Tag Archives: disney

‘Beauty and the Beast’ aims to enchant a new generation

In 1991, Disney struck gold with Beauty and the Beast. The film enchanted audiences and critics alike, and raked in several hundred million dollars along the way, but also upended expectations of what an animated film could be.

Not only did the New York Times theater critic controversially call it the best Broadway musical score of the year (spurring an actual Broadway show three years later), it also was the first-ever animated film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar.

Over a quarter century later, the legacy endures but times have changed, and there’s a new Beauty and the Beast on the block. Out March 17, the film is a lavish live-action reimagining of the “tale as old as time” with state-of-the-art CG splendor, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s classic songs and score (and a few new tunes with Tim Rice), and a modern social consciousness.

The film stars Harry Potter’s Emma Watson as the bookish heroine Belle, who yearns for adventure outside of the confines of her “small provincial town” and Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens as the cursed and cold Beast. Their supporting cast is a coterie of veterans, including Kevin Kline (Maurice), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) and Ewan McGregor (Lumiere).

That Disney’s specific vision for Beauty and the Beast has lived on is no surprise, and its 13-year run on Broadway helped keep it in the cultural consciousness.

“It’s genuinely romantic, a genuinely beautiful story,” Menken said of its lasting appeal.

And then there’s the nostalgia aspect. For many (including the cast), this was a seminal childhood film.

Luke Evans (Gaston) saw it when he was 12, Josh Gad (LeFou) when he was 10, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette) when she was 8. Suffice it to say, they all knew the lyrics to the songs before they were cast.

The remake is also part of the Walt Disney Company’s ongoing strategy to mine their vaults for animated fare worthy of live-action re-creations. Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King are just a few already in the works.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t worthy updates to be made in Beauty and the Beast. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) delighted in rooting the story in a specific time and place — 1740 France — and adorning every last corner of the production with Rococo and Baroque details.

Technology advances allowed the production to render household objects that look believable when brought to life. The Beast’s look, meanwhile, was achieved by combining performance capture and MOVA, a facial capture system, meaning Stevens throughout production walked on stilts and sported a prosthetic muscle suit with a gray body suit on top. (Yes, he danced in this getup).

The characters are more fleshed out as well. The Beast gets a backstory. As does Belle, whose independence looked refreshingly radical in ‘91 and goes even further here.

“She’s a 21st century Disney princess. She’s not just a pretty girl in a dress,” Evans said. “She’s fearless and needs no one to validate her.”

That the woman behind the character is also the UN women’s goodwill ambassador only adds to its resonance.

“I think Emma’s an incredible role model for young girls, as somebody who has two daughters but also has a young son who I want to grow up with these values instilled,” Stevens said.

And, in a tribute to Ashman, who died of complications relating to AIDS at age 40 before the ‘91 film came out, the production even unearthed forgotten lyrics from his notes, which they’ve added to two songs in the new film — Gaston and Beauty and the Beast.

While many of the beats, and even lines, remain the same as in 1991, the world looks more diverse from the very first shots. Faces of all races can be seen both in the grand castle and the country town.

“(Condon) wanted to make a film that was resonant for 2017, that represents the world as it is today,” said Mbatha-Raw.

Much has been made, too, of LeFou’s subtle “gay moment,” which put the internet in a tizzy far ahead of anyone actually seeing the film. On one side, GLAAD was applauding, on the other, a Facebook page apparently belonging to the Henagar Drive-In Theatre in Henagar, Alabama, announced that it would not be showing the film.

Many in the production have backed away from the topic entirely.

“To define LeFou as gay … nobody who sees the movie could define it that way. He’s enthralled with Gaston,” Menken said. “I’m happy that LeFou is getting so much attention. But I pray that this stupid topic goes away because it’s just not relevant with any respect to the story. Even the one moment that’s being discussed is just a silly little wink. It’s nothing.”

For his part, Gad thinks it’s been “overblown,” too, and that the story is more about “inclusiveness” and not judging a book by its cover.

“It’s a story with a lot of wonderful messages, and, really once you watch the film, anyone who is wondering what it’s all about will understand that it’s a beautiful story, inclusive of everyone. It’s a legacy that I’m proud to be part of,” Evans added.

“But you can judge Gaston by his cover,” he said with a smirk. “That’s exactly who he is.”

