The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996) Review

The Hunchback of Notre Poster

If you were to ask me what the most theatrical Disney film that the studio ever produced would be, it would easily be a tie between “Beauty And The Beast” and “The Lion King“, with “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” following behind as a close second. Unlike most of the Disney renaissance films, which I had seen at least twice as a boy, I never knew “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” existed or that Disney had even adapted such a book until two years ago – that’s how good a job Disney has done distancing themselves from this movie. I learned about it when it kept cropping up on people’s personal lists of underrated / overlooked Disney films. I tracked it down on Netflix and I really enjoyed it. I also found myself wondering for the first time, how this Disney film didn’t get slapped with a PG rating. “Hunchback” has murder, attempted infanticide, child abuse, racism, lust and depravity, religious intolerance, genocide, Esmeralda’s pole dance. It certainly counts as one of Disney’s darker stories, along with “Pinocchio“. I think it can best be described as a modern tar and sugar film (the oldest Disney movies are sometimes referred to as tar and sugar films because of how often their tones veered between charming and disturbing) and this is actually a flaw with “Hunchback”. The movie seems to have a hard time deciding whether it wants to be silly and childish or serious and dramatic, resulting in mood whiplash. There’s no reason why it can’t be both. Disney films have walked that line plenty of times in the past and usually done so well, but the problem with “Hunchback” is that it often tries to be both in the same scene. Quasimodo’s crude gargoyle friends are often blamed for this and while they hardly ever feel like they belong in this movie, I think they’re really only a symptom of the problem with the movie as a whole. The Festival of Fools sequence snaps back and forth between nihilistically bleak and cartoonishly silly within minutes (while attending a ludicrously audacious festival, Quasimodo is savagely torn into by a two-faced crowd out of nowhere in front of his abusive father figure, which is then followed by Esmeralda having a Looney Tunes style chase sequence complete with slapstick). The film comes surprisingly close to jumping the shark during “A Guy Like You”, a Vegas buddy comedy number that’s the definition of filler, since it adds nothing we don’t already know, and in a bit of bad judgment comes right at the despair point of the movie (people are probably dying and Quasi’s thinking about how much he really wants to get with Esmeralda). Basically, anytime something serious or dramatic happens in this movie, “Hunchback” feels weirdly compelled to undercut it with a gag, but it doesn’t understand that sometimes less humor is more.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Quasimodo

“Let’s get dangerous!”

Quasimodo is refreshingly different from your usual Disney renaissance protagonist, especially after Pocahontas was such a boring retread. Don’t get me wrong, Quasimodo’s character arc is still a coming-of-age story and he still has an “I Want” song laying out his life goals, but unlike Ariel, Belle and Simba, Quasi’s big dreams aren’t really that big. He’s spent his entire life hidden away with only stone gargoyles to keep him company (who may or may not be imaginary), being abused, neglected and lied to by his parental figure. He longs to make new friends, have fun and see what the city below him has to offer. In an inverse of the usual Disney renaissance formula, what Quasi wants, more than anything, is to live like a regular person, and he’s an incredibly sympathetic character. He’s also not that rebellious. He’ll help when he’s asked or when he’s needed, but for the most part, quiet Quasimodo wants to keep his head down and stay out of trouble (which actually ties into one of the themes of this movie, that there are times when you can’t keep your head down and you have to take a stand. Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Phoebus all have moments when they realize this). Quasimodo’s loyalty to Judge Frollo is whittled away throughout the movie, but it’s not until Frollo threatens the lives of the first friends he’s ever had, the first good thing he’s ever had besides the gargoyles, that Quasi renounces him entirely (and even then, he doesn’t let his old ass drop to his death when he has the chance). Cutting all ties with controlling, abusive parents isn’t ever easy, because insane or not, they are still your parents. Quasimodo performs several daring acrobatic feats (which has become the norm for him, having to ring the church bells by himself), and there’s an early scene where he lashes out at Phoebus over Esmeralda, which is the first hint that under his silky exterior lies nerves of steel. Sure enough, Quasimodo goes into full-on survival mode in the last act of the movie; at one point trying to burn his would-be killers to death in a cascade of molten slag. It’s awesome. Quasi’s secondary arc in the movie is learning to reject the lies Frollo told him since childhood – that his worth is determined by his looks – learning to love himself and seeking acceptance from others.  Quasi becomes smitten with his first friend, the gypsy Esmeralda, because she was kind and understanding to him, but it quickly becomes clear his hopes of having a relationship with her won’t be happening. Not only does she have eyes for the soldier, Phoebus, but Quasi isn’t emotionally ready for a relationship yet. His incredibly low self-esteem leads him to put Esmeralda up on pedestal and think of her as a perfect woman, an image the real Esmeralda could never live up to and an imbalance between them that wouldn’t lead to a healthy relationship. After some heartbreak and a bout of bitterness about being the loser in the triangle, Quasi focuses on what makes Esmeralda happy and keeps her safe and does what’s right for her (Phoebus as well, eventually), behaving the way a true friend would and proving himself a much better man than Frollo (who behaves quite differently in a similar position). Quasi may remain single at the end of the film, but with Frollo finally dead and no longer in his way, he’s free to live, be a part of human society, make new relationships and maybe seek out new girls.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame God Help The Outcasts

Esmeralda is an unexpected pleasure in this movie; she’s a Romani dancer and the character on which a lot of the movie’s plot pivots. Esme’s grown up on the streets of Paris with her pet goat Djali, so she’s a very feisty, hot-blooded, and street-smart young woman, but she can also be very kind and open-eared. She’s witnessed a lot of the oppression and discrimination her people suffer underneath Frollo’s authority, which greatly affects her view of the world and her treatment of others. There’s a captivating scene mid-movie where Esmeralda speaks to the Virgin Mary and questions both hypocrisy and religious intolerance, wondering how everyone could be God’s children except for the ones society deems are heathens and are damned just for existing. After trying to mend a colossal fuck-up and doing right by Quasimodo, Esmeralda finds herself becoming both a fugitive and a freedom fighter of sorts, and even though her life has just been changed forever, she can’t find herself regretting her decision. She’s not a fan of having a homicidal maniac obsessing over her, but when it seems her and her friends’ luck in outwitting him has run out, she resolutely spits in Frollo’s face and chooses to face death with as much dignity as she can muster, and I’ll be damned if I don’t respect that. Throughout the movie, Esmeralda has a growing attraction to Captain Phoebus, the only member of Frollo’s guard who seems to be a decent person, and he’s certainly enamored with her, though Phoebus’ occupation obviously presents a conflict of interest between them. After Phoebus officially ‘resigns’ and jumps in the same boat with her and Quasi, Esme seizes the opportunity and makes her move, and I really can’t say I blame her. The blond-haired Phoebus and his role in this story is interesting to think about because his character is more of an archetypal hero than Quasimodo and Esmeralda – the handsome, knight-in-shining armor who fights in wars and charms the womenfolk. It’s easy to see how he would be the hero of a different story (since he shares many of the same qualities as the archetypal Disney prince), but “Hunchback” gives him an interesting edge and more room to grow by making him the tritagonist of this movie and having him play on the wrong side for most of it, having to work his way around being the token good soldier and questioning his values. Phoebus is initially called in to replace Frollo’s last captain of the guard, and is assigned to keep order in Paris. He quickly discovers this means enforcing a theocracy and rounding up innocent people to be imprisoned / murdered. Since Phoebus is neither racist nor insane, this obvious perturbs him, but as a soldier he’s been trained for years to follow orders. Phoebus’ crush on the gypsy girl, Esmeralda, complicates thing further. It’s a testament to what sort of person Phoebus is and how deranged Frollo is that this abusive situation only lasts for two days before Phoebus jumps ship and throws his lot in with the gypsies. He also finds himself becoming one-third of a love triangle with Esmeralda and Quasimodo. The hilariously awkward tension that persists between Quasimodo and Phoebus in the last act (which Phoebus does try to assuage) will make you wish Esmeralda’s boys had shared more scenes sooner. They really come off as two guys who would never hang out if they didn’t have a mutual acquaintance, and it’s kind of cute seeing them move past this stage.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Hellfire

The film’s antagonist, Judge Claude Frollo, is seriously creepy. Not just because of what we see in the film, but because of all the implications surrounding him. For one thing, Frollo hunts down gypsies so he can kill them, and he’s been doing this for at least twenty years. He’s been actively attempting genocide off-screen for decades, and his body count has to be massive. For another thing, Quasimodo is absolutely terrified of crossing him or even pissing him off and the film implies he has every reason to be. We know Frollo emotionally abuses Quasi – we see him callously manipulate the boy into wasting away years of his life just to protect his own image – but considering their body language and the way Frollo explodes at him later it’s not hard to imagine Quasi was badly beaten several times growing up. Like Scar from “The Lion King”, Frollo is the type of evil that can actually exist in the real world: the delusional, hateful religious zealot who holds others to higher standards than they hold themselves. In the past, people like Frollo would have been authoritarians, leading witch hunts. In the present day, they’re the sort of people who claim to be wise, loving theists while also harassing people and parading around with signs saying AIDs is God’s gift to gay men. They give whatever religion they belong to a bad name. Frollo in particular despises gypsies because he believes them all to be witches and heathens, but his quest to rid his city of them is complicated when he develops an obsessive lust for the gypsy, Esmeralda. The film’s signature song, “Hellfire”, explores Frollo’s inner conflict when he himself falls from grace, and it’s truly a unique villain song. Before now, we’ve seen Disney villains manipulate others, boast about their abilities and lay down their life goals, but “Hellfire” is the first song to really give us a glimpse at how a Disney villain thinks; and as you would expect from someone who’s already been characterized as a tyrannical, child-abusing mass-murderer, Frollo’s mind-space is nine different flavors of crazy. He knows by his own twisted standards he himself is now a lowly sinner, but instead of taking responsibility for that he doubles down; he lashes out at Esmeralda, at the devil, at God himself – he twists things in his favor as he always does. What makes it even more fascinating to watch is that Frollo is not entirely delusional. He knows, somewhere, that he’s lying to himself, that this path probably won’t end well, but he’s lost the will to care. Up until now, Frollo’s been written as a monster who’s just barely been kept in check by his ‘principles’ and his fear of God, but now not even that is enough. Frollo is going to get what he wants out of this situation, whatever the consequences may be. By the end of the film, he’s grown so self-centered that he starts to think of himself as being above God himself. Frollo also shows himself to be quite crafty. He’s prone to doing unexpectedly sneaky things like breaking away from his posse to threaten Esmeralda or using Quasimodo to find her that helps to keep the film feeling unpredictable. I ultimately love Frollo’s death scene. Throughout the film, it’s left frustratingly vague whether Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends are actual real creatures (reviving the idea proposed in “The Bells of Notre Dame” that the cathedral might be sentient) or if they’re simply figments of his imagination the boy crafted so he wouldn’t go insane from isolation. That ambiguity returns for one last parallel between himself and Frollo. Just as Frollo is about to kill Quasimodo and Esmeralda a gargoyle he previously damaged gives way, and before the man can drop several stories to his death the gargoyle roars at him. Considering Frollo has already been well-established as delusional, it’s up to the audience’s interpretation whether this is one last hallucination of his, or if God finally grew tired of Frollo and took his advice at the time (“And he shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!”) to stop him from killing more people in his place of worship. I tend to think it’s the latter.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Hug

Shipping fuel.

