Friday, July 29, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: The Lion King (1994)

A young lion prince is born in Africa, thus making his uncle Scar the second in line to the throne. Scar plots with the hyenas to kill King Mufasa and Prince Simba, thus making himself King. The King is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault, and so flees the kingdom in shame. After years of exile he is persuaded to return home to overthrow the usurper and claim the kingdom as his own thus completing the "Circle of Life". [imdb]
"Bambi in Africa meets Hamlet." It's hard to believe now that no one really wanted to work on this project when it was first introduced, but it's true. While most of the main Disney animators were working on production of Pocahontas, others were working on the "B Film": a little moive about a lion.

Originally meant to be an animated version of their live-action nature films, The Lion King became one of Disney's biggest hits.  Once they gained a bit of direction and brought on Elton John and Tim Rice to write the music, the story started to fall right into place.  Many of the people working on the film stated that it would either be a giant hit or a giant failure... I'd have to say it was a hit.  A massive hit that led to sequels, spin-offs, merchandise, and a Broadway stage show.

There's a wealth of special features on the 2-disc Platinum Edition DVD set, but I have to admit that I am a bit upset this came on my Disn-A-Thon 2011 a few months before the new blu-ray edition will be released.  I will watch it again once that arrives, and I look forward to any new special features included.  That being said, I really enjoyed the three(3) different ways to go about the immersion of special features.  It got a tad confusing at times, mostly just in wondering if I missed anything, but there was a lot to plow through.

There are also a couple different versions of the movie: one with an added song (which I detest) and the original theatrical cut.  Have I mentioned that I detest the added song.  I was initially planning to state that it was the "low point" of the movie, and then I remembered that it wasn't even in the original version.  Thank heavens for that.  They couldn't even get the singing voice of Simba to remotely match the speaking voice.  I'd have to say that was the worst vocal matching Disney's ever done.

Anyways, there's a commentary track to the original cut, and you all know how much I love commentaries!

Well, I really can't think of anything else to add about this one except that I'd suggest holding off on buying this one until the blu-ray comes out (along with a new DVD edition, I'm sure)... and there's also a huge multi-disc set, which also includes the two(2) sequels (also on both blu-ray and DVD) which I only wish I had the money to spend on.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin is a street-urchin who lives in a large and busy town long ago with his faithful monkey friend Abu. When Princess Jasmine gets tired of being forced to remain in the palace that overlooks the city, she sneaks out to the marketplace, where she accidentally meets Aladdin. Under the orders of the evil Jafar (the sultan's advisor), Aladdin is thrown in jail and becomes caught up in Jafar's plot to rule the land with the aid of a mysterious lamp. Legend has it that only a person who is a "diamond in the rough" can retrieve the lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin might fight that description, but that's not enough to marry the princess, who must (by law) marry a prince. [imdb]
Following very close on the heels of The Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin is a far more lighthearted and "loose" movie that ushered in yet another new style of animated film.  Another of Howard Ashman's final works, he and Alan Menkin brought a fun, jaunty sound to the music, with the help of Tim Rice after Ashman had passed.

Where Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid were "princess" films, this technically could be called a "prince" film.  The main focus is a scoundrel of a thief who, along with his pet monkey Abu, find the help of a genie to woo the beautiful princess, Jasmine.  Of course, there's the evil guy who tries to get in the way, some drama caused by Aladdin's selfishness, a magic carpet ride to a most-popular song, and a lot of fun jokes from the genie, voiced by Robin Williams.

The genie's jokes and impersonations seem a bit out of place, being modern and "now" compared to the setting of the movie. This is the biggest difference between Aladdin and many of the other animated films that came before it.  In the commentaries, this was explained (in a very deus ex machina fashion) with the understanding that the genie could transcend time and therefor understood many modern references while the other characters in the movie didn't.  The only time this concept was used prior to this (that I can recall) was in Sword In The Stone, when Merlin went "on vacation" to the 20th century.  Anyways, this brought about a new feel to the animated films, where characters would make modern references despite the setting of the movie.

There were a lot of special features on the 2-DVD set, not as many as my last review obviously, but still a great deal.  There were a few commentary tracks, which gave varying perspectives on the making of the movie. Also included was a pop-up trivia track, which was essentially just another subtitle track filled with lots of random bits of information... I suppose for people who don't like audio commentaries.  A nice documentary on the second disc was rather informative, but what I really enjoyed was the talk with the composer, Alan Menkin.

In all, this was a great set, but I can't help but want a nice blu-ray set for this one.  I'd love to see this (as well as every other film) in high definition.  Still, it's a fantastic film either way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Beauty and The Beast (1991)

Belle is a girl who is dissatisfied with life in a small provincial French town, constantly trying to fend off the misplaced "affections" of conceited Gaston. The Beast is a prince who was placed under a spell because he could not love. A wrong turn taken by Maurice, Belle's father, causes the two to meet. [imdb]
Beauty and The Beast is another story Walt had considered (and tried) to turn into a feature film, only to be dropped and then picked up half a century later by the revived studio.  In the late 1980's, the animation department tried working a script together for a non-musical version of the story, and after a few rewrites, a new team was brought on board.  This included Alan Menkin and a semi-reluctant Howard Ashman (also working on Aladdin at the time) who would turn it into a Broadway style musical film.

