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Odds are, Danny DeVito's black comedy Death To Smoochy didn't land on your radar when it was released 20 years ago this week, and if it did, its appearance was fleeting.
Written by Adam Resnick — a comedy writer famed for his work on counter-culture monoliths The Late Show With David Letterman and The Larry Sanders Show — this sly satire of children's television and the corrupt world lurking behind its colourful scenery, is regarded as one of the most notable box office bombs of the early noughties.
In it, Robin Williams gets a rare chance to flex his villainous chops as ‘Rainbow' Randolph, a disgraced kids presenter who's ousted and replaced by Edward Norton's goodie-two-shoes children's show purist Sheldon Mopes and his Barney-esque purple rhino alter-ego, Smoochy.
Throughout its 116 minutes, we watch as Randolph tries his best to reclaim his beloved hosting gig while Resnick employs bags of dark humour (Nazis, guns, penis-shaped cookies), to highlight the ruthless corporate greed that fuels this seemingly innocent-looking industry.
Boasting appearances from Williams, Norton, Catherine Keener and DeVito himself, the movie was eyed as a sure-fire-hit that'd help launch Film4's movie slate following a co-producing partnership with Warner Bros — but things didn't exactly go to plan.
In fact, even DeVito was forced to eventually throw up his hands and admit defeat regarding its reception from audiences, saying "It was a great experience… all the way up until Warner Bros released it."
However despite this prevailing narrative surrounding the movie's legacy, a quick "Death To Smoochy" Google search tells a different story. As DeVito's film celebrates its 20th birthday, it's clear that it wasn't as terrible as critics would have you believe — rather, it just needed a little time to find its crowd.
Undoubtedly heightened by Williams' untimely death and the dark parallels between that event and his unusually dark performance as ‘Rainbow' Randolph, perhaps Death To Smoochy finding its tribe later in life is a great lesson in not putting too much stock on opening weekend ‘hot takes' and box office receipts.
Maybe some films need more time to settle into their own groove and meet audiences on their own terms — and when you look at the maths surrounding this movie's reviews, it doesn't take an education-loving purple rhino to help you understand that the audience love for it clearly overshadows any two-decade old negative press.— Simon Bland, yahoo! movies
Fri March 17, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
Germany, United Kingdom, United States of America; 2002; in English; 109 min, 35mm
Director: Danny DeVito, Screenplay: Adam Resnick, Cast: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart