The Book Of Life (2014)

The Book of LifePromising a secret tour of her museum, Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) takes a small group of school children to a hidden chamber where she recounts a story from Mexican lore. Years ago in the town of San Angel, two childhood friends were vying for the affections of a young girl called María (Zoe Saldana). Monolo (Diego Luna), a musician from a family of bullfighters, attempts to win her over with music, while Joaquín (Channing Tatum), the orphaned son of the town’s late hero, uses his physical prowess to impress her. Unbeknownst to them, however, their efforts are being overseen by two of the country’s ruling deities — La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), who reigns in the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who watches over the Land of the Forgotten.

A macabre Mexican animation produced by the one and only Guillermo del Toro? It’s certainly a tantalising prospect, but sadly one that debut director Jorge Gutierrez sadly — if perhaps unsurprisingly — fails to realise. And indeed, given the expectations that accompany any del Toro’s production, who could have expected him to? It’s not entirely Guiterrez fault, to be fair, with a banal script, bizarre casting choices and a bonkers soundtrack doing little to improve his chances of success. The dialogue is drab, the Mexican accents are inconsistent and every time Monolo picks up his guitar the film grinds to a halt while he launches into a completely incongruous rendition of Radiohead’s Creep.

It was, frankly, never going to work. Not only does the audience have three sets of characters to contend with, but they must first come to terms with a foreign belief system with which most will be completely unfamiliar. Throw in the fact that the visual style changes between one layer of storytelling and the next and you reach a level of narrative complexity that will likely have parents struggling to keep up, never mind their children. Seriously, it’s a story within a story about a world within a world that features characters pretending to be other characters in order to…settle a wager. At one point Monolo — dead, but ‘living’ in the Land of the Remembered — has to journey to the Cave of Souls to ask The Candle Maker (?) to transport him to the Land of the Forgotten so that he might then fight a giant bull and return to San Angel to stop a bandit from stealing a magic medal. I mean, what?

Thankfully, while the animation of the school children might at first seem a little crude, the rest of the film boasts some real visual flair. Styled on traditional wooden toys, the residents of San Angel are well crafted and beautifully animated — the residents of the Land of the Remembered even more so. What’s more, the film has a wonderful energy which means that while you’re not always entirely sure what’s going on it hardly matters, because it’s a joy to watch regardless. Sadly though, for all its exotic splendour, and despite the overwrought madness of the various subplots, The Book Of Life is actually a fairly staid story about essentially stock characters. Much is made of María being a different kind of heroine, a modern and independent woman who refuses to be controlled by the men in her life, but rather than round out her character the film simply sidelines her until a damsel in distress is needed for the final act.

Originally in development at DreamWorks Animation where del Toro has long served as a consultant, The Book Of Life was dropped from the studio’s release schedule over creative differences. Produced instead at Reel FX Creative Studios the filmmakers may have had more creative freedom to realise the film that they intended but at the cost of all the resources and seasoned talent that come with such an experienced backer. Guitterez may be better than Free Birds, the smaller studio’s previous effort, but you have to wonder if maybe DreamWorks Animation canned it for a reason.

2-stars

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How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

HTTYD2It’s been five years since the denizens of Berk finally welcomed dragons into their midsts, ending a war that had raged for generations. Since then, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless have continued to explore the viking world, discovering new species and acting as ambassadors for human-dragon relations. After an encounter with a trapper named Eret (Kit Harrington), however, Hiccup is ordered by Stoic The Vast (Gerard Butler) to cease his activities and assist in safeguarding Berk against possible invaders — namely Eret’s master, Drago (Djimon Hounsou), with whom the chieftain has history. Confident of his outreach programme, Hiccup flees from Stoic only to end up in the company of his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchet), who he had long presumed dead. While Hiccup reconnects with his estranged parent, old classmates Astrid (America Ferrera), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (T. J. Miller) set out in search of their missing friend.

When How To Train Your Dragon was released in 2010 it took the box office by storm and audiences by surprise. DreamWorks had long been overshadowed by Pixar, and yet here was a film with as much heart, wit and spectacle as anything its rival had to offer. It promised a new dawn for DreamWorks Animation, with directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders enlisting the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Roger Deakin and John Powell to produce the studio’s first undisputed masterpiece. While it’s true that How To Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor, it’s still ambitious enough to impress in its own right.

