It is a generic children’s adventure that doesn’t add anything new. The journey Chickenhare goes on isn’t really for him. Instead, it’s to prove to his father that he can be as good of an adventurer as him. The trials he goes on are set up well, but it falls flat because there is no emotional connection to these characters.
This review contains spoilers for the Netflix film Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness.
There are many children’s stories that can project a message of self-love and acceptance. This message has been used repeatedly but in different ways. As long as the family movie you’re making is engaging enough, then this particular journey for the character won’t feel dragged out. Unfortunately for Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness, it falls on the generic side of the spectrum. In this family adventure, we meet young Chickenhare (Jordan Tartakow) who is the adopted son of King Peter (Brad Venable) — a famous adventurer. He has a tough time growing up because he is different; he is part chicken and part hare. He disguises himself as a hare so no one will bully him. When the day of the Royal Adventurer Society trial comes, Chickenhare, hampered by his disguise, fails miserably. Determined to prove himself to his father and the entire kingdom, Chickenhare takes it upon himself to find the Scepter of the Hamster of Darkness, before his evil Uncle Lapin (Danny Fehsenfeld) gets to it. The Scepter will give immense power to its holder. If Lapin gets hold of it, he will be unstoppable. Accompanied by his faithful servant Abe (Joey Lotsko), a sarcastic turtle, and Meg (Laila Berzins), a martial arts expert skunk, he sets off on an epic and initiatory quest.
What started as a fun, kid-friendly adventure ended up being a chore to sit through. The first half of this film has great pacing, strong visuals, and a likeable character. Almost anyone can relate to Chickenhare because we all have our insecurities. All he wants is to be like his father and live his dream as an adventurer. He narrates his story to quickly highlight how his father became King instead of his Uncle. Which foreshadows the grand third act (predictable) finale. Chickenhare is so uncomfortable in his skin and has social anxiety because people make fun of him out in the open. He wants to prove that he can be as great as his father, and he hides the chicken side of him to do so. When he undergoes these trials in front of the whole kingdom, he loses his footing and does not succeed. The lesson for young children here is to always be yourself in everything you do, even if it is a bit scary. The first half-hour of the film was engaging because of Chickenhare’s struggle within the kingdom and viewers will be rooting for him. But once his journey to Sceptor begins, that’s when the flow of the film gets shaky.
This family adventure film felt different because of how simple it became. Chickenhare and his friend Abe meet Meg on their journey, and the three of them must go through three obstacles to get to the Sceptor. Along the way, Meg helps Chickenhare embrace his flaws and use them for good when navigating their way through the land. There are some strong action scenes with Chickenhare and his friends, but it still felt dragged out when they weren’t in the middle of a fight. Once Chickenhare battles his Uncle Lupin in the finale, that’s when it becomes engaging again. The issue with this film is that the focus isn’t on Chickenhare’s journey of acceptance, all of that growth is covered by his need to prove himself to his father, and the messaging doesn’t make an impact because of it. So while the focus is on proving himself to his dad and the kingdom, he doesn’t realize that he is maturing into his person until the very end. There is a nice moment between father and son at the end, as Chickenhare finally feels comfortable in his skin.
Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness is a family film that could have benefitted from a shorter runtime and tighter action scenes. It felt like there was so much excess for a simple story about self-acceptance. The characters are cute and fun, but they don’t have enough of a charming factor to make you connect with any of them. Sure, audiences will feel for Chickenhare because it’s a universal story, but it’s sure to leave their mind as soon as it’s over. The uniqueness of a chicken and hare mix is enough to draw some interest, but unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up for the entire runtime. It felt like co-directors Ben Stassen and Benjamin Mousquet had fun bringing this adventure to life with all of these animals. Writer Dave Collard adapted this from the graphic novel, Chickenhare by Chris Grine, which has two installments. Collard changed a bit from the source material to make this a fun, family adventure film.