Sunday, December 25, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 51 - Cinderella

This week the DFPP team sets out to help their friend Betsy solve The Case of the Missing Glass Slipper by first reviewing the crime scene footage of her latest encounter with the Wicked Tremaine Gang in the 1950 animated classic Cinderella.

Listen, download, etc.

Show Notes:

Enjoy the show!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tennis Racquet

Here’s the way to get me to check out a Goofy short – feature some sort of sporting event.  Since the beginning of the Goofy formula of having a narrator discussing the proper way to execute some athletic endeavor while the Goof does it poorly, I have enjoyed every single one.  Some work better than others, but every one of them has great entertainment value.

Tennis Racquet gets to one of the few sports Goofy has not yet touched – tennis.  And as usual, it’s not with a reverent tone.  Instead, every convention about tennis is made fun of in this short.  It starts with the attendees, who are all packed into the middle of the stadium.  That’s the ones who actually go to the tennis match, and not to the nearby flower show instead.  That’s just the start of the jokes at the expense of the game of tennis.

One twist to the formula this time around is that instead of an omniscient narrator that is offscreen, the short features a broadcaster in a booth calling the action.  It’s that broadcaster that provides the narration, often inaccurately.  This little twist makes things interesting, because the commentator has to often lean over to the spectator in front of him to make sure he is making the right call.  That’s a great addition to this series.

It’s needed, because I may be jaded, but the sports action in Tennis Racquet is not as interesting as some of the other shorts.  The two Goofys competing against each other in the tennis match have some fun gags, but I think that some of these are less compelling because we’ve seen Goofy tossed around so many times before.  My favorite, though, is the groundskeeper, who continues to mow the lawn, pick the weeds and tend to the grass on the court despite the play of the competitors. 

Despite what drawback there might be to this one, it is just fantastic to have Goofy back in circulation with a sports short.  I think this is how the Goof works best.  It is another step along the way towards the evolution of Goofy from the bumbling guy we saw in his early cartoons to the “everyman” of the later shorts.  Soon enough, we’ll see Goofy become a father, a suburban man and several other roles.  The design and mannerisms of that future Goofy are present here as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 50 - Meet the Robinsons

For their 50th Episode the DFPP team and friend Shelley decide to keep moving forward by getting their hands on a time machine and following two kids and a old guy with a robot for a hat through time in the 2007 animated adventure Meet the Robinsons.

Show Notes:

Enjoy the show!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Honey Harvester

Has anyone else noticed that Donald Duck has a preoccupation with food in the latest shorts of the 1940s?  I mean, everything he has done in the Chip and Dale shorts has been about protecting his feasts.  Now, for want of honey, Donald is going after an innocent bee that has been taking the honey from his flowers.  Thus, the basics of Honey Harvester are in place for a pretty enjoyable short.

While this short doesn’t have much of the trademark Donald temper tantrum, it replaces it with Donald plotting against the bee.  A plotting Donald is generally pretty entertaining, because his plots rarely work out and will inevitably involve the main duck getting his comeuppance.  In this case, the bee is quite the character, which makes it doubly satisfying, because he is a joy to watch.

The short begins with the bee demonstrating his technique for removing honey from the flowers, and storing it in an old rusted out car’s radiator.  It’s an ingenious system, because it hides the honey from other animals, especially Donald.  Once Donald gets wind of the little guy, he begins to do the math in his head.  Quite literally, actually, as we get to see Donald adding the pieces together to come up with the idea that he needs to steal the honey.

Donald’s dogged pursuit of the honey is something to behold.  He continually tries to trick the bee into leading him towards the prize, but to no avail.  It’s quite an accident when he figures it out and begins to steal the honey from the car.  As you may imagine from my previous statements, this is a big mistake.  The bee goes on a rampage, stinger to the wind, and starts divebombing Donald from all over the yard.  To say this section is funny would be a huge understatement.

The bee manages to steal a stinger off of a cactus to overcome some of Donald’s defense mechanisms, making for a very potent stinger.  Everything works about this part of the short.  The sound design of the bee as a bomber, the fast moving animation, Donald’s expressions – it’s all top notch.  Every single piece works together beautifully.  Honey Harvester is that rare example of a Donald short where Donald doesn’t have to lose his temper in order to make a really fun cartoon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 49 - Monsters, Inc.

