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Friday, 29 March 2019

Disney Now Owns These Films



Last Week, Disney completed its high-profile deal with 21st Century Fox after 15 months of intense meetings and negotiations. For the eye-watering sum of $71.3 billion, it has acquired the 20th Century Fox film studio and its offshoots (including Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000), the FX and National Geographic Channels, and a controlling stake in the streaming service Hulu. Most importantly, it now owns all of the movies and TV shows produced by the studio over the years. These will be added to Disney’s forthcoming streaming service Disney+, demonstrating their focus on providing a rival to Netflix and allowing the company to be stronger and more successful than ever in an era of immense change for the movie industry.

There are numerous reasons to be suspicious about Disney’s big spending. In an age where we are becoming increasingly wary of the excessive power enjoyed by big corporations, seeing one of the most powerful film conglomerates in the world gain acquire even more properties can leave a rather sour taste in the mouth. In the last two decades, Disney’s acquisition of Luscasfilm and Marvel Films allowed them control over two of the most successful movie franchises in the world, and the studio has assets worth almost $100 billion. The purchase of Fox adds an extra $30 billion, and ensures that Disney’s share of the US cinematic market rises from 26% to around 36- 38% . In addition, Disney’s reputation for being safe and bland has generated fears that they will meddle in any film produced by Fox or Fox Searchlight, and rumours that Disney heads Alan Horn and Bob Iger will have plenty of creative control are understandably worrying in this context.

However, the move makes plenty of sense for Disney. For instance, it allows them to enter the adult film market. Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, which used to be Disney’s divisions for distributing more adult films, both fell into dormancy during the 2000s and Disney can use 20th Century Fox to replace them and produce blockbusters aimed at an older audience. In addition, its ownership of Fox Searchlight allows Disney to compete in the Oscar race. The studio have done this before (They owned Miramax for 17 years) but their control of Fox Searchlight represents a way of gaining the critical legitimacy and respect they have often lacked. Disney’s reliance on a handful of expensive big name blockbusters has been incredibly limiting from a creative perspective, and the numerous mid-budget and low-budget films from the Fox production arms can allow Disney to diversify their output. Media coverage has focused on the fact that Disney now have ownership of the Marvel heroes not owned by Marvel Studios (X Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool), The Simpsons and Avatar. However, it also owns a wide range of movies which were produced and distributed by various parts of the 20th Century Fox Company over the years. As a result, these movies are now technically part of the Disney library. In around 84 years of existence, Fox has been responsible for releasing over 4,000 films. Listed below are 15 Fox films which are now owned by Disney and eligible for a place on Disney+ or Hulu. Some of them fit the studio perfectly, whilst others are ludicrously inappropriate for the House of Mouse…

Fairy Tales


Disney’s reliance on fairy tale films, and their popularity and influence means that they have defined the form during the last century. The acquisition of Fox strengthens Disney’s claim to dominate the American fairy tale genre, as they now own three of the most unique and creative fairy tale films to be released by Hollywood…

After the acclaimed Pans Labyrinth and the cult favourite Crimson Peak, Guillermo Del Toro cemented his status as “king of the adult fairy tale” with the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water. Set at an unspecified time in the 1960s, it tells the story of a mute cleaner who works night shifts in a mysterious scientific facility. When she comes across a mysterious fish-like creature being imprisoned there, she begins to form a connection with it, and soon breaks it out of the facility and hides it in her apartment. Del Toro’s film possesses a wonderfully beguiling atmosphere, with the dark blues and greens of the cinematography highlighting the watery feel of the story and adding to the intrigue. Although the protagonist Elisa and her water-dwelling new friend are unable to speak, they are a compelling central couple, and the fairy tale feel of the story gives their relationship additional power. In addition, The Shape of Water makes some effective observations about the prejudice in America at this time. Elisa’s friends include an African-American woman, a closeted gay neighbour and a Russian double agent, whose outcast status plays a key role in their decision to protect the creature. In contrast, the fanatical villain Strickland is the epitome of the American Alpha male. Making progressive political points whilst providing a uniquely escapist work, Del Toro effectively highlighted the power of fairy tales to provide both a release from the world and a greater understanding of it – The Shape of Water definitely deserved its Best Picture win.

In many ways, The Shape of Water is a typical Beauty and the Beast story, but its adult elements are present immediately - Most fairy tale films don’t begin with the protagonist pleasuring themselves in the bath. There are also some pretty disturbing moments of violence, and that’s without mentioning the infamous underwater sex scene. Despite this, The Shape of Water is certainly not an example of cheap sensation, as the more controversial elements advancing the story and developing the characters. When Disney created a special banner to advertise their new acquisitions, they used the poster of this movie to represent the Fox Searchlight production arm. This confirmed its status as one of the most iconic fairy tale films of recent years, but also demonstrates how far removed it is from the traditional Disney formula.

Before directing Disney’s billion-dollar live-action remake of Alice in Wonderland (and their new version of Dumbo) Tim Burton established himself as one of the quirkiest and most interesting directors in Hollywood, with the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands cementing his status as a major name. The premise is a variation on Pinocchio and Frankenstein, as a mad scientist creates a an extremely lifelike robot from scrap metal, but dies before he can provide it with a proper pair of hands, leaving it with giant scissor blades instead. Edward is discovered by a saleswoman and taken to her home in the suburbs, where his ability to cut hair and create impressive ice sculptures wins the attention of the snobby locals. However, as the dire side effects of having blades for hands become clear, Edward becomes increasingly isolated by the community.

Burton’s followup to his blockbuster adaptation of Batman, Edward Scissorhands is one of the purest expressions of his iconic style. The clash between the gothic and mundane is on show throughout, whilst Burton’s idol Vincent Price has a short but memorable role as Edward’s creator. However, the film has a tragic dimension which most of Burton’s work lacks, as Edward’s deadly hands prevent him expressing his love for (played by Winona Ryder) and lead to him being cast out of his new world. These two paragraphs alone contain more words than Edward speaks in the entire movie, but Johnny Depp does an excellent job of using his unique body language to bring the character to life. Another highlight is Danny Elfman’s enthralling score, which perfectly captures the feel of a fairytale where most of the action takes place around Christmas time. Edward Scissorhands has earned its reputation as one of Burton’s finest films, and it is a worthy addition to the Disney library.

With iconic catchphrases such “Inconceivable!” “As You Wish.”  And “My Name is Inigo Montoya. You Killed My Father. Prepare to Die.” The Princess Bride has become one of the most quoted fairy tale films of all time. It’s not hard to see why this movie is now a genre classic. Written by the legendary screenwriter William Goldman and based off his own novel, The Princess Bride tells the story of the relationship between Princess Buttercup and her farmhand Westley. When Westley vanishes, Buttercup is forced into an arranged marriage with the slimy Prince Humperdinck, but Westley soon returns to win her back. The story is framed as a fairy tale being told by a grandfather to his poorly grandson, and the grandson’s growing interest in what he initially dismisses as a “kissing book” reflects the growing engagement of the wider audience.

Except for the first two Shrek movies, few non-Disney fairytales have enjoyed such an impact on popular culture. Whilst Westley and Buttercup are likeable leads, the best characters are in the supporting cast. Inigo Montoya and Fezzik are initially hired by Humperdinck to kidnap Buttercup, but soon befriend Westley and join his mission, proving to be invaluable allies. In addition, Wallace Shawn, Mel Smith, Peter Cook, Peter Falk and Billy Crystal make memorable cameos – who can forget the pompous and hot-tempered Vizzini, or the ancient and talkative Miracle Max and his wife?. Disney have been trying to develop a stage adaptation of The Princess Bride for several years, but the fact that they now own the original is definitive proof of how far it has crossed into the mainstream.

