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Friday, March 30, 2012

Disneyear: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

The last movie made before here, Sleeping Beauty, was such a box-office disaster that it really hit the studio hard. In fact, there were even rumors going around that Disney animation would close for good. That was avoided thanks to the results of a charming little film called One hundred and One Dalmatians. Here's an idea of what we're in for today: the book's original author, Dodie Smith, liked stroyman Bill Peet's script for the movie so much that she said that Peet had improved her story. Uncle Walt, who for a while was never seriously involved with the production of the animated movies but always made it to story meetings, said that Peet's story was perfect the way it was and not to change it in any way. The final product proved successful with the critics and audiences alike. Even more so for dog lovers.

So what's the story? One spring day, songwriter Roger Radcliffe's dalmatian Pongo tries to find love for his "pet" human. He finds it in a woman named Anita and her own dalmatian, Perdita. They marry and settle down in a London apartment. Later, Pongo and Perdy have puppies. 15 to be exact. One almost dies, but Roger revives it by rubbing its back with a towel (I'm assuming that's the one named Lucky) Anita's old school friend, Cruella de Vil, wants to buy the puppies from the couple, but Roger refuses because he doesn't trust her. She leaves, but twp thieves steal the litter later on. We find out later that they worked for Cruella and rounded up 84 other dalmatian puppies as well so she can make a coat out of them. The Pongos find out where they are thanks to the "twilight bark", a dog gossip line but also help out in finding lost dogs, and set out to rescue them. With the help of the Colonel, Mr. Tibbs and Major (a sheepdog, cat and horse), the Pongos find and rescue their 15 puppies but decide to rescue the other 84 as well. With the help of a Labrador later on, they decide to hide from Cruella by rolling in soot so that they look like Labradors.  After a really exciting car chase scene, Cruella and her droogs wind up in jail, the dogs return home, and Roger and Anita decide to keep all 101 dogs, hence the title.

If I could choose a word that perfectly describes this movie, it's "cute". Like Lady and the Tramp, the story is told mostly from the dog's perspective, well Pongo's alt least since he's the narrator. It does, however, give some emphasis on the humans too like Roger, Anita, Cruella, the droogs, and even the Radcliffe's maid. Speaking of which, Cruella de Vil herself is a good villian. I find it funny how frail this woman really is, but that fur coat she always wears makes her looks threatening and massive. She's pretty insane too. My favorite scenes with her are when she first appears and Roger tries to drive her off with his music playing and her final scene when she chases after the dogs in a moving van in her car, which gets scarier and more intense the more the car is destroyed.

My favorite aspect of the movie is actually the music. There's only one song, sure, but the score itself is really where a lot of the charm, in my opinion, comes from. George Bruns' score is one of my favorites, if not my all-time favorite, in a Disney movie. It's just so lighthearted and bouncy that it really fits the tone and spirit of the movie. So it seems appropriate then that my favorite part of the score comes from the overture. In fact, these opening credits are really cool! Just watch them, they're the best in all the Disney movies. It's fun to watch, fun to listen too, it's just awesome!

One thing I found odd, though, was how over-the-top this world treats dogs. I mean Pongo and Perdie get married too with Roger and Anita, both dads are jumpy about the birth of the puppies, and even when they're stolen it makes front page news. Really? To be honest, that's where some of the humor does come from, so I guess I'll let it slide.

The majority of characters are typical. They're still likable, nice, and funny at times but don't stand out that much. It's the situations and reactions to said events are what make them enjoyable, sort of like watching a Droopy cartoon in that aspect. One character I really enjoy is Sgt. Tibbs the cat. He actually seems really compassionate and protective of the puppies when he's rescuing them. There's a scene where the droogs are about to bash the puppies heads but he puts himself in front of them to try and save them. That's awesome! Go Sgt. Tibbs! On the double! I wish I had a clip from Youtube to share, but one with just Sgt Tibbs' scenes are hard to find. Here's a model sheet to suffice.

This is also the first movie with that sketchy style of animation too which, to me, kind of brings the quality down a notch. Don't get me wrong, it's still really good fluid and solid animation and the characters still move and appear real, but those sketchy lines and the occasional construction lines that appear are a little bit of a distraction. It's like looking at the pencil tests. It still looks nice, but not exactly 100% complete. Even the backgrounds looked kind of sketchy. My guess is that this was from Sleeping Beauty's financial losses and that the studio had to cut costs somehow. There's still people out there that dig this style 100% too and I can understand why. Also, I found out that the animation in this movie was a team effort. Leading animators before stuck with one or two characters throughout a movie. Here, everyone worked on every character. Except for Marc Davis who solely animated Cruella. 

And that's One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Even if it isn't as good as Lady and the Tramp or even as well animated, it comes close and I still like it ok. If I could point out one other thing about it before I end the review, it's that it's a film that knows what it is. It's not pretentious, it's not that fancy, it's just good old fashioned fun and I enjoyed watching it again. Not my personal favorite Disney movie but thanks to its clever moments, it's still worth a watch or two.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Disneyear: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

To all the readers: first of all, you may have noticed a few title changes. I've decided to rename my "Year of Disney" into "Disneyear". One, I thought it sounds catchier than saying "Year of Disney" and two, it kind of sounds like you're describing the Disney style of animation, doesn't it? It fits since I am reviewing nothing but the theatrical Disney movies this year (with a few exceptions). Just wanted to make that announcement. Oh, and I made it to over 50000 views earlier today. Yay! But enough gloating. On we go with today's movie.

The third Disney fairy tale and the first Disney feature to be presented in Technirama widescreen is Sleeping Beauty. It was also the first animated film to try the Xerox process. Despite those credentials, this is yet another 50's film that critics originally panned but is now called a Disney classic. This time though, there's kind of-sort of a good reason. I'm amazed by how both how epic this is and how big of a mess it is at the same time. It's pretty astounding that way. Well why waste time? Let's find out why.

