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 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 34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Perhaps an Outcast, but Not a Monster

Notre Dame

Originally Released: 1996

(A quick note from the keeper of this blog: for those of you who have have been following the blog, you may notice that we are not really in week 34 of 2013. As much as it pained me to do so, life was so busy during the past 2-3 months that it was necessary to put this blog on a haitus for a time.

The good news is that I will have time to complete my journey now. So what began as “John’s Disney Movie Year” has become John’s quest to finish 19 Disney movies in the 20 days that are still remaining in 2013. I think I will call this portion “John’s Disney December to Remember.” Or maybe “The 19 days of Disney Christmas.” Whatever the title, I plan on completing this project on time. Hopefully you haven’t abandoned me for good! It is sure to be an interesting ride. Now on to the topic at hand…)

In some ways, it seems to me like the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame has the same reputation as the deformed protagonist it depicts – an outsider forever doomed to live in the shadows of its grander brethren. Over the past 17 years, the story has emerged that this is a movie with few fans and little love.

Esmeralda and Quasi

Yet for those who are willing to look past the popular idea that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is nothing but a lower-tier Disney monstrosity (ok, that may be exaggerating a bit much) and give it a clean look, they will find a beautiful, thoughtful, and entertaining film with a lot of heart and great lessons to teach.

It actually baffles me that Hunchback has this reputation. Because when I think about it, I don’t know a single person who I have talked to about the movie that does not like it. This may mean that I either haven’t talked to enough people about the film, or that I just have some awesome friends and family who can recognize a good thing. I like to believe it is the latter.

Festival

“Celebrate! He likes us!”

At any rate, I am a big fan of the movie. However, I do admit that this wasn’t always the case. When it was first released back in the thick of my growing up years, The Hunchback of Notre Dame just didn’t excite me the way that earlier Disney renaissance films did. Maybe it was because I had reached the “teenage-boy-who-can’t-admit-to-like-Disney” phase of life (it didn’t hit me as hard as most, but there was a little of it inside me). It might have been that Quasimodo didn’t seem like a protagonist I really wanted to follow and learn about. Instead, he was more likely to be dismissed and ridiculed as a Disney character.

Perhaps part of the reason The Hunchback of Notre Dame suffers its reputation is that its main intended audience comprised millions of kids just like me. After viewing the film again, I wonder just how much it can resonate with little ones. For example, consider the idea of embracing Quasimodo along with the theme of accepting those who are different. How many of us can remember that instead of inspiring children and teens in the mid/late 90’s, in many cases, the term “Quasimodo” became a popular derogatory nickname aimed at the handicapped, unpopular, or “weirdo” kids?

gargoyles

These guys are perhaps the biggest appeal to the kids. For adults, they are more tolerable that appealing.

So while it is true that the film has the color, the music, and the splendor that kids should love, things like the Quasimodo-Esmeralda-Phoebus “love triangle”, the inner complexities of the villain Frollo, and the subtle and deeper themes of the film are more readily comprehended and appreciated by the adult viewer. In fact, this may just be Disney’s most adult movie in the entire canon. Some topics touched on include genocide, religious hypocrisy (and on the flip side, living pure religion), and giving in to lustful desires.

Frollo

Here’s another standout villain in the Disney Canon. The voice work by Tony Jay was very fitting for the role.

That being said, the themes and lessons taught in The Hunchback of Notre Dame are lessons that should be taught to the youngest of ages. The prominent themes include giving precedence to inner virtues over outer differences, remembering that we are all children of God,knowing that decisions are yours to make and yours alone, learning to have the courage to take a stand for what is right – regardless of the outcome. And this is just a sampling. 

I am a fan of this scene and song.

I am a fan of this scene and song.

Over the past couple years, The Hunchback of Notre Dame has found itself steadily rising on my list of favorite Disney films. The more times I watch it, the more I appreciate the decisions made by the filmmakers in bringing this story to Disney animated life. Like the big-hearted Quasimodo in the film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame really does have a lot to offer.

