Chris at the Pictures

Thursday, 19 July 2018

'Whitney' - Review

7/19/2018 01:58:00 pm 0
'Whitney' - Review

★ ★ ½ ☆ 

Like a stone upon the surface of a lake, this documentary detailing the life, labours and loves of pop star Whitney Houston skims close to many truths, but eventually sinks in search of a scoop. Academy award-winning writer-director Kevin MacDonald’s handling of his topic is efficient but oddly heartless: emotional moments (Houston’s famous performance of ‘I Will Always Love You’ in Johannesburg, camera-phone footage of her disastrous comeback tour in 2010), would pack a punch even without the context of the doc’s wider story. Her key chart-toppers are placed by MacDonald and his editor Sam Rice-Edwards into the wider context of America’s various conquests throughout the seventies and eighties and up to the turn of the century, fragmenting the film as it tells the various stages of her story.

Unfortunately, these bookmark montages are emblematic of a wider problem with the film: it’s all about how Whitney’s story unfolded before the world, but never how the world shaped her story or her music. Interviews with various members of her family dig a little deeper into her constant battle with drugs, her sexuality, her family’s background in black gospel singing and what her success meant to that community, but the singer’s own words - already hard to come by, as Houston made very few TV interviews - are notable only by their infrequence. Whitney’s glittering construction and swift pace leaves little room for reflection, with an unedited home video recording of Whitney and her mother, post-performance, serving as the only real pause for thought.

As with Nick Broomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me?, perhaps the fault lies with a white British director taking on a subject so inherently tied to the voice of black America in the last decades of the twentieth century. In the case of Kevin MacDonald, we even have a storyteller who, by his own admission, was not fond of Whitney Houston before starting his research and found the whole sorry affair of her death “distasteful”. The whiff of a smoking gun is detected in the air towards the conclusion, but with the Houston family and her closest friends decidedly split about who or what was to blame for her tragic end, it’s a feeble finale.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

'Adrift' - Review

7/05/2018 09:46:00 pm 1
'Adrift' - Review

★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Two great performances keep Baltasar Kormákur’s latest disaster drama resolutely afloat: Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin star as real-life couple Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, whose voyage from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983 took them directly into the path of Hurricane Raymond. The film plays out in a split time-frame, beginning with Tami waking aboard the wrecked vessel, before flashing back to detail their romance, and leading towards a dual finale.

This narrative structure - in sharp opposition to the linear unravelling of Kormákur’s previous film, Everest - contrasts the sun-kissed days of Tami and Richard’s growing connection against the survival thriller of Raymond’s aftermath. Turning up the cheese to reinforce the grit, it results in an incredibly effective sense of gnawing inevitability, always keeping us one match cut away from tragedy.

Woodley has grown a lot as a performer since the Divergent series that made her the household name of teenage audiences (even in rocky fare like Oliver Stone’s Snowden, she acquits herself well), and here she’s as steadfast as we’ve ever seen her. Her performance walks an impressive line between Sandra Bullock in Gravity and - strangely - Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games series: there’s that same grounded aura of rags-to-resolve as Tami deals with the devastation.

Claflin, too, is excellent. His endless charisma is a valuable asset during the scenes of seaborne young love (i.e. he looks good sailing into port with his shirt hanging open), and his ability to switch from wry humour to wan acceptance sees us through the darker moments. Richard was originally to be played by Miles Teller, and (no offence to Teller) I think the film owes a debt of thanks to those “scheduling conflicts”.

What small amount of artistic liberty the film takes is all to do with pathos, as opposed to narrative neatness. As the remainder pays attention rather than lip service to reality (its approach to the logistics of finding oneself shipwrecked would make for a fine double bill with All Is Lost), small fictional reveries can be forgiven. Adrift may not be a note-perfect depiction of a true event, but as a showcase for two stars at the top of their game; it hits all the right ones.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

'Sicario 2: Soldado' - Review

7/03/2018 02:33:00 pm 0
'Sicario 2: Soldado' - Review

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Picking up where 2015’s grim tale of murky morals on the Mexican border left off, this sequel finds itself squeezing every political pressure point within reach. Josh Brolin returns as CIA operative Matt Graver, tasked with initiating open warfare between the Mexican cartels to dissuade the smuggling of terrorists across the border. He again enlists the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), this time to kidnap a crime lord’s daughter (Isabela Moner) and thereby escalate the unrest: they're going to build a war and make Mexico pay for it.

