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 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

 

 

Week 41: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

An Ambitious Animated Action-Adventure

The good guys

Originally Released: 2001

Atlantis. It’s one of the world’s more interesting and enduring ancient legends. As such, I am a little surprised the topic hasn’t appeared more often in recent Hollywood movies. Heck, it hasn’t even made its way to the ‘Transformers’ franchise (not yet, anyway), which up to this point has managed to mess with more Human history and myths than it deserves (Hopefully I didn’t just jinx it…).

That being said, the story of Atlantis is one that I would envision to be difficult to make into viable entertainment. But it is an interesting enough legend that it deserved a shot at being the subject of a whole movie. This is one reason why I applaud Disney for tackling this legend head on. The fact that Disney had the guts to completely abandon its tried-and-mostly-true formula of the 90’s and branch out into a more epic, non-musical, action/adventure movie is very impressive in my eyes. And it is even more so to think that they decided to do tackle the topic in a traditional animated film instead of live-action. Disney definitely deserves an “A” for their ambition on this one.

Milo

And for the most part, I believe they succeeded in making a fun and entertaining movie. Is Atlantis: The Lost Empire perfect? No, not by a long shot. I suppose if I were a movie critic, I could criticize the film for being a bit too formulaic, for including a cadre of one-dimensional, cliched character stereotypes, and more. But luckily, I’m not a movie critic, so I don’t need to worry about that, and I can just enjoy the movie and overlook its weaknesses. There are many things I do quite enjoy about Atlantis.

First off, I love the setting of the film. Set in 1914, it manages to bridge the age of exploration (this is a movie about exploring, after all) with the newer age of industrial machines and gadgetry. It’s a combination that can really produce some amazing possibilities, if you think about it. Granted, the submarine is a little out of its time, but I just throw that little tidbit into my list of “overlooked weaknesses” and enjoy the ride.

Leviathan

Another aspect of Atlantis that I enjoy is the art style and color scheme. If you like blue, then you will probably like the colors of Atlantis. While on that topic, let me throw out a shameless plug for an overpriced Disney iPad app. Check out the photo below. This is probably my favorite part of the Disney: Animated app. It is a section that has all 53 Disney animated features, frame-by-frame, but condensed into tiny slivers, and showing what the overall colors end up looking like in each film. It is utterly enthralling to me! If you haven’t already checked out the app, I’d recommend it.

Cool app.

Cool app.

But enough on that. In the characters department, Michael J. Fox serves up one of his many likable performances as Milo Thatch (not & Otis…I know you were thinking it). It also has the likes of Leanard Nimoy, James Garner, and Ernest lending their voices to the film.

Why doesn't Kida get any Disney Princess love? If Tiana can be a princess, than surely Kida, a real princess, can be one, too.

Why doesn’t Kida get any Disney Princess love? If Tiana can be a princess, than surely Kida, a real princess, can be one, too.

As for Atlantis itself, Disney could have gone in any number of directions to depict this ancient lost city. They may have borrowed a bit from the Miyazaki classic Castle in the Sky, but the finished vision of Atlantis is at times breathtaking, and almost always at the very least interesting to look at.

City

I don’t really know what the general population thinks of Atlantis: the Lost Empire. At best, it has become a cult classic, but I don’t hear too much chatter directed towards this film. Some may consider this film to be the first in Disney’s downward spiral that led to the death of 2D animation. If so, that is an unfortunate distinction. This was one of the few Disney films I saw in the movie theater during the 2000’s “decade of death.” But I enjoyed the film a lot back then, and I still enjoy it today.

swimming

Crystal

This was pretty cool.

Cool Shot

And so was this.

Milo Thatch and Kida

Yes, Milo, I think it’s pretty good, too.