With Latte and the Magic Waterstone, Netflix tosses a cartoon from Germany on its pile o’ Family Friendly Things, subcategory Animation, sub-subcategory Talking Animals. It made a few bucks as a Euro theatrical release last Christmas, and now is available in the U.S. so it can be compared unfavorably to Pixar. As is always the question with these things, will this story of a hedgehog and a squirrel on a footquest to find a whatsit have anything to offer to adults or just be something to distract the children from the horrors of reality?
LATTE AND THE MAGIC WATERSTONE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Somewhere in a golden-hour forest, a bunch of animals live in peace. Bunnies, squirrels, boars and shit have formed a family-friendly collective of cute adults fuzzykins and vewy adowable baby fluffnuggets. Whether this is a gentrified community or an upper-middle-class white suburb, I’m not sure. But there’s one outcast, Latte (voice of Ashley Bornancin), a braggadocious hedgehog who proclaims herself a princess. She verbally clashes with a squirrel, Tjum (Carter Hastings), whose name is Rodentese for Kaden. He’s cruel enough to point out that she doesn’t have a dad, or maybe he’s just being expository, and in that case, at least he’s being kind to people watching the movie.
The li’l aminals face a conundrum. The Elder Rabbit, who looks like he wouldn’t even be cast as an extra in Watership Down, thumps his hind leg on a stump and tells the gatherees that they’re out of water. See, it’s the middle of a drought, and Latte and Tjum were screwing around and busted the hollowed-out pumpkin that functioned as their well. LESSON FOR KIDS: Never, ever condemn your entire community to a miserable, drawn-out death. But! A crow with the lilting tone of a Skeksis arrives to inform everyone of a local legend: the Waterstone is a crystal thing that was stolen by a bear known as King Banter, who hogged all the liquid for himself and left the river to dry. Somewhere, up in yonder hills where the water flows into succulent turquoise pools, this mad tyrant holds the gem, and maybe some brave soul should trek up there and etc. etc.
While all the adult little forest creatures are skeptical that this mystical crapola actually exists, and are possibly quite fine with rolling over and eating sand until they die, Latte hikes up her spines and hits the trail. Tjum feels partly responsible for the dilemma, and so joins her. They encounter a hungry lynx, a screwy-eyed iridescent frog-witch (who all but pops one of her eyes out to use it as a spy device), some wolves and finally the bears, and they resort to some light violence in only half of these encounters. But hey, people and creatures can still die from light violence, so it’s not like this is a safe journey without any doubt that they’ll fetch the Waterstone and save their friends and family, right? Mm hm.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Latte and the Magic Waterstone is a Lord of the Rings/The Dark Crystal quest crossed with Over the Hedge critter antics and the thirst of the far less KEWWWT animals in Rango (underrated!) and the bear antics of Brave (also underrated!).
Performance Worth Watching: The weird ladyfrog is the one thing in the movie that doesn’t look a lot like a lot of things from a lot of other movies.
Memorable Dialogue: “Mighty King Banter? More like Mighty King Snorer, amiright?” — Latte spews focus-grouped Poochie-isms
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: An animated feature with a PURELY INSTRUMENTAL soundtrack, and NO POP SONGS WHATSOEVER? Be still my heart. That’s enough to make a body overlook the derivative plot, generic animation, bland voice acting and lack of ambitious storytelling. The script flirts with atrocity (“Kiss my spiky butt!”) but is ultimately inoffensive. Is there a pro-ecology metaphor here for the hoarding of resources by the privileged, who could never use all that water themselves but want it anyway and don’t seem to have a lick of empathy for the smaller creatures in the forest? Barely.
I don’t mean to be mean to Latte and the Magic Waterstone, because it means well. It will divert less-developed minds. But it’s unremarkable on every front, and ultimately a diddlefart looking for a space in which to dissipate. I hereby assert that exhausted parents shouldn’t feel guilty about propping their children (ages 4-10 or so) in front of this movie, then hitting the liquor cabinet for 82 minutes of brain-cell destruction. Times are trying. Give yourself a break. It’s OK.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Latte and the Magic Waterstone is a 50/50 deal. You could do better; you could do worse.