Review: Monster Family – Happy Family (2017)

Monster Family – Happy Family (2017)

Directed by: Holger Tappe | 94 minutes | animation, comedy | Original voice cast: Emily Watson, Jason Isaacs, Nick Frost, Jessica Brown Findlay, Celia Imrie, Ethan Rouse, Ewan Bailey, Sidney Dorn, Emma Tate, Jessica McDonald, Isaac Rouse, Catherine Tate, Daniel Ben Zenou

The popularity of movies like ‘Monsters, Inc.’ (2001), ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ (2009), ‘Monsters University’ (2013) and the complete series of ‘Hotel Transylvania’ prove it: today children are no longer afraid of monsters. What were once terrifying creatures are now cuddly fluff balls or endearing vampires. Anyone who has seen ‘The Addams Family’ (2019) knows that the famous family of Gomez and Morticia Addams is significantly less creepy than the hyper-perfectionist model families from the town they ended up in. And the so-called villain from the ‘Despicable Me’ series, Gru, would love to cuddle you, he is that lovable. It’s as if filmmakers want to say: monsters are just ‘normal’ people too – or something that’s wrong with that. In the German-made animated film ‘Monster Family’ (2017, released in some countries under the title ‘Happy Family’) this is taken quite literally, because here an average family is transformed into a collection of monsters due to a curse. And that’s only because the mother of the house does not want to accept Count Dracula’s advances.

‘Monster Family’ is all about the Wishbot family. Things are not going well in the family. Mother Emma’s bookstore suffers heavy loss and that does not help her mood. But the other members of the family are also going through a crisis. Father Frank is overworked and exhausted, daughter Fay is well into puberty and only focusing on herself – and not with her final exams – and son Max is gifted and has autistic tendencies, making it an easy target for the bullies in his class. Emma’s co-worker has given her invitations to a costume ball and when she wants to call to reserve costumes, she accidentally calls Count Dracula in Transylvania. He is quite charmed by Emma and decides on the spot that she should be his new bride. He orders the witch Baba Yaga to curse Emma at the costume ball. The curse causes the Wishbones to turn into the character they wear costumes: Frank becomes Frankenstein, Fay a mummy, Max a werewolf and Emma a vampire. To break the curse, they must search for Baba Yaga, and that quest takes them around the world, coming face-to-face with real-life and dangerous monsters. It turns out that the only way to break the curse is to work together, but for a dysfunctional family like the Wishbones, it’s not exactly an easy job!

A family struggling with its shortcomings, where have we seen that before? ‘Monster Family’ – based on a book by David Safier – is distantly reminiscent of Disney/Pixars ‘The Incredibles 2’ (2018) – not least because the mother also plays the central role in that film. The series of the aforementioned monster films also resonate in this animation film directed by Holger Tappe. But where the Parr family from ‘The Incredibles’ manages to win our sympathy from the first minute, it is impossible to empathize with the Wensbot family. Even though their struggles are very recognizable and human and in the English version the voices are also provided by an impressive voice cast including Jason Isaacs, Emily Watson, Celia Imrie, Nick Frost and Jessica Brown Findlay. Why, then, does the story fail to grab us? Because ‘Monster Family’ never becomes more than a jumble of ideas stolen together. The film has nothing ‘special’. You can still get such good actors for the voices, but if the story is uninspired and messy, it doesn’t matter. Few bright spots are the three bats that provide the comic relief as Dracula’s sidekick. But that idea also does not come from one’s own tube and others have done it before – and better. The fact that an entire battalion of writers has worked on the script will not have helped either.

Holger Tappe has a knack for copying strengths from other films and mixing them together into his own creation. He previously made his own version of the animation hit ‘Madagascar’ (2005), titled ‘Animals United’ (2010). Also for that film, the biggest names were roped in to provide voices (including Andy Serkis, Vanessa Redgrave, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Fry and Dawn French). Neither the press nor the public were enthusiastic about that film. With ‘Monster Family’ Tappe makes exactly the same mistake as then. Hopefully he will finally see that a really good animated film takes a lot more than just the ideas of others gathered together!

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