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Monday, July 30, 2012

Disneyear: Winnie the Pooh (2011)

We come to the last film in Disneyear: Winnie the Pooh. I'm sure a lot of you are reading this thinking, "Didn't you already review this film?" Well, you're thinking of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the film you all remember growing up with. This is a very recent released film, sort of an official sequel to the 1977 film. I find it surprising that despite it being released last year, no one I talk too has seen, let alone even heard of this film! Then I remembered why: in America, this was released on the exact same weekend as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, so this poor film got little to no recognition at all. I wonder why on Earth this film wasn't released in April like it was in the U.K.? But thankfully for those that actually saw it, it got a lot of positive marks and it did make it's $30 million budget back, making it a modest success. I did catch this one lazy summer day and was pleasantly pleased with what I saw. It brought back a lot of nostalgia, for me at least, as it does capture a lot of things that made the first film endearing. Is it as great?  Well, let's return to the Hundred Acre Wood for the final film this year.

One morning, Pooh wakes up to greet the day. But he has no honey to eat, so he goes around looking for some. He bumps into Eeyore, who's tail is missing. Owl passes by and suggests some kind of reward for a new tail. The whole wood agrees that whoever finds Eeyore a new tail is rewarded with a pot of honey. Despite their best efforts, none of them really seem to work. So Pooh goes back on his search for honey as he finds a note on Christopher Robin's door. He has Owl read it for him since poor Pooh is a bear with little brain. Owl reads it and concludes that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a monster called the Backson. I won't dare ruin how they came to that conclusion because honestly, it's really funny! So the gang sets out to trap the Backson in a pit by making a tral of things to destroy. Meanwhile, Tigger sees Eeyore couldn't catch up with the others and decides to make him an honorary Tigger. That doesn't seem to work either and Pooh manages to fall into the trap by thinking an empty honey pot lure was full. But everyone gets stuck in the pit too except for Tigger and Piglet. They eventually get out and see Christopher Robin is okay. Everything is cleared up and Pooh once again is on the search for food. He goes to Owl's place to find that Eeyore's real tail was mistaken as a bell rope and he returns it to Eeyore to win the honey pot prize. Pooh eats to his content and the story ends.

So does this film hold up as a sequel? Well, it has many elements from the first movie, such as the fourth wall jokes and a nice atmosphere and pace that allows the characters to be themselves and let them tell the story. From what I understand, this is the first Pooh film in a while to use A.A. Milne's original stories again, which is always nice. The only thing I wish was that there were more of the stories. What made the first film so great was that there were so many stories tied into it. This film only has two. That's very odd. The film's very short. It's only an hour long and when it was over, I was wanting more. I guess that's not always a bad thing, but this film could have been longer.


Thankfully, the characters are more or less the same. There's some familiar voices here as well as a few new voices too. John Cleese is the narrator and he's just perfect for it. He's dignified, but knows how to add humor to the narration, much like how Sebastian Cabot did in the first film. Jim Cummings returns as Pooh and Tigger, having taken over the roles for well over a decade, and he as usual does a great job. Travis Oates does a surprisingly good Piglet, one of the songwriters of the film (Kristina Anderson-Lopez) voices Kanga here. That's kind of cool. Tom Kenny was an odd choice for Rabbit, but he did pretty well too. Animator Bud Luckey plays Eeyore to a tee. The oddest choice for me was Craig Ferguson as Owl. He does a good job, but they changed his character around. This guy was just obsessed with being right all the time. The original Owl was like that too, but not nearly as ego-maniacal as he is here. I suppose it's not a bad change, but wasn't Rabbit already sort of that character? Being right all the time? Oh well.

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The songs are really, really good songs! They were so good I thought maybe the Sherman Brothers came back to write them. But it's in reality a new team with the same amount of talent and spirit. Fun fact here: the writers for the songs also wrote the music for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon! I tip my hat to these folks for recreating that musical spirit of the first film.

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The animation is really good here. Maybe a little too good. I noticed that the team redesigned a lot of the characters. Pooh has a slimmer body, Kanga, Roo, and Piglet have different shaped heads, and they even gave Christopher Robin those big Disney eyes. Real ones. Notable animators to watch for are Mark Henn (Pooh), Andreas Dejas (Tigger), Eric Goldberg (Rabbit, of all characters!), Bruce W. Smith (Kanga, Roo, Piglet), and Dale Baer (Owl).

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Oh, and this scene cracks me up!

Winnie the Pooh is a lot like getting a bouquet of flowers: it's familiar, but you still get a nice, warm feeling from it. It has a nice atmosphere, good pacing, good animation, great characters, great songs, funny scenes, and the stories are told well. I only wish there was more stories in the film. It's Winnie the Pooh after all! You could have a ton of fun recreating these stories. But I still enjoyed it. It really felt like I was watching the original film as a kid again. It's not great, but good. If you're a fan of Winnie the Pooh or just want to see some great animation, I'd say check it out sometime.


