Imagine Wile E. Coyote as an anti-eviction activist. That’s Thunder, the orange tabby kitten who’s in frequent peril during “Thunder and the House of Magic.” All he wants is a place that he and a few friends can call home. But he can barely catch a cat nap without being threatened by whizzing cars, wrecking balls or a wascally wabbit.
This computer-animated Belgian adventure was designed for kids. Those young viewers probably won’t recognize that the movie is an amalgam of “Home Alone” and “Toy Story,” with hints of those 1950s Warner Brothers ’toons in which the coyote and other critters are regularly (if temporarily) crushed, sliced or singed. The smallest of talking-animal fans may be frightened by directors Jeremy Degruson and Ben Stassen’s vivid point-of-view style, which appears to put the audience at the center of every melee.
Clearly made on what Pixar would consider a tiny budget, “Thunder” doesn’t boast a distinctive look or a cast of famous voices. But its characters are engaging and its action sequences exhilarating. While adults may well be charmed, particularly if they’re cat fanciers, it’s younger audiences that are most likely to be enthralled.
In the surprisingly edgy opening sequence, Thunder is abandoned in what looks like American suburbia by a family that’s just been evicted. The cat is confused and then menaced, as a bus, several cars and a skateboarder nearly flatten him.
After getting some unsolicited advice from a Mexican-accented Chihuahua — one of several unfortunately stereotypical supporting characters — Thunder finds his way to a Victorian-style mansion. He’s welcomed by Lawrence, a gray-haired magician who now does his old-fashioned act mostly in the children’s ward of a local hospital.
Lawrence has turned some common appliances into automatons, notably a light-bulb-headed helper named Edison. These vigorous but voiceless creatures soon become Thunder’s allies. But the cat is not accepted by two of the animals used in Lawrence’s act, Jack the rabbit and Maggie, a mouse. (A pair of love birds, Carla and Carlo, are more welcoming.)
Jack’s attempt to ditch Thunder is hard on the cat but worse for Lawrence, who ends up in the hospital. While the magician is laid up, his greedy nephew, Daniel, tries to sell the house. Thunder and his cohorts continually best the interloper, aided by the kitten’s secret weapon: Daniel’s extreme allergy to cat dander. It doesn’t hurt that the mansion looks like the kind of place that ought to be haunted.
If he can’t sell the house, Daniel decides, he’ll demolish it. Thus begins another harrowing episode for Thunder, but he and his pals will not be moved. This menagerie, at least, is not going to end up homeless.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
★ ★ ★
Unrated. At AMC Loews Georgetown 14. Contains scary moments and bird poop. 82 minutes.