Disney Live-Action Remake News!

Unsurprisingly, Disney continues to churn out live-action remakes of all their beloved animated classics: this year alone, we’ve gotten modernized versions of Dumbo and Aladdin, and The Lion King will premiere a few weeks from now. Next year, we’ll get a live-action Mulan, and possibly The Little Mermaid, with Snow White arriving soon after. And as long as the Mouse House makes these movies, there will continue to be a loud opposition to this trend of redoing and revamping films that don’t technically need a 21st Century update – and, while the remake-resistance has been wrong before (Will Smith’s Genie looks like a Smurf!), they’re also often right about a lot of stuff, a lot of the time (Emma Watson can’t sing!).

Right now is one of those times. Let’s break down both big news stories that dropped, yesterday and today, and why this weekend is going to be a really stressful one for everybody at Disney.

First, yesterday’s news: even though the live-action The Little Mermaid is still a long way away, an actress has been cast to play the film’s villain, the sea-witch Ursula. That actress is…Melissa McCarthy.

Now don’t get me wrong, Melissa McCarthy is a great actress, she has been nominated for an Academy Award twice, and she can be both dramatic and funny. I was actually pleasantly surprised at first, when I heard she had become the first person to join the cast: it seemed like an instant win for all involved. McCarthy hasn’t been selling a lot of tickets recently, and The Little Mermaid needs a big name, just like Aladdin needed Will Smith. Then I started seeing the arguments against McCarthy’s casting, and I was dubious – I immediately assumed it was nothing more than the usual backlash towards any remake.

Disney Live-Action Remake News! 1
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And then I decided to dig a little deeper, and I realized that there are a ton of valid complaints here:

  1. While Ursula was originally voiced by a white woman in the 1989 movie, the character has been changing in more recent iterations, with black actresses like Yvette Nicole Brown or Whoopi Goldberg playing or voicing her in the TV show Once Upon A Time and movie Descendants 2, respectively. The change inspired some to think that, in this live-action Little Mermaid, a woman of color would portray the iconic Disney villain – rappers Queen Latifah (who did a Disney-sponsored photoshoot in 2011 while dressed as the character) and Lizzo were both high up on most peoples’ fancasts, with Lizzo even getting in on the fun and dressing up as Ursula while performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. To make Ursula white again and reverse years of progress, seems like a slap in the face.
  2. It’s no secret that the original Ursula is a thinly-disguised – and, frankly, offensive – caricature of American drag queen Divine, and because of that the character has become something of a “gay-energy icon” in recent years, with many wanting to see her fully reclaimed in a more positive light by the LGBTQ+ community. As a nod to her origins, fans thought it would be fitting if the live-action version of the character was portrayed by a drag queen  – but apparently Disney isn’t ready to do something that bold, even though drag queens are fast becoming some of the most popular celebrities in America.
  3. Just as important as both of these points is the fact that Melissa McCarthy is not a singer. She has sung, yes, and she was once even part of a duet with Barbra Streisand herself – but her vocals aren’t all that impressive, and her singing style is pretty nondescript, nothing like the hugely over-the-top, charismatic voice of Pat Carroll’s original Ursula. Again, there are any number of more talented musicians who could have brought something truly fascinating to the part, and might even have warranted new songs being written specifically for the character: Queen Latifah, Lizzo, Lady Gaga, Adele, or Keala Settle all come to mind. Gaga and Adele have both won Oscars for their original music, too (and Gaga has also dressed as Ursula before).

Pretty much the only reason I can think of to cast McCarthy is because of her undeniable enthusiasm for body-positivity: Ursula’s cool confidence about her own image has made her an icon of body diversity (she’s an icon for a lot of people, I’ve learned). Maybe that’s something that Disney wants to lean into – maybe they want to use Ursula to address some important social issues. Then again, Disney is the same company that tried to slim down Ursula for their Disney Villain toy line in 2012. Is this a belated apology for that incident, or mere coincidence?

Whatever the reasoning might be for casting Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, what’s done is done. While the actress is apparently still in early talks, it looks like other, more promising, candidates for the role are admitting defeat, with Lizzo tweeting out a sad-face emoji in response to the news. The internet is pretty much unanimously outraged, and hopefully Disney rethinks their casting choice before it’s too late.

