Wednesday 10 February 2021

Bigfoot Family (Ben Stassen / Jeremy Degruson, 2020)

Three years on from the generally entertaining Son of Bigfoot, Ben Stassen returns with this vastly superior sequel; between his two Sasquatch adventures, the ever-busy Stassen made the middling The Queen's Corgi, an amusing enough diversion, yet one which didn't demonstrate much progress on the part of the Belgian filmmaker.  Bigfoot Family, however, might well be Stassen's best film to date, and it manages to marry top-drawer animation to an appealing, exciting story, which is a trick that Stassen and his studio nWave haven't always managed to pull off with their films - not that they're the only purveyors of animated features to have slipped up in such a manner.  Although nWave have always made a good fist of producing solid animation in the face of megabudgeted competition from the likes of Pixar, Blue Sky, Dreamworks and the like, Bigfoot Family may be the first film from the Belgian studio to pose a serious question to the all-conquering Disney and its various subsidiaries.  Which is not to say that nWave can realistically expect to take on the big American animation studios in financial terms, but, from a creative perspective, Bigfoot Family is a film that holds its own against any feature-length toon from the past year or so.  

As with the first film, it's Adam, the offspring of Bigfoot, who is actually at the centre of the story.  Adam's life has changed considerably since he successfully tracked down his missing father in Son of Bigfoot, and his family's home is now shared with the myriad woodland creatures that helped his dad during his stint in the wild.  Furthermore, Bigfoot himself has become a major celebrity - the film's alternative title is Bigfoot Superstar - and it now seems that everyone wants a piece of the hirsute scientist.  Bigfoot has little interest in milking his status for financial gain, but rather decides to use his newfound fame to help a good cause, so he heads to Alaska to join a group of protesters who are camped outside an onshore drilling site.  Shortly after arriving in Alaska, Bigfoot vanishes, so Adam and his mum (and the unruly animals) set off for Alaska in the hope of solving the mystery; as in Son of Bigfoot, Adam is charged with locating his missing father, and in a further parallel with the first film, his investigation brings him up against a sinister, greedy megacorporation.

With its largely recycled plot, Bigfoot Family could easily have served as a pale imitation of its predecessor, but the outstanding animation - the Alaskan wilderness is brilliantly recreated - immediately marks the film out as one that's looking to improve on Son of Bigfoot (which itself boasted fine tech credits); however, and as previously noted, great animation counts for little if you don't have the script to support it, but here both the dialogue and humour are well-judged.  While the basic setup offers nothing very new, Stassen and his crew have made a charming, witty, family-friendly film that appeals to young and old alike; the catchy, poppy soundtrack, courtesy of Belgian group Puggy, helps ensure that things move along at a nice clip  Tweens are covered, too, via a subplot involving the crush the awkward Adam has on his good friend Emma.  While Bigfoot Family covers some environmental issues, it never does so in an overly preachy way, and its ideas about renewable energy and the future might prompt one or two interesting enquiries from younger viewers.

Bigfoot Family made its debut at last year's Annecy IAFF, and it's a pity that such a great effort from nWave was denied a clear run at the box office; while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a situation that everyone in the filmmaking world has had to adapt to - numerous films that were intended for theatrical distribution have plunged straight to VOD - it seems a great pity that what may well be the jewel in nWave's crown has bypassed so many cinemas.  The film, like the rest of the studio's feature output, was made to be shown in 3D, and it is quite possible that this expense would have been spared had Stassen and his colleagues known what was in store for the film industry.  However, you can - and should - support the film now that it's out on home video, and you can even watch it in 3D if you have the required setup at home.  Bigfoot Family is easily nWave's best film since The House of Magic, and it provides some much-needed fun in these troubled times.   

Darren Arnold

Images: nWave