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Published: Friday, 10/27/2000

The Little Vampire: Fantasy soars on friendship of two very different boys

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE PEACH SECTION EDITOR

(3 out of 5 stars)

Jonathan Lipnicki, the kid from Jerry Maguire, stars in The Little Vampire, a charmer of a family movie that is likely to please adult and youngsters alike.

Using characters created by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg in a series of children's novels, writers Karey Kirkpatrick and Larry Wilson, who respectively adapted James and the Giant Peach and The Addams Family, have created a whole new setting and plot for The Little Vampire. They even give the human family a new surname: Thompson. The name Noodleman apparently isn't good enough for the movies.

Lipnicki plays Tony Thompson, a 9-year-old from San Diego who is having a tough time adjusting to life in Scotland, where his father, Bob (Tommy Hinkley), is turning the estate of Lord McAshton (John Wood) into a ritzy golf resort.

One night, when the elder Thompsons are at a party, Tony is playing in his room, dressed as a vampire. (Thanks to a series of recurring nightmares, Tony has become obsessed with vampires.) A bat flies through his window and transforms itself into Rudolph (Rollo Weeks), a 9-year-old vampire boy. Realizing that Tony is not a vampire, but a human, Rudolph tries to fly away again, but instead he plummets to the ground, too weak from hunger to move.

When Tony runs to help him, Rudolph gasps that he needs to find a cow. Tony loads the vampire onto his wagon and sets off to a nearby farm. After Rudolph has eaten (turning the cow into a vampire), he and Tony are discovered by Rookery (Jim Carter), a vampire hunter, who nearly runs Tony over. Rudolph saves him, the boys get away, and their friendship begins.

Rudolph tells Tony that his clan doesn't drink the blood of humans anymore, just cows, because his father is convinced that there are ways to end the vampire curse and become human. It all has to do with a comet that is coming around for the first time in 300 years and an amulet that has been missing just as long. His father believes the amulet to be in the vicinity. Unfortunately, the neighborhood is also the home of Rookery, the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. It is largely thanks to Rookery's family that Rudolph's father, Frederick Sackville-Bagg (Richard Grant), has forbidden all contact with humans. (That, and the fact that hungry vampires don't have a whole lot of willpower when humans are nearby.)

Despite the potential problems, Tony is determined to help Rudolph and his family, which consists of his mother, Freda (Alice Krige), sister, Anna (Anna Popplewell), and elder brother, Gregory (Dean Cook). But Rookery is one cunning adversary.

The Little Vampire is filled with the elements that make the Harry Potter books popular, including magic, mystery, castles, villains, and a decent sense of suspense. But it is built on a foundation of friendship between two boys who are able to look beyond each other's obvious differences.

Unfortunately, the writers and director Uli Edel feel compelled to borrow from the Home Alone movies to decorate the action. If I never see a wide-mouth, hands-clapped-to-the-cheeks scream again, it will be too soon. The editing is occasionally rough, and cuts made within scenes are obvious.

But there are also some very funny scenes, especially a running joke about the herd of cows slowly becoming vampires. Ever seen a herd of vampire cows? It's a hoot.

The actors seem to be having a lot of fun, especially Grant and Krige (she played the Borg queen in Star Trek: First Contact) as the vampire parents. And Lipnicki and Weeks are engaging as the unlikely buddies.

Although there is talk of vampires feeding, there are no scenes of it or of blood, just the sounds of slurps, which should delight every 9-year-old boy in the audience.



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