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.
Yet another one of Disney's package films of the 40's; second to last of them, and leans a little more towards 'Make Mine Music' in style. Once again, we're spread out with a total of seven segments, so the review will be a touch long-winded, but I'll do my best to keep it short and sweet.
Much with 'Make Mine Music', it features segments that are punctuated with musical tones and poetry, and you get to guess how much of it may have been originally intended for the almighty 'Fantasia'. The whole thing is narrated by Buddy Clark - a man known more for his soundtrack performances than acting. He is also the man who sings the title song with his delightful, crooning voice. One by one, as usual, the segments are introduced, each offering a somewhat different artistic perspective.
'Once Upon a Wintertime': Frances Langford sings the title song, and we follow two young lovers named Jenny and Joe (neither with dialogue) while a couple of rabbits imitate most of their same moves. It's bright, chipper and cute, and would probably make for a nice addition to any Christmas soundtrack. Not my favorite kinda thing, but good for what it is. 3/5
'Bumble Boogie': This one WAS my favorite; Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, along with Jack Fina on the piano crank out a very jazzy, fast and upbeat version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. All the while, it follows this poor bumblebee as it keeps seemingly getting attacked and chased by surreal-looking instruments and musical notes. It's very artistic-looking and fun, and yes, it was originally considered for 'Fantasia'. 5/5
'The Legend of Johnny Appleseed': Dennis Day narrates a Disney retelling of American folk hero, John Chapman, otherwise, of course, known as 'Johnny Appleseed'. His nicknamed was earned after he spends most of his life planting apple trees across Mi-Western America while spreading Christianity. I'm not a fan, but that doesn't mean it's not fine for its target audience. I have this really weird bias against pioneer day stuff. I have a very hard time enjoying any of it, and find it a bit boring. We do all have our thing we'll never go out of our way to watch though. With that said, it pretty much mirrors how I feel about 'Once Upon a Wintertime'. 3/5
'Little Toot': I'm fairly certain I had this in the form of a read-along book on tape when I was a kid. One way or another, this was something I remembered from my childhood, so there was a bit of nostalgia that popped up. I pretty well forgot all about it until now. It tells of a small tugboat named 'Little Toot' who wanted to be just like his father, 'Big Toot', but couldn't stay out of trouble, and never seems to learn. It did trigger some nostalgia, but not quite enough. Once again, passable, but nothing too special. 3/5
'Trees': Joyce Kilmer's 1913 poem, 'Trees', is here performed by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. For yours truly, I found the song slow, dull, boring, like... watching trees grow? The artistic style of the segment, however, is gorgeous. Each scene is essentially a nature painting brought to life, as it cycles through the seasons and the changing of the trees. All in all, it's actually a great segment if you can just get past the slow drone of the recitation. 3/5
'Blame It on the Samba': A down and out Donald Duck and José Carioca (the Brazillian parrot) meet the Aracuan Bird (who we first met in 'The Three Caballeros'), who introduces them to the Samba, whisking their sadness away with the playful, fun dance. The song is an English-dubbed version of Apanhei-te, Cavaquinho by Ernesto Nazareth, performed by the Dinning Sisters, and featuring organist Ethel Smith in a short, live-action performance. I actually find the song quite catchy, the Aracuan Bird is funny, and it was good enough to make me ignore the fact that José already introduced Donald to the Samba back in 'The Three Caballeros'. 4/5
'Pecos Bill': In the final segment, Roy Rogers (along with his horse, Trigger), Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers tell the story of Pecos Bill to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten (who we just saw talking to a bunch of creepy dummies in 'Fun and Fancy Free). The story tells of a child who was raised by Coyotes, later to become the world's greatest "buckaroo" (which I definitely did not hear right the first time around). Once again, due to smoking content, it was later strongly censored, but revived once it landed on Disney+. Once again, this is just okay, but I probably got a bit more out of it that 'Once Upon a Wintertime' or 'Johnny Appleseed'. It's a little more on par with 'Little Toot'. 3/5
Aside from a couple of the more surreal segments, this movie just works out to be another perfectly average film of its kind. I'm really looking forward to getting through all of these, as I find them a little more challenging to review. I can break down each segment, and work out an average rating, which makes things a touch easier. But when you get segments like this, unless it really speaks to me, it can be hard to say that anything is either terrible or awesome. These will almost always work out to be a 3 or, at best, 4, just due to how average it all works out to be.
