It wasn’t so long ago that lame, computer-animated family films had the decency to announce themselves by looking every bit as cheap as their committee-written scripts. This is no longer so. Not content with squandering its A-list cast, Monster Family manages to waste too the talents of a superb animation team, asking them to bring life to a graveyard mash-up of other (better) films.
Packaged to be momentarily enjoyed and then rapidly forgotten by younger audiences, the film sees an unlikeable family arc on a redemptive journey which will witness them reunite and love each other for who they are. You may have seen this one before.
When Emma Wishbone (Emily Watson), a harassed mother of two, accidentally calls Dracula (Jason Isaacs) in her hunt for some fake vampire teeth to wear at a fancy dress costume, she unwittingly woos the Count into wanting her to be his immortal bride. Not wanting to drain her soul along with her blood, instead of biting his bride-to-be, Dracula commands a witch (Catherine Tate) to transform Emma into a vampire herself. This perfect plan goes somewhat awry when the witch inadvertently curses the entire Wishbone family into monstrous alter egos.
The film is based on the book: Happy Family, by German-writer David Safier and is indeed a pan-European production – which in this case means that it’s been entirely made in Germany but given an all-star British ensemble to voice the half-baked characters. That said, the family are apparently based in America and have Australian neighbours so go figure.
From set piece to set piece, the story riffs inanely between The Incredibles and Brave, whilst unavoidably harking to the aesthetics of the Hotel Transylvania films. Emma’s insufferable family are: husband work-weary Frank (Nick Frost), who becomes Frankenstein’s monster; teenage daughter Fay (Jessica Brown Findlay), a mummy; and bullied know-it-all Max (Ethan Rouse), a mini-werewolf. Celia Imrie, meanwhile, is once again required to play a hippy.
It would be unfair to entirely denounce Monster Family, from director Holger Tappe, seeing as it is a very accomplished piece of animation, with well-rendered – often splendid – visuals. Similarly, the six-strong writing team are at least able to deliver the odd spark and Isaacs does likewise have fun, declaring himself: ‘the Prince of Darkness, the bat out of Hell, the scourge of Transylvania’ between Tom Jones and Nina Simone tributes.
On the other hand, Frost does nothing more than grunt for the vast majority of the runtime, Tate is required to repeat – in a dodgy witch accent – ‘This not Londra…dis’pear pronto’ umpteen times and poor Emily ‘BAFTA-winning’ Watson is the mouthpiece of some dire material. It’s hard not to imagine this cast clock-watching in the recording studio.
Ripe and fart-wielding for young ones, Monster Family will be a numbing experience for parents.