What more really needs to be said? Zed and his friends effected a zombie revolution in the last film, achieving equality for their people. It seemed like things in the sister communities of Seabrook and Zombietown were on the up and up – but what is a sequel without a new and terrible conflict?
Turns out, Seabrook legend has “always” told of werewolves in the forest, but they’ve only chosen now to reveal themselves. Of course, Seabrook immediately forgets all the important lessons it learned last time and re-enacts the “monster laws,” the worst of which, in Zed’s (Milo Manheim) biased opinion, his inability to take cheerleader Addison (Meg Donnelly) to prom (to “prawn” actually, Seabrook students are the “Shrimps”). The situation, or Zed’s situation anyway, is only exacerbated when werewolf Wyatt (Pearce Joza) pays a little too much attention to his girl, trying to steal Addison away to their pack.
It’s very convenient to the plot how quickly humans abandon lessons of the past and yet it is also extremely and depressingly true to life. People are always afraid of what’s different, and they let fear blind them to the things that unite them. Even the zombies, themselves oppressed in the very recent past, are not sympathetic to their plight but eager to to leverage a new underclass to bolster their own status. It is a perfect allegory for the American class system, but surprising to find it in a Disney produced movie for tweens about prom and cheerleading.
Like the first one, production design on Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2 is A-M-A-Z-E-B-A-L-L-S. The sets and the costumes have incredible theming that really emphasize the story. I particularly enjoyed the glitter fog, or as they called it, colloidal silver – you know, for subduing werewolves. These are the touches that force me to like a movie that is pure bubblegum and lollipops.
The whole cast is back, including Trevor Tordjman, Kylee Russell, Carla Jeffery, and James Godfrey from the first film, and newcomers Chandler Kinney and Ariel Martin. They’re talented, they’re all talented, even Tordjman, who remains my one beef. He’s just a little too “on.” Everyone else is making a movie, and he’s playing to the back of the house of a children’s theatre, hammy and exaggerated.
I still say these are surprisingly tolerable movies, definitely a fun time for kids to watch with parents. The monsters make it Halloweeny but the singing and dancing and gelato carts make it harmless with a side of sweet messaging.
We’ve been depending on generation Z to save us, but if not them, generation Z(ed) seems up to the task. Armed with pompoms and dance battles, they’re a lot more prepared for change than we’ve been. Zombies 2024.
Seabrook is a perfectly planned community, where everyone is uniformly beautiful and bright. Fifty years ago, there was an accident involving lime soda at the local power plant, unleashing a green haze that turned people into zombies. Seabrook survivors erected a barrier to keep themselves save, and it has lived securely beside Zombietown ever since.
The ensuing 50 years have harkened 50 years of zombie improvements; they now wear a device on their wrists that emits a soothing electromagnetic pulse that keeps them from eating brains (it probably counts their steps as well). Zombies are are now like anyone else, though they are easily identified thanks to green hair and a pale pallor. Unfortunately, zombie phobia is rampant in the Stepford-like community of Seabrook, and the division is still pretty strict. Zombies wear uniforms, work the worst jobs, aren’t allowed to keep pets, etc, etc. Today, however, Zed (Milo Manheim), a teenage zombie, is super pumped because it’s the first day of school and for the first time, zombies are allowed to attend human school. He shouldn’t be surprised that the school is still very much segregated, with the zombies all relegated to the dank basement and not allowed to mix with human kids or join extra-curriculars. Luckily Zed’s got a zombie edge when it comes to football, and the Seabrook Shrimps are utterly awful without him. Can one zombie jock heal the hearts and prejudices of a xenophobic town? With a little help from his zombie friends and one brave, blonde cheerleader named Addison (Meg Donnelly), yes. Yes they can.
This little ditty is available on Disney+ and will make for some fun, family friendly viewing this Halloween.
Meanwhile, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I really liked this film myself. It’s corny and earnest as heck, but it’s also extremely well put together. I never saw High School Musical, but I imagine this is not unlike it, only half the kids are zombies.
