Saturday, January 28, 2012

1941 - Dumbo

So after Pinocchio and Fantasia underperformed at the box office, Disney was looking to recoup his losses. What he needed was - not a hit, exactly, but something that could be considered a success if it made the same amount of money as the last two. So they bought the 8-page story attached to an unproduced prototype toy and made a movie in a few months on a fraction of their previous budgets. Nervous? So am I. So pick up a cellophane pack of orange marshmallow peanuts, and let’s talk about Dumbo.
Even the poster looks half baked. Like those unlicensed pictures painted on the windows of preschools.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

1940 - Fantasia

In my last post, I gave you the basic idea of Fantasia, so no need to rehash that here. Seven classical pieces and one comedy bit, linked with introductions from music historian, minor radio celebrity, and pin-up model Deems Taylor. Actually, Taylor presented a bit of a sticky situation for me. The original cut of Fantasia was a 124 minute roadshow, which was edited down to 115 minutes by chopping up Taylor’s intros. For the recent DVD release, they restored the full film, but with no original sound prints, had to dub Taylor’s voice for the whole movie with that of Disney mainstay Corey Burton. Now, I hate editing of old movies. I think 3D conversion should be punished by horsewhipping, aspect ratio alteration by behanding, and colorization by execution. There is one exception, but I’ll get to that later. So do I watch the original voice with deleted lines, or the dubbed voice with original lines? I went with the latter, for the more accurate experience. Not that it was the complete original version. As I implied up there, there is still one part that’s been cut out, but we'll get to that. Feeling classy? I know I am. So grab a foie gras and caviar smoothie and let’s talk about Fantasia.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Well, I knew going into this that staying on schedule would by tricky at best, and in a way, having a setback this early is good, right? Riiiiiight? Because you know how when you get a new computer, sometimes it’ll restart itself randomly to do little updates or whatever? And you know how word processor programs are supposed to recover your work after an unexpected shutdown but sometimes they don't? And you know how when I get on a roll I forget to save my work? Well, you do now, and that’s what happened to my Fantasia review. So I’ll be redoing that this week, and posting it around the same time as my Dumbo review. This may lead to the Dumbo review being short and not very good, but so what? So is the movie.

But I don’t want to leave you a contentless week, so first, let me tell you the basic idea behind Fantasia. See, Walt wanted to make a high-quality short starring Mickey Mouse based on the classic story “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, set to the music of Paul Dukas. Working with legendary conductor and teen heartthrob Leopold Stokowski, Disney extended it to seven shorts and made it his third theatrical feature. His idea was that every year or two they would cycle a few new numbers in, toss a few old ones out, and keep the movie fresh and ever growing. Sadly, the film didn’t do so hot and this plan was scrapped until nearly 60 years later, when his nephew produced Fantasia 2000. But we’ll have time for that later. (Like eight months from now, so don’t get too excited.) Like Walt, Roy Jr. wanted to release another one, and the studio had produced four of the new segments when the project was scrapped. They all saw release in some form, as theatrical shorts, or DVD special features, so I have seen them. And to whet your appetite for Fantasia, here’s four things that nearly made it into the canon.

DESTINO - This was a collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali that they began in 1946 for a future Fantasia, but never completed. The animators, with the aid of Gala Dali’s diary, where she spoke rather more understandably about her husband’s ideas, did all they could to decipher the storyboards, and the final product is… Well, I think it’s beautiful, and it’s certainly a departure from the usual style… Look at it this way, if you read “a collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali” and got excited, check it out. It’s just what it sounds like.

Smiling? In a Hans Christian Andersen story? We'll soon fix that.
THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL - Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, who desperately needed a hug. Remarkable that Disney changed some of the sad parts and made it even SADDER. Gone is the abusive father, but now the matchgirl is a homeless orphan. Gone is Denmark, now they’re in Russia. It’s absolutely gorgeous and ever so depressing. I highly suggest it.

ONE BY ONE - On the flip side of that, here’s a story about children in a South African town building kites out of neighborhood materials. The colors and animation are top-notch, and the music is infectious. The song is an original composition by Lebo M., the guy responsible for all the music in The Lion King that actually sounded African. This one’s fun and happy and lovely. Watch it. You’ll need it after that last one.