‘The Jungle Book’ is a dazzling visual experience

You can practically feel the beating heart of the jungle in Jon Favreau’s stunning adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” which is easily the most visually dazzling movie to hit theaters this year. Like “Avatar” before it, this CG and live action interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale of the boy raised by wolves feels like a momentous occasion in the technical advancements of big budget cinema.

From the thrill of a distant waterfall to the terror of a mudslide or stampeding buffalo, Favreau and his visual effects maestros have created artificial living things that truly look and feel real.

Even the animals’ ability to communicate in English seems as natural as their breathing and emoting. They have not been sanitized to be cute or less threatening either — even the tender mama wolf Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).

They still look like wild animals and, for the most part, act like wild animals, too. At first, this actually makes their close interactions with the human boy Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) even more disarming. Eventually your nerves calm and you submit to the magic of this world.

The story follows the same beats as Disney’s animated feature from 1967, but Favreau and his team made sure to up the intensity a few notches — the hyperrealism of the animals necessitates it. The tension created by the fact that they all have claws and teeth and instinct to contend with is always there.

You’re already on edge by the time the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba, in a truly stunning vocal performance that’s both terrifying and relatable) enters the picture. He adamantly believes that humans should not be living among them and is prepared to use whatever intimidation tactics are necessary to rid their world of Mowgli. This sends the young boy on a journey to the human village with the stoic panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Anyone with the vaguest memory of “The Jungle Book” will remember the characters the boy encounters on the way _ the snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and the orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).

Although it is somewhat distracting to have such famous voices overwhelming every scene, each does a fine job _ especially Murray, who brings a much-needed comedic lightness to the story with his affably conniving Baloo in the second act.

Sethi is energetic and enthusiastic as Mowgli _ an adventurous kid who’s as unfazed by a handful of bee stings as he is a gargantuan snake. But for all the attention to detail, there’s an unnatural modernity to the dialogue he’s given that can be trying at times. For the most part he blends in as well as the sole human among wild CG animals could possibly be expected to.

On the subject of things seeming out of place, there are also two songs from the 1967 film that are integrated into the story —”The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” (“Trust In Me” plays over the credits).

One works, and one really doesn’t. Murray makes “The Bear Necessities” fit into his laid back existence as he hums and sings the song with Mowgli as they float down a serene river. “I Wanna Be Like You,” however, is awkward and clumsy — a ditty of a song that comes out of nowhere and sucks the air out of the crucial climax. It makes no sense in the context of this world that Walken’s mob boss ape would just break into song. And, if he did, it definitely wouldn’t be this song.

Indeed, much of the third act feels more like a check list than plot advancement, and the emotional arc neither lives up to its source material nor the beauty of the visuals. Still, it is one of the stronger of Disney’s live-action adaptations and executed with such sincerity and technical prowess and inspiring ingenuity that it’s more promising than anything else _ a true family-friendly adventure that’s smart and often thrilling.

“The Jungle Book,” a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some sequences of scary action and peril.” Running time: 105 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Theme parks offering a smorgasbord of food options

In the early days of theme parks, food was often an afterthought — served and consumed quickly, so visitors could get back to riding Space Mountain or watching the Shamu show.

These days, visitors want more from their meals, and theme parks are offering them a smorgasbord of options. The breadth of menu items and restaurants is growing. Food festivals are flourishing. Chefs are creating dishes meant to give guests a fuller experience of the Jungle Cruise ride or Diagon Alley.

“I think guests expectations’ have changed over the years,” said Beth Scott, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ vice president of food and beverage. “Certainly with things like The Chew and the Food Network and social media, people are becoming much more savvy about their dining experiences.”

Theme parks are pleasing the palate

With 475 restaurants, kiosks and other food outlets, Walt Disney World in particular has become known for pleasing the palate. Its food-and-wine festival at Epcot has grown to 62 days. Hours of many Disney eateries have expanded too, with more serving breakfast. Many events have dessert parties attached. Heeding more than 700,000 special dietary requests Disney says it receives annually, the parks have introduced allergy-friendly “Snacks with Character.”

Eater.com last year published an in-depth online guide to Disney World, with guides to everything from ice cream to cocktails. Not everything got a great review, but editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt wrote that “pleasures can very much be found — not only pleasures but ingenuity, quirky surprises and pure joy .”

