Oliver and Company (1988)

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.

Side-Notes:

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.

* “GANG WAR! LOOK OUT EVERYONE, IT”S A GANG WAR!!!”

* “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.

* As if 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.

* “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:

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Oliver and Company Georgette

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Score Highlights: Spider-Man

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

Today’s pick is Danny Elfman’s somewhat primal, determined leitmotif for the titular web-slinging mutant of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (one of Spidey’s better excursions to the big screen compared to the Marc Webb films that followed). Beginning on a simple whining note, Spider-Man’s theme is broken up into several larger-than life, descending pieces – each of which had various variations spun off throughout the films – before closing on an entirely different, triumphant melody for Spider-Man’s human alter-ego, Peter Parker, representing the heart and humanity of Tobey Maguire’s character (the way that final statement of Peter’s theme is timed with the parting shot of Peter walking away from his Uncle Ben’s grave in “Spider-Man 2” is simply perfect). Whenever people discuss the pros of the Sam Raimi films, I feel like Danny Elfman and Christopher Young never quite get enough credit; their high-energy scores went a long way in helping those movies establish their identities in a sea of superhero films.

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The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh (1977)

Winnie The Pooh

In my “Robin Hood” review, I proposed the idea that Disney compensated for their lower budgets and rougher animation quality during their dark age period of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s by making the humor as sharp and the characters as likable and memorable as they could in their films. Something that supports that theory is the fact that Disney’s Winnie the Pooh franchise was born during that era. I think most people should be familiar with said franchise about an eccentric stuffed bear – Disney saturated the public with it during the late 20th century and early 21st century – and it remains a strong boyhood memory of mine. Winnie the Pooh made his debut to film in 1977, in a package film comprised of several shorts from the previous decade. Something that makes Pooh’s first film notable is that it’s one of those Disney movies where there’s not much in the way of conflict. The closest thing to an antagonist this movie has is the citizens of the Hundred Acre Woods themselves being inconsiderate to each other, and it’s largely comprised of Pooh and his friends having zany misadventures in their community. It’s pretty much seventy-five minutes of pure, precocious fluff. Disney has done films that are low on stakes before and they sometimes wind up being very, very boring, but something that makes “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” clever (and a good head and shoulders above other package films the studio had produced in the past) is the fact that it gleefully breaks the fourth wall. It’s cast knows they’re characters in a child’s storybook – whenever they feel like it they take shortcuts by jumping from page to page, Gopher glibly admits ‘he’s not in the book’, letters and paragraphs on the pages are sometimes ravaged by the elements, and in one segment Tiger has a nice, terrified chat with the narrator to get himself out of trouble. It’s not often that you see Disney have fun playing with the medium of their films, there aren’t many movies that could get away with such a thing (though “The Emperor’s New Groove” comes to mind), but it definitely contributes to this film being as lovable as it is.

The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh Blustery Day

While revisiting this film, I came to realize there are a lot of characters in this franchise; we’re introduced to eight people in the first segment, and we’re still not introduced to Piglet and Tigger until the second act. Despite being adults, Christopher Robin’s make-believe animal playmates all possess a child’s innocence, a child’s quirky nature and a child’s grasp of the English language as well. The head bear, Sterling Holloway, voiced a lot of characters in the Disney canon, but he will always be Winnie the Pooh to me (and the fact that I always think of Winnie the Pooh when I hear Holloway’s voice meant “The Jungle Book” was an interesting experience). Pooh is a very likeable protagonist. You don’t have to love Pooh Bear but there’s very little to dislike about him as well. He’s an obtuse, happy-go lucky, roly poly stuffed bear who enjoys eating honey and spending time with Christopher Robin. I also love the occasional glimpses of ego we see from the character (“Now, is the next chapter all about me?” “No, it’s mostly about Tigger” “Oh”). There’s a lovely moment of friendship involving Pooh and Piglet at the end of the second act. Pooh, who had been declared a hero despite not really doing anything to earn it, notices Piglet is now homeless after letting Owl have his house, so he lets Piglet stay with him for as long as he’d like and asks Christopher Robin to celebrate Piglet as a hero for his selflessness deed. It never ceases to warm my heart. Despite being the creator of this universe, the Pooh god if you will, Christopher Robin isn’t a character in this film so much as he is a handy helper. A relatively grounded minor character who crops up every now and then to help out his whimsical friends. Christopher Robin’s character gains substance in the film’s last scene, when the movie mines a surprising amount of pathos out of Christopher Robin’s childhood beginning to come to an end and his friendship with his stuffed bear, Pooh, being called into question.

Winnie The Pooh Rescue

Short, shy, and a bit of a doormat at times, little Piglet is definitely not a leader but a follower (which is probably why the subsequent TV series kept putting Piglet in positions where he had to step up and be a leader). Piglet has a large heart for a very small animal though and a lot of trust in his good buddy Pooh, who Piglet often accompanies for the second half of the film. By contrast, Rabbit is something of a prideful perfectionist; the long-eared gardener is also the long-suffering member of the group. Despite wanting to be left in peace for the most part, misfortune constantly befalls Rabbit, to the point where you actually start to worry about Rabbit’s stress level (for example, after having Pooh’s big behind stuck in his door for weeks, Rabbit makes this face when he can finally get rid of him). Eventually, Rabbit starts to develop quite the vindictive streak (especially towards Tigger) in the last act. Speaking of whom, Paul Winchell’s Tigger is one of the more iconic characters from the Winnie the Pooh franchise, and for good reason. Tigger is the prankster of the group. Very hyper, very loving, somewhat macho, and definitely the most blokish of Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals. He’d probably be seen as something of a jerk if he wasn’t so well-meaning. Really he’s a big kid and the unofficial big brother of the gang. He’s introduced halfway through the movie before having the entire last segment devoted to fleshing out his character (including a certain fear of heights he’s much too proud to admit to having). Eeyore is the snarky pessimistic one, bordering on apathetic, who feels somewhat underused until his moment in the sun comes in “The Blustery Day”.

Winnie The Pooh Hundred Acre Wood

Mother and son marsupials, Kanga and Roo are nice. So nice in fact that they’re kind of bland and boring (hence why they never got much screentime in this franchise until the early 2000’s). Gopher meanwhile is quite the scene-stealer. The talkative, dynamite-loving worker was Disney’s own addition to the franchise and originally intended as a replacement for Piglet in “Winnie The Pooh and the Honey Tree” before popular demand led to Piglet’s debut in “The Blustery Day” (and thank goodness for that). We’d be seeing much more of Gopher in “The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” series. Owl is the most British of a British ensemble cast, filled with bluster and grandfatherly tales, and a delight every time he gets a scene. There’s even one scene where he talks all the way through Pooh and Piglet dropping off a waterfall. Despite the citizens of the hundred acre woods generally being some of the friendlier critters you’ll encounter in the Disney canon, they can also be hilariously, marvelously dickish at times, more so than I remembered. Pooh greedily devours all of Rabbit’s honey and gets himself stuck in his door for weeks; Eeyore actually tries to give away Piglet’s house to Owl while Piglet is still living in it; Tigger constantly bounces his friends and shows zero remorse for destroying their property; Rabbit comes up with a surprisingly cruel plan to ditch Tigger in the woods for days so he’ll lose his bouncing spirit; Pooh and Piglet, despite agreeing to help Rabbit with this plan, ditch him in the woods as soon as Pooh gets hungry. They’re generally nice guys but they’re neither saints nor boring (except Kanga).

