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steve wrestling a warthog-like monster Image: Paramount Animation

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Rumble gives an underdog sports story a monster-packed makeover

Everything’s better with giant monsters, including film clichés

Sometimes, you just want to watch giant monsters fight.

Rumble, a CG animated movie from a partnership between Paramount and World Wrestling Entertainment, turns the kaiju-movie spectacle of giant monsters destroying things into a popular sporting event. Director and co-writer Hamish Grieve mostly spools Rumble out like a typical underdog sports movie, down to the most familiar beats. But the spectacle of giant-monster fighting saves the movie from playing out like a million others before it. There isn’t a lot of substance beneath that spectacle, but Rumble does monsters, wrestling, and monster–wrestling pretty damn well, and it makes young viewers’ possible first sports movie into something memorable.

[Ed. note: This review contains slight setup spoilers for Rumble.]

a giant shark tentacle monster standing in a spray of fireworks Image: Paramount Animation

Loosely based on Rob Harrell’s graphic novel Monster on the Hill — where country villages in Victorian England rally behind their own monsters in fighting matches — Rumble keeps the spirit of town-sponsored monster fights, but brings the story into the modern day, and infuses it with WWE elements. The tiny town of Stoker-on-Avon, which in spite of its very English name is not explicitly in the UK, was once the home of a legendary monster-coach duo, Rayburn (Charles Barkley) and Coach Jim Coyle. Both passed away a few years before the movie opens, but their legacy lives on in every facet of the town, particularly in the Stoker Stadium, the village’s pride and joy.

After Tentacular (Terry Crews), the town’s current champion, decides to defect and join up with the neighboring town of Slitherpool, Stoker loses its primary source of income. Coach Coyle’s daughter Winnie (Geraldine Viswanathan) decides to train a new monster to rise up as a champion and bring glory to the town. She meets Steve (Will Arnett), a giant red reptilian monster who’s racked up some debt, and he reluctantly agrees to train with her. Thus begins the underdog sports story, as Winnie and Steve team up to save Stoker’s stadium from becoming a parking lot.

The most compelling part of Rumble is seeing more of a world where monster-fighting is the biggest international sport. It’s just plain fun to watch monsters touting sports-drink partnerships, and to walk through the logistics of the settings. Some are monster-sized, like the locker room where Winnie convinces Steve to join her. Others are human-sized, and the monsters must pick their way through carefully. It’s charming to see coaches zip around on flying scooters so they can talk face-to-face with their towering monsters, and the wrestling matches themselves are totally wild. Take all the theatricality of WWE and mix that with tentacles, horns, and other monstrous appendages, and it’s a visual treat.

steve holding winnie in his hand Image: Paramount Animation

Each of the monsters has a unique design, from King Gorge, who looks like a giant horned bulldog, to the shark-headed and tentacled Tentacular. Steve is actually the least exciting creature, as he’s a big, red, scaly guy. But the rest of the monsters range from feathered to furry, from small puffballs to giant looming reptiles, and they use their different assets in their matches. The human characters don’t pop as much, but the ones the audience are supposed to remember — Winnie, for instance, and Tentacular’s new social-media-obsessed manager, Jimothy Brett-Chadley III (Ben Schwartz) — have distinct physicalities. Winnie is particularly endearing, with her purple space buns and confident walk. She commands the space she is in just as much as the giant monsters she works with.

Rumble stays close to the sports-movie playbook, as a plucky underdog tries to best the odds, live up to his family legacy, and save a town from a greedy developer. Rumble hits every single expected trope for the genre — big coaching speeches! Training montages! Unconventional approaches to winning that the professionals doubt! Following in the footsteps of parents and their glory! A final showdown! — and it doesn’t do anything new in that regard, except center the story on monster-wrestling. For the target audience of young children, though, Rumble might be a first exposure to this checklist of elements. And what better way to enter the genre than through giant monsters?

The familiar plot beats do make the zany monsters stand out, though. The scene where Winnie looks into Steve’s eyes and gives him a big, triumphant coach speech that sounds like it was algorithmically generated from hundreds and hundreds of sports movies is a particularly charming take on a familiar moment, simply because he’s a giant monster, and she’s standing on an elevated podium so she can look him in the eye. Come to Rumble for the giant-monster wrestling… and also stay for the giant-monster wrestling, because that’s really where the movie shines.

Rumble is streaming exclusively on Paramount Plus.

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