A week in film – 2016, week 31

Some weeks lend themselves more to a theme than others. Last week worked pretty solidly along the lines of ‘I haven’t had time to watch anything other than a single episode of Friday Night Lights, so let me talk about teen drama for 400 words’. This week, which is slightly more populated with films, works on a theme too: children’s cinema. And what a week it has been.

I got to start proceedings with one of my enduring favourites and go-to films in times of stress. How To Train Your Dragon, while not quite reaching The Lion King levels of traumatic conjured up by its sequel, is a brilliant film. I’m not just saying that because I like dragons (though I do, and it helps), but because it’s such a warm-hearted and beautiful-looking 98 minutes. The animated landscape of Berk is so vivid; fantastical and realistic all at once. The plot might contain the fairly standard kids’ movie fare – conflict, friendship against the odds, family drama – but it’s so nicely done, with a big smile on its face, that I can’t help but love it. So much.

Speaking of other Dreamworks classics – Shrek is also really good. I probably haven’t seen it since about ten years ago when I was much less discerning and almost certain to have watched it a tonne on VHS (yep, VHS. We owned Shrek on VHS) regardless of how good it actually was. Still, it’s comforting to know that the film I liked a lot as a kid is actually a pretty great film. In fact, as we watched it we deemed it a modern classic – though I think that’s Tumblr’s influence talking through us – and had a lengthy discussion about Shrek partly defying the laws of sequels (the second one is tonnes better, and we don’t talk about the third and fourth). It’s got a tonne of jokes, half of which are for grown-ups, and I’d forgotten how properly funny it is. I mean, try to watch the Muffin Man sequence without laughing. I dare you. Shrek is great.

Then there’s Zootropolis, which came out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, and which might be one of my favourite films of the year. It might even be my favourite film of the year. It might not be the most highbrow of choices, but like hell do I care: Zootropolis is one of the most desperately charming films I have ever seen. All Judy Hopps wants is to be a police officer, despite everyone she ever meets insisting that she can’t be. She tackles adversity with optimism, criticism with hopefulness, and it is heartwarming and adorable and I love every minute of it. It helps that the animation is gorgeous – Zootropolis is made up of Tundratown, Sahara Square, the Rainforest District, and Savannah Central, all of which are beautifully visualised – but it’s not the be all and end all in this. It’s the theme of inclusivity, delicately played and all too important, and the smart, witty screenplay which makes it. The voice cast is excellent. Honestly, I can’t imagine how I’m going to see something I enjoy more in the rest of 2016.

Then there are the two outliers which don’t fit into the theme at all, but bear mentioning. I’ve been working on introducing The West Wing into people’s lives slowly but surely, and I’m getting there – which is why I’ve watched the first two episodes of the first series this week. I bang on about The West Wing almost constantly so it seems mad to do it again, but those first two episodes start so strongly that it’s hard not to celebrate it. President Bartlet has one of the finest entrances of all time. Then there’s the first episode of Absolutely Fabulous, watched very late on Friday night and not quite funny enough for the time. I’ve seen the first series of Ab Fab a lot for some reason, but I fully admit that it’s insanely dated by now (it’s older than I am) and the jokes have worn a little thin by this point. Still, while it hasn’t got me rushing out to see Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, there is still a degree of affection for that show, if not its fairly loathsome characters – and Joanna Lumley’s Patsy will never not be entertaining.

I already know that I’m also continuing the theme – slightly – into next week (I’m about to go and see Finding Dory, marking a debut outing for the Cineworld Unlimited black card burning a hole in my purse). It is far too much fun to stop indulging my inner child yet.

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