Opening October 14, 2021
Directed by: Gregor Schnitzler
Writing credits: John Chambers, Viola Marie Schmidt, Margit Auer
Principal actors: Emilia Maier, Leonard Conrads, Loris Sichrovsky, Justus von Dohnányi, Heiko Pinkowski, Marleen Lohse, Stephan Luca, Rike Schmid
Directed by Gregor Schnitzler, this school’s curriculum is quite a mishmash of what came before – Disney, Harry Potter, trolls, humanized animals, et al. Viola Marie Schmidt and John Chambers’ clichéd screenplay is based on Margit Auer’s popular eponymous book series; whether they did her a disservice is unfair to say having not read them.
Nestled in a picturesque, mountain-edged valley, the Winterstein School greets new student Ida (Emilia Maier), who is bullied by a bratty clique into the last row with unpopular Benni (Leonard Conrads), and new teacher Mary Cornfield (Nadja Uhl) following the school holidays. Miss Cornfield’s language skills and Scottish birthplace capture the class’s interest, then she astounds them suggesting two students will get a “magical” pet/companion; the class pledge to keep it secret. Mary’s brother Mortimer (Milan Peschel) happens to own a magical pet shop. Squawking Pinkie (Sophie Rois, magpie Voice) delivers the posted announcements. Unsurprisingly, Ida gets Rabat (Max von der Groeben, fox Voice), and Benni Henrietta (Katharina Thalbach, turtle Voice). About this time, authoritarian Headmaster Siegmann (Justus von Dohnányi) has a conniption fit as things go missing under the nose of his bungling minion-janitor, Willi Wondraschek (Heiko Pinkowski). Ida and Benni bond until Jo (Loris Sichrovsky), the cool dude, strides onto the screen. Still, with her/his magical best friend’s help, albeit following different strategies, byways and hideaways lead to interacting cooperation, and discovery.
The cast characterizations are rather spiritless: Leonard Conrads impresses most of the youngsters, while none of the adult cast zing, although they perform. Considering that magical animals (CGI [computer-generated imagery] animation) are what make this school “special,” they receive scant attention; it almost seems the song/dance routines upstage them. Schnitzler’s direction is heavy-handed. Die Schule der magischen Tiere was filmed at Grafenegg Castle, Austria, and Munich (Wolfgang Aichholzer, cinematographer), compactly edited (Zaz Montana, lead editor), and musically (Dominik Giesriegl) peppy, although comprising recognizable riffs, particularly from Harry Potter films. Acquainting a child with Auers’ books beforehand could be advantageous; the child’s age and sophistication level, might possibly determine whether to venture into cinemas, or wait for an at-home adventure. 93 minutes ()