Thursday, December 13, 2012

1991 - Beauty and the Beast

Boy, when I started to write this one, I was in a pickle. I didn’t really have anything to say about Beauty and the Beast, because - well, I try not to overexaggerate things, but it’s perfect. Not flawless, mind, there’s still the occasional goofy bit of animation, and Belle can be a bit of a doormat, but what they made succeeds on every major level. The songs (Menken and Ashman again) are great, the voices (especially Paige O'Hara as Belle and Richard White as Gaston) are fantastic, the dialogue is tight and funny, the designs are imaginative, the romance is heartfelt… I didn’t want to write a review saying “This is great, this is great, this is great,” over and over. Especially since you’ve seen it! Yes, you, the person reading this, has seen this movie. Everyone has! How can I find a good way to approach telling everyone roar they already know? I mentioned this on Facebook, and my friends started chiming in with suggestions for topics. So here it is, the first-ever viewer mail edition of My Year With Walt Disney Animation Studios! Feeling participatory? So am I. So try the gray stuff, it’s delicious, and let’s talk about Beauty and the Beast.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

1992 - Aladdin

If The Little Mermaid started the new formula, and Beauty and the Beast codified it, Aladdin turned it into a full-blown juggernaut. Once again we have a well-known story, a misunderstood iconoclast for a main character, music by well-known Broadway types, and wacky sidekicks. Ohhhh, the wacky sidekicks. This is where they start getting really numerous. But we’ll get to that. For now, let’s see what happens when what was once bold and daring becomes the new standard and kick off the longest running “house style” this production company ever had. The production wasn’t easy, but they had unprecedented studio support, massive critical cred, and a dynamite creative team. Is there any point in a rhetorical question? No, you already know this was good. So get yourself some falafel, and let’s talk about Aladdin.

Friday, December 7, 2012

1990 - The Rescuers Down Under

“Hello? Yes, this is Bob Newhart. Do another voice for Disney? Sure, I’d… Not *another* voice? I don’t think I follow you. Well, what’s the name of the picture? The… what? The Rescuers? We already did that one, didn’t we? Oh. Ohhh. Oh, I see, after several abortive attempts to make a sequel to the Rescuers, you’re finally pulling it off? Did anyone like it the first time? Yeah, I guess it did okay. So which of the books will this one be based on? Oh, an original story. Australia? Yeah, I guess it is pretty popular right now. Say, don‘t these cartoon pictures take a long time to finish? What if everyone‘s over Australia by the time it comes out? Yeah, you‘re probably right. I… Mm? Am I what? Fair dinkum bonzer? Ah, well, yes, I suppose so. So I‘ll just go and get a vegemite and Foster‘s sandwich and talk about The Rescuers Down Under. Uh-huh. Okay. Bye now.”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2012 - Wreck-it Ralph

Now, I know everyone’s all rarin’ to go with the Disney Renaissance and all those great fairy tales and musicals and princesses and roar, but before we get to that - Actually, before we get to that, we have The Rescuers Down Under. But before we get to *that*, I wanted to review the latest film in the canon, Wreck-it Ralph, while it was still in theaters. Normally this is where I’d give some information on the development of the film and how it relates to the evolution of the company and what came before it. But we haven’t seen what came before it this time. So we won‘t. Deal with it. Annoyed at my reticence? Well, I‘m not. Deal with it. Once you’re through dealing with it, get a pair of giant cherries and let’s talk about Wreck-it Ralph.

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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1981 - The Fox and the Hound

When I began this in January, this was one of the movies I was most looking forward to. I knew its reputation for being as soul-rending as Bambi, but significantly darker than previous efforts. I also knew that this was the one where all those great new animators I mentioned in the last entry started taking a more involved role in the story and production of the films. Meanwhile, the old guard was really intense about going out on a high note. So basically, when this movie came along, they were straight-up fighting. The older animators, somewhat surprisingly, wanted this movie to more closely follow the book that inspired it, while the new guys wanted to take the story out in new directions. Who was right and who won out? I have no freaking clue. Conflicted? So are they. So get some… Dog food, I guess. And fox food? And let’s talk about The Fox and the Hound.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

