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

Score Highlights: Back To The Future, Part II

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

Today’s pick is Alan Silvestri’s main theme from the Back to the Future trilogy. I’ve always found Silvestri’s slow-burning score for this franchise to be intriguing, because for the first twenty minutes of “Back to the Future” there is no score, only Huey Lewis tracks – it helps to sell the illusion that it’s just your regular 80’s teen movie at first. It’s not until the DeLorean is unveiled that a few militant cues are tracked in, and it’s not until Marty makes the decision to drive past 88 miles per hour and time-travel for the first time that the film’s musical identity is established. Afterwards, Alan’s score for the franchise is daring, quirky, romantic, free-spirited and very old-fashioned. There were many variations on the main theme throughout the trilogy, but it was never more adventurous than it was during the main title sequence of the second film, when Doc Brown whisked Marty and Jennifer off to the flying-car filled future of 2015. The revamped main theme – with fuller brass, a quicker tempo and a bolder tone – symbolized the franchise venturing into an unknown era of pure fantasy for the first and only time, Marty and Doc having gained confidence from their first successful adventure in time in the last film, and the franchise successfully returning from a four-year gap between films.

Bonus: The “End Titles” rendition.

Posted in Score Highlights | Leave a comment

Mulan (1998) Review

Mulan Poster 3

I feel like “Mulan” is one of those movies where even if you’ve never seen it you’ve certainly heard of it, especially if you’re a Disney fan. “Mulan” is the one where a young Chinese girl dresses in drag and enlists in the army, teaming up with pre-“Shrek” Eddie Murphy to fight some evil grey people and find themselves along the way. “Mulan” is often regarded as the strongest film in the latter half of the Disney renaissance, and I completely agree with that assessment; I think it’s the only film from that period that I would put on par with “The Little Mermaid“, “Beauty And The Beast” and “The Lion King” as a near-perfect movie. Upon re-watch, it was a lot faster-paced than I remembered. “Beauty And The Beast”, “The Lion King”, and “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” were all fairly laid-back, but “Mulan” breezes along at a pace more like “The Little Mermaid’s”, presumably because it has a lot of characters and a lot of ground to cover – from Mulan’s little village to the Imperial City.

While I usually remember how exciting and emotional this movie can get (because there are scenes that are painful to watch), I always manage to forget how damnably funny it is. It easily ranks up there with “Robin Hood” as one of the funniest movies the studio has ever produced, especially once Mulan gets to that training camp with her fellow soldiers and they bond through their shared suffering. And even then, the hilarity and lightheartedness of the second act loops back around to emotional devastation in the last act. “Mulan” has one of the best cases of intentionally invoked mood whiplash I’ve seen in the Disney canon. Li Shang’s troops – Mulan and company included – start to enjoy themselves on their journey and since they don’t take anything that’s happening seriously neither do the audience, until they’re abruptly reminded that they’re in a war movie and people fucking die in wars, including innocent people. Despite being at least partially a comedy, “Mulan” doesn’t shy away from the reality of death. In fact, the body count in this movie is incredibly high; it claims guards, imperial scouts, numerous villages, hundreds of soldiers, thousands of Huns, and one Great Stone Dragon. It’s pretty insane. Really though, I think the most remarkable thing about “Mulan” might be how it manages to take some Disney renaissance tropes that were starting to wear out their welcome by “Pocahontas”, like the rebellious princess and the comedy sidekicks, and make them fresher and more engaging than they had ever been before; this is what earns “Mulan” it’s status as the best film in the second half of the Disney renaissance.


Fa Mulan is a young girl living in a small village in Ancient China; she’s reached marrying age and she’s ready to head off and make her family proud. She does not succeed. At the start of the film, Mulan is portrayed as someone who’s more of a tomboy than traditionally feminine, though she’s constantly pressured to be the latter. She’s also somewhat lazy, getting her dog to do her chores for her and attempting to cheat on her matchmaking test. In spite of that, Mulan is very sharp and observant; she has a considerable amount of intellect that probably would never have been put to good use if her life had gone differently. Most of all, Mulan is a loving, compassionate daughter, who wants to make her parents proud of her. Throughout the first act of the film, Mulan grows upset about not only having the path of her life already planned out for her but being unable to follow the path, having to force herself to be something she’s not, while not having a voice of her own in her sexist society. Her outspoken, questioning side bubbles to the surface only to be shut down each time it does (the scene where father snaps at her to reinforce the law of the land is probably the most hurtful moment in the film), seemingly forced to stand by and let her father die in a war because it’s not her place to say or do anything, until she makes a choice that changes the course of her life and it is incredibly inspirational.

Mulan masquerades as a man and takes her father’s place in the draft. While this is a great plot development on it’s own, I love the fact that’s it not entirely a selfless decision. It keeps Mulan from feeling too perfect and gives her a personal stake in her dilemma. Mulan’s self-worth bottomed out at the start of the movie and she wants to prove herself; she wants to keep her dad safe and prove she can do something right, something worthwhile. Mulan is stubborn enough that she rarely ever gives up, and the one time she actually does give up it’s another incredibly painful low point in the film. Throughout the movie, Mulan tries to conform to gender stereotypes to get ahead. She tries to be the stereotypical woman and fails. She tries to be the stereotypical man and gets farther but still fails. It’s when she fights as herself – using her brains, the skills she gained from the army, and the lessons she learned from her journey – that she triumphs. Kudos for killing the villain herself (with Mushu’s help), which is still one of the few times a Disney princess has gotten to do that. Mulan blew that sucker up. At the end of the day, Mulan gets new friends, appreciation from the freaking emperor himself, and returns home to reconcile with her father – and that’s more than she could ever have wanted. Mulan not only brings new dimensions to the rebellious Disney princess trope, she also has one of the most affecting and satisfying character arcs in the Disney renaissance (right up there with Simba’s) and I do love her for that.

Mushu 2

The role of the comedy sidekick is reinvigorated as well, since it started to grow stale and seemingly obligatory after “The Lion King”. Eddie Murphy’s Mushu is actually nearly as loud-mouthed and anachronistic as the gargoyles from “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame”, but the pivotal difference between them is one, he’s actually funny; two, there’s only one of him; and three, he actually has a character arc. I actually can’t imagine this movie without Mushu in it. At the start of the film, both Mulan and Mushu are troublemakers who cause destruction wherever they go and as such, no one really likes them that much, but while Mulan sets out to do something dangerous to prove something to herself, Mushu has more selfish motivations in mind and wants to prove himself to others. Mushu, with his sharp sassy tongue, gets many of the best lines in the movie and alternates between continually getting Mulan into mischief, helping to move the plot forward, and bonding with the girl he assigned himself to. Towards the last act, Mulan and Mushu finally harness their destructive abilities for good and start using them against the huns, becoming genuine friends in the process, and as their own wants and inadequacies fall away, Mushu helps her to save China. For a comedic character, Mushu helps to contribute to the heart of the film in the end, and does so rather well. I’m not sure how I feel about Crikee though. The lucky cricket Mulan receives from her grandmother that follows her on her journeys is a cute but entirely bland character that’s mostly only there to act as a straight man to Mushu. I think Crikee’s best moment is tearfully & dramatically admitting he’s a fraud; Crikee figured since everyone else was lying through their teeth in this movie he might as well not be left out.