A more serious film than the first, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has aged its characters by half a decade and introduced an external threat that was much less pronounced the last time around. Older, wiser and rather more confident than before, Hiccup has begun to shed his awkward, adolescent angst to become something of a hero-figure. His relationship with Stoic has inevitably changed, and with the return of his mother it soon changes again. He may have lost a leg at the end of the first movie, but it didn’t seem to dampen his spirits or weaken his resolve. This time, however, his decisions may continue to have a cost but it’s the people around him that suffer the consequences, upping the stakes and giving the character a real sense of weight and responsibility.

That’s not to say that the film isn’t funny, just that the jokes don’t come quite as thick and fast as before. Hiccup and Toothless’ interactions continue to be a source of wit and warmth, as they work – often simultaneously — on both their synchronicity and independence. Gobber (Craig Ferguson), meanwhile, continues to entertain with his assortment of replacement limbs, while Ruffnut earns arguably the biggest laughs of all with her feelings for Eret — much to the chagrin of both Snotlout and Fishlegs, who have by now given up on finding favour with Astrid and refocused their attention at Tuffnut’s twin. As before, the dragons are almost as engaging as their riders, and there is often so much going on in the background that you suspect repeated viewings may be once again necessary to enjoy every gag.

It’s the film’s villain that lets it down. While Hiccup’s mother is a welcome addition to the cast (though Blanchet’s Scottish accent could do with a bit of work), the other newcomers are nowhere near as memorable. Whereas every character in the first film felt fleshed out and integral to the plot, Harrington’s rogue never really coheres (even despite Ruffnut’s affections for him) while the big bad never feels like that much of a threat. Previously the conflict came from Hiccup’s strained relationship with his father, and next to that the antagonism he shares with Drago feels tenuous and beside the point. How To Train Your Dragon 2 just doesn’t feel as sharp or as streamlined as the first; Hiccup’s narration feels clunky and unnecessary as he introduces every viking and his dragon; the dragon races feel like a hangover from the spin-off TV series; and the happy ending doesn’t feel deserved after what is otherwise a pointedly traumatic third act.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is still incredibly entertaining. The animation is even more astonishing than before, the flight scenes are just as stirring and though not quite as uplifting John Powell’s score is still a delight. It’s just a shame that in pushing for something bigger and broader DeBlois has lost track of the finer details that made the original such an unmitigated and unexpected success.

4-Stars

Rise Of The Guardians (2012)

Rise Of The GuardiansJack Frost (Chris Pine) remembers only darkness, and yet since emerging from a frozen pond some time in the 1800s he has spent the intervening years bringing light to everyone he encounters. Having initiated a snowball fight in the present day, inspiring a young boy named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) to believe, Jack is abducted by yetis and transported to the North Pole. Once there he learns from Santa Claus (Adam Baldwin) that the Boogeyman has returned, and is invited to join The Guardians Of Childhood — along with Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Sandman — in their attempts to stop him.

Despite being considered something of a flop back in 2012, Rise Of The Guardians nevertheless received strong reviews at the time of release and has since gone on to recoup its considerable costs on DVD and Blu-ray. Peter Ramsey’s film didn’t deserve the indifference it was met with, and it’s reassuring to note that the film has finally found an audience. With DreamWorks Animation continuing the good work it started with Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, cultivating in-house talent and seeking consultations with filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro and Roger Deakins, Rise Of The Guardians is further indication that their efforts are paying off.

The opening scene is one of the most astounding of recent years, with Jack Frost experimenting with his newfound abilities and delighting in innocent mischief. The subtlety of the animation is truly exceptional, the image of Jack floating lost in front of a silent moon proving both immediately iconic and endlessly compelling. The computer effects go from strength to strength as the other Guardians are introduced; a tracking shot following one of Tooth’s fairies as it darts down from the rafters is particularly impressive, as are the tendrils of sand that alert Jack to the Sandman’s presence. Just as remarkable are the cityscapes, a number of which feature during the Guardians’ first mission: to collect lost teeth from across the globe.

While that scene might be as jaunty and energetic as any out of DreamWorks Animation’s other 2012 release, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Rise Of The Guardians is by and large a much more muted affair. Arguably Ramsey’s biggest success is in striking the perfect balance between slapstick and sentiment, for Jack’s journey towards self-discovery goes to some pretty dark places, relatively speaking, and yet the film never gets too bogged down in schmatz. Pine is perfect in the leading role, convincing as a care-free maverick while also hitting the more sombre notes with sensitivity and sincerity. The script may not be as quotable or even as clever as some of the studios other features, but it builds an atmosphere and mood that few animated children’s movies could lay claim to.