Paris

Phoebus

Why isn’t Phoebus more popular? I think he’s an awesome character.

Bells

outcast

Week 33: Pocahontas

Disney’s Attempt at History

Riverbend

Originally Released: 1995

Pocahontas was going to be a home run. It was a guaranteed smash success. People wouldn’t be able to resist the story based on real people in American history. This was the feeling going around the studios when the movie was being pitched. Disney also had many beautiful pieces of art at the meeting which was set up for the filmmakers to choose between working on Pocahontas and The Lion King. Most of the top personnel was sold on this idea and chose to work on Pocahontas.

Disney's Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story. How could this possibly go wrong?

Disney’s Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story. How could this possibly go wrong?

It is interesting to see in hindsight the difference between The Lion King and Pocahontas. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things to like about Pocahontas, but in a way it has a bit of a forced feel to it, as if the filmmakers were trying too hard to make this the next Beauty and the Beast. In contrast, nobody expected The Lion King to end up as good as it did (that’s a story with a good moral in it all by itself).

"Colors of the Wind" is beautiful-looking and beautiful-sounding. It's definitely a high point of the movie.

“Colors of the Wind” is beautiful-looking and beautiful-sounding. It’s definitely a high point of the movie.

On the positive side, Pocahontas boasts a beautiful art style and great animation. I enjoyed the color palette with its greens, blues and purples. It felt different and was an interesting choice. Animator Glen Keane (who animated Ariel, the golden eagle, and Beast) did another superb job in this film with his animation of lead character Pocahontas. Others did a great job as well.

Disney once again collaborated with Alan Menken for the music, and once again he created an excellent score. His work here would win him another two academy awards for best musical score (which was his 4th win for musical score in as many films while at Disney) and for best song in “Colors of the Wind”. For the songs, Menken teamed up with lyricist/composer Stephen Schwartz (of Wicked fame). They were an effective duo. The good songs in Pocahontas are REALLY good. In fact, I think “Colors of the Wind” is so beautifully sung and orchestrated in the movie that I question why it was even necessary to get a pop version for the ending credits. I prefer the Julie Kuhn version much more than Vanessa Williams’ rendition. But although most songs are amazing, there is also a stinker or two in the lot. As a whole, though, I really enjoy the sounds of Pocahontas.

The meeting scene. I thought it was extremely well done.

The meeting scene. I thought it was extremely well done.

There are also some things I don’t like too much about the movie. Despite being based on history, in true Disney fashion the filmmakers strayed far from the source material in order to tell the story they wanted. If it is a history lesson they wanted to combine into the entertainment, they failed miserably at doing so (though this is not a big deal if this is understood upfront by the viewer). Pocahontas also suffers from a bad case of political correctness. That’s about all I’ll say on that front, though.

Everybody knows that the pale man is a scourge to humanity, only interested in killing innocent women and children and destroying the earth itself...

Everybody knows that the pale man is a scourge to humanity, only interested in killing innocent women and children and destroying the earth itself…

"You there! I want you to organize a team to slaughter men, women, and children and to desecrate the land! No, wait. First we have to sing "dig and dig and diggity dig" whilst we prance about with spades. Then we will continue with our devilish ways."

“You there! I want you to organize a team to slaughter men, women, and children and to desecrate the land! No, wait. First we have to sing “dig and dig and diggity dig” whilst we prance about with spades. Then we will continue with our devilish ways.”

Pocahontas is also the first film in the Disney renaissance that starts to feel a little formulaic with its structure and characters. For example, in Aladdin, Abu felt like he was actually a contributing character. But in Pocahontas, the animal characters Meeko, Flit, and Percy feel like nothing more than obligatory cuddly comic relief whose sole existence is to keep the children entertained. It seems that Disney’s search to find the secrets to its earlier successes led them to some conclusions. However, some of the elements in Pocahontas would suggest that perhaps they were barking up the wrong (willow?) tree in this search.

