Love In The Time of Superheroes

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Thanks so much to Estelle over at This Happy Place Blog for inviting me to write about sappy love nonsense.  Well, not really: the prompt was to write about what makes some of the great Disney couples work. And I couldn’t think of a better couple then Helen and Bob Parr (a.k.a. Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible) from Pixar’s The Incredibles.

Writer-director Brad Bird obviously has a knack for capturing true emotion on film, be it the passion for what you love in Ratatouille, or the complex identity of an outcast in The Iron Giant, or the at-times strained but always loving marriage of the Parrs.  They love each other immensely, but that doesn’t mean their marriage is without insecurity.  They squabble, they fight and nag, but they know each other better care about each other more than anybody else.

(I also love Helen Parr because she reminds me a lot of Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights!)

I drew a little comic strip to try and capture the essence of what makes their relationship tick.  Head over to This Happy Place Blog to take a look!

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Flick-fil-A: Brave

The first twenty minutes or so of Brave will make you think, “Oh, hey, this is a lot like Finding Nemo, but with a mom/daughter relationship.”  But Brave is, surprisingly, a lot more like Cars.

[Minor thematic spoilers below]

Both films have a Big Message (what usually sets apart Pixar films from, well, nearly every other animation house out there), and both miss graceful executions of said Big Message. Cars meanders too much–which I get is sort of the point, but c’mon, at least make it interesting–while Brave takes its main message and beats you over the head with it.  Brave is not subtle, even using voiceover narration (did the Brave screenwriters ever see Adaptation?!) to explain everything, including how being “brave” doesn’t always have to mean an outward display of courage.

Like the original CarsBrave is a solid B/B-minus and is frustrating because there’s potential there for it to be really good.  The score and songs are really solid, and the animation is simply breathtaking, with a level of detail and depth never before seen in a CGI film; I kept on thinking to myself, “Wow, I wonder what Walt Disney would’ve thought about this?” (this has something to do with Pixar’s brand new animation system, PRESTO).  This film is sure to become a standard in many Blu-ray players.  The themes are adequately addressed, if cumbersomely, but the humor is broad without being particularly clever, which Pixar has excelled with in the past.  The screenplay is just a lot rougher than anything the studio has produced before; perhaps this has something to do with its original director and creative force behind the film being fired midway through production.

[Sidebar: As discussed in this Comics Beat piece on it’s an odd year when it seems like there’s been a role-reversal between Disney Animation Studios and Pixar.  As the competition in the CGI animated field heats up and films from rivalstudios get better (see: How to Train Your Dragon) how does Pixar define itself?]

All that said, the most significant thing Brave has going for it: Merida is unlike any heretofore Disney princess.  There’s no Prince Charming or any love interest, but even so, this is not an typical modern “Girl Power” movie.  Merida’s journey is thankfully not only about relinquishing patriarchal tradition; it sidesteps that for the most part,  focusing more on a themes about admitting your mistakes and trying to fix them, and trying to understand others when their noblest intentions don’t gel with yours.  What sort of impact this unconventional approach to “a princess story” will have not only to Disney’s merchandising team, but also to girls–and boys–in the audience, remains to be seen.  Maybe Merida’s aversion to finding a man will rub off on some of Disney’s other princesses in interesting ways.

Oh, and La Luna, the short attached to Brave, is seven minutes of pure joy. If Cars 2 had you questioning the supply of creativity left at Pixar, La Luna will temper your doubts while putting a smile on your face. It’s really wonderful.

Final Scores:

Brave: B

…and La Luna: A

Re-Disney: Week 4 Progress Report

Sorry. It was too easy.

It’s been an unexpectedly crazy week at work, which explains the lack of posts.  However, it has (somehow…?) not slowed down my Re-Disney progress. Let’s recap:

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: 56 completed, 8 to go (+14 since last week)

Special thanks to Christie for loaning me Finding Nemo and Cinderella!

