Film review: Home (Digital HD release)

One of the great advantages of my daughter now being a much more independent small person is that I’m getting to indulge a lot more of my pre-motherhood interests again. I’ve probably seen more films and read more books in the first six months of this year than I did in the three years before that; some of that is down to the fact that we now enjoy lots of those things together.

Perhaps because I’ve been writing and tweeting more about films, the kind folks at Fox Home Entertainment sent the two of us a very cute party pack and a copy of DreamWorks’ Home to watch while we celebrated the release of the film on Digital HD.

So this weekend we got our party together and settled down to watch the story of well-meaning but disaster-prone alien Oh (The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons), whose Boov brethren have colonised Earth in one of the most genial invasions ever captured on film. Attempting to make friends, Oh accidentally sends a message which could pinpoint the Boovs’ location to their dreaded enemies, and in escaping the rage of his fellow aliens takes up with a lone girl, Tip (Rihanna) -who has accidentally been mistaken for her cat, Pig, and therefore failed to be swept up alongside her mother and relocated to one of the remaining human areas of the planet. The unlikely partnership forces them to learn a bit more about each other – and themselves – in order for both of them to find the family they treasure.

Home is as genial and good-natured as its main character overall; the plot is occasionally a little meandering and chaotic, but it dashes along at a fairly breakneck pace, and the level of humour was spot on for my almost-5yo (there is one particular knock knock joke I think we’ll be telling for weeks). She was particularly charmed by the dancing scenes (“my hands are in the air like I just do not care”) and cackled gleefully at the odd helping of toilet humour.

For me, the main plus points were the small but significant nods the film made towards greater inclusivity. In a world where the bulk of big-ticket animated features is still very white and tends to be rather male-dominated (unless royalty is involved), it was a breath of fresh air to see a film where a substantial amount of screentime was given over to a sparky, intelligent girl of colour –  and one who wasn’t particularly defined by being a girl at that. Tip’s mother, desperate to find her, describes her to a Boov guard, uttering the line “she has beautiful brown skin”  – something that’s just lovely to hear. To top it all, the animation allows Tip to have a fairly normal, childlike body.

We actually missed Home in the cinema as we were off on holiday just after it was released, and my daughter was quite gutted – so to get the opportunity not only to watch the film but to do so with bunting strung up, snacks to nibble on and a garden tent to sit in (although we were indoors!) filled her with excitement. While I wouldn’t say it’s gone straight into our list of favourites, I suspect we’ll watch it again at some point as it was sweet, enjoyable and made for a fun family afternoon. I think it’s a particularly strong choice for the younger members of the family, being lighter and less developed than DreamWorks favourites like the excellent How to Train Your Dragon (and with fewer fart jokes than Shrek).

Home is available now on Digital HD.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of Home, along with a party pack, by Fox; however, this is not a paid review and all opinions are my own. 

London in summer: Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum

IMG_6755Those of you who have been here before know I like to dip my (peep)toe into vintage waters with increasing regularity; I don’t have a set era as such and quite enjoy mixing things up, but mid-century is as good a description as any – by which I mean roughly 1940-1965.

Enter the Imperial War Museum, whose Fashion on the Ration exhibition arrived – presumably by design – in the midst of a mixure of vintage hipster trendiness, the resurgence of traditional skills during a period of austerity, and the popularity of various fashion exhibitions in London (spearheaded by the V&A, whose Savage Beauty – a spectacular Alexander McQueen retrospective – is also still on, though only until 2nd August, and very much worth seeing).

IMG_6758The IWM’s exploration of 1940s street style is a short but rich, beautifully curated show, taking in the beginnings of clothing rationing in the UK – which lasted into the 1950s – and with a thorough look at the Utility clothes era. This, for those unfamiliar with this period of history, was the point at which the British government got directly involved in clothing design through the creation of affordable, long-lasting clothing that aimed to achieve greater efficiency and equality in the use of precious clothing coupons. It ended up being the basis for modern clothing and fabric quality standards – and the bright prints, use of durable fabrics like rayon and elegant but simple styling so as to use resources sparingly all contributed strongly to what we probably have in our minds when we think of “1940s fashion”.

