Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ralph Moser
Stars: voices of Genevieve Morris, Kevin “Bloody” Wilson, Eloise Grace, Hamish Hughes, Abbe Holmes, Bev Killick, Stewart Fainchey, Brett Rutledge.
We’ve all heard some of those “little Johnny” jokes; now we can discover their origin. Little Johnny is a new animated biopic cum mockumentary that discovers the “real boy” behind the jokes, and also looks at his dysfunctional family that provided the inspiration for much of the timeless humour.
The film itself is the brainchild of Ralph Moser, his co-director Dean Murphy, and screenwriter Stewart Fainchey, who have a long established partnership. The three have worked together on a number of films, including two with Paul Hogan – Strange Bedfellows and the recent Charlie And Boots. Moser comes from a background in production design, having worked on a number of local productions, including Let’s Get Skase, Sensitive New Age Killer, Hating Alison Ashley, and Till Human Voices Wake Us. Moser also experienced working on large scale Hollywood productions, including Where The Wild Things Are, which was filmed in Melbourne, and Russell Mulcahy’s television remake of On The Beach.
He makes his directorial debut with Little Johnny, and his background certainly helps shape the look of the film. Little Johnny is deliberately very retro in style, and the animation is reminiscent of those old Merry Melodies cartoons and Saturday afternoon matinees. This is in keeping with the old fashioned feel of the film, which is set in a more innocent time. However, Little Johnny is certainly not for young kids, given the level of profanity, and ribald adult humour. This is more Fritz The Cat than Bugs Bunny!
Little Johnny is set in the small town of Gallangatta, and introduces us to Johnny, his younger brother and his ultra-conservative parents. The film itself is little more than a string of jokes – many of them rude, most familiar, and some very funny. Thus we get Johnny at home, Johnny at school, Johnny hanging out with his best friend Roger, and Johnny down on the farm with his uncle Kev. These scenarios all lend themselves effortlessly to a string of punch lines. But what passes for narrative here offers another variation on the classic coming of age tale as Johnny tries to win the affection of classmate Mary (voiced by Eloise Grace), and woo her away from his rival, the handsome rebel Jason. His only chance of success is by winning the annual billy cart race. And his mentor Uncle Kevin tries to save his farm from becoming insolvent due to his inability to repay a bank loan.
Legendary comedian Kevin Wilson provides the voice of Uncle Kev, who swears like a trooper, and he is basically playing himself on screen as a lovable Australian larrikin. In much the same way that Nancy Cartwright provides the distinctive voice for Bart Simpson in the long running cartoon series, a female provides the voice for the title character here. Genevieve Morris, who is better known to television audiences as Barbara in the series of ANZ bank ads, is perfectly cast as little Johnny, and plays him with an irreverent sense of humour that is engaging. A solid cast of veteran voice over talent, including Bev Killick, Hamish Hughes, Abbe Holmes and Brett Rutledge, flesh out the remaining characters.
Little Johnny has its flaws, but many will find it a moderately amusing film.
Little Johnny premiers at the Greater Union cinemas in Russell Street on Friday April 1, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and screens throughout the festival.