The story goes is that the Princess Aurora is cursed by the evil sorceress Maleficent to die on her 16th birthday after pricking her finger on the needle of a spindle wheel.  The kingdom hires the tree good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather to look after the baby and protect her from Maleficent's black magic for the next 16 years. The time goes by as we see on her 16th birthday, Aurora (renamed Briar Rose like sort of a medieval witness protection program) meets a man roughly her age named Phillip in the forest. They fall in love after meeting once (doesn't Disney royalty always?), but the fairies can't allow it because she's already betrothed to a prince from her childhood who ironically is who she just met. They spill the beans, not only upsetting Briar Rose, but also being found out by Maleficent's crow. They bring her back to the castle while Phillip goes back to the forest looking for the maid he met earlier only to be trapped by Maleficent's goons. She keeps the prince prisoner as the curse becomes reality. It's lights out for Aurora and the fairies later find out that the man Aurora fell in love with really is the prince and goes out to save him and Aurora. Not after they put the kingdom to sleep before they go, of course. After that, the three save the prince and help him out further by enhancing his armor and weapons with magic. During a really exciting climax, Maleficent turns herself into a dragon and is defeated in a final battle of good vs. evil. The day is saved of course, the prince and princess are married, they dance and live happily ever after.

I'm sure you guys want to hear about what doesn't work first. Ok, one thing is the "main" characters. Holy crap, they're boring! Hell, I never liked considering these two as main characters. If anything, it's the three good fairies that are the stars since most of the movie focuses on them instead of... well, the sleeping beauty. Anyway, Aurora's not even a character. She's a plot device. A dues ex machina. She does nothing and has little to no character to her. She just sings and looks pretty. The prince is just as boring! Well, to be fair, the ones from Snow White and Cinderella are even worse. At least he has a few lines in this movie. But the last line he says is "Goodbye father" and that's at the halfway mark of the movie. After that, he doesn't even give out a grunt. At least Aurora has an excuse, she's asleep for half the film. Sounds like they're a perfect match after all... 
There's a lot of filler scenes too, like with the fairies and kings for some odd reason. Maybe this is why the main characters are so bland. It's almost like the movie liked it's side characters so much and just decided to focus on them more. So, from a storytelling point of view, it's incredibly unbalanced.

Ok, what's good about the movie? For one, the artwork is great. It's not as three-dimensional as the other Disney backgrounds are, but it's not supposed to be. It's a lot like looking at old medieval tapestry work. It's a neat and different approach for the studio, though it could be misinterpreted as having that early UPA style of backgrounds. Maybe they intended that? I don't know. Depends on the person/artist really.


The music is wonderful too, taken from Tchaikovsky score of the popular ballet of the same name. Instead of the usual Disney music men, the score is performed by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Even the songs are in tune to parts of the ballet. Below this paragraph are the only song I remember: Once Upon a Dream. Though to be fair, there's not that many songs in the movie. 

The three good fairies are wonderful characters. It's neat that they all have a distinct look to them as well as different characteristics which make them more unique. From what I heard, this was either Frank Thomas or Ollie Johnson's idea and like the dwarfs from Snow White, it works. Maleficent is another great Disney villain. Hell, he's one of the best in cinema history! Top three easily. She's everything we love about movie baddies. Here's a character that's evolved from animation and acting. Hey, she's even voiced by Elanor Audely. Her motivation's not that strong (she doesn't get invited to Aurora's first birthday party) but it's the lengths she'll go to to get revenge are friggin' awesome.

My favorite scene by far is the climax, which is the final battle between Prince Phillip, the good fairies, and Maleficent. It's one of the best climaxes in Disney history. Everything about it is epic: the pacing, the animation, the music, it's all fiery and energetic. It's just plain awesome. 

Sleeping Beauty does have it's problems and story wise, this film probably wouldn't normally work. But this was one of the tougher Disney film to critique properly since not only are there serious faults but there's a lot of good things in it too and they're among some of Disney's best. The fairies, the villain, the music, the designs, the animation, they're all too good to pass up. I liked it fine as a kid even though I only saw it a few times back then, it's just that I liked more things than others. That's still true today. I know for sure I'm not done watching it. If I ever need a little inspiration, I'll know that a few more viewings are not far away.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Disneyear: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Another pet project from the Disney library that was revived in the 50's is today's film, Lady and the Tramp. Like Alice in Wonderland, this movie was originally panned by critics, but overtime has been regarded as a classic. In fact, this movie is noted for currently being in the 95th spot of the American Film Association's 100 Years... 100 Passions list. The only other Disney flick on there is Beauty and the Beast. It's also the first animated film to be presented in CinemaScope. Now with those credentials, you'd expect it to be a pretty decent film. And you'd be right.

The story follows an upper-class Cocker Spaniel's life with an upper-class family. Everything seems to be great for Lady until one day her owners start acting differently than normal, like not taking her for walks and knitting little pajamas. Her friends Jock and Trusty, a Scottish terrier and Bloodhound respectively, reassure her that her humans are only having a baby. Then we get introduced to our leading male dog.... the Tramp. Really, that's his name. He tells her that this baby is going to take over her life and just leaves...Dude, that's cold. However, everything goes back to normal until her owners leave for a trip or something leaving Lady and the baby under the care of  Aunt Sarah. After her Siamese cats frame her for wrecking the house, Sarah has Lady muzzled. Freaked out, she runs away unexpectedly bumps into Tramp again. He agrees to help get her muzzle off and does so thanks to a funny but gullible beaver voiced by Stan Freberg at a zoo. The two hang out together some more that day. She learns about the freedom of being a homeless dog and eventually the two start to fall in love with each other. The next morning, Lady gets caught by a dog catcher after Tramp agrees to take her home. At the pound, she learns of Tramp's jailbird and rather amorous past. Thanks to her collar she goes home and breaks it off with him. But a rat sneaks in the house, putting the baby at risk (to be fair, it's a friggin HUGE rat!) Tramp kills it, the two rekindle and Tramp even settles down with Lady, raising a family with her.

