Once upon a time, a lovely young woman named Jay flew first class. Yup, all those travels, and it was just the one time. I don’t even remember where we were going. What I do remember: 1. it was an early morning flight 2. the breakfast was good 3. I had a mimosa 4.The Lorax was playing 5. I almost immediately fell asleep and missed the whole thing. I think we got a pretty good deal on the upgrade but still, it was disappointing to have slept through all the luxury. Of course, it was probably only because of the luxury (read: space) that I could sleep. Still. I kicked myself. I kicked Sean too; he also slept, though it’s a less a rarity for him.
But all this time, I’ve wondered: is The Lorax boring, or did I just fall asleep because it was a 6am flight and I was incredibly tired?
The Lorax is based on a Dr. Seuss story in which a 12 year old boy, Ted (Zac Efron), decides to impress a girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift), by bringing her a tree. A real, live tree. Which no longer exist. They live in a place where the trees were replaced long ago by sculptures of plastic lit up by dozens of C batteries. Their whole town is utterly devoid of nature. They’ve been denuded. But Ted has a pretty big crush on this chick Audrey so he treks out to an isolated home where he meets the elderly Once-ler (Ed Helms), the one responsible for the world’s current problems. As a young man he was so determined to have his company succeed that he thought nothing of cutting down all the trees. He butted heads with the guardian of the forest, The Lorax (Danny DeVito), but he wouldn’t change his mind until it was too late. And the thing about too late is that it’s true to its name: too late.
Sean asked me how heavy-handed the environmentalism theme was, but I actually consider it to be more anti-capitalist than anything. The Onceler’s greed costs them everything. And yet this kid-friendly, animated family film is basically one long commercial, replete with product placement, basically neutering its message.
The animation is lovely. Illumination has done several Dr. Seuss adaptations at this point and they’re pretty adept at the translation. Their trees look like swirls of cotton candy. The town is fairly bursting with brilliant details. And yet once again this film has failed to truly grab me.
We recently visited Disney World”s new Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios, where imagineers ingeniously have used 14 acres to create the village of Black Spire Outpost, on the wild frontier planet of Batuu. Batuu was mentioned in the novel Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances and Black Spire Outpost was very briefly referred to in Solo: A Star Wars Story, so while this planet on the “Outer Rim of the Unknown Regions” has technically always existed in the canon, it wasn’t already familiar to fans, allowing for a whole new Star Wars experience.
We spent several days exploring Galaxy’s Edge and we happened to come home on the very day that Disney was unveiling its new streaming service, Disney+, which means we immediately watched The Mandalorian and it was like we hadn’t left at all. Its sets made me realize just how much attention to detail is present on Batuu, in Galaxy’s Edge. Imagineers worked closely with LucasFilm and it honestly feels so immersive and convincing it’s like we might have stepped out of any one of the films, or indeed this new show. The team cited Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for the original Star Wars trilogy as a basis for the architecture and aesthetic look of the land which does indeed feature 41m tall (135 foot) spires standing amongst the rockwork that are intended to be the petrified remains of massive trees of an ancient forest. Black Spire Outpost was once a thriving trading outpost which has more recently faded in importance, so it’s now the perfect kind of place for people to hide out, which means it’s crawling with smugglers, bounty hunters, and rogue adventurers – hang around long enough and I’m sure you’ll witness an arrest. The town is run by the First Order of course, with a heavy storm-trooper presence, but there are knots of Resistance as well, so think twice about who you talk to. The parked is signed primarily in Batuu’s fictional Aurebesh language and it stays true even when it comes to merchandising in Black Spire’s many shops and markets, which means you won’t find anything that’s branded Star Wars because “Star Wars’ doesn’t exist within Star Wars canon. But you will find a wooden storm trooper doll, or a card game native to the planet; a toy stall is run by an actual Toydarian. Even their Coke bottles don’t look the same.
The stuff going on in Black Spire Outpost while you’re there is said to be set between the most recent film, Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and the upcoming film and last in this trilogy, Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. You’ll find lots of familiar and impressive stuff – a TIE Echelon and THE Millennium Falcon chief among them. Using the Disney Play app on your phone, your ‘data pad’ remembers all of your Black Spire achievements and failures. If you do a less than stellar job on Smuggler’s Run (in which you fly the Millennium Falcon), it may cause problems for you when you visit the Cantina. Walking around the park will even sound like Star Wars thanks to John Williams’ score.
