So what is it? Good question.
Well, let’s begin with the fact that it is, as billed, an animated film in 3D. (Except, of course, if you happen to catch it in 2D format.) It is also based, loosely speaking, on Chapman’s 1986 memoir.
Graham, despite being dead for 23 years, narrates and plays himself in the film thanks to audiotapes he made from this autobiography a couple of years before he died.
Since one of the film’s directors, Bill Jones, is the son of Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, he had little trouble recruiting other troupe members — his dad, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin — to play themselves and other characters.
He even got Cameron Diaz to play Freud. Don’t ask me why.
The filmmakers — Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett — have made commercials and music videos along with documentaries but they aren’t animators.
If it sounds like a bit of a mess, well … it is.
Not too surprisingly, the segments don’t relate to each other much nor do they stand alone. It will be extremely difficult for any but hardcore Python buffs to get into any of this. Even those fans may not all be able to do so.
While the animation styles are indeed different, overall one can say what is on display here is a collage of 2D, CGI, Flash, stop-motion and hand-drawn illustrations that are playful at best and crude at worst. Much delves into the surreal and stream of consciousness.
‘Tis a pity since Chapman thoroughly deserves a mischievous tribute. In a way, Chapman, as witty and clever as he was, is the forgotten Python.
First of all he died young. Then he never really had a career apart from Python itself.
As the film would have it, “he was openly gay but secretly alcoholic.” Only there was little secret about the latter fact. Indeed his Python mates made him detox if he wanted to continue working in their movies.
This nightmare of going “cold turkey” gets represented in one of the segments. Other sketches include a shrink’s attempt to cure him of chronic name-dropping — he moved to L.A. for a while where he did hang out with celebrities — and a musical number about his sex life that goes by the edifying title of “Sit on My Face.”
So yes, there is an adult, nutty, irreverent, Python-esque quality to all this including the fact the animation reminds you slightly (only slightly though) of Gilliam’s cartooning.
Shockingly, little of this is funny apart from Chapman’s own humorous narration — and Cleese’s immortal funeral speech for his pal. Nor does the movie ever really get to the bottom of the enigma that is Chapman.
Instead the overindulgence in this gimmicky narration and the 3D, which adds absolutely nothing, often loses sight of the character altogether.
So the film winds up celebrating not so much Chapman as ambiguity.
The film is heart-felt so there will be those who will enjoy the film for what it is. Meanwhile the rest of us will still be trying to figure out what exactly that is.
Opens: November 2, 2012 (Brainstorm Media/EPIX)
Production company: Bill and Ben Productions
Cast: Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, Philip Bulcock
Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett
Screenwriters: Graham Chapman, David Sherlock, Douglas Addams, David Yallop, Alex Martin
Producers: Bill Jones, Ben Timlett
Executive producers: Meyer Shwartzstein, Mark Sandell, Mark Greenberg, Douglas A. Lee, Aurelio Landolt, Hanspeter Jaberg
Animation producer: Justin Weyers
Music: John Greswell & Christopher Taylor at MPM London
Editor: Bill Jones
No rating, 85 minutes