In Defense of Disney Women

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time but I have been so busy I didn’t have time to do it justice. Let me give it a shot. Recently over on a popular blog a woman wrote about 3 Disney female “role models’ that aren’t really deserving of that title”.  I want to add my two cents of why with all due respect I think she is wrong and that the 3 she has chosen are worthy characters to emulate in many ways.

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Her first target is Alice

She says of Alice “She always has her head in the clouds and it took seeing her wildest fantasies realized to knock some since into her. Even when she becomes hopelessly lost in Wonderland and desperately wants to leave, she still lets her curiosity get the better of her”

Hmmm… well, let’s ignore the fact that there would be no movie if she didn’t let her curiosity be the better of her. But I propose there is more to Alice than mere wild fantasies and curiosity over a rabbit.

Alice doesn’t just wander absent mindedly into Wonderland. She proposes at the start of the film that a world with nonsense would be better. The whole point of Wonderland is to then test out this worldview. She meets one form of nonsense after another whether it be philosophic nonsense in the caterpillar or a tea party that never ends with the Hatter.

There is actually something bold about the mental exercise Alice undertakes. The great philosophers and minds of our time have gotten to greater understanding because they dared to test the world out in a new way.  For example, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Inferno, Moore’s Utopia all put on new goggles to hopefully understand the world better.  This should be encouraged and makes Alice a good role model for girls.

The thing that sucks about the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is they forget about this part of Alice’s character and make it a meaningless adventure with a prophecy and chosen one. Alice is escaping her own problems in that version but in the Disney animated film she is seeing the world in a whole new way.

aurora

Next up is Aurora

The writer is so bold as to say “I think it’s pretty obvious that Aurora doesn’t set a very good example for young girls”.  Her main beef with Aurora is that she falls in love with a man over a dance and she seems to think they are going to run away together. I guess this writer must not like Juliet, Isolde, Guinevere or any number of classic romantic heroines who fall in love quickly.

But where does it say that Aurora is planning to run away with the Phillip? She has plans to meet him later that evening and is twitterpated but I don’t think it is ever clear she is getting married that night. She’s excited about a dance with a boy. What’s wrong with that? She’s then sad when she finds out she will never see him again. Pretty natural response if you ask me.

Also, the author claims Aurora “is beautiful and can sing…That’s literally it”. I disagree. Animals do not take to people very easily but who do the animals love? Aurora. The Fairies adore her and feel sad when they have to turn her over to her father. Do you think they would feel this way if she was a ditzy nothing?

Then the author faults her for giving into the curse. “And the fate of her entire kingdom rests on her not pricking her finger on a spinning wheel; *sighs* you had one job!” This critique is by far the most baffling as even Merrywether an actual faerie can not reverse Maleficent’s magic. How is an ordinary girl like Aurora supposed to do that? It’s an outrageous claim!

Part of the problem with Aurora is we simply don’t see that much of her what with her being SLEEPING BEAUTY!! But what we do see is a loving, caring person who is elegant and graceful. How she is a bad role model is beyond me.

And then we get to the one that really fired me up!- Ariel!

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The author’s qualms with Ariel aren’t particularly original, but I reject them nonetheless. She says “you should never go so far as to change who you are to get what you want, especially not for a guy”

Ok. Let’s talk about this. The first time we see Ariel she is missing the concert for what? She is off collecting treasures from a ship. This is where she finds the dinglehoffer and snarfblat. Then we first see her entering the grotto and singing Part of Your World BEFORE SHE MEETS ERIC!

She has hundreds of items in her grotto and what does she tell Flounder? ‘I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad’.

You can make the argument that Ariel is short-sighted when she follows the Sea Witch but why does she do it? Not to get a man but because her father has just destroyed her grotto- her one connection to the human world. Eric is simply the catalyst that gets her to make a decision she has always wanted to make.

I don’t know if it is canon or not but in Ariel’s Beginning we also learn that her mother had a fascination with human artifacts- particularly a music box, so that may explain part of it as well.

Ariel is definitely smitten with Eric but how you can say it is the reason she gives up who she is I just don’t understand. I think she has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Again before she meets Eric she says “I just don’t see things the way he does”.  It is no accident that Ariel has become a ROLE MODEL for many LGBT teens who also feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.

When she sings Part of Your World she says ‘lookin around here you think sure, she’s got everything” but then adds “I want more…”. Again, all before Eric. I think that’s a great thing to look up to. Someone who fights for where they belong and who they truly are. Triton recognizes this at the end and that is why he changes her over.

Even Sebastian says it is either Ariel be human or “be miserable for the rest of your life”. That’s a good role model in my book.

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This whole thing baffles me when you have such easy fodder as Pocahontas who is actually partly responsible for an innocent man’s death. She is older than Ariel or Aurora and is consistently a poor listener to those warning caution. She does selfless things at the end but if you had to pick a bad role model of a Disney woman she’s at the top of the list.

