Tag Archives: Animation

Frozen

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Elsa’s magical abilities with snow and ice come at the heavy price of loneliness for her and younger sister Anna. When Elsa’s coronation results in the revelation of her secret, she flees, causing a perpetual winter that paralyses the kingdom of Arendelle. Anna must use all of her resourcefulness, and seek help from some strange companions, to find her newly-free sibling.

Like most sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses of Arendelle, love playing with each other; however, Anna has special reason to love Elsa, as the older girl can magic up snow and ice from her hands at will. An accident injures Anna and although she’s healed by mountain trolls (who also remove her memories of Elsa’s gift), the King and Queen are scared enough to close their castle gates and separate Elsa from Anna. Even the loss of the parents doesn’t reunite the girls, with Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) reaching out to Elsa (Idina Menzel) only to be rebuffed.

Coronation day arrives and Anna can’t wait to meet people, while Elsa can only repeat the mantra ‘conceal, don’t feel’ in an attempt to control her growing powers. Anna meets the handsome prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and they seize the moment by agreeing to marry; Elsa, however, refuses to give her blessing and, as Anna argues, Elsa’s magic bursts out, plunging Arendelle into a freezing winter. Elsa flees to the mountains to embrace her freedom, while Anna races after her, forced to lean on ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his friendly reindeer Sven for support; they encounter charmingly naïve snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) on the way. Surely Hans will only think of Anna’s well-being as he assumes control of Arendelle on her behalf? And surely learning of Arendelle’s plight will be enough to bring Elsa back to make things right?

There are so many pleasures, great and small, to be found in Frozen that it’s tempting to do nothing but list the good stuff. More than anything, the characters really live in both the excellent vocal work and expressive animation, from fretful Elsa and the wonderfully optimistic Anna – estranged sisters with thoroughly believable emotions – to surly Kristoff and too-good-to-be-true Hans, plus the fascinating quirks of Olaf and minor players such as Wandering Oaken and the Duke of Weselton.

The screenplay for the most part treads exactly the right path, providing laughs, scares and (forgive me, no other phrase will do) heart-warming entertainment that can truly be enjoyed by all ages, bolstered by witty and tuneful songs. The climax in particular provides high-quality drama, with a novel denouement that subverts the traditions of resolution through ‘true love’, supplying a message without being at all heavy-handed.

Frozen is amusing, moving, thrilling and charming by turns, and then – of course – it has its Big Moment. Let it Go is the showstopper to end all showstoppers, a stirring, powerful number that begins with Elsa’s despair and builds – lyrically, musically and visually – to a defiant statement of self-empowerment. It’s really that good, and if it doesn’t quite have the bounce of the similarly-themed Hakuna Matata or the warmth of Beauty and the Beast’s main theme, a billion girls and boys will tell you that it’s as catchy as hell.

All of which said, as someone who’s seen Wicked, it would be remiss not to mention Let it Go’s relationship to that musical’s Big Moment, Defying Gravity. I don’t think you could reasonably accuse the writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez of copying Stephen Schwartz’s music or lyrics; but there is a definite sense that both songs are serving exactly the same self-affirmative purpose within the larger piece. How much this sense is driven by Idina Menzel’s soaring voice, and how much by conscious decisions on where the story should go, is anyone’s guess.

Futhermore, while it’s not the case that the song is too good for the rest of the movie, Let it Go certainly casts a long shadow over the remaining musical numbers: Olaf’s In Summer is good fun but comes at a point where the film doesn’t need to stop for yet another song, while Fixer Upper has a host of issues. Musically, it’s a strange, frenetic mixture of gospel, show tune, all kinds of chord changes and everything bar the kitchen sink; and its (perfectly decent) lyrics and upbeat tone are at complete odds with what’s happening to Anna, as demonstrated by the jarring gear shift as soon as it finishes. Frozen could easily be 10-15 minutes shorter without losing anything of real significance.

I’m not too keen on the duets (if that’s the term) where Anna and Elsa are singing their own lines in the same song either, but that’s by comparison with great examples such as The Confrontation in Les Mis.

I do have other nits to pick – specifically, I’m not convinced by Kristoff being ‘adopted’ by the trolls (where were his parents?) – but these have to be seen in the context of an overwhelmingly positive experience, and one which (amazingly) doesn’t pall on repeat viewings. Weary adults may feel the need to pop out of the room from time to time, but in general you’d have to have a cold, cold heart not to get a kick out of Frozen.

