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  Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails Ghoul Cop, Bad Cop
Year: 2015
Director: Tobi Baumann
Stars: Anke Engelke, Milo Parker, Bastian Pastewka, Karoline Heufurth, Christian Tramitz, Christian Ulmen, Julia Koschitz, Ruby O. Fee, Amy Huberman, Bibiane Zeller, Caroline Kebekus, Axel Stein
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eleven year old Tom Thompson (Milo Parker) is a hopeless scaredy-cat and the butt of endless taunts from his mean older sister Lola (Ruby O. Fee). In an attempt to conquer his fears, Tom ventures alone into the creepy, old, abandoned house next door where he runs right into Hugo (voiced by Bastian Pastewka), a gloopy green ghost! Although Hugo proves to be merely mischievous not malevolent, the same cannot be said for an ancient evil ice ghost terrorizing the city. Tom consults Hetty Cuminseed (Anke Engelke), a grumpy but badass ghost-hunter whose inability to work with others recently got her fired from the C.G.I., the top secret ghost-hunting agency that keeps humanity safe from invaders from the spirit world. Together Tom and Hetty form an uneasy partnership to defeat the Ice Ghost and save the world.

German children's author Cornelia Funke last saw her work adapted for the screen with the big-budget, star-laden Inkheart (2008). By comparison, Gespenster J├Ąger a.k.a. Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails was a more modest, low-profile adaptation. Distributed by Warner Brothers but co-produced by German and Austrian studios, the film has some of the ramshackle charm common among eccentric European children's cinema. However the multi-authored screenplay, which includes input from director Tobi Baumann, screenwriters Murmel Clausen, Mike O'Leary, Martin Ritzenhoff and Roland Slawik, and actor and comedian Christian Tramitz (he plays bungling ghost-hunter Gregory Schmidt whom Miss Cuminseed accidentally shrinks to tiny size) fumbles the emotional layers inherent in Funke's novel by way of some crass comedy. The juvenile gags are wildly hit and miss and sit uneasily with the odd sincere emotional or disarmingly philosophical moment. For instance the scene when Hugo sincerely ponders whether the world he now inhabits is indeed the afterlife or whether there might be an after-afterlife?

The plot is a derivative, though offbeat and sporadically engaging fusion of Ghostbusters (1984) (chunky green Hugo is a shameless rip-off of Slimer), Men in Black (1997) (Tom's first glimpse of C.G.I.'s headquarters is an almost shot-for-shot recreation of Will Smith's entry into the M.I.B.) and, unusually for a children's film, a buddy cop movie. Essentially surly, antisocial Hetty Cuminseed and wide-eyed, big-hearted Tom Thompson must settle their differences and learn to work together to crack their first case. Funke's story has an emotional backbone casting Tom and Cuminseed as social misfits whom each find it equally hard to trust people. Yet the means by which the film has Cuminseed help Tom overcome his fears by essentially browbeating him and shoving him from one dangerous situation after another (at one point she makes the eleven year old drive her car!) seems highly dubious. Comedian and regular voice actress Anke Engelke (she voiced Dory in the German dub of Finding Nemo (2003) and Marge Simpson in The Simpsons) and engaging child star Milo Parker both essay compellingly quirky leads but the supporting characters are uniformly charmless. In particular the obnoxious computer animated Hugo whose grating use of tween slang and pop culture references will have many wishing Cuminseed would just banish him to the netherworld. The film also shamefully wastes the talented Karoline Heufurth, star of the excellent vampire movie We Are the Night (2010), and gorgeous rising star Ruby O. Fee in roles far beneath their abilities.

On a visual level, Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails boasts spooky production design that creates an atmosphere eerie enough for a 'grownup' scary movie. However that sense of menace is immediately undone by digital effects that prove far too cartoony. In addition the film contains elements strangely at odds with its child-friendly tone such as when Tom's dotty old neighbour nonchalantly claims the ghost of her late husband tried to murder her, a scene where Tom cycles past a group of prostitutes and an extended gag about Karoline Heufurth's ass. Hey, they brought it up.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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