Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 - Frozen Mini-review

After a hiatus due to working retail at Christmas, I have returned. Before we move on with volume 2, I have a Christmas gi - er, a Childermas gift for you all. I will occasionally be putting in off-schedule mini-reviews of tangentially related films, stuff I see that I think is interesting, or - as in this case - new Disney movies. Frozen, the 53rd film in the Disney canon, came out late last month, and will probably be kicking around in theaters for a while yet, so I figured I’d give you a quick set of my thoughts on it, in my usual categories.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Space Jam (Warner Bros., 1996)

I’d like to take a moment now to step back in time. While Warner had distributed and even produced several feature animated films before starting their own studio - and we’ll be covering a number of those later - this is the film that really convinced them to go ahead with Warner Bros. Feature Animation, so I‘m giving it honorary inclusion. Like how everyone counts Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing as a Vertigo book even though it predates the imprint. (That’s a reference people get, right?) With that in mind, I’d like to take a look at this one, before I go ahead with the review of WBFA’s final film, which is directly related to it.

As for this one, its genesis is pretty easy to explain. Warner Bros’ most famous characters by a looooong shot are the classic Looney Tunes gang, but by the mid-90s, they weren’t up to much but Saturday morning reruns and the occasional advertisement. One such ad campaign was a set of Nike ads featuring Bugs Bunny and basketball legend Michael Jordan playing some one-on-one. The ads proved so popular that Warner decided to adapt them for a full-length Looney Tunes/Michael Jordan basketball epic. Armed with the forces of brand synergy and the ubiquitous 90s slang term “jam”, they went to work.

ATHLETICISM!

COMMERCIALISM!

CONSUMERISM!

CAPITALISM!

NIKE!

IS IT IN YOU?

I’M LOVING IT!

BUY OUR PRODUCT!

BECAUSE OF SPACE JAM!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Osmosis Jones (Warner Bros., 2001)

So after one bad movie that did poorly, and one great movie that also did poorly, you’d think Warner Bros. might look at their recent decisions and spot some patterns. See, the film that was made with little involvement from the executives was critically successful and hailed by many as brilliant. The film that they poured the marketing into, though, did better financially, despite being the worse movie. Clearly, the key to getting a good movie would be to stay very hands-off and trust the creative team, and market the hell out of it. So they did the exact opposite. Perhaps they thought that since their instincts had been 100% wrong so far, they should forego the obvious decision and instead do the bad idea, and micromanage a movie into mediocrity and then not tell anyone they made it? Solid choices, folks.

ADVENTURE!

SUSPENSE!

BIOLOGY!

IT’S OSMOSIS JONES!


Monday, November 11, 2013

The Iron Giant (Warner Bros. 1999)

The Iron Giant (Warner Bros., 1999)

In 1968, Ted Hughes wrote a short, somewhat hippieish novel called The Iron Man.

In 1986, Pete Townshend used it as the basis for a Tommy-style song cycle/rock opera/concept album.

In 1993, Warner bought the rights to this song cycle and started developing it as a movie.

In 1996, skilled animator and former Simpsons director Brad Bird was hired to direct the film.

In 1998, Quest for Camelot made no money.

Those five events are what led to what I feel comfortable calling, without hyperbole, the greatest animated film of all time.

COMEDY!

DRAMA!

YES IT ACTUALLY LIVES UP TO THAT HYPE!

IT’S THE IRON GIANT!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quest for Camelot (Warner Bros. 1998)

When putting together the list for this volume of the blog, I pretty quickly decided that I would arrange it by film studio, rather than chronologically. And which studio to start with was a no-brainer. Warner Bros. and Disney were rivals going back to the short subject days when Warner’s Merrie Melodies  and Looney Tunes began wiping the floor with Disney’s Silly Symphonies (I’m sensing a naming theme). As Fleischer Studios passed into memory, Warner became Disney’s most heated rivals in the cartoon short game. But feature animation was pursued by Warner more cautiously, until the early 1980s, when they started to distribute animated films produced by other studios, and met with modest success. After the smashing victory of The Lion King, Warner kicked up their distribution game into high gear, and started preparing their own animated films. The first of these was Space Jam, a live-action/animation mix that we’ll get into later, but by 1998, they were ready for the first fully animated prong in the Warner Bros. Feature Animation attack.

ACTION!

ADVENTURE!

A GUY WHOSE FACE IS SOMEHOW OFF-MODEL IN EVERY SHOT!

IT’S QUEST FOR CAMELOT!

Who wrote your tagline, Leo Tolstoy?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Announcing Volume 2!!

Throughout the (ahem) year of Disney, I noticed an trend of people recalling the nostalgic Disney films from their childhood - A lot of them weren’t by Disney. They were by Don Bluth, by Warner Bros., by some independent company, etc, but people remembered them in the broad mental category of “Disney Movies”. And that does make a bit of sense. While there were various studios supplying our childhood animated classics, the name-recognition of Disney does rather have a way of taking over the memory. TV Tropes even has an article about it, because of course it does.



