Monday, December 27, 2010

DAF #40 - Fantasia (1940)

Title: Fantasia
Year: 1940
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

Plot: A collection of animated segments set to classical music.
Based on: Original ideas and interpretations of classical music.
Setting: Nature; Yen Sid's lair; uh, Earth from the dawn of time to 65 million years ago; mythological Greece; Some ballet studio place; Some Slavic village.

Tagline: Walt Disney's Technicolor FEATURE triumph!

First Viewing: Sometime after the first home video release in the early 90's.

The good news is, we're out of the bottom ten! The bad news is, eleventh from the bottom, just slightly above most of the package films and Chicken Little, is Disney's 3rd animated feature and pet project, Fantasia.

[Pausing for gasps]

How is it possible, you ask? How can I, esteemed amateur Disney-phile film critic that I am, possibly dislike Fantasia? My apologies, but you'll just have to wait until the end of the review before I start defending myself.

A little history before I chew my way through: So Walt had been exceptionally successful with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His second DAF, Pinocchio, for some reason didn't fare too well. None the less, Disney decided to keep making movies HE wanted to see, and by God, HE wanted to see classical music set to surrealistic animation.

Fantasia starts with little fanfare as who-the-hell-is-Deems Taylor introduces this new concept of animation and musical synergy. He explains that several of the pieces have a story while some are just "music for music's sake". Any story that originally went with this music has been pushed to the wayside for Disney and his artists' own interpretation. Let's begin.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Johann Sebastian Bach) – Music for music's sake. It starts with shots of the orchestra and then blends into abstract animation that more or less follows what the music is "doing". There really isn't that much more to it.

Nutcracker Suite (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) – I'll give them props on this one. There is nothing to do with nutcrackers, rat kings or Christmas. (Can you imagine how played to death this thing would be in December???) Instead we see a collection of "mini vignettes" of various flora, fauna, and faeries changing the seasons from summer to autumn to winter. We have naked fairies, Chinese mushrooms, sexy fish, Russian thistles and more naked fairies. Probably my second favorite segment.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Paul Dukas) – Oh boy, speaking of played to death...Here we have the painfully classic piece where Mickey Mouse, that little scamp, steals his master's magic wizard hat to lighten his seemingly endless chore of carrying buckets of water to a big tub. (Seriously, why? Is it for the wizard's bath or something?) Mickey enchants a broom to do all the heavy lifting and then falls into a dream where he is the undisputed master of OUTER SPACE...and water? When he awakens, the whole place is flooded so he HACKS UP THE BROOM because he can't figure out how to stop it. However, the splinters of the broom form new super brooms that keep filling the tub. FINALLY, the wizard wakes up, fixes everything and gives Mickey a sound smack on the ass.

The Rite of Spring (Igor Stravinsky) – If there is any given reason why I dislike Fantasia so much it is because of this segment. Originally, "The Rite of Spring" was meant to be some kind of "primitive ballet". Disney's take was to show the formation of Earth and its evolution until the extinction of the dinosaurs. And, oh my Christ, I swear the real evolution of the Earth took less time than this segment. (I know my bitchiness is showing). Plus, out of all the music, this piece is my least favorite. It's very harsh and manic and just fucking unpleasant. But truly, my disdain for "The Rite of Spring" comes down to: "I don't like dinosaurs. They're icky." I thought it when I five and I'll think it when I'm 95.

Intermission – Since everyone in the theater now needs a drink, we get a short little interlude where each musical instrument is introduced as well as visual representation of its specific sound. It's mostly pandering, but quite necessary to lighten the mood after "The Rite of Spring".

The Pastoral Symphony (Ludwig van Beethoven) – Are you in any way shocked that this is my favorite segment of Fantasia? You shouldn't be. It's the closest to having pretty, pretty princesses. It begins in "mythological Greece" as baby pegasi learn to fly with the aid of their parents. Then the little cherub-faun-satyrs play matchmaker for all the unhitched centaurs. The next day, Bacchus (or Dionysus if you prefer) throws a great celebration with wine, women (well, zebra centaurs), and song which Zeus decides to fuck up with a storm. But, ho ho, it's all just an ordinary day in mythological Greece!

"The Pastoral Symphony" is marred with a bit of controversy. In the original release, a centaurette's grooming was being aided by an African-American centaur named Sunflower, who instead of having a horse body, had a donkey body...and huge lips...and nappy corn rows. Ever since 1969, this racially insensitive image has been cut from the film and the subsequent home video release. None the less, for educational purposes, I give you Sunflower.

