Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saludos Amigos Review by Briana Alessio

I had never seen this before.  I was not sure what to expect, but was absolutely looking forward to it.  The opening credits assured me that I was going to enjoy what was about to be shown on the screen.  Shortly after the title of the film is shown, the name Mary Blair appeared, as well as four of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men (Frank Thomas, Wolfgang Reitherman, Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl).  From this moment on, the film did nothing but prove its worth.

This 1942 classic reminds me quite a bit of Fantasia, not only in the various levels of animation ability, but in the stories which are pieced together to form a masterpiece.  Similar to what may have been a sign of what was to come later, Saludos Amigos combines scenes of live action and animation.  Not together such as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but separately, so you do not know what will be shown next.  This mysterious factor adds to the enjoyment and surprise of the film.

I’m assuming that the live action men shown in various scenes are none other than the animators involved in the making of this film.  At one point, we see Walt Disney giving instruction over an animator’s shoulder on how he wants a figure to be drawn.  We cannot hear what he is saying, but the movements of his arms and steady concentration show that he is in full animator mode, wanting everything to be perfect as he always did.  It is also amazing how Disney wanted to incorporate the dedication of the crew who flew to these countries to accomplish their hard work; he did this by including their faces throughout parts of the film, which is uniquely fantastic.

A delightful scene in the film depicts a child training his llama using his flute as direction.  Utilizing upscale and downscale notes, the llama changes his stance according to the melody.  This is both uniquely animated and well coordinated.  There is also a laugh out loud scene involving a slow bridge collapse.  Once again, the music is well timed to the stomping of panicked feet, as they try to make their way into survival.  The scene ends with Donald Duck swimming away in what appears to be a ceramic pot. 

A truly wonderful scene involves Papa Plane, Mama Plane, and their incredibly adorable son, Pedro Plane.  This is based on Papa coming down with a cold, so Pedro has to rescue the mail for him.  It is such a sincere, kind moment.  You are pulling for Pedro every step of the way.  At one point, it seems as though Pedro may not make it out of the storm alive…but luckily, he does, much to the happiness of Papa and Mama. 

Every scene of this film is beautiful, but one which is particularly so is called Watercolor of Brazil, where you see the animated hand of the artist painting scenes of his home country.  The accompanying music is brilliant.  He not only paints bodies of water and palm trees, but he adds a bit of comic delight as well.  For instance, he paints lips on the flowers so they may sing along with the music; also, bananas form into toucan beaks, as multiple toucans gracefully sit to enjoy their surroundings.  Toward the end of the film, the artist draws José Carioca of The Three Caballeros fame.  Donald Duck tries to swipe the painting away as it is being drawn, but he fails in this attempt.  When the two lovable birds meet, Carioca’s imitation of Donald Duck literally made me laugh out loud.  His manic expression, followed by speaking supremely fast in the Spanish language was sheer hilarity.  Poor Donald is confused and is trying to understand what he is saying, as he grabs multiple translator books to try and figure it out.

Fred Shields narrates the film, who has also given his voice to various Disney classics such as the Great Prince of the Forest in Bambi (1942) and the narrator of The Three Caballeros (1944).  In addition, he has narrated the shorts How to Play Baseball (1942), Pluto and the Armadillo (1943), Victory Vehicles (1944), and How to Play Golf (1944).  José Oliveira voices José Carioca.  Oliveira is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and has lent his voice to the heart-warming Carioca through shorts and films.  Pinto Colvig voices Goofy in this film.  Colvig is an unbelievably rare talent who has voiced Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (who is making a comeback, folks, so stay tuned to your Disney news), Pluto, and Goofy in a countless number of shorts.  He was a multi-talented voice actor from 1925 until 1965, two years before his unfortunate passing in 1967.  Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck, not only in this film, but in many shorts as well.  Similar to Colvig, he was an extremely talented individual.  Nash voiced our heroic duck from 1934 to 1971.  Two years before he passed away, he lent his voice to the short Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), where he voiced the role of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.

Saludos Amigos is directed by Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, and Bill Roberts.  Jackson has been involved in the directing of other timeless Disney classics such as Cinderella, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, and Peter Pan.  Jack Kinney has directed many shorts including Casey at the Bat from 1946, as well as the film Make Mine Music.  Luske was involved in the same films as Jackson, excluding Dumbo.  Roberts has been a sequence director for Bambi, Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio among others.

The music in this film is truly delightful.  The first song in the film, played during the opening credits, is “Saludos Amigos” with music by Charles Wolcott and lyrics by Ned Washington.  The beautiful song “Aquarela de Brasil” is written by Ary Barroso, and sung by Aloysio De Oliveira (assuming this is a relation to the José).  “Tico Tico No Fubá” is written by Zequinha De Abreu, and sung by José Oliveira. 

My absolute favorite scene is Goofy playing the gaucho accompanied by his horse.  This is very similar to the aforementioned shorts which I love, How to Play Baseball and How to Play Golf, which might explain why I love it so much.  The bond which Goofy and his horse share in addition to the laughable moments at the campfire during their singing and dancing, are positively smile-inducing.  As for a favorite character, it would be difficult to choose since this film is broken up into so many parts.  I do love Donald Duck and José Carioca, so they would remain at the top of my list. 