And folks, this is the end of Disneyear. Thank you all so much for reading, subscribing, and commenting with me throughout the year. I'm sure all of you have your own opinions of these movies, so get out there and share your thoughts with the world as I did here. As I did finish ahead of schedule, I think I'll save all the Pixar films for either August or October to review. And when Wreck-it Ralph is released, I'll watch it and share my thoughts here. Until then, thanks so much and take care.

So long for now, folks! :)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Disneyear: Tangled (2010)

Unlike the other 3D animated films that Disney made this decade, Tangled is the only one that truly feels a lot like I'm watching a 2D film. It's a musical fairy tale, the animation feels like I'm watching a moving painting, the designs are reminiscent of the classic hand-drawn films, it's basically a traditionally animated film in the guise of computer-generated images. From what I hear, this is the most expensive animated film ever made, adjusting inflation, costing over $260 million to make. It made more than double back, which did far better at the box office than the last Disney fairy tale movie, The Princess and the Frog. I have an idea why that is, but I'll get to that later. I know it's not fair to compare Tangled with The Princess and the Frog, but when you think about it both films were released around the same time and one only did okay while the other did much better. So in that context, it kind of makes sense to compare the two. So I'll do that around the end of the review. And I'll admit that I was a little skeptical of the movie at first (I'll explain why later), so I originally wanted to pass it. But I got talked in into going to see it with my friend and honestly, it was not at all what I expected! I enjoyed it a lot! Well, time to see what I got wrapped up in Tangled.

Once upon a time, a magic flower that has healing powers and provides eternal youth blooms in a kingdom. An old woman named Gothel (Donna Murphy) figures out that the only way to use its powers is to sing a certain song to it and she keeps it to herself to restore her youth. But the queen falls ill, so the royal guards find the flower and grind it up to herbs to heal the queen. The flower's magic is transferred to her baby Rapunzel’s long blonde hair. Gothel finds out that the magic is still in the baby’s hair so she kidnaps her to use her hair’s flower-power keep her youth. To keep her concealed from the world, Gothel hides Rapunzel in a tower for 18 years and in order to let Gothel live longer, she grows Rapunzel . But every year, there’s a lantern ceremony that happens every time Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) has a birthday. This is held by the king and queen in the hopes that the lost princess will one day find her way home. She wants to go see it for herself but is forbidden by her “mother”. Rapunzel later finds that a thief named Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) has climbed up her tower to escape from the royal guards and one of the horses there. She knocks him out and later tries to get some information out of him. He agrees to take her there if she lets him go. Here on in, they set off for adventure with sword fights, epic discoveries, magic, love, and much more. That is until Flynn is framed and Gothel finds and takes Rapunzel  "home". She realizes she's the lost princess and tries to escape Gothel. Flynn arrives in time to save her, but ends up losing his life. To save Rapunzel, he cuts her hair, removing her magic powers and vanquishing the villain. They make it back to the palace, Flynn is pardoned, and the two marry eventually. 

It's rare that I ever say this, but the story to this film is brilliant. It has a fantastic setup and makes the transition to film perfectly, just like what Disney did in it's heyday. All throughout this introduction, I was shouting "Brilliant! Brilliant!" There's a reason why she's in the tower! There's a reason why the hair is so long! There's a reason to incorporate music into it! It was just wonderful! So just from this ingenious setup, you'd think this would be one of the top 5 Disney films, right? Well... not exactly.

But to be fair, it comes so close!
One issue I have is the voice acting. Not that it's bad or that the actors did a horrible job. I couldn't get invested in them. Like when I heard Rapunzel's voice I thought, "Wait.. that sounds like someone familiar". Turns out it was! The same goes for Flynn. I know he's trying too, but he shares the same problem. now to clear things up: the main characters aren't bad. They're well written, are animated nice, and have compelling back stories. I just think it's the voice work that's the issue. I'm always aware that there's just someone behind a microphone. But it doesn't destroy the movie. I'm behind it enough.

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My other issue is the songs. Again, not that they're godawful, in fact it's nice to know Alan Menkin came back to write good songs again, but they feel rushed and didn't always match with the movie. With The Princess and the Frog, they fit in because that music was New Orleans jazz. It fit with the rest of the story. Here, that sort of guitar pop song/Broadway/Top 40 billboard style seem a little out of place. Those are my only two problems, but the're kind of big ones. It's funny because with The Princess and the Frog, the story was my only problem but everything else was great. In Tangled, it's the story that's great but everything else is kind of "been-done".

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There are a few standout moments in the film, though. One is this horse. This guy is so friggin' hilarious! He's one of the great movie horses! I could watch him all day, he just cracks me up! The other is the animation in the entire movie. It looks fantastic, as you'd expect for Disney. It just has this style that reminds me of early Rococco paintings and it looks wonderful. The best animation in the whole film is surprisingly with Rapunzel's parents. They don;t even have a line in this movie but they convey so much. You can just feel how torn apart they are!

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So why did Tangled outperform The Princess and the Frog? Is it race? Slim chance, but maybe. Is it that the music here appeals more to the general public than New Orleans ragtime? It could be. But again, I think it's because the film was animated in 3D. The advertising for this movie played it up like there were going to be more adult jokes in this movie and it felt like we were going to get a road trip comedy (which was why I was skeptical at first.). But it turned out the complete opposite. There wasn't that many adult jokes in the movie, the story was much simpler than in The Princess and the Frog, and the fact that since it was a 3D film, adults thought it was going to be for them too.

