Sunday, July 29, 2012

D52 - Week 30 - Beauty & the Beast

Kevin, the Enchanted Sketchpad
The first thing for me to get out of the way is, Beauty & the Beast is a masterfully created film, and is a likely candidate for Best D52 Movie Overall. Oh, I'm sure you can find a flaw or two. What movie has none at all? But they would be the kind of flaws on the scale of finding a few grains of rice overcooked in your lobster risotto with truffled corn cream, crispy leek and puree of fine herbs*. It doesn't ruin the overall dish, and you're only really noticing it because of how much you're savoring the whole thing, and you're savoring it because it's worth savoring. If I may continue the food analogy, The Rescuers Down Under was a Snickers bar. Also quite enjoyable but not worth tweeting a picture to brag to your friends about. Or something.
When B&tB first came out I was a kid, and as such didn't have a very refined palate. So I would opt for junk food over fancy cooked meals and, similarly, I didn't appreciate this movie as much as I should have. I was more into...let's see, what came out the same year...ooh, Darkwing Duck! Yeah, I watched the heck out of that. But yet didn't pay much attention to Beauty & the Beast. Well, Snickers does satisfy.
And Beauty & the Beast is very, how do I put it, classical indeed. It's what I would think of as fairly highbrow theater, or at least high enough brow without being inaccessible to children. The gags somehow remind of the type of gags you might see in a live Broadway show. You certainly won't find any pop culture references (see: the movie after this) or fart jokes (see: the movie after that). Maybe that's why I didn't cotton to as a little one. It never gets too too silly. By which I mean, silly enough to have Beast making a mess of his mane with his food but not as silly as a mallard dressing up as a superhero and fighting villainous duck-billed anthropomorphic plants and electrocuting or liquidous dogs. And while I still enjoy very-silly, I think I appreciate not-too-silly now too.
I didn't see this film when it first came out, but I did see its 3-D rerelease earlier this year. And it only recently hit me that that was the only time I've seen any D52 movie in a theater. Would any of them be more appreciated with full surround sound and a screen that can fit several mes? I...actually thought the art quality kind of suffered with the theatrical experience. There's something about seeing slightly off drawn faces that makes that even more off. Or maybe instead, or compounding that, it was retrofitting the characters and settings and things into three dimensions. Amanda and I only paid for the tickets because we wanted to see Beauty & the Beast in a theater, not because we wanted to see it in 3-D. I've emphasized this point plenty before, and it's too bad that by paying for the 3-D tickets at all we're surely not making the point well to the distributors themselves. Ah well. Maybe it'll look better in Finding Nemo?
It was quite nice to hear the soundtrack through proper high-end sound equipment. This also may be nitpicking but the only thing I don't like is when the use of separate channels makes you realize you're watching a movie with strategically placed speakers, such as when you hear a knock on the door that comes from a particular corner of the room. But for the music...oh, man, the music. Maybe it's because I'm not what one would call musically gifted, but it amazes me when not one but two people working together can write and compose a set of songs that are not only consistently catchy, interesting, and can stand the test of time, but also each have a unique storytelling purpose and weave into the main story in the most seamless possible way. Really, think about how hard it must be to write a musical (well)! Think about all of the rock or pop or whatever musicians who go against the odds to create one or two or a few songs that are catchy and creative and memorable, and how must work and thought goes into that, AND THEN imagine how amazing it is to use that much creative energy to make an album's worth of music, all in one limited time frame, that each sequentially move along the characters in a story created by someone else. And to make each of those songs beloved in their own right....
Basically what I'm saying is it's top-of-the-line stuff.
But how about the story? If I may go back to my Little Shop of Horrors comparison. In both cases the story itself is kind of ... dumb. As tends to be the case when magical curses or alien plants are involved. I still don't get exactly what Audrey and Seymour actually have in common, and the case for Belle's possible stockholm syndrome is quite astute, and why didn't Seymour consider using stray animals to feed the plant before going straight to humans and why did everyone else in the castle have to pay for the way Adam treated the woman anyway?
So it doesn't quite mesh with, like, reality, but that may be the beauty of it. The very idea of taking an idea that sounds on paper like it should be stupid, but making it actually surprisingly watchable, is rather impressive. Not unlike using the right creative team to make My Little Pony much more entertaining than it should be!
So with all of this obvious admiration, is there anything about this week's feature that I don't like? Weeeelll, there is that added-in-later "Being Human" sequence. There isn't anything wrong with the song itself, but what bugs me is its placement. Here we the viewing audience are, getting to the climax, we're waiting to see what's going to happen with Belle and Beast's relationship, and Gaston and his mob are getting ready to strike, and everything's up in the air aaand - we get a light-hearted song that doesn't really have anything to do with what's going on. It kills the tension! Also, is it canonically official that Beast has trouble reading? Because before the Being Human scene "existed," my interpretation had always been that Adam/Beast enjoyed reading, and that's why he had that huge library and why he wanted to share it with Belle. Amanda disagrees by saying that it just happens to be in the castle because it was handed down through the royal line and yes, I'm sure that he hasn't personally read every single one of those books, but it does make a big difference on the "real" meaning behind that scene. I had always took it as a reveal that Belle and Adam shared a love of books, and a common interest is pretty darn significant as far as a building relationship is concerned. And it means even more when you consider Gaston dismissing a book because it doesn't have any pictures. You get to make a clear assessment: Belle loves books. Gaston doesn't care for books. Beast also loves books. Therefore Beast is more "right" for Belle. But the added scene shows that Beast doesn't. That changes the intention altogether. Now it means he was just showing her the library as a way of saying, "I know you like books, so here's a bunch that I happen to have because of my wealthy lineage." Where's the love in that? It doesn't even seem generous, if he didn't intend on using them anyway. I don't care for Belle's teaching Beast to read as a thing for their relationship, because who's to say that Gaston wouldn't let down his tough front and read with her after getting to know her long enough too?

 -I find it kind of jarring when Belle actually calls the beast "Beast!" during the climactic finale. Does this mean she was calling him "Beast" during any of their off-camera time together? Come to think of it, does she ever call him by that name in any of the midquels like Belle's Enchanted World or Magical Christmas or whatever? You would think her finding an appropriate way to address him would fall somewhere in the whole "falling in love" process.
-I like to imagine that, after the curse was lifted, the occupants of the castle continue to do things as their respective object forms out of pure habit. Mrs. Potts absentmindedly tries to pour tea out of the middle of her face, Lumiere has to bother with actually lighting matches, and so forth.
-I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I really do hope that the opening-soon Be Our Guest restaurant in Walt Disney World's new Fantasyland has on the menu an item plainly called "The Gray Stuff." At the very least, the waiters should offer something that happens to be gray and recommend that you try it on account of its deliciousness.
-Gaston, you eat five dozen eggs and use antlers in all of your decorating. Are you really one to judge another's mental health?

Favorite character: The Beast has more emotional complexity and a better performance of them than all of the wild things from the Where the Wild Things Are movie combined.
Least necessary character: You would think the footstool dog would get the chance to do something at some point. Maybe he was practice for the rug in Aladdin.
Overall: With stellar animation, art, acting, direction, music and just about everything, it's hard to find a minute in Beauty & the Beast that isn't worth watching.

*See Food Porn Daily (SFW)

Amanda, the Enchanted [???]
Hoo boy.  Now we're talkin'! We're talking a big production where all the brightest and best young artists are all work on the same film and each of them is contributing absolutely everything that they have into each of their prospective specialties. 

For starters, whoa.  The animators sure cut their teeth good and hard on Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, and Oliver and Company.  Now that they have grown up teeth there didn't seem to be anything that was too big for them to chew! The subtlety in facial expressions, the weight of body mass, the showmanship of the big crowds all thrill me and yet also do not distract me from the important bits.

As for the music, well, I love me some big ol' off Broadway productions that happen to be accessible to everyone in America and then some for a meager ticket price and actually use a huge cast of Broadway actors.  Now, I'm not saying Broadway actors are "better" than Hollywood actors because many choose to do both or transition from one to the other, I'm just saying that when this film was made, it was clear from the get-go that it was more than any previous Disney musical had been before.  While in many of the Golden Age movies, the music was at best, a way to change the tone of the movie, and at least, a way to pad out the running time with amusing song and dance routines for characters that otherwise aren't strictly necessary to the plot.

