Bambi II (2006) Review

Bambi II Poster

“Bambi II”, the midquel centered around everyone’s favorite deer prince. It always surprises me just how good this movie is, because it really shouldn’t be. For starters, it’s a sequel and Disney’s track record with sequels is fairly awful. In fact, their record has gotten so bad that it’s practically become a meme to cringe at the sight of a Disney sequel. For another thing, “Bambi II” technically isn’t even a sequel, it’s a midquel – and prequels and midquels always tend to feel pointless (it was originally called “Bambi And The Great Prince” during production, and honestly the studio should have kept that title because I think it’s far more fitting and accurate than “Bambi II”). And for one last reason, it’s the Disney sequel with the largest gap between itself and it’s predecessor. In fact, “Bambi” and “Bambi II” currently hold the record for the longest gap between a movie and it’s sequel – nearly sixty-five years.

By all rights, this movie should be awful or totally cringy, like the “Beauty and the Beast” sequels (which can best be described as “Character Assassination, Parts 1 and 2”). But surprisingly enough, it’s not. It’s actually pretty enjoyable. Sweet and funny (very funny) and touching. Clearly, the people who made this movie knew the original “Bambi” was beloved and if they blew it on the level of some of the other sequels, they would be ripped to shreds. I think what makes this movie work is the fact that it’s the one of the only Disney sequels I’ve seen so far that can say it gave it’s main characters more dimensions than they had before, and breathed new life into them. The premise is centered around the event everyone remembers from the original “Bambi” – the loss of a parent. Bambi’s mother is dead, she’s clearly never coming back, and now her boys that have been left behind have to decide what they’re going to do with themselves from here on out.

Bambi II (1)

I mentioned in my review of “Bambi” that there were a lot of great things about that movie – the animation, the score, the atmosphere, the villain – but I wouldn’t say Bambi himself was one of them, since he and his family were kept as blank slates until the last twenty minutes. By contrast, Bambi is very likable in this movie, without feeling like his personality has changed too much. He’s still a playful, energetic fawn that tries to enjoy everything life has to offer him, but he’s gradually proactive as well as reactive. I think part of what makes Bambi so endearing, beyond having stronger characterization, is the fact that he’s more involved in the humor. This movie has so much fun at Bambi’s expense without it ever feeling mean-spirited. He can’t keep up with his father on the morning patrols, he’s antagonized by another jealous fawn (Ronno), and at one point he has a run-in with a cantankerous porcupine. The status quo in young Bambi’s life has been permanently changed. He’s been sent to live with his father who up until now has been a near-total stranger to him (which, needless, to say is uncomfortable), and he’s been stripped from his beloved mother. As you would expect, Bambi misses her terribly, but he still tries to make the best of things and strike up a rapport with the nearest adult figure in his life, which is of course, the Great Prince. The mysterious and aloof stag intrigues him, as he’s not quite as unapproachable as Bambi originally thought. Since, unlike Simba or Littlefoot, Bambi didn’t see his mother die, he’s allowed to cling to the idea she’s still around, stay in denial a little bit longer, until he nearly gets himself killed by hunters – at which point, the dejected deer is forced to accept she’s gone for good.

In the weeks following that, with his friends’ encouragement, Bambi starts to get tired of being timid and helpless all the time. He starts to want to take control of his life, put himself out there and really go for what he wants – which includes making awkward conversation with his father. After the ice is broken, Bambi learns a lot from the Great Prince about being a prince and being a buck, and it slowly helps him to gain confidence. The most pivotal moment in the movie is when Bambi’s potential caretaker, Mena, is caught in a hunting trap with hunting dogs on the way, and it occurs to Bambi that instead of running away, again, he can save her. As a prince of the forest, using what his father taught him, Bambi can make a difference in the forest, and he wants that. In that moment, Bambi the badass deer prince that I enjoyed in the last twenty minutes of the original film is born. Bambi displays quite a heroic side, faces his fear of Man and proves that he has what it takes to be a fine leader someday. Over the course of this movie, Bambi stepped outside of his comfort zone, he went through some tough times and he had a couple of near-death experiences, but he ultimately walks away from it a stronger person and achieves everything he had been hoping for, from having a proper relationship with his father to gaining a pair of antlers, and I couldn’t be happier for the little guy. Good on you, Bambi.

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While Bambi deals with the loss of his mother by trying to make the best of things and gaining a greater sense of self-confidence, the ever stoic (and somewhat pompous) Great Prince copes by burying himself in his duties and refusing to look back at the past. He’s grieving and a bit depressed, but still, life moves on. Male deer are rarely ever present in the lives of their off-spring – it’s the way deer do things as a species. The Great Prince has always cared for his mate and his son, but he’s never had to be more than a distant protector before now. Now, he has to be a provider as well. Much like how “Bambi II” is frank about how uncomfortable it would be going to go live with a father who’s a near-total stranger, the film is also honest about what would happen if someone who’s never had to be personally responsible for someone else beyond leadership and has no context on how to handle kids is suddenly tasked with raising one – including the ugly parts. When the Great Prince leaves Bambi on his own for far too long one day, it nearly gets Bambi killed by hunters, which only further convinces him that he’s incompatible with the role of a parent. It doesn’t help that he’s been aloof and isolating himself from other deer for years before now. Something that’s worth noting is that the co-protagonists of this film are moving in opposite directions in terms of character arcs. While Bambi is a shy kid who needs to grow into the role of a more confident prince, the Great Prince is an already competent and capable adult who’s defined himself around his duties for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to be a person, and he needs to regain his ability to connect to people on a more personal level if he’s going to continue raising Bambi. Once the Great Prince begins to let Bambi in and they start to find some common ground, things click. They have a great amount of influence on each other, and it’s easy to see that through their companionship, they make each other better than they were before.

Still, the Great Prince’s doubts remain about what’s actually best for Bambi. One of the more harsh but satisfying moments in the movie is when Bambi snaps and finally calls the Great Prince out on toying with his emotions (because even the nicest deer have their limits), and the dilemma in the last act revolves around forcing the Great Prince to confront what he truly values – his adherence to princely traditions or his budding relationship with his son – a head versus heart decision. The fact that the Prince’s potential goodbye to Bambi is a reminder of the boy’s birthright and not that his father loves him is a quietly cold gesture, but says a lot about how simultaneously well-meaning and misguided his priorities are. Even now, he wonders if he made the right choice and halfway regrets it. Like Elsa’s attempts to ‘protect’ Anna in “Frozen“, the Great Prince has locked himself in something of self-fulfilling prophecy – every attempt to keep Bambi at a distance because he thinks it’s for his own good has only made things worse and wound up hurting him anyway, and the climax is no exception. When his fatherly concern swells up and the Great Prince finds he has seemingly lost his mate and his son to Man, he can no longer fall back on his princely coping methods to ignore the buried grief – they’re worthless – and it’s the final step to clearing up his priorities; convincing him to wholeheartedly accept his new relationship Bambi – as weird, unconventional and wonderful as it is. In the weeks afterward, the pair’s genial dynamic has returned, and the Great Prince, having started to make peace with his mate’s death and learned his lesson about the importance of keeping some of his earthly tethers, decides to tell Bambi more about his mother. Like Bambi, the Great Prince really grows on you in this movie.

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The little bunny Thumper was easily one of the best characters in the original “Bambi” and he’s not relinquishing that status anytime soon. Thumper is as much of a sweet but mischievous troublemaker as ever, and his voice actor turns him out into a large, stroppy ham without it ever feeling like overkill. He’s very entertaining. In this film, Thumper is pretty much Bambi’s wingman as well as his best friend. Bambi was always a timid deer who didn’t like to take risks much, and it was his mother who encouraged him to be sociable. Now that she’s gone, that role has fallen to Thumper. Thumper tries to be supportive of Bambi’s decisions, and as an added benefit he gets to spend time away from his younger sisters who have been crowding him more than usual lately. Thumper’s sisters are pretty adorable by the way, with all their innocent insensitivity and total relentlessness. Flower the skunk retains his main personality traits of being quiet, bashful and effeminate, but his role as the third man in the forest trio is given a bit more emphasis and his oddball traits are slightly more noticeable. For example, he seems to have developed a fear of snapping turtles that turns out to be quite warranted by the end. The doe-eyed Faline makes a few appearances and she’s still a satellite love interest, though she’s shown to have sympathy for Bambi’s and appears to have become closer in Bambi’s friend group, as a girl next door type, than she was before.

Bambi gains a rival in this film, young Ronno, who is a little bitch deer. Ronno is a braggart and a show-off, an older fawn who’s eager for attention from his peers. He’s already starting to develop antlers so he thinks he’s more masculine than he is. He’s also a would-be bully. Ronno gradually becomes jealous of Bambi, because of Bambi’s status as the young prince of the forest, and because despite Ronno’s hubris, it slowly becomes clear he will always be second-best to his younger, more timid rival, Bambi. Fueled by envy and resentment, Ronno becomes more spiteful and cruel by the film’s end. I find the movie utilizes him well, not just as a minor antagonist to Bambi but also as a plot device; he casually lore-drops some important information about Man, and through his attempts to hurt Bambi, he winds up manufacturing situations that help to advance the main plot. Something that does bother me about Ronno though is when he taunts Bambi about freezing up on the meadow. How the fuck could Ronno know about that? He was not in that scene. He was long gone when it happened. The only way Ronno could know about that was if (1) the Great Prince had been bitching about Bambi to other deer, which is very unlikely, or (2) this creepy deer boy had decided to go spy on someone he had literally just met. Considering how Ronno just appears out of nowhere before the climax, it’s probably the latter.