Also worthy of note is Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack, which is almost as eccentric as the images onscreen. By turns haunting and playful, different tracks not only have to reflect different emotions but different seasons and cultures. That it all harmonises into one single, coherent score is testament to Desplat’s talents as composer, and both beautifully mirrors and compliments a film that is just as complex. The plot may be certifiably insane, hanging as it does on tooth memory, magic snowflakes and a man on the moon, but the themes are so strong — both musically and figuratively — and the animation so breathtaking that it doesn’t really matter.

4-Stars

Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific RimIn the future, a portal opens in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, unleashing colossal monsters known as Kaiju onto the major cities of Earth. As the creatures grew bigger and more robust, humanity devised behemoths of their own — robots called Jaegers, controlled by two neurologically compatible pilots — as part of an inter-dimensional arms race. Having lost his brother in a battle off the Alaskan coast, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) must synch with a new co-pilot (played by Rinko Kikuchi) if he and his Jaeger Gypsy Danger are to stay in the game.

It is generally understood that stereoscopy works best when dealing with vast differences in scale — whether it’s Spider-man standing atop a Manhattan skyscraper or a young Indian boy floating adrift in an immense ocean — and the same is true of Pacific Rim. Whenever humans are shown fleeing from monolithic creatures — whether monstrous or man-made — the results are quite simply spectacular; there’s with a craftsmanship to the special effects which immediately sets it apart from the likes of Michael Bay’s Transformers.

Of course, scale isn’t only of importance when dealing with 3D, for it gives weight and context to events which might otherwise be difficult to fully comprehend. The audience needs a stake in any conflict, and this is best achieved by putting recogniseably human characters front and centre. The most memorable scenes in Pacific Rim do this extremely well; an astonishing sequence relatively early on pitches two unsuspecting beach-combers against a malfunctioning Jaeger (or Megazord, if you grew up with Power Rangers), while a particular tense flashback sees a young girl cowering helplessly from a towering Kaiju.

As it is, however, not an awful lot of time is spent at ground level with the people fighting for survival, and the insights we do get don’t amount to much either. Charlie Hunnam cuts a competent but unremarkable protagonist as cocky co-pilot Raleigh Becket, but rather inexplicably spends most of his screentime struggling to hold up his trousers. Idris Elba is similarly satisfactory as Stacker Pentecost, delivering a decent speech but more often than not disappearing unceremoniously into the background. Only Burn Gorman and J J Abrams-lookalike Charlie Day stand out as scientists Dr Gottieb and Dr Geizler, but for all the wrong reasons.

What’s most disappointing about Pacific Rim, particularly given the involvement of director Guillermo del Toro, however, is the lack of personality afforded to its Kaiju antagonists. The creature designs are characteristically strong, with the attention to detail making each titan visually interesting and unique in its own right, but they lack the charm of his creations for films such as Pans Labyrinth and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Whether fearsome, humourous or awe-inspiring, del Toro (and more often than not Doug Jones) has a habit of not just writing creatures, but characters too. The same is simply not true here.

While generally entertaining (especially when Ron Perlman’s onscreen), Pacific Rim is hampered by a weak script and propensity to shoot its many action scenes in confusing close-up. The results often feel more like a video game than a movie, albeit one being button-mashed by an impatient teenager — indeed, Pacific Rim could accurately be described as Shadow Of The Colossus with robots. Unfortunately, it would have been better without the robots.

3-Stars

Reactions from the Rublik: Rise of the Guardians

I have so far attempted to publish my reactions in groups of three, as it seems a little pointless having separate articles for what are really just first impressions and not full reviews. However, DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians has been such a huge deal for me for so long now that I believe I have enough to say to justify a full discussion.

As before, then, this reaction is to be taken with a sizeable pinch of salt, as all I can really comment on are the film’s visuals, soundtrack and the gist of its narrative (although I am now fairly sure I know what rabbit is in Russian). That said, I believe that have I picked up enough information through the extensive publicity campaign and early reviews to follow the story closely enough.

For the uninitiated, Rise of the Guardians centres on the boyish Jack Frost, an angsty eighteen-year-old who deals in snow days and delights in sub-zero mischief. When a dark force unleashes an attack on the planet’s children, replacing their faith with fear, Jack is called upon by the Guardians — North, Tooth, E. Aster Bunnymund and the Sandman — as they attempt to mount a counter-offensive of their own.

