Saturday, March 24, 2012

D52 - Week 12 - Cinderella

Kevin's bit
When I came up with this D52 project idea thing, I wasn't sure, if anything, what I would gain from watching all of these films in their original release order, other than just noticing the gradual change of style, quality, tone, and the like. But up until the last couple of months or so I paid little mind to how many of the package films are back-to-back together in this time period. I certainly learned what it's like to watch all of those so close to each other, especially after having seen well-made complete features like Snow White and Pinocchio so shortly before. Imagine what it must've been like to get a taste of feature-length Disney stories, then to have to wait not just weeks but years for another one! Putting Cinderella into this context certainly puts a spin on one's perspective of it!
This is one of those Disney movies that I'm pretty sure I've seen before but only so long ago that I don't remember a whole lot of it. But I did recently see Disney on Ice, one-third of which was devoted to the story of Cinderella. It actually goes through all of the necessary plot points sufficiently in all of, oh - 20-30 minutes? Which does say something about how much of the movie is actually crucial to the plot. For most of the beginning you may wonder whether you're watching Cinderella or The Adventures of Cinderella's Animal Friends. These filler 'toons are entertaining enough, though, that I'm willing to give it a pass.
But it is much better than I expected, largely thanks to the fluffy stuff. It's a lot like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in that the main story is simple but padded with songs and comedy routines. But I easily prefer the songs and comedy routines of Cinderella. As for the animation, it's hard to compare the two, not only because of the thirteen-year difference, but that they each have their own style, flavor and charm. 
Lady Tremaine helps to convince me that I prefer my Disney villains to be non-magical. My problem with magic-wielding villains is that is that you never know exactly what they have in their arsenal, so you don't know how far you're supposed to stretch your suspension of disbelief. If she turns into a dragon without having mentioned before that she could, you just have to accept that because, well, she's magical! And it also makes me wonder things like, did Snow White's Evil Queen Witch not have a spell that could just kill Snow White directly and completely? But with Tremaine, what you see is what you get. Believable evil motivations, realistic evil deeds.* I like that. I mean, fiction-wise, I like it.
I guess you could say the same thing about magical good guys. Hey, Fairy Godmother! Why not punish Lady Tremaine (even if only for a limited time)? Heck, the evil stepmother doesn't even get any comeuppance at all, unless you count losing her slave, and, I don't know, taking a hit of embarrassment at it all?
And here we have the second in a line of uninteresting Disney princes, but at least the not-bland father-of-the-prince helps make up for that. I like to think that, when Prince Charming grows up, he will too eventually become short, round, bald, but excellently-mustachioed, sputtering and eccentric. But happily ever after.
OVERALL: It's worth anyone's time to check this out if he or she hasn't recently already. Anyone can enjoy it, from a princessy girl to an all-around cartoon loving boy, or from a lowly peasant to a regally royal King or Queen.

*Ignoring Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, anyway.

Kevin's Study Questions
1. We don't know enough about Lucifer's backstory to know whether he was named Lucifer because of his behavior, or if he acts meanly because of his name. How can one's name affect his or her attitude and progress through life? Even if Lucifer was already nasty before being given the name, could the name have just encouraged him to act as he does? Would he change his ways at all had he been named Angel instead?
2. The Blue Fairy - I mean, the Fairy Godmother Who Happens to Wear Blue - transforms animals' very genetic codes without their consent. Could she be said to be playing God? If modern science ever gets to the point where it is possible to molecular alter a normal lab mouse into a full-size horse, what would be the moral implications? If a mouse-turned-horse seems perfectly content to run through fields (without fearing owls and hawks) but still yearns for cheese, is it still happy? Also, would the Blue Fairy be at all as memorable as a character if not for that darn immeasurably catchy incantation song?
3. Notice that near the beginning of the film we see Cinderella lose a shoe on the way up the stairs while doing her chores. How often and when is it necessary, in a film, to establish a character flaw relevant to the crux of the plot? If not for that earlier moment, would we as the viewer question the likelihood of her losing her glass slipper?

Amanda's bit:
How dare you dis Cinderella 3! I mean yeah, the step mother being able to... OH! Spoilers AND off topic. Shame on me.

