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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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.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Stars 2

Hoping to cast a spell over the young adult Twilight audience, this gothic love story fails to enchant.

When the mysterious and beautiful Lena moves to a new town she meets the studious Ethan at high-school. Due to being a witch, Lena is forbidden to love a mortal, but passions quickly develop and she is torn between her true love and an age old curse.

But the characters are thinly written, jokes fall flat, the dialogue is workaday and Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich as the central pair are fail to engage with each other or us.

Bringing a welcome sense of absurd are Brit stars Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, and while he’s a purring pianist in a pyjama suit, she Thompson alternates between sour and evilly captivating.

The inconsistent tone veers between lightweight gothic romance and high camp pantomime, and despite the spells and witchcraft, there is not much magic being cast here.

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.

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.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Cert PG 114mins Stars 4

Unleash your inner dancing queen and boogie in the glorious sunshine glow of whats’ going to be the smash hit of the summer.

This unashamedly feel good sequel to 2008’s poptastic box office chart buster is another sequinned celebration of sisterly love and the unbreakable bonds of motherhood.

Once again the irresistible platinum-plated pop tunes of ABBA set the tone for this flamboyant escapist fantasy, which sees the original cast reunite in a split storyline which flicks between events now and from twenty five years ago. 

In the present Amanda Seyfried is organising her Greek island hotel’s grand opening night and frets about her relationship with Dominic Cooper, while a deliciously lusty Christine Baranski and a lovelorn Julie Walters banter for space alongisde Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.

There’s a conspicuous deficit of Meryl Streep as Seyfried’s vivacious screen mother, Donna. However the younger version of the character is played in the earlier timeline by Lily James, and the former Downton star treats us to a barnstorming turn worthy of Streep herself.

Bristling with defiance, optimism and enthusiasm, we see how Donna meets a trio of buff and eager suitors who become responsible for the confusion surrounding her daughters parentage.

All this turning back time sets up a show-stopping singing turn by the ever fabulous Cher. It’s one of many preposterous and crowd-pleasing scenes, my favourite of which is set at sea and best described as Dunkirk with a disco beat.

This brazen and cheerfully loopy sense of fun mingles with heartfelt multi-generational bonding and the pains of summer loving.

Among the barely choreographed mass dance-alongs and ill advised attempts at singing lurks a finger so firmly on the pulse of its intended audience it was rewarded at the packed-out world premiere with an all singing and dancing ovation. 

And if you’re a fan of the first film then you’ll love this second outing just as much as they clearly did.

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.