As for the story?  Yeah, Kevin's right, it's not necessarily the most believable or even belief suspending thing I've ever seen, but the pacing is so good and it's such a simple basic "Don't judge a book by its cover" story that it doesn't really need to be a piece of classic literature.  The joy here is the characters and seeing how they fit into their world and seeing how they react to each other.  Belle is so very different from Beast and yet they work together as a couple.  Belle is ALSO so different from Gaston, and yet they clash so distinctly.  Even some of the most minor characters are as memorable as the leads.  While she was never shown as a human after the transformation scene, I can picture her perfectly.  While Marie doesn't look anything like the feather duster she turned into and she has hardly any screen time all and yet after the transformation, there's no question of her identity even without the painfully obvious roles of servitude that each of the castle's objects played.

As for nit-picking? Yeah, I can do it with the best of them.  I was highly annoyed with the Spielberg-ing that was done to this film when it was re-released.  I know not everyone agrees, but I prefer to accept the idea that art, regardless of its form, represents an era.  It may become a classic for all time, but it still came into being during a certain time.  That perhaps time restraints and lack of funds might have stunted what it could have been, but that's all part of the artistry!  Make do with what you have and be proud of what you end up with.  While I don't hate the added "Human Again" sequence and I recognize its use in the Broadway version of the show, it really doesn't belong in this movie.  Making the extra scene a whole decade later caused some very clear jarring visual differences during the abrupt transitions.  While the animators and voice cast all came back for this encore performance, you can't bottle lightning.  I hate to get caught up in analogies, but while ecofriendly halogens may be the norm today, you can't force them to fit into out of date sockets and expect the same ambiance.  I suggest that such effort should have been put into making a better sequel or perhaps a christmas mid-quel that made a little more sense and had better music and animation in general.  But I suppose that's for some other year? (Don't hold your breath. Not a promise.)

Favorite Character: LeFou.  In my mind, LeFou is madly in love with Gaston.  He showers Big G with compliments, he tags along everywhere whether he's wanted or not, and he obeys every order he's given.  Poor guy went after a straight man and got permanently assigned to the Friend Zone.
Least Necessary Characters: The Bimbettes.  I'm no feminist (frankly I hover on the line between anti- and unconcerned) but even they gross me right out.  Come on, ladies.  If one of you ever got him, what would the other two do?  Blood is thicker. Bam.
Overall:  Need you ask?  Watch it.  Watch the original version and appreciate it.  Watch the re-release and appreciate how far technology has come in a decade.  But you needn't bother with Belle's magical world or Belle's Enchanted Christmas.

[Ask Amanda about her line-for-line performance of the entire movie. -KM]
Oh geez, fine.  Because this is so beloved a movie and came out at a time that fit perfectly into my adolescent life, I have rewatched it enough times to be able to recite it word for word and lyric by lyric.  Kevin challenged me and I accepted.  I assumed he would get annoyed quickly and tell me to shut up.  I was counting on it!  And then he decided to apply Film and Theater styles on me.
"Now the Beast has a Mexican accent," he says.
"Now you also narrate all the animals' thoughts," he says.
"Now Belle is played by Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan."

Let me just say.... Success. Hilarity. Equal mix of pride and shame.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

D52 - Week 29 - The Rescuers Down Under

Amanda's Bit-on-the-barbie

The Rescuers Down Under makes a name for itself as the first "sequel" Disney Full length feature.  Does it hold up?

First of all, I'm not sure that the Rescuers deserve title billing.  It's established early on that they are coming to the rescue, but they never even come into contact with the kidnapped boy Cody until the third act!  Frankly, I think Cody could have easily enlisted the help of any and all of his animal friends (because who is to say he doesn't have mice as friends in the outback to begin with?) and we could have had basically the exact same movie without either Bianca or Bernard.

