Disney Classics #45: Home on the Range

It’s kinda surprising that it took this long for Disney, an American institution, to tackle the most American of genres the Western in a full length story. There’s the Pecos Bill story in Melody Time, but that’s pretty much it in the animated movies.

Unfortunately the wait isn’t entirely worth it as this is a patchy affair that never really connected with me. That’s not to say it’s without charm, but it’s a distinctly middling movie, not awful, but definitely far from being a great.

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The plot deals with three cows who live on an idyllic dairy farm named Little Patch of Heaven. Two of the cows, Mrs Calloway and Grace (Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly), have lived there a long time, while the third is a newcomer, brash show cow Maggie (Roseanne Barr), who arrives after her former home was forced to be sold after the rest of the herd was stolen by notorious bandit Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid).

The farm is in trouble when the bank calls in their debts, and unless the cash can be raised in a few days the farm will be auctioned, as several others have been, many bought by the mysterious Yancy O’Dell. The money needed is exactly the same as the bounty offered for Slim, so the cows decide to go after him and see if they can bring him in.

Also after the outlaw is Rico (Charles Dennis) a famously tough bounty hunter who borrows the local sheriff’s horse Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr), an ambitious, adventure craving individual who dreams of being a hero. Buck dismisses the cows’ idea as foolish, but finds them hard to shake and dogged in their pursuit.

The plot is all kinds of daft, and the bounty hunting cows aren’t even the silliest part. Some of the silliness is quite entertaining like Lucky Jack, a rabbit who constantly suffers misfortune, his luck gone with his missing foot.

I did really like the villain, with Randy Quaid doing a great job of making Alameda a hotheaded, arrogant buffoon who spends half of his time struggling to control his temper or strutting about. His anger that people dismiss his yodelling as mere singing is a nice character touch and the fact that he hypnotises the cows he steals with his yodels is pretty clever, especially as they set up Grace to be immune due to being tone deaf.

The problem is that the good moments are scattered out and in between it struggled to hold my attention. The art is serviceable but lacks that wow factor you expect from Disney, and the music is disappointingly average and forgettable.

Worse still, the major characters of Buck and Maggie are both incredibly irritating. While Buck is comic relief, and does have some funny scenes, Maggie is our protagonist and is a bit too brash for my liking. Also, the joke about her udders at the start jars with the tone of the movie and would puzzle younger viewers.

The ’00s appear to have been a bit of a hit and miss period for Disney, and this one goes in the miss pile.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Disney Classics #43: Treasure Planet

This movie came out during the time when I wasn’t going to see Disney flicks at the cinema anymore and so it totally passed me by. I only watched it a couple of years back, and while it’s fun and has some decent visuals it still feels a bit flat.

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The plot is basically Treasure Island set in space, which works mainly thanks to this unique world they create which mixes cosmic backdrops with nautical flourishes. The visuals of spaceships sailing through the stars is actually quite striking in places, and while utterly daft has a certain charm.

The problem is that this doesn’t feel like a Disney movie, it feels like the studio was trying to stay relevant or follow trends and so it lacks a certain charm. That’s not to say it doesn’t work as a fun adventure story, but it doesn’t sit comfortably in the Disney catalogue.

For starters, I can’t think of another Disney movie with such uninspired music. There are couple of cheesy power ballad type songs, but they didn’t land with me and there are no musical interludes, the story being played fairly straight.

Sticking to the novel’s plot line does mean that Brian Murray’s John Silver is a vastly different from the traditional Disney villain. There’s more conflict on display here as Silver’s conscience and affection for Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) clash with his selfish quest for the treasure. It’s an interesting dynamic, and the movie does a good job of keeping him in the grey area throughout, there are moments when he softens, but he doesn’t have the 180 degree flip that sometimes happens in kids’ movies. Even at the end, he’s got a bit of a scheming edge to him.

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The dynamic between Jim and Silver is at the heart of the movie, with Jim, a bit of a waster, finally getting the father figure he missed growing up and some encouragement and praise. It’s key to Jim’s development as a hero, having to take charge when the pirates mutiny and the Captain is injured.

The character of Captain Amelia, voiced by Emma Thompson, is an interesting one. Introduced as a strong, confident commander she’s definitely in charge but the fact that the movie sidelines her for the third act undercuts the strong female character they had created. I get that being strong doesn’t make you impervious to injury, but it’s still a shame when she spends most of the closing stages unconscious or having to be carried by other characters. Emma Thompson deserves to be a more badass character.

