After watching Thunder and the House of Magic (originally titled simply The House of Magic), I felt like I was back in maybe 3rd or 4th grade, complete with the kid nearest to the light switch snapping on the overhead halogens and the teacher starting a discussion of the morals of the story. Thunder and the House of Magic is a fairly straightforward tale of family, teamwork, and having a good heart. The characters don’t speak more than they have to, which results in a kind of dry, strictly utilitarian feel. However, upon further consideration, I have to give it points for not being full of fluff or filler; instead, we have a tale that emphasizes good qualities that we hope our children will one day possess.
That said, Thunder and the House of Magic may be too full of itself to realize that painting almost all of its adults as largely unsympathetic buffoons may alienate the parents of the children for which this film was made. Immediately at the start of the film, we see a cat tricked into getting out of a car, which speeds off as soon as he’s out the door. So begins a long list of deplorable behavior perpetrated by the majority of the film’s adults, which includes fraud, wanton destruction of property, animal cruelty, depictions of racial stereotypes, and mistreatment of the elderly.
What’s at the heart of the movie is the aforementioned abandoned cat, later named Thunder (voiced by Murray Blue), and his acceptance into a new home. Children will, no doubt, sympathize with Thunder as he tries to fit in and make friends; much like real life, some are accepting, while others are less so. In the latter category are rabbit Jack (George Babbit) and mouse Maggie (Shanelle Gray), fully intent on kicking Thunder back out onto the streets where they think he belongs. They’re not going to share their owner, an elderly magician named Lawrence (Doug Stone), nor the large house in which they live with Lawrence’s mechanical creations, all of which welcome Thunder with open arms. With all this, there’s one more person they need to deal with: Daniel (Grant George), Lawrence’s greedy realtor nephew, who wants to put Lawrence in a retirement home and sell the house for his own ends.
Thunder and the House of Magic’s narrative works solely on a one-dimensional plane, in that there’s no depth and it’s not very challenging. All the characters are very WYSIWYG and serve their specific purpose for the story. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, and that’s pretty much the end of it. A lot of what you see is a little cliché and predictable, especially if you’ve seen Field of Dreams, Happy Gilmore, and Toy Story, all of which had more depth – yes, even Happy Gilmore – than this movie. Worse yet is the film’s attempt at diversity, which includes a jive-talkin’ dog who constantly calls Thunder “Megro” (I mean, what?!) and whose owner embodies some pretty bad African-American stereotypes.
Visually, the animation is engaging in places and pedestrian in others, but it all balances out. The version I saw was not in 3D, and I don’t know if there is a 3D release available, but some shots made me think that this was made with a 3D presentation in mind. It might be a great spectacle to watch on a big screen in 3D, with shots of birds, mechanical toys, and other such objects being thrown at you. Yet this type of awe-inducing animation sometimes takes a backseat to images that reminded me a lot of “Super Mario World” on the Nintendo 64, with a single-speed, tunnel vision-like effect being evident in what were supposed to be the faster-moving sequences. The excitement the filmmakers hoped to ignite is hampered a little by this drawback, with the motion never quite matching the urgency of the situation, whether it’s watching Thunder trying to escape a Doberman Pinscher or a wrecking ball doing its damage.
No matter how strong the family-oriented themes may be exemplified in this film, one has to wonder about the vehicle in which these morals are presented. The kids will laugh and most of the quibbles adults will have will go right over their heads, and they may learn a thing or two from it, but there are better films than this that can provide the same amount of laughs and morals. Thunder and the House of Magic earns its stars by having a good heart and soul, but its cliché and stereotyped trappings give me pause as far as recommending it. Having watched it with my children, I can say that it’s easy to understand and to identify with the sympathetic characters, but there won’t be much of a reason to revisit it.