Saludos Amigos is an absolutely timeless treasure.  It is the type of film which I want to tell other people about, and encourage them to watch as well.  There is nothing overly serious about it.  It is rather a lighthearted film which will make the viewer smile.  Everyone needs a few moments in their life to sit down and escape reality for a while.  Spending one of those moments to watch this film would be a wise decision.

My Rating:  4.5/5

Shut up, you big windbag!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 82 - Saludos Amigos

This week the DFPP team heads to South America hot on the tail of the bandit El Grupo, end up with problems when they get directions from a sassy llama, and dance with a parrot in the 1942 animated short collection Saludos Amigos.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Morris the Midget Moose

It was odd yesterday to see a Goofy short mixed in among the Pluto and Donald parade, but it is downright unusual to see Disney insert an original creation into the mix with the latest short from 1950, Morris the Midget Moose.  It’s something that many fans these days clamor for the company to do – create new ideas and characters.  But even back in 1950, Disney was built on the profits from their established characters, merchandising and the occasional drift into new creations in feature films.

Completely new stories are very different for Disney, so seeing Morris the Midget Moose come up in the list of shorts I was going to watch made me very interested.  The set up is a fall back to older concepts, however.  It brings back our old friend, Bootle Beetle, who has always tangled with Donald Duck in the past.  In this instance, Bootle is simply the narrator to tell the story of Morris, which was originally told by Frank Owen.

The basic tale comes down to the fact that Morris is, well, a midget moose.  The other moose are able to eat from the tall trees or do other typical moose activities, while poor Morris, with his oversized antlers and small little body, can’t really do much of anything moose-like.  That includes taking on Thunderclap, the leader of the moose clan by clashing antlers.  The problem is that Morris, despite having the antlers for the job, cannot actually compete with Thunderclap’s strength.

It’s an interesting tale, but it makes for some uninteresting viewing until Morris runs into Balsam, a normal sized moose with Morris sized antlers.  It’s when the two decide to team up that we finally get to see where things are headed, and it becomes a bit more coherent.  On the whole, though, neither Morris nor Balsam are all that compelling as characters.  The underdog role is really all that there is for viewers to latch onto, but that is not really enough.

Even once the final battle between Thunderclap and the Balsam/Morris hybrid moose takes place, the action is not that compelling.  It’s played for comedy rather than a scene of the persecuted moose taking over and gaining the upper hand for once.  The whole short feels uneven and difficult to process.  The moral of two heads being better than one comes across, albeit not as well as it could.  Between the awkward Bootle Beetle framing sequence and the lack of a good reason to root for Morris, it seems this original creation is not everything fans could hope for from Disney.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hold That Pose

With Pluto and Donald Duck getting the bulk of the Disney shorts in 1950 and the late 1940s, it does my heart good to see Goofy getting into the mix again with Hold That Pose.  It is somewhat of a return to form for the Goof, mixing in elements of the “How To” shorts that made him famous, but mixes in the same sort of silly adversarial comedy that has been a staple of the recent Donald Duck shorts as well.  That combination is not necessarily an easy one to make. 

The skill Goofy is trying to learn in this one is how to take photographs.  Seems easy enough in this day of point and shoot digital cameras, but back in the late 1940s/early 1950s, cameras required a lot of work.  That’s shown in the very beginning when Goofy goes to buy his equipment and is forced to load down with a huge amount of stuff.  You also see it when Goofy has to wind the film in the camera.

If you have ever had an old film camera and wound the film, you will roll on the floor laughing at this gag.  I swear it took a full minute of a six and a half minute short, but I didn’t mind, because the jokes were so funny.  The camera mainly focuses on the window of the camera where you see the indicator as to what number of pictures you have.  Again, if you’ve had a film camera, you’ll understand.  Goofy winds past numbers, thumbs up signs, lots of writing and much more, stretching more and more and increasing the comedy as it goes along.

Once he finally gets outside, the omniscient narrator that is present in so many of the “How To” shorts seems to disappear, as Goofy picks a large slumbering bear as his target.  Once he settles on the subject of his composition, things unfold in a rather predictable way.  Goofy tries to take the bear’s picture, he disturbs him, and hilarity ensues.  What’s different about this is the way the chase goes.  We see the bear chasing Goofy out of the woods, into an amusement park, through the city streets and all the way back to his apartment.

It’s almost like there are two separate shorts at work here.  The typical “How To” model applies in the very beginning, with the narrator juxtaposed with Goofy’s exaggerated movements and gags and then a more traditional short with the bear chase.  I don’t know if there was some kind of shift or other change in the direction or if it’s simply a case of Disney not straying far away from their formula of the day.  Either way, the change in tone and style of comedy actually detracts from the short.  Both pieces are funny, but they don’t compliment each other very well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bee at the Beach

I have often said in this space that Donald Duck is at his best when he can have two things in a short.  First, he has to be mean.  Donald is an ill-tempered character and should always be portrayed as such.  Not mean to the point of being unlikeable, but definitely mean.  Second, he needs an adversary you can root for, not dislike.  The opposition to Donald has to be a good character that is fun to watch, and gets mistreated by the duck.  With Bee on the Beach, that formula works quite well.

