The last few nights of movie viewing have been rough going…I try to be kind and positive on my reviews but I would be lying if I didn’t say how much I disliked Brother Bear, Chicken Little and Home on the Range. Treasure Planet was fine but kind of dry. The reviews don’t have any meaning if they are all vanilla and you never either love or hate something.
But it’s tough when there is a stretch of bad reviews. Start to feel like a jerk! I want to like them! Really I do.
Fortunately we get a break from the dreck with Disney’s strange but entertaining 47th animated classic Meet the Robinsons. This is not a masterpiece but as pop entertainment it is creative and bizarre and I liked it.
There isn’t a ton to say on production but that Pixar was officially purchased by Disney during the making of the movie, which is why John Lasseter became a producer on the film.
In fact, he saw an early screening and didn’t think the villain was scary enough so he changed it and evidently 60% was changed and retooled. It has the feel of a movie that is a bit overwrought and maybe retooled a bit too much but it still works.
It is also of note because it was the first Disney movie to be released in digital 3D that is so common now.
The movie has a bit of a Simpsons feel with broad humor and bright colors and even has Danny Elfman as the composer of the score (who wrote the Simpsons theme). It’s not as good as the Simpsons or as funny but I would bet it is a creative influence.
The soundtrack has songs by Jamie Cullum, Rob Thomas, They Might be Giants and others and it is very good. Probably Disney’s best pop song soundtrack. (At least it is a step up from The Spice Girls in Chicken Little…)
The voicecast is universally strong and huge (shows how many characters are in the story). Steve Anderson voices 3 parts including the Bowler Hat Guy, Ethan Sandler 5 including Doris. Tom Kenny, Tom Selleck, Laurie Metcalf, Angela Bassett, Harland Williams all provide voices.
This movie is impossible to describe without being a huge spoiler for those who haven’t seen it.
Basically it’s kind of Back to the Future meets The Incredibles meets strangeness.
A little kid named Lewis is an orphan who likes to invent things (kind of like Doc Brown as an orphan kid). He even keeps his roommate up all hours of the night with his inventions.
His inventions prevent him from being adopted, so he decides he wants to get to know his mother using a memory scanner he has invented. He then meets a strange boy named Wilbur
Wilbur is looking for a man with a bowler hat who has stolen a time machine. This sends Lewis on quite the journey! The Bowler Hat man is a very good and creepily drawn villain. You will never guess who the Bowler Hat man really is. Or at least I didn’t. It’s very clever!
Lewis and Wilbur meet the Robinson family and I don’t want to give the surprises away but there is a dinosaur and several other inventions. It’s a nutty movie.
At times it gets a little cluttered and convoluted but basically it’s about how Lewis gets to understand his mother, his own potential and the importance of family.
I don’t want to oversell Meet the Robinsons because it has big problems. It throws a lot at the screen and at a certain point it becomes exhausting, but I’d rather have that than a lazy predictable entry like Brother Bear. Just my personal preference I suppose.
I’m not sure every plot point works out and the writing could be sharper, creating more compelling characters but what we get isn’t bad. In fact, I think it is pretty good.
It’s certainly bright and colorful and the story definitely surprised me. The villain is very well done and like I said caught me off guard. The big reveals work and overall I was charmed by it.
It might be a little hard for kids to keep track of everything and I wish there were a few more laughs but I think enough is there to entertain kids and it’s maybe even more suited to teens.
We do also get some really nice messages about family, being yourself, and getting adequate amounts of sleep each night…!
It’s certainly a huge step up from Chicken Little. That’s for sure. It’s no Pixar. I mean Pixar came out with Rataouille in 2007 and who can compete with that?… (was a weird year for animation because the Bee movie also came out which is a strange mixed bag like Meet the Robinsons).
So looking for some odd and colorful entertainment? Give Meet the Robinsons a shot.
