Friday, July 29, 2011

Tweetwatch - Monday, August 1 at 8:30p ET - The Parent Trap

That's right, Tweetwatch is back in a big way.  If you haven't seen the latest schedule, go check it out here.  But in the meantime, get ready for the Parent Trap Tweetwatch on Monday, August 1 at 8:30p.

We're talking original Parent Trap here, with Hayley Mills and...Hayley Mills.  So go grab a copy of the movie (DVDs are cheap at Target!) and join us for this fun film, including great music by the Sherman Brothers.

Here's how it works:

1. Follow me and Disney Film Project on Twitter

2. Grab the movie we're watching, either through Netflix, instant video (Amazon or Disney Movies Online) or buying it.

3.  Sign up for the Tweetwatch on Plancast!

3. Subscribe to our Friendfeed room.
4. On the appointed night, jump in to the Friendfeed room and get your Bluray/DVD cued up.

5. At the right time, I'll tweet or post that we should start the movie, and I'll update the feeds with relevant facts about the production
It's that simple!  Great time will be had by all.  Can't wait to see you there!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bootle Beetle

After seeing the Donald Duck shorts so far in 1947, I think it’s safe to say that Disney was losing confidence in the duck as their leading character. Remember, Mickey was no longer en vogue, and outside of Pluto, there were not a lot of shorts coming out each year. What’s interesting is the extent to which Disney has gone to work around Donald while still putting his face on the short.

We saw Daisy as the narrator, Goofy sharing the billing and now we get an entirely new character, the Bootle Beetle. Very strange, no doubt, but it gives us a really cool new character to enjoy. The Bootle Beetle is presented as the main protagonist in this short, battling against Donald for its survival. Donald is the villain of the piece in this telling.

The Bootle Beetle is introduced by an omniscient narrator who tells us that the beetle is one of the rarest bugs around, and highly valued by collectors. What follows is an older beetle cautioning a younger one from venturing forward into the world at large and then relating the story of his encounter with a “giant monster” which was also Donald Duck.

While the story and the gags are somewhat entertaining, there isn’t a whole lot here to get excited about. The beetle’s escapes from Donald’s clutches are not thrilling or funny, just sort of routine. The interactions are notable mainly because of the beetle’s narration not recognizing Donald but continually referring to him as a monster. While that’s somewhat amusing, it’s not enough to hold up an entire short.

What’s more intriguing to me is the movement we are seeing here that minimizes Donald in his own cartoons. The shorts of this era lack the anger we saw earlier from Donald and seem to rely on gimmicks and changes to the storytelling rather than solid gags. It’s clear the attention of the staff has turned over to the features program, and it’s possible walt has also turned his attention away at this point. That leaves poor Donald fighting it out with a bug in an obscure short.

All images copyright Disney.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crazy From the Heat

There have been some bizarre shorts to come out of the Disney studio in the post war era. We saw Donald’s Dilemma yesterday that featured Daisy as the focus, and the meta commentary that occurred. In Crazy From the Heat, things get even weirder as we see Goofy and Donald re-team for the first time in years.

As they are crossing the desert, Donald and Goofy have their car break down, which leads to a long trek across the sand to find water and shelter. With the heat beating down upon them, there’s ample opportunity for comedy. It’s a formula that cartoons have used for many years. So we can expect some mirages and fun ideas when the two turn on each other, right?

Strangely enough, we get the first but not the second. That makes all the difference in this short as we veer from the predictable and funny to the unpredictable and insane. Let me explain as best I can, because the results are truly bizarre. We see Goofy and Donald squabbling over water a little bit, but the true fun starts when Goofy sees a mirage of a soda fountain.

The Goof wanders over to take part in the delicious ice cream treats that the fake soda fountain has to offer, only to be denied each time he tries to take a sip. If it sounds weird, it is. The even stranger thing is that when Goofy tries to sip, the mirage disappears, but he stays suspended in air! It gets worse when he is threatened with washing dishes because he can’t pay, and the dishes appear to be real.

The line between reality and mirage is very confusing in this one, and it only gets worse. Donald sees his own mirage of an iceberg, but then gets sucked into Goofy’s delusion. Goofy drops the dishes and the mirage figure who is threatening him ends up chopping off the top of Donald’s hat and giving him a black eye. It doesn’t make sense!

Watching this short is like pulling on a loose thread of a sweater. You keep pulling, trying to figure out where the end is, but it keeps unraveling. While there were parts of this that were funny, it was so confusing overall that it was difficult to understand what was going on. What was real? What was mirage? Figuring that out in Crazy From the Heat was difficult at best, and just plain weird as well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Donald's Dilemma

Rolling on into 1947, we come to a very strange entry in the Disney shorts known as Donald’s Dilemma. I call it strange because although it is a Donald Duck cartoon and features an opening that brands it as such, Donald is not the main attraction. Instead, Daisy takes center stage for the first time in a Disney cartoon.

