Week 48: Bolt

Introducing the Newest Great Disney Dog

dogs will be dogs

Originally Released: 2008

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

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

spies

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

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

the tv dudes are evil

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

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

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

animaniacs anyone?

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

animaniacs pigeons

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

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

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

girl and her dog

hamster

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Week 27: Oliver & Company

The Concept of “Timeless?” Not Here, Man.

tito

Originally Released: 1988

Oliver & Company is an interesting entry in the Disney canon. It is one where producers chose to break the mold of most of the previous films by having a completely contemporary feel, loaded with contemporary actors and singers, including very contemporary pop songs, and set in a contemporary New York City. The main problem with this idea is that they decided to go contemporary right smack in the middle of the 1980’s. Oliver & Company is about as “80’s” as it gets (well, besides this. And this…yeah, I just did that).

I like the 1980’s and the 80’s feel. It brings back a lot of great memories. However, many people see the decade as an eyesore and don’t find much to appreciate in the pop culture that came out of that time period. So while the dose of the 80’s didn’t bother me much, Oliver & Company will likely weed out quite a few of today’s viewers on that basis alone. Which is kind of ironic considering the source material is by Charles Dickens, whose work has definitely stood the test of time.

Oliver

The story, which in the Disney tradition is only loosely based on Dickens’ Oliver Twist, can be summarized as follows:  we meet orphan kitty Oliver (voiced by a young Joey “Whoa!” Lawrence) as he tries to find a place to be accepted and loved. He is helped out by street dog Dodger (Billy Joel) and becomes part of Dodger’s gang. Shortly thereafter, Oliver finds a loving little girl who adopts him. But then he gets kidnapped. The kitty is freed but the girl is kidnapped. She is finally rescued and the bad guys each come to an unfortunate demise. The film closes with much rejoicing.

Dodger and Oliver

I realize my summary has a hint of a mocking tone to it, but for the most part, I enjoyed Oliver & Company. The songs were good in a 1980’s sort of way. Dodger and Tito, by far the two best characters in the movie, are both great. Tito (voiced by Cheech Marin) is actually quite funny, and Dodger is a totally cool dude. They really help the film. I also had some fun finding hidden tributes to past Disney films scattered throughout the movie.

Fagin

My only serious complaint is the climax. Beginning at the point Jenny is nabbed and continuing all the way to the fiery end of the villain Sykes, I just couldn’t help but shake my head at what we were supposed to accept as reasonable or credible. That’s saying something, since in general you can get away with crazier stuff in animation than in live action. But as it all happened, I kept asking myself things like, “Wait, is Sykes really dumb enough to steal a girl? I thought he was calmer and smarter than that. Doesn’t he realize that Fagin knows where his hideout is? Why the heck didn’t Fagin just call the police and report a kidnapping, telling them exactly where to go find her?”

And more questions: “Wait, did they really just drive onto the subway tracks? Did those car tires really just blow up? And now the wheels perfectly match the train tracks? Did that scooter really somehow jump eight feet in the air and drive up the suspension cable? How did they pull that one off? Is Sykes really that crazed to do all of this nonsense? How on earth has he survived up to now in his profession? How much money did the poor bum Fagin borrow, anyway?” I could go on, but I think you get the point. It goes past the point of absurdity.

Yes, I said it. The climax of your movie is nonsense. Surely they could have come up with something better.

Yes, I said it. The climax of your movie is nonsense. Surely they could have come up with something better.

Criticism aside, the last thing I think is worth mentioning about this film is that it opened the same day as Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time. By 1988, Bluth and Disney had built a bit of a rivalry. In fact, in 1986, Bluth’s An American Tale managed to earn more money than The Great Mouse Detective. This time around, The Land Before Time won the opening weekend battle, but Oliver & Company narrowly won the total U.S. Box office with a score of $53 million to Bluth’s $48 million (which at the time were both very respectable numbers). However, Bluth’s film won both internationally and in my neighborhood. I remember The Land Before Time as a child. My friends and I talked about it and quoted it a lot. I have no such memories of Oliver & Company, though. 

Jenny and Oliver

Of course, things would change dramatically the following year with Disney’s next release, which would basically leave Bluth in the dust. But Oliver & Company does deserve credit, because its success helped pave the way for this next release from Disney.

So today, if you want a nice dose of 80’s pop culture, great Cheech quotes, and a good, laughable ending, then Oliver & Company is just the thing for you. And with that, I’ll wrap up this post with some shots I found in the film that pay tribute to other films and characters of Disney’s past.

Georgett Ratigan Scooby

lady and the tramp

Cinderella tribute

"Coca-Cola. Now in a Disney movie near you!"

“Coca-Cola. Now in a Disney movie near you!”

