“It’s for kids, innit?” a guy muttered to me as we came out of the screening for Mummies. He didn’t say it like it was a good thing, summing up in a shrug the slightly throwaway nature of this Spanish animation redubbed into English. I have no idea how good the original voice cast were, but Joe Thomas (of the TV show Inbetweeners), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark) and Hugh Bonneville (everywhere all at once right now but best known for Downton Abbey) are excellent as the English-language replacements.
Thomas voices Thut, the Ancient Egyptian charioteer who used to be a champion but now has post-chariot-stress-disorder, and Tomlinson is Princess Nefer, the daughter of Pharaoh Thut accidentally becomes engaged to after a sign-from-the-gods augury goes wrong. Bonneville, meanwhile is the graverobbing British aristocrat who propels Thut and Nefer out of the afterlife where all Egyptian mummies dwell immortally and into modern London, in search of a stolen magic ring which mumble… mumble… mumble. It doesn’t matter.
Here Crocodile Dundee fish-out-of-water scenarios soon gives way to something more familiar, as the Disney Princess manqué Nefer (this is distributed by Warner, just to be categorical) follows her dream onto a West End stage – she’s always wanted to sing – and we get the film’s standout number, Ring Song. This is a clever and funny pastiche of a show tune – but it’s also a good song and Karina Pasian belts it out in a heartfelt way (the onetime Quincey Jones protégé is Nefer’s singing voice throughout, in both English and Spanish).
Other nods to Disney – a cute comedy animal sidekick and Thut’s younger brother, who is smart and tuned-in where Thut is woolly and lackadaisacal – also underline the conceptual debt owed.
It is all very good natured, if not very funny, with not much in the way of meat for adults. The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian gets not one but two outings and there’s the strangely inappropriate use of the Nickelback song Far Away but otherwise, mum and dad, you are on your own, though if you want to take a closer look at the subjects of cultural appropriation, the wholesale plunder of ancient artefacts and the issue of sacred territories despoiled, bring a magnifying glass.
The plot, like the princess’s sudden declaration of a desire to sing!, keeps coming from various angles, as if designed by committee to ding all the flags and tick all the boxes. The effect is of ADHD, leaving the impression that this is a film aiming for an appeal so broad that it doesn’t really satisfy anyone that much.
This is a pity, because there is good stuff here. The central Thut/Nefer relationship really works, and is of the bickering-all-the-way-to-the-bedroom variety, if the film could only go that far.
And the animation is sparky and bright and complex and would probably reward a second viewing. Some little touches, like the way funereal bandages have been repurposed as costumes, and how the mummies look like solid flesh and blood unless they’re seen in a strong light, are inspired and maybe more should have been made of them.
There is a lack of daring but most of all a lack of drama. The magic ring throughline isn’t quite a throughline, Thut and Nefer, when not haranguing each other, come across as a bit constipated, and it’s Hugh Bonneville’s silken, dastardly Lord Carnaby and his two bumbling henchmen, Danny and Denys (both voiced by Dan Starkey) who end up stealing the film.
Go and see it immediately, in other words. Not really. But if it came on TV one afternoon and you had a couple of eight year olds to park, it would do very nicely indeed.
Mummies – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2023