It's been 10 years since Monsters, Inc. came out, but it seems just like yesterday.  On this week's Disney Film Project Podcast, the gang takes a look at this Pixar classic, and tries to put that thing back where it came from, or so help them.  Join us for Boo, Mike Wazowski and more fun than you can shake a tentacle at.

Show Notes:
Enjoy the show!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bubble Bee

Bubble Bee is a short about a dog chewing gum.  Let that sink in for minute, and you’ll understand why I was not a huge fan of this Pluto adventure.  Pluto fighting against another dog, or against other animals?  That’s mildly entertaining.  Pluto fighting against himself trying to chew gum?  Hand me a pillow, because I’m going to fall asleep.

Where to begin?  First, there is the rather silly idea that Pluto is just dying to get himself a piece of gum from a gumball machine.  I don’t know how that makes sense, because I’m not a dog owner, but I have not seen many dogs pursuing a ton of gum.  Nevertheless, when Pluto walks by a gumball machine, you’d think he had never seen anything so enticing in all his life.

On top of that, his inability to get into the gumball machine to claim his prize causes great frustration.  That frustration is only compounded by a bumble bee that takes off into the machine and comes out with a piece of gum.  Following the bee to its hive, Pluto finds the hive is stuffed with gumballs which he proceeds to extract and eat.  This would have been the perfect spot for a nice gag with bees attacking him, but no, we get a dog chewing gum.

Indeed, that is the next 90 seconds of this 7 minute short.  You heard me.  That much time is dedicated to watching Pluto chew gum.  Sure, there are some gags with the bubbles and how he blows them, but for the most part, it’s coming up with interesting ways to show Pluto chewing gum.  The bee gets involved looking for revenge, and uses the gum to tie Pluto in knots. 

If any of this sounds appealing to you, then you should go and watch this short.  I think you can tell that it does not appeal to me.  There was no flow to the short and no story for me to latch on to in order to keep going through the gum chewing.  I don’t know what the animation team had much to work with in this instance, or if the story team took the week off, but Bubble Bee was definitely a subpar story.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Storage

Donald Duck works with Chip and Dale.  It just makes sense, and that’s why we see them together so often in the 1940s.  Donald has to have a foil to showcase his giant temper and amusing frustrations, and nothing brings that out of him more than the two chipmunk heroes trying to steal his food.  In Winter Storage, at least they have a very good reason for trying to do so.

As the calendar turns, the chipmunks are working feverishly to stock up their stores for the cold winter to come.  They run into difficulty when they encounter the park ranger Donald Duck, who is using acorns to seed an area of the park with new trees.  The acorns being what Chip and Dale are after, it works out well for them.  They are able to follow behind Donald and make mischief, getting the acorns to literally fall out of the bags.

The interesting twist in this version of the familiar trope is that Chip and Dale end up at each other’s throats.  It’s a nice difference from past shorts, where the back and forth between Donald and the chipmunks has been done to death.  With the chipmunks getting irritated with each other, it’s puts a new spin on a familiar story.

The other thing that happens is Donald is able to trap these two in a box, marking the first time I can remember where Donald gets the upper hand.  It doesn’t last, however, as the two manage to put aside their differences and escape.  I really enjoyed the animation in this short, as the frantic actions of Chip and Dale are so fluid and exciting that it really sucks you in.  Past shorts have featured this as well, but it felt very manic and exciting in this one.

Winter Storage is definitely not a groundbreaking short, because it doesn’t offer much new in the way of animation, and only minor changes to the standard Donald vs Chip and Dale formula.  I did enjoy the hockey scenes at the end, where Donald’s mad attempts to prevent the acorn theft turn into some high quality hockey goalie action.  It’s a harmless little short that entertains, but ultimately is nothing new.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 48 - The Muppets

This week the DFPP team can’t seem to wipe the smiles off their faces as they use the map travelling skills of 80s Robot to recreate that rainbow connection for their old friends Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo in the 2011 comedy The Muppets.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pluto's Sweater

Oh boy, more Pluto has come around in Pluto’s Sweater.  This time, though, it’s an effective use of the character, as we get to see him going through all sorts of slapstick humor in an effort to rid himself of the titular sweater.  That is the way that Pluto should be used.

