With the likes of Disney Pixar and DreamWorks Animation already riding high on a wave of critical acclaim, box office success and Academy Awards, European animation houses are starting to emerge with increasingly strong output. The House of Magic (2013), the latest 3D animated adventure from Belgium’s nWave Pictures, illustrates this well. Unfortunately, for all the inventive visuals flourishes and distinctive characters it boasts, there’s not much underneath. Abandoned by his owners on the sidewalk, Thunder (Murray Blue) takes shelter in a mysterious house, which turns out to be owned by Lawrence (Doug Stone), an old magician and his striking array of animals and lifelike contraptions.
However, when Lawrence is hospitalised due to a nasty accident, the rag-tag team must put their difference aside to stop his Lawrence’s evil nephew from selling their home. Directed by Ben Stassen and Jeremy Degruson, who were both responsible for Fly Me to the Moon (2008) and A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventure (2010), The House of Magic is perfect fodder for children: an entertaining, fantastical cat and mouse adventure (adults: it’s best to look elsewhere). The visuals are top-notch, with even the 3D proving worthwhile during many of the films action sequences, and there’s a welcome sense of buffoonery throughout. It is unquestionably the four-legged characters that steal the show, however.
Thunder is a sweet feline who experiences a noticeable change over the course of the film, and the other animals, from cranky rabbit Jack (George Babbit) to his over-eager mouse sidekick Maggie (Shanelle Gray), and living household appliances are well-designed and imbued with their own personalities. The film admittedly lags a little when the characters are at claws. But once they all team up, it picks up pace and becomes quite thrilling. The disappointment lies elsewhere, namely within the script, which pales in comparison to everything else. The humour is scant and there’s no real risk of peril (Grant George’s nephew and his dastardly plans seem more psychopathic than threatening). Yet when you have a film that’s colourful, easy on the eye and full of positive messages about friendship and trust, then kids will be happy. That’s pretty much what The House of Magic is all about.