1977 - The Rescuers

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Literally. The ’boss’ from the last several years is still in charge. But there is an unstoppable charge of newness about the place. The people under the boss are very different, though. While most of the lead and supervising animators are the same guys we’ve had, there are some fresh names coming underneath them. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, who would go on to form their own studio and be Disney’s major competition in the 1980s. John Musker and Ron Clements who would go on to direct Disney’s great successes of the 1990s through to the present. Glen Kean and Andreas Deja, who would make great new advances in character animation. Tim Burton, who… Oh, come on, I don’t have to tell you who that is. While you may not recognize most of these names, you can still see the significance. There’s a big change underway, and while the new guys might be on the lower rungs now, things are still shaking up. Feeling the sweeping winds of change rush o’er yon vista or something? So am I. So get yourself some jambalaya and moonshine and let’s talk about The Rescuers.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

1977 - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Sorry for the recent lack of updates. I was working on a new project. I'll link to it when it's complete. Until then, lets get back on track with this.

We now come to our final final film Walt ever worked on. Reeling a bit from their financial status and the underperformance of their last two films, Disney needed something cheap and likeable to bring folks back to them. They had, of course, still been producing shorts all this time, and the idea struck them to do another compilation film. It had already proven a way of saving money and getting audiences, and if they used mostly stuff they’d already made, it would save even more. As luck would have it, the company had released three shorts based on A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, and with just ten minutes or so of linking animation, they were ready to go. But would audiences go for them in the 70s the way they did in the 40s? Would a compilation film with one set of characters work, or would it seem stilted and awkward? Rumbly in your tumbly? So am I. So get a pot of hunny, and let’s talk about The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

1973 - Robin Hood

This is one that I’ve been dreading. I am quite well-known as a big fan of Robin Hood - my semi-defunct review blog will attest to that - so naturally I’m inclined to like this movie. My love of Robin Hood films, of the base story, my past working at the New York Renaissance Fair, these all make me the prime target audience for this movie. But knowing what I know about the state of the company at the time, I can’t shake the feeling that it probably isn’t very good. I mean, we saw what the devastation of Walt’s death did to The Aristocats, but then, we’ve also seen what effect personal views can have on objective assessment of a movie.

Indeed. So I’ll be trying to be as objective as possible, and I’ll be referencing The Aristocats in as fair and balanced a manner as possible. They were, after all, the only two movies made entirely between Walt’s death and the major company shakeup that’s on the horizon. So it’s time to see if this is a movie that steals from my soul to give to my pain, or if it’s a tale that stirreth my freborne bloode. Confused? So am I. So deer to kill a king’s dare, and I’ll tell ye of a goode yeman whose name was Robyn Hode.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

1970 - The Aristocats

Once again, this is the last movie Walt worked on, but unlike last time, his personal input was very limited. More or less, he approved the concept and then died. And it really shows. This movie is a crazy mess, and not very enjoyable to watch. Thing is, I really thought this would be an uncontroversial opinion. But when I took it to Twitter, I was more than a little surprised with the reaction.

But it wasn’t just my brother’s secret internet girlfriend that felt that way. While her opinion was the most vociferous, there were several who agreed with her. And I seriously don’t understand it. This movie is so self-evidently the product of a freefall in the company due to the death of its beloved figurehead that I was sure even a child would see it. Well, I’m no stranger to controversy (My dissenting opinion on Alice in Wonderland is the most viewed entry here by a long shot,) so let’s get into it. Catty? So am I. So get yourself some Fancy Feast avec Meow Mix, and let’s talk about The Aristocats.

The film concerns four cats, Duchess and her three kittens, who are owned by a doting old Parisian woman. So fond of her cats is she that she’s leaving all her money to them, in care of her loyal butler Edgar, who will inherit once they die. Edgar, who I guess is too stupid to realize that he will basically be inheriting the money and taking care of the cats like he already does anyway, decides to drive them out to the country and abandon them or drown them or something. He is attacked by dogs and loses track of the cats, who try to find their way back to Paris, with the help of a rough alley cat, two geese who don’t really do much of anything, and a polyethnic jazz ensemble. Then Edgar gets mailed to Abu Dhabi or something.

It's so pwecious I might fwow up.