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

WFTB Score: 13/20

The plot: Inventor Wallace and his trusty assistant dog Gromit protect the villagers’ prized vegetables from rabbits with their Anti-Pesto business. Wallace tries to re-programme the bunnies’ minds but accidentally unleashes an even more powerful threat to the village. Can the pair save the veg and win the day? And will Wallace win the heart of the beautiful lady Tottington, also the target of manic hunter Victor Quartermaine?

The first and last Wallace and Gromit film to be produced by Dreamworks, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a very British film, perhaps explaining why it got a good-but-not-great reception in America, despite its Oscar nod. The film sees the resourceful master-and-dog team from the North of England trusted with care over their village’s vegetables, kept in pristine condition for a prestigious contest to be held at Tottington Hall; but in a loving pastiche of (again mostly British) horror films, a ravenous monster casts a big bunny-shaped shadow over the village as, every full moon, it decimates the crop, much to the dismay and anger of the residents. As Wallace and Gromit attempt to track down the accursed Were-Rabbit, with bloodthirsty Victor Quartermaine and his bulldog Phillip in tow, strange things start happening to Wallace, and not just because he has fallen in love with the lovely ‘Lady Totty.’

Curse of the Were-Rabbit does a number of things extremely well. Importantly, both Wallace and Gromit retain their charm, the plot thankfully not calling them away from cosy English pursuits. As ever, the attention to detail is astonishing, with Gromit’s expressions particularly telling; the number of little jokes going on in the background also makes the film extremely watchable. Also, just like Shaun the Sheep in previous adventure A Close Shave, the rabbits that Anti-Pesto catch are both funny and cute, especially in the way they wave.

The best compliment you can give to the animation is that you constantly forget that it is animation. Credit for this must not only go to Nick Park, as ever, but also to the cast, led by Peter Sallis as Wallace, with support from Helena Bonham-Carter as Lady Totty and Ralph Fiennes as Victor. Sallis’ voice fits the part perfectly, making it perfectly clear who is the brains of the operation (ie. not him!).

On the downside, the plot leaves the film with a few less successful elements. Firstly, Wallace’s mind-altering machine calls for the introduction of computer-generated effects – not a major issue but a departure from previous Aardman techniques. Secondly, in turning Wallace into the Were-Rabbit (not perhaps the best idea to begin with), the machine creates a second half-rabbit, half-Wallace creation called Hutch. In tank top and slippers, Hutch has the potential to be a fun character, but although he inherits Wallace’s passions for inventing and cheese, he is seemingly unable to think for himself, merely repeating catchphrases at a higher pitch. And just when you might think Hutch will come in most useful, his part in reviving Wallace amounts solely to reminding Gromit about cheese. It feels as though an idea has only been partially executed, leaving Hutch as a bit of an oddity on the sidelines.

In the midst of the rest of the ideas The Curse of the Were-Rabbit brings to the table, however, this is a minor complaint. Hutch apart, the new characters are effective and delightfully realised, and there is more than enough action to please viewers of any age: in particular, the scene where Phillip chases Gromit, both in small biplanes, in a literal dogfight is a masterful piece of comedy and animation which I would challenge anyone not to enjoy. It’s a lovely family film, though by no means flawless, and its peculiar brand of Englishness (and therefore limited international appeal) is something to be celebrated by all but the most money-minded studio bosses.

Tangled

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Rapunzel gazes out of her tower, dreaming of visiting the bright lights of the faraway city. Her mother is full of horror stories about the outside world, but the intervention of charismatic thief Flynn Rider is about to turn all their worlds upside-down. Armed with only a frying pan, a pet chameleon called Pascal and her good nature, Rapunzel embarks on a series of hair-raising adventures, leaving the increasingly interested Flynn in her wake.

Once upon a time…a beautiful blonde baby princess is snatched away from the king and queen by the evil Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), who has discovered that the girl’s hair can keep her eternally at the same age as long as it remains uncut. Nearly eighteen years later, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is kept secluded in a tower, free only to hoist her ‘mother’ up with her insanely long hair, and gaze on the royal city which, on her birthday, sends a host of bright lanterns into the sky.

