Sunday, October 14, 2012

1989 - The Little Mermaid

Oh my, we are flying high now, aren’t we? While the not-inconsiderable success of the past two films provided Disney with reason enough to keep the theatrical animation division open, it was the massive success of a movie called Who Framed Roger Rabbit that caused them to be willing to spend gobs of money on it. A co-production with Warner Brothers, produced by Don Bluth’s producer, a wily young kid called Spielberg, requiring epic amounts of rights and royalties, hiring the finest screenwriters to extract a sensical plot out of the source novel... Expensive stuff. But they reaped the rewards and were now prepared to engage in the finest of all Disney Animation’s fine traditions, spending huge piles of money fulfilling one of Walt’s dreams. Jeffrey Katzenberg warned them that a “girls’ movie” wouldn’t do as well as their previous “boys’ movie”, but the animation crew was confident and sunk every cent of their hard-won budget into this film. Would Katzenberg’s predictions - Tell you what, I think we’ve established that JKatz was kind of an idiot back then, so are you guys okay if we skip the rhetorical questions this time? So am I. So fry up les poissons and let’s talk about The Little Mermaid.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

1988 - Oliver and Company

After the success of The Great Mouse Detective, the animation team was flying high. They’d made their mark, secured their jobs, and had a bunch of fun new toys to play with. And in the finest Disney tradition, they decided to go crazy for their next one. In some ways this was a return to form. This was their first full musical in a while, and it used non-anthropomorphic animals, a la Lady and the Tramp, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and The A********s. But it also took risks, with a completely modern setting, a WAY more intense bad guy than they’d previously used, an extreme twist on a well-known story, and a use of popular singers not seen since the Jungle Book. So did it work, or was it also a return to the fine Disney tradition of disappointing follow ups? Did the technology hold up, or bog the film down? Wheeeeeeeere is Love? Beats me, kid. So get some chicken wings, because that’s what I was eating when I watched this and I’m tired of making pet food jokes, and let’s talk about Oliver and Company.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

1986 - The Great Mouse Detective

The Great Mouse Detective

Well, the Black Cauldron flopped to a rather legendary degree, and the studio was in trouble. There were huge waves or layoffs and encouraged retirements, they were taken out of their historic offices and moved down the highway to a nondescript gray building, and they were told that they’d better churn out something cheap and profitable fast, or it would be CURTAINS FOR THEM! Nyah-hah-hah!!

(Artist's rendering.)
Fortunately, the new wave of animators, now unencumbered by the older guys, had a plan. Take the best storytelling techniques of the old days, the best filmmaking techniques of the modern age, and the new styles of animation that could cut corners and save money while still looking good. Unfortunately, time and money were working against them, and the company‘s reinvigorated focus on live-action films and distributing work through their various other studios meant they would not hesitate to cut the animation department loose if they continued on their spiral. Would they be able to pull it off? What innovative techniques would they use to get their project finished? Could they get away with having beer and strippers? In the movie, I mean, not in the office. Except maybe for research? Excited about the beer and strippers? So am I. So get yourself some beer and strippers and let’s talk about The Great Mouse Detective.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1985 - The Black Cauldron

While I’ve mentioned a few movies that I was particularly looking forward to this or that film, this one is the clear winner. It’s a fascinating and important film for a variety of reasons. It was their first PG rated film, an attempt at a serious, dramatic animation for grown-ups. It was their first film to be completely non-musical, with nary so much as a background song and with a score by Elmer Bernstein, who was quite the new hotness at the time. It was critically despised but has built up a loyal cult following, and it was such a colossal failure that it almost resulted in shutting down the entire animation department. (Again.) So would its ambition and scope be its triumph or downfall? Would I find myself on the side of the masses or the cult? Is there a worse possible protagonist than this one? No. Feeling adventurous? So am I. So boil up a haggis, and let’s talk about The Black Cauldron.