There's a bumper crop of animated features to keep the little ones occupied during the summer holidays. But those requiring something more challenging than CGI escapism should seek out Richard Lanni's Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero, which provides an informative, but entertaining introduction to the grim realities of the Great War. That said, this animated biopic of the most decorated war dog in US military history is not solely for kids, as Lanni and co-scenarist Mike Stokey II have opted against allowing the eponymous Boston terrier to talk and have wisely kept his actions as authentically canine as possible. 

Flashing back from the Western Front in March 1918, the action opens with Margaret O'Brien (Helena Bonham Carter) explaining how the United States joined the war against Germany on the side of the British and the French. Some time in 1917, while her brother, Robert Conroy (Logan Lerman), was marching through New Haven, Connecticut with his platoon of Doughboys, he had spotted a hungry dog on the pavement and tossed him a biscuit. This proved to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Needing every friend he can get, the scrappy pup digs his way under the Yale University barrack fence and makes such a good impression during parade on Sgt Casburn (Jason Ezzell) that Conroy is allowed to keep him, much to the dismay of his buddy, Elmer Olsen (Jordan Beck), who doesn't like dogs. But tent mate Hans Schroeder (Jim Pharr) agrees with the drill sergeant that Stubby makes a fine mascot and he romps alongside Conroy as he goes through basis training. Even Colonel Ty (Pharr) is impressed when Stubby learns to salute. But he growls when he first sees a gas mask and whimpers when he gets a whiff of the tear gas that Casburn has been using to acclimatise his rookies to the conditions they are going to experience in the trenches. 

Nevertheless, Stubby keeps square-bashing alongside Conroy and enjoys playing catch with a baseball. When orders come to leave for Europe, however, Conroy has to leave Stubby in the cookhouse so that he will be safe. But the devoted dog slips his lead and not only chases the troop train, but also stows away inside a packing crate to be winched aboard the ship about to cross the Atlantic. Using his keen sense of smell, he tracks Conroy to his cabin and is allowed to stay on board the Minnesota when his salute charms General Edwards (Brian Cook).

As Margaret takes up the story, she knew nothing about Stubby following her brother, as she scoured the newspapers for stories about the troops beating the German U-boats and reaching France. A map shows their route across country to Chemin des Dames, where they would engage the enemy for the first time. Stubby makes himself useful straight away by chasing the rats into No Man's Land. He also reveals a gift for finding bodies buried under rubble after the trench comes under attack. But he takes a snarling dislike to French soldier Gaston Baptiste (Gérard Depardieu) until he gets to sample some cheese and happily toddles after him when Baptiste announces that Conroy, Olsen and Schroeder have been selected for special reconnaissance duties. 

They are moved to a billet behind the lines and Stubby is keen to follow wherever Conroy leads. Thus, he trots beside his master and Baptiste as they ride on horseback through the countryside to a vantage point that allows them to spy on the Germans. They spot a consignment of mustard gas canisters being delivered and Stubby races back to base to warn the soldiers and then charges through the nearby village to sound the alarm. Conroy plucks him up by the collar just as the foul green gas curls through the streets and Baptiste covers Stubby's snout with a wet cloth to protect him as they shelter inside a barn. 

Margaret reveals how her sibling's letters were full of news about Stubby's heroism and how everybody adored him. Baptiste becomes fonder than most when he catches a rabbit and they get to feast on a stew that is far better than the slop served up by the cook (Guillaume Sentou). While the French soldiers teach Olsen and Schroeder how to play pétanque (after Stubby steals the cochonnet), Baptiste takes Conroy for a walk to a hill overlooking the plain. He shows him a photograph of his wife and three daughters, while Conroy explains how Margaret had raised him and his two sisters after their parents had died. 

Such moments of calm are few and far between, however, and Stubby is soon in the thick of the action once more. When a Doughboy is wounded in No Man's Land, Stubby jumps out of the trench and rushes through the barbed wire and shell craters to find him and bark out directions to the stretcher bearers. French and American troops alike turn in admiration at the plucky dog, who risked his life to save one of their own. 

As the spring of 1918 passes, the 26th (Yankee) Division of the 102nd Infantry Regiment is transferred to Seicheprey. With the Germans attempting a desperate push to break the defences and advance on Paris, this became the site of the heaviest fighting experienced by US troops during the conflict. Stubby refuses to flinch, however, and not only helps Conroy and Baptiste capture three German soldiers who infiltrated their trench, but also saved lives by grabbing a stick grenade in his mouth and running to a deserted part of the line. Conroy persuades a doctor to care for him and Stubby finds himself in the same ambulance as Schroeder. 

Baptiste is sent back to his regiment shortly afterwards and Conroy put a brave face on the Three Musketeers being broken up in his letters home. Having retaken Seicheprey, the Americans were holed up in the ruins of the town when Conroy was diagnosed with Spanish Flu and taken to the field hospital. He was reunited with Stubby when he staggered into the compound with a bandaged paw after stealing sausages from a German barbecue (a bit of artistic licence here, one suspects) and, together with Olsen and Schroeder, they got to spend a furlough in Paris. Feted wherever they go, the friends take photographs in front of famous landmarks and Conroy sends them home to his sisters. 

Back on duty at Marcheville, Stubby sniffs out a German spy and is promoted to the honorary rank of sergeant. Corporal Conroy jokes that he now outranks him and he is delighted to be reunited with Baptiste. It's now September 1918 and the Allies are certain that they have broken German morale. Yet the war drags on and Stubby gets to meet Captain George S. Patton (Nicholas Rulon) when he rolls up on a tank during the final advance. Yet, even though an armistice is agreed for 11am on 11 November, the fighting continues until the last second. Conroy jumps into a trench to help Baptiste in a stand-off with two Germans in gas masks. They let them escape when whistles are blown to signal the end of hostilities. But not everyone is so lucky, as Olsen is killed during the futile advance and Stubby takes his helmet to Schroeder, who finds the bullet hole in the rim. 

Baptiste says his farewells before the Americans ship out and Stubby is hoisted on top of a car at the quayside so that the crowds can see him. A reporter takes his picture and a match cut shows us the real Sgt Stubby in a black-and-white snapshot, as a caption reveals that he took part in 17 battles in four campaigns during his 18 months in service. A selection of photos show Stubby at the head of parades and posing with Conroy. But they only hint at the fact that he became a hero on his return and met three presidents before finally passing away in 1926. He might not have gone on to be a movie star like Rin Tin Tin, but he was preserved and remains on display in the Smithsonian Institute. 

