They Need A Hero, Bolt

Thanks again to Estelle at This Happy Place Blog for allowing me to share my thoughts on another under-appreciated Disney film, 2008’s Bolt.  It’s a little Homeward Bound, a smidge Lilo & Stitch, and part original Toy Story…and it works better than it’s given credit for.

Click here to read my second entry to This Happy Place Blog’s series on “EndEARing & Underrated” Disney films.

 

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Re-Disney: Week 2 Progress Report

Disney Animated Classics:
  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  2. Pinocchio
  3. Fantasia
  4. Dumbo
  5. Bambi
  6. Saludos Amigos
  7. The Three Caballeros
  8. Make Mine Music
  9. Fun and Fancy Free
  10. Melody Time
  11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
  12. Cinderella
  13. Alice in Wonderland
  14. Peter Pan
  15. Lady and the Tramp
  16. Sleeping Beauty
  17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
  18. The Sword in the Stone
  19. The Jungle Book
  20. The Aristocats
  21. Robin Hood
  22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  23. The Rescuers
  24. The Fox and the Hound
  25. The Black Cauldron
  26. The Great Mouse Detective
  27. Oliver & Company
  28. The Little Mermaid
  29. The Rescuers Down Under
  30. Beauty and the Beast
  31. Aladdin
  32. The Lion King
  33. Pocahontas
  34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  35. Hercules
  36. Mulan
  37. Tarzan
  38. Fantasia 2000
  39. Dinosaur
  40. The Emperor’s New Groove
  41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  42. Lilo & Stitch
  43. Treasure Planet
  44. Brother Bear
  45. Home on the Range
  46. Chicken Little
  47. Meet the Robinsons
  48. Bolt
  49. The Princess and the Frog
  50. Tangled
  51. Winnie the Pooh
Pixar:
  1. Toy Story
  2. A Bug’s Life
  3. Toy Story 2
  4. Monsters, Inc.
  5. Finding Nemo
  6. The Incredibles
  7. Cars
  8. Ratatouille
  9. Wall-E
  10. Up
  11. Toy Story 3
  12. Cars 2
  13. Brave
Totals: 29 completed, 35 left

This week’s been spent re-visiting some of Disney’s less-celebrated films, like Bolt and Fun and Fancy Free, and it made me realize just how many of Disney’s films are effectively ignored…by Disney itself.  When you see Disney products at Target or the Disney Store, or you go to a Disney theme park, you’ll see hordes of Tinker Bell and Buzz Lightyear paraphernalia, but when’s the last time you saw an Oliver or Basil of Baker Street toy? (Admittedly, I do have a Basil plush from when the Disney Store was pushing their version of Beanie Babies back in the day.)

Obviously, there are market forces at work here; if people were clamoring for a Mrs. Calloway the cow t-shirt, they’re be one.  And yes, there are a handful of stinkers in the Disney animated classics canon that don’t get a lot of attention because it’s not deserved (I’m lookin’ at you, Make Mine Music).  But it does make me wonder how much of that, that lack of awareness or under-appreciation, is due to Disney’s marketing and promotion efforts.  Films that more or less died on arrival, like Home on the Range (which is cute and a little insubstantial, but no worse than 95% of what Dreamworks animation puts out)…are they lost to the Great Film Reel in the Sky because of that initial failure?

Disney pushes their back catalog all the time, bringing heavy hitters like Snow White or Beauty and the Beast, “out of the vault” every seven years or so to great fanfare, new soundtrack releases and TV commercials and waves of toys.  A lot of money is spent on consecrating a relatively small pool of films (there are only 11 or 12 films in Disney’s “Platinum”/”Diamond” DVD/Blu-ray release line, and they get the lion’s share of the attention), but why not divert some of that money to building up awareness of some of the lesser-knowns?  Hercules is a great example to revisit: it’s a funny, clever movie with some great characters (Meg and Hades in particular) and a fantastic score/song list.  With its self-deprecating style, it would shine given the current self-awareness prevalent in animated films, but it hasn’t been released on DVD since 2000! (And with a crappy transfer at that. Grrr!)

Wouldn’t Disney want to mine it’s back-catalog for new merchandising opportunities? Isn’t that sorta why they bought Marvel? To take advantage of characters/stories that already existed?