The last film from DreamWorks Animation to be distributed by Paramount Pictures, Rise of the Guardians comes off the back of something of a Golden Age for the studio that once brought us Shark Tale and Shrek 3. As DreamWorks enters a new five year partnership with 20th Century Fox, the film, directed by Peter Ramsey, will inevitably colour the legacy of the tumultuous Paramount years.

Far from dropping the ball, Rise of the Guardians is one of the studio’s most accomplished works to date, and may well be the best computer animated film of this year, beating both Pixar’s Brave and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, but perhaps on a par with LAIKA’s stop-motion ParaNorman. With what is ostensibly the final part in the Madagascar series epitomising the studio’s (admittedly entertaining) snarky past, the second of DreamWorks’ 2012 releases is more in line with instant-classic How To Train Your Dragon in both style and substance — hopefully a cornerstone of the company’s future.

Although primarily based on William Joyce’s book series, The Guardians of Childhood, the film’s success can also be attributed to a number of other sources. I have been Team DreamWorks for some time now, and the studio has been pushing the boundaries of computer animation in a number of really interesting ways. By uniting Roger Deakins, the famed cinematographer who worked on How To Train Your Dragon and supervised here, Guillermo del Toro, who has executive-produced the studio’s output since Kung Fu Panda 2, and Alexandre Desplat, arguably one of the finest composers working in the industry today, DreamWorks have produced something truly special.

As such, while the animation is as good as we have come to expect at this point in the technology’s development, the film also bears the fingerprints of other, decidedly non-animator hands. The results are utterly astonishing, as they were previously in How To Train Your Dragon, as it is not only the quality of the effects that you are admiring, but the realism and depth of the image itself. From the beautifully-realised mannerisms of its characters to the very specific way light dances through distant trees, there is never a moment that you aren’t in awe of what has been realised onscreen. In genuinely immersive 3D.

And it’s fun. Really fun. As the Russian audience around me erupted into unanimous laughter at what I am sure was a brilliantly witty piece of dialogue, I found myself perfectly entertained by the amusing — though not overly goofy — physical comedy. The plot bolts along at a staggering pace; after a brief introduction to the character of Jack Frost, we are thrown almost immediately into the action as Pitch, the film’s bogeyman, reveals himself to Santa Claus. Not even the cutesy minions irked me, for they were put to far greater use than the yellow ticktacks of Despicable Me and the Pink Berets of Hop.

In fact, the only time that Rise of the Guardians ever falls short during a comparison is when it is held up against DreamWorks’ own recent output. Whereas Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon and Madagascar 3 positively popped with imagination, DreamWorks’ latest feels — at times — a little constrained. Whether it’s the Sandman’s Patronus-esque magic, the Avengers-ish premise or the slightly underdeveloped E. Aster Bunnymund character (come on: eggs with legs?), there is a sense that it could yet have been bigger, better. Not that I’m complaining. Not at all.

Terrifically inventive and wonderfully animated (I was sold from the moment Frost replaced the little boy in the studio’s crescent moon logo), Rise of the Guardians is also a delightfully sweet, beautifully scored and impeccably directed film. Simply put, movies like this are the reason I go to the cinema. I loved it. And I’m going again at the weekend.

Rise of the Guardians opens in U.K. cinemas on November 30th. Make sure you see it.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Having declared war on all humanity, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) kills his father in order to acquire an ancient artefact capable controlling the dreaded Golden Army. As Nuada makes his presence on the surface felt with an auction-room massacre, B.P.R.D. is sent to investigate under the leadership of Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor). When Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) are attacked by a swarm of carnivorous tooth fairies, the protective blast from Liz’s pyrokinesis blows Red into the street, making B.P.R.D.’s existence known to the public. Under new management, that of ectoplasmic medium Johann Strauss (Seth MacFarlane), Hellboy attempts to stop Nuala before he can unleash his indestructible army on the world.

After the bold but flawed opening instalment saw Hellboy’s B.P.R.P. face off against a wizard, an undead surgery-addict and an interdimensional colossus, Guillermo del Toro (armed with Mike Mignola’s sterling source material) has changed tack with a story about vengeful fairytale creatures. Unlike the tonal and casting shift between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, however, this feels very much like part of the same universe. Having honed his craft to celebrated effect in Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro brings everything he has learnt to the Hellboy universe, producing in the process what I believe to be the best comic-book movie ever made.

