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New Escapist Video! “A Marvelous Escape” – Falcon and the Winter Soldier – “The Whole World is Watching” Discussion…

With a slew of Marvel Studios productions coming to Disney+ over the next six months, The Escapist has launched a weekly show discussing these series. I’ll be joining the wonderful Jack Packard and the fantastic KC Nwosu to break down WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki as they come out.

This week, we take a look at the fourth episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which I continue to really like, even with some caveats about possible “both-sides-ism.” It’s continues to be an interesting and clever reworking of certain flawed elements of both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War.

New Escapist Review! On the “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” as an 1980s Buddy Action Movie…

I published a new review at The Escapist this evening. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is premiering on Disney+ tomorrow, so I took a look at the first episode.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier obviously exists as a follow-up to the thrills of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, but the most canny shift is to swap the obvious influence of seventies paranoid thrillers on those earlier films for a more bombastic sort of action inspired by eighties action action movies. It’s a switch that works well enough, playing very much to the strengths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon offers a reminder of just how quietly and efficiently Disney have managed their animated properties.

For a while at the turn of the millennium, the company seemed to struggle to defines its place among younger and hungrier animation studios like Pixar or Dreamworks. The company responded with a push away from the princess-centric movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan that had anchored their renaissance-era output, pivoting sharply: first to animated movies aimed at boys like Atlantis and Treasure Planet, and then to computer-animated adventures like Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt.

Raya hope?

However, towards the end of the decade, the company arguably found its feet again, with a wave of somewhat traditionalist stories. The Princess and the Frog is often treated as the end of an era of hand-drawn animation, but it also marked a rejuvenation of the classic “princess” movie. It was followed by Tangled, Frozen, Moana and Frozen II, all of which were computer-animated takes on a familiar Disney archetype.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a reminder of just how sturdy that old “princess” movie template is, demonstrating the hard work that the company has put in to keep its oldest archetype both resonant and recognisable.

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New Escapist Column! On The Spell “Wicked” Cast On a Generation of Disney Princesses…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With news that Jon M. Chu will be directing Universal’s upcoming adaptation of Wicked, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the show’s impressive, if incomplete, legacy.

Although Wicked has not been directly adapted for the screen yet, it casts a long shadow. An entire generation of Disney feature films have taken their cues from Wicked, at least superficially – it is a vital part of the conversation around live action films like Oz the Great and Powerful and Maleficent, an obvious point of comparison for Frozen. However, it is interesting that despite the superficial similarities these projects all share with Wicked – a revisionist villain-centric take on a classic property – none of them have been as bold or as radical as Wicked.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Soul

Soul is ambitious and well-crafted.

If Onward had been positioned as the populist Pixar film this year, then Soul is a counterproint. It is a prestige piece for the company, something similar to Inside Out or Wall-E. After all, Soul is the latest project from Pete Docter. Docter has been part of the Pixar brain trust since its earliest days, even working on the stories for Toy Story and Toy Story 2. However, Docter’s most recent high-profile work has been his scripting and directing duties on Up and Inside Out, two Pixar films to have been nominated for Best Picture and to win Best Animated Feature.

The afterlife and all that jazz.

The premise of Soul is suitably abstract. Joe Gardner is a music teacher who always dreamed of being a successful stage musician. One day, a former student gets in contact with him, offering a gig with jazz legend Dorethea Williams. Joe manages to land the gig, and is convinced that his fortunes are about to change for good. Naturally, dramatic irony strikes, and Joe finds himself sent to the afterlife. Refusing to accept that his life is over, Joe commits to doing whatever it takes to get back to Earth and live his dream. “I’m not dying today,” he vows. “Not when my life just started.”

Soul deals with very big ideas in a remarkably clever way. The film creates a compelling and fascinating imaginary world that recalls both Riley’s internal life from Inside Out and even the afterlife depicted in Coco. Docter also uses the story as a meditation on weighty subject matter like death, dreams and disillusionment. It’s bold and striking, and the film largely works as a showcase for the company’s imagination. However, Soul does stumble slightly in its final act, pulling its punches ever so slightly as the film reaches its denouement.

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New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “An Ever-Escalating Series of Star Wars”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard and Elijah Beahm for the sixteenth episode. Obviously, the big news is the slate of announcements from Disney’s Investor Day, including plenty of Star Wars and Marvel announcements, more news about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and reports about Tom Cruise’s rant on the set of the new Mission: Impossible movie.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

New Escapist Column! On “The Mandalorian”, Continuity and Brand Synergy…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. There’s been a lot of Star Wars continuity dropped into the second season of The Mandalorian, with Boba Fett returning to the show following his apparent death in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and the live action introduction of characters like Bo Katan and Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars.

This is interesting, in large part because the first season of The Mandalorian was comfortable aiming for a broader sort of Star Wars nostalgia, things that looked like existing elements of continuity, rather than things that were existing elements of Star Wars continuity. The second season is much more heavy of Star Wars cross-promotion, populated with references designed to push viewers towards supplementary material. This is a nice illustration of transmedia storytelling in the streaming age, where it isn’t enough to attract fans, services have to retain them.

Streaming services hold on to existing subscribers by adding value, and Disney appear to have figured out that continuity offers its own added value. In its second season, The Mandalorian increasingly feels like an advertisement for the other riches that the streaming service has to offer, and a promise that any subscriber who doesn’t cancel once the season is over will have a treasure trove of archival material to binge at their leisure.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

“The past is the best present,” promised the trailer to The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special. That seems to be the special’s statement of intent.

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is the latest example of Disney’s efforts at brand consolidation within the Star Wars franchise, arriving just as the second season of The Mandalorian has begun folding characters from animated series like The Clone Wars and Rebels into live action continuity. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is not so much about bringing another marketed part of Star Wars history into the larger tapestry of the Star Wars franchise. Instead, it is effectively about replacing The Star Wars Holiday Special, the famously terrible special from 1978.

“Life Day comes around so fast…”

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special seems designed to effectively neutralise a lot of the stench of The Star Wars Holiday Special by repurposing the core concept and idea in a manner that is easier to package and distribute without potentially harming the overall brand. It largely works. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is a much better production than the earlier iteration. Crucially for Disney, it is also much less embarrassing. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is an iteration of that foundational Star Wars text that can stream on Disney+ without harming the brand.

That is perhaps the best thing that can be said about The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special. It is a perfectly serviceable piece of Star Wars content.

The hole issue with modern Star Wars.

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New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “Digging Deep on the Manda-lore of The Mandalorian”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the tenth episode. The big news this week was the return of The Mandalorian, but we also talk a little bit about Ben Wheatley signing on to direct The Meg 2 and Tomb Raider 2, along with Michael B. Jordan making his directorial debut with Creed III.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “We Finally Have An Excuse To Re-Watch Willow”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the ninth episode. It was a light enough week for film news, so we talked about Disney’s new content warnings on some its older and more dated classics, the announcement that there was a Willow television series coming, and discussed the latest version of The Witches.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.