Disney Classics #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I remember going to see this in the cinema and it being the first Disney movie that didn’t impress me, aside from Pinocchio and for years I carried residual bad feeling about it and didn’t rate it. However, WoM and several other people have raved about it, I gave this another watch a couple of years back and was pleasantly surprised, although I can kinda see why it didn’t work for me as a kid.

hunchback_of_notre_dame_ver1

At eleven years old, my major interest was football. I was obsessed and didn’t have much time for anything else, geekdom not yet having claimed me. I was also in that awkward phase when you’re starting to get judged for what you like, and this wasn’t going to earn me much credibility.

Also, at the time I think the slightly dark tone of the movie wouldn’t have won me over and I’ve had viewed it as a bit dull. This is ridiculous as I’ve grown to quite like gothy, moody stuff in moderation and this film massively lightens the source material. Not that I’ve read the Victor Hugo novel but a read of the Wikipedia summary makes it sound grim as all hell. What turned me off as a kid is actually what I really dig about it now.

The darkness starts early when villainous Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay) chases a gypsy woman through the streets, finally catching her outside of the eponymous cathedral. He snatches her bundle away and she falls, cracking heer head and dying. Cheery.

The bundle is actually her young child, who has severe deformities (apologies if deformities isn’t the correct term here, but that’s the only word I can think of. If you suggest one politely in the comments, I’ll switch it). Frollo, being a top guy decides that he should drown the baby in a well, but fortunately, the Archdeacon is on hand to lay some serious Catholic guilt on him, reminding him that “the eyes of Notre Dame” have seen his actions. We then get treated to the staring, hard faced gothic statues of saints and kings staring down at Frollo ending with JC himself.

hqdefault

Creepy

The Catholic theme is strong throughout, and not just because it takes part in the cathedral. We see characters praying to Mary for help and it’s evident that religion is behind the motivations and issues of the antagonist. Frollo is incredibly dark and far more human than most Disney villains, a raging man who believes himself just and righteous. He hates the gypsies of the city with a manic fervour, decrying them as heathens and corrupt, and placing himself above them morally.

He’s manipulative and bullying to Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), the deformed child he took responsibility for, drilling into him that he is a monster and that the world is cruel. He demands obedience and gratitude from Quasimodo, despite constantly insulting and lecturing him. But the darkest part, and one I didn’t fully understand as a kid is Frollo’s interaction with Esmeralda (Demi Moore), the gypsy dancing girl who captures the attention of all the male characters. Despite his hatred of gypsies and his moral posturing, he is deeply attracted to her, and this obsessive desire, which threatens his image of himself as a pure, virtuous man drives him towards madness.

hqdefault1

Frollo’s lust conjures Esmeralda in the flames of his fire

It’s a very adult angle for the villain, with the repressed desire, guilt and hatred all bubbling away within, a far more psychological motivation than the the average kids’ movie villain. As a kid I probably missed all of this, as I definitely hadn’t clocked what Esmeralda was talking about where she angrily replies “I know what you’re imagining” when Frollo grabs her and talks about imagining a rope around her neck. She sees through his facade, and recognises the urges he has.

When his desires are frustrated Frollo erupts in a storm of violence, ordering houses burned and the gypsies rounded up. It’s racial hatred presented plainly as horrible, unfair and cruel, and the film should be applauded for addressing this head on. Similarly it shows the ugliness of mob mentality, the way the crowds jeer and humiliate Quasimodo the character who the audience know to be sweet, kind and innocent.

Quasimodo’s attraction to Esmeralda is far more innocent than Frollo’s, based largely on the fact that she is the first person to be genuinely kind to him. And yet, when he realises that she cares for Phoebus (Kevin Kline) he reacts by going in a self pitying sulk and initially refuses to help Phoebus warn the gypsies of Frollo’s impending rampage. It’s the only moment that Quasimodo’s heroic character cracks, the moment he deals with the sting of rejection. His own petty hurt almost pushing him to ignore doing the right thing.

