Entertaining two young kids during lockdown for eight weeks has sometimes involved a lot of Netflix. Now, I’m a snob and I like my five-year-old daughter to watch as many live-action movies as possible, and it’s crazy how many family films these days are CGI.
That said, I don’t have anything against computer-generated features as such, because studios like Pixar and Laika have produced some of the best family films of the past quarter of a century, balancing rollicking adventure and unforgettable characters with meaningful themes.
However, for every Toy Story or Kubo and the Two Strings there are tons of poorly animated dross like The Dancing Pumpkin and the Ogre’s Plot, something that looks like it was put together by an algorithm rather than thinking, feeling human beings.
Somewhere in between – and thankfully more towards the Kubo end of the spectrum than The Dancing Pumpkin end – is The Oddsockeaters, a quirky fantasy adventure based on the book of the same name by Pavel Šrut. Directed by the book’s illustrator Galina Miklínová, it’s a playful tale about small magical creatures that love eating socks, but always leave one half of a pair for the owner, thus creating the age-old laundry mystery…
The film starts well, with an energetic and funny heist scene as Big Boss (voiced by veteran producer, director and actor Ondřej Trojan) and his gang break into a department store to steal – you’ve guessed it – odd socks. There is trouble brewing, though, because there’s always a loose cannon in every gang. Sid Viscose (Marek Taclík) is disdainful of the Oddsockeater’s rules and decides that he wants both socks of a pair, resulting in Big Boss casting him out.
Next, we meet naive Hugo (Krystof Hádek of Dark Blue World fame) who lives in the attic of a young family with his ailing grandpa Lamor (Stanislav Zindulka). Just before grandpa departs for the great sock drawer in the sky he tells Hugo to seek out his last remaining relative, an uncle who lives in a large villa across the other side of bustling modern-day Prague.
The villa is also the home of Professor René Kaderábek (Josef Somr), a mad scientist type who is obsessed with catching one of the elusive creatures – regular people can’t see them, only oddballs can. Turns out Big Boss is Hugo’s uncle, and the pair initially develop a Dickensian bond, with a Fagin-like induction into the world of stealing socks.
The story plays out through a series of routine adventures. Some details are amusing – water is lethal to the Oddsockeaters, and Big Boss’s methods of drying out one of Hugo’s stricken cousins is very funny – and in the English subtitles I was tickled to hear them refer to each other as “toe rags”, something I haven’t heard outside of an episode of Eastenders since about 1987.
Unfortunately the adventure doesn’t really click into a high enough gear and the movie quickly becomes repetitive, feeling more like a short film stretched out to feature length. Hand-waving the Oddsockeater’s visibility to humans unfathomably strips Hugo’s quest to find his uncle of any drama – one of the best things about the recent I Lost My Body was the tension derived from the disembodied hand’s attempts to stay hidden from people as it crosses Paris. It might have worked in the book, but seems like a missed opportunity to generate some much-needed excitement and suspense.
Overall The Oddsockeaters is thinly written and the moribund songs feel more like padding than anything else. This is the difference between the elite animated features of Pixar and the also-rans – the films look stunning but they’re also brilliantly written, with plenty for older kids and adults to chew on. They’re family films in every sense of the word, providing superb entertainment for everyone from infants to great grandparents.
The Oddsockeaters is charmingly animated and sporadically entertaining, but there isn’t enough substance to keep the grown-ups engaged too. I think most parents will have tuned out by the time the credits roll. Disappointing, but the kids loved it!