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Young filmmakers thank the academy at Student Academy Awards

Seventeen young filmmakers from around the world gathered in Beverly Hills, California, to utter the six magic words they've been practicing all their lives: "I'd like to thank the academy."

The film academy presented its 43rd annual Student Academy Awards Thursday night, recognizing narrative, documentary, animated and alternative productions by American and international college students.

Accepting medals from actors Lucy Liu, Joel Edgerton, Daisy Ridley and Parker Sawyers, the winning filmmakers were giddy as they got to thank the academy and actually mean it. The students spent the past week in Los Angeles as academy guests, meeting with studios and networking over fancy dinners.

"This is the most amazing week of my life," said Alex Schaad, of the University of Television and Film Munich, as he received his medal. "This evening, this ceremony, this whole week and this award will change a lot of things, and I will owe you that for the rest of my life."

Rongfei Guo, a Chinese filmmaker studying at New York University, said her parents don't understand the world of independent film, but the academy recognition will let her "prove to my parents that what your daughter's doing is about an Academy Award."

Liu said she was inspired by seeing "so many people who are excited about the future." Edgerton said he's humbled by the next generation of filmmakers.

"They have their eyes on what's really going on," he said. "And they're not thinking about the money, and I love that!"

Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose the 17 winning films from a record 1,749 submissions. The winning filmmakers hail from China, Greece, Israel, Germany, Poland, Singapore and the United States. More than half are women.

Yvonne Ng, a student at City College of New York whose film is about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, found a theme among the chosen works.

"It's no coincidence that tonight all the winners, the majority of our films are all about the past tragedies that happened on humanity," she said as she accepted her medal. "Someone tonight said to me that we represent the future of filmmaking. And I think we also represent the future that's screaming for peace and love, compassion and mutual respect."

Jimmy Keyrouz of Columbia University, whose film about a musician rebuilding his piano after it's destroyed by terrorists, thanked the academy for helping young filmmakers get their work seen.

"Our message is one of hope, and when people are hopeless and desperate, it becomes easier to turn to extremism," he said. "And in a world that is torn by wars and devastation, art is a mighty tool that helps us fight extremism and terrorism, so thank you to the academy for joining our fight. We take so many things for granted, like freedom of speech and expression, and in so many parts of the world, these are luxuries that must be fought for every day."

All of the winning student films are now eligible for Academy Awards. Two student films received nominations last year. Previous Student Academy Award winners include Spike Lee, Trey Parker, Cary Fukunaga, Robert Zemeckis and Pixar's Pete Docter and John Lasseter.

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The 2016 Student Academy Award winners:

— "All These Voices," David Henry Gerson, American Film Institute

— "Cloud Kumo," Yvonne Ng, City College of New York

— "The Swan Girl," Johnny Coffeen, Maharishi University of Management

— "Die Flucht," Carter Boyce, DePaul University

— "Once upon a Line," Alicja Jasina, University of Southern California

— "The Wishgranter," Echo Wu, Ringling College of Art and Design

— "Fairy Tales," Rongfei Guo, New York University

— "4.1 Miles," Daphne Matziaraki, University of California, Berkeley

— "From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City," Elise Conklin, Michigan State University

— "It's Just a Gun," Brian Robau, Chapman University

— "Nocturne in Black," Jimmy Keyrouz, Columbia University

— "Rocket," Brenna Malloy, Chapman University

— "Invention of Trust," Alex Schaad, University of Television and Film Munich (Germany)

— "Tenants," Klara Kochanska, The Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School (Poland)

— "Where the Woods End," Felix Ahrens, Film University Babelsberg (Germany)

— "Ayny," Ahmad Saleh, Academy of Media Arts Cologne (Germany)

— "The Most Beautiful Woman," Maya Sarfaty, Tel Aviv University (Israel)

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .

Dalian Wanda, Sony to partner on multiple big-budget movies

China's Dalian Wanda Group and Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group have formed a partnership to cooperate on multiple big-budget movies, marking another step into the global film industry by the Chinese conglomerate.