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The animation in “Bambi II”, and in particular the expansive watercolor backgrounds, is very beautiful. The never-ending forest setting of Bambi’s world continues to inspire some diverse and serene backgrounds from Disney, and it’s a visual pleasure watching grey winter melt away into vibrant, bouncing spring throughout the film (the wide shot of the herd running through the meadow in “The First Sign Of Spring” is surprisingly breathtaking). Despite the main characters having far more dialogue than they did previously, a lot of emotion is conveyed quietly and subtly through their eyes throughout the movie (since many of them have been slightly redesigned to have more expressive eyes), and it’s this aspect of the animation in “Bambi II” that I would say is the most successful; it contributes to several of the more poignant scenes in the movie. Something I enjoyed about “Bambi” was how it made good use of it’s color palette and how it would manipulate colors to amplify it’s mood at any given time. “Bambi II” tries to retain that, which makes the drawn-out scene where Bambi wanders into hunting trap genuinely creepy, and the other scene where Bambi is almost savaged by a very determined hunting dog quite alarming. I think the weakest aspect of “Bambi II” is the thankfully rare instances of blending 3-D elements into a 2-D film. I still don’t like it when Disney does this, the textures never quite sync up right, and it especially feels out of place in this movie.

The soundtrack is very pleasant and fun to listen to. Similar to how they went through a jazz phase in the 60’s and a pop phase in the 90’s, Disney seemed to be really very fond of country music in the late 2000’s. While it felt out of place in some of their other films, the genre actually fits the forest setting of this movie, especially since it’s imbued with an innocent, childlike whimsy and retains the sweeping choruses of the original film. “There Is Life” and “The First Sign Of Spring” are tranquil, rising songs that do a fine job of drawing you into them, and lay down the main theme and metaphor for the film of seasons passing. Elsewhere, “Through Your Eyes” nicely sums up Bambi’s precocious nature and desire to know more about his father. Bruce Broughton’s score is very rich. He weaves “Love Is A Song” into the tapestry as a bit of continuity with the first film, and composes a shared theme for Bambi and the Great Prince that undergoes a transformation in the background of the movie. Originally stated in forlorn, solemn brass instruments in the first half of the film, it becomes progressively tender and performed on string instruments in the back half of the film, as the ice is officially broken the two princes; said theme is at it’s most noticeable during the farewell where the Great Prince sends Bambi to go live with Mena.

The worst thing I can say about this movie is that it feels a bit short (it’s actually around the same length as “Bambi”, but I wouldn’t have minded an additional ten to fifteen minutes). It’s obviously not on the level of the original film when it comes to impressive feats of animation, but it does manage to be a very effective character story that turns Bambi and the Great Prince into more engaging, likable figures than they were before. If you only ever decide to see one Disney sequel in your life, I recommend this one.

Rating: 8/10.


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* “For it’s out of the darkness that we learn to see! And out of the silence that songs come to be! And all that we dream of awaits patiently! There is life! There is! There is life!!!”

* Heh.

* “Bambi! A prince does not ‘woo-hoo'” Sometime between 1942 and 2006, Disney noticed the Great Prince has one hell of an ego, and there are several small jabs at it in this movie. Bless Patrick Stewart for that delivery though.

* Bambi had chats with his mother about a young deer’s development.

* A fun and easy to miss fact. In the original film, Thumper had five sisters, but in this one he only has four. I guess Bambi’s mom wasn’t the only one who got shot that winter.

* “We decided, we’d all sit by you!” “Ugh“.

* “Now, if there’ll be no further interruptions” Little girls, please shut up. I’m trying to posture here.

* There are times when the tone of this movie reminds me of “Winnie The Pooh” as much as it does “Bambi”, and that makes me smile because I do love “Winnie The Pooh”.

* “‘Bambi?’ Isn’t that a girl’s name?” Dear lord, Disney did get self-aware with this movie.

* “Isn’t that right, Bambi?” “Ronno!” “I’M COMING!!!”

* “Why did you have to go?” “Everything in the forest has its season. Where one thing falls, another grows. Maybe not what was there before, but something new and wonderful all the same” Well that was sweet. Bambi’s mom clearly believes her mate with be able to step up, even if he doesn’t believe it himself.

* “She’s never coming back… is she?” “….No”.

* Daddy, why don’t you love me?

* “Tresspassing little hooligans! No respect! No respect at all! And what are you looking at, you big moose?!”

* “Does it look bad?” “Euuggghhh! I’m not gonna lie to you, it ain’t pretty”.

* “Don’t feel bad. If we didn’t have cowards, we wouldn’t be able to tell who the brave ones are” Congratulations Ronno, you just figured out why you’re in this movie.

* I only just noticed that while Bambi got most of his looks from his mother, he inherited his big brown deer eyes from his father.

* “A new season’s begun for a father and son! And everything grows a little faster, every moment stretches longer, and it will only get much stronger! We will be together, leaving our cares behind forever, at the first sign of spring! The heat of the sun will shine right through, never a moment comes too soon! At the first sign of spring! At the first sign of spring… At the first sign of spring.!”

* Daw.

* I like the contrast between Bambi and the Great Prince’s personalities when Friend Owl walks in on them. The former is pretty unphased while the latter is quietly mortified.

* Anyone familiar with Disney movie formulas knows this is not even close to the end, but it is a more convincing fakeout than most. The original “Bambi” had the odd implication that at some point Bambi went to go live in a different forest, and in the source material the Great Prince did send Bambi to go live with a doe instead of raising him himself. So people who know their Bambi history will catch that reference.

* “I feel for you, I do. It must hard having a father who’s so ashamed of you, he’d give you away” Ronno, just fuck you.

* Bambi kicked that dog straight off the cliff. Young Bambi’s first blood.

* I feel kind of bad for Mena. She decides to do a favor for the royal family, which nearly gets her killed, and by the end it turns out out they don’t even need her anymore.

* “I’m here. I’m here”. Heh, callback.

* I like that despite Bambi having the usual love arc with Faline, the most important relationships he has in these movies is with his parents; his mother in the former and his father in the latter. It kind of helps them to stand out.

Further Reading:


Bambi II (10)

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A Look Back On The Amazing World Of Gumball

The Wattersons

With the news that one of my favorite modern cartoons, “The Amazing World Of Gumball”, is potentially and most likely ending with it’s sixth season (currently airing), I felt like sharing some of my favorite scenes from this wonderfully funny series to celebrate it’s run – lasting over 200 episodes. I’ve been a fan of “The Amazing World Of Gumball since it premiered in 2011, attracted to the show’s art style of blending several different animation mediums at once, and I’ve watched it grow and improve ever since.

* The Spoon:

The time the Wattersons thwarted a gas station hold-up. “The Spoon” is a good example of taking a purposely silly premise and milking it for all the absurdity that you can.

* The Prank:

Gumball and Darwin engage in a prank war with their father that goes just a bit too far when the kids send Richard out to sea without so much as a paddle. Annoyed, their dad gets them back by pretending to be crazy and chasing the kids through the house.

* The Quest:

Gumball and Darwin promise to help their little sister retrieve her stuffed doll when it’s taken by the school bully; which might be a bit difficult, considering what they’re up against.

* The Ape:

The time Miss Simian got her just desserts for being a terrible teacher and a terrible person. This is still one of my all-time favorite scenes in the series, because Nicole cuts loose for the first time in this episode and it is amazing.

* The Hero:

When Richard revealed he had depths beyond being a goofy dad. “The Hero” was an important character development episode for Richard, and the start of an arc fleshing Mr. Watterson out for the rest of the series.

* The Fury:

The mom fight anime parody, where Nicole faced her rival from Japan. Nicole doesn’t have as many episodes devoted to her past as Richard, so “The Fury” was a fun treat.

* The Outside:

The time the Wattersons tried too hard to accommodate their criminal Grandpa Frankie and wound up crossing some boundaries. The mini-arc “Gumball” has done with Richard’s father is one of my favorites, and “The Outside” was a fun middle episode.

* The Matchmaker:

The time Darwin went emo.

* The Catfish:

The time Gumball and Darwin screwed up and caused Granny Jojo to think Grandpa Louie was cheating on her. I always love when Granny Jojo appears. She’s just so crazy.

* The Uncle:

Gumball trying to let down a psychotic ‘friend’. I enjoyed Ocho as an antagonist in “The Phone”, so I was glad he got his own episode in “The Uncle”, especially since it gave us this song.

* The One:

The time Tobias tried too hard to be Gumball’s ‘friend’ and wound up crossing some boundaries.

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Score Highlights: Titanic

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

Today’s pick is the love theme James Horner wrote for Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt-Bukater in “Titanic”. James Horner has been a favorite composer of mine for a long time now, and his score for “Titanic” was probably his magnum opus. He gave Cameron’s romantic, disaster epic an ethereal Celtic sound, with soft piano performances, haunting vocals, and lingering woodwinds. Horner wrote a number of themes and melodies for the film, but the gentle, swelling love theme is easily the most recognizable, because whether you love it or hate it you will get it stuck in your head for days after watching the movie. The bittersweet repeating melody would eventually become the powerful end credits number and Oscar-bait song, “My Heart Will Go On”, performed by Celine Dion (a song that people have mixed feelings about these days, to say the least). The rendition I’ve picked is “The Portrait”, the understated piano version that plays when Jack sketches Rose at her request. I think it’s easily one of the most beautiful and memorable restatements of the love theme, and it surprisingly didn’t make the original release of the soundtrack, being released on the second album, “Back To Titanic”, a few years later instead.