Like I said earlier, this is a cute film from Disney. The charm of the movie comes from the romance between the two main characters and that's where most of the focus is. There's a good reason why it made it to the AFA's 100 Best Romances list: the two share a believable chemistry. It starts with a conversation, abet an unpleasant one. The two are forced into several situations that make them hang out more and the their bond starts to grow from there, a lot like how real relationships work. I always found it funny that two dogs have a better love story than most other romances like... well, you know where this is going. I also enjoy the fact that it doesn't rely heavily on romance film cliches... okay, maybe one or two but they're downplayed. The restaurant scene is the one scene EVERYBODY remembers from this film, and to be fair it's a sweet moment. And that's what this film is: moments. They're nice ones and I can't recall any of them being boring.

I also like how the movie is told through the dog's perspective, such as how Lady thinks her owner's names are Jim Dear and Darling because that's all you hear them call each other. The dogs themselves are nice characters. Lady herself , voiced wonderfully by Barbara Luddy by the way, is naive and sweet but loyal. Tramp is street smart and a slick customer. Jock and Trusty are good and loyal friends, though a bit judgmental of Tramp at first but redeem themselves by saving him from the pound later in the movie. Everyone else is just okay though I don't care for the aunt for obvious reasons.

The animation as expected is top-notch. This is some of the best animal animation since Bambi. Probably because like Bambi, the artists here observed dogs and how they walked and behaved. The fruits of their labor really show. Specifically Frank Thomas' work shines with his animation of, again, the restaurant scene. Just look at the YouTube clip above to see it. It's gorgeous animation.

The songs are great songs. Most of them were performed by Peggy Lee and I think she wrote the songs too. That's friggin' awesome! She does give us that kick-ass Siamese cat song and that's the tune most of us remember next to Bella Notte. He's a Tramp is another personal favorite of mine. I'm surprised no one else has redone that tune yet. Oh well, it rocks with Peggy Lee.

Lady and the Tramp is a film I never watched a lot as a kid, but I do remember liking it every time I did. It's not that groundbreaking as a film, but it's still charming and enjoyable and to be honest, I can't find that many things to nitpick about it. Even if you're not a dog lover, this is worth an hour and a half of your time.

Update: I forgot to show my favorite scene from this movie. Silly me!
It's the scene where the two titular characters go to the zoo to get Lady's muzzle off. There's a great hyena (voiced by Dallas McKennon) and the best beaver character of cinema (voiced by Stan Freberg) !

Friday, March 23, 2012

Disneyear: Peter Pan (1953)

Now we come to a pet project of Uncle Walt's since about 1939: Peter Pan. Because of WWII, this as well as a few projects had to have been pushed for later. In the 50's, Walt got the chance to tell a story he's always wanted to tell. Despite some of Walt's early problems with the film such as how to define Peter's character and others, it turned out to be a crowd favorite. Like Alice in Wonderland, when people hear Peter Pan, this is usually the first version that they think of. That's always a good thing, right?

So lets get on with the story: one night, George and Mary Darling's plans on going to a party are disrupted by their son's games of reenacting of the Peter Pan stories told by their daughter Wendy. Fed up with all the stories, Mr. Darling tells Wendy that this will be her last night in the nursery with John and Michael in an attempt to make her grow up. After all that, it turns out Peter Pan is real and with the reluctant help of his pixie friend Tinkerbell, the Darling kids fly off to Neverland, Peter's home and a place where kids never have to grow up. Meanwhile, Captain Hook plots to a way to defeat his archenemy Peter. After a failed attempt to cannonball the kids, Tinkerbell becomes banished after she tries to have Wendy shot down by the Lost Boy's slingshots. The kids have fun with mermaids, Indians, and thwarting Captain Hook. After another defeat from Pan and escaping the tick-tock crocodile, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee have a new idea: use Tinkerbell's jealousy of Wendy against Peter to catch Wendy and the rest of the kids. Peter does find them, fights Captian Hook, saves everyone and takes the kids home on a pirate ship covered with pixie dust.

I always thought of Peter Pan as every kid's dream come true. You have this place where a kid can never grow up: you can play and do whatever you want forever! I also think the movie is clever at making it gender-neutral at the same time: boys can get into the sword fights, the pirates, action and adventure while the girls can be invested in the mermaids, magic, pixies, and some of the subtle romance between Wendy and Peter. It's a film that a lot of kids will enjoy.

Pan himself is a ok character. Walt himself didn't like the way he turned out because he though that Pan was too cold and mean to be likable. Well, I see him as this very cocky kid. He's mischievous, fun-loving, and there's something about Bobby Driscoll's (previously in Song of the South) voice acting that adds a little bit of the times to him but still good. The other characters are decent too. Wendy is played again by Katherine Beaumont and like I said in Alice in Wonderland, she makes a seemingly bland character into an  interesting and likable one. The relationship between the two is really like how real kids have them: the girls wants it but the boy has no idea of what to do about it. Most of the others, like John, Michael, and the Lost Boys are ok.

Tinkerbell herself is a great jealous character. It's amazing that she's able to display a strong personality and not even have a line of dialogue like how Dumbo was. She's jealous, but loyal to Peter. She's feisty, but subtle. She's just great. It's all thanks to Marc Davis' wonderful animation of the character. Shame what became of her in later adaptations...  Below is a video from an old show called Disney Family Album where you got to see some of Disney's Nine Old Men talk about their careers as animators and creative process. Here we see Marc Davis discussing Tinkerbell starting at 5:10.

My all-time favorite characters in this movie though are the villain, Captain Hook and his assistant Smee. You have Hook, a baddie who's prim and proper but no conscience. He's threatening but hilarious. The animation by Frank Thomas and the voice acting by Hans Conried are just amazing. Then there's Smee, voiced by Bill Thompson (who did a number of Disney projects in the 50's), who wants to be bad but is too bumbling and nice. They make a great pair. These two when put in a scene with the tick-tock crocodile make some of the greatest slapstick put to animation! It cracks me up every time I watch it!

