In recent years, The
Triplets of Belleville, The Secret of
Kells, Ernest and Celestine and
other European features have proven it’s possible to make entertaining,
artistic films on a modest budget. Sadly, the Belgian feature Thunder and the House of Magic never
even aspires to that level of imagination. It’s just another attempt to produce
a big studio-style CG movie on the cheap, in the dubious tradition of The Nut Job and Khumba.
As Thunder opens, a
young cat (voice by Murray Blue) gets dumped on the street by his owners, who
are moving away. Terrified, he makes his way to a creepy Victorian mansion,
where Lawrence (Doug Stone), a retired magician, dwells, surrounded by his
pets, mechanical toys and magical paraphernalia. An almost aggressively
kind-hearted man, Lawrence meets the stray, names him Thunder and adopts him on
the spot. Fearing the newcomer will replace them in their indulgent owner’s
affections, Lawrence’s crusty old rabbit Jack (George Babbitt) and conniving mouse
Maggie (Danielle Gray) plot to get rid of the cat.
But Lawrence’s scheming real estate agent-nephew Daniel
(Grant George) is the real villain. He wants to shut Lawrence up in an old
folks’ home, so he can sell the Victorian house and make a fortune. When
Lawrence is injured in an accident, Daniel gets his chance. To no one in the
audience’s surprise, Thunder organizes the defense of his new-found home,
driving away prospective buyers. The love birds poop on a fussy couple, the
toys attack another, and Thunder uses an Asian mask and fireworks to scare away
a pair of movers.
Of course, it’s all about teamwork, and Thunder forgives
Jake and Maggie for mistreating him when he joined the household. Daniel is
defeated, Lawrence keeps his home and continues giving free shows for children,
with Jack, Maggie and Thunder all performing as part of the magic act.
Co-directors Ben Stassen and Jérémie Degruson shift the film
between two modes: The non-stop talkathon, where little happens while the
characters jabber incessantly, and the endless POV tracking shot, up hill, down
dale, along tree branches and under eaves. Isn’t there some government official
who could declare a moratorium on roller coaster ride-tracking shots in CG
The pacing of the film is erratic at best, and viewers can
keep themselves amused during the frequent lulls by picking out which bits and bobs
the filmmakers have lifted from other, better features including Up, The
Incredibles, Ratatouille, Oliver & Company and The Great Mouse Detective.
Thunder and the House
of Magic – which opens Friday in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, San Francisco and Washington, DC. – doesn’t produce enough impact to be genuinely annoying. But it’s
depressing to think of artists going to the studio every day to work on it.