Monday, January 28, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 108 - The Strongest Man in the World

This week, over bowls of Crumply Crunch, the DFPP decides to head back to Medfield College to brush up on their Bovine Studies, but soon learns that no amount of science can make the weak strong in the 1975 comedy The Strongest Man in the World.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 107 - The Barefoot Executive

This week the DFPP team heads to UBC TV headquarters to get to the bottom of the success of the smash hit Devil Dan and learns that mankind are not the only apes capable of appreciating the old boob tube in the 1971 comedy The Barefoot Executive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fantasia 2000 Review by Briana Alessio

This renewal of animation from 1999 brings us a whole new set of scenes set to some of the most beautiful and famous pieces of music in the world.  It is different in that this brings a more modernized look while still maintaining the classic, original appeal.

The film opens with the orchestra setting up while we see flashes of 1940’s Fantasia in the background.  It is quite a beautiful sequence of past scenes.  Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 begins as we see paper butterflies and an incredibly drawn scene of vivid colors and a number of butterflies minimizing as fast as they were maximizing.  This comes to an end as rays from the sun descend and the butterflies ascend to the sky toward Heaven, bringing home the powerful finish to the musical piece. 

Steve Martin appears onstage and briefly discusses the original Fantasia.  He then introduces Itzhak Perlman who introduces the film’s conductor, Maestro James Levine accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi begins as whales swim to the light hearted, lovely melody.  Seagulls fly above as icebergs dangerously stand below.  There is a moment where the main whale of the scene stares through what appears to be a transparent iceberg to gaze at a sea creature about five times its size.  The following moment is a bit shocking as the whales begin to fly in the air.  As we know, whales do not fly.  Abnormal animation sequences are not uncommon for Fantasia and the like, yet it is still surprising to see.

George Gershwin’s stunning Rhapsody in Blue begins its telling, beautiful tale as we see a glimpse into everyday life of New York City.  The scene accurately and humorously describes the A-type personality of city dwellers as hordes of people rush onto a train and depart to quickly run to their apartments.  However, this quickly turns into quite a moving story as we briefly see into the lives of three individuals.  A little girl tries her hand at ballet and various other sporting activities and fails at everything she tries; a construction work is bored at his job; and a man seems to be frustrated at the amount of time his wife spends on their dog.  They all gaze longingly out of their windows at Rockefeller Center, imagining themselves ice skating with everything feeling right in the surrounding world.  Without revealing precisely what happens, we see some brightness shine on their lives.

Bette Midler tells us a bit about the animation sequences which did not get put through to the final draft of Fantasia.  She then presents Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 Allegro, Opus 102 to begin the Steadfast Toy Soldier scene.  This brilliantly beautiful segment shows the life of a soldier and ballet dancer who quickly and desperately fall in love.  A big headed jack in the box stands in their way as he continually attempts to kill the soldier.  There is even a highly dangerous moment where the soldier gets knocked out of the building and goes on a mini river adventure with evil rats waiting on a snack.  In an amazing twist of fate, he is returned to his original place of residence where he has a final battle with the jack in the box and is finally able to live happily ever after with his love.

Next we see James Earl Jones introduce The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.  This is a very short piece but shows us a comical look into the life of your average flamingo who plays yo-yo.  Because, as we all know, flamingos play with yo-yos on a daily basis.  In this piece, the troublemaker flamingo is hot pink while the others are their natural shade of tropical pink.  This is what sets them apart on the wild “goose chase” (so to speak) theming.  Penn and Teller then present The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, the most famous piece from the original Fantasia film starring the one and only Mickey Mouse.  At the end of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, Mickey Mouse greets Leopold Stokowski.  This time, after doing just that, he informs Maestro James Levine that Donald Duck is missing. 