There's been some controversy lately about the Native Americans in this flick. To be fair, this is sort of how we thought of them back then. To me, it's sort of like the black crows from Dumbo, in that I never really found them that offensive. I actually think they're cool. That What Makes the Red Man Red song is a neat song. That and that tag game they always play with the Lost Boys was pretty funny to see.

The film itself is a fun one. One thing I forgot to mention when I reviewed Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland is that while the 50's Disney movies weren't quite the tour de force that the early 30's and  40's films were, they still had expert craftsmanship, great animation, bright colors, good music and songs, and enough charm to them that makes them endearing to audiences everywhere. The same is true for Peter Pan. As a celebration of childhood, it's one of Disney's trademarks for a good reason.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Disneyear: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I was surprised when I researched this, but Alice in Wonderland was a critical failure when it first came out. Most of the critics were literary critics claiming that Disney had "Americanized" a great book. Despite that, it had a lukewarm box-office run even though this was never re-released during Walt's lifetime. Overtime, the critics and audience alike warmed up to Disney's version and in the 70's developed a cult following (if you've seen the film, I think you'll know why.) Now it's regarded as a classic of not only Disney animated films, but of the many cinematic adaptations of Alice in Wonderland. In fact, this version is often the first one we think of when we hear the title. Read on to see why.

The film starts with our heroine Alice, played by Katherine Beaumont, in a field studying with her sister. Well, not studying but more like goofing off for Alice. Everything seems like a normal day until a white rabbit in a coat with a large watch. He immediately runs off yelling that he's late for something. Curious, Alice follows him to a burrow that leads her to a very odd place where logic has no meaning called Wonderland. At first this sounds cool, but Alice soon finds out that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Along the way, she meets some interesting characters like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare. Near the end, she finds herself in a royal courtyard thanks to the Cheshire Cat and manages not only to find the White Rabbit, but also the mean Queen of Hearts. Accidentally getting the Queen angry after a croquet match using flamingos, hedgehogs and even her own servants as hoops (they're playing cards, don't worry!), Alice is put on trial. Found guilty, Alice makes a run for it to have everybody she meet chasing her! She escapes when she wakes up, seeing it was all a dream. After a big sigh of relief, Alice and her sister head on home for tea time.

Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorites growing up. I just love weird imagery and this one's chock full of it. It's sort of like a road trip, it's more about moments and odd twists and turns that happen. There's also the memorable people that you meet on the trip. Trust me, it's hard to forget journeys and films like this and that's why it sticks to us.

The characters are really the best part of the movie. My favorites are your favorites: the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, they're all awesome. They all also have these weird mood swings that range from friendly to almost violent, so you never know what the hell they're going to do or what they're really thinking. Half the time, I don't think they even know they're crazy. My favorite scene in the whole movie, though there's a ton of great moments, is the mad tea party. It's just a degree more insane than the rest. Plus, there's Ed Wynn and Jerry Colona as the Mad Hatter and March Hare and Ward Kimball animating. Need I say more?

Then you have the Queen of Hearts, one of the funniest villains around. She has a high position of power but acts like a spoiled five-year old with it. In an adult body, she's really funny. I just love how she goes from nice and calm to crazy and angry in a millisecond. She's kind of malicious in that her punishment for everything is by chopping off heads. The movie never shows it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. That's pretty damn dark.

Alice herself is a nice character thanks to Katherine Beaumont's acting. She's really good at turning what seems like generic characters into somewhat interesting ones. Alice isn't supposed to be intriguing, she's more like a lightning rod for all of Wonderland's nonsense and brings logic to what's otherwise a world with no use for logic. She's still a nice, sympathetic person and I still like her and her voice.

The story itself is a good one. As far as movie versions of Alice in Wonderland go, this is what many folks consider the definitive version. It's our first exposure of the book like many other adaptations this one manages to make the transition to movie form, meaning that it stays close to the book but not too close to where it loses focus. After all, this book's dialogue isn't the easiest in the world to recite let alone show on screen. So if it isn't exactly like the book, just remember it's a Disney film, just take what you have.

The art in this movie is also very different. If you look at it, a lot of the backgrounds are very dark.
It's so that whenever color does show up, it jumps right at you. That's a clever idea. I should mention that most of the movie was designed by one of my favorite Disney designers, Mary Blair. Her influence is everywhere in this movie! She usually has this abstracted looking style that really fits the mood and atmosphere that the movie is trying to go for.

If you haven't guessed by now, I think this movie is a ton of fun. Full of great art, characters, and one of the better cinematic versions of this book, it makes for a movie that I see myself watching more and more of in the future. My only complaint is that I wish there was more, like how Disney would have done the mock-turtle and griffin or the Jabberwocky, but that's always a good complaint to have.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Disneyear: Cinderella (1950)

As we enter what's called the Silver Age of Animation and the glorious return of a single narrative movie for Walt Disney, Cinderella was a big landmark in Disney history. Not only was it the first time since Bambi that a single-narrative movie was made at the studio and that Disney hired Tin Pan Alley songwriters to write songs for a Disney feature, but like Dumbo from nine years earlier, Cinderella was actually a really big gamble for the studio. According to Wikipedia, it cost $3 million to make and since the studio was in major debt at the time, how much it would make back as well as critical reaction would determine if Disney would even shut down or not. Thankfully, it did. Without this little flick, we wouldn't have the rest of your favorite Disney movies as well as Disneyland or Walt's pioneers in television. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's watch, or read for you guys, Cinderella.

