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Friday, May 25, 2012

Disneyear: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

After the disappointing failure of The Black Cauldron, the Disney studio had  to think of something to get back on their feet. The next film they did, The Great Mouse Detective, did a lot better than I think anyone would suspect of a film with this simpler, family-friendly nature. One thing, it cost a little over half of what the last film cost and it actually made almost 3x the cost back. It also was a hit with audiences and critics alike and to this day has a devoted fan base. Siskel and Ebert even gave the film his trademark "two-thumbs up" rating to this movie. It's also the first animated film with some CGI backgrounds. As such, the new senior management of the company were convinced that their animation department was still a viable enterprise and this set the stage for the Disney Renaissance in the future. Well, I'm gonna find out if this movie is still as fresh as my childhood memory claims it is or if it deserves to be killed with rat poison and adult cynicism.

The movie is set in Victorian London, where a little girl mouse's father is kidnapped by a bat with a peg leg and a broken wing. She finds a mouse named Dawson and with his help finds another one named Basil of Baker Street, who they believe can help find her father. Basil is basically the rodent equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he lives in Holmes' house! So he and Dawson set off to find her father who Basil believes has been kidnapped by an evil criminal mastermind named Professor Ratigan (played by Vincent Price). His plan is to use the girl's father to make a robotic version of the mouse Queen of England to name him ruler of the empire during a knighting ceremony and using the girl as bait. After a rather intense final showdown on a clock tower, Basil outwits and defeats the Professor and reunites father and daughter, only to get another case by the end with Dawson as his permanent co-worker.

It's funny that just by reading my summary of the film, you'd ordinarily dismiss it as another one of those movies where there's little mice living like people in a big human world. Thankfully, there are just enough things to make it stand out from other films like The Rescuers for example. The focus and best aspect of The Great Mouse Detective is where it should be: the main hero and the main villain. Both of these characters deserve to be mentioned among Disney's best heroes and villains.

Let's start with Basil of Baker Street. Voiced by Barrie Ingram, this guy is everything we love about heroes. He's witty, he's egotistical, he's a jerk sometimes but with a good heart. He's also really frickin' smart but also can be foiled and gets instantly humbled once that happens. Speaking of intelligence, he really is arguably the smartest Disney character out there. It's one of those rare moments where I wish I was smarter just from watching him in action. I think the scene where he and Dawson get trapped really exemplifies this. Just watch it!

Then there's the villain, Professor Ratigan, played by Vincent Price. What else do I even need to say? It's Vincent Price doing the voice of a Disney villain! According to Price, this was his favorite film to do and watching him in action, you can really see why. He's just having so much fun being evil and enjoys every last second of it. He sings, he giggles, he dances, he's just having so much fun! He's arguably just as smart as Basil and has the honor of outwitting him in previous occasions and once in the film. Normally, I'm against celebrities doing voices for animated films like this because in most cases, it's easy to tell that they're just doing a voice and not a character. However, I never got that from Vincent Price. He and the animation by Glen Keanne become one, it's just a fantastic performance. He and Basil just play each other off perfectly. I think it's on par with the epic rivalry of Captain Kirk and Khan in Star Trek II.

There's also this great climax where the two rivals have a final showdown on Big Ben. If I recall correctly, it's the first time that Disney combined traditional animations with CGI backgrounds. Some of the angles that they capture and the pace of it is really suspenseful. That and the animation and sounds make it look like a painful fight. You feel some of these blows! I don't want to ruin the best part of the film here in case you haven't seen it yet, so instead, I give you a preliminary sketch by Glen Keane to set the mood for you.

Trust me, it's on par with the bear scene from The Fox and the Hound!