Gothel firmly forbids Rapunzel from leaving the tower so it’s handy that while she’s out, smooth-talking thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) drops by, hiding from fellow rogues the Stabbington twins and dedicated palace horse Maximus. With some less-than-subtle negotiation, Rapunzel persuades Flynn to take her – and chameleon Pascal, of course – to the city in exchange for his swag; though he fully intends to take full advantage of her naïvete, as the trip progresses he starts to see that there’s more to ‘Blondie’ than first meets the eye.

Though it’s probably best to ignore the internal Disney entanglements behind Tangled – it’s CGI but not Pixar, and overseen by John Lasseter – it feels as though many, many strands have been woven together to create the film. The Grimm fairytale is Classic Disney fodder, as are the expressive animal sidekicks, while the generally pleasing Alan Menken tunes recall more recent successes such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. The script (like so much modern animation) takes its irreverent cues from Shrek, and the whizzo technical stuff that all computer animation has nowadays is suitably impressive, even in 2D: Rapunzel’s hair, whether glowing or merely flowing, is a wondrous thing to behold.

In many respects, this is quite enough to keep Tangled going. Moore’s Rapunzel is a feisty heroine and her dynamic with the not-as-objectionable-as-he-first-appears Flynn/Eugene develops nicely, even if the real stars of the show are clearly Pascal and especially Maximus, the great horse detective. Gothel is a suitably evil (fake) mother, too.

The action is kinetic (if obviously built around the 3D) and the gentler parts work particularly well, most noticeably in three set-pieces: firstly, the very funny I’ve Got a Dream with the reprobates of the Snuggly Duckling tavern; secondly, the uplifting ‘Kingdom Dance’; and shortly after, the magnificent lighting of the lanterns. Like Beauty and the Beast’s rose, the lanterns are more than objects; they are symbols, in this case tens of thousands of symbols of hope that the princess will return to her parents. Even though I know the scene leans heavily on BatB’s famous ballroom scene, and even though the recognition of Rapunzel and Flynn’s love overloads the significance of it all, and even though I see the Light isn’t up there with the best of Menken’s songs, I was moved to tears by the spectacle of it all. Tragic, maybe: but the day I stop having emotional reactions to films is the day I stop watching them forever.

Which isn’t to say I was charmed by everything Tangled had to offer. Because it takes inspiration from lots of other animation, there’s something inorganic and faintly calculated about the way the film is assembled. I wasn’t enamoured with Dan Fogelman’s script, which was evidently tailored for teenagers, or tweenagers, rather than younger children or a universal audience. Not that there’s anything offensive or inappropriate in it, but the plot is classic teenage angst – ‘I totally heart this boy and my mother doesn’t understand’ – and the jokes are mostly of the snippy, smart-talking variety.

There’s also some rather dodgy plot mechanics in evidence, when Gothel and the Stabbingtons have Rapunzel and Flynn at their mercy but let them escape because of some supposed greater plan. What troubled me most, however, was the fact that – for all the incredible (and incredibly expensive) work done on CGI hair, water, lanterns and what have you, the modelling of the human characters is, to my eyes, unattractive. Gothel is, of course, meant to have an evil look about her, but it’s not that; it’s more that she and Rapunzel have disconcertingly large eyes which, instead of adding to the emotion of the characters’ expressions, can become isolated from the rest of the face. Technically amazing though they are, and beautiful though the rest of the film undoubtedly is, its people lack the charm of hand-drawn characters like Snow White or the animals in The Lion King.

Slick, swish and – a few lovely highlights apart – somewhat soulless, Tangled passes a pleasant ninety minutes for adults and children alike without presenting anything new or exciting, unless you’re intrigued by the intricacies of convincingly animating 40 ft of hair. I enjoyed Tangled, some bits very much, but I’m not sure Disney want my abiding memory of their 50th animated feature to be of people with big Beanie Baby eyes – and a funny horse.

The Lion King

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Protected by his doting father Mufasa, lion cub Simba looks over the Pridelands with excitement, knowing that one day he will become ruler of all he sees. However, Simba’s jealous uncle Scar callously usurps the throne, sending the rightful heir into exile full of panic and guilt. Simba makes new friends and carves out a new untroubled life, but a familiar face or two make him aware of his rights and responsibilities.