The story's as basic as you can get: Cinderella once had a happy life with her father, until he died and she had to live with her evil step relatives. She's been slaving away for them ever since with no one but her animal friends to keep her company, including Jacques and Gus-Gus the mice. One day, her family gets invited to a royal ball, but Cinderella can't go because her stepmother forbids it. She and her animal friends make a dress for her only to have it destroyed by her stepsisters. Heartbroken, she runs to the courtyard when out of thin air, her fairy godmother arrives to give her not only a new dress but a carriage made of a pumpkin to get her to the ball. She meets the prince, share a dance, and seem to hit it off well. When the clock strikes midnight, Cindy has to go because that's when the magic wears off (why is it always midnight?) but leaves one of her glass slippers behind. The king then orders    that the shoe must be tried on by every woman in the kingdom so that his son can be married (he really wants grand kids.) Thinking everything has finally gone her way, Cindy gets ready for the slipper, but her evil stepmother locks her in the room. With the help of Jacques and Gus-Gus, she gets the key, the slipper fits, she gets married and lives happily ever after, and we learn that dreams really do come true.

And that's the story. As far as Disney films go, it's pretty decent. The thing I just love the most about the movie is the scale of the world they live in. Despite that it's a simple film, everything in the backgrounds are so grand and magestic and this was before widescreen. Here's some backgrounds to prove my point.

As far as the characters go, they're pretty decent. Cinderella herself doesn't really stand out from other princesses like Snow White, but I do really like how patient and willing to put up with so much crap because she's hoping that her life will be better later. Those are some really good qualities of a role model for both girls and boys. I think I got some of my patient personality from this movie, even as a kid. The side characters are cute. I love Jacques and Gus-Gus, the two main mice on this movie. They get most of the chuckles out of me and I love their specific animation. It's done by Ward Kimball who, next to Fred Moore, was the cartooniest guy from the classic Disney era. The fairy godmother, even though she only had one scene, is a good side character too. The villianess is... a really good villain. In fact, she's so good that I hate her. All she has is control over one person's life and making sure that Cinderella has a miserable existence is pretty damn despicable. And that sneer... my god!

Even that smile is kind of scary!
The songs are also pretty enjoyable. My favorite is probably A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes. That's a great song! It's a beautiful tune with a really optimistic message. Here, just listen: 

And for the hell of it, here's the ever catchy Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo!

So yeah, I've praised this thing so much so far that you're probably wondering if there are things that irk me about this movie. Well, there's the prince. Holy crap, he's boring. Does he even have a line? If he did, I can't remember one line of dialogue. That's not a good sign. After all, he's the love interest. Shouldn't some of the movie give some emphasis on him? Hey, his dad has more lines than him. This part of the story is really more about the dad wanting his son to marry someone, versus how the prince really feels about this. Then again, if it had more emphasis on the prince, maybe we get some emphasis too on just how odd this story is. Hey! Here's a guy who finds someone based on sight, but he loses her only to find a shoe, try to fit it on every woman and thank God it fits only one woman in the whole world and gets married after that! On top of that, some of the scenes feel like filler to me. The animals are cute, don;t get me wrong, but maybe you could use some of their scenes for further character development for someone who really needed it, like the prince. Then again, that's how a lot of fairy tales were written back then...

I've also heard some comments on how this movie is anti-feminist because of the message that all your problems will go away by wishing for them away. Well, here's my two cents: this, to me, is sort of like the wishing criticism in Pinocchio where I think it's really being more optimistic and hopeful than being dependent on wishing problems away. 

Remember folks: have faith and work at your dreams. And always let your conscience be your guide... just had to say it.
If you still want to see the movie (for the four of you that haven't), I'd say defiantly go for it. As far as Disney films go, I think it's ok. It's enjoyable and has a lot of charm to it for good reasons. I think it's one of Disney's most important films because like I said in the beginning, it was successful both critically and at the box office, so that helped pay off the studio's debts and financed some more of the classic films, Disneyland, and uncle Walt's ventures into television. Not my personal favorite, but that's just another reason to like this film.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Disneyear: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Here we go, the final package Disney film! (until 1977, but I'll leave you to guess what it is!) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is not only a mouthful to say, but it once again has only two narratives (Seems to be a pattern here...). But unlike Fun and Fancy Free, there is sort of a connection between the two stories in that they're previous works of literature, as you'll see in the review. From what I researched, both were pitched as feature films in the past but thanks to WWII and the artists lack of resources at the time, they finally got pushed to being shorts in a double-feature.

The film starts in a library. Fitting choice. We get our first narrator, Basil Rathbone, to read us our first story, The Wind in the Willows, another Kenneth Grahame story. We get to meet the eccentric Mr. Toad, who lived a wild and crazy lifestyle with unlimited funds, which does worry his friends a bit. One day, he goes a little too far, making a really stupid deal with a barkeeper named Winky that traded his entire 100 thousand pound estate for a car thanks to Toad's mania. Toad is arrested because Winkey double-crossed him in court, but later escapes thanks to a horse he befriended. After reuniting with his old friends Rat, Moley, and Angus MacBadger, the four get back the deed to prove his innocence. I consider this one if the best Disney shorts around thanks to good characters, great animation, some funny and dark scenes as well as a pretty exciting climax. All that in 30 minutes. It is a pretty odd story, not that anthropomorphic animals are walking around and talking to people, but that they're to scale. That feels kind if weird to me. There's some great comedy in it too, mostly from Toad himself, a great character. My favorite scene is the court scene where Toad had to testify. The horse speaks in Toad's defense and says one of the greatest one-liners ever! It starts at 4:34 in this video if you just want to see that scene.