Animators seemingly can't stop themselves from anthropomorphising animals and there are moments when Stubby's wide eyes, pugnacious attitude and jaunty saunter err towards Disneyfied cuteness. But, even though the dialogue isn't always particularly sophisticated, the characterisation is needlessly bland and Patrick Doyle's score is sometimes distractingly effusive, this is a thoughtful attempt to convey the nightmarish nature of war for young and old alike. Moreover, despite the chilling gas sequence, it avoids demonising the enemy.

The switch from computer-generated layouts to a facsimile hand-drawn style for the debriefing segments is particularly effective in the way it reminds viewers of the gravity of the situation Stubby finds himself in. That said, Helena Bonham Carter's narration sounds a touch twee in places, as does the stereotypical bonhomie voiced by Gérard Depardieu. Yet, even though he passes over the carnage completely, Lanni largely keeps sentimentality at bay, even when Stubby is wounded and Olsen is killed (off-screen). 

Icelandic director Árni Ólafúr Ásgeirsson is better known for live-action features like Thicker Than Water (2006) and Undercurrent (2010). However, he tries his hand at animation with Flying the Nest, which has also been released under the title, PLOEY - You Never Fly Alone. 

When a stand of plovers flies back to its northern island home for the summer, Shadow (Richard Cotton) hatches a plot to keep the migrants off his patch. Yet, while the gormless Skua (Kasper Michaels) attempts to act as a decoy, Dad (Thomas Arnold) and Mom (Þórunn Erna Clausen) lead their charges to safety and even have time for a dance before spring cleaning their nest. 

In the blink of an eye, their son Ploey (Jamie Oram) emerges from his shell and starts foraging for himself. During one expedition, he meets Ploeveria (Harriet Perring) and their beaks meet when they slurp down the same worm. They also touch wings while playing in the grass and set off for flying school as the best of friends. But Sloey (Cameron Farrelly) also has his eyes on Ploveria and wastes no time in mocking Ploey when he proves to be scared of flying.

While on nightwatch, Dad is warned by Skua that Shadow is planning an attack and reminds him that he will have to winter in Paradise Valley if he fails to fly south. But Shadow evades the net held by Dad's cohorts and he defeats Dad when he rescues Ploey from a swooping attack. Distraught at costing his father his life, Ploey refuses to leave the nest and is only persuaded to practice flying when Ploeveria reminds him that the time is fast approaching to fly south. While perched on a ledge, however, Ploey loses his nerve and is caught by a prowling grey cat. 

Fortunately, he survives the snatch and wakes at the bottom of a cage inside the cat owner's house. Looking through the window, he sees Ploeveria and his mother flying away and manages to escape from the cage and the bedroom, despite the cat hot being on his tail feathers. Hitting the streets, he meets five chattering bunting birds who use postcards to give him directions to Paradise Valley and Ploey sets out for his destination on foot. He soon wanders into a snowdrift, however, and only keeps out of the clutches of the swooping Shadow with the help of Giron (Iain Stuart Robertson), a ptarmigan who hopes to catch Shadow in a snare he once found on the mountain. 

Giron asks Ploey to act as bait in the trap, but he dozes off while waiting and Ploey wanders away to rescue an Italian rodent, Mousey (Graham Dickson), who has been stranded in the river on a loose piece of ice. Ploey tosses him a twig to make it to dry land, only to drift downstream towards a waterfall and he is only saved from a bath by the diving Giron. Drying his feathers, he tells Ploey that he hates Shadow because he killed his chicks in the nest and he promises him that loved ones who have passed over are looking down on those left behind from the beauty of the Northern Lights. 

No sooner has Giron sung Ploey a song about never flying alone than the one-eyed ptarmigan is pounced upon by a fox (Stefán Karl Stefánsson) and Ploey is left with nothing but his guardian's treasured seashell. He blows into it and Mousey and his acrobatic family appear from nowhere to torment the fox in his lair and allow Ploey to revive Giron and escape. It only proves a temporary reprieve, however, as Ploey gets lost looking for berries while Giron sleeps and winds up bunking down in a nest in a mountain eyrie. 

He is woken by Shadow conversing with what appears to be the ghost of the wife who had died of hunger because he had failed to bring home sufficient food. But Ploey has no time to feel pity for the predator, as Shadow plucks him off the ground to polish him off as a snack. Just as he opens his beak, however, Giron crashes into the nook and Ploey uses one of the cartridge cases the ptarmigan carries to knock Shadow off his stride. 

As they land at the foot of the rocks, Giron wishes Ploey the best of luck before losing consciousness. Thinking he's dead (when he's only resting), Ploey trudges on alone and gets lost in a landscape of forbidding rock formations after the clouds cover the stars by which he is navigating. When he passes out from the cold after having had a nightmare about Ploeveria falling for Sloey), he is picked up by Deer (Colin Mace), who carries him on his antlers to Paradise Valley, where he is greeted by Skua, Mousey, Sheep (Doña Croll), Swan (Debbie Chazen) and Mink (Anna Lawrence). They think he's dead and are bearing him away for burial when Ploey comes round and enjoys the welcome party his new friends throw in his honour. 

As the weeks pass, the sun gets warmer and Skua tells Ploey about the spring and, after Sheep tells him about love giving creatures the power to fly, he vows to return to the nesting grounds to prevent Shadow from stalking his kinfolk. Having survived a test flight by a waterfall, Ploey heads home and arrives in time to see that Giron is still alive and has set his snare for Shadow outside the grey cat's house. Spotting Ploeveria at the head of the returning plovers, Ploey barges into Shadow when he seizes Sloey and entices him into the cat's room after the snare fails to snap. Somehow, Shadow escapes the feline's claws and comes hurtling after Ploey. 

They chase around the town centre before Giron tips Ploey the wink to lead Shadow into the bell in the church tower, which knocks him straight into an open plot in the graveyard. Ploeveria joins Ploey to peer down at Shadow covered in soil. But he still has the strength to reach out a wing and only perishes when Giron plummets down and knocks a wheelbarrow into the grave. Safe to enjoy their summer in peace, Ploey reunites with his mother and gives Giron a goodbye hug before showing Ploeveria how well he has learned to fly. 