I can tell you all about it but really it needs to be seen, and to that end may I present Jay, Matt and Sean visit Galaxy’s Edge, frequent the Milk Stand for green and blue milk, find the Droid Depot to build a new R2 friend, ride Smuggler’s Run with increasing competence, hear the musical stylings of DJ 3-RX in Oga’s Cantina, and find out what a Ronto is:
And in this one, Sean builds a custom light saber in Savi’s Workshop and is visited by Master Yoda himself.
And please like and subscribe while you’re there – it helps us enormously!
As it happens, the morning after I happened to meet ‘Enchanted Christmas’ Belle at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, my 3 year old niece was watching the movie at home. I’d never seen it myself, somewhat miraculously because my sisters seemed to watch it religiously when we were small. It’s nice to see that they’re indoctrinating their offspring on straight-to-video sequels so young.
My other sister’s kids were not so well versed on Beauty and the Beast lore, perhaps because they are boys. When we were at Disney with them back in February, we had a dinner reservation at the very hard-to-get Be Our Guest restaurant inside the Beast’s castle. The boys were nonplussed until Hollywood Studios generously put on their Beauty and the Beast musical and sped them up on the essentials – though I do stress essentials. It’s a lovely little stage show but it’s quite stripped down. Belle’s father Maurice is completely written out, and the Beast’s transition is so hasty that it seemed to go unnoticed by our two boys. Little Jack, who was teetering between 4 and 5 years old at the time, worried about our upcoming dinner with the Beast. “Does he know we’re coming?” he asked, worriedly. “Will he be mad?” “No, no,” I assured him, “now that he’s married he’s very domesticated, very calm and inviting, just like your dad when he makes spaghetti.” Once there, the Beast is in fact very much the gentleman, and the kids realized there was nothing to fear.
Meeting Enchanted Belle helped me to complete my Belle trilogy – blue dress, yellow dress, holiday dress. If you want to shower me with special prizes, go ahead. I’ve also met the Beast of course, and Gaston, who made me feel very much an old lady by being a young lad himself. In my mind, Gaston has always been, well, a man. But standing beside him made me think that perhaps I’m now…in my Maurice years? Dear god.
[Why does Gaston look like he’s trying to punch me in the tit?]
[When Matt told Gaston it was nice to meet him, Gaston, true to nature, replied “I know.”]
Anyway, shall we talk about the movie, perhaps?
At the end of Beauty & The Beast, the Beast has turned back into Prince Adam and the teapot and candlestick and so forth have all taken human form once again as well. However, to re-live the glory days (according to Disney’s pocketbooks – likely the servants who spent years as household objects would say otherwise), this movie flashes back to the Christmas they all spent together still under the spell. So Belle was still technically a prisoner with an on-again, off-again case of Stockholm Syndrome, and the furniture/servants hadn’t celebrated the holidays in years because the Beast had “forbidden” it.
Sadly Gaston does not appear as the antagonist; the part of “villain” is played by – and this is going to be as hard to hear as it is for me to write – an organ. An organ who takes credit for writing ‘Deck the Halls.’
So…not quite as beloved as the first, shall we say? That seems diplomatic. And perhaps so terrible an understatement as to be blatantly unfactual. Factually speaking. But, um, it was an honour to meet her in person!
Giselle is a typical Disney princess who lives in a tree and has bird and chipmunk friends who sing with her and help her sew a wedding dress so she can marry her prince. But Disney movies always have an evil Queen – in this case, Narissa, who interrupts Giselle on her way to marry prince Edward and instead shoves her down a magical well which turns cartoon Giselle into live-action Amy Adams, and spits her out in Times Square.
Live-action Giselle is still fairly blessed – sure her tiara is stolen by a homeless man, but ultimately a gentlemanly lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), takes her in and gives her his couch despite her being a crazy woman in a poufy-sleeved wedding dress claiming to be a princess. And her magic hasn’t deserted her completely: when she leans out Robert’s apartment window to summon some animal friends to help her tidy up, they still respond. But it’s New York City, so the respondents are rats and pigeons. Oh, and cockroaches. Which are ostensibly worse than the dust, but Giselle seems not to notice as she prances about singing her happy songs.
Giselle proves to be quite a disruption to Robert’s life – especially when it comes to his intended (Idina Menzel) and his young daughter Morgan. Luckily her prince charming is so devoted that he throws himself down the same magical well in pursuit and goes through the same cartoon-to-human transformation (James Marsden). Queen Narissa sends her bumbling sidekick Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) down after him.
The film has some wonderful casting, other than Patrick Dempsey who could have been replaced by almost anyone and don’t I wish that he was. James Marsden is wonderfully game to play a toothsome prince. Idina Menzel, Broadway star and future voice of Frozen’s Elsa, is the only lead in the film NOT to sing. But this movie belongs to Amy Adams. I don’t think anyone else could play Giselle. She’s wide-eyed and naive and full of love bubbles, but it never looks ridiculous on her.