The next story is Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as told by Bing Crosby. There's not that much narrative here. It's really just Ichabod arriving to town and how he interacts with the people of this village. It's more of a character study to me. Speaking of which, I just now noticed watching again is that a lot of people think of him as an innocent that gets killed in the end, but he was actually sort of an asshole. That's an interesting perspective from Disney. Makes me wonder if they'll go at this kind of approach a gain. I doubt it, but a guy can dream. Hell, I think the bully actually makes more of a hero than Ichabod does. Anywho, the story gets going when Ichabod and his love interest Katrina are at a Halloween party when Brom Bones, the rival, tells a ghost story of the Headless Horseman. As he heads home, he gets caught by the Horseman and is never heard from again. We don't know if he escaped or not. That's a neat way to end the story, leave it open to interpretation. Again, a great short. Bing's narration is pretty cool. IT's Bing Crosby, he's awesome! I really enjoy the atmosphere of this the most. It's pretty dark and scary, but I think kids like stuff like that. They could use some darker material every now and then. I've never seen a scene in a film so dark and strangely hilarious until I saw this and Evil Dead II. Here, have a look: (Starts at 1:20)

As a film, surprisingly the two work well together. I appreciate the atmosphere of both shorts. I also think we should appreciate this and the package film for another thing: these did make money back then and all of them combined helped finance Disney's return to a coherent, single narrative story which I'll discuss next time. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Disneyear: Melody Time (1948)

Ok, we're almost done with the package films! Melody Time is pretty much the same movie as Make Mine Music, only different shorts and more popular songs are featured versus combining classical with popular music. Makes me wonder why Disney didn't just call it Make Mine Music 2? I guess Melody Time is catchier. And thankfully I didn't have as hard a time finding an uncut copy of this movie like MMM. But before I get sidetracked, why don't we examine the third entirely musical Disney flick?

The show begins pretty nicely with Once Upon a Wintertime, sung by Frances Langford. There's a young couple in love that decide to go ice skating together, as do a pair of rabbits. After a brief break up between both couples (and I do mean brief!), the ice starts to crack as both girls fall in the cold water. Our boys save them in the nick of time and ride off together happily and cozy in a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Ordinarily, I'd call this cute and nothing spectacular, but the music and the designs by Mary Blair really help the movie off to a good start.

The second segment is Bumble Boogie, performed by Freddy Martin and his Orchestra. It shows a bee escaping these piano keys trying to kill him. This is a really creative and awesome segment. I just love how much energy there is here and the music, based on Rimsky-Korsakov's famous melody does help out with its frantic pace. At least watch this scene if you decide to skip the first.

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is one of the more familiar segments to people. Narrated by Dennis Day, who also does all the voices, we get treated to the story of John Chapman, aka Appleseed, as he devotes his whole life to planting apple seeds across America. I first saw this when I was in the second grade and I enjoyed it a lot. Then I saw it again as a teenager and, being a smart ass, I kind of found ways to make fun of it. Now that I'm older, I find myself liking it again. Mary Blair's artwork is just too good to pass up. Especially near the end when the apple trees turn into the clouds in the distance. That is a great scene and to be honest is where I think the movie should have ended. You'll see what I mean later. It may be an acquired taste to some, as Appleseed isn't really the most interesting character out there, but this is still one of my favorites.
Concept art by Mary Blair. God, that's gorgeous!
Fourth up is Little Toot sung by the Andrews Sisters. Little Toot, a tugboat, wants to be just like his father, but can't seem to stay out of trouble either. While it is a cute cartoon and I do like it, it's honestly the weakest short in the film. Nothing special about it, but if you like the cute Disney shorts, you'll like it ok.

Trees, sung by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, is the choir singing the poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer about what else? Trees. It also slows the pace down a bit and shows trees changing with the seasons. It is a nice segment and I actually find myself comparing it to Fantasia's Nutcracker Suite since they're pretty similar. Nutcracker's stronger, but this still comes pretty damn close.  

Next up is one I've always loved, Blame it on the Samba with Ethel Smith on a Hammond organ and the Andrews Sisters on vocals. Donald Duck and Jose Carioca come back looking blue. That is until the Araquan bird sees them and cheers them up through samba music. This whole segment is kind of like watching a scene from The Three Caballeros. It's a lot of fun with some pretty good live action-animation meshing. I also want to point out the colors used. This one uses a lot of dark colors so that the brighter colors practically jump out of the screen. That's a neat concept. This is easily one of my top three segments in the whole film. Just watch and you'll see why.

We end Melody Time with another American legend, Pecos Bill, narrated by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. Being from Texas, I heard a lot of Pecos Bill stories as a kid and he's basically the Chuck Norris of cowboys. That's no different from the Disney short. We see Bill grow up after being raised by coyotes, meeting his horse Trigger and the love of his life Slue-Foot Sue. Jealous, Trigger launches her up to the moon after she decides to try and tame Bill's equine friend before they elope. It ends kind of on a sad note as we see Bill cry out to his love in the sky, which according to legend, is why coyotes wail at the moon. While this is easily the funniest and one of the more energetic of the segments, as I'm older I wonder why did the movie end with this segment? Did Disney overlook the Appleseed ending? That was far superior! It had a rather sad ending too but it was optimistic at the same time. Here, it's kind of depressing.... well it's still a good short . Makes a catchy song too!

As a whole, I really enjoy Melody Time, probably more than I do Make Mine Music. I find myself getting a kick out of movies like this, where artists were free to interpret songs into cartoons. It's extremely creative with good atmosphere and I think having more memorable segments than MMM does help it. My only problem, again is the ending, but I mostly addressed that in the last paragraph, so I won't go into further detail. Both are pretty underrated as Disney films go. If you find it in a video store or on, check it out. 

Disneyear: Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Fun and Fancy Free.... interesting title. Like Make Mine Music, this film doesn't have just one story to it. But unlike MMM, there's not a lot of stories either. There's only two and Jiminy Cricket hosts them... another interesting choice. Let us venture forth.

The start of the movie has Jiminy floating around on a leaf boat singing the title song to a goldfish bowl... interesting. After escaping a cat, Jiminy bumps into a recording of Dinah Shore narrating Bongo, the first short featured. It's the story of a circus bear who wants to live out in the wild. After escaping, he finds that he has some trouble fitting in the forest until he meets a girl bear. Everything goes well until she unexpectedly slaps him, hurting his feelings and strangely hers too. Then they show that bears show love by slapping each other... yeah, I'm not sure if I buy that 100%. Bongo scratching his head says it all. Oh well, it makes a cute song and a cute story overall. Nothing special, but still enjoyable.