This was probably also to apologize for one scene in Fantasia. Oh, you'll hear about it.
LORENZO - This is about a cat with a sentient tail, which he tries to remove, and which tries to kill him in retaliation. That’s all I know, since the only time this has ever been made available was as a short before the theatrical run of Raising Helen, and I didn’t see that. Nobody did. Anyway, here’s the trailer. Looks really good.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The New Headline Image

If you wanted to see it bigger, here you go. Just give a click. Open it in a new tab for the largest size available.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

1940 - Pinocchio

One of the things I’ve always heard people say about Pinocchio is how much it scared them, or how disturbing and traumatizing it is for kids. Now I get that, I really do. In a couple weeks I’m going to have to watch those damn pink elephants on parade, and that still gives me the jibblies. But in this case, I never really felt it. I saw this a few times when I was younger, but it never made much of an impression on me. I think that was because I had read the book first. It’s hard to be troubled by this movie when you’ve read a book where instead of adorable, catchphrase-spouting Jiminy Cricket, you get The Talking Cricket, who badgers Pinocchio for one scene and then Pinocchio kills him with a hammer and then his feet burn off.

Disturbed? So am I. So whip up a big ol’ bowl of spaghetti and let’s talk about Pinocchio.

Friday, January 6, 2012

1937 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Well, here it is. The big one. The first one. The first feature length cel animated movie in the history of ever. And I’m glad to be starting with this one for two reasons. First, I’ve never seen it in its entirety, and given its importance to the history of animation, that’s a bit shocking to me, and it’s already something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. Second, four years ago, I developed an intense and resentful personal grudge against this movie, and I want to know if I’m justified.

Intrigued? So am I. So grab yourself an apple, and let’s talk about Snow White.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My (Somewhat More Than A) Year With Walt Disney Animation Studios

Hi! I’m Brian. 

This holiday season, as my work schedule overwhelmed me and I fell far behind on my other writings, a thought stuck me. There are 52 weeks in a year. There will be, at the end of this year, 52 films in the Disney Animated Canon. And what I really need is something that occupies even more of my time, AND has a strict deadline, which I am terrible at keeping. GOOD LIFE CHOICES HERE, FOLKS.

So, yes, I will be watching one Disney movie a week and reviewing it on this blog. Let me clarify which ones I am doing. I will be sticking to the aforementioned Disney Animated Canon, or the movies made by Walt Disney Animation Studios (Formerly Walt Disney Feature Animation, formerly Walt Disney Productions, Ltd, formerly Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio) and released to theaters. This will NOT include straight-to-video or theatrically-released films by DisneyToon Studios, which means all but four of the sequels are right out. (Sigh of relief). This also doesn’t include movies financed or produced by Disney but released under another label, like The Nightmare Before Christmas or A Christmas Carol; movies that are live action with animated bits, like Mary Poppins or Who Framed Roger Rabbit; or live action Disney films like Swiss Family Robinson or The Princess Diaries. Anything by Pixar is, of course, also out.

Here are the movies I’ll be reviewing, arranged roughly into thematic “ages”. I’ll be updating this with links as I go along. Check back on Saturday afternoon for the first official entry.

(Early experimentation, development of the Disney style, and some growing pains)

(A lot of compilation movies of EXTREMELY mixed quality)

(Return to old values, new innovation in animation, firm establishment of the brand)

(The illness and death of Walt Disney, big financial trouble, and some really weird choices)

(New kinds of storytelling, abandonment of musicals, an overall darker tone)

(Return to musicals, fairy tales, and other Restoration tropes, with a fresh emphasis on story)

(As the Renaissance to the Restoration, so this to the Dark Age. More variation in story, no musicals [as such], innovation in writing and art)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Treasure Planet (2002)

(Two lousy 2D movies, misplacement of blame, three lousy CGI movies)

Brother Bear (2003)
Home On The Range (2004; Last 2D film until 2009)
Chicken Little (2005)
Meet The Robinsons (2007)
Bolt (2008)

(The Pixar guys are in charge now, so… Good movies.)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Tangled (2010)
Winnie the Pooh (2011)