Drafting in well-known designers of the day helped to make Utility clothes desirable – they were originally greeted with suspicion, unsurprisingly – and a particular look emerged that balanced shabby chic (when it didn’t look good to be too well turned out with a war on) with morale-boosting looks said to support the war effort (can’t have the enemy see us looking dispirited!).

What makes this collection particularly lovely is the individual element; it’s peppered with stories about the original owners and makers of the fashions on display. One of my favourites was a gorgeously cut onesie for wearing over a nightie if an air raid happened overnight. It was accompanied by a note from the original owner expressing her surprise at owning such an item, and it had something noticeably lacking from the recent resurgence in popularity of jumpsuits – a rear flap for attending to a call of nature without having to disrobe!

The exhibition also makes the point that we’ve gone somewhat full circle with fashion – after a post-war boom period of disposable, quickly cycling trends, we’ve headed back into a make do and mend-inspired, thrifty era of slow fashion. And since 1940s and 1950s fashions were often built to last, some of the original fashions of the day continue to survive and be wearable – though of course every finite resource will suffer increasing scarcity.

Photography inside is prohibited, so below is a gallery of a few details from the gift shop in case that kind of thing tickles your fancy. Standard adult entry is £10 (concessions are available), under 5s go free and the rest of the museum is free to enter and packed to the gills with things to see, so you can make a bit of a day of it. Though Fashion on the Ration is only on until the end of August, it was easy to find available tickets, so while I’d recommend advance booking,  if you haven’t and you’re in the area I’d even chance it on the day.

No disclosure needed as this was a private trip.

Things to do in London asap: See Constellations at Trafalgar Studios

Tom Scutt's deceptively simple set.

Tom Scutt’s deceptively simple set.

So, let’s start with the bad news: this is only running until the 1st of August, so be quick about picking up some tickets, yes?

And now, in five lovingly constructed bullet points, the main reasons you should get your rear in gear and book them.

  • It’s sweet, smart and surprising. Each scene is replayed multiple times, from multiple angles, but lightly and deftly and without the moralistic awkwardness of something like Sliding Doors.
  • Louise Brealey (Molly off Sherlock if you’re wondering why this sounds familiar) is wonderful. As is Joe Armstrong, and it’s very much a partnership as they feed back and forth off each other – but she is especially captivating. And it’s one of those plays in which the hard work is evident, in a good way. Switching back and forth in moods, times; almost the same but subtly different conversations and multiple character arcs that develop over a non-linear narrative. It’s a masterclass in skill, as well as talent.
  • It’s 70 minutes long, with no break. Even you can concentrate for 70 minutes. And the lack of interval means you can completely dive into the story and not be shaken by the non-linear narrative.
  • The set is gorgeous, and the subtle use of it as a mirror for the on-stage action is beautifully judged and not distracting or hokey.
  • I loved it. I appreciate this might not sound like a convincing argument, but really why else does one bother to make a recommendation?

No disclaimer needed; I saw this thanks to the kindness of a friend, not a brand.

Fun with the kids this summer: The Power of Poison (!)

Kids… Poison… Well, as irritating as they get sometimes, I don’t think those are things people usually put together. I joke, of course, but despite its unsettling topic, this intriguing and beautifully curated exhibition – adapted from one created by the American Museum of Natural History in New York – is a fun family-friendly activity perfect for the upcoming summer holidays.