At first, I didn’t take much notice of this, but after a while, it did get me thinking about all the studios that have tried to take on Disney over the years. Often at times when the company was putting on a weak showing, other companies have pushed out slates of animated movies to grab that market share for themselves, and that’s what we’ll be looking at this year.

We’ll begin with the various attempts by Disney’s old rivals in the animated shorts department, Warner Bros., first with their late-90s feature animation division, then their earlier partnership with Ted Turner. We’ll then look at the complete works of former Disney animator Don Bluth’s independent studio, which includes our only direct-to-video piece. Then a few more Warner-distributed things, before moving to Steven Spielberg’s brief foray into the game with the horribly-named “Amblimation”. We’ll look next at the early 2D work of Spielberg’s far more successful company Dreamworks, then jet back to the 1970s, where Golan and Golobus, who despite their names are somehow not supervillains, loaded their legendary egos into Cannon Movie Tales, the first-ever blatant attack on Disney’s market. After a brief miscellaneous round, we’ll look at the feature films of TV cartoon moguls Hanna-Barbera and holiday special specialists Rankin/Bass.

The end of the volume will take us back to Disney, looking first at their live-action/animation mixes, and then at some animated films they paid for, but didn’t themselves produce.

I’m not guaranteeing reviews for all of these. Some of them, specifically the mid-70s stuff, I’m not even sure have been released on DVD. But this is the current plan, with a few bonus films thrown in along the way.

EXCITEMENT!

MERRIMENT!

WILD VARIATIONS IN QUALITY!

IT’S MY YEAR WITHOUT WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS!

(current planned list of films under the jump)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Q&A: The Final Disney Wrap-Up

An interesting question with an interesting answer. While the Disney canon has a few flops, this is a company that, for their animated films at least, considers “only tripled its budget” to be a flop. There have been a few that didn’t make their money back, but only one really joins the pantheon of legendary money losers, and that’s Treasure Planet, which lost the studio about 80 million dollars. That doesn’t compare to their biggest live-action flops, like John Carter, which banked on a charmless lead and source material no one’s heard of, and The Lone Ranger, which banked on racism and source material no one cares about. Both of these films lost over 100 million, with estimates for Lone Ranger as high as 120 million (though it’ll be hard to say for sure until its out of theaters a bit longer).

The interesting bit is that Disney is also responsible for the biggest flop of all time, and it’s an animated movie. Just not one of their canon. Through ImageMovers Digital, a partner company, Disney produced a film called Mars Needs Moms to the tune of 150 million dollars. Not only was the film a pile of junk, the advertising budget was comparatively tiny. Which is too bad, because if they had spent a lot trying to sell it, it may have actually had losses larger than its budget. As it is, it made 40 million in theaters, leading to a net loss of 130 million. Mars Needs Moms is currently slated as the final film of Volume 2. I’m looking forward to it.



I was surprised as I went through the list just how malleable a concept “feels like Disney” turned out to be. The… emotional beat of the company, for lack of a better term, permeated nearly everything they did. There were points where it was weaker - the compilation films, the Rescuers/Fox and the Hound/Black Cauldron period - but even so, in those groupings, the films still feel like each other, and that gives them a stronger connection to the Disney canon as a whole. So I’d have to give this one to a movie that not only has a different feel to it, but also stands on its own as a bit of an odd duck, and that’s Wreck-It Ralph. I mentioned in the review how it felt more like Pixar than Disney, and that’s all true. And since it’s surrounded by traditional princess musicals and a Winnie-the-Pooh flick, it stands out all the more. So while it’s still very good, that’s the one that feels the least like Disney. Though I have my suspicions Big Hero 6 may be dethroning it.



I don’t know, Walt’s head? I have a soft spot for the hysterical religious right panics of my childhood, of course, like Aladdin telling teenagers to take off their clothes, or the priest’s knee-boner in The Little Mermaid. I like the really inexplicable ones, like that no one is allowed to be declared dead at a Disney park, or that Walt’s will states that the first man to become pregnant will be given the entire company. But most of all, I like the true ones. Like the photo of the topless woman in The Rescuers, or that the documentary filmmakers herded lemmings off a cliff when nature failed to conform to their script. But of these turns-out-to-be-true legends, my all-time favorite is that Harlan Ellison was hired as a staff writer for Disney in the mid-60s, and was fired on his first day after Roy O. Disney heard him joking in the cafeteria that the company should make a porn.



Not really. Disney was actually kind of good about that stuff. You know, given the times and all. They certainly weren’t free of stereotypes, as we’ve seen on this very blog. But I’ve never seen the kind of virulent, sincere, hateful racism from them that I’ve seen in the 1940s cartoons of Warner Bros., MGM, Leon Schlessinger, Famous Studios, etcetera. Most of the things you see linked online as “banned Disney cartoon” are more like “Disney cartoon they don’t show much because it’s about tin rationing or some stupid thing like that.” The only thing I’ve seen of theirs that really matches the racism of their contemporaries is Sunflower from Fantasia, and they’ve cut her out of there. There’s also the cartoon illustrated above, “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer” which… Ah, it’s on YouTube.

