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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Disney Project 19/54 The Jungle Book

Previously: The Sword in the Stone

The Jungle Book
Released: October 18, 1967
Watched: May 8, 2015

This week's movie was the Jungle Book, which is just like most of the others in this list. I remember watching it as a child, at least once, but barely remember it. But it's on of the animal focused ones so I was excited to watch it again.

The Jungle Book was based on the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, a man who had lived in India for the first 6 years of his life (and returned there for longer as an adult). It was a collection of short stories which were originally published in magazines from 1893-94. The Disney film is extremely different from the book, and purposefully so by Walt's instruction. 

After the success of The Sword and the Stone, storyman Bill Peet suggested that the department do an adaption of The Jungle Book because he felt that they were capable of more interesting animal characters. Walt agreed, and Peet went ahead and wrote a script for the film (as he had written the scripts for 101 Dalmations and Sword in the Stone). However, Walt did not like his version. Peet had stuck to the original story, which featured many dark, adult themes. Walt argued that he wanted it to be a happier, family friendly version and the two argued until Peet gave up and left the studio in 1964. Walt hired a new writer for the project, gave him a copy of Kipling's book, and told him not to even look at it.

Walt was more involved with this film than he had been on several previous ones, hoping to get back to his roots in the animation department. He closely oversaw most of the production, until he passed away in December 1966.

What is most unique about The Jungle Book is the music and the voice acting. The music is my favorite thing about this film, because of course jungle animals in India in the 1800's would like jazz music. Right? The film used several well known actors and musicians for the voices of the characters. Most famously, Phil Harris (a jazz musician, comedian, and actor) provided the voice for Baloo the bear. Harris was hesitant to take the part, because he felt like people wouldn't find the character believable because the voice was too familiar, or that people wouldn't take him seriously after he had been in a cartoon. However, after the release of the film he saw that his popularity with adults and children soared. He was so pleased with his new image, he went on to voice in a couple more Disney films. One of the things that made Baloo such a great character was the fact that most of his lines were improvised by Harris (which was very unusual). He felt that the character just didn't sound natural enough, and he refused to follow the script.

Another popular musician used was Louie Prima as King Louie (King Louie was not a character in the original stories, hence the name choice). The rest of the cast is made up of both familiar actors, and Disney staples such as Sterling Holloway. The 4 vultures in the film are meant to resemble the Beatles, and they were originally intended to voice their own characters until John Lennon threw a fit or something like that.

For the most part the animation hasn't changed from previous films, although I think the character animation is wonderful. There are so many different animals and their movements are all unique to what they are. The bear moves like a bear, the tiger moves like a tiger, and the human who was raised by animals moves like a very awkward boy who is unsure of himself. It's great.

The film was a huge financial success, likely because the death of Walt Disney (less than one year before the film's release) stirred up nostalgia for Disney films. The film was praised for its lighthearted simplicity and deviation from the original book (something that in previous films, Disney had been heavily criticized for). It did extremely well, and was released theatrically three more times. However, it has held up and still receives fairly good reviews today.

I really loved this one. I love the character animation, and the music the most. Like all the critiques said, it is a lighthearted and simple story, and I think it turned out just how Walt Disney would have wanted.

My favorite song is probably King Louie's.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Disney Project 18/54 The Sword in the Stone

Previously: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

The Sword in the Stone

Released: December 25, 1963
Watched: May 3, 2015

Whoops, again I'm getting a little behind on these. This week's movie was The Sword in the Stone, which, like most of these films, is one I remember watching as a child but not especially well. It was never one of my favorites, but I enjoyed it this time around.

The story of King Arthur comes from the novel, The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White published in 1938. The movie was fairly well adapted to the book, although the book had been re released and edited and substantially changed a few times. The movie is based directly on the version that was first released in the U.S.. The novel is in turn based on the King Arthur legends which date back to medieval times. The characters of King Arthur and Merlin and all the others characters are fairly well known and stories about them had been adapted a few times before the Disney version was released. 

The production of Sword in the Stone is a fairly straightforward story. Walt Disney had purchased the rights to the story in 1939, very shortly after the novel was released. The story bounced around a bit, and ten years later initial storyboards had been completed. However it was still not quite ready. The story didn't really pick up speed until 1960 when 101 Dalmatians had been completed. In 1960, Walt had just seen the Broadway production of Camelot and was feeling inspired. He approved the idea and put production into motion. Unfortunately it would be one of the last films for Disney to approve, as he died only a few short years later.

There is nothing especially new or unique about the art style or animation. The style takes very strongly after Sleeping Beauty, in not only the aesthetic look but in the clothing, architecture, etc. as they share a sort of, generic medieval English setting. The use of xerography gives it the same sketchy quality as 101 Dalmatians, as would the next several films. All in all, it looks nice.

The Sword in the Stone was financially successful, but received some mixed reviews. Many critics felt that it pushed too strongly towards humor, and not enough towards story. Although it's not one of Disney's most popular films, it is still remembered fairly well today. The characters (mostly Merlin the wizard) have appeared in other areas.

I think that the Sword in the Stone was a fun watch. I would definitely agree that it aims towards humor, through several different segments of Wart turning into different animals and training. The story doesn't really go anywhere until it nears the end. But I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. I think it's funny and lighthearted, and that it was a perfect choice for a Disney film because there are so many talking animals. It was not my favorite or anything especially groundbreaking, but it was fun.

The squirrel scene is the best one.