Week 49: The Princess and the Frog

You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper, Disney

princess and the frog

Originally Released: 2009

Watching The Princess and the Frog again during this project was a very interesting experience for me. I had the fondest of memories of this film from when it first came out in 2009. Back then, the hype for Disney’s triumphant return to 2D hand-drawn animation was in full swing, and as a result, watching the film was an obvious opening-night event for me.

My thoughts back then can be approximated as follows:

-2D animation!

-The return of musical numbers!

-It’s a princess! Those are always good movies!

-2D animation!

-Based on a Grimm’s fairy tale!

-Ron Clements and John Musker!

-The return of 2D animation!!!

Tiana waitress

“One Breakfast Special with some special Disney Kool-Aid and a shot of Tabasco sauce, coming your way!”

Yes, Disney had brewed some powerful Kool-Aid, and I was lapping it up gleefully. This could have been a movie the quality of the second Transformers film, and I wouldn’t have cared one bit. I was excited, and I was going to enjoy it. And that’s exactly what happened. I left that theater thoroughly satisfied with the experience.

But life goes on, and I didn’t watch The Princess and the Frog again ever since opening night in December 2009. And time has a funny way of changing perceptions when it comes to film. My viewing during the project let me examine the film in more of an unbiased way and see the movie for what it is. No, this isn’t “The Best Disney Movie Since The Lion King” as is plastered on the front of my blu-ray copy. If the filmmakers just had “dug a little deeper”, they might have had a true masterpiece on their hands. Or maybe you could say The Princess and the Frog is “Almost There.” But at any rate, while it’s not the masterpiece it was hyped to be, it is still pretty good overall.

A couple of of positive thoughts I had during my second viewing of the film did mirror my reaction in 2009. I love the little references to Disney magic of times past, such as the following two gems:

homage to a great scene

I absolutely love this reference! Its so perfect!

jiminy cricket he is not

“They’re fireflies…fireflies that, uh, got stuck up in that big blue-ish black thing.”

Another nice nod to the Disney past is at the masquerade ball where people are in costume as Ariel, Aladdin and Jasmine (kinda), and others.

One other thing I appreciate still is…the 2D animation! And why not? The Princess and the Frog has a sharp look to it and is visually quite impressive.

However, a couple of things did bother me a bit this second time around. The pacing is a little iffy, and I found myself feeling a bored from time to time. Not all the characters were that entertaining, and some of the situations they got involved in felt like tired, overused scenarios.

the prince

Maldova is code for Brazil, maybe? Maybe not, but that’s where actor Bruno Campos, who voiced the fun-loving Prince, is from. There’s some Disney trivia 101 that I didn’t know before.

The music by Randy Newman (sadly, I’ll never look at him the same ever since I saw that “Family Guy” clip…) was often toe-tappingly fun, but was just as often very forgettable.

One thing I entirely overlooked my first viewing, but that really stuck out this second time around is the fact that Disney opted for a Satanic voodoo villain, complete with devilish minions. That’s some seriously dark stuff, and how they approved it for a film geared towards small kids is beyond me.

And what’s with the portrayal of Cajuns in this film? Are we not past the age of ugly stereotypes? I can’t help but wonder why it is that, much like a 30-year-old white male is the only unprotected class left in the workplace, the Cajun population seems to be one of the few groups that is fair game for blatant mocking in today’s culture. It is stereotyping at its worst right here. Kudos to Disney for the strong portrayal of one under-appreciated group of people (Tiana is a hard-working great example for anybody). Shame on Disney for knocking another group in the process, though.

why are cajuns fair game still?

The thing I love about Disney animation is that just about every movie is going to be enjoyable, and depending on who you ask, it may even be his or her favorite. The Princess and the Frog is good enough that it may just be some people’s favorite film. After watching it with a fresh set of eyes, I would say that while I still like it, I have to sing “I’m gonna take ya down, gonna take ya down, I’m gonna take ya down” a few spots on my Disney rankings. But at least it shows Disney still has what it takes to tackle 2D animation.

family. isnt it about time

too evil

sick

happily ever after

 

Advertisements

Week 48: Bolt

Introducing the Newest Great Disney Dog

dogs will be dogs

Originally Released: 2008

Disney has made some great animal films over the years, and two animals in particular seem to garner the most attention: mice (this is Disney we are talking about) and dogs. You can safely add Bolt to the pack of lovable hounds at Disney animation. He fits right in along with the likes of Tramp, Pongo and Perdita, Copper, and so many of the loyal sidekick dogs seen throughout the years.

Interestingly enough, despite Disney’s proven track record when it comes to dog movies, I had no interest in seeing Bolt when it was released in theaters. I don’t know if it was my aversion to anything and everything Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, if it was the lack of trust in Disney Animation at the time, or if it was simply the saturation of great animated films that came out in 2008 that kept me occupied and satisfied (this was the year of Wall-E, Ponyo, and Kung-Fu Panda). Even after friends and roommates reported to me that they had seen and loved Bolt, I still didn’t take the time to watch the film until this project.

spies

So yeah, after finally watching Bolt, I can say that this movie is pretty dog-gone good (sorry). Not surprisingly, this is the first film in the Disney canon after Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006 to really have John Lasseter’s fingerprints on it in his new role of Chief Creative Officer (though it is mentioned in the Meet the Robinsons special features the he was at least involved a little bit in helping flesh out that film). This involvement led to Disney’s dismissal of Director Chris Sanders for this movie, and replacing him with Chris Williams and Byron Howard. Lasseter helped guide the new directors in the direction he felt the movie should go ultimately. So although I’m not sure how much day-to-day stuff John Lasseter did in Bolt, the film does carry itself well and shows signs of that “Pixar touch” with its pacing and payoff in the end.

As side note – I do really enjoy the film that Bolt ultimately became through Williams, Howard, and Lasseter, but after discovering the brilliance of Chris Sanders movies while researching during my Disney project, learning that he was the mastermind behind Lilo and Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel, I can’t help but be curious to see how a Chris Sanders version of Bolt would have turned out. Surely it wouldn’t be as bad as Lasseter must have thought it was going to be, right?

the tv dudes are evil

Look, I know you think you are right, but maybe your way isn’t the only way, Movie Mastermind!

But I digress. From an animation standpoint, Walt Disney Animation Studios was really starting to gain some confidence with its 3D animation by this point in time. The animation didn’t reach the heights of Pixar with Wall-E (a magnificent movie, by the way), but I applaud the art direction, animal movements, and character added to the animals on the screen nonetheless.

Speaking of characters, Miley Cyrus really isn’t that bad, and John Travolta does a great job. Rhino is hilarious, both in voice and in animation, and he wonderfully represents that one fanboy that everybody knows – and maybe we are that person, which in that case we can relate to Rhino a little bit. I also really enjoyed the pigeons, with their New York accents and their uncanny, realistically jerky movements (although the team obviously had some inspiration from a certain 90’s cartoon with these guys…).

animaniacs anyone?

hmmm, you remind me of someone…someone from a few years in the past…hmmm…

animaniacs pigeons

…hmmm…New York accent…green, purple and grey…yes, there is definitely a resemblance to some othe trio I’ve seen before…

Musically, there is not much to say, other than that I didn’t notice much with it and I suppose it is appropriate for the movie. It isn’t a distraction, at least. Except, of course, there is this one funny moment in particular that I think is both distracting and a great touch involving Rhino and breaking the 4th wall.

Overall, Bolt is great entertainment and it had no reason to be passed over in 2008. It has no reason to be passed over now, if you haven’t had the chance to check it out yet. I’m glad I finally gave it a chance. Disney can still do the talking dog flick very well.

girl and her dog

hamster

Week 47: Meet the Robinsons

Disney Decides to Keep Moving Forward

the future

Originally Released: 2007

What a breath of fresh air Meet the Robinsons must have been to those Disney loyalists who actually watched it at the time of its release in 2007. I think by this time, the general idea is that most people had pretty much left Disney animation for dead and had moved on to the bigger and better things coming from Pixar, Dreamworks, and others. Such was certainly the case for me. While I never missed a Pixar film opening weekend, I had skipped the Disney releases from 2004 all the way up to 2009 when The Princess and the Frog hyped me up with a promise of the return to tradition (and how did that go? Click right here!).