Enchanted is, if nothing else, a love letter to all things Disney. The film and the script are bursting with references to Disney films future, past and present. Sean has never seen this movie before (and in truth seems to be sending a larger than usual amount of work emails during it), and I’m trying my best not to shout them all out as I see them:
Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel herself, plays Robert’s secretary
Narissa tires to poison Giselle with an apple, just like in Snow White
Giselle and Robert eat at an Italian restaurant reminiscent of Lady & the Tramp
The apartment elevator looks like the Tower of Terror in Disney parks
Giselle takes off her heels and leaves one behind, like in Cinderella
The old man dancers in Central Park are chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins (not to mention Julie Andrews narrates the film)
We often hear pieces of classic Disney theme songs
Narissa turns into a dragon, like in Sleeping Beauty
Judy Kuhn, voice of Pocahontas, appears as a neighbour answering her door
I could go on and on – director Kevin Lima assures us there are “thousands” of little Easter eggs that an astute Disney fan might notice. That’s why this movie is the perfect way to celebrate our own trip to the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World. My own love letter involves eating a poison apple cupcake on Main Street and visiting Ariel at her grotto and letting Sean (making Sean?) nudge a meatball over my way, and wearing my own Mary Poppins dress. We have an ambitious schedule and 10 days to fit everything in, so do play along on Twitter (@AssholeMovies) to see what we’re up to right now – 10 points if I’m standing next to a castle.
I think this list will vary wildly depending on when you were born and what Disney movies were most precious to you as a kid – the ones that get you in childhood are destined to hold the greatest impact. Also, though Disney now owns both Marvel and Star Wars, both of which are of course replete with the baddest of the baddies, I’m sticking to Disney-Pixar here for simplicity’s sake.
10. Man/The Hunter, Bambi. I still remember being flooded with shame when we find out that our friend’s greatest enemy is humans. Humans! I myself was a tiny human, quaking with guilt by association. He is faceless, unnamed, unknown, and yet his presence is vile and antagonistic, instilling liquid fear into all the beating hearts in the forest. Their panic was contagious and though we see only his shadow, the score identifies him quite clearly as predator. And as if killing Bambi’s mother wasn’t enough, he also sets fire to their home, forcing all the animals to flee. It’s an awful legacy to inherit as a child and clearly I’m still not over it.
9. Lady Tremaine, Cinderella. I think the scariest thing as a kid is learning that your parents could die, and Disney liked to press the orphan button more than most. With her mother already dead, Cinderella’s kind but useless father remarries a bitter woman rather than take on being a single dad. Lady Tremaine, the archetype for wicked stepmothers, is the worst kind of villain: the kind who lives right in your house! When Cinderella’s father also dies, there’s nothing left to stop her from treating Cinderella like the help. Worse than the help, really, because she isn’t even paid. She’s abused and neglected in her own home, threatened continuously with homelessness. Lady Tremaine goes out of her way to make sure Cinderella knows she isn’t loved or cared for, and her stepsisters only reinforce these points, both by comparison, and by their own poor behaviour. As children we have very acute sense of justice, particularly when it comes to siblings, and to see Cinderella treated like a second class citizen is unnerving. But to understand that your mom and your dad could die, leaving you with a hateful old woman? That doesn’t bear contemplation.
8. Governor Ratcliffe, Pocahontas. Ratcliffe is based on a real historical figure, but he’s also just colonialism personified. He’s greedy, manipulative, and power-hungry, but worst of all, he’s crippled by xenophobia. He’s not going to just take the Indians’ gold, he’s going to take their land and their lives as well. And he feels entitled! They’re not even people to him, they’re just obstacles to his success and he has no moral qualms whatsoever about mowing them down to get what he wants. Like Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, what makes these men truly fightening is how much they believe themselves to be in the right. Their moral authority and superiority make them impossible to argue with, and their outlook allows them to reclassify people as sub-human when convenient, a truly terrifying concept, and not just for children.
