Little Vampire, PG. 85 minutes. 3 Stars
In this charmant petit film franais, a ghostly vampire boy makes a friend in the human world which fills him with ennui for his ephemeral state.
I have to say it is particularly French to construct your kids film around an existential crisis.
The filmmaker Joann Sfar is a famed French comic book author and Petit Vampire is among his dozen-or-so famous series. Who better, then, to turn his series into a feature film?
The Little Vampire (voiced by Louise Lacoste) is a couple of hundred years old but also forever 10 years old.
His mother, Madame Pandora (Camille Cottin) was pursued by the psychotic Gibbous (Alex Lutz) who wanted to marry her but when he discovered she had a child, threatened the then-human boy.
To save her son's life, Madame Pandora took up with The Captain (Jean-Paul Rouve) who enchanted them, protecting them from being found by the Gibbous, and turning the deathly ill boy into a vampire to save his life.
A few hundred years later, the boy who is now known as the Little Vampire continues to live in a palatial mansion with the Captain, his mother, and a menagerie of ghostly, ghoul-ish critters who the Captain has collected as his family.
As long as they don't leave the grounds of the mansion, they're save from the predatory hunt of the Gibbous, but after a few hundred years of playing the same old games, the vampire child is bored and restless.
Within the grounds of the mansion, the vampires and ghost and Frankenstein monsters enjoy their life, but to the world that has moved into our modern age around them, it is a derelict old haunted house on a hill, visited by the local children who use it to scare each other.
The vampire boy follows some of these children to the local school and there he makes his first human friend Michele (Claire de la Rue du Can), but leaving the grounds makes him visible to the Gibbous and puts Michele and his family in danger.
Johan Sfar has his own distinct animation style, but for unfamiliar audiences it is much closer to Miyazaki than to Disney or Pixar.
His world is both inventive, with characters like the moon-headed Gibbous, and familiar with the pop culture figures he harvests from a few centuries of horror film and literature.
Sfar's art direction is impeccable, with many memorable well-constructed scenes.
His dialogue, with writer Sandrina Jardel working from Sfar's comics, sometimes loves nuance in the translation to the dubbed English-language version playing in cinemas, but sometimes is hilarious.
Worried about her son's mental state, she approaches her hundreds-of-years-old skeleton Captain husband for advice.
"Don't worry, he's fine," the Captain says.
"Children don't need to socialise or learn or run round or go out, and he's happy with his face in a screen," which plenty of parents might think is fairly appropriate these school holidays.