The characters are barely worth mentioning. Edgar is probably the most interesting, despite his abrupt and rather pointless turn to evil. His design is really good, and he’s well-acted by surrealist comedian Roddy Maude-Roxby. As for everyone else… Meh. Most of the actors who are any good are better in other Disney movies. Even the usually-reliable Sterling Holloway is really phoning it in as their mouse friend. Likewise Pat Buttram and George Lindsey, who will be giving us several fine performances in films to come, are perfunctory as two hillbilly dogs. Phil Harris makes a game attempt as Thomas O’Malley the alley cat, but the character is no more than a retread of Baloo, down to the song about his laid-back lifestyle and an over-solid design that looks more like a bear than a cat. Duchess is played by Eva Gabor, with all her trademark warmth and class, but also with a Hungarian accent that really calls into focus the fact that no one in this movie sounds French. I mean, we’re culturally conditioned to ignore American and British accents in something taking place in Foreign Lands, if they’re speaking English. Translation convention and all that. But it gets weird when you put in things like a non-English-speaking accent, characters with British accents who are explicitly identified as British (the geese) interacting with French characters with British accents (Edgar, one of the kittens, the horse), and most of all, Scat Cat and his band.

Scat Cat is O’Malley’s jazz-playing friend, voiced by Scatman Crothers. (Get it? Seriously though, I love lame puns, so I‘m fine with this.) He does fine, of course. He’s a damn good jazz musician and voice actor, so it’s no surprise. But if I wanted to hear him acting in a lousy animal thing, I’d just watch Hong Kong Phooey. His band consists of Italian Cat (Vito Scotti) on a mostly inaudible concertina, Russian Cat (Thurl Ravenscroft) on bass, English Cat (Lord Tim Jones) on guitar, and Chinese Cat (Paul Winchell) on drums or piano. A minor nitpick is that the drums and piano are often heard at the same time and the concertina not at all, so it would make more sense for Italian Cat to play one of those. A major nitpick is CHINESE CAT WHAT THE HELL.

You know where this is going, right?
If you’ll notice the names of the actors, you’ll see Crothers and Jones are of the appropriate nationalities for their cats; Scotti is American, but was raised in Italy by Italian parents; and Ravenscroft is at least WHITE. And all of those guys are Class 3 minority characters. Their nationality just adds a bit of interesting color to extremely minor characters. But Chinese cat, holy roar… He’s got the buck teeth, L-R confusion, wears a cymbal like a cone hat, and his contribution to the song about how great it is to be a cat is to play the piano with CHOPSTICKS and sing “Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg foo yung! / Fortune cookie always wrong!” And he keeps getting highlighted and it’s really weird and off-putting. Class 1, all the way.

Speaking of the songs, they’re once again written by multiple songwriting teams, and are generally pretty dire.

WRONG, Laura. The only good one is one you didn’t mention, the title song. While I’ve long been opposed, or at least indifferent to the “Title song sung over the opening credits” thing Disney used to do a lot, this one is nice and lively and makes up for its traditionally horrible lyrics by being sung by Maurice Chevalier, who is awesome.

Less awesome (SEGUE!) Is the animation. While the Jungle Book used the sketchy nature of xerography to great effect, here it just looks sloppy and unfinished. Loose guide lines appear all over the place, with even the face lines they use for eye placement flickering in and out of view. The cat animation is all over the place, too, with the cats randomly going back and forth between completely catlike and practically anthropomorphic. I’m not expecting Lady and the Tramp verisimilitude here, but they shouldn’t just randomly grow thumbs when convenient.
I will also admit I have a fondness for speaking-tubes as a plot device.

So yeah, the first attempt without Walt basically turned into a train wreck, but it’s best to get that out of their system. Hopefully next one does better.


* This is the only Disney film I know of that received a glowing review in Entertainment Weekly from Snoop Dogg, back when he was Snoop Doggy Dogg. Much has been theorized about his reason for his recent name change to Snoop Lion, with most assuming it’s a reference to the Lion of Judah. I think it’s because he likes cat movies. Even he hated the lyrics, though.

* This is the first Disney movie I saw in theaters, in a 1987 rerelease. I didn't mention it because while I am dimly aware of the fact, I have literally no memory of it, what with being 3 years old at the time.

