[REVIEW] ‘Trolls World Tour’ or Isn’t All Music Fun?

If you’ve been a fan  of this blog for some time you know that I tend to be a tough sale when it comes to DreamWorks and in particular their comedies. For every Mr Peabody and Sherman that’s hilarious there are tons that fall flat. 2016’s Trolls is an interesting entry in their canon because while it didn’t work for me as a whole it did have a number of elements. I particularly loved the animation and music including the very catchy song by Justin Timberlake ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’.

What I didn’t like in Trolls is the annoying characters and the oddly fascist message. Everyone in the land of the trolls must be the same. They must all like the same activities, music, colors etc. They are all even forced to hug at the same time every day. If they refuse to participate they are pronounced Scrooges and exiled. It seemed bizarre to me in this day and age to send a message about conforming to fit a crowd rather than increasing tolerance of all.

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So now we have the sequel Trolls World Tour, and I’m happy to say they fix this problem…ALMOST! Indeed, most of the world building and lore of the first movie is abandoned for a new dynamic where they are surrounded by nations of music. Poppy’s land is of course pop music and then there is Rock, Country, Classical, Techno and Funk.

Here we have the same problem of everyone having to like the same kind of music and my hope was by the end of the journey Poppy and company would learn to enjoy different music from each land. Unfortunately they don’t go that far. There is tolerance on a macro national level but not on an individual learning to appreciate all kinds of music level. (What a good lesson that would have been for kids…)

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The villain trying to take over all of trolldom is Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) and she wants everything to be rock. Her evil plan is to gather the strings of all the lands for mass musical takeover. I think there is more of a rebellious streak in punk or heavy metal but it was fine (although when the strings are played/destroyed it’s not exactly a Thanos-level moment!).

I really enjoyed the animation in each musical world with the textures of the felt and hair. There are even sequences where they use 2D animation techniques to tell stories in a scrapbook, which of course I loved.

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In addition, going to see all the different musical lands was fun and well done. I can make nitpicks like why is Kelly Clarkson voicing the country troll Delta Dawn? If there was ever a part screaming for Reba McEntire this was it. She even has red hair! The funk world was particularly interesting as they have a musical montage that explains how the other music especially pop has misappropriated the work of POC songwriters for decades.

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They try to make room for other types of music beyond the 6 lands with bounty hunters of regaeton, kpop and yodeling but there are still obvious omissions like blues, salsa, broadway etc.  Nevertheless, kids will have a lot of fun with the music and will be no doubt dancing along to the songs watching at home. Unfortunately It seems like most of the cover songs were outdated. For example, in the pop covers they have songs like ‘Can’t Touch This’ from MC Hammer and ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls. Surely they could have gotten something more recent?

Sadly the new songs aren’t much better. In fact, they are entirely forgettable, which is disappointing. I don’t know if they were trying too hard to match the appeal of the first film but the new songs pale in comparison.

All in all, Trolls World Tour is harmless for kids. It has some beautiful animation and sweet moments but it could have been much better. I so wish they had shown Poppy and Branch embracing all different kinds of music in the end and everyone being richer as a result. As it is, the world of Trolls ends pretty close to where it began, which is not what you want in a quest movie. The message is still you have to think like everyone else or there is a problem, and I don’t like that!

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Favorite Villain and Forgotten Disney Songs

I just thought I would quickly share with you guys 2 videos I did this week that relate to Disney music. I participate as part of my youtube channel in a series called The Friday 5. This is where we get a topic and have to pick 5 songs for that topic.

Well, this week the topic was ‘favorite Disney villain songs’. But I got confused and thought it was wild card week so I initially posted ‘favorite forgotten Disney songs’.  Then realizing my mistake I went back and did a villain song post as well (these Friday 5 videos are pretty easy to put together).

I am trying to use songs I haven’t already used on the Friday 5 so a few were out for that reason but I think I came up with good lists. For the Forgotten Songs it is more forgotten by general masses not Disney nerds who read this blog, so keep that in mind.

Let me know what you think and enjoy!

and Forgotten Disney songs

Friday 5: Favorite Songs from Animated Films

Each Friday I get to participate in a series called the Friday Five on my youtube channel.  It is really fun where Sara Crawford gives us topics and we have to pick out 5 of our favorite songs that fit that topic.  This week she gave us a doozy with ‘favorite songs from animated films’!  To narrow it down I decided to only focus on Disney Canon and then to eliminate villain songs.  I ended up with a list of 20 songs that I will try and share with you some time.

But here are my top 5.

