Reviews

Unfrosted

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Comedy;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some suggestive references and language.
Stars Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer, Max Greenfield, Hugh Grant, Melissa McCarthy, Christian Slater, Cedric the Entertainer, Adrian Martinez, James Marsden, Maria Bakalova, Peter Dinklage, Thomas Lennon, Bobby Moynihan, Fred Armisen, Darrell Hammond.

Jerry Seinfeld fingered political correctness as the blame for the current deluge of comedians edging away from satirical edginess. When it came time for the corporate spokesperson for American comedy to do something to brighten the landscape by staging a mordant blitzkrieg of his own, he played patty cake when a melee was in order. I must confess to having never seen an episode of “Seinfeld.” It has nothing to do with the show or its star — Jerry Seinfeld’s appearances on Carson and Letterman were tight, easily relatable, and frequently hilarious sets of observational stand-up. The arrival of VCRs on the scene soon enabled anyone with a video store membership and/or cable box to become their own programmers, forever relegating network television to the dustbin of antiquity. When a comedian directs, I’m there. Unfrosted is his first shot behind-the-camera on a feature-length narrative. As a director, Jerry Seinfeld is an exceptional stand-up.

To say the film is loosely based on the war between American cereal conglomerates (and Michigan neighbors) Post (Amy Schumer) and Kellogg’s (Jim Gaffigan) to come up with a fruit-filled, toaster-ready breakfast cake is putting it mildly. Anyone familiar with the TV version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas can close their eyes and hear the voice of the cartoon’s star, Thurl Ravenscroft, playing in their head. He also provided the voice for venerable cartoon cereal big-cat, Tony the Tiger. Ravenscroft no sooner conceived of Tony’s “They’re Gr-r-reat!” catchphrase than he did cream depilatory. The slogan had been in place before Thurl’s trilled “r’s’” thrilled their way through a 50-year run as Kellogg’s sepulchral-throated breakfast food mascot. A Life Magazine ad features none other than Groucho Marx being upstaged by the Sugar Frosted Flakes pitchman’s tagline, “You bet your life they’re Gr-r-reat!” All of this took place almost a decade before the narrative kicks off in 1963. 

But wait. There’s more! The attention to period detail is abysmal. The Oscar Mayer hot dogs packaging on display bore little resemblance to their 1963 predecessors. Ditto the whoopie cushions — What? No “Poo! Poo!” — that appear to have been plucked off a Party City pegboard by a plucky production assistant. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Wooly Bully” are both featured prominently on the soundtrack even though neither song existed in 1963. A reference to Ravenscroft’s (Hugh Grant) “Burger King crown” is a cute but factually bankrupt notion, seeing how the first BK franchise didn’t open until 1963. If one is paying more attention to anachronisms, whizzing past like a picket fence in a hurtling roadster, than they are storytelling, the filmmakers aren’t doing their job.

Seinfeld told Entertainment Weekly his aim was to make the anti-Barbie. The Mattel-a-thon was the biggest moneymaker in Warner Bros. history while the box office cereal killer Seinfeld envisioned never materialized. (In that sense, he met his goal.) Rather than setting his sights high on the smash hit of all time, Seinfeld would have been better served by taking a nod from John Lee Hancock’s Ray Kroc biopic The Founder, a film so meticulously plotted and researched, one could learn how to build a fast food empire strictly by paying attention.

The list of cameo appearances — Thomas Lennon, Bobby Moynihan, Fred Armisen, Darrell Hammond — read like SNL opening credits. Also joining the fun with very little to do are Max Greenfield, Hugh Grant, Melissa McCarthy, Christian Slater, Cedric the Entertainer, Adrian Martinez, James Marsden, Maria Bakalova, and Peter Dinklage. A Godfather-esque meeting of the five cereal families — Kellogg’s, Post, Quaker, Ralston Purina and General Mills — that must have sounded so funny on paper, never stood a chance under Seinfeld’s freshman lens. In the least, Barbie had a consistent visual style, limited though it might be, and a corporate history to fall back on. Unfrosted’s eagerness to play fast and loose with the truth is the film’s biggest drawback. I spent the better portion of three hours reading up on Kellogg’s and 90% of what passed my eyes bore greater comedic interest than any of the word association nostalgia soup Seinfeld and his trio of writers serve up. Seinfeld even has the gall to rip off Albert Brooks’ oracular lip-moving ventriloquist routine right down to naming the dummy Danny.

Perhaps the subject would have been best suited to animation. The only reason Battle Creek Michigan sticks out in my brain is through the Hanna-Barbera cartoons that date back as far as my memory. Kellogg’s sponsored cartoon superstars Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw and Snagglepuss, while Post represented Ruff and Ready, the Flintstones (Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Dino) and the Rubbles (Betty, Barney and Bamm-Bamm). Imagine a “Roger Rabbit” frame up between the two factions of H/B heavyweights that results in an animation studio civil war. Anything would have been funnier than the cow farts and a stock Nazi buffoon that’s enough to place even the most woke audience in a somnambulistic coma.

 

One thought on “Unfrosted”

  1. When you have to read and re read a review to understand it, negotiating the marathon run on sentences and tortuous verbosity, it’s not particularly good writing. Also being proud of not watching a single episode of Seinfeld is just plain weird. Having said that, I agree (at least I think I do, if that’s what the conclusion is) that the movie is crap.

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