It's always great to see what other countries are producing in the animated feature film department and while they don't tend to become a huge blockbuster in the US, they tend to garner moderate success and respectable recognition in the animation industry, such as Zambezia and Monster in Paris. Hailing from Belgium and France, House of Magic has been on my to watch list for awhile and I finally got my hands on an English copy of the movie.
House of Magic is about an abandoned cat named Thunder who wanders his way into the house of a magician and befriends the inhabitants, with the exceptions of Jack the rabbit and Maggie the mouse. The magician is well on into his years and the magician's nephew, a real estate agent, seeks to take the house to be sold for a profit. While the magician is incapacitated from an accident, the nephew makes his move and so Thunder and the other inhabitants of the house must work together and learn to get along to save the house.
Plot-wise, the story doesn't do anything extremely innovative or evokes deep provocative thoughts, reminds me somewhat of Home Alone or Night at the Museum, but otherwise is decently solid, funny, and I found the movie as a whole was quite enjoyable. There were only two parts that I felt were somewhat off and the first was at the very beginning of the film. While it does set up some backstory of Thunder being abandoned by his previous owners in the middle of a move, the first ten minutes of the movie was a bunch of running and racing around with yells and yelps and the Thunder was never given an identity until the magician finds him and bestows a new one on him. The second part is towards the end of the film when Jack was stuck in the doggy door. We get an change in Maggie when she is saved by Thunder and thinks of him differently but Jack never experiences any event with Thunder that would make him decide to change his mind and like the cat.
What drew me to this movie was the character designs, particularly that of Thunder. I like cats and he is adorable. I wonder if more movies could make appealing animal characters with animalistic eyes instead of humanizing them with all the eyewhite. Animals don't tend to show eyewhite. The few movies that do animalistic eyes unfortunately aren't consistent with it either, such as Puss has nice eyes but Donkey from Shrek has humanized eyes and some of the characters in Rango also go humanized, too.
I felt that the animation was quite strong. The only part that had me questioning was when Thunder walks. I watch documentaries on tigers for fun and the most recent one that I saw was Tigers About the House and I noticed that when tigers walk they turn their front paws inward before planting on the ground. I had already known that animals plant their toes first than their heels, which is what allows them to move so quietly, but not the part of turning the paw inward. Curious to see if domestic cats also have this behaviour I turned to Youtube. Unfortunately the videos were inconclusive as the cats seemed to turn the paws inward sometimes but sometimes not, and when they do it was very slight. The movie had various scenes made specifically for stereoscope and is apparent with camera moves and action happening directly at the screen but as I didn't watch it in stereoscope it just felt somewhat awkward to me. As stated previously, I like stereoscope but particularly when it is used to create atmosphere and environment, but not as a gimmick to pretend that the audience is on a rollercoaster or have things coming out of the screen. Even though I watched this movie dubbed in English, I didn't have any real issues with the facial animation. The words seem to match up decently well with the mouthshapes and the voice acting fit so I wasn't cringing as if I would when watching dubbed Japanese anime.
The textures were all really pretty and detailed but I loved Thunder's fur, particularly how well it responds to animation. Thunder can look soft, smooth, and cuddly or when he hunches up his back you can see the hair standing up just like on an actual cat. The backscattering on the animal ears were really nice. Somewhat awkward that it always seems to be there as if there's a light shinning through their ears all the time, but really pretty.