However, these chicks stayed:

Dance of the Hours (Amilcare Ponchielli) – Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh, here I am at Camp Granada...if you know that tune, then you know "Dance of the Hours". This is the most humorous and light of all the Fantasia segments. And as much as I love "The Pastoral Symphony" we need something SiLLy at this point in the film! And what, pray tell, is sillier than ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators doing ballet? NOTHING. Ha ha ha... is it over yet?

Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria (Modest Mussorgsky/Franz Schubert) – The second most famous segment in Fantasia is, without a doubt, "Night on Bald Mountain". This is owed to the over hyped villain, Chernabog, who is based on an evil Slavic demon of little known origin (or importance according to Wikipedia). But in Fantasia he is basically THE DEVIL. Throughout the night, Chernobog summons evil spirits and demons and, uh, plays with them until the morning church bells sound.

I'll be honest with you, as a child, I couldn't watch this part. I'd make it about two minutes in before shutting off the TV. So, I'm not as familiar with this segment as I am with the others. In fact, it wasn't until high school that I learned there was even a second part where all the towns people walk to church with their lanterns to "Ave Maria".

I didn't know about this, either:

And now I'm going to bitch about Chernobog. Is he scary? Yes. He's the only animated character to scare me. Is he a superbly animated character? Yes. Is he a villain? FUCK. NO. He doesn't do anything! He summons some spirits, but does he send those spirits to do his evil bidding? NO! He just makes them dance for him. He is not a villain! All he does is look menacing and then fold up come the morning light. OVERRATED! LIKE THIS WHOLE DAMN MOVIE!!!

And here it comes...

Fantasia is overrated. Yes, it is an original concept. Yes, it is the precursor to the music video. Yes, it has good animation and probably good sound mixing. But all that doesn't make up for the fact that it's overlong, pretentious, and survives off its own sense of superiority. The first few DAF's, (Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi) all have a certain humility to them. They know they are family films and they know that's okay. But Fantasia, oh boy, Fantasia is for sophisticated adults. Fantasia is a concert feature. Fantasia WOULD CHANGE THE FACE OF CINEMA FOREVER!!!

But, at least at the time of its initial release, it didn't. It was actually a pretty big bomb. And after FIVE rereleases, the damn thing still managed to stay under the radar of the viewing populace. Nobody gave two shits about dancing mushrooms. That is, until 1969. I don't know who exactly was in charge of the Disney corporation at the time (with Walt having died three years earlier), but someone knew that there was counter culture of hippie youth who would take drugs and see "head movies". And that same someone realized that Fantasia was pretty damn psychedelic and there was a pretty good chance that it would usher LSD raddled minds into the theaters. If you think it happened by accident, take a look at this poster.

Yes, I've already posted this in my The Three Caballeros review (to illustrate a similar point), but it bears witnessing again. I mean, look at that thing! It's an acid nightmare waiting to happen. (I wonder how many "bad trips" are owed to "Night on Bald Mountain"). It's because of this drug association that the Disney company finally made money off of Fantasia and from then on, it was heralded as a masterpiece of American animation. Boy howdy, what drugs can do for a movie!*

It's because of this that I'm certain my own father likes Fantasia. It was one of the earliest DAF's we owned, in fact. My dad used to watch it with sound turned off and The Grateful Dead blaring instead of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. (Take from that what you will). Therefore, I've seen it WAY too many times. I also didn't own that many movies so Fantasia was in heavy rotation.

I know a few people (other than my dad) who really, truly love Fantasia and easily rank it in their top ten. Good for them. If you yourself like it, it's no skin off my teeth. Like a lot of good movies, Fantasia was misunderstood and under appreciated in its time. However, if the Summer of Love never happened there is no doubt in my mind that Fantasia would be categorized with the segmented package films.

And is it really any better than Make Mine Music or Melody Time? Is it really? It's longer and more self important and uses CLASSICAL MUSIC, but does that make it that much better? I certainly don't think so, hence my ranking. Fantasia was underrated at the time of its release, but now its distended into this tour de force, end all be all of animation. In truth, it should probably be ranked somewhere right in the middle, but if someone can put it at their #1, then I can put it at my #40.

Still, maybe with a little herbal influence, I would finally see what all the fuss is about.

I can SEE the MUSIC!
“Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” – Johann Sebastian Bach
“Nutcracker Suite” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
“The Sorcerer's Apprentice” – Paul Dukas
“The Rite of Spring” – Igor Stravinsky
“The Pastoral Symphony” – Ludwig van Beethoven
“Dance of the Hours” – Amilcare Ponchielli
“Night on Bald Mountain” – Modest Mussorgsky
“Ave Maria” – Franz Schubert

Favorite Song: "Ave Maria"
Favorite Segment: "The Pastoral Symphony"
Favorite Character: The littlest mushroom kind of looks like a I the only who sees this? He gets the biggest laugh, and therefore, is my favorite.

