It's sort of interesting to think that there was a point in time when this was the last traditionally animated Disney Animation Studios film until 2009, when 'The Princess and the Frog' revived it, and revived it quite well. But more on that when we get there. I think I'm going to take an opportunity here, however, to recap where we are in the grand scheme of the Disney animation eras. We have gone through the "Golden Age", "Wartime Era", "Silver Age", "Bronze Age" and "Renaissance", thus covering five of the known seven.
With 'Home on the Range', we find ourselves ending this Disney month-long marathon in the midst of the "Post-Renaissance" era, which indeed, includes some of Disney's weakest animated titles. I've discovered that it sort of does a 'Star Trek' think up until this point. 'Fantastia 2000', good, 'Dinosaur', meh, 'New Groove', good, 'Atlantis', meh, and it goes on like that, at least up until this point, which ends us on not only a "meh" title, but one I might actually say is just bad altogether. With most Disney animated movies that I'm not big on, I still give the film the benefit of the doubt, knowing that there might be something about it I'm not getting. But truth told this is one of the lowest-ranked Disney movies of all time. And I have to say, I can see why, but more on that in a bit.
Plot-wise, we go back to 1889, where, on the Dixon Ranch, a wanted cattle rustler named Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) has successfully stolen all of Mr. Dixon's cattle, save for one, Maggie (Roseanne Barr). As a result, Dixon has to sell Maggie to a kindly old woman named Pearl Gesner (Carole Cook) who owns a patch of farmland known as "Patch of Heaven". Now that Maggie's safe and all, Sheriff Sam Brown (Richard Riehle) arrives to inform Pearl that she has three days to pay the bank her debt of $750, or the farm goes up for auction. Overhearing, Maggie suggests that she and the other two cows, the strictly proper Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) and Grace (Jennifer Tilly) head into town to try to win the money to save the farm.
Once there, the cows discover that there may be a better way to obtain the exact amount they need. They notice a bounty hunter named Rico (Charles Dennis) drop a criminal off, collect his bounty and bring his horse for a rest while he takes a new horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who actually idolizes him. Here is where they find out that the bounty on Slim is exactly $750, so the cows figure it would be a good idea to try to get the bounty, themselves, in order to save Patch of Heaven. It sort of ends up becoming a 'Rat Race' type movie between the cows, Rico and honestly, eventually Buck as well. The whole thing might be just fine for any kids to enjoy, but this is not something that crosses into the realm of imagination and creativity that I can appreciate.
The only thing that really holds this movie together for me in any regard is its talented voice cast (although personally, I could always do without Roseanne's voice). We have characters here I haven't mentioned yet like Slim's lackey, Wesley (Steve Buscemi), Jebb the Goat (Joe Flaherty), Audrey the Chicken (Estelle Harris) and quite a few more. Even Patrick Warburton is back here, last seen as Kronk in 'Emperor's New Groove', and arguably one of the best parts about that movie. But alas, a great voice cast is no match for weak writing and a snooze of a plot. But I'm going to be fair enough to mention that the whole Western thing has never really spoken to me, so there will be bias against this one for me, regardless (although I have seen a few that I've enjoyed)
Really though, the overall story is just bland to me, and the film lacks the imagination that has been put into the other films that preceded it, even in this era. I don't know how else to say it but there's just something so extremely basic about this one. It doesn't really seem to gauge any emotions of any sort, and by the end it almost felt like it was representative of Disney almost giving up on their once epic storytelling. A stretch, sure, but by 2004, Pixar had really taken things over in the animation department. So there's always the thought that they just weren't trying because Pixar was doing well enough for them. Soon, such things would eventually get mended... but perhaps not before the next title on the list.
Here, Disney takes another shot at the Native American side of story-telling brought to us by a couple of white dudes from Burlington, Vermont and Toronto, Ontario. Having said that, I can't help but feel that this is, at the very least, more respectful than 'Pocahontas' was. Cards on the table, I have no idea if this is offensive or not when it comes to things like tradition and lack of homework. I do want to be on the right side of things, so feel free to educate me in the comments below. Otherwise, on with the show.
Local tribes in Alaska hold the traditional belief that all creatures, great and small, are created through the Great Spirits, who appear as an aurora (Northern Lights effect) Here, we meet a trio of brothers; the eldest, Sitka (D.B. Sweeney); the middle brother, Denahi (Jason Raize), and youngest and hero of this tale, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix). The time has come for Kenai to receive his totem. In this tribe, they come in the form of a necklace, with a wooden-carved pendant resembling an animal. Each totem represents what they need to achieve to become men - Kenai's is the Bear of Love. He's a little upset about this, and the others poke fun at him for it (only fooling around, not so much bullying), but soon, none of that matters.
When a brown bear steals a basket of salmon, the three brothers pursue her, only to have Sitka meet a dramatic fate. Then, at Sitka's funeral, the other two swear vengeance on the bear. During the hunt, Kenai has a face-to-face encounter with the same bear from earlier. When Kenai just barely manages the kill, however, Sitka's spirit comes along and transforms Kenai into a bear. After this, Kenai is instructed by the tribe shaman, Tanana (Joan Copeland) to find his brother, Sitka in order to be changed back to a human. However, on his journey, he must atone for his actions.
Potential atonement comes in the form of a bear cub name Koda (Jeremy Suarez) who frees him from a trap. The two make a deal that Koda will lead Kenai to where he needs to go as long as Kenai takes Koda to the annual salmon run. As their journey continues, the pair form a brotherly friendship. Soon enough, Kenai begins to learn what it means to be a bear, and a part of that includes humankind being the Boogeyman. It's very much a shoe-on-the-other-foot movie that doesn't entirely teach that killing is wrong, but it allows you to see the other perspective. It's good for people to learn empathy - especially impressionable children. I really think the message of this movie is well laid out. The execution is something I'm a bit iffy on.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I LIKED this movie. I'm only out to try to forewarn of anything that may offend other viewers. As far as this one goes, I'd probably say its the lack of female characters and the almost completely non-native cast of voices (although a huge kudos to bringing Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis in as two extremely Canadian moose reminiscent of their original MacKenzie Brothers skits). For me, my only real criticism is that it does get a little bit preachy with its message, even if it is a good one to teach. It's certainly not gonna be for everyone, but I quite honestly enjoyed myself with this - bearing in mind that I look at things pretty deeply most of the time.
'Treasure Planet' was always a bit of an anomaly to me. Despite a release that (at least among my peers) sort of just came and went, somehow the title 'Treasure Planet' stuck with me as a curiosity. There is the part of me that enjoys the old 'Treasure Island' tale (especially when told by Muppets), so a neat, sci-fi rendering of the story seemed like a cool idea. I did review this a few years ago as well, and not a whole lot has changed.
To simplify the plot completely, it is, exactly, 'Treasure Island' in space. If you are unfamiliar with 'Treasure Island', it's an adventure tale from all the way back to 1881, involving pirates, namely Long John Silver (Brian Murray), a boy named Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and the search for the evil Captain Flint's buried treasure. I know that's extremely simplified, but hey, it's a 140+-year-old story with about a million renditions that you've likely read at some point in school. It's legendary. That said, I have to admit that it seemed to take them long enough to come up with a sci-fi version of the story, because why the hell not? It's in the public domain, go nuts!
When I first reviewed this, I brought up the combination of the overall setting and how distracting it was. The idea is that the mechanics and backdrop are basically advanced technology, but the costume design is that of the pirate age along with the ship they're sailing on. And though I admit it's still a bit weird that Disney didn't go one way or the other on it (entirely traditional or entirely futuristic), it certainly takes nothing away from the film. It's interesting, given Disney's history of retelling tales that it wasn't just traditional. But I do give kudos for being creative. We can't always be purists (at least I can't).
