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

 

Week 42: Lilo & Stitch

A Welcome addition to the Disney Ohana

space toy

Originally Released: 2002

It is easy to get lost in the surface-level entertainment that is offered by Lilo & Stitch. The 42nd offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios has a unique, colorful, and welcoming art style that is fun to look at. The Hawaii location really adds to the inviting atmosphere. Musically, the movie features some of the best hits from the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, it contains several fun songs performed by a talented Hawaiian children’s choir, and Stich plays the ukulele to great effect. Stitch himself is very funny and steals most of the scenes in which he is involved. Yes, on the surface, Lilo & Stitch provides great entertainment to kids and adults.

Crazy, lovable, entertaining Stitch

Crazy, lovable, entertaining Stitch

However, like all really good films, there are deeper themes found in Lilo & Stitch, and these themes are what to me makes this film the cream of the Disney canon crop in the 2000’s decade, and worthy to be mentioned alongside the other Disney greats. Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were able to create in the characters Lilo, Stitch, and Lilo’s sister Nani something that we all should be able to relate to, regardless of our age or gender or social situation (incidentally, this directing duo is also behind my favorite Dreamworks animated features How to Train Your Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon 2 – two more wonderful films that really “get it” from a human message standpoint).

At the forefront of these deeper themes is the concept of ohana. Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten,” says Lilo. It seems pretty straightforward, but how easily this can be forgotten in the daily turmoil and stress that we encounter with our families, friends, and others. The film makes it clear that “family” isn’t necessarily confined to strictly blood relatives, but that it can reach wider than your immediate family members.

I once had a friend criticize this film and its message by saying he was upset that the film attempted to rewrite the definition of “family” to also include things like your pet dog, and that the film was really an underhanded attack on the traditional family. I suppose I can see his point if I REALLY stretch, but I think he missed the concept and the real message the directors were trying to get across. To me, in order to really understand the concept, all it takes is to swap the word “family” with “neighbor.” I can then ask a familiar question: “And who is my neighbor?” Whether it be Stitch, Lilo, or a random stranger who was beaten and left for dead (please watch the link, it is worth your time), no one deserves to be alone, left behind, or forgotten. It doesn’t matter if you want to call them “family” or “neighbor” or “stranger” – what matters is that they still deserve our love and attention, even when it is hard or inconvenient to do so.

surfing

Beyond that most obvious message of ohana are the smaller touches surrounding the main characters. Who among us has never felt like Stitch at one point or another: alone and friendless, misunderstood, or seeking our true purpose? Or maybe we can relate more to Nani, trying to cope with life’s challenges while at the same time having no clue how to help a naughty or rambunctious child/family member whose “badness level” is almost filled to the brim. Or do we maybe feel more like Lilo, when we try to help with things, but our efforts either go unnoticed or seem to make things worse? To me, amount of relatable situations in Lilo & Stitch – from both an adult and child’s perspective – only adds to its value as a great film.

model citizen

To summarize, Lilo & Stitch works for me on all levels and always leaves me in a better mood after I watch it. I can credit that to the surface-level factors as well as it deeper thematic message. Lilo & Stitch earns its place on my list of highly recommended Disney animation.

destroy city

bad guys

spit

hula class

Week 19: The Jungle Book

Sometimes the Bare Necessities are All You Need

Baloo

Originally Released: 1967

The Jungle Book is great entertainment. But after watching the movie and thinking about it, I realize that the plot is not the reason the film is fun. Honestly, there isn’t much to the plot. It deals with the animals trying to get man-cub Mowgli back to the man-village against his will. That’s about it. Fortunately, through the wild characters he meets along the way and the music that accompanies these encounters, Disney still manages to leave its mark on the old Kipling tale.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know much about the original story, but I did learn that the original Disney screenplay for the film was much darker in tone than the final film. In fact, it was dark enough that Walt Disney had an argument about it with writer Bill Peet, and that argument led to Peet’s resignation. After Peet left, Walt changed the story more to his liking by lightening the tone and eliminating much of the complexity of the screenplay. He also encouraged the staff to focus on characters, heart, and simplicity.

Kaa

While Walt’s approach of story simplicity left the plot a little thin, The Jungle Book more than compensates for it with a showcase of animal animation. These characters, including Baloo and Bagheera, the snake Kaa, and the villainous Shere Khan, are animated masterfully (despite instances of obvious recycling – perhaps the animation was so good that they decided to reuse it? But I digress). All have their own unique touches and tricks that give them a superb blend of human characteristics and the respective animals they represent. Even Mowgli is animated well and has interesting little mannerisms you would expect from a young boy.

Louie

Beyond utilizing the animators to liven things up, another sure-fire way to lighten the mood was to create fun music. The early score and songs of the film mirrored the original screenplay’s darker mood, and when Walt dumped the screenplay he also decided to dismiss the music. He then passed the responsibility to Richard and Robert Sherman for the songs and George Bruns for the score. If the goal was to lighten things up, then surely there wasn’t a better fit than the Sherman brothers, who had recently completed their award-winning work for Mary Poppins. The strategy worked, and the Shermans delivered some great songs which contributed to the atmosphere that Walt Disney envisioned. However, one song from the earlier score was included in the final film, which was “The Bare Necessities.” And interestingly, that was the song that ended up being nominated for an Academy Award.

JBsunset

The combination of animation, characters, and music make The Jungle Book and enduring classic. The characters are so strong that many different people may have a different favorite character from the film. For example, my favorite was always Bagheera, but I can understand why people would like Baloo, or Louie, or any of the other characters. Likewise, the music is fun all the way through the film. These two items have always been basic components in the Disney animated films – and The Jungle Book proves that sometimes going back to the bare necessities is exactly what’s needed.

Mowgli

Khan

I couldn't help but include this image from the scene selection screen on the DVD. The DVD crew probably could have done a better job with scene 5...or maybe I'm just seeing things?

I couldn’t help but include this image from the scene selection screen on the DVD. The DVD crew probably could have done a better job with scene 5…or maybe I’m just seeing things?