Archive for May, 2011

51 Days of Disney (Day 4): Dumbo

After the colossal financial disappointment that was Fantasia, Disney needed After the commercial failure that was Fantasia, the Disney Studios needed something cheap to produce that would make some money for the company. He needed something that could be made fast and incredibly cheaply made to keep the company from going under. Along came a short and simple children’s story about a flying elephant…

Version watched: 2001 DVD release

I have not seen Dumbo since I was a child. In fact, I had to borrow a copy of the movie from my neighbor in order to even review it. The film is going to finally be released on Blu-Ray in America in September (it came out in other regions early last year) and I will definitely pick it up then.

The story is incredibly simple. Jumbo Jr. is brought to his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, by Mr. Stork. He is instantly ridiculed by the other elephants due to his oversized ears and is nicknamed Dumbo. Everyone makes fun of him except for Timothy the Mouse. His massive ears end up allowing him to become something special because he has the ability to fly using them, but people end up trying to exploit the gift that they used to make fun of him for.

What is quite amazing about this movie is how much content in this 64 minute long film will straight up scare children. I have always had a problem with clowns, so the evil clowns in this movie always terrified me, but even the “Pink Elephants on Parade” section of the film is horrifying. It’s also one of those times where you don’t know how to react to it. On one hand, it’s bright and colourful, but at the same time completely demented.

The music is fantastic as usual, but the music seems to be have a much larger prescience in Dumbo compared to Snow White or Pinocchio. There always seems to be a new song every few minutes and while they are all fairly short, they’re all fun. The best one is “Baby Mine” which will make you cry and was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song, but unfortunately lost. The film did win an Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack, though.

While this movie was being made, the Disney Animator’s Strike of 1941 hit the studio and fundamentally changed it forever. Up to this point the studio had been like a giant family and there was a massive sense of camaraderie around the lot. Walt didn’t want unions having a prescience at his studio, so he fought his hardest to keep them off the lot, but a portion of the animators were fed up with the bizzarre pay scheme at the studio and the fact that there were a large amount of lay-offs after Snow White and the lack of some paid overtime from that movie. Eventually everything was resolved and the Disney Studio became unionized, but the studio never really recovered. Some of the main offenders in the strike were charactured in Dumbo as clowns who were going to “hit the big boss for a raise.”

Honestly, one of my favourite things about this movie is stuff like when the stork was looking down on Florida and the fact that it looks exactly like the map he was just looking at. Also the fact that Mr. Stork is played by a Disney standby, Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh, the Cheshire Cat, Kaa, and Roquefort from the Aristocats) and the patriarchal elephant is played by Verna Felton who would also do the voice of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and (my personal favourite) Flora in Sleeping Beauty.

The animation in the movie is significantly less detailed than in the past three films in almost every way except for the actual animation for Dumbo himself. Corners were being cut every where with more and more animation either being shown off screen or under circumstances where it is obscured in some way. Bill Tytla, who was the lead animator for Dumbo and also the lead animator for Chernabog in Fantasia, did some absolutely amazing work on the baby elephant and it really helps you feel bad for the little guy.

Dumbo is the shortest Disney feature length animated feature, and it did not have the budgets of previous Disney films, but it did make money and allowed the Disney Studios to stay in business and it is still a fantastic and heartwarming film.


51 Days of Disney (Day 3): Fantasia

Version watched: 2010 Blu-Ray release with Disney View

Let me get this out of the way right now, Fantasia is my favourite movie of all time, but that will not affect my review in any way. This movie is perfect enough as it is. It does not need my love of it to make it sound better.

Fantasia is a very interesting beast. It does not have any sort of centralized story or characters (unless you consider the announcer Deems Taylor to be a character). It doesn’t even really have a set style to it. Just as a note, I won’t really be talking much about the music as 1. it’s all unanimously amazing and 2. I really do not feel qualified when it comes to talking about music.

