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Frozen marks second renaissance for Disney

A critical and commercial success, Frozen marks a second renaissance for Walt Disney’s legendary film studio – and is widely tipped to win its first Oscar for best animated feature next weekend.


The movie, which has made nearly $US1 billion ($A1.12 billion), is the culmination of a revival driven by fierce competition and the studio’s purchase of rival Pixar in 2006, bringing boss John Lasseter into the Disney fold.

Critics have hailed Frozen as one of Disney’s best ever movies, following the success of The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled in 2010 and 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph.

If the movie does win at next Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards, it will be Disney’s first best animated feature Oscar since the category was created in 2001.

Disney has come a long way since the turn of the millennium, when the studio had been sidelined by Pixar and its string of blockbuster hits from Toy Story and Cars to Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Up.

“Just like Great Mouse Detective was a step up from the nadir of Black Cauldron, so Princess and the Frog was more successful than the earlier films like Home on the Range and Meet the Robinsons,” said Tom Sito, professor of cinema at the University of Southern California (USC).

It is not Disney’s first comeback. The 1970s and 80s were tough for the studio, until a new generation of animators arrived to create films like The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and 1994’s majestic success The Lion King.

Ironically, the Prince Charming of this latest rebirth had been the studio’s main rival: Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, who was named Disney’s animated creative director after his company became part of Mickey’s empire eight years ago.

“Since the merger with Pixar in 2006, Disney Animation is once more under the direct guidance of an animator, John Lasseter. This had not been the case since the death of Walt Disney in 1966,” Sito, a former Disney animator, told AFP.

The Toy Story and Cars creator “brought in a lot of new talent to the storytelling departments: clever young writers and directors … We also (saw) a return to the movie-musical format after a 20-year hiatus, which for Disney has always been a specialty,” he added.

Music is at the heart of Frozen: the movie’s keynote tune Let It Go is a frontrunner to win the best song Oscar next weekend.

Peter Del Vecho, producer on the film, said Lasseter changed the culture at Disney Animation: “We’re a different studio than Pixar, but a lot of the same ideas that he learned there, he imported to us.

“The main thing he imported was that we as filmmakers have to take ownership of our product. John sets a very high bar in terms of story, in terms of research, and you always want to hit that bar,” he told AFP.

But the studio’s culture is also highly collaborative, with directors and screenwriters on projects able to voice their opinions about others’ films after in-house development screenings.

“The best idea wins, you’re encouraged to make mistakes and to take risks,” said Del Vecho.

“We’re responsible for each other’s films, meaning that I went to Tangled screenings, I went to Wreck-it Ralph screenings and gave notes just as filmmakers and writers on other projects come and give us notes. Our movie couldn’t have evolved without that kind of open collaborative environment.”

The other factor driving Disney’s renaissance has been increasingly tough competition from rivals like Blue Sky (Ice Age, Rio), DreamWorks Animation (Shrek, Kung-Fu Panda, Madagascar) and Illumination, which makes the Despicable Me films – the second of which is also nominated next Sunday.

“A rising tide raises all boats. It is very important for the art of animation to have competitors at other studios,” said Sito. “Walt Disney did some of his best work while fighting off challenges from Max Fleischer and Looney Tunes.

“When (Disney) was alone in the 1960s and 70s feature business, an outdated repetitive aesthetic caused their films to grow stale, despite the quality of their technique,” he added.

“The success of The Lego Movie and Despicable Me creates a wonderful climate for new ideas in animation.”

Jovovich vows to help Ukraine victims

Ukrainian-born actress Milla Jovovich has spoken out about the deadly fighting in her homeland, vowing to help the helpless.


Jovovich, who was born in Kiev where more than 80 protesters have died following clashes with riot police, reveals she has been following the events that have culminated in the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government.

She wants to do what she can to raise funds to benefit hospitals and aid workers in the city.

In a post on Facebook, “I have no taste for politics, but I will do everything in my power to help the helpless, not the ones with guns.

“I have always put my money where my mouth is when it comes to helping people and you better believe I will find out what I can personally do for the victims of the violence in the Ukraine.”

Jovovich, best known for her roles in the Resident Evil films and The Fifth Element, says she has been following the Twitter postings of 21-year-old medical volunteer Olesya Zhukovska, who was reportedly shot in the neck by riot police on Thursday.

Zhukoska hit the headlines after appearing in photographs clutching at her bleeding throat. She survived after being treated at a nearby hospital.