Someone production-designed the heck out of this thing. That person is Mark Hofeling, and he deserves an awful lot of credit. The Seabrook side looks like a Taylor Swift music video and the Zombietown half looks like a Katy Perry video, and for the first time in my life, I mean that as a compliment. Costumes by Rita McGhee follow the aesthetic brilliantly (Sean even commented on the pastel football uniforms), so when they all break out into dance, the effect is rather pleasing. Oh did I mention it was also a musical? And the songs aren’t bad – not worse than a lot of what plays on the radio, anyway. The choreography’s decent too, more current and involved than I would have predicted from a Disney movie. The young cast (Manheim, Donnelly, Trevor Tordjman, Kylee Russell) are talented and charming and quite polished. And the script isn’t terrible either. Or, it’s terrible in a self-aware way, leaning extra hard on archetypes but making use of them and landing a few clever quips along the way.
Do I have a school girl crush on this movie or what? It’s really not meant for adults and I would never inflict this on anyone other than Sean. It’s a living, breathing cupcake of a movie and I guess I was in the mood for dessert.
A bunch of teenagers get sent to summer school and find they have something in common: they’re all second-born royals. Their older siblings are destined to inherit thrones while they are the spares, side-lined and over-looked. Not this time. This time, teacher James (Skylar Astin) tells them they’ve all been sent here under false premises; this isn’t summer school, it’s a training academy designed to awaken their super powers.
Super powers? You heard right. They’re just as surprised as anyone, but the story checks out: Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) has super senses, Tuma (Niles Fitch) can get anyone to obey him, Roxana (Olivia Deeble) can turn invisible, Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana) can command insects, and January (Isabella Blake-Thomas) can borrow anyone else’s super power by touching them.
This movie is not meant for adults but tween girls 8-12 should be in heaven. It basically borrows from the Netflix blueprint for princess-themed romantic movies that usually air around Christmas with a dash of Artemis Fowl with a light Hamlet twist. Rebellious teenagers, royal jewels, family secrets, cute boys, and what passes for rock and roll these days: what more could a girl possibly want?
It’s definitely wholesome enough for family viewing and while parents probably won’t enjoy it, it’s also not the worst thing to get stuck watching. There’s a training montage that rivals popular game show The Floor Is Lava, sparkling tiaras and the plump little pillows they sit on, some truly terrible CGI, a few surprisingly bottom-of-the-barrel super powers, royalty-free jamming, a dead dad, an extremely brief cameo from Prince Harry, a diverse cast of talented kids, and a dog named Charlie.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is deeply inoffensive and perfect for family viewing. Find it on Disney+.
The reason why this Mulan live-action movie is better than its Disney predecessors is that it unyokes itself from the animated film and doesn’t attempt a scene-by-scene remake. The story is similar, but is more faithful to the Ballad of Mulan myth, with fewer Disney-fications. While Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast were meant to appeal to the little girls who watched and loved the originals, now grown up and ready to be dazzled all over again, they inevitably disappointed because you can’t recapture that magic in a bottle. Mulan doesn’t try. It’s not made for the little girls we used to be, but for modern audiences used to stunning cinematography and well-choreographed action. The movie doesn’t seek to appease our inner princesses but to waken our inner warriors. Don’t compare this to the animated Mulan, compare it to Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde, Tomb Raider, Captain Marvel, Rogue One.
Mulan (Yifei Liu) is a spirited young woman whose childhood antics were somewhat indulged by her family but now that she’s of marrying age, she needs to dampen that fire in order to make an auspicious match and bring honour to her family. That is a woman’s place, a daughter’s place: honour through a good marriage and by being a quiet, elegant, composed, invisible wife. Her chi needs to be hidden away; it is meant for warriors, not women. But you know how this story goes. When the enemy Rouran threaten the Chinese empire, each family must send a man to fight, and since Mulan’s father has no sons, he himself is the only option, even though he’s disabled from the last war. To save him, Mulan steals away in the night, and poses as a man to take her family’s place in the Chinese army.
Niki Caro’s Mulan looks slick as hell. The colours are fantastic, the reds so vivid they’re nearly engorged, Mandy Walker’s cinematography bringing lush, diverse landscapes into sharp focus.