Next Film: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

*Seriously, I hope there is some mention on the new Blu-ray of this poster and how psychedelia had a lot to do with this flick's resurgence into the mainstream. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was glossed over. (Let me know, Andrew!)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

DAF #41 - Make Mine Music (1946)

Title: Make Mine Music
Year: 1946
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 7 minutes 

Plot: A group of ten animated musical segments.
Based on: Original stories; The legend of the Hatfields and the McCoys; "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer; "Peter and the Wolf" by Sergei Prokofiev.
Settings: Appalachia; A bayou in Louisiana; A town in the 40's; Sad room?; Turn of the century baseball field; Ballet place?; Russia; Musical-land?; Turn of the century New York; The ocean.

Tagline: Happy comedy musical!

First Viewing: Spring, 2006 on Netflix.

Not many of my friends know this, but when I was a senior in high school, I took a class on the history of Disney Animated Features. It was an independent study course that I created to prepare myself for my upcoming semester at Evergreen State College, an alternative school that specializes "making your own major". My guidance counselor thought it would be a good idea for me to make my own class and so I chose DAF's out of all subjects for it to center around.

Now before you go thinking "how awesome!", I really didn't do anything. I was supposed watch all of the DAF's in chronological order over the course of nine weeks and at the end of each week, turn in a report on one of the films from that particular era (i.e. The 50's or the Early Disney Renaissance). For the Package Films, I chose Make Mine Music.

I felt it was the most "complete" example of a package film. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros had that weird Latin twist that was specifically created in the spirit WWII propaganda. Make Mine Music was first to truly and honestly be made from the scraps left on Disney's floor. Fun and Fancy Free and Melody Time simply followed suit. And The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad...well, you'll just have to wait for that post!

MMM is the poor man's Fantasia...literally. You remember that Disney was strapped for cash. They figured "why not take that concept that nobody cared for and make it fun with modern music and artists?" Let's take a look at how well that turned out...

"The Martins and the Coys" (A Rustic Ballad) sung by The King's Men – In the hills of Appalachia, two families fuss and fight when old Grandpa Coy, drunk off of "mountain dew", steals eggs from the Martins. The skies rain bullets and everyone is killed save for Grace Martin and Henry Coy. Naturally, they fall in love, much to the chagrin of their now dead relatives. However, they continue the war despite being married.

Quite controversially, this WHOLE ENTIRE SEGMENT was cut from the 2000 DVD and VHS release for "comic gunplay". Yes, there is a shit ton of lead farming, unflattering portrayals of hillbillies, and even some good ol' domestic abuse, but does that mean it should be cut? I don't think so. This is even more bullshit than the censoring of tobacco use. After all, MMM shows the deadly ramifications of guns. None the less, you can still find "The Martins and the Coys" on youtube. That's how I saw it.

"Blue Bayou" (A Tone Poem) sung by Ken Darby Singers – Thanks to the shitty editing job, for those of us with the 2000 release, MMM starts with this drowsy, meandering piece that floats around a bayou. A blue bayou. Oh, and a couple storks fly. It's not bad, just boring and the worst way to start this flick.

"All the Cats Join In" (A Jazz Interlude) performed by by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. –  This one's fun. Although the music is not my bag, baby, it fits perfectly as a teenage boy calls up his favorite gal and invites her to the Choklit Shoppe to jitterbug and share a malt with two straws. It feels very Archie comics to me. (The dude even drives a Jalopy!) The simple characters and backgrounds are drawn before our very eyes which adds to the urgency.

"Without You" (A Ballad in Blue) sung by Andy Russell – Oh boy. Never has the depression of losing one's love seemed so damn drab. Not that depression is ever exciting...but come on, there are better ways to film it. (There's a possibility...) Seriously, the camera pans over some drab backgrounds as this drab song plays. Easily the worst segment.

"Casey at the Bat" (A Musical Recitation) performed by Jerry Colonna – Technically, there isn't much music to made yours with this one. It's a recitation of that classic poem where a cocky, womanizing baseball player strikes out when everyone on his team is counting on him. A great concept for a Disney short, so I'm glad they shoved this one in even though it doesn't really fit right.

"Two Silhouettes" (Ballade Ballet) sung by Dinah Shore – I'm noticing a pattern here: lively segment, slow segment, lively segment, mind numbingly slow segment, lively segment...which leads us to "Two Silhouettes" in which a pair of Rotoscoped ballet dancers relevĂ© to this slow ballad. The effects looks really shitty.

