‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’

A magical yet dark stop-motion musical version of Carlo Collodi’s character from his children’s novel as a wooden marionette dreams of becoming a real boy.

Set in the early days of the rise of Mussolini’s fascism, an air of menace pervades del Toro’s film with Carlo, the woodcarver’s son, killed by the bombing of the village in World War II. Geppetto grieves for his beloved son when a kindly wood sprite brings the puppet to life to support the old man. But the cruel Count Volpe, head of a struggling touring circus, sees a fortune to be made in the living marionette…

Narrated by Cricket, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a sumptuous telling of the tale interweaving the director’s love of the darker symbolism of fairytales and myths (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) with the more traditional Collodi character. It’s an extraordinary achievement yet one that doesn’t quite pay off. For all it’s darkness and wry humour (the deadpan commentary from Ewan McGregor as Cricket a standout), the consistent upbeat one level shrillness of Pinocchio ultimately grates, reducing any possibilities of much-needed charm.

Nominated for best animated film Oscar in 2023

Rating: 62%


Regarded as one of the best films of 2021, Flee is a harrowing tale humanely told through its richly animated visualisation as Afghani refugee Amin unburdens his past.

Having been granted Danish asylum as a teenage boy on the basis of having lost all his family fleeing Kabul, Amin has never revealed the full truth. Having fled the Afghan capital, he and his family initially settled in Moscow. Overstaying their visa, they lived in fear and isolation. With the help of a considerably older brother already living in Stockholm, many attempts to leave failed. Eventually, an alone Amin was able to find a way out. It’s this Amin needs, on the eve of his marriage to Kaspar, to reveal.

Making history in becoming the first film to be nominated for best documentary, best foreign language film and best animation,Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is powerful yet poetic, visceral yet matter-of-fact.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2022.

Rating: 79%

‘The Swallows of Kabul’

A gorgeously lyrical watercolour animation, The Swallows of Kabul is a tragic tale of the Taliban’s 1990s occupation of the Afghan capital and the impact on the everyday.

Highlighting the dire position of women, young married couple Mohsen and Zunaira try, covertly, to make the most of their limited opportunities in spite of the oppressive presence of the Taliban. Older couple Atiq (a hero from the war with Russia but now somewhat forgotten) and Mussarat are dealing with something much more immediate and life threatening as the lives of the two couples unexpectedly cross.

Beautiful and captivating, directors Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec have created a sensual but emotive narrative. It avoids the depiction of the horrors and callousness of realism: The Swallows of Kabul is a deeply humanist film and, even within the fluidity of watercolour animation, packs an emotional punch as a woman is stoned to death.

Rating: 69%

‘The Red Turtle’

A Studio Ghibli animation, The Red Turtle is a simple fantasy sublimely told, a stripped back, minimalist Robinson Crusoe who finds a very different way of surviving his loneliness and isolation.

As the man, shipwrecked and dumped on the island courtesy of splendid animated Hokusai waves, looks first to survive and then escape, a red turtle thwarts his attempts to set sail beyond the all-encircling reef. The focal point of the unfolding of the central story can be a little hard to take (no spoilers) but as an almost wordless animation, Michael Dudok de Wit’s existential The Red Turtle is unquestionably beautiful to look at in its simplicity.

Nominated for the 2017 Oscar for Best Animation feature film.

Rating: 64%


An animated personal history of a young woman growing up in the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Persepolis is a labour-of-love from writer/director Marjane Satrapi (Poulet au prunes, Radioactive).

Working with Vincent Parronaud (Poulet au prunes, Hunted), Satrapi tells herstory of the fall of the Shah and the rise of the oppressive religious regime. The disappearance of many members of her left-wing family resulted in Marjane being sent to Vienna for schooling before returning to Tehran. But restrictions were too severe: she left to live and finish her studies in Paris.

Animation and its symbolism allows the sweep of history to be compacted into its wholly engaging 96 minute runnning time. Moving yet informative, socially aware yet deeply personal, Persepolis is a humane story of power, politics and individual resilience in the face of adversity.

Nominated for best animated feature Oscar in 2008.

Rating: 75%


A beautifully inventive, animated miniseries, Undone (creators Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Kate Purdy) explores mental health as Alma, waking up from a coma, has a new and disconcerting relationship with time.

What begins as a seemingly everyday family drama evolves into something very different. Involved in a loving relationship with Sam (Siddharth Dhananjay), the reality is Alma (Rosa Salazar) is afraid of commitment, highlighted by the forthcoming marriage of her sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral). A car accident that almost kills her changes everything around Alma – and in particular the relationship with her scientist father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk). Only problem is that he was killed in a road accident 15 years earlier.

Utilising the initially discombobulating roboscope form of animation (the tracing over of original footage, frame by frame, with hard lines to produce realistic action), Undone is unexpectedly rich in characteristion with a compelling narrative. Not only does it explore issues of mental health, disability (Alma wears a cochlea implant) and existential crises of ordinary life, with Mexican-Jewish parents and an Indian boyfriend, the five part miniseries is perfectly placed to touch upon racism. And, just for good measure, with a deeply religious mother (Constance Marie), catholicism also comes into the fray.

