14/12/2013

Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins (2013)

Norwegian poster
Film: Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins (Hokus Pokus, Albert Åberg)
Release: 2013, theatrical
Starring: Henrik Forsbak Langfeldt, Kim Haugen, Hallvard Lydvo
Directed by: Torill Kove
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Alfie Atkins really wants a dog, but he and dad can't afford one so when he meets a magician that can conjure money out of thin air he decides to ask him for help.

Hans' thoughts:


The Swedish childrens books by Gunilla Bergström about the young boy Alfie Atkins has become a staple of Scandinavian childhoods since their initiation in the early 70's. Their short stories about everyday problems are easy for any kid to relate to so of course it was only natural that they would eventually turn to animation, and they did - a short lived series of 13 episodes each based on a book was created between the 80's and early 90's. The series was almost entirely narrated with the actual writing from the books and the animation was, at times, very scarce. That being said, it managed to strike a cord with a whole generation of children and 19 years after the last episode was made it's now become an animated feature presentation made by Norwegian director Torill Kove. So how does it hold up?

I was happy to see (or rather hear) the theme music from the series returning in this movie in some form, the main 5 chords of the theme returns in some form throughout even the new songs in the film and it's a nice nod to the classic series. The animation style also looks really good, even though it's with thinner linework it manages to recreate Gunilla Bergström's drawings from the books pretty well and it was nice to see a smoothly animated Alfie. I have to say though that the lack of shading did take a little getting used to. The environments of the movie are also drawn really well, just like with the books it has a very small number of locations and they're all drawn with a blend of detail and empty linework. Objects will sometimes be in the background that doesn't have colors filled in, for whatever reason. However, that's all lifted directly from the art of the books so it's a nice way to stay true to form. 

Unlike the original animated series though, the movie isn't narrated at all. It's frankly a good choice, having to sit through the lack of dialogue throughout an entire 1 hour and 12 minute movie would've been painful. Another change is the addition of song and dance numbers, reminiscent of the Disney formula. While a nice change of pace from the storyline, it does feel a bit tacked on. It should be noted that this is actually where the imagination of the art crew shines through the most, it has some really nice sequences in there with, as an example, a magician conjuring up various animals. On the sound side they decided to let the old theme's chords return in some of the song making all the music of the movie tie together in an overarching type of sound. I'm not a music critic, but I still picked up on it and I really liked it.

Concerning the story, this book was probably the best candidate for a feature adaptation. Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins is about Alfie wanting a dog, one day he meets an old man that can do magic and he decides to ask him for help in convincing his father that he's old enough to take care of one. It's a fun story about not always believing everything and a good story for adults about underestimating the capability for responsibility in their children. This being a feature presentation, of course they've made a few additions. More characters have been added to the story, there's been added an entire new subplot reminiscent of "Där går TJUV-Alfons!" (There goes Thieving-Alfie) and there's references to the other books throughout the movie. What makes the Alfie Atkins stories so compelling is because they're not written for a single age group, kids can read Alfie books from their early childhoods all the way through the first year of school. It's like having a companion that goes through the same troubles that you go through growing up. 

The books are also always fairly laid back, while never referenced directly Alfie seems to only live with his father. The father character is learning how to deal with each situation on the same terms Alfie is so it makes him relatable to parents of both sexes in that sometimes adults don't know all the answers and they're learning just like kids are. The books also manages to represent the logic of kids almost flawlessly, conversations like "Do you know why you don't believe in magic?" "Because it doesn't exist?" "Because nobody conjured money out of YOUR nose!". This is pretty much how kids think about these things and even though it might seem silly there's actually some kind of weird logic behind it. It kind of makes sense, doesn't it? Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins is a fun childrens movie without anything big and mystical going on, it's just kids problems seen through the eyes of a kid and as such some immediate things might seem phenomenally big because to a kid, they kinda are. I found myself rooting for Alfie all the way through and almost talking at the screen alongside my niece and nephew "no no no, Alfie! Don't do it!". The same seemed to go for all the other kids and adults at the pre-screening, and managing to get adults into the story and universe as well is a pretty well done job. Though it might be a bit too long for some of the younger ones I guarantee that it's family friendly fun for all ages, with some cute little music numbers and a good story to boot. 
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