For the most part, I still enjoyed this one, although it's not like it would make the top of my list as far as Disney animation goes. It's good, but being a story we've seen so many times before, it IS unfortunately somewhat forgettable. It keeps the original story alive and well, and we do get to like these characters as we go on this adventure. The key relationship here is the one between Long John and Jim, as they have a sort of mutual respect for one another that plays through the film, even when things go awry (I mean, spoiler alert, but Long John ends up being a double-crossing pirate).
It would feel wrong not to offer up a few more of the talented voices who worked on this. It's easy enough to explain that it's the plot of 'Treasure Island' in space, but several characters lend themselves to the great relationships we see forming throughout the film. Just a few of the more familiar voices include Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia, David Hyde Pierce as Doctor Doppler, Martin Short as B.E.N. and Laurie Metcalf as Sarah Hawkins. And yes, in case you are wondering, a couple of these characters are robots.
Perhaps my true appreciation for the film, however, lies in the fact that it looks so beautiful, using CG to its full advantage, providing us with a sort of grand scale of things. To see this on the big screen probably would have been much more of a treat than on my standard computer screen, streaming a Disney+ feature. In the end, it's a interesting rendition of an age-old classic tale, and it's perfectly fine. The thing of it is, it doesn't stand out in any parituclar way (aside from perhaps the animation of the time), and has since been completely shrouded by the new age of Disney animation, which dates any amount of CG from 2002.
This one falls under the ongoing category of "feel-good" movies in my life. It's one that I haven't seen for a few years prior to this viewing, but it's safe to say that I forgot how much I loved it. This one comes to us from a couple of rather decent names in the realm of animation; Dean DeBlois, heavily responsible for the 'How to Train Your Dragon' series, and Chris Sanders who worked on the stories for 'The Lion King' and 'Aladdin' (both worked on 'Mulan' as well).
'Lilo & Stitch' is a good place for any fans of such titles to see where the roots started, so to speak. As we well know by now, this was the beginning of things, but there would be three sequels to follow, marketing, an animated series, more marketing, and also, marketing. That said, I am a fan of Stitch, and would proudly own something like a Stitch plushie. Of course, Disney's no stranger to that side of things, and it should be known that I've come to accept their mass marketing techniques as long as the stories keep on being good! This is a great example of such a thing where it just works on all sides.
Taking place in Kauaʻi, Hawaii (I have been. If you haven't, you've gotta check it out. It's absolutely beautiful!), we meet a couple of sisters who have been left on their own after their parents were killed in a car crash cliche. Nani Pelekai (Tia Carrere) is a near-20-year-old waitress who struggles to take care of her little sister, Lilo (Daveigh Chase), who lives in her own little world of eccentricity and Elvis music. Lilo's classmates end up ostracizing her, which leads to Nani allowing her to get a dog for herself. While searching the animal shelter, Lilo falls for a rather interesting-looking dog who happens to be Stitch (Chris Sanders).
What the audience knows from the beginning, however, is that Stich is really better known as Experiment 626; a sentient alien "criminal" who's ultimately quite intelligent, but also embraces chaos... like if the Joker was adorable. The creature was created by Dr. Jumba Jookiba (David Ogden Stiers) who eventually comes to Earth looking for him, with the help of his assistant, Earth "expert", Agent Wendell Pleakley (Kevin McDonald). Between Stitch dodging his own capture and causing a mess everywhere he goes, and a social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames), Nani finds herself in the midst of it all. As for Lilo, she's kind of the naive, fun child along for the ride - but that doesn't mean she doesn't learn a thing or two in the process.
Personally speaking, I'd probably put this one up there with 'Emperor's New Groove' as far as its quality. It's pretty laugh-out-loud funny, relying more on being silly and fun than the drama these Disney animated features usually tend to be. I wouldn't say it's my favourite animated Disney film, but it's definitely somewhere well within my "Top 10" (a list I should probably actually make one of these days). It has some fun ideas going for it along with a solid sense of humour, original creature designs, a solid story, and lovable characters. It's a fine example of fun for the whole family, and a new title to seek out for feeling down in the dumps.
I may not have loved this movie, but it's another good example of something I'm gonna end up going against the grain on. It actually surprised me to learn that this movie earned a Rotten Tomato average of 51.5%. To be fair, that's the masses meeting pretty much in the middle, but I definitely thought it would have been ranked a bit higher. Anyway, digressing.
This film marks a pretty good point in time where the visuals of newfound CG animation really show. Stylistically, I feel like whether you like it or not, we can pretty much agree that it's beautifully filmed for 2001. The thing is, this is a CG test title following another CG test title, and a problem is generally presented when the style trumps the substance. And I'll admit that most of what I liked about this was how it all looked along with several characters - a few of whom I really liked. The story is admittedly pretty familiar, but I appreciated the execution.
It all starts when a tsunami hits the city of Atlantis, sinking it, and leaving an abandoned child; Princess Kida behind. She's okay though because the Queen merges with a crystal that creates a protective dome over Atlantis before it sinks. There, the remaining Atlantians live in their lost city for 8,000 years. We then go to 1914 where we meet Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox); a linguist working for the Smithsonian Institution, and a bit of an expert on the Lost City of Atlantis. He is interviewed and recruited by millionaire Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney) to decipher the Shephard's Journal, which is said to contain directions to the Lost City.
Milo joins the expedition, along with a handful of colourful and mostly likable characters. Commander Rourke (James Garner) leads the expedition which also consists of the badass Helga Sinclaire (Claudia Christian), demolitions expert, Vinny (Don Novello), geologist, Molière (Corey Burton), medical officer, Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris), mechanic, Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), radio operator, Mrs. Packard (Florence Stanley) and chef, Cookie (Jim Varney). Following a traumatic struggle, the group do eventually get to Atlantis and meet Kida (Cree Summer), her father (Leonard Nimoy) and a handful of others. However, as Milo thinks they're there to discover and explore, the team may or may not have different plans.
Admittedly, the whole thing does come off as the typical 'Avatar' plot (with a twist or two), but much like 'Avatar', I can still appreciate this in its execution. I kind of wish I took the time to check this out upon its initial release. I think I could have had fun with this one on the big screen, considering how smooth and clean the CG action scenes are. But while I may have enjoyed it for what it was, I can see where a lot of the criticisms come from. Even I had a bit of a problem with how overly animated Milo's character seemed. I love Michael J Fox, but something about Milo just kinda bugged me. Other than that though, my criticisms of this are limited enough that it still gets a pass. If you ask me, it's kind of underrated.
After the laggy, somewhat disappointing 'Dinosaur', Disney managed to come back strong with a film that reminds us of how fun Disney can still be. Unfortunately for yours truly, I was still in a bit of a phase of not caring too much about animation, so this was one of the bunch of Disney flicks I missed out on in theaters.
It wasn't until a few friends started throwing quotes around from it in high school that I got curious. These quotes were always giving me a good chuckle, so I finally decided to rent it when it was fresh on video, and check it out (back when you could still do that). Lo and behold, I actually loved it, and I was kind of surprised at how much I did. It was refreshing to see Disney put its magic in the background and bring its comedy forward.
We meet a selfish, spoiled, power-abusing brat named Kuzco (David Spade), who happens to be the Incan Emperor. He spends his days talking down to people and being an overall egotistical jerk. He calls on the village leader, Pacha (John Goodman), to tell him that he plans to build a summer mansion in his village called "Kuzcotopia". He also fires his advisor, Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and her bumbling assistant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton). Yzma plans to revenge kill him with some poison, but, Kronk manages to mess up the mixture, turning Kuzco into a llama instead.