* That’s it. I don’t want to think about this one any more, additionally or otherwise. Play me off, Chinese Cat.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

1967 - The Jungle Book

And now we come to the movie that, in a way, was Walt Disney’s last. Of course, in a way, the previous one was his last, and in a way, so is the next. And so is the one two after that one. You know what? It’s hard to come up with these intros, so cut me some slack. Anyway, this was the final one Walt worked on personally, and though he didn’t live to see its completion, his spirit lives on in his animation staff, his classic voice actors, and his specific request that the filmmakers not read the book. आप इस पढ़ने में परेशानी हो रही है? So am I. So go pick a pawpaw or a prickly pear (Both of which are found only in America, and not at all in India, so I don’t know why Baloo sings about them,) and let’s talk about the Jungle Book.

Monday, July 23, 2012

1963 - The Sword in the Stone

Now it’s time for us to enter what I’m calling the Mourning Period. This was a time marked by the declining health and eventual death of Walt Disney. The movie we’re viewing today was produced and released while Walt was still alive, but shows many of the other signs of the era, including slashed budgets, cheaper animation, and overly cautious production. This is not to say that all the films of this era are bad. Two of them are quite good, and one is at least okay. Two of them, however, are not so great, and this is one of those. Depressed? So am I. So get yourself a leg of mutton and flagon of mead, and let’s talk about The Sword in the Stone.
Stop trying to make "fetch" happen!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

1961 - One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Well, after the lengthy production and less-than-hoped-for returns of Sleeping Beauty, the company was starting to feel that feature animation was more trouble than it was worth. Fortunately, the form was saved by a weird little dude named Ubbe Eert Iwerks. Ub was a longtime animator at Disney. He had already done his bit for the company financially, through little tiny things like developing the live-action/animation hybrid technique and inventing Mickey Mouse.
"Oh, don't mind me, just saving your company again."
 But never satisfied with being an unrecognized legend, he went for it again, developing a new form of animation called xerography. See, the way they used to animate was the lead animators would make pencil drawings, and their staff would ink each frame onto an animation cel. Using a camera based on a Xerox machine, Ub figured out a way to transfer the pencil drawings directly to the cel, eliminating the costly, time-consuming, and labor-intensive inking process, and going straight to the colorists. Of course, it also eliminated the jobs of like 400 animators, but hey, omelets and eggs. So, armed with a fancy new tool, the rights to a good book, and fond memories of Lady and the Tramp, the team went to work. Feeling the inexorable march of progress as machines take our jobs? So am I. Wait, no I’m not. Well, regardless, get some Kibbles and Bits, unless you’re Bits-intolerant, in which case, the SoyBitz are okay, and you can hardly tell the difference. Let’s talk about One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

1959 - Sleeping Beauty

Well, as I said last time, Walt’s ambition was at a peak. He wanted to go back to traditional fairy tales, and he wanted to go BIG. This movie spent four years in development, involved more detailed character design and background painting than ever before, utilized a new stylized form of design, was filmed in the INSANELY wide Technirama format. It was nominally an adaptation of Perrault’s “La Belle et la Bois Dormant” (The Beauty Asleep in the Woods) but also with a healthy dose of the Grimms’ “Briar Rose”. The pre-release publicity was huge, on TV and in print. Biggest of all, the newly-built Disney Land made the Sleeping Beauty castle its centerpiece, complete with mosaics depicting scenes from the film that was still TWO YEARS off. So was it a success? Well… That’s a big question. Inquiry to your emotive state? Assertion of agreement. Suggestion of food and let’s talk about Sleeping Beauty.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

1955 - Lady and the Tramp

So Peter Pan was a massive success. I don’t begrudge it this, since it was the 1950s, and we were still in a state of dizzy, post-war stupidity. And besides, I’m glad for that, since once Walt gets some cash in his pocket, he starts taking risks. And this movie was a big one. It’s such a classic today, and there have been several movies along the same lines, so it’s a bit weird to think how unusual it was that there was a movie so completely about dogs. This film was also Disney’s first ever completely original story. It had its genesis in the short story “Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog”, which they had tried vaguely to make into a short. When a friend of Walt’s got a spaniel puppy, he decided that a hobo mutt and a pampered pedigree meeting would make suitable material for a feature, and said “HEY YOU GUYS WE’RE MAKING A DOG MOVIE NOW OKAY?” (Yes, he talked like that. Little known fact.) Feeling a bit mangy? You should see a vet. But before that, get some Alpo and a fresh bowl of water, and let’s talk about Lady and the Tramp.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Seven classes of portrayals of minority characters

