Talking Hunchback of Notre Dame

Recently over on my youtube I posted my Disney canon review of Hunchback of Notre Dame. My friend Christine mentioned it is her favorite Disney movie so she agreed to join me and discuss the film. I thought it was a cool experience to see both sides of a polarizing movie without things getting mean like so often happens online (see it can be done folks!). I had a great time and think you guys will like this video. Check it out!

Health Update and Walt Disney Films Tag

Hey guys! Just wanted to give you an update on my health and do a little tag. I just posted this week my 20th Disney Canon review on my youtube channel. This means I have finished the movies of Walt Disney’s lifetime. So I have come up with a little tag based on these 20 films.

I would love for any of you to give your answers. Put it in a post or just put in the comments section.

1. Favorite Fantasia short?
2. Favorite Disney short? (if seen Wartime films pick one of them if not another fav)
3. Lady Tremain/Cruella/Maleficent or Evil Queen better she villain?
4. Disney film you loved as child that doesn’t hold up well?
5. Disney film you didn’t love as a child but like as adult?
6. Cinderella, Aurora or Snow White?
7. Favorite Alice in Wonderland character?
8. What do you prefer Dumbo or Bambi?
9. Rank live action remakes- 101, Alice, Jungle Book, Maleficent, Cinderella
10. 101 Dalmatians, Aristocats, or Lady and the Tramp?
11. Of all the shorts which do you think would make the best feature film?
12. Favorite and Least favorite of first 20 Disney films?
13. Thoughts on Walt Disney?
14. Out of first 20 reviews what film have you not seen that you want to see? Or what review did you learn something new/see it in a new way?
15. Coachman/Stromboli/Monstro/Honest Fox- best Pinocchio villain?

Thank you for all the kind words and prayers in my behalf.It has been one of the worst illnesses of my life, but I am on the other side of it and improving. I am so grateful for all the support from all of you and the incredible kindness of my boss and coworkers.I am allowed to recover and get better. Hopefully it will keep improving through the weekend.
I hope you all have good health and avoid this nasty bronchitis that I got. Sure love ya!

Walt Before Mickey Review

Walt_Before_MickeySo today was looking at my local theater line-up and I notice a film called Walt Before Mickey.  What is this? How as a Disney aficionado have I never heard of this film about the big man himself, Walt Disney?  I had a little bit of time tonight so I figured I’d go check it out.  I mean my blog has Disney in the name so I think I’m obligated to do so.

Well, my friends there is a reason I hadn’t heard of Walt Before Mickey.  I can confidently say the only encouragement I can give you to see this film is if you like inadvertently funny ‘so bad it’s good’ type of entertainment. That’s right, Walt Before Mickey, had me in stitches but not in the way they intended it too.

It’s really bad.

That’s not to say they don’t try to make a good movie but the script is so bad there were times I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

walt before mickeyAs the title suggests, Walt Before Mickey is about the mostly business life of Walt Disney before he created Mickey Mouse.  It begins with some of Walt’s early life drawing horses for his neighbor.  We will occasionally flashback to these scenes and in one scene it seems like Walt is terrified of his father and in another he loves and adores him.  While that may be partly true it feels inconsistent and random here.  Most of the time he is giving out great wisdom but then out of nowhere he will be harsh and cruel.

Eventually we get up to him as a young adult played by Thomas Ian Nicholas .  After working for a local advertising agency Disney meets Ub Iwerks played by director Armando Gutierrez.  We also meet Rudy Ising (David Henrie) who evidently answered an ad for a Cartoonist but has never heard of animation before and has to be shown a flipbook…

A lot of this is true as far as names and faces but it is handled with such dew filled sepia lighting its tough to take seriously.  It feels like a movie we’d see in Sunday School class not a feature film.

And then the script just piles it on.  Like we get lines such as

“This story is drawn in my own blood!”

or

“You will never be a failure Walt!  You have too much goodness inside of you”

or

“I wished upon a star and look what it gave me!”

If you aren’t laughing at those lines than you have a higher tolerance for cheese than I do.

One of the most insane scenes I wish I had a picture of is Walt after Laugh-o-grams is closed down he becomes friendly with a a mouse that he starts to carry in his shirt pocket.  He even dives in the dumpster to get food for the mouse and when it scurries away he goes into full-on meltdown mode.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.   This isn’t just a subtle hint at a friendship with a mice.  This is whole on Cinderella talking too and interacting with him in multiple scenes. It makes you wonder why it took him so long to come up with Mickey!

walt before mickey6

The acting isn’t that bad.  Even Jon Heder from my favorite Napoleon Dynamite, is fine. It also looks nice as far as sets and costuming but I promise you Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep and Marlon Brando could not have saved this script.

walt before mickey5Another laughable character or caricature I should say is Conor Dubin playing Charles Mintz.  This is the greedy Jewish guy who is counting his money and scheming to thwart the talented white guy you used to see in movies from the 40s.  I felt embarrassed for everyone involved whenever his character was on screen.

Walt Before Mickey is really on the Unauthorized True Story level Lifetime has been churning out for the likes of Saved by the Bell or 90210.  It’s hero main flaw is not being able to pay people because he dreams too big.

Evidently there were a lot of problems in the making of the film.  One report I read crew members were walking off set, actors didn’t get paid and they had to finda  new director after starting filming.  There are times when you can’t hear characters and editing and focus will be sloppy.

walt before mickey3

The editing was also badly done.  In one scene Walt’s boys will pay his rent and practically lay down in traffic for him and then minutes later he is storming into the office throwing things off of desks and making a mess (the bad movie sign of stress).  All of the characters are inconsistent like that and despite the best efforts by the actors it ends up feeling embarrassing.

There’s another movie coming out this year about young Walt called As Dreamers Do and that looks equally cringe-worthy and he’s talking to a mouse in that one as well!

I loved Saving Mr Banks so there is proof a Disney bio pic could be good but they have to be actual films and not visuals for the Walt Disney Sunday School course.  The great man certainly deserves better that is for sure.

Here is a trailer to Walt Before Mickey if you want to get more of an idea.

Overall Score- D-

 

Bonus Review: Saving Mr Banks

saving mr banksJust for fun I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent live action Disney film, Saving Mr Banks.  For some reason I waited to see the movie even though it stars my favorite living actress Emma Thompson and an actor I really like in Tom Hanks, and it is about the making of one of my favorite movies Mary Poppins.  I guess sometimes you don’t want the illusion to be spoiled by a behind the scenes look, so I waited until it came out on DVD and watched it.  I was blown away. It rapidly ascended the ranks to a top 10 favorite movie ever list.

Saving Mr Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time.    Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  We also see Paul Giamatti in a wonderful, subtle performance as a the chauffeur Collin Farrel as Travers’ father, and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and BJ Novak as the Sherman Brothers and team.  Everyone is great in this film.

The story centers around Travers, an insufferable curmudgeon,,  and Disney, the master of whimsey, as Travers is forced to relinquish the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins.  She hates the idea of everything Disney stands for.  He is childish is and stupid and he wants to turn her masterpiece into a joke.

