Archive | March, 2015

‘Mulan’ to get live-action treatment: Too far?

31 Mar

When reports surfaced late yesterday that Disney’s 1998 Mulan would become the next live-action film after Beauty and the Beast, I instantly felt conflicted.

I lacked the words to eloquently articulate the confusion, anxieties and frustrations I had upon reading the announcement.

I’ve now found the word:

Dishonor. 

Dishonor on your whole family. Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow.

Disney, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? You have animated upcoming films that you need to market (ahem, Zootopia). You have older films you could reinvigorate with re-releases with anniversaries coming up.

And you pick MULAN.

Before I get too carried away, let me explain something: I love the movie. Mulan is a sassy, independently-minded princess (yes, Disney categorizes as her as such. Let’s not debate semantics) who saves China with style. Eddie Murphy’s Mushu rivals the Genie in his balance of humor and heart. And who could forget Grandma Fa, arguably one of the most underrated secondary characters in the film? It warrants attention, sure, but a reboot?

I have faith that Disney would find a good Li Shang (Days of Our Lives Christopher Sean, anyone?). They could probably find a decent Mulan. There are tons of talented actresses of color who would rock the role. But unless you’re going to get Eddie Murphy to reprise the role, don’t bother.

My deepest fear with these upcoming remakes — Beauty and the Beast included — is that they won’t deviate enough from the original story to make the tale fresh. Maleficent featured the villain, giving a new spin on a classic tale. Cinderella offered character development (and a name) to a Prince and Princess who’d been written off as bland. What will Beauty and the Beast give? All signs point to a celebrified live-action retelling. Effectively, we might be getting a glorified musical version, and I would’ve much rather seen the Guillermo del Toro/Warner Bros./super-dark interpretation.

What will Mulan give? Hopefully, much more than a Kevin Hart performance and yet another remix of “Reflections.”

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‘Beauty and the Beast’ adds Mrs. Potts, LeFou and Maurice

17 Mar

It’s not one lump, it’s two three for Disney casting news!

Emma Thompson will join the live-action Beauty and the Beast as Ms. Potts;

Kevin Kline will play Belle’s father Maurice;

and Josh Gad announced via Twitter he’ll join in as Gaston’s henchman, Lefou.

Talk about a busy day for Disney fans!

The release date is still being withheld by Disney production, but the movie will kick off in May at Shepperton Studios in London, The Hollywood Reporter noted.

The trio of award-winning actors will join Emma Watson’s Belle, Dan Stevens’s Beast and Luke Evans’s Gaston.

With the last two live-action fairytale reboots being musical-less, will Disney make its superstars sing for this adaptation? All signs point to yes, as Alan Menken is set to score the film and Sir Tim Rice (Lion King) will pen several new songs.

Stay tuned for more casting news!

‘Cinderella’ enchants on opening day; ‘Frozen Fever’ warms the heart

14 Mar

No need to run from the palace here; Cinderella is a real treat.

The incomparable Lily James (Downton Abbey’s Lady Rose) steals the show as the titular princess, but she is surrounded by excellent company. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) plays off James’s light yet genuine Cinderella as an equally charming and surprisingly developed Prince Kit. (Prince Charming finally gets a real name!)

The chemistry between the two shines brightest in the ballroom scenes, despite Madden’s struggles with ballroom dancing and not tripping over James’s spectacular blue gown.

Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine endures a dip into attempted sympathy before embracing the deliciously wicked character fans of Disney’s 1950 original know and love.

The costuming and set design take on characters of their own. The wicked Tremaines are robed in the finest and gaudiest clothing a designer could possibly create, and it brilliantly displays the personalities of the actresses. Blanchett’s own wardrobe seems like a more timeless collection of 1940s Chanel: beautiful yet too formal to really be loved and comfortable.

James’s blue gown is breathtaking, and props to visual effects for making her transformation just right. I know some critics hesitated at the butterflies on the neckline; however, five minutes into the story, the butterflies are explained and serve as a crucial thematic tie throughout the film.

The sweeping landscapes and sets, paired with well-framed wide shots, sell the audience immediately as to the grandeur of the whole film. I’d expect nothing less from director Kenneth Branagh.

My only critique (nay, suggestion) would be the credits song (and who stays around for that?). Maleficent boasted a fantastic rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” by Lana Del Rey. Where was a take on “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes?” I appreciated James sneaking “Sing Sweet Nighting Gale” as she walked through the garden, but it just wasn’t the same without the undercurrent of those classic scores.

What overwhelms the most from this film isn’t the scenery, costumes, or Maddens’s stellar blue eyes. It’s the message sent out to audiences: “Have courage, and be kind.” That mantra introduced by Cinderella’s mother** (Agent Carter‘s Hayley Attwell) provides Cinderella with the ability to survive a torrent of abuses from Lady Tremaine, at least until Helena Bonham Carter can step in as the Fairy Godmother and give our heroine a taste of the justice she deserves. Of the rich themes Disney has put out to young children in recent years, the belief that kindness shines through despite the horrible things going on in life might be one of the strongest.