But today, Disney has only caused themselves even more pain and grief: a new report suggests that the live-action Mulan (which I’m actually looking forward to) will not include Mulan’s fire-breathing dragon sidekick, Mushu – instead, he will be replaced by a phoenix, something that Disney purists aren’t too thrilled about. Did I mention that there also won’t be any of the original songs that made the animated Mulan so good? No I’ll Make A Man Out Of You. No Reflection. No Honor To Us All. Just instrumental music.

Yeah, so…that’s all I’ve got for you today. I’m really interested to hear what you think? Do these things bother you? Are you excited for the live-action The Little Mermaid and Mulan? Expect more updates on both of these stories from Disney’s D23 event later this summer, and stay tuned!

MTV Awards Nominees!

Well, my votes have been cast – or, my first round of votes has: MTV has a strange system whereby voters are allowed to vote more than once, thus allowing rabid internet fans to make their voices very clearly heard. This is both wonderful (who doesn’t love voting more than once?), and infuriating (voting more than once is…well, cheating?).

But let’s talk about what we’re even voting for! The 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards nominees have been announced, and the polls are open in all sixteen categories. Here’s some of the nominees, and, of course, the candidates who got my vote.

For Best Movie, the top contender is obviously Avengers: Endgame, the superhero mega-hit that has crushed the box office and dominated the public conscious for months. While I voted for Endgame, I have to admit there were several other worthy challengers: BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s dramatic adaptation of the story of a black man who infiltrated the KKK; Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse, an animated film with huge appeal to a mainly teen and young-adult fanbase (and those teens are MTV’s target audience); To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, a critically-appraised Netflix film about teen romance; and Us, Jordan Peele’s latest horror-drama about doppelgangers who terrorize an African-American family.

For Best Show, the choice was incredibly easy. Game of Thrones has my vote, no matter how bad the final season may be – and it’s bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still building off of very good material, and, hey, there’s one more episode left! There’s still time to turn the sinking ship around…even if, by that time, it will be too late. But seriously, I’m a fantasy fan, and Riverdale simply does not appeal to me. Now, if The Umbrella Academy were on this list, the choice would have been even easier, but sadly MTV has decided to ignore this cinematic masterpiece.

Interestingly, MTV does not have separate categories for Best Actor and Best Actress, which makes the competition for Best Performance In A Movie that much harder: Amandla Stenberg for The Hate U Give; Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody; Sandra Bullock for Netflix’s Bird Box; Lupita Nyong’o for Us; and Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born. I voted for Lupita because she deserves way more recognition than she gets. Malek is worthy competition, but he did just win an Oscar for his role as Freddie Mercury. It’s far more likely, though, that Lady Gaga will finally get an award, even though it’s probably too late to console her for her Oscar snub.

Naturally, for Best Performance In A Show, I’m backing Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones – yes, her character has just recently inspired backlash and division among the fans (and you never want to divide the fans), but she’s still a great actress, just burdened with bad writing.

None of the categories were as difficult as Best Hero, which pits Captain Marvel and Iron Man of the MCU against Shazam from DC, Game of Thrones‘ Arya Stark and BlacKkKlansman‘s Ron Stallworth. This one was hard: Captain Marvel has a special place in my heart because of all of the trials that she (and actress Brie Larson) has struggled through on her way to a billion-dollar box-office sensation, facing internet trolls and haters along the way; but Iron Man’s heroism in Avengers: Endgame cannot be emphasized enough – Robert Downey Jr. is the man who started the MCU and has now honorably closed its third phase as well. But then you’ve got Arya Stark, the girl being lauded as the true hero of Game of Thrones after the show has increasingly begun honing in its focus on her, the traumatized assassin and fierce warrior who said “Not today” in the face of death. Ultimately, Captain Marvel won my vote – the negativity that has surrounded her solo film was vanquished by Larson’s own bravery, as the actress refused to back down from the fight. It is worth noting, however, that Shazam‘s very own Zachary Levi will be hosting the MTV Awards ceremony – I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up winning.

MTV has its own peculiar categories: Best Kiss, for instance. I voted for Jason Momoa and Amber Heard’s kiss in Aquaman simply because, if it’s passionate enough to get the film censored in certain countries, that’s got to count for something.

Another fun one is Best Comedic Performance – with some indecision on my part, I finally chose Marsai Martin of Little, even over Zachary Levi’s performance as Shazam.

Best Villain…Thanos, obviously. Is there any doubt that Josh Brolin’s motion-capture creation should take home this award after snapping half the universe out of existence? I don’t think so.

