On November 1, Team StarKid released Apocalyptour: Live in Los Angeles, a live DVD showcasing one of the three LA dates on the troupe’s national concert tour which took place in May and June of this year.

For Apocalyptour, StarKid released a physical DVD and a digital download of the content simultaneously – a first for any of their productions – meaning that the fans who had to wait days or weeks for the shipping of their SPACE Tour DVDs can access this show immediately upon purchasing. Thanks to this development, you can read our take on the new StarKid DVD below.

It’s still a bit of a jolt to see the faces of Team StarKid in high definition DVD quality, performing on a huge stage in front of a packed house. It feels confusing somehow, almost a little wrong, to see them in a glossier and more professional medium than their homemade videos or admittedly increasingly no-longer-so-grainy YouTube footage taped in small dark theatres, and you start to wonder at the enormity of it all, asking, “Who let them do that? How did this happen? When did StarKid go from this to THIS?”

When something exists primarily on the Internet, it can be difficult to grasp how large a scale it may be affecting, how far it truly reaches. For many people, being a StarKid fan is still quite a small and underground thing, something that isn’t fed to them through filters of PR, advertising, marketing and record labels. But the reality of the situation is that this merry troupe spent the early summer crossing America, selling out venues that most contemporary musicians would be lucky to fill, and being met at each stop with a fan fervour that the stars of Broadway would rarely be met with at any stage door, unless they’re hosting an extra-special celebrity. They may not be household names, but the Internet is bigger than any household, and Team StarKid have grown to become the Internet’s biggest rock stars.

Apocalyptour: Live in Los Angeles differs structurally from 2011’s SPACE Tour DVD in that it presents the Apocalyptour concert in full, from start to finish, as opposed to cutting between musical numbers with talking heads and behind-the-scenes moments. On one hand, the lack of backstage footage is somewhat disappointing. For many fans, the individual personalities in Team StarKid are as big a draw-card as the songs, and when the group goes on tour, fans desire as much personal content as possible – exposure to the antics of their favorite StarKids unguarded in their natural habitat. However, Apocalyptour supplies what SPACE does not in presenting fans with a full run-through of the performance, from curtain up to curtain down, so fans at home may experience the entire set as if they were there in the audience of the Los Angeles House of Blues.

Unlike SPACE, Apocalyptour features a scripted story – written by Brian Holden, Nick Lang and Matt Lang – in which the StarKids have decided to give up singing and dancing to become travelling archaeologists. They uncover an Apocalyptic prophecy and when they accidentally activate it, they are faced with Margaret, the Mayan god of chaos and death. Margaret (played excruciatingly hilariously by a straight-faced and be-skirted Jim Povolo) also happens to be the god of musical theatre, so the StarKids are forced to go back to their singing and dancing ways, performing to save their lives – and the world – from destruction. In the end, the crisis is averted and Margaret herself joins Team StarKid.

The concept is rescued from being cheesy by how self-aware the script is. It’s nowhere near as tight as one of their musicals, because here, the story merely serves as a fuzzy backdrop to get from number to number in a set-list made up of songs created for other musicals, but the humour is full of lamp-shading and self-deprecation. Not a single person could have missed the joke about how an absent StarKid being “consumed by a giant, greedy Fox” was one of the signs of the impending Apocalypse. When a performance from Brian Rosenthal as Joey Richter’s Heart is praised by the others, Joey quips that “he used to be a lot better but then he got cast in a non-Equity production of Young Frankenstein,” referencing A.J. Holmes, the originator of the Heart role in Me and My Dick. When asked by Margaret if the StarKids were criminals, Dylan Saunders offers that he likes stealing from Whole Foods, and Joey pipes up again saying, “and I appeared on the Disney show Jessie, Fridays at 8 p.m.,” before the others clap hands over his mouth and drag him off. Later, when Margaret fails to be impressed by the group, she calls their performance “skimpy and lyrically uninspired,” direct quotes from critical reviews of Starship, by Time Out and the Chicago Reader respectively.

