The family of vampire boy Rüdiger is having trouble with a vampire hunter, so they flee Transylvania and seek refuge in Germany’s Black Forest. By coincidence, Rüdiger crosses paths with Anton, a human boy who just arrived in the area with his parents for a short holiday stay. Despite some initial mistrust, Rüdiger and Anton team up to battle the vampire hunter and to try and save the many members of Rüdiger’s more extended family who are still in danger back in Transylvania.
This 2018 animated feature is the latest attempt to adapt Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s 21-volume children’s book franchise Der Kleine Vampir. While the original TV-show is considered a classic by some, it has been followed up by an inferior sequel show and a rather mediocre 2000 big screen reboot. The present film, however, is the first animated version of these characters.
Giving this franchise the animation treatment makes a lot of sense, of course. Animated films are a favourite medium for children; and animation automatically avoids a lot of problems that you always have with live action adaptations in supernatural territory regarding effects, make-up, etc.
This film is a European co-production without any involvement of a big Hollywood studio. Given the resulting budgetary restrictions, the animation quality is not much to shout about. But the cartoonish and mildly goofy animation style has been carefully chosen because it is a workable concept that can be managed within these budgetary limits.
For its theatrical release, the film was banking on 3D-effects to get people into cinemas. And, as mostly in these cases, you can still tell which scenes were designed specifically for this purpose. For example, there are a lot of scenes in this film where characters are either flying straight up or falling straight down.
This film is a stand-alone reboot. It is not a sequel or prequel to any of the other adaptations. And like the 2000 live action film, this animated feature takes only its most basic ideas from the original books, as well as the character names and constellations – everything else about the plot is a new invention.
While the connections to the original novels is tenuous, the film was surprisingly keen to seek connections to the somewhat unsuccessful live action film – for example by having Alice Krige and Jim Carter return to voice the very characters they had played in the 2000 version. In Carter’s case they even modelled the character’s appearance on him. The film also re-employs its predecessor’s introduction of flying vampire cows. This idea is not any less silly than it was 18 years previously, but it goes without saying that it is much easier to depict and sell something like that in an animated film that it could ever be in a live action film.
That the film was more keen to connect to the 2000 live action film than it was to connect to the books or the TV-shows probably has a lot to do with Richard Claus, who was a producer on that film all those years ago. This time around, he has taken full control. He is the film’s co-writer and co-director. The directing credit he shares with Karsten Kiilerich. As for the writing, Larry Wilson (Tales from the Crypt; Beetlejuice) is credited alongside Claus. But since Wilson had been heavily involved in the 2000 screenplay, I am not sure if he was really involved in the screenplay for this animated film or if his writing credit stems from some of the elements that have been re-used (vampire cows, etc.).
As mentioned up top, Rüdiger does not encounter Anton and his family in their home town, but on holiday. This holiday premise is a smart move, as it allows each country to adapt the film as it sees fit and to treat Anton’s family as their own if they like. If they are merely on vacation in the Black Forest, who is to say that they are not Dutch, Swedish, or British? I do not know if the national dubs have indeed been handled in this way, but it is at least an option that this premise was clearly created for.
Design-wise, the film features a Gothic castle as well as lots of crypts and cemeteries. Apart from that, the only design elements worth mentioning are the vampire hunter’s vehicles and gadgets. They do not have the nice steam-punk vibe they had in the 2000 film, but they are nevertheless elaborate with a certain DIY touch. The hunter has an apprentice in this film, a lonely young man who is yearning for a father figure but is only exploited by his boss. This character allows the vampire hunter to have conversations and explain his plans and his way of thinking – all of which makes the writers’ lives much easier, of course.
There is very little to say about the plot, the dialogue, or the writing in general. It is a fairly average kids’ film, and the dialogue of the German dub is mediocre at best. While there is a certain love for detail in this film, it lacks elements like character development, etc. The plot is kept simple, and the themes are suitable for children in an on-the-nose kind of way. And that is one of the film’s oddities: both Anton and Rüdiger are said to be 13 (although Rüdiger has been 13 for 300 years), yet the film seems more geared towards 6- to 9-year-olds. I guess the 2000 film had a similar target audience, but at least in that film Anton was clearly meant to be 8 or 9 and thus suitable as a character the target audience could identify with. I cannot see that in this animated film.
This 83-minute film is harmless and does not offend or insult you with stupidity like some children’s films do. Yet it is also utterly unengaging. It is not really any worse than the somewhat annoying live action film from 2000, but it is also not really an improvement. So I think it is fair to say that this fluffy little animation piece falls broadly into 5-out-of-10 territory. Absolutely suitable as one-off entertainment for younger children, but not a film any child will go on to remember as a cherished childhood memory.