And then there are other questionable characters. How about the girl in the Jungle Book who is perfectly happy to get the water and care for her man her entire life?

As much as I love Frozen, Anna is much less developed and is manipulated by men more than Ariel.

Megura in Hercules sells her soul to the devil to get a man. That’s pretty bad and Esmeralda in Huncback dances provocatively before men.

The truth is I don’t think any of these women are bad role models because their characters have arcs that teach good lessons. With proper parenting kids can gain all kinds of lessons from ANY Disney film.

You may think I am fangirling here but I think that’s the case with Dreamworks too or Don Bluth or any film designed for children. I have yet to see one that is so bad that there isn’t something a parent can use to teach or role model off of.  Even the dreaded Chicken Little has lessons in there.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ll keep my role models to the end. 🙂

Most Artistic Animated Films

So on my recent post debating the merits of CG vs Hand Drawn animation I made the bold statement ‘if I made a list of the most artistic animated movies close to half would be CG’.  Well, it got me wondering and it turns out I lied.  Only 4 out of my Top 20 Most Artistic Animated Films are CG but that’s not half bad given the medium has been around way less time.

To me each of these 20 films are artistic masterpieces and stunning however they are drawn or created.  Art is completely subjective so I thought it would be kind of futile for me to try and explain what I think is beautiful or artistic.  I will just let the images speak for themselves.  If you haven’t seen any of these movies I highly recommend it.

Since again art is in the eye of the beholder please share with me your lists instead of merely critiquing mine (I mean what am I going to say ‘I think it is stunning and you don’t and there you have it).

My Top 20 Most Artistic Animated Films
20. Secret of Nimh

artistic119. Prince of Egypt

artistic218. Book of Life

artistic317. Waltz with Bashiir

artistic416. Tarzan

tarzan and jane15. Up

artistic514. Sleeping Beauty

sleeping-beauty-woods-213. Ponyo

artistic612. Alice in Wonderland

Alice-march-hare-mad-hatter11. Ratatouille

ratatouille-paris-pixar-dvdbash10. Les Triplettes de Belleville

artistic79. Lion King

artistic88. Princess Mononoke

princess mononoke7. Persepolis

persepolis26. Tale of Princess Kaguya

tale-of-princess-kaguya-15. Song of the Sea

song of the sea24. Wall-e

walle3. Spirited Away

artistic92. Bambi

bambi21. Fantasia

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Disney Best Side Characters

Best Side Characters- This list is just the Disney Canon so no Pixar or Tim Burton included!

18. Pain and Panic (Hercules)- very clever devilish side characters that change their shape and are literally all about pain and panic.  Every scene they are in makes me laugh and they are probably my favorite villain sidekicks in Disney.

pain and panic17. Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio) the warmth that is desperately needed in Pinocchio. Jiminy is crucial to the story as the moral compass in a morality tale.  He gets frustrated when Pinocchio won’t listen just as I’m sure God gets with us when we are stubborn.

jiminy16. Jock and Trusty(Lady and the Tramp)- Everything in Lady in the Tramp is oh so lovable including the sidekicks Jock and Trusty. The dialogue for them is very well written and when they decide to propose to Lady to make her feel better it is a sweet moment.

trustyjock15.Mushu (Mulan)- I still think it is Eddie Murphy’s best voice performance.  He is insecure and manic without being annoying.  Gets a lot of good laughs and helps to narrate throughout the film.  He starts out with selfish motives but the more he gets to know Mulan the more he grows to care for her and think less of himself.

Mushu_kh14.  Timothy Q Mouse (Dumbo) – I love Timothy.  He sticks up for a total stranger, an elephant no less, and pleads with others to understand things that are different.  It frustrates me Dumbo is discounted as racist by many when the heart of the movie is about embracing diversity.

Timothy_Q._Mouse

13. Thumper (Bambi)- There are a lot of characters you could pick from Bambi but Thumper is probably my favorite.  He is a smart alek  who always gets in trouble and has to apologize.  He introduces Bambi to a lot of new things and has a courage and general cheerfulness that is very appealing.  In a movie which is pretty sad Thumper’s optimism and cheerfulness is desperately needed and appreciated.

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12. 7 Dwarves (Snow White and 7 Dwarves)- The first Disney sidekicks that set the standard for not only all Disney but all animated movies.  The Dwarves are easy to understand yet charming and when they are grieving it is remarkably touching for characters that should be one-note.  Plus their singing is still one of my favorites.  Love the harmonies!

