Diary of a Desperate Disney Director

rs_1024x576-160928081437-1024.lion-king.92816Monday: somewhere in Africa. (Assistant director says I should name a specific place because “Africa is not a country”. This seems incredibly racist to me: so far Africa seems like a very nice country, with roads and shops and airports and everything. Will have a word with him about his bigotry.)

Still can’t believe I have been hired by Disney to direct the live-action remake of The Lion King as part of their wonderful new plan to remake everything, all the time, forever. This is the fulfilment of my lifelong dream: to be employed.

Honestly thought it was all over after the failure of my last documentary, Shear Courage: The Butch McNutt Story: One Sheep-Shearer’s Journey Back From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But just last night I got the call saying that their first choice dropped out and here I am. (Apparently their second, third, fourth, 18th, 22nd and 47th choices also dropped out, can’t imagine why. Am truly living the dream.)

Tuesday. Amazing start to day: Sir Elton wants to do new version of ‘Circle of Life’, possibly with additional verse about Donald Trump. Budget meeting less positive. Apparently the studio spent most of my budget on the Beast makeup in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast: turns out they grew an actual Beast face in a secret military lab in Russia and then grafted it onto the lead’s face. Incredible passion for cinema! The downside is that budget constraints mean we have to hunt and cook our own food. No matter. Tonight’s lizard tasted just like chicken that’s been fed on nothing but the choicest lizard.

First rehearsals for Simba birth scene. The baboon is very regal and beautifully trained but keeps throwing the prop cub off Pride Rock. Still, we have time.

Wednesday. Exciting developments. Studio hoping for uptake in China so they’re asking for a panda to be inserted into the story. Have roughed out a storyline where a panda washes up in Zanzibar, then invests a huge amount of money in return for access to fertile farmland and a 99-year mineral extraction lease.

Baboon has stopped throwing prop cubs off cliff. Success!

Thursday. Difficult compromise on the stampede scene. Most of our effects budget is ring-fenced for the computer-generated scene where Mufasa talks to Simba out of a cloud, so we can’t afford a stunt-lion any more. Solution: we are going to have the wildebeest start running and then use a crane to toss into their midst a sack of potatoes dressed in officially licensed Lion King pajamas. Still taking this as a win.

they used to work for a dried mopani worm and a pat on the head

Tough meeting with meerkat’s agent, Babs, demanding a trailer and a tiny massage table for her client. Babs says she’d love to be accommodating but times have changed since the early 2000s. Back then they used to work for a dried mopani worm and a pat on the head but then Animal Planet made Meerkat Manor and the rest is showbiz history. Have asked props department to make a massage table out of a breadboard.

On the up side, was introduced to the warthog by the executive producer. He is very hairy and eats all the time and farts constantly. The warthog is also quite hairy.

Friday. Simba birth scene very traumatic for crew. Baboon was perfect: took live cub in his arms, walked up Pride Rock, held up Simba – and then Simba’s mother ran up behind him and removed the baboon’s entire spinal column with her index-claw. Am quickly discovering that lions are method actors, really inhabit their roles. Passion! Also blood and crying. Lots of sugar-water on set. Baboon’s agent is suing. Says he was booked for a big commercial next month selling almond milk in Japan.

Saturday. Sombre mood on set gets more sombre as Sir Elton’s demo arrives with covering note saying he has been questioning what it’s all for. Note explains that the version of ‘Circle of Life’ is an “ironic, satirical reinvention” of the original. We play it. It’s called ‘Circle of Death’ and is about how we are all circling the drain of obliteration. Probably not going to be able to use this.

Sunday. Budget halved once more, Beauty and the Beast again. Apparently they grew an entirely new Emma Watson in a lab in Russia, one who didn’t swallow her words. Can no longer afford computer-generated Mufasa cloud scene so am planning to go old-school, with an actual cloud (diesel fumes, probably) and Mufasa’s face painted on a weather balloon that sort of looms in and out of the cloud.

Monday. Call from the studio. They need to halve the budget again and that means consolidating crew. Directing duties to be shared between assistant director and the meerkat. Am gutted but this is the circle of life. I would quote the line but can’t afford to pay royalties. But you know how it goes.


