Director: Christopher Jenkins
Writers: Rob Muir, Christopher Jenkins, Scott Atkinson, Tegan West
Composer: Mark Isham
Starring: Jim Gaffigan, Zendaya, Lance Lim
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Duck Duck Goose is a Chinese-American CGI production from Original Force. It’s an animation company that has more of a record in producing video games (Heavy Rain, L.A. Noire) than movies. Duck Duck Goose looked set to have a nation-wide theatrical release back in April, though for some reason it was delayed in the States. It screened in cinemas for other countries, though it seems Americans will have to settle on a Netflix release. Parents will be pleased as it could mean a cheap night in with the family, but is this film worth the wait?
Violence/Scary Images: The main character is continually seen maliciously throwing or kicking frogs for his own amusement. A cat viciously attacks the birds in the film, swiping, scratching, or pouncing on them. The wildcat has a split personality and an evil-looking face–scary for youngsters in the audience. The characters worry about dying from the winter cold or from being eaten. A chef chases the birds and swings at them with a machete. There is an eerie, fog-drenched lake with spooky shadows that the ducklings must swim across; this same scenario is told as a scary story earlier on in the film. A rooster is slapped across the head by a hen multiple times for misbehaving.
Language/Crude Humor: Name calling such as “stupid”, “idiot”, “nincompoop”, and “jerk feathers.” One character farts and burps a lot. There’s a scene where a character vomits. A character gets pooped on their head. During an action sequence in the back of a truck filled with pigs, a character finds their head stuck in the butt crack of a sow.
Drug/Alcohol References: There’s a squirrel that acts like a hippie. There’s a hidden marijuana joke, which is referred to as a cookie.
Sexual Content: In a brief moment during a chaotic restaurant chase, a man finds something on his lap, causing the woman beside him to mistake the bulge as an erection, causing her to slap him. A male and a female goose flirt with each other, suggesting they want some private time together. They kiss later on in the film and talk about starting a family.
Spiritual Content: Set in China, there is some Buddhist architecture in the background, such as giant gongs.
Other Negative Content: There’s a level of callousness when different species of animals interact with each other. The main character is cruel to other animals, or acts out of self-interest, being quite rude. The movie sends an odd message about collectivism and paints singleness as a sign of immaturity.
Positive Content: Taking responsibility and the importance of community are messages that are promoted within this film. It talks about how sometimes going our own way, stubbornly doing our own thing, is not always the best option, and how tried-and-true methods exist for a reason.
Unlike Tag or Battleship, Duck Duck Goose is mercifully in name only. The game mechanics of this childhood pastime is not present in the film. There’s no kid called Ralph running around a circle, calling out “Duck” over and over again till ad nauseam. Yet while the film isn’t about the game, one cannot help but wonder if the entire premise is based off the title; that some bad joke-loving dad liked the pun so much that he invented an incredibly contrived story just to get two ducks and a goose together. Yet to the film’s credit, it has done its homework and teaches children a number of things about the natural world.
The main character, a rambunctious goose named Peng, is frequently chastised for his constant penchant for breaking out of the typical flying formation, with the more sensible geese referring to the principals of aerodynamics. When one of Peng’s chaotic flights results in an injury, Duck Duck Goose doesn’t shy away from admitting the fact that tired or injured geese get left behind, equalling certain death when winter sets in.
Lost ducklings (such as Chi and Chao) will also surely fall victim either to the elements or predators. So it is advantageous for them to stick by a larger animal, such as a goose, as they are great deterrents for smaller carnivores like cats. Now, here’s where it gets interesting: geese have been known to adopt other species as their own. So two ducks and a goose may not be as far-fetched as I first thought!
Another nice touch is seen through Chao, who imprints on Peng and calls him “mother” throughout the film. At first, I thought it was an odd choice, as though the film was subliminally sending the message that only females can act as caretakers. Why not call Peng “daddy” and show the power of fatherhood? However, it turns out that drakes don’t typically stay around to help raise the ducklings, i.e. Chi and Chao wouldn’t know what a father is. Whereas a gander will share in parenting duties.
So there you have it! The movie you least suspect is actually scientifically accurate! Yet while this movie may follow a certain logic, it isn’t backed up by emotion.
