Review: Tarzan - The Musical

A gravity defying jungle expedition

(Review of Fredericia Teater’s production of Disney’s Tarzan seen on the 3rd of November 2018 19.30 and 5th of Januar 2019 19.30 at Fredericia Teater)

When the local theatre in Danish provincial city, Fredericia, announced they would be premiering Disney’s
Aladdin in 2012, I guess it would only have been a few people who dared to guess that they already six years later would premiere their fourth production in a fruitful and impressive collaboration between Denmark’s now uncrowned kings and queens of musical theatre and the world’s biggest entertainment company. Before the premiere of Tarzan in autumn of 2018, also The Little Mermaid (2014) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (2016) have received the loving treatment of theatre manager Søren Møller’s team. Hunchback went on to become the best reviewed musical in Danish theatre history. A feat that Tarzan has been close to matching; and rightfully so. This latest production is a visually, emotionally and creatively dizzying wonder of a production.

The story is more or less as we know it from the 1999 Disney Animated Classic with a few noticeable changes. The role of Clayton is somewhat smaller, but the main difference is that we spend a lot more time exploring the relationship between Tarzan and his gorilla family; especially Kala is given a much more prominent part with her taking on a central part in pivotal scenes with Tarzan, Kerchak and Terk alike. Finally, we see some minor character changes that might confuse at first: Terk is now a man and the role of Tantor is completely left out. As soon as the leaves move aside and the jungle is open for monkey business, we quickly forget all about these minor things, though.

Because the main attraction of this production IS the jungle that we are placed in the very middle of. The set decorators have produced a marvellous and awe-inspiring setup that includes an elevated walkway aligned with the balcony, a giant turntable, a labyrinth of stairs and - of course as we have come to expect in Fredericia - impeccably designed animations on giant screens that blend seamlessly with the physical decorations. It is a production which visual aspects seem like the natural next step following the majestic scenery of
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with a certain screen based effect returning to another well-deserved set of gasps from the audience) and the spellbinding acrobatics of their world premiere production of Dreamworks’ Prince of Egypt.

(Welcome to the jungle - Set decoration as seen from the balcony - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

Of course - all changes aside - Tarzan is still the story’s main character and main drive. It is his connection to Kala and his influence on the gorilla group that drives the first third of the story, before Jane Porter enters the jungle and turns the story towards the classic story of Tarzan’s discovery of his roots and all the turmoil that follows. At the centre of Fredericia’s production is Kim Ace Nielsen as Tarzan. A Tarzan, who in the hands of Ace, is both physically, comedically and emotionally impressive. He adds a boyish charm to the grown man who all of a sudden discovers that he is part of another race (who also happens to have women with curves and smiles). A charm, which is refreshing and brings quite an amount of comic reliefs in the midst of all breathless action happening around the entire auditorium.

Opposite of Tarzan we find two strong female roles (who both kicks their animated counterparts in a certain body part): the caring, loyal and unstoppable mother figure, Kala, and the curious, privileged and ultimately fierce lady of science, Jane. As Kala, Maria Skuladottir delivers - for me - the standout performance of the show. She is a powerhouse who boasts a wonderfully tender voice that makes Kala both loveable, emotional and undoubtedly tough. In other words a mother figure that is as good as they come. Whether she sings the famous
“You’ll Be In My Heart” to baby Tarzan moments after howling in sorrow of losing her own kid or she teases Kerchak in the wonderful, new song “Sure As Sun Turns to Moon”, Skuladottir embodies everything that’s important about the family aspect of this story.

(Maria Skuladottir as Kala, Bjørg Gamst as Jane Porter and Kim Ace as Tarzan - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

In addition to family, the story centres around love and the feeling of belonging. Two elements that we find in exuberance in Jane Porter, who I’ve seen portrayed equally great by Bjørg Gamst and understudy Regina Sloth; both singing the part flawlessly. Jane is first introduced as she explores the fauna and especially flora in the song,
“Waiting For This Moment”, just before the intermission. As the audience leaves the auditorium for refreshments, Gamst/Sloth has already established Jane as a both funny and powerful character - additionally thanks to the brilliantly acted song, “Different”, with which Tarzan and Jane rounds off the first act. The chemistry between Jane and Tarzan (Ace) and her father, Archimedes Porter (Anders Bircow), respectively is both actresses’ strongest asset. They possess well-proven funny bones and the scenes in which Jane slowly loses her naivety and innocence towards the world are especially funny and left the whole audience laughing.

