For the first time in 18 years I haven’t got a clue when half term actually is. It might be this week but then again it could be next. In the past I’d be rushing out to get Halloween pumpkins and planning what to do on Bonfire Night – but now my son and daughter are at university I don’t have to do any of it (sob).
But ironically I was invited to two film previews recently – both for new children’s movies being released in time for half term. Actually, when I pitched up for the screening of Madagascar 3 - Europe's Most Wanted at the Empire in London's Leicester Square I nearly made my excuses and left. The vast auditorium was filled with harassed looking parents and small children clutching balloons, Chupa Chip lollies (they were being handed out for free) and geeky 3D glasses. I felt a bit like a spare part.
But I stayed – and I’m so glad I did. With its stunning animation and madcap characters, Madagascar 3 is 80 minutes well spent. Children will love the crazy tale of New York zoo escapees Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), while adults will chuckle at the in-jokes and witty script.
The plot is silly to say the least, but it doesn’t matter a jot. I hadn’t seen the two earlier Madagascar films but the latest instalment takes up where the previous ones left off. The four animals are living in Africa but they’re bored stiff with their natural habitat and are desperate to head home to the hustle and bustle of New York. So that’s what they do, except along the way there’s a manic car chase through Monte Carlo, a train ride across Europe (where they join a travelling circus) and a dazzling circus performance in London. Best of all, it’s got the best movie villain I’ve seen in a long time – the utterly terrifying Chantel Du Bois (voiced by Frances McDormand), a French cop who looks like Cruella de Vil and sounds like something out of ‘Allo, ‘Allo.
But if your children are older and you’re after a more serious movie, then Private Peaceful is just the thing.
Private Peaceful is apparently Michael Morpurgo’s favourite of all the books he has written. It's a shame that the film adaptation has been released so soon after War Horse because it covers – with far less fanfare - much of the same First World War territory. In many ways it reminded me of the Sunday afternoon dramas I used to watch on TV as a child. The story of two brothers who fall in love with the same girl and then both sign up, a decision that ultimately leads to tragedy, it’s moving, thought-provoking and beautifully done. Oh, and any film that stars the brilliant Maxine Peake (as the boys' mum) is fine by me.
Madagascar 3, certificate PG, and Private Peaceful, certificate 12A, are showing in UK cinemas now.