“No matter what the reasons for the fighting, innocent people are being brutalised and that is undeniable and unacceptable … I am slowly researching and making my way through to find the (charities) that I will personally donate to, as well as, great (web)sites that talk about what’s really going on in the Ukraine right now,” Jovovich wrote.

Jovovich is the third major Hollywood figure to have voiced support for the people of Ukraine.

George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger recorded more political messages last week.

Remy gives Magpies welcome EPL win

French international striker Loic Remy marked his return to the Newcastle line-up after serving a three game suspension with a late goal to give his side a much-needed 1-0 win over Aston Villa in their Premier League clash.


The 27-year-old’s 12th goal of the season was Newcastle’s first since they beat West Ham 3-1 in a disastrous run, which also coincided with the departure of playmaker Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint Germain, that has seen them lose six of their nine league matches.

Defeat for Villa – they have just two wins in their last 13 matches – keeps them very much in the relegation battle, as they lie just four points above third from bottom Sunderland, who have a game in hand.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will also be relieved that the return from injury of Argentinian central defender Fabricio Coloccini saw the previously leaky defence succeed in keeping a clean sheet.

The hosts had the first chance of the game as Paul Dummett, also recalled to the starting line-up, set up Papiss Cisse and his shot should have been easily gathered by Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan but he fumbled it and it had to be cleared for a corner by a Villa defender.

Villa then had two clear chances to break the deadlock, both falling to Gabriel Agbonlahor, first his fierce effort was tipped away by Tim Krul and then his long range effort was on target but went over the bar.

Cisse, though, should have put the hosts ahead in time added on of the first-half as Remy set him up but he snatched at his shot from close range and sent it high over the bar.

The hosts had the better of the early part of the second-half although they had no reward, with Yoann Gouffran going just wide and Dummett sending a shot over the bar.

Remy, who Pardew will hope he can make his loan signing permanent at the end of the season, made Guzan work hard to prevent his sharply-taken effort not sneak in with the American goalkeeper turning it round the post to safety but he was not to be denied at the death.

Dutch striker Luuk de Jong saw his shot deflected and into the path of Remy, who made space and curled his shot past Guzan and then handed his shirt to a fan.

Borussia Dortmund has CL injury worries

Borussia Dortmund head to Zenit Saint Petersburg for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16, first-leg clash on the back of a shock Bundesliga defeat and injury worries.


Last year’s Champions League finalists Dortmund slumped to a shock 3-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Hamburg on Saturday and lost defensive midfielder Sven Bender for the next 10 weeks with an inflamed pelvis.

Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp has promised improvements in Saint Petersburg.

“Things will be very different there,” said Klopp before Monday’s flight to Russia.

Zenit certainly have the squad to trouble Dortmund with the likes of Brazilian striker Hulk and ex-Arsenal attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin.

“Our team is fit and we are fully focused, a big plus for us is our great fighting spirit,” said Zenit’s ex-Bayern midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk.

Zenit’s director of sport Dietmar Beiersdorf was at Hamburg’s Imtech Arena to witness Dortmund’s debacle.

“Of course, Borussia Dortmund fill the favourite role,” said the former Hamburg boss.

“The team has a very good reputation in Russia, it’ll be a great challenge for our club and our team.”

There is a danger the Russians will be rusty.

Zenit have not played since December 6, but won their final warm-up match on Saturday with a 2-0 friendly victory over Estonia’s Narva Trans with Venezuelan new-signing Jose Salomon Rondon scoring both goals.

Zenit “is one hundred percent ready for Borussia Dortmund,” insisted their Italian coach Luciano Spalletti, but his side won five of their ten friendlies in Qatar, Israel and Turkey over the winter break.

Nevertheless, Klopp was furious with his team’s mentality against a Hamburg side who had lost their last eight matches and admitted they were punished for taking their hosts too lightly.

But Dortmund centre-back Manuel Friedrich has said they will not make the same mistake against Zenit.

“That was a blip,” insisted Friedrich.

“If we play like we know we can, then we can beat anyone.

“Everyone has to question his attitude, results like that can happen, it’s hard to explain them.

“Our performance and mood for Tuesday’s game won’t be affected by the result in Hamburg.”

Bender’s injury does not help Klopp, who is already without centre-back Neven Subotic and winger Jakub Blaszczykowski who both miss the rest of the season with torn knee ligaments.

Dortmund’s Germany defensive midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has not played since August after suffering from a back injury and virus.

Germany centre-back Mats Hummels did not train on Sunday and is struggling with an ankle injury.

Likewise, Poland striker Robert Lewandowski missed training with illness, but will fly to Russia.

A section of the Petrovsky stadium, where Zenit’s hardcore ‘ultra’ fans normally congregate, will be closed after sanctions from European football’s governing body UEFA.