For one reason or another, work has been quite crazy lately, so I’ve been really trying to make the most of downtime and focussing on doing fun things with my daughter. The PR team behind The Power of Poison kindly invited me to a VIP family day at the exhibition, and it was simply perfect timing; a chance to do something out of the ordinary together that was child-focussed and might even teach us all a thing or two. We do take her to museums relatively regularly – she’s developing a healthy fondness for my favourite place in all of London, the V&A, and it’s been heartening to see how many places go out of their way to offer activities for younger visitors. Two weeks later, though, she’s still telling us that the Power of Poison was her favourite ever, and promises it isn’t just because there was a Mad Hatter’s tea party and facepainting afterwards (the much appreciated VIP bit!).

At a little under 5, my daughter is probably at the younger end to fully appreciate the details of the exhibition, but it’s a curious little treasure for all ages. Making the most of the dark, labyrinthine space of the Old Truman Brewery, the collection is wonderfully immersive, plunging you immediately into a jungle scene with a mixture of real and fake reptiles and bugs, deftly teaching the difference between poisonous and venomous. Kids are given a fun activity sheet which encourages them to actually read the display information and answer questions, and then it’s on to the next few rooms, with  a mixture of models, projections and video to keep visitors of any age interested.

My favourite was a beautifully projected shadow-theatre rendition of the stories of Hercules and Medea onto Greek urns; there was also a stunning book of poisons as a lead-in to a section on poison in literature that I gawped at for a while, and a truly eerie Snow White in her glass coffin. Anything Alice is bound to attract my attention, and the section on mercury poisoning and the Mad Hatter was very elegantly arranged. On top of all of this, there is then the detective section; at all times there are iPads set up in front of displays that allow children to work through three poisoning scenarios – a dog that might have eaten something in the yard, a ship’s crew that suffer terrible illness and a decidedly dead owl – and solve the mystery by collecting clues and examining symptoms. Throughout the day in this room there are also live and pre-recorded presentations that take the audience through a real-life case of poisoning and the history of the use of forensic evidence in British courts, all in a child-accessible yet engaging way.

I had previously been to the Art of the Brick exhibition in the same space and had found it a little bit oppressive – but also, sadly, I just didn’t feel particularly moved by that particular collection (technically brilliant, but it just felt a bit lacking in story, or depth). The Power of Poison uses the space so much more effectively, and really delights in casting a creepy yet captivating light over what is a dim cocoon of a place. Although we were fortunate to be given some tickets for the purposes of this post, it’s definitely an experience I would have paid for, at £9 for adults and £5 for children (with concessionary prices, family, group and school tickets available).

The Power of Poison runs daily at the Old Truman Brewery in London until the Sunday 6th September, and you can book in advance online.

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this review we were invited to a family day including exhibition entry, tea and facepainting. All opinions are our own.

A Year of Living Sugar-Free

A year ago, almost to the day, I began an experiment: quitting sugar.

A friend of mine, Erin, was raving about it, and – skeptical though I was – I knew I couldn’t continue living with the bizarre relationship I had with food. I’m a restrictive eater / binger of old, and every time I thought I’d cracked the formula for eating really well (I’m a great fan of the principles of the HAES movement) I would, sooner rather than later, come to realise that my internal cues about satiety and my visual ideas of portion control were so heartily messed up I didn’t even know where to begin. I’d made a fair amount of progress in getting rid of some of the worst habits, but I still wasn’t in the place I wanted to be. I needed a line in the sand, a way to move along that line towards freedom from the ridiculous deprivation and overindulgence cycles that – at least from what I’ve observed – seem to plague a lot of women in our privileged society.

Where we have ready access to food, we don’t seem to know how to use it without abusing it; plus I work in London, and am lucky to be able to eat out a lot. More to the point, I bloody love food (I’m not sure I can separate it from love) and cooking, feeding people and being fed. Like, I give people who talk about being ‘so full’ after half their ‘delicious’ breakfast some serious side-eye, because I have been a member of the clean plate club since birth. I wanted to enjoy that relationship more without feeling so damn guilty and compulsive about it.

