Tag Archives: family movies

The Lion King (1994)

Disney is releasing a whole slew of “live action” remakes of its most beloved classics, so Sean and I are taking a stroll through the Disney vault to revisit movies we haven’t seen since childhood. So far, the only one of these that I’ve genuinely enjoyed is Cinderella; the others – like Beauty & The Beast, Mary Poppins, and Dumbo – have missed the mark, and I downright disliked The Jungle Book. And unfortunately, I’ve tended to assume that I’ll feel the same about The Lion King, mostly because I don’t approve of calling this “live action” when it’s clearly also animated, just animated in a more realistic, CGI-style. But it’s still just computers. In real life, lions don’t sing and dance and cuddle up to warthogs in a strictly platonic, non-hungry way. BUT it does have an AMAZING voice cast that I admit intrigues me. More on that later.

The Lion King (1994) doesn’t need improving upon. It’s quite a lovely film. The animation holds up. The songs are part of our cultural lexicon. We all know the story: Simba is a young lion prince who will won day rule the pride lands when his father Mufasa passes. But Mufasa’s death is hastened by evil uncle Scar, who wants the seat of power for himself. Scar murders his brother and exiles his nephew. He giphyallows his pals the hyenas to share hunting grounds with the lion tribe, which totally fucks with the circle of life, and pretty soon they’re all starving. Meanwhile, Simba has grown up with a sweet gay couple, Timon and Pumbaa, who adopt him despite their initial misgivings about him being a meat eater and all. Their worry-free existence is pretty sweet until Simba’s past shows up to shame him into returning. And once he knows how bad things are, he can’t help but engage. He returns, but he’ll have to face his uncle Scar if he wants to take his rightful place as King.

As a kid I didn’t pick up on the Shakespearean undertones of this film because I was just a dumb, Sesame Street watching baby. It’s definitely Hamlet-adjacent. But as an adult, I have so many more experiences that are informing my viewing.

Like any good Canadian who often escapes the winter by going down south, I first saw The Lion King musical experience at an all-inclusive resort where they pirate 1Vzuthe heck out of anything they can and squeeze it until the lawsuits come. The first time I saw it, it was an excellent production (I think I was in Mexico). It made me want to see the real Broadway version, so when it came to my city, I saw it with my in-laws, and it was even better than I’d imagined. Then I saw several low-rent versions at less ambitious resorts – my favourite at a Cuban hotel where my friends got married and their young daughter was cast as the baby Simba.

Hakuna Matata (such a wonderful phrase!) was a full-on craze in the 90s. People cross-stitched it onto pillows. Nothing trendier than that! It means “no worries for the rest of your days” and was lampooned by Matt Stone and Trey Parker in The Book of Mormon. In that Broadway musical, which Sean and I were lucky enough to see with its original cast, Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells), the phrase they pick up is Hasa Diga Eebowai. It inspires its own musical number which is every bit as perky and upbeat as Hakuna Matata – only imagine the little Mormons’ consternation when they find out it means Fuck You, God. Oops.

Last month Sean and I took the niece and nephews to see Disney on Ice, and they  had quite the generous Lion King portion, no doubt to generate interest for a movie hitting theatres later this year. But the original film is also celebrating its 25th anniversary, and sure, you could figure that out with simple math, but we found it out at Disney World, where they’d outfitted Animal Kingdom with photo ops celebrating it. We also frolicked at the animation hotel, where an entire branch of the resort is dedicated to the film, its rooms are movie-inspired and the grounds are full of scenes from the movie. I turned to Sean and said: “Hey, remember when YOU played in an elephant graveyard?” and I kid you not, he responded “At the hotel?” Now, like most (all) men, Sean is an idiot. But he’s also the King of Stupid Questions. Now let me ask you, perfect stranger: how many times do you think Sean has played in an elephant graveyard? We’re CANADIAN. I think the fact that he’s done it once is remarkable. Why, then, the clarifying question, as if he’s done it so many times he’s not even sure to which one I’m referring. Hasa Diga Sean.