Donald has crossed paths with a bee many times in his shorts, and production notes and writings of the time usually give them different names.  As such, many refer to the bees Donald faces as Spike, to use a generic term.  It applies greatly in most cases, because the bees tend to use their stingers as a spike into Donald’s rump most of the time.  This is no exception.  It all starts, though, because Donald is being mean.

When Spike tries to get his spot at the beach, Donald gets there and runs him over.  Then Donald drops water and sand on him, and ignores Spike when he tries to protest.  He puts him in a bottle and tries to get rid of him.  It’s these sorts of activities that give the viewer license to enjoy the tortures that Spike puts Donald through in the rest of the short.  That’s why the formula works so well.

Boy, does Spike torture him.  After regaining his freedom from the bottle, Spike manages to track Donald down out in the ocean.  For the next several minutes, he lets the air out of the raft Donald is floating on, first by taking the valve loose, then by puncturing it with his stinger.  That leads to Donald zooming around the ocean and ending up right in the middle of a large grouping of sharks.  Very unfortunate for a tasty duck, wouldn’t you say?

What I love about this short is it’s willing to bend the rules to allow Spike to do some very funny things.  He goes underwater to cut the bottom out of Donald’s raft, and instead of drowning like most bees would, Spike manages to survive and thrive, coaxing a shark to attack Donald.  It’s things like this that make the gags interesting, the conflict more fun and ultimately lead to Donald jumping around the ocean trying to avoid sharks.  That is a sight to behold.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Camp Dog

Normally, when watching the Disney shorts, I don’t care for the times when the main characters are shunted off to the side in place of newer characters.  For example, when Donald gets none of the spotlight and Chip and Dale are the primary focus.  I don’t care for that type of storytelling, because I obviously come to these cartoons for the Disney main characters.  Camp Dog, however, is an exception to that rule.  The inventive gags and use of the recurring coyote characters is so good that it makes up for the fact that Pluto is not all that prevalent in his own short.

Camp Dog tells the story of the coyote characters that we have seen menacing Pluto before, presumably a young coyote and his father.  Production notes call these two Bent Tail, the Coyote and his son, Bent Tail, Junior, although they are never named in the four shorts that they appear in during this period.  They are great characters, though, because of their interactions with each other.  In this instance, it’s because the older coyote is trying to steal the food that the campers have left tied up in a tree, while the younger simply wants to cut to the chase and eat Pluto instead!

When you get the absurdity of Bent Tail, Jr. trying to eat Pluto, this short becomes a very hilarious tale.  He keeps dragging Pluto out of the campers’ tent just as his father is getting a handle on the food stores.  Each time, you expect Pluto to wake up and stop them, but he doesn’t do so for the first part of the short, except one memorable sequence where he charges right past Junior and into the woods.  The back and forth is exceptional between the two coyotes.

The gags make Camp Dog shine, though.  A great sequence of Junior actually inside the box where the food is kept as his father is trying to hold onto the rope end builds the comedic tension until the inevitable crash.  The gag of having the coyotes pretend to be campers sleeping in the tents is also quite funny, as Pluto plays along with it for a minute before realizing he’s been had.

My favorite, though, has to be the ending.  After Pluto has finally woken up and done the chase scene that was so prominent in all the older Disney shorts from the 1930s, thereby demolishing the camp, he realizes what he has done.  The campers are coming back from their trip up the river, and Pluto sees that the damage done is all going to be blamed on him.  So rather than try to catch the coyotes, he joins them!  That is something new for Disney shorts, and it makes Camp Dog a great addition to the Pluto canon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 81 - Home on the Range

This week the DFPP team was trying to pick up a bounty on some cattle rustlers when they were moosmerized by an udder disturbance of technicowlor proportions in the 2004 animated movie Home on the Range.

Listen, download, etc.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hook, Lion and Sinker

Watching Donald Duck cartoons from this era of Disney quickly becomes an exercise in looking at how the animators are working to make the main duck more interesting.  We’ve seen new adversaries added, like Chip and Dale and different animal antagonists, and that trend continues with Hook, Lion and Sinker.  In this case, it’s a mountain lion and his son, trying to abscond with…yes, Donald’s food.

It comes to a certain point where you wonder if the Disney animators got enough to eat.  We saw yesterday that Chip and Dale’s short with Pluto was focused on stealing food, as most of their shorts are, and in Hook, Lion and Sinker the mountain lion is laser focused on taking fish from Donald’s cabin.  The gags all focus on a pile of fish that Donald presumably caught in the lake nearby, which the young mountain lion sees as his older cohort is focused on fishing instead.

Once the giant fish show up, the mountain lions try to find ways to infiltrate Donald’s cabin to retrieve them.  The problem is, in this short Donald is a fine outdoorsman, with heads of several feisty mountain lions mounted on his wall.  This is not something we’ve seen from Donald’s character before.  Sure, he’s a fiery tempered duck, but a crack marksman who manages to chase and destroy his adversaries?  Sounds more like the Punisher than Donald Duck.

