John’s Disney Movie Countdown: Part 3

We come now to the third and final part of John’s Disney Movie Countdown. Previously I counted down from dinosaurs and lemurs at #54 to an awesome superhero squad at #31 in Part 1, while Part 2 took us from #30 to #13, beginning with a mouse tale in The Rescuers and ending with the dogs of Lady and the Tramp.

The final dozen films has plenty of animals, its fair share of beautiful princesses, as well as cuddly friends and some of the most menacing villains ever animated. What we have left are what I believe to be the finest twelve animated feature length films the Disney Canon has to offer. With these twelve films, we are now entering ‘deserted island’ territory.

(Side note: If you read the first two parts of the countdown and wondered if I’ve caught the Hollywood bug of splitting things up unnecessarily – a la Hobbit and Hunger Games – I’m sorry about that. But I figured this piece would be better broken down into more digestible portions, because let’s be honest, in our internet browsing age, after writing or reading a 1000+ word essay, people start to get antsy.)

So here they are: my Top 12 Disney animated classics.

Group #5: The Best of the Best: Ten True Consensus Masterpieces, and a Couple that Should Be Soon

This group was exceedingly difficult to order from 1 through 12. I mean, even 18 films of the previous group were basically 10 out of 10, 4-star efforts. So when you have ten masterpieces (and a couple that should be soon) and are trying to position them against each other, it makes for tough work, especially with #2-#7, which are almost interchangeable rank-wise. But, like I said before in part 1, I believe I pulled it off, and I am satisfied with where everything shakes out. 

12. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

The film (okay, films) that made Pooh Bear popular in the U.S. is as charming as they come. Pooh is an engrained part of our culture now, and I’m convinced that the world is better for it. It is a great film for little ones, yet it has some sharp wit and enough humor for adults to be pleased with repeat viewings as well.

T-I-Doubleguh-er

11. Tarzan (1999)

Alright, if I had things my way, Tarzan would be classified as a true masterpiece as the closing bookend of the Disney Renaissance, and Disney would be giving it a Diamond Edition release and then throwing it in the vault like the other top-tier canon films. Apparently the rest of the world isn’t in agreement with that notion just yet. But I love this film and cannot think of any flaws to mention. I loved it in 1999, and I loved it just as much, if not more, when I watched it during my project. Tarzan has incredible animation, incredible action, excellent characters, and more. I’m hoping it eventually gets this status generally, but that doesn’t stop it from cracking my personal top tier of Disney animation.Tarzan meets Jane

10. Tangled (2010)

Disney’s 50th feature film also claims a spot in the top 10. Unlike with Tarzan, which I can only hope will achieve true “masterpiece” status, I’m pretty sure that in a few more years from now, Tangled will be making the Disney vault/release/vault rounds. Tangled is terrific fun.

Tangled meaningful music

9. Dumbo (1941) 

Dumbo may be a short film, clocking in at only 64 minutes, but it packs one of the strongest emotional punches of any Disney canon film. It also has one of the best Disney mice not named Mickey.

photo(17)

8. The Little Mermaid (1989)

I was a bit surprised when I finalized my list and The Little Mermaid cracked the top ten. But the more I think about it, the more I agree with my placement. The music is fantastic, the animation (in and out of the water) is excellent, and the characters are all great. Additionally, The Little Mermaid stands as a very important film for Disney. It is the one that truly brought Disney back. It brought back the Princess, it brought back the fairy tale, and brought back the magic. It is really a magical piece of work.

Ariel

7. Bambi (1942)

I think I said it best in my original post for Bambi: 

“Bambi offers a little of everything: drama, suspense, character growth, romance, and even a little action. Above all, it is a tale about life, and particularly learning how to deal with the curve balls life can throw at you.”

Bambi is a triumph of storytelling, art, and animation. It expertly teaches one of the most basic and important life’s lessons as well. So much so, that basically, if you tell me you don’t like Bambi, then I will start to question A) whether you have actually seen it, or B) whether you actually have a soul.

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Do not be deceived, there is much, MUCH more to Bambi than cute and cuddly animals.

6. Cinderella (1950)

It’s Cinderella, for crying out loud. Your grandparents loved it, your mother and father loved it, and you most likely love it too. This film began the Silver Age of the 1950’s, helped fund Disneyland, and deserves every bit of praise it has garnered throughout the past three generations. This is an easy top-10 choice.

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5. Pinocchio (1940) 

I’m not sure any other film in the Disney Canon is quite as effective at letting the viewer delve into the mind of three main characters like Pinocchio does. Be it the titular marionette, his conscience  Jiminy Cricket, or Geppetto, we know what they are going through, and we know how they feel.

I also don’t know if there is any other Disney film out there that so effectively teaches good, true morals like Pinocchio does. Pinocchio is a standard-bearer in more ways than one.