So I've been horribly sick for the past two weeks, and when I haven't been sick, I've been working, so I'm a bit behind on - well, everything. But as I've been working my way through the Lady and the Tramp review, I've been considering why the stereotypes in that movie (and there are a LOT) barely offend me at all, while the Indians in Peter Pan threw off the whole balance of what was already a very tepid movie. In the end, I developed seven classes of minority portrayals, which I've illustrated here (just click if it's too small to read):

Now, I just want to be clear, this isn't a scale where 1 is worst and 7 is ideal. (1 is definitely worst, though) It's just seven classes that these characters can be placed into, in an attempt to explain my reactions to them, and the reactions people in general have.

Any of these classes can be used poorly, and any of them can be used well. Even 1 has its place in storytelling. For example, Chin-Kee from American Born Chinese is an undeniably racist collection of Chinese stereotypes, but is used to confront the reader with the existence and source of these stereotypes, as well as the fact that there is no functional difference between "good" and "bad" stereotypes. Type 2 is more often than not EXTREMELY problematic, but it can also give characters like Scrooge McDuck, who I would unhesitatingly place as one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. Type 7 may seem like an ideal of color-blindness, but can just as easily lead to tokenism and the negation of real racial experiences. Type 4 may seem like lazy writing, but it's just as often a function of plot economy.

What I'm saying is that the classes aren't at all useful for determining what's offensive or not, which is the whole reason I came up with them in the first place. Dangit. Oh, and for those of you who don't speak Disney, I've translated into Star Trek.

Two notes: 1) That's English stereotypes on Bashir, not Arab ones. 2) I love O'Brien, we all do, but come on, the first time we see him in his downtime, he's complaining that his wife doesn't cook him enough potatoes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

1953 - Peter Pan

Okay, so Alice didn’t exactly burn up the box office, and I get that Walt was probably feeling a bit blue, but did he have to lash out at us like this? What we have here for our 14th entry is, make no mistake, a bad movie. It’s a well-animated movie and a fondly-remembered movie, but it’s bad. I went in not expecting badness. I even took steps to ensure that I would be viewing it as objectively as possible, by watching with my friend Justin, who is far less judgmental of movies than I am. Didn’t work for either of us. But since I try to avoid being overly negative, I think the best way to balance this is to talk about a good thing for every bad thing I mention, and then pass judgment. Sound fair? Good. So get yourself some invisible food that only turns real when you throw it at Dante Basco (this can be ordered from most gourmet specialty shops in Los Angeles), and let’s talk about Peter Pan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1951 - Alice in Wonderland

So after the bonkers success of Cinderella, it was time for Walt to return to his two favorite pastimes: Fulfilling his lifelong goals and making unprofitable movies. See, Walt had always loved the Alice stories of Lewis Carroll. His early work in Hollywood included a series of silent live action-animation hybrids dubbed “The Alice Comedies”, which took inspiration from the books. In the mid-30s, he had intended to produce a full-length Technicolor version of those, going so far as to do screen tests with Mary Pickford as Alice. So why did they settle on Snow White instead? Why did he spend 12 years developing Alice before it finally saw release? Well, the books are essentially unfilmable. They’re meandering, mostly plotless, unashamedly weird works based on logic puzzles and literary wordplay, and the main character has absolutely no arc or dramatic through line. But ol’ Uncle Walter was convinced he could make it work. Wary? So am I. So eat and drink anything that suggests that you do, and let’s talk about Alice in Wonderland.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