It’s for that reason that the rest of the short doesn’t exactly ring true.  The lions are bumbling fools, at least the way they are portrayed, and Donald is pushed as the heavyweight who outsmarts them.  Again, this doesn’t ring true with what we’ve seen of him in other shorts.  The lions are not something we’ve dealt with before, but using them in this way does not make them compelling characters.  Look at Chip and Dale.  They are not menacing, but they are portrayed as silly, yet ultimately effective characters.  It’s a polar opposite approach to Hook, Lion and Sinker.

There are certainly good gags in the short, such as the buckshot constantly being picked out of the lion’s behind and chasing the lions through the forest.  The problem is that the viewer can’t connect to the lions, because their intent is ultimately evil, and it’s taking away from Donald.  He hardly appears in this short, which means that the lions need to be the compelling characters.  It’s an inversion of the typical Disney formula that might work as an experiment, but ultimately fails to entertain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Food for Feudin'

Back to the cartoon shorts today, with Treasure Island and Planet in the rear view mirror.  With Disney primarily focused on Pluto and Donald in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it’s no surprise that the short today is a Pluto one, featuring Chip and Dale along for the ride.  It’s also no surprise that Food for Feudin’ features Pluto taking on the chipmunks as both try to hide and store their food.  His seems to be the plot of almost every Chip and Dale short.

I don’t know enough about chipmunks to say, but Disney certainly seems to believe that all chipmunks are interested in is hoarding food.  It seems to be Chip and Dale’s singular obsession, to be sure.  In this scenario, though, they run into Pluto, who is also trying to hoard his bones.  They encounter each other when Pluto happens to choose the same tree as the chipmunks.  Hilarity, as it often does, ensues.

The nice detour this short takes after the initial back and forth is to involve some props in the game.  Yes, rather than just have Chip and Dale pull Pluto’s tail or poke him in the nose or silly things like that, the animation team came up with something much sillier.  The concept is that the chipmunks inhabit a pair of gardening gloves, and so the gloves start acting as independent hands moving on their own around the doghouse and teasing Pluto.

It makes for some creepy and silly animation all at once.  These disembodied hands play baseball, communicate to Pluto through gestures, and generally get the dog all riled up to play.  It’s not entirely clear why they are doing so, when all the chipmunks want to do is get the nuts stored in the doghouse.  It makes sense, though, when they finally con Pluto into dragging the dog house over to their tree.

I like this short for its willingness to break the usual mold.  It would have been exceptionally easy to try and just have the chipmunks pulling their normal pranks, but adding the element of the disembodied hands almost makes for new characters.  You can watch this short with no knowledge of Chip and Dale and really enjoy it, because they serve as generic antagonists that are actually cute and enjoyable to watch.  I think watching a bunch of Chip and Dale shorts gets old quickly, but remember that this is not how they normally were seen.  Go check out Food for Feudin’ though if you want to enjoy a great short with the two chipmunks.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Treasure Planet Review by Briana Alessio

This animated adaptation of Treasure Island from 2002 is based on a young man named Jim Hawkins whose childhood dream was to experience the planet, and understand himself as to what happened.  The original storyline by Robert Louis Stevenson is certainly an intriguing one.  Unfortunately, this Disney film seems to lack captivation and a particular level of heart, at least in my personal opinion.  This is incredibly tough for me to type, especially since we all know very well that Disney has a tremendous amount of heart in their films.  However, every once in a while, one will come along which will not have a sufficient plot for their characters, such as this one.  It does not seem to be capable of grasping a firm hold on their audience.

Jim Hawkins is voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt of 3rd Rock from the Sun and Inception fame.  David Hyde Pierce plays the amazing Doctor Doppler.  Pierce played Niles on the much beloved television show Frasier for eleven seasons (he also gave us the voice of Slim in A Bug’s Life).  Martin Short played the adorably naive robot B.E.N.; Short has a few Disney connections including The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and Jungle 2 Jungle, and he is providing the voice of Mr. Walsh in the soon to be released Disney film Frankenweenie!  Emma Thompson voices Amelia, the captain of the ship.  Thompson is well known for her roles in Nanny McPhee and Sense and Sensibility.  Roscoe Lee Browne gives us the much beloved Mr. Arrow.  Browne has appeared in countless television shows and films including portraying the voice of Francis in the Disney film Oliver & Company.  Tony Jay narrates, who sadly passed away in 2006.  Jay has given us the voice of Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as Monsieur D’Arque in Beauty and the Beast, among many other films.  Michael McShane voices Hands; McShane also played the voices of the adorable duo Tuck and Roll in A Bug’s Life.  As for the Star Wars connection, Corey Burton voices Count Dooku and others on Star Wars themed video games.

My absolute favorite thing about this film is Morph, John Silver’s little shape shifting friend who thinks he is a dog.  Every time Morph was on-screen, I smiled.  He was voiced by Dane A. Davis who works mainly in the sound department for films including The Matrix and Prep & Landing among many others. 