Eventually, Kuzco ends up in Pacha's care, mistaken for one of his llamas. Demanding to be led back to his palace, Pacha agrees to escort him, under the condition that he doesn't follow through with his summer home plans. Meanwhile, Yzma finds out that the assassination on Kuzco didn't go as planned, so she and Kronk set out to find him and finish the job. The big takeaway from this seems to be the aspect of teamwork, whether you're looking at Kuzco's dealings with Pacha or Yzma's dealings with Kronk.
While Kuzco and Pacha have to learn to work together to some pretty comedic results, for me, the best laughs come from Yzma and Kronk. Yzma just seems to try too hard, but Kronk's idiotic ways always result in her suffering somehow - be it cartoonish physical assault ("WRONG LEVEERR!") or just pure inconvenience ("It's called a 'cruel irony', like my dependence on you"). It's so very refreshing to see the villain be comedic again for the first time in a long time. It's almost like they gave Cruella DeVille a long-lost sister... or at least a distant relative, considering time frames.
I was very happy to see that this time around, the comedy didn't really wear thin like I thought it might. It has been quite a few years since I last saw it, so this viewing brought a bit of nostalgia to the table as well. It remains one of my Disney animation studio favourites, but in a different sort of way. This is one of few examples I can think of that just brings pure fun to the table, and there's nothing all too serious going on here. It's a comedy far before it's a drama of any kind, and that's, to say it yet again, refreshing!
This may take the cake for the boldest statement I've said on this blog, but here it goes... Of the entirety of the Disney animated movies out there that I have seen, this is, hands down, the single most unimpressive and forgettable product they've ever cranked out. At the time of its release, I saw it in theaters and remember being thoroughly impressed with how solid the animation was. But that's really all it had going for it. Otherwise, things were pretty basic, and it took from a bunch of other stuff.
As time went on between then and now, I've never really given 'Dinosaur' a second thought. As a matter of fact, I damn near almost forgot it even existed at one point. So many modern classics have popped up in the Disney library since, so it has been very easy to get sidetracked. It does honestly make me wonder how many are reading this who are pretty much in the same boat. This is one of those movies that came and went and no one paid much attention to it. However, it was respectfully Disney's big "animation show-off" feature of its time. For 2000, this looked pretty amazing.
The film hits the ground running, quite literally, as a Carnotaurus burst onto the scene, looking for a meal. The Carno wrecks an Iguanodon nest, sending a lone egg on a journey to an area inhabited by prehistoric lemurs. A family of lemurs adopts the small dino, and once hatched, they name him Aladar (D.B. Sweeney). The family, consisting of father, Yar (Ossie Davis), daughter, Plio (Alfre Woodard), and granddaughter, Suri (Hayden Panettiere), take Aladar in as one of their own, and Al grows alongside Suri over the years.
During a lemur mating ritual (yes, you read that right), in which Plio's brother, Zini (Max Casella) fails, a meteor suddenly strikes the Earth, which wipes out the island of this lemur "orgy", forcing Aladar and the rest of the lemur family to flee to the mainland. The family eventually runs into a herd of displaced dinosaurs heading for the communal Nesting Ground. This herd is led by another Iguanodon named Kron (Samuel E. Wright); your average egotistical not-good but not-bad jerk character, who sends the family to the back of the line.
There, they befriend an old Styracosaurus named Eema (Della Reese) along with her dog-like Ankylosaurus, Url, and her Brachiosaurus friend Baylene (Joan Plowright). Eventually, there is also tension between Aladar and Kron when Kron's sister, Neera (Julianna Margulies), comes into the picture. All the while, travel continues and results in a movie about Dinosaurs trying to get to some kind of (almost) paradise while having to duck and dodge predators and undergoing real-life, relatable situations. Does that sound familiar to anyone? A Don Bluth movie that gave Disney some stiff competition when it ran alongside 'Oliver & Company'?
Anyway, it will come as no surprise watching this today that, overall, it's pretty underwhelming. For its time, the CG animation was a little bit ground-breaking. When you look at this and consider 'Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within' (the film I personally consider to be the leap from full-length "cartoonish" CG to full-length "realistic" CG) being released a year later, it's easy to see what the big-screen draw may have been when this first came out. But I daresay it has faded into obscurity as nothing really more than a stepping stone for animation. Other Disney titles surround its future and past as much more memorable classics we've grown to love. I'm sure this one has its audience, but I can't say I'm one of them. I'll stick to 'The Land Before Time'.
Whether it's your cup of tea or not, 'Fantasia' has gone down in cinematic history as one of Disney's big gems. Despite all of the controversial issues that lie within, it does still do a fine job of combining its animation with a great selection of classical music from classical artists. I personally loved it, so I looked forward to giving its sequel my first watch for this review; nice and fresh. This launches the "Post-Renaissance" era; the 6th, and last before the present "Revival" era.
Typically, a Disney animated sequel would be sent straight to video at this point in time. It's still pretty untypical, as (correct me if I'm wrong) I think 'Frozen II' is the only one that managed to pull it off besides this. But truth be told, a sequel was in the works for quite some time, but there was some doubt about audience interest. That is until the 1991 home video release of the original 'Fantasia' started setting things back into motion for the development of this great sequel. Eventually, this would finally come along, approximately 60 years after the original.
Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven: A similar sort of opening act to the original is introduced by Deems Taylor (musical advisor for the original) through some archived audio recordings. This one uses geometric shapes of both vibrant colours to represent butterflies, and black to represent bats, telling a basic story of light conquering the darkness. It was interesting, and I appreciated the artistic style. But it's soon overshadowed by a bunch of whales, and ends up almost being forgettable. 3/5
Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi: Introduced by Steve Martin and Itzhak Perlman., this one was probably my favourite of this collection. It features a family of humpback whales with the ability to fly and tells the short story of a mother's love for her calf. This is just an all-around beautiful piece and makes me think of something from a dream. I'm an absolute sucker for this kind of wondrous atmosphere, and it sort of reminds you of what Disney magic is supposed to look like. 5/5
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin: Introduced by Quincy Jones and pianist Ralph Grierson, this one takes inspiration from 30's caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. The segment is also set in the 30s, in New York City. It follows four separate characters whose stories coincide, as they all wish for something "more" than what they have. I really liked the jazzy concept of this whole segment in both the music and the animation style. It's almost like a love letter to 1930s urban culture, and provides a feel-good atmosphere by its conclusion. 4/5
Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 by Dmitri Shostakovich: Introduced by Bette Midler featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman, this one features the music playing overtop of an animated rendition of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier". It's fun, and the animation really sticks out, providing a neat little adventure with an ending much happier than the original story. 4/5
The Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnival des Animaux), Finale by Camille Saint-Saëns: This is far from my favourite segment, but it definitely has my favourite intro of the film by James Earl Jones. The segment portrays a flock of flamingos and the "odd duck" among them. His interest in a yo-yo distracts him from proper flock activities. It's cute, but nothing really stands out about it. 3/5
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas: Introduced by Penn & Teller, this classic and most popular segment is brought back for another go. This one depicts Mickey Mouse as Sorcerer Yen Sid's apprentice. He attempts to use magic to make a clean-up job easier, but it gets completely out of hand. This is and will forever be a total classic. I gave it 5 once, and I'll give it 5 again. 5/5
Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 by Edward Elgar: Composer James Levine along with Mickey Mouse introduces this one. Donald and Daisy Duck are featured in a rendition of the 'Noah's Ark' story from the 'Book of Genesis'. Donald is tasked with gathering the animals and loading them two by two, begging the question of why Donald and Daisy don't count as the two ducks on the ark. Anyway, between the song that everyone hears at graduation, and the story about Noah's Ark, I kind of just felt like I was in class. 3/5
Firebird Suite—1919 Version by Igor Stravinsky: Angela Lansbury introduces the final and certainly one of the best segments of the film. It features an elk and a sprite who accidentally awakens a fire spirit. The segment is about the cycle of life, death and renewal, and is a pretty solid closer to this when compared to the original's 'Night on Bald Mountain', which was very similar. 5/5
The only thing I found truly a bit odd about this experience was its length. While the original clocks in at just over two hours, this is just 1 hour and 15 minutes. When Lansbury said that it was time for the final segment, I had wondered if I was watching some edited version. It doesn't really take away from the experience, but it does make it feel like more of a Disney Sunday Night Special as opposed to a full-fledged 'Fantasia' sequel. Still though, I'm very glad I watched it, because a few segments really stuck out for me, providing a pretty grand experience despite its length.