Of course, he comes good in the end, allying himself Phoebus and Esmeralda in winning the day, giving the couple his blessing. The central characters are well done here, with Esmeralda being a fiery, strong willed heroine who stands up for herself. She rallies the people against the injustice of Frollo’s rules and also shows kindness to others throughout. She’s also given a bit more of a sexier vibe than the traditional Disney heroines, which works for the character who knows that she is desirable and uses this for her own gain.

945812268233a74fd48203a9ed2da75b

The best looking Disney heroine?

Kline’s Phoebus almost steals the show, however. Phoebus looks every inch the hero with his gleaming armour and dashing looks, but there’s a knowing humour to Kline’s performance which stops him from being a cheesy archetype. He’s sarcastic and somewhat overconfident, but charming and heroic, to such an extent that he threatens to overshadow the hero.

the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-20th-anniversary-five-reasons-to-revisit-this-underrated-disney-classic

Scene stealing Phoebus

While the human characters are brilliant one of the movie’s missteps is the inclusion of three talking gargoyles who serve as Quasimodo’s friends within the bell tower. While the vocal work of Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes is fine and they have some funny moments, they jar against the heavier, darker tone of the rest of the film. I appreciate that the filmmakers probably felt they needed to inject some humour into proceedings but this is done better through the dialogue of Phoebus and Esmeralda. Perhaps it was just a way to allow us insight into Quasimodo’s thoughts, which it achieves, but it could have been better.

are-you-a-disney-fanatic-test-your-knowledge-with-the-ultimate-disney-movie-quotes-quiz

Funny but feel out of place at times

The disjointed tone is one of the things that hampers this film, as is the fact that Quasimodo is a rather dull protagonist. He’s likeable to a point, but he’s so consistently nice for much of the film that he doesn’t feel like a real person.

The gothic touches and human aspects are probably a bit too dark for kids, but some of the humour is a bit lazy for adults. There are moments when it really gets going, but it fails to maintain this over the course of the whole movie, which is a shame. It’s a lot better than how I remembered it as a kid and I’m glad I gave it a second chance, but it’s still a distinctly second tier Disney movie, due to it’s inconsistency.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Advertisements

Disney Classics #26: The Great Mouse Detective

I have been writing these Disney Classic blogs in order, but it’s slowed the whole thing up, so I thought I’d write about the movies as I rewatch them, meaning that I jump from The Jungle Book in 1967 to this film, almost twenty years later.

This movie comes right in the middle of what is widely regarded as a weaker era for Disney, with a string of lesser works being produced. I have to admit, this movie wasn’t one I loved as a kid, I dimly remember seeing it as a little kid, but it didn’t make an impact, and if we had it on video it wasn’t dusted off often.

gmd poster

I think the problem was that I saw this movie at the wrong time, had I seen it when I was a bit older, I would have got a lot more from it, even if it is a bit weak. When I was around ten I started reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, and loved them, similarly I would discover old horror movies and Vincent Price, but seeing this as a kid, neither Holmes nor Price meant anything to me, and thus the movie didn’t connect with me. Had I watched it knowing more about the star and the fictional sleuth it might have worked better for me.

Like The Rescuers, this film takes place in a world where rodents have their own society beneath mankind, often reflecting and mimicking the human world. Here, we get their version of Sherlock Holmes, Basil (Barrie Ingham), who is renowned as a great detective although he has never been able to stop Ratigan (Vincent Price), the master criminal.

Basil meets Doctor Dawson (Val Bettin), who has returned from Afghanistan and is looking for a place to live. The kindly Dawson finds the distressed and lost child Olivia, who’s father has been kidnapped by Ratigan’s henchbat Fidget. Dawson takes her to Basil and joins the hunt, trying to work out what Ratigan is up to and why he needs a toy maker.

gmd basil dawson

Ratigan’s plot is bonkers, involving a clockwork replica of the mouse queen in order to take over Britain, and the Empire. Even for a film about a mouse sleuth this is daft, and there’s not a lot of mystery solving needed. Basil is shown to have Holmes’ knack for deduction, but the case doesn’t need a lot of it, and his pomposity is irritating.