The Disney canon notably has a small line of semi-anthropomorphic, silently opinionated horses (like Phillipe from “Beauty And The Beast”) that comes to a head with Maxmus in “Tangled”. So you’ll want to pay attention to Mulan’s pompous horse and third sidekick, Kahn, who’s quietly the most savage and loyal character in this movie. He makes as much, if not more, of a mark on this movie as Crikee. Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou, is an aging war hero and a man who’s frequently torn between being a loving father and husband and his duty to uphold the family’s honor and make sacrifices (something which was gravely important at this movie’s time period). He’s a man who’s been around for a long while and seems like he should have a lot of wisdom, but still has some growing left to do of his own.  One could easily see Fa Zhou as a more sympathetic spin on King Triton’s character. At one point, Fa Zhou gets fed up with Mulan disrespecting the ways their society works and reprimands her for it, and then he has to spend the rest of the movie worrying about whether or not she’s going to be murdered by some stranger somewhere far far away from home – which has to be terrifying and causes the man to reassess what he values.

Emo Shang

Mulan trains with a number of men in the Chinese army, but naturally only a few of them are given personalities. I like to think of tough guy Yao, funny-man Ling and introverted Chen-Po as expies of the Three Stooges living in Ancient China – i.e. the fat one, the skinny one, and the one with the attitude problem. Mulan manages to get on the trio’s bad side very early on, and two of them spend a section of the film being petty, aggressive jerks but they mellow out after a montage. Impressively, Yao, Ling and Chen-Po manage to really grow on you throughout the movie, often feeling like a cross between vitriolic buddies and misfitted brothers. They fit the mold of comedy sidekicks and could easily feel redundant, but instead they feel like an essential part of this story, not only so Mulan can learn how men interact but also experience the camaraderie that goes on within military ranks. I’ve always enjoyed friendship arcs as much as any romance in the Disney canon and it’s very satisfying (at times sweet) watching the trio grow progressively close to Mulan, considering her a friend as a man and a woman, and having each other’s backs to the point where they trust her with their lives by the climax. It’s implied at the end, that by being one of the bravest people they know, Mulan has greatly changed their view of women and they have a much better chance now of ever finding their dream girlfriends (they get girls in the sequel).

Captain Li Shang, the men’s taciturn drill sergeant, is a promising young soldier and like several other characters in this film, Shang wants to prove himself. He’s spent several years learning how to be a soldier and a commander from his war hero father and now he’s ready to take the reins. Having grown up in the military, Shang can be stern but he also has little to no social skills, and quaintly enough still has an awkward boyish streak when it comes to talking to people in a normal environment. Shang has one of the emperor’s councilmen, Chi Fu, riding his back throughout the movie, accusing him of nepotism (as much of an ass as Chi Fu is, there may be some truth to that), and he’s hit very hard by the price of war. There’s an unspoken rule that if you want to be a protagonist in a Disney movie, you need to have at least one dead parent. Mulan saved both of hers with her cross-dressing gambit, so the Disney grim reaper claimed Shang’s instead in the film’s most morose scene (you know Mulan went to comfort him partly out of guilt). Shang soldiers on past his loss and grows to become an even better leader, partly because of Mulan changing the way he does things and asking him the hard questions. If there is one thing that bothers me about Shang, it’s that the Mulan / Shang ship feels pretty tacked on towards the end. It’s clear that Shang reciprocates Mulan’s crush on him so she can be paired off by the end, but it feels weird since he never feels that way about her until the last five minutes of the movie (unless you subscribe to the theory that Shang was picking up the signals ‘Ping’ was throwing out and quietly questioning his sexuality throughout the movie).

Shan Yu

The film’s antagonist, Shan Yu, isn’t the most complex villain, since he’s portrayed more as a beast or a force of nature than a mage or a criminal mastermind, but he still has a fascinating and intimidating presence in this movie, partly because of how different his motivation is from Disney’s usual rogues gallery who are out for money or power. Pride and bloodlust are the vices driving Shan Yu throughout the movie. The Huns in this film are warriors and invaders who are notorious for their high track record with conquest. China builds the Great Wall to protect their nation and keep the Huns out, which of course, offends Shan Yu and bruises his pride. He sees the Emperor’s move as a challenge, so he makes his way across China, killing anyone and everyone in his path, so he can kill the emperor and take China for his own; prove himself mightier than all of China’s military and a superior leader. It’s insane, but it’s exactly what a murderous general drunk on power would do. Shan Yu’s personality tends to be cool, confident, smug and only occasionally hotheaded, since he has total faith in his abilities. It’s only when his plans begin to unravel entirely in the last act because of one individual (guess who?) that he starts to experience sanity slippage and gets increasingly sloppy and desperate, leaving himself vulnerable. Something that’s both odd and immediately striking about Shan Yu and his band of bloodthirsty brutes is their character designs: they have grey skin and blackish-golden eyes that seemingly lack pupils. It honestly leaves you wondering if they’re meant to be human or if they should probably get that checked out (regardless, Shan Yu manages to be one of those Disney villains that are just a bit hot, like Rourke from “Atlantis”).

The film’s secondary antagonist, Chi Fu, is a whiny, treacherous bitch. The fact that he’s also a whiny, sexist bitch only makes him more annoying. He serves his purpose as the movie’s most unsympathetic example of ancient Chinese sexism, and James Hong’s presence in this movie does lead it to unintentionally and amusingly foreshadow “Kung Fu Panda” twice with an order of noodles and a panda, but aside from that there’s not much else to say about him. He gets his comeuppance in the end.

Mulan Training

You can tell times and animators were changing by this point at Walt Disney Animation Studios, because the art style of this film resembles some of the more notable films from the early 2000’s like “Lilo And Stitch” than the early renaissance films  “Mulan” has unique character designs (check out how bushy Mulan’s eyebrows are), and a rich and pronounced color scheme with soft backgrounds meant to evoke classic Chinese watercolor paintings. The integration of CGI is handled well, with only one shot feeling out of place (where a rather distracting flag waves behind Chi Fu). The avalanche sequence in the mountains is the visual centerpiece of the film, with a sweeping spectacle of thousands of Huns descending on the Chinese army only to be overwhelmed by a thundering cascade of snow sent by our heroine, followed closely by Mulan and Shan Yu’s showdown on top of the Emperor’s palace.

Surprisingly, the songs have less of an influence in this movie than most Disney musicals, since there’s only five of them, but they each manage to have staying power. “Honor To Us All” is a peppy, infectious opening number whose upbeat tone runs almost contrary to the eyebrow raising lyrics; I find Granny Fa’s solo verse to be the song’s highlight. “Reflection” is another of Disney’s impassioned ‘I Want’ songs, sung beautifully by Lea Salonga, that has a bit of an interesting history to it. “Reflection” was meant to be several verses longer before it was trimmed down for time and repetition, which was the right call (if only for the cliche visuals the studio had had in mind). Many of the extended lyrics are kept in the end credits rendition Christina Aguilera performs, where they’re arguably handled much better, and provide a fascinating glimpse into Mulan’s mindspace and her growing frustration with her lot in life at the start of the film. “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” has become the movie’s signature song and contains a truly awesome performance from Donny Osmond as Li Shang whips his troops into shape, turning them from a complete trainwreck to a ragtag bunch of soldiers in a matter of minutes through the power of a montage. “A Girl Worth Fighting For” is a cute group number and bonding song that’s probably the weakest number of the bunch, and “True To Heart”, performed by Stevie Wonder, provides just the right positive outlook for the movie to end on. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the film is pretty much perfect. He deftly blends a full traditional orchestra with 90’s pop-synth elements, composing a number of cues that truly elevate the emotions of the film, like when Mulan decides to leave home or when the Huns rise from their intended tombs in the mountains, enraged but completely undeterred.

