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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Disneyear: The AristoCats (1970)

After Uncle Walt's passing, the beginning of the 1970's are considered the beginning of a dark age for Disney animation. Don't get me wrong, the studio had a hit every now and then, but for the most part the films suffered in quality due to a larger focus on television and Disney World's construction in Florida. On top of that, the films took longer and longer to make than usual due to some of the talent that made Disney successful in the past were disappearing one by one. The AristoCats is the first film from this era and it turned out a box office hit. So does it hold up today or does it stink like yesterday's litter?

The story is a pretty simple one: in Paris around 1910, there's a family of cats that live with a rich old lady. While writing her will, she decides to give all of her riches to her cats instead of her loyal butler. Then after the cats passed he gets the inheritance. (...wait, what? ) Since he doesn't want to wait for the cats to die, he decides to get rid of them by dumping them off in the countryside. They meet up with an alley cat named O' Malley who agrees to help them get back home. They meet up with other cats and other critters along the way like a drunken goose named Waldo and Scatcat and his band. The Parisian felines get back home, beat the butler, get the inheritance, Tom stays with them, and... that's about it.

You know what's funny? I saw this movie a lot when I was a kid because my little sister loved it so naturally, I was along for the ride. Despite numerous viewings from my youth, I completely forgotten this movie even existed until I got into animation. I think the reason why is that watching it again as an adult, this is a bland, dull film. Now, there's nothing terrible about The AristoCats: I just can't remember anything that spectacular or even good about it. There's no depth, no intrigue, no interesting twists, no fun adventure, the animation isn't the cleanest, the characters and music are mostly forgettable, it's just cats trying to get home and looking cute.. yeah, whenever a film is trying to be cute just to be cute it gets a little bit annoying. Even as a kid I found it underwhelming.


The main aspect of the will really gets under my skin now because it's pretty stupid. I mean why would you leave all of your money to cats? What the hell are they going to do with the money? They're cats! Look, it's one thing to make provisions that your pets be cared for in the event anything happens to you. But leaving them all your will? What will they do with it? If you've got no heirs, why not a charity that can benefit from your money? Even something like an animal rescue societyOn top of that, how would you like it if you've been a loyal servant for years only to find out a bunch of cats are ahead of you in the will?!? That's probably the main villain falls flat and why I feel sorry for Edgar in this movie like I do with Wile E. Coyote. I kind of wanted to see him win.

Poor guy...
The only things I do remember about it being entertaining were these two dogs that chase after the butler, Uncle Waldo the drunken goose (the last character Bill Thompson voiced for Disney before he died), and the song Everybody Wants to Be a Cat. They're the only parts of the movie that I remember liking. They're funny and you get to see them all here!


Is it weird to say that while I was watching this again, I kept thinking of Gay Purr-ee? I can't help but compare the two now. For those of you that don't know, Gay Purr-ee is a 1962 film released by Warner Brothers with UPA and was directed by Abe Levitow, one of Chuck Jones' animators from WB. It's a love story between these two cats played by Judy Garland and Robert Goulet. The girl cat, Musette leaves her country home to become a sophisticated feline for her own desires with the deceitful help of a slick con-artist named Meowrice, played by Paul Frees. Determined to win her back, her old lover Jean Tom, played by Goulet, tries to find her in the vast city of Paris with his friend Rogespiere, played by Red Buttons, while Meowrice constantly keeps them on their toes looking for Musette. Let me say, if you ever see this movie, it's much better. The story and characters are more intriguing and have more depth, the songs are mediocre but at least I remember more songs here than from The Aristocats, you have Robert Goulet and Judy Garland singing beautifully, and the artwork and designs are gorgeous. The backgrounds are in the style of Fauvist and impressionist paintings from the 19th and early 20th century and all I kept thinking was "That's creative! That's awesome!" It's just the superior film to me. Here's the first song as well as an extra clip from it. If it's up you're alley, go check it out. So since this film came out first, would you consider The AristoCats a rip-off of Gay Purr-ee?


