Friday, June 12, 2009

The Disney Animated Canon: The Silver Age, part one

#16: "Cinderella"
At this point, we're in the 1950's. This marked the beginning of an era of great change for Disney animation. Walt Disney himself was starting to branch out into theme parks and television and live-action features. Therefore, he wasn't always available to personally supervise the various animated films in production. On the downside, this meant the movies of this period have less of Disney's personal touch.
One the upside, it also meant the producers of the films could experiment a bit more.
All of this is buildup for me to say, with regards to "Cinderella", that after all those anthology features, this is more like it!
The film at the coveted Sweet Sixteen spot in the Canon is about as close to the Grand Unified Perfect Disney Movie as you can get. The best thing is, it doesn't hold back. I don't think you can see a more relentless show of outright bitchery onscreen than the actions of Lady Tremain (yet another fantastic villain), nor a bigger asshole in the Disney Universe than Lucifer the cat (who is there to do bitchy things when Lady Tremain is unavailable). Cinderella herself is a far, far more empathic character then Snow White. The drama is absolutely top-notch. The songs are terrific. The final act is like something out of "Die Hard". The Fairy Godmother and the mice are more great competitors for the Best Character Ever title.
I just can't praise this movie enough. It's like a long, hot bath after some of those anthology features.

#17: "Alice in Wonderland"
Me: "Squee! 'Alice in Wonderland'!"
Walt Disney: "Ugh. 'Alice in Wonderland'."
Me: "I said, 'SQUEE, "Alice in Wonderland"'!!!!!"
Which is to say, it's funny to read what the creators of these movies really thought about them. This, in Walt Disney's eyes, was his biggest disappointment. And to that I say, whatever.
(Okay, the song at about the 55 minute mark is the most dreadful Disney song thus far, and they very obviously ran out of ideas at the end, but the rest of the movie is awesome. So there.)
Have I mentioned how hard Mary Blair rocks? This is her opus. We've got yet another candidate for Best Character Ever in Cheshire Cat. And "Alice" has, by far, the best sight gags and "Parental Bonuses" in any of the classic Disney films. I finally understand the Caucus Race scene! Wee!

#18: "Peter Pan"
I guess anytime Katherine Beaumont has a solo song, that's your cue to go get a snack. The one in this movie is pretty dreadful too, but much nicer than the one in "Alice" and can even be considered a genuine tear jerker.
You've also got another great example of double-standards at Disney: they won't re-release "Song of the South", but the song here at the 50 minute mark is A-OK.
Those are the only things I can complain about here. "Peter" is another amazing movie. At this point, you could easily argue that Disney peaked in the '50's; it was, after all, the last time all of the Nine Old Men would work together on movies. The "You Can Fly" scene gives me chills.

#19: "Lady and the Tramp"
Awwwww…
Now, if "Bambi" is a tone poem, then this is a dedicated character study. I can't help but wonder if this is the beginning of how dogs have been characterized ever since or if it was always that way. It is obvious that Disney was a dog-person. I can't believe I never really noticed this before, but the whole story is told from the animals' point of view.
This is the first movie Disney made in a widescreen aspect ratio. Up until now, we've only been able to watch such films in pan-and-scan. (If you don't know the difference, pan-n-scan is a little like trying to read this through a keyhole.) It looks absolutely terrific now that the DVD allows you to watch it in it's original format.
This is also supposedly the very first time Disney made a feature-length animation based upon an original story. That is… sort of true. Follow this now: Ward Greene wrote a short story about a character who'd inspire Tramp. Joe Grant was kicking around the idea of making a movie about his dog, a Cocker Spaniel. Several years and plenty of executive meddling later, and Ward Greene found himself writing a novelization of "Lady and the Tramp", which was released the year before the movie was. Oh, Disney.

#20: "Sleeping Beauty"
The best of the Silver Age. No contest.
It's gorgeous. The music and effects are excellent. And most important of all, the characters are wonderful.
Philip finally gives us a Prince with more personality than "hot guy who gets to marry the heroine in the last act". By the end of the movie he's a genuine hero.
And he has to be. Maleficent is the best villain! There are, really, a few Disney bad guys who come close, but in terms of downright evil bitchery (her scene with Philip in the dungeon; wow) there's no wonder why she gets to be leader of the villains whenever they do a crossover.
The supporting cast is great as well. Even the minor characters are fun. You have to love the scene with the bard. Really, I can't get over how excellent this movie is. The fact that Disney didn't make another movie based upon a fairy tale until "The Little Mermaid" says a lot; it's like they knew they wouldn't be able to match this one for some time.
It's worth noting that Disney was very hard at work on Disneyland while this film was in production. And that helps a lot in explaining why the overall design of Fantasyland (Sleeping Beauty Castle of course but also other buildings and signage and such) looks a lot like "Sleeping Beauty".

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Next Post takes us into the tumultuous sixties. For more posts in this series, go here, or click the Chronological Disney Animated Canon tag below.

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And, I finally saw "Up" this weekend. That's another thing to talk about after this series is over.

And I've got another adventure to talk about when this series is over. Though it wasn't as spectacular in scope as the Bermuda trip I did manage to (almost) fill another whole Sketchbook. I'll tease you by saying that I still have "Octopus' Garden" in my head and with this hilarious old commercial which used to play during every commercial break ever when I was a kid:



(I can't for the life of me figure out how the building layout seen here transformed into what it looks like today. Don't tell me they really did have sharks in the pool that makes up the entire first floor?)

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