UEFA fined Zenit 40,000 euros (US$55,000) after their fans displayed a racist banner and threw fireworks amidst crowd trouble at Austria Vienna on December 11, when the Russians lost 4-1.

Zenit qualified for the last 16 despite winning just one of their Group G matches, but Beiersdorf said Dortmund will run out into a volatile atmosphere.

Indon elephants die, poisoning suspected

Seven Sumatran elephants have been found dead in western Indonesia and it is thought they were poisoned, a wildlife official say, just the latest deaths of the critically-endangered animals.


Dozens of the elephants have died after being poisoned in recent years on Sumatra island, as the creatures come into conflict with humans due to the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations which destroys their habitat.

The latest to die were a female adult, five male teenagers, and a male calf believed to be from the same herd, said local wildlife agency spokesman Muhammad Zanir.

The remains of the elephants were found on February 16 just outside Tesso Nilo National Park and it is thought they died five months earlier, he said.

“There is an indication that they were poisoned,” he said.

“Some people may consider the elephants a threat to their palm oil plantations and poison them.”

While Sumatran elephants are regularly found dead, it is rare to discover so many at the same time.

Swathes of rainforest have been destroyed in recent years to make way for plantations and villagers increasingly target Sumatran elephants, which they regard as pests.

While most concessions for palm oil companies are granted outside Tesso Nilo, in Riau province in eastern Sumatra, many villagers still illegally set up plantations inside the park, said WWF spokeswoman Syamsidar, who goes by one name.

Poachers also sometimes target the animals – the smallest of the Asian elephants – for their ivory tusks, which are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

The WWF says there are only between 2400 and 2800 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild and warns they face extinction in less than 30 years unless the destruction of their habitat is halted.

Rampant expansion of plantations and the mining industry has destroyed nearly 70 per cent of the elephant’s forest habitat over 25 years, according to the WWF.

Protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the elephants as “critically endangered”, one step below “extinct in the wild”.

Refine policy for fuel security: NRMA

The federal government is being urged to lock in a domestic transport energy policy, with the NRMA warning Australia would only have a week’s worth of fuel if tankers stopped arriving tomorrow.


NRMA Motoring and Services director Graham Blight wants legislators to work with industry stakeholders to help secure Australia’s transport energy future using the government’s National Energy Security Assessment.

“In 2000 we had seven refineries in Australia, we imported 60 per cent of our fuel usage and we had about 30 days’ supply,” Mr Blight told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

“In 2015 we will have four refineries, we will import in excess of 90 per cent of our fuel and we’ll have at best, 22 days of fuel.

“That 22 days of fuel translates to a lot more actual usage when you get it out there, more like seven or eight days maybe.”

Mr Blight said a disruption to global trade routes – such as natural disaster or unrest – would leave Australia exposed.

“One of those things has only to cause a disruption and we will find ourselves in a position where we are short of oil,” he said.

Just five per cent of Australia’s heavy transport was trains, while 95 per cent comprised trucks on the road, he said.

That scenario could lead to empty petrol pumps in three days, while supermarket shelves and hospital supplies would be empty in seven days.

“Add to that the social disruption of people not being able to get to work, on the assumption there is work,” Mr Blight said.

“That’s a pretty scary scenario to us.”

The NRMA on Monday released it’s report Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security: Part 2.

The paper’s author – retired Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn – called on the government to come up with a policy on refineries.

He also called for more fuel diversity in the transport sector, suggesting a move away from diesel fuel.

“Let’s have a bit of diversity – a bit of gas, a bit of Liquefied Natural Gas, Compressed Natural Gas,” he said.

“Let’s look at bio fuels. They will never be more than 10 per cent of the market, but we want alternatives.”

Drivers warned cockatoos on the move

Wildlife officers have urged motorists to avoid endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoos which are in the Perth area after their breeding season in the Wheatbelt.


Department of Parks and Wildlife senior wildlife officer Rick Dawson said many Carnaby’s had returned from the Wheatbelt with their fledglings and were moving along the Swan Coastal Plain in search of food and water.

There was usually an increase in the number of black cockatoo deaths from vehicle strikes during February and March, and there had already been 34 needing treatment at Perth Zoo after being injured in the metropolitan area, he said.

“We know that many more are hit by vehicles and never reported to the department,” Mr Dawson said.

“As a large-winged bird, black cockatoos usually take off into the wind, often putting them in the path of vehicles, so we ask that motorists slow down safely when they see a black cockatoo and approach with caution.”

