Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cold War

George Geef returns to the screen in Cold War, wherein Goofy takes on the common cold.  In case you’ve forgotten, George Geef is Goofy’s “human” persona, where he takes on the characteristics of a typical suburbanite to show the humor inherent in every day situations.  It’s Goofy’s latest evolution to being the “common man” that can demonstrate this kind of humor.  What’s more relatable than the common cold?

There is a ton of truth in this short, to the point that it makes it less funny than a normal Goofy short.  That is not a criticism, as it’s a more subtle humor than we are used to from Goofy.  If you watched his last short, Home Made Home, which was full of slapstick gags, then went to this one, you’d be in for a surprise.  It’s almost a completely different character.  George Geef is us, whereas Goofy is the guy we always laugh at when he messes up.  It’s a small but important difference.

This short focuses on the immense discomfort that a cold causes in all of us when it comes on suddenly.  We get to see the trial of trying to swallow a cold pill when your throat is swollen shut from a cold.  We see the inability to get warm, stay cool or either when you suffer from a horrid fever.  And we see the lack of concern from Geef’s wife transfer immediately into overdrive to help, becoming an annoyance in the process.  We have all been there before.

It’s the exaggeration of these every day moments that makes the short so entertaining.  The pill gag is not my favorite, but it’s definitely something I can relate to.  I’ve definitely been sick before and tried to get others to understand that to no avail.  Not my wife, mind you, who’s a delightful woman and lets me sleep when I’m sick, but co-workers and others.  It’s one of those shorts that cuts close to home and touches the viewer in a different place.

In the end, Cold War comes off well, but it’s not the uproariously funny Goofy short that the “How To” shorts provided.  It’s a more mature short, that relies on the viewer being a grown up.  This one is not one we will see replayed on Disney Channel or online, because it’s not relatable for kids, since they don’t go to work or deal with wives.  For the rest of us, though, it’s a fun distraction from the daily grind that George Geef deals with, just like we do.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Corn Chips

Donald versus the chipmunks has, at this point in Disney’s history, become a standby for the animation team.  And somehow, it always revolves around food.  Chip and Dale are looking for something to eat, Donald has it, and hilarity ensues.  Eventually it all comes back to this, and the excitement is in seeing how they pull it off.  Are there new gags?  Does the interaction between the three entertain more or less than other chipmunk shorts?

With Corn Chips, the food item in question is popcorn and the answer to the above questions is a definite yes.  The popcorn actually adds a dynamic element to the short, leaving this one with lots more movement and fun than other recent Chip and Dale shorts.  It even starts with a great gag of both Donald and the chipmunks trying to shovel their respective driveways.  Donald’s is of course his actual driveway, while Chip and Dale try to shovel the branch above that very same driveway.  Donald manages to trick them into doing his walk simply by picking them up on a shovel and changing where they’re shoveling.

The fun really gets going, though, when the chipmunks discover the wonder of popcorn.  This is a short that brings back memories, as it shows Donald popping actual corn kernels over a fire, which some of us may be old enough to remember.  Before the microwave, this is how we popped popcorn, kids!  It definitely took me back to childhood while watching this, especially the sense of wonder that Chip and Dale had as they viewed the transformation between kernels to popped corn.

The ensuing fight over the popped kernels follows a fairly predictable path, with Chip and Dale running out of Donald’s house with the popcorn and the Duck chasing them trying to get it back.  There are some new things here, though, like the chipmunks tying up the popcorn in a little ball in Donald’s hat and turning it into a football.  Watching them run up and down the driveway and toss the “football” back and forth while some collegiate pep band music played was the laugh out loud moment of the short.

That said, then there was the obligatory Donald chasing them up their tree and out onto a shaky limb.  That’s okay, as it ends up with a fun climax of Donald trying to smoke the chipmunks out which only turns into an opportunity for them to pop an insane amount of popcorn on the fire he provided.  The end shot of popcorn surrounding a despondent Donald Duck is a fine example of how these shorts work.  The two parties are fighting back and forth, but in the end, it’s Donald’s arrogance and lack of forethought that undoes him.  That’s a winning formula.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Odd Life of Timothy Green Review by Briana Alessio

I should begin this by stating that there WILL be spoilers within this review.  Therefore, if you intend on seeing it and/or would rather not have the film revealed to you as of right now, please do not read on.  Otherwise, I hope you all enjoy this post.

There are two words I would use to describe this film: moving and beautiful.  Many might say that death is a huge topic in this one, but I would rather think that life is the main topic, and that in order to live life to the fullest, we must take advantage of every opportunity we have to spend time with our loved ones.  To tell them how much we care about them while we have the chance.

The film opens with a couple named Cindy and Jim Green seated with two members of an adoption agency.  They claim how their only experience with a child is “Timothy.”  The agency gives the couple a limited amount of time to explain who Timothy is.  Therefore, the remainder of the film is a flash back of sorts.  They begin by saying that Cindy is unable to have a child.  Upon finding out this information, they make a list of traits they would have wanted their child to have.  They place these notes in a wooden box and bury the box in their backyard.  Overnight, they have a heavy rain storm/thunder storm.  Jim and Cindy hear strange noises so they head downstairs to check it out.  After much searching and exploring, they finally discover a young boy in a room of their house, covered in dirt.  Cindy gives him a bath, and sees that his legs are covered in leaves; she calls Jim in to see this, which gives us a comical exchange between the couple.  Nothing is making sense at this point, but they quickly figure out where he came from.  They decide to keep knee socks on Timothy, to avoid curious looks and judgment from others.