When Scar undertakes to kill his brother, he orchestrates the murder so that it looks like an accident. He plants Simba in a gorge and then sparks a wildebeest stampede. It’s a frantic, pulse-pounding scene that took 3 years and the invention of new software to animate the thing. Musafa of course saves his son, but Scar pushes him to his death. In the aftermath, little Simba finds his father’s body and curls up next to it, wrapping his father’s dead paws around him. It’s a very tender scene of course, but it reminds me of my nephew and something he once said. This kid loves his family and insists he’ll never marry and never move out – he simply can’t imagine a time when he won’t be vitally attached to his parents. He’s even insisted that when he dies, he wants to be buried in his father’s arms. These are soul-destroying words to his sensitive aunt’s heart. I wept over it then, and I wept over it again when Simba all but reenacts the scene.

So there’s no doubt, really, that Scar must be among Disney’s very worst villains. But there’s a secret (or not so secret) side to Scar that I never considered as a kid. The LGBTQ community has adopted him as a coded-gay character. Of course it’s problematic as hell because he’s a reprehensible guy, but when you were gay in the giphy (1)90s, you didn’t exactly have a lot of choice. Scar IS slightly effeminate, I suppose. And he’s camp. He’s snide. He slinks around. He has a goatee! He’s scrupulously correct and he’s British for christ’s sake. Is he a mean old Queen? Possibly. He’s definitely the bachelor uncle who, while inheriting his brother’s kingdom, has absolutely no interest in the pride’s lionesses. He spends his time with a singing parrot. So when people saw the trailer for the “live action” Lion King, fans of Scar were dismayed. In the cartoon he comes off as very vain and very feline, but in the trailer for the new one, he just looks emaciated. Anyway. I think we can do better than Scar for gay icons, but so far Disney really hasn’t. There’s a void there, and a gaunt, bedraggled Scar isn’t going to fill it.

Anyway. Jon Favreau’s The Lion King will hit theatres in July, with James Earl Jones providing continuity as the voice of Mufasa but Jeremy Irons has been replaced as Scar – and so has everyone else.

Simba: Donald Glover

Nala: Beyonce

Scar: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Pumbaa: Seth Rogen

Timon: Billy Eichner

Zazu: John Oliver

So it’s not The Lion King of your childhood. But might it still be good?

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Pokemon Detective Pikachu

After 17 hours of trailers, the movie started playing. I’d of course forgotten what I was here to see. Ah yes, Detective Whatever. It occurred to me suddenly that it was possible that total ignorance was not the best state in which to be watching this movie. Should I have take some crash course? Too late now. But there’s the naked truth: I don’t know what a Pokemon is or what it does or how it works or if it’s the name of the little guys or just the name of a show. I wasn’t even entirely sure that it was a show. I remembered a very popular app from a few years ago that had otherwise sane grown adults running around cities chasing after imaginary conquests, and that there’d been something back when I was a kid – cards, maybe? A show? Pogs? Definitely something. Which is why this movie is not called Detective Jay or Good Memory Jay or Jay Gives A Shit.

What I’ve surmised is: Pokemon are a kind of cute little…animal? With powers? And Pikachu is a type of Pokemon with a specific set of powers, including a lightning bolt tail. The human component of this movie is a young man called Tim (Justice Smith) who has MV5BMWVkMjIxOWUtYmQzMC00YTRkLWExNDUtNGEzOWY1Mjk0MTczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTgwMDI0MDA@._V1_just learned that his father is dead. His father lived in the big city where he worked as a detective. Tim was raised in a small town, by his grandma. He hadn’t seen his father in years. When he lets himself into his dead dad’s apartment he learns two things: 1. His father was working a very big case when he died – and he possibly died in its pursuit, and 2. His father had a partner, and that partner is not dead as previously believed, but alive, and also happens to be a Pokemon named Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that can be understood by Tim even though this is apparently unheard of. Oh and a third thing: his father never stopped loving him, guys!