They do not pull any punches with Travers.  She is a jerk to the 9th degree and normally this wouldn’t work so well but with Emma Thompson’s warmth and her back-story along the way I totally bought it.  I was actually glad they didn’t soften her edges but had the guts to make a lead character so unlikable.  It made her change and the ending so profound.

Hanks is great as Disney.  I have no idea if it captures the man but even little details like the fact he had a nervous twitch from constantly smoking is integrated into the performance.  He seems like someone who would be almost impossible to resist, which is a perfect contrast to Thompson’s Travers.

mr banks

So like I said Travers is incredibly resistant to the idea of her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary) dancing about in one of his cartoons. Why?  Why?  Well, we learn about her father who was a whimsical man, much like Disney.   I won’t give it all away but he disappoints Travers, wounds her and she is never the same.  In fact, she becomes an entirely new person, accent and all.  Collin Farrell is excellent in the flashback scenes as her father.

Colin-Ferrell-in-Saving-Mr.-Banks-2013An aunt comes into Travers life at a moment of crisis and she is inherently practical which is what she needed to get by.  So Travers became practical and created a character that could rescue people in the same way her aunt had rescued her.  That’s why it meant so much to her.

But it is not a morbid or solemn film, much of it is spent on the mechanics of working over the script with the producer and the Sherman Brothers.  Travers has opinions on everything from the house, to whether Mr Banks has a beard.  She is absolutely against using music or animation (we all know how she came out on that debate!).  She doesn’t like Dick van Dyke as a choice (hard to believe but true).  She even at one point criticizes one of the Sherman brothers and says he earned his limp in the war.

At least to me this banter and back and forth never got too heavy or drawn out because it was interrupted with the scenes from Travers life.  The pacing works perfectly. A lot of that also goes to Thomas Newman who wrote a fabulous score- one of the best I’ve heard in many years.

So great performances, beautiful music and cinematography, engaging premise- all part of why Saving Mr Banks is special but there was something else that made it a top 10 all time favorite.  At the end Tom Hanks flies to London and talks to PL about forgiveness and it deeply moved me.  It captures the profound idea that every person has a moment where childhood is over, and most of us spend the rest of our lives either resenting who gave us that moment or trying to recreate the innocence we lost.  In the case of PL Travers she rejected the whimsey of her father to deal with the pain, in Disney’s case he embraced it so they are the ultimate contrast.  I bawl whenever I see that scene.  It profoundly moved me.

I have my moment where childhood was done.  I wasn’t the most whimsical kid to start with, far from it.  But one day at the apex of being bullied I was thrown into the drinking fountain with a line of children and my dress was put over my head so everyone could see my underwear.  All of this within a teacher’s observation.  I remember looking at her and all the kids and realizing they weren’t going to help me.  I don’t resent those kids/teachers but I do wish I could have that moment back.  Maybe that’s why I like animation and children’s movies so much?  Characters like Ariel and Belle gave me confidence to stand up for myself and find my own version of happiness.

Jib.1280x720

I know Saving Mr Banks isn’t a perfect movie but that scene in London was perfect to me.  I also love the behind the scenes of how a movie is conceptualized and developed.  It’s interesting that we never see a set or backdrop or anything like that.  It is all at the script, storyboard stage.  I loved the actors who played the Sherman Brothers.  They are just trying to do their jobs and make their employer happy, and Travers is making it very tough on them.

saving_mr_16

I also loved Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur.  He is subtle and their friendship felt authentic.  I’m surprised a big name like Giamatti would take such a small part but I’m glad he did.

It is also true the film is fan fiction and PL Travers hated the movie and wouldn’t give any rights to anything after the experience.  She cries at the premiere and you feel for her.  For her work and all that it meant to her.  It is not a tidy explanation no matter how technically inaccurate it might be.

So, I loved Saving Mr Banks.  I loved performances, music, story, cinematography, and the message of forgiveness.  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do!

Content Grade- A-      Overall Grade- A+

Nanowrimo and Future

Hey guys!  This is just a quick update because some of you have asked what my plans are for the blog now that the initial project is done.  Well, of course we will have the Big Hero 6 review which I will see November 7th and post soon after.  I will also continue to release top 10 lists and maybe even review other Disney’s I love not in the canon.

However, there won’t be a ton on this blog in November because I will be busy working on Nanowrimo.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.  This will be my third year doing it and it is the first year I’ve been unsure what I am writing about.  I have a character idea but not sure what I want to have her do.  It’s going to be a challenge but also kind of exciting too!

Have any of you done Nanowrimo?  It’s a fun chance to challenge yourself and actually finish something.  Plus, you meet new people and get to tell stories which is good for the soul . I highly recommend it!

nanowrimoAs you can imagine writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a challenge so keeping up 2 blogs and work will be impossible but I will do my best to not leave it completely unattended.  If anyone would like to guest blog on either one let me know and I’d be interested as long as it is family friendly and clean.

My other blog if you don’t know is http://smilingldsgirl.com. 

After Nanowrimo I would like to start a new challenge.  I think I will post some holiday themed reviews because I LOVE Christmas movies.  I have also thought of doing a review of the Jim Henson studio movies.  This would be the list with perhaps reviews of the seasons of Muppet Show and a broader Sesame Street review.   What would you like to read my thoughts on?  I’ve thought of Dreamworks, Pixar or Don Bluth but I’m a super fan of Pixar and a marginal fan of the other 2.  Nothing like Disney.

Jim Henson Studio and Creature Shop movies
101 Dalmatians (Creature Effects)
5 Children & It (Character Animation, Visual Effects, Digital Puppetry and Animatronics)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014; with Walt Disney Pictures)
All That (Leroy & Fuzz) (Puppets)
Animal Farm (Creature Effects)
Babe (Creature Effects)
Buddy (1997; with American Zoetrope and Columbia Pictures)
Dinosaurs (Creature Effects)
Dr. Dolittle (Creature Effects)
Dreamchild (Creature Effects)
Five Children and It (2004)
Follow That Bird (1985) (with Children’s Television Workshop and Warner Bros.)
George of the Jungle (Creature Effects)
Good Boy! (2003; with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Creature Effects)
It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) (with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge
Kermit’s Swamp Years (2003) (with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Labyrinth (1986) (with Lucasfilm and TriStar Pictures)
Lost in Space (Creature Effects)
L’Ours (Creature Effects)
Mee Shee: The Water Giant (Visual Effects and Digital Puppetry)
MirrorMask (2005)
Monster Maker
Muppet Treasure Island (1996) (with Walt Disney Pictures)
Muppet*Vision 3D (1991) (with Walt Disney Imagineering)
Muppets from Space (1999; with Columbia Pictures)
Muppets Most Wanted
Rat (2000)
Scooby-Doo (Creature Effects)
Stuart Little 2 (Creature Effects)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Creature Effects)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (Creature Effects)
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999; with Sesame Workshop and Columbia Pictures)
The Country Bears (Creature Effects)
The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Ghost of Faffner Hall (Puppets)
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) (with Walt Disney Pictures)
The Muppet Movie (1979)
The Muppets
The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005) (with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
The Neverending Story III (Creature Effects)
The Storyteller (Creature Effects)
The Witches (1990) (with Warner Bros. Pictures)
Where the Wild Things Are (Creature Effects)

Would love your suggestions and thoughts.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everyone on this blog and learned a lot from formulating my opinion in a semi-articulate way.  It’s been a great experience.  Thanks so much for your support and for reading my silly thoughts.

