming it to be just another fantastical prop that adorns the place, Terry is transported to the real Groovyland. A magical place where the policemen have sirens for heads, teddy bears talk, and anything you can imagine probably exists there. Unfortunately, a once good wizard turned bad, known only as The Grump (Ian McShane), cast a spell over the good people of Groovyland- they are to always be morose and crabby.

Now, Terry, along with perpetually twitterpated Princess Dawn (Lily Collins) and her bugle sounding, dog-esque pet Bip (David Holt), needs to locate the Cave of the Whispering Orchid. Then the allies must find the crystal key, as it is only with this magical device that the spell can be lifted. Will they survive the Grump’s dragon attacks and save Groovyland?

“The Grin wants to use his magic to make people happy…gets the coveted position as the wizard to the king…”

Before sitting down to watch the movie, I had never heard of the Here Comes The Grump television show. However, if it is anything like A Wizard’s Tale, then I have very keen insight into why it lasted only one season with little merch and no fanfare (or nostalgia nowadays). This film has no idea who should be its target audience. It is far too pandering to zany antics for adults, it’s so convoluted that I am not sure kids will be able to follow all the pieces, and Groovyland is far too mundane to appeal to fantasy lovers.

For all its talk of every imaginable oddity and fantastical curiosity existing here, there is little evidence to support such a claim. Ohh, there are dragons! Ahh, look at the wavy/ squiggly building! I have read Dr. Seuss books, so not only are these not particularly enchanting, they aren’t even very original. The police with sirens on their head at least hint at originality, but it is a direct reference to the cartoon. At its best, A Wizard’s Tale comes off like a low rent Little Nemo, minus the imagination and fun. At its worst, the movie is dull and confused.

In the beginning, the Grin (former alias of the Grump) was a most sought after the wizard, having graduated top of his class. The Grin wants to use his magic to make people happy. He gets the coveted position as the wizard to the king of Groovyland. On his first day, it seems like the entire town comes out to see him. The Grin starts firing magic bolts from his fingers; when these bolts hit a person, creature, or sentient object they become uncontrollably happy. A blacksmith gets hit by one, and his overblown gestures of giddiness cause an errant spark to create a fire which swiftly spreads across the entire town.

The wizard is clueless about the chaos surrounding him until reaching the throne room. Instead of attempting to fix his mistake, he refuses to admit guilt. This causes the king to place him under arrest. The Grin makes his escape and is aided by his ladylove, Mary. Stowing away in a cave, Mary leaves to grab supplies. The king’s guards catch up with her and banish her to another dimension (our world), so she is unable to return to the magical man. After waiting all day, The Grin realizes she is not coming back and gets angry; thus he is now The Grump.

“McShane…easily the bright spot of the whole film…”

The movie wants the audience to sympathize with the wizard. The ending lays on the idea that he is redeemable and not all bad especially thick. Balderdash to that, I say. This is a man incapable of taking responsibility for his actions and his reaction to a crisis of his creation is to do nothing at all.

In order to repair the damage that he inadvertently caused, why didn’t he magically make it rain? Then cast a spell to fix all the buildings that were afflicted? Oddly enough throughout the film, The Grump only ever throws two kinds of spells- the one which makes everyone happy, then the grumpy one. Do wizards in this supposed ever so enchanted realm learn just one spell? It is a plot hole, not of the story imploding kind, but more of the this was not thought out well kind.

Toby Kebbell as Terry is just as charmless and irritating as ever. Dear Hollywood, this man has been the worst aspects of some of the most notorious flops in recent memory, such as Josh Trank’s miserable Fantastic Four movie. Do you realize just how spectacularly inept one must appear to be the worst part of that movie? Can we agree to put Kebbell back wherever he was found and leave him be?

Lily Collins is trying as Princess Dawn, but I am not sure there’s an actor alive that could make the line “my teddy bear told me you are my prince” sound convincing. And then there’s poor Ian McShane. This man can do comedy, drama, action, anything at all. What he can’t do though is make a poorly written character better. His acting is good, easily the bright spot of the whole film, but even he doesn’t save A Wizard’s Tale from itself.

A Wizard’s Tale is blandly animated, badly edited, terribly, terribly written and its dearth of creativity hurts its core conceit. While most of the voice actors try their best, it is all for naught.

A Wizard’s Tale (2018) Directed by Andrés Couturier. Written by Jim Hecht, Alicia Núñez. Starring Toby Kebbell, Lily Collins, Ian McShane, David Holt, Emma Tate, Keith Wickham, Jay Britton, Amy Thompson.

3 Melted Gummi Bear (out of 10)

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