Saturday, September 29, 2012

D52 - Week 39 - Dinosaur

This one is just so weird. First of all none of it even really seems like "a Disney movie." Which is why I wasn't surprised to see no recognizable names in the credits (save a few of the voice actors). It's not even like a third-party-created-but-released-by-Disney movie. It's not even like watching leading competing animation studio's work (I'll get to Atlantis and Treasure Planet later). It's like this foreign-made film that has nothing to do with Disney and isn't even trying to be like Disney. So the very experience of watching it, expecting "a Disney movie," while it seems to constantly contradict that, is a weird one. It's not even just the animation quality, or even the story too, but ... everything about it.
But let me start with the animation. I believe back near the beginning of the year I commented about the use of hand-drawn animation over live action footage from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. In those cases it seemed like a gimmick, but at least it was a fairly fun gimmick, and it paved the way for better use of the technique. In "Dinosaur," we get computer-generated animation over live non-action footage, which comes across less as a gimmick even and more as just a way to save time and money on having to render all of the scenery. And it's hard to say it was even particularly novel at the time, since the audiences of the year 2000 would have already seen that sort of thing - computer dinosaurs transposed over actual footage - seven years earlier in "Jurassic Park." And the computer animation in "Dinosaur" isn't even a whole lot better. I know it's easy to criticize graphics many years later after huge advances have been made, but even Toy Story 2, released in '99, holds up pretty well today. I realize in Toy Story's case it helps that most of the characters and environments were artificial in nature and of course simulated more easily, but that is the point I'm going for here. Since animation technology at the time apparently wasn't sufficient enough to make believable animals in believable organic environments, Dinosaur suffers with off-putting models that I don't want to spend the entire length of a feature seeing.
Maybe it wouldn't so bad if the story itself was interesting in some way at all. But it's pretty darn cliché-packed, what with the young idealistic kid having trouble exposing his novel and ground-breaking ideas to the thoughtless masses, and the girl he meets who he should get with on the grounds that it's the first girl he meets despite her having to warm up to him, and the HORRIBLY UNFUNNY sidekick AGH YOU ARE SO UNFUNNY IT'S PAINFUL. To summarize the plot, various events happen. It's another weird thing about this movie, and I'm not even sure how much of it is due to the weird visuals. But I never really feel like I'm "in" the movie. And I can get "into" even a bad movie, like The Black Cauldron. But for this one it was more like I was just ... seeing things happen. I get what's going on not because I'm feeling the situation through the eyes of the characters but because I see the characters doing things and I understand what feelings I'm supposed to have for them. Like, there's this bad guy named Kron. Here's where I get lost in moral grey areas. Still feel like reading? I won't blame you if you feel like skipping at any point. Okay. So. One of the things that separate humans from animals is a separate set of morals. It's a society thing. For us helping the less fortunate and differently-abled is just plain the right thing to do, because we're at the point where we don't need to worry about protecting our species and letting only the fittest survive and all that. It just doesn't apply to us. So we might witness a small rodent-sized pet mother who, say, eats its own young, and that's horrible, but only really because we're applying it to our social structure. We don't even want to think of the possibility of a human parent doing anything like that, because obviously that would be horrible to us. It would be morally reprehensible because he or she should know better. But when a wild animal in a natural environment sacrifices the weak for the good of the survival of its own kind in the long run...well, that instinct is there for a reason, isn't it?
The reason I bring this all up is, the lesson we're supposed to learn in Dinosaur is a bit hinky to me. Aladar believes it's wrong to leave the slower members of the herd behind, and Kron is painted as being evil for believing only the strong should survive. If Aladar and Kron were people, I would have no problem with this. But they're dinosaurs! In the wild! Walking on four legs and foraging for food! And their very existence was even endangered at the time! It's one thing when it's anthropomorphic animals in a human-style setting (like Robin Hood) but when they're very animal-like animals in an animal setting, applying human morals seems as out of place as...well, any historical inaccuracies you may have noticed.
Talking point: Is Kron evil, or is he just an animal doing what an animal would be expected to do? If your housecat attacks a field mouse that finds its way into the house, does that mean your cat is evil?

