Friday, August 26, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Mulan (1998)

This retelling of the old Chinese folktale is about the story of a young Chinese maiden who learns that her weakened and lame father is to be called up into the army in order to fight the invading Huns. Knowing that he would never survive the rigours of war in his state, she decides to disguise herself and join in his place. Unknown to her, her ancestors are aware of this and to prevent it, they order a tiny disgraced dragon, Mushu to join her in order to force her to abandon her plan. He agrees, but when he meets Mulan, he learns that she cannot be dissuaded and so decides to help her in the perilous times ahead. [imdb]
Alright, I've given Disney a lot of grief over most of the past few films I've watched... but I have to say that I like Mulan. In fact, I think I like it more every time I watch it.  Perhaps it's just one of those movies that grows on you, or maybe it has to do with the shit movies that came just before it.  Either way, this is a nice movie.

Based on an old Chinese poem and legend, Mulan is a film about a young girl who defends her country and family's honour by going to war disguised as a boy.  Obviously, they threw in a moral of something about how one person can make a difference or whatever...

Anyways, the makers of the film went to China (of course) to study a lot of the architecture, landscape, art, heritage, culture, etc. for research.  I'd have to say they actually did a very good job conveying that in the art and style of the movie.  Even the music fits well with the cultural aspect.

Eddie Murphy kind of plays the "Genie from Aladdin" role in this movie, and he really does a good job at it.  A lot of the time, he's a bit too over-the-top for me (ie, annoying), but I think he was the perfect fit for this role.  I also enjoyed the little cricket, who was designed by Joe Grant, who had been a character designer as early on as Snow White.  It really had a classic Disney feel to it, obviously due to Grant.

While the movie isn't perfect, the audio commentary track was fun simply because the writers would actually make jokes about all the various times the viewer needed to suspend their disbelief.  To me, this makes a movie even more enjoyable, simply by knowing the film-makers obviously were aware of any lack of realism.

Whelp, I definitely think Mulan is a few steps up from the last few... If you haven't seen it recently, I'd suggest it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Hercules (1997)

Hercules, son of the Greek God, Zeus, is turned into a half-god, half-mortal by evil Hades, God of the Underworld, who plans to overthrow Zeus. Hercules is raised on Earth and retains his god-like strength, but when he discovers his immortal heritage Zeus tells him that to return to Mount Olympus he must become a True Hero. Hercules becomes a famous hero with the help of his friend Pegasus and his personal trainer, Phil the satyr. Hercules battles monsters, Hades and the Titans, but it is his self-sacrifice to rescue his love Meg which makes him a True Hero. [imdb]
"What have we here at Disney yet to cover?"
"Greek mythology."
"Alright... sounds good. What sort of music goes well with Greek mythology?"
"How about Southern Gospel?!"
"Do it!"


Yes, I still don't quite get the connection there, and it will always annoy the shit out of me. A very obviously Christian-infuenced style of music as a method of telling the strory of a traditional Greek demi-god. Yeah, that makes sense.

As for artwork and animation, there really is nothing ground-breaking or even breath-taking about this one... which is alright I guess, but there were several times I felt I was watching a Warner Brothers movie, not Disney.  There is one bit of solid detail, in the floor of Zeus's temple or whatever... Lots of detail in the little tiles, and it seems very out of place considering there's no other form of close detail in the entire rest of the movie.

Now for the story... While Disney has been well known for changing stories and "dumbing them down," this is really the only one that truly annoys me. They took a good story that really already had a good moral or point to it, and they changed it to an overused coming-of-age story with the moral of "to be a true hero, follow your heart" or some shit like that.  Once again, it wouldn't have been quite so bad if they hadn't blatantly drilled their point home on so many occasions throughout the film.  I found myself sighing and rubbing my face on more than one occasion, simply because of how tedious their moral felt.  You don't need to have every one of the characters state the moral of the story directly and openly every fifteen(15) minutes.  It just starts getting dumb.

While I will admit to not being very fond of this movie, I won't say it's not enjoyable.  There are some fun parts, and it's not a waste of time.  It's just not the best film they've made, by far.

