Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gadd, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald
In 1991, New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich declared that the best Broadway musical score of the year actually belonged to a movie. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was a sensation. It became the first animated feature film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, spawned a long-running Broadway show, and arguably represents the high watermark for Disney’s animated musicals. All of which means that the latest in Disney’s run of live-action remakes of their animation back catalogue probably has the highest stakes.
The opening prologue, which is here dramatised rather than simply narrated, transports us back to provincial France where an arrogant prince (Dan Stevens) is transformed into a hideous beast, and all his staff into crockery and furniture, as punishment for his cruelty, and doomed to stay that way unless he can learn to love and earn someone’s love in return. That someone is Belle (Emma Watson), a bookish but courageous girl from a nearby town who becomes prisoner in the beast’s palace before working her way into the hearts of the staff and, ultimately, their master (leading some to cynically refer to the film as ‘Stockholm Syndrome: The Musical’). Continue reading
Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jermaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk
With Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, at the helm Disney is back to doing what it does best, the princess movie. But with Moana, they manage to bring a fresh cultural twist to this old standard.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) loves her island paradise home of Motonui, but since she was very young she has felt called by the ocean. Her father (Temuera Morrison), the chief of her village, has forbidden people from venturing beyond the shallow waters of the reef, but when Motonui is faced with an ecological catastrophe she is compelled to set sail to save her people. Folklore told of the time the trickster demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole a precious green stone known as the Heart of Te Fiti from the goddess who gave life to the islands. Encouraged by her grandmother (Rachel House), Moana sets out to find Maui and convince him to return the Heart of Te Fiti and restore order. Continue reading
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, JK Simmons, Shakira
In 2013 Frozen earned Disney praise for, among other things, its deviation from the well worn princess formula by showing the love of a sister to be every bit as powerful as that of a prince. With the charming Zootopia, the studio continues the positive evolution of its messaging for young girls by presenting a female protagonist who is not a princess but a police officer.
Since childhood, idealistic bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has dreamed of leaving behind the rural life of a carrot farmer to become a police officer in the big city. The more people told her it was an impossible dream, that there had never been a bunny police officer before, the stronger her drive got. The first to benefit from the mayor’s Mammal Inclusion Initiative, Judy graduates top of her class from the academy, determined to prove that she belongs and is “not some token bunny.” Continue reading
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy
Animation studio Pixar has produced more than its fair share of beloved movies but 2003’s Finding Nemo undoubtedly sits close to the top of their very impressive pile. So it was inevitable that we would return to the Pacific Ocean for another installment, and with Dory, the lovable blue tang with the five-second memory, being arguably their most popular character it made sense that she would play a starring role. The only surprise then is that it took 13 years for us to get there. But Pixar’s track record is not nearly as impressive when it comes to sequels. With the exception of Toy Story 2 and 3, none of the others have really hit the mark. Pixar is undoubtedly at their best when they are being original and thinking outside the box, but with a title that suggests much the same premise as the first film, can Finding Dory be more than just a simple retread?
“Hi, I’m Dory. I suffer from short term memory loss.” These are the first words we hear in Finding Dory and in an instant they simultaneously re-establish who this character is and entirely reinvent her for this new story. Continue reading
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito
Disney has always had a knack for squeezing every last dollar out of their intellectual property. Their most recent endeavour has been to recreate their classic animations as live action films for a new generation. We’ve had Maleficent (a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella and now The Jungle Book. But to call Jon Favreau’s film live action would seem a bit of a stretch when Mowgli himself is the only live element on screen.
Scripted by Justin Marks, this Jungle Book draws in equal parts from Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and the 1967 Disney animation which is, for so many people, the definitive version. Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley) narrates the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub raised by wolves in the jungles of India. While a much loved member of the pack, Mowgli develops slower than his brothers and sisters. Behaviours that are to them second nature need to be learned by him, and he is constantly being scolded for his tricks – using tools to solve problems rather than doing things the wolf way. Continue reading
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill
Black screen. Blue lettering. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and then BANG! With the blast of that iconic fanfare and the crawling text, we are once again away. 32 years after we saw Luke, Han and Leia finally defeat Darth Vader and the Empire in Return of the Jedi these iconic characters return to the big screen in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This most revered of franchises, now under the control of Disney, has been handed on from its creator, George Lucas, to writer-director J.J. Abrams. Abrams showed with Star Trek in 2009 that he has a gift for rebooting storied science-fiction franchises, but this is another level entirely. But faced with the near impossible burden of audience and industry expectations – this is, after all, a movie which anything less than becoming the highest grossing film of all time will seemingly be an underperformance – Abrams and his team have delivered.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi knight, has vanished. In his absence a new dark power, the First Order, has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Continue reading
Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
In the last twenty years, no Hollywood studio has been as consistently original and imaginative as Pixar. In an era when kid’s movies are so often dumbed down and seem guided primarily by merchandising departments, John Lasseter and his brains trust at Pixar allow themselves to be guided first and foremost by ideas. Their latest offering, Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc) and Ronaldo Del Carmen’s Inside Out, arguably represents the zenith of Pixar’s bold originality, taking us inside the mind of a young girl.
Inside Out tells a very small scale story. Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) lives a happy life with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) in Minnesota, only to have it unsettled when her father’s work requires the family has to relocate to San Francisco. With no friends, a different house and a new school, Riley starts to feel terribly homesick but doesn’t feel that she can talk about it with her parents. That is all that happens in the movie. At least, that is all that happens on the outside. For the key action in Inside Out actually takes place inside Riley’s mind. In the control room of her mind we meet anthropomorphised emotions, Continue reading