Incidentally, Warner has released a DVD of their wartime cartoons, with a contextual introduction from Whoopi Goldberg, and following the success of that, is planning on releasing a DVD of their “Censored 11” and other old offensive cartoons. Frankly, they shouldn’t, because they’re reeeeeeally racist, and frankly kind of terrible. I sought out “Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs” after seeing animation historians refer to it as a masterpiece and one of the greatest cartoons ever made, and Bob Clampett’s magnum opus and stuff like that. It’s not. Even if you are super good at compartmentalizing racim, it’s just an unfunny collection of tired, simple gags with overly frantic animation. AND A LOT OF RACISM. I have no idea what the historians are thinking. I guess they’re just overcorrecting, and trying to be edgy?


The cause of the schism is easy to see when you look at what Disney was making in the late 70s. Basically garbage. Disney was full of stifling older animators, a labyrinthine bureaucracy, and an uninspired creative team. So he left, taking John Pomeroy and more importantly Gary Goldman with him, as well as a short film they‘d made, which they shopped around to get funding. Sullivan Bluth Studios produced eight films, but declining quality and sales led the studio to close, and Bluth and Goldman accepted an offer to start Fox Animation Studios, which produced Bluth’s final two movies. Much more information will be available in Volume 2 of the blog, wherein I shall discuss the entire output of Sullivan Bluth and Fox Animation.

Incidentally, the Disney film that is generally agreed to have been the final straw for Bluth is Pete’s Dragon, which I will also be covering here.



Well, in the Lucasfilm deal, they got not only Star Wars, but also Indiana Jones and a number of small franchises/titles, like Grim Fandango, Willow, Monkey Island… Um… Radioland Murders… That movie about Preston Tucker that nobody saw. There’s also Marvel, of course, and the Muppets, their two big acquisitions. They’ve bought Pixar outright, so all the Disney/Pixar characters are just plain Disney characters now. They acquired a terribly run yet fairly creative comic company, CrossGen, and are trying to think of something to do with those characters (the correct answer, as far as I'm concerned, is keep making Ruse and Abadazad, and dump the rest in a landfill). They own ABC, of course, so I assume they got some licenses with that. I know they bought distribution rights to a bunch of their old rivals in the shorts business, but I’m not sure what exactly. Actually, it’s hard to research this right now, since trying to research properties acquired by Disney just brings up pages on pages of articles on the Lucas deal.



1 - No, he had planned to have his brain put into the robot body of Michael Eisner, but Dwight Frye dropped it on the ground and they had to use an evil, business-savvy potato who was really awkward at hosting TV specials.

2 - Honestly, I just remember them because of a TV ad for the 1994 VHS release of Snow White, wherein they showed a number of people being challenged to remember the dwarfs’ names. The “man on the street” nature of the ad was belied by the fact that everyone said them in the same order. Whoops. Anyway, that ad was on TV constantly, so that’s how I remember them, and if I were stopped on the street by a commercial-maker, I would say them in the same order. Self-fulfilling advertisement.

3 - The best name.



What gives you the right to cast aspersions on anyone’s scheduling - Oh, you produce, not one or two, but three high-quality podcasts on a regular basis? One of which has had an official panel at the Emerald City Comic Con? And that same podcast is one on which I am a frequent guest, and on which I will be appearing on next Monday, November 11th?

Thanks for your question, Aal! Happy birthday!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

BEST DISNEY MOVIES - Wrap-up Part 7

Where there is darkness, there is light. Where there is death, there is life. Where there is sadness, there is joy. Wher- wait, none of these things are true. They're just empty platitudes. But, at least on this blog, where there is a list of bad movies, there's a list of good ones. A list much harder to narrow down, which speaks well of the general quality of the films. So before we go on, the almost-made its. Honorable mentions: Bolt gave a very strong showing, and was far and away the best of their first dalliance with computer animation, but just missed the cut due to bland casting and a patchy story. Hunchback had great drama and fantastic music, and would have been on this list if it wasn't for the gargoyles. Seriously, they kept it off. Tangled held together very well, and is extremely rewatchable, but a bit too thin for the final tally. And now, the victors!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WORST DISNEY MOVIES - Wrap up part 6

Well, it has come to this. The end of the line. The final judgments. The cream and the crap. This list and the next are pretty self-explanatory. In animation, writing, acting, and just plain how much I enjoyed it, which are the best films of the 52, and which are the worst? We'll start with the bad so we can end on a high note. Here it is - the Bottom 13 Disney Films.

Dishonorable mentions first - Brother Bear had a really strong opening act that exploded into crap pretty quickly. But while the last two thirds were some of the worst stuff I saw all year, the beginning and the very end lifted it above the pack. Bambi narrowly missed the list largely by being not worth remembering, and while Meet the Robinsons was often dull as dishwater, it had enough laughs to carry me through. These others were not so lucky.