Pinocchio and Fairy

4. Fantasia (1940) 

They call it the Golden Age of Disney animation for a reason. Four out of the first five Disney Canon films have a place in my top 10, and the fifth isn’t far behind. Fantasia is my favorite of the bunch, and is one of the most unique viewing experiences a person is going to have. While it does require the viewer to forget about traditional 3-act storytelling that he or she is so used to and to delve a little into more abstract and artistic planes, this small sacrifice is well worth it on the other end. As I said in my original post about Fantasia, it is like having your favorite song and favorite painting blended into one synergistic, triumphant whole.

photo(15)

3. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

“Number 3? Really? No! It has to be number 2! But number 2 should be number 2, too! But what about Sleeping Beauty?”

That’s kind of what goes on in my head with my #2 and #3 favorite Disney films. The debate rages on, and switches depending on which film I saw most recently. I love the Tchaikovsky music in Sleeping Beauty. I love the color. The stunning detail of the backgrounds. The Fairies. Maleficent. The Dragon fight at the end. The overall feel of the film. It is all incredible.

photo9

2. The Lion King (1994)

Even if The Lion King was just 89 minutes of black screen accompanied by its score and songs, it would still probably be in my top 10. I just get the bonus of having a brilliantly animated, powerful and moving tale of responsibility and redemption as well. And to think this was accomplished by Disney’s “B-team” at the time of its creation! I’d say they earned their paycheck on this one.

Hakuna Matata

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I know I’m not alone in saying that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite animated film. I also know I’m not alone in saying that Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite movies, period. This film hits all the right notes and is a supreme accomplishment by the team that created it. It may have been very difficult to order the rest of the top 12, but even though the other 11 come close, making Beauty and the Beast my #1 film was not that hard of a decision at all. Quite simply, it is that good.

Dance

Kiss

Well, that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed reading this countdown as much as I have enjoyed creating it. And, as always, your comments are welcome. I’d love to hear what your top Disney film is, as well. Thanks for reading!

John’s Disney Movie Countdown: Part 2

In Part 1 of John’s Disney Movie Countdown, I counted down the flat-out bad, the not-bad-at-all, and the rather enjoyable Disney Canon films. These three groups of films (in my opinion, anyway) got us from #54 down to #31.

In Part 2, we have, in essence, a Top 30 countdown. No longer do we need to make mention of bad films, hit-n-miss jokes, and uneven storytelling. Each of these films likely will have a loyal following, and even #30 on the list can be considered a legitimate classic in many circles. And it only gets better and better from there. So let’s get started, shall we?

Group #4: “On a scale of one to ten, YOU are an eleven!”

Or maybe the title should be, “Two thumbs WAY, way up!” Regardless of which title is better, the point is that with each film in this group, I found myself thoroughly entertained, and I would eagerly recommend any of them to a friend to check out. If I have any criticisms at all, they are very, very minor. 

30. The Rescuers (1977)

The one Disney film to really have Don Bluth’s fingerprints all over it stands out for me as a special and unique film. It stood as the transition film from the old generation of artists and animators to the new, and raked in tons of money over the years. I ignored it for years, but I’m not about to let that happen again anytime soon.

Orville flights

29. 101 Dalmatians (1961)

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to the Blu-ray release of 101 Dalmations. Here’s to over 6 million pristine, high-definition spots!

28. Mulan (1998)

27. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Disney’s Silver Age will do no worse than #27 on my list. Such was the strength of the 1950’s decade for Disney. Alice in Wonderland is a curious creation, for sure, but its wacky characters, memorable dialogue, and Mary Blair artwork is more than enough to win me over.

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26. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Disney recovered quite nicely from the financial distress caused by The Black Cauldron. The Great Mouse Detective is a simpler tale, but it is very effective storytelling and zips along quite nicely. And yes, it has a “throw lettuce and tomatoes at the stage performer” scene, so there are some bonus points right there.

25. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

When I watched this one during my project, I wondered just how high its ceiling would go if I made a ranking. Well, #25 is my official answer. By far the best of the Disney package films, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad just gets things right with its zany Mr. Toad segment and the spooky Halloween classic rendition of Sleepy Hollow.

photo(52)

24. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

It’s Disney animation with classic video games weaved into it. What’s not to like about that? Nothing, that’s what.

23. Winnie the Pooh (2011)

22. The Jungle Book (1967)

Here’s another classic that stuck to the basics and was all the better for it. The Jungle Book doesn’t do anything too fancy, but it still manages to be a showcase of fun music, excellent characters, and great animation.

Louie

21. Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Meet the Robinsons to me must be the most pleasantly surprising films of the Disney Canon when I first watched it. After the mid-2000’s fiasco, my expectations of Disney movies were very low. Meet the Robinsons greatly exceeded those expectations. Plus, the movie is full of the quirky humor I love.