Oh, and frying pans are hilarious weapons!
 Do I like it? Yes. It's a good flick. While the voice acting and songs can be distracting, there's still fantastic backgrounds and animation, the side characters are fun, there's genuine soft moments, and like I said over and over, the story is great. One of the best alone for that setup. But personally, I think I liked the updates on the classic fairy tale in The Princess and the Frog more than I did Tangled. There's a purely brilliant movie here somewhere. I bet if you combined the characters and animation of the Princess and the Frog with the story of Tangled, we could have a film as brilliant as Beauty and the Beast! In in there, I know it! But if you want to watch a good fantasy adventure, Tangled isn't a bad choice to consider. Give it a rent and see what you can get invested in.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Disneyear: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

For a while, the Disney 2D animation studio had been shut down because many of their movies released in the 2000's weren't exactly box-office successes. Half of them weren't even critical successes! So in 2004, Disney executives permanently shut down the 2D studio. Almost. After Eisner stepped down from office, John Lassenter of Pixar was hailed as the newest executive producer of the animation department and one of his first decisions was to reopen the 2D studio again, rehire all of the artists, and try again with traditional animation. Not only that, but Lassenter wanted to go back to Disney's roots: with fairy tales, musicals, magic, and stunning visuals. This is where The Princess and the Frog comes in. Let me say that when I heard news that Disney was going to bring back traditional animation, I was excited! I was hyped to finally see another 2D animated film on the big screen after so long! And I don't mean a satire of one, I mean a real one! So when me and some of my friends went to go see it, it didn't disappoint! It still holds a spot in my personal top 10 because this is the modern Disney fairy tale done perfectly. Well, almost. Let's hop over to see if this is as good as the classics in The Princess and the Frog.

The story concerns a young African-American woman living in 1920's New Orleans named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of running her own restaurant by saving money from the two jobs she's working. Meanwhile, a fun-loving, laid back, but narcissistic prince named Naveen (Bruno Campos) comes to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and to meet the richest woman in N.O.: Tiana's best friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) One problem: his parents cut him off, so he has no money. He meets a voodoo magician, Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who claims he can fix Naveen's money problems. But he tricks him by turning him into a frog. He meets Tiana at a costume party as a frog and asks him to break the curse by kissing him. Very, and I mean very, reluctant, Tiana agrees but gets turned into a frog herself. So the two now have to put differences aside to break the curse and make their dreams come true with the help of an alligator named Louis, (Michael-Leon Wooley) a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings), and a witch doctress named Mama Odie. (Jennifer Lewis)


Let's look at our characters first. Tiana is the best female lead since Belle. She's a fast thinker, positive, and a workaholic. (Never thought you'd see that in a Disney princess, would ya?) Prince Naveen is also a lot of fun. Easily the best Disney prince out there. He's full of himself, but there's also an innocence to him. The villain is the best one in years! He reminds me a little of Ursula, claiming he's helping people with his voodoo magic but wants to control the city of New Orleans. But he's also very eccentric, charismatic, and the fact that he practices voodoo leads to a lot of creative possibilities and the film takes advantage of them all!


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The rest of the side characters are also fun and memorable. We have a trumpet playing alligator who dreams of playing jazz with the best of them, a romantic Cajun firefly who believes he's in love with a star, and an eccentric witch doctress who always has the answer to everything. Oh, and there's Charlotte, Tiana's best friend. She is hilarious! She just makes me laugh and makes me laugh hard every time she's on screen. I haven't seen a Disney character this funny in a long, long time!


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The songs are also very nice. Two especially are very memorable: Almost There has a nice beat to it and Friends on the Other Side is awesome! I like the rest of them, but they're honestly nothing that memorable. There's no Be Our Guest in here. But at least the film sticks with it's musical style all the way through. It's music you're likely to hear in New Orleans: jazz, gospel, a little traditional Cajun, it's a nice attention to detail. And they all fit to the context of the setting and story, so I'll give Randy Newman credit for that. 



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And speaking of New Orleans, they got the look of the city down to a tee. I've been there before since both my parents are from Louisiana, so I can clarify that they got the look and tone of the city perfectly. It's American, but has it's own identity to it. So yeah, it looks amazing!



Sounds like it's shaping to be like one of the classic Disney films right? Well, there's only one problem with it: the story. Not that it's bad, its just... a little complicated. I covered the basics, but there's more. What I didn't cover was that Dr. Facillier made a deal with the underworld so that he can rule all of New Orleans. But to do that, he needs to have someone else disguise himself to marry Charlotte because the Shadowman can't use magic for himself. But in order to do that, they constantly need the blood of Naveen as a frog to give to said guy or else the disguise fades. But there's also a glitch in the spell: to break it, Naveen needs to kiss a princess by midnight on a certain day or else he and Tiana stay as frogs forever! But it'll work on Charlotte because her father appoints himself as King of Mardi Gras, so technically that counts! On top of that, we have the main characters falling in love as well as fixing each others faults and their own! Let's also add an unnecessary death, my God... it's just too much! Is that a bad thing? I guess not, since you're always guessing what's going to happen. But the charm of movies like Beauty and the Beast and so forth is that the stories were always flowing. They knew how much detail to give to the story and characters. There's way too many details here. Again, it's not terrible or bad, it's just not as good as some of the others. 