Sure love ya!  Rachel

 

Movie 26: The Great Mouse Detective

great_mouse_detective

Before starting this review I should explain something about my family.  We are Sherlock Holmes obsessed.  You see my parents have almost no interest in media.  They will watch an occasional movie but basically no television.  Aside from religious programming and an occasional sporting event (I would coral my family into watching the Olympics every 4 years), I have basically no memory of my parents watching television regularly.

…with one exception.

Every year from 1984-1994 PBS, as part of their Masterpiece Mystery programs. would air Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.   My Dad even videotaped the episodes, which was even more rare for him to do. The only other time I remember him recording something was Ken Burns, The Civil War, which is another great PBS program of that era.

jeremy-brett-sherlock-holmesIf you haven’t seen his portrayal it is fabulous with all the mannerisms and cases we have come to know and love from Sherlock Holmes.

From that show we all read the original stories and saw all the versions we could including Great Mouse Detective by Walt Disney.  I think I even read the mouse series Basil of Baker Street books the film was based upon.

Even now we will spend hours talking about how the Robert Downey Jr versions get it all wrong and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect…You think I’m exaggerating but I’m not.  Ask one of my sisters. Anna, who may be the greatest Sherlock fangirl of all of us, one year threw up her hands and said “can we talk about something else!”

So with that intro let’s talk about Disney’s 26th animated adventure- The Great Mouse Detective!

Production-

How Great Mouse Detective came into fruition is very interesting both for itself and how it influenced future Disney films.  As the studio was hard at work with the Black Cauldron 2 animators, Ron Clements and John Musker, broke away and developed concept art for an adaptation of the Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus and illustrated by Paul Galdone and were based on the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories but with mice in the leads.  Clements went on to direct the movie and be actively involved in the Disney renaissance including directing Little Mermaid, Aladdin and even later The Princess and the Frog.  Clements had also done a Basil of Baker Street short before he joined Disney, so that is no doubt where he got the idea.

Originally Disney gave the project a large budget but before production started Michael Eisner was hired as CEO and the budget was slashed from 24 to 10 million.  This proved to be a good thing as it forced them to embrace computers in a new way that had only been dabbled in for Black Cauldron.  Especially the finale in the clock was groundbreaking in its use of computer graphics and films like Little Mermaid would follow suit.  Just shows a cut budget isn’t always a disaster for a project!

basil and dawson2In so many ways selecting Sherlock Holmes was an inspired choice.  It’s something that has had near universal appeal since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the stories in 1887.  Especially once the Black Cauldron faced production and then box office problems, having a stake in a franchise that has always scored money in publishing and at the box office in nearly every recreation and retelling was a stroke of brilliance.  Having Brett’s version on PBS, also no doubt, helped create an atmosphere where kids wanted their own version of their parents favorite show!

This was another moment where Disney higher-ups threatened to close the animation department, especially after the colossal disaster of Black Cauldron (remember BC stands as one of the biggest monetary losses in not just Disney but Hollywood history.  Right up there with Cleopatra and Heaven’s Gate).  Fortunately for all of us Disney fans, Great Mouse Detective scored making 25 million in theaters on what ended up being a 14 million budget (good thing they cut the budget from the original 24 million).   These profits were then taken and invested into a little movie about a little mermaid, so all of us that idolized Ariel have Basil to thank for it! 🙂

The whole picture has an artistry which is impressive for this type of urban based Disney picture .  Every shot feels foggy and full of mystery- even inside.  The characters are drawn with a sketchy style but there is enough ambiance and they are so much fun I didn’t mind it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The soundtrack is wonderful and like Black Cauldron they hired a top name film and television composer Henry Mancini for the project.  There’s a real broadway feel to the songs and I don’t know if that had been done before with Disney.  You had all the jazzy music in Lady and the Tramp, Jungle Book and Aristocats but a broadway show in animation hadn’t really been done to my knowledge.  It is also the first solo sung by a villain in a Disney film.  The Siamese cats sing a duet and many other films have songs sung about the villains (such as in Peter Pan) but this was the first virtuoso villain number.  For the next 15 years a villain solo is a hallmark of not only Disney but all animated stories and Ratigan’s ‘The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind’ still holds up very well. ratigan2

Aside from Jeremy Brett there was certainly no shortage of inspiration for animators to go off of with Sherlock Holmes.  But  as far as character design goes, the animators were clearly paying homage to Basil Rathborne and Nigel Bruce’s famous performances as Holmes and Watson.  In fact, in one brief scene we hear the human Holmes talking and that voice is Basil Rathborne (who had worked with Disney back in Mr Toad).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But it was not an outright copy of Rathborne and Bruce.  Director Ron Clements said:
“We didn’t want to make them simply miniature versions of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce,” Clements affirmed. “Dawson’s not a buffoon. He’s a foil for Basil but also a warm and caring person.”

This is no doubt why the story begins with Dawson uncovering the case and presenting it to Holmes in a very loving and nurturing way.  As with any Holmes story, Dawson is naturally the narrator and maternal presence to balance out Basil’s brusque and aloof nature.

One other funny part of production is usually in Disney there is an animal world and human world coexisting but this is the first one I can think of where the two are direct duplications.  There is a human and mouse Sherlock, Watson, Queen Victoria etc.  I find this to be a funny concept- makes me think about the duplicate Rachel mouse hanging out in her tiny townhouse, balancing books and blogging… 😉

The Story-

So let’s talk about the case.   As I said, the film starts off with a lot of foggy, eerie atmosphere and we dive right into the scene at a toy store. It is scary but most of the violence is heard and not seen, and with an adult getting kidnapped it is slightly less traumatic than when it happens to a child.  (Most of the voice cast is unknown but  Mr Flavisham is voiced by Alan Young who would later voice Scrooge McDuck in Ducktales).  For young children this may be too intense but it could easily be skipped over with a parent explaining what has happened.

Next we get introduced to Dawson and they hold remarkably true to the original Conan Doyle details even down to serving in Afghanistan in the army.  Dawson then meets the little girl from the previous scene named Olivia, and this introduction shows the heart they were trying to achieve with Dawson:

Just a quick aside, I have been critical of Disney female characters in a few posts, so I will say I love Olivia.  She’s sweet, tough and smart (without her Basil would never have even been involved).  She is not a puppet, meant just as a love interest for a character (although at first she was supposed to be older and be Basil’s love interest.  Thank goodness they didn’t go in that direction. Holmes a love interest? The very idea!)   and there is NO instant love in Great Mouse Detective!!! I haven’t seen Oliver and Company in years so I’m not sure on that, but the rest of Disney animation will take a break from the girl batting her eyes across the stream and boy falling instantly in love with her trope I detest for many films! Hurray!