Like most of these (and it's starting to get frustrating because I want to give more), it works out to be a perfectly passable film, harmless, decent for the kids as well as the cultured (being a bit of Disney history), and something that makes for good background entertainment. It doesn't have the scope of 'Fantasia', or is particularly memorable, but there's really nothing wrong with it either. Here's thanking my lucky stars that the next and final package film, just in time for October, will be 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad', featuring what I can already say is my all-time favorite segment, 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'... so gimme a couple more months, and these will be much less boring!
This month would appear to be a somewhat repetitive one. Not to be boring, but it just so happens that a five of these are under-the-radar anthologies, often musical and/or educational, dated, and met completely in the middle with my opinion. This one tries to play a little more on the 'Fantasia'-like anthology, featuring the music and lyrics of a select group of high-ranking artists for the time. With that, it's fascinating, but like it is with a lot of Disney stuff from way-back-when, there's some dated stuff here.
For the most part, the film is totally passable and enjoyable, but it's nothing at all that particularly sticks out in Disney's library. In fact, this might be the one title I've mentioned to other people that no one at all seems to recognize. Even the segments within it are pretty obscure; the most famous probably being 'Peter and the Wolf', or 'Casey at Bat' (which, by the way, has the dated comment that really stands out). More than anything, it's the musicians we're here for, and it's pretty interesting going back to hear some of the music of the time.
'The Martins and the Coys': The King's Men, a popular vocal group, sing the 'Hatfields and McCoys' story about a wild west family feud in which two characters from opposing sides fall in love. Eventually, the segment was censored from the film's video release for its gun-use, so apparently nowadays it's a bit of a rarity. But it's not entirely special nowadays when we're familiar with too many similar stories, and the concept of a vocal group is kinda dated. It's fine for its time, but not as timeless as a lot of Disney material is. 3/5
'Blue Bayou': Another fascinating one, featuring animation originally intended for 'Fantasia', using 'Clair de Lune' from Claude Debussy. The segment is quite lovely, featuring two egrets flying around on a beautiful, moonlit night. It would have fit 'Fantasia' so well, and for my money, is probably the classiest segment of the film. It's now featured with the song 'Blue Bayou' by the Ken Darby singers. Apparently, the original cut can still be found, but this is the official version, and it's a shame it didn't make it into 'Fantasia'. 3/5
'All the Cats Join In': Benny Goodman and his Orchestra play for this segment, probably my favorite in the film. It's a really neat take on animation that I've always enjoyed, where a pencil is drawing out the art as the animation is happening - some of the earliest examples of fourth wall breaking. The segment portrays the swinging youth of the 1940's with a very catchy tune, and even once featured female nudity that has since been edited - and yeah, you can tell where it was. But that's more just an interesting fact. The real takeaway from this is the ever-moving dance animation, and a tune that will have you tapping your feet, providing you with a cool little 1940's time capsule. 5/5
'Without You': A song about lost love by Andy Russell. Though it's punctuated by some beautiful animation, it's all in all depressing, and it feels like a huge drop from the catchy rhythms of the previous segment. I wasn't a fan. 2/5
'Casey at the Bat': While the 1888 poem is a solid classic, the segment opens up with a pretty rough song that states "the ladies don't understand baseball a bit, they don't know a strike from a ball or a hit". It otherwise hits a home run for giving us the comedy we so desperately needed after the last segment, and other than the song in the beginning, provides us with the timeless poem about how cockiness can lead to disappointment. It even got a sequel with 1954's 'Casey Bats Again'. 3/5
'Two Silhouettes': I'm not sure whether or not this was another one originally meant for 'Fantasia', with a different song, but it looks like it might be. This segment features a simple and pleasant love song, sang by Dina Shore, as two silhouetted ballet dancers, David Lichine and Tania Riabouchinskaya dance against a beautifully rendered, ever-changing background. If I'm honest with myself, I can certainly appreciate it. It sets a very pleasant mood, and for as much as I dislike ballet, I appreciate dream-like sequences a lot. If you do like ballet, go look it up on YouTube and check it out. 3/5
