Disney Studios have been promising for years to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive with their content. But their so called, ahem, “attempts” at showing queer representation in their live action films and TV shows have been mostly shallow tokenism at best. Even the recent Cruella we were promised that John McCrea’s fashion-enthusiast character Artie was to be Disney’s legitimately first out-and-proud gay character. And yet, the final product did nothing to confirm this. This was Disney once again pandering to the queer audience without actually taking any risk.
However one faction of Disney Studios; Pixar does seem to making a more visible effort to tell LGBTQ+ stories. With the heart-warming short Out and even having Lena Waithe voice a lesbian cyclops in one of the more recent features Onward as recent examples. Granted these are just minor baby steps but it’s notable progress nonetheless. But Luca, Pixar’s 24th feature film – a breezy coming-of-age story of friendship, might just be the closest thing we’ve had to a gay Pixar feature film.
No it’s not in any way a confirmed, out-and-proud, self-identifying gay film. There’s no gay characters (so to speak) but it’s deceptively LGBTQ+ in tone and message. In short, there’s no pandering here. It’s not pretending to be inclusively gay, rather its queer coded enough to strike a chord with anybody LGBTQ+ and have it resonate with them on a subtextual level.
With a plot not too dissimilar to The Little Mermaid (which incidnetly is getting a Disney live action remake this year), Luca tells the story of a curious young sea creature named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), who after encountering some human gadgets and gizmos aplenty, longs to venture up to the surface to see what lies above the water. Much to the dismay of his human-fearing parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), Luca follows fellow sea-dweller and pal Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) up to the shore to discover that his fishy-body adapts to the surface by transforming into human form when out of water. From then on its frolicking childhood adventure in the gorgeous coastal town of Portorosso, partaking in a triathlon with a local girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) in order to make their dreams of owning their own Vespa a thing of reality.
It’s a sickeningly cute story about the kids who feel like outsiders, weirdos or underdogs finding their tribe and coming into their own. But that’s not the only way to interpret Luca. Director Enrico Casarosa has publicly stated that there was no intention of any gay subtext but there’s no denying to the queer-eyed observer that it’s there.
I’m sure I can anticipate some backlash for even suggesting there was anything remotely hinting at homosexuality in this sweet innocent Pixar film. Well regardless, people see what we wanna see. And for the queer community seeing a thinly veiled story about 2 boys “coming out” of the hostile environment of the Ocean to live their true authentic lives on land means a great deal to us. As a child of the 90’s I didn’t have any animated films like this but it would’ve certainly meant a lot for me to have film like this going through adolescence. The little queer boy that I was would’ve deeply resonated with Luca.
But regardless of the subtext Luca is still a very easy-to-love film. It’s hard not to enjoy a story about 3 scrappy kids who are self-proclaimed “under-dogs” enjoying the frivolities of youth. The animation is gorgeous. The setting of Portorosso looks warm and inviting. The little details are impeccable; from the individual scales on the sea creatures, to each individual pebble on the shore to the freckles on the kids faces – it’s all exquisitely detailed.
Luca certainly has the goods but what lets it down comparatively to its Pixar brothers and sisters is how conventional and safe the plot is. It’s a grass-is-greener coming-of-age story – it’s hardly anything new.
Ironically Casarosa publicly stating that Luca wasn’t in any way a queer film completely negates his own films bravest and most talk-worthy attribute. If he’d simply allowed some wiggle room for interpretation then would Luca perhaps be more critically revered and feature higher in the rankings? He would undoubtedly be idolised for being the director to make Pixar’s first gay feature. But simultaneously, he would also be hated by those too narrow-minded to see the beauty in this lovely story.
Who know’s maybe Casarosa himself might change his tune when young queer kids tell him how his charming Pixar film helped them come to terms with who they are. But for now the masses will read Luca as an enjoyable albeit by-the-numbers family film about friendship, dreams, education and discovery. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just not breaking any new ground is all.
The parental subplot which sees Luca’s parents Daniela and Lorenzo venture up to the surface to bring their son back home also lacks emotional payoff. We’ve already seen previous Pixar films tackle the subject of parents learning to let go of their kids done with way more skill and panache in Finding Nemo. Here there is no personal journey of self-discovery for Daniela or Lorenzo. They don’t learn anything about themselves like Marlon the Clownfish did. Instead all they do when they’re on land is throw water at kids to try and spot Luca. So when they arrive at their final destination of acceptance and understanding for Luca at the end of the film – it doesn’t feel earned. It feels like an after thought.