Published in The Times


Cinema Purgatorio and the Ball-Pond from Hell


Screen 2, Row E, third seat on the left

Hell, Dante tells us, has nine circles, each one reserved for souls guilty of particular sins.

The greedy, for example, go to the Third Circle, while heretics are flung down into the Fourth. If you’ve lived a lustful life, full of debauchery and fornication, you will find yourself in the second circle, writhing and naked with millions of other lustful souls who – wait, how exactly is that a punishment?

According to Dante, the worst Circles of Hell are reserved for fraudsters and traitors, suggesting that he’d had an unfortunate disagreement with his publisher over royalties. But the great Italian fell short in his demonic visions, because there is another Circle of Hell: the Tenth.

It is a place of infinite suffering and utter despair, echoing with the wailing of the damned.

It is a movie theatre called Cinepolis Junior.

The company responsible for this living nightmare is a Mexican chain of movie theatres called Cinepolis, presumably Senior, although given that it’s Mexican that might be Señor.
Señor Cinepolis wants to get more children into its cinemas. But, as the LA Times explained in its coverage of the diabolical new scheme, it can be “hard for young children to sit still for two hours, and that can turn a trip to the movies into an ordeal for parents”.
Cinepolis’s solution? Turn it into an ordeal for everyone, so parents don’t have to suffer alone.

That’s why they are building playgrounds inside movie theatres.

Jungle gyms. Beanbags. Slides.

Inside the theatre. Just next to the seats.

May God have mercy on our souls.

Apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure this violates the Geneva Convention, I can’t see how this satanic intervention is going to encourage children to watch films. It’s like primary schools deciding to teach children by taking them to a paintball range. Sure, they’ll see the odd word on a few signposts, and they’ll certainly sound out their letters – “Aaaaa! Eeeee! Miss, he shot me in the face! Oooooo!” – but I’m not convinced it will engender in them a lifelong love of literature.

One could argue that Señor Diablo isn’t actually doing it for the kiddies but is rather offering exhausted parents a chance to spend two hours asleep in a comfortable chair while their offspring gambol about in a tiny bespoke zoo. But then why go to the movies at all? Or is the secret hope that some other parents, slightly less sleep-deprived and more community-minded than yourself, will look after your brood as well as theirs?

the Devil himself has gone into the movie business

No, there are only two logical explanations for this monstrosity. Either Cinepolis was sold the idea by Netflix (“No, really, this will totally get more people into cinemas. Heh heh.”) or the Devil himself has gone into the movie business.

Then again, my own cinema-going history is peppered with fairly hellish moments.
For example, you haven’t known mortification until your parents have taken 11-year-old you to see Dirty Dancing, and, as the resort dancers indulge in some off-duty bum-grabbing and pelvis-grinding, you’ve prayed for the earth to open up and swallow you whole.

Likewise, there was the time I took a girlfriend to see Titanic and she began to sob the moment the film began. I was perturbed. Was it something I’d said? Had she just received terrible news via SMS on her incredibly expensive and stylish Nokia 3110? “No,” she sobbed, “I just know what’s going to happen.”

Happen? But . that was still three hours away! And if she was blubbing now, with everyone still alive, what was it going to be like when Kate and Leo went overboard and tried to cling to that plank? Would she be screaming and thrashing and tearing out her hair? And how could I ask that question without seeming callous? Worse, people were starting to glare at me. Bastard. He’s taken her to the movies to break up with her, and he couldn’t even wait until the end. Bastard.

Mostly, however, hell is other people, the ones you don’t know: the wrapper-rustlers, the straw slurpers, the chair kickers, or simply those peculiar innocents who don’t seem to understand that the story will unfold within the next 90 minutes.

“How is Frodo going to get away from the spider?” they cry. “Hey? How?!” I long to take them aside and tell them that the studio paid $300-million just so that their question would be answered. But mostly I want to ask them why they seem so unfamiliar with the conventions of storytelling. Did they have particularly busy parents? “‘Goldilocks gasped: the three bears had returned! And then – Sorry, love, got to take this call. Good night.”