But anyways. Pikachu has suffered amnesia and can’t really help solve the case, but he’s game to give it a go from scratch, which for some reason Tim is eager to do even though he’s an insurance adjuster, not a cop. It involves a purple gas that renders normally docile Pokemon into rabid attackers. Don’t ask me to make sense of this. The thing is, if you’re a Pokemon fan, or even just know the slightest thing about them, then this movie likely has more appeal to you than it does to me. But for me, this movie was really a buddy cop movie, just don’t ask me which one is the Ice Cube. But since I don’t know the pre-established rules of this universe, I don’t get the oddball pairing, I don’t get the humour, if in fact there is any. Ryan Reynolds lends quite a bit of charisma through his voice, but for some reason it keeps reminding me of Deadpool, which is probably the exact opposite of what this cute little pika pika persona is supposed to project. Although he is a hard-boiled cop. In a deerstalker cap. I don’t know, man.

But what I do know is this: the kids in the audience didn’t love it. And before the movie, I thought, dear sweet baby cheesus, we’re in for a ride. Because the pre-movie commercials were KILLING IT with this kid-packed audience. Telus had a commercial where a flamingo was dancing to She’s A Maniac, and I don’t think that Jerry Seinfeld in his entire career racked up half as many laughs as that flamingo did in a 30 second spot. There was a trailer for Abominable that was a laugh riot. So was Secret Life of Pets 2. This was a disturbingly easy audience to pander to. Sean missed a lot of this because he was patiently waiting in the drinks line to parch my ruinous thirst, and I felt the need to warn him when he got back of what was to come. But it never did. There must have been some laughs of course, and it’s possible my brain was so overheated trying to to unravel story lines I missed them. But there wasn’t much. It seemed in my screening that the kids were underwhelmed. I can’t say that I was expecting any kind of whelm myself. I’ve been perplexed and unanticipatory since I first saw the trailer. And I guess that’s what the movie delivered: slight confusion and utter forgettableness.

Aladdin (1992)

Of course I watched Aladdin when I was little. Disney’s renaissance era was such a great time to be kid: The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. Instant classics, all. I remember my aunt giving my little sister Jana a pair of Princess Jasmine pajamas – gauzy and midriff-bearing. They were an instant source of jealousy (we were four little girls, but Jana was the smallest and the blondest and the default cutest, and I suppose the rest of us felt that our chubby little bellies were not deemed worthy).

MV5BMTYwODYyMzY5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzg4MjY5NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1710,1000_AL_But I hadn’t watched Aladdin since I was young, on VHS, naturally. On DVD I’ve fallen in love all over again with the movie. Gosh it’s crisp, the animation looks beautiful. I find that I still know every word to every song (it probably helps that I have the soundtrack on vinyl).

It’s a sad story if you stop to think about it: Aladdin is a homeless youth who is so hungry he resorts to stealing even though the punishment is having your hand chopped off. Jasmine, the resident princess, has never been hungry a day in her life, but is far more eager to escape her life of confinement in the castle and the pressure to marry a prince before her next birthday (at which time she turns all of 16). The two meet in the market where they also get in some trouble. Jafar, the nefarious vizier to the sultan, tells Jasmine that Aladdin has been executed (to death!), but actually he’s going to use him to break into the Cave of Wonders and steal the magic lamp.

As you know, Aladdin does get his hands on the lamp, and imagine his surprise when out pops a big blue genie (voiced by Robin Williams). Genie turns Aladdin into a prince so he can court and marry Jasmine, but there’s a lesson in there about being your true self, and the lesson must be taught.

Anyway, Robin Williams recorded his part while on breaks from Hook and Toys. He’d call up Steven Spielberg, who was filming Schindler’s List at the time, and make him and the cast and crew have a much-needed laugh. So much of the movie was ad-libbed by Williams, it no longer qualified for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars. Not that anyone complained: animators literally added whole scenes just because Williams said something too brilliant not to use.