Wanda, which already owns AMC Theaters and bought Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion in January, said it would both invest in Sony productions and strive to highlight China in those films.

"The alliance will help strengthen Wanda's power to influence the global film industry, and set a good precedent for Chinese film producers in their international investment," said the statement it released Friday.

Jack Gao, Wanda's head of international investment and operations, said Wanda would continue to seek alliances with other content companies and closer relationships with leading media firms.

The statement did not name the films involved, although trade magazine Deadline reported possible investment and promotional cooperation for "Passengers," the sci-fi love story starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt being released later this year in the U.S.; a reboot of "Jumanji" due next year with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black; and an animated Smurfs film.

Legendary Entertainment begins production in 2017 on the first live-action Pokemon movie, called "Detective Pikachu."

Hollywood has been drawn to China by the country's deep-pocketed financiers and its box office that is now the world's second biggest. A quota on foreign films allows just 34 a year to show in Chinese theaters on a revenue-sharing basis, but the financial conditions improve vastly for Chinese-foreign co-productions.

Wanda has also been expanding its share of global box office, with AMC recently purchasing European cinema chain Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group in a deal making it the largest movie theater operator in the world.

Originally a property and cinema giant, Wanda has also expanded into sports, becoming a top-tier sponsor of FIFA in a deal that runs through the 2030 World Cup, for which China is considered likely to bid.

Wanda has also purchased Swiss firm Infront Sports & Media, Tampa and Florida-based World Triathlon Corp., along with acquiring a 20 percent stake in Spanish football team Atletico Madrid.

FBI says it's evaluating abuse allegations against Pitt

The FBI is gathering information about an incident involving actor Brad Pitt and his family aboard a private flight last week, the agency confirmed Thursday.

Spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the FBI is still evaluating whether to open an investigation into allegations Pitt was abusive during the flight toward one of his six children with actress Angelina Jolie Pitt, as several media outlets have reported.

The news reports from anonymous sources contend the actor is under investigation by a child welfare agency because of the Sept. 14 airborne incident.

Amara Suarez, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, said the agency could not confirm whether it was investigating Pitt or the well-being of the former couple's children.

A representative for Pitt declined comment Thursday.

Jolie Pitt filed for divorce Monday and her lawyer released a statement the following day saying she came to the decision "for the health of the family." She listed their separation date as Sept. 15, the day after the alleged plane incident, and the actress is seeking sole custody of all six of the children.

A phone message left for Jolie Pitt's attorney Laura Wasser was not returned Thursday.

Koochiching County, Minnesota, Sheriff Perryn Hedlund told The Associated Press on Thursday that Brad Pitt was on a plane that landed at the International Falls, Minnesota, airport near the Canadian border on Sept. 14.

Hedlund said his sheriff's deputies were not called to the airport, and International Falls police were also not called.

"There's no incident whatsoever reported to law enforcement," Hedlund said.

He said he didn't know why the plane landed in International Falls, but said it's not uncommon for hockey players or other celebrities to stop at the airport.

Messages left with the airport's manager were not returned Thursday.

Pitt and Jolie Pitt — known as "Brangelina" — were together for 12 years but only wed in August 2014. They married privately at their French chateau in the Provence hamlet of Correns with their children serving as ring bearers and throwing flower petals. They announced the ceremony days later.

Their six children include 15-year-old Maddox, 12-year-old Pax, 11-year-old Zahara, 10-year-old Shiloh, and 8-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.

This is the second marriage for Pitt, 52, who previously wed Jennifer Aniston. It's the third for Jolie Pitt, 41, who was previously married to Billy Bob Thornton and Jonny Lee Miller.

In 2006, they formed the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, to which they funneled many of the millions they made selling personal pictures to celebrity magazines.

In addition to their philanthropy, much of their off-screen public image has been about their role as parents.

