Melody Time – Review

Melody Time is one of the last ‘package films’ that came out of Disney Animation Studios during the 40’s, its the first I’m reviewing, and one of the best, short of Fantasia. (Yeah, that means we’ve got the bad ones ahead of us… Woo Hoo!) The film is broken up in to eight different segments. I’m going to review each of them and the final rating will be an average of all the ratings. Films like this don’t have much to go on with very little acting and story etc. but I’ll do the best I can to give you a good idea of this film.

Melody Time

An opening segment that features masks being painted that establishes the bookend theme. It’s simple and effective. Hardly enough to actually review but worth mentioning.

Once Upon a Wintertime

A story about two young lovers in December who skate on a frozen lake and throw snow at each other. The woman gets angry at the man, storms off and almost falls off a waterfall. She is saved by the couples’ horses and the two are reunited. Their story is mirrored by two rabbits. The music in the segment, performed by Frances Langford is a forgettable slow Christmas tune. The animation is pretty crude when it comes to complexities of the character’s faces.

Rating: Well Below Average

Bumble Boogie

A Jazz interpretation of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ gives the backing for an animated battle between a solitary bee and a possessed piano. The animation isn’t as tied to the music as in Fantasia segments and so didn’t do that much for me.

Rating: Well Below Average

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed

One of the longer segments in the film, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is pretty much what it says on the tin. The story of John Chapman, an American Folk Tale about a man that went around the country planting apple trees. The segment is performed mostly by Dennis Day he narrates, voices the characters and sings the two songs. It’s a pretty decent encapsulated story. The animation in this segment is true to Disney’s style for that time. Traditional human characters looking the way they do as well as the anthropomorphised animals.

The original plan for Melody Time was to feature entirely American Folk Tales and if this was an example of what it could have been, it might have ended up better than what we actually got.

Rating: Average

Little Toot

A segment based on ‘Little Toot’ by Hardie Gramatky, a story about a troublemaking tug boat that eventually tugs a ship out of danger. The animation in this segment features some pretty cool water effects but what really raises this segment on my list is the song by The Andrews Sisters.

Rating: Average

Trees

Trees is a sung version of a poem of the same name by Joyce Kilmer. The segment isn’t overly exciting but it does bring nice frosted cell animation to the film. The segment is closest in style to Fantasia with the animation closely matching the music.

Rating: Below Average

Blame It on the Samba

The segment sees a return from Donald Duck and José Carioca, two of The Three Caballeros as they are returned to good spirits by Samba music. They are then tormented by the Aracuan Bird, a mischievous bird who traps them on some weird Samba infused acid-trip. Blame It on the Samba features a blend of animation and live action as the organist, Ethel Smith interacts with Donald and José. The blend and the animation style in the segment is very nicely done and its good to see characters that we know and love however, the story is lacking.

Rating: Below Average

Pecos Bill

Another Disney re-telling of an American Folk Tale about a famous Texan hero named Pecos Bill. It tells a highlight story of the life of Bill in song form. They cover many of the legends about the character, his horse, Widowmaker and the love of his life, Slue Foot Sue.

While it is the longest segment in Melody Time it has been edited and censored to remove all parts with Bill smoking a cigarette and almost an entire scene that included Bill rolling his cigarette with only his tongue and lighting it with a lightning bolt.

Pecos Bill also included a live-action segment to set up the telling of the story. The animation wasn’t too bad again, similar to the classic style of Disney with a little less care and detail.

Rating: Below Average

Melody Time featured introductions by Buddy Clark who provided simple set ups to the segments, the ideas behind it and introduced the artists involved. In total, the film clocks in just over 70 minutes. It’s an alright film when viewed as a whole. Almost all the segments were subsequently released as a stand-alone short sometimes many years later.

Rating: Below Average

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The Emperor’s New Groove – Review

The Emperor’s New Groove was a switch to a new, modern direction when it was released in 2000. We have the film that we have, because a decision from the head of Disney at the time, Michael Eisner. Now I’m a little hot or cold on Eisner and I will probably go deeper in to why in a later post. But for now, a bit of history and a review of a much-loved Disney film.