7dwarfs11. Sebastian (Little Mermaid) – I want to put him higher because I love Little Mermaid so much but Sebastian isn’t that varied of a character.  Most of the movie he is yelling after Ariel trying to get her to stop misbehaving.  That said it is done with a lot of humor and flare. As the reggae crab who is also a symphony conductor he is kind of a strange mixture of personalities but that makes him so charming.  When he sings Under the Sea it is one of the most joyous moments in all of Disney canon.

sebastian mouth agape

10. Atlantis Crew (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)- Yep, I know some of you will be outraged but I call it like I see it.  I loved these guys! I thought they were hilarious and I loved the diversity and their unique personalities. Moliere is so funny as the mole man always wanting to dig and Audrey is a tom boy but still managing to be vulnerable.

Vinny is great as the cynical Italian who also likes to blow things up and I liked Joshua Sweet is a doctor and not much is made about his race.  Helga is a seriously tough woman who beats the tar out of a couple people.  I just love the combination of characters for a treasure hunting movie and I thought it totally worked for the type of story they were telling. This group kind of reminds me of a more diverse older version of the Goonies and I loved it.  I know I’m in the minority on that but I don’t care! Hey it proves I’m not just spewing out what is popular but giving my own unique opinion.

atlantis crew9. Olaf (Frozen)- I love Olaf.  He has such heart and is a sweet and sincere.  He dreams of being in summer despite being a snowman. How more hopeful can a character be?  His vocal performance by Josh Gad is perfect and his song is funny and sweet. They also use Olaf just enough so he stays charming and isn’t annoying.  When he is willing to melt for his friend it makes me tear up every time.

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8. Timon and Pumbaa (Lion King)- On the surface our 2 sidekicks from The Lion King are silly characters who sing about flatulence and being lazy but they serve an important part of the story by offering Simba an alternative philosophy on life.  He can be carefree and happy or he can risk being miserable but actually do something with his life.  The choice is actually a tough one.  They are also loyal and very funny (and the only characters aside from Jeremy Irons that actually sing their songs in Lion King!).

timon and pumba7.  Gus Gus and Jaq (Cinderella)-  a lot of people find the mice in Cinderella annoying but I love them.  They are loyal and have such a sweet desire to help their friend.  They risk serious peril to get her dress made and when it is all destroyed it is one of the most devastating moments in all of Disney both for Cinderella but also for the mice who worked so hard to make it happen.

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6. The 3 Faeries- Flora, Fauna and Merrywether (Sleeping Beauty).  Watching the disastrous Maleficent made me realize how key to the story of Sleeping Beauty the faeries are.  They are the emotional heart of the film.  With the exception of maybe Phillip, the rest of the characters are kind of one note.  With the faeries we have anger, fear, jealousy, joy, silliness, courage, and hope.  Yes the scene baking the cake is comic relief but when you think about what comes after the audience needs that lightness.  They are smart and capable and the one’s who truly defeat Maleficent in the end.  The fact the new movie made them negligent idiots still burns me up!

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this scene attending to the comatose Briar Rose is so heartbreaking
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3 great ladies not given near enough credit! Fauna, Flora and Merrywether

5. Tinker Bell (Peter Pan)- Probably the most iconic sidekick of them all Tinker bell is probably the second character people associate with Disney after Mickey Mouse.  I really enjoy her own series of movies and the strong but sweet character there but I also find her fascinating in Peter Pan.  Aside from Tink dying they keep pretty close to the faerie in the original play.  She is jealous, angry, frustrated and yet she provides pixie dust and magic.  It’s kind of an interesting paradox.  In a strange way she is actually a very complex female character in an era when not many existed.

Tinkerbell Peter Pan 1953 Mirror4. Alice in Wonderland Cast (Alice in Wonderland)- I know a bit of a cheat but basically Alice in Wonderland is her meeting a series of great minor characters.  That’s the whole story and they all work equally well.  Whether it is the white rabbit, Cheshire cat, blue caterpillar, singing flowers, cards soldiers, March Hare and more they are endlessly engaging.  Some of them are mean, others cheeful, most complete nonsense and I love it! I think people that complain Alice in Wonderland has no story are missing the entire point of the story.  I didn’t appreciate it as much as a child but it is one of my favorites now and it isn’t because of Alice but all the wonderful characters she meets.

alice-in-wonderland-movie-poster-1951-10201981203. Baymax (Big Hero 6)- Call it recency bias if you want but I can’t think of a character I responded more to the moment I saw them than Baymax.  He is a symbol of the love of a brother and in many ways he symbolizes love and the need of all of us to be loved and taken care of.  That said, he isn’t really schmaltzy as you might expect.  Everything he says is simple and to the point but with great concern.  It strikes just the right note and the script allows him to be a part of humor as well as tenderness.  Most of these sidekicks I would never want in my life but I want my own Baymax.  I loved Big Hero 6 and you could certainly include the entire team as dynamic wonderful sidekicks but Baymax takes the crown!  I haven’t felt such affection for a character since the mice in Cinderella.

baymax2. Lumiere (Beauty and the Beast)- really all the characters in Beauty and the Beast are great side characters- Mrs Potts, Cogsworth, Lefou ect are all fantastic.  But if I had to pick my favorite it would be Lumiere.  He is on  one hand a smug showman who doesn’t listen but on the other he is generous, kind, and so much fun.  He definitely has Disney’s greatest sidekick song (with Under the Sea being a close second).  The voice performance by Jerry Orbach is one of the best ever and all in all he is simply charming.

