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Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang

1978, Starring Stephen Rosenberg, Alex Karras, Deena Baikowitz, Kirsten Bishop. Directed by Theodore J. Flicker

The classic Canadian children's book by CanLit institution Mordecai Richler is brought to life in this low budget yet extravagantly staged adaptation. Although I have not read the actual book in 20 years, the plot seems to be very faithful to the source, and overall, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang is a generally enjoyable Quebec-made film for both kids and adults.

After complaining that he is too little to have any fun, Jacob is sent to the corner store by his parents to pick up two quarts of chocolate ice cream. Jacob repeats his order to the clerk twice, as is his habit. The clerk jokingly accuses Jacob of making fun of him, and asks a policeman with a thick Francophone accent to take Jacob away. Scared, Jacob runs away to a nearby park before the clerk can reassure him that they were only kidding. In the park, Jacob falls asleep in some playground equipment, under a pile of leaves. There he dreams the story of the Hooded Fang, taking characters and elements from his "real life" (as seen in the first 5 minutes of the film) and turning them into a strange nightmare world.

Jacob dreams he is in a featureless courthouse cell, awaiting trial. The policeman from the corner store appears and takes Jacob before the judge (the clerk), and a mocking courtroom of adults. After professing his hatred for little brats, the judge accuses Jacob of making fun of an adult and the jury proclaims him guilty. His lawyer Mr. Loser is no help at all, and things only look up when the courtroom is stormed by the most unexpected of heroes— the Intrepid Shapiro and Fearless O'Toole, representatives of Child Power. The adults all cower at the sight of these two children (actually Jacob's brother and sister), and they warn the Judge against any unfair treatment of Jacob. The judge swears that children are all well treated, and under the watchful eyes the Intrepid Shapiro and Fearless O'Toole, Jacob is sentenced to the Children's Prison.

Waiting in his cell to be escorted away, Jacob is secretly visited by Shapiro and O'Toole, who give him a homing device called a "supersonic bleeper." Jacob is then taken to a van where he meets Children's Prison agents Mistress Fowl and Mr Fish (customers from the corner store). Instead of driving away, Mr Fish reveals a staircase hidden inside the van and leads Jacob down to the creepy Land of Fog. There, they board the ferry to Slimer's Island, where the Children's Prison is located. The polluted river is filled with crocodiles (OK, just an obviously fake animatronic one), and the skies are ripped apart by lightning (OK, just some stock footage), but they make it, scaring Jacob along the way with stories about the warden, a certain Hooded Fang.

Before being led to his cell, Jacob is introduced to the Hooded Fang, who explains his hatred of children. Once a wrestler, Fang gave the sports entertainment field up after his theatrical meanness was laughed at by a little brat who refused to shudder and scream at the sight of Fang's obvious evil. Fang orders Fish and Fowl to take Jacob to his cell, and to place him on a strict diet of stale bread and water. On the way, we see that the children are all blue in the face from a lack of sunlight, and that the jail is patrolled by the aptly named "Slime Squad," featuring some of the most ridiculous costumes this side of The Creeping Terror. However, once in his cell, Jacob discovers some candy inside his bread with a note saying "You have a friend."

The next morning, Jacob is retrieved by Mr Fox, an immense man in a fur-coat and another Francophone accent, to receive his prison uniform. He is first taken to the showers (located in the jail's freezer) and then is told to put on a potato sack with the number "22" (of course) stenciled across his chest. When Mr Fox checks to see if Jacob washed behind his ears, he inadvertently finds the supersonic bleeper. Mistaking it for a jewel, Mr Fox steals it and crafts it into a ring. Jacob is further discouraged when he learns that Mr Fox is being sent away with his new ring, on a mission of toy store sabotage.

At Child Power headquarters, the Intrepid Shapiro and Fearless O'Toole track down the signal from the bleeper, only to find Mr Fox in the back of a toy store mixing pieces of puzzles in the wrong boxes. When they confront him about his ring, he claims he found it inside a fish he caught, and Shapiro and O'Toole assume that Jacob was eaten by a sea creature.

Back at the prison, the Hooded Fang doesn't know what to do about Jacob, who refuses to tremble and scream when he walks in the room. The other children at least pretend to find him terrifying. He plans to break Jacob's spirit by making him say numbers other than "two." Around this time Jacob realizes that the candy and notes he has been finding around his cell are being put there but none other than the Hooded Fang himself. Jacob confronts him with his secret admiration for children, and blackmails the Fang into delivering a note to Child Power.

On getting the note, the Intrepid Shapiro and Fearless O'Toole track down Fox again (this time he's mixing up chemistry sets) and attack him with their plastic swords until he takes them to Slimer's Island. Realizing that his secret may get out, the Hooded Fang tries to attack Child Power by shooting great piles of slime at Shapiro and O'Toole from his slimeball cannon. Of course, you don't have to be intrepid or fearless to guess that the forces of Child Power triumph, the Fang is revealed as a softie, and Jacob awakes in the arms of his parents and siblings, who all skip off towards home.

This enduring classic was filmed again in the past few years, but without any connection to Canada. Not that there is much connection to Canada in this adaptation, beyond the fact that it is based on Richler's book. Still, the Hooded Fang is a typically Canadian film character, a loveable loser who is ineffective at everything, and lives in his former glory as a scary wrestler. Kind of reminds you of Paperback Hero or Paul Lynch's Blood and Guts, doesn't it?

I can't remember how long the Jacob Two-Two book is, but it seems to me that it was pretty short. To pad out the material to a still scant 75 minutes, the film features drawn-out sequences and worse, a half-dozen godawful kids songs. Many of the classic moments of the Jacob Two-Two book such as the judge's speech, Mr Fox's sabotage, and the upturned floating crocodiles (Child Power!) did not feel like they had any special significance when brought to film. The only scene that did achieve this was the introduction of the Intrepid Shapiro and Fearless O'Toole which featured flowing capes, heavenly choirs and adults scrambling to hide.

The scenes in the courtroom are very similar to the expressionistic sets of Invaders from Mars, a 1950s science-fiction film in which a child also dreams that he is arrested and hauled before a judge. The idea behind the sparse and exaggerated set design in that film was that since a child does not really know what the inside of a cell or a courtroom looks like, he would be unable to fill in details in a dream— the set would almost be a caricature of what it really was. I don't know if that would hold true in today's television addicted society, but the same kind of logic works well in the initial scenes of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. Unfortunately, it does not extend throughout the movie. The Children's Prison scenes appear straight out of a comic book, or perhaps some distorted version of Oliver Twist, and the toy store is perfectly ordinary.

Despite these flaws, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang is definitely worth a look. Canuxploitation recommends that for your next movie night, try a double bill of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and Mystery of the Million Dollar Hockey Puck. Guaranteed to please, and your theme could be either "Quebec Kids Classic Seventies Night," or "Longest Title for a Canadian Film Night"— the choice is up to you!

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