As is so often the case for my second book review of the week, I’m reviewing a short book because I needed to finish something quickly. It’s not necessarily a bad strategy as there are some really good short books out there but it still feels like a bad reason for picking something up. Although, I don’t think I’d ever regret picking up a Neil Gaiman. Well, I didn’t like The Ocean at the End of the Lane when I read it but I suspect I missed something there. After all, the majority of people rave about that book. I keep meaning to give it a reread but I’m still wary. But that’s beside point. This time, I went back to a classic Neil Gaiman story. One that feels so Gaiman. There’s Norse mythology, an odd (literally) protagonist, and Chris Riddell illustrations. I decided to listen to the audiobook at the same time because I needed the comfort of his narration.
When we were younger, my sisters and I really loved the 1993 film Homeward Bound. We watched it over and over again. The film had such an impact on my whole family that we all still quote things from it now. It helps that Michael J. Fox is absolutely amazing in the role of Chance but, really, we just love a good animal story. Especially about a group of them defying the odds. So, when writer Tony Lee Moral got in touch with me about his new children’s book, I definitely wanted to read it. After all, what’s better than the story of an animal defying the odds? The story of an animal defying the odds that is based on real-life.
After my last read, I had every intention of reading a proper book but I also needed to write a second book post this week. Of course, when I say “proper book”, I don’t mean to suggest that children’s books aren’t proper but that they aren’t exactly age appropriate. It has been nice revisiting my youth again though. This was another book in this series that I’d already read and it was probably the first time that I’d seen the dark and gory side to fairy tales. I was probably more aware of the Disney version where everyone lives happily ever after. It will no doubt have rocked my world to discover the disgusting origins to these well known stories. But does it still live up to my memories?
Do you ever revisit the books of your youth? It’s one of those big dilemmas. Do you reread them to see if they’re as good or do you not take the risk? It’s awful going back to something that you loved and realising that it’s just not that great. That was my quandary with this book. I had thought about it for years but couldn’t find it anywhere. It didn’t help that I’d forgotten the full title and didn’t know who wrote it. There was a point where I genuinely believed that I’d made it up. Although, I also remembered how much I loved this book. I am sure that it was the reason that I love Greek mythology. It must have been my introduction to them. I can’t remember where I bought it but it was probably at the Scholastic book fair. Those places were magical. I miss the rush you’d get at one of those. Nothing in adult life can match it.
David Walliams is one of the most successful British writers of all time. He has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide and has made millions from his work. So, there must be something of worth there, right? After reading Slime I have to wonder just what it is that so many people see in his books. To compare his writing to Roald Dahl is ridiculous. This book was nothing more than a puerile and repetitive book that doesn’t really have much of a plot. It just seemed like a desperate attempt to cash in on the slime trend that has been dominant for a few years now.
Jumanji: The Next Level film might be the third film to include Jumanji in the title but it is actually the fourth film in the whole franchise. It’s easy to forget that Zathura: A Space Adventure is part of the same universe. Mostly because both the writer of the original books, Chris Van Allsburg, and director, Jon Favreau, wanted to distance it from the Robin Williams film. Favreau, in particular, didn’t like the film at all and wanted to make sure that people knew it. Yet, the studio was keen to show that both films were connected and Zathura is officially the second film in the Jumanji franchise. I’d never actually seen it, though, as I was 17 when it came out. It definitely wasn’t the kind of film the 17-year-old me would have been comfortable admitting to wanting to watch. So, I decided it was finally time. After all, it got a much better critical reaction than the first Jumanji film even if it didn’t do incredibly well at the box office. The opposite of Robin Williams’ film. Was the space adventure actually better or was this another time when the critics were way off in their assessment?
One important thing to think about at times of civil unrest is how to explain the situation to young people. Parents need to find a way to make sure their children understand why people are angry and how we have reached this point. It’s all very well and good doing anti-racist reading for myself but what about anti-racist reading lists for children? How can you possibly help a child come to terms with the idea of systemic racism and how it explains the death of innocent people? You don’t want to traumatise them or make them too fearful of society. However, you need to understand that people are protesting for good reasons. That the violence of the Black Lives Matter movement is different from the violence performed by police officers. So, I decided to check out some fiction intended for a younger audience. Just to see what’s out there.