“Mulan” is a strong musical that has just the right of mix of everything I like to see in a Disney movie. The first half is an enjoyable film but the second half is phenomenal, and it’s definitely a modern day classic.

Rating: 10/10.


The Huns Attack

* Disney princesses are always younger than they look, presumably because girls mature faster than boys. For the longest time, I thought Mulan was supposed to be 19 or 20, but it turns out she’s actually 16, the same age as Ariel. That led me to wonder if Yao, Ling and Chen Po are also meant to be teenagers. That would certainly explain their immaturity.

* “Honorable ancestors, please help Mulan impress the matchmaker today…. Please, please help her!”

* “I should have prayed to the ancestors for more luck!” “How lucky can they be? They’re dead”.

* Granny Fa walks out into the street, blindfolded, and causes a major traffic accident that I know she can hear, and she gives zero fucks. I like you, Granny.

* “Please bring honor to us, please bring honor to us, please bring honor to us, please bring to us, please bring honor to us aaaalllll!!” Zuko loathes this song.

* After she was set on fire, I don’t think the matchmaker interviewed anymore people that day. I always imagine the other brides were super pissed at Mulan for ruining that for them.

* The supposedly wise ancestors bought this.

* “My powers are beyond your mortal imagination! In fact, my eyes can see straight through your armor!” * Mulan slaps him. *

* “That’s it! Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family! Make a note of this Crikee! Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your family! Dishonor on your cow!”

* Have you ever noticed there are a lot of shots where characters get up in each other’s faces in this movie? Part of it has to do with being a war film, but if you were to take a shot every time someone got in someone else’s grill, you’d be so wasted by the end of it.

* “Wait, you forgot your sword! My little baby’s heading off to destroy people” That sounds like a joke, but it also foreshadows this.

* “I’ll get that arrow for you, pretty boy, and I’ll do it with my shirt on!”

* Funny background event.

* Mushu, why?

* Disney has had their protagonists get naked before and snuck that past the censors (in fact, Beast had a full-on bathing scene that was only concealed by his fur), but “Mulan” somehow tops that with a full-on skinny-dipping scene. Mulan gets so uncomfortable that she briefly forgets to do her man voice; luckily the trio aren’t that bright so they don’t notice.

* Ironically, Mulan was more traumatized by this than anything else in this movie.

* If you really want to screw with your friends, have them listen to “A Girl Worth Fighting For” and give them no context what it is they’re listening to. Those lyrics will confuse them.

* Mulan, grab your pretty boy and get out of there!

* Everything that happens in the mountain scene is completely impossible, but I love it. Mulan is wearing plot armor so hard in this scene. She triggers an avalanche that slaughters thousands of Huns, but somehow doesn’t kill her for no reason other than being the protagonist. She and Shang even get swallowed up by it at one point and survive.

* I like that the big liar revealed moment is not totally contrived but the natural consequence of something that was inevitable. Eventually, Mulan would be injured, doctors would see to her and she’d be exposed as a woman. The fact that she didn’t see this coming is a testament to how much she’s been winging it throughout the movie.

* There’s something that just feels right about a movie where a woman dresses a man climaxing with men dressing as women to beat the bad guys.

* “It’s just some concubines” “Ugly concubines” That joke gets even funnier when you remember one of those concubines is an actual woman.

* Ironically, it’s the villain who has the most minor reaction to Mulan being a girl. “Oh, so it was this chick who wiped out my army and ruined everything for me? Well, at least I know who to murder now”.

* I’ve always found that face Fa Zhou makes at the end amusing. He seems completely unimpressed with poor Shang.

* “Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me? Why is my reflection someone I don’t know? Somehow I cannot hide, who I am though I’ve tried. When will my reflection show, who I am inside?! When will my reflection show who I am inside!”

Further Reading:

* Nostalgia Critic; AnimatedKid; The Animation Commendation; Katejohns619; Silver Petticoat; Taestful Reviews; Taestful Reviews (2); Disneyfied Or Disney TriedA Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; Tor; Author Quest; Roger Ebert; Jaysen Headley Writes; A113 Animation; All The Disney Movies; A Year With Walt; Healed1337; Coco Hits NY; EFReviews; Critically TouchedJamie’s Film Thoughts; Striking Film Reviews; Jo Writes StuffFilm Music CentralDrew’s Movie Reviews; Life In Review; La La Film; Gary Wright Online; A Selenator’s View; Dr. Film; Thoughts Of A Steel Monster; Worthy Of Note Reviews; Man With A Movie Blog; Lolo Loves Films; Ancient StandardVariety.


Mulan's Sword

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 4 Comments

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996) Review

The Hunchback of Notre Poster

If you were to ask me what the most theatrical Disney film that the studio ever produced would be, it would easily be a tie between “Beauty And The Beast” and “The Lion King“, with “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” following behind as a close second. Unlike most of the Disney renaissance films, which I had seen at least twice as a boy, I never knew “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” existed or that Disney had even adapted such a book until two years ago – that’s how good a job Disney has done distancing themselves from this movie. I learned about it when it kept cropping up on people’s personal lists of underrated / overlooked Disney films. I tracked it down on Netflix and I really enjoyed it. I also found myself wondering for the first time, how this Disney film didn’t get slapped with a PG rating. “Hunchback” has murder, attempted infanticide, child abuse, racism, lust and depravity, religious intolerance, genocide, Esmeralda’s pole dance. It certainly counts as one of Disney’s darker stories, along with “Pinocchio“. I think it can best be described as a modern tar and sugar film (the oldest Disney movies are sometimes referred to as tar and sugar films because of how often their tones veered between charming and disturbing) and this is actually a flaw with “Hunchback”.

The movie seems to have a hard time deciding whether it wants to be silly and childish or serious and dramatic, resulting in mood whiplash. There’s no reason why it can’t be both. Disney films have walked that line plenty of times in the past and usually done so well, but the problem with “Hunchback” is that it often tries to be both in the same scene. Quasimodo’s crude gargoyle friends are often blamed for this and while they hardly ever feel like they belong in this movie, I think they’re really only a symptom of the problem with the movie as a whole. The Festival of Fools sequence snaps back and forth between nihilistically bleak and cartoonishly silly within minutes (while attending a ludicrously audacious festival, Quasimodo is savagely torn into by a two-faced crowd out of nowhere in front of his abusive father figure, which is then followed by Esmeralda having a Looney Tunes style chase sequence complete with slapstick). The film comes surprisingly close to jumping the shark during “A Guy Like You”, a Vegas buddy comedy number that’s the definition of filler, since it adds nothing we don’t already know, and in a bit of bad judgment comes right at the despair point of the movie (people are probably dying and Quasi’s thinking about how much he really wants to get with Esmeralda). Basically, anytime something serious or dramatic happens in this movie, “Hunchback” feels weirdly compelled to undercut it with a gag, but it doesn’t understand that sometimes less humor is more.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Quasimodo

“Let’s get dangerous!”

