childrens films

REVIEW: Arthur Christmas (2011)

When a child is missed on Christmas Eve, Arthur (James McAvoy) the clumsy youngest son of Santa (Jim Broadbent), races against time to deliver her present with the help of elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) and his grandfather (Bill Nighy), much to the dismay of his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) who runs a tight ship at Christmas and isn’t impressed with Arthur putting the whole operation at risk.

Arthur Christmas is a lot of fun and a great adventure. It pokes fun on how Christmas is so commercialised nowadays and it’s almost a military operation to get all the presents and organise everything when the shops are heaving with people. At the North Pole Santa is more of a figure head of Christmas, and instead it’s his son Steve, along with millions of elves, that run the show. The sequences of the elves dropping off presents in dozens of homes in seconds are entertaining and inventive and they contrast nicely with the picture of Santa and his helpers that we generally have. That kind of typical Christmas is what Grandsanta reminisces about, when he used a wooden sleigh and a dozen reindeer to deliver presents.

Arthur loves Christmas. He believes whole heartedly in what his father does, the magic of Christmas and that every child matters. He’s almost naïve in his enthusiastic optimism, especially next to Steve’s stoic pragmaticism, but it’s charming too as he wants everyone’s Christmas to be special.

The dialogue is hilarious, and the writing is so sharp that the family arguments feel real. While Mrs Santa (voiced by Imelda Staunton) doesn’t have as large a role, she’s a soothing presence over tense family dinners and a the most practical out of all her family members. There’s a lot of great sight gags too, many of them courtesy of the countless elves running around the place.

The animation is beautiful and impressive. From how the operations centre at the North Pole is shown off in all it’s glory with all the screens and high-tech gadgetry to then how Arthur, his family and the elves feel so warm and alive. The North Pole is all icy blues but the colourful Christmassy jumpers and clothes that Arthur and his family wears brighten up the place and makes it feel lived in.

Arthur Christmas isn’t just a funny film, it’s also one filled with heart and sentimentality without being too twee. It does such a good job at offering a new and imaginative take on how Santa could possibly deliver presents to every child around the world, while never losing the spirit of Christmas. Arthur Christmas is a proper old-fashioned family film that everyone, no matter their age or whether or not they believe in Santa, can enjoy. 5/5.

REVIEW: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora (Isabela Moner) is a teenage explorer who’s more at home in the jungle more than high school. But when her parents (played by Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) go missing while searching for a lost city, Dora and her new friends go on an adventure to rescue them.

As a more grown up adaptation of the Dora the Explorer TV show, Dora and the Lost City of Gold finds itself as a good kids’ adventure film. There are plenty of references to the TV show like an inventive animated sequence and Dora’s love of singing when doing a mundane task. Then there’s when 6-year-old Dora turns to the camera and asks, “Can you say delicioso?” to the confusion of her parents as they look to see who she’s talking to and saying she’ll grow out of it. These kinds of moments are tongue-in-cheek but can feel a little awkward. Though, having characters question some of the weirdness, like a fox wearing a mask, makes most of the references work.

Isabela Moner is great as Dora as she gives a performance that’s both charming and moving. She’s full of energy and enthusiasm but she also gives Dora a little awkwardness as she finds it difficult to be anything but herself in high school when being unabashedly yourself is seen as a source of embarrassment for most people.

Dora is like a teenage Latina Indiana Jones and it works. There’s so many of the usual adventure puzzles and clichés like quicksand and booby traps but having a teenage girl at the forefront, working things out and having the adventure is wonderful. Her teenage friends all each have their moment of figuring things out and contributing to the adventure as well. Sammy (Madeleine Madden) is super smart while Randy (Nicholas Coombe) is into his games and knows all about jungle puzzles. That’s not to say they don’t have their fears and anxieties over being lost in the jungle, but it’s great seeing how they all become friends and learn to work together.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a fun adventure film that’s not afraid of its origins and affectionately skews the conventions of the TV show. It’s funny and charming and an easy, inoffensive watch for children and adults alike, even if you have only the most basic knowledge of the TV show it’s adapted from. 3/5.

REVIEW: Coco (2017)

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is an aspiring musician but due to his family’s belief that music is a curse, he’s forbidden to follow his dream. When he attempts to play in his towns talent show, he ends up in the Land of the Dead where he meets his ancestors and goes on a quest to find his musical idol and great great grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).