Back to the Disney film. Bottom line, if you asked me for a movie that sums up all the forgetability about Disney, I'd give you a copy of The AristoCats. One scene, one character, and one song really aren't enough to make it decent. Again, I don't really hate this movie, I just can't remember that much from it aside from one or two things and that's a major flaw. I consider it one of the weakest Disney films because it leaves behind little to no impact. I don't know. Maybe I'm being a little harsh on this movie. After all, it may have been made just for younger kids. I just expected more. If it had a better story, characters, and cleaner animation, maybe I'd like it more. I guess if you have little kids or if it still appeals to you or if you're a cat lover, maybe you'll like it fine. I'd probably skip this one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Disneyear: The Jungle Book (1967)

Now that I'm officially back on track, let's talk about The Jungle Book. As we know, this was Walt Disney's swan song: the last movie he produced before he died. It premiered a year after Uncle Walt's passing and turned out successful. With a star-studded cast that includes Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, and even Louis Prima as well as some memorable songs written mostly by the Sherman Brothers, it not only turned out to be the highest grossing film of that year but it continues to be a part of everyone's Disney collection, including my own. I really loved animals back when I was younger so this naturally was one of my favorites as a kid. Does it still hold up? Today, let's find out if the jungle is still jumpin'!

The story is based on the Rudyard Kipling book (though very loosely, mind you) about a young boy named Mowgli is raised by wolves in the jungles of India. When the man killing tiger Shere Khan (I dare you people to quote William Shatner!) returns to the jungle, the wolves think it's best if he was with his own kind. So they trust a panther named Bagheera to get him there. One problem: Mowgli doesn't want to go. After some failed attempts and nearly escaping a hungry python named Kaa, the panther leaves Mowgli behind only to meet with the Dude of jungle animals, Baloo the bear who teaches Mowgli about a care-free life in the jungle and promises to keep him safe in the jungle. That is, until the kid gets kidnapped by monkeys. After Baloo and Bagheera save the kid, Bagheera warns Baloo about Shere Khan and this changes the bear's mind. Upset about Baloo's change of heart, he runs away only to bump into not only Kaa for a second time, but also the tiger. Mowgli escapes death thanks to Baloo and some Beatles-impersonating vultures that tell him that Khan is afraid of fire. They continue on their way after the fight only for Mowgli to go back to the man villiage on his own thanks to being love struck by a village girl fetching water. Satisfied with Mowgli being "home", Baloo and Bagheera return to the jungle to live the rest of their lives.

Let's talk about the best thing in this movie: Shere Khan. Voiced by George Sanders, this one of the best Disney villains out there. Shere Khan reminds me a lot of Maleficent: there's not that much motivation behind him (he just hates man) he's just such a bad-ass and so confident that he really has nothing in the world to fear and that comes across as really intimidating. What's odd though, is that he appears near the end of the film, but the film builds this character up all throughout the film and thankfully, he lives up to his reputation. The animation from Milt Kahl, again, is superb animation. I just love that design too. I think the best scene with him is when he's talking about the man-cub with Kaa the snake.


Speaking of Kaa, he's a good character too. He also comes across as pretty threatening in his first scene, but he quickly gets outwitted by Mowglii and outclassed by the tiger later. There's also a lot of jokes here about how huge this snake is. (Don't take that the wrong way...) Oh yes, and that voice. There's something about Sterling Holloway, just how big and almost scary this snake is with that voice just seems funny to me. I have posted some Kaa model sheets when I first started this blog and it remains one of my most-viewed posts. That should probably tell you how popular the character is.



That and the voice acting is pretty good. This had, back then, one of the biggest star-studded casts for a Disney film. At least back then the voices actually fit with the characters. They become one with the character. I think another notable performance here is Phil Harris as Baloo. He does a nice job as this laid back and friendly person and his voice reflects that. And I'll give this movie credit, it did introduce a new generation to a great entertainer.



Everything else is just okay. The other characters, the songs, they're just okay. Catchy, but okay. Well, I take that back. Watching it again, I think my favorite song is the last one with the girl getting water. It's a very soothing melody. Maybe someone else can take a shot at this song. It's kind of underrated.


There is, however, only one thing bad about it and that it doesn't follow it's source material that much. I read the original books by Rudyard Kipling when I was in the fifth grade and I have to say, they're better. They're not only more fascinating, but a lot darker too. The way the animals view the human world is a pretty fascinating commentary. The characters are more developed too and it follows Mowgli in a coming-of-age story. It's kind of weird to me because Disney's good at making those kind of stories (just look at Bambi!) and I think that they could have accomplished that to make the movie a little better. I mean not exactly like the book but just enough from the book to make it more engaging. As far as The Jungle Book is concerned, there are better animated adaptations out there, an interesting example being The Adventures of Mowgli: a Russian adaptation that follows the book much closer and in five 20 minute episodes. The designs were cool and the animation is pretty nice, though not as good as the animation in the Disney one. Even though I can't speak Russian, I could still follow along with what was going on since I knew the story and I found it vastly superior to this one. Just be warned, it's pretty damn surreal.