I’m sure Disney beancounters have crunched the numbers; I mean, when has Disney ever left untouched a money-making opportunity?  I suppose it’s just frustrating as a fan to see Stitch everywhere (not to say it isn’t deserved), while other characters languish, only to be used for the “hard” questions on Disney Scene It!

And, to borrow from The A.V. Club, some stray observations:

  • The package films (like Make Mine Music or Melody Time) are just…not for me.  The animation is simple and sloppy.  I understand the context in which these films were made (World War II, and a lot of the animators who worked on Snow White and Pinocchio were drafted), but these films, more or less thrown together just to have something to distribute, are very weak.
  • OMG how Lilo & Stitch made me tear up.  I haven’t watched this film in years, but so much of what was touched upon here (non-traditional families, feeling alone, finding your place in the world) really affected me more than in the past.  Of all of the post The Lion King Disney films, this is my favorite, which is funny, because I used to sort of resent it because of how much Disney was trying to make Stitch a BIG THING around the film’s initial release (I remember when I visited Disney World in 2004, the major characters featured on merchandise were Mickey, Donald, Goofy…and Stitch. What?)  At the time, I was like, “Disney, stop trying to make ‘Stitch’ happen,” all Mean Girls-like.
  • …Yep, upon second viewing, Dinosaur is a blatant knock-off of The Land Before Time.  And I’m not sure why it’s considered a Disney Animated Classic, since all of the backgrounds are actually real-life footage.
  • The Great Mouse Detective is one of my favorites. Rattigan is just an awesome character.  Glad this is coming out on Blu-ray on my birthday this year! (HINT HINT)
  • -I’ve also started the Pixar movies. Toy Story is still great, and watching it nearly 20(!) years after it came out, I wonder how many people really got just how revolutionary, how landscape-altering that film really was.  Would people have continued to pursue computer animated films in such droves if Toy Story wasn’t just a great movie (animated or not?)  What would Disney, and all animation, look like today without Pixar?

Re-Disney: Week 1 Progress Report

After telling myself I was only going to re-watch the Disney animated movies I actually own, I’ve since rented two from Amazon Instant Video and another 6 from the school library (with 5 more on the way).

So…I’m gonna do it, world: I’m gonna watch all 51 of the canonical Disney animated movies.  Really, am I really fulfilling the “challenge” part of a “personal challenge” if I’m only going two-thirds of the way?

Here’s the list, with those I’ve finished crossed off:

  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  2. Pinocchio
  3. Fantasia
  4. Dumbo
  5. Bambi
  6. Saludos Amigos
  7. The Three Caballeros
  8. Make Mine Music
  9. Fun and Fancy Free
  10. Melody Time
  11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
  12. Cinderella
  13. Alice in Wonderland
  14. Peter Pan
  15. Lady and the Tramp
  16. Sleeping Beauty
  17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
  18. The Sword in the Stone
  19. The Jungle Book
  20. The Aristocats
  21. Robin Hood
  22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  23. The Rescuers
  24. The Fox and the Hound
  25. The Black Cauldron
  26. The Great Mouse Detective
  27. Oliver & Company
  28. The Little Mermaid
  29. The Rescuers Down Under
  30. Beauty and the Beast
  31. Aladdin
  32. The Lion King
  33. Pocahontas
  34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  35. Hercules
  36. Mulan
  37. Tarzan
  38. Fantasia 2000
  39. Dinosaur
  40. The Emperor’s New Groove
  41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  42. Lilo & Stitch
  43. Treasure Planet
  44. Brother Bear
  45. Home on the Range
  46. Chicken Little
  47. Meet the Robinsons
  48. Bolt
  49. The Princess and the Frog
  50. Tangled
  51. Winnie the Pooh
A couple of notes on those that I’ve finished:
  • My initial reaction with the Xeroxing films (starting with One Hundred and One Dalmatians and ending with Oliver & Company) is to dismiss them as something lesser than some of Disney’s more celebrated efforts, since there is such an obvious difference, I dare say “simplification,” of the animation style.  After re-watching some of them, like Robin Hood and The Sword in the Stone, I have to say, I still have some reservations about the “sketchiness” of the animation (really, it only works with Winnie the Pooh, since that film is actually supposed to take place within the illustrations of a book), but I’d never noticed before just how much uniqueness and expressiveness, in terms of design, faces, and body movements, are infused with each of these characters.  Whereas the animation in Cinderella is very refined, it lacks the energy of the Xeroxed films.  Madame Adelaide from The Aristocats and the characters from Robin Hood are great examples of this.  For what the animation lacks in a refined beauty, it makes up for with
  • I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a huge fan of the animation in some of these films, particularly the films between Saludos Amigos and Peter Pan. Characters rarely stay “on model” (i.e., proportions change, body parts move, etc.).  “On model” basically means that each character has certain physical rules that they have to follow, and anything step outside of those rules results in a little sloppiness.  It’s something I used to notice on cartoon series like “Animaniacs,” which had different artist facilities animating different episodes, so character models looked slightly different.  It always used to irritate me when I was a kid; I guess I just prefer animation that sticks to some sort of style, instead of moving in and out of one.
  • Treasure Planet, which I’d only watched once before and didn’t care for, and which is considered one of the biggest flops–animated or otherwise–in film history, is indeed a mixed bag.  Some of the visuals are stunning (“pirate ships in space” is a pretty cool concept, after all), and the relationship between Jim and Silver is really well done.  But MAN, Delbert and especially the irritating robot BEN are like concrete shoes to this film.  That “Go Delbert! Go Delbert!” dance  is really cringe-inducing.  And the less we say about the alien who communicates by farting, the better.
  • I was reminded upon this re-watch that The Fox and the Hound is really great, but terribly traumatizing!  Betrayal, death, abandonment–heavy themes for a Disney movie.  Definitely worth revisiting if you haven’t seen it in awhile.
  • Hercules is a great, criminally underrated film.  I would actually argue that Hercules may have the best songs since The Little Mermaid (I mean, c’mon, even Beauty and the Beast had that “Something There” dud).  The animation style is uniquely warped for Disney films (the character designs were provided by the guy who did the artwork for Pink Floyd’s The Wall), and Meg is probably one of my favorite Disney characters ever–sassy, dry, and sarcastic.  I kinda imagine she was the initial inspiration for that Disney Princess Hipster meme that went around awhile back.

I’m also going to be completely crazy at this moment and also pledge to watch all 12 Pixar movies (yeah, even Cars 2) before we leave for Disney World on June 27th.  Heck, I’ll even catch a screening of Brave before then, too, just for kicks!  I mean, that will only leave me with, what, 51 more movies to watch in the next 27 days?  TOTALLY FEASIBLE.

You know I have to do it, because I said I would on the Internet and that’s all binding and stuff.

Re-Disney: The Great Disney Rewatch

I don’t consider myself a super-creative type, but the origins of whatever small, water-droplet-sized amount I do have can be traced back to a movie theatre in 1989, where, at the age of four, I first saw the silhouette of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle cascade over a blue background. Every time I hear that music, the crescendo as Tinker Bell arches over the castle…man, shudders down the spine.

Those 15 seconds were my gateway drug to Disney.  And in 1989, as the castle faded away and Prince Eric’s ship sailed toward me through the fog, I was introduced to the immersive power of animation.  I mean, people actually drew all of this, creating a whole world out of nothing!  To me, a shy kid with a No. 2 pencil, they were like gods.

I never became the animator I aspired to be when I was a kid, but over the following 20-plus years, I did become a Disney-phile.  Say what you want about the Mouse-as-Corporation, or the Mouse-as-Antifeminist, or try to argue that animated films are for babies, but it’s gonna fall on deaf ears here.  My irrational love of Disney stems from my indebtedness to their creative teams for all of the joy they have provided in my life.

What’s really exciting is that in just over a month, Lance and I will be taking a jetplane down to Orlando for a mini-Disney vacation (thanks, Aunt Boo Boo!). It’ll be the first time I will get to stay at a park resort (as opposed to the Master Inn, amirite, guys?), the first time I’ve made dining reservations at some of the resort’s higher-end restaurants, and the first time that I’ll be able to have that whole Disney experience with Lance.

And to all you hipsters out there who only like Disney ironically while also bemoaning about how inauthentic, how manufactured it is: yeah, it is, and I know. But that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

So all of that brings me to what I’m dubbing “Re-Disney.” (more…)