The story that became The Emperor’s New Groove started out as ‘Kingdom of the Sun’ a ‘traditional’ Disney, Incan themed version of The Prince and the Pauper. It featured a greedy and selfish emperor (still voiced by David Spade), a peasant who looks just like the emperor (in this version, voiced by Owen Wilson) and an evil witch also named Yzma. The two main characters would switch places, so the emperor could escape his boring life. Yzma wanted to destroy the sun to regain her youth and wanted the emperor out of the way so she could achieve this goal. She discovers the switch and turns the real emperor in to a llama and threatens to reveal the peasant’s identity unless he obeys her. The real emperor learns humility as a llama and falls in love with a llama herder. He and the llama herder set out to stop the witch and undo her plans.

After the box office performances of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were underwhelming, Eisner gave the development team two-weeks to completely overhaul the film, adding more comedy and lightening up the overall feel of the movie. By reading the plot of the original story, its clear that much of the original content was kept, the main changes added modern references and changed the character of the peasant, aging him up and giving him a family. So there’s your quick history of ‘Kingdom of the Sun’ now let’s talk about The Emperor’s New Groove.

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Set in the Incan Kingdom the story revolves around Kuzco (David Spade), the egotistical emperor who is turned into a llama after he fires is adviser, Yzma (Eartha Kitt). Yzma, along with her (fan-favourite) henchman, Kronk (Patrick Warbuton), plans to take the throne for herself and attempts to kill the llama. Llama-Kuzco finds himself on a cart belonging to a peasant named Pacha (John Goodman) and after a series of events that teaches Kuzco humility and friendship, the two attempt to stop Yzma and return Kuzco to the throne.

The characters in the film are fantastic, despite Kuzco’s selfishness he is relatable to most of the audience. Yzma’s overacting and her reactions to Kronk are fantastic and one of Eartha Kitt’s best roles, she continued to receive praise for her performances of Yzma in the follow-up tv series, The Emperor’s New School. Kronk, as mentioned before, is a fan favourite with people falling in love with his simple mind and his kind demeanour. However, the internal debate with his conscious personified by angel and devil versions of himself is my favourite part of Kronk’s character and the film.

The Emperor’s New Groove is arguably one of the funniest films in Disney Animation Studio’s repertoire and is one of the better films to come out of the post-renaissance era. The script is tight and the performances of Spade, Warburton and Kitt add to the film’s greatness. A perfect example of this is Warburton’s Mission: Impossible-esque theme music for Kronk being ad-libbed. So yeah, I’m sure you’ve worked out who my favourite character of the film is. Wouldn’t it be great if Kronk had his own movie? Turns out no, the direct-to-video Kronk’s New Groove received nothing but negative reviews.

The Emperor’s New Groove did it’s best to change the direction of Disney Animation Studios away from the classic way of story telling and update it to make it more relevant to the audience. This helped pave the way for the rest of the post-renaissance era films for better or worse. The film was an attempt for Disney to show that they were in touch with modern audiences. But it failed. The Emperor’s New Groove was a Box Office disappointment, it performed worse than Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the films that caused the massive retooling of the script. Despite this the film has become a cult-classic and often features middle to high on many top Disney movie lists.

Personally, I think The Emperor’s New Groove is a good film, it’s very funny however the story is shallow. The characters are what makes the movie memorable. Could ‘Kingdom of the Sun’ have performed better at the Box Office and won over more people when it was released? Who knows. Can we say that The Emperor’s New Groove was ahead of its time due to the cult-following it has today? I think, no. The following around this film can be drummed up to two things, nostalgia and Kronk.

Rating: Average

Oliver and Company – Review

In the late 1980’s Disney was undergoing some changes Jeffery Katzenberg was now overseeing the animation studio and with the disappointing new direction attempt with The Black Cauldron, Disney knew they had to try something else. That something else was the same thing they were doing before The Black Cauldron… cute animals. And so work began on The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company.

A light-hearted, New York City based version of Oliver Twist, Oliver and Company isn’t a bad film. Its animation style is pretty nice and it shows the direction Disney was starting to take shape with the soon to arrive ‘Renaissance’.

The film centres on a orphan kitten named Oliver that falls in with a group or dogs who scavenge and steal for their owner, Fagin who in turn, owes money to Sykes. Oliver eventually finds himself in the care of Jenny who adopts him, before he is flung back in to the lives of the dogs and Fagin.