Quasimodo is refreshingly different from your usual Disney renaissance protagonist, especially after Pocahontas was such a boring retread. Don’t get me wrong, Quasimodo’s character arc is still a coming-of-age story and he still has an “I Want” song laying out his life goals, but unlike Ariel, Belle and Simba, Quasi’s big dreams aren’t really that big. He’s spent his entire life hidden away with only stone gargoyles to keep him company (who may or may not be imaginary), being abused, neglected and lied to by his parental figure. He longs to make new friends, have fun and see what the city below him has to offer. In an inverse of the usual Disney renaissance formula, what Quasi wants, more than anything, is to live like a regular person, and he’s an incredibly sympathetic character. He’s also not that rebellious. He’ll help when he’s asked or when he’s needed, but for the most part, quiet Quasimodo wants to keep his head down and stay out of trouble (which actually ties into one of the themes of this movie, that there are times when you can’t keep your head down and you have to take a stand. Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Phoebus all have moments when they realize this, with Quasi’s being the most empowering). Quasimodo’s loyalty to Judge Frollo is whittled away throughout the movie, but it’s not until Frollo threatens the lives of the first friends he’s ever had, the first good thing he’s ever had besides the gargoyles, that Quasi renounces him entirely (and even then, he doesn’t let his old ass drop to his death when he has the chance). Cutting all ties with controlling, abusive parents isn’t ever easy, because insane or not, they are still your parents.

Quasimodo performs several daring acrobatic feats (which has become the norm for him, having to ring the church bells all by himself), and there’s an early scene where he lashes out at Phoebus over Esmeralda, which is the first hint that under his silky exterior lies nerves of steel. Sure enough, Quasimodo goes into full-on survival mode in the last act of the movie; at one point trying to burn his would-be killers to death in a cascade of molten slag. It’s awesome. Quasi’s secondary arc in the movie is learning to reject the lies Frollo told him since childhood – that his worth is determined wholly by his looks – learning to love himself and seek acceptance from others.  Quasi becomes smitten with his first friend, the gypsy Esmeralda, because she was kind and understanding to him, but it quickly becomes clear his hopes of having a relationship with her won’t be happening. Not only does she have eyes for the soldier, Phoebus, but Quasi isn’t emotionally ready for a relationship yet. His incredibly low self-esteem leads him to put Esmeralda up on pedestal and think of her as a perfect woman, an image the real Esmeralda could never live up to and an imbalance between them that wouldn’t lead to a healthy relationship. After some heartbreak and a bout of bitterness about being the loser in the triangle, Quasi focuses on what makes Esmeralda happy and keeps her safe and does what’s right for her (Phoebus as well, eventually), behaving the way a true friend would and proving himself a much better man than Frollo (who behaves quite differently in a similar position). Quasi may remain single at the end of the film, but with Frollo finally dead and no longer in his way, he’s free to live, be a part of human society, make new relationships and maybe seek out new girls.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame God Help The Outcasts

Esmeralda is an unexpected pleasure in this movie; she’s a Romani dancer and the character on which a lot of the movie’s plot pivots. Esme’s grown up on the streets of Paris with her pet goat Djali, so she’s a very feisty, hot-blooded, and street-smart young woman, but she can also be very kind and open-eared. She’s witnessed a lot of the oppression and discrimination her people suffer underneath Frollo’s authority, which greatly affects her view of the world and her treatment of others. There’s a captivating scene mid-movie where Esmeralda speaks to the Virgin Mary and questions both hypocrisy and religious intolerance, wondering how everyone could be God’s children except for the ones society deems are heathens and are damned just for existing. After trying to mend a colossal fuck-up and doing right by Quasimodo, Esmeralda finds herself becoming both a fugitive and a freedom fighter of sorts, and even though her life has just been changed forever, she can’t find herself regretting her decision. She’s not a fan of having a homicidal maniac obsessing over her, but when it seems her and her friends’ luck in outwitting him has run out, she resolutely spits in Frollo’s face and chooses to face death with as much dignity as she can muster, and I’ll be damned if I don’t respect that. Throughout the movie, Esmeralda has a growing attraction to Captain Phoebus, the only member of Frollo’s guard who seems to be a decent person, and he’s certainly enamored with her, though Phoebus’ occupation obviously presents a conflict of interest between them. After Phoebus officially ‘resigns’ and jumps in the same boat with her and Quasi, Esme seizes the opportunity and makes her move, and I really can’t say I blame her.

The blond-haired Phoebus and his role in this story is interesting to think about because his character is more of an archetypal hero than Quasimodo and Esmeralda – the handsome, knight-in-shining armor who fights in wars and charms the womenfolk. It’s easy to see how he would be the hero of a different story (since he shares many of the same qualities as the archetypal Disney prince), but “Hunchback” gives him an interesting edge and more room to grow by making him the tritagonist of this movie and having him play on the wrong side for most of it, having to work his way around being the token good soldier and questioning his values. Phoebus is initially called in to replace Frollo’s last captain of the guard, and is assigned to keep order in Paris. He quickly discovers this means enforcing a theocracy and rounding up innocent people to be imprisoned / murdered. Since Phoebus is neither racist nor insane, this obviously perturbs him, but as a soldier he’s been trained for years to follow orders. Phoebus’ crush on the gypsy girl, Esmeralda, complicates thing further. It’s a testament to what sort of person Phoebus is and how deranged Frollo is that this abusive situation only lasts for two days before Phoebus jumps ship and throws his lot in with the gypsies. He also finds himself becoming one-third of a love triangle with Esmeralda and Quasimodo. The hilariously awkward tension that persists between Quasimodo and Phoebus in the last act (which Phoebus does try to assuage by being nice to Quasi, even when he knows he doesn’t like him) will make you wish Esmeralda’s boys had shared more scenes sooner. They really come off as two guys who would never hang out if they didn’t have a mutual acquaintance, and it’s kind of cute seeing them eventually move past this stage.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Hellfire

The film’s antagonist, Judge Claude Frollo, is seriously creepy. Not just because of what we see in the film, but because of all the implications surrounding him. For one thing, Frollo hunts down gypsies so he can kill them, and he’s been doing this for at least twenty years. He’s been actively attempting genocide off-screen for decades, and his body count has to be massive. For another thing, Quasimodo is absolutely terrified of crossing him or even pissing him off and the film implies he has every reason to be. We know Frollo emotionally abuses Quasi – we see him callously manipulate the boy into wasting away years of his life just to protect his own image – but considering their body language and the way Frollo explodes at him later it’s not hard to imagine Quasi was badly beaten and physically abused as well, several times growing up. Like Scar from “The Lion King”, Frollo is the type of evil that can actually exist in the real world: the delusional, hateful religious zealot who holds others to higher standards than they hold themselves. In the past, people like Frollo would have been authoritarians, leading witch hunts. In the present day, they’re the sort of people who claim to be wise, loving theists while also harassing people and parading around with signs saying AIDs is God’s gift to gay men. They give whatever religion they belong to a bad name. Frollo in particular despises gypsies because he believes them all to be witches and heathens, but his quest to rid his city of them is complicated when he develops an obsessive lust for the gypsy, Esmeralda.