And as far as the tone of this film goes. Luca is unquestionably more of a kids film than one custom-made for the parents to click with. Remember the criticisms that Soul was too existential for kids to enjoy? Well Luca is the exact opposite of Soul – it’s merely a carefree and conventional kids film. Adults will certainly still be able to enjoy it but it’s not going to offer anything profoundly insightful like Toy Story 4, Inside Out or Coco did. Unless you’re LGBTQ+ but I digress.
But regardless of the simplicity of Luca’s narrative it is still a thoroughly enjoyable movie. It ticks many of the Pixar boxes; humour, heart and a lovely message – albeit a familiar one. There’s nothing outright bad about Luca, it’s just the standard for Pixar is set so high that in comparison it does feel a bit safe and therefore a little average.
Luca is available worldwide to stream on Disney + now.
‘Haunted Mansion’ (2023) A Frightfully Fun Ghoulish Delight
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, The Haunted Mansion movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
“Haunted Mansion” is Frightful Fun and an instant Halloween classic that’ll spook Foolish Mortals! With its eclectic ensemble, Grim Grinning Ghosts, and nostalgic references from the beloved attraction. Director Justin Simien & screenwriter Katie Dippold conjure a heartfelt story on loss and grief.
Inspired by the classic theme park attraction, “Haunted Mansion” is about a woman and her son who enlist a motley crew of so-called spiritual experts to help rid their home of supernatural squatters. Single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) has moved into the antique house of her dreams with her nine-year-old son Travis (Chase Dillon). But not long after stepping into the home, they become blatantly aware of the spirited tenants occupying the creepy abode. Enlisting the help of grieving astrophysicist Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), Priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson), Medium Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and haunted house expert Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), the gang hopes to put their heads together to rid the house of its supernatural tormentors.
Welcome Foolish Mortals, are you prepared to step into the realm of the supernatural and macabre, Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” Intriguingly, reinvigorates the timeless and traditional haunted house narrative, breathing new life into a genre steeped in history. Based on the iconic and beloved Disney attraction, this is the franchise’s latest instalment. The first was The Haunted Mansion released in 2003, starring Eddie Murphy and Marsha Thomason, back in the early 2000s, Disney attempted to bring their popular rides to the movies, and Pirates would go on to become Disney’s biggest live-action franchise ever whilst the Eddie Murphy-starring Haunted Mansion did respectfully at the box office despite disappointing results over the years, the film has gained a new appreciation from audiences and critics alike, transforming it into a cult classic.
The film’s original audience has grown up, they are now introducing it to their children, cementing its place as a popular Halloween movie. The film regularly appears on tv programming during the Halloween season, is featured in Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween and is often included in lists of Best Halloween Movies in various publications to watch over the spooktacular holiday season.
Now twenty years later, home is where the haunt is as Disney opens the doors to the “Haunted Mansion” once again bringing the movie even closer to the ride through Director and previous Disneyland Cast member Justin Simien and The Heat/Ghostbusters: Answer The Call writer Katie Dippold and as I mentioned above both have conjured up a charming but spooky classic with mild horror elements and a contemporary twist, that ultimately becomes an exceptional cinematic experience that pays homage to its roots capturing the spirit (all 999 of them)
When hinges creak in doorless chambers, strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls. Whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still — that is the time when ghosts are present, practising their terror with ghoulish delight!
At the story’s heart, the mansion emerges as a pivotal important character, its presence looming large and ominous. Every creak of its floors, every flicker of its lights, and every concealed secret combine to form an eerie atmosphere shrouded in mystery. The first Haunted Mansion attraction has a long history from its conception as a walkthrough tour in the early 1950s. It First opened as a Disneyland ride in Anaheim, California, in 1969, the home was inspired by the now-demolished Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore City, Maryland. Built-in 1803, the white brick mansion featured Italianate columns and double wraparound porches with cast iron detailing. The ride would eventually inspire other variations across the world, including the one at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in 1971, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2013, and my overall favourite and superior version Phanom Manor at Disneyland Paris in 1992.
Simien’s meticulous attention to detail brings this mansion to life as the set designs breathe life and death drawing audiences into a reverse seance. It weaves an intricate web of tension and anticipation. With each shadowy corner and echoing footstep, the film maintains an unwavering grip on its audience, igniting curiosity and evoking a constant sense of unease. production designer Darren Gilford brings Gracey Manor to life by studying the Bible of Imagineering which is the Disney department that designs and builds all of the theme parks and attractions. A trip to see the attraction was a must. Following a private experience on the ride after hours, the team walked through the attraction with all of the lights on for a true behind-the-scenes look during which they captured photos and took measurements.