Winnie The Pooh Tigger And Roo

Like all the films from this period, the budget “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” was produced on is clear, with thick, roughly drawn pencil lines and recycled animation in places (that shot of Christopher Robin climbing over a fence starts to overstay it’s welcome). The animation is a noticeable improvement over previous films though. By the 1970’s Disney had grown into it’s xerox era, with the animation style and direction for “Robin Hood” and “The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh” feeling significantly less awkward than “101 Dalmatians” and “The Jungle Book” had been. As mentioned before, there are a lot of clever tricks done with the storybook Winnie the Pooh and his friends reside in, and a minimalist approach is taken to many of the film’s backgrounds that works for the movie’s aesthetic. “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” benefits from a rich, playful, infectious score by Buddy Baker that incorporates many of the songs’ melodies and represents the movie’s easygoing nature (a score that sadly remains entirely unreleased to this day). Unlike some of their previous films, all of the songs written here by the Sherman brothers manage to be memorable years after the fact, including but not limited to, “Winnie The Pooh”, “Little Black Rain Cloud”, “Mind Over Matter”, “The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down” and my personal favorite “Hip Hip Pooh Ray”. The only song I’m on the fence about is “Heffalumps and Woozles”. As a boy I was never sure whether it was supposed to be frightening or funny since it was neither, it was just a strange detour from the story. Years later I realized it was an homage to one of Disney’s original acid trip sequences, the pink elephants scene from “Dumbo” (and funnily enough, that scene is also my least favorite from “Dumbo”, because it was the point where I realized “Dumbo” really had no idea what sort of movie it wanted to be tonally so it tried to be some of everything. But that’s a whole different review).

So all in all, “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” is a fun piece of whimsical fluff and a strong start to a franchise that would someday come to rival Mickey Mouse’s popularity. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend checking it out someday, and after you’ve done that maybe look up some episodes of Pooh’s 80’s series.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh Pooh and Piglet

* “I am short, fat and proud of that!” Own that body, Pooh!

* “There now, isn’t this a clever disguise?” It really isn’t.

* Fun fact: ever since I was five and a bee stung me in my ear, I’ve avoided them like the plague. It’s quite the phobia, so I do not envy Pooh when he actually swallows a whole bunch of bees.

* “Well goodbye, if you won’t have any more” “Is there any more?” “No. There isn’t” “I thought not”.

* “What’s the cost? The charging money?!” “Nope, no charge account! I work strictly cash!”

* “Say, ain’t you that stuck-up bear?”

* “DON’T FEED THE BEAR!”

* “My house! Someone has- Pooh, did you do that?” “I don’t think so”.

* “The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one! I’m the only one!” “Then what’s that over there?” Pooh letting some of the wind out of that ego.

* Tigger insists on having some of Pooh’s honey and then when he actually tastes it he’s like “Bruh, that’s nasty!” Tigger being rude to Pooh in “The House At Pooh Corner” got a glorious homage in Matt Smith’s first episode of “Doctor Who”.

* “Is it raining in there? It’s raining out here too”.

* “H-help, P-p-piglet! (M-me!)”

* “Pooh too was caught and so he thought ‘I must rescue my supper!‘” Never let it be said Pooh isn’t a bear with his priorities in order.

* “You’re our hero Pooh!” “I am?” Pooh really didn’t do anything, but he’s not going to argue with free cake.

* “Your name’s on it and everything. W-O-L. That spells Owl” “Bless my soul, so it does!” It really doesn’t, but Owl’s not going to argue with a free house.

* “I recognize you! You’re the one that’s stuffed with fluff!” “Yes. You’re sitting on it” “Yeah and it’s comfy too!”

* There are quite a few times when you’re glad the characters in this movie are made out of stuffing and not flesh and bone. Pooh takes a lot of punishment in chapter I, and Tigger bounces on Piglet in chapter III when he’s three times Piglet’s size.

* When you know you’ve fucked up.

* Tigger drags Rabbit through the mud all the way home. Getting payback is what Tiggers do best.

* “Don’t worry Mrs. Kanga, I’ll take care of the little nipper!” Pooh and his friends got significantly less British as this franchise went on didn’t they? That’s a shame.

* The comedic highlight of this movie is Roo swinging around on Tigger’s tail, giving zero fucks about how frightened Tigger is (“I was just getting seasick from seeing too much”).

* “Jagulars always shout ‘heeellllooo!’ and when you look up they drop on you” “I’m looking down, Pooh!”

* “I guess I like the old bouncy Tigger best too” Hooray for peer pressure.

* “It makes you feel ggrrrreeeaaattttt!” Tigger, that’s copyrighted! Tony will sue!

* I’d just like to say the “Winnie the Pooh” film from 2011 was quite disappointing, considering it was Pooh’s big return to the cinema and his first Disney canon film in over thirty years. Not only was it an hour long and somewhat dull, it was also a wholesale rethread of a movie Disney had already done fifteen years earlier and correctly guessed most people had forgotten. It was pretty uninspired. I tend to lump it in with other movies from that time that played things far too safe and formulaic, like “Bolt” and “Tangled”.

Further Reading:

Fanart:

Winnie The Pooh franchise

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Pinocchio (1940)

pinocchio_ver5_xlg

“Pinocchio” is a one-of-kind gem in the Disney Canon. Disney has always adapted a lot of grim fairy tales, novels and folklore – distilling some of the more gruesome elements into cheerier, contemporary films that still retain the themes and ideas of the source material – and it does so rather well. “Pinocchio” is quite rightly remembered as one of the few Disney films that are genuinely, unrelentingly frightening. Because, here’s the thing about Disney. The studio is extraordinarily good at invoking mood whiplash when it does so deliberately. “Robin Hood” was a lively, lighthearted romp that got very dark in it’s last act. Likewise, “Pinocchio” starts off as a cozy, whimsical, wholesome story about family, love and dreams coming true, and then it gradually turns into a ghost train ride, starting from the moment Pinocchio, the wooden boy, innocently lights his own hand on fire. “Pinocchio” benefits a lot from giving it’s darker moments time to simmer and contrasting them with the innocence of it’s lead; letting dread build and sinisterness spill off the screen before it finally strikes forward savagely. The strongest and most iconic example is the Pleasure Island sequence. Pinocchio and dozens of other little boys are ‘generously’ allowed to indulge in every vice they can imagine. They smoke, drink, fight, wreck everything they get their hands on, and generally behave like animals, and Pinocchio, despite knowing better, joins in with encouragement from his pal Lampwick. That night, when the park’s gone far too empty, Jiminy Cricket tries to talk some sense into the boys but winds up being pushed around and humiliated by Lampwick, the audience reminded that the ugly side of human nature isn’t just exclusive to adults. Jiminy does manage to uncover the truth of Pleasure Island though. The park’s proprietor turns it’s inhabitants into animals, stealing their voice so they can never speak another word and selling them into slavery and hard labor for the rest of their lives.  He’s in the market for slaves. Pinocchio and the audience watch Lampwick undergo a werewolf-like transformation, losing his mind and his humanity screeching, metaphorically dying, before Pinocchio and Jiminy are forced to flee the island and abandon everyone there to die, lest they be next. And this is the final fate of the Pleasure Island boys. It’s one of the most brutal things Disney has ever done, one of the most honest (if you stray too far from home and ignore all your instincts, you could land yourself in some trouble you’ll never get out of) and one of the most memorable.

