Inspector Sun is a Poirot-Inspired Tale That will Make Kids and Adults Reach for the Bug Spray

Inspector Sun is an animated family-comedy spinning a flimsy web of mystery, adventure, and insect intrigue. The Hercule Poirot inspired detective tale is more akin to Jacques Clouseau, but lacking the intelligence of the first, and the obvious bumbling satire of the latter.

Directed by Spanish-American filmmaker Julio Soto Gúrpide; the story takes place in a universe where anthropomorphic insects live within their own world – right under the feet of humans. Spiders can be anything. They range from being cops, gangsters, or even millionaires. Rhinoceros beetles, flies and ants all have prominent roles in society. When murder strikes, there isn’t a human in sight. Think of A Bug’s Life infused with Murder on the Orient Express. Sadly, Inspector Sun lacks the animated polish of Pixar, or the careful plotting of Agatha Christie’s mysteries.

Beginning in Shanghai in 1934, we follow Inspector Sun (Ronny Chieng), an aristocratic huntsman spider whose haughty personality sometimes gets in the way of him being a good detective. On first meeting he’s impetuously leading a raid on a warehouse where Sun’s arch nemesis, the Red Locust (Rich Orlow) is dwelling. When the raid is successful at capturing the locust, but injuring countless in a fireworks explosion, Sun is suspended from duty. He’s told he must take a trip as far away as possible – Sun very promptly boarding a seaplane chartered for New York. Humans occupy the cabins, but the bugs live in luxury underneath in the hull. 

On board is a plethora of quirky characters. Sun is shadowed by a spritely orphan, a jumping spider by the name of Janey (Emily Kleimo). She desperately wants to be Sun’s apprentice, but he claims there is no ‘us’ in ‘team’. Since Janey is a stowaway, Sun chooses to pay off shallow security chief Scarab (also Rich Orlow) to keep her from being booted off the plane. Also on board is a wealthy doctor Buggsy Spindlethorp (Scott Geer), his Black Widow wife Arabella Killtop (Jennifer Childs Greer), and Captain of the vessel – a nervous housefly named Skelton (Iain Batchelor). Before the first night aboard is over, someone is found dead, and Sun must conduct his inevitable investigations. A detective on holiday never means an actual holiday.

The biggest problem Inspector Sun has is that it fails to produce much in the way of mystery. Sun is written to be a character so drenched in idiocy that it becomes almost implausible for him to functionally solve the murder. As the points of reference include Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, and even Inspector Gadget the metatextual mix will be lost on the children it is made for. Ronnie Chieng’s voice-work is grating as he is playing every moment with snarky arrogance and irritability. Inspector Sun is a spider who is anything but charming, but worse than that – barely even watchable.

Janey must spend most of the runtime annoyingly seeking his approval – a trope which is beyond tired in films made for children. it’s a great disservice to any film when both lead characters can only be described in adjectives that relate to ‘infuriation’. Just when the detective work begins to get even mildly interesting, the final act morphs into a usual smash-and-crash fest you’d typically find in the final thirty minutes of a Marvel or DCEU picture.

By the time the intrigue is over, the film’s final message is an albeit strange one; it’s a problem if the audience is almost hoping the hero will lose. The ultimate lesson of Inspector Sun is to maintain the status quo, rely on money to get you out of a scrape, and only work collaboratively if it is thrust upon you. Children are deserving of animation that is more curious about the world than this. They are also more deserving of inhabiting a world with characters that you want to follow and root for.

Some of the visuals inhabit a clean and shiny aesthetic, but mostly feel cheap and imperfect. The colourful hues will be eye-catching to the more youthful watchers, but most will be alienated by some poorly designed character models, unbalanced textures, and a generally ill-favoured and dated animation style.

So often animated films try for the “universal appeal” factor – what this means in terms of dollars spent is making a film which adults will sit through with their children. Hence they fill the work with references they hope adults will spot and enjoy. It’s slightly cynical but also realistic. Getting parents to fork over what is quite a lot of money for a family excursion requires throwing a couple of bones their way. Inspector Sun forgets that what works for big companies such as Pixar and DreamWorks might not work for micro-budget features. Most of the jokes involve poorly written set-ups and cringe-inducing punchlines. It has a general predilection for kiddie friendly scatological humour and slapstick. Somewhere, Hayao Miyazaki is shaking his head.

Inspector Sun has a potentially attention-grabbing world wherein humans and insects are learning to cohabitate. Unfortunately, it exists within a story which fails both “target” audiences. Inspector Sun is a film that makes you want to reach for the bug spray, rather than solve a mystery.

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Director: Julio Soto Gurpide

Cast: Ronny Chieng, Rich Orlow, Emily Kleimo

Writers: Rocco Pucillo, with additional material by Toby Davies, David Freedman

Kahn Duncan

Kahn is a passionate Melbourne based film lover who looks to film as a tool for both entertainment, education, but also feeling. Attempts to watch at least one feature film a day, but unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes. Prospective Graduate of Media Communications (Screen Studies) and Business (Marketing) at Monash University.

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