Failing to make the imagination soar with either its themes or imagery, this well-meaning, but drab digital animation will only appeal to the least discriminating tinies and they won't care what size screen they see it on. Frequently recalling episodes from the five-strong Ice Age franchise (2002-16), Friðrik Erlingsson's screenplay clings to such storytelling staples as the loss of a parent, the presence of an implacable foe and the protagonist's need to prove something to themselves during a do-or-die quest. But, while the life lessons on offer during Ploey's odyssey are worth learning, Ásgeirsson and Erlingsson struggle to generate much jeopardy, in spite of the fact that Ploey is so small and vulnerable and that the island landscape is every bit as dangerous as Shadow. 

This is partly explained by the bland visuals and the feeble characterisation, which is not helped by the mediocrity of vocal work that is further undermined by the risible variety of accents among the mammals living on an island. One can understand how an Italian mouse and a French swan might have made their way to this remote spot. But a Caribbean sheep? At least we were spared a spirit-boosting reggae number, as the other songs are mawkishly forgettable. So many Euro animations lack personality and this one is no different. Nevertheless, any film that teaches children about overcoming their fears, accepting those different to themselves and fulfilling their potential can't be all bad.

Following a similar theme to Flying the Nest and Christian Haas and Andrea Block's Birds of a Feather (see this week's In Cinemas column), Toby Genkel and Reza Memari's A Stork's Journey (aka Little Bird's Big Adventure) proves an admirable follow-up to the pair's previous outing, Ooops! Noah Is Gone... (aka All Creatures Big and Small, 2015).

When his parents are killed by a bear while he is hatching in the crown of a royal statue, Richard the sparrow (Cooper Kelly Kramer) is rescued by a stork named Aurora (Erica Schroeder), who persuades husband Claudius (Jonathan Todd Ross) to let her raise the foundling with their own son, Max (Jason Griffith). Safe in the turret of a ruined castle, he learns to sleep on one leg and fly high in the sky, although his fishing skills leave a little to be desired. But, when the first leaf falls, Claudius informs Richard that he cannot accompany the mustering on its annual flight south to a lake in Africa and Aurora is left to break the news that he is a sparrow and not a stork.

Waking next morning in a storm to find his family has gone, Richard takes shelter in a graveyard, where he is befriended by Olga (Shannon Conley), a pygmy owl with an invisible friend named Oleg. She rescues Richard from a trio of vampire bats and they agree to hang out together, even though each thinks the other is a little weird. When Richard refuses to speak to some other sparrows feasting off the scraps at a rubbish bin, Olga tries to interest him in a burger she steals from a drive-thru customer. But Richard is only interested in finding Max and asks three pigeons perched on an electric wire if they've seen any storks. The birds are hooked on the jolts they get from the current and Olga is also excited by it. However, Richard is impatient and he pulls her away to follow up the clue that the phalanx is heading for Gibraltar. 

Pausing on the roof of a crumbling karaoke bar, Olga draws a map to show Richard how far they still have to travel. Their conversation is overheard by a caged parakeet named Kiki (Marc Thompson), who coaxes them into opening his cage so that they can take the train from the nearby station to Gibraltar. However, as Kiki is determined to sing at the Sanremo Festival, he lures them on to the wrong express, just as Max is struggling in a thunderstorm over Barcelona. While he ploughs on, the feathered passengers hide out in the baggage car and Olga explains (in a charming 2-D flashback) how her family hadn't given a hoot about her because she was too big for the nest. Richard sympathises, but Kiki (who is scared of heights and rubbish at flying) pretends that everything is perfect in his world and urges them to get plenty of sleep, as they will have a big day in the morning. 

On reaching Sanremo, Kiki does a flit and Richard and Olga get chased off the train by a fussy passenger. They run into three crows, who offer to protect them for a small consideration before laughing at them for thinking they were close to Africa. Eager to find Kiki, Richard heads to the festival venue. But he gets distracted by a TV aerial in the shape of a stork and sits alone in a nest with a single feather. 

Meanwhile, Olga has a row with Oleg after getting stuck in a chimney pot and is distraught when he disappears after she says she wishes she had never met him. However, she meets two more pigeons sitting on an internet cable and is soon racking up friend requests on her new profile page. By contrast, Kiki is having a rotten time, as another parakeet steals his song at the bird festival in the eaves (`I'm Coming Out') and he decides to find Olga and Richard so that they can sail to Africa on a liner about to leave the port. 

Unfortunately, the wind blowing across the cliffs is very strong and a flock of seagulls take bets as to whether the friends will make it. As Richard plummets towards the rocks, Olga and Kiki swoop down to save him and they link wings to form a big enough span to help them buffet the currents. As darkness falls, however, they have a close encounter with a jumbo get and go spinning downward towards the sea. Luckily, they splash land in the swimming pool on the deck of the liner and a little CPR from Kiki and Oleg's timely return help the winded Olga pull through. 

During the voyage, Richard comes to accept that he's a sparrow. But he is still keen to find Max and, when they land in Tangier, he learns from a couple of wired-in pigeons that his brother has fallen down a deep hole near the dried-up oasis. They agree to show him the way and Claudius and Aurora are astonished to see their son. Kiki warns Richard that Max has fallen into a honey badger's lair, but he is determined to rescue him and Olga drags Kiki through the entrance with them. 

He runs across some luminous spiders, while Olga treats herself to a delicious scorpion. But, no sooner has Richard found Max, than the snarling honey badger enters the chamber and Kiki has to burst into song to distract him when Richard gets his claw caught under a rock. Urging Olga and Kiki to get Max to safety, Richard zips around the badger, who becomes more enraged by the second. When the other storks help peck a hole in the parched ground for Max to squeeze through, Aurora sees the badger menacing Richard and prod him with her beak through a groove in the ground. 

Seeing the prop supporting the tunnel is about to give way, Richard tricks the badger into colliding with it and he is buried while Richard scrambles to the surface. Delighted to see him, Claudius apologises and asks Richard if he would be willing to be his son. He also gives him the honour of leading the way to the lake and Kiki, Olga (and Oleg) fly alongside him with pride. 