I love how grounded in history this movie felt; the animated film tread rather lightly on the reality of Mulan’s every day life, but here her mother reminds her (and us) of the dire consequences should her spunk be taken the wrong way, that such a woman would swiftly be labelled a witch and put to death.
At boot camp, sheltered Mulan is bunking among rough young soldiers. They do not sing their way through a snappy montage of training, they push their bodies to the limit trying to get battle-ready in time to save their country and their emperor. Friendships are made but they are also tested. This is not some summer camp – these young men know that their lives will soon be on the line, and they will need to count on each other in order to survive not to mention succeed.
The action sequences are stunning. Clearly Yifei Liu and company are the real deal, expertly trained and extremely convincing. Any movie that has the guts to bench Jet Li as the emperor and let others perform the martial arts had better bring the goods, and Mulan does. It’s not breaking new ground, but it’s well-executed and exciting to watch.
My one complaint is that the movie’s so intent on delivering incredible visuals and epic battle scenes, it devotes precious little time to developing its characters. We know that Mulan is fiesty and brave, but little else. We know even less of the others. Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) is a fierce leader and knows raw talent when he sees it but if he has any life or thoughts outside of war we aren’t privy. If Honghui (Yoson An) is surprised by the intimate nature of his friendship with the new, very handsome, very soft-featured soldier, he doesn’t show it, or shy away from it. He doesn’t mention it at all. And the other soldiers are just caricatures, filling up the ranks. But I think the real loss is in our villains, a duo didn’t inspire as much panic as their potential first teased. The one is just your run of the mill bad guy – his want and his greed are in opposition to China’s, and he’s pretty ruthless in his pursuit, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, in movies and in life. The other is by far the more interesting and I wish we could have known more of her, particularly because the final showdown between herself and Mulan is low-key amazing and I think understanding her a little better would only have strengthened that moment. Still, 1998’s Mulan had a villain, a Hun named Shan Yu, with eyes as black as his soul, who inspired not mere fear but terror, and we didn’t know anything about him. True, I was a child then, but I’ve rewatched it recently, and his menace is chilling, even without much context.
I enjoyed the 2020 Mulan. The cast was great. The film was incredibly shot and almost ridiculously beautiful. It evokes just enough of the first film through detail and musical cues. It was a treat, a rarity among Disney remakes, one that actually justifies its existence by incorporating the best of the first but improves upon it too, gives it a more mature and serious tone, one befitting a warrior, and that’s exactly what she is.
I didn’t know my Phineas from my Ferb until about 20 minutes ago. No, I’m exagerating. I still can’t tell them apart. I vaguely knew they existed but had assumed the teal bird was either Phineas or perhaps Ferb. He’s not. Turns out he’s called Perry the Platypus, so apparently he’s not even a bird. As far as Phineas and Ferb (two human children, step-brothers) know, Perry is just the family pet, but he’s actually been placed in the family as a secret agent, which is old news if you’re a fan of the show – nearly every episode’s b-plot involves Perry trying to foil mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz’s latest evil scheme. The main plot usually consists of Phineas and Ferb embarking on some grandiose project – like building a roller coaster in their backyard – which annoys the heck out of big sister Candace, and of which all evidence is improbably erased before she can alert their parents. This movie, it would seem, is when poor Candace finally gets her due, not to mention a starring role (although have no fear: Phineas, Ferb, and even Perry are all along for the ride).
If, like me, you’d never seen the show, worry not, because Candace basically sums up her fraught history with Phineas and Ferb in a cute opening musical number. Which brings me to the next point: Phineas and Ferb is somehow an animated musical comedy. That’s ambitious!
Anyway, poor Candace is usually portrayed as controlling and a tattletale, but I bet you’d feel kind of annoyed if you little brothers were always getting away with murder in the backyard. This is the film that finally reveals that she’s mostly been misunderstood. She’s not mean. She doesn’t hate them. She just feels excluded. So not only will Phineas and Ferb’s project today involve her, she’s actually its inspiration: Phineas and Ferb are going to rescue their sister from an alien abduction!
