Disney Classics #19: The Jungle Book

I can’t lie, I’m massively biased towards this movie because it was the first movie I saw in the cinema. Back in the mid-late ’80s they used to show old Disney movies in cinemas, I’m guessing because the home video market was still in it’s infancy. My Dad took me to our local cinema, I think the Plaza in Port Talbot, which is still there but has been a depressing derelict husk for about 20 years now.

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This sentimental attachment means that for years this was right near the top of my Disney list. In recent years it’s slipped down a bit, mainly because the recent run of form Disney have hit upon, but it’s still probably in my top ten because it’s fantastic.

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The film is a loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s book, which I’ve never read, and follows a young boy named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) who is found alone in the jungle and taken by the panther Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot), who leaves him with the wolves who raise him. However, word arrives that the tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) is returning to the jungle, and due to his hatred of mankind this puts Mowgli in danger. Bagheera volunteers to take a reluctant Mowgli back to the Man Village.

Along the way they encounter various residents of the jungle, including the bear Baloo (Phil Harris) who offers to look after Mowgli and teach him how to survive in the jungle. Baloo is one of my all time favourite Disney characters, this extremely loveable, laid back dude who gets one of the best songs ever, “The Bare Necessities”.

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The scene near the end of the movie where Baloo is lying on the floor after a fight with Shere Khan and Mowgli pleads with him to wake up. The scene is genuinely moving, even rewatching it now, and you imagine has left a lot of kids on the edge of their seats, pleading along with Mowgli.

In fact one of the things that never stops amazing me is how much I enjoy this film every time I go back to it, and how much of it I still remember vividly. This is thanks partly due to this being massive fun and loaded with a great soundtrack and some memorable characters. Alongside Baloo you get characters like the vultures modelled after the Beatles, Sanders’ fabulous delivery as Shere Khan and King Louie, voiced by Louis Prima, who sings the jazzy, upbeat “I Wan’na Be Like You”.

Watching this movie provides the same warm feeling as Christmas songs or eating rhubarb and custard sweets, it’s comforting and familiar. It reminds me of childhood, and makes me feel good. And just like the songs and the sweets, I still enjoy it. Revisiting Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera is like visiting old friends.

It might have been bumped down a few places, but whenever I watch this movie I’m reminded of how good it is, how much I love it and all those memories come back to me. And for the next few days I have the songs stuck in my head.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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5 Reasons Why I’m Not Looking Forward to the Live Action Dumbo

This week saw a teaser trailer and poster drop for next year’s Dumbo, Disney’s live action remake of their 1941 movie. WoM, a huge Disney fan with a soft spot for the big eared elephant is extremely keen to see it, whereas for me it comes nowhere near troubling my “Films I’m Excited For” lists. Here I’m gonna explain why.

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1. Not fussed on the original

When I was a little kid, I got massively upset watching the original film because I hated the way the other characters bullied Dumbo and it made me cry. Because of this I kinda ignored the film until I decided to watch and blog about every Disney Classic (these will resume shortly). I was hesitant, but gave it a rewatch.

I was not impressed. The story is brief and fragmented, and while “Baby Mine” tugs at the heartstrings, the rest of the movie left me cold.

Also, there are clowns. And I hate clowns.

2. Circus as a Family?

One thing I did like about the original, was that it doesn’t paint the circus world in an overly positