family film

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.

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REVIEW: The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

Orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) moves in with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) who he discovers is a warlock, and in his house there’s a mysterious clock with unknown powers they must find.

When I saw the trailer for The House with a Clock in Its Walls it reminded me of Jumanji (1995) of all things. And after seeing the film I’ll stand by that gut reaction. It’s got the same blend of adventure, scares and great characters and it’s overall just as charming.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is set in 1955 and that 50s aesthetic is a big part of the films charm. The house is eerie with parts of it coming alive – the house is its own character really and that makes sense as such a large part of the film takes place within its walls. It’s a weird and wonderful place, but there’s also a darkness to it too.

Jonathan’s next-door neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett) is witch, and a powerful one too, but her powers have been unpredictable for a while. Blanchett and Black are a surprising but great comic duo, they quickly fire barbs at one another, but you can tell that it’s a form of affection for them and they have a deep friendship.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls has surprising number of layers, I teared up a couple of times during this film, and it’s got some great messages about not being afraid of being different. Plus, there’s some unexpected serious moments about the affects of war and these are woven into the story so well that none of it ever feels preachy.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an unexpected delight. It’s funny, charming and has some child-friendly scares. All those elements are so well balanced it makes it feel like an old-fashioned family adventure in the vein of Jumanji, Hook or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s a really great time. 4/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

On the run up the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald I’m rewatching and reviewing all the Harry Potter films, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as they’re films that made up a big part of my childhood but I’ve never reviewed them before.

Orphaned Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers he’s a wizard and joins the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he makes new friends and rivals and learns that there’s an evil that haunts the magical world.

It’s hard to talk about the Harry Potter films individually when you’ve seen the entire series and have read the books. You know where all these characters end up and The Philosopher’s Stone sets up so many character arcs and mentions so many people or items that will become more important later on in the grand scheme of things, and it does it all so well. With hindsight I appreciate The Philosopher’s Stone a lot, it’s a perfect introduction to this whole new magical world, taking the time to explain things while still having a compelling mystery at its core.

While he’s learning magic and potions, Harry meets Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) who soon become his best friends. When they’re not in classes the three of them stumble across a massive three-headed dog and soon get involved in a secret hidden in their school. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone works so well because one of its main story elements is the adults don’t or won’t believe the children, so they are the ones who have to go on a potentially dangerous adventure to save the day. Everyone has been a child so it’s a situation we can all relate to.

The main young trio Radcliffe, Grint and Hermione Watson give fine performances but it’s the adult cast that’s built around them that manages to be great but at the same time never overshadows their child co-stars. Richard Harris as Dumbledore is brilliant, he’s wise and calm but it’s clear he’s powerful and respected. Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane, as Professor McGonagall and Hagrid respectively, both bring warmth and humour to their roles. It’s Alan Rickman as Professor Snape that really stands out though. He plays Snape with such nuance that he’s an intriguing character from the outset.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is so bright and colourful which you appreciate more when you think about how dark, both in tone and colour palette, the latter films get. While some of the special effects have not aged so well, the Quidditch match is still thrilling to watch. The score is beautiful, and it’s funny going back to the beginning because these musical cues have become so iconic, and who knew this music would be here to stay.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great family film. It’s funny, exciting and has a compelling mystery at its heart. It’s a great starting point for adapting the books. 5/5.

REVIEW: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Petes_Dragon_2016_posterPete (Oakes Fegley) has been living in the woods for years with his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon, but when Pete is discovered by park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) their happy life is upended when she and the townspeople try to take Pete back to civilisation.

Pete’s Dragon is old-fashioned and kind of nostalgia-inducing in the best way. It is full of imagination and wonder and is such a light, hopeful film after all the grim, dark stuff we’ve got lately. It is a family film full of great character dynamics and no one is made into a pantomime villain, even Gavin (Karl Urban) the man who believes Elliot to be dangerous has some redeemable qualities and you can see the reasons behind his actions.

Pete’s Dragon is a beautiful film. The shots of the forest are stunning and the work gone into bringing Elliot to life is top-notch. He looks like a real creature and the way he interacts with Pete and other characters is brilliant. Elliot has the characteristics of a big friendly dog and he is so well animated that you can see his personality shine through in his actions and in his eyes.

The film is a bit slow to really get going. It takes its time setting up Pete and Elliot’s relationship as well as other characters in the town like Grace and her relationship with her father Meacham (Robert Redford). However, once Pete comes into contact with Grace and the rest of the town the pace does pick up a lot and the final act is a roaring adventure.

Pete’s Dragon is a lovely film, full of heart and old-school adventure. 4/5.