Everything else about the movie is surprisingly good. The animation's fun, the score and songs by the great Henry Mancini are delightful, the characters are good, it's just an all around fun and clever movie with good action and heart. I think it's pretty underrated as far as Disney films go. A few other films I have to review later usually get the credit for starting the Disney Renaissance in the near future, but it's really The Great Mouse Detective that got Disney started in the right direction. If you haven't seen it yet, go find it on DVD or Netflix or however it is you watch movies now. I personally recommend it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Disneyear: The Black Cauldron (1985)

Remember in my AristoCats review that after Walt died, the films were very hit and miss? They had a good flick every once in a while, but the films never hit that Snow White and Fantasia standard. On top of that, the films took longer and longer to make. So if a film didn't exactly "wow" an audience, you kind of felt gypped. But out of all the films of this particular era, there is one that many Disney fans call the ultimate achievement of failure: The Black Cauldron. For a film that had a lot of money thrown into the animation and advertising, it failed to please critics and audiences alike and so was a bomb. How bad did it flop? Well I did some research and according to, on it's opening weekend at the box office... it lost to The Care Bears Movie. Yeah, you read that right: Care Bears made more money on it's opening weekend than a Disney film did. And just to add salt to the wound, it actually made 11x more than it's $2 million budget. The Black Cauldron didn't even make it's $25 million cost back! It was considered the bottom of the barrel: the lowest point in the studio's history. Ever since, it gained a reputation as Disney's worst film. Hell, Disney even tried to deny it's existence! It didn't garner a home video release until 15 years after it was made. So... crap, this must be a really bad movie right? Well... yeah.

Once upon a time, the land of Prydain was ruled by the evil Horned King who wants possession of a plot device called the Black Cauldron, an object that can bring dead bodies to life. Meanwhile, a kid named Taran is in charge of keeping a pig where if you put her head in a puddle of water, she can see the future... isn't that... creative? Anywho, Taran has to keep the pig safe from the Horned King who wants to use the pig to find the cauldron. On the way, she does get caught, the Horned King finds out it's real and the kid is sent a prisoner. While there she meets with Princess Zeld.. I mean Eilonwy. Complete with her own Navi. (Sorry for all the Legend of Zelda jokes. Kind of hard to avoid!) They also meet a minstrel named Fflewddur and escape the castle with a magic sword. Then they meet a comic relief named Gurgi who looks like a Shih Tzu mixed with a chimpanzee. All four decide to search for the pig and cauldron and meet up with some fairies and witches that trade Taran's sword for the cauldron. One problem: you can't destroy the thing. You have to stop it's powers by sacrificing yourself by jumping in it. They get caught, escape again, but win thanks to Gurgi sacrificing himself. The Horned King is defeated, the witches revive the dog-monkey, and walk off happily ever after.

....Yeah, this one's kind of bad. It really doesn't hold up that well, at least for my taste. Why? It's pretty annoying: the characters, the story at parts, I got a headache after watching it again. It's extremely chatty with very little action for something with it's premise. I know we're supposed to root for the heroes but I'll make an exception here. Taran want's to be a great hero. The problem is his bark is worse than his bite. I mean it. He doesn't shut up!  He barely does anything in the movie! His voice is annoying. His ego is annoying. He just goes on and on about being the greatest warrior and praises himself and God, I want to punch him!

Then there's Gurgi. Not as bad as Taran, in fact he does more than the kid does in the end, but his voice is sort of grating to me. If you thought Jar-Jar Binks' voice was earsplittingly annoying, listen to this.

Every one else is just kind of meh. To be fair, this was made from three books from a series of five and compressing all of them into an hour and a half film isn't the easiest thing to do. It's not like Lord of the Rings where Peter Jackson had three films to develop characters. We only get 80 minutes in one film here, so I'll give it some slack. This princess character is a good example of what I'm talking about. Judging from the movie alone, she really can't be called a princess. It sounds like she took the name princess because it sounded cool. We don't even see her kingdom or even where that floating thing of light came from. Even the villain is more talk and less do. The animation's meh, the music by Elmer Bernstien is... well, all I heard when I listened to the soundtrack was Ghostbusters!

