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251. Up (#123)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week with special guests Deirdre Molumby and Brian Lloyd, 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, marking the passing of Ed Asner, Pete Docter’s Up.

Carl Fredricksen is a widower who finds himself facing the end of a modest life in the small house that he once shared with the love of his life. When it looks like what little remains of that life migth be disturbed and destroyed, Carl decides to embark on the one last adventure that he never got to take with his beloved life: a trip to mysterious “Paradise Falls”, without leaving his home.

At time of recording, it was ranked 123rd on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Video! “Luca – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Luca, which is released on Disney+ this weekend.

New Escapist Video! “Loki – Predicting the Direction of the Series”…

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

This week, with Loki launching next Wednesday, I join KC Nwosu and Amy Campbell to talk about our expectations and our predictions for the last of this wave of big three live action Marvel shows on Disney+.

Non-Review Review: Cruella

Cruella arrives as the culmination of two interconnected trends.

Most obviously, Cruella is the latest in the long line of live action (or pseudo-live action) adaptations of classic Disney properties hoping to turn the studio’s animated back catalogue into a source of rich intellectual property that can be steadily mined for quick returns. Movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King all grossed over a billion dollars, so there is surely an audience hungry to see beloved childhood classics transferred into live action.

Ready for some hot takes?

Ironically enough, 101 Dalmatians was one of the first films to make that leap from pencil and inks to live action, with an adaptation (and a sequel) in the mid-nineties. Indeed, it’s arguable that Glenn Close’s incarnation of Cruella DeVil looms just large enough in the culture that a simple reboot of the premise might feel a little gauche. Jon Favreau could direct a second pseudo-live-action version of The Jungle Book for the company, but only because the earlier effort had no cultural footprint.

So Cruella is not content to be a straight-up reimagining of the classic Disney cartoon. Instead, the film draws from another contemporary trend when it comes to managing these intellectual properties: the villain-centric reboot. Cruella is arguably of a piece with recent pop culture like Ratchet, Maleficent or Joker, all works that reimagined a familiar intellectual property through the lens of its antagonist. There is evidently money in this concept, with Joker earning over a billion dollars and Maleficent earning half a billion and inspiring a sequel.

A crime of fashion.

So Cruella offers an origin story for the classic Disney villain, inviting the audience to get to know the monstrous fashion designer whose defining character trait was her desire to skin a lot of adorable puppies to make the perfect coat. It’s certainly an ambitious assignment. While Cruella is one of the most striking villains in the Disney canon, with one of the catchiest theme songs, she is hardly the most complex or nuanced. There’s hardly a lot of tragedy to be mined in a character so horrifically monstrous that “if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will.”

This sets up the central tension in Cruella, and the problem that the movie never quite manages to resolve. Cruella is a much stronger movie whenever it allows itself to drift away from the shadow of 101 Dalmations and become its own thing, but it suffers greatly when it finds itself drawn back into the gravity of the original Disney classic. Cruella works reasonably well as a seventies-set fashion heist movie, but struggles when it tries to be a compelling villain origin story for a character who really never needed one.

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New Escapist Video! “Cruella – Review in 3 Minutes”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Cruella, which released in cinemas and on Disney+ this weekend.

New Escapist Column! On “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Captain America 4″…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the announcement that Anthony Mackie would be reprising his role as Sam Wilson in Captain America 4, it seemed like a good opportunity to take stock of what is happening with Marvel’s streaming series.

Disney have long insisted that streaming represents the future of the company, investing heavily in bringing their existing brands to the medium. However, even with the boost that the pandemic has brought to streaming, there is a question to be asked about where the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lies. Are shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier paving the future of the MCU? Or are they just commercials for big-ticket feature films?

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

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.