Before I wrap up, I suppose I should mention mention some of the controversies that surrounded this film. Tiana is the first black princess and there's still talk that she was originally going to be a chambermaid. They later changed her to a waitress, but that caused uproar too. I heard comments like "It's changing history! It's changing the way things were back then!" Well, you know what? There's a talking frog in this movie! I think we'll be okay! On top of that, we're always going to have reminders of how things were back then. And it's a fairy tale. Let the kids have their fairy tale!



There's also the controversy of why the film didn't do as well as Disney was hoping for. Let me clarify: it didn't bomb, but it wasn't the success that Disney was hoping for. Is it racism? Maybe, but I have my own theory: it's not a prejudice on race, but a prejudice on 2D animation. It's been a long, long time since one has been marketed to both kids and adults and this is still a family film. Most family films coming out are either live-action or animated in 3D. To be honest, I still think a lot of adults see 2D animation as "kid stuff". It did update the fairy tale aspect very nicely and cleverly, but the problems with the story kind of hold it back. But hey, it still made money! I'd be more concerned if nobody saw it! But people did see it! Was it a lot of people? No, but a lot of people didn't see most of the other 2D films of this decade and no one made a big deal out of those. But again, it's just a theory.


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I still believe there's a place and audience for traditional animation! 

But problems and controversies aside, I really love The Princess and the Frog. It captures everything that made the classic 2D films great. Maybe if the story was simpler, maybe that would make it an instant classic. But as is, it's still one of my personal favorites. It felt like I was watching Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast again! I know I'm not done watching it! Chances are if I ever want to watch a Disney film again, I'll more than likely turn to this one.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Disneyear: Bolt (2008)

For a while, Disney was trying computer animation for their films. As ambitious as the idea was, the films themselves were for the most part lackluster. Dinosaur came off as disappointing, you all know how I feel about Chicken Little, and while I think Meet the Robinsons is okay, it does seem to focus more on style over substance. So for Disney's fourth try in this medium, it seems that they finally got a hit with their computer animation: Bolt. I'll admit, when I first saw some concept art for this film on the Internet, I thought it looked cool. It had this neat idea to it and these interesting visuals. It was also supposed to be directed by Chris Sanders, the director of Lilo & Stitch. That was hook, line, and sinker. Then I heard that Sanders left and a new director changed it a lot. My heart sank. Then I saw the trailers for the final version and thought, "well, I kind of know this story already. It's The Truman Show with a dog. And big-budget action scenes." So I decided to skip it at first. That and the advertising played like mad that Miley Cyrus was going to be in this didn't help me turn. That was until a lot of my friends told me to watch it. Well, I decided to rent it one night, sat down, and... it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I was kind of surprised when I first saw it. Kind of. Then I sat down and watched it again years later for this review. Now what do I think of it? Let's turn the channel to Disney's Bolt.

The movie begins with a little girl named Penny (Cyrus) at a pet store. She finds a White Shepard puppy and adopts him. Five years later, we see Penny and her dog Bolt (John Travolta) are the stars of their own television show. Part of what makes the show successful is that apparently the dog has never ventured outside the TV studio before and the director keeps him locked up in a trailer so that he believes that everything that happens in the show is real (including his superpowers), thus the acting from the dog seems real. One day, an episode ends in a cliffhanger and Bolt escapes to try and save Penny. He ends up in a package being sent from Hollywood to New York, still thinking his superpowers from his show are real. He finds a black cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) who thinks that the cat is an agent working for the villain from his show: Dr. Calico, who has cat minions. Confused and reluctant, Mittens is forced to help Bolt find Penny. To make sure they find her, Bolt ties Mittens to a leash on his collar so he can keep an eye on her. After getting out of a moving truck on the way to Hollywood, Bolt finds that some of his powers aren't working and that he begins to feel pain and hunger. Still thinking he's in the show, he thinks that Styrofoam packaging is what depleted his powers. So Bolt and Mittens later meet a hamster in a ball humorously named Rhino (Mark Walton) that watches Bolt's show all the time and calls himself his biggest fan. Mittens finds out that Bolt's from TV and tries to convince him that nothing he thought before is reality. After some circumstances and rescuing from a pound, Bolt begins to understand that he's just a normal dog. With Mittens' help, Bolt begins to cope with it as well as learn how to be a normal dog. Still thinking of Penny, they finally make it to Hollywood only to see that Bolt's show replaced him with a lookalike. Bolt thinks Penny's affections are for the doppelganger and leaves broken-hearted. But the it's really the opposite as Penny misses her dog and while shooting the next episode, the studio catches on fire and Bolt manages to save Penny. In the end, Penny leaves the show to live her life as a normal girl with her mom, Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino.  