Here's the thing. Cinderella falls into that idealized "Disney does best" category.  Good guy does good things and deserves good things. Bad things happen, but good things are sure to follow. Bad guys do bad things and at the least end up no better off than they started and at the most end up dead. 

Cindy is so sweet and so charming in that Hollywood starlet way that was very much revered at the time.  She was among the first to engage in direct interaction to her little animal friends.  Not only did she talk to her friends, but they talked back and she understood!  She was the model of generosity (poor little Gus), of industry (such a work-ethic on that girl!), of forgiveness (Let's not forget Cindy 2 in which Anny gets a man), and of frugality (as displayed by her mouse and bird tailors).  Taking into account her grassroots, she is easily the least dislikeable princess there is!  She's the prom queen, but the nice one that you actually voted for! 

As for her family members, I for one am pleased that nothing terribly unfortunate happens to any of them.  Despite the magic and the unlikely chance meeting of lovers, I feel that the bland non-end of Lady Tremaine and her daughters makes this quite a believable story.  In the real world, the best comeuppance is merely to overcome.  At worst, I find myself feeling sorry for those two snobbish self-important sisters who could with proper styling snag a perfectly nice man of their own if they so chose, but because of unfortunate upbringing, they run the risk of becoming spinsters. 

And in the end, what we really learn is that one man's trash is still one man's trash so you best not try to pick something off the floor and call it your own... unless that causes magic to happen... then do it. uh.  Yeah.

Favorite Character: The Duke!  He's so done with this job.  I'm so enamored with his frustration.
Least favorite character: That dopey footman who dropped the slipper.  It's not that I don't like him; it's just that he seems like a Deus ex Machina for those of us that want to agree with the Duke that the slipper could fit any number of girls.
Overall: Did you see Lucifer's arms go flailing? Hilarious.

Study Question responses:
1. Lucifer: I think this question fails to accept the meaning of the name which is "Bringer of Light" and often refering to the first star of the evening.  The point is that Jessica didn't become a name I would never give my baby because it's inherently bad, but because I happen to know some people named Jessica that I don't like.
2. Morality of playing God.  It's okkay to play God as long as it's temporary and you learn something from it (i.e. pumpkins make pretty carriages but they are likely to spoil and smell bad; or horses make the best horse/mouse whisperers)
3. Slipper losing as a character flaw: Yes. This is important to establish because it makes it clear that Cindy's feet don't sweat OR swell like a normal human and therefore the glass slipper would indeed be able to slip off her foot rather than get stuck near-permanently on as it would on anyone else.

Craft time!  This was a no brainer! I made slippers.  They aren't glass and they aren't that cute, but they do fit properly, unlike all of Cindy's footwear aparently.

Monday, March 19, 2012

D52 - Week 11 - The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

[This post is incomplete until Amanda adds her bit, but perhaps pre-posting it will coax her into sharing the project she made for this week.]