That being said, I find this to be an enjoyable movie for a lot of reasons.  The score is great.  In fact, it's so good that it is now being used as temp music for teaser trailers when productions don't yet have the final music finished.  It has the right amount of hope and adventure and heart that it can be placed over nearly anything and still feel pretty good.  The animation is polished and the framing is exciting.  The casting is (well the two leads are obvious and happily both agreed to come back) excellent for the newly introduced characters and in particular John Candy. The backgrounds are wide and sweeping, and computerized background animation is used at very appropriate times and with a certain amount of finesse despite the still very new technology.  The story is fairly straight-forward, easy to follow, and full of entertaining business that still serves the plot.

Like I said earlier, I see no reason why Bernard and Bianca were specifically needed for this film except to lend utterly unnecessary credibility.  I felt the villain, Percival C. McLeach, could have been a little bit smarter because he and his Goanna, Joanna, appeared to make some completely idiotic choices.  For example, he's trying not to get caught by the rangers while he goes out every day poaching critters, and yet the vehicle he drives (The Bushwhacker) is the size of an 18-wheeler, rattles like building being demolished, and has a giant megaphone on top such that he can be heard from the clifftops of the outback. Also, what's up with Jake's approval at the end?  He was trying to horn in the whole movie and now he's just giving the thumbs up? Whut?

Now, if you read back a ways and saw my nostalgic comments on The Rescuers, you may remember that I was confused about the cognition of animals especially regarding interactions with children.  I notice that Cody can freely speak to and understand Bernard, Bianca, and Jake, but he can only speak to Marahute and at best can guess at her thoughts based on body language.  Joanna the Goanna occasionally makes Frank Welker's signature almost human speech noises and yet never speaks directly.  I thought perhaps there was a size limit to the animals ability to communicate, but in this movie Cody can clearly speak to the Faloo the Kangaroo, but he can't seem to communicate with Joanna the Goanna despite the fact that she is a smaller animal.  So where's the limit?  It can't be about species because Frank is a reptile and can speak.  It can't be about size because the tiny Kookabura cannot (presumably) speak (and yet Wilbur the Albatross can).  Bah.  I just want a suitable answer!!!

Favorite Character:  As annoying as Frank the Fringed Lizard is, he still gives some pretty entertaining stupidity.  I can't hate him for it.
Least Necessary Character: The Flamingcranes.. I don't know what kind of birds these pink things were supposed to be, but they didn't help out poor ole' Wilbur and they were snobs about it too.

Non-Rudd Kevin
It's kind of hard to believe that The Rescuers Down Under was released between The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast. It's not that it's worse than them, exactly, but that it's so different thematically and tonally. No one even sings in it! unless you count Wilbur singing along to his radio or McLeach's rendition of "Home on the Range." Does that count as his villain song? It is scary in the sense that it makes you realize you're getting closer to watching the movie "Home on the Range."
So it may be easier to dismiss a film by comparing it to what the studio brought us before and after, even though those really shouldn't be compared to it in the first place, but yes I'm defending "Cars 2."
I do think this is one of those rare cases where the sequel does improve on the original. It looks better, it sounds better, it's paced better, it's funnier, the main characters are more likeable and the story makes more sense. And it helps even more that this is one of those cases where the very idea of a sequel existing is perfectly understandable. Isn't it weird that, even amidst all of those head-scratchingly unnecessary Disney sequels like Lady and the Tramp II and 102 Dalmatians and the like, there was never even a low-budget direct-to-video The Rescuers 3? No, it should be something non-numerical, like The Rescuers Go East or The Rescuers: Norway Out! (in which they rescue a Norwegian poet) or The Rescuers Get Frenched! or heck, I'd even take The Rescuers Save Christmas...over Santa Buddies, anyway. And it's not even that I completely love The Rescuers themselves, but I do like them more than I like Lady and Tramp and the Dalmatians. I could just be anticaninic.
Now I want to talk about cartoon violence. This cartoon has its fair share of slapstick, but some of it is misguided. Mainly I mean the scene with Wilbur getting unfortunate "medical treatment." First of all, Wilbur's a friendly fun-lovin' guy. He's glad to help, even if a bit apprehensive about flying in the middle of winter, but what non-arctic bird wouldn't be? So I don't really want to see him in pain. I can laugh at Joanna getting hit in the head on a cliff edge and such because she supports the bad guy and "deserves it." A good guy can get away with getting the brunt of anvils and mallets and whatever, but he has to pull it off the right way (being gleefully clumsy helps). There's a bit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" where Roger sings the praises of Goofy's acting abilities and perfect comedic timing, and...I seriously think he has a good point. Not just anyone can do what Goofy does!
In trying to get back on track, my beef with Wilbur's scene is that it isn't cartoony enough. The cane! In his back! Gahh-h-h! And then...huge syringes!...fired out of a shotgun?! Is this one of those "SAW" movies? He's genuinely terrified, isn't he?! That's horrible! It's not funny!
Maybe it's just me. And it's a shame, because I like John Candy as Wilbur. Nowadays every CGI animated feature and its mother has the bonus feature with the creators revealing that the voice actors did a lot of ad-libbing, even though that's so often the case now that it shouldn't count as a did-you-know-tidbit anymore. But was that done much before the 80s? Is this the genesis of that? I am glad that they opted to cast him as Orville's brother, as opposed to just recasting the same role with a different voice. It's less jarring and does make enough sense that they would share duties and look alike and have comparable personalities. Too bad you can't pull that trick with other sequels. "What, you've never met Slinky Dog's brother, Springy Dog? He's always existed, of course."