Despite my bitching and moaning, is this really the worst Disney film out there? I actually don't think so. I mean, yeah it's annoying but there's nothing really that horrendous about it. It's not offensive nor are there any mixed messages. I just think it's just kind of a bad film. But there are some folks that like it. I find it has a growing fan base and I'd be lying if I didn't see why. It is a little darker than your usual Disney fare and some of the mythology is kind of cool. But it didn't please a lot of folks when it was first released and it certainly doesn't hold up to my tastes today. It's not godawful, just bland, forgettable, and annoying at parts. It's not the worst Disney film, but I'd still skip it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Disneyear: The Fox and the Hound (1981)

As the old saying goes: out with the old and in with the new. While we lost Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Eric Larson, Ward Kimball, and later Woolie Reitherman in retirement we get new animators like Ron Clements, Glen Keane, John Musker, Tim Burton and Brad Bird. This new team would finalize the animation and complete the film's production. These animators led by Art Stevenson had moved through the in-house animation training program, and would all play an important role in the Disney Renaissance in the future. Production wasn't all flowers and sunshine: Don Bluth quit during the making of this movie and took 17% of the animators with him. It may have been a rocky start, but The Fox and the Hound opened with some success at the box office and about average ratings from critics. But does it still hold up today? Time to see if friendship really is forever in The Fox and the Hound.

The story concerns an orphaned fox named Todd that's adopted by an old widow. Meanwhile next door, her hunter neighbor adopts a bloodhound puppy named Copper. The two meet one day and hit it off pretty well. They play and pal around together despite warnings from an owl named Big Mama (voiced by Pearl Bailey) and everyone else that the two are going to be the worst of enemies in the future. Sure enough, Copper goes away on a hunting trip for a while and comes back a mostly mature hunting dog. Now adults, Todd tries to talk with him but finds that their friendship can't go back to the way it was before and ends up being chased by Copper's lifelong friend Chief. Chief gets seriously injured and Copper vows revenge against his fox friend. Then the widow decides she can't keep Todd anymore and decides to release him into the wild. Everything seems to go really bad until he meets up with a vixen named Vixie (original) and seem to hit it off well. The hunter and Copper however come to his part of the forest for revenge and tensions rise as old friends turn enemies. That is until Todd saves Copper and the hunter from a bear that's not only a really intense climax, but the two walk off with their friendship stronger than before.

Considering that we're still in the dark age of Disney, this is sort of a beacon of light. This is a good premise and the Disney artists execute it very well. This film reminds me a lot of Bambi, where it knows how to mix cute but not too schmaltzy with legitimate drama. Its nowhere near the caliber of the former, but it does come close. Especially the bear scene.

Animated by Glen Keane. Such a boss!
The main reason I like this movie is where it should be: the chemistry between the two main characters. Despite what society expects of them, the two still have a strong connection with each other. I think the end scene after the bear fight really shows this the best. The two don't say a word. They look at each other, smile, and part ways.

There are a few things that keep me from loving it though. There's these two side characters that have their own story arc about trying to catch a caterpillar to eat. To be honest, it's not that annoying but it's not necessary either. It adds nothing to the story. The songs aren't that good or necessary either. The only one I like, let alone remember, is Best of Friends.

I guess it could have been a little bit tougher too. Like the scene when Chief gets hit by the train and live through it with a busted leg. Then Copper vows vengeance against Todd. Think about it like this: that moment would have been a lot more powerful if instead of breaking his leg, he died? I don't mean to sound like a sadistic bastard, but wouldn't that have been a better motivation for revenge instead of, "You broke my friend's leg! I'll kill you!" The scene's pretty strong, but I just think it could have been more powerful.

Despite a few nitpicks, this is still one of Disney's strongest movies. As it is, The Fox and the Hound is probably the one of the better Disney flicks I've seen so far for these reviews. It actually comes close to being as good as something like Bambi. If you haven't seen it yet, go to your local video store and give it a rent. You won't regret it. It's a lot better than what I have to watch next...

