If you have minds and eyes, prepare to have them boggled. The opening 3D scenes in The House of Magic, a French-Luxembourgian digimation feature English-dubbed and set in a fantasised Boston, are the best in recent memory. Up close, immersive, funny-thrilling. The cat’s-eye view does it. We are road-level with the skittering kitten hero (thrice nearly run over), then branch-level (vertiginous white-knuckle tree climb), then floorboard-level as “Thunder”, the feline in flight, takes upstairs refuge in the gothic home of a magician. The house is infested with semi-domestic critters – dog, rabbit, mice – plus toys and gizmos. Those are alive and ambulant. Cue more visual hazard and bombardment.
Some critics have sniffed: “It’s not Toy Story.” Perhaps not. Nor is Edward Lear Lewis Carroll. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time with him. The few points I docked in the film’s first half hour for cuteness or cliché – the kitty’s goo-goo eyes, a chihuahua dubbed with a jive-ass Afro voice from Hollywood’s hackneyed-hilarity bin (who says racism is dead at Central Comedy Casting?) – are restored with dividend by the multiplying grace notes. The seedy avuncular rabbit, a mournful cockney accent issuing between buck teeth, is a joy. So are the planned “accidents” visited on house-viewers by the toys and pets, Home Alone style, when they are left minding the mansion by a hospitalised master who has handed power of attorney to his evil nephew.
Even the throwaway gags and cameo roles are inspired. An ancien régime Rolleiflex camera toddles about with top hat and stick. A bellboy-hatted bubblegum machine smokes when angry. A recumbent mouse works out by doing lifts with the snap bar of a mousetrap. Moral for the moviegoer? Never look away. You don’t want to be too busy saying to yourself “This isn’t Toy Story” to be alert to the moments when it is no less just to say, “Toy Story isn’t this.”