"Peter and the Wolf" (A Fairy Tale With Music) narrated by Sterling Holloway – Folks really like this one. It's based on the "children's symphony" of the same name written by Sergei Prokofiev in the 30's. Each character is represented by an instrument; Peter by the string quartet, the wolf by the French horn, etc. Anyway, Peter longs to go the distance so he sets out with his cat, duck, and bird friends to hunt the evil wolf. Hilarity ensues...or more like Peter's ass is saved by some hunters and the wolf is captured.

"After You've Gone" performed by Benny Goodman - Musical instruments dance around. This one is surreal. Not to the degree of anything in The Three Caballeros but still just as pointless.

"Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet" (A Love Story) sung by The Andrews Sisters – I love love LOVE this one! My absolute favorite segment in any package film...EVER. Okay, I'll calm down, but it's just so damn cute! Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet are two hats who meet and fall in love in a department store. But alas! Alice is sold and the two are separated. Johnnie is eventually purchased too and goes on a great odyssey. And, just as all hope seems lost, fate steps in and they are forever reunited. Ahhh...I just love it so much. Definitely one of my favorite external conflict romances. (Yes, I'm serious).

"The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" (Opera Pathetique) sung by Nelson Eddy – To conclude our musical adventure, we are given the story of Willie the operatic whale who longs for fame and fortune with the Metropolitan Opera. Professor Tetti Tatti mistakes Willie's talents for three opera singers swallowed by Willie so our hero is HARPOONED and sent to heaven where he can sing forever. It isn't portrayed that depressingly, but Jesus, it's not what I would pick to end this mood swing of a movie.

Along with the critically acclaimed "Peter and the Wolf" and "Willie the Whale" segments, Make Mine Music's only other claim to fame is its proud distinction as the very last DAF to be released on home video. Back in 2000, Disney started releasing the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection, which was a random mish-mash of DAF's (Alice in Wonderland, Hercules and more) live action/animation hybrids (Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks), Pixar movies (Toy Story and A Bug's Life) and other such randomness (Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World and A Goofy Movie). This was done to ease collectors into a scary new technology known as the Digital Video Disc or "DVD" without using up "the good movies".

Starring your favorite characters Willie and the Floppy Gold Oboe!
To me and other such obsessive-compulsive Disney-philes, the best thing about the Gold Collection was the release of Saludos Amigos and Make Mine Music. How else were we supposed to learn the delicate difference between American cowboys and Argentinean gauchos? How were we to know that hats could fall in love or that sperm whales love shortnin' bread? And how, I ask, HOW could we live those two naked spots on our shelves begging, aching to be filled with two VHS's that might not ever come? Yes, they were brave souls back before 2000.

I get why Saludos Amigos, with its docu-shortness, wasn't released until then. But Make Mine Music is just as good as Melody Time. In fact, that movie, along with Fun and Fancy Free, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad were all first liberated from the Disney Vault in the days of the Masterpiece Collection. And as you know, The Three Caballeros was one of the first made available for home viewing back in 1982.

Perhaps we'll never know what gives. Back before the Classic Caballeros Collection (conveniently pictured above), I hoped they would release a new box set of the six package films, but now that seems very unlikely, especially with Blu-Ray on the rise. In fact, that's why I'm so slow to crossover to Blu-Ray; I'm afraid those precious package films will forever be held in technological upgrade limbo leaving SIX! GAPING! HOLES! on my Disney Blu-Ray shelf. And that just cannot happen.

Wow, I spent most of this post talking about home video release. But it's a big factor in the Mythos of the Package Film. I can't help but wonder if one day they'll be stricken from the canon, sent into the darkest bowels of the Disney Vault to keep Song of the South and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (look it up) company. I truly hope not. They are a piece of Disney history; sometimes non-entertaining history, but so is everything that happened in America between the War of 1812 and The Alamo (look it up). Does that make it any less important? No. These films were safe havens in the storm, and eventually great ports leading into Disney's second golden era.

“Make Mine Music" - Chorus
"The Martins and the Coys" - The King's Men
"Blue Bayou" - The Ken Darby Singers
"All the Cats Join In" - Benny Goodman
"Without You" - Andy Russell
"Casey at the Bat" - Jerry Colonna
"Two Silhouettes" - Dinah Shore
"Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet" - The Andrews Sisters

Favorite Song - "Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet" - The Andrews Sisters
Favorite Segment - "Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet" - The Andrews Sisters
Favorite Character(s) - Oh, I dunno...could it be...Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet? Yes.

Next Film - Fantasia (1940)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DAF #42 - Brother Bear (2003)

Kenai: "I'm not a bear. I hate bears."
Rutt: "Well, gee, eh, you're one big beaver."