I’ll have to say the results are mixed. Although Daisy is established at this point in the canon of Disney as Donald’s girlfriend, she has not had much to do aside from spurn Donald. The few times we have seen Daisy have not hinted at much of a personality. This time she does have one, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of personality we want her to have.

The trouble that faces Daisy comes from a transformation in Donald’s personality. He switches from the quacking, ill-tempered duck we know to a suave singer who lights up the stage. Daisy turns from a confident girlfriend that we’ve seen in other shorts to a woman spurned who will stop at nothing to retain her man.

It’s a strange transformation, because it shows Daisy as a woman who needs a man to make herself happy. There are some very strange scenes in the montage of Daisy dealing with the fact that the “new” Donald doesn’t recognize or care for her. There’s even a shot of Daisy with a gun to her head preparing to shoot herself! This is not what we expect from a cartoon.

Layer on top of that that the song that vaults Donald to prominence is his rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” It’s very confusing to see a song made famous by a Disney animated film being reused in a Disney animated short that is supposed to reflect the world at large. Very strange. We have officially entered the era of Disney self-reference, which combines with Daisy’s personality change to make this one of Disney’s strangest shorts.

All pictures copyright Disney.  All rights reserved.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 29 - Bedknobs and Broomsticks

This week, the DFPP team taps the knob, twists it three times and head for the Isle of Naboombu and beyond with Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Enjoy some great Sherman Brothers music, fine animation and more in this Disney classic.

Listen, download, etc.

Show notes:
Enjoy the show!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tweetwatch goes Biweekly!

Time to put things down in writing and get all of you guys ready for the 2nd half of 2011 as we get ready for fun and excitement in Tweetwatching!  So, for the rest of this year, starting August 1, Tweetwatch will be bi-weekly!  Yes, every other week, we will have a Tweetwatch of a new or classic Disney film, with fun facts and more to follow.

Here's the basic idea on how to play along:

1.  Follow me and Disney Film Project on Twitter
2.  Grab the movie we're watching, either through Netflix, instant video (Amazon or Disney Movies Online) or buying it.
3.  Subscribe to our Friendfeed room. 
4.  On the appointed night, jump in to the Friendfeed room and get your Bluray/DVD cued up.
5.  At the right time, I'll tweet or post that we should start the movie, and I'll update the feeds with relevant facts about the production.

It's a fabulous fun time, so make sure you join in.  Without further ado, here's the schedule:

Monday, August 1 - 8:30p ET - The Parent Trap

I fully expect that you'll have a tough time tracking this down, but Let's Get Together and watch one of Disney's great classics.

Monday, August 15 - 8:30p ET - The Fox and the Hound

It's the 25th anniversary of this Disney film, and a new DVD/Bluray version is about to be released.  Let's check it out.

Monday, August 29 - 8:30p ET - Princess Diaries

It won our listener poll of what show we should do on the podcast, and it made Anne Hathaway a star 10 years ago (has it been that long?). 

Monday, September 12 - 8:30p ET - The Great Mouse Detective

I'm wagering that most of you haven't seen the film that started the new renaissance at Disney.  This was the canary in the coal mine, so let's check it out.

Monday, September 26 - 8:30p ET - Thor

Yes, it's not a Walt Disney Pictures release, but this one comes out on Bluray/DVD September13, so it's time to watch one of Disney's newest characters.

Monday, October 10 - 8:30p ET - The Lion King

After the 3D release in theatres, one of Disney's biggest animated films hits DVD.  Can't wait for this one.

Monday, October 24 - 8:30p ET - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

You knew this was coming, right?

That will do it for now, but rest assured that Cars 2, Winnie the Pooh and more will show up in November and December.  Join in the fun!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Clown of the Jungle

Walt’s South American trip was about more than just producing a couple of package features like Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros. The original goal was to establish a program of short subjects that would provide Disney with new characters. Some of these, like Pedro the airplane or the Flying Gauchito, never really took off. One, though, did manage to break through a little bit into the Disney canon.

The Aracuan is the crazy red headed bird that showed up first in The Three Caballeros. His crazy patter and wild nature was endearing there, so he was brought back for this short, Clown of the Jungle. The Aracuan appears on screen to break up the otherwise monotonous story of wild birds in South America. He shows up with a cigar, bounds around the screen and squeaks and coos to the viewer.

In many ways, his unbounded energy and chaotic attitude are the perfect foil for Donald Duck. Introducing Donald into the mix as a bird photographer gets things going, since he is looking for “serious” subjects while the Aracuan is there to only to interrupt and generally play. He sees Donald as an opportunity to enjoy himself and doesn’t take the duck too seriously.

