Time to watch the movies from the companies who thought they could take on Big Mouse. I'll talk to you folks about the movies, the making of same, and the culture that surrounds them. This is My Year Without Walt Disney Animation Studios. Join me, won't you.
Well, Amblimation may have tanked after only three movies, but you can’t keep a good Spielberg down, and since he’d just recently founded a new studio with recording mogul David Geffen and former Disney exec and bad-decision-maker Jeff Katzenberg. So he trucked over Simon Wells and his animators and set them to making another animated film, now under the Dreamworks banner, with much better funding and infrastructure. And if there’s one thing Spielberg likes to tell stories about, it’s the plight of the Jewish people so...
PLAGUES! SLAVES! A LEVEL OF HENOTHEISM THAT’S GOING TO BE HARD FOR RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES TO EXPLAIN AWAY IN THE FUTURE! IT’S THE PRINCE OF EGYPT!
And thus it is that we reach our final feature in the short and undistinguished life of Amblimation, and it’s a real shame, because after two shambling messes (you’ll hear about Feivel Goes West, don’t worry) they’ve finally made something that has a bit of original spark in it. It certainly has a coherent tone, which is a vast improvement in itself. This movie hints at a studio that specializes in more mature, thoughtful, realistic fare than its competitors, a Disney that followed the path of The Fox and the Hound rather than The Little Mermaid, only in a good way. Did it manage it successfully? Ehh. Mostly.
SNOW! ICE! REMARKABLY ONLY ONE DOG IN CLOTHING, AND IT’S A BANDANA, WHICH IS HARDLY UNUSUAL!
Been a while since we've had an overly busy 90s poster.
We're skipping past the first Amblimation film, as my sister, a guest reviewer, writes about as fast as I do. But the short version: Steven Spielberg made an animation studio, but forgot to bring any ideas. Also, all three movies they made are directed by H.G. Wells' great grandson. Weird.
Okay, I have some loyal readers here, so I trust what I’m about to say carries some weight. You’ve sat with me through Rock-a-doodle, Quest For Camelot, and Animalympics, so you know where I’m coming from when I say that this movie, this freaking movie, is the WEIRDEST thing I’ve ever seen. And it’s probably not even nearly as weird as it could have been, for reasons we’ll get to at the end. But I don’t think any of the films I’ve seen so far in this endeavor have filled me with quite as much utter bafflement as this. MONSTERS! WISHES! ONE SONG! LISA SIMPSON! IT’S WE’RE BACK! A DINOSAUR’S STORY
First of all, welcome back. I'm glad you all kept your subscriptions active while I was off doing important work as an agent of Her Majesty, and definitely not lying on the couch eating gravy flavored potato chips and watching Star Trek Voyager. Now, to business.
I have to admit, I know context might play a role in how I view these movies. After all, I am seeing them in the context of other movies, and might not that affect my perception? Would I have disliked Pocahontas as much as I did if it wasn’t surrounded by wonderful classics? Would I have loved The Great Mouse Detective as much as I did if it wasn’t recovering from a surge of mediocrities? Yes to both, I am unimpeachably objective. But what if I were to see a movie that I could clearly tell was bad, but I wound up kind of liking it? And not in the “Nutcracker” way, where I give it a tepid recommendation because it does some stuff okay. In the way that it does no stuff okay, but I keep finding myself enjoying it. Can this be explained by the other movies I’ve seen around the same time? Well, this is a special case, so I’ll be doing my first out-of-format review in a while. Let’s get into it. RED TIES! BUG EYES! A COMMENT-WORTHY LACK OF RESPECT!
I’ll be honest, dear readers, I’m beginning to despair that I shall never see a good movie again. I’m also beginning to despair that I’ll never review a movie people have heard of again. No one wants to read about Gay Purr-ee for Pete’s sake, and if I don’t get my ratings up, Mr. Blogpost is gonna fire me for sure! Well, that sure as hell isn’t changing today, as I look at The Nutcracker Prince, which might be the worst movie based on The Nutcracker I’ve ever seen. The Nutcracker in 3-D is arguably a worse film, but the mere knowledge that someone had to pitch it with phrases like “John Tuturro is the rat, only he looks like Andy Warhol and is a Nazi” and “Instead of a mysterious old toymaker, the nutcracker will be given by Albert Einstein, who will be played by Nathan Lane” and “This is a real passion project for me, the guy who directed Tango and Cash”. I know, now I wish I was reviewing that one, too. But no, I’m reviewing this little Canadian turd. Folks make some For Better or for Worse TV specials (yes, really), and suddenly they think they can do a feature, and Warner decides to throw it into theaters and grab some holiday bucks for cheap. Well, I hope it made a lot of money, and I hope they choke on it. NUTS! FAMILIAR BACKGROUND MUSIC! RAVING GERMAN INSANITY! IT DIDN’T MAKE ANY MONEY, BY THE WAY! IT’S THE NUTCRACKER PRINCE!