'Peter and the Wolf': Sergei Prokofiev's musical composition comes from 1936, and ten years later was made into a classic segment for Disney. I seem to faintly remember having a "read-along" book of this as a kid (a book that came with a tape you could read along with), but it really hit me as something bigger than I thought when 'Tiny Toons' parodied it, almost more as though it was a modern remake. Sterling Holloway (who popped up in the last review) narrates for Prokofiev's piece, and it tells of a boy named Peter who hunts a wolf with the help of his animal friends - Sascha the bid, Sonia the duck and Ivan the cat. Each character is represented by different instruments - Peter, the string quartet; Sascha, the flute; Sonia, the Oboe; Ivan, the Clarinet; an the Wolf, horns and cymbals. It gets kinda dark, but it does have a happy ending, and it still holds up as a classic piece of Disney work. 4/5
'After You've Gone': Benny Goodman comes back for this one, along with his quartet. I really enjoy this one in its creativity, as it features six anthropomorphic instruments, including a piano, bass, drums, cymbal and clarinet somehow putting on a sort of dance number. Between this and 'All the Cats Join In', this film has given me a whole new appreciation for Benny Goodman. They are both easily two of the most entertaining segments in the film. 4/5
'Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet': The romantic tale of two department store hats falling for each other. But when Alice is sold, Johnny devotes himself to finding her. All the while, The Andrews Sisters sing the story. As far as any love story goes in this film, the only one that really stuck out was 'Two Silhouettes'. This one was cute, but if I'm honest, I wasn't a fan of the song, and the whole thing felt a bit "mushy". Perhaps just not for me, once again. 2/5
'The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met': It's such a solid choice to make an operatic number the finale, but the problem here is that I really do not like opera at all. I have lots of respect for what they can do, but that's kinda like saying I have respect for anyone whose voice is sharp enough to break glass - it's cool, but the sound of it is a bit much. Nelson Eddy narrates, sings and voices everything here, as we hear the story of a whale named Willie (decades before 'Free Willy') who has an incredible singing talent, and dreams of singing grand opera. Soon, though, his voice is mistaken for being three opera singers he probably ate, and the hunt is on. It ends very bittersweet, and all in all isn't bad, but the operatic singing started taking me out of it just because that's about the one form of music I just can't deal with. The film ended, and I just kinda thought to myself that something like 'Peter and the Wolf' may have made for a better finale. Oh, and the whale sings 'Shortnin' Bread' (an old plantation song) at one point, and that may make one cringe a bit. Maybe it's just me, but I was disappointed by the wrap-up. 2/5
Perhaps most interesting about this movie is how it came to be. During World War II, a lot of the Disney staff was drafted, and several who stayed behind were asked to make US propaganda films (and we all know how well that stands nowadays). The studio was then full of unfinished ideas, and in order for Disney to keep going, six "package films" were created. These began with 'Saludos Amigos' and 'The Three Cabelleros', and after this would eventually be capped with 'Fun and Fancy Free', 'Melody Time' and 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad' (to be reviewed in the October Edition of this series). I actually didn't realize the history until I dug into this one.
That made for a very lengthy review, and if you're still here, congratulations, you made it. My closing thoughts are just that I'm glad I finally got a chance to check this out. Just bear in mind that while the segments are easy enough to find, the full-length feature is not; even D+ doesn't have it, and that's where I watched the last two films I reviewed for this month. I'm not gonna consider this one underrated, but I will say that it's worth a sit-down, as I think the good actually does outweigh the bad. I keep handing out 3/5, but I recommend going by segments, because some are very well done.
Another Disney movie with self-contained segments drowned out by 'Fantasia's success was 'The Three Caballeros'. I've been familiar with it since childhood, but never saw or even bothered with. Back then was a time when Disney movies would get video re-releases for a limited time before "going back into the vault, forever". Because of this, there were a lot of titles I was unfamiliar with. For a while, this was one of them, but I was also aware of a movie called 'The Three Amigos', so eventually I caught on. But truth be told, this was my first time watching it.
The film begins as Donald Duck (Clarence Nash) is celebrating his birthday (on Friday the 13th, but no month is mentioned). He opens up a package containing all sorts of gifts that will give him further information of the world's geography and cultures. Mainly, it takes a further look at Brazil, as José Carioca (José Oliveira) the Parrot comes back to host Donald, and Mexico, where a rooster named Panchito (Joaquin Garay) comes in to dub the American duck, Brazilian parrot and Mexican rooster "the three caballeros". It all bears very similar aspects to 'Saludos Amigos'. I'd almost call it an unofficial sequel.
