Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Disney Project 8/54 Make Mine Music

Previously: The Three Caballeros

Make Mine Music

Released: April 20, 1946
Watched: February 25, 2015

Well. This so far has been the most difficult film to watch. Make Mine Music is the third in the series of "package films," like Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. However, unlike those films, Make Mine Music was not given a widespread release in theaters. After the initial release, the different segments were split up and shown separately. The film was never shown in theaters in it's entirety again, and was only released on DVD and VHS once. In the year 2000. Where it was heavily edited and one segment was entirely removed. What I ended up doing was having to find each segment individually online. Some in Spanish. That's close enough to the original experience right?

Anyway, as you probably got already, Make Mine Music was another package film consisting of 10 different segments ranging from 4-14 minutes. Unlike the package films before it, which were tied together by a main theme, the shorts in this one are entirely unrelated. The film is loosely tied to the theme of music, as each short is set to music or built around the idea of music (which is  still a very broad theme). It shows similarities to Fantasia in this way, but instead of being based around classical music, it is mostly build around modern music (modern for the 1940s anyway). It includes some well known musicians such as Benny Goodman and Dinah Shore, which is cool to see.

As far as techniques go, this film is incredibly basic for a Disney film. There is one segment, "Two Silhouettes" which is unique. The film is based around the silhouettes of live action ballet dancers, which have been animated over and around. As far as I can tell, this is the first use of rotoscoping in a Disney movie.

Another cool touch is in the segment "Peter and the Wolf" which tells the classic story with music and animation. Each character is represented by a different instrument (Peter by a string quartet, a bird by a flute, a duck by oboe, a cat by Clarinet and so on) and as the different characters come together, different instruments are added into the score. 

Ultimately, this has probably been my least favorite of the films I've watched so far. Aside from a couple of shorts which I really enjoyed (I loved "All the Cats Join In" and "Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet"), most of the shorts were not very interesting to me and could barely hold my attention for the short time they were on. But I guess that's probably why they don't want to release the whole collection!

My favorite is closely tied between the two I mentioned earlier, but I'm going to share "All the Cats Join In" because I'm a big sucker for the hokey, "animate the cartoons as they're being drawn", thing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Disney Project 7/54 The Three Caballeros

Previously: Saludos Amigos

The Three Caballeros

Released: December 21, 1944
Watched: February 18, 2015

So I finally got around to watching The Three Caballeros. I've never seen this movie, and really didn't know what it was about. However, the trio of Donald Duck, Joe Carioca, and Panchito is a big staple of Disney and the film is incredibly well known. The three characters are still super popular in the theme parks (whereas most characters from this time period have been retired). So I was happy to finally see it. Also cool that, although it premiered in December of '44, it premiered first in Mexico and not in the United States until February of '45. Making this film 70 years old in the U.S. this month!

The Three Caballeros is basically an exact follow up to Saludos Amigos, despite the fact that there are three years in between the films. During the period of the 1940s, Disney was still struggling with the animator's strike and the difficulties of the war so films were spaced out and came in the form of "package films," of which The Three Caballeros is the second. Also at the time Disney was also dedicated to creating propaganda and military training videos, including Victory Through Airpower, the most well known military film from Disney Animation Studios (which I considered including in this project, but it is not considered part of the Walt Disney Animated Classics series).

The Three Caballeros consists of several different shorts, strung together with the story of Donald Duck opening his birthday presents from his friends in Latin America. Like Saludos Amigos, it boasts a mixture of animation and live action, but unlike Saludos Amigos (which interjected live segments with animated ones) the characters are drawn into live scenes and interact with the actors. Although this is not the first film to do this, the use of the technique is impressive and is done fairly well and fluidly. The film also stars several well known singers and dancers from Latin America, which is very cool.

Like Saludos Amigos, there is an interesting mix of live action, animation, still artwork, music, and different styles to mix up the different segments. This includes some of the illustrations of Mary Blair, who I absolutely love and can't believe I haven't mentioned until now. Mary Blair was a huge inspiration to Walt Disney and produced a lot of concept art for Disney, and was really the only female who worked directly with Walt and made an actual impact on the films (females in animation at the time were only employed to ink cells, which was still an important job). Mary Blair was asked to come along for the travels to South America and much of her art was included in both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. I believe these were the first Disney films which credited her as an "art supervisor", but she went on to do much more for Disney. I could write a whole post just about her, so I'll move on.

As is usual with package films, I really enjoy some shorts and I am really bored through others. The Three Caballeros received mixed, but mostly positive reviews. The biggest complaint was the overuse of live action/animation, as most critics felt that the film pushed technique over good storytelling or artwork. I definitely agree in some scenes, specifically as there's a long, weird scene of Donald Duck on the Acapulco shore chasing around girls in bikinis which is...unnecessary? And apparently really weirded out people in the '40s.

There is also a very bizarre, dream-like (drunk-like?) musical scene that drags on and sort of throws everything together at the end that is very reminiscent of the pink elephants in Dumbo. But hey, surrealism was the big thing so whatever.

My favorite short was the first one in the film, the story of a little penguin who just wanted to get out of the arctic and move to South America to get out of the cold. The short was narrated by Sterling Holloway (who also did voices in Dumbo and Bambi, but was not credited until The Three Caballeros) who went on to do hundreds of voices for Disney (most famously, Winnie the Pooh). I can't find a single clip of the short, so here's a weird music video that someone made using the short and a Stevie Wonder song. I guess.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Disney Project 6/54 Saludos Amigos

Previously: Bambi

Saludos Amigos

Released: August 24, 1942
Watched: February 9, 2015

Alright, now I'm starting to get a little behind on this movies because I got a tooth pulled last week and didn't feel like doing anything for days. But here we go, getting back on track. Saludos Amigos is a Disney film that I have heard of many times but have never seen and didn't really know 100% what it was even about.

At this point, Disney films begin to take an interesting turn and I'll be getting into some of the films that are very unknown. As I talked about in my Bambi post, the Disney strike had started, the golden age was ending, and Walt was under serious pressure. Walt was encouraged to get out away from the stress of the studio, and to find new films to make. As Disney films had been popular in Europe, (which was now cut off due to the war) Walt had hoped to also bring Disney films to Latin and South America. He and his artists were sent on a goodwill mission. Also, interesting fact, Latin American governments had close ties to Nazi Germany and the American government hoped that Disney could help counteract that by building a friendship.

This mission led to the first of 6 Disney package films. Disney package films were not one continuous story, but were made up of several different segments, like the earlier Disney shorts. These were a bit easier and cheaper to produce. Saludos Amigos consists of 4 animated segments, interjected with live action footage of the Disney artists traveling and creating art through Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. It's not only entertaining, but also a very educational look at different cultures in South America. This sort of film really drew in American audiences who knew very little about life in their southern half. It was said that Saludos Amigos had done more to cement a friendship between North and South America than the State Department ever had.

Saludos Amigos is mainly an interesting film due to it's history and background, and due to the unique subject matter. The animation is nothing too unique or new, but the interjection of live action footage, hand drawn art, and classically animated shorts keeps it interesting and enjoyable. It's really a behind the scenes look at the Disney process.

I really enjoyed watching this movie because it's quick (less than an hour long, I'm not sure if it even qualifies as a movie!) and fun. Some segments I really enjoyed, and others I more or less waited to get through to the next part. I actually learned a lot about South American life in the 1940s, and it's so interesting to see the research process of the Disney artists. It's like watching a documentary mixed with a cartoon.
What's also great is to see a Disney film in a unique setting (one that even today Disney has not covered much) and with such care to detail. People love to criticize Disney films for racism, but this film actually shows so much genuine respect and admiration for the people of South America. In the live action segments, the South Americans seem very proud to be sharing their food, music, dance, animals, culture, etc etch with the Disney crew. In the animated segments, it's clear that Disney tried to stay as true to that culture as possible (Also, many of the jokes come from making fun of American tourists in South America, instead of making fun of the area itself). There are many scenes showing the artists at work, and the locals watching excitedly over their shoulders to see what they're drawing. It just feels good to see those different cultures colliding. And there is a lot of Spanish in the film. It always bothers me when characters can magically speak and write only in English.

My favorite scene, and arguably the only scene which shows real creativity and uniqueness to the animation style, is the Aquarela do Brasil (watercolor of Brazil) segment, which is absolutely beautiful. and also introduces the character José Carioca, a green parrot who became a much loved character in Latin and South America.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Disney Project 5/54 Bambi

Previously: Dumbo


Released: August 9, 1942
Watched: January 30, 2015

Bambi was a Disney film that I really loved as a kid, but probably mostly because it was full of cute animals. Also, because this was my 3rd grade musical...I was a bird. Anyway it's been several years since I've watched it.

Bambi is based on the novel, Bambi a Life in the Woods by Felix Saxton, written in 1923. I believe it's fairly close to the original story, but I haven't read any of it. Originally, the story had been sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with the intent to create a live-action film adaption. When that proved too difficult with an all animal cast, the rights were sold to Walt Disney.

Production on Bambi began immediately, and was actually intended to be the studios second film. However, a number of reasons pushed back production including the difficulty in animating the animals realistically. Bambi was on and off production for several years as the studio worked on other films. Bambi is considered the last of the Disney golden era, or their first five films. By the time Bambi had gone into production Disney was somewhat in turmoil. The financial failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia had put them under, as well as WWII cutting off access to the European market. On top of it, Bambi was finishing up production as the infamous Disney strike began in 1941, which made Walt loose many of his best animators. And unfortunately, Bambi wasn't a huge financial or critical success either.

Despite poor criticism at the time, today Bambi has gained popularity and respect. Bambi is fairly different from the Disney films before it. It lacks a sense of fantasy and magic, and instead focuses on the real life problems animals face in the forest (all though, it's not 100% realistic of course). It's also the first Disney film to feature no human characters, although "man" plays a huge role. Still, it was only the 5th film from Disney and it's fair that they were still developing and trying out different styles.

What really sets Bambi apart from previous Disney films is the attention to detail and movement in the character animation. The Bambi animators spent years studying animals and how they moved in an attempt to truly capture their feel. They visited zoos and forests, and even had set up their own "Disney zoo" with fawns named after Bambi and Faline. It's amazing how far the animals have come since Snow White, only 4 or so years later.

Similar scenes between Snow White, and Bambi

I've always had a soft spot for Bambi, and Thumper, and Flower, and all the other characters so it is a fun movie to return to. However the film does feel a little difficult to watch because there isn't much of an actual story. There is no real plot or problems to overcome, and there is not much of an antagonist. In some scenes the antagonist is "man," killing their animals and burning their forests...but there really is no way for Bambi or any of his friends to overcome the power of man they can only hide, which is depressing stuff. The story ends up coming full circle, starting at Bambi's birth and ending with the birth of his children showing that life in the forest will replay over and over.

However if you can accept Bambi for what it is, it's an enjoyable film. Without much of a story, it's a real take on the life of wild animals, with some fun and cuteness thrown in. They deal with realistic problems and transition through their lives as real animals would. And it still holds true today, 70 years later, and will probably always hold true. In that way it is a timeless movie.

I don't think I exactly have a favorite scene, but I do like the scene were each of the animals falls in love.