Treasure Planet was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.  Clements and Musker have also given their natural directing and writing talents to The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, Hercules, and The Great Mouse Detective.  The music in this film is beyond incredible.  The Goo Goo Dolls is one of my favorite groups so perhaps I am biased, but the songs which Johnny Rzeznik wrote and performed for the film are amazing.  They are “I’m Still Here (Jim’s Theme)” and “Always Know Where You Are.” 

My favorite scene was any which included Doctor Doppler or Morph…which would include quite a few scenes, come to think of it.  That being said, they are both my two favorite characters in this film.  I laughed right out loud when Amelia says to Doctor Doppler, “You have wonderful eyes”, and he responds with “She’s lost her mind!”  I became a bit misty eyed at the end, as I normally do when a Disney film comes to a close.  In all honesty, I thought that John Silver was going to end up being Jim Hawkins’ father, which is why Hawkins had the “this seems familiar” vibe going on.  I was disappointed that this was not true.

Thanks to the awesome trivia on IMDb, I wanted to share a few facts that I learned while doing my homework for this film.  Unbelievably, this film took ten years to complete!  At one point, B.E.N. sings a few bars of the wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean attraction we all know and love at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  The part where Hawkins and Silver are both attempting to persuade Morph to come to them is entirely ad-libbed.  The name of the ship is the R.L.S. Legacy which pays homage to the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.  Something I found quite interesting is that the role of Jim Hawkins was partially based on James Dean…I cannot see a similarity there, to be honest, but it depends on how the individual viewer sees the character.  And there is a hidden Mickey on a shelf in the bedroom of the young Hawkins.  It is none other than a Mickey Mouse figurine.

Treasure Planet is not a bad film in the least.  It is very enjoyable.  Although very slow moving at times, the writing is great and characters are sweet.  The animation department did a phenomenal job in how they interacted.  This is a film worth seeing at some point.  As I said, it is not the first Disney film I would reach for if you want one full of heart and emotion, but it is endearing mostly thanks to the music and Morph.

My Rating:  3.5/5

And doctor, again with the greatest possible respect, zip your howling screamer. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 80 - Treasure Planet

This week the DFPP team and their friend JoeZer head into the Etherium to find the lost treasure of Captain Flint only to discover that it wasn’t the best idea to have asked for directions from a cyborg in the 2002 animated adventure Treasure Planet.

Listen, download, etc.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Treasure Island

As discussed the last couple of days, Treasure Island was a solution to a thorny problem for Disney, a way to get their foreign money and put it to use.  In that sense it was a success, because financially it at least gave them product to make, even if it didn’t become an overwhelming financial success.  But as a creative endeavor, does Treasure Island work?

It’s a mixed bag, is the best way I can put it.  Like many films of the 1940s and 1950s, it’s hard to watch today, with the way modern pacing works.  We have become conditioned in modern theatres to have Sorkin-esque rapid fire dialogue, quick cuts between scenes, large explosives and CGI action set pieces.  Some bemoan that fact, but I feel it makes small films all the better, and gives us different flavors of film to enjoy.  The fact of the matter is, Treasure Island was Walt Disney’s gateway into adventure filmmaking, a genre he clearly enjoyed.

Part of the Disney tradition is adventure films with young people becoming involved in great journeys or mysteries.  It all begins with Treasure Island, and the adaptation of Stevenson’s work.  It is an almost slavish devotion to that work that is actually a strong point of the film.  Treasure Island creates a world that the viewer wants to inhabit and feel.  Watching this film takes you into an idealized version of England in the late 1700s, where noblemen still ruled supreme but mixed with commoners and seamen to create a whole society.  Watching this film you can smell the sea, taste the rum or feel the heat.

A lot of that is due to the performance of Robert Newton as Long John Silver.  His performance here is literally inventing the onscreen pirate.  The cadence of his speech, the way he moves and his willingness to always bargain, cheat or steal to save his own skin is a foundation for all other film pirates going forward.  When you watch this today, it’s hard to realize that this came first.  Watch Newton’s facial expressions, the sweat pouring off his brow and listen to his speech and you’ll see how Johnny Depp created the character of Captain Jack Sparrow. 

What falls down is the performance of the other actors.  Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins can best be described as inoffensive.  While his performance doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t seem particularly bad either.  The key relationship in the film is that of Hawkins and Silver, and it just doesn’t work as well as it could.  There’s clearly affection there, but it’s the back and forth between them as both switch sides that feels forced.  It comes from the book, but the nuance is somewhat lost.

The other characters are frankly superfluous.  They aren’t characters so much as ciphers, there to advance the story in certain ways, either kicking things off, starting a mutiny early or going after Jim with a knife.  That’s to be expected, as the focus here is on the two main characters and the twists and turns in the journey to Flint’s treasure on the island. 