Mr Dawson asked people to report injured cockatoos to the department and also advise of any deaths because their DNA could aid further research into the species.

He’s warned people to use a towel when picking up injured cockatoos to avoid being bitten.

The birds should be put in a dark box and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre or to a local vet who will arrange for it to be collected.

According to the federal Department of the Environment, Carnaby’s populations have declined by more than 50 per cent in the past 45 years, and they are no longer breeding a third of their former breeding sites in the Wheatbelt.

The cockatoos are specially protected fauna in WA.

US, allies want united Ukraine

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice says Russia, Europe and the United States all have an interest in keeping crisis-hit Ukraine from breaking apart.


A new era dawned in the ex-Soviet state when parliament appointed a pro-Western interim leader after impeaching a defiant president Viktor Yanukovych, whose whereabouts remain a mystery following a week of carnage that capped three months of mostly peaceful protests.

“It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the United States to see the country split,” Rice told NBC’s Meet the Press talk show.

“It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.”

She warned it would be a “grave mistake” for Ukraine’s old master Russia to send in forces to restore the kind of government it would like to see in Kiev.

“There is not an inherent contradiction… between a Ukraine that has long-standing historic and cultural ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe,” Rice said.

“It need not be mutually exclusive.”

In a phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry “underscored the United States’ expectation that Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic freedom of choice will be respected by all states”.

According to a senior State Department official, Kerry also expressed Washington’s “strong support” for the Ukrainian parliament’s move to name an acting president and acting prime minister.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, meanwhile, pointed to “broad support” at the G20 meeting in Sydney for an international aid package based out of the International Monetary Fund, once a transitional government formally takes power.

SAfrica prove sultans of reverse-swing

They were on the canvas in Centurion, but now South Africa have swung the hardest in the much-hyped battle of the two best pace attacks in the world.


The victor will be crowned next week, but the Proteas take form into the three-Test series decider in Cape Town given their thumping last-start second Test win was triggered by a reverse-swing rout.

Dale Steyn (4-55 from 20 overs) was the most damaging, but Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel also had the ball zipping around.

It was in sharp contrast to what Australia managed with either the new or old ball in Port Elizabeth, but coach Darren Lehmann was not concerned.

“Not at all, considering we bowled on day one when the pitch was not as course and day three when our bowlers were cooked because we only batted for two sessions,” Lehmann said.

“I knew it would go reverse day four and day five and we didn’t get to day five.

“It’s not an issue. The time we batted first we got the ball going reverse. That’s just the way the game goes.”

Michael Clarke was undone by Steyn in Australia’s embarrassing second-innings collapse and said there were some lessons for his team.

“South Africa showed us how to get the ball reversing, we didn’t get one to reverse in both innings so we can learn from that,” he said.

Proteas captain Graeme Smith noted the introduction of part-time spinners Dean Elgar and JP Duminy helped scuff the ball quickly and allowed for reverse-swing earlier in the match.

Smith was unsure of whether Steyn and his two offsiders would be able to repeat the effort at Newlands.

“It’s always a tough one (to predict),” Smith said.

“End of the season (if) the square’s going to be quite worn you would think maybe reverse-swing was going to be a factor, but when we get to Newlands now it could be looking immaculate.”

CNN pull plug on Piers Morgan show

CNN president Jeff Zucker has decided to end television host Piers Morgan’s talk show after its ratings plunged.


The former British tabloid editor – who irked conservative Americans after launching somewhat of a crusade for greater gun control measures – struggled after stepping into the shoes of popular, down-to-earth host Larry King in the coveted 9pm primetime slot.

King, an 80-year-old talk show star who now hosts a show broadcasting on Hulu, Ora TV and Russia’s RT television, is known for his ability to connect immediately and easily with ordinary Americans. He hosted Larry King Live on CNN from 1985 to 2010, wearing his trademark wide-rimmed glasses, shirt with rolled-up sleeves and suspenders.

Morgan, in contrast, was inherently British and not just in his accent. In particular, he made repeated references to cricket, a sport with little US presence, and professed his ignorance about American football and preference for the round football, soccer.

“CNN confirms that Piers Morgan Live is ending,” CNN vice president of communications Barbara Levin told AFP.

“The date of the final program is still to be determined.”

US media reports said the show could end as early as next month but that Morgan may stay with CNN in another role.

In an interview with The New York Times, Morgan said the show had “run its course,” adding that he and Zucker “have been talking for some time about different ways of using me.”

He also acknowledged the show was underperforming.

“It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” Morgan said, adding that the show suffered especially on slow news days.

“Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarising, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he added