Pinocchio And Lampwick

I’ve been heaping a lot of praise onto this movie, but none of this is to say “Pinocchio” is a perfect film. Like a lot of the big Walt Disney classics, it does have some glaring flaws that are often ignored. The first two acts segue into each other nicely, but the movie starts to go off the rails and stops making sense in the last act when Pinocchio and Jiminy mount a rescue mission to save Pinocchio’s dad from Monstro the whale. The new direction the film takes raises quite a few questions. Why did Gepetto decide to look for Pinocchio out at sea? Where did he get a boat from? Did he always have a boat? Gepetto states he hasn’t caught any fish in days and is on the verge of starving, but the film makes it clear Pinocchio and Jiminy were only away from home for two days tops (they escape from Stromboli, hop on a midnight barge to Pleasure Island, spend a day there and rush home) and Gepetto almost certainly set out on the second day, so when did he find time to starve? Why can Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket breathe underwater? (Pinocchio, I can understand, he doesn’t have lungs). Presumably it’s because of cartoon physics, but if that’s the case then why does Pinocchio die by drowning? (At first I thought it was because he’d been fatally throttled by Monstro, but upon rewatch it was death by drowning). The whale chase sequence is one of the most thrilling and well-animated climaxes in the Disney canon, but the circumstances surrounding it are more than a bit contrived. The fact that Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” was an episodic novel and Disney had trouble tying the story together for film probably explains the cracks in the film starting to show in the last twenty minutes. It’s a mark against the film, but far from a deal breaker.

Jiminy Cricket

One of the most notable departures from the source material is Pinocchio’s characterization. While Collodi’s Pinocchio was a cold, cruel, sociopathic creature, the title character of Disney’s second film is a lovable, enthusiastic, naive child trying to maneuver his way through an unfamiliar world and often stumbling along the way. Due to “Pinocchio” having a surprisingly great understanding of children and containing a lot of childhood fears (some adult fears as well), the living marionette’s character arc throughout the film winds up encapsulating a lot of the experience of being a young kid. Looking up to your parents, being tempted to blow off school, ignoring the advice of grown-ups, getting in way over your head, lying to avoid disappointing others, being afraid of losing your family, gaining friends who are a bad influence on you and learning to value the really good ones you’ve got. Despite his frustrating failures, time and again, to stick to his convictions, the audience is always reminded that Pinocchio is a good kid and he ultimately proves himself worthy of being real boy by doing everything in his power to save his father’s life. Pinocchio is guided along the way by vagabond-turned-conscience, Jiminy Cricket; his wry, sassy, and supportive sidekick who earned every bit of the expanded role he was given in this film. Despite being the voice of reason and morality in “Pinocchio”, Jiminy is far from perfect and has his own flaws and shortcomings as a person to navigate through. He abandons Pinocchio twice, once out of temper, and is also kind of vain at the start: desiring a badge from the Blue Fairy and deciding not to seek help from Gepetto, which could have saved them both a lot of trouble, in favor of not being a ‘snitch’. Still, Jiminy is as true a friend as you can get, following Pinocchio through all sorts of nightmarish scenarios, all the way to the bottom of the sea. Amusingly, Jiminy also has quite an eye for the ladies, particularly human women, despite, y’know, being a cricket.

Pinocchio Star

Being the first of several single fathers in the Disney canon, the kindly, absent-minded woodcarver Gepetto brings a strong, paternal warmth to the film, grounding an otherwise fantastical movie with the comfort and familiarity of home, waiting to be found again by our hero. Despite the sentimental old guy not appearing much outside the first act, he ends up being one of the more memorable, loving father figures from the House of Mouse. Gepetto is accompanied by his faithful pet, the stroppy, long-suffering kitten Figaro, who is quite the scene-stealer with his short-tempered antics; it’s easy to see why the mischievous kitten was later made a recurring character in the Mickey Mouse shorts, as Minnie Mouse’s cat. The benevolent Blue Fairy, who animates Pinocchio, only appears in person twice in the film, but her influence reaches throughout. Curiously enough, she looks like Snow White all grown up (and apparently they shared the same animator). Instead of a single, overarching villain, “Pinocchio” has a string of increasingly dangerous antagonists, many of whom prey upon on Pinocchio’s lack of worldly experience in a manner most disturbing. You have two illiterate, small-time conmen, Honest John and Gideon; a larger-than-life, child-abusing showman, Stromboli; local bully and ruffian (but genuine friend to Pinocchio), Lampwick; a satanic slave driver in the Coachman; and a sperm whale with serious rage issues, Monstro. About half of these guys never get their storylines wrapped-up neatly or receive any sort of justice for their evil. Monstro beams himself to death on some rocks and Honest John receives some preemptive, well-deserved abuse from Gideon with a mallet, but guys like Stromboli and the Coachman simply carry on with their lives after their brief encounters with Pinocchio. In some ways, the lack of closure makes these figures more real though, and ties into some of the more cynical acknowledgements the movie makes. These characters do have lives beyond being villains in a wooden boy’s story, and in real life, not every villain gets their due. Not every one can.

Pinocchio Storm

If there’s one thing you can say about the animation in “Pinocchio” it’s that it has plenty of character. “Pinocchio” was produced during the golden age of animation, a time when much of a character’s personality was portrayed non-verbally through the animation, with longing stares, thoughtful, precise movements and sharp double-takes (in fact, not long after this Disney would try their hand at an experimental film where the animation does most of the work telling the story, “Bambi”). There are times when the film catches you off-guard with the sheer craftsmanship and ingenuity of the storyboarding, like the detailed pan-ins of Pinocchio’s village, Jiminy Cricket’s energetic POV shots, and Monstro’s entire, massive girth crashing and barreling across the screen in a rage. When it comes to the character designs of the humans, Disney has improved from their first attempt in “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves”, but there are still a few cases that wander into Uncanny Valley territory, like human Pinocchio at the end (who ironically looks stranger than puppet Pinocchio). When it comes to the soundtrack, “Pinocchio” is one of those Disney works where the songs and the score blend well together, to the point where the songs feel more like an extension of the score than an interlude. I’m especially fond of how the score in the first act keeps returning to the melody of Gepetto’s lullaby, “Little Wooden Head” (along with that term of endearment later being juxtaposed with Stromboli’s cruelty towards the puppet), and how several of the songs involve characters scatting and improvising, like “Hi Diddly Di (An Actor’s Life For Me)”. The most famous song of the bunch is of course “When You Wish Upon A Star”, which I never knew was performed by Jiminy Cricket himself before discovering this movie. Lastly, I want to commend the foley work done in this movie, which I don’t usually draw attention to, for arranging such a diverse cacophony of sounds for Gepetto’s workshop at the start.

So all in all, “Pinocchio” is a surprisingly early magnum opus for Walt Disney Animation Studios. As I said, the quality starts to drop in the last twenty minutes with an ending that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s easily one of the strongest films produced by the studio during their golden and silver age.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Monstro

* There is a surprisingly large amount of butt jokes in this family film from 1940 (Stromboli could teach Ursula a few things about “body language”), and this honestly made me smile. Some things never change.

* ‘My pets, you don’t like the name I picked for Pinocchio? Well, screw both of you, I’m keeping it’.

* “Oh, Figaro. I left the window open” Why are you so lazy, Gepetto? Close it yourself, bro.

* “QUIET!!!”

* As I live and breathe, a real fairy. Mmm-hmm!”.

* “I’m dreaming in my sleep! Wake me up! Wake me up!” Alright.

* If Cleo gets lung cancer, she knows who to blame.

* I sometimes wish we could have seen more of the culture of Pinocchio’s little Italian village. What bit we do see looks pretty neat.

* “Go ahead! Make a fool of yourself! Maybe then you’ll listen to your conscience!” Jiminy Cricket feeling salty.

* Stromboli actually freaking screeches and reeeees when Pinocchio face-plants. Oh my god.

