Movie 17: 101 Dalmatians

101 dalmationsIn any genre of movies we like different films for different reasons.  Some are pure entertainment.  Others teach us lessons.  Some help us empathize with others.  Others are artistic experiences.  Some have great special effects taking us to a new world and then others are just a lot of fun.

101 Dalmatians falls into that latter category.  It is not one of Disney’s ambitious artistic masterpieces; although it certainly has it’s own style.  But, it is an incredibly charming movie for the whole family.  I watched it again today and literally every scene works.  Every character is right on pitch for the story they are trying to tell.  Disney’s more ambitious pictures will always be my favorites but 101 Dalmatians is it’s own version of perfection.

Production-

Released in 1961 101 Dalmatians had the unenviable job of trying to save the studio after the disaster of Sleeping Beauty.   (It seems the end of a decade this happens for Disney.  Always looking for that savior project!).  Sleeping Beauty had taken 9 years to finish, was incredibly labor intensive and it did not turn a profit.  Walt Disney at one point even considered closing down the animation department, as the live action Disney wing was doing very well.

Like so many times before Disney needed a hit.

The project actually began with Walt Disney.  At this time he was minimally involved in the actual production but heavily involved with the storyboarding and brainstorming process.  He had read the novel by Dodie Smith and really liked it.  He then gave it to writer and illustrator Bill Peet and told him to come up with a script.

When Peet gave Disney the script he said it was ‘so perfect’ he didn’t need to be involved and handed the project over to Peet.

At the time a xerox technique had been invented where hand inking could be replaced by a camera that would copy the lines on the cells.  They had tried using this for Sleeping Beauty but it didn’t look right.

Fortunately, the process looked great with black and white, black and white dalmatians that is!

This is why the style of the movie looks like a sketch book.  It was where the xerox technology was and saved animators 1/2 the cost and time it would have otherwise taken.

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The characters were also done using hand drawings and not the rotoscoping of previous films requiring human actor filming, which saved money as well .

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On the xerox they used a spot pattern like a constellation and once they had one anchor spot they went outward.  By the end of the movie they had animated 6,469,652 spots!

They also had a terrific villain that the author Dodie Smith said Bill Peet script had improved upon the book (that’s pretty cool to have an author say about a movie!)

Like Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians did very well at the box office and is still the only Disney animated movie to be remade (for better or worse). Although 2 versions of Jungle Book are coming (groan).

This is also the first time Disney had a movie set in the time period they were writing in.  Previous movies had been period pieces or fantasy settings.

The Story

We start out being introduced to the male dalmatian Pongo.  He tells us about his pet human Roger, who is a confirmed old bachelor.  Naturally Pongo plays matchmaker after he spots a beautiful dalmatian and her equally beautiful owner.

Both pairs end up getting married.

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Next we see wedded bliss and get introduced to Cruella De Vil who is a schoolmate of  Anita.  She is obsessed with beauty and furs. We also learn early on that she is an insane driver.  Her voice performance is so funny.

She is such a great villain because she isn’t even in it for the money.  She just wants to look good.    The vocal performance by Betty Lou Gerson may be my favorite in all of Disney.  It is so funny and over the top.

You will see in the scene above we get the main song in the movie which only has 2 full length songs- Cruella De vil and Dalmatian Plantation (which is actually not fully sung).  It’s actually a pretty big departure for Disney to have so little music.

Cruella finds out when the puppies are delivered and this scene is just hilarious and I love the light in the doorway.

With no luck Cruella sends her goons Horace and Jasper out to steal the puppies in a pretty heartbreaking scene.

The humans try everything but to no avail so Pongo and Perdy send word through the twilight bark- a system of telegraphing information from dog to dog.  What’s amazing about these scenes is the characters are only introduced for a moment or two and yet I like every one of them.  I particularly like a set of horse, a dog named the Colonel and a Tabby Cat that saves the puppies on more than one occasiondalmatian midnight bark.

The Tabby Cat notices some movement over at the old De Vil place ‘Hell Hall’ (not too subtle on names here Cruella De Vil living in Hell Hall!).  So they create a plan to get the puppies away.  To their shock there aren’t 15 but 101!

Like I said, the Tabby Cat is pretty great and saves the puppies until Pongo and Perdy storm in!

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I really like this tabby cat. He’s got guts!

tabby cat

I also like the thieves  are watching a show called ‘What’s My Crime’ set up like a quiz show and a friend of theirs is the guest criminal.  There are lots of little moments of humor in the movie.

what's my crimeCruella finds out they have lost the puppies and becomes enraged.  I find it hilarious to watch this woman drive.

The rest of the movie is a chase caper with various dogs helping the 101 Dalmatians, as well as some cows!  The dogs outsmart the humans every step of the way.

I mean if that doesn’t melt your heart something is wrong with you!

They end up arriving at the house and a dalmatian plantation is in the works!

My Review-

I think little kids respond particularly well to 101 because they can relate to the puppies.  They are cute and kids like stories were children (or small puppies) are smarter than the adults.  That’s why kids like Home Alone so much.  I remember seeing Home Alone in the theater and laughing so hard I could barely breathe.  I think you have some of that same spirit with 101 Dalmatians.

It’s also very well written.  Bill Peet did a terrific job endowing every character with humor and a specific personality.  It reminded me this go-around of the Toy Story movies where we get to know so many of the toys.  Except this was even harder because at least the toys don’t all look alike.  The writing had to be pretty special to make this story work, and they pulled it off.

Cruella is hilarious in every scene she is in.  It is such a preposterous notion for someone to want to kill puppies to make a coat.  I am no dog lover but even I know you don’t hurt puppies! With Lady and the Tramp the conflict came from other animals- cats, rats, etc.  The humans were kind of incidental carriers of the animals.  In 101 there is no real barriers between the dogs world and the humans and this is established right away with the courtship scene in the park.  The two worlds are basically coexisting together and the story does not treat the dogs as any less because they are owned by the humans.  In fact, it may be the reverse as Pongo gets the whole story going.

After my review of Lady and the Tramp I told a commenter that ‘for what they were trying to do it is about as good as they could make it’ but where that movie needed a stronger villain, 101 has that in spades and Cruella is one of Disney’s best.  Mostly because her motives are so shallow and she is completely insane.  It’s a great voice performance and the animators thought of ever detail down to her long icy cigarette and her crazy driving.  She’s so much fun to watch.crazy cruela

So yes, it’s not Disney’s most ambitious artistic film but it does have it’s own style and I just think every choice they made was right.  It is just about perfect.

Evidently Walt Disney was not a great fan of 101 Dalmatians because he felt it took them away from the fantasy and dreaming of earlier projects- was more pedestrian in feel.  I’d agree but it still works.  I wonder if this is why the movie is basically ignored at Disneyland?  No rides or other attractions despite it making a lot of money.

Oh well.  I love it!

Overall Grade A+

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Best and Worst of Disney 1937-1959

As I have been doing my reviews people have asked me ‘what is your favorite of what you’ve reviewed so far?’  It’s tough because I like all of them for different reasons.  But I thought it would be fun to give some highlights of the first 20 years of Disney which I just finished by reviewing Sleeping Beauty.