Here we have the final title of the Renaissance era, and I'm happy to say that this particular era does end on a strong note. This is one of the few films on my Disney Catch-Up list that I haven't seen before now as well. One thing I appreciate with titles like these as opposed to something like 'Mulan' or 'Pocahontas' is that it's a Disney take on a work of fiction, and not something based on a true story.
I went into this expecting something a sort of cross, in atmosphere between 'The Jungle Book' and 'The Lion King' and... well, I have to admit that I pretty well got what I expected. I'm not sure this would land on an all-time favourites list, but I definitely enjoyed it for what it was, and I can't say that critically, I had any real problems with it. I thought it was charming and that there was even a bit more maturity to it than some other titles in the era. It's definitely a good way for Disney to cap off the century, as we are now in good old 1999.
The film opens a little over a century ago, where we see tragedy befall two separate families, both at the hands of a leopard known as Sabor. The first family is a British couple and their baby son, who get shipwrecked and forced to go all Swiss Family Robinson. Off-screen, the parents are killed, leaving the baby all alone. If that's not enough, not too far away, a mother gorilla named Kala (Glenn Close) ends up losing her baby as well. Eventually, Kala happens on the treehouse built by the human couple and finds the infant, only to bring it back to the troop and raise it as her own. Yeah, the opening is a lot. But it does get much better.
As Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn/Alex D. Linz) grows up, he befriends various other animals; namely Terk (Rosie O'Donnell), a young female gorilla with a bit of attitude, and Tantor (Wayne Knight), an elephant that walks on the worried side. He's otherwise picked on for being different, even by the troop's leader, Kerchak (Lance Henriksen). There's a bit of a spoiler if I get into how, but eventually, Tarzan does earn the respect of his troop just before a trio of humans come waltzing in - Professor Archimedes Q. Porter (Nigel Hawthorne), his daughter, Jane (Minnie Driver), and their escort and pro hunter, Clayton (Brian Blessed).
The humans are there to study gorillas in their natural habitat, but soon enough, Jane stumbles across Tarzan, and the rest is relatively predictable. as Clayton eventually takes interest in Tarzan for the wrong reasons, whereas Porter is interested in him on a scientific level. As for Jane, she finds him fascinating, and it probably also helps that the dude is as buff as all hell. I make it sound like it's some sort of par for the course story, and in some ways it is. But one can appreciate some of the execution of this all the same. For example, I appreciated that it didn't make Tarzan out to be some dummy so much as he's just a stranger to the world. I also appreciated some of the musical selections throughout the film, making it both fun and heartwarming - even if 'You'll be in My Heart' has been played out.
I can't help but feel, upon leaving this, that it's something I would have loved if it was somewhere closer to 'Aladdin' in its timing. By 1999 I was kind of ignorant to the whole Disney animation thing, and it was "kids stuff" - as opposed to now, where I'm damn near 40 and appreciating the stories animation can tell, and the characters it can develop. Like I said earlier, this was a pretty solid title to cap the century off with, considering it's a story that goes back as far as 1912! Something about that just feels right. I'm glad I finally checked it out, and might not mind a re-watch or two in the future.
Although I pretty well consider the Disney Renaissance era "my era" (especially between 'Little Mermaid' and 'Lion King'), the latter part of it wasn't something I paid much attention to. I had simply outgrown it and moved on with other things. It wouldn't be until much later that I'd finally watch 'Mulan' for this very site just a couple of years ago. So this is a bit of a rewrite, as I think my opinion has changed on it quite a bit.
Plot-wise, we are introduced to a young lady named Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen). As a woman of the time, she gets stuck with old traditions and is brought up to be "proper". However, she's not quite into it, and she longs for something more. In a somewhat refreshing change of pace from other Disney movies, however, a man isn't really part of her "something more". She wants to find her life's purpose and fulfill it, and that's really all there is to it. In that case, this is a stand-out for Disney, making their female protagonist much more about herself than "finding true love".
Back to the story, after the Huns, led by our story's villain, Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) breach the Great Wall of China, the Chinese Emperor (Pat Morita) calls on one man from each family to join the Chinese army. When the Fa family is called upon, Mulan's father, Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh) volunteers. However, he's a little on the elderly side, and Mulan protests to him going into battle, being as frail as he is. She then takes matters into her own hands, and sets out on her own, dressed as a boy, so as not to bring "shame" on her family. In other words, yeah, women going to war was unheard of here.
Along her journey, Mulan befriends a helpful dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy) and a band of soldiers, who provide a lot of comedy relief throughout the film. In my opinion, they are the best part of it. As far as Mulan's character, I give credit to Disney giving us a stronger female character, and she's all in all likable. I criticized her character a bit for sinking into the background a little too much on my last review. But now I wonder if that lends itself more to the whole concept of her being the underdog here. After watching the live-action version and then coming back to this, I have to say that it's now confirmed that I like her overall journey here a bit more.
Going back to what I said in the 'Mulan 2020' review, I suggest that this feels like a story about someone trying to prove themselves in a society that won't have it. In this case, Mulan is a woman out to prove herself in a man's world, but the story could potentially appeal to anyone of any sort of "minority" status. It's about proving one's self. The live-action version leans a little more towards the equal rights aspect of things and feels a little more heavy-leaning on Mulan's role as a woman. In fairness, both are decently told, and you get what you need to out of them both. However, there's not much of an "underdog" feel to the live-action film in comparison to this, so I tend to lean towards this a bit more.
I do appreciate that, especially for the time, they gave us a genuine heroine instead of just another princess. Here we have a girl who breaks the rules of her society and goes to war so that her father can continue living. The love here is for her father and her family name, not some sort of Prince Charming character, and it's honestly pretty refreshing. When you really think about it, this was pretty powerful stuff for the time, and I'm pretty happy to say that over the years it has grown on me (especially after the live-action wasn't quite as good).
The animation is nice, the sets are nice, the "suit-up" montage is pretty damn sweet, and the songs take a sort of a different step from the typical mix. I know there's some controversy in certain songs like "I'll Make a Man Out of You", and some historical inaccuracies, much like with 'Pocahontas'. But for whatever reason, I find these things more forgivable here - possibly because the point to the story overshadows these things. That said, there could always be a thing or two that I'm missing. So I'll take the animated over the live-action here, but at the end of the day, while still good, neither are movies I rush back to for a re-watch.
Here's one from the Renaissance era that I've actually never seen until this viewing. It's a fine example of a movie I would tell people I've never seen, only to have their jaws hit the floor in shock and awe. This one in particular has several reasons as to why it's a shock that I ever missed it. For one, it's Disney Renaissance animation, which may or may not be my overall favourite era. But more to the point, I enjoy Greek mythology, and it was less in the realm of something like 'Beauty and the Beast' and more in the realm of 'Aladdin'.
The thing is, this was out in '97, and by then, I was sadly well into "high school thinking", and kind of over Disney animation, considering it to be "for kids". By then, I was a little more into action movies and various raunchy comedies both on TV and the big screen (not the least of which ended up being 'South Park', which aired the same year). But why I never went back to it after I grew up and realized there's more to animation than just being kid's movies is anyone's guess. It ended up on a long list of movies to see, but for whatever reason, it was never near the top. I think some of that had to do with knowing that things would just end up inaccurate as far as the mythology of Hercules went.