From here, we meet Jim’s father and Cindy’s family.  We also discover that, since Timothy’s life is a plant of sorts, he receives his nourishment from the sun.  This is one of my favorite things about the film.  When the sun comes out, he stands facing it, and spreads his arms wide open to absorb the light and warmth.  He meets a girl at his school named Joni, who seems to understand his differences.  They form a bond and become very close.  Timothy is just about the sweetest kid you will ever meet.  His persistence is contagious, as is his smile.   The scenes throughout this film are endearing, especially one which takes place at Cindy’s sister’s house.  Her family puts on a concert, and invites Timothy to play an instrument on his own.  The scene which follows is smile worthy, and truly sweet.

There are also many serious moments in the film, such as threats of Jim’s pencil factory going out of business.  Timothy comes up with an idea to make pencils out of leaves.  Jim pitches the idea to his boss, Mr. Crudstaff, who seems unimpressed.  Meanwhile, every day Cindy becomes more and more disgusted by her insensitive boss, Ms. Crudstaff.  Cindy brings Timothy in one day, and he offers to draw a portrait of said boss.  Well, being the straightforward and honest young man that he is, he includes a physical trait in the picture that most likely should have been ignored.  This results in Cindy lashing out at an insulted Ms. Crudstaff, which results in her termination. 

Sadly, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.  Just like a small tree, Timothy’s leaves are falling off one by one.  This happens throughout the duration of the film.  He realizes upon having one remaining leaf, that this is the time he needs to inform both Joni and his parents.  We do not see the exchange which takes place between the two, but we see Joni crying as she and Timothy hug.  Shortly after, they arrive home, where another storm is taking place.  He tells them they have to get inside, where he informs his newfound parents, Cindy and Jim, that he has to leave.  Folks, this is where you are going to need that box of tissues by your side.  They all begin to cry and form a group hug, as Timothy tells them that they are ready to become parents.  He knows the trials and tribulations they have been through, and knows in his heart that they have great parenting skills to raise a child.  With a flash of lightning, Timothy disappears.  Cindy and Jim run outside and re-discover the box in the dirt.  This leaves us back at the adoption agency, where they inform the couple that they will be in touch.  We hear Timothy’s voice as he explains what he did with each of his leaves that he saved (this leads to more tears, people).  The last scene gives us the people from the adoption agency, as they arrive at the Green household and present them with a beautiful girl to call their own.

This film was incredibly well cast.  Cindy was played by Jennifer Garner, who has appeared in a number of films and television shows.  She gave us the lead role in the show Alias, which lasted five years.  Jim is played by Joel Edgerton, who gives us a…wait for it…Star Wars connection!  He played Owen Lars in both 2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.  Timothy is CJ Adams, who has not had a lot of experience yet but I guarantee we will see him in much more in the coming years. Odeya Rush is the misunderstood Joni.  Rush, similar to Adams, is not quite experienced in the acting world but is another actor we will be seeing more of in the future.  We also have fabulous performances by Ron Livingston (Mr. Crudstaff), Dianne Wiest (Ms. Crudstaff), M. Emmet Walsh (Uncle Bub), and David Morse (Jim’s dad), among many others.

This is directed by Peter Hedges, who also wrote the film’s screenplay alongside Ahmet Zappa.  Hedges wrote Dan in Real Life (which CJ Adams was also cast in) as well as Pieces of April.  He also wrote screenplays for 2002’s About a Boy, 1999’s A Map of the World, and 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  The music throughout the film is wonderful, especially Glen Hansard’s “This Gift”, which has quickly become one of my new favorite songs.

My favorite scene is at a work meeting of Jim’s (a scene which I did not mention that takes place toward the end…you will have to see for yourselves).  My favorite character was, of course, Timothy.  I love everything he represents.  His aura is love and he is interested in everyone he meets.  He wants to get to know them, and does not have a care in the world that they treat him with disrespect.  He knows what he was put on this earth for, and he intends to live this out with good intentions.  All in all, just about everything in this film is top notch.  At times, the plot becomes a bit hurried but it is worth it to overlook in order to comprehend what Timothy represents for his new family and those around him.  Also, thanks to Disney, his viewers are also powerfully impacted by who he is.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green has so many wonderful messages.  First of all, the most important is that you should NEVER let a day go by without telling someone you love them because you do not know when you will lose them.  In a flash, they could be gone.  With the recent passing of our friend Nolan Woodall, many of us understand this point quite well.  Also, do not go through your life judging others.  God did not make us to be that way.  It is His place to judge, and not ours.  There is also a scene in the film which approaches the topic of bullying – instead of Timothy crying or fighting back, he lets the kids proceed without saying anything.  When you take a step back and realize that some people are simply not understood and do not know the true definition of appreciation, you will learn a lot.  Accept differences and treat others the way you would want to be treated.  Accept people with open arms and understand their unique qualities.  Everyone has a purpose on this earth, one which leads to us holding them in our hearts forever.  Go forth and meet others.  Appreciate them.  Acknowledge their differences.  And most of all, please love them.

My Rating:  4.5/5

Did you know that I’m a big fan of your work?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 86 - The Odd Life of Timothy Green

This week the DFPP team decides to visit the Stanleyville Pencil Factory only to find that you can’t always get what you want but sometimes if you write it down you can get what you need in the 2012 drama The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Home Made Home

The Goof returns to the Disney shorts in Home Made Home, this time returning to the “How To” formula while building his own home.  It’s another step in Goofy’s evolution into the every man.  While most of us have not built our own home, anyone who owns a home can relate to the struggles of trying to repair or improve things around the house.  I believe I’ve actually done some of the things Goofy is faced with here.  I’m not sure I did as well as he did. 

Goofy’s humor has always been based around his bumbling attempts to carry out tasks that the rest of us have tried or at least thought about trying.  The home building is a take on that with an omniscient narrator as we’ve seen in countless other of Goofy’s shorts.  The formula is tweaked a bit, because a large portion of the short is focused on fun gags with Goofy on screen, without the narrator.  In those portions, it’s a fabulous sort of silent cartoon, because Goofy doesn’t speak for most of the short.

This is where the animators get to use Goofy’s limber and pliable form to its fullest.  Seeing his limbs flop around as he attempts to put in a window, nail up supports or perform other tasks related to building a home from scratch.  You have to hand it to the story team on this one, as the premise alone is enough to put a smile on your face.  Of all the Disney characters, who’s the one you’d most like to watch building something?

My favorite piece of the film is when Goofy is trying to install a window into the frame of the house.  The unwieldy glass teeters and totters through Goofy’s hands, which is so true to life if you’ve ever tried to install a window.  It’s a classic comedic piece with gags galore, including the classic of the window shifting and the Goof not realizing there is nothing there.  It’s no spoiler to say that the glass ends up shattered.  How it happens is the true fun of the short.

The big shift in the Disney shorts from the 1930s to the late 1940s and early 1950s is the move of the characters from the slapstick barnyard humor to suburban gags that have a little more to them.  That is not a slam on those old cartoons, which I enjoy a great deal, it’s just that it’s different.  You would not have seen Goofy trying to create a home 15 years earlier.  Now, a more mature group of animators is creating different shorts, and watching that evolution is part of what I love about doing this blog.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chimpanzee Blu-ray Review

Back in 2008, The Walt Disney Company created the Disneynature film label to release new and independent nature documentaries.  The idea was to continue the tradition of Disney nature films started with the True-Life Adventures series.  Earlier in 2012 the group’s sixth feature film, Chimpanzee was released in theaters.  Narrated by Tim Allen, it tells the story of an orphaned Chimpanzee named Oscar who is taken in by an older male chimp named Freddy.  If you missed this movie in theaters, now you can watch it at home as the Blu-ray and DVD was just released on August 21, 2012.

The Blu-ray offers up 3 language choices: English, French, or Spanish, as well as use of the English Descriptive Video Service for the blind.  Like most Blu-rays, this choice is offered as soon as you put it into your player, but can be changed later on.  You can also turn on subtitles for the hearing impaired.

Several previews are available for viewing on the Blu-ray including one for the upcoming 3D release of Finding Nemo, a movie that we’ll be reviewing on our Podcast later this year.  For those who want to learn more about Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, there is a piece on the “Disney Kids and Nature Celebration” from earlier in 2012 that was held at Walt Disney World.  And others including: Planes, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3, and Secret of the Wings.  

The primary bonus feature of the Blu-ray is a series of 7 shorts called “On Location: The Making Of Chimpanzee”.  In it you learn some very interesting facts about the movie.  For example, it took 3 years to get all the shots required for the film.  The cast had to endure 100% humidity, carrying camera equipment through the forest, for hours at a time, only to get minutes of footage.  The best example of this is the “Forest of Bees” where we watch two members of the crew spend “84 hours in the wild” enduring “173 bee stings” while being attacked by thousands of bees for only “20 seconds” of movie footage.  We also learn that this film would not have been possible at all without the pioneering efforts of Christophe Boesch and his Taï Chimpanzee Project.  

These shorts are a great primer for the story of the movie.  The most interesting thing I learned from it was that the movie that we have was not the original movie that was intended.  The plan was originally to track a young chimpanzee and it’s mother.  However, the mother was unexpectedly killed during the filming and the crew thought their movie was lost.  Then as they kept filming, and thought about rescuing the orphaned chimp, their movie was rescued when the male chimp adopts him.  

In addition, the Blu-ray includes a music video for the movie’s main theme “Rise” by the McClain Sisters - which includes China Anne McClain from A.N.T. Farm on Disney Channel.  There are also two shorts hosted by the McClain sisters.  In the first one they discuss the making of “Rise”, why they sing, and what it was like working with Disney.  They also talk about the Disney Friends for Change campaign, and the things you can do to help with conservation both at home and in your community.

While not containing all the bells and whistles of a big budget action/adventure movie’s Blu-ray, the Chimpanzee Blu-ray delivers content that is great.  It’s germane to both the movie itself, and the message that the Disney and Disneynature brand is trying to deliver to it’s audience. If you take anything away from the extras it should be that conservation is key.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Inspector Gadget Review by Briana Alessio

Go go gadget!  First of all, it is difficult for me to believe that this film originally came out in 1999.  Knowing that I was ten at the time of its release shocks me.  Okay, so I have a few issues with this film.  It was difficult for me to watch.  Not only because its silliness was over the top, but also because I KNOW these actors are better than their performances in this.  Perhaps they were told to expose sheer craziness for their characters.  Either way, I think they could have done a better job in their performances.  But before I get into that, let’s discuss the actual plot a bit.

Unless you have been living under a rock, then you know this was originally a television show which aired from 1983 to 1986.  I must digress for a moment to say that between DuckTales and Darkwing Duck, my brothers always had one of these blaring during our childhood.  Repeats of Inspector Gadget would also boom throughout the house, which is why hearing the theme at the beginning of the film put a smile on my face, as it brought back many good memories.

Long story short, John Brown is a security guard who has big dreams of helping people through being a cop.  His crush, Brenda, is working on an experiment which Sanford Scolex longs for.  Scolex acquires this item and in turn, through explosions and the like, he and Brown are both severely injured, transforming them into cyborgs of a sort.  John Brown turns into Inspector Gadget, giving him the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of saving lives.  He discovers all sorts of nifty gadgets (no pun intended) on his newly formed mechanical body.  The plot unwinds into a crazy mish mash of odds & ends which will leave any head spinning.  Like most, if not all, Disney films you will watch, there is a happy ending.  It just happens in a highly uncoordinated manner.

I do have to say that Scolex’s creation which is identical to Gadget, known as Robo Gadget, is absolutely disturbing.  It is more disturbing than the tarantula that crawled out of his mouth, which also left me shivering.  I do not know if it is Robo’s false choppers or his posture, or perhaps both of them, but this character ALMOST makes me have a fear of Matthew Broderick.  However, then I think of his performances in other films like Godzilla (don’t judge me), and I’m willing to forgive and forget.

The cast was fun!  Brown/Gadget (yes, I purposefully left out Robo…we shall no longer speak of this character) is played by Matthew Broderick.  As I mentioned above, he starred in 1998’s Godzilla as well as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from 1986 (you know, BUELLER….BUELLER….BUELLER), and he voiced the wonderful adult Simba in 1994’s The Lion King.  Rupert Everett played Scolex.  Everett has appeared in many films including My Best Friend’s Wedding (during Inspector Gadget, I kept having the urge to sing “I say a little prayer for you”…if you have seen MBFW, you will understand this reference) and provided the voice of Prince Charming in both Shrek 2 and Shrek 3.  Joely Fisher played Brenda.  I remember Fisher most from a TV show she starred in back in 2003-2005 called Wild Card.  She has also been in many other shows including an episode of Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place.  I was extremely disappointed that Rene Auberjonois was in the film for such a short period of time.  The man is legendary, as is his impressive name.  A few other recognizable names joined the cast including Michelle Trachtenberg (Harriet the Spy, y’all), D.L. Hughley, Andy Dick, and Dabney Coleman.  Oh and Cheri Oteri of Saturday Night Live fame.  As I said previously, the stellar cast should have been better than the characters they were given.  I’m not blaming the actors either…it could have been strictly a result of the script.  I do wish it had been a more enjoyable film to watch, but alas, it was not.

The director of this film is David Kellogg.  Now, I need to word this somehow nicely.  Kellogg has not participated in many…family-friendly films, if you catch my drift.  Therefore, this kind of makes sense as to why this film lacked some heart.  It just did not seem like a Disney film, in my honest opinion.  I missed much of the spirit and spontaneity which a live action Disney creation normally possesses.

The music, on the other hand, was great!  I had major flashbacks during the end credits when “I’ll Be Your Everything” by Youngstown came on.  Back when Disney Channel used to air shows like Rolie Polie Olie and Sister Sister, there was a music video where Youngstown sang this song as scenes from Inspector Gadget played in the background.  Of course, the theme song of the film is wonderful as well.

Now that you have read my synopsis of the film, you can probably guess that I do not have a favorite character or scene, which would be correct.  I did have a couple of laugh out loud moments, such as the time when Brown was in the parking lot and Scolex’s truck crashed through the building.  He asks his security partner over the walkie talkie where the truck went, and she informs him to look where the big hole in the wall is.  That was funny.  I also chuckled when Gadget, Scolex, and Kramer momentarily broke the fourth wall at the mention of “Saturday morning cartoons.”  There were a couple of cute puns as well, such as Gadget’s holding Robo’s head (forget I’m speaking of him again please) and says something to the effect that it is unfortunate he did not get out ahead (get it…a-head).  Very Jungle Cruise worthy!

In a nutshell, Inspector Gadget is not a level of Beverly Hills Chihuahua horrible.  It is just kind of bad.  It leaves you wanting more and as I said above, it lacks spirit and heart.  Some of the jokes are funny, but the script and directing could have been better.  Matthew Broderick’s high level of adorability could not even save this film.  Honestly, I do not think I would bother seeing this one.  I love all of the actors involved, so I would recommend checking out their other work instead.

My Rating:  1.5/5

Don’t push my buttons without reading the manual.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 85 - Inspector Gadget

This week the DFPP team find a man barely alive and try to rebuild him with spare parts, but end up with something more than man or machine, learning that sometimes heart is all that matters in the 1999 action comedy Inspector Gadget.

Listen, download, etc.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Around the World in 80 Days Review by Briana Alessio

It is with heavy heart that we acknowledge the loss of Nolan Woodall, a wonderful member of the Disney community.  Our prayers, love, and thoughts go to his family at this time.  Give Uncle Walt a hug for us, Nolan.

Made in 2004, this film is a remake from the original 1956 film with David Niven.  Let me say to begin with that I have never seen the original.  Therefore, the comments I make throughout this post are my personal opinion based purely on the 2004 version which we are reviewing this week.

During the first part of the film, we see immediate chemistry between Passepartout and Fogg.  From here, I realized this would be a highly enjoyable experience…and I was right.  The directors, producers, and everyone involved deserve a great big hug for this.  Although much of the scenes are downright silly and unrealistic, that is the beauty of the film.  When an actor can pull off silliness and make it exquisite using his own unique style of acting, this is sheer talent.

Quick Disney reference here – at the beginning when Fogg’s experiment of human speed lands Passepartout on the little train coaster, it reminded me immensely of a spinny version of The Great Goofini coaster (formerly Goofy’s Barnstormer) in the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World.  The writing in this film is literally out of this world, especially because the lines are spoken by individuals who can make their point through their characters.  For instance, when Fogg brings Passepartout into his device room, Passepartout calls Fogg’s flying machine “a giant moth.”  Thankfully, he brought just the right amount of naivety and brilliance to emit a compassionate, truly awesome presence.

There are SO many fun lines I would love to mention, but I will surely run out of room.  Therefore, I will name only a few.  Passepartout’s description of “red headed, elderly Norweigans with tiny feet” being the thieves, Vincent Van Gogh’s hearing (with one good ear only, mind you) Fogg’s comment about the lack of talent among the artists, and the absolutely hilarious scene of La Roche catching Fogg in the act of staring at her legs, which have on stockings that resemble something a French maid might wear.  When Fogg sees she is watching him watching her, he is alarmed, resulting in his knocking over a table.

The cast was a delightful one.  Jackie Chan played Passepartout/Lau Xing, the Chinese thief.  Chan does not have many Disney titles under his belt, as he is more prone to martial arts films or comedies like 1998’s Rush Hour.  Steve Coogan portrayed Phileas Fogg.  Coogan is a witty actor who is normally involved in British comedy, although he did play the hilarious Octavius in 2006’s Night at the Museum.  Cécile De France (highly appropriate last name) played Monique La Roche.  De France has not appeared in a large number of American films, although she did star alongside Hereafter starring Matt Damon (parental guidance required, if you please).  Jim Broadbent plays the delightfully evil Lord Kelvin; he has portrayed the role of Professor Kirke in 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in addition to countless assorted films.

Although each character in this film is worth mentioning, I do not have nearly enough space.  Let me just add here that there were also guest appearances by various actors.  No big deal though…only Kathy Bates, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Macy Gray, Luke and Owen Wilson, and Rob Schneider.  We cannot forget John Cleese, Mark Addy, and Richard Branson, among others.  So as you can see, highly unrecognizable names were involved in the making of this picture (read this sarcastically).  My favorite of the guest actors was actually Rob Schneider.  His reaction to Fogg’s scanning through the book with “don’t be putting a hex on me!  I’ll cut ya!” left me laughing right out loud.

The director of this film is Frank Coraci.  Coraci has also directed 1998’s The Wedding Singer and 2011’s Zookeeper (parental guidance required for both of these films) among others.  The music was also fun in this film, and appropriate for the scenes.  “Everybody, All Over the World (Join the Celebration)” was the highlight song of the film, which was sung by David A. Stewart and the Sylvia Young Stage School and written by Stewart, Chucho Merchan, and the director himself, Frank Coraci.  I will admit to gasping a tad at the addition of the Baha Men’s version of “It’s a Small World”, originally written by the fantastic Sherman Brothers.  At first, I wondered why a song like this would be in a film like this…but then it all makes sense.  Think about it.

My favorite scene…is not one I can choose.  The whole film is my favorite scene, if that makes any sense.  I could never choose one thing, as its entirety is fabulous.  The role of favorite character would have to go to Phileas Fogg, as his compassion and humor just cracked me up throughout every scene.

I would explain more about this film, but in doing so, I would write an extremely large post which no one in their right mind would want to take the time to read.  Therefore, I will simply tell you that for your own good, please see Around the World in 80 Days.  Please.  It is laugh out loud comedy, and we need more of that in this world.  There are a couple small moments of crude humor, but it is more than likely that your child will not catch on anyhow.  It is, for the most part, good clean fun.  Highly recommended!

