Review: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”

Angelina Jolie is back as the misunderstood baddie with horns, wings, and high cheekbones in the fantasy adventure Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

In this sequel to the 2014 original (which itself is a revisionist retelling of sorts of Disney’s 1959 animated motion picture classic Sleeping Beauty), Princess Aurora (played again by Elle Fanning) has taken over the ruling of the magical creatures that inhabit the moors while, due to bad word of mouth, her godmother Maleficent (Jolie) has removed herself and hides in a cliff watching from afar.

When Aurora receives a wedding proposal from her true love from a neighboring kingdom Prince Phillip (played in this film by Harris Dickinson), Aurora’s hope is that this will be a peaceful, happy, and safe union for all under her stewardship. However, Phillip’s mother Queen Ingrith (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) has something else more selfish and sinister in mind.

Michelle Pfeiffer pays Queen Ingrith in MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

When Maleficent tries to intervene, she is, yet again, misunderstood, gravely injured (spoiler alert), and then saved by a dark horned fey named Conall (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor). Conall is the leader of a group of banished dark fey (horned and winged fairies like Maleficent) who live in large caves underground to protect themselves from humans while still holding on to the hope for a world where humans and fairies can peacefully co-exist.

What will Maleficent do? Will she stay underground with her new peeps? Will she try to rescue her goddaughter from her crazy soon-to-be mother-in-law? Will she continue just to sit there and look tormented yet pretty (like she does for 90% of the picture)? Is she truly the “mistress of evil”? So many questions…

Actually, this was one of the strangest films I’ve seen all year. While I was just expecting a boring rehash of the 2014 original film, instead what director Joachim Rønning and his team have created is an incredibly stylish and ambitious production that is far superior to its original (which isn’t saying much) and that has a tremendous amount of artistry, beauty, and panache.

The film is really wonderful to look at. The environments created by the multitude of CGI artists who worked on them truly feel like a unique fantasy world, a place that we’ve never seen and one that we definitely want to spend time in and explore. The myriad of magical creatures who live on the moor are creative and fun rather than annoying (although the ridiculous three fairies from the original film unfortunately make it in to the sequel, but with much reduced screen time, mercifully). The costume designs and makeup are also stunning and while they might be enhanced with some CGI, everyone looks terrific which really adds again to the imaginative and lovely aesthetics of the film’s production.

While the film is named after her character, Maleficent, strangely, doesn’t really have much to say in the film which is really problematic for the filmgoer. Her main job is just to look, well, brooding and, again, misunderstood. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it actually was unfortunate that Maleficent didn’t have more to say because we never really understand her point of view or what she’s doing. And while her actions I guess speak louder than words, it still would have been nice to have some more exposition about what in the world was going on in that perpetually misunderstood mind of hers.

The film gets off to a strong and interesting (if not a bit wacky) start, but sadly, by the time the conflict all really comes to a head in the third act, this fantasy flick seems more like a Game of Thrones ripoff than anything else. While it’s pretty clear to know who to root for, the battle royale is still just a puzzling, muddled mess. Sadly, everything gets derailed and we’re left just to think of how beautiful the production design was and to wonder just who was this film made for in the first place.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for “intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images.”

My score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here are some cool posters for the film from the talented artists at Poster Posse.

Aracely Muñoz
Chris Christodoulou
Salvador Anguiano
Tracie Ching
Andy Fairhurst
AJ Frena
SG Posters
Jérémy Pailler
Mike Mahle

All images ©️ Disney

Poster and Trailer for Disney’s “Jungle Cruise”

Instead of an animated remake next summer, Disney is giving us a movie based on one of their theme park rides. Check out the new trailer and poster for Disney’s Jungle Cruise.

©️ Disney

While films based on Disney theme park attractions have been somewhat hit or miss (Eddie Murphy’s horrible Haunted Mansion movie and that weird Country Bears film come to mind, not to mention how the Pirates of the Caribbean films overstayed their welcome), this one looks like it could be a lot of fun. Let’s hope so!

Jungle Cruise opens in theaters July 24, 2020.

Review: “The Lion King” (2019)

Fancy technology and new CGI tools can’t save this dull, uninspired remake of Disney’s beloved animated musical The Lion King.

Photorealistic CGI Pride Rock in THE LION KING (2019)

Directed by Jon Favreau [Iron Man (2008), The Jungle Book (2016)], this new photorealistic re-telling of The Lion King is mostly a shot-for-shot and almost word-for-word remake of the 1994 original animated film from Disney Animation. The filmmakers have provided us with a beautifully-shot nature documentary-style of film (with animals that speak English, that is…) that sacrifices art for realism.

Scar and the hyenas in THE LION KING (2019)

The realism, while very well done, strips the story of one of the things that made it great in the first place—the incredible art and animation created by the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Without the art and heightened interpretation of the natural world as done by the Disney Animation team, the film just becomes an impressive but lifeless technological shell of its former self.