Ed Wronski, Disney’s director of food and beverage product development, said his company’s portfolio of restaurants has become more diverse over the years. “We . really expanded the different dining options for our guests based on the experiences they were looking for.”

Disney says its commitment to quality cuisine was demonstrated with the recent opening of its Flavor Lab near Port Orleans resort — a 7,000-square-foot building devoted to research and development across all Disney parks. About 20 employees work there full-time on an increasing number of new projects such as recipes for the Tiffins restaurant opening in Animal Kingdom this spring. Other new places executives point to include Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs, featuring signature cocktails such as the bright green Reggie’s Revenge made of vodka and melon liqueur.

Then there’s the Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, an ode to the regions traveled in the Jungle Cruise ride. Dishes from Asia, South America and Africa include sustainable fish collar with yuzu-soy sauce.

When that restaurant opened in December, “reading the social media and the press, the way it was described, it’s not your typical theme-park food,” said Jean-Marie Clement, Disney’s director of food & beverage concept development. “They were talking about the flavor, the spices, the presentation.”

Growing sophistication

There’s still plenty of basic grub such as burgers and pizza to be found among the gourmet goodies. But local food blogger Ricky Ly said he’s been impressed by Disney’s increasing sophistication. He would like to see other theme parks introduce more high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients.

“A lot of their folks sometimes plan their trips around food,” Ly said. “To miss that demographic is, maybe, shortsighted for businesses looking to cater to the next generation who cares more about their food.”

Many try to get as much for their money by the using theme parks’ meal plans, the costs of which have regularly increased. Disney’s prices went up this week week after two years of staying steady.

The Rainforest Cafe at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
The Rainforest Cafe at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one the early innovations in broadening dining options at theme parks.

SeaWorld is placing emphasis on its festivals, many of which feature something to eat. Its sister park in San Antonio last year debuted a Seven Seas Food Festival. For its Bands, Brew & BBQ, SeaWorld Orlando has started cooking the barbecue in-house and expanded the menu to include down-home delicacies such as a maple-bacon cupcakes and corn-chip chili pie. “It’s really taken it to a whole new level,” said Cathy Valeriano, SeaWorld’s vice president of culinary operations. In Orlando, SeaWorld also introduced New Year’s Eve four-course dinner with champagne and dessert reception.

Last year Universal Orlando joined the trend of events built around eating, with a dinner featuring Halloween Horror Nights’ scare actors.

At Universal Orlando, the opening of the first Harry Potter land in 2010 unleashed some serious culinary creativity. While planning Universal’s Wizarding Worlds, senior vice president Ric Florell and his team referred to now dog-eared copies of the Potter books filled with notes on meals, treats and drinks that they could bring to life.

Universal found its signature beverage in Butterbeer. The books didn’t specify its flavor, so Universal’s team had to use its imagination. After more than two years tinkering with the recipe, Universal delivered a foamy concoction that tastes taste of cream soda and butterscotch. Butterbeer now comes in several forms — even a fudge.

Universal’s two Potter lands also feature British pub fare, oddly flavored ice creams, and Wizarding World beverages including Fishy Green Ale, a minty beverage with blueberry boba-style bubbles.

The heavy theming can also be found in Universal’s Simpsons area, which when it opened in 2013 included Krusty Burger and Duff Brewery.

Grabbing an unusual bite to eat in these lands “completes the experience,” Florell said. “It’s the exclamation mark on the rest of your day.”

 

Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ is wildly entertaining

Just when it was looking like animated animal movies had run out of anything original to say, along comes Disney’s smartly amusing, crisply relevant Zootopia to handily demonstrate there’s still plenty of bite left in the anthropomorphic CG menagerie.

Boasting a pitch perfect voice cast led by a terrific Ginnifer Goodwin as a righteous rural rabbit who becomes the first cotton-tailed police recruit in the mammal-centric city of Zootopia, the 3-D caper expertly combines keen wit with a gentle, and very timely, message of inclusivity and empowerment.

The engaging result should easily appeal to all creatures great and small, giving this premium Walt Disney Animation Studios effort a paw up on spring break entertainment, not to mention the summer arrival of Universal’s animated “The Secret Life of Pets.”

