“Jungle Cruise” Second Trailer Review!

Whereas the first trailer for the Jungle Cruise movie leaned heavily on old action movie tropes, wondrous and fantastical elements, and a good old-fashioned spirit of adventure, this second trailer does…well, less of that, making me ever so slightly concerned about the quality of this upcoming adaptation of a Disney theme park ride. Nonetheless, there are still reasons not to be afraid, and most of them are right here in this trailer.

Jungle Cruise
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Firstly, the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson as a cranky, underpaid riverboat captain on the Amazon River manning the titular jungle cruise and Emily Blunt as a wealthy, idealistic British explorer hunting for a magic cure-all in the jungle is off the charts: they’re hilarious together. I don’t know if their characters will end up in a romance in the film, but it seems almost a shame to put an end to their snappy, irritable banter with each other.

Then, of course, there’s the ridiculously fun scenarios we find our protagonists in: they get attacked by leopards, torpedoed by a rival explorer’s submarine, and stalked by an enraged demonic snake-god from the heart of the jungle: one whom I wish they could have hidden for a while longer. I assume this demon is their ultimate antagonist on the quest for the cure-all tree, yet we already see scenes of him that, unless cunningly edited, look like spoilers to me.

Interestingly, although Disney felt comfortable revealing the big bad in this trailer, they still haven’t shown us anything of their “first openly gay character”, who is here played by comedian Jack Whitehall, and should probably have had a sizable role in the film as Blunt’s character’s brother and the only other member of the Johnson/Blunt exploration down the Amazon.

But my main issue with this trailer is that it’s devoid of some of the antiquated charm that the first trailer had: it makes me feel that the first trailer was lying to me about the tone and atmosphere of the movie, and that’s not a good feeling. After that trailer came out, I raved about Jungle Cruise‘s nostalgic magic. I don’t feel the same way about this trailer. It’s good, but it’s not particularly engaging or eye-catching.

What did you think of this second trailer for Jungle Cruise? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 6/10

“Mulan” Final Trailer Review!

In the final trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of the animated classic Mulan, our fearless heroine shares the spotlight with two new characters – both villains. While one of the biggest complaints about the original film was that Hun leader Shan Yu was a weak, underwritten antagonist, the same probably won’t be said of this new and (hopefully!) improved version, where the two villains standing in Mulan’s way both look to be fully fleshed-out, compelling, and absolutely terrifying characters.

Bori Khan is the black-scarfed leader of the attacking northerners who, in this film, stand in for the Huns from the 1998 film. Though I already sensed a parallel between Mulan and the Ang Lee classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this trailer makes that parallel even clearer by showing Khan leaping over the rooftops of the Imperial City with a host of cloaked henchmen behind him, some of them even flying or walking straight up walls – this is exactly the sort of action that I wanted to see from this movie, and I can’t believe we’re actually getting it. But thankfully, Mulan herself is equipped with the same high-flying fighting skills, which will allow her to take on Khan’s army as an equal.

But her fight for equality has made her another enemy: the ambitious sorceress Xian Lang, whose magical abilities (including the power to shape-shift) has made her Bori Khan’s greatest ally in his war against China. This new trailer hints that Bori Khan’s motivations are personal – he mentions vengeance against his father’s killers – but Xian Lang’s destiny seems a bit grander: she can briefly be seen ascending to the Emperor’s throne in a resplendent golden gown, and challenging Mulan in the Imperial Palace. Her relationship with the heroine looks to be pretty complex, and could be a strong thematic core for the film – at one point she scorns Mulan for “pretending to be something you’re not”, while later she seems to begrudgingly praise her, even smiling as she calls Mulan “a warrior”. Portrayed by Chinese screen queen Gong Li, the witch looks like a very cool new addition to the cast.

Jet Li, who plays the revered Emperor of China, also gets a single line in this trailer – the first time we’ve heard him speak in the role. Li, an iconic martial-arts star, hasn’t been seen doing any fighting in the film just yet, but I hope he gets to move from his golden throne at some point.

All in all, this movie still looks amazing – more so now than it ever has: it’s got intense action scenes, nuanced drama, high stakes, and beautiful cinematography. If you’re still upset that there’s no comedic relief dragon or songs, well, I don’t know what to say at this point. Are the orchestral arrangements for “Reflection” not good enough for you? Is that stunning phoenix a joke to you? I mean, come on, people! Mulan looks like the best Disney live-action remake to date, and I can’t wait to see it.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

“Mulan” Trailer Review!

There’s a lot of people who don’t like the direction this film is going in. The live-action remake of Disney animated classic Mulan is, indeed, shaping up to be very different from the story that most Western audiences are probably accustomed to: no wise-cracking dragon, no flashy musical numbers, plus a darker, more atmospheric tone. It’s almost an entirely new movie. Now, you all know how much I love the original Mulan – that movie is very special to me, and I love it as it is.

But at the same time, I have to admit that this Mulan looks…better. At the very least, it looks like the best live-action remake Disney has done yet. At best, it looks like a Best Picture nominee (just so you know, I’m not kidding about that).

This version of Mulan is clearly borrowing a lot from the style and story of martial arts classics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which features a similar story of a young woman who escapes from an arranged marriage to seek a life of adventure. There’s even a whole bunch of fancy wire-work action scenes in the trailer, something I am ecstatic about: my personal favorite example has to be when our villains, Bori Khan and his army of Hun invaders, literally jump from horseback onto the sides of the Great Wall of China and proceed to run straight up the wall. Khan is allied with a powerful witch, played by Chinese screen legend Gong Li, who is like this movie’s version of the Jade Fox – and though we were all worried about the idea of a new antagonist, her character looks like one of the highlights of the film: she’s decked out in one of the most beautiful outfits I’ve ever seen onscreen, and she has bird talons for hands. Like the Jade Fox, she’s also merciless and brutal: I wouldn’t be surprised if Mulan becomes the first PG-13 Disney Princess movie.