As a result the movie is stolen by the glorious vocal work of Vincent Price, who’s distinctive tones elevate the evil Ratigan. It’s the standout of the film, and the heroes appear dull in comparison.

gmd ratigan

The action is okay, but the whole film is throwaway and the brief running time doesn’t help develop any of the characters. Still, it has a certain goofy charm and passes the time well enough. But it definitely doesn’t measure up against the great animations, and the rather prosaic animation means that this is definitely a lesser entry in the ranks.

Disney score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

It’s quite rare for Disney to go for a big screen sequel of one of their animated movies, usually relegating them straight to video, and this is only the third sequel in the Classics series, after The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000. While Frozen 2 makes sense given the success of the first movie, it’s a bit less obvious why there’s a sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. While the first movie is fantastically charming, it wasn’t an absolute monster hit like Anna and Elsa’s adventure. And what new stories could be squeezed from the premise of video game characters living outside their games?

ralph poster

In traditional sequel style, the answer here is to make everything bigger, with Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Princess Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) taking to cyberspace to find a replacement steering wheel for Vanellope’s game to stop it being shut down. However, they soon discover they need money, but how can they earn money on the internet?

The answer is stealing and selling artefacts from online games and viral videos. Bored of her repetitive game, Vanellope is entranced by the vast, exciting world of the online racing game Slaughter Race, and it’s cool character Shank (Gal Gadot), and is tempted to stay, much to Ralph’s dismay as he fears losing his best friend and views his arcade life as perfect.

Desperation to keep his friend leads Ralph to make a bad call, putting Slaughter Race, Vanellope and the internet itself in danger? Can he undo his mistake? Can their friendship survive and can he convince Vanellope to come home with him?

I was disappointed with this movie, which provides a few laughs and some good visuals, but lacks the heart of the original, and feels shallow in places. The design for the internet is immense, but I found myself distracted by noticing which online companies had given permission and which hadn’t. We don’t get real online games, at all, which feels odd given the variety of classic games which filled the original movie.

Similarly, while ebay, Google and Pinterest make the most of some publicity, You Tube is absent, replaced by BuzzzTube, where Ralph becomes an online sensation. There’s also a Disney fansite, featured heavily in the marketing, where Vanellope meets her fellow Disney Princesses. This is quite funny, and ensures plenty of nice allusions to other Disney movies, but it’s a bad sign that this is one of the movie’s strongest parts.

ralph princesses

The plot line feels muddled, and while the lesson of allowing friends to grow and develop freely, even if they move away from you, is a good thing to teach, but it never has the emotional power of the first film. And the message of not allowing your insecurities to destroy you is decent but dealt with quickly. I just didn’t find it that involving.

I enjoyed this film, but given the current Disney run of form this is a misstep, weaker by far than it’s predecessors and distinctly average. A shame, given that Wreck-It Ralph was the start of a five film run of exceptionally good movies.

Ralph doesn’t break the internet, but he does break Disney’s streak of great movies.

Verdict: Disappointingly average. It entertains enough, and has some good laughs and nice touches, but this falls short of it’s predecessors and Disney’s recent work. Not awful, but not amazing either. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Incredibles 2

Fourteen years.

Fourteen years.

That’s how long it’s been since The Incredibles came out and finally a sequel arrives. One almost feels sorry for this film, arriving with the weight of expectation that even the mightiest super would struggle to hold up. The first movie is such a wonderful movie, and has become so beloved to me that this movie, despite being good fun gets squished by the expectation.

inc2 poster

Kicking off right after the first movie the superhero family of the Parrs are debating their next move. They failed to stop the Underminer (Pixar regular John Ratzenberger) and are blamed for the resulting destruction. Worse, teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) was seen by her crush without her mask and so he has to be mind wiped. After being bailed out of police custody they learn that the agency which has hidden and protected them over the years is shutting down, and the best they can do is provide two weeks at a motel.