Favorite Character: Kron, but only for the single reason that the same voice actor was also Sebastian the Crab, and that fact is so far the most and only amusing thing about this movie.
Least necessary character: "The love monkey." Get out of here with your exasperatingly unfunny trailer comments that don't fit the tone of everything else in the movie.
Overall: While there was certainly a lot of work put into the visuals of Dinosaur (strangely the "making of" features make it look better than it does when I actually watch the movie), they just don't play well enough to save the lackluster story and its unlikeable characters.
So it's come to this: I am now looking forward to watching a movie starring David Spade.


The Love monkey? Oh kill me now.  That meteor can't come fast enough.

Dinosaur seems like the red-headed step-child masquerading as a genuine Disney movie. There are so many aspects to it that cause it to stand apart from the entirety of Disney's other works and let's not consider it a compliment.

Aladar is an iguanadon who was lost as an egg and was raised by a family of slightly wonky-moving lemurs.  This would be interesting and possibly enhance his character somewhat if we were allowed to see some of his challenges growing up and witness any of his interactions with his family so that the cast would have some character to it. Unfortunately while taking advantage of some technology that is as jarring as it is beautiful (blending live-action footage with CGI characters), we skip from baby is found straight to mating day in the clan.  This movie could have taken a cue from Tarzan and been about Aladar's isolation growing up with no one else like him.  During the first few scenes, it seems like it might be going that way.

Suddenly a meteor! The (now abbreviated) family of lemurs and Aladar escape explosive destruction and run into a large mixed species herd who are headed towards a breeding grounds which escaped the fateful cosmic catastrophe.  Once again we have an idea introduced that attempts to be the theme of the movie: Successfully travel from point A to point B.  This alone could also be a successful concept.  However, Aladar as an outsider doesn't understand the rules of the pack and as a result meets some eccentric characters near the back of the line who are less abled do to age and intelligence issues than the rest.  The theme is now Help Others and Work Together.

Aladar feels for these poor misfits and places himself among them and the sexy female Iguanadon is apparently impressed by this, so the theme has changed once again: Kindness is a virtue most especially to the less fortunate.  It's a good thing the horrible jokes from the unlikeable lemur don't cause permanent damage.  This one holds on for a while until they all get separated and end up in a cave cowering from big meat-eaters and as Aladar almost throws in the towel and the big elderly Dino gives a lecture, the theme suddenly shifts to Never Give Up.

Or... maybe it's Show Personal Responsibility in Your Community because Aladar runs off to lead the herd to his new found path and they all Work Together to fight off the meat-eater and Family is Who You Love and Who Loves You because Aladar has babies and the lemurs are there to help him.

OHHHHH Forget it!

This movie has no focus. The use of live animation is more distracting than enhancing. The characters are either bland or unbearable. The character animation and design hovers in this weird animal uncanny valley. The story is unoriginal, poorly told, and not terribly interesting to begin with.  Have I found a movie I disliked more than Black Cauldron? Yes. I think I have.

Favorite character: The horned old lady. She may have been a bland character with cliche lines, but Della Reese acted the hell out of them!
Least necessary character: ALL of the freaking LEMURS, but that incredibly unfunny ugly one with no girlfriend is the most putrid.
Overall: Snoozefest, Rageparty... take your pick.

Saving Grace
On the upside, I bet that "Dinosaur!" the ride in Walt Disney World might not have come to fruition without this movie.  I love the ride and I believe that a lot of the success of this ride is based on the fact that the imagineers made no attempt whatsoever to adhere to the plot.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