Disney BEAUTY & THE BEAST 3D1. Genie (Aladdin)- The reason I picked the Genie as the greatest sidekick is he is the only one on this list that single-handedly makes the entire movie work.  Without Robin Williams manic performance in Aladdin there would be no movie.  Every other film I’ve mentioned I could take out the side character and the movie would suffer but be able to continue.  Without the Genie, Aladdin as a character never gets challenged or given an opportunity to grow.  Without Genie 2 of the songs wouldn’t exist and all the humor would be gone.  He is the magic for the story and in hoping for his freedom provides the real heart of the story.  I’d say it is not only the greatest Disney side character but one of the greatest period in all of movies. We would expect nothing less from the late great Robin Williams.

Genie-from-Aladdin-dancing

Maleficent: A Review

maleficent-posterLet’s just start this review by saying I was incredibly skeptical going into Maleficent.  The recent fairytale adaptations have been so bad.  In recent years we’ve gotten Tim Burton’s awful Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Red Riding Hood, Return to Oz have all been dark, gloomy, boring, ponderous pieces of junk.  Yep, that’s what I think.

So I was not excited about Maleficent but I always try to go into a movie with an open mind hoping to be dazzled.  And…

Here’s the trailer

It’s more of the same I’m afraid.  Maleficent basically does to Sleeping Beauty what Phantom Menace did to Star Wars.  It waters down it’s iconic villain to the point beyond recognition making her the hero of the story.  I get that people are complicated and rarely all bad but a fairytale traditionally is a battle of good vs evil.  If it is kind of good vs kind of bad than it ends up being very boring.  Imagine if Voldermort had been really a nice guy after all?  Would that have captured our interest for 8 films and 7 books?  No! Imagine if the Ring of Power was really the ring of goodness and lollipops would Frodo have sacrificed all to destroy it?  No!  In this kind of story we need evil and we need good and then the story builds around that.

So Maleficent starts out with our backstory and we find out that she is a unique fairy, a fully-sized human where the fairies from the original movie are tiny, strange looking creatures (if you thought the old fairies were annoying get ready…). Plus, they change all the personalities of the fairies.  Flora is supposd to be the leader, Fauna is silly and Merryweather is the realist.  In this they are all the same.  If you look at the original the fairies actually are the brains and heart behind defeating Maleficent.  Now they are stupid, negligent and annoying.

fairies

So Maleficent is a joyous happy girl who meets a boy named Stefan who is a human boy that she befriends.

They of course end up  falling in love in a montage and then Stefan returns to the land of the humans.

There is a battle with the king  with the tree people and Maleficent and snoozefest another battle in this type of movie.  I’m so sick of the warrior scenes.  The tree creatures felt like a copy of tree people we’ve seen in a thousand other movies.  I felt that way about most of Maleficent. Seen it all before.

The CGI throughout the movie looks dirty and incredibly fake.  When you think of the stunning artistry of Sleeping Beauty, a movie that took almost a decade to make because the layering of the backdrops and the literary quality to the characters this cheesy seen it all before CGI is an embarrassment.  It’s like with Return to Oz.  Don’t take the brightness and joy of the original and give me a cloudy, murky, CGI ridden world.

So, SPOILER)#$)#@()($)#($)#@($)#($- Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know a few things in the story)

 

So the king wants revenge on Maleficent for the battle and he tells Stefan if he can kill her and bring him her wings than he will be made King.  So we get a pretty good scene where Maleficent and Stefan reunite, cuddle (maybe more?) and then he drugs her and instead of killing her cuts off her wings.

Maleficent-king

Stefan is played by Sharlto Copley who oddly enough I thought looked like Michael Bay.  He’s terrible in the movie.  His accent comes in and out and it feels like bad neighborhood theater.   There is no chemistry between him and Maleficent at any time which is kind of crucial because it is the reason she is bad is because of her broken heart.

Then we get to the day of the christening and the blessings which are so powerfully done in the original.  Instead of a whole ballet like in the original we get a few seconds of Flora giving Aurora beauty and then Merryweather (they change their names here and  make them idiots)  gives her the wish ‘of never being blue’.

That’s not right!!!!  Fauna is supposed to give Aurora the gift of music and then when Maleficent gives the curse Merryweather gives her the gift of being asleep not dead.  In this version Maleficent is the one that curses her to sleep not death!!!