My Rating:  4/5

Well done, Salisbury!  I shall name a beef-based entrée after you in your honor.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 84 - Around the World in 80 Days

This week the DFPP team heads to London to discuss flying machines with their friend Phileas Fogg only to discover that he and his French valet have left on a journey around the world in the 2004 adventure comedy Around the World in 80 Days.

Listen, download, etc.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dude Duck

It’s rare for one of the Disney shorts to surprise me, but Dude Duck managed to do it. Donald Duck as a fancy pants city slicker?  That was not what I expected.  Cyril from Mr. Toad as his adversary?  Again, unexpected.  The fact that there are fully formed humans in this short?  That was the big one that truly blew me away. 

Let me unpack those a bit for you, because Dude Duck has a lot to take in when viewing it for the first time.  First of all, the set up is a dude ranch where a bus full of city folk come in to try and experience the life of a cowboy.  In this short, it’s a bus full of women.  Attractive women.  Which causes the horse to go nuts.  First of all, I have not seen humans mixed in with the animal characters ever before, at least not in the full form like we saw in Snow White or other films.  Second, why do the attractive women appeal to a horse?

The horse is another issue.  It looks like and, to some degree, sounds like Cyril from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  He even acts like Cyril in the way he disrespects Donald and tries to pull tricks on him.  All the notes do not reference this horse as being Cyril, but it’s clearly taken from the same designs.

Then there’s the appearance of Donald in this one.  If you’ve been following the blog, you have seen Donald evolve from a barnyard animal to a nature enthusiast.  Instead of that now, we get to see a refined, calm and collected Donald appearing on the ranch.  He is dapper in his riding suit, holding his head high and being cool in the face of adversity.  He doesn’t lose his temper, except he does brandish a gun!

No, that is not Donald.  But the whole of the short manages to be wildly entertaining.  There’s absolutely no reason that should be the case.  But Dude Duck manages to take all these disparate elements and make something that is funny and engaging. The plot is nothing new, it’s just Donald trying to do something and his adversary stopping him.  But with all the characterizations I just described, it comes off as different, and it ends up being quite fun.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cold Storage

Once again, we have a Pluto short where we see Mickey’s dog match wits with an adversary over some form of comfort.  The formula is set by this point in 1951, and the Disney artists didn’t deviate from it that much.  That does make for some “smaller” feeling shorts, but overall does add some consistency to the cartoons.  None stand out too much, and none seem that weak.  Cold Storage is perfectly ensconced in that middle ground as entertaining, just not that memorable.

The adversary in this short is a stork, looking for a way to stay warm in what seems like unseasonably cold weather.  The solution that the stork finds is to steal a nearby doghouse, which just happens to be Pluto’s.  The obvious tension this causes when Pluto himself wants to stay warm makes for the comedy of the short.  It plays out very much like you’d expect, with a back and forth between the two.

I will say that the stork has some great comedic activity in this one, because he manages to convince Pluto that something weird is going on.  My favorite shot in the entire short is Pluto looking into his dog dish in disbelief as the doghouse walks off behind him.  That is a unique gag that plays well off of Pluto’s normal headlong charge into situations.  It’s funny, in a way that the rest of the short is not.

It’s not that the stork interactions with Pluto are not amusing, they most certainly are.  Watching him pick Pluto up and dump him in a frozen over puddle was pretty good, as was the stork repeatedly picking up the entire doghouse and shifting it around the stationary Pluto.  These are all fun gags.  But they’re the kinds of things we have seen before with Chip and Dale antagonizing Pluto or Donald.  It’s all part and parcel of a Disney Studio in the 1950s that had turned its efforts back to feature work.

The whole short ends bizarrely, as the temperature goes from frozen to sweltering in mere seconds.  I have no idea how this happened and it’s not really explained in the short.  It leaves the stork and Pluto in the position of finding relief from the heat rather than heat from the cold.  It’s a truly weird twist ending, and especially more so when the stork tries to keep Pluto from escaping the doghouse.  The sadistic stork is just a fitting end to Cold Storage, a short that struggles to escape the doghouse of 1950s Disney shorts. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Three Caballeros Review by Briana Alessio

This classic from 1944 stars Donald Duck, José Carioca, and Panchito Pistoles on a trip through Brazil and Mexico.  The Three Caballeros is a sequel of sorts to Saludos Amigos from 1942 (you can see my blog post on that previous to this one).  This contains a couple of shorts, followed by some adventures which take place among the three birds.

It begins on Donald’s birthday.  He has three presents in a box, the first of which is a video projector and screen.  There is a delightful moment where he gets wrapped up in the screen itself, and you hear the original Donald Duck grunts of frustration, which tend to bring a smile to the viewer.  There is a two part film on this video (known as shorts for the viewing audience).  The first brings us to a habitat of penguins, which focuses on one in particular who wants to move to a warmer climate.  His attempts bring a chuckle or two, and the end result is comical as well.  The second part is a tad strange.  We meet a young gaucho who comes in contact with a donkey…and a bird.  But strangely enough, these two are not separate entities.  No, not in this case; they are a mix.  In addition to this, he has the personality of a dog, which makes this whole thing even weirder when you look at it from that perspective.  Don’t get me wrong, some of the moments between the gaucho and donkey-bird are heart-warming and sweet.  However, this is definitely not my favorite part of this film.

