The world of animation has largely been dominated by Disney and Pixar. There’s no doubt that they are fantastic. That’s exactly why they are mainstream. But sometimes their attempt to please everyone in the room with their stories gets a little tedious. It feels like we’re eating the same kind of sweet and salt over and over again. Thankfully, there are Studio Ghibli, Laika, Studio Ponoc, Blue Spirit Productions, Aardman Animations, Pierrot, Warner Bros. Animation, Dreamworks Animation, TMS Entertainment, and Cartoon Saloon to offer some flavor. Recently, Netflix is making strides in this medium with movies and shows like Klaus (2019), The Willoughbys (2020), and City of Ghosts (2021). Now, they’ve hosted the Sky Cinema original Riverdance: The Animated Adventure (2022).

Directed by Dave Rosenbaum and Eamonn Butler, and written by Rosenbaum and Tyler Werrin, the animated film is inspired by Riverdance. Riverdance is a theatrical show featuring traditional Irish music and dance. It originated as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song contest, with a score by Bill Whelan, vocals by Anúna, and dance by Jean Butler, Michael Flatley, and more. Then director John McColgan and producer Moya Doherty expanded it into a stage play, which opened in Dublin on February 9, 1995.

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Riverdance: The Animated Adventure is about Keegan (Sam Hardy) who lives with his Granddad (Pierce Brosnan) and Grandma (Pauline McLynn). Tragedy strikes when Keegan’s grandfather dies, inadvertently forcing Keegan to fill his grandfather’s shoes. Moya (Hannah Herman Cortes) who is Keegan’s friend senses that he’s buckling under the pressure and takes him away to a magical world to learn about Riverdance.

Riverdance The Animated Adventure (3)

As mentioned above, after watching a certain kind of animation and storytelling for decades i.e. Disney and Pixar’s filmography, your senses get way too used to it. So, anything that doesn’t resemble a Disney and/or Pixar movie automatically comes off as refreshing. Especially the character designs, the landscapes, and the town-scapes. There are times where Riverdance: The Animated Adventure emulates Dreamworks Animation’s (the Boss Baby duology, to be specific) or Sony Pictures Animation’s (the Hotel Transylvania series, to be specific) style.

But unlike Dreamworks’ Boss Baby movies or Sony Pictures’ Hotel Transylvania movies, since the virtual camerawork and the editing by Kevin Pavlovic aren’t excessively kinetic, you get to see the details put into every frame by the artists and appreciate them. The twilight-like lighting also makes everything seem very dynamic and soothing. Things do get very busy during the expertly choreographed dance sequences set to Whelan’s beautiful compositions. However, since it flows smoothly, forming gorgeous symmetrical patterns, it feels visually pleasing.

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The writing by Rosenbaum and Werrin has its heart in the right place. Because Riverdance: The Animated Adventure is essentially about a young kid grieving the death of his grandfather. The fact that Pierce Brosnan voices the central Megaloceros giganteus (Irish elks) named Patrick means that everything that happens in the magical world i.e. the fun and games section of the movie, is a representation of Keegan’s healing process.

Apart from that, the story has an environmental angle too, and how the Riverdance, the lighthouse, and the elks impact the river flowing through Keegan’s hometown. The Huntsman (Brendan Gleeson) who appears as soon as Keegan fails to follow the one thing his grandfather told him to do i.e. maintaining the lighthouse, is probably a personification of the darkest aspects of the mourning process. The Huntsman can also be interpreted as an anti-environmentalist who wants to desecrate the connection between man and nature that Keegan’s grandfather tried to preserve.

However, the problem is that all the aforementioned themes are not very apparent. If you are feeling really lenient, you’ll sit down and try to find out the meaning behind the plot and the sub-plots (if there are any). Because Rosenbaum, Butler, and Werrin aren’t all that interested in establishing the themes of the story in a solid fashion. Or even when they are, they end up undercutting it with fart jokes, body-shaming quips, and just kindergarten-level gags. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a fart joke or a kindergarten-level gag.

If either of them are well-place, they can do wonders. But the ones in Riverdance: The Animated Adventure are anything but imaginative. And that’s yet another problem. The makers really don’t let their imagination fly even when the narrative moves to a magical place where anything is possible. It’s nice to keep things grounded. But when (it seems like) the point of the story is to give Keegan this emotional catharsis that he couldn’t get because of his grandad’s rushed funeral or societal pressure, so that he can return to normalcy. And if you don’t go for that peak, visually or narratively, then the whole endeavor seems weak.

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Coming to the voice-acting department, Sam Hardy and Hannah Herman Cortes do most of the heavy lifting and their work is commendable. Pierce Brosnan as Patrick is fine. Lilly Singh as Penny is surprisingly funny. Jermaine Fowler as Benny and Aisling Bea as Margot really play off of each other nicely. Brendan Gleeson as the Huntsman is the showstopper. Actually, if you put Brendan Gleeson in anything, he’ll end up being the showstopper.

All in all, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure is a rather forgettable affair. It is definitely worth a watch because hundreds of animators have spent hours crafting every frame of this movie. And there’s certainly a lot to appreciate there. Bill Whelan’s compositions are incredibly catchy. There’s a fair chance that you’ll find yourself binging Riverdance’s live performances after this. Which, to be honest, is a win-win for the makers of this animated movie. The vocal performances are good. It’s just that the storytelling fails to match up to all this brilliance, thereby leaving you feeling a little hollow. Now, if you really want to watch an Irish animated movie filled with engaging visuals set around a lighthouse and revolves around the death of a loved one, I highly recommend Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea (2014). It’s a masterpiece.

Riverdance: The Animated Adventure streams on Netflix from January 14, 2022


Riverdance: The Animated Adventure Links – IMDb, Wikipedia
Riverdance: The Animated Adventure Voice Cast – Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson, Lilly Singh, Jermaine Fowler, Pauline McLynn

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