Overall Best Film-  Cinderella

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It’s really hard to decide but I’d pick Cinderella because it has the whole package.  It’s got a likable heroine who we actually get to know,  great songs, it’s got artistry in scenes like Sing Sweet Nightingale, a terrific villain in Lady Tremaine,  brilliant voice work and just the right touch of humor.

Overall Worst Film- Three Cabelleros and Fun and Fancy Free

fun and fancy free postercaballeros

I gave 2 films D grades, Fun and Fancy Free and Three Cabelleros.  FFF I thought was just lazy.  The Bongo story is odd and kind of slow. Mickey and the Beanstalk is fine but not great. If it was a little tighter with a better villain I would have enjoyed it more.  Three Cabelleros is in my opinion worse than Saludos Amigos because it only has 2 shorts and then there are songs where the characters are shouting and lots of Donald chasing human women.   They aren’t awful but just for Disney they are weak entries.

Best Artistry- Fantasia

Alice in Wonderland is amazing but Fantasia is like a combination of the greatest art gallery in the world and symphony in one experience.  It blows me away.

Fantasia isn’t really entertainment . It’s goals are bigger than that.  It is trying to inspire creativity in hopes the viewer will not simply absorb art and music but give their own spin on it, their own interpretation. It inspires me every time I watch it and I think people who don’t like it just don’t like classical music.

Strangest Scene- Dumbo

Pink Elephants on Parade

It’s like every bad dream you’ve ever had jumbled into one crazy sequence.  It is also comes from Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk which is strange and has absolutely no purpose in the story.   I love it!

Strangest Character- Make Mine Music- Willie the Whale who sings Opera

Is that not one of the oddest images you've seen?
Is that not one of the oddest images you’ve seen?

willie2 willie the whale

Make Mine Music was full of strange moments but Willie the opera singing whale was the strangest.. He just looks so strange.  He looks like  a giant chalkboard eraser. And why did he have to die?The narrator actually tells the children watching  “Willie’s singing was a miracle and people aren’t used to miracles.  And you faithful friend don’t be too sad because somewhere in whatever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep Willie is still singing”  That’s such a strange message for kids.  ‘people don’t like miracles and so they kill them and send them to whale heaven.”

Scariest Scene- Pinnochio Pleasure Island.

As terrifying as The Headless Horseman is nothing will ever top little children being turned into donkeys to be sent to salt mines. And it is even scarier to know it is never resolved.  Pinocchio escapes but that’s it.  Nobody saves the kids or turns them back or anything.  It’s nuts!

Best Villain- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

crow

From Captain Hook, to the Devil, to Lady Tremaine all the early villains are good, but Maleficent is all of those villains put together in as she puts it ‘the mistress of evil’.  She’s over the top, funny, creepy, and gives the best fight of any villain in any Disney movie.  It actually feels like she might get away with everything when she enchains Prince Philip in her dungeon.  It isn’t until the 90s we get such a great Disney villain.

Best Song- When You Wish Upon a Star- Pinocchio

I could have also picked ‘A Dream is a Wish’ from Cinderella but it is very similar in message to When You Wish.  They are both great melodies and have words about hoping for goodness and happiness in life.

Worst Song- Say it with a Slap- Bongo from Fun and Fancy Free

Here’s a great message for kids- when you really love someone slap them as hard as you can… (Red Man song from Peter Pan is probably the worst but the melody is actually catchy, just the words super uncomfortable)

Best Original Score-  Bambi

Clearly Fantasia should be the winner but since it is using classical music, Bambi wins because it’s music actually becomes a character within the story.  It animates the forest with wind, rain, and other sound effects in the score.

 Saddest Moment- Dumbo- Baby Mine

Bambi’s mother dieing is very sad but we haven’t gotten to know her very well and it all happens quickly, not giving us much time to process it before we are moving on to love in the Spring.  Dumbo’s encaged Mother singing him a lullaby is a long scene, a beautiful song and a tender moment.  It’s sad but not in a bad way.  Dumbo is such a satisfying picture because it has moments of all different emotions- fear, anger, laughter, sadness etc.

Funniest Moment- Peter Pan- Hook and the Crocodile

I had forgotten how much slapstick is in Peter Pan and it is all done very well.  I laughed throughout the film.

Most Romantic Moment-  Lady and the Tramp- Spaghetti

I think spaghetti became romantic food because of this scene.  Great song, and about as romantic as dogs could be.  Such a lovely little movie.

Most Underrated- Melody Time

Melody Time is the strongest of the package films.  Make Mine Music is entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s good way’ but I genuinely liked Melody Time.  The Johnny Appleseed short is sweet with nice songs and Pecos Bill is fun, if a little bit too long.  It was tough for me to find but if you can hunt it down give it a watch.  It’s gentle and sweet and I liked it.

Most Overrated- Peter Pan

There is a lot to like in Peter Pan.  Don’t get me wrong.  I just wasn’t as enamored with it this go-around for some reason.  I don’t like the way Wendy is treated, especialy by the other female charcaters when she hasn’t done anything wrong.  The slapstick is funny but nothing too memorable.  The artistry and music aren’t great.  Love Tinker Bell and Hook but other characters are kind of bland.  It’s a lot of fun but not the masterpiece I remember it being.  Plus, we have the awkward Red Man song.

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Trippiest Movie- Alice in Wonderland

This movie is so trippy it doesn’t even worry about a plot.  It just introduces Alice and the viewer to character after character and I love it!

Conclusion

I enjoyed watching every single one of these movies.  And more importantly I learned a lot along the way.  Even a movie I didn’t love like Three Cabelleros was interesting because of it was requested by the US Government, and it was quite effective in winning the loyalty of the South American countries to our cause.  It makes the choices made in the movie interesting.  So, there is always things to like about any Disney.

Mostly I love the artistry.  I love movies but I think animation has a special ability to combine mediums and challenge the limitations of human actors in live action.  You can have a child turning into a donkey where in live action the scene would be very expensive.

I also feel inspired by Walt Disney to take some risks and try new things.  He was certainly willing to leverage years of hard work over risky propositions and I admire that.   Of the first 16 films what are your favorites and have my reviews made you curious to watch any of the movies?  I hope you do and let me know what you think!

Coming Up Next

Now on to 60’s and 70’s.  Both of these periods would be less productive for Disney.   In 60s Disney made and released 3 films:

1. 101 Dalmations

2. Sword in the Stone

3. Jungle Book

1970s

1. The Aristocats

2. Robin Hood

3. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

4. The Rescuers.

So that will be my upcoming reviews.  Thanks for reading!  I’m having a blast!

Movie 16: Sleeping Beauty

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Sometimes I feel bad for Walt Disney.  Nearly every time he took a risk post-Snow White it was a failure.  And yet he’d do a safe movie like Lady and the Tramp (as great as it is it is not risky artistically) it was a big hit.   Visual artistic achievements like Fantasia, Bambi, Alice and Wonderland all did poorly at first at the box office.

Unfortunately with Sleeping Beauty we have another artistic risk and another initial failure . So much so they would not make another fairy tale princess movie until 1989, 30 years later!

