Monday, April 29, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 121 - Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue

This week the DFFP team heads back in time to the Scottish Highlands to help a local legend, but can’t find anyone using that name and when the local Duke won’t help them they go straight to the King in the 1953 adventure Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hello Aloha

Goofy’s evolution into the suburban dad George Geef has been a strange transition to say the least.  After all, this is a character who flew to fame on the back of being a bumbling fool, making all kinds of mistakes on various sports or other tasks.  To make him then a part of a suburban community seems a bit awkward.  In Hello Aloha, the Disney team managed to make it fit better by having George Geef experience something universal – the desire to escape the daily grind for a tropical paradise.

The transition from the work a day world to the tropical paradise where Goofy spends the majority of the short is probably the most awkward bit of it.  After being berated by his boss and basically embarrassed, Goofy drifts off into a dream and walks across a cloudscape into a tropical land.  I’m not going to suggest that the Disney team were imbibing while at work, but I will say it wouldn’t surprise me.  It accomplishes the goal, though, which is to get Goofy into the tropical land where the rest of the short takes place.

The island has to be Hawaii, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s there to represent the dream that all work a day drones have from time to time, of escaping the real world and moving on to live a life that is stress free in some warmer climate.  Everything flows from that premise, and it makes the short carry this dreamlike quality.  It feels like something that is happening but yet not real all at the same time.  Especially because every native on the island is also a clone of Goofy.

This short takes on the qualities of the “How To” shorts, with the narrator reading the story of the island to the audience while Goofy messes things up.  It is poking fun at the idea that this island escape is actually worthwhile.  My favorite scene is the Goof lying in a hammock, swinging from side to side.  As he hits the left side of the screen, he’s taking time to paint, then as he swings to the other side, types a novel on a typewriter.  It’s a great mockery of the myth that if only we had the time away from the work  a day world, we’d all be great artists.

The final nail in the coffin, almost literally, is when the natives pick up the newcomer Goofy and toss him into a volcano.  It’s a very nice takedown of that tropical myth that things will be so much better if we got away.  While there may be some truth to that, in the end, the grass isn’t always greener.  That’s the main thing I liked about Hello Aloha, is that it had a subversive quality to it.  It was funny, but still something that would cause comfortable suburbanites to think a bit.  That is exceedingly rare in this era of Disney animation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

From time to time, Disney did experiment with different things in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Part of it was just having the time to do things, as Walt turned his eye more towards Disneyland, and part of it was the ability to look back at other things they had done and mirror that.  Lambert, the Sheepish Lion, is pretty much something straight from the package features like Melody Time and Make Mine Music.  It’s a simple fable based around a simple song, and honestly becomes one of the most memorable Disney shorts of this time period.

It’s so much like the package features partially because it features the amazing narration and voice work of Sterling Holloway, best known as the original voice of Winnie the Pooh.  Holloway pulls double duty here as both the narrator and reprises the role of the stork that he played so memorably in Dumbo.  In this case, the stork again makes a delivery, this time accidentally dropping a lion in amongst a flock of sheep.  Unfortunately for him, one of the ewes takes a shine to the little lion and refuses to let him correct the mistake.

The title, then, is a very clever play on words, as Lambert, the little lion, is not only sheepish in that he’s raised by sheep, but as we see, he is a bit of a coward.  That’s the basis of the titular song, as the sheep around Lambert taunt the little lion, knocking him over, and forcing him to run away.  Lambert is unaware of the power he holds as a lion, and doesn’t have a thought of fighting back to the rather mean sheep.  But the song?  It’s an earworm.  I watched the short and have been singing it silently ever since.  It would have fit right in with the package features.

The flip of the switch occurs when Lambert grows up, and goes from a little lion cub to a full fledged lion.  He’s still a coward, but now everyone’s a little more forgiving, since they know he could turn around and eat them.   It’s not until a wolf menaces his mother that Lambert becomes a vicious killing machine.  He roars, he chases the wolf off, and he becomes a hero.  It’s a cute little turn, watching this adorable lion become a protector of his sheep clan.