I was hoping the "making of" featurette would shed a bit of light onto some of the purpose behind why this movie even exists, but it really didn't....
There was also a Ricky Martin music video.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

In 15th century Paris, Clopin the puppeteer tells the story of Quasimodo, the misshapen gentle-souled bell ringer of Notre Dame, who was nearly killed as a baby by Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice. But Frollo was forced by the Archdeacon of Notre Dame to raise Quasimodo as his own. Now a young man, Quasimodo is hidden from the world by Frollo in the belltower of the cathedral. But during the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo, cheered on by his gargoyle friends Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, decides to take part in the festivities, where he meets the lively gypsy girl Esmeralda and the handsome soldier Phoebus. The three of them find themselves ranged against Frollo's cruelty and his attempts to destroy the home of the gypsies, the Court of Miracles. And Quasimodo must desperately defend both Esmeralda and the very cathedral of Notre Dame. [imdb]
I really enjoy The Hunchback of Notre Dame, especially coming off of Pocahontas, of which I wasn't really all that fond.  It's actually a relatively serious movie as far as the story goes, eased in by light-hearted humour and fun (typical Disney) characters.

I am going to straight-up quote Wikipedia here for a moment in the description of some of the more "grown-up" elements of the film:
Despite the changes from the original literary source material in order to ensure a G rating, the film does manage to address mature issues such as lust, infanticide, sin, profanity, religious hypocrisy, the concept of Hell, prejudice, and social injustice, as well as acceptance that Quasi yearns for. Songs also contain rather mature lyrical content such as the words "licentious" or "strumpet" which introduce the concept of sexual indulgence, as well as frequent verbal mentions of Hell. Also notably, it is the first animated Disney film to use the word "damnation".
As for the artwork and animation, this is the first of the animated films to truly blend usage of hand-drawn and computer generated animation.  Prior films occasionally had some backgrounds or certain scenes that wiggled some CG bits in... but never to the extent that The Hunchback of Notre Dame brought.  As the film-makers stated in the commentary, the movie is essentially a "tour de force" of everything the Disney animation department could do at that time.

For the background, the animators went to Paris where they took pictures and even rubbings (used for stone patterns) of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which gave a bit of realism and actuality to the art.  It also helped that many of the segments were animated in France by French animators... They knew their subject well.

In all, this is a fine movie... and the DVD release is alright.  There weren't many special features... but there was a commentary track and a "making of" featurette hosted by Jason Alexander that tried a bit too hard at being funny.

Anyways, I'm done with this one for now... On to the next movie.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Pocahontas (1995)

Capt. John Smith leads a rag-tag band of English sailors & soldiers to the New World to plunder its riches for England (or, more precisely, for Governor Ratcliffe, who comes along for the ride). Meanwhile, in this "New World," Chief Powhatan has pledged his daughter, Pocahontas, to be married to the village's greatest warrior. Pocahontas, however, has other ideas. She has seen a vision of a spinning arrow, a vision she believes tells her change is coming. Her life does indeed change when the English ship lands near her village. Between Ratcliffe, who believes the "savages" are hiding the gold he expected to be plentiful, and Powhatan, who believes these pale newcomers will destroy their land, Smith and Pocahontas have a difficult time preventing all-out war, and saving their love for each other. [imdb]
Well, Pochaontas isn't all that bad a movie, but I don't think it was their best... Maybe it's just the forced vibrato in all the songs.  Call me picky, but forced vibrato just annoys the shit out of me.  That aside, I still don't think the movie was all that thrilling or even creative.  The story is rather cliche and bland, to be honest... but I have to admit I enjoyed it more this time around than I used to.

It's a beautiful movie as far as animation and art direction goes.  I noticed the background artwork is rather reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty, especially in the design of the trees.  That much I really liked, and the colours are just lovely.

But I still think the story is pretty bland.  Perhaps the whole thing just seems somewhat "cookie-cutter" Disney movie.  They got a formula and they stuck with it.

Anyways, the DVD set is alright... Commentary, slightly extended version with an added song, half-hour documentary on the making of the film, a couple games and activities, and some music videos.  Actually, come to think of it, even the DVD set is somewhat cookie-cuttered...

Yeah, now I'm just making myself even more disappointed in this thing... On to the next one.