While the Incredibles were arrested their friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) escapes and is approached by a mysterious figure. In a scene echoing Jackson’s appearance as Nick Fury in Iron Man, he recruits Mr Incredible and Elastigirl (Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, respectively) and they meet with the Deavors. The Deavors are Evelyn and Winston (Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk), siblings who run a major corporation and who’s father was a big supporter of the supers back in the day. They plan to get the law changed, allowing the superheroes to return, they plan this by getting good PR and so they ask Elastigirl to join them, as she is the least destructive of the trio. This causes friction between the couple, but Mr Incredible decides to be the stay at home dad if it means he can get back in the tights.

inc2 elastigirl

While he struggles with the parenting duties, Elastigirl pulls of some big saves but finds herself facing a new foe, the villain named Screenslaver, who hypnotises people to do his bidding.

Can Mr Incredible adjust to being a full time dad? Will Elastigirl taking the spotlight cause trouble for the pair? Can she stop the Screenslaver? How much more of Violet’s teenage strops do we have to sit through?

Like Finding Dory and Monsters University, this is a solid and entertaining family flick, with great visuals, big laughs and some great characters, but like those films it suffers because it doesn’t quite match the previous movie. The first flick had a solid plot and all the threads came together- Mr Incredible felt helpless, Dash felt constrained and Violet felt like a freak, and all three got to work their issues and embrace their powers, leaving them stronger and more united.

The problem here is that some of the threads are left hanging or never fully developed. The hint of tension between Elastigirl and Mr Incredible never builds to anything, and while he becomes a better dad, but it just kinda happens. Similarly there are hints about Elastigirl enjoying being out on her own in the spotlight, but the film never provides the confrontation between her and Mr Incredible to fully explore these themes.

Similarly, I don’t care about Violet’s story anymore. It feels like they’ve forced this subplot in, and it never really resonates. Dash is relegated to merely struggling with maths and the most interesting of their kids is Jack-Jack, who continues to develop a plethora of powers which are one of the film’s strongest parts.

inc2 jack jack

While I laughed frequently, and the action sequences are gripping enough, I couldn’t shake the feeling of missed opportunities. The identity of the villain is so easy to figure out it never seems a surprise, and the new Supers who are introduced have some impressive powers but are never developed. One, Voyd, voiced by Sophia Bush, is a slightly nervous fan of Elastigirl’s but at the end there’s no pay off. There’s no moment where Elastigirl approaches her and passes the torch, or embraces her. Instead, she chats to Violet in the aftermath.

There are some great moments and some nice touches, particularly Mr Incredible’s characterisation and struggles. As he begins to struggle with the workload of the children he keeps this quiet, refuses to acknowledge he’s in trouble. It’s a typically masculine trait to not want to appear weak, especially when you’re expected to be the strong one. For me it works, but again, it’s resolution feels a bit hasty and underdeveloped.

That’s the problem. When the film hits it’s stride, it’s very good and fun, but the peaks aren’t high enough to counteract the moments that don’t quite work.

This is a very good film, but following a truly great one, it always feels like a disappointment. Perhaps rewatching it again will soften my view, but leaving the cinema I felt distinctly underwhelmed. This just wasn’t worth the wait.

Verdict: Pixar continue to produce entertaining and stunning films, but some of the plots feel thin and it lacks that big blow out moment to truly satisfy. If you don’t twig who the villain is very early on then frankly, see a doctor, you may be in a coma. Fun, but nowhere near it’s predecessor. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Coco

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early challenger for my film of the year.

Disney and Pixar knock this one out of the park creating a beautiful, gorgeous world to tell a charming and affecting story of family, music and remembrance.

Set in Mexico and based around the Day of the Dead festivities this is probably Pixar’s best movie since Inside Out and one which takes a place with the very best the studio has produced.

The Rivera family have effectively banned music after an ancestor left to become a singer, never returning and meaning his wife had to work, creating a successful shoe making business. However, young boy Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is loves music and has adopted local musical legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) as his hero.

He wants to take part in a talent show but is forbidden by his grandmother, who insists he spends Day of the Dead with his family. As they set out the pictures of dead ancestors and relatives, the photo of his great-great-grandmother is dropped. The broken frame reveals that the photo has been folded. Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, the runaway musician, who’s face has been torn from the picture is revealed to be holding Ernesto’s famous guitar.