Production-

In researching Sleeping Beauty I learned it was actually in development for some time (like most of the Disney films of the 50s).  Always wanting to try something new, Walt Disney liked the idea  of turning Tchaikosky’s ballet into an animated feature film, but things couldn’t quite come together and it remained on the back burner.  Finally in 1950 work was officially begun and at first things went quickly.  They even had all the voice work recorded by the end of 1952, which surprised me . But it makes sense because Disneyland has Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and it was opened in 1955.  Sleeping Beauty wasn’t released till 1959 .

For Sleeping Beauty Walt went with a new approach creating a “living illustration from Medieval artwork”.  We start out the story with a grand book and then it zooms in on the pictures until those images start to move.  Backgrounds were also created in layers almost like a scene from a play where panels are pushed in and out.

In this introductory scene you can see these layers.  Every person crossing the bridge including the juggler in yellow are animated separately.

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This is the scene when everyone is put to sleep towards the end. It looks almost like paper dolls.
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The backdrops also look like illustrations from a book

Part of this look is probably due to Disney’s delegation of responsibilities.  Much like with Mary Blair in Alice in Wonderland, Disney gave most of the creative control and design to lead animator and background artist Eyvind Earl.  His elaborate backdrops would take 7-10 days to paint while a normal film could be done in 1 day.

The paper look is also interesting because it is the first time they used a xerox method to make cells.  It was eventually abandoned because the lines weren’t good enough, but I think you can still see a little of it’s after effects in the film.

A lot of critics at the time criticized its artistic approach but I kind of love it.  It’s different and beautiful- like diving into a the pages of a book.

The character of Maleficent was meant to be the personification of all evil- basically the devil.  Her name is from maleficentia, which means evil doing in Latin (I love  that Disney had a film with Maleficent as the villain and the next with Cruella, not the most creative names but both work! I mean are you going to have a good person named Cruela?). She also has horns like the devil and her eyes glow like an evil spirit.  There is nothing wounded or misunderstood about her.  In this movie she is all bad but in an entertaining way.

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The fairies were designed to be like Huey, Lewey and Dewey with 3 different colors separating them.  At first Walt wanted them to look the same but the other animators convinced him that would be boring.  Flora, voiced by the amazing Verna Felton, is the leader of the 3.  Fauna is soft-spoken and motherly and Merryweather is the spunky one.  For side characters they are actually pretty fleshed out- we see them cry, laugh, feud etc.

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Phillip was created to be the first dynamic human male character in a Disney film.  They had wanted to make the princes in Snow White and Cinderella bolder but Disney didn’t feel like the animators could animate males well enough at the time.

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One nice thing about Sleeping Beauty is we do see more of Philip than almost any other prince.  We see many sides to him- sweet, romantic, good dancer, but still courageous and strong.    For a long section Philip, the Fairies and Maleficent are the only people awake in the story- giving their characters a gravatas not found in many other Disney films.   I’m surprised boys didn’t respond more to Philip and Sleeping Beauty with it’s terrific action and minimal romantic dialogue?

The Story-

Most of you probably know the story.  It is the 14th century in a magical land.  A king and queen finally are able to have a daughter who they name Aurora.  She is to be blessed by the fairies at a large gathering.  It is almost like a giant birthday party for the whole kingdom.

Each of the fairies present their gifts to the princess.  Flora and Fauna are first and the gifts are shown in a bit of a surrealist touch (those Dali fans coming in again!).  I think it is a beautiful scene.

But before Maryweather can give her gift they have a visitor.  Someone who wasn’t invited to the party- Maleficent.  (word to the wise- if you have a sworn enemy don’t give them reason to be mad at you.  Invite her to the party!)  They ask her if she is offended at not getting asked…(This is a spectacular scene)

So to save Aurora the fairies come up with a plan to hide her away in a cottage in the woods.  They will use no magic so nobody will suspect.  The funny thing is if they know the curse is fulfilled at 16 why not send her away at 12 or 14?  Does she really need to be taken away from her parents as a baby?…I digress.

Next we see Maleficent with her goons and minions trying to find the child with no luck.

maleficentShe also always has her crow who seems to be a part of her magic.

crow

So quickly it zooms ahead to the 16th birthday.   The fairies are planning a party and we get a humorous scene of them trying to sew and bake without magic (although you do wonder since they haven’t been using magic how have they gotten by for 16 years never cooking or sewing?).  Nevertheless it is a very cute scene.

They send Aurora out, now known as Briar Rose, and we get to hear her sing.  The score is actually all from the ballet, and  the songs are minimal.   However, the singing they did get is beautiful.

There is then a comic scene with the forest creatures that is cute but to me feels a little too campy for the artistic style of the movie.  It just doesn’t fit in.

animalsNot knowing they are betrothed royalty, Aurora meets Prince Phillip and they dance together in really the only song in the picture aside from the hail song at the opening.  I love it.

Aurora and Phillip agree to meet later that night but when she returns home the fairies tell her she is being taken to the palace.  Aurora goes but with a heavy heart.

We then get an unnecessary scene between the two kings drinking and toasting their children who are to be married.   The Kings get a little tipsy along with the lute player.

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Next you see her getting ready in the castle and this scene with the color of her face and Maleficent’s eyes is one of Disney’s best.

I love when she says “Did you think you could defeat me: the mistress of evil?”.  One thing that worries me about the 2014 version is they are softening her up.  They have to in order to create a prequel,and most of the time that doesn’t work (think Star Wars prequels…).  Maleficent is basically the devil.  In fact, she is proud of her loathsomeness.  Later on with Prince Phillip she see’s it as her shining hour.

Not everything needs a softer side. Most of the time softer means bland.

So Aurora pricks her finger and is put to sleep.  This is a perhaps unavoidable problem with Sleeping Beauty is that most of the time the princess is asleep.  Snow White had some of this problem.

Sleeping-Beauty-disney-18543904-640-360However, you really feel for the fairies in this scene, so that makes up for some of Aurora’s blandness.  The fairies could have been such cliches but the writing is quite good and we really get to know them.

Flora decides to put the entire kingdom to sleep with Aurora but just before Phillip’s father mutters about a girl his son met in the woods.  Flora realizes it is the boy Aurora met earlier and they fear for Philips’s safety.

Unfortunately Maleficent has beaten them there and in a great scene traps the prince taking him away.

Phillip gets locked in the dungeon and he and Maleficent have a terrific scene together I wish I could find.

maleficent and phillip2Thinking she has gotten her revenge and the Prince is going to rot away in her dungeon she walks up to her lair and has a great line ‘I shall finally be able to sleep well for the first time in 16 years’.  I mean who can sleep when revenge and evil is on the docket?

The fairies help Philip and give him the sword of truth and shield of virtue.  (those names seem right out of King Arthur.  Really fit 14th century well)

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Now that is a great Disney hero!

Finding out she won’t be able to sleep we get this amazing scene- without a doubt one of Disney’s best.

It’s also actually Flora that really saves the day, which I kind of like.

I love that her body isn’t even there.  She’s like road kill on the ground.

dead maleficent1Then we get our happy ending and it is a wonderful story.  And for the record, I like her better in blue!

