I can only assume that it must be great fun and good money to voice characters in animated features, because those are the only reasons I can think of for Nick Frost, Jason Isaacs, Emily Watson and Jessica Brown Findlay to have signed onto Monster Family, a lifeless, meandering mashup of The Incredibles and Monster House with a few blood drips of Monster Squad. It’s all neither funny nor sweet and seems as though someone Mad-Libbed the script together in the last few minutes before drifting off to sleep. It comes as no surprise that there are six writing credits.
Directed by Holger Tappe, the film focuses on an unhappy wife and mother (Watson) who accidentally calls Dracula (Isaacs) and is suddenly his romantic target. Dracula sends a witch, Baba Yaga (Catherine Tate), to turn the mother into a vampire because Dracula doesn’t want to bite her, as this would somehow steal the essence he so loves about her. That’s a weird argument about the value of an unravished woman’s purity for a family movie, and it's one of many we get in this film.
Meanwhile, the family — mom, dad (Frost), daughter Fay (Findlay) and son Max (Ethan Rouse) — attends a Halloween party in monster costumes. They get mistaken for a hired band, then thrown out of the venue into an alley, where the witch confronts the mother and accidentally turns the whole family into monsters for real — a vampire, Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf and a mummy. Then Baba Yaga uses a faulty magic amulet to lead the mother on a lengthy chase, with mom using her new vampire powers to track the witch all over the city. Then the family realizes she’s heading to London’s Eye, and they have to board a plane to find her. This is all in the first 20 minutes.
I’ve not gotten to the subplots about villainous supermodels or the ones about bullies, an amorous Imhotep, a desert oasis detour or the mother’s hippie bookstore employee who uses the power of kindness to save them or even the one about the dad’s nervous stomach — he’s constantly farting a noxious lime-green gas. Frost speaks about five lines total, and the rest of the time just groans while his character lets ’em rip.
Nothing matters in this movie; stuff just happens.
The existence of a film like this, one whose creators put a great deal of thought into their 3-D animation and almost none into its story, isn’t an anomaly. Tappe made another knockoff film in 2012 called Animals United, with a voice cast including Stephen Fry, Vanessa Redgrave and Jim Broadbent. The most accurate review of that film came from British critic Robbie Collin, who called it “Badagascar,” referring to its aping of Madagascar — and its demonstration of little understanding of why that film was so critically lauded. A German production, Animals United still made $51 million at the international box office and likely more from DVD sales to parents in need of literally anything for their kids to gawk at for a couple of hours.
Family films that deftly face down difficult issues, such as racism (Zootopia), wrongful incarceration and immigration (Paddington 2) and inequality (Moana), become classics for a reason. Sometimes, thankfully, this translates into a box office or home-video success. Other times, The Emoji Movie and its ilk dominate. God help the parents whose kids fall in love with Monster Family.