Favorite character: I do quite like Wilbur, but I'm going to pick *s*h*l* koala Krebbs. Not enough non-villain Disney characters act that way.
Least necessary character: When I first see Jake's fly friend Sparky I expect that he'll be joining the adventure as Jake's sidekick throughout,, he's never seen again after his first scene. Bummer. Maybe Evinrude will play checkers with him.
Overall: Compared to its preceding and following musical siblings, The Rescuers Down Under may seem to fall flat, but compared to The Rescuers it's a bit o' good fun, mate.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

D52 - Week 28 - The Little Mermaid

There isn't much to say about the plot that The Nostalgia Chick hasn't already hit right on the nail. And yeah, when you break down the plot it is all rather silly and though I've watched it a few times I still don't understand exactly why Ursula wants those limbo soul creatures exactly? But...dang, it has a great soundtrack, doesn't it? I don't care. It makes it all worthwhile. It's like how a thoroughly entertaining musical was made from the really dumb story of Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors! I bet the composer and writer of The Little Mermaid must've been inspired by Little Shop. It certainly doesn't hurt that the art style and animation is clearly improving around this time. Except for...oh, I wish I could make or find a .gif of it. But, if you happen to get the chance, slow-motion the carriage horse as he's going into the tunnel. Those frames are hilariously awkward. But it does remind me of how, with hand-drawn animation created by many hands, you get characters that sometimes look slightly different in different scenes. A more realistic Ariel some time after or before a more cartoony one. This is one of those things you don't really get in CGI productions. Is it a good thing in that it helps you appreciate the different people who worked on it or a bad thing because of its distractingness?
I suppose I would call it a guilty pleasure in the sense that normal society dictates that it's weird for a straight man to appreciate a masterfully created musical. Hey, if Brony culture can be a thing, how about a subculture for men of all ages who appreciate the music of The Little Mermaid? We just need some sort of amalgamistic name.
It's already been pointed out that WALL-E is similar to Ariel, what with his finding human things and coming up with unexpected uses for them, and immediately falling in love with the first being of other origin he sees, and all. But I'll add that Remy the Rat is Arielish, too. What with his rebelling against his father for despising humans* but in the end helping him understand that not all humans are so bad. Though I do wonder. If Prince Eric eats seafood, does Ariel at some point after the marriage bring up the issue? As in, "hey, don't eat that lobster, I knew him!"?

Tidbits: Is it just me, or does Prince Eric look, no. He is. He is Dave Seville from the 1980s Alvin & the Chipmunks series. The same person. Ditched the Chipmunks, changed his name, became a prince. That's what happened.
Also: "Leave no shell unturned?" Wh...why can't you use the expression "leave no stone unturned?" There are stones under the sea, aren't there?
*Remy's distaste for humans makes perfect sense but what of King Triton's? He says it's because they kill and eat fish but...don't many sea creatures themselves eat fish too? Does Triton hate whales, then?
Favorite character: I would say Ursula, but I know Amanda would pick her too anyway, so for the sake of another vote, Sebastian. Note how he happens to have a Jamaican accent, but by being uptight and not-at-all relaxed, he goes against the typical Jamaican stereotype. It's a nice change from, say, Oliver and Company's Tito.
Least necessary character: What did Flounder do, again? I mean, besides flounder.