Before he was fighting criminals in Gotham City, Christian Bale was fighting Indians in Jamestown. This incident is likely what caused him to establish his no-killing rule as the Caped Crusader. The guilt must have been too much for him to handle.

Before he was fighting criminals in Gotham City, Christian Bale was fighting Indians in Jamestown. This incident is likely what caused him to establish his no-killing rule as the Caped Crusader. The guilt must have been too much for him to handle.

In the end, Disney may not have been able to make history with this film about true history, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives, and I can sit and enjoy Pocahontas despite its flaws. That being said, I’m not against parody and teasing Disney’s films. To finish this post, have a look at three great Youtube videos that all use stuff from the film (I discovered these on the Facebook page of my friends from “Rediscovering the Magic with Rick and Friends.” I’d recommend anyone who wants a Disney-themed laugh to check it out). The videos can be found here, here and here.

Climax

John Smith

Blue River

Week 32: The Lion King

A King of a Film

Simba looks to heaven

Originally Released: 1994

Looking back, I think the three most-watched movies for me growing up were Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These are three movies that I basically had memorized back then, and today, they are three films that I can go back to at any time and still really enjoy.

Thinking about it, I was really lucky to be a child during the time of this Disney renaissance, and with this trio of films in particular. Each of the three is a masterpiece and can claim to be the best Disney has to offer in some way. While Beauty and the Beast is the most spellbinding, heart-warming and inspiring film, and Aladdin is the funniest escape to a far away place, I find The Lion King to be the most powerful and moving animated film in the entire Disney canon.

I still get goosebumps when this appears on the screen and Lebo M. starts his African chant. It is just an incredible film opening.

I still get goosebumps when this appears on the screen and Lebo M. starts his African chant. It is just an incredible film opening.

I said in my post for Beauty and the Beast that it was my favorite of all the Disney films. I stand by that statement, but to me, The Lion King comes in a close second. A VERY close second. From the very first seconds of the film with the rising sun and the African chant, it becomes clear that The Lion King is something special. As incredible as the opening scene and song are, the film amazingly doesn’t let up after that. We meet a superb cast of characters who tell a deeply moving and emotional tale, all the while being accompanied by a marvelous score, beautiful and bold art, and brilliant animation.

The Lion King is loaded with fun, smart, and memorable characters. This collection of characters is every bit as memorable and strong as the cast I praised in AladdinThe Lion King is a great example of how to make each character important to the story and to the film, regardless of whether they are the protagonist, evil henchman, or comic relief sidekick. It helps that the characters are voiced by what was the most star-studded cast of any Disney feature up to that point. Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Cheech Marin, Whoopi Goldberg, and all the others do a fantastic job. Particular mention needs to be given to Jeremy Irons, though. After the string of villains in Ursula, Gaston, and Jafar, Irons had a lot to live up to in his voicing of Scar. But he really delivered and continued the streak of making the villain stand out.

Jeremy Irons (and Andreas Deja and his animation team) knocked this one out of the park. This is another great villain.

Jeremy Irons (and Andreas Deja and his animation team) knocked this one out of the park. This is another great villain.

Speaking of standing out, where do I begin with the music? At the time, the score for The Lion King was unlike anything ever heard in a Disney film. The now-legendary Hans Zimmer, who composed the score, turned in what I believe to be the very best work of his career with his blending of African instruments and choruses with a sweeping cinema style. It is no surprise that it won the Oscar for Best Score in 1995 (that had to be the easiest decision ever for the academy). To me this is easily the best score of any Disney film. It is one of my favorite movie scores of all time, and if Disney ever released the complete score, I would snatch it up in a second. Beyond the score, the songs are also great. The combination of Zimmer, Lebo M., Tim Rice, and Elton John proved to be a winning combination.

