The Flintstones would have been a much more enjoyable movie if it had paid as much attention to its storytelling as it does to its visuals, which, crafted on humongous sets, are filled with ideas and imagination, and for the most part, do not look like sets. It is a triumph for the production design team that in a world so cartoonish, outlandish and blatantly absurd, we still get the feel of a suburban neighbourhood, right down to the lighting of street lamps. There is a world within this world, and it works. It’s a pity, then, that the screenwriters do not qualify for similar praise.
Really, it’s all in the screenwriting with this one. The actors, led by an enthusiastic John Goodman, do a good job bringing their cartoon namesakes to the big screen. They even sound alike. Even Rosie O’Donnell, who has been criticised for making Betty a less-than-petite dame, nails her little giggle. But look at what they have to work with.
The Flintstones cartoons have always grounded their slapstick violence with wit and politically charged one-liners. There is a deep underlying satirical current that pervades its stories; what use is money in a world where even the richest look like yesterday’s trash, and the perks of being famous come as little consequence? The Flintstones are not go-getters. They are not wealthy or ambitious. They are stubbornly content to remain where they are. And then there is the violence, which never takes itself seriously. These are all things Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty are equipped to handle.
Why, then, would you trouble them with cockamamie schemes that involve fake companies and embezzlement? Why throw in thankless characters who run out of steam before their time is up? Is it to please the children in the audience? Do children even know what embezzling is? If they do, do they care? Do they care that the bad guy double-crosses his silky partner in crime? Maybe the answer is yes. But then stop and think — the children might care about this story, but do we?
Fred and Barney (Rick Moranis) work at the local quarry, which ties in with the cartoons. During an aptitude test (that the workers fail to question the need for an aptitude test at a quarry should already determine the test’s results), Barney surreptitiously exchanges his paper (slab) for Fred’s, which propels Fred to an office job and all kinds of bonuses. He is welcomed by Cliff Vandercave (Kyle MacLachlan), who intends to use Fred’s stupidity as a scapegoat for his conniving plan to sift money from the company. There is also a subplot about Barney’s and Betty’s adoption of Bamm-Bamm, the club-weilding little tyke who can lift a couch but cannot break free from ensnaring ropes. Barney and Betty have no money. Fred and Wilma (Elizabeth Perkins) come in to a lot. This sets up the domestic tragedy in which friendships are tested and lines are drawn, all without much emotional gravitas. It’s as if the screenplay has forewarned its characters of any impending disturbance and reassured them that all will be okay in the end.
What a shame this is, because The Flintstones has so much to offer. It begins and ends in much the same way that the cartoons do, with Fred battling for bed space with a sabre-toothed tiger, and its design is so uncanny in its resemblance to the illustrations of the 1960s that its narrative flaws can almost be overlooked. Of course, there are plenty of prehistoric puns and plays on words (a playground is bravely named “Jurassic Park”), and it’s refreshing to see modern appliances and technology function under different circumstances without electricity, although I am almost certain I saw sparks sprinkle from a TV set as it hit the ground.
The question The Flintstones needs to ask itself is: Who am I for? When I was little, I owned a large collection of toys based on this movie. I even had the Flintstone car. They’re all gone now. But surely the film couldn’t have been for anybody else other than kids if it inspired its own toy line. In fact, I think the toys were more successful than this movie’s plot.
Best Moment | Any time a character interacts with the set, the costumes, or the props.
Worst Moment | Any time a characters interacts with the story.