"The Little Vampire," starring the adorable bed-head Jonathan Lipnicki, traces its bloodline to a series of beloved children's books by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg. A Draculesque clan lends this fun, whimsically spooky kiddie flick a bit of bite. But they have more in common with the histrionic eccentrics of the Addams Family than with Anne Rice's debauched New Orleans-based brood.
These vampires have migrated from such traditional Nosferatuian hangouts as Transylvania and Louisiana to the scenic Scottish highlands. Over time, they have come to see themselves as a persecuted minority. "We have been hunted for centuries, but we want to become humans, not eat them," says Rudolph (Rollo Weeks), the movie's 9-year-old title character, to Tony (Lipnicki), his new mortal friend.
Tony, a fourth-grader from San Diego, has been having nightmares about the undead ever since he and his parents moved into a spooky Scottish manor. His father, who is building a golf course for the local laird, has no time for the boy's foolishness, and his mother tries to explain away his alarmingly realistic visions. His classmates, including his lordship's bullying nephews, tease him about what is quickly becoming an obsession with the creatures of the night.
Then one evening Rudolph, in the guise of a large bat, flies into Tony's room, attempts to escape via the chimney and falls to the hearth in his true form. Rudolph is being chased by Rookery (Jim Carter), a ruthless vampire hunter who proves as dumb as the villainous bumblers in "Home Alone."
Weak from hunger, Rudolph needs sustenance if he's to make his escape. He's relying on Tony for dinner. But don't worry--although vampires are still into neck-rophilia, they no longer sup from human veins but rather siphon blood from cows. It sounds icky, but the vampires' eating habits make for a droll running gag about a herd of heifers that are turned into vampires.
Director Ulrich Edel ("Last Exit to Brooklyn," "Homicide: Life on the Street") is hardly the man you'd expect to find behind the camera for such gritless fare. But although his approach isn't exactly Disneyesque, it's unlikely to scare the training pants off wee moviegoers either. They might even appreciate the straightforwardness of the presentation.
The story, written by Larry Wilson ("The Addams Family") and Karey Kirkpatrick ("Chicken Run"), is a simple one that involves finding a magic amulet that will free Rudolph and his family (Richard E. Grant, Alice Krige and Anna Popplewell) from the ranks of the undead. Complications arise when the pesky Rookery tries to beat them to the amulet and thwart their metamorphosis.
Clearly, the stakes are high, and pointed, too. But fear not, fangs will be looking up in the end.
The Little Vampire (95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for scenes that are sort of scary and one naughty word.
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