It’s been a really long time since I last posted a Friday Favourites list. To be honest, the series was getting tough and I was bored with it. I couldn’t think of interesting ideas and it was taking me too long to write them. So, I decided to scrap it. I was intending to come up with something different to post but it never happened. In light of the recent protests surrounding race discrimination, I decided to bring it back to life once again. I know that I don’t have a particularly big platform or that I have the ability to influence someone’s decisions. However, I have been lucky enough to be born with a privilege that many people don’t have. I have a voice and I need to use it. Last week, I posted a few suggestions for ways people could learn more about the things that the Black Lives Matter movement is marching for. To learn more about the systemic racism that exists in our society. It should not be up to black people to tell us what to do or how to do it. They’ve been doing the work for us for too long. So, I did something. I wanted to know what I had missed and what I needed to know. And, to help people in the same boat, I thought I’d share it. Hopefully, it can give other people some ideas.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been rewatching the whole of the Game of Thrones TV adaptation. Until season 7 and 8, it was a great reminder of how good a show it was. It’s weird to think now, that it was once one of the greatest shows ever created. It also got me wishing that George RR Martin was ready to release the next instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I can’t even remember how long ago it was that I read A Dance With Dragons. When the new book eventually comes out, I’m not going to be able to remember a damn thing that happened. Not that I’m complaining. I’d rather he take his time and do it right. If the last two seasons of the show taught us anything, it’s that it isn’t a series you can rush. I’ve often thought about going back and rereading the fifth book but it always seemed like a silly thing to do. My TBR is too big and The Winds of Winter won’t be out for ages anyway. This week I decided to get my George RR Martin fix elsewhere. I’ve tried and failed to read some of his non-ASOIAF books in the past but I just couldn’t get on board with them. So, this time I went for a related book. It’s not actually part of the same world but it’s in the right area.
Last year, Netflix proved that it had some great things to offer the world of animation. Both Klaus and I Lost My Body were worthy Oscar nominees at this year’s Oscars. It’s just a shame that Toy Story 4 knocked them out of the park. But it did go to show that Netflix was willing to push boundaries somewhere at least. Yes, the comedies weren’t exactly anything to write home about but they were clearly picking interesting animated projects. So, I was interested in their new animated film even before I knew anything about it. I didn’t know the book it had been adapted from or what to expect. It looked pretty interesting from the trailer so I decided that it would be worth a chance. It looked like Henry Selick but with added rainbows. At the very least, I figured that it would be a pretty film.
Imagine a world in which the Baudelaire orphans aren’t orphans but they’re parents were both as awful as Count Olaf. That’s the best way I can think of to describe the premise of this story. The four Willoughby children were born to two parents that had no interest in raising children. Mother and father Willoughby were so in love with each other that they had none left for anyone else. So, when their children come along, they just leave them to fend for themselves. Tim, the eldest child, always tries to live up to the Willoughby name. His family used to be full of great people with even greater moustaches. He tries to instil these traditions in his younger sister and twin brothers but they just want to get as far away from their family as possible.
Which is how the group come up with a plan to get rid of their parents once and for all. They send them off on a deadly adventure in an attempt to orphan themselves. They are left in the hands of Linda, a caring and happy nanny. The three younger siblings fall for Linda’s charms but Tim doesn’t trust her. To the extent that he calls Orphan Services and the children get taken away. All are sent to separate homes and are even more miserable than before. Can Tim come up with a plan to get the family back together? And just what does the orphan baby left on their doorstep have to do with it all?
The Willoughbys is a very original and exciting narrative. It might look sickly sweet on the outside but there is plenty of darkness here. The story has definite Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket vibes to it but it has enough rainbows and love to make it work. It is also pretty fast-paced. The narrative moves along at such a pace that you won’t have time to get bored. It’s constantly moving forwards and it is packed full of references. This is an energetic film that will keep younger viewers engaged and it has enough originality that parents won’t be too put-out having to sit with them.
Yet, compared to Netflix’s past animated offerings, it just feels a bit lacking. There is a sense that the darkness doesn’t quite work for the audience this film is aimed for. Or at least, that it could have gone further had it not been for the young audience. It brushes with death and darkness which is fine but it feels a bit childish still. The film opens by claiming that it won’t have a happy ending but there’s never a real sense of danger here. No matter how hard it tries to convince you otherwise. It would be interesting to see what could have been made had this film been pushed towards an older audience. It could have been more like A Series of Unfortunate Events instead of seeming like a pale imitation.
This is an interesting film but it feels a little fragmented. This is the main explanation for Ricky Gervais’ role as narrator. Playing a cat who oversees everything, the narrator is the thing that keeps all of these things together. Otherwise, the film would have the feel of a series of sketches instead of one complete narrative. I understand that, when adapting a book, having a narrator can feel natural but I’m not sure the cat added anything. It was Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais again. It felt weird and out-of-place. I would have prefered the narrative to flow naturally without it.
Although, this is still an enjoyable film. The voice actors are all energetic and fantastic in their roles. The characters come to life on screen but its limited thanks to the pace of the storytelling. There’s plenty of fun and it is a visually great film. It’s just that there’s too much going on and it all happens too quickly. You can’t really sit back and enjoy the good bits because we’re skipping from bit to bit. It also means the overall emotional message gets lost a little. The film’s final act lacks the punch that it needed. It should have been a lovely moment but it’s just a bit flat. The Willoughbys isn’t the worst thing Netflix has ever created but, compared to some of their other animated films, it just can’t compare.