See Also: “Rose” and “My Heart Will Go On”.

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The Jungle Book (1967) Review

The Jungle Book Poster

“The Jungle Book” is a nice example of a lightweight Disney movie. The studio has done it’s fair share of movies that are sad, exciting, romantic, or frightening, and “The Jungle Book” isn’t really any one of those. It’s a laidback road trip movie that doubles as a comedy, and while it’s pretty sleight, it’s good for what it is. I think “The Jungle Book” might also be the movie that best embodies the episodic storytelling Disney films used to employ for decades. The plot is basically Mowgli (and to a lesser extent, his friends) wandering around the jungle, meeting it’s inhabitants and having bizarre, interlocking adventures until he arrives at the Man Village in the last couple of minutes. You can never quite be sure what will happen next, and while the plot is fairly random there is a direction to it with some characters appearing more than once, and the largely off-screen villain, Shere Kahn, helping to drive the main conflict forward. It’s definitely a movie where the journey is more interesting than the destination.

“The Jungle Book” is also an interesting movie to discuss because I think it’s a rare film that peaks around the middle section rather than the third act. You know how every once in a while you have a good duo, but then you add a third person to it and you get this perfect trio who make every scene they’re in better with all the chemistry they have? “The Jungle Book” is like that. Once Baloo is introduced at the start of the second act, the next twenty-seven minutes are Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera’s personalities bouncing off each other and the situations they find themselves in, and the dialogue simply crackles – especially when Mowgli gets kidnapped by monkeys. By the time Baloo and Bagheera go after him, Mowgli’s almost forgotten he wants to be rescued because he’s gotten so caught up in the jazz times, Bagheera’s attempts to save him are sabotaged by Baloo getting swept up into it as well, and Baloo in drag engages in a scat battle with King Louie. It’s amazing. Not to mention, the quiet and far more serious nighttime scene that follows where Bagheera manages to convince Baloo to actually be responsible for a change. By the contrast, I think the weakest stretch of the movie is the twenty minutes Mowgli spends wandering the jungle alone before the climax, because while I like Mowgli his character isn’t strong enough to carry a large chunk of the film by himself (though “The Jungle Book” is smart enough to also turn it’s attention towards the villains, Kaa and Shere Kahn, during this time).

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Mowgli is a young Indian boy, found by a panther and raised by wolves in the jungle for ten years. Mowgli has grown accustomed to his jungle life, and is very upset when he’s told he’ll have to leave behind the jungle forever and all his friends for his protection. Disney has had it’s share of sweet kid characters and awkward kid characters, but Mowgli is more of the bratty but well-meaning persuasion. Having grown up in the jungle, Mowgli is very stubborn and overconfident that he can survive in the wild – despite having little to no survival skills. He doesn’t hesitate to pick a fight and he even pimp-slaps a bear at one point (which he may or may not have learned from Bagheera). Rather tellingly, once he runs off from Bagheera and Baloo and once Kaa and Shere Kahn decide to stop toying with him, Mowgli gets overwhelmed by the jungle pretty quickly. Since he’s not allowed to stay with his wolf family anymore (and he honestly forgets about them after a while), Mowgli spends much of the movie trying to find somewhere where he belongs. He tries to be an elephant and that doesn’t work out. He tries to be a bear and gets his feelings hurt. He trusts Kaa and almost gets eaten. He does a number with some vultures and almost gets eaten again (albeit not by them). It’s actually pretty sad watching Mowgli get his feelings dashed and become more and more disillusioned with the jungle as the movie progresses, before he finally regains his friendship with Baloo in the climax. In the end, Mowgli decides to live in the nearby Man-Village, not because he feels he doesn’t belong in the jungle but humorously enough because the Man-Village has girls in it. Since “The Jungle Book” is a boy’s movie, it’s almost fitting that it would end with Mowgli discovering girls and having his first crush.

Disney has a lot of stuffy British characters, and Bagheera, I think, is the one of the first. Bagheera is the proud, stern but ultimately warmhearted black cat who discovers Mowgli when he’s a baby, and is tasked with being Mowgli’s guardian until the boy settles in the Man-Village (it helps that he seems to know everyone in the jungle). Bagheera goes through quite a lot in this movie. It’s easy to see Bagheera as the strict but sensible uncle who’s tasked with wrangling kids for the first time. He tries to be the voice of reason in the trio and he’s easily the force grounding them, but he’s often either ignored by Mowgli or he goes too hard on him. It’s also worth noting that despite considering himself sensible and mature, Bagheera isn’t always as responsible as he thinks – like when he almost lets Mowgli get eaten by Kaa or how he gets frustrated and ditches Mowgli, Jimmy Cricket style, a few times. It keeps him from being perfect, and at times, makes him almost hypocritical. When Mowgli chooses to stay in the Man-Village because of Shanti, it isn’t the motivation Bagheera was expecting to get him to stay with his own kind, but he’ll gladly take it.

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Baloo is easily the character with the most charisma in “The Jungle Book”, which is why he’s also the character who got his own spin-off series years later in “TaleSpin”. Baloo is a drifter and a jazz hipster who proudly and lazily coasts his way through life everyday, and on this particular occasion coasts his way into Mowgli’s adventure. When Mowgli shows interest in being a bear, Baloo decides to show him the ropes, and after the two develop a strong friendship Baloo decides to adopt him as his own cub. The audience is already aware that this probably won’t work out since Baloo almost kills Mowgli twice a few minutes after meeting him, but Baloo still wants to give it a try. I’ve often seen people say that while Mowgli is the protagonist, Baloo and Bagheera are the two most engaging characters in “The Jungle Book”, and this is certainly true, because while “The Jungle Book” is a movie about finding your place it’s also a movie about parenting and the different types of it. A hard lesson Baloo learns is the importance of being responsible, and that he can’t always be the fun adult in Mowgli’s life. When Bagheera makes it clear Baloo can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Kahn the tiger, Baloo finds himself having to put Mowgli’s needs before his own and let the kid go. What’s more, since Baloo was the one who interfered with Bagheera’s task and got Mowgli’s hopes up, it has to be him who sets things back the way they were and break his promise to the kid. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Baloo ends up fighting Shere Kahn to give Mowgli enough time to defeat him, and they succeed, but Mowgli still winds up going to the Man-Village to romance girls. It deals quite a blow to Baloo, but one he can bounce back from though, since he only knew Mowgli for like two days anyway.

Colonel Hathi, a pompous pachyderm, and his herd of elephants turn up a few times and let’s just say they always make their presence known. The main joke with that colonel is that he’s a British elephant who treats his herd like a military troop and works them as such, including his wife, though he has a soft spot for his son. The elephants don’t actually contribute much to the plot and their scenes are pretty slow, but “The Jungle Book” wouldn’t feel right them without them. One bit of dialogue that’ll raise some eyebrows is Hathi’s sexist remark that he won’t have a female leading his herd. It’s strange because elephants are a matriarchal species. I actually can’t tell if that’s the joke or if it’s the result of humans projecting their 60’s gender issues onto animals. You also have to wonder who put Hathi in charge of the herd, since the other elephants clearly don’t like him.

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Winnie The Pooh and Tigger discussing the art of murder.

King Louie, the king of the jungle monkeys, only gets one scene but he makes the absolute most of it. He has a cool, chill attitude and jazz skills that rival Baloo’s, undercut by an ambitious and perhaps delusional desire to tame fire and become lord of the jungle. I actually wish we had saw more of him. The twisted and sinister python, Kaa, easily ranks up there with Jafar when it comes to Disney villains that can make you feel all kinds of uncomfortable. It’s partly because Sterling Halloway uses the exact same voice for Kaa that he did for Winnie the Pooh (take note, kids, Winnie the Pooh is only pretending to be friendly. Really he’s going to smother you with your pillow while you’re sleeping) and partly because Kaa has no sense of personal space. All the villains in this movie are pretty grabby of Mowgli, but Kaa is extremely grabby since he’s predator and after a while his stroking gets pretty creepy. Kaa is easily defeated when we first meet him, so the audience underestimates him – in a way, he deceives us just like he deceives Mowgli when it comes to how much of a threat he is. Since he can’t get Mowgli (who knows about his hypnosis) to look him in the eyes, he wraps his coils around Mowgli’s head, and when the man-cub tries to remove him Kaa makes his move. It’s clever trick.

While Kaa is a dangerous enough hunter for even Bagheera to fear him, he’s not the biggest threat in the jungle. He’s dwarfed by the burly but sophisticated tiger, Shere Khan. In a movie filled with British characters (to the point where there are even Beatles vultures), Shere Kahn stands out as a dry, evil Brit. The tiger hates Man and Man’s weapons, and therefore has a vendetta against Mowgli simply for existing – wanting to make the boy his diner. Something I like about the villains in this movie is how falsely affable they are. They’ll try to kill you, surely, but they’ll make conversation with you first. Most of the people Shere Kahn antagonizes aren’t even a threat to him, so he does enjoy playing with his food. If you want to draw a parallel between him and Mowgli, you could say that they both bit off more than they could chew by being overconfident. Thanks to a stroke of good luck, Mowgli defeats Shere Kahn with fire – something that had been repeatedly mentioned throughout the movie. It can seem like a tame defeat at first, but when you think about it tying a flaming branch to a tiger’s tail – especially when he’s panicking – would most likely set that tiger’s fur coat on fire. Shere Kahn had better hope there’s a river nearby.