Monday, October 14, 2013

HOTTEST DISNEY DUDES - Wrap up part 5

Well, I knew that if I was going to make a hottest ladies list, I would have to make a hottest guys list, too. No problem there at all. However, while I can analyze the objective attractiveness of a guy, I lack the important qualification of actually being attracted to them, so I farmed this one out, taking to the social media and asking straight ladies, gay dudes, and bisexuals of all genders which Disney men were the hottest. Since this one was determined by vote, this will be the one list not in chronological order.


There were a number of interesting choices that were voted on by one or two people, which meant they wouldn't make the list. But I did want to acknowledge them, because there's a huge diversity of options out there, and I wanted to celebrate the more unusual choices. Some were very unusual, but hey, no judgments here. So first of all, my "oddball choice" honorable mentions:

Mufasa
Ratigan
Clopin
Dr. Facilier
Dopey
The Tramp

And my "almost made it" honorable mentions, from the folks that came close to getting on the list that just didn't get the votes they needed:

Prince Phillip
Basil of Baker Street
John Smith's little friend Thomas

And finally, my "HOW COULD YOU HURT ME LIKE THIS" award, for the man nobody voted for:

Deems Taylor

But enough bonus awards and door prizes! It's time for the main event. The top 13 hottest Disney men, as determined by you, the readers! And it's technically a top 14, because the bottom two were tied!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

HOTTEST DISNEY LADIES - Wrap-up part 4

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cartoons can totally be hot, as Leo Tolstoy probably once said. This makes perfect sense. Whether it's childhood crushes founded on our early emotional attachments to animated characters, or simply being an adult and thinking "My, that is one attractive series of drawings." Everyone knows this to be true. In the interest of fairness, I will also be doing a hottest men list, based on surveys of straight ladies and gay dudes, but first, the ladies, based not on audience votes, but rather on my own personal opinions. You don't like it, get your own blog. The subjects were evaluated on physical attractiveness, of course, but also personality, voice, and quality of writing, because that's the kind of sensitive guy I am. They are placed, as ever, in chronological order. I will be making an effort to avoid being too base or dirty in my commentary, which is why I'll begin with this GIF, to work it out of my system.


Ah, there we go. Okay, let's begin.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

BEST VILLAIN SONGS: Wrap-up part three

When I was compiling by Best Songs list, I ran into real trouble in the back half deciding between the villain songs and other songs in several movies. Eventually I decided the reason for this was that villain songs serve a different need for both the story and the audience, and to make things easier on myself, I decided to make a third list. So here you are, the best songs by or about villains! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

WORST DISNEY SONGS. Wrap-up part 2.

To every light, there is a corresponding darkness. I guess? Maybe? Look, I don't know. That seems pretty accurate. But if I'm making a best songs list, I'm definitely making a worst songs list. This one was a bit tricky, to be honest. The good far outweighs the bad, and every one of these movies had a soundtrack that was at least acceptable. But there were still quite a few that just plain annoyed me, whether through poor quality, annoying singers, or lack of artistic merit. Or all 3. So here's the bottom 13, in chronological order. I'm not supplying all the extra info I did last time, though. I'm not out to shame anybody. Also; kind of lazy. You-Tube links are still provided, if you're some kind of a masochist.

Friday, August 30, 2013

BEST DISNEY SONGS! Wrap-up part one

Over the past 20 months, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and heard a lot of music in those movies, so to start off these supplemental posts, it seems only fitting to honor that music. So here’s the first of my seven top 13 lists, celebrating my favorite Disney songs. The next two lists will cover the worst songs, and then a special one for the top 13 villain songs, because let’s be honest, the villains always get the best songs, and it wouldn’t be fair to put them on this list. Why top 13? Because narrowing it down to 10 was too hard and 13 is ¼ of 52. But before we look at the top quartile, a word on my process.

Miss me?

The first thing I did was look through every Disney movie soundtrack on Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, and writing down every song that I thought might qualify for the list. I wasn’t very discriminating this time around, just pretty much every song that I particularly liked. This left me with about 80 songs. Then, to maintain fairness, I narrowed it down to one song per movie. This was much more difficult, and based on the quality of the music and lyrics, the song’s catchiness and enjoyableness, and the function of the song to the movie’s plot or tone. Then, using the same criteria, I whittled the list down further until I had my top 13. Random trivia: Three movies, The Great Mouse Detective, Beauty and the Beast, and Winnie-the-Pooh, had their entire soundtracks nominated, but none of them got on the Best Songs List proper. Funny, that.

Anyway, without further ado, here it is, the top 13 Disney songs! Click the titles for a link to a YouTube video!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2011 - Winnie-the-Pooh

For the final entry in the Walt Disney Animation Studios chapter in this blog, we turn to Winnie-the-Pooh. Wait, Brian, you are surely saying, didn’t you already do Winnie-the-Pooh? And, you go on to state, it couldn’t have come out recently, because surely I’d remember it. Yes, you brazenly conclude, you have clearly lost your marbles, and forgotten what movie you are doing.