The trailer beautifully showcases the film’s majesty – while the original Mulan was largely comedic, this version is more beautiful and elegant: again, very much like Crouching Tiger. While it’s still very clearly built from a story we all know and love, this film also looks like it’s taking more risks than the live-action Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King – combined. In each of those cases, the filmmakers were tentative about adding new elements to the story, or removing classic characters, songs, etc. Director Niki Caro clearly doesn’t have that problem, nor should she. Instead of trying to work around the constraints of the original film, Caro is going to tell her own story – and she’s going to tell it her own way. She’s not going to try and shove Mushu in there just to please fans, because that wouldn’t work in the story she’s telling. She’s not going to pause the movie to throw in a couple of songs, because her movie doesn’t have time for them (though she does use instrumental versions of the classic songs such as Reflection). That sort of bravery should be respected and admired, especially at a time when filmmakers (especially for franchise properties) are being told not to break with tradition or disregard the “nostalgia factor”. And when filmmakers do rebel, they get torn to pieces – look at what happened to Rian Johnson after he dared to tell a radically new Star Wars story in The Last Jedi. Don’t let that happen to Caro, and Mulan.

"Mulan" Trailer Review! 1
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Clearly, I’m impassioned, and I hope that many people are – this movie looks so brilliant, just from this teaser trailer, that I want to see it succeed in every way. I want to see it cross the billion-dollar mark at the box-office; I want it to be nominated for Oscars. I want it to bring honor to us all.

Trailer Rating: 10/10

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Non-Spoiler Review!

The eagerly-anticipated sequel to 2014’s blockbuster Maleficent has a slow-paced, sluggish story that rarely, if ever, matches the splendor of beautiful visuals bursting in rainbow hues on the screen. Having strayed so far from the original fairytale that the occasional name-drops of “Sleeping Beauty” are actually jarring, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil lacks a clear narrative purpose, but makes up for that with stunning beauty, fabulous world building, and the power of Angelina Jolie’s knife-edged cheekbones.

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Never underestimate Jolie’s ability to carry a scene, or even an entire movie, with the sheer force of her presence alone. She commands any scene she walks (or flies) into, and her physicality conveys the depths of her emotions far better than any of the rather poorly-written dialogue she is given. She’s still not really the Maleficent that most Disney fans are familiar with, and she’s never likely to be, except in those behind the scenes photos and videos that somehow give off more classic Mal vibes than anything in the actual movie: but what we get from Jolie is just as good – a raven-dark persona with a heart of gold, wielding height, severity, and an impressive wardrobe. In short, she’s the witch-mood, without actually being a witch. Jolie is only rarely able to make much use of the CGI wings her character is burdened with, but does achieve some form of composure when she’s in flight or descending with the force of a small helicopter (on the other hand, her “hovering” scenes leave much to be desired). Nonetheless, she’s still able to do more with them than her co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who fights a losing battle with the wings of his troubled Dark Fae character, Conall, for most of the movie. While it’s Conall who carries Maleficent to safety early in the film’s run-time, it’s Maleficent who returns the favor and carries the entire movie in her clawed grip, though she has so little competition until Michelle Pfeiffer’s Ingrith heats up the forges of war, that it’s hardly a surprise.

In the first half of the movie (the weaker half), the script leans heavily on the “romance” between Elle Fanning’s Aurora and Prince Phillip of Ulsted (Harris Dickinson), two of the most boring and frustratingly naive people to ever step foot in a Disney movie. Fanning has her moments, but the role is so underwritten in this movie that she doesn’t get much time to do anything in particular: almost at once, she is forced to neglect her only duties as Queen of the Moors when Phillip proposes to her, and so we never get to see her develop a close relationship with her subjects – as the leader of an entire nation, she fails spectacularly, attempting to have peace for peace’s sake, without considering any of the subtleties involved with aligning oneself with a foreign and possibly hostile power. As for Phillip, he shows up every so often in a loose-fitting shirt to stare dreamily into the camera, as Disney princes so often do: his only concern in the movie is Aurora’s safety, and he too is thwarted so many times, and so dramatically, that he’s an almost laughably pathetic addition to the cast. There is no chemistry whatsoever between the two, who spend almost every scene together talking wistfully about fairy politics – hardly romantic material.

Then, Ingrith gracefully steps onscreen, haughty, cool, calculating and formidable in a pair of diamond-encrusted high heels and a pearlescent gown, and for one brief, shining moment in the faux Camelot constructed for the film, the violent, power-hungry Queen appears to be one of Disney’s best villains in recent history. She handles a loaded crossbow with ease and assurance, goes through extensive costume-changes that showcase her wealth and luxury, keeps a collection of creepy mannequins, and is accompanied by a black cat: a more classic formula for a villain could not be imagined. But it’s the execution of Ingrith’s power-play that causes things to fall apart: while the heartless queen (speaking of heartless, I give it a couple of years before Ingrith shows up in a new iteration of the Kingdom Hearts Disney video game franchise) should have been an easy parallel to the caring mother that is Maleficent, the movie largely misses the mark with Ingrith, never quite using her (admittedly vicious) ambition to the full potential, never quite exploring the depths of her hatred for fairy-kind. She nearly gets there! She has a striking visual style, looking for all the world like the White Queen off a chess-board of death, and an intricate plan to establish total control of the fairy realm. She is certainly an active character, driving much of the plot, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty with the blood (or magical dust) of innocents – and yet the film establishes her as so aloof, so high and mighty, that she never actually seems involved in the action she’s causing: not until she’s threatened, and in a place of weakness: and, well, who wants that? She could have made for an incredibly fun villain, one operating from the topmost pinnacle of the impossible heights of her CGI cathedral – but to achieve that, she would need effective servants, loyal to her cause. And the only one who fits the bill is her henchwoman Gerda (Jenn Murray), who is in absentia during the third act due to a sudden fit of musical ecstasy that sees her transform into a crazed, sadistic prodigy of Mozart. The scene in which this happens is one of the most memorable in the entire film, just for the absolute craziness of the scenario, but it does rather undermine Ingrith’s own control over the hearts of her servants (the rest of whom might betray her at the drop of a hat).

