Monday, June 25, 2012

D52 - Week 25 - The Black Cauldron

Assistant Hamster/Gerbil Keeper Kevin---

Oh geez. Where do I start with this.
Well, it's a mess, isn't it? It's an amalgam of Lloyd Alexander's first two in the Chronicles of Prydain series, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron. I haven't read any past that, but there didn't seem to be anything extra that could've been from any of the other books, except maybe Creeper? The presence of dragons? That's about it. But since I had already seen The Black Cauldron before (and as recently as within six years ago) and thought it horribly made at the time, I thought maybe reading the books might help me appreciate it a tad bit more.
It turned out to have the opposite effect. It only highlighted everything the movie does wrong, story-wise, because all of those problems came about as a result of changing elements from the book. Now I'm not saying that a movie can't deviate from its source material. But the important thing is that if a movie changes something, it has to be changed for a reason and anything else affected by that change has to be adjusted accordingly. The Harry Potter films did a pretty darn good job at following this rule. For example, Dobby isn't present in the screen version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Maybe for time reasons, effects budget, whatever. But in the book Dobby has the important role of giving gillyweed to Harry for one of the Triwizard challenges. So instead Harry gets gillyweed from Neville Longbottom, which does make perfect sense since it has been established that Neville has an interest in herbology. It also helps give extra screen time to a character who would have a more important part later on.
In the book "The Black Cauldron," Gurgi is not the one who sacrifices himself into the cauldron. It is done by a "deleted" character named Ellidyr. You see, Ellidyr has his own story arc in which he starts off as the jerk with evil looming over him, and in the end he sacrifices himself to basically repent. Oh, also, he stays dead. If he were just brought back to life right afterward, that would kind of cheapen the meaning of the sacrifice itself, wouldn't it? But since Ellidyr isn't in the movie, someone else needs to willingly go into the cauldron so...Gurgi, then? The character we didn't establish having any particular reason to give up his life for Taran's group? And why does Taran care about Gurgi at all? If they instantaneously and forever bonded for that first few minutes they met, I must have missed it.
Now I should also say I didn't really love the books or anything, but at least they were more or less straightforward. Things tend to happen for a reason in the books. In the movie several ideas are just haphazardly thrown at the audience with no regard for purpose or pacing. When we first meet Fflewddur Fflam, we see his harp's strings as he stretches the truth in introducing himself, but whereas this is a running gag (it was easier to make people laugh back then) throughout the novels, I don't remember it coming up again at any point after his first scene. So why not cut out the harp string gag altogether? Also, why was Fflewddur himself in the movie at all? In the book he helps to build Taran's fighting army (also, in the book the characters actually engage in direct combat, imagine that!) and is a comic relief type (he's slightly funnier in the books, though that's not really saying much), but what does he actually do in the movie? Does he join Taran, Eilonwy and Gurgi just for the sake of that one pants-ripping bit? Also Doli - who in the books aids with his invisibility power and yes, actually physically fights the opposing armies - here, just...says a few things, goes away, then shows up at the very end as if to say, "Ha! I didn't have to do anything!"
And then there's Eilonwy, who was only revealed at the end of The Book of Three to be a princess, but as a last-minute joke of sorts (paraphrasedly, "Oh yeah, she's a princess. You didn't know that?"), to let Taran know that the person he'd been treating as just some girl all this time was an important one. But the film misses the point by letting her introduce herself as a princess. So what's the point of that if not for the pay-off at the end? Why then does she need to be a princess at all? I could even go on longer about all of these little gripes (that darn forced kiss at the end! Aaagh!) but my overall point is, again, it's not that you shouldn't change details when making a movie based on a book, or an anything based on something else; you just have to be mindful of why those details were there in the first place. Really, I think Disney's The Black Cauldron would've been better if they had gone the Roger Rabbit or Rescuers route and started from scratch altogether, fitting in selected themes and characters as they went along, instead of mashing two books together like Play-Doh and ungracefully picking and jabbing at it to create an ugly kindergarten-quality sculpture.
I haven't mentioned the animation or music because...I don't have much to say about either for this one. I do wonder what it would've been like in an alternate universe where The Black Cauldron has songs with lyrics. I can't imagine it would be much of an improvement, though.

Favorite Character: NOT APPLICABLE
Least necessary character: Hard to pick, but I'll say Fflewddur Fflam, which is a shame, because I liked him well enough in the books and he has a funny name.
Overall: I don't care for this one.

Amanda of Caer Amanda:

OH MY GOD. WHY why why why did I make myself watch this movie again?  Kevin may have read the books, but I'm generally not into that genre and didn't feel the need to spend any time investing myself for a movie that I hated from the start.

