Monday, 18 July 2016

Ice Age Collision Course with Pizza Express

There are some brilliant movies coming up this summer.  I've already reviewed The Secret Life of Pets, and there's also Swallows and Amazons and the BFG due out soon, as well as Ice Age  Collision Course. We were lucky enough to be invited this weekend as guests of Pizza Express to celebrate their collaboration with the film.  They have brand new kid's activity sheets featuring puzzles, colouring and quizzes from the movie, and a fabulous chance to win a trip to Hollywood just by sending in your drawing of your favourite pizza and Ice Age character.  The closing date is the 5th September, so you could take the sheet home with you and spend lots of time working on your perfect entry over the holidays.

The main prize is for a family of 4 to travel to Hollywood, with flights, accommodation, car hire and a trip to Fox Studios.  There's also 5 runners up prizes of Ice Age goody bags and vouchers for pizza making parties for up to 12 people, and 50 runner up prizes of an Ice Age plush toy and £30 Pizza Express voucher.

It would make such a fun school holiday treat to see the movie and then dine at Pizza Express, especially on a rainy day - or dare I say it, on a scorching one when you're looking for some air conditioned refuge.  With the kids' Piccolo menu at just £6.95 for 3 courses, it won't break the bank either.

We were invited to the Dean Street restaurant, in the heart of bustling Soho, and famous for its jazz nights.  It was a glorious sunny Saturday and the streets were buzzing with people.  As we stepped into the restaurant we were greeted by cheerful staff who took us to our table.

It was great to be able to try out some of the new summer specials, and the Watermelon Chiller with its blend of pink melon, strawberries and mint went down an absolute treat in the warmth. My partner enjoyed a cooling Passionfruit Lemonade, another new addition this summer.

Ruby and her friend went for Appletizer, a treat to have a fizzy drink!  We soon got to order our food, again relieved that Pizza Express cater so well for allergies and knowing there's always a great selection for gluten-free diners. Ruby had gluten free doughballs with a side salad of crudités and her friend had the regular doughballs. Ladling on lashings of butter, they both declared that Pizza Express butter is the best in the world!

Between courses they had a chance to fill in their activity sheets and plenty of colouring pencils were delivered to the table in their trademark tomato tins.  The girls were super excited to see the film, and spent the time getting re-acquainted with the movie characters.

For starters I ordered a refreshing tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with vibrant basil pesto and my other half ordered the antipasto platter which they kindly brought out with some gluten-free bread.  It's lovely to eat somewhere where you don't feel like you're being a pain ordering special food.  

They always get the balance just right making it child-friendly but not gimmicky, and somewhere grown-ups want to visit and eat.  It's relaxed so you don't need to worry if your child isn't on their best behaviour, but most of all I love that they offer something different to the usual beige, fried food you find on most kids menus.

For mains the girls went for the Margharita pizza from the Piccolo menu, I picked my usual Padana pizza (loaded with goat's cheese, tangy onion marmalade and spinach) and the old man went for the new pizza the Barbarcoa, a meaty feast with smoked pulled beef and spicy chipotle salsa topped with coriander. He really enjoyed the flavour of the new pizza although felt there was 'a bit too much raw salad on top'. Perhaps it could have done with being more finely chopped?  All the food was delicious, as it always is at Pizza Express.  We know whatever town we visit, we can always rely on a Pizza Express branch to deliver great tasting food, safe in the knowledge we can dine gluten-free.

For dessert, one girl chose ice cream, the other a gluten-free brownie and the grown-ups shared some salted caramel ice cream which is to die for - well, when I say of us got a fair bit more than the other!

After packing up the activity sheets so we could take them home and complete our competition entries, we headed round the corner to Twentieth Century Fox's London HQ.  We were eagerly greeted by Sid and Scrat who were happy to give us a hug!

With excitement building, we headed to the private cinema inside to settle down for the movie.  Somehow the kids managed to find a bit more room to squeeze some popcorn in!