So I thought “what the hell? I can’t make things any worse”. The programme my friend was on was Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar, so I read the books, found most of it made sense (even if some of it was a bit scientifically woolly and made huge assumptions about budget and accessibility) and started out on week one of the plan. The ‘sugar’ in question with IQS is actually fructose, specifically, and I had a lot of questions about this as I’d always been told fruit – most commonly associated with fructose although table sugar is 50% fructose – was ‘good’ sugar, yet always found bananas (supposed to fill you up for hours) left me ravenous, apples gave me acid stomach and my beloved citrus fruit made me nibbly as hell.  I dipped into David Gillespie and Robert Lustig and gradually came to believe that ditching the fructose was indeed a good health move. Even after I reintroduced some fruits I kept it fairly low fructose and felt better for that (because contrary to misconceptions you do still eat fruit; I tend towards berries and apricots these days, with the occasional kiwi, apple or pear thrown in).

After the eight weeks were up I found I didn’t really want to stop. And a year later I know I don’t want to, even if it’s not always easy for me. I really believe I’ve made a substantial amount of the progress I’ve been looking for and mostly it’s come as a huge relief. While I won’t pretend that everything is now 100% perfect and I never have weird cravings or madly snacky days, they are considerably fewer and my approach to eating is considerably more free.

The fact is, I live and work in a world full of temptations and quitting sugar has made me feel so much better. Of course, I am not immune to making a less sensible choice in this ongoing experiment. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. You live and learn. Plus I still have some chronically unhealthy habits (is there an I Quit Crisps programme? Because I really need help. I Quit Sitting Down A Lot would be great too). But on the whole quitting sugar is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I have no intention of ever permanently going back on the white stuff.

So, here are some of the things I have experienced in a year of living sugarless (yes, I heard that in my head as ‘Mississippilessly?!’). As with any personal account – just put a bullet in my sugar head if I start calling it a ‘journey’, yes? – your mileage is bound to vary, but I wanted to give a bit of a warts and all, ups and downs perspective with as much balance as I can bring to the discussion. Zealotry and glowing before-and-after testimonials are unconvincing to me; they seem like a wagon you fall off, an infatuation you grow out of. This is going sugar free after the honeymoon, when the toothpaste caps come off and the toilet seat stays up.

Lets start at the lowest point. If you’ve never gone sugar free you’re probably wondering about what happens when you decide that a slice or three of birthday cake never hurt anyone. Well, a little reframing goes a long way. If I thought of every time I had sugar as ‘backsliding’, ‘coming off the wagon’ or ‘being naughty’, I would be no better off than I was before quitting. I’d just be miserably restricted and the vast, vast majority of the time I don’t think about being sugar free at all until someone else points it out. Unless it’s something like an afternoon tea where almost everything is doused in sugar and I want to avoid feeling the effects too much, I don’t make consciously sugar free choices. I just eat stuff that I like and it usually doesn’t contain much sugar because now sugary stuff is not very appealing most of the time.

Once in a while I do  splash out and if I think negative thoughts my lovely Erin points out that it’s an experiment. No one is coercing me to do this; on the contrary, a lot of marketing, my friend’s eating habits and the reaction of anyone I talk to about this would suggest the pressure is all going the other way. I continued living sugar free after my initial curious commitment because I felt a lot better. My skin improved. My health measures improved. I felt comfortable with the changes to my body. From now on, I choose whether or not to continue, whether or not to make a different choice, how I want to listen to my body’s and mind’s desires. I’m probably never not going to want ice cream, and I’m comfortable with that; if it’s really good ice cream, or, you know, it’s not but I really feel like it, then I’ll have ice cream. Usually, actually, eating sugary stuff really validates me not wanting to eat it more often since I invariably get headaches, sickness or dizziness (I’m sure some might say psychosomatic, but I’ve sometimes found out after the fact and still felt terrible, so…).

