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Have you ever heard of Moshi Monsters? No? Me either, and I’m the mother of two grade-schoolers, the age group targeted by this hugely successful U.K.-based brand. Apparently, the monsters started out as vaguely Tamagotchi-like characters whom kids could “adopt” online, interact with and then send on adventures through their home world, Monstro City. Soon, with virus-like rapidity, they broke through the fourth wall to become plastic collectible toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals and at stores, alongside other kinds of ancillary merchandise. Now the monsters’ creators, the aptly named outfit Mind Candy, have made Moshi Monsters: The Movie, and although it is scorchingly bright and features the kind of ear-piercing high voices that possibly only wolves and small children can hear, it’s not half bad, as cash-in films for kids go.
Scheduled for a saturation release Dec. 20 in the United Kingdom, these critters will have a quest even more fearsome ahead of them than the one depicted onscreen: competing for the family demographic against Disney’s all-conquering Frozen at the box office, not to mention, in a crowded frame, alongside Walking With Dinosaurs 3D, The Christmas Candle and, for the 12-and-set crowd, the second part of The Hobbit. But if Moshi Monsters are half as popular as the film’s publicity materials are claiming, they ought to make some kind of dent in the audience share.
In beautiful downtown Monstro City, word reaches the citizens, known as “moshlings,” that a local boffin has discovered the Great Moshling Egg, an embryonic vessel whose contents remain an enigma and a source of great excitement for the denizens of the color-drenched metropolis. But not long after its discovery, the egg is stolen by Dr. Strangeglove (voiced by musician Ashley Slater) and his somewhat nefarious hench-creature, Fishlips (Boris Hiestand). Like Strangeglove and all the other bad guys here, Fishlips is a “glump,” although the exact taxonomic distinction between a moshling and a glump is anybody’s guess.
Plucky cat-rabbit-hybrid-like creature Katsuma (Emma Tate) volunteers to collect the obscure objects desired by Strangeglove as ransom for the egg, especially since the quest will make him a reality TV star throughout the land. Though Katsuma would prefer to hog the spotlight, he’s compelled to take along some friends: sensible pink Poppet (Phillipa Alexander), Mr. Snoodle the pooch, ugly but lovable undead creature Zommer (also Slater), flying strawberry Luvli (Tate, again), overgrown draft excluder Furi (Tom Clarke Hill) and a crotchety, demonic figure called Diavlo (Keith Wickham), whose presence among the crew will surely lose the film viewers from certain fundamentalist Christian groups.
Over a brisk and consistently watchable 81 minutes, the crew is scattered and reunited, endless new characters are met, and Katsuma learns the lesson that “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything,” which is a nice enough take-home message. Although screenwriter Steve Cleverley (who also owns the title of “Director of Moshiology” for Mind Candy) keeps the target age range (6-12 years) firmly in mind, there’s a smattering of jokes aimed at grown-ups to cheer the parents along. The comic register falls somewhere between the acidity of Spongebob Squarepants and the whimsicality of Phineas and Ferb, borrowing especially from the latter’s playbook of pastiche songs with inventive lyrics. An extravagant Indian-themed musical number, complete with elephants and a sprite-like blue god, set in a place called Jollywood, represents one of the movie’s highlights. It also may enhance appeal to the U.K.’s large South Asian community, although, given that the film is entirely British-made, it’s curious that so few voices sound British.
What might give the film a bit of cult appeal beyond the family audience are the sophisticated and original graphics on display. Appropriately described as “2½ D” animation, the character design limns the figures in cartoony, colored outlines that evoke the traditional, flattened look of kids’ TV programing, but with subtle block shadows that add volume. Background elements are rendered in 3D, while the foreground figures were done using CelAction, the standard software for 2D animation — but somehow the whole shebang meshes together deliciously.
Production: Mindy Candy, Spider Eye Studios
Cast: Ashley Slater, Tom Clarke Hill, Phillipa Alexander, Emma Tate, Keith Wickham, Boris Hiestand, Rajesh David
Director: Wip Vernooij
Screenwriter: Steve Cleverley
Producers: Jocelyn Stevenson, Giles Healy, Erica Darby
Executive producers: Darran Garnham, Divinia Knowles, Michael Acton Smith
Art director: Cako Facioli
Editor: Mark Edwards
Music: Sanj Sen
U certificate, 81 minutes
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