This brings us to Levine introducing the next piece featuring Donald Duck (he eventually shows up – this seems to be a common trend with him i.e. Philharmagic).  The wonderful song we associate with graduation ceremonies called Pomp & Circumstance (Marches 1, 2, 3, and 4) by Sir Edward Elgar provides the music for this Biblical centered scene.  We see Noah instruct Donald to round up the animals.  The familiar march plays as we see the animals proudly walk up the ramp and into the ark.  The flood comes pretty quickly and Daisy, Donald’s flame, is led to assume he did not make it onto the ark.  They think the other is dead as we witness a painful few minutes of heartache and close calls of possibly seeing each other.  As they exit the ark, they find each other and a rainbow shines overhead, which represents God’s promise to never flood the earth again which is surrounded by the powerful impact of the musical composition.

Angela Landsbury introduces the final segment of the film, Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version).  She states that Walt Disney called the art of animation a “voyage of discovery into the realms of color, sound, and motion.”  This is probably the most interesting scene of the film, presenting a wintery background for what is to come.  A moose breathes icy air forming a mythical creature to appear.  She is a beautiful goddess of sorts who almost looks like an anime drawing.  She encounters a twisted rock which destroys everything in its path, wreaking havoc on the surrounding area.  She disappears and the moose brings her back.  She seems to be quite injured but is able to fly again thanks to her fallen tears which bring new life to flowers (this is very Tangled-esque) and therefore gives her renewed energy.  She outstretches across the land and brings brighter color and well-being to the flowers which is reminiscent of the original Fantasia film, where a similar creature floats in the sky to change the color of the sky as the sun sets.  The closing credits appear on-screen as we see the orchestra departing and moments from the film play in the background.

The live action sequences are hosted/presented by the aforementioned individuals.  Fantasia 2000 is directed by eight incredibly talented individuals.  Gaetan and Paul Brizzi direct the Firebird Suite.  James Algar directed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment.  Hendel Butoy directs Pines of Rome and Piano Concerto No. 2 while Francis Glebas brings us Pomp and Circumstance.  Eric Goldberg gave us Rhapsody in Blue and The Carnival of the Animals while Pixote Hunt took care of Symphony No 5.  Finally, Don Hahn directed the host sequences in-between the animated segments.

1.)  This was released just after midnight on Dec. 31st 1999, causing it to be the first film to be released in the new millennium.
2.)  George Gershwin is featured in the Rhapsody in Blue segment.  He is seen playing a piano in his apartment window above where the little girl known as Rachel is seen during her piano lesson.
3.)  The Steadfast Tin Soldier scene was slated to appear in the original Fantasia but no one came to a decision as to what music should be used for it.
4.)  One of the animals marching into the ark is a frilled lizard which was featured in The Rescuers Down Under.
5.)  The Firebird Suite contains an eruption of volcanos which is made to emulate the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980. 

My favorite scene in this film is the entire Pomp and Circumstance segment.  I’ve always been a huge fan of the graduation march.  It is one of those compositions which never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  Francis Glebas did an incredible job directing this piece, beautifully matching the characters’ actions to each rise and fall of the melody.

Fantasia 2000 is somewhat similar to and somewhat different from Fantasia.  The newer film brings more of an edge and delves a little deeper into darker tones of animation.  It is extremely fun and will definitely be enjoyed by individuals of all ages.  This comes highly recommended by many people, including myself.

My Rating:  4.5/5

Oh, and camera back on me. Camera back on me. Ca... Am I done? 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 106 - Fantasia 2000

This week the DFPP team rides flying whales back to the symphony to try to discover the fate of the unicorns and learns that even the forces of nature think that no one should give a flamingo a yo-yo in the 1999 animated symphony Fantasia 2000.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fantasia Review by Briana Alessio

This classic from 1940 focuses on a set of symphonies where scenes are the background.  This is unlike the normal theme of a film where a scene is set to music.  As we know, music is the driving force of a film.  Fantasia magnifies the meaning of this by dedicating the entire basis around the power of an orchestra.

I don’t know about the rest of you but there is nothing that gets my heart racing like an orchestra tuning up before a concert.  The adrenaline rush that comes right before the instruments all begin to sound one by one is one of the best feelings in the world, especially if you are a music fanatic such as myself.