758px-Mousedetective017
Olivia. Not just a great female character, but a great character!

Off to Baker Street they go and they meet Basil in a terrifically Holmes-like way.

Eventually Basil hears the case and off they go on his dog Toby to face Professor Ratigan (based on Professor Moriarty in original books) who we then meet through the villainous number I mentioned above.  Ratigan is voiced by the incomparable Vincent Price. With probably the most distinctive voice of the 80s from the Thriller music video, Price is perfect as Ratigan.  You can feel the fun he is having.  The only performance I can think to relate it to is Robin Williams in Aladdin.  It is that good.

The writers are also very clever because they give a character named Ratigan a violent repulsion to being called a rat.  That’s just funny however you slice it!  We also learn of Ratigan’s dastardly plan to create a robot queen and make himself ‘king of all mousedom’! Now that is a great villainous plot!

The next scenes are at a toy store trying to figure out why Ratigan has abducted Olivia’s father, a toy maker.  The design of the toys and robots are great, almost steampunkish (an art movement also obsessed with robots and Conan Doyle).

86-GMD-2

Thinking it will motivate Flavisham, Ratigan has his bat crony abduct Olivia in the toy store and Basil at first reams Dawson for not watching the girl.  His response is one of the most dejected in any Disney film.  Again, another example of Dawson being the heart of the film.  tumblr_m4dkifAu9Z1qh1mzno1_500

Basil realizes he has crossed a line and he seeks to reassure Dawson they will find Olivia and to not worry.  I like that interplay between the two.

Any blog reader will remember how critical I was of the abduction of Penny in The Rescuers.  However, there are differences in Great Mouse Detective that make Olivia’s abduction more palatable.  First of all she is a mouse not a little girl.  It is also not in a modernish time period or dwelt upon much like in The Rescuers.  I said in that review if you like Medusa you will like the movie.  I didn’t.  In this movie I like Ratigan because he is so over-the-top and funny.  I mean he wants to take over the world not just find a diamond.  Plus, he’s a rat not a woman (much to his dismay)…

Fidget, the bat, leaves the 2 a clue and through his clever detecting Basil realizes Rattigan must be at a pub near the ocean.  However, Rattigan also realizes Basil is going to the pub and sets up a trap to capture his foe.

Unfortunately, before that fun can happen we get the one scene in this movie I do not care for.  They arrive at the ‘seediest bar in London’ and a female mouse starts singing with a dress on, and as she sings a pretty lyrically suggestive song she gets less and less clothes until she is wearing a bar girl type uniform.  I know it is just mice but I don’t want my daughter seeing a burlesque inspired number in  my Disney film. That kind of annoyed me.

The song is sung very well by Melissa Manchester and it could be in Chicago or any other broadway show.  It’s very well written but just not my favorite example to be showing children, even like I said with mice.

It’s funny I asked my Mother about this because I have no memory of the scene and lo and behold she would fast forward through the song when we would watch the movie (see I have a good Mom).  Problem solved.  If you find it offensive then skip ahead, no harm done. 🙂

To Basil’s dismay, Ratigan’s trap appears to work and he and Dawson are captured and strapped to a mouse trap affixed to an elaborate rube goldberg device to kill them both.  Basil is dejected. Oddly enough not because of his imminent death but by having been outsmarted by Ratigan!

Like his plan to take over the crown using a robot, Ratigan’s scheme to kill Basil is so over-the-top it can’t help but make you laugh.  It reminds me of some of the early Bond villains who could never just shoot Bond.  No, he had to kill him in the most complicated way possible, which is a lot of fun.

setup

With Basil seemingly wrapped up, Ratigan begins to execute his plan and abducts the Queen and has the robot announce his approval as King.  He then brings out a hilariously evil list of all the changes he is going to make in power including taxing the ‘elderly, infirm and little children’.  Ha. That’s again very funny writing!

ratigan list

Sadly for Ratigan, Basil breaks free from the trap and stops him and his robot, but the movie is not over.  Ratigan and Basil take to the air and end up on the Big Ben clock.  As I said before, this sequence used computer animation for the first extended period and it’s remarkable how well it holds up.   The sound effects are also fabulous with the tick, tock and the gears creating tension.

So, of course Ratigan’s plans are foiled, Olivia and her father are reunited.  Dawson is about to leave and a new case comes in so Dawson and Basil become partners for life!

Movie Review/Conclusion

So what does this Sherlock obsessed girl think of The Great Mouse Detective?  I think it is great!  It is funny with just enough scary to entertain kids.  It has a terrific villain with one of Disney’s best vocal performances by Vincent Price.  The case is over-the-top but drawn with visual interest and appeal.  Even the backdrops are great at creating ambiance and mystery.

I love when Disney can introduce children to new mediums like Lady and the Tramp did for Jazz (or Jungle Book) or Fantasia for classical music.  Great Mouse Detective not only introduces kids to the greatness of Sherlock Holmes but to detective stories as a genre.  It also has the message Sword in the Stone was trying to teach about education and using your brain, but with Basil it is demonstrated not merely expressed.  Kids can see a keen intellect is important because it helps Basil put the clues together and solve the case.

That is why it is a bit of a downer to have a song in the middle which is about appearances and is basically a stripper song for mice (she literally looses half her clothing by end of number).  But like I said, you all can be like my mother and skip over that scene.  Nothing wrong with that.  There is also some imitative behavior that may be of concern to parents- drinking, smoking cigars etc.

For young children (kindergarten and below) there are scenes of peril.  Mainly the abduction, and particularly the bat may be too scary.  It depends on the child. It is kind of like 101 Dalmatians in tone and feel.  There is so much humor and it is all so over-the-top that it tempers the  scenes pretty well but some kids are sensitive to anything scary.   It does not have a gloomy feel like some of the films which scared me- Rescuers, Pinocchio and Return to Oz being the big examples.

Overall Grade- A-

Also, got a shoutout today from a favorite youtuber of mine The Lawn Gnome who has a great Disney vlog series called ‘Out of the Vault’. If you are on youtube please subscribe to his channel. Here is his Great Mouse Detective review.

PPS- I am now half way through my reviews of Classic Disney!  What do you guys think of The Great Mouse Detective.?

Movie 21: Robin Hood

robin hood poster

(This review ended up being less about the story of the movie but more about the things I learned in my research and how I feel about individual scenes.  I hope it works for you guys)

Robin Hood is a movie as soon as I heard it was on blu-ray I went out and bought it. I really do love it.  That said, I do have to look at films a little bit objectively or what’s the point in even reviewing them?  It can’t be all based on nostalgia even if that is a factor.

So, let’s talk about it.

