Friday, June 19, 2009

The Disney Animated Canon: The Dark Age, part two

#30: "Pete's Dragon"
Better known as "The Movie That Made Don Bluth Say, 'F*** It.'"
After watching this one for the first time ever, I started to think that I was a little rash in calling the late-90's/early-00's period the Dork Age. This is the "Pretty Woman" of the Disney Animated Canon (stay with me here). The original short story told a very dark, depressing story of a little orphan boy who'd escaped from his abusive foster family and retreated into a fantasy world of magic dragons.
Something obviously got lost in the adaptation here. It's either the fact that Elliot is absolutely real from the first scene or the fact that it's a musical. On the first point, Elliot is actually invisible most of the time for no other reason than saving money on special effects. On the second point, this is the kind of musical where you half expect them to start singing, "The Front Door's a Little Sticky (You Might Have To Give It A Good Kick Open)".
Mind you, aside from the dragon and the songs, the story is still very dark, which makes for a movie that is downright manic-depressive in tone. Fortunately, Don Bluth was in charge of all the animation, and the character animation on Elliot is wonderful. Too bad we only see twenty minutes of it.

#31: "The Fox and The Hound"
If I am not mistaken, this is the very first movie I ever saw in a theater. Having watched it again, I realize that in all these years, I only had the vaguest memories of it. Mostly the fact that Glen Keane (he did much of the last act, including the bear scene) is incredible.
Man, Disney was on some drama-rama kick at this time, weren't they? This time, Richard Rich is listed as one of the Directors. While he isn't as well-known as Don Bluth, he's another Disney animator who later formed his own studio. He's best known for "The Swan Princess". His other films are very eclectic (ranging from Biblical epics to annoyingly cute versions of famous musicals and E.B. White novels), but he loves drama.
"The Fox and the Hound" has got more drama per pound than some live-action movies. It's got very little incidental music and the cheerful songs and comic relief characters are instantly forgettable. It gets lost in the shuffle of other films, but it's well worth revisiting as it may be the most mature film in the Cannon. It is, essentially, "Brokeback Mountain" with cute animals. I kid you not. Watch it again.
Incidentally, it's almost worth it to watch "The Fox and the Hound 2" trailer included on the disk just for the "WTF" factor. (I don't want to spoil it but isn't this plot right out of EVERY Disney Channel sitcom ever?)

#32: "TRON"
Well, first, I need to do the obligatory thing where you sit there and reflect on the fact that you're writing a review of "TRON" on a better computer than the one they used to animate it.
(She does this.)
Duuuude...
While it was an expensive bomb back in the day, "TRON" has since grown into a cult classic and it's easy to see why; it's overall the best out of all the movies in this time period. Thanks to the remastered DVD, it looks and sounds better than ever. Very trippy and cool, it appears as though they used a similar design aesthetic for EPCOT's Future World buildings.
Hey, did you ever notice that this movie is all about gaining evidence for a copyright infringement suit?

#33: "The Black Cauldron"
Better known as "The Movie That Made Tim Burton Say, 'F*** It.'"
Even better known as "The Movie That Almost Killed The Studio. No, really."
In production for nearly twelve years, way over budget, and the first Disney movie ever to fall victim to (dunt-dunt-daa) Executive Meddling right before it's release. New big boss Michael Eisner welcomed himself to the animators by chopping several scenes out of the finished film. (Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of animation's production process, specifically how animated features are meticulously planned from beginning to end well before anyone gets to put pencil to paper in earnest, will see how insane this was.) "Black Cauldron" bombed spectacularly in it's initial release and was kept out of circulation for decades.
When Disney finally released it on video, it was treated more as an obligation than anything. It was barely promoted and given a bare-bones release. The DVD is slightly better. At least the film is in it's original widescreen format - but it isn't anamorphic. You will learn what anamorphic means the second the movie starts, especially if you've got a 16x9 television. You'll also learn the difference between 5.1 surround sound and whatever was available in the 80's, as the soundtrack hasn't been remixed with the new technology and tends to fade in and out (I pumped up the volume to the thirties to hear the dialogue and got the sh*t scared out of me when the guard dog started barking).
For all this… I kind of liked it. Yes, it's obvious that the production was labored and plagued with problems; expect a very episodic movie. But it's a hell of a lot more interesting than the similarly-themed "Sword in the Stone" and has a far more focused plotline. It also (see what a huge difference this makes) has a great cast of villains and supporting characters. It's just bizarre how this is remembered more for what it could have been than accepted for what it is. I like The Chronicles of Prydain too and I do think a faithful film series would be quite good. But really, how come nobody levels the same kinds of "Wah, it doesn't have anything to do with the books" complaints at "The Jungle Book", or "Sword in the Stone" for that matter?
And what's Eilonwy got to do to be a part of the Princesses line?

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Next time: The movies get good again! For more posts in this series, go here, or click the Chronological Disney Animated Canon tag below.

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