Thursday, March 01, 2018

Happy Family – review

Director: Holger Tappe

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Also known as Monster Family this is a joint UK/German animated feature aimed at a kid’s market but it does do some interesting things in its running time.

Possibly taking a cue from Hotel Transylvania this does feature some singing by Dracula (Jason Isaacs, Justice League: Gods and Monsters), but thankfully it is limited and this is a very technologically savvy Dracula also.

the bats
It begins with a castle in the Carpathians and three bats (who appear through the film as visual comic elements) are on a giant organ playing Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Meanwhile another bat flies towards the castle. A break in the clouds causes it to be struck by sunlight and it frazzles slightly. A beep and the waterfall opens up like a garage door. The master is home. Annoyed by the bats at first, he then joins them for a quick rendition of “It’s Not Unusual”.

Dracula and renfield
Emma (Emily Watson) is walking down a city street, speaking on her phone when she bumps into someone, literally, and breaks the call. She tries to redial, gets a wrong number and dials Dracula by accident. She thinks she has phoned, Vampires R Us, a costumer’s where she can get some fangs for a costume. Dracula asks her to stay on the phone as he is lonely and gets her name before the accident-prone woman ends up with a bucket on her foot and her phone dropped down a drain. Dracula calls for Renfield (Ewan Bailey, Vampyre Nation) – find Emma Wishbone, he orders, for she will be his bride.

Emily Watson voices Emma
She has got to work, a bookstore, and bemoans her lot to her hippy friend and co-worker Cheyenne (Celia Imrie). Her son Max (Ethan Rouse) is clever but is being bullied at school, her daughter Fay (Jessica Brown Findlay) wants to be a grown up too soon and her husband Frank (Nick Frost) is overworked and always tired – we also discover that he has major flatulence when stressed. Emma wanted the fangs to get the family out to a costume party. Cheyenne has found some second-hand fangs and a party.

Emma and Baba Yaga
Emma makes the family go to the party – she is dressed as a vampire, Frank as Frankenstein’s Monster, Max as a werewolf and Fay as a mummy. They are mistaken for the band and kicked out when they can't play or sing. Meanwhile Dracula has released the witch Baba Yaga (Catherine Tate), whom he was holding, and returned the magical amulet she uses, on the condition that she will transform Emma into a vampire with her magic. If he turns her with a bite then she will lose her soul and he doesn’t want that. The witch can transform her provided that Emma is unhappy. The curse, when she casts it, not only transforms Emma but also the rest of the family into the monsters they were dressed as, because they were all unhappy.

So, the quest is on to catch Baba Yaga and get her to break the curse, which involves them discovering happiness again, whilst Dracula tries to woo Emma. Fay is horrified by her transformation, whilst Max is (at first) rather taken with it. Frank loses almost every point of IQ he had. I did mention Dracula being a technological whizz and he has sunlight resistant clothing, jet boots, a very snazzy private jet and has developed a blood substitute pill. In many respects he is as much a Bond villain as a vampire.

Man-bat mode
So the vampire rules we get in this include overwhelming hunger (Emma develops an unbearable need to feed, which the pills will stave off), sunlight burns the vampire unless the vampire has a soul (conveniently), Dracula can transform into a bat (and a manbat) and can freeze folk with a click of his fingers. Emma has greatly improved physical prowess (though is still clumsy). Holy water will harm a vampire and Dracula’s eternal life doesn’t prevent aging (I rationalise this as being because he is off a raw blood diet, but that isn’t mentioned) and so he has a Lazarus Chamber, where he maintains his more youthful visage. There is a portrait in the castle that looks like Vlad but Dracula does not look like the picture and vampires cast no reflection (soul or not).

Nick Frost as Frank
And, despite the moralising aspect to the story, this wasn’t a bad little family film. Of course it uses the classic monster triumvirate and the cynic might say it is derivative whilst suggesting parallels with The Munsters (for example) but, over all, there are certainly worse out there. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Everlost said...

Thought you were heading towards a 3 for this! Watched it last night with Teresa. Dialogue was horrible, and derivative is an understatement. Curtains? again? Use the fart joke once, yeah... but i lost count, was it 8 times in the first 30 minutes?

I want better! :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thing is, it was derivative, but seemed ok for the target audience (which, hasn't been us for quite some time) just not one that translates up.

I think the fart gags might have been a ham fisted nod to Sean of the Dead (as Nick Frost played Frank)