20. Peter Pan (1953)

19. Robin Hood (1973)

Ah, Robin Hood. The once-and-always favorite of my family continues to entertain even after many, many repeat viewing over the years. To me, Robin Hood will always be a red fox, and Little John will be a brown version of Baloo.

oo-de-lally

18. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

If you’d asked me a few years ago to make a Disney rankings, I can assure you that The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be nowhere near this high on the list. It probably would have been found somewhere in group two. The Hunchback of Notre Dame has to win the award for largest jump in my rankings as a result of my project. It is colorful, dramatic, energetic, and has important life’s lessons to teach, as well. This is a great film in my book, gargoyles and all.

outcast

17. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

If I was impressed by Disney’s Silver Age being fully contained in my top 30, then count me doubly impressed with Disney’s Golden Age of animated films. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is almost eighty years old now, but somehow still manages to stay relevant, and not only for being the one that started it all. Walt Disney knew what he was doing when he strove for timeless storytelling. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is timeless entertainment.

16. Frozen (2013)

Another movie I was curious where I’d actually put it if I were to create an official rankings is Frozen. My rough estimates had it “probably in the top 20.” Turns out my gut was right, as Frozen lands confidently in that range to #16. Of course, Disney probably doesn’t care as much about where its fans place Frozen in the Canon ranks as they do with where it ended up financially. It is now over a year later and Disney is still capitalizing on the Frozen fever.

teenage angst

15. Aladdin (1992)

At first glance, you might call me crazy for Aladdin getting ranked above Frozen. Maybe it is a crazy thing to do. Perhaps it is the fact that Aladdin dominated my childhood. Or maybe its the better overall collection of characters and slightly superior sense of humor. I don’t know why I like it more. I just do. A little, at least.

Whole new World

The young kids these days have “Let It Go” to sing all day. We had “A Whole New World.”

14. Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch is another film that benefitted from my project and leaped several spots in my rankings. It is also another film with quirky humor and lots of heart.

13. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

This was perhaps the most difficult decision I faced in these rankings. Does Lady and the Tramp belong in group #4 or group #5? It is an incredibly well-made film, and I absolutely love it. But I didn’t really want my final category to have 13 films (arbitrary, I know), so Lady and the Tramp just misses the cut by a nose. However, as a consolation, I will hereby dub Lady and the Tramp “Best romantic comedy ever made about non-humans.”

Of course I'm going to include the spaghetti scene. It is an icon of Hollywood.

Of course I’m going to include the spaghetti scene. It is an icon of Hollywood.

And with that, Part 2 of John’s Disney Movie Countdown is complete. My Group 4 is jam-packed with 18 excellent Disney Canon films. As I alluded to in Part 1, I am amazed at the consistent high quality of all these Disney films through the decades. It is a tremendous track record to have when you can say “sure, there’s a top 30, but in reality every one of them comes highly recommended.” We haven’t even got to the final group!

Speaking of which, this leaves us now with only 12 more films to rank. And that will be happening very soon in Part 3 of my countdown. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

John’s Disney Movie Countdown: Part 1

I have reached the end of my journey. It took an extra year, but I managed to view all 54 films in the Disney Canon, soak in hours and hours of bonus features, snap tons of screenshots, listen to soundtracks, and write a short (or sometimes quite lengthy) post with my thoughts on each film. It has been at times daunting and at times stressful, but always worthwhile and fun.

In the end, I came away with a new appreciation for the genius of Walt Disney, the tireless effort of the animators and other filmmakers, and the dedication of everyone involved in making the Disney Canon one of the surest bets you can find in family entertainment.

As a bit of a farewell to this project, and since we are at the close of another year, I thought it would be fun to give you my own top 54 list and count down the entire Disney Canon, from my least favorite to my #1 favorite Disney film. It was quite difficult to do so, because if you read my blog, you saw that I have something to like about almost all of the films. To say that one is unequivocally better than the next is near impossible. But somehow I managed, and I am satisfied with my placement of each film (for now, anyway).

To help break things up, I created five categories to sort the films. This made things simpler by allowing me to compare 10-15 films rather than 54. Also, it helped clarify my position on relative likability of each film.

I realize that many of you will no doubt question my judgement on some choices I made. I understand completely. One thing I learned from the many comments I received (which I really enjoyed reading, by the way) is that each person finds magic in different Disney films, and what may be one person’s #30 may be another’s #1. So feel free to disagree with me and let me know where you’d rank them! I’d love to hear your opinions.

So without further ado, here is John’s Disney Movie Countdown!

Group 1: Shame on You, Disney! Legitimately Bad Films

 I am only willing to put three movies in this group. If you think about it, that is a stunning track record for Disney. They have completed 54 films so far, and only three are largely considered gross failures by me and the general public. Even so, this category was pretty difficult, because all three are pretty darn awful.