First of all, shut up, jerk. I don’t know why I imagined you to be so mean. Possibly because I had to engage in some activity to purge my mind of negativity and anger, because this beautiful, wonderful movie will not allow it to exist. Yes, there is a second Winnie-the-Pooh movie, and it did come out in 2011. Why don’t you remember it? Well, for some reason, Disney did everything in their power to sabotage it. They released it in the UK four months before the US, and dumped it stateside with pretty much no advertising in the middle of the summer, rather than the cozy late-fall/early-winter release a movie like this needed. It was, in fact, released the SAME FREAKING DAY as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, and just a week before Captain America. It was released to near-universal critical acclaim, but got lost in a sea of blockbusters and made a pathetic 3 million dollars over budget. Which is a real stone cold shame, because I’m about to make a bold statement after 52 movies: This is my favorite one. Feeling the towering expectations? So am I. So choose your favorite food from the last 51 reviews, and let’s talk about Winnie-the-Pooh.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

2010 - Tangled

At the end of the Princess and the Frog review, I mentioned that the underperformance of that film had led to an unusual change in this one, but the more I think about it, it was really just the most visible aspect of a major tonal shift in the marketing. See, the big and clear thing was that the movie was originally called “Rapunzel”, but after the sarcastic quotes failure sarcastic quotes of The Princess and the Frog, they changed the name to Tangled, and gave the male character far more prominence in the advertising. On the one hand, I can see that this is as much his story as it is hers, but still, can you imagine a studio changing the title and marketing of their big release to de-emphasize a male character? Yeah, didn’t think so. They also shifted Glen Keane from director back down to character animator, and with that, changed the design of the movie from his planned and innovative approach to more typical CGI. In addition, the entire tone of the advertising switched to being very action-oriented and Dreamworks-ish, with the posters even featuring the smug, much-maligned “Dreamworks face”. So was this a case of Disney following the lead of the once-surprise dark hose studio? Or did they have a secret plan up their sleeve? Splitting at the ends? So am I. So legally obtain some apples, and let’s talk about Tangled.


Friday, June 28, 2013

2009 - The Princess and the Frog

All right, Disney is back! Princesses! 2D animation! Musical numbers! It’s all just like it used to be! Aren’t you excited? OF COURSE YOU ARE! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT!!!!

That was my impersonation of the marketing for this movie. So the movie kind of set itself up to be a disappointment for a lot of people. I remember when it came out, the prevailing opinion was “Well, it’s good. But it’s not Beauty and the Beast”. Nor should it have been. Really, there was no reason to expect it to. Part of the reason Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin and the Lion King and the films surrounding them were so good was that they were a surprise. They weren’t an attempt to revive an older era, and to the minor extent they were trying to bring back the ‘50s, the audiences and critics that went to the theaters for those weren’t the same ones going to the theaters 40 years later. But this was not only a very direct “Hey, remember the 90s” move, but only 20 years at the most and a VASTLY increased home media presence made the Disney Renaissance far more recent to 2000s kids than the Restoration was to 1990s kids. So not being able to reach those impossibly lofty goals was not a surprise. But now that it’s a few years down the line, how does the film look? Free from the burden of hype, does it look better? Or without the magic of anticipation, does it falter and fade even more noticeably? So stir up a pot of gumbo, and let’s talk about The Princess and the Frog.



Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's coming, it's coming.

Oh, who asked you?

Quick note to followers and folks who just find this blog via the Googly: I started a very time-intensive two month job shortly after the last review was posted, and have had little time for else. But it's about to wrap up, and the final three reviews, end-of-project best/worst lists, and start of volume 2 are all coming very soon!

Friday, April 26, 2013

2008 - Bolt


When we join our heroes, the acquisition of Pixar is complete, their creative types are now running the show, and Meet the Robinsons has done the very epitome of bland reviews and unremarkable business. The critical response was about the same as mine - a resounding “Meh. It was mostly fine,” and the audiences said about the same. So with John Lasseter in his new role as CCO, it had already been announced that the company was going to be returning to its roots with a big ol’ traditionally animated princess musical extravaganza. The all-CGI experiment had failed. Of course, they also had this one pretty far into production. It already had a troubled history, and was completed in a rush and dumped down with relatively little fanfare, with the company already making ready for the return of the fairy-tale juggernaut. Did the unappreciated project have any merit? Or was this no more than the third child of a bad idea? Well, get yourself another reheated joke about dog food, and let’s talk about Bolt.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

2007 - Meet The Robinsons


After the modest success and critical massacre of Chicken Little, Disney was probably a bit on edge. I imagine they were looking to pursue a new audience and refresh the old one. I guess… you know what? I’m going to be doing a lot of imagining here, because there’s not much in the way of information on this film’s production, because no one gives a crap about it. Oh, that was mean. Actually, the reason I can’t find much is because while it was in production, Disney bought Pixar for a kazillion dollars, and promptly installed their CCO, John Lasseter, as head of the animation department. Lasseter, upon seeing a preview screening of this film, told them that they needed to make serious changes. In the end, about 60% of the movie was scrapped. And if Kingdom in the Sun has taught us anything, it’s that Disney really likes covering it up when they have to totally revamp a movie late in the game. Anyway, no sense in dwelling on the past. Keep moving forward. So eat your food in pill form, and let’s talk about Meet the Robinsons.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

