Clone Wars (season 2)

clone wars s2 cover

Following straight on from the first season of this animation that bridges the gap between episodes II and III of the Star Wars saga, I found the second series to be a little more sure of itself. It’s also pretty dark for a ‘cartoon’, with scenes of torture and brain parasites taking over characters, just as for-instance. But, this is a war – clue’s in the name – and if nothing else it sets the whole thing up as a far more serious affair, and not just something for the kiddies.

I’ve never disliked Star Wars, but nor am I a rabid fan. It’s grown on me over the years, though – hence watching this, I suppose. Still, coming at it all from that kind of basis doesn’t make for the best viewing, as there’s just so much to miss. A revenge plot is based on a death I had to go look up – and, it’s in one of the first two movies. Oops, so much for paying attention! So if I’d ‘complain’ about anything it is that getting the most out of this series involves just that – paying attention. Not something I’m always known for with TV 😉

But, it does pay off. The depth of the overarching story is what, I start to gleam, gets some fans so enthralled with the whole thing – and for once it’s nice to take a peek behind that curtain. I’m impressed with how various things are pulled together – and annoyed that the main movies failed with so much of it.

We’re also seeing more of familiar faces like Anakin and Obi-Wan, making them into more rounded characters than the movies managed. Of course, the sense of danger is diminished knowing they go on to further films, but there are other, novel characters to fill that gap – and towards the end of the series, a bit of an origin story developing for a name even I recognised!

Another strength is probably how much is focused on the clones, the Stormtroopers. For the first time, this series finally gives them a sense of individuality and it’s all the better for it. Heck, there’s even a possible clue as to why they are such rubbish shots in later movies 😉

I’m very happy to push on with this. From Saturday morning telly-level fluff that the first series had hints of, this is heading for full-blown cinematic, deep delve story telling. I hope I can keep up! 🙂

First broadcast: 2009
Series: 2 (of 7)
Episodes: 23 @ ~22 mins each

My rating: 8/10

Trolls World Tour (2020)

trolls world tour poster

Following on from the surprise success of the even more surprisingly watchable and upbeat Trolls (2016), Poppy, Branch and the gang are back for more adventures. They’re joined by a new host of voice cameos, a paper thin plot, and the unenviable feat of making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. For, in these unprecedented days of COVID-19 and lockdown orders, TWT became one of the first movies to be released straight to streaming – which is fine, given the circumstances, but now has the distributor claiming it as such a huge success they plan to continue the practise, even when cinemas reopen. War may ensue…! o.O

All of which is a bit off topic, but also the most interesting thing about the movie – sorry! 😉

If you enjoyed the first one – and hey, no judgement: it was upbeat and happy and I did too – then there’s still a lot to like here. In fact, I hugely appreciated the lack of annoying Bergens, the whiny baddies from the first movie, in the cast list. Instead we discover along with Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) that her band of trolls are only one sub-species: Pop Trolls. Spread across the lands are the likes of Rock Trolls, Classical Trolls, Jazz Trolls – you get the drift. Once all were one big happy family, but then musical differences got in the way and the tribes were split. But now the Queen of the Hard Rock Trolls (because heavy metal is always ‘evil’, sigh) wants to bring everyone back together – and not in a good way.

The stereotypes for the different tribes were kind of fun, particularly the Country Trolls, and Poppy and Branch’s journey across the kingdoms does give rise to more lovely ‘patchwork’ scenery which I loved in the first movie. The quest mcguffin is daft, but the music is still the highlight, now in a few different flavours.

There’s not much more to say. It goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Kids will love it, parents will not love the price gouging going on. They might, however, enjoy the voice cameos by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Mary J Blige, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Rockwell. Overall, though, it’s a slightly bland remake that while offering much of the lightheartedness of the first movie, doesn’t really do anything worth raving about.

And still, it kind of fit the mood – happy and pointless was exactly what the current (inter)national stress levels probably need!