D52 - Week 38 - Fantasia 2000

Kevin's Piece
Remember watching the original Fantasia back in the third week of January? It kinda seems like forever ago. Now trying to imagine the gap being 59 years, now that's something else. I went back to my Fantasia post and was surprised at how little I had to say about it. I did write shorter reviews earlier in the year, and there's not much to say about less plotty features, but it was just over two hours long. Then you have Fantasia 2000, at...75 minutes? Huh. And yet - and Amanda will disagree with me - I found I enjoyed it more. Fantasia did have many great segments, but for me the only one that really stands out in my recollection is The Sorceror's Apprentice...which is in Fantasia 2000 as well anyway! Speaking of which, geez. I thought we were past the recycled animation era. The Sorceror's Apprentice from Fantasia 2000 blatantly copies so many animation sequences directly from The Sorceror's Apprentice from Fantasia! But seriously, it's an interesting choice to include that in the 2000 version. Similar to how I found Finding Nemo 3D a worthwhile additional experience even after having seen it many times on home video, I would've liked to have experienced The Sorceror's Apprentice in full theatrical sound. er, The Sorceror's Apprentice the short, not the Nicolas Cage movie. I mean, not to judge the Nic Cage one. For all I know its music might be quite good too.
As for the new segments, while not every piece is a home-run, the ones that are, are hit out of the park and into the stratosphere. The Rhapsody in Blue cartoon actually reminds me of Looney Tunes, but if they were done to a perfect Disney polish. If there's anything wrong with it, it's that the animation is timed so well with the music, that I'm distracted by my amazement at how well it's timed with the music. The Steadfast Tin Soldier has got the right idea with working around then-CGI's limitations through stylization. The Carnival of The  Animals is short but sweet. My favorite's gotta be Donald Noah's Ark. I get a kick out of Donald's reaction to the other ducks on the ships. It's about time a Disney character has directly acknowledged the strangeness of Disney toon species, even, especially because it was done as a fleeting gag. It even leaves more questions unanswered, like were Mickey and Minnie and Goofy somewhere on that ark and...well my point is it's a great philosophical piece.
The other pieces...are very pleasant to watch and listen to, but...what else can I say? Space whales and Mother Earth Stag.

Favorite character: It's great to see Donald in a D52 role again, and not flirting with human ladies.
Least necessary characters: I'm unclear: What exactly were the other soldiers off doing when the steadfast one was fighting for his girl?
Overall: Maybe it's because I'm partial to funny toons over terribly classy ones, but I'll take the eye-and-ear candy of Fantasia 2000 over the refined palate plates of Fantasia any day.

Amanda's opus

Fantasia 2000 to me had so much more potential in planning than what was used in the final movie.  I'm not saying it was bad, because it wasn't, but it plays out more like a cheesy clip show than polished, carefully planned movie piece.

Kevin was right when he said I'd disagree with him, but I think it's entirely based in the idea of education.  I always felt that the original Fantasia was a way to not only entertain audiences, but to educate them in some of the older finer musical culture of the world and to do so with a spoonful of sugar that is visual stimulation.  Let us consider the opening sequences in which there is no story and the music doesn't evoke concrete ideas.  I felt that stylistically the original enhanced the idea of surrealism and abstraction through the use of unusual and infrequently used media within the context of animation.  I noticed how the brush marks made me think of chalk drawings, pastels, oil paints and anything other than pencil to paper animation.  And yet despite all the details that I noticed, I was never distracted from the music that inspired the design and I could hum a few bars if you asked me.  In the more recent film opening sequence, I felt distracted by the visuals rather than feeling that they complimented the music.  It was almost too concrete and I couldn't think about just the music and the colors; I was distracted by thoughts like "those triangles look like butterflies... oh I guess that's what they're going for." and "Is that a waterfall?  So we're in the forest?" As a result, I can't tell you the first song nor can I hum a few bars.

I can't say I'm a fan of the celebrity introductions either.  I almost feel like the filmmakers believed that if they didn't have celebrities that the film wouldn't be interesting enough and that's just plain insulting to my intelligence. 

When it comes to each musical sequence, standing alone they are all very nice, but all together there's just too much story for my taste.  It makes this feature feel more like a package film than a night at the orchestra.  While I understand bringing back The Sorcerer's Apprentice and introducing Donald's Pomp and Circumstance as the two big story pieces, I feel overwhelmed when being presented with The Steadfast Soldier, The Rhapsody in Blue's New Yorkers wishing for Happiness, The Naughty Flamingo, Green Goddess fights Fire, and Whales go to Heaven.  The original Fantasia only gave story to The Sorcerer's Apprentice and all the other musical sequences had a very vague theme at best and for my taste, that's a good thing because the music which let's not forget came first and was the inspiration never takes a backseat. 