1950 - Cinderella

1950 - Cinderella

WE MADE IT! After the rough slog of anthology films, we’re finally back to full-length stories, and boy did they bring it. This period of films, which I’m referring to as The Restoration, put an end to the slashed budgets, scaled back animation, and occasional blatant racism of the anthologies and replaced it with extravagant financing, expertly rendered backgrounds and characters, and… okay, occasional blatant racism. I’m looking your way, Peter Pan. But we’ll get to him. Cinderella was a remarkable return to form for the company. They dumped nearly all the money they made off the anthologies into it, and it really shows. The profits from this went on to finance one of their most classic periods, and now we finally get to see it. Relieved? So am I. So get some petit-fours and champagne, and let’s talk about Cinderella.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Well, after a dead month, it’s time to get back on task. I apologize to my loyal fans (Yes, all six of you,) for my time away. It was due to a variety of factors, including:

* Inventory at the bookstore.
* The Emerald City Comic-Con. (awesome)
* Overwork at my five or so jobs that I actually get paid for.
* A load of personal bullroar.
* These Wings episodes aren’t going to watch themselves.
* A growing sense of ennui and dissatisfaction with my life brought on by uncertainty about my future.
* Oh, wait, no. I was just pissed off after watching Peter Pan.
* Downloaded Space Quest 6 from GOG. Yes that’s a valid excuse.
* Seriously, Peter Pan was so bad.
* And that’s coming from someone who watches Wings.

Also I kept waking up with bird poo in my hair.

Anyway, I’m back now, and I’ll be posting the Cinderella review on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s ten-word reviews of the next few movies to come after that to tide you over.

Alice in Wonderland

- Making an attempt to adapt the unadaptable with predictable results.

Lady and the Tramp

- Walt makes a movie about his friend’s dog. Huh. Okay.

Peter Pan

- Boring boring boring boring boring boring racist boring boring boring.

See you folks on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Three Wartime Cartoons

So I've been mentioning periodically that during the war, Disney put out US propaganda for the government. A few people have asked just what I mean by propaganda. Is it just generally patriotic cartoons? Beating up Hitler? Subliminal messages? So I decided to take a look at three of these wartime toons and see if they fill me with patriotic fervor. Given my hatred of propaganda, jingoism, and unwarranted exceptionalist attitudes, probably not. Links to the shorts are provided.


I miss crazy driving costumes. Let's get those back.
VICTORY VEHICLES - In this cartoon, Goofy shows us various ways people are trying out new vehicles to get around the gas and rubber shortages. The first half is just a lot of wacky machines, and the second half passionately advocates for the more common everyday use of the pogo stick. It’s funny enough, but the “here’s some crazy cars/here’s some jokes about pogo sticks” setup makes the short feel draggy at just 7 minutes. There’s also a weird thing where the characters aren’t Goofy per se, but a variety of different people, all of whom are portrayed by Goofy. He gets only one line, and all the others are voiced by the narrator. Though since this was produced when Disney and Pinto Colvig were feuding (as he had gone to work for the hated Fleischers), and the new voice actor gave him a ludicrous old cowboy voice, that’s just as well.

Ha ha! Those Nazis would actually ration coffee! Can you imagine?
DER FUEHRER’S FACE - Donald Duck dreams he lives in Nazi Germany, where he learns how horrible it is to live in a land of strict rationing and constant propaganda. This is not what you would call a very self-aware cartoon. At the end, Donald wakes up in his American flag pajamas and kisses the statue of Liberty while shouting “I sure am glad to be a citizen of the United States of America! So it’s not a subtle cartoon, either. The title comes from a Spike Jones song that is used in the opening of the short, but it’s hard to take the lyrics’ mockery of the Nazi’s “Master Race” policies seriously, as they are sing by a yellow-skinned, bucktoothed Japanese guy, a swarthy, thick-lipped Italian guy, and just for fun, a swishy gay guy. (Or as I call them, Steleotype, Stereotype-a, and Thtereotype.) The cartoon closes with just a lingering shot of Hitler‘s face, which feels uncomfortably like Two Minutes’ Hate. Except 1984 wouldn’t be written for another four years. Wait, that makes it even worse.

FUN FACT - When the “funny” Japanese guy shows up, recall that when this cartoon was made, the government had George Takei and Pat Morita in internment camps. And they grew up to be cultural icons at least on par with Donald Duck.

