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.

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.