Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Disney Animated Canon: The Dark Age part one

#25: "The Aristocats"
Oh, dear. If this movie sets the tone for the films made in the decade and a half after Walt's death, then this is going to be a l-o-n-g chapter…
I probably should have taken it as a real bad sign rather than a stroke of incredible good luck that Netflix sent me this DVD on the date of it's release. *Every* other new movie I've rented has had at least a short wait. That tells me that *nobody* was clamoring for a special edition of this movie. I should mention that this is one of the few pre-2000 Disney movies I haven't seen yet. And now that I have…
"Sword in the Stone" was obviously cheap. "Aristocats" is downright half-assed. I've read that the movie actually started life as a made-for-TV movie and it shows. I commend my younger self for classifying this one as skippable.
"Everybody Wants to be a Cat" is an awesome song, though. It's a little less than an hour in, so you know.

#26: "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"
"Madness? This! Is! SOCCER!!!!!"
That's the funniest thing I can think of to say for this movie and even THEN it's crap.
As with "Aristocats", while this movie was played nearly every day on the Disney Channel, I managed to never sit down and watch the whole thing - or any of it at all, come to think of it. And once again, I should have trusted the wisdom of my younger self. With annoying characters, awful songs, and a five-minute animated sequence that's downright pointless, this one was terrible.
Look, it may appear as though I'm being harsh towards this particular Age of movies but watching them in order reminds me of the reputation Disney built up over the years. Even the compilation features of the 40's were wildly creative with the animators at the top of their game and willing to experiment. And keep this in mind: from my reading, I've learned that Walt Disney was just about a total control-freak. That's the condition those wildly creative sequences were made under. So to see the studio -without a control freak looking over their shoulders (sorry, Walt)- give up on trying new things and instead make a movie that's cheap or just outright bad isn't just disappointing, it's downright embarrassing.
And as proof that creative, inventive, daring animated films were still out there (and making Disney look stuffy by comparison), consider what the competition was up to in the 70's and early 80's: "The Point", "Fritz the Cat", "La Planete Sauvage", "Allegro Non Troppo", "The Mouse and his Child", Richard Williams' "Raggedy Anne and Andy", "Watership Down", "The Castle of Cagliostro", "The Last Unicorn", "Twice Upon a Time", "Rock and Rule", and (ahem) "The Secret of N.I.M.H."
Additionally, "Bedknobs" neatly emphasizes why I don't like musicals. Try to make it through the endless "Portobello Road" number and try to tell me my dislike of the genre (they sing and dance for fifteen minutes) is unfounded.

#27: "Robin Hood"
Baloo the Bear, performed by Phil Harris, was the most popular character in "The Jungle Book". The Disney people obviously thought so too; they had him come back and do damn near the same character in two other movies, "Aristocats" and this one.
Little John actually looks a lot like Baloo. As a matter of fact, they even recycle the animation of Baloo and kindly ask us to pretend not to notice.
Also, pretend you don't notice that they have also recycled other character designs from "The Jungle Book" as well as "Aristocats" and "Bedknobs and Broomsticks". Finally, ignore the animation reused over and over again during this movie as well as the animation that was blatantly rotoscoped (copied, to put it bluntly) off each of the aforementioned films, and "Snow White"(!!!), and "Sleeping Beauty", and "Cinderella".
Dear readers, you know that I am quite quiet about my private life, so it's highly unusual to give you such information as the following: on the morning I watched this film, I had a minor invasive medical procedure. I was pretty okay afterward, but for the rest of the day I couldn't eat anything but mushy foods and -more importantly- I was unable to drink alcohol. Which is to say, I very dearly wished I had been able to do so.
A "spot the shoddy things in this movie" drinking game would have made "Robin Hood" at least a tiny bit more tolerable. The "Phony King of England" number, where the recycling is extremely obvious, would have me under the table but oh well.
What we have here is the movie with the very dubious distinction of being the single cheapest theatrical animated Disney movie ever. If "Aristocats" was half-assed, this one is downright 1/75th-assed. The best thing I can say is that it really can't get worse than this.
I have to pick on one last thing, but it really says it all. Seeing Prince John go all annoying stereotype and cry for mommy while sucking his thumb isn’t even funny the first time. We get to see the routine ten times.