The best way to go about this is to review each segment individually, in my opinion, so that is how this is going to work.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach

As Deems Taylor put it in his introduction to the segment, this piece is really just music for music’s sake. There is absolutely no story to this segment and I would say that it is the weakest segment of Fantasia. That being said, the images are gorgeous and the movement from subtle representations of the instruments themselves being played to heavenly lights in the sky is beautiful to behold.

Of course, saying that is this the weakest segment is like saying that this particular piece of gold is the least shiny in the pile.

The Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

This segment, like the one before, does not really have a set story in Fantasia. It is mostly a representation of the changing of seasons via dancing plants, fish, and eventually faeries changing the seasons from fall to winter. What I find to be very interesting is how characters almost completely devoid of any sort of personality can be so popular. I am talking, of course, about the Chinese Mushrooms from this segment. Seriously, they are on a significant amount of the Fantasia merchandise and they even make an appearance at the Fantasia Gardens at Walt Disney World.

The most memorable part of this segment is the faeries that were mentioned earlier. Their movements are so beautiful and graceful that when combined with the frosting and the effects created from their “ice skating” freezing process that some absolutely gorgeous shots are created.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

This is the point (you know, 30 minutes into the movie) where it really start hitting it’s stride. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the first segment in Fantasia to have a very definite story, Mickey Mouse is the apprentice of the sorcerer Yensid and is tasked with filling a caldron with water. Mickey is incredibly overeager and decides to try some magic and brings a broom to life to help him carry water and in typical Disney fashion, everything goes wrong.

This is my second favourite part of Fantasia (the first will come later, much later). Everything about it is perfect. In all reality, it should be. It was the first segment made for the film and actually the reason the film was made. It was originally just a Mickey Mouse short, but the budget got so high on this one short that Walt Disney decided to take what he did on this particular short and make others like it to make what was then called “the Concert Feature.” This also marked the first time that the more modern and expressive Mickey Mouse that replaced the “Pie-eyed” Mickey on screen. As much as I love pie-eye Mickey, there really is no comparison. The scene where Mickey is on the mountain top magically playing with the stars and ocean surrounding him would have not nearly been as wondrous and magical (I couldn’t resist) without that look of childish glee in Mickey’s eyes and face. That particular part of this segment is easily one of my favourite scenes in cinema.

Just as a note, “Pie-eyed” Mickey’s eyes took up almost the entirety of the “mask” on his face. When they created the modern Mickey, the eyes were shrunk down to a size that allowed for more expressiveness in his eyes and facial movements.

One last thing, did anyone else get a little scared as a child when Mickey brutally chopped up the broom with the axe? I’m just curious.

The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinski

This section of Fantasia is a very violent and brutal representation of the creation of the Earth up to the death of the dinosaurs. It’s pretty scientifically accurate to what was known about dinosaurs at that time (don’t be expecting to see dinosaurs with feathers in the segment. Also, the T-Rex’s arms are too large and have 3 fingers) and it gets somewhat frightening at then end when the Tyrannosaurus Rex attacks.

I always wondered how this segment snuck by the wrath of fundamentalist groups, but it turns out that the segment was originally going to go all the way up to the birth of humans and the discovery of fire. Disney decided against this in order to not stir up a controversy.

Symphony Number 6 in F major, Op. 68 (Pastoral Symphony) by Ludwig von Beethoven

The Pastoral is easily the longest section of Fantasia. With a running time of over a half-an-hour, it could have been one of the most boring sections of the film if Disney had not chosen a suitable subject matter that would allow for  a large variety of images to be put on screen. The segment is based off of Greek mythology and has an incredibly large cast which allows for the segment to be segmented even more into a few short stories that all come together at the end.

One segment follows Peter Pegasus (yes, that is his actual name) and his family on an outing, another follows the centaurs preparing for a party with Bacchus (considering that this is based off of Greek mythology, his name should be Dionysus) and helping him to make the wine, and finally Zeus (in what is one of the best representations of Zeus in any movie I have seen) being a complete and total dick and ruining the party for everyone with the lightening bolts made by Vulcan (who should be Hephaestus. Seriously Disney, pick a mythology and stick to it).