In my world, movies are generally more enjoyable when they have a theme. I'll even pluck a loose theme from some of my least favorite Disney movies to show that there is in fact redemption.
Alice in Wonderland: What you wish for isn't necessarily what you'll enjoy.
Peter Pan: Growing up can be an adventure too.
The Rescuers: Big or small, with determination you can make a difference in your own life and the lives of others.

You see what I mean?  Now near the beginning, it was introduced that Taran dreamed of being a warrior in armor at the front of a battlefield.  While he did go on an ... adventure, I guess?... the dream is never mentioned again!  Hen Wen can see the future or some such thing, and perhaps there could have been a theme wedged in there such that seeing the future can't change your destiny or that one should make one's own future, but no, that was skipped right over as well.

And if you can't have a theme, then at least have a story!
Snow White: Jealous Queen aims to destroy pretty girl who is saved by her beauty and the many friends she makes.
Cinderella: Jealous Family members treat a girl poorly until her constant faith and hope bring her magic which she uses to meet a prince and live happily ever after.
Winnie the Pooh: A stuffed bear is imagined to have a personality and has short adventures including surviving a flash flood, outsmarting a swarm of bees, and giving a donkey a birthday present.

What happens in The Black Cauldron? I honestly have no idea at all.  A pig-keeper tries to take a pig to a cottage on the outskirts of a forest, but gets distracted by dragons.  He meets a weird monkey dog.  He walks to a castle and meets a princess and a minstrel.  They leave the castle.  There are some fairies, I guess?  They meet these three witches who like to make bargains. The witches turn the minstrel into a frog.  They find the cauldron. The monkey dog jumps in and presumably dies.  He's not dead! The pig-keeper kisses the princess. Uh... the end, I guess?

Does random things happening constitute a story? NO, I don't think so.  Maybe the books had a cohesive thread somewhere along the line, but the movie strongly reminds me of a very young child telling me ad invented story but without any of the charm.  Yes, they have plenty of ideas and are very creative, but none of the ideas mesh together, every thought that is begun seems to have no end to it and is never addressed again, and then a tag line is stuck at the end such as "they got married, the end!"  But at least when a 5 year old tells you a story, it's endearing to see their young mind develop the creativity even if it never goes anywhere.  I don't want to watch a movie made by professionals and have the same experience. 

So maybe an epic adventure is enough to keep your attention.  That's great, but epic adventures need to be epic.  They are grand and long and have many hardships to overcome (falling into a pit of fairies that immediately float you out is NOT a hardship).  They are on a large scale covering whole countrysides or even whole continents.  Perhaps the characters in The Black Cauldren DID have to take a long journey, but if so then that point was not driven at all.  Every time a new scene started it's as if they looked over the next hill and there was the castle.  A 2 minute walks from there is the witches' house, and the only reason they never made it to the pig cottage is because they missed the bus.

Favorite Character: UGHHHHHHH
Least Favorite Character: ALL of them! I'm not even joking.  I don't see any redeeming qualities to any character in this film.  It's a shame too because all while watching the film, I was able to imagine a very slight change to give the character a purpose and therefore a reason to be part of the story. 

Overall: If someday someone reimagined the entire story (and not even the book, but just the Disney movie version) I could see there actually being a decent movie coming out of this.  There are a thousand little changes involving, take away this easy out, give this character this job, rearrange the order of certain sequences, nix these characters, etc., then I would watch it again. As it stands, No no no... unless I need a nice long rant to make me feel better about something else in life.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