To back up, the central idea here is that Minnie has knit a sweater for our favorite pooch, and has forced him to wear it and enter the outside world.  That’s the basis for this short, with the added benefit of Figaro around to mock Pluto in his sweater.   I have never cared much for Figaro as a character, but if he’s going to be in a short, this is the best way to use him.  He shows up early, pokes fun at Pluto, then gets his comeuppance in the end.

The majority of the short, though, takes place outside, where Pluto desperately struggles to get the sweater off, only making it more cumbersome in the process.  Again, Pluto isn’t my favorite, but this is a really effective way to use him.  The sweater sort of takes on the characteristics of Silly Putty, and makes this a really funny slapstick sort of humor. 

Having the sweater twist and transform into different shapes gives the animators the freedom to play with Pluto and other forms.  I especially like when he falls into the pond and comes out looking like a whale, but there are so many others.  The sweater gets turned into headgear, a midriff shirt and various permutations that are so clever that you just have to watch the short to get them all.

As I mentioned, Figaro gets his in the end, as Minnie sees the shrunken sweater and slips it onto him, causing a great consternation in the cat.  I’ve written before about how Pluto doesn’t work best when he is by himself, but this is the exception to that rule.  Giving him the foil of the sweater is a perfect way to let Pluto shine without the adversary taking the spotlight away.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 47 - Disney Holiday Movies

With Thanksgiving behind us, it's time to look forward to the fun and frivolity of the holiday season!  Disney has created some very memorable holiday films over the past few decades, and on this week's episode the DFPP team sorts through them to find the good, the bad and the ugly.  Take a listen to see what you should be checking out to get in the holiday spirit.

Show notes:

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 46 - Squanto: A Warrior's Tale

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Ever wanted to see the first Thanksgiving?  I bet you never thought it would involve kidnapping, monks, popcorn and magic horses, did you?  Well you'll get all that and more in Squanto: A Warrior's Tale, Disney's attempt at telling a Thanksgiving story.  Take a listen this week as the DFPP team takes on this twisted tale.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sea Salts

It’s unusual to see Donald Duck taking on a bit of a different role in Sea Salts.  I guess it should not be a surprise to see him as a sailor in this short, considering that his every day dress is that of a sailor uniform.  Still, we’ve seen a whole lot of Donald on dry land, and very little of him at sea.  In Sea Salts, most of the short is spent at sea, with Donald and his bug companion.

In fact, the entire short focuses more on the bug who is Donald’s whipping boy than it does on the main duck himself.  The way the bug is telling things, the two of them have a symbiotic relationship.  I guess that’s true, but only if you see “symbiotic” as “Donald abuses the bug for his own selfish means, then take pity on him to keep him around.”  That’s pretty much what happens throughout the short.

This poor bug is put through the wringer by Donald.  His favorite trick is to give both of them straws to a drink, then squeeze off the bug’s access on the straw, ensuring that only he gets to drink.  If that sounds awful, it is.  Basically, Donald is denying his only friend access to nourishment.  Yet this is treated as a comic and silly sort of thing.  Even the final gag in the short is the old version of Donald and friend enacting this same gag.

The tone of this short is off because of that reason.  That straw gag is repeated at least three times, but even past that, there’s the idea of the bug being used as bait for fish.  Donald tricks him into jumping on a hook, then lowers him in front of fish that seem like piranhas jumping out of the water.  It’s the kind of thing that just feels cruel. 

That’s why I didn’t care for Sea Salts.  It’s fun to see Donald be cruel, don’t get me wrong.  Watching him mistreat his nephews is fun…but only when the payoff is Donald getting his just desserts in the end.  In this case, he’s treated fairly, and the person he antagonizes throughout the short ends up his lifelong companion.  There’s some kind of strange disconnect in this that I couldn’t quite get over.  It’s amusing, but that kept me from enjoying it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 45 - The Pacifier

This week the DFPP team decides to take the highway option and head over to the home of the Plummers to perform a special rendition of the Peter Panda Dance as an audition for a local performance of the Sound of Music in the 2005 comedy The Pacifier.