From their vantage point of Pride Rock, regal lions Mufasa and Sarabi (voiced by James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair) present their first-born son Simba to their respectful subjects – zebras, giraffes, hippos and so on. Not everyone is delighted by the new arrival, however; Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) resents being pushed down the line of succession, and tricks the young, impetuous cub (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a child, Matthew Broderick as an adult) and his lioness friend Nala (Niketa Calame/Moira Kelly) into visiting the dangerous elephants’ graveyard, the lair of savage hyaenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings). Alerted by his fussy majordomo, hornbill Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), Mufasa rescues the youngsters, but the incident sparks an idea in Scar’s mind. He places Simba in the path of a buffalo stampede, then sets up Mufasa for a fatal fall and lays all the blame on the distraught cub.

Simba flees and grows up trying to forget about his past, aided by easy-living pals Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), a tuneful meerkat and warthog combo; but reminders are never far away, especially when Nala turns up with dreadful tales of Scar and the hyaenas’ desecration of the Pridelands, soothsaying Baboon Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) hot on her heels. Will Simba confront his own guilt – and his treacherous uncle?

Although Disney are naturally upbeat about their movies, many of which are (apparently) timeless ‘Classics’ as soon as they’re released, even the most sycophantic of supporters would concede that films such as The Black Cauldron and Oliver and Company did little to enhance their reputation in the 1980s. However, the decade ended with The Little Mermaid and the impetus provided by its success snowballed into Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The majestic gathering of the animals with which the film starts can only have been made by people who absolutely love animation, and the rest of the film aims for equal levels of excellence.

Famously, The Lion King was the first Disney animation to feature no humans, and it’s all the better for it; the characters are beautifully animated, combining just the right amounts of cartoon cutesiness and animal grace. They are given vocal talents to match, too: the wonderful rich tones of James Earl Jones, the weary sarcasm of Irons, the buffoonish blustering of Atkinson, the arch wisecracks from Lane, the sinister menace from Goldberg.

The script is full of smart little jokes, especially for Timon and Zazu (his interrupted rendition of ‘It’s a Small World’ is a lovely little in-joke), but the overall feel is grand, epic, the tale of a great tradition. The film is sincere about the circle of life, in ecological terms (Mufasa’s speech about Antelopes eating the grass) as well as hierarchical, Mufasa and Simba being from a line of kings who rule to keep the land in balance. And on top of all that, the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are mostly of high quality* and are backed up by Hans Zimmer and Lebo M’s evocative, African-tinged score.

If there are nits to be picked, they are largely down to matters of personal preference which others will say act in the film’s favour. The Lion King is not exactly over-burdened with plot, and what there is plays out as a junior-school reduction of Hamlet (ie. taking out the incest, contemplation of suicide, and the possibility of Nala going mad and drowning herself in the watering hole). Which is fine, but older viewers may just yearn for something a tad meatier – although the climax is brilliant and provides as much drama as you could possibly ask for.

And some may take issue with The Lion King’s philosophical stance. I wouldn’t call it fascistic by any stretch, but it is interesting to contrast The Lion King with the equally charming Babe: one says that you’re born into a role and that you’re letting yourself and others down if you deviate from it, by (for example) adopting the dropout philosophy of ‘Hakuna Matata’; the other says that your status at birth shouldn’t hold you back from changing your life as you see fit. I’m not suggesting that these competing philosophies are writ large on the screen, or that they have any bearing on the quality of either movie: but the messages are there and are worth pondering.

Anyway, if little of this seems like a review of the movie, it’s because The Lion King is simply a marvellous film with so much to recommend it that niggles over a lack of complexity or originality** only act as slightly dull spots which boost the shine of the whole. Funny, moving and beautifully brought to life, I definitely feel the love for one of Disney’s genuine classics.

NOTES: 1The ‘Special Edition’ loses a point for the reinstatement of ‘Morning Report’. It was obviously not good enough to be the first song of the film proper, so why inflict it on us now?

2The Japanese animation Jungle Emperor/Kimba the White Lion never made it over to Britain, so I couldn’t possibly make any comparisons. I have, however, seen a few Youtube clips which are, let’s say, interesting. As the teacher says, there is no new thing under the sun…

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: When cartoon prop-provider Marvin Acme is murdered, suspicion falls upon Roger Rabbit, clumsy Toon and jealous husband of voluptuous chanteuse Jessica. Brought in to take incriminating photos of Marvin and Jessica, private dick Eddie Valiant has personal reasons for ignoring Roger’s desperate pleas for help; however, something about the case – most importantly Acme’s missing will – lures Valiant away from the bottle and into the path of the terrifying Judge Doom.

