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139. The Lion King (#45)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall and Graham Day, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers’ The Lion King.

The Pridelands have enjoyed a period of sustained peace under the stewardship of the proud king Mustafa. However, Mustafa’s young son Simba finds himself embarking upon a journey of self-discovery and adventure as he learns just how fragile happiness can be and just how heavy responsibilities can weigh upon a king.

At time of recording, it was ranked 45th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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The Great Regression: “Little”, “Shazam!”, “Unicorn Store” and the New Cinema of Arrested Development…

It’s always fun to pick at trends in contemporary cinema, especially when so many movies with similar ideas arrive in such rapid succession.

Film production is a long and arduous process. This is part of what distinguishes it from television. Films spend years in development and then production, their releases carefully managed and synchronised. As a medium, mainstream cinema often lacks the urgency suggested by the churn of television. It is harder to immediately react to trends. This is why, for example, the feature film Slender Man arrived more than half-a-decade after the character had taken the internet by storm and arguably after culture’s attention had wandered in other directions. Similarly, the success of movies like Iron Man and The Avengers led other studios to pursue that model of film-making, but it’s telling that the DCEU lagged roughly half a decade behind with Man of Steel and Justice League.

This is why it is particularly interesting when movies tackling the same big ideas happen to be released around the same time; Deep Impact and Armageddon, The Prestige and The Illusionist, Capote and Infamous. These films arrive so quickly that they are unlikely to exist in response to one another. Instead, they suggest similar ideas developed in parallel, perhaps hinting at some deeper motivating factor that spurred these similar ideas into development. Recent weeks have seen the release of three relatively distinct films operating in three very different genres; Shazam! is a superhero story, Little is a broad nostalgic comedy, Unicorn Store is a quirky independent film. However, each of those three films gets at the same idea.

Shazam!, Little and Unicorn Store are all stories about the intersection of childhood and adulthood. Shazam!, Little and Unicorn Store all feature adults who become children, in a manner of speaking. Of course, Unicorn Store is rather less literal than the other two examples, with Kit content to simply recapture her childhood dreams rather than to physically transform herself into a child. While Shazam! might more accurately be described as the story of a child who becomes an adult, the story’s central thrust is that Billy Batson needs to lean to be comfortable being a child and that he cannot remain an adult superhero forever. (Indeed, the primary plot of Shazam! features an adult trying to reclaim “the power of Shazam”, with the film insisting that it belong to a child.)

Still, taken together, these films suggest an interesting trend within contemporary pop culture. They hint at the awkward relationship that exists between childhood and adulthood in modern society, and the difficult that many individuals face in navigating the boundaries between the two. In Little, a forty-year-old tech entrepreneur finds herself transformed into her teenage self so that she might live the childhood that she previously denied herself. In Shazam!, a superhero is able to transform into a child with the mere mention of the title word, able to retreat from the responsibilities of heroism into the comforts of a warm and loving family environment. In Unicorn Store, Kit still lives in her parents’ house and sleeps in her childhood bedroom, dreaming of owning a unicorn.

These films are rather strange, in large part because they run counter to so many of the beloved stories with which they might otherwise be compared. During the eighties and even into the new millennium, children dreamed of the freedom that being an adult might afford them. In recent years, many of those children grew into adults who longed for the relative safety and security of childhood.

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“It’s not over, it’s just not yours any more”: Thoughts on Fandom and Growing Old Gracefully…

It is not a new observation to suggest that modern audiences live in a world dominated by existing intellectual property.

It has been argued frequently and convincingly that the era of the movie star has surrendered itself to the era of the brand, where the biggest draw for audiences it not which actor is on screen but which universe is being developed. Cinemas are flooded with long-delayed sequels and spin-offs to beloved favourites, films often separated from their predecessors by decades; consider the gap between The Incredibles and Incredibles II or between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, even between xXx 2 and xXx 3 or between Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2.