#28: "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh"
So here, the Disney studio finally said, "screw everything, we'll do another compilation film." This is actually a film collecting a series of earlier "Winnie the Pooh" short films. The shorts date from 1966-1974. The first two shorts were made under Walt Disney's supervision - which means that this movie should get the hotly contested title of Walt Disney's last movie!
And you can tell the difference. This is downright refreshing. I don't even mind that it's not new material.
I always liked the last segment, "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too", the best. I know why now: Don Bluth and his crew obviously did all the animation on Rabbit in this segment. It's some of the funniest stuff they've ever done.
Anyone who, even after all the relentless marketing, can't sit down and go "Awww" at these "Pooh" shorts has a problem.

#29: "The Rescuers"
This movie's a bit of an odd duck. Don Bluth is listed as one of the heads of the production and, really, this feels a hell of a lot more like one of his solo movies than any Disney movie. It literally has each and every one of his favorite tropes covered: little animals, sad little children, little animals being the only friends of sad little children, weird plot twists, sad music, over-the-top cruel villains, sparkly thingies, hurt-comfort scenes, epic quests, glurge-heavy ballads, and big bulky crocodiles (wait…) Watching "The Rescuers", you can see where Bluth would hammer the dents out of these favorite plot elements; sometimes they'd work better, sometimes they wouldn't.
Bernard and Ms. Bianca are fun characters, but the movie spends surprisingly little time with them. Madame Medusa is really just Cruella DeVille, only twice as psychotic and not as memorable. Penny is the real star of the movie and, honestly, her ordeal is just way too dramatic. This is the most Emo Disney movie I've seen so far. I almost couldn't take it anymore around the time they start playing the song that goes "don't cry, little one, somebody out there loves you" over and over.
It probably won't surprise anyone when I say that I was always a bigger fan of the sequel. For one thing, it has aged much better. "Rescuers" is unbelievably seventies. The music just brings soft-focus album covers to mind and a great deal of the visuals consist of seagulls flying against sunsets, right off those same album covers. While this may be the best fully-animated original film the Dark Age has to offer, I don't really know what to say about it. It's worth noting that this is one of the last films overseen by any of the Nine Old Men. From here on, the Newbies would be in charge…


Next Post, the N00Bs take over the studio, with mixed results. For more posts in this series, go here, or click the Chronological Disney Animated Canon tag below.


Incidentally, we can stop worrying about the live-action "Akira". Turns out that this will be one ill-conceived and completely unnecessary live-action remake of an animated work that isn't going to happen; thank your higher power(s) of choice for that.

And mad props to Dawn Taylor for keeping a clear head about what will (unfortunately) probably go down as the Pixar Needs Women Debacle. As a prospective animator who happens to have a uterus, I am obliged to comment on this, aren't I? I will do this later.

As far as real sexism goes, thank you for totally alienating me and all the other women in the world who have ever expressed interest in attending a Comic-Con for reasons other than screaming at pretty men, LA Times. Enjoy this jaw-dropping feature that recently ran on their website. I now firmly believe that the "Twilight" saga and it's fandom are the single most damaging entity to ever affect female nerdery. Eff that face! (Seriously naughty language in that link.)

Phew, I gotta calm down. So, is it just me or does the poster for "The Time-Traveler's Wife" (a film based upon an excellent sci-fi novel that had successfully crossed over into the mainstream largely thanks to it's female fandom) look incredibly unimaginative?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Robin Hood" is much like "The sword in the stone". They both are adorable Disney movies from a weak period in the studio's history, which are both set in Medieval times. So yeah, I have to disagree with you on this one too.