Some other youtubers choices you might like

Friday 5: 5 Favorite Animated TV Show Theme Songs

There is a really fun series I do over on my youtube channel that I normally post on my other blog smilingldsgirl.com called The Friday 5.  It was set up by a fellow youtuber named Sarah Crawford and each week she picks a topic and we have to choose 5 of our favorite songs that fit that topic.  Normally my other blog is more suited to music but since this one involved animation I decided to include it on this blog this week.

This week’s topic was ‘5 of your favorite themes from TV Shows” and since animation is my favorite I decided to go with that.

I think they are 5 really fun themes and 5 great shows. If you haven’t seen them you should totally check them out.  What are some of your favorite themes from TV shows, animated or not?  I would love to hear.  I do this series every week and next week is wild card so if you have any suggestions of a fun topic I could pick put in the comments section.  If any of you have youtube channels it’s a very fun series to be a part of.

Thanks and have a Happy Friday!!

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: VMA Noms

So last minute change Nathaniel over at Film Experience has decided to switch things up for our Hit Me with Your Best Shot movie club.  Instead of our normal watch a movie and pick a shot, the assignment is to watch each of the nominees for best cinematography at the MTV Video Music Awards and pick a shot from each of them.

I have to say going into this I am really only a fan of one of the songs.  Not that they are bad just not my taste (I’m not much into hip hop).  I’m also not that up on the current music scene so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

But here goes.

1. The first video is the song Never Catch Me by Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar

Even for hip hop fans I don’t really get the appeal of the music but the video is nicely done.

This video starts out with a community grieving the loss of a boy and girl at a funeral.  But the children wake up out of the caskets and proceed to dance.  I think this is supposed to mean the exuberance which is lost to violence.  I really liked these 2 kids dancing so that’s why I picked this shot.

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2. The next song is Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran- a bit of a slinky costume on the dancer on this one.  Just warning.

Not a whole lot to this video but a very pretty dance number and I like dance so that’s great.  This is actually the only song of this group I like and own.  I think Ed Sheeran has a nice tamber to his voice and the song has a very good hook.  They could have done I think a little bit more with the song, been a little more creative but it’s a nice number.

I thought this moment with the lighting and the splits of the dancer was beautiful (sorry I don’t know the technical terms).  They should get this dancer on Dancing with the Stars.  She’s great.

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3. Next is Taylor Swift Bad Blood featuring Kendrick Lamar.

I actually like Taylor Swift (I know it is for some reason cool in certain circles to hate on her) but for a pop songstress I enjoy her tunes.  This song I’m not crazy about probably because of the hip hop elements but the music video is pretty cool and certainly ambitious.

There was a lot of cool shots to pick from this video but I went with a shot of the 2 boxers because I think boxing is empowering and have enjoyed doing some of it myself.  I think it is a particularly awesome trend for women- get all that angst out!

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4. Next is FKA Twigs “Two Weeks”

This song I really didn’t care for and I wasn’t a big fan of the video either.  I don’t know who this singer is but I think you have to be a Beyonce or Mariah Carey to pull off this kind of diva Cleopatra kind of video.

But at the end we get an image of someone (the queen I guess?) under water and that was beautiful so that’s my shot.

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5. Lastly, we have alt-J “Left Hand Free”

I have heard this song and it is an okay even if I can’t understand a single word he says. It feels very derivative of other artists like Cat Stevens but most in this genre probably does.  The video sure looks like they are having fun!  I need to hang out with these folks.

As an open water swimmer I particularly enjoyed the scenes at the river.  I wish I could be at that river floating down that gorgeous water!!  (Well I kind of was last weekend at Bear Lake!).  But it looks really fun, so that’s what led to my shot.  I wonder where this mysterious river is with the rope swing we always see in movies and TV? Looks fun!

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Amadeus

This post marks my second entry in The Film Experiment series called Hit Me With Your Best Shot.  It’s a fun project where various bloggers all watch a movie (or pick 1 out of 3) and then have the difficult task of selecting 1 shot that in your eyes captures said film.

My first entry was the daunting Citizen Kane but today proved to be difficult in its own way. This weeks film is a different kind of masterpiece- Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus. (Which was my 1984 selection in Movies From My Life btw)

amadeusBased on the play from Peter Shaffer it tells a fictionalized version of Amadeus Mozart’s (Tom Hulce) life.  It is done through a foil and narrator Antonio Salieri (F Murray Abraham) who in his words is ‘the patron Saint of mediocrity”.  He wants to compose music so badly but he is not given the special talents by God, which he bitterly resents especially when a buffoon like Mozart seems to be so blessed.