* “I guess he doesn’t need me. What does an actor want with a conscience anyway?” Dat burn.

* “Buck up, son. It could be worse. Be cheerful, like me!“.

* It’s funny Pinocchio’s nose growing is considered a signature part of this story, when it really only occurs once.

* “Goodbye Mr. Stromboli!” Pinocchio, no!

* Why do I feel like Pinocchio is always going to have a distaste for actors from now on?

* A rather disturbing background detail (that it took me a while to catch) is Gideon being prepared to clobber Pinocchio with his mallet if Honest John doesn’t win him over his lies. On that note, I’m really glad the two cart him off and practically kidnap him (not like that), because if Pinocchio had willingly went with them after they set him up with Stromboli before, he’d have gone from being a naive puppet to a really thick one.

* Lampwick gives zero fucks about Honest John, Pinocchio.

* Children get labeled jackasses several times in this movie. Add that to the growing list of things Disney could get away in the past that they never could now.

* I felt compelled to share these, because I think they’re cute. Lampwick was only a part of this film for fifteen minutes, but like Figaro, the miscreant left quite an impression and I found myself almost missing him for the remaining twenty.

* So Pinocchio and Jiminy are going to at least try to do something about Pleasure Island after the film, right? Because now that they know the secret of what goes on there – child trafficking – it would be pretty messed up if they just kept that to themselves forever.

* “Father! Wait, he ain’t my father. Mr. Gepetto!”

* Gepetto hugs that fish and then tosses it to the side. A master of mixed signals.

* When Pinocchio tries to outswim Monstro and leaps out of the sea, he gets so much air. That puppet was trying his best to get away. Likewise, Pinocchio wastes absolutely no time thinking up an escape plan and putting it into action (he learned about fire in Act I and his pal Lampwick taught him how to wreck some shit in Act II), since he has no intention of staying inside a whale’s stomach for longer than five minutes. Good lad.

* “Father, why are you crying?” “Because you’re dead, Pinocchio” “No, I’m not” “Yes you are, now lie down”.

Further Reading:

* Nostalgia Critic; The Animation Commendation; The Animation Commendation (2)AnimatedKid; Taestful ReviewsSilver Petticoat; Author Quest; Jess’s Somewhat Grown-Up Type BlogAll The Disney Movies; Disney In Your Day; Tor; Jaysen Headley Writes; The Disney Odyssey; Disneyfied Or Disney Tried?; Roger Erbert; A113 Animation; This Is Random, ButA Year With Walt; A Year Of A Million Dreams; Blackbird’s Nest; Fernby FilmsCokieBlum; Milmon Movies; Drew Martin Writes; Movie Feast; Doctor Film; Mr. Movie; Bibliophonic; Predictability Of Stupidity; Diamond In Rough Coal; NixPix; Eddie On Film; KniggitHak’s Reviews; B Plus Movie Blog; Ten Stars Or Less; Film Music Central (1); Film Music Central (2); Film Music Central (3); Standing On My NeckReviews Of Films; The Mouse For Less; Geeks Of Doom; Mighty Mike’s Raging Reviews; A Nerd Goes To The Movies; 1001: A Film Odyssey; Filmnomenon.

Fanart:

Honest John

* Caraloukimba; Rain1940; Rain1940 (2); Bonnie Marie; GootasticKumu18; Bartholomew GarciaSilver BenCaleb-Eshetu; Ryougalolakie; Ryougalolakie (2)Brant5Studios; Brant5StudiosAlways Slightly HazyPrince KidoRebenkeCybzilla; Scarfowl; Coffee Bandit; Coffee Bandit (2); Coffee Bandit (3)Dr. Zime; Jojo Seames; The Vold; Chico 2013Cathy86; ChocomooseJayfoxfireBilly The BrainJohn Devlin; Nippy13; Orphen5Kat The GreatLisa 24-7; Jrodri21; Rob-LightningRozhalina; Rozhalina (2); BBLampwickBBLampwick (2); BBLampwick (3)BBLampwick (4); BBLampwick (5).; BBLampwick (6); BBLampwick (7)BBLampwick (8).

Fanfiction:

Posted in Disney | 4 Comments

Frozen (2013)

Frozen Poster 4

I’ve been wanting to talk about “Frozen” for a while now. “Frozen”, to me, is easily one of Disney’s strongest films from the 21st century. I mentioned a few reviews back that a lot of the films from the post-Renaissance era and the early Disney revival felt lacking. Very few of them were actually terrible, but many felt content to be average. Films like “Bolt”, “Winnie the Pooh” and “Tangled” hardly did anything especially charming, unique, innovative or memorable. “Wreck It Ralph” and “Frozen” were the first Disney films in about a decade to regain Disney’s sense of ambition, to really go that extra mile and be something special, and “Zootopia” was the point where I officially agreed with the general consensus that Disney had gotten it’s groove back. However, since 2013, “Frozen” has been incredibly overexposed, receiving tons of publicity from the press, merchandise of all kinds from the Disney company, and feedback from fans and detractors alike. It’s been dissected many, many times over as either one of Disney’s greatest works, or an overhyped, overrated sham, to the point where a lot of people are burned out on it now, along with everyone talking about it. And honestly, as much as I like “Frozen”, I can’t say I blame them. Still, I’m here to offer my opinions on the film, it’s flaws and merits.

Elsa

“Frozen”respectfully deals with some pretty hefty subjects like fractured family ties, anxiety, and the consequences of isolation. Basically, the royal family of Arendelle teaches us all how not to deal with childhood trauma. After their daughters have a near-fatal magical accident, the king and queen instruct their eldest daughter to control her abilities with the Bambi method of closing herself off and suppressing her emotions as a proper royal should, which does nothing for her over the years except stunt her development, all while keeping the girls sealed away from the outside world and Anna locked out of the loop. By the time Anna comes of age, there’s really no reason to continue keeping the secret from her, but by this point Elsa has succumbed to her fears and given up on herself, even after her and Anna are the only members of the family still alive. By the time Anna and Elsa are women, neither of them are anywhere near prepared to take on the outside world – Elsa is a nervous wreck while Anna is so starved of love, affection and company from her family that she rushes into a relationship to try and fill the void – so everything goes to hell in a handbasket on their first day interacting with the kingdom. Anna and Elsa’s respective character arcs in the film are all about healing and finding their way back from this state.

Let It Go

Disney’s version of the Snow Queen is a benevolent Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Being one of the more powerful characters in the Disney multiverse, with her powers tied to her emotions and a tenuous grip on them, Elsa finds herself scrambling for control many times throughout the film. Her signature song, “Let It Go”, can so easily be taken out of context as an empowering power ballad about being yourself that it’s easy to forget that in the film itself it actually serves a purpose similar to “Hakuna Matata” (but better): a lost protagonist at their lowest point, fooling themselves into thinking running away from their past and secluding themselves in the wilderness forever is a good, permanent solution to their problems. With that much having been said, “Let It Go” is still a pivotal point in Elsa’s character arc; it’s the first time since she was a girl that she embraces her powers, starts to see the value of them and simply lets herself be. She even starts to nurture her creative side. It’s a good first step, but it’s not enough. Elsa loses her newfound confidence not long after this, when she realizes she’s out of her depth, and it’s Anna’s love and devotion that pushes her the rest of the way to being free to express herself wholeheartedly. I do love the implication in “Let It Go” and the siege on her fortress (where she tries to straight-up murder the Duke’s men with her powers) that Elsa has a lot of repressed anger about how cruel her life has been, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Jennifer Lee and company flesh out her personality further in “Frozen 2”, now that she no longer has to fear killing anyone she talks to (something they’ve already begun to do in “Frozen Fever”).