As the Zootopia Police Department’s sole bunny officer, idealistic Judy Hopps (Goodwin) discovers that breaking barriers can be an uphill climb, especially when the other cops in the force are mainly of the more imposing elephant/rhino/hippo ilk.

Although intrepid Judy can’t wait to collar her first perp, Bogo (Idris Elba), Precinct 1’s gruff cape buffalo police chief, has other plans, assigning her to parking duty, where she proves her worth by writing 200 tickets before noon on her first day.

But when a number of Zootopia’s residents abruptly go missing, Bogo gives Judy the green light to do some big time police work and she finds herself partnering up with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly, world-weary scam artist of a fox, in a 48-hour bid to crack the case.

Nimbly directed by Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), along with co-director Jared Bush, who shares screenplay credit with Phil Johnston, the romp serves up plenty of sharply observed satire (a DMV manned entirely by sloths is played to hilariously protracted effect) wrapped up in judicious life lessons that never feel preachy or shoehorned-in.

While Goodwin and Bateman are a voice-casting dream team come true as a dysfunctional duo who learn to follow their instincts over preconceived notions, they’re joined by a nicely diverse supporting ensemble that also includes J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer and Shakira as a gazelle pop star who performs the film’s original song, “Try Everything,” co-written by hit-makers Sia and Stargate.

Also making their lines count are Jenny Slate as a not-so-sheepish sheep who serves as Zootopia’s predator-averse assistant mayor and Maurice LaMarsh as an arctic shrew version of Don Corleone named Mr. Big.

Visually, the Zootopia canvas pops — with or without the 3-D glasses — thanks to a gorgeously vibrant color palette and whimsical architectural scales orchestrated by production designer David Goetz. His work is in keeping with an all-mammal parallel universe comprised of distinct microclimates like sunny Bunnyburrow, icy Tundratown and self-explanatory Little Rodentia.

Composer Michael Giacchino, meanwhile, in his first non-Pixar animated feature assignment, delivers a typically buoyant score, playfully tossing in music cues that pay affectionate homage to Bernard Herrmann and Nino Rota.

Zootopia, a Disney release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some thematic elements, rude humor and action.” Running time: 95 minutes.

‘Old Yeller’ named all-time family favorite

And the Pawscar goes to…

The nearly 60-year-old classic “Old Yeller” has been named American Humane Association’s all-time favorite family movie as part of this year’s Pawscar awards, announced just days before the human Oscars.

The AHA monitors and protects more than 100,000 animals working in 1,000 productions each year. The organization traditionally adds three all-time favorites to its list of all-time favorite animal-inclusive films during the Pawscars.

AHA officials say 1957’s “Old Yeller” was one of the first movies to ever focus on the human-animal bond.

Competing against Disney’s “Old Yeller” in national online voting was “Dolphin Tale,” “Babe,” “Beethoven” and “Homeward Bound.”

The Pawscar awards show can be seen online at www.americanhumane.org

From food to makeup, ‘Star Wars’ stuff is out of this world

Right now, in a store not too far away, there is a galaxy of new merchandise connected to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Beyond the usual action figures and apparel, the seventh installment in the space franchise (and the first from merchandise-driven Disney) boasts a broader array of branded products than ever before: from Chewbacca Coffee-Mate creamer (Wookiees drink coffee?) and “Star Wars” mascara to $400 designer Death Star shoes and a $4,000 Millennium Falcon bed.

“It’s wider and broader and deeper and covers more age ranges and is less gender specific than anything I have ever seen for ‘Star Wars,”” said Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm’s former director of fan relations and Guinness world record holder for the largest collection of “Star Wars” memorabilia.

Expanding the universe of “Star Wars” merchandise internationally was part of Disney’s original vision when it acquired Lucasfilm, he said: “It was very clear from the front, and they have followed their game plan.”

The result is an amazingly diverse range of products, from the unexpected (light-up lightsaber chopsticks) to the unbelievable (haute couture Stormtrooper wear). International offerings have grown in scope and distinction, too, with local licensees and artisans interpreting the iconic characters for their cultures.

Sansweet recently added some Japanese items to his collection, including soy sauce plates and “little kokeshi dolls, which are typical of a small community in Japan,” he said. “They’re usually carved in traditional format of samurai or geisha or something like that, and now there’s a whole series of ‘Star Wars’ (characters).”

