'Thunder and the House of Magic': Film Review

Thunder and the House of Magic Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Shout! Factory

Thunder and the House of Magic Still - H 2014

Harmless fun for the small fry

An adorable feline and his animal friends band together to prevent an elderly magician from being thrown out of his home in this Belgian animated feature

The latest example of low-budget European animation to reach American shores, Belgium’s Thunder and the House of Magic (previously seen in overseas markets under the title The House of Magic) is a fast-paced, visually enjoyable romp that should prove appealing to young tykes if not necessarily their adult chaperones. Marred by a formulaic plotline and stereotypical characters all too reminiscent of numerous previous animated films, this latest effort by Ben Stassen (Fly Me to the Moon) and Jeremie Degruson should attract its biggest audiences upon its impending home video release.

The titular character voiced by Murray Blue is an adorable orange tabby, who in the opening scene is rudely abandoned on the street and nearly falls victim to oncoming traffic. He takes refuge in a Gothic mansion inhabited by an elderly retired magician (Doug Stone) and his large collection of pet animals and self-designed automatons. Among the creatures proving less than welcoming to the interloping feline are a Cockney-accented rabbit (George Babbit) and his sidekick mouse (Shanelle Gray).

When the magician winds up in the hospital after an accident, his rapacious real-estate agent nephew Danny (Grant George) plots to make sure the old man winds up in a retirement home so he can seize the valuable property. The intrepid Thunder and the other animals band together to prevent that from happening, scaring off would-be buyers by pretending that the house is haunted as well as exploiting Danny’s severe allergy to cat dander.

Inspired by a 4D theme park attraction film, the feature betrays its origins with a plethora of fast-paced, dizzying POV-style chase sequences that quickly prove wearisome in their frequency. Originally designed to be projected in 3D, it includes numerous scenes featuring objects flung into the audience’s faces, an effect necessarily diluted by its 2D domestic presentation.

Still, the computer animation is consistently engaging and it’s particularly refreshing to hear animated characters voiced by talented, nonfamiliar performers rather than the typical all-star lineup assembled for Hollywood 'toons. For once you don’t have to be endlessly distracted playing the voice-identification game.  

Production: nWave Pictures, StudioCanal

Cast: Murray Blue, Doug Stone, Grant George, George Babbit, Shanelle Gray, Joey Camen, Cinda Adama, Nina Grillo

Directors: Ben Stassen, Jeremie Degruson

Screenwriters: James Flynn, Dominic Paris, Ben Stassen

Producers: Ben Stassen, Caroline Van Iseghem

Executive producers: Olivier Courson, Eric Dillens

Production designer: Jeremie Degruson

Composer: Ramin Djawadi

No rating, 85 minutes