The animation in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is incredibly well-done and exceeds many of the expectations you might have already had about the movie considering the period it was produced in. Most of the action in the film is set inside or around a cathedral, and the furthest we ever stray from Notre Dame is some dark catacombs, but the film never feels like less of a grand adventure because the scale that’s lent to Notre Dame and all its faucets as a location is simply awe-inspiring. Disney has also got their pan-in shots down pat at this point, with the opening tour of Paris feeling like less of a trip through a pop-up book than some equivalent shots in prior Disney movies did. With that much having been said, the animation is rougher than usual here for a renaissance film, and there is some noticeable CG, though nothing as distracting as the CG work in “Aladdin” and “Tarzan”. While “Hunchback” as a film never broke out, the individual songs managed to become classics. The rousing build-up in “The Bells of Notre Dame”, which frames the film’s premise as a fable, is positively riveting, especially when Clopin starts hitting all the high notes in the song’s climax. “Out There” is a serious contender for the best “I Want” song from the Disney renaissance, and this is coming from someone who adores “Part Of Your World”. Tim Hulce sings it with the sort of passion you only get from spending twenty years being mistreated by a madman and longing to be free. While the visuals in “Topsy-Turvy” are very surreal and immature, the song itself is pretty strong with lots of gusto. “God Help The Outcasts” is simply beautiful, and noticeably softer-spoken than any of the other songs in the movie. I think my favorite section is the bridge, when Esmeralda’s selfless pleas are juxtaposed with a congregation of devout Catholics praying to God for glory, wealth and fame (between this and the public humiliation scene, the Parisians in this movie are not painted in a good light, are they?). “Heaven’s Light / Hellfire” is the film’s iconic centerpiece, where the two ends of the Madonna-Whote complex are contrasted against each other. Quasimodo’s tender hymn versus Claude Frollo’s thundering choir. The beginnings of what could easily become an obsession pit against an obsession that already’s well underway and burns hotly and wholeheartedly. Despite being one of the low points of the movie, “A Guy Like You” actually isn’t a terrible song and Jason Alexander has more vocal talent than I expected from him, but it really doesn’t belong in this movie. “The Court Of Miracles” is the only song that I would say is forgettable, since it’s very short, though it does add to Clopin’s character by making him more morally murky. Alan Menken has slowly become my favorite of Disney’s many composers. Ever since “The Little Mermaid“, I’ve appreciated how lush his scores are and how easily he’s able to weave a movie’s songs into the score. “Hunchback” has this in spades. When Tony Jay belts out “Hellfire’s” last chorus and his vocals blend together with the film’s bombastic main theme, it’s pure aural bliss. The score also mines “Hunchback’s” catholic background, utilizing seldom-used instruments like an organ, and layering several of the cues with a frenetic choir chanting in Latin.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is quite the adventure and one I’m glad I’m discovered. It’s a shame there’s more cringe in this movie than there ought to be, since it would have been an even stronger film and gained more recognition if it had smoothed out it’s tone, but as it is it’s definitely one of the highlights from the latter half of the Disney renaissance, alongside “Mulan”.

Rating: 8/10.


The Hunchback Of Notre Dame God Help The Outcasts 2

* Disney Wiki tells me this gypsy is Quasimodo’s father. Upon rewatch, I definitely pick up on the implication, but if flew over my head the first time around because ‘Shut it up, will you?!’ isn’t something fathers often say about their newborn kids.

* I always love this shot.

* “Who is the monster and who is the man?!” Well Clopin, so far Frollo has killed some lady, tried to drown her kid and gave said kid a cruel name, while Quasimodo has done nothing except almost die. I think the kids might already have some good guesses.

* You know how I said the gargoyles often feel like they don’t belong in this movie? It’s mostly because of Jason Alexander. Every time he speaks, I wonder why there’s a George Constanza gargoyle in this film.

* “Just one day and then, I swear I’ll be content with my share! Won’t resent, won’t despair! Old and bent, I won’t care! I’ll have spent one day out there!”

* “Stay away, child! They’re gypsies, they’ll steal us blind!

* “Look at that disgusting display!” “Yes sir!”

* You know, in one draft of “The Lion King” Scar was meant to lust for Nala. I’m glad this was dropped, because between Gaston creeping on Belle, Jafar creeping on Jasmine, and Frollo creeping on Esmeralda, there’s already enough villainous lust in the Disney renaissance.

* “You sneaky son of a-” “Ah, ah, ah! We’re in a church kid’s movie!”

* “I’m Phoebus. It means ‘sun god'” Why would she care about that, man?

* “I thought if just one person would stand up to him!” Sorry Esme, in stories like these no one ever cares about the mistreated outcasts until they’re in trouble and said outcasts’ unique abilities become useful to saving their assess. See also “Balto” and “Rudolph and the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.

* “I ask for wealth, I ask for fame, I ask for glory to shine on my name! I ask for love I can possess! I ask for God and his angels to bless me!”

* Don’t do that Djali, you’ll die even quicker!

* “Hellfire, dark fire, now gypsy it’s your turn! Choose me or your pyre! Be mine or you will burn! God have mercy on her. God have mercy on me! But she will be mine or she will BURRRNNNN!!!”

* I always laugh when Frollo hisses “Get out, you idiot!” at that guard, but not as much I do when he dramatically flops down to his knees on the floor. That was quite the performance he threw for himself.

* The gargoyles do have one genuinely funny moment: when they try to keep cool around Quasimodo, the British gargoyle (Victor) fails epically.

* “That arrow almost pierced your heart” “I’m not so sure it didn’t” Despite that earlier sun god flub, Phoebus can be smooth, man.

* When you’re crushing on a girl and you’re ready to make your move, but she’s already making her move with someone else.

* Quasimodo kicks Phoebus twice to hide him from Frollo, and since he’s already jealous about Esmeralda, I doubt he had any regrets.

* “What am I supposed to do? Go out there and rescue the girl from the jaws of death, and the whole town will cheer like I’m some sort of hero?” Pretty much.

* “Great, great, good! Um, what is it?”

* “Sorry” “No you’re not”.

* “Frollo, I will not tolerate this assault on the house of God!” “Silence you old fool!”

* I have to say, I’m impressed. Considering Phoebus was shot the day before, and Esmeralda was literally burnt at the stake twenty minutes ago, they both manage to keep Quasi alive in the climax. Good job, you two!

* Those church steps look awfully clean at the end. Shouldn’t Frollo’s corpse and a whole lot of molten slag still be out there?

* “Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells! Whatever their pitch you can hear them bewitch you, the rich and the ritual knells, of the bells of Notre Dame!!!”

Further Reading:

* Nostalgia CriticThe Animation Commendation; The Animation Commendation (2); AnimatedkidKatejohns619; Katejohns619 (2); Silver Petticoat; Taestful Reviews; Taestful Reviews (2); A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams (2); TorAuthor Quest; Roger Ebert; Jaysen Headley Writes; Disney In Your Day; A113 Animation; All The Disney Movies; A Year With Walt; Healed1337; Coco Hits NY; From The Perspective Of An Old Soul; Magical Movie Review; Manju ReijimerThe Disney Project; Richard’s Weekly Journal; Simbasible; Rhyme And Reason; Life In ReviewMovie Micah; Film Junkie Confessions; Man With A Blog; B Plus Movie Blog; The Gunn RangeMovie-Movie Blog-Blog; Domestic SanityVariety;


The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Out There 3

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The Lion King (1994) Review

The Lion King Poster 2

“The Lion King” is an incredible movie. I first saw “The Lion King” in the hazy days of 2003, and it left a lasting impression on me. I waited years to acquire my own copy of the film and revisit it, and it was well-worth the wait. So, why is “The Lion King” so awesome? Besides the near flawless 2-D and 3-D animation, and the spectacular soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, “The Lion King” feels well and truly unique, inventive and ambitious in the canon, being a cross between “Hamlet” and “Bambi” with lions in the Savannah. The Disney Renaissance formula is present in this movie, but it only ever adds to it and never makes the movie feel generic or predictable like it did with “Aladdin“. When you think about it, “The Lion King’s” story is actually pretty simple and basic (a prince is born to a good king, the jealous brother of the good king murders him to seize power and banishes the prince, the prince lives in shame for years until his friends find him in exile and convince him to come home, the prince fights his uncle for his birthright) and having a basic plot isn’t always a good thing because it often equals a thin plot, but in “The Lion King’s” case it works incredibly well in the movie’s favor, because it gives the filmmakers all the time and space they need to give the movie everything in every department. More than that though, a large part of the reason why “The Lion King” packs so much power is because there are actual, lasting consequences to everything that happens. “The Lion King” is one of a very small number of films in the Disney canon where good, supporting characters are actually allowed to die (others include “Bambi”, “Brother Bear“, and “Big Hero 6”), and unlike the death of Bambi’s mother (which was quietly swept under the rug and ignored by the narrative for sixty odd years), Mufasa’s death has weight. It represents the point in the movie where literally everything goes wrong. The villain, Scar, actually succeeds in getting what he wanted for longer than five minutes, and even after he’s defeated in the end, it still doesn’t undo the years of suffering he dealt upon everyone in the Pridelands, Simba included. The sense of spirituality running through “The Lion King”, while a bit on the nose at times, is honestly so rich and works so well with the setting of the movie. After the injustice of Mufasa’s murder and the cruelty of Scar’s leadership, a terrible draught falls upon the Pridelands during his reign. When Simba and Scar fight for the title of king, they fight with the cleansing fires of hell itself surrounding them, and when the rightful balance is finally restored with the divine prince back in power, the weather relents and the rains return to the Pridelands. It’s obvious symbolism, but still good symbolism.

The Lion King Simba and Nala

Matthew Broderick’s Simba is a young lion prince, who really looks up to his dad, Mufasa, and his uncle, Scar, and eagerly awaits his time as king of Pridelands. Simba is quite frankly a little brat. He lies to his parents, mistreats his guardian, Zazu, puts himself and Nala in grave danger and really only wants to be king for shallow, narcissistic reasons. It’s clear Mufasa has been too soft on him. It’s hard to hold this against Simba though, because (1) he’s really only a small boy who doesn’t know any better for the most part, (2) Simba growing out of this childish notion of what being a king and an adult means is an important part of his character arc and meant to contrast with his evil, manchild uncle, who never does the same, and (3) anyone who’s ever seen “The Lion King” knows real life is going to hit Simba hard soon and he’s gotta enjoy that blissful innocence while he has it. Perhaps I spoke too soon when I said the Beast and his servants have the most messed-up backstory in the Disney canon, because Simba’s backstory is extremely dark. Scar arranges for Mufasa to be brutally killed and afterwards he blames it all on Simba, because he hates him. The guilt that would come from thinking you got your own beloved father trampled to death would warp and crush an adult man, think of what it would do to someone who looks to be the lion equivalent of eight. And Simba spends most of his life living with this shame. After meeting some drifters, Timon and Pumbaa, Simba takes their well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful advice of burying his trauma and turning his back on his past. But by doing so, he also turns his back on his people for years, when they need him the most. With a coup against the tyrant Scar starting up, Simba is faced with the choice of remaining a troubled hippie without purpose forever, or going home and doing what’s right for his friends and family, even if it ends badly for him – facing his own demons as well as the ones Scar crafted for him. After some stern talkings-to, Simba does the latter of course, and by doing so and fighting his uncle, he proves himself worthy of being a king and finally gets some justice when he learns his uncle set him up. It’s not uncommon for Disney coming-of-age stories to end with the protaganist having kids and continuing that circle of life (“Bambi” laid down the template), but I think Simba’s case is the most satisfying. After everything he had to endure and everything he overcame, it’s great to see Simba eventually emerge with a loving mate, great friends, and two wonderful cubs (dat adorable Kiara cameo at the end).

The Lion King Be Prepared

Scar is a villain that you seriously love to hate. Scar, at first glance, seems similar to Jafar from “Aladdin”. Jeremy Irons’ dry, sarcastic performance as the immature, compulsively lying brother calls to mind memories of the scheming vizier from the last film, but “Be Prepared” makes it clear Scar is an even more vicious, loathsome and dangerous character than Jafar was. A subtle but fundamental difference between the two is that Jafar stole power and status because he wanted it, while Scar feels he’s owed it, that it’s his birthright, and the latter is a much more personal feeling. Scar has spent years stewing in quiet, passive-aggressive jealousy and resentment towards his brother and his family, and now that he has nothing left to lose he’s decided he’s just going to rid of them. Like Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Scar is one of the more disturbing Disney villains because he lacks a magical fantasy element, and he’s the sort of evil that can actually exist in the real world. Sometimes mentally unstable people bottle up their feelings for years or even decades until they just snap, and that’s one way that you get murderers. Scar in particular has a festering vindictive and sadistic streak that’s first hinted at when we’re introduced to him ‘playing with his food’. He doesn’t just want Mufasa and Simba to die, he hates them so much he wants them to suffer before they do. He stabs Mufasa through the paws and lets him know he’s betraying him before he throws him to his death; he pins the murder on Simba and sends him away before sending the hyenas after him, because he wants him to die thinking he killed his father; he later attempts the same thing by telling Simba he killed Mufasa before he tries to do him in. Basically, Simba and Mufasa were extremely unlucky to have a psychopath in their family that they trusted. Like cub Simba though, Scar has a narrow, immature idea of what to do with power once he gets it, since he only ever wanted to be a king he never learned what it actually entails, and his pride and spitefulness forbids him from correcting his course once it all goes wrong. He drags the Pridelands to ruin (which should give you an idea of how Ursula and Jafar’s respective reigns would have gone if they hadn’t been immediately dealt with). Lastly, I like how much of a complete and utter bastard this lion is, with no redeeming qualities besides his trademark wit. He does everything he possibly can to make you hate him, and when his vindictive streak and two-faced nature finally catch up to him and he gets ripped apart by his hyena henchmen, it’s one of the most satisfying Disney villain deaths ever (this fate was originally supposed to be Gaston’s from “Beauty and the Beast“, but Disney decided being eaten alive by wolves was too gruesome, even for Gaston. It was gruesome enough for Scar though).

The Lion King Sunrise 2

King Mufasa, head lion in charge of the Pridelands, is one of the most iconic and loving paternal figures in the Disney canon. The brawny lion is a lasting figure of strength, wisdom and humility in young Simba’s life, a role model to the young prince, and occasionally a playmate. We don’t dive too deeply into Mufasa’s personality, since he’s basically in this movie to be a good dad and then die, but do we know he would give his life for his son and he isn’t a perfect king, naturally. Simba becomes a bit spoiled under his watch, and while his hostile relationship with his brother is two-way street (what went down between these two in the past will always be a mystery) Mufasa still trusts the lion who hates his guts, apparently hoping their familial bond with make Scar reliable (he was wrong). When a ghostly Mufasa makes contact with Simba again after years of silence, I can’t be the only one who thinks of Jor-El from Richard Donner’s “Superman”, right? Mufasa’s sideman, in life, is his majordomo, Zazu. Zazu is one of Disney’s several stuffy Brits, and something of a blowhard who’ll talk big when he’s around Mufasa and turn wimpy elsewhere, but he’s still a likable character. Zazu cares greatly about the royal family, he’s a hard worker, and he has to put up with so much lion dickiness in this movie from almost everyone. Simba’s childhood friend and future mate, Nala, is another awesome female character under the Disney renaissance’s belt. As a cub, Nala is a sassy girl and a fellow troublemaker, and as a woman, Nala is courageous, competent, and assertive. With the Pridelands going under, Nala decides to strike out on her own to get help and is one of two characters responsible for talking some sense into Simba. If there is one thing that stumps me, it’s where Simba and Nala’s sudden, mutual attraction comes from in “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, considering they only recently discovered each other was alive. But they do have good chemistry, as friends and mates, with their history contributing to it. Scar’s accomplices in usurping Mufasa is a trio of hyenas, Shenzi, Banzi, and Ed, and their greedy, poaching clan who overhunt in the Pridelands and wreck the local ecosystem. The hyenas are evil like their leader, or at the very least merciless, but they’re also very childish, making them the comedy relief of this movie, alongside Timon and Pumbaa. Hyena lovers were apparently frustrated for years that Disney taught a whole generation of kids that hyenas were evil. Personally, I’d be more bothered by the hyenas’ IQ level. Being portrayed as evil is one thing, but stupid and evil is a whole other thing entirely.

The Lion King Hakuna Matata

Timon and Pumbaa are Simba’s childhood friends, fellow slacker outcasts, and strangely enough adoptive parental figures. Timon and Pumbaa were the breakout characters of this franchise in the 90’s, and they’re also a lot of people’s least favorite characters in this franchise. It’s understandable. Timon and Pumbaa make Simba happy, but you can also feel a lot of the classiness “The Lion King” had been sporting drain out of the movie once they show up (since one of them is a farting warthog in a movie based on a work of Shakespeare). Revisiting this film for the first time in years, I thought for sure I’d hate them, but I wound up really liking them instead. Timon the meerkat is a snarky, condescending, Jersey wise guy sort of character (ever since “Pinocchio“, Disney has tended to have at least one American-type character in their movies set outside the US) , while his buddy Pumbaa is the relatively grounded, obtuse, sentimental and sensitive one of the duo. They’re both huge hams. They won me over by the time Timon did his cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and they kept getting better from there: like how they both start bawling after “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, or how Timon takes one good look at the dried out Pridelands and remarks “Ugh, we’re gonna fight your uncle, for this?”, or even how Pumbaa lays the smackdown on some hyenas. “The Lion King” also teases the people who hate Timon and Pumbaa with the idea of them being eaten by hyenas when Simba makes them be live bait. The most valuable player of Simba’s team is quietly Rafiki, the mandrill Shaman of the pridelands. I love Rafiki so much. Like the Genie from “Aladdin”, he’s nuts in all the right ways. Rafiki is a fairly quiet character, in fact it’s almost an hour into the movie that he actually has a conversation with someone, but the shaman seems to be a lifelong friend of King Mufasa and very invested in the state of the Pridelands. Rafiki is crushed when he learns Mufasa and Simba are dead, and his unbridled joy when he learns the boy he blessed as a cub is still alive is simply wonderful. Like Nala, he sets out to change things. Rafiki helps talk Simba into going back to the Pridelands, and when the revolution starts, he throws down with everyone else against the hyenas. It turns out he’s lived to a ripe old age for a reason.

The Lion King King Of Pride Rock

As I mentioned before, the hand-drawn animation in “The Lion King” is near-flawless. Disney obviously did their research studying animals and scoping out the African Savannah, because the opening sequence alone feels like an animated nature documentary.  The uncanny realism with the way the characters move is somehow another large step up from the studio’s already top-notch work on “The Little Mermaid“, “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aladdin”, with the character of Zazu providing the film with a number of high-flying tracking shots in the first half. The highlight of the film is of course the stampede sequence, when hundreds of computer-generated wildebeast barrel down a canyon towards Simba and trample Mufasa to death. It took more than two years to animate, and not only does it still look great to this day, but it’s also one of the most terrifying and thrilling chase scenes in the entire Disney canon. The only animation errors I can find is when Simba and Mufasa’s eyes randomly flash from yellow to white, which leads to me wonder why Simba’s eyes are sometimes depicted as white during the nighttime scenes (is it an artistic choice? Does it reflect lion biology?). Like Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s collaborations for “The Little Mermaid’ and “Beauty and the Beast”, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is incredibly strong, and also where the African culture of the film really shines. The Zulu chanting and percussion used throughout the songs is absolutely beautiful and unique to the canon before now. “The Circle Of Life” (an affectionate homage to the opening of one Disney’s first coming-of-age stories, “Bambi”) is a tender and bittersweet moment shared by the Prideland animals as they celebrate the miracle of life, before their lives all get destroyed a few months later. “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” might actually be my favorite song, because it’s such a fun acid trip sequence, and Simba and Zazu slay the duet. “Be Prepared” features a surprisingly icy but altogether impressive performance from Jeremy Irons and Jim Cummings as Scar. “Hankuna Matata” is the weakest of the bunch, because of the lyrics, but it also features a very memorable chorus and some jazzy jungle beats that wouldn’t feel out of place in “The Jungle Book”. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is a good love song, but the tranquil Elton John cover is better. Hans Zimmer pens a childlike and eventually noble prince theme for Simba, along with a secondary, solemn and forlorn theme for his relationship with Mufasa.

“The Lion King” was Disney’s most successful franchise for decades, until “Frozen” came along twenty years later to challenge it and offer some friendly competition (that circle of life is already moving). “The Lion King” is considered by many to be Disney’s top dog and has another friendly rivalry with the Oscar-nominated “Beauty and the Beast”, as to which of them was the best film of the renaissance. I can safely say that “The Lion King” has lived up to it’s high reputation, and might be the closest the studio has ever come to perfection. It gets top marks from me.

Rating: 10/10.


The Lion King The Pridelands

* People like to joke about how Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” has Stockholm Syndrome, but no one ever talks about how all the herbivores on the Pridelands have come to worship their greatest predators as their leaders, and how that probably happened over the years.

* Young Simba was voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas from “Home Improvement”, but when we first meet young Simba he sounds just like Dana Hill’s Max from “Goof Troop”.

* As he was being used for target practice by the prince, with the amused king looking on, Zazu decided he didn’t get paid anywhere near enough for this job.

* “So, where are we going? It better not be someplace dumb!”

* “Everybody look left, everybody look right, everywhere you look I’m standing in the spotlight!” “Not yet!” “Let every creature go for broke and sing, let’s hear it in the herd and on the wing, it’s gonna be King Simba’s finest fling!”

* “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?!” “You mean like you?” “Oops”.

* Lion pimp slap, complete with claws.

* It would seem Scar was lingering around the elephant graveyard. He was most likely there to see if the hyenas would finish the job, but considering he’s a sadistic fuck, he also most likely really wanted to see Simba and Nala die.

* “We’re always gonna be together, right?” The real reason why Simba feels responsible for his dad’s death is because he totally jinxed that the day before.

* “I’m surrounded by idiots” What anyone who’s not insane thinks after spending a significant amount of time on Tumblr.

* “What do you want us to do, kill Mufasa?” “PreciselyEEEEVVVVVIIIIILLLLLLL!!!

* “So be prepared, for the death of the king!” “What, is he sick?” “No fool, we’re gonna kill him. And Simba too”.

* When you think about it, “The Lion King” universe is actually kind of disturbing. Every animal is just as sentient and sapient as the other, they can all communicate easily but the real world food chain remains. They all seem to coexist well, right up until one of them gets hungry and someone else gets eaten. That implication is there in the movie but it didn’t set in fully until “The Lion Guard” series years later, when characters in that show try to casually murder / eat each other every episode. With that in mind, lions in “The Lion King” universe are lucky sons of bitches. They’re on top of the food chain, so they don’t have to worry about too many other species gunning for them besides each other.

* “Long live the king” Lion murder.

* “There ain’t no way I’m going in there! You want me to end up like him, cactus butt?!”

* Pumbaa’s right. Simba is pretty cute, even when he’s sad.

* Fun fact, no matter how young or old he is, Simba’s singing voice is always much smoother than his speaking voice. As a cub, as an adult, even as an older king in “The Lion Guard”, Simba has some sweet pipes.

* “Try something with a little more bounce?” “It’s a small world after all-” “NO! Anything but that!”

* “You mean a bunch of royal dead guys are watching us?”

* “I’m still the same guy you know” “But with power!”

* “Well, this stinks!” “Sorry” “Not you, that!”

* “He’s holding back, he’s hiding, but what, I can’t decide. Why won’t he be the king I know he is, the king I see inside?!”

* Simba’s been going a bit heavy on the eye shadow.

* One of the many fun things about Disney movies is that you can have a meerket and a warthog dress in drag and do the hula when they shouldn’t even know what either of those things are.

* I laugh so hard when Scar hisses “He admits it, murderer!” (you lying, backstabbing hypocrite). But not as much as I laugh when the fool sabotages himself minutes later (“And now here’s my little secret, I killed Mufasa“)

* “Run. Run away Scar, and never come back” Simba clearly wanted some payback, but it didn’t pan out. And because lions don’t have fingers or thumbs, the final fight between Simba and Scar is pretty much the world’s most epic slapfight.

* “Til we find out place, in the path unwinding! It’s the circle, the circle of life!!! Circle of… life!!!”

Further Reading:

* Nostalgia Critc; Animatedkid; The Animation Commendation; The Animation Commendation (2)Katejohns619; Silver PetticoatThe Disney Odyssey; Taestful Reviews; Taestful Reviews (2)A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; Tor; Author Quest; Roger ErbertJaysen Headley Writes; Disney In Your Day; A113 Animation; All The Disney Movies; A Year With Walt; Cut The Crap Movie ReviewsHealed1337; The M0vie Blog2014: A Film Odyssey; The Best Picture Project; Coco Hits New York; Dan Hairfield; Manju Reijmer; A Separate State Of MindHighlander News; Grantland; Through The Silver Screen; B Plus Movie Blog; Karen Jilyord; Journeys In Classic FilmThoughts Of A Steel MonsterLivLilly; World Wild Blog Of Movies; Silver Screen ManiaLion King 2013The Guardian.


The Lion King I Just Can't Wait To Be King

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 12 Comments

Aladdin (1992) Review

Aladdin Poster 2

Growing up, the “Aladdin” franchise was one of the ones I was most familiar with when it came to the big four of the Disney Renaissance (though there still wasn’t much experience there), and I’ve always been fond of it. “Aladdin” is of course the story of how a young Arabian street rat comes into possession of a magical lamp and a Genie that will grant him three fantastical wishes. Now, if there’s two things Disney has always loved, it’s magic and royalty, so “Aladdin” was the perfect chance for the company to go nuts with one of their musicals. Remember when I said not too long ago that “Oliver and Company” was very much of an 80’s movie? “Aladdin” is a 90’s movie through and through, from the first act continually emphasising how cool and rebellious it’s lead is, to the usual Disney renaissance tropes being present, to the celebrity casting, to Genie delightfully asking rug man to give him some casa as soon as he appears. The middle eastern city of Agrabah is a large departure from Disney’s usual settings, and intrigues as a location that’s teeming with life. Something I like about the “Aladdin” universe is just how casually dangerous it feels. The world Aladdin and Jasmine live in is humorous but it’s also very cruel, strict and classicist, and stepping one toe out of line can have serious consequences, best demonstrated when some pompous prince tries to whip children or when Jasmine almost gets her hand chopped off for stealing an apple. I’m really not sure when “Aladdin” is supposed to take place, but assuming it’s set about a thousand or so years ago, that sounds about right. The film comments a lot on the social divide in Agrabah and how restricting and regressive it is, with each of the major characters feeling hopelessly trapped in the roles they were born into, without ever feeling preachy and heavy-handed. With that much having been said, I think “Aladdin” is easily the weakest film of the big four. “Aladdin’s” plot can feel generic at times because like I said, all the Disney Renaissance tropes and tricks are present in this movie that would be gradually overused later (like the underdog hero, the rebellious princess, the comedy sidekicks and the power-hungry villain), and they feel less endearing here than they do in “The Little Mermaid‘, “Beauty and the Beast“, and “The Lion King“. There’s also the liar-revealed boyfriend subplot with Aladdin and Jasmine that’s played entirely straight in the last act. But being the weakest of four great movies means you’re still really good.

A Whole New World

Young Aladdin is a cunning, mischievous, frustrated street rat who longs to live a comfortable life, be something worthwhile and be recognized as something other than a lowly peasant. After spending a romantic day with Princess Jasmine who he’s forbidden to be with, Aladdin decides to use his three Genie wishes to climb the social ladder and win a shot with the princess. Like a few previous Disney leads, Aladdin is a thief but the film is always mindful to stress his kind heart, intellect and lack of luck being born into poverty so as not to make him unsympathetic. Aladdin’s character arc of lying to Jasmine as ‘Prince Ali’ is pretty predictable, but something that keeps it from feeling overly so is how deep it cuts and how painful it can be to watch at it’s peak. There’s a stretch of the film where Aladdin actually attains all his goals and things are set to wrap up nicely, but he’s still not happy. Quite the opposite, actually. Being on the receiving end of years of classicism has pretty much destroyed Aladdin’s sense of self-worth and instilled him with shame and self-loathing that the Genie can’t help him with. If anything, the Genie’s magical assistance only makes thing worse, because it reinforces the idea in his head that he’s nothing special on his own. He’s become addicted to having the Genie as a crutch, and in his quest to become something he’s not he’s changed inside and out, compromising his principles and becoming selfish and vain. Al finally realizes he needs to give up the charade and start mending his relationships, but of course he comes to this realization too late. Aladdin learns his lesson by having to rely on nobody but himself to beat Jafar, and earns his happy ending after making some sacrifices. Throughout the film, Aladdin’s faithful companion is the greedy, resourceful, hyperactive little monkey Abu, a fellow street rat. Abu can be quite helpful and he can also be somewhat troublesome, because this monkey just does not listen. He’s Aladdin’s bro though. He also spends a good chunk of a movie as an elephant (and not by choice). Aladdin often travels on his signature magic carpet, who’s something of a throwback to the older days of Disney animation. Carpet is a silent character, and whatever emotions he feels are conveyed entirely through his actions and his little tassels. It’s not only effective, it’s also really cute.

Genie 2

Jasmine is the third in a line of Disney Renaissance Princesses who want to be free to live their own life and not be constrained by what small-minded men want for them. Jasmine is the most aggressive and authoritative one so far though, which helps to set her apart from Ariel and Belle. Princess Jasmine has never been allowed outside the place walls and thus is quite sheltered (getting into trouble as soon as she enters the city’s marketplace), but she’s also very athletic and quick-witted. Jasmine has grown tired of having to entertain arrogant princes who not only feel entitled to her but are also only interested in her for her money and her daddy’s money. Like a lot of 90’s Disney characters, Jasmine wants her some real love. It’s a pleasure seeing her day-to-day, palace life with her domesticated tiger, Rajah, her staunchly traditional but not unreasonable father, the Sultan, and the power struggle that forms between her and Jafar. Jasmine’s character arc takes a surprisingly dark turn early on, when Jafar convinces her she accidentally got the boy she liked killed and she spends a good chunk of the film riddled with remorse about that (thankfully, that boy was Aladdin, who is very much not dead). The Genie of the lamp is, hands down, the best character in this movie. Take a flamboyant, off-the-wall, extroverted showman, shove him inside a lamp for a couple of thousand years until he starts going stir crazy and you get Robin Williams’ Genie. He’s nuts in all the right ways. Unlike a lot of manipulative genies, this one has a gentle nature and surprisingly affecting desire grounding him as character. He’s not just a wish-fulfiller, he’s also a slave – forced to grant wishes for eternity, having no real autonomy, and having to wait large amounts of time between masters (he doesn’t even get paid). He longs for freedom to see the world. Since Genie is one of the most sympathetic characters in this movie, the ending, when Aladdin finally grants his wish never ceases to make me shed happy tears. From his little stunned “what?”, because he honestly never believed a human could be that selfless, to the way he goes wild after the shackles fall off, it’s all just perfect (the fact that Robin Williams has passed on in the twenty years since this film only adds to the poignancy of all the friends splitting up at the end).

Jafar and Iago

Jafar is the darker counterpart to our heroes, who all either want to climb the social ladder benevolently or break out of the roles they feel confined to. Jafar wants power and status, and he’ll do anything he needs to or wants to to get it. The sultan’s vizier is a droll, ruthless, manipulative antagonist who spends much of the movie working behind the scenes, before finally revealing the true depths of his lust and depravity for power in the climax, once he has nothing else to lose (the utterly insane and maniacal slasher laugh Jafar unleashes after “Prince Ali (Reprise)” gives me the chills every time). Jafar develops a great deal of hatred for Aladdin, who he views as a ragged, meddlesome street rat who keeps interfering with his plans at each turn, so he decides to add humiliating / killing Aladdin to his life goals. Jafar also possesses the ability to make you feel very uncomfortable when you least expect it, like when he disguises himself as an old man or when he starts creeping on Jasmine, who’s a teenager and seriously takes one for the team by kissing him. Like Scar after him, I appreciate that Jafar’s brought down by his own personal character flaws. We lose a lot of good Disney villains to blind rage (Cruella De Vil, Sykes, Ursula, Shan Yu, Clayton, etc), but it’s fitting for this sort of movie that it’s Jafar’s greed that gets the better of him. Jafar is aided by his sadistic, loud-mouthed, two-faced familiar, Iago, and together the mage and parrot make quite the scheming duo. Iago the parrot is voiced by a distinctive Gilbert Gottfried, and honestly the bird is much funnier than he ought to be with his antics. Iago would gain an expanded role in later installments of the “Aladdin” franchise, starting with his heel-face turn in “The Return Of Jafar”, and it’s easy to see why that happened. There was still plenty of potential to be mined with this character.

A Whole New World

The 2-D animation standards in “Aladdin” are as high as you would expect from a film produced at the height of the Disney Renaissance. There’s the depth and grandeur of the locations, all the detail put into the grains of sand in Agrabah’s desert, the way the golden, glittering treasures in the Cave of Wonders really pop out, the razor sharp movements of serpent Jafar. It’s all lovely. What’s especially striking though is “Aladdin’s” vivid color palette (which you’ll have noticed by now in the screencaps). You have all sorts of fiery hot reds, deep, deep blues and beautiful shades of purple in-between throughout the entire movie, and it adds to the unreal, fairy tale vibe of the story being told. Interestingly enough, “Aladdin” has both good and bad examples of 3-D animation being integrated into a 2-D animation film. On the one hand, the CG for the Cave of Wonders looks really, really awful, both inside and outside the cave, but on the other hand, the animation for the magic carpet is so well done, from his design to the carpet’s movements, that you honestly can’t even tell it’s a computer-generated character. It’s quite the achievement. “Aladdin” has a very distinctive soundtrack from Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Akin to “Fathoms Below” and “Frozen Heart”, “Arabian Nights” is the stirring opening number that you’ll wish was much longer than it was because it’s the song where the film’s desert style shines through the most. “One Jump Ahead” is the only song I really dislike. It tries way too hard to be zany and random and it just winds up being obnoxious. The melancholy reprise from Aladdin shortly after fares better. “Friend Like Me” is a jazzy, big-band masterclass number of Genie showing-off and the movie’s most energetic scene in terms of visuals. It’s wonderful, especially when Robin Williams get so into it he starts to become unintelligible. “Prince Ali” is a good, peppy and ridiculous boast, continuing the trend of Genie craziness, but I think I like Jafar’s smug, smarmy reprise even more. “A Whole New World” is my favorite Disney love song. The blissful, carefree Brad Kane and Lea Salonga duet over the smooth piano, combined with the breaktaking visuals produce what I think is the epitome of Disney escapism (you’d best believe Alan Menken’s instrumental reworkings of the song are just as beautiful).

There’s a lot to like about “Aladdin”, and really only a few things to dislike. While I can’t say it’s a personal favorite of mine, I can easily see why it’s so well-loved and it’s earned itself a very respectable grade from me.

Rating: 8/10.


Genie Hug

* “ARABIAN NIGHTS! LIKE ARABIAN DAYS! More often than not, are hotter than hot in a lot of good ways!” You know, the theme song for the Aladdin series cut right to Jasmine looking fetching on that verse, because Disney was feeling mischievous.

* “You are nothing but a worthless street rat. You were a born a street rat, you’ll die a street rat and when you do only your fleas will mourn you!” Damn son, Prince Achmed certainly knows how to put the peasants in their place when they start to get lippy. I always chuckle at how Al was just about to run in there and pounce on him before the gates shut in his face.

* “Please, try to understand, I’ve never done a thing on my own, I’ve never had any real friends” “Girl, what’chu talking bout? I just a bit a dude on the butt for you!” “Except Rajah” “Yeah, that’s better, girl“.

* “I don’t know where she gets it from. Her mother wasn’t nearly so picky” Um, Sultan, you know those implications don’t reflect well on you, right?

* Landing the role of Iago gave Gilbert Gottfried the chance to have a duet with a Disney Princess once. It was as strange as it sounds.

* Jasmine honey, if you want to blend in in the marketplace and pass off as a beggar woman, you might want to take those large, presumably gold earrings off first.

* Aladdin’s puppy dog eyes.

* “So, how’d it go?” “I think she took it rather well”.

* Abu’s killer Jasmine impression.

* “What are you doing?!” “Giving you your reward! Your eternal reward!”

* I swear, the pissed-off expressions Aladdin and Jasmine make in this movie are amazing.

* “Um, excuse me?! Are you looking at me?! Did you rub my lamp, did you wake me up, did you bring me here and all of sudden you’re walking out on me?! I don’t think so, not right now, you’re getting your wishes so SIT DOWN!!!!”

* “Well, don’t I feel sheepish? Alright, you baaaaddd boy, but no more freebies!”

* “It’s all part and parcel with the Genie gig. Phenomenal cosmic power! Itty-bitty little living space!”

* “You will order the princess to marry me!” I… will… order- but you’re so old!” I don’t need to tell you that response was hilarious, but it’s also pretty sweet. The sultan’s concern for his daughter was enough to override the hypnosis for a moment when nothing else did and recognize how creepy Jafar’s suggestion was.

* “He’s generous, so generous!”

* “Tell her the TRUTH!!!”

* When you feel uncomfortable.

