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.