The film’s signature song, “Hellfire”, explores Frollo’s inner conflict when he himself falls from grace, and it’s truly a unique villain song. Before now, we’ve seen Disney villains manipulate others (“Poor Unfortunate Souls”), boast about their abilities (“Gaston”) and lay down their life goals (“Be Prepared”), but “Hellfire” is the first song to really give us a glimpse at how a Disney villain thinks; and as you would expect from someone who’s already been characterized as a tyrannical, child-abusing mass-murderer, Frollo’s mind-space is nine different flavors of crazy. He knows by his own twisted standards he himself is now a lowly sinner, but instead of taking responsibility for that he doubles down; he lashes out at Esmeralda, at the devil, at God himself – he twists things in his favor as he always does. What makes it even more fascinating to watch is that Frollo is not entirely delusional. He knows, somewhere, that he’s lying to himself, that this path probably won’t end well, but he’s lost the will to care. Up until now, Frollo’s been written as a monster who’s just barely been kept in check by his ‘principles’ and his fear of God, but now not even that is enough. Frollo is going to get what he wants out of this situation, whatever the consequences may be. By the end of the film, he’s grown so self-centered that he starts to think of himself as being above God himself.

Frollo also shows himself to be quite crafty. He’s prone to doing unexpectedly sneaky things like breaking away from his posse to threaten Esmeralda in private or using Quasimodo’s good intentions to track her down, which helps to keep the film feeling fresh and unpredictable. I ultimately love Frollo’s death scene. Throughout the film, it’s left frustratingly vague whether Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends are actual real creatures (reviving the idea proposed in “The Bells of Notre Dame” that the cathedral might be sentient) or if they’re simply figments of his imagination the boy crafted so he wouldn’t go insane from isolation. That ambiguity returns for one last parallel between himself and Frollo. Just as Frollo is about to kill Quasimodo and Esmeralda a gargoyle he previously damaged gives way, and before the man can drop several stories to his death the gargoyle roars at him. Considering Frollo has already been well-established as delusional, it’s entirely up to the audience’s interpretation whether this is one last hallucination of his, or if God finally grew tired of Frollo and took his advice at the time (“And he shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!”) to prevent him from killing more people in his place of worship. I tend to think it’s the latter.

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Hug

Shipping fuel.

The animation in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is incredibly well-done and exceeds many of the expectations you might have already had about the movie considering the period it was produced in. Most of the action in the film is set inside or around a cathedral, and the furthest we ever stray from Notre Dame is some dark catacombs, but the film never feels like less of a grand adventure because the scale that’s lent to Notre Dame and all its faucets as a location is simply awe-inspiring. Disney has also got their pan-in shots down pat at this point, with the opening tour of Paris feeling like less of a trip through a pop-up book than some equivalent shots in prior Disney movies did. With that much having been said, the animation is rougher than usual here for a renaissance film, and there is some noticeable CG, though nothing as distracting as the CG work in “Aladdin” and “Tarzan”.

While “Hunchback” as a film never broke out, the individual songs managed to become classics. The rousing build-up in “The Bells of Notre Dame”, which frames the film’s premise as a fable, is positively riveting, especially when Clopin starts hitting all the high notes in the song’s climax. “Out There” is a serious contender for the best “I Want” song from the Disney renaissance, and this is coming from someone who adores “Part Of Your World”. Tim Hulce sings it with the sort of passion you only get from spending twenty years being mistreated by a madman and longing to be free. While the visuals in “Topsy-Turvy” are very surreal and immature, the song itself is pretty strong with lots of gusto. “God Help The Outcasts” is simply beautiful, and noticeably softer-spoken than any of the other songs in the movie. I think my favorite section is the bridge, when Esmeralda’s selfless pleas are juxtaposed with a congregation of devout Catholics praying to God for glory, wealth and fame (between this and the public humiliation scene, the Parisians in this movie are not painted in a good light, are they?). “Heaven’s Light / Hellfire” is the film’s iconic centerpiece, where the two ends of the Madonna-Whote complex are contrasted against each other. Quasimodo’s tender hymn versus Claude Frollo’s thundering choir. The beginnings of what could easily become an obsession pit against an obsession that already’s well underway and burns hotly and wholeheartedly. Despite being one of the low points of the movie, “A Guy Like You” actually isn’t a terrible song and Jason Alexander has more vocal talent than I expected from him, but it really doesn’t belong in this movie. “The Court Of Miracles” is the only song that I would say is forgettable, since it’s very short, though it does add to Clopin’s character by making him more morally murky.

Alan Menken has slowly become my favorite of Disney’s many composers. Ever since “The Little Mermaid“, I’ve appreciated how lush his scores are and how easily he’s able to weave a movie’s songs into the score. “Hunchback” has this in spades. When Tony Jay belts out “Hellfire’s” last chorus and his vocals blend together with the film’s bombastic main theme, it’s pure aural bliss. The score also mines “Hunchback’s” catholic background, utilizing seldom-used instruments like an organ, and layering several of the cues with a frenetic choir chanting in Latin.

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

Rating: 8/10.


The Hunchback Of Notre Dame God Help The Outcasts 2

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

* I always love this shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “Sorry” “No you’re not”.

* “Frollo, I will not tolerate this assault on the house of God!” “Silence you old fool!” You’re not that young yourself, Frollo.

* Damn, Frollo tried to straight-up shank Quasi.

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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


The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Out There 3

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 7 Comments

The Lion King (1994) Review

The Lion King Poster 2

“The Lion King” is an incredible movie. I first saw “The Lion King” in the hazy days of 2003, and it left a lasting impression on me. I waited years to acquire my own copy of the film and revisit it, and it was well-worth the wait. So, why is “The Lion King” so awesome? Besides the near flawless 2-D and 3-D animation, and the spectacular soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, “The Lion King” feels well and truly unique, inventive and ambitious in the canon, being a cross between “Hamlet” and “Bambi” with lions in the Savannah. The Disney Renaissance formula is present in this movie, but it only ever adds to it and never makes the movie feel generic or predictable like it did with “Aladdin“. When you think about it, “The Lion King’s” story is actually pretty simple and basic (a prince is born to a good king, the jealous brother of the good king murders him to seize power and banishes the prince, the prince lives in shame for years until his friends find him in exile and convince him to come home, the prince fights his uncle for his birthright) and having a basic plot isn’t always a good thing because it often equals a thin plot, but in “The Lion King’s” case it works incredibly well in the movie’s favor, because it gives the filmmakers all the time and space they need to give the movie everything in every department.

More than that though, a large part of the reason why “The Lion King” packs so much power is because there are actual, lasting consequences to everything that happens. “The Lion King” is one of a very small number of films in the Disney canon where good, supporting characters are actually allowed to die (others include “Bambi“, “Brother Bear“, and “Big Hero 6”), and unlike the death of Bambi’s mother (which was quietly swept under the rug and ignored by the narrative for sixty odd years), Mufasa’s death has weight. It represents the point in the movie where literally everything goes wrong. The villain, Scar, actually succeeds in getting what he wanted for longer than five minutes, and even after he’s defeated in the end, it still doesn’t undo the years of suffering he dealt upon everyone in the Pridelands, Simba included. The sense of spirituality running through “The Lion King”, while a bit on the nose at times, is honestly so rich and works so well with the setting of the movie. After the injustice of Mufasa’s murder and the cruelty of Scar’s leadership, a terrible draught falls upon the Pridelands during his reign. When Simba and Scar fight for the title of king, they fight with the cleansing fires of hell itself surrounding them, and when the rightful balance is finally restored with the divine prince back in power, the weather relents and the rains return to the Pridelands. It’s obvious symbolism, but still good symbolism.

