For the uninitiated, Henry is Horrid. He doesn’t like school, or his suck-up younger brother, Perfect Peter. He wants to make a lot of mess, shirk his homework and rock out with his band. He hates girls, especially his nemesis Moody Margaret and constantly buts up against his class teacher, Miss Battleaxe. Vic Van Wrinkle, the headteacher of a local private school wants to try to shut down Henry’s school, thereby forcing all of the parents to fork out to have their little darlings educated by him. He enlists he School Inspectors to help him, until Henry and his cohorts get wind of his plan and set out to put a stop to it.
Reviewing a film like Horrid Henry is nigh on impossible. Your take on it will so very much depend on your age and disposition towards the source material, that giving it a star-rating is really an exercise in futility.
In terms of the usual criteria for critical assessment (script, pacing, direction, acting, audience engagement), it is a really mixed bag. The casting and by extension the acting are generally very good. For most children, they will have sat through several years of the television cartoon and that will have shaped their expectation of each character. Theo Stevenson is good as Henry, though perhaps not mean enough at times, however he does capture his sneering dislike of Margaret and Peter. Peter and Margaret are certainly the strongest of the child cast, delivering their lines believably and portraying their respective characters convincingly. It is to Theo Stevenson’s credit that he avoids fading into the background when called upon to hold his own in scenes against these two. The adult performers are predictably strong, given the cast – Richard E Grant, Angelica Huston, David Schneider, Prunella Scales, Parminda Nagra, Matthew Horne, Noel Fielding, Jo Brand – and they manage to convey the exasperation, frustration, anger, smarminess, hostility and warmth that is variously required of them.
The scripting and pacing are a little problematic on two fronts. Firstly, the story is very stop/start and episodic, moving onto successive plot developments with little cohesion or overarching connectivity. It feels at times like a series of episodes or short stories bolted together and the cracks are accordingly easy to see. The second issue is the most glaring. At one point, Henry has to compete in a TV show called 2 Cool 4 School, which is presented by UK children’s TV stalwarts, Dick & Dom. Their performances are so quirky, so affected, so full of mugging and weirdness, that they feel like they belong in a different film entirely. The unnecessary tonal shift pulls you out of the film, making it hard to re-engage once the film then moves on.
The direction is serviceable, if a little anonymous. The film is in 3D, which works surprisingly well for such a low-budget feature. Buckets of gunge, vomiting infants and flicked bogies all fly out of the screen at you. It’s gross, but it’s what the kids want and mine loved it. At one point, as will be familiar to anyone who has seen the TV series, Henry imagines himself turning into a dinosaur. The “special effects”, if that’s what we might call them, are appallingly delivered, enhancing the suspicion that the budget was blown on 3D cameras and big name adult stars.
I watched Horrid Henry: The Movie with an audience largely consisting of young children and they lapped it up. My own children are 5, 7 and 10 and this film is clearly pitched squarely at them. Older children won’t be interested, younger children won’t understand, parents will just have to tolerate it, save for some impressive performances by the young cast which will alleviate proceedings a little. What must be acknowledged is that this is not a film trying to please everyone, like some sort of child-friendly flick with lots of arch, knowing nods to the adults to keep them happy. It is a kids film, aimed at kids, to be enjoyed by them and it should be applauded for sticking to that plan.
Horrid Henry: The Movie – in 3D – is out in cinemas in the UK on 29th July.