For a global entertainment franchise with more than 80 million subscribers, the Moshi Monsters phenomenon has thus far remained rather an insulated one. Sitting roughly where Tamagotchi and Pokemon collide — and targeted at kids born long after those ’90s fads ran their course — this online gaming craze hasn’t attained their degree of pop-cultural crossover. Smartly, then, the titular critters’ first film outing doesn’t limit its appeal to Moshi-mad tykes and their defeated parents: After establishing the tenuous rules of its story universe with broad efficiency, “Moshi Monsters: The Movie” welcomes new converts with an effective combination of seizure-inducing color and insidiously catchy songs. Oddly hypnotic results could ensure a very Moshi Christmas indeed for distributor Universal when the pic opens in Blighty on Dec. 20, though holiday competition is formidable. International prospects are neon-bright.
Created by British-based company Mind Candy and launched in 2007, “Moshi Monsters” was conceived as an elaborately interactive game whereby users could adopt a monster — something of a misnomer for most of these diminutive, innocuous creatures — of their choosing and see them through assorted antics in the jolly (if rather self-deprecatingly named) land of Monstro City. As the brand took off globally, an inevitable move into offline merchandising has enabled their transition to the less subjective narrative environment of a feature film.
Practiced Moshers will recognize the six pet identities initially offered the game players, though the script, by Mind Candy insiders Steve Cleverley and Jocelyn Stevenson, presents only two of them as active characters: cocky, karate-kicking protagonist Katsuma (a weirdly feline-featured rabbit, voiced by Emma Tate) and his more practical-minded pal, Poppet (a very pink whatsit, voiced by Phillipa Alexander). The remaining four serve strictly as decorative sidekicks in a simple quest narrative, though undead rocker Zommer (Ashley Slater) and the ill-tempered, demonic-looking Diavlo (Keith Wickham) are incongruously sinister aberrations in this otherwise innocuous story world. (Conservative parents may be troubled by veiled references to Zommer’s drug taking, though kids are unlikely to pick up on them.)
When the Great Moshling Egg, a much-prized Monstro City artifact that also appears to contain some essential life force, is stolen by headless (yet top-hatted) villain Dr. Strangeglove (Slater again), it naturally falls to Katsuma and his friends to retrieve it. The future of Monstro City somehow hangs in the balance, though the situation isn’t so urgent as to deny the audience various sideshows and musical numbers along the way, including a perilous diversion into a confectionery-built lair that heavily echoes stretches of Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” (“Despicable Me” seems another occasional reference point.) The songs, all built on simple, chant-like melodies, are a particularly welcome distraction: The elaborately designed, Bollywood-inspired number “Bobbi SingSong” is both an aesthetic highlight and a smart concession to the cultural diversity of U.K. auds.
Voicework is adequate rather than inspired, with some actors voicing multiple characters: No celebrities are involved in this budget-conscious production, which suggests just how confident Mind Candy are in the crossover appeal of their brand.
Honoring its online-gaming origins, the violently hued animation style seems crude at the outset, though there’s more dimension and dynamism to the flat character designs than initially meets the eye. The pic’s visual language therefore lands somewhere between those of anime and emoji, the effect of which should be less distancing to 21st-century youngsters than to their parents, who might well cling to the script’s passing quotation of Mae West and Cole Porter as stray signs of familiarity in this alien universe. “I’m color-blind and stupid and wasn’t really listening,” a character says at one point, perhaps speaking for more dazed Moshi virgins in the audience, before this equally apt kicker: “Who cares? We’re hypnotized!”