I have to confess my hopes weren’t high: Having steered three children through the stage of life during which Francesca Simon and Tony Ross’ Horrid Henry is part of the literary landscape, I was unenthusiastic about revisiting it, and at a loss to understand how it could possibly translate to the obligatory 90 minutes of the feature film format, much less why anyone would want it to (including its youngster audience).
The Horrid Henry books always struck me as a fairly charmless rehash of Richmal Crompton’s Just William, though in fairness they predate other comparable series such as Harry Potter and Charlie and Lola. On the other hand, the cast roster boasts names of some international repute, not least amongst them Angelica Huston, Prunella Scales, Richard E Grant, Jo Brandt and Dick & Dom (though Scales and Brandt have very fleeting walk-on parts).
No surprise, therefore, that Horrid Henry: The Movie is a more entertaining prospect than familiarity with the books would imply it should be. This is largely credit to the bravura performances from the kids in the lead roles – Theo Stevenson as Henry is excellent – very sporting efforts from the adult leads, and a screenplay which sets off at a breakneck pace and never once lets up: the writers throw in the kitchen sink: the hit rate for gags and set pieces seems higher than it actually is since everything moves at such a blinding pace you have no chance to stop and try to make sense of what is going on – a sure fire means of concealing that none is possible.
Henry decides to save his (hated) school, Ashton Primary and frustrate the depredations of local private school headmaster Grant (for some reason named Vic Van Winkle) who is bribing the local school inspectors to shut the local schools down to force all the parents to send their children to his Brick House. (Private Schools actively seeking out state school kids as pupils: like that would ever happen – i.e. this is by no means cinema verite). Even less logically, Henry’s scheme is to win a local talent contest and then, when that caper fails, win a challenge on a children’s TV show hosted, somewhat creepily (more creepily than was intended, I’ll wager) by CBBC’s Dick & Dom.
The set is a continual riot of colour, music, protruding three dimensional artefacts that there is no chance of getting bored, much less of making head or tail of anything. There are aspects of Just William, School of Rock, even Attack The Block (it struck me as a sort of junior version of that film, in fact) – and the film is bang up-to-date with its cultural references: the director was knowing and street enough to include the likes of the uber-credible North London ska/punk band King Blues on the soundtrack.
Occasionally the script revealed itself as being a little lame, but for the most part this is a good, energetic, fun and original effort that will pleasantly divert the kids on a wet summer’s afternoon.
Horrid Henry: The Movie is in cinemas 29th July 2011.
Director: Nick Moore
Stars: Anjelica Huston, Richard E. Grant, Parminder Nagra