The Lion King Simba and Nala

Matthew Broderick’s Simba is a young lion prince, who really looks up to his dad, Mufasa, and his uncle, Scar, and eagerly awaits his time as king of Pridelands. Simba is quite frankly a little brat. He lies to his parents, mistreats his guardian, Zazu, puts himself and Nala in grave danger and really only wants to be king for shallow, narcissistic reasons. It’s clear Mufasa has been too soft on him. It’s hard to hold this against Simba though, because (1) he’s really only a small boy who doesn’t know any better for the most part, (2) Simba growing out of this childish notion of what being a king and an adult means is an important part of his character arc and meant to contrast with his evil, manchild uncle, who never does the same, and (3) anyone who’s ever seen “The Lion King” knows real life is going to hit Simba hard soon and he’s gotta enjoy that blissful innocence while he has it. Perhaps I spoke too soon when I said the Beast and his servants have the most messed-up backstory in the Disney canon, because Simba’s backstory is extremely dark. Scar arranges for Mufasa to be brutally killed and afterwards he blames it all on Simba, because he hates him. The guilt that would come from thinking you got your own beloved father trampled to death would warp and crush an adult man, think of what it would do to someone who looks to be the lion equivalent of eight. And Simba spends most of his life living with this shame.

After meeting some drifters, Timon and Pumbaa, Simba takes their well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful advice of burying his trauma and turning his back on his past. But by doing so, he also turns his back on his people for years, when they need him the most. With a coup against the tyrant Scar starting up, Simba is faced with the choice of remaining a troubled hippie without purpose forever, or going home and doing what’s right for his friends and family, even if it ends badly for him – facing his own demons as well as the ones Scar crafted for him. After some stern talkings-to, Simba does the latter of course, and by doing so and fighting his uncle, he proves himself worthy of being a king and finally gets some justice when he learns his uncle set him up. It’s not uncommon for Disney coming-of-age stories to end with the protaganist having kids and continuing that circle of life (“Bambi” laid down the template), but I think Simba’s case is the most satisfying. After everything he had to endure and everything he overcame, it’s great to see Simba eventually emerge with a loving mate, great friends, and two wonderful cubs (dat adorable Kiara cameo at the end).

The Lion King Be Prepared

Scar is a villain that you seriously love to hate. Scar, at first glance, seems similar to Jafar from “Aladdin”. Jeremy Irons’ dry, sarcastic performance as the immature, compulsively lying brother calls to mind memories of the scheming vizier from the last film, but “Be Prepared” makes it clear Scar is an even more vicious, loathsome and dangerous character than Jafar was. A subtle but fundamental difference between the two is that Jafar stole power and status because he wanted it, while Scar feels he’s owed it, that it’s his birthright, and the latter is a much more personal feeling. Scar has spent years stewing in quiet, passive-aggressive jealousy and resentment towards his brother and his family, and now that he has nothing left to lose he’s decided he’s just going to rid of them.

Like Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame“, Scar is one of the more disturbing Disney villains because he lacks a magical fantasy element, and he’s the sort of evil that can actually exist in the real world. Sometimes mentally unstable people bottle up their feelings for years or even decades until they just snap, and that’s one way that you get murderers. Scar in particular has a festering vindictive and sadistic streak that’s first hinted at when we’re introduced to him ‘playing with his food’. He doesn’t just want Mufasa and Simba to die, he hates them so much he wants them to suffer before they do. He stabs Mufasa through the paws and lets him know he’s betraying him before he throws him to his death; he pins the murder on Simba and sends him away before sending the hyenas after him, because he wants him to die thinking he killed his father; he later attempts the same thing by telling Simba he killed Mufasa before he tries to do him in. Basically, Simba and Mufasa were extremely unlucky to have a psychopath in their family that they trusted.

Like cub Simba though, Scar has a narrow, immature idea of what to do with power once he gets it, since he only ever wanted to be a king he never learned what it actually entails, and his pride and spitefulness forbids him from correcting his course once it all goes wrong. He drags the Pridelands to ruin (which should give you an idea of how Ursula and Jafar’s respective reigns would have gone if they hadn’t been immediately dealt with). Lastly, I like how much of a complete and utter bastard this lion is, with no redeeming qualities besides his trademark wit. He does everything he possibly can to make you hate him, and when his vindictive streak and two-faced nature finally catch up to him and he gets ripped apart by his hyena henchmen, it’s one of the most satisfying Disney villain deaths ever (this fate was originally supposed to be Gaston’s from “Beauty and the Beast“, but Disney decided being eaten alive by wolves was too gruesome, even for Gaston. It was gruesome enough for Scar though).

The Lion King Sunrise 2

King Mufasa, head lion in charge of the Pridelands, is one of the most iconic and loving paternal figures in the Disney canon. The brawny lion is a lasting figure of strength, wisdom and humility in young Simba’s life, a role model to the young prince, and occasionally a playmate. We don’t dive too deeply into Mufasa’s personality, since he’s basically in this movie to be a good dad and then die, but do we know he would give his life for his son and he isn’t a perfect king, naturally. Simba becomes a bit spoiled under his watch, and while his hostile relationship with his brother is two-way street (what went down between these two in the past will always be a mystery) Mufasa still trusts the lion who hates his guts, apparently hoping their familial bond with make Scar reliable (he was wrong). When a ghostly Mufasa makes contact with Simba again after years of silence, I can’t be the only one who thinks of Jor-El from Richard Donner’s “Superman”, right? Mufasa’s sideman, in life, is his majordomo, Zazu. Zazu is one of Disney’s several stuffy Brits, and something of a blowhard who’ll talk big when he’s around Mufasa and turn wimpy elsewhere, but he’s still a likable character. Zazu cares greatly about the royal family, he’s a hard worker, and he has to put up with so much lion dickiness in this movie from almost everyone.

Simba’s childhood friend and future mate, Nala, is another awesome female character under the Disney renaissance’s belt. As a cub, Nala is a sassy girl and a fellow troublemaker, and as a woman, Nala is courageous, competent, and assertive. With the Pridelands going under, Nala decides to strike out on her own to get help and is one of two characters responsible for talking some sense into Simba. If there is one thing that stumps me, it’s where Simba and Nala’s sudden, mutual attraction comes from in “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, considering they only recently discovered each other was alive. But they do have good chemistry, as friends and mates, with their history contributing to it. Scar’s accomplices in usurping Mufasa is a trio of hyenas, Shenzi, Banzi, and Ed, and their greedy, poaching clan who overhunt in the Pridelands and wreck the local ecosystem. The hyenas are evil like their leader, or at the very least merciless, but they’re also very childish, making them the comedy relief of this movie, alongside Timon and Pumbaa. Hyena lovers were apparently frustrated for years that Disney taught a whole generation of kids that hyenas were evil. Personally, I’d be more bothered by the hyenas’ IQ level. Being portrayed as evil is one thing, but stupid and evil is a whole other thing entirely.