Overall: The Little Mermaid might just be a contender for one of my favorite Disney movies. It makes me want to sing alo - I mean, uh, because Ariel is totally hot. Yeah, that's it.

-.-. --- -- .. -. --.   .- -   ... --- -- .   .--. --- .. -. -   .. -.   - .... .   ..-. ..- - ..- .-. .
I am a female and therefore I am obligated to like this movie.

However, I have a brain and therefore I am also obligated to consider the reasons for liking this movie.  I think a lot of it has to do with the very formulaic approach brought by the Broadway musical duo of Menken and Ashman.  A stage musical requires certain key elements to always be present if it wants to make a big impression and these two men had all but mastered them by this point in their careers.  Watch or listen to the soundtrack of any successful musical (and when I say successful I mean if you can name it and any random person on the street recognizes it) from Gilbert and Sullivan to Sondheim and you'll notice it.

First of all, Ariel is an everymerwoman of the era.  During the late eighties and early nineties American culture was such that fitting in was either equally or less important than standing out. I should know because I grew up in it.  Ariel perfectly fit in because she was beautiful, had a nice family, had impressive talents, and a couple close friends to act as sidekicks.  She stood out because she was fascinated with the human world and collected the things she saw there and that goes against her father and society at large.  In essence she stood out because what she had wasn't enough. She sings a song that expresses her deep desires and the audience is basically given the chance to understand her very soul and fall in love with the character and have her dreams be their dreams and let her success be their success.

Next up, when chance throws a big old opportunity her way, her dreams are magnified and perhaps she sees them as attainable.  We're all rooting for her!  At the same time, we are introduced to one of the most over the top, indulgent, entertaining villains that we both love to hate AND love to love!  She has a dark lair and she broods and talks to herself and sums up everything she sees so that the audience has a super easy time following the plot!  Her scheming and sidekicks bring the heroine and villain together and one of my all time favorite villain songs gives us all the information we need to understand the ticking clock of the second act.

Finally, a huge exciting battle involving disguises and magic opens up an ending in which our heroine is finally understood and accepted by her old society and her family and everyone wishes her well and she lives happily ever after the end!

Good feelings all around.  And do you see the formula? Endear the main character. Express her desires. Introduce the conflict. Have a big and clear climax. Happy ending. (And there's a song for nearly every one of these steps that isn't just frivolous.)

Favorite Character: Ursula... thanks Kevin for letting me have her all to myself.  She's based on a drag queen! I mean come, ON!
Least favorite Character: I agree. Flounder is pretty useless.  If Sebastian can get all those animals to make music in the lake, why couldn't he just ask a random passing dolphin to pull Ariel?  It seems like the only purpose he served was to accidentally tattle on Ariel for talking to a seagull.  I see no reason why she couldn't have accidentally outed herself.
Overall: Watch the nostalgia Chick because she makes some good points, and then go ahead and enjoy this movie anyway because it's fun and it's a classic and it's pretty obviously the turning point that cuts the ribbon for the new and exciting Disney Renaissance.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