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In general the movie works for me, mainly because it would be hard to totally mess up with Robert Louis Stevenson’s story and marrying it with weird alien creatures just adds another cool element. The ending is where the stories divert the most, with intergalactic portals setting up the major action sequence, but this is executed with real skill, creating a genuine sense of peril and some thrills along the way.

It’s a fun adventure film, but it lacks that certain Disney charm and in making Silver a rather likeable character it loses out by not having a definite villain. But kudos has to be given for how it tweaks elements, especially in the creation of Martin Short’s screwy robot B.E.N, standing in for the castaway Ben Gunn, who is a rather fun and nutty performance from short.

It works, but it’s flawed and it’s not one I rush back to rewatch. I think the problem is that I already have a version of the story I love, and nothing can match The Muppets’ Treasure Island. I’ve heard some people really lay into this movie, but I don’t think that’s fair, it’s a little flat and flimsy in places, but it entertains enough, and the ambition and decision to try something different in this era should be applauded.

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

If sequels generally produce mixed results, then animated sequels have an even less impressive track record. Shrek is a great movie, but the sequels all deliver diminishing returns. Similarly, the Despicable Me, Madagascar and Ice Age series have all fallen off too. Even Pixar and Disney have had stumbles, and even their successes like Monsters University, Finding Dory and Cars 3 haven’t quite lived up to the first films. Last year both The Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet fell a little short for me, and I’m slightly nervous about Frozen 2 coming out later this year.

Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule, and the obvious example is the Toy Story trilogy (hopefully not about to be wrecked by a needless fourth instalment), which used the sequels to develop and move the characters forward in a satisfying way. Toy Story 3, the emotional finale to the trilogy, served as a perfect place to leave the characters, and it’s a similar vibe that is pursued here, a send off for the dragon Toothless and his viking buddy Hiccup (Jay Baruchel).

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Set some time after the second movie, we join Hiccup and his friends have continued to build Berk, their home, into a utopia where humans and dragons live in harmony. Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, a rare Night Fury type, is the alpha of the dragons, their leader just as Hiccup is the tribal chief. Hiccup is determined to rescue as many dragons from captivity as he can, even as it puts strain on the island and it’s resources.

Things get trickier still when a new enemy enters the picture. Tired of having Hiccup scupper their plans to create a dragon army, a group of warlords contact Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a notorious dragon slayer who has hunted down almost every Night Fury in existence, Toothless seemingly the last of his kind. Grimmel lives for the hunt and enjoys playing with his prey, and views Hiccup’s dream of dragon and human harmony as folly.

One of Grimmel’s assets is a rare Light Fury, a related species which he uses to distract Toothless and hopefully drive a wedge between the dragon and the chief. Hiccup’s decision is to flee from Grimmel, taking all the Berkians and dragons to the mythical Hidden World, where they will be safe.

Can he outsmart Grimmel, who seems to know his every move? Can he overcome his fears that without Toothless he is nothing and not worthy of being chief? Will the Berkians agree to the new plans? And will Toothless leave him for his new love?

I really liked this movie because it handles the crisis that Hiccup goes through in a really subtle and emotional way. In the first movie we’re introduced to the nerdy and weedy Hiccup, and it’s only after he befriends Toothless that he starts to achieve things and gain status among the vikings. After the death of his father he has to take charge, and finds himself forced to make difficult choices.

As Toothless begins to pull away and some of his plans go awry, we see Hiccup start to worry that without his dragon he’s nothing and not fit to lead. It’s down to his girlfriend and right hand woman, Astrid (America Ferrera) to convince him he’s more than just a dragon rider, and help him to realise who he really is. While Astrid is a good, strong female character the relationship is never really developed, or given greater depth. The audience from previous films are already invested, but there’s always been a sense of it just having happened, not having developed naturally or believably. But really, it’s just a subplot, as the films are really about a boy and his dragon.

Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship has always been the heart of the series, and this continues here. Always at each other’s side and happiest together in the air, the duo are forced to deal with what life may be like apart. Toothless, his tail damaged in youth, can only fly thanks to a rudder built and controlled by Hiccup, and Toothless gives the one legged Hiccup more freedom than he would have. They compliment each other and live almost in symbiosis.

But the arrival of the Light Fury on the scene throws this into jeopardy, as she is less trusting of the humans and Toothless can not pursue her. Hiccup having to decide to redesign the replacement tail attachment, not sure that Toothless will choose to return and he may lose his friend and control over the dragons is a tough choice. Unfortunately, the film passes over it very quickly and it would have benefited from having Hiccup struggling with it more.