They truly and authentically replicated the ride experience. The structure’s proportions were amplified to make it feel grander than the park attraction for cinematic effect. One aspect the film maintains is the feeling of entering the attraction. When guests are visiting the park and they go through the gates at the Haunted Mansion, there’s a very specific angle and the camera is spot on following the Doom Buggies track and what we see when we ride the attraction.
Throughout the movie fans of the ride will notice familiar design details in Gracey Manor, such as the golden snake door handle, striped wallpaper pattern, and eerie portraits. Another spectacular touch is the bat-shaped stanchion that’s modelled after the posts connected by chains which were designed for kids to hold onto as they navigate the Haunted Mansion ride in the dark. In the séance room, an antique balloon chair pays homage to the ride’s Doom Buggies.
Kooky Cast of Characters
“Haunted Mansion” performances are nothing short of captivating, breathing life and authenticity into the characters. It’s this ensemble, who is mostly stuck with each other, that makes the film so enjoyable. No matter what happens, it’s always appealing to watch how this group plays off each other. LaKeith Stanfield brings a real heart to “Haunted Mansion”, as Ben is still dealing with the loss of his partner Alyssa (Charity Jordan), has a great friendship with the young Travis, and has great comedic timing with the entire cast. It’s especially a treat to watch Wilson, Stanfield, and DeVito together in a scene. Haddish’s over-the-top approach to being a Psychic Medium fits well within the context of the film and provides some of the comedic moments. Rosario Dawson does battle with malign spirits and Chase Dillon’s performance is among the most emotional.
Grim Grinning Ghosts
“Haunted Mansion” has ghosts, ghoulies and all sorts of frights on offer and is packed to the brim with ghosts lifted directly from the iconic attraction. The notorious Hatbox Ghost, played by Jared Leto in the film, has a huge role, as does psychic-in-a-crystal-ball Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis). other, subtler ride appearances include the portraits on the walls and the ghosts dangling from the dining room’s chandelier. The film also gives the Bride — aka Constance Hatchaway, a serial killer who murdered all of her husbands with an axe, and who now haunts the mansion’s attic — her time to shine alongside the Hitchhiking Ghosts Phineas, Ezra, and Gus.
The production worked with visual effects companies, specifically DNEG. Director Justin Simien very much wanted the film and its ghosts to be grounded. He appreciated the Poltergeist [movies], or The Shining, those kinds of eerie films where he very much stayed away from complete CGI with actual actors in place. The process truly made them look otherworldly and more ethereal.
These ghosts are in detailed costumes and when you see them on screen, DNEG created an effect where when we see a ghost, the lit side of the ghost is opaque and feels like it’s there, and then as it goes into shadow you start to see through them to the skeletal structure underneath and see the room behind it. ectoplasmic effervescence. it’s like a phosphorescent algae and as you move, it starts to light up. It is interesting to see them as they move through their space and that’s when they start to have this little effervescence that comes off of them.
Symphony of Suspense
The role of sound design in “Haunted Mansion” truly captures the auditory weaving a haunting symphony, that’ll echo in viewers’ minds long after the final credits roll. From subtle whispers that raise goosebumps to crescendos of spine-tingling intensity, the soundscapes of the Haunted Mansion, Crump Manor, and New Orleans form a visceral, immersive experience that truly elevated the film to new heights.
Kris Bowers hauntingly composes the chilling score/soundtrack for the film. Bowers pays homage to the Disney attraction and its famous “Grim Grinning Ghosts” tune whilst also making his mark on the feature. The score tinkers through ghostly organ sounds that are mixed with New Orleans Jazz. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” has been reinvented and has been used in a fresh new way that didn’t feel over the top, and It eerily honours the song and ride. that themes and motifs of the beloved attraction are either fleshed out or reworked into variations. Other times, the first four notes are used in a leitmotif, especially when the ghosts are doing creepy things. The organ becomes useful to call us back to the sound of the ride. The sound rebels also provide a variation of the iconic tune through jazz elements as sax-section moments are playing along with the orchestra.