* “A whole new world, that’s where we’ll be, that’s where we will be! A thrilling chase, a wondrous place, for you and me!”

* Jasmine has such a good time with ‘Prince Ali’ that she forgets to question how he’s still alive, since Jafar told her he had the boy’s head cut off. It’s unknown if Jasmine was ever going to confront Jafar for lying to her, since he got outed as a vile betrayer not long after.

* So Genie can casually use to magic to show-off and do impressions whenever he likes, but he literally can’t do anything to save someone’s life if they’re drowning unless they wish him to? Genie, no offense, but you’re kind of useless.

* Religion is typically something Disney skirts around in their movies, but they do acknowledge it from time to time. Characters can be seen praying in movies like “Mulan”, and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is built on top of Catholicism. I bring this up because I’ve recently begun to wonder if the characters in this movies are meant to muslims. There’s a cute scene where the Sultan realizes Jasmine has picked Aladdin for a suitor and he giggles “Praise Allah!”.

* “Tonight, the part of Al will be played by a tall, dark, sinister and ugly man”.

* Honestly Aladdin, this is what you get bro (and this).

* Stab that bitch, Al!

* “Al, what are you doing? Why are you bringing me into this?”

* “Al, you’re never gonna find another girl like her in a million years. Believe me, I know, I’ve checked”.

* “Ha, made you look!”

Further Reading:


Arabian Nights

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Score Highlights: Doctor Who

In which The Cool Kat shares some of his favorite pieces of score from various soundtracks.

Today’s pick is “The Majestic Tale”, the Americana remix of the Eleventh Doctor’s theme by Murray Gold. Originally written as extra “I Am The Doctor” material, fragments of “The Majestic Tale” recurred throughout the middle episodes of Doctor Who’s fifth season, when Rory clamored aboard the TARDIS and a somewhat dysfunctional but very effective team of the Doctor’s started to form. However, the pieces never came together into one cohesive whole until the climax of “The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon” the next season, when the Doctor, Amy, Rory, River and Canton’s adventure in 1960’s America led to them freeing mankind from the Silence’s influence. While “I Am The Doctor” does a fine job of capturing the fire and wit of Matt Smith’s Doctor, I love how much more proud and confident “The Majestic Tale” is. It really underscores the fact that as competent as the Doctor is on his own, there’s not much of a limit to what he can do with his friends backing him up. “The Majestic Tale” was also the music chosen for when the Doctor and Clara permanently changed the status quo of the series in the 50th anniversary special.

Bonus: the live version.

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Beauty and the Beast (1991) Review

Beauty and the Beast Poster

Out of Disney’s big four, “Beauty and the Beast” is the movie that my opinion has changed on the most. As a young boy, I liked “Beauty and the Beast” but it was never one of my favorites (thanks to the Disney vault, I never got to see it more than twice and those horrible DTV sequels did a good job of tarnishing my opinion of the franchise). As an adult, it’s not only earned itself a spot in my top ten Disney canon films, but it’s also giving “The Little Mermaid” competition as my favorite Disney princess movie. “Beauty and the Beast” is tied with “The Lion King” as the most well-received film of the Disney renaissance, and it’s also notable for being the only film from that period to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Like the last Howard Ashman and Alan Menken film, it’s every bit as good as the hype makes it out to be, though I do have two problems with it. Firstly, it feels like the pacing is a bit off in this movie. The first half is very slow, with the movie devoting a lot of time to Belle’s first night in the castle, and then the second half after the wolf chase moves very quickly, breezing through the rest of Belle’s days at the castle before sending her back to her village to fire up the climax. As a result, Belle and the Beast start to become affectionate towards each other a bit too quickly. They spend over half the film barking at each other, and then ten minutes later this happens. It is believable, but only just. It’s actually one of several reasons why I like the extended cut’s addition of “Human Again”, that extra Belle & the Beast bonding scene helps make the progression of their relationship smoother. Secondly, the film implies Belle was at the Beast’s castle for anywhere between a week and a month, and her dad set out looking for her on day one, so how the frick-frack did he survive that long in the wilderness without food, water and ample protection from the elements?! Especially since, as we all know, there are wolves in that forest! Everyone talks about the Beast’s name and age, but this is the real unsolved mystery of “Beauty and the Beast”.


The exact moment you know Belle is going to be something special in terms of Disney protagonists is when she sits atop the village fountain, gushing passionately about how incredible her stories are and how strong the power of fiction is to some sheep because no one else is really interested. Belle is a sharp, opinionated young woman and a shameless daydreamer who’d love to see the world beyond her little village and have an adventure far away from her gossipy, small-minded neighbors, but remains in her little town to look after her father. Belle treats her loved ones with great kindness, and pays others the same amount of respect they pay her. Throughout the film, she tries to stay true to herself and not give into bullying and peer pressure, rejecting Gaston and putting the Beast in his place when he behaves like a furry brat, so while Belle is far from the most physically capable character in this movie she has a great deal of inner strength. There was an important theme running through “The Little Mermaid” – that part of loving someone means respecting and sometimes even nurturing their individuality – and that theme carries over to “Beauty and the Beast” as well. Belle not only longs for excitement, she also craves acceptance. She’s not opposed to the idea of romance, but she wishes she could find someone who won’t shame her for being a woman who reads or try to change her. That person ironically turns out to be the Beast. Beast, who’s turning over a new leaf, gives her his entire library so she can read to her heart’s content, and she later repays the favor by helping him regain a piece of his humanity he had lost to the curse, which puts them both on the path of amore. I appreciate that it’s actually Belle who takes most of the initiative during her dance with the Beast; she knows what she wants by now, even if the movie sort of rushed her getting there. In terms of character faults, Belle doesn’t always practice what she preaches (despite hating it when people disrespect her and her property, Belle has no problem sneaking into the Beast’s bedroom to riffle through his things) and she’s not above making rash and impulsive decisions (like accidentally selling her friends out to an angry mob in a desperate attempt to save her dad). Finally, it’s worth noting “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the last Disney films to play the ‘true love saves the day’ trope entirely straight. Starting around the renaissance, Disney started to toy with the idea. Ariel didn’t get her kiss, but love still saved the day in a way in the form of Eric killing Ursula; Anna’s love for her sister save them both. But in “Beauty and the Beast” it is indeed Belle’s love for the Beast that breaks the curse and brings her man back from the dead, and she just barely beats the deadline too.

Beauty And The Beast Something There

If Anna and Elsa had the saddest backstory I’ve seen so far in the Disney canon, Beast and his servants take the prize for the backstory that’s the most messed-up. Prince Adam is a spoiled, selfish and unkind prince who manages to invoke the anger of an enchantress one day by trying to let her die in a blizzard. The prince is transformed into a beast at a young age and forced to spend ten long years, half his life, in that form (including puberty!) with only his servants to keep him company, unable to leave the castle for his own safety and gradually losing his mind and his memories of what it was like to ever be human. By the time Belle and Maurice stumble upon his castle, the prince who was already a bastard has started to become unhinged. Apparently worried Maurice will bring others to the castle, Beast takes Maurice as his prisoner and accepts Belle’s subsequent offer to take her father’s place, in hopes of breaking the spell. Ten years as a beast have changed Adam in the sense that he’s depressed and less arrogant than he was before, but he still has one hell of a short fuse and remains superficial. It takes him longer than it should to realize it’s his personality more than his looks that put people off him, and it’s not until Beast almost gets Belle and himself killed by wolves that he finally calms his crazy self down for the rest of this movie. To the Beast’s credit, instead of taking the easy way out and continuing to feel sorry for himself, he takes Belle’s advice and makes the effort to try to change and better himself as a person, while also taking a genuine interest in Belle, who secretly impresses him. As he does so, Beast starts to live again for the first time in years. He starts to feel human. The film was always careful to undercut Beast’s earlier harshness with the odd bit of boyish behavior and naivety, and sure enough the Beast does have a soft side hidden under all that bluster that emerges the more time he spends being sincere and amiable with Belle. Despite being a reformed bully, the Beast’s bark is also worse than his bite. Belle realizes this after he saves her from the wolves, and whatever fear she had had of the Beast before vanishes for good. The audience is shown this for certain later when Beast has a chance to take revenge on Gaston for trying to murder him, and doesn’t take it. Belle becomes important to Beast, so much so that he gives up on trying to break the curse and lets himself be eternally damned, so Belle can rescue her father from certain death and be reunited with him. He finally learns the true meaning of love – putting others before one’s self – proves himself worthy of loving, and in the end it’s love that finally redeems Adam and rescues him from death.


Ever since “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves”, it’s been traditional for a Disney princess film to contain proactive comedy sidekicks who are so awesome that they sometimes threaten to overshadow the main couple. Usually they’re the princess’s sidekicks though. Enchanted alongside their master, the Beast’s servants have become talking, singing, anthropomorphic appliances who take constant action to try to become human again. Their line-up includes impulsive, hospitable womanizer, Lumiere; stuffy, sardonic, fretful Cogsworth (poor Cogsworth gets pushed around a lot in this movie); motherly, efficient, no-nonsense Mrs. Potts; innocent little Chip; and the theatrical Madam Le Grande Bouche (I’m glad Belle’s wardrobe got more screen-time in “Human Again” by the way, she deserves it). The Beast’s servants aren’t just servants, they’re also expert performers as “Be Out Guest” demonstrates, and they get an entire sequence devoted to them at the end, defending the castle from a mob of crazy people from Belle’s village. It’s as comedic as it is brutal. The wardrobe crushes a dude to death, Mrs. Potts gives people third-degree burns and Cogsworth – after being the uptight one all movie – lets himself cut loose and enjoy the anarchy, stabbing people with scissors. You don’t mess with the servants, especially on the night they all know they’re going to be stuck as furniture forever. Maurice is Belle’s quirky, inventor father, and honestly as this film progresses you will feel so bad for this man, because no matter where he turns in this movie he just jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire. He gets attacked by wolves, kidnapped by an angry Beast, separated from his daughter for who knows how long, tossed around by his neighbors, nearly freezes to death in the wilderness looking for Belle, gets dragged off and almost thrown into an asylum so Gaston can blackmail Belle. It’s not until the climax that it’s finally someone else’s turn to have something terrible happen to them. Never let it be said Maurice isn’t a good father too. Beast puts him through hell in this movie, and the man very clearly does not like him, but when Belle becomes distraught about an angry mob going to kill her friend Maurice takes her word for it that the Beast dying is a bad thing, a very bad thing, and promises to do whatever he can to help her (which turns out to be shoving Belle out of the way so Chip won’t chop off her head).

Gaston And Lefou

“Beauty and the Beast” does some clever things with it’s antagonists. The whole point of this film is that beauty is more than skin deep, and to quote a later Disney film directed by the same men, “Beauty and the Beast” invites the audience to decide who is really the monster and who is the man. We’re initially introduced to Gaston and LeFou the same way Belle sees them, as a pair of simpletons, and we get our first hint that they might be something darker than that when Gaston tries to force himself on Belle in her own home, but it’s not until Belle’s away that we realize we’ve greatly underestimated them. Gaston is more than just an arrogant sexist and narcissist, he’s also a manipulative sociopath who doesn’t see people as people so much as tools there for his benefit. Belle makes for a lovely trophy wife to bolster his ego and reputation, Maurice is the perfect pawn to blackmail Belle with, an angry mob of gullible people make for very effective weapons to kill a beast with. The more Gaston obsesses over getting what he wants, the more he shows his true colors. I’ve sometimes seen people wonder why the Beast is treated as redeemable and Gaston isn’t when they both treat Belle and Maurice terribly. The answer is that one of them has the capacity and desire to change and the other one doesn’t. Swallowing his pride, making an effort to improve himself, learning to see Belle as more than an object but her own person, these are all things Gaston could never do. In fact, the film contrasts Beast sparing his life with Gaston promptly stabbing him in the back, because even now he can’t bare to lose, and thus the fool seals his fate. With that much having been said, Gaston isn’t the most disturbing antagonist in this movie. Gaston may be evil, but it’s Belle’s neighbors who revere him – their town hero – for shallow reasons; they enable him and give him the power to do whatever he likes in town. They even go so far as to help him commit blackmail and attempted murder, because it’s not like they ever liked Belle and Maurice anyway, they had long since shunned them as outsiders in their community. The truly disturbing thing is that none of this is impossible or even implausible. Everyone knows humans at their worst can be tribalistic bastards, and I’m afraid Belle discovers you don’t need to be a Beast to be cruel.