Young Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa in THE LION KING (2019)

A major disappointment in choosing to follow the original script so closely is that the new vocal and musical artists brought on board (namely Donald Glover, the voice of grown-up Simba, Beyoncé, the voice of grown-up Nala, and music producer Pharell Williams) weren’t given anything new or interesting to do (Beyoncé gets half a new song near the end of Act II and is also involved with a Lion King-inspired album soon to be released but that’s it). I hate to be prescriptive here, but I was hoping for at least some new songs or some new material for these incredibly talented people to participate in that would make this re-telling more unique (think of what Disney did with the Broadway production of The Lion King).

The comic relief characters Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen) are funny enough and, thankfully, get a new line or two that actually made me laugh, but still should have been given more to do as well. And, sadly, the great actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s interpretation of the villainous Scar can’t compare with the campy and scary performance of Jeremy Irons from the original animated film.

Every five minutes during the screening, I just wanted the projectionist to roll the 1994 original instead of this needless, uninventive rehash. I know that Disney is probably not going to stop with these remakes, at least not in my lifetime, but I sure wish they would just appropriately honor and re-release the original animated films on the big screen and focus their tremendous creative and financial resources in more original ways.

Nala and Simba feeling the love tonight in THE LION KING (2019)

The Lion King remake is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.”

My score: 2 out of 5 stars

Images ©️ Disney

New Promotional Pics for “The Lion King” (2019)

Check out these fancy pics for Disney’s The Lion King (2019) remake! Maybe we should just call it The Beyoncé Movie!

Images ©️ Disney

Donald Glover as Simba
Beyoncé as Nala
JD McCrary as Young Simba and Shadi Wright Joseph as Young Nala
Seth Rogan as Pumbaa, John Oliver as Zazu, and Billy Eichner as Timon
Alfre Woodard as Sarabi
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar
Eric André as Azizi, Keegan-Michael Key as Kamari, and Florence Kasumba as Shenzi

Review: “Aladdin” (2019)

The Walt Disney Studios’ latest remake is a live-action/photorealstic CGI retelling of their 1992 animated hit musical Aladdin.

Thankfully, the storyline and the music in this remake remain mostly the same as the beloved 1992 original. Aladdin, played by Mena Massoud, is still a “diamond in the rough”—an orphaned “street rat” who is much more of a man than his appearance and situation shows. Upon the fateful meeting in the town’s marketplace with the kingdom’s princess, Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, who has disguised herself to get a break from her trapped life in the gilt cage of the palace, the two form an instant connection. However, the laws of the kingdom of Agrabah where they live require the princess to marry a prince, and Jasmine has many princely suitors who are vying for her hand.

Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meet in the Agrabah marketplace in Disney’s ALADDIN (2019).

Enter the Genie, who in this version is played by a CGI-concoction of the actor and rapper Will Smith. After Aladdin gets trapped in the Cave of Wonders (again, very similar to the 1992 original), he becomes the master of the lamp and Genie grants him three wishes. So, of course, Aladdin wishes to be made a prince in order to have a chance with the Princess Jasmine. However, the sultan’s duplicitous vizier Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, has other things in mind for this new prince who appears to have won over the Princess’ heart.

Will Smith in full CGI-mode as the Genie in Disney’s ALADDIN (2019).

The new script for the film, co-written by John August and the film’s director Guy Ritchie, makes a few modifications and most of them work. The animal sidekicks remain—Abu the monkey, Rajah the tiger, and Iago the parrot—but instead are photorealistic CGI creations. Iago undergoes the most drastic character change of being truly just a parrot rather than the wise-cracking comic relief from the original, and the results are mixed. A more defined emphasis on Jasmine’s abilities and independent attitude is underlined with some added dialogue as well as a new song for the film written by Alan Menken and collaborators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (composers of the music for the Broadway hit musical Dear Evan Hansen and the musical film The Greatest Showman).

Will Smith stepped into absolutely impossible shoes trying to reprise actor Robin Williams’ and animator Eric Goldberg’s performances as the Genie. Smith tries very hard to make the role his own and I felt like he succeeded part of the time. I think the CGI artists are partly to blame here, since trying to make the Genie be as manic and shapeshifting as in the 1992 film (not to mention all of the blue skin and altered head and body features, too) works better in a 2D/traditional animation aesthetic than in a style rooted in realism that is used in all of these “live-action” remakes.

L-R: Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and Sultan (Navid Negahban) argue over Jasmine’s future in Disney’s ALADDIN (2019).

Director Guy Ritchie adds his usual stylistic flair, but I was surprised that his usual camera and editing tricks were somewhat understated for this film. The production values are high, as is the case in all of these Disney remakes, with beautiful cinematography, sets, and costumes. Probably the most appealing thing about this film, other than being able to hear Alan Menken’s wonderful music again, is the overall chemistry with the actors. The casting choices were solid (the CGI performance of Will Smith’s Genie notwithstanding) and the actors were all appealing in their attractiveness and abilities. Particularly, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott as Aladdin and Jasmine have the sort of on-screen spark and rapport that makes going to the movies so fun.

Overall, Aladdin is an entertaining retelling of a story that didn’t need to be retold. If you don’t plan to make it to the theater to see this one, the 1992 animated feature you’ve already got in your home movie library is really the only version you need.

Aladdin is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some action/peril.”

My score: 3 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the IMAX poster.