54. Dinosaur (2000)

You knew this was coming. If you read my post, you knew I hated this film. It was generic, tired, uninspired, etc., etc.

Impact

53. Chicken Little (2005)

Chicken Little stinks. Save for a few okay-ish gags, there’s not much to like about this film.

Chicken Pow

52. Home on the Range (2004)

The only thing that gives Home on the Range a leg up on the other two in this group is that fact that I’m partial to 2D animation. That’s about it. Let’s add another picture of imminent destruction.

do this to the vault

That concludes the worst of the worst. Let’s move along!

Group 2: It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that SOMEBODY’s gotta fill up the bottom of this list!

This category contains films with things I rather enjoyed about them, but that also contained some glaring flaws. Other films in this group may not be so obviously hit-n-miss, but like I said in my category title, I had to put every film somewhere on the list. So Aristocats, just because you are #44, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are bad. It’s just that other films are better.

51. Hercules (1997)

Hercules is bordering on legitimately bad for me. Thank goodness for James Woods and Susan Egan.

50. Brother Bear (2003)

bears and landscapes 04

Beautiful landscapes keep this film out of the utter depths of my rankings. Just “bear”-ly.

49. Oliver & Company (1988)

48. Saludos Amigos (1942)

It kind of pains me to see Saludos Amigos so low on this list. But alas, nostalgia and memories of my time in South America only gets a film so far. I had fun watching Saludos Amigos, but I had more fun with many others.

Churrasco. So, so good.

47. Pocahontas (1995)

Some people hate Pocahontas. I don’t. I love the music and other things. But there are definitely many other Disney movies I’d recommend above this one.

46. Melody Time (1948)

Melody Time was by far the most hit-and-miss of the package films of the 1940’s. Sure, there were a couple of gems in the package. But there was a stinker or two, as well.

45. The Princess and the Frog (2009)

I warned of this happening in my blog post for The Princess and the Frog. “I’m gonna take ya down, gonna take ya down, I’m gonna take ya all the way down.” Ok, so I didn’t take it all the way down, but #45 is pretty far to fall.

44. The Aristocats (1970)

In Disney lore, Dogs>Cats, and Mice>Cats. No hard feelings. It’s just the way it is.

43. Make Mine Music (1946)

42. The Fox and the Hound (1981)

If it weren’t for the dadgum bird vs. the worm scenes, I would have included The Fox and the Hound in my next category of films. I like many things about this film, but those birds just really get to me.

When I praised thoughtful inclusions in the The Fox and the Hound, I didn't mean these clowns.

Congratulations! You caused your movie to drop a few spots in the ranking!

And speaking of the next category, let’s move on to it now.

Group 3: Solidly Entertaining Disney. If I were handing out stars, I’d probably give these films at least 3 or 3 1/2 stars

Once again, I need to make mention of the strength of the Disney Canon overall. Here we are at #41 on my list, and already we are in the “3-star” range of films. 

41. Fantasia 2000 (2000)

I like it. The music is great. The animation is great. But I will watch the original Fantasia – multiple times – before I would get the urge to revisit this one.

40. The Black Cauldron (1985)

Shocker, I know. I actually quite enjoyed The Black Cauldron. My theory is that The Black Cauldron was ahead of its time and would fit right in to today’s culture and people’s taste in films – with a tweak or two.

Taran and Princess Eilonwy get help from a magic sword. The film has some cool sequences.

39. The three Caballeros (1944)

Unlike with Saludos Amigos, nostalgia and memories of the past was enough to bump The Three Caballeros into the “Solidly Entertaining” group. I enjoy this movie – abstract scene, quirks and all.

Pretty g-- now that's just plain weird!

38. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Ok, I just really like this picture of Donald.

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37. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

As an animation fan, the technological leap made from 1989 to 1990 with Disney’s CAPS technology makes this film an important one and worth revisiting. It’s also a fun movie, overall.

36. Bolt (2008)

35. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

34. Treasure Planet (2002)

Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire are so close together on this ranking, I’d almost just make them be a tie. But since I’ve decided not to do that, I give the superior animation of Treasure Planet the win.

33. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

By now, we can really start to see the overall strength of the Disney Canon films. I really like The Emperor’s New Groove. It is unique and it is hilarious. Yet somehow it can’t work its way higher than #33 on my list. That’s quite impressive for Disney.

Yes, I think I can relate to poor Kuzco in this picture - minus the whole bump on the head, of course.

32. The Sword in the Stone (1963)

31. Big Hero 6 (2014)

best robot ever

You are an awesome character, Baymax, and you star in an Solidly Entertaining Disney movie. Nice work.