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There’s a whole theme of growing up in this film, with the central friendship being a symbol of youth that both characters may have to discard as they mature. It’s a nice theme throughout the film, and really works because it shows that we often have to give up things we love in order to grow and for the greater good. This of course, sets up some emotional scenes in the closing stages, as Hiccup has to set aside some of his dreams and say goodbye to his old friend.

The final scene, set years later, has a genuine heartwarming feeling, a sense of continuing friendship and an optimistic suggestion that mankind can change, and Hiccup’s dream of living with dragons may one day be achievable.

Hiccup’s love of the dragons, and desire to live peacefully with them is in direct contrast with the villains, who seek to exploit and use the dragons for their own ends. There’s a kind of subtle green message, about how we need to work with nature, to preserve it as we benefit, and not to just destroy it for our own ends. It’s never hammered home but that’s what I drew from it.

It helps that the visuals are stunningly beautiful, and the design of the dragons, which come in a variety of interesting and unique breeds, is inventive and imbues the creatures with a sense of character and personality about them. And the film has plenty of laugh out loud moments and decent gags. It’s one of those movies that does almost everything right, and serves as a really good farewell to the world the films have built.

It’s not up there with Toy Story, but this rounds off a charming and entertaining trilogy in a fitting way, it just could have had a little more depth in places.

Verdict: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #36: Mulan

After Hercules, Disney stay with an action hero vibe with this story of a Chinese legend.

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The story follows Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), a free spirited girl who struggles with her place in a strict society where honour is highly prized. When China is threatened by a Hun horde every family is called upon to send a man to join the army. Her aging, injured father is the only male in the family, but fearing for his health Mulan steals his armour and takes his place, posing as a boy.

The family can’t go after her because to do so would be to risk exposure and the dishonour and punishment. And can only ask their ancestors to protect Mulan.

Of course, they need to add a few elements to make it more of a Disney movie, and these include giving Mulan two great sidekicks.

The first is a “lucky” cricket, given to her as a good luck charm, the second is Mushu a diminutive dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy. Mushu’s character is an interesting one as he’s acknowledged as being annoying by other characters and toes a fine line, almost tipping into irritating territory. Luckily, a fantastic script and Eddie Murphy’s dynamic performance keep him on the right side of the line. The rapid fire delivery and steady stream of wisecracks means that this is one of my favourite Murphy performances, on a par with his great work as Donkey in Shrek.

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Mushu is her guide but only because he accidentally destroyed the statue of the guardian the ancestors wanted to send. He latches onto Mulan as a way of restoring himself to glory in the ancestors’ eyes and to cover for his own mistake, and much of his advice is laughably bad.

He proves more of a hindrance than a help as she struggles to fit in with the men of the camp and her clumsiness lands her in the bad books of her commanding officer Li Shang (BD Wong). However, when she uses her wits to solve a problem he sets the men, she begins to win him over and becomes a skilled soldier.

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This transformation is, of course, shown in a montage. And what a montage! Right up there with the Rocky movies. Donny Osmond belts out an infuriatingly catchy but powerfully uplifting and motivating song in “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, and the whole sequence is superb.

Seriously, if you are a runner or need to psych yourself up for something, stick this on your playlist. You won’t regret it. Even if it’s idea of what it takes to be a man are rather lofty:

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The music and sidekicks are very Disney, but the movie is different in other areas. Most notably, the villain and stakes at play. The villain Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) is quite intimidating, he has a physical presence that many Disney villains lack and his design, with hollow, dark eyes is more in keeping with a comic book villain.

He also has a cold blooded nature, and as this is set in war there is a lot of death, even if much is off screen. Mulan herself kills pretty much an entire army in an avalanche, the stand out action sequence. The action scenes in general are played rather well, with genuine peril and minimal amounts of slapstick.

Disney are often criticised for their use of old fashioned gender roles, but here we have a strong heroine. Mulan seizes control of her destiny and throughout shows courage, ingenuity and decency. She is a great character and a good role model, someone who carves her own place in the world and carries herself with determination and real heroism.

A fun, action filled adventure with solid music, great sidekicks and a simple, well told story.

Disney Score: 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #35: Hercules

It’s weird that when I saw this movie in the cinema I wasn’t impressed, because it’s now become one of my favourite Disney flicks.

I think as a kid who had read about Hercules and seen him portrayed a bit more traditionally, this film wasn’t what I expected and wasn’t the all out action movie I was expecting. For example, Hades (James Woods) is the villain and Hercules’ background is changed, making him a full god, as the real story that Zeus liked to play around isn’t exactly kid friendly. It’s similar to why I never really liked The Sword in the Stone, because it was a watered down version of a legend I knew already, the difference being that as an adult watching this, I really like how they play around with the legend.71qzf6ebyil-_sy550_

So, the story here is that Hercules (Tate Donovan, as an adult) is the son of Zeus and Hera (Rip Torn and Samantha Eggar) and loved by all the gods, apart from Hades, his uncle, the moody, scheming god of the underworld. Hades has a plan to overthrow Zeus with the aid of the Titans, but the Fates warn him that if Hercules fights in the final battle, his plan will fail.