However, I did go into this with an open mind. After all, this has been recommended to me for years now, and plenty of internet memes featuring various characters have had me curious. So, I went into this much like one would have gone into a 'Harry Potter' movie - separate the movie from the story, and treat it as its own thing. It's probably a good thing I did, but in the end, it seemed sort of 50/50 with how accurate it was. And I also give it leeway, as it needs to be a little more family friendly. I mean, it's Disney animation, and it's not like the story is inaccurate in a real sense, like it was with 'Pocahontas'.
We open in Ancient Greece where we meet proud, new parents, Zeus (Rip Torn) and Hera (Samantha Eggar), along with their newborn son, Hercules. While Hercules' birth is celebrated among the Gods, Hades (James Woods) has plans to overthrow Zeus and take over Mount Olympus. Hades addresses the three fates; Lachesis (Carole Shelley), Clotho (Amanda Plummer) and Atropos (Paddi Edwards), and they tell him that he'll ultimately be successful, as in eighteen years, the planets will align, and he will be able to free the Titans who will want revenge on Zeus for trapping them in Tartarus. The catch is, if Hercules interferes, he won't be successful.
A plan to kill Hercules is nearly carried out when Hades' minions, Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer, respectively) are sent to feed baby Herc a potion that will strip him of his immortality. However, the potion isn't fully drank, so Herc becomes mortal, but maintains his God-like powers of strength. He gets rid of Pain and Panic in their attempt to kill him, and he is taken in and raised by human farmers, Amphitryon (Hal Holbrook) and his wife Alcmene (Barbara Barrie). Growing up, he becomes an outcast due to his super strength (which makes no sense to me, but there it is), and can't help but wonder where it is he came from. Soon, he turns to a statue of Zeus for answers, and all is revealed.
Zeus informs Hercules that in order to regain his place among the Gods, he must become a "true hero". He is then sent to train with a Satyr named Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), who sooner goes by the name "Phil", and has trained the best known heroes like Odysseus, Perseus, and Theseus. Along for his journey, Herc is also given Pegasus; his long lost childhood pet. Eventually, the pair run into Megara (Susan Egan); a woman unfortunately indebted to Hades, and whom Hades uses for his advantage against Herc, who happens to be smitten with her. If Hades plays his cards right, he may just be successful in overtaking Olympus. The question is, what does it really take for Hercules to become a "true hero" and stop hades in his tracks?
In the end, I have to admit that those who recommended this to me were mostly right when it came to my enjoyment of it. There were a few things here and there I called out, but it was never enough to ruin things for me. Regardless of mythical inaccuracies, it's still a lot of fun, and I really liked Hades as a villain, although I'm not sure he quite has Jafar dethroned for yours truly. This was one where the songs didn't fully stand out to me, either. There was nothing bad about them, but they didn't stick with me for whatever reason. So, in the end, I enjoyed it, but it didn't quite have the wow factor I thought it might have.
The last time I saw this was when it was originally released on video, so truth be told, this viewing made for a whole new experience. When I was younger, watching this, I remember not liking it so much because it was "too musical". In fact, I seem to recall fast-forwarding all of the musical numbers and establishing that any non-singing sequences amounted to only about 15 minutes or so (at least, that's how I remember it).
At the time, I was used to these movies being musical, but having the songs be a fun piece of things as opposed to overtaking the entire film. However, I was also just not in the right frame of mind back then. Nowadays, I have to appreciate that this is meant to be a full-on musical rendition of the tale of Quasimodo - the Hunchback of Notre Dame. What's even more interesting is that this opens up very unexplored territory for Disney animation in looking at classic "horror". I could see something very similar to this arising from 'Phantom of the Opera' or 'The Invisible Man' as they are now Public Domain.
Moving on, however, 'Hunchback' begins in 1462, Paris. A group of Gypsies, carrying a deformed baby, are ambushed by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) and his band of soldiers as they are trying to sneak into the city, illegally. Frollo snatches the child, assuming it's stolen goods, and is shocked at the "monstrosity" of a baby. In the process, he manages to kill the child's mother, and as a result is made to atone for his sin by taking in the child, and caring for him. Frollo names the child "Quasimodo" (or "Half-Formed"), and hides him in Notre Dame Cathedral's bell tower.
Twenty years pass, and Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) grows into a young man who lives his solitary life, making friends with the gargoyles, Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes). The trio tries to convince Quasimodo to go to the annual Festival of Fools and have some fun for once in his life, despite Frollo's warnings of how he'd be treated. He does attend, and is even celebrated for his appearance, until a riot breaks out, started by one of Frollo's guards. Things escalate, but soon, Quasimodo is helped by the lovely Esmerelda (Demi Moore) who is probably my favourite unofficial Disney Princess. She stands up for the little guy, she can really hold her own in a fight, and she's loaded with confidence.
After all this, Esmerelda and Quasimodo flee to the Cathedral together, where they are pursued by Frollo's new guard, Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) who is quite struck by Esmerelda and refuses to arrest her, telling Frollo she has claimed sanctuary within the church. Without going into too much further detail, we end up with three dudes who have feelings for Esmerelda. Quasimodo sees her as a wonderful person, Phoebus sees her as a love interest, and Frollo actually tries to fend off his full on lust for her. This lust drives Frollo to need to destroy her in order to "break her spell on him", on account of her being a Gypsy in the year 1482.
I actually appreciate the musical that it is, as compared to the earlier Renaissance movies. It feels a bit like a Broadway deal, and each song sets the mood to great effect - especially between the opening number and 'Hellfire', Frollo's villain song. But while I can appreciate the film for what it is, I have to say that it's still not exactly in my "favourites" category. I think that there's still that part of me that thinks things are a bit too musical here, and maybe even a bit too serious for the kids. And all of that is fine, it's just not entirely my cup of tea when it comes to Disney Animation. It's a film that has my full respect for its attempt at trying something newish, but it's no 'Lion King'!
I would generally begin a lot of Disney animation reviews with fair warning that anything bordering on controversial wouldn't be paid attention to. I'm into these movies mostly for good story, solid characters, and hey, maybe even a good song or two (especially with 'Aladdin' and 'Lion King'). But this is... different. The thing about Pocahontas as that it's the first of these to be based on a true story... very loosely.
I won't go into all the dirty details of everything, but let's just say this movie does real world history quite a bit of injustice. It's bothersome, because the movie's message is rather positive, and its heart is in the right place. The execution, however, teaches kids something far different than what the history books give us. I'm not gonna sit here and go paragraph after paragraph on it, but just Google the real story and you'll see what I'm talking about. This isn't like getting a fairy tale right or wrong, as Disney has done up to this point.
In the Disney version, however, we open in 1607 with a group of English settlers, sailing from London to the New World aboard the ship, the Susan Constant. The crew is lead by Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers); a greedy settler on the lookout for lots of gold and heightened status. Here, we also meet Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson) who rescues a young crewmate named Thomas (Christian Bale) from drowning during a rough storm. Soon enough, they reach the mainland, Ratcliffe claims Jamestown, and the crew get digging. Meanwhile, Smith goes off to explore, only to stumble upon the lovely local Native, Pocahontas (Irene Bedard).
Pocahontas and Smith end up sharing, bonding, etc. and fall for each other. This is much to the dismay of her father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means) and future husband of her arranged marriage, Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall) and, before you know it, tension between the settlers and natives rise very quickly and... yeah, it's 'Avatar', it's 'Dances with Wolves', it's 'Fern Gully', it's basically just Disney's execution of that particular story. It's a tale about two very different groups of people, their misunderstandings about each other, and nature vs mankind's evil ways always plays a huge part.