It turns out that I should have hopped back on the wagon in 2007, because Meet the Robinsons has as much heart as any Disney classic out there. Put simply, I love this movie.

awesome sauce

First of all, the movie’s sense of humor is totally the kind of humor I crave. I love the frogs and their homage to an old Looney Tunes classic. I love that the family has a “Japanese-dubbed” fight with spicy italian sausage in the middle of dinner. The bad guy is referred to almost all the way through the movie as “The Bowler Hat Guy.” There is a picture of Tom Selleck. There are just so many great comedic touches to this film.

One of the great moments in Disney animation history? Ok, probably not. But it is still pretty darn funny.

One of the great moments in Disney animation history? Ok, probably not. But it is still pretty darn funny.

The animation is leaps and bounds improved over Chicken Little. Visually, the film is bright and cheery, and the depiction of the future is one of the most encouraging to come out of Hollywood, despite being incredibly fantastical. But it adds to the atmosphere and overall theme of Meet the Robinsons.

bowler hat guy

Hello, The Bowler Hat Guy.

The characters are fun overall, and the ones that really matter have some good depth to them. The Bowler Hat Guy may not be one of the top Disney villains of all time, but what they do with him is a nice touch, and the twist in the end is something I wasn’t expecting at all.

This next aspect is more of a side note because it doesn’t really add to the movie directly, but I’ll mention it anyway. I’m a huge fan of the song “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas. When I first heard the song back in college, I remember many times putting this song on repeat, and constantly coming back to it for some reason. It is just a great song with a great message by a great singer. It is a great match for the movie.

Speaking of great messages, the most important thing I appreciate about Meet the Robinsons is its message. It is the icing on the cake that really makes this film hit home for me. In today’s world, more than ever we are in need of sources of encouragement. We all have our dark times where we wonder why we even keep trying to carry on with one thing or another. I don’t know anybody who at one point hasn’t felt like they were beaten down by false messages from schoolmates, associates, or even the media, telling them they are not smart enough, not good enough, that they will never amount to anything, etc. But the truth is, we all have huge potential if we have the right encouragement and if we know where to turn for inspiration. Every last one of us can make a difference for good.

great quote

This is a great quote. But it only explains half of the important message of this movie.

That, in effect, is the main takeaway of Meet the Robinsons. Nobody is a mistake. Each of us is is important and can have a positive effect on this earth. Even if we fail at times when we try to do good, we can pick ourselves back up and “keep moving forward.” In Hollywood, there is such a dearth of good, inspirational messages, that it took me by surprise to find that Meet the Robinsons contained such wise advice. But how glad I am that the advice is there.

Disney took its own advice when it made Meet the Robinsons. Disney could have hung things up after the debacles of Home on the Range and Chicken Little. But apparently some of the team listened to the ghost of Walt Disney telling them to keep moving forward, and as a result, 2007 and Meet the Robinsons marked the dawn of a new era of greatness that is currently occurring at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

goob

Black eyes happen. Just keep moving forward, Goob!

frogs

family-about time

Family. Isn’t it about time?

treasure planet

This guy would later set sail and eventually get stranded on Treasure Planet

 

Week 46: Chicken Little

Or, ‘The Film With a Serious Identity Crisis’

Weird group

Originally Released: 2005

Chicken Little is a real head-scratcher. Disney’s first true foray into 3D animation doesn’t feel at all like a real Disney animated film. Rather, if all labels were removed, I would have said it was made by some other studio like Dreamworks or 20th Century Fox Animation. It is almost as if the Disney team saw the success of Shrek and Ice Age and decided that irreverence and weirdness was the only way they were going to make money. Of course, they could have instead looked towards the stuff Pixar was churning out during the same time period (Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles), but after viewing Chicken Little, it is clear that the film is devoid of Pixar-style inspiration.