(Jane Porter, Regina Sloth, explores the flora of the jungle - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

Diluckshan Jeyaratnam and Teit Samsø have both featured in prominent roles recently in Fredericia, with Diluckshan taking on the roles of Clopin (
Hunchback) as well as the titular role of Moses in Prince of Egypt and Samsø alternating the roles of father, Tommy, and son, Rasmus, in the original Danish musical, Seebach. In Tarzan they are reduced to playing smaller parts, though, as Terk and Kerchak respectively. Diluckshan once again shows his versatility playing a part very unlike both Clopin and Moses. His Terk is playful and loyal to the bones, but he also adds a fine layer of growing jealousy and annoyance towards Tarzan the more Jane gets in the picture. Samsø’s Kerchak on the other hand feels oddly phlegmatic in his presence; note that this is not a criticism of Samsø’s acting, but more the role itself as I remember feeling the same after watching the German rendition in Hamburg some years ago. The character never feels like it reaches its full potential.

In the human part of the character gallery, Danish veteran actor Anders Bircow delights as the warm, shrewd Archimedes Porter, Jane’s father, who mostly serves as a comic relief using Bircow’s great comedic timing and loveable character. In the other corner of the exploration camp, Jacob Prüser gives the story a much younger and, thus, less sinister Clayton, who in his hands becomes a clever comment on evolution as is pointed to by the Porters several times. Prüser’s Clayton is a classic, quite one-dimensional villain, who’s simple mindset and treatment of women and the nature is easy to understand (and hate). It is bad and that is it. His character and Kerchak’s character obviously suffers under the stronger and more well-written female parts, which is refreshing and poignant on its own. Praise is also due for the children playing young Tarzan and Terk! I have seen Arthur Ditlev Wadstrøm in his stage debut as Tarzan and Albert Mahesh Witthoff Groth as Terk in both showings and they have both acted and sung their parts brilliantly - for the song
“Who Better Than Me?” they even share the stage all alone for the entirety of the song - impressive and respect worthy!

(Anders Bircow as Archimedes Porter and Bjørg Gamst as Jane Porter with ensemble - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

Danish audiences have come to expect the world class production value and singing from Frederica Teater’s productions and we get that with
Tarzan. The creative team, as hinted towards earlier, has outdone themselves with an intricate set design of ropes, stairs, screens, leaves and the most wonderful costumes that all contributes to the fact that we are taken deep into the African jungle. A jungle that becomes a living, breathing space in the hands of the extremely talented set and costume designers as well as choreographers and aerial directors. Midway through the second act, Tarzan reaches its biggest “hold on, I will just get my jaw off of the floor”-moment as Tarzan and Jane literally tower towards the tree tops of the jungle before reaching the magical sunset perfectly timed to the exquisite final notes of the song, “For the First Time”. Here everything fits together perfectly and I have heard clear “wows” from the audience at both showings at this specific moment.

(Jane, Bjørg Gamst, and Tarzan, Kim Ace, in the tree tops - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

Finally, no musical is anything without its music, of course. We all know Phil Collins’ smash hits from the Disney Animated Classic, and they are all here in their nostalgic brilliance. Of them all,
“You’ll Be In My Heart” has been given an even bigger and more emotional role being repeated several times throughout the show sung by both Kala and Tarzan as their relationship is changing. However, the first version - sung by Kala - stands as one of the finest moments of the entire show as gorilla families are sitting around the theatre nursing their children quietly all the while Kala sings the heartfelt song to baby Tarzan. You are not distracted by the gorilla families, it just feels like the theatre is alive and you are right there in the jungle witnessing this intimate moment of family love. I have already mentioned several of the new songs and many of them are up there with the originals. Go listen to the original Broadway cast recording!
No mentioning of the music without mentioning the orchestra, who was granted freedom by Disney and Collins to put even more focus on the percussions by for instance adding more and performing it all live. All this adds up to a vibrant, living and contagiously energetic musical score throughout. Well-deserved that the orchestra is getting a standing ovation each and every night as part of curtain call.

(Kim Ace as Tarzan with ensemble - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

Tarzan is in one way more of the same from Fredericia Teater, being a big, visually impressive Disney production, and yet, it is also its own in so many ways. One of the reasons for this, is the somewhat small surroundings in which it has found its home. Fredericia Teater is in no way a big theatre and the auditorium is neither huge nor traditional. I am sure it gives the creative team a lot of headaches and sleepless nights whenever they are coming with ideas for the newest production. But I have to say that I think this is part of their success; the ideas are unlike what you would see at most other theatres and this might just very well be one of many reasons why Frederica Teater has established themselves as Denmark’s leading musical theatre. These creative, innovative and intimate productions are “everything that they are” and as such
Tarzan fits in perfectly with its story of finding your place and adapting your skills. Next up for Fredericia Teater is the world’s first fully licensed musical based on Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s songbook and I can hardly wait to see how they tackle yet another completely different task!