Although Jolie Pitt's divorce filing sought sole physical custody of their children, divorce experts say the actors will have to agree to a parenting plan or face a public custody battle in court. Both actors have, in separate statements, said their primary concern was their children and asked for privacy.

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Associated Press Writer Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

Flush with opportunities, Chris Pratt plays a new hand

The offer to star in Antoine Fuqua's "The Magnificent Seven" came to Chris Pratt while he was on a hunting trip with friends, listening to an audio book of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove." Having recently learned some card tricks of his own, the part — a gun-slinging card sharp — felt like kismet.

"All of the signs in my life pointed me toward doing this movie," Pratt says. "It's like when you get dealt a hand that you don't even throw a single card back. You're like: That's the hand I'm going to play."

Off of the success of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Jurassic World," Pratt is now playing a much different game, with some enviable cards. Few actors have ever been more immediately, more head-spinningly catapulted to stardom as Pratt did when the collective $2.9 billion in global box office of "Guardians," ''Jurassic World" and "The Lego Movie" drove him to the top of the A-list.

"The Magnificent Seven," a remake of the 1960 original (which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai") was the first thing Pratt decided to do. "I actually said no to a lot of things," he says. "This was the first thing I said yes to."

The film, which opens Friday, represents the first phase of Pratt's new reality as a movie star with the power to pick and choose. It's still a somewhat novel experience for the 37-year-old Pratt, whose first decade in the movie business was as a comic character actor, most recognizable as the lovable Andy Dwyer on "Parks and Recreation."

"This was the first chapter in a whole new book that was so vastly different from the first book," says Pratt. "My choice of yes or no was on an audition. Do you want to go out for this? Yes or no. No one had offered me a part ever, so I would just go out for everything."

His challenge now, he says, is to use his newfound freedom wisely.

"I became someone that a studio could at least partially build a movie around," Pratt says. "It's a good thing but it's also a bad thing because you get offered all kinds of movies that you're definitely not right for. You could potentially be responsible for getting a bunch of bad movies made."

"If it was me on my own, I would have screwed it up," he adds. "I rely on people I really trust."

Naturally, there are some big-budget sequels on the horizon. He has already shot "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," due out next year, and he'll be back for another "Jurassic World" film, where J.A. Boyona is set to take over directing. But more immediately, Pratt stars in the upcoming sci-fi thriller-romance "Passengers" alongside Jennifer Lawrence. They play space travelers woken from hibernation 90 years too early.

"Chris is a guy who's trying harder. I think he's focused. He's happy to be there," says Fuqua. "He's physical, he has charm and he has a lot of depth that no one's even scratched yet. I know he's doing a lot of films now that will probably take him deeper. You can tell that's where he wants to go."

But Pratt is also devoting less of himself to his career, now that it's been established. Pratt, who has a 4-year-old with his wife, Anna Farris, says he's made the conscious decision to not do back-to-back movies. He's aiming to make movies that are both good and commercial.

"I don't really have the time or the luxury to say: Do one for them and one for me," Pratt says. "The one that I do for them also has to be for me because the one that I do for me is really not making a movie and staying home with my family."

In "Magnificent Seven," Pratt slides into the role carved out earlier by Steve McQueen, or if you go back to "Seven Samurai," Toshiro Mifune — the playful, hard-drinking, reckless one of the bunch. Though the film has received weak reviews from critics, Pratt was singled out by Variety for having the movie's "most combustible star quality."

That he's now a full blown movie star may have changed Pratt's life, but his appeal remains largely because it hasn't seemed to change him much.

"To be clear, I've always been a happy person," says Pratt. "I feel like that's a skill more than a result of certain circumstances in your life. I think if you can be happy with nothing, you can be happy with everything. But if you can't be happy with nothing, everything isn't going to do it for you."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Obama honors Mel Brooks, others in arts and humanities

President Barack Obama on Thursday paid tribute to comedian Mel Brooks, chef Jose Andres, NPR interviewer Terry Gross and others at a White House ceremony celebrating "creators who give every piece of themselves to their craft."