Musicals


Whereas Disney are kings of the animated musical, Fox are the studio most associated with their live-action counterparts. Oklahoma, The King & I, Moulin Rouge, and The Sound of Music are just some of the iconic musicals produced and distributed by the studio, but the three below represent particularly interesting additions to the Disney library…



Disney have acquired ownership of all of Fox’s animated properties, including The Simpsons and the Ice Age franchise. They have also gained this 1997 hit, which once represented a formidable challenger to the Magic Kingdom. This film was based on the premise that Anastasia, the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, survived the Russian Revolution to end up in Paris with no memory of her past. In real life, she died a horrible death along with the rest of her family, but no-one expects historical accuracy from a film where Rasputin is portrayed as a demon sorcerer responsible for the demise of the monarchy. Anastasia teams up with two conmen to find the last remaining members of her family, but Rasputin is following in a bid to finish off the Romanov dynasty once and for all…

Released as the Disney Renaissance was slowing down, Anastasia had the feisty princesses, nasty villain, colourful sidekicks and memorable music associated with Disney’s recent hits but provided its own unique spin. Animation icon Don Bluth, who had been Disney’s primary challenger in the 1980s (he directed the brilliant An American Tail and The Secret of NIMH) directed and produced this film, providing a more detailed and epic variation on his signature style. A modest hit in its initial release, it appeared to signal Bluth’s return to form after several years of mediocre and childish movies, but the failure of his followup Titan AE and the wider demise of hand-drawn animation led to Bluth fading back into obscurity. The movie has been immensely popular with millennials and was eventually adapted into a stage musical, which eliminated the supernatural elements from the story. It is just about to conclude a 2 year run on Broadway, and has demonstrated that Anastasia has enjoyed the same enduring impact as Disney’s animated hits. Its new status as part of the Disney library allows fans to put Anastasia along with the other Disney princesses, but her movie still remains a unique alternative to the antics of Ariel, Belle and Pocahontas…

There are few musicals like 1974’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A cinematic adaptation of Richard O’ Brien’s underground stage musical The Rocky Horror Show, it follows the classic B movie storyline of a couple getting lost and ending up in a sinister castle, but with numerous changes to the formula for the era of sexual revolution and liberation. Here, the stereotypically wholesome Brad and Janet end up in a mysterious mansion populated by numerous odd characters, most notably the cross dressing mad scientist Dr Frank N Furter and his blond beefcake creation, the titular Rocky Horror. These eccentric inhabitants leave Brad and Janet questioning the sexual certainties of their suburban world, and in the words of the narrator, they will have “a night to remember for a very long time”.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show introduced the world to the reliably entertaining Tim Curry, who is deliciously camp as Dr Furter, and featured early roles for Susan Sarandon and Meat Loaf. The atmosphere is wonderfully over the top and ridiculous but still faithful to the dark spirit of classic horror, whilst the songs blend lurid and witty lyrics with catchy instrumentals. Unsurprisingly, this genre and gender defying film was not a hit at first, but when New York cinemas began to show it as a “midnight movie”, The Rocky Horror Picture Show became one of the definitive cult classics, amassing a devoted fandom which endures today. Screenings of the movie often utilise audience participation, including ringing bells and throwing toilet paper in the air – it is certainly a long way from the traditional sing-along showings. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has inspired numerous outlandish and subversive musicals in the decades since, but the likes of “Sweet Transvestite” remain as fresh and entertaining today as they were when this film was first released.

The Greatest Showman is one of the most unlikely hit films of the last decade. A passion project for X Men icon Hugh Jackman, it is based on the life of the infamous circus empresario P.T. Barnum, a tireless self-publicist whose ability at creating and promoting sensationalistic entertainment made him a major figure in 19th century America. The film depicts Barnum as a family man who establishes an unusual circus show for “human oddities” that catapults him to fame. Historical accuracy is discarded in favour of the Barnum myth, with an all-star cast (including Michelle Williams and Zac Efron) and plenty of flashy cinematography providing the sense that it is more focused on applying Barnum’s showmanship to his life story rather than providing an actual examination of his work and impact.  Initial reviews of The Greatest Showman were rather hostile, with many criticizing it for its attempts to whitewash the story of Barnum and the inherently exploitative nature of the “freak shows” which he pioneered. However, just as Barnum and his stars overcome the snobby critics to win over the general public, the movie did the same in real life. Over Christmas 2017, it became an unexpected sleeper smash. It made $175 million in America (despite the fact it made less than $9 million in its opening weekend) and earned over $400 million worldwide.

There is one major reason for the success of The Greatest Showman - the incredible soundtrack. Blending intense rock and even hip-hop inspired tunes, sombre power ballads and upbeat inspirational anthems, it sounded nothing like the music of Barnum’s day, and was all the better for it. The Greatest Showman soundtrack proved to be that winning blend of modern and timeless, eventually becoming one of the biggest selling compilations ever created. The likes of “This is Me” and “A Million Dreams” have captured the imagination of girls all over the world in the same way as “Let It Go” and “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” did five years ago, and it is likely that they will remain staples of the musical genre for decades to come.  

Strong Women


Disney have spent the last three decades creating a formidable line up of strong and relatable female leads. The addition of the Fox library adds numerous female-centred films to this lineup. These three films contain memorable and compelling female leads who represent excellent sources of inspiration for Disney’s future heroines.

Disney’s recent hits Tangled, Frozen and Moana all follow a similar pattern. They concern a feisty yet naïve young woman who leaves her sheltered world behind to go on an incredible adventure with a grizzled male hero. The heroine becomes stronger, the male becomes kinder and there are plenty of meta jokes and references to familiar adventure tropes. It is not hard to see why this formula works so well, and it has played a huge role in Disney’s recent success. However, before Disney entered their revival, this basic approach was successfully used by the 1984 adventure comedy Romancing the Stone. The film tells the story of Joan Wilder (played by Kathleen Turner), who writes trashy romantic melodramas in her New York apartment. When her sister is kidnapped in Colombia by crooks (one of whom is played by Danny DeVito) seeking a precious diamond, Joan sets off to find her, but gets lost in the South American jungle. In order to rescue her sister and avoid an even more vicious villain also after the gem, Wilder must team up with mercenary Jack T. Colton (played by Michael Douglas). Needless to say, life soon begins to imitate art, and Wilder soon finds herself in the adventure that can only end with her defeating the villains and finding true love…

Although Joan and Jack’s adventures are a bit more violent and raunchy compared to those of Anna and Kristoff or Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, it is pretty clear that Romancing the Stone shares plenty of DNA with Disney’s hits from the last decade. It was somewhat ahead of its time in being a jungle adventure film clearly centred on its female protagonist, with Turner ditching her femme fatale image to play the ordinary but unexpectedly brave heroine. She was aided by a lively script written by waitress Diane Thomas, who famously pitched it to Douglas at a café. The movie had a turbulent journey to the screen, with numerous stars turning down the role of Jack T. Colton and several reshoots and rewrites taking place. However, it was all worth it in the end -The film was a hit, Turner won a Golden Globe for her performance as Wilder, and director Robert Zemeckis gained the credibility needed to make his pet project Back to the Future. The sequel Jewel of the Nile quickly followed but proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment (it didn’t help that the film turned Joan into a more generic love interest), although it did feature the wonderfully entertaining Billy Ocean hit “When the Going Gets Tough” on its soundtrack. There have been numerous attempts to revive Wilder and Colton for sequels and TV series, but these have all fallen through. Hopefully, Disney will be able to bring the two back into the spotlight.



The last queen of Egypt, Cleopatra is one of history’s most famous and tragic female rulers. This powerful and ambiguous leader is an odd inclusion to the line-up of Disney princesses, but she now qualifies for this group due to Disney’s acquisition of this 1963 epic. Iconic diva Elizabeth Taylor played the ill-fated Egyptian monarch, with Richard Burton as her love interest Mark Anthony (Burton and Taylor’s infamous on-off relationship begun during the making of this film) Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar and Roddy McDowall as Anthony’s enemy Octavian. “Swords and sandals” epics such as Cleopatra were to the 1950s and 1960s what superhero movies and live—action remakes are to the modern cinematic landscape, and this movie is a defining example of this grandiose old genre.  

