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.

DREAMBUILDERS

Cert U Stars 3

Dreams come to life in this enjoyable and imaginative animated fable and it spells trouble for a pair of squabbling siblings who must learn to understand each other and work together to escape a land of nightmares.

When the studious Minna accidentally discovers the world of our dreams are constructed like a movie set, full of blue-skinned humanoid actors and friendly robot stagehands, she can’t resist the chance to teach her spoilt, vain, rude social media-obsessed step-sister Jenny a lesson in manners.

Despite being warned disturbing other people’s dreams can have catastrophic consequences, Minna tries to manipulate Jenny’s dreams which sends them on a zippy and fun adventure of self-discovery.

With an emphasis on kindness being more important than appearances or popularity the script slips in messages about engaging with the real world and warnings about online cruelty.

Aimed at your little ones it’s reminiscent of classics Monsters Inc. and Inside Out, and delivers a surprising amount of emotional weight with colourful charm and a style of its own. Giant disco dancing hamsters mix with menacing spiders but there’s nothing here to give your kids nightmares.

ARTEMIS FOWL

Cert 12 Stars 3

Disney’s latest big budget sci-fi fantasy adventure is a glossy yet muddled adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s 2001 novel, which makes up with some fun action, great design and impressive special effects what it lacks in strong characters or interesting narrative.

Emerald-clad elves and leprechauns add an Irish flavour to this hodgepodge of Harry Potter and junior James Bond, with most of the action taking place in or around a stunning Irish clifftop residence, and the plot concerns the possession of a magic weapon of mass destruction, attempted genocide and missing fathers.

Kenneth Branagh is no slouch to this sort of romp, having previously directed Disney’s live action Cinderella and Marvel’s first Thor movie, and due to the huge amount of voice-over telling us information the brisk running hasn’t time to show us, I suspect Branagh shot a richer, longer and more coherent version than the one we’re presented with.

With eight books in the series this was clearly intended as a franchise starter, but I doubt we’ll see a sequel.

THE WISHMAS TREE

Cert U Stars 3

In a fun departure for Geordie stand up-comic Ross Noble, he lends his voice to this cute and amusing Australian animated eco-friendly adventure based on the children’s book series ‘Tales from Sanctuary City’.

He adopts an avuncular and eccentric persona as Yarra, the keeper of the Wishmas Tree, guardian of the true spirit of Wishmas, and manager of the annual tradition of wish making.

Aussie actress Miranda Tapsell voices the possum Kerry, whose impetuous behaviour sees their secluded paradise homeland threatened by snow, ice and the evil forces of extinction, and so forcing herself and Yarra on a perilous quest to save their land.

The animation is more solid than spectacular but they’ve gone bananas on the cheerful colour palette and the story skips along in a well meaning manner and it should keep your little kids entertained.

Though it feels a little weird watching a festive themed film in June, it’s probably a sign we can expect Christmas decorations in the shops any second now.

THE CALL OF THE WILD

Cert PG Stars 4

Harrison Ford takes the lead from a canine co-star in this epic, expensive and determinedly old fashioned family outdoors adventure based on the 1903 novel by Jack London.

Every bit as monumentally craggy as the gorgeously photographed scenery, Ford plays a frontiersman who forms a bond with a dog named Buck, who was stolen from his home in California.

Buck may be a CGI creation but is as full of character, loyalty and bravery as any other big screen dog. Which is more than you say for the characters played by Dan Stevens and Karen Gillan.

FOUR KIDS AND IT

Cert PG Stars 4

Sadly denied cinema distribution by the lockdown, Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 novel is brought entertainingly to life in this handsome, fresh family fantasy about a group of holidaying kids facing the perils of being granted wishes by a magical creature, voiced by Michael Caine.

Wilson based her book on E. Nesbit’s 1902 classic, Five Children and It, and updated it with a modern setting and contemporary concerns.

Ireland’s gorgeous countryside and beaches stand in for Cornwall and a lively young cast are supported by Russell Brand as a local eccentric and singer Cheryl Tweedy as a pop impresario.

 

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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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.

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THE LION KING (2019)

Cert PG 118mins Stars 5

Your cubs will go wild for this royal remake of Disney’s animated classic which is exciting, funny and cute, as well as a technical triumph and a perfect summer treat for the whole family.

Disney’s 1994 Oscar winning animated coming-of-age tale has been roaringly reimagined using fabulous photorealistic CGI, and powered by a top drawer voice cast and glorious new versions of Elton John’s tremendous songs such as ‘Circle of Life’, and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’.

With the opening shot of the gorgeous African savannah we’re reminded we’re in the safe of hands Jon Favreau, also made 2016’s swinging remake of The Jungle Book. Once again he directs with great humour and emotional depth, so when I wasn’t grinning away I was moved to tears.

Respectful to the point of being a shot by shot copy of the original, we follow the adorable lion cub Simba, whose father King Mufasa is murdered, which leaves Simba outcast from his country and his wicked uncle Scar on the throne.

However the real coup here is the use of next-level special effects, with every hair and feather lovingly created by special effects team operating at the top of their game and from the tiniest ant to the tallest giraffe it’s a non-stop visual feast.

Every creature is so brilliantly rendered I’m still not convinced I wasn’t watch a troop of terrifically trained circus animals.

Plus it’s an uplifting hymn to the natural wonder of our world with an emphasis on respecting our environment, and if David Attenborough made Disney films it would look and feel like this.

Everything is amped up which means the elephants graveyard scene is scarier, the wildebeest stampede is more thrilling, the hyenas are more frightening, and the warthog and meerkat sidekicks are funnier. And there are more fart jokes than before, though you may have to explain to your kids what a dung beetle is.

Heavyweight Brit actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is magnificent as the voice of Scar, with Donald Glover and Beyonce charming as Simba and best friend Nala, and James Earl Jones is once powerfully regal as he reprises the voice of Mufasa.

This is Disney’s third remake this year, and after the disappointing Dumbo and a much better than anticipated Aladdin, they’ve saved the best till last, with a new Lion King which reigns supreme.