Week 17: 101 Dalmatians

Dogs, Dogs, Everywhere

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Originally Released: 1961

With the start of a new decade also came the start of a new era for Walt Disney’s animation studio. After the release of Sleeping Beauty in 1959 and all its excess and extravagance, Disney realized that they needed to figure out a way to cut costs. Some suggested he just abandon animation altogether since by this time Disney was involved in television, live-action movies, and Disneyland. But he refused to do so. But something did need to change, because Sleeping Beauty ended up almost killing the studio (again).

The solution lied in a new technology. Instead of transferring each drawing from the animator’s paper to the cell using a team of painters who carefully traced and colored the characters, Disney adopted a Xerox copy process which allowed the team to directly transfer the animator’s drawings to a cell with a machine. This drastically reduced costs and as a result Walt essentially cut the ink-transfer department at the studio.

Although this new process cut costs, it was a tradeoff. On the one hand, the animators were excited because for the first time, what was up on the screen was what they truly had drawn. On the other hand, the hand-painted cells were rather beautiful in their own right, Also, the character outlines could now only be black. And it also meant that if the animator’s drawings were not cleaned up enough, the rough marks would be transferred to the screen as well.

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101 Dalmatians was the first feature film to use this new process. After watching Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians one right after the other, I noticed difference easily. 101 Dalmations at times does indeed look rougher when comparing the two movies. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the film has an art style and a look all of its own. For the film, the artists actually decided that they would use the Xerox process not only for the animated characters, but also for the outlines of the backgrounds. This results in a certain blending and consistent feel throughout the film.

As for the film itself, it also represented a departure from the past. This was the first Disney animated feature film which had a truly modern-day setting (at the time, at least). 101 Dalmatians even pokes fun of some societal items of the time (Kanine Krunchies can’t be beat!). The music has a modern feel, and the film isn’t dependent on musical numbers. There are a few songs, including the great “Cruella De Vil” song, but they fall well into a real-life scenario as opposed to a typical song in a musical.

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These differences are significant, but they do not diminish the quality of the film, nor do they eliminate that “Disney feel”. 101 Dalmatians is still a Disney movie through and through, loaded with memorable scenes and characters. I was impressed with the animal movement in Lady and the Tramp, but I am even more impressed with some of the animations of Pongo and Perdita, such as the scene where Pongo tugs Roger through the park.

In addition, 101 Dalmations has what some consider one of the best Disney villains ever (though I find this an especially difficult distinction to make, considering some of the great villains out there). Cruella De Vil is an outrageous and unique character, wonderfully animated and filled with personality.

All in all, Disney delved into this new era on the right foot with another great dog film. But after this film was released, I bet the animators were glad to be done with drawing dogs, and (over 6 million!) spots.

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Week 15: Lady and the Tramp

Better Than Many Romantic Comedies Involving People

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Originally Released: 1955

(For those of you following along, I realize that as of the date of publishing this post, it isn’t really week 15 in the year. It turns out life happens, and watching and writing about Disney movies regretfully fell on my priorities list for the past few weeks. But I’m back to it now and I plan on getting back on schedule in the next few weeks!)

For Disney’s 15th full-length animated feature, Walt and the studio went in a more contemporary direction and away from the classic fairy tale route. In as early as 1937, sketches were made and the story for Lady and the Tramp began to be developed. Unlike many of the early Disney animated films, the story of Lady and the Tramp is a Disney original. And it ended up being pretty good, too.

Most people will instantly think of the famous “Spaghetti Kiss” when the name of the film is mentioned. It happens to me, and I tend to forget about rest of the movie. However, each time I watch Lady and the Tramp, I enjoy the whole film. In my opinion, it is a better romantic film than many recent (and quite a few older) attempts at the genre, which is sad considering we are dealing with dogs. But that is a testament to the film and its animators. They managed to create a film with characters that develop and grow, including the minor characters like Jock and Trusty.

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But most impressive to me this time were the little things such as puppy Lady whimpering like a real puppy would, all the dog mannerisms and movements, and the perspective of most of the film, which tends to be from a dog’s eyes. I also find it humorous that Lady’s owners are constantly referred to as “Jim Dear” and “Darling.” Lady and the Tramp has many little touches that add to the experience.

Little details like the shadows of the bars across the dogs (criminal stripes) really add to the film.

Little details like the shadows of the bars across the dogs (criminal stripes) really add to the film.

Lady and the Tramp also represents a first in the Disney canon: it was the first feature-length animated film to be filmed in a widescreen format. Ultimately, this is a great thing (especially for movie lovers), but it also represented a challenge for the animators and artists because it meant that there was more scenery that had to be created, painted and animated, and more to consider for balance. It is a nice touch, but I believe it wasn’t until Disney’s second attempt in widescreen that the switch would profoundly add to the movie.

Overall, Lady and the Tramp represents more Disney magic and shows that even when covering contemporary times and original ideas, Walt and his team could create a bella notte.

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His sister's name is Rosita Chiquita Juanita Chihuahua. His name? Pedro.

His sister’s name is Rosita Chiquita Juanita Chihuahua. His name? Pedro.