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But craziness is what keeps Mistress Of Evil aloft for as long as it does, right up until a predictably average ending. Whether we’re watching Gerda tickle the ivories and take down waves of innocent fairies (there’s a surprising amount of death in this movie!), or witnessing the rituals of the Dark Fae with their vast, multi-colored wings and distinctly unique cultures, there’s always something to look at – occasionally so many things at once, such as when Maleficent first soars through the realm of the Dark Fae – that it’s hard for one’s eyes to focus, there’s just so much. In terms of visual spectacle, the film outdoes itself time and time again, culminating in a final battle that is actually surprisingly engaging and emotional, and sees humanity pitted against the Dark Fae in a war for peace.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in Mistress Of Evil, and thus a lot of themes and messages that the story tries to get across, with varying degrees of success. One line of dialogue delivered at the end of the movie attempts to sum everything up by saying that “we’re not defined by where we’re from, but by whom we love”. But in my opinion, no dialogue from the imaginations of scriptwriters Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue can achieve what is already being said countless times throughout the movie, without a single word spoken: that the entire story is focused on the mother/daughter relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. War rages around them, and this time between them, they are parted and reunited, but they endure. And the vividness with which their relationship is realized is a stark contrast to the flimsy connection between Ingrith and her son, which is nothing more than a shapeless concept that goes nowhere: as I previously noted, there was plenty of potential for a parallel there, but the film loses its one and only chance to demonstrate this parallel by not having Ingrith ever try to kill her son or even hinder his actions very effectively, despite how many chances she gets, and how much motivation she would have for doing so: yet it seems like such an obvious choice, in light of what else happens in the movie, that I can’t imagine that it was never discussed.

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One of the most interesting elements of the entire Maleficent franchise is its focus on femininity, and a different kind of strong female character than is usually seen in modern film: the three women at the heart of Mistress Of Evil are diplomats and politicians rather than warriors – even Ingrith, unabashedly a warmonger, only bears arms under dire circumstances; for most of the film, she exercises her power either from behind or atop a throne. Maleficent, meanwhile, moves in the shadows, preferring wars of wit to open conflict: and as for Aurora, she is sunny, optimistic and gentle, ruling with kindness and tender compassion. Yet all three are rightly considered powerful forces in the world they inhabit, as queens and unchallenged guardians of their respective plots of land. And there is one female character (no spoilers!), who has only a small role throughout the film, but a critical part to play in the third act: the culmination of her arc has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality that is at once startling, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.

With so much progressive, forward-thinking messaging going on, there is one notable instance that stands out to me as either a bad – and unintentional – decision on the filmmakers’ part, or a conscious decision with a third film in mind (a third film that will only happen if Mistress Of Evil takes off at the box-office): and that decision is putting humans in control of fairies. It screams of colonialism every time it gets brought up, and the film outright denounces it, but never actually does anything about it when it’s Aurora, our heroine, doing it. Queen Ingrith has a point when she tells Aurora that there’s more to ruling a kingdom than running around barefoot with flowers in one’s hair – but, well, Ingrith is evil, so obviously Aurora doesn’t actually heed her warning or do anything to remedy the glaring problem. She’s simply not a very effective queen, and she spends probably ten minutes (at most) with her own people – but we’re supposed to trust that she’s the best person for the job because…she left the fairies in the lurch while she went off to plan her wedding? She angered Maleficent and caused her to leave the moors unguarded against human threats? She did basically nothing for the rest of the film? The film never adequately explains why a human should be allowed to rule fairy affairs, and the open hostility from the Dark Fae makes one wonder if everything will really be fine and dandy after Aurora’s marriage to Phillip firmly establishes that more, not less, human interference is on the horizon.

"Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil" Non-Spoiler Review! 5
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However, unlike some films, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil successfully stands on its own, requiring no previous knowledge of the franchise to follow along with its plot and leaving no cliff-hangers or unresolved storylines to torment the viewer afterwards – all in all, this movie is not what I would call necessary viewing, but it is fun, beautiful and spectacular. And it has got Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer together onscreen, which is itself worth the price of admission.

Movie Rating: 5.0/10

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Full-Length Trailer!

Who expected Maleficent to be the year’s most epic family drama? Even Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, with its all-stars cast, pales in comparison to a film starring Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer as rivals vying to control – and mother – the rebellious young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), in one epic custody battle involving magic, witchcraft, and giant bears ripping people limb-from-limb. We even get the pleasure of watching Jolie literally turn people into burning skeletons, while Pfeiffer takes aim at her with a hefty-looking crossbow, and – wait a moment: this is a Disney movie?

Indeed it is, proving that the Mouse House isn’t afraid to take some risks every now and again. After the first teaser for the film dropped, I was a little worried that the whole thing was just going to be a sparring match of witty one-liners between Jolie and Pfeiffer, and it might still boil down to that in the end: Jolie’s performance as the demonic sorceress Maleficent seems to be mostly about evoking a “mood” – with lines like “Don’t ruin my morning!” and “Love doesn’t always end well” dropped as if they’re mantras to live by, while her variety of outfits continue to stun and dazzle (though I still hate the wings: even worse, there’s more wings on the way, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Pfeiffer’s character, the Queen Ingrith, is quite clearly a villain: the smirk on her face as she embraces Aurora makes it kind of obvious that she’s not just concerned for the princess’ well-being – though it’s still a little unclear as to why she wants to risk open war with Maleficent’s forces of magic. As we go “beyond the fairytale”, a lot of things become unclear.