That said, I think it can be helpful to re-quit if something has happened to make it all feel a bit like hard work. Eating out a lot, a special occasion, working long hours, stress, illness (or, in my case, a back op – worry not, I’m totally fixed now), going on holiday or some other general disruption to the eating routine knocks me out for anything from a day or two to several weeks and I find myself making food choices that leave me sluggish, snacking, grumpy and constantly hungry (many of the issues I managed to move away from by doing the programme in the first place). Twice in the past year I had a bit of a ‘reboot’ – a few weeks more strictly, consciously sugar free – to lift myself out of it and feel better.

You’d be forgiven for asking yourself if the programme really works if it’s not a permanent ‘fix’, but – contrary to some of the marketing – the original book was really much more what you’d call guidelines. Also, we live in the real world, and not a lab. As soon as it’s embraced as a specific diet programme, quitting sugar fails in doing the very thing I did it for – being free to make food choices based on what I will enjoy eating, without a cloud of sugar cravings and energy slumps hanging over me. But I can only do it if it’s fun, and positive. If it moved from “I don’t fancy that because it makes me feel a bit crappy / I like that savoury thing better” to “I can’t have that because it’s demonically possessed evilsugar and I promised myself / my friend / Sarah Wilson / the world / God that I wouldn’t”, I’d just give it up as a bad job. That way madness lies.

I have just one diety habit, and it’s one not actually ever mentioned or recommended on the programme. I still habitually track my food intake out of curiosity, but I do not consciously adapt what I eat to suit it. I don’t work to goals in my tracking app, just observe what I’m having. That’s sometimes how I realise there has been a correlation in more disordered eating and feeling rougher. But it’s something I think can easily make quitting sugar turn into a weird competition with yourself, so it’s not actually something I recommend – I just wanted to be totally honest. It’s something that’s become a bit of a habit, and I rather like having data about myself to look back on. Marketer’s occupational hazard, I guess…

I realise all of the above sounds negative, which is weird for a decision that has made me very happy. So here are some of the things being sugar free has done for me.

I cook more, and better. And I’m more creative and less wasteful. Recipes that use up bendy veg, a freezer full of homemade stock after every roast dinner; it’s bloody great. I need to step up my game because I’m still spending way to much on lunch instead of generating more leftovers, but I’m generally moving in a fresh, lovely food direction that is making me fuller and happier without me having to spend any more money (boxed sugary stuff is expensive, man).

I’ve also been introduced to new ingredients that I probably wouldn’t have used. While I’m not a coconut fanatic, and regularly reduce the amount used in recipes, I really enjoy using coconut oil in stir fries and granola (and, erm, on my daughter’s dry skin patches on her face, though not from the same jar). In my everyday eating post I mentioned adding chia seeds to Ready Brek (not very JERF of me, is it?!), and I find them kind of fascinating because they do make quick breakfasts more filling and add a bit of texture.  I was already a nut butter fan, but in seeking out sugar and added oil-free versions I’ve become obsessed with crunchy Biona peanut butter (no, I’m not paid to say any of this, yes, I know it’s a legume and not a nut).  I’m not a full-on convert to almond milk, but I do love it for chai and in oatmeal.

Weirdly, I now appreciate sweet stuff a lot more, as I really enjoy the tingly tartness of a fresh, ruby raspberry rather than the increasingly sickening taste of, say, cupcake frosting. I never did do much in the way of artificial sweeteners (aspartame doesn’t agree with me and I’m a full fat or go home kinda gal), so I use glucose in the form of rice malt syrup on the few occasions I cannot fathom not adding sweetness (eg to pancakes). I had a splash of maple on holiday and it actually tasted weird to me now as I’ve grown used to my syrup not having a strong taste. Lovely, because maple syrup is lovely, and I definitely enjoyed it, but it’s funny how tastes change.

It’s funny how I’ve changed.

When I look ahead, I find it impossible to imagine a time when I might want to eat large amounts of sugar again. I don’t know that I’d have felt entirely confident saying that at the end of the programme, or even six months ago, because I know that people fall in and out of these patterns in their lives. But right now, a year on, it seems really, really unlikely. And I’m happy with that.

Here’s to another year, and all it has to show for itself.