Thoughts on this week’s films:

  • Chicken Little isn’t that bad. This is the first time I’d ever seen the film, which I’d previously dismissed as “Disney’s weak attempt to fill the Pixar hole” which was almost created when the companies were at an impasse about a decade ago (and before Disney bought Pixar outright). The worst aspect of the film is that it feels very early-Dreamworks, and not Disney. What I mean by that is that there are a lot of cultural references (like Barbra Streisand…?) which feel shoehorned in here.  Ugh, I hate Shrek for a reason, folks. Still, Chicken Little is cute, if forgettable.
  • Also the first time I’d seen either Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros.  I honestly can’t believe Saludos Amigos is even considered a Disney Animated Classic film–it’s less than 45 minutes long, and I’d say at least a third of that isn’t animated.  My understanding is that these two films were thrown together as propaganda pieces for the US Government’s Good Neighbor Program during World War II (basically, Disney was going to win over the South Americans from joining the Axis or something).  Anyway, the video transfers on the combo DVD that came out a few years ago are really terrible, especially on The Three Caballeros.  I’d only recommend watching it for the last, extended sequence in TTC, which is about as trippy a scene as I’ve ever seen Disney produce. And you thought Dumbo‘s pink elephants were something…!  I hope you have some munchies ready.
  • Tangled is awesome and visual treat, and nearly a return to form, except the songs are so dreadfully dull that it sorta ruins the rest of the film.
  • Sometimes the timing of events in Disney movies really throws me.  Okay, so Ariel only has three days to get Prince Eric to kiss her.  Geez, that’s like an eternity compared to Cinderella, who has the prince fall in love with her during, what, one dance without any conversation? Or in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, where the bulk of the story seems to happen within a 24-hour period.  Are these characters just not as cynical about love as I am??
  • Cars 2 and The Black Cauldron really are that bad, both lifeless films obviously put together by committee to try to appeal to demographic X or Y.

Given that, I’m excited for the remainder of my slate (I’ve started watching Pocahontas, and I was really excited…up until Grandmother Willow shows up. UGH!).  Who’s going to see Brave this weekend?  I have my Merida costume all ready for a showing on Sunday!!!!!

Re-Disney: Week 3 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: 42 completed, 22 to go (+13 since last week)

Yippie! I crossed over the halfway mark earlier this week, somewhere between The Princess and the Frog and Ratatouille.

I think I’ll actually be able to pull this off in the next week and a half, though some films are proving to be more difficult to track down than others. Both Cinderella and Finding Nemo are being re-released on Blu-ray this fall, so I sold off my DVD copies months ago; unfortunately, you can’t rent these on Amazon Instant Video or iTunes. Similarly, I submitted inter-library loan requests for The Three Caballeros, Saludos Amigos, Cars 2 and Winnie the Pooh (2011) weeks ago, but still nothing has materialized. I might have to bite the bullet and just buy those–I can’t go all this way and come up four films short! (Obvious, a human travesty if such a thing were to happen.)

Good slate of films this week.  Re-cap observations time, focusing on some particularly awesome visuals:

  • Not the first time I’ve seen it, but I was reminded that Tarzan is WONDERFUL, right up there with some of the best, early-90s Disney Renaissance stuff, in my opinion. It’s only significant weakness is an underdeveloped villain. I can’t wait for this to come out on Blu-ray–the animation is simply gorgeous. One of the first scenes, as Tarzan “surfs” through the jungle, is really awesome stuff.
  • The animation in Mulan is also beautiful.  Like Pocahontas, though, I felt the film suffers from a serious case of “obligatory animal friend” syndrome.  Crickets, dragons, horses, puppies…yeesh!
  • If you’ve never seen Sleeping Beauty or Lady and the Tramp on Blu-ray, do it. You wouldn’t think that hand-drawn animation would justify a hi-def release, but you’d be wrong. Consider this: you can actually see the shadows between the animated cel and the painted background on these films–you really experience the animation in as true a form as its ever been presented, even in theatres.
  • I understand that Ratatouille is a “good film,” critically and everything, but I just don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it.  I don’t love it, and I think it has to do with the fact that Linguini’s character is pretty obnoxious.  Still, I could watch this film on loop for days on end because it’s just that stunning, and probably the first Pixar movie that I would say that about.  Sure, Toy Story and A Bug’s Life and the earlier films are great stories with groundbreaking animation, but Ratatouille goes out of its way to be beautiful.
  • Can anybody argue that Up is, by far, Pixar’s best overall film (though I think Monsters, Inc. is criminally under-appreciated and is actually Pixar’s most creative work)? That Grape Soda badge gets me every time. Oof.

Alright, folks, we’re nearing the home stretch.  If anybody has a copy of one of the following I could borrow to wrap up this project, let me know!

  • Saludos Amigos
  • The Three Caballeros
  • Cinderella
  • Finding Nemo
  • Cars 2
  • Winnie the Pooh (2011)

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?