D52 - Week 27 - Oliver and Company

Kevin's Bebopilation
Time to come out and say it. I've never read Oliver Twist. I know it's one of those classics that everyone should read at some point, but it just never happened to be assigned to me for school and I...just never read it. Come to think it I've never even seen the musical "Oliver!" or any of the film versions besides, well, this one. I may have seen the Wishbone episode? Anyway, if you are familiar with the "real" story, feel free to answer any of my questions about the plot in comments section, and I mean that.
If I had to guess, based on other Disney movies-based-on-classic-books-but-updated-to-a-different-time-period-and-setting, Oliver and Company probably follows the main threads of the original story while taking numerous liberties with the details. At least, I hope Charles Dickens didn't really write it like this. I mean, obviously he didn't write it about cats and dogs, but you know what I mean.
My main gripe is, who actually learns anything or changes as a character in this movie? You might suspect Oliver would learn about the importance of remembering his roots and appreciating those who helped raise him in the beginning, but...he...doesn't, really. Sure, he seems to have a renewed fondness for his stray friends in the end...after they help him get his owner back! How about Dodger? He learned that.....umm, pass. How about Fagin? The movie doesn't do a great job of convincing me why I'm supposed to like him. Sure, he's nice to his dogs and even reads them bedtime stories, but I really want to know how exactly he got into debt in the first place. Maybe I would feel more sympathy for him if I knew he was making some effort to get a job? And shouldn't he have known better than to borrow money from the double-doberman-owning unscrupulousness-oozing man with a dockside money-lending service? And he doesn't learn anything either! Except that, if you borrow money from someone and can't pay him back, things'll be okay because the guy you owe money to will happen to die in a horrible accident! Maybe Sikes himself learns the lesson that...if you lend money to someone, you'll...die in a horrible accident, because you kidnapped a child,, never mind that one too. Penny, I mean, Jenny, learns that...if you don't get to spend enough time with your father, getting a kitty will fill that void and make you feel better. Her father learns that if you don't get to spend enough time with your daughter, it's okay if she has a kitty.
Who's the only character to actually change at the end? Georgette! Yes, and it's a gripe I have about other popular fiction "romances." Characters from Tito the Chihuahua to Bella Swan to Scott Pilgrim to even Phillip J. Fry (what I think is my lone Futurama complaint) teach us that, if you have a love interest that doesn't reciprocate to your liking, just keep at it and pester him/her, and eventually he/she will come around and fall in love with you. Or at least...loosen up enough to dance to Latin music with you.
So in short the characters are dumb. But maybe the music makes up for it? Not really, because I would be hard-pressed to tell you what all but one of the songs were. The one song I do remember is really fun and catchy though! Well, not really the whole song, since I can hear it several times without remembering most of it. But I do find this much stuck in my head:
(something something something)
Yeah, those three and some lines are classic. Guilty pleasure, that. It's in the middle of the tradition of "care-free" Disney songs, in the company of Bare Necessities and Hakuna Matata, and while it's not as karoake-able as those, I still prefer it over most of the melancholy tracks.
So yeah. There's not much enjoyability to be found here, but at least it isn't The Black Cauldron?

Favorite character: Uuuuuuhhhhhmmmm. Louie, the hot dog vendor!
Least necessary character: Rita. Bet you forgot there was a non-Georgette (Bette Midler) female dog in this movie, didn't you?
Overall: As far as animated 1980s Disney adaptations of Charles Dickens books with animals replacing most of the humans go, may I instead interest you in Mickey's Christmas Carol?

Amanda's Doowopilation

Unlike Kevin, I HAVE seen other versions of the Oliver Twist story and this is just another one of them.  What I find interesting about the Oliver twist story is that it really doesn't have anyone learn anything.  It's almost a day in the life of an urchin story.  We follow this poor unfortunate soul (oh boy, next week!) through his ups and his down and get to like him as a loveable nobody enough to want him to be happy, but that's about it.  In the book, Oliver's key personality trait is "wanting something better."  The fact that he has the gonads to attempt to get better things in life by asking for them or running away or caring for a motherly caretaker is his key endearing trait.  There's probably more to it than that, but that's all I managed to get out of it.

Doing it with cats and dogs is pretty novel I suppose and the characters do all have clear (if stereotyped) personalities so they are at least fairly memorable. 

One of the big deals that this movie is the re-start of is the flagrant use of already famous actors as key roles.  This is not something new, but it's now flauted as a key reason to go to the theater.  The story is less important than the fact that you can hear the voices of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Joey Lawrence, Robert Logia, and Dom DeLouise.  Granted they do a fantastic job, but is a cast list as imortant as a memorably adapted story? Debatable.

