It is too bad that, of all the Marx brothers, Groucho Marx was the one that has become the most recognizable. It makes sense, considering he is the most noticeable, with his distinct look of the electric-tape mustache, frizzled hair and glasses and always seems to carry a cigar with him. But of all the Marx brothers, I felt the chemistry between the silent Harpo and the full-of-himself Chico was the best part of any Marx brothers film.
While each of the brothers has their own strengths and could probably carry a film on their own, but putting them together and watching each of their distinct styles of comedy bounce off one another makes for a comedy that has stuck with us for well over eighty years. Groucho’s insults, Harpo’s slapstick, Chico’s creativity and Zeppo’s…blandness (I remain unsure if that is supposed to be the joke with Zeppo Marx or if they couldn’t think of anything better for him) come together to form some of the best comedies at the beginning of the silent era. “Duck Soup” still remains their best work, since that gave us the great broken mirror sequence, but “Animal Crackers” can certainly compete with it.
When the Marx brothers are on-screen in “Animal Crackers,” it is glorious, especially when dealing with Harpo and Chico trying to steal a painting. Harpo does his best to translate Chico’s thick European accent and continues to pull many things that rhyme out his seemingly bottomless pockets, yet the two have to stay quiet, while Groucho works his “magic” on some “lucky” lady.
However, “Animal Crackers” problem is that it focuses a bit too much on characters that aren’t the Marx brothers, like a young couple that want to get married but the husband, a painter, doesn’t have a sustainable income and has only sold two paintings in the last year. Their acting is often stiff, as they stare off into the distance and not into each other’s eyes, like they’re looking for their next line. Granted, this is an early talkie so acting with sound had not been perfected yet. But when compared to the sequences involving the Marx brothers, the scenes with everyone else felt bland.
Overall, “Animal Crackers” was a fun time. Many memorable moments with the Marx brothers, giving each one an opportunity to stand out, and even Zeppo got one good scene with Groucho. The acting was not anything special and there were scenes that tended to drag, especially near the end, but anything involving the Marx brothers is always a blast to watch even all these years later.
Final Grade: B-