Movie Review-

Are there flaws in Sleeping Beauty?  Yes, the princess is bland.  The fairies schtick is laid on very thick.  The woodland animals don’t work for me.  The drinking scene with the kings is unnecessary.

But there is a lot more right.  I love the strong prince . I love Maleficent.  Watch On Bald Mountain in Fantasia and I think you will agree in personality and design Maleficent is basically the devil from that picture as a woman- even down to the minions.

A lot of people hate the style, but  I like it.  I think it is an interesting take on storytelling and beautiful in its own way.  I also like the Tchaikosky score.   It gives a lightness and flow to the piece that works.  Once Upon a Dream, while one of the only songs, is lovely and sung very well.

I like there is action and a great villain who really tests the characters, pushing them to their limit.  I also remember it was the first time I had ever heard a character say the word ‘hell’ in a movie.  It was pretty scandalous!

I honestly can’t imagine any kids not liking Sleeping Beauty.  It is without a doubt one of their best.

Overall Grade- A

My sister and I for Halloween.  She was Marywether and I was Aurora.
My sister and I for Halloween. She was Marywether and I was Aurora.

Movie 15: Lady and the Tramp

Lady-and-tramp-1955-posterNext we may be talking about the cutest Disney movie they have ever produced, 1955’s Lady and the Tramp.   While I prefer Disney’s more ambitious, riskier endeavors I have a place in my heart for the sweet and sentimental pictures too.

I mean I am not a dog person but your first glimpse of Lady is pretty adorable:

baby ladyProduction-

In the 1940s and 50s dog pictures were very popular for families.  Film series like the 3 Lassie movies (and TV show starts in 1954), and a series called Kirby Grant Chinook the Wonder Dog were very successful.

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It also should be obvious to anyone who has been to Disneyland that Walt Disney had a fondness for turn of the century wholesome small town Americana.  Lady and the Tramp was released a month before Disneyland opened and we can see it’s influence in the film and perhaps the films influence on Disneyland.

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Joe Grant, a Disney animator, had an English Springer Spaniel and he was telling Walt about how the dog had been shoved aside a little bit when they had their first baby.  He then worked on sketches of this idea for nearly 20 years from the 30s through the 40s, but Walt Disney didn’t like any of the projects presented to him because there wasn’t enough action, enough for the characters to do.

Then Walt heard of a book called Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog by Ward Green.  The only dog in the book is the Tramp, but Walt liked it and combined it with Joe’s idea and began work in earnest on Lady and the Tramp.

The artistry in Lady and the Tramp isn’t abstract or different but it is beautiful in it’s own way.  It looks like a Norman Rockwell cover for the Saturday Evening Post.

jim dear and darling

The fir also looks great on all of the dogs and they all look adorable while still looking like their obvious breeds. I say that knowing very little about dogs.

Lady-and-the-Tramp-2The voicework is excellent.  I particularly like Jock and Trusty.  Jock is a scottish terrier voiced by Bill Thompson in a full Scottish accent and Trusty is a bloodhound voiced by Bill Baucon

Lady and the Tramp is the first movie to be released by Disney in Cinemascope and it was a huge hit for them.

The soundtrack was also one of Disney’s most successful with songs written by Peggy Lee.  She  sings in He’s a Tramp, La,La,La and Siamese cats .  There is a jazzy feel to the whole soundtrack that I love.

The Story

The story begins with Lady being given as a gift from the male owner (Jim Dear) to his wife (Darling) as a Christmas gift.  The beginning zoom in on the window with the Christmas tree is right out of Currier and Ives scene.

Lady is petted and pampered until a baby comes into the picture and she is warned by a mongrel called The Tramp that this will lead to no good. She ignores it but starts to get nervous when she see’s some changes.

Then one Sunday the Darlings decide to go away and Aunt Sarah comes to take care of the baby.  She is voiced once again by the amazing Verna Felton; although, this is a smaller role for her.

aunt sarah

Aunt Sarah is well meaning but she does not care for Lady and brings 2 rather disagreeable cats.

siameseI don’t know what cats ever did to Disney but he seemed to have it out for them!  I guess Figero in Pinocchio was a nice cat.  Still not many!

The strange thing about the Siamese cats is they come in, sing their creepy song, and then you hardly see them again in the movie.  The end of the movie the rat is the villain not the cats which seems strange.  Why not use a villain if you’ve already got them set up with a song.

I also think it is the first time a villain actually sings a villain song.  Something that would become a Disney staple later on.

Like almost anything Hollywood did in the 50s with Asian characters the song does fall prey to stereotypes and is a kind of creepy but not always in a good way.

It doesn’t bother me the way the Red Man song in Peter Pan did because it is brief and the characters are standard villain.  It doesn’t try to explain the Siamese race like Red Man does.

If it bothers or offends you I totally understand but it is easy to skip over.

However, I do like the cats slithering, slimy nature.  I’d be nervous if they were around me slinking around (although doesn’t take much for me to be uncomfortable around strange animals).  That’s why it is such a surprise they aren’t seen again in the movie.

So Lady protects the baby from the cats and Aunt Sarah takes her to the pet store to have a muzzle put on.

Curious_Lady_MuzzleI mean the inhumanity!!

She runs away and meets Tramp.  He helps her remove the muzzle and they end up eating some Italian food in one of the most famous scenes in all of Disney:

However, after their romantic night (feel funny saying that about dogs!) Tramp looses Lady and she ends up going to the pound.  Terrified she meets an assortment of characters that are a lot of fun.

But it starts out very sad and if this doesn’t pull at your heart strings you may want to examine yourself… 😉

She also meets Trixie who tells Lady all about The Tramp:

Now that is a great song!  Peggy Lee is wonderful and what a neat way to introduce kids to the whole idea of jazz music.

Learning about all of this Lady breaks up with Tramp when she see’s him and Aunt Sarah chains her to the doghouse.  There’s a cute scene where Jock and Trusty propose to Lady to keep her safe.

That night Lady see’s the rat going into the baby’s room.  Sarah tells her to stop barking but The Tramp hears her and goes after the rat, upsetting the room while he does it.

When Sarah see’s it she sends The Tramp to the pound but Trusty and Jock race after the cart, saving the day.   Luckily Sarah see’s the rat and Jim Dear and Darling come home and everything is made right in time for another Christmas. (This is definitely the most holiday themed Disney movie)

Movie Review-

Lady and the Tramp is kind of a like a popsicle in the summer.  It’s sweet and sticky but you love it anyway.  Everything about it is so well done.  The backgrounds are picturesque and pretty, voice work is great, dogs are super cute, jazz soundtrack is fun, and there is that great spaghetti scene.

It’s not the Disney which is going to challenge you or frighten younger kids.  It’s just a sweet simple story told with a lovely color pallet and a lot of charming dog characters.

I do think 101 Dalmatians is a little bit better because of Cruella but it is also a lot scarier for very young kids.  This is the Disney movie you can watch with kids under 5 and I’m not sure you can say that with any of the others.

So yes I know it isn’t perfect but I like it.