Title: Brother Bear
Year: 2003
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai
Jeremy Suarez as Koda
Rick Moranis as Rutt
Dave Thomas as Tuke
Jason Raize as Denahi
D.B. Sweeney as Sitka
Joan Copeland as Tanana

Plot: After his brother is killed by a bear, a young man sets out to take revenge and is turned into a bear himself.
Based on: Original story.
Setting: North America, post ice age...when mammoths roamed the Earth?

Tagline: The story of a boy who became a man by becoming a bear.

First Viewing:
Summer of 2006, borrowed from Whitman County Library on DVD.

While it's true that Disney movies are meant for the whole family, for kids from one to 92 (damn you, Macy's!) there are just some DAF's that are Boy Movies and some that are Girl Movies. Now I don't mean to open up Pandora's Box of gender vs. Disney, but my guy friends like Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Rescuers Down Under best while the ladies name Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast as their favorites. I am in no way saying that liking a "princess movie" makes you less of a man or more of a woman. I am simply pointing out certain trends I have personally observed. And that being said, there are just some DAF's that are Boy Movies and some that are Girl Movies.

Brother Bear, my #42, is most definitely a Boy Movie. In fact, it was born in the disastrous epoch of Disney's Animated Feature Boy Movies. (Atlantis and Treasure Planet were released in 2001 and 2002, respectively, to a dismal box office reception). Anyway, while those previous films were geared towards preteen boys, I feel Brother Bear was meant to be a bit more gender neutral by way of The Lion King. But while that movie dealt with the father-son dynamic, this one deals with brotherly love.

The film begins with three Inuit bothers, Sitka, Denahi, and Kenai, returning to their tribe from a fishing excursion. They are headed to Kenai's ceremony, where he will be given his sacred totem, a symbol of what will guide him into becoming a MAN.The headstrong (and overly masculine) Kenai wants a totem that will show off his manliness such as the Sabertooth of Bravery. But alas, he is given the Bear of Love.

For some reason, Kenai hates bears. They are savage theives who don't think or feel, he says. Now this hatred could be justified if, say Kenai's parents were killed by bears, but there is no mention of this. And love is such a pussy concept! In the midst of getting shit from Denahi about his totem, their basket of fish is stolen by (you guessed it) a bear. The brothers pursue it but shit happens and Sitka sacrifices himself to save Kenai and Denahi.

After his brother's funeral, Kenai vows revenge on the bear. Denahi follows him as the bear is tracked and killed on the top of the mountain. However, Kenai is unaware that the mountain top is where the Great Spirits touch the earth. Sitka, now one of the spirits, transforms Kenai into a bear. Denahi arrives, believing Kenai to be dead, and that his bear form is the one responsible. He vows to avenge his brothers.

Kenai is struck by lightning and thrown into a river. When he wakes (in 2.35:1 widescreen) he is healed by Tanana, the shaman woman of Kenai's tribe (more on her later). She explains that it was all Sitka's doing and therefore, Kenai should return to the mountain tops and take it up with him if he wants to be human again.

Kenai soon learns he can talk like the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals. He meets two dimwitted moose, Rutt and Tuke, gets caught in a trap and is freed by irritating bear cub character, Koda. As with every road movie, the two make a deal: if Kenai goes with Koda to the Salmon Run (a jamboree for bears) then Koda will lead Kenai to the mountain tops.

And then we're well and truly on our way. Koda talks Kenai's ear off with many inane stories about berries and such. (Just think Donkey in Shrek, but miraculously more irritating). Denahi continues to hunt the pair, but fails several times. They also run into Rutt and Tuke for a little comic relief. And of course, Koda and Kenai's relationship grows amicable...perhaps, brotherly?

The bears reach the Salmon Run and surprisingly, Kenai fits right into their family dynamic. It's tradition for all the bears to tell stories of their adventures over the past year. This is when Koda explains about his mother fighting a human hunter. Kenai realizes he was the one who killed her. Eventually, Kenai slowly reveals the truth to Koda who runs away.

The Salmon Run just so happens to take place next to the mountain, so Kenai climbs it and Denahi follows. Koda comes to Kenai's rescue and then Kenai comes to Koda's. Sitka turns Kenai back into a human. However, Kenai asks to be turned back into a bear to look after Koda. He is then greatly respected by everyone in his tribe.