This concludes the “Solidly Entertaining” Group of Disney films, and also concludes Part 1 of my countdown. You’ll notice that just about every era of Disney animation was represented so far in the countdown, with one or two exceptions. No doubt you know what eras I am talking about. We’ll save those eras, those films, and more, for John’s Disney Countdown, Part 2. Stay tuned!

 

Bonus Week: Big Hero 6

A Big Fist Bump (Badaladala) To Baymax and Co.

 flying

Originally Released: 2014

I’ve seen Big Hero 6 twice now, and will probably watch it again before too long. I have a feeling this is one film that is only going to get better with repeated viewings.

I wasn’t really planning on seeing Big Hero 6 a second time in the theaters, but when I started writing this blog entry yesterday, I realized that my memory and impressions from the first time I watched Big Hero 6 almost a month ago were a little fuzzy. I think this is mainly because that weekend I partook in a big-time movie triple-header, viewing Big Hero 6 along with Interstellar (a stellar film in its own right, and probably the most though-provoking movie I’ve seen in years) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, another masterpiece from Studio Ghibli. Seeing three extremely good movies for the first time in a two-day span is a lot of fun, but it also makes it hard to remember finer details of each one, despite them being three radically different films.

Poor butler. Only Baymax is kind enough to give the man a proper fist bump (badaladala).

Poor butler. Only Baymax is kind enough to give the man a proper fist bump (badaladala).

So in a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to head out and watch the movie again last night. In this second viewing, the things I liked the first time became more enjoyable, and the few minor gripes I had the first time mostly went away. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hiro, Go Go, Baymax, and the rest of Big Hero 6.

Story-wise, Disney does a serviceable job of the “superhero origin story” genre. There is nothing done here that we haven’t seen before, given the popularity of Spider-Man/Batman/Avengers these days.  But let’s face it – this is an animated Disney film (my first and forever true love/passion) about science and engineering (my undergraduate major and next-in-line passion), with a little sprinkling of Japanese culture, a good dose of superhero fantasy, and an emotional arc about the importance of family and friends. So even if the plot was weak (which it is not), the various elements included in Big Hero 6 would more than make up for any plot deficiencies for me. And I want to give Disney some serious props for making science and technology look just as cool as the arts.

gogo action

Thank you Disney for creating this sweet moving pic. I will happily post stuff like this on my blog and promote your film!

If I wasn’t amazed by the plot itself, there is something I was amazed by in Big Hero 6, and that is the animation and art. Disney really knocked this one out of the park both artistically and technically.

Let me begin with the artistic design. Whoever had the idea of merging San Fransico and Tokyo was a genius, because you can easily tell that the filmmakers had a heyday with that idea, creating one of the most unbelievably cool looking cities I’ve ever seen in a film. It perfectly blends the best touches of the Japanese metropolis – its bright lights, the super-cute (かわいい, or Kawaii) characters scattered around, its train transportation system, etc. – with purely San Francisco characteristics like the steep streets complete with “Full-House” homes on them, and the San Francisco cable-cars in the middle of the streets. To top it off, perhaps my favorite blending is the golden gate bridge that has been modified to contain the Japanese shinto “Torii” gateway arches atop its towers.

san fransokyo

bridge with Temple entrance arches

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to live in San Fransokyo?

From a technical standpoint, Disney animation is really starting to hit its stride. Earlier this year I was absolutely floored by the incredible detail and realism displayed by Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2. I thought the guys at that studio had finally done it and out-Pixar’d Pixar with technology and advancement in 3D animation and effects. Well, it turns out Disney Animation has also gone and surpassed the wizards at Pixar with Big Hero 6. It is an overall fantastic-looking film, aeons beyond the rubbish we saw in Chicken Little. The characters move fluidly, have more personality, and blend in better than ever with their backgrounds.

While all the characters in the film look great, there is one character in particular that I want to mention. Most of the characters in Big Hero 6 are highly stylized and caricatured, which method doesn’t lend itself too well in making comparisons to reality. There is, however, one exception: Aunt Cass is the most convincing human I have ever seen in a 3D animated film. The textures, lighting, physics, and movements in her hair, clothes, etc., are extremely realistic; her facial expressions are incredibly well animated; and her overall general movements, such as walking, are beyond impressive. I think Disney was going for a regular, ordinary-looking person with Aunt Cass, and wow did they deliver. It is crazy to think how far technology has come, but one quick comparison of Aunt Cass to Andy’s mom in Toy Story will show just how far we really have come in the technical side of 3D animation.

Is Cass the new standard in 3D animation technology? I think so.

Is Cass the new standard in 3D animation technology? I think so.

