Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canine Casanova

Pluto is a difficult character to get right. If you are doing a Pluto short, you have to have humor, but also have some sort of compelling story. After all, the title character doesn’t speak, so the animation has to convey emotion and carry through some sort of thread in order to make the short work.

Canine Casanova was not one that worked for me. Pluto as a dog is definitely one who follows his impulses, so it makes sense that he chases after a dachshund named Dinah after passing her on the street. The problem I have with the short is that it just did not hold my interest beyond that simple premise.

The first half of the short is just a simple “hard to get” formula. Dinah continually rebuffs Pluto’s advances in a variety of ways. I give Pluto credit for continuing to try. It’s not until Dinah gets captured by a dogcatcher halfway through that things become somewhat interesting. When Dinah is thrown in the pound with other dogs, she suddenly realizes that Pluto is not so bad.

There should be more tension in Pluto’s rescue mission when he breaks Dinah out, but instead it falls flat. Despite a loaded gun in the lap of the dogcatcher, there’s never a moment where you feel like Pluto’s in real danger. Even his comedic twists and turns to try and make it to the cages don’t seem that funny.

I could possibly be too harsh on this short, but it doesn’t feel that funny to me. Pluto’s actions are predictable and don’t really hold my interest. Dinah as a new character doesn’t have anything that makes me care about her predicament. When the situation is resolved, and Pluto finally gets his kiss from Dinah, I was happy for him, but the short itself did nothing to make it enjoyable.

This is different for me, because I really like Pluto. Some of his shorts are very, very entertaining, especially when he’s playing the foil to Mickey or Donald. Solo, however, it takes a lot of work to make Pluto a funny character. I just didn’t see that in Canine Casanova.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Californy 'Er Bust

The multiple Goofys conundrum is getting a little out of hand. Californy Er Bust is the latest example of this. In this Western frontier themed short, Goofy plays the cowboys and the Indians. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

Aside from that, there’s not much to quibble with in Californy Er Bust, unless you are a fan of grammar, spelling or geography. The short plays off the ignorant backwoods stereotype, but never in a mean or hurtful way. I can see if American Indians were upset at their portrayal in the short, as it is not always favorable. While I can understand if people are upset by this, it’s not that bad in the context of 1945.

If you hang loose and go with it, it’s actually quite funny. The Indians communicate primarily in the word “Ugh” which is so simplistic it’s amusing. When a large gathering of Indians convenes, we get jokes on the Indian names, including the inclusion of a Cleveland Indian. The Indians communicating amongst themselves is one of the highlights of the short.

Apart from that, the “ignorant” nature of the settlers is the other great gag. The short opens with a shot of the wagon train rolling across “Nebrasky” and directly into “Floridy.” Later we see them huddled up in a wagon train circle with their pants falling off as they shoot at the attacking Indians.

The interesting contortions of the Indians as they attack are a sight to behold. We see them go from vicious, bloodthirsty savages to a band playing music on their bows and arrows in mere seconds. Then there are physical contortions, such as one Indian who slithers among the rocks then climbs the wagon train on a ladder of arrows.

This is a short where you just have to let go and have a little fun. It falls into the traditions of tall tales and wild stories of the West. There’s an emphasis on gags and inventive humor in this short that was lacking from some of the previous efforts in 1945. say it’s a job well done by the Disney crew.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Plastics Inventor

This post was written last year, scheduled and ready to publish, but in the crazy job stuff that overtook my winter, it never went up. Rest assured, the short was watched in order. Thanks to commenter nickramer for pointing out that I missed it.

Another day brings another iteration of the “narrator says the proper way to do things while the character does it another way” humor. Seems like all the Disney shorts from 1944 have featured that model. Again in this one, it’s Donald Duck as the star, as he builds a plane in The Plastics Inventor.

In all fairness, the gag used in this short is one that Donald has used before. In older Donald shorts, we saw him getting instructions from the radio, and that is the same process used here. The plastics instructor on the radio is teaching Donald how to make a plane out of plastic, by throwing his junk into a pot and melting it down, then baking everything.