It is now time for Donald to open his second present.  Much to his happiness, it is José Carioca from Brazil!  He is more than happy to see an old friend.  Oh, and I’m not sure what his name is, but there is a hilarious pink bird who runs around like a fool, singing this repetitious tune.  At first, I thought he was kind of annoying but after giving him a second chance, he started to crack me up!  I especially loved the scene where he confiscates José’s cigar and is running around with it, singing.  From this moment, the film shows its true charm.  They sing a song dedicated to Baia, where you can see the animators utilized beautiful colors to demonstrate the brilliance of the area.  It was quite similar to the Watercolor of Brasil scene in Saludos Amigos.  Shortly after, animation meets live action as Aurora Miranda/”The Brazilian Girl” enters the picture.  Everyone sings and dances, having a jolly time.  This scene is impressive as it presents sheer creative talent through the use of mixing both hand drawn animation and reality.  You can see at times how the animation seems a bit rougher with additional imperfections once they mesh it with live action, if that makes sense.  But it is still absolute talent and genius involved in every aspect of the production.

The last present Donald receives is Panchito Pistoles from Mexico!  This is where the Donald piñata montage occurs, as familiar music plays in the background.  If any of you have been to the Mexico pavilion of the World Showcase in Epcot Center located in Walt Disney World, you may have heard these tunes in the Gran Fiesta Tour starring none other than The Three Caballeros (it is a boat which travels through Mexico, as José & Panchito try to find Donald).  This brought back wonderful memories for me hearing the songs, and I think I will now look at the attraction in a different way after seeing the film.  In the last part of this film, it takes a similar path to the scene in Brazil, as they meet Carmen Molina/”Mexico Girl” who dances a traditional Mexican dance.

The voice cast is similar to that of Saludos Amigos.  Once again, Fred Shields provides the narrator, José Oliveira is José Carioca, and Clarence Nash is Donald Duck.  Panchito is voiced by Joaquin Garay.  He has appeared in a few films including the 1934 classic It Happened One Night as an uncredited bus passenger.  Sterling Holloway provided the narration for the penguin short, as well as Professor Holloway himself.  Holloway is most famous for giving us the voices of Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat, among many other appearances, both animated and otherwise.  Frank Graham also provided some narration in the film; Graham’s performances have all been through voice and were all uncredited throughout his years in the entertainment industry.  Aurora Miranda playing “The Brazilian Girl” has appeared in very few films, the latest of which was in 1990, a film called Better Days Ahead.  Carmen Molina has appeared in a few more films than Miranda, only they were all Spanish speaking; for one, she dubbed the voice of Anita for the Spanish version of 101 Dalmatians, released in 1961.  There are some enjoyable musical performances (and an appearance in the film as well) by Nestor Amaral, Almirante, Trío Calaveras, Trío Ascensio del Rio, and the Padua Hills Players.

Jack Kinney and Bill Roberts were the two directors who returned after Saludos Amigos.  Joining them were Norman Ferguson, Clyde Geronimi, and Harold Young.  Ferguson directed sequences in Dumbo and Pinocchio as well, in addition to being involved in the animation department of various Disney films.  Geronimi directed many Disney films, including 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, and Cinderella.  This was one of the few Disney collaborations for Young, but he also directed a classic film from 1934 which recently aired on the Turner Classic Movies channel (my absolute favorite channel, by the way) called The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Leslie Howard.

Frank Thomas, Ward Kimball, and Milt Kahl (known as Milton Kahl in the credits), members of Uncle Walt’s Nine Old Men who were all a part of Saludos Amigos, returned for The Three Caballeros. Les Clark, Eric Larson, Ollie Johnston, and John Lounsbery joined for the making of the film.  Of course, the lovely and talented Mary Blair took a part in this film, as well as Ub Iwerks among many others.

Beautiful music was played throughout the duration of the film.  One of the best was called “You Belong To My Heart (Solamente una vez)” with music & Spanish lyrics by Agustin Lara and English lyrics by Ray Gilbert, which was sung by an uncredited Dora Luz.  “The Three Caballeros” gives us music by Manuel Esperón, Spanish lyrics by Ernesto Cortázar, and English lyrics by Ray Gilbert.  These are only two of the many fabulous songs used in this film.

As always, I like to pick a favorite character and scene.  I must add that these characters have a special connection in my heart to begin with, because I, and two of my very good friends who are like family to me, call ourselves The Three Caballeros.  Nate is José, Amy is Donald, and I’m Panchito.  That being said, I’ve been looking forward to seeing this.  And without further explanation, it is obvious that Panchito is indeed my favorite in this film.  My favorite scenes include Donald opening his first birthday present as well as the introduction of Panchito.

The Three Caballeros is a lot of fun.  There are some scrunched eyebrow moments, but that happens in many films.  For instance, there is a scene where multiple Cariocas appear dressed as (what appears to be) Carmen Miranda.  This reminds me much of Jack Sparrow’s delusions in the third Pirates of the Caribbean installment.  Therefore, I was unsure as to whether I should smile or be severely disturbed.  It is part of the reason I gave it a lower score than Saludos Amigos.  It has heart like everything else Uncle Walt put his name to, but it lacks a solid form of substance for me.  Other than this, it is a laugh out loud, fun film which should bring fond memories to many and create fond memories to those who will one day include these three beloved birds in their description of why Disney touches their heart and means so much to them.

My Rating:  3.5/5

Hey, Donald, you are what they say "off the cob". You know, corny. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 83 - The Three Caballeros

This week the DFPP team heads back to South America on an old flying serape to celebrate a ducky birthday, gets distracted by a looney cigar smoking bird, and ends up missing the pinata in the 1944 animated collection The Three Caballeros.

Listen, download, etc.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chicken in the Rough

When watching Chicken in the Rough, I was struck by a feeling that I had seen this short before, or at least something similar.  Chip and Dale were a new addition, but this seemed awfully familiar.  That’s a hazard when watching ALL the Disney shorts, and when I started doing some digging, I found out that my feeling was correct.  Chicken in the Rough borrows liberally from animation first used in Farmyard Symphony, a 1938 Silly Symphony short.  That doesn’t diminish its humor, though, as on the whole it’s a fairly silly and fun use of the chipmunks.

I point out that it does reuse animation, however, to further the point I have made many times about the Disney studio under Walt Disney – they were a business.  As much as many fans and the company themselves wants to paint the portrait of Uncle Walt who despised revisiting things and only did original work, there were deadlines to meet, films to churn out and sometimes shortcuts were taken.  In the case of Chicken in the Rough, it was reusing characters from Farmyard Symphony so that some animation could be used again and the model sheets were already developed for these characters.

The use of Father and Mother Chicken from that earlier short works very well here, as Chip and Dale get sucked into their world while Mother Chicken is waiting for her eggs to hatch.  While Dale thinks the eggs are giant nuts, he ends up accidentally hatching one of them himself.  Since the chickens are not known for their mild tempers and easygoing nature, this becomes a problem, and Dale soon finds himself having to substitute for the chicken.

The best gags in the short are Dale’s attempts to hide and reconstitute the egg shell that the young chicken hatched.  Watching him quickly assemble the shell to hide either the young chick or himself reminded me of the Lego video games that are so prevalent these days.  Even the sounds are somewhat the same.  It’s a quick moving, funny gag that repeats itself over and over without becoming tired.  That’s the kind of thing that was rare to see from Disney in 1951 and the years immediately preceding it.

Chicken in the Rough ends with Dale being assumed to be part of the chicken family by Mother Chicken, which causes no end of amusement for Chip.  It’s a fairly fun gag for the audience as well.  The biggest issue with the short is its pacing, as it starts very slowly with Chip and Dale not coming into the picture fully until 90 seconds into a 7 minute short.  That’s mainly due to the reuse of the earlier animation, as they were obviously not in those scenes.  But once they arrive, the Disney team manages to create something new from the old, and in a pretty fun and inventive way.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lion Down

1951’s cadre of Disney shorts kicks off with my favorite character, Goofy, again getting into trouble for trying something new.  This time, however, it’s not a case of the “How To” formula being resurrected.  Instead, this is a straight up adversarial short, just like the recent Pluto and Donald Duck outings.  The opponent for this outing is a mountain lion, Louie, who we have seen previously in Lion Around and Hook, Lion and Sinker.

There seems to be a lot of these secondary characters being utilized during this era of the Disney shorts.  Between characters like Spike the bee, Bent Tail the coyote and now Louie the Mountain Lion, Disney has a sort of bench set of characters to match up with their big stars.  In this case, they have to go a bit out of their way to make it happen.  Goofy tries to hang up his hammock on his rooftop park, but is unable to do so because he lacks a second tree.  So the Goof heads out to the forest on the edge of the city to retrieve another tree, managing to pick Louie’s tree.

The scenes of Goofy in his urban habitat are a reminder of how far the character has progressed since his original appearances in the Mickey Mouse shorts as a dim witted barn animal dog.  Now, he is the Everyman, living in a nice apartment in a major city.  His outdoor life is limited to this rooftop grassy area where he can lay out his hammock.  That presents problems when trying to plant the tree, with some great gags about digging into the roof and having lamps and furniture coming out.

Where the comedic tension gets really dialed up, though is when Louie starts trying to throw Goofy off the roof.  It’s a startlingly aggressive pose from one of the adversary characters, but it’s so funny.  Goofy manages to survive repeated attempts to throw him over the side of the building, but the back and forth over the hammock involves some “real” stakes.  That makes it a short with more over the top humor than we’re used to in the Disney works, and honestly seems more like something you’d find in a Warner Brothers short.

There’s no mistaking this for the frantic energy of Looney Tunes, but Lion Down is as close as Disney has come in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  That is a good thing because there is an energy to Lion Down that some of the more mundane shorts have not had.  I enjoyed this short and actually laughed out loud for the first time watching these cartoons in many months.  It shows that Disney’s artists had the ability to create some great shorts, provided that they were able to push some boundaries.