THE SNOW QUEEN: MIRRORLANDS

Cert U Stars 3

Magic, mechanical mayhem, warring kingdoms and a battle between wizardry and science all feature in this upbeat and swashbuckling animated fairytale, an exciting and fun fable based on traditional European fairy tales and updated with the gloss of steampunk design and some superhero-style fisticuffs.

Gerda is the kind hearted, impetuous and brave young daughter of wizards who lives in a warm and sunny medieval kingdom, but she’s frustrated by a lack of power of her own.

Her land is ruled by a cruel king who favours science over magic and by exploiting their greed and gullibility of his subjects, begins to banish all magicians – including Gerda’s parents – to the Mirrorlands, the dreaded realm of the feared Snow Queen.

And so Gerda with her brother Kay, and friend Alfida, Gerda goes in pursuit of a magic key to free her loved ones and along the way discovers her own hidden powers.

The Snow Queen herself is a nicely acerbic monarch who although limited by a magic spell to her icy realm, is able to appear to Gerda as a ghostly spirit.

Yes it all feels a lot like a riff on Disney’s Frozen but on a creative level more akin to the animated capers of The Nut Job, or Tad The Explorer films.

There’s some jarringly out of place references to Alcatraz and suchlike and occasional use of modern slang but your little kids won’t care, they’ll be carried along by the epic sweep of the adventure on a journey of honey hued vistas. featuring lava lakes, giant rock monsters, and sky pirates.

However there’s a surprisingly intricate styling to the charming cityscapes, which feature robot-like street sweepers and trolley trams, and it’s full of slapstick silliness with mischievous and cute critters.

So it will entertain its target audience of your little ones, and without any songs to pad out the running time, it makes it’s a brisk enjoyable affair for the grown-ups.

THE FAIRY PRINCESS AND THE UNICORN

Cert U Stars 2

Magic and music take flight in this fantasy animated adventure based on the Bayala kids toy range and offers gentle entertainment aimed squarely at your little ones.

In a world divided into tribes of sun elves and shadow elves, the brave Princess Surah is a product of both regimes and must learn to control her growing magic powers while on a quest to recover a stolen dragon egg and prevent war.

Various story elements are reminiscent of fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty, but with all the darkness stripped out and replaced with pretty rainbow coloured design. Even the peril comes wrapped in giant swirls of purple neon ribbons.

An environmentally friendly message of kindness, co-operation, tolerance and acceptance can’t be sniffed at, there are fun comic sidekicks in the shape of pet wolves and parrots and skunks, all the principal characters are female, most of the men are foolish and the young girls are the heroes.

It’s not up to Disney’s standard, but if your kids are familiar with the characters they’ll probably enjoy it more than I did.

100% WOLF

Cert 3 Stars 3

Werewolves and dogs are at each other’s throats as a pair of pooches go on the run in this boisterous family animated fable from Australia, a coming-of-age spin on The Lion King, bundled up with pop songs, slapstick, supernatural spells and spy gadgets.

On his 14th birthday Freddy expects to follow in his late father’s paw prints and become a fully fanged werewolf, but as his nefarious uncle is plotting to make himself the leader of the pack Freddy finds himself transformed into a poodle instead, and he has until the next moonrise to recover the lost magical Moonstone.

It’s in the possession of a deluded ice cream man in his Bond villain-style high-tech lair, and to retrieve it Freddy teams up with a stray dog named Batty who offers some streetwise advice and the hint of romance.

Alexs Stadermann previously directed 2014’s kiddie caper Maya the Bee Movie and knows his target audience, so he keeps it fast-paced, funny, with decent production values and most important of all maintains a steady stream of pee jokes to amuse kids of all ages.

VALHALLA: LEGEND OF THOR

Cert 12 Stars 3

Knee deep in folklore and medieval mud, this dark fantasy adventure from Denmark puts meat and blood on the bones of Scandinavian myths and is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl caught up in the.

Cecilia Loffredo and Saxo Molthke-Leth play the are brave yet endearingly flawed medieval mortal children Roskva and Tjalfe, who as punishment for a misdeed are required to serve as slaves to Thor, god of thunder, and accompany him on his quest to capture the dreaded giant wolf Fenrir.

This Thor is far removed from Marvel’s hugely popular superhero version, with Roland Moller being a proud, lusty and quarrelsome presence, while Dulfi Al-Jabouri is wryly enigmatic as his vain half-brother god of mischief, Loki.

An animated introduction sketches out the key mythology and warns of impending Ragnarok, the destruction of the world, while the
steady pace is augmented by a storming soundtrack.

Valhalla is based on a comic book and the focus on characters, plotting and power games feels a bit like watching Game of Thrones for kids.

THE QUEEN’S CORGI

Cert PG 85mins Stars 2

This bare bones animated adventure is a cheap-looking knock-off of the first The Secret Life of Pets caper, and a mongrel mix of slapstick, satire, romance and sports film wrapped in British union flag.

Jack Whitehouse voices a smug, snobby, entitled and unfunny Corgi called Rex, which means it’s an easy payday for the posh comic.

A present from Prince Philip to the Queen, Rex falls from his status as royal favourite, and ends up first in the dog house and then out on the street, from which he tries to  return home.

Meanwhile in Buckingham Palace there’s a character called Charlie who’s in dogged pursuit of the position of top dog, and long-suffering Footmen are peed on by pampered pedigree pets, so at least some of the political jokes have a little bite, unlike the toothless nips at Donald Trump.

It’s busy and simple enough to just about pass muster for the most undemanding of little kids.

 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 4

You won’t believe what you’re seeing in this comic book action adventure as Spider-man hits the high spots in a deliciously deceptive head-spinning romp.