Color swap

Another great aspect of the film is the art and color used throughout. The Lion King is beautiful to look at. It has lush green in the plants, brilliant blues in the day and nighttime skies, and many other bright and bold colors (just look at the collection of screenshots to see what I mean). It has some incredible backdrops of fields, cliffs, trees, and other landscapes that are artistically enhanced in a wonderful way. Pride Rock and the jungle home of Timon and Pumbaa are full of life and color, while the Elephant graveyard and Post-Scar Pride Rock serve as effective contrasts and capture the bleakness and dire situation the characters are in at those times and places.

Another Disney film, another groundbreaking implementation of animation technology.

Another Disney film, another groundbreaking implementation of animation technology.

In addition to the art, the animation is also a high mark of the film. Interestingly, when Aladdin was completed, the Animation department broke into two groups: one team would work on Pocahontas and the other would do The Lion KingPocahontas was pitched as the superior film, as an automatic home run. And so everybody wanted to work on it and most of the top talent ended up moving to that project (Andreas Deja was the exception because his dream was to work on an animal picture like The Jungle Book). This left The Lion King to the “B-team,” and it was considered more of the  “B-movie” project, with no one really having high expectations for it. The directors practically had to beg to get people to come work on the project. But this so-called “B-team” rose up to the challenge, and in the process really advanced the craft of animating animals to a whole new level. The movements of the characters on the screen had the most believable mixture of human and real animal ever seen in animation at the time of its release in 1994. And in addition to character animation, the team continued the trend of giving scenes an extra “wow factor” with the help of 3d computer animation.

Mufasa appears

But perhaps the strongest part of The Lion King to me is its emotional story of family and its powerful message of personal responsibility. Somehow, The Lion King manages to go beyond most films that merely entertain, and it penetrates deep down to the soul, both emotionally and spiritually. Despite being about wild animals, this movie addresses some of the most basic and important human issues. Things like loving and honoring family (from both a child and parent perspective), respecting all other life, the importance of embracing responsibilities and doing the right thing, and the possibility of redemption all ring true and loud and clear in this film.

There are some definite "burning bush" inspirations here. And I am really glad this is the case.

There are some definite “burning bush” inspirations here. And I am really glad this is the case.

My favorite scene is when Mufasa’s spirit comes back to remind Simba of himself. It was said that during production, the filmmakers looked to stories like Joseph in Egypt and Moses at the burning bush for inspiration in the movie. No doubt this part of the movie benefits from the stories. The result of this is a scene that is not only key to the film, but a scene with spiritual parallels that really resonate with me. Mufasa tells Simba, “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become.” In real life, perhaps we can feel at times that we forget who we are and we lose sight of who we can become. We just need to but remember who we are as a son or daughter of our Father. And like Simba, we may be tempted to say “How can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.” We all make mistakes, but we can walk that path back and make things right – no matter how difficult the path may be – if we remember who we really are and who we come from. It is a strong, strong message, and a brilliantly done scene.

So with all these things, it is no wonder that The Lion King took the world by storm. To date, it is the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, and if you include 3D animation, the 2nd highest, right behind Toy Story 3. The Lion King firmly cemented animation as a legitimate mainstream form of entertainment, art, and money-making power. Most importantly, though, it completed the triple play of Disney’s amazing renaissance which took kids to an enchanted castle, an Arabian cave of wonders, and a lush African safari. Long live The Lion King.

Circle of Life

Scar and Simba

Hakuna Matata

Week 22: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

A Delightful Trip to the 100 Acre Wood

C.R. and Pooh Bear

Originally Released: 1977

Every once in a while, a film comes along that as I watch I just can’t help but smile the whole way through. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is one of these films (two more are My Neighbor Totoro and The Artist, in case you were wondering). Although it is primarily aimed at children, the characters, friendships, music, and humor all combine to create a fantastic escape to an innocent, uplifting world in the 100 Acre Wood that even adults can appreciate.

T-I-Doubleguh-er

The history behind the development of this film is actually quite interesting. Winnie the Pooh first appeared in children’s stories by English author A.A. Milne, and the stories were hugely popular in Great Britain. They were also popular among Walt Disney’s children, and he worked to get the rights for the stories to create a film based on the books. He succeeded in obtaining the rights in 1961, and shortly thereafter proceeded to work on the movie.