Throughout the film, a gentleman by the name of Deems Taylor narrates between scenes to present said scenes to the audience.  This brings the film to a very personal level and brings breaking the fourth wall to a comfortable level.  After all, this is not a typical movie.  This is rather a piece of brilliant art.  The conductor for all pieces is Leopold Stokowski leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The first segment of Fantasia is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 written by Johann Sebastian Bach.  We see silhouettes of the orchestra during the composition.  The medley of colors goes hand in hand with the intensity and mystery of certain notes.  For instance, the louder and more dramatic parts reflect the colors red and deep orange, while the lighter and brighter instrumentals reflect paler tones such as light blue.  The scene ends with Stokowski silhouetted against a sunset. 
The second segment brings us Tchaikovsky’s
The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71A highlighting fairies and their daily lifestyle.  They spend their days covering nature in pixie dust.  The famous dancing mushrooms make an appearance during this portion as well.  Little flowers come alive and turn into petal ladies with dresses, and fish transform into silhouetted mermaids which makes for a neat transition.  Even more flowers appear and turn into dancing men and women wearing some form of elaborate headgear.  They just as quickly go back to their flower form after the dance.  We see more fairies reveal themselves, taking the shape of dragonflies and giving additional color to beautiful nature, while afterwards ice skating in tune to the melody.  The scene ends with dancing snowflakes parading across the screen.

For the third segment, Taylor introduces us to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice written by Paul Dukas.  This is the most famous of the scenes in Fantasia.  Mickey Mouse is portraying the sorcerer’s apprentice, who is watching his master perform sorcery before deciding to head to bed.  He leaves his magical hat on a table.  Mickey decides to put it on, bringing a broom to life to do his work for him.  He appears to fall asleep in a chair, dreaming of conducting a magnificent water orchestra, which may seem familiar to you if you have taken a trip on the Great Movie Ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (MGM for those of us who will forever call it that such as yours truly).  In the attraction you see Mickey in this very scene as you go through a windy portion…in fact it is so windy that my hair is known to look worse after this than after a trip on Space Mountain.  But back to business.  He awakens to find that the brooms have gone out of control and the building is basically flooded.  Mickey’s master wakes up and casts the water away as Mickey shamefully hands the hat back to him.  The scene ends with the sorcerer smacking Mickey on the bottom to shoo him out of the room.

The fourth segment gives us Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  This is supposed to take place at the beginning of time, starting with bursting volcanoes and twirling lava.  We soon see the entrance of dinosaurs and sea creatures.  Once the tyrannosaurus rex enters, things get dangerous.  The music intensifies to build up to the fight scene between Mister T-Rex and the stegosaurus.  This looks very similar to a scene in Ellen’s Energy Adventure (Universe of Energy) in Walt Disney World’s Epcot park.  An earthquake comes about and destroys the dinosaurs afterward.  I have to be honest…this scene is not my favorite.  As much as I love dinosaurs, I’m a bit bored with this portion. 

We have a “fifteen minute” intermission followed by a brief demonstration of various instruments being highlighted by onscreen changing shapes and colors.   This is the least elaborate scene of the film but it feels as though it is a breather of sorts in-between the dramatic elements.

Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”), Op. 68 by Ludwig van Beethoven accompanies us for the fifth segment of the film.  We are surrounded by an ethereal and mystical theme for this.  We begin by seeing colorful baby unicorns.  This part is a major cuteness overload, just to warn my fellow unicorn lovers.  We even see a delightful baby Pegasus.  Half human/half horse creatures emerge and the cherubs have a plan for uniting the males and females.  The scene goes a tad awry as a drunken man with purple grape-influenced headgear comes along and they celebrate him until a thunderstorm arrives to ruin the party.  The rulers of thunder and lightning are quite evil hoping to destroy anything and everything in their path.  The scene closes with a beautiful rainbow shining down on the land, followed by a sunset and a lady covering the earth in blue for night time.  This scene is a celebration of weather and changes in nature.

