Zombie Hotel: It's Alright We Don't Bite! Review
Once upon a time, anything with the word zombie in the title, with the notable exception of the lyrical White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie, promised an evening of unsurpassed gut-crunching. Until, that is, Zombie Hotel, which finds our undead friends and their ilk hopelessly running a hotel. Less concerned with the taste for human flesh than whether the night's menu has been decided upon, if the skulls have been dusted and whether the little chocolates (with a hint of bat!) have been placed upon guests' pillows. And not a drop of blood in sight.
The obvious debt that Zombie Hotel owes is to The Addams Family, in which the unconventional-looking family were an oasis of love and affection in a morally grotesque world. Zombie Hotel offers us the lovestruck proprietors of the titular establishment, Rictus and Funerella, who appear to have been constructed, Frankenstein-like, from the body parts of long-dead corpses. However, it is their two zombie children, Maggot and Fungus, who are the stars of the cartoon, in which they leave the family business to be educated at the local school, finding that their oddball parents and friends are sweetness and light compared to the backstabbing, bullying and conniving humans outside. With the exception of their friend Sam of course, one good kid amongst so many awful people.
On First Day, for example, the first episode here, Funeralla and Rictus fret as they send their children off to school for the first day, inappropriately dressed in the clothes they wore on their own first day at school...back in 1902! When Sam discovers their zombie secret - it's hard to avoid when, after losing his temper, Fungus sprouts fangs and claws and, later, pulls off his head and swaps it with Maggot's - he becomes their closest friend in the world but the school bully promises them a tough time ahead. Unless, that is, they can spend one night in the haunted mansion, which shouldn't be a problem for a pair of zombies, should it?
This is followed by four other episodes, which like Rugrats, tends to examine adult behaviour from a child's point of view. In Happy People, Maggot and Fungus have to avoid telling their teacher about their zombie life. But mistaking their make-believe for unhappiness, their teacher offers to take them on a camping holiday along with their parents into the mountains. But whilst Maggot, Fungus, Rictus and Funeralla have a marvellous time, their teacher, Miss Justine, struggles with the wildlife. Meanwhile, back at Zombie Hotel, their headmaster decides to do a little snooping, unaware that a Wilson, Chef and the others are waiting for him. Sneaking about of a different kind is necessary in Funerella's Deathday, in which Rictus must arrange for the celebration of his wife's deathday without her finding out. But with the kids busy trying to avoid their parents finding out that the school concert has been moved to the hotel, there comes a busy night in Zombie Hotel.
The last two episodes see Fungus setting up his own detective agency when he catches two intruders at the hotel. But Fungus tends to see mysteries even when none exist and to spoil surprises when they were trying to be kept secret. Worse, though, is to come when he tries to discover the whereabouts of Jeebies who has apparently disappeared. Unbeknown to everyone but Maggot, Jeebies is feeling a little dim and tries to get an education. "It's amazing what one can do with mud! You can grow potatoes...you can grow carrots...you can grow potatoes...oh sorry, have I said potatoes?" Miss Justine's efforts to show a film to the children isn't working out and so, in Movie Madness, she lets them make their own film. Sam, Maggot and Fungus are delighted and, of course, decide to make a horror film at Zombie Hotel. But when they tape over a video of Sam as a baby, their film is somewhat less horrific than they had first planned...
Beautifully animated - there's something very grim and yet very pleasing about the sight of severed heads in a children's television show - Zombie Hotel is sharply presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio on this DVD, with the rather grimy colour scheme being well preserved. However, whilst the backgrounds are less impressive, it's also obvious that they have been worked upon by a computer along the way with it bearing the fuzziness that one has come to expect from much CG animation for television. The soundtrack is a decent one with lots of spooky effects and a clarity that remains in place even with the sometimes frenetic action.
In common with many other BBC releases for children, Zombie Hotel comes with a sing-along, this time for the theme song, as well as a very short and very simple game in which the viewer helps chef create a menu. A soup of cockroach, bloody eyeball and lizard's tail anyone?
A marvellous children's show that understands, as did Scooby Doo, how much kids are attracted to ghosts, zombies and monsters, Zombie Hotel, like Lazytown and Charlie And Lola, is one of the standout shows that the BBC showed over the summer. There are even moments, particularly in Movie Madness, that will have mums and dads laughing along and with this DVD release, there's something funny to show older kids and to gently frighten younger ones.