With the triple-threat of helmsman Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and star Emily Blunt now absent, this descent into destruction loses all direction and grace, becoming - ironically - a rather blunt instrument. I didn’t think Sicario had a heart in the first place, but without Blunt’s Kate Macer as the moral anchor, Soldado becomes a one-way ticket to rock bottom for all parties involved. “Rules of engagement, sir?” asks a squadmate of Graver’s as they prepare for a stand-off. “Fuck it all”, comes the response.

Nowhere is the shrugging off of anything less dour than a Nietzschean tract more apparent than this moment, Graver having already dismissed POTUS as “cowardly” for not wanting to cause the destabilisation of a neighbouring country. Taylor Sheridan returns as screenwriter, and makes it his mission to push all the MAGA era buttons he can before someone pries his fingers from the typewriter. The film opens with Mexican immigrants swarming towards the border, ISIS suicide bombers concealed within their ranks. An entire subplot is dedicated to the training of a young Mexican trafficker (Elijah Rodriguez). Disturbingly realistic dramatisations of atrocities committed on American soil are delivered in clear detail while later images of Mexican children and parents boarding separate buses are casually, even callously dismissed before we move to more masculine brooding.

Sheridan still has problems writing women, too: Kate Macer may have been our way into Sicario, but her feminine traits were unsubtly coded as simply daring to have ideals in the first place, used only as a contrast to the more pragmatic Graver and the morally suspect Alejandro. In Soldado, the only women with substantial speaking roles are Catherine Keener as a hawk-like overseer, and Moner, who's (still magnetic) turn as political prisoner becomes little more than a device to draw out development for Alejandro and plot exposition from everyone else. Del Toro is a gripping presence, as one would expect, but Brolin - bereft of any challenger - simply stomps about with his chin forward.

Director Stefano Sollima (Suburra) is no stranger to underworld unrest, and his teaming up with d.o.p. Dariusz Wolski (Alien: Covenant) makes for some appropriately forbidding imagery. Everything’s either blistering desert sunlight or spotlit shadows, both colour-timed to whichever shade of grey fits the current philosophical mood. Soldado’s nihilism, however (largely displayed in explosive but uninvolving action scenes), becomes wearing all too soon. An epilogue that further hammers home this franchise’s Gospel of Matthew, “violence begets more violence” message offers no solution to its central conflict, nor to the real-life horrors it purports to represent.

'Patrick' - Review

7/03/2018 09:58:00 am 0
'Patrick' - Review

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Even by the usual standards of pet-centred pictures, this film of asinine canine antics is one for the pound. Beattie Edmonson is put-upon English teacher Sarah, whose grandmother passes away and leaves the irritable singleton her prized pug, Patrick. Before long, the poop-happy pooch is wrecking her flat, embarrassing her in front of the neighbours and thwarting all attempts for Sarah to be rid of him. The most unbelievable part of an extortionately convoluted plot is that, in the age of sickly viral videos and entire social media campaigns dedicated to them, a pug would be impossible to sell (I’ll bet that somewhere on the cutting room floor lies a scene in which Patrick gets his own Instagram).

And it is a frankly labyrinthine tangle of a story for a (supposedly) cutesy kids movie. Sarah must face a possible eviction, carjacking pupils (who, of course, all look about 25), a rotten family, a fun run, nasty rival teachers, and two possible suitors. They arrive in the form of the frankly awful Ed Skrien and Tom Bennett, both almost unrecognisable beneath pained expressions that exude less “Kiss me” and more “Kill me”. Everyone - Edmonson included - looks like they wish they were somewhere else, while Jennifer Saunders looks like she should be somewhere else, staggering in from the sidelines every now and again to offer everyone cake when she should be offering them criminal compensation.