Production-

robin and little johnThere isn’t a ton of production info on a lot of these movies from the 70s.  Honestly I poured through the internet trying to find out the thought process behind the writing, art, songs, etc in Robin Hood but found very little.  However, I was able to piece some interesting tidbits together, and really enjoyed rewatching it again.

First thing to know is Robin Hood is the first movie to be made without any involvement from Walt Disney.  (Walt had signed off on the Aristocats before his passing).

Released in 1973 Disney had moved its focus away from its animated division in the late 60s and all of their capital and energy was going into Walt Disney World in Florida.  We are used to it now but at the time Epcot was a herculean task and another example of Walt Disney dreaming big!

But the budgets on the animated films suffered for a long time.  We didn’t see Disney invest real money into a picture until 1985 with the Black Cauldron, which was also their biggest flop (kind of excited to see that one!).

Robin Hood didn’t always start out as a comedy.   Lead writer and storyboard artist Ken Anderson (who is given writing credit on the feature even though he hated it) was commissioned by Disney to come up with a story based on Reynard the fox, a fearless creature known throughout France.  He gave his drawings to Disney animators and I read multiple places he ‘wept when he saw that his “character concepts  had been processed into stereotypes for the animation in Robin Hood”

raynold fox

It is the first Disney movie to have all anthropomorphic creatures.  The Rooster says at the beginning it is ‘the animal kingdom’s version’ of the story.  Not sure why they did it this way but there were shows and stories featuring all anthropomorphic creatures for kids successful at the time. On the anthropomorphic note doing this research I came across a group called the furry fandom which have an unhealthy love for anthropomorphic creatures.  Let’s just say I have nightmares! 😉

They also give us a really long intro with the character name, type of animal, and the celebrity voice which is new to Disney.  Before Jungle Book Disney had not used celebrity voices, but had relied on talented voice overs actors like Verna Felton and Sterling Holloway. Even now when celebrity voices are very common I still don’t recall them having a character introduction like in Robin Hood.

Recycling Animation-

Something surprising I learned in my research is Disney has admitted to recycling animation (I didn’t know you could do that) from other films to make Robin Hood.  I’m not sure I really care but it is kind of disappointing.

This recycling or ‘limited animation’ is defined as- “Limited animation is a process of making animated cartoons that does not redraw entire frames but variably reuses common parts between frames

It is for this reason that Disney as a company kind of hates Robin Hood and many other films from this era, despite them being very popular.  I’ve always thought it was interesting how little attention they get in the park and I think this recycled material explains why..  .

Humor in Robin Hood-friends

The thing I liked as a child and still like today about Robin Hood is its humorous script.  There is a ton of funny dialogue like when Prince John tells the guards to ‘seize the fat one’ or when Little John says ‘who’s driving this flying umbrella?’ This scene at the tournament is full of classic physical comedy.  We even get a pie in the face.  Some may think that is cliche but to kids watching they haven’t seen those bits before and they are put together so well.   It still makes me laugh:

There is also humor with Robin Hood and Little John dressing in drag to steal from Prince John.  Again the scene uses classic comedy tropes including some sexy music but it works. I repeat it still makes me laugh:

One Disney site I found said Prince John’s humor had been based on The Smother’s Brothers, which makes sense.  They were a very funny comedy sketch team that produced popular comedic albums and had The Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour from 1967-1969 but it was deemed as too edgy and taken off the air.

Listen to this bit and see if it reminds you of Robin Hood.

As I was watching it today I kept thinking about a Muppets sketch from the 70s I had seen a few days ago.  It felt very similar in tone and cadence to Robin Hood and it made me wonder if the two were connected in some way?  I did some research and found out Sesame Street started in 1969.  Real work on Robin didn’t start till well after that date.  I could be wrong on the Muppet connection but it just feels like a similar form of comedy.   The Muppets are very bawdy in their humor, they have all different animals behaving like humans and they have sincere moments like Rainbow Connection. I think Disney saw the success of Muppets and decided to apply it to Robin Hood.

When I saw this clip my opinion was even more confirmed.  From season 1 or 2 of Sesame Street:

I am spending so much time talking about the writing because I think that is what is special about Robin Hood.  The animation clearly has problems but even if it is recycled, the humor still works.

The Music-

The music is pretty good.   Following the lead of the Aristocats and Jungle Book, they used recognizable singers including Phil Harris and country singer Roger Miller who wrote the songs and serves as narrator.  (A folksy feeling soundtrack may also be a nod to the Smothers Brothers who played guitar and sang in their act).

The introductory song is my personal favorite and I pretty much have it memorized.  It’s not a song that will change your life but I kind of like it.

The Love song is pretty 70’s corny so it isn’t my favorite.  I do like Phony King of England song even if it is recycled animation. (What about you guys?  Does knowing that make you like it less or do you not care?)

Characters-

Another thing I like about Robin Hood is you get introduced to a lot of characters. In 83 minutes (long for Disney those days) we have little vignettes with the sheriff, Prince John and Hiss, Clucky and Maid Marian, and the rabbits and friends, etc.

cast

I don’t know if there is a more morose moment in Disney than the ‘Not in Nottingham’ number because it affects so many people. I remember as a child being less interested in the last third of the movie and I still kind of agree with that assessment.  The scenes with Nutsy are fun but the jailbreak we don’t really get any action that is better or different from the tournament scenes earlier so it is less engrossing.

That’s a pretty sad song but I like it.   The score is nice by frequent Disney collaborator George Bruns.  They use music for a lot of the sound effect cues so instead of a bonk on the head noise, it is a noise worked into the score.

There is also no attempt in the movie to give accents to any characters but Prince John and Hiss (who is totally a rip off from Kaa down to the hypnotizing eyes but he has a lot of great lines).  Everyone sounds like they are from Chicago but it is less distracting than in the Aristocats because it wasn’t supposed to be London.

I love Hiss’s dialogue like “What cheek! Creepy? Buster? Long one? Who does that dopey duke think he is? or “Sire, you have an absolute skill for encouraging contributions from the poor”

Prince John is also funny with lines like “Yes, my reluctant reptile, and when our elusive hero tries to rescue the corpulent cleric” and “You cowardly cobra! Procrastinating python! Agravating asp! Ooh, you eel in snake’s clothing!”  That’s pretty high vocabulary for a kids movie and it totally works. It still makes me laugh.

prince john and hiss2Clucky is one of my favorite characters.   In one scene she fights off a bunch of rhinos football style and it is very funny. football cluckyThere is also a lot of sadness with Robin Hood with taxes, and people going to prison and one particularly cruel scene where the Sheriff steals the last farthing the church mice have given to the poor.

Movie Review/Conclusion-

So what do you do with a movie like this?  Is it an artistic masterpiece? No.  Do I get why Disney is embarrassed by it? Kind of but not really.  It’s not like in recycling they were stealing from other animation studios artwork.  I get why it may not be your greatest achievement but if it makes people smile than that’s an accomplishment however crudely it is accomplished.