Man, Shining Time Station got weird since I stopped watching.
EDUCATION FOR DEATH - Well, here we get some real old-time propaganda. Rather than using an established character like the others, it follows a young German boy named Hans through his life in Nazi Germany. From his parents proving their ethnic background so they are allowed to conceive through his education with Nazi propaganda to his conscription into the German army. There’s some more blatant hypocrisy here. A large chunk of the short is given to how horrible it is that Nazis use old fairy tales as propaganda, e.g. taking Sleeping Beauty and calling the witch Democracy, the princess Germany, and the prince Hitler. Okay, got it? Using old fairy tales to manipulate people with governmental propaganda is bad. Kind of hard to make that point, though, when you portray Germany as a “hilarious” fat woman who’s always eating, and Hitler as a drooling lunatic who LITERALLY grows devil horns at one point.

Ohhhh, dammit, Disney! You’re putting me in the position of defending the Nazi party! I hate them, but you know what? I hate them for their ACTUAL eugenics policies, not your claim that they’ll kill the kleinen kinder Klaus just because he gets the flu. I hate them because of their genocidal campaigns, which are reduced in the film to the burning of philosophy books and the ransacking of a Christian church. (Shown using visuals based on Rosenberg’s weird pseudomystical Reich Church ideas, which when divorced from their context, seem to imply that the Nazis meant to destroy Christianity. That’s some A+ fearmongering.)

See folks? Barely even human!

But the ultimate achievement is the ending. Klaus is shown growing into an adult and joining the army. He is then shown with blinkers and a muzzle as the announcer tells us that he is completely devoted to the party, seeing and hearing nothing but what they permit. The cartoon literally turns him into a faceless being identical to every other, completely dehumanizing him and all the other soldiers. AND IT’S NOT EVEN POSSIBLE. The Nazis only held power for 11 years! There is not a single German soldier who was born under their rule; they were all old enough to remember a pre-Nazi time. And while the Nazi cultural takeover was legendarily effective, it did not turn their citizens into faceless marching robots. The entire point of this cartoon was to make them seem less human so we wouldn’t feel bad killing them. AND THAT IS JUST WHAT THE NAZIS DID. Ohhhhh dangit I am so angry right now.

NEXT WEEK: Cinderella! Won’t that be nice.

Friday, March 23, 2012

1949 - The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad


Well, here we are at the end of the anthology age, and if sure has been a - wait for it - wild ride! Ah, comedy. I’ve actually enjoyed these more than I thought I would, though if you’ve been reading, you’ll know that’s still not much. Like the others, this is one with a complex history of development. The Mr. Toad segment was originally meant to be a full-length feature, to follow Bambi, but after 33 minutes were animated, wartime budget problems forced them to scrap the project. When they hit on the anthology idea, they decided to repurpose it as a short, paired with Mickey and the Beanstalk under the horrible title “Two Fabulous Characters”. The second segment likewise started as a feature, this time intended to be their return to feature animation. But again, after animating about half of it, they realized the story was too thin, so they just linked what they had and called it a short. This was in the before scripts, you see. Anxious to get to the good movies? So am I. So fry up some bubble and squeak, and let’s talk about The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I seem to have trodden on my netbook, on which I do my writing. It's actually not a big deal, since it was an old hunk of slowness, and I've been meaning to move things over anyway. Buuuut I haven't had a chance yet, so the "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" review will be up next Wednesday evening, followed by a special blog on Friday, then "Cinderella" the following Wednesday(ish) and "Alice in Wonderland" the Saturday after. So don't look on this as a delay, look on it as a way to get the good stuff closer together.

EDIT: I meant, of course, Friday and Sunday. Give me a break, it's inventory week at the store.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

1948 - Melody Time

Look, it’s basically Make Mine Music 2: Lame 40s Songs Boogaloo. I truly do wish I had some new bit of trivia to lead you in with, but I don’t. It’s just another anthology of shorts set to music more to the tastes of people who didn’t think Fantasia was fun enough. Or fancy-free enough, I suppose. So heat up some leftovers, and I guess we have to talk about Melody Time.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

1947 - Fun and Fancy Free

Before I begin, a few corrections from last time: First of all, ‘Blue Lagoon’ was by the Ken Darby Chorus, not the Kim Darby Chorus. Kim Darby was the terrible actress from the old version of True Grit. Second, I neglected to include my usual meal choice, so in honor of the Martins and the Coys, have some ‘possum stew and a jug of white lightning. 