The music in Oliver and Company is good but nothing to write home about, my favourite song is “Why Should I Worry?” performed by Billy Joel who voices Dodger. The film draws its musical style from New York City in the 1980’s and while shows a small array of styles, it doesn’t really show off what the city was about at the time. It feels like a more modern version of The Aristocats at some points. however the sound design of the cityscapes and outdoor scenes do give off the New York City vibe.

The film stars a twelve-year-old Joey Lawrence as Oliver as well as Billy Joel as Dodger, Cheech Marin as Tito, Richard Mulligan as Einstein, Roscoe Lee Brown as Francis Sheryl Lee Ralph as Rita (with Ruth Pointer providing singing voice), Bette Midler as Georgette and Taurean Blacque and Carl Weintraub as Roscoe and DeSorto. While on the human side of the cast we have Dom DeLuise as Fagin, Robert Loggia as Sykes, William Glover as Winston and Natalie Gregory as Jenny (with Myhanh Tran providing the singing voice).

All in all, Oliver and Company is an alright film. Nothing is great about it, the storyline is pretty straight forward and the music is good. But it is an important chapter in Disney Animated Studios as it signalled the beginning of something very special.

Rating: Average

Pocahontas – Review

Pocahontas was released in 1995 and was Disney’s first attempt at animating a “true” story since 1948 (The Legend of Johnny Appleseed in Melody Time). That being said the truthfulness around the events of this film have been heavily modified and have only been written by John Smith himself years after the time the events were to have taken place.

Whether the story is true or not aside, is Pocahontas a good film? Not really. The songs are quite nice and sweeping and the animation is pretty good despite the fact that most of the Native Americans in this film seem to have the same lack of nose condition that afflicted Voldemort. But that is where most of my praise stops, the characters are two-dimensional and uninteresting (especially the two leads) and that is poorly covered up by the overused sidekicks. Don’t get me wrong, Meeko the Racoon is cute, but he, Flit the Hummingbird and Percy the Pug are so overused that I would imagine even some kids would get bored of it.

Without going in to the lacklustre effort Disney put in to correctly portraying the way the British treated the indigenous people of America and their attempt in saying maybe it was all a misunderstanding (it wasn’t) I will instead look at the film as a film. It’s not that much better.

The tone of the film is pretty off with the story of John Smith (Mel Gibson) and Pocahontas (Irene Bedard, and Judy Kuhn providing the singing voice) being whittled down to a conversation or two where they kind of get to know each other, while we find out how boring they both are. The rest of the film shows Pocahontas’ tribe and the British Colonials in a Romeo and Juliet sort of manner where they are both considered to be in the wrong and a sub-plot in which the parts of the story that might go over the heads of children are explained through a dog chasing a racoon. The story can be split almost equally with the ‘love story’ of Pocahontas and John Smith slightly getting some more screen time over Meeko vs Percy. At lease the film isn’t slow. Watching the 82 minute film doesn’t feel like a trial or anything, it skips through the story beats reasonably well with out losing too much momentum during the musical numbers.

The even more uninteresting supporting cast included the voices of Christian Bale as Thomas, David Ogden Stiers as Governor Ratcliffe and his manservant Wiggins, Russell Means as Chief Powhatan, Linda Hunt as Grandma Willow (I know I haven’t talked about the talking tree), Michele St. John as Nakoma, James Apaumut Fall as Kocoum and Joe Baker and Billy Connolly as two settlers, everytime Billy speaks it pulls you out of the movie – something these older films were not known to do as much as nowadays. Good on all these people for being in a film. Also a quick shout out to the two directors; Mike Gabriel (who had previously co-directed The Rescuers Down Under) and Eric Goldberg (who went on to direct parts of Fantasia 2000).

Disney had planned for Pocahontas to be their next Best Picture Academy Award winning film, it failed in that regard but they did pick up two for Best Original Song (Colors of the Wind) and Best Musical or Comedy Score. They tried to cater to as wide an audience as possible and ended up creating something that appealed to no one. It’s visual gags from the side characters aren’t enough to distract from the boring love story between two dull and undeveloped characters.

Rating: Below Average

Tangled – Review

To preface why I’m reviewing Tangled: This year, 2018, I have set myself a goal to watch and review as many of the 56 (57 by the end of this year with Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2 being released in November) Disney Animation Studios films as I can.