Retired from Lucasfilm, Sansweet now shares his “Star Wars” collection with the public through his nonprofit Rancho Obi-Wan museum in Petaluma, California, where he offers educational tours and hosts private events, including two weddings.

Here’s a look at some of the more unusual items keyed to “The Force Awakens,” some of which Sansweet has already added to his collection:

FOOD: Chewbacca isn’t the only one with his own Coffee-Mate creamer. Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2 and Boba Fett also got the creamer treatment, and each is a different flavor. (Chewie is spiced latte.) New York’s Ample Hills Creamery introduced two new flavors in “Star Wars” packaging: The Light Side is marshmallow ice cream with crispy clusters, and The Dark Side is dark chocolate with espresso fudge brownies.

Other branded food items include special General Mills cereal boxes (one shows the Trix rabbit as Princess Leia) with plastic “droid viewers” inside and Kraft macaroni and cheese with pasta in “Star Wars shapes.”

“I’m chasing around trying to find bags of Darth Vader apples,” Sansweet said. “It’s crazy! But it’s fun-crazy.”

MAKEUP: CoverGirl’s limited-edition “Star Wars” collection includes nail polish, mascara and lipstick in such shades as Droid, Jedi and Dark Apprentice.

CLOTHING: Beyond the typical T-shirts and PJs, there are one-of-a-kind designer outfits based on “The Force Awakens” characters, such as Halston’s gown inspired by villain Kylo Ren, up for auction this month (www.charitybuzz.com ) to benefit the Child Mind Institute. American watch maker Devon has a limited-edition “Star Wars” model available for $28,500. The outrageous “Star Wars” collection from British footwear company Irregular Choice is more affordable but may be harder to wear. The C-3PO flats are cute and low-key, but the Death Star platform booties with the Stormtrooper- and Darth Vader-shaped heels are out of this world.

LIFESTYLE: Adult collectors might covet Pottery Barn Kids’ Millennium Falcon bed, modeled after the legendary starship (and only available in twin size). American Tourister has a line of “Star Wars” luggage, and the Disney Store has a backpack shaped like a Stormtrooper helmet. There’s a Darth Vader toaster that brands your breakfast bread with the “Star Wars” logo and the aforementioned light-up lightsaber chopsticks, plus an X-Wing knife block and many other household items.

Is there anything that can’t be branded “Star Wars?”

“There are limits,” Sansweet said. “I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of the limits yet.”

Star Wars attractions opening at Disney

The Force is awakening a little early at Walt Disney World.

The Florida-based theme park resort has unveiled new “Star Wars” entertainment weeks ahead of the much-anticipated release of the movie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Some of the Star Wars attractions opened last week at the resort’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.

Those include a courtyard filled with all-things “Star Wars,” a video game center, a movie theater showing abridged versions of the “Star Wars” movies and a motion simulator showing “Star Wars” locales and characters.

Later this month, visitors also will get to see a “Star Wars”-themed fireworks show.

Both Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California are planning Star Wars-themed lands in the near future.

Discovery Network’s new boss says no more man-eating snakes and mega-sharks

There’s a new boss in charge at the Discovery Network, and he’s anxious to get rid of mega-sharks, mermaids and man-eating snakes.

Rich Ross, a longtime Disney executive who began this week as president of Discovery Communications’ flagship channel, said he wants to broaden its appeal to reach more women and families. He has also been quick to make clear what he doesn’t want Discovery to be.

The network has been doing well financially but has been criticized, particularly by the scientific community, for some specials that have stretched the boundaries of truth. Most recently, animal rights activists were angered by the “Eaten Alive” premise of an explorer who would be swallowed by a giant anaconda. The reality turned out to be far less dramatic.

Discovery’s annual “Shark Week” the past two years have featured fanciful “documentaries” about megalodons. The network also aired a show, produced by sister channel Animal Planet, about mermaids and another about a supposed Russian yeti.

“Brands are all about trust,” said Ross, who is replacing former network head Eileen O’Neill and her interim successor Marjorie Kaplan, in an interview Thursday. “You can expand the universe of what people think you are, but there’s only so much elasticity. On Discovery, that’s why I talk about authenticity. Authenticity is job No. 1, 2 and 3.”