I’m confused as to how Captain Marvel vs Minn-Erva is seriously one of the nominees for Best Fight – I mean, seriously, that is possibly the weakest fight-scene in the entire Captain Marvel movie. I would have chosen her ten-second combat with Yon-Rogg over that scene. Even with Captain America vs Thanos and Ruth Bader Ginsburg vs Inequality also up for consideration (though, really, does that latter even make sense?) I felt compelled to vote for Arya Stark vs The White Walkers in Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3. That is an intensely exciting fight, even if it suffers from being darkly lit in an episode that was already notorious for being darkly lit.

I didn’t forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg though, when she came up again as one of the nominees for Best Real Life Hero. How could I not vote for the woman who has dedicated her life to the fight for equality? She’s up against Serena Williams, though, so expect the competition there to be tight.

So what do you think? You can vote here, and share your thoughts about the nominees in the comments below! (But if you don’t vote for Arya Stark, are you really even entitled to an opinion?)

91st Academy Awards

Last night, we were treated to one of the most memorable ceremonies in recent years. Rebounding from a string of controversies and setbacks, the show did indeed go on – and turned out to be surprisingly good. Without a host, the show flowed much more smoothly and we were spared a good deal of annoying jokes. The spotlight was instead turned on the movies themselves: all eight Best Picture nominees seemed relatively tied, but in the end it was Green Book that surprisingly edged past the competition – not without controversy of its own. There were some shocking snubs – both Lady Gaga and Glenn Close were defeated by Olivia Colman of The Favourite (Colman had, in my opinion, one of the best and most genuine acceptance speeches of the night). There were well-deserved wins: Spike Lee, writer of BlacKkKlansman, was honored with the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; Alfonso Cuaron took home the Oscars for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography, all for his semi-autobiographical film Roma; Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse was honored with the Best Animated Feature award; Rami Malek’s phenomenal performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody earned him the award for Best Actor.

The presenters did a fantastic job keeping the show moving along, but each still got ample time to shine: whether that was Jason Momoa in a pink velvet suit, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson representing the upcoming Marvel movie Captain Marvel, or a whimsically attired Melissa McCarthy. There were some missteps – Awkwafina and John Mulaney’s presentation of Best Animated Short and Best Live Action Short was particularly cringe-worthy, and there was a bit of difficult with the Makeup and Hairstyling team from Vice, who didn’t seem at all prepared for their victory (which, considering they were only up against two other nominees, neither of whom had any chance of winning, is a little peculiar). And the performances were not all the best: I’m not particularly fond of either Lady Gaga or Bradley Cooper, so having to watch them cuddle up together while singing “Shallow” was rather boring – similarly, the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack is not even remotely comparable to that of the original, so “The Place Where Lost Things Go” could not be helped by the impressive vocals of Bette Midler. And as for “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”, well…the less said about that, the better.

In the end, it was Julia Roberts who presented the final award, for Best Picture, and it was the cast and crew of Green Book who took the stage to accept that award, much to the surprise of critics who had predicted a clean sweep for Roma. Personally, I was expecting The Favourite to win, and was shocked by the result: Green Book has been clouded in controversy these past few months. Spike Lee even got up and tried to leave the theater after the movie was announced Best Picture, and his anger is in some ways understandable: the Academy does seem to still be stuck in a thirty-year old worldview, especially when it comes to race relations and diversity. It’s a shame, because up to that point we had seen an astonishing number of people of color take the stage to accept various awards, including Ruth E. Carter, the first African-American woman to win the Best Costume Design Oscar; and Regina King, who was Best Supporting Actress for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk. Presenters had included civil rights activist John Lewis, sports legend Serena Williams, and comedian Trevor Noah. After so much progress was achieved last night, to suddenly find ourselves talking about this setback is pretty disheartening. And I say this with all possible respect for Green Book, which is a very good movie, and whose stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, are both terrific actors (Ali even won the Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar last night, also for Green Book). It seems inevitable now that every time Best Picture is called, the entertainment industry collectively rolls its eyes: that’s no surprise. What is somewhat surprising is how willfully blind the Academy must have been, deciding that this was the right choice. Over A Star Is Born, yeah, of course. But over films like BlacKkKlansman, or Roma? No, Green Book probably didn’t earn that win. I would much rather have had Black Panther take the award, to be honest. The progressive superhero movie won just three Oscars, and could have made much more of a positive impact than Green Book.