"Thunder and the House of Magic" epitomizes the sort of animated film that's supposed to be fun for the whole family but that actually pleases no one. Co-directors Ben Stassen and Jérémie Degruson have assembled so many clichés and bits borrowed from other films that "Thunder" feels like a rerun on its first viewing.
A young cat gets dumped by his owners and makes its way to an eerie Victorian mansion where Lawrence, a retired magician, lives with a collection of pets and mechanical toys. Lawrence names the stray Thunder and immediately adopts him — to the chagrin of his grouchy rabbit, Jack, and scheming white mouse Maggie.
But a bigger threat to Thunder's newfound security is Lawrence's conniving nephew, Daniel, who wants to consign his uncle to a home and sell the old house. Thunder organizes a defense, scaring off buyers by making the place appear haunted.
During the many lulls in the story, viewers can pick out elements from other films: The design for the Doberman evokes "Up," one potential buyer imitates Edna Mode from "The Incredibles," a tracking shot through the engine of a wrecking crane recalls a clockwork sequence in "The Great Mouse Detective."
Of course, Thunder leads the toys and animals to victory, enabling Lawrence to stay in his home and give free shows for children. But more than sleight-of-hand magic would be needed to turn "Thunder" into anything more than a weary exercise in low-budget computer animation.
"Thunder and the House of Magic."
MPAA rating: None (suitable for ages 8 and up, with mildly scary elements and poop jokes).
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.