Similar in storyline to Flying the Nest, but vastly superior in terms of form and content, this is a highly engaging saga that should keep the whole family entertained. Mercifully free of cornball songs (apart from the pop tunes that Kiki belts out in true disco diva style) and more restrained than most in its use of video game swoop-and-swirl chase sequences, the visuals are bright, colourful and uncutified. The dialogue is also refreshingly free of American slang and cheesy double entendres, which perfectly suits the three amigos, who are innocents abroad rather than rebellious wiseacres. 

Most importantly, even though Richard has big wide eyes, the birds are neither caricatured nor overly anthropomorphised. The interaction between the species provides a valuable message that isn't forced down the audience's throat, although it might have been advisable to avoid using crows for the Mafia reception party. But the sequences involving the pigeons getting a rush from technology are very funny, as is the fact that a pygmy owl would have an imaginary friend. However, only the politically clued-in grown-ups are likely to get the connection between the honey badger and Donald Trump's onetime buddy, Steve Bannon.

Anglo-Russian relations haven't been the best of late and grown-ups seeking to give their children a holiday movie treat will not miss the ironies that abound in Andrei Galat and Maxim Volkov's CGI animation, Sheep & Wolves. Five years in the making and drawing on the Grimm fairytale, `The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids', this lacks the wit and sophistication of recent American animations. But its lessons about being true to oneself and treating others as you would hope to be treated yourself are well worth learning at any age. 

While out photographing insects in the North Meadow, Ziko (Ross Marquand) spots a newly arrived pack of wolves, who have relocated after a clash with some jackals. As Magra (Jim Cummings) the leader is close to retirement, he calls for challengers Grey (Tom Felton) and Ragear (Rich Orlow) to fight to determine who will be his worthiest successor. But, while Grey is busy paying court to Bianca (Ruby Rose), Ragear and his sidekicks defy Magra and go hunting for sheep. Despite the warnings of Belgur (Tyler Bunch), the elderly ram who leads the flock, to stay close to home because he has spilt some salt and fears the consequences, lambs Shia (Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) and Xavi (Sarah Natochenny) wander into the meadow and are lucky to escape the ravenous Ragear when Grey distracts him and he runs into a tree. 

Back at the lair, Ragear gets teased about his humiliation and Grey seizes the opportunity to make him look like leadership material. However, his rival bullies the weaker wolves into supporting him and the contest is left as a tie when Bianca refuses to cast her vote. Magra is disappointed by Grey's lack of maturity and he skulks away from the rocks when Bianca informs him that she no longer wishes to marry him. Wandering across the scrub, Grey spots a gathering of smaller creatures and is mesmerised by Mami (Jennie Grace), a fortune-telling rabbit who gives him a potion she hopes will enable him to win back Bianca's love. 

Unfortunately, because she doesn't read the label properly, Mami gives Grey an elixir with the power to transform him into several different beasts. However, he gets stuck as a sheep and only just manages to stay out of the clutches of Ragear before he is found next morning by Shia's sister, Lyra (China Anne McClain), who takes him back to the beauty salon she runs from her house. Breaking a mirror in his panic on realising he is no longer a wolf, Grey pretends to be the sole survivor of a flock that was attacked by piranha fish when questioned by Ziko, who fancies himself as a journalist. However, Belgur allows him to stay, even though he is convinced the ill omens are piling up around them. 

Keen to impress Lyra (whom he adores, but is too tongue-tied to tell her), Moz (Peter Linz) ignores the teasing of his doughnut-munching buddy Ike (Marc Thompson) and befriends Grey. He thinks he changed species because of a bump to the head and is convinced that another fall should restore him to normal. A montage of death-defying plunges follows, with Ziko becoming increasingly suspicious of the newcomer's behaviour. However, the last jump knocks some sense into Grey and he remembers Mami and the potion. But she has moved on by the time he reaches the place where she had pitched her tent and he skulks back to Lyra's to sleep on the floor. 

The following morning, Shia and Moz take Grey to the arena to watch the rams jousting against each other. The undisputed butting king is Louis the Fierce (JB Blanc), whose entry into the arena is greeted with a trumpet blast from Cliff (Jim Cummings), a seagull who thinks he's a sheep. Grey is so amused that a puny animal like Louis is the champion that he is selected as the next challenger and is too inexperienced at locking horns to make his superior bulk count. Ziko scribbles furiously in his notebook, as he tries to remember where he has seen Grey before. But he is hailed as a hero when he chases away dimwitted wolves Skinny (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Hobbler (Lex Lang) and returns from a close encounter with Mami's guitar-playing friend Baron (Jim Cummings) to find a surprise party being thrown in his honour. 

Meanwhile, Ragear has taken control of the wolf pack after pushing Magra off a ledge. Moreover, he has grabbed Shia from the meadow and Grey and Moz set out to rescue him before he is roasted to celebrate Ragear's elevation. Realising Skinny is on guard duty, Grey outfoxes him and lets Moz take the credit for saving Shia, even though he had knocked himself out. This earns him a kiss of gratitude from Lyra, but their happiness only makes Grey miss Bianca and he is tormented by the sight of several creatures in amorous pairs. When he bumps into Bianca beneath their trysting tree, however, she is amazed by his transformation and urges him to run away before Ragear slaughters him. But he has bigger plans and whips the rest of the pack into a frenzy when he accuses the sheep of being a threat to their peaceful existence. 

Ragear is not the only rabblerouser, however, as Ziko had caught Grey and Bianca together and he returns to warn the flock that their saviour is really a traitor. Angry with them for behaving like sheep, Grey gives them all a piece of his mind before storming out of the village. He starts to hallucinate and passes out in the meadow, where he is found by Mami, who takes him back to her caravan. She tells him that he drank too much potion for the spell to be reversed by chemical means. However, she also reveals that miracles can be granted at dawn and that he can change back to his old self. But she also lets slip that Ragear plans to wipe out the flock and Grey heads back to the pen to convince the sheep that he is their friend and that they can resist the attack if they make unity their strength. 

A night of frenzied activity follows and the flock is ready to withstand the lupine charge. Ragear urges his troops forward, only for them to be peppered with sticky sweets that stick to their fur and make them an irresistible target for the bees dropped from hives by Cliff and his feathered friends. Undaunted, Ragear bursts through the defences and beckons the wolves into finishing the job. But Grey and Ziko have hit upon the clever idea of leading their foes into a network of caves and then sealing the entrances and exits with boulders. Everyone celebrates their triumph until Grey realises that the caves are flooding and that the wolves will drown. 