Granted, there’s still a lot of good stuff in the trailer: the darker elements are still very cool and surprising; Jolie and Pfeiffer are still good actresses, so their dynamic looks interesting and it does appear that we will indeed get some intense showdowns between them, such as I asked for after the first trailer; the production values look great (except for Jolie’s wings and horns: for some reason, Maleficent is the only character in the film whose costumes look completely bizarre and uncomfortable). The first film was criticized for relying too heavily on special effects, but honestly…the special effects look like they’ve only gotten better. There’s a real sense of danger from the trailer, something that Disney doesn’t often indulge in – I genuinely don’t know what will happen: will Maleficent conquer the forces that oppose her, and win back her adopted daughter? Will Aurora choose to leave the beguiling witch, and instead risk it all for true love? And what’s going on at the end of the trailer?

Near the end, we watch Jolie’s character get hit by crossbow arrows – fired by some of Ingrith’s own henchmen, or at least it appears that way. Anyway, she falls into the sea and is saved by a strange dark shape, that carries her away to some other mystical place of labyrinthine tunnels and glowing caverns where she encounters…Chiwetel Ejiofor? Sorry, that’s Chiwetel Ejiofor dressed up with horns and giant wings (wings that look just as ridiculous as Jolie’s). In fact, it turns out there’s a whole bunch of other demons like Maleficent (all of them winged and horned, to my dismay), and they want her to join them in their…war against Ingrith? Quest for world domination? Hunt for a better costume designer?

I don’t know what’s going on there, but it looks like both Maleficent and Aurora will be conflicted as their mother/daughter relationship is tested by the forces of evil – including Maleficent herself.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“Mulan” First Trailer!

Typically, the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates all the movie industry headlines, but these last few weeks it’s been all Disney live-action remakes, all the time. Probably no coincidence that this comes right after the huge success of Disney’s Aladdin, a film for which fans have already begun eagerly demanding a sequel. Now, after a whole bunch of “controversy” about black Ariel and Melissa McCarthy playing Ursula the sea-witch, Disney is back on track, releasing the first trailer for their upcoming remake of the animated classic, Mulan.

Let me warn you, I’m a big fan of Mulan: it’s my all-time favorite Disney movie. I was actually planning to watch the film before the trailer dropped. But it’s a little too late to do that now, so here we are: the trailer has arrived.

It’s beautiful: it opens with a shot of Mulan riding a horse through the grasslands of central China, and goes wild from there, with spectacular scenes of our heroine preparing for her ill-fated meeting with the matchmaker, leaping across rooftops in the Imperial City, and wielding a sword in the heat of battle. It doesn’t look like any of the remakes Disney has been turning out recently: there are none of the original film’s songs (though there are nods to them, such as when Mulan says “I will bring honor to us all”, and the instrumental music takes the shape of that classic tune); it has action, rather than dreamy romance, such as we saw in the trailers for Beauty & The Beast or Aladdin; it’s intimate, and dramatic, and the focus is largely on the characters and their story, presented as if it’s brand new, rather than filtered through the “nostalgia-factor” that Disney has traditionally indulged in when marketing their remakes.

In large part, it is brand new – we already know that this movie will be very different from the animated film, but this trailer highlights some of these changes. We see Mulan fighting as a woman, even though in the original film she never fought on the battlefield unless disguised as a man. There’s a lot more martial arts prowess on display here. There’s no sign of the new character said to be taking over the role of Mulan’s former love-interest, Shang. There’s absolutely no hint whatsoever of Mushu, or the phoenix which will apparently replace him. What we have here is something almost like an entirely original movie, one that looks much more epic: there’s no jokes either – though that’s something Disney seems to do, where they hide all the humor until you actually get to the film and realize that it’s a hilarious comedy. They did that with Aladdin too.

Oh, I’m nervous: I don’t know what to say. Mulan has such a special place in my heart, and I really want this movie to live up to that. And it looks really good, but it looks so…so new. I don’t know how to judge it when everything is so subtly different from what I’m expecting. Mulan herself seems very tough, very determined, and incredibly skilled: I’m not sure exactly how she’s able to do all these amazing backflips and twirls and whatnot – in the original film, she was resourceful and quick-thinking rather than being invincible. There I go again, comparing the two: but I have to. This trailer is confusing me. At least it has the avalanche.

You understand, don’t you? What do you think of the trailer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8?/10

Halle Bailey Will Head Under The Sea For “The Little Mermaid”!

And no, that’s not Halle Berry, it’s Halle Bailey.  Go get your eyes checked.

Halle Bailey Will Head Under The Sea For "The Little Mermaid"! 6
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Halle Bailey is the nineteen year-old singer and actress best known for her R&B singing duo, Chloe x Halle, and her role on the hit TV show Grown-ish, is officially joining Disney for their live-action The Little Mermaid. And she’s not just playing a bit part – she’s actually going to be the Little Mermaid, as in, she is playing Ariel. That’s right: for the first time in forever, Disney is race-bending one of their princesses! And it’s perfect.

First of all, Halle Bailey can sing, and she has an amazing voice: in fact, while listening to her cover of “Unforgettable” – go check it out, you’ll thank me – I was struck by how much she sounded like she had just strolled out of the 1920s: she would have made a fantastic Tiana in a live-action Princess And The Frog. But as Ariel – oh, I’m so excited! Her voice is so just so perfect. I don’t even know exactly why, but it just…well, it just is. It’s not the kind of teeny-bopper vocal range I was expecting Disney to go for with their live-action Ariel: that was my fear, in fact, after I started hearing rumors that Harry Styles had been cast as Prince Eric, alongside Zendaya as Ariel.

