Monday, June 15, 2009

The Disney Animated Canon: The Silver Age part two

#21: "101 Dalmatians"
And now, we are in the sixties, which would prove to be a very tumultuous decade indeed. Plus, the Disney studio had a lot of shockwaves go through it at this time.
Walt Disney passed away in 1966. This was a crushing blow to everyone at the Disney studio. The Nine Old Men floundered for years and years without their leader, and as we'll see, this shows in their work.
Oddly, each of the four films that round out this Age have been advertised as "the final film Walt Disney personally produced", but who knows which one (if any of them) this is true for.
Another shockwave was the invention of a Xerox machine that could photocopy the animators' drawings directly onto cells. "101 Dalmatians" was the first movie to use this technology (they pretty much had to with all those spots) and every film from this era has a distinctive "sketchy" look. The good thing about this technology was that it made films much easier to produce. However, it also makes the films look rather cheap. There are times when you can actually see the sketchy "skeletons" of the characters, and bits of recycled animation.
All this is a prologue to me being amazed that "101 Dalmatians" immediately followed "Sleeping Beauty". I never would have guessed it. Imagine if one band, within three years, followed "Dark Side of the Moon" with "Cracked Rear View".
Come to think of it, "101 Dalmatians" is very like Hootie and the Blowfish. (Stay with me here.) It is actually a bit better than I remember, but there is still no reason whatsoever for it to be as insanely popular as it is. It's the Disney version of an action movie and it's very, very sixties. Plus the puppies are cute. And it's the source for one of the best straight-up parody episodes of "The Simpsons".
Let us not speak of the live-action remake. Or the fact that we got "Patch's Great London Adventure" and not this.

#22: "The Sword in the Stone"
I must confess, I wasn't looking forward to watching this one again. Even as a kid, I thought it was remarkably lame for a Disney feature, and (once again) it amazes me as an adult that it was released within a few years of "Sleeping Beauty". So having watched it again for the first time in probably fifteen years, what can I say?
I can say that in fact, "The Sword in the Stone" IS lame. The funny thing is, it's just as lame as I remember - not better or worse. Of all the movies I have watched thus far during this project, even the anthology features, this is the first one that genuinely feels cheap. Have you ever noticed that the plot recycles itself every twenty minutes or so (Merlin turns Arthur into something cute, he gets into some kind of misadventure, Merlin changes him back, lather rinse repeat)? The animation is downright sloppy and repetitive; we are apparently not supposed to notice when they recycle the same action over and over (the good news is, there's a drinking game to be made there). We're also not supposed to notice when they use the same dialogue over and over (take two sips for that), or when Arthur's voice changes (three sips).
And I have to go off on Arthur. All of the characters are very unappealing but he is the most annoying character in any of these films so far. He has few other expressions other than this stupid, blank gaping stare that begs to be caved in with a brick. He's the Peter Patrelli of Disney heroes.
But then… ah, the Wizard's Duel. Five minutes of genius in a sea of stupidity. It starts after the one hour mark, if you'd like to know.
This is really the first of a sort of series of book adaptations the Disney studio would pump out ever since. Almost none of them have anything to do with the source material other than the fact that the characters have the same names. I'll try to refrain from picking on them for that.

#23: "Mary Poppins"
This was the very first time I - and I hate musicals - ever watched this movie the whole way through.
I liked it.
(Pauses as everybody goes 😱.)
Well, the songs are very good; it amazes me that the Sherman brothers wrote all of these after their forgettable "Sword in the Stone" numbers. It's very long but it moves very fast. There is, really, only one slow spot (the bank scene). But on the whole, it's very fun and very cheerful.
And it's the source for another one of the best straight-up parody episodes of "The Simpsons". And don't forget "Scary Mary"!

#24: "The Jungle Book"
So this may well be the very last film Walt Disney was directly involved in, may he rest in piece. Even if that is true, this is really the Sherman Brothers and Ken Anderson and Bill Peet show. The latter two provided the memorably fun character designs. The former provided the excellent songs.
Funny thing about those songs, however. Even though "The Bear Necessities" is one of the most-often covered Disney songs, it makes absolutely no sense out of context.
Now, of course the book kicks this film's rear end from one end of India to the other. Still, with a lot of fun Parental Bonuses and a great script, this will be the most memorable fully-animated film for some time, I'm afraid.

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Next Post: the Dark Age. For more posts in this series, go here, or click the Chronological Disney Animated Canon tag below.

1 comment:

furienna said...

I have to disagree with you completely about "The sword in the stone". I just adore it to bits! I just love the Medieval setting. But I guess it also helps that I've only watched it with Swedish dubbing, where Arthur only has one voice actor, and he actually sounds like a twelve-year-old boy!