Maybe part of it is Disney had been the first so they didn’t have to recylcle ideas or formulas from any one else.  They were then what Pixar was in the 2000s.  Everything at the beginning had been so great, like Pixar, that when they are less ambitious it feels like a failure even if lots of people like the end product.

I guess when it comes down to it making kids laugh isn’t all that easy, and I think Robin Hood does a good job with that.  I like the vocal performances.  I like the action scenes.  I like that the characters use big words and challenge kids a little bit with ideas of social justice and taxation.

So even acknowledging its flaws I still love Robin Hood and think it is one of the most rewatchable Disney movies.  The artpiece films are amazing but a good laugh goes a long way!

Overall Grade- B+  (I’d give it an A but I do think that last act drags a little)

What do you guys think about Robin Hood?

Movie 19: Jungle Book

1967_80sRR_JUNGLEBOOKToday we get to talk about one of my all time favorites- The Jungle Book.  I just watched it and it is every bit as bright and colorful as I remember.

Released in 1967 Jungle Book is the last film Walt Disney produced before his untimely death of lung cancer in 1966.  He didn’t get to view the final product but did see some nearly completed drafts.

Just a quick bit of trivia.  My friend Jim has studied lemurs and monkeys in Madagascar, so I asked him whether there are bears in the jungle.  He said not in India.  These type of bears are in Vietnam and there are no apes!  It’s obviously not a realistic picture but I just thought that was funny.

Production-

It is interesting to compare Jungle Book to Sword in the Stone, which didn’t work for me.  The same xerox method was used but this picture is much more pleasant to watch.

If you recall, one of my issues with Sword in the Stone is that everything looked blue and gray.  In Jungle Book we get the thick outlines from the sketch xerox style which isn’t my favorite but at least it is light and colorful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But even the brightness wouldn’t save the picture on its own.  The sharp writing and the music make it work so well.

According to the dvd extras Walt asked the storyboard writers if they had read Rudyard Kipling’s book The Jungle Book.  They said ‘no’ and he said ‘good because we are doing it our own way’.

I don’t know if as an older man Disney grew weary of the darker themes in Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi but the later films of his life are much lighter and comedic in tone . He told the animators to take the dark scenes of the book and ‘turn them on their ear.  Have fun with them’.

Originally Terry Gilkyson was hired to write the songs but Walt felt they were too dark in tone, so all of the songs except for bare necessities were turned over to the Sherman Brothers.

balooSherman Brothers had written Mary Poppins and Sword in the Stone for Disney at this point and Jungle Book really shows their versatility.  They could easily go from broadway style in Mary Poppins to swing music and jazz for Jungle Book.

The idea for the jazz feel came partly from Gilkyson’s song but also from thinking about the monkeys (who are much darker in the book).  What do they do all day?  They swing!  So the king of the monkeys had to also be the king of the swingers.

monkeysJungle Book is also the first time in a feature film Disney used ‘celebrity voices’ for it’s characters.

Phil Harris was a comic and singer of the era and Walt met him at a party and signed him on to play Baloo. Then we had Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway, Louie Prima and George Sanders.

It is the final Disney appearance by the great Verna Felton.  I wish they gave an Oscar for best animated vocal.  They deserve it and get no recognition.

Like Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book is clearly marketed to boys with only 2 female characters- Verna’s matriarch elephant (which is her second time voicing an elephant.  First time being in Dumbo), and the girl who gets the water.

I really like the watercolor feel to the backgrounds.  It reminds me of Dumbo. baloo1I am sure Jungle Book was also attractive to Walt Disney because of the popularity of The Jungle Cruise in Disneyland and the easy ties which could be built into the park.

What’s strange about this period of Disney is they could produce the animation in half the time but it took longer to make the films. I’m not sure why.  Walt’s priorities shifted a bit to the park and his TV show but still it shouldn’t have taken so long with the xerox process?   Jungle Book took 4 years to complete but at least it did very well at the box office. 22 million in it’s first release!

Story-

But really this movie sinks and swims on the strength of it’s songs and writing.  The story is very simple.  Mowgli is a ‘man cub’ or human who has been raised by wolves.  The wolf pack is worried about having a man cub when the great Shere Khan, the tiger, is back prowling around.

Bagheera, the panther, agrees to take Mowgli back to the man village for his safety.  So, most of the movie is like a road trip (or walking trip) in the jungle with animal characters.

The first characters Mowgli and Bagheera meet on their journey are a band of militarized elephants that are very funny.

Next we meet the snake Kaa who likes to hypnotize his victims before the kill.  It’s a pretty gnarly character and I like the look of his eyes.  It feels hypnotic.   Sterling Holloway gives another great vocal performance.  He was so versatile as a voice actor.  Hard to believe it is the same voice that is so warm and  sweet in Winnie the Pooh.

shere caunFurther down the jungle they meet Baloo the bear.  He is free-living and easy with just the bare necessities.  As Baloo explains his life philosophy to Mowgli we get treated one of the best Disney songs ever written.  It is so much fun.  I dare you not to tap your feet and smile!

Unfortunately in the middle of the song Mowgli gets taken by some monkeys to their leader, King Louie.  They abduct him because Louie wants to find out how humans make fire.  In order to charm Mowgli into telling the secret we get another great song.

It’s not only the songs which are engaging but the dialogue is also very sharp and funny. As a small example

Bagheera:  This will take brains, not brawn.

Baloo: You better believe it, and I’m loaded with both.

That’s a funny line and so many of the laughs work.  It kind of reminds me of a Pixar movie in that regard.  The jokes feel natural and part of the plot.

One of the things that annoyed me about Sword in the Stone is there was too much teaching good lessons and not enough showing.  Jungle Book does a much better job weaving those lessons into the story. I love the tender scenes where we see how much Bagheera and Baloo really care about Mowgli and vice versa.  This helps give us a reason to be rooting for them.  They are good friends, which is the main message of the movie.  the vultures even sing about it!  I love this conversation between Bagheera and Baloo:

Mowgli flees from Bagheera and Baloo and ends up with a band of vultures.  They are very funny and clearly based on the British invasion bands of the 60s.

Like I said in the Dumbo review I really don’t think this scene is that different than the crows but this is clearly referencing white people not black.

Shere Khan voiced by George Sanders coming in at the end is fabulous.  What a bass!

Then Kaa comes back and sings the longer version of Trust in Me and it is actually Shere Khan that saves Mowgli this time.   I love that the gave a snake sinus problems and a lisp.  There is something inherently funny about a hissing snake with ssssinus issues.

I also like they added two villains.  Where the Sword in the Stone had only a few minutes with a villain with confusing motivation, Jungle Book has two villains with clear motivations.  They want to eat Mowgli.  It’s as simple as that.

Both Shere Khan and Kaa remind me of good James Bond villains- all sleek and full of vibrato.

Baloo then reappears and takes on Shere Khan.  For a second we think Baloo is dead in a scene that actually recites scripture  but it works, which is surprising in such a silly movie.  They’ve had just enough heart with the characters to pull this scene off.