©️ Disney and IMAX

All images ©️ Disney

“Aladdin” (2019) Posters

The Walt Disney Studios’ photo-realistic CGI remake of their 1992 animated smash hit Aladdin has me a bit nervous. One of my wishes (which I have off repeated on this blog) is that Disney would use their tremendous creative and financial resources in ways other than just remaking their entire animated catalog. Still, when one of these remakes gets released, my sincere hope is that the new film is going to be good.

Here’s a new poster for the 2019 remake of Aladdin.

And in case you missed it, here is the teaser poster for the 2019 film which is an homage to the teaser poster for the 1992 film (also pictured below).

2019 teaser poster
1992 teaser poster

Check out these posters for IMAX, Real D, and Dolby Cinema.

©️ IMAX, Disney
©️ Real D, Disney
©️ Dolby, Disney

Also, here’s the latest trailer.

Aladdin (2019) is coming to U.S. theaters on May 24.

Images ©️ Disney

Review: “Dumbo” (2019)

Tim Burton takes Disney’s beloved flying pachyderm on a new and somewhat dark journey in Walt Disney Studios’ latest live action+photo-realistic CGI remake Dumbo (2019).

This film merges the familiar narrative of the 1941 animated classic with a newly created circus-themed story. As in the original animated feature, the plot is set within a traveling troupe of circus and side show performers along with a menagerie of animals that travel from town to town by train (Casey Jr., of course). In this film, the year is 1919, the circus is the Medici Bros. Circus, and the ringleader is Max Medici (expertly played by Danny DeVito).

In addition to Max, we meet a slew of characters that are new to this story—most importantly the World War I veteran Holt Farrier (played by Colin Farrell) and his two children Milly (played by Nico Parker) and Joe (played by Finley Hobbins). Before the war, Holt and his wife had a successful circus act with horses. But when Holt goes away to fight in the war, he loses a lot—his wife dies, the horses get sold, and he loses one of his arms.

Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins in DUMBO (2019)

Although the circus is one big happy family, it is in financial straits; so much so, that Max bets the farm (or circus) on an exotic new elephant named Mrs. Jumbo. It also turns out that Mrs. Jumbo is pregnant. Since the horses are gone, Max puts Holt and his kids in charge of the precious elephants.

The first act of the film is basically the original Dumbo movie but with these additional characters. Once the original story is out of the way, it takes a wild turn into a brand new direction over the next two-thirds of the film. “Dumbo” (as the baby elephant gets nicknamed) the flying elephant is an instant hit and brings a much needed financial boost to the Medici Bros. Circus. The newfound success piques the interest of circus magnate V.A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton) who owns a destination circus attraction and amusement park called Dreamland. Vandevere offers to purchase Medici Bros. Circus and makes Max an offer too good to pass up. But once everyone arrives at Dreamland, things just might be a bit too good to be true.

Danny DeVito in DUMBO (2019)

Tim Burton is able to put his distinctive stylistic stamp on the film, which I mostly liked. His early 20th century circus aesthetic has just the right combination of nostalgia and charm along with his trademark quirkiness.

Other than Danny DeVito (and possibly Colin Farrell), I just didn’t feel like the acting was particularly strong from much of the cast. Also as previously mentioned, the two-thirds of the film that delve into this original new story take Dumbo the character into an unexpected and rather unpleasant place for my tastes. While a newly added animal rights subplot is a timely and important theme, and Dumbo himself still has the same motivations (he just wants to be with his mom), it just didn’t come together in a harmonious and cohesive fashion.

Ultimately, the film is less of a remake and more of a new story and adventure that Dumbo gets plopped into. I kept thinking during the film that it should have had a different title (maybe “Dumbo’s Adventure in Dreamland” or, jokingly, “Free Dumbo: A Dumbo Story”). I respect Tim Burton’s talent and creativity and you all know how much I love the Disney, but this latest “remake” is definitely one that makes you want to run away from the circus rather than to join it.

Dumbo is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language.”

My score: 3 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, check out some fun Poster Posse Dumbo posters (on the blog) and this cool IMAX poster (below).

©️ Disney and IMAX

All images ©️ Disney

“Dumbo” Posters

So we already know that I’m not thrilled that the Walt Disney Studios is using their immense resources and creativity into just remaking their entire animated catalog. Still, these remakes have all been very high quality thus far and overall quite entertaining (still, I’d wish they’d stop it and apply their money and creativity elsewhere).

Next up in the remake queue is Dumbo, which is being reimagined by director Tim Burton. I’m curious and hopeful that it will be good.

Poster Posse has released some new poster collaborations for the film and they are really nice.

(🎨: Doaly)
(🎨: Mike Mahle)
(🎨: Matt Needle)
(🎨: Thomas Walker)
(🎨: Andy Fairhurst)
(🎨: Vincent Aseo)
(:🎨 17th & Oak)
(🎨: Orlando Arocena)
(🎨: Kaz Oomori)
(🎨: Jérémy Pallier)
(🎨: Paul Ainsworth)

Dumbo opens in theaters March 29. I’m seeing it opening weekend and will post a full review on the blog soon thereafter.

All images ©️ Disney