Now once again, let me say that none of the sequences were bad!  Each one stands alone and each one would be a very entertaining short with which to present before any other movie, but because they are each so strong on their own, they feel as if they are clashing within this one film.

Favorite Character: I miss The Soundtrack... but I'll pick The Flamingo with his Yo-Yo.  It's short, and it's a good laugh.
Least Necessary Character: All the Celebrities.  I just don't see what was so wrong with a stoic narrator.  He wasn't distracting and he wasn't trying to get a joke in and upstage everyone.
Overall: It's still good.  There's a lot of beautiful animation and there's a lot of beautiful music and I just wish they could get along better instead of trying to play King of the Hill.  It's still worth a watch and I hope very much that they come out with another Fantasia eventually because I really do enjoy a night at the Orchestra.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

D52 - Week 37 - Tarzan

Me Kevin...

It's one thing to watch a movie based on a book before reading the book. It's another thing to see the movie after reading the book. But it's yet another thing to watch the movie in the middle (well, less than a third) of reading its book! It did affect me such that it distracts me into constantly comparing. "Well this was different but I wonder if this will be in the book?" ""Well if they did this part then how will they..." and so forth. But so far I can already tell that the character himself is presented VERY differently between the two versions. Wouldn't you know, it turns out the Disney version is less dark and much more light-hearted than the source material! How about that? Which isn't a good or bad thing, really. Print Tarzan so far is more gripping than I was expecting, but it is hard to like the character. He's borderline sadistic. Disney Tarzan is more endearing, and he's funny, but - and this separates him from other humorous Disney princes* - he isn't consciously trying to be funny. Just, a lot of things he does happen to come off comedically. His face looking an awfully lot like (current) 'Weird Al' Yankovic does have an affect, too. Even Jane is funnier than the average Disney princess**, what with her kookiness. She's certainly more fun than I was expecting her to be, anyway. And while we're going through the cast of characters, Clayton is played by Brian Blessed, and that's just cool. Terk and Tantor? I got too much of a Timon and Pumbaa vibe from them. What did they do anyway? They grew up with the main character in the jungle, the smart-mouthed one got angrily jealous when the main character started to fall in love, and the two contribute a bit in saving the day near the end with brute force. But Kala is definitely in the running for Best Disney Mother. Most other Disney moms are either: 1) Non-existent, 2) Killed off early in the picture, 3) Evil, or 4) Bland. Hopefully the minor technicality of not having actually given birth to Tarzan doesn't disqualify her. Kerchak is even a memorable Disney dad-type, in that he has a character flaw to work through, but it's one that doesn't make him an outright villain.
So the cast of characters is pretty well fleshed out, and they serve the story well. Granted a lot of the story is told through montages, but...well, as far as montages go they're very good montages. The opening montage is one of my favorite parts of the movie. It's possible I may have liked it less if I didn't already know what was going on before being bombarded by that much information at once, but since I did it's great stuff.
What do I not like about this feature? Having to hear Phil Collin's voice. I don't have an issue with his music, since I can see (hear?) it working in that sort of idyllic environment, but I find his vocals so unwelcome. Here I am, watching a rather good Tarzan adaptation, with this wonderfully created atmosphere, and the denizens of the jungle undergoing complex emotional issues, and then Phil Collins has to speak up about it. Or, sing up about it, rather. Oh well. Should I be thankful it wasn't Randy Newman?
Though I do like the overall look it seems rather a shame that so much of the jungle had to be rendered computer-wise, considering the process wasn't near perfected at that time. Maybe back then it seemed impressive, and I'm sure the creators were all excited about using those new techniques to make scenes like those roller coaster rides through the treetops, but looking back I can't help but think how much nicer everything would've looked painted. Painted flora does have a longer track record of looking pretty, after all.
Oh, and hey. Speaking of beautiful imagery that's pleasing to look at. (to be continued....)

Favorite character: Tarzan strikes me as the kind of character that Aladdin should've been.
Least necessary: Normally someone like Mr. Porter would be the comic relief of the movie, but since Jane herself is comic-reliefy, his role seems redundant. It would've been weird if Clayton and Jane were traveling by themselves, but Archimedes doesn't get to actually do much of anything.
Overall: Since I'd always dismissed the Tarzan story as I understood it (before having actually read or seen any Tarzan stories) as uninteresting, I was pleasantly surprised to be as captivated by Disney's Tarzan as I was, and it would be worth watching again.

