Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The original Jumanji is a much loved film to kids who grew up in the ’90s. Starring the late, great Robin Williams it’s an anarchic adventure which sees the jungle come to suburbia through a cursed board game. Announcement of a reboot/sequel was met with much millenial anxiety, although for me as soon as Dwayne Johnson was announced my worries eased.

The update changes things up by having the board game get found by a teenager in the ’90s, who casts it aside with the dismissive comment “who plays board games?”. The game transforms to a video game and starts it’s mischief once more.

Twenty years later it is discovered by four high school students on detention. Neurotic nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) is punished for having written essays for football player and former friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), who joins him in the punishment. Alongside them are Bethany (Madison Iseman), a shallow, image obsessed popular girl caught using her phone in class and Martha (Morgan Turner), who Spencer saw arguing against pointless physical education lessons and accidentally insulting her teacher.

The kids

Tasked with sorting old magazines they are distracted by the game and begin to play, choosing their characters. They are then sucked into the game where they become their avatars. 

Hulking jock Fridge finds himself as the diminutive side kick Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), having misread his nickname “Mouse” as “Moose”. Bethany is middle aged scientist Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) and Martha is the scantily clad, kung fu dighting Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Spencer is transformed into the group’s leader, muscular adventure Smolder Bravestone (The Rock).

Spencer adjusts to his new body

They work out that to get home they must use their characters’ strengths and their own wits to return a gemstone to it’s statue to complete the game and free themselves from the curse. However they must deal with their issues with each other and overcome their flaws.

Can they do it? And can they do it without using up all three of their lives?

I really enjoyed this movie which manages to pack in a heap of action while mining plenty of humour from the body swap aspect. While all four leads are good, I have to single out Jack Black for special praise as he manages to percectly capture the disgusted teen girl within. A scene where he coaches Ruby Roundhouse in seduction is hilarious, and throughout he maintains the character perfectly. After a period of duds, this is Black back on form.

Kevin Hart also delivers plenty of laughs and his chemistry with Johnson is a driving force as the duo bicker and their characters deal with their role reversal. It’s a testament to Johnson’s skill that he manages to deliver the big action moments while also allowing the nerdy teen to show through. 

It’s a strong comedic performace which most action stars couldn’t handle, but he holds his own alongside Hart and Black.

The plot is daft but rattles along well and their are some nice touches like the inclusion of Nick Jonas’ character “Seaplane” McDonough, the fifth character. They realise he is the missing kid from the ’90s and this scene, where his slang alerts them is handled well, as is how they adopt him to the group.

The plot, of the teens realising their inner strengths and unknown depths, is standard fare but carried off with no shortage of charm and a sense of fun. The gentle flirtation between Spencer and Martha is pitched at the right level and the whole film left me with a big dumb grin on my face.

Verdict: Great performances across the board and a clever premise and spin on the original pays off with a massively entertaining adventure. Great fun. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Disney Classics #18: The Sword in the Stone

I’ve always regarded this as a second tier Disney movie. It never clicked for me and I felt it wasn’t as fun or memorable as many of their other films. It wasn’t quite down at the same level as Pinocchio which I actively disliked, but it didn’t leap off the shelf when we were looking for a video to put on.

I think part of the problem was that as a British kid I was aware of the King Arthur legends from a young age, and this version didn’t sit with the one in my head. Arthur was a sword swinging badass, not an annoying kid. And who was this bumbling mad professor type bloke? Merlin was a powerful wizard, an intimidating figure who could bend reality. 

Watching the film it starts rather well, with the set up of the sword in the stone myth. It arrives and whoever pulls it is the new King. Neat and tidy, even if it is no basis for a system of government.

From there, however, it loses me. Merlin decides to teach the annoying kid who would be king, to ensure he is smart and does something with his life. Bear in mind Merlin can travel through time, so he already knows Art is on course for big things.

Merlin’s lessons are fairly nonsensical. He turns Arthur into a fish in order for him to learn that sometimes brains triumph over brawn, and also physics? Similarly, when turned into a squirrel Arthur learns about gravity and also to look before you leap. 