Ignoring Ziko's exhortations not to free them, the sheep push the stone away and the water surges out of the cave's mouth. Seizing his moment, Ragear grabs Shia to force the sheep into surrendering. But Bianca has found Mami and tosses a vial of potion to turn Grey back into a wolf. Initially, the magic doesn't seem to work, as Ragear hurls his rival into a pile of rocks. However, Grey finds new strength and bounds back as his old self to toss Ragear into the raging waterfall. Now a hero to sheep and wolves alike, Grey proposes to Bianca and everyone dances together at their wedding, with Moz even summoning the courage to kiss Lyra. 

Political commentators would have a field day analysing a film in which a wolf in sheep's clothing gains the trust of his adopted species and arms them to defend themselves against feared outsiders. While grown-ups will have fun spotting these Putinesque subtexts, however, junior viewers should be carried along by the energetic storytelling and the colourful imagery, There are longueurs along the way and there's nothing special about the artwork. It's also astonishing that the film-makers saw nothing wrong with teaching children to drink from exotic bottles. But, while subtlety is at a premium, this is no worse than Ash Brannon's Rock Dog (2016), which it closely resembles in its rustic sequences.

Having landed a César and an Oscar nomination for his delightful debut, Ernest & Celestine (2012), French animator Benjamin Renner was always going to have his work cut out to match such feats with his sophomore outing. Yet, working in collaboration with Patrick Imbert, Renner managed to bag a second César with The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, which he had adapted from his own bestselling comic-books. Once again favouring hand-drawn graphics over anything computer-generated, Renner will delight the purists. But he will also keep younger viewers chucklingly amused with a triptych that often feels as though Tex Avery and Dr Seuss joined forces to rethink Aesop. 

As the members of the Honeysuckle Farm Theatre Company prepare for their latest performance, a panic backstage about a missing infant results in Fox (Giles New) having to make an announcement that their first offering, `A Baby to Deliver', will now be about a water melon. However, the discovery of the child behind said melon means that the playlet can proceed as planned - or at least it can once the crew have finished erecting the scenery. 

Pig (Justin Edwards) likes nothing more than pottering around his garden. However, he is aghast when Duck (Bill Bailey) and Rabbit (Adrian Edmondson) offers their services and quickly cause chaos. They are about to tinker with Pig's prized apple tree when Stork (Phil Whelans) falls out of its branches and declares that he has hurt his wing so badly that he is no longer in a fit state to deliver a baby named Pauline to Avignon. Having narrowly prevented Rabbit and Duck from launching the child with a tree catapult, Pig is dismayed to discover that Duck has asked the Big Bad Wolf to show them the way. 

Escaping by butcher's truck, the new friends narrowly avoid careering off a winding road before plummeting into a pond. Luckily, as Duck can't swim, Rabbit is able to stiltwalk to the lily pad Pauline landed on and they get back to shore just before Pig is snapped by a large fish. Realising that have gone about 300 yards in five hours, Pig suggests they ask some humans for help. But they manage to run into a pair of lugs armed with tranquilliser guns who are looking for Tarsier (Yves Yan), a Chinese-speaking critter who has escaped from the zoo. 

After Rabbit gets a bit woozy after taking a dart to protect Pauline, Tarsier suggests that they should put him in a box and mail him home. Reasoning they could do the same for Pauline, Rabbit stands on Duck's shoulders and they don a raincoat to take the parcels to the post office. Unfortunately, Rabbit gets them muddled and they find themselves on an aeroplane before they fall out of the cargo hold and float down to Pauline's new home using her nappy as a parachute. Thus, not only does all end well, but Pig also succeeds in launching Stork into orbit using the tree catapult for feigning injury and putting them through the wringer. 

Following Stork's crash landing on the stage (and his boast that he does all his own stunts), we return to the farm for `The Big Bad Fox'. Unfortunately, Fox is neither big nor bad and Chicken (Celia Imrie) has no trouble keeping him out of her house. Unable to face another dinner of Pig's turnips, Fox consults Wolf (Matthew Goode), who suggests stealing Chicken's eggs and fattening the chicks for a feast. But, while Fox manages to purloin the eggs in the middle of the night, the hatchlings think he's their mother and Wolf wishes him well in keeping them under control until they are ready to consume. 

While Chicken forms a self-defence club because Dog (Phill Jupitus) is too useless to protect them, the Chicks (Louie Loveday-O'Brien, Alexander Molony and Tallulah Conabeare) become convinced that Wolf is the Big Bad Fox in their mummy's story. So, Fox has to persuade Wolf to let him scare him off so that the Chicks think he's the Big Bad Fox after all. However, Wolf runs out of patience and wants to scoff the Chicks right away and Fox has to disguise himself as a chicken to lay low in the farmyard until the Wolf has moved on. 

Naturally, he gets rumbled, especially as the Chicks want to eat their classmates at school. But they are so disappointed when Chicken makes Fox look feeble that they head into the woods to ask Wolf to become their new mummy. He is about to gobble them up when Fox rushes to the rescue and Chicken and her fight club bash the predator into submission. Unable to live without either mummy, the Chicks persuade Chicken to let Fox live on the farm and, much to Dog's amusement, he takes over the running of the combat classes.

Completing the programme is `Saving Christmas', which sees the animals decorating the farmyard with baubles and tinsel. Keen to keep Duck and Rabbit out of the way, Pig suggests they build a snowman. He despairs when they try to shovel clean snow off the roof of his sty and can barely believe his eyes when they chop down a tree in order to get some twigs for the snowman's arms. However, he struggles to keep his temper when the tree falls on his hut and the facade collapses when he tries to repair it.

Convinced that they need to grow up, Rabbit and Duck sidle off to the other side of the yard. On seeing Father Christmas hanging off the ledge of the highest window in the barn, however, they decide they have to rescue him and are distraught when they manage to decapitate him. Unable to understand why Pig is taking the news of Santa's slaughter so well (because he knows they've only destroyed a decoration), Duck and Rabbit set about replacing him and delivering toys to all the children of the world in one night. In harnessing a lawnmower to a cart, however, they succeed only in zooming through the gate and winding up in the city dog pound after causing chaos in the local supermarket. 