Walt originally wanted to create a full length feature film, but he saw that at the time Winnie the Pooh was not nearly as popular in America as it was in Europe. So in his wisdom, he decided to break the film into three separate featurettes and slowly introduce Pooh and his world into mainstream America, one piece at a time. Later, he would combine the three featurettes into a single full-length film as originally envisioned.

The first featurette to be completed was Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, and it was released in 1966. Walt was directly involved in the production of the first short film and also of its follow up, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Unfortunately, Walt died before this second segment was released to the public and therefore did not see Pooh Bear’s rise to stardom as he predicted. But The Blustery Day went on to win an Oscar for Best Cartoon Short Subject in 1968, and Pooh and his friends did indeed gain popularity.

piglet kite

In 1974, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! was the third segment to be released, and this short was also nominated for an Oscar. With the three planned shorts finished, the animators completed the project by tying together each featurrette and including a proper ending segment for the full-length release in 1977. The collection of shorts was given the title of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

So what is it about this movie that makes me smile? It is hard to pin down the exact source, but I know part of it lies in the collection of characters. There is such a variety of personalities on display here, and each character plays extremely well off of the others. Pooh is brought to full life with silly and witty humor courtesy of Disney veteran Sterling Holloway (who I believe turned in his best work in this film). Rabbit is annoyed by basically everybody, yet he doesn’t realize that he himself can also be annoying. Then there is cheerful and brilliantly voiced Tigger, poor depressed Eeyore, and timid P-P-Piglet, to mention a few more. While each is vastly different, they are all still friends and all are valued. This friendship is something we can definitely learn from in real life.

storybook

I also love the storybook idea used throughout the film. You can actually read along to some parts of the story as the narrator speaks. Pooh has conversations with the narrator about what will happen next in the story. Pooh jumps from page to page in the animated storybook, while Tigger almost bounces out of the book completely. And rain floods the words on one page and causes them to fall down to the bottom of the book. It it all quite clever and adds to the delightful atmosphere.

Finally, I really enjoy the sense of humor in the film, including the wordplay in both the dialogue and the music. It just makes me laugh. Things like “tut-tut, looks like rain,” Pooh spitting the bees out of his mouth, Rabbit trying to decorate Pooh in his house, and the nonsensical lyrics in true Sherman brothers style all contribute to the happy tone of the film.

Tut tut! It looks like Rain!

Tut tut! It looks like Rain!

As popular as Winnie the Pooh is among the preschool age group, it seems like the film shouldn’t be nearly this enjoyable to adults. But that is part of the Disney magic. It manages to make something that appeals to the smallest of children also be worthwhile and uplifting to adults. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is filled with this Disney magic from beginning to end.

rabbit

Heffalumps and woozles are very confusels!

Heffalumps and woozles are very confusels!

photo

Week 21: Robin Hood

Oo-de-lally, Oo-de-lally! So Much Fun

oo-de-lally

Originally Released: 1973

Apparently the word out there is that somewhere in the 40 years since its release, people decided Robin Hood wasn’t all that great. I’m not sure I believe these “people,” because I have yet to meet a real person who doesn’t like this movie. This has always been a favorite of mine, and a family favorite as well. We watched this one a lot growing up, and I know that most of my friends and family still enjoy it. Perhaps it may not be the masterpiece we have come to expect from Disney animation, but it pulls its own weight just fine.