Miguel takes this as a sign, and argues that he his honouring his family’s traditions, but his grandmother smashes his guitar. Angry, Miguel storms out, announcing he doesn’t want to be part of the family. Desperate to find a guitar to compete he breaks into De La Cruz’s crypt and steals the car.

It is at this point the movie really kicks in, with the already charming and likeable film embracing the supernatural and introducing the ghostly ancestors who have come across to the land of the living to visit their family. The art here is great with the ghostly figures styled after sugar skulls and their skeletal figures retaining unique characteristics for each person.

Miguel can see them because having been cursed for stealing from the dead. He must break the curse by sunrise, by obtaining the blessing of a family member, however, his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) only offers a blessing with the condition that he never plays music. The rest of the family refuse to go against the matriarch and so Miguel decides to find De La Cruz.

Miguel travels through the city of the dead, a vibrant, strange world with his only guide Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a scruffy, trickster who tries to trick his way across to the living. But nobody has put up a photo of him so he can not cross. He claims to know Ernesto and agrees to help Miguel on the condition that he takes his photo so he can cross once more and see his daughter one last time before she forgets him.

When the dead are forgotten they vanish forever, and Hector’s daughter is the only one who remembers him.

Can Miguel break the curse? Will his hero Ernesto help him? And will Hector get to see his daughter again?

This film is simply gloruous. The artwork is beautiful and the colourful, sprawling city of the dead and it’s residents are extremely well done.

The characters are fantastic too, with Miguel a charming, likeable hero. He has humour and courage, and it’s through his eyes we experience the wonderful world he enters.

Similarly, the swaggering De La Cruz and scruffy Hector are both engaging and interesting characters and their story unfolds nicely. One of the revelations is easy to see coming, but there are a few twists in the tale.

As Miguel tries to break the curse he comes to understand the importancr of family and how much they mean to him. It also serves as a powerful reminder of respecting our past and appreciating how it shapes us.

The film has raw emotional power, not just in the melancholic nature of the city of the dead but in the handling of Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who is losing her memory and in confused moments still waiting for her father to return.

Sod it, I have to give a spoiler here, but to be fair, most grown up viewers will guess it during the movie.

Hector is Coco’s father, and he did know Ernesto, in fact he wrote many of his songs. Ernesto’s bombastic signature tune “Remember Me” is actually based on a quieter, more low key song Hector wrote and sang to his daughter.

The scene where Miguel returns home and sings this to her, reviving the long dormant memory is one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and reduced WoM and me to tears.

The moving scene, which captures all of the film’s themes is wonderful and caps the movie beautifully.

Loaded with charm, gorgeous to look at and profoundly moving, this one will be hard to beat in 2018.

Verdict: An utter delight. Some plot developments are easy to see coming, but it doesn’t rob the film of it’s ability to move you. A fun, emotional and beautiful film. 9.5.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #18: The Sword in the Stone

I’ve always regarded this as a second tier Disney movie. It never clicked for me and I felt it wasn’t as fun or memorable as many of their other films. It wasn’t quite down at the same level as Pinocchio which I actively disliked, but it didn’t leap off the shelf when we were looking for a video to put on.

I think part of the problem was that as a British kid I was aware of the King Arthur legends from a young age, and this version didn’t sit with the one in my head. Arthur was a sword swinging badass, not an annoying kid. And who was this bumbling mad professor type bloke? Merlin was a powerful wizard, an intimidating figure who could bend reality. 

Watching the film it starts rather well, with the set up of the sword in the stone myth. It arrives and whoever pulls it is the new King. Neat and tidy, even if it is no basis for a system of government.

From there, however, it loses me. Merlin decides to teach the annoying kid who would be king, to ensure he is smart and does something with his life. Bear in mind Merlin can travel through time, so he already knows Art is on course for big things.

Merlin’s lessons are fairly nonsensical. He turns Arthur into a fish in order for him to learn that sometimes brains triumph over brawn, and also physics? Similarly, when turned into a squirrel Arthur learns about gravity and also to look before you leap. 