 That’s it really. Arthur doesn’t achieve things, or grow into a decent candidate for King, he just had three episodic transformations. They’re amusing enough, but it’s a weak story. On his third lesson he meets Madam Mim and this does pick the movie up a bit as Mim and Merlin have a wizard duel.

This sees them transform into different creatures to try and gain victory over the other. It’s visually entertaining and adds energy to the movie, and the deliberately nasty Mim is a treat.

After that Arthur heads to London, grabs the sword to help out the knight he squires for and is crowned king. If that feels rushed, well it unfolds screen pretty damn quickly too.

The new King Arthur is scared he’s can’t handle the gig but Merlin returns and reassures him that he will go down in history as a great king. Which reassures the lad, although it might have been helpful had Merlin told him to watch out for a bloke Lancelot who would steal his girl.

The flaws that drove me from this as a kid are still there- the plot is weak, it’s a rather dull version of the King Arthur myth and it fails to live up to Disney’s high standards.

That being said there are a few fun moments and cute touches, like the lovestruck squirrel who falls for Arthur. And, as mentioned, the demented Mim is a great character and the wizard duel, especially the finishing move, is very well done.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Top 10 Films of 2017

As ever this is my personal ranking of the movies I saw this year.

10. Baywatch

Carried by the easy charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, nobody could call this movie smart but it kept the laughs coming with an OTT plot and some nice touches. Read my full review here.

9. Kong: Skull Island

Glorious on the IMAX screen, this succeeded where Godzilla failed in succeding as a fun movie. The monster throwdowns are entertaining and the 1970s setting works. Sure, I didn’t quite buy Tom Hiddleston as an SAS badass, but other than that a solid blockbuster. Review here.

8. Wonder Woman

The strongest DC movie so far this gives us the background of Diana (Gal Gadot) coming to the world of men. 

It’s a decent movie, but WW only gets a handful of fights with enemies equal to her own abilities and there is way too much slo-mo. Also, in a film which repeatedly talks about how wrong violence is, the Amazons fighting are clearly supposed to look cool. A decent movie, but I think some reviews were a bit hyperbolic. My own response is more measured.

7. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright produces a fun, fast paced action musical loaded with killer songs and a great cast. Slick and in touch with its genre roots. Here’s my quick review.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

The first Spidey movie that for me truly got the character right with Tom Holland excelling inside and outside of the suit. It captures the struggles of Peter Parker both as a regular teen and with his new powers and responsibilities. Having Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark as a mentor figure is a nice touch and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a cracking villain, with layers the character has lacked.


Hugely entertaining, with some great action sequences and quality gags this was like a Spider-Man book come to life. I gush even more here.
5. Beauty and the Beast

Disney manage to give a live action spin to one of their best animated films. It works because it captures the original magic while also deepening and strengthening the story. I loved it.

4. Logan

Hugh Jackman has been playing everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant for almost two decades. This his ninth outing is the perfect way to hang up the role. With an end of the line feel this grim, gritty tale sees an aging, failing Wolverine looking after a dementia struck Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Content to hide out and lay low, he is forced back into action when a young girl very much like him crosses his path.


The dark tone works well, and the higher rating allows Logan to finally cut loose on screen, proving that he is the best he is at what he does, and it ain’t pretty. A great send off for Jackman and the character and the best X-movie of them all? I think so.
3. Thor: Ragnarok

Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian Avenger is his best. Just fun from the jump with familiar faces alongside some cool new characters. I wrote about it here.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel’s misfits return for a second adventure which matches their arrival. The wisecracking anti-heroes explore Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past and evade numerous foes. Hugely entertaining, it also packs an emotional punch near the end and having rewatched on telly my admiration only growns. One of Marvel’s best, you can read my original thoughts here.


1. Dunkirk 

Christopher Nolan delivers a war movie which is amazingly tense and in many ways understated. There are no gung ho heroics, just regular men desperately trying to survive. The cast is superb and the chronological shuffling heightens the tension and allows us to see different aspects. It’s not fun, as it’s far too intense for that but it is excellent filmmaking. Review.


Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok

I saw this back while we were in Florida but I just haven’t got round to writing a review until now.

Ever since I got into comics as a teen one of the Marvel characters I’ve always loved has been Thor, the hammer swinging God of Thunder. He was different to the other heroes and I loved the fantasy vibe and that his dialogue was in a different font. Of course, with the winged helmet and style of talking I knew bringing him to the big screen was risky, but the MCU delivered and Chris Hemsworth has been great.

But while the first Thor movie was an entertaining origin story, the sequel was one of Marvel’s weaker efforts. Still fun, but a bit meh.

With Thor missing from Civil War I was keen to see where he was and this the third outing didn’t disappoint.

As arguably the strongest Avenger, this movie works because they strip Thor of several of his allies and weapons, force him into a role of greater responsibility and have him face off against a dangerous foe who appears too strong for him to defeat.

Our hero is cast adrift in a strange world, broken and grieving. Kudos here to Hemsworth who captures this sense of loss and struggle with subtle pain, while still carrying himself with a swagger which appears to be a mask. In short order he learns of his evil, destructive sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, loses his father and in his first showdown with Hela is easily beaten, his mystical hammer Mjolnir destroyed.

Despite this Thor is deternined to return to Asgard to protect his people and stop Hela. It’s this that makes him a hero along with the way he adopts the role of Adgardian leader depite his self doubts.

The movie is fast paced and despite the high stakes there is plenty of humour. Pairing Thor with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki works well, with their differing views leading to confluct and the actors have great chemistry together. Similarly characters lile Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Skurge, played by Karl Urban, have comedic moments, but there is enough shade beneath.

The cast is uniformly good, with Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett impressing as newcomers. And Mark Ruffalo continues to impress as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and his interactions with Thor, in both forms are wonderful. 

Criticisms of it as lightweight or too comedic didn’t hold water with me. While it is consistently funny, Hela is a legitimate threat and the stakes feel real. Yes, a few deaths are swept aside a tad too easily for me, but I felt it married the darkness and light well.

All the cast are on fine form and it leaves the characters in an interesting place going forward. It’s also good for the MCU as a whole because Thor is peefectly placed to link three aspects of the universe- the magic of Doctor Strange, the superheroics of the Avengers and the intergalactic adventures of the Guardians.

A great blockbuster that shakes up the world of a major character, and advances their character. Easily Thor’s best outing so far and one of the MCU’s best films.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Film Review: Baby Driver

Since Spaced I’ve been a fan of Edgar Wright as a director and his big screen work has been of a pretty high standard, with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World all being firm favourites of mine. Two of his hallmarks are skilled, clever editing and his use of music, and his latest effort is largely based around this.

The film follows Baby (Ansel Elgort) an extremely talented and skilled getaway driver who works for underworld figure Doc (Kevin Spacey), in order to pay back a debt incurred when he stole a car full of drugs by mistake.

Doc puts together different teams for different jobs, the only constant being Baby at the wheel, his “lucky charm”. But Baby has almost paid off his debt and having fallen for waitress Deborah (Lily James) is thinking of a life away from crime. Will it be that easy?

The music aspect comes to the fore as Baby’s ears are damaged as a child and he uses music to rid him of distractions and also to perfectly time his runs. This means that the car chases are all set to music and turns this into a kind of action musical. The perfectly choreographed chaos is glorious and great fun.

The movie has its roots in genre movies and this is shown in the dialogue which for me called to mind the unnatural cool back and forth of old action movies. The film is extremely stylised in all aspects, but it works in its favour and makes it stand out. 

There’s no great depth here, and it’s a case of style over substance, but what style. And it never presents itself as anything other than a fun thrill ride. And there’s something charming about the light tone and joyous execution.

Also Elgort is likeable as the lead, winning you over with his cheery energy and almost naive, dreamy way of moving through life.

The supporting players are fine across the board, with Spacey downplaying Doc throughout. There’s something decidely everyday and unflashy about his performance, and it’s testimony to his skill that Spacey still manages to convey a quiet menace and command the screen alongside flashier performances.