I’m sure we all know the story of Robin Hood, so there really is no need to go over the plot. By doing what Disney was always really good at – animating animals with human qualities – the team at Disney made the story their own, uniquely recreating the legend by having Robin Hood and Maid Marian played by foxes, King Richard and Prince John as lions (naturally), and giving the part of Little John to Baloo the Bear‘s long lost brother. Part of the reasoning behind this choice is that originally some folks at Disney wanted to work with the story of Reynard the Fox, and eventually they decided they could kill two birds with one stone by making Robin Hood be a fox.

begone long one

I think it was a great move. Allowing characters to be portrayed as any animal the creators could imagine opened up many possibilities, and they were able to create some fun characters with great personalities. Robin, Little John, Lady Cluck, and the rest of the gang are all entertaining and memorable. And the duo of Prince John and Sir Hiss make for a hilarious combination as the greedy villains with their beautiful, lovely taxes (Ah Haa!).

Clearly Robin Hood doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I believe that is where the fun lies in this film. Because the viewer sees that a bunch of goofy animals are playing these roles they understand and accept the ridiculousness from the very beginning. It makes the rest of the wild ideas, like the football references, the Hiss-Balloonmobile, and the wacky disguises add to the fun of the film, whereas in other situations these same ideas could have easily been a distraction. The same can be said for the variety of British and American accents featured in the film. We already know the film is not aiming for serious drama or realism, so the accents don’t really matter.

"Did he just call us 'goofy animals?' Nonsense!"

“Did he just call us ‘goofy animals?’ Nonsense!”

Now, are there negative aspects to the film? I’m sure there are, but nothing comes to mind after this latest viewing. Not even the recycled animation sequences bother me much in this film. To me, they feel like they belong in their respective scenes, as opposed to a lazily slapped-on rehash in different scenes of, say, The Sword in the Stone. I even believe that some of the recycling adds charm to the film, particularly Marian following in the (dance) steps of Snow White. I only learned of this occurrence fairly recently, but the more I see and compare the two, the more brilliant I think it is. Besides, it is still great animated dancing, even if it is recycled. It could be much worse.

Maid Marian Dancing like snow whitephoto(7)

Robin Hood was one of those films that I was eager to revisit for this project. Watching it is has always been a good time, and this viewing was no exception. There are fun characters, good music, quotable dialogue, and the film blends comedy, swashbuckling action, and romance to great effect. Oo-de-lally.

fortune

stork

seize the fat one

quit hissing in my ear

fireflies

Week 16: Sleeping Beauty

Stunningly Beautiful

photo9

Originally Released: 1959

Let me just begin by getting this out of the way: I love Sleeping Beauty. I love the art. I love the music. I love its sense of humor. Maleficent is probably my favorite of all the Disney villains. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. While I consider it impossible to pin down my favorite Disney film of all, Sleeping Beauty is a strong contender for that coveted #1 spot. Some days it actually makes it to the top in my mind.

Knowing that, it should then come as no surprise that this was a highly-anticipated week for my project. It doesn’t take much coaxing to get me to watch Sleeping Beauty. And, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the movie yet again.

photo

Let me begin with the art. I did actually learn something new this time around. The look of the film is largely attributable to a man named Eyvind Earle, who I previously did not take the time to learn about. He was a younger artist in the Disney studios, and he did a bit of training under the talented Mary Blair (who I mentioned in previous posts).  Walt Disney was impressed with his art and some of his ideas. In fact, he was so impressed that he made Eyvind the Art Director for the film, and gave him a large amount of authority over the other artists, including the animators. Walt wanted the original concept art style to make it to the final film without being “watered down.” I did not previously know that Eyvind was the source of the distinct look of the film.

photo14

Eyvind personally had a hand in most of the backgrounds. I consider the backgrounds to be masterpieces in Sleeping Beauty. They are bright, colorful, highly stylized, and have incredible detail. This was the second Disney animated film to use a widescreen format, and Eyvind made the most of it. The backgrounds are practically bursting from every corner with intricate details and beautiful work. Everything from the bark of the trees to the small cracks in the stone walls of the castle, and from the townsfolk to table-top items is a sight to behold (as a side note, watching Sleeping Beauty on blu-ray for the first time was an absolute revelation. Before I watched it, my general opinion was “there’s no way an old 2d cartoon will look any better in high definition.” I was wrong, wrong, wrong). This is one film that I can pause virtually anywhere in the film and have an image I would want to hang on my wall. It is that beautiful.

photo6

photo8

Look at the large tree. Then look at the two other trees and the bush. Then look at the trees even further off in the distance. The detail never ceases to amaze me.