Tarzan finishes its completely sold out run in Fredericia on the 20th of January, but returns to the stage in Aarhus from the 21st of September 2019 and Copenhagen from the 29th of November 2019. Tickets are on sale now for both venues via FredericiaTeater.dk.

Review: Prince of Egypt the Musical

Fredericia Teater delivers another miracle

(Review of Prince of Egypt the Musical, which is currently doing its world premiere run at Fredericia Teater, Denmark. I have seen the Danish version on the 9th of May 2018 and the English version on the 18th of May 2018)

Fredericia Teater here in Denmark is currently at the centre of international theatric attention. After their ground- and record breaking production of Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre Dame (read my review here), they were thrilled to announce that they had teamed up with Universal/DreamWorks regarding the world premiere production of a brand new stage adapation of fan beloved 1998 animated film, The Prince of Egypt. Let me make it absolutely clear: for a Danish theatre to be trusted with a world premiere production with this potential is absolutely HUGE! It is, however, also incredibly well-deserved for Fredericia Teater who has continued to push the limits as to what a Danish theatre can do regarding productions. And here they are. They believed and miracles happened. A world premiere in little Fredericia with less than 50.000 citizens! And what a world premiere!

Prince of Egypt is a spectacular production no matter if you see the English-spoken version (which has stopped its Fredericia run now, but will return for Copenhagen in 2019) or the Danish version. The fact that they have been running this as a dual production only makes the end result even more impressive! Before I delve further into this review, let me say that, yes, the production does have some teething troubles, but I am absolutely sure that this show will reach Broadway and the West End at some point, and Fredericia Teater will be able to look at that with pride when it happens. During the 2 hour and 40 minutes long show, you already feel transported to the big international stages thanks to a familiar story of epic nature, Stephen Schwartz’ stunning musical score, a beautiful visual production of awe-inspiring simplicity and most of all a stellar cast featuring singers and dancers, who seamlessly has managed to switch between the Danish and English versions up until now, which is an impressive feat.

(“Deliver Us” - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

The story of the show is of course familiar to most people; not only from the DreamWorks animated feature but of course mainly from the old testament. It is the story of hebrew boy, Moses, who grew up as the prince of Egypt after his birth mother had let him go down the stream in a basket. Picked up by the queen Tuya, he is introduced to the privileged life as the son of Pharaoh Seti. Along with his older brother, Ramses, young Moses is a care-free bundle of energy racing around the city unaware of the privilege they are living under or the realities of the world around them. A chance encounter shows Moses the truth about his life and what follows is a dualistic battle between the two brothers and the privileged life of the royalty against the suppressed life of the slaves of Egypt. A strong, powerful personal battle and the grand, epic and world defining battle for freedom.

In the lead part as Moses, we see recent graduate from the The Danish National School of Performing Arts in Musical Theatre, Diluckshan Jeyaratnam who the Danish audience will recognise for his impressive turn as Clopin in Hunchback. He was announced for the part along with the original world premiere announcement and has been playing the part in the pre-world-premiere run in America in the autumn of 2017. This familiarity between him and his part can be felt right from his first second on stage. He embodies Moses with all the boyish charm, bewilderment, inner trouble, personal sacrifice and raw power that the role demands. And his voice. His voice is out of this world and luckily the many new songs from Schwartz grant him plenty of chances to show this along with
All I Ever Wanted, which was also featured in the film. This stage production is an hour longer than the animated film and this extra hour is mainly spent on creating more nuanced character portrayals. Thus, Moses is not unilaterally good and heroic; he is an inconsiderate teenager ignorant to his privileges, a self-doubting, rootless hero and ultimately a powerful, yet vulnerable, saviour of an entire people. All of these nuances are impressively handled by Diluckshan and it would be well-deserved if he could continue his work with the role in potential, future international productions.

(Diluckshan Jeyaratnam as Moses - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

This “humanisation” of the characters is very clear with the role of Ramses as well, who as a matter of fact goes through many of the same personal challenges as his
brother, and it is difficult not to feel sorry for him either even as he undertakes a more villainous role in the second act as the brotherly battle grows bigger and more disastrous. In the Danish production we witnessed Oliver Lundqvist in the part, whereas main actor Lars Mølsted was on the stage in the English version. At the Danish showing I was originally disappointed that we were missing Mølsted (after his majestic turn as Quasimodo), but, admittedly, Lundqvist made me forget that feeling immediately. He owned the part, especially as the younger Ramses in the first act, and his voice almost did the impossible (making me forget Mølsted). In contrast to this, Mølsted felt a bit less convincing during the first act (perhaps because I had Lundqvist’s younger portrayal in recent memory). However, he knocked it out of the park in the second act where his more mature presence and voice made me appreciate Ramses even more than during my first viewing. Mølsted has a voice that simply reaches in to touch my tear canals, and he shone as Ramses grows more and more desperate in the battle and when tragedy suddenly strikes Mølsted delivered a gut punching scene along with his wife Nefertari portrayed by Sandra Elsfort. If Lundqvist and Mølsted could have switched during the intermission, I think it would have been the perfect Ramses.

(Lars Mølsted as Ramses and Diluckshan Jeyaratnam as Moses - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

The remaining cast of actors is splendid as well, but having seen both versions, I have to really highlight Nadia Abraham as Tzipporah as she thrived in this version. In her hands Tzipporah stands as a powerful, sensual, inspiring, humourous character delivering some feminine balance in the testosterone filled brother-father-brother battle at the centre stage, which also features a frigthening Søren Bech-Madsen as high priest Hotep. Tzipporah’s new song
Dance to the Day is a show-stopping solo feat that introduces the character’s independent power and sass. But as with Moses and Ramses, Tzipporah is also nuanced especially thanks to her father, Jethro (a scene stealing Runi Lewerissa delivering a beautiful rendition of Through Heaven’s Eyes). In Hunchback Mads M. Nielsen stole the show as Claude Frollo, but his part here, as Pharaoh Seti, is one of the show’s weaker links. Nielsen carries on where he left off with a strong stage presence, but Seti does not come off as nuanced in the same way as the other characters and his inclusion in second act did not work as intended. In the English version, Nielsen was clearly challenged, which added to a somewhat lacklustre character; perhaps especially in comparison to some of the others. Nielsen’s work, however, is of high quality - this is more an issue with the script and staging. The rest of the ensemble does a job of a quality that I have come to expect from Fredericia Teater; their ensembles are always of the highest quality.

(Diluckshan Jeyaratnam as Moses and Nadia Abraham as Tzipporah - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

Here, the ensemble is expanded with six dancers, who perhaps deserves the biggest praise of all in this production. Under the leadership of dance captain, Jourdan Epstein, Rina Hirschorn, Giada Luciani, Joshua Keith, Gebriel Hyman and Kalon Badenhorst enchants the audience from beginning to end with stunning choreography, gravity defining lifts and professionalism that can be felt in the entire auditorium. The staging of the production is simplistic to say the least as a lot of the scenography is put in the hands of these six people who forms animals, rivers, statues, walls and landscape with their bodies. A scene featuring two fast-paced chariots and Moses’ encounter with the burning bush stand as two stunning examples of how the bodies of the dancers and the ensemble in general are used in (or actually as) the scenography It is mesmerising and spell-binding to witness and deservedly they received some of the loudest applauses and cheers at the end of each show. Coming to Fredericia from all over the world these six dancers add an element to Prince of Egypt that is previously unseen on Danish stage. This is international quality of the highest ranking and I would love to rewatch the show over and over again simply to be enchanted by their bodies as they own the stage!

(Dancers during ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’ - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

The animated film is hailed for its score by Stephen Schwartz (Hunchback, Pocahontas) and he returns to the show with an expanded score and an overwhelming amount of new songs. A few of the songs might not make the cut to bigger productions (at least not in their current form), but all in all it is an incredibly achievement by Schwartz to have extended the score with some iconic new songs. Footprints on the Sand and No Power on Earth are new songs that are used continuously throughout the show with the latter being on my mind ever since the first listen. One of Us delivers a classical humorous/uplifting opening of the second act and Heartless provides an emotional highlight in a devastating second act. This of course happens alongside timeless classics Deliver Us and Oscar-winning When You Believe from the animated feature.

As already hinted at, the scenography is very simplistic. There is handful of props besides around ten ‘bricks’ that are used along with the bodies to produce all the settings. The stage features a big platform, which can be raised, along with a similar platform hanging from the ceiling. Together with screens on the tage walls, this very simple setup is surprisingly successful in creating what is perhaps the most beautiful of the three productions I have seen in Fredericia (apart from Hunchback, I have also seen The Little Mermaid). It is inspiring how much these creative people can produce with such little material whether it is dark temples, bright deserts or the Red Sea, which of course has to be divided by Moses himself in a scene that is TYPICAL Fredericia Teater and then that is all I am going to say about that.

(Dark Temples are among the stunning scenery - Photo: Malmose.com / FredericiaTeater.dk)

All in all, it is impressive that this show seems so fulfilled in its world premiere run. Things will be changed and some needs to be as well, if it is to become an international smash hit, but the teams in Fredericia and California has managed to make a world premiere production that shows all the potential that this story, this music and this scenography holds. I salute and congratulate Fredericia Teater on what must surely stand as the highlight of their theatre history up until today. A world premiere production of a huge stage adaptation, which not only fills the house every evening but also delivers a heartfelt, powerful and visually overpowering experience that makes you lust for more. To everyone in Europe who loves musical theatre: come to the English production when it returns to Copenhagen in the summer of 2019 (tickets are already selling!) or heck, even come to Fredericia before the 10th of June and be enchanted by this epic tale of family, faith, love and humanity.


