Thursday, March 26, 2015

Disney Project 12/54 Cinderella

Previously: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad


Released: February 15, 1950
Watched: March 25, 2015

This week's film was Cinderella, and in perfect time for the new live action adaption Disney released two weeks ago. Additionally, last month was the 65th anniversary of the film. I am so glad to finally get back to the well known classics, and I think the next month of viewing is going to be a lot more fun than this last month of package films. Cinderella is obviously a well-known classic, and I'm sure I watched it as a child, but I don't especially remember it. 

Cinderella is based on a classic European folk tale. This film is credited as being based on the written version, "Cendrillon" by Charles Perrault (published in 1697), but the original folk tale was told in many ways in many places, and has been published in written versions several times (including the popular Brothers Grimm retelling). 

By the time of the animated Disney film, it had already been recreated into several ballets, operas, theatre productions, and films (including a few Disney shorts!), every version uniquely its own. This Disney film finds its uniqueness in the inclusion of several animal characters, an  element that is not present in many previous versions of the tale, but had become a staple of the Disney style.

In 1948, after a pretty good success with the run of package films, Walt Disney decided to turn back to feature films with Cinderella, because it was such a widely known story he felt it would be a success. After two years of production, it was the first full length film released since Bambi in 1942 (8 years earlier). In order to keep down costs, around 90% of the film was shot in live action before animation even began. This was a way to cut down on experimenting and mistakes for the animators, because they had clear scenes to copy from. The smooth, beautiful animation on all the human characters make this very noticeable, and the technique continued to be used in future films.

The music in Cinderella was unique in that it was the first time Walt hired  Tin Pan Alley song writers to write it (again, a way to cut down on costs). Tin Pan Alley went on to become a recurring theme in Disney films, and the songs in Cinderella were also the first to be copyrighted by the new "Walt Disney Music Company". The new ability to copyright and sell sheet music from films also helped with the financial success of Cinderella as many of the songs became hits and were covered by different musical artists at the time.

Cinderella was ultimately a huge success financially and critically, it was the most successful Disney film since the original Snow White. The success of Cinderella (not only the film profits, but the money from merchandising and music) started Disney back uphill, towards several new films, the beginning of production for television, and even the beginning of Disneyland. Walt had stated that if Cinderella had failed, the Disney studio would have shut down. Thankfully that did not happen. Obviously the characters are still known and loved today, and appear in many places.

I absolutely loved watching Cinderella. I remembered nothing of the film other than the basic story line (which I assume everyone knows). I love the animals (the mice are so stinking cute) and all the characters. I was especially surprised by the fact that Prince Charming had absolutely no speaking roles and really only appeared in the ball scene and at the end. Apparently original versions had several scenes developing him as a character that were cut for time, which is unfortunate. Although I did like the fact that all of the attention was on the princess. And of course Cinderella was the second in a long line of Disney princesses, a marketing gold mine that would not take off for several decades.

The mice are my absolute favorite.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Disney Project 11/54 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Previously: Melody Time

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Released: October 5, 1949
Watched: March 21, 2015

Ichabod and Mr. Toad was the final package film from Disney (thank god). Like Fun and Fancy Free, it consists of two short films, each around a half hour long. This is another one that is easy to watch, as it's available to rent in its original format online.

The first short (the Mr. Toad segment) was based on the 1908 children's novel The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (which I have not read, so I can't say if it's accurate). The story had originally been pitched to Walt in 1938, shortly after the production of Snow White. Production began in 1941, and more than half an hour of animation had been completed before production was put on hold (for all the same reasons I've mentioned in earlier films). Many scenes from the script had to be cut in order to shorten the film so that it could be paired into a package film.

The second short (The Ichabod segment) was based on the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a short story by Washington Irving (which I also haven't read). Production to make a feature length film had begun in 1946, however they found that the story was not quite long enough to necessitate a full length movie and ultimately it was paired with Mr. Toad to create this package film (although the two really have nothing in common).

