Engaging and Energetic Animated Entertainment
It doesn’t happen often but every now and again a CG animated feature film comes onto the scene without much hype, promotional budget or even the involvement of a major studio yet still manages to display mastery over the art. Such is the case with StudioCanal’s Thunder and the House of Magic. You may not have heard much about this one but that is no reason to avoid giving it a look. What it lacks in hype, it more than makes up for in heart.
The House of Magic (Thunder and The House of Magic in the United States) is a 2013 3D Belgian-French computer-animated film that clocks in at 84-minutes and enjoyed a global release. Here in the United States, distribution was handled by Shout! Factory and believe it or not, it did get a modest theatrical run before making its DVD debut.
It was built off a budget $34-million and thankfully did not depend on its USA gross (where it took in an abysmal $4,091) to be profitable. On the global scale it fared much better; $64,197,205.
The story tells of an abandoned tabby who seeks shelter in a ramshackle mansion believed by the local animals to be haunted. Instead, it turns out to be the home of elderly, semi-retired magician named Lawrence, who shares his living quarters with some of the animals he uses in his performances as well as a litany of sentient toys.
The animals living on the premises are none-too-quick to welcome another critter into the fold and a good portion of the beginning of the film is dedicated to Thunder’s trials and tribulations from being first abandoned by humans and then rejected by his fellow-animals.
All is not bleak, however, as Lawrence (Doug Stone) is depicted as a great admirer of cats and manages to integrate humble Thunder into his routines in short order.
While he’s accepted by the house’s rightful owner, alpha rabbit Jack (George Babbit) and his mouse partner-in-crime Maggie (Shanelle Gray), still plot to evict the cat from the premises. It’s only after an accident puts poor Lawrence in the hospital that the feuding animals must unite to keep the property from being sold off by Lawrence’s real-estate-agent nephew Danny.
If this all sounds a little light on plot, it is but this is one of those truly rare, rare films that manages to exceed its plot limitations by simply being charming in all the areas that count. The visuals are crisp, the textures rich and diverse and the animation simply beautiful. So much so in fact that you’ll marvel at all of the personality they’ve managed to capture in silent characters, like a little light-bulb -headed toy named Edison.
Younger viewers will enjoy the ride but not simply because its a bright animated piece but because everything here just sort of clicks perfectly into place. Some of the action sequences are loosely reminiscent of the climax of the first Home Alone but this isn’t to be mistaken for relying upon visual gags to be humorous either. The characters are memorable, their cause worthy and the subliminal technical aspects of the production (vocal performance, mouth animations and scoring) are all top-notch; easily on par with some of the best coming out of Hollywood.
In conclusion, Thunder and the House of Magic joins a very select group of CG animated feature films like A Monster in Paris and The Book of Life where budgetary restriction and a lack of industry-hype cannot restrain the passion and vision of the artists involved.