Dance of the Hours by  Amilcare Ponchielli

The Dance of Hours is, coincidentally enough, about the times of the day. The morning is represented by Madame Upanova and her troupe of ballet dancing ostritches, afternoon is Hyacinth Hippo and her dancers, Elephanchine and her dancing elephants are the evening, and finally Ben Ali Gator and his alligator dancers represent the night.

Yes, they all do have names and they are the real names. You can’t make this stuff up.

This is easily the funniest segments of the film, and as such is one of the most well known. It is almost entirely full of slapstick humour and is, as such, a great representation of squash and stretch. Due to the involvement of the heavily stylized and “cutesy” animals, this is one of the more… merchandisable of the segments. When the film was just rereleased, there were a series of plushes for the film. There was of course, a Sorcerer Mickey and a Broom (I have those), but the other three were Madame Upanova, Hyacinth Hippo, and Ben Ali Gator. I would have loved them to have had a Chinese Mushroom, though.

Even this segment has quite a lot of park representation. Every year at the EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival, there are topiaries of Upanova and her dancers, Dance of the Hours (and to a much smaller extent the Pastoral Symphony) are featured in a large float in SpectroMagic, and the music and animation in this segment are in the film at the end of the Great Movie Ride. At least they chose a segment that was good for this amount of public sight, unlike the Carnival of the Animals from Fantasia 2000. I have some serious problems with that segment, but that is for another day.

Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgski/Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

This is easily the greatest segment of Fantasia and one of the most moving pieces of a Disney film. Night on Bald Mountain is genuinely scary, with it’s ghastly images of ghosts, demons, harpies, and other creatures of the night combined with the sheer terror that is dished out by Chernabog, the Slavic god of evil and easily the greatest Disney villain. There is some amazing looking animation with ethereal horsemen riding across the sky looking like something that is very much not of this world and Chernabog’s movements directly mirror that of a someone conducting an orchestra.

Part of what makes this first part so powerful (and what makes Chernabog such a great villain) is the fact that he is not working to achieve anything. He is not inherently antagonizing anyone in particular, he’s just doing what he does best: turning beauty into filth and playing with the dead under his control.

Ultimately it is the rising of the sun and the ringing of church bells that stops the arcane party and sends the forces of darkness slithering back into the mountain. The segment switches to Ave Maria at this point and is where the major emotional resonance comes into play. The imagery is very subtle at this point, everything is very soft and pleasant to contrast with the visual harshness of Bald Mountain. Ultimately, it is the tracking shot travelling through the cathedral like forest near the end that brings a lump to people’s throats. It shows just how beautiful and divine the natural world can be and the rising of the sun is a perfect ending for both the battle of good and evil that just transpired and the film itself.

When Fantasia was first released in 1940, it was a colossal failure both critically and commercially. People just did not know how to react to it. It was incredibly experimental and was Walt Disney’s attempt to really push the art form that was animation to a higher state. There were shots in this movie that were not even known how they were achieved until a notebook was found in recent decades that documented how everything was created. Disney tried to make something that would push the medium and also something that could have been rereleased every year with segments being rotated in and out of  the film as new segments were made. This, of course, did not happen until Roy O. Disney finally got Fantasia 2000 to be made. It is incredibly unfortunate that this film was not profitable until the 1969 re-release when it became popular mostly for it’s… psychedelic qualities. The film did so horribly when it was first released that it almost bankrupted the company, but that is a topic for another day.

51 Days of Disney (Day 2): Pinocchio

If you have ever wished upon a star, then this is the movie for you.

Disney Version watched: 2009 Blu-Ray release with Disney View

If  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was incredibly close to being perfect, Pinocchio is even closer to the almost impossible distinction of being a perfect film. It even has the distinction of being the best animated Disney film, according to Rotten Tomatoes (I do not agree with this statement, but I do believe that it should be in the top 5)

Pinocchio, based off of the Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, follows the story of a marionette brought to life and his attempts to become a real boy by proving to the Blue Fairy that brought him to life that he can be brave, truthful, and unselfish with the help of his conscience, Jiminy Cricket. The story, like the book it was based off of, is incredibly episodic due to the fact that the story was serialized as it was first released. Due to this, the film has characters constantly entering and exiting, most of which you will never see again, and it works surprisingly well for the film. Within the first few moments you see a character, you can instantly understand what the character is like. Doing that takes a lot of skill in both character design, voice acting, and animation to actually pull off well. Marc Davis had always been able to do this very well, but he was not with the company at this time, so it’s nice to see that he was not the first master of this working for Walt Disney.