Okay, so remember what I said about Brother Bear being a boy movie? Well, that's because it's a sausage fest! I don't exactly know why this fact irritates me so much. After all, The Jungle Book is technically more of a sausage fest. The one female character arrives at the very end and is sort of a tart. But I think it comes down to the set up:

You have this overly masculine main character who thinks bravery and strength are the only makings of a man. Then he gets the totem of love and instead of the going the romantic route...they go the family route. Don't get me wrong, family love is just as important as romantic love, (probably more so, depending on who you ask). But never for one second did I think that Kenai, Denahi, and Sitka didn't love each other. They bicker and tease, but isn't that normal? Maybe Kenai needs to learn to be less of a douche and to not hate bears, but love his brothers? No. I think he's good there. I mean, he sets out to avenge one of them for christssakes!

This is why I think the movie would work better as a romance. Kenai can learn that being a man is also about being sensitive, being a good father and husband. (You know, in Disney's world that's what it's about). Therefore, if Kenai fell in love with a she-bear who had a son, perhaps just as irritating as Koda, he could learn both...and if the she-bear was the one who "killed Sitka" it would be even more interesting!

Alas, I did not work for Disney in the early aughts, and even if I had, I'm sure my ideas would have fallen on deaf ears. Love? Love is for pussies! THIS IS A BOY MOVIE! However, Kenai did get some lovin' in the 2006 direct-to-DVD sequel, Brother Bear 2. Long story short: he falls for his childhood sweetheart who is engaged to Kocoum...uh, I mean, Atka. She turns into a bear. End of story. I remember liking it quite a bit more than its predecessor, though.

The only female character is Tanana, the shaman woman who is just a human version of Grandmother Willow. It's fine though. In a way it's refreshing to have a female character who isn't a love interest, villain or a mother. And even though I'm whiter than snow, I also enjoyed that Disney decided to make another movie about Native Americans...or Inuits...or just non-white people from North America. They could have decided "Pocahontas was enough" but they didn't. Good for them. I also think this one got less flack for being racially insensitive.

I will say this about Brother Bear: it's fucking beautiful. I'm not really one who cares about visuals so much, but goddamn, this one makes me watch in awe. The stuff with the great spirits and Aurora Borealis is exceptional and if anything makes you watch this movie other than going down the canon, let that be it!

Okay, what else is there? The music. It's Phil Collins. You either like it or you don't. I don't. I didn't really like the music in Tarzan either, but he won an Oscar, so of course they were going to hire him again. Meh. None of the songs are particularly memorable.

All in all, I think Brother Bear works more than it doesn't. These are just personal grievances that could make the movie more enjoyable for me. And who am I? Just one asshole with one opinion, so if you like Brother Bear just the way it is, good for you! You have the movie you want.

“Great Spirits" - Tina Turner
“I'm On My Way” - Jeremy Suarez (Koda) and Phil Collins
"Welcome" - Blind Boys of Alabama with Phil Collins and Oren Waters
"No Way Out" - Phil Collins
"Great Spirits (Reprise)" - Tina Turner
"Look Through My Eyes" - Phil Collins

Favorite Song: “I'm On My Way” - Jeremy Suarez and Phil Collins
Favorite Moment: Kenai's transformation.
Favorite Character: This Russian bear.

Next DAF: Make Mine Music (1946)

Friday, December 10, 2010

DAF #43 - Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Edgar Bergen: "No longer was the valley happy, for without the magic of the harp, all was misery, misery, misery."
Charlie McCarthy: "Just like the eighth grade."

Title: Fun and Fancy Free
Year: 1947
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket
Dinah Shore as Herself/Narrator of "Bongo"
Edgar Bergen as Himself/Charlie McCarthy/Mortimer Snerd
Luana Patten as Herself
Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse
Clarence Nash as Donald Duck
Pinto Colvig as Goofy
Billy Gilbert as Willie the Giant
Anita Gordon as Singing Harp

Plot: Jiminy Cricket introduces the story of a circus bear in the wild and the tale of Mickey and the Beanstalk.
Based on: "Little Bear Bongo" by Upton Sinclair and the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk" by Joseph Jacobs.
Setting: The Woods, present day (1947); Happy Valley, "the past".

Tagline: It's got that Disney magic!

First Viewing:
Spring of 2006 on borrowed on VHS from Karen.

Package film #4. Fourth in order of release, and fourth in my trip up the DAF's. To remind you, the south-of-the-border fiestas, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were the first two. Next was Make Mine Music (review will be coming soon) which is often referred to as "a poor man's Fantasia" just like Melody Time is. But in between those flicks came Fun and Fancy Free.

The films was made of up two segments, "Bongo" and "Mickey and the Beanstalk". They were actually being developed as their own feature length movies but then WWII shot that to hell. Thus, they were stitched together to make my #43.

In the beginning, Jiminy Cricket comes in singing a jovial little ditty not good enough for Pinocchio. He enters a little girl's bedroom and notices her sad faced teddy bear and doll, to cheer them up he puts on a record of Dinah Shore reciting a story of three bears...but it's not the story you think.