By this time I was 12, going on 13, and 'Toy Story' was a hell of a lot more interesting that summer than this for yours truly. At this point, I had kind of hung up my Disney hat and moved onto my Pixar hat (which, let's face it, is just a different kind of Disney hat)- following them very closely to this day, ever since. Disney animation, however, took a long break from my interest level, starting here. 'The Lion King' was kind of the cherry on top of these movies for me though, and I have to admit, I still don't feel like I missed a whole lot of greatness... but we'll see.
The interesting thing to note right now is that, starting with this, I have never seen the rest of the Disney Renaissance movies ('Pocahontas' to 'Tarzan') except 'Hunchback' and 'Mulan'; each of which I think I've only seen through once. So I'm going into all of the last parts of this relatively fresh. But getting back on track, I gotta say, I really just did not like this movie. It's another one, much like 'Peter Pan', where the whole time watching it, I felt awkward and cringey. It's something I really don't think they could get away with today; at least as far as an execution that tosses the word "savages" around so much there's a whole song about it.
I will give the movie a bit of leeway on its overall message that it's trying to convey (again, the same as 'Avatar', 'Fern Gully' etc.), and I have to admit that the song 'Colours of the Wind' is a solid take on the things mankind takes for granted - especially in nature. I personally thing the whole "true story" idea is just a mistake for Disney to begin with, as there's just too much controversy behind it - even if 'Mulan' is still a great movie. In 'Mulan', however, she's a strong woman trying to do what's right. Pocahontas here still felt like a relatively weak character, even if her spirit was strong. In the end, it's simply not strong enough to follow 'The Lion King' or 'Aladdin'. I mean, to each their own, but I might recommend checking out the true story first.
I think if I had a favourite animated Disney movie, it would be this one, plain and simple. While a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's from my past, and therefore provides nostalgia, there's so much more to it. It's one of the first movies I can remember successfully hitting every note with me as far as emotions go. I laughed, I cried, I felt hope, I felt dread. It's really just a wonderful story that some say is more of a present-day 'Hamlet'.
I went to the theater to check this out when I was 11, going on 12, and have held it close to my heart ever since. Sometimes you come across a movie that gets into your being so deeply that you honestly can't wait to see it again. This could have been the first time that really happened for me. There was a certain success Disney had with this one in delivering the magic - and it doesn't stop at the amazing animalistic animation, either. The songs are great, the characters are likable (and voiced by quite the all-star cast), and the overall story is really quite moving.
The film opens with the world's most culturally significant sunrise as we see all of the animals of the Pride Lands of Africa gather to celebrate Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick), the newborn lion cub of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sirabi (Madge Sinclair). Presenting him to the kingdom in that famous scene is shaman and advisor, a mandrill named Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), who isn't in this a ton, but does end up playing an important part in Simba's development. Simba eventually grows a little, and Mufasa explains the Circle of Life to him (this is where I also learned about it) as well as his responsibilities when he becomes king.
Meanwhile, Mufasa's brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons) ends up being a bit of a "Loki" about things, and wants the throne for himself. He hopes to achieve this with the help of his hyena sidekicks, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin) and Ed (Jim Cummings). Of course, most know the tragedy that this leads to by now, but spoiler alert anyway; it all eventually leads to Mufasa's murder, Simba's exile, and Scar taking over the throne as next in line. Why do the hyenas help this lion? Well, he pretty much just promises them sustenance, and that's reason enough.
The question is, however, will Simba come back to resume his responsibilities as rightful king? Or will he just chill with his new homies, Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella)? And although that's the film in a nutshell, a couple more characters worth mentioning are Simba's best friend, Nala (Niketa Calame-Harris/Moira Kelly), who plays a big influence on Simba, and Mufasa's majordomo, comic relief character, Zazu the hornbill (Rowan Atkinson). Altogether, this cast makes a pretty great balance between serious and comical with their characters, and it's nice to see a variety of comedy relief rather than just one character.
There's not a whole lot more to say about this one, but I think it will keep that "favourite" title for quite some time, all things considered. It's funny, but even after watching the incredibly animated remake, I thought that was actually dull in comparison to how much this one pops. Songs like 'Hakuna Matata' and 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' are catchy and fun, but Scar also has 'Be Prepared' for something dark, and we can't leave out Elton John - most famous for his songs 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' and 'The Circle of Life'. The film provides a wonderful balance of everything, and still totally holds up to this day. It's one I never mind checking out again.
When we last left off with my Disney Catch-Up, we were just delving into the wonderful era that I grew up with, the Disney Renaissance. We continue with one of my personal favourites, 'Aladdin'. Now, before I delve into things, let me just mention that I'm not about to get into any racial whatnot, as when I viewed this as a kid, it was all about the lovable characters and story.
Back when I first saw this at the age of 10, I was happy to see what looked like it was going to be a real adventure story, rather than a lovey-dovey story. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but after 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Little Mermaid', I was ready for another 'Rescuers Down Under'. Now, for as much as I love 'Down Under', it was 'Aladdin' that definitely became my go-to Disney adventure story. And the funny thing? They snuck in a whole new lovey-dovey story anyway!
The film opens with a merchant who tells us our story, taking place in the city of Agrabah; City of mystery, enchantment, and the finest merchandise this side of the river Jordan! Royal Vizier, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), along with his sidekick parrot, Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) seeks a magical lamp that dwells in the secret Cave of Wonders. However, the only one who can enter the cave is the "diamond in the rough", Aladdin (Scott Weinger); a homeless thief (only really stealing to eat) with mad parkour skills.
In the meantime, Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) is upset about having an arranged marriage to a prince, rather than the idea of marrying for love. Her father, the Sultan (Douglas Seale) has to reluctantly pressure her as well, as she "must" do it by her next birthday. This makes her escape the palace to get out into the world (at least for a while) where she bumps into an instantly smitten Aladdin, and his sidekick monkey Abu (Frank Welker). Long story short, there's a misunderstanding, and Aladdin is thrown in jail where he unknowingly meets Jafar.
Jafar makes a deal with Aladdin - he'll secure his freedom if Aladdin goes lamp spelunking for him. Aladdin agrees, but during the mission gets betrayed by Jafar, who thinks he manages to get the lamp. Abu manages to grab it last minute, but now, Aladdin and Abu are stuck in the cave with a magic carpet, and of course, the Genie (Robin Williams) who emerges from the lamp, and promises Aladdin three wishes, but with three simple rules - no killing, no bringing anyone back from the dead, and no making people fall in love. Aladdin's one true wish is to be with Jasmine, however, so he's gonna have to figure something out.
So, while much of the story is all about Aladdin trying to get with Jasmine, that's not what I'd say highlights the movie in any way. For me, you have three big deals going on here. One, the Genie is one of the best Disney sidekicks ever, and has one of the catchiest songs ever. Two, Jafar is one of these villains who's out for pure power, and it leads to some pretty badass animation during the film's climax; also, probably my all-time fave Disney villain. And three, I fully appreciate that this is a pretty wild adventure and a love story all at once, proving Disney can make a movie for everyone (well, almost everyone). To this day, one of my personal favourites of the Disney library.
Okay, so it's time for me to finally put all my cards on the table when it comes to 'Beauty and the Beast'. I've been sort of back and forth on this one, but I think I've finally decided that this is another case of a solid flick that ultimately has my respect for what it is, but it has never really been one for me. It's enjoyable, sure, but of my "Renaissance Bubble" I grew up with and really paid attention to ('Little Mermaid' to 'Lion King') this was probably the one I got the least out of. To be blunt, it's simply the whole romance aspect of things. This is just the type of movie that isn't necessarily up my alley.