The humor in “Beauty and the Beast” is a lot more silly and cartoony than your usual Disney movie, which feels like it ought to clash with all the darker elements of this film but somehow rarely ever does.  The production values for this film are sky high. “Beauty and the Beast” contains some of the most polished, fluid and meticulous 2-D animation you’ve ever going to find in the Disney Canon, rivaled only by “The Lion King”, giving the brutality of the wolf chase it’s sharp sting, the odd jump scare it’s power and the tender, lingering touches Belle and the Beast share an almost haunting sort of intimacy. Not to mention, the Beast’s castle has a tremendous amount of depth and scale to it as a location (even the 3-D ballroom looks good). The animation quality reaches it apex during the Beast’s near-death and transformation, a scene that manages to be incredibly stirring despite there already being several variations on it in the canon (Disney really likes having one protagonist sob over the other one’s corpse in the climax of their movies). As far animation details go, I like how clothing is a bit more meaningful than usual in this film. As Belle begins to enjoy herself at the castle, her usually reserved wardrobe becomes more tasteful and refined, and as the Beast begins to clean himself up and reconnect more with his forgotten humanity, he starts to wear more human clothes. The trend culminates in this bit of classiness from the pair during the ballroom scene. The soundtrack is quite possibly the best aspect of “Beauty and the Beast”. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken step up their already impressive game from “The Little Mermaid”, with Howard penning more group songs this time around that contain choruses so infectious you can’t help but get swept up into them, and Alan writing for a more lush and layered orchestra. “Belle” seamlessly does the hard job of introducing most of the major characters for the movie, while also laying down a pattern for the film: whenever Paige O’Hara or Richard White get to sing they dominate the proceedings. “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” are both rousing visual feasts (though I can’t say I’m happy that the climax of “Gaston” got trimmed down slightly). “Something There” and “Beauty and Beast” are simple and elegant performances from the voice cast. They’re also the point where you realize Beast never got his own song, despite also being a main character. “The Mob Song” has an electric amount of energy and strength coursing through it (there’s also something pretty unsettling about how it ends with a group of insane, bloodthirsty people calling for the death of one of the main characters) and the final, soulful cover of “Beauty and the Beast” by Celine Deon and Pea Frybo is simply divine. Alan Menken’s score is absolutely enchanting, especially during the second half of the film when he starts to weave together affectionate, instrumental variations of “Something There” and “Beauty and the Beast”.

So that’s “Beauty and the Beast”. Some areas feel a bit rushed, and some of the internal logic doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but like “The Little Mermaid” before it, it’s a real powerhouse film and an accomplishment Disney is quite rightly proud of to this day (it’s also the closest thing to an animated Broadway musical that the studio has ever produced).

Rating: 10/10.


Wolf Attack

* “There must be more than this provincial life!” “Just watch, I’m going to make Belle my wife!” “Look there she goes, that girl is strange but special, a most peculiar mademoiselle! It’s a pity and a sin that she doesn’t quite fit in, cause she really is a funny girl, a beauty but a funny girl, she really is a funny girl…. that Belle!!!”

* “Belle, It’s not right for a woman to read. Pretty soon she starts getting ideas and thinking“.

* It’s so strange to think “Beauty and the Beast” was released only a few years after “The Great Mouse Detective” and “Oliver and Company” but the difference in animation quality is massive. Disney was rolling in that renaissance dough.

* Dear lord Maurice, run! Those are what wolves from hell look like!

* “I just wanted a place to stay!” “I’ll give you a place to stay!” Inside the Beast’s belly. Maurice was delicious, by the way.

* Something that’s fun about Belle is that she has the independence of a 1990’s heroine, but the theatricality of a 1950’s heroine. “Belle (Reprise)” is the most obvious example of this, but there’s also the scene where she demands the Beast step into the light. Beast does so, and Belle gasps very dramatically when she sees his face.

* “The castle is your home now, so you can go wherever you like, except the west wing” “What’s in the west-” “IT”S FORBIDDEN!!!”.

* “I’m just fooling myself. She’ll never see me as anything… but a monster” Emo Beast.

* “Say it again! Who’s a man among men! Who’s a super success, don’t you know, can’t you guess, ask his friends and his five-hangers on! There’s just one guy in town who’s got all of it down! And his name’s GASTON!!!”.

* “Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking” “A dangerous pastime-” “I know”.

* The Beast was eleven when he was cursed (it’s even in the original screenplay). I do like the moral ambiguity present in the prologue. The Beast was a terrible prince, but that doesn’t mean the Enchantress he pissed off was a saint either. In fact, she was kind of messed up.

* “Course by course, one by one, til you shout ‘enough I’m done!’ We’ll sing you off to sleep as you digest! Tonight you’ll prop your feet up, but for now let’s eat up! Be our guest, be our guest, be our guest, please be our guest!!!”

* No one upstages Lumiere.

* The wolves finally manage to pin down Belle by one of them grabbing onto her sweet cape. Somewhere out there, Edna from “The Incredibles” is looking awfully smug.

* If you showed someone this frame out of context I wonder what they would think.

* “Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep”.

* When you realize you’re turning into a furry. When you accept you’ve become a furry.

* “Ever just the same, ever a surprise! Ever as before and ever just as sure, as the sun will rise!”

* Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours, like not letting your would-be girlfriend’s dad die in a forest.

* “I let her go” “What?! How could you do that?!” “Well, I had to” “But, but, but, why?!” “Because… I love her”.

* “He’s no monster Gaston, you are!” (ooooohhhh!) “She’s as crazy as the old man!”

* I don’t think the mob tossing Belle and Maurice in their basement was supposed to be funny, but it wound up being that way.

* “Take whatever booty you can find, but remember, the Beast is mine!”

* After being everyone’s punching bag all movie, Lefou finally gets a chance to unleash his evil during the mob scene, and promptly gets his butt kicked.

* “It’s over, Beast! Belle is mine!” Gets bitch-slapped and grabbed by the throat a second later. Bitter loser.

* Even now, the Beast is still learning hard life lessons. In this case, it’s never turn your back on someone who just tried to kill you only a few seconds ago.

* “No! Don’t leave me! …I love you!”

* Belle ought to wear her hair down more often, it’s a good look for her.

* Cogsworth, you liar.

* LeFou and the triplets are gonna cry their eyes out for days when they realize Gaston is never coming back from the forest.

* Celine Dion, Pea Frybo, Arianna Grande and John Legend have convinced me that “Beauty and Beast” sounds much better as a duet than it does as a solo song.

Further Reading:

* Nostalgia Critic; AnimatedKid; The Animation Commendation; The Animation Commendation (2); Taestful Reviews; Taestful Reviews (2); Taestful Reviews (3); Taestful Reviews (4); Taestful Reviews (5); Taestful Reviews (6); Taestful Reviews (7)Disney Odyssey; Tor; Katejohns619; Silver Petticoat; A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; Disney In Your Day; Jaysen Headley Writes; Author Quest; Roger Ebert; Disneyfied Or Disney TriedA113 Animation; All The Disney Movies; A Year With Walt; Healed1337; From The Perspective Of An Old SoulThe Great Movie Debates; Jamie’s Film Thoughts; Evy Writes; Cut The Crap Movie Reviews; Movie Rob; The Movie Man; Upon The Shelf Reviews; Geeky Galaxy; LivLillyRegulas314; Not Just Movies; Movies Ate My Life; Worthy Of Note; Merc With A Movie Blog; AV Club.


The Beast's Castle

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 13 Comments

The Little Mermaid (1989) Review

The Little Mermaid Poster 2

If you were to ask me what my favorite Disney canon film was, “The Little Mermaid” would be a strong contender for the title, because I seriously adore this movie. Growing up, I never had much of an exposure to the big four of the Disney renaissance. “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast“, “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” have been in the Disney vault for much of my life. I’m partly annoyed by that and partly okay with it, because it’s allowed to me scrutinize Disney’s most popular films and decide if they live up to the hype around them or not without having to worry about a filter of nostalgia. For the most part, I’d say that they do, especially this one. “The Little Mermaid” is one of those rare Disney movies where you know it’ll be something unique and inventive right from the opening sequence, taking us from Eric’s raucous ship to the undersea city of Atlantica with Alan Menken’s theme for Ariel firing up for the first time. Due to it’s ambitious plot, the film moves along at a brisk pace through it’s three acts; Ariel’s actions and the consequences of her decisions, along with that of other supporting characters’, carrying her neatly from one scene to another and the movie never once being allowed to drag (though the ending does seem to wrap up a bit quickly). I’ve talked a lot in the past about how a strong ensemble cast can make or break a film and while the animation is great and the soundtrack is stellar, it’s the characters in “The Little Mermaid” and the way the character relationships shine through in the second half of the film that elevate the movie. There’s Ariel’s euphoric chemistry with Eric; Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle’s devotion to their little mermaid friend; Triton’s guilt and concern over his lost daughter; Grimsby offering Eric sincere relationship advice because he doesn’t just want the prince to be wed, he also wants his psuedo-son to be happy; and in a twisted sort of way, there’s even Ursula trying her best to kill Ariel to avenge the only real friends the sea witch had in exile. It all makes this film’s universe feel thoroughly lived in.

Part Of Your World (Reprise)

“The Little Mermaid’s” lead character, Ariel, is the youngest of seven royal daughters. Instead of lying around the palace without purpose, Ariel spends her days poking around shipwrecks and chatting up seagulls, learning more about human inventions and human society. For years now, Ariel has taken an interest in the world above her head, and she’d love nothing more than to cross the human / mermaid divide, live a life of adventure and excitement and exploration on land with endless, endless potential. But she knows it’ll never happen. One, because it’s impossible, and two, her father, the king, despises humans. Still, an eventful encounter with an admirable human prince who proves her right about humans being more than mindless monsters convinces her not to let the dream die so soon and leaves her with quite a crush. When her father finds out, the king becomes terrifyingly abusive towards her, destroying her collection of human objects, and a pissed-off Ariel decides to cut a deal with Ursula the sea witch to try to become human. I’ve touched on this before, in my first blog post, but Ariel is one of my favorite female characters from Disney. As far as Disney princesses go, she’s a pretty big deal. She’s the first truly proactive princess of the lot, who not only dreams of a more fulfilling life, but actively pursues it at every turn (not to mention, saves a dude’s life). She’s also the first one that’s allowed to be more than just a role model figure. Ariel is a fundamentally flawed person, and her flaws drive the conflict of the story forward (if you’ve read my reviews of “Brother Bear” and “Frozen” you know these are some of my favorite sorts of characters). To elaborate, Ariel is a kind, brave, fun-loving and open-minded individual, but she can also be stubborn and shortsighted. Throughout the film, she ignores Flounder and Sebastian’s warnings and keeps putting herself into dangerous situations for the sake of discovery. This eventually catches up to her when she loses her bet with Ursula, and the sea witch not only betrays her but almost kills her and her friends and family. While Ariel wasn’t wrong to want a human life or pursue it, she does learn the hard way that her actions have consequences that can affect more than just herself. Nearly every Disney renaissance film was a coming–of-age story, and all of them contained a growing-up lesson. This one was Ariel’s. Ultimately, Ariel is one of my favorite Disney characters because despite being a mermaid, she’s one of the ones that feels the most human and relatable.

The Little Mermaid Sebastian

Ariel is a lucky girl, because it’s pretty clear she has some of the best guy friends a mermaid could ask for. Ariel does most of the work attaining her goals in this movie, but she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she did without Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle helping her. Sebastian the crustacean is Atlantica’s court composer and the king’s personal adviser. For the first half of the film, Sebastian is concerned with maintaining the usual status quo, keeping Ariel in line and keeping the king happy, not wanting to invoke his anger. It’s not until he sees how badly Triton hurts her and knowing his own part in it that Sebastian realizes Ariel is more than just the king’s daughter, she’s her own her person, she deserves a life of her own and a chance to be happy, so he decides to ‘switch sides’ so to speak and help her brave the human world to make that happen. During their adventures on land, the two bond some and Sebastian surprisingly becomes an uncle figure to Ariel. Flounder is one of the few figures in this movie that’s a wholly static character. He starts the film as Ariel’s timid, supportive friend and by the end he is still exactly that. I guess you could say he becomes more of an action fish than he ever thought he would be: braving storms, moving huge statues by himself, creating romantic atmospheres, and taking on Flotsam and Jetsam to save Eric’s life. Out of Ariel’s three friends / sidekicks, Scuttle the seagull is the one that’s often forgotten about – sometimes by Disney themselves – and that is not okay. Scuttle does the best he can y’all. Scuttle is Ariel’s consultant on human objects, and it’s pretty clear his information is not correct. It’s actually not clear if Scuttle believes it himself or if he’s just straight up making stuff up to tell her. In any case, Scuttle is the loudest, most scatter-brained member of Ariel’s friend group and something of a screw-up, but incredibly friendly, well-meaning and supportive. Scuttle finally gets a chance to prove himself when he brings Ursula’s treachery to light and calls in reinforcements for the final fight with the sea witch.

Kiss The Girl

Worldly, seafaring Prince Eric is the male protagonist of this film and Ariel’s love interest. It’s pretty easy to see how she got smitten so easily. The dude’s humble, brave, handsome, kind to animals, loves the sea, and most importantly, he’s single. He’s pretty much her dream guy, and as soon as she realizes he’s looking for a lady and he’s already glimpsed her, she knows she wants a shot with him. Ariel is also Prince Eric’s love interest. Eric’s manservant and father figure Grimsby has been pressuring him to find a partner / future queen lately, but none of the girls he’s met so far interest him. Part of the reason he becomes attracted to Ariel is because she’s not what you would expect a lady of her time to be like, anymore than Eric is what you what you would expect a prince of his day to be. Instead of being quiet, reserved and dignified (read: boring), Ariel is fun-loving, adventurous, beautiful, wears her heart on her sleeve and has a real zest for life. During her time on land, Eric comes to realize there’s a very real chance Ariel could be the one for him, and after feeling like something of an outsider in Atlantica, Ariel has found a guy who likes her for who she is and it feels pretty good. Because they’re kindred spirits in a way, these two have got some sweet chemistry. I also appreciate that Ariel and Eric’s romance isn’t a chaste one; there’s very clearly some physical attraction there as well. Eric and Ariel prove to be such a good fit for each other that a pissed-off Ursula actually has to step in and sabotage her because she was coming dangerously close to winning their bet (being a mermaid never slowed Ariel down or stopped her from getting things done, she doesn’t let being mute do it either). Afterwards, Ariel proves she respects Eric’s boundaries and decisions as well. She’s clearly crushed when he chooses another woman over her and what that will mean, but she never tries to interfere or break them up or anything like that, she simply runs off to be alone for the rest of the day. Ultimately, the pair’s kindness and support for each other manages to prevail and allows them to save each other’s lives and defeat Ursula, proving love can indeed be very powerful.

The Little Mermaid Poor Unfortunate Souls

King Triton is Ariel’s proud, authoritative father. With Ariel coming of age and taking more risks, Triton doubles down on forbidding her from going to the surface. King Triton isn’t a villain by any means, but he is subtly one of the more unsettling characters in this movie. The king harbors an intense hatred of humans for reasons that are never explained (they totally killed his wife), the film implies he’s not entirely stable and that everyone around him is more afraid of him than they ought to be, and he’s all too willing to let his kingly authority bleed into his personal relationships (like threatening Sebastian with his trident to spill about Ariel’s love life or shooting up Ariel’s cave in front of her to send her a message about human boys). The latter personality trait is one that Ursula is well aware of, and one she uses against him as much as she uses Ariel’s naivety and hardheadedness against her to seize power. Triton takes Ariel’s place as Ursula’s prisoner to make up for becoming an abusive father, and by the film’s end reaches the same conclusion Sebastian did that it’s wrong to try to force his daughter to be something she’s not, so he turns her into a human permanently, so she can make her own choices and be with Eric (repairing their relationship at the same time). When it comes to our Cecalian antagonist, I fucking love Ursula as the villain of this movie. Ursula is a banished sorceress and gleeful sadist who spends her days in exile conning the foolish merpeople of Atlantica into making bogus deals with her and then torturing their immortal souls in her lair for all of eternity when they can’t reach their end of the bargain (a girl’s got to pass the time somehow after all). Ursula longs to take revenge on the royal family for her exile, and she finally gets the chance when a rift forms between Triton and Ariel. Ursula is extremely vindictive but she’s also intelligent. She knows she’s no match for the power of the king’s trident so she bides her time and waits until the right moment to strike. She’s also confident in her abilities as a mage and a manipulator. I love how she’s already so certain that she’s going to talk Ariel into signing away her voice when she comes to her that she not only cons her in “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, she also spends half of the song mocking her. Ursula stacks all the odds in her favor, and when even that doesn’t work she plays as dirty as she can and succeeds magnificently. Her death scene proves to be as awesome as the character. Ursula supersizes herself to crush Ariel and Eric, but she focuses so much of her time and energy on trying to kill Ariel that she doesn’t notice the prince coming up behind her until he runs her through with a whole ship. It’s perfect. Ursula is such a successful antagonist that it somehow doesn’t matter much that we never learn who this bitch was or even what she was to our heroes (in one draft of script, she was Triton’s evil sister but that clearly didn’t make the final cut, so her backstory’s pretty vague).

The Little Mermaid Atlantica

The animation quality in “The Little Mermaid” is really astounding. The film successfully captures the feeling of weightlessness with characters like Ariel, Sebastian and Ursula effortlessly gliding across the ocean floor and propelling themselves forward in a way that lends the movie a real sense of physicality. The storm scene, where Eric’s ship rides the choppy, detailed waves of a turbulent sea, is also an early masterclass sequence. “The Little Mermaid” contains some of the best synergy between animation and score I’ve seen in a Disney film, like the boiling point of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” where Ursula takes Ariel’s voice mid-vocal and leaves the mermaid to drown, or the final showdown with Ursula where eventually it feels less like the movie’s actions are leading the score and more like the thundering score is leading the film. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken contribute the songs and score for the film, and their collaboration is legendary. With the songs, there’s a sense of all the best performances being coaxed out of the voice actors. “Fathoms Below” is a rousing sea shanty that sets up the movie’s conflict. “Part Of Your World” and “Part Of Your World (Reprise)” counteract each other nicely as a double bill, with the former being a bittersweet admission of a dying dream and the latter being heartwarming and triumphant with Jodi Benson lending both these songs a nice aquatic quality. “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are important moments of fun in the film and a chance for Samuel E. Wright to be both wild and soothing. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is a sleazy, abrasive villain song that packs some real power when a snarling Pat Caroll booms the last chorus. “Les Poissons” is the only song that feels like filler, but at least it’s funny filler. Alan Menken’s score for “The Little Mermaid” is beautiful, laced with supple strings and harsh brass. I’m especially fond of how the phrase “what would I give to live where you are?” from “Part Of Your World (Reprise)” is restated various times throughout the score as Ariel and Eric’s wistful, heartfelt love theme, before finally emerging triumphant in the final moments of the film.

So “The Little Mermaid” is quite the powerhouse film and an incredibly touching movie about love, friendship, prejudice and the hard choice of conforming to what others want for you or following the path that will make you happy in the long term. It was a massive success in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I have to say it earned all the praise it got.

Rating: 10/10.


The Little Mermaid Eric's Kingdom

* Can we talk about how Triton and his wife decided to have seven daughters? Raising one or two kids is difficult enough, but seven is a whole lot of daughters.


* Every scene Ursula is in is eevvviiillll and I love it.

* “Thanks to your carelessness, the entire celebration was-” “Well it was ruined! That’s all! COMPLETELY DESTROYED!!!”.

* “But it wasn’t her fault!” It pretty much was.

* “When it’s my turn, wouldn’t I love?! LOVE TO EXPLORE THAT SHORE UP ABOVE?!!!”

* If the crew were all knocked overboard then how did Max remain onboard? Does he have Spider-Man’s grip strength?

* It seems going back for the dog always gets you killed. Right, Pa Kent?

* “I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I know something’s starting right now! Watch and you’ll see, someday I’ll be, part of your WOOORRRRRLLLLLDDDD!!!!” Perfection.

* Does it bother anyone else how little Ariel’s sisters contribute to this movie?

* Rude.

* “Each little snail knows how to wail here, that’s why it hotter under the water! Ya we in luck here down in the muck here, under the seeeeeaaaaaaaa!!!!”

“He could have died!” “One less human to worry about!” Today I learned about mermaid racism.

* You know, Pixar seems to be quite fond of “The Little Mermaid”. Both “Ratatouille” and “Brave” rework elements of Ariel’s character arc, and “Monsters University” contains a nod to this movie that gets even funnier when you realize it’s a dig at Ariel (“But daddy I love him!”).

* Sherie Rene Scott kicking so much ass as Ursula on Broadway.

* Max is a shipper. Really, everyone’s a shipper in “The Little Mermaid”, except Ursula and Triton. Ariel / Eric is their NOTP.

* When your chances of getting sex shoot up 200% (and your friends approve).

* Much like how some people want the Beast’s library, I want Eric’s dinning room. Just look at that interior!

* I’ve sometimes seen people say that the voiceless Ariel should have wrote Eric a note explaining everything, but let’s be real here, if a mute girl you found on the beach wrote you a note saying she was a mermaid would you really believe her or would you think she was delusional?

* After being scarred for life by “Les Poissons” Sebastian decided he’d never understand what Ariel saw in humans, but he supported her nonetheless.

* You know, Ariel is often marketed with the more extravagant dresses and gowns she wears in this movie, but I’m actually more fond of the simple blue dress and corset she wears out about town with Eric. I think it offsets her poofy, red 80’s hair perfectly. Shame it drowned in the ocean during the climax.

* Girl, you’ve got this!

* Considering how bored Eric looked in that boat before Sebastian started singing, I’m guessing date night hit a lull.

* “Now’s your moment, floating a blue lagoon, boy you better do it soon no time will be better! She don’t say a word and she won’t say a word unless you kiss the girl!”

* When Ariel races down those stairs towards Eric, a somewhat mean part of my brain snarks “he ain’t marrying you, Ariel” every time.

* Just in case you had any doubts about Ursula being a bitch, she kicks Max in the forehead, hard. Poor doggo.

* A particularly hilarious animation error is Eric shouting ‘No, I won’t leave you!’ at Ariel while his mouth isn’t moving.

* ‘Oh, look. I’ve been impaled‘.

* Some freaky space-time stuff happens when Ursula gets her hands on the trident. The final fight starts at sundown and when it’s over the sun is already rising again. I’m pretty sure they didn’t fight all night.

* When Triton made Ariel human, he also gave her clothes, so she wouldn’t have to run around naked on the beach again.

Further Reading:


Part Of Your World

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 10 Comments

Oliver and Company (1988) Review

Oliver and Company Poster

Since it’s set in what was once contemporary Manhattan, “Oliver And Company” is very much an 80’s movie. So totally 80’s from top to bottom. So it’s a good thing I’ve always had a soft spot for the 80’s and some 80’s cheese. Something I always enjoy about this film is how it gets increasingly crazy the more it progresses. It starts off simple enough, with a sad, lonely kitten looking to find a home, and then he meets Dodger which sets off a long chain reaction of events that ultimately leads to one cat, five dogs, one hobo, one kidnapped rich girl and one pampered poodle being chased down on railroad tracks by a batshit crazy mob boss and his goon dogs, until said mob boss gets himself obliterated by a freight train. The escalation is real, and it directly contributes to “Oliver and Company” being one of Disney’s better romp movies. More than that though, “Oliver and Company” benefits from having some strong opposing themes running underneath it’s zaniness. Fear and loneliness is one of them, and “Once Upon A Time In New York City” lays it out early on, but the antithesis of that, friendship and solace, is also present and “Oliver and Company” can be very earnest in it’s presentation of the latter. In particular, there’s this one surprisingly beautiful scene where Fagin’s dogs gather around their owner to comfort him, and JAC Redford’s theme for Fagin (which is usually quite downbeat in the film) becomes wonderfully tender as the man realizes what good companions he has and returns the favor by getting them all ready for bed. Oliver watches on as an outsider until he decides to fully forgive Dodger for being a dick to him earlier and the whole gang turns in, sleeping under the shining light of New York City’s skyline. A worthy follow-up to that scene is “Good Company”, where Oliver and Jenny frolic through Central Park, bonding as human and pet and realizing what a good fit for each other they are.