7. Lotso, Toy Story 3. A big, pink, strawberry-scented teddy bear, Lots-o’-Huggin Bear is the surprising villain of Toy Story 3, running the Sunnyside Daycare like a prison – as one toy describes him to our pal Woody, “The guy may seem plush and huggable on the outside. But inside, he’s a monster.” There are two things that make Lotso a truly memorable villain as far as I’m concerned. First, that he starts off friendly and welcoming. A devil in disguise, he’s the most horrifying kind of bad guy, the kind on the news, the kind your mother warns you about, the ones you can’t spot with the naked eye. Most other Disney villains wear black and dark purple and blood red. They have sharp features and mean eyes and you know what’s what. So when his true self is revealed – a sadistic dictator fueled by rage – it’s a truly terrifying transformation. But what really sets him apart in my opinion is his back story. We know very little about the previous villains on this list – the dark spots in their hearts, their motivations, the root of their malevolence. But with Lotso, we know. We know he was once the beloved toy of a little girl named Daisy. And one day he was lost – through no fault or lack of affection on Daisy’s part, but Lotso took it hard. Still, devoted to his kid he somehow makes it back to her home where he finds that he’s been replaced by a brand new Lotso. Something inside of Lotso is broken in that moment, and his anger and bitterness breed evil. It’s brilliant story-telling, and you might even draw parallels with the new Joker movie, but at the end of the day, Lotso is a complex villain stuffed with nihilism.
6. Jafar, Aladdin. Jafar looks like a proper villain. He has a proper villain sidekick and proper villain goals and a delicious theatricality. He wants money and power. He’s willing to sacrifice a street urchin to get them. As the sultan’s “most loyal and trusted” vizier, his deviousness and duplicity are legendary. He too presents one face to the royal court while another is revealed in his underground lair. He’s manipulative, employing hypnotic powers to keep the sultan under his control. And while murder and greedily wanting world domination are of course very bad in and of themselves, I didn’t fully appreciate Jafar’s nefarious depths until I watched Aladdin as an adult and noticed the particularly troubling relationship with Jasmine. Who, let’s remember is a 15 year old girl. And whom he schemes to marry to gain status, and when that fails him, he literally has her in manacles, and treats her like a sex slave. It’s disturbing.
5. Captain Hook, Peter Pan. This is one case where the villain may outshine the hero in his own movie. Though a bloodthirsty pirate, Hook has abandoned the high seas to devote himself (and his ship) to being the scourge of Neverland and exacting revenge on Peter Pan. Peter may just be a boy, but he once cut off Hook’s hand and fed it to a crocodile. Fantastically, that crocodile haunts Hook, following him around with the awful threat of his tick-tock-tick-tock. I like to believe that the croc has simply got a taste for human flesh and wants more of where the hand came from. Sure he’s up for slaughtering children; he’ll even murder members of his own crew. But his temper leaves him vulnerable and his single-minded revenge is often his undoing. Plus that damn crocodile – that strange reptilian relationship alone is the source of almost comedic relief, a rarity for Disney’s villains. Thus, Hook is nearly a sympathetic figure, destined to be forever thwarted, forever chased by his own hand, haunted by the memory of his own amputation.
4. Cruella De Vil, 101 Dalmations. Cruella is an interesting villain because she doesn’t have any powers or magic lofty ambitions. She’s a spoiled heiress who simply insists on having everything she wants, even if it means stealing the last 15 puppies for a dalmatian coat she’s been dying to add to her already stuffed fur closet. She is reckless and impetuous and eventually driven into a mad, frothing fury due to her own relentless pursuit of said dogs. She’s an attention whore, rude to others, thoughtless when it comes to anyone else. She’s among the more stylish of the Disney villains, and considering we’ve got be-feathered Hook and heavily-accessorized Jafar on this list already, that’s saying something. She’s got signature half-black, half-white hair, green-coated eyelids, and red opera-length gloves. She’s almost always got a cigarette holder in one hand, leaving behind a trail of vile smoke. Her current coat (mink, I believe) is larger than life while her own frame is skeletal. She’s a lot of fun and became even more dynamic when played by Glenn Close in a live-action remake (and she will be again when Emma Stone reprises the role in a movie devoted to the villainess).
3. Gaston, Beauty and The Beast. Frankly, I’m surprised he’s not my #1. He’s boastful and vain – he’s the Kanye West of Disney villains. I admit this: I am a little bit (lotta bit) attracted to arrogance. The incel vibes are a total turn off though, and Gaston has that in spades. He’s an excellent gambler, an excellent shot, and roughly the size of a barge. So he’s baffled to be rejected for the first time in his life, by the town’s beauty, Belle. And once he’s set his sights on her, he can’t possibly settle for anyone whose affections are reciprocal. Now, when Gaston, who is already a huge jerk, finds out that the woman who spurned him is falling for a beast, that just blows his gasket and he is filled with a murderous rage, a rage so visceral he immediately forms a mob with actual pitchforks and storms a goddamned castle.