The Cold-Blooded Penguin: Narrated by Sterling Holloway (most commonly known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh), the segment features a cute little penguin named Pablo, who goes against all penguin logic and decides he's sick of the cold climate of Antarctica, and wants to travel to warmer climates. Before landing on the Galápagos Islands, Pablo passes by Chile, Peru and Ecuador, giving kids a little geography lesson on South America's west coast. It was cute and gave me a giggle or two, but it didn't necessarily stand out either. 3/5
The Flying Gauchito: Narrated by Fred Shields (who was also narrator on 'Saludos Amigos') tells of a cute adventure of a little boy from Uruguay and his winged donkey, named Burrito. The segment is full of cuteness, but in a good way. It pretty much matches my opinion on the first segment, but perhaps with a little more stand-out in the cuteness of the characters involved. 3/5
Baía: I rather enjoyed the concept of this one; a love letter to the Brazilian state of Baía. This is where José really enters into it, as he sings a rather beautiful song about it, and takes Donald on a tour within a pretty damn cool pop-up book. Together, they meet the locals, including the lovely singer, Aurora Miranda. A lot of it involves the Samba, and Donald pining for the beautiful Brazilian women. It combines live action with animation, and I thought it was all put together nicely. 4/5
Las Posadas: We get a glimpse of Christmas tradition in Mexico, as a group of Mexican children re-enact the journey of Mary and Joseph, searching for room an the inn. "Posada" basically translates to "Shelter", which they of course eventually find in the stable. However, Mexican tradition brings in the piñata, which the kids hit for gifts and candy. It was neat, but might be more of a bookmark for something to check out around the Christmas season. 3/5
Mexico: Pátzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco: Here's where Panchito kinda takes the reins, and comes in with the song about "Three Caballeros". He then takes Donald and José on a tour of Mexico on a magic carpet. Here, they learn about several traditionally cultural dances and songs. We learn here that Donald is running a gag, often pining for the local women, but kinda failing at getting return affections every time. 3/5
You Belong to My Heart and Donald's Surreal Reverie: Seemingly continuing his running gag, Donald soon falls for singer Dora Luz, who sings him the son 'You Belong to My Heart'. He also eventually dances with the lovely Carmen Molina, singing and dancing to the song 'La Zadunga'. Eventually this all leads to a sort of love-struck, drug-like atmosphere that has Panchito and José ever-interrupting, and even eventually taking over, and there's a bit of chaos before the whole thing ends in a flash of Mexican, Brazillian and American fireworks. This part of the film wasn't one i particularly enjoyed, because it just kinda gets crazy and ends somewhat abruptly. But it's not even close to enough to ruin the whole movie, either. 2/5
All in all, it's not necessarily a title I could see myself revisiting much. The whole thing is something I feel like I'd end up being made to watch in Spanish class, as it mostly serves as an educational tool about geography and other cultures. As I mentioned before, I see it as a sort of loose sequel to 'Saludos Amigos'. And, much like with 'Saludos Amigos', I'm trying to figure out how much of the film is dated with its depictions of certain cultures. Again, not trying to be culturally insensitive at all, but perhaps coming across as such. It didn't really cross my mind in this case; I felt they meant well, trying to give kids an early education on things. To make the review short, it's simply passable, not very memorable, but I'm glad I watched it.
This review might take a little while, as this isn't just your average, old school Disney animated film. What we have here instead is a classical musical that lasts just over two hours, and it speaks to our inner artists in a way that allows us to really appreciate what it is to be a little cultured... even if there are racist moments within it.
The idea is to have a bunch of pieces of classical music blend together with animated, visual interpretations of what the music was trying to say (to a degree). It's hosted by Mast of Ceremonies, American composer, Deems Taylor, and he takes us through the film, introducing each piece as we go. However, I do find that he introduces each piece by telling us a little too much about what we're about to see. There's not much left to the imagination because of this, but it doesn't make the pieces any less enjoyable either. Really, this is pretty timeless stuff - all save for one piece in particular, but we'll get to that. For this review, I'm breaking it into pieces, as I see it being the only really fair way to tackle it.