Baloo is also funny when he says ‘I wish my Mother could have heard this…’.  That’s good writing!

Finally they get the village and Mowgli has the instant love trope which Disney always uses when he see’s a girl getting water .  She sings a pretty song but the lyrics I could do without.  I like my female characters to have a little bit more free choice in their life.  Everything is pretty mapped out for this girl.  (It really makes sense that I responded to Little Mermaid so much. There aren’t a lot of strong, good women in Disney films from 1960-1989.

Our final scene of the film is Bagheera and Baloo walking off arm around arm much like the end of Casablanca.  You can almost hear him say ‘ I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

balloo2Conclusion and Review-

Much like Fantasia and its classical music, it is unlikely you will enjoy The Jungle Book, if you don’t like jazz music..  I enjoy jazz music, so I love the movie.  The songs make me want to dance!

In fact, when I was 14 my Dad took my sister and I to France.  We were there on Bastille Day and went to a restaurant with a band playing.  To our delight they did a cover of ‘I wanta be like you’.  We bought the CD and it was a favorite of our family for many years.  It’s just such a happy, fun song.

But if it is not your taste you will probably find the movie rough going; although, the characters are a lot of fun and there are 2 great villains.

The male-centric messages and characters is a little annoying but I forget about that when I’m immersed in the story.  The writing is sharp.  Managing to be both tender-hearted and funny.

The backgrounds and character animation  are the best of the Xerox films with lots of bright colors and movement.  It’s not as artistically interesting to me as their more ambitious projects but just like 101 Dalmatians and Lady in the Tramp, it does what it is trying to do very well, and like I said it all comes down to good writing and music.

Jungle Book may be the Disney classic I rewatch the most.  It is cheerful, sweet and has a nice message.  Plus, it is appropriate for all ages with only one brief sad moment.  So check it out!

Overall Grade-  A (I’d give it an A+ if there was a better female character).

Movie 18: Sword in the Stone

posterLet me start out by saying- I know this movie has lots of die hard fans.  That is amazing but I am not in that group.  I was sincerely hoping to come away with a different impression this time out as I hadn’t seen since I was little.  Unfortunately, I still saw the same problems.  But hopefully I can explain my problems with the film in a thoughtful way that even fans can acknowledge my reaction as plausible. Either way, I have to be honest on this blog both with things I like and dislike or there is no point to doing it at all.  This is not a fact guide on Disney.  It is reviews.

A Change in Demographics-

I couldn’t find as much good behind the scenes information on this movie (kind of like Peter Pan in that regard).  They used the xerox process in 101 Dalmatians that give the film a sketchbook feel which worked in 101 but bothers me more in this type of fanciful story.   101 is almost all about animals (and black and white animals to boot) where Sword in the Stone is people so the sketchy style feels dirty and off-putting.

sir pelinore

It was a pretty cheap film to make with the new advances and it made a lot of money at the box office.  It is perhaps these results when compared with Sleeping Beauty’s disappointment that  turned Disney off of girl-centric films to marketing to boys.

This is just my observations.  I could be wrong but when we look at the Disney films from the 60-80s they are almost all led by boys, not girls.  There are a few ensemble types like The Aristocats and The Rescuers but the male characters in those movies get most of the juicy dialogue and songs.   Like I said there are a few exceptions like Clucky in Robin Hood but not many.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter but at the very least it explains why most of these pictures didn’t do much for me as a child.  They didn’t have any characters I could relate to or fantasize about their stories.

Production-

Sword in the Stone was released in 1963 and it is based on the novel of the same name by TH White and is the last feature to be released in Walt Disney’s lifetime.

Like I said above, they used the xerox method which helped everything get finished quickly but is not my favorite technique artistically.  The thick black lines of the xerox make everything look dark and a little sloppy.  See how thick the outlines of the characters are in this shot of Archimedes? That is from the xerox.

owl

As a point of contrast, here is the owl in Bambi.  You can hardly see the outlines and it looks so much more natural, layered,  and smooth.  Both owls even have the same coloring but I like the Bambi version much better.

owl2

They also had an unexpected challenge with the boy who played Arthur’s voice changing mid-process, so there are actually 3  voices to play the boy- sometimes with a single scene there are different voices and it is very distracting!  (I wish I could find a good clip for you of it. Not a ton of clips of this movie for some reason on youtube).

It is also interesting that none of the characters really have a British accent given it is about King Arthur and set in England…

Arthur is also kind of a bland hero.  He is a little like Aladdin in that way but at least Aladdin shows some spunk in the beginning, sings us a song.  He’s not totally influenced by other people. Plus, the supporting character in Aladdin is way more interesting and funnier than Merlin.

By the end I haven’t sensed anything so unique and special about Arthur to allow him to pull the sword out of the stone.  It kind of seems like he got lucky

Most of the movie is Arthur being taught things by Merlin but at the end of one lesson he says ‘that was fun’.  Not the sense of someone changing their life and preparing to be King.  Nevertheless, the movie feels it has shown enough character growth and we are on to the next lesson.  . Honestly Archimedes the owl shows more growth and personality than Arthur.

It’s strange that Merlin is treated like the old coot but he, not Arthur, is the one that defeats Madame Mim in the end.  Arthur is more of a spectator for the duel.

arcimedes

The movie received mixed reviews from critics but it has a loyal fan base that like it’s style and direction.

Sword in the Stone also features our first Disney introduction to the Sherman Brothers who would later write songs for Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  They are great writers but aside from a nice opening number I do not think this is their best work.  Most of the songs aren’t really songs but someone giving directions with melody coming in and out with long pauses..

But part of my dislike for this movie I admit is purely subjective.  To me it is unpleasant to look at.  Nearly every scene looks like it has been mod-podged with a blue coating.  It all looks very gray and blue and the sketchy style which worked in 101 looks dirty to me here.

Some of these were supposed to be at night or in the water which explains the blue/gray color palate but not all of them.  To me it is just unpleasant to look at and for a girl who loves Disney for it’s art that’s a big problem.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also a lot of the characters are drawn in a distasteful way.  I know the wolf and Madame Mim are villains but Disney has done lots of villains that looked sleek and stylish, even the hyenas in Lion King were more pleasant to look at than these two. They should have done the wolf from Peter and the wolf.  Now that was a menacing creature requiring great bravery to beat.

From Peter and the Wolf.
From Peter and the Wolf.

I don’t know I just didn’t like the designs and the characters weren’t captivating enough to make that feeling go away.  I’m not crazy about some of the drawings in the Jungle Book but the personalities are so fun and songs so good I let it pass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Story-

Let’s talk about the story.   It’s pretty simple.  The best part of the movie is the explanation of the legend of the sword.  It is a good song, with some color (still lots of blue) but I like it.

Arthur is an orphan, called Wart, who is trying to help his foster brother Kay with his arrows when he falls into Merlin, the wizards,  house.   Merlin senses something in the boy and asks to be his tutor and they head back to the castle.  Arthur’s foster father Sir Ector is not thrilled with the idea but agrees to let Merlin stay in the a barely standing tower of the castle.