2. Scar, The Lion King. I’m not sure that Scar is my #2, but in a recent Twitter poll, he was almost universally voted #1. Markus volunteered “Scar is smart, conniving, and has an amazing voice. Gaston is just a douchey beefcake.” Wait – douchey beefcake – is THAT my type? Anyway, if you like Jafar’s penchant for theatrics, you’re gonna love Scar. Had he studied theatre and moved to NYC, his destiny would have been much different. But alas, he languished in the jungle with only hyenas for an audience, and they don’t applaud well on account of their paws. Scar is the Claudius to Mufasa’s King Hamlet, and if fratricide isn’t terrible enough for you, he pins it on an innocent little cub and then orders his murder too. And it’s not even like Scar was suffering – he had a cushy royal life. He could have been living it up like Prince Harry with all the perks and none of the responsibility. But no. Murder. BUT he does have a truly excellent musical number.
1. Ursula, The Little Mermaid. I have serious #UrsulaGoals. I want to be her when I grow up: commanding, stylish, large and in charge. Perhaps just a tad less soul-sucky. Ursula is actually based on a drag queen named Devine. Her shock of white hair, blood red lips, even a bold blue eye – this witch has been to Sephora and you know she’d kill it on Instagram if she could access it underwater. She’s conniving and manipulative, with a sadistic streak as thick as her lipgloss. Disney may not be ready to give us a thicc princess, but Ursula is unapologetically curvy, rocking a body-conscious, cleavage-baring, backless dress and vamping at every opportunity. I’m not an opportunistic cannibal (at least not yet), but otherwise, Ursula is pure inspiration from Disney’s dark side.
If you’ve been to Disney in Anaheim, Orlando, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, then you’re familiar with a staple of the parks, a ride called Jungle Cruise. The premise is that you’re at a 1930s British explorer’s lodge and you’re taken on a voyage on a tramp steamer down a river (which river? depends on the day – but let’s say it simulates the biggies from Asia, Africa and South America).
The boat is driven by a Disney cast member by a number of scenes involving animatronic jungle animals. The cast member keeps up a patter I can only describe as dad jokes, with apologies to dads. The jokes are cheesy as heck, and scripted of course, but the cast members usually manage to tell them in a way that makes it feel fairly fresh even though for them it’s canned and on a continuous loop all day long. Disney really expects a lot from their employees! There seems to be a fairly large pool of jokes, or the script is getting refreshed fairly often, because I bet if you took two tours back to back, you’d get two different experiences. Jungle Cruise isn’t exciting or eye-catching or new or thrilling, but it still feels like an essential ride, a classic. The last time I was there, I was with my 5 year old nephew Jack. After “driving” the boat near a waterfall and back, the cast member said something like “Show of hands – is anyone missing?” and little Jack, not usually one to volunteer, raised his little hand. So at least one joke went over his head, but he and his brother still enjoyed their ride, though unsurprisingly it was their DAD who laughed the most. Dad jokes!
The attraction has some exotic imported plants but to keep on budget, it’s also got local plants that you might not recognize: orange trees, for example, a Florida staple, are planted upside down, coaxing vines to grow from the exposed roots. The water is tinted a dark green to keep up the illusion – otherwise, the fact that it’s only about 5 feet deep, and the boat is on a track might give away some of the magic. A sister restaurant, The Skipper Canteen, keeps the story and theming going. You might dine in any of the restaurant’s 3 “curiously quirky” (Disney’s words) rooms: the crew’s colonial-era Mess hall; the Jungle Room, styled after the family parlor of Dr. Albert Falls himself; and the S.E.A. Room – a secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, with plenty of little easter eggs for you to find and enjoy. The menu boasts “exotic flavor” for “wild appetites” – you might start with a Lost & Found soup – Chef’s Seasonal Soup prepared with the freshest unclaimed cargo! Please ask you Skipper for today’s selection, followed by Sustainable Fish (“not Piranha”), and perhaps ending with some Quick Sand – jasmine rice pudding, mango sauce, lemon curd, hibiscus meringue, and pineapple.
I can promise you that Jungle Cruise will be a for-sure stop on our Disney adventure and if you check our Twitter feed (@AssholeMovies) you might find us there now. It’s a great time to go, not just because at this time of year it gets a holiday overlay becoming the “Jingle Cruise” but because Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt will soon be starring in a live-action movie based on the ride. And yes, if you watch the trailer, I do believe you’ll hear at least one dad joke from The Rock.
The pair seem to have become quite good chums on the set, and they’ve even visited Disney World together, with Johnson jumping aboard an actual Jungle Cruise ride, taking over skipper duties and delivering I’m sure a very memorable string of dad jokes to a boatful of surprised holiday-makers. What can I say: Disney is magic.