As much as I’m a fan of the artwork, I am also a fan of the music. The music was adapted from the old ballet version of the story which was composed by Tchaikovsky (of Nutcracker fame), which was a brilliant move by Disney. To me, the Tchaikovsky music adds an extra bit of elegance to this film that separates it from some of the earlier Disney releases. And add to the Tchaikovsky score the perfect casting choices for the voices of Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, and the result is highly satisfying music in Sleeping Beautywhich complements the art and animation in a great way.

photo5

The art and music alone would be enough to win me over in this film. But it also has memorable characters. The three fairies are vintage, true Disney characters and I love the way they play off of each other. The baking/sewing scene has always been a favorite of mine, with their ineptitude at being mere mortals shining through. There is Phillip, who is the first Disney prince to have any real personality and animation/screen time. And of course, there is the vile Maleficent, voiced by Eleanor Audley, the same woman who did such a great job as Lady Tremaine in CinderellaThere is no real complexity to Maleficent that we know of. She is just pure evil, and is superbly animated, styled, and voiced. Combined, it results in a villain that is not soon forgotten.

photo3

All of these things did not come easily for Disney and his team, nor did they come quickly or cheaply. Sleeping Beauty was in active production for roughly 8 years, and it was an extremely expensive film to produce. It demanded a lot from the animators and artists. But the result was something to marvel at, and it paid off in the end. It really shows in the final product that there was a great amount of hard work that went into making the film what it is. I, for one, am very glad they gave all that effort. If there is any Disney film that deserves to be called “classic,” Sleeping Beauty is it.

photo1

photo11

Skumps, Skumps, Skuuuuummmmmps!

Skumps, Skumps, Skuuuuummmmmps!

photo13

photo10

photo7

Week 11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

The Last Package Film is Arguably the Best

photo(52)

Originally Released: 1949

Walt Disney closed out a very busy 1940’s decade with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the studio’s 11th feature animated film. Looking back, I find it impressive that, despite World War II sapping Walt’s resources, along with other challenges, Disney still managed to churn out ten animated feature films in this time frame (in addition to its separate shorts and even forays into live-action film). Though six of these films were packaged collections of shorts, it is still quite inspiring to see just how much the studio accomplished, including the amount of stories, the variety in the stories told, the artistry, and the splendid animation.

With The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Disney released the last of the series of packaged films and effectively closed out what could be considered the first era of Disney feature animation. What would follow in the 1950’s and beyond is a string of Disney hits that rivals any other period in its 52-film history. Stay tuned, because the next few weeks will be lots of fun. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Disney’s 11th animated feature, consisting of The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is no failure by any means, and in my opinion can hold its own with the best of the rest.

photo(58)

First is The Wind in the Willows, narrated by actor Basil Rathbone. Now I have a confession to make. I remembered nothing about this cartoon. As I watched it, I kept waiting for something to trigger a memory, but it never came. I don’t know if I am alone in this, but to me at least, the story of J. Thaddeus Toad, Ratty, Mole, and the rest of the gang has quietly fallen into obscurity. It is a shame, too, because I had a blast watching it. But, on the bright side, because I couldn’t remember anything about it, it felt like an added bonus of watching a Disney film for the very first time.

The film is not a serious one, and the animation style more resembles the Mickey and Donald shorts than something from, say, Bambi. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. The entire scene where Toad and his allies try to retrieve the deed from the villainous weasels, with Mole hanging from the bedsheets, the group getting chased all over the place, paper airplanes being thrown, and the revolving door, is wild and crazy and very entertaining. I also enjoyed the court scene. Overall the film was had a nice, fun feel and was great entertainment.

Mission Impossible? Not for J. Thaddeus and his crew!