Part of the problem is Salieri’s warped view of religion.  He thinks he can make a deal with God.  If he is a ‘model of virtue’ than God will bless him with great talent.  If this was the case then we would all be making deals with God…Salieri claims at the beginning that he works hard, prays and gives many lessons for free.  This reminds me of the rich man who asks Christ what he needs to do to make it into heaven.  “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor”.  He goes away sorrowing.  Jesus knows there is that one part of his heart which is not given to God. Salieri is much the same way.  He goes through the motions of faith without being open to God’s plan for him.  He thinks he can earn the benevolence of God and that he knows what is better for his life than God- the ultimate in pride.

This is when that green-eyed monster called envy creeps in and Salieri allows it to fill his heart.  Whenever he hears Mozart’s music he is overcome by its perfection and the animosity grows stronger until it finally births a plan for revenge- not just on his rival but on God for being so foolish in his gift-giving. He even burns the cross he is so bitter.

amadeus5As is usually the case with envy Mozart is completely oblivious to the hold he has over Salieri.  He has plenty of his own demons to focus on with a father who is never happy,  substance abuse and a public that is not always accepting to his work.  In the great irony Salieri is one of the few who consistently realizes the genius of Mozart and yet that leads to his eventual death and demise.

Amadeus does a lot of things as good as any movie I’ve seen.  It looks great, the opera’s feel real and lush, music is sublime, costumes wonderful and a little surprising (for example, the pink wig is unexpected in a period piece).  But all that aside its greatest achievement to me is two-part:

1. It shows how envy will ruin your life.  Unlike last years Whiplash, Amadeus seems to say that we are either born with talent or we are mediocre. Mozart needs no Terence Fletcher to beat the talent out of him.  It’s just there.  That may be true but surely Salieri could have done better if he had not allowed his rival to overtake him? He certainly could have been happier. As an old man he is in despair, mired with guilt and all because he couldn’t be happy at the blessings of another.  No wonder envy is a deadly sin!

amadeus32. It shows the sublime beauty of a person absorbing a masterpiece better than any film I’ve seen.  That moment when Salieri first hears Mozart’s music is perfect.  He’s just looking at the notes on the page but he hears it in his mind and it almost overwhelms him, even years later he is overcome with the beauty of the music. This is why he thinks it is God speaking through Mozart because only a deity could inspire such breathtaking work.

The problem with the grandeur of music shots is you really need the whole scene to get the majesty of it.

You need to hear Salieri talking about the ‘almost comic’ start, “just a pulse” and then the wind instruments and an “oboe. A single note, hanging there unwavering.  Until a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such a delight” ‘  This is music “filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God”.

I think that’s the most beautiful description of music or art I’ve ever heard.  But like I said, you need the whole scene (a tribute I think to Shaffer’s amazing script).

So I will go with the envy shot.  I am going to pick old Salieri with very convincing makeup.  In the narrative he has just determined his plan for revenge on Mozart and God.  He describes the funeral and what a delicious day it will be for him. Pointing to himself he says “And God is forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! I, for once in the end, laughing at him!”  You can just feel the bitterness oozing out of this face. I love that he is pointing at himself because it is the envy in his heart that is the problem not God, not Mozart, not anyone else.

THE SHOT-

amadeus18But in fact, he is the only one left laughing at himself. “Mediocrities everywhere I absolve you!”

My Favorite Disney Canon Scores

Disney_Records

Hey guys!  I think you will all enjoy this a lot.  I love a great score to a movie.  I’m a lover of classical music and when you have a story behind said music it makes it even better.

I have a little hobby of collecting scores of all types and then listening to them while I work.  This isn’t as distracting as vocal music can be but you still get the entertainment and the story.

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my favorite scores.  Some of these are part of strong movies and others are not.  So the quality of the movie doesn’t really affect the value of the score.

That said, some of these are integral in making the movie work.  Rescuers Down Under, for instance, uses the John Williamesque score to give the feeling of an Indiana Jones type adventure very effectively.

I also tried to put in some variety because I don’t only like epic scores but also the electric video game feel to Wreck It Ralph and the pop anime influence of Big Hero 6.

If I had to pick 2 favorites it would probably be Lion King and Bambi because in both films the score tells a lot of the story, especially Bambi.  Instead of having sound effects for rain, it is music.  Without the score Bambi would be a much weaker movie.

(Also I’m not counting Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 or Sleeping Beauty since those aren’t original scores. If I did they would clearly be the top)

What are some of your favorites?

