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Disney

Disney Bets On 'Avatar' Theme Park

May 23, 2017

Eight years after “Avatar” came out, Disney is hoping the film’s success will translate to a new theme park. Pandora — The World of Avatar opens later this week near Orlando, Florida.

There's something very, very off about all those chipper household objects in Disney's expensive, soulless new live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast. But we don't realize quite what it is until "Be Our Guest," the intended showstopper at the film's midway point, in which all these transmogrified servants band together to make Belle, their lovely young prisoner, feel like royalty.

If you've ever spent an afternoon with "Under the Sea" or "A Whole New World" or "Be Our Guest" stuck in your head, you can thank composer Alan Menken.

Menken scored The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and many other Disney classics. He says he prefers his songs "to be hummable."

This year, Disney premiered its first Latina princess: Elena Castillo Flores, better known as Elena of Avalor. She sings and plays guitar, she goes on adventures, rules her kingdom and has her own highly rated animated TV show.

You would be forgiven for getting so lost in the world of Moana that the story itself becomes merely a distant hum. Disney's newest animated extravaganza takes as its inspiration the crystal blue waves and lush green island mountains of Polynesia, making the landscape into a 3-D storybook. The computer animation, so much crisper and more vibrant than the all-white X-Y planes of Frozen, turns the film into a celebration of (bio)diversity. And not a moment too soon for a world that keeps needing to be reminded that this is all worth taking some effort to save.

Disney's latest movie, Moana, tells the story of a young girl living on an island in the South Pacific. She's the daughter of the chief, which means she's supposed to lead her people and stay on the island, but she finds herself drawn to the sea. When coconuts start rotting and fish start dying, she sails out to save herself and her people by finding the demigod named Maui.

Think about the classic Disney animated movies, and you may just start humming a song. Director Ron Clements says the pairing of music and film goes back to Disney's early animated films, projects like Steamboat Willie and Silly Symphonies.

The new movie Queen of Katwe has a familiar theme: It's the real-life story of a girl from the slums who discovers an unlikely talent (chess) and becomes an unlikely champion. But in other ways, the film is revolutionary: It may be the first time a major studio (Disney) has set a movie in Africa with all black actors and no animals.

Back in 1988, Indian-American director Mira Nair burst onto the scene with her debut feature Salaam Bombay!, a ground-level portrait of Bombay street kids that brought the qualities of Italian neorealism — and its key successors, like Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy" — to a nascent American independent scene. With her new film Queen of Katwe, Nair comes full circle, at least in the sense that she's again addressing the perils of extreme poverty and the resilient children who withstand it.

If you've seen Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book or the Toy Story movies, you've seen the work of animator Floyd Norman; for decades, he has helped bring Disney and Pixar classics to life.

Now 81, Norman still works for Disney, where he has plied his trade, on and off, since he became the studio's first African-American animator in the 1950s.

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