Damon Smith reviews the latest releases.

This week: two brothers (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) harness magic to revive their dead father for one day in Disney Pixar's computer-animated adventure ONWARD... and Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan seek harmony as members of a choir in the uplifting comedy drama MILITARY WIVES.


ONWARD (U, 107 mins) Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy/Drama/Romance. Featuring the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer. Director: Dan Scanlon.

Released: March 6 (UK & Ireland)

True magic is the invisible bond between family and friends, which inspires courage, daring and self-sacrifice, in Disney Pixar's life-affirming tale of two siblings who repair their strained relationship on an epic quest of self-discovery.

Inspired by the childhood loss of director Dan Scanlon, Onward is an unabashedly heartfelt valentine to brotherly love set in a fantastical world, which has gradually surrendered ancient tradition to the steady onslaught of technological invention and convenience.

Electric light bulbs have replaced the need for wizards to illuminate homes with wands, fire-breathing dragons are reduced to household pets, stray unicorns forage for scraps in dustbins and centaur police travel by car rather than relying on their clattering hooves.

Scanlon's script, co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, trades predominantly in goofy humour, concealing the inevitable knockout blows in a final act that will have grown men weeping uncontrollably in the dark.

Compared to Disney Pixar's recent offerings Coco and Toy Story 4, Onward feels emotionally lightweight and lacks some of the verve and wildly imaginative flourishes we have come to expect from the California-based animation house.

However, the film towers above the best efforts of many rival studios and is utterly ruthless when it comes to targeting leaky tear ducts.

Painfully shy, self-doubting teenager Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) live in New Mushroomton with their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) many years after ancient magic has been forgotten.

The boys' father Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer) lost his battle to serious illness before Ian was born and when Barley was just a wee elfling.

"When your Dad got sick, he fought so hard because he wanted to meet you," Laurel reassures Ian.

The boys' emotional connection to their old man is kindled by photographs and a cassette recording of his voice.

When Ian turns 16, Laurel retrieves a rope-bound bundle from the loft.

Inside, the siblings discover a wizard's staff, a glittering Phoenix Gem and instructions for an incantation to reanimate their father for one day.

The spell casting goes awry and Ian and Barley have 24 precious hours to locate another Phoenix Gem to conjure the man whose love brought them into the world.

Onward balances eye-popping visuals with sincere sentiment, alternating between heart and head as Holland and Pratt bring to life their seemingly mismatched kin.

Action set-pieces are orchestrated with typical aplomb - a motorcycle chase is frenetically paced and punctuated with booming belly laughs - but Scanlon's film leaves its indelible mark with rich, nuanced characterisation.

"You have to take risks in life to have an adventure," professes Octavia Spencer's manticore restaurant owner.

Scanlon's picture largely plays safe but still delivers a rollicking romp to delight the whole family.



MILITARY WIVES (12A, 113 mins) Comedy/Drama/Musical/Romance. Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Gaby French, India Ria Amarteifio, Jason Flemyng, Greg Wise. Director: Peter Cattaneo.

Released: March 6 (UK & Ireland)

Lightning fails to strike twice for Peter Cattaneo, Oscar-nominated director of The Full Monty, with another heart-warming comedy drama of community spirit in the face of adversity.

Inspired by true events, Military Wives celebrates the unshakeable sisterly solidarity of a motley crew of spouses who find friendship and emotional support by performing pop anthems and classical pieces together while their service people are away.

The original choir based at Catterick Garrison in Yorkshire made headlines when the women appeared with Gareth Malone in the BBC Two series The Choir and claimed the 2011 Christmas number one with a moving original ballad, Wherever You Are.

Screenwriters Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn handpick a few choice facts that comfortably serve their narrative - a climatic performance is still a song composed from extracts of letters between the wives and their partners.

However, broadly sketched characters are fictional and short, sharp verses of cloying sentiment gradually build to a rousing crescendo that falls tantalisingly short of hitting the high notes Cattaneo has achieved before.

When duty calls and British troops are deployed from Flitcroft military base to Afghanistan, experienced colonel Richard (Greg Wise) bids farewell to his wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) to lead his fifth tour.

The couple are still grieving the loss of their serviceman son and only child, so Richard's absence weighs heavily on his wife.

Kate fills the emotional void by robustly taking charge of the women who have been left behind.

She insensitively steps on the toes of social secretary Lisa (Sharon Horgan), undermining tentative efforts to establish the base's first choir.

