Tag Archives: Walt Disney Studios

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Movie Review

Disney Studios continues to churn out remake after remake of their classic animated features and Beauty and the Beast is the latest of these remakes. But the live feature has a lot to live up to, especially since it is a remake of the classic Best Picture nominated film. Although the film is beautiful and well told, it doesn’t live up to the Best Picture status of the original film.

Release Date: March 17, 2017
Writer: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewen McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald

Based directly on the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast is the story of a prince (Dan Stevens), who is transformed into a beast because he was selfish and showed no mercy or love to an old beggar woman. The prince and his servants live in a forgotten castle under a curse. The prince/beast must learn love and be loved by Belle (Emma Watson). Belle lives in a nearby village as an outcast because of her beauty and intellect. She is shunned when trying to teach the local girls to read. It is her beauty, though, that has captured the attention of village hero, Gaston (Luke Evans) and his companion LaFou (Josh Gad). Gaston is looking for a bride to grow him and family of good-looking boys. If you’ve seen the original millions of times, you know the rest.

Let’s just say it. Beauty and the Beast captures the beauty and spirit of the original movie. All the songs from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are left intact. The story is relatively the same and what makes this version better than the original is that this film hits all the emotional moments perfectly. Director Bill Condon somehow manages to make you believe a beast and a beauty can fall in love. It is this one thing, that make Beauty and the Beast worth watching over and over and over again.

In theory, the live action version of an animated feature that was nominated for Best Picture, should be better than the original. Further, this new movie should be Best Picture worthy. As wonderful as the new Beauty and the Beast is, it will likely fail In its quest for Best Picture. Any failed attempt at greatness does not necessarily mean a movie is bad, but remaking he greatness of the animated classic is almost a fool’s errand.

Elaborate set pieces, enhanced CGI effects and filling in plots holes does not mean you are making a better film. It just means your adding more details and sometimes added details means you are adding noise. Let us discuss the differences.

Elaborate Details and Noise. Gone are the clean lines of animation. Here are the intricate designs of million dollar artists and production designers. This great visual noise. Although beautiful it pulls away from the action you should be focusing on. Lumiere and Cogsworth are a real candelabra and clock standing only 10 inches tall. Objects this small blend with a detailed background. During the Be Our Guest sequence, the simple lines of dancing plates and utensils is lost with realistic plates and utensils against an artistic walled background and set pieces.

New Songs. Beauty and the Beast utilizes all of the songs from the original and none from the Broadway musical. Several new songs are added to balance the film. Most are forgettable, but the Beast’s “Evermore” is Oscar-worthy.

That’s enough complaining. Although it really should serve as warning to any studio, who thinks they need to remake classics. Did this film need to be made? Not necessarily, but it was and its fantastic.


Jungle Book – Movie Review

In the 2016 Disney adaptation of Jungle Book, director Jon Favreau brings stunning beauty and realism to the 1967 classic.

Release Date: April 15, 2016
Writer: Justin Marks
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Jungle Book is more a remake of the classic animated feature rather than the writings of Rudyard Kipling. What a writer, like Justin Marks, does is take the animated feature and fill in the missing gaps of story logic and adds more meat to the story.

For example, in the animated feature Shir Khan is a villain from a far off place. He comes to the jungle to kill Mowgli. In this film, the jungle is experiencing an extreme drought and the only source of water is the peace rock. As long as the peace rock exists and the water is scare, no animal will kill another around the watering hole. Shir Khan (Idris Elba) uses this location to demonstrate his fierceness and threaten all the animal kingdom not to allow a human to live amongst them.

As the story of the Jungle Book unfolds, you can’t help but think, that make sense and so does that. Why do the wolves take in Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as their cub? Why are they so willing to defend him? How did Mowgli come to the jungle in the first place? It is clear that story and story logic are important to the overall story.

Where to movie falls short of perfection is the moment it becomes a musical. I loved the original songs from the Sherman Brothers, but half way through the film, no one sings and as viewers we’re immersed in the world and story of the Jungle Book. The first song, Bare Necessities, I can forgive. Baloo (Bill Murray) and Mowgli recreated the iconic lazy river journey and in a moment of peace, Baloo hums Bare Necessities. This is a nice homage to the original. But when Mowgli is face-to-face with King Louie (Christopher Walken), the encounter becomes an elaborate musical number. It literally takes you out of the movie and feels out of place. They should have kept the story dramatic.

The Jungle Book is also a visually-stunning movie. The sets feel real as if they leap off the animation cells of the original. There have been numerous talking animal movies in the past, and Jungle Book feels the most real. Animal mouth movements are real for that specific species as well as emotions from facial expressions.

The Jungle Book is also available in 3-D and I have talked a lot about how 3-D is a waste of money and should be avoided. The Jungle Book is that rare exception. Objects are crisp and clean. This is especially true for the ending credits. Individual scenes from the movie are presented as a pop-up book. Movies watched in 3-D should have added value, because you pay extra for it. Only in The Jungle Book does the 3-D truly immerse you in the landscape of the story.

