beauty and the beast

Still magical. Yet, there’s something there that wasn’t there before, and that something is meh.

Belle and Beast dance the night away.

If you’ve seen the 1991 Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast as much as I have, you’re probably just as nervously excited for the live-action version as I was. The 1991 film was the first animated feature to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar Award, and for good reason: it was smart, magical, romantic, and broke down animation barriers. The new live action version had to stay true to these things, while simultaneously amping up the drama, the romance, and the magic, and still embracing its classic songs (“Bonjour”, “Be Our Guest”, “Beauty and the Beast”, etc.). For a while, it was scarily unclear if the new version would be a musical at all. Once announced it would be, however, the producers needed to cast actors who could sing, and employ special effects that didn’t ruin the fun-loving side characters like Lumiere, Cogsworth, and, of course, the central character of the Beast. While the new songs and expanded character backstories are jarring and uninspired, the majority of the new Beauty and the Beast is still full of magic and romance, and does the original and Disney source material proud. The film also marks a pivotal point in Disney’s aspiration to have one of the industry’s most inclusive, and ethnically and racially diverse, modern film portfolios.

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Amos, (Me), Siddhartha, Elizabeth, and Dan of 'Aria for a Cow'

Amos, Me, Siddhartha, Stephanie, and Dan talking ‘Aria for a Cow’

The shorts programs at SFIFF58 have been increasing in popularity the last few years, and Shorts 5: Family Films is no exception. One film from the group, the colorful and magnificent musical Aria for a Cow, is appropriately quite the showstopper. I sat down with Disney animator and Aria for a Cow writer/director Dan Lund, art director and co-producer Amos Sussigan, background designer and painter Stephanie Dominguez, and production manager Siddhartha Maganti at the Hotel Majestic, a few blocks from where their short would premiere the next day and a few hours before their premiere party. The camaraderie within the group is infectious, and they had no trouble jumping right into the nitty gritty of their film: 

Where did the idea for Aria for a Cow originate?

Dan Lund: I’ve always had a pretty healthy ‘outside-of-Disney’ project type thing going. I was a PA in 1989 at Disney and was working with people who were working with Howard (Ashman). I had kept hearing about this passion project of his called ‘Fatty of the Opera’. Right before we started working on Frozen I had this period where I didn’t have an outside project to work on and it kinda freaked me out. I was in New York and I had mentioned to a friend, ‘I wonder what ever happened to Howard’s “Fatty of the Opera” project’ and my friend knew Sarah (Howard’s sister) peripherally and he said, ‘You should email her.’ So I did and she graciously agreed to give me all the information I needed on this passion project if I listened to her favorite song that no one has ever heard by him, called Aria for a Cow.” I really just did it to get the other thing I wanted, but the other thing I wanted turned out to be a little odder than I thought. And I just fell in love with the cow song. She let me turn it into an animated thing. Originally she was thinking of it being a children’s book but I don’t know that world at all. The song was just lyrics on a page. I wrote the wraparound. I didn’t just want to make a music video. I wanted the song to have a home that was as story-driven as the song.

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