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.