The comedy in this one is quite inventive, even in the early sequences where Donald is making the plane. The sight of a steering wheel or gears being made like Christmas cookies is pretty amusing. The whole process of creating the plastic is turned into a great gag, even down to Donald pouring some plastic on his head and baking it into a helmet.

When the plane is out in the air, though, that’s where the real fun begins. Somehow, Donald takes the radio with him, even though I don’t believe that wireless radios existed in the 40s. As Donald puts the plane through its paces, the radio reveals one fatal flaw: you can’t get it wet.

There’s some fantastic humor in this short from that point forward, with the plane steadily melting. Seeing Donald go through his paces trying to keep things together and not fall to his doom is beyond hilarious. There’s no real way to describe all the things Donald has to go through trying to stay aloft.

This short would be one of the last (possibly the actual last) featuring Carl Barks writing Donald’s adventures. Barks would turn to creating the Donald Duck comic books in the years to come, and would create a lasting legacy as one of the masters of comic book storytelling. His mark on Donald is widely remembered from the work he did on the comics, not in the shorts. But it cannot be underestimated how much of Barks is contained in these shorts.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 12 - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

This week the DFPP team takes you into the mysteries of the deep and explores the depths of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the 1954 Disney Classic.

Or follow the links on the right hand side of the page for iTunes or RSS.

Show Notes:

Enjoy the show, everyone!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Donald's Crime

I said it before and I will say it again – Donald works best when he is angry. In Donald’s Crime, he isn’t angry, he’s guilty. If you have been following Donald for a while now, you know that guilt is not an emotion that comes naturally to him. That dissonant fact leads to a disjointed short.

The premise is that Donald needs money for a date with Daisy, but he’s completely broke. So, in a fit of evil, he breaks Huey, Dewey and Louie’s piggy bank and steals their money. If it sound despicable, that’s because it is. But Donald is supposed to do despicable things, right? That’s his modus operandi.

So what I expected from the short was for Donald to have to sneak around and nearly get caught several different times. In a sense that’s what happens, but the execution is a little flawed. Donald puts the boys to bed, runs off to his date with Daisy and has a swell time. There’s a fun bit of dancing there that will be familiar to anyone who watched the original Disney Channel in the 80s. But then, as he leaves Daisy at her door, he starts to feel the guilt.

The animation and inventiveness of this sequence is really top notch. Whether you agree with the story choice or not, you have to hand it to the artists who did this work. Donald changes from a man on top of the world in a nice suit to a trenchcoated gangster. Then, he makes his way through the city in a surrealist fashion, leaping from tall buildings only to land near another, clawing for safety and ultimately failing.

He ends up repaying the boys by staying out all night at a cafĂ© and becoming a dishwasher for the evening. It sort of makes you wonder why he couldn’t have done that in the first place. The whole thing seems just a bit off. I can easily imagine a short where Donald steals the money and tries to misdirect the boys from finding out.

Again, the issue is that Donald doesn’t get angry in this one, except to snap at the boys before they find out. I have no problem with him feeling guilt, but it needs to be channeled appropriately for our amusement. Lately in the Disney shorts of 1945, it seems that the artists and writers lost sight of what made their characters unique. I’m hoping that changes going forward.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

African Diary

My love for Goofy is well known. He is my favorite of the Fab Five Disney characters, and always has been. I love Donald and Mickey as well, but Goofy is the one whose shorts I enjoy watching the most. Much of that comes from the format and fun of the “How To” shorts, where the narrator describes the crazy antics that Goofy is doing on screen.

African Diary takes a little twist on that, this time casting the narrator as Goofy himself, with the words coming from his diary of an African safari. It’s an interesting choice and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. You would think this twist would add comedic value to the short, but it doesn’t.

Lots of fun bits are contained within African Diary, however. It’s another short that substitutes multiple Goofys for men. Every character is some form of Goofy, from the lead of the safari to the “natives” who carry him around. That makes it much easier to avoid any racial stereotypes that were contained in past jungle/African shorts.