*Of course Tarzan is a prince. He ends up becoming King of the Jungle? So surely as a youngster he is Prince of the Jungle.
**Let's say that jungle law dictates that when Tarzan and Jane became an item, at the time that Tarzan was "Prince of the Jungle," that made Jane "Princess of the Jungle."

Me Amanda:
Curse you, Kevin! Why did you have to mention Weird Al?  Now I can't unsee! Bah.

Anyway, I too am feeling the effects of having only partly read the book before watching the movie.  It almost gives the feeling that you're right there with the story team making decisions.  Had I been with the story boarders, I'm not sure there is too much I would do differently.  It's true that this movie is very montage heavy, but we have to consider the fact that the story intends to cover nearly two decades over the course of 80ish minutes.  To be fair, they are very well done montages.  Each montage seems to have been built to last exactly the length of one Phil Collins song and thus have the feeling of a music video with a strong plot.  While I don't share the same animosity towards Phil's singing voice as Kevin does, I do think some of his lyrics are a bit poorly spun.  One in particular bothers me the most: "The wisdom to be wise."  What does that mean? If you have wisdom, then you are wise. There are others, and I won't list them all, but to Phil Collins, it seems that the rhythm of the words is more important than the lines making sense.  In his defense, the percussion heavy score feels very natural in this environment.

Speaking of the environment, can we say lush?  Wow.  I disagree with Kevin here in that I don't think the computer generated imagery was poorly done.  Perhaps the roller coastering was a bit gimicky, but it did make sense in the context of the Baboon chase.  There were a few moments when Kevin said "Oh well, that's done by computers!" and if he hadn't said it, I probably wouldn't have noticed.  But computery or not, it's very lush, very deep, and truly beautiful.

Tarzan himself is incredibly likable.  He's strong, curious, playful, good to his mother, challenging and yet still respectful to his father, and has the depth of character that allows him to carry the story far better than any of the other male Disney Headliners so far.  He's a strong guy like Hercules, but he's just trying to live a normal life instead of aiming for glory.  He's a self-sufficient guy like Aladdin, but he's not a lying, cocky, dreamer whose life isn't good enough for him.  Tarzan, to me, is a slice of life in which the slice happens to have a lot of unexpected ingredients. 

New information: I'm not a mutant freak, I'm a different species.
New acquaintances: Not everyone has the same goals (mere survival) as I do.
New emotions: My mother whom I love, betrayed my trust by withholding information.  My new friend is a woman and I know nothing of how to court her. My father whom I respect is preventing me from easily and thoroughly exploring my newly learned heritage.
New environments: I simply don't understand how to maneuver through this ship full of smooth steel and polished wood. 

In the end, it really becomes a Nature versus Nurture story and as seems to be the case in every situation, there is no victor because the two always find some balance between them.  Tarzan was born a man, but raised an ape and there's no changing that identity, there is only coming to terms with it.  In truth aren't we all a little bit happier and more complete when we are able to commune in some way with our wild ancestry?

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go farm in my back yard for a while.

Favorite character: Boy those Pocahontas Owls sure were funny!  Seriously though, all the characters here are so fleshed out that it's hard to choose one to be a favorite.  I think I'm heavily influenced by Kevin's praise in selecting Kala.  She's a really heavy character and the fact that she's a "Disney Mom" is quite an acheivement, let alone her being amazing at it.
Least necessary Character: The captain.  He sure was heavily designed for a character that we barely talk to and only serves the purpose of being a ticking clock.  The ship looming in the background seemed like it would have been enough.
Overall: I like this movie and I did when I first saw it too.  Except for that silly shoo be doo sequence, everything has a purpose and while not completely faithful to the book, it's still one of the deepest thinking Disney Movies thus far.  Except for that silly shoo be doo sequence, it might have been a little too heavy for most kids.  Darn it all you silly shoo be doo sequence!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