For The First Time In Forever

Elsa’s sister, Anna, may not be the Snow Queen, but she is, in many ways, the beating heart of “Frozen”. A fun-loving, spirited, impulsive young woman with wanderlust, Princess Anna doesn’t always make the best decisions (in fact, some of them are really foolish), but she has as good a heart as any and has been burned many times over the last thirteen years. After she accidentally outs her sister to the kingdom, Anna embarks on a perilous quest through the mountains, facing all kinds of beasts with some boys she found along the way – her boys – to bring her sister home. Anna’s fierce loyalty and her sense of responsibility are her two most admirable traits. Despite Elsa appearing to be an incredibly selfish person for at least the last few years, from the moment Anna discovers her true nature she wastes no time pursuing her old childhood friend and never gives up on her throughout the film, despite there being some times I know she wanted to. Anna learns her own lessons during the trip, like the importance of not rushing into things, for her first love might not be her true love, and how to be patient, thoughtful and supportive for Elsa. By the climax, it actually hurts watching her die, petrifying from the inside out, so like Elsa I’d consider Anna a success as a protagonist (though I do wonder why her first reaction to finding a talking snowman is to kick it’s head off).

anna-and-elsa

If “Brother Bear” was a testament to what brothers will do for each other, “Frozen” is the same for sisters.

While “Frozen” is fairly humorous in the first act, the comedy factor doubles once Anna has someone else to play off of, namely Kristoff. The surly, knowledgeable mountain man with a reindeer for a buddy serves as the rugged straight man in a gang of oddballs, which makes it all the more endearing once Kristoff begins to soften and we learn he has quite a few quirks of his own, having been raised by trolls with little to no sense of personal space. On the surface, Anna and Kristoff’s growing spark seems like an opposites-attract type of deal, but like Ariel and Eric the two actually have a lot of in common. They’re both loyal, courageous, open-minded individuals who feel a good deal of responsibility for the people around them and wind up bonding a lot during their adventure. I’d say both of them wound up with quite the catch by the movie’s end. Olaf, who I think has surpassed Elsa as the film’s mascot, could easily have been an annoying, overdone character, but instead makes for a nice addition to the cast. A quirky, optimistic snowman who provides the film with some silly comic relief and gives the sisters (who he has some history with) a helping hand. Olaf’s goal in the film is pretty weird though and kind of a stretch. This snowman somehow knows all these intimate details about summer but doesn’t know he’ll fucking die if he ever experiences it (mind you, considering that ‘happy snowman’ gag he could just be deep in denial). Lastly, his friendship with Sven, the reindeer steed, is so precious.

Kristoff 2

My thoughts on the Duke of Weselton? It’s a good thing he’s not the actual baddie, or he would be a really lame villain. As a secondary antagonist and a red herring, he’s pretty good though. A scheming little weasel with muscle to back him up, looking for any and every opportunity to cause unrest in Arrendelle. It’s also a nice touch that Prince Hans is basically a far more crafty and successful echo of the Duke, showing that while the world can be every bit as wonderful and exciting as Anna dreamed, it can also be dangerous. Upon rewatch, that seemingly innocuous shot of Hans catching Anna by the wrist becomes a lot more unsettling once you know he’s playing her and making his move while she’s at her most vulnerable (ala Flotsam and Jetsom). In fact, the animation for Hans’ expressions becomes subtly, progressively creepier – perhaps falser – throughout the film, the closer we get to the reveal. I really like the twist of Hans being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, hungry for power, but what I don’t like is Hans turning into an evil villain cliche as soon as he drops the act, monologuing his plot to Anna and leaving the room before she’s even dead yet. Scar playing a long con for power and making rookie mistakes right when he was at his endgame was every bit as stupid, but at least that felt like his envy and vindictive streak catching up to him. Here, it’s pretty clear that the only reason Hans does this is because the plot would stop dead if he didn’t get cocky and or sloppy. It’s just a bit too contrived, but all in all, Hans is still a great villain for the type of movie “Frozen” is.

Anna and Kristoff

Something I enjoy about “Frozen” is that it has a nice, long leisurely runtime, reminiscent of the slower pace Disney movies had during Walt’s time. Disney films started to become a lot more fast-paced and ambitious during the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, and there were definitely some films from that period that I felt could have used an extra ten to fifteen minutes to breathe, so it’s nice to see some of the more recent films in the canon like “Frozen” and “Zootopa” slow it down and drop what I suspect was a fear that children would lose interest if a film exceeded eighty-five minutes. “Frozen’s” slow burn pays off masterfully in the third act, when the threat level ramps up from all sides: Elsa’s increasingly unstable powers, treacherous men, Anna’s curse. The 3-D animation is rendered impressively as well. Like “Monsters University” from the same year, there are times when the graphics and direction in “Frozen” are simply divine: the Broadway-eqsue joy coursing through every shot in “The First Time In Forever”, the runaway romanticism of “Love It Is Open Door”, ice trailing behind Elsa as she runs across the fjord and her sleek, shimmering flurries blowing through the night in “Let It Go”, the attack on her vibrant castle. In regards to the soundtrack, I feel like one of the best choices made during production was hiring Kristin Bell and Indina Menzel as Anna and Elsa, because whenever they get to sing they provide “Frozen” with some of the best vocal talent Disney has had since the Renaissance. Their songs are quite rightly seen as the highlights of the film. Elsewhere, “Frozen Heart” gets the movie off to a surprisingly foreboding start, with a warning to “beware the frozen heart” that might have more than one meaning, “Vuelie” joins a growing list of harmonious native chants in the Disney canon, and songs like “In Summer” and “Fixer Upper” manage to be completely ridiculous but simultaneously pretty sweet.

The most commonly asked question about “Frozen” is whether it deserves to be regarded as one of Disney’s top classics, and honestly I’d say that it does. The plot is fresh, the animation is stellar, the characters are adorable and there are plenty of feels to be had here. It’s one of the highlights of 21st century Disney.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

happy-snowman-2

* If Anna and Elsa had been a bit more knowledgeable about Disney movie formulas, they would never have let their parents walk out that door.

* “I know it ends tomorrow, so it has to be today! Cause for the first time in forever, for the first time in forever, nothing in my waaayyyyy!”

* “I love crazy“.

* “Elsa, please, I can’t live like this anymore!” “Then leave” Not gonna lie, if my sister stopped talking to me for over a decade, even after our parents died, and she said that to me I’d verbally rip her butt to shreds in front of dozens of strangers, queen or not. Anna and Elsa’s public meltdown could have been much worse than it was.

* “My power flurries through the air into the ground! My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around! And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast! I’m never going back, THE PAST IS IN THE PAST!”.

* “Let It Go” ends on something of a sinister note (“The cold never bothered me anyway”), so when I first saw this film I immediately wondered ‘is she gonna descend into evil now? Is that where this film is going?’. Obviously, that wasn’t the case but it does feel like a bit of remnant from when “Let It Go” was intended as a villain song for Elsa.

* On their way up the North Mountain, Anna and Kristoff are accosted by wolves (“IT”S TRUE LOVE!!!”; “Christopher!” “It’s Kristoff-OW!”). I suspect this scene is a “Beauty and the Beast” parody.

* “But I just paid it off”.

* “But you won’t get your new sled if she’s dead”.

* “Oh, I am going to talk to my sister”.

* “Knock. Just knock. Why isn’t she knocking? Do you think she knows how to knock?”.