Finding themselves in a cage with some hungry hounds, Pig chastises himself for getting involved with idiots like Rabbit and Duck. However, they manage to convince the small daughter of the leader of the pack that they are Santa, his chief elf and the porker who pulls the sleigh because no one can afford reindeer in a recession. Thus, after they somehow manage to burst their way out of captivity, they persuade the mutts to help them rummage through the dumpsters at the side of the road in order to fill a shopping trolley with gifts. 

Hurtling down a steep slope, the trolley becomes airborne and lands on the roof of a well-appointed house. Unaware that the owner has dressed as Santa to surprise his three children, Duck slides down the chimney in his Father Christmas costume and gets chased around the room with a broom, while Pig and Rabbit wonder what can go wrong next. Wafted back on to the tiles, the trio look up to see the real Santa (Marcel McCalla) hanging from the guttering after being knocked off balance by a flying shopping trolley. Luckily, Rabbit performs an unlikely rescue and they are given a lift back to the farm. Everyone is delighted with their presents the next morning and the curtain falls on a scene of contentment. 

As the credits roll with the janitor doing a soft-shoe shuffle while cleaning the stage, this jolly romp will have many older viewers reminiscing fondly about Bob Godfrey's wonderful Roobarb cartoons. The visuals are slightly more sophisticated, but the madcap humour and slapstick flights of fancy are much the same. Or maybe things would feel different with the original French vocal cast, as the likes of Adrian Edmondson and Bill Bailey would be more than familiar with Richard Briers's interpretation of Roobarb the barking green dog and his feline nemesis, Custard. 

Given that Renner and Jean Regnaud's jokes have been translated into idiomatic English, comparisons could be made to Eric Thompson's timeless work on The Magic Roundabout and Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge's exceptional efforts on the Asterix the Gaul books. But, while this anthropomorphic portmanteau isn't quite in that league - indeed it deteriorates steadily after the hilarious opening episode - its blend of absurdity and sagacity should keep audiences of all ages entertained, as should Robert Marcel Lepage's playfully jaunty score, with its witty Prokofiev samplings enlivening the over-extended central segment. However, one has to wonder about the timing of the release, as the closing storyline feels better suited to Yuletide than the summer hols.

Thirty years ago, German twins Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short with Balance (1989). In the intervening period, they have produced animated sequences for a range of commercials and MTV ident slots. But they moved into features last year with Luis and the Aliens and clearly enjoyed the experience so much that they have quickly followed it up with Spy Cat, which draws on the Grimm fairytale of `The Bremen Town Musicians'. 

Nothing ever happens in Drabville in East Bumblesnore. Not that Marnie (Karoline Mask von Oppen) would ever know, as she is a ginger house cat belonging to Nurse Rosalinde (Marion Kahle), who never lets her precious pet venture outdoors. Instead, she spends her time watching cartoon crime shows on the television in her room and creeping around the house with her purple plastic periscope and Instamatic camera. When she discovers that Rosalinde's long-lost brother, Paul (Phil Lewis), has not broken both of his legs, as he claims, Marnie suspects he is the thief breaking into all the houses around the village. But he convinces her that he's a special agent on the tail of the villains and persuades her to let him box her up for an undercover mission. 

Luckily, the chickens chasing Eggbert (Tony Clark) the uncrowing rooster to keep themselves out of the farmer's cooking pot cause the van carrying Marnie to swerve and the box lands in the middle of the same country road that Elvis the dog (Tom Zahner) is driving along in the tractor he has stolen from the owner who is trying to shoot him for being such a useless guard dog and allowing the crooks to burgle the farmhouse. Reluctantly agreeing to give Marnie and Eggbert a lift, Elvis pretends to be gruff and tough and refuses to stop to collect Mambo (Phil Lewis), a performing zebra who is trying to catch up with the circus. 

When the tractor grinds to a halt, Elvis steals a red van that just happens to belong to Paul's hapless sidekicks and they find the loot in the back. However, the cops think the animals are responsible for the robberies and the van gets knocked up in the air by a speeding train during a desperate car chase. They all survive with a few bumps and bruises, but a downpour washes off Mambo's black-and-white paint to reveal a starstruck donkey named Anton underneath. Marnie ticks him off for fibbing to them after giving them a lecture about honesty and trust among friends. But they agree to work together when they realise that Paul has been stealing valuables to disguise the fact he is really only after the Naive Art masterpieces of farmer painter Ottmar Hering and that Eggbert's house is the final target. 

While they get photographic evidence of Paul's guilt, he takes Eggbert hostage and Marnie winds up in the animal shelter after Elvis decides they're wasting their time. However, when Rosalinde finds Eggbert in the chest freezer in the basement, he stumbles upon Paul's stash and they call the cops to arrest him. But he makes a getaway in his flying wheelchair and the gang has to steal a plane to rescue Rosalinde who is hanging on to the chair's wheels. After a harum scarum mid-air showdown, Paul winds up behind bars, Rosalinde plays house with the postman and the chickens are delighted to meet their new Latin lover. As for Marnie and her pals, they zoom off in a customised motorbike and sidecar in search of new cases to solve. 

European CGI doesn't have a great reputation with those reared on Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar. But the Lauensteins know their stuff and the settings for this enjoyable romp owe much to the Barbizon School of rustic realism. There's something pleasingly familiar about the protagonists, too, with Marnie being Garfield without the stripes, Elvis resembling Griswald from Top Cat, Anton being a dead ringer for Donkey from the Shrek movies, and Eggbert bringing to mind Rocky from Peter Lord and Nick Park's Chicken Run (2000). 

Of course, this leaves the picture open to accusations of being visually derivative. But the story reworks the Grimm template to amusing effect, while the characterisation and voice work are strong enough to coax grown-ups into rooting for the animals, along with the tinies. Moreover, there are several throwaway Hitchcock gags on offer, with the feline heroine being named after Tippi Hedren's character in Marnie (1959), while there's also a splendid pastiche of the crop duster sequence from North By Northwest (1959). The Lauensteins have certainly set themselves up for a sequel, so paws crossed we get one.