Prince of Egypt is playing in Fredericia (Danish version) until the 10th of June 2018. It returns (Danish and English version) in the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen from the 19th of June 2019. Tickets are on sale for all performances. Read more and see more photos (really, do it!) on Fredericia Teaters website (http://www.fredericiateater.dk/poe/).

Review: Coco

It is always with a bubbling excitement that I sit back in the cinema ready to enjoy the newest film from Disney/Pixar. It is with even greater excitement when it is a new, original story from the creative minds of Pixar; as such my excitement was huge as I sat down to watch their newest, Coco, yesterday (having been hyped by rave US and UK reviews the last couple of months) and let me be clear: I got (close to) everything I had hoped for and in some aspects even more.

Photo: Disney/Pixar

After a visually pleasing and creative introductory sequence, we meet our main character, Miguel, and his family. Miguel lives in a family of shoemakers. A proud family that is! However, Miguel is drawn to the one thing that his family will not allow: music! He feels the constant urge to play and share his music inspired by his biggest hero and idol, Ernesto de la Cruz: the biggest singer of all time! As mexican holiday, El Dia de los Muertos, approaches his family is getting everything ready as they remember their dead family members apart from one: the father of great grandmother Coco who left the town and his family to pursue a career in music only to never return back home. He is the reason for and embodiment of the family’s resent towards music. What follows is a tale that takes young Miguel on an adventurous and (surprise, surprise) dangerous journey centred around family, death and remembrance.

The film is divided into two quite different parts, and I have to admit that I felt it was kind of a slow starter with the first third being a bit too filled with easy gags and a quite recognisable storyline. However, the film really picks up its speed as the scenery changes and the first bunch of a very obvious, bony joke are out of the way. It is not Pixar’s most inventive storylines, but it is however one of the most deepfelt and heartwarming. It is filled with likeable characters with Miguel as the obvious centre. Luckily, they have managed to cast a great voice actor here, Anthony Gonzalez, who fills Miguel with the perfect mix of childish joy and energy as well as a vulnerability that develops throughout his journey. The characters of Miguel’s living family that takes up the first third of the film do not feel that nuanced (until a poignant finale!) with the exception of Mama Coco, who is immediately one of Pixar’s more memorable and loveable characters. No, it is, however, in the land of the dead that we - ironically - find the most living and well-developed characters. Especially the character, Hector, who becomes Miguel’s odd sidekick on his mission. To watch their relation develop through twists and turns are a joy to behold and belongs together with some of Pixar’s more iconic pairings!

Photo: Disney/Pixar

Music is one of the central themes of the film, and for this reason it seems obvious that the film should have some iconic music. Luckily, this is also the case as Coco is Pixar’s first film to slightly resemble some of Disney’s more classic animated musicals as we - unusual for Pixar - here see several characters sing during the film. The song of them all is the Oscar-nominated, ‘Remember Me’, written by ‘Let It Go’ couple Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez with the help of Germaine Franco who has written the rest of the (also delightful) original songs. ‘Remember Me’ goes through the same transformation as the film, actually, and it is a testement to a beautiful song that it works so well both as a big and light-hearted “opening number” in the hands of Ernesto de la Cruz and a slow, emotional lullaby towards the end, where it manages to grab a firm hold of your heart and squeeze in an equally heartbreaking and heartwarming manner. However, it is not only the songs that secure Coco’s convincing soundtrack: the score by Pixar-favourite Michael Giacchino is close to perfection with its guitar-heavy Mexican sounds that help secure a stunning portrayal of Mexican culture.

Because Coco is indeed also a love letter to the colourful neighbours of Pixar’s USA. It lives and breathes in Mexican and thanks to perhaps the most stunning animation I have seen to this date, it takes you straight into the heart of Mexico in such a sense that you in certain scenes almost forget that you are watching an animated feature film. The close-ups of Miguel’s guitar play that is perfectly synched to the actual guitar sounds belong to some of the film’s highlights when it comes to animation. Pixar is showcasing their abilities and really cementing their spot on top of the animation throne! In striking contrast to the little Mexican village is the land of the dead with all its bright, neon colours and imaginative takes on slightly alternative versions of our “living” building structures. At some points the colours (especially of the spiritual animals) resemble those of rave parties, easily making Coco the most colourful of all of Pixar’s filmography so far. Finally, along with some very funny Mexican cameos (of which Frida Carlo is the most prominent) the fact that some of the singing is still performed in Spanish in the English version of the film is a refreshing and perfectly suited choice!