The making of Cleopatra is even more fascinating and incredible than the film itself. Originally intended to be two three hour movies, Cleopatra was edited into a single epic over four hours long. Shooting was delayed numerous times, and a range of illnesses and scandals forced the filming to be moved from Britain to Italy. Over 79 sets and 26,000 costumes were used, and the sheer scale of the production led to shortages of building materials across Italy. Cleopatra was one of the highest-grossing movies of the 1960s, yet was still considered a colossal flop due to its exorbitant budget – The $44 million spent on making it is worth around $250 million in today’s money. Cleopatra is a useful addition to the Disney library - Its fate at the box office provides the newly inflated studio with a stark warning of what happens if they allow hubris to take over and let their blockbusters to get too big.

Among Disney’s acquisitions is Fox 2000, which specializes in mid-budget productions often aimed at a teenage audience. One of most recent and interesting movies from the studio is The Hate U Give, based on Angie Green’s hit YA novel. The book follows Starr, an African-American girl from a deprived Californian neighbourhood who goes to an affluent and predominantly white school. When she witnesses a childhood friend getting shot by a cop, Starr’s life is thrown into chaos, as she tries to work up the courage to speak at the trial whilst coming to terms with the everyday racism around her.

Played by Amandla Stenberg, Starr is a compelling and relatable protagonist, and it is easy to invest in her struggle to balance her black identity with the need to conform to a “white” standard of behaviour at her high school. The hot topics of police brutality, rioting, crime and racial prejudice are handled excellently. The anger at the injustices and dangers which affect young African Americans is clear throughout the story, but the film also includes flashes of hope and humour which make the subject matter palatable. Although its box office earning were unexceptional and it got no awards recognition, The Hate U Give is one of the most interesting films in the YA genre, and is a must-watch for those who want to see films of this kind directly tackle contemporary social issues. Sadly, Fox 2000 is going to be closed down by Disney, but only after completing the films which it has in the pipeline, including an adaptation of Thomas’ follow-up novel On The Come Up and the recent YA phenomenon Children of Blood and Bone. It would be great to see these get released, and hopefully Disney will allow Fox 2000 to do them justice before they retire the studio.


Adults Only


There are numerous films in the Fox Library that Disney would never contemplate producing or distributing. However through the magic of corporate deals, these are now technically Disney films. Whether ultra-gory revenge stories, satanic horrors or tasteless comedies, these are as distant from the world of Micky Mouse and Queen Elsa as it is possible for any film to be…

Titus



Theatre director Julia Taymor became a household name with her innovative stage adaptation of Disney’s classic The Lion King. Over two decades after it premiered, it is still one of the highest-earning productions on Broadway, comfortably out-grossing Disney’s other stage musicals every single week. The success of The Lion King gave Taymor the freedom to do anything she wanted, and she really took advantage of it.  Her first project after The Lion King? A film where the signature scene features a character unknowingly eating a pie containing the remains of her two sons…

Titus is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s early play Titus Andronicus, an immensely violent tale of revenge set in ancient Rome. Though incredibly popular in the 1590s, it has been overshadowed by Shakespeare’s later, more nuanced tragedies such as Hamlet and Macbeth. Anthony Hopkins is the intense and sinister Roman general driven to madness by the death of his children, whilst Jessica Lange plays his nemesis Tamora. However, the highlight of the film is Taymor’s production design, which is full of detailed and impressive symbolism. Harsh colours were used to convey the brutality of the story, and the look of the production combined ancient Rome and modern Italy, with characters driving both cars and chariots, and wearing both business suits and suits of armour. This epitomized both the universal dominance of war throughout the ages and the specific ideas and values which the characters are associated with. Titus will remain an acquired taste compared to other Shakespeare films, but it is an impressively nasty showcase for Taymor’s creative vision, and a strong contrast with her more family-friendly work.

Disney owe a lot of their success and popularity to their focus on children, who are often ignored as most film studios chase the fabled 18-35 demographic.  However, the 1976 horror hit The Omen takes the opposite approach, featuring one of the most infamous evil children in cinema history. It follows Robert Thorn, an ambassador who secretly adopts a baby after his son dies in the womb. But a series of suspicious incidents start to happen and Robert begins to realize there is something odd about the new child. The 666 etched on Damien’s scalp and the inability to find his birth mother lead to a startling conclusion – Damien is the son of Satan himself, and Robert will have to kill him in order to prevent him from becoming the Antichrist.

The Omen combines a heavy religious atmosphere (including the eerie Oscar-nominated score) with numerous grisly “accidents” that affect any priest or family member who begins to get suspicious of Damien. The blend of sophisticated and gory meant that the film was more downmarket than predecessors such as The Exorcist, but far superior to the numerous cheap horrors which followed in its wake. The cast is especially impressive for a movie of this genre, with the legendary Gregory Peck playing Robert Thorn and the likes of David Warner, Billie Whitelaw and Patrick Troughton also having key roles in the narrative.  There was plenty of interest in satanic goings-on during the 1970s, and production of The Omen was noted for several misfortunes which allegedly affected the cast and crew of the movie, adding further creepiness to its story-line. The Omen provide to be a box office hit and generated a minor franchise, with three sequels and a remake (released on 6th June 2006). Despite its status as one of the most notable horror movies of the 1970s, don’t expect Disney to bring Damien back in the near future…

Borat (AKA Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)



Fox have produced numerous lowbrow comedy hits, including Dodgeball and There’s Something About Mary, but none are as shocking and transgressive as Borat, a politically incorrect comedy centred on the character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for Da Ali G Show. Borat Sagdiev is a misogynist, anti-Semitic and Anti-Ziganist (yet oddly lovable) reporter from Kazakhstan, who heads on a road trip across America with his sidekick Azmat. In the USA, Borat encounters car salesmen, college kids, humour experts and politicians, before his journey culminates in an attempt to kidnap Pamela Anderson and make her his bride.

Needless to say, Borat (which possesses the unwieldly and poorly translated full title Borat: Cultral Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) is not for the easily offended. Highlights include Borat’s overjoyed reaction after hearing about the death of his wife, a sequence where a stay at a bed and breakfast is ruined when Borat realises that the couple running it are Jewish, and a scene where he and Azmat fight in public whilst totally naked. If you prefer child-friendly types of comedy, then you will probably find Borat totally unwatchable. However, there is method behind the madness, as Baron Cohen improvised most of his scenes, interacting with people who had no idea that Borat was a fictional character. Sometimes, their reactions to Borat’s inappropriate behaviour can be amusing, but they can also be disturbing, as they accept or even endorse his awful comments. The social satire can be clever, but there is one thing which really makes Borat stand out - it is as funny as hell. After Borat premiered in 2006, it became a bonafide cultural phenomenon, with viewers dressing in Borat’s Mankini and repeating his “Is Nice” catchphrase. Baron Cohen was never able to emulate its success, but Borat secured his place in comedy history.