There’s no bit that stands out as laugh out loud funny in this short, and I guess that’s the problem I have with it. There are some fun pieces here and there, such as the shots of the entire safari rolling by and stopping suddenly, or the nocturnal visit of Goofy to the watering hole. But by and large, nothing stands out.

The real capstone to the cartoon is supposed to be the ending, where Goofy finally spots a black rhino and attempts to shoot it. I say “attempts” because his efforts are not very successful, and he ends up being chased out of Africa by the rhino. That part is funny, but the rest falls flat.

We don’t get to see Goofy doing some of the crazier stunts that he has pulled in his “sports” films. That’s the disappointing thing with this and Tiger Trouble, the last Goofy short. Both ended up with Goofy in the jungles, and it’s not a good fit for him. I’m hoping there will be more Goofy shorts in the urban jungles in the years to come.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Eyes Have It

I talked the other day about how fun it was to see Donald Duck angry. It’s what I’ve come to expect from a Donald short. The Eyes Have It does not feature this aspect of Donald, and it suffers for that.

Fortunately, there is enough fun in the short to make up for a lackluster Donald. While this has been labeled a Donald short, Pluto really steals the show in this one. Pluto is convinced by Donald to act like different animals, because of Donald’s hypnosis glasses. Seeing Donald put the whammy on Pluto is quite funny.

The animation of Pluto as the different animals makes the short fun. He starts off as a mouse, with his ears curling up to make “mouse ears” and sniffing around the floor. The work of the animators to take Pluto’s familiar form and still make it into something that is recognizable as a mouse is very inventive. Not just the physical characteristics, but the movements and attitude match as well.

A highlight of the entire short is when Donald turns Pluto into a chicken. Pluto takes to the henhouse with no difficulty, sitting and gabbing with the girls. The mere sight of Pluto sitting in a nest with the other hens is hilarious. It’s a definite improvement over the turtle that occurs right before that.

The ending comes with Pluto turned into a lion right as he’s about to face off with a rooster. It backfires on Donald, of course, as Pluto chases him throughout the yard and the house. Pluto thinking he’s a lion leads to a lot of destruction, reminiscent of the old Mickey and Pluto short where Pluto would destroy everything in the end by chasing a cat.

I think that’s the biggest issue with this short – it feels more like something that should be a Mickey and Pluto short, not a Donald Duck cartoon. At the time, Donald was more popular than Mickey, but from a story standpoint, it would have made more sense to have the main mouse. Still, just the animation work of seeing Pluto morph into different forms makes The Eyes Have It worth watching.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dog Watch

There are a lot of things you can say about Disney cartoons of the 1940s. Some will say they are not as exciting or fast paced as the Looney Tunes. Others will note the lack of dynamic animation as compared to the early Mickeys. But usually, there has not been a criticism that Disney’s cartoons were derivative.

With Dog Watch, I feel like Disney took a concept that was working elsewhere and applied it to one of their characters. MGM’s Tom and Jerry cartoons cast a mute furry animal chasing a mouse around, trying to prevent him from eating the food. In Dog Watch, a mute Pluto chases a mouse around a naval ship, to prevent him from eating the ship’s stores.

I’m not saying that the Disney artists stole this from Tom and Jerry, but watching this short, it did not feel like a Disney film. It didn’t even feel like a Pluto film. The best Pluto films have always involved him straddling the line between good and bad, and trying his best to make the right choices. This one featured none of that.

Pluto is left on watch on a ship, while the sailors go to shore. This is of course a set up for trouble, as almost the minute that the ship is abandoned, the mouse shows up. It’s a fun set up, though, to have Pluto be intimidated by the mouse. It all happens when Pluto roars at the mouse, but the mouse roars back. Very funny stuff.

There’s not a great deal of follow through, however, and that’s kind of the problem. No moment stands out from the short after that exchange of anger. The mouse proceeds to go in and start the old “stroll around the table and eat a bite of everything” routine. Like I said, we’ve seen this before, and it’s occasionally funny, but this time it just seemed routine.

