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.