Coco is Pixar’s latest film and they have once again upped their animation skills. Coco is a beautiful looking film. The Land of the Dead is one of the most alive places I’ve seen on screen for a long time. The colours are bright and glowing and the whole place looks and feels magical.

In the Land of the Dead, Miguel meets Héctor (Gael García Bernal) a kind of scoundrel but a guy who says he’ll help Miguel out. As the film progresses you learn there’s much more to Héctor than meets the eye and it makes him one of the most interesting characters. That being said, all of the characters are interesting, and you can understand where they’re coming from – even the members of Miguel’s family who are so against music. This is a family who was hurt in the past and fear being hurt again, even if that means stopping one of their loved one from doing what they want to do.

The themes in Coco are incredibly important and relatable, and are shown in a story that’s relevant to everyone. While Coco is about a Mexican family and features a lot of Mexican culture, especially Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), at it’s heart it’s a story about family, following your dreams, and of life and death. There’s some heavy stuff in Coco about death and remembering loved ones when they’ve gone but it’s all handled very well.

Coco features some lovely songs too. While none of them are the kind of songs that get stuck in your head, the songs and the score, composed by Michael Giacchino, are beautiful and fits the tone of the film perfectly. That’s the thing with Coco, nothing about it seems rushed. Yes, there’s action and humour but it really feels like your just following this boy on his journey and it goes at a pace where you can take in all the magical sights and the emotions it gives you along the way.

Coco is a wonderful film. There is a very good chance it will make you cry, but it won’t be due to sentimentality, and that’s the best kind of tears over a film. 5/5.

Films I grew up on that weren’t for children

Mama Mia was on TV again a couple of nights ago so of course I ended up watching the last hour or so and loving every minute of it. I ended up thinking to myself that this is a movie that I could see myself showing to my kids (if or when I have children) from a young age so they end up growing up on it and so it may end up be a “classic” to them.

I say this as someone who, thanks to my mother, had an interesting set of movies shaping my taste and loves growing up. The movies I grew up watching were Pretty Woman (yep a film about a prostitute but I’m guessing child-me didn’t really get that part), Back to the Future trilogy, Sister Act 1 and 2, Ghost (here came my love of Whoopi Goldberg), Dirty Dancing, and the Robocop films. Now one is certainly not like the others but I did love Robocop growing up – although my mum clearly never let me watch it from the beginning as when I watched Robocop for the first time in years when I was fifteen I got seriously upset and scared seeing what happened to Murphy before he ended up in the suit.

Other films have come along that have become what me and mother call “classics” in the sense that whenever they’re on TV we end up watching them no matter if it’s the start of the film or if there’s just ten minutes left. Those most notably are Legally Blonde (Elle Woods continues to be my inspiration) and The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (there is no third movie, whoever told you that is a liar) and Mama Mia is definitely finding its way into that category too.

I find it interesting to think what films I’d like to put on for my theoretical kids when they’re growing up, especially considering there’s gonna be at least ten more years of movies coming out that I may end up loving so much I want to brain-wash my kids with.

As it stands I’d love to pass on my love for some of my mum’s films, especially Sister Act, Pretty Woman and Ghost. Then Legally Blonde must be on the list because I’m all about great female characters and like I said, Elle Woods is an inspirational character and her story doesn’t revolve around a man (it may do to start with but she grows to not want or need the man she originally wanted and is fantastic). The two Mummy movies are on the list because they have my favourite fictional family and they’re a lot of fun. The Lord of the Rings will definitely be there, I did indeed grow up on these films as I went to see them every Christmas Eve from when I was 10, and a good love and respect of fantasy is important for a child. Think Mama Mia will be there as I grew up listening to ABBA (thanks again to my mother) and I think it’s another great girl-power type movie with a brilliant mother/daughter relationship. Of course there’s going to be some superhero movies in there – most probably X-Men and Iron Man as they are two of my favourites. Then we have Cool Runnings, Sydney White, the Fast and Furious films, Unstoppable and of course some Disney animated films.

I could probably go on and on about the films I’d like my theoretical children to grown up on as I have quite an eclectic taste and would love to expose young minds to the joys of different genres. I think it’s a great idea to not just give children “children’s movies.” While obviously they are suited for the child’s age, I think it’s important to show them some films where everything might not go right all the time and where there’s real people and not a lot of singing animals.