Overall Grade B+

 

 

Movie 14: Peter Pan

Now we have come to arguably one of the most iconic Disney movies ever made, Peter Pan.  Aside from other studios brands like the lamp in the Pixar logo no other movie has created a female character that has become more powerful in Disney branding than Tinker Bell in Peter Pan.  You could argue she is the most iconic character in all of Disney next to Mickey.

tinkerbell logo
Tinker Bell is often featured in the Disney logo and her pixie is always surrounding the castle. This DVD logo showed her the most prominently.

It’s kind of surprising when you think about it that in 1953 a character dressed like Tinker Bell could become so iconic with Disney.  And no she is not modeled after Marilyn Monroe as some rumors have suggested.

But does the movie Peter Pan live up to the legacy of the Tinker Bell creation?  This is a tricky question.  I had a tough time researching for this review.  My normal sites and resources for getting production notes and details didn’t have much and I couldn’t even find that many clips and photos to show you.

That said, I have some ideas of my own on what they were trying to do with Peter Pan.  Call it conjecture or an educated guess but I suppose that is all right in a blog.  Feel free to comment below if you agree or disagree.

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JUMBLED UP THOUGHTS ON PAN

Let’s start with the story.  Peter Pan is based on the play by JM Barrie and like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella it was another story which was near and dear to Walt.  He hoped to do it earlier but he had trouble getting the rights.  Finally with the war years behind them Walt started doing features again and the success of Cinderella allowed him to make Alice and Peter Pan.

Peter Pan is of course about the Darling children Wendy, Michael and John who tell each other stories about Peter Pan- the boy who never grew up.  One evening they meet Peter and he takes them to Neverland where they meet the villainous pirate Captain Hook, as well as Lost Boys, mermaids, and an Indian tribe.

The original play is much darker than the Disney version, which is a pretty big departure for the studio.  It’s actually kind of surprising given their track record of embracing darker themes and scenes (think Pinocchio).  For example, in the play Tinker Bell is just a fragment of light but she decides to drink the poison intended for Peter Pan and dies.  It is pretty sad and something I think previous Disney films would have included.  For some reason, they not only took out the darkness but went in the polar opposite direction making the film very light and comedic in tone with long sections of slapstick.

My guess is the action adventure TV and radio shows in the early 50s were especially popular with young boys. Shows like The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Adventures of Superman were big hits.  Disney had also made the live action Treasure Island film in 1950.  All of these shows and movies had a combination of action and humor and their influence can be seen clearly  in Peter Pan.

sword fightingWe can also see the attempt to appeal to boys in the way Wendy is treated.  She is nothing but sweet and kind throughout and yet she is told she talks too much, shot at, almost drowned and walks the plank.  I had never noticed that before this watching…

mermaidsLike I said earlier, I was surprised this go-around how much slapstick is in the movie.  Most of it involves Captain Hook, who is a genius of a character.  Disney takes what was a menacing but foppish character in the play and makes him a conniving, smart captain who is prone to pratfalls and scrapes.

This scene is one of the best comedic scenes in all of Disney.   I certainly don’t think we see such a comedic villain again in Disney until Robin Hood’s Prince John.

It’s very funny!  The vocal performance by Hans Conried on Captain Hook is also one of the best in the history of animation.

Another great scene with the captain:

The music is interesting in Peter Pan.  It is playing in nearly every scene kind of like Bambi. While there are several good songs, it all feels more commercial and less substantial than previous films.  My  favorites are Second Star to the Right and You Can Fly.

There are also several good songs by the pirates and they are sprightly and fun.

I think these pirate shanty’s might be the first villain songs in Disney although they are more sung to Captain Hook and not by him.

A few of the other songs like Your Mother sung by Wendy are more bland throwaways.

Then we have the indians or injuns as this movie likes to call them.  Much like the crows in Dumbo, many modern viewers feel the scenes are racist.  But where I defended Dumbo because the crows were friendly and singing about elephants, it is hard to defend the scenes in Peter Pan.

red man2First of all, the scenes with the Indians are longer than the crows and they are much more culturally insensitive.  The song ‘What Made the Red Man Red’ while a catchy melody is pretty bad.  There is a line in the song that says:

Why does he ask ho?

Once the injun didn’t know

All the things that he know now

But the injun, he sure learn a lot

And that’s from asking ‘How’?

I squirm a little just typing it.  It’s one more reason why I think Disney was trying to play into the Lone Ranger and other Western shootem ups audience that were popular.  Such a stereotypical depiction of Native Americans was typically found on such shows of the 50s.

The other thing that is a bit of a disappointment in Peter Pan is it’s not that pretty.  Even the package films had moments that felt like art.  I don’t know if it is just the slapstick but there aren’t many moments in Peter Pan where I sit back and say ‘wow, that is beautiful’.  This is surprising because Peter Pan had the entire Gang of 9 and Mary Blair who made such a huge influence artistically in Alice in Wonderland.

The flying scenes and the scenes at the end with the ship are lovely but really that is it as far as artistry.

shipNow I don’t want to seem like I am being too hard on Peter Pan.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating a comedy for kids.  And the slapstick scenes are done very well.   This scene at the end where Hook gets his comeuppance is extremely funny.

In a lot of ways I compare Peter Pan with Aladdin, with the latter having the definite edge.  But both movies were made to appeal to boys more than girls.  Both had huge secondary characters and bland main characters and  both had male villains.  Nothing wrong with that.

In a way it is interesting Tinker Bell came out of Peter Pan as the star.  She’s kind of a bitter fairy throughout the whole movie and for not really a good reason.  She is angry from the start that Peter is almost kissed by Wendy and tries to have her killed, betrays her location to Hook and all the rest. (all the women in Peter Pan are pretty vindictive and jealous over Peter which is strange considering he’s just a boy).

tink madPart of her success probably also has to do with Walt’s attachment to Tinker Bell.  She was often featured on his TV show.  Here he is with her in 1966 (his last appearance on TV).

I suppose Tinker Bell encapsulated the magic that Walt Disney loved.  The pixie dust could make dreams come true!

Conclusion

For me Peter Pan is a mixed bag.  2 great characters, fun action, a few good songs,  and some very funny comedic bits.  That is certainly enough to give it a hearty recommendation to adults and children alike.  However, it is not enough for it to be a top-tiered Disney film in my book.  It’s good but it doesn’t blow me away with artistry, music, story or message.  Plus, there is  the ‘red man’ scenes which can leave a bad taste in my mouth.

So for me…

Overall Grade- C+

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

He sums up how wrong Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is very well.

My Live Action Disney Project

Alice-in-Wonderland

(If this is yourfirsttimeon this blog, I ask you to read my “About” page first! You can find a link to it at the top left-hand corner of this blog. Thanks!)

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” opened up a wonderful fantasy land to us, one that was driven by nonsense, rather than logic.

And people around the world fell in love with this wondrous, illogical Wonderland. The appeal of this fictional place as well as that of its characters naturally inspired filmmakers to adapt Lewis Carroll’s books to film numerous times over the years. Walt Disney was one of these filmmakers, hence he created the animated classic, “Alice in Wonderland”, as well as an animated/live-action “Alice Comedies” series 20 years earlier!