The sixth segment plays Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours from the opera “La Gioconda.”  We are surrounded by ballet dancing hippos, sneaky alligators, and curious elephants.  The main couple in this scene are Hyacinth Hippo (complete with tutu) and Ben Ali Gator.  This will make you smile if you are fond of Walt Disney World’s wonderful nighttime electrical parade in the Magic Kingdom called Spectromagic, which has been replaced by the reincarnated Main Street Electrical Parade.

The seventh and final segment stars good versus evil.  It begins with Modest Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain.  We see the villain Chernabog awakening the dead to dance and celebrate evil.  This has been known to horrify children (and let’s face it, adults) of various ages.  It is highly disturbing which still makes me flinch at parts.  It brings to mind scenes from Spectromagic and the nighttime show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios known as Fantasmic!  The tone changes quickly with the sound of church bells as Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria, Op. 52 No. 6 begins to play.  We see silhouettes of individuals singing, holding lanterns as they walk on to celebrate peace and joy.  The sun’s rays close Fantasia.

The live action portion of the cast is rather small since the only actual humans we see are Deems Taylor, Leopold Stokowsky, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  However, this seemed appropriate since the film is not focused on acting or a storyline.  It rather focuses on the brilliance of animation and how music drives a scene so powerfully.  Fantasia is directed and written and directed by a ton of individuals according to the scene you are speaking of.  I would strongly suggest listening to the podcast episode to hear more as well as heading over to IMDb for a complete list.

1.)  This was the first American film to use stereophonic sound; it was also the first film to be recorded in a form called Fantasound.
2.)  In 2008, this was marked as #5 on the American Film Institute’s list of the ten greatest films in the genre of animation.
3.)  This is the first major Hollywood film to be released with no written credits appearing onscreen despite the title and intermission title card.
4.)  The character actress Ruby Dandridge performed as the live-action reference model for Hyacinth Hippo during the Dance of the Hours sequence.
5.)  This is the longest Disney animated feature, running at 124 minutes.

For this film, it is difficult to choose a favorite scene especially since this is broken down into extremely different segments.  However, I love the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene as well the emergence of the rainbow during the Symphony No. 6 scene.  The way the unicorns and cherubs bounce along the rainbow and use it as a slide is precious and a beautiful way to utilize the animation.

Fantasia is in a category of its own.  It is not a favorite film of many but it is certainly a respected one.  Being it does not have a particular plot or storyline, it is nontraditional and I admire that.  The imagination put into this is absolutely phenomenal.  We see creatures and characters in ways we could never picture on our own.  In my opinion, children may enjoy this for the cute characters but will not fully appreciate it for what it is until they reach young adulthood.  There must be somewhat of an appreciation for the arts in order to enjoy what is placed before you with Fantasia.  I absolutely recommend this and am consistently honored to witness its beauty each time.

My Rating:  4.5/5

Mr. Stokowski!  Mr. Stokowski!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 105 - Fantasia

The week the DFPP team starts off their third year by heading to the symphony to watch fairies paint the seasons, fetch a pail of water with brooms, and dance through the day with elephants and alligators in the 1940 animated symphony Fantasia.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Frankenweenie Blu-ray Review

Just a few days away, on January 8, 2012, you’ll be able to take Tim Burton’s latest movie, Frankenweenie, home on Blu-ray.  The movie itself is mixed bag, mostly because it’s not a movie that appeals to a wide audience.  It deals with the fairly adult themes of death and loss.  That combined with the monster and horror movie references throughout caused many to steer clear.  For nostalgic fans, this is a remake of short film of the same name that was created by Tim Burton almost 28 years ago.  If you’d like to learn more about the film itself, please listen to Episode 94 of our podcast.  

The major Bonus Feature on the Blu-ray is piece called “Miniatures In Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life”.  This piece makes use of the camera trick known as Tilt Shift to play off of it’s intent of educating us on the production process of a stop motion miniature movie by making real life elements of the piece look to be miniature.  Allison Abbate, the film’s producer, talks to us about the overall process of moving from the original Live Action short to the longer stop motion feature.  The idea presented originally by Burton was to base the miniatures off of Burton’s design sketches for the original short film.  