And in classic StarKid style, they never go for the obvious joke. These are people who have a habit of, first and foremost, doing things that they themselves find funny, including playing tricks on the audience. When they perform the title number to Me and My Dick, the group censors themselves, cutting one another off coyly to avoid saying the “D” word. Someone unfamiliar with their wickedness – a parent, perhaps – would pick up the obvious missing rhyme and make the leap that StarKid was attempting to make the show family-friendly, due to the large number of young fans the group has accrued despite the adult material of some of their musicals. It’s a fair assumption. That’s what StarKid want you to think. But the joke is a double-cross, as they end the entire set with a reprise of the “Me and My Dick” chorus, dragging it out to the last minute when they use the actual lyric, in a matter of fact and self-satisfied way.

The loose plot uses throwaway lines to lead into musical numbers. Brian Holden, having a moment of insecurity about their situation, is told by the others to man up and shut up, which prompts his rendition of “Guys Like Potter,” A Very Potter Sequel‘s song about Snape getting bullied. Other songs are grouped thematically, such as a collection of scheming villain songs from several StarKid productions, and a section of the set dedicated to various duets. Given that only nine of the thirty-something people involved in Team StarKid appeared onstage at the Apocalyptour, the songs were all rearranged for different soloists and groups by StarKid’s musical director, Clark Baxtresser. Some, such as Joe Walker and Brian Rosenthal’s Voldemort/Quirrell duet “Different As Can Be,” remain almost identical to their original performance, but the award for most creative new arrangement would have to be a tie between the jazzed up, up-tempo redesign of “Guys Like Potter,” and the duet between Dylan Saunders and Jaime Lyn Beatty on a mash-up of “Sami” from Little White Lie and “Harry” from A Very Potter Musical. Originally the same song, written by Darren Criss, it was transferred from one production to another before StarKid had any audience to speak of.

Other musical highlights include the beautiful harmonies on Starship‘s “The Way I Do,” some of Criss’ finest work as a composer; Joey Richter and Lauren Lopez on “Granger Danger,” which was genius the first time we saw it and still holds up – in fact somehow keeps improving – after three and a half years; the build-up from solo to group number on Holy Musical B@man’s “Dark, Sad, Lonely Knight,” and the impossibly infectious “Super Friends” from the same production. StarKid also seemed to draw inspiration from their prodigal son, as their rendition of A Very Potter Musical‘s “Not Alone” – also a Darren Criss trademark solo number – features a strong solo by Jaime Lyn Beatty and gospel choir-style backing vocals, an arrangement that seems to echo Criss’ performance of the number at the 2010 Trevor Project Live event. “Not Alone” is also the only performance on the DVD where the sounds of the crowd singing along are turned up in the audio mix, and the effect is haunting.

All in all, Apocalyptour: Live In Los Angeles is an enjoyable watch for any StarKid fan. Despite the caricature of slap-dash mediocrity Team StarKid humorously paint of themselves, the performances are skilled and solid, and the entire production demonstrates the growth of this group of people – who, never forget, basically fell into this – both as artists and as businesspeople. The desire to keep improving and produce professional quality work for an audience initially drawn in and made loyal by the grassroots, DIY dynamics of your operation must be a delicate balance to maintain; yet maintain it StarKid do, and in doing so, they continue to create something that the world has never quite seen the likes of before.

Apocalyptour: Live in Los Angeles is available now at Team StarKid’s web-store. For those still craving behind-the-scenes content, the physical Apocalyptour DVD features an exclusive video diary chronicling the day leading up to the tour’s final show in New York City. Apocalyptour: Live In Los Angeles includes performances by Dylan Saunders, Joey Richter, Joe Walker, Brian Holden, Brian Rosenthal, Jim Povolo, Meredith Stepien, Lauren Lopez and Jaime Lyn Beatty. Apocalyptour featured songs by A.J. Holmes, Carlos Valdes, Darren Criss, Mark Swiderski, Nick Gage and Scott Lamps, music direction by Clark Baxtresser, tour direction by Julia Albain, and was filmed by Liam White.

The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

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The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

Favreau tweeted the news Friday evening:

According to a statement from Disney, The Lion King “will build on the groundbreaking technology used in The Jungle Book to bring the story of Simba to photorealistic life.”

A release date for the film hasn’t been set. Favreau also helmed the live-action Jungle Book for the studio.

So far casting is off to a great start!

What Disney can learn from the 2009 Chinese live-action ‘Mulan’

Here's what 'Hua Mulan' got right

4:30 pm EST, February 17, 2017

Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

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Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

Here are some things Hua Mulan got right that Disney would do well to learn from.

hua mulan decision

Bringing more realism to the legend

Hua Mulan follows a plot that is more loyal to the original legend of Mulan, which states that she was a warrior for the Chinese army for over a decade. In the film, she even becomes a General, and retires with the nation’s respect, even after her identity as a woman is revealed.

Seeing Mulan lead thousands of men in Hua Mulan is a rare and empowering experience. Her struggles as a woman in a position of power, and the various dilemmas that come with commanding such a large number of people, are what bring intensity and meaning to the story. Mulan itself explored the concept of honor and femininity as well, but we only got a very small glimpse at the power that the legendary Mulan is said to have actually wielded.

While Disney may not want to make a movie that ventures too far from a family friendly atmosphere by portraying a Mulan who goes to war too realistically (as in, showing her killing enemies), it would be great to see her rise in the ranks and revolutionize such a male-dominated space the way she is said to have done.

hua mulan warrior

Not shying away from the grit — but not making it too grim, either

Hua Mulan does an excellent job of skirting the line between grim tragedy and friendly comedy. With thousands of extras, the battle scenes are as breathtaking and inspiring as they are horrifying. There’s a scene where Mulan counts the dog tags of all the fallen soldiers, and a considerable amount of time is spent exploring her despair and responsibility as the army’s struggle becomes more desperate. The emotional rawness of the story creates a very real, very flawed, yet very lovable Mulan — and takes audiences on an exploration of heroism, perseverance, and honor.

Of course, we can’t expect Disney to go all out with blood and grit — they’re bound to bring out Mushu, after all — but Disney prides itself on epic battles and fantastic special effects, and they’ll want to serve us war scenes as breathtaking and realistic as possible.

However, we’re all tired of grittiness for grittiness’ sake. Despite the heaviness of the more emotional scenes of Hua Mulan, there is sweetness and humor. The friendships in the army, much like those of Disney’s version, can be laugh-out-loud funny, and the scenes of Mulan’s struggle to preserve her male appearance are equally fun to watch.

Related: Disney’s live action Mulan lands female director

After all, audiences won’t be going to see Mulan to see war and sadness — the animated version was fun and adventurous, and although it had somber moments, it still managed to keep things just lighthearted enough for us to not get too sad. With animation, that lightheartedness is an easier task; portraying war with real actors could prove a more difficult challenge.

Establishing more depth in the main relationship

In Hua Mulan, Mulan and Wentai’s relationship is beautiful, but it builds over a long period of time, and strengthens through their mutual respect as they both struggle to lead an army. Their love is based on that combination of trust built over time, and shared responsibility.

Shang and Mulan have what is possibly one of the best relationships Disney has ever come up with. Among the Disney ‘princesses,’ Mulan and Shang probably have the greatest chemistry and story of all, and scenes from the animated film continue to be shipping fuel. Presumably, they’ll want to replicate this relationship in the new live-action version.

However, the animated film was sadly limited to only a few glimpses of the developing relationship. It would be amazing if we could see more of the friendship between Shang and Mulan (as Ping) and how it becomes something more. It’s rare in a ‘princess’ movie to see romance begin with sincere friendship, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the confusion regarding Mulan’s gender in both a funny and profound way.

Giving it a more realistic conclusion

There are some scenes that could do with a makeover, especially at the very end. Mulan’s final trick to kill Shan Yu — by dressing three soldiers in drag and having them attempt to distract him — is hilarious in the animation, but would come off as strange and unrealistic in a live-action movie, and perhaps even a little offensive.

Hua Mulan’s approach to defeating the enemy is a much more powerful one. Although it equals Mulan in stealth and cleverness, it involves realistic strategy and power dynamics, and finally involves her making a deal that saves China through negotiation, rather than war — and making a terribly painful personal sacrifice.

Disney has a penchant for epic final battle scenes, but that isn’t what happens in either Mulan or Hua Mulan. In both cases, it’s Mulan’s cleverness that saves the day. It would be great to see that cleverness translated into a realistic solution, in the same way it does in Hua Mulan.

It’s not like Disney hasn’t subverted its own canon, after all. In Maleficient, it isn’t the prince’s kiss that lifts the spell. Disney could certainly benefit from giving Mulan a more epic finale, and perhaps one that does her legendary character justice.

Immersing us in historically-accurate China

Besides perhaps The Jungle Book, we’ve yet to see a live-action adaptation that takes place in a non-European culture. In fact, this would be the first film to employ solely actors of color. What Disney decides to do here will be particularly interesting; since Aladdin will be getting its own adaptation soon, and Pocahontas could also follow in the live-action trend, the decisions taken here will likely set a precedent for what will be done with those films.

There were rumors earlier of Mulan having a white love interest, which now seem to be crushed, thankfully. We want to see a film with an entirely Asian cast — hopefully at least mostly Chinese — and get a chance to explore the scenery, sets and props of ancient China.

Although, it’s only fair to say that Hua Mulan also has its own white character — a Russian singer called Vitas, who inexplicably pops up now and again. That’s another tip for Disney: don’t just insert white guys into the story for no reason.

Hua Mulan’s shots of rural China are beautiful and unique, and it would be amazing to see what Disney can do if they choose to show much of what they did in animation, with real sets and locations. Hopefully, Disney gets a chance to actually film in China itself.

All this doesn’t go to say that we want a copy of Hua Mulan. Not at all. Hua Mulan is an excellent film in its own right, but it’s considerably more adult than Disney would ever dare make an adaptation. The realism of its wars and of the toll duty takes on Mulan and her companions is nothing like the fun, if occasionally emotional, adventure Disney took us on with Mulan.

Disney’s version is a movie to be excited about, and the additions the animated film made to the legend are what makes it a classic. It would be amazing to see Mushu, Shang, the ancestors, and maybe even the cricket, on screen, as well as the songs, of course! “Make a Man Out of You” with real actors will definitely be one of the biggest highlights.

So far, we know that Mulan’s director will be Niki Caro. Although she isn’t Chinese, a matter that raises a lot of questions about representation, it’s still encouraging to see a female director chosen — and if Caro’s powerful film Whale Rider is any indication, she’s rather good at telling empowering stories with female leads. Hopefully, the rest of the team can be filled with talented Chinese filmmakers that deserve to have a hand in rendering such a culturally significant story properly.

After all, Mulan is primarily a Chinese legend, and her story spans a history much longer than the 18 years since Disney’s animation came out.

In the meantime, go check out Hua Mulan, which is a fascinating film (although a considerably more adult one; you’ve been warned)!

What are you expecting from ‘Mulan’?

There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

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There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline is the ringmaster. She’s the typical Helicopter Parent trying as best she can to keep Monterey’s relationships and extracurricular activities together. Bringing her down is her ego and never-ending animosity toward a couple of characters, including her ex-husband’s new bae Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz, below). Together, Bonnie and Madeline’s new hubby Ed (Adam Scott) want to keep the peace between their two partners, but they’re the only two who seem capable of keeping tempers in check.

Meanwhile, Perry (Skarsgård) and Celeste (Kidman) have serious marriage issues that seem impossible to resolve. Of the leading ladies, Celeste seems to be the most level-headed despite her shitty husband. Then there’s Laura Dern’s Renata (below), who hates Madeline with all of her heart. Some of the best scenes are between these two ladies.

Not helping the Renata/Madeline relationship is the latter’s new friend Jane (Woodley). She’s just moved to town with her son Ziggy, who might’ve caused serious trouble on his first day of school.

It’s this event that initiates the show’s biggest mystery: A murder. Who did it? Who’s dead? The answer is not revealed in the first four episodes despite flash forward sequences in which we see an investigation taking place. As you continue to watch, it becomes increasingly clear that any of the characters could be be the victim or murderer. (This writer hasn’t read the book, so please don’t spoil me.)

Big Little Lies is the perfect show to cuddle up with on Sunday evenings for the next two months. While some have called this show corny, I find it to be a delight. I just have one suggestion for every viewer: Bring a glass of alcohol to the party. While screening the episodes, I very much enjoyed watching the drama unfold with a drink in hand.

The only problem? It’s just seven episodes long. Here’s hoping for more seasons or more adaptations of Moriarty’s books at HBO.

Big Little Lies premieres Sunday, February 19 on HBO.