Robin Williams was reluctant to even do the movie. He wanted to try his hand at voicing an animated character but he balked at the whole Disney merchandising machine. Eventually he agreed to do the film for scale (!) on the condition that his voice not be used for merchandising, and that the Genie not take up more than 25% of space on posters, billboards, and trailers. The idiots at Disney did not abide his rules so Williams was actually mad at them for years. Michael Eisner even tried to apologize to him with a Picasso, but Williams turned it down. Only when Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired and replaced by Joe Roth did things thaw: Roth apologized publicly.

If Jasmine and Aladdin look familiar to you, you’re not wrong: Jasmine was modeledMV5BMTgzNDI3ODUyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg4MjY5NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1416,1000_AL_ after Jennifer Connelly, and Aladdin after Tom Cruise, which has to make you wonder – does Tom Cruise not have nipples either? I met Princess Jasmine recently. I was having dinner at Cinderella’s castle (at Disney World), and quite a few princesses drop by to say hello. She asked me if Sean was my diamond in the rough and I must have scrunched up my nose quite skeptically because she amended it to “Diamond in the scruff?” – in fact, Sean has a no-razors-on-vacation policy, so I let that one stand even though it wasn’t the rough I objected to.

Anyway, we gave this one a re-watch because Guy Ritchie is doing a live-action remake hitting theatres later this month (May 24). Although I was disappointed by both Mary Poppins Returns and Dumbo (both of which I’d hoped would be good but weren’t quite) already this year, I’m going to go ahead and reserve some moderately-sized hope for this one. They can’t all be bad, right?

 

Missing Link

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an investigator of myths and monsters but his charismatic exploits have failed to yield any actual proof. There’s a boy’s club of pompous explorers Frost would kill to be a part of, but they won’t have him. In fact, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) would kill to keep him out – and unfortunately, he means that a little more literally than does Frost. Frost feels like his best and last chance is to go to America to find the elusive Sasquatch, and Lord Piggot-Dunceby sends Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to make sure he doesn’t.

Frost does indeed meet the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), who turns out to be rather a MV5BNDFmMjlmNjEtN2RhNS00NWNhLWFjODgtN2IxYTY1NzExYWZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEwMTc2ODQ@._V1_pathetic figure. The last of his kind, “Mr. Link” is lonely, and hopes Frost will help him find long-lost cousins, Yeti said to live in the Himalayas. With the help of Frost’s friend Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who hikes the mother fucking Himalayas in heels, they have an adventure worthy of even the greatest explorer, facing adversity bigger than even Big Foot himself.

Laika’s last effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, is an absolutely incredible feat of animation and story-telling. It looks and feels like something truly special, almost magical. Missing Link, while quite charming, is no Kubo. Which is not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s sweet, actually, and its straight-forward plotting is kid-friendly and accessible. The animation is what we’ve come to expect from over-achieving Laika, and the voice work is first-rate. The film manages to be funny and heart-warming throughout. But it doesn’t have that edge, that sliver of darkness I’ve come to expect from Laika.

Missing Link is a nice movie, a genuinely nice movie, but it’s less sophisticated, less complex than Laika’s usual fare, so for me it fell short of the high bar set by Kubo.

Brave

Merida may be a princess, but she’s no lady. After reluctantly performing her royal duties, she’s happiest riding her horse and shooting her bow and arrow – not feminine pursuits, according to her mother, but Merida is a daddy’s girl, and he indulges her. But even the King can’t save her when it’s time for each of Scotland’s clans to send forth a suitor to compete for her hand in marriage. It strikes Merida as almost as barbaric as it does you and I, but Merida’s mother has some very convincing myths to back up the obligation, and anyway, nobody really has any choice – for crown, for country, for glory and all that.

Anyway, Merida’s father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is a big beast of a man, whoMV5BMTYxNzE3NzA5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQ4MTc3Nw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_ loves to tell the story of how he lost his leg fighting Mor’du the bear at a family picnic, protecting his wife and baby daughter. The Queen, Elinor (Emma Thompson) tolerates his boastful storytelling, and only rolls her eyes a little when Merida (Kelly Macdonald) embellishes right along. But Elinor knows that this betrothal stuff is serious business.