Released: 6th April 2020 (online)
Viewed: 17th April 2020
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6/10

Onward (2020)

onward poster

Once upon a time, there was magic in the world, a world populated by elves and pixies, mantacores and unicorns. But magic was hard, and folk found a way to make things easier – things like electricity, and the combustion engine.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday, his mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives him and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), a gift from their late father: a genuine magic staff. Knowing he was ill and dying, he wrote a spell that would allow him one last day with his sons, to see what kind of young men they’d grow into. When the spell goes a little awry, Ian and Barley set out on a quest that will test them both…

A Pixar movie is still an event worth seeing, and the added world building here really appealed to me – feral unicorns! Angry sprites! The whole fantasy-meets-reality element worked really well for me throughout, and allows for a gorgeous colour palette and plenty of whimsy.

The main strength, however, is the brotherly relationship between Ian and Barley (or, Spider-Man and Starlord…!). As the pair race to complete the spell in time to talk to their father, the emotion that both bring to the bond is hugely touching.

It’s a bit less ‘ta da!’ than say, Toy Story or Wall-e, all in all a rather more gentle kind of tale. But it has a great deal of heart, looks just lovely, and I’d say is well worth a look for children and grown ups alike.

Released: 6th March 2020
Viewed: 29th February 2020 (special previews)
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Clone Wars (season 1)

clone wars s1 poster

George Lucas’s prequel trilogy to Star Wars received mixed reviews. Dealing more with politics than space battles, there’s a lot of ‘history’ and story to pack into three movies. With so much left off-screen, there’s ample room for a series or seven to fill in – enter Clone Wars, the animated series set between episodes 2 and 3.

Episode II aka Attack of the Clones shows the events leading up to the Clone Wars. The Galactic Republic, newly endowed with a somewhat mysterious clone army, is battling the droid army of the Separatists. At this point there’s no confusion between good and bad, with the Jedi and the Senate up against Sith Lords such as Count Dooku, and any number of unpleasant dark allies.

There’s a lot to like about this series, especially for those who found the prequel trilogy a bit dull. It’s high on Saturday morning cartoon adventures, complete with a cheesy announcer at the start of each episode, given us a recap of where the overarching story is up to. Not that it matters too much, with each episode being a fairly self-contained mini-mission.

It all very definitely adds to the film series, giving us more time with characters that are perhaps not given quite enough development otherwise. In particular, we get to see Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi hero, glimpses of what we know is ahead but still very much a good guy, albeit impetuous. His relationship with Padme is allowed more space, too, taking away a bit of the creepy factor from the swift presentation of meeting-as-a-child, unwelcome declaration of love, through to sudden marriage.

We also get to see a lot more of Obi-Wan Kenobi, again as a Jedi general in his prime, as well as many other familiar faces, including Mace Windu, Yoda, and Jar Jar Binks. And it’s hugely interesting to see the Clones as individuals, not just the faceless Stormtroopers we’ll become more familiar with.

Each episode is just the right length to tell a sliver of story, and the animation is pretty good, highly stylised but fitting the material. In tone it’s far more like the original trilogy (so, eps 4-6) than the more po-faced 1-3 or dark angst of 7-9 (I assume, haven’t seen the last one yet!), full of joy of just telling pew pew stories across a galaxy full of different species and mechs and all sorts of things more interesting than trade blockades or emo bad guys. Ymmv, but I’m all for the fun 🙂

First broadcast: 2008
Series: 7
Episodes: 22 @ ~23 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10

Toy Story 4 (2019)

toy story 4 poster

When Bonnie – new owner of Woody, Buzz et al – makes herself a new toy to help with the first day of kindergarten, the gang end up spork-sitting the new guy, Forky. Traumatised with finding himself ‘alive’, he’s not so keen on sticking around which is a problem given how attached Bonnie has become. Keeping the two together becomes Woody’s new purpose, just as he’s struggling to adjust to no longer being the favourite, the toy in charge.

I neither dislike nor adore the Toy Story series. They’re sweet, they’re fun, but somehow they just don’t grab me the way they seem to affect others, or the way I loved the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy. As a result, I only saw TS3 last week, knowing I was going to this. And I was pleasantly surprised: it was lovely. It also felt like a fitting end to a series – so quite why we needed a fourth, I wasn’t sure.

Biggest praise, then, that this doesn’t ruin the whole series. It’s tough not to get drawn into the ‘lives’ of these toys, they are just so well realised. I mean, you know things are going to work out – it’s a ‘U’ rating! – but the tension gets you, and the emotion feels oddly genuine. And no spoiler, but I think this is definitely an ending, which stops it feeling pointless, even if it wasn’t strictly necessary.

