Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Exquisite Animation Combined with Lovable Characters
Little Vampire is an animated film based on French comic book artist Joann Sfar’s Petit Vampire children’s book series. The film is a rare case where the creator of the books also directed the film that they’re based on. The screenplay is written by Sandrina Jardel, who also collaborated with Sfar on the 2011 animated film The Rabbi’s Cat.
A woman named Pandora is nearly forced into a marriage to a man she doesn’t love. To protect herself and her 10-year-old son, she calls upon the Captain of the Dead to turn herself and her son into one of his souls of the dead. Pandora then marries the Captain as her and her son now live in a haunted house with the Captain’s crew composed entirely of other dead souls unable to be seen by the living eye.
Unable to age, this Little Vampire lives as a child for 300 years and becomes bored with the same mundane activities in the house that take place every night. He befriends an orphan schoolboy named Michel and begins to do all of the childish things he was never able to do as a vampire. Meanwhile, the man who was denied his love has been swallowed and spit back out by the God of Nothingness. Now feared as The Gibbus, a crescent moon shaped and feared monster, he seeks the Captain of the Dead to finish their feud once and for all and steal back the only woman he’s ever loved.
Like a Studio Ghibli film, the backgrounds in Little Vampire are incredibly detailed. What’s interesting though is that the backgrounds are even more of a centerpiece for Little Vampire’s animation because it seems like the characters are purposely less detailed. Human characters especially have less shading and detailed compared to the scenery and even the monsters and undead creatures. Both the Little Vampire (he’s only referred to as this in the film with no actual name) and Michel have football shaped heads not unlike Arnold from Hey Arnold! and Stewie from Family Guy.
The story is similar to The Prince and the Pauper as the Little Vampire just wants to go outside, go to school, and do math homework while Michel finds the land of the dead to be somewhat terrifying but mostly fun and enthralling. In a way, the two want to switch places, but the Little Vampire would settle for bringing Michel into the house so he’d have a friend to distract him from being bored for eternity.
The characters of the film are what make Little Vampire so entertaining. The Captain of the Dead has this gigantic pirate hat that takes up the entire screen whenever he wears it. As if that wasn’t enough, he wears a judicial wig under that and a bandana underneath both. He’s essentially a skeleton wearing all these layers and it’s kind of humorous. The Gibbus is horrifying as the swashbuckling antagonist. His yellow skin and giant moon head are unsettling enough, but he runs around half naked for the entire film. He offers humans immortality only to turn them into bugs known as the Kawai that are forced to do his bidding, but also are squished and tortured whenever he sees fit.
Little Vampire pals around with his red, floating French bulldog named Phantomato. Phantomato is kind of like Little Vampire’s conscience as he always warns him of the dangers that lie ahead and rats him out to his parents when he breaks the rules even though, deep down, Phantomato always has Little Vampire’s best interests in mind. Little Vampire passes the time by waking up from his coffin in the evening, playing hide and seek in various paintings around the house, running around on the Captain’s pirate ship, and watching old horror movies with his friends.
His friends include a goofy Frankenstein’s monster named Marguerite. Little Vampire and his friends have seen these movies hundreds of times and yet Marguerite is still afraid that the monsters in the films will lose. He eats neon worms from a bag during movies like popcorn and provides poop in a jar as a distraction for the guard when Little Vampire wants to escape. Since the guard is a skeleton and has lost all sense of taste and smell over the years, he eats the poop thinking it’s a tasty snack and it’s grossly hilarious. There’s also Claude, an alligator that wears a striped purple shirt and jeans and Ophtamol, a product of nuclear testing with three eyes. He wears an orange suit with matching hats on each eyeball and he may or may not fart uncontrollably.
Little Vampire is an extraordinary little French animated film that’s amusing and entertaining for both children and adults. You fall in love with all of the characters and the storyline is more riveting than it has any right to be. The film revolves around love and feeling like you’ll be alone forever, but eventually finding that individual that makes you feel less lonely. It’s less about romance and more about having good company for the majority of your existence. You become completely obsessed with the world Little Vampire throws its audience into and you don’t get to spend nearly enough time there. A tale about the undead has never been so funny, charming, and creative.
Little Vampire currently doesn’t have a US release date, but it was picked up for US distribution by Shout! Studios and Studiocanal in April of 2021.
© 2021 Chris Sawin