Yeah, I may have buried the lead. The stepbrothers witness her abduction and recruit Isabella, Baljeet and Buford to build a portal which fails to bring them to the planet where she’s been taken and instead redirects them to Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz’s lab, where he too was attempting to build a portal. So instead they board the evil doctor’s spaceship and head toward outer space, with Perry the Platypus secretly tagging along.
But Candace is not having the very bad day you might expect from the recent victim of an alien invasion. She’s bonding with her captor, who commiserates with her hardships (she also has 2 brothers, ugh), and who makes her feel special for carrying the rare element Remarkalonium.
Will the brothers find Candace before extraction takes place? And if they do – will she even want to leave? And will their parents finally catch them in the act?
The movie was surprisingly accessible to a first-time viewer, and was also surprisingly well-written. A stand-alone movie is planned for a theatrical release, but this movie, meant to have taken place before the series ended, was written specifically for Disney+ where it will find its fans the quickest. And that’s who this movie is really for, after all: the people who have loved and supported it since day one. The people, young and old alike, who miss seeing their favourite characters in new adventures. Fans of the show will be delighted with the film, which expands the Phineas and Ferb universe while working in all the things you loved about the original series.
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe features the voice work of Vincent Martella, Ashley Tisdale, Dan Povenmire, David Errigo Jr., Alyson Stoner, Maulik Pancholy, Bobby Gaylor, Ali Wong, Dee Bradley Baker, Wayne Brady, Olivia Olson, Thomas Middleditch, Diedrich Bader, Caroline Rhea, Tiffany Haddish, John O’Hurley, Weird Al Yankovic, and more besides, but my fingers are cramping. It’s a good mix of new and old, which is what you want in a nostalgia-driven sequel. And what better way to indulge your youthful whim than to spend a Saturday morning in pajamas, with a heaping bowl full of sugary cereal, and your subscription to Disney+.
At the big top mall and video arcade at exit 8, Mack (Bryan Cranston) is the ringleader of a tiny circus inside a shopping mall. Home to animals including elephant Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), poodle Snickers (Helen Mirren), baseball-playing chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), mangy mutt Bob (Danny DeVito), Murphy the firetruck-driving bunny (Ron Funches), a neurotic seal named and most impressively, the headlining silverback gorilla, the one and only Ivan (Sam Rockwell). But the truth is, both the mall and the circus within it have fallen upon hard times. The crowds aren’t filling the seats anymore, and the circus is barely making enough money to keep the animals fed.
Mack brings in a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) to reinvigorate the show, but even though she radiates cuteness, she’s not enoujgh to save the circus. That role, as ever, belongs to Ivan. But for the first time in his life, he’s wondering if maybe circus captivity isn’t the best or only option. He’s not concerned for himself so much as for baby Ruby, who deserves to be in the wild, a concept he can hardly recall or imagine.
This movie is based on the children’s novel by K.A. Applegate, which in turn is based on the true story of Ivan, a western lowland gorilla who spent 27 years living inside a mall enclosure in Tacoma, Washington, never setting foot outdoors. You don’t have to be good at math to figure how emotional this one’s going to be.
A live action/animation hybrid, this movie looks slick, and seamless enough not to detract from its sweet but simple story. The movie, directed by Thea Sharrock based on a script by Mike White (the very one who produced scripts as varied as Beatriz at Dinner and The Emoji Movie), isn’t quite sure where to take its darker themes but it draws some very sympathetic characters and a heartwarming tale about family and home. Cranston seems to be morphing into Ian McKellan before our very eyes, but it’s little Ariana Greenblatt who steals the show and all her scenes as Julia, the arty and intrepid zookeeper’s daughter who just wants her friends to be happy. The One and Only Ivan stole my heart and quite a few tears – a small price to pay for a solid, family friendly option new to Disney+.
You probably can’t even imagine a world in which Howard Ashman had never existed, and yet you probably don’t even know his name. He’s been dead nearly 30 years but you’re still singing his songs. Along with frequent collaborator Alan Menken, he wrote some of your favourite songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin – and those are just his Disney creds.
