Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Two Chips and a Miss

There’s a saying out there that every song has been sung, every story has been told and that now we are just making variations on that same initial set of artistic statements.  The makers of Two Chips and A Miss must have believed it, because this is basically a Tex Avery Red Riding Hood film mashed together with the Country Mouse/City Mouse shorts.  Throw Chip and Dale into a blender with those elements and you’ll come up with what becomes Two Chips and a Miss. 

The title is one that doesn’t really make much sense, since there’s actually only one Chip, but I digress.  The basic plot here is that both Chip and Dale want to pursue a female chipmunk, but neither wants to deal with the other.  So, rather than offend the other, each concocts a way to sneak out of their treehouse and into a club in the city to meet the girl.  It doesn’t take long to run smack dab into a scene from Riding Hood and the wolf from the Tex Avery cartoons.

All the tropes are there.  The chipmunks fight over the girl, turn into wolves when she makes a seductive move and generally make fools of themselves throughout the proceedings.  For modern audiences, it would be akin to watching the Jessica Rabbit scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but it was definitely inspired by the classic Tex Avery shorts.  The chipmunks, who have never had this sort of lustful interaction before, don’t make a particularly good subject for that sort of humor. 

When watching, it doesn’t seem like there was a well thought out plan for this short beyond “let’s do something where the chipmunks fight over a girl.”  The gags are rather flat, and they don’t go much beyond the cheap eyes wide open, drooling over the girl stuff you’d expect.  To be fair, Chip and Dale are hard characters to really do a lot with, since their primary goal in life is to steal food from Donald, at least as their early appearances go.  Having them as a solo act doesn’t work, as they need an antagonist to make their travails worthwhile.

In the end, Two Chips and a Miss comes off as what I expect it was, an attempt to create a competing cartoon for some of Warner Bros. best. It’s something that seems like part of a pre-packaged group of shorts that Disney just needed to produce.  Two Chips and a Miss is definitely a miss, not one of Disney’s best.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 125 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.... The DFPP hosts, along with the help of Jedi Knight Tsu-Bam Halcyon have stolen the plans to Darth Vader’s coffee maker and now brew with the Force in the 1977 adventure Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.

Show notes:

Enjoy the show!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 124 - Toby Tyler

This week the DFPP team and their friends Adam and Andrew take a trip to the circus to drink some purple lemonade and end up being held hostage by a gun toting chimpanzee that steals concessions and rides a horse in the 1960 family film Toby Tyler.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 123 - Iron Man 3 - Live Show

Nothing’s been the same since The Avengers. The DFPP team saw things... repeatedly, and then they waited. Wide eyed and dreaming. Waiting for the return of Tony Stark and his armored flying machines in the 2013 action adventure Iron Man 3.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Reluctant Dragon Review by Briana Alessio

This heartwarming film from 1941 is not your average Disney film yet it contains the same beloved qualities of one.  There is not a lot of action or plot, but Walt Disney surely knew what he was doing when he made this one.

We open with the Benchley couple, relaxing at their pool.  Mrs. Benchley has just completed reading a book called The Reluctant Dragon to her husband.  She comes up with the idea that Walt Disney might want to turn this book into a film.  After a back and forth conversation of the wife wanting to go and the husband not wanting to go, Mr. Benchley basically says they are “not going and that’s final.”

In the next scene, we see the Benchleys in the car which is a humorous follow-up scene to his protest.  Mrs. Benchley decides she is going to leave the premises (which is honestly beyond confusing and frustrating after she pressured him to go).  

The curious Mr. Benchley arrives at Walt Disney Studios and we soon see the famous Dopey Drive and Mickey Avenue signs lining the street (see Fact #2 below).  A young lad by the name of Humphrey begins to lead him around the property, explaining everything they are seeing.  Benchley quickly becomes bored of Humphrey and begins to wander around.  He quite literally crashes into an art class and witnesses the drawing of a model elephant. 

He also stumbles into a room where an orchestra is practicing.  He is overwhelmed when he sees Florence Gill.  He assumed she would be singing an operatic piece…instead, she steps up to the microphone and some unusual bird noises come out.  We also meet Clarence Nash (!!!) the voice of Donald Duck.  Their interaction is heartwarming and, for lack of a better term, absolutely magical. 

Next he walks into a sound room where work is going on for the recording of the Casey Junior Circus Train Song.  (At this point, we have assumed that they are in the middle of preparing for their film Dumbo which was also released in 1941.)  We see an unbelievably awesome scene of how the train’s sounds are created as well as the background noises such as the storm. 
We see a couple of miscellaneous, cool scenes following this.  One happens to star the amazing Donald Duck who appears to be yelling at Mr. Benchley, instructing him as to how he walks.  There is a fantastic mixing of colors to show how part of a scene from Bambi was colorized.  At one point, an animator creates a bust of Mr. Benchley for him, which he carries around with him throughout the rest of the film.  (This reminds me much of the 1966 musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum where the character Senex carries around a bust with him through much of the film – parental guidance required for that one.)

Animators then discuss a frightening short called Baby Weems – this was most likely my least favorite part of the film.  It is just disturbing, in my opinion.  However, we do witness the short through choppy images instead of a moving animated picture which is neat.  Mind you, during this time, Humphrey is searching all across the Walt Disney Studios buildings for the wandering Mr. Benchley.