The real star of the movie is Neel Sethi as Mowgli. The way a film is made should have nothing to do with how a movie is reviewed critically, but this kid is literally the entire movie. Sethi is perfect in the role and comes across as a real boy, who is a child of the Jungle. I can not think of many children who can pull off not only being in every scene of the film but also act entirely on a sound stage with green screen and also have to act with imaginary actors. Sethi was the solid choice of the film and he along made it work.

Cinderella – Movie Review

Cinderella is a faithful live-action remake of Disney’s classic animated feature from 1950. Director Kenneth Branagh manages to bring a real fairy tale to life on the big screen.

Release Date: March 13, 2015
Rated PG
Writer: Chris Weitz
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Lily James, Cate Blancett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard

The beauty of Branaugh’s final work is his hard work to take the original animated feature and give it texture. Story-wise writer Chris Weitz fills in the gaps that may have been questioned by fans. Visually filmmakers create a larger than life, a true “fairy tale” about a orphaned girl who must stay strong to her character and herself.

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to Ella and her mother and father. Although her father often travels, Ella’s mother instills in her heart her code of life, “Have courage and be kind.” Then her mother dies. This is where the story runs parallel to the animated classic as Ella’s father remarries, is placed in the custody of her step-mother and bullied by her step-sisters. The king of the land knows that he can not rule forever and forces his son to find a bride quickly.

After escaping into the forest, the prince stumbles upon Ella and is enamored. He poses as the son of a servant; Ella falls for the prince as well. Then we have a ball, fairy Godmother, alliances with another country, a conspiracy and a glass slipper.

Cinderella has everything going for it. A well-thought out story by writer Chris Weitz. A fairy tale with beautiful over-the-top backgrounds and costuming. The acting is top notch from newcomers Lilly James and Richard Madden and veterans Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. The story does tend to drag a little and there are moments you wish the action moves faster.

Kenneth Branagh manages to give much-needed texture to the original 2D animated feature. The additions and detail do not feel heavy- handed, and the final product is a real life fairy tale very much in the tradition of Disney. Cinderella will reach the levels of Disney classic as the original animated feature did.

Other thoughts: It appears that there is a mysterious disease roaming this land that causes people to die suddenly for no apparent reason, including Ella’s mother and the King.

McFarland USA – Movie Review

Every year, Walt Disney Studios presents a sport-related movie loaded with hope and inspiration. This year’s sports entry is McFarland U.S.A. and the sport is cross-country. The criteria of a Disney sports-related movies is it has to be loosely based on a true story. It must feature an underdog or a team of underdogs, who overcome personal obstacles to come out on top. We are then treated to a series of sports-related montages leading to a moment of unbearable schmaltz, which ends with victory or something real close to victory.

McFarland U.S.A. fits the mold of Disney sports movie. The film follows the last leg of football coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), who accepts a job at the last school in California willing to hire him. McFarland High School, located in the middle of Central California, is as stated in the film, the poorest city in the state. White moves into the city with this wife, Cheryl (Mario Bello) and two young daughters, Julie (Morgan Saylor) and Jamie (Elsie Fisher). Already he fears for their safety. It is clear that the White family are the fish out of water in the predominately Mexican-American community.

McFarland03Just as soon as White’s football career starts in McFarland, it quickly ends with White’s demotion to a life science and physical education teacher. The majority of his students are children of farm pickers. The pay of the parents is so low that most children are needed to work as pickers themselves in the mornings before school and on weekends. White soon discovers that this hard work and a carbo diet of rice and beans, not only makes the student good endurance runners, but instills a work ethic that makes them perfect for cross country.

The events of the movie take place in 1987, and the state of California has just made cross-country and state supported sport. The newly sanctioned program means that the California will subsidize cross-country expenses including coaches.

Now the story takes off. White has to recruit a team, get the team to trust him and turn them into winners. Recruiting means that White has to visit the families and understand their culture. Not just the Mexican culture, but the culture of the poor in Central California. This fulfills the cultural lesson we expect from Disney movies.

White’s team may come from the same town, but they have different stories. Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) is McFarland’s best runner. His father is always looking for work and rarely home. He does not believe anyone will leave McFarland. The Diaz brothers, Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez), David (Rafael Martinez) and Damacio (Michael Aguero) must quit the team in order to work on the farm and support their family. White tries in vain to win the parents over.

The movie pulls out all the stops to tug at your heart strings. Coach White’s goal is to get his family out of McFarland as soon as he can. In order to build a strong team, White has to understand the culture of McFarland. The White Family has to accept their surroundings and the people around them. The students have to work hard to realize their dreams including being the first of their family to receive a college education.

These themes are not that different from other sports-related movies and especially from Disney movies, in general. What makes McFarland worth watching is the acting and writing. Kevin Costner is at his best as the everyday guy with a little bit of authority. He is as believable as he gets in playing a normal person with dreams and struggles. At no point does his performance feel forced nor the emotional moments feel false. The story also manages to make real the schmaltzy moments like forgetting his daughter’s birthday and whether to take the job in the big city.

There are not a lot of surprises in McFarland USA. The ending where-are-they-now is inspiring and real at the same time. The real question is can Disney produce a sports movie next year that pushes the boundaries of storytelling and drama.