Again, Disney tried to raise interest in the film by using celebrities. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is narrated by Bing Crosby, and Mr. Toad is narrated by Basil Rathbone (a well-known actor in England, most famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes). 

The film has received positive ratings throughout the years, and has left a strong impression in Disney history. Several of the characters from Mr. Toad appeared in Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, and were also featured in the Disneyland and Disney World ride "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" which included several scenes from the film. The Disney World version is no longer running, but it is still popular in Disneyland.

Of the package films, this one was probably my favorite. As Disney was reaching the end of difficult times, things seemed to be coming back together. The animation is smooth, the stories are solid and easy to follow (and to keep engaged with), and the characters are, for the most part, lovable.

The funniest scene is where Mr. Toad sees a car for the first time.

Next: Cinderella

Friday, March 13, 2015

Disney Project 10/54 Melody Time

Previously: Fun and Fancy Free

Melody Time

Released: May 27, 1948
Watched: March 10, 2015

Again, another package film. Just like Make Mine Music, this film was hard to find and I ended up having to find and watch each individual short. Melody Time consists of seven different shorts, 2 long ones (The Legend of Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill) and 5 that are only a few minutes. There's really not a whole lot I can write that isn't different from Make Mine Music, they're practically the same film.

Again, Disney used popular artists of the time for the songs, including Roy Rogers, Dennis Day, and the Andrew Sisters. The child actors Luana Patten and Bobby Driscoll of Disney's Song of the South also make an appearance (Luana was also featured in Fun and Fancy Free). So, again, Disney used popular people to make a profit. Of course, the whole point of package films was to make some profit during the war, so it's understandable.

The film also brought back the rolls of Jose Carioca and the Arucan Bird from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, which was fun to see. 

Really that's all I've got. They were fun shorts, and I liked watching them, but nothing especially new and groundbreaking. I'm just ready to get through the last package film.

My favorite short was Trees, which had a very unique style to it, and was unlike the other shorts of the film. Very pretty. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Disney Project 9/54 Fun and Fancy Free

Previously: Make Mine Music

Fun and Fancy Free

Released: September 27, 1947
Watched: March 5, 2015

Fun and Fancy Free is the fourth movie in the series of package films, and probably my favorite so far. Although honestly, I am getting real bored with these, and have really been putting off writing this. 

Unlike the previous package films, which were comprised of several shorts, Fun and Fancy Free is made of only two short films each probably around half an hour long with some scenes before, after, and between to tie them together. These scenes feature Jiminy Cricket in his first appearance since Pinnochio (obviously since this he has been featured in many places) as well as some live action characters. Disney chose to include celebrities in order to help bring in some extra money. The first segment is narrated by Dinah Shore (who was also featured in Make Mine Music) and the live action scenes include ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and two of his dummies (because apparently there was a time when a ventriloquist could be considered a celebrity. Who knew) as well as Luana Patten, child actress who also stared in Disney's Song of the South the year before.

Both of the segments featured in Fun and Fancy Free were originally intended to be full length films which had to be edited down due to the war, the strike, and all the other fun things I've already written about. The first of the two segments is Bongo, a story about a circus bear who runs away for a chance to live in the wild and ends up falling in love. It was based on the short story, "Little Bear Bongo" by Sinclair Lewis, and was originally intended to be a prequel to Dumbo with hopes to feature some of the loved characters again. 

The second segment is called Mickey and the Beanstalk and is a pretty straightforward telling of Jack and the Beanstalk, but featuring Mickey, Donald Duck, and Goofy. This short would be the last time that Walt Disney would do the voice of Mickey before handing the character over to Jimmy MacDonald, a sound effects artist, for the next 30 years.

As far as techniques go, there is nothing new or exciting about the animation. The characters are extremely simplified, and the animals in Bongo look more like the animals of Snow White than Bambi, so in some ways the package films did take a step back in progress.

I did enjoy this film, probably Bongo more than the other scenes, but like I said, I am getting burnt out on package films and I am ready to blow through the next two films.

My favorite scene was this little song from Bongo, which I thought was adorable.