It is easy to exaggerate the scope of these issues. After all, there have always been films based around established intellectual property, whether early films or television series or even novels. Gone with the Wind was a book before it was a film. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of The Seven Samurai. Philip Marlowe was continuously reimagined on film from Time to Kill in 1942 to The Big Sleep in 1978. Star Trek: The Motion Picture transitioned a failed television series into a big budget science-fiction film franchise. This is to say nothing of perennial favourites like the story of Robin Hood or Jesus Christ.

At the same time, the indie market is thriving. Although making any movie is a tremendous accomplishment, there has arguably never been a better time for people making movies. Companies like Netflix and Amazon are buying up as much “content” from film festivals as they can, and in doing so are making filmmakers and production companies whole. Companies like Annapurna are adopting a model that consciously puts creativity ahead of commercial concerns. Even technology has advanced to the point where it is possible to make films on a phone. Cinema is not endangered or under threat. It is vibrant.

Still, it feels like things are different in the modern era of blockbuster entertainment. For one thing, there are fewer big budget blockbusters based around wholly original ideas. In the past decade, only the work of Christopher Nolan stands out; Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk. There have obviously been other success stories, like J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield and Super 8 or like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but these are notable for being the exception rather than the rule. There is a sense that the mainstream is dominated by revivals of beloved properties, and not just in film. Hannibal, Star Trek: Discovery, Fargo, Watchmen.

One of the interesting tensions of this era has been in watching the way that fandoms react to these revivals, the manner in which they approach these new takes on established mythologies. By and large, it has not been especially flattering or engaging. There have been death threats, misogyny, cultural wars, heated arguments, simmering disagreements. Recent years have seen the growth of a strange cult of fannish entitlement within the cultural mainstream, perhaps reflecting the manner in which the mainstream has embraced fannish desire. There is something deeply frustrating and disheartening about this.

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Doctor Who: Last Christmas (Review)

There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.

Last Christmas is perhaps the most Moffat-esque Christmas Special of the Moffat era.

As such, it is an episode that will inevitably provoke a strong reaction, playing as it does to the writer’s strengths and interests in Doctor Who. As a show, Doctor Who has a long history of crashing genres into one another. One of the most endearing aspects of the show is the way that it can be a completely different show from week to week. One week, it is a western; the next, it is a horror film. One episode is a period adventure; another is a science-fiction comedy. Doctor Who is a show about a mad man in a box who crashes into random stories.

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Last Christmas is quite overt about this. When Shona wakes up towards the end of the episode, we are treated to a glimpse of her “to do” list for Christmas Day, which happens to feature a variety of clear influences on the episode. Strangely, she plans to open her Christmas Day binge with a double-bill of Alien and The Thing From Another World, before taking a breather and returning for Miracle on 34th Street – you really do need a bit of space before properly digesting the truly heavy stuff. (She’s also marathoning the Hugo-winning Game of Thrones.)

Last Christmas is a story that is incredibly (and almost cheekily) aware of its own fictionality. As with so much of Moffat’s Doctor Who, it is a story about stories. And dreams, which are really the same thing. “Time travel is always possible in dreams,” the Doctor observes, to borrow a quote from The Name of the Doctor. Dreams and stories.

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Evil is the New Black: Tim Burton to Reboot Sleeping Beauty to Give us ‘Maleficent’…

Looks like Tim Burton is getting quite comfortable at Disney – apparently he plans to follow his 3D spectacular Alice in Wonderland with a reboot of the classic Sleeping Beauty. Don’t worry (or do worry, depending on your opinion of the director), he’s not going to be offering a straight-forward adaptation – that would be much too straightforward. Instead, Burton is going to rework the story from the perspective of the evil queen: Maleficent. It seems that revisiting classic stories from the villain’s perspective is Hollywood’s new business plan, and – being honest – I’m equally worried and excited about it. Which, at the very least, means it is in someway daring.

Evil or misunderstood? It is going be a Burton film after all...

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