Thursday, March 28, 2013

Out Of Scale

You know how I have been complaining that the 1950s Disney shorts are all cliches?  I have been looking for something new, and although Out Of Scale falls in the mold of previous shorts, there's enough there that makes it new and different.  It's a chance for the Donald vs. Chip and Dale dynamic to be used in a different way, and create something that becomes a classic in the history of Disney animation. 

The set up should be familiar for fans who know about Walt Disney.  Donald has a model train set in his backyard, big enough for him to ride on, but small enough that it's not a full size train.  If you've ever read or watched a biography of Walt, you'll know that he had the exact same set up in his backyard.  The backdrops and vistas in Out of Scale remind me so much of pictures of Walt doing the same thing in his backyard.  It's a great nod to Disney history at a time when it was still going on.

The conflict between Donald and the chipmunks begins when Donald decides that a regular sized tree is out of scale for his miniature railroad.  Of course, it happens to be the tree where Chip and Dale live.  You can see how this could cause a problem.  What I love about this short, however, is it only goes down the obvious path for a brief moment.  The obvious path is a fight between Donald and the chipmunks, but instead, we take a nice diversion into something far more interesting.

Rather than fight it out, Chip and Dale decide to jump into Donald's little town he has constructed and take up residence in one of the houses.  And Donald, rather than kick them out, measures the two and decides that they're the perfect scale.  It seems like a great solution for the problem.  But Donald just can't rest, instead deciding that having real "people" in his little town is a new way for him to play with his set up.  

Rather than leave the chipmunks alone, Donald simulates rain, intense heat and all other sorts of conditions.  It's not a fight the way that most of these shorts go, but still leads to the conclusion of Chip and Dale outsmarting Donald, planting the tree back and labeling it a Giant Redwood to get around the scale problem. There's just so much to like here.  The characters are used in a new way, they interact in some funny ways and they get to a great result, not one full of animosity.  There's the nod to Walt Disney, a less mean Donald - it all adds up to make Out of Scale a classic.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fathers Are People

It's about time someone recognized this simple fact - Fathers are People.  Goofy's role as George Geef, the bumbling suburban everyman, now extends into fatherhood, with this 1951 short.  We get to see him go from the announcement of his child to all his friends all the way through the child's toddler/preschool years.  In seven minutes, that's a pretty good accomplishment.  It also manages to keep humanizing the Goof, keeping him far away from his Dippy Dawg roots.

The short's opening bits where Goofy is assisting in the care of his new son is somewhat intriguing, but basically reinforces the stereotype that fathers don't really know how to take care of kids.  As a father of two myself, I'm pretty hacked off about that stereotype.  That's a separate issue, but here the trope is at least somewhat funny, as we see the repeated attempts by Goofy to try and help, but he is unable to get the right thing done.  That is a familiar situation to anyone with a kid, as they are generally mysteries.

In fact, this short is full of requisite jokes.  In addition to Goofy's inability to change a diaper, we have the "load the car full of stuff but forget the baby" joke, the "parents acting more childish than the kids" joke and a few more.  All are executed well, but the fact that anyone who's watched any sort of comedy with kids has seen these jokes before makes them fall flat for a modern audience.

When Goofy's child grows up a bit, we get to see the best parts of the short, as Goofy and his son battle over toys in the living room.  This was the part I could relate to, and enjoyed the most.  The child manages to outsmart his father throughout the roundabout battles, simply by being a child.  If you've ever been through this dance with a child, you know it's so spot on that it's a little scary.  The kid manages to make the best moves, leaving George Geef out in the cold.

When George is just at the end of his rope and goes into whip the child with a hairbrush (and we see a nice Mickey Mouse picture on the crib), his son pops up, gives him a hug and a kiss then goes to bed.  It's exactly the parent/child dynamic that so many of us face, but put into Goofy's world.  He finally retires to his chair and says out loud that he'd love more kids, but is terrified when his wife shows him a baby sweater she's knitted.  The relief  Goofy feels when he finds out the sweater is for the dog, and not another child, is so familiar.  All parents love their kids, but sometimes...there's just too much.  In Fathers Are People, the animators who have grown up from their earlier days are demonstrating their deep understanding of that fact.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cold Turkey

I've written here in the past about how the Disney shorts of the lat 1940s and early 1950s became somewhat formulaic.  The Donald shorts were either him feuding with Chip & Dale over food or being menaced by a boss.  The Goofy shorts were very slice of life, with Goofy taking on the everyman role.  And the Pluto shorts?  Well Pluto basically fought with another animal, for one reason or another.  Cold Turkey is no exception to this plan.  

The setup is simple, Pluto and the unnamed house cat are napping, watching wrestling of all things (this must be the Carousel of Progress house and Grandma is out for the moment).  When a commercial for turkey comes on, both of them begin to crave some roasted bird, and apparently lose all capability for rational thought.  Honestly, this is the dumbest I have seen Pluto behave in the MANY shorts I have watched.  

I mean, seriously?  Pluto has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but searching through the innards of a television to find a turkey strikes me as a little much.  The silliness of it all is certainly a piece of making good comedy, but in this case, it came off as trite, rather than an interesting use of Pluto.  The same traits come across in the cat, as he repeatedly lets Pluto slam him into the ground while he stands on the top of a metal garbage can.  This is almost a direct contradiction to how the short changes from that point forward.

Once the turkey is discovered in the fridge, it's all out war between Pluto and his former friend, the cat.  Things are silly, sure, but a little more entertaining.  Even if it is a cliche, you still like to see Pluto working against another animal.  The problem this time is that the two adversaries go from incredibly dumb to very cunning at the drop of a hat.  Pluto thinks to turn up the heat and smoke out the cat, the cat is roasting the turkey on a hot air vent.  These crazy animals who couldn't figure out that a TV turkey wasn't real only moments earlier are now masters of strategy.

It really drives home the inconsistency of the later shorts.  In the earlier years, Mickey and friends were much more exciting and adventurous, not following the rules of physics or life, really.  Now, Pluto has been tamed, set to struggle in the living room of a suburban house over a leftover turkey.  It doesn't help that the animation in this short is just average.  It's not bad, it's not good, it's just what you would expect from any Saturday morning cartoon.  Cold Turkey ended up leaving me cold, and that's not what you want from one of the Fab Five.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 116 - Return to Oz

This week the DFPP team and their friend Jeremy head back to the Land of Oz hot on the trail of a talking chicken only to find out that if they’re not careful they might all wind up as headcases in the 1985 fantasy adventure Return to Oz.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Phineas and Ferb: Animal Agents DVD Review

Like many fans of Disney XD, I’m a big fan of the Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated series Phineas and Ferb.  The series chronicles the adventures of two stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb as their creativity and ingenuity get them into all sorts of mischief.  Their sister Candace is constantly trying to earn their mom’s favor by attempting to “bust” her brothers.  Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tries, mom never sees anything because the evidence is always disappears, or is destroyed, or flies away before she sees it.  Meanwhile their pet platypus, Perry, is really Agent P - a secret agent for the O.W.C.A. (Organization Without A Cool Acronym) - and is ever vigilant in thwarting the machinations of the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

Phineas and Ferb: Animal Agents” is the latest DVD collection of episodes.  This time the episodes are ones that in some way focus on the various agents of the O.W.C.A.  Mostly, as one might expect, the episodes feature Perry the Platypus.  However we also have episodes featuring fan favorites like Pinky the Chihuahua (Agent P), Norm, and even Dr. Doofenshmirtz himself.  

The 12 episodes found on the DVD are:

Journey to the Center of Candace
Traffic Cam Caper
Vanessassary Roughness
Isabella And The Temple Of Sap
Cheer Up Candace
Roboto Rodeo
Lotsa Latkes
Agent Doof
Where’s Perry? (Part I & II)
What’d I Miss?
Bowl-R-Ama Drama

The only bonus content on the DVD are 6 episodes of the spin off show “Take Two with Phineas and Ferb” where they interview various celebrities like Miss Piggy.  Also when going through the Sneak Peeks one will find the latest Planes trailer which reveals much of the movie’s plot.  Overall this DVD is a great pick for someone who is looking to enhance their private collection of Phineas and Ferb episodes.  Keep in mind that the price point is very close to just purchasing the same episodes digitally online, which would be an equally satisfying alternative.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 115 - Oz the Great and Powerful - Live Show

This week the DFPP team broadcasts to you live from WKOZ in the Land of Oz to talk to bring you news that the prophecy has been fulfilled and The Wizard has arrived to save the kingdom in the 2013 fantasy adventure Oz the Great and Powerful.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame II Review by Briana Alessio

This sequel from 2002 gives us a follow-up story on Quasimodo and the events which took place in his life post Esmeralda and Phoebus’ marriage.  We can safely say that most Disney sequels are never of equal quality as the first.  So first I can say that you should not go into this expecting a masterpiece.

The opening scene shows the beautiful bell in all of its shining, glistening glory.  There is an upcoming festival called Le Jour d’Amour where the villagers will proclaim their love to each other, so the decorations are being prepared.  By now, Esmeralda and Phoebus have had an adorable son called Zephyr; all three have a special bond with Quasimodo.  They discuss the festival and we witness a heartbreaking scene where Quasimodo admits his sadness in not having someone who loves him.

A circus rolls into town and we meet a performer named Madellaine.  She is balancing on a high wire, dreaming and wishing to be something more.  Sarousch tells Madellaine to get to know Quasimodo so he will feed her information.  She goes to the bell tower and despite Quasi’s wishes, sees his face.  She is greatly disturbed by this and flees.  This is the first mistake of the film.  If she was right for him, she would not have cared what he looked like.  But I digress.

Upon her departure, Quasi sings about how wonderful she is as he paints a figurine which bears a striking resemblance to Tinkerbell.  His three trusty gargoyles convince him to go to the Cirque de Sarousch to meet her again.  I guess by this time Madellaine has recovered from the fright of seeing Quasi’s face (insert eye roll of sarcasm here) because she is suddenly smitten with him.  Seeing his sweet friendship with Zephyr definitely helps the situation.  Quasi and Madellaine later have a dance in a rainstorm and it is easy to tell that they are quickly falling for each other.  Before they part ways, she kisses him on the forehead during a hysterical scene where he is so bewildered by this that he faints. 

Robberies begin to take place and some begin to think that the circus being in town is the cause of that.  Phoebus goes to visit Sarousch and finds a hidden gemstone.  Sarousch lies and blames this on Madellaine who Phoebus now blames for said robberies.  Sarousch and his men go to the bell tower and steal the magnificent bell bedecked with gemstones.  Zephyr spies on this and follows the men with his unisex goat (listen to the podcast episode for more on this). 

To use a frequently used term by Ryan Kilpatrick, we go back to the Ponderosa.  Quasi realizes Madellaine knew about Sarousch’s plan and blames her for using him.  We witness another heartbreaking scene where he falls on the stairway and cries.  Sarousch leaves town with the stolen goods including Zephyr and the goat.  Sarousch decides to use this to his advantage as a kidnapping of sorts, or a bargaining tool if you will.  Madellaine has been thrown in jail at this point since she has been blamed for the robberies.  Phoebus and Esmeralda release her so she can give them information.  She tells them to search underground since there is a waterway they most likely escaped through.  Sure enough, they find them as a fabulous rescue mission takes place including a tightrope and impressive acrobatic skills by Madellaine.  Sarousch is thrown in prison, the bell is returned to the tower, and Quasimodo and Madellaine loudly proclaim their love for each other in front of the inhabitants of France.

The original voice cast returned for this sequel.  The additions included the brilliant Michael McKean (Sarousch), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Madellaine) and Haley Joel Osment (Zephyr).  Bradley Raymond directed this one; Raymond also directed The Lion King 1 ½, Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, and a few Tinkerbell features.  Skip Kennon provided the majority of the music for the film.

Five Facts:
1.)  A hat of Sarousch’s in the circus tent is actually Mickey’s sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia ; this is seen in two different scenes
2.)  Haley Joel Osment who voiced Zephyr was 9 years old when the film was originally made but was 14 when it was actually released.
3.)  For a low budget film, big named actors provided the voice cast.  All of the actors from the first film returned except the original voice of Laverne, originally voiced by Mary Wickes.  Jane Withers voices Laverne in this one.
4.)  Difference of shoe color seemed to be popular with both Quasi and Zephyr.  They change from blue to brown a couple of times during the film.
5.)  During the "Le Jour D'Amour" sequence, we see a female’s dress change color from blue to beige then blue then beige, similar to shoe color changes.

The funniest moment in the film happens twice – Phoebus questions his horse Achilles how many times he has been wrong.  In response, Achilles slaps his hoof down repeatedly to which Phoebus answers “that was a rhetorical question.”  The characters are not quite as endearing as from the original but still manage to capture the Disney charm we all love.

The main message of this film is to appreciate more than just what your eyes can see.  When Quasimodo brings Madellaine to the city in France, he teaches her to listen with her ears and mind.  Through this, she discovers much about life which she did not understand previously.  Just because something does not appear beautiful to the eye does not mean it is meaningless.  You have to look beyond appearances to appreciate the true value of something.

This is a good sequel.  It is not bad nor is it great.  It is an enjoyable film which is worth watching.  Perhaps it is not worth owning but I would recommend it for a rainy day with the family.  

My Rating:  3/5

You understand the world better than anyone I’ve ever known.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 114 - The Hunchback of Notre Dame II

This week the DFPP team returns to Paris to help their friend Quasimodo find true love only to discover a world much like the Paris they knew only everyone and everything seems not quite right in the 2002 animated adventure The Hunchback of Notre Dame II.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 113 - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess

This week the DFPP teams dives headfirst into a storybook to save a Princess from a group of  ravenous animals, but discovers that she has a superpower that can soothe the beasts in the 2012 television movie Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph Ultimate Collector's Edition Review

Without question one of my two favorite movies released last year was Wreck-It Ralph.  The main character’s journey of self-discovery is one that appeals greatly to me.  Though the digital download version of the movie has been available for a few weeks, like many I’ve been waiting for the Blu-ray release of the movie.  Now, in just a few days, on March 5, 2013, it will be released, and I’ve just finished checking out the Wreck-It Ralph Ultimate Collector's Edition.  If you’d like more information about the movie itself, please check out Episode 98 of our podcast.  

Upon opening the Blu-ray set the first impression is slight disappointment.  I know it seems minor, but they only decorated the Blu-ray 3D version of the movie.  The regular Blu-ray and DVD are light blue and grey respectively.  The box cover itself though is a lenticular 3D image containing many of the characters from the movie.  Now, I realize that for the most part a movie sits on your shelf or inside your player - so this is not a huge problem.  The Main Menu of the Blu-ray is designed as if you’re playing the Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade game.  However the apartment building where the Nicelanders live is moved to the right side of the screen, and on the left is the menu itself. Ralph & Felix are actively playing the game

Of all the features on this Blu-ray, my favorite is Disney Intermission - a specialized Pause feature that Disney has been including on several of their Blu-ray releases.  For Wreck-It Ralph it’s called The Gamer’s Guide to Wreck-It Ralph which covers some of the many easter eggs in the film.  Mention is made of the 120501 High Score on Fix-It Felix which happens to be Walt’s Birthday.  We are also shown the hidden “Disney Codes” inside the Kill Screen at the end of the movie.  There is some discussion about the greatest video game ever... Fatal Assault (hint: it’s not a real thing).  And many other things including Hidden Mickeys and the various video game character cameos in the movie.

If you really enjoyed the theatrical short Paperman it’s available for viewing on the Blu-ray.  For those that don’t know, it’s a sweet little romantic piece involving a man, a woman, and paper airplanes.  There are also a few “deleted” scenes on the Blu-ray, but they’re not really deleted from the movie you know (if you’ve already seen it).  They are scenes from an interim concept version of the movie where both Felix and Ralph are traveling through the video game worlds together.  They also have an introduction by Rich Moore and optional audio commentary.  You’ll also find Commercials for each of the video games, as well as a strange commercial about how to buy Felix’s magic hammer.

Bit By Bit: Creating The Worlds Of Wreck-It Ralph is about the conceptualizing and inception of the movie.  Director Rich Moore talks about how John Lasseter came to talk with him, requesting that he make a movie about the world of video games.  Producer Clark Spencer discusses the “Donkey Kong Vibe” that they set out to give to the core characters.  Phil Johnston discusses their epiphany moment when they realized that the movie should be about the villain not the hero.  They also spend a lot of time discussing the 5 worlds of the game: Fix-It Felix, Jr., Hero’s Duty, Sugar Rush, Game Central Station, and Litwak’s Arcade.

There’s not a huge amount of content on this Blu-ray release, but then again it was only released last year.  So not a lot of content has been generated about it to date.  One feature I might like to have seen was one about the character creation itself as much of the “creation” information on the Blu-ray was about the worlds of the movie not the characters.  Overall, I’m just super excited to own a copy of this movie.  I’m probably going to watch it again tonight if I can fit it in.