We made it through the package films! Now we are ready to start the glorious era of 1950’s Disney. Aside from the 1990s that brought us 9 Disney animated films the 50’s gave us 5 and they are all good:
1. Cinderella (1950)
2. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
3. Peter Pan (1953)
4. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
5. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Glorious! And it all started with Cinderella. In fact, we should all be grateful for Cinderella because without its success we may have not seen any more Disney films because at the time of it’s release Disney was 4 million dollars in debt. Cinderella cost 3 million so if it had flopped they would probably have gone bankrupt.
While the package films had kept them in the game, they had not had a serious hit since Snow White in 1937 (or perhaps Dumbo) but it had been a while. It had also been over a decade since they had been allowed in the European market and their overly ambitious films of the early 40s had not made money.
So naturally they went back to their money-maker, classic fairy tale princess stories, and it served them quite well.
Cinderella is the centuries old fairy tale about the girl in ashes who through good fortunes becomes a princess. It has been told in nearly every culture going all the way back to the middle ages. Some tellings are ghastly and morbid. Others are fanciful and fun. For whatever the reason the story has remained consistently popular in nearly every era of the written word. It’s really quite remarkable when you think about it.
I already reviewed the Disney Cinderella and 3 other versions on my youtube channel.
In that review I defend Cinderella from the feminists who feel she is only a pretty face. I talk about the hard work and good friend she is.
So this time I want to talk about other things that I noticed more this time around.
Disney had long wanted to do a version of Cinderella. In fact,in 1922 he made a short about a cat Cinderella but the story is basically the same.
I think Disney’s affection for the story going back to his early days shows in the movie. Even the villains are fully fleshed out characters with decent amount of screen time. It feels like well thought out and lovingly crafted movie.
One thing I noticed in this go-around is aside from the intro it takes 22 minutes before we see or hear from Lady Tremaine and the girls. These early minutes are all spent in helping us to get to know Cinderella.
We see her wake up from dreaming, sing about her dream (with one of the best princess singing voices by Ilene Woods), rescue Gus from the trap, and then get breakfast ready.
This is much better than the introduction of Snow White who we mainly know is beautiful, wishes on a well and meets the Prince and is banished. You haven’t gotten to see her work or interact with friends like we see Cinderella.
Her opening song is one of my favorite in all of Disney.
I also love the Sing Sweet Nightangale sequence. The animation in the bubbles is beautiful.
This human side is key in helping us feel bonded to Cinderella. She’s a good person. She deserves to be happy. Unlike say Ariel who is pretty young and selfish, Cinderella only thinks of herself in dreams, which makes you want her to achieve them even more.
A lot of people hate the mice in Cinderella because of their high pitched voices. I suppose I wouldn’t want to buy albums of their singing but for the part of itty bitty mice I think it kind of works.
Here’s an interesting video where they have changed the mice voices to what their natural register would be like. I don’t mind it but I kind of think the mice are cuter in the original. What do you think?
The mice are such sweet friends to Cinderella. (It is kind of funny that the mice and birds have clothing but not the cat or dog. Don’t any of the other characters think it is funny all these dressed critters around the house?..). When they make Cinderella her dress it is such a happy, loving gesture.
With such love and excitement put into it, it really is quite a devastating moment when it gets destroyed. It is perhaps the lowest a character gets in any Disney film and we have spent so much time with her it affects us as audience members.
But of course she is rescued and by a woman no less (funny how the feminists never mention that). The Prince doesn’t rescue Cinderella. She rescues herself because as the Fairy Godmother says ‘if you lost all your faith than I wouldn’t be here and yet here I am”.
The Fairy Godmother is voiced by frequent Disney contributor Verna Felton, and I think it is one of the great vocal performances in Disney history. It is warm, funny, sweet and of course magical!
And a great song!
The songs are all great written by a group called the Tin Pan Alley and attributed to Mark David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman who all won Oscars.
Bibbidy-bobbity-boo won Oscar for best song. I feel like songs like that never win any more? It’s always to the tender ballad? I guess there was that Eminem song a while back so maybe not. Bibbidy was so popular it had 4 top 5 cover versions by Perry Como, another by the Fontane Sisters and others.