After the story ends, Jiminy finds an invitation to a party hosted by Edgar Bergen, a great ventriloquist in case you didn't know that. He, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd (his puppets) tell a little girl there and Jiminy, out of sight for some reason, tell us the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Being Disney, the story has Mickey Mouse as Jack with Donald Duck and Goofy living with him. This version goes that the land was happy thanks to a magic singing harp. After she gets kidnapped (surprisingly rather stealthily) by the giant, the land pretty much goes to the crapper, with everything dried up to the point where our three heroes face starvation. One day, Mickey sells the only cow they had for "magic" beans. Out of anger and frustration, Donald chunks the beans only to have them grow to a huge beanstalk overnight and carries the three to a magic kingdom on the clouds. They eventually find where the harp is held: a giant castle with an enjoyably doofus giant named Willie (voiced by Billy Gilbert, aka Sneezy from Snow White) lives. They get back  the harp through a climatic chase scene, the three cut down the stalk, the giant falls, return the harp, and live happily ever after. Again, cute story (well, mostly...), but this is the better of the two shorts. It actually has some dark moments mixed with the cute ones, as you'll read in the next paragraph. Willie's an enjoyable idiot character and I actually do enjoy that harp's singing voice.

Oh, and there's this scene: it's near the beginning where the land is in a drought and the three are facing starvation. Donald just snaps. It's not like the shorts where it's funny to see him crack, this is downright scary! It's one of the most realistic depictions of insanity I've ever seen and it may be a little scary to some kids. (By the way, I know that's Ludwig von Drake narrating it. I don't think there's a vid on YouTube with Bergen narrating it.)

Don't worry, the rest of the short is happy-go-lucky and whimsical. Like this:

After the story, Mortimer Snerd starts to get upset, thinking the giant was killed. Edgar reassures him by saying the giant was only make believe,  figment of his imagination. Then irony crashes through the roof as Willie is very much alive, looking for Jack (Mickey) throughout Hollywood.

And that's Fun and Fancy Free. While not nearly as creative as Make Mine Music, this movie is still cute with a charm and likability to it. Oh, and interesting fact: it's the last time you hear Walt Disney voice Mickey Mouse. My qualms with it, though, keep it from being one of my favorites. One is that how on earth are all the elements in the movie connected with each other? First you have Jiminy Cricket, then a circus bear going back to the wild, then Edgar Bergen and his puppets, then Jack and the Beanstalk? How are all these connected? Second, the shorts aren't that cinematic. They still work, as short cartoons, but as a movie? I don't know. Well, I take that back, I actually think the Jack and the Beanstalk short could have been adapted to a movie. Just add a few more details, an extra hour of material, and boom, a movie! Maybe it wouldn't have been as strong as this version, but I can see it happen. And I forgot to mention the giant has the ability to change into anything (kind of overkill, really), but the short really doesn't do anything especially creative with it. Oh well, this is still a cute movie. I'd recommend it for a lazy weekend.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Disneyear: Song of the South (1946)

Ah, the one film that Disney never wants you to see. Song of the South is famous simply for being the only Disney movie that is currently unreleased on home video because of accusations that this movie is racist. I know what you're thinking: 1) how did I see it? Easy. Youtube is your best friend. And 2) how racist is it? Well, I've seen this a few times now and, in my opinion, it's not really racist. That's my opinion, maybe you have another. That's fine. Let's have a look.

Our story begins with Johnny, a little boy moving to Georgia with his folks to a plantation. However, Johnny's father has to leave because he has to do a newspaper report in Atlanta. So he runs away from home looking for his dad only to bump in our other main character, Uncle Remus (played by James Baskett). He hears of Johnny's troubles and decides to tell him a story about Br'er Rabbit, a trickster lagromorph quick enough to rival Bugs Bunny, did the same thing as Johnny only to change his mind. After the story, Remus returns Johnny home. Days pass and some bullies start to bother him and his new friends Ginny and Toby. They hear another Br'er Rabbit story and learn reverse psychology to screw with the bullies' mind. Then it's Johnny's birthday party, but his girl friend Ginny can't go due to her dress getting messed up. Johnny tries to cheer her up, but can't. Then our ol' pal Uncle Remus tells another story about Br'er Rabbit's laughing place and that cheers them up. Unfortunately, Johnny's mom talks with Uncle Remus and says that Johnny can't hang out with him anymore due to her being uncomfortable with Uncle Remus, possibly out of discrimination, I don't know. Disheartened, Uncle Remus leaves only to have Johnny look for his friend. He gets sidetracked though, when he crosses a bull's pen and gets trampled. While unconscious, his father comes back to visit him on his bed. Sadly, that doesn't wake him up. Then Uncle Remus comes to check on Johnny out of love and that seems to wake Johnny up. After that, the story characters come to play with Johnny and his friends and they all live happily ever after.

So that's Song of the South in a nutshell. How did it fare?

Well, right from the start, critics had mixed feelings towards the film. Their problem was that most of the movie was live action versus animated and that with the movie's very slow moving pace, the film had no magic to it. As far as the live action parts go (which is 2/3's of this movie), I agree with that. I found the live action bits dull, boring, and not that charming. It really drags the movie down. On the plus side, I'd be lying if I said James Baskett's acting in this movie wasn't enjoyable. He's just so jolly and charming that it's really hard to hate him. He deserved an Academy Award for his performance, and if I'm not mistaken, he really did get one out of Walt Disney's request. Oh, and the music's pretty good. I think we all only remember only one song, though but that's out of the movie getting a banned status. Tell me you never heard this song at least once!

