Fantasia International Film Festival (FIFF) – From the outset of Petit Vampire (aka Little Vampire) I knew that I would fall in love with the film. Opening with a swashbuckling sword fight and segueing into a montage that I would liken to a family-friendly version of a Ralph Bakshi sequence with similar energy and busy editing, Little Vampire director Joann Sfar sets the perfect tone for a supernatural fantasy adventure for all ages. This French-language film is based on the comic/web series of the same name that is co-written by Sfar, its film adaptation making its North American premiere as part of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.
Little Vampire has a very familiar premise, it seems to take note from Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s childrens’ series The Little Vampire, with a baddie hunting a vampire family that eventually befriends a human to help take down said baddie. Though Sfar’s story is pretty much the same, I would say that compared to these other kid-vampire movies, Petit Vampire has the most heart and entertainment, and certainly the most lovable characters, with Little Vampire featuring a ragtag lineup of monsters, an imposing but romantic pirate king, and a mother to rival even Morticia Adams in grace, mental fortitude, and underworldly beauty. With great displays of perseverance, love, and a little bit of magic throughout the story, Little Vampire is the kind of film that will have audiences fervently rooting for the monsters to win as it is truly a fun, family-friendly flick.
300 years ago, after rebuffing the advances of an egotistical prince, a beautiful woman named Pandora and her son are sentenced to death, however, they are saved by the Captain of Death and his crew of supernatural creatures. Promising her life to the Captain, Pandora and her son escape on the Captain’s ship, who turns them into eternal vampires and promises to protect them from the dastardly prince turned demon, renamed Gibbus. After years of running, the family and pirate crew settle beneath an enchanted dome that hides them from the sight of Gibbus and their human neighbors, however, the little vampire ventures out at night and quickly forms a deep friendship with an orphan named Michael, bonding over homework and their experiences with death. After Gibbus uses Michael to track down the little vampire and his family, the friends set out to end what the adults started and take down the vampire hunter once and for all.
Director and co-writer Joann Sfar brings a beautiful world to life in Little Vampire. Sfar indulged in the paranormal nature of the characters, making for some interesting character designs, and furthermore, he created a fantastical world that grew more adventurous by the minute. Sfar shows that creativity can still be found with traditional 2D style animations, but I feel that Sfar’s personality and contemporary proclivities can be found throughout the film, with HP Lovecraft books and House on Haunted Hill posters hidden in plain sight. Sfar is a modern artist seemingly influenced by the cartoons from his childhood period, marrying these elements to create his own style as the makings of an animation auteur. The tagline “Little monsters big adventure” is an understatement, as Sfar’s story encompasses monsters from the depths of the earth to epic battles above the clouds in the sky, gifting audiences with a story that is beautiful from the inside out with both its heartfelt narrative and amazing imagery.
I feel that Little Vampire has a similar spirit to something like ParaNorman (2012), family-friendly with notes of inside jokes for any adult viewers; it may be a tad too sweet on any hardened views, however, as the ending is a little too happy for my taste, even for a children’s film. The movie is filled with a lot of heart and emotion, dealing with death from both sides of the coin and loss of comforting connections — it approaches these themes head-on, tempering the seriousness with both deadpan humor and tender displays of affection from the parental units of both little vampire and Michael. Because of its characters and how they are given room to be their monstrous selves, Little Vampire has a Halloween charm without necessarily being a Halloween movie — it is likely something I would include in Halloween lineups for my young nephews from now on, offering a coming-of-age story that is as creepy as it is cute and charming.
The film will screen as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, happening August 5-25.
7 out of 10