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach: An enjoyable, abstract piece of work that combines silhouettes of the orchestra with animation reflecting the instruments and the music they play. It's simple, and it sets the mood for everything we're about to see. 4/5
The Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Very little to do with the Christmas classic tune, this piece covers songs 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy', 'Chinese Dance', 'Arabian Dance', 'Russian Dance', 'Dance of the Flutes' and 'Waltz of the Flowers', each featuring a variety of animated dances, depicting the changing of the seasons. 3/5
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas: When people think of 'Fantasia', their minds will automatically leap to one of tow pieces. This one is the first, which 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. I still find this one to be the most entertaining of the pieces, personally. 5/5
Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky: Through selected pieces of the ballet score, this one depicts Earth's beginnings. Another one I find very entertaining, it goes from Earth's formation through to the extinction of the dinosaurs. This one might be considered to be a little controversial for people with a creationism history, but seeing as I personally lean towards science, it really does it for me, as this stuff fascinates me. 4/5
Intermission/Soundtrack: 'Fantasia' is very much represented as a concert show, as opposed to an actual movie. As such, it is complete with a slight intermission, a fun jam session, and a humorous introduction to the film's soundtrack, in which we see a line imitating various instruments with waves. Much like a real intermission, I can take or leave this part, and it won't be included in my ratings. It's sole purpose is to be filler.
The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven: This is the big one that really stirred up the controversy. The piece portrays tidbits of Greek/Roman culture, giving us a variety of mythological figures which include one particular racially insensitive centaur named Sunflower. Just Google it, and you'll see how it's an unfortunate fly in the ointment of an otherwise beautiful film, let alone the piece itself. 2/5
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli: A fun piece that depicts the stages of the 24 hour day. Morning is represented by Madame Upanova and her ostriches; afternoon is represented by Hyacinth Hippo and her servants; evening is represented by Elephanchine and her bubble-blowing elephant troupe; night is represented by Ben Ali Gator and his troop of alligators. 3/5
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky / Ave Maria by Franz Schubert: Going back to that I said about 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice', this is the other piece that tends to pop into people's heads when 'Fantasia' is brought up. also, much like 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice', this is a personal favorite bit of the film. 'Night on Bald Mountain' shows us midnight where a demon named Chernabog (or for all intents and purposes, Satan). he summons evil, restless spirits from their graves to essentially party for a while until 'Ave Maria' comes along, vanquishing the darkness, and showing us the dawn of a new day. 5/5
To close it off, it can be said with all honesty that this isn't just something I'd be able to throw on whenever I felt like it. It's very much something one needs to be in the mood for, especially as a full 2 hours plus. That may be fairly average movie running time, but not for Disney animation. With that said, however, this does add a touch of culture and class to Disney's library (again, taking Sunflower out of the equation). Pieces like 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' and 'Night on Bald Mountain' have since become far better known due to this film, and are both great instrumental tunes to listen to around Halloween. For the most part, it has aged nicely, despite its glaring problems.
It's probably safe to say that in the grand scheme of things, for the most part, SNL-based movies don't exactly hit home runs. However, there are still a few great titles among them, and for most people's money, it would probably be a toss-up between 'Wayne's World' and this; a title that I was altogether familiar with, but have only seen all the way through a couple of times. So this is a revisit to see how well things hold up.
Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) picks up his brother Jake from prison, being paroled on good behavior after three years of a five year sentence. A visit to the orphanage where they grew up reveals that the orphanage owes $5,000 in back taxes. In order to help their old orphanage out, the brothers head out on the town to try to get their old band back together and raise the money. So what we have here is the combination "save the rec center"/"get the band back together" story. There's also a musical twist here, which adds to the film's whole theme.
The good news is that when I speak of a musical twist, it's nothing but talent from the time, including names like Cab Calloway, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and more. The film is very musically representative of the time, and it does a good job these days of pulling on those nostalgic strings. The first couple of times, the musical outbreaks can be a bit jarring, but over time, one can get into it.
Aside from the music, however, what really fuels this movie is its sense of humor. The brothers are ever-casual and cool, and the whole time we have an angry Carrie Fisher trying to dispose of them. We never really find out why until the end, and that gives us a great gag. Through the movie, her kill attempts are so over the top, they're downright cartoonish - but that's what makes them so funny.
This one is often considered a downright classic from the 80's era, and it's pretty easy to understand why. There was a certain "all-outness" to the 80's, and this film was no exception. I can almost see this as a fairly typical Disney animated muiscal film, but for adults. Even today, there's still plenty of edge to the exploits of these two characters, most famously perhaps a drive through a shopping mall while outrunning cops.
I forgot to mention that this also serves as a crime movie in that the brothers find themselves on the run from cops as well as "Chicago-Nazis", which adds to the thrill ride of things. The cops start really chasing due to Elwood driving with a suspended license, and the "Nazis", well, they're a smaller part of the whole thing. They're kinda just meant to be an extra thing for them to deal with, knowing that because they represent Nazis, we're all good with the brothers causing them grief.
