Film Review of the Week


The Inseparables (PG)

Review: Playthings come to life when human eyes are averted a la Toy Story in a charming but narratively simplistic computer-animated fantasy adventure from the director of The House Of Magic and Bigfoot Family. Opening with an inspirational quote from John Lennon, The Inseparables depicts a puppet’s journey through Central Park in New York as a series of daredevil escapades as they unfold in the marionette’s vivid imagination. Thus, the rescue of stricken raccoon babies from a drain after a torrential downpour is realised as a thrilling descent into the belly of a gargantuan whale during a cacophonous storm.

Director Jeremie Degruson oscillates between reality and outlandish fantasy and lightly references Home Alone in a night-time sequence when two thieves break into a children’s theatre and fall victim to booby traps set by puppets that walk and talk without the assistance of human hands. The script’s key learning – we are heroes of our own life story – is distilled with the subtlety of an excited preschooler gifted a toy drum for Christmas but cloying sentimentality does not drown out the heartfelt sweetness.

The fate of puppet Don (voiced by Dakota West) comes with strings attached as a member of cast in a children’s theatre situated in midtown Manhattan. He is condemned to forever play the fool while oafish hunk Alfonso (Donte Paris) always portrays the dashing hero who rescues damsel in distress Dee (Monica Young) from the clutches of a hungry giant. Don daydreams about inhabiting the armour of noble sword-wielding knight Don Quixote (catchphrase: “Prepare to taste my steel!”) and vanquishing terrifying beasts. “I’m going to make something of my life and it’s not going to happen if I just sit around here taking pies in the face,” Don tells co-stars Dee and Sunny (Tripp Karrh).

Consequently, he quits the theatre and charges heroically into Central Park in search of a fabled Castle in the Sky. Don encounters battery-operated toy DJ Doggy Dog (Jordan Baird), whose greatest wish is a place to call home. “When our quest is complete, I promise I will find you a new family to call your own,” Don assures his canine companion and they test their mettle by rescuing stricken animals. Meanwhile, larcenous siblings Petra (Laila Berzins) and Preston (Patrick Hambrick) plot to break into the theatre and sell the puppets as valuable collector’s items.

The Inseparables is a mismatched buddy comedy adventure for family audiences that looks to the exploits of Buzz Lightyear and Woody as a template for briskly paced childhood wonder. Stylised visuals do not needlessly sear retinas and the script mines gentle laughs from Don’s well-intentioned delusions. An obligatory toe-tapping musical number with lyrics that summarise the film’s tenets confirms we have all got a friend in Degruson’s picture.

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Please Don't Destroy: The Treasure Of Foggy Mountain (15)

Review: New York City-based comedy troupe Please Don’t Destroy, aka Martin Herlihy, John Higgins and Ben Marshall, began performing together at university and the trio joined the writing team of Saturday Night Live in 2021, building on the popularity of digital shorts posted during the Covid lockdowns. Their irreverent humour yields frustratingly hit-or-miss returns in a gung-ho outdoor adventure about childhood friends on the hunt for a priceless artefact, directed by SNL alumnus Paul Briganti. Belly laughs are harder to find than the buried bounty in Herlihy, Higgins and Marshall’s scatty script, which pinballs between father-son angst, aerial acrobatics in wingsuits, adult baptism, pungent flatulence and close encounters with a rapacious wild hawk.

Narrated by a delightfully droll John Goodman (for no obvious reason), Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure Of Foggy Mountain boasts a couple of decent one-liners and a sweetly sincere yet slight romantic subplot. However, a lot of gags don’t land comfortably, if at all, and a gifted supporting ensemble including Bowen Yang, Conan O’Brien and Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo (playing himself) are poorly served. Winning rapport between the endearingly goofy central trio casts a warm glow but Briganti’s picture won’t be earning its fire-starting wilderness badge with just a couple of bright sparks.

