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New Escapist Column! On The Genre Dissonance of “Hawkeye”…

I published a new column at The Escapist at the weekend. With the release of Hawkeye on streaming, it seemed worth an opportunity to take a look at the show.

In particular, there’s a fascinating genre dissonance between what Hawkeye is trying to be and what it actually is. The show positions itself as a feel-good holiday buddy comedy, but it also inherits the weight of a film noir. It is essentially a six-episode series rooted in the title character’s attempts to recover the one piece of evidence that links him to mass murder, but the show absolutely refuses to let any of these considerations get in the way of its desire to be “fun” and “chirpy.” The result is an interesting tonal clash between what Hawkeye wants to be, and what it actually is.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Quiet Revolution of Disney’s Modern Princess Movies…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Encanto this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about the animated “princess” movies being produced by Disney.

Disney has always been associated with these movies, dating back to the breakout success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. However, the company has also long had a complicated relationship to them, and in particular the way in which they are perceived as movies aimed at young girls. However, the past decade has seen the studio clever and consistently reinventing this archetypal “fairy tale” sort of story for the twenty-first century, to the point that it’s arguably that the run of movies from Tangled onwards has been the most consistent of the studio’s output.

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

Non-Review Review: Encanto

One of the most interesting and overlooked entertainment trends in the past decade has been the extent to which Disney’s animated films have quietly become the studio’s most reliable output, ahead of higher-profile properties like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, it’s possible to argue at least convincingly that Disney’s animated films have been more consistent in quality than those from Pixar, even allowing for Pixar’s success with movies like Inside Out.

The studio entered the twenty-first century in a state of crisis over its traditional animated features. There was a perception that the studio’s classic “princess movies” like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid or Pocahontas or Mulan were outdated, and that the studio needed to reconfigure its image to appeal to young male demographics. The acquisition of other brands like Star Wars eased the pressure somewhat, and the studio’s animated output has become more comfortable in its own skin with female-led animated projects including Tangled, Frozen, Moana, Frozen II and Raya and the Last Dragon.

Family portrait.

The studio’s animation division has spent the past decade tinkering with the formula and assumptions that drive these sorts of films, in some ways cutting to what was always the heart of the genre. Love stories are now optional for female leads. Villains are more complex and multifaceted. Themes are richer and more ambitious. It’s perhaps too much to suggest that Disney has spent the past decade quietly and carefully deconstructing and then reconstructing the familiar “princess movie” storytelling engine, but it’s also not inaccurate. The studio has done this in a careful and considered manner, never feeling false or cynical.

In some ways, Encanto feels like the culmination of this larger trend. It is a movie that is instantly recognisable as part of the familiar animated “princess movie” template, a musical about a young woman in a remote location coming into her own to find her identity. It’s a stunning piece of animation, with a charming cast and some catchy musical numbers. However, it’s also a surprisingly thoughtful and clever subversion of some of the core ingredients in these sorts of movies. It’s a story about a lead character whose epic adventure begins at home, who finds herself without needing to leave the house.

Food for thought.

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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.