Donald, though, is drop dead serious about his need to take great pictures, and the Aracuan isn’t having it. The antics are hysterical, because the Aracuan is unbound by the typical constraints that other Disney characters operate under. He can pop in and out of the screen with no logical progression, can defy the laws of physics and move any which way to make a gag work.

That makes him a wonderful character. All the other Disney characters are fairly conventional, and the ways the Aracuan acts drives Donald so insane that he ends up adopting these unconventional traits himself. It’s an amazing thing to behold, really. I know the Aracuan shows up again in other shorts and it’s no surprise why. He’s so much fun that I can just imagine animators eager to play with their medium using this fabulous little bird.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Figaro and Frankie

I started watching Figaro and Frankie with skepticism, because the previous attempts at incorporating Figaro (from Pinocchio) into the world of the Fab Five Disney characters were not great. When I started watching, though, I was struck by the fact that this was something I had seen before. Here was a black cat with white belly chasing a yellow canary – it was Sylvester and Tweety.

There’s no two ways about it. This is the exact formula that made Looney Tunes a ton of money – a cat chasing a canary, getting scared away by the homemaker. I immediately wondered how this could be. I mean, Disney wasn’t intentionally copying from Looney Tunes were they? A little more digging revealed something that was astounding.

The first short that featured Sylvester and Tweety teamed up in cartoon was 1947’s Tweetie Pie, a short that would go on to win the Academy Award. That short was released on May 3, 1947. In the short, Sylvester “rescues” Tweety from the cold, is stopped from eating him by his owner and spends the rest of the short trying to get the canary out of its cage so he can eat the bird.

That was the short released on May 3, 1947. On May 30, 1947, Disney released Figaro and Frankie, where Figaro the cat tries to shut up Frankie the canary by getting him out of his cage and eating him. 4 weeks apart, Warner Brothers and Disney released nearly identical concepts, starring characters that had only been in a few previous films. There’s no way Disney could have known about Warner’s film, and I doubt that Warner knew about Disney’s.

Now, Figaro and Frankie takes a significant detour towards the end, as Figaro gets thrown out for “eating” Frankie, only to see the canary survive and be menaced by Butch, the bulldog from the Pluto shorts. We get a typical angel on the shoulder moment when Figaro’s conscience shows up, but it’s nothing new. Figaro and Frankie is rather unremarkable and not that well made, but its curious

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sleepy Time

It’s very difficult to come up with new ways to talk about Donald Duck every day, when you write about his shorts 2-3 times a week. So I sort of understand what the Disney animators had to be going through when creating Donald Duck cartoons during the mid-1940s. It had to be a problem to find new things for him to do, but Sleepy Time was not the answer.

This is a short of Donald sleepwalking. That’s it. There is not much more to it. Now, I know I have seen this sort of thing before in shorts, even if it may have been something that came after this. There is no originality or fun in this short that we have seen in the recent efforts of 1947.

Instead, we are treated to scene after scene of Donald walking blindly into trouble, while Daisy chases after him to try and save him. It makes for some less than inspiring humor. We have Daisy keeping Donald out of traffic, getting him down from walls and making sure that he doesn’t walk off a building. All of this because of the premise that waking him up would be more dangerous!

This leads to another question: how does being asleep help Donald defy the laws of physics? For some reason, Donald the sleepwalker is able to walk on buildings, walk upside down on the roof and basically defy gravity. How is that even possible? Is it because he is unaware that he’s supposed to fall? While that brings up a great philosophical argument, it is strange in the concept of a cartoon.

The basic problem, though, comes back to the fact that this short is just not interesting. For a short diversion to watch Donald be silly, it’s fine. Unfortunately it doesn’t measure up to the things we have seen Donald experience in the past. I think back to things like Modern Inventions and even the recent Straight Shooters, and Sleepy Time doesn’t measure up.

All images copyright Disney.  All rights reserved.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 28 - Cars 2

This week the DFPP team gets some tickets to the World Grand Prix from their pal Mater once they learn that Four time Piston Cup champion Lightning McQueen has entered the race in the 2011 Disney / Pixar film Cars 2.

Show notes:

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Straight Shooters

It’s refreshing to see Donald mixing it up with his nephews again, if only for the sake of my sanity. The interactions between Donald and the boys are fabulous in almost every regard, and in Straight Shooters, we get to see one of the best ever. This kind of short is exactly what Donald is meant to do.

Donald has set up shop at a carnival in this one, running an old-fashioned shooting gallery game where he delivers candy as the prize. Huey, Dewey and Louie show up in their best faux military dress uniforms to crash the party, managing to win a prize on their very first shot. This, of course, enrages Donald, because he thought he had everything set up to ensure that no one would win.