The most interesting thing about this movie is how much it affected the Walt Disney Company, and the fact that it was not successful in it’s original theatrical run in 1940. The film had a budget of around $2,000,000 and made about $1.4 million. The major problem here was what was going on in the world at the time, World War II. The second great war absolutely killed the international market for Disney’s films, and that is where they made most of their money. The oddest thing about this is how the film created the philosophy of the Walt Disney Company. “When You Wish Upon a Star” went on to win Best Original Song and the score won Best Original Score at the Oscars that year, and the song, of course, went on to be the main message the company tries to say.

The same praise that I gave to Snow White can be applied to this film, but even more so. The music is better, the little animation glitches that could be seen in some versions of Snow White are gone and there is a greater variety of character designs. You have an anthropomorphic fox, cat, and cricket, you have people of different nationalities (Cockney Coachman is, of course, from the United Kingdom and you have Strombolli) who look and act completely different.

Ultimately, Pinocchio an incredibly touching movie about self-improvement and learning and everyone needs to see it.

May I Please go Under the Sea Now? Please?

Some of the first full footage of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure have been posted online.


A long review will come after I ride it.

51 Days of Disney (Day 1): Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In a cheap publicity stunt attempt to share more of my views (and the fact that I have not actually seen all 50 numbered Disney films), I have decided to review every single one over the course of 50 days, just in time for the release of Winnie the Pooh on July 15th. They will be reviewed in numbered order and will all be reviewed in a similar structure. Let’s get this party started with the film that started it all, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The version I watched is the 2010 Blu-Ray with DisneyView on.

The film is, of course, based off of the Grimm Fairy Tale of the same name and holds the honor of being the first feature length, cel-animated film in the history of cinema. Due to this fact, when a lot of critics found out what Walt was working on at his original studio, they believed it wouldn’t work. They thought that no one would want to sit through a hour-and-a-half cartoon!

Oh how they were wrong.

Not only was the film a runaway success, it grossed so much money that it allowed the Disney’s to build a completely new studio to account for it’s monumental growth in the 30’s. In fact, the film was the only Disney film until the 1950’s that actually made money for the studio hand over fist (I will get into this in later installments of this series).

The film was incredibly experimental, not only because of the numerous firsts that it holds on it’s belt, but also for the fact that it was the first time that there were fairly realistic depictions of humans in a Disney film. Up to that point, if there were humans in a Disney film (or in any other animated film from any other studio) they tended to be incredibly stylized and “cartoony.” Human characters like Popeye and Betty Boop were the kings and queens of the animated silver screen, and there are very few people who would say that they are anywhere near anatomically correct. Snow White, the Queen, the Prince, and even to some extent the dwarfs themselves and the old crone were all based off of real human anatomy. In fact, a large majority of the film started as rotoscoped drawings in order to make the characters move like real people. That being said, they only used the rotoscoped drawings as a base. Everything was animated off of those original drawings.

The score by Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, and Leigh Harline is fantastic, the songs are fun and memorable, and the voice acting (besides Snow White sometimes) is equally as good. There is really only one thing in the film that I do not like, and that is the fact that Snow White’s voice, while being beautiful at times, can be the most grating sound known to man.

Talking about this movie, like talking about other films of amazing quality, is a little defeating. There is only so much praise that someone can give without it getting a little annoying. Please give me some feedback as to whether or not you guys want me to go into more depth about the movies themselves and the history behind them.

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Captain Jack has Returned to Port

In 2003, we were introduced to Captains Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa and it was a wonderful time to be alive. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl were two things that were not seen on the silver screen in a very long time: a straight up, period-piece pirate film; and a screen adaptation of a Disney attraction that didn’t suck (Tower of Terror, Mission to Mars, AND the Country Bears all came before it).