Photo: Disney/Pixar

Before wrapping up this review to go listen to the soundtrack again, I have to salute Lee Unkrich, who not only directed but also wrote the original (along with Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich and co-director Adrian Molina) and edited this film (along with Steve Bloom). Unkrich has made a very daring film that centres around one of the most difficult topics, death, throught the entire 105 mins running time. This is rare for films of any kind, but is extremely rare (and bold) for a film with children as a main audience. However, I have rarely seen a film succeed in telling a story about death, grief and remembrance in such a fine, delightful, heartwarming and ultimately, very satisfying way. When Pixar are at their best, they transcend the genre and main audience, telling stories that through entertainment manage to tell important stories of delicate subject matters that resonate with children and adults alike. Coco ends up being one of their finest examples of this with both me and my girlfriend reduced to heartfelt tears by the end of the film (alright, I’ll admit to actually tearing up several times during the film). I am sure that this film will help many people (and children especially) deal with loss and death, which can be a very difficult and vulnerable subject to handle.

Photo: Disney/Pixar

Ultimately, it is only a somewhat weaker first third and a bit too many “easy jokes” that keep it from reaching the ultimate Pixar heights of films like Up, Ratatouille and The Incredibles. However, once the latter has seen its sequel this summer, I will once again be hoping for and looking forward to new, original stories from the Disney and Pixar partnership, because they are still bursting with animated surplus and a seemingly indomitable flair for telling important stories for adults and children to enjoy together.


Review: Beauty and the Beast

The build up to Disney’s greatly anticipated live action remake of one of their best animated features of all time has been a rollercoaster ride worthy of a place in Disneyland folklore! From the immediate reserved excitement following the initial announcement: the story seemed very obvious for a beautiful live action reimagining, but it also meant possibly ruining the perfection of the animated original! This evolved into ecstatic hyperventilation as the perfectly composed teaser trailer hit the internet last May: the ambience, the music and the nostalgia - everything seemed to be remade to perfection! But, alas, then came the first trailer with questionable CGI figures and a lack of that wow factor, that the teaser had so stunningly teased. In recent weeks it has been with a healthy scepticism that I anticipated the film and now that I have seen it, I can say that it sits somewhere in between all the different emotions the build up brought to life. All in all, however, it is a beautiful and dazzling film experience bringing back the memories of the animated classic and the wonders of the stage musical, while still having its own unique feeling thanks to the film media. Some of the trailer-induced scepticism proved to be justified, though, but more about that later.

Photo: Disney

Storywise it is close to being a scene-by-scene reproduction of the original. Despite the addition of four new songs and some extra background information, it still didn’t feel like 45 minutes were added in comparison the 1991 animation. It has taken some ideas from the stage musical and some ideas has either been created for this film or ‘lifted’ from original outtakes (including some additional lyrics to classic songs), but all in all it is - storywise - a relatable experience. Personally, I am happy about this; this story is simply too iconic to change in any monumental way. Oh, and by the way... that “change” to the dynamic between LeFou and Gaston that has caused Disney to remove the film from several homophobic countries is so subtle that it neither should infuriate those countries or people who have questioned the necessity of it. In the next part of this review, I will take a closer look at some of the actors and their performances. This might include some spoilers, so be warned: if you are yet to see the film, I advise you to not read further until afterwards :-)

The casting of the film is undoubtedly the most star-studded of all Disney remakes (even though, the Jungle Book did quite well with its casting as well). However, several of the casting choices have caused quite some comments and negativity in the build up to the film: was Dan Stevens ‘beasty’ enough, could Emma Watson sing and would she feel like Belle at all? and how about Ewan McGregor? He has himself questioned his (lack of a proper) french accent. At the end of the day, however, I think the casting more or less is spot on!

Photo: Disney

Dan Stevens as Beast has not got much to work with when it comes to non-CGI scenes, but he succeeds in what so often is a big problem with CGI characters: he makes Beast feel like a living character. Here, it is an even bigger achievement, since the design of and CGI work with Beast is of a questionable quality. In many scenes, his movements feel too mechanic, which is really surprising considering the state-of-the-art CGI work achieved by The Jungle Book. However, Stevens manages to put a lot of charm, vulnerability and uncontrollable rage into his character and thanks to motion capture, his facial expressions succeeds in shining through the generic computer design. His vocal performance is hard to question as he especially slays Beast’s new ballad “Evermore”; a song that to me is not only the best of the new songs but actually one of the best of the entire film. I was sad to see the stage musicals “If I Can’t Love Her” replaced by this, but “Evermore” is of equal quality and it fits very nicely in the film and secures a great, emotional highlight!