The next topic I want to bring up, as I often do, is the music. The score was composed by Henry Jackman. He was also responsible for the score in Wreck-It Ralph and Winnie the Pooh, and is becoming a mainstay in Disney animation. The ending credits song was provided by rock group Fall Out Boy. For the most part, the score was appropriate and did what it needed to do. It stayed in the background and let the characters and animation take the spotlight. So I’d say it was pretty good. More than “pretty good,” however, is “Immortals” by Fall Out Boy. I’ve had that song on repeat for many days post-viewing of Big Hero 6. If there was an awards category for “Most awesome credits song in a Disney film,” I think Fall Out Boy would win the award.

bad guy

“Immortal?” Nah, not even close.

BIG HERO 6

“Immortals?” Hmmm, maybe. Let’s get a sequel before we make any hasty conclusions.

belly button

“Immortals?” Baymax could just yet become immortal in Disney history.

Speaking of awards, in my opinion, Big Hero 6 gives us a new champion in the “lovable robot” category. Move over Wall-E, you have officially been dethroned. Just as in Wall-E, once again the most heartwarming, charming and caring character in a film involving robots belongs to the robot. Baymax steals every scene he in which he is involved, and he really becomes the heart of the movie by the end (though the one gripe I will direct to this film is that the ending Baymax scene was completely unnecessary and was just an attempt at emotional manipulation, as absolutely nothing would have changed to the real ending with or without the “Baymax moment”). At its core, Big Hero 6 is about love between family members and friends, and Baymax stands at the center of these themes. He is the one character that makes these messages work.

"On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my movie?"

“On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate my movie?”

In conclusion, I don’t typically do scales, but since Baymax asked, and I like Baymax, I will throw out a rating this time. The first time I saw it, I would have given Big Hero 6 around a 7.5 out of 10. But after a second viewing, Big Hero 6 gets an 8.5 out of 10.  And I suspect I will probably raise it up the next time I view it, too.

best robot ever

BIG HERO 6

fly gif

To infinity, and BEYOND!

Week 51: Winnie the Pooh

A Delightful Return to the 100 Acre Wood

happy ending

Originally Released: 2011

Winnie the Pooh is like coming home after a long vacation. It just has that comfortable, familiar feel to it. That is how I best describe Disney’s 2011 release and the 51st film in the Disney canon.

As I mentioned in my thoughts on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, back in the 60’s and 70’s, Pooh Bear still hadn’t caught hold in the hearts and minds of American children. Indeed, Walt Disney’s efforts can be thanked for that. But now that we are here in the 2010’s, it is very rare to find somebody who isn’t familiar with Pooh, Tigger, and the rest of the gang. They have been engrained into the very fabric of American society, no doubt helped along by countless spinoffs and television series, merchandise, books, and more that has been pushed by the Mouse Machine.

we need Hunny!

Just as Pooh’s prescription is more hunny, Disney has not been shy to push more and more Pooh on the masses throughout the years.

There has been so much Pooh over the years that it would be very easy to simply dismiss Winnie the Pooh as another pre-school cash-in attempt by Disney. However, when I heard that this was another one of John Lasseter’s “babies” and that he wanted to reach into the original books and recapture the spirit of the original film, I realized this film had some potential. And in my opinion, it delivers on that promise in spades. It may not have made much money in the end, but that should not diminish its worth as a Disney classic.

tigger still is great

That Harry Potter, I’ll pounce the guy! No, Tigger, no you won’t…

[Small side rant time: you can blame the geniuses in the Disney marketing department for thinking Winnie the Pooh was somehow a “Summer Blockbuster” and releasing it on the same day as the grand finale of the Harry Potter film series – yeah, like that was going to end well! This movie screams “Christmastime release,” and how they managed to kill its profit potential from the get-go by releasing it next to Harry Potter – only to be followed by Captain America the very next week – is truly baffling. There is an interesting theory laid out by my friends over at Rediscovering the Magic with Rick and Friends – check it out. I kind of believe their theory on this one.]

So back to the feeling of coming home. To illustrate this point, I’ve decided to look back at my review of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and look at specific points I made as to why I love that movie, and see if they still apply to this new adventure in the 100 Acre Wood.

whoops owl

Point #1: The collection of characters. 

In my thoughts on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, I said “There is such a variety of personalities on display here, and each character plays extremely well off of the others.”  This is still very much the case, and each character has its flaws on full display in Winnie the Pooh. In fact, I’d say that they are even more pronounced in the 2011 film than they were back in the original film, which is a great thing. Tigger is exhuberant as ever, Owl is still a know-it-all, and so forth. These characters are classics, and they continue on with their lovable traits here. Most importantly, though, their friendship still outweighs whatever flaws each character may have, and they manage to band together as a team and show a good example to children everywhere.

honey honey honey

Point #2: The storybook aspect

I loved the way the original film let you read along with the action and had characters interacting with words and letters on the page, hopping from one illustration to the next, and conversing with the narrator. This tradition is still very much the case in Winnie the Pooh. And it still causes me to smile and laugh.

cliche but still works

Point #3: The sense of humor and witty wordplay

The sense of humor, especially the wordplay, was probably my favorite thing about The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I imagine this would be the most difficult thing to replicate, because humor is a very tricky thing, especially since several decades have passed from one film to the next. Yet to my delight, Winnie the Pooh delivers the smiles and the laughs, and manages to include the witty wordplay of the original film. The exchange between Owl, Pooh, and Eeyore about “issue vs. Achoo,” Piglet and his “not/knot” and, of course, the problems with reading/spelling leading to the Backson are all great and quite funny.

