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Friday, February 24, 2012

Disneyear: The Three Caballeros (1945)

Continuing the tradition of what Saludos Amigos did, Disney made a second film to show that the Good Neighbor Policy was still in effect. Thankfully, it looks like they realized the faults of Saludos and improved on it. There's more story, better entertainment, and really good live action/animation mixing in The Three Caballeros, making it not only more well-known to the public, but also regarded as a classic in some people's eyes. For Disney's first sequel, is it the best? Let's take a look.

The start of the movie shows Donald Duck getting three birthday gifts from fans and friends from South America. The first gift is a film reel and projector shows us different birds from South America, like parrots and the infamous Araquan bird. We also get two short stories. The first is about a penguin named Pablo who wants to leave Antarctica for warmer climates. The other is about a boy who finds a flying burro and enters him in a race. Both are really cute and more memorable than most of the shorts from the last movie (You know the one I mean!). Then Donald opens his present from Brazil and Jose Carioca returns to give Donald a tour of Bahia and slow the pace down for a bit. They dance for a bit with Aurora Miranda and then return to where we started. The third gift is from Mexico and we get introduced to a new character named Panchito Pistoles (rooster, Doug Walker! ROOSTER!). The three of them have fun, sing, dance some more, and then take a look at Mexico. Then the last third is Donald trying to score with the ladies (insert Beavis and Butt-head joke here.) Then they have more fun, fight a fake bull, and... that's where it ends.

Like I said earlier, this movie is better in that there's more passion thrown into it. The animation's a lot of fun, the stories are more memorable, the music's just as good and you still get some culture out of it. That's always good. In fact, this whole movie is like a party. But that's also what's wrong with it. Don't get me wrong, the first two thirds are fun, but after that, you kind of want to go and watch something else. After seeing people dance around for most of the flick, it gets boring fast. Also, that last third is such a mind-fuck! It's Donald trying to get a girl to make out with him mixed with some trippy imagery, which begs the question whatever happened to Daisy? There's also the fact that when they try to tell the stories, it's not that well stitched together. The movie jumps around from stories to fun to being educational to back to fun and it's kind of a messy presentation. In fact, the shorts are probably best on their own instead of all together, like they used to do on the Disney Channel.

Still, the designs have moments of greatness
That said, The Three Caballeros is still a decent movie to watch. The animation is really colorful and bouncy. The live action-mixing is done really well too and it's the first time that Disney did this since the Alice Comedies. My personal favorite scene is when Donald, Jose, and Panchito sing the title song. Really look at the pacing and timing of this scene! They move so fast that they practically leap off the screen! It's incredible!

So overall, this is a movie to watch on a rainy day. The storytelling is kind of jumbled and gets boring after the last third, but the animation, culture, music, and designs are the only consistent good things about it. Maybe if it had more focus, a lack of focus, or something consistent all the way, it'd be stronger. As is, it's okay. There's other Disney films out there that tell stories better and with better animation, so I'd recommend those. But if you're curious enough, The Three Caballeros has it's moments of greatness. Take it for what it's worth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Disneyear: Victory Through Air Power (1943)

I'll be honest here, I had a hard time trying to decide whether or not to review this film. Why? Well because as a Disney film, it gets little to no mention by a lot of the books I have since it's purely war propaganda. That may also explain why I had a bitch of a time trying to find this on DVD. But hell, it's here. I now have it. Let's review it.

But first another history lesson: like how Saludos Amigos was developed, Walt Disney and his artists were asked by the government  to do a film strictly for the U.S. Air Force based on Major Alexander de Seversky's well-known book. That or it got an actual theatrical release. I'm not sure which. A proud patriot, Walt agreed to do the film. The result is a film that's really unlike most of the films I'm reviewing this year. It's educational, like Saludos, but it's dead serious due to this film being for WWII pilots. Well, half of it anyway.

The best summary I can give is that the film starts appropriately with the history of the airplane. We see the Wright Brothers invent the first airplane with success. We also get a look at how the plane developed over the years and saw uses for mail, exploration, transportation and today's subject: war. About 25 minutes in, de Seversky himself appears and discusses the influence of air warfare in WWII and gives his ideas on how the war could be won by the Allies with strategic air bombing in Germany and Japan. That's pretty much it.