D52 - Week 24 - The Fox and the Hound

Kevin's part---

So there's this fox, right? His name is Todd. He's named Todd by the woman who finds him after his father/mother(both?)? is killed because he reminds her of a toddler. What do you suppose his parents called him before that? In any case he decides to go by that name from now on anyway. Todd meets a basset hound? bloodhound? who's named Copper because...well it doesn't matter why he's called that. They become fast friends as pup and kit. But then a year...I presume? Maybe two...well some substantial amount of time passes, and the two learn that they're destined to be enemies by Copper's very occupation, despite their friendship. And then, despite this sounding like a fascinating set-up for a movie, um...well not much happens. There's a climax involving a bear, which is good for making jokes that reference any other Disney bear. Um. Todd meets a lady fox. Who...doesn't do anything else in the film aside from making Todd feel better, though you would think the ultimate resolution with Copper would do this just as fine. And if Todd gets to fall in love, why doesn't Copper? You would think his owner Amos would've, even in the first place, wanted to breed his own hunting dog puppies. And why did Amos get so upset over what happened to Chief even though the dog was already quite old and he probably raised Copper because he expected something would soon enough happen to Chief and he knew he'd have to be replaced anyway? And why did Copper get mad at Todd for what happened to Chief on the railroad tracks if all he was doing was running away for his own life? Did Copper think Todd lured Chief onto the tracks intentionally?
Oh, and I should also mention the short included with this movie. You know, the one about the two birds who try in vain to eat on particular bug? Kind of interesting how this unrelated short story was interwoven into the main movie itself. The characters in it even talk with the main movie's character! That's a novel idea there.
Favorite character: The Porcupine, for the simple reason that he is voiced by John Fiedler (you know, Piglet). Porcupine should've had his own starring role in some form.
Least necessary character:  Vixey tries her best to make you think about foxes making the beast with two bushy tails.
Overall: I get a lot of Bambi vibes from the whole feature, including the nice-enough-but-not-terribly sticky songs, except I remember Bambi being more engaging to at least look at.
Another thing about names: What do you suppose Big Mama's name was, before she was big and (presumably) a mama?

Amanda's part----
As I understand it, there's a book upon which this movie is based or inspired.  I want to read that book because it seems like it fits firmly in the book was better than the movie category.

It's not to say this is a bad movie, just that I feel like every time a new scene begins, I feel as if I've missed two or three other scenes in between.  Let's say for example that we saw Todd and Copper meet and they had some fun together.  That's fine, but I'm not sure that lifelong friendships come from one playdate.  Another scene later Copper is tied up and not allowed to play.  Another scene later, he's off on the hunting trip.  After three scenes and only one instance of hide and seek and a dip in the pond, I'm just not convinced that this is a deep and lasting friendship.  It seems to me more like a friendly acquaintenceship that would have been long over by the time Copper got back from the hunting trip.  In people years, that's like having a kindergarten best friend that you didn't see again until after they got back from college and had no contact whatsoever in between!  I just don't buy it.

So then Copper's owner hunts foxes among other things.  I can get behind that, but if that's the case, why would Widow tweed have let Todd go?  Sure she dropped him off at the animal sanctuary, but it's not like it was an enclosed animal sanctuary.  That flimsy fence makes it seem like they could come and go as they pleased.  What is there to make her think Todd would stay right there and not venture out past the fences since he seemed to like to go past the fences when he lived at her house anyway?

And in the end, are the Widow and Amos Slade friends? Lovers? Is she a nurse?  They were at each others throats last I saw and he was trying to hunt down her pet.  I just don't see where the camaraderie would have developed during that time.

Favorite Character: Dinky. He's the little yellow bird.  Not much of a reason, but I like to imagine that in a remake of this film he'd be voiced by one of the Jersey Shore cast.
Least Favorite Character: Vixy.  What was the point of her? Was a love story at all necessary in this film?  Maybe in the book she had more to do, but in the movie she was an utterly unnecessary vapid female.
Overall: It's cute, and I guess there's a message that you should stand by your friends and don't be racist or something, but I just feel that the end result was just so rushed and pieced together.  It's a real shame because if a little more time was spent on internal character development there could have been a very touching story about loyalty here.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

D52 - Week 23 - The Rescuers

Kevin's points---

As you might have guessed, the movie The Rescuers has very little to do with the book. They both feature mice named Bernard and Bianca rescuing a human, but that's really about it. Oh, and the Rescue Aid Society has a picture of a mouse helping a lion in both of the versions. That's the most specific thing they have in common, I reckon. The book focuses mainly on Bernard, Bianca and Nils (yeah, there's a Nils) and their tribulations in rescuing an imprisoned poet we know next to nothing about. I'm not sure whether it's an improvement that we know more about Penny's predicament. Her case is just a weird one. So, Madame Medusa's plan was to kidnap an orphan so that the girl could retrieve a diamond from a tiny child-sized hole in the ground? Do I have that right? How did she know the diamond was there in the first place? Is it because there was a legend about it? So how did she know exactly where it could be found? And such that no one else would've already found it? You would think the movie could spend a little more time explaining some of these things and less time playing gently boring music while we watch background art and flying sequences.
It's a cute idea, but it seems like one could improve upon it. The fact that the book, this movie and its sequel all have different storylines shows that it lends itself well to episodic adventures. And they're all fairly short, except where padded out. Perhaps it would work best as a half-hour animated series. But Bernard and Bianca as they are, well, they could stand to be replaced with other mice characters. More colorful ones. They could even be helped out with two other friends - say, Chip and Dale, two other mouse-sized Disney favorites could join their team! And keep Evinirude. But he'll be a regular character, not limited to just pushing around a boat. So then I guess his motor-referencing name would have to be changed. I know, make him a regular fly. And his wordplay name will be...Zipper! Ha! He'll still speak in buzzes and wear an adorable little sweater, naturally.
Oh, and you know what I'm a sucker for? Seeing tiny anthropomorphic characters use everyday household regular-size-human things for alternative purposes. Imagine if the members of the new Rescue Aid Society - let's call them the Rangers - instead of using a bird all the time, had their own plane, constructed entirely out of found bits and bobs discarded by people! It'd make for some wickedly creative Happy Meal toy possibilities, too!
And the theme song would be way more catchy than anything in this movie. EASILY.
I think I would enjoy this hypothetical show much more than either the book or the movies.