The night they won the Oscar for their work on The Little Mermaid, Howard whispered in Menken’s ear that they should sit down and talk once they were back in New York. He revealed that he’d been diagnosed with HIV a couple of years earlier, when they were deep into production on The Little Mermaid. His health was failing. He’d be dead just a year later. But he spent that year putting whatever energy and time he had left into making Beauty and the Beast into one of if not the most memorable and beloved Disney fairytales of all time. The studio flew Disney animators out to his home in upstate New York to suit his schedule but his illness was largely kept secret – many in the crew assumed they were dealing the diva temperament of someone with an Oscar-shaped hunk of gold on the mantle. They put up with it because he was a genius, because the team of Ashman & Menken were basically unbeatable.
In this documentary, lots of his close friends and colleagues reminisce about how easily story-telling came to him, especially in song form. Lyrics spilled out of him, getting the story to where it needed to be. We also see him in archival footage, at the Beauty & The Beast recording session, for an example, where an orchestra played along to Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach laying down the track to that most famous of songs. Meanwhile, a separate team of animators already hard at work on Aladdin were picking his brain. He died before Belle ever set foot in a theatre, let alone Jasmine, but producer Don Hahn visited him in hospital after a particularly glowing test screening. Menken was down to 80lbs, was blind, and could hardly speak. This the man whose voice first sang the songs that princesses would later make famous. He died 4 days later. When Beauty & The Beast hit theatres later that year, it was dedicated to “our dear friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” Posthumously he would earn another four Academy Award nominations and rack up another win, but his legacy is much more than mere accolades. He was the voice of a generation, and his contributions are so timeless that they are rediscovered by each subsequent generation.
Howard’s friend, colleague, and Beauty & the Beast producer Don Hahn directs this documentary to say thanks to a man who is gone but clearly not forgotten.
Lots of kids movies like to tell us to embrace our differences but none of them quite celebrate the nerds and weirdos like Magic Camp. Magic camp is pretty much where outcast kids assemble, do weird things, and leave even stranger. But they’re also following their passions and making friends and owning their strengths.
When Theo (Nathaniel McIntyre) receives an invitation to the prestigious institute of magic, he’s kind of surprised. He used to practice magic in order to bond with this father, but since his father’s passing he’s sort of let it go. But since he didn’t apply himself, he’s pretty sure it was a last gift from his father, and he vows to make him proud.
The great thing about magic camp is that each cabin has an actual famous/working magician (and former camper) as their leader. Campers in the diamond cabin are super excited that Darkwood (Gillian Jacobs) has left her Vegas show to teach them, but the hearts cabin are a little less satisfied since David Blaine seems to have backed out last minute, leaving them with Vegas cabbie Andy (Adam Devine). Andy and Darkwood are former lovers and a former professional duo, but ever since she left him to go solo, things have been tense. Magic camp stokes a rivalry between cabins, asking them to compete for the coveted magic top hat, but between Andy and Darkwood there’s a natural animosity that breeds an intense conflict. Everyone wants to win.
I went into this kind of dreading it. You might remember my extreme dislike of Adam Devine, who smiles like the Joker but has dead serial killer eyes. His schtick is to be smug and obnoxious, so it’s hard to imagine anyone really liking him. I’m sort of also not throwing Gillian Jacobs any parades, but I’ll reserve my biggest gripe for Jeffrey Tambor who plays magician mentor and camp owner Preston. This was unfortunate casting that I assume was done well before the world found out he’s a steaming pile of shit. So I’m going to attempt to put all my casting resentments into a nice piece of tupperware, store it in the fridge, and judge this movie on the leftovers.
And you know what? It’s not bad. I mean, it’s not meant for adults. It is newly available to stream on Disney+ and apart from the famous if awful big names in the cast, it feels like it could be an offering from Disney channel. But the opening credit sequence is kind of impressive, although it sets up a better movie that you’ll wish they delivered on. The kids are great, though – they’re exactly the careful mix of ethnicities that you know isn’t really genuine, but we’ll let it go. Young audience members will no doubt like the magical flair as the kids go through an easy to predict sequence of events – you know, succeeding as a team, learning to believe in themselves, all that usual garbage. But with flavourful side dishes like card tricks, illusions, rabbits galore, and plenty of flashy stage costumes. Its plot will be blatantly transparent to anyone over 12, but it follows a tried and true formula that younger kids eat right up. And with a wholesome message to boot, it makes for an easy piece of family viewing.
The Lion King live action remake got one thing right: it remembered that it is primarily an African story. To be fair, it was likely the Broadway show that did this for them, but Jon Favreau had the presence of mind to follow their lead and cast actual black actors in the important speaking parts. The Disney cartoon from 1994 wasn’t motivated by authenticity and we as a culture failed to keep them honest. So when Favreau chose only one returning voice actor to serve as a link between the two films, James Earl Jones was both the obvious and the best choice. His is the voice of wisdom that runs throughout both films, but the 2019 version backs that shit up with a stellar cast that is as talented as they are representative: Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Chance the Rapper, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Eric André. But none were chosen more carefully or more brilliantly than our Simba and Nala, Donald Glover and Beyoncé; they aren’t just black actors but recent symbols of owning one’s blackness. If the The Lion King remake justifies itself at all, it’s by putting those two front and centre, sending a powerful message of just who should be King and Queen.
Black Is King is a visual album from genius multi-hyphenate Beyoncé. It reimagines the lessons of The Lion King for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns. It is a love letter to her African roots while celebrating Black families.
Beyoncé is the undisputed Queen of Pop. Her ascension must have come with a lot of racism, overt and covert, attached – she would have been accused of exploiting her culture while also being asked to suppress it – problems the likes of Pink and Madonna and Lady Gaga never considered let alone experienced. This system seems to have caused or at least contributed to the internalized hatred of his race in her counterpart, King of Pop, Michael Jackson. And yet Beyoncé has not just transcended the challenges to her skin tone and hair texture, she has come out on the other side a powerful and vocal advocate for anti-racism. For many of us, the change in her was undeniable at the 2016 Super Bowl, a performance dubbed “unapologetically black,” incorporating dancers in Black Panther berets performing black power salutes, arranging themselves into the letter “X” for Malcolm, a homemade sign demanding “Justice for Mario Woods”, and Beyoncé’s own costume, said to be a tribute to Michael Jackson. The performance reflected the modern civil rights movement Black Lives Matter and handed us her rallying cry in the song Formation, which references slogans such as “Stop shooting us”, riot police, the shamefully neglectful official response to Hurricane Katrina which demonstrated that poor, predominantly black lives were clearly deemed not to matter. “I like my baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils, ” she sang, offering an education in the Black American experience.
Beyoncé has always been a proud African-American woman and artist. She pursued movie roles in Dream Girls and Cadillac Records. Her wondrously thick thighs became politicized in her Crazy In Love video. There were criticisms with racial undertones when she headlined Glastonbury in 2011. She sang At Last to the Obamas for their inauguration dance. She and fellow Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland started a charity to help Katrina survivors. Husband Jay-Z has been critical of the injustice of the profitable bail bond industry, with over 400,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime incarcerated simply because they can’t afford bail, often set at less than 5K. Beyoncé didn’t suddenly discover her blackness in 2016. Whether the political climate pushed her over the edge, or becoming a mother to her own Black daughter did it, or she realized that her success and popularity gave her immunity, Beyoncé started using her voice and her platform quite blatantly, and quite brilliantly. There are few people in the world with her kind of power, and she’s been able to snatch back the Black narrative from the fringes and help spotlight it centre stage. But it was also a risk to have her name synonymously linked with black rights, but as she states rather directly in this film, “Let black be synonymous with glory.” If 2016’s Super Bowl half time show was her coming out party, her 2018 Coachella performance cemented her mythic, iconic status. As the first black woman to headline the festival, her show was explicitly black, triumphantly black. Look no further than her documentary Homecoming to see how deliberately, lovingly, boldly she created every element in her show to be marinated in cultural meaning. She didn’t just pay homage to those who came before her, she used her two hour set to unpack a lesson in black music history. She literally used her platform to honour and recognize black art; the performance was a revelation to the predominantly privileged white audience of Coachella, but it created a real moment in time that reached into the hearts and souls of those who could fully appreciated it. Having already achieved pop royalty status, Beyonce is free to make the strong personal and political statements that have defined her career ever since. Her success is no longer measured by mere radio plays; freed from having to abide by what makes her white audience comfortable, she and Jay-Z are reigning from a throne of their own making. She no longer has to shrink or contain her blackness and it’s clearly been a boon to her creativity and craft. Black Is King follows in the footsteps of Lemonade, defiantly blazing her own path, and returning to the African desert that clearly still calls her name.
This visual album is of course an occular and audible delight. It jumps off from The Lion King, swapping lions for Black men and women. It highlights the extremely varied beauty of the African landscape, and of its people. There are set pieces in here where you can readily imagine the ka-ching of literally millions of dollars spent per second of film.
The Gift, Beyoncé’s Lion King-inspired album, takes us beyond Disney’s version of Hollywood’s Africa. Her original contribution to the film’s soundtrack, Spirit, is a gospel-charged anthem, but she didn’t stop there. She found up-and-coming African artists, songwriters, and producers to join her on the album, creating an international vibe with a strong and undeniable heartbeat.
The accompanying film is stuffed with imagery, implication, poetry and practice that feels like such an intimate declaration of love and admiration that I watched on the verge of a constant blush. Even Kelly Rowland felt it, being the recipient of Beyoncé’s sincere serenade, breaking the beaming eye contact with an overwhelmed giggle.
The visual album exists to toast beauty, observe beauty, create beauty, memorialize it. But a visual album from Beyoncé is to define and redefine it, to find beauty in new or forgotten spaces it, to celebrate a spectrum of beauty, to infuse it with ideas of culture and identity, to own it, to actually physically own it. And for that reason, I almost wish I could watch it at half speed. There are so many lavish tableaus set with precision and abundance but only glimpsed for a second or two; I want so badly to just live in that moment, to possess and savour it a minute longer.
And like a true Queen, she steps aside and allows herself to be upstaged by African collaborators, like Busiswa from South Africa, Salatiel from Cameroon and Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi from Nigeria. This album is a show of solidarity, an act of unity. She places herself among them, among the ancient beats and contemporary sound.
A thousand words in, dare I only broach the subject of fashion now? The sheer quantity of couture from Queen B is nearly numbing, except each look is so bold and unique you do your best to keep up to the dazzling, nonstop parade: Valentino, Burberry, Thierry Mugler, Erdem. But also a barage of Black designers from around the world, curated diligently and I’d guess rather exhaustively by Beyonce’s longtime stylist, Zerina Akers: D.Bleu.Dazzled, Loza Maléombho, Lace by Tanaya, Déviant La Vie, Jerome Lamaar, Duckie Confetti, Melissa Simon-Hartman, Adama Amanda Ndiaye…you get the picture. It’s MAJOR, every one of them re-imagining a wardrobe fit for an African Queen, their number so plentiful that no one garment or gown overpowers the beauty of their canvas: brown skin.
Beyoncé surrounds herself with Black beauties, including Naomi Campbell, Adut Akech, and Lupita Nyong’o, but also her own mother, Tina Knowles Lawson, and daughter Blue Ivy. Her family is often presented as a symbol of her strength, young twins Rumi and Sir making appearances as well, equating “kingship” with engaged fatherhood.
There is so much to unpack in this film, from the frenzied and joyous dancing of black bodies, to their posing as sculpture on pedestals, to the recreation of moments from her own storied career, there is more here than I can enumerate let alone appreciate. Like the star herself, Beyoncé’s concept of blackness is a hybrid of her ancestral lands and the country of her birth. It’s an amalgamation of black art and black history and a vision of black power, of ethnic and cultural splendor. And what a time to have dropped it, in a world where white people are just now opening their eyes to the racial injustice and inequality that has yoked people of colour for centuries, where black bodies are being discriminated against at best, black minds suppressed, black art appropriated, black experiences denied. And here is a woman who could easily coast on her laurels but instead is serving her people by framing the Black experience not only in a positive light, but a powerful and empowering one. Black Is King is not a cure for racism, not even a vaccine, but it may just be the booster shot of pride we all need right now.