Director: Garth Jennings (2017) BBFC cert: PG

This giddy animated musical comedy is stuffed with silly sparkling fun and will make you grin until the top of your head falls off.

Produced by the inspired creators of the Minions Movie and The Secret Life of Pets, it’s a gloriously mad musical mashup of TV’s The X Factor and Gene Wilder comedy The Producers.

Buster is a cuddly Koala whose theatre is going to be closed by the bank unless he has a hit show. He advertises a singing competition but a typo means the winnings are far more than he can afford.

As creatures of every stripe and hue perform a dizzying number of pop, rock and soul tunes, the story squeezes in bank robberies and car chases among the first night nerves and pushy showbiz parents.

The animals are stuffed with Judy Garland’s ‘lets do the show right here’ spirit and just about keep Buster’s show on the road. Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Hudson are among those providing the pipes.


The Good Lie

Director: Philippe Falardeau (2015)

When refugees land in the US, their troubles are far from over in this moving and surprisingly gripping drama.

It’s a tale of love, family and sacrifice set against the background of war, immigration and isolation.

Rather than asking us to pity the immigrants or expect them to be grateful, The Good Lie makes us consider the wealth and privilege of our own circumstance.

Having fled war in Sudan as children, Mamere, Abital, Jeremiah and Paul (Arnold Oceng, Kuoth Wiel, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal) spend the next thirteen years in a Kenyan refugee camp.

They celebrate when they’re chosen to be air-lifted to the US to start a new life – but bureaucracy separates Abital from the boys and she’s sent to a distant part of the US. The subsequent terrorism of 911 makes it impossible for her brother Mamere to visit.

Well-meaning and justifiably proud of helping, Pamela (Sarah Baker) is a vaguely incompetent charity worker who houses the boys together.

It’s beleaguered and bemused job-broker Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon) who does most to help assimilate them by providing opportunities for paid employment. She has a complicated love life seemingly having slept with half the town; the male half.

An angry, attractive and formidable presence, Witherspoon crashes through her scenes. It’s not much of a role but she makes the absolute most of it as a baseball bat-swinging drunk who is surprised by her own conscience. Were it not for her charisma, the film would suffer being dominated by the men.

Everyday living provides mundane but enormous obstacles to the boys who’ve never operated a telephone before. They’re perplexed at the enormous waste of food and struggle with the American diet.

All are traumatised by their and seek comfort in different ways; one looks to the church, one to drugs and the other buries himself in work to avoid his survivor’s guilt.

The greatest threat to the success of The Good Lie is attempting to navigate the shifts in tone from a gripping survival adventure to a culture clash comedy and an uplifting tale of redemption. It’s to the great credit to its writer, cast and director it succeeds without jarring.

The final third seems rushed and consequently over-reliant on the emotional momentum generated much earlier in the film, despite this The Good Lie lands an effective emotional punch.


Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (2015)

Reese Witherspoon abandons her clean cut perky persona for sex and drugs in this meandering march to personal redemption.

Justifiably Oscar nominated she’s as engaging as ever playing the real-life Cheryl Strayed on whose memoir the story is based.

In order to distance herself from her chaotic past, Cheryl punishes herself by hiking alone over a thousand miles along the picturesque Pacific mountain trail; the barren deserts, snowy mountains and lush forests are all captured with tourist propaganda beauty.

Promiscuity, alcohol and drugs have contributed to a failed marriage, pregnancy and subsequent failed therapy. Despite her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) being a warm, inspiring and optimistic presence, it’s Bobbi’s story that has compounded Cheryl’s self-destructive behaviour and the trigger for her long walk.

Despite Cheryl’s anger issues we warm to her charm and humour, admiring her dogged determination and perseverance in maintaining a relationship with ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski).

With insufficient preparation she battles grief, guilt and remorse as well as extreme temperatures, rattlesnakes, gun-toting hillbillies, loneliness, lack of food, inelegant toilet facilities and large amounts of unwanted male attention.

Even so the walk itself is fairly uneventful and she receives the frequent help of strangers plus a welcome taste of romance.

With a far from satisfactory script structure from Brit writer Nick Hornby, the reasons for her trek revealed in a series of flashbacks. This means most of the drama has happened before the film has even begun, creating a void where the tension should be.

In heavy-handed fashion inspirational phrases are scrawled across the screen as if we’re not capable of listening to or understanding literature. Worse, there’s no consistent application of the conceit.

It’s an unusual criticism to make – but what this film seems to be lacking most is a train of camels.