Sometimes, some crimes go slipping through the cracks.

Favorite character: I'm also a sucker for Eva Gabor's accent coming out of a cartoon character.
Least necessary character: Is Snoops supposed to be funny?
Overall: An interesting overall idea that, apparently, isn't terribly suited to feature-length format.

-Um, do the humans in the story notice that or question why that cat wears glasses?
-Do you suppose Bob Newhart was chosen to match the characteristics of Bernard, or was Bernard written to act Bob Newharty?

Amanda's bit
Wow. Why must Kevin make it so hard for me to comment further on any movie when he hits the nail on the head like that? 

Anyway, Remember back in Robin Hood where the poor speeched baby bunny was my least favorite character.  She's grown up and become human in this one and it's good lord almighty annoying.  I know there are those that will disagree with me, but this is how I feel: Speech Impediments are NOT CUTE. There. I said it.

That being said, Foreign accents ARE cute. Bianca as played by Eva Gabor is just adorable.  She's spunky and a little bit naive and her teeny tiny mouse outfits are squee. Very squee indeed.  As for Bernard, I like him.  He's got his own fears to overcome and that's pretty endearing.

The villians in this movie are just plain confusing.  Admittedly, I like Medusa.  She's overflowing with personality; the fact that her personality has little to move along the plot or give legitimacy to her drive hardly bothers me at all!  Snoops on the other hand has no place in this movie.  He does nothing to advance the plot, his interactions with the heroes are bland and could much more easily have been covered by Medusa and her pet crocs, and his attempts at sidekickery are mild and illtimed.

Something this movie seems to address is the difference between adults and children and their ability to talk to animals.  While Medusa's crocodiles clearly understand her perfectly well, they seem unable to communicate with her or in fact to any other animals or children in the movie. On the other hand, Penny is able to talk to Rufus the cat and the rescuers in plain English and indeed, the rescuers can communicate with nearly every other animal in that universe (the mole, the cat, the owl, the turtle) and yet seem to be unable to talk to the crocodiles.  I'll stop my comments here as there will be more to talk about in a couple months when (spoiler) the Sequel? comes out.

Favorite Character: Luke. First, he's played by Pat Buttram which is awesome.  Second he's a moonshiner which is illegal and yet hilariously redneckily awesome. Third, he somehow in a movie aimed at children gets away with forcing alcohol on an unsuspecting mouse and dragonfly.  How did this get all the way through the cutting process? Hilarious.
Least favorite Character: Teddy.  For never speaking and never moving in his own right, he sure is a needy whiney and finicky fellow.
Overall: Honestly, this movie always puts me to sleep before any of the good stuff starts happening!  The title sequence is like taking a walk through a dimly lit unknown artist gallery.  The flight from New York to the Bayou is equally inducing of a drowsy nature.  By the time the fun crazy stuff starts happening, I'm asleep on the couch.  Do yourself a favor and skip the first 3 scenes at least and maybe you'll make it to the end.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Surprise Harvesting!

Having recently moved into this house, a certain amount of time every week is spent trying to get the overgrown and underloved garden into shape.  Amanda has been doing her best to pay attention to where the sunlight falls, when the mystery plants bloom and where the rainwater tends to pool or drain.

Today she made a discovery!  What was originally thought to be daffodils already out of bloom had some curly bulbs stalks sticking out of the center.
Turns out those grassy stalks were garlic bulbs!  Those curly things are the scapes and were harvested today.  She'll be stirfrying them for dinner with some carrots and celery tonight and easily the most excited she's ever been about the mystery plants (even more excited than when the peony bush bloomed).

Friday, June 1, 2012

D52 - Week 22 - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Kevin's part...