Now, I wasn’t there at the time, so I obviously don’t know what the filmmakers were thinking during the production of Chicken Little. However, it is very apparent that there was no clear direction in what was intended for the final product. Chicken Little, as a film, suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Indeed, watching some of the special features that delve into the making of the film confirm this notion.

Point#1. There are about 3-4 wildly different film opening scenes. The opener they went with in the final product is, incredibly, a flat-out mockery of Disney’s past (a past which was much, much better than this movie, ironically). I guess it is supposed to be funny. I guess. The other openers weren’t much better. But anyway, good or bad, the point I’m trying to make is that the multitude of opening scenes shows that the filmmakers had no clue as to what kind of tone they wanted the film to have. Was this a comedy? Was it a fairy tale? Was it sentimental and serious? It depends on which beginning scene they would have chosen.

chicken girl

Point #2. Chicken Little was a girl for some time in production. If switching genders of the protagonist doesn’t scream ‘I don’t know what I want this movie to be,” what would?

Point#3. Chicken Little, at one point in production, had a mother. If she remained in the film to the end, this probably would have been a much different film. Apparently the filmmakers wanted an insensitive sports jock father with no counterbalance as one of the main antagonists for Chicken Little. But it goes to show that even fairly deep into production, the filmmakers still had no idea what they wanted to do with the plot, the personalities of the characters, and the theme.

chicken mother

There are more points to make, surely, but I think that should be sufficient. What we end up with is a film that seems to be missing its heart and soul. I’m not a professionally trained filmmaker, but I would suspect that when you make a movie or write a story, it would be beneficial to know some of these types of things from the get-go, or at least very early on.

Now, there are a few things I do enjoy about the movie. Some of the jokes are pretty funny (of course, most of them were in the trailer. Yes, it’s one of those movies). The “Hollywood-style” movie at the end of the Chicken Little is great (Why didn’t they just make the whole film like that? I would have been all over something that completely makes fun of Hollywood for the entirety of the film).

But that’s about it. On the flip side, beside having no heart, soul, or identity, there are a few other things worth pointing out that mar Chicken Little. The first is the animation. It’s just not that great. I know some slack should be given due to it being Disney’s first true attempt at the medium, but the characters are very stiff at times, and overly bouncy at others. It feels like it belongs on the slate of One Saturday Morning instead of Disney’s flagship animation studio output.

Chicken 1

Another negative thing that I just have to point out is this: Chicken Little uses not one, not two, but THREE songs in my “Songs-that-should-forever-be-banned-from-all-future-films-because-they-are-so-overused-that-they-are-beyond-cliche” list. So in addition to having a lack of direction, you can throw in a lack of creativity and innovation. The music does nothing for this film.

Lastly, why is everybody so mean in this movie? Where are the likable characters? Runt is probably my favorite character in the movie, and that’s not saying much at all. I know we’re supposed to sympathize with Chicken Little because his life stinks, but in order for that to work, Chicken Little needs to be a little more interesting and likable. Maybe he is for some, but I didn’t feel anything with his plight. And I was even in the “unpopular” crowd growing up. That’s saying something about this main character.

Sadly, when it comes to Chicken Little, I have to place this film into my (amazingly small) group of legitimately bad Disney animated films. Save for a few good gags, there’s not much good going on with Disney’s 46th studio release.

Chicken Pow

“Pow! Bang! Scathing review coming your way, little chicken!”

chaos

This picture is a chaotic mess. Much like the movie.