D52 - Week 36 - Mulan

Amanda say:

Mulan is a weird combination of awesome and satisfying Wha? I love the daughter doing what she thinks is right even though it's against society's norms.  I love the weird attraction that Shang seems to have to Mulan before he realizes she's a she.  I love the ridiculous American-style charicatures of The Band of Three.  I severely love the celebrity voices with Mr. Miyagi at the very top of the list and Jackie Chan as the Chinese dub of Shang right there after it.  Sassy Black Man Dragon Mushu is hanging out Riiiiiigghht at the cusp of when I still liked Eddie Murphy and only a year or two later did he cross the line and go from amusing to annoying for me. 

I'm torn on the songs.  On the one hand I recognize that certain songs are trying to emulate the Chinese style but as a culturally uneducated American, I'm not sure if they hit the mark or if perhaps I should be slightly offended.  The songs that do NOT try to fit a style are excellent however.  "Be a Man" is so catchy and forceful that it would be a shame for anyone not to immediately add it to their workout playlist.  "Reflection" of course was the radio single and while I think the song is great standing alone it does feel a little bit belty for the intimate moment that it accompanies on screen.

While I love this movie as a whole I can't help but find myself shouting at the screen during moments when I just cannot suspend my disbelief.  The idea that rural china has a busy enough roadway system to cause a massive wreck, the idea of a single heavyset man lifting his entire platoon and a horse, the idea of a rope that slender actually taking the weight of that horse, the black eyeballs of the Huns, and the idea that of the entire platoon, Mulan and Shang are the only horse owners is just too much for me to take.  I think the nit-picky problem here is that in general, this movie ping-pongs between extremely serious (a village being burned, an elderly man going to war to die) and just plain silly (a cricket and dragon dressed as a soldier riding a panda).  And yet despite the whiplash of mood, they seem to balance out as long as we utterly avoid the middle ground.

Favorite Character: Emperor Miyagi.  I can think of few others who can pull off sassy Confucious like Pat Morita can.
Least necessary character: Little Brother. Eeyup.
Overall: Despite the occasional "Oh Come ON!" moment, I have always and still do now enjoy this one.

Kevin Say:

"Mulan" sure does have some interesting voice casting choices. Donny Osmond as the hunk! Harvey Firestein as the tough guy! James Hong as a fusspot - well, that one isn't ironic. Erm, George Takei as Chinese! Which is okay, because George Takei. Also, Jackie Chan in the alternate audio track, including the singing part. That's the best reason to watch it on DVD over VHS! And I say the audio track instead of the music video because the music video isn't as entertaining as it should or could be.
There isn't much to love about the movie, but there I can't really think of much to hate about it either. The story is more engaging than, say, Pocahontas. But about the "woman posing in a man's army" theme and jokes. While they're not terribly unamusing, I can't help but think of the Futurama episode "War is the H-Word" from a few years later and how much funnier it was using the idea.
But while "Mulan" isn't very hilarious, it's not embarrassingly unfunny, like a lot of a certain movie about a regal wild cat. Eddie Murphy does come dangerously close to annoying Donkey level, but it's hard for me to hate him because Mushu's eyes look like Pluto's. As for the "serious" parts, I will say that it does action pretty darn well, something you don't normally associate with Disney movies. It also has something else we haven't seen much of this year: a good guy (ahem, girl) beating the bad guy not through the power of love or magic or luck, but with her wits. I mean, mostly I'm talking about the avalanche thing and he comes back after that, but STILL. That's satisfying as heck.
And the art/animation quality is similar in that it certainly isn't flawed, really, but... Well, after Hercules it's a bit of a downer, after being spoiled with a new and unique visual style, to get something with a look that "plays it safe." I really don't know how to define the overall look of the film, other than "normal 90s Disney." It's a normal that's done to perfection, I'm not even sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing!
I pretty much agree with Amanda on the music. Except apparently I prefer Jackie Chan's rendition of "Be a Man" whereas she prefers Donny Osmonds because, and hilariously - Donny Osmond's is more manly. And it is, strangely. But maybe what I like about the former is knowing that it's Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan as Jackie Chan. Because personally, if I could choose the perfect man to model myself after, the guy that I should strive to be as much like as possible, it would be Jackie Chan.