Say, here’s a quick clue for you, Walt. If your latest anthology film is made of two shorts that were supposed to be full-length films until you couldn’t figure out how to develop them, the audience may have some reservations going in. They may expect the shorts to be tight and well-plotted in their brief length. After all, you chose the short format to tell the story best, so surely they won‘t be draggy at all - right? Do you think I’m foreshadowing? So do I, and I should know. So make two small portions of anything you don’t know how to cook, and let’s talk about Fun and Fancy-Free.

Friday, February 24, 2012

1946 - Make Mine Music

1945 - Make Mine Music

Well, here we are with another anthology, this time conceived as “Kind of like Fantasia, only without all that froo-froo smart people music.” This, and the next few, are technically in the post-war era, but a lot of the development was during the war, hence the relative cheapness. I was reading something by an animation historian who said it’s unfair to judge these through modern eyes, a sentiment similar to those I’ve expressed here previously. But you know what? I’m going to stop feeling bad about that. Modern eyes are the only ones I have, and it’s not like all stuff from the 40s is automatically bad. It’s a Wonderful Life came out this same year, and while it’s not remotely ’timeless’, it’s still a hell of a good movie. So let’s see how this mix holds up, one by one.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

1942 - Bambi


All right, so Dumbo made big bank, and Disney was now free to go for higher pursuits. Walt had long been enamored with the German nature novel “Bambi: A Life in the Forest”, and after several attempts by other studios to make a live-action version, had acquired the rights. Was the world ready for an artistic, environmental film with no humans in it? Would children be as interested in animal mating as the filmmakers were? What the heck gender is Flower? And how was anyone planning to do this in live action? Twitterpated? So am I. So grill up a venison steak, you heartless monster, and let’s talk about Bambi.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

1944 - The Three Caballeros

1944 - The Three Caballeros

Well, what with the success (both political and financial,) of Saludos Amigos, Disney decided to stick with a winning formula for their next film and make another South American travelogue. With more confidence, more money, and less direct government influence, this one would be less blatantly propagandistic, have a more cohesive plot, and actually be something like a real feature length. I never thought I’d think those were bad things. Sintiendo una conexión más profunda con nuestros vecinos del Sur? También estoy. Así que algunos burritos y margaritas, y vamos a hablar de Los Tres Caballeros.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Another brief delay

I think it makes sense to follow Saludos Amigos directly with The Three Caballeros, so rather than the usual weekend post, I'll be doing that on Wednesday evening and then finally getting to Bambi on Saturday. In the meantime, enjoy this very well-done montage. I do question the use of the Dragonheart theme, but hey, it is a hell of a theme.

Weird thing: tomorrow, I'm actually going to be working for Disney (via a temp agency) at an event. I'M INSIDE NOW, BABY.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

1942 - Saludos Amigos

First of all, I know you were expecting Bambi this week, but there was a snag in the writing, so I’m skipping ahead into the start of the Anthology Age. Normally, at the start of an age, I’ll discuss my reasons for grouping these movies, but this one has a distinct and interesting origin story all its own…

Whenever I mention this undertaking to anyone, I find that this is the first film that makes them say “Huh?” You can expect a lot of that this month. With the war in full swing, money was tight, and people didn’t want in-depth storytelling, as the success of Dumbo and failure of Bambi showed. So Disney refocused on making collections of shorts for their feature releases. And they were given a little help in this direction by the State Department, of all things. See, the governments of South America were getting pretty cozy with the Axis powers, and the people of the USA were all, as we have seen, pretty racist, and so didn’t care. Uncle Sam knew this was no good, and figured a good ol’ dose of propaganda would set ‘em straight. So they paid to have Disney and his team flown all over the continent to make a series of shorts, showing the people of North and South America that they’re not so different after all. Swelling with fraternal brotherhood? So am I. So get a big bowl for feijoada and a frosty caipirinha, and let‘s talk about Saludos Amigos.

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.