2005 - Chicken Little


The year: 2005. The place: I don’t know, probably Anaheim or somewhere. The Walt Disney company had closed the book on traditional animation, declaring computer animation to be the way of the future. That’s what people want, they said, and we shall give it to them. Negotiations with Pixar were hinging on this movie. If it was a hit, Disney could say “We don’t need you, Pixar, be off with you.” If it failed, Pixar could say “You guys suck at this, now give us some more money.” In the end, the film was a modest success. Better than Disney had been doing, but worse than Pixar had. Of course, Disney didn’t have to share the money, so they made more of a profit… In the end, Disney kept making their own CGI films, but bought Pixar outright so they could continue to get a cut of their profit, and Pixar was happy to, because they could stay fully funded and by left alone artistically.

Hm. Artistically, artistically… Oh yes! I almost forgot! I was so distracted by the financial dealings that were this movie’s entire reason for being that I neglected to bring up that this is ONE OF THE WORST DAMN MOVIES I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! It’s incompetent garbage! The animation is so inept and ugly it makes Home on the Range look like Tarzan! The actors are so ill-suited and ill-directed it makes Dinosaur look like Lilo and Stitch! The plot and story are so badly thought out and executed it makes the Aristocats look like Beauty and th - Wait, let’s not go nuts. But it makes it look at least like Oliver and Company or something. Something pretty okay? Anyway, this movie was horrible. I’m annoyed and so are you, so fry up an omelette and let’s yell at Chicken Little.


Friday, April 5, 2013

2004 - Home on the Range


Urgh. URGH. I have not finished watching this movie yet. In fact, I started, and at a certain point I said “Geez, this is terrible. Well, I must be about half an hour in. I can take a break now.”

11 minutes.

I had only been watching for 11 minutes and I could swear I’d gone north of 30. This movie is ugly, badly written, annoying, clich├ęd, and any other bad thing I can feel like saying about a movie. The fact that even as many as 55% of critics gave it a passing grade is baffling to me. This plunges to depths that can only be described as Aristocatic. Do I have to? Is anyone even going to read this? Despairing? So am I. So grill up an entire cow because they DESERVE IT, and let’s talk about Home On The Range.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

2003 - Brother Bear


A ‘dude flick’, for lack of a better term, can be a very difficult thing to make. I say for lack of a better term because for some weird reason, there’s not a name for the male equivalent of a ‘chick flick’. You know the type I mean, even if we don't have a word for it. A movie specifically designed to play on the emotions of its male audience. There’s a handful of good examples I can throw out. Field of Dreams is the archetype, but there’s also Big Fish, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society, the Shawshank Redemption… They’re less common than their female equivalent, probably due to the strong patriarchal culture deeming emotions “unmanly”, but those that come around and make an impact tend to be very good, as the list there should indicate. Why am I leading with this? I don’t know. Maybe being philosophical is a way to avoid thinking about THIS TERRIBLE GODDAMN MOVIE. GRRRRARGH? So am I. So forage for berries and snap up a salmon in your jaws, and let’s talk about Brother Bear.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2002 - Treasure Planet


One thing I notice about Disney in the modern age as opposed to the classic Disney is that they’re a lot more willing to take risks and move in an unexpected direction, even if that direction hasn‘t been working for them. As I’ve mentioned before, I think a lot of that is due to the fact that while the production time on the films has gotten a bit smaller, the development time has remained the same or gotten longer, and several movies overlap in production now. In the old days, I’m pretty certain the relative failure of Atlantis would have nipped this one in the bud. It’s another big action movie with a unique visual hook and a subverted seafaring theme. But hey, they went for it and here we are. Got scurvy? Me too, ye lubber. So get some plurps or woozlewozzle or whatever stupid alien food they made up for this, and let’s talk about Treasure Planet.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

2002 - Lilo & Stitch


It’s a time of risks for Disney, and the risks were not always paying off. While they hadn’t had any legit flops, every new idea they tried was falling short of their expectations. With that frame of mind, CEO Michael Eisner thought back another time they’d had a couple of underperforming artistic movies, namely Pinocchio and Fantasia. The response then, if you recall, was to make a cheap crowd-pleaser, Dumbo. So the budget of their next film was reduced by 40 million, and production was started on an odd little idea by storyboard artist Chris Sanders, who was named director. Sanders had developed the stories and visuals of Mulan, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, so he had a pedigree, but this was his first directing effort. And far from the ancient times and fairy tales he had worked with before, this was a modern-day comedy about aliens. In addition to directing, he also did the storyboards, screenplay, character design, and the voice of Stitch, making this more of an auteur effort than usual for the company, another risk. Would the payoff be greater than other recent efforts? Would Sanders become a company hero, or would his directing debut be a dismal disaster? Allow me to add suspense by pointing out that this was the last film Sanders ever worked on for Disney. Suspensed? So am I. So get some poi and a plate lunch, and let’s talk about Lilo & Stitch.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

