A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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?
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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