Ben Patterson (Marshall) is a directionless 26-year-old, who lives with childhood pals John (Higgins) and Martin (Herlihy) and all three work at the Trout Plus outdoor goods emporium run by Ben’s overbearing father, Farley (O’Brien). “I only care about two things in the world: money and power. And you have neither,” Farley disparages his son. A random social media post intimates that an old compass, which Ben, John and Martin found in a creek as children, could be the missing link to discovering a bust of Marie Antoinette stolen by French naval officer Jean Pierre Le Roche (Rick Espaillat) worth an estimated 100 million US dollars.

Ben resolves to earn his father’s respect by unearthing the booty with his buddies. The hapless trio venture into Foggy Mountain State Park to etch their names into the history books. En route, Ben, John and Martin clash with local wildlife, flirt with park rangers Lisa (Megan Stalter) and Taylor (X Mayo) and antagonise an anti-capitalist cult led by missing local man Deetch Nordwind (Yang).

Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure Of Foggy Mountain is a series of offbeat skits, loosely tethered to a perfunctory tale of enduring friendship in the great outdoors. Herlihy, Higgins and Marshall occasionally strike gold – the punchline to a disastrous children’s talent show is glorious – but for most of the 92 minutes, their comedy prospecting comes up empty-handed.

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Wonka (PG)

Review: As someone with an insatiable sweet tooth, writer-director Paul King’s soft-centred musical comedy based on characters created for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is my idea of a lip-smacking treat. Sugar syrup in a symphony of colours is drizzled over every feelgood frame, hand-stirred at a similar temperature to King’s big screen adventures with Paddington Bear and lavishly decorated with the blessing of Roald Dahl’s estate (the author’s grandson, Luke Kelly, is one of the producers).

King and co-writer Simon Farnaby combine scrumdiddlyumptious ingredients from Dahl’s books including macabre humour and characters with vividly descriptive names (Jim Carter’s accountant Abacus Crunch is a doozy), with nostalgic references to the phizz-whizzing 1971 musical comedy starring Gene Wilder as the quixotic candy man. Look closely and you’ll spot edible tea cups, hover-chocs that render similar side effects to fizzy lifting drinks, the silver whistle used by Willy to summon Oompa-Loompas, Willy’s familiar attempts at self-correction (“Scratch that, reverse it!” burbles the younger Wonka) plus a heartfelt rendition of Pure Imagination composed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

Timothee Chalamet exudes an undimmable childlike ebullience in the title role that harmonises perfectly with barn-storming song and dance numbers choreographed by Christopher Gattelli and mouth-watering production design and costumes. Thankfully for Hugh Grant’s scene-stealing turn as an Oompa-Loompa, who proudly claims to be “something of a whopper” in Loompaland, there isn’t a Snozzwanger in sight to spoil the candy-coloured party.

As a young boy, Willy Wonka (Chalamet) nurtures a reverence for lovingly handmade chocolate from his mother (Sally Hawkins), who scrimps to buy ingredients for one bar of the silky confection. When she passes away, Willy pursues his dream of opening a chocolate shop at the Galeries Gourmet, a glittering arcade where confectionery titans Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Prodnose (Matt Lucas) already have high-end boutiques.

Alas, the entrepreneurs have formed a secret chocolate cartel and bribe the Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key) to thwart Willy’s wholesome ambitions. Young Wonka falls into the clutches of villainous Mrs Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and her sidekick Bleacher (Tom Davis). “The greedy beat the needy every time,” laments orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), one of Mrs Scrubbit’s other victims, who assists Willy in a daredevil plan to access a secret vault guarded by corrupt cleric Father Julius (Rowan Atkinson) and a brotherhood of chocaholic monks.

Wonka bypasses Johnny Depp’s wild theatrics and repeatedly doffs its hat to Wilder’s charming eccentricity. Neil Hannon, front man of pop band The Divine Comedy, provides original songs that fizz pleasantly in the short-term memory. Admittedly, plotting is the least flavourful element of King’s confection and a set piece with a rampaging computer-generated giraffe over-extends, but in other respects, this fantastical origin story is splendiferous.

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