And now ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bobby Darin!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Disneyear: The Rescuers (1977)

We have come to the end of the 70's, where we say goodbye to Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston: three animators that have been working for Disney since the beginning. The Rescuers was their swan song and it opened with rather positive reception, being called "a fresh breath of air " by film critic Leonard Maltin. Today however it seems that there are two kinds of fans: you either like this movie or you don't. I guess you'll see which side I'm on today.

A bottle containing a plea for help is sent from a boat in a bayou by a little girl and ends up in New York, where it is found by mice, so a Rescue Aid Society meeting is called to order in the city. One delegate named Miss Bianca (played by Eva Gabor) volunteers to go and rescue Penny, the orphaned girl who sent the message. She chooses Bernard (played by Bob Newhart), a janitor, as her partner on the mission. They find out that she was kidnapped by an evil pawn shop owner named Madame Medusa (Gerladine Paige). So Miss Bianca and Bernard go out and find Medusa, but fail to keep up, so the two mice take an albatross flight to Devil's Bayou, where Penny has been taken, and learn that here, the girl is being forced by Medusa and the evil woman's assistant, Mr. Snoops, to search for a large diamond in an underground cave that Medusa plans on making a fortune off of. Talk about child labor laws... You know how this goes, they get out after a chase scene, make it back to New York, and ends with Bernard and Bianca going on another rescue aid.

I suppose a few things stand out about it, like the villian Medusa. She's sleazy, greedy, and comes off as kind of crazy. I know she's based on Milt Kahl's wife, so that I suppose adds to the joke. Geraldine Paige's acting is good and her reactions are fun. The animation isn't too bad but I don't think it's Kahl's best work. That honor belongs to Shere Khan and Tigger.

There's also a few good scenes in it. Like when Bernard and Bianca go to the albatross airport to fly to Devil's Bayou. I especially like it when Bernard tries to get permission to land. It's a funny scene. I wish Orville was in more of the movie too.

Needless to say, the rest of The Rescuers is only average. It seems childish to me at points such as while creative I guess, what on Earth are a bunch of mice going to do in rescuing a bunch of people? I guess that's the moral or something: no person to small. In addition, Penny the orphan is quite cloying to me. She's like one of the Olson twins, just designed to be pwecious.

To be perfectly honest, the whole film comes across as fairly tired. The animation department at Disney supposedly lost a lot of confidence after Walt died and The Rescuers does seem to emphasize it at times. The animation here okay but not stellar and the story isn't extremely inventive (it kind of feels like 101 Dalmatians) There is the odd bit of cleverness (the leaf boat that the mice sail in, for example), but some scenes drag and occasionally feel like filler; a scene involving Bernard and Bianca searching for Penny's orphanage could have been trimmed without much damage to the film, as could the odd line of dialogue here and there.

The Rescuers is by no means the worst animated film ever made, but there's always better options to watch. I don't hate it and I admit it's a lot better than The AristoCats and some of the other films I'm going to have to look at later this year in that it's fairly dark with a few decent scenes here and there. I'm just not that big a fan of this flick. I'd probably enjoy it more if I was younger.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Disneyear: Pete's Dragon (1977)

By the middle/end of the 1970s, the Disney studio was in crisis. The conservative management who ran the company kept on consciously producing films they thought Walt would have made back in the 50s and 60s. As a result, nearly all of the films being produced, most of them live-action, were not just throwbacks; they were generally all quite stale with it. Let's see if today's film, Pete's Dragon, is an exception to this rule or if  it's less than brazzle dazzle brilliance.