Bongo is a circus bear, trained in all sorts of death defying tricks. Despite him being this badass performer, his handlers treat him like shit. Bongo gets it into his head to escape and be a normal bear out in the woods. He jumps off the train and into the forest where he relishes in the wonders of the rustic life.

Then comes the night. Bongo does not sleep and almost regrets his decision until he see the lovely she-bear, Lulubelle. They have a love at first sight moment and all seems well until the arrival of Lumpjaw, the biggest, most brutish, bastard bear in all the land. Lumpjaw has it in his head that Lulubelle is his girl. She defies him by slapping Bongo in the face. He is stunned. Bongo doesn't know that when bears love each other, "they say it with a slap." (Really?) In the end, which is a precursor for the end of Back to the Future, Bongo stands up to Lumpjaw and he and Lulubelle live happily ever after

The depressed doll and teddy bear are cheered up by the story of "Bongo" so Jiminy's work is done. On the table of the little girl's room (which just so happens the be the room of Luana Patten, Disney's go-to child actress) he sees that she has been invited to a party by (at the time very famous) ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and his dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Being a fan, Jiminy crashes the party.

Here we have a fairly extended live action sequence which is rather odd to me in my 21st century sensibilities. A grown man invites a little girl to a party with no other people. He entertains her with his creepy, vinyl dummies. Yeah...sounds like an Law and Order: SVU episode waiting to happen. But since it's the 40's, no such impropriety is evident. Mr. Bergen begins telling the story of "Mickey and the Beanstalk".

Once upon a time, there was a valley, no not the Great Valley, this was Happy Valley where a magical singing harp made everyone...happy. But now the once prosperous valley has fallen to ruin ever since the harp was stolen. Everyone is suffering, especially Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy who are down to their last bean and paper thin slices of bread. To make matters worse, their cow has dried up so Mickey decides to sell her but, say it with me now, he trades her for some magic beans.

The beans grow into a beanstalk around the trio's shack and carries them to the top all in their sleep. They go to the castle and attack the giant food left on the table. Willie the Giant comes into the scene singing a song about his magical powers. Through tricks, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy rescue the harp and all is restored in Happy Valley.

Can I just say right now that I HATE THE FUCKING GIANT!!!? I am not a fan of incompetent characters when their incompetence is the only characteristic they possess. Willie is the king of that shit. Not only is he dumb, I can't believe he even has motor skills. Plus he embodies all the stereotypical physical attributes of the dumb: he's fat, he has a cowlick, missing teeth and a low voice with limited vocabulary. And yet, he is somehow celebrated. What. The. Fuck.

Ironically, the best part of this animated movie is the live action character, Charlie McCarthy. In a movie that is so treacly and optimistic, Charlie's sarcastic quips are much appreciated. When I first saw FAFF, my reaction to the puppets were "oh shit". And yes, Mortimer Snerd is just as fucking irritating as the equally dumb Willie the Giant, but Charlie makes up for it.

Fun and Fancy Free is not very good. It's extremely dated and uneven. The two segments  have been split up and released several times. Edgar Bergen's voice over has been replaced a few times in Mickey and the Beanstalk, which is a shame because Charlie McCarthy's snarky jokes are the best part. It's sad indeed when a ventriloquist dummy is the best part of a Disney movie. 

“I'm a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow” - Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket)
"Lazy Countryside" - Dinah Shore
"Too Good to Be True" - Dinah Shore
"Say it With a Slap" - Dinah Shore
"My What a Happy Day" - Anita Gordon (Singing Harp)
"Fee Fi Fo Fum" - Billy Gilbert (Willie the Giant)
"My Favorite Dream" - Anita Gordon
"Fun and Fancy Free" - Cliff Edwards

Favorite Song: “Too Good to Be True” - Dinah Shore
Favorite Moment: Any snide comment by Charlie McCarthy.
Favorite Character: Charlie McCarthy (Bongo for original characters)

Next Film: Brother Bear (2003)

DAF #44 - Dinosaur (2000)

Neera: "You like kids, I see."
Aladar: "Well, the skinny ones are a bit chewy."

Title: Dinosaur
Year: 2000
Rated: PG (for intense images)
Run Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

D.B. Sweeney as Aladar
Alfre Woodward as Plio
Ossie Davis as Yar
Max Casella as Zini
Hayden Panettiere as Suri
Samuel E. Wright as Kron
Julianna Margulies as Neera
Joan Plowright as Baylene
Della Reese as Eema
Peter Siragusa as Bruton

Plot: An orphaned dinosaur raised by lemurs joins an arduous trek to a sancturary after a meteorite shower destroys his family home.
Based on: Original story but very, very similar to The Land Before Time.
Setting: 65 million years ago, somewhere where dinosaurs once lived...