It’s 1947, Tinseltown’s Golden Age of animation; cartoon stars like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) work cheek by jowl with the humans and live a short ride away in nearby Toontown. Once upon a time, private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) was a reliable pal of the Toons, but since one of their number dropped a piano on his brother Teddy’s head, he’s steered clear of them to concentrate on boozing his life away, much to the dismay of sometime ladyfriend Dolores (Joanna Cassidy).

So it’s with little enthusiasm that Eddie accepts a job from studio boss R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to tail Roger’s comely wife Jessica (Betsy Brantley’s movements, Kathleen Turner when speaking and Amy Irving when singing Why Don’t You Do Right?) to see if she’s playing around with Toontown’s owner Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye); and even though he’s knocked out by Jessica’s seductive allure, Eddie takes little pleasure in passing on photos of the pair playing pattycake.

The next day, Acme turns up dead and the finger points at Roger, making him a target for Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), an intimidating lawmaker with a gang of vicious weasels and barrels full of Toon-erasing ‘dip’ that he’s itching to use. Initially, Roger’s pleas to Eddie to help fall on deaf ears; but Roger’s such an unlikely murderer that the detective starts asking questions, especially about Jessica’s part in the crime. He needs answers fast, because by midnight Toontown will belong to the shadowy Cloverleaf Industries – unless Acme’s missing will turns up and reveals the rightful inheritors.

Let’s get the easy bits out of the way first. Firstly, whether you’re nostalgic about the cartoons or not, it’s such a joy to see so many famous characters sharing the same screen that the odd omission – no Popeye? – hardly matters. From Fleischer studios we have Betty Boop; from Tex Avery, Droopy; from Walter Lantz, Woody Woodpecker; from Warner Bros’ Looney Tunes there’s a host: Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and cameos from the likes of Tweety Pie and Yosemite Sam; and there’s naturally a generous complement of Disney’s finest, including Mickey Mouse, Dumbo, several Dwarves and most of the cast of Fantasia. Although (as I’ve said elsewhere) I have no particular affection for Mickey or his friends, it would be foolish to ignore their vital place in animation history; furthermore, the sequence between Donald and Daffy Duck is a brilliant reminder of what cartoons can do at their best.

Secondly, the film is assembled with great skill. Films combining animation and live action are far from new, of course – Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks come to mind – but Roger Rabbit takes the concept to new levels of interaction, using puppetry to move solid objects around in a pleasingly three dimensional way (though some computer wizardry is no doubt used here, another year or two and the whole thing would’ve been done with soulless CGI). There’s also a lovely contrast when Valiant visits Toontown and becomes the sole ‘real’ character in a crazy cartoon world.

Hoskins is perfectly cast as Valiant, heavyweight enough to convince as a world-weary private eye (a beautifully economical sweep of the office fills us in on his past), yet nimble enough to play the clown when necessary, while Lloyd makes for a terrifying Judge Doom and Cassidy provides a robust love interest. Mel Blanc is thankfully on hand to provide Bugs and co. with their voices, while Kathleen Turner oozes danger and passion as Jessica, not least in the immortal line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way”. Charles Fleischer makes Roger an endearingly screwy optimist, though you might argue that he’s close to being sidelined in his own movie.

So what’s not to like? Well, there’s the tricky issue of the film’s tone. Who Framed Roger Rabbit leans heavily on corruption movies such as Gilda and Chinatown, and while this movie isn’t as brutal as the latter, it’s certainly not without violence – and I don’t just mean the cartoon violence dished out to Roger by Baby Herman. Maroon gets shot in the back – twice – while Doom’s execution of a cute cartoon shoe, leaving the Judge with a blood-red glove, is so disturbing that it’s always cut from television broadcasts.

More troubling, perhaps, is Jessica’s irrepressible sensuality; it’s natural for a cartoon to emphasise prominent features, but Jessica’s body shape and sultry manner are not exactly kiddie-friendly (Baby Herman, not a character I particularly like, also makes a tasteless sexual joke). She was certainly too hot for Disney, who shifted the film to its Touchstone division because of its risqué content.

On the whole, though, the movie gets it right: better to anticipate a discerning audience (and let TV cut bits out if they wish) than play safe and have the film turn out twee and saccharine; who says cartoons have to be for kids anyway? However, parents of younger children charmed by Roger’s inoffensiveness should be aware that the film has a few distinctly adult moments, Lloyd’s intense performance in particular containing plenty of nightmare fuel.

