Has Torontoist used this title before? We honestly can’t remember, but it’s an easy (if lazy) joke to make about the Toronto International Film Festival Group’s International Film Festival for Children, Sprockets, which is running from tonight until April 30th.
[edit: Turns out that, apparently, the Globe and Mail have used the same joke. Oh man! Does this happen every year? We promise it’s the last time.]
So let’s start at the beginning, with tonight’s opening gala presentation, Lassie (recommended for ages 7+). Based on the Eric Knight novel Lassie Come Home, the basis of the 1943 film of the same name featuring a (gasp) young Elizabeth Taylor, the film has not one of the clichés we attribute to Lassie – there’s no Timmy trapped down the mine, but that’s largely because of the setting, Yorkshire, 1939, and the mine has been shut down by Peter O’Toole, as the first step in his criminal master plan to own Lassie.
Of course, Lassie doesn’t take kindly to it, taking the first opportunity to escape his Scottish stately home (Which according to the map displayed during the film, is about 50 miles north of John O’ Groats) seeing beautiful vistas but suffering terrible hardships (not least Peter Dinklage’s diabolical gypsy accent) getting home just in time for the happy ending. It’s pleasant family fare with lots to discuss with older children, but there’s far more on offer at Sprockets than high profile family films, though there’s a fair share of them too – including a sneak preview of Dreamworks latest, Over the Hedge, and the highly rated (But Oprah Winfrey narrated) Emmanuel’s Gift, but one of the greatest thing Sprockets offers is the ability to easily introduce children to world cinema.
Hinokio, recommended for ages 9+, is an unusual Japanese film that references the Pinocchio story with it’s tale of a boy whom depressed from losing his mother, refuses to leave his room and goes to school though controlling a robot that sees and hears for him. Hinokio has a multilayered story, including observations on the ability for online videogames to allow us to wallow in isolation, and explores the difficulties of relating to school friends and parents. The film also has more than enough visual pizzazz to wow those who just want to see this generation’s Johnny 5.
The Singaporean CGI flick Zodiac, The Race Begins… (recommended for ages 7+) is praised by Eye Weekly’s Adam Nayman for it’s fast-paced take on the creation of the Chinese Zodiac, noting that it ‘makes up for what it lacks in depth and, occasionally, coherence with lickety-split velocity.’
Sprockets also features superb short film programmes, including Loot Bag (recommended 8+) a collection of strange animation collected from across the world, from Zimbabwean CGI in the Jungle Beat series to Canadian homage to silent cinema in The Silent Film, and International Tapestry (recommended 7+), a collection of shorts including Once Again Rain, the tale of a young Iranian boy’s quest for an umbrella.
Not that Sprockets is only for older children. The Reel Rascal stream includes films to entertain children as young as 3, including the Canadian Premier of When Bob Became a Builder and other shorts programmes such as Animated Animal Tales and Sweet Shorts.
The festival also features a range of weekend workshops for budding film makers, including Become a Stop-Motion Pro! a workshop in conjunction with Endless Films for ages 8 to 13, and Learn to Make a Film – In A Day! in conjunction with Never Too Short Productions, for ages 9 to 16. Places are limited, however.
So let’s stop at the ending, with April 30th’s closing gala presentation. Booky Makes Her Mark is the Toronto set tale of a young girl with ill health during the great depression, and her struggles to prove herself as a writer. For ages 8+.
Sprockets showings are at a variety of different venues, listed here, and tickets are available in a variety of different combinations for both families and educators. All information can be found at the Sprockets website.