Fictional documentaries, no matter their entertainment value, no longer have their place, he said.

“It’s not whether I’m a fan of it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s actually right for Discovery Channel and it’s something that I think has, in some ways, run its course.”

“Eaten Alive” had the right intention — to tell the story of a rare and frightening large snake — but misleading packaging, he said. The fervor of the story got out of control, he said.

“I don’t believe you’ll be seeing a person eaten by a snake during my time,” he said.

Judging by how that show backfired for Discovery, Ross’ stance is wise, said Derek Baine, an analyst of the cable market for SNL Kagan. One important part of Discovery’s strategy now is to build its strength internationally, he said.

“They’re going to have to have a careful eye on producing programming that is not just appealing to the U.S. but in international markets,” he said.

One of Ross’ first hires at Discovery is designed to send a clear message. John Hoffman, a multiple Emmy Award-winner who spent many years in HBO’s well-regarded documentary unit, was named Discovery’s executive vice president of documentaries and specials. As an independent producer, Hoffman most recently did the project “Sleepless in America” for the National Geographic Channel.

One Discovery star whose time may be up is high-wire walker Nik Wallenda. His live walk over the Grand Canyon in 2013 was a sensation, averaging nearly 10.7 million viewers. Last year’s sequel, between skyscrapers in Chicago, had barely more than half the audience.

Ross said he’s not ruling out another Wallenda walk, but that it has to be something special, and the Grand Canyon is a hard act to follow.

Shark Week may not have megalodons, but President Obama’s effort to reset the country’s relationship with Cuba may benefit Discovery. Ross said the network is at work on a show about a particularly shark-filled area near Cuba that has not been explored in-depth by television before because of the lack of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

By roughly a 60 percent to 40 percent margin, Discovery’s audience is dominated by men. Ross said he wants to get more families interested. He’s hoping to get two scripted series ready this year, with an historical miniseries the most likely candidate. History is an area that’s a rich part of Discovery’s heritage and he’s anxious to return to it.

Ross is considering projects about episodes in history that echo what is happening in the world today.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could tell stories that are actually indicative of behaviors and situations and see if we can alter them in a positive way?” he said. “That’s my kind of interactive — make people care.”

Flashback 2014: Toasts to lesbian, gay artists and divas of 2014

Congrats are due to two bona fide lesbian geniuses: artist Alison Bechdel and legal eagle Mary L. Bonauto. Both received prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius grants in 2014. 

Bonauto is a longtime legal advocate for LGBT rights who is credited with devising the legal strategies that resulted in the expansion of marriage equality. Bechdel captured the lesbian universe with her beloved cartoon series Dykes to Watch Out For. A musical version of her award-winning memoir Fun Home is headed for Broadway in 2015.

Rest in peace, Storme DeLarverie, 93, legendary singer, cross-dresser and bouncer, who may have thrown the first punch at the Stonewall rebellion in Greenwich Village in 1969. Farewell too to Nancy Garden, 76, who penned the lesbian classic about teen romance Annie on My Mind, in 1982. 

Apple’s Tim Cook was touted as “courageous” and “a pioneer” for coming out as a gay man in 2014. Cook, 54, is a millionaire and CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. Anyone coming out is a good thing, but let’s reserve our kudos for the trans kid in Wausau and the little dyke in Oconto who struggle to come out against much tougher odds.

There are always multiple contenders for “Villain of the Year.” We Energies comes to mind for its proposed imposition of extra fees on customers who use solar energy. How about the Staten Island cop, exonerated by a grand jury, who choked Eric Garner to death for selling cigarettes for a few extra bucks? Or the cities that passed laws prohibiting people from feeding the homeless? How low can you go?

Right-wing politicians continued to rail against government regulations while restricting women’s rights to control their own bodies. This year pols again misidentified women’s body parts and functions. One even compared women’s decisions about abortion to his own decision about buying carpeting!

Here’s an idea: If you don’t know the difference between a uterus and a vagina, don’t pass laws about them. If you are against abortion, don’t have one.

Two of the best writers in the world who just happen to be lesbians published long-awaited books in 2014. Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests and Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music were ambitious historical melodramas combining crime stories with sexual identity issues. The Paying Guests, a slow-moving, complicated tale steeped in irony, triumphed. Frog Music croaked.