Favorite Character: Tito.  He's making a mockery of my people and I love him anyway.
Least favorite character: Desota.  Are two dobermans really any more intimidating than just one? Up tells us no, and so do I. Roscoe was enough to get the dirty deeds done.
Overall: I don't hate it.  It's a fun romp and I love Why Should I Worry? and Perfect isn't Easy.  On the other hand the realistically drawn people are incredibly jarring compared to the stylized Fagin and Sikes.  Just watch it. It's worth wasting an evening with some popcorn.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

D52 - Week 26 - The Great Mouse Detective

Elementary Kevin:
Man, looking back...The Great Mouse Detective was a great Disney afternoon TV show, wasn't it? Oh, wait. It never became a TV show, did it? But at least we get to see the 76-minute-long pilot. What do you mean, it wasn't a pilot? It was never intended to be a television series? Malarkey! Just look at the animation style and quality, and even the background music. It's exactly like a cartoon pilot, and the very idea is obviously meant to be a recurring series. Heck, it even ends setting up what the next episode would be! So the pilot happened to be released in theaters. That's just because the pilot is that good. It has some of the best songs you could hope to hear in an animated show (imagine the songs we would've gotten if the show had actually been picked up!) and even some snazzy-and-not-just-for-the-time computer/hand-drawn animation blending too. And how can you not love Vincent Price as - well, as anyone Vincent Price plays?
Favorite character: You would think Ratigan would've changed his name at some point if he's that bothered by being called a rat.
Least necessary character: Since Basil's idolization of Sherlock Holmes is played down/nonexistent (as compared to the book), Holmes himself barely needed to be "seen" or heard at all, except for the sake of pointing out the already obvious homage.
Overall: Though compared to the "bigger" productions the overall quality may seem weak, within its own scope "The Great Mouse Detective" knows exactly what it's doing (unlike a certain preceding film) and delivers well. If you like the Disney afternoon toons such as Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Chip n' Dale Rescue Rangers and TailSpin, you're bound to love this over-hour-long only episode of a show that could've been.
Trivial thing: I'll buy that the mouse community at large found a way to manufacture all of their tools and equipment and such at mouse-scale. I'll even buy that the humans in that universe are tolerant enough of mice that they would allow obviously not-at-all-inconspicuous decorate mouse hole front doors at seemingly every building. And that they would call their own mug-size amount of beer a "pint." But man, those were some tiny fruits and vegetables that the angry crowd was throwing.
I neglected to mention that as of last week's The Black Cauldron, this project has officially theoretically passed the year I was born. And though I think I brought this up, it is weird to think that more than half of the 52 animated films were made and released during my lifetime. Sure, it says more about the frequency (or lack thereof) of releases before the 80s as compared to after, but it is still surprising that from here on out I'll be reviewing all of the movies that I had the chance to see when they were first released (though whether a two- or four-year-old is an appropriate moviegoer is up for debate). And yet there are quite a few I haven't seen at all yet...


Yeah, why weren't there any sequels of this movie?  Or why wasn't it made into a television show?  I would have watched that like crazy!

Okkay let's face it, part of what makes tGMD Great is what preceded it.  Having to follow a performance like The Black Cauldron must have been a piece of cake! However, it's clear that the artists were working an uphill slope at this point.  The CEOs of the company surely would have felt justified in cutting the funding after a huge flop and it's clear that the artists if given the means could have made this movie a lot more beautiful than it was.  And yet despite the hardships, the new set of animators were really starting to come into their own.  By this point the Nine Old Men were mostly out of the picture and not doing any of the animating.  In fact, some have even passed on.  The new crowd might have been just a bunch of infants with big dreams last movie, but this time around they are really cutting their teeth.

The use of computer animation is apparent in the clock scene and in a few other places, though much more conspicuously.  The story line has a focus now.  There is quick but not rushed direction that slows down enough to really enjoy some ridiculous but entertaining song and dance routines.  It just restores my faith in entertainment after watching the-movie-that-shall-not-be-named.

And remember how I hate cute speech impediments?  The little child in this movie has NO speech impediment AND has an accent!  It's like they knew how not to make me hate her!

Favorite Character:  Felitia the cat. I imagine that she got fat on nothing but Ratigan's henchmen.
Least Favorite Character: After all the colorful and inventive (though inspired-by) characters, she seems so darn bland.  The robot of her was far more engaging.

Overall: Finally, we're seeing some light at the end of the Loss-of-Walt tunnel.  I love this movie and would watch it again. Interestingly, this is one of those "the movie was better than the book" situations.  Read the book if you want to appreciate the movie even more (or don't if you can't stand being bored.)