Peng loves being a bachelor. He doesn’t like kids. Ganders may have a heart for other species, but Peng doesn’t have it. The only reason he initially adopts the lost pair of ducklings is so he can sacrifice them should a predator appear in order to buy more time–a survival of the fittest mentality. Logically, sure, it makes sense. I mean, that was my brother’s reasoning as to why he traveled with me through the Serengeti–he’s the faster runner! Yet aside from a joke (well, I certainly hope my brother was joking…), it really is a despicable line of thought that doesn’t sit well in a kid’s film.
It’s normal for a narrative to push characters in directions they don’t wish to travel. Yet Duck Duck Goose struggles to find the right motivations, like in the example above. It knows where the story needs to head, but it doesn’t convincingly line up those circumstances through the characters’ interactions with each other. It’s as if they’re too stubborn and set in their ways to play along with the story. So everything feels shallow and underdeveloped; they stick together for arbitrary reasons and argue whenever it’s necessary for the story.
There are a number of things that are questionable in regards to the movie’s intended audience. Duck Duck Goose is a mess of themes. Side characters don’t have much of a purpose but to appear on screen, throw in a new message and hope one sticks, before exiting the story without really servicing its progression. Cranes will label Peng as not being family friendly, whilst a tortoise will compare Peng to the archetypal hare. There’s also an odd scene with a hipster squirrel.
Overall, the film gives the general sense that avoiding responsibility is immature, one needs to settle down, and conformity is a good thing. Peng despises the older geese at the start of the film, because they never experiment or waver from tradition, and yet by the end of the film, it seems he’s okay with being “boring.”
It’s certainly not a bad message. It refreshingly goes against the grain of a lot of other films aimed at children that promote the notion that “you’re special, follow your dreams, and society will adapt to you.” I certainly know a few people in their late twenties who could take a lesson or two from this movie… but that’s the thing… It’s a moral that’s better applied to adults. It’s about accepting the fact that one needs to settle down at some stage, as boring as it may seem.
Yet aside from the basic ideas behind taking on responsibilities and stewardship, it’s an odd message to send to children given their stage in life. You want children to step out into the world and figure out who they are; to diversify so they eventually know what direction to take. Not to squash their individuality and conform to the masses. To overthink it for a moment, Duck Duck Goose also promotes some toxic myths about singleness. It automatically equates a desire to remain unattached with immaturity, which isn’t always true, and such an ideology is incredibly harmful to singles.
The film doesn’t feature many good role models. Chi, the female duckling voiced by Zendaya, is incredibly intelligent for her age. It’s a trait that’s contrasted with her brother, Chao, who is simplistic and gluttonous, frequently having bouts of flatulence. It’s a dynamic that doesn’t work. Chi is smart and self-sufficient, to the point where she only needs Peng because she’s too little to fight off predators. Chao, on the other hand, is an offensive caricature that promotes the typical stereotypes that revolve around overweight boys. His entire worldview is dictated by his stomach.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the cast was balanced, but Peng is predominantly portrayed as selfish and unloving, while the patriarchal geese are seen as stuffy and boring. Meanwhile, Chi and Peng’s girlfriend, Jinjing, are both intelligent and mature for their age. It’s great for the girls, but there’s not much here to inspire growing boys.
Duck Duck Goose could also be too scary for little children. The main villain is a big Chinese Mountain Cat with one yellow and one red eye. His appearance exaggerates his split personality; when the yellow eye is open, the cat is cruel, when it’s red, then he’s maniacally evil. No explanation is given as to why the cat behaves in this way, so this character comes across as nothing more than an interesting gimmick. Nevertheless, with his constant talk about killing and eating the birds, he is too sinister and unrelenting for younger audiences. There’s also a violent kitchen sequence (think Sebastian in The Little Mermaid but without a song) that may also push the littlies over the edge.
While Original Force is relatively unknown compared to other, more prominent animation studios in Hollywood, they have crafted a visually beautiful movie. Set amongst the rice paddies in China, surrounded by stunning, mountainous vistas, the backgrounds pop, sometimes outdoing the character models. The score is decent, though sadly it doesn’t capitalize on the setting as much as it should. It would have been lovely to hear more traditional Chinese instruments.
Visually stunning, Duck Duck Goose does provide a relatively enjoyable time, provided one is old enough to not be frightened by some of the film’s scarier moments. Sadly, while the animation is polished and most of the logic is sound, the same cannot be said for the characters. With personalities that hinder the plot more so than help it, Duck Duck Goose ends up with a mix of messages, none of them really applicable for its target audience. Worth a watch on a slow day, but there are better offerings on Netflix.