With a group of super-powered heroes that make the X-Men look well-adjusted and normal, del Toro rightfully leaves his plot in the hands of his characters. Instead of clunky instances of exposition, the script expertly ties all relevant information into a gag, a set piece or a character beat, so that the pace never need relent in order to let audiences catch up. As such, Hellboy II: The Golden Army positively flies by, maintaining a light, witty and irreverent tone as the narrative hurtles towards its resolution. Perlman, as before, is absolutely perfect as Hellboy, carrying the movie on his enormous red shoulders with an endearing effortless that has enormous appeal.

While Blair and Jones return as the fire-starting Liz Sherman and amphibian telekinetic Abe Sapien (who Jones now voices, as well as acts), it is bumbling beaurocrat Tom Manning and newcomer Johann Krauss that come closest to stealing the show. Tambor is brilliantly sympathetic as an agent just trying to do his job, flinching as his efforts are undermined at every turn. Krauss, meanwhile, chews scenery as the straight-laced, “open-faced” know-it-all who proves more than a physical (as well as intellectual) match for Hellboy. It’s geniunely refreshing to watch a superhero movie – any movie – in which the characters are so vibrantly drawn, well-observed and lovingly developed. If, by comparison, Goss and onscreen sister Anna Walton fail to make as big an impression, it is only because the competition is so uniformly strong.

In addition to its clever – occasionally hilarious – script and compelling characters, Hellboy II also benefits from del Toro’s directorial prowess, attention to detail and unparalleled set design. A locker-room skirmish between Hellboy and Krauss is milked for a truly staggering number of laughs; a musical sequence whereby Red and Blue share a drunken rendition of Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You boasts more personality than you’ll find in most superhero vehicles; and a mid-movie excursion to the troll market shows off the most impressive set design this side of the writer-director’s last masterpiece. If del Toro stumbles at all it is in the film’s climactic battle, but even then the stunt work, acting and dialogue is every bit as impressive as the special effects.

Whether you most prize spectacle, smarts or spirit from your favourite comic-book movies, Hellboy II: The Golden Army has all three in spades. This is simply a beautifully made, wittily scripted and charmingly acted piece of cinema – courtesy of an irrefutable master at work. With the stars stubbornly failing to align with regards to a sequel, this is a fitting – if unfairly premature – conclusion to one of the most under-appreciated franchises of recent years.

Puss in Boots (2011)

Eager to right his past wrongs and reimburse the denizens of his home town, San Ricardo, after accidentally casting their savings over the side of a bridge, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) learns of the whereabouts of magic beans capable of leading him to the legendary Golden Goose. When he attempts to rob the items from the infamous Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), however, Puss runs afoul of Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), who subsequently leads him back to her lair so that he might be reunited with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), a dark figure from his past who was directly responsible for his banishment from the orphanage that they once attended together. Combining forces, they scheme to aqcuire the beans, ascend the beanstalk and kidnap the Golden Goose from the clutches of the terrifying Terror, providing Humpty’s treacherous ways really are behind him.

With the Shrek franchise having run its course (for now) and DreamWorks enjoying a new age in quality product (Madagascar 3 really does look fantastic), the studio revisits Puss in Boots under the watchful eye of Guillermo del Toro for an origin story with a delightfully Latino spin. Applying the brand’s subversive framework to another set of ripe old fairy-tales, director Chris Miller puts Antonio Banderas’ Chupacabra front and centre while crafting a narrative which takes in skyward castles, giant monsters and dancing duels. However, while Miller and star Banderas might have crafted a number of outstanding set pieces littered with delightful one-liners, the movie which attempts to hold it all together is a few golden eggs short of a two-ton omelette.

I laughed during Puss in Boots, I laughed harder than I have done since Shrek rediscovered its mojo in the ogre’s final outing; but, while the screenplay might be witty, the action exciting and the voice-work arresting, Puss in Boots is one of the most unrealised, half-baked and underdeveloped animations of the year. Scraping the bottom of a barrel which once contained such promising concepts as a talking donkey, a camp Pinochio and a lovelorn dragon, Puss in Boots is instead forced to settle for a nondescript couple who inexplicably raise hogs, an aged beanstalk climber who now grows beards and a talking egg which might just be the very embodiment of annoying (and creepy). Very few of these characters work alone, let alone as part of an ensemble, and the result is as far from the inspired and now classic alchemy of the original Shrek as its possible to get without casting singing chipmunks.