Story-wise, there's nothing remarkably new about Bolt. Like I said earlier, it's basically The Truman Show mixed with Homeward Bound. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing. “Character learns that the world isn’t what he or she believed it to be” is a very broad story premise with a lot of room for different interpretations. Sadly, Bolt is a very by-the-book take on this narrative. But it still has charm and heart to it, specifically with Bolt's arch. It's entertaining, it's heart-felt, has some great characters, has some good moments, and has some nice visuals to go along with it. It sort of starts off goofy with over-the-top action sequences, but it becomes more engaging once the animals start talking, surprisingly enough.


Bolt himself is a decent character. The fact that he thinks his superpowers from his show are real leads to some good jokes, like how he comes to "realize" that Styrofoam depletes his powers. And I do like it that Mittens has to teach him all about what normal dogs do. They're great together. But John Travolta's voice is an odd choice. While he doesn't do a bad job with the character, I still feel like he's just doing a voice for an animated character. The same goes for Miley Cyrus. I can sense that the character misses Bolt after he is separated from her, but again, I'm aware Cyrus is just speaking into a microphone. She's not in the film that long, so I'll give her a pass. Mittens has a lot of funny moments, especially when teaching Bolt about the real world. But my favorite by far is Rhino. He just makes me laugh whenever he's on screen. Walton does do a great job with the character, but I can picture Jack Black voicing this character to make it more convincing. But he's still awesome!

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The stuff I never look forward to in the film is everything in the TV studio. First of all, where's P.E.T.A. on this whole situation? Shouldn't there have been someone there from P.E.T.A. to make sure Bolt has a healthy life and made sure he's taken care of? Wouldn't someone had reported this method acting method long ago? Second, Penny's agent is really annoying. The guy never stops talking and always barges in on the wrong moment. At least he's not in the film that long. Third, when the studio caught on fire, didn't these stage hands have any fire extinguishers on standby? How is it that this place got a free pass when there's no friggin' fire extinguishers?!? That's really dangerous! Fourth, the scene with the fire seems kind of forced to be honest. At least it has a happy ending... Yeah, I don't like this TV studio at all. Goofy would put this studio in better hands!

Beware of the non-stop talking agent! Beware!
Despite a few shortcomings, Bolt is still an entertaining film. I just have my own issues with it. I'd love to see how the film would go if Disney allowed Chris Sanders to do his original draft (which included a one-eyed cat and a human sized radioactive rabbit), but for what I got, it's still decent, Better than what I thought I was going to get. The strength of this film comes from the comedy, characters, and some heart over it's familiar, been-done story. Even if the story is a little by-the-book, some fun characters and good comedy mixed with nice animation make it worth at least one watch. See it and come to your own conclusions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Disneyear: Enchanted (2007)

Currently the last film in Disneyear to feature animation mixed with live action, I found it pretty hard to not talk about Enchanted. Why? Well, number one, it's a satire of Disney animated films made by Disney itself. Two, this is the first time since Home on the Range that traditional animation was used in a Disney film even if only a fraction of it features animation, even after Disney said after the aforementioned film that they wouldn't go back to traditional animation. So yeah, it's kind of hard to avoid it. I hear it did pretty well after it was released, scoring big at the box office, audiences, and even getting three Oscar nominations, a first for Disney in a long while.  I didn't see this until I was in high school (kind of an odd time to watch it, but go with me here!). One day in my Children's Theater classroom, we played this in class for a lazy day. As odd as it sounds for a high school boy to say this back then, I did find myself enjoying it. I still do, even if it isn't a perfect parody. Lets' open up the storybook to read the tale of Disney's currently last animation-live action hybrid, Enchanted.

The film starts in a faraway land. An animated land named Andalasia to be exact, where there's talking animals and happy endings happen every day. The story is that the evil queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) wants the kingdom for herself and will get rid of anyone who she thinks wants her throne. That's why she hires an assistant, Nathanial (Timothy Spall) to make sure that her son, Prince Edward (James Marsden) never finds his true love by hunting trolls. He does hear the song of a peasant named Giselle (Amy Adams) who tells her animal friends about a dream she had where she saw her true love and waits for him to show up. He saves her from a troll and the next day are scheduled to marry. Disguised as an old woman, the queen banishes Giselle to a land where there are no happily ever afters:  the real world. New York to be exact. After a rough night, a jaded but friendly lawyer named Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan, find Giselle and offer her to stay with them in their apartment. As she brings a little magic into their lives, Prince Edward shows up with one of Giselle's animal friends, a chipmunk named Pip (Jeff Bennett animated, Kevin Lima in the real world) to find her. Nathanial shows up to with orders to dispose of Giselle with poison apples. As Edward and Giselle spend time in the real world, they find that the cartoony way they acted before isn't logical to our world and find that their stationary roles that they had become accustomed to don't always have to be there all the time. So after a date, Giselle and Edward go to a ball, only to bump into Robert and his fiancee Nancy (Idina Menzel). Giselle and Robert dance to find that they really do love each other while Nancy and Edward start to bond. The queen shows up to wreck the party and kill Giselle, but Giselle manages to defeat her. In the end, Giselle, Robert, and Morgan live a happy life together in New York while Edward and Nancy decide to go back to Andalasia.