All these elements come together to make a realistic setting and one outstanding actor amongst a field of uninspired performances.  But it makes for a fairly entertaining film, although a slow one.  It will take time to get invested in this film, but the time is worth it.  It’s an amazing film to watch knowing about all the adventures that Disney would put on film in the coming years.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Production of Treasure Island

Yesterday, I wrote about the arc of the Disney Studio from 1940-1950, including the fact that World War II made a dent in the cash flow.  Once the war broke out, Disney could no longer recoup money that was earned in Europe, especially in Great Britain.  After the war, legislation and political battles kept that prohibition in place.  So what could Disney do with that money? 

The answer, one that only Walt Disney would come up with, was to create new films, using the money that was captured to produce films in Great Britain.  Turning the negative of a trapped cash flow into a positive was a classic Walt move.  Four films would eventually be made during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the first of which would be Treasure Island, a telling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson pirate novel.

Previously, Walt and his team had been working through ideas of how to adapt the novel as an animated film, but with the complication of having the money trapped overseas as well as the growing number of actors who worked with Walt and team on various live action projects, the idea of a live action version came rapidly. 

Bobby Driscoll, who had appeared in Song of the South and So Dear To My Heart, was soon chosen to be Jim Hawkins, the young boy who comes into possession of the treasure map and is sucked into the world of pirates.  Robert Newton, a well known British actor, was chosen as Long John Silver, the pirate adversary.  With cast in place, the crew turned to finding ways to shoot this film, which included finding a ship that would serve as the back drop to the majority of the film.  Much of the film was actually shot at sea, making it an expensive and difficult shoot.

Further adding to the problems on the shoot was the fact that Driscoll could only get a work permit to be in Britain for 3 months.  So, the central character in the film was on a shortened schedule and his scenes had to be shot first.  Despite these issues, though, the final film was completed and released to theatres in July of 1950.

In the end it became a pivotal film for many reasons, but not necessarily financial ones.  Newton’s portrayal of Silver may seem rather predictable today, but in fact it set the tone for “pirate speech” as we know it.  The adaptation was probably the most loyal of all filmed adaptations of Treasure Island, and would serve to launch a later sequel and television adaptation starring Newton.  In the end Treasure Island did not make a lot of money, but it did well enough that Disney was able to get more out of it through re-airs, TV airings and later home video releases.  How is the film itself?  Come back tomorrow and we will discuss.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Disney Studio - 1940-1950

It’s been a struggle lately to get the blog updated on time, and for that I apologize.  But as we speed through 1950, it seemed relevant to me to take a moment to pause and catch up to where Walt and his studio stood on the precipice of the release of Treasure Island, the first official full live action Disney film.  So Dear To My Heart and Song of the South had featured large chunks of animation, but Treasure Island would be the first Disney film comprised entirely of live action.  We’ll discuss the reasons for that tomorrow.

Fantasia was creatively successful, but not financially.

The 1940s were probably the worst decade at the Disney Studio since it’s founding.  After the great successes with Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons, Walt’s empire grew to new heights with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  That film alone provided the capital to build the new studio in Burbank that still stands today.  It also allowed masterpieces like Pinocchio and Fantasia to be made.

But the onset of success and World War II brought strife to Walt’s life unlike any he had ever experienced.  Now, rather than struggle to get things done, Walt and his team was struggling to keep what they had earned and have enough money to continue on with new projects.  It had to be the most frustrating time for a creative man that sought only to improve constantly.

Think about the succession of events.  In 1940, Fantasia launches and is a failure financially.  For the first time, Walt’s vision of creative success did not achieve financial gain.  Then, in 1941, the “family” he had built around the studio turned on him when key animators went on strike.  As pressure increased on Walt to figure out ways to settle the strike, his health deteriorated to the point that his brother, Roy and his wife, Lillian, both were very concerned.  Couple this with the fact that the studio didn’t have the money or time to produce the kinds of films Walt clearly wanted to make.

Dumbo turned a profit, but wasn't the kind of film Walt was hoping to make.
I love Dumbo as a film, and can’t imagine it being different, but it’s not the kind of film Walt wanted to make in 1941.  He was more interested in Fantasia.  You see more of his efforts and publicity behind Victory in Air Power than you do in things like The Reluctant Dragon.  Then you have the package features, with short features being combined together.  Sure, Saludos Amigos is interesting, but it’s not a full film.  There’s more of Walt poured into The Three Caballeros or some sequences in the other package features, but the lack of time and money to make these films more feature length clearly was not his preference.

Part of the cause of this inability to make feature films was World War II.  The war dried up European markets, depriving the company of desperately needed cash flow.  Films like Pinocchio or Snow White had done well overseas, but now future films were not able to premiere in Europe or Asia.  Or, if they did, the money received had to stay in those countries.  That conundrum led to the situation that created Treasure Island, which we will talk more about tomorrow.

Little things like the "Baia" sequence in The Three Caballeros showed where Walt wanted to go.
But look back at the films of the 1940s, the time that Walt spent away from the Studio on the Good Neighbor tour, the time he took off to recover his health, and the way the films were produced.  You can see a clear pattern of Walt trying to find ways to break new ground, but being unable to do so except in small bursts.  A little bit of Baia from the Three Caballeros, a fun bit in the Sleepy Hollow sequence or some live action & animation combinations in So Dear To My Heart and Song of the South – these were places Walt could do new things. 

So, in retrospect, it should not be surprising that the 1950s saw a burst of creative energy from the Disney Studios.  The creative geniuses had been somewhat bottled up, but would soon unleash with new animation, live action features, a theme park, television shows and much more.  The 1950s really created what we know as Disney today, and a lot of it starts with Treasure Island.  More tomorrow…  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Robin Hood Review by Briana Alessio

This animated Disney classic from 1973 is based on the famous thief Robin Hood, who fed the poor with the riches of the wealthy.  In this version, Robin and Maid Marian are foxes, and Little John is a bear.  Therefore, it is needless to say that this is not your ordinary tale.  However, as always, Disney does an excellent job of turning a story of harsh realities into a lighthearted tale for the whole family.
Unbelievably, I went through my whole childhood without ever seeing this film…and I’m honestly not sure how I managed, now that I have finally seen it.  Everything about this made me smile.  There were laughable moments, touching scenes, and of course, the animators did a brilliant job in the designs/drawings throughout.  This comes as no surprise, being said animators were Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Don Bluth, Ollie Johnston, Floyd Norman, etc. 

There is always something about the beginning of a Disney film which makes my heart purely happy, and that is the very beginning.  The format of the opening credits, and soft melodic tone in the background let you know that not only are you are about to watch a classic, but you can feel Uncle Walt’s spirit ringing through every moment.   The opening song, “Oo-de-lally”, reminds me a lot of the famous “Hamster Dance” song.  I’m not sure if “Hamster Dance” is dedicated to keep the memory of “Oo-de-lally” alive, but if not, they sure do sound similar.

The writers did a fantastic job of giving the animated characters some brilliant lines, many of which brought laugh out loud scenes.  One of my favorite lines was by Lady Kluck, when she informed Maid Marian of having Robin’s being part of the family as  “an outlaw for an in-law.”  Such a simple and yet delightful line.  This may be completely random, but I thought the spires on King Richard’s (or Prince John’s, depending on how you view it) castle resembled those on Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom park of Walt Disney World.  Again, this may be completely a coincidence and I am most likely seeing things.

The fact that the storyline went along with Robin and Marian growing up together was touching, especially when you add in that Marian was afraid Robin would not remember her.  Therefore, the archery tournament means so much more when he is masked with a beak, but the gleam in her eyes shows that she realizes who it is.

The voice actors performed incredibly throughout the duration of the film.  You could honestly feel a connection among them, which shined through the animated characters.  Brian Bedford voiced the one and only Robin Hood.  Bedford has appeared in a few episodes of television shows, both American and British; I remember him most from a hilarious episode of Frasier.  He continues to act to this day.  Monica Evans voices Maid Marian.  Evans gave us the lovely Abigail in The AristoCats, as well as the funny but irritating Cecily Pigeon in The Odd Couple.  (Sidenote: I played a Pigeon sister in my college’s acting class once.  Had a lot of fun with that one.)  Peter Ustinov voiced both Prince John and King Richard.  Ustinov has appeared in many timeless films including Spartacus and Logan’s Run.  Pssst…he also made an appearance in The Great Muppet Caper as the truck driver!  Terry-Thomas voices Sir Hiss, the awesome sidekick snake in this film.  Sir Hiss is one of my favorites.  Phil Harris voiced the beyond wonderful Little John.  Harris also gave us Baloo in The Jungle Book and O’Malley in The AristoCats, two fantastic characters from Disney’s classic history.  We also have Andy Devine who portrayed the sweetheart Friar Tuck.  I remember Devine most from a Twilight Zone episode, but he is most famous for being in many Westerns including 1939’s Stagecoach alongside John Wayne.  Now, the vultures were voiced by George Lindsey (Trigger) and Ken Curtis (Nutsy).  Lindsey is most remembered for playing Goober Pyle in The Andy Griffith Show.  Another Disney connection includes voicing Lafayette in The AristoCats.  I LOVE Ken Curtis.  He portrayed the lovable Festus Haggen in the long running series Gunsmoke.  I grew up watching this show, thanks to my dad always having the repeats on.  Curtis’ voice absolutely stands out! 

My favorite character in this film is Friar Tuck.  I have a reason for this.  My parents and I were getting ready to leave the Contemporary Resort on Walt Disney Resort property after a wonderful vacation in 2002, and Tuck appeared from out of the blue.  I was beginning to walk out the door, and he grabbed my arm and led me back in.  I laughed and turned around to walk back out, and he turned me the other direction once again.  Much laughter (and a few tears) were had.  Disney once again gave me a moment to remember for the rest of my life, and for that reason alone, I have always held a special connection with Friar Tuck.  As for my favorite scene in the film, any of the scenes with the vultures would rank at the top.  I ADORE Nutsy and Trigger.

Everything about this film is wonderful, from the music to the production crew to the directors.  The director was…wait for it…none other than the outstanding Wolfgang Reitherman, who also gave us The Rescuers, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The AristoCats, The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, and 101 Dalmatians among many others! 