* “Wait, who’s this?” When Elsa last saw Anna she was all about Hans, to the point of wanting to marry him, and now she’s with a completely different dude. You can see a brief second of Elsa wondering if Anna dropped Hans already before she remembers getting Anna out is her top priority.

* “Does it look bad?” “…No” “You hesitated”.

* “He’s crazy. I’ll distract him while you run. Hey, Sven’s family, it’s nice to meet you! Anna, because I love you, I insist you run. I understand you’re love experts. Why aren’t you running?!” Girl almost ran too.

* Those trolls want to get Kristoff married off so badly that they not only suggest he off Hans but they actually try to trick Anna into marrying him. Dudes, calm down. Also, why is blondness unmanly?

* I know Elsa regretted making herself some ice heels when she had to haul ass up all those stairs.

* Hans sees one of the Duke’s goons trying to kill Elsa and thinks ‘NO! I’m the villain of this movie, Elsa is MY kill!’.

* “Oh Anna, if only there was someone who loved you” The irony being that the climax is comprised of literally everyone worrying about Anna.

* “Love is… putting someone else’s needs before yours, like how Kristoff brought you back here to Hans and left you forever”.

* Anna stops Kristoff from jumping Hans so she can deck him herself. I wholeheartedly approve.

* After some trepidation, Queen Elsa’s subjects come to accept her, abilities and all. That is a really fortunate outcome, considering the worst case scenario was that “Kill The Beast” song from “Beauty and the Beast”.

* Sven got swag. So much swag.

* I actually do recommend checking out “Frozen Fever” and the “Lego Frozen: Northern Lights” special at some point. Not because they’re anything great – they’re pure fluff that gives Anna and Elsa’s sister bond more time to shine – but because its nice to see Disney having fun poking fun at this franchise. At one point, drunk Elsa even shows up.

Further Reading:

Fanart:

frozen-gang

Fanfics:

Posted in Disney, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Robin Hood (1973)

Roin Hood

“Robin Hood” is one hell of a good romp (or a lark, as Robin himself would say). It’s one of my favorites from Disney’s ‘dark age’, and one of the funniest films I’ve found in the Disney Canon. For the bulk of the film, “Robin Hood” sports a folksy, friendly, laidback and almost ludicrous tone, from our heroes swindling Prince John in drag to Klucky turning into a football star in the middle of a mad brawl, which makes for a very effective tonal shift when the movie takes a dark and grim turn in the last act. “Robin Hood’s” story can mostly be broken up into five sections; two interludes between three episodic, increasingly mad adventures Robin Hood and Little John have that come to a head in one of Disney’s longer climaxes – a fifteen minute setpiece where the duo have to pull off a jailbreak and a heist at the same time. Like many of the films from the xerox era (“The Jungle Book”, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh“), “Robin Hood” lives and dies on the charm, humor and overall likability of it’s colorful cast, rather than the depth and intricacy of the animation like the golden and silver eras of Disney animation. In fact, the movie’s greatest pro is probably the strong sense of community it gets across. The supporting characters have as much a presence in the film as Robin Hood and Little John do, perhaps even more. They’re all bonded in suffering, they all loathe their tyrant king, they support Robin Hood’s bravehearted rebellion, and by the end, there’s a sense that it’s not just Robin and Johnny fighting corruption anymore, so there’s a number of heartwarming moments in the film. The amount time we spend with the lively, spirited bunch also leads to a real lump-in-throat, sobering sequence where we see just what Prince John’s cruelty has reduced them to, up to and including little kids in chains rotting away in prison.

Robin Hood

If we’re gonna discuss our leading man, we gotta talk about dem fox eyes, because you never really know what to expect when it comes to Robin’s expressions in this movie, and some of them are priceless (like the face he makes when he sees money, or his lovestruck face, or his ‘they’re going to hang Friar Tuck?!’ face). Disney’s take on Robin Hood is a flawed but honorable character; a charming, cheeky, swashbuckling, lovesick daredevil who pushes his luck til it finally runs out (seriously, you had to go back for that last bag, didn’t you Robin?). He also has some nice chemistry with his girl, Maid Marian, due to them already having a preexisting relationship rather than the film having to build one from the ground up. Robin serves as an inspiration to the people of Nottingham, because he’s one of the few people who’s always willing and able to stand up and do what’s right, even at the cost of his own life (though ironically, doing what’s right often involves a lot of pillaging and lawbreaking). Little John has a familiar voice actor, Phil Harris in his third consecutive role in a Disney film. Personality-wise, Robin Hood’s rowdy yet sensible right-hand man is quite a way away from Harris’ first gig as hipster layabout Baloo, but the jazz star is as personable as always here, providing our hero with a nice foil (and a good guy dynamic I like even more than I do the Baloo & Bagheera relationship). As Robin Hood’s best friend and partner in crime, Little John always has his back and is the more grounded of the two (relatively). Their dynamic is the classic one of two guys, one of whom claims to be exasperated by the crazy antics his wilder friend gets them into but truthfully he loves it. The scene at the end where Little John thinks Robin drowned for a minute and starts to cry is another of the film’s more affecting moments.

Robin Hood Little John And Maid Marian

Maid Marion is Robin Hood’s mutual crush, a kindly, big-dreaming fox vixen and childhood friend of Robin who knows where her loyalties really lie in regards to her uncle’s reign. The strange thing about Maid Marion (and you don’t really notice it until the end) is that she disappears from the movie in the third act, just as she’s being fully integrated into the plot and getting in touch with her adventurous side. Apparently, in one early draft of the story, Marion went to go find King Richard and alert him of his brother’s treachery, hence the Richard Ex Machina in the movie’s final minutes. I like to think that was what she was still doing offscreen in the final cut. Maid Marion’s lady-in-waiting is Lady Kluck, a feisty, sisterly Scottish hen who I honestly love, because she’s kind of nuts and always willing to help her friends in a fight. I think I also ship her and Little John now, which I did not expect, but the chemistry is there. Friar Tuck, naturally, is one of the more helpful characters in the village and one of Robin Hood’s biggest supporters. The passionate, hot-tempered, outspoken holy man does what he can to keep the village afloat, and in a surprising turn for a Robin Hood adaption (as far as I know it doesn’t happen that often) he damsels it up in the last act when Prince John and the Sheriff decide to kill him. Other minor characters include a musically-inclined narrator and Skippy Bunny and his friends, nosy village scamps who have a few encounters with our fox lovers and look up to them. The weakest of the supporting cast, the kids don’t actually add much to this movie except the cuteness factor and could be easily excised.

Robin Hood 6

On the shady side of things, Pat Buttram lends the slick, detestable, wily Sheriff of Nottingham his best feature, dat southern accent (it adds a surprising amount to the brutish blackguard’s character. It’s also kind of hot). The burly, corrupt thug parades around Nottingham as the face of Prince John’s oppression, carrying out his dirty work and greedily taxing money from the poor (he evens steals from the blind, just in case you had any doubt that he’s a dick). He’s easily the most charismatic of the film’s three villains (though not the funniest, that would be P.J.) and during the film’s second half, we discover the Sheriff has a pretty high opinion of himself that can and often is used against him. Every time I watch this film, I love Prince John more and more as an antagonist. The interesting thing about the Prince as the main villain is that in hindsight he’s a more pathetic predecessor to the baddie from “The Lion King”, Scar. An envious, cowardly, power-hungry lion who wants to dispose of his dear brother so he can seize the throne. Peter Ustinov chews so much scenery as P.J. (you can tell he had a lot of fun voicing this abusive, unstable manchild) that he’s a thoroughly enjoyable villain, and as the movie progresses and his humiliation increases, we see him slip further and further into insanity, to the point where he becomes a genuinely frightening foe. Meanwhile. poor Sir Hiss is Prince John’s sycophantic head lackey, the only sane man of the bunch that no one ever listens to (and perhaps the outcome of this movie would have been very different for our heroes if anyone had); instead he often, hilariously, winds up being the film’s punching bag and mistreated by the prince (like a certain running gag involving the queen).