Patrick, meanwhile, wanders about causing every manner of upset, all carried off with the comic timing of a particularly bad episode of The Chuckle Brothers and the editing skills of a toddler. Impressively, for a film in which the dopey dog single-handedly demolishes Sarah’s apartment, none of his messes ever quite outshine the script itself: a screenplay relying on coincidences so eye-rolling they’d have you throwing up if the dialogue didn’t already. Too tortuous for tots and too cloying for parents, it makes 90 minutes feel like 90 millenia.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' - Review

6/06/2018 10:42:00 pm 1
'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' - Review

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The park has gone and so has all direction and imagination in this interminable continuation of the Jurassic Park franchise. With neither the depth of Spielberg’s first adventure, the scare factor of his under-appreciated sequel, nor the nostalgic charm of 2015’s Jurassic World (the less said of Jurassic Park III, the better), this entry settles for retreading old ground. With the facility at Isla Nublar in ruins (again), a shady businessman plans to airlift the dinosaurs back to the mainland (again) in order that they may be exploited for military purposes (again), and also to spite his more aged and more peace-loving mentor (again).

As for our heroes, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now a stringent dinosaur-rights activist, and she begrudgingly recruits Owen (Chris Pratt) to assist in saving the remaining dinosaurs from Isla Nublar’s suddenly active volcano. That is, before the doomed creatures are plucked from deliverance by Rafe Spall as the aforementioned suit, armed with a smile as untrustworthy as your average social media privacy policy.

Director J.A. Byona and cinematographer Óscar Faura do their best to bring some semblance of awe to proceedings, but returning screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s script suffocates the Spanish duo’s usual flair for likeable characters and haunting imagery. There are some glimpses of the young Richard Dreyfuss in Pratt’s portrayal of Owen, but not enough to prevent him slipping into Star Lord-lite. Howard goes all in on the running (appropriately booted this time around) and screaming, and is easily the most watchable human presence. A new sidekick played by Justice Smith is immediately annoying, and his disappearance from the middle act would be a relief, were it not another indicator of the feckless screenplay losing track of who’s where and why.

“Why?” is a question I found myself asking a lot during this film. Mostly “Why aren’t I just at home watching Jurassic Park?”. The re-heated narrative structure, knock-off set pieces (we’re treated to re-runs of the museum showdown and The Lost World’s downtown dinos), plus a perfunctory appearance from Jeff Goldblum continuously serve to remind us of movies we’d rather be watching. And it’s never scary. Not once. My entire generation can attest to the nightmares of poor Eddie being bisected by the T-Rex pair in The Lost World, and the most this softened rehash can muster is ‘occasional bloody moments’. A largely dialogue-free prologue featuring some truly stunning imagery of monsters in the moonlight is the closest we come to genuine thrills, which is more than can be said for the genetically-enhanced ‘Indoraptor’, introduced by Toby Jones doing his best Donald Trump impression.

This creature is another of the screenplay’s walking clunkers: it’s sold to us as the fusion between Jurassic World’s Indominus Rex and a Velociraptor. A key plot point of the previous film was that the multi-breed Indominus was part-Raptor, and could therefore weaponise Owen’s pack against him. Did they just add more? Extra raptor with your half-raptor, sir? The Indominus - while not particularly chilling - served as a neat analogy for Hollywood’s misunderstanding that bigger equals better. The Indoraptor’s purpose seems to be to remind us people can be greedy and stupid? I don’t need the film to tell me that: that it exists at all is proof enough.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

'Deadpool 2' - Review

5/17/2018 09:15:00 pm 1
'Deadpool 2' - Review

★ ★ ½ ☆ 

Leftover goodwill from 2016’s surprise smash hit doesn’t go the distance in this formulaic and overcranked sequel, which sees Ryan Reynolds slip back into the red onesie. Wade Wilson/Deadpool is mired in a depressive downturn after his wife, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, who somehow has even less to do this time around), is murdered. His attempts to make amends for his mistakes by joining the X-Men are swiftly shot down when his a botched mission lands him in jail beside Russell (Julian Dennison), a teenage mutant with a highly combustible nature. They’re soon on the run from Josh Brolin’s Cable, a time-travelling cyborg with little patience for the titular twerp’s smart mouth.