Openly gay crooner Sam Smith appears to be heading toward multiple Grammys for his debut single “Stay with Me” and his CD In the Lonely Hour. Actress Ellen Page came out as a lesbian and spoke up for feminism. Joining her in feminist sisterhood were Emma Watson, Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift and Beyonce, although the gyrating female derrieres that accompanied Bey’s pronouncement made for a rather mixed message!

We love our divas partly for their ups and downs. Idina Menzel separated from hubby Taye Diggs while “Let It Go!” soared to triple platinum in sales. Menzel choked at the Oscars, then killed at the Tony Awards (Google “Always Starting Over+Tonys”) before losing the Tony to Jessie Mueller. Happily, at year’s end Menzel is still headlining in If/Then on Broadway. 

Finally, hats off to Disney for undoing 80 years of damage to girls’ psyches by redefining “true love” as something other than the kiss of a handsome prince. And for following up Frozen with the feminist revenge epic Maleficent — priceless.

Let’s work for peace and progress in 2015!

Cruise ships dump a billion gallons of sewage in ocean

Cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of sewage in the ocean this year, much of it raw or poorly treated, according to federal data analyzed by Friends of the Earth. The activsit group, releasing its annual report card on cruise ships, called for stronger rules to protect oceans, coasts, sea life and people.

The report shows that some of the 16 cruise lines graded are slowly getting greener; but more than 40 percent of the 167 ships still rely on 35-year-old waste treatment technology. Such systems leave harmful levels of fecal matter, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants in the water. By law, wastewater dumped within 3 nautical miles of shore must be treated, but beyond that ships are allowed to dump raw sewage directly into the ocean.

In a reversal from prior years of cooperation and transparency, all 16 major cruise lines refused — through their industry association, Cruise Lines International Association — to respond to Friends of the Earth’s requests for information on their pollution-reduction technologies. So the 2014 Cruise Ship Report card contains a new category — “Transparency,” in which every cruise line received an “F” grade.

“By working to stifle the Cruise Ship Report Card, the industry attempted to shield itself from continued scrutiny of its environmental practices, and obscure data from conscientious consumers who would make different choices based on how a cruise ship or line performs on the report card,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director for Friends of the Earth.

“It’s time for the cruise industry to stop trying to hide the dirty ships in its fleet,” said Keever.

Friends of the Earth’s report card grades cruise lines on four criteria: sewage treatment technology; whether ships can plug into shore-based power and if they use cleaner fuel than required by U.S. and international law; compliance with Alaska’s water quality regulations to protect the state’s coast; and transparency which is a new criteria this year.

Disney Cruise Line, based in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, was ranked as the most environmentally responsible line, earning an A for sewage treatment. Its overall grade would have remained an A if it would have responded to our requests for information but this year it received a C plus.

At the other end of the scale, Carnival Cruise Lines of Doral, Florida — which has the world’s largest fleet of 24 cruise ships but only two with advanced sewage treatment technology —- received an F for sewage treatment again this year. Carnival Lines’ parent company, Carnival Corp. & PLC of Miami and London, also operates six other lines graded by the report card and all seven lines were downgraded for refusal to respond to Friends of the Earth.

“As the industry leader, Carnival Corp. has to step up its environmental game throughout all of its different lines,” said Keever. “No wonder Carnival Corp. refuses to respond to Friends of the Earth or be completely honest with its customers when it continues to use outdated technology that pollutes our oceans and threatens our marine ecosystem health, sea life and all of us.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day — enough to fill 10 backyard swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew and the report card doesn’t include the entire worldwide fleet.

In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “graywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

Cruise ships are also responsible for significant amounts of air pollution from the dirty fuel they burn. Even at the dock, cruise ships often run dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew.

According to the EPA, each day an average cruise ship is at sea it emits more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars and more soot than 1 million cars. Starting in 2015, cleaner fuel standards in the U.S. and Canada will reduce the amount of sulfur emitted by each ship about 97 percent and the amount of soot by 85 percent, in addition to the interim cleaner fuel standards already in place in North America.

“This is an industry worth billions of dollars that could install the most advanced sewage treatment and air pollution reduction technology available,” said Keever.