Tagline: You have never seen anything like this. (...Unless you've seen The Land Before Time).

First Viewing: February of 2010 on a VHS bought to round out my Disney canon.

Ugh, dinosaurs. They're better than aliens, but just barely, hence my ranking of Dinosaur slightly above Chicken Little. My introduction to Dinosaur (along with probably everybody else my age) was at the beginning of the Tarzan VHS tape where we get a seven minute preview of Disney's latest innovative masterpiece. In a nutshell: CGI characters in real life locations.

I was rather ho-hum. (You know, dinosaurs and all). I always intended to one day watch it, but why do it then when I could do it ten years later? One day, while scouring Wikipedia’s DAF page, I discovered Dinosaur had been added to the canon. WHAT THE FUCK! I thought it was a fluke so I went looking for a more official list and it was on every damn one. I had no choice but to immediately order it online. 

Let's just get it out there: the only reason Dinosaur was added was so Tangled could be #50 and they could make a big to do about it. (No offense to the upcoming Winnie the Pooh, but seriously, Tangled will be better). Anyway, so I watched it about 11 months ago for the first time and was decidedly underwhelmed...just like the movie watching audience in 2000.

The film opens with the same long ass preview from the Tarzan tape. The egg of some kind of dinosaur (a long-neck, but not a long-neck) is separated from the nest. It travels miraculously without being damaged and lands in the habitat of some lemurs. The matriarch, Plio, adopts him despite her father, Yar's misgivings. Many years later, the dinosaur is named Aladar and is a respected dude among the lemurs.

During the annual lemur mating ritual, the big meteorite hits and conveniently kills off everybody except Aladar, Plio, Yar, Plio's brother Zini and Plio's daughter Suri. The five end up meeting a herd of dinosaurs headed for the Great Valley...I mean, the Nesting Grounds. The herd is lead by the fierce Kron (who is the same kind of dinosaur as Aladar) who believes only the strong survive. Aladar and the lemurs befriend Baylene (and elderly British long-neck), Eema (an elderly black three-horn) and Url (Spike).

Aladar wants Kron to slow the herd down so his slow old friends won't get left behind. Kron strongly disagrees and thinks our hero is a troublemaker. To make matters worse, Aladar holds a flame for Kron's sister, Neera, who is color coded pink for your convenience. After Aladar figures out a way to get water to everyone, Neera warms to him and then enjoy pleasant flirtation.

Meanwhile, Bruton is attacked by sharp-tooths and accidentally leads them to the herd. Kron rushes everyone on, but the slow pokes are left behind. Bruton gets adopted into the band of misfits. He then sacrifices himself to the sharp-tooths to save the others who find a passage to the Great Valley...I mean, the Nesting Grounds. 

The herd waits on the other side of an alternative entrance of the Nesting Grounds, blocked by a landslide. After a fight with Kron, Aladar leads the others but the sharp-tooth shows up. Aladar insists they "STAND TOGETHER" to scare him off. He then goes after Kron. In the end, everyone not a dick in this movies goes to the mating grounds and live happily ever after.

So does it belong on the canon? To get technical, I would say no. It's not an animated feature. It's a live action movie with CGI characters. (Kind of like Transformers). But if we're going down that road, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, and Fun and Fancy Free have a bit too much live action material for my taste. And then there's those live action bumpers in the Fantasia's. So it's kind of a slippery slope.

But just because Dinosaur is on the canon now doesn't mean it always will be. I'm pretty sure that 1949's So Dear to My Heart (a part animated and part live action flick by way of Song of the South and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) was once a part of the canon back in the 90's during the release of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection series. From my limited internet research, So Dear to My Heart was taken off so The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh could be slipped in without fucking up the numbers. (I'm guessing this was done in 1996 when it was released on video.) But from my recollections, So Dear to My Heart didn't have more animation than Enchanted.

Dinosaur's obvious issue is its similarity to The Land Before Time. This is just a longer, more dramatic, more visually stimulating version of the same story. The band of misfits is older and more likable. (No Cera!) But is that enough? No, I don't think so, because no one really likes it, not in the way people like TLBT. Or maybe that's just my generation. Maybe there are some young whippersnappers who really, really like Dinosaur. Prove me wrong, kids! 


Favorite Song - N/A
Favorite Moment - Ugh...let's just go with the romance.

Favorite Character - Well, Bruton reminded me of this guy I know...

Next Movie - Fun and Fancy Free (1947)