With that said, I don't deny its history-making success. It was some of the first real use of CG in animation, we hit a mild milestone with Belle being the fifth official Disney Princess, the songs are admittedly pretty great, and the live-action version still remains a high-ranking title for box office success largely due to peoples' fondness of this original. I would probably even argue that nowadays this particular title marks the quintessential 'Beauty and the Beast' story as opposed to anything classically written or filmed - grown to have a more child-friendly tone like so many of Grimm's fairy tales. This is not to say the classic story is no good, it's just that when I say the title 'Beauty and the Beast' to you, chances are, this is the one that pops into your head first, even if it's the version you don't necessarily like.
In this version, we begin with some backstory where an enchantress disguised as a beggar seeks shelter from a storm. She offers a cruel prince a rose in exchange for this, but he snubs her. This is where she reveals her true self, and puts a curse on the prince for his arrogance, transforming him into the Beast (Robby Benson) and his servants into different objects. The enchantress then casts a spell on the rose, warning the prince that the curse can only be lifted if he stops being a jerk. If he can love and be loved in return before the last petal of the rose falls, everything goes back to normal. If not, the curse remains permanent.
Fast-forward several years, and in a nearby village we are introduced to the beautiful Belle (Paige O'Hara) - the book-obsessed daughter of an inventor named Maurice (Rex Everhart), who has dreams of adventure. She's ever on the avoidance of a brute named Gaston (Richard White) who is all about marrying Belle for her good looks and not a whole lot more. One day, Maurice heads into the woods towards a fair in order to show off his latest invention, but gets himself lost, and imprisoned in the Beast's castle for trespassing. This of course eventually leads to Belle seeking out her father, and eventually crossing paths with the Beast, trading herself as prisoner for her father. As a result, some might say Belle gets a mad case of Stockholm Syndrom. But the idea is that she shows the Beast what it is to love someone beyond their beauty, making Beast and Gaston contrast really quite well.
Of course, Belle isn't quite about the Beast from the get-go either. She gets a little nudge from the aforementioned cursed household items; namely a teapot and a teacup respectively named Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), and her son, Chip (Bradley Pierce), a clock named Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and of course everyone's favourite host, the candle, Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) who performs 'Be Our Guest'; the sequence I enjoy the most on a personal level between both this and the live-action film. It does make you wanna pull up a chair and dig in - but then, maybe that's just me.
Anyway, the movie is ultimately about finding the beauty within, it's a romance, and for the most part not completely for yours truly. But once again, I can't deny its success, and it has my respect. It was history-making in a few ways. Other than the use of CG (namely for the dancefloor sequence), it was also the first animated film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and wouldn't be followed up until 'Up' in 2009'. It didn't win, but to have the nomination was quite a shocker to most. This ends up being a movie I meet very much in the middle. While it's not really for me, I still have no problem watchin it if someone else really wants to. It's not without its charm, but for me, it would be the next two titles that I'd really take away from my childhood. That, however, will have to wait until my next Disney Catch-Up series.
If there was ever a movie in Disney animation that was underrated, overlooked and even sadly forgotten about, it has to be 'The Rescuers Down Under'. While not entirely perfect, it's certainly a vast improvement from its rather dry predecessor, complete with a real sense of adventure that only a land like Australia can provide. The tone of the film is set immediately with its opening, as a great single shot soars over the Outback with a thrilling soundtrack kicking in. It's one of few openings from my childhood I remember very fondly on the big screen.
We meet the young Cody (Adam Ryen), and the film hits the ground running as this kid not only rescues an eagle known as Marahute, but befriends him and gets to ride her around the breathtaking landscape. This eagle is even grateful enough to show Cody her nest, and give him one of her feathers, seemingly as a token of friendship. However, Cody soon falls into a trap and is ultimately kidnapped by the sinister poacher, Percival C. McLeach (George C. Scott), who discovers his feather, suggesting that Cody knows there Marahute is hiding. McLeach also tosses Cody's backpack to the crocs, convincing the Australian Rangers that Cody's fate went to the crocodiles.
A mouse who witnesses all of this rushes to send a message to the Rescue Aid Society, located across the globe in New York City. It is there that we are reunited with our original heroes, Bernard and Miss Bianca (Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, respectively) who ultimately accept the mission to rescue Cody, and in turn, Marahute from McLeach, even if it means constant interruption of Bernard's proposal to Bianca. A big part of this comes in the form of Jake (Tristan Rogers), a hopping mouse who is there to help, but does become infatuated with Bianca, giving Bernard some pretty stiff competition - I mean, Australian accents, am I right?
It's funny when you think about the order the Renaissance films come out in. When we start from the beginning, I can think of a few people who have thought the order to be 'The Little Mermaid', 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Aladdin', etc. Almost every time I challenge people to list the order of these movies starting with 'The Little Mermaid', that's the general response. A few people will catch 'Down Under', but not many, and even then, they mistake the release order of things. Though if you remind people of it, people tend to remember it. It was unfortunately released parallel to 'Home Alone' that year, and we all know where that title stands nowadays in the category of "Christmas Classics".
So this was a Disney movie that sort of got swept under the rug that year because of 'Home Alone' being the overwhelmingly successful family hit that also had a Christmas theme to it, and the release date of both was November 16, 1990. Really, when you think about it now, 'Down Under' didn't really stand a chance. But now that so much time has passed, I'd actually urge people who haven't seen this (or haven't seen it in a while) to revisit it. It may even be better to do both 'Rescuers' movies for things like character familiarity, but also to provide the contrast between the two. To watch these back to back, it's kind of like 'Down Under' is a refreshing shower after sitting in a swamp all day.
I'm happy to say that even after so many years, I still feel like this one holds up. In many aspects, it may even hold up better than most of the Renaissance movies - we just have a tendency to lean towards what we know, and care about. Being that the first 'Rescuers' is just okay at best, it's no surprise that a lot of people may just brush this off as more of the same. But in many ways, it often feels like this 'Rescuers' is everything that the original 'Rescuers' should have been. The overall concept is similar enough, it's just done much better this time around. For those of you who have Disney Plus, it can be found there. In any case, I still recommend giving this a revisit (or first-time visit) in the near future.
Let me start this one off by appropriately catching my audience up on things. This is a suitable place to do it, as 'The Little Mermaid' marks the beginning of the Disney Renaissance era. One could also refer to it as the "5th Age" or, the span of films where Disney animation really became musical. Sure, there has been plenty of music up until this point. But there's something about this era that lends itself to something like Broadway - and in some cases, quite literally. For me, watching these are reminiscent of watching a stage musical a bit more than most of the films up until this point.
Just to cover it all, my reviews have so far covered Disney animation through their Golden Age ('Snow White' to 'Bambi'; 1937-1942), Wartime Era ('Saludos Amigos' to 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad'; 1943-1949), Silver Age ('Cinderella' to 'Jungle Book'; 1950-1959), Bronze Age ('Arstocats' to 'Oliver & Company'; 1970-1988). And even though I saw 'Oliver' in theaters, it's interesting to note that even with a somewhat universally defined division between 'Oliver' and 'Mermaid', I have my own little nook of films I've always considered, shall we say, my personal peek of Disney viewing. It started here, when I was 7 years old, and I eventually grew out of the theater-going experience after 'The Lion King', when I was 11 going on 12, and it was all becoming a bit "childish". Of course, I'd eventually rekindle my appreciation for it as a grown-ass man, but that's besides the point.
Our main focus is the young Ariel (Jodi Benson)- youngest of King Triton's (Kenneth Mars) daughters, and ever-eager to sneak away and plunder sunken ships with her friend, Flounder (Jason Marin). She brings items she finds to a seagull named Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) who "identifies" them, and I have to admit it's pretty funny to see what he comes up with. The most famous perhaps is the "dinglehopper", or as we know it, a fork - not for eating, but for grooming. Anyway, her curiosity gets her into trouble one day when it leads her to an exploding ship, rescuing of a man named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), who Ariel falls gills over fins for. When her father disapproves of her interests (once he finds out), she is soon led to Ursula (Pat Carroll), the sea witch.