The story starts as we see a kid named Pete escaping his abusive adopted hillbilly family (yay for stereotypes!). He makes it out thanks to his best friend Elliot, a magical animated dragon who can turn invisible and acts as Pete's bodyguard. The two head over to a town called Passamaquoddy (try saying that three times fast!) to make a new start. Elliot unfortunately causes problems despite being invisible and the town blames Pete. All except a lady named Nora (played by Helen Reddy) who decides to give Pete a home. Then a con artist named Dr. Terminous (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoaggie (Red Buttons) come to town to scam people with fake medicine. The only other person to see Elliot is the town lighthouse keeper named, I kid you not, Lampie (Mickey Rooney) and he tries to tell the two about the dragon. Hoaggie sees him and tells the doc that he's a monster. So now Doc thinks that if he can catch Elliot, he can use parts of him to use as medicine. Then Pete's hillbilly connection shows up to get him. Elliot and Pete stop them, asve the town, Pete gets a new home with Nora, Lampie (what's up with that name?), and her fiance Paul, and Elliot has to leave to help another kid in distress.

For a film with this premise, Pete's Dragon is surprisingly boring. There's not that much pizzazz to it, it's incredibly slow paced and runs far longer than it should. Most of the songs are forgettable and some are downright awful, most of the characters are forgettable, the acting is mostly below average, it's just mediocre all around. 

I say most because there are still some good things about this movie. Elliot, for one, is a nice character even if he doesn't seamlessly fit into his environment and the best scenes in the movie are with him. It's sad that he's visible in less than 20 minutes in the film because he's really the best thing about this film. The animation by Don Bluth is especially nice. My favorite scene is when Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons (two other things that make this movie watchable for me) in a cave. It's pretty funny.

I also like the song Candle On the Water. It's the only good song in the film and even got an Academy Award nomination. Helen Reddy's vocals are wonderful here. I kind of want to here someone else give the song a try. It's beautiful.

But that's where all the good things stop. Like I said, the rest is very mediocre. Let me state that I don't hate this film. There's a few good things about it. However, as an adult, I can see hardly any worth in this film. Though I can see some effort put into it, I still feel nothing from this movie. It's not emotionally engaging nor is it spectacular. I guess kids will like it just fine. I did when I was that age. Just keep in mind that there are better films you could be watching with your kids. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Disneyear: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Thanks to the efforts of the Disney artists, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is today considered one of the classic staples of childhood for kids all over the world. At least the Disney version is. With clever songs, great stories with charming characters, and a surprisingly heavy atmosphere to it, Pooh remains as one of the most endearing of Disney films to date.

Based on the A.A. Milne stories about a boy named Christopher Robin and his many toy animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, this film is actually a collection of three previously short films with new footage to bridge the shorts together. So in a sense, this is a package film and the first since Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The idea of doing the shorts first was so that gradually as time when on, Uncle Walt would at least be familiar with the characters and stories before doing a feature length film, Walt's dream before he died. The first film, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, opened in 1966 with universal acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film. In 1968, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day actually won the award! By the time the third film came out, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, Pooh became a household name. So here we are in 1977, with the feature film Walt always wanted to see complete.

Let's turn to Chapter 1, in which we see Pooh go through his daily routine. Hungry for honey, Pooh finds out he's out of honey and climbs up a tree to get some more only to fall down. He then goes to his friend Christopher Robin to ask for a balloon. The reason being he plans on covering himself in mud to make himself look like a rain cloud, then he'll use the balloon to float up to the beehive. This backfires and forces Pooh to happily ask for some food through Rabbit. Rabbit offers some to be polite, but Pooh eats so much that when he tries to leave Rabbit's burrow, he gets stuck. The only solution is to wait a while until the bear gets thin. After a while, the plan works and everyone pulls Pooh out of Rabbit's home only to skyrocket to another honey tree where he happily helps himself to the sticky yellow stuff.

