ONWARD

Cert PG Stars 4

Go on a magical quest with this bright, colourful and big-hearted family fairytale which mixes high school hi-jinks and Indian Jones-style escapades in a world populated by mythical creatures such as elves and pixies instead of humans.

Two teenage elven brothers live in the equivalent of a modern US town full of electricity, cars and smart-phones, which have long supplanted the magic of wizards.

And they set forth in a battered old camper van to find a magic jewel to cast a spell to bring their dearly departed father back to life for one day.

Best known for playing Spider-Man and Star-Lord and re-teaming for first time since Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt bring an easy rapport as Ian and Barley.

Their engaging comic chemistry elevate the action as the popular actors play to type with Ian all shy and insecure, and Barley, a bullish know-it-all idiot.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus brings warmth and determination as their widowed mother, Mel Rodriguez is her likeable centaur boyfriend, and Octavia Spencer puts the roar into a fearsome non-flying manticore.

There’s no shortage of invention on show in the fabulously designed world, which teeters on the macabre as our heroes are drag along the reanimated legs and lower torso of their dad.

What sounds horribly disturbing is however a skilful, delightful, and very funny pantomime, and ties in the scripts ideas of parents being all shapes and sizes.

With the boys’ trip becoming a search for identity and role models, it’s also an opportunity for them to learn to focus, to trust oneself, and to always speak from the heart.

Dan Scanlon previously directed Pixar’s not dis-similar Monsters University, and this is an improvement on his 2013 hit.

And though Onward is not as good as the Toy Story films, it does have typically strong production values, a strongly comic and touching script, and an insanely audience friendly voice cast, making for a surprisingly emotional crowd-pleaser which is never too scary for the little ones.

 

 

 

 

SPYCIES

Cert PG Stars 2

Set in a world where animals act like humans, this uninspired odd couple espionage animated adventure is an exercise in extraordinary mediocrity, with buffoonery and inter-species romance occurring with plodding efficiency.

A vain and dim secret agent cat with the unlikely name of Vladimir Willis after causes major collateral damage high speed city chase and as punishment is sent to provide security on an off-shore platform.

But a top secret substance is stolen on their watch, so along with his new partner, a soap opera-loving rat called Hector, they go undercover to a hospital to get it back. Meanwhile rare species such as the white rhino are being targeted by terrorists with ‘ice lasers’.

Some of the gadgets such as the retro flying rocket bikes are nicely designed, and the action has some zip, but the humour is flat, characters are thin and the animation looks cheap.

It’s a riff on the vastly superior Will Smith animation, Spies In Disguise and Pixar’s Oscar-winning Zootropolis, but without the wit, charm or talent of either.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Cert PG Stars 4

Nearly thirty years after taking the gaming world by storm, the world’s fastest alien hedgehog makes his film debut in this entertaining and appropriately fast-paced family action comedy.

Successfully meshing big budget Hollywood storytelling with Sonic’s playful spirit and core concept, it sees the cute and cuddly CGI critter having to collect his magic gold rings while battling the psychotic scientist, Dr Robotnik.

However in order to incorporate more relatable human characters, Sonic is dropped into our real live world, and the story is structured around a familiar and predictable ode to family, friendship, family and American small town life,

James Marsden is an agreeably amiable and comic presence as Tom, a good-natured small town sheriff with ambitions of proving himself on the mean streets of the big city.

He’s presented with the perfect opportunity when he meets the motor-mouthed Sonic who is need of taking to San Francisco which allows for some father and son-style bonding.

Voiced with enthusiasm and energy Ben Schwartz, Sonic’s epic expression of teenage loneliness and angst causes a power outage, which alerts the military to his presence and they send Dr Robotnik to investigate.

Played by Jim Carrey for whom it’s an overdue and welcome big screen return, his unique brand of deranged physical comedy is perfectly suited to the cartoon tone, and though his mania has marginally diminished with age, he still seems a biscuit short of barrel.

