For four months, TV’s biggest night had a giant question-mark.
Sundays are when ratings peak. But in its makeshift, strike-time schedule, ABC simply listed “Wonderful World of Disney” movies at 8 p.m., without saying which ones.
Disney movies, after all, can be as magical as “Mary Poppins,” as blah as this year’s “Haunted Mansion,” as forgettable as several I’ve forgotten. So which ones would be shown?
Now we finally know. This starts with “Jungle Cruise,” Oct. 1; “Cruella,” Oct. 8; and “Encanto” (shown here), Oct. 15. That covers a broad range — ordinary adventure, salvaged by likable stars … extraordinary adventure with awesome visuals … and an animated musical with some “Poppins-style” splendor.
“Jungle Book” is based on an amusement-park ride, a notion that soared with “Pirates of the Caribbean” and crashed with “Country Bears.” It has a standard story – a precise young woman hires the only available boat, which is as tattered as its owner-operator. But he’s played by Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson, she’s played by Emily Blunt and they have enough charm to overcome the clichés.
The next two, however, are exceptional:
— In “Cruella.” Emma Stone plays a young version of the “101 Dalmations” villain, with Emma Thompson as the evil baroness.
The movie is too long (two hours, 14 minutes, before you add commercials), too full of plot holes. How, exactly, did Cruella turn out to be a martial arts master? And why can’t anyone see through her simple disguises?
But there’s great work here. Aline Brosh McKenna (the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” producer and “Devil Wears Prada” writer) was one of the scriptwriters. Craig Gillespie – who did the wonderful “I, Tonya” and is drawing steep praise for the current “Dumb Money” – directed beautifully.
He was backed by visual wonders. “Cruella” won an Oscar for its costumes, a nomination for its hair and make-up. Set in early-1970s London, it ripples with the music and look of a time that still had some post-Beatles flair.
— “Encanto” starts with a farflung tale, filled with magic, special powers and an eternal candle .
Six people created the story and two of them – Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith – wrote the script. Those two also directed with Byron Howard, Bush’s “Zootopia” partner.
The result is visually spectacular and has a big bonus – composer Germaine Franco (“Coco”) and songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda.
There were Oscar nominations for Franco’s score and for Miranda’s Spanish-language love song. Overlooked (at first) was his “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which became a belated hit.
That song (which reached No. 1 in England) does it all – witty lyrics, accompanied by vibrant, high-octane visuals. It’s sort of the modern, improved version of “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”
So it’s appropriate that “Encanto will be part of a 100th-birthday celebration for Disney. Kelly Ripa will host and will also introduce a new cartoon, “Once Upon a Studio.”
Expect “Studio” to have a happy ending. Despite lots of flubs, Disney’s story is a happy one, especially with these three movies.