Show notes:

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pluto's Surprise Package

Pluto shorts are the toughest ones for me to watch, because I don’t connect to the character.  How can I?  He’s a dog, and I am not. But really it has more to do with the fact that Pluto is a difficult character to get right.  So often we see him merely pitted against another animal, and that conflict is what drives the short.  Such is the case with Pluto’s Surprise Package.

The opponent in this case is a turtle that appears in the mail.  It’s never explained why someone was sending a turtle in the mail, which is the question I was wondering the entire time.  Why is someone sending Mickey a turtle through the mail?  Is it the same person who once sent a kangaroo that Donald had to deal with?  I’m not sure what the deal is with sending livestock through the mail, but I’m pretty sure it’s not cool these days.

Regardless, we get to see Pluto face off with the turtle, which is about as exciting as you’d guess from reading that sentence.  The turtle has a little string noise that plays every time it takes a step.  That’s a neat little quirk as the short starts, but to be honest it became quite annoying throughout the short.  It was not adding anything to the turtle’s personality or identity.  Since the turtle and Pluto do not talk, this was the only way that we were able to get some sounds from the small creature.

I have not talked much about what happens in the short, because not much really does occur.  Most of the short is about a little dance between the turtle and Pluto.  It’s a group of small actions that don’t really add up to much.  Pluto tries to pack the turtle up and take him with him, that doesn’t work.  The turtle tries to run off, Pluto tries to catch him.  The most excitement comes when there’s a chase over the side of a cliff, which ends with mail ending up in the water below.

I’m not sure that Pluto’s Surprise Package qualifies as a bad short, it’s just not that interesting.  While Pluto and the turtle work out their differences in the end, there’s really not much of a difference to start with.  I’d rather have seen some more conflict or something new from this short, so it fell quite flat.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Donald's Happy Birthday

As I watched Donald’s Happy Birthday, I couldn’t help but get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  It’s a short that for whatever reason recalls my childhood.  I don’t recall watching it when I was younger, but everything about this cartoon felt familiar, like a comfy blanket.  It’s the kind of feeling I really love to associate with Disney shorts, because they’re supposed to make you feel good.

I think part of that feeling comes from the simplicity and fun of this idea.  It’s Donald’s birthday, but his nephews have no money to get him a present.  The rest of the short is all about figuring out how to get around that, and get Donald his present without revealing what they’re up to.  It’s an old style of story where there’s a twist that makes it a simple case of misunderstanding.

Not only that, there’s a bunch of fantastic comedy to this short that seemingly has been missing in some of the recent efforts.  The wild energy of the nephews is part of the fun as they are running around frantically to complete their chores to get money from Donald.  Then they’re trying to finish their shopping, but Donald keeps getting in the way.  It’s a mad dash for both Donald and the boys, which makes it even more fun to watch.

This is a case of Donald doing what he does best as a character.  He jumps to conclusions, makes rash decisions about what he should do for the boys, and ends up costing himself instead of making things better.  Donald is a character designed for this sort of thing – getting in over his head and instead of trying to get out of it, just digging himself a deeper hole. 

There’s so many great moments in this short that it’s hard to think of them all, even though it’s only several minutes long.  Donald making the boys smoke all of the cigars they bought for him is one that comes to mind.  Another is the fun way that the kids try to hide their money from Donald so he won’t see what they’re up to, but it doesn’t work.  There’s just so much fun packed into this seven minutes that you have to watch it to enjoy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 44 - The Nightmare Before Christmas

This is Halloween!  This is Halloween!  Oh...that was last week, wasn't it?  Well, what better film to bridge the gap between Halloween and Christmas than Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas!  The DFPP team gets into some freaky stop motion fun with this cult classic that's become a mainstream hit.  Check out all the fun as Briana watches it for the first time and we discuss her reactions, all the quibbles of Henry Selick and so much more.