The Jungle Book

The weakest aspect of “The Jungle Book” is easily the animation, to the point where I would say it holds the film back a bit. The animation in “The Jungle Book” is very rough and unrefined, and at times can be quite stiff, like the the pan-in shot of Shere Kahn in the grass that opens the third act. There’s also a ton of reused animation. When it comes to xerox era / dark age Disney films, “The Jungle Book” is one of the ones where the shortcut of reusing animation is at it’s most noticeable. By the third act, you’ll start to get tired of that shot of Mowgli quietly walking around and sulking, along with that shot of Bagheera turning and leaping through the trees. The rustic, lush and foreboding jungle backgrounds are nice to look at though, and beautifully scenic.

The songs cover a surprisingly large spectrum of styles and genres. The recurring theme, “Colonel Hathi’s March” is a fun, strident and straightforward introduction to the elephants with a memorable central melody. “The Bare Necessities” is endearingly silly and laidback, with a fine performance by Phil Harris and some great and surprisingly wild trumpet work. What starts as a relaxing life lesson from Baloo (with the odd near-death experience here and there) also starts to get pretty weird around the time Baloo starts scratching himself; at a certain point you’ll start to wonder if the songwriters were on drugs at the time. “I Wanna Be Like You” is the culmination of the film’s jazzy jungle style and it’s very infectious, with it’s swinging lyrics and it’s gradually increasingly insanity. It also earns points from me for giving Phil Harris and Louis Prima a duet at the end. “Trust In Me” is alright; it’s a quiet, droning, hypnotic tune Kaa drawls to a sleeping Mowgli to put him entirely under his spell and a further testament to how competent Kaa is as an antagonist. “We’re Your Friends”, which the vultures sing to Mowgli, is easily the weakest song of the lot with blunt, unsubtle lyrics and an unimpressive chorus; it’s also the only song that feels like it’s there to fill a song quota. “My Own Home”, Shanti’s song, is a nice and a pleasing final song, with soothing vocals and soft instrumentals, though you have to wonder why Shanti is so flirty when she’s like ten.

“The Jungle Book” is a nice, light romp movie. It’s rough around the edges but it’s a worthwhile journey through the jungle featuring characters from all walks of life.

Rating: 7/10.


The Jungle Book 5

* Other good duos that became perfect trios include the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory from “Doctor Who”, and Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock from “The Adventures Of Tintin”.

* Bagheera sends baby Mowgli to go live with the wolves and assumes they won’t just eat him because of parental instincts. That could have gone horribly wrong.

* Have the wolves been feeding Mowgli enough? Because he looks awfully skinny.

* “I won’t hear anymore until the morning” “Heheh, he won’t be here in the morning”.

* Panther pimp slap.

* Considering most of Mowgli and Bagheera’s scenes before now have been the two of them bickering, this is a cute detail to include the following morning.

* “Hathi, I can explain” “Colonel Hathi, if you will” “Oh, yes, Colonel Hathi” Two salty Brits.

* Elephant pile-up.

* “Pitiful”.

* “They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him!” I had no idea Li Shang was in that village.

* “He’s with me, ain’t he? And I’ll learn him all I know” “Well, that shouldn’t take too long” Savage Bagheera is the best Bagheera.

* “Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities! Forget about your worries and your strife! I mean the bare necessities, Old Mother Nature’s recipes, that brings the bare necessities of life!”

* Who else flinches when that boulder lands on Baloo’s head? Baloo ought to be a dead bear.


* “You cut that out!” They just did as you asked, Mowgli.

* “Now don’t try to kid me, mancub, I made a deal with you. What I desire is man’s red fire to make my dream come true! Now give me the secret, mancub, come on, clue me what to do. Give me the power of man’s red flower so I can be like you!”

* “Take me home, Daddy!”

* “Man, that was one swinging party!” Bagheera is so done with everything.

* “Baloo, you wouldn’t marry a panther would you?” “Well I don’t know. Come to think of it, no panther’s ever asked me” Heh.

* Through the power of Disney magic, Baloo and Bagheera’s black eyes are all healed up by the end of this scene.

* I like how Baloo considers being compared to Bagheera an insult. Considering Bagheera’s been super salty this whole movie, you can understand why.

* “Hold still please”.

* Well, that was a nice sight gag, and this is a nice, quiet threat.

* Shere Kahn, you liar.

* Thank goodness for dramatic thunder storms.

* Bagheera, where were you when the fight was going down?

* This is a nice parody of the cliched Disney death scene. The audience is let in ahead of time that Baloo’s not actually dead, so it loops around from being predictable to actually being pretty funny.

* “What’s that?” “Forget about those, kid, they ain’t nothing but trouble” I like how you can see Baloo start to really dislike this ten year old girl.

* This goodbye face is perfect.

* Baloo and Bagheera are gonna tell the elephants who are currently wrecking the jungle that they’ve already found Mowgli, right?

Further Reading:


The Jungle Book 12

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 5 Comments

Bambi (1942) Review

Bambi Poster

Boy, do I have some mixed feelings about “Bambi”. I first saw “Bambi” not long before I discovered “Lady And The Tramp“, in the latter half of 2005. My experience with this movie has always been watching it, thinking that it’s nice and pleasant, and then forgetting a lot of it not long afterwards. Because as a work of art, “Bambi” is beautiful and intricate, but as a story and a film experience, “Bambi” is more of a mixed bag. “Bambi” was one of Walt Disney’s most ambitious and experimental movies, as well as the last film of the golden era. It was an experiment in trying to tell a film, and more specifically a nature film, with a limited amount of dialogue – letting the animation and the score carry the movie. This is a great idea and could have made for an incredible film, but the execution falls short in several areas.

For one example, the characterization in “Bambi” is wafer-thin. Like I said, “Bambi” is a nature film and the characters aren’t really meant to be characters so much as wild animals, so they’re deliberately and perhaps unwisely kept as ciphers. What little dialogue the forest animals receive is bland and perfunctory and informs little about their personalities (save for Thumper’s and Friend Owl’s); neither do their actions really. Scenes of the forest animals frolicking, being precocious and inquisitive and generally doing random routines is strewn throughout the film in place of character development and progression, and so the audience can see the sort of world the forest animals inhabit (if you have little patience for schmaltz, these scenes will probably drag). Bambi and his family in particular are kept as blank slates until the last twenty minutes of the movie, when the film time-jumps to Bambi being a badass young deer prince, which is easily the best stretch of the movie. The second, and arguably largest, problem “Bambi” has is that there is almost no conflict for the majority of the film. A good story needs conflict, that’s a basic rule of storytelling, but “Bambi” has almost none save for the three scenes involving Man and the brief fight Bambi has with Ronno. The rest of the film is the aforementioned scenes of the animals frolicking and doing zany forest things, so as you’d imagine, there are quite a few lulls in the film between standout sequences. With little character progression or conflict, “Bambi” is a film that largely feels like it’s going through the motions for most of it, though the highs are pretty high.

Bambi I Bring You A Song

Bambi is a young deer fawn living in a majestic forest in North America. Bambi is a timid, bashful deer who spends most of the movie out of his depth and is greatly interested in absorbing everything nature and his mother have to teach him. I already mentioned young Bambi is mostly a boring blank slate, and for the first two-thirds of the film his primary function is to react to things. During the last third of the movie, Bambi has a characterization shift. He’s still a bashful soul, but he’s gained confidence. He’s now a competent, knowledgeable young adult and for the first time in the movie, he becomes a proactive character as well as a reactive one. Needless to say, this is the best version of Bambi. I’ve often seen people say that Bambi’s character arc is this film is a classic coming-of-age story: loving his mom, making friends, exploring nature, suffering loss, romancing girls, fighting rivals, having a final confrontation with Man. But if that’s the case, while it’s effective enough, I wouldn’t say it’s an especially satisfying arc, since “Bambi” skips over some of the most important steps. We never see Bambi grieve and move on from the mother who meant so much to him and got torn away from him, we never never him adjust to living with his somewhat creepy father that he knows nothing about, and we never see him start to transform from a fearful child to a self-assured young adult, even in montage. We’re just left to assume that it all happened offscreen, since the death of his mother was the death of his innocence. Regardless, Bambi puts up a good fight against Man and his hunting dogs when they invade his forest, and manages to escape the woods alive with his family when Man’s hubris catches up to him. Bambi becomes the new prince of the forest after his father steps down, and the circle of life begins anew with Bambi and his mate’s kids.

Bambi’s best friend, Thumper, is probably the character with the most personality in the film while still being a minor character, especially when they’re kids. Thumper is playful, mischievous and adventurous, and he often steals the scenes that he’s in, like a winter sequence where he tries to convince Bambi to try out ice skating (without much success), or a bizarre mating scene when they’re adults that involves Thumper’s mate seducing him. Bambi’s second friend, Flower, is pretty similar in temperament to Bambi – he’s quiet, bashful, precocious and in touch with his femininity. He’s probably one of the few times you’ll see a skunk portrayed in a positive light in a nature film, and he also has the cutest mating scene of the trio.