The Lion King Hakuna Matata

Timon and Pumbaa are Simba’s childhood friends, fellow slacker outcasts, and strangely enough adoptive parental figures. Timon and Pumbaa were the breakout characters of this franchise in the 90’s, and they’re also a lot of people’s least favorite characters in this franchise. It’s understandable. Timon and Pumbaa make Simba happy, but you can also feel a lot of the classiness “The Lion King” had been sporting drain out of the movie once they show up (since one of them is a farting warthog in a movie based on a work of Shakespeare). Revisiting this film for the first time in years, I thought for sure I’d hate them, but I wound up really liking them instead. Timon the meerkat is a snarky, condescending, Jersey wise guy sort of character (ever since “Pinocchio“, Disney has tended to have at least one American-type character in their movies set outside the US) , while his buddy Pumbaa is the relatively grounded, obtuse, sentimental and sensitive one of the duo. They’re both huge hams. They won me over by the time Timon did his cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and they kept getting better from there: like how they both start bawling after “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”, or how Timon takes one good look at the dried out Pridelands and remarks “Ugh, we’re gonna fight your uncle, for this?”, or even how Pumbaa lays the smackdown on some hyenas. “The Lion King” also teases the people who hate Timon and Pumbaa with the idea of them being eaten by hyenas when Simba makes them be live bait.

The most valuable player of Simba’s team is quietly Rafiki, the mandrill Shaman of the pridelands. I love Rafiki so much. Like the Genie from “Aladdin”, he’s nuts in all the right ways. Rafiki is a fairly quiet character, in fact it’s almost an hour into the movie that he actually has a conversation with someone, but the shaman seems to be a lifelong friend of King Mufasa and very invested in the state of the Pridelands. Rafiki is crushed when he learns Mufasa and Simba are dead, and his unbridled joy when he learns the boy he blessed as a cub is still alive is simply wonderful. Like Nala, he sets out to change things. Rafiki helps talk Simba into going back to the Pridelands, and when the revolution starts, he throws down with everyone else against the hyenas. It turns out he’s lived to a ripe old age for a reason.

The Lion King King Of Pride Rock

As I mentioned before, the hand-drawn animation in “The Lion King” is near-flawless. Disney obviously did their research studying animals and scoping out the African Savannah, because the opening sequence alone feels like an animated nature documentary.  The uncanny realism with the way the characters move is somehow another large step up from the studio’s already top-notch work on “The Little Mermaid“, “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aladdin”, with the character of Zazu providing the film with a number of high-flying tracking shots in the first half. The highlight of the film is of course the stampede sequence, when hundreds of computer-generated wildebeast barrel down a canyon towards Simba and trample Mufasa to death. It took more than two years to animate, and not only does it still look great to this day, but it’s also one of the most terrifying and thrilling chase scenes in the entire Disney canon. The only animation errors I can find is when Simba and Mufasa’s eyes randomly flash from yellow to white, which leads to me wonder why Simba’s eyes are sometimes depicted as white during the nighttime scenes (is it an artistic choice? Does it reflect lion biology?).

Like Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s collaborations for “The Little Mermaid’ and “Beauty and the Beast”, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is incredibly strong, and also where the African culture of the film really shines. The Zulu chanting and percussion used throughout the songs is absolutely beautiful and unique to the canon before now. “The Circle Of Life” (an affectionate homage to the opening of one Disney’s first coming-of-age stories, “Bambi”) is a tender and bittersweet moment shared by the Prideland animals as they celebrate the miracle of life, before their lives all get destroyed a few months later. “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” might actually be my favorite song, because it’s such a fun acid trip sequence, and Simba and Zazu slay the duet. “Be Prepared” features a surprisingly icy but altogether impressive performance from Jeremy Irons and Jim Cummings as Scar. “Hankuna Matata” is the weakest of the bunch, because of the lyrics, but it also features a very memorable chorus and some jazzy jungle beats that wouldn’t feel out of place in “The Jungle Book“. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is a good love song, but the tranquil Elton John cover is better. Hans Zimmer pens a childlike and eventually noble prince theme for Simba, along with a secondary, solemn and forlorn theme for his relationship with Mufasa.

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

Rating: 10/10.


The Lion King The Pridelands

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Lion pimp slap, complete with claws.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “Long live the king” Lion murder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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


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

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 14 Comments

Aladdin (1992) Review

Aladdin Poster 2

Growing up, the “Aladdin” franchise was one of the ones I was most familiar with when it came to the big four of the Disney Renaissance (though there still wasn’t much experience there), and I’ve always been fond of it. “Aladdin” is of course the story of how a young Arabian street rat comes into possession of a magical lamp and a Genie that will grant him three fantastical wishes. Now, if there’s two things Disney has always loved, it’s magic and royalty, so “Aladdin” was the perfect chance for the company to go nuts with one of their musicals. Remember when I said not too long ago that “Oliver and Company” was very much of an 80’s movie? “Aladdin” is a 90’s movie through and through, from the first act continually emphasising how cool and rebellious it’s lead is, to the usual Disney renaissance tropes being present, to the celebrity casting, to Genie delightfully asking rug man to give him some casa as soon as he appears.

The middle eastern city of Agrabah is a large departure from Disney’s usual settings, and intrigues as a location that’s teeming with life. Something I like about the “Aladdin” universe is just how casually dangerous it feels. The world Aladdin and Jasmine live in is humorous but it’s also very cruel, strict and classicist, and stepping one toe out of line can have serious consequences, best demonstrated when some pompous prince tries to whip children or when Jasmine almost gets her hand chopped off for stealing an apple. I’m really not sure when “Aladdin” is supposed to take place, but assuming it’s set about a thousand or so years ago, that sounds about right. The film comments a lot on the social divide in Agrabah and how restricting and regressive it is, with each of the major characters feeling hopelessly trapped in the roles they were born into, without ever feeling preachy and heavy-handed. With that much having been said, I think “Aladdin” is easily the weakest film of the big four. “Aladdin’s” plot can feel generic at times because like I said, all the Disney Renaissance tropes and tricks are present in this movie that would be gradually overused later (like the underdog hero, the rebellious princess, the comedy sidekicks and the power-hungry villain), and they feel less endearing here than they do in “The Little Mermaid‘, “Beauty and the Beast“, and “The Lion King“. There’s also the liar-revealed boyfriend subplot with Aladdin and Jasmine that’s played entirely straight in the last act. But being the weakest of four great movies means you’re still really good.

A Whole New World

Young Aladdin is a cunning, mischievous, frustrated street rat who longs to live a comfortable life, be something worthwhile and be recognized as something other than a lowly peasant. After spending a romantic day with Princess Jasmine who he’s forbidden to be with, Aladdin decides to use his three Genie wishes to climb the social ladder and win a shot with the princess. Like a few previous Disney leads, Aladdin is a thief but the film is always mindful to stress his kind heart, intellect and lack of luck being born into poverty so as not to make him unsympathetic. Aladdin’s character arc of lying to Jasmine as ‘Prince Ali’ is pretty predictable, but something that keeps it from feeling overly so is how deep it cuts and how painful it can be to watch at it’s peak. There’s a stretch of the film where Aladdin actually attains all his goals and things are set to wrap up nicely, but he’s still not happy. Quite the opposite, actually. Being on the receiving end of years of classicism has pretty much destroyed Aladdin’s sense of self-worth and instilled him with shame and self-loathing that the Genie can’t help him with. If anything, the Genie’s magical assistance only makes thing worse, because it reinforces the idea in his head that he’s nothing special on his own. He’s become addicted to having the Genie as a crutch, and in his quest to become something he’s not he’s changed inside and out, compromising his principles and becoming selfish and vain. Al finally realizes he needs to give up the charade and start mending his relationships, but of course he comes to this realization too late. Aladdin learns his lesson by having to rely on nobody but himself to beat Jafar, and earns his happy ending after making some sacrifices.