Male Stories


Blood, sweat and testosterone are rarely present in the world of Disney, but Fox have made numerous films aimed at male audiences which showcase the masculine imagery and belief systems rarely seen in Princess films. Of the three works listed below, one celebrates macho masculinity, one satirises it and one showcases the violent world where it was necessary for survival. However, all three are far removed from the prettiness and cleanliness one associates with Disney…

Fight Club



David Fincher is one director who is definitely not likely of working with Disney in the future, as his most popular films blend dark moody visuals and frequently sociopathic characters with a pessimistic (and borderline nihilistic) view of the world. Having previously worked with Fox on his ill-fated directorial debut Alien3, Fincher returned to the studio for his 1999 film Fight Club, which became one of his signature hits. It tells the story of an insomniac who attends emotional support meetings for cancer patients in order to find a release from the monotony of his life. He eventually comes across Tyler Durden, a mysterious macho figure who possesses the confidence and charisma our unnamed protagonist lacks. They two create the titular bare knuckle brawling club, and soon find much more extreme ways of venting their frustration at the society surrounding them…

Based on a novel by Chuck Panihuk, Fight Club provides an excellent project for Fincher’s cold but immersive directorial style, with Edward Norton playing the narrator, Helena Bonham Carter as a fellow support-group voyeur and Brad Pitt ruthlessly subverting his pretty-boy image as Durden. Critics were unsure whether the film satirised or celebrated the unsavoury characters at the centre, and it initially flopped at the box office. However, it soon gained a passionate fanbase due to its memorable visuals, big ideas and intricate twists, eventually becoming one of the Top 10 highest rated films on IMDB. Although it was created to react to a specifically late 90’s state of malaise, Fight Club feels uncomfortably timely in an age of incels and political division (in fact, “snowflake” – the disparaging term for those opposed to the offensive worldviews of others - originated from the novel). With brutal violence, soap bars made from human fat and scathing commentary on consumerism and capitalism, it could not be any less appropriate for Disney, which is what makes it such a perfect inclusion here.

The Revenant



18 years after he was first nominated for Best Actor in Titanic, Leonardo Dicaprio finally won the accolade for his role in The Revenant, a brutal drama set in the American West during the 1820s. DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who gets badly wounded in a bear attack. When the head of his hunting team abandons him for dead and kills his son, Glass has to use every survival skill he knows to carry out his revenge on the rest of the group.  The Revenant is based on a true story, but is considerably more violent, with a lot more murder than Glass’s real-life odyssey. Through its focus on an inhospitable winter landscape, The Revenant provides the brutality and moral ambiguity associated with revisionist westerns, but its depiction of a man trying to survive in a cold and harsh environment makes it a unique spin on the subgenre.

Director Alexander Gonzalez  Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki were the duo behind 2014 Best Picture winner Birdman, and The Revenant represented a gruesome and atmospheric follow up that allowed the two to further showcase their skills. Almost all of the movie was shot with completely natural light, and the numerous long takes highlight the brutality of the violence and the desperation which fuels Glass throughout the movie. For the majority of the 156 minute film, he is alone on screen, willing to do anything to survive long enough to carry out his mission, including cauterise his wounds with gunpowder, eat raw meat and hide inside animal carcasses to keep warm. DiCaprio keeps us invested in Glass during this harrowing journey, and his awards recognition was richly deserved. Despite going considerably over budget, the film became a pretty huge box office hit, making over $500 million worldwide.

Bulging biceps and machine guns are the last things you would expect to see in a Disney movie. However, Fox have produced several lurid action movies, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1985 hit Commando, which embodies the mindless formula which was so dominant in the mid-80’s. There is a story – Arnold plays a former colonel who has to rescue his daughter from hoodlums trying to involve him in an assassination plot – but it is little more than a pretext for all the ridiculous stunts and slaughter, as the professional bodybuilder fights his way through a plane, a shopping mall and a Caribbean island, shooting, punching and impaling any villain foolish enough to stand in his way. Put bluntly, there is no nuance, complexity or character development, but there is plenty of OTT action, and the movie succeeds on its own ludicrous “shoot-em-up” terms.

Arnold was already a star by this point due to the two Conan movies and The Terminator, but Commando was the film which cemented the Arnold Schwarzenegger formula - Lots of guns, lashings of violence and ludicrously terrible one liners.  Over the next 2 decades, Schwarzenegger would star in numerous films of this variety, ranging from the enjoyable to the terrible. As a result, the image of the muscle-bound, superhuman action hero went on to define the genre for much of the 1980s, and the likes of Chuck Norris and Steven Segal tried to cash in on Arnold’s winning formula. However, the “Austrian Oak” surpassed his rivals became one of the biggest names in America. For all the flaws of Arnold and his films, their trashy appeal is pretty obvious, and it is pretty amusing that Disney now has ownership of Commando – it represents quite a counterpoint to the usual singing princesses and cute animal sidekicks…

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Mary Poppins Returns - Review




Who Made It?


Mary Poppins Returns is a sequel to Disney’s 1964 classic Mary Poppins, which was loosely based on the Mary Poppins novels by P.L. Travers. The film is directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods), and the screenplay is written by David Magee (Finding Neverland) with Marshall and John DeLuca assisting in writing the story.

What’s It About?


Mary Poppins Returns takes place in 1930’s London during “the days of The Great Slump”. Since his life was changed by the magical nanny Mary Poppins over two decades before, Michael Banks (played by Ben Wishaw) has become an adult,  living with his sister Jane (played by Emily Mortimer), his housekeeper Ellen (played by Julie Walters) and three children  - the mature older siblings Anabel and John  (played by Pixie Davies and Nathaneal Saleh) and more adventurous younger child Georgie (played by Joel Dawson) . Since the death of his wife, Michael has been struggling to pay his bills, and he now has just five days to save his family home from the villainous banker William Wetherall Wilkins (played by Collin Firth). Whilst walking through the park, discovers the old Banks family kite in the air and follows it to discover Mary Poppins (played by Emily Blunt) who returns to Banks house to look after the children. Aided by the lamplighter Jack (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) Mary takes Anabel, John  and Georgie  on a variety of fantastical adventures - including visits to an underwater world, a music hall populated entirely by animals, and an upside-down shop - whilst the Banks family try to find the documents which could allow them to clear their debts.

Review

(This Review Contains Mild Spoilers)


Released in 1964, Mary Poppins became one of the most iconic films in the Disney canon, winning several Oscars (and receiving a coveted Best Picture nomination).. Watching it today, it is not hard to see why it became so successful. The film is undoubtedly flawed - the characters are flat by modern standards, and many of the scenes go on for a very long time without advancing the relatively thin and simplistic story. However, these issues are minor in comparison to the timeless messages, elaborate special effects and inescapably catchy songs. Most importantly, the movie has a unique and magical atmosphere which can enchant audiences of all ages. In the 55 years since its initial release, Mary Poppins has inspired a long-running stage adaptation and even a film about how Walt Disney brought it to life. Given its enduring popularity, it is not surprising that Disney have opted to make a sequel, but the first film sets an impossibly high bar for Mary Poppins Returns. Mary Poppins Returns is not able to clear this, but it still manages to be a very good followup to the much-loved original.

It is no surprise to learn that the story of Mary Poppins Returns sticks closely to the template of the original. The Banks family are dealing with a crisis, causing Mary to fly in and look after the children. She takes them on a variety of adventures, including one which takes place in an animated world, and one involving an eccentric relative with a strange condition.  After the children cause chaos in the bank, they run away and get treated to a musical number by Mary’s sidekick and his workmates. Eventually, the story ends with the Banks family enjoying a high-flying celebration outdoors. Many of the memorable elements from the first movie also return to add to the nostalgic appeal. The talking parrot on Mary’s umbrella gets a larger role, and Admiral Boom is still firing cannons to mark the hour, although his timing is not as reliable as it used to be. In addition, we get a wide variety of smaller Easter eggs, and spotting them provides Mary Poppins fans with an additional pleasure. For all the callbacks to the original, there are enough changes to help Mary Poppins Returns feel like a continuation of the Banks Family story, rather than a full-on  retread. One of the highlights is the depiction of London. Whilst the original Mary Poppins was filmed entirely on soundstages, with matte paintings used in the background, Mary Poppins Returns provides us with a detailed world where Mary can work her signature magic. The exaggeration of the first film is mostly discarded in favour of making a relatively authentic depiction of London as it was in the 1930s. There are some anachronistic touches (Miranda’s patter during one song is pretty close to rapping, and we see several lamplighters perform modern BMX-style stunts on their bicycles during one sequence) but this generally is a successful depiction of a London which is grey and impoverished, but with magic and adventure nearer than anyone expects...