This list is in no particular order

Beauty and the Beast by Alan Menken

Great Mouse Detective by Henry Mancini

Black Cauldron  by Elmer Bernstein

Rescuers Down Under by Bruce Broughton

Frozen by Christophe Beck

Treasure Planet by James Newton Howard

Mulan by Jerry Goldsmith

Pocahontas by Alan Menken

Hunchback of Notre Dame by Alan Menken

Pinocchio by Leigh Harline and Paul J Smith

Bambi by Frank Churchill and Edward H Plumb

Little Mermaid by Alan Menken

Lion King by Hanz Zimmer

Snow White by Paul J Smith and Leigh Harline

Wreck it Ralph by Henry Jackman

Big Hero 6 by Henry Jackman

Alice in Wonderland by Oliver Wallace

Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman

Winnie the Pooh by Sherman Brothers and Buddy Baker

Atlantis: The Lost Empire by James Newton Howard

Movie 37: Tarzan

posterSo do you like Phil Collins?

I ask because in the end enjoyment of Tarzan will radically lie whether you like Phil Collins or not.  Also, if you aren’t a big fan of The Lion King style of movie,  I don’t know if you will like Tarzan.

I, however, am a fan of both, so I do like it.  It isn’t perfect but there is a lot to like in Tarzan.

Production-

Released in 1999 it marked the end of the Disney Renaissance and the last film to make a lot of money before the slump of the 2000s (it’s going to be interesting reviewing the next decade).

Directed by Disney  regular Chris Buck and Kevin Lima, Tarzan is adapted from the movie adaptations and novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan and the Apes.

It’s actually the only Tarzan movie I’ve ever seen so I can’t tell you how close it is to any other version.

TARZANFirst of all, the whole movie looks gorgeous.   Tarzan kind of surfs on the trees and the backgrounds zoom in and out and are so lush .  The water scenes look stunning.  If I was just going on visuals it would get an A++++.  I could turn off the sound and just watch it and be entertained.

To create some of the look they actually created a new technology called Deep Canvas which allows 3D painting and you can tell.  It looks great!

The reason why I said it reminded me of the Lion King is they are both very pop influenced films.  We even get the hook structure of pop music from the dramatic beginning with a bold title card just like Lion King.  All of the 5 songs Phil Collins wrote have a pop feel where Lion King did have Be Prepared, which was a little different.

Tarzan also has the comedic song/side characters, Terk and Tanto, which may as well be carbon copies of Timon and Pumba.

Incidentally, Tarzan was made into a Broadway musical and it was considered a big flop, but I actually prefer the music they added and the way the songs are sung by the characters not background.

The Story-

The story is pretty predictable but it is engagingly told.  We start out with our dramatic beginning showing us how Tarzan is adopted by the apes.  This might be a little scary for young kids under 5.

You either get hooked in with this intro or you don’t.  You either like Phil Collins singing or you don’t.  I’m always hooked.  I think it is pretty engrossing.

So Tarzan gets adopted by Kala voiced by Glen Close (another similarity to The Lion King lots of celebrity voices who don’t have to sing much).

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Kala rescues Tarzan but her mate Kerchak does not like the idea of having the ‘man cub’ (to use the Jungle Book) in the herd. So, he is hostile towards Tarzan from the beginning.

As Tarzan begins to cry Kala  sings the best song of the movie and my favorite lullaby- You’ll Be in my Heart.  If I am rocking one of my nieces it is the perfect song.  I LOVE it!

I actually prefer the Broadway version with the mother singing it the whole way so here it is:

We then get a bunch of  middling scenes with Tarzan feeling excluded and having a hard time making friends.  Eventually he makes 2 friends (the Timon and Pumba stand ins)

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He grows up and there is a song called Son of Man. My Mother hated the song because son of man is a title of Christ, and she felt it was sacrilege for a pop song to have the same name as the Lord. (We got into the biggest fight one time over it.  Sigh…)

Terk, his guerrilla friend was voiced by then talk queen Rosie O’Donnell and it is not my favorite vocal.  She kind of grates on me.

Eventually Tarzan hears a sound and follows it to find a woman running in distress, being chased by monkeys.

damsel in distress

Some people will no doubt groan at the Jame, damsel in distress, trope but I don’t mind it here.  She’s strong in other ways and I don’t think every female character has to be strong.  They just have to have a personality of some kind (that’s what drives me crazy in Bella.  She’s damsel in distress and no personality).

Plus, I am a mess in the outdoors and an animalphobe so if I was being chased by monkeys I would be screaming louder than Jane so I guess I relate.

I had a really hard time finding clips for this movie for some reason but I do like the encounter of Jane and Tarzan first meeting.  It is very well done.

This is the first movie I can recall where Disney uses the big eyes common in Japanese animation such as Studio Ghibli.  Some people don’t like the large eyes but it doesn’t bother me.