Bambi The Great Prince

Bambi’s mom is the person he has the closest connection to in his formative years and is many ways, his teacher. With her son, she’s wise, patient, nurturing, kind, and cautious. You could easily say Bambi’s mom is an archetype of the ideal mother, reserved but reliable, and just when you start to think she’s too perfect, the film seemingly addresses this. There’s a scene at the start of the second act that kind of boggles your mind, when Bambi’s mom takes him to see a deadly meadow. If the deer in this film are clever enough to realize they’re at their most vulnerable when they’re in the meadow and that humans usually come there to try to kill them, then why on Earth do they keep going back and taking their children with them? It’s apparently so they can socialize, but when Bambi and his mom nearly get shot a few minutes after they arrive, just as they predicted, you’d think it would be time for the deer to adapt and have their meet and greets someplace else. In any case, regardless of that slip-up, Bambi’s mom not only gets him through a harsh winter, she also proves once and for all, that she’s a good mother by sacrificing herself for him – shielding him from Man until he can get to safety and being shot in the back for her troubles. The immediate aftermath of her sacrifice leads to one of the best scenes in the film – a quiet, harsh, sobering moment between Bambi and his father – and it casts a real weight on the film, for about two minutes before it’s quickly swept under the rug and never spoken of again.

The Great Prince of the Forest, Bambi’s father, has quite a commanding presence and is easily one of the most memorable characters this film, which is surprising since he has such a minor role. Bambi’s mother describes her mate as being the wisest stag in the forest, but considering that the deer in this movie apparently don’t make the best life choices that’s probably a low bar. Something that immediately becomes clear to you about the Great Prince is that he is a very pompous deer; in fact there’s this one moment where Bambi looks at him and the Great Prince makes this ‘why are you smiling, boy?’ face in return that’s so weird and so out of nowhere that it’s unintentionally funny (just look at it). The Great Prince lives apart from the rest of the herd as their leader, their vigil and their king, and as such he’s become distant and aloof over the years – somewhat harsh, but he always come through when he’s needed. Like the villain, Man, Bambi’s unorthodox relationship with his absent father is one of the more intriguing elements of the film that’s never given much focus. The deer in the Bambi universe maintain the animal instincts and behavior of their real world counterparts (in this case, that male deer have no involvement in the rearing of their children (many deadbeat dad jokes were born in the Disney fandom)) but they also have just enough human traits in them from being in a human story that they’re closer than actual deer would be. As such, Bambi’s relationship with the Great Prince rests in this awkward middle place between distant for humans, and tight for deer. After Bambi’s mom dies, the Great Prince takes on the job of raising Bambi until adulthood, and the film implies that they’ve grown closer and reached an understanding after the time-jump. Exactly what sort of dynamic the princes had and how they built it is a story for a different movie however.

Bambi Winter Forest

Like Mickey Mouse, Bambi gains a love interest (a doe) who looks almost exactly like him (one might wonder if there’s some narcissism involved). But in all seriousness, Bambi’s girlfriend, Faline, is a bit of a spitfire and a tease in her youth, and quite flirtatious as a young adult. Faline has a small role in this story, but I like that as a girl and a woman, she always seems to know what she wants and has no problem going for it. Between her and Bambi, it’s clear Faline is the go-getter of the two. Bambi’s rival, Ronno, has an even smaller role – one scene – but he’s worth mentioning for providing the only bit of conflict that doesn’t involve Man in this movie, and for being pretty messed-up. Ronno ambushes Bambi and Faline in the middle of their frolicking and it’s implied that he might want to rape Faline and murder Bambi (why this scene is never included on people’s lists of messed-up Disney moments, I’m not sure). The fight that follows is another of Bambi’s close shaves with death, but also the first one he can fight back against and the first he wins, with Ronno vanquished and the buck never seen again afterwards. Friend Owl is a grandfatherly figure; an old curmudgeon of an owl who has a habit of making nightmare faces. Naturally, I like him.

The film’s antagonist, Man, is easily the best aspect of this movie and a gripping presence whenever he appears because he just throws everything into chaos. I like how Man is never once a character, or a conventional villain. He’s a thing, this unknowable predator that’s always offscreen who sometimes invades the animals’ forest. Because when you look at it from an animal’s perspective, human hunters would be incredibly creepy. The critters certainly can’t fight the power of Man’s guns. Bambi and the Great Prince are the only ones who can predict when Man will arrive, and as the death of Bambi’s mom demonstrates, they can’t be everywhere at once. So there are definitely some scenes that play up the psychological horror of knowing there’s something coming to kill you and nothing you can do to stop it or possibly even escape from it. Like when Man waits out this trio of quails hiding in the brush, biding his time until one of them succumbs to her fear and rushes out of her hiding spot, and he shoots her dead. It’s also interesting to think about what Man might actually be. Is he really a hunter? Is he a poacher? Is he some psychotic redneck who likes to go and shoot up the forest for fun sometimes? The ending suggests it’s the last one. Man and his buddies return one last time to slaughter every animal they can find (I suspect they’re totally wasted in this scene), and the pay-off for all that world-building and cutesy scenes we had beforehand comes when we see the kind of destruction the hunters have brought to the forest community. Luckily, their hubris does them in. In their haste to bring home game, they don’t do a good enough job of extinguishing their campfire and the whole forest sets on fire. Man and his buddies burn alive in the flames they created, and at long last, Bambi’s mom and several other animals are avenged.

Bambi vs Ronno

The production of the film is another one of it’s strongest areas. You can tell Disney threw a lot of money at this movie, because the animation is gorgeous. From the opening sequence onwards, we’re treated to lush, green, sweeping landscapes and spacious woodland backgrounds deliberately designed to resemble stylized, textured oil paintings of old. I especially love the way wind and water are designed in this film, with vibrant, whistling greenery and glowing, trickling streams surrounding our characters from time to time, like the ghostly “Little April Showers” sequence. The colors and atmosphere in “Bambi” are both top-notch with the movie always knowing just how to manipulate it’s color palette to amplify it’s mood at any given time; giving us deep, desaturated, isolated greys whenever the deer and the audience feel uneasy, and sharp, blindingly vivid oranges and reds whenever the characters are in mortal danger, like the forest fire climax. The most creative bit of animation is during Bambi’s duel with Ronno, when we only see the shadowed outlines of the two bucks fighting and eventually it’s impossible to tell which deer is which or who’s even winning until Bambi emerges the victor. The animators spent a lot of studying animals in a zoo during “Bambi’s” pre-production and learning their behavior, and the end results are that the deer movements are pitch-perfect – seamlessly emulating their aloof demeanor and nimble strides.

The music has a great amount of presence in “Bambi”, to the point where I would argue it’s another character in the movie – tasked with conveying emotion in the absence of dialogue. The songs often feature an ethereal choir, like “Love Is A Song”, a beautiful opening theme whose whistling vocals perfectly match the tour through Bambi’s forest home. “Little April Showers” continues the theme of being somewhat haunting with a simple, hummable melody and a surprising, crashing interlude. “Let’s Sing A Gay Little Spring Song” is alright but it comes at possibly the worst time in the movie, and “I Bring You A Song”, Bambi and Faline’s love hymn, is probably the most underrated and overlooked song from “Bambi’s” soundtrack – an excellent example of how beautiful music and animation can be when they come together as one.

“Bambi” is perhaps overhyped. It’s a good movie and I like it a lot, but it’s also not as deep as it’s made out to be. With very little conflict or character progression and a death scene that’s almost entirely ignored, “Bambi” falls short of being a masterpiece like “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo” while still being a very impressive early experiment from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Rating: 8/10.


Bambi And The Great Prince

* “Love is a song that never ends, one simple theme repeating! Like the voice of a heavenly choir, love’s sweet music flows on!”

* Like “The Little Mermaid“, “Bambi” had a huge amount of influence as a film. “Bambi” apparently helped to create anime (so weaboos owe a lot to this little deer), John Williams’ theme for “Jaws” was influenced by Frank Churchill’s sinister theme for Man, and future iconic films like “The Land Before Time” and “The Lion King” reworked the structure of this film and in my opinion, improved on it.

* “I’m thumping! That’s why they call me Thumper!”

* Why does this look like a meet-cute?

* This little duckling held a grudge against Bambi, and later contacted Man to put a hit out on him.

* I like how the score becomes 200% more manly as soon as the stags show up, to let us know the men have arrived to show off to the women.

* ‘Daddy, why don’t you love me?

* “Mother, why did we all run?” “…. Man…. was in the forest” Well, that was an awkward pause.

* Does anyone else chuckle at some of the voice work? As Bambi gets older, he briefly gains a southern accent (“Mother, what’s all that white stuff?!”) and just as quickly drops it. As adults, Bambi, Flower and Thumper’s voices are much deeper than you’d expect for their designs, because puberty hit them hard.

* Why is everyone acting like they haven’t seen Bambi in years? Bambi went to live with the Great Prince, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t move to another forest.

* You can already see the Great Prince’s influence on Bambi.

* Wait, what? What the what is happening?! Lady, back up!

* Bambi’s puppy dog eyes.

* One subtle and easy to miss detail is Faline’s reaction when she spots Ronno – a look of recognition and distaste. All the deer in the forest know each other, and Bambi and Faline have probably encountered Ronno before now. The attempted murder and rape is new, though.

* I would give Bambi and Faline flack for going back to that meadow again, but at least they waited until it was night to do it.