Sadly, it’s an attribute with which I entirely sympathise. I was never the world’s biggest fan of the first film, but was found myself won over - almost reluctantly - by its irreverence towards the wider superhero movie landscape. Plus, the years spent in development hell and a need for justice after Fox’s criminal representation of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine gave it a strangely underdog status. Now, removed from it’s lowly spot on the studio ladder and armed with a budget more in-keeping with your average blockbuster, the fourth-wall breaks, extreme violence and juvenile humour seem far less subversive than before.

There are still plenty of jokes that land (I missed the second big laugh of the film as my eyes were still watering from a sharp inhalation of drink at the opening visual gag), but if you’re not one for dick jokes or endless pop culture references, you’re in a for a rough ride. A grotesque and potentially brilliant Basic Instinct nod is ruined by a character saying out-loud “Basic Instinct!”.

There’s also a streak of self-fellating hypocrisy to some of the comedy which didn’t sit well with me. One aside sees The Merc With The Mouth mockingly refer to Deadpool creator Rob Liefield’s inability to draw feet, yet the artist receives a ‘special thanks to’ credit. Also, for the plentiful supply of jokes aimed at white men getting away with sexual assault, accused abuser T.J. Miller returns as Weasel. The producers claimed “We’re in the final editing” when the accusations emerged, but in an age where Ridley Scott can re-shoot half a movie in the wake of such allegations, that sort of excuse won’t fly.

David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) replaces Tim Miller behind the camera this time, and his snappy, brutal approach to combat feels too...much. Action in a Deadpool film should be light and wacky, but the prison break sequence involving Cable and a horde of armoured guards is the wrong kind of bone-crunching. The creaky visual effects have been given a massive overhaul, but a smattering of the set pieces still remain dutifully small of scale, or openly reject the opportunity for mass carnage (see a hilariously anticlimactic skydiving sequence).

But for all its mockery of everything from shared universes to rival comic giant, DC, Deadpool 2 inexorably stumbles in the same potholes as those it purports to subvert. The villain is a grimdark bore. There’s an overblown vehicle chase. Emotional beats fall flat or are immediately interrupted by snark. And, of course, there’s a Stan Lee cameo.

And yet, Reynold’s clear affection for the character and crusade to please the comic fans for better or worse is undeniably admirable. He’s enjoying himself, and he wants you to share that joy. It’s great that Julian Dennison has landed such a spotlight so soon after his breakthrough appearance in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s great that Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hilderbrand) gets to have a girlfriend. It’s great that Zazie Beetz’ Domino (a new ally blessed with a superhuman lucky streak) gets to be a confident action heroine with visible, unmocked armpit hair. There are so many small victories against the usual pitfalls of major comic book fodder, but Deadpool 2’s adherence to a plethora of similar tropes and a suffocatingly smug sense of humour threaten to turn them pyrrhic. “Maximum effort”? Not quite.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

'Breaking In' - Review

5/15/2018 10:51:00 am 0
'Breaking In' - Review


This disappointingly pedestrian thriller from director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Sense8) takes itself and its straight-to-video trappings far too seriously to be enjoyable. Gabrielle Union stars as Shaun, a mother whose father has recently passed, leaving her his souped-up country house. She takes her two children for an overnight stay to arrange the sale of the house, when four men break in to steal her father’s stash of cash. They take her children hostage and she’s forced to thwart the state-of-the-art security measures to get them back.

I’m more than on board with the film’s feminist credentials, but the plot is so derivative and the dialogue so poor that it’s impossible to feel at all absorbed or entertained. The violence has no edge, and even the script feels doctored for a pre-watershed TV premiere (a villain actually says “Fricking” in a moment of rage). Union is the only likable screen presence, in the midst of classically precocious child actors and the assortment of muscly bores she’s pitted against. Billy Burke as the figurehead of the intruders looks contagiously bored, to the extent that yours truly actually found himself having a brief nap somewhere during the second act of the metronomic plot. I assume it was around the time Shaun tried to break in, then had to run away again, then snuck back to the house, then was forced to flee, then zzzzzZZZZZZZ

