Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

1914: Milo Thatch, grandson of the great Thaddeus Thatch works in the boiler room of a museum. He knows that Atlantis was real, and he can get there if he has the mysterious Shephards journal, which can guide him to Atlantis. But he needs someone to fund a voyage. His employer thinks he's dotty, and refuses to fund any crazy idea. He returns home to his apartment and finds a woman there. She takes him to Preston B. Whitmore, an old friend of his Grandfathers. He gives him the shepherds journal, a submarine and a 5 star crew. They travel through the Atlantic ocean, face a large lobster called the Leviathan, and finally get to Atlantis. But does the Atlantis crew have a lust for discovery, or something else? [imdb]
A lot of people give Atlantis: The Lost Empire a lot of grief. I've heard people complain about the lack of music, animal sidekicks, and just about every other standard Disney animated film convention you can think of... But Atlantis isn't a standard "once upon a time" fantasy movie. It's an adventure movie, through and through.

In every commentary, interview and behind-the-scenes clip you can find, the film makers repeat again and again that this is an "Adventureland" movie... not a "Fantasyland" movie... and those are both integral parts of the Disney experience. In fact, it's almost hard to fathom that they had never made an "adventure" animated movie up until this one.

Drawing inspiration from many of the 60's era Disney live-action movies such as Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Atlantis sends our cast of characters on a mission to find (of course) the lost city of Atlantis.

A lot of standards were actually cut from the movie, including pirates, vikings, a few mythical monsters, and the aforementioned animal sidekick... but what we end up with is a rather amazing and well-made film with a lot going for it.

There's a strong vocal cast, including Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and a final performance by the late Jim Varney. The art style was drawn from darker comic books (graphic novels) even going so far as to involve the maker of the Hellboy comics in the general creation of the movie. Yet one of the most impressive features of Atlantis has to be the seemless integration of 3D computer animation with hand-drawn 2D animation.

Many of the backgrounds during action sequences or vast landscapes were rendered digitally, hand-painted to maintain some resemblance to the classic Disney style, and then merged in with the hand-drawn characters, creating a gorgeous style utilizing nearly every department in the studio.

I watched the 2-disc special edition which has a vast amount of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a whole load of art galleries. I can't think of anything really missing... There's a commentary, little documentary, deleted scenes... It's a pretty nice package of information.

Anyways, if you're a hater of this movie, I'd suggest giving it another go. I honestly can't complain about it at all. (Which is rare for me.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

In this animated comedy from the folks at Disney, the vain and cocky Emperor Kuzco is a very busy man. Besides maintaining his "groove", and firing his suspicious administrator, Yzma; he's also planning to build a new waterpark just for himself for his birthday. However, this means destroying one of the villages in his kingdom. Meanwhile, Yzma is hatching a plan to get revenge and usurp the throne. But, in a botched assassination courtesy of Yzma's right-hand man, Kronk, Kuzco is magically transformed into a llama. Now, Kuzco finds himself the property of Pacha, a lowly llama herder whose home is ground zero for the water park. Upon discovering the llama's true self, Pacha offers to help resolve the Emperor's problem and regain his throne, only if he promises to move his water park. [imdb]
When the title of The Emperor's New Groove was first announced, my initial reaction was disgust.  I had no desire whatsoever to see some bastardized hip-hop version of The Emperor's New Clothes.  How could Disney stoop so low in their attempt to ride the coat-tails of modern trends like that?!  I would never bother to watch this piece of crap.

Then one day, I was at Blockbuster and caught a single scene of the movie (for those of you who've seen it, it was the scene where Kronk is attempting to dispose of the emperor's body)... I wanted, no I HAD to see this movie.  So I rented it, and I watched it... and watched it... and watched it... and bought it and watched it... and so on.

This is definitely one of my favourite and most-quoted Disney films of all time.  It was also the start of yet another era in Disney's animated films... This is Disney in the 21st century.

The movie is chock full of pop culture references and jokes, and it is very self-aware.  There's no real similarities between the source of the title and the movie, and the complete lack of historical and cultural accuracy is very apparent.  In fact, there are times they just seem to be gloating about the modern day references they've thrown in.  This is far from a complaint, because it just makes the movie that much more relatable to the current viewing public.  It's never done in a distasteful manner, and the insanely fast pace of the dialogue and story help the nit-picky mind wash over every fallacy.

The commentary was enjoyable as well, but I was a tad disappointed by the behind-the-scenes featurette.  It was just trying a bit too hard and wasn't very insightful about the real making of the movie.  In fact, I discovered more about the history of the project by reading the Wikipedia entry (linked below) than I did the featurette.  I won't go into much detail, but I would recommend reading on it if you enjoy the movie.  Suffice it to say that I am far more happy with the way it turned out than the original intent.

So if you are at all like I was at first, and have yet to see this movie... Get it. Watch it. Love it.... Squeaken.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Dinosaur (2000)

During an attack on a pack of Iguanodon, an egg is separated and ends up with the possession of a group of lemurs. The lemurs care for this egg and the young creature born from it, which they call Aladar. When a meteor shower hits earth, Aladar and his family must leave their homeland. Away from home and as close to danger as they have ever been, they meet up with a huge group of dinosaurs, led by Kron and Bruton. All together they are trying to reach the nesting grounds, but it's not going to be easy. [imdb]
I'd have to say that I was looking forward to watching Dinosaur.  Of all 51 films in the Animated Classics line, this was the only movie I had yet to ever see.  Apparently it was officially added as an "Animated Classic" back in 2008, a whole eight(8) years after its release...  I still am not sure why this decision was made, but I guess it sort of fits.

Dinosaur combines both computer-generated and hand-drawn animation with live action backgrounds and landscapes to create a rather unique style of movie... So I suppose it can qualify as an "animated" film.

Altogether, the movie is quite enjoyable.  It doesn't have any songs, ballad or otherwise, sung either by character or off-screen popular artist... So that's a bit different from the rest of the classics line as well.  Throwing songs in here would diminish the movie though, so that's not a complaint in any way.  Actually, the movie is a bit darker than most as well, and apparently the film makers had to remove a lot of blood and gore to get the rating they wanted.

I don't think this will ever fall in as one of my favourites, but I still like it nonetheless.  I am very glad my first viewing was on blu-ray.  The visuals look incredible in hi-definition.  That's the most redeeming quality of the film: the visuals.  They did some magnificent work there, even though the computer animation is a bit dated.

I did find it odd that the special features are spread out over both the blu-ray disc and the DVD, instead of all being on the blu-ray and then duplicated in part to the DVD.  No big deal there though.  It actually makes having both discs useful.

Well, if you haven't seen Dinosaur yet, maybe you should.  It's a pretty good movie and definitely under-appreciated.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Fantasia 2000 (1999)

In this update of Disney's masterpiece film mixture of animation and music, new interpretations of great works of music are presented. It begins with an abstract battle of light and darkness set to the music of Beethoveen's Fifth Symphony. Then we see the adventures of a Humpback Whale calf and his pod set to "The Pines of Rome." Next is the humourous story of several lives in 1930's New York City, scored with "Rhapsody in Blue." Following is a musical telling of the fairy tale, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" set to Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2. Then a goofy Flamingo causes havoc in his flock with his yo-yo to the tune of the finale of "Carnival of the Animals." This is followed by the classic sequence from the original film, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" starring Mickey Mouse and followed by "Pomp and Circumstance" starring Donald Duck as a harried assistant to Noah on his Ark... [imdb]
Months ago, I watched the first disc of two(2) on the 4-disc blu-ray set of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000... (my review of which can be found here) ... Now I've watched every single bit of the second disc, containing Fantasia 2000 and a whole slew of various special features.  This isn't so much of a sequel to Fantasia, but a continuation.  One thing mentioned in virtually every commentary and featurette on both of these discs is that Fantasia was originally meant to be a continuing movie.

Every year, re-release the movie with a few segments dropped and a few new ones added.  The initial box-office failure of the movie caused Disney to drop this idea, although over the years, Walt and many of his crew would start work on bits only to either abandon them or place them elsewhere.  Some of the "unused" segments made it into films like Melody Time or released as simple short segments alone.  Others were vaulted and appear on this set in fully animated or storyboarded forms.

And still others were completed and formed into the feature film Fantasia 2000.  Only one segment remained from the original film, of course being The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  Personally, I wouldn't have minded one bit if they had left that off as well... but oh well.

I really enjoy this new take on Fantasia, possibly more than the original in some places.  One thing that sticks out to me is the seamless integration of computer-generated animation with traditional hand-drawn animation.  In fact, it's so seamless that parts I could have sworn were done with computers were in fact done entirely by hand.

There's commentary and a segment about a lost attempt at rehashing Fantasia, called Musicana... but the real stand-out here is Destino, the collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.  A rather long featurette about the history of the short... and its fate in the Disney morgue... and subsequent revival... followed by the newly finished short film itself.  It's actually very good, and I almost feel it's hidden by being packaged on disc 2 of the Fantasia set.  This is something that needs to be emphasized by itself for what it is.

The next best stand-out feature on this disc is the Disney's Virtual Vault, which is basically every special feature from the previous DVD releases of both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.  Hours upon hours of documentaries and alternate takes and storyboard sequences...   In fact, I started writing this blogue entry before they even finished.  I hit "Play All" hours ago, and it just now finished.  Phew.

Well, if you're a fan of Fanatasia in any form, and you own a blu-ray player with an internet connection (for the Virtual Vault), I'd definitely suggest getting this 4-disc set (2 blu-ray discs and 2 DVD's).  This is something I will be holding on to for quite some time.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: Tarzan (1999)

The movie is about the life of Tarzan. Tarzan was a small orphan who was raised by an ape named Kala since he was a child. He believed that this was his family, but on an expedition Jane Porter is rescued by Tarzan. He then finds out that he's human. Now Tarzan must make the decision as to which family he should belong to... [imdb]
Okay, let me start by saying that I've always been one to complain about the use of ballads and artists like Phil Collins as music in the slew of 90's-era Disney films... but after watching Tarzan, I have to admit that it was a pretty nice fit.  I will still complain about the lyrics to all the various songs descriptively matching exactly what's happening on the screen, which is kind-of a no-no when it comes to making music for movies.  That, and it's rather annoying to anyone who pays attention to the lyrics as well as the action on screen.  I don't need musical narration explaining that people (well, a person and an ape) are holding hands.  I can see it for myself.

That all being said, Tarzan is actually a rather good movie.  I quite enjoyed it this time around and found myself thinking it one of the better in the canon.  It comes very close to Jungle Book meets The Lion King, but consciously staying enough away from both of those films to remain unique.  The story is good, especially after seeing some of the ideas that were left undone, and the animation is lovely.

I wish I had the 2-disc set that came out at some point along the way, but I only have a single-disc edition that apparently is lacking a few behind-the-scenes featurettes.  The commentary track helped make up for that a bit, but I look forward to any future blu-ray release for more special features.

I forced myself to sit through 3 Phil Collins music videos, one with N*Sync... and another music video of some all-girl pop group singing a song from the film "live" although I spent much of the time wondering where the drum sounds were coming from if there was no drummer on stage.  Ah well, it's Disney...

Tarzan's another movie I think anyone should give another chance, if they find themselves with bad memories of it... It's oddly simple, but obviously not thrown together.