Emma Watson as Belle... While I was very pleasantly surprised, it still did not feel 100% spot on! Her singing is beyond auto-tuned, which is in particular clear when you just listen to the soundtrack. Where Watson wins is with her acting: it made me forget about the auto-tuning after the first couple of shots of “Belle”. She portrays Belle with the necessary mixture of sweetness, intelligence and stubbornness. She still feels a bit too young at times, I’ll say. In addition to this, the choice to have a VERY British Belle seems odd - but since this is a recurring issue with the characters, Watson should not get the stick for this of course. Watson, however, must settle for a place below the trio of Stevens, Evans and Gad who really takes the place in the sun with their performances. Kevin Kline is good albeit forgettable as Maurice, whose additional background story didn’t really touch me.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and his sidekick LeFou steals the show in every scene they feature in! Their chemistry and comedic timing is spot on and while Evans easily could have made Gaston even slick, he succeeds in portraying our main antagonist as one of the scariest of Disney history. This character is the talk of the town (as showed in the brilliantly made “Gaston”), he is the unquestioned leader of the people and the object of many a damsels’ (and sidekicks’) unrequited love despite all the horrible assets of his character. He is the bully that so many has faced during their life and Evans portrays this brilliantly! Gad is given a more complex LeFou than in the original, but he still manages to mix the complex nature of LeFou’s constant doubt towards Gaston’s methods and the slapstick comic relief that has always been LeFou’s job in the story.

Photo: Disney

As the many enchanted objects and servants of the castle, Ewan McGregor and Sir Ian McKellen leads the team as Lumiere and Cogsworth, while Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and of course Emma Thompson all play their parts with love and charm as well. McGregor is right to question his french accent, but his chemistry with McKellen levels it and then some - they have the brilliant ping-pong chemistry that makes Lumiere and Cogsworth one of the most memorable duos of Disney’s cinematic archive. The design of these characters was perhaps what raised most questions from me, as the first images emerged. They are VERY different from their animated counterparts and while I do miss the more lively animated characters, the design is really growing on me. This film is trying to make a non-animated version of the original; not only in the obvious sense of it being a live-action version, but also by making it feel more realistic and less ‘cartoonish’. Considering this, the designs are very good and the extremely talented actors breathes all the life into the characters that naturally is missed with the more realistic design. As a matter of fact, it makes the notion of them being real humans trapped inside objects more emotional and a certain scene near the end had a great emotional impact thanks to this. (Was I the only thinking about the hand-holding scene from Toy Story 3 here?)

Apart from the previously mentioned problems with the Beast’s CGI work, this film is the dazzling visual feast for your eyes that you want it to be! The production design is exuberant and stays equally true to the visuals of the original and the obvious possibilities you get when working with a live-action film. The village is charming and probably the set that feels most like an animated film with its bright colours and quirky designs. The castle is majestic and despite the increased realism it has never felt more ‘alive’ - the attention to detail is truly mesmerising! The CGI work is (apart from Beast) also very good and blend between real and computer-generated sets is seemless in almost all scenes. ‘Be Our Guest’ is a cornucopia of visuals and for the first time ever, I wanted to watch something in 3D as I watched that scene.

Photo: Disney

With the animated classic being one of Disney’s most beloved, most beautiful and most appreciated musicals, this film obviously builds on that. You get all the original songs from Menken/Rice/Ashman in faithful, new versions along with some brand new songs from Menken with “Evermore” and “Days in the Sun” immediately feeling like they have always a part of the score. Fans of the stage musical might miss some of the songs from this production, but will have to be settle for some beautiful instrumental passages where especially the use of “Home” hit an emotional nerve with me.

When the film had ended and the credits (which by the way were stunning and cleverly paid homage to stage musical traditions) was rolling down the screen, I saw a little girl dressed as Belle dancing in front of the screen with her mum dressed in the colours of Beast’s ballroom dress to the new version of “Beauty and the Beast” by Arianna Grande and John Legend. Had I not been sure up until this point, that was the moment I realised that Disney had won here - the film brings the film to a new audience and satisfied the generations that grew up loving the original animated feature. It truly is a tale as old as time and with new version Disney has made this tale feel brand new and quintessentially nostalgic at the same time. We all know that the main reason for all these live-action remakes from Disney of course is money, but as long as the films are made with the same amount of love, creativity and respect as this one and The Jungle Book, I only have one thing to say to Disney: BE MY GUEST!


Au revoir, Cinémagique?