Favorite character: I wonder why Jackie Chan couldn't have been cast for the English-speaking role of...oh, uh. Yeah, I guess his English acting isn't the best. In that case, then, Chinese dub Shang.
Least necessary: Aw, I wanted to call dibs on Little Brother. It sure did seem like they were setting up a character at the beginning that they would actually end up using later, didn't it? For the sake of voting for another one, though, I'll go with Disembodied Head guy. That type of gag would fly if he was in something with that sort of tone established, like The Haunted Mansion or Corpse Bride, but here it's just off-putting.
Idea for a fanfic: Mulan meets Po from Kung Fu Panda. Make it happen!
Overall: The weird thing about "Mulan" is that, while I don't remember a whole lot about it afterwards, I do remember having enjoyed watching it when I did (I don't mean as a kid, but this past week and a year or two before that). And as strange as that sounds I would find that good enough reason to recommend it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

D52 - Week 35 - Hercules

Kevinese, God of Frivolity

Talk about a change of tone! I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, though. I'm having trouble imagining what "Hercules" would've been like if it had been done in a darker, brooding way. And I bet it was an intentional decision to depart from the traditional film style we usually see used to tell tales of Gods and Goddesses. So I kinda like it this way.
The main problem with telling the story of Hercules is making him a sympathetic character. How are we supposed to relate to a God - well, a mortal with God-like powers, anyway? This is handled well enough by making Hercules a clumsy geek who can't handle his own strength, but there's still something missing. I find him too...goody-goody. Quasimodo was perfectly kind-hearted, too, but a better job was done with explaining why Quasimodo had that personality. He was taught and conditioned to believe he should be thankful to be protected from the outside world. But is Hercules a good (")person(") because Zeus and Hera made him that way, with their Godgenes, or was he raised to be perfectly proper by his parents? I understand there was a midquelly cartoon series (that I don't remember ever seeing) and I think maybe a direct-to-video movie based on that series which explored the Disney Hercules's teenage years, and maybe that answers this question, but the theatrical movie itself doesn't. I bring this up because there's something about having to just take it on good faith that a character is "good" just because we see him being polite to people. It's a bit shallow, character-development-wise. It basically makes him your Boring Disney Prince, doesn't it?
At least his love interest ... no, I don't want to call her that. The woman he immediately finds attractive and after brushing aside snide sarcastic remarks from and somehow decides his life is worth risking for after one date, is at least herself an interesting character. She actually has a backstory, which explains her personality! She has a flaw, for which she redeems herself near the end of the movie!  I find myself wishing I could've been watching a movie titled after her, instead. It's funny how the "sacrificied her soul for a guy who ended up leaving her for another" backplot is casually mentioned as if it's some not-too-important aside, when really that sounds far more interesting than the "proving himself worthy just for the sake of proving himself" story of Hercules. But oh, Kronk from The Emperor's New Groove can get HIS own spin-off. Tuh!
So whereas The Hunchback of Notre Dame has the feel of a grandiose broadway musical, Hercules comes off as a Saturday morning cartoon. You got your pop culture references, your silly jokes that seem funnier when you're a kid than when you're an adult. Which do seem especially sugary after having just seen "Hunchback." But it is a Saturday morning cartoon designed and animated with the brilliance of flair of a theatrical feature. What keeps me eyes glued throughout is how much I love how stylized everything is. Philoctetes (whose suggestion to just call him Phil is a symbol of the way this movie treats itself as a whole) is a squashy-stretchy character who wouldn't be too out-of-place in a Steven Spielberg cartoon. Hades could be seen as a very parody of villains modeled after their voice actors. Megera has amusingly dynamic hips! As for pegasus? Well, ya gotta have a hammy horse. The hydra? Auhhh... you're getting there, CGI character incorporation! Almost! I could've done without Panic and his reminding-me-of-Phineas-or-is-it-Ferb-you-know-which-one-I-mean head, but Pain provides the funniest line in the entire movie, which is funny for how truly unexpected it was.
How about the music? It's fun and stuff. Again, the stuff of Saturday mornings. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. It's just hard for me to say anything particularly glowing about it so soon after the darn-near-perfection of Beauty & the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But I will say that I prefer the lively gospel R&B much more than the Michael Boltony power ballads.
There is something pleasing as well about being able to watch a Disney movie that isn't tied to a specific book or actual historical events, because when things do get frivolous and wacky, I don't feel as much that it's an affront to its source material. There weren't any Greeks who found this genuinely insulting to their ancestors' beliefs, were there?