The three were among two dozen artists, writers, playwrights and performers awarded the 2015 National Medals of Arts and Humanities. Obama touted the group, which included author Sandra Cisneros, composer Philip Glass and singer Audra McDonald, as figures at the top of their fields and contributors to a national conversation.

"We believe that arts and the humanities are in many ways reflective of our national soul. They're central to who we are as Americans — dreamers, storyteller, innovators and visionaries," he said.

The annual event is typically a serious affair, held under the glittering chandeliers of the East Room. But it took a comic turn this year when Obama paid tribute to Brooks by quoting the director's instructions to his writers on the boundary-pushing film "Blazing Saddles."

"Write anything you want because we'll never be heard from again. We will all be arrested for this movie," Obama said, laughing.

Obama and Brooks shared a laugh when the actor made an unexpected gesture, bending suddenly at the knee and extending his hands toward the president's legs. It wasn't clear what Brooks was doing.

The president also honored jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and actor Morgan Freeman. Neither was able to attend the ceremony. Freeman was "undoubtedly off playing a black president," Obama said. "He never lets me have my moment."

Winners of the medal for arts included painter Jack Whitten, musician Santiago Jimenez Jr., playwright Moises Kaufman, record producer Berry Gordy, dancer and choreographer Ralph Lemon, playwright and actor Luis Valdez and the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.

The National Humanities Medal was awarded to authors James McBride, Rudolfo Anaya, Louis Menand, Ron Chernow, Abraham Verghese, Elaine Pagels, Isabel Wilkerson, poet Louise Gluck and the Prison University Project, Higher Education Program.

The group could also be described as "Terry Gross and a whole bunch of people Terry Gross has interviewed," Obama said.

George Takei musical 'Allegiance' will be broadcast in Dec.

If you weren't able to catch George Takei's musical "Allegiance" on Broadway, here's another chance — at your local movie theater.

Fathom Events will broadcast a digital recording of the show to movie houses nationwide on Dec. 13.

"Allegiance," based on Takei's memories of being forced into a Wyoming internment during World War II, is a multigenerational tale with two love stories. It co-stars Lea Salonga, Telly Leung and Takei.

The show had a premiere in 2012 at the Old Globe in San Diego and, when it opened in New York on Oct. 6, marked the first Asian-led cast of a musical on Broadway in more than a decade. It closed after 150 performances.

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Online: http://www.fathomevents.com

3 years after '12 Years,' Nyong'o's face is back on screen

The filmmaker Mira Nair was familiar with the regal grace of Lupita Nyong'o long before most.

The Indian-born, New York-based Nair has been close friends with Nyong'o's family for years. One of Nyong'o's first jobs in the movies was interning in New York for Nair's production company. She also later worked for Nair's Uganda-centered film school, Maisha Film Labs.

What does Nair recall of Nyong'o as a younger woman?

"Like she is: immensely thoughtful and stylish," Nair says with a laugh. "She wouldn't speak unless she had something to say. And full of fun, which sometime you guys don't see. But there's a real appetite for life there."

In the African chess prodigy tale "Queen of Katwe," a now much more established Nyong'o has reunited with Nair for a film that reflects much of the actress's past, as well as her future. It is, surprisingly, the first time moviegoers have gotten to see Nyong'o's face on screen since her breakout, Oscar-winning performance in 2013's "12 Years a Slave."

In the three years since, she's appeared in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in a motion-capture performance, lent her voice to "The Jungle Book" and starred on Broadway in Danai Guirira's Liberian drama "Eclipsed," earning a Tony nomination. But "Queen of Katwe," she says, epitomizes the kind of film she wants to be in.

"The success of '12 Years of Slave' has put me in a position where I can choose," Nyong'o said in a recent interview. "I want to honor the opportunity that I've been given. So I've worked very hard to choose things that I'm passionate about because I think I'm most useful when I feel conviction. I want to continue to do work that moves me and develops cultural conversations.