From there the gags start flying, and they do not let up until the end of the short. It’s always the interaction between the boys and Donald that is the core of the gag, however. That’s a key difference from some other shorts that Disney has put out in the 40s. In other shorts, we have seen gags that are about the environment instead of the characters. This short gets it right all the way through.

Take the example of when one of the boys is in the back of the booth breaking things regardless of where the shot goes or IF it is shot. When Donald finds out, he confronts his nephew, and the comedy takes place between the looks and gestures. This is physical and emotional comedy done right, and it is a pleasure to watch.

Donald’s charm, as I’ve said many times, is that his frustration and anger rise so easily. Watching the tensions ramp up is the joy of seeing Donald, because we can all relate to him. The other part of Donald that I love so much is that he is so easily fooled. In this short he gets fooled twice by the boys, using the same trick of standing on one another’s head to imitate a full size person.

The combination of the boys outsmarting Donald, some amazing visual gags and fabulous acting in the animation makes Straight Shooters a classic in the Donald Duck canon. You cannot beat a shot of Donald on a shooting gallery duck line. You just can’t.

All pictures copyright Disney.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rescue Dog

The more Disney shorts I watch, the more I feel like the eras can be grouped into sets by characters. The late 20s and early 30s were the Mickey/Silly Symphonies era, then we had the Mickey/Donald/Goofy era, the Goofy & Donald era and the post war years are shaping up to be the Donald/Pluto era. Hence, we get another Pluto short in the beginning of 1947, with Rescue Dog.

I was not excited going into this one, because the trope of the rescue dog has been used before, not just by Disney. I’ve seen it in Looney Tunes cartoons as well as modern cartoons, so it’s not that original. Pluto has even done variations on it in other shorts. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the rescue dog is that dog in the snow with a barrel around their neck that drips hot liquid into the mouths of frozen travelers to warm them up in the frozen wastelands.

As discussed yesterday, there is a conundrum of how Pluto can appear in shorts, because he’s at his best when he is a little mischievous. Being a rescue dog takes that away from him, so it’s hard to see how Rescue Dog is going to be good. The story pits Pluto against a seal, who is interested in playing a game with the barrel around his neck.

It’s just not that compelling, frankly. The seal and Pluto cannot talk, so the short is reliant on action to convey the story. There’s not enough action or gags in the short to make it work. On top of that, the seal is not a great character. I had to watch the short twice to understand whether the seal was malicious or just playing around (It’s the latter).

The final sequence of the short offers a different twist, as it’s Pluto who crashes through the ice and is in danger of freezing. The seal goes through a variety of actions to try and save Pluto, finally pulling him out of the water frozen solid.

It’s a neat idea, but the scenes of Pluto swimming around under the solid ice are frankly a bit frightening and unnerving. Even though I knew Pluto would make it, it was hard to watch him struggle like that. The ultimate resolution of the two characters as friends was telegraphed from the beginning, so it lacked an emotional punch. Not the best Pluto short I’ve ever seen, to be sure.

All images copyright Disney.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pluto's Housewarming

Hard to believe that we are starting 1947 on Disney Film Project, covering 25 years of Disney films and shorts in about two and a half years. But that’s where we are, as we take a look at Pluto’s Housewarming, the first short in 1947’s slate of Disney projects.

As Pluto shorts go, this one is pretty standard fare, with Pluto trying to move into a new doghouse but getting some resistance along the way. Apparently this new doghouse is right on the beach, so kudos to Pluto for scoring some fine real estate. Seriously, though, the entire background consists of a couple of scenes of sand, which is kind of weird.

The first obstacle to Pluto’s move is a turtle that takes up residence in the house first. The plucky little turtle conveys a sense of attitude and confidence that makes him endearing, even as he is shoving the “hero” of the piece out of the way. It’s a problem that Disney has always had with Pluto.

When Pluto is behaving himself, he’s not that exciting. When Pluto is being a little more mischievous, he is not the hero of the piece so it’s difficult to root for him. So the question becomes how to toe the line between those two things and make Pluto a compelling character? Pluto’s Housewarming does a good job of that with the turtle and then turning right around and introducing someone who is worse than Pluto.

Butch the bulldog returns to the scene in this one, as a squatter in Pluto’s new home. His introduction right in the middle of the short gives a better villain to deal with, but it’s not Pluto who does it. Instead, the turtle takes issue with the bulldog rather than Pluto. This David v. Goliath sort of confrontation adds some real humor and excitement to the proceedings.

It’s fairly easy to see where this is going, right? Pluto and the turtle end up together, because they have a common foe. It makes Pluto more sympathetic and preserves the turtle’s energy from earlier in the short. That’s fun. And it makes Pluto’s Housewarming into an enjoyable, but predictable little short.