Stronghold

Times were tough for Disney when this film was produced, so the animation isn’t nearly as polished as previous efforts from the silver era. The outlines on the characters are noticeably sharp, and like all films from this period animation is reused in places; particularly “The Phony King of England”, which borrows from “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves”, “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocats”, but also with other things like the way characters move sometimes. Other than that, the animation is really good for it’s day. The character movements are quite fluid – delightfully frenzied at times – and the backgrounds are perfectly atmospheric. Prince John’s stronghold is both regal and imposing, Nottingham is desolate and downtrodden, and Sherwood Forest is a safe haven straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, the rustic look of this film almost suits it, much like “Oliver and Company’s” rough, grungy aesthetic. Nowadays, I think this movie is the reason why I’m rarely ever bothered by anachronisms in Disney movies. I’m pretty sure “Robin Hood” takes place in a universe where animals not only rule the earth, but medieval Nottingham is located in the deep south; partly because of all the southern accents and partly because of that twangy country music soundtrack. Blending two distinct cultures the way “Robin Hood” does feels like it really shouldn’t work, but in actuality it turned out to be a pretty shrewd decision, especially in regards to the soundtrack. “Whistle Stop” puts the movie’s walk cycles and run cycles to good use, giving the audience a taste of what’s to come; “Love” is spellbinding and wistful; “The Phony King of England” livens up the film while Frank Miller’s crooning in “Not In Nottingham” takes it to it’s a lowest point,;and “Ooo-De-Lally” is something of an earworm, coined from Robin’s catchphrase. George Bruns’ underrated score also gives the film a playful liveliness befitting a movie that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously (my favorite cue is the fanfare leitmotif for Prince John’s army).

“Robin Hood” isn’t as much of a show-stopper as the next two movies I’ll be reviewing, but the cult classic from the 70’s is an excellent pick when you’re in the mood for something fun, and also most likely the best movie Disney produced during their twenty year dark age period.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Robin Hood 3

* I think we were all shocked the day we realized “Whistle Stop” spawned “The Hamster Dance”.

* “Rob? That’s a naughty word. We never rob, we just borrow a bit from those who can afford it”.

* “Don’t overdo it, Hiss. There… this crown gives me a feeling of power. POWER! Forgive me a cruel chuckle. Power“.

* “Your name will go down, down in history” “YES! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!”

* When you realize drag is kind of fun.

* “I’ve been robbed” “Of course you’ve been robbed!”.

* You fools, you just trampled the prince! Do you want to have your heads lopped off?

* The evil and ruthless (but still kind of hot) sheriff is a big bad wolf. Disney, stereotyping animals? Never!

* “Now, now save your sermon, preacher. It ain’t Sunday after all”.

* “How do I look?” “Not much like Mr. Robin Hood” Ouch, that’s why you didn’t get to use the bow first nameless bunny.

* “He snitched on us”.

* I love the way that scene progresses between Marian and the kids. One minute, they’re all scared stiff of the Lady Marian and worried about being caught trespassing, the next they’re flapping their gums about how they’re friends with an outlaw, asking her very personal questions about her love life (“Did he ever kiss you?”) and whether or not she and Robin are ever gonna have kids. Things escalated so quickly.

* “Marry her? You don’t just walk up to a girl, hand her a bouquet and say ‘hey remember me, we were kids together, do you wanna get get married?’ It just isn’t done that way” It is in a Disney princess movie.

* “My trap is baited and set, and then revenge. REVENGE!”

* “Oh no, forgive me but I lose more jewels that way”.

* Why isn’t there a soundtrack to this movie? Get on that, Disney.

* When you reach peak smugness.

* “Oh, by the way, I hear you’ve been having some trouble catching old Robin Hood” (oooohhhh) “He’s scared of me, that’s what it is! You see he didn’t how show up here today! I can spot him through his phony disguises”.

* “Not so hard, you mean thing!” Hate sex.

* “Help, Robin, help!”.

* “KILL HIM!!! STOP THE GIRL!!!”.

* “Yep, I’m in here too”. That sucks, man.

* “Things can’t get any worse.” Why Friar, why?

* “GET OUT OF MY CHURCH!” Kick his ass, Friar!

* “Wait a minute, is the safety still on old Betsy?” “You bet it is, Sheriff” “That’s what I’m afraid of. You go first”.

* “Quiet Friar, we’re busting you out of here” “Thank God, my prayers have been answered” The Friar might be a man of God, but he’s not ready to die just yet.

* “Praise the Lord, and pass the tax rebate!”

* How did they leave the bunny girl behind?!

* Why is the bunny mom okay with her kid running off with Robin Hood and Maid Marian on their honeymoon?

Further Reading:

Fanart:

Robin Hood 4

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Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Lady and the Tramp Poster 2

“Lady and the Tramp” is another one of those movies that’s a fond memory for me. I’d seen films like “Robin Hood“, “Brother Bear” and “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” before it and enjoyed them (not to mention, “Balto” and “The Land Before Time”), but “Lady and the Tramp” was the one that sparked my interest in animation in 2006, when the fiftieth anniversary DVD was released. There were a number of featurettes on it detailing the production of the film and watching them was what made it click to me that animation is art imitating life, that a lot of work is put into it, and that’s when I really started to pay attention for the first time.

“Lady and the Tramp” was the first of Disney’s features to be released in CinemaScope, and I have to say, widescreen is a damn good look for Disney. The grander sense of scope and scale allows the film to show off it’s lush, iridescent backgrounds and easily establish it’s universe (the nighttime scenes are especially breathtaking). Interestingly enough, although “Lady and the Tramp” is remembered as a love story and Disney promotes it as one, the romantic part doesn’t enter the equation until halfway through. Like the nature film “Bambi”, “Lady and the Tramp” tells a life story through the eyes of animals, but unlike “Bambi”, the leads are not thinly sketched but are characterized strongly, allowing the film to stave off “Bambi’s” greatest flaw: tedium. They’re hybrids of sorts, between naturalistic canines and anthropomorphic ones, and they embody all the traits people associate with man’s best friend – courage, loyalty, curiosity and contriteness – while still being their own definable characters. Brave, devoted, adorable Lady (particularly puppy Lady). Playful, mischievous, trouble-making Tramp. Proud, supportive and a bit classist Jock and Trusty. The character animation is key to making this approach work and it’s as solid as the background work. The movements are quite sprightly throughout the film and there are times, like Tramp’s fight with the alley dogs, where you can you actually feel tension. That’s awesome. Which isn’t to say that the animation is all flawless. There is that odd reveal of Jim Dear and Darling’s baby, which resembles a baby doll more than it does a newborn, and the action seems strangely sped-up during Tramp’s showdown with the rat in the climax. But for the most part, it’s all very impressive.

Morning

Favorite scene in the movie.

