Friday, August 14, 2015

Blogiversary

 Apparently today it has been one year since my first blog post.

Which I guess is a good time to say that I'm putting my Disney project on hiatus, because I moved out of my apartment and I don't really have the time or a good way to watch movies right now. So thanks for those who keep giving me pageviews. Hopefully soon I'll have something more interesting to write soon.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Disney Project 26/54 The Great Mouse Detective

Previous: The Black Cauldron

The Great Mouse Detective

Released: July 2, 1986
Watched: July 11, 2015

Alright alright, I am falling way behind again. Several weeks ago I watched The Great Mouse Detective. This is one movie that I vaguely remember watching when I was a child, but it wasn't especially my favorite. It was a pretty fresh viewing for me, and I liked it.

The Great Mouse Detective is based on the Basil of Baker Street book series, by Eve Titus and illustrated by Paul Galdone, which in turn were based loosely on the Sherlock Holmes stories. The series consists of five books, published between 1958 to 1982. I've never read the stories, but it seems that the movie was fairly faithful to the books. The characters are more or less the same, just set into a new mystery.

Production on this film began when Ron Clements and John Musker stopped working on The Black Cauldron, and instead decided to begin to adapt a new film. The previous head of Disney  Ron W. Miller had been a supporter of the film, but when Michael Eisner took over as CEO in 1984 the film lost a lot of support (something several more films would see from Eisner in the next two decades). Eisner slashed the $24 million budget down to $10 million, making the film even more of a challenge. Fun fact, Eisner also was the one who shot down the title "Basil of Baker Street" because he thought a generic name like "Great Mouse Detective" would sell better to Americans. Who knows.

The slashed budget was a problem, but a solution was found with computers. This was the first Disney film to use computers to sketch layouts, as well as using digital cameras for animation testing. Cutting down on physical tools and materials saved a lot of the cost.

This also is arguably the first Disney movie to animate using CGI (The Black Cauldron was the first released, but the CGI scene in The Great Mouse Detective was the first animated). An important climaxing scene of the film takes place in a clock tower where the hero and villain face off. The interior of the clock tower is filled with gears which were produced digitally, printed, and then traced over to add the characters and colors. The gears are a very simple, unchanging shape to generate but the outcome is pretty powerful. The clock gears contrast with the fluid styles and movements of the characters in a really cool way. I'm going to actually link 2 videos in this post, because this scene is important.

The film was received fairly well critically, but was nothing groundbreaking. It also was a moderate financial success, and the cut budget did help the film to gain a pretty good profit. The film did a good job of making up for the failure that The Black Cauldron had been, and provided some more faith in the Disney animation department. 

Overall I felt that this movie was pretty good but not one of my favorites, although I do definitely have a soft spot for mouse movies. The characters are pretty entertaining and heartwarming, and the animation and art style is awfully pleasing to look at.

My favorite scene was probably the showdown in the toy store, but because I can't find it, here is one of the most memorable scenes (and a huge fan favorite), the bar showgirl song.

Next: Oliver & Company

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Disney Project 25/54 The Black Cauldron

Previous: The Fox and the Hound

The Black Cauldron

Released: July 24, 1985
Watched: July 2, 2015

The Black Cauldron is a movie that I have vague memories of, as it was still sort of popular when I was young. However I knew nothing about it and as far as I know, have never watched it. I was excited to watch it, but it ended being a very bizarre, and un-Disney-like experience.

The Black Cauldron is based loosely on the  The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, which in turn is based on Welsh mythology. I haven't read any of the books, but from what I can tell it's fairly true to the characters and themes. Of course a series has to be cut down to be adapted to a film so any differences are understandable. Lloyd Alexander however said that the film had nothing to do with his books...but that he enjoyed it anyway.

This film is something so unique to Disney it's hard to decide where to begin. Disney first went after the rights to the five book series in 1971, and obtained rights in 1973. However, production didn't begin until Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas (two of the nine old men) convinced the studio to move forward with the film in 1980. Meaning that technically the film took only five years to produce (although that movie poster up there says "seven years in the making". Not sure where they got that number).