While it's not all the way up my alley, I can't deny that it harkens back to how fun the 80's were with film. This is one of those "everything" movies that has a little something for everyone, be it humor, good songs, action, or more humor. All in all, it's just a lot of fun, nothing to take seriously, and it's a great flick to watch for those of you born in 2000-something who are somehow into 80's material.
Back in December of 1914, while World War I raged on in a mass of violence and casualties, something some may consider a miracle happened. On Christmas Eve, an unauthorized, informal ceasefire occurred between the warring nations. This particular film highlights the events surrounding three particular groups during this occasion; France, Scotland and Germany.
This happens to end up being one of those admirable war films, in that it generously shows us varying sides of the conflict. It's NOT your ever-so typical American pride film so much as an unveiling of such a special event from other sides of the battle.
The film is essentially centered on six main characters. From the Scotland side, Leutenant Gordon (Alex Ferns) and Father Palmer (Gary Lewis). The French side mainly focuses on Audebert (Guillaume Canet). Finally, from the German side, Horstmayer, Sprink (Benno Fürmann), and his Danish fiancee, Anna (Diane Kruger). There's plenty of detail on each character, but we could also be here all day. Each has their own development, and each story is well done.
The real magic of this film happens when the Scots begin to sing from their trenches on Christmas Eve, songs from their homeland as well as festive songs for the holiday. Soon, each nation joins in the "festivities" as they manage to find a common ground between them. Their wills are strong enough that they agree on a ceasefire, come out of the trenches and meet and greet each other in person. It's really something to behold, if only for the reminder that, as different nations, we can manage to find peace somewhere if we try.
Much like with 'White Christmas', this is another Christmas film that doesn't exactly find itself in my all-time favorites list, but I have to recommend seeing it at least once for yourself. It's quite a beautiful and haunting movie to behold, especially in knowing that this unofficial Christmas Eve ceasefire was a real and miraculous event.
It gets even more crazy when we're shown how these soldiers deal with things after the ceasefire, when they're meant to kill other people they've just befriended. No spoilers, but things get pretty emotional, and the big takeaway from it all (at least for me) is the showing of just how powerful the Christmas spirit can actually be - even amongst those we consider "the enemy".
Being that this title has evidently been a strong Christmas title for decades now, I finally decided to check it out this year. The main reason I've kept away from it, is because an old school Christmas musical just isn't exactly my cup of tea. Musicals are extremely hit or miss with me; not among my favourite genres, but every now and then, one comes along that will sweep me off my feet (for example, I loved 'La La Land').
So, exactly how well did this special do with me? Admittedly, I just kinda meet it in the middle. It's perfectly fine for what it is, I can recommend it to people, but I might end up being the odd man out in my overall appreciation for it.
Two soldiers, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) leave the army after World War II to become a hit song and dance act. The pair end up following a sister act, featuring two lovely young women named Betty and Judy Haynes (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, respectively) to Vermont. The group finds themselves at an inn, owned by their old General, Waverly (Dean Jagger), trying to save it from failing with various song and dance numbers put on for the inn's audiences.
In the end, at least for yours truly, it ended up being perfctly enjoyable. However, its probably not a title on the ever-growing Christmas movie list that I will end up revisiting time and time again, making it a sort of tradition. For me, there are several other Christmas movies that FAR surpass this - and classics, too. The 1951 'Scrooge' film, featuring Alastaire Sim, or even 'It's A Wonderful Life' are just so much better for getting a grasp on the spirit of things, in my opinion.
With that said though, again, I'm not here to tell you this movie is no good. It's perfectly fine for what it is, and I honestly have no real criticism about it as a whole. I liked it more than I disliked it, appreciated the song and dance numbers, acting and the fact that it's not what you'd call an all-out musical, so much as a bunch of stage performances thrown together (in other words, no random breaking out into song). I tend to like random breaking out into song, but things for this film just flowed nicely with the idea of stage performances. Perhaps this is due to who is acting in this, and it makes it feel more classic.
For some, THIS will be their Christmas classic tradition, and I can agree with anyone who loves it that it's well worth checking out, to see where you stand on it. Personally though, it just doesn't strike the right chords with me, and its a title that may just kinda linger with other Christmas titles I don't tend to check out for years at a time.