From there the it moves into a studio tour that was shot during the production of Frankenweenie at 3 Mills Studio in London.  It talks about puppet creation, and how there is a “Puppet Hospital” at the that constantly fixes the puppets that have been damaged during shooting.  You can learn about the process of creating a puppet for the film from concept, to design, to implementation.  And how every object in the film is scaled to match the size of the Sparky puppets because they were the first.  Also, you can learn some secrets about the process of filming a black and white movie in a color world.  In order to make things have greyscale appeal, sometimes colors are swapped out for other colors to present proper visual cues.

If you’ve already seen the film and really liked the short starring Sparky that was shown by Victor to his parents then you’re in luck.  On the Blu-ray is another Victor original short starring Sparky called “Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers”.  It’s a quick movie starring Sparky from before the events of Frankenweenie but being watched by Victor and Sparky afterward.  In it there’s a quick cameo of Mr. Whiskers (#PsychicPooper).  

For those of you who’ve not seen it before, the Blu-ray also contains the original Live Action short film version of Frankenweenie.  It’s fun to watch the new movie first, and then go back and watch this original version and see how much of this was recreated in the world of miniatures.  There’s also a piece about the “Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit” that was originally shown at Comic Con 2012 and then went on a world tour to places including Disney California Adventure. And a music video of the Plain White T’s cover version of “Pet Semetary” by the Ramones.

To be fair, Frankenweenie is not my favorite of Tim Burton’s body of work.  And this Blu-ray could contain more content, like perhaps the original short that was the source of the Frankenweenie concept title Vincent.  All that aside, I feel that it is a solid release that fans of this film will welcome into their libraries.  If you’ve not yet seen the film I’d suggest renting it first before purchasing to make sure it’s something you’d want to own.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

WALL-E Review by Briana Alessio

This heartwarming, lovable film from 2008 stars a garbage compactor named Wall-E who lives on a destroyed planet called Earth.  We realize he is a living product of the megastore BnL (Buy N Large).  His days are spent cleaning up portions of the area he lives in.  He is always finding objects which are interesting to him including a woman’s bra which he proceeds to place over his eyes.  He even finds a ping pong ball/racket amongst the trash.  As he begins to play with this, he accidentally and repeatedly hits himself in the eye with the ball.  

After his compacting, he retreats to his “house” with his cockroach companion to watch scenes from Hello Dolly, wishing for a love to call his own.  You feel pain in your own heart watching his sad eyes gaze upon the lovers in the musical.  At one point, he looks down at his little robotic hands (if you will) and links his fingers together.  He has recorded the song on a tape he keeps near his chest, which seems symbolic of what his heart tells him.  He rolls outside and looks up at the sky while playing the song from Hello Dolly.

One day while cleaning up Earth, he sees a moving red dot and decides to follow it.  We soon after see many red dots which appear to be a UFO of sorts in the sky.  It drops off a shiny white robot and leaves the area.  He almost immediately falls in love with this unknown robot, despite knowing nothing about it, and also despite the fact that it keeps shooting in Wall-E’s direction.  They eventually meet and after a couple of repeated attempts, he builds up the nerve to begin talking.  She introduces herself as EVE although he pronounces it as Eva, which she seems to love.

During an escape mission from a cloud of dangerous dust and who knows what else, Wall-E brings EVE to his place.  This is a fantastic scene as he shows her everything he has collected over the years.  He enthusiastically brings his items over to her, and she quickly figures out what each item is for.  She solves a Rubik’s cube and turns on a light bulb.  An absolutely hysterical scene gives us Wall-E handing EVE a cassette, which she pulls the string almost completely out of.  Wall-E puts his arms over his head in distress and screams, as he grabs the tape from her and puts it back together. 