Well, this certainly is an unusual film for Disney. It's really like an audio/visual version of the book itself. For good reasons, it's really mature about it's subject matter and it's obvious that Disney and de Seversky knew what they were talking about. If you're a WWII enthusiast, you aren't going to be bored by this film. It's surprisingly engaging for something educational. It's kind of like a little time capsule from 1943. Sadly, that's also part of the movie's problem. It'll be hard for a modern audience to truly appreciate it.

I think one of the reasons this movie is forgotten is that this part of the movie is greatly concerned with what will be and what may be. Futurism is interesting to talk about when the futurist got things dead wrong, or only partially right. Since most of what de Seversky was discussing proved to be accurate, there isn’t much to mock. One might almost forget the context under which this was produced and see any inaccuracies as simple mistakes in research. The animation is also pretty limited here, despite how Walt felt about limited animation itself. In fact, it's also hard to recommend this to anyone other than the die-hard Disney fan or WWII enthusiast. If you can find it, I'd say check it out. I think you'll be pleased with the visuals and historical aspect of it.

The coolest part of the movie has to be the ending scene where an eagle representing America attacks Japan represented by an octopus. It's an intense scene but awesome too. From what I saw in an interview, Woolie Reitherman animated that scene. Judging from his interview, he really had a knack for suspense and drama

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Disneyear: Saludos Amigos (1942)

First, a history lesson: this was made around World War II, and the Nazi's had a good grip on a lot of smaller European countries. They had their eyes on South American countries like Argentina. so, to keep the Nazis at bay, America decided to endorse a policy on South America called The Good Neighbor Policy, where America wouldn't get involved in the domestic affairs of Latin America. It also reinforced the idea that the United States would be a “good neighbor” and engage in reciprocal exchanges with Latin American countries. This is where Walt Disney comes in: Disney characters, especially Donald Duck, were extremely popular in South America. So, Walt decided to make a film to show that America wanted to be in good relations with Latin America. The result was today's film, Saludos Amigos. (By the way: in a sense, this counts as WWII propaganda)

Like The Reluctant Dragon, Saludos Amigos was a Disney film that I never saw as a kid. Hell, I never heard of it before I started getting into animation! It's another obscure film that slipped under my radar. After watching it... well....there's a good reason why it's obscure. Not that it's god-awful (there's still some things that I like about it), it just could have been better. Much better. 

Well, the best synopsis I can give is that the Disney artists take a plane over to South America for ideas for new films. They visit different parts of the land down below like Lake Titicaca, the pampas of Argentina, and Rio de Janero and show you the cartoon they came up with after each trip. That's. About. It. 

So what are the cartoons? Like what I did with Fantasia, I'll analyze each little segment of the film.
Let's start with Lake Titicaca, where...

...How did they get here? Anywho, where Donald Duck visits the highest lake in the world and observes some aspects of the Andean culture. The trip ends quick when Donald and a llama get in trouble on a suspension bridge. Well, I think I analyzed it earlier in the blog and I think I praised it only for Milt Kahl's animation on the llama character. Looking at it again, the short is kind of boring. The llama scenes are actually the only entertaining part of the short. There's funnier Donald cartoons out there.

Then there's Pedro, the only short here with a coherent story. It's about a baby plane taking over his father's job of delivering the mail when he calls in sick. He succeeds and gains respect by braving the highest peak in the Andes mountains. It's a cute short, but it's the dullest short in the whole movie. 

Next up is in the Argentine pampas, where we meet up with Goofy demonstrating the art of being a gaucho, or coyboy. Like a lot of the Goofy cartoons of the 40's and 50's, it has some great slapstick comedy and is easily the funniest short in the movie. But again, there are better Goofy cartoons to watch. 

Last, but definitely not least is Aquarela do Brasil, or Watercolors of Brazil. We see an artist paint Brazil to the tune of Brazil, my all-time favorite song. Donald later appears and meets a green parrot named José Carioca. He shows Donald around Rio de Janero and introduces him to samba music. This is probably the only short that I really enjoy. The whole scene with the paint creating the Brazilian world in perfect harmony to the song Brazil is just awesome to me. It's really showcasing some of the best of Disney's art. There's also some scenes where the artist paints some things but it turns into something else, which is again really cool. Like you think he's painting a tree, but it's really a bird. Maybe if the whole movie was like this, I'd enjoy it more. 