The one advantage this film has over the original is the characterisation. In the first film, Mr Banks was probably the only fully developed and realistic character. Originally Michael and Jane Banks were typical cute children looking for a respite from their rigid lifestyle, but they have developed into interesting characters here. Michael has been pursuing his dreams of being an artist, but his recent loss has forced him to grow up rapidly and find a job in order to raise money for his children. Michael is struggling to preserve his sense of childlike wonder in an inhospitable world, and this plays a key role in his growing frustration with the chaos which Mary always brings. His arc could have easily been a repeat of Mr Banks’ evolution in the first movie, but it genuinely feels unique. Meanwhile, Jane is following in her mother’s footsteps, running a charity to look after the poor and unemployed. Whereas the first film played Winifred Bank’s suffragette status for laughs, this one generally takes Jane’s activism seriously, and is all the better for it. The children avoid being annoying, with an intriguing contrast between Anabel and John (who had to grow up too fast) and Georgie, who is still unaffected by the pressures of adult life. As in the first film, Mary and her sidekick are relatively two-dimensional characters, primarily existing to generate change in the Banks family. However, they are engaging and charismatic enough to inspire and engage us, and they do an excellent job of promoting the incredible worlds which they are able to create. The story is stronger than the first film, but it is still a secondary element at best. The race to save 17 Cherry Tree Lane adds a welcome degree of urgency and allows the film to be a bit more focused. There is still plenty of padding, but the common threads linking the songs and fantasy sequences are stronger this time around. However, for every improvement, there is an unnecessary or pointless addition. The presence of an outright villain is understandable given the more dramatic storyline, but Wilkins is not interesting or threatening enough to please those who believe that the issues in the Banks family provide enough conflict for the film. Meanwhile, Jane’s activism is discarded in order to establish a romantic relationship with Jack. The two make a lovely couple, but the decision to put them together feels forced.

The two things which made the original Mary Poppins such an iconic film are the fantasy sequences and the songs. The fantasy sequences here are pretty impressive, taking advantage of the leaps in technology which have occurred over the last five decades.  Mary makes bathtime fun by taking the children on an underwater adventure, where they meet whales and giant ships. She then turns the paintings on a ceramic vase into an animated world populated by animals. The hand-drawn animation which made the “Jolly Holiday” sequence so iconic is emulated in impressive fashion here, with CGI being used to enhance painted backgrounds and sketchy hand-drawn animals reminiscent of the 60’s style of animation. However, as in the first film, the simplest effects are the best. Little moments of magic, such as Mary pulling a giant parasol out of a sink and disappearing into a bath, are even more impressive than the grand special effects sequences which follow. There are two big action scenes, which are a risk in a generally charming and old-fashioned film. In the Doulton Bowl sequence, Ananabel and Jon must rescue Georgie from a villainous wolf with a remarkable resemblance to Wilkins. The chase scene which follows is fairly weak, with Wolf Wilkins’s creepy facial expressions being the most notable thing about it. Conversely, the climax, which features Mary and Jack’s lamplighter friends invading Big Ben in order to literally turn back time, is genuinely creative and engaging. The new set pieces and effects lack the hand-crafted charm of the ones in the original, but they are still entertaining enough to feel genuinely timeless

The songs are written by composer-songwriter duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, best-known for creating the soundtrack to Hairspray.In addition to following in the footsteps of the first film, they have to compete with a growing number of recent musical hits, including Frozen, The Greatest Showman and A Star is Born. However, whilst these used contemporary musical styles to appeal to modern audiences, the soundtrack to Mary Poppins Returns is defiantly old-fashioned, consisting of ballads and jaunty uptempo numbers which would not be out of place in the musicals of the 1930s. The nine new songs written for Mary Poppins Returns all serve as direct substitutes for the numbers from the original, staying close to the Mary Poppins formula. To give a couple of examples, Jack’s signature song, “Underneath the Lovely London Sky” takes the place of “ Chim Chim In Nee”, (The theme tune of Dick Van Dyke’s lovable chimney sweep Bert) , whilst “Royal Doulton Music Hall” and “A Cover Is Not the Book” provide the same music-hall inspired entertainment as “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Elements of the original score make their way into the movie, and concluding song  “Nowhere to go but up” also contains lines alluding to a couple of the old favourites. As the original Mary Poppins contained one of the greatest Disney soundtracks of all time, the new songs are fighting a losing battle and generally fail to match the iconic status of the original tunes. For instance, whilst “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” contains intricate lyrics with plenty of rhyming slang, it lacks the call-and-response charm and energy which made “Step in Time” such an enjoyable song. However, they have plenty of merit on their own terms. “Can You Imagine That?” is probably the catchiest number, whilst “A Cover Is Not the Book” adds a surprising amount of sauciness to this incredibly wholesome world (perfect for a music hall pastiche). Overall, the strongest addition is easily “The Place Where Lost Things Go”. This simple but lovely ballad allows the Banks children to come to terms with the loss of their mother, and a later reprise is one of the emotional highlights of the film. None of the songs from Mary Poppins Returns will be a major chart hit like “Let It Go”, “This Is Me” or “Shallow”, but that was never their intention, and they provide decent entertainment for the duration of the movie.

The cast for Mary Poppins Returns is incredibly impressive, but their performances are a mixed bag. Ben Wishaw, rapidly becoming one of Britian’s national treasures, probably gives the best performance in the film, capturing Michael Banks’ struggle to adjust to his difficult circumstances and keeping him sympathetic even as his seemingly hopeless situation begins to make him angry and frustrated. Emily Blunt starts out strict and aloof, but it does not take long for her to bring out Mary’s playfulness, and she captures the unique appeal of this iconic character. Davies, Saleh and Dawson do a decent job bringing the Banks children to life, whilst Emily Mortimer is lively if underused as Jane Banks . Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda brings a lot of charm and likeability to his first major film role as Jack. His London accent is not very accurate, but he never forces it too much, so it is a lot better than Dick Van Dyke’s infamous “Cockney” accent from the original.  For those who enjoy terrible accents, you don’t have to look too far. In the role of Mary’s relative Topsy, (whose repair shop has a habit of turning upside down), Meryl Streep provides a ridiculously thick and wobbly “Eastern European” accent which plays to all the stereotypes associated with the region. She is not the only big-name star who wastes their talents in this movie. Colin Firth provides a villainous version of his signature posh persona, but Wilkins is an incredibly flat villain, a stereotypical greedy banker with little screentime and few unique traits. Julie Walters is barely given anything to do, which is a tremendous disappointment considering her talent and experience. However, there are still some memorable supporting characters. Veteran actor David Warner is having a lot of fun as Admiral Boom, whilst Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is likeable and amusing as Wilkins’s kind-hearted henchman Frye. Dick Van Dyke turns up at the end in a memorable cameo as the elderly bank owner Dawes (son of the decrepit Dawes Sr. from the first film, and uncle of Wilkins), with his scene providing a touching reminder that the childhood magic promoted by Mary Poppins can have some incredible long term effects. Meanwhile, Angela Lansbury plays a balloon lady whose magical balloons are at the heart of the closing scenes. Lansbury is as lively as ever, but it is impossible to dispute that her scenes would have a greater impact if Julie Andrews played the role as was originally intended.

Verdict


Like the iconic original, Mary Poppins Returns is hard to judge by conventional standards. Technically, it is probably superior to the first Mary Poppins - the story is tighter and more engaging and the characters are generally better developed. However, the sequel lacks a lot of the spontaneity and novelty which made the original so special, and there are too many flaws and deficiencies in the narrative to compensate for this. That said, Mary Poppins Returns is still a good film, with excellent messages, appealing characters and impressive special effects. Therefore, audiences should check it out, regardless of their familiarity with the original. Mary Poppins Returns will not become a genre-defining classic like the first Mary Poppins film, but it is one of the better films from Disney’s often inconsistent live-action division, and people will be able to enjoy it for decades to come.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

2019 Fairy Tales - A Preview


As 2019 starts, it is time to look forward to the events and stories which will define the coming year. Fairytale fans will have a lot of interesting things to look forward to across 2019, and this article will highlight 20 of these. The list includes books, films, TV series, video games and even streaming services. Some of the things listed here are big Disney blockbusters, whilst others are smaller, more unusual projects. However, all of these have the potential to inspire and entertain an incredibly large audience over the next 52 weeks and beyond...

