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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 19th November 2012


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas as what few movies are released amongst the stand up comedy, music and TV titles all have either that family entertainment or major blockbuster feel (or both). Expect to see more titles along the lines of THE ELF THAT RESCUED CHRISTMAS as the season progresses, what with plots about mean spirited people jeopardising the integrity of Christmas spirit being ten a penny in Christmas movies. In this instance, it’s actually a misnomer, as the protagonist isn’t an elf at all, but a young orphan boy tricked by Santa’s evil twin (really) into nicking the magic crystal that makes Christmas, well, Christmas, allowing him to usurp his brother’s position as the man in red. It’s all a bit mental, something I’m putting down to cultural differences stemming from its Belgian origins (along with it’s distinctly C-grade CGI animation) but it’s not a write off by any means. It’s probably of more interest to younger kids who would be less bothered by the inferior animation, illogical storytelling and dodgy voice acting but there are a few genuinely amusing moments and some nice visual touches – my favourite thing were the clockwork “stormtroopers” that the evil Santa uses to hatch his diabolical plot. As you would expect from a Christmas movie, there’s also a strong moral to the story about the pitfalls of jealousy which is no  bad thing.

In the second of three computer generated features released this week is the twenty first century revamp of Dr Seuss’ THE LORAX, an environmental morality tale that sees a young lad go to extreme lengths to find a real tree to plant in the entirely man made town of Thneedvile in order to impress a girl. In doing so he incurs the wrath of the “fresh air” Baron, Mr O’Hare who is determined to stop him from reintroducing oxygen giving life to the barren landscape and learns the story of what happened to all the trees from the enigmatic hermit, the Once-ler. I’m not familiar with the original text on this one, or indeed the 1972 animated version of the story, but the presence of tween idols Taylor Swift and Zac Efron in the cast and the massaging of Dr Seuss’ trademark rhyming prose into fairly flimsy musical numbers both suggest some serious divergence from the original concept. That said, if you can grit your teeth sufficiently through the dodgy songs it’s not at all bad with not only a grand message about the value of nature versus the all consuming juggernaut of corporate greed but enough wit, charm and laugh out loud moments to see it through. The thought that we had this concept nailed down forty years ago (at least) – the idea that enormous corporations bleeding our environment dry for a profit is a universally bad deal – and yet have resolutely failed to do anything about it is a troubling one and I always approve of challenging family viewing like this. Technically, the vibrant animation captures the outlandish world of Dr Seuss beautifully and there are extra points to be had for the DVD including a pack of sunflower seeds for viewers to plant themselves, a nice touch that backs up the environmental message nicely.

Famous environmentalist Sir David Attenborough has a new release out this week too, in the form of THE PENGUIN KING, a documentary focusing on a colony of penguins that live on a desolate, sub-Antartic island. Initial worries that this would simply be a rehash of the penguin segments of last year’s superb FROZEN PLANET were proved unfounded, Attenborough’s principal concerns this time around being to follow a penguin through the first year of its offspring’s life. If you love penguins (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) then there’s plenty to love about this, although I found the level of anthropomorphising of the animal’s behaviour a little grating and out of character for the world’s greatest nature programmer. I personally could do without the unnecessarily dramatic musical score, the careful editing to give the impression of humanistic behaviour and the emotive narration but there will doubtless be plenty of people that get as much of a kick out of it as I was annoyed by it. There’s certainly plenty of penguin action on show in glorious high definition and despite the excessively emotive style in which it’s presented, there’s plenty of actual information on penguins and their behaviour too.

My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is the rip snorting Christmas adventure from Aardman Animations (and third CGI family extravaganza released this week), ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. An impressive cast (including James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton) play out the tale of Santa’s heritage and family as his two sons, the well meaning but clumsy Arthur and the ruthlessly efficient and productive Steve, find themselves on opposite sides of the argument when a single child is accidentally missed from the Christmas deliveries. It’s packed with ingenuity and charming gags as well as some high quality animation and essentially ticks all the necessary boxes for a cracking Christmas adventure. In true family movie style there are plenty of gags for the grown ups as well as the kiddies and yes, there’s a moral message, this time about losing the true spirit of the season in the face of so called “progress”. As well as the national treasures in the cast (Bill Nighy is officially one of the greatest actors this country has ever seen) there’s an amazing supporting cast of impressive names in tiny roles: Michael Palin, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack, Rhys Darby, Dominic West, Kevin Eldon, Rich Fulcher, the comedian Stewart Lee, Rich Hall, Julia Davis and Tamsin Greig to name but a few lend their voice talents to the film, a testament to the respect that Aardman commands these days. And rightly so, when this is the quality of the work they are doing.

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