The theme of Robin Hood is very realistic to this day, especially pertaining to the reminder in the beginning…”rob the rich to feed the poor” versus “rob the poor to feed the rich.”  The latter seems very true in society, and in many ways, we all want a Robin Hood to save us from economic grief.  That being said, we can all relate to this film in a way, and I feel that Disney proved themselves yet again in producing a wonderfully heartfelt film with a continuously maintained powerful message.

My Rating:  4.5/5

Oh, he’s so handsome, just like his reward posters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 79 - Robin Hood

This week the DFPP team and their friend Chris head to Sherwood Forest on the trail of a legend only to discover a rooster that plays a mean guitar and spins quite a wattled tale about an equally legendary fox in the 1973 animated adventure Robin Hood.

Listen, download, etc.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Brave Review by Briana Alessio

Ever since I saw the first trailer for Brave, I knew I wanted to see it.  A young lady with fiery red hair who fights for what she believes in, and dabbles in archery, who has a familiarity with bears AND has a stunning Scottish accent.  You cannot go wrong.  As the time grew closer, the commercials grew and although I was continuously excited to see it, I was a bit tired of seeing the same advertisement repeatedly.  When the day came, however, I was absolutely stoked.  I can say with a happy heart that this film lived up to my high expectations, and positively surpassed the direction I thought the film would go in.

This year’s Disney/Pixar collaboration, Brave, is about a young princess named Merida whose mother is set out to find a suitor for her daughter.  Merida’s father is basically going along with whatever her mother wants.  After all, who would want to break tradition?  Without giving too much away, she encounters a witch who casts a spell which goes haywire for Merida and her mother.  Many intense moments and a few smiles later, there is a guaranteed happy ending.  What is a true Disney film without a happy ending?

Merida is voiced by Kelly Macdonald, who stars on the television show Boardwalk Empire and has appeared in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy among others.  She is also slated to star in Anna Karenina later this year.  Billy Connolly voices Merida’s wonderfully endearing father, Fergus.  Connolly has appeared in many television shows and films; he is going to star as Dain Ironfoot in the upcoming film The Hobbit: There and Back Again, which looks intriguing.  Emma Thompson voices Elinor, Merida’s mother.  Thompson has also been in many films including one many of us adore called Love Actually.  This film is filled with many other remarkable voice talents including the hilarious talk show host Craig Ferguson, who voices Lord Macintosh.  And of course, John Ratzenberger makes his annual Disney/Pixar audio appearance, this time as Gordon.

The directors and co-writers of Brave are Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell (credit must be given as well to Irene Mecchi, who also co-wrote the screenplay).  Andrews, who proudly wore a kilt to the world premiere of the film, has written for Star Wars: Clone Wars (yay, Star Wars connection!).  Chapman has assisted in writing for Fantasia 2000, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast.  Purcell has voiced characters in Cars themed video games, as well as the Monster Truck Mater and Heavy Metal Mater in 2010’s TV series Mater’s Tall Tales

The music in Brave is absolutely outstanding.  A lady named Julie Fowlis sings the beautiful melodies “Touch the Sky” and “Into the Open Air.”  The fantastic group Mumford & Sons even lend their voices to the soundtrack, singing “Learn Me Right” with a female vocalist who goes by the name of Birdy.  We cannot forget mentioning “Song of Mor du” sung by Billy Connolly and the cast, as well as Emma Thompson and Peigi Barker’s gorgeous “Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal).”

My favorite character is without a doubt Merida.  Ariel may be my favorite Disney princess, but Merida has exactly the kind of attitude and personality I love.  As the awesome host named Ryan Kilpatrick of this here podcast has always said, there must be a clear objective of each character.  This girl’s objective was extremely clear and understandable.  Now, if you know me well, you know that I cry at the drop of a hat.  Shockingly, Brave did not make me cry once.  I did get misty eyed a few times, but tears never once exited out of my eyes.  For this film, I think I have to see it again before deciding what my favorite part was.  I loved the whole thing, so it would be hard for me to choose something in particular.  However, for now, I will settle with the visually beautiful scene of Merida’s decision to “shoot for her own hand” and splits the arrow on the target with HER arrow.

This film is not all about bows, arrows, and bears.  This is actually about family, sacrifice, and destiny.  That being said, it may not connect to children as one may think.  This does not seem directed toward any particular group of people, but rather for an individual’s opinion.  Being at a stage of my life when fate and destiny are at the forefront of my mind, this increased my enjoyment factor.  All things aside, it is definitely worth seeing.  At a younger age, one will laugh at the cute baby bears and perhaps during the “fights” at the castle.  At an older age, one will understand how Merida is going through an extremely important stage of her life and will join her for an adventure of a lifetime.  I’m so pleased I saw this.  The storyline is solid, the visual effects are out of this world, and the characters are delightful.  Disney made the right choice with this one.  Yes, they took a chance, but you know what?  It was SO worth the risk.

My Rating:  4.5/5

If you had a chance to change your fate….would you?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 78 - Brave

This week the DFPP team follows a trail of will-o'-the-wisps all the way to Scotland in search of the demon-bear only to discover that sometimes you have to stop scurrying to learn to love your mom in the 2012 animated adventure Brave.