(Note: In order to simplify things, this article focuses primarily on British and American releases. Despite this, there will be numerous great fairytale projects created and released all over the world this year. I look forward to discussing them in future articles.)


2019 Fairy Tales - A Preview



Kingdom Hearts III (Released Jan 25th)



Although Kingdom Hearts III is one of the first major videogame releases of 2019, it is almost certainly one of the most significant of the year. First started in 2002, the Kingdom Hearts series is an unusual collaboration between Disney and the Japanese video game icons Square Enix (best known for creating the Final Fantasy games). Unsurprisingly, it has become one of the biggest videogame franchises in the world. The story of Kingdom Hearts concerns a hero called Sora, who teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy on an epic quest which takes them into the worlds of numerous classic Disney films. Although this is listed as the second direct sequel in the Kingdom Hearts canon, it is actually the twelfth game in the series, due to the numerous spin offs, midquels and prequels which have been released over the years. Although the mythology has become incredibly convoluted, the core premise remains as appealing as ever - we have all wanted to visit the worlds of various Disney films and interact with our favourite characters. As the first direct sequel since 2006, Kingdom Hearts III is taking advantage of the developments which have occurred at Disney Animation over the last twelve years. The merger between Disney and Pixar has allowed characters from Toy Story and Monsters Inc to join the Kingdom Hearts universe, and the success of Tangled and Frozen means that our protagonists will get to visit Arrendelle and Corona and interact with the likes of Rapunzel and Queen Elsa. The graphics are more sophisticated, and there are more special powers to keep us at our controllers, but the appeal of Kingdom Hearts will always lie in the epic and unlimited adventures it offers for Disney fans. 



The Kid Who Would be King (Released Jan 25th in USA, February 15th in the UK)



Eight years after his well-received directorial debut Attack the Block (which introduced audiences to Jon Boyega and Jodie Whittaker) comedy screenwriter Joe Cornish will provide another story about youths in a dull London suburb getting caught up in an incredible fantasy adventure. Whilst Attack the Block was about an alien invasion, The Kid Who Would Be King applies Cornish's formula to Arthurian legend. Andy Serkis's son Louis Ashbourne Serkis plays a kid who discovers King Arthur's sword in a building site and becomes leader of the fight against the dark wizard Morgana. Cinematic takes on King Arthur have rarely been critical or commercial hits, but The Kid Who Would Be King seems like an entertaining update of the classic English hero. The familiar elements of King Arthur's story are present, but there are plenty of modern day touches (For instance, Merlin disguises himself as a gangly teenager) and a lot of humour based on the idea of ordinary schoolchildren following in the footsteps of classic fantasy heroes. Originally intended to be released last summer, The Kid Who Would be King has been moved to the end of January (rarely a good sign) but hopefully it will be worth the wait. 


Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Released March 5th)



Of all the YA books released in 2018, none reflected the zeitgeist of the year as well as Tomi Adeyemi's debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, which combined African folklore, classic YA tropes, and a strong message about fighting racism. Set in the fictitious African kingdom of Oshira, it told the story of the story of a girl called Zelie who has to team up with princess Amari to fight a tyrannical King and restore the magical powers which were stolen from her tribe. The hype surrounding the novel was immense (rights for a movie adaptation were brought before it was even published) but it resoundingly lived up to expectations, receiving widespread critical acclaim and consistently appearing on the New York Times Bestsellers list throughout 2018 . In the light of this success, it is no surprise to learn that a sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is being released in March. Picking up where the first story left off, it sees Zelie and Amari trying to avert a civil war when their enemies take advantage of the magic restored to Oshira. Children of Virtue and Vengeance is going to be the second in a trilogy, and it looks like it will provide further for development for Zelie, Amari and their world whilst laying the groundwork for an epic finale. 


American Gods - Season 2 (Starts March 10th)



It is a great time to be a Neil Gaiman fan, with radio adaptations of his work becoming a Christmas staple in the UK, and a TV adaptation of his fantasy epic Good Omens arriving in 2019. However, fans of mythology will be most interested in the second season of American Gods, the cult favourite cable series based on Gaiman's 2001 novel of the same name. The first season aired on the cable channel Starz in 2017,  fascinating critics and audiences with its depiction of the battle between classic mythological gods and the "New Gods" who embody the key aspects of modern technology and media. The two year wait for a second season has not been an easy one. Show runners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were controversially fired after the first season ended, and their replacement Jesse Alexander had his powers taken away, leaving the series without a proper show runner. Throughout this chaos, there were numerous rewrites and reshoots, and stars Gillian Anderson and Krstin Chentworth both dropped out. However, the second season is ready to air, promising to retain the psychedelic tone of the first season whilst moving closer to Gaiman's source material. Epic TV shows such as this are often plagued by "second season syndrome", as the struggle to follow up an impressive first season leads to an inferior second one. Hopefully, American Gods will avoid this and cement its reputation as one of the most interesting and unique American series of recent years. 


Sherwood (Released March 19th)



Like King Arthur, Robin Hood is another iconic English hero who has lost credibility due to numerous mediocre-to-bad adaptations of his story, including the critically panned Robin Hood, which was one of the biggest flops of 2018. For her new novel Sherwood, Meagan Spooner aims to freshen things up by shifting the focus to Robin's love interest Maid Marian. When Robin Hood dies whilst fighting in the Holy Land, Maid Marian is left alone and desperate in a miserable and impoverished Nottingham. With Robin's enemies, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne, being as wicked as ever, Marian takes matters into her own hands. She finds her husband's cloak and weapons, and replaces him as the saviour of the poor and downtrodden. With her growing line up of sci-fi and fantasy books (including the Beauty and the Beast- inspired Hunted), Meagan Spooner is becoming a rising star in the Young Adult genre, and Sherwood seems like it will be another hit with the teenage (and predominantly female) audiences who have made YA into such a profitable part of the literary industry. 



Hadestown arrives on Broadway (Previews begin 22nd March, Opening Night 17th April)






Beginning life as a concept album created by the singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, Hadestown has become a cult favourite amongst musical fans in recent years. It had a long journey to Broadway (including acclaimed productions at New York Theatre Workshop, Toronto's Citadel Theatre and London's National Theatre) which is finally culminating in its arrival at the prestigious Walter Kerr Theatre, which recently hosted the record-breaking Springsteen on Broadway. Hadestown updates the Greek myth of Orpheus for the modern era, with Eurydice forced to go to Hadestown in search of work, and Orpheus embarking on a doomed quest to get her back. The soundtrack is based on Depression-era folk and jazz music and the story deals with numerous social and environmental issues. We don't yet have confirmation that the National Theatre cast (with Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada as Orpheus and Eurydice, and Broadway icons Andre de Shields and Patrick Page as Hermes and Hades respectively) are going to return to reprise their roles on the Great White Way, but it is reasonable to assume that they will. However, regardless of whether they return or not, Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin will provide a powerful and dramatic take on an iconic ancient tragedy. Chavkin was behind the acclaimed but short-lived Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, but hopefully this project will enjoy a far longer run. Whilst the 2017-18 season was a pretty weak one for musicals, the 2018-19 season will be a lot more exciting and diverse, and Hadestown will be one of the primary favourites to succeed at the Tony Awards in June.


