All parents and caretakers of young children are aware of the existence of fast food films. Those cheap and cheerfully animated features which fill a child’s brain with unchallenging words and colours for their modest runtimes and their escorts’ minds with white noise. With little in the way of merchandise to pick grownup pockets they serve as a secret fallback of family life during school holidays and long weekends when too much time has passed between Disney releases. Like those direct to DVD sequels which mimic, beat for beat, a popular movie (while remaining steadfastly inferior) junior fast food films fill a hole without ever passing for the real thing.
Monster Family seems to aspire to change that. While aesthetically it is, unquestionably, cheap and cheerful, its extraordinary voice cast are not. Emily Watson, Catherine Tate, Nick Frost, Celia Imrie and Jason Isaacs all signed on the dotted line to be part of this Sky Cinema Original feature. Each delivers a spirited performance but tonally they struggle to hold together. Emily Watson is Emma Wishbone, the unappreciated driving force of the Wishbone family. Emma is finding the work/life balance especially hard because she feels like the only one trying to keep life stable.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding famously told us that while a man may be the head of a household, the woman is the neck. And the neck may turn the head anyway she wants! Unfortunately poor Emma has developed neckache from trying to lift the lolling head of her farting husband Frank (Nick Frost) from his perpetual snoozing posture. This coupled with a teenaged daughter in the midst of a “mum sucks” phase and a tween son navigating school life as a nerd mean that Emma is an afterthought in her own life. Even a running commentary of her own resentments goes unremarked at home.
To one man Emma is remarkable. A chance telephone encounter with a very lonely vampire barely impacts the chaos of her day yet makes a huge impression on the vamp. Dracula (Jason Isaacs) may be long in the tooth but he is a mere pup when it comes to affairs of the (cold, dead) heart. The only way he can think to win Emma’s affections is to steal them away. Compelling the help of imprisoned witch Baba Yaga (Catherine Tate) he turns the Wishbones’ Halloween into a living nightmare and leads the family on an utterly batty chase around the globe. The pointy tooth’d romantic swiftly morphing into early Spike from Buffy at the first whiff of rejection.
For discerning/older audience members Monster Family is a curious creation. Projecting an odd family values vibe whilst doing everything it can to show quite how vilely family members can behave. That tonal disconnect between the actors grows more evident as they are forced to interact in increasingly dramatic and daft situations. Emily Watson and Nick Frost were always going to be an odd coupling but Mr Frost’s trademark windy wastrel plays particularly poorly against the melodrama of Emily Watson’s Emma and at times it becomes painfully evident that her rants were delivered alone in a soundbooth.
Despite its faults Monster Family is entertaining and under 8s will be mesmerised by the madcap pacing, fart gags and whacky chases. The generic appreciate the life you have message is earnestly delivered and will provoke only minimal eye rolling from adult chaperones. The simultaneous cinema and Sky Movies release allows parents to use this slice of fangtastic family fun as a distraction on the big or small screen. We’d suggest the latter. It’s always fun to enjoy junk food in the comfort of your own home.
Monster Family is released on Sky Movies and in UK cinemas on 2nd March