Aside from that, the film as it is is is one I still like but I would put in the "okay" group. Despite not following the book that close, it still has got some good characters, creative moments, decent animation and music, so it's worth several viewings. It's your basic Disney film: what you see is what you get. I still recommend watching this movie. You'll likely enjoy it as much as I did.   

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Disneyear: So Dear to My Heart (1948)

Ok. First off: I'm sorry I haven't posted in over a week. I've had writer's block like you wouldn't believe.

Second: I know what you're thinking: "Wait a minute! You just reviewed Mary Poppins. Aren't you reviewing these in chronological order? Why are you going backwards?" Well, I'll be honest here, when I went to look up the Disney animated films on Wikipedia and I found this one under the "live action/animation mixes", I was kind of surprised. I've never heard of this film! I really thought that I knew all that there was about Disney animation, but nope. This one slipped under my radar. I even had a hard time finding a decent copy of this movie too. So after some consideration, I decided that I should at least watch it to get my two cents out. Let's see if this little film should be treasured or sacrificed to the mouse God of Mickey.

The film takes place in Indiana, around 1903. After seeing the best race horse back then, named Dan Patch, little Jeremiah Kincaid is inspired to raise his own little prize-winning animal. The best thing around is a baby black sheep who he names "Danny". After Danny's mother rejects him in favor of his white-fleeced sibling (man, who'd have thought that even sheep back then were racists...) Jeremiah wants to raise the little lamb as a pet. Despite concerns from his strict but loving grandmother about black sheep being destructive (seems to be a theme here), Danny decides to enter Danny eventually in the Pike County Fair, where he tries to prove that Danny isn't as people think he is. With the help of his uncle Hiram (played by Burl Ives), he manages to tame and enter Danny in the fair. Everything goes well until Danny runs away. Every one finds him the next day but Jeremiah decides to change his mind at first since his granny made him realize that the only thing he focused on was winning the fair. Granny helps turn him around and everyone goes to the fair. Danny actually loses the contest but leaves with an honorable mention.

Alright. That's the best summary I can give. You know, I can't help but compare this to Song of the South released earlier because these two are so similar in content. It's the same story: Bobby Driscol finds a friend in what society deems unacceptable. One an old black dude and the other a black sheep. The parental figures are a little too protective and judgmental and there's even a little girl who I swear was also in Song of the South, but I could be wrong. I'm sure a lot of people that grew up with this movie will like it for nostalgic reasons, but I think I may have seen this too late. I kind of found it underwhelming. Nothing really exiting happens in the movie and I can't recall anything really that much from it. Song of the South to me, is the superior film because it took far more risks by making the issues about race relations back then. This just seemed to play it safe and far less engaging. Oh and Bobby Driscol looks kind of angry in most of the scenes, which bugged me.

The animated bits.... why where they here? They served no purpose to the story whatsoever. Well, I looked up on IMDB that Disney added these scenes in at the last minute because he thought that people wouldn't see this unless there was some animation in it... that's kind of a poor excuse. That's like if George Lucas changed the original Indiana Jones movie because he thought it would be cool if aliens were in it.

And look how great THAT turned out!


Well, I guess the're not all bad since this is where most of the movie's morals come from. Mostly in song. And I have to admit, some of these are ok. Nothing great or spectacular, but ok.



So what's good about this film? For one, it's morals are actually kind of nice. They're good lessons that I guess help our heroes in the end and sort of stick with you. The songs range from okay to almost unnecessary. Nothing that special. Burl Ives was kind of nice even though he wasn't in it very much from what I can remember. ... And that's about all I can say about it.