To sum it up, Saludos Amigos, well, kind of dull. The animation is still good as usual, but it's their short cartoon animation. Don't get me wrong, I love the short animations, but after seeing Bambi before this, this film seems like a downgrade.But as far as the short animation goes, this is some of Disney's best, even if not even all of the film is animated. My biggest problem with it is the presentation. The narrator is really, really boring. I'm sure he's trying, but he just didn't help make it entertaining. On top of that, this feels like someone's vacation videos slapped together with the short cartoons the artists came up with. Does that really count as a movie? Maybe as a featurette, but not a whole movie. But's it's far from being awful. On the bright side, it is educational, as in you get a little culture out of it and they do show different languages, dances, songs, ect. That's pretty cool, I guess. The music is also fun to listen to. 

But this isn't very groundbreaking as a film and comes off, to me at least, very mediocre compared to the other Disney films. If I could improve it, I would have the whole film presented like the last short, Aquarela do Brazil and have  José  and Donald show the audience around not only Brazil, but also other parts of South America and maybe bump into some of the characters along the way. If you want to see Saludos Amigos just to see all the Disney movies, go check it out. Otherwise, just have it as a matinee for your kids on a Saturday afternoon or just skip it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Disneyear: Bambi (1942)

Ah, Bambi. The charming little movie that scared millions of kids I knew for life. No point in bringing up why. We all know what happened. No reason to say what it is. No sir... no point at al...
.... dammit....

But is that all there is to remember about Bambi? The answer is obviously no. It's one of those films that you appreciate more as an adult than when you where a kid. Why don't we find out why?

One morning in the spring, a baby fawn is born. This gathers the attention of all the woodland critters (thank God not the South Park ones...) because this particular fawn happens to be the prince of the forest. Why? Because.... deer are graceful. Anyway, he is christened Bambi and learns much about the forest while gaining friends in a rabbit named Thumper and a skunk named Flower. All throughout the seasons, little Bambi learns all the skills he needs to live from his mother. Then winter comes and... you-know-what happens. His father is there to take Bambi under his wing (or foreleg) and returns to the forest as an adult in the spring, antlers and all. After reuniting with Thumper and Flower all grown up, they later get twitterpated and meet their future mates, including Bambi with a fawn he met only once as a fawn named Faline. After a fight with another stag, Bambi has won Faline over. All's well until the most sinister of creatures enters the wood and makes life hell for the animals... MAN!! After a really intense climax, we cut to next spring when the forest recovers after a forest fire caused by man. It seems the cycle has started over again as Bambi and his father look over the next generation of forest royalty.

Where do I begin? Well, to be honest, the artwork in this movie is fantastic. The backgrounds, I hear, were done entirely in watercolor, a Disney first. And it's pulled off very well. It's like watching Planet Earth, you really feel like you're out in nature. Everything about it seems real. Even the animals are animated very realistically with a touch of that Disney style of course. I think that the animators must have actually studied how these animals act because their effort really shows. Just look at these beautiful backgrounds for case and point.

Another great thing about it is the atmosphere. What I mean by that is that it's never really in the same tone. It mixes a lot of warm and cute scenes with ones more dark and forbearing. I know a lot of people give that famous scene a lot of attention, but there's other really intense scenes. I actually thought the end scene where Bambi fights off the dogs and escapes a forest fire where more intense and far more dramatic.

Thankfully, the movie seems to find a perfect balance of happy with the dramatic stuff.  Like I said before, the simplified version of the story is really the life of this one deer. The narrative isn't very coherent and clear cut. But, that's life! It's not always coherent and clear, there's not always heroes and villains, or even resolve itself in a poetic fashion. Bambi seems to reflect that aspect so well. It also doesn't rely on cliches in other kids or even adult films and thank God, because this is really all we need.

Like I said, the movie has less emphasis on story and more on character, and while Bambi himself isn't the most interesting character, but he's not supposed to be. He's more like the every man, an observer of the world, a blank slate and his character is carved from experiences. Also, there's something about Bambi's father. Every time Bambi sees him, he's more scared than happy. Sort of an interesting form of dysfunctional family we have here. Then again, I know that does are the ones taking care of the fawns and not bucks, so I supposed it's more true to nature this way. Nothing wrong with that. Since Bambi's the main focus, the other characters don't really have a chance for development, but they're still cute and enjoyable. I find myself liking Flower and that old owl had a lot of funny moments. 

