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Movie of the Week

Playmobil gets its movie

Playmobil: The Movie is the first feature film to be based on Playmobil role-play toys, and features voices by Daniel Radcliffe and Meghan Trainor.

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When Marla’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) younger brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) unexpectedly disappears into the magical, animated universe of Playmobil, unprepared Marla must embark on a journey to bring him home.

As she sets off on a fantastic journey across new worlds, Marla teams up with some unlikely and heroic new friends – the smooth-talking food truck driver Del (Jim Gaffigan), the dashing and charismatic secret agent Rex Dasher (Daniel Radcliffe), a misfit robot (Lino DiSalvo), and an extravagant fairy-godmother (Meghan Trainor).

Through their vibrant adventure, Marla and Charlie realise that no matter how life plays out, you can achieve anything when you believe in yourself.

This animation was directed by Lino DiSalvo, an American animator, film director, writer and voice actor, who spent almost 17 years at Disney and served as head of animation on Frozen, supervising animator on Tangled and Bolt, and animator on Meet the Robinsons, Chicken Little and 102 Dalmatians.

Playmobil: The Movie is in cinemas now.

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Movie of the Week

African animation now streaming on Showmax

The animation-documentary Liyana is a pan-African collaboration co-directed by Eswatini’s Aaron Kopp, animated by Nigerian Shofela Coker, and starring South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope.

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In the multi-award-winning film, legendary South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope guides five orphans in The Kingdom of Eswatini through the process of creating a story. They tell a gripping tale about a young girl, Liyana, who embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue her twin brothers – a fairytale story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. 

While the storytelling process is captured in traditional documentary style, the tale the children are telling is animated, creating a hybrid-style film.

As their real and imagined worlds begin to converge, the children must choose what kind of story they will tell — in fiction, and in their own lives.
Winner of 35 awards, including Best Documentary at Los Angeles Film Festival and the Grand Prize at New York International Children’s Film Festival, Liyana is directed by Amanda Kopp and Eswatini-born and raised Aaron Kopp, who shot the Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face and the Oscar-nominated The Hunting Ground. 

“I grew up in Swaziland and will always consider it my home,” says Kopp. “In part, this film is a love letter to my childhood in that beautiful African kingdom.”

He’s known the children in the film – Zweli, Sibusiso, Phumlani, Mkhuleko, and Nomcebo – for years. “During our research period for the film, we talked to the children about their early life before they came to the orphan home and quickly realised that asking them to revisit traumatic memories in front of a camera was not the path we wished to take,” he says. “Films about the suffering of Africans in which the audience is led to feel pity or guilt have been made before. In contrast, Liyana gives our young storytellers the stage and allows them to take charge of the narrative.”

In pre-production, Aaron spent time reading about creative art therapies as well as traditional stories in Eswatini. “It soon it became clear that the use of a fictional character, created by the children, could serve as a unique window into their memories and emotions, while still ensuring some privacy,” he says. “As soon as we decided on this approach, we contacted South African storyteller and author, Gcina Mhlophe. I first saw her on stage when I was a teenager and remember being transfixed by her performance. We knew she would be the perfect guide for the children in their creative process.”

The story the children choose to tell is both inspiringly imaginative and heartbreakingly close to home, but the animation by Nigerian Shofela Coker takes it to the next level.

Shofela Coker comes from a family of artists in Lagos, but moved to the States, graduating from Memphis College of Art and working in the games industry as a character artist and art director. He was working for Sony when the Kopps headhunted him for Liyana.  

“The kids’ personalities and ingenuity were inspiring and infectious,” says Coker. He watched a rough cut of the film, which convinced him to quit his job and join Liyana. “It reminded me of my childhood in Lagos, weaving stories with my siblings and improvising toys in the backyard with friends. The project seemed like such a special puzzle to solve, to help translate.”

The filmmakers didn’t want the animation to overpower the documentary scenes, so Coker says they came up with “the idea of a breathing painting that evokes the intimate feel of pop-up storybooks or shadow puppetry…”  The result has been widely praised and saw Shofela nominated for Outstanding Graphic Design or Animation at Cinema Eye this year. 

Liyana is executive produced by Emmy winner Thandie Newton (Westworld), produced by Oscar winner Daniel Junge (Saving Face), and edited by Davis Coombe (Chasing Coral, Chasing Ice). South African Emmy nominee Philip Miller (The Girl, Miners Shot Down) composed the score, a fusion of both Western and traditional Swazi instrumentation. 

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Movie of the Week

Dolemite Is My Name – A Netflix Original

Stung by a string of showbiz failures, floundering comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) has an epiphany that turns him into a word-of-mouth sensation: step onstage as someone else.

Click below to watch the trailer and to read more about the movie.

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Borrowing from the street mythology of 1970s Los Angeles, Moore assumes the persona of Dolemite, a pimp with a cane and an arsenal of obscene fables. However, his ambitions exceed selling bootleg records deemed too racy for mainstream radio stations to play. Moore convinces a social justice-minded dramatist (Keegan-Michael Key) to write his alter ego a film, incorporating kung fu, car chases, and Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), an ex-backup singer who becomes his unexpected comedic foil. Despite clashing with his pretentious director, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), and countless production hurdles at their studio in the dilapidated Dunbar Hotel, Moore’s Dolemite becomes a runaway box office smash and a defining movie of the Blaxploitation era.

Comics and rappers have praised Moore as a pioneering influence over the past few decades, and Dolemite Is My Name is a celebration of a singular talent who made his own legend. From director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Empire); Emmy and Golden Globe-winning writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. O.J. Simpson); and the producing team of Oscar and Golden Globe nominee John Davis (Ferdinand, Joy), Golden Globe nominee John Fox (Joy) and Eddie Murphy. 
The film features an all-star supporting cast — including Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Snoop Dogg, Ron Cephas Jones, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tip ‘TI’ Harris, Luenell, Tasha Smith — plus costumes designed by Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther). 

The film is available to stream now on Netflix.

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