Let’s take Humpty, an American, clothed egg who once went to school with a class-full of Spanish children and a talking cat. He befriended Puss after the titular cat discovers Humpty’s eye for invention, and spend their childhood finding shapes in the clouds and stealing little boy blue’s lunch money. When Puss is rewarded for saving an old lady with a pair of boots and a hat, however, Humpty grows jealous and resorts to deceiving Puss into aiding and abetting the next time he’s running low on money.  Aside from the sheer ludicrousness of that set-up, it is a backstory which essentially halts the narrative and leaves you panicked every time another character’s gaze threatens to drift into the past.

Elsewhere, the film’s ethnic slant is little justified and never tied into what came before, Humpty is chastised for believing in magic despite the fact that he is a sentient egg, Jack and Jill remain jarringly underdeveloped and the same gag in which Puss has his boots stolen is repeated approximately three million times. As a spin-off, it would have been nice if Puss in Boots had taken the time – any time – to honour what came before after; a pair of cat ears adorning the DreamWorks logo, a mention of the world beyond San Ricardo or a shared musical cue – anything. That the writers also missed a once-in-a-franchise excuse for a “chicken or the egg” gag only makes matters worse.

A funny, exciting and perfectly harmless romp, Puss in Boots unfortunately falls short of being anywhere near as good as the original Shrek movie it’s a bi-product of. Antonio Banteras’ Puss might still be a thing of beauty, but his first solo outing is a messy, uneven and disappointing affair. This Puss might have boots, but he almost certainly doesn’t have the legs to fill them.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)

Abandoned by her mother, Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison) is forced to move in with her architect father (Guy Pearce) and his interor designer girlfriend (Katie Holmes) as they take on a new joint project; a Gothic mansion in which they now reside. When a secret basement is discovered behind a false wall, Sally is drawn to an old fireplace, from which she can hear enigmatic whispers. Alienating herself from her father and deflecting Kate’s offers of friendship, Sally is left vulnerable to the creatures inhabiting the house’s crevices. After confronting one of the fairies in question, she must reach out to those close to her if she is to avoid the fate suffered by the building’s previous inhabitants in the creature’s never-ending pursuit of sustenance. And their snack of choice: child’s teeth.

With a title as imperative as Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Troy Nixey had his work cut out for him if he was to give good reason for his audience not to fear all that goes bump in the night. And with Guillermo Del Toro on board as producer, the moniker in question looked sure to prove an ironic instrument of false security. Not so, unfortunately, as Nixey does the impossible and neuters Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark of any fright, of any enchantment, and of any soul. Don’t worry Troy, unlike Katie Holmes we really weren’t all that afraid to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong, however: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is not a bad movie, it just isn’t particularly effective. Everything is in place – from the Gothic estate to the disbelieving parents – but, despite his best efforts, Nixey just can’t seem to wring the same fairy-tale horror from the material that Del Toro managed so memorably with Pan’s Labyrinth. From the moment the tooth-fairies (a pale imitation of the creatures featured in Hellboy II: The Golden Army) don’t claim their first victim, any semblance of apprehension is dashed as our heroes are pulled suddenly – and irreparably – from respectable danger.

For while Bailee Madison can cry rivers, Guy Pearce can ignore monsters and Katie Holmes can, well, deliver lines, their family unit just doesn’t ring true, particularly considering the truly arresting familial relationships which ground Del Toro’s other projects, whether he is attached as director (Pan’s Labyrinth) or producer (The Orphenage). Along with distinctly uncreepy grounds-keeper and an annoying tendency towards the easy jump-scare, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark simply doesn’t have the same insidious magicality to it, robbing it of the one element that promised to set the film apart from the years other – disappointingly superior – offerings.

Attractive, competent and passably fantastical (the creatures are reliably well-realised), Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark sadly doesn’t live up to its practically palpable potential. Half-baked and failing to make the most of its 15 rating, the film aims for acceptable and hits the mark dead on. Holding more in common with The Spiderwick Chronicles than The Devil’s Backbone (the teeth-pulling prelude notwithstanding), this is one movie which could have done with a heavier edit and a better understanding of its target audience. Too shocking for kids; too tame for adults, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark satisfies no-one.