Dumbo (Released March 29th)



Tim Burton's 2010 remake/sequel of Alice in Wonderland was certainly not his best work, but it proved a phenomenal success, making over $1 billion worldwide and ensuring that remakes would become the cornerstone of Disney's live-action division. Almost a decade later, Burton is adaptation nother early Disney classic, Dumbo. Whilst Disney's live-action remakes are often criticised for being too close to the source material, Burton will make plenty of changes for Dumbo. After all, The original film was just 65 minutes long, and featured a lot of padding and dated material that is not suitable for 2018. This means that the Burton has to radically expand the story in order to turn it into a 2 hour blockbuster. The greatest change is shifting the focus from Dumbo to the human employees of the circus, with Colin Farrell playing a father who comes across the titular big-eared elephant and tries to help him learn how to fly. The supporting cast includes the likes of Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton, but the CGI elephant will remain the primary scene-stealer. Burton's reputation has been waning in recent years, but Dumbo should provide the blend of whimsy and darkness which has made him so successful.


The Princess and the Fangirl (Released April 2nd)



It is hard to do something truly unique with a story as familiar as Cinderella, but Ashley Poston managed this with her 2017 novel Geekerella. This updated the story popularised by Charles Perrault  to fit the world of modern fan culture, with the Grand Ball being a Sci-Fi convention and the Prince being a handsome young actor who is about to play the lead in the Sci-Fi blockbuster Starfield. This spring, Poston is returning to the Geekerella universe with The Princess and The Fangirl, centred on a side character from the original novel. The Princess and the Fangirl takes the ambitious actress Jessica Stone and makes her the protagonist in an adventure inspired by Mark Twain's classic The Prince and The Pauper. Jessica plays Princess Amara in the Starfield Franchaise, but wants to quit the role in order to find classier projects. However, rumours that Princess Amara will be killed off lead fangirl Imogen Lovelace (who looks remarkably like Jessica) to start an online campaign to save the character. When the script to the new Starfield movie is leaked, Imogen and Jessica have to switch places in order to find the person responsible. In addition to providing a feminist twist on the source material, The Princess and the Fangirl pays tribute to the legions of fans obsessed with iconic Sci-Fi brands such as Star Wars and Star Trek. The stars of these franchises have become the modern-day equivalent to royalty for many, and the studios where they are filmed have the same awe-inspiring power as royal castles. Like Geekerella, The Princess and the Fangirl will provide an entertaining exploration of fan culture, demonstrating what happens when a Fangirl fulfils her their fairytale dream and gets to meet the people whose output has played such a major role in their lives.


Missing Link (Released April 12th)



The Stop-motion studio Laika are one of the most exciting and innovative animation companies in America, and it is always great to see them release a new movie. This year, they are releasing Missing Link, a new take on the Bigfoot legend. The story concerns a giant half-ape, half-human creature (voiced by Zach Galifanakis) who teams up with two explorers (voiced by Hugh Jackman and Zoe Saldana) in order to travel to the mythical city of Shangri-La and find the rest of his species. Compared to the likes of Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link seems like a rather conventional 'road trip' comedy, but the characters and settings should be engaging enough to make the movie stand out. It goes without saying that the stop-motion animation will be the highlight of Missing Link, as Laika will provide a Jules Verne-style Victorian world even more ambitious than anything they have created before - Far Eastern mountains, atmospheric American forests and giant sailing ships are all being portrayed in a wonderfully detailed and colourful fashion. Hours of effort have gone into even the smallest details, as the studio have created new technology to allow characters to breathe authentically. In a year where most of the major animated movies (including The Lego Movie 2, Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2) will be sequels, Missing Link is the sort of creative stand-alone film that will really excite fans of the genre. 


Charming (Released in the UK in Spring 2019)



From the philandering princes of Into the Woods to the outright villainous Prince Hans from Frozen, handsome princes are rarely treated with anything other than contempt in modern revisionist fairytale films. However, Charming represents an interesting exception to the rule. It tells the story of a Prince who is affected with a curse which makes him irresistible to every woman he meets. This naturally comes with some increasingly unpleasant side effects, and Prince Phillipe has to team up with a jewel thief to undo the spell before all love in the world is lost forever. Charming has been awaiting a major release for a very long time (Wilmer Valderrama and Demi Lovato, who voice the protagonists, were a couple when they recorded their lines but have since split up), but it was finally released in various European territories last year, and fledgling studio Blue Finch Films have acquired the rights to release it in the UK.  Producer John H Williams helped bring Shrek to the big screen, but his 2007 animation Happily N'Ever After was critically panned, and there is a real chance that Charming could be a second consecutive fairytale-themed failure. That said, the premise is certainly interesting and any film with the legendary John Cleese as a fairy godmother will definitely be fun. At the very least, this will be a decent time waster for children during the holiday. 


Cinderella Liberator (Released May 7th)



As we become more conscious about the messages that we send to young girls, fairytale retellings are under pressure to set a positive example for them. One new book which will inspire numerous girls in 2019 is Cinderella Liberator, written by the prominent feminist commentator Rebecca Solnit. Needless to say, this Cinderella is not going to wait for a prince to return her missing shoe, but will instead be a tougher and more active character fighting for herself and those around her. However, Cinderella Liberator will still stay true to the core idea of a mistreated girl escaping her miserable and monotonous world. The book also honours its roots through its use of silhouettes created by the legendary fairy tale illustrator Arthur Rackham, and the contrast between classic illustrations and modern messages is certainly intriguing. It will be fascinating to see an academic like Solnit transfer to the world of children's literature, but it allows her to promote her ideas and beliefs in a unique and entertaining manner. 


Aladdin (Released May 24th)



Disney's live-action remakes have tended to be adapted from more serious and old fashioned films, but their take on Aladdin represents a different approach. Disney's 1992 hit, based on the classic Arabian Nights tale about a street urchin who discovers a powerful Genie and tries to win the heart of a Princess, took a more action-packed and comedic approach than the likes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, and the live-action remake will need to emulate this in order to stand out. The project has attracted considerable scepticism, but it looks like the most interesting of Disney's three live-action remakes this year. Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie will apply his brash, action-packed style to this family-friendly adventure musical, but needs to provide a more sensitive depiction of the fictitious Arabic kingdom of Agrabah, responding to criticism which the original film has received for its heavily stereotypical depiction of the widely misrepresented Middle East. The star of the show will undoubtedly be Will Smith, playing the legendary Genie and returning to the smooth, energetic and lively persona he has discarded in recent years. The rest of the cast consists of various rising stars with a Middle Eastern or Indian background, with Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. The classic songs from the original will return, but there will also be a couple of new ones from The Greatest Showman composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The additional songs created for Disney's live-action remakes tend not to upstage the originals, but if anyone can break this convention, it's the duo behind "This is Me" and "You Will Be Found". Aladdin will either be the best or the worst of Disney's live-action projects, and we are all waiting to see whether it exceeds expectations or lives down to the worst fears if Disney fans...


Wicked Fox (Released June 25th)



Due to its focus on fantasy and melodrama, the YA genre often draws on mythology and fairytales. A lot of YA stories are based on familiar Western fairytales, but Katharine Cho's Wicked Fox does something diferent, using Korean Folklore as its inspiration. Wicked Fox tells the story of Gu Mihoung, a seemingly ordinary women who lives in modern day Seoul with her mother. However, she is actually a Gumiho - a mythological nine-tailed fox who has to eat the souls of men in order to survive. Mihoung decides to use her deadly powers for good by becoming a vigilante and feeding on the criminals who have evaded justice. However, things get complicated when she befriends a young man and falls in love with him. Cho has been writing since the age of nine, but this is the first book of hers to actually be published. With an intriguing premise that combines several familiar elements in a creative and exciting way, Wicked Fox marks Cho out as a talent to watch. 





With the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime, streaming is becoming an increasingly prominent part of film and TV culture, so it is no surprise to find out that Disney will enter this lucrative market with their new service Disney +. First announced in August 2017, Disney + starts operating in the second half of 2019. Disney films used to be a Netflix staple, but they are all being moved to . Disney +, and all Disney movies released from now on will be released on this channel after their cinematic runs conclude. Once it is complete, Disney + will provide a major platform for a wide range of Disney films and TV series, including older classics, more recent blockbusters, and productions from Disney-owned brands such as Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. However, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, Disney + will also provide plenty of original films and TV shows created especially for the platform (There are rumours that these projects will include a live-action remake of The Sword In The Stone and a new version of Don Quixote.)  Netflix productions like Orange Is The New Black, Stranger Things and Roma have set an incredibly high bar for streaming services, but Disney definitely have the talent and resources to provide some big hits of their own. Aimed primarily at families and cheaper than most of its rivals, Disney + will definitely be another major money-spinner for Disney. 