* “I’m seeking that glow only found when you’re young and it’s May, only found on that wonderful day when all longing is through! I’m seeking that glow only found when a thrill is complete, only found when two hearts gently beat to the strength of a waltz that’s both tender and new!”

* At this point, Bambi’s not even fazed anymore by his dad appearing from nowhere. He probably just hopes he’ll get that cool ability someday.

* Faline’s eyes changed color in this scene.

* The climax seriously makes this movie. Hunters show up and start shooting everything, that one bird’s corpse drops back to the ground onscreen, hunting dogs go straight for Bambi and Faline, Bambi gets shot, the whole forest sets on fire; it’s as exciting as “Bambi” gets.

* “Get up, Bambi. Get up. You must get up. Get up! Get up!”

* I wish that Disney had kept the deleted scene of Bambi and the Great Prince discovering Man’s burnt body, proving that Man isn’t infallible and that justice had been served.

* Flower named his kid after Bambi. So this was a meet-cute?

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

Further Reading:


Bambi Forest Fire

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 5 Comments

Dumbo (1941) Review

Dumbo Poster

“Dumbo” is another Disney classic I didn’t have much experience with until recently. I first saw “Dumbo” in summer 2017 and I enjoyed it, but after rewatching it for this review it’s risen a lot in my estimation. It’s pretty easy to overlook “Dumbo”, since it doesn’t test the limits of what animation is capable of like “Pinocchio” or “Fantasia”, or try to be a grand story of life and death like “Bambi” (in fact, “Dumbo” was released to turn a profit during a tough time for the studio between several expensive projects), but something that stands out about “Dumbo” is just how fun, simple and stirring it is as a short standalone. It’s a movie about acceptance, a movie about circus life, and a movie about the love a parent and child have for each other, and that’s all it really needs to be.

Something I always enjoy about revisiting the golden era of Disney animation is the tone and style of these films. At the time, Disney was still accustomed to doing the theatrical shorts that gave the company it’s start, and their first handful of movies felt like flashy extended shorts, with all the fairy tale, storybook vibes that came with them. The universe “Dumbo” takes place in is zany and bizarre, with actual storks delivering babies to people, living trains carting people around, and a scene where an elephant unashamedly starts flying with only his large ears to propel him; it’s the sort of thing you probably wouldn’t see in an animated film these days because it wouldn’t work as well in the 21st century, but in the golden era, when the line between reality and fantasy was a lot more blurred, there’s a real charm to it. The film devotes a lot of time to zany circus hijinks and situational comedy involving the various types of animals the circus has on hand, and of course there’s some trademark golden era frights (though not as many as other films). One scene that stands out is when some punks starts messing with Mrs. Jumbo’s baby, she lashes out, and when others humans try to restrain her she goes red-eyed with fury and starts wrecking everything nearby. That’s some classic mood whiplash for you. Lastly, this is another Disney film where I’d argue the character relationships are the main selling point, more than anything else. There’s really only two of them (Dumbo & Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo & Timothy) but they are precious.

Dumbo Baby Mine

Dumbo is an innocent and naive newborn elephant born to a circus pachyderm, a playful kid who’s just learning how the world works under the tutelage of his mom. Dumbo is born with the birth defect of overly large ears that weigh him down and hinder his ability to walk. Dumbo can adapt to them well enough, but it’s not Dumbo’s own opinion of his ears that’s the problem. Because of his ears, his undignified demeanor and his habit of getting into trouble, Dumbo is regarded as a freak and a disgrace to his herd and shunned by other elephants. He’s treated cruelly and callously by humans and animals alike, and eventually stripped of his mother, forced to face all the mockery and jeering alone. I appreciate that Dumbo isn’t portrayed as unflappably cheery or optimistic in the face of adversity, which would be an easy enough route for the movie to take. He’s a young boy who’s unfairly lost his mother and is dealing with a lot of crap at the moment, mostly from people who are supposed to be adults and should be much more mature than they are. Dumbo may not know much, but he does know his life sucks currently, and as the film progresses we see him grow increasingly melancholy and dejected, slipping into un-childlike bouts of depression. Ironically, Disney devoted way more time to Dumbo feeling sad about his mom being in elephant jail than they devoted time to Bambi feeling sad about how his mom got murdered.

I have a great deal of fondness for the dueteragonist of this film, Timothy – the circus rodent with an eye for show business. Timothy can best be described as blokish and down to earth, very much an everyman character for this movie’s era. He can be such a tough little mouse at times, but sensitive and supportive at others, knowing just when to alternate between the two. Timothy is one of the few characters in this movie who actually seems to have a sense of empathy and recognizes that picking on a kid (even a kid several times his size) is pretty messed up. He offers Dumbo his friendship at a time when he needs a friend the most, and takes the elephant under his wing as a brash big brother figure, unlike Jiminy Cricket who was more of a father figure to Pinocchio. As Dumbo’s older partner, he coaches him on how to survive circus life, tries to help him make plans for the future and helps him sneak out to see his imprisoned mother. We also learn, from his confrontation with the crows, that Timothy can lay on one hell of a good guilt trip when he wants to. Tim tries his best to keep Dumbo’s spirits up but they’re well aware that the abuse is only getting worse, until they stumble onto the idea of Dumbo being able to fly and latch onto it immediately. They make what had previously been a weakness of Dumbo’s a strength and finally find themselves a way out of their awful situation.

Dumbo Timothy 8

Mrs. Jumbo is a rare sight in the Disney canon; a mother who has a strong, healthy relationship with her offspring who also survives to the end of the film. She spends most of the movie in elephant jail, but she survives, y’all. Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo have one of the most pure, loving portrayals of a mother / son relationship you’ll see in the Disney canon. At the start of the film, having a child is clearly something Mrs. Jumbo has wanted for a while now, and when she finally receives her son he’s her pride and joy. She tries to be a gentle, guiding hand; she teaches him how to walk and shields him from the scorn and cruelty of others, and all the love she gives her son he fully reciprocates. When Mrs. Jumbo attacks some humans who are harassing her son (these kids are insane by the way. The number one of rule of interacting with animals, that everyone knows, is that you never mess with someone else’s kid. A human woman would mess you up for doing it, a wild animal would probably kill you. You really want to provoke something ten times your size?), the circus deems her unstable and a threat to their customers so they lock her away for the rest of the tour, and while what they’ll do to her afterwards is left rather vague, the implications are pretty grim. Being separated for most of the movie naturally hurts Dumbo and Jumbo both, and takes quite the toll on their spirits. The mother / son feels come to a head in the song, “Baby Mine”, where Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo try to make their most of the limited time they have during Dumbo’s visit and find a way around being separated by bars. Dumbo gaining fame and notoriety is nice and all, but it’s clear that Dumbo’s greatest victory in this film is being able to save his mom at the end and reuniting with her safely and happily. I like that as sweet as Mrs. Jumbo is, the movie never forgets to give her an important, establishing character flaw, and one that seems fitting for an elephant – she can be quite hotheaded.

The rest of the elephants in Dumbo’s troupe are total bitches, partly because they’re all the catty, gossiping, backstabbing older woman stereotype you used to see a lot in films. The elephants don’t cause all of Dumbo’s and Mrs. Jumbo’s problems, but they certainly signal the start of them and exacerbate them. They have no problem taunting, shunning or bullying an infant, and turn their back on Dumbo’s mother (who’ve they supposedly been friends with for years) awfully quickly. This one in particular is annoyingly smug and has a face you love to hate. The comeuppance they receive, at the hands of Dumbo, during the elephant pyramid scene is as unexpectedly grand and brutal as it is hilarious and oh so satisfying. The elephants bringing down the big top is seriously one of the highlights of the movie.

Dumbo Mother And Son

In addition to spending a lot of time with the animals, the film also gives some insight into the human performers and workers, and the behind-the-scenes process of the circus; like the theatrical ringmaster thinking up new acts for his animals or underpaid roustabouts erecting the big top. After a disastrous pyramid act, Dumbo winds up reassigned to some slovenly clowns who are a real pain; their scenes are the only ones that drag, but thankfully there’s only three of them. The early scenes in the movie involve enjoyably silly appearances from storks delivering people’s kids, including one voiced by Sterling Holloway in his first of several appearances in the Disney canon. I find the stork scenes do a great job of drawing people into the movie, especially since the narrator fakes the audience out, building them up to see a titanic, unstoppable force only to reveal it’s just a flock of hard-working birds.

Towards the end of the movie, some black crows show up (in more ways than one) to give Dumbo flying lessons. Since I’m black, I guess I ought to weigh in my thoughts on these characters. The crows are neutral characters and straddle the line between being amusing / charismatic and being irritating initially, since they’re another group of characters heckling Dumbo, but after Timothy chews them out the crows perform a heel-face turn and they grow on you fully. The crows being portrayed as jive, southern black men doesn’t really bother me, considering this film’s day and age, and the fact that many Disney characters during this era were basically walking stereotypes and archetypes. The crows don’t really do anything offensive and are arguably the only characters who learn from their mistakes in a manner that feels earned (unlike the two-faced animals back at the circus). As far as potentially racist Disney moments go, “What Makes A Red Man Red?” from “Peter Pan” is much, much worse. Something that does make me squint though, is the fact that the lead crow is apparently named ‘Jim Crow’. The only reason you would name a character ‘Jim Crow’ was if you were either trying to be funny and failing, or if you wanted to piss someone off. So whoever gave the crow that name, trample off.