Consent and conversations with young children (or why I ask permission for cuddles at night)

The other day I ended up staying late at work and heading out for dinner with some colleagues (friends, really and all, for what it’s worth, currently child free). While we were waiting for food I got a text from my husband about how our daughter’s bedtime had gone, and it listed the number of cuddles and kisses I could give her when I got home.

I got some baffled looks at this, so I tried to explain. My daughter knows that the last thing I will do every night before I go to bed will be to stick my head around her door and check in on her. My commute is around an hour and a half long, so I inevitably miss a fair number of bedtimes, and therefore bedtime cuddles. She doesn’t want to miss out on these altogether, but also knows she’ll be asleep when I get in. So she gives me a certain number of cuddles and kisses I can deliver when I arrive. It’s usually hilariously specific yet not – “ten or eleven kisses, and two or three hugs” – and sometimes she’ll be super prescriptive about exact kiss placement on her face, and sometimes not. And I only ever carry out exactly what she says, though I’ll admit if she gives me a choice of numbers of kisses I’ll invariably go for the maximum.

I basically got a ‘but why?’ to all this, and I tried to elaborate. The main message I’m trying to get across to the kid is that her body is her own (as I’ve written about before) and that doesn’t change when she’s asleep. We’ve talked about respecting each other’s boundaries a lot during wakefulness – one of her favourite games is the ‘Stop Go Tickle Game’, where she gets to dictate exactly how much I tickle her tummy and around her neck – but now that she’s left the infant stage where she’s unable to communicate preference, I want to demonstrate to her that this respect continues 24 hours a day. Of course I could just pay lip service to it and then smother her little chubby cheeks in mummy kisses as soon as she’s out – she wouldn’t know I’d broken her trust, but I would. And it would be heartbreaking.

The reaction I mostly got was ‘that’s fascinating’, and I’ve no doubt it sounds a lot like weird, handwringing, liberal overthinking. Even if it is, I’d rather overthink this stuff than not think about it at all. When you’re raising a girl, one of the topics you cannot ignore is personal safety; we live in a world where female autonomy and bodily integrity is not sacrosanct. In the slightest. I was very much taught about the practicalities of navigating a life around this as a youngster and a teen – personal alarms, not walking alone, self-defence classes, holding keys as weapons. And while I think that teaching a few defensive strategies has an element of common sense to it, I also think that focussing entirely on that basically says “this is your responsibility, as a girl” – and it’s blatantly not. I cannot, in raising a girl, control what other people will do around her. But I can help fight a culture that suggests that she can. To me, the best way to do that is to continually reinforce her confidence in her own boundaries.

This makes it sound like we all sit there politely asking each other for cuddles as you might ask to pass the salt, and anyone who has ever seen our family in real life would find this pretty hilarious. We’re a seriously huggy bunch (as anyone who has ever gone drinking with me will know); we just place emphasis on the fact that the word ‘no’ is important. More recently we’ve also talked about non-verbal cues as well; when my daughter told me she sometimes wanted to say ‘stop’ in the tickle game but was laughing too hard, I suggested she use a gesture instead and she decided on holding her hand up like a traffic police officer. It’s a constantly evolving process and negotiation, because the paradox of being a child is being taught that you have agency but told you have to go to school, must have your jabs, should eat your greens and will go to bed by a certain time. Parents exist in the land of I Know What’s Best For You, and to my mind she will trust in me offering up this sometimes bitter medicine (we recently had a belated phase two of the MMR, and it was not fun) if the rest of the time the sweet, sweet sugar is confidence in her own autonomy and ability to make decisions and choices that feel right to her. I position myself as the guardian of her safety and health – my number one job as Mama, part and parcel with loving her more than anyone else in the world – and her as the guardian of her personal space. And it’s a partnership which involves her direction and leadership as well as mine, until she’s old enough to take the reins entirely.