It's often forgotten that there was no sign of Thomas the Tank Engine in the Reverend Wilbert Awdry's first book about the trains steaming across the Island of Sodor. Edward, Gordon and Henry were the stars of The Three Railway Engines (1945), but they had become used to playing a supporting role by the time Awdry produced his 26th and final volume, Tramway Engines, in 1972. His son Christopher took over the reins in 1983. But, by the time the series ended with its 42nd title in 2011, two generations of children had come to associate Thomas with the animated engine that had first been brought to British televisions screens by Britt Allcroft in 1984. 

Over a dozen feature-length specials have since been churned out to sit alongside the sole cinematic outing, Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000). The latest is released in time for the summer holidays and David Stoten's Thomas & Friends Big World! Big Adventures! The Movie takes the blue tank engine away from his familiar surroundings on a trans-global odyssey that will delight the phenomenon's newest recruits and leave grown-ups reared on either the charming Edmund Ward books or Ringo Starr's narration shaking their heads in nostalgic disbelief. 

Having tricked Gordon (Keith Wickham) into pulling some wagons of rotting fish to Vickerstown, Thomas (John Hasler) takes coaches Annie and Clarabel on a trip along on his branch line. En route, he meets Ace (Peter Andre), a bright yellow sports car who is on Sodor in order to catch the boat that will take him to the start of a series of rallies across five different continents. Despite nearly crashing into Toby while speeding alongside Henry on a bridge, Ace goads Thomas into challenging him to a race and the tank engine becomes so distracted that he leave behind the passengers that Bertie Bus has deposited at the station. 

When Ace tells Thomas that he could become the first train to travel around the world, he sneaks out of his shed and persuades Carly Crane to load him on to a ship at the dockyard. Back in the sidings, Sir Topham Hatt (Wickham) asks Emily (Teresa Gallagher), Percy (Nigel Pilkington) and James (Rob Rackstraw) if they know where Thomas has gone. They sing a song about his possible destinations and Sir Topham becomes increasingly worried that his really useful engine might have vanished.

Arriving in Dakar in Senegal, Thomas (with a driver and a fireman, who seem to just go with the flow), is taken aback when Ace hooks up with rival cars Toni and Angelique and informs him he's off across the Sahara Desert to Dar-Es-Salaam in order to catch a boat to Rio de Janeiro. He's even more disappointed when Ace reveals that there aren't any rails where he's going and vehemently denies that he had invited Thomas on the rally in the first place. However, some friendly trucks offer to show Thomas the way if he is willing to pull them and he responds to the challenge with vigour when a railway worker doubts whether he has the strength to make the journey. 

With Sir Topham on a ship bound for Africa, Thomas finds himself picking up lots of additional trucks and people start laughing at him for thinking that he can haul them by himself. Fortunately, he gets some help from Nia (Yvonne Grundy), a colourful engine who teases him about being much smaller than the engines who usually do his job. Despite Thomas's protests that he can manage by himself, Nia pushes him up a steep hill and coaxes the coaches into singing a song to make the journey go faster. They pass zebras, giraffes and leaping gazelles and Thomas boasts that he knows exactly what to do with animals on the line, as he toots his whistle on Sodor to scare them off. However, he has never seen a bull elephant before and is grateful when the trucks sing a lullaby to make it fall asleep at the side of the track under a red sunset sky. 

The trains reach Tanzania and Nia teaches Thomas that Africa is a continent rather than one big country. She introduces him to Kweku and Thomas is rude about the formality of the way they greet one another. When Nia chides him about his poor manners, Thomas insists on going on alone and is peeved when Nia is craned on to the same boat and suggests that Ace can't be a good friend if he didn't wait for him. As night falls, however, a tarpaulin blows off Ace, who wakes to tell Thomas that he left him to his own devices because the best way to figure things out is to think for yourself. He also implies that Thomas doesn't need Nia telling him what to do, as he is a free spirit who should be having fun not following the rules. 

They dock at Rio (rather an odd voyage, but still) and a worker in the marshalling yard agrees to give Thomas supplies of coal and water if he pulls some coffee coaches through the Amazon rainforest to San Francisco. He hopes to make the journey with Ace. But he zooms off again and Thomas becomes grumpy when he is coupled up to Nia and she starts singing a song about friendship, as they roll alongside a carnival procession. 

Out in the wilds, Nia warns Thomas about taking on water, but he is more concerned with catching up with Ace. Thousands of miles away, Sir Topham is also running low on fluids while crossing the Sahara by camel and his guide teases him about the way he rides. Back in Brazil, Thomas finds Ace upside down on his roof after a crash in the forest and the cocky yellow car admits to being scared of the wild animals. Nia is amused when a monkey jumps down and starts spinning Ace's wheels and she can barely suppress a smile when she tells Thomas that Ace hopes they will pull him upright because he doesn't want to be left alone.

Ace is loaded on to the truck behind Thomas and starts to complain about the lack of speed when Thomas grinds to a halt. Ruefully, he wishes he had taken Nia's advice about the water. But she pipes up that leaves are very useful and advises Thomas's driver and fireman and the Brazilian riding with them to make leaf funnels to catch the rain when it pours down. Both Thomas and Nia enjoy their drink, but Ace moans about his paintwork getting wet. Such is the downpour, however, that the ground becomes soft and the engines feel the rails sinking beneath them and it takes a huge effort to cross a bridge that has almost been swept away by the rising river. 

When Nia asks Ace why he is always so stroppy, he launches into a song about being free and easy and we cutaway to him zipping and zooming without a care in the world. On the other side of the country, Sir Topham (who is now wearing a carnival hat instead of the turban and the pillbox hat he had picked up in Africa) is also feeling better, as he spots a poster of an aeroplane in Rio and decides to fly the next leg of his journey. 

Feeling more at home in Nia's company, Thomas joins her in greeting the engines they pass along the way, with even Ace chipping in with a `g'day'. But he's in a hurry to get to the salt flats for the next race and wants them to drop him off, even though it's out of their way. He accuses Nia of not knowing how to have fun. But she demonstrates that she does by wheeling backwards off a steep gradient and she apologises when they nearly crash into a female train coming the other way. 