Even if you’ve ridden the ride hundreds of times, Dippold finds fun ways to play off what we know and truly defy the expectations of what we have for this Mansion. It builds on the lore of the ride in such amusing ways, fleshing out characters that only get a passing mention, making them essential to the narrative at hand. The narrative of “Haunted Mansion” is labyrinthinely woven with layers of suspense and mystery waiting to be explored and uncovered. As the plot unfolds, each layer is carefully peeled away, revealing fragments and revelations making this haunted story thrillingly grip us. Dippold writes about these wonderful human moments that focus on pain but also on love. It is honestly so touching how much “Haunted Mansion” handles loss, death, and ultimately how to say goodbye to our loved ones who’ve passed.
Hurry back! Hurry back! Be sure to bring your death certificate… if you decide to join us. Make final arrangements now! We’ve been dying to have you… Overall as the curtains fall on “Haunted Mansion” Director Justin Simien’s creative mind has birthed an experience that extends far beyond the boundaries of the screen and truly made me want to ride the beloved attraction straight away albeit my favourite version of the Haunted Mansion which is at Disneyland Paris called Phantom Manor which I hope is on Simien’s list to continue this spooktacular franchise with, as this gothic version of the iconic attraction is steeped with lost love and family betrayal wrapped around Thunder Mesa.
Simien’s history working at Disneyland was perfect for bringing this world to life. his love for the attraction can be felt through his directing, making things like the Hitchhiking Ghosts, the Stretching Room, and the floating candelabra leap off-screen.
Enter brave mortals into this famous manor together
Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny – Review
James Mangold takes directing duties for the fifth and final adventure for Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Steven Spielberg stays on as executive producer, helping bring to life a new adventure in a very new era. It’s taken a while to get here, but now it’s ready for the world to see.
We join Indy in 1969 as he retires from teaching, but is immediately thrust into a race against time to retrieve the fabled Antikythera, a dial that can predict fissures time and invented by Greek mathematician Archimedes. Former Nazi astrophysicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is also hunting down the dial, as is Indy’s god-daughter Helena (Waller-Bridge). Indy works with Helena in a shaky alliance to seek out the dial before Voller does, who intends to change the course of history and ensure a German victory in World War 2.
In a nutshell, a solid and enjoyable entry into the franchise that gives Indy a fitting and fond farewell. It sits comfortably beneath the golden trilogy and high above ‘Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ in terms of how it delivers. There is far less goofy humour, silly CGI action and cluttered cast.
The main man Harrison Ford delivers, as ever. 80 years old he may be, and yes, he is slower, more fragile and not able to do as much as he did in the past, but why should he? This is the final stage of his journey as Indy, and we’ve seen him grow through the decades. Mangold and the team don’t make light of Indy’s age but play it seriously and don’t have him do too much impossible action, letting Ford remind us how Indy is faring after a rather turbulent few years certainly feeling his age. But this does not mean Ford plays it gruff and grumbly; with his trademark twinkle and scowl, he injects warmth, humour and heart and quite possibly gives the most emotional performance for Indy across all five films.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge will ruffle feathers as she has a mouth, has hard fists and lots of spunk and isn’t afraid to bite back. She dominates her scenes and really pushes back against what Indy stands for, as she has her own personal motives and desires. But she takes a journey with Indy too, a simple arc that has her go from likeable, to not likable, and then a bit more likeable than before. Waller-Bridge attracts all the wrong kind of attention in the industry from many fans (often male) who can’t sit comfortably with her “strong, independent woman” schtick through her work than often has he pull apart established characters and films. She has that here a little bit, but certainly doesn’t de-rail the film and works well with Ford – two strong minded characters together make for a good bout of chemistry.
Sadly, we don’t have enough Mads Mikkelsen. It’s a crime when villains are underused in films and are just there to remind us that there are “bad guys” on the loose to push along the good. Mikkelsen is a fantastic actor, and plays the cunning, ruthless villain very well with menace oozing out of every pour, and has done through many blockbuster films. Here, however, his Nazi, Voller, needed more screentime to truly let us get under his skin, to allow him to become the threat that he eventually reveals himself to be. It’s just too little, too late when he really gets stuck into the meat of his motivation. That, if anything, is the biggest disappointment. He is a good mix of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ Belloq and ‘The Last Crusade’ Donovan, but we just don’t get enough of him.
The wider support cast is not too bloated all do well – Ethann Isidore as Teddy, Helena’s Moroccan “Short Round”, is harmless and adds a little to proceedings without being irritating. Boyd Holbrook plays the rather violent trigger-happy henchman Klaber, and we have a warm return for John Rhys-Davies as Sallah who will generate the biggest smile from fans in his limited screentime. Antonio Banderas and Karen Allen are present, but in more blink and you’ll miss them sort of roles.