Moulin Rogue arrives on Broadway (Previews Begin June 28th, Opening Night July 25th)



Baz Luhrman's 2001 film Moulin Rogue was a creative and unusual musical about a star-crossed romance in a fantasy version of 1890's Paris. For the first musical of the 2019-20 season, the Hirschfield Theatre will be hosting a new stage adaptation of this Oscar-nominated hit. The story and setting are mostly the same, but the Jukebox soundtrack of the original film (including "Your Song" and "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend") is being updated to include hits for the last 17 years such as "Rolling in the Deep" and "Royals". Les Miserables star Aaron Tveit plays the protagonist Christian (portrayed by Ewan McGregor in the film), whilst Karen Olivo will play his ill-fated love interest Satine. Director Alex Timbers has gained a reputation for being one of the most innovative directors on Broadway. The eye popping detailed and immersive sets were the highlight of the production at the Boston tryouts last year, and they will probably be upgraded for Broadway to be even more incredible. On paper, Lurhman's output should be perfect for Broadway, but his fast-paced and chaotic filming style is not easy to translate to the more static medium of the stage. Although an adaptation of Strictly Ballroom did not do very well on the West End this year, this version of Moulin Rogue looks set to prove that Luhrman's decadent approach can be successfully transferred to the stage. 


The Lion King (Released July 19th)



The last and biggest of Disney's live-action remakes is The Lion King. In the 25 years since the original was released, it has become one of Disney's signature films, and remaking it for 2019 is a pretty difficult challenge. Jon Favereau, whose 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book is probably the most acclaimed of Disney's live-action remakes, is transferring its motion capture approach to the Savannahs of Africa, sparking plenty of debate over whether a film without human characters can be considered live-action. The inhabitants of Pride Rock will be brought to life by "photorealistic" visuals and an all-star cast, with Donald Glover voicing Simba, and Chiwetel Ejofor voicing the diabolical Scar. However, the two biggest attractions will be Beyoncé, voicing Simba's love interest Nala, and James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the original film and is returning to reprise his role as the King of the Jungle. It will be incredibly difficult to improve on the near-perfect original, but this version of The Lion King should still be an impressive and entertaining summer spectacle on its own terms. 


The D23 2019 (August 23rd - 25th)



Since it was started in 2009, the Biennial D23 convention (established by Disney's Official fan club D23) allows Disney fans to head to California for three days of exciting activities themed around the output of the iconic studio. The attractions include cosplay competitions, concerts, film screenings and the opportunity to meet the people behind their favourite films. However, the undisputed highlight of any D23 convention is the opportunity to learn more about the Disney films which will arrive in cinemas over the next few years. With all three live-action remakes and Toy Story 4 already released by August, the focus of D23 will probably be Frozen 2. "Let It Go" was first performed at the 2013 D23 - will D23 audiences get to hear an equally impressive song? We can also expect news on forthcoming live-action and animated projects, including release dates, casting information and even exclusive footage. 


Mary Poppins arrives on the West End (Previews and Opening Night in Autumn 2019)




The recent sequel Mary Poppins Returns has probably not been as much of a hit as many anticipated, but it has undoubtedly succeeded in its primary role of revitalising interest in Disney's 1964 classic Mary Poppins. In order to capitalise on this, Disney Theatrical's 2004 adaptation of Mary Poppins will return to the West End in Autumn 2019. It will replace Aladdin at the Prince Edward theatre, opening shortly after that musical closes at the end of August. This is the first time that Disney have provided a major revival of one of their own musicals, and it will be interesting to see whether the new version can emulate or surpass the success of the original production, which ran for four years at the same theatre. The stage version of Mary Poppins, a collaboration between Disney Theatrical and British mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh, combines elements from the Disney film and the P.L Travers novels which inspired it. Zizi Strallen will play Mary Poppins (having previously played the iconic nanny in a well-received touring adaptation of the production in 2015 and 2016), whilst Charlie Stemp will be her chimney sweep sidekick Bert. The numerous classic songs from the original film, such as "A Spoonful of Sugar", "Feed the Birds" and "Step in Time" will return, as will popular songs from the original West End production such as "Practically Perfect" and "Anything Can Happen". The production also contains some incredible special effects (from bottomless bags to actors walking on the ceiling), but the most important aspect will undoubtedly be the timeless story of how Mary Poppins brings joy to the lives of the Banks family. This new West End production will keep a lot of the elements which made the original such a success whilst providing enough new material to justify the decision to give it such a high-profile revival. 

P.S - fans of Mary Poppins may also be interested in The Life I Lead, a new play which will be performed at North London's Park Theatre in March. It tells the story of David Tomlinson (the prolific British actor best known for playing Mr. Banks in the original Mary Poppins) and will reveal how Tomlinson's relationship with his father inspired his portrayal of the Banks family patriarch. TV comedian Miles Jupp will play Tomlinson in a production which will blend both drama and comedy to highlight his unique role in cinema history. The Life I Lead is not the first work to examine the role unreliable fathers played in the making of Mary Poppins, but seems like an intriguing counterpoint to the 'Disneyfied' approach of Saving Mr Banks. It is only going to be on for 12 nights (March 18th - March 30th), so you have to book quickly in order to see it...


Frozen 2 (Released 22nd November)



Out of all the fairytale related projects mentioned in this article, there are none which will attract as much scrutiny and hype as Frozen 2. It is almost six years since the original Frozen became an unexpected phenomenon, and it remains incredibly popular with audiences of all ages. Jennifer Lee, director and writer of the original film, is returning for Frozen 2, and this film represents her greatest test since she was appointed Disney's new Chief Creative Officer in June. Co-director Chris Buck and songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez will also be back, and Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel will be reprising their roles as royal sisters Anna and Elsa. The original Frozen is both one of the most loved and most hated films in the Disney canon, and the team will have to put in extra effort to keep the fans happy whilst winning over detractors. Information on Frozen 2 is pretty thin on the ground at the moment, but there will be new characters (two of whom are likely to be voiced by Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood) and around eight new songs. Lee has confirmed that the film will take Anna and Elsa far from their kingdom of Arendelle, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez has implied that some of the mythology added for the recent Broadway adaptation could make its way into the sequel. Following up a film as iconic as Frozen is an incredibly hard task, but of Frozen 2 builds on Anna and Elsa's relationship whilst providing them with a compelling new story and more catchy songs, it could equal or even surpass its predecessor. 


The 2019 Pantomimes (Opening November/December)



Given that the Christmas 2018 pantomimes are still on, it seems a bit too early to get excited about the ones which will open at the end of 2019. However, many theatres have already announced their 2019 pantomimes, as these are a highlight of the calendar for many major suburban and regional theatres. As usual, most of the major pantomime venues are adapting the small handful of classic fairy tales which define the traditional pantomime repertoire. The Lyric Hammersmith will be adapting Cinderella, whilst the Theatre Royal Stratford will be providing a version of Dick Whittington. We can expect the cast and crew to liven up these familiar tales with slapstick, topical humour and even a few smutty innuendos. 

In addition, some theatres have already announced the stars of their annual pantomimes. Craig Revel Horwood will play the Wicked Queen in Manchester's version of Snow White, whilst Shane Ritchie will play Robin Hood in Bristol, having played him in Milton Keynes over Christmas. We can expect more popular British celebrities, ranging from panto mainstays to genre newcomers, to be confirmed as headliners soon. There is still a lot more to learn about the pantomimes which will define Christmas 2019, but most of the information about them will be revealed by the end of April, so you won't have to wait too long to find out which pantomimes are worth booking a early ticket for...