Due to the popularity of both those projects, it was inevitable that the Disney Studios would create yet ANOTHER film…

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Movie 13: Alice in Wonderland

alice in wonderland

Are you ready for some nonsense?  Well, if the answer is yes Alice in Wonderland is the movie for you! I wasn’t a very fanciful or magical kid so Alice in Wonderland didn’t appeal to me.  It was too different, too out there, too much nonsense!

But not too long ago it was available on netflix (it isn’t any more) and I decided to watch it and was blown away. So, this review is written less for die hard fans and more for those people like me who may have dismissed it, to give it another chance.

Production-

Let’s first talk a little bit about how this got made.  Like Cinderella, Walt had worked with Alice in Wonderland several times in his career before Snow White.   He had always loved the Lewis Carroll stories and even considered using them as his first film instead of Snow White, but the project kept getting shelved.  With the success of Cinderella, he could push forward a more risky Alice in Wonderland project.

That is one thing I admire most about Disney.  Throughout their company’s history they have a track record of taking risks.  Whether it is Pinocchio after Snow White or Alice in Wonderland after Cinderella they rarely follow a big hit with more of the same (this year they are following Frozen with Big Hero which looks very different).  I admire that.  Sometimes Disney is treated like the Walmart of movies when  that label applies more to their merchandise than the films.

So, the popular Alice literary editions at the time had drawings by Sir John Tenniel but these were more like lithographs or engravings, no color, no surrealist touches.  As I’ve mentioned in several reviews, there was a definite surrealist camp in the Disney studios and at this time it was led by an amazing artist named Mary Blair (with a touch of cubism and modernist touches thrown in).  She wanted to bring a bright, geometric feel to the films and applied it cleverly in Alice and Peter Pan (and in a number of Disneyland attractions including Small World).

Mary Blair’s concept art is AMAZING! I wish I was in the bay area because at the Walt Disney Family Museum they have an exhibit on Mary Blair art right now.

CONCEPT ART

As you watch the movie with this in mind you will notice the geometric shapes throughout and the bright bold colors.  It’s really quite lovely.

queen of hearts
This image of the queen you can see many geometric lines, triangles, hearts, circles and shapes with bold colors that pop out on the dark background.

This is what makes me so mad about the recent Tim Burton version.  It turns this bright colorful world into a murky, dark, dirty looking place.  And then they make the huge mistake of trying to explain everything.  There is so much exposition and it completely ruins it.  It’s supposed to be nonsense! More on that later…

The script was also changed to focus more on silliness in the story; although, the madness does show as anger from time to time.   This can be no surprise when you think about Walt Disney and his obvious love of whimsy.

The film also strayed from the Disney success of Cinderella in not having a lot of singable songs.  In a way the music kind of reminds me of a Sondheim musical- like Into the Woods with lots of little melodies crammed together.  Alice does have more songs than any other Disney film on its official soundtrack, but most are short, sometimes under 30 seconds.  There are no real ballads or grand sweeping scores.  It did embrace a jazzy feel in some pieces and the opening melody was even a big hit for jazz pianist Dave Brubeck.

When it was released critics in general did not like it.  They felt it was slow, uneven, had too many songs and didn’t adhere to the Tenniel/Carroll book edition.

I love this quote from the New York Times movie review in 1951:

“But if you are not too particular about the images of Carroll and Tenniel, if you are high on Disney whimsy and if you’ll take a somewhat slow, uneven pace, you should find this picture entertaining. Especially should it be for the kids, who are not so demanding of fidelity as are their moms and dads. A few of the episodes are dandy, such as the mad tea party and the caucus race; the music is tuneful and sugary and the color is excellent. Watching this picture is something like nibbling those wafers that Alice eats.”

I think I could stop this review right now because that basically sums it up!

The interesting thing I learned in my research is Alice was a failure until the 60s when Yellow Submarine became a big hit among college crowds.  As ‘trippy’ animation like Submarine, Alice became a popular feature to run in college towns. Finally Disney re-released it in 1974, and they promoted it as the “film in tune with the psychedelic times”.

One commentor I saw said that Walt Disney had apologized for the movie but I couldn’t find any proof of that.  If so, that makes me sad. No one should apologize for their art.

The-Caterpillar-alice-in-wonderland-25961681-800-400

The film also gained life by being a central part of Disneyland with the attraction and of course the tea cups.

Movie Review-

Ok.  Let’s actually talk about the movie.  How does it hold up?

I think very well but enjoying this movie entirely depends on two things:

1.  Like the critic from the NY Times said ‘if you are high on whimsy…you will find this film entertaining”.   Perhaps it is strange I am higher on whimsy as an adult than as a child. Anyone else relate to that?  It is wacky.  It is out there.  It is is NONSENSE!

2. You must be able to accept a non-linear type of storytelling.  A linear story  gives you a clear beginning, middle, end with building events, climax, declining events and conclusion.  That is not this movie.  This is more like being in a fun house.  There really isn’t a story or concrete plot in this movie; However, we don’t know what is coming next for Alice so it is fun.  It’s kind of like if you went to a party and met a bunch of crazy people and then were telling a friend about it when you got home.  It’s not really a story per say- just a recap of the people you met.

WHO WE MEET ALONG THE WAY

1. Alice meets the doorknob- a fun sequence where she firsts partakes in the magic and learns her emotions could get her into trouble.  Although the crying doesn’t quite fit in with her character  in the rest of the movie it works for the scene.

2. Alice meets Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum- this is the weakest section of the movie.  The twins tell her a story about the Walrus and the Oyster.  I don’t know if Walt felt they had to add a linear story within all this madness but it doesn’t work for me. I find it a boring story and want the excitement to get going.  Also, Alice learns in almost every meeting  that nonsense carries with it a certain degree of anger.  It is not always the lovefest she was expecting.

Tweedledee-Tweedledum-alice-in-wonderland-25961669-800-400

3. Alice meets the white rabbit and gets stuck in his house

alice in rabbits house

4. Alice meets talking Flowers who sing a great song to her but then think she is a weed.

flowers

5. Alice meets a Hookah Smoking Caterpillar. He is a nonsense philosopher asking ‘who are you?’ and ‘Why do you want to know?’ but not taking a second to listen to anyone’s answers.

caterpillar

6. Alice meets the Cheshire cat next (2 meetings for him).  He is full of misdirection and temptation-at least that is my take.  Sort of like the serpent in Adam and Eve story.  Sterling Holloway is amazing as the cat.

DisneyCheshireCat

7. Alice meets the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Doormouse at a tea party.   These are fun, silly nonsense and one of the most charming parts of the story, but Alice finds it equally frustrating as the cat

8. Alice meets the Playing Cards. They are more panic nonsense.  They are doing something ridiculous not because they want to but because they feel they have to

9.  Alice meets the Queen of Hearts.  She is tyrannical nonsense.  The playing cards are painting the roses red to make the Queen happy but still she wants to behead them.  She wants to behead Alice for beating her in croquet. Verna Felton in another amazing performance for Disney.  Hard to believe it is the same person who voiced the Fairy Godmother

queen of hearts2

And then we get all the characters together for a finale scene and then that’s it.

Conclusion

Aside from the Walrus segment I think it is an amazing artistic achievement by Disney.  It’s just asking the viewer ‘how can we dazzle you?’.  There is no need for prophecies or battles or gruesome scenes with floating heads…(I’m talking to you Tim Burton! I really hate that movie).

