sun 25/09/2022

Horrid Henry - the Movie | reviews, news & interviews

Horrid Henry - the Movie

Horrid Henry - the Movie

He's actually quite nice, but the story fails to convince

Theo Stevenson as Horrid Henry: his rapping is astonishingly accomplished

It’s perhaps best to start this review by stating that I miss Horrid Henry's target demographic by about, ooh, a decade or three. But it’s also right and proper to say that while I wouldn’t recommend it for grown-ups, those youngsters whose opinions I canvassed after the screening I attended gave it a huge thumbs-up.

It’s not difficult to see why, as there are plenty of fart and bogey gags (the latter really quite disgusting when viewed in 3D) and adults are the butt of all the jokes. Theo Stevenson as the titular character is lovely, too (and not at all horrid, but that’s the story’s weakness, not his), and he can sing (his rapping is astonishingly accomplished), dance and act, unlike several of the other child actors who appear alongside him. Indeed, one or two of the adults would be embarrassed by Stevenson’s all-round talents - there’s a particularly joyous shot of Prunella Scales, who appears all too briefly doing a fine turn as Henry’s dotty great-aunt, being wonderfully, woefully out of step in the song-and-dance finale.

The Horrid Henry books were launched in 1994 by author Francesca Simon and illustrator Tony Ross, and he is the most successful children’s literary character in the UK after Harry Potter. The books have translated into 24 languages and have been made into a Bafta-nominated animated television series, a live stage show and a computer game. If you don’t like alliteration you will find the books grating, as every character is given a moniker such as Moody Margaret, Weepy William, Perfect Peter, and so on.

The film is inexplicably in 3D, which director Nick Moore makes little or no use of, but to be fair he’s been handed a leaden script by Lucinda Whiteley, in which very little of any excitement happens and which in any case makes little sense, perhaps because it's gleaned from more than one title. Henry, who hates school and whose dad (Mathew Horne) is always on at him to do his homework, ends up trying to save Ashton Primary when the school inspectors threaten to close it. They have been bribed by the dastardly Vic Van Wrinkle (Richard E Grant), who wants all the Ashton parents to have to send their children to his fee-paying school - as political subtexts go, it’s fine by me, but it just doesn’t convince as a plot.

7fa76d838c5d0669d5303aecd98021bb_XLIt’s intermittently funny, though, and the film bursts into life when Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood (aka Dick and Dom) appear as presenters of "2 Cool 4 School", a supercharged and weirdly threatening kids’ TV programme, as if Top of the Form had been given a makeover by David Lynch. In fact, Moore uses all manner of filmic tricks - cartoons, heightened realism, jump cuts and a bold colour palette - which don’t help with our dislocation.

Anjelica Huston is Henry’s strict teacher, Miss Battle-Axe (pictured above), Rebecca Front is Ashton’s hard-pressed headmistress and Parminder Nagra is, well, lovely as teacher Miss Lovely, whom Henry enlists to help bring down the baddies, along with his new buddie - the girl he formerly was at war with - Moody Margaret (Scarlett Stitt). Grant, as ever, gives great nasty, but it’s a characterisation you’ve seen him do many times before, while Huston and Front invest their roles with more humour and pathos than the script deserves. Jo Brand, Noel Fielding and Scales, meanwhile, make appearances that are so brief they don’t even qualify as cameos. Strictly one for the kids.

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