Of course I second-guess myself occasionally. For example, does making an agreement beforehand convey consent when one is asleep? For the moment I go with it because on those occasions where we haven’t spoken for some reason so I just poke my head in and leave it at that, she’s disappointed at ‘missing out’ on cuddles when we speak the next morning. She often proactively announces to her dad, without being asked, how much affection she wants doled out when I get home. But eventually I guess my mad work schedule will differ and she’ll get older and less concerned with missed bedtimes and this will all change.

But what won’t change, ever, is my respect for her. So I will carry on having what might seem like needlessly complex rituals in order to reinforce this for her because I really believe it’s important.

Is this something you ever think or worry about with your children or relatives’ children? Do you have family routines and behaviours which seem baffling to others but underscore an important message from your perspective? I strongly suspect I’m not the only one…

Why it’s a great, brave, beautiful Tomorrowland (here be spoilers)

Other people’s opinions… who needs ’em, right? I jest, of course, but with a film like Tomorrowland (aka Tomorrowland: A World Beyond in the UK) there is bound to be an even more splintered variety. A publicity campaign that revealed very little about the story. A vision of retro-futurism that has to appeal both to baby boomer nostalgia and a brand new audience for whom 1964 is as far away from their birth as WWII was from their parents’. An ambitious anti-cynicism message – and here, I warn you again that, while I’m not going to wallow in spoilerific spoilerism, there are some things ahead that probably will give away more than you need to know. I really enjoyed going in blank, so if you haven’t seen the film yet but are expending a little of your generous curiosity towards me, perhaps bookmark this for later? I’ll still be waffling away when you’re done watching.

When I reviewed Tomorrowland, I made some references to the fact that it made important moves from a feminist perspective. On greater reflection, I think it actually goes further than I thought. There are really two strands here – character in the film and characterisation beyond the film – and both of them are extremely promising. I won’t repeat myself too much, but within the film you have two female characters that are independent, intelligent and resist female stereotyping. And it’s not by being a Strong Female Character, but by virtue of being a well-written character who happens to be female. There is also very little male gaze and romance, and such as there is (more on this in a moment) is really about friendship and shared vision. There’s some ass-kicking, but though it’s delivered by an incongruously shaped character – that of a 11-year-old girl – by then, you’re already aware that she’s not human.

So many times, when a physically or emotionally strong female character is delivered to us, it comes from a place of born exceptionalism, or pain. Now, Casey is repeatedly characterised as ‘special’, but it’s to do with her optimistic outlook, not her born or trained physical assets. She has woes and worries – her obsession with halting the dismantling of the NASA platform is more about saving her dad’s job than it is about advancing the ambitions of humanity to build a better world – and a clearly absent mother, but she is not defined by her father’s pain or her mother’s invisibility. Later on, she falls in with Frank because of what he can do for her, and when she helps him it’s out of basic human decency, and not because of anything she feels she owes him (to be honest, they never seem all that fond of each other beyond their shared goals and connection to Athena). There’s no Bella clumsiness, Katniss rage or Buffy strength powering Casey, nor flirty ditziness or emo contrariness. She has achieved what many male characters but few female ones do – a character arc that relies on her growing and becoming more confident in herself and her ability to get stuff done without any superhuman qualities or reference at any point to her physical appearance or romantic aspirations. We have Mikey Walsh levels of faith, here, and an Indiana Jones attachment to a hat – the latter of which is even used as a vehicle to deliver a broadside to the embittered narrative that’s meant to drive most heroes.

So what of actual romance? Well, there is some. And it’s between an ageing cynic and a robot child. Kind of. In one of the most powerful scenes of the film, two characters separated by a world of humanity and several decades have to reconcile their feelings towards one another – and one of them has only programmed emotions. Crucially, what we don’t have here is a robot that wants to be human (another female-ish character who is content in herself!), but in a very delicate, beautifully handled scene Athena and Frank have to deal with forty years of unresolved hurt and confusion and in doing so it is Frank who is mostly changed. And therein lies the other great female-friendly power of this film: all the rollicking emotional rollercoaster – all the feelings of love and betrayal – belong to a boy, and a man. In one movie, all the logical thought and optimistic foresight belong to female characters, a rare sight; even rarer, all the drama belongs to men. Between Frank Walker and David Nix we have characters who have, effectively, given up because they’re angry and bitter and feel slighted – one mostly by a single person, the other by the world at large. If there’s a statement as powerful as allowing women to be coolly logical, it’s surely allowing men to display real emotion.