Perhaps it is simply after seeing so many movies as an adult it is so refreshing to see something truly unique.  Most movies, including the Tim Burton version, look exactly like a million other movies.  You can’t say that about Alice in Wonderland.  It is a one of a kind.  I like seeing what craziness is going to come around the corner and I don’t need a traditional story, or sweeping music with tender ballads.

I like to just have a series of zany introductions, beautiful visuals,  and occasionally thoughtful comments like this scene:

Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as…
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.

That’s enough for me!

Overall Grade- A for the right kind of viewer. Would get A+ but I don’t like the Walrus story.  It’s boring.

Alice-march-hare-mad-hatter

Another movie that is similar to Alice in Wonderland is Across the Universe but it is so vulgar I was turned off.  Alice is bright, colorful without being garish.

 

Movie 12: Cinderella

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We made it through the package films!  Now we are ready to start the glorious era of 1950’s Disney.  Aside from the 1990s that brought us 9 Disney animated films the 50’s gave us 5 and they are all good:

1. Cinderella (1950)

2. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

3. Peter Pan (1953)

4. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

5. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Glorious!  And it all started with Cinderella.  In fact, we should all be grateful for Cinderella because without its success we may have not seen any more Disney films because at the time of it’s release Disney was 4 million dollars in debt.  Cinderella cost 3 million so if it had flopped they would probably have gone bankrupt.

While the package films had kept them in the game, they had not had a serious hit since Snow White in 1937 (or perhaps Dumbo) but it had been a while.  It had also been over a decade since they had been allowed in the European market and their overly ambitious films of the early 40s had not made money.

So naturally they went back to their money-maker, classic fairy tale princess stories, and it served them quite well.

Cinderella is the centuries old fairy tale about the girl in ashes who through good fortunes becomes a princess. It has been told in nearly every culture going all the way back to the middle ages.  Some tellings are ghastly and morbid.  Others are fanciful and fun.  For whatever the reason the story has remained consistently popular in nearly every era of the written word.  It’s really quite remarkable when you think about it.

I already reviewed the Disney Cinderella and 3 other versions on my youtube channel.

To watch all of the reviews go to http://youtu.be/XQGdwKoeqfc?list=PL7wz447AgL4yacznPUN2r_A6WdEXPtuxj

Just the Disney review is here

In that review I defend Cinderella from the feminists who feel she is only a pretty face. I talk about the hard work and good friend she is.

No one works harder than Cinderella
No one works harder than Cinderella

So this time I want to talk about other things that I noticed more this time around.

Disney had long wanted to do a version of Cinderella.  In fact,in 1922 he made a short about a cat Cinderella but the story is basically the same.

I think Disney’s affection for the story going back to his early days shows in the movie.  Even the villains are fully fleshed out characters with decent amount of screen time.  It feels like well thought out and lovingly crafted movie.

One thing I noticed in this go-around is aside from the intro it takes 22 minutes before we see or hear from Lady Tremaine and the girls.  These early minutes are all spent in helping us to get to know Cinderella.

We see her wake up from dreaming, sing about her dream (with one of the best princess singing voices by Ilene Woods), rescue Gus from the trap, and then get breakfast ready.

cinderella_I_a

This is much better than the introduction of Snow White who we mainly know is beautiful, wishes on a well and meets the Prince and is banished. You haven’t gotten to see her work or interact with friends like we see Cinderella.

Her opening song is one of my favorite in all of Disney.

I also love the Sing Sweet Nightangale sequence.  The animation in the bubbles is beautiful.

This human side is key in helping us feel bonded to Cinderella.  She’s a good person.  She deserves to be happy.  Unlike say Ariel who is pretty young and selfish, Cinderella only thinks of herself in dreams, which makes you want her to achieve them even more.

A lot of people hate the mice in Cinderella  because of their high pitched voices.  I suppose I wouldn’t want to buy albums of their singing but for the part of itty bitty mice I think it kind of works.

Here’s an interesting video where they have changed the mice voices to what their natural register would be like.  I don’t mind it but I kind of think the mice are cuter in the original.  What do you think?

The mice are such sweet friends to Cinderella.  (It is kind of funny that the mice and birds have clothing but not the cat or dog.  Don’t any of the other characters think it is funny all these dressed critters around the house?..).  When they make Cinderella her dress it is such a happy, loving gesture.

working on dress

With such love and excitement put into it,   it really is quite a devastating moment when it gets destroyed.  It is perhaps the lowest a character gets in any Disney film and we have spent so much time with her it affects us as audience members.

devastating moment

But of course she is rescued and by a woman no less (funny how the feminists never mention that).  The Prince doesn’t rescue Cinderella.  She rescues herself because as the Fairy Godmother says ‘if you lost all your faith than I wouldn’t be here and yet here I am”.

cinderella-fairy-godmother

The Fairy Godmother is voiced by frequent Disney contributor Verna Felton, and I think it is one of the great vocal performances in Disney history.  It is warm, funny, sweet and of course magical!

And a great song!

The songs are all great written by a group called the Tin Pan Alley and attributed to Mark David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman who all won Oscars.

Bibbidy-bobbity-boo won Oscar for best song.  I feel like songs like that never win any more?  It’s always to the tender ballad?  I guess there was that Eminem song a while back so maybe not.  Bibbidy was so popular it had 4 top 5 cover versions by Perry Como, another by the Fontane Sisters and others.

king and duke

While we are learning about Cinderella we also get to know the King and Arch Duke in some very funny scenes.  And while the Prince never speaks more than a few words we actually learn a lot about him through these scenes.

We learn the Prince wants to marry for love and has been reticent to pick any of his father’s choices.  We learn he is bored by most of the women he meets and his father thinks he has his head in the clouds (like Cinderella).  We also learn his father desperately wants Grandchildren!  (Enough to destroy his house ranting about it!)

At one point the king is told the Prince has promised whomever fits the shoe he will marry.  The King says he will punish (maybe even kill) the Arch Duke if someone, any woman, isn’t found to fit the shoe, even if it is not the woman the Prince is in love with.  ‘He’s given his word and we’ll hold him too it!’.  Now that’s a man who wants to be a Grandpa!

So of course Cinderella is off to the castle and dances with the Prince in admittedly the weakest song and sequence of the film. But Disney at this point had used the ‘instant love’ trope so many times in shorts and features it is certainly no surprise to see them use it again.  In fairness, at least in this story there is a limited time period where they could fall in love so at least it makes sense. I mean at midnight she is back to rags and the chance is over.

Cinderella dancing with the prince

Next we get the search for the owner of the slipper.  The Arch Duke comes and Lady Tremaine shows her most evil side locking Cinderella in the attic.

Lady Tremaine is one of the best Disney villains of all time.  Her whole life seems to be devoted to helping her daughters and to lording her power over Cinderella.  I don’t know of many horror movie villains that get quite the glee out of ruining a single person’s life. In the world of Disney she is without a doubt one of the greats.  I kind of wish she had a good villain song but it works.