Are you kidding me?  What kind of a lame villain is this?  Cursing her greatest enemy that she will sleep until true love’s kiss?  That’s the lamest curse I’ve ever heard.  Certainly not worthy of Maleficent.

maleficent-fr

So Fauna never gives her blessing I’m not sure why.  I guess they didn’t want to have Aurora singing?  I don’t see why not when you’ve got such a great song from the original which they only use in the credits.

So the the king hides the baby with ‘the idiots’ and they leave her alone for long periods of time where Maleficent looks in on her and is by her side.  This makes no sense.  Even if you felt some guilt if you were angry enough to curse someone you wouldn’t immediately be by their side watching over them.  Grrr

Prince Phillip is in this but very briefly but they try to pull a Frozen twist on it and it is so ridiculous.  In the original the scene where Aurora is transfixed and pricks her finger it is eery and frightening.  Here it is completely boring.  And then we find out that it is the true love of Maleficent that breaks the spell!!!!

maleficent

Are you kidding me? This is the woman who has horns on her head.  She controls minions and locks the prince up in a dungeon and tells him ‘so much for true love!’.

Even if you want to make a more nuanced character you can’t completely change said character.  At least the Star Wars prequels as atrocious as they are didn’t negate the originals completely.  It’s not like Vader was the hero at the end.  No he was very bad and you could see why he would destroy entire planets in the next movies.   This completely changes everything about the original.

I’m amazed this didn’t tick more people off.  I thought it was outrageous.   Shame on you Disney!  Wicked, which started this whole trend, told the story how the wicked witch became wicked.  It didn’t try to change her so she wasn’t wicked at all.

Now that Aurora is awaken by her true love’s kiss (Maleficent) she rules the combined land s of fairies and men in peace with Maleficent by her side who gets her wings back. Groan, groan, groan.

maleficent_ellefanning2So good things about it? Jolie is okayish.  I’ve heard a lot of people excuse her performance.  (Her daughter Viviene is cute as baby Aurora).  But I actually thought she shouted most of her lines and they didn’t sound like a real person and since the point of this movie was to create a real person it was a failure.  I never felt connected to her or sorry for her.  Also her look which everyone loved always looked like a costume not her real body.  Basically Maleficent is supposed to be like Voldemort, the epitome of evil.  She is a she-devil, horns and all.  In this it seemed like someone in a Maleficent costume.  Kind of ready to go to a biker bar with leather all about her.

maleficent2.pngSorry guys. I know a lot of you liked it but I was not a fan of Maleficent.  You cannot go back and completely change the events of a story.  Show another side, fine (although still not a fan) but do not permanently change  the events of the plot.  In the end what they did was a remake of the original and a shoddy one at that.  I honestly thought this was worse than Phantom Menace… It also looks murky and dark, the CGI sucks and the acting is really bad.

Overall Grade- F

Unfortunately it made a lot of money so the trend of butchering my favorite childhood movies is going to continue.  Next up Cinderella which I am slightly more hopeful about because it has already been done so many times since the 1950 Disney.

PS there is no dancing or singing or once upon a dream and considering the original was based on a Tchaikovsky ballet that is another unfortunate change …No sleeping spell over the town and the dragon isn’t Maleficent after all who isn’t killed by the sword of truth but the crow hurt by the evil King Stefan.  Sigh…Yes, they even changed the crow around.

 

Best and Worst of Disney 1937-1959

As I have been doing my reviews people have asked me ‘what is your favorite of what you’ve reviewed so far?’  It’s tough because I like all of them for different reasons.  But I thought it would be fun to give some highlights of the first 20 years of Disney which I just finished by reviewing Sleeping Beauty.

Overall Best Film-  Cinderella

poster

It’s really hard to decide but I’d pick Cinderella because it has the whole package.  It’s got a likable heroine who we actually get to know,  great songs, it’s got artistry in scenes like Sing Sweet Nightingale, a terrific villain in Lady Tremaine,  brilliant voice work and just the right touch of humor.

Overall Worst Film- Three Cabelleros and Fun and Fancy Free

fun and fancy free postercaballeros

I gave 2 films D grades, Fun and Fancy Free and Three Cabelleros.  FFF I thought was just lazy.  The Bongo story is odd and kind of slow. Mickey and the Beanstalk is fine but not great. If it was a little tighter with a better villain I would have enjoyed it more.  Three Cabelleros is in my opinion worse than Saludos Amigos because it only has 2 shorts and then there are songs where the characters are shouting and lots of Donald chasing human women.   They aren’t awful but just for Disney they are weak entries.

Best Artistry- Fantasia

Alice in Wonderland is amazing but Fantasia is like a combination of the greatest art gallery in the world and symphony in one experience.  It blows me away.

Fantasia isn’t really entertainment . It’s goals are bigger than that.  It is trying to inspire creativity in hopes the viewer will not simply absorb art and music but give their own spin on it, their own interpretation. It inspires me every time I watch it and I think people who don’t like it just don’t like classical music.

Strangest Scene- Dumbo

Pink Elephants on Parade

It’s like every bad dream you’ve ever had jumbled into one crazy sequence.  It is also comes from Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk which is strange and has absolutely no purpose in the story.   I love it!

Strangest Character- Make Mine Music- Willie the Whale who sings Opera

Is that not one of the oddest images you've seen?
Is that not one of the oddest images you’ve seen?

willie2 willie the whale

Make Mine Music was full of strange moments but Willie the opera singing whale was the strangest.. He just looks so strange.  He looks like  a giant chalkboard eraser. And why did he have to die?The narrator actually tells the children watching  “Willie’s singing was a miracle and people aren’t used to miracles.  And you faithful friend don’t be too sad because somewhere in whatever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep Willie is still singing”  That’s such a strange message for kids.  ‘people don’t like miracles and so they kill them and send them to whale heaven.”

Scariest Scene- Pinnochio Pleasure Island.

As terrifying as The Headless Horseman is nothing will ever top little children being turned into donkeys to be sent to salt mines. And it is even scarier to know it is never resolved.  Pinocchio escapes but that’s it.  Nobody saves the kids or turns them back or anything.  It’s nuts!

Best Villain- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

crow

From Captain Hook, to the Devil, to Lady Tremaine all the early villains are good, but Maleficent is all of those villains put together in as she puts it ‘the mistress of evil’.  She’s over the top, funny, creepy, and gives the best fight of any villain in any Disney movie.  It actually feels like she might get away with everything when she enchains Prince Philip in her dungeon.  It isn’t until the 90s we get such a great Disney villain.

Best Song- When You Wish Upon a Star- Pinocchio

I could have also picked ‘A Dream is a Wish’ from Cinderella but it is very similar in message to When You Wish.  They are both great melodies and have words about hoping for goodness and happiness in life.

Worst Song- Say it with a Slap- Bongo from Fun and Fancy Free

Here’s a great message for kids- when you really love someone slap them as hard as you can… (Red Man song from Peter Pan is probably the worst but the melody is actually catchy, just the words super uncomfortable)

Best Original Score-  Bambi

Clearly Fantasia should be the winner but since it is using classical music, Bambi wins because it’s music actually becomes a character within the story.  It animates the forest with wind, rain, and other sound effects in the score.

 Saddest Moment- Dumbo- Baby Mine

Bambi’s mother dieing is very sad but we haven’t gotten to know her very well and it all happens quickly, not giving us much time to process it before we are moving on to love in the Spring.  Dumbo’s encaged Mother singing him a lullaby is a long scene, a beautiful song and a tender moment.  It’s sad but not in a bad way.  Dumbo is such a satisfying picture because it has moments of all different emotions- fear, anger, laughter, sadness etc.

Funniest Moment- Peter Pan- Hook and the Crocodile

I had forgotten how much slapstick is in Peter Pan and it is all done very well.  I laughed throughout the film.

Most Romantic Moment-  Lady and the Tramp- Spaghetti

I think spaghetti became romantic food because of this scene.  Great song, and about as romantic as dogs could be.  Such a lovely little movie.

Most Underrated- Melody Time

Melody Time is the strongest of the package films.  Make Mine Music is entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s good way’ but I genuinely liked Melody Time.  The Johnny Appleseed short is sweet with nice songs and Pecos Bill is fun, if a little bit too long.  It was tough for me to find but if you can hunt it down give it a watch.  It’s gentle and sweet and I liked it.

Most Overrated- Peter Pan

There is a lot to like in Peter Pan.  Don’t get me wrong.  I just wasn’t as enamored with it this go-around for some reason.  I don’t like the way Wendy is treated, especialy by the other female charcaters when she hasn’t done anything wrong.  The slapstick is funny but nothing too memorable.  The artistry and music aren’t great.  Love Tinker Bell and Hook but other characters are kind of bland.  It’s a lot of fun but not the masterpiece I remember it being.  Plus, we have the awkward Red Man song.

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Trippiest Movie- Alice in Wonderland

This movie is so trippy it doesn’t even worry about a plot.  It just introduces Alice and the viewer to character after character and I love it!

Conclusion

I enjoyed watching every single one of these movies.  And more importantly I learned a lot along the way.  Even a movie I didn’t love like Three Cabelleros was interesting because of it was requested by the US Government, and it was quite effective in winning the loyalty of the South American countries to our cause.  It makes the choices made in the movie interesting.  So, there is always things to like about any Disney.