Most know what happens at this point, but just in case, Ariel makes a deal to substitute her voice for some legs so she can have a chance with Eric, but has to experience the whole "kiss of true love" thing before her three days are up. This all ends up being a part of a bigger plan Ursula has to knock Triton off his throne and turn him into a sort of creepy lost soul thingy to live in her garden as a sort of slave. Quite honestly, I hadn't seen this in quite a while and forgot how dark it gets in points. I suddenly remembered the garden creatures in this freaking me out a bit when I was a kid. Of course, as a kid, you also had the catchy island rhythms of Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) to keep the mood light, and I swear, 'Under the Sea' is actually still a pretty catchy tune.
I know there's a fair share of people out there who have their problems with the film, be it the story sending the wrong message of "change to get what you want", or some pretty on-the-nose French racism. But for your truly, I must confess that this was a viewing that genuinely hit me in the nostalgias. I can certainly see that the film isn't quite as awesome as I thought it was back in the day (I honestly did), but I did consider it a fun stroll down memory lane. Of course, being the sucker for nostalgia that I am, I may have been a little more into this that I care to admit. But it did take me right back to a carefree time when my biggest problem was getting a few basic math questions right for homework. I've woken up to a few things since then, but I'd still consider it a fun flick.
When it comes to Disney animation that I fully remember seeing in theaters, it all starts with 'Oliver & Company'. This would be the film that would ultimately end the Bronze Age, which began with 'The Aristocats'. It's safe to say that the animated Disney films most familiar to me are those of the Renaissance, ranging from 'The Little Mermaid' to 'Mulan', but it might also be safe to say that it pretty much started right here (not Disney itself, but the near-annual animated movie Disney would crank out for us growing kids).
Truth be told, my memories of this one were quite fond. I remember really enjoying this one when I was a kid, and I'm fairly sure it was what made me want a cat in the first place (the idea that we eventually owned orange tabby after orange tabby is pure coincidence, however). Re-watching it with the open but still adult mindset I have now though, it has certainly dwindled in quality. Although there's still plenty to like about it, the fact remains that Disney has far better titles to offer, and it's even a bit strange that this pushes everything away from fantasy. 'Oliver & Company', despite talking animals, is about as real-world as Disney animation gets, and there's something about that, that doesn't feel right for some reason. The term "Disney Magic" doesn't really apply to this.
It all starts with the heart-breaking idea of a box of kittens, where every one of them gets adopted except Oliver (Joey Lawrence), who is left to wander the streets alone. Just as things are about as sad and hopeless as they can get, Oliver eventually bumps into a laid-back dog named Dodger (Billy Joel) who helps Oliver steel some hotdogs, then take off with them (this poor cat, man). Oliver, however, chases him, and gets led to a barge where he sees Dodger sharing the hotdogs with his gang; Tito the chihuahua (Cheech Marin), Einstein the Great Dane (Richard Mulligan), Rita the Saluki (Sheryl Lee Ralph), and Francis the bulldog (Roscoe Lee Browne). Long story short, they eventually take Oliver under their wing, all while being looked after by the human Fagin (Dom DeLuise).
Fagin is indebted to a man named Sykes (Robert Loggia) who tells him in so many words to pay up or suffer. The dogs, along with Oliver, make an attempt to rob a limo and get some money for Fagin, but things backfire when the little girl riding the limo, Jenny Foxworth (Natalie Gregory) takes Oliver, thinking him to be a stray and wanting a companion. Oliver then has to try to adjust to a new home with the jealous poodle, Georgette (Bette Midler). Eventually everything starts to coincide with everything else, and Oliver and Jenny find themselves caught up in more danger than a little girl and kitten really need. I think I was a little more ignorant to things back when I was a kid, loving this movie. I wouldn't say that things go necessarily over the top, but there is something somewhat meanspirited about the film as a whole.
It could be said, however, that this was a kid's film meant to sort of toughen kids up. It shows us some bad stuff in a tolerable way, but it's kind of crazy to see just how nasty some of the characters can actually be here. Again, not over the top, but often a bit of a surprise. It's one of the Disney titles I remember from my childhood, but it doesn't quite have that heavy nostalgic link to it where I really feel like watching it. I think the best thing I got from this movie was the song 'Why Should I Worry?', which is sort of a 'Hakuna Matata' of its time. Try looking it up, it's pretty light and catchy. Anyway, it's not quite what I remembered from my childhood, but there's nothing I'd say is bad about it either, despite it's low ratings. Considering the titles about to come, though, I can understand this getting so swept under the rug.
Released in 1986, this is one title I don't recall whether I saw in theaters or not. My earliest memory of this was a clip from a Disney special called "DTV Monster Hits" (a special which I actually recommend on my list of "20 Family Friendly Halloween Classics"), and I think said clip led to us renting it once when I was very young. It's a weird case of remembering having seen it, but as far as where, when and how, I simply can't remember. This may as well have been a first time for me, so it was cool to see it with fresh eyes, all the while dreading what Disney would get away with in the mid-80s.
Luckily, the movie is generally clean, save for a mousey burlesque show where singer Miss Kitty Mouse gives us a taste of what's to come with 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (Melissa Manchester) and, I daresay, 'Space Jam'. I mean, honestly, the scene is pretty suggestive for a kid's movie. Just Google "Miss Kitty Mouse" and you will see what I'm talking about. Although pretty awkward, that's about the only thing that stuck out. I'd say that on the whole, this is actually a pretty sweet adventure for kids that might actually give them some appreciation for Sherlock Holmes stories. One thing I certainly do remember, be it from that 'DTV' clip or the film itself, was that I really liked the protagonist, Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham).
The film takes place in 1897, London, England, where a little mouse named Olivia Flaversham (Susanne Pollatschek) and her father, Hiram (Alan Young) are celebrating her birthday. However, it is interrupted by a peg-legged bat named Fidget (Candy Candido) when he breaks in, kidnapping Hiram, and leaving little Olivia on her own. She then seeks out the help of Basil - the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes of rodents, but gets herself lost. Meanwhile, a surgeon mouse who served with the Mouse Queen's 66th Regiment in Afghanistan, named Dr. David Q. Dawson (Val Bettin), comes along and finds her, soon guiding her to where she needs to go.
Basil is relatively indifferent to the kidnapping, but when Olivia mentions the peg-legged bat, his attention is finally grabbed. It turns out that the bat, Fidget, is the assistant of the notorious Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price); a criminal who Basil has been chasing for years. They soon unveil that the kidnapping has to do with Ratigan's attempts at taking over England, but the solution is actually kind of funny, so I won't spoil it here - I'll just recommend checking it out instead. Despite that weird and awkward mousy striptease, the plot is nice and simple, it's funny, it doesn't talk down to kids (just look at Dawson's character's backstory), it's even somewhat charming, and Vincent Price steels the show as Ratigan - I mean, what better voice has ever existed for a villain?
Altogether, I'd probably claim this as one of my personal faves from the Disney Animation collection. One thing to appreciate about it is that it doesn't take the Princess route (which is coming in full-force soon), and just wants to bring the classics to the screen for kids. In fact, it's actually based on a book series known as 'Basil of Baker Street', by Eve Titus which I'd highly recommend if they are anything like the movie (although whether they have mouse strippers, I have no clue). It's also low on musical numbers, save for two songs - one, the suggestive song Kitty sings on stage (which probably wouldn't fly these days) and the other, a villain song about Ratigan - and villain songs are always great fun. This was actually the most fun I've had with a Disney animated title in a while though. On a personal level, I loved it.