Dumbo Flying

The animation, naturally, is pretty pristine. Despite being a more low-key outing for Disney, the movements are all very fluid and refined, and some fun things are done with the characters’ perspectives, since there are animals of all different sizes present in this film. For example, there are quite a few bird characters in “Dumbo” and all of them are done justice, with Dumbo joining them in soaring through the skies in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. I like that there are a few shots where the human characters are kept as shadows backlit in their tents, showing that while they’re an integral part of the circus they’re completely separate and uninterested in everything that might be going on in the animal world. I like how convincingly queasy the character animation can be get, which contributes to some of the more disoriented or gloomy scenes in the movie, and the animation in general is probably at it’s most ornate, detailed and creative during the Pink Elephants sequence, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

One more thing I enjoyed about the golden era were the occasional, elaborate sequences that would seamlessly blend animation and score (penned this time by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace) together to try to create something special and captivating. “Dumbo” has a few of those moments, like the first scene of the storks flying in formation under a full moon (“Mr. Stork”), or the hearty, bracing and somewhat fearsome song the roustabouts sing when they and the circus elephants construct the big top in the middle of a fierce, oncoming storm (“Happy Hearted Roustabouts”). “Casey Junior” is a fun and peppy road song that will surely get stuck in your head; the standout number is probably, “Baby Mine”, which manages to be quietly heartbreaking and memorably tender; and “When I See An Elephant Fly” is pleasantly folksy. I think my least favorite song and sequence is “Pink Elephants On Parade”, one of the first Big-Lipped Alligator moments in the Disney canon. When Dumbo and Timothy unwittingly drink beer and get smashed (which is a pretty funny scene), the plot stops dead for about five minutes so we can see the psychedelic products of the animators’ imagination – hallucinatory pink elephants doing random, spooky things that wouldn’t seem out of place in an acid trip. Needless to say, this scene is pure filler and could easily be trimmed, though I suppose it does have it’s charm for being experimental and having some gorgeous animation.

“Dumbo” is a short but sweet film that manages to have fun, tell an engaging story and unwittingly act as a time capsule for a different era in history. It’s one of those great times a Disney film has pleasantly surprised me, and I consider it to be another one of the studio’s early gems.

Rating: 9/10.


Dumbo Timothy 3

* The lyrics for “Mr. Stork” seem just a bit sinister.

* “Casey Junior’s coming down the track, coming down the track with a smoky stack! Hear him puffin’ coming round the hill, Casey’s here to thrill every Jack and Jill!”

* I only just realized Dumbo almost died a couple of times in this comedic scene.

* “Sign here, please”.

* Elephant pimp slap.

* Nicely done.

* “We don’t know when we get our pay, and when we do we throw our pay away!” Since it’s the 1940s, I really doubt that.

* “Muscles aching, back near breaking! Eggs and bacon’s what we need! Yes, sir! Boss man houndin’, keep on poundin’ for your bread and keep! There ain’t no letup, got to set up! Pull that canvas! Drive that stake! Want to doze off, get them clothes off!”

* I think the roustabout song is tied with “Baby Mine” as my favorite song in the film, partly for the parallels drawn between the poor working class and the circus animals both having to work in such awful conditions. Underneath this cute story about a mother and son pachyderm, there’s some rather biting social commentary in this film about life in the 1940’s, including (but not limited to) the mistreatment of animals.

* Again, total brats.

* “You’re not afraid of little old me, are you?” *Dumbo nods head*

* “I knew he never had nothing”.

* “I’ll be back in a minute Dumbo, I’m gonna take care of your future!”

* Timothy and the ringmaster say ‘climax’ just enough times to raise some eyebrows.

* “And who is your climax? The little elephant with the big ears! The world’s mightiest midget mastodon! Dumbo!”

* When entertainment at other people’s expense turns deadly.

* When you know you’re screwed.

* “Baby mine, don’t you cry. Baby mine, dry your eyes. Rest your head close to my heart, never to part, baby of mine. Little one when you play, don’t you mind what they say. Let those eyes sparkle and shine, never a tear. Baby of mine”.

* There are times in this movie when Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes will give you chills.

* Dumbo apparently has quite the talent for blowing bubbles; he can even do this. That should have been part of his act.

* Dumbo is a bit too young to be getting wasted and hungover.

* “Dead people don’t snore… or do they?” I’m pretty sure they don’t.

* “Say, look here brother rat” “Brother rat?! Now listen, I ain’t your brother and I ain’t no rat, see?!” TRIGGERED.

* “I can see it all now. Dumbo, the Ninth Wonder of the Universe! The world’s only flyin’ elephant!”

* “But I be done seen ’bout everything, when I see a elephant fly! But I be done seen ’bout everything, when I see a elephant fly!!!”

* “And on top of that, they made him a clown! Socially, he’s all washed up!” This movie really does not like clowns.

* Similar to Pinocchio’s nose growing, Dumbo flying is considered the signature scene of this movie, and ironically it occurs in the last fifteen minutes of the film.

* Timothy decides to have Dumbo test his flying abilities by jumping off a cliff. This is a terrible idea. They still don’t even know if Dumbo can actually fly yet, let alone doing something crazy like this.

* “Boy, those city folks sure are in for a surprise!”

* I see Dumbo inherited his mom’s appreciation for payback.

* Dumbo gets his ears insured, for a million dollars no less. This movie is so weird.

* I see those other elephants are on Team Dumbo now. There’s literally only a minute left in the movie; it’s too late for that, ladies.

* “So long, glamour boy!”

Further Reading:

* Nostalgia Critic; AnimatedKid; The Animation Commendation; Katejohns619; Silver PetticoatTaestful Reviews; A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; The Disney OdysseyTor; Jaysen Headley Writes; A113 Animation; All The Disney Movies; A Year With Walt; Healed1337; Coco Hits NY; Coco Hits NY (2); Cokieblume; B Plus Movie BlogDoing Disney Right; Jrynam Vs Entertainment; Daily Film DoseRetroflix; Bill’s Movie Emporium; Grant Stevens; Jambareeqi; Feeling Animated; Doctor Film; The Good, The Bad And The Critic; Everything In Bloom; Decent Films; Jen Reviews Movies; Mumby At The Movies; A Man With A Movie Blog; A March Through Film HistoryBreaking Down That Film; Golden Gems.


Dumbo Casey Junior

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 6 Comments

Bolt (2008) Review

Bolt Poster 2

I’ve thrown shade at “Bolt” before in my previous reviews, dismissing it as being average and implying that I really don’t like it, but I’ve never really explained why before now. For starters, nothing about the premise of this movie makes any kind of sense from the word ‘go’.  The basic concept of “Bolt” is that a canine actor has spent most of his life being convinced he’s a superdog by the crew of his television show, but after being separated from his owner, Penny, Bolt has to survive in the real world. The director and his crew have ensured they get every episode of Bolt’s show done perfectly in one take all these years to maintain the illusion. This is impossible. Not improbable, impossible. Anyone who’s had any experience in the television business or the movie-making business will tell you things get complicated and frustrating very quickly, with all sorts of variables you can’t even conceive. Sometimes someone flubs their lines, sometimes the blocking’s off, sometimes the equipment fails, sometimes there’s an accident, sometimes there’s a blackout. It’s literally impossible for that director to have gotten every episode of Bolt’s show done perfectly in one take for years before this movie. Not to mention, the budget for the series looks more like it belongs to a billion-dollar movie than a cable series.

What really stretches belief is the reveal that “Bolt” doesn’t even film on location, it’s done entirely inside in a television studio. There is no TV studio on Earth big enough for the bombastic chase set-piece Penny and Bolt experience in the movie’s first scene, even with green screen helping them (if we weren’t doing that whole business about Bolt not knowing he’s in a TV show you could just say they broke it down piece by piece). Later, Bolt gets knocked out and shipped away by air to New York City, to kickstart the main plot. That box he was sealed shut in didn’t have air holes, it was chock full of Styrofoam, and I’m pretty sure Bolt was unconscious in it for about a day. Bolt should probably be dead. To cap it all off, at one point Bolt starts to feel hunger pangs, furiously demands Mittens explain what’s happening to him, and she has to explain the concept of food to him and why he needs it. So I guess Bolt has been so sheltered that he’s never felt hunger before in his life and never needed to be fed food before now, even back before he became a TV star. It’s ironic. “Bolt” is a supposed to be set in a more grounded universe than usual that’s closer to our own because there’s no magic present, but most of the plot mechanics of this movie feel much more contrived than your average Disney movie. Magic really does work well as a narrative shortcut.

Bolt Rides

Another problem “Bolt” has is that it’s characters really aren’t that great and as a result this movie is extremely boring. Let’s start with our leading canine, Bolt. Bolt’s cute, but for the first two-thirds of the film he really isn’t that likable or compelling, since his entire personality and motivations revolve around the premise that I’ve already explained is ridiculous. Bolt’s character arc in this film is kind of a hybrid rip-off of Buzz Lightyear’s self-discovery arc in “Toy Story” and the classic kid and their dog story. When Bolt gets separated from his owner / co-star, Penny, he travels a long distance to find her again, and along the way discovers he’s not actually a superdog. For most of the film, Bolt is arrogant, single-mindedly focused on finding his girl and at times callous, constantly overestimating his abilities and dragging others along for the ride. The audience is basically waiting for him to catch up to something they already know, so his hubris honestly grates, a lot.