I have just one complaint, and that’s around the baddie’s story. I can’t help but think that the kind of nasty, entitled behaviour displayed, the emotional manipulation, should never, ever be shown as being rewarded. It’s a poor message to send to kids, and the whole “Oh, but I never had the advantages you did so I deserve it” isn’t improving the matter. I was thoroughly disturbed to have all of this in a kids’ flick, to be honest. I mean, it was funny in Guardians of the Galaxy when Rocket asked, “But what if I want it more than the person who has it?” but here it’s just not amusing.

Sadly that really did spoil the whole thing for me a bit, and points off for that – although I suppose you could argue that it’s just the pure niceness of our regular cast that helps everyone, but still – big ick for me, personally.

Aside from that, though, it’s sweet and lovely, and a decent epilogue to the original trilogy rather than an essential piece of the story. It’s nice to see the old characters again, even if most only really get cameo-level roles in a busy cast roster. Newcomers like Duke Caboom (I failed to spot the voicing was Keanu Reeves!) add humour to avoid total saccharine levels, too.

If it doesn’t quite live up to the highs of the previous movies, well – that was always going to be a tough job. Kids will undoubtedly love it, and fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy.

Released: 21st June 2019
Viewed: 21st June 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10

The Lego Movie 2 (2019)

lego movie 2 poster

Five years have passed since the events of the first Lego Movie. But, the arrival of the Duplons from the Sis-tar system (geddit?) have left the formerly awesome world a wreck. Instead of a neat orderly town, we’re into Apocalyse-ville, and what can only be Mad Max Fury Road minifigs, I reckon!

With ‘Armomageddon’ looming, can Emmet save Lucy and the others from the Queen of the Sis-tar system? Can Emmet ever be as cool as new friend, Rex Dangervest? Will everything ever be awesome again?!?!?!

For the first five or so minutes of this, I thought “Oh no, I have made a terrible mistake!” So a lot of my review has to be coloured by sheer relief that it got a fair bit better! 😉

There is actually a solid moral to this story, which I won’t spoil, but along the way the in-jokes aren’t half bad. I – and the two other adults in the screening, I reckon! – laughed out loud at a Radiohead joke. Showing our age 😉 Other swipes include the fact that Disney/Marvel wouldn’t get involved this time, so we’re missing a host of characters that cameo’d in the first. Many of the jokes are at Chris Pratt’s other roles. It’s even self aware enough to poke fun at the fact that Emmet was the ‘hero’ of the first movie, despite Wyldstyle doing all the actual heroics…!

I rather liked the songs here – a good part of the movie’s humour from the lyrics – although ironically “This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head” didn’t manage to oust the remix of Everything is Awesome – or, not awesome, now, which is quite frankly a bit more valid to life than I was expecting from a movie like this!

It’s not a must-see, in my view, but a better sequel to a daft yet cult movie than I was expecting – especially in those opening few minutes 😉

Released: 8th February 2019
Viewed: 23rd March 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

How to Train Your Dragon 3 poster

The How to Train Your Dragon series has possibly my favourite animated character ever in Toothless the Dragon. His half-dog/cat type behaviour backed up by y’know, fire breathing, is just adorable. The humour in the rest of the set up, from Hiccup the very non-Viking-y brainiac chief’s son, the often dozy dragon riders with all their amusing foibles, not to mention an absolutely fab vocal cast, all make these films very worth watching, whatever your age.

With a third instalment, largely I tend to just hope it won’t tarnish the memory. I wasn’t expecting this to possibly be the best movie of the three!

One strength is how well the story continues with events, rather than just being A.N. Other adventure. We’ve seen Hiccup and Toothless meeting for the first time, we’ve followed the Vikings go from dragon-haters to dragon riders. And we’ve seen Hiccup grow up a little, not least as the mantle of chief is thrust upon him.

It makes sense, from the previous two stories, to open with Berk now a dragon haven but also drawing all the wrong kind of attention from those who still haven’t embraced the new human-dragon partnership model. And so the adventure here starts very logically, with Hiccup looking for a way to protect his new friends – even if that means chasing the impossible trying to find a mythical Hidden World.

I absolutely loved this film, even more than expected. I thought a bit of cute would suit a Friday night, but instead I was deeply moved at some parts, laughed out loud at others, and was overall impressed with the action. This is a fantastic animation, and a nigh-on perfect ending to the trilogy.