While we are learning about Cinderella we also get to know the King and Arch Duke in some very funny scenes. And while the Prince never speaks more than a few words we actually learn a lot about him through these scenes.
We learn the Prince wants to marry for love and has been reticent to pick any of his father’s choices. We learn he is bored by most of the women he meets and his father thinks he has his head in the clouds (like Cinderella). We also learn his father desperately wants Grandchildren! (Enough to destroy his house ranting about it!)
At one point the king is told the Prince has promised whomever fits the shoe he will marry. The King says he will punish (maybe even kill) the Arch Duke if someone, any woman, isn’t found to fit the shoe, even if it is not the woman the Prince is in love with. ‘He’s given his word and we’ll hold him too it!’. Now that’s a man who wants to be a Grandpa!
So of course Cinderella is off to the castle and dances with the Prince in admittedly the weakest song and sequence of the film. But Disney at this point had used the ‘instant love’ trope so many times in shorts and features it is certainly no surprise to see them use it again. In fairness, at least in this story there is a limited time period where they could fall in love so at least it makes sense. I mean at midnight she is back to rags and the chance is over.
Next we get the search for the owner of the slipper. The Arch Duke comes and Lady Tremaine shows her most evil side locking Cinderella in the attic.
Lady Tremaine is one of the best Disney villains of all time. Her whole life seems to be devoted to helping her daughters and to lording her power over Cinderella. I don’t know of many horror movie villains that get quite the glee out of ruining a single person’s life. In the world of Disney she is without a doubt one of the greats. I kind of wish she had a good villain song but it works.
The wicked stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, are practically as evil as their mother and I remember seeing them as a child and asking my Mother why their dresses looked so strange? To think those huge bustles were a fashionable look (in Pecos Bill a bustle gets turned into a trampoline!)
Lucifer is another great character that actually takes up a lot more of the movie than I remember. What a horrible cat!
I’m reminded of the quote from Babe:
“There are many perfectly nice cats in the world, but every barrel has its bad apples, and it is well to heed the old adage, “Beware the bad cat bearing a grudge.”
Aside from shorts it had been since Pinocchio that Disney had animated human characters and there is a fluidity to their movement which is pleasant to watch. This is perhaps because 90% of the human interactions were actually filmed in live action and then copied by the animators. It was basically the motion capture of it’s day!
The backdrops are also back to form with Cinderella. We get some beautiful works of art for the characters to act around.
The final segment of the film when Cinderella is locked in the attic are really quite desperate. Gus and Jaq must get the key all the way up the daunting flight of stairs!
Of course we all know the end of the story. Cinderella and the Prince get married and she is rescued from her hard life.
I certainly hope we have not become so cynical as a society that we can longer tolerate the joy of a happy ending to a fairy tale. It is not like Cinderella gets by easily. In fact, aside from the Fairy Godmother, her life has been incredibly difficult. If anyone deserves a happy ending it is her.
Well, I’m not cynical. I believe in happy endings for all of us. If we are like Cinderella and are a good friend and work hard than we will all find happiness in life. We may not find great love and be a princess but we can all get our happy endings. That’s why Cinderella’s story has endured for so long.
I also believe in rescuers. The Fairy Godmother rescues Cinderella at her lowest moment. I know in my life I have had similar moments of rescue when a good friend has insisted I take their love and be helped out of a miserable situation. No magic per say but the results were equally profound.
Regardless, Cinderella has great music, lovely animation, a terrific villain (several actually), and a heroine that displays many laudable traits for our children to emulate. It absolutely deserves to be one Disney’s classics and I love it.
Overall Grade- A+
Also, Cinderella is one of the few movies that Disney actually produced pretty good sequels to in their sequel phase of the 90s. Particularly Cinderella 3 where Lady Tremaine goes back in time to try and undo all the good that happens to Cinderella.