The collaboration between comedian Otto Waalkes and director Sven Unterwaldt Jr. is entering the next round. But the cinematic new edition of the CATWEAZLEseries stands out from the duo’s previous stupid films in a pleasantly grounded way. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Catweazle (DE 2021)
The 12-year-old Benny (Julius Wecauf) discovers the strange magician Catweazle (Otto Waalkes) in his basement, who has accidentally catapulted himself from the 11th century into the present day. Together, the two embark on an adventure to get Catweazle’s wand back before the greedy art expert Dr. Metzler (Katja Riemann) can auction off profitably. Because only with this staff can Catweazle return to his time…
Director Sven Unterwaldt Jr. and comedian Otto Waalkes are jointly responsible for a cinematic (and USA) remake of the British fantasy series “Catweazle” from the 1970s. Let’s put it this way: When we first heard about these plans, this constellation only seemed partially understandable to us. Certainly: The 26-episode, two-season format, based on a play by series creator Richard Carpenter, was accompanied by a certain quirkiness at the time, which Catweazle actor Geoffrey Bayldon had a significant impact on. The goateed sorcerer who accidentally conjures himself from the Middle Ages to the 1970s is not that far removed from the whimsical attitude of Otto Waalke – but still has his own charm. Otto can also act with great gesticulations, eccentricity, diverse facial expressions and, what’s more, hilarious. But ultimately Otto remains just Otto, his way of portraying the characters is similar and not nearly as varied as is necessary for an embodiment of the cult figure Catweazle. We have now seen the “Catweazle” film from 2021, which was postponed many times due to the corona pandemic, and have to revise our initial fears – at least partially. Because director Sven Unterwaldt Jr. actually succeeds. (“Help, I shrunk my parents”), to encourage its striking protagonist less to fool around and more to play, so that his typical Otto attitude falls short of the whimsy of the character. For people who buy a cinema ticket because of the typical Otto humor, this could be a real disappointment.
Otto Waalkes is Catweazle.
The preliminary skepticism towards the “Catweazle” remake is not so much due to the casting of Otto Waalkes, but rather to his repeated collaboration with Sven Unterwaldt Jr. He has worked with Otto several times in recent years and with him, among other things both “Seven Dwarfs” films and “Ottos Eleven” were shot. Three productions that worked according to the same successful formula – namely that Otto Waalkes was allowed to be Otto Waalkes and delivers in film form what he has been presenting on stage as a comedian for many years. Or to put it another way: Otto Waalkes is only known to a limited extent for his varied portrayal of conventional film characters – and Sven Unterwaldt Jr. is not necessarily known for his film style, which is designed for quick gags and is not particularly delicately staged, which he also used in “Siegfried”, “U- 900” or most recently “Four Magical Sisters” has proven to be a must. In terms of visuals, Unterwaldt Jr., who has recently been using a few more sets to direct his films, remains in his footsteps from “Seven Dwarfs”. This time, however, the stage look, which is limited to a few set pieces, seems quite charming and sometimes gives “Catweazle” the flair of a (Christmas) fairy tale that one could just as easily imagine on the theater floor. The unusual, medieval robes and habits of the protagonist as well as some of the supporting characters appearing in the short medieval prologue also fit in well with this. It doesn’t seem big, and by no means of international caliber. Nevertheless, Unterwaldt Jr. not only follows in the footsteps of the original, but also keeps his story within a pleasantly small framework; It’s as if he was making the best of the fact that there wasn’t much of a budget available.
“This time, however, the stage look, which is limited to a few set pieces, seems quite charming and sometimes gives ‘Catweazle’ the flair of a (Christmas) fairy tale that one could just as easily imagine on the theater floor.”
Let’s stick with the positive observations. And in addition to Otto’s ability to embody his own interpretation of Catweazle, which is clearly evident here, this lies above all in the constellation of characters. But first let’s get to the obvious: Of course, the mannerisms of the now over 70-year-old (!) East Frisian still come through, but anyone who buys a cinema ticket for an “Otto film” will probably be disappointed after all, Otto isn’t even funny to see him tiptoe away or to hear his typically distorted speech. All of this is also there in “Catweazle” – only this time the film does not subordinate itself to Otto’s attitude, but to Otto the film. In this respect, this makes the film easy to watch even for non-Otto fans (or children who have not yet come into contact with the comedian). It’s just a shame that the film lacks something that would have been called “taste” in the times of the “Catweazle” original and would now be summarized under the term “pacing”. Especially in the middle part the film plods along badly. Because the conflict addressed here is just a tad too harmless.
Julius Weckauf, Gloria Terzic and Otto Waalkes have excellent chemistry with each other.
Above all, the first meeting between Catweazle, who can’t find his way in modern times, and the clever boy Benny, who has been very reserved since his mother’s death, is really fun. The Hape Kerkeling actor (2016 in “The boy needs some fresh air”) Julius Weckauf and Otto have sweet chemistry. Sometimes it seems as if Weckauf were grounding his “counterpart Otto” to some extent through his calm, level-headed, equally adventurous performance, while Otto was trying to lure his young colleague out of his reserve a little more so as not to drown in his affection. And so the Weckauf-Waalkes combination is very pleasing. And it is all the more unfortunate that the two are not only separated for a short time during the course of the film, but also that their adventure, which consists solely of getting Catweazle back his lost magic wand, is only partially carried out. This is mainly due to an actress from whom we would have hoped much more in another villain role – especially considering how much joy in madness she has already acted in previous roles: Katja Riemann. Leaving aside her magnificent performance as the headmistress in the “Fack ju Göhte” trilogy, Sven Unterwaldt Jr. himself has staged Riemann much more clearly: in “Four Magical Sisters” she was in her villainous role the The film’s bright spot. Here she plays her role of the thieving Katharina Metzler, like Nicole Kidman in “Paddington”, with the handbrake on throughout, which means that “Catweazle” feels like it has no antagonist at all. And that in turn ensures neither an emotional nor an exciting fall height. Catweazle, Benny and Benny’s school friend Lisa (Gloria Terzic) can easily stroll through the “We search and find Catweazle’s magic wand” plot without much headwind – and therefore without any exciting scenery. This probably doesn’t offer enough stimulation, especially for young audiences, to stay tuned to the end.
“Catweazle, Benny and Benny’s school friend Lisa (Gloria Terzic) can easily stroll through the “We look for and find Catweazle’s magic wand” plot without much headwind – and therefore without any exciting scenery. That probably doesn’t offer enough stimulation, especially for the young audience, to stay tuned to the end.”
But speaking of emotions: These are provided by a subplot that actually works according to well-known patterns and is nevertheless presented in a damn touching way about Benny and his estranged father, who has been a single parent since the death of his wife – and is therefore completely overwhelmed. Henning Baum (“Jim Knopf & Lukas the Engine Driver”) The role of the distant father, who tries to cover up his insecurities with grumpiness and strictness, is excellent. The scenes between him and his film son are not only of great acting strength, but above all make the character of Benny much more than the off-the-shelf character that is needed, since Catweazle ultimately cannot do his film alone. When all the characters are allowed to appear on the stage together at the end, the film finally returns to its strength from the beginning. And that makes it solid family cinema that could have been a lot better with a more adventurous script.
Conclusion: Although the ingredients don’t necessarily speak for it, the USA film adaptation of the British cult series “Catweazle” is a likeable, solid film, but one that could have used a lot more flavor in the middle part. Otto purists are likely to be disappointed by the scaled-back Otto humor. Meanwhile, everyone else benefits from the fact that Waalkes puts himself entirely at the service of a (yes, still very quirky) character.
“Catweazle” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 1, 2021.