"It takes one film at a time, one story at a time, to actually shift the norm," she adds.

"Queen of Katwe," which opens Friday, is itself an anomaly. It's a family-friendly film made in Africa with an entirely black cast — a first for Disney. The film tells of Phiona Mutesi's (newcomer Madina Nalwanga) rise from the Katwe slums in Kampala, Uganda, to elite levels of chess. Nair shot it in South Africa and Uganda. Nyong'o plays Phiona's head-strong mother.

The local flavor, as well as the real people the story is based on (who appear briefly but movingly at the end), gives "Queen of Katwe" an infectious spirit. During one celebratory scene in Katwe, extras mixed with nearby onlookers, eager to join in the exultation.

"Because this doesn't happen very often, we were all filled with such gratitude to be able to tell this story," says Nyong'o.

Even if Nyong'o wasn't sitting in a high-back chair at a Toronto hotel shortly after the film's screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, the 33-year-old would appear queen-like, herself, given her calm poise and precision with words.

Although Nyong'o now seems remarkably at home on any red carpet, she spent years hesitating to commit to acting. As an undergrad at Hampshire College, she initially explored other roles on film sets.

"I was just trying to figure out where in this industry, if not in the front of the camera, I would fit in," she says. "I had always been discouraged that it was possible. I was from Kenya and I didn't know any Kenyan actors in America. It just didn't seem like a possible career path."

Nyong'o, born in Mexico and raised in Kenya, had a very different upbringing than the impoverished ones of "Queen of Katwe." But, as Nair says, "Like Phiona, she's harnessed her potential and thankfully the world has rewarded her for it."

"I spent a lot of time denying the fact that I wanted to be an actor, and I felt I could bring this to the film," Nyong'o says. "It's about having the courage to pursue your dream and it takes courage because sometimes your dreams are unconventional and surprising and uncomfortable for those around you to understand."

But shortly after graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Nyong'o landed the role of Patsey in Steve McQueen's "12 Years of Slave," immediately catapulting her to stardom.

"It definitely was a lot all at once," she says. "One of the things I focused on as everything was happening was saying yes — making my bowl bigger. Often times, people teach you to prepare for failure, but they don't necessarily teach you to prepare for success."

One of Nyong'o's early film experiences was as a production assistant on "The Constant Gardner," the John le Carre adaptation about a British diplomat in Kenya whose wife is murdered. Nyong'o, though, would like to see more stories like "Queen of Katwe" make it to movie screens.

"Because I grew up on the African continent, I understand we're about more than war and famine and wildlife," she says. "My childhood opened me up to the rest of the world. I had a very multicultural upbringing. So I know that we have a lot to offer. We have a lot to offer in the world of cinema."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Pitt, Jolie star power mightier than box office power

"By the Sea" didn't just flop at the box office. It was a flat out rejection, making a mere $538,000 domestically. How could a movie starring the modern king and queen of Hollywood, Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt, the couple who can fetch $14 million for baby photos, have so little audience appeal?

That's the paradox of this movie star couple: Their star power has always been mightier than their box office power, whether together on screen or apart. And that's not likely to change, now that they're divorcing.

"There really is no quantifiable effect that I can see that this would have on their careers or their star power," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore. "No matter what movies Brad and Angelina are in, they will always be movie stars. That's just who they are. That's their persona. But I don't think there is anyone who makes a determination whether or not to buy a movie ticket based on the personal life of a star."

The promise of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was somewhat of a false indicator for Pitt and Jolie Pitt. Sure, it was the movie that ignited one of the most observed Hollywood relationships of all time, amassing a cool $186.3 million domestically in 2005, but it wasn't a sign of things to come.

Just look at "By the Sea," which marked the first time in a decade the couple that launched a million magazine covers would be back on the big screen together.