The style of the movie is very dark and gritty, both in style and in story. And yet, it was meant to be even worse. The movie went through a lot of edits and rewrites which delayed the release six months, just to take out some of the darker scenes. Including the undead Cauldron Borns killing people and slicing them up, and Princess Eilonwy getting her clothes ripped off. Yep definitely a Disney movie.

The Black Cauldron had very many "firsts" for Disney, especially because it is so different from every other Disney film. For one a new way to transfer the animation onto cells was created, called the APT process. The APT process was faster than xerography, but the line art  tended to fade over time and most of the film was done using xerography anyway. It is also the first Disney film released to use CGI (computer generated imagery. CGI does not always mean completely computer animated, which is how it is often used), however work on The Black Cauldron was going on at the same time as The Great Mouse Detective. CGI was being developed and used for that movie prior to Black Cauldron. The story says that producer producer Joe Hale was excited about the CGI the other half was doing, and asked the Great Mouse Detective crew to create some computer animation for his film too.  The film also uses a combination of live action and animated footage, which is certainly not new. Live action played a heavy part in earlier Disney films, as far back as The Three Caballeros in 1944. Though in this film it's used as an effect and and aesthetic choice. 

It's was also the first to use the popular Disney logo of Sleeping Beauty's castle against the blue background. Also the first to not use a "The End" title card and the first to show the credits at the end instead of the beginning (except for Alice in Wonderland which just had to mix things up). These choices would pretty quickly be adopted by future films. Oh and also it was the first to get a PG rating, which is really not surprising.

I've already said it like 4 times, but this film does not feel like a Disney movie. The film feels like it jumped on the bandwagon of darker, animated fantasy films that were popular in the late 70's and 80's. It reminds me a lot of Ralph Bakshi films (specifically Wizards and Lord of the Rings), The Last Unicorn, and Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH, to name a few. I enjoyed the hell out of it though. It just feels like a totally different studio.

And I'm definitely not the only one who felt that way. The film completely bombed. The film cost $44 million to produce (the most expensive animated film to date) and only made around $21 million. The reviews were awful (nearly everyone thought it lacked the magic and charm of Disney films) and there are many stories of crying children being taken out of theaters because the movie is just...it's damn scary. And to add insult to injury...the movie was completely beaten out at the box office by The Care Bears Movie. 

Ultimately. I loved this movie. I really, really enjoyed it. It's creepy and dark and gritty and bizarre (as much as I love cute talking animals, I love the opposite too). It's very stylized and just all around cool. It also has a great soundtrack (which is actually the one thing about the film that received a lot of praise). It's just the last thing I expected. I can't get over it.

I don't know if this is necessarily my favorite scene, but it does illustrate all the points I've made in this post.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Disney Project 24/54 The Fox and the Hound

Previous: The Rescuers

The Fox and the Hound
Released: July 10, 1981
Watched: June 18, 2015

At this point we cross from the 70's to the 80's, and the films start to feel a little more familiar. Fox and the Hound is one that I loved as a kid so I was excited to watch it again. It's definitely been awhile since I've seen it.

The Fox and the Hound is based on the 1967 novel of the same name, by Daniel Mannix. The film is extremely different from the novel however, as the novel had a very serious tone. Tod and Copper were never friends and the animals did not talk. They were portrayed realistically. And also they both died. And so did Chief. And so did Tod's mate and children. And so did some other characters. Anyway someone at some point decided that would be a great story to adapt to be family friendly.

Production on the film began in 1977, around the time that Winnie the Pooh was being released. The film was an important part of Disney's turn towards the renaissance, as the Nine Old Men did initial development (although John Lounsbery had died in 1976, being the first of the Nine to pass), but by the end the new era of Disney animators had really stepped in. Some of the not-yet great animators and directors to work on the film included  Don Bluth, John Lasseter, John Musker, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, Tim Burton (yes Tim Burton did in fact start out doing films about happy, talking animals for Disney), Brad Bird, Henry Selick (whose work is almost always mistaken for Tim Burton's anyway), Chris Buck, and Mark Dindal.