Jane is in the Jungle with her father and their guide Clayton to try and study the guerrillas.  Clayton is a snooze of a villain who like Radcliffe in Pocahontas is only there for the GOLD! Greed is only on his mind in the form of guerrillas to sell for money!

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Unlike Pocahontas who teaches John Smith her ways, Jane teaches Tarzan her ways which was very well done and then Tarzan shows Jane his world.  I really like the chemistry between Jane and Tarzan.   I liked that neither was stupid or patronizing.  They seemed sincerely interested in each other and their views. Minnie Driver is very good as Jane’s voice .

i-can-see-there-s-so-much-to-learn birdsWe also get a song sung by Terk called Trashing the Camp which is basically the Hakuna Matata of the movie and it’s ok.  I’m sure little kids love it.

Eventually the time for Jane to leave comes and Tarzan realizes he doesn’t want her to go.  Clayton convinces him if he shows them the guerrillas Jane might stay.  Kerchak has forbidden this for the safety of the herd.

Tarzan decides to anyway and at first it goes well.   It’s just beautiful!

meeting apes

But Kerchak comes and is enraged at Tarzan for betraying their home.  They fight and Tarzan leaves.  It is then that Kala takes Tarzan to the tree-house where she found him.  He learns who he is and decides to wear his father’s clothes and go with Jane and since Kerchak has forced him out what choice does he have?

The day of departure comes and they get on the ship only to find Clayton and all his men roping  everyone up and going to get the guerrillas to sell.

Terk and  Tantor help free Tarzan and the gang and they get back to help the herd and there is a great final battle with one of the gnarliest villain deaths in Disney history.  It is maybe too intense for little children to see a man hang himself? I don’t know.

Our ending with Jane and Tarzan ending up together in the jungle is predictable but I think done very well.  I liked it.

Movie Review-

I own this movie on blu-ray because it is so beautiful to watch, and I don’t mind the music, so I really enjoy it.  The vocal performances are good and I think Tarzan and Jane have nice chemistry and are a believable couple.

The comedic characters don’t work as well for me, but they aren’t terrible, and the villain is super one-note, but I still think it is a very satisfying picture.

I love You’ll Be in My Heart and like I said I just love watching him fly through those trees.  It’s stunning.

Overall Grade- B

Movie 28: The Little Mermaid

Movie_poster_the_little_mermaidHere we go. How to talk about a favorite film?  It’s tough.  I’ll have you all know I watched it 3 times for this review . Once to enjoy, once with commentary and once to take notes.  There are a lot of ways I could go with the review and even now as I am writing I’m not sure what way the words will take me but that wouldn’t be the first time in my blogging career and it won’t be the last.

Aside from being a massive hit, The Little Mermaid was important for Walt Disney for a number of reasons:

1. It marked the beginning of a yearly animation offering from Disney which to 2015 has only missed a few years.  Previously a film would take 4-7, even 10 years to finish

2. It was the return of the ‘girl movie’.  After Sleeping Beauty failed Disney was convinced movies for girls weren’t successful, which is why we went from 1959 to 1989 without a solo female leading character, and most of the time it was just a male lead and the female would be thrown in for the last minute as a love interest only (you all know how I hate that!).  At one point Jeffrey Katzenberg was so concerned about it being a ‘girl movie’ he warned the directors Ron Clements and John Musker to not spend very much money because it was unlikely to do well at the box office. (Amazing in retrospect right?)

3. It marked the return of the broadway style Disney musical which hadn’t been seen since Cinderella.  You certainly had pictures with songs, many by the Sherman Brothers but there weren’t any ballads or traditional scores like a musical.

4. Computer animation was used in a new way.  Scenes like the ship scene at the beginning and the climatic battle were done using CGI, which had just been invented by Pixar.  It is the last movie to use hand painted cells.  But even so bubbles and other special effects were revolutionized to create the lush look of the picture.

DisneyRenaissance

5. It would inspire Disney to keep on progressing in their animation quality and storytelling ability.  The next decade is what is known as the Disney Renaissance where we see such classics as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and others.  Really Disney would face no competition until Dreamworks had it’s first megahit with Shrek in 2001.  Pretty impressive.

So that’s some of the 411 behind The Little Mermaid.  Even if you are one of those poor unfortunate souls who doesn’t like this movie you can’t deny it was very important.

Getting Started-

As we discussed in the Oliver and Company review, Disney executives had gathered animators for a brainstorming session and green-lit the ‘oliver twist dog movie’ and the ‘little mermaid’.  As I said, executives were skeptical could appeal to boys limiting your audience.  However, they had decided to embrace the musical and Splash had recently been a big hit in live action for the studio.

