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Thunder And The House Of Magic

Shout Factory // G // September 30, 2014
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Walmart]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted October 7, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Thunder and the House of Magic Blu-ray Review

Thunder and the House of Magic begins with a stray cat wandering the streets. The cat has been abandoned by its owner and is now looking for a place to stay. The world is big, wide, and very different to the cat in the new environment.  The cat's name is Thunder and like a quick bolt of lightning he is soon to discover something remarkably special: the enchanted and magnificent world of the magical house he wanders to -- a unique home that is open as a home for animals, gizmos, and enchanted technological beings. A home owned and run by a kind-hearted elderly gentleman with a big heart and a fondness for magic.

Unfortunately for Thunder, his initial entrance isn't greeted with much fondness as the leader of the animal pack includes a stern and unfriendly rabbit and his sidekick mouse, neither of whom prove to be keen on a cat joining the troupe. Yet with determination, a kind-nature, and a sweet disposition that the owner of the home appreciates, Thunder finds a new home. Yet things aren't going as smoothly as hoped for with regards to the magical safe-haven: Thunder and the rest of these animals and magical beings and enchanted toys soon discover the owner's mean-spirited younger relative (his last surviving one) has an agenda to get him into an elderly home and to handle selling the house and taking all of the profits for himself.

Things complicate when the magician finds himself in the hospital after an accident the house deed becomes signed over following the advanced of the unscrupulous relative.  In almost no time at all protecting the home becomes the priority for Thunder, rabbit, mouse, and the other enchanted beings. Determined to help save the day, can these animals and toys keep the home from being sold away? The mission has been set and as the story unfolds a number of action-packed comedic moments occur as the mission to protect the house of magic (in a style very reminiscent of a holiday family classic: Home Alone) goes underway.

The screenplay was written by James Flynn, Dominic Paris, and Ben Stassen. Ben Stassen also served as director along with co-director Jeremy Degruson. The film has a fairly unremarkable screenplay but also one that manages to be modestly entertaining and well-paced so that while things are underway the audience never feels that bored. The issue with the script is mainly its inability to draw out the characters and make them more believable and interesting. This is an issue that prevents the film's heart from being as fully explored as viewers might be hoping to find. From a storytelling perspective, the film is a bit underwhelming as it spends much more time focusing on the concepts of the character interactions and the unfolding plotline around saving the magic house than it spends on making those character interactions stand out in an interesting or complex way. Ultimately, this means the film plays things a bit bland and that older audiences will have a harder time emotionally connecting to it. Yet the script also has breezy pacing and nice concepts that can be fun for the entire family. Young kids will enjoy watching the film the most.

Unlike the somewhat bland script, the direction by Ben Stassen and Jeremy Degruson mostly seems to work well. Each scene flows well into the next and the cartoon stylistic choices are reminiscent of the golden age of classic animation with reasonably strong flourishes. These aspects of the filmmaking excel and make the movie much more enjoyable. In creating some of the film's core elements: the protection of the house from those guests looking to purchase it, in preventing the bulldozing of the home later in the film, and in scenes that creatively explore the magic of the home -- these kinds of moments are well-directed and offer both entertainment and quality animation. The action sequences are effectively staged with good technical merits, and a action-oriented score b Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man) keeps the events unfolding with an element of bombast.

Speaking of the animation... this is the strong point of the entire film. Despite this film being a more modestly produced CG animation creation, it doesn't look like something that would be produced with a less well know production house. Character designs are fluid, background artistry looks impressively detailed, and the various nuances of the CG animation style are impressively rendered throughout.  The art style is sleekly produced on every level. Even elements such as rain and wind are given good attention in the artistry.

Overall, Thunder and the House of Magic mostly works as a family film because of its high technical prowess and its ability to remain modestly entertaining despite a weaker script to support its foundation. The comedy is somewhat immature throughout the film but it is not particularly horrendous. Kids will find the comedy of the cat, rabbit, and mouse characters goofy, charming, and reasonably engaging even if parents will mostly shrug it off as subpar compared to Pixar or Dreamworks CG animated films. While this is far from a perfect film, certain elements of Thunder and the House of Magic work well (the animation being key to everything good here), and that might be enough to make it worth checking out for those looking for some decent family entertainment.

The Blu-ray:


Video:

Thunder and the House of Magic arrives on Blu-ray with a solid high definition presentation that is provided in both 2D and 3D versions. Both are selectable on the same disc so all viewers can choose the high definition presentation method they prefer between the two. The colors of this animated family production are especially impressive. The sharp, clean photography is quite remarkable. Both the depth and clarity blend well with the sleek animation produced for the feature.  It's amazing and fans will be pleased with the results as it looks as stunning as one expects to find for modern-day CG animation productions.

Audio:

The 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is dynamic and intense during most of the film. The sound of rain, thunder, and the movement of objects; whether related to the magical aspect of the film or as in one sequence involving a bulldozer, these moments are all impressive in clarity and work well to provide a immersive and engaging surround sound presentation. It's a quality lossless audio mix that feels remarkably well produced. 

The original French language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Presentation is provided. However, it is worth noting that standard subtitles were not provided and the only option is an English SDH subtitle track for the deaf and hard of hearing. That is the only subtitle option on the Blu-ray, which one would assume is more for the standard English presentation for those who need it included. So it ends up seeming a bit odd that something standard for the French option was omitted.

Optional 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio and French 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is also included for those who would rather have a lossless stereo presentation (and who may not actually be equipped for the surround sound).


Extras:

 

Supplements include making of featurettes about the animation and production. Broke down into three short segments the release covers the Origins (4 min.), Character Animation (5 min.), and the Soundtrack (4 min.). Each part feels like a slice of one making-of featurette covering these elements. The filmmakers talk about the concept and origination of the filmmaking, the art of character-designs utilized, and the music score. Lastly, both the original teaser and theatrical trailer have been included.

 

Note: This release is a 3D/2D Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy combo pack.

 

A Digital Copy code is also provided which is listed as good for a redemption through September 30th, 2015 and is available in either SD or HD.

Final Thoughts:

Thunder and the House of Magic is a decidedly cute and charming production. It's not quite as ambitious or inventive from a storytelling perspective as the truly great CG animated films, but the quirky characters, well-done animation, and family-friendly attributes would make it a good option for families. While parents and adults may find one viewing to be enough, kids are likely to enjoy revisiting it. The release is currently only available from Wal-Mart as an exclusive but it is worth seeking out for families looking for a new CG animation film to enjoy.

Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.


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