The divide between the new animators and the old led to arguments about the film. Some animators wanted to stay true to the novel, some wanted to be way more family friendly. Some of the new animators wanted to shake things up and were tired of the generic Disney formula and designs while some of the old animators wanted to stick with what worked. It was during work on this film that Don Bluth got fed up with Disney, who he felt was becoming "stale". Bluth took 11 other animators and walked out to form his own studio (which of course would go on to create amazing films to rival Disney). Production on the film was pushed back because of so many animators leaving, and Disney had to hire even more new artists.

What eventually came to be was a fun (well mostly) film, with a variety of unique characters, and an interesting message. The movie of course has some very sad and touching scenes, which may be the most memorable, but it pales in comparison to the sadness of the original story. The film did well financially, but has always been kind of "eh" critically.

Overall I did enjoy this movie. It's got some cute characters and some very touching scenes. It also holds the nostalgia factor for me, which helps. I also like the overall idea or theme of friends who are drawn apart by their instinct or upbringing. It ends on a bittersweet note, instead of a bubbly, perfect happy ending, which is kind of a nice change of pace for Disney.

I like little baby Copper and Tod best. Because of course I do.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Disney Project 23/54 The Rescuers

Previously: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Rescuers

Released: June 22, 1977
Watched: June 10, 2015

The Rescuers is actually a movie I had never seen before, as far as I can remember! So this was a fresh viewing for me, and this is mostly fresh knowledge for me. It's not the most well known or popular Disney movie, but was important in the Disney line up as it is sometimes considered the turning point leading to the Disney renaissance.

The movie is based on a series of children's books written by Margery Sharp first published in 1959 (most notably the books, The Rescuers and Miss Bianca). Although the film went through so many changes and developments the movie barely resembles the story.

The production of The Rescuers is kind of a long and complicated story. Disney first began to develop the film in 1962, only 3 years after the story had been published. The initial story idea focused on a captive held by a totalitarian government, with heavy emphasis on the spy themes. Walt eventually shelved the project because he was not interested in the political overtones, and felt that it may end up too dark for his studio. The film was not revived again until the 70's, when animators felt it would be a good fit for the "B Animators". During this era. Disney had two units of animators, A and B teams. Movies alternated between A pictures (which got the best animators and highest budgets) and B pictures (which got the newer animators and low budgets) which were more for attempted cash grabs. This included films like Winnie the Pooh with it's reused animation.

The second attempt at The Rescuers focused on the novel Miss Bianca in the Antarctic, and was intended to be a musical featuring Louis Prima as the voice of a jazzy circus polar bear (Prima also voiced King Louie in The Jungle Book). But this faced complications, as Louis Prima had developed a brain tumor and could no longer work. The animators also found that an Antarctic setting was difficult and not very visually appealing. This version was scrapped.

Meanwhile, the A team was finishing up work on Robin Hood and starting a new film, Scruffy which was a WWII movie about monkeys featuring Nazis. Instead the A team chose to take over The Rescuers project, which is kind of unfortunate because I'm interested to see how well that other one would have went over haha. The film went through countless idea changes, including reusing Cruella De Vil as the villain. Instead a new villain, Madame Medusa was created who still shared some of Cruella's behavior and appearance. The mice were also at one point intended to be a married spy couple, but the writers found that it gave their relationship no room to grow through the movie. Eventually a story was set and animation began.

The animation for this film kind of sets the pace for what would become typical animation of the 80's. The xerography technique had been improved to include medium-grey tones, which created softer lines. This helped clear up some of the sketchiness. The unimportant humans (who I can't find a dang picture of), who appear mostly in the beginning and the end of the film are very out of line with Disney animation as they are very dull and generic looking (as are some of the backgrounds). This kind of threw me off in the beginning, but it does sort of serve as a way to direct attention to which characters, objects, and scenes are going to be important. This film also features long, animated shots set to music (but without the characters singing or reacting to the music at all) which became a pretty common staple of 1980's animated films.

