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Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

Frozen II

Friday, February 28th, 2020

A while back somebody asked me if I was gonna review FROZEN II. I’m sure they lost interest by now, but I work on my own schedule. I didn’t review the first FROZEN (unless you count this unrelated movie with the same title) but I liked it at the time. These days the all-consuming cultural force of THE DISNEY CORPORATION is kind of off-putting to me, but back then I was more open to their magicTM. If you read some of my old reviews like SAVING MR. BANKS and POCAHONTAS, hopefully they can explain my interest in the history of the animation studio and the way their story formulas have slowly evolved over the years.

To me FROZEN was another step in the evolution of the Disney Princess. I appreciated their previous movie, the Rapunzel adaptation TANGLED, for allowing its heroine to be flawed, with self-esteem issues coming from her complicated relationship with the villain, who is also her mother figure. FROZEN is maybe less nuanced, but I liked the bait and switch where she needs True Love to break the spell and it turns out the prince you assumed it was talking about is a piece of shit, so sisterly love saves the day instead.

Several years went by, FROZEN’s ubiquity in pop culture (let it go, let it gooooo) sanded off much of its novelty, and much like INCREDIBLES 2 I looked at the posters and it looked like the same movie and even though I thought I should see it I felt no urgency to. Then I finally watched it on Blu-Ray and I got about two minutes before I realized that since I only saw FROZEN once, and have no kids in my life to hear obsessing over it, I had to pause and read the entire Wikipedia entry to remember what the fuck it was about. Like, oh yeah, Elsa (Idina Menzel, UNCUT GEMS) with the snow powers was kind of the bad guy at first. I forgot the main character was actually this non-snowy redhead character Anna (Kristen Bell, POOTIE TANG, SPARTAN, SCREAM 4, HIT & RUN). And I was still going, “Okay, yeah, I sorta remember that” in the last couple paragraphs. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Lion King (2019)

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

I honestly wanted to see the LION KING quasi-live-action remake in the theater, but never managed to. Turns out it did okay without my money. But by waiting until now to review it I missed out on timely discussions of related issues about a pioneering studio turned monolithic corporation treating their legacy of hand drawn animation as just a shitty licensing library to be resold (and possibly replaced in the imagination of new generations) with more realistic imagery. I guess I addressed it in my review of the (actually) live action ALADDIN. Basically, I’m open to to enjoying these remakes on their own terms, but the whole idea of them is a bummer.

Now let’s get to a more controversial topic: I have never thought the original LION KING was very good. I know it’s a beloved classic, one of the highest grossing animated movies of all time, etc. I watch it once every 5-10 years hoping to like it better this time, but I always strike out. I liked the dramatic stuff, like everything having to do with Mufasa’s death, but I always thought the musical numbers, in addition to not being really my jam, were more of a distraction than a story. And I was not really into the farting warthog. (read the rest of this shit…)

Aladdin (2019)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

ALADDIN. The 1992 Disney animated classic about a “street rat” who’s a “diamond in the rough” and gets three wishes from a hyperactive genie and uses the opportunity to try to marry the princess he just met. See, they come from opposite worlds, but if you think about it, having to sneak out of your gigantic palace in disguise to go to the market while your dad tries to make you marry a prince you don’t know for political reasons is very much the same experience as being an orphan who knows how to make crushing poverty fun with petty theft and parkour. So I don’t see why there would be any awkwardness there. They’ll do great!

Now we have a live action version, and legitimate reason to be skeptical. I’m very proud of my review of SAVING MR. BANKS from just six years ago, which I turned into sort of a manifesto against kneejerk cynicism toward Disney and happy endings and what not. But these days the corporation probly gets less pushback than it honestly deserves – they buttered us up with Star Wars and Marvel movies and then created a disastrous monopoly by purchasing Fox. There are many small, terrible things I could complain about, but it’s in the big picture that it seems to me they’re really doing the opposite of what their founder was beloved for. It seems less about telling great stories and more about trying to own the most popular “properties.” Not only have they entirely abandoned the classic hand drawn animation that was once their entire business, but they’re recycling their own animated stories in live action and/or realistic computer animation that’s sometimes well done but generally lacks the heart and soul of the drawings Walt helped breathe life into.