There are so many comparisons I could make to explain why I like the original character Winnie the Pooh - as read in the books or seen in most of these adventures - so much better than the later incarnations. It pretty much has to do with the writing and the "voice" (not literally who provides his vocalization - though I do think Jim Cummings does a damn fine replacement) of the character. Let's pick, say, The Muppets. Kermit nowadays still looks about the same, and he has the same personality in spirit, but...well, when there's a person behind his words, it's not quite the same Kermit. Jim Henson could be Kermit the Frog. Anyone else can only do an impersonation.
I feel the same way about Winnie the Pooh. Milne had a great unique way with words that was all the more difficult to copy for how natural it seemed to him. The way the characters would use his own invented phrases as if they were everyday idioms that everyone already knows. I particularly like the phrase "[feeling] just a little eleven o'clockish." The appeal of Pooh and his friends - to me anymore - is not so much about what they do or how they do it as much as how they talk about what they are doing.
So I was pleased that, if anything, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh directly quotes from its source material. To not do so would've been missing the point so badly! I can't necessarily say the same for the subsequent adventures of Winnie the Pooh, such as The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Pooh & Friends, the direct-to-video titles, that weird super sleuths series featuring the new character Darby (what's her back story anyway? Is she...Christopher Robin's friend? Who...just lets her play with all of his stuffed animals sometimes?). Such a shame that Pooh would be relegated to the "Mickey Mouse" role of being mainly a boring happy Mascot type, his main core of interestingness removed and replaced  with bland everyman-character stuffing. Until, maybe, his next feature film? Well, I'll have to get back to that on the second-to-last week of the year, won't I?
As for the "other stuff" of TMAoWtP, it is hard not to get flashbacks from previous package films since, well, this is one. It's just that now we get a series of short features all featuring the same characters and setting. As much as I like the characters - as originally written - I'm not sure if they appeal holds well in large batches. I don't think I would even care to read all of the books in one go. I enjoy the first two of the three chunks quite a bit but start to get a bit restless around the "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too" mark. Maybe most kids fare better than me. I think I'd just suggest breaking up the viewings, watching them in their original lengths on different days. Reading only a chapter or so for bedtime stories seems to work as well.
My favorite thing about the animation is, also, with Pooh himself. It's the way he moves as if an invisible hand were "making him walk" from place to place. He's a stuffed bear who moves the way stuffed bears "actually" move. There's a bit of it in some of the other characters...well, not Rabbit or Owl. Or Gopher. Hmm, wonder why they're not as "plushy." Is...Gopher not one of Christopher Robin's toys, but an actual gopher? No no no, I can't go into how Christopher Robin's World actually works without going in way too deeply over my own head. There are just too many questions about it!
How about the music? Oh, Sherman Brothers, it's hard not to like your work. Hold the phone. *checks, double-checks* Is this really the last of the D52 features in which we're treated to their music? Disappointing! Granted we'll get Alan Menken soon enough, but...apples and oranges, though.

Favorite character: I want to sleep with Pooh bear.
Least necessary character: I think I actually prefer the Craig Ferguson Owl.
Link to video of an episode of Pinky & the Brain, my favorite WtP parody to date: The Megalomaniacal Adventures of Brainie the Poo

Amanda's part
Oh does this bring back everyone's childhood or what?  You can't watch a Winnie the Pooh short without just feeling good and nostalgic about childhood and imagination and the good old days when you made your toys talk instead of a little sound card inside their stomachs.  

I find I can't talk about the movie if you can call it that without considering the books at the same time.  I must admit that Disney's version is satisfying to me when compared with the books.  There's a sense of nonsense about the animated version that I think was well carried from Milne's stories.  Things that are just silly to an adult would of course make perfect sense to a child and would be easily acted out by his stuffed friends.  Of course, I'm not entirely convinced that Owl and Rabbit are stuffed toys despite seeing them in the room at the beginning and end of the group of shorts.  I always assumed that they were actual animals in Christopher Robin's back yard which could be why they seem like the least agreeable characters prefering to do things their own way rather than Christopher Robin's way.  

Aside from this, I can't find myself wanting to say anything that Kevin hasn't already said particularly when it comes to the package featureness of this movie.  I greatly prefer watching the shorter versions as they were originally made.

Favorite Characters: The Heffalumps and Woozles.  This is what the Pink Elephants of Dumbo should have been like.  Insane and wild, but much less disorienting and disturbing. 
Least necessary character: Does Gopher even belong in this story?  He shows up in just one short that I noticed and he's of no help, so why even bother.

Overall: If you have a very strong  sense of concentration, you can watch this as a whole movie, but I really think it's most enjoyable in the smaller original parts.  Don't even bother with Super Sleuths (double u tee eff what is that about?)