Week 45: Home on the Range

Insert Cow Pie or “Udderly Bad” Joke Here

patch of heaven...or not

Originally Released: 2004

Ahh, we finally come to week 45 (although technically we are in week 91, but never mind that). This is the moment I had been dreading the entire time of my little project (although really it is last Christmas break when the moment happened, but never mind that, either).  You see, I had heard the stories about the film that proved to be the final nail in the coffin to Disney 2D animation (until John Lasseter came around and brought us The Princess and the Frog, but never mind that…), and I vowed to avoid it. So avoid it is just what I did, and I was successful for years –  that is, until I decided to do a project and watch every last Disney canon film, which kind of forced my hand on the issue. So when the time came, with much trepidation, I inserted that disc and feared the worst.

But before I get into my experience with this film, let me get something out of the way. The 2000’s decade is generally considered to be the worst decade for Disney, in terms of its animated films. I think I’ve even referred to it as the “decade of death,” or something like that. The truth is, most of the films to come out during this decade aren’t that bad. I actually quite enjoy a majority of them. So while the 2000’s still may contain the overall worst output from Disney, I can’t say it was really that bad a decade of film from the Mouse. I guess people were just so enamored with Pixar and Shrek that they just forgot to watch the movies, and Disney ended up losing a lot of money and reputation.

i would dump water on their face too

Anyway, back to Week (weak?) 45. This post is about Home on the Range. And it is bad.

On the top of my list of gripes is the insane voice casting choice pairing up Roseanne Barr and Judi Dench. Wow, what a horrible combination! I’m not sure how the the creators thought that pairing up those two would end well, but it didn’t. While Jennifer Tilly does her best to smooth things over, I thought it was a wreck overall.

animals are shocked

Don’t be so surprised at my opinion, guys. I know I like Disney a little too much, but not even that can help me overlook your movie’s weaknesses.

Plot-wise, I couldn’t help but think things like “Really?? They are actually using the ‘rich tycoon setting out to own the whole west’ story? That’s the best they could do here?” Then we get to the mine cart chase. “Really?? They’re really using a scene straight out of ‘Indiana Jones?‘ That’s the best they could do here?” Then they move into the “colliding train” scenario shortly after that, and well, you get the picture. There is a great sense of tired storytelling in Home on the Range (of course, to be fair, I had never seen a yodeling Pied-Piper of cows, but after seeing one in action, I hope I never see another one again. Mercy. But nevermind that…).

lamest villain ever?

Slim’s a weak link among Disney villains.

Musically, although Disney once again enlisted the extremely talented Alan Menkin, the film really has no standout songs. Even Tim McGraw’s talents go wasted here.

Disney could have had a great thing in its hands by choosing to make an animated western, but the at-times-lazy, at-times-oddball choices by its creators make the overall end product something that unfortunately never comes close to reaching its potential. It’s possible that I’m being a little harsh on Home on the Range, but I feel like this is one film that actually deserves its reputation. Besides little kids and a few others out there, it’s hard for me to recommend this one.

do this to the vault

Can you say this movie was a ‘bomb’?

the horse on the other hand is lame

Is it just me, or are there a few too many similarities between Buck, Donkey, and Marty?

ok he looks cool

Ok, this guy is at least a little bit cool.

 

Week 44: Brother Bear

A Boy, a Bear, Some Happy Trees…

bears and landscapes 04

Originally Released: 2003

Once there was a boy named Kenai. Kenai had two older brothers who annoyed him so much because he was a lame little brother. But Kenai thought he was only lame because his older brother Denahi was a meanie jerkwad.

One day, Kenai and his brothers were catching fishies when a big hungry grizzly bear stoled their fishies. It made Kenai mad, mad mad! But his brothers were even mad, mad madder, because it was Kenai’s fault big hungry grizzly could reach the fishies. He wanted to get that mean old grizzly bear, but instead his older brother Sitka fell into the river. It made the sky sad…

northern lights

But it made Kenai even madder, so he got that meanie grizzly bear. And that made the sky got angry at Kenai, and then the sky decided to turn him into a bear.

transform 01

transform 02

 

 

 

 

 

Once Kenai became a bear, his world grew and got real big and became a lot prettier with more colors. The trees were happier, and the sky and mountains were happier and brighter too.  And also, he even could talk to other aminals!

