Tag Archives: Walt Disney

Disney Dreams

George Clooney goes back to the future

 

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Casey (Britt Robertson) ..Ph: Film Frame..?Disney 2015

Britt Robertson stars as an idealistic teenager who gets a ticket to ‘Tomorrowland.’

 

Tomorrowland

Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson & Hugh Laurie

Directed by Brad Bird

PG

Walt Disney always wanted his parks to be “magical.” Here’s a movie that takes that idea and really runs with it. Actually, Tomorrowland takes that idea and flies with it—with rocket packs, no less—into the teeming, gleaming futurama of Uncle Walt’s dreams more than half a century ago when he opened the gates to Disneyland.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Young Frank (Thomas Robinson)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Young Frank (Thomas Robinson) tests his rocket pack prototype.

 

In Tomorrowland, George Clooney plays the modern-day, grownup version of a bright young lad, Frank, who lugs along his homemade jetpack to an invention competition at the 1964 World’s Fair—where Disney unveiled four major attractions. Frank and his contraption are rejected, alas, but he gets a special invitation to hop aboard Disney’s new ride It’s a Small World, which turns out to be much more than just a poky boat cruise through an international chorus of singing animatronic children: It’s a secret portal to the future!

Frank has a glorious time in the splendid world-yet-to-come, a fabulous sky-tropolis called Tomorrowland. But he can’t stay there forever. We eventually find out why he must leave, and why, decades later, he’s compelled to return.

Director Brad Bird, who’s shown his skill in both animation and live action with The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007) and Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (2011), mixes brisk, old-school adventure and a spirit of boundless idealism onto a palette of gorgeous, eye-popping visuals. The script, which he co-wrote with Damen Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus, World War Z, Cowboys and Aliens) and Jeff Jensen, crackles and pops mystery and suspense, wit and whimsy, and deeper, more passionate themes about science, technology and ecology.

Britt Robertson—recently seen saddling up in The Longest Ride—plays Casey, the spunky teenage daughter of a NASA scientist (country singer Tim McGraw) “chosen” for her own trip to Tomorrowland. British actress Raffey Cassedy is Athena, a mysterious young girl who connects both Frank and Cassidy across time. Hugh Laurie plays Tomorrowland’s top dog, who turns out to have quite a bite. Keegan-Michael Key from Key and Peel and Kathryn Hahn, who stars in Showtime’s Happyish, have a Men in Black-ish scene as a couple of space-oddity souvenir-shop owners.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Frank Walker (George Clooney)..Ph: Film Frame..©Disney 2015

George Clooney visits a famous international landmark…which is much more than just a famous international landmark.

The movie doesn’t note it, but Disney fans will certainly be aware that Tomorrowland was one of the five original “lands” of Disneyland, opening in 1955 to give visitors an imaginative taste of the future and outer space. Its silent “background” presence in the film deepens the movie’s make-believe mystery about just how forward thinking the House of Mouse might have really been.

There’s quite a lot happening, sometimes almost too much, and the cartoonish violence—aliens blasting people away, humanoid robots being bashed and decapitated—may unsettle some little ones. Plot points become muddled in the rush to keep moving, and the movie’s message gets a bit preachy.

But, like Frank says at one point, “Can’t you just be amazed?” Any movie that can get young people thinking about the future—the future of the planet, their future, our future—and about not giving up, even in the face of doom and gloom, is pretty amazing in itself. Maybe it really is a small, small world, after all. And now I’m super-curious about the secret purpose of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Of Rags and Riches

New ‘Cinderella’ updates age-old fairytale with modern spectacle

CINDERELLA

Cinderella

Lily James, Cate Blanchett & Richard Madden

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

PG

Downton Abbey launched the acting career of Lily James as the rebellious young Lady Rose, a character who joined the show’s sizeable ensemble in 2012. Now, in her first major movie role, the 25-year-old actress steps outside the Downton manor and into the iconic glass slippers of the most famous rags-to-riches fairy tale of all time.

