Sunday, 3 October 2010

Film journalism: An Overview of 2010's Family Films

Written for Primary Times July 2010

2010 has been a big year for kids’ films. With the release of Alice in Wonderland, Shrek Forever After and the long awaited Toy Story 3, piggy banks all over will have been raided, drained and destroyed. But don’t start taping the splinters together just yet; in a few short weeks the new Harry Potter saga hits the cinema and, for those forward-thinkers amongst you, Gulliver’s Travels is due just in time for Christmas. So put that sellotape down and start counting your pennies if you want to catch up with your kids’ favourite films.

This year’s post-Christmas lull was kicked into touch when a selection of spring time treats cropped up. Most notable was the mad March hare – or should that be white rabbit – that took the form of Alice in Wonderland. Utilising the latest computer technology, Tim Burton puts his uncanny stamp on Lewis Carroll’s tale, replacing the friendly talking animals that populate kids’ animation with distorted grins, manically enlarged eyes and grotesquely swollen heads. Not one for the younger viewers, Alice in Wonderland has the delightful gross-out factor that older kids will love. Grab this on DVD now.

March also offered us one of many sequels billed for 2010. Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang dethroned Alice in Wonderland at the top of the film ranks just in time for Easter. Emma Thompson resurrects the no-nonsense nanny in a film made with genuine warmth and compassion. Having conquered Victorian-aged scoundrels, Nanny McPhee jumps forward a hundred years to World War II and endeavours to tame a group of defiant evacuees. The infantile humour may grate on parents and some of the scenes feel a little out of place. It doesn’t quite live up to the original, but if the kids insist on giving it a go, it’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Jumping on the 3D bandwagon is How to Train your Dragon. Mischievous Hiccup is a young Viking boy on a mission to destroy the dragons that plague his island. When he comes to realise that there is more to the attacks than simple malice, he must convince his people to co-operate with them to overcome a greater danger. A tender story of friendship beyond boundaries, How to Train your Dragon combines dazzling animation with a meaningful message in what may well pass as Avatar for kids.

If, over the summer, you managed to avoid cries for Shrek, congratulations. A star-studded cast returns for the fourth instalment courtesy of new addition Rumplestikltskin. In the clutches of matrimonial boredom, Shrek falls for the imp’s trickery and is thrust into a world in which he has never been born. Connections with old friends must be re-established if he is to get back home, but that’s no mean feat when he doesn’t exist! The double entendres and pop culture references that engaged parents in the past have been ditched in favour of simple, character-based gags that children will appreciate but adults may tire of. With “The Final Chapter” out on DVD later this year, expect it on a Christmas list headed your way.

Going head to head with the friendly green ogre is yet another animated sequel; that’s right, Toy Story 3. It’s been eleven years since Woody and pals hit the silver screen, but if we aged half as well as they do, we’d be laughing. Whilst the colourful characters remain suspended in time, Andy is all grown up and about to leave for university. Consequently, the toys find themselves re-homed in Sunnyside Daycare Centre where they meet Lots-O’-Huggin’, Mr Pricklpants and Barbie’s boy toy Ken. The sticky fingers of grubby tots are the least of their worries as they soon realise that their new friends aren’t all that friendly after all. A plastic and plush Great Escape ensues in a bid for freedom that’s full of laughs, but the recent melancholy that underlies Up and Wall E surfaces again, so that as your children are giggling at moments of cartoon slap-stick, you’ll be busy mopping up tears.

On a less sentimental note, Owen Wilson attempts to bring comic strip Marmaduke to life this summer as he lends his voice to the goofy great dane. Unfortunately this stale version of canine boy meets girl is beyond redemption. Its strained script and complete lack of excitement will leave the kids fidgety and you irritable. Give it a miss.

If, however, the fantasy inspired influx of family films has whetted your family’s appetite for cloaks and daggers, catch The Sorcerer’s Apprentice at cinemas now. Set in modern-day Manhattan, the cast manage to bring an essence of medieval mythology to the urban West. Apprentice Dave’s mettle is put to the test when the dastardly Maxim Horvath threatens the future of New York City. For a refreshing take on the traditional world of magic, give this one a try.

Animal Logic is set to rival Pixar and DreamWork’s 2010 efforts with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, released in October. Based on the first three books in the Guardians of Ga’hoole series by Kathryn Lasky, this adaptation sees owlet Soren kidnapped by the malicious owls of St Aggie’s, who plan to brainwash the innocent into tools of cruelty. Soren and his companions make it their mission to escape and foil their wicked ploy. The irresistible owlets are beautifully animated and provide enough action to keep the kids happy.

Despicable Me, out in time for half term, is another tale of good versus evil. Don’t let that put you off, though; this Incredibles-esque animation has got American audiences enthusing relentlessly. Gru is an evil genius, living undetected in a gentle suburban town, but he’s no half-hearted felon. He is, in fact, plotting the biggest conspiracy ever: he’s going to steal the moon! A trio of strong-willed little girls jeopardise his plans with their endearing charm, wielding a simple power that he severely underestimated. If you ignore the moon bit, it may not be the most original idea for a film, but the kids won’t mind, and the cleverly scripted story keeps it fresh for everyone to enjoy.

Harry Potter and friends are back in November for the penultimate Deathly Hallows: Part 1. The plot is basic, revolving around Harry, Ron and Hermione battling to overcome Voldemort’s dark hold over Hogwarts. Convicts on the run, the trio are fleeing the Death Eaters who are intent on capturing Harry for their ruler. Undoubtedly geared at the same audience that discovered Harry back in 2001, it has matured with its fanbase and delved into darkness. Any viewers who are young enough to have missed the boat at the start of Potter mania might be left floundering in the murky seas of Hogwarts.

Gulliver’s Travels updates itself just in time for Christmas and sees travel writer Lemuel Gulliver discover the island of Liliput. The story follows Gulliver as he explores the curious island and finds himself in the hands of the tiny people who inhabit it. With a cast including Jack Black, Catherine Tate and Billy Connolly, this light-hearted adaptation is bound to please the yuletide crowds.

Devious villains, comic heroes and charismatic sidekicks have bombarded our cinema screens this year to the delight of children across the country. With plenty of DVD and cinema opportunities, you’ll need every copper you can find over half term and Christmas to satisfy their cinematic wish list.

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