The most satisfying moment in the movie is when Bolt finally realizes he’s not a super special snowflake after all and gets humbled, hard, at which point he finally starts to become a likable character in the last act of the movie and starts to develop a personality. Now that Bolt can no longer define himself a superdog, he has to learn how to be a real dog and make up for lost time that greedy human producers stole from him, so he takes Mittens up on her offer to teach him how to be a real dog. Bolt is at his most compelling during this part of the movie. He has to make a choice between staying with his friends or going back to Hollywood to find Penny, in the hopes that at least that part of his upbringing was real, and of course when he does go back, he arrives just in time to see her acting with his replacement pooch. Bolt feels sad about this for a few minutes, before he doubles back and saves Penny from a studio fire, rekindling their bond. And then the movie ends. That was Bolt’s arc. He was somewhat irritating for most of it, a few old plot twists happened, and then it wrapped up in the most cliche way possible for a movie about a kid and their dog – like something straight out of “Lassie”.

Bolt Rhino

Mittens is one of the better characters in this movie. She’s a bitch when we first meet her, extorting her local pigeons for food, but she has the most personality of the three leads, she’s grounded in reality (unlike Bolt and Rhino), and her New York accent strangely reminds me of Elaine from “Seinfeld”. When Bolt decides he needs a cat to take him across country to Hollywood, Mittens is dragged along for the trip, and she tries and fails several times to weasel her way out of it. The best thing about Mittens is her biting, cynical humor and the fact that she knows what she’s being forced to participate in is all kinds of stupid and she hates every minute of it. Since the power of friendship comes into play in this movie, Mittens of course warms to Bolt (either that or she starts to develop Stockholm Syndrome) especially after she teaches him how to be a real dog. Mittens gets one of the most affecting scenes in the movie, where it’s revealed that her owners abandoned her and left her declawed and unable to defend herself, re-contextualizing her entire attitude throughout the movie. It’s especially surprising since it’s one of the few plot development that aren’t completely predictable. Mittens follows Bolt to L.A. and helps him save his girl, and then they live happily ever after.

The hamster in a ball, Rhino, is pretty annoying, more so than Bolt. Rhino spends the entire movie being the chubby, hyperactive fanboy stereotype in hamster form (similar to Po from “Kung Fu Panda”, but without Po’s sensitive redeeming qualities). Rhino basically serves as the movie’s meme character: making random quips, gushing orgasmically about things (usually about how awesome Bolt and himself are), being more violent minded than you would expect a hamster to be (that’s actually the joke his entire character is built on), and naturally overestimating his abilities. Every now and again, Rhino does hint at having an introspective side, but it’s just as quickly forgotten about for more jokes about how delusional he is.

Bolt And Penny

The other animal side characters don’t fare much better. Like Rhino, they’re all basically eccentric, exaggerated and talkative parodies of human stereotypes, such as Italian Mafioso pigeons; lazy, valley-guy cats; or drama queen, story-pitching pigeons. This sort of humor is something that’s very hit and miss in animated movies – it can either be very witty and funny or very lazy and boring, and in “Bolt’s” case it’s unfortunately the latter. The movie tries very hard to be funny with these characters, but much of the humor falls flat.

Bolt’s owner, Penny, is portrayed by Miley Cyrus, circa 2008 (during her Hannah Montana days, before Miley went off the deep end for a while). Considering Penny is supposed to be thirteen and looks her age, I have to say Miley’s voice is a bit too deep and a bit too old for this character, leading to some unintentionally funny shots of Penny talking (“Daddy!”). Regardless, Penny is another character in this movie that’s actually not annoying. Bolt and Penny are basically being exploited and mistreated by shady Hollywood types, and Penny can feel the rift it’s causing in her relationship with Bolt and the damage it’s already done to her dog, but she can’t really do anything about it without ending their career. Naturally, Penny and her mom come to the conclusion that no acting gig is worth it if Bolt and Penny aren’t safe and happy, and quit the acting business for good after the studio fire. Penny’s agent, who looks strangely like Neil Patrick Harris, is awful. That’s entirely the point, mind you. He’s supposed to be a slimy bastard with no principles, but he’s also at least supposed to be funny. He’s not. He’s just a weird creep who never once shuts up that you wish Penny’s mom had fired a lot sooner than she did.

Bolt Traveling

As you would expect, the animation is solid and done well enough, but at the same time, not really anything to write home about compared to later 3-D films Disney would produce in the 2010’s. “Bolt” was released not long after the House of Mouse made the switch from hand-drawn animation to 3-D animation, and right around the time John Lasseter made his mark on the company, so naturally “Bolt’s” art style resembles your average Pixar film. Except, while “Bolt’s” art style is sleek and clean, it lacks the vibrancy, detail and lithe touch of Pixar’s films that helps make them so engaging – the 3-D animators at Disney weren’t at that level yet. In addition, the film’s color scheme is very grey, muted and restrained, making it seem visually dreary, dull and unappealing for most of the movie. This applies to the character designs as well. It’s all pretty competent but at the same time, dull.

John Powell’s score is pleasant to listen to and one of the movie’s redeeming qualities. The score in the first half of the film ranges everywhere from snazzy to humorous to tender (particularly his theme for Penny and Bolt), and begins to feel increasingly grand and sweeping in the second half of the movie. Jenny Lewis’ “Barking At The Moon” is an enjoyable, folksy road trip song and possibly the most memorable scene in the movie, encompassing Bolt, Mittens and Rhino’s cross country trip to L.A. Seeing as how she was their golden girl at the time, Disney probably wouldn’t hire Miley Cyrus to voice a character in one of their movies unless they also gave her a song, and Miley naturally brings the goods during her duet with John Travolta in “I Thought I Lost You”. It’s a duet you probably never thought you’d hear, but a harmonious one.

“Bolt” is a unique pile-up of bad decisions. The premise is nonsensical, many of the characters are annoying, the art style is dreary, Miley Cyrus feels somewhat out of place, and almost nothing of interest happens for the first two-thirds of this movie. At best, it’s mediocre, and I consider it a testament to how bland and formulaic Disney movies got in the mid-to-late 2000’s.

Rating: 4/10.


Bolt In New York City

* “It’s all right. You won’t be alone. You have Bolt. I’ve altered him. He can protect you now”.

* “Wow. Okay. You want reality? Here you go, chief. The show’s too predictable. The girl’s in danger, the dog saves her from the creepy English guy, we get it. There’s always a happy ending. And our focus groups tell us 18-to-35-year-olds are unhappy. They’re not happy with happy. So maybe you should, I don’t know, spend a little less time worrying about the dog’s Method acting and more time figuring out how to stop 20-year-olds in Topeka from changing the channel. Because if you lose so much as half a rating point, so help me, I will fire everyone in this room, starting with you. How’s that for real?”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Way too many words. I was, like, “What?” And then I was, like, “Huh?” And then, well, I got a little bored and… Something about clutches? Anyway, I’ll do my best. Ciao” “By the way, huge fan. Love it, love you. Gotta go. Thank you”.

* “You’re crazy, man!”

* “Your deal just expired”.

* “I bet Bolt would want you to do the tonight show!”

* “What? What is this red liquid coming from my paw?” “It’s called blood, hero!” “Do I need it? “Yes! So if you wanna keep it inside your body, where it belongs, you should stop jumping off trucks doing 80 on the interstate!”

* “Beat it, stupid cat!”

* “You, you are vile vermin. How do you sleep at night? Penny’s the most wonderful person ever, and she loves Bolt. And he’s awesome, and you’re a monster! How dare you disrupt their relationship with your evil! Die! Die! I can take her, Bolty. Let me at them. Die! Die! Die!”

* “Hey. Can we talk for a second? I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m just a little bit concerned about the number of lunatics on this trip. My limit is one”.

* “Let go, you monster!”

* “Wow. That one felt really super. Wait. No, it didn’t”.

* “You don’t have any superpowers” “I know” “Really?” “Yeah” “Wow. Crazy day for you, huh?” “It’s been a lot. Yes, it has”.

* “Both you boys need serious help!” “Spicy eyes!”

* “This is awesome! This is totally awesome!”

* “There is no home like one you’ve got, cause that home belongs to you!”

* “You’re wrong. She loves me” “No, no, Bolt. That’s what they do, okay? They act like they love you. They act like they’ll be there forever, and then one day they’ll pack up all their stuff and move away and take their love with them, and leave their declawed cat behind to fend for herself! They leave her wondering what she did wrong”.

* “But he doesn’t need us anymore” “Trust me, I’ve seen it a million times before. In the cold, dark night before the battle, when the steely fangs of evil are sharpened and poised to strike, the hero must go and face his greatest challenge alone. But if Bolt’s taught me anything, it’s that you never abandon a friend in a time of need. When your teammate’s in trouble, you go. Whether they ask or not, you go, not knowing if you’re coming back
dead or alive… you go! Knowing how deep the shrapnel’s going to pierce your hide, you go!”

* “You’re my good boy. I love you”.

* “Aliens!” “That is totally unrealistic” “Absolutely ridonculous”.

* “You get the best of both worlds! Chill it out, take it slow, then you rock out the show! You get the best of both worlds! Mix it all together and you know you’ve got the best of both worlds! The best of both worlds!” Disney got a bit cheeky in the “Super Rhino” short.

Further Reading:


Bolt In Vegas

* Back Into Action by Advina.

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 6 Comments