In conclusion, this is a pretty mediocre kids movie. It doesn't stand out that much from other Disney features, especially since it's so similar to a certain other film released in 1946, which doesn't really help make it any stronger. I suppose younger kids and older audiences that grew up with this film will still appreciate it. If you're still curious about this film, I guess go check it out and see if it's up you're alley. Me? You're better off watching Song of the South. It's the exact same movie, but better.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Disneyear: Mary Poppins (1964)

I feel sorry for anyone who didn't grow up watching this movie. I really do. Mary Poppins is one of those movies you just have to watch when you're a kid and even when you're older. Even when it was first released, it got a lot of attention. It was nominated for 13 academy awards and won 5, making it the Disney movie with the most Oscars. On top of that, it's one of the few movies on movie critic site RottonTomatoes.com with a 100% fresh rating. With credentials like that, who could pass this up? I myself loved this movie as a kid and I was hyped to see this again to review it here and guess what? It didn't disappoint. In fact, it's a lot better than I remember. Why waste time? Let's dive right in.

We get to go to London in 1910 to meet the Banks family. The father, Mr. Banks (played by David Tomlinson), works day and night but seems indifferent to everyone else' needs. Even his children, Michael and Jane, who recently get in trouble for going after their kite causing their nanny to leave them.  The next day, Mr. Banks tries to find a replacement nanny and finds it in a young Mary Poppins, played by Julia Andrews. She seems perfect for the job, kind and caring but firm. After the kids have fun cleaning the nursery with the help of Mary Poppins' magic, the three of them head over to the park where they meet the charming, kid-at-heart, Cockney-accented Burt, played by Dick van Dyke. Using some of Mary's magic the four of them head for the English countryside via one of  Burt's chalk drawings. That is until it rains. The next day, Poppins and the kids are sidetracked by Bert's uncle Albert (played by Ed Wynn) because he got himself stuck on the ceiling by laughing. After she gets everyone back down on the ground, Poppins suggests to Mr. Banks that he takes the kids to the bank where he works. This however backfires when Banks' boss tries to take Michael's tuppences  and causes a riot in the bank. The two escape from the madness to meet up with Burt again, who's now a chimney sweep. And a rather poetic one I may add. They hop on the rooftop with Mary Poppins to have a little party with the other chimney sweeps. That ends when they take it to the Banks house to find an upset Mr. Banks, who has been ordered by his boss to show up at the bank at nine o'clock. He and Burt have a talk about how Mr. Banks' life has gone upside down since Mary Poppins came about. Burt mentions Mary and how wonderful and happy she's made everyone around her, including the kids who their father has largely ignored. He realizes this before he gets fired and as he awaits his doom he surprisingly feels, as the song goes, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. A changed man, Mr. Banks decides to spend the day worth the kids as Mary Poppins realizes this and goes off where the wind takes her, looking for another family that needs her care.

As if I need to go into much detail! Mary Poppins is one of the three Disney movies that I can safely and undoubtedly call "perfect". Everything in this movie is done with expert craftsmanship and is a sheer delight! It's fun. It's funny. The characters, story, special effects, the songs by the Sherman Brothers, the music, the choreography, the acting, the art, everything in it is top notch and among Disney's finest. I am happy to say that this is one of those movies where the Oscar wins and nominations were truely deserved, including a win for Julie Andrews as "Best Actress in a Lead Role"

Maybe I should at least talk about my favorite things about the movie and let's start with the characters. Mary Poppins herself is a wonderful character. She's kind, caring, and sweet but is a firm, almost no-nonsense kind of woman. Here's something that struck me recently: in the beginning she sits on a cloud looking over London, she travels by wind, has magic powers of some kind, and leaves everyone better. Do you think she's a kind of guardian angel? I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it. Her relationship with Burt, who's another great character, is a really nice one. It's kind of romantic, I suppose, but they never fall for the same cliches as other movies do. They never even hug. In fact, it's a very subtle relationship, which is a nice change of pace for Disney. The others, the kids, Mr. Banks, Uncle Albert, even Mrs. Banks and their neighbors are a lot of fun.


The special effects are wonderful. They have that classic Disney touch to them, you never exactly feel like they're really on a set or that there's wires. No, it feels like its really happening. I have to admit, the technicals for its time period are great. The scenes with the animation (which is part of why I reviewed this today) is done nicely too, particularly with the penguin waiters, animated mostly by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. It's a little bit cleaner than usual this time and is again, enjoyable. Here are all the clips I could find of the animated segments.



The songs... don't get me started. They are superb. Every last one. My favorites are your favorites: Jolly Holiday, Chim Chim Che-ree, A Spoonful of Sugar, but my favorite is by far Feed the Birds. There's just something about this song, it's hauntingly beautiful. I'd like to hear someone else take a shot at it.