Kevin's bit
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is comparable to Fun & Fancy Free in that each film is made up of two half-hour (ish) cartoons. But the introductory/connecting segments in TAoIaMT are much shorter than the ones in Fun & Fancy Free, and I'm happy with that difference. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad wastes little time in getting to the point, just like its title!
Mr. Toad's adventures isn't altogether very adventurey. I haven't read The Wind and the Willows but going by this version I'm surprised it passes as a children's story. Not that there's anything naughty. I just can't imagine children being interested in a story based mostly around legal proceedings. Unless it's the kind of kid who'd have a copy of Robert's Rules on his shelf next to his teddy bear. The only real action comes when Toad and friends have to get the deed back from Winky and the weasels, which is unfortunately ruined with clichés (count them!) such as the back-and-forth opposite-direction-running-as-the-sought-after-item-constantly-switches-hands. Were they clichés at the time? Maybe not? But that doesn't change how it's watched today. And it's a bit of a shame that a couple of them (mainly Toad and Mole) do seem to have the potential to be likeable characters (I find Mole more memorable in Mickey's Christmas Carol), but just don't have enough to do. I do, though, enjoy the depiction of Toad's mania, in that he's so enraptured by the idea of motorcars that he bounces along the road sputtering madly. I find it funny.
The best thing about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is its main character. Let's compare Ichabod to another animated short film star who was silent albeit for narration - Bongo the Bear. The problem with Bongo's design is that, well, he's just an average cartoon bear wearing some clothes. He might as well be one of the extra bears in the forest crowd. Ichabod, by contrast, has an interesting-ass design. So I have to wonder even more why Ichabod is seen barely, if at all, as merchandise or a park presence. As far as I can find there is no DisneyPark costumed Ichabod Crane meet-and-greet character. How hard can it be to find someone with ridiculously exaggerated proportions? But Mr Toad got his own ride (that still exists in Disneyland)! Why couldn't Ichabod be incorporated into The Haunted Mansion (which seasonally sports a Nightmare Before Christmas motif), or say, a cameo in Snow White's Scary Adventures? It's not that Crane is one of the best characters ever, but compared to Toad...come on.
And though I get that's - I think - played as a joke, it is off-putting how concerned he is with his potential wealth accumulation from marrying Van Tassel. Because he's supposedly the guy we're rooting for to get the girl, right? And supposedly we don't want Brom to get the girl, because...uh...because he's not the good guy we're focusing on. I didn't even get that Brom was even really a jerk, up until the point where he winds up to punch Ichabod square in the face, anyway. Because until then, what exactly does he do to make him an unsuitable suitor? Just that he competes with Ichabod for her affection? That he enjoys a drink? Oh, I know. It was when he prompted a dog to howl, much to Ichabod's chagrin! THAT INSENSITIVE ARROGANT JERKHOLE.
I wonder how the climactic scene manages to be scarier than most adult-oriented "horror" movies. Is it because the uncertainty of something horrific happening is scarier than some dude in a mask swishing a knife in front of your face? Is it because Ichabod's expressions of fear are more engaging to watch than some lady screaming as loudly as she possibly can? Or is it just that the former half of the cartoon is filled with the opposite of spookery?

Favorite character: Ichabod would be a great (non-speaking) spokesperson for hard-boiled eggs. The hand-drawn pies and turkey legs don't really do anything for me, but man, whenever I see that hard-boiled egg, I want one something bad.
Least favorite character: Darn it, Katrina. Stop stringing along two very different guys who are both competing for your love and make a choice. Who do you think you are, Bella Swan?
Overall: "The Adventures of Ichabod Crane" easily wins over Mr. Toad's mild ride.

Amanda's bit
Boy howdy, I'm late in my posting here!  So this was yet another although the least chopped up of the chopped up movies in our line-up.  I am first to admit that I was unaware for a very long time that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was ever paired up with something else!  In my mind, it is easily entertaining and memorable enough to stand on its own.  I found myself less than surprised that I could sing along with Bing Crosby as he crooned not only as the voice of Ichabod himself, but also as the narrator.  That's some memorable stuff right there.  Does this segment stand up to the test of time? Yes.  Does it deserve to be coupled with Mr. Toad? No.

Toad, Mole, Rat and What'sisname... the Badger guy... Along with Cyril the horse and the many unnamed weasels just never managed to get much of a story across to me.  There was clearly some sort of plot line and a bunch of gags, but I was never given much of a reason to care about anyone.  Like Kevin said, legal proceedings are boring.  While horses cross-dressing might be funny, jail breaking is less so.  Going strictly by the plot, why am I sad if Toad Hall is lost?  Does anyone live there besides Toad?  He seems to want to travel the world anyway, so what difference would it make.  And for crying out loud, Toady, is it really necessary to get as excited about any new fangled thing?  I was under the impression that you were an adult with a house and bills and whatnot.  Are you actually a 7 year old boy who obsesses over the next trading card/trading figure battle game and you need to buy them all? No.  Shame on you. Geez, at least Ichabod left a legend in his wake.  What did you leave, Toad?  Smog. Thanks a lot.

Favorite Character? Chubby Girl in Sleepy Hollow.  She wants a man and she's putting some effort in.  Good for you, woman!  Go Get'em!
Least-Favorite Character? Toad.  Grow up and get a job, geez man.
Amusement: I like to imagine that Mr. Rat is Basil of Baker Street's great great uncle.  I imagine that pipe smoking and deerstalker hat wearing runs in the family.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

D52 - Week 10 - Melody Time

[Amanda suggested I go ahead and post this even though she hasn't written her bit yet, goes!]

Kevin's bit
Instead of reviewing these shorts in the order in which they're shown in Melody Time, I'll review in order of the one I liked least to the one I liked most.
-"Trees" is dull. For what it is, a poem set to gently moving images, it's done well. If it were to be seen among a series of other similarly paced animations, it might be easier to appreciate it, but when surrounded by other much more energy-filled scenes, it just comes off as boring.
-I'm not sure what I'm supposed to like about The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. The legend itself is interesting enough to hear or read about orally, but what's to be gained from seeing it played out? With Pecos Bill, we get to see a larger-than-life character do the impossible. With Johnny Appleseed, you see...a kid tend to apples. And plant them. Then befriend forest animals. And then there's that hootenanny that I'm still not convinced has anything to do with his story. Again, the problem here too might be a case of comparison - the other tall tale seen in this package clearly overshadows this one.
-Blame It on the Samba also suffers with the context in which I'd seen it. It's pretty much more of the same that I'd already seen in Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. But in this one there isn't even much Donald comedy. It makes me wonder why he gets a very prominent spot on the cover of the VHS I watched. It is very lively and colorful animation, but I can't help but think it should've been in Saludos Amigos in the first place, if that were chronologically possible.
-Little Toot (as a short) is cute, but...again with the comparisons, I just have to judge it alongside little flying Pedro and Susie the Blue Coupe. It's a bit harder to sympathize with Little Toot himself since he is rather a brat. It is a great short to watch as far as animated water is concerned. The song itself is also fun.
-If you don't mind the weird relationship implications of Once Upon a Wintertime, it is a charming little piece that'd be great to bring out during the appropriate time of year.
-It probably does have a lot to do with my remembering fondly but not having seen this segment for a very long time, and being excited to see it again, but I get a kick out of seeing that little Bumble Boogie bee. I actually wish it went on longer.
-Pecos Bill does what The Legend of Johnny Appleseed didn't. I am partial to the use of animation's potential to show the fantastic. For my money I want to see a folk tale legend accomplish Chuck Norris-esque feats (and really, aren't tall tales just older "Chuck Norris jokes?"). And that is exactly what I get to see here. But I would still only call it a favorite in the context of this set. I wonder if I would've liked it more if Bill were played by Goofy?

Favorite character: The Bumble Bee! Just because.
Least favorite character: Spooky waves with creepy water hands!
Overall: It won't take long for me to get mixed up which bits were in Melody Time and which were in Make Mine Music or some other compilation. So I'd probably rate it at about the same overall level as MMM, which is to say, passably entertaining.

Amanda's bit
[To be posted....soon??] [Amendment... NOW!!]

Okkay so is there such a thing as being anti-inspired? I don't mean just the blah uninspired feeling, but the feeling that any inspiration you might have had has been crushed out of you forcefully? This seemingly never-ending march of package features is doing that to me.

I'm left wondering if this is how audiences felt back when these features were fresh. Were they spaced out enough that people appreciated them and I only feel this way because there are so many so close together? Perhaps they though the Disney Studio had made their two hits with Pinocchio and Snow White and were gradually going to fade out. Perhaps Disney was at this time more solidly making a name with live action features instead. They do usually seem to be less expensive and less time consuming. Perhaps I'm just too eager because I know about the classics that are coming up soon.

Favorite Character: Wid-uh-maker. (Yes, I know it's Widowmaker, but the drawl is part of the character!) He sure is a jealous fool.
Least necessary character: Male Snow Bunny. He seriously started the entire ice danger and didn't have any part in the rescuing.
Overall: As before, each of the individual pieces are good, but trying to string them together just feels disjointed to me.

Amanda's Extra: Phoning it in for this one, folks. Once Upon a Wintertime was the most memorable section of this feature partly because during my childhood every Disney holiday special seemed to include this short. I loved watching Scott Hamilton and Kristie Yamaguchi ice dance to Disney songs and this short was always one of the interludes.

Anyway, enjoy this snowflake.

Friday, March 2, 2012

D52 - Week 9 - Fun and Fancy Free

Kevin's prattling-on:

The thin thread that connects Bongo with Mickey and the Beanstalk is Jiminy Cricket. But it isn't about Jiminy telling us these stories, but rather leading us to places where the stories are told by someone else. Which is kind of weird when you think about it. But not really.
Supposedly, Bongo was at some point proposed as a feature-length film itself. Surprising, since I thought the half-film version was rather padded out as it was. Did we really need the scene where Bongo just sits there, in the flowerbed, doing nothing but looking around and taking in his surroundings for a while?
But I feel kind of bad for Bongo - not for what he went through in his short, but how he's practically been left in the dustbin of forgotten Disney animated characters. Searching through Google and eBay for any Bongo merchandise that's ever existed, I only find the video, the book, pins, and the odd figurine. Has there really never been a plush Bongo? Compare him to another Disney bear: Duffy the Bear, who currently is available at many, many Disney retailers, along with a plethora of clothes and accessories. You can even have your picture taken with a "Character Greeting" Duffy. But whereas Bongo was one of the stars of an early full-length animated (package) feature, Duffy started out as a thing-for-you-to-buy. And he still gets all the glory nowadays. Poor Bongo. Maybe somewhere out there right now he's riding the unicycle from Pixar's "Red's Dream."
The second half features a grown man who has invited a young girl and nobody else to attend a "party" of just him and his handful of puppet friends. Ye-e-ep. If you like that old vaudevillian style of comedy where every other line is either a set-up to a joke or the punchline to it, you'll like these segments. Me, I have to be in the right mood for it.
I'm sure I had seen the cartoon before but I don't remember the live-action bumpers at all. Perhaps I'd seen it in some truncated form by itself? Or I just blocked the Bergen antics from my memory. There are definitely bits worth remembering though, like Goofy's experience with gelatin. I'll choose to gloss over the narrative cheat of the three heroes adventuring into the castle simply because, eh, they felt like it and were curious.

Favorite character: Who else but Donald would be driven so mad as to make an impromptu sandwich out of plates and cutlery and chomp a big shattery bite out of it? [Note: Amanda thought I laughed too hard at that.]
Least-necessary character: The Bergen puppet we first see, which is to say his drawn-on hand. I realize the (intentional?) irony of having a famous ventriloquist who regularly uses intricately designed puppets first being shown using the simplest version of one, but it still was rather unnecessary.
Overall: While Mickey and the Beanstalk has its worthwhile moments (and this can be said of many non-package-feature shorts), Fun and Fancy Free is front-loaded with a cartoon starring a not-loveable-enough non-icon, making the entire presentation more fancy-free than fun.

-I don't know what the bear/doll thing was all about. Maybe it was supposed to be whimsical. But a doll or pair of dolls being perfectly lifelessly still one moment and in a different pose and different expressions on their faces after you look away and back again ... that's a horror movie scene right there.
-The name "Mickey & the Beanstalk" sure does seem to snub Donald and Goofy. I realize "Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the Beanstalk" is not quite as punchy, but still. At least it's not as bad as "Mickey's Christmas Carol," which only showed Mickey a bit at the beginning and end. I wouldn't be surprised if Willie the Giant had more screen time than Mickey in that one.
-I think of Mortimer Snerd as the Tow Mater of his era.

Amanda's part

I can't say I'm a fan of these package features or so they are apparently called. I like all of the individual shorts that get put together in them. Growing up in the 80s and 90s I have seen all of them. The little tidbits were always part of various Disney specials particularly around Christmas and each was extremely memorable on their own. The unfortunate part for me is that when they are all strung together, I get a case of ADD and at the end, I have trouble remembering ANY of them.

There was something about a bear. There was a baseball game... no wait, that was another package feature. OH Mickey and the Beanstalk! I honestly thought that was something that was released on its own. I know Jiminy Cricket was in it singing a friendly little song and I was jarred readily by the live action sequences.

Bah. I just am so so ready to watch some nice full length movies that aren't a stream of unrelated shorts.

I'm not sure I can even do Favorite, Least necessary and Overall because I just don't remember anything that happened.

Amanda's Extra
Mickey and his buds were forced up the beanstalk because they were all heavy sleepers, but once there, they found themselves in a good position to save the very pretty and very valuable harp. It's not as pretty, and not as valuable, but here's my version of the harp.