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CHILD’S PLAY?

I went to see two prominent children’s films over the last couple of weeks so I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two in terms of approach and assessing whether they work.
First is Puss In Boots, a spin-off of Dreamworks’ successful Shrek animated movies featuring the swamp’s most likeable character. Voice talent Antonio Banderas returns as the ginger swashbuckling cat in a tale (pardon the pun) that gives us his origin story. Director Chris Miller throws the eponymous hero in a story that owes a lot to Jack and The Beanstalk with his partner in crime Humpty Dumpty, a fellow fairytale orphan who betrayed Puss years ago and seemingly wants to set things right. Voiced by The Hangover‘s Zach Galifianakis, Humpty has an accomplice, Kitty Softpaws (Penelope Cruz), who is a very talented cat thief. So they decide to steal Jack and Jill’s magic beans to allow them to reach the giant’s castle. The film is a clever pastiche of classic westerns and obviously things like Zorro and Miller has a deft hand for action and character. There is chemistry between Banderas and Cruz (not the first time they’ve collaborated) and Zach Galifianakis acquits himself pretty well as do Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as Jack and Jill. The 3D animation works nicely and visually Puss In Boots looks lavish and cinematic. Now that Shrek has been retired from the big screen, expect to see more outings from the ginger furry lothario. Puss In Boots is an enjoyable, occasionally smart and very likeable mainstream animated feature…
Hugo, based on illustrated book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is director Martin Scorsese’s first foray into children’s films. The Hugo of the title is an orphan who lives in the works of a fictional Paris train station, making sure that the clocks run on time, who has spent a number of years trying to unravel the mystery of his father’s untimely death. His life appears to change when he meets curmudgeonly watch seller Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his young charge Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). It’s a very strange film: it starts life as an epic mystery seemingly about Hugo’s father (played by Jude Law) and an automaton that he was obsessed with and then changes tack and direction about halfway through. It is being shown in 3D but the 3D doesn’t add a lot to proceedings except when Scorsese is showing off the inner workings of the station. Asa Butterfield as Hugo is very good on screen but Moretz tries far too hard as she plays against her usual type. Kingsley is excellent: rather than chewing the scenery and the script as he usually does, he underplays what is arguably the pivotal role here, and you do feel genuine sympathy for him. The cast is a bit of a mixed bag: Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector with a clockwork leg, shows that he isn’t an actor, merely a comic turn but a small cameo from Christopher Lee as the sinister-looking Monsieur Labisse at the grand age of 89 makes you wish they did more with the character. Stepping outside of Scorsese’s comfort zone of gangsters and killers doesn’t quite work as some of Hugo feels very artificial but it is still a very charming film with mostly a strong cast and some well-excecuted ideas. It isn’t as creatively successful a kid’s film as Tintin but at a time when Hollywood blockbusters usually consist of giant robots beating the shit out of each other or meteorites destroying the Earth, there is something refreshing about what is such a nostalgic affair. Hugo passes two hours very pleasantly indeed and will do decently at the box office for cinemagoers looking for something a little bit different to the usual fare…

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