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The wicked stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella,  are practically as evil as their mother and I remember seeing them as a child and asking my Mother why their dresses looked so strange?  To think those huge bustles were a fashionable look (in Pecos Bill a bustle gets turned into a trampoline!)

step sisters anastasia and drizella

Lucifer is another great character that actually takes up a lot more of the movie than I remember.  What a horrible cat!

lucifer

I’m reminded of the quote from Babe:

“There are many perfectly nice cats in the world, but every barrel has its bad apples, and it is well to heed the old adage, “Beware the bad cat bearing a grudge.”

Aside from shorts it had been since Pinocchio that Disney had animated human characters and there is a fluidity to their movement which is pleasant to watch.    This is perhaps because 90% of the human interactions were actually filmed in live action and then copied by the animators.  It was basically the motion capture of it’s day!

The backdrops are also back to form with Cinderella.  We get some beautiful works of art for the characters to act around.

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The final segment of the film when Cinderella is locked in the attic are really quite desperate.  Gus and Jaq must get the key all the way up the daunting flight of stairs!

This isn't that exact scene but the attic stairs are very well designed.
This isn’t that exact scene but the attic stairs are very well designed.
Cinderella-Clutch_JG_stairs3
I found Gus and Jaq even more loveable and endearing this go-around

Of course we all know the end of the story.  Cinderella and the Prince get married and she is rescued from her hard life.

cinderella2 cinderella1

Movie Review-

I certainly hope we have not become so cynical as a society that we can longer tolerate the joy of a happy ending to a fairy tale.  It is not like Cinderella gets by easily.  In fact, aside from the Fairy Godmother, her life has been incredibly difficult.  If anyone deserves a happy ending it is her.

Well, I’m not cynical.  I believe in happy endings for all of us.  If we are like Cinderella and are a good friend and work hard than we will all find happiness in life.  We may not find great love and be a princess but we can all get our happy endings.  That’s why Cinderella’s story has endured for so long.

I also believe in rescuers.  The Fairy Godmother rescues Cinderella at her lowest moment.  I know in my life I have had similar moments of rescue when a good friend has insisted I take their love and be helped out of a miserable situation.  No magic per say but the results were equally profound.

Regardless, Cinderella has great music, lovely animation, a terrific villain (several actually), and a heroine that displays many laudable traits for our children to emulate.  It absolutely deserves to be one Disney’s classics and I love it.

Overall Grade- A+

Also, Cinderella is one of the few movies that Disney actually produced pretty good sequels to in their sequel phase of the 90s.  Particularly Cinderella 3 where Lady Tremaine goes back in time to try and undo all the good that happens to Cinderella.

Movie 11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad

We’ve made it my friends.  The end of the package films!!

And I’m glad to say this last one is the best, and it continues Disney’s great tradition of taking risks and doing things that are unexpected.  Next we have:

Ichabod_and_Mr_Toad

 

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad was released in 1949 and did well at the box office but became a fixture of the 1980’s and 90’s airing on Disney channel around Halloween.   Both of the stories of Ichabod Crane and Toad are pretty dark for Disney but then again Disney has often been pretty dark.  The devil in Fantasia.  Pleasure Island in Pinocchio.  The haunted forest in Snow White.

One of my favorite critics on youtube, the Nostalgia Critic, has a great series Disneycember which is worth checking out and he has this video on why we so often scare children in movies.  It has some foul language but his points are solid.

Return to Oz was too much for me but the other scenes and movies he mentions I remember being scared by and Ichabod and Mr Toad was one of the first to have that effect, especially in Ichabod’s story.

We start off in a library where we hear the first of our narrators, Basil Rathborne.  He is going to take us into the trevails of Mr Toad.  He says he is one of the greatest characters of British literature.  As good as ‘Robin Hood, King Arthur, Oliver Twist- all subjects of later Disney movies!

Wind in the Willows

We start off with the story of Mr Toad.  We meet his friends- badger, rat and mole who are trying to help Toad with his finances.

friends

I’m sure it’s no accident that rat and mole look a lot like Sherlock Holmes and Watson which of course narrator Rathborne played for many years.

Toad has these obsessions or manias.  Usually things that go fast and as soon as he see’s a motorcar he must have one.

crazy eyes

Despite his friends locking him up in his room he makes a deal with some weasels to sell the car but ends up getting framed for stealing said car.  He goes to court in a pretty intense and scary scene

judge

He is framed by the weasels and their friend and goes to jail and loses Toad Hall.  His friends are devastated but they do not give up hope to find a way to free their friend.

Jailbreaks, chases and even a little bit of Christmas time come into play and it is all very exciting and well done.  It never loses the slightly odd dark, eccentric style that makes a Disney movie stand out.

vindication

 

Eventually Toad is vindicated and all is well…until the next obsession!

mrtoad_airplane

I kind of like that things aren’t made perfect in the end.  That’s good for kids to see not all problems are tied up in a bow at the end and not everyone we love will behave the way we want them too.  Sometimes you can’t help but be a little nuts!

Also a side note all of the characters of Wind and the Willows will appear in the short Mickey’s Christmas Carol in the Fuzziwig scenes and the merchants asking for donations.

It is also worth nothing Wind and the Willows did create one of the best Disneyland rides.  In that ride Toad not only goes to jail but to Hell as well!

Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Icabod Crane)

The next segment is one of the first ghost stories I think I ever heard.  It is narrated by Bing Crosby (who I just love!) and the characters actually don’t have much dialogue but the emotions are shown through narration and exaggerated gestures.

ichabodThere is Ichabod Crane, the gangly school teacher.  Katrina the pretty daughter of the richest man in town and Brom Bones the town bully.  Brom would be eclipsed years later by Gaston but I can’t help but wonder if at least his character design was influential in Gaston’s design.

braum

In the world of Disney villains Brom really isn’t that bad.  He just wants to win the heart of Katrina just like Ichabod but he is by no means a real villain.  That comes with the Headless Horseman!

It is interesting that Ichabod’s motives aren’t exactly pure with Katrina.  He fantasizes about what he will do with all her money.  In fact, he really doesn’t think about her and how beautiful she is much.  There is not the instant love we see in nearly every early Disney fairy tale (but then again neither of these stories are actually fairy tales).

money

Brom is feeling jealous of all the attention Ichabod is getting from Katrina so knowing Ichabod is superstitious he starts telling the tale of the Headless Horseman.  On his way home from the dance Ichabod sees:

headless2 headless

 

Now that is pretty scary!!!  Certainly scary enough for Ichabod who runs far away, marries some other rich person and Brom gets the girl.  Kind of an odd ending but I like it!

What about you?  Did you think either of these stories were good as a kid?  Did you like ghost stories and to be scared?

The animation in both are smooth and the music is a lot of fun especially the Bing Crosby numbers.  It is a fitting way to end out the package films with a bang!

So which of the 6- Saludos Amigos, Three Cabelleros, Make Mine Music, Fun Fancy Free, Melody Time and Ichabod and Mr Toad, sound the most interesting to you?  Have my reviews made you curious to watch any of them?  I must admit I am ready to go back to fairy tales and full length movies but it’s been fun to learn about a whole era of Disney animation and artistry.  Thanks for reading!

And on to one of my favorites Cinderella!

Overall Grade- A