Sunday, 22 April 2018

‘Truth or Dare’ - Review

4/22/2018 09:15:00 pm 0
‘Truth or Dare’ - Review


From Blumhouse, the producers of Paranormal Activity and Get Out, comes this teen horror-thriller with neither the franchise potential of the former, satirical edge of the latter, or scare factor of either. Our generic band of college kids (living in their ludicrously fancy accommodation and kitted our with every fruit-based device at their disposal) are partying in Mexico for Spring Beak when a mysterious stranger (who they can definitely trust because he’s the right kind of rugged) involves them in a game of truth or dare. When the teens return home, they find the game has followed them, their nearest and dearest briefly transforming into hideous pursuers who urge their victims to reveal dark secrets or perform dangerous acts.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this premise: many genre movies have been built on far less a stable foundation than a drinking game. It’s the flat execution and shrill performances that crush this unpopped kernel of potential fun. By-the-numbers doesn’t even begin to cover the construction. All together now: cast of idiot teenagers do something stupid. Something weird happens to one but they neglect to tell the others. Twenty minutes are spent fruitlessly trying to get us invested in their plight (a little personal bias comes in here, as the jock character closely resembles a childhood bully of mine). Everything goes very wrong and then there’s a stupid ending (credit where it’s due: there’s no final frame jump-scare).

For all the various crises - read: daddy issues - of our cast (such as a closeted student forced to out himself to a homophobic father or a habitual cheater dealing with her father’s recent suicide), I found myself cold to their plight. Largely because of their entirely plot-driven idiocy, but also because the methods used to dispatch them once the premise collapses and truth or dare become interchangeable are (with the exception of a crafty rooftop vodka binge) so blunt and bloodless. One supposes this comes part and parcel with production values of an episode of Riverdale, where prosthetics and make-up is made unaffordable by hugely unimpressive CG work. The sign of demon possession is little more than a Trollface Snapchat filter, an insult actually levelled by the protagonists towards their tormenters in a cynical attempt by the filmmakers to sidestep criticism. I dare Blumhouse to do better.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

'Rampage' - Review

4/14/2018 10:30:00 pm 0
'Rampage' - Review

★ ★ ½ ☆ 

Within the first ten minutes of Rampage, a giant mutant rat has downed the space station and a gorilla has given Dwayne Johnson the middle finger. What’s disappointing is that the remaining 100 minutes of this loose video game adaptation never quite live up to the ridiculousness of the opening. Johnson plays Davis Okoye, the world’s hunkiest primate specialist, who cares for the captive albino silverback, George. When aforementioned satellite comes crashing down to Earth, containers of a super-pathogen find themselves spread across America: in an alligator swamp, amongst a pack of wolves, and in George’s enclosure. Once exposed, George, a ‘gator and the alpha wolf begin an inexorable growth to giant size, possessed of remarkable genetic traits such as advanced regeneration or - in the case of the wolf - the ability to fly.

With all three headed on a collision course (George escapes captivity and becomes a target, much to Davis’ horror), it’s not hard to see where this will all end up. The Rock re-teams with San Andreas director Brad Peyton here, and the general attitude of their previous work has transferred well. Peyton wields Johnson’s uncrackable charisma like a sword of pure charm, and helps sell our musclebound hero’s interaction with the unfortunate George (portrayed in the early stages of the film through motion capture). Naomie Harris costars as Kate Caldwell, a discredited geneticist who tags along to unload handy exposition. To the films credit, she’s not a love interest and is clearly much smarter than Davis, but is sidelined by Peyton’s alternating devotion to Johnson in a tight t-shirt and the sight of George punching a giant wolf in the face. A sight which, if we’re all being honest, is what we’ve paid for.

The argument always levelled at the critics when movies like this inevitably fail to draw great write-ups is “you’re just supposed to turn your brain off and enjoy it”. For once, I agree with a certain extent. Though the onanism of this genre’s usual suspects (Bay, McG, Snyder) is absent, Rampage still retains a total disregard for civilian casualties (the stunningly realistic toppling of a massive Chicago skyscraper is very disquieting), plus that very odd Transformers loophole where the military’s combined attempts to fell a giant monster consistently fail, yet Davis and his gorilla buddy alone are enough to trump them.