Costing $10 million to make, "By the Sea" debuted in limited release in November of 2015, already hampered by negative reviews, and sank nearly immediately. It stayed in theaters for only a few weeks, never going over 200 screens. In its final day, it averaged $52 per screen.

At the time, Forbes box office pundit Scott Mendelson wrote that the lackluster earnings were "an unsurprising result for a film that was almost biologically manufactured to be more talked about than actually seen ... It was not a test of Brad Pitt and/or Angelina Jolie's star power, but rather a reward for it."

It's somewhat unfair to compare the two films. One is a sexy assassin action comedy designed to appeal to all — the other, a languid, introspective and slow-burning art house film. But the truth is, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" remains one of the top domestic openers and earners for both Pitt and Jolie Pitt, not adjusted for inflation. Pitt's highest opening weekend is still "World War Z," with $66.4 million. Jolie's is "Maleficent" which took in $69.4 million.

"They are perceived as movie stars because they look like movie stars, they act like movie stars, they have the money of movie stars, but when it comes to their box office? Brad Pitt used to be considered not a huge box office draw. He always did great work, but it wasn't like his movies were breaking records left and right, like his contemporary Tom Cruise," noted Dergarabedian.

As with before their relationship, during, and after, it will come down to the quality of the movies they choose, Dergarabedian said.

For the moment, future projects are likely getting a boost in buzz because of the divorce. Paramount Pictures, the studio releasing Pitt's upcoming WWII film "Allied," pushed out a new trailer just a few hours after news broke on Tuesday of the divorce.

"In the case of 'Allied,' it actually enhances its box office potential because a lot of people who are hearing about the divorce in the mainstream press may never have heard about that movie before. Now it's on their radar," said Dergarabedian.

But, he says, that might only be temporary too. "Allied" doesn't bow until November.

"By then this will be so far down in the news cycle it won't be an issue," he said. "But for now it has raised the profile."

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

The Latest: Some Polynesians happy Disney pulls Maui costume

The Latest on Disney's costume for Maui, a character in its upcoming movie "Moana." (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

Some Polynesians critical of a new Disney's costume are welcoming the company's move to stop selling it.

The costume depicts Maui, a legendary Polynesian figure featured in the upcoming animated movie "Moana." The brown outfit has long-sleeves and pants and full-body tattoos.

Critics say it's offputting to have a child wear the skin color of another race, likening the costume to a form of blackface.

Brigham Young University-Hawaii professor Tevita Kaili says he's happy Disney is responding.

Chelsie Haunani Fairchild says the company only pulled the costume because critical voices were heard.

The Native Hawaiian college student studying in Texas says it doesn't change what Disney did, though she accepts the company's apology.

Disney apologized in a statement Wednesday and said it regrets offending some with the outfit.

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10:30 a.m.

Disney says it is pulling a costume of the character Maui from its website and stores after public outcry.

Maui is a demigod in Polynesian mythology and is featured in the upcoming movie "Moana." The costume is a long-sleeve brown shirt and long pants featuring full-body tattoos.

Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders are speaking out against the costume, saying it's offputting to have a child wear the skin of another race - likening its design to a version of blackface.

Disney said in a statement Wednesday it regrets offending some with the outfit. It says the team behind the "Moana" movie has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific that inspired the film.

Disney's statement says "we sincerely apologize."

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10:20 a.m.

Pacific Islanders are speaking out against one of Disney's newest costumes, likening its long-sleeve brown shirt and long pants featuring full-body tattoos to a version of blackface.

The getup depicts the character Maui in the upcoming animated movie "Moana." Disney's online store offered pajamas in a similar design.

Chelsie Haunani Fairchild says it's offputting to have a child wear the skin of another race. The Native Hawaiian college student says "Polyface is Disney's new version of blackface."

The Disney online store began selling the costume recently, saying it has "padded arms and legs for mighty stature!" But on Wednesday, the costume and pajamas had been taken down. Disney didn't immediately comment.

"Moana" is due to be released in November.