So how's Enchanted? Well, it does have a lot of good laughs, mostly from the performances. Amy Adams and Jason Marsden are especially funny. I smile whenever they're on screen. And I like the idea that even though our world forces reality on them, they can still force a little of their magic to our world. For example, they constantly break into song, animals help clean the house, and so on. I especially like the scenes when Giselle and Robert talk with each other in Central Park and she just breaks into song. It's a great scene.

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I suppose what bothers me (a little bit) about the film is that it is a Disney film and what they satirize is more over the top than what they give it credit for.  Number one, the movies Enchanted satirizes are the early Disney films such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The modern fairy tales Disney has done aren't this goofy. And the idea with traditional stationary roles, Disney has mixed it up over the years such as in Mulan, Beauty and the Beast and so forth. I think Disney has come farther than what this film gives them credit for. Don't get me wrong, it works when it plays this for laughs. But during the final battle where Susan Sarandon quotes every storybook cliche is pretty annoying. In my opinion, if you want change to happen, you just do it instead of drawing a lot of attention to it. Here, when you draw on attention to it, it feels like that you're focusing on a stereotype you may or may not have known existed only now it's okay to break from that. I'm just saying that maybe of this film was released earlier, then the satire would come off stronger. When you release it in 2007, these ideas are nothing new.


This part does get annoying when the queen quotes all the cliches...

But to be honest, Enchanted wanted to be a romantic comedy for the family, but more for the adults. So in a sense, they play the over the top stereotypes in this film because it'll get a bigger laugh out of the adults. Because this is what we remember growing up with. It's funny because of the characters they created, not for what they make fun of. So despite it being sort of a mixed bag, I find myself enjoying it. It's just harmless, innocent fun. And the first ten minutes are so spot-on! If you haven't seen it by now, I'd say give it a rent. So will this mean that traditional animation is back at Disney after a long hiatus? Join me in the review after the next to find out.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Disneyear: Meet the Robinsons (2007)

After a string of disappointing films (barring Lilo & Stitch) and besmirching the Disney name, then CEO Michael Eisner decided to leave the company in 2005. With him and Roy E. Disney now absent, who was going to fill in their shoes to produce Disney's future animated films? Enter John Lassenter, co-founder of Pixar Animation. After the absolute failure of a film known as Chicken Little, Pixar and Disney decided to merge with each other during production of Disney's next film, Meet the Robinsons. When it was finished, it was the very first Disney film to utilize 3D effects. Over 600 REAL D Cinema digital 3D-equipped theaters presented the Disney Digital 3-D version of the film. Now to where I fit in on this. I'll admit, I was a little skeptical about this film when I saw the teaser trailer. After Chicken Little, I had my doubts that this was going to be any better. But one day, I saw it on Starz and thought, "Why not? Let's give it a go". Honestly, I was surprised. While I don't think it's absolutely perfect, it has a general charm and likability to it, something lacking in some of the previous films I dare not mention. So let's keep moving forward in today's review of Meet the Robinsons.


The story centers on a 13-year old genius orphan named Lewis that also happens to be an inventor. He tries to impress potential adopters with his gadgets, but everything he tries seems to backfire on him like Wile E. Coyote. Because of this, he wants to see what his real mother looked like and immediately starts work on a new invention that can scan memories from your mind and present them on a small screen in the hopes of finding his real mother. After months of extensive work, Lewis enters it in the science fair.  Lewis meets Wilbur Robinson, a mysterious boy claiming to be a time cop from the future. Wilbur needs to recover a time machine that a man wearing a bowler hat has stolen. Lewis tries to demonstrate the scanner, but it falls apart, throwing the science fair into chaos. Upset, Lewis leaves while the Bowler Hat Guy, with the help of a robotic bowler hat named Doris, repairs and steals the scanner. Later, Wilbur bumps into Lewis again and orders him to fix the scanner. Lewis agrees if Wilbur can prove he's from the future. Wilbur does by bringing Lewis to the year 2037 in a second time machine, only to crash it later. They take it to Wilbur's garage where Lewis agrees to fix it only if Wilbur uses it after to show him the day his mother left him at the orphanage. Wilbur agrees but tries to hide him in the garage. Lewis doesn't stay for long and winds up meeting all of the Robinson family except for Cornelius, Wilbur's father. Bowler Hat Guy and Doris follow Lewis into the future and try to kidnap him, but the Robinson family saves him. The Robinsons want to adopt Lewis but have a change of heart when they find out that he's from the past. Wilbur also admits lying about his end of the deal and Lewis runs off upset. He bumps into the Bowler Hat Guy who reveals he was his old roommate from the orphanage who Lewis kept up constantly while working on his inventions. His life turned out for the worst while Lewis went on to be a great inventor in the future. Doris was "DOR-15," one of Lewis' failed and abandoned inventions. They both blamed Lewis for their misfortunes and decided to ruin his career by stealing the memory scanner and claiming credit for it. Leaving Lewis behind, they take off with the scanner, drastically altering the future to a world minus Wilbur and dominated by Doris clones. Lewis repairs the second time machine, goes to confront Doris and destroys her by promising to never invent her, restoring the future to its utopian self. Lewis fixes everything to the way it was, or will be, and he goes back to his old time to be adopted by a new family as well as help his roommate. The film ends with this quote:

"Keep Moving Forward"
-Walt Disney

The first thing you'll notice when you watch the film is that the visuals are great, especially on the future world. It's very bright, colorful, and has so many creative designs for buildings and transportation. Everyone apparently either has a flying car or travels by bubbles. I also appreciate that the film has a simple look to it, but nothing too simple. I just thought it looked amazing. There's also this atmosphere to the film. This world looks to be a normal world at first, it's when we meet the family is where it gets... interesting. A lot of comedy comes from the family and it's... random. There's singing frogs, dogs with glasses, and even pet dinosaurs! This gives the film a fresh feeling where anything can happen at any time. And because the Robinsons are so strange, the randomness is wholly acceptable. Sounds odd, but that's just how this world the Disney artists created works and to be fair, it's kind of cool.


The film is also chock full of fun characters too. For starters, Lewis is a very likable kid. I mean sure, he's a typical orphan with typical orphan problems, but I like him for the same reasons I like Mr. Tibbs from 101 Dalmatians. There's just this sense that he would never give up on accomplishing his goals even if he doubts himself and he does take responsibly in his actions because he knows later in the film that his actions can have effects on several other people. Sort of a surreal take on It's a Wonderful Life, but I do like the kid. Wilbur gets a funny line here and there and so do the rest of the Robinsons. The Bowler Hat Guy is a pretty entertaining villain. Not exactly evil, but more of a meddler. Even if the design is ridiculous (he sort of reminds me of Snidely Whiplash from Dudley Do-Right!), the comedy of this character comes from the fact that he's a constant screw-up. It's kind of sad that if has to have his own hat to do the planning since he couldn't come up with something dastardly evil on his own to save his life. Kind of a letdown when you compare him to other Disney baddies but he's still a decent comedic character, which I guess does work in the context of this film.

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I suppose if there's one thing wrong with Meet the Robinsons, it's the pacing of the story. From beginning to end, it feels rushed. Like in the beginning when Lewis and Wilbur go to the future world. We only get a few minutes to let the atmosphere soak in, but then we get to meet the Robinson family shortly after. Surely they would allow some time to get to know them, right? ...Wrong. Every detail about this family is thrown at you in only a few minutes time and this family is so huge that we don't really get to know them as people, but as a giant mass. It's just overwhelming to even try and remember all of these people. Even the defeat of the villain is accomplished with one sentence that alters the future: "I will never invent you". Then, poof! Story arch over! I just wanted the film to slow down and allow me to sink everything in for just five minutes.

I can only name two or three of these folks...
Aside from the pacing, I think Meet the Robinsons is okay. Like I said, there is this general likability to this world they created. The storytelling was uneven but has an interesting concept, the characters as a whole are entertaining, it has colorful and pleasant animation (even if it sort of looks like Pixar made it, but knowing the producer, I can see why.), and even funny because of just how random it can be. There is this sense that Disney is trying to improve itself and this film does showcase that. It may not be perfect but compared to the last film they made, Meet the Robinsons is a small step in the right direction. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disneyear: Chicken Little (2005)

When I reviewed Home on the Range earlier, I mentioned that there where two Disney films I wasn't looking forward to watching. In case you haven't figured it out, this was the other one. Again, I remember the trailer of this film (which blatantly stole from the trailer of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) from when I was younger and even back then I remember thinking, "OK! I'm done! No more Disney! They have clearly given up! I mean, what? They honestly couldn't come up with their own trailer so they had to steal another film's?!? Are they that f'n cheap?!? This is the same company that brought us Snow White, Fantasia, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast and now you're reduced to plagiarism for a trailer for one of your films?!? You know what? No! Just no!" Not that it's a big surprise or anything, but I hear that it bombed at the box office when it came out and the critics basically pecked at it to death. So once again, I found myself watching it for this review. Let me just say this: I love Disney. I really do. That's why I'm doing these reviews. I sat through a lot of Disney films this year. I saw the best that the studio had to offer and some of the lesser, forgotten works over the course of time. And out of all 60 films that I'm reviewing for Disneyear, Chicken Little is without thinking twice, the worst. The worst one I've had to sit through! There's no word in the English language to describe how much I hate this film! Tell you what, I'll just tell you why.