Next we see an incredible Goofy short called How to Ride a Horse.  Words cannot describe how enjoyable this is.  The Goofy shorts are some of my personal favorite Walt Disney productions.  They are hilarious and good to watch when you are in any kind of mood.  They always contain the classic qualities we know and love about Disney.

An unhappy Humphrey runs into Goofy and brings him to Walt Disney.  My heart literally jumped for joy seeing our beloved Uncle Walt sitting among his treasured animators.  Much to Mr. Benchley’s surprise, Walt invites him to sit with them and watch a new short which he just made…The Reluctant Dragon.  The short which follows is adorable and a ton of fun to watch.  He is not your typical dragon.  To summarize, this kid meets a dragon who has a passion for poetry, and he wants to save him from killers.  He introduces the dragon to a man named Giles who is a poet.  They get along famously and everyone lives happily ever after.  This is one short which is worth watching rather than my explaining each detail.

The last scene of the film shows the Benchley couple in the car, driving home.  He has explained to her that Mr. Disney already had the idea to make a short out of the book, to which Mrs. Benchley replies that he was too busy “shilly shallying” and he should have taken action beforehand.

Mr. Benchley is played by the actor Robert Benchley who appeared in a bunch of films from the 1940s.  Nana Bryant plays Mrs. Benchley.  Bryant appeared in a ton of films including 1938’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and 1950’s Harvey.  We also see a plethora of voice actors and some of Disney’s most valued animators.  The film was directed by Alfred L. Werker and Hamilton Luske.  Werker directed a ton of films from the 1930s and 1940s while Luske directed a bunch of Disney films including Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp

Five Facts:
1.) How to Ride a Horse was the first of several of these Goofy shorts where he does not actually speak.
2.) The Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive signs were made for this film and were supposed to be removed after the making of it.  They still stand.
3.) Sadly, most of the “animators” in the film were actors hired to portray said animators.  This was filmed during a strike by half of the actual animators, so although they look like a happy family, it was quite the opposite.
4.) This is the first full length Disney film where voices are credited.
5.) The bust of Robert Benchley was made in advance despite appearing like it was just made.  It gradually destroyed as the film was made.

From beginning to end, The Reluctant Dragon is an enjoyable film.  I love that they intertwine animation with live action to make the characters, both human and animated, blend together.  Despite seeing some voice actors, Disney surely kept the magic alive through its production.  Unsurprisingly, I teared up at times such as the scene where Walt Disney appeared on screen.  Even seeing Clarence Nash brought a tear to my eye as this brought up a ton of wonderful memories I’ve had through the years.  I would highly recommend seeing this for individuals of all ages.  There is a little something for everyone from your passionate Disney fan to your child who loves dragons.

My Rating:  4/5

You’ve got to be mad to breathe fire, but I’m not mad at anybody. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 122 - The Reluctant Dragon

This week the DFPP team sits down to have tea with a dragon who tells them a tale of the smartest baby in the world who they try to track down after learning how to ride horses in the 1941 live action and animated package film The Reluctant Dragon.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Olympic Elk

The True Life Adventures series is part of a grouping of features that Disney put out in the late 1940s/early 1950s that shows the problems the company had.  A company that was once daring and put out features that challenged existing wisdom was now churning out product to fill space on distribution schedules.  The original True Life Adventure, Seal Island, won an Oscar, and was somewhat compelling, but by the time we get to The Olympic Elk, the series has a formula and hesitates to deviate from it whatsoever. 

The focus in The Olympic Elk is the Olympic peninsula in Washington, and showing the migration of the elk from the lowland valleys to the snow capped mountains.  But it follows the same basic outline we have seen from the shorts so far: opening with an animated sequence showing the setting and place, then moving on to a focus on a particular group of animals before eventually settling into a story about one particular animal in that group.  That’s not a criticism, as it’s a good way to expose the brilliant nature photography to the masses, but when you watch several of these shorts, it becomes very easy to discern director James Algar’s rhythms and go-to ideas.

The story of the elk migrating from the bottom of the mountains to the tops where they rest is actually an improvement over things like Nature’s Half Acre, where the story all took place over the course of seasons but with no movement.   Tracking the movement of the elk up the mountain offers more of a kinetic nature to the short.  As with all the nature films, though, the problem is the lack of a compelling plot or characters to keep the audience invested in what happens next.

There is a slight threat to the elk from a black bear looking to prey on them, but for the most part, the conflict the elk must overcome is the actual mountain in the way.  The mountain, needless to say, makes a bit less compelling adversary than a villain like Chernabog or Malieficent.  The good news is that Algar takes care to use the best shots, and showing the impact of the terrain on the elk and vice versa.  It’s a nice snapshot of what these animals go through, all the way up through the fight over the females between two male bucks.

I’ve made no bones that the True Life Adventure series is not my thing.  There just isn’t much in the series that appeals to my desire for strong plot and character development.  That said, The Olympic Elk is probably the tightest of the shorts to date.  We are quickly introduced to the elk, their migration pattern then follow it through to the end in a brisk 24 minutes.  I wasn’t bored and didn’t find my attention drifting as much as it had with the other True Life Adventures.  It’s a good entry in what I find to be a subpar series.