Where once open countryside was farmed by the locals, so the industrial revolution swept aside that humble living, but now that too is gone as manufacturing has been replaced by a service economy, the sites which once ran a nation left to decay or converted to shopping malls or theme parks; so it is that on the site of a former mine that the attraction Zombillenium has risen to a new life.
Operated by the ghosts of the dead miners who once toiled beneath the surface, the CEO of Zombillenium is vampire Francis Von Blood (Alain Choquet), but the process of seeking new investors is complicated by the ambition of the park’s biggest attraction, Steven (Alexis Tomassian), a preening vampire of a new generation who believes a thorough revamp of the park is in order.
Caught up in this is the former inspector Hector Saxe (Emmanuel Curtil) whose untimely death left him as a zombie and his daughter Lucie (Esther Corvez-Beaudoin) an orphan whose last wish was to visit Zombillenium, not realising that one day her father would be working behind those gates.
Written and directed by Alexis Ducord and Arthur de Pins and screened in the Film Fest Junior strand of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Zombillenium’s inherent sly darkness may mark it for attention from those who have grown up with the work of Henry Selick and Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride and Coraline, but its lingering spirit is more traditional than subversive.
With the emphasis on design and spectacle rather than the slight story, the animation offers the clean lines in the characterisation rather than the dynamic approach of Pixar or the hand-crafted creations of Studio Ghibli, the renderings so consistently flawless as to be lifeless, the digital perfection at odds with the creaky Gothic premise.
Fortunately the voice actors make the best of their parts, the narrative pushed by Hector’s friendship with trainee witch Gretchen (Kelly Marot) who rides a skateboard/broomstick combo, but lacking the tangible essence required by horror other than a few moments such as the banishment to Hell the trip around Zombillenium is largely played safe.
While it may fall short of the encompassing fantasia of Coco, where Zombillenium does succeed is in imbuing the working dead with the unapologetic French disregard for class; those who exploit those beneath them are vampires, a metaphor presented here quite literally as Steven and his cohort make their bid for power in the rebranded “Vampirama.”
As the disenfranchised zombies rise up against their new masters the film finally stops shuffling and shambling and starts running, the end perhaps predictable in what is very much a colourful family film despite the subject matter, but there is sufficient fun along the way to justify, for eighty minutes at least, that sometimes children can play with dead things.