Throughout the film, Aladdin’s faithful companion is the greedy, resourceful, hyperactive little monkey Abu, a fellow street rat. Abu can be quite helpful and he can also be somewhat troublesome, because this monkey just does not listen. He’s Aladdin’s bro though. He also spends a good chunk of a movie as an elephant (and not by choice). Aladdin often travels on his signature magic carpet, who’s something of a throwback to the older days of Disney animation. Carpet is a silent character, and whatever emotions he feels are conveyed entirely through his actions and his little tassels. It’s not only effective, it’s also really cute.

Genie 2

Jasmine is the third in a line of Disney Renaissance Princesses who want to be free to live their own life and not be constrained by what small-minded men want for them. Jasmine is the most aggressive and authoritative one so far though, which helps to set her apart from Ariel and Belle. Princess Jasmine has never been allowed outside the place walls and thus is quite sheltered (getting into trouble as soon as she enters the city’s marketplace), but she’s also very athletic and quick-witted. Jasmine has grown tired of having to entertain arrogant princes who not only feel entitled to her but are also only interested in her for her money and her daddy’s money. Like a lot of 90’s Disney characters, Jasmine wants her some real love. It’s a pleasure seeing her day-to-day, palace life with her domesticated tiger, Rajah, her staunchly traditional but not unreasonable father, the Sultan, and the power struggle that forms between her and Jafar. Jasmine’s character arc takes a surprisingly dark turn early on, when Jafar convinces her she accidentally got the boy she liked killed and she spends a good chunk of the film riddled with remorse about that (thankfully, that boy was Aladdin, who is very much not dead).

The Genie of the lamp is, hands down, the best character in this movie. Take a flamboyant, off-the-wall, extroverted showman, shove him inside a lamp for a couple of thousand years until he starts going stir crazy and you get Robin Williams’ Genie. He’s nuts in all the right ways. Unlike a lot of manipulative genies, this one has a gentle nature and surprisingly affecting desire grounding him as character. He’s not just a wish-fulfiller, he’s also a slave – forced to grant wishes for eternity, having no real autonomy, and having to wait large amounts of time between masters (he doesn’t even get paid). He longs for freedom to see the world. Since Genie is one of the most sympathetic characters in this movie, the ending, when Aladdin finally grants his wish never ceases to make me shed happy tears. From his little stunned “what?”, because he honestly never believed a human could be that selfless, to the way he goes wild after the shackles fall off, it’s all just perfect (the fact that Robin Williams has passed on in the twenty years since this film only adds to the poignancy of all the friends splitting up at the end).

Jafar and Iago

Jafar is the darker counterpart to our heroes, who all either want to climb the social ladder benevolently or break out of the roles they feel confined to. Jafar wants power and status, and he’ll do anything he needs to or wants to to get it. The sultan’s vizier is a droll, ruthless, manipulative antagonist who spends much of the movie working behind the scenes, before finally revealing the true depths of his lust and depravity for power in the climax, once he has nothing else to lose (the utterly insane and maniacal slasher laugh Jafar unleashes after “Prince Ali (Reprise)” gives me the chills every time). Jafar develops a great deal of hatred for Aladdin, who he views as a ragged, meddlesome street rat who keeps interfering with his plans at each turn, so he decides to add humiliating / killing Aladdin to his life goals. Jafar also possesses the ability to make you feel very uncomfortable when you least expect it, like when he disguises himself as an old man or when he starts creeping on Jasmine, who’s a teenager and seriously takes one for the team by kissing him. Like Scar after him, I appreciate that Jafar’s brought down by his own personal character flaws. We lose a lot of good Disney villains to blind rage (Cruella De Vil, Sykes, Ursula, Shan Yu, Clayton, etc), but it’s fitting for this sort of movie that it’s Jafar’s greed that gets the better of him.

Jafar is aided by his sadistic, loud-mouthed, two-faced familiar, Iago, and together the mage and parrot make quite the scheming duo. Iago the parrot is voiced by a distinctive Gilbert Gottfried, and honestly the bird is much funnier than he ought to be with his antics. Iago would gain an expanded role in later installments of the “Aladdin” franchise, starting with his heel-face turn in “The Return Of Jafar”, and it’s easy to see why that happened. There was still plenty of potential to be mined with this character.

A Whole New World

The 2-D animation standards in “Aladdin” are as high as you would expect from a film produced at the height of the Disney Renaissance. There’s the depth and grandeur of the locations, all the detail put into the grains of sand in Agrabah’s desert, the way the golden, glittering treasures in the Cave of Wonders really pop out, the razor sharp movements of serpent Jafar. It’s all lovely. What’s especially striking though is “Aladdin’s” vivid color palette (which you’ll have noticed by now in the screencaps). You have all sorts of fiery hot reds, deep, deep blues and beautiful shades of purple in-between throughout the entire movie, and it adds to the unreal, fairy tale vibe of the story being told. Interestingly enough, “Aladdin” has both good and bad examples of 3-D animation being integrated into a 2-D animation film. On the one hand, the CG for the Cave of Wonders looks really, really awful, both inside and outside the cave, but on the other hand, the animation for the magic carpet is so well done, from his design to the carpet’s movements, that you honestly can’t even tell it’s a computer-generated character. It’s quite the achievement.

“Aladdin” has a very distinctive soundtrack from Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Akin to “Fathoms Below” and “Frozen Heart”, “Arabian Nights” is the stirring opening number that you’ll wish was much longer than it was because it’s the song where the film’s desert style shines through the most. “One Jump Ahead” is the only song I really dislike. It tries way too hard to be zany and random and it just winds up being obnoxious. The melancholy reprise from Aladdin shortly after fares better. “Friend Like Me” is a jazzy, big-band masterclass number of Genie showing-off and the movie’s most energetic scene in terms of visuals. It’s wonderful, especially when Robin Williams get so into it he starts to become unintelligible. “Prince Ali” is a good, peppy and ridiculous boast, continuing the trend of Genie craziness, but I think I like Jafar’s smug, smarmy reprise even more. “A Whole New World” is my favorite Disney love song. The blissful, carefree Brad Kane and Lea Salonga duet over the smooth piano, combined with the breaktaking visuals produce what I think is the epitome of Disney escapism (you’d best believe Alan Menken’s instrumental reworkings of the song are just as beautiful).

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

Rating: 8/10.


Genie Hug

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Aladdin’s puppy dog eyes.

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

* Abu’s killer Jasmine impression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “He’s generous, so generous!”

* “Tell her the TRUTH!!!”

* When you feel uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Stab that bitch, Al!

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

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

* “Ha, made you look!”

Further Reading:


Arabian Nights

Posted in Disney, Reviews | 7 Comments

Score Highlights: Doctor Who

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

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

Bonus: the live version.

Posted in Score Highlights | Leave a comment