Considering how short it is, it was an odd decision to turn the book Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce into the four-part miniseries Lost Ollie rather than a ninety-minute or two-hour film. With every episode over 40 minutes, this naturally meant that the adaptation would deviate a lot from its source material and deviate it does, to the point where it’s more a completely new story with the same characters rather than a faithful adaptation of the children’s book.
Sadly, this still doesn’t save Lost Ollie from its multitudes of problems nor does it justify its length. It follows the story of a stuffed toy rabbit named Ollie trying to find Billy, the boy who owned and loved him, after being lost and losing his memory. Throughout the show, he gets flashbacks of times with Billy and everything that led him to being lost. Unfortunately, the format is just too long for a story as simple as this.
Plenty of moments feel overdone or flat-out unnecessary, with the second half in particular feeling in desperate need of shortening. As such, Lost Ollie suffers from moments of odd or sometimes terrible pacing. Exciting scenes are often followed by tedious and boring ones, many that would have benefited from a minute or two cut from them.
Throughout, Lost Ollie loves to revel in its melodrama. Even people who enjoy sweet family dramas might find this one too cloying to digest, especially with scenes concerning Billy and his family. This is distinctly true with the last episode which had scenes so saccharine it’s hard not to laugh at them because of how hard they’re trying to be emotional and how apparent their attempts are. This show really wants to make you cry — subtlety is not its strong suit.
Neither is originality. Lost Ollie borrows a lot from the playthings-coming-to-life stories that came before it like the Toy Story films, The Brave Little Toaster, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It’s about a toy who gets separated from his owner and has to find his way back to them, the exact same plot as the three previously mentioned.
All the clichés are here like the constant flashbacks of great times with the owner, the themes of growing up and the toys’ owners forgetting them, and certain toys becoming evil because they’ve been abandoned. Even scenes without talking toys feel distractingly derivative of other dramatic children’s films like Bridge to Terabithia and Because of Winn-Dixie.
There’s the stock bully character, the death of a loved one, the parent who has trouble communicating with their kid, the theme of children understanding things that adults don’t — Lost Ollie doesn’t have enough going for it to really feel like its own thing.
Still, there are worse things than being derivative and Lost Ollie does have some great aspects to it. The animation, for starters, is fantastic especially with the main three toys, Ollie, Zozo, and Rosy, who look alive and full of emotion. You can always tell what every toy character is thinking or feeling just by facial expression alone. This is particularly impressive with Ollie who manages to convey so much emotion despite having only two big black dots as his eyes.
Visually, the show is nothing short of splendid, featuring some really mesmerizing cinematography, as well as incredible set and costume designs. The production is especially superlative during the scenes that take place in the carnival, particularly the flashback ones. This is all chiefly elevated by a marvelous score — the show has some notably great music playing during many of the principal scenes.
In addition to great visuals and music, the show also features excellent acting, both in front of the camera and in the recording booth. Jonathan Groff shines as the voice of Ollie, his performance filled with the childlike innocence and enthusiasm a character like Ollie needs.
Tim Blake Nelson gives a tremendous performance as well as the voice of Zozo, Ollie’s friend who helps him in his journey to find Billy. Sadly, Mary J. Blige’s vocal performance as Zozo’s friend Rosy just isn’t on par with Groff’s or Nelson’s, weighing the film down whenever her character speaks.
When it comes to live-action performances, Kesler Talbot and Jake Johnson both give admirable performances as Billy and Daddy respectively. However, the true star here is Gina Rodriguez, who absolutely shines as Momma in every scene she’s in. Even when her scenes feel sickeningly and artificially sentimental, her performance always feels genuine.
It should also be noted that if there’s one thing refreshing about Lost Ollie, it’s the fact that Billy’s mom isn’t related by blood to her son. The show never discloses if she’s Billy’s stepmother or adoptive mother, but regardless, there is something notable about a family story going in such a direction when it could’ve easily stuck with the traditional direction of birth parents instead.
Unfortunately, nothing can save a bad script, or in Lost Ollie’s case, an overwritten one. Lost Ollie doesn’t trust its viewers enough to leave anything to interpretation, instead opting to spell out its themes and overblow its sentimentality. Where the book was toned-down and subtle with its melancholy, Lost Ollie is obnoxiously in-your-face about it to the point where the emotional scenes feel unnatural, forced, and overcalculated.
It’s a shame too, because Lost Ollie clearly has a lot of talented people involved, both in front of and behind the camera. There’s enough visual splendor here to keep kids invested but it’s hard to imagine Lost Ollie becoming the timeless children’s classic it so desperately wants to be. Ultimately, only time will tell but it’s more likely to end up the way most toys end up — largely forgotten by the people who once enjoyed them when they were kids.
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Lost Ollie features amazing visuals and terrific performances but is bogged down by a far-too-lengthy runtime and a cloying script, ultimately feeling too overdone and artificial to really pull at the heartstrings.
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