French comic book artist Joann Sfar, who is already well respected in the world of bandes dessinéesin France, has brought his talents to the world of film with his magnificent animation le Petit Vampire. Based on his children’s graphic novel of the same name, it tells of a friendship between the eponymous wee vampire, who’s been 10 for over 300 years, and Michel, an orphaned boy who actually is 10 years old.
The back story of how the small blood sucking hero and his gorgeous mother entered the world of the undead plays out as the opening credits go up. We are in a world 300 years previously when the mother and son are about to meet a gruesome end at the hands of the handsome Gibbus who’s been thwarted by her. As they teeter at the edge of life, the Pirate King of the Undead comes to the rescue in his beautiful flying ship. Like many women saved from a desperate situation by a man, the mother is eternally loyal to her skeletal saviour, who wears the biggest hat in the world, willingly joining the ranks of the undead as a means to saving her belovèd son.
Leap to present day in the South of France, where the Pirate King and his motley band of monsters have set up home in a turreted home that can only be seen as an archetypal haunted house. It is here that the wee vampire starts to rebel at having been 10 for such a long time and flies out in the night with Fantome, his pet bulldog, and finds a school. Here he finds the jotter of struggling pupil, Michel, a boy who lives with his grandparents, an element based on Sfar’s own life, and does his homework for him. A friendship builds up from notes exchanged in Michel’s jotter and so the boy in the real world gets to meet some other worldly creatures with his nocturnal chum.
The film is stuffed to the gunnels with tropes from horror films such as torture; lightning bolts; circular saws; laboratory monsters; improbable creatures rising of the dead from a spooky graveyard. Fairy tale and fantasy tropes appear in the form of flying superheroes, as shades of Peter Pan vie with Beauty and the Beast and of course Sleeping Beauty, who is the figurehead of the Pirate King’s ship and ultimately embodies the strongest of messages – the power of love as Gibbus reverts from evil Moonface back to dashing lover.
Exquisite starry night scenes and coastal scenes dotted with palm trees sit like lovely pearls among the magnificently created mayhem that is the batty world of the monsters who turn out to be the good guys.
Mercifully the Summerhall screening kept the voices of the original French cast (with English subtitles) where director Sfar lends his voice to the Frankenstein style character of the snottery nosed Marguerite.
Produced by the aptly named Joann Sfar Magical Society, and rightly nominated Best Animation Film in the 2021 César Awards, le Petit Vampire is a crazy, funny, gloriously big adventure and a joy to watch for fans of the form that’s been created by the hands of a master craftsman.