Eternally happy!
The next story involves a pretty violent windstorm were Pooh decides the reason why is that  it is a Winds-day. He goes to visit his friend Piglet only to have the poor pink piggy hanging on by a thread as the wind blows him like a kite. The two find themselves propelled to Owl's house where the two are invited to some tea and honey. The wind however worsens to where Owl's tree crashes to the ground, destroying his home. The droopy donkey Eeyore volunteers to find Owl a new home. That night, Pooh is visited by a very bouncy Tigger who tells him about honey-stealing animals called Heffalumps and Woozles. After a very trippy dream sequence, Pooh wakes up to find out that the wood has flooded. Meanwhile Piglet gets stranded on a chair in rapids with Pooh with his head stuck in a jar. The two are saved when Pooh's jar gets unstuck and catches Piglett in a waterfall. So everyone has a party to celebrate Pooh's blind heroism. Then Eeyore announces that he found Owl a new home. One problem: it's Piglet's house. In an extremely nice gesture, Piglet gives his home to Owl and Pooh allows Piglet to live with him. Another party is thrown for Piglet for giving Owl a new home and everyone is (mostly) happy again.

The original party animals.
The final chapter mostly concerns everyone's favorite springy tiger, Tigger. After bouncing everyone to annoyance (mostly Rabbit), Rabbit calls a meeting between Pooh and Piglet about how to stop Tigger's bouncing. Rabbit then comes up with a plan to lose Tigger in the woods and leave him there. Once they come back in a few days, Tigger will supposedly calm down and be more humble. They go with it and lose Tigger but wind up getting lost in the woods themselves. After separating, Tigger finds all of them only to learn that Tiggers never get lost. So comes winter and little Roo awaits for a play day with Tigger. The two bounce up a tree and get stuck. While Roo is happy and content, Tigger gets freaked out by the heights and is pretty much stranded. After getting Roo down, Tigger is still reluctant to get down, even vowing to never bounce again if he ever gets back to the ground. With a little help from the narrator, he gets down but gets bummed when Rabbit reminds him that he can't bounce again. After seeing Tigger depressed (to be honest, it's kind of hard to watch), Rabbit changes his mind and Tigger happily reverts to his old self, enticing everyone around to bounce.

Ninja bounce: it's what Tiggers do the bestest!
The film ends with Christopher Robin leaving for school. He and Pooh have a talk about the inevitability of the future, which to be honest is pretty heavy stuff. The two then run hand in hand to the distance and this is where our adventure comes to an end.

And that's the story of Pooh and his friends. I liked it fine as a kid, but looking at it again years later, it's a lot better than I remember. The Sherman Brothers songs are very catchy and clever and that sketchy style of animation has more of a home here. It's really like looking at the original Ernest Shepard illustrations. There are a lot of fourth-wall jokes that mostly involve using the book and narrator as sources of humor. It's very creative like that. There are a lot more creative scenarios of course, with the windstorm, flood, trees, and of course, the trippy heffalumps and woozles scene.

This film also has this very heavy atmosphere to it. The artists do a tremendous job on making this world that they created very likable. It's laid back and slow paced, but at the same time these characters are so interesting and nice that you really enjoy spending time with them. Hell, you don't care if much happens, you could just have a conversation with any one of them and probably walk away satisfied. The story itself is not that much of a flowing narrative. It's pretty much the life of Pooh and his friends in the course of a year (I think) and all the events that happen to them. To be honest, I really enjoy films that don't necessarily have to rely on a three-act structure. It's a film where characters are allowed to breathe and be themselves.

Speaking of characters, they're so famous that I don't even have to introduce them. I love them all, but I think the two that stand out the most to me are Tigger and Pooh himself. I mentioned Tigger in another post, but I'd like to discuss Pooh. It's really hard to not like him. I know people that despise Mickey Mouse, but I've never heard anyone say they hate Winnie the Pooh. I think I know why: he's naive but pleasant. He's optimistic but makes mistakes. He's polite and nice, but is oblivious to everyone elses' concerns. I think that makes him far more interesting as a character than someone like Mickey.

Especially the Russian version!
While The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is never really considered one of the great Disney films, I really think it should be. It's warm, friendly, fun, and pleasant to watch. I really enjoyed watching it again. This film is essentially childhood. It takes me back to that same old place and I never tire of going back.