“Lady and the Tramp” revolves around an inquisitive young springer spaniel (with large ears) named Lady, who’s just starting to get an idea of what the outside world is like beyond her front yard. Lady has mentoring uncle figures in two older neighborhood dogs, Jock and Trusty (a Scotsman and a Southerner, a match made in heaven) and has frequent encounters with a roguish troublemaker from across the tracks, Tramp, who she may or may not have a crush on. Unlike Lady, Tramp savors his life as a stray and questions if canines really need humans to give them a happy home (the voice Larry Roberts gives Tramp is that of a cynical 1950s salesman, so Lady definitely has a unique taste in men, being attracted to a slick canine salesdog with a heart of gold). Our leading lady spends half of the film experiencing what many dogs do, a sense of her home being upheaved and her own place in the family being threatened by a newcomer in the clan, the Darlings’ baby. She honestly envies the stranger for a while before eventually coming to accept him in all his innocence, which segues quite nicely into her new dilemma in the second half of the film. Along with the canine angle, the relationship between the two leads is a large part of what makes this film unique in the Disney Canon. It’s one of the first Disney romances where the guy and the girl hooking up isn’t the resolution of the story; the happily ever after. There’s still some conflict after it happens, internal conflict between them. It’s also one of the first Disney films to suggest that having a fling or a relationship with a guy you just met has it’s risks.

Fog

In contrast to the hellish day she’d been having before (courtesy of Aunt Sarah), and arguably the rocky months before then, Lady has one of the best nights of her life seeing the town, bonding with her street dog friend, and pretty soon she’s smitten with a kind, carefree and courageous bad boy. And he is with her, despite their ideological differences. They both get swept up in it all, and come the serene morning after, the film even implies they slept together. She can’t run away with him like he’d like her to, but perhaps they can keep in touch? However, it’s here that the magic dies. Tramp’s hell-raising attitude gets her nabbed by the dog catcher and while she’s behind bars, her fellow inmates sing her a very informative song about how her new man is a player, having been with a line of dames, leaving her feeling horrified and betrayed. The film’s subtext was risque before this moment, but it’s full-on adult from here out. Feeling like she’s just his latest conquest, Lady regrets ever loving him or giving him her virginity, so she tells him to go fuck himself when he visits her later, and this is honestly something I really like about the film. Over the last few days, Lady has come to really like Tramp, and up until now she hasn’t wanted to choose between him and her strained ties to her family (including the baby that she’s only just recently warmed to), but she’s perfectly willing to do so when she thinks he’s no good for her, showing both backbone and self-respect. Tramp, of course, isn’t a bad dog, just a bit selfish. It’s only when he nearly gets himself killed helping Lady protect the youngest member of her family that she’s convinced his feelings for her are real and he gets another shot. And it’s when he learns to commit – giving up his increasingly fatal life as a stray for a chance to make things work with his pidge – that their relationship flourishes. “Lady and the Tramp” is a simple, old-fashioned love story, but the message here is timeless: that love is selfless, and sometimes it means being the best you can be. It’s a notion Disney would return to in a far more extreme way in “Beauty and the Beast”.

Along with the main arc for our heroes, there’s also a side-plot involving old Trusty’s waning sense of smell and Jock and Trusty overcoming their prejudices towards Tramp, a lower-class ruffian, that comes to a head in the climax, when they help Ms. Lady rescue her bad boy boyfriend. Poor Lady has the misfortune of having to deal with curmudgeonly Aunt Sarah for much of the movie, who really doesn’t like dogs or her; so much so that she either doesn’t grasp or chooses to ignore that family pets don’t just start barking and howling madly for no reason, it’s usually a warning sign. Ignoring that warning almost costs the Darlings their baby, a lesson she soon learns. So like “The Little Mermaid”, there’s a satisfying sense of all the side-characters in this movie getting their own development (of varying substance) that extends beyond the roles they play in the protagonists’ journey.

Jock And Trusty

The songs don’t tend to stick around for very long in “Lady and the Tramp” but they’re all lovely; thanks in no small part to Peggy Lee, whose contributions range from a comforting lullaby (“La La Lu”) to a saucy flapper number (“He’s A Tramp”). “The Siamese Cat Song” is the first ‘rational guy chases asshole’ type of Disney song, as I like to call them. They’re not all that common but they’re always so fun and crazy (“Why Should I Worry?” and “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” would later succeed and surpass it). The most memorable piece and the highlight of the film is the main theme, “Bella Notte”, a soulful serenade that helps to sell the bliss of young love. It’s not surprising really that the love song is the best of the bunch. Ever since Bambi and Faline frolicked through the fields in “I Bring You Song”, Disney has excelled at their love songs (“Love”, “Kiss The Girl”, “A Whole New World”, “Beauty and the Beast”, etc) and this one is one of my favorites. Oliver Wallace’s soft, underplayed score also gives the film a cozy, comfortable feeling throughout with the occasional bit of fear and dread creeping in towards the end.

In short, “Lady and the Tramp” is a beautiful movie. “Pinocchio” may have usurped it as my favorite film from Walt’s era, but I still have a great deal of love and respect for it and I know I always will.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Beautiful Night

* “So take the love of your loved one, you’ll need it about this time, to keep from falling like a star, as you make that dizzy climb! For this is the night, and the heavens are right, on this lovely Belle Notte!”

* Lady ignores her master’s protests and keeps the house up with her barking and howling and then her face lights up when she hears him coming downstairs, expecting something good to happen. Lady, you sweet summer child.

* I love that when Lady gets a new collar, her first impulse is to run next door and show off that bling.

* “Hiya handsome, come to join the party?” Not for another two acts, hon.

* “Now lass, get on with the details” Give us the deets, girl.

Lady’s reaction to her master calling her ‘that dog’ is pitch perfect.

* “It didn’t hurt, really, but Darling has never struck me before” That does not sound right out of context. It doesn’t sound right in context either.

* Thanks to Trusty, I’m quite fond of calling our heroine ‘Ms. Lady’.

* “What’s a baby?” “Just a cute little bundle… of trouble” Yeah, guess who fathers Scamp?

* I’m sorry Lady, but you really can’t sing.

* I’ve always found it funny how Jim Dear and Darling spend eight months or so eagerly awaiting the birth of their child, and then a couple of weeks after the baby arrives, they entrust it with Aunt Sarah so they can go on vacation. It wore them out quickly, didn’t it?

* It’s up to you how racist or offensive Si and Am are in the final film, it varies with each person, but the concept art is especially bad.

* “Maybe we could reaching in and make it drown!” Y’all do know you’re talking about a fish right?

* Like the Bambi vs Ronno fight, let’s not think about what would have happened to Lady if Tramp hadn’t appeared to save her.

* “Uh-huh, it’s a free sample.” You get in on that con, Lady.

* “But Tony, dogs don’t talk” “HE’S A-TALKING TO ME!”

* Lady and the Tramp getting nabbed by the dog catcher is most certainly worrying, but when you think about it it might have been karma, seeing as how their trip to the zoo the day before nearly put a beaver in the hospital and most certainly got some guy arrested for assaulting an officer.

* “There, there Ms. Lady, some of the finest people I’ve ever tracked down were jailbirds”.

* If looks could kill…

* It sure is lucky for the plot that the evil rat waited until Lady was home and Lady and the Tramp’s relationship was on the rocks to make his move, and not during their love montage the night before.

* Trusty’s battle howl is unintentionally hilarious.

* Thank the gods Trusty didn’t die; he’s easily one of the best characters in this movie.

* Something else this film has in common with “Bambi”: there’s a nice bit of mood whiplash when the movie jumps from Trusty’s near-death experience to a cheery Christmas Eve.

* Scamp is an annoying little brat, and he not only got his own comic strip (that ran for thirty years, no less) but his own movie. Wow.

* I like to think Tramp encouraged Lady to be a bit mischievous with Si and Am in the future.

Further Reading:

Fanart:

Lullaby

Fanfics:

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