Ice Age Collsion Course is the 5th Ice Age movie, but don't worry if you're not familiar with the previous ones, the film works really well in it's own right and you don't have to have seen the others.  It has a great voice cast including Queen Latifa, Jennifer Lopez, Simon Pegg and Jesse J.  It's an action-packed adventure starting with Scrat the squirrel inadvertently diverting a space-ship and setting it off on a catastrophic course into the solar system, crashing with planets and causing an asteroid shower, which head towards earth spelling disaster.

Down on earth, Manny the mammoth is distressed about his daughter's Peaches upcoming wedding to Julien and there are some touching moments exploring growing up, and letting go as a parent.  

There's lots of laughs throughout for both adults and children and it's a light-hearted, fun movie, with of course, a happy ending!

A meal at Pizza Express and the Ice Age movie are a perfect combination so make sure you fit it in over the school holidays, and don't forget to enter the amazing competition too.

Disclosure: We were invited as guests of Pizza Express to dine and see the movie.  Many thanks to Ruth and Katy for organising.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Secret Life Of Pets - A Film Review

Ever since we saw the trailer for this, we were desperate to see the film.  It seems we weren't alone, as on opening weekend we struggled to get tickets.  We had to leave one multiplex and head to another across town, and even there had to wait for a further two showings before we were able to nab the final three seats in the theatre.  I've not experienced such a popular family film in long time.

Squished in the second row and craning our necks, the opening aerial sequence over a lively New York skyline was dizzying.  Ruby loved it off the bat as Taylor Swift's Welcome to New York boomed out and the whole audience were tapping their feet and settling in for the ride. 

The brilliantly ecclectic soundtrack was a feature throughout, with tunes to delight young and old - from the tween idol Swift, to The Beastie Boy's No Sleep Til Brooklyn and Bill Wither's Lovely Day, with a brief heavy metal burst from Armenian LA band System of a Down, and a deliriously bonkers dancing sausages montage backed by a well-known Grease hit.  There's also some Queen, BeeGees and Pharrell Williams thrown in there - told you it was ecclectic.

Those of you that have seen the trailer will know that the comedy moments come mostly from the brilliantly observed animal mannerisms and antics.  What pet owner hasn't wondered what they'd discover if they set up a hidden camera while they were out, or strapped a GoPro onto their fur-baby? In fact, if you look closely at the slightly out-of-control house party in one of the scenes, you will indeed spot one wearing a video camera.

The familiarity of the storyline will resonate with kids - think an animal version of Toy Story and you're pretty much there.  The cute pet antics of the home-alone felines and canines quickly make way for a fast-paced action movie, which is at times completely bonkers but always brilliantly animated with funny gags abounding.  The encounter with a bunch of disshevelled alley cats results in a beautifully choreographed vertical chase scene through hanging backstreet laundry and rooftops, which reminded me of old school Disney movie The Aristocats.

The main character, Max a wise-cracking terrier leads a charmed life with his human Katie, but soon feels usurped by the sudden arrival of the sizeable and dishevelled Duke, also rescued from the pound.  Usual sibling rivalry ensues and I can imagine this will strike a chord with children getting to know step-siblings.  Ultimately, of course they put aside their differences, learn more about each other's back story and work together to get out of the scrape they're in.

The 'scrape' comes in the form of cute-on-the-outside-crazed-on-the-inside Snowy, a white despotic bunny, rejected object of affection and leader of the underground gang the Flushed Pets.  

Ditzy, pouffy Pomeranian Gidget (who I was convinced was voiced by Ariana Grande, turns out I was wrong), finally pulls on her big girl's pants and leads the motley rescue mission.  It's great to see a female character kick ass, albeit because of love.

Clearly aimed at pet-lovers - we had to sit through lots of adverts for cat food, as well as some pretty exciting trailers for upcoming movies this summer including The BFG and Swallows and Amazons - if you are a pet owner, you'll adore this film, and even if you're not there's plenty to keep you entertained.