In recent years, Cinderella receives a lot of flack because she’s not as fiery and outgoing as modern princesses like Merida and Tiana. However, Branagh reminds audiences something Walt Disney always believed about Cinderella — being good and having a giving heart does not make one weak, it makes one strong. That strength is where Cinderella finds her beauty throughout the film, as she overcomes obstacles with compassion that Elsa would’ve simply frozen in a rage.

Walt Disney once said of Cinderella: “She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn’t come along, she went over to the palace and got him.” And in this adaptation, that’s exactly what she did. I firmly believe Walt Disney would be very proud.

Now, onto something a bit colder…

Frozen Fever is one of the cutest little shorts Disney has done in a while, but I left feeling a twinge of disappointment. (Ugh, I hate typing those words.)

The bright spots: Elsa’s GREEN DRESS. I need it. Now. Shut up and take my money, Disney merchandising. I love the song. I found it just as catchy as “For the First Time in Forever.” Love the throwback to Hans and the snowball planting him firmly in a pile of horse crap. Kristoff’s accidental confession of love makes me smile. So sweet, and clearly it was Anna’s first time hearing those words! I wish they’d hung on that frame a second longer just to let the weight of those words sink in. And whatever those adorable little baby sentient snow creatures were blew me away. SO CUTE (and soooo marketable as plush toys. Mark my words, people…).

The whole thing felt a bit…rushed. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck openly admit to struggling with a story for the short, yet this feels like the “oh well, we gotta have something so this will do” option. Granted, the characters created by Lee and Buck are so complex that a short film wouldn’t do a proper story justice. I found Frozen Fever an excellent short to one of the biggest movies in animated history, and the story is impressive considering how little turnaround Lee and Buck had to craft something. Geez people, they won the Oscar last year! Give them time to breathe!

**A fair warning to parents of young children: there are several deaths throughout the film, though none are particularly gruesome or gory. They are, however, very emotionally charged. Please note this isn’t anything overdone from the original (her parents still die in the 1950 animated version too), but the deaths occur after you’ve become attached to the characters.

All in all, Cinderella will lead to a magical night. Enjoy!

‘FROZEN 2’ IS HAPPENING

12 Mar

(This is not a drill, people. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.)

Disney revealed plans for a Frozen sequel at the Walt Disney Company’s annual shareholders meeting in San Francisco.

Jennifer Lee will again helm the project with Chris Buck as directors, hoping the sequel can garner as well as its $1.3 billion earning predecessor. The announcement comes just days after Lee and Buck skirted the question of a sequel. In the interview with BuzzFeed, Lee seemed apprehensive, particularly after so quickly finishing up an unexpected short film.

No details have been released about plot or casting changes. John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios and PIXAR, announced the sequel with Josh Gad, who voices Olaf, and Disney CEO Bob Iger in tow.

While the sequel doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the merchandising, Frozen-themed events at Disney parks, and the expedited development of Frozen‘s musical, the timing of the announcement is what’s catching people off-guard.

The Frozen Fever short film will debut before the live-action Cinderella tomorrow, so why make an announcement the day before another piece to the puzzle is available to fans?

Courtesy of Disney

Anna and Elsa have a chat in some new dresses.

The Frozen news has effectively eclipsed another major announcement from the Company: the next Star War’s film is scheduled for May 26, 2017, and Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars standalone starring Theory of Everything‘s Felicity Jones will be released Dec. 16, 2016. No one could hear that announcement over the cries of parents lamenting another set of catchy tunes and shelling out more money for Elsa and Anna costumes.

Brace yourselves, America. Disney hasn’t let it go.

Live-action Beauty and the Beast gets [SPOILERS]

6 Mar

No ooooone’s as beautiful as Gaston…Nor as British as the Beast.

Tales as old as yesterday reported Disney filled not one but TWO major roles for the live-action Beauty and the Beast.

Luke Evans (Dracula Untold, the Hobbit trilogy) will portray the ego-maniacal Gaston dueling Dan Stevens’s Beast.

The heartthrob and former Downton Abbey star was confirmed by Disney’s Facebook page to have accepted the role.

Stevens, whose most notable works are period dramas, seems like an interesting fit for the wrathful, spoiled Beast.

The first casting announcement came last month with Emma Watson’s elated Facebook post to fans announcing she’d accepted the role as the titular beauty, Belle.

What remains to be seen, however, are if these powerhouse actors have the singing chops to carry this adaptation. Watson teased that she’d begin singing classes for the role, begging the question “What ARE they going to sing?”

Beauty and the Beast is set to begin production later this year and is expected to hit theaters sometime in 2016.