SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE

Cert U 90mins Stars 2

The boys in blue are back for another animated adventure, but this time the girls are doing it for themselves.

Following the success of Disney’s female-led adventures such as Frozen, and Zootropolis, this latest ham-fisted Smurf reboot tries to offer a more female friendly experience.

Smurfette leads Brainy, Hefty, and Clumsy into the Forbidden Forest on a journey of self-discovery, where they find a lost village of female Smurfs.

This is an attempt to address a longstanding criticism regarding Smurfette’s status as the only girl in the village. Unfortunately the clumsy script reduces her status from a spare rib to a non-Smurf, saying she was created from a piece of clay by an evil Smurf-hating wizard.

Despite this bizarre twist, it’s generally good natured and filled with slapstick and shenanigans. However all but the youngest of kids will struggle to be entertained, and the patience of parents will be tested to the limit.

 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

Cert PG 139mins Stars 5

Be spellbound as Emma Watson swaps the wizarding world of Harry Potter for a fairytale featuring a fantastic beast.

Having found global fame as Hogwarts schoolgirl swot, Hermione, Watson takes centre stage in Disney’s big budget, live action adventure. It’s a remake of their own musical from 1991, which was the first animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Surrounded by the cream of camp theatricality, and the finest CGI technology, it would be cruel and unfair to suggest Watson is the film’s least animated performer. She is faultless as the bookish, brave and beautiful, Belle.

Dan Stevens is demonically horned and hairy as then Beast. The English actor’s stock has only risen since escaping the upstairs confines of TV’s Downton Abbey.

The story is unchanged. To rescue her father from the frozen castle of the Beast, young Belle sacrifices her own freedom. The majestic monster is really a cursed Prince. He must earn her love or remain a creature forever. And time is running out.

To ensure a box office success, Disney have deployed the full creative might of their empire. There is excellence everywhere, from the superb cast, to sumptuous costumes and detailed design.

From the Oscar wining title track, to the boisterous ‘Gaston’ and the glorious ‘Be Our Guest’, the show stopping tunes are the magic which elevates this above last year’s excellent live action, Cinderella.

Competing for the limelight are old hams and grand dames of the theatre, such as Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen. They breathe life into the castle’s other inhabitants, the talking clock, teapot, candelabra, and so on.

Bill Condon doesn’t direct the film, as much as pilot this jazz handed juggernaut safely into cinemas. It’s far from ground-breaking but it is enchanting, exciting and funny.

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THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING

Cert PG 120mins Stars 4

This live action fantasy adventure is a magical modern day take on the age-old myth of King Arthur and the knights of Camelot.

When an ordinary suburban schoolboy discovers a mysterious sword, he’s thrust on a thrilling quest to discover the hero inside himself, helped by an inclusive trio of schoolmates.

Far superior to Guy Ritchie’s awful King Arthur from 2017, this is packed with action and humour as it stays faithful to the broad sweep of the legend, and carefully includes key details such as pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone, the lady in the lake and shapeshifting wizards.

The great location work makes wonderful use of our ancient English countryside and monuments such as Stonehenge, while the epic showdown takes place in an urban setting which may bring out the cold sweats in any watching schoolteacher.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis is an open faced and engaging presence as the 12 year old Alex who somewhat reluctantly seizes his destiny as the new Arthur.  You may recognise his surname but not his face, as his actor dad, Andy, is usually hidden behind a CGI mask as characters such as Gollum, in The Lord of the Rings franchise.

Angus Imrie brings agreeable eccentricity as Merlin, and Patrick Stewart adds some acting gravitas as an older version of the wizard, who help the kids take on Rebecca Ferguson’s evil witch, Morgana. 

A very English film with universal appeal which carries a message of honesty, truth,  perseverance and the importance of honouring ones parents, though the last point seems to sail over the head of my 8 year old.

He’s the perfect age to enjoy this and sat rapt throughout, though he confessed the creepy factor was near the upper limit of his tolerance. Haha.

Written and directed with smart and fierce sincerity by Joe Cornish, this is as a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted family half-term entertainment.

 

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

Cert U 130mins Stars 5

This magical sequel to Disney’s 1964 much loved musical fantasy is a brightly coloured balloon of joy which will carry you away on a giddy adventure.

Mixing live action, CGI and hand drawn animation, this is charming, heartwarming and bursting with sing-along fun. It’s glorious to look at and wonderfully played, with Emily Blunt triumphantly taking on Julie Andrews’ role as the world’s favourite nanny.

Andrews won an Oscar for Poppins and with Blunt’s recent nomination for the Screen Actors Guild best actress award is a crucial step in following suit.

With a stern demeanour and sparkly-eyed sense of mischief, she pours her heart into her performance as sings, dances and even flashes her ankles in an almost saucy music hall turn, ‘A Cover Is Not The Book’.

Mary returns to the family home of the now grown-up Banks children, which is under threat of repossession by Colin Firth’s avaricious bank manager.

Jane and Michael are played by Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw, with Julie Walters as their long suffering housemaid.

The latter two are stalwarts of the brilliant Paddington films, and their casting alongside the daring rooftop shenanigans of the finale suggest Disney executives have paid attention to the Peruvian bear’s box office success.

Joel Dawson is a scene stealing scamp as one of Michael’s kids, US Broadway star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, shines brightly as a cockney lamplighter and popular veterans Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury are luminous in their late appearances.

Whether Oscar winning director Rob Marshall is insanely brave or wilfully foolhardy in attempting to follow the greatest family film ever made, he succeeds by being faithful to its spirit and respecting its legacy.

With ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’ delivering a gloriously buoyant finale, I left with a bounce in my step, a huge grin on my face and hoping it won’t be long before Mary Poppins returns.

DUMBO (2019)

Cert PG Stars 3

Disney’s mission to remake their classic animated films with a blend of live-action and CGI loses hard-earned goodwill with this disappointingly tame and heavy-footed fantasy adventure.

Competent but never endearing or involving, the story again treads the path of a young big-eared circus elephant, called Dumbo, who longs to be reunited with his mother.

When a chance encounter with a feather reveals a talent for flying, it makes him a star of the show, and brings him to the attention of an villainous impresario.

1941’s much loved original is a charmingly brief tale drunk on trippy invention and which won an Oscar for its musical score.

This is a very different beast and though it offers an all-star cast and some spectacle, it’s nearly twice as long with a barely a song of note, and lacks sufficient warmth and humour.

The performing pachyderm himself is a leathery lump of CGI who is sidelined in his own film in favour of the likeable IrishmanColin Farrell.

He plays a one-armed single parent who after military service returns to work in the circus, where he struggles to reconnect with his kids.

I have sympathy for young Nico Parker as his daughter, who has little to do beyond saying ‘science’ a lot, and as the daughter of actress, Thandie Newton, I’m sure she’s capable of a far more spirited turn than she’s allowed to give here.

With a long standing fascination with the circus and a track record in creating big budget mainstream fantasies such as Disney’s 2010 billion dollar box office smash, Alice In Wonderland, Tim Burton is a safe and predictable but far from inspired choice as director.

He’s recruited regular collaborators to help out, but Danny DeVito’s struggling circus owner isn’t as funny as the film thinks he is, Eva Green is stilted as a trapeze artiste, and Michael Keaton lacks his familiar fiendish energy.

Burton leaves the score to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but it alone can’t make this Dumbo take flight, and Burton only seems enthusiastic when showcasing the sumptuous design of the Art Deco architecture, similar to that in his Batman films of three decades ago.

Circus acts such as jugglers and contortionists are often busy in the background of scenes, and are possibly there to compensate for the lack of magic and excitement in the big ring, which fails to capture all the fun of the fair.

DUMBO

Cert PG 112mins Stars 3

Disney’s mission to remake their classic animated films with a blend of live-action and CGI loses hard-earned goodwill with this disappointingly tame and heavy-footed fantasy adventure.

Competent but rarely endearing or involving, the story again treads the path of a young big-eared circus elephant, called Dumbo, who longs to be reunited with his mother.

When a chance encounter with a feather reveals a talent for flying, it makes him a star of the show, and brings him to the attention of an villainous impresario.

1941’s much loved original is a charmingly brief tale drunk on trippy invention and which won an Oscar for its musical score.

This is a very different beast and though it offers an all-star cast and some spectacle, it’s nearly twice as long with a barely a song of note, and lacks sufficient warmth and humour.

The performing pachyderm himself is a leathery lump of CGI who is sidelined in his own film in favour of the likeable IrishmanColin Farrell.

He plays a one-armed single parent who after military service returns to work in the circus, where he struggles to reconnect with his kids.

With a long standing fascination with the circus and a track record in creating big budget mainstream fantasies such as Disney’s 2010 billion dollar box office smash, Alice In Wonderland, Tim Burton is a safe and predictable but far from inspired choice as director.

He’s recruited regular collaborators to help out, but Danny DeVito’s struggling circus owner isn’t as funny as the film thinks he is, Eva Green is stilted as a trapeze artiste, and Michael Keaton lacks his familiar fiendish energy.

Circus acts such as jugglers and contortionists are often busy in the background of scenes, and are possibly there to compensate for the lack of magic and excitement in the big ring, which fails to capture all the fun of the fair.

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS

Cert PG Stars 4

This live-action coming-of-age fantasy adventure is exciting, lavish, sentimental and sweet in Disney’s best tradition and should beguile its target audience of young girls.

It’s inspired by the book on which Tchaikovsky based his famous ballet score, and though there’s judicious use of his glorious music, this owes far more to The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, and David Bowie’s Labyrinth.

Best known from the Twilight franchise, young Mackenzie Foy is an endearing science-loving heroine called Clara. On Christmas Eve at a grand ball she receives an intricate mechanical egg, bequeathed from her late mother.

Searching for a key to unlock her gift, Clara enters a magical world and discovers she’s a princess who must save three realms from the fourth dark one, the Land of Amusements. 

Accompanied by Jayden Fowora-Knight’s dashing Nutcracker, Clara encounters an army of life-size tin soldiers, a fearsome Mouse King, and Helen Mirren in whip-cracking form as a wicked witch called Mother Ginger. Smug posh comic, Jack Whitehall, has a thankfully very minor role as a fawning sentry.

Keira Knightley is a delicious delight who rules the film as the breathy-voiced Sugar Plum Fairy, having the time of her life in a performance and supercharges proceedings whenever she appears. 

Along with everyone else she wears fabulous costumes by Brit Oscar winning designer, Jenny Beavan, which are perfectly suited to the eye-popping and brightly coloured chocolate box set-design.

Two directors are credited and occasionally there are small indicators dance scenes have been retooled to suit a more conventional storytelling style and a crowd-pleasing framework.

Disney have been surprisingly low key about this film which is a shame as it deserves a big sell, but presumably they’ve occupied by the upcoming box office juggernaut, Mary Poppins Returns, as it rumbles up the track for Christmas.

In the meantime this is a lovely early treat which will enchant your little princess.