Question: I'm a bit confused about the Zeus-statue. When it comes alive, is that, like, Zeus talking through the form of the statue? Like a long-distance ancient form of a hologram? Or is it just a sort of representation of his being, like a... ghost, even though he's still "living," or what? What I mean is, after Hercules meets up  with Zeus again "in person" on Mount Olympus, will Zeus be able to recall the conversations he had while as a statue-figure?
Video meme idea: YouTube video strategically cut so that Pegasus appears to be having the hots for Rainbow Dash or Fluttershy.
Favorite character: By picking Meg, is this my first time choosing a female character as my favorite? I'm...not sure. But anyway, my only complaint is that she wasn't voiced by Bernadette Peters.
Least necessary character:
Overall: Mostly thanks to the unique and fantastic visual style and some of the more interesting side character, I do find it a mostly enjoyable junk food romp through the world of Greek Gods and Goddesses. If only I had a reason to like the title character...

Amanda, Goddess of Humility... HA! No, I'm joshin ya.

Did you know that this movie was extremely offenseive to the point that the Greek government did something about it?  Google it. For realsies.

I'm quite a bit confused myself about what could possibly be offensive about it.  It's so dang fluffy.  I mean this perfectly perfect victim of circumstance decides to quit being a victim and start being a grown-up with a briefcase and a job where someone precedes his name with Mister, falls in puppy love along the way and when his hard work pays off the end.  Is... is that even a story worth telling? Guy works hard, gets a good life.  Sounds like a boring fable that your dad tells you that's a poorly masked autobiography.

Well anyway, while Hercules himself isn't particularly interesting with his boyish good looks and his extreme naivete, the characters that surround him are fleshed out and fantastic.  I love Megara.  She's such a brat, but not so far as to be a bitch and anyway, she's got her quickly glossed over reasons.  I love Hades who for being on fire most of the time sure is a slimy git.  He's so resentful and I completely get that he's coming from that Mommy-loved-Zeusy-best crybaby corner.  His sidekicks are more annoying that endearing, but kudos to the screenwriting department for at least getting them introduced enough for us to remember their names.

Now here I disagree with Kevin in that he thinks the best story would be about Megara and I agree that it would be a great story, but I'm more interested in Phil's story.  I would love to have seen Phil's previous failures (especially considering in the version I heard Deseus did in fact slay the Minotaur).  What makes a satyr dream of fathering a godly figure?  How did he learn his trade so well as to teach others how to hero?  Does Phil secretly have Daddy issues as much as Hercules does?

I can't possibly go without mentioning the style choice.  I love it.  It looks just like that old pottery that we all saw in our ancient history books.  It's such a change from the hyper-realism that we got in Hunchback.  The Disney Character Cameos were a great deal easier to pick out (though still not as pronounced as Aladdin) and that makes for a fun mostly brainless viewing experience.  I for one am an advocate of frivolous, fluffy entertainment.  The music is equally upbeat and while I can't figure out what gospel has to do with ancient Greece, I'm not about to look a sassy black horse in the mouth.

Favorite Character: Rock Titan. "ZOOOOOOOOOOOSsss!" Lulz
Least necessary Character: Disappointingly, Hercules' adoptive parents.  Maybe the story would have been more about Herc and less about his supporting cast if we had seen anything worthwhile about his parents and his relationship with them aside from the fact that they found him while searching the rocky hillside for some delicious goat meat. Okkay we don't know why they were out on the rocks, but maybe we should have.  I just can't believe that they were out there on a pleasure walk during the wee hours of night.

Overall: Brainless, fluffy, inoffensive except to Greeks, has a bouncy beat.  Worth watching while eating pizza on a night when you don't have to be anywhere particular the next day.