Mission Impossible? Not for J. Thaddeus and his crew!

But the real gem of this package is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This segment I remember well, and I have always loved it. Based on the story by Washington Irving, it follows the tall, lanky ladies’ man, pie thief, and schoolteacher Ichabod Crane as he tries to win the heart of flirty town beauty Katrina Van Tassel.

photo(55)

Sleepy Hollow is clever, has funny moments, and has memorable scenes and characters. But what I find most impressive is just how perfectly it balances being scary, but not too scary for the little kids to watch. The lonely ride through the forest is brilliant and does a great job showing how paranoid Ichabod becomes, with crickets, frogs, and crows supposedly calling his name. It is something most of us can probably relate to when we have been frightened. When the Headless Horseman finally appears, it continues to be scary, but not too scary. The balancing act achieved in the segment I feel is worthy of praise.

photo(53)

There were some things that came to my attention for the first time as I watched the movie again. First was the realization that it was narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. This is significant because I actually know who Bing Crosby is now. The second thing was that I realized Katrina was just using poor Ichabod and there was never really any doubt that she would eventually end up with the town Bully Brom Bones. Ichabod never stood a chance (Brom, by the way, has a strong resemblance to later Disney character Gaston, in both looks and personality traits. I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence). Lastly, there is some great horse trotting animation in this film.

This was the package film I was most looking forward to watching, and it did not disappoint. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a package film done right.

photo(59)

photo(56)

photo(54)

Week 5: Bambi

A True Work of Art

photo(26)

Originally Released: 1942

The way I see things, there are two types of men in this world: those who are too manly for Bambi, and those who are man enough to admit they like it. Apparently, those in the first category only tend to remember the cute bunnies and other lovable creatures of the forest, but I suppose they are not able to look past that and see how much more the film offers.

In reality, 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. The film shows that life does go on despite tragedy and adversity, and that there is happiness to be found even in the midst of these bad things.

"Your mother can't be with you anymore."

“Your mother can’t be with you anymore.”

Think of some of the things Bambi goes through in just the first year or so of his life. His life starts off well enough, with friends, family, and fun. But eventually the winter comes with its challenges. Just when things start to look up, tragedy strikes and he loses his mother. Later on, Bambi is shot, his home burns down, and he almost loses his love. In the end, though, we see that he is able to overcome these adverse circumstances and have a happy ending, at least for another year.

photo(25)

It is interesting to note that around the time this film was made, Walt Disney was going through some rough times of his own. Three of his first five films failed to turn a profit, so the company was not doing well financially. In addition to this, many of the animators went on strike during the production of Bambi. Finally, World War II was spreading across the globe at this time. Despite these challenges, Walt was able to get the film completed and his company survived.

photo(24)

As I watched this film, I thought more about these things and less about the cuteness of it all. Yes, the characters are cute and full of charm, but if we look past this and dig a little deeper, we can find some great takeaways in this film. We all go through periods of fun with friends and family, but we have our winters to deal with as well. However, we can come through hard times and still find happiness, and in the end we will be wiser.

Beyond the story, I must mention that this movie is just plain gorgeous to look at, especially when watching it on Blu-ray. From the very first frame of the forest to the ending sequence showing Bambi and the Great Prince looking down at the valley below, I was stunned by the beauty and style of the backgrounds. I could pause the film at just about any spot and be treated to an image that I would want to hang on my wall.

photo(27)

Not only this, but the animation of the animals is very impressive. It strikes just a perfect balance between lifelike and cartoony. They don’t feel like cartoon characters; they feel like forest animals. Yet they have been humanized and are able to show a great range of emotion. In this film Disney really succeeded in creating the illusion of life. It is an impressive feat of animation.

Bambi marked the end of Disney’s first “golden age.” Each of the first five feature films was a home run in its own way, and they set the bar incredibly high for all the films which followed. Bambi, like the four films preceding it, is a winner which I would recommend to anyone – even the manly men.

photo(23)

photo(28)