It proves that if done well, Disney was able to introduce new characters.  Lambert is one they didn’t revisit since, but you can find him around.  In the new Storybook Circus at Walt Disney World, for example, there’s a poster of Lambert.  And you’ll find references to him in other places around the Disney parks and resorts.  It all started here, though, with a short that had a lot of heart, good story, and good music.  That combination was something that the serial shorts like Donald and Goofy were missing at this time.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 120 - College Road Trip

This week the DFPP team heads out on the road to start checking out colleges for Her Majesty when they realize that what would really make the trip better for them is a police cruiser, a pig, and some skydiving in the 2008 comedy College Road Trip.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Donald Applecore

Donald Applecore represents the way that Donald’s shorts have devolved in this period of Disney history.  For this era, it’s all about Donald fighting Chip and Dale over some food item.  There’s been nuts, pancakes, pies and now apples.  The problem is that there is not much different between each of them.   Donald is either doing a business or growing things, the chipmunks come and interrupt that, then they fight, and the chipmunks usually get the upper hand.

For Donald Applecore, the short focuses on Donald running an apple grove, where he stores his “delicious apples” as the painting on his barn says.  There is a possible place where things could diverge right at the beginning of the short, but it doesn’t.  When Donald catches Dale eating his apples, Dale offers to take Donald into his tree and show him their stash.  There’s a chance there for things to go a different way.  Sadly, it’s the same thing over again.

The chipmunks don’t share, they taunt Donald, throw him out of their tree and end up stealing more apples.  There are a few brief moments of back and forth before Donald calls in the big guns.  Random things like apples rolling down tree branches and Donald sticking his head into trees fill space until things get weird with Donald in a plane.  Yes, Donald in a crop duster style plane.  It’s so crazy that it almost salvages the short.

The last few minutes of this short involve this plane flying over the crops and spraying all sorts of harmful gases or other concoctions at the chipmunks.  The craziness ensues when Donald starts throwing everything he has into the plane, including something labeled “Atomic Pills.”  It’s nuts! As Donald flies around the farm, he is firing pellets of this atomic mixture out of the rear end of the plane and destroying everything in its path.

This random destruction ends when Donald shoots a pellet into his chicken coop (and why he has a chicken coop on an apple farm I don’t know) and a chicken eats it.  The resulting egg explodes and literally blows a hole through the world to China, where Donald ends up.  It just becomes so bizarre that it’s hard to enjoy.  In the end, though, it becomes the same exact thing that all Chip and Dale shorts are, which is them enjoying a victory over Donald and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Father Lion

Goofy’s evolution from Dippy Dawg to George Geef has been quite the sight to behold, and with Father Lion, the complete transformation takes place.  Goofy now has a son, and has become the typical suburban father, complete with the white lies that fatherhood entails.  Every father has stretched the truth a bit about what they have done to impress their child, and that simple idea is the core of what makes Father Lion such a funny short.

Goofy and his new son (who I assume is named Max) are going on a camping trip, and it’s the road trip to their destination that sets the tone.  During the ride, Goofy tells his son of his story fighting Indians in the Wild West and facing down a charging rhino in Africa.  It’s completely absurd, which makes it perfect for Goofy.  These sequences are so much in the vein of the “How To” shorts, showing Goofy as the “hero” with feet of clay. 

It’s when the son buys completely into these stories that you know we are in for a treat.  Sure enough, when Goofy arrives at the campsite, he is instantly mixed up with a mountain lion.  The lion, while minding his own business, gets entangled with Goofy and his son as they basically manhandle him, without even trying.  It’s a fun juxtaposition as Goofy slings the lion around, punches him and kicks him to the curb not even knowing what he is doing.

This general conceit of the lion getting hammered by Goofy is what drives the majority of this short.  After the original beating, the lion starts trying to take on Goofy, who manages to accidentally knock him senseless, blow smoke in his face or do other haphazard damage.  What makes it so funny is that Goofy’s son is aware of the lion, and even shoots him in the face with his cork gun.  The son sees only his father confidently taking on the wild lion, while Goofy is blissfully unaware a challenge has even been mounted.

When the Goof finally figures out what’s going on, it’s even better.  Despite his need to make sure his son is safe and yet not lose face, Goofy is still somewhat cowardly.  It’s a subtle distinction between he and Donald, that Goofy will charge forward and risk his own safety, while still shaking at the knees, while Donald would run away.  Goofy doesn’t lose his mojo, though, managing to escape and start telling more tall tales as soon as he hits the car.  It makes for a fun short that is entertaining and relatable.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 119 - Brother Bear

This week the DFPP team takes a well earned vacation on the glacial plains to milk some caribou when they come across woolly mammoths being ridden by moose and bears that are  following the northern lights in the 2003 animated adventure Brother Bear.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mulan II Review by Briana Alessio

This sequel from 2004 should show us what happens to Mulan after saving China.  We would naturally expect to see events which happened in the life of Mulan herself.  Surprisingly, we see a follow up on how her life affects Mushu.  In a way, this film technically could have been called Mushu.  Let me explain why.