The only parts of the movie I find myself enjoying 100% are the animated bits. This is among the best classic Disney animation out there. The characters were charming, the backgrounds are great, and the live action meshing is surprisingly well done. And oh yeah, don't let me forget about Br'er Fox, the main villain. Good God, he is hilarious! He's right on par with Professor Rattigan from The Great Mouse Detective as a comedic villain because he really gets a kick out of what he does and that's trying to catch and eat Br'er Rabbit. He giggles, he smiles, he brags about when he thinks he succeeds, he's just awesome! He also has some of the best character animation I've ever seen. Did I mention he was voiced by James Baskett too? Even cooler! Have a look for yourself:

Remember at the beginning of this review that this got panned by the NAACP? Oh wait, I didn't... well, their claim is that it creates the ideal relationship between a slave and the master and that the movie uses every single stereotype in the book. Well, one this movie takes place during America's Reconstruction era, but I imagine that a few prejudices would still be around by that point in history. Besides, it's a Disney film, we can't have them lynched or, God forbid, the KKK show up. Two, aside from the black characters speaking in slang, there's really nothing terribly racist about it. There's far more offensive stuff out there. Well Disney, it's about time you own this thing. If you need, have Leonard Maltin give a prologue before the film to explain the history behind the film like you did with the WWII cartoons. And denying that you made this film is far worse than actually making it racist.

Song of the South is a film with things you'll enjoy and a few where you'll want to press the fast forward button. Overall, I think it's an okay film. Not perfect, but not godawful either. If you can find it on Youtube or find a European DVD of it, give it a watch and make some judgements for yourself. Take it for what it's worth.

Next time: Fun and Fancy Free.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Benny Turn-around

Colored in Photoshop, a first for me. ;)

Disneyear: Make Mine Music (1946)

Remember how I said in Fantasia that Walt wanted to make more Fantasia movies every year? Well you'll also remember that financially speaking, this was an ambitious idea at best. So that said, it seems a little ironic that Make Mine Music is pretty much the same movie as Fantasia? The difference being that this movie incorporates more popular music at the time with some classical music. If I'm right, some of these bits were leftovers from Fantasia. Is it as good? Let's find out.

Again, I'm looking at each segment of the film then reviewing the movie as a whole.

If you have an uncut copy of the movie, then the first segment of the film would be The Martins and the McCoys as sung by  The Kingsman. The famous feud between the two hillbilly families ends when the last of each's kin fall in love. This is easily the funniest part of the movie, so this is a good start to the film. The reason why you don't see it in current copies is because of comic gun play. Kind of silly to me since Elmer Fudd is still out there blasting Daffy Duck's beak off...
Just saying...

The next segment is the Ken Darby Singers sing Blue Bayou. I've already talked about this segment in the blog, which you can view here. Kind of funny, I talked about this one right before I started the Year of Disney. Well, since most of my opinion of this is on that post, I'll skip this part.

Ok, moving on with Benny Goodman's All the Cats Join In. Wait, didn't I discuss this one too? Well, that was one of my first posts and my opinion's changed over time. While I still enjoy Goodman's music, this one feels like a mini time capsule for 1946. While it seems outdated in some parts, it still has charm.

What's next? Without You by Andy Russel. Like Fantasia's Toccata and Fugue in Fantasia, this one doesn't have much of a story, just some great imagery mixed with the music. It's done well and I love the atmosphere, but for some odd reason it doesn't strike a chord with me like Toccata and Fugue does.

Remember Casey at the Bat? Of course you do! If you don't, then you have no childhood. Just saying. Anywho, narrated by Jerry Colonna (who's going to be in another movie I'll review later this year) the great baseball player of 1902 plays for the win but his ego gets the best of him in the end. With great narration by Colonna, funny gags, well-timed, good animation on par with the great Goofy cartoons, this segment is one of my personal favorites. (I later found out that it's directed by Jack Kinney. No wonder I like it so much!)

The pace slows down a bit now with Two Silhouettes sung by Dinah Shore. Here, we see two dancers obviously rotoscoped to dance in front of animated backgrounds. Don't get me wrong, the choreography is great, but I think I respect it more than I enjoy it.

Up next is another leftover from Fantasia, Peter and the Wolf. Narrated by Sterling Holloway, the story is told in a slightly different manner than before, like the animals now have names, it takes place in the winter, and the duck comes out alive in the end. The music's still good, the animation is good, and I kind of enjoy Holloway's narration as usual. By the way, the Holloway counter is now up to four. There's also a little bit of Russian culture in the film. Even the language is shown from time to time. That's pretty cool. Despite the fact that there are superior adaptations out there, like Suzie Templeton's 2006 adaptation, I still regard this as another favorite segment of mine in the film.

Benny Goodman comes back in After You've Gone. It shows Benny's famed instrument of choice, a clarinet as well as a few others dancing in tune to the music. It's got great animation and music, but it's nothing special. I still enjoy it, though.

Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet is a love story between two department store hats sung by the Andrews Sisters. We see poor Johnny get separated from his love, used by different people, and his endless quest to find Alice. In the end, they reunite as hats for horses and live happily together for the rest of their days. I think this is the cutest segment of the film. I like as much as I do another Disney short called Susie the Little Blue Coupe. Check it out. They're almost one in the same.

Disney saved the best for last in the bittersweet finale of The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. With an opera talent scout hears of a singing whale, he believes that the whale swallowed an opera singer. So he and a crew set out to "rescue" the singer. Turns out the whale, named Willy, really can sing. So he sets off to find the scout and perform for him with the hopes that he'll sing at the Met. This is easily the best segment in the whole movie. My favorite thing about it is that all of the singing voices in the cartoon are done by Nelson Eddy. All of them. That is epically amazing! I know not a lot of folks have seen this one, so I'll post only half of it and if you like it, you can keep watching it on Youtube. Without giving too much away, that sad face mask in the beginning sums up the ending.

And that's Make Mine Music. I found out a lot of folks bash it, but to be honest, I liked this film a lot. I think it's kind of underrated. While clearly not on par with Fantasia in that it's not quite as respectable as Fantasia,  Make Mine Music still mostly entertaining. These segments later got cut into separate releases like Three Caballeros on the Disney Channel. The difference being that all of these shorts work well together and separate, unlike Caballeros, where it's fun at first but it wears off during the last third. My only qualm is that I didn't really enjoy two of the segments as much as I did the others. Oh well, that's me. I recommend checking this film out if you want to see all these shorts together and seeing them for yourself.