“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.

thefamouspeople.com

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.

cosmopolitan.com

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!

indiewire.com

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