ONWARD

Cert U 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.

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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.

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WEATHERING WITH YOU

Cert 12A Stars 4

This soaring animated adventure is a wondrous coming-of-age fable which drowns in a flood of gorgeous illustration and threatens to wash you away with its tender humour and emotional currents.

When 16 year old Hodaka runs away to Tokyo he falls for the beautiful Hina, a teenager possessed of the magical ability to make the rain stop sun shine.

As Japan suffers a deluge of biblical proportions, it’s a timely gift is which they put to practical use, but it comes with a terrible price which threatens the happiness of these star-crossed lovers.

Drawing on mythic tales of weather maidens and Sky dragons, and featuring a cast of colourful characters Charles Dickens would be proud of, it’s a whirlpool of eco-fantasy, and poignant love story of teenagers struggling to adapt to life in the big bad city.

Brit actor Riz Ahmed is joined by Lee Pace and Alison Brie in putting their voices to this this joyous affair which is a guaranteed ray of sun in the cold dark days of January.

 

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS

Stars 4

This brightly wrapped Christmas present from the Dreamworks Studio is a fast moving, heart warming CGI animated adventure story with some very familiar voices behind the mythical characters.

Jack Frost is a carefree flying spirit who spends his days using ice and snow to cause mischievous mirth among children, whose life of puckish fun is abruptly ended when he’s recruited by the Guardians.

They’re a band of fairytale figures led by Santa Claus, and include the Easter Bunny and the Toothfairy, who tneed him, to help them stop the Boogeyman giving all the world’s children nightmares. Forever.

Chris Pine leads the excellent supporting cast which includes Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher, while The Boogeyman is played with devilish self-pitying glee by a terrific Jude Law, who’s clearly having a ball.

He dwells in a foreboding tower from where he dispatches terrible black steeds on dark clouds to spread fear among sleeping children.

This is an enjoyable and well crafted magic box of entertainment containing exciting rooftop fights, some hefty slapstick and a hissable baddie, all tied up with ribbons of dazzling animation.

It’s generous in providing the audience with a multitude of small touches such as the Northern Lights being a Bat-Signal for the fairytale heroes, while the yetis and elves of Santa’s grotto who are the unsung heroes of the movie.

Some of the dialogue isn’t as sharp as it could be and the focus of the festive holidays  seems more concerned with receiving than giving, but it all barrels along with warmth, peace and goodwill to all mankind. If you don’t enjoy this you probably don’t like Christmas.

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.

 

FRANKENWEENIE

Cert PG  Stars 3

Director Tim Burton escapes from his locked attic room to unleash a darkly comic stop-motion animation spin on the classic horror, Frankenstein.

Young Victor is grief stricken when his pet dog Sparky dies and is invents a machine to bring him back to life. But mayhem ensues when his friends steal the device to do the same for their dead pets.

An overly dark monster mash-up of ideas based on Burton’s recycled 1982 short film, Victor, this is full of ideas the director has subsequently mined, and there is much here that is very, very familiar.

We presented with the friendless only child, carefully tendered suburbs with strange garden furniture, overly manicured poodles, graveyards on hills and antagonistic authority figures.

But there is none of the lightness of Burton’s 1988 ghost comedy, Beetlejuice, or the loopy optimism that makes Burton’s best film, 1994’s Ed Wood, such a joy.

Martin Landau previously played Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, and here is scarily excellent as  Victor’s teacher Mr Rzykruski, but is sadly shunted off stage left far too soon.

There are not enough laugh-out-loud moments and the film’s dark tone becomes oppressive and dull. For film bathed in glorious monochrome, it lacks chiaroscuro of mood.

The puppet and set design are excellent, as is the lighting and cinematography which is deliberately styled in the expressionism of James Whales’ classic Universal 1930’s horror films, such as well, Frankenstein.

Featuring one great scene, some good dialogue, and copious movie references, eventually Frankenweenie becomes a re-animated Lassie adventure without the emotional depth. Lazarus Come Home, would have been as good a title.

MADAGASCAR 3 – EUROPE’S MOST WANTED

Cert PG Stars 4

Putting the mad firmly into Madagascar, this animated threequel is a day-glo riot of cartoon fun and the film equivalent of a bucketful of sugary pick’n’mix

Alex the lion returns to lead Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo out of Africa and across Europe on board a struggling animal circus.

And the wisecracking penguins return to comment on the action while throwing chaos into the mix in their well-intentioned and self-interested manner.

They are all chased on a train ride of manic adventure by the malevolent police officer Captain DuBois, a puddle-licking and poison-shooting insect who wants to kill Alex and mount his head on a plaque on her office wall.

Jokes, songs, action, romance and buckets of slapstick are all wrapped up in a rainbow of good-humoured anarchy.

This is a film that is absolutely determined to entertain with boundless energy and a irresistible creative zeal. When a pink bear in a multi-coloured afro super-biking around Rome while romancing a ring-tailed lemur, you know it’s time to abandon your marbles and gleefully embrace the insanity.

And don’t worry if a given joke doesn’t amuse, there’ll be another along in a second. And probably a song as well.

The animation is in turns dynamic, vivid and beautiful. Rome is ravishingly rendered; London comes a close second with a dazzling circus performance that gives the recent Olympic opening ceremony a run for its money.

Madagascar is feel good family fun that will leave you feeling exhilarated and craving more. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first two movies, just go and enjoy this one.