The ending comes quickly, as Pluto trashes the table, gets caught by the sailors, and then has to try and save face. He gets redemption by shaking the mouse off of a rope line, but by then it’s too late to salvage the short. While Dog Watch is not a bad idea, the execution does not come off well.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 11 - Beverly Hills Chihuahua 1 and 2

This week the DFPP team shows that their tiny but mighty podcast isn't afraid of a little Beverly Hills booty as they try not to go to the dogs when reviewing Beverly Hills Chihuahua 1 (2008) and 2 (2011). Special guest appearance by Jasper.

Listen, Download, etc.

Or follow the links on the right hand side of the page for iTunes or RSS.

Show Notes (combined):

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pirates! Pirates Tweetwatches in May!

It's time people.  Let's get ready for the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides with Tweetwatching the original 3 films.  In order.  In 3 weeks.  Buckle up.

SPECIAL DAY - Sunday, May 1 - 8:30p - Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Monday, May 9 - 8:30p - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
SPECIAL DAY - Sunday, May 15 - 8:30p - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Let's face it...the biggest Disney movie of the summer is coming out May 20. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is going to be a big one, so we have to get ready. Cue up the DVD or Bluray for these three. They're long, complex and fun. Let's make it happen.

Alright that will do it through mid-May. Everyone ready to get started again?

If you want to keep track, follow the plans for Tweetwatches on Plancast.

Here's the info on how to join the fun:

1. Follow me or the show/site on Twitter - @RyanKilpatrick @DisFilmProject
2. Join our Friendfeed room -
3. ON the appointed night, have your DVD, Netflix streaming, Disney Movies Online or other viewing avenue ready to go.
4. Head to the Friendfeed room at the appointed time.
5. Wait for the signal, push play and we will watch the movie and discuss together!

Can't wait to get started again!

The Clock Watcher

Alright, I am back! And what better way to return to regular blogging than with Donald Duck being angry. It’s like warm comfort food. Seeing Donald at his angriest is like seeing sunshine on Opening Day for baseball…it just makes you feel that all is right with the world.

In this case, it’s Donald as a gift wrapper in The Clock Watcher. You really don’t have to say much more than that to realize that this is going to be good stuff. Donald works well in these “everyman” situations, where he can express the frustrations we all have in our jobs. Donald releases his anger, where the rest of us make quiet grumbling noises and let it go.

Adding to the fun this time is a device that was used with Donald in Der Fuehrer’s Face, the World War II era cartoon. In that short, a speaker tube was pointed at Donald while he worked on an assembly line, barking orders from the Fuehrer. This time, it’s the same idea, but the orders are coming from the corporate overlords at Royal Brothers, asking him to work harder.

Donald is far from the model employee, as you’d imagine. His wrapping techniques consist of mashing things until they fit in the boxes, no matter if they break or not. Needless to say he’s not the most dutiful employee, either. Multiple times during the short he tries to take a break and eat a huge spread. Considering it’s a 7 minute short, that’s a pretty impressive display of loafing.

There’s some fun diversions here, such as Donald tangling with a jack-in-the-box. Unlike other shorts, the jack in the box doesn’t take on the characteristics of a human to fight with Donald. Instead, it is Donald’s own actions that cause the issues. It’s a fun moment when Donald ends up in the toy’s clothes.

Having had to be away from the blog for so long, The Clock Watcher was a great way to slip back into the swing of things. It’s a classic Donald Duck short, with Donald the way he was meant to be.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 10 - Darby O’Gill and the Little People

This week the DFPP team puts the "come hither" on you to join in on the dancing, whisky, and hunting as they celebrate Saint Patrick's Day by discussing the 1959 classic Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

Or follow the links on the right hand side of the page for iTunes or RSS.

Show Notes:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 9 - Mary Poppins

This week the DFPP team doesn't attempt to cloud the issue with facts as they welcome guest Jeff Chaney to discuss why the 1964 Academy Award winning Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way.

Or follow the links on the right hand side of the page for iTunes or RSS.

Show Notes:
Enjoy the show!