By Michael Kaye
Queen of Katwe (Review)
A few days ago, I posted on my personal Facebook page, lamenting over the dissolving of Disney's former imprints Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, which gave us films for a more mature audience, as opposed to their traditional family fare. With Disney putting all of their eggs into blockbusters from Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and their in-house productions, it seems like there's no room for any smaller films, with a few exceptions. Today is one of those rare exceptions, Queen of Katwe, directed by Mira Nair and starring Lupita Nyong'o, Madina Nalwanga and David Oyelowo.
Here's the inspiring true story, based on the novel The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers. A young girl overcomes her disadvantaged upbringing in the slums of Uganda to become a Chess master.
So this movie just jumped into my top 5 favorite films of the year. I was completely blown away, as this might be Disney's first truly excellent sports film. Here are the highlights.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the cast is great, with not a single bad performance in sight. This movie introduces the world to Madina Nalwaga, who plays Phiona Mutesi, Uganda's first female grandmaster of chess. This girl has a big future ahead of her, especially if Disney is looking to cast a young Nala in their Lion King reimagining. In fact, you could draft pretty much everyone from this movie, as they'd be perfect replacements for the original actors. Going back to this movie, David Oyelowo is amazing as Robert Katende, Phiona's coach. He is seriously one of the most underrated actors of this decade. Lupita Nyong'o has become Disney royalty this year, but don't worry, even though she plays Phiona's mother in this movie, I wouldn't dare typecast her to play Sarabi in the Lion King.
Mira Nair is a director that I wasn't all that familiar with prior to this movie, but now she definitely has my attention. There is more to this movie than your typical sports biopic. I mean, sure, you get a few of the traditional story beats, but what makes this movie special is the love and care that went into telling this story. She uses the game of chess to teach important life lessons, most notably to never give up on your dreams, and to never underestimate your potential.
There's one line in particular that really stood out to me that David Oyelowo says in the trailer, "Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong." This could apply to anyone, but I thought about how it really applies to The Walt Disney company as a whole. In 2 years, we'll be celebrating the 90th anniversary of Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon with sound. Since then, Disney has grown tremendously, first with expanding into feature animation, then moving into live action, and eventually building an entire entertainment empire. But now that Disney already owns other companies such as Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, the next phase I want to see them enter is the Oscar phase. What I'm saying is that I don't wanna wait once a year to see a film like Queen of Katwe or McFarlane, USA. I understand that Disney is very protective of their brand, but there is still room to grow creatively that they may not be aware of.
Finally, what helps this movie pull on your heartstrings is the music composed by Alex Heffes. I don't care if it comes off as a little manipulative, because it worked. It's not even that bombastic either, it's subtle enough to reflect the tone, which can be both somber and uplifting at the same time.
Queen of Katwe is the best movie that nobody is seeing this month. I have no idea why this movie is having a hard time finding its audience, but you just have to trust me on this one. There are great performances all around, and director Mira Nair and writer William Wheeler give us their best work yet. As much as I love the MCU and Star Wars films, these are the kinds of movies I'd like to see Disney make more often.
Now I want to hear from you guys. Have you seen Queen of Katwe, and if so what did you think? Also, what movies do YOU want to see Disney make in the future? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where Tim Burton is back to bring us his take on the YA novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.