Mostly I love the artistry.  I love movies but I think animation has a special ability to combine mediums and challenge the limitations of human actors in live action.  You can have a child turning into a donkey where in live action the scene would be very expensive.

I also feel inspired by Walt Disney to take some risks and try new things.  He was certainly willing to leverage years of hard work over risky propositions and I admire that.   Of the first 16 films what are your favorites and have my reviews made you curious to watch any of the movies?  I hope you do and let me know what you think!

Coming Up Next

Now on to 60’s and 70’s.  Both of these periods would be less productive for Disney.   In 60s Disney made and released 3 films:

1. 101 Dalmations

2. Sword in the Stone

3. Jungle Book

1970s

1. The Aristocats

2. Robin Hood

3. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

4. The Rescuers.

So that will be my upcoming reviews.  Thanks for reading!  I’m having a blast!

Movie 16: Sleeping Beauty

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Sometimes I feel bad for Walt Disney.  Nearly every time he took a risk post-Snow White it was a failure.  And yet he’d do a safe movie like Lady and the Tramp (as great as it is it is not risky artistically) it was a big hit.   Visual artistic achievements like Fantasia, Bambi, Alice and Wonderland all did poorly at first at the box office.

Unfortunately with Sleeping Beauty we have another artistic risk and another initial failure . So much so they would not make another fairy tale princess movie until 1989, 30 years later!

Production-

In researching Sleeping Beauty I learned it was actually in development for some time (like most of the Disney films of the 50s).  Always wanting to try something new, Walt Disney liked the idea  of turning Tchaikosky’s ballet into an animated feature film, but things couldn’t quite come together and it remained on the back burner.  Finally in 1950 work was officially begun and at first things went quickly.  They even had all the voice work recorded by the end of 1952, which surprised me . But it makes sense because Disneyland has Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and it was opened in 1955.  Sleeping Beauty wasn’t released till 1959 .

For Sleeping Beauty Walt went with a new approach creating a “living illustration from Medieval artwork”.  We start out the story with a grand book and then it zooms in on the pictures until those images start to move.  Backgrounds were also created in layers almost like a scene from a play where panels are pushed in and out.

In this introductory scene you can see these layers.  Every person crossing the bridge including the juggler in yellow are animated separately.

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This is the scene when everyone is put to sleep towards the end. It looks almost like paper dolls.
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The backdrops also look like illustrations from a book

Part of this look is probably due to Disney’s delegation of responsibilities.  Much like with Mary Blair in Alice in Wonderland, Disney gave most of the creative control and design to lead animator and background artist Eyvind Earl.  His elaborate backdrops would take 7-10 days to paint while a normal film could be done in 1 day.

The paper look is also interesting because it is the first time they used a xerox method to make cells.  It was eventually abandoned because the lines weren’t good enough, but I think you can still see a little of it’s after effects in the film.

A lot of critics at the time criticized its artistic approach but I kind of love it.  It’s different and beautiful- like diving into a the pages of a book.

The character of Maleficent was meant to be the personification of all evil- basically the devil.  Her name is from maleficentia, which means evil doing in Latin (I love  that Disney had a film with Maleficent as the villain and the next with Cruella, not the most creative names but both work! I mean are you going to have a good person named Cruela?). She also has horns like the devil and her eyes glow like an evil spirit.  There is nothing wounded or misunderstood about her.  In this movie she is all bad but in an entertaining way.

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The fairies were designed to be like Huey, Lewey and Dewey with 3 different colors separating them.  At first Walt wanted them to look the same but the other animators convinced him that would be boring.  Flora, voiced by the amazing Verna Felton, is the leader of the 3.  Fauna is soft-spoken and motherly and Merryweather is the spunky one.  For side characters they are actually pretty fleshed out- we see them cry, laugh, feud etc.

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Phillip was created to be the first dynamic human male character in a Disney film.  They had wanted to make the princes in Snow White and Cinderella bolder but Disney didn’t feel like the animators could animate males well enough at the time.

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One nice thing about Sleeping Beauty is we do see more of Philip than almost any other prince.  We see many sides to him- sweet, romantic, good dancer, but still courageous and strong.    For a long section Philip, the Fairies and Maleficent are the only people awake in the story- giving their characters a gravatas not found in many other Disney films.   I’m surprised boys didn’t respond more to Philip and Sleeping Beauty with it’s terrific action and minimal romantic dialogue?

The Story-

Most of you probably know the story.  It is the 14th century in a magical land.  A king and queen finally are able to have a daughter who they name Aurora.  She is to be blessed by the fairies at a large gathering.  It is almost like a giant birthday party for the whole kingdom.

Each of the fairies present their gifts to the princess.  Flora and Fauna are first and the gifts are shown in a bit of a surrealist touch (those Dali fans coming in again!).  I think it is a beautiful scene.