And Pixar knows that to Disney, this princess stuff is serious business. Still, they challenge the notion of what a princess should be, with Merida mucking out a horse’s stall herself, her fiery, unruly hair streaming behind her, big ideas broiling in that red head of hers. When it comes time to compete, Merida competes for her own hand in marriage, ripping the seams of her dress in order to win the day. Does her mother find this an ingenious solution? She does not. Still, Merida is Disney’s first princess without a love interest (but not its last – hello, Elsa!). Anyway, mother and teenage daughter fight, predictably, only Merida has something most teenage daughters luckily do not: access to a witch (Julie Walters). She conjures up a special potion which, when fed to her mother, will “change her fate.” And indeed it does. By turning her mother into a bear.

Pixar, as always, gets a lot right: Merida’s hair is gloriously animated (they had to invent new software to properly render it), the sun dappling is gorgeous, and there’s this moment of goofy pride on the mother bear’s face that just warms the haggis in my heart. If we must life in a world full of princesses, may they be more like Merida – brave enough to stand up for themselves, to stand on their own, to pursue their own ends.

This week Sean and I are at Disney World with my sister and her husband and her two sweetie pie boys, who are probably running through the parks like adorable hooligans, leaving us adults gasping for breath. If we have a spare moment, we might even meet Merida herself. Aside from appearing with other characters from the film in one of Disney’s many parades, she meets and greets wee lads and lassies inside Fairytale Garden, where you can also try your hand at archery, colour your own tapestry, or a picture of her horse, Angus.

b3f42e8969b8336c2c6fcc907310b529Brave came out before either, or in fact any, of my nephews was born, so I’m not sure if we’ll stop to get a picture with her – although the pair are armed with autograph books, so who knows. When a “cast member” of the Disney parks becomes a princess, one of her most important duties is practicing her distinct signature. Merida’s looks appropriately auld. There might be dozens of women who play Merida at Disney World, but they will all sign her name exactly this way. Disney is rather strict about its magic.

 

 

Disney’s Mythic Princesses, Pocahontas & Mulan

Pocahontas, the Disney movie, is about Pocahontas, the daughter of a Chief, who makes first contact with a bunch of colonists who have come to her homeland in search of gold. tenorWith a soft spot for John Smith, she confronts their xenophobic beliefs and basically brokers peace between the her people and his when she throws herself between John Smith’s brains and the big stick that’s about to bash them in. In the ensuing scuffle, John Smith winds up with a gun shot wound (ie, friendly fire) that can only be treated by going back to England. He asks her to go back with him, but she chooses to stay with her people. She paints with all the colours of the wind and she has a cute raccoon sidekick. Voices include Irene Bedard, Christian Bale, Mel Gibson, Billy Connolly.

Pocahontas is the first Disney princess to have a tattoo, and the first to have an interracial relationship (what a hipster!). She is one of two to be American-born. Do you know the other one?

In real life, Pocahontas was indeed the (10 year old) daughter of a chief when she met John Smith. She often went to the Jamestown settlement to play with the boys there. When they were in danger of starving, she’d bring food and provisions. John Smith, in a letter to Queen Anne, wrote that, having been taken prisoner, Pocahontas risked her own life to save his, laying her head on his own to prevent her father from executing him. This is probably a made-up story told by Smith to curry favour. He did get a gun powder wound that took him back to England, and Pocahontas believed him to be dead. She likely married a Kokoum, a man in her tribe, and bore a daughter. But then she was kidnapped by the whites, and held captive for several years, during which time she married John Rolfe. Rolfe was a pious widow (his wife and daughter shipwrecked on the ride over), who worried about marrying a heathen, so Pocahontas converted to christianity and took the name Rebecca. They had a son, Thomas. The Peace of Pocahontas, 8 years of trade and friendly commerce between her tribe and the colonists, followed. The London Company then brought Mr. and Mrs. Rolfe to England to show Pocahontas off as the “tamed savage” they’d converted. Which is how she discovered that John Smith was alive and well in England. And then she died, overseas, age 20 or 21. No happy ending.