 That’s it really. Arthur doesn’t achieve things, or grow into a decent candidate for King, he just had three episodic transformations. They’re amusing enough, but it’s a weak story. On his third lesson he meets Madam Mim and this does pick the movie up a bit as Mim and Merlin have a wizard duel.

This sees them transform into different creatures to try and gain victory over the other. It’s visually entertaining and adds energy to the movie, and the deliberately nasty Mim is a treat.

After that Arthur heads to London, grabs the sword to help out the knight he squires for and is crowned king. If that feels rushed, well it unfolds screen pretty damn quickly too.

The new King Arthur is scared he’s can’t handle the gig but Merlin returns and reassures him that he will go down in history as a great king. Which reassures the lad, although it might have been helpful had Merlin told him to watch out for a bloke Lancelot who would steal his girl.

The flaws that drove me from this as a kid are still there- the plot is weak, it’s a rather dull version of the King Arthur myth and it fails to live up to Disney’s high standards.

That being said there are a few fun moments and cute touches, like the lovestruck squirrel who falls for Arthur. And, as mentioned, the demented Mim is a great character and the wizard duel, especially the finishing move, is very well done.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I remember reading the book this is based on in school, I think because the English department decided it would get them an easy day or two as they took us all to see the live action version. They could have saved themselves the hassle of a shepherding us on to buses and making sure none of us wandered off in Swansea by just sticking this on for a couple of lessons, as this is definitely the superior version.

eb459335166ebb1b6e26169beb584d58

The story starts with narration from Pongo (Rod Taylor), who laments the bachelor life he finds dull and decides to find partners for himself and his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). From the window he spies Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her human companion Anita (Lisa Davis), and rushes out to win her over. This sequence is quite well done, with Pongo looking out the window at the passing canines and dismissing them for various reasons, which match with their owners, going along with the notion of owners looking like their dogs.

f2f4ddf766aa61272d58e3f6002b7737

After a short time Roger and Anita marry, and Perdita announces she is expecting puppies. The joy is slightly marred by the arrival of Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old schoolmate of Anita’s who is obsessed with furs, and delights in the pattern of the dogs’ coats. When Perdita delivers fifteen puppies, Cruella offers to buy them all, but Roger refuses.

Cruella De Vil is a great villain, a gaunt figure surrounded in noxious cigarette smoke. From her entrance at the wheel of a careening car, she is a dynamic, captivating presence and over the course of the movie she becomes increasingly dishevelled and unhinged as her mania takes over. The film’s most memorable song is the theme tune that Roger creates for her, detailing her wicked nature.

detail-682a5fbd

Shortly after while the parents and their owners are out, two goons Jasper and Horace (J. Pat O’Malley and Frederick Worlock, respectively) trick their way into the house and steal the puppies. With the human police having no leads the dogs take the lead (unintentional pun) and get the word out through “the twilight bark” a method of relaying messages across the country.

One of the cool things about this sequence is that there’s a nice little easter egg for observant viewers, with several characters from Lady and the Tramp having little cameos.

101_dalmtas__francis_10600_10600

The chain yields results and the puppies, along with many others, are discovered. The message is sent back and Pongo and Perdita rush to the rescue.

The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure, with the courageous canines saving the puppies and then trying to avoid capture as they escape through the snow. The whole thing is quite pacy and there are a few tense moments as they try to escape. The action is slapstick in places, but it works far better in cartoon form, and watching it back I was impressed, with the movie holding up quite well.

It could do with a few more songs, and the goons are a little too bumbling for my tastes, but these minor quibbles aside this is a good adventure which has a certain charm.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #16: Sleeping Beauty

The third Disney Princess arrives to a suitable fanfare at the opening of this movie and the “hail to the Princess Aurora” song is irresistibly catchy. But the movie really kicks into gear with the arrival of Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), one of Disney’s best villains.

sleeping_beauty

I can’t think of another kids’ movie where the villain is such an overpowering presence, even in Disney flicks that include baddies like Ursula, Scar and Jafar, the heroes match up to them, but here the iconic image of the movie is Maleficent in her dark, regal glory.

