Review: Horrid Henry: The Movie (2011)
Editor’s Note: Horrid Henry: The Movie was released on January 11th
A mainstay of kid culture in the UK from his successful run in Francesca Simon’s novel series and its hugely popular animated TV adaptation, Horrid Henry makes his big screen debut in the aptly titled Horrid Henry: The Movie, scripted by show producer Lucinda Whiteley. Seeing the mischief-making youth out to foil the plans of an uptight private school head to gain a monopoly on education by shutting down all rivals, it’s a suitably madcap adventure that brings the wild, colourful style of the cartoon to live-action fruition. Evidently something of a risky sell to North American audiences, the undeniably British film first saw release on its native soil some eighteen months ago.
The manic energy of its scenes accompanies a refreshing innocence entrenched in the sense of sheer fun it presents, ably offering a whole host of humourous gags and physical comedy loaded with unbridled enthusiasm.
It’s no criticism to say that Horrid Henry will appeal far more to kids than to those who accompany them; rather, it’s a confirmation of the successes of the film in reaching its target audience, which unashamedly aligns itself with the child’s eye through its fanciful fantasy sequences that render cinematically the wild musings of Henry’s imagination. The manic energy of its scenes accompanies a refreshing innocence entrenched in the sense of sheer fun it presents, ably offering a whole host of humourous gags and physical comedy loaded with unbridled enthusiasm. As so often occurs, though, Whiteley’s script overestimates the fondness of youth for bodily functions, and her excessive reliance on flatulence as a default gag will grate even the most devoutly childish sense of humour.
Certainly the film’s most appealing aspect for those not drawn to the youthful antics of Henry himself is its impressive supporting cast, Anjelica Huston heading the bunch in recalling her role of child-hating villainy from The Witches. Animated, eccentric, and oddly orange, she plays Mrs Battleaxe—a teacher determinedly dismissive of Henry’s admittedly lacking academic efforts—with a shrieking menace and crotchety cynicism not unworthy of comparison to Maggie Smith in the Harry Potter series. She will be the most entertaining for adult viewers, easily outshining the disappointingly muted efforts of Richard E. Grant as the primary villain. Sufficiently entertaining too are Rebecca Front as the school’s principal and The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding in an all-too-brief cameo role as the celebrity judge of a talent show in which Henry and his band partake.
Pleasantly passable for its first half, hitting as many comic marks as it misses, the movie simply runs out of story to tell…
Said talent show represents a key changing point for Horrid Henry: that at which the television origins of its production team become abundantly apparent as the film collapses into episodic abandon. Pleasantly passable for its first half, hitting as many comic marks as it misses, the movie simply runs out of story to tell at the end of this sequence, forcing a hastily hashed plot contrivance to hoist the action along a further forty five minutes. Scarcely is energy expended so quickly in film and audience both; as the ensuing extended reality TV segment winds on, as limp and lifeless as the very shows it flaccidly attempts to satirise, all interest in the film wanes as rapidly as does the standard of its gag output.
Hardly the finest film theretofore, Horrid Henry: The Movie’s half-point nosedive sees it lose sight of all hopes of emerging anything more than a slightly subpar feast of silliness, resigning itself instead to abrasively annoying hysteria. The young will too be lost—though perhaps not quite so much—by its steep drop in quality, their youth hardly precluding aversion to disinteresting plot strands and inferior gags. Still, its merits are worthy of touting, whether the affable work of Theo Stevenson in the lead—adequately selling the inaccuracy of his character’s appellation—or the enjoyably erratic work of Huston. It’s clear to see that both are enjoying every moment they spend onscreen; if we can’t share in all their giddiness, at least we can have a little.