2001 - Atlantis: The Lost Empire


Before I write these I put together a loose outline of what the final product is going to be. Just a little note reminding me of what I want to put in each paragraph. The note I have for this intro is “The CGI Menace”, and that’s a pretty accurate assessment of what Disney was feeling at the time. When Dinosaur came out, the audience’s hunger for computer animation was just starting to grow, and they hadn‘t had much to choose from. By the time Atlantis came out, four more computer animated films had debuted, three of which were successful, and two of which were good. While the development on this film started long before those movies came out, Disney were smart enough to smell the change on the wind. To that end, they decided it was time for them to change with the times. And they knew what America wanted to see: A dramatic sci-fi adventure set in 1914 and inspired by Japanese animation and American independent comics. Were they correct? Was America ready for - You know what? I’ll just tell you. No, they were wrong, people didn’t want to see it, it didn’t flop yet was not a big hit, and it’s largely forgotten today by the company and the public.

However, like The Black Cauldron, Disney’s attempt here at a darker palate and more dramatic tone has led this to be a bit of a cult classic. However 2, the phrase “like The Black Cauldron” is not one that inspires confidence for a lot of reasons. However 3, the company is in a much better place artistically now than they were back then, so it might not be that bad. How ever are you feeling? I’m sure I feel the same. So eat some chuck wagon slop and let’s talk about Atlantis.


Monday, March 11, 2013

2000 - Dinosaur


As I mentioned in the review of The Emperor’s New Groove, this movie actually came out earlier that same year, an unusual movie for Disney. What I didn’t go into detail about was the difference in how the two were sold. (Note to people who are reading these in film order: Sorry about that) The Emperor’s New Groove was released in December, prime real estate, but with relatively little publicity for a Disney movie. Dinosaur was released in May, also a great time, but with a HUGE marketing push. This movie was everywhere. It was heralded as an amazing, world-changing movie, technically groundbreaking, emotionally epic, a film that would live through the ages! And it worked! This movie made hundreds of millions and was the number 5 movie of the entire year, while Groove had the worst box office for a Disney film since The Black Cauldron. But when I discuss my blog with people, Groove is remembered with near-univeral fondness, and Dinosaur is… Well, it’s not remembered. This film has made almost no cultural impact, contrary to the expectations of it, and it’s excellent box office showing. So why hasn’t this lasted in the memory the way its contemporaries have? Was it as good as Disney thought, or was it all hype? Why do we describe someone as having a meteoric rise when meteors are known for falling? Feeling the burden of undue anticipation? So am I. So steal some eggs from an unprotected nest, and let’s talk about Dinosaur.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

2000 - The Emperor's New Groove


2000 - Kingdom in the Sun

Well, with a few different and experimental works under their belt, the studio decided to get back to animated epic fairy tales with this one, Kingdom in the Sun. Using a story inspired by The Prince and the Pauper, this was the simple and classic story of a spoiled prince who meets a peasant who looks just like him and switches places with him. And then an evil witch turns him into a llama so he can’t reclaim his throne, and plots to kill the peasant so she can take over the kingdom and use its magic to block out the sun which she blames for her aging. And the llama escapes and joins forces with a beautiful peasant woman who falls in love with him as she helps him get back into the castle. And Sting was doing the songs. Feeling complex? So am I. So get yourself some guinea pig and quinoa and let’s talk about Kingdom in the Sun.


They canceled it. Yeah, after a big chunk of it was already finished, they realized it was a convoluted and bloated mess, so they yanked it, massively retooled it, and turned it into a wacky slapstick comedy. Did it work? Were they able to pull gold from this mess, or did they just get a smaller, cheaper mess? Needing a change? So am I. So rework that guinea pig into some sort of party dip, and let’s talk about The Emperor’s New Groove.


Friday, March 8, 2013

1999 - Fantasia 2000

It’s common knowledge that Fantasia was meant to be, as this film states, “a perpetual work in progress”, with new stuff being rotated in and out every couple of years. But after its disappointing initial run, that idea got pushed off to the side and forgotten about until the 1970s, when Walt’s nephew Roy Jr. decided the concept was due for a revival. After 20 years or so, I guess Michael Eisner got tired of dodging Roy’s calls and hiding under his desk and gave the project the go-ahead. With no Deems Taylor and Leopold Stokowski to anchor the project, a rotating crew of celebrities would serve as host, and Metropolitan Opera director James Levine would run the music. The material would be all new save for one old classic. The film would be given a lavish budget and a run in the fancy-pants IMAX theaters, marketed as the event Walt imagined. Would this live up to Walt and Roy’s dreams? Or was 2000 even less ready for it than 1940 was? Missing Deems? So is AMERICA. So make something you’ve been planning to get around to using one 60-year-old ingredient, and let’s talk about Fantasia 2000.


