The Elfkins: Baking a Difference. G, 78 minutes. Two stars
We've been getting quite a few European animated films lately aimed at children during the school holidays and here's another. This pleasant-enough-for-young-kids German yarn is based on the legend of the Elfkins (originally Heinzelmannchen) of Cologne.
As recounted here at the beginning (for the young Elfkins as well as the audience), the Elfkins came out at night to secretly do the work for craftsmen until a curious tailor's wife, wanting to see them, spread peas on the floor. They fell over and decided to leave, not wanting anything to do with humans again (why they were so eager to do humans' work for them, and why the tailor's wife couldn't peek at them quietly, is unclear: she certainly ruined a good deal for the citizens of Cologne).
Hundreds of years later, the (literally) underground Elfkin society is flourishing, each of the Elfkins developing a skill. Well, most of them: Helvi (voiced by Jella Haase) has lots of ideas, but isn't very good at executing them. She wants to go to the world of the humans to learn a skill from one of them, despite the wishes of the Elfkin elders who maintain the anti-human prejudice. In the grand tradition of animated adventure-seeking rebels, Helvi sets out on a quest, determined to get to the world above and fulfil her dream.
Accompanying her are her friend Butz (Leon Seidle), who doesn't seem especially talented himself but doesn't seem to worry about it ) and - accidentally - her snarky rival Kipp (Louis Hofmann), whose skills as an inventor will be put to good use.
Dodging a pesky dog, the Elfkins end up at a bakery that's seen better days. The owner, Theo (Detlef Bierstadt) is depressed and grumpy. His brother has not only opened up a rival store opposite that mass produces baked goods, but is threatening to take over Theo's bakery and knock it down to expand the factory.
Theo, mired in his bad mood, takes a while to warm to his tiny visitors but eventually they win him over and decide to revive the old tradition and help him save his bakery
One of the posters for the film billed it as being "From the studio that brought you My Little Pony" which filled me with dread - the MLP film, tedious and filled with the kind of cutesy voices that set my teeth on edge, was one of the few times I've walked out of the cinema (I wasn't reviewing it).
Fortunately, The Elkfins is considerably better: more story, less irritating characters and with superior animation and design. Things are fleshed out as the story goes along: we find out the reason for the discord between the brothers and hope the Elfkins will help resolve the problem (no prizes for guessing the answer).
Like too many animated movies, there's an unnecessary and unmemorable song or two: we aren't talking the likes of Let It Go or Hakuna Matata.
The level of detail in the drawings of backgrounds, settings and props is also impressive, immersing the audience in the film's world
The Elfkins themselves are perky and have the big heads and expressive if unsubtle faces common in CGI animation as well as serviceable but not especially distinctive voices in a variety of accents.
Better is the look of the film as a whole: the world the characters inhabit is very well created - the imagery is colourful, the palette wide and varied, from the darkness underground to the bright sunny days in the world above.
The level of detail in the drawings of backgrounds, settings and props is also impressive, immersing the audience in the film's world.
The Elfkins: Baking a Difference is pleasant, harmless holiday fare provided you don't mind the occasional mild toilet joke.