Ace ticks Nia off and suggests that she and Thomas would reach their destination more quickly if they uncoupled and had a race. Nia thinks teamwork is better than competition. But Thomas likes the idea and (with their respective drivers seemingly powerless to intervene) they are unhooked and lined up on parallel tracks in a Monument Valley-like sandstone setting. Nia shows a good turn of speed and Ace tells Thomas to let her go because they're going to play a trick on her and let her zoom off alone while they go to the salt flats. Ace urges Thomas to let his brakes off and really hit top speed. However, he nearly bumps into Winston (Matt Wilkinson), an old moustachio'd engine who is coming the other way, and his trucks roll back and thrust Thomas forward as they go through a tunnel. Unfortunately, they collide with a stationary truck and go flying through the boarded-up end of the tunnel and Thomas and most of the trucks are derailed. 

Stranded on his side, Thomas listens as Winston describes how engines get dusty or rusty after being left in the wilderness and he feels frightened when he sees the shell of a dead engine on the sand. But, after wishing he hadn't left Nia behind and having spent a night under the stars, Thomas learns his lesson and is grateful when Winston returns (having taken the humans away with him the night before) with a band of cowboys and cowgirls, who use ropes to haul everyone back on to their wheels and bid them `happy trails', as they set off once more. 

While Sir Topham sports a ten gallon hat to make inquiries about Thomas at the marshalling yards, the tank engine drops Ace at the salt flats. Rather than show some appreciation, however, Ace blames his tardiness on the slowness of the train carrying him. Finally realising who his true friend is, Thomas heads to San Francisco and, as he passes, Sir Topham thinks he can hear his whistle. But, by the time he reaches the waterfront, Thomas has already been craned on to a ship to China and sings a song about being a bad friend and feeling the need to say `sorry' to Nia. 

Journeying on, Thomas passes the Great Wall and bumps into Yong Bao, whom he once met at a grand train exhibition. One of his friends tells Thomas that Nia has gone to the Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye Danxia and he feels confident that he will find her there. But, while the scenery is initially spectacular, a heavy snow stars to fall and Thomas is skidding by the time he sees Nia on a winding mountain track. He calls his apology and she admits to being cross with him for going with Ace. Thomas is about to agree when he  notices an avalanche rolling down the hillside and he urges Nia to hide in a tunnel. However, she gets swept away by the snowdrift and almost plunges over a ledge. Thomas promises to pull her back, but he isn't strong enough and Nia is left dangling with doom when Yong Bao arrives to rescue them both in the nick of time. 

As they travel through India, Thomas is recognised and a call is placed to Sir Topham's colleague, Peregrine Percival. He is relieved to know that the little blue tank engine is coming home and Thomas and Nia sing together as European landmarks like the Colisseum, the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben flash past in their rush to get back to Sodor. When they are in sight of the island, Nia breaks the news that her shed in Senegal has been demolished. So, Thomas invites her to come and live with his friends. But, while they are lined up to greet him, the trains are surprised that Sir Topham isn't with them and we cut away to see him sailing on a slow boat with Ace, who recognises Thomas from his photo. 

Chugging along at a fair old pace, Thomas's first overseas adventure makes for undemanding entertainment. The animation is up to its usual high standard, while Peter Andre and Yvonne Grundy make affable additions to the vocal cast. John Hasler struggles with some of the high notes during the lacklustre songs, but the lyrics capably reinforce the messages about friendship, not judging by appearances and embracing new cultures and experiences. The final leg of the trip leaves Europe getting short shrift, while the person who made the travel arrangements for the rally needs to buy a map. Nevertheless, this will keep its target audience happy and will long continue to do so after it's released on the various home entertainment formats.

Finally, even those who managed to survive Thomas's encounter with the yapping Ace would be advised to steer well clear of Carl Mendez's CGI animation, Wheely: Fast & Hilarious. Shamelessly borrowing its look and tone from John Lasseter's underwhelming Pixar outing, Cars (2006), this is strictly a last resort for those needing something to keep the kids occupied over the summer. 

A year after his hubris had cost him the chance to beat rival motor Joe Flo (Khairil Mokhzani Bahar) in the last race of the season, Wheely O'Wheels (Ogie Banks) is still haunted by the fact that he had skidded into the path of an oncoming train and was bounced into the harbour because a buck-toothed fast-food Vespa named Putt Putt (Gavin Yap) had blocked the way while trying to deliver the order he had placed to celebrate his victory. However, he is determined to help Mama (Tamyka White) do up her rundown garage-cum-diner on the outskirts of Gasket City by working as a taxi. 

While out on a job, Wheely bumps into Joe and winds up gatecrashing a photo shoot and gets to meet his dream girl, Bella Di Monetti (Frances Lee), a model who is promoting a new brand of oil. Having saved her from falling filming equipment, however, he is arrested for illegal racing by Sergeant Street (Barbara Goodson) and has to be bailed out of prison by his mother. Despite promising to keep out of trouble, Wheely falls foul of Bella's sneering British beau, Ben Hub-Bonnet (Thomas Pang), while returning her dropped phone and he frames him for an illegal street race. 

With Bella tempted by a movie offer from Hollywood, all seems lost with Wheely behind bars. But, when Putt Putt sees Bella get car-jacked by a sinister German chop-shop truck called Kaiser (Brock Powell) and his Hispanic sidekicks, Rumble (Armando Valez) and Parmo (Raymond Orta), he busts Wheely out of jail and they head to Torque Town in time to prevent Bella from being stolen away aboard a Jamaican-accented cargo ship named Crank (Chris Jai Alex). Helped by a friendly cab called Amy (Diong Chae Lian), Wheely rides to the rescue at the docks, while Putt Putt joins forces with Frank (Jay Sheldon), the `cardiologist' who treated Wheely after his crash and who has found a new axle that will enable him to race again. 

For about three minutes at the waterfront, as Kaiser uses a crane to bean Wheely with some flying containers, this almost gets exciting. However, for much of the time, this is tiresomely brash and noisy, as the vocal talent bellows the dismal dialogue concocted by Keith Brumpton, Yusry Abd Halim and Peter Hynes in a variety of accents that frequently teeter on the brink of racial caricature. The Indian taxi that takes exception to Wheely in Torque Town is particularly poorly judged, but the patois-spouting Crank  will have accompanying adults wincing with embarrassment. 

Tinies who haven't seen Cars (of which there will be few) might just enjoy the ride and petrolheads might get a kick out of trying to identify the models being ripped off. The graphics are also solid (particularly during the crudely animated Car Wars sequence at the movie drive-in), while Izuann Jamalle's editing is pretty slick. But the storyline and characterisation are woefully derivative, while the endless stream of bad puns is excruciating.