Tangled loosely retells the fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’. A story of a beautiful girl with long magical hair who is locked in a tower and rescued by a prince. In this iteration it is Rapunzel who is royal, a kidnapped princess, who possesses long, blonde, magical hair that can grant youth and heal injuries. She meets a thief whom she convinces to take her out of the tower she has been locked away in so that she can see the world and the floating lanterns she sees one night every year. The film features a few songs but I wouldn’t consider it a musical.

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is an eighteen year old who longs to see the world outside her tower despite what her mother says about it being full of evil. She sees floating lanterns at night every year on her birthday and is convinced that the world cant be all evil. Eugene Fitzherbert, who sometimes goes by the moniker, ‘Flynn Rider’ (Zachery Levi) is a thief who barely scrapes through life while trying to be someone he isn’t. While Flynn Rider wold most likely rat Rapunzel out to the highest bidder it’s Eugene who begins to care for the lost princess. Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is a twisted old woman who after kidnapping Rapunzel uses her to grant herself eternal youth and beauty. Once she discovers Rapunzel has escaped she does anything and everything she can to get her back and reclaim her power. I like these characters, Rapunzel is fun and Eugene can be suave and dorky at the same time but the real stars of this film are the two non-speaking sidekicks, Pascal the Chameleon and Maximus the Horse. Their characters have some much life and depth despite not having a single line but the way the animation is done, these characters steal most of the scenes they are in.

While we’re on the topic of animation style, this film has a nice flowing 3D animation similar to the style they would go on to use in Frozen. The animation of Maximus and the way the horse moved was scaled back a little when creating Sven in a similar style. I preferred the scaling back but I’m sure the way Maximus moved and acted in the film was loved by kids. Tangled was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, both have been working with the company since the late 1990s, the latter of which has co-directed on recent Disney animated features like Bolt and Zootopia.

Tangled is one of my favourites of the ‘Revival’ era of films because of it’s fun and light-hearted approach to adapting a fairy tale.

Rating: Above Average

Wreck-It Ralph – Review

Wreck-It Ralph is a movie produced by Disney Animation Studios that looks and feels like it was produced by Pixar (it even has an animated short before the film starts). Whatever the arm of Disney this film comes from, the film is brilliant.

Wreck-It Ralph is set in Litwack’s Arcade, a simple neighbourhood arcade filled with games from all generations. One game that has stood the test of time in the Arcade is Fix-It Felix Jr. a game that features our titular character, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) wrecking an apartment building and the game’s titular character, Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) (you’ll never see this coming) fixing the building.

When the arcade closes and everybody goes home the game characters can take a well deserved break. Some visit other games like Pac-Man, where Clyde (one of the Pac-Man ghosts) holds the Bad Guy Support Group or Tapper (a bar-tending game from the 80s) where the game characters go to blow off steam. However it’s in the support group that we realise that Wreck-It Ralph, after 30 years of wrecking, has grown tired of being the bad guy and for once in his life, just wants to be appreciated. And so begins Ralph’s search for a medal which he thinks will give him the respect he desires.

Game Jumping through Hero’s Duty (a First-Person-Shooter) and Sugar Rush (a candy-coated racing game) and simply moving through the bustling Game Central Station, Ralph meets many original and classic game characters. The world of the arcade and the way the games are all connected is beautifully constructed. Even the subtleties like the way cake splashes on a wall is done in an 8-bit video-gamey way. I especially liked the way the citizens of Fix-It Felix Jr. moved, with a slight jerkiness you would expect from a game developed in the 80s. The film is also filled with little homages to so many video games its a rights acquisition departments nightmare.

Wreck-It Ralph also has these very cute moments and towards the end of the film you’ve found that you have bonded with these characters so when it comes to the crunch you tend to feel something for them especially the cute brat Venellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who in my opinion stole the show as Ralph’s pseudo side-kick. The other main character, Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun of Hero’s Duty (Jane Lynch, who seems to only be able to play one character these days) I found interesting at times but out of the four protagonists she was my least favourite. Rounding out the cast is King Candy the ruler of Sugar Rush (Brilliantly voiced by Alan Tudyk) as the films main protagonist.

This movie really has a sweet story and loveable characters and despite getting a tad convoluted sometimes, is a perfect film for the whole family. Kids will love the characters and the colour, and the older generations will love the homages to the arcade games from the 80s and 90s. A film definitely worth seeing these school holidays.

Wreck-It Ralph: Above Average