No, I have to admit that I’ve never had the idyllic cinema experience – cinema paradiso. My consolation, however, is that Mexico and California are a world away, and I will never endure cinema purgatorio, either. Cinepolis Junior? Hell no.


Published in The Times

OMG Jokr, u r so not funny

The last time I saw the Fantastic Four they were in their late 20s, battling both evil and receding hairlines.

They were desperate to save the planet because they had a deep respect for all life, but they had other powerful motivations too: they also really wanted to put down a deposit on an apartment and get a puppy.

Once upon a time, superheroes were grown-ups. Some of them were naïve when it came to the complexities of the human heart. Others had recently sprung fully formed out of clouds of plasma or the crumbling ruins of Marlon Brando. But all of them were at least old enough to buy a tequila after a tough day of fighting intergalactic crime. No longer.

As I watched the trailer for the rebooted Fantastic Four this weekend I saw heroes who were beautiful, tormented and brilliant, but I’m still not sure how they’re going to get to the scene of a crime unless their mom drives them there. The old Four fought to roll back evil. These guys seem to be fighting to roll back child labour laws.

To be fair, most of the actors involved are in their late 20s, but holy Botox, Batman, they do look young. Which makes me wonder where it will stop. If they’re supposed to look 22 now, will they be 18 in the next reboot, and 12 in the one after that?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It’s a gloomy teen

After all, superheroes might be able to withstand nuclear blasts, the deadly cold of deep space and the murderous embarrassment of getting an erection in skin-tight red underpants, but they are completely helpless against their ultimate enemy: the Hollywood babyfication machine.

Deep in the canyons of Los Angeles, mad geniuses are turning the knob relentlessly backwards, and soon proud adults will be transformed into slouching, sighing, troubled children. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It’s a gloomy teen, resenting the crap out of having been given an origin story it never asked for!

Of course, it all makes great economic sense. The teens who flock to tent-pole movies want to see heroes who reflect their own lives. But I’m not sure how far you can turn the banality knob until the Fantastic Four become just four kids with body issues.

Consider The Thing. If you were in your early 30s and you woke up one morning looking like the love child of The Hulk and a cornflake you’d be pretty bummed. But you’re a grown-up, you’ve got a network of friends who can point you to a specialist, and besides, you prefer wearing layers these days so it’s not a train smash. But what must it be like for a 16-year-old to wake up as The Thing? I’d never leave my room again, let alone go out to battle for the forces of darkness. (If the forces of darkness had some kind of anti-cornflake ointment I might be tempted, but even then I’d insist that my dad dropped me off at least five blocks away.)

It’s even worse for poor Reed Richards, aka Mr Fantastic. “No, I’m Mr Fantastic. No, my dad is Mr Richards. No, he’s not Mr Mr Fantastic, he’s just Norm Richards. Oh for God’s sake …” And let’s not even imagine the social hell caused by teenage hormones and appendages that can stretch almost infinitely.

No, the Emo Four have given us a glimpse into the future of the superhero, and it’s not pretty. I can already see a scene from a 2018 blockbuster about Perfecta, a super-millennial who has to take down an English teacher who has refused to give everyone in the class a gold star and a cupcake. The pressure is affecting her home life …

“Young lady, go to your regeneration chamber this instant!”

“You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my dad!”

“Yes, but before your father was evaporated by the explosion of his cybertronic energon pulsator, he appointed me as your protector.”

“Oh my God! That is so unfair! I wish I’d never been cloned!”

And what of Wonderwoman, rebooted in 2019 as Wondergirl and then again in 2021 as Wondertween? Will she swap her Lasso of Truth for an iPhone of Meanness? “OMG Jokr, I dont know y your called Jokr bkoz u r so not funny, and whoeva is doing yr makeup is LAME.” Boom! “Lx Luthr, your a bald douchebag + if you don’t disarm the nukular bomb I am going to launch a #LexLuthorIsALozr tag. Yr move.” Shazzam!

And then? Batboy patrolling the streets of Gotham on a stealth tricycle? Supertoddler, invulnerable to everything except Kryptonite and ice cream? Will Peter Parker even get bitten by that damned spider if Aunt May never lets him go outside for fear of allergies?

Come back, Superman IV. All is forgiven.


First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail.