I am glad she did not cry,

A pleading look in her eye.

It was now the end of the day,

Time for me to get on my way,

After such a great Christmas,

A wonderful time for all of us.

Now it was time to say goodbye,

I am so glad she did not cry.

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CUERDAS (2014) – A Review by Michael C. Bungay

This review marks a first for yours truly as I have never reviewed a short film before and certainly not a Spanish one as the title Cuerdas translates as Ropes or Strings. Directed by Pedro Solís García, Cuerdas takes place in a Spanish Orphanage where a disabled boy has just been accepted. Because the boy is mute and has limited mobility, the other kids shun him, the one exception being a curious and imaginative little girl called Maria. Taking a liking to the boy but at the same time, realising his limitations, Maria tries to help him have as much fun as the able-bodied kids do. To do this, she resorts to tying strings to his arms and legs so that he can kick footballs and read books among other things. The film is a tear-jerker however so I shall say no more on the matter other than that it won the Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 28th Goya Awards in 2014.

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DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH (2018) UK Rating: U


Illumination may be known for the Despicable Me franchise and the associated Minions but lately they, or at least their founder Chris Meledandri, seem keen to pick up on the increasing fascination with the works of Theodore Dr. Seuss Geisel that started with the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas in 2000. I say that because Meledandri already worked on Horton Hears A Who with Blue Sky Studios and The Lorax and now The Grinch.

Now I can honestly say I already prefer this new animated adaptation over the live-action version for reasons that I shall explain later in this review. I also don’t think it is worth comparing this too much to the original TV special from 1966 as I think a just-under-half-hour special against a full-length movie does not merit a fair comparison.

Well, even in modern-day CGI and a modernized Whoville, the plot remains the same with the Whos preparing for Christmas. The Whos love Christmas more than anything else but high-up on nearby Mount Crumpet, the Grinch hates everything to do with the festivities and insults Whoville at every opportunity, his only companion being his pet dog Max.

The Grinch, now voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is portrayed as more of a sympathetic character rather than the grumpy Scrooge-like character of the book and original animated version. He at least has the decency to treat Max as a companion rather than a put-upon workhorse as he knows he would be all alone without him. He also has less of a tendency to come across as loud and intimidating and in-your-face in this version. Even his eyes look better now that they’re no longer fiery-red and yellow, seriously that looked freaky, even by 1966-standards. Unlike in the live-action version, the people of Whoville don’t treat the Grinch as an outcast, even the Mayor of Whoville is a wise and reasonable character rather than an egotistical bully. The Grinch still has a tragic past that has driven him to bitterness and resentment however.

As much as the Grinch resents the Whos, he still has to go into Whoville to restock on groceries and witness first-hand how much the Whos love Christmas, the most notorious being his neighbour Bricklebaum. During one such jaunt, the Grinch encounters young Cindy-Lou Who whom he believes to be no different from the other Whos. However, we know Cindy-Lou is no ordinary Who as her over-worked mother’s happiness matters more so she hatches a plan to catch Santa with help from her friends. At least Cindy-Lou doesn’t have an over-exaggerated hairdo this time and largely resembles the 1966 version except she’s a few years older.

The Grinch of course, hatches his own plan to steal Christmas so he and Max go hunting reindeer and befriend an exceptionally fat reindeer called Fred. The Grinch is highly inventive and resourceful in this adaptation, given some of the contraptions he has at his disposal, not to mention talented. As the story always goes however, the Grinch is soon to learn the true meaning of Christmas, at least the Whos don’t need reminding as well in this version.

Illumination tend to come in for a lot of criticism for the simplistic and child-friendly nature of their movies and I can understand why sometimes that could be perceived as a bad thing. In this instance however, I think Illumination got the balance just about right. I certainly don’t think this is just a re-dressed Despicable Me regardless of any similarities between the Grinch and Gru and I still respect Ron Howard as a director and Jim Carrey as an actor despite my preferences.

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SONG OF THE SEA (2014) Rated: PG


Traditional hand-drawn animation is still around thanks to Irish director Tom Moore and his Cartoon Saloon concern. Both of their first two full-length features The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Like its predecessor, Song of the Sea takes much of its inspiration from folklore as well as keeping 2D animation as up to date as possible. The plot revolves around 2 siblings trying to find their way home, only to encounter a legendary Witch and overcome their fears for their own good.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Ben, a young Irish boy who lives with his parents Conor and Bronagh in a Lighthouse on a small island. Bronagh is expecting her 2nd child and Ben is anticipating becoming a big brother. However, Bronagh mysteriously disappears while giving birth.

Six years later, Conor has become depressed and favors his mute daughter Saoirse (pronounced Sier-sha) over his son. Ben is bitter and distances himself from Saoirse but has developed a vast knowledge of local folklore thanks to their mother’s stories. The siblings’ only real friends are the family dog Cu and Dan the ferry-man as neither of them can stand their well-meaning but over-bearing paternal grandmother, who insists they will be safer living with her.

One night, Saoirse finds a mysterious coat that turns her into a seal, revealing her to be a selkie. When Saoirse is discovered with the coat, their father reluctantly allows their grandmother to take them to the City. Missing their father and Cu, Ben and Saoirse run away, intending to go home but Saoirse falls ill along the way and they are pursued by Macha the Owl Witch. Thus, Ben has to be brave and resourceful in order to confront Macha and save his sister.

It is often said that too many cooks spoil the broth but Song of the Sea actually benefits from the collaboration of film-makers from Ireland, France, Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg as well as taking inspiration from classic Disney movies and Studio Ghibli of Japan. The film is definitely Irish though, right down to its setting, the folklore references, even the cast which includes Brendon Gleeson, Fionnula Flannagan, Lisa Hannigan and David Rawle. It is clear that as long as people like Tom Moore continue to create masterpieces like this, there will always be a place for hand-drawn animation.

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Dot and the Bunny (1982 or 1983) – By Michael C. Bungay

Thank goodness I have decided to review the first two sequels to Dot and the Kangaroo (1977) seperately. It now means I can proceed with my rundown of the vastly inferior remaining installments without feeling as though I am lying to myself over what I really think of the Dot movie sequels as a whole.

In what is the final outing not just for Barbara Frawley as the voice of Dot but for all but one of the other cast members, it is implied that the previous installment Around the World with Dot/Dot and Santa Claus (1981) is this film’s chronological successor. The reason being that this 3rd installment begins with Dot still looking for the missing joey in return for his mother rescuing her. Even more confusingly, the events of the film appear to take in place in the dream of a nameless live-action girl (Anna Quin) so which one came first? Or at the very least, which one is canon?

This time, Dot begins her search alone and within the confines of her native Australia and consulting some koalas over the joey’s whereabouts. However, Dot is not alone for long for she encounters an orphaned rabbit whom she names Funny-Bunny (Robyn Moore) who has been eavesdropping on her. Dot’s search sees her encounter and learn about several native animals, each one showing a variety of attitudes towards her as a human but too numerous to mention in a brief review like this one. Dot is constantly impeded by Funny-Bunny continuously pretending to be a kangaroo or getting himself into trouble. That is not to say Dot does not care as she willingly puts herself at risk just to keep Funny-Bunny safe each time. Besides, all Funny-Bunny needs is someone to look after him, especially once we as the audience find out what happened to his family. This is where the Dot series very much reaches its peak.

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THE BOX TROLLS (2014) Rated: PG

Box Trolls

In 2009, Laika LLC made their mark on the world of stop-motion animation with Coraline, a wholly amazing first attempt a full-length Feature film. After trying but not quite managing to live up to the standards of Coraline with ParaNorman (2012), Laika then created The Box Trolls. Is this as good as Coraline was? Well, here is what I have to say about it.

Based on the novel Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, The Box Trolls begins in the Victorian town of Cheesebridge where one night, a baby boy is seemingly snatched from his father by the titular creatures. The infant is taken to the Box Trolls’ underground lair on the outskirts of Cheesebridge where he is named Eggs and raised as one of their own.

However, this leads the scheming Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to convince the cheese-obsessed Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) that the Box Trolls are a menace to the community. Although the safety of the inhabitants of Cheesebridge isn’t high on the Lord’s priority list, he still commissions Snatcher and his cohorts to exterminate the Box Trolls and the townspeople not to go out after dark.

Ten years later, the Box Trolls have proven to be far from dangerous, just timid to the point of nocturnal and scavenge for unwanted items that they turn into crazy inventions. Their adopted human Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) has become one of their kind to the point that he believes himself to be a Box Troll. However, their scavenging nights are becoming under increasing threat from the wrath of Snatcher and their numbers are decreasing fast.

Eggs and his family are seen one night by Lord Portley-Rind’s inquisitive daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning) but this only results in her incurring Snatcher’s wrath as well and her father ignores her. At the same time, another Box Troll is taken by Snatcher and to make Eggs’ life even more difficult, he encounters Winnie who is determined to find out more about the Box Trolls.

The next day, Eggs saves one of his Box Troll friends and ends up saving Winnie after she follows him to Snatcher’s lair but this leaves him with no choice but to reveal the truth about his friends to her. Although disappointed that everything she thought she knew was a lie, Winnie is relieved that the Box Trolls are harmless and more scared of humans than humans are of them. However, if they are to prove that to the rest of Humanity then Winnie has to teach Eggs that he is human and how to act as such. Of course, Eggs has a much bigger secret to reveal to Winnie and they still have the dreaded Archibald Snatcher to worry about.

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On July 14th, I went to the Hyper Japan Convention in Tobacco Dock, East London. Hyper Japan is billed as the biggest Japanese Culture event in Britain. As the name suggests, the Convention covers everything Japanese though there were one or two stalls that embraced both Japanese and Korean culture as well. Even the food was mainly Japanese but I restricted myself to sushi, specifically nigiri which is a solid lump of rice with a piece of smoked salmon on top, I do like the stuff though. The best part was trying mochi ice-cream, (mochi is sweet rice cake made from glutinous mochigome rice with an ice-cream filling). I have always had an interest in Japanese cuisine and culture and this really was the best place to be to find out more. Naturally, a lot of the stalls were selling merchandise relating to and including Anime and Manga and most of the visitors were dressed as anime or manga characters.

There were a lot of stalls and shops for such a packed area so it is impossible to pick a favourite place to go at the Convention and I ignored the Hyper Live Stage and Theatre in favour of exploration. There were a wide variety of shops overall, each focussing on a different aspect of Japanese culture including a shop that sold kimonos and one selling Japanese cookware and crockery where I acquired a nice new mug and a genuine Japanese one too! There was even a small restaurant selling hakumai (white rice) and genmai (brown rice) and sake but I didn’t go in. I did acquire a free brochure from Eat-Japan which provides the location of all known Japanese restaurants in the UK as well as a glossary pertaining to several well-known Japanese food products and where to get them in this country and even a couple of interesting recipes, including a Japanese take on Chilli Con Carne.

The event attracts people from all over the world as I spoke to a few foreign, notably American, visitors while I was there. There are also replicas of the 19th century American schooner Sea Lark and the 18th century trade ship Three Sisters moored outside the Main Entrance to Tobacco Dock and the nearest train stations are Tower Hill, Shadwell and Wapping. Not bad for a 19th Century dock that once endured an ill-fated stint as a shopping centre!

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