The Little Vampire

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The slightly twisted Halloween movie “The Little Vampire,” based on a series of children’s books, is a surprisingly enjoyable film that its young target audience will love, while their parents will find it quite tolerable indeed.

Tony Thompson (Jonathan Lipnicki) is a lonely little boy who has moved with his parents to Scotland so his dad (Tommy Hinkley) can help design an expensive golf course for Lord McAshton (John Wood). Worse than being lonely, though, Tony has had recurring nightmares about vampires ever since moving into the musty old castle.

As luck would have it, he meets a family of actual vampires, including a boy his own age named Rudolph (Rollo Weeks), who becomes his best friend. These are kinder, gentler vampires than we’re accustomed to: Seems they consider being blood-suckers a “curse,” which they seek to lift with a special stone and amulet that Tony has seen in his dreams, in conjunction with an upcoming visit from a comet.

Based on the visions Rudolph’s dad (a deliciously dignified Richard E. Grant) and Tony have both had, they set about finding the stone, with Tony doing most of the legwork, since he can go out in daylight and doesn’t look like a vampire.

All the while, a vampire hunter (Jim Carter) is pursuing them (Tony, too, since he’s been seen with the family and is mistaken for one of them).

Parts of the film may scare smaller children. The first time we meet Rudolph, we haven’t yet heard his policy of “we want to become humans, not eat them,” and seeing little Tony in peril is not exactly entertaining. (In fact, that goes for the whole beginning sequence, with Tony being freaked out by his dreams and all. It’s played as light-heartedly as it can be, but let’s face it: No matter how much cartoonish music underscores the scene, it’s still a little kid being chased by a vampire.)

Once the film works into its whimsical, harmless little story about fantasy and friendship, though, it’s quite a lot of fun. Since Rudolph and his family — which also includes a rebellious older brother and a younger Tony-smitten sister — don’t suck people’s blood, they instead feed on cows. The result is a farmer with a barn full of vampirized cows, mooing menacingly as they scuttle away from the light of day.

There’s also a marvelous efficiency about the film. We learn the whole exposition in a matter of minutes, but not with awkward “So, here we are in Scotland, and I’m having nightmares” lines, but through natural means that indicate good storytelling skills, conveying the information quickly without seeming forced. Too, once all the characters are established, no new ones are brought in: The entire mystery of where the stone is, and how to get it, is solved using the people we’ve got, but without being overly convenient. It’s a tight, well-constructed little story.

This doesn’t matter to the kids, of course; I mention it only because good children’s stories are rare, and it’s nice to point out the characteristics of a good one when we see it.

It’s not perfect, certainly. There are one too many bodily-function jokes (OK, there’s only one, but it’s too many), and the whole thing about lifting the curse with the stone and a comet and a boy’s unspoken wish is not quite explained. But like I said, the audience it’s intended for probably won’t care too much. Just don’t let them imitate the movie and start sucking cows’ necks.

B (; PG, scariness, some mild vulgarity.)

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