Show notes:
Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pueblo Pluto

Oh Pluto.  The shorts they put you in during these days of the late 1940s have gotten worse and worse it seems.  Not to say that Pueblo Pluto is not entertaining, it’s just not on the level with some of Pluto’s better roles through the years.  If this is how we’re kicking off 1949, I am a little concerned about the direction things are going.

This one starts off with Mickey and Pluto out in the desert, where they drive through what I assume is small outpost in New Mexico full of pottery, desert souvenirs and more, including a stack of dinosaur bones.  It’s the last one that catches Pluto’s eye, and Mickey tosses him one before going inside.  It’s fair to note that this Mickey is a little different from his last appearance in Mickey and the Seal.  This is a little rougher, different Mickey.  It’s not a big deal, since he’s barely on screen, but it is odd that his appearance would noticeably change in the span of a couple month’s worth of cartoons.

The main antagonist of this short is a small droopy eyed puppy that attempts to steal Pluto’s bone.  This is a very common formula that’s been used with both Pluto and Donald.  We just saw it with our favorite duck in Tea for Two Hundred, where he’s got food and someone attempts to steal it.  Whether it’s another dog in Pluto’s case, or the nephews, Chip & Dale or ants in Donald’s case, this is a story road that Disney has trod very, very often.

Because of that, it takes something unique to make a short like this stand out.  The attempt to do that here involves a circle of cactus, where the puppy runs after Pluto begins chasing him.  The circle ends up being the barrier that Pluto has to overcome, first by getting into it, then by getting out of it.  It’s kind of a crazy trap that the story team came up with, creating a thorny barrier for Pluto to reach his objective.  While it’s interesting, it’s not all that funny.

The ending, though, is an interesting twist.  While the puppy escapes, he feels bad for Pluto being stuck in the cactus circle, and ends up going back for him.  Normally, we don’t see Pluto kiss and make up with his antagonist in these shorts.  Sure, we’ve seen it a few times, but this is somewhat unique.  It’s not enough, though, to keep Pueblo Pluto from being an average short at best.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tea for Two Hundred

The premise of Tea for Two Hundred sounds like a can’t miss hit – Donald Duck protects his picnic from some raiding ants.  It’s simple, it allows for Donald to be himself and it presents opportunity for some great gags.  So you can imagine my disappointment when watching this final short of 1948 when it didn’t quite live up to those expectations.

The biggest problem with the short is that it takes too long to get going.  While the ants are introduced almost immediately, the funny parts of the short don’t begin until about 2/3 of the way into the proceedings.  We have to take the time at the beginning to establish that Donald’s having a picnic, that the ants are invading and that the ants are persistent.    I don’t know about you, but I think I could have gotten that rather quickly.

Instead, we spend time with Donald tormenting one small ant, piling more and more onto the back of this one ant and laughing as the ant attempts to carry all the extra weight.  While this is true to Donald’s character, it’s really not necessary for the short.  The good stuff starts when that ant returns to the colony and relays to his brethren all the great stuff that awaits them at Donald’s picnic.

This is where Tea for Two Hundred is really a great short.   The ants grabbing the food and running around with it is comedy gold.  My favorite bit is when the animators choose to have the food items personify the ants, and get into a football huddle ready to attack Donald.  That’s just one gag, but they come fast and furious in this last 2 minutes of the short.  When Donald overreacts, as he is wont to do, and blows up the ant hole with dynamite, it’s inevitable that it hurts him more than it does them. 

1948 had been a great year for Disney to this point in terms of quality.  The short that immediately proceeded this is Mickey and the Seal, one of the classics.  So Dear To My Heart was a fantastic film, and the shorts early in the year were quite good.  Tea for Two Hundred is still good, but compared to the bar set by those films, it doesn’t quite measure up.  Still, if you enjoy seeing Donald get his comeuppance, you’ll like this one.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 43 - The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

You know, you really can't reason with a headless man.  This and many other things were discovered by the DFPP team as they watched the Disney animated classic The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  So get in the Halloween tradition and listen to this show as you get ready for All Hallow's Eve.

Show notes: