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.

THE LITTLE VAMPIRE

Cert U 82mins Stars 2

This bloodless animation offers thin pickings for all but the most undemanding cinema-goers.

It’s a cross-cultural bromance between two 13 year old boys, a Transylvanian vampire with punk hair, and a fresh-faced US holidaymaker on a creepy castle tour of Europe with his family.

They team up to rescue the vampire’s clan from a pair of inept villains. The head baddie is voiced by Jim Carter, best known as Downton Abbey’s butler, Carson. 

The only other recognisable names the budget stretches to are Miriam Margolyes and Tim Pigott-Smith, with not much left over for the animation, and even less for the script.

Mixes magic spells with some mechanical contraptions such as the Infra-dead vampire locating device, and I could have done with much more of the weaponised vampire-cow poo,

It’s so insubstantial it won’t cast a shadow in your memory, but it’s harmless and doesn’t totally suck. Though it’s probably best saved for the rainiest day of half term.

MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER

Cert U 103mins Stars 4

This fabulous animated adventure is a blooming magical treat for the whole family.

Bored and impetuous, schoolgirl Mary follows a black cat into a forest and is swept off to another world via a witch’s broomstick and a beautiful blue flower.

There the the lines are blurred between animal, vegetable and mechanical, creating an impressively bonkers array of fantastical beasts. Talking animals rub up against talking fire spirits, and grey globular servants of evil.

the voice of Mary is provided by Ruby Barnhill, who you’ll remember being brilliant as Sophie, in Steven Spielberg’s 2016 magical version of Roald Dahl’s, The BFG.

Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent give full rein to their inner eccentrics as the voices of the principals of a prestigious magic school which hides a dark secret within it’s rainbow coloured corridors.

Based on the book by the Sunderland-born author, Mary Stewart, it’s funny, exciting, charming and gorgeously animated, with every frame bursting with glorious invention.

 

 

 

ISLE OF DOGS

Cert PG 101mins Stars 4

Pooch power gives politicians paws for thought in this dark stop-motion animation from quirky writer and director, Wes Anderson.

Twenty years into the future in a totalitarian Japan, a fear-mongering mayor has consolidated his power by scapegoating all the country’s dogs, and sending them to starve on a polluted ghetto called Trash Island.

But the mayor’s twelve-year-old nephew wants to rescue his doomed pet, and teams up with a stray dog called Chief to find him.

Anderson’s arch humour and distinctive style will be familiar to those who saw his 2009 Oscar nominated take on Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, Fantastic, Mr Fox. 

But this isn’t for little kids as it’s closer in spirit to George Orwell’s classic novels 1984 and Animal Farm than to Disney.

There is a mesmerising attention to detail in the retro-technology-filled handcrafted sets. 

Bryan Cranston voices Chief alongside Anderson regulars such as Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum. And Yoko Ono voices a scientist called err, Yoko Ono.