Alan Dee’s guide to new cinema releases

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THERE’S just something about penguins, isn’t there? Whether we’re stunned by their strangle lifestyle portrayed in faithful documentaries, baffled about how they can manage to get Jim Carrey back above the title, or just cooing at their general cuteness, the flightless birds from the grim wastes of the Antarctic are cinema gold.

So there should be no surprise that the usual suspects have been rounded up to provide a second slice of Happy Feet after the original animation’s box office success.

There’s the expected stellar cast of big names popping into the studio to do a bit of voice work – watch out for the distinctive tones of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Hank Azaria, among others – as our tap-dancing hero returns for more fun and games, complete with 3D option if that’s your fancy.

The twist here, such as it is, sees the dancing hero now saddled with a son who just can’t tap into his old man’s mood to move to the beat.

But guess what, then there’s a threat to the penguins and everyone has to pull together, learn about themselves, hug a lot and generally crank out a by the numbers sequel which hasn’t got anything new to offer except a couple of extra star names slipped into the soundtrack.

> When Martin Scorsese decided to dedicate his talents to a family film that’s also an homage to the early days of cinema, he probably didn’t think he’d be playing second fiddle to a cartoon penguin. So it goes.

Hugo, also available in 3D, is lovely to look and also features a fabulous cast – Johnny Depp is probably the biggest name, but Christopher Lee, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jude Law are among those involved – but little Asa Butterfield as the orphan hero who lives in the hidden spaces of a Paris railway station is firmly centre stage. When he meets a spirited young girl who just happens to have the key that will activate the intriguing robot he was given by his dead dad, there’s a whole Harry Potter meets Narnia deal about to kick off.

It’s Scorsese’s first family-friendly film for the best part of 20 years but it’s destined to be more admired as a spectacle than taken to the heart.

> So the thing you have to realise about The Thing is that it isn’t just a remake of The Thing, it’s a prequel to that story of shape-shifting aliens in the Arctic but the team who came up with this dull horror thriller concluded that they couldn’t come up with a better title.

It would have been better all round if they had also concluded that they couldn’t do better than John Carpenter’s creepy and atmospheric 1982 original.

Three decades ago directors like Carpenter learned how to tease an audience and used their imagination to conjure up tension. Today’s cinema crop just chuck some special effects at the screen and hope that it will stick, and it won’t. Nothing worth spending your money on, that’s The Thing.