The result is a fantastic and gorgeous animated motion picture, a bit more mature than many of the films that came before it.  Returning to the Cinderella and Snow White "princess" style fairy tales, Beauty and The Beast was a bit less "happy-go-lucky" and brought to the screen a female lead that was more proactive than reactive.  Instead of letting things simply happen to her, she was strong and secure and took charge of herself and her surroundings.  Following on the heels of success brought about by The Little Mermaid, this new style of heroine was becoming a standard for Disney princesses.

This was my first time watching the blu-ray release, and boy am I glad I have a high definition TV.  There were more than a few times I found myself muttering "Holy shit..." and rewinding simply to see the scenes again.  The transfer and depth is just beautiful.  It made me immediately disappointed to find out the next film on my -thon is only on DVD and not blu-ray.

And the amount of special features... Well, for starters, there are a few different versions of the movie to watch.  There's an extended version, containing an added song that had been cut from the original film.  It's sad to think such a wonderful song had been cut, but in the behind the scenes and commentary, a good explanation was given.  I can't complain too much, because it's back in and wonderful.

Then we have the original theatrical version of the film, followed by a picture-in-picture with the original un-completed screening version...  There's commentary for the extended, so this made a nice special feature for the theatrical version.  Then there's a few games, at least two(2) music videos, and about a gazillion (estimated) various bits and pieces about the background of the film.  And to top it all off, they threw in a really long interactive behind-the-scenes feature.  As you watch the documentary, pop-ups allow you to click through to watch even MORE features, sometimes moving even another level deeper beyond that... and then at last returning seamlessly back into the original documentary.  All of this has a special index, allowing you to see if you've missed anything....

I was in special-feature heaven (or hell for some people).  This was easily one of the best sets I've seen during my -thon, and I hope as much care goes into each and every subsequent release.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Cody, a boy from Mugwomp Flats responds to a distress call about a trapped giant Golden Eagle called Marahute. Freeing her, he gains a close friendship with the bird. However, Cody is soon abducted by the murderous poacher, Percival McLeach, who is after that bird which is of a highly endangered species and therefore an extremely profitable quarry. In a panic, a mouse Cody freed from one of McLeach's traps sends a desperate call for help to the Rescue Aid Society in New York City who assigns their top agents, Miss Bianca and Bernard to the task. With transportation provided by the goofy Albatross, Wilbur, the agents arrive in Austrailia and link up with the RAS' local field operative, Jake The Kangaroo Rat. Together, the trio must race against time to find Cody, stop McLeach and save Marahute. [imdb]
Disney is known now for all the many sequels, a few making it into the theater, but most of them incredibly horrible and direct-to-video. The Rescuers Down Under is the first (and only, until this month's Winnie The Pooh movie) to make it into the "Animated Classics" series.  It's also, apparently, the first feature film to be "assembled and completed within a digital environment" [Wikipedia], and the second in the classics line to not have a musical number.  All that makes this movie quite unique.

Aside from all the uniquenessicity, it's just a cute fun movie.  I guess Oliver and Company was originally intended as a sequel to The Rescuers, but in the end, they worked it into this story instead.  I think that was a pretty smart move.  Another smart move was getting John Candy to voice the albatross.  I just love John Candy...

Well, what else really is there to say about this one aside from "cute, fun, entertaining, Bob Newhart and John Candy"??  That is all. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: The Little Mermaid (1989)

Loosely based upon the story by Hans Christian Andersen. Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton, is dissatisfied with life in the sea. She longs to be with the humans above the surface, and is often caught in arguments with her father over those "barbaric fish-eaters". She goes to meet Ursula, the Sea Witch, to strike a deal, but Ursula has bigger plans for this mermaid and her father. [imdb]
The Little Mermaid enters in the era known as the Disney Renaissance.  After a decade of only a few animated films, most of them relative failures, The Little Mermaid is very deservedly given credit for breathing life back into the animation department.

There's a wonderful behind-the-scenes featurette on the set that goes into strong detail about the making of the film.  This made me happy, because the past eight(8) or so films I've watched have been very bare as far as information goes.  A little bit that I found only in the commentary (yes, there's thankfully a commentary track) is that Walt himself had been planning a version of The Little Mermaid back in the 30's.  Coincidentally, many of the story changes his story men had made were also many of the same changes made in the 80's by writers who had no clue there had even been any prior work...  Perhaps that had something to do with the film's success.

I list this film as my third favourite of the set, behind Lady and The Tramp and Dumbo... and I've been complaining about the lack of dark-ride attration at Disneyland for years.  Turns out they planned one back in the early 90's, but the project never went beyond development.  For this, I blame some of Eisner's people, specifically the head of the parks.  I don't recall his name, but he's the guy who stated that people only went to Disneyland for the food.  Anyways, there's a special feature of a digital animated ride-thru of the attraction, which I think is glorious.  Actually, I maintain that for EVERY movie that has a corresponding attraction, they should be doing this...

Thankfully, I think they are planning to re-work and finally complete the Little Mermaid ride soon, for California Adventure.  Good enough.

So yeah, the music is always fun on this film, the story is great, and I think there's an energy to the movie that hasn't existed since The Jungle Book.  I am sure the energy played a huge role in making this film a success... and I'm glad it did, or we may never have had any of the films to come.