Imagine a film where Cinderella goes to the ball, has her magical moment, and then returns to the cinders to make the best of her life as a servant to a cruel family. If you know Cinderella, you know she is resilient, and she will keep singing and will find friendly relationships to sustain her, even if they are only animal friends.
Strike is the story of Mungo, a footballing mole with a goal to win the Wild Cup for England. Mungo is torn, because like many footballing greats from the olden days, he has to work in the mines and uphold the proud tradition of his forefathers and everyone else at the Diggington gold mine.
A rather sinister story
For Mungo and his friends, working in the mine is enjoyable, even though the gold mine seems to be a bit of a bust. But Mungo still has a dream to play football and is afraid to tell his father what he really wants to do.
From that point, the story gets a bit convoluted with bad guys who want to take over the mine; they resemble James Bond villains and the cartoon duo Boris and Natasha. The villains also, for some reason that I can’t recall, sabotage the England team by poisoning the players. A social media video of Mungo’s footballing skills inside the mine gets him a call up to a depleted squad for the Wild Cup.
The bad guys also enlist a seemingly kindly old rat to sabotage the mine by blowing it up while Mungo’s dad is inside. To keep Mungo out of the final against Germany, they kidnap his mom and friends, feed the rat to piranhas, chase Mungo and his friends back to the stadium, and and and use a giant magnet to whip Mungo’s goggles off his head.
I failed to mention Mungo’s goggles. My 5 year old granddaughter asked why Mungo wears goggles to play soccer. The dark goggles are invented by his friend Hedy to allow the mole to play in the bright stadium lights. Hedy is a girl (possibly a badger) who is a bit on the autistic spectrum and hence a fabulous innovator; she also maintains the equipment in the mine.
The film was privately financed by producers Jeremy Davis and Edward Catchpole. First-time Director Trevor Hardy has said that when the film suddenly got the go-ahead, there was no pre-production phase, and writer Neil James put the script together in 22 days.
That would certainly account for the ideas that don’t seem very child-friendly, such as children going off to work in the mines, and the National Team manager sidling up to Mungo’s newly widowed mom after the WC.
A good film for fans of stop motion
For fans of stop motion, such as John Ikuma of Stop Motion Magazine, the low budget nature of the film is actually one of its selling points. The detailed artistry of the puppet and set makers excels at charming the educated viewer. The model making work is provided primarily by students from Northbrook College. Ikuma’s Nov-2020 Facebook interview with Director Hardy is very informative on how things were done.
The animators did a pretty fair job on the stop motion football play. It conveys the game with a lot of spliced shots, similar to most live action soccer movies where the actors don’t know how to play.
Missing a market window
On the business side, Strike is an example of what happens when a movie misses its market widow. Most soccer movies are timed to hit theaters in the first half of a World Cup year, and I assume filmmakers Gigglefish Studios, who began collaborating in 2016, meant to release ahead of WC 2018.
However, midway through production, they learned that Aardman (makers of Wallace and Gromit) was producing Early Man. I think the Aardman film was reviewed by every English-speaking newspaper in the world. But Gigglefish’s Strike didn’t hit theaters until 2019, and like most soccer movies, it is pretty difficult to find a review of it. It also doesn’t help that the film is low-budget (£13M versus Early Man‘s £69M) and looks low-resolution.
In a key way, Gigglefish’s marketing situation was analogous to the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics: too little too late turns a project into an afterthought.
After seeing Early Man, watching Strike often reminded me of the 60+ year old TV series Gumby, whose characters had very limited mobility (they slid everywhere) and weird mouth movements. Cath Clarke of the Guardian thought viewers might find the puppets twee. And that sums it up for me as well — the film’s a bit twee, but it’s watchable by adults. Whether or not it is appropriate for children is up to their parents to decide.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6
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