Whilst the synopsis may sound terribly worthy, most of these issues play mostly in the background to the central storyline of Undone – Alma is convinced by her father that he was murdered for his scientific discoveries in relation to the fluidity of time. He needs her to find whodunnit.

It may slip into whimsy and superficial worthiness occasionally but, ultimately, Undone is immersive, inventive, gentle: wry, thoughtful, engaging.

Rating: 70%

‘The Lion King’

There’s a lot of angry naysayers out there to this 2019 digital remake of the earlier, traditionally animated The Lion King. Not having seen the original, no comparison can be made.

In a battle for supremacy within the pride between brothers Musafa (James Earl Jones) and Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the young Simba, the rightful heir, finds himself outcast on the murder of his father, the much-loved Musafa. Making a pact with hyenas, Scar now controls the pride and the kingdom. A growing Simba (Danny Glover), meanwhile, learns the true meaning of responsibility and humility.

The special effects are quite extraordinary in the rendition of the animal kingdom and the telling of its story. The music and voices have mostly been changed, a welcome move away from the whitewashing of an African-set narrative (James Earl Jones does return as Musafa). Yet whilst the Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, Iron Man) directed version is technically perfect with humour aplenty provided by warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogan) and meerkat, Timon (Billy Eichner), there is a strange lack of emotional connection.

Nominated for the 2020 best visual effects Oscar.

Rating: 58%


An enthralling feature animation as Catalan artist and illustrator Josep Bartolí, escaping the Spain of Franco’s rising Fascist regime, finds himself in a French concentration camp.

An insightful portrayal, Bartoli is befriended by a young gendarme: some 50 years later, it is he who tells the story to his grandson as he lies dying in his Paris apartment. It’s a shocking tale of abuse and deprivation commonly associated, just a couple of years later, with Nazi Germany. Bartoli survives and eventually gains acclaim in New York where he published the acclaimed cartoon album La retirada which bears witness to life in the concentration camp.

Directed by award-winning cartoonist Aurel, these sketch-like evocative vignettes mirror Bartolí’s own style. It’s a poetic (and educative!) meditation on survival, memory – and art.

Rating: 70%

Best of Year (2018 – Film)

The final list of the year – the top 10 films, and, to my mind, it’s something of a stunner, with non-English language films dominant. And just failing to make the top 10 were a number of much praised indie films – including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, The Florida Project and Lean on Pete. Last year’s Oscar winner for best film, The Shape of Water, just missed out on the top 10, as did my only animation for the year, Isle of Dogs.

My top 10 films of the year:
10: The Rider
9: BPM (Beats Per Minute)
8: Loveless
7: 1945
6: The Favourite
5: Roma
4: Custody
3: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2: Shoplifters
1: Foxtrot

The final film I saw at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival slipped into 10th spot – an intense indie film of bravura performances beautifully controlled by director Chloe Zhao.

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (essentially the runner up for the Palme d’Or), BPM is a powerful, lyrical, emotional narrative that resonates on a much wider political level than its ACT UP AIDS awareness setting.

In Loveless, director Andrey Zvyagintsev continues to comment on contemporary Russian society as a Leningrad couple look to divorce. Their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears in the stark yet rivetingly sincere feature from the director who is responsible for the equally devastating Leviathan.

In seventh spot, a film that was completely under the radar and barely received commercial distribution. But this black and white story of two Jews returning to a small Hungarian village days after the end of World War II is a picaresque narrative of startling beauty and powerful commentary.

One of the favourites in the current Oscar race, The Favourite is a ribald delight as the English court of Queen Anne is the setting for the locking of horns by three women in an attempt to win the royal favour.

Another Oscar favourite (and odds-on to win the foreign language film nod) is another black and white beauty. Roma by Alfonso Cuarón is the gorgeously shot year in the life of Cleo, a maid to a middle-class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s.

Devastating and disturbing, debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

The runner-up for best film of the year is Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or winner at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a deft, emotionally delicate feature from socially conscious filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda.

But my favourite film of 2018 is the Israeli film, Foxtrot, a sublime mix of intense drama interspersed with flashes of surreal brilliance. It’s bold, it’s imaginative, it’s powerful – an appropriate follow-up from director Samuel Maoz and his visceral debut feature film, Lebanon.

‘Isle of Dogs’

IsleOfDogsFirstLookA visual treat from auteur Wes Anderson (Grand Hotel Budapest, Fantastic Mr Fox) in his latest stop-motion animation.

It’s quirky, humorous and wholly imaginative as young Akiri goes on an odyssey in search of his dog. Akiri’s guardian is the corrupt mayor of the Japanese city of Nagasaki – and it is he who has banished all dogs.

Beautifully crafted – and in spite of its seeming whimsy there’s a message lurking just beneath the surface.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2019 – best animated feature & original score.

Rating: 81%