Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Avengers Tweetwatch - Tuesday, October 2 at 8:30 p.m.

If we're gonna bring back Tweetwatch for the fall, what better way than with the BIGGEST movie of 2012! Marvel's The Avengers is now out on Bluray and DVD, and if you are reading this, you are not buying it.  So go...get it!  I'll wait.

Okay, now that you have the movie, it's time for a Tweetwatch.  I'll give you a week to buy the movie, then on Tuesday, October 2, we will all watch it together.  If you haven't participated in a Tweetwatch before, then what are you waiting for? It's loads of fun and is made for exactly this situation. Here's how you do it:

1. Buy the movie. Did I mention that already? Or if you want to rent it, do so quickly.
2. Get yourself a Friendfeed account. This is how we chat with each other during the movie.
3. If so inclined, sign up to attend on our Plancast page. 
4. Get your popcorn popped, crack open your favorite beverage and sit down in front of the TV on Tuesday, October 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET.  I'll tweet and post in the Friendfeed room that it's time to start. 
5. While we watch the movie, I'll throw in fun bits of trivia or other items about the movie. It's like Pop Up Video if you are old enough to remember that.

That's it!  It's fun, and let's face it, you'll be watching Avengers anyway.  As for future Tweetwatches? Stay tuned....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 90 - Finding Nemo

This week the DFPP team dons their swim gear and heads out to explore the big blue world but ends up discovering that in order to move beyond their fears they first have to learn to accept them and let go in the 2003 animated adventure Finding Nemo.

Listen, download, etc.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Alice in Wonderland

When I sit down to watch Alice in Wonderland, it is a struggle.  As you may have deduced in reading this blog, I love stories and storytelling.  Alice is not a film that focuses on story.  It is a bizarre romp through colorful characters that meanders from one scene to the next, with barely a line of dialogue or visual to connect the scenes.  It makes for some amazing visual filmmaking that fails to tell a story.

The film ostensibly tells the story of Alice following the White Rabbit through a rabbit hole into Wonderland.  But the problem is, the White Rabbit is mostly absent during the course of the film.  The idea that this is what drives Alice becomes lost about halfway through the film, and leads to a wandering and lost Alice.  It’s a shame, because the work done by the animators here is very good, and the combination of visuals, music and voice acting is quite excellent.

Start with the visual feast that is Alice in Wonderland.  The imagination on display is fun to look at, and flows naturally from Mary Blair’s designs.  The brilliance of the flowers sequence, where the flowers sing “A Golden Afternoon” to Alice, is one of my favorite things in the entire film.  The use of puns on the bread and butterflies, the rocking horsefly and others supplements the whimsical designs and voices.  But anyone who has seen the film knows that two sequences stand out more than any other.

The mad tea party that is joined by the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse is probably the most recognizable sequence of the whole film.  Ed Wynn’s performance as the Mad Hatter was so memorable that he is the main character outside of Alice to appear as a character in the Disney parks.  It makes for a fun and very entertaining bit of film to watch them demolish cups, sing songs and do things that are physically impossible.  Alice’s astonishment and look of wonder is a stand in for the audience watching these proceedings and trying to figure out what is going on in this crazy world.

That’s the issue with the film, though, is that the audience spends most of their time trying to figure out what they should look at, where they are and what’s going on.  The place where this is the least applicable in the film is the very end, when Alice finds herself in the court of the Red Queen.  That sequence has a fairly straightforward flow – the queen gets upset about the roses, meets Alice and engages in a cricket game.  When Alice gets sabotaged by the Cheshire Cat, she is sentenced to die and has to find a way out of that predicament.  It all flows one detail to the next.

Contrast that to the early scenes where Alice flows from floating in the ocean to the silliness of the caucus race to the confrontational nature of Tweedledee and Tweedledum and over to the Walrus and the Carpenter story.  All of that in about 15 minutes!  The film is schizophrenic to say the least.  What ends up making it memorable for me is the music.

Many don’t realize it, but this is the Disney film with the most songs.  The reason for that, as I wrote yesterday, is because the filmmakers wanted to pull in as much of the poetry from the Carroll books as they could.  What happens is many memorable songs, like “A Golden Afternoon,” “The Unbirthday Song,” “March of the Cards” and more.  These are songs that are played to this day at the Disney parks, and survive as great memories.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make Alice in Wonderland a good film.  The lack of narrative flow through and depth in the characters makes it ultimately a bizarre accumulation of visuals.  I honestly find it hard to watch until it gets to the tea party, and have trouble staying interested, which is not a problem I typically have with Disney films.  Even Walt acknowledged that Alice did not turn out the way he wanted, and I have to say I agree with him.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Development of Alice in Wonderland

If you’ve been following the arc of Disney films since World War II, you’ve seen things evolve slowly.  In 1949, the company jumped into live action with So Dear To My Heart.  The magic of animated films began to resurface after all the package features with Cinderella in 1950.  And now, in 1951, Disney plunged forward with one of their most bizarre and experimental films, Alice in Wonderland.

Walt had been looking for ways to adapt this story for decades.  Remember that Walt got his start in animation with the Alice Comedies, where he took a live action Alice and dropped her in an animated world.  While he didn’t directly adapt Lewis Carroll’s books, it was using the strange settings and characters from the books that made such a crazed and dynamic world.  

When Walt got the idea to move into feature films, it was Alice in Wonderland that interested him.  The thought was to make a feature length version of the Alice Comedies, and a screen test was shot with actress Mary Pickford in 1933.  It turned out to be a bust when another studio released their live action version of the story.  But Walt was not deterred, and registered the title Alice in Wonderland with the MPAA in 1938.

 Mary Pickford

Like nearly every other project, the financial struggles of the 1940s put Alice on the back burner.  Between the animator’s strike, the loss of foreign markets, the war and the financial failures of some of the pre-war films, Walt’s output had to turn to what made money moreso than what art they could produce.  Alice was no exception.   After the war ended, Walt returned to the idea of producing a live action/animation hybrid.  Several actresses were tested for this version, including Ginger Rogers.

Ultimately, though, the decision was made in the late 1940s to turn to a musical, comedic take on the books with less of a focus on slavish devotion to the story.  This was the version of the film that was released to theatres in 1951.  For years, Disney animators had tried to recreate the illustrations of Sir John Tenniel, the man who had done iconic drawings for the Carroll books.  With this new freedom, the artists created their own versions of the characters, and ended up defining the look of these characters for generations. The biggest key to this was Mary Blair, who had been such a key on the South American films.  Her design was applied to the backgrounds and art direction of the film, making it very unique in the Disney canon.

Mary Blair's designs

Rather than stick to the poetry and verse that Carroll had put in the books, Disney commissioned songwriters to use those poems as a starting point for new songs.  The film ended up with tons of songs, some of them only lasting for seconds, because they were there to simply use the story beats from the books.  The changes were not popular with fans of the books, something that Disney expected.

Kathryn Beaumont, who would go on to do much more work at Disney, was chosen as the voice of Alice, and a variety of character actors and comedians were picked to round out the looney cast.  Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter turned in the most memorable performance, but former Disney faves Jerry Colonna as the White Rabbit and Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat also turned in fan favorite performances. 

Kathryn Beaumont with Walt

In the end, the public reacted rather unfavorably to the film.  While it wasn’t the financial disaster that some other films like Fantasia were upon initial release, the film never found its footing and made less than $3 million in theatres.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that audiences got to see Alice again, but this time, it was much more a part of the counter culture than a family film.  Once again, in later years, when Alice was released on video, the audiences started flocking to it, and recognizing the work done in the 1950s.  Tomorrow, we’ll look at the film itself and how it holds up as a work of art.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Mighty Ducks Review by Briana Alessio

So this is the first time I saw this film.  I went into it unsure and with caution, since I was used to the 1996-1997 animated series (yes, I realize the series came after the film).  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  This is a well cast, well acted film which I’m excited to be blogging about.

Released in 1992, The Mighty Ducks focuses on the life of troublemaker lawyer Gordon Bombay, and his struggle with life.  When he was a kid, he played youth hockey and ended up losing the big game, upsetting his coach and leaving a bad taste in his mouth for many years to come.  We flash forward to Bombay’s current state of life. His law firm does not seem to appreciate him, especially his boss Gerald Ducksworth (remember that last name while watching) and his habit of landing himself in trouble leads to having to do community service work.  Of course, this brings him into the hands of a league of adolescents who are horrible at the sport of hockey.  I mean, horrible.  They immediately dislike Bombay after introductions, and the feeling is mutual.  After some bickering, they finally become attached.  Bombay forms a close bond with Charlie Conway, and a whole different kind of bond with Charlie’s single mother Casey.  The developing relationships in this film are sweet and heartwarming to watch.  They are quite well played on screen as well.  We see ups and downs of the appropriately named Mighty Ducks, and how Bombay’s old couch from his younger years re-enters his life.  There is conflict but it is brought out well, highlighting each of the characters to give them their own personalities.

For some reason, I feel that this film seems to have touches of Newsies in it minus the music.  The way the characters bond and form close relationships, with the one person who kind of leads them to happiness.  Perhaps I’m way off, or maybe it is just the utilization of camera angles that is similar, but I definitely see similarities in the two.  Also, both films were released the same year.

Emilio Estevez stars as Gordon Bombay.  He is the son of Martin Sheen, which is absolutely obvious just by listening to him speak.  Estevez has appeared in many television shows and films, but is most well known for his role as Andrew Clark in the much loved 1985 film The Breakfast Club.  Josef Sommer plays Gerald Ducksworth.  Sommer has appeared in a countless number of films including the 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 1994’s Nobody’s Fool.  Charlie Conway is played by the almost unrecognizable Joshua Jackson.  We know Jackson best from the youth drama television show which lasted five years, Dawson’s Creek.  The cute Marguerite Moreau is Connie Moreau.  She has been in many films including…wait for it…Beverly Hills Chihuahua.  Yes.  The range of talent in the kids is fantastic, one of them coming from child actor J.D. Daniels.  He provided voices in the animated series versions of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.  The remaining kids, Hans, Coach Jack Reilly, and Casey Conway are also wonderful additional characters to the film.

The film is directed by Stephen Herek.  Herek has directed numerous other titles including 1991’s dark comedy Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (I love this film – parental guidance required, if you please), 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus, and 1996’s live action Disney hit 101 Dalmatians, among many others.  The film’s writer, Stephen Brill, has participated in writing for both of the Mighty Ducks sequels.

The soundtrack is simple but fun, including the two Queen songs we all know and love, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions.”  Seriously, how often is the name Freddie Mercury associated with a Disney film?  We also hear “Hey Man” performed by The Poorboys, “Shake ‘Em Down” by Southside Johnny Lyon, a version of “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark (now known as Mark Wahlberg) and the Funky Bunch, and “Winning It All” by John Spinks.

My favorite scene involves the team trying to teach Goldberg how to become a competent goalie.  They do this by tying him to the net and lunging pucks at him.  At first, Goldberg panics and complains, but he soon after realizes that it does not hurt.  He originally could not come to terms with the fact that the players wear heavy clothing and protection for a reason.  Once he understands this concept, he becomes a much better player.  My favorite character is Charlie Conway.  I love his blossoming friendship with Gordon, and the want he has in his heart for his mother to be happy is absolutely endearing. 

The Mighty Ducks is such a fun film.  The cast is enjoyable and their chemistry is obvious on-screen.  You do not have to put an overwhelming level of thought into the plot.  Everything rolls out easily in front of you, with enough valid explanation to be understandable.  Both children and adults will find the humor and kindness in this film.  I recommend it for a night at home with the family, and look forward to seeing it again someday.

My Rating:  4/5

My mother is not gonna approve of this, Coach! She wants me to live to be Bar Mitzvah'd! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 89 - The Mighty Ducks

This week the DFPP team breaks out their skates and heads onto the ice to learn some team building exercises only to discover that sometimes it’s not just how you win or lose it’s how you play the game in the 1992 comedy The Mighty Ducks.

Listen, download, etc.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lucky Number

Crazy to say, but it has been quite some time since we have seen Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie in a short.  With Lucky Number, that changes, and in the best possible way.  As we all know by know, Donald is the absolute best when he is being irritated and the boys do that better than anyone else does.  In this case, though, they’re trying to help him, which is a nice change on the formula.

The nephews are working with Donald at a service station, which is a full service gas station for all you youngsters out there.  In the old days, rather than just let you pump your own gas and buy Cheetos, the gas station attendants could change your oil, pump your gas and even bring you a drink.  That’s what we see Donald and his nephews engaged in as the short begins.  But Donald has to be distracted because he has a raffle ticket for a brand new car.  Unfortunately, when the radio announces the winner, it’s 341, not 342 like the ticket Donald is holding.

While he storms off, however, the nephews listen to the announcer correct himself, and it turns out Donald did win the car.  Rather than go tell him, however, they decide to go get the car and surprise him.  Thus begins the futile struggles of Donald’s nephews to keep moving and surprise Donald without driving him nuts.  First, it’s that they don’t have any gas in the car they rebuilt to go get the raffle winnings.  Then, they have to try and convince Donald to give them gas by dressing their lousy car up like the new car and dressing one of the boys up like a vivacious female duck!

It’s all very silly, but that’s the fun of it.  What I love about it is how the nephews are so persistent in their efforts, in the face of Donald’s dogged persistence to deny them.  There’s a very cool sense of irony to the whole thing, because Donald doesn’t realize that the boys are really trying to help him, and he’s hindering them at every turn.  It’s a unique twist on the formulaic nature of these shorts, where the boys are battling Donald all the time.

When they finally get the car home to Donald, he’s so mad that they fooled him with the fake car that he destroys the real one.  Yes, he overinflates the tires, pours tar on it, floods it and crushes it against the ceiling of the garage.  The scene of Donald attacking his own good fortune is hysterical, as the boys plead with him not to do it.  It’s not until the radio announcer mentions that he hopes Donald is enjoying his new car that the poor duck realizes what he’s done.  The whole inversion of the typical Donald formula is what makes Lucky Number so good.  This is one that stands out as one of Donald’s best.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tomorrow We Diet

We have the return of George Geef, the every day man form of Goofy, in Tomorrow We Diet.  There is nothing that we can relate to more than the struggles of dieting.  I’m sure almost everyone reading this has been through it, and it becomes a part of suburban life.  I’m sure many Disney animators had tried dieting at this point in their lives, and it ends up being one of the funniest of the George Geef shorts.

The Goof in this short does not look like the Goofy of old.  He is more rotund around the middle, does not have his typical ears and hat, and is generally speaking more human like.  When he walks in front of the mirror, that’s when the fun begins.  The Geef in the mirror begins pointing out to the Geef in the real world that he is fat.  The back and forth between the two is the basis for the rest of the short.  It’s a good way to play off the trick of the omniscient narrator from the How To shorts.

Despite the mirror’s protestations, it takes a strange turn of events for Geef to figure out that he really is overweight.  The thought put into this sequence is astounding, because it builds throughout and ends in a perfect joke.  Geef has to use the tarp from the tailor shop as a suit, causes a taxi to get flats and breaks an elevator because he’s so overweight, but it’s not until he steps on a novelty scale that he realizes there is a problem.  It’s the little slip of paper with his fortune that gets Geef to realize the issue.  That is hilarious.

When he returns home and starts getting serious about the diet, it’s the man in the mirror who advises him.  Again, it’s a brilliant twist.  All of us have tried to lose weight and listen to the voice in our head when we do it.  In this case, that voice is given dimension through the picture in the mirror.  Just like our own internal voices, though, the Geef in the mirror doesn’t always give the best advice.  He keeps saying that Geef should wait and not eat, forcing him to lock up the food.

The struggle to not eat at night is one any dieter is familiar with, so watching Goofy go through it as he sees things turn into food all around him.  The artistry of the quick cuts from furniture, drapes and more turning into food and back to Goofy’s panicked face is amazing.  The ultimate kicker is when Goofy finally gets to sleep, he is awakened by the man in the mirror eating all the food!  It’s then that the immortal line, “Tomorrow we diet!” is spoken, summarizing the thoughts of all of us.  That makes this short one that translates from a simple gag reel to a great relatable short for all of us.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Test Pilot Donald

Ah, Chip and Dale, you always know how to get under Donald’s skin.  In Test Pilot Donald, though, the chipmunk finally find a reason other than food to oppose the duck.  It makes this feel fresh and new compared to the other Donald Duck shorts, with great gags that add to the legend around the conflicts between them. 

My favorite gag in the entire short is how it opens.  Remember, the title of the short is Test Pilot Donald.  So it opens with a shot of Donald pulling up on the control stick, then quick cuts of the plane going toward the ground.  Back and forth it goes between Donald struggling to pull the plane out of the dive and the scenes of the plane heading toward the ground.  Then, as the plane pulls up safely, we get to see the real story – Donald is flying a model airplane, and seated safely in a chair on the ground. 

That gag sort of sets the tone for what turns out to be a very funny short.  Once the plane ends up landing in Chip and Dale’s tree, Dale decides to jump in and check out the toy from the inside.  You can see where this might be going.  In what may be the most detailed model plane ever, Dale takes flight, and is able to counteract Donald’s remote control with the switches and controls inside the model.  Watching them struggle back and forth is hilarious.

Even once they land the plane, the fun doesn’t stop.  We get to see Dale under the hood of the plane, trying to fix it from the crash landing.  I laughed out loud to see Donald handing him a tiny wrench during this sequence.  Where did the little wrench come from?  And it took Donald a full minute to figure out that he was helping the chipmunk rather than chasing him off.  That’s the kind of ignorance that serves Donald best as a character.

The kicker is finally seeing Donald get what’s coming to him when the plane chases him around the woods.  It’s the kind of wacky, fast paced action we saw in the beginning of the Disney shorts, but was lacking from recent efforts.  Chip and Dale sitting in their tree and watching Donald get flown around in circles is the closing shot of the short and it’s quite funny.  This is one that makes me laugh from start to finish, and something you should definitely watch.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 88 - National Treasure

This week the DFPP team breaks out their crime solving gear when they find that the Declaration of Independence has been stolen only to learn that sometimes there are bigger things to solve in the 2004 action adventure National Treasure.

Listen, download, etc.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I was remarking to someone earlier in my review of the 1951 shorts that they all seemed very stale.  There was nothing new or exciting, which is somewhat disappointing considering what would be forthcoming.  After all, Alice in Wonderland is right around the corner, and that’s definitely different.  Things like Sleeping Beauty and other films were coming soon as well.  So why wasn’t that sort of experimentation showing up in the shorts?

As of Plutopia, we see something completely different than what we have experienced before.  Early on, though, it doesn’t appear that way.  The sort opens just like any other Disney short and seems normal.  It shows a freshly designed Mickey driving Pluto out into the middle of the woods to a cabin for a vacation.  This is a familiar set up and made me feel like we were in for more of the same.  Even the appearance of a cat adversary seems fairly routine.

And as it unfolds, the routine short is what you get until about halfway.  As Mickey discovers that there is a strict “no dogs allowed” policy in the cabin, he is forced to put Pluto outside and put him on a muzzle.  The cat comes back by to exact revenge by taunting Pluto and eating his food before nuzzling down next to the dog.  It’s after Pluto falls asleep that the real fun begins, however.

Immediately, we are transported away from the solid backgrounds and fully drawn figures of the real world and into an abstract world of dreams – Plutopia.  The backgrounds disappear into a wall of solid colors.  The shapes are mere color lines that form the idea of a doghouse or a pole.  It’s abstract animation at its core.  This is something we’ve seen in Dumbo, but not in the shorts.  It’s a crazy, fun and inspired departure from the typical Disney filmmaking.

The dreamscape is where Pluto can escape from reality, as you’d expect.  The cat develops the ability to speak, begs for Pluto to bite him and feeds Pluto steaks, bones, and more.  It is a wonderful change of pace from what we have seen prior to this.  Even once Pluto wakes up, I wanted to just go back to Plutopia and see the amazing art continue on and on, with more crazy backgrounds and new ideas.  It’s fantastic to see, and one that I could watch over and over again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pocahontas & Pocahontas II Blu-ray Review

The 1995 animated adventure Pocahontas is known for being the first Disney animated feature to be based on a real historical figure.  It’s not a perfect telling of the tale by any means, according to many sources including the now deceased Chief Roy Crazy Horse. It’s a movie that is only moderately accepted by critics, but at the same time it has an loving fanbase.  Where it excels is in being one of the most visually stunning animated movies ever made.  Now, with the new Blu-ray release that also includes Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, you can bring that beauty into your home.

This Blu-ray has a few bonus features, but the real standout is that it contains an entire, never released disney movie.  With Drawing Inspiration: The Lost Story of Hiawatha, we learn that in the 1940s Walt Disney had begun work on a film about Hiawatha.  His inspiration was the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of the same name.  This movie was complete story boarded, but then shelved in 1949.  Eventually it’s artwork became the inspiration for the art found in Pocahontas.  What’s really neat is that we get a run-through of the storyboards for Hiawatha as if it were a completed movie.

Included is a piece about the deleted song “If I Never Knew You”.  It allows for you to watch this scene that was added back into the movie for it’s 10th Anniversary DVD release as an optional feature.  Here you can watch the entire scene with or without commentary from the movie’s directors Eric Goldberg & Mike Gabriel, and producer James Pentecost.  They talk about how the song simply didn’t test well with audiences at the time.  And how, after much discussion they decided that despite animation on the scene being almost complete, they would remove it for the theatrical release.

The Music of Pocahontas talks about how with the death of Howard Ashman, led to Alan Menken working with lyricist Stephen Schwartz to create the music for the movie.  You can tell from this not just how much they enjoyed working together, but how well they did.  It’s a very nice piece and allows you to see some of how this Oscar winning team came to be.  

Also found on this Blu-ray is the Disney 1937 Silly Symphony “Little Hiawatha”.  It’s nice to have this included, and be reminded again of Walt’s fascination with the legendary figure Hiawatha.  There are also several deleted scenes to be found on the Blu-ray, which are always interesting to watch, and help you to better understand the shaping and planning of the movie.  The previews include both the Blu-ray release of the 35th Anniversary Edition of The Rescuers as well as the Blu-ray release of The Aristocats - both of which were released at the same time as Pocahontas.  

There’s an additional feature where you can Discover Blu-ray 3D with Timon & Pumba.  I sort of felt this piece was out of place on a non-3D Blu-ray.  You can tell it is intended for people who own a 3D system already, as it has the usual 3D “gags” like reaching out with a stick, etc.  It just didn’t seem to translate well on a non-3D system.

One of my favorite things to do while going through the Blu-ray was to play what I’m calling “spot the totem”.  Throughout the menus and interstitials you’ll find all the little, colorful “totem” symbols that are seen as part of the “magic” in the movie.  They bring a nice cohesive element to the Blu-ray’s structure.  Fans of the movie, especially those trying to convert their libraries over to Blu-ray, will want to own this.  

Note: The Disney Film Project Podcast will be reviewing the movie Pocahontas later in 2012.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Rescuers Review by Briana Alessio

This heartwarming Disney classic from 1977 focuses on the journey of Bernard and Miss Bianca, two mice from the Rescue Aid Society who search for a missing girl.  This girl, named Penny, has escaped from an orphanage and needs their help, as she has been kidnapped by the villain of the film, Madame Medusa.  I had never seen this film previously.  Crazy, I know, especially since this is an absolute gem. The characters are so fantastic.  It did not feel that one of them had a blemish in this one.  They all came together to form one brilliant group of individuals.  And although this may sound silly since it is animation, the chemistry among them was top notch.

I found Madame Medusa to resemble Cruella De Vil quite a bit.  The wild hair, the thin face, and overall crazed demeanor was quite similar.  She is definitely not the worst of the Disney villains, but she is pretty insane.  As we know, with every villain comes the half witted sidekick.  This one goes by the name Mr. Snoops, and listens to her every word, although it feels like he has more compassion toward Penny than Medusa does.

Bob Newhart voices Bernard, which seemed completely accurate.  A bit cautious and nervous while remaining laid back matched Newhart’s voice perfectly to Bernard’s personality.  Newhart has appeared in many television shows and films, but is most known for The Bob Newhart Show which lasted for six years, and Newhart which was on air for eight years.  Eva Gabor voices Miss Bianca.  Gabor’s flirtatious voice fit Bianca’s mannerisms and the way she presented herself to Bernard and those around her.  Gabor has also appeared in many television shows and films, but is well known for Green Acres that lasted six years.  We know her well from voicing Duchess in The AristoCats.  Geraldine Page gives us the voice of the crass Madame Medusa.  Page played Mrs. Duke in The Happiest Millionaire (the first person who starts singing “Fortuosity” to me gets pinched).  Joe Flynn is Mr. Snoops, which is extremely appropriate as they look similar.  His other Disney connections include 1969’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1972’s Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and 1975’s The Strongest Man in the World as the same character (Dean Higgins) as well as playing Havershaw in 1968’s The Love Bug.  John McIntire is the lovable Rufus.  McIntire’s Disney connections include Mr. Judson in 1974’s Herbie Rides Again and Badger from 1981’s The Fox and the Hound.  Many lovable actors and actresses supplied the voices of the various other characters including Jeanette Nolan as Ellie Mae, Pat Buttram as Luke, Larry Clemmons as Gramps, Dub Taylor as Digger, and James MacDonald as the adorable Evinrude.

This film is directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, and Art Stevens.  The former two were members of Uncle Walt’s Nine Old Men.  Stevens directed 1981’s The Fox and the Hound and was also involved in the animation department of some truly wonderful Disney masterpieces such as 1953’s Peter Pan and 1973’s Robin Hood.  We know Reitherman and Lounsbery had a part in the making of this film, as well as Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston.  That makes SIX of the Nine Old Men who put their amazing touches on this classic.  No wonder it was so good.

The soundtrack is lovely and appropriate to the film’s environment.  Shelby Flint sounds a lot like Karen Carpenter to me, which lends to its true 70s feel.  Flint sings the touching tunes “The Journey”, “Tomorrow is Another Day”, and “Someone’s Waiting for You.”  I also want to make mention of the insanely awesome anthem known as “Rescue Aid Society” for the group of the same name.  Those are extremely proud mice, as they should be.

My favorite scene is quick but memorable.  During Evinrude’s adventure of being chased by the bats, they spin past a spider, which leaves the poor guy tangled up in its own web.  This gives us the spider verily shaking his fist at those who have just disturbed his residence.  This scene was a laugh out loud one for me, and one which I will remember in my heart.  Also, the scene with Medusa’s crocodiles (Brutus and Nero) attempting to catch Bernard through the organ is brilliantly animated.  My favorite character is a three way tie among Penny, Rufus, and Evinrude.  Penny’s compassion for her teddy bear and the faith she holds in being free from Medusa is absolutely touching.  Rufus is just about the greatest cat in the world.  His moustache adds to his adorable features, and his outgoing and kind personality truly show his care for friends.  As for Evinrude, this goes to show that even those Disney characters who cannot speak are ones which leave a lasting impression on the souls of many.  (Sidenote: big props to Orville as well, my favorite albatross of all time!)

The Rescuers is an underrated film.  Everything about it is enjoyable and the Disney animators did a fine job in the creation of such a masterpiece.  As I had mentioned before, this was only the first time I had seen this one.  It has not become an immediate favorite of mine.  There are moments where the film drags on a bit, but even that will not take away the brilliance of the film in its entirety.  This is thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to watching it again.  Highly recommended!

My Rating:  4/5

Faith makes things turn out right.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 87 - The Rescuers

This week the DFPP team heads to the Devil’s Bayou to answer a call from someone in a fix and discover that sometimes the best way to save a person is to help them save themselves in the 1977 animated adventure The Rescuers.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Aristocats Blu-ray Release

The Aristocats tells the story of three kittens and their mother who lived in the lap of luxury with their human Madame Bonfamille.  One day, while working on her will, her butler Edgar overhears that he is to receive all of her money upon her death, but only once the cats have also moved on.  He decides to remove the cats from the equation by abandoning them in the countryside, and much of the movie deals with their journey back home to Madame.  If you’d like a more in depth look at the movie itself, we suggest you check out Episode 58 of the Disney Film Project Podcast where we reviewed the Aristocats.  

Now Disney, working hard to increase their Blu-ray library, has released the Aristocats - already available in stores.  The Blu-ray follows what I’m beginning to think of as the “Disney Blu-ray Formula”.  And I really think they nailed this formula with their catch phrase of “Magic in High Definition”.  Each disc always starts with three tie-ins: an advertisement for Disney Studio All Access, an advertisement for one of their more prominent upcoming Blu-ray releases - in this case Cinderella: Diamond Edition due out on October 2, 2012, and finally an upcoming movie release preview, which here is Finding Nemo 3D.  

The Main Menu of this Blu-ray does an excellent job of presenting different examples of the gorgeous artwork found in this movie.  Each time you jump there, a different scene is represented - of the times I went there I didn’t see it repeat.  There is the usual round of Disney movie related previews to be found.  You can also choose from one of four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese - and the are all also available as subtitles as well.

This Blu-ray shines in it’s Bonus Features, many of which include appearances by the Sherman Brothers.  In the first one titled “The Lost Open”, Richard Sherman tells us about a deleted character named Elvira, and a deleted song that she and Edgar were supposed to sing a duet for called “How Much You Mean to Me (Court Me Slowly)”. It also includes a scene where the cats are introduced to us as they attend a Cat Museum that is apparently inside the Louvre. We get see the opening played out using storyboards and old recordings, including singing by the Sherman Brothers.

Next we get a music video called “Oui Oui Marie” which is a remix of things that all the cats in the movie say, but mostly Marie.  It’s not something I particularly care for.  This is made up for by the inclusion of the deleted song “She Never Felt Alone” which is a song about how much Madame really does love the cats.  Richard Sherman discusses the song, and it’s lead in called “Porquoise?” - which on the storyboards we see is referred to as “Purrquoise”.  This is also played for us using storyboards.  

We are then presented with an excerpt from an interview with the Sherman Brothers title “The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocrats Of Disney Songs”.  In it they discuss how they worked with artists to create the songs for the movies in a sort of symbiotic relationship of design.  They also discuss how they were able to get Maurice Chevalier to do the opening song for the movie and also some discussion about “Scales And Arpeggios”.

There is then an excerpt from the episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color called “The Great Cat Family” that is all about how the domesticated cat has evolved and interacted with man for thousands of years.  And we have to Thank the Phoenicians for it.  In keeping with the whole “cat theme”, the final bonus feature is the 1946 short “Bath Day” staring Figaro.  It starts with Minnie Mouse giving Figaro a bath and through a series of events leads to Figaro once again needing a bath.

As said above, the big win for this Blu-ray is the Bonus Features. Especially enjoyable is the way that the missing or deleted scenes are brought to life for us with music, dialogue, and storyboards.  It brings back for us what would otherwise be lost.  This is a solid Blu-ray release that any fan of the Aristocats will want to have in their collection.