89a5278b-8969-4a78-8e62-603512970724

Stealing the show

Annoyed not to have been invited to the christening of the newborn, rocks up and curses her, possibly providing an insight into why she doesn’t get invited to parties. The curse? When the Princess is 16 she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Luckily good fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) steps in and changes the curse so it’s not death, but rather a deep sleep until true love’s kiss wakes her. Still, the King isn’t happy and burns every spinning wheel in the country, which seems a short sighted move as what will happen when people need new clothes? Also, you had sixteen years!

The good fairies, Merryweather and her sisters Flora and Fauna (Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen, respectively), match the King’s overreaction by kidnapping Aurora and going into hiding until her sixteenth birthday, renaming her Briar Rose. Unbelievably, as the big day approaches she is still hidden from Maleficent, because her minions have still been searching for a baby. How much more successful would Disney villains be if they hired better help?

Briar Rose (Mary Costa) now an adult goes into the forest as her three guardians plan to surprise her for her birthday, because apparently revealing that she’s a princess and that they are her kidnappers isn’t going to be enough to drop on the poor girl. While out she meets a handsome young man, who turns out to be Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), who is captivated by her singing (princes appear to have a major weakness for singers). They fall in love, neither knowing they’re actually already betrothed, and Phillip (named after Britain’s own Prince Phillip, fact fans) heads off to tell his dad that the arranged marriage is over, planning to return to Briar Rose.

The love story here is done quite well, and the sequence where the two meet and dance together to the glorious “Once Upon a Dream” is wonderfully charming. Sure, it feels rushed, but just go with the love at first sight conceit, and it’s rather sweet and well executed. At least there’s actual conversation here.

Unfortunately, despite not using magic for almost sixteen years, the fairies are useless practical skills like making a cake (even I can do that) and dress making (I’d struggle with that, admittedly), and resort to breaking out their wands. But this catches the eye of Maleficent’s raven sidekick Diablo, who raises the alarm.

I always loved this sequence as a kid, and it’s still very entertaining as the fairies make a pig’s ear of the whole situation. Throughout the movie the three fairies are good fun, bickering with each other and my three sisters each assigned themselves a different fairy.

three-fairies-in-sleeping-beauty-ending

Briar Rose learns the truth and is taken to the castle, where she is bewitched by Maleficent and pricks her finger. At this point Maleficent adds to her evil stakes with some top quality gloating over her fallen foe before legging it.

aurora-and-maleficent-sleeping-beauty-18041639-334-500

Maleficent gloats

Knowing that Merryweather has messed with her plans, she dispatches her minions to grab Phillip and take him prisoner.

The fairies work out that Phillip is the mysterious man Aurora mentioned and, put the entire kingdom to sleep and before setting off to rescue Phillip. At this point, Maleficent cements her place as a great villain with a truly evil plan- she’s not going to kill Phil, she’s going to keep him locked up until he’s old and allowing him to revive the still youthful Aurora. That’s delightfully vindictive.

The fairies save the Prince, and arm him. This is another of the movie’s strengths, in that Phillip is far more heroic than the other princess. He fights off the minions, and rides out to the rescue. And then he faces off against Maleficent who has transformed into a gigantic, menacing dragon.

b131955a277a01073a95f024d9cfb252

After slaying the dragon (Maleficent having made the classic mistake of getting caught doing a monologue), he gets to his girl and breaks the curse. And there was much rejoicing.

I used to love this as a kid, and watched it a fair few times, and I’m really happy with how well it holds up. It’s got action, romance and comedy, and benefits from a decent script and some solid characters. The three fairies and their rivalries stop them from being too goody goody, Phillip is a better hero than what had come before and then of course there’s Maleficent and her pure evil. Her imperious mannerisms and voice are fantastic, and it’s so much better that she has no back story. She’s evil. That’s what she is and we don’t need to know how she got this way.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Disney Classics #15: Lady and the Tramp

Maybe it’s no surprise that as a cat person a movie dedicated “to dogs everywhere” didn’t really float my boat as a kid. In fact I grew up in a house that had, and loved, cats, so a film where the only felines are villains was unlikely to go down well.

