Week 47: Meet the Robinsons

Disney Decides to Keep Moving Forward

the future

Originally Released: 2007

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

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

awesome sauce

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

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

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

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

bowler hat guy

Hello, The Bowler Hat Guy.

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

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

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

great quote

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

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

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

goob

Black eyes happen. Just keep moving forward, Goob!

frogs

family-about time

Family. Isn’t it about time?

treasure planet

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

 

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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