As for Mulan, the Disney version has her prepping for a match maker and hating every minute of it. But then life takes a serious turn as the Huns, led by Shan Yu, invade China by breaching the Great Wall. The emperor conscripts one man from each family to join the army, but Mulan’s family has only her elderly father Fa Zhou, already crippled by giphy (1)previous war experience. Worried for him, she dons her father’s old armor and, disguised as a man, takes his place in the army. Her ancestors send a little dragon named Mushu to be her guardian and watch over her. She makes a surprisingly good soldier, but there’s just one little catch – she falls in love with her platoon leader, which makes for some awkward chemistry, and when her drag is revealed, he’s going to feel awfully betrayed. Voices include  include Pat Morita, Eddie Murphy, Donny Osmond, George Takei, Ming-Na Wen.

Mulan is not a princess in the movie or in the legend, but she is nonetheless deemed a “Disney Princess”, one of only 2 who wear pants (can you guess the second one?). She is also only the second to have both parents alive and present during the movie (can you name the first?).

Mulan probably never existed in real life, but she is the stuff of legends. In the Ballad of Mulan, Hua Mulan, circa 420, is said to be a legendary warrior who took her father’s place (and her brother’s, who is just a child) in the army by dressing as a man. Already skilled in martial arts , sword fighting, and archery, she fought for 12 years and earned high praise but refused all rewards and simply asked for a camel to carry her home, where she retired, shocking her comrades when she finally reveals her true identity. Whether or not she ever existed, it’s pretty impressive that we’ve recounted her story for 1600 years, and I guess that’s about as happy an ending as real life often gets.

 

 

Tiana of The Princess and The Frog is the second American-born Princess.

Jasmine of Aladdin is the first Princess to wear pants.

Aurora of Sleeping Beauty was the first Princess to have both parents living; Rapunzel from Tangled was the third, and Merida of Brave the fourth.

A Goofy Movie

I suppose I knew, in the unused corner of my brain where I store things like my first crush’s phone number and Milli Vanilli lyrics, that A Goofy Movie existed. But I didn’t know it, know it, ya know? And I don’t think I’d ever seen it – before now.

It came out in 1995, during Disney’s renaissance period. 1991: Beauty and the Beast. 1992: Aladdin. 1994: The Lion King. 1995: Pocahontas. AND A Goofy Movie. For some, maybe not many, but for some, A Goofy Movie belongs on that list, among those great movies. And that cult following is largely thanks to Millennials, literally the only people on the planet who could be nostalgic for 1995.

file_3a02a72dThe only reason I even remembered that A Goofy Movie was a thing was its (to me) strange inclusion in a line of clutch handbags at the Disney Store. They look like those white puffy VHS cassette covers that Disney was famous for. If you’re as old as I am, your movie collection always looked weird because those cases were so much bigger and bulkier than the cardboard husks the rest of the world’s movies came in. Anyway, VHS is obsolete but we’re keeping 1995 alive with tacky purses.

A Goofy Movie is a spin-off of the TV show Goof Troop, which I also know nothing about. But in it, Goofy is a single dad taking care of his son, Max. In the movie, Max is a teenager, and it’s SO embarrassing having a goofy dad. He finally makes a move on a girl on the last day of school, and it’s looking like a great summer – except Goofy’s got a father-son road trip planned that’s going to monopolize all his time. So he makes up a weird story about performing on stage with the hottest boy band in the Goofy universe, Powerline. At this juncture I should probably mention that this movie is also a musical, wherein a dog-boy named Max Goof (does that make his dad Goofy Goof?) breaks into the Broadway-level singing of straight-to-DVD-level songs while skateboarding around a town populated solely by dog-people. Which is weird, because Goofy is a close personal friend of Mickey, who is a mouse, and Donald, who is a duck. Do they all live in segregated cities and meet on neutral turf?

Anyway, this movie watches like an extended episode of a show you can’t wait to turn off. But I am fascinated by its fandom. They hosted a 20th anniversary event at Comic Con in 2015 and people attended. They wore Powerline tshirts. It’s a pocket of Disney that I’ve never encountered before, and it makes me wonder what else they’ve been hiding in plain sight.