Merlin into the tower.
Merlin into the tower.

Sir Pellinore, arrives and tells Sir Ector, Arthur and Kay there will be a tournament with the winner becoming King.  Ector decides to prepare the strong Kay and for Arthur to learn to be his squire.

Arthur is actually ok with this arrangement and says to Merlin at one point ‘what is wrong with being a squire’.  Merlin will have none of it and insists the boy get an education.  He says things like ‘a boy has got to have an education’.  Then we see them learning letters and numbers. Arthur tries to teach him about the future, where Archimedes teaches the past.

chalkboard

The problem with these scenes is they come off as very trite.  Why not instead of simply telling us that education is good show us?  Show us why the alphabet is important.  Take Arthur on a journey where he needs to read, or use science or history.  The three journeys or lessons he goes on are mostly about being brave and using your imagination.  You don’t need to be able to read and write to do that.

Obviously I think education is good but too often this movie felt like those ‘CBS Cares’ blips after a show where some star will tell you how great an education is or how bad bullying is and that’s fine for a blip but for a movie, especially an animated movie it is unsatisfying.  Don’t just tell me, show me.  For example, Pongo and Perdy didn’t just talk about being brave and learn lessons, they faced situations requiring bravery.  We didn’t need them to give us a lesson because their actions gave us a lesson.  To me the transformation parts of the lessons were contrived and not filled with any real peril or tension, so the lessons felt hallow.

Even in the final scenes of the duel and getting the sword nothing he has learned in the lessons really helps Arthur become king.  Why could he lift that sword out?  Seems like it must have been destiny.  Don’t need education to do that.

Anyway, I digress.  Merlin decides to teach Arthur three lessons.  The first lesson he gets turned into a fish.

merlin fishBut as someone new to the fish world Arthur begins to sink.  Merlin tells him he must rely on his instincts and use his imagination.  Again, doesn’t a lesson on relying on your instincts kind of negate the need for a traditional education?  Anyone can respond to instincts.

So Arthur and Merlin face a pike but the owl Archimedes saves the day.  (again how has Arthur proven he is the chosen one to be King?  Archimedes is more courageous in this scene).

The second lesson is a long section of the movie but before that Arthur must finish washing the dishes in order to go out with Merlin . Naturally that difficulty gets fixed with magic.  Arthur asks ‘won’t I get in trouble for leaving’ and Merlin says “who cares as long as the work gets done”.  I’m not sure if that is the greatest lesson to be teaching a future King.  How a task gets done, and managing how people feel about their work is often the most important part of a good leader.

Nevertheless, it is a cute song and probably my favorite part of the movie.

Another strange choice is they leave the spell running.  Why not either speed the spell up or wait a few minutes and then go.  There was not a doubt in my mind that kitchen with the spell would come back to haunt them (and they seem to be gone for hours and yet the spell has done exactly the same amount of work.  I looked at it pretty carefully and the shots look exactly the same down to the dirty skillet.

So, on to the next lesson Arthur learns a little bit about gravity and then he and Arthur are turned into squirrels so they can learn about love.  Again, not sure what this has to do with being a King but I suppose he will have a queen so it is fine.

Merlin can come across as kind of trite and preachy.  At one point while a squirrel he says ‘just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it is wrong’.   They kind of explore that with the squirrel but with a story about King Arthur there is so much more they could have done with it, such potential.

A girl squirrel actually falls in love with Arthur and saves his life from the wolf.  Then he turns back into a human and honestly I felt bad for the squirrel.  That’s a very confusing lesson for kids.  They seem to be saying ‘love, it tears your heart out but ain’t it great anyway’. I get teaching kids that life isn’t fair and love can hurt but usually there is some resolution or happiness shown later.  This is just tragic and it adds to the grim, gray feel of the picture.

squirrel2The final transformation is into a bird so Arthur can fly because the world is round and he needs to experience it.  This lesson seems totally a vehicle for Arthur to end up in Madame Mim’s house.

mim2

Arthur tells her he is working with Merlin and that he is the greatest wizard.  Very offended she turns herself into a strange version of a ‘beautiful woman’. I’m sorry but look at her chest.  Her breasts are going in two different directions. and the waist is so tiny it looks bizarre.

pretty mim

The thing is if you really believed you were ugly and had the power to change yourself into something you think is beautiful, why wouldn’t you want to stay beautiful? Is she a villain just because she likes being ugly? It’s honestly hard to say because she introduced to the story so late we don’t really get to know why she is bad.

Arthur also tells Madame Mim, ‘Merlin’s magic is useful, for something good’.  Really? What in this movie has shown us that?  So far  he has turned people into fish, squirrels and birds to what avail?  To teach Arthur I guess but not very well.  The most substantial help he has given others is  cleaning the dishes.

So Merlin and Madame Mim duel in a fun scene with both turning into different creatures to fight. And aside from being ugly and thinking she’s a better wizard than Merlin have we really seen any proof that Madame Mim is a bad person?  Again one of those things in this movie that is explained not shown.

This clip has different music but it is the best I could find of the duel.  It is a fun scene with creative animation but I wish it gave more for Arthur to do since it is supposed to be his story.  Still, I don’t mind it.

After the duel Arthur is asked to go be a squire for Kay at the tournament.  Merlin says he is being a sell-out settling for such a lowly post but Arthur says there’s nothing wrong with it and I agree with him.  Why could he not still take lessons as a squire?  It is very strange.

So Arthur and Kay go to the tournament but he forgets Kay’s sword and tries to retrieve it but he can’t.  Seeing the sword in the stone he pulls it out.  Quickly people realize what he has done but they ask to see it done one more time.  Kay and others try to pull the sword out to no avail.  Only Arthur can, but again it feels more like he is lucky then he has earned it.

At least we finally get some light and color in this scene.

Conclusion-

I kind of gave my review as I described the picture.  This is not my favorite Disney film.  It’s not terrible and young boys might like Arthur and Merlin but it does not work for me.  The color palate is so blue and gray and unpleasant to look at.  The lead characters are bland.  The songs are so-so and the messages in the picture feel like an after school special instead of part of the story.  The lessons seem muddled and not particularly helpful in becoming a King leaving me frustrated.

Madame Mim is all right but underused.  It is played like a trifling rivalry instead of a true villain.  Think about the confrontation between Ursula and Triton.  That was a rivalry which glowed with animosity and passion.  This seems like more of a lark.

Worst of all they didn’t give me any reason to understand why Arthur pulled out the sword.  He didn’t save them from the pike.  He broke the squirrel’s heart and he didn’t defeat Madame Mim.  He’s fine with being squire so I guess that makes him humble but that’s about it.  Also the 3 voices for Arthur is very distracting.

I’m sure fans will be frustrated by my response but I’ve got to be honest with how I feel in order for this blog to have any validity.

Overall Grade= C-

Now on to Jungle Book!