Walt Disney had actually thought about doing Little Mermaid as a package film of Hans Christen Andersen shorts.  They had even commissioned some storyboards which 1989 directors Ron Clements and John Musker found and the changes they had made to the original story were largely the same as the 30s version (cool right?).  In both cases the story had been softened from the book to have a happy ending.

Hayao Miyazaki
Directors Ron Clements and John Musker

Once they had decided on a Broadway style musical they had worked with Howard Ashman previously on Oliver and Company and he had worked with Alan Menken on Little Shop of Horrors.  If you ever get a chance listen to the audio commentary on the diamond edition dvd because I was amazed at how much influence particularly Ashman had over the film.  He is even credited as writing ‘additional dialogue’.  I figured he was just the lyricist but evidently he would preform each of the songs in costume and insist the animators and their body doubles (Little Mermaid used human forms for the first time in many years too) mimic his acting.

howard-ashman=oscars
Howard Ashman and Allan Menken

Little Mermaid is also a movie that is ‘underscored’ meaning the music was written to dictate the animation, not the other way around.  This also hadn’t been done in many years at Disney.

For the first time in many pictures there weren’t any celebrity voices except for Buddy Hackett who played Scuttle.  Jodi Benson who voiced and sang for Ariel was a broadway performer who had worked with Ashman before.  Her and Samuel Wright who plays Sebastian did not audition before the main team but sent in tapes from New York and they were so impressed they go the jobs.  Kenneth Mars who plays Triton had been a working actor but not well-known and Pat Carroll was a replacement for Ursula.  They originally wanted Bea Arthur from the Golden Girls.

I’ve mentioned on the blog how much I admire Walt Disney Studios risk taking.  Despite initial nervousness Little Mermaid was the most expensive animated movie ever made and with the flop of the previous expensive film, the Black Cauldron, you have to admire them for taking a risk again.

The animation is so detailed.  After decades of xerox films to have a million bubbles surrounding the characters under water, and the iridescent look of the light on the rocks is amazing.

light
The light and shadows are stunning in the film.
If you've never paid attention to the bubbles watch next time.  Every inch is animated and bubbly!
If you’ve never paid attention to the bubbles watch next time. Every inch is animated and bubbly!

Even just the movement in Ariel’s hair is incredible.  There isn’t a moment under sea where it is static. It always moves and flows.  No small task even today.

ariel hairIf you listen to the audio commentaries it becomes clear Little Mermaid was a labor of love especially for Clements, Musker, Ashman and Menken, and I for one am grateful because it meant a lot to me growing up.

The Little Mermaid was also the first movie to be released on VHS only 6 months after it’s release.  At the time Disney was very nervous about doing this because it would prevent profitable re-releases which they had done of their other classics; however, it was a huge hit selling 7 million in the first month!

It also started a track record of Disney winning Oscars again (first nomination since 1977 Rescuers) with wins for best score and song (Under the Sea).  They would win again in 91, 92, 94, 95, and 99. Not bad!

The Story-

Ok.  Enough of the delicious backstory.  Let’s talk about the actual story.  This is probably less interesting for some of you as most everyone knows the story of the Little Mermaid (I mean even if you don’t care for it could you get through the 90s and not see Little Mermaid?)

Let’s talk about the story by going over the songs.

We start out with Prince Eric’s boat and a sea shanty which introduces us to the myth of Triton and his ‘fathoms below’.  Immediately we are immersed in the feel of the water and the melodies we will be hearing throughout the film.

Then the melody takes us to Triton’s castle and the concert.  We learn Ariel is headstrong and doesn’t come to practices.  We meet Sebastian and Triton and get a brief glimpse at Ariel’s sisters.

This scene is not only humorous but it tells us a lot of Triton’s relationship with Ariel.  She is clearly the favorite of his girls and she isn’t there.  This doesn’t just disappoint Triton but it angers him.  That is a lot to learn about characters in what is essentially a comedic scene.

Then we get to see Ariel.  She is searching for human treasure and is willing to face a shark for it.  She goes up to the shore to find out what the items are from Skuttle.  Again this is a humorous scene but it also tells us a lot about her . She is brave (perhaps carelessly so), rebellious, inquisitive and naive.  These are all huge traits that makes her vulnerable later on to the manipulations of Ursula.