I suppose if there's one thing about this movie that some people might consider a problem, it's how long it is. It's about 2 hours long so if long movies bother you, then that's an issue with you. Me? The time flies so fast when I watch it, it feels like it ended too soon. That, I suppose, is a good complaint to have with a movie: you want a little bit more. 

As if I didn't get on this enough, Mary Poppins is a superb film. I'd say go check it out, but most of you already have. Then watch it again! I really did enjoy this movie and chances are that more views aren't far in my future. Not just one of my favorite family films but one of my favorite films period.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Disneyear: The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone... you know, I'm not quite sure where to put this in my list of favorite Disney films. I mean I liked this movie as a kid but now... well, there's sort of an annoyance to it. I don't exactly hate it, but... ok, let me explain.

Let's start with the story. In the Dark Ages, a boy named Arthur (nicknamed Wart throughout the film. Isn't that nice?) meets with an elderly but eccentric wizard named Merlin. Merlin wants Arthur to have an education so that he can go on to make something great of himself in this time. Arthur's caretaker, Sir Ector, allows Merlin to stay at his castle because he's afraid that if he kicks the old wizard out, he'll get hexed. As the year goes by, we see Merlin teach Arthur about the ways of life and more as they change into squirrels, fish, and birds. After a wizard's duel with Merlin's rival Mad Madame Mim to rescue Arthur as a sparrow, the boy becomes a squire for Sir Kay, Ector's son. Outraged at this decision, Merlin leaves for Bermuda. During the winter, Arthur forgot to pack Kay's sword but finds one lodged in a stone in a churchyard. The people find out that it's really the legendary Sword in the Stone and crown Arthur as the King of England. Merlin comes back in the end to check on Arthur, but is excited to see that Arthur became a king so that we can continue on the philosophies of being the once and future king king.

So what's good about the movie? Well, there's some notable things. For example, these characters do stick with you. Merlin's a great character, being old, eccentric, and using magic only for the betterment of man. Arthur himself is a nice character, naive and innocent but optimistic and willing to put up with the worst crap from his caretakers. These two have this nice relationship with one another. Its kind of like hanging out with your fun grandpa who happens to do magic. The side characters are a ton of fun, especially Mad Madame Mim even though she's more of a side character versus the main villain. And that wizard's duel scene is awesome! This was my favorite growing up. I watched it so many times that I wore out the VHS. It's really creative and has some great slapstick in it.



The songs are pretty clever too. But this was the first Disney flick that had the songwriting duo The Sherman Brothers write the music for. My personal favorite is the first song, Higitus Figitus. I like how it starts off kind of easy, but fast and it just gets faster and faster as it ends.



There's also That's What Makes the World Go Round. It's an okay song, but it's clever in that the main idea of the movie is present in this song.



There are some really creative moments in it too such as to learn lessons in life, Arthur becomes all these animals which is fun for kids. I also love the main idea of this movie. It's nice to see a film about King Arthur that dives into the philosophies of being a good king versus the sword fights and such.

Then again, that's the movie's main problem. When you get down to it, it's really all about education and learning things. Is that really what you want to see when you watch a Disney movie? It's like going to school, only your teachers are Merlin and Archimedes the owl. But... that's really cool too! But nothing exciting really happens until the last third when we get introduced to Mim. The animation is still nice but not especially astounding. I'll admit, that sketchy style of animation from this decade works great with hair, especially Merlin's beard.

Arthur's voice acting always bugged me too. From what I looked up, he had three different kids voice him. THREE! Why three? Why not stick with one kid like every other movie does? They don't quite mesh together either. One of them actually sounds like an 11-12 year old kid, which is perfect because that's how old Arthur is in this movie. The other two sound like pubescent teenagers. If you watch this movie again, you'll notice. Trust me.

So yeah, The Sword in the Stone is quite a mixed bag. I like it for it's idea and the nostalgia, but it's a little more boring than I remember. I think I admire what it was trying to do versus the final product. I will say that I am glad I saw it when I was a kid and I suppose I'm glad that I saw it again as an adult, but it's sort of hard to recommend this one at the same time. All I can say is that if you do see it, you'll get some good characters with a few creative moments, making it worth at least one watch.

Update: A reader of the blog, Craig Prior, was kind enough to show me an image of an original cell of The Sword in the Stone that he received when he was a kid one day at Disneyland. With his permission, I'd like to show it to you.

Ain't it a beaut?

And here's it's certificate of authenticity.