Snow White found herself suffering from a cursed apple. Hansel and Gretel nearly find themselves cooked alive in an old witch’s kitchen. Little Red Riding Hood’s dear old grandmother gets eaten by the big bad wolf. And, frankly, these are only the generally accepted Disneyfied versions of the tales: any amount of reading from the original texts will show you that authors went even further in presenting an astoundingly grim depicture of juvenile crime and punishment for audiences.
Well, the safest answer – and probably the one that involves the least cultural introspection – is that these were yarns meant to treat the youngest among us a lesson. Behave or a dark turn is lurking around the corner. Do as you’re told, or the universe will come calling. Be an upright standing citizen, or you might find yourself cannon fodder. What can I say? The world is a demanding place.
Thankfully, the Estonian-language Fantasy/Comedy Kratt drops all of the pretense of delivering its warning exclusively at children and, instead, adopts a delightful wacky sensibility that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Yes, yes, yes: it’s still admittedly more than a bit dark … but it’s all delivered with the kind of zaniness with a hint of magic that’s proven a hit almost every single time it’s tried.
Once upon a time, my friends … once upon a time …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Children are left at Grandma’s without smartphones. Real life seems boring, working feels hard. Luckily they find instructions for Kratt – a magical creature from old Estonian mythology who will do whatever its master says. All they have to do now is buy a soul from the Devil! Life stops being boring in a bloody way …”
Kids will be kids. Truer words have never been spoken.
The problem in our society – one that keeps pushing technological advances like iPhones and smartwatches onto consumer audiences growing younger and younger – is that we’ve taken away that spark of imagination required to be a kid and replaced it with video games or APPs that recommend a bit of fun. But when these two youngsters find themselves sequestered at grandma’s rural retreat without so much as a Gigabyte in sight, they’re forced to actually go out and make friends with a few of the locals. From a box at the local library, they happen across – lo and behold – a book of ancient spells; and – in the process of just having a blast – the foursome inadvertently set in motion a series of events involving grandma’s ‘reincarnation’ as a kratt, a demon that’ll do your bidding only until you run out of things to do … and then it’ll extract your soul in exchange!
Despite the hardness and harshness of that premise, Kratt is a delight.
In many ways, it’s the antithesis of Spielbergian adolescence: these kids out for a good time end up fathoming some very dark corners, but none of this is intended to be taken seriously. Like those old-fashioned fairy tales, writer/director Rasmus Merivoo’s cautionary yarn is meant to teach these kids a lesson, but it’s been crafted as a dark comedy, one that understandably twists everything normal on its head. Nothing – not the church, the parents, Facebook, town government, etc. – escapes the satirist’s keen eye here, and it’s a winning combination of snark and charm that should be universally appreciated by folks who love a smart comedy.
Still, the genius of any good yarn is that the picture continues to dole out some new surprises that are both relevant and organic to the world as postulated in any timeframe, and – on that level – Kratt shines.
Kratt (2020) was produced by Tallifornia. From what I’ve read, the film will be available digitally on demand beginning on October, 11, 2022, via a wide variety of streaming platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and more.
Here’s the thing: cinematic fairy tales – especially dark, kid-centric ones – are not for everyone. There’s a fair amount of substance to Kratt (2020) that might strike folks the wrong way. However, all of it is meant to be deliciously over-the-top. None of it is to be taken with any degree of seriousness. If you approach it that way, then you’re bound to come away entertained. It might be a tad long – especially given the fact that it is little more than a fractured fairy tale … but it’s still fun. Sometimes, that’s the best one can hope for.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Red Water Entertainment provided me with complimentary screening access to Kratt (2020) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.