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.