>>> Film Festival Spotlight: TIFF Kids International Film Festival

A fest for kids of all ages

TIFF KIDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West) from Friday (April 10) to April 19. tiff.net/tiffkids. Rating: NNNN

As usual, the 2015 TIFF Kids International Film Festival offers an amazingly ambitious assemblage of features, shorts and documentaries aimed at younger viewers. This isn’t a festival that phones it in sure, there’s crowd-pleasing adventure and goofy comedy for families and little ones, but older viewers will find some challenging, mature work tucked into the program as well.

After a week of school screenings, the festival officially opens on Friday (April 10) with the Canadian premiere of Shaun The Sheep: The Movie, a feature-length expansion of Aardman Animation’s charming stop-motion TV show. 

Aardman is the Bristol animation house that gave the world Wallace and Gromit. In fact, Shaun was introduced in the third W&G short, A Close Shave. And if you’re familiar with those shorts – or with Chicken Run, Flushed Away, Arthur Christmas or The Pirates! – you’ll know the antic, inventive glee Aardman brings to its projects. 

Shaun The Sheep adds a new challenge, being performed entirely without dialogue, but that just lets directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton demonstrate how wonderfully expressive Aardman’s character design can be, and how much visual flair can be packed into each frame. Also, there’s a subplot nicked from Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop. Genius.

The program runs the gamut from tween superheroes (Antboy: Revenge Of The Red Fury, a sequel to 2013’s Danish hit Antboy) to a Dutch riff on Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (The Amazing Wiplala). 

If you’ve been following the German adaptations of the Famous Five teen adventure movies, you can catch the newest one, Famous Five 4, in which our heroes are entangled in Egyptian intrigue. (I’m waiting for The Famous Five And The Furious, where they all learn to drive.)

Older kids might want to catch Corbin Billings’s Bite Size, a documentary about obese middle-schoolers, or Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There, a dreamy animated drama about a sickly, socially anxious teen who spends a summer in the country, where she’s befriended by a bubbly girl who lives in a musty old mansion. This being a Studio Ghibli production, things are far more complex than they seem – but it all works out in the end.

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