TTFN! Ta-ta for now!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Disneyear: Robin Hood (1973)

I wonder how many folks of my generation were introduced to the story of Robin Hood through the Disney film. Well, I can say I certainly was. And looking through research on this particular film, I found out it had a pretty muddy production. Originally called for an adaptation for the Reynard stories, Ken Anderson decided to add some elements from the Robin Hood legends instead. The biggest problem though was it's budget, which was so tight back then that a lot of animation had to be reused. Not just from other Disney movies but also from itself. When it was released, it wasn't that well received by critics but had grown an audience overtime, like most of the 50's films I reviewed earlier. Now that the history's out of the way, let's head on over to Sherwood Forest to meet up with Robin's band of merry men... er menagerie, rather.

This film is pretty much the story as Robin Hood except every character is an anthropomorphic animal, like Robin himself is a fox, Little John a bear, and Prince John a lion. In case you don't know the story, it goes that after Prince John's brother Richard leaves for the Crusades, he takes over the land squeezing out every bit of money from the villagers through taxation. This is where ol' Robin and Little John come in: they rob from the rich and give back to the poor while keeping one step ahead of the Sheriff of Nottingham. One day, the prince conducts an archery contest to try and trap Robin. After getting there in disguise, he gets compromised but escapes as usual with Maid Marion to Sherwood Forest. After the merry men get the song Phony King of England around, John raises taxes due to humiliation and has Friar Tuck arrested. Robin and John decide to break him put through a very exciting climax, the bad guys get thier just desserts when Richard returns, and Robin and Marion get married.

This sounds a little weird considering every character is a cute little animal, but this is a good adaptation of the story. It follows the story very close and does a good job telling it's own version. Casting Robin as a fox was a clever idea as was every other character as it leads to some creative jokes with them. The music is pretty fun too. Mostly written by Roger Miller, these songs are actually kind of nice and have their own style and likability to them. Whistle Stop, in particular is pretty catchy. And I did like the song Love. It's a lovely moment, forgive the pun.

The action scenes are actually pretty exciting, easily the best thing about this movie. I think they're on par with the Errol Flynn version, especially the climax. It's easily one of Disney's best. It's so suspenseful as well as well put together. It starts off very quiet as the prisoners escape and Robin sneaks John's gold out and then it gets really energized once caught. And the danger doesn't stop, it keeps building and building with everyone and everything trying to kill him. He just can't catch a break! Then after he dives, you actually think he died after the arrows hit him in the ditch. But hey, it's Disney, you know they wouldn't do that! Well, I take that back, there is a scene where Robin makes it out, but is wounded and taken to Maid Marion (at least she does something in this version of the third act!). Then John and his sidekick Hiss follow him and attempt to murder him in cold blood! Then Richard does come back to lay the law down. I'm glad it's on Youtube. Check out the alternate ending here.

Like in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, I found the villains to be particularly the funniest part of the film. Prince John himself, played by Peter Ustinov, makes this very femmy and kind of a hissyfity bad guy, but I think he's hilarious for that. Especially when paired with his sidekick Sir Hiss, played by Terry-Thomas. These two bicker a lot at each other. They're almost like a married couple. Watching it again, I found that the Sheriff of Nottingham was pretty funny too. He's just such a bastard in the ways he'll rip people off. Even a blind person! That is evil!

My biggest qualm, again, is the reusage of animation throughout the film. To be fair, they had a tight budget, so it's not like they had a choice. I know that other films did this too, but Robin Hood does it more than any other Disney film, especially in the Phony King of England scene. Watching this clip on YouTube, it's pretty obvious. 