Following the example of the Whoopi Goldberg film Sister Act, but "without the Mafia or the God bit", the women sort themselves into voice types for a rendition of the Yazoo pop hit Only You.

Senior base officer Crooks (Jason Flemyng) initially dons ear defenders to drown out the caterwauling, which Lisa likens to "the incantations of a bunch of witches".

Over time, the women unlock their potential, including insecure mother hen Jess (Gaby French) and Lisa's daughter Frankie (India Ria Amarteifio).

Consequently, top brass extends the choir an invitation to perform at the televised Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Military Wives is composed of familiar elements set to a feelgood soundtrack that includes Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper and the Sister Sledge dancefloor anthem We Are Family.

Cattaneo demonstrates a light touch with the material, including converging storylines of loss and regret.

Scott Thomas and Horgan are well matched as rivals locked in a bitter tug-of-war for control of the choir, who discover that life is so much simpler when you come together in sweet harmony.


Also released...


Released: March 6 (UK & Ireland)

Hedonistic visitors to a tropical paradise discover that pleasure comes at a terrifying price in a supernatural horror thriller directed by Jeff Wadlow (Truth Or Dare).

Five contest winners - Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell) and stepbrothers JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (Jimmy O Yang) - arrive at a tropical resort called Fantasy Island, which promises to make their dreams come true.

Custodian Mr Roarke (Michael Pena) and his partner Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) take care of the guests and encourage the five winners to live their fantasies to the full.

Melanie, Gwen, Patrick, JD and Brax are confronted with diabolical, twisted variations on their greatest wishes, which brings Melanie face-to-face with her childhood bully Sloane Maddison (Portia Doubleday).

The guests slowly unravel the terrifying otherworldly secrets of Fantasy Island and conceive a madcap plan to escape from the clutches of dark forces that intend to claim their blackened souls.

THE PHOTOGRAPH (12A, 106 mins)

Released: March 6 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Love ripples across the decades in writer-director Stella Meghie's romantic drama in parallel time frames.

In the present day, Michael Block (Lakeith Stanfield) prepares to write a feature on celebrated photographer Christina Eames (Chante Adams).

He travels to Louisiana to interview her good friend Isaac Jefferson (Rob Morgan), who manages to conceal the depth of his true feelings for Christina and the secrets of their shared history.

Michael gathers further background detail by meeting Christina's estranged daughter Mae Morton (Issa Rae).

He finds his integrity compromised by his attraction to Mae.

As the journalist wrestles with his feelings for his interview subject, he becomes personally invested in discovering the identity of Mae's father.


Released: March 6 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Based on Tim Jenkin's biography, Escape From Pretoria dramatises an incredible true story of imprisonment and rebellion in Apartheid-era South Africa.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Jenkin, a fervent activist with the African National Congress (ANC), which is banned in South Africa during the era.

He is arrested as a terrorist and incarcerated in the maximum-security Pretoria prison.

Tim forges close ties with fellow freedom fighters Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) and Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter).

During 18 months behind bars, Tim hatches a daring escape plan using hand-crafted wooden keys.

On December 11 1979, Tim and his co-conspirators prepare to unlock their futures.

SULPHUR AND WHITE (15, 121 mins)

Released: March 6 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

A successful man struggles to confront the horrors of his childhood in a moving drama by Bafta-nominated director Julian Jarrold.

Based on a true story, Sulphur And White centres on David (Mark Stanley), who focuses ruthlessly on building his reputation in the cut-throat world of financial trading.

His resolve is unwavering and he severs personal ties to stay on top of the competition.

David's unstable house of cards threatens to collapse when his childhood memories resurface.

As spectres of the past claw at his soul, David seeks sanctuary in the redemptive power of love with girlfriend Vanessa (Emily Beecham), who is painfully unaware of his deep psychological wounds.

TRANCE (15, 169 mins)

Released: March 6 (UK, selected cinemas)

After a six-year hiatus, Anwar Rasheed, director of the award-winning Ustad Hotel, returns with a Malayalam-language drama, which marks the first time Fahadh Faasil and wife Nazriya have acted together on screen.

Motivational trainer Viju Prasad (Faasil) seeks mental and emotional enrichment from his base in Kanyakumari.

He demands large fees and draws excitable crowds to his empowering speeches.

On this bumpy path to growth and enlightenment, Viju meets Esther Lopez (Nazriya) and she ushers him into an exciting new phase of his life.