WOLFWALKERS

Cert PG Stars 5

Be enchanted by this fabulous family fable which is a joyously magical affair, rich in character, astonishingly imaginative, vividly beautiful, wonderfully funny, terrifically exciting, and easily the best animated movie I’ve seen this year.

Set in Kilkenny in 1650, Robyn is a young girl newly arrived from England with her father, and her pet owl called Merlin. While secretly exploring the nearby forest Robyn encounters another motherless and mischievous young girl called Mebh, who is a Wolfwalker, someone who possess the ability to change between human and wolf form.

Giving voice to the pair, Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker have a wonderful rapport full of teasing humour and excitable, conspiratorial exchanges. While Sean Bean brings a weary sadness nobility as Robyn’s father.

But the girls’ blossoming friendship puts Robyn at odds with her father who’s a wolf hunter by trade, and brings them all into conflict with the puritanical and tyrannical Lord Protector, an Englishman intent on ‘taming’ Ireland by force.

Produced by the Irish studio, Cartoon Saloon who’re justly famous for their with their uniquely luscious illustrative style rooted in traditional Irish art, their previous films The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, were all Oscar nominated for Best Animated Film, and each is on a par with the best of Disney or Pixar. And this is no exception.

Although first and foremost a wonderful children’s action adventure, it’s also undeniably political and ripe with history, but always framed in such a way your kids will understand.

It’s most damning of politicians and rulers who invoke god to support their wars and use fear mongering rhetoric to justify persecuting those who are different. And there’s also a timely environmental message about how forests are destroyed in the pursuit of profit.

As the heartbreaking story unfolded, I cried, howled with laughter and I nearly cheered at one crossbow-wielding moment. Wolfwalkers is Watership Down for a new generation – but with more bite.

THE SECRET GARDEN (2020)

Cert PG Stars 3

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s mystery fantasy novel has been adapted for stage and screen many times and this latest version is pleasingly old fashioned, handsome, pleasant and sadly respectful to a fault.

Broadly faithful to the source material and dealing with grief, loss and loneliness, a spoilt orphan is sent to live with her stern uncle in his grandly gothic and isolated Yorkshire manor house, where she discovers a magical garden and becomes unlikely friends with a couple of local boys.

Dixie Egerickx is a confident and capable presence as our spiky heroine, but Colin Firth and Julie Walters have limited screen time, the pace is thoughtful by modern standards and the filmmakers dress up the finale with some Hollywood-style fireworks.

Full of nostalgia for the simple childhood joys of climbing, swimming and hiding from grown ups, the book it considered was a bit dull even when I was a boy, and members of the young generation such as my video game addicted ten year old may not be familiar with it, meaning parents will probably enjoy this more than the kids will.

OVER THE MOON

Cert U Stars 4

Science travels hand in hand with spirituality in this inventive musical animation based on a Chinese myth which shines bright with charm and fun for the whole family.

Fei Fei is a romantic-minded early teen who believes in true love and is threatened by the prospect of a new step-mother, so so along with fluffy sidekick rabbit provides comedy and cute companionship Fei Fei builds a space rocket and blasts off to the find the fabled moon goddess.

Along the way thescript draws on familiar works such as Alice In Wonderland, Wallace And Gromit, and the 1902 silent classic movie, A Trip to the Moon.

A delightful, silly colourful and exciting adventure full of space dogs, luminous lions, giant floating frogs and ping pong games in zero gravity, all of which are used to gently smuggle in a message of compassion to help young kids understand and cope with feelings of grief and loss.

An in its best moments the story muscles in on Pixar territory as a vehicle for tender heartbreak, goofy laughs and eye-popping visuals, and it left me, well, over the moon.

THE ELFKINS

Cert PG Stars 3

Inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales such as The Elves and the Shoemaker, this busy, bright and good natured animated adventure has enough music, songs, charm, humour and attractive design to entertain your little ones.

200 years after a falling out between elves and humans, the elves of Cologne believe humans are dastardly, unappreciative, much too large and generally sneaky lazy bums. In other words a kids eye view of adults. Or so my son would have me believe.

Helvi is a spirited if clumsy elf who struggles to create handicraft to the standard expected of her, so inspired by a scrap of cloth with a picture of humans and elves working together, she travels to our world along with two friends where they fall in with a baker who is being forced out of his business and in desperate need of an extra pair of hands or three.

It’s a jolly lightweight confection served up by the people who whisked up the recent hit Dreambuilders, and if your little ones enjoyed its mix of modern slang, slapstick and fart jokes, then they’ll certainly enjoy this slice of fun.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

Cert PG Stars 4

With talking animals, cutsey kid, top drawer production values and a cracking voice cast, this heartwarming live action animated hybrid is bang on brand for Disney, and mixes elements of some of its favourite films such as Dumbo, Bambi and their 1998 ape adventure Mighty Joe Young, to a moving and crowd pleasing effect.

Its a reasonably faithful adaptation of K. A. Applegate’s 2012 children’s novel, which is a fictitious work based loosely on the life of a real gorilla called Ivan. Here the silverback is rendered along with his animal colleagues in the impressive photorealistic style seen recently in Disney’s The Lion King remake.

He’s voiced by the wonderfully versatile Sam Rockwell who brings a questioning dignity and quiet intelligence to the role, as well as playing nicely against Angelina Jolie’s wise African elephant, Danny DeVito’s stray dog, Helen Mirren’s posh poodle and Chaka Khan’s chicken.

They all live in a tiny circus built into a shopping mall ran by Bryan Cranston’s kindly ringmaster, who’s desperate to find a new way of pulling in the punters to save his failing show, and while a newly arrived orphan baby elephant offers financial salvation, it causes Ivan to reconsider his life in a cage

Beating with gentle charm the film’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place and it’s utterly sincere in its approach to animal welfare. And the friendly and furry menagerie allow the filmmakers to remind us families come in all shapes and sizes while offering a gentle yet firm commentary on hunting and littering.

Because it’s geared to the widest and youngest possible audience there’s a noticeably lack of grit, which may seem a misuse of the actors who’re more than capable of bringing a little bite to their roles.

However it does mean there’s nothing in the circus to scare the horses, or your little ones, though in true sentimental Disney style they may be tears before bedtime. And not just for the kids.

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 mannerĀ 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.