First of all, the original story of Chicken Little only takes about three pages of a book to tell. Don't get me wrong, Disney's done a tremendous job before of transitioning such short stories into film, but Chicken Little gets it done within the first two minutes. Movie over, right? God, I wish... Anywho, after the whole "sky-is-falling" fiasco, Chicken Little (Zach Braff) has become the town joke, ostracized so much that even his father (Garry Marshall) suggests that he basically turn invisible so that the whole world can forget about the incident... what an asshole. The next twenty minutes are spent with Chicken Little and his friends Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), Runt-of-the-Litter (Steve Zahn) and Fish-out-of-Water (a water cooler) as they go through thier daily strife at school, from being bullied by Foxy Loxy (Amy Sedaris) to being pummeled at dodgeball. Little decides to change his image by joining the baseball team and actually scoring a home run by sheer dumb luck. As soon as he becomes a hero and rekindles his relationship with his dad, something falls out of the sky and hits Little in the head again. It seems it's a piece of the sky in the shape of an hexagon which turns out to be part of an alien spaceship that perfectly camouflages itself with the surrounding environment.After the four investigate the ship, they think that the aliens are going to destroy Earth. Little once again tries to prove this to the townspeople but the aliens escape before he can show the town. Once again. the town thinks he's delusional only to find out he was right the next day. But it's not an takeover per-se, it's a rescue mission because two of the aliens lost their son. After much panic, Little and his dad make up and give the kid back to it's parents only to find that they were just looking for an acorn harvest... again, I'm not making this up! The town calls Little a hero and the film ends by watching a Hollywood version of what we just saw an hour ago. Hippety-friggin-ray!


(*sigh*) Where do I begin? Let's start with the story because on paper, it has a promising premise. The problem is that it's not executed well at all. The original story is done in two minutes followed by an extra twenty minutes of padding it with a pointless baseball game, toilet humor, and pointless, painful pop-culture references that just pop out of thin air. It takes thirty minutes to get the main plot going. Thirty minutes! It just felt like the film was never going to end! On top of that, it's just obnoxious. A lot of it is just characters screaming, running around, and singing songs that aren't original, but top billboard songs that all the adults watching this wanted out of their heads years ago. And in karaoke style too. Oh, joy-bunnies!


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Pure ear-sodomy! X(

The characters are nothing new. We've seen this Chicken Little before. He's the socially awkward dork with family issues that becomes a hero in the end. Everyone else is just an archetype with no distinguishing features. Abby's a nerd, Runt's the fat loser, Foxy's a popular bitch, -and Fish is the weirdo. That's it! They're not engaging, they're not fun to watch, their dialogue is annoying, they're just... ugh! The relationship between Chicken Little and his father comes across as more annoying than heartwarming. The premise: A father realizes that it's probably not such a great idea to be embarrassed by his son; by the end of the movie, what his own child thinks of him actually takes precedent over the opinions of neighbors and perfect strangers! This message is just so blatantly obvious, hackneyed, and overplayed like mad that I want to just kick it in the groin and then run!

You can collect them all in each McDonald's Happy Meal!
The voice talent isn't bad, but it's just wasted. I only mentioned that Joan Cusak and Garry Marshal were in this but Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Katherine O'Hara, and Don Knotts had bit parts in the movie. Don Knotts! Why?!? Did you really need a paycheck that bad? You were talented man! You were funny! I really liked you! But... it's Chicken Little with friggin' aliens! You should have known better, Don! You should know better!

I bet poor Don regretted doing this after he died...
My biggest problem with the film is that it was made for all the wrong reasons. Remember when I said in my Home on the Range review that Disney executives shut down the hand-drawn animation studio and laid off the artists? Well, they thought that only computer-animated films were bringing in all the money and Academy Awards and that traditional animation was outdated and not welcome anymore (Bullshit!). Also, Disney's relations with Pixar were kind of rocky at this point since Pixar's films were the ones getting people's attentions. So Chicken Little was made to basically give Pixar the middle finger. Boy, did it backfire big time! The thing is Pixar made films that could entertain both kids and adults, like the classic Disney films. That's why they got so much attention and still do! This film doesn't. It's obviously geared just for just little kids and it pains me to say that for reasons I previously stated. It's almost as if the executives thought slapping on pop-culture references would automatically make the film funny. No, it just makes you look like a lazy-ass jerk! And again, the magic of Disney was that they could hit both kids and adults! There's absolutely nothing in this film that's entertaining for adults. There's none of the passion, drive, or creativity that makes us want to come back for more. Damn, Disney has really gone under this time...

Oh, I see! Just because Mickey's a Disney icon and it's an alien's watch,
it's automatically funny! Haha... GOD, F@%* THIS MOVIE WITH A $!@#$*& AND )(*E$#! UP ITS #@$!
Ugh, God this was painful... So yes, Chicken Little is in my opinion the worst Disney film ever made. It's an extremely half-assed, annoying as hell, phoned in film with an avalanche of pointless pop-culture jokes and a ridiculously slow, predictable plot and recycled characters. At least with Home on the Range, the animators knew they were getting canned and sort of lost hope when they finished it. For that, I can sort of forgive it. This film, on the other hand, has no excuse! Disney big-suits marketed this film like mad and had expected that this was the gateway to a "glorious, 3D infested future". At least one good thing came out of it: after it bombed harder than a kamikaze pilot, Disney and Pixar patched things up and Disney vowed to never make another film this bad ever again. If you want my advice, avoid this film like the plague and stick with the classic 1943 short! In fact, I'll gladly show it here just to cleanse myself of the 2005 version's god-awfulness! 


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