A baby elephant stampede at the cinemas means you'll need this handy guide through the circus of kids' films on offer.
Can this baby fly? Tim Burton's live action version of Dumbo. Source: Disney.
School holiday time can be a stampede at cinemas, as distributors rush to release a range of films that often have a very narrow window to work in. This particular holiday season features a bit more variety than most, with titles like Shazam! and The Lego Movie 2 having at least some appeal beyond the usual kids and weary parents looking for something to fill in the days. That’s good news for exhibitors as blockbusters Us and Captain Marvel start to wind down – but for parents, what are the films that will have the kids wanting to go back for more?
(Spoiler Alert: while it’s out in time for the holidays and does feature kids, Pet Sematary is not on this list!)
Dumbo (out now)
The year is 1919, and a struggling circus desperately needs a new attraction – especially as one of their stars, Colin Farrell’s rough-riding cowboy, has just returned from the war minus an arm. A new (pregnant) elephant just might solve their problems, until that baby turns out to have freakishly large ears. A career in comedy seems like the only way forward for the infant, until those giant ears turn out to have surprisingly aerodynamic properties…
Director Tim Burton takes the Disney animated classic and stretches it out to almost double the original’s length, which might explain the slightly distracted feel of some of the more dramatic scenes. Dumbo himself is adorably cute though, and the more satirical moments have a lively edge to them that makes this (almost) a return to form after a series of depressingly bland kids' films. It’s not quite up there with the original, but it doesn’t disgrace it either.
(A few intense moments might make this a bit much for younger kids.)
Shazam! (Out now)
When orphan 13 year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is given super-powers by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to defeat the Seven Deadly Sins and their human puppet Dr Sivana (Mark Strong), he does what any teen would do: uses his all-grown-up superhuman form (Zachary Levi) to buy beer, get out of school, and become a YouTube sensation.
As much about family and friendship – Billy’s growing bond with fellow group home resident Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the surprisingly tender heart of this film – as it is about flying around punching bad guys, this is easily the strongest DC universe film since Wonder Woman. It’s all-ages fun that’s funny and has a real sense of wonder to it. Shazam! is the superhero film you didn’t know you needed.
(Slightly scary monsters, bad parents and some mildly risqué jokes – fine for late primary school / early teens and up.)
The Lego Movie 2 (out now)
The long-awaited follow-up to the 2014 surprise hit, this takes the playtime metaphors to a whole new level, as Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt)and his Lego friends find their civilisation turned all grim and gritty thanks to constant attacks from the “Sis-star” system. Can a big wedding stave off “ar-mom-geddon”, or will it only make things worse?
First-rate animation from Australia’s Animal Logic and a gag-packed script from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who wrote the first Lego Movie, as well as the Jump Street movies and the recent excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) should make this a non-stop thrill ride. But the story piles on the themes and metaphors a little too much. It might sag a little in the middle, but there’s still plenty to like here, including some extremely catchy songs. You can read the full Screenhub review here.
(Lego explosions and family fights – all good for primary school kids and up.)
Missing Link (April 11th)
Myths and monsters investigator Sir Lionel Frost (the voice of Hugh Jackman) isn’t exactly highly respected among his more traditional peers. So he’s teaming up with adventurer Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) to bring back real proof of a legendary creature – a bigfoot known as Mr Link (Zach Galifianakis). Safe to say, the pair are about to discover they’ve bitten off a little more than they can chew.
Coming off the back of their critically acclaimed Kobo and the Two Strings, US studio Laika – the stop-motion animation studio that isn’t Aardman (home of Wallace & Grommit) – have gone for a broader, more comedic (almost Aardman-esque) feel here.
(A few intense sequences but should be okay for primary school kids from about seven upwards. A few guns but it's animated and not scary.)
Wonder Park (out now)
When she was younger, June Baily and her mum used to tell stories set in Wonderland, an amusement park run by talking animals. But that was years ago: now her mother is sick and June is on her way to math camp when she jumps off the bus and heads into the woods, thinking she’ll find her way back home. Instead, she finds a run down, real-life Wonderland that desperately needs her help.
Every school holiday has at least one CGI feature aimed entirely at kids. So while younger viewers might be passably entertained by the idea of an amusement park run by talking animals, adults should perhaps keep their expectations down the low end of the scale. Not-so fun fact: the director was dismissed towards the end of production after #metoo allegations.
(Suitable for all but the very young.)
Back of the Net (April 11th)
US student Cory Bailey (Sofia Wiley, star of Disney series Andi Mack) was supposed to be going to science camp in Australia. But when a mix-up sees her end up at soccer camp instead, she’s stuck: her parents are in India, the science camp boat has sailed, and she has no choice but to stick it out with the jocks. Will the science nerd discover a new-found love of sport, make a bunch of new friends, and end up taking a starring role in the big game against the bad guys?
Australia doesn’t make a lot of kids movies, but with a US lead and the world game as its focus, this one looks like a solid prospect for overseas success. Plus it’s the only live-action kids movie these holidays that doesn’t involve super-powers.
We haven't had a chance to preview Back of the Net yet, so no star ratings for this one.