So, I’d originally planned to do one movie per decade for Warner distributions, but it turns out that this movie, which I’d thought released in 1979 to get people excited for the 1980 Olympics, was actually commissioned by NBC in order to air on TV in short segments amid their televised Olympic coverage, so I haven’t got one from the 70s. Anyway, it turns out that the next one, which I had pegged as 1988, was actually from 1990. I have to fire my assistant, who is a little goblin that sits on my shoulder and constantly yells at me about cartoons. Anyway, how did a series of TV shorts meant to distract.people around commercials wind up barely scraping a theatrical release? Blame Jimmy Carter.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION! THE DARN SOVIETS! AN EXTREMELY ILL-ADVISED ATTEMPT TO MAKE SOME MONEY BACK! IT’S ANIMALYMPICS!
First of all, an apology. I was under the belief, looking at my masthead up there, that we were going to now be moving on to Amblimation, but I had forgotten that we first have four more Warner-distributed movies to go through. Since my sister was to guest-write the review of “An American Tail: Feivel Goes West”, I was waiting on her, but now that I realize we have a few more to go, I feel bad for bothering her so much. But not very bad. I more feel bad that I had to watch “Feivel Goes West” AND “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” much earlier than I had to. Not that this was much better.
CATS! FRANCE! A PERFUNCTORY ROMANCE BETWEEN A FANCY WHITE FEMALE AND A DOWN-TO-EARTH ORANGE TOM! IT’S THE ARISTOCATS! I MEAN GAY PURR-EE!
The year was 2000. AOL ruled the internet, George Bush was known mainly for occasionally saying something silly, and a young Jimmy Fallon was teaching us all how to laugh. As America settled into the new Willenium, a nerdy tenth grader named Brian Lynch was very excited about a new movie, a cool sci-fi drama. Something mature, with real ideas. Something that knew animation that didn’t have to be for kids. Finally, the promise of Invasion America would be fulfilled! And it came out and I loved it. I watched the VHS several times, but I haven’t seen it at all over the past dozen years. Turns out it’s not that good. Spoilers.
GUNS! PUNCHES! BUTTS! THE SONG STYLINGS OF LIT! IT’S TITAN AE!
In 1994, Disney released a direct-to-video movie called The Return of Jafar. This was a sequel to Aladdin, and was made not by Walt Disney Feature Animation (as it was then known), but by Walt Disney Television Animation. WDTVA, or DisneyToon, as they came to be known, had previously made a Duck Tales movie in 1990, but this was their first film produced directly for the home video market, and the first sequel to one of their modern animated classics. Another Aladdin movie followed, then a couple for Beauty and the Beast, then the Lion King, Pocahontas and more. By 1999, they had set up quite a little cottage industry of VHS cheapies. And that’s an industry Fox wanted to be a part of. So, armed with a fairly popular supporting character from a recent hit, the studio set Bluth and Goldman to making something profitable, and if it was watchable, hey, bonus.
GOOD CASTING! OKAY WRITING! PASSABLE MUSIC! ACCEPTABLE ANIMATION! ALSO SOME TERRIBLE ANIMATION! IT’S BARTOK THE MAGNIFICENT!
Ah, the glory, the majesty, the having-more-than-twenty-bucks that is Fox Animation Studios. After the relative fiasco that was the end of Sullivan Bluth, Don and Gary were all too happy to follow the jingling purses of 20th Century Fox to run their studio. And run it they did. Right out of the gate, they made something pretty damn epic. A lush and sweeping remake of a Ingrid Bergman movie, filled with all the tricks and gewgaws and all-star voices Bluth had been denied for so long. Did going big work out for our long suffering hero? Or did he soar too close to the sun on sparkly, rotoscoped wings? LET’S FIND OUT TOGETHER.