Much more than just a work of technical prowess, Who Framed Roger Rabbit stands as a loving tribute to Hollywood animation, with a decent film noir story and some surprisingly adult elements. Time only adds to its reputation: subsequent failures Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action have proven how tricky it can be to get live-action/animation movies right. Personally, I think it’s a shame that Robert Zemeckis has moved on to working with motion-capture; Roger Rabbit may be overly scary and overtly sexy at times, but most of Polar Express is a lot more disturbing than this funny and exciting offering.

Shrek 2

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Shrek and his new bride Fiona are summoned to Far, Far Away to meet the in-laws. Finding his daughter disagreeably green, the king plots to do away with Shrek and, for his own reasons, install Prince Charming as a replacement husband; Shrek will need help from more than his faithful donkey if true love is going to win out this time.

The original Shrek became a massive hit not because it looked fabulous, taking computer animated feature films to a new level, but because it was really, really good; it took the conventions of fairytale storytelling and turned them on their head, with feisty heroes and heroines that lacked the pert noses and chiselled chins of a hundred Disney princes and princesses, and a smart script that satisfied children and adults alike. Best of all, the happy ending was true to the spirit of the film, Shrek and Fiona’s wedding tying up all the loose ends very nicely indeed.

Unfortunately for Dreamworks, the ending had to be unknotted a little when it became clear that a sequel would make the studio pots of money was artistically in the best interests of all concerned. Once again the animation is terrific, and there’s nothing wrong with the set-up, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey (voiced again by Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy respectively) travelling to the Hollywood-like Far, Far Away to meet the King and Queen (John Cleese and Julie Andrews); but once there, the plot becomes complicated very quickly, with the King in hock to Jennifer Saunders’ Fairy Godmother, who demands that her self-narrating son (eh?) Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) should be Fiona’s real husband. Meanwhile, the bad-tempered introduction to the family causes friction between Shrek and Fiona, the ogre reading his wife’s diary and coming to the conclusion that he may not be her ideal husband.

Marital strife doesn’t sound like everyone’s idea of fun, and it is clear that, even allowing for affronted furniture, the dense plotting of Shrek 2 often pushes the jokes to one side. The script lurches from scene to scene rather than flowing naturally like its predecessor, and it has to be said that few of the new characters have either the charm or pantomime villainy you would hope for. This is particularly true of the King, for whom Cleese’s voice is a poor match (why does he have to be English when Fiona is clearly American?); also, British audiences are treated to the vocal ‘talents’ of Jonathan Ross and Kate Thornton, the latter particularly misplaced as her character looks exactly like Joan Rivers!

Thank heavens, then, for Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots. Originally assigned to assassinate Shrek, he accompanies the ogre and Donkey on a Quest to make Shrek beautiful in a fairly predictable reversal of the first film. Puss sounds the part and, with his big eyes, is cute as a button. He carries the middle part of the film, because although Donkey’s transformation into a stallion is entertaining, Shrek as a handsome brute of a human is less fun than when he’s a green beast.

Anyway, the plot shoehorns the favourite fairytale characters (Pinocchio, the gingerbread man, the pigs etc.) into rescuing these adventurers and preventing Charming from kissing Fiona before midnight. There are a few decent jokes during this sequence, not least the appearance of Mungo, the giant gingerbread tribute to Mr Stay-Puft in Ghostbusters, heroically downed by Cappuccino, or Pinocchio’s momentary transformation into a real boy; but there is nothing to match Dragon’s storming of the church, and too many tiresome pop culture references.

Talking of pop, some of the music is pretty poor too – Pete Yorn covers the Buzzcocks’ classic Ever Fallen in Love?, Butterfly Boucher make a horrible mess of Bowie’s Changes and a ghastly version of Holding out for a Hero by Frou Frou runs over the end credits. And before you ask, I’ve never heard of any of these people either.

There’s as much to lament as there is to laud about Shrek 2. On its own terms it’s adequate, obviously successful enough for the producers to have yet another go and in no way disgracing the memory of the original (yes, I am looking at you, Babe: Pig in the City); but neither does it build much on the original. Given the choice, and assuming it isn’t too fresh in your memory, watch the first Shrek every time.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Snow White is tolerated as a maid by her stepmother, the wicked Queen, until the day the young woman’s beauty exceeds her own. Lucky to be alive but cast out into the woods, Snow White falls upon a house owned by seven dwarfs who succumb to her charms and take her in. Hearing of her survival, the Queen disguises herself as an old crone and sets off for the woods with a poisoned apple in her basket.