Best scene: too many to choose. But if you want to go for something more lighthearted, I just love the scene where Bambi, Thumper, and Flower as adults try to take an oath to never fall in love, but nature strikes back. Their reactions when they do get twitterpated are hilarious.

Overall, this is easily one of Disney's finest movies. The artwork and atmosphere mixed with a compelling coming-to-age story are way to good to pass up. Yeah, it gets intense at some parts, but I handled it fine as a kid and I suppose your kids can use some tough material. It's funny how even though I own the movie, this is actually one of the Disney films I watched the least as a kid and even as an adult. It's kind of like Citizen Kane or the Stanley Kubrick library, I respect it more than I watch. And I think that theory holds true for a lot of folks. Just have a tissue-box ready for when it happens.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Disneyear: Dumbo (1941)

Whenever I watch animated films, I can't always expect something with the majesty of Snow White or Fantasia. Sometimes, just having a lot of charm is enough to make me like them. Dumbo is one of those movies. 

One night, storks are delivering babies to circus animals in modern-day Florida (which begs the question: if storks deliver the babies, then what makes the babies?) One of the late deliveries of the circus is a baby elephant with unusually large ears. The other elephants make fun of him to the point where they ostracize him for his large ears, but his mother is there to give him love and care. One day, momma Jumbo tries to protect little Dumbo from jeering bastard-kids but gets caged and chained later because the people though she was attacking the kids out of nowhere. The only person there for him is a little mouse with a ringmaster clothes, a New-Yorkese accent, and a heart of gold. He tries to help Dumbo become accepted but as a result from one disastrous mistake on an act, Dumbo gets demoted to a clown. After a visit with his mother, Dumbo and the mouse get drunk (the mouse was trying to cure Dumbo's hiccups with what he thought was water) and wind up in a tree the next morning. The mouse tries to figure out how the hell the both of them wound up in a tree and come to the conclusion that Dumbo flew up the tree. With the help of some crows, Dumbo learns to fly and becomes a big hit in the circus. They even free momma Jumbo in the end! Yay!

That's the story. How does it fare?

Like I said earlier, Dumbo is a very charming film. It's not as artistically groundbreaking as Snow White or Fantasia, I don't think it was ever supposed to be. It just sets it's own rules and boundaries and performs well under them. As Doug Walker put it, the story is your typical outcast-with-what-appears-to-be-a-handicap-but-in-the-end-works-in-his-favor-and-becomes-accepted-by-society story, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The characters were a lot of fun and I enjoyed them for the most part. My personal favorite? Dumbo. It's rare for me to say I liked a main character in a Disney flick since I adore side characters mostly, but I just can't help but love the little guy. Even as a kid, I remember loving Dumbo to the point where I wanted him as a pet. What can I say, I love elephants. They're my favorite animals. Most of all, I find it fascinating that the Disney animators gave Dumbo a strong personality and not even give him a line to say.

How could you not love him? :3
Speaking of characters, I'm sure a lot of you are curious to know how I feel about the crows seeing how they've caused some controversy over the years. Yeah, it's true that they speak slang and have mostly black actors portraying them (the leader is played by Cliff Edwards, who did the voice of Jiminy Cricket), but Disney never pulled them off like Sunflower in Fantasia or Song of the South. Well, truth be told, I really like these guys too. They're cool, they're classy, they have style, they become one of the few friends of our main hero and even help him fly. They're f-n awesome! But hey, there may be something I'm missing here, feel free to give a shout on that.

The best scene? With out thinking twice, the pink elephants sequence. Yeah, it's pointless and it traumatized a lot of my friends, but it's awesome!

Overall, I really have a soft spot for this movie. It's simple and really enjoyable with some good animation, even if it feels like I'm watching a short cartoon. But hey, I still love it. And apparently, so do a lot of folks. After doing some research, I found out that this movie actually cost a third of what it cost to make Snow White. It wound being such a big critical and financial success that it made over $1 million back. It's a little film that really helped Disney in the long run because had the movie failed, the studio would have likely closed down. I'm grateful for that, so that's another reason why I always find myself putting Dumbo in my top 10 Disney films. 

One more thing: here's an ode to all the moms out there. Love you, Mom and thanks for everything.