Actor-turned-director Kenneth Branagh’s lavish, live-action production of Cinderella hews closely to the once-upon-a-time basics of the centuries-old European folk tale, especially the version with which most modern-day viewers are most familiar, Walt Disney’s iconic theatrical cartoon of 1950. But Branagh fills the outlines of Disney’s animated characters with pounding human heartbeats, encourages robust performances from his fine, mostly all-British cast, and wraps it all up in a sumptuous package of colorful, to-die-for costumes, spectacular settings and lush cinematography.

This Cinderella is also built on a deep foundation of tenderness and forgiveness, an antidote to all the cruelty and unfairness that our Cinderella will ultimately face, and overcome. “You have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body,” says her dying mother (Hayley Atwell) to the little girl, “Ella” (Eloise Webb), who will grow up to become the “ragged servant girl” eventually transformed—for one literally magical night—into the princess of all princesses.

CINDERELLA

Cate Blanchett (center), Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera

Lily James is as lovely as sunshine as the grown-up Cinderella, whose limitless optimism and kind-heartedness endures even after the arrival of her “evil” new stepmother (Kate Blanchett) and her two mean, dingbat daughters (Sophie McShera, also from Downton Abbey, and Holiday Granger).

You know the rest. But one of the coolest things about Branagh’s movie is how he makes this familiar tale feel so fresh, even though you know exactly where it’s going. He stages it like a full-scale period drama rather than a bedtime story, and there’s an epic splendor to everything—sweeping vistas of coastlines and oceans of the British Isles; vast, ornate castle interiors teeming with extras and activity; the lonely spaces of Cinderella’s attic quarters and kitchen.

CINDERELLA

Richard Madden

The ballroom sequence between Cinderella and the prince (Richard Madden from Game of Thrones) is magnificent; the transformation of the pumpkin into a glistening, golden carriage—courtesy of the fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)—is a thing of whimsical wonder; the climactic, kingdom-wide search for the foot that perfectly fits the left-behind slipper has intrigue, humor, edge and suspense.

Both James and Madden find characters beyond—and beneath—their starry-eyed storybook romance, and Blanchett maintains a delicious, delicate balance of coldness and camp.

This grand new version of Cinderella may not make you believe in fairytales. But it might make you think, like Cinderella, that with enough “love, kindness and occasionally, a little bit of magic,” the world might, indeed, become a better place.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Evil (?) Woman

Disney puts girrrl-power backspin on ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale

maleficent536acd244e2df

Maleficent

Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Sharlito Copley

Directed by Robert Stromberg

PG, 97 min.

Disney turns one of its own stories inside out in this inverted fairy tale back-story about the “mistress of all evil” who put the deep sleep on Sleeping Beauty.

Long before slumbering princess comes along, we meet the tiny winged creature who’ll grow up to become Maleficent, “the strongest fairy of them all,” protecting her idyllic land of fluttering pixies, gnarled tree warriors and mischievous, mud-slinging gnomes from the greedy, marauding humans in the neighboring kingdom.

maleficentwingsAngelina Jolie plays the adult Maleficent, a baroque sight—with bright red lips, gleaming white teeth, jutting prosthetic cheekbones, a gigantic set of wings, and a pair of imposing dark antlers—as the flesh-and-blood incarnation of the cartoon character many grownups will recall from the classic 1959 Disney version of the age-old Brothers Grimm folk tale.

A cruel betrayal hardens Maleficent’s heart and sets her on a path of vengeance toward the vile new king (Sharlito Copley), which leads to the famous curse she puts on his infant daughter: When the princess turns 16, she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning loom and fall into a deep, death-like slumber from which she’ll never awaken. The only way to break the curse is with a kiss of “true love.”

MALEFICENTBut here’s the movie’s big twist: As princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) ages and becomes more adorable every year, Maleficent finds her own maternal instincts. Instead of waiting in wicked anticipation for the princess’ fateful 16th birthday, she begins to regret the horrible hex of doom she’s placed on the innocent girl.

A trio of fluttering fairy nannies provides comic relief, a fire-breathing dragon is as fearsome as you might expect, and there’s a shape-shifting young man (Sam Riley) who, depending on when you see him, may be a bird. And as the title character, Jolie is a campy composite of theatrics, costuming, makeup and special effects that create the movie’s swirling center of dramatic gravity.