The film’s success would have made you think that there would have been a plethora of new pirate films being made and we as a movie-watching public, could have re-entered into a new golden age of piracy (on film). This, rather unfortunately, did not happen, what did happen was that we got three sequels that are all of varying quality. My opinion is that all of the movies are, at the least, fun to watch. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were definitely convoluted in plot and Orlando Bloom can’t act his way out of tissue paper, but the movies are still very enjoyable if only for Captain Jack Sparrow (yes, I will refer to him by his full name and title for this entire review), Barbossa, and Davy Jones.

As for my opinion of On Stranger Tides, well isn’t that what you are here for?

On Stranger Tides of course follows our favourite constantly-drunk-off-of-rum pirate Captain, Captain Jack Sparrow as he seeks out the Fountain of Youth with a woman from his past, Anjelica (played by the gorgeous Penelope Cruz), her daddy, Blackbeard (Ian McShane, some Voodoo zombies, a very forgettable missionary (who I guess was supposed to be the replacement for Orlando Bloom as some eye candy for women), and other assorted crew members; all while encountering some genuinely creepy Mermaids, Spaniards seeking the fountain, and of course the now-privateer Barbossa and the Royal Navy. Considering that it is a Pirates of the Caribbean film, hilarity and hijinks ensue. Also, Blackbeard has the coolest ship in the Pirates universe. The Queen Anne’s Revenge can beat any of the other ships hands down, what with it’s Greek Fire and all.

This particular Pirates film had a change in director, as Gore Verbinski left the films to work on other projects (like his BioShock film that will probably never get off the ground), and he was replaced by Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Nine director, Rob Marshall. All-and-all, the film does not feel very different from the other Pirates films as Hans Zimmer is still doing the very large and bombastic music and Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio are still in charge of the story and screenplay department.

Johnny Depp gives essentially the same performance as he did in the previous films, but the humour is much less slapstick and more based off of his consistently great performance as the Captain, the same can be said about Geoffrey Rush’s performance as Barbossa. The lack of a leg definitely changes up his performance a little, though. Really the only stand out new performance out of the bunch is Penelope Cruz as Captain Jack Sparrow’s on-and-off love interest/enemy Anjelica.

She manages to be everything that is needed for the character simultaneously. She can clash blades like any of the veteran players, she can pull off the acting needed for the role, and can still be both a viable love interest and eye candy (which is something that Keira Knightly seemed to struggle with in At World’s End). Ian McShane, while being a pretty imposing Blackbeard, doesn’t have much to work with in the movie as Blackbeard is a very one-sided character. Overall, there really isn’t anything special in the rest of the cast.

The lack of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley definitely makes the movie a bit better. In the second and third Pirates movies, their story really took centre stage, despite there being much larger and grander events going on in the Caribbean. The fact that there were these two large plots running concurrently with each other is what most of the problems with those films stemmed from. When I would describe the most recent Pirate films to people, the route that would usually be taken is the “You know all the stuff you didn’t like about the previous films? Yeah, that stuff is gone” and it seems to have worked out. On Stranger Tides is tighter and much closer to the original film in quality. I hope that Disney looks at what they changed in this film and apply it to the inevitable sequels that are forthcoming.

The only thing left on my mind is that there is one major reference to the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and it is based off of one of my favourite scenes in the Disneyland version of the attraction, but I will leave you all to figure out which scene it is in the movie.

If ye come seekin’ adventure and salty ol’ pirates, aye? Sure ye come to the proper place as ultimately, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is just a fun, summer action movie.

Facebook Connectivity

I am in the process of trying to add a Facebook Like Box on the blog (it’s on the sidebar at the bottom) but I can’t get it to work correctly. In order to get to the Like Box, you have to click on that link in the box. If anyone knows of a way to get the actual box to show up on the web site, please comment and tell me.

Thanks to Ro (here is her blog and the podcast that she is on, and that I have been on a handful of times) for telling me how to add some ways to share the posts on Facebook and Twitter to the bottom of posts.