To me, Winnie the Pooh isn’t so much a sequel as it is an extension of the adventures in the 100 Acre Wood, with all its charm. If you ignore the obvious changes in animation technology, the widescreen presentation, and other advancements, I think you really could include Winnie the Pooh as an additional story in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and not really miss a beat. Winnie the Pooh has the consistency with the original where it counts the most. Winnie the Pooh feels like home.

the gang

bakson

welcome back

 

Week 50: Tangled (With Frozen Comments, Too)

Disney’s Greatest Triumph of This Millennium?

Tangled meaningful music

Originally Released: 2010

I know, I know, my little title above is a bit of an exaggeration. There are still 986 years to go in this millennium, which means there are that many more chances for Disney to one-up Tangled. Some of you might even argue that it has already been eclipsed by a certain top-grossing animated film of all time. But I wanted to try my hand at current trends in news headlines. Feel free to supply more catchy headliners about Tangled in the comments section, by the way.

Actually, there is a reason I bring up Disney’s reigning financial juggernaut. See, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma: when I embarked on my Disney project in January 2013, there were only 52 films, which made my project make sense at the time. Now here we are, less than a month away from the debut of Disney’s 54th animated feature, and I have some decisions to make. Should I ruin my “52 weeks, 52 animated classics” theme even more by making it “100 or so weeks, 54-ish animated classics?” Or should I just stick to my original plan and close it off at 52?

I’ve decided to compromise  (i.e. cheat) a little bit by making my Tangled post double up as my Frozen assessment as well (though that still doesn’t solve how I will tackle Big Hero 6 when it comes out. Bonus Week, perhaps? Oh, and here, have a gander of the Japanese trailer to Big Hero 6 – because why not?). I actually have been wanting to say something on the matter of Frozen vs. Tangled ever since Frozen came out late last year. Unfortunately, many moons have passed, and many an internet article has already been dedicated to direct comparisons of Tangled and Frozen. But I thought of it first. And I’m going to do it anyway.

gloves are off

The gloves are off! Here comes the real fight!

I’ve thought of various categories, and I’m going to pit one film against the other in each one. It is all scientific and (mostly) unbiased, of course (I am an engineer, after all), so there will be no disputing the winner at the end of my little head-to-head matchup.

Category 1: The Title

Tangled vs. Frozen: this one is difficult: each consists of a single word, each is not even a noun, and each would not be pleasant if it happened to me. I have to say this is a tie. Except wait, the word tie, when used as a verb, would infer a future state of being tangled. So I guess Tangled wins this one.

Category 2: The Leading Lady

Leading Lady Tangled

Rapunzel, VS…

 

Anna

Anna!

This is a difficult category. On the one hand, Rapunzel has amazing, flowing magic golden hair. On the other hand, Anna’s hair displays the cruel remnants of magic gone awry. On the one hand, Rapunzel sure knows how to use a frying pan in a jam. On the other hand, Anna needs nothing but her hand to knock someone cold. I could go on, but I’ll just call this one a tie and give each film a half a point.

Category 3: The Leading Man

Flynn Rider VS...

Flynn Rider VS…

Kristoff!

Kristoff!

This one is not quite so difficult. Flynn’s got the smolder. Kristoff spits in into the wind and his girlfriend. ‘Nuff said. Tangled wins this round.

Category 4: Music

Here is another tough one. I’m not a four-year old girl, so I’m not going to default to “Let it Go” and call it a match. When considering the music and songs in these two films, there are a lot of things I’ve given consideration. Which songs are catchier? Which has more memorable songs? Which songs actually serve a good purpose in the film? When are the songs sung in the film’s running time? Are there pacing issues? Are the lyrics clever? What about the score throughout the film? What about the soundtrack when played on its own?

When it comes to catchiness alone, Frozen wins this by a long shot. The songs in Frozen also have more of a tendency to get stuck in your head, for better or worse. And yes, “Let it Go” wins bonus points just for being so darn good in the film. It is just a magnificent scene overall.

When it comes to lyrics, however, the brilliance of Alan Menken begins to shine through and catch up.