Which brings us to Malin Akerman’s villain and her pet brother (Jake Lacey). They’re multimillionaires who plan to reap huge amounts of money at the expense of the civilian population, also falling prey to an investigation by the authorities(!). Their introduction does bring everything to a screeching halt, but it says a lot that we’ve now reached the point where villains who - barely five years ago - would have been dismissed as caricatures now appear real enough that we delight in their downfall. That we’ve no sympathy for them at all is unsurprising, but how much we feel for the unfortunate George is a welcome shock, at least until he becomes responsible for most of the debris. 

This final section of the movie (during which everything and everyone falls down or blows up at least three times) is undeniably entertaining, even if it doesn’t quite give into its premise with total abandon: introducing a growth- enhancing MacGuffin and The Rock in the same movie yet never uniting the two feels like a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, for a film where someone literally says “Thanks for saving the world”, it’s never two minutes shy of a good guffaw, cheap thrills or, at the very least, an expensive demolition display.

Friday, 6 April 2018

'Isle of Dogs' - Review

4/06/2018 06:06:00 pm 2
'Isle of Dogs' - Review

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wes Anderson’s latest is a colourful canine adventure that moves with the vigour of a wagging tail but bristles with fleas both literal and political. In this stop-motion expedition, Koyu Rankin voices Atari, the young ward of Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), dictator of the future Japanese archipelago. Kobayashi has exiled the city’s dog population to nearby Trash Island, due to an outbreak of canine fever, but Atari sets off to rescue his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). On an odyssey through the land of muck and mongrels, he is accompanied by a small pack of lost dogs (Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum). They’re led by the moody stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston). Meanwhile, an underground student resistance is working within the city to bring down Kobayashi and expose his decree as a sham.

I have to admit here that my Wes Anderson exposure is nominal: I found The Grand Budapest Hotel endearing, but felt that Fantastic Mr. Fox was an exhausting and massively irksome misunderstanding of the source material. Isle of Dogs falls somewhere in the middle: it’s visually impeccable in that classic Anderson manner (more striking here than perhaps ever before, in sharp juxtaposition with the grim environments), but the red-wine-and-bolognese witticisms and surprisingly bloody violence means that the stuff of children’s storybooks is once again rendered inaccessible to their readers.

Shot by Tristan Oliver, - a veteran of both Anderson’s previous foray into stop-motion and the works of Aardman - the images are impossibly fluid. Wallace and Gromit seems to have been a particular influence in the production design, too: it’s impossible to see a stop-motion dog silently roll their eyes with exasperation and think of anything else, and the robo-hounds deployed by Mayor Kobayashi smack more than a little of Preston from A Close Shave. Besides the stop-motion, there’s occasional use of 2D cartoons for computer displays and CCTV monitors, which liven the frame during the grimy grey finale at the farthest point of trash island. Our cohorts on this journey are the usual crowd (save Bryan Cranston, the entire pack have worked with Anderson on  multiple occasions), and are reliably charming. The problem was never going to be their individual voice performances (as if Jeff Goldblum as a gossip-loving mutt could ever be anything other than a joy), but the very fact they’re speaking American English. 

This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that there are no subtitles for the Japanese characters, who can only be understood through a translator for the Mayor’s speeches (Frances McDormand) or through the interpretation of American foreign exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig). Having the Japanese legends narrated by white actors only enforces this feeling of cultural tourism. As if to double down, a rant by Atari is faded to background noise as Goldblum despairs “I wish somebody spoke his language!” The dogs are meant to be our central, relatable characters in the story (which would be perfectly fine) but the only humans presented as scary or ‘other’ are the Japanese. 

Don’t get me wrong: I found a lot to enjoy in Isle of Dogs, and many others will fall for its particular brand of scruffy liveliness. With a cast and crew this likeable and skilled, it’s very hard not to exclaim sheer admiration of its craft. But when you develop a story that is so steeped in the trappings of another culture, only to deny that culture a real voice except through a white saviour character and foreign tools, loving animation and cute performances are little compensation.