It was with disbelief that I went to bed yesterday, having read the initial rumours of the imminent closure of Cinémagique. Rumours that appeared as lightning from a clear sky and were followed by more and more reports during today. It seems highly likely that the reports are true, and that George will take the last adventure-initiating phone call already next month, in March! The show, which features a clever mix of live acting, special effects and a clever film featuring some of the most memorable moments of cinema history. As such it works as the embodiment of the original WDS vision; it’s a fantastic love letter to cinema celebrating more than 100 years of magic on the big screen. Featuring Martin Short and Julie Delpy as the main characters who travel through big cinema hits such as Star Wars, La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon, Mary Poppins, and The Wizard of Oz just to name very few of them. In 2012 - for the park’s 10th anniversary - 12 new clips were added to the film updating it with new films known by the new audience. It was an easily updated show that continued to fill the house (if not fully, then still most of its 1,100 seat capacity), so why close it?

That’s the question most of us are sitting with today as we also regret the fact that many of us will not get a chance to say au revoir to George and Marguerite. First of all, it seems outrageous to close down a 1,100 seat theatre featuring several daily shows just before what hopefully is expected to be busiest months in many years! That is simply baffling! We now also know that it is rumoured to be followed by a Marvel show of some sort (ED92 on Twitter). While many - me included - have long advocated for Marvel to be properly introduced into the Studios, I do not think anyone thought it would be Cinémagique to go first. With questionable (to be kind) experiences as Armageddon, Moteurs... Action and Restaurant des Stars taking up a lot of space and numerous free expansion pads, the brutal destruction of a beloved fan favourite was not in the cards. The fact that this Marvel show is rumoured to resemble Shanghai Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean stunt show, makes it even more baffling; will we have two stunt shows within a few metres then? One of them being considerably inferior in comparison to its own history and venue! I guess we will have to wait and see what this Marvel experience will be, but it raises a lot of questions: will the show building remain intact? (I guess it will) Will it receive an exterior update? Will it really be a stunt show or will it perhaps be a new kind of experience combining some of the Star Wars Launch Bay ideas with show elements featuring all the big Marvel heroes? and perhaps biggest of all: what will this mean for the remaining parts of Production Courtyard?

Taking on the last question, Production Courtyard - while having its issues - is nowhere close to being the biggest problem of the studios’ left side. Backlot has been screaming for attention since day 1 and it already has Marvel presence with Spidey and Iron Man’s presence in Blockbuster Café! Everyone have been waiting for the statement revealing a plan for Backlot to be turned into a full blown Marvel Land! Everything is there for it: RnRC could easily be rethemed, the stunt show venue could feature a brand new Marvel stunt show offering both a bigger stage and more grandeur than Cinémagique’s theatre like building, and Armageddon could be demolished and make way. So why will Marvel all of a sudden feature in Production Courtyard now? It could be:

1. the result of a “lost in translation” leading to a misunderstanding. I mean, come on guys, we can hope! ;-)

2. That this Marvel show is not the start of some big revamp of WDS, as we all secretly hope in order to justify the closing of our favourite. What if, it is simply just a question of Cinémagique being a license heavy show that doesn’t offer any merchandise sales sitting in a big venue, that is easily transformed into a show featuring all your Marvel heroes (own license) producing an increased interest in expensive Marvel merchandise. An area that DLP and any other Disney park is yet to exploit; Hong Kong and probably DCA will both be getting big Marvel expansions in the coming years. Will it “just” be an excuse for Season of Heroes and leave us with an even bigger thematic mess in the left side of the park (if that’s possible at all)

3. It could be sign of what we all believe: a much bigger plan featuring a complete overhaul of most of WDS. The fact that Marvel is put in Production Courtyard in stead of Backlot could then be that the plan here is to either make the entire left side a Marvel area or the fact that something else entirely is planned for Backlot. The latter would be bad news for Tower of Terror fans as the DCA headed Guardians of the Galaxy makeover would then be an obvious centrepiece of a Production Courtyard turned Marvel land. This would of course also mean the closure of Stitch Live!, Disney Junior Live and probably Restaurant des Stars. Could it be that most of Backlot would then be completely re-imagined and not just re-themed? It could free up a lot of space and Armageddon could be demolished. Any such plan would not be revealed until after the 25th anniversary celebrations has kicked off and received its attention!

So, for now, it seems like we will remain patient. Maybe spend the wait as George going through some of the best films in cinema history and think about the original vision of the studios, which of course failed from day 1, but still features so much potential if done right. Because, the closure of Cinémagique will be the final nail in the coffin of the “celebration of cinema and all aspects of film-making” in favour of “riding the movies”. We can hope that it will bring some much needed theming to Place des Stars, although it will not be that Theatre district placemaking I have been dreaming of for years with George’s adventures beings its centrepiece. Maybe, just maybe; some day in the future George will make a Captain EO and make a comeback! If that’s the case, I know I’ll be there... Until then, here’s hoping that the bulldozers will hit a mobile phone and save Cinémagique in the end! :-)