Now, I know there are going to be people complaining that Zendaya didn’t get the role, after people have been basically begging her to join the cast. But I’ve got to say, having seen Spider-man: Far From Home just yesterday, I’m not too unhappy about that. Don’t get me wrong – Zendaya is a good actress, and I know that, but I’m not on her hype-train right now, and that’s why this news comes at such a perfect moment. I’m open to suggestions – and this suggestion, so unexpected, so fresh, so unique…is a miracle.

And then there are going to be people complaining that Ariel isn’t black, and that Disney shouldn’t race-bend a Caucasian princess: their reasoning will be that the original fairytale off of which The Little Mermaid is based is a Danish story, and the majority of Danish people are white. Well, guess what – Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid doesn’t take place in Denmark: it’s set in the Caribbean, where the majority of the population is black or Hispanic. By making her white in the original movie, Disney was race-bending, just like they race-bent Aladdin and Jasmine, making them Arabic instead of Chinese. Having a black woman play Ariel is the perfect way to show that Disney actually cares about making their films accurate, at least a little. Granted, the film will still include mermaids, so we can probably throw accuracy to the winds.

This news is especially advantageous since it comes right after Melissa McCarthy was cast as Ursula, in a shocking move that upset almost everybody. One of the biggest complaints was that Ursula should have been portrayed by a woman of color – now, through this genius casting decision, Disney has partially made up for that. It would be even better if they would recast Ursula too, but I’ll settle for Ariel – as long as she’s not the only black mermaid under the sea. We know that Asian-American comedian Awkwafina has been cast as Ariel’s seagull companion, Scuttle, so maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that there are lots of different types of merpeople?

So what do you think? Are you happy with the casting choice? Do you think that Ursula should be recast? Leave your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for more updates!

Disney Live-Action Remake News!

Unsurprisingly, Disney continues to churn out live-action remakes of all their beloved animated classics: this year alone, we’ve gotten modernized versions of Dumbo and Aladdin, and The Lion King will premiere a few weeks from now. Next year, we’ll get a live-action Mulan, and possibly The Little Mermaid, with Snow White arriving soon after. And as long as the Mouse House makes these movies, there will continue to be a loud opposition to this trend of redoing and revamping films that don’t technically need a 21st Century update – and, while the remake-resistance has been wrong before (Will Smith’s Genie looks like a Smurf!), they’re also often right about a lot of stuff, a lot of the time (Emma Watson can’t sing!).

Right now is one of those times. Let’s break down both big news stories that dropped, yesterday and today, and why this weekend is going to be a really stressful one for everybody at Disney.

First, yesterday’s news: even though the live-action The Little Mermaid is still a long way away, an actress has been cast to play the film’s villain, the sea-witch Ursula. That actress is…Melissa McCarthy.

Now don’t get me wrong, Melissa McCarthy is a great actress, she has been nominated for an Academy Award twice, and she can be both dramatic and funny. I was actually pleasantly surprised at first, when I heard she had become the first person to join the cast: it seemed like an instant win for all involved. McCarthy hasn’t been selling a lot of tickets recently, and The Little Mermaid needs a big name, just like Aladdin needed Will Smith. Then I started seeing the arguments against McCarthy’s casting, and I was dubious – I immediately assumed it was nothing more than the usual backlash towards any remake.

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And then I decided to dig a little deeper, and I realized that there are a ton of valid complaints here:

  1. While Ursula was originally voiced by a white woman in the 1989 movie, the character has been changing in more recent iterations, with black actresses like Yvette Nicole Brown or Whoopi Goldberg playing or voicing her in the TV show Once Upon A Time and movie Descendants 2, respectively. The change inspired some to think that, in this live-action Little Mermaid, a woman of color would portray the iconic Disney villain – rappers Queen Latifah (who did a Disney-sponsored photoshoot in 2011 while dressed as the character) and Lizzo were both high up on most peoples’ fancasts, with Lizzo even getting in on the fun and dressing up as Ursula while performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. To make Ursula white again and reverse years of progress, seems like a slap in the face.
  2. It’s no secret that the original Ursula is a thinly-disguised – and, frankly, offensive – caricature of American drag queen Divine, and because of that the character has become something of a “gay-energy icon” in recent years, with many wanting to see her fully reclaimed in a more positive light by the LGBTQ+ community. As a nod to her origins, fans thought it would be fitting if the live-action version of the character was portrayed by a drag queen  – but apparently Disney isn’t ready to do something that bold, even though drag queens are fast becoming some of the most popular celebrities in America.
  3. Just as important as both of these points is the fact that Melissa McCarthy is not a singer. She has sung, yes, and she was once even part of a duet with Barbra Streisand herself – but her vocals aren’t all that impressive, and her singing style is pretty nondescript, nothing like the hugely over-the-top, charismatic voice of Pat Carroll’s original Ursula. Again, there are any number of more talented musicians who could have brought something truly fascinating to the part, and might even have warranted new songs being written specifically for the character: Queen Latifah, Lizzo, Lady Gaga, Adele, or Keala Settle all come to mind. Gaga and Adele have both won Oscars for their original music, too (and Gaga has also dressed as Ursula before).

Pretty much the only reason I can think of to cast McCarthy is because of her undeniable enthusiasm for body-positivity: Ursula’s cool confidence about her own image has made her an icon of body diversity (she’s an icon for a lot of people, I’ve learned). Maybe that’s something that Disney wants to lean into – maybe they want to use Ursula to address some important social issues. Then again, Disney is the same company that tried to slim down Ursula for their Disney Villain toy line in 2012. Is this a belated apology for that incident, or mere coincidence?

Whatever the reasoning might be for casting Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, what’s done is done. While the actress is apparently still in early talks, it looks like other, more promising, candidates for the role are admitting defeat, with Lizzo tweeting out a sad-face emoji in response to the news. The internet is pretty much unanimously outraged, and hopefully Disney rethinks their casting choice before it’s too late.

But today, Disney has only caused themselves even more pain and grief: a new report suggests that the live-action Mulan (which I’m actually looking forward to) will not include Mulan’s fire-breathing dragon sidekick, Mushu – instead, he will be replaced by a phoenix, something that Disney purists aren’t too thrilled about. Did I mention that there also won’t be any of the original songs that made the animated Mulan so good? No I’ll Make A Man Out Of You. No Reflection. No Honor To Us All. Just instrumental music.

Yeah, so…that’s all I’ve got for you today. I’m really interested to hear what you think? Do these things bother you? Are you excited for the live-action The Little Mermaid and Mulan? Expect more updates on both of these stories from Disney’s D23 event later this summer, and stay tuned!

“Aladdin” Movie Review!

"Aladdin" Movie Review! 8
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The 2019 live-action of Aladdin has been walking a fine line with critics the past few days, and continues to hover uncertainly – personally, my own review will be a little more positive than many, but I’m not going to let the film entirely off the hook. It had the chance to truly be “A Whole New World”, but it was too tentative to make the leap – Aladdin’s little pep-talk about “do you trust me?” and all that would have really come in handy when the screenwriters were handling this project.

The film starts out a little shaky, going from a visually-stunning glimpse of the nightlife of Agrabah and the various things that our characters are doing before their part in the story begins, to a somewhat-awkward dance number in the marketplace as Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) run from armed soldiers. The film then briefly tries to imitate the 2017 mega-hit Beauty And The Beast by having its protagonist sit in a window and talk about his deceased mother, and the melodies she would sing to him when he was a baby – and, of course, Jasmine’s mother used to sing the same lullabies…a lot of bonding over dead parents happens in this scene, and it felt very formulaic and dull.

Then, suddenly, things start moving, and the plot jumps into gear. There’s theft and a daring palace heist, and royal visitors from…Scotland? Aladdin is trying to survive on scraps, while Jasmine enjoys a life of splendor and majesty – but she yearns to go out onto the streets and help her starving people, who are seemingly oppressed by the Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Exactly why Jafar is oppressing the people is, unfortunately, never explained, nor do the starving people of Agrabah really play much of a part in the story, despite the fact that protecting them is Jasmine’s greatest motivation throughout the film. It would have been truly wonderful to see Jasmine’s connection with the citizens continue to develop as she is in turn disenfranchised and robbed of her own privileges. Sadly, it’s only the first of many things that the film suggests in subtext but never explores.

Aladdin himself is okay through the first act of the movie, decent in the second, and good in the third: Massoud is charming and endearing, and his humility and awkwardness makes him especially fun to watch – the movie does strip those traits away from him pretty abruptly at one point, but Massoud’s acting is just good enough that he can get away with it. He’s also undeniably helped by the fact that he is accompanied by the requisite Adorable Animal Sidekick, and the…Adorable Fabric Sidekick? I am, of course, referring to Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu and magical rug, Carpet: both of whom have numerous opportunities to show off their skills.

Massoud’s Aladdin, however, never comes close to approaching the true grandeur that is Naomi Scott’s Jasmine. An elegant and confident character, Jasmine is so unexpectedly fresh that she never actually felt like the original 1992 animated Jasmine…she was better. Scott, in fact, is so good that she could easily warrant an entire sequel or spin-off series about her character: she is a clear thinker and a strategist, with fierce determination; the type of Princess that needs to be – and can be – the new norm from Disney. Unfortunately, the limitations of film require that only a small part of Jasmine’s personality and backstory can be shown onscreen, but I would have gladly learned more about her mother’s native kingdom, the one that Jafar desperately wants to invade (for unexplained reasons), or her attempts to help the city’s inhabitants while disguised. The film wastes very little, but still too much, time on her prospective suitor Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen) of Scotland, an incredibly forced and unfunny character. Jasmine, however, does get to have relatively fleshed-out relationships with her father, The Sultan (Navid Negahban) and her handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), both of which lend more facets to her already multi-faceted character and help to make her, without a doubt, the movie’s standout performance.

Naomi Scott is also blessed with a beautiful singing-voice: Jasmine’s new song “Speechless” is a powerful shout-out to all people who have been victimized, and whose stories have been silenced – but especially to women, in this age of #MeToo. This song is too good to be sung only once, and happily we get to see two renditions of it in the film (after which, it can be listened to on repeat for the rest of eternity). Scott also lends her vocals to “A Whole New World”, the film’s defining moment, but Massoud is actually a good singer on his own too.

The dance-numbers and songs are fantastic, and all feel very new and exciting – except, perhaps, “A Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”, both of which look and feel much like they did in the animated film. The music is a highlight – but how could it go wrong with Alan Menken composing? Costuming and production design are very much Hollywood quality, but with a beautiful and authentic Bollywood flair that lends the film something unique, something that Beauty And The Beast does not possess. But what else does Aladdin have, other than that and Naomi Scott?

It has Will Smith.

Yes, we laughed at his first appearance in the trailers, and we continued to laugh well after that. But hey, first impressions can be deceiving, and Will Smith proves that with his incredible performance as The Genie. To follow in the footsteps of an icon like Robin Williams is probably no small feat, and Smith clearly knows that – rather than trying to imitate Williams, he brings something new, something iconic of his own, to the character. Whether the critics and the general audiences will like that, remains to be seen – because despite the fact that the movie is named for the endearing street-rat Aladdin, and despite the fact that Naomi Scott steals the show with pride, Will Smith is the star. He’s also probably the most heavily-criticized part of the movie, whether people are merely joking about his CGI smoke-cloud, or getting fussy about his decision to add rap to his musical numbers (about that, that whole “issue” was completely overblown: if you’re worried about it, just leave before the credits roll).

Thankfully, the movie has Scott, Smith and the Bollywood vibes going on. Jafar is a bit of boring villain, even with new elements added to his backstory: again, there was a lot of opportunity to make him a sympathetic and relateable villain, but the film doesn’t take the extra step that’s needed to make this work. The script has some flaws, and a bit of the dialogue is cringey, especially in the first thirty minutes of the film. The end of the film might have needed a bit more buildup – I, for one, was completely confused as to how everything was going to work out, and not exactly in a good way.

All in all, Aladdin has all the ingredients to make a great film, but it only nervously tests the waters, trying to play it safe. With two great leads and one good one, plus fantastic songs, the movie manages to be very enjoyable (I can’t stress that enough; I enjoyed myself immensely) – but it’s not quite the Whole New World we were hoping for.

Movie Rating: 7.5/10

“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Trailer!

Angelina Jolie is back in business as the horned witch Maleficent in the first full-length trailer for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (great title, by the way), looking just as demonic as ever. Coming hard on the heels of the announcement that Jolie will be joining the Marvel Studios team in next year’s The Eternals, it looks like the actress is going to enjoy our undivided attention – as we try to figure out which Marvel role she’s taking, and how she’ll match her performance in the first Maleficent, which was lauded as pretty much the only good thing about the movie.

Jolie is going up against Michelle Pfeiffer in the Maleficent sequel, which looks to be an interesting conflict – villainous female characters have always been relatively rare in Disney movies, so it’s cool to get not one, but two, here. If great acting is the best thing going for the Maleficent franchise, then Pfeiffer is probably a good choice – but her character, Queen Ingrith, doesn’t have much to do in the trailer: which is very upsetting, considering that Pfeiffer was already cheated of a cool action-heroine role in Ant-Man And The Wasp last year, even when she was armed with a wicked-looking javelin. Hopefully we’ll see her in a more active role here. The official synopsis says that Maleficent and Princess Aurora will be joining forces to protect the magical creatures of their homeland from “new adversaries” – i.e. probably Queen Ingrith. I have hope that Ingrith will be an active magical-beast-hunter, rather than someone who just sits around in a castle all day, exchanging witty quips with Maleficent.

Oh yeah, Princess Aurora is back, obviously, but she makes no impression on me from her brief appearance in the trailer, so we’ll just skip over her.

And on to…well, not much else, honestly. A few shots of ravens flying. One truly awful freeze-frame at 0:52 (which I just realized is also the trailer thumbnail) where Jolie’s costume looks horrendous – the wings do not work, in any way, shape or form, and the horned hairpiece looks like a cheap Halloween-store prop. The lighting in that shot is pretty bad, to be fair (green isn’t too flattering, in general), but Jolie’s makeup also seems odd.

Overall, pretty decent trailer, without a whole lot to offer. Nice to see Jolie donning the horns again, though (even if they do look ridiculous).

Trailer Rating: 6/10

“The Lion King” Trailer!

For one of the most highly-anticipated movies of 2019, the marketing for The Lion King has been virtually nonexistent up until today. One teaser back in November, and then just…nothing. Until today. And today, they made up for all that with this.

It starts off nice and slow, tingling with suspense: young Simba and Nala are scampering through the Outlands beyond Pride Rock. Hyenas dart around them in the shadows, and the two lion cubs cower as a voice narrates to them about how “life’s not fair” for those who “spend their lives in the dark, begging for scraps”. Then the hyenas approach, and with them comes their leader: Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor). He looks terrifying: the way his tattered ear twitches as he advances on Simba; his ragged and disheveled coat of fur; his cold, malevolent voice. He’s perhaps lacking just a little something of the original, that almost exaggerated Shakespearean vibe to the character as voiced by Jeremy Irons, with his wild black mane and angular shape, but those are minor nitpicks – Scar looks absolutely awesome.

Then the trailer briefly turns into a nature-documentary: Mufasa brings Simba up onto Pride Rock, and in the voice of James Earl Jones tells us how the Pridelands exist in a “delicate balance”, while the music swells up, scenes flash by of Simba playing with other animals (including Zazu, voiced by John Oliver), and antelope prancing around. In this tranquil and idyllic corner of the world, we see Scar’s words made clear: Mufasa’s evil brother is bitterly jealous of this beautiful, bountiful kingdom – must be hard, when you live with a pack of ratty hyenas and your brother is living it up in this exquisitely-lit CGI paradise.

(I am aware of the fact that Mufasa and Scar apparently aren’t brothers, or are brothers, depending on which Disney executive you ask: I’m calling them brothers, for simplicity’s sake).

And, because Disney is evil, they even have the audacity to show us glimpses of a certain scene…hmm, is this a spoiler? Technically, I guess it is, so I won’t clarify exactly what this spoiler is, just that this scene in the trailer happens to involve a canyon, and a herd of stampeding water-buffalo. Yeah, they show us part of that scene.

In a throwback to the original animated feature, there’s a scene of Simba, Timon and Pumbaa walking, while the background behind them changes, and Simba grows older. I’m still left wondering how much of this film will literally just be a copy-and-paste of the original, but, hey, it looks beautiful.

We get our first good look at Nala, voiced by pop icon Beyoncé, and she looks…like a lioness. Not much more to say about her than that. She doesn’t sing, if that’s what you were expecting.

But, on that note, the trailer is not entirely without some lively song-and-dance: it closes, in fact, with Timon and Pumbaa skipping merrily along through the jungle, singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, which is peculiarly hilarious.

It looks good. It looks really good, in fact. There’s an epic quality to all the scenes, or maybe that’s just the brilliant visual effects, but it has beauty and atmosphere. The tone is perfect. A better voice-cast could not have been assembled – though I still have some reservations about Donald Glover voicing Simba himself. The movie looks like it will be incredible – or, at the very least, it looks like it will look incredible.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

Aladdin First Full-Length Trailer!

As someone who (a) was never a die-hard fan of the original animated Aladdin, (b) isn’t too fond of the Disney Remake trend, and (c) wasn’t impressed by either of the two teasers put out for this Disney Remake of a film I don’t really care one way or the other about – I went into this first full-length trailer more than slightly concerned that this would just be…flat. Meh. Forgettable.

But now, I see how wrong I was.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, this could just be a trick of the trailer-editing: after all, the teaser was greeted with so much backlash that Disney basically had to put together a trailer that was beautiful, nostalgic and action-packed, so I shouldn’t be surprised that this looks so good. Maybe they just stitched together all of the best parts from the movie, and the rest of the film is less than perfect.

But look here: the trailer opens with a cool action sequence of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) dodging some soldiers in the marketplace of Agrabah. After escaping from them, he runs straight into our beloved Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). The tingle of romance in the air is palpable: Massoud does a great job in this scene, and looks completely infatuated. Jasmine herself is in street-garb, maybe hiding her royal identity: it’s been said that in this remake, Jasmine takes more of an interest in the people of her city, and is trying to explore Agrabah to help the impoverished citizens.

The trailer then takes a turn, and gets dark: Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) strides confidently through his underground lair at 0:24, while Iago flies past (more on him in a minute). Jafar looks good enough from the back, though I’m still not sold on his voice. He leads Aladdin through the desert, promising him wealth: wealth enough “to impress a princess”. At 0:35 Jasmine appears again, but now she is in full royal garb: she’s got her tiger, and her guards, and she looks majestic. The palace itself looks absolutely stunning: we haven’t gotten quite enough wide shots of the entire palace, but what we see in this teaser is enough to make me feel very awed and humbled.

Anyway, the next shock is that Aladdin actually speaks! This is the first time that our lead character has said a single word in the promotional material for this film – such an achievement. Well, now that he actually does speak, his voice sounds fine: he’s not got an impressive voice, by any means. Better than Jafar’s, though.

The Cave of Wonders! At 0:43, we enter the Cave – it looks fine. Very blue-toned, still. Not, maybe, as wondrous as I would have liked, but good enough. But whatever: we’ve seen this same scene in all the teasers now, and – but wait! The Lamp! It’s so beautiful, and it’s filled with swirling blue light under what seems to be a transparent lid: a nice touch. I’m now holding my breath, waiting to see what I think of The Genie (Will Smith), The Genie that will emerge from this beautiful lamp and possibly make or break this movie, The Genie that looked so awful in the second teaser. The purple and blue smoke begins to rush from the lamp…

He looks fine.

The Genie looks fine. Still looks like a blue Will Smith, but the CGI has been much more exquisitely handled, and at least now it doesn’t seem like Will Smith’s head has been superimposed on someone else’s body. I mean, am I blown away by The Genie now? No, not exactly – that is to say, not in his Genie form – but he at least looks good enough now that he’s downright bizarre or even disturbing. There’s a snipper of “A Friend Like Me”, which seems good: Carpet has maracas, and that’s what really stood out the most to me about this scene. It really looks fun, and kind of awesome.

Our time in the Cave of Wonders is brief, as we are suddenly back in the desert, with Aladdin and The Genie side-by-side looking out over a barren landscape at 1:09. The Genie is only seen from a distance here, but the CGI looks not-so-good in that one shot.

But now, the trailer really starts making me interested – no, not just interested, but invested. The Genie transforms into, well, Will Smith, but not blue anymore, and it’s a relief. There’s some great humorous banter here. It’s great to see how Aladdin is prepared to just shamelessly take advantage of the fact that he now has three wishes at his disposal: he asks immediately “Can you make me a prince?”

The Genie, though, has a great response: “There’s a lot of gray area in: make me a prince” he states, and demonstrates by literally making a prince for Aladdin. I hope he has more scenes like that in the movie – it’s an almost Alice In Wonderland type joke, and I just love it.

Things start moving really quickly: The Genie changes Aladdin into Prince Ali; there’s a celebration in Agrabah – and another great shot of the palace; and there’s a party where The Genie is playing matchmaker for Aladdin and Jasmine. The next scene after that has Aladdin and Jasmine speaking to each other, probably after the party – Aladdin says he “thought a princess could go anywhere”. “Not this princess” Jasmine replies.

And then, we get our first look at “A Whole New World” – and it looks great. Pure magic, even for someone who really doesn’t consider the original Aladdin to be a great film. This looks really awesome. As our two lovebirds sing their hearts out, however, there’s other stuff going on onscreen that shouldn’t be ignored: Jasmine and Aladdin dancing, Aladdin falling towards the water, Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders again, Aladdin creeping along the rooftops of Agrabah, Aladdin in an icy landscape (wow, this trailer is going overboard to show us Aladdin after barely showing him at all in the first two teasers), and then Jafar with his cobra-staff, looking more impressive and villainous. At 2:02 we see Jasmine singing – this probably comes from the solo musical number they’ve given her for the remake. And then at 2:03 we have…

Wait, hold up…

Aladdin being chased by a giant Iago?

I honestly have no idea what this scene could be, or why Iago is gigantic, but it looks COOL, so I’m going to just accept it.

And then it ends, with one last beautiful glimpse of the Cave of Wonders. It looks very fun, very enjoyable, and everything looks so much better. I can’t wait to see more, and I can’t wait for May, to go see this film! Here’s hoping this is actually indicative of the finished product, and not just the work of some very savvy editors!

Trailer Rating: 8/10