We soon find out that her “directive” is to find a species from planet Earth and return it to her residence.  Wall-E had found a beautiful green plant in a boot which he had decided to keep.  As soon as she saw this, her senses kicked in and a laser popped out, grabbing the plant as her eyes and soul disappeared.  This film manages to make the following scene both heart wrenching and humorous as we see Wall-E trying to encourage her to come back to life while protecting her.

From here, we see many antics taking place as Wall-E hops aboard a space ship to find out where EVE is from and to save her.  Without giving much more of the film away, the plant is the saving grace.  As long as they have the plant in the capsule, they will know that life can exist on Earth.  Every scene which follows is a captivating and wonderful one, as you quickly find yourself emotionally attached to each of the characters…except maybe AUTO, an evil computer who tries to take over the Captain’s duties to prevent the inhabitants from returning to Earth. 

The voice cast is brilliant.  Wall-E and M-O are voiced by Ben Burtt who has directed a few documentaries and worked in the sound department for many films including this year’s Lincoln and five of the six Star Wars films (Star Wars connection right there for ya, people).  The lovely but temperamental EVE is voiced by Elissa Knight who also gave us Tia in the 2006 hit Cars.  The determined captain is played by Jeff Garlin who has appeared in many television shows and films including this year’s ParaNorman and voicing Buttercup in 2010’s Toy Story 3.  John Ratzenberger makes his annual appearance in the Disney/Pixar film as the appropriately named human John.  The lady who John meets and is immediately attracted to is Mary, voiced by Kathy Najimy (remember Hocus Pocus?).  Fred Willard portrays the CEO of BnL known as Shelby Forthright and Sigourney Weaver voices the ship’s computer. 

Wall-E is directed by Andrew Stanton.  Stanton has directed for Finding Nemo and John Carter among others, and is currently in the middle of filming for Finding Nemo 2.  The film was written by Stanton, Pete Docter, and Jim Reardon.  Docter has directed for Up and Monsters Inc.  Reardon wrote for this year’s hit Wreck-It Ralph.  The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful infusing a couple of delightful songs from Hello Dolly which are “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes A Moment.”  We also hear the beautiful rendition of “La Vie En Rose” by Louis Armstrong.  The BnL song is even a ton of fun, but my favorite off the soundtrack plays during the credits which is “Down To Earth” by Peter Gabriel. 

1.)  Ben Burtt voiced most of the robots in the film.  Therefore, when Andrew Stanton met with Ben Burtt originally, he told him “I need you to be 80% of my cast!” 
2.)  This was the first Disney/Pixar film to be nominated for six Academy Awards.  The only other animated film to earn that many nods would be Disney’s 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast.
3.)  The working title for Wall-E was Trash Planet.
4.)  AUTO’s secret directive is A113, which is an inside joke of the animation department.  We see this code during every Disney/Pixar film, as well as a large number of Disney films.
5.)  Wall-E’s eyes were inspired by a pair of binoculars given to Andrew Stanton while he was watching an Athletics vs. Red Sox game.  He missed the entire first inning due to being distracted by these binoculars.

So I understand the message they are trying to get across to people in this film.  However, there is one issue which I have.  Did you notice that all of the people are overweight and panic if they fall out of their portable chairs?  I guess they couldn’t have made all of the inhabitants skinny but I don’t think the message of obesity had to come across the screen as strongly and as often as it did.  However, I was willing to overlook this flaw due to my love of every other aspect of the film.

My favorite scene is hard to choose because they are all so endearing.  My choice would likely be when EVE and Wall-E are “dancing” out in space while John and Mary excitedly watch.  I also love that Wall-E introduces himself to everyone, even when he is in pain.  It is rare that my favorite character of a film is the main star, but that is absolutely the case in this one.  Wall-E tugs at my heartstrings and melts my soul.  He is one of my favorite Disney characters in general right up there with Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Maximus from Tangled.

Wall-E is beautiful and sheer enjoyment.  Kids will enjoy the characters and adults will enjoy the storyline and depth of the characters’ feelings.  Personally, this is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar collaborations.  This is sheer gold and I hope they continue to release films of brilliance and genius such as this one.

My Rating:  5/5