The film opens with a cheesy Mushu entrance as he is surrounded by the ancestors who hate his guts.  The beginning credits are actually the most beautiful part of the film, as we see the original beauty of the drawings mixed with the gorgeous background music.  We then see Mulan teaching little girls how to be warriors; Shang enters the picture, who is now a general.  They ooh and aah over him like 12 year olds at a Justin Bieber concert.

The couple gets engaged.  Mushu is told by the ancestors that once the couple wed, Mulan will not be his guardian any longer.  Therefore, he will be demoted to his previous position of awakening the ancestors.  He becomes concerned and the selfishness takes over once he decides to break up the engagement. 

Mulan and Shang are summoned by the emperor to visit him, as he has news.  He needs them to escort his three daughters/princesses to Qui Gong in China for arranged marriages.  Mulan is immediately upset by this, since she is determined that love reigns and no one should be forced to do what they do not choose to do.  The emperor also informs them that they must bring soldiers to guard them against Mongolian attackers.  Naturally, they decide to bring the three from the original film: Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po.  Yao loves Mei, Ling loves Ting Ting, and Chien-Po loves Su.  We don’t see a blossoming romance between Ling and Ting Ting until much later in the film, when he finally gets to her heart by causing her to break into snorting laughter. 

Meanwhile, Mushu has set up ridiculous schemes to break up Mulan and Shang.  Eventually he gets to them and they become furious with each other.  Mongol attackers show up and try to kidnap the princesses.  Mulan and Shang wind up on a rickety bridge, which is where Shang plummets to his death…or does he?  Let’s just say that this is where the classic fake Disney death takes place. 

Of course, Mulan is devastated by the tragic loss of her fiancĂ©e (ahem), so she decides to inform the emperor of Qui Gong that the three princesses have fallen in love and cannot fulfill their duties.  Therefore, Mulan will take their place and wed his oldest son who calls her “old” and is obviously displeased.  As Mulan is standing at the altar, we suddenly see what appears to be a ninja star thrown between her and this emperor’s son.  Hey, it’s Shang!  This emperor is not happy since his son will still be single.  Suddenly a voice erupts from the golden dragon of unity…which happens to be Mushu.  He convinces the emperor to let the two marry and let bygones be bygones.  He also states that the soldiers and princesses are in love and will have the chance to be together.

Mushu’s pedestal is returned when the family tablets are united by Mulan and Shang, so he no longer has to fear.  Happiness takes place all around.

The majority of the original cast return to voice the sequel, except for Eddie Murphy.  Instead, a gentleman by the name of Mark Moseley took his place.  Lucy Liu voiced Mei, Sandra Oh voiced Ting Ting, and Lauren Tom voiced Su.  All three actresses gave wonderful performances.  Mulan II is directed by Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland.  Rooney has also worked on Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure and The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride.  Southerland has worked on The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue among others.

Five Facts:
1.)  Judy Kuhn, the singing voice of Pocahontas, providing the singing voice of Ting Ting in the film.
2.)  The ice skater Michelle Kwan provides the voice of the shopkeeper in the village.  When showing Chien-Po the ginger, she skates around the stand.
3.)  Mulan’s family name, Fa, should be pronounced Hua which means ‘flower.’  The Chinese dub uses the Hua pronunciation as Mandarian is China’s official language.
4.)  A clause in Eddie Murphy’s contract for doing Shrek 2 forbade him from reprising the role of Mushu in this film. 
5.)  At one point in the film, Shang’s shirt changes from white with a tie at the waist to brown, back to white, then finally back to brown at night at the campsite.

Personally, I do not find this film to be that funny.  It has its moments just like anything else but there is nothing particularly special about it.  And as I said at the beginning of the post, this seems to focus more on Mushu’s wishes rather than Mulan’s life after saving China.  I’m not saying this did not bring a smile to my face because it absolutely did.  It just lacked the heart and meaning which overflowed in the original film.  Perhaps if Disney had decided to focus on Mulan’s life with Shang and maybe present a Mongolian attack for the two to combat together.  The theme could have been teamwork while in a relationship.  I’m just trying to think outside of the box here.

In a nutshell, this is not a bad film.  It just lacks the usual compassion which we know certainly well that a Disney film can bring.  I definitely recommend seeing it once.  Then you can make your own judgment from there.