He’s heavily armed with mechanical gadgets which he transports around in a large black truck, which resembles the Batmobile’s angry big brother.

And the films best sequences are when we see the world from Sonic’s super fast view, with the humans seemingly frozen in time allowing him to cause merry mayhem.

My game-addicted 9 year old is going to love it, and so will yours.

 

EMMA

Cert U stars 4

This fabulously dressed adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is faithful to its character, plot, period costume and humour.

More used to appearing in modern thrillers, this is an impressive change of gear for Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a porcelain elegance to the twenty one year old Emma.

She’s a snobbish rich busybody on a difficult path to self-enlightenment and true love, whose vain attempts at playing village matchmaker powers the comedy.

And it brings her into conflict with her exasperated yet handsome and single neighbour, played by the generously whiskered Johnny Flynn.

Filmed on location in grand country houses, it also has welcome appearances from those other British institutions, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in key roles.

Concerns such as old age poverty and male toxicity play out alongside tart observations of pretension, pomposity, arrogance and cruelty.

But Emma’s growing self-awareness and kindness wins the day, ensuring this is enough to melt the heart of the most determined St. Valentine’s Day cynic.

PLUS ONE

Cert 15 Stars 2

Featuring a dozen weddings and zero funerals, this millennial spin on the romcom is  laugh-light, derivative and strangely downbeat, and feels more like a sneering and mopey indie road trip drama than the classic When Harry Met Sally to which it owes a huge debt.

Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine star as singletons Ben and Alice, who team up as each other’s platonic plus one for the upcoming wedding season, in order to help each other find dates.

Despite much contrary evidence, the uptight Ben is described as cute, charming and funny, and being self-pitying and with his twice married dad is getting wed again, which encourages Ben’s self-pitying nature.

Alice is much more fun but in their directorial debut, writers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer reduce her to being the conduit for Ben’s learning curve, meaning she has to be humiliated so he can grow as a person.

Few people seem to be having a good time, and nor was I.

DOLITTLE

Cert PG Stars 2

Robert Downey Jr. sets sail in this haphazard and underwhelming family adventure as the doctor who talks to the animals, but unlike Rex Harrison in the 1967 mega-flop musical version, he doesn’t sing to them.

In search of a long lost island containing a medicine for the severely ill young queen Victoria, the American actor looks badly dubbed as he speaks to his animal crew in a mostly Welsh accent, while pursued by dastardly rival Michael Sheen, a genuine Welshman using an English accent.

Rewrites and reshoots delayed the release by eight months and pushed the budget up to a reported £135m, with extra scenes crowbarred in at the expense of the screen time of Downey’s grief-stricken widower.

At least it looks an expensive movie, even if all the extra work can’t prevent the story and tone from being a dog’s dinner. But little kids won’t care as they’ll be occupied by the cartoon humour of the talking CGI animals, and the chases, fights, and fart jokes.

PARASITE

Cert 15 Stars 5

Winner of 2 BAFTAs and nominated for 6 Oscars, this extraordinary South Korean dark comedy thriller by director Bong Joon-ho is a bleak, bloodily violent and thought-provoking satirical modern day fable.

It sees a shameless and charismatic family of con-artists swindle their way into the employ of an upper class home where they plot the overthrow of the lawful inhabitants.

As the collision of unthinking privilege and the desperately needy erupts in violent farce, it comments on the smell of poverty, the corrupting Western influence on the Far East, and genocide.

Very much in keeping with Joon-ho’s previous films, the eco-fable Okja, and sci-fi train thriller, Snowpiercer, it’s also a distant cousin to last years period black comedy and Oscar winner, The Favourite.

Parasite is hugely moral, strangely moving, constantly surprising and full of arresting images, not least of someone smoking a cigarette in the middle of a flood while trying to hold down the seat of a toilet as it vomits effluent. As one character is fond of crying, ‘it’s all metaphorical!’