Hades sends his minions Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwaite and Matt Frewer) to turn Hercules mortal and off him, but in the tradition of awful Disney henchmen, they mess it up, leaving him mortal but still super strong. Hades bides his time and prepares for his coup.

Meanwhile, Hercules grows up ostracized because of his strength. This part of the movie baffles me as the regular Greeks give Hercules a ton of grief which seems foolish because there’s running the risk of angering a dude they know can tear down whole buildings. Anyway, learning the truth about where he comes from, he discovers that if he proves himself a true hero he can return to Olympus.

And so Hercules heads out to find Phil aka Philocetes (Danny DeVito) the jaded trainer of heroes, who reluctantly agrees to help him. Hercules surprises and impresses him and soon becomes a hero, and Hades learns of his survival. Danny DeVito’s raspy tones are a delight here and the sarcastic, lecherous faun is great fun.

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Hades realizes he can use Hercules’ naivety against him and his attraction for Megara (Susan Egan), who is in Hades’ power having sold her soul. Meg agrees but slowly begins to have doubts, learning that Hercules is a genuinely nice guy.

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Hercules and Meg grow closer

It’s this love story that is one of the major strengths of the movie, and is probably one of Disney’s best. Meg is introduced as a cynical figure, hardened by previous hurts and she’s lost faith in the goodness of people. Hercules’ idealistic, simple character makes her rethink this, and the slow softening of her stance and growing affection is well handled. As she slowly falls for Hercules she tries to maintain her detached air and distance, leading to one of my favourite Disney songs of all time, “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” where she tries to deny her feelings, arguing against the narrators and finally, reluctantly accepting that she is in love, although she won’t risk expressing it.

The love story also serves as the driving force for the plot, as it’s his love which leaves Hercules open to being manipulated, sacrificing his strength and allowing Hades to make his play. It’s here that Hades is smarter than the average villain, and instead of just disregarding Hercules, he still tries to eliminate him, sending a cyclops to attack him while he mounts his attack on Olympus. Despite his lack of powers Hercules goes out to face the giant, but is utterly outclassed and badly beaten.

Midway through Meg sacrifices herself to save him and in doing so voids the deal, as Hades promised her safety as part of the bargain. Hercules is restored and saves the day, before heading to the underworld to save Meg.

The film works because it manages to mix the action, music and story well. It’s a different kind of story for Disney, with a male protagonist and a more heroic, action orientated story. The themes of heroism, sacrifice and love are all handled brilliantly throughout.

Hercules is goofy and innocent, but never overly stupid and very easy to root for. There are some decent action sequences as he fights different monsters, and the training montage is straight out of an ’80s action movie.

Another factor which works is the fact that Disney play with the genre, and add a postmodern spin. This is done through the way the film shows Hercules becoming popular with the public, leading to merchandising, adoring fans and celebrity, which poke fun at some of Disney’s own merchandise and celebrity athletes.

There are nods to other films and a few jokes geared towards the adults watching, and nowhere is this more obvious than in James Woods’ Hades, a sarcastic tour-de-force. Woods’ vocal performance is sensational as he makes Hades a strangely likeable villain, funny and clever in places, but undermined by his inability to control his temper. Hades is easily one of my favourite Disney villains.

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I also really like the uses of the muses as a chorus throughout, explaining the plot through gospel inflected numbers. It’s strange because this was one of the aspects that I didn’t enjoy first time round, I think because I thought it was out of place and silly, which is exactly why as an adult I love it so much.

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The muses are a nice touch and their interruption of Charlton Heston’s opening narration is the movie showing it’s hand that it will be a more playful, anachronistic version of the legendary hero.

The muses also get some cracking songs along the way, especially “A Star is Born” and “Zero to Hero”, and the soundtrack is fantastic across the board, not just in furthering the story but as stand alone songs. “I Won’t Say (I’m in love)” is superb, as I already mentioned, but another absolute classic is Hercules’ “Go the Distance”, a rousing, soaring power ballad which I’ve added to my list of songs to pump myself up ahead of challenges.

The irreverent tone, unique art style and fantastic music mean that I love this movie now, giving a fresh, fun spin to an old legend and ticking a lot of boxes for me. An absolute cracker.

Disney Score: 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.