These include Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx plays Bats, a loud, dangerous figure with a leaning toward violence and fraying mental stability. Hamm is the suave Buddy, who bonds with Baby over Queen and who has a cool swagger about him.

The plot is fairly simple and familiar, but unfolds well and presented with flair. Hugely entertaining, bursting with action and powered by some cracking tunes this is a step away from Wright’s comedy roots but is an accomplished action movie.

One of the most fun, flashy films of the year.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

You don’t watch a Pirates of the Caribbean movie expecting fine art, but you usually expect a fun diversion. Unfortunately, despite having rather enjoyed the fourth film the wheels come off here.

It all feels so lazy and half arsed. They’ve thrown in a bunch of familiar features- OTT stunts, some kind of magic, shifty British officers and various double crosses but it feels flat.

Javier Bardem hams it up as the villain, but the sound and fury can’t cover up that his character is woefully underwritten. He hates pirates, and wants to break the curse, but unlike Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa in the first movie he’s utterly unsympathetic. He’s shown in flashback to be a d**k and while he’s a villain you still need to care.

The design hampers the crew too, while Bardem’s hair, which bobs about as though underwater, is a nice touch the idea to have the cursed sailors miss parts but act as though they still have them is daft. A hand floating in mid air just looks silly.

The rest of the cast aren’t much better. Returning players seem to be going through the motions and the new ones are woeful. Brenton Thwaites is utterly bland as the young hero and Kaya Scodelario is given a character who clearly is meant to be a strong female but who just walks around telling everyone how smart she is.

And finally there’s Johnny Depp, who still raises a few smiles as Jack Sparrow. But is that good enough? It feels like Depp is happy to stay in his comfort zone and Jack has become a one note character, a living cartoon who like Wiley Coyote manages to walk away from whatever catastrophe befalls him.

Lazy, loud and uninvolving this seems like the right time to call it a day on the series.

Verdict: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a gem of a movie which married the fun excess of old spy movies with OTT violence and foul language. Can they pull off the same trick twice?

Well, the answer is almost. 

This second adventure finds Eggsy AKA Galahad (Taron Egerton) still in action as an agent of Kingsman, a private spy agency. But when he’s attacked by a familiar face, it appears the agency is in the sights of a resourceful and ruthless foe. A foe who quickly takes out the agency, leaving Eggsy the only survivor other than tech expert Merlin (Mark Strong).

Following their “doomsday protocol” the two discover a bottle of bourbon branded Statesman and travel to Kentucky to investigate. There they find their American equivalent, posing as an alcoholic manufacturer. After a brief run in with Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), they realise they are on the same side and unite. 

Their common enemy is Poppy (Julianne Moore), head of a global drug cartel and robotics genius. She has poisoned all of her drugs with a lethal disease, and promises the cure if all drugs are legalized, allowing her to enjoy her success and come out of hiding.

Unfortunately the US President (Bruce Greenwood) has no qualms about letting all the drug users die as it will mean he is remembered as the President who won the war on drugs and Poppy will be blamed.

Affected by the virus are Eggsy’s girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), Tequila and the President’s chief of staff, who objects to his plan but is sent away.

Eggsy investigates with Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) who survived being shot in the first film but temporarily lost his memory and is not yet back to his best.

Can Eggsy stop Poppy’s scheme? How much can he trust Statesman or Harry? Will he find the antidote in time?

First things first, here’s what works- the action sequences retain the gloriously gory and overblown touches of the original, and while it lacks anything as madly brilliant as the original’s “Freebird” sequence there are some great scraps here. There’s also a nice little gag that plays on one of the first film’s major scenes.

The returning cast are all on form, with Egerton being allowed to let Eggsy’s chavvy enthusiasm to pop up at times. Firth is excellent again especially as he has to play both the badass Harry and the softer, damaged version who can’t remember who he is.

Mark Strong is good in everything he does and here he gets more to do as Merlin.

