Despite a decent premise and above-average animation, Two By Two is content to be as formulaic and uninteresting as humanly possible.
I’m struggling to think of an animated film released this decade that has uglier main character designs than the ones that Two By Two sports. Not the animals that still exist today, save for the King lion who has a really distracting quiff because nobody remembered how bad it looked on Alec Baldwin Lion from Madagascar 2, those all look fine, although they do suffer from the film’s excess colour palette. The film’s main characters, however, are not real species of animal, so the film’s designers get free reign with regards to their design.
And, oh hell, are they ever unpleasant to look at. The Nestrians are coated in excess fuzz, they have too many differently-shaped appendages and so little rhyme or reason as to their construction that they basically look like somebody just kept gaffa-taping a children’s playset of shapes together until they got bored, their nose grabs the attention in a bad way, their colour scheme is unnecessarily garish… I get that the point of the film is that the Nestrians are always out-of-place no matter where they are, but they just look plain hideous. The Grymps are a little better, but they suffer from ill-fitting eyes and needless body patterns that look like bad henna tattoos, whilst the Griffins are just kinda not pleasant to look at, and not in an intended “fierce predator” way.
It’s a shame that those characters are so unappealing to look at, too, because the animation is actually pretty decent compared to most mid-league animated fare. I mean, the colour palette really is sickeningly bright, and instead of looking convincingly wet during any one of the numerous sequences involving water, characters instead end up looking like shined vinyl models of themselves, but otherwise things are rather decent. Character animation manages to tow the line between “limited animation” and “just plain cheap” rather well, there’s a nice lived-in feel to the ark, and there’s some decent boarding here and there. If the character designs weren’t so ugly, this would be an OK movie to look at.
I mean, it’s not a particularly good one to watch. Yeah, Two By Two is not good. It’s not bad, but it’s not good, either. This itself is a shame because the film frequently hints at a much more interesting and entertaining movie than is presented here. The plot involves two Nestrians, a father and son called Dave and Finney respectively, and two Grymps, a mother and daughter called Hazel and Leah respectively, trying to survive the inbound flood by taking passage on Noah’s ark. The Nestrians, however, aren’t on the guest list to board the ark and are basically left to go extinct. Dave stows he and Finney away on the ark, however, by pretending to be Grymps, which causes extra problems when Finney and Leah accidentally miss the launch of the ark and have to find a way to survive the flood and the Griffins hunting them.
There are actual large scale stakes there as well as thematic touches like the strongest deciding who gets to survive and what not – a group made up of the king lion, a flamingo, and an elephant check and decide who is allowed on the ark or not, and they are a group that can barely hide their contempt for the other species – but Two By Two actively goes out of its way to not touch on them. The extinction risk is left unspoken and is completely undercut by a brief indulgence in cartoon physics that, unsurprisingly, make the life-and-death stakes feel insincere, whilst that thematic underpinning also goes untouched until the ending where, in a very brief line, it’s promptly dropped completely and explained away as a misunderstanding. It’s a film that seems terrified of getting even slightly dark, keeping up the day-glo sunshine tone regardless of how boringly formulaic it makes the final product.
In a way, that puts it in close proximity to DreamWorks’ recently released Home which back-grounded its themes of colonialism in favour of misfits finding each other, whilst Two By Two backgrounds its themes in favour of things like parental love and finding friends and your place in the world. But where Home gets away with it by having likeable and entertaining characters, Two By Two’s cast are all really grating. The Nestrians, who are both excessively optimistic and panicky, are too shrill and irritating, the Grymps, who pride themselves on being loners and hate company, are too needlessly uptight and angry, the Griffins are basically just boring Cockney “Infinity +1” villains, and the other two characters who tag along with Leah and Finney – an overweight land creature named Obesey, and the parasite that lives on top of him and is voiced by radio DJ Chris Evans for some bizarre reason – are incredibly uninteresting and poorly voiced.
So that ends up leaving Two By Two feeling rather emotionally hollow and making its formulaic beat-by-beat nature really obvious. That’s a shame because the film isn’t bad, really, again excepting its awful lead character designs. There are a few genuinely funny gags, some scenes are entertaining, the actual animation is fine, and it all works competently, even with flat line readings all about the place. It’s just not particularly good, or interesting, or original, or doing anything really to adequately justify taking up 80-odd minutes of anyone’s time, especially with how actively it steers itself into formula to avoid those far more interesting avenues.
In fact, that formula was far better served in Ice Age, which actively addressed the extinction stakes and thematic undertones that Two By Two strives to avoid. Ice Age adopts the appropriate melancholic tone, has pleasant to look at characters who are entertaining to watch and likeable, and aims to be more than just an 80 minute time-killer. Basically, although there’s nothing fundamentally or majorly wrong with it, there’s no real reason to recommend Two By Two, either. You’re better off leaving it to drown.