Oliver And Company Bedtime Story

More than the silliness and the movie’s solid soundtrack, it’s scenes like these that make “Oliver and Company” work as a story, just enough to compensate for some sizable flaws the film has. One of them is the monkey wrench that’s bizarrely thrown into the film’s pacing right at the start of the second act. The entirety of the first act builds to Oliver finding a temporary home in Fagin’s gang, only to be ripped away from them less than five minutes later and spend another sizable chunk of a rather short movie with Jenny and Georgette. To add onto that, “Streets Of Gold”, which was clearly intended to be a bonding song for Oliver and the dogs in it’s entirety, is trimmed down so his time with the gang is even briefer. It’s such a weird decision and a poor bit of pacing that causes the character relationships in the film to be weaker than they could have been. I mentioned in my “Frozen” review that starting around the 80’s Disney films became a lot more stuffed and ambitious than they had ever been before, and instead of Disney adjusting the runtimes accordingly they still tried to keep their films between seventy-five and eighty-five minutes long by not lingering in one place for too long, resulting in some areas feeling rushed. This is actually a flaw in “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” as well, though they aren’t as noticeably hurt by it as “Oliver and Company” is.

Oliver And Company Streets Of Gold

Like the eponymous orphan of Charles Dickens’ novel, little Oliver is a lost, homeless and friendless feline. After having an encounter with a deceitful, older ruffian, he gets wrapped up in things that are way beyond him and spends the rest of the film even more in over his head. That’s as far as the similarities stretch though, since Disney has always taken it’s liberties with it’s characters. I appreciate that “Oliver and Company” allows Oliver a bit more agency than his human counterpart from the source material, despite filling a similar role, since I like my kid characters to have some pluck to them. When Oliver realizes Dodger tricked him, he doesn’t just take it lying down but successfully follows the dog all over town, through the sheer power of being pissed off. He also pulls off a rescue mission with his friends and helps to get the main villain, Sykes, killed in the climax. Despite Oliver being the sympathetic kid protagonist, he’s also allowed to be just flawed and selfish as everyone else at times. He’s so alone that he joins a gang of criminal street dogs who take him in and make him part of their crew, promising he’ll help them not get killed by the mob, and then he forgets them entirely after spending a day with a human girl he likes, never intending to return. When they call him out on it, Oliver has nothing to say to defend himself, and as he leaves he realizes he’s just let down some of the only real friends he’s had so far. Thankfully, since this is a Disney movie, things don’t end like that. Billy Joel’s canine bad boy, Dodger, is a fun mutt. Seemingly a cross between the Artful Dodger, Tramp from “Lady and the Tramp” and the Fonz from “Happy Days”, the character had the potential to be cringy but is actually really charismatic and increasingly likable, despite his introduction bullying Oliver. One initially gets the impression Dodger is the aloof, wild card of the dog gang, when he’s in actuality their leader and wholly capable of being sharp, crafty and observant. Throughout the film, Oliver continually surprises Dodger and gains his respect by being more stubborn and gutsy and in one case forgiving than he would expect the cat to be, so he takes the kid under his wing. It’s understated, but the reason Dodger spends a chunk of the film fretting about Oliver is because he sees himself as being responsible for every member of his gang, and by bringing Oliver into their way of life and their business with Sykes, he’s personally responsible for him now. It tends to be the little things that round out Dodger’s character, like how he runs scared with the others when Oliver drops in (‘one bad puppy’ indeed) or how he tries a bit too hard to seem cool when he’s embarrassed or how it’s actually Dodger who ensures he and Oliver are still friends at the movie’s end.

Jenny Foxworth

Tito is, without a doubt, one of the best characters in this movie. Cheech Marin goes full ham as the hotblooded, hyperactive, argumentative Chihuahua and it is amazing. Along with his failed attempts to woo Georgette, Tito tends to butt heads with stuffy British bulldog (Disney loves it’s stuffy Brits, doesn’t it?) and would-be thespian, Francis, who he often antagonizes. These two can best be described as bash brothers; often squabbling but bonded in poverty nonetheless. Rita, the musically-gifted voice of reason, and Einstein, the carefree muscle, are the two most underused members of the gang (probably because they don’t have as much potential for comedy as the others) and during the second half of the film, they sort of become lost in a sea of other characters. Dom Deluise’s presence in this film as Fagin is always a pleasant surprise (and an ironic one, since the Deluise role I’m most familiar with in the medium of animation is Itchy in the “All Dogs Go To Heaven” franchise, who was a dog). Fagin is probably the most morally murky character in this movie. Unlike his namesake, he’s not evil or an utter bastard (as mentioned above, he treats his companions well), but the film makes it clear he’s not all good either. A petty thief and vagabond, jittery, pathetic Fagin is in debt to local mob boss and loan shark, Sykes, and now Sykes has come to collect, one way or another. In growing desperation, Fagin progresses from his usual thievery to ransoming schemes. Ultimately, Fagin’s moral code turns out to be similar to his dogs’ (or should I say, his babies’); he may be a criminal but he’s decent enough to not let innocent people die.

Oliver and Company Sykes

I really like Jenny Foxworth, the human girl Oliver befriends, and I think she is the perfect owner for the tabby (the fact that they have similar temperaments helps). Kind and affectionate, but also spunky at times, Jenny can be impulsive and has a hands-on personality. It’s clear she doesn’t like to rely on her family’s butler Winston too much, which also doubles as a character flaw when she goes to rescue Oliver without telling anyone and gets into some serious trouble. Something that always stands out to me about her is that Jenny never once questions how her cat and a bunch of dogs can pull off a rescue mission. She does not even care, the only thing she wants is in the climax to get the hell out of dodge before she gets shot or eaten by something. Sharp girl. Georgette is one of the more deliciously camp characters in the movie. Similar to Dodger, Georgette fits a certain character type that had the potential to be cringy, but she lands on just the right side of the fun / annoying divide. Bette Middler chews her fair share of scenery as the spiteful, aggressive diva who acts as a miniature antagonist to Oliver. I loved her indulging in her devious, manipulative side and her steady, subsequent comeuppance was perfect. Bill Sykes and his attack dogs, Roscoe and Desoto, are menacing, not to mention heartless. Sykes spends much of the movie effortlessly making his Fagin his bitch, playing him like a trombone, before he’s ultimately done in by blind rage; his attempts to straight-up murder everyone getting himself killed. It took me a while to realize Sykes’s dogs are the evil counterparts to Oliver and Dodger, who work better as a team. Our heroes try to take on the killers several times, but they never manage to actually beat them until they double-team them.

Oliver and Company The Gang

The animation in Oliver and Company is the film’s weakest aspect. It’s solid work, but it rarely ever rises above standard level and never captivates. The film trades in the razor-sharp pencil lines from the 70’s for an overall grainy image quality and a few shots that were too obviously done with the aid of computers (Disney’s films from the late 80’s were the start of one of my least favorite practices, integrating CG elements into 2-D animation to save production time. Hand drawn animation and 3-D animation have two completely different textures that rarely ever gel well, even renaissance films like “Aladdin” and “Tarzan”). The film’s stylized backgrounds do do a fine job of capturing both the scenic, idealized Manhattan in the movie’s title sequence, and the more grungy, realistic New York we spend the bulk of the film in. If it wasn’t for the fact that “The Little Mermaid” was released the following year, I’d probably say “Oliver and Company” was Disney’s best soundtrack from the 80’s, because it is remarkably consistent. Oliver’s theme, “Once Upon A Time In A New York”, is a vibrant, longing opening song by Huey Lewis, that gets more and more bleak and heartrending the more it progresses, and goes a long way in setting up the main conflict of the film. Dodger’s character-establishing song and the movie’s signature number, “Why Should I Worry”, is a pretty important turning point in the story. Up until now, “Oliver and Company” has been a somewhat cute and somewhat depressing movie about a lost tabby being overwhelmed by the NYC. Oliver chasing Dodger down to a Billy Joel number is the first time the film takes on a larger-than-life, genuinely fun tone, resulting in the dogs of Manhattan commandeering the streets. I will always lament “Streets Of Gold” being shortened, because it’s actually the only song on the album that matches “Why Should I Worry?” in quality. The musical style JAC Redford chose for Fagin’s dog gang was always earthy rock and jazz, and Ruth Pointer’s confident, energetic, irresistible 80’s workout music is the culmination of that style. Georgette’s purposely ridiculous introductory song, “Perfect Isn’t Easy”, is the weakest of the lot, with weak lyrics abound. Bette Middler, being Bette Middler though, slays the last chorus. “Good Company” is the most underrated track of the bunch. I love how the soft piano beat and Myhanh Tran’s harmonious vocals bookend the song, while the middle section is purely Redford cutting lose with stately, playful instrumentals.

“Oliver and Company” is a good, solid movie. With better animation and better pacing, it could have been a much stronger movie, but as it is, it’s another of Disney’s better dark age films, and a pretty important entry in the canon. “Oliver and Company” restored Disney’s faith in animated musicals, and that combined with the massive success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” paved the way for “The Little Mermaid”, the film that kicked off the Disney renaissance. The rest, after that, is history.

Rating: 7/10.


Oliver and Company Skyline

* One of the cats being sold with Oliver is blue. Since when are blue cats a thing?

* “Looks like it’s time for the Dodge to turn this into a total cat-astrophy!” Bad puns are bad.

* “Listen kid, I hate to break it to you, but the dynamic duo is now the dynamic uno” How to handle break-ups, Dodger style.

* “The rhythm of the city, boy once you get it down, you can own this town, you can wear the crown!!!”

* Can we talk about how Oliver nearly died during the montage? Because death seriously almost came for him at one point.


* “Isn’t it dangerous to use one’s entire vocabulary in a single sentence?”

* “Three sunrises, three sunsets, three days Fagin” “Before the sun sets on the third day” Yep, Disney used the same villainous time limit two films in a row.

* So that the leads can have contrasting personalities, of course it’s the edgy bad boy of the dog gang that little Oliver eventually becomes buds with (and I don’t think I’d want it any other way).

* As though the transition between the first and second acts wasn’t poignant enough, there’s also the fact that the Twin Towers are part of New York’s skyline, still standing in 1988. History. 🙂

* Oliver chases Dodger all across town to get some food and as far as I can tell, he still doesn’t eat anything until the following day.

* “Dead men do not buy dog food! So get out there, and fetch!” Welp, it’s time to steal some shit.

* “You’re gonna see how the best survive, we make an out of staying alive! If do just as you’re told these are streets of gold! Every boulevard is a miracle mile, you’ll take the town and you’ll take it with style! If you do just as you’re told, these are streets of gold!”

* “Whoa man, check it out! Hey forget Fagin, let’s take this baby to Atlantic city!”

* “You pretty pups all over the city, I have your hearts and you have my pity! Pretty is nice but still it’s just pretty, perfect my dears is me!”

* “Yeah! He’s family, he’s blood“.

* Disney wiki tells me Jenny is seven years old for most of the movie. That is way too young to have earrings. Mind you, Oliver is also too young to be hanging out with thieves, so I’m not sure where my priorities are here.

* I never knew I wanted to see a kitten curtsy before this movie.

* “You and me together we’ll be, forever you’ll see, we’ll always be good company, you and me, just wait and see. Goodnight Oliver”.

* Winston is privately one of those guys who gets way too into wrestling. I like it.

* “Oh man, he’s dead meat now”.

* Why does Winston think this is normal?

* “Oops“.

* “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what do!” “Neither do I!

* “Oh… I broke a nail” “Oh, balderdash!” “Hey, what you’d call my woman, man?!

* How would throwing a sheet over Roscoe and Desoto stop them, and why does it work?

* “Francis? Francis!”

* “Alonso, save me! Save me!” “Get off my back woman, I’m driving!”

* The only ones who come to Jenny’s birthday party are Fagin and his dog gang, who are Oliver’s friends more than they are Jenny’s. I feel like Jenny is pretty lonely.

* The dogs almost but don’t quite manage to butcher a good song in the reprise. I do like how the ending doesn’t feeling like an ending so much as a promise of more adventures. It’s one of the few Disney movies that actually had sequel potential.

Further Reading:


Oliver and Company Georgette

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 4 Comments