A long time ago in a land far away, cartoon maker Walt Disney had a dream: to make a feature-length animated movie, in colour, with sound. ‘It can’t be done!’ those around him said, but Walt pressed on with his ‘folly’ and after three years’ work Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and a new type of cinema, were born.

‘Lovely little princess’ Snow White lives as a scullery maid in the employ of her stepmother, charming the birds from the trees and attracting the attention of a handsome prince, much to the displeasure of the Queen. Wildly jealous that (in the opinion of her magic mirror) Snow White has become the fairest in the land, the Queen commands a huntsman to kill the princess and bring back evidence. The huntsman cannot bring himself to do the deed, however, and tells the princess to run to the woods, where she is beset by perils but brought back to her senses by the woodland creatures who take her to an empty, cosy cottage.

Believing it to be inhabited by children, Snow White and the animals clean the house and everything in it before she is overtaken by fatigue; the actual owners, seven diamond-mining dwarfs, return and are originally spooked by the invader before she reveals herself to be benevolent and also a cook and dancing partner.

The dwarfs – even irascible Grumpy – fall in love with the princess, but their warnings for her to be careful cannot save her from a trick played by the Queen, who magically disguises herself as an old crone and persuades Snow White to bite a poisoned apple. The dwarfs race back to deal with the Queen, but are they too late to save their new friend from the ‘sleeping death’?

It would be a miracle for any seventy year-old film not to have a few issues, let alone one that was the first of its kind; and there are issues, though by and large these come down to personal taste. Firstly, the backgrounds, whilst charming, are largely static (except for the waterfall and the imaginative use of a reflective surface for a river).

Secondly, some of the facial characteristics are odd, by which I mean that Snow White and the prince are too realistic (their lips, noses and eyes don’t look quite right), and the contrasting long, oval eyes of the dwarfs are also strange, as they are always looking straight up or straight down. Of course, large eyes give the dwarfs a certain expressiveness whenever they’re looking coy or ashamed, but they also make them look twee – for my taste, anyway.

In terms of the story, a great deal of time is spent showing the dwarfs at work, being afraid of whatever’s invaded (and tidied) their house, then being introduced to Snow White, washed for supper and so on; and though this offers much in the way of comedy, it does slow down the pacing of the film and the telling of the tale. I would happily have sacrificed five minutes of the dwarfs’ antics to give more depth to the prince and a fuller explanation of his efforts to locate the sleeping princess in her glass coffin. As it is, a caption does this job, so the time that elapses between Snow White’s ‘death’ and her revival is very brief: you hardly have time to mourn with the dwarfs before they have cause to celebrate again, and the film ends very suddenly.

But these are nitpicks compared with what Walt Disney’s team have done brilliantly. Snow White is appealingly positive, and even if her facial movements don’t always convince (especially when she speaks) she is otherwise animated beautifully, the fluidity of her movement still impressing today (she was closely modelled on dancer Marge Champion).

The delineation of the seven similar-looking dwarfs is also impressive, with Grumpy bagging the best lines. I don’t like Dopey very much, his mute nature, sagging clothes and big ears occasionally making him look more the dwarfs’ pet than one of their number, but he has the lion’s share of the physical comedy.

Best of all, though, is the characterisation of the Queen, a malevolent, frightening presence in both her forms whose threat is real and dark, reflecting more of Grimm’s fairy tales than modern sensibilities might be comfortable with: not only does the Queen order Snow White’s death, she demands her heart in a box as proof.

Perhaps the best compliment to Snow White is that it feels like a normal animation even to modern audiences. However basic some of its attributes may be, the heroes and villains are established, as are the comic/action sequences and musical interludes. The style of the singing may be dated but the songs themselves – I’m Wishing, Whistle While You Work, One Day My Prince Will Come and of course, Heigh-Ho – have stood the test of time extremely well.

I am not enamoured of everything Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has to offer, and because it’s a little sugary and old-fashioned for my senses I would prefer to watch Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, given a free hand. But when I say Snow White is a significant achievement, it’s in no respect meant to patronise Disney’s work; for not only is it a pioneering film which established the formula for feature-length animations for decades to come, it is also very good on its own terms.