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Smoochy Must Die

The Irish Mob and Children’s Television

By Sandra M. Chung

Death to Smoochy

Written by Adam Resnick

Directed by Danny DeVito

Starring Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Jon Stewart, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito

Rated R

The star of the film is a wholesome children’s television icon, but Death to Smoochy is a decidedly adult flick. Warner Brothers markets the film’s mascot as a adorable plush rhinoceros in a body bag, a symbol evocative of the guilty laughs and twisted humor that characterize the movie. Smoochy viewers will raise eyebrows or do double-takes at twisted concepts like the involvement of the Irish mob, Edward Norton dressed as a giant rhinoceros, and Danny DeVito, in this hilarious satire of the children’s television industry.

Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) leads a posh life when he’s not ruling the airwaves as “Rainbow Randolph,” the celebrated star of the most popular children’s show on television. But when the FBI uncovers his shady deals with the mob and overzealous parents, the network boots his scandalous, multicolored self off the air. Kidnet executives Stokes (Jon Stewart, The Daily Show) and Nora (Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich) immediately begin the hunt for a new, squeaky-clean protagonist of children’s programming. Their search ends in a Coney Island methadone clinic, where Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) spreads kindness, responsibility, and organic foods in the guise of Smoochy the fuchsia rhino (think Barney with a phallic yellow horn).

Smoochy’s show is a smash hit, quickly turning Sheldon into a beloved, highly profitable public icon. The naÏve Sheldon tries to politely pitch his ideas to Kidnet programming executives, but makes no progress in the power struggles and money-grubbing reality of the industry. Undaunted, Sheldon adopts the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and hires Burke (DeVito) to serve as a more forceful agent in his dealings with the network.

As Burke garners more control over Smoochy’s show and image, Sheldon is reluctantly drawn into the same web of shady deals that brought Randolph down. In the meantime, the destitute Randolph plots revenge against his replacement, unsuccessfully resorting to Neo-Nazism, phallic cookies, and self-immolation. Will Mopes, with his wholesome naivete, ultimately prevail over the same evil that tempted and destroyed Randolph? Or are all children’s television stars doomed to live their later years as mentally unstable bums and hitmen?

Death to Smoochy appeals to the Cadbury eggs among adults: the hard, sophisticated chocolate shell and the sweet, creamy child within. While much of the film’s humor is exceedingly crass and mature, the developing relationship (read: obligatory love story) between Sheldon and Nora makes for touching moments rendered only slightly ridiculous or bittersweet by circumstances (a love scene with giant purple feet, an alcohol-elicited overture of friendship and almost-kiss). And Norton’s trademark Smoochy pose, with widespread arms and open-mouthed grin in a plump fuchsia costume, is alarmingly adorable.

Williams, Stewart, and Norton are cast against type, to varying effect. Williams is both offensive and hilarious as the deranged wash-out Smiley. Reveling in his unique brand of over-the-top, lightning-quick humor, he seems exceedingly thrilled to not be playing another Patch Adams. Stewart plays the overgroomed executive Stokes with just the right amount of restraint. Norton, however, is never completely convincing as the organic, superhappy Mopes. His highly talented portrayal of the seemingly guileless yet deeply loyal and motivated good guy is unfortunately inappropriate. In a film populated by purposely one-dimensional characters, Norton seems to be the only one who isn’t in on the joke.

Overall, however, the casting is impeccable. Look for appearances by Harvey Fierstein (Bullets Over Broadway) as a nefarious charity pusher and the creepy Vincent Schiavelli (Tomorrow Never Dies) as a deteriorating relic of earlier children’s programming. Don’t be deterred by the two-and-a-half star rating; though not exactly an Oscar contender, Smoochy delivers exactly what it intends to deliver. This is a movie that begs not to be taken seriously, and if anyone does, the joke is on him.