That fucking sucks. On the other hand, I can recognize that most of these movies are pretty enjoyable on their own merits. So I try to be fair. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mary Poppins Returns

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

I’m usually an optimist, but I had no confidence at all in Rob Marshall directing a sequel to MARY POPPINS, despite the obviously well-cast Emily Blunt (THE WOLFMAN). I’m happy to report, though, that all involved did a great job and MARY POPPINS RETURNS is a warm and enjoyable revival of old school Walt Disney cornball musical family entertainment, for those who might be interested in such a thing.

I really didn’t know what I was talking about with Marshall, to be honest. I’ve never even seen his Academy Award winning CHICAGO. But I was so bored watching PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES that it completely put me off a series I had loved up until that point. I didn’t trust him taking a crack at this much more sacred Disney ground, especially with a script from the guy that did fuckin FINDING NEVERLAND. But in retrospect Marshall had pretty good qualifications for this one. I’ve subsequently learned of his love for MARY POPPINS as the first movie he remembers seeing, his seriousness about honoring the original tone and using material from the P.L. Travers books, that he had Marc Shaiman (MY GIANT) start recording the score beforehand so he could play it while filming, and that he got the cast to rehearse the song and dance numbers for months, something he took from his days as a dancer and choreographer for the stage. Having seen it, all of that makes sense. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

Hey man, I’m not a monster, I enjoyed WRECK-IT RALPH like anybody, and the sequel is fun too. This licensing crossover bonanza shit has kinda become its own genre since WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT invented it in earnest, so we’ve had the toy version (TOY STORY), the other toy version (THE LEGO® MOVIE), the… everything version (READY PLAYER ONE) and the horrific, soul-rattling nightmare version (FOODFIGHT!). RALPH’s video game version does it just right – an elegantly executed premise full of Pixar-worthy well-thought-out world building, funny characters, good jokes, loving homages, minute detail, occasional Q*Bert cameo. I mean they even had an end credits jam by Buckner & Garcia (look it up). Some time later I went to Disneyland and they had playable Fix-It Felix, Jr. games in the Starcade, and especially seeing it in person you realize what a nice tribute it is to the beautiful design of the Donkey Kong game cabinet and the 8-bit animations of that era of video games. It makes you remember that, crude as they seem now, they are an artform.

So now we have the sequel RALPH BREAKS [sic] THE INTERNET, and at least it’s not a rehash. Sentient video game characters Ralph (John C. Reilly, CRIMINAL) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, THE WAY OF THE GUN) are inseparable friends from frame 1, and when the arcade they live in gets wi-fi they find themselves exploring the big city that is the internet. It has an actual help desk for a search engine, an eBay building where auctions take place, flocks of Twitter birds overhead, and lots of little blocky avatars of internet users walking around trying to avoid people waving pop-up ads and clickbait in their faces. It’s all very clever and observant (they get a big laugh from an auto-fill in gag, and there’s one about “one weird trick”) and designing the behind-the-scenes characters (a messenger who delivers eBay reminder emails) in the style of ’50s advertising icons helps keep it from feeling desperately current. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mulan

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

June 19, 1998

MULAN is the Disney animated feature of summer ’98. It’s another Broadway-style musical loosely based on an old tale, in this case the legend of Chinese warrior Hua Mulan, as described in The Ballad of Mulan. Fa Mulan – voiced by Ming-Na Wen (STREET FIGHTER), singing voice Lea Salonga (NINJA KIDS) – is a young woman in Han dynasty China in the midst of training to be a great warrior. Oh, whoops, that’s a typo – in the midst of training to be a great wife. She gets all painted up and tries to walk in confining clothes and know all the etiquette for tea drinking and what not. But she’s not up to it, even has to write notes on her hand before a test, and completely fucks it up.

Luckily there is another option. The Huns are invading and every family must provide a man or boy to fight in the army. The only male in her family is her dad Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh, STEELE JUSTICE, DEATH WISH 4), a war vet who is all for going again but he’s an old man who can barely walk and she’s sure he’s gonna get fuckin killed in like two seconds so at night she steals his armor and conscription notice and runs off to pretend to be a dude and fight in the army on his behalf.