Monday, March 4, 2013

1999 - Tarzan


As I’ve mentioned before, Tarzan is often considered the last film of the Disney Renaissance, and there’s a case to be made for that, I suppose. The next film, the long-desired Fantasia sequel, is definitely a much bigger style shift than this was, and the movies that follow it certainly have a distinctive tone and style to them. So I can see how at the time this was seen as part of the still nebulously-defined Renaissance. But looking at the films all together, I definitely think this is the start of the new era. There’s a lot changed in this one, and they were taking a pretty big risk making another dark and serious movie when they had enough time to prepare and could have played it safe. Would their fortunes turn around? Would the new era bring cinematic achievements or miserable failures? Why does Tarzan wear a loincloth if everyone else is naked? Going ape? So am I. So use a stick as a rudimentary tool to dig termites out of a mound, and let’s talk about Tarzan.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

1998 - Mulan

Even before this one begins, I feel an odd sense of change in it. When this film was in its very early production, Pocahontas came out. While it was too late to change Hunchback, and Hercules was different enough to not need it, it was a much more cautious Disney that created Mulan. They hadn’t stopped trying, but the air of confidence is definitely gone from this movie. The budget is, as far as I can tell, comparable to the last ones, but the whole endeavor feels smaller somehow - except when it feels bigger. It’s hard to explain. Really, it’s rather appropriate that a movie with duality and deception as a major theme should so often feel like it’s moving on two separate levels.

The male rabbit is swifter of foot.
The female’s eyes are smaller.
But when two rabbits run side by side
How can you tell the female from the male?

I don’t know, either. So get yourself some chow mein or lo mein, because I always forget which is the one I like, and let’s talk about Mulan.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

1997 - Hercules


Hunchback was a contentious movie, but while it didn’t reach the heights of their earlier renaissance work, it did get noticeably better reviews than Pocahontas. It made slightly less money, but the critical goodwill was back, and since their next feature was a lighthearted comedy in a historically themed legendary setting, from the directors of Aladdin. So they must have felt a bit more confident going in, despite Greek mythology being about as suitable for a family film as the colonization of America or a Victor Hugo novel. Was their confidence well placed? Or would this be the one that snapped their more tenuous success? Feeling heroic? So am I. So get some nectar and ambrosia, and let’s talk about Hercules.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

1996 - The Hunchback of Notre Dame


Pocahontas may have made big bank, but it was a critical disaster, and the box office and merchandising receipts, while quite good, were pathetic compared to the Lion King. In the past when Disney’s taken a drubbing, they’ve retreated into their comfort zone and made a few easy successes before getting ambitious again. But that was back in the day when they’d make one movie at a time. These days they start a few years in advance, and before this came out, they must have been sweating bullets. Their sensitive epic romance inexplicably based on a violent and depressing era of history had failed them. How would their dark, mature drama based on a 500,000-word French Gothic novel do? Nervous? So were they. So something something French food and let’s talk about The Hunchback of Notre Dame.


Monday, January 21, 2013

1995 - Pocahontas


Man, oh, man. We have seen Disney flying high before, but never this high or this consistently. Did the Lion King make money? Try highest-grossing animated film of all time. And while box office records like that don’t mean much unless adjusted for inflation, it’s still remarkably impressive that it held that record until Toy Story 3 came along to unseat it with the benefit of a higher base ticket price, a 3D price bump, AND being the last entry in a beloved series. In 1994, the merchandise alone for The Lion King netted them a FREAKING BILLION DOLLARS.

And a freaking impossible Genesis game.
So they felt bulletproof at this point, and they were sure their latest work would go even higher. And they went all-out on this one. From the moment they announced the project - a sweeping romantic epic inspired by the real-life story of Pocahontas and John Smith - they were on a non-stop binge of promotion, merchandising, and advertising. Feature articles, fast-food tie-ins, a primetime network making-of special that I remember as oddly defensive about the movie’s historical accuracy, you name it. And it all culminated in the biggest movie premiere of all time, an open-air event in New York’s Central Park with about 100,000 people in attendance. And what did those people see? Did they see something that lived up to the hype and the past expectations? Or did they witness a movie that collapsed under its own ambition and sullied the studio’s goodwill like so much Cars 2? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind? Does that even make sense? No it doesn’t. So dig some ship’s biscuits out of the barrel and let’s talk about Pocahontas.


Monday, January 14, 2013

1994 - The Lion King


Happy New Year! That’s… not really an accomplishment? Well, I said I’d do one movie a week, and I’ve done greater than one every two weeks. If you know my usual schedule, that’s a hell of an achievement. So what are we up to now?

Oh boy, it’s Beauty and the Beast all over again. Look, you all know this one, right? You’ve all seen it? You know it’s very good. Great. Let’s move on to Pocahontas. I got a lot to complain about there. Ahhhh, I can’t do that. And I can’t do another Q&A so soon after the last one. I guess I’ll actually have to find things to talk about. So yeah, Disney was riding a wave of unprecedented consistent critical and commercial success, and as we’ve seen, they like to flex themselves creatively when they’re doing well. But this time, they’ve just been doing variations on an extremely lucrative formula. How to deviate from such a profitable norm while still keeping all the aspects people loved about it? Well, a cast of animals seems like a good start. Are you a crepuscular large feline predator found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa? So am I. So kill yourself an antelope, and let’s talk about The Lion King

Oh, this was also when the posters got epic.