I also liked that they kept the Princess from the first movie as the love interest, and this relationship, while fleeting in terms of screen time  is handled well enough. Also good that they brought back Edward Holcroft’s obnoxious toff Charlie as Poppy’s cybernetically enhanced goon as it added to his vendetta against Eggsy. 

The newcomers are decent, although Tatum plays less of a role than trailers suggest. Pascal’s swaggering cowboy Whiskey is pretty badass and as their boss Champagne, Jeff Bridges is his usual charming self. The surprise was Halle Berry who is better here than I’ve seen her in a while. 

Whiskey in action

Julianne Moore is clearly enjoying her campy, flamboyant villain turn but it’s less fun for the audience and it can’t match Samuel L. Jackson in the first flick. She’s not bad, and quite fun, but her reasons are flimsy.

But Poppy’s plan is pretty smart and the twist of having a callous President was smart.

There are a few flaws, some characters from the first film are written out rather cheaply and there is a sense of it sticking to formula. But the formula does work and it delivers plenty of laughs and fun along the way. 

There’s also quite a nice extended cameo from Elton John playing himself, Poppy’s hostage and keying up “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to soundtrack a shoot out.

Harry and Eggsy together again

In fact the music throughout is playful and clever.

I really enjoyed it but MWF and I both felt this is probably where we should leave Eggsy as a third outing might stretch it too far.

Verdict: It can’t match the first movie but this is still a fun, frantic romp. OTT in the best way and with its tongue firmly in cheek this kept me entertained throughout. 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Dunkirk

See this film now.

From the opening scene where a handful of British soldiers make their way through deserted streets as Nazi propaganda about their being surrounded flutters down until the end this is a thoroughly gripping movie. I wouldn’t necessarily say entertaining as it left my nerves in shreds.

Christopher Nolan in the directing chair films it magnificently, and there are some amazing shots, particularly our first sight of the vast beach where the British soldiers have lined up, looking pathetically vulnerable stood out in the open.

The movie shuffles the time sequence, but while the first threw me the shifts are handled well and it’s easy to keep track of where everyone is. The film follows several characters throughout the day.

Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead is one of the soldiers we see at the beginning. And we follow his attempts to get off the beach. Posing as a stretcher bearer, hiding on the pier and at one point soaking himself to appear as one of the men from a sunken vessel, Tommy is determined to get home and there is a desperation to his actions which feels all too understandable.

Tommy meets other soldiers along the way including Alex (Harry Styles) and we see their attempts to survive against the odds. 

At the end of the pier is navy Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and army Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy)  are the men trying to sort out the evacuation. The pier can only take one boat at a time and the beach is too shallow for larger boats. With 400,000 men on the beach and Winston Churchill aiming for 30,000 to be evacuated they face a tough choice.  Their only hope is the small boats requisitioned by the government to help the evacuation.

One of these is the small pleasure yacht owned by Mark Rylance’s Dawson, who along with his son Peter  (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their hand George (Barry Keoghan). They head for France but en route find a shell shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy, the sole survivor of a U Boat attack who is understandably shaken by the experience and urges them to turn around for home.

Above them they watch as a three man Spitfire squad attempt to defend the beach and retreating ships from the Luftwaffe. Farrier (Tom Hardy) does his best but with a damaged fuel gauge has no idea how long he can stay in the fight.

The action then cuts between the different characters as their paths cross, events seen from different perspectives. 

The whole movie is almost unbearably tense, from Farrier having to try and work out how much fuel he has left before he heads for home to the soldiers on the pier who can do little more than wait and hope the next German bomb doesn’t have their name on. The feeling of claustrophobia and being trapped, even on the vast, wind swept beach is palpable throughout. The isolation of the men, even with home seemingly so close, is frustrating for the men and the audience, and a reminder of how close to Britain the land war got.

Most terrifying is the fact that even off the beach safety isn’t guaranteed. Scenes of men trapped in small, confined spaces rapidly filling with water are genuinely terrifying.

Several points during the film I found myself gripping the arm rests of the Odeon seats, or MWF’s arm. And in violation of the Wittertainment Code of Conduct I caught myself muttering “No” at several moments.

When the small boats finally arrive, and the relief and joy of the soldiers explodes I found myself openly crying. It was a combination of the relief and reaction of the men, and the respect for this real, genuine act of heroism by ordinary people.

For a war film the refreshing thing here is the lack of big showy heroics. For many there is only a fight for survival and some questionable acts along the way. But there are heroes.

Tom Hardy, even with his face covered with a mask manages to convey Farrier’s inner conflict. He must decide whether to stay longer to help even if it means he might not be able to fly home.

Kenneth Branagh’s naval officer exudes a quiet decency and heroism, a dedication to his job and duty to get the men to safety. Even im the face of danger he manages to keep his cool and even jokes with his army colleague over the other’s lack of sea knowledge.

But possibly the greatest hero here is Dawson played by Mark Rylance with simple nobility. Not only does he set out to help others but there is compassion in the way he handles Murphy’s shattered survivor.

When George asks if the soldier is a coward due to his behaviour Dawson replies that he is “not himself” before adding “he may never be himself again”. It’s a small moment that acknowledges the mental effects of war and hints at Dawson’s own experiences prior to this. 

This is an exceedingly well crafted war film with a cast which does great across the board, from old hands like Rylance and Branagh to the newcomers Styles and Whitehead. The dialogue, while sparse for much of the film, provides brief insigjt into the characters and the tense, relentless pace means that you’re locked in from start to finish. 

It manages to capture the big and small moments, while shying away from being overly sentimental or gung ho. The tone is handled well throughout and I was genuinely moved by the film. 

Verdict: An instant classic, Nolan delivers a masterpiece of war cinema. The ensemble cast do their jobs brilliantly across the board and the action sequences are amazing. 10/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Disney Classics #17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I remember reading the book this is based on in school, I think because the English department decided it would get them an easy day or two as they took us all to see the live action version. They could have saved themselves the hassle of a shepherding us on to buses and making sure none of us wandered off in Swansea by just sticking this on for a couple of lessons, as this is definitely the superior version.

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The story starts with narration from Pongo (Rod Taylor), who laments the bachelor life he finds dull and decides to find partners for himself and his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). From the window he spies Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her human companion Anita (Lisa Davis), and rushes out to win her over. This sequence is quite well done, with Pongo looking out the window at the passing canines and dismissing them for various reasons, which match with their owners, going along with the notion of owners looking like their dogs.

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After a short time Roger and Anita marry, and Perdita announces she is expecting puppies. The joy is slightly marred by the arrival of Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old schoolmate of Anita’s who is obsessed with furs, and delights in the pattern of the dogs’ coats. When Perdita delivers fifteen puppies, Cruella offers to buy them all, but Roger refuses.

Cruella De Vil is a great villain, a gaunt figure surrounded in noxious cigarette smoke. From her entrance at the wheel of a careening car, she is a dynamic, captivating presence and over the course of the movie she becomes increasingly dishevelled and unhinged as her mania takes over. The film’s most memorable song is the theme tune that Roger creates for her, detailing her wicked nature.

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Shortly after while the parents and their owners are out, two goons Jasper and Horace (J. Pat O’Malley and Frederick Worlock, respectively) trick their way into the house and steal the puppies. With the human police having no leads the dogs take the lead (unintentional pun) and get the word out through “the twilight bark” a method of relaying messages across the country.

One of the cool things about this sequence is that there’s a nice little easter egg for observant viewers, with several characters from Lady and the Tramp having little cameos.

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The chain yields results and the puppies, along with many others, are discovered. The message is sent back and Pongo and Perdita rush to the rescue.

The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure, with the courageous canines saving the puppies and then trying to avoid capture as they escape through the snow. The whole thing is quite pacy and there are a few tense moments as they try to escape. The action is slapstick in places, but it works far better in cartoon form, and watching it back I was impressed, with the movie holding up quite well.

It could do with a few more songs, and the goons are a little too bumbling for my tastes, but these minor quibbles aside this is a good adventure which has a certain charm.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #16: Sleeping Beauty

The third Disney Princess arrives to a suitable fanfare at the opening of this movie and the “hail to the Princess Aurora” song is irresistibly catchy. But the movie really kicks into gear with the arrival of Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), one of Disney’s best villains.