But Kenai didn’t notice. He could only think how mad he was that he was a dumb old bear and he wanted to go back to being a human person. He was still a lame little brother even when he was a bear.

But then he found a littler bear and he had to help the littler bear find his way to the rest of the bears. So together they went to the prettiest land places ever, like…

bears and landscapes 02

This place where the hills are alive…

beautiful landscape 04

…and this place with a happy tree and happy clouds…

bears and landscapes 03

…and they rode furry elephants in this place…

moose and landscapes

…and then they met funny mooses by the ice…

bears and landscapes 01

…and they even got to play games with the ice rocks.

But Kenai didn’t care. He just rolled his eyes a lot because he was still a lame meanie brother. He didn’t care about the happy trees, and all the neat land places. Kenai wanted to be a human person again. And he wanted to run away from his brother who was hunting him.

revenge

But in the end, his brother didn’t hunt him and he became friends with the littler bear in the end. They all lived happily ever after in the end. The End.

angst

Whyyyyyy?!?!?!? Why did I waste my time reading that blog post?!?!? WHYYY?

beautiful landscape 03

Ok, I’m not sure what that was all about.

beautiful landscape 02

Good movie, bad movie. It is irrelevant. Just give me a ticket to Alaska this summer. Is there a hopping bear in this picture? I didn’t really notice.

 

Week 43: Treasure Planet

Pirates? In Space? Shiver my Timbers!

The treasure

Originally Released: 2002

I suppose it was inevitable that Treasure Island would receive the Disney animation treatment at some point. After all, this book has gone through many iterations throughout the years on film, including Disney’s very first live-action film released in 1950 and another Disney version involving the MuppetsCaptain Long John Silver has been played multiple times by many great actors, including Wallace Beery, Charlton Heston, Tim Curry, and Robert Newton. In fact, as I understand it, Newton is the man we can thank for the pirate stereotype in all pirate movies post 1950 (at least until Jack Sparrow, anyway).

So big kudos to Disney for attempting to take this well-told tale in a different direction. I boggles my mind how this film didn’t make more money, because the idea of merging classic swashbuckling adventure and science fiction is amazing. I bet the team that worked on the film wondered the same thing, because this is a solid adaptation of the story. It features a talented cast of voice actors, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emma Thompson, and Niles Crane. The soundtrack by James Newton Howard supplements the film well and includes music from the Goo-Goo Dolls lead singer at the height of his career. And, in my opinion, Treasure Planet is even today a visual tour-de-force, using the best merging of 2D art and 3D animation that I can remember.

map

Is it the best film adaptation of the source material? I’m not sure, but probably not (I only remember seeing the Muppet version and this movie). There have been so many different versions, I’m sure each person will have a different opinion as far as which is his or her favorite.

silver and crew

Does it have the best John Silver? I applaud supervising animator Glen Keane’s work on the character and his decision to not completely copy past versions. The swiss army arm is a great touch as well. But no doubt people will still remember previous Long John Silvers of movie past before they think of this animated version.

Storybook

Treasure Island. Good book.

Does it hold up to the original novel by Robert Louis Stephenson? No, it doesn’t come even close, because I believe Treasure Island is one of the greatest pieces of classic literature ever written, and I doubt any film will fully capture the essence of that book (it was definitely the highlight of my 3000-page summer literature marathon a few years back – but that’s another story altogether). In fact, this latest viewing of Treasure Planet made me really want to find the book and read it again.

Despite not being able to call itself the “best” version of Treasure Island out there, I feel like the movie differentiates itself enough from the standard pirate fare and makes enough smart decisions to stand on its own and qualify for membership among other upper-tier Disney entertainment. I am not sure what Treasure Planet‘s status is among the masses, but if it has become a forgotten entry, shiver my soul, you’s best be recommended ta find it and make it unforgotten, because perhaps there be hidden treasure ta find in it.

Oh, and yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum. Just because.

surfing

This scene is just cool.

escape

home to family

ship stuff