For Indiana Jones, the action has always been a benchmark for the genre. Innovative ideas, practical stunts and a big main sequence. In ‘Dial Of Destiny’, the action is good, but not great. It’s safe. The opening 20mins set in 1944 and in / around an exploding castle and loot train harkens that classic Indy thrill. The main story has lots of chases from the New York ticker-tape parade, the Morocco tuk-tuks to the minimalist Mediterranean boat and airplane sequences. There is nothing very memorable about them; they deliver, but not to the extent of feeling real danger, seeing real stunt performers, or matching the scale of the ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ truck chase or the ‘Temple Of Doom’ rope bridge.
This goes hand-in-hand with the CGI. In 2008, ‘The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ abused what CGI can offer and sent the world of Indiana Jones into cosmic realms and near physics defying absurdity. It’s good to see ‘Dial Of Destiny’ tone that down and use CGI to enhance certain locations and add a safety net around Ford and the others in the action. Granted, he’s 80 and can’t do as much as he did 42 years ago, so this blanket of CGI to protect him makes sense. It’s noticeable in parts, mostly during the shaky de-aging sequence, but never feels done to excess.
We have a decent score by the maestro John Williams who brings back riffs from past films, but never brings anything too memorable to this entry. Again, all very safe.
As you can see, the theme of this review is “safe”.
DOD doesn’t take big risks or make bold choices in where the story goes. It perhaps should have done in the third act. You think it will go one way, a sweep of emotion and “will they, won’t they”… and then it swerves somewhere else. And regarding the third act, it’s a shame that it feels rushed. As a send-off, it’s more fitting than those crystal skulls, but it came about rather abruptly, and it did not have that same swell of goodbye that TLC did so perfectly. Shaving time from the heavy second act would have been better, reducing the time of generic investigative exploring to focus on the sequences that deserved more time to hit hard.
Yet, it’s hard not to find enjoyment in this adventure romp. Big, bad Nazis are out to scupper the free world and our beloved grizzled leather jacket clad hero needs to punch lots of them in the face (and have lots of people shot?) to stop them, to a score of orchestral pomp and heroic risks. It’s good fun – safe, comfortable Indy fun and it doesn’t disappoint on the whole to deliver one last adventure.
Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny is on general release from today
The Lego Group Unleashes Magical Mayhem With Disney’s Hocus Pocus: The Sanderson Sisters’ Cottage Set
A spellbinding tribute to a Halloween classic.
Revisit Salem and the world of the Sanderson sisters with LEGO® Ideas Disney Hocus Pocus: The Sanderson Sisters’ Cottage. This fan-inspired set is boiling over with nostalgic details from the 1993 Disney film, Hocus Pocus.
The LEGO Group revealed a set bound to leave you spellbound– the LEGO® Ideas Disney Hocus Pocus: The Sanderson Sisters’ Cottage set. Based on the iconic cottage from the 1993 hit blockbuster, the bewitching story has come back to life once more, revealing all the magical events that happened in the Sanderson home, now in brick form.
It’s been more than 30 astonishing years since the original Hocus Pocus film premiered, and last year saw the much-anticipated sequel Hocus Pocus 2, expanding the story of these iconic characters. Fans can now build and display their own piece of Hocus Pocus history. Designed by 26-year-old, Belgian LEGO fan and Hocus Pocus fan, Amber Veyt, via the LEGO Ideas platform, the original design attracted 10,000 votes and was then selected to be made into a real LEGO set. Filled with toil and trouble, the 2,316-piece set is complete with favourite props inspired from the film in LEGO form and not forgetting the six new minifigures too, which include the iconic three Sanderson Sisters, Max, Danni, Allison & Thackery Binx as the black cat.
The cottage set can also be transformed into the Sanderson Witch Museum as seen in the films by simply adding the info-stand, the museum signage, some rope barriers, and a cash register, which can be hidden away in secret storage under the stairs.
You can also build and visit the graveyard where the action takes place and Celebrate Halloween every day with a set based on this bewitching Disney classic!
The LEGO Ideas Disney Hocus Pocus – The Sanderson Sisters’ Cottage set is available for LEGO VIPs from July 1st at www.LEGO.com/Hocus-Pocus and LEGO Stores for all from 4th of July, 2023 priced at $229.99/£199.99
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