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'Little Vampire, The'

Teething trouble: 'The Little Vampire' is a little dark, a little baffling

Friday, October 27, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri,Post-Gazette Staff Writer

These vampires still vant to suck your blood -- as long as you're a cow, not a human.

'Little Vampire'

RATING: PG for mild peril, brief shot of corpses with stakes through hearts

STARRING: Jonathan Lipnicki


WEB SITE: www.littlevampire

CRITIC'S CALL; 2 stars


That's how "The Little Vampire" defangs the undead and scores a PG rating. Keep in mind it is PG, not G, and it might frighten or baffle preschoolers.

The movie is about a bespectacled 9-year-old named Tony (Jonathan Lipnicki), who recently moved from California to Scotland with his parents. He is very much the outsider at school. The other lads bully him and his teacher has no tolerance for his tales about vampires, which he sees in regular and vivid nightmares.

One night, while Tony's parents are at a party, he dons fake fangs and practices his blood-sucking skills with ketchup. A bat, which turns into a 300-year-old boy, swoops into his room and mistakes him for a kindred spirit. Tony recognizes the boy, Rudolph (Rollo Weeks), from his dreams.

Tony shows him where he can find a cow for a quick transfusion -- these vampires want to become human, not eat them for dinner -- and the red-eyed one takes Tony flying. Tony introduces Rudolph to Nintendo, the all-purpose word "Duh!" and a trunk that doubles as a makeshift coffin. Both outcasts, they become fast friends.

But all is not well in the world of the undead.

A vampire hunter named Rookery (Jim Carter) is on their trail, Tony is mistaken for foe and then a fellow vampire and everyone is hunting for an amulet's stone that will enable the vampires to become mortal again.

The gem has been lost for 300 years and it must be found by the time the comet Attamon crosses over the moon.

The movie is based on "The Little Vampire" novels by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg and was directed by Uli Edel, whose work includes "Last Exit to Brooklyn" starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and "Body of Evidence" with Madonna. Not exactly perfect preparation for a family film.

Combine his vision with the writers -- whose various credits include "The Addams Family," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Chicken Run" -- and you get a story that often is literally and figuratively dark. Although you never really believe Tony is in danger, even when he is locked in a crypt, the movie cries out for a more playful tone and a less ponderous, confusing story about the amulet and its ancient owners.

I've never read the books so I have no idea how this compares. To its credit, "The Little Vampire" boasts a good cast, including the underutilized Richard E. Grant and Alice Krige as the heads of the vampire household, Pamela Gidley and Tommy Hinkley as Tony's often clueless parents and sweet little Lipnicki from "Jerry Maguire" and "Stuart Little."

In the end, though, "Little Vampire" could have used a transfusion of Steven Spielberg-style magic. Or maybe just more fun and less fright.

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