But before Maryweather can give her gift they have a visitor.  Someone who wasn’t invited to the party- Maleficent.  (word to the wise- if you have a sworn enemy don’t give them reason to be mad at you.  Invite her to the party!)  They ask her if she is offended at not getting asked…(This is a spectacular scene)

So to save Aurora the fairies come up with a plan to hide her away in a cottage in the woods.  They will use no magic so nobody will suspect.  The funny thing is if they know the curse is fulfilled at 16 why not send her away at 12 or 14?  Does she really need to be taken away from her parents as a baby?…I digress.

Next we see Maleficent with her goons and minions trying to find the child with no luck.

maleficentShe also always has her crow who seems to be a part of her magic.

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So quickly it zooms ahead to the 16th birthday.   The fairies are planning a party and we get a humorous scene of them trying to sew and bake without magic (although you do wonder since they haven’t been using magic how have they gotten by for 16 years never cooking or sewing?).  Nevertheless it is a very cute scene.

They send Aurora out, now known as Briar Rose, and we get to hear her sing.  The score is actually all from the ballet, and  the songs are minimal.   However, the singing they did get is beautiful.

There is then a comic scene with the forest creatures that is cute but to me feels a little too campy for the artistic style of the movie.  It just doesn’t fit in.

animalsNot knowing they are betrothed royalty, Aurora meets Prince Phillip and they dance together in really the only song in the picture aside from the hail song at the opening.  I love it.

Aurora and Phillip agree to meet later that night but when she returns home the fairies tell her she is being taken to the palace.  Aurora goes but with a heavy heart.

We then get an unnecessary scene between the two kings drinking and toasting their children who are to be married.   The Kings get a little tipsy along with the lute player.

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Next you see her getting ready in the castle and this scene with the color of her face and Maleficent’s eyes is one of Disney’s best.

I love when she says “Did you think you could defeat me: the mistress of evil?”.  One thing that worries me about the 2014 version is they are softening her up.  They have to in order to create a prequel,and most of the time that doesn’t work (think Star Wars prequels…).  Maleficent is basically the devil.  In fact, she is proud of her loathsomeness.  Later on with Prince Phillip she see’s it as her shining hour.

Not everything needs a softer side. Most of the time softer means bland.

So Aurora pricks her finger and is put to sleep.  This is a perhaps unavoidable problem with Sleeping Beauty is that most of the time the princess is asleep.  Snow White had some of this problem.

Sleeping-Beauty-disney-18543904-640-360However, you really feel for the fairies in this scene, so that makes up for some of Aurora’s blandness.  The fairies could have been such cliches but the writing is quite good and we really get to know them.

Flora decides to put the entire kingdom to sleep with Aurora but just before Phillip’s father mutters about a girl his son met in the woods.  Flora realizes it is the boy Aurora met earlier and they fear for Philips’s safety.

Unfortunately Maleficent has beaten them there and in a great scene traps the prince taking him away.

Phillip gets locked in the dungeon and he and Maleficent have a terrific scene together I wish I could find.

maleficent and phillip2Thinking she has gotten her revenge and the Prince is going to rot away in her dungeon she walks up to her lair and has a great line ‘I shall finally be able to sleep well for the first time in 16 years’.  I mean who can sleep when revenge and evil is on the docket?

The fairies help Philip and give him the sword of truth and shield of virtue.  (those names seem right out of King Arthur.  Really fit 14th century well)

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Now that is a great Disney hero!

Finding out she won’t be able to sleep we get this amazing scene- without a doubt one of Disney’s best.

It’s also actually Flora that really saves the day, which I kind of like.

I love that her body isn’t even there.  She’s like road kill on the ground.

dead maleficent1Then we get our happy ending and it is a wonderful story.  And for the record, I like her better in blue!

Movie Review-

Are there flaws in Sleeping Beauty?  Yes, the princess is bland.  The fairies schtick is laid on very thick.  The woodland animals don’t work for me.  The drinking scene with the kings is unnecessary.

But there is a lot more right.  I love the strong prince . I love Maleficent.  Watch On Bald Mountain in Fantasia and I think you will agree in personality and design Maleficent is basically the devil from that picture as a woman- even down to the minions.

A lot of people hate the style, but  I like it.  I think it is an interesting take on storytelling and beautiful in its own way.  I also like the Tchaikosky score.   It gives a lightness and flow to the piece that works.  Once Upon a Dream, while one of the only songs, is lovely and sung very well.

I like there is action and a great villain who really tests the characters, pushing them to their limit.  I also remember it was the first time I had ever heard a character say the word ‘hell’ in a movie.  It was pretty scandalous!

I honestly can’t imagine any kids not liking Sleeping Beauty.  It is without a doubt one of their best.

Overall Grade- A

My sister and I for Halloween.  She was Marywether and I was Aurora.
My sister and I for Halloween. She was Marywether and I was Aurora.