Director: Huida Lin
Voice cast: Joseph S Lambert, Kieran Katarey, Sara Secora, Olivia Seaton-Hill, Christopher Price, Maxx Rinehart, Siobhan Lumsden, Barbara Quesada, Ruth Urquhart, Chris Boike, Nicola Vincent, Manuel Zaldivar
Running time: 97 mins
This animated sci-fi comedy adventure is the eighth movie in the internationally popular Boonie Bears franchise, based on the long-running Chinese animated cartoon series (600 episodes and counting, if you’re counting). Produced last year, it also marks the series’ tenth anniversary, with the show having first aired in China in January 2012.
The film opens with bumbling Bramble Bear (Joseph S Lambert) fantasising about being a superhero and earning the respect of his more sensible elder brother Briar (Kieran Katarey), before being brought down to earth with a bump and having to do clean-up duty for Logger Vick (Maxx Rinehart) in their woodland home. However, when a UFO crash-lands in the forest, Bramble finds himself getting superpowers for real, after he accidentally absorbs the spaceship’s sentient core.
Shortly afterwards, Bramble encounters Avi (Sara Secora), a six-eared alien space cat and the pilot of the downed ship. Soon, the pair forge a reluctant partnership, as Bramble joins Avi in the search for a mystical necklace that will help him return home. Unfortunately, a pair of galactic arms dealers (Olivia Seaton-Hill and Christopher Price) are also after the necklace, putting Bramble, his friends and the entire universe in great danger.
The animation is impressive throughout. Director Huida Lin packs in an enormous amount of background detail and some real thought has gone into the designs of the various alien spaceships and weapons. On that note, the killer robo-baddie that Bramble eventually comes up against is genuinely scary, maybe even too scary for younger members of the target audience.
Lin maintains a cracking pace throughout, taking the action into outer space and beyond for some visual variety. He also pulls off a good mix of gags and action, and knows his way around an amusing, rapidly edited montage sequence.
As far as adult audiences are concerned, the film’s strongest aspect is its penchant for off-the-wall moments, such as a bizarre tribute to Marilyn Monroe’s billowing white dress scene in The Seven Year Itch, or a full-on song-and-dance number, performed by the two villains.
The voice work on the US dub is decent, if unremarkable. Lambert has a good handle on Bramble’s various character traits (neurotic, obsessed with ice cream, etc) and Secora has fun with Avi, who’s simultaneously comically devious (at least initially), impossibly cute and strongly emotional.
However, it’s fair to say that the supporting cast get somewhat short shrift in that regard, as Briar, Vick and their two ever-present monkey buddies (Tiki and Babu, voiced by Rinehart and Barbara Quesada) are often relegated to the sidelines, due to the prominence of Bramble’s space adventure plot.
Ultimately, it’s hard not to be won over by Boonie Bears: Back to Earth, especially when its heart is so clearly in the right place. To that end, its wholesome messages include a none-too-subtle eco plea about looking after the planet (it’s the only one we have, after all) and the touching notion that an enormous bear hug can save the world. And really, who can argue with that?
Digital release in the US & Canada from March 10, 2023.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, Google play, Redbox Digital, Hoopla