And now, the world beyond. I think what often confuses people outside the Disneyverse is a sense of a bit of a disconnect between product and marketing. Let’s take Tangled as an example, since it’s one of my favourites. Rapunzel is actually a pretty kick-ass heroine, and even on the DVD cover she’s quite fierce – feet planted firmly apart, stern grin and frying pan aloft. But by the time you hit the merchandising – all iridescent princess dresses and batted eyelashes – it’s hard to convince anyone who hasn’t seen the film that she’s actually a pretty rounded and interesting character. I can watch Tangled til the cows come home, but as an adult I don’t really buy any merchandise associated with it because for me it doesn’t really reflect what I love about the film. With Tomorrowland, though, it’s hard to see where there can even be any opportunity for the marketing to be in any way different from the creative property. A few people have pointed out posters that just feature Frank but, despite being someone who’s had a few ‘where’s Natasha?’ moments, I actually think this is a good thing; there are two separate stories here, Frank’s and Casey’s, and I think it’s fine to have marketing devoted to each. And when it comes to merchandise, the most obvious piece – that glorious pin – is as gender neutral as it gets. If you get into costumes and appearance, Casey largely wears jeans, hoodies and a NASA cap. Athena has a couple of dresses, but they’re more retro-futuristic cosplay than tiaras and sparkles (no, there’s nothing wrong with tiaras and sparkles, it’s just nice to have a change). I’m all for backpacks that look like jetpacks, you know? I simply can’t see where this could possibly do anything other than celebrate the gorgeous vintage World’s Fair design inspiration and the general sense of optimism and adventure that is so key to the film.

And therein lies the last part of why I think Tomorrowland is, on the whole, pretty ace. When was the last time you can remember a high stakes potential blockbuster – one without franchise surety, but with star power and a hugely respected directorial force – with such an unambiguously positive message? Morality in Tomorrowland is embedded within having an optimistic vision for humankind, and then – importantly – taking the next step to work towards it. It’s a hell of a sermon – Lindelof has admitted he’d like people to feel a bit guilty – and though there was only one point in the film where I felt it was laid on a bit thick, it’s a bloody important one. It’s a message I’d like my daughter to hear, to take action on. Even though I already want to be a decent human being, which to me means at least trying to put kindness and compassion at the centre of everything, I was unsettled into thinking I’m probably not trying hard enough. The spring’s big tentpole release already covered the ambiguities of riding roughshod over other people’s misgivings when you’re focussed on creating a better tomorrow, but the difference between Tony Stark’s megalomania (I will protect the Earth!) and Casey Newton’s inclusive forward thinking (what can we do to fix this?) is patently obvious. And, much as I love me a complex, morally uncertain superhero narrative, sometimes an undiluted shot of positivity to the arm is exactly what’s needed as an antidote to a pervading sense of the world going to hell in a handbasket.

Sometimes you watch a film and love it, but later can’t quite quantify what it was that made you love it. With Tomorrowland I’ve had the opposite with an increasing sense of certainty that its detractors – and there are a few, especially in the Twitter Disney echo chamber that I sort of love and am fearful of at the same time – are either missing these strengths or considering them unimportant. Since arguing the case on Twitter is a 140 character exercise in frustration, I thought I’d be better served by simply laying it all out here – where I have a hope in hell of landing my point.

If you’re still with me, congratulations, you’re a great big nerd. I like great big nerds, whether or not they agree with me, so let’s talk. Go.