Toothless is still very much my favourite 🙂

Released: 1st February 2019
Viewed: 1st February 2019
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

into the spider verse poster

Spider-Man has never been my favourite super hero. In fact, it’s probably telling that I own all the Marvel movies except Homecoming. I dunno, maybe it’s the teenage thing, or my lack of love for arachnids, or – probably – that we’ve heard the same story again and again and again: poor Uncle Ben, with great power, yadda yadda.

One of the smartest moves this new movie makes is poking gentle fun at this repetition of the origin story. It also has a fabulous animation style that harks back to the comic books source, and looks amazing. Add in a ton of action, plenty of humour (Peter Porker?!), and plenty of emotion in the story line, and by jove this is the best Spider-Man movie ever! 🙂

When Wilson Fisk – aka the Kingpin – builds a dimensional portal, he plans to bring his dead family through. Of course, things don’t go to plan and instead we end up with multiple Spider-People. From Peter B Parker, a washed-up, older Spider-Man, to Spider-Gwen, a black and white retro Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicholas Cage)… and that pig. And an anime version! My only vague confusion was that we start out in a universe with two Spider-Men: Peter Parker, and the newcomer, Miles Margoles. Miles has issues in his life, sure, but he’s more interesting and less whiny than previous origin-story incarnations, and I liked him as the main character.

Most of all, though, I loved the animation style. It takes a moment to realise that the blurry backgrounds are aping the comic books, but it’s a nicely fresh thing to see on the big screen. It also matches the multi-dimensional madness that the story lands up in.

I might be converted to not being so meh about Spider-Man!

Released: 12th December 2018
Viewed: 28th December 2018
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8.5/10

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

ralph breaks the internet poster

Several years have passed since the events of Wreck It Ralph (2012), and the title character is happy in his routine of working in his game and hanging out in the Tapper bar room with his best friend, Vanellope. She, however, is finding the repetition a little stifling – so when the arcade gets wifi, the chance of an adventure in the internet is a welcome adventure. What could possibly go wrong?!

I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel – possibly more than the original. The story follows well, but what really lifted it for me was the pop culture nods, from social media to Disney’s greatest. The scenes in the Disney online experience tickled me immensely – from the Princesses as seen in the trailer, to Stormtrooper guards, and omg Groot…! 🙂

The actual story, about clingy friendships and learning to let go, is more than adequate as an underpinning to the real fun of seeing Ralph join in with meme culture. Recommended slice of family fun.

Released: 30th November 2018
Viewed: 21st December 2018
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Incredibles 2 (2018)

incredibles 2 poster

Fourteen years after the first movie – beloved by many, although I was just “Yeah, that was fun” (and as such am a bit hazy on the details!) – the Parr family are back. Even more in hiding than the first film, things are not going so well for them, until a billionaire tycoon throws his money behind a scheme to bring Supers back into legality. The only thing is, he wants Elastigirl aka mom Helen to be the face of the campaign, leaving Mr Incredible aka dad Bob, literally holding the baby.

The gender-switch roles is probably what brings this movie into reasonable modern times, and it’s pretty funny to watch Bob struggle and pretty ace to see the mother rekindling her sense of worth outside that role. From a cartoon. However, the real joy – for me, at least – was the scenes of baby Jack-Jack finally finding his powers, as teased in the post-credit scene from the original movie.

I also think Edna Mode is one of my all-time favourite animated characters, so was a little disappointed that she’s in this so briefly – with some fabulous scenes with Jack-Jack, though, so all is forgiven 🙂 Likewise, the Samuel L Jackson voiced Frozone could have been in it more for my liking.

Since the release of The Incredibles back in 2004, there has been an absolute explosion of superheroes at the cinema, in live action format. So, does Incredibles 2 still have a place? Well, yes: it was a lot of fun, and makes some relevant points without trying too hard. That said, there’s nothing desperately new or fresh about the story line, which doesn’t stray too far from the original overall. It must be impossible to come up with novel ideas for superpowers these days, too.

Overall this is a decent movie with plenty of fun to be had. The kids can love it, the grown ups can too, and it both stands alone and makes for a sequel that was actually worth making. Recommended.

Released: 13th July 2018
Viewed: 13th July 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10