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Little Vampire (2020)

Children's book series The Little Vampire, from German writer Angela Sommer-Bodenburg has been adapted for the screen several times. First as a German-Canadian TV series, then most famously a 2000 English-language live-action film starring Jonathan Lipnicki and Richard E Grant. It was later also adapted as a CG animated film The Little Vampire 3D in 2017. French-Belgian hand-drawn animated feature Little Vampire (note the lack of a definitive article) was actually adapted from a graphic novel adaptation of the book series.

Little Vampire is directed by Joann Sfar,  director of The Rabbi's Cat and producer of Aya Of Yop City. Sfar co-wrote the screenplay based on his own comics along with Sandrina Jardel. The film made its debut at the L'Absurde Seance Festival in France in October of 2020, before a wide French release cinema release later the same month.

At its heart, it remains true to the original story and follows the friendship between the Little Vampire and a human boy. However, otherwise, this is quite a different take on the story, relocating the bulk of the action to contemporary France.

The film opens with a surprisingly dramatic sequence three hundred years in the past. A young woman and her son are on the run from a prince who intends to feed them to a supernatural monster. In desperation, the woman (Pandora) promises to give her life to anybody who rescues them... and promptly a flying ghostly galleon arrives, skippered by the Captain Of The Dead. Turning Pandora and her son into vampires they take to the skies, and the prince (also now granted immortality) is in hot pursuit.

The most remarkable thing about the film is unquestionably the animation itself. The backgrounds are extremely detailed and intricate, but the characters have a very sketchy and simple look to them, with strong black lines that make them look like they are drawn with ink. Some of the characters have very unique looks, like the Captain and his oversized hat and the villain's (literally) moon-faced supernatural form. The Little Vampire himself looks like an undead ringer for a miniature version of the iconic Nosferatu

The 2D animation isn't particularly smooth, but it works well enough and has a fun feel to it. There's a limited amount of CG used, that while noticeable, blends well enough. with the 2D art.

If only the film attached to the visuals worked as well. It's not entirely clear how much of this is down to deficiencies in the original script and how much is the fault of the poor localisation and lost in translation.

The script is incredibly clunky, heavy on exposition and full of dialogue that sounds nothing like real people talk. Which in effect means that the voice cast of the English dub never really stood a chance. The dialogue sounds extremely unnatural and sounds strangely rushed as if it's being played back at double speed, trying to fit the words into the lip-flaps.  It's hard to not get the impression that at least in the localisation effort it was a rushed effort all around, almost as if the attitude that none of it matters, after all, it's 'only' for kids.  It might well be that the film plays better with subtitles, but I was only able to view the film in dubbed form, and so have to review it in that context.

Certain problems can't be blamed on the localisation alone such as the strange logic leaps the film frequently takes. For example, Pandora seems to take being abducted by a ghost pirate in his flying ship in her stride, as if it's the story of thing that happens to her every day.

Part of the appeal of this story has always been when the human child is taken flying by their vampire friend. The scene is here too, but somehow due to the film's style, it completely lacks the sense of awe and wonder it's usually intended to evoke.

For a younger, less discerning audience, most of these issues are probably not going to be too much of a concern, and then Little Vampire provides a divertingly spooky 80 minutes or so. Adult viewers looking for something they can really sink their teeth in will want to look elsewhere.



IN A NUTSHELL:  Cute cartoony visuals make this fun for kids, but a duff script and a lacklustre localisation prevent it from being anything more.