A direct sequel to blockbuster smash, Avengers: Endgame, this is a mischievous mix of sweet high school romcom, fun teenage spy caper and exciting superhero CGI spectacular.

Peter Parker is in romantic pursuit of classmate MJ, on their school’s European vacation, when his costumed alter-ego Spider-man learns heroes don’t get holidays. 

Grumpy secret agent Nick Fury teams Spider-man with superhero Mysterio, which will be a surprise to long-time Spidey fans as Mysterio is one of the web-swinger’s best known arch-villains.

But re-inventing Mysterio as a dimension-hopping hero with a tragic past makes him a more interesting character while also tying this version of Spider-man into last year’s animated Multi-verse adventure.

Parker identifies Mysterio as the man to replace Iron Man as his mentor, and they set about battling the Elementals, extra-dimensional giants with power over air, earth, wind and fire.

Returning with a winning chemistry as Peter Parker and MJ, Brit actor Tom Holland and pop star Zendaya are the beating heart of the film, with her self-contained charisma making MJ the best superhero squeeze since Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, in 1978’s Superman.

And they’re reunited with the key young cast members of Spider-man: Homecoming, and Marvel fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei reprise their roles as the adult guardians.

Indie movie star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his unique brand of loopy intensity to Mysterio, and while he often gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s a useful quality to have when playing a guy trying to save the planet.

Having Parker unveil various old and new Spider-suits is part of a stream of call-backs to previous films, which will have fans cooing in delight.

Plus a pair of fat-rimmed hi-tech spectacles are a knowing wink to Michael Caine’s 1960’s spy, Harry Palmer, and neatly magnify the script’s central concerns.

While the film wears the frothy air of an espionage caper, the tone disguises some very serious thoughts about fake news and multi-media manipulation, while reminding us Parker was employed in other incarnations as a photojournalist.

From dealing with the fallout of Endgame to deciphering what Marvel has in store for Spider-man, there’s a lot to uncover in this, and one of the best secrets is kept until after the credits, so make sure you stay until the absolute end.

Lion

Director: Garth Davis (2017) BBFC cert: PG

This real life long distance drama covers a lot of hard miles on its struggle around the globe.

Searingly sincere and with few surprises, we follow the footsteps of Saroo, an illiterate Indian boy adopted by a wealthy white Australian couple.

Played by the endearing Sunny Pawar, the six year old inadvertently goes on an epic train journey before ending up in the claustrophobic chaos of Calcutta. There’s a touch of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in the sad soulfulness of the streetwise urchin.

Saroo is eventually adopted along with another boy by Nicole Kidman in a bad haircut. Suddenly it’s twenty five years later and he’s a strapping surfer dude, played by the charming presence Dev Patel.

Suffering an identity crisis at university, Saroo begins the struggle to find his birth family. Rooney Mara plays the most generic of girlfriends, forced to parachute in and out to give Saroo someone to explain himself to.

It’s a seemingly impossible task given Saroo doesn’t know his surname, the name of his home town and he has search area with a radius over twelve hundred kilometres long.

Fortunately in the intervening years some clever bod has invented google maps, which helps his quest no end. I’ve had less effective sat navs when trying to find an open garage. Too little time is spent on the detective work and the solution feels woefully under-earned.

There’s a spiritual core to the film which helps us cope with the poverty porn, the frequent suggestions of abuse and extended bouts of moping. Identity, culture and language are all touched upon but sadly not explored.

And after a sure footed sprightly start,it becomes a long slog under the weight of some heavy emotional baggage. Plus the presence of Patel reminds us another, finer film. At times it feels like we’re watching Slumdog Millionaire 2: The Backpacker Years.

Ultimately, what the film says is just because you’ve gone to Oz, there’s still no place like home.

@ChrisHunneysett

Swallows And Amazons (2016)

Director: Philippa Lowthorpe (2016) BBFC cert: PG

There’s a steady hand on the tiller of this handsomely crafted old fashioned family adventure.

It’s a sincere adaption of Arthur Ransome’s classic childrens book, though the liberties it takes with the plot don’t hold much water.

Setting out a steady pace, the sailing sequences are impressively staged. It paints a picture of privileged England at play in a gorgeous rural setting.

It’s 1935 and in the looming shadow of the Second World War, Mrs. Walker takes her baby and four children to the Lake District farmhouse for the summer.

Kelly McDonald plays mother to young actors Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen and Bobby McCulloch. They are are an enthusiastic, fresh faced, well scrubbed bunch who seem to be sporting a vintage nautical range from the Boden catalogue.

The four children embark in their small boat, the Swallow, and head off to Undiscovered Island to camp for a few days.

Once there they feud with the children of another boat, the Amazon. Sporting home-made masks and pirate costumes, the bickering sisters also have a claim to the island. But they join forces when the Amazon’s mysterious uncle is kidnapped.

Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen as the younger sister Tatty is the stand out performer. Her name was changed from the novel’s Titty, to prevent titters.

Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are unfairly given top billing above the kids. In a silly espionage plot not in the novel, they play a pair of spies engaging in a game of cat and mouse about the lake.

Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield gently spar as Mr and Mrs Jackson, the bucolic owners of the Walker’s holiday farmhouse.

The orchestral soundtrack enforces a bracing tone of jolly derring do, soaring with as many peaks as offered by the glorious countryside.

There’s a refreshing absence of CGI and an empahsis on outdoor activity as the kids learn how to make fire and pitch a tent. They also swim, fish and star gaze.

Swallows And Amazons is a pleasant enough time spent messing about on the water. And if it encourages kids to aspire to technology free activities, then it’s all the more welcome for that.

@ChrisHunneysett