Scuttle-PipeTriton is upset with her of course so he assigns Sebastian to take care of her. He a musician is insulted to watch over a ‘teenager’.  Evidently Menken and Ashman decided on a Jamaican voice because reggae was very popular and they felt it would give a swaying feeling of the sea to Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl sung by Sebastian and I think they were right.  Plus, it makes Sebastian an interesting character.  Most characters with that accent are relaxed and chill but he’s high strung.  It’s funny.

sebastian clamsSebastian follows Ariel to her secret grotto where she sings of her desire to be human, to be part of that world.  Originally this song didn’t test well in focus groups but Ashman, Menken, Clements and Musker told execs neither did Over the Rainbow, so the song stayed.  In the audiocommentary one of them says having Sebastian there during the song adds a level of tension and even suspense which helps tone down the cloyingness that might otherwise be there if she was unheard.  I had never thought about it before but it makes sense.

I’ve heard some people object to Ariel because she is selfish and whiny.  She can be selfish but where do you draw the line between knowing who you are and what you want out of life, and being selfish?  She certainly does selfish things but it is from a good place.  She doesn’t feel at home in her own skin literally.  How many of us have felt the same?  I certainly have and that’s why I related to the movie so much. I remember looking through my Mothers wallet and wishing I could be taken seriously by someone.  I hated being a kid and being told what to do all the time.  I wanted to try things my way and maybe that is selfish but it is also what produces great human beings.

To me her yearnings come from a deeper place than just whining and complaining and I think it is why girls related so well to Elsa in Frozen too.  It’s the same kind of yearning to be who you are supposed to be but the world won’t allow it.

Getting off track…

She hears some fireworks, leaves Sebastian, and heads up to see what the noise is about.  This is her first time looking at Prince Eric and she is immediately taken with him.

Eric is one of the most present Disney Princes.  Evidently for some reason men are hard for the animators to draw and that is why they were avoided in films like Cinderella.  (It’s strange but I’ve read that more than once).  I know technically it is only a few days but for a Disney movie we get a lot of time spent between Eric and Ariel.

eric2

He actually has a fair amount of dialogue for Disney Prince. We know he is waiting for the right girl despite his adviser Grimsby’s yearnings for him to settle down. They establish quickly Ariel and Eric are a match in spirit not just appearance (which is something the instant love trope usually misses. I have no problem with instant attraction but that should just be the beginning and with Ariel and Eric it is).

An unexpected storm comes and Ariel jumps to Eric’s rescue saving him from drowning.  We get a reprise of Part of Your World which is stirring and had every earnest little girl singing along!

Again, I related to this song because I felt like Ariel- a kid who wanted to break out of the kid body and be taken seriously by the world.

Her session with Eric makes her twitterpated and she flirts around the castle to the notice of her father and sisters.  This stresses out Sebastian as he knows the King will be enraged if he finds out Ariel’s secret love.

So Sebastian tries to convince Ariel that she should stop wishing to be on the ground.  He then sings to her the Oscar winning song Under the Sea. The animation in this song is amazing.  Every fish plays a different musical instrument and they all combine together for one sound.  How they recorded it I will never know but everything from tubas to steel drums make for a great song.

On the audio commentary they mentioned how the backdrops in under the sea are many colors.  I guess Katzenberg was concerned they weren’t all blue but it totally works. In fact, the more creatures involved the more colors the sea is until we have seen purple, gold, green, pink and of course blue.  And seriously watch the bubbles in Under the Sea.  It is amazing!

orange sea
In this shot the sea is orange

Of course she doesn’t listen and leaves with Flounder before the song is even over but Triton requests Sebastians presence because he wants to know who Ariel is in love with.  By a slip of the tongue Sebastian tells him Ariel is in love with a human.  Of course, he is angry and worried.

Fearing for his daughter and completely incapable of communicating with her Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto and leaves her devastated.

ariel crying

Again think of this from her perspective- everything she knows in her heart she is to be has been destroyed and told is wrong. To me it makes perfect sense she would be vulnerable at such a moment to Ursula, the sea witch who sends her thugs Flotsam and Jetsam out to tempt her.

Little-Mermaid-Flotsam-and-Jetsam-ScreenshotThe eels are basically like the snake in the Eden story and Ursula is the devil.  Ariel is willing to sell her soul, her voice, to the devil for a chance to be who she is supposed to be, and love who she is supposed to love.  That is compelling stuff in my book!

From the moment we meet Ursula she is one of the great Disney villains.  She is bitter, out for revenge, overweight octopus who covers the sea with her blackness.  Pat Carroll as the voice gets the perfect balance of a truck driver with a drag queen and even the way she puts on lipstick is suspect.  She is like a used car saleswoman but in Ariel’s case it is her soul and revenge on Triton Ursula must convince her to give up.  Poor Unfortunate Souls is my favorite villain song ever (and only the second solo by a villain ever).  Much copied but never duplicated, it has the perfect combo of gravitas, manipulation and salesmanship.