Aside from that, Robin Hood is a film I recommend. It's far from Disney's best, but it's still a good fun family adventure film and a good way to be introduced to the story. Some scenes may drag on a bit, but I think it's allowed to drag like in Bambi because you know the good parts come later. So if you haven't seen it yet, check it out from your DVD rental store and give it a try. It's pretty good.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Disneyear: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Director Robert Stevenson really hit his stride when he directed Mary PoppinsSince that movie was quite a success from making over $100 million overall at the box office to winning five Academy Awards, this guy had quite a reputation to live up to for his next film. Seven years later came Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a less successful film than Mary Poppins that is often called a carbon copy of the later. There's similar magical themes in the movie as well as mixing live action with animation, songs by the Sherman Brothers, a similar cast choice: namely David Tomlinson, supporting actor Reginald Owen (in his last film role), a similar film crew, art director Peter Ellenshaw, and music director Irwin Kostal. Sounds like this movie already has a problem: it doesn't stand out that much from it's sister film. Okay, aside from that, let's see if Bedknobs and Broomsticks can make a name for itself.

Set during the 1940's London Blitz, miss Eglantine Price (played by Angela Lansbury) unwillingly adopts three siblings due to the laws back then. At first, they don't see eye to eye until the kids catch Miss Price riding on a broom like a witch one night. They find out she's really an apprentice witch (you know, a witch in training) to use her magic for the war effort and in exchange for their silence, Miss Price casts a spell on a bedknob that Paul removed from a brass bed in their room. When re-attached to the bed, it will travel anywhere that Paul asks. The next day, Miss Price receives a letter from the headteacher of her correspondence school informing her he is closing the college due to the war and cannot provide her with a crucial spell she has been waiting for to help her cause. As a result, she asks Paul if she can use the bed to go to London to track him down. They do find her professor, only to find that he was really a con artist and he's surprised that the magic words he thought were nonsense work for Price. She asks for a book that has a spell in it that makes inanimate objects to life because it could help with the defense of Britannia. After a trip to Portebello Road, they find it only to see it's on a medallion. So they travel to the island of Naboombu, where it's at, to get it. After a soccer match, Browne manages to trick it off the island's king and they head back to the cottage. They get it to work only to have the kids find a new home. That night the German army attacks Britain. Using the Substitutiary Locomotion spell, Ms. Price defeats the army but ends up destroying her workshop, ending her days as a witch. In the end, the kids come back to live with Miss Price and Mr. Browne joins the Home Guard, satisfied with their contributions to the war effort.

Let's start with the good things. First off is Angela Lansbury as Miss Price. She's really nice in the role, has some good scenes, and is overall kind of likable, David Tomlinson was fun, the kids were okay though their accents got to me at times. The special effects are pretty good for the time it was made, garnering an Academy Award. The darker war elements of the movie actually do give it sort of an edge. I actually think this is one of the few kids films where I heard a German army actually speak German for all their scenes. Give them credit for that at least. The animated scenes were really my favorite part. Especially this soccer game with a bunch on animals. It has a lot of good physical humor and the live action/animation mixing is really good here. Fun fact here, the king and secretary bird are voiced by Lennie Weinrib, who you may also know as Inch-High Private Eye.

Now for the not-so-great stuff: the biggest problem is that it's too similar to Mary Poppins. The magic and charm is there, but it doesn't stand as strong. On top of that, the story is pretty uneven in that a lot of scenes drag on for too long, like the dance scene in the Portebello Road and the final battle. Also, the war-time theme and occasional sexist remarks from Tomlinson make this film feel dated. The songs? I can't remember too many of them except for the first, The Age of Not Believing. It's almost like a lullaby. A sort of melancholy one. Though to be fair, it's about being an adult too fast.

If you forget the similarities of Mary Poppins, I think this film is actually decent enough for at least one viewing. I'm sure the magic stuff and the animals will keep your kids entertained and the adults can get into the darker war themes, decent special effects, and the two main characters. I certainly did. It's a shame this movie came out when it did. Imagine if it came out seven years after the end of WWII instead of seven years after Mary Poppins. Maybe then it could get more recognition as well as make it a little bit fresher. If you want my opinion as far as recommendations, Mary Poppins is obviously the better movie, but this is still an okay film on its own and does come close at parts. Not a bad film, but not the greatest either. Take it for what it's worth. What you see is what you get.