DIRECTED BY: Craig Goodwill
FEATURING: Rob Ramsay, Julian Richings, Suresh John, Zoie Palmer, Stephanie Pitsiladis, Ken Hall
PLOT: Jon works on an assembly line pulling fetal dolls from out of cabbages, but his dim memories of a loving mother lead him to venture out into the wider world searching for answers to the riddle of his past.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The promising idea is like something a young Tim Burton would dream up, but the execution is like something an old Tim Burton would deliver.
COMMENTS: Patch Town starts from a finely macabre premise—what if “Cabbage Patch” dolls were really alive, and after their owners outgrew and abandoned them they had their memories wiped and were retired to harvest more of their kind in an industrial hellhole run by totalitarian overseers? Unfortunately, by the end of the movie, this bent premise has been straightened out. When ex-toy Jon ventures out of his dystopia and becomes a fish-out-of-water in modern Manhattan, Patch Town becomes more Elf than Brazil. Sloppy plot points, obvious jokes, soft rock balladry, predictable beats, and sickly-sweet sentimentality undermine every novel idea the script invents. The film’s mixed-bag nature is evident from the earliest frames. Eerie shots of silhouetted storks flying in front of smokestacks show a flair for realizing storybook nightmares, but they also indicate Patch Town‘s mixed-up mythology: what is the role of storks in a world where babies are born from cabbages?
Patch Town is also a musical, which adds to its kitchen-sink credentials, but the movie would have benefited from channeling its musical energies into comedy instead. Lyrics are thrown out at almost random points, with little production behind them: characters mostly just walk and sometimes share their thoughts in song. The comedy fares little better. Cherubic Rob Ramsay is likable and physically perfect for the role, especially with his dollike mop of hair, but his antics busts minimal guts. Although his shtick is mostly limited to a funny accent, Suresh John’s Sly seems intended to be the spotlight comic relief character. Instead, it’s Ken Hall’s sadistically practical henchman who comes off the best (he declines to eat children because “you have to have boundaries”).
Patch Town is so good-spirited that it’s as hard to hate as a chubby-faced doll. The movie’s dystopian opening suggests that it’s going to subvert sentimental kids’ films, but ultimately it sides with the cute. If you read the premise and thought you were in for some bitter fun, you will be disappointed by the sugar rush. Patch Town was extended into a feature from a 26-minute short; the original was probably the perfect length, since the full-length film has about 26 minutes of good ideas.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Patch Town’s frequently lands pretty far to the left of the dial, and anybody unable to get on its weirdo wavelength may grow fatigued by the film’s many flights of fancy.”–Charles Bramesco, The Dissolve (contemporaneous)