That being said it’s hard to deny the film’s charms especially the classic spaghetti scene, which could warm a heart of stone.

Plot wise it’s pretty simple, fancy uptown dog Lady (Barbara Luddy) is feeling threatened by her owners’ new baby. She also meets Tramp (Larry Roberts), a charming stray from the wrong side of the tracks. They get into a variety of scrapes and Lady learns despite his carefree, roguish reputation Tramp is actually a good dog. After they rescue the baby from a rat Tramp accepts a place within the family and settles down with Lady.

It’s a rather sweet tale and it’s helped by a good supporting cast and some good moments. These include a rather dark sequence at the dog pound which is like a doggy death row and set’s up what for me is the film’s best song, the bluesy “He’s a Tramp” performed by Peggy Lee’s Peg.

Watching it back I realised that the story with Lady and Tramp rescuing the baby only to be blamed for the attack is similar to the Welsh legend of Gelert.

It’s not the strongest Disney movie, but it has a few high points contained within a sweet and charming story.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #14: Peter Pan

I don’t know why but this wasn’t one of the Disney flicks that I liked a lot as a kid, which doesn’t make sense as it has pirates, Native Americans, sword fights and flying, all of which would have won me over.

51eaxtpxsgl

I think the problem is that even as a kid the main character kinda annoyed me. Peter’s a self centred braggart and for me the idea of never growing up held no appeal. As a kid you can’t do a bunch of stuff which adults can, I wanted to be a grown up. It was only years later that I find myself wishing I could stay away from adult responsibility. I must have seen it as a kid but it never wowed me.

Watching it as an adult, Peter (Bobby Driscoll) still irritates me, but I think that might be the point? That growing up is kinda important and staying as a child would be daft?

There’s another aspect of this that I don’t think I picked up with, in that I actually feel sorry for Captain Hook (Hans Conried). I mean, sure, he’s a villain and he tries to make them walk the plank, but the poor dude lost his hand and is now a frazzled mess, reduced to a jibbering wreck whenever the crocodile that swallowed his hand is nearby.

Incidentally, this is one of my favourite parts of the film, the way the ticking arrives and the croc’s eyes move with each sound. It’s wonderfully done, and the croc is shown to be quite a malicious beastie, gleefully awaiting Hook to fall into his jaws.

peter-pan-original-moviewww-savevid-com_4146160

Back to Hook, he’s actually quite a good villain, with a clear motivation and some smart plans (he plays Tinkerbell like a fiddle), and there’s quite a lot of humour from the inept crew he is surrounded by.

This film actually made me laugh quite a few times, and there are some very funny moments and the action is quite good too. The plot moves along at a decent pace that just about covers up the flaws.

The flaws are numerous, with Peter’s obnoxious nature being just one- almost all the female characters are shown at varying times to be either stupid, jealous or vindictive. Wendy, Tinkerbell and the mermaids all seem besotted with Pete, and react badly when he shows interest in someone else.

3c35db35b5613c08c8a39b18bc5c85c5

And the representation of the Indians on the island is horrible to watch. All the braves have giant noses and deep red skins, talking like cliches. You may say it was a different time, but watching it in this time it’s not pleasant.

One thing I had forgotten was just how angry and sassy Tinkerbell was. In the more recent films featuring the character she’s shown as a heroic, nice character but here she’s quite nasty. She’s madly jealous of Wendy and Peter’s interest in her, to the extent that she tries to kill the poor girl and rats out the Lost Boys’ hideout to Hook. I have to say she’s one of the more memorable characters thanks in part to the great animation which captures her mannerisms and quickly shifting moods.

a7ab106ba85aa47d4d1fc1057525dd99

Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned

When it works, this is great fun, and the times it stumbles are fairly brief, and you can ignore most of them if you go with the movie.

It’s a fun adventure story but the ending baffles me. Was it all a dream? If yes, then how did Wendy’s dad have the same dream? If it wasn’t a dream does that mean he was a Lost Boy who chose to leave? It makes no sense!

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.