Written by Patrick Hao
Professional wrestling’s place in the sports movie genre has always been complicated due to its status as a “sport” with a predetermined outcome. Either a movie decides to ignore the outright spectacle and behind the scenes nature of it like in No Holds Barred or they make it into a gritty drama like in The Wrestler or the Starz show Heels or they do a weird in-between toeing the line between kayfabe and reality like Wrestling with My Family. Rumble, a WWE co-production with Paramount Animation is strangely a film that seems embarrassed that it is about professional wrestling in the first place.
Paramount Animation’s studio output has been straightforwardly targeted at children. They do not hide in-jokes or sly adult references aimed at the parents. The animation is big and loud with humor to match. Rumble is a world in which Kaiju monsters exist and live in harmony with humans. And when big monsters exist, that means they must fight in professional wrestling matches for the entertainment of the masses. The Kaijus also serve to represent the city they originate from, like if they were the Yankees to New York or the Seahawks to Seattle.
When Tentacles (voiced by Terry Crews), the representative of the small town of Stoker decides to take his talents to a bigger town, the town of Stoker is desperate to find a new representative or else they would lose their stadium and that sweet, sweet tourist income. Winnie (voiced by Geraldine Viswanathan), an aspiring wrestling trainer, goes to an underground wrestling ring to find Steve (voiced by Will Arnett) to be the next representative of Stoker in the monster wrestling world.
The standard sports cliches and montages persist. There are plenty of sight gags relating to the monsters and their size. Steve must learn from Winnie that in order to be a great professional wrestler, it is not about strength or brawn. Rather, he has to learn dexterity through dancing. How Mr. Miyagi of her. The animation has thought behind it, even though it is clear that this was not necessarily made with a lot of time.
What is interesting is this film’s conception of professional wrestling – a film produced by World Wrestling Entertainment – is how unlike the actual product their conception of it. Rather, the whole thing follows the format of a boxing match. There are rounds, corner trainer meetings, even a ten count. It does not help that the in-ring announcer of the events is Michael Buffer (Yes, I know. Before you yell at me, Michael Buffer did a brief stint as the main event announcer for World Championship Wrestling in the 1990s. I still contend that I associate him with boxing more). Even the use of dance as training seems more like Muhammed Ali than the acrobatics heavy pro wrestling. Very few wrestling moves actually occur, except a few off-the-top rope moves.
The question becomes, why even choose professional wrestling to begin with if you are not going to use the sport as your medium for storytelling? Maybe it was to engender thoughts in my head for a movie that was made purely for mindless entertainment for parents who want to leave their children alone for an hour and a half.
Rumble is streaming on Paramount+ and will play in theatrical release on 2/17/22