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This item has been corrected to say Disney began selling costume recently, not this month.

Not so fast on full custody, experts say of Jolie's demand

In the global hubbub over the Brangelina divorce, Angelina Jolie Pitt's demand for sole physical custody of her six children with Brad Pitt has attracted its share of the attention. Yet experts say Jolie Pitt won't have the final say, and that Pitt and the couple's eldest son, Maddox, may even have a voice in custody arrangements.

Stacy Phillips, a veteran divorce attorney, called Jolie Pitt's request for sole physical custody a "wish list," one that could change as the divorce progresses. Phillips, like many, saw the request as a message to Pitt, although what the actress is trying to convey won't be known for some time, if ever.

Pitt has yet to file his legal response to Jolie Pitt's divorce petition, but each actor released statements Tuesday indicating their children were the priority. The pair has six children, ranging in ages from 8-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne to 15-year-old Maddox.

"It's not uncommon that a person would seek sole physical custody in their initial filing," said divorce lawyer Lori Howe. "That doesn't mean it is what they will end up seeking if they resolve the case through settlement or in a courtroom. ... She very well could change her mind as well. And there's nothing to stop her from doing that, despite having checked those boxes on her petition."

California law favors joint custody of children, and judges can generally consider the opinion of children who are 14 years or older about which parent they want to live with.

Divorce lawyers, however, say the couple can avoid placing their children in the middle of a divorce if they work out an agreement in private.

"The parents should be parents, as opposed to letting the children be the parents," said Phillips, an attorney in the Los Angeles office of Blank Rome LLP. "They didn't ask for this. They need to be kept as children."

Attorney Steven Mindel said in some instances, a judge may want to know the opinion of children younger than 14-years-old, but in general, courts encourage parents to work out the custody arrangements without protracted legal fights.

"You generally don't want a child testifying against a parent," Mindel said. "It's emotionally draining on the child."

Testimony doesn't have to be in a courtroom. It can be solicited by an attorney appointed to represent the child's interests, or can be done in a judge's chambers, if necessary, Mindel said.

If the actors get into a public custody fight, a judge might appoint an attorney for each of the Jolie-Pitt family's children. "If you do it strictly by the book, each child should have separate representation," said Maya Shulman, a divorce attorney who specializes in resolving difficult custody cases.

In most instances, Phillips, Shulman and Mindel said, parents will work out the arrangements behind the scenes. Pitt Jolie and Pitt have an incentive to do that, the lawyers said, because of their celebrity status.

Previous Hollywood breakups provide some insight into how quiet, and how ugly, custody fights can become.

Mel Gibson's divorce from his wife Robyn was quiet, with very few court hearings and very little attention after the actor's wife filed for divorce in April 2009. The pair has seven children, although only one was a minor when they divorces. It took nearly two-and-a-half years — with Gibson's very public custody fight with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva playing out in the middle of it — for the Gibsons to finalize their divorce.

Similarly, Maria Shriver's divorce from Arnold Schwarzenegger has remained out of the public eye for years. After an initial flurry of filings in July 2011, no public hearings or documents have been filed in the case. Their youngest child turns 19 next week.

Attorney Laura Wasser, who filed Jolie Pitt's divorce on Monday, also represented Robyn Gibson and Shriver.

Couples can opt to pay a private judge to handle their cases, although the same rules apply and a public divorce judgment will be filed at the end of it, Shulman said. The level of detail varies widely, with some judgments offering no details on how custody or assets are being split.

The judgment in Gwyneth Paltrow's divorce from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, for instance, spans seven pages. Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas' divorce judgment, in which they split a variety of business interests but no custody issues, is 57 pages long.

All the lawyers interviewed said they hope Pitt and Jolie Pitt will avoid a public fight, and keep their divorce as private as possible.

"It just seems unlikely that they would drag themselves and their children through the public court system," Mindel said. "There just couldn't be any benefit to them or their children to do that."

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AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

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