Which she’s actually worse at than being feminine. There’s lots of, you know, humor about how she says something in a normal voice and then says “er, I mean” and repeats it in a not even remotely convincing fake-masculine voice. She starts to pick up other things like to spit and do gross things to be accepted as a man. It’s like JUST ONE OF THE GUYS I guess but when they see her boobs it’s off screen. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beauty and the Beast (Disney remake)

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Disney’s new live-action rendition of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a tale as old as time, a collection of songs as old as 1991, plus new ones created in 1993 for the Broadway musical. Unlike Jon Favreau’s excellent computer-animation-that-seems-like-live-action remake THE JUNGLE BOOK, which melded beloved elements of the 1967 animated classic with more serious drama from Rudyard Kipling’s book, this is a very faithful, at times scene-for-scene re-enactment of the 1991 best picture nominated hit. But that’s the idea: it’s the movie version of the stage version of the animated version of the traditional fairy tale. Director Bill Condon (CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH) and adapters Stephen Chbosky (RENT) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (HERCULES with The Rock) seem to look at it much more as a restaging than a reinterpretation. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Jungle Book

Monday, April 18th, 2016

tn_junglebookDisney’s 1967 animated version of THE JUNGLE BOOK was pretty much a hangout movie. A bunch of animal dudes kickin it in the jungle, occasionally singing songs. Like HOUSE PARTY but with snakes and shit. The tiger Shere Khan plays the part of Full Force.

Now modern Disney and director Jon Favreau (executive producer, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) have brought in more of the world and narrative of Rudyard Kipling’s stories for an excellent live action(ish) version that captures plenty of the spirit of the old one while also being totally different. It uses versions of the original songs and even evokes Disney animation with a painted version of the castle logo, but never feels redundant. It’s like putting on glasses and seeing that version in more detail, from the visuals to the story.

I have to admit, after COWBOYS & ALIENS I kinda thought maybe we got too excited about Favreau as a director because of IRON MAN. Clearly I was wrong. This is a movie I can’t imagine many directors pulling off. Like with IRON MAN he finds a perfect balance between nerdy love for the source material and clear vision of how to tell the story in a dramatic way we haven’t quite seen on screen before.

And it can’t be easy competing with the memory of Stephen Sommers’ 1994 version.

(That might be unfair. I haven’t seen it.)

(read the rest of this shit…)

Pocahontas

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

tn_pocahontas

RELEASE DATE: June 23
RELEASE DATE: June 23

Disney’s POCAHONTAS is the big animated feature of the summer of 1995, a part of the “Disney Renaissance” and feature animation resurgence that started in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But if the popularity of Disney animation was a motherfucker trying to ice skate uphill, this would be the point when he had just reached the top and now was beginning to slide back down in reverse. It came out a year almost to the day after THE LION KING, the tale of fathers and sons and a bunch of unrelated songs about a farting warthog and a smartass weasel guy or whatever, which smashed all box office records for animated features and remained the highest grossing of all time until TOY STORY 3 beat it 16 years later. More importantly, POCAHONTAS came about 5 months before the first TOY STORY arrived like a European with an infected blanket, triggering the end of the popularity of line drawings on the big screen.

Though not very highly regarded, and controversial for its fictionalization of history, I think POCAHONTAS is a respectable swan song for the age of Disney hand drawn animation. It goes whole hog with the house formula of glamorous heroines in a Broadway-inspired musical format, but takes some risks and, most notably, gloriously showcases the artistry of the studio’s best animators, designers and colorists. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tomorrowland

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

tn_tomorrowlandWalt Disney himself is never seen or mentioned in TOMORROWLAND, but it’s a fantasy adventure based on his belief in the future as a place of infinite promise and wonder and shit. It’s a story about kids finding a secret hidden city founded by great visionaries of the past (Edison, Verne [not me, the other one], Tesla, the guy that invented the Etch-a-sketch I think) as a hope for a better world. It’s all glorious curvy buildings, flying monorails, friendly robots and floating swimming pools.

One kid named Frank (Thomas Robinson as the kid version of George Clooney) goes there to try out his home-made jetpack. Another named Casey (Britt Robertson, SCREAM 4) is intrigued by their space program. The crew she sees going on a spaceship are young enough to be dropped off by their parents. At least half of them are women and I think only one white kid. The movie’s dedication to diversity and internationalism seems very of-the-moment, but it also relates to one of Tomorrowland’s secret entrances: inside the original 1964 World’s Fair version of It’s a Small World. Wait a minute, It’s a Small World is in Fantasyland, not Tomorrowland. Get your fuckin geography straight, Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)