Disney has shaken things up before, most successfully in last year’s Frozen, which stepped out from the company’s decades-old template to feature princesses that didn’t need princes to save them, complete them, or even make them interesting. Maleficent has a similar girrrl-power spin, but plays even looser with its own mythology and the possibilities for what “true love” can really mean.

First-time director Robert Stromberg is an award-winning set decorator and visual effects artist for major movies including Avatar, The Life of Pi and The Hunger Games, but his directorial inexperience shows. The movie practically spills over with lavish, flashy things to see, but overall it’sDisney's "Maleficent"..Ph: Film Still..?Disney 2014 a bit of a muddle, a Game of Thrones-meets-Lord of the Rings bedtime story with a confusing tone that will likely puzzle many younger viewers accustomed to clearer, cleaner motives for characters, and needing more distinct lines separating heroes and villains. And too often, the special effects seem like cartoons, or computer-game graphics, at odds with its live action.

“There is an evil in this world, and I cannot keep you from it,” Maleficent tells Aurora at one point. Alas, neither can Angelina Jolie’s star power stir up enough magic Disney pixie dust to keep this big fractured fairy tale from falling into its own cracks.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The Nanny & the Mouse

The story behind the story behind the story of ‘Mary Poppins’

SAVING MR. BANKS

Saving Mr. Banks

Starring Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson

Directed by John Lee Hancock

PG-13, 123 min.

A Walt Disney movie about Walt Disney making a Walt Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks is a story behind a story behind a story that will strike a sentimental chord with anyone who remembers Disney’s 1964 hit about a certain singing, flying British nanny.

The true tale of how Uncle Walt convinced P.L. Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins, to sell him the rights to turn her storybook series into the now-classic movie musical is spun here into a witty, heart-tugging yarn about Disney’s unstoppable force confronting Travers’ immoveable object.

Tom Hanks plays the avuncular Disney, atop his Magic Kingdom empire in 1961 and trying to finally come through on a 20-year promise to his young daughters to take their favorite childhood character, Mary Poppins, from the storybook to the screen. The prickly Travers (Emma Thompson), the British author of the series of books featuring the English nanny with magical powers, has consistently, persistently tuned down Disney’s offers.

But now, in a financial bind, Travers finally agrees to come to Los Angeles and proceed with a film treatment as long as she’s given script approval and made part of the process. She tells Walt to his face, however, that she won’t have her fiercely guarded Mary “turned into one of your silly cartoons.”

SAVING MR. BANKSThe movie toggles between Travers’ comically difficult work with Disney and his staff, and flashbacks to her golden-glow childhood in Australia with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), building connections between the author, her past and her literary creation that don’t become evident until much later in the movie.

Travers hates everything, at least initially—everything about Los Angeles, Hollywood, Disney and the movie his company is trying to make. She hates Dick Van Dyke, the actor hired as the star.  She hates the songs, written by the crack Disney tunesmith siblings Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman). She hates the idea of dancing penguins.

SAVING MR. BANKSPaul Giamiatti has a recurring role as the friendly chauffeur hired by Disney to squire Travers around, becoming the only American she meets to really break through her icy shell. (It’s enough to make you wonder how the same actor could be playing a heartless slave broker just a few multiplex doors down in 12 Years A Slave.)

We all know how things turned out: Walt compromised just enough to win the tug of war, and the movie got made the way he envisioned it. Disney’s Mary Poppins was a smash. Critics praised it, fans adored it and it helped segue Disney from cartoons into live-action features. It won five Academy Awards.

As he did in The Blind Side, director John Lee Hancock pours on the emotion, so much so that it sugarcoats the shortcomings in the script, which fails to neatly, completely wrap up the rather dense details of Travers’ daddy issues and why exactly Mr. Banks, the father of the children in “Mary Poppins,” was in need of being saved.

But Thompson does a fine job, and so does Hanks, especially in a late scene together where their two characters warm to each other when he shares a story about his own hardscrapple youth, and about his own daddy issues—one that helps seal his deal.

And by golly, if you don’t get a bit of a lump in your throat during the “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” scene, well, you’ve got more ice that needs melting than even Ms. Travers.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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