Young Frederick is a frog that works as a Secret Agent under the codename F.R.O.7. He was once a human and a Prince of a Magical land until his evil aunt sorceress named Messina transforms him to the amphibian being in an attempt to take over the kingdom. He has been called in to investigate a mysterious case, where some of Britain’s most historical and recognisable buildings and monuments have vanished. With the help of his friends, including Nessie of Loch Ness herself, who helped the little frog get away from Messina as a child, Freddie has to search the nation to find the culprits, and bring back England to what it was.
This film was meant to be the next big hit for British animation; it was written and directed by Jon Acevski who based it on bedtime stories he told to his son back in the 1970s, whose favourite toy was a frog. Having an $80 million budget, it was produced by an independent company “Hollywood Road Films” and was heavily marketed in the UK, being advertised on major TV networks and newspapers, with a sequel titled “Freddie Goes to Washington” already early in production before the film’s release. The reason why almost no one knows about this film nowadays, even in the UK, was that it was very poorly reviewed and a major financial bomb after its 1992 release. It only grossed $1.19 million at the box office, making it the lowest grossing animated film until the release of Promenade Pictures’ Ten Commandments and Fathom Studio’s Delgo. Despite a re-released edit in 1995 to try and gain more money from the film, the financial failure caused Hollywood Road Films to close down and the sequel project to be scrapped.
For its time, the animation is professional but nothing groundbreaking. A few of the effects are ok, and the amount of detail is pretty evident in some scenes, especially the animation of the water, which at the time was almost impossible to get to a near realistic level, but most of it looks really dull and don’t really hold up in comparison to earlier animated films. The character designs are ok, most of them emphasise certain stereotypes of British culture, and Freddie’s secret agent look really shows his suave and intelligent personality. The villains’ character designs however are very dull and uninspired.
The music is no better, just the simple orchestral scores that only really appear in the villain scenes with Messina but most of the time, I forgot that there was music playing in the background. There are also musical numbers which at the time when Disney was making a comeback for itself was common, but in this film they don’t work and it’s an example of why I hate needless musical numbers and songs. The film doesn’t transition to them very well, they don’t really add to the story aside from adding a few minutes to the running time and they are poorly sung by the main cast who I doubt have had previous experience with music. The sound editing is alright until near the finally where the music clashes with the dialogue and sound effects so much that it becomes distracting, and some of the tracks don’t really match with the scenes they are in, such as the final fight between Freddie and Messina that occurs while a Boy George pop song plays in the background. The voice acting is really disappointing, since it has some good British actors in its cast, such as Ben Kingsley, Jenny Agutter, Brian Blessed and Nigel Hawthorne, and yet they sound really lousy throughout. Despite Ben Kingsley being one of my favourite actors from England, it really hurts me always hearing him trying to speak in a bad French accent throughout the majority of the film.
When I first saw the video at a local car boot, I thought the idea of a frog secret agent was unique and a fun throwback to the James Bond style films. But it’s easy to see why it didn’t do well beside the poor music and acting performances in this film, the story is a mess. The first 15 minutes of this film is mainly the back story which is set entirely in a renaissance-esque fantasy world, and then it transitions to a 1950s setting despite no description of the amount of time passed, and while there are elements that could be classed as an homage to the secret agent/detective style storytelling, it is hastily mixed in with fantasy elements mixed in a modern setting, almost like the film cannot decide between a magical fantasy action-adventure or a child friendly James Bond parody. Most of the characters barely get development outside of Freddie and Messina, even for kid film standards, making it hard to care or sympathise with any of the characters, and some of the suspense and action can gets repetitive making the film very boring near the end. I do give credit to the villains and how they are portrayed as a legitimate threat with how powerful and dark Messina’s magic is, the size of her accomplice El Supremo’s army, and how vigorous their plan is, however they are very one-dimensional to the point where it can simply be described as them “trying to take over the world” because “they are evil”.
It’s sad to see a promising concept get ruined like this, although the fact that it was a major financial bomb probably suits as a fitting punishment. If they made this like a family friendly homage to secret agent flicks then this might’ve had a better following, maybe as it is now, it’s better to let this film stay in obscurity.
Freddie as F.R.O.7 was available from Starvision, Miramax and Universal, but is out of print. There has never been a DVD release, at least not officially. There was a re-edit in 1995 for the US release which trimmed down and included narration from James Earl Jones, but that’s also out of print. There is no known physical work of its sequel Freddie Goes to Washington.