Consider, for example, the lyrics of “Mother Knows Best” and compare them to “First time in Forever.”  One sounds like it was written by a brilliant wordsmith with unlimited vocabulary, that say exactly what would help the story move forward and establish characters. “First Time in Forever” does also help the story move forward, but has lyrics like “actual real live people…it’ll be totally strange” while later on in the same song comes this gem: “which is totally bizarre.” Every time I hear that second “totally,” I can’t help but wonder if the songwriters just ran out of gas the night they were writing the song. Surely they could have come up with some other word that means the same thing, right? People may try to argue that they were trying to use words a ditzy teenage girl would use, but I’m not buying that argument.

Next, what about how the music flows in the movie? In this category, I believe Tangled takes it. Not only does it have music throughout that does a great job of pushing the story forward, it also makes excellent use of reprises, both for Rapunzel and the villain. Also, in Tangled, it doesn’t feel like all the songs were crammed into the first third of the movie.

love song

Subcategory: The Love Song. What about the love song? Do you opt for a beautiful, quiet melody, or a bombastic “High School Musical” song? Even though I like Love is an open door,” I prefer “I see the Light.” I saw Tangled in 3D when it was in theaters, and what “Let it Go” did for so many who watched Frozen, “I see the Light” did for me. I was awestruck by the scene: The 3D lanterns flowing into and out of the screen, the melody, and everything else combined to create a sweet scene in the movie.

love song Tangled

A real love song. I love it.

At this point, I’d probably give music a tie between the two films. Each has great music, a nice score, and each has its own strengths. However, I have to pull out my wild card in this scientific matchup: I have a serious music crush on Mandy Moore. Ever since “I Wanna be with You,” Mandy Moore’s voice has just melted me. Everyone has a guilty pleasure, and Mandy Moore’s music is definitely mine. Imagine my reaction when I found out that Mandy Moore would be lending her vocal talents to Disney and become the latest princess! It’s not every day your musical crush joins forces with your animation obsession. So yeah, due to the Mandy Moore factor, Tangled wins the music category.

Category 5: Horse-Like Sidekick

Maximus, the horse, VS...

Maximus, the horse, VS…

Sven, the Reindeer

Sven, the Reindeer!

Do we really need to make this comparison? Maximus wins. Tangled wins.

Category 6: Villain

villain Tangled

Manipulative, sinister, vile Mother Gothel, VS…

Villain?

Villain?

Villain?

Villain?

Give credit to Frozen for keeping us guessing. I was honestly thinking that maybe Disney would go the Studio Ghibli route and do a real villain-less movie, like Kiki’s Delivery Service or something like that. Well, in the end we got a true villain, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Mother Gothel, however, is a villain in the truest sense, hearkening back to the great Disney villains in the past. I think something can be said for having someone in your film who you can immediately root against and who makes it no secret he or she is evil. It makes the inevitable triumph of good a little more satisfying in the end. Mother Gothel has many tricks up her sleeve, and she is a master manipulator. She easily outdoes the Duke…er, Elsa…er, the Prince. Chalk another one up for Tangled.

Category 7: Non-Horse Sidekick

Pascal, VS...

Pascal, VS…

olaf sidekick

Olaf!

As charming as little Pascal is, I have to repeat my answer to my horse comparison. That is, there’s really no comparison. Olaf wins. Frozen wins.

Category 8: Supporting Cast of Merry Folk

Band of thieves with a dream (and the best jumping photo ever), VS...

Band of thieves with a dream (and the best jumping photo ever), VS…

Trolls!

Trolls!

The trolls fight valiantly and play a crucial role in Frozen, in that they are pretty much the catalyst to all the major events in the film. But the Band of thieves are so funny, and their musical number is a lot more fun than the trolls. Tangled wins this one.

Category 9: Villainous Sidekicks

These guys, VS...

These guys, VS…

These guys!

These guys!

Really, now, Disney, I feel like Frozen is just starting to copy and paste elements from Tangled. One villainous sidekick with awesome facial hair, and the other clean shaven. The goons in Tangled are more memorable, are more of a factor in the film, and are going to win this category.

Category 10: Teenage Angst

Gothel teenage angst

Scary mom with horrible advice, locked up in your house for all your life, a musical number about finally getting out, VS…

Parents with horrible advice who later die, locked in your house for all your life, a musical number about finally getting out - but a double dose of each!!

Parents with horrible advice who later die, locked up in your house for all your life, a musical number about finally getting out – but a double dose of it all!!

Frozen wins this one. Two is better than one!

So there you have it, after my scientific, engineer-like comparison of the two films in ten different categories, I conclude that Tangled is basically Frozen, just slightly different and slightly better, with a final tally of 7.5 to 2.5.

mental synchronization

Don’t be sad, Frozen. You are actually quite synchronized with your older sibling film.

maximus horse sidekick

Maximus FTW!

 

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