My Rating:  2.5/5

What is it with men and asking directions?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 118 - Mulan II

This week the DFPP team heads back to ancient China to have some dim sum with the famed Great Golden Dragon of Unity and finds themselves in the middle of an invisible Mongol invasion in the 2004 direct to video animated adventure Mulan II.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bee On Guard

Donald Duck’s career has been one of battles with other people or animals.  In the beginning, it was teaming up with Mickey and Goofy to battle Pete or other menaces, but his solo career was different.  The idea in Donald’s latest solo shorts is to show him as a suburban man tending to a garden or trying to take a rest.  Inevitably either Chip and Dale or someone else gets in the way, and in Bee On Guard, it’s yet another encounter with bees.  Donald apparently has quite the taste for honey.

In fact he’s almost another Winnie the Pooh, since this isn’t the first time he has gotten into it with bees.  In this case, the bees make their presence known by swooping down out of the sky to steal pollen from Donald’s flowers.  This is a big mistake on their part, because it leads to Donald finding ways to steal the bees’ honey from their “tower” of a tree.  That means, of course, Donald dresses up like a bee to fool the guard on duty. 

And there’s the first issue with this short.  The pacing is completely off.  The first minute or so of the short shows the bees and their internal hierarchy, such as how they take off, land and store their wares. By the time Donald comes in, he’s not the main character, or becomes so only because we are familiar with him.  Then, it’s hard to root for Donald to get the honey out of the tree, because we have already invested ourselves in the bees.

That makes the main conflict even stranger.  About 5 minutes into a 7 minute short, Donald is successful in stealing the honey, and the bee who has been standing guard is now an outcast from the swarm.  As a viewer, I felt awful for the poor bee, who was fooled by a simple minded trick by Donald.  That late into the short, it's hard to switch allegiances and root for Donald, and in fact the short doesn't ask you to do that.  Instead, the bee gets his revenge on Donald and gets back into the good graces of his swarm.

While the visuals are funny (seeing the bee with Donald's giant stinger for example) it left me flat.  The shifting viewpoints from the bees to Donald and back again were hard to follow, and although I was never confused, it was hard to say who I was supposed to sympathize with in the end.  Add to that the lackluster gags of Donald dressing up like a bee, and it makes for a short that is subpar, even by the lower standards of 1950s Disney shorts.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No Smoking

Sometimes it’s hard to watch the older Disney shorts, because they look dated.  Not from an animation standpoint, but just the things that are accepted as commonplace within the animated world.  If you have any of the Walt Disney Treasures tins, you’re probably used to Leonard Maltin coming out before certain shorts and warning about offensive content.  Whether it’s blackface or stereotyping Native Americans or the Chinese, certain things were just acceptable in the 1940s or 1950s and are not so today.  In the case of No Smoking, it’s more that no one today can imagine a world where smoking was so much a part of every day life.

No Smoking sees Goofy return to the character of George Geef, which seems to be his place in the Disney universe at this point.  Every character in the short is a version of Goofy, but it’s Geef that is the main character.  First, though, we have to establish the history of smoking and how it came to be, in a very loose interpretation of the history of America.  We see Indians greeting Columbus with a cigar, aristocratic knights smoking cigars and the Old West offering a condemned Goof his last cigarette before the firing squad opens fire.

It all ends up offering a picture that tobacco is central to American life.  And if you watch Mad Men or the rest of this short, you can believe it.  Having not been around in the 1950s I can’t speak to it, but in this short, the culture is one of everyone smoking, all around the office, the street corners and even in bathrooms.  There are some memories I have of this being close to true, where aunts and uncles of mine would smoke wherever they were, but as I said, today, it’s pretty inconceivable.

I thinks that’s part of what put me off about this short, is that I’m not a smoker and I find it a little sickening.  Now, I have no problem with people who smoke, and I say to each their own, but the smell actually makes me sick, so I don’t enjoy it.  Between that and the fact that the second half of the short is just not that compelling, it makes for a dull ride.  We see Geef swear off smoking for all of about 30 seconds, then go manic trying to get his next smoke. 

That’s not compelling to me, because we’ve seen it before.  When Goofy went on a diet, he was haunted by food.  All the “How To” shorts featured versions of this as well.  It’s just not a new idea, and although it plays off a common issue and addiction, it’s nothing new.  At this point in his career, Goofy doesn’t offer the same kind of entertainment he did in earlier days.  That’s sad, because he is my favorite of the Fab Five, but it’s just a function of a different environment and different stage of life for the animators.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 117 - Mulan

This week the DFPP team heads to ancient China to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and instead finds themselves in the middle of a Hun invasion which can only mean one thing in the end... fireworks in the 1998 animated adventure Mulan.