A lot of important animators worked on this film including Glen Keane, Ron Clements, and Andy Gaskill who would go on to make a big impact during the Disney Renaissance. This was also Milt Kahl's last film for the studio, and he wanted his last character to be a memorable one. He did almost all of the animation for Madam Medusa by himself, and based her design on his ex-wife, fun fact. Also this film marks the first time Don Bluth worked as an animator (who would of course would eventually split from Disney and create some of the best animated films of all time).

The film was immensely successful both critically and financially. It broke the record for most money made by an animated film on opening weekend and kept the record for almost a decade until it was surpassed by An American Tail, ironically a Don Bluth film. The film received high ratings and was thought of as the first great Disney film after a long string of mediocre films. Today it is thought of by many as the very beginning of the Disney Renaissance as it was the first in a line of Disney successes, and the starting point for a lot of Disney's best.

I absolutely loved this film, obviously since this might be the longest blog post I've written in a while. It's very heartfelt, and the first scene where Penny appears at the orphanage might be the saddest scene in any Disney film.

My favorite scene is the opening meeting of the Rescue Aid Society with all the different mice. I have a soft spot for little hidden mice worlds. And Bianca and Bernard have to be the two cutest Disney heros.

Disney Project 22/54 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Previously: Robin Hood

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Released: March 11, 1977
Viewed: May 30, 2015

Okay so clearly I am falling behind in this project, because I watched this almost a month ago. Work has been extreme this last month, but I have today off so I am going to power through some posts. (Good news though, apparently people who are googling "Bambi" are finding this blog so I'm on my way to internet fame.) This week's (I mean, last month's) movie was The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. This is one that I remember fairy well from when I was young.

The film is based on the collection of books and stories by A.A. Milne. The character of Winnie the Pooh was first referenced in a poem in 1924, and the other characters first appeared in the book Winnie-the-Pooh two years later. And the books in turn are based on the stuffed animals and games of A.A. Milne's son Christopher Robin. Who in turn named his teddy bear after Winnie, a black bear at the London Zoo, and Pooh, a swan.

Disney bought the rights to the Winnie the Pooh stories in 1961 (which didn't mean much as Milne basically gave rights to anyone who asked making trouble for Disney way down the road) and had produced the first Winnie the Pooh short in 1966. What makes this Disney film unique is that it was made up of several already released shorts, also technically making Winnie the Pooh the last Disney film Walt was involved in because he had worked on the first short.

Walt had always intended for Winnie the Pooh to eventually become a feature length film, but thought it would do better to familiarize audiences with the characters through shorts. After Walt's death, it was decided to create the movie by stitching together the previous shorts. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is made up of the shorts,  Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). One more new short was added to tie the movie to a close.

Because the film is mostly comprised of old animation, there is nothing new or groundbreaking about it. What is unique about the art style however is the way the stories are tied together through segments showing the pages of the book which is done delightfully. Many Disney films build on the 'storybook come to life theme' (many of the earlier ones open with live-action film of a book opening to the story) but this film takes it to a next step as the characters interact and move through the words and pages of the book.

Winnie the Pooh did well both financially and critically, and still holds up over time. Obviously the characters are still crazy popular and Disney has made several different movies (theater and straight to DVD), tv shows, games, etc. This is also the movie where Sterling Holloway (the voice of Pooh) gets the most credit despite doing many voices for Disney.

I love this movie because I just love Winnie the Pooh in general. I love the original stories, all the adaptations, all the characters. It's just so cute and fun, and the simple pastel art style definitely gives a feel of childlike nostalgia. It's very heartwarming.

I don't think I have a favorite scene, but Piglet is easily my favorite character.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Disney Project 21/54 Robin Hood

Previously: The Aristocats

Robin Hood


Released: November 8, 1973
Watched: May 21, 2015

Robin Hood is a film that I never really cared about. I don't know if I ever saw it as a child, and if I did I didn't remember anything about. It's nothing too important in the line of Disney movies, but it's a fun watch none-the-less.

The film is based on the many Robin Hood stories of English folk-lore, which were especially popular in the late-medieval period and written as early as the 1400's. The tales of Robin Hood had been adapted into several different literary and visual works, although the Disney film was one of the earlier film versions. What makes the Disney version unique is that it is one of (if not the only) adaptation using anthropomorphic animals (understandably following the popularity of animal characters in their previous films, The Aristocats, The Jungle Book, etc).

Using animals in Disney films was not a unique thing to do but what was unique was the choice to take a story about humans and to make them animals for no real reason. This idea came because the studio was previously working on an animated tale about Reynard the Fox. Reynard was the main character of many fables featuring anthropomorphic animals, and had established the theme that foxes were the tricksters of the animal kingdom. Reynard the Fox stories also became popular during the medieval period, and when the story men at Disney began to feel he was not a good fit for the "hero" of a story most of the work on Reynard was just translated to Robin Hood.

Robin Hood was a fairly low budget film, with no unique or groundbreaking animation techniques. It may be the first Disney film to "recycle" animation where animators would trace previous animated sequences frame for frame with different characters in order to save time. There is a dance sequence in the film that is made of animation from the dance scenes in Snow White, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats (and if you are a Disney dork like me it is very obvious and you can easily pick out which scenes are copied from which movies). 

An example of the recycled animation from Snow White.

At the time, Robin Hood did fairy well financially and critically. Reviews were good and in general people seemed to enjoy it. Although it was nothing crazy. Over time reviews have turned more lukewarm, as it hasn't held up as well as some Disney classics.

Overall, just like many of the reviews of its time, I thought Robin Hood was a fun watch and that's about it. The rabbit family is especially endearing but otherwise most of the characters are not too memorable. The music is fun, and the idea of having a minstrel narrating through the film is fitting to its medieval setting.

My favorite scene is the one where the kids come into Maid Marian's garden and she joins in their Robin Hood game. This is just some dumb joke video someone made of the scene but it's the best I've got.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Disney Project 20/54 The Aristocats

Previously: The Jungle Book

The Aristocats
Released: December 11, 1970 
Watched: May 13, 2015

I was so excited to get to this week's movie because I absolutely adore The Aristocats. The Aristocats is one that I loved growing up, and continues to be one of my favorite Disney movies. The last time I watched it was probably a few months ago, so this was hardly a fresh viewing for me. Unfortunately, The Aristocats is not most people's favorite Disney film. There is little information out there about the production of the film, but I'll do my best to share what I know.

I can't say exactly where the story of the Aristocats comes from. Some sources say it was based on a children's book that was brought to the studio's attention, others say it was inspired by a true story of cats who inherited a massive fortune. Either way, the story was edited and changed over time by the storymen of Disney.

Supposedly when The Aristocats was first brought to Disney, the story was intended to be a live action, two-part episode of the Disney television series Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. The studio had been doing a lot of work lately with live action footage of animals and was interested in the idea of having the animals talk, following the popularity of shows like Mister Ed. The story says that Walt was deeply involved in the production and eventually decided that the story was better suited to animation.

The Aristocats as an animated feature was approved by Walt around 1964 or so, shortly before his death. It was the last film to be officially approved by Walt. Some sources say that the story changed significantly after his death, as it was the first Disney film produced without his input.

The film did well financially, but critics at the time were pretty "eh" about it. It wasn't a huge success or failure to Disney, but has received several negative reviews over time. Many critics feel that the story is all over the place connected by random characters doing random things (but I would argue that films like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan did the same thing). I believe that after the success of The Jungle Book, The Aristocats just fell flat. Many believe that the film fell apart without Walt's guidance, but it could also just be that without Walt, the Disney studio was feeling grim.

In any case. I adore the Aristocats. I love every character and every song and it's cute and it's hilarious and it holds nostalgic feelings for me. So whatever.

Also I'm not going to write a big paragraph on Disney racism, but I think it's hilarious that the side, throwaway, joke Siamese cat got his own little box on the original poster. If you can't read it, he's credited as "Oriental Cat: the leader of a band of tuneful tomcats" when he's not even the leader and also the cats all have names. His name is Shun Gon.


The drunk goose scene is one of the all time greatest Disney scenes, don't listen to critics. (I'm also partial to the part where the kittens are painting and singing, and the Thomas O'Malley song. It's hard to pick just one).

Next: Robin Hood