The Little Vampire (2000)

D: Uli Edel
S: Jonathan Lipnicki, Richard E. Grant

Sweet but not saccharine adaptation of the series of children's novels by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg featuring the still-endearing child star of the moment, Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire, Stuart Little). He's an American boy living in Scotland where his father (Tommy Hinkley) is designing a golf course for a local noble (John Wood). Alienated and different, the child is troubled by dreams of vampires which only earns him further scorn from his classmates and dumbfoundment from his parents. When a genuine vampire child (Rollo Weeks) lands in his room one night, the two strike up a mutually beneficial friendship. The boy helps the vampire and his family in their search for a mystic amulet which will help to make them human and the vampire helps the boy with his self-esteem and his bully problem.

The film is mostly sustained by the central dynamic between Lipnicki and Weeks. Weeks in particular is very good, turning in a performance with mature control which counterpoints Lipnicki's standard-issue cuteness. It benefits enormously from the support of game adult players though. Richard E. Grant (Jack and Sarah) headlines as the vampire lord whose quest to protect his family makes him entirely sympathetic. Jim Carter (Shakespeare in Love) is hilarious as a colourful vampire hunter armed with a gadget-laden truck and an automatic stake-shooting gun. Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact) plays the mother vampire and Pamela Gidley her human counterpart. Georgie Glen and Harry Jones are funny in smaller roles as a babysitter and caretaker respectively. Everyone concerned seems to participate in the spirit of the thing and though the adult characters are frequently exaggerated as befits a children's story, they never become caricatures.

The script by Karey Kirkpatrick and Larry Wilson is not without its lapses, but on the whole the writers have enough story to work with to keep things moving. There is a wide variety of action and a couple of sub-plots which peek in from time to time without fully developing (such as the family dynamics among the vampires where rebel son Dean Cook resists his father's attempts to live in peace with humans and where daughter Anna Poppelwell grows ever more attracted to Lipnicki). It builds to a satisfying climax with plenty of action, there's a mixture of humour, mild scares, and recognisable schoolchild situations along the way. Adults won't be quite as spellbound as youngsters who tune in to the horror vibe, but there is plenty to enjoy and admire if you're in the right frame of mind.

The technical credits are up to par. Nice costume and set design offset the action appropriately and the special effects are reasonable enough. The entire production captures the look and feel of a supernatural yarn but stays within the boundaries of a children's film. Despite the presence of the characters and paraphernalia of vampires, it stays clear of outright ghoulishness. For the most part the film concentrates on simple notions of the value inner worth over outward appearance, and although the coda provides a curiously unsatisfying resolution on that point, the film on the whole achieves its thematic aims.

The Little Vampire is a nice family film which will appeal to younger children with a taste for the macabre rather than the 'fluffy bunny' variety of children's story. Lipnicki's presence and performance does pitch it at a slightly lower age group than it might have reached, but though older children may shun it, adults will probably be able to make the adjustment. There are some genuinely wild moments in there though, including a sub-plot about vampire cows which provides some broad laughs, and, as noted, the adult performances are great fun. If you think your child will enjoy it, they probably will. If you find the whole concept offensive or inappropriate, then you probably won't be converted. Shame though if you do, because this is an enjoyable little movie which deserves more attention than it has received even if it's not the greatest family film ever made.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.