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I can’t think of another kids’ movie where the villain is such an overpowering presence, even in Disney flicks that include baddies like Ursula, Scar and Jafar, the heroes match up to them, but here the iconic image of the movie is Maleficent in her dark, regal glory.

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Stealing the show

Annoyed not to have been invited to the christening of the newborn, rocks up and curses her, possibly providing an insight into why she doesn’t get invited to parties. The curse? When the Princess is 16 she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Luckily good fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) steps in and changes the curse so it’s not death, but rather a deep sleep until true love’s kiss wakes her. Still, the King isn’t happy and burns every spinning wheel in the country, which seems a short sighted move as what will happen when people need new clothes? Also, you had sixteen years!

The good fairies, Merryweather and her sisters Flora and Fauna (Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen, respectively), match the King’s overreaction by kidnapping Aurora and going into hiding until her sixteenth birthday, renaming her Briar Rose. Unbelievably, as the big day approaches she is still hidden from Maleficent, because her minions have still been searching for a baby. How much more successful would Disney villains be if they hired better help?

Briar Rose (Mary Costa) now an adult goes into the forest as her three guardians plan to surprise her for her birthday, because apparently revealing that she’s a princess and that they are her kidnappers isn’t going to be enough to drop on the poor girl. While out she meets a handsome young man, who turns out to be Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), who is captivated by her singing (princes appear to have a major weakness for singers). They fall in love, neither knowing they’re actually already betrothed, and Phillip (named after Britain’s own Prince Phillip, fact fans) heads off to tell his dad that the arranged marriage is over, planning to return to Briar Rose.

The love story here is done quite well, and the sequence where the two meet and dance together to the glorious “Once Upon a Dream” is wonderfully charming. Sure, it feels rushed, but just go with the love at first sight conceit, and it’s rather sweet and well executed. At least there’s actual conversation here.

Unfortunately, despite not using magic for almost sixteen years, the fairies are useless practical skills like making a cake (even I can do that) and dress making (I’d struggle with that, admittedly), and resort to breaking out their wands. But this catches the eye of Maleficent’s raven sidekick Diablo, who raises the alarm.

I always loved this sequence as a kid, and it’s still very entertaining as the fairies make a pig’s ear of the whole situation. Throughout the movie the three fairies are good fun, bickering with each other and my three sisters each assigned themselves a different fairy.

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Briar Rose learns the truth and is taken to the castle, where she is bewitched by Maleficent and pricks her finger. At this point Maleficent adds to her evil stakes with some top quality gloating over her fallen foe before legging it.

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Maleficent gloats

Knowing that Merryweather has messed with her plans, she dispatches her minions to grab Phillip and take him prisoner.

The fairies work out that Phillip is the mysterious man Aurora mentioned and, put the entire kingdom to sleep and before setting off to rescue Phillip. At this point, Maleficent cements her place as a great villain with a truly evil plan- she’s not going to kill Phil, she’s going to keep him locked up until he’s old and allowing him to revive the still youthful Aurora. That’s delightfully vindictive.

The fairies save the Prince, and arm him. This is another of the movie’s strengths, in that Phillip is far more heroic than the other princess. He fights off the minions, and rides out to the rescue. And then he faces off against Maleficent who has transformed into a gigantic, menacing dragon.

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After slaying the dragon (Maleficent having made the classic mistake of getting caught doing a monologue), he gets to his girl and breaks the curse. And there was much rejoicing.

I used to love this as a kid, and watched it a fair few times, and I’m really happy with how well it holds up. It’s got action, romance and comedy, and benefits from a decent script and some solid characters. The three fairies and their rivalries stop them from being too goody goody, Phillip is a better hero than what had come before and then of course there’s Maleficent and her pure evil. Her imperious mannerisms and voice are fantastic, and it’s so much better that she has no back story. She’s evil. That’s what she is and we don’t need to know how she got this way.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.