Once she is turned into a human Flounder, Sebastian and Skuttle must help her find some clothes (in a very well choreographed scene by Disney considering their heroine is without clothing!  The score in this section is also brilliant highlighting every moment.

I’ve heard some people say Little Mermaid teaches a bad lesson because Ariel gets what she wants in the end despite making very poor choices. She does make mistakes and she realizes it when her father is taken down by them, but when she gets her legs Sebastian looks at Ariel and he says ‘or you could be miserable for the rest of your life’.  Her father was never going to give her what she knew she needed and Ursula at least provided a chance.

miserableEric meets Ariel and thinks she is the one but since she can’t speak he discounts the resemblance to his rescuer. Nevertheless, she is invited to the castle and given a warm bed and place to stay. An unlikely contrivance I suppose but it works!

She is invited to dinner with Prince and Grimsby but first we get a little comic relief when Sebastian accidentally stumbles into Chef Louis kitchen, a kitchen hard at work cooking “les poissons’ or little fish.  My brother took a french immersive class and a teacher used the word ‘les poissons’ and immediately a chorus of girls started singing the cooks song.  It is hilarious slapstick and doesn’t have much to do with the story but I love it!  It gives a break from some of the schmaltzy romance and very funny vocal performance by Rene Auberjonois.

At dinner Eric invites Ariel to get a tour of the village so the next day is spent driving around, dancing and getting to know Eric despite Ariel’s lack of a voice.  Knowing their time is brief Sebastian tries to encourage the romance with the wonderful song Kiss the Girl.  I thought this song was hilarious as a kid.  We’ve got to create the mood after all… (The vocal by Wright is actually quite lovely)

Ursula realizes things aren’t going her way so she uses Ariel’s voice and becomes human to trick Eric into marrying her.  She actually has hypnotized him with yellow eyes.

eric and vanessaAriel, Sebastian, Flounder and Skuttle all gather together to help stop the wedding and it is a funny yet tense scene.

The battle between Triton and Ursula isn’t a wizard’s duel for sport.  It is a battle of good vs evil, of bitterness and revenge with the fate of the sea at stake. The tension builds so well and it feels pretty desperate and that Ariel has lost her love and her father all at the same time.  What can be done if even Triton is under Ursula’s control?

triton crownThen Eric comes through and we get our amazingly drawn final battle.

Another person I read said Ariel doesn’t learn anything by the end. I disagree.  She does learn that chasing your dreams requires sacrifices and that love and family are precious.  She learns she is where she is supposed to be.  That is huge. But her father also learns.  He learns HE WAS WRONG That’s why he changes her in the end. He was thwarting his daughters destiny and he made it right.  So, lessons are learned and it is not a lesson that whining gets your way.  At least that’s not what I have ever taken from it.  It’s that we need to fight for what we are supposed to be in life and that is more important than anything else for both Eric and Ariel.

We get our happy ending!

Movie Review/Conclusion

It probably goes without saying this movie gets the highest grade from me.  It has everything you want in a Disney movie.  The animation is stunning in it’s detail, artistry and light.  The songs run the gambit from heartfelt to hilarious.  The characters are complex and relatable, even the Prince.  The story teaches important lessons to girls (and boys I suppose) about finding out who you are and where you belong in life and fighting for it.  It has the classic father/daughter dynamic that goes back to King Lear (and further I’m sure).

The villain is unlike any we had seen before with a villain song that has yet to be topped.  The score clips along and speaks for a character who for a majority of the film cannot.  The songs are all instant classics. Every choice worked and it was magic to me as an 8 year old in 1989 and it totally holds up.  I saw it 3 times this weekend and could have watched it 3 more times.

Just like Frozen is doing for modern girls, Little Mermaid inspired many from my generation to be yourself and to sing your heart out.  Just like girls are singing Let it go, we were singing Part of Your World.  My sister and I would have competitions at night both of us claiming that we sounded the most like Ariel.  (It was me all the way).

I get that it strays from the classic story,  but I think if Hans Christian Andersen saw the treatment of his work he’d be thrilled (and with Frozen too!).  It certainly keeps the spirit of the story without punishing Ariel for dreaming big.

I have nothing bad to say about it.  I love it and can’t wait till the day I can gather my daughters (if I ever marry) and watch The Little Mermaid together and hear about all their desires, frustrations and dreams, and to sing with them!

Overall Grade A+

PS The sequels that are usually terrible by Disney aren’t half bad for Little Mermaid.  There is actually a prequel and a sequel.