Part of my “Film Critic 2.0” routine has been to review more movies that skip the theatrical experience in favor of the more diverse slate of streaming services, like iTunes, Amazon Prime, and On Demand through a cable provider. Sometimes going through original online movies feels like dumpster diving: wading through a lot of garbage.
“Toonstone” is a homegrown Wilmington production that features a cavalcade of well-known local talent. It’s directed by Brett Triplett and stars Nate Panning. The pair has been delivering the yuk yuks for many years in the Port City. Some may know them as Hank and Jed. From hilarious shorts like “Super Sam” to extremely popular online animated series like “Battlefield Friend” and “Doraleous & Associates,” this comedy team is no stranger to success. Now, they’ve taken the next inevitable step: the feature film.
Feature films can be a difficult transition, especially to those who have succeeded in the world of the shorts. There’s a huge difference between 5 minutes of funny and a 90-minute comedy. “Toonstone” proves that Triplett, Panning and company can successfully translate their brand of funny to a full-length movie.
“Toonstone” is funny. For me, that was a foregone conclusion. Being familiar with their earlier work, I knew I would laugh. That’s the sharpest tool at their disposal. What surprised me is how “Toonstone” worked as a full-length movie, featuring likable, three-dimensional characters in their two-dimensional, animated landscape. The story is something very familiar: a Wild West story about reluctant heroes and dastardly villains that has fun skewing the genre.
When I watched the trailer, I immediately thought of last year’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West”—a wretched, unfunny, painful experience from Seth Macfarlane that made me wonder if poking fun at a long-dead movie genre, like the western, had any trails worth travelling. “Toonstone” proves otherwise.
Dalton (Nate Panning) is a struggling musician looking for his big break. He crosses paths with a crazy, gun-toting outlaw, and through sheer dumb luck manages to win a shootout and become a local hero. After a night of binge-drinking and celebration, Dalton ends up the sheriff in the wild west, a job that he is both unqualified for and not interested in—that is until he figures out he can use his newfound fame to help his waning singing career.
Nate Panning is a fantastic straight man, comically speaking. “Toonstone” creates a world filled with weird, wonderful characters, but one always needs a straight man to keep everything from spiraling too far out of control. Every straight man needs a crazy partner, and once again that falls to Brent Triplett. Triplett practically steals the show in the role of a talking horse named “White Lightning.” For me, the funniest bits in “Toonstone” come from the interplay between Panning’s Dalton and Triplett’s “McCoughna-Horse.” These are two guys who have their comedic routine down. Much like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and Dean and Martin, Panning and Triplett have that same kind of chemistry.
Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps the comedic comparison would be Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of “South Park.” Panning and Triplett have been doing the funny animated thing for awhile with their own minimalistic style. They don’t work as “blue” as Parker and Stone, but they do have a style that is heavy on pop-culture reference. One of my favorite parts was an occasionally occurring Batman-like character, who always seems to show up moments after a dangerous situation has been resolved. “Toonstone” does a great job of peppering the main story with gags to keep the jokes coming at a rapid-fire pace.
“Toonstone” is a fun, off-the-wall comedy. The plot may be familiar, but it’s the comedic flourishes of the talent involved that make this one worth watching.
Starring Cullen Moss, Brent Triplett, Sheila Brothers
Directed by Brent Triplett