Animal Crackers

 
Beloved but creaky Marx Brothers comedy hit.
  • Review Date: January 8, 2008
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1930
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The Marx MO here is to bring chaos into a stuffy, high-class environment, and what you see is pretty much what you get. Groucho is manic and insulting; Harpo and Chico are thieves (Harpo serially harasses women and, at one point, shoots at random people); and young lovers who are more or less normal propel the plot forward with a "harmless" art-theft prank, part of which hinges on blackmailing a butler about his criminal past. Groucho makes his appearance carried in by bone-wearing African natives, who have apparently borne him all the way from the Dark Continent, a gag that still raises some politically incorrect old stereotypes.

Violence & scariness

Slapstick roughhousing by Chico and Harpo. Harpo at one point pulls a handgun and starts firing "harmlessly" at people (even shooting his own foot, with no lingering effect).

Sexy stuff

Mild innuendo from Groucho. Young women are chased around by Harpo.

Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Groucho smokes his famous cigar. Also social drinking, and in the final don't-try-this-at-home joke Harpo puts the whole cast to sleep with some sort of gas.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the Marx Brothers do lots of takeoffs on trends, slang, catchphrases, and pop-culture entertainment of the 1920s and '30s -- references that will not be easily understood by young viewers today. The filmmaking is also pretty stiff and old-timey. Although unrated at the time, re-releases of this movie were given a "G" by the MPAA. The Marxes throughout are rude, insulting pranksters, not terribly heroic in what little plot unreels. Groucho's smoking is very prominent, and Harpo at one point "comically" shoots at everyone in sight with a revolver.

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What's the story?

A vehicle for the slapstick and verbal comedy of the Marx Brothers, ANIMAL CRACKERS kicks off when Wealthy Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) decides to throw a party for the unveiling of her pricey new painting. Her fun-loving niece (Lillian Roth) and her associates steal the painting and replace it with a forgery. Then the forgery is stolen and replaced with another forgery. Two of the riffraff involved are Emanuel Raveli (Chico Marx) and the mute, mischievous Professor (Harpo Marx). Enter Rittenhouse's guest, eccentric explorer Capt. Spaulding (Groucho Marx), whose uproarious monologues segue into an attempt to identify the culprits, then plenty of Marx Brothers' hi-jinks.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

While movie historians and classic-comedy fans practically worship ANIMAL CRACKERS as a high point of the Marx Brothers career, it's a rickety, primitive talkie with an insubstantial plot. The Marx Brothers were famous vaudevillians, and this is pretty much a filmed version of a play they did. You get the impression the director just left the camera running and went for coffee while the comics did their verbal gymnastics and slapstick unattended.

While much of the antics are hilarious, some will fly right over the heads of modern viewers. For example: When Groucho goes into "strange interludes," talking to the camera in gloomy, poetic terms, he's mocking an avant-garde Eugene O'Neill drama that was a recent Broadway hit. There are a lot of spoofy touches and asides, and viewers who don't have a strong grasp on the time period -- or patience for a static lens POV -- might find Animal Crackers far from the king of the comedy jungle, despite its "classic" status.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the effectiveness of the comedy, and how the Marx Brothers might have seemed to Depression-era audiences. A lot of their clowning has its roots in live theater and vaudeville, just like the Three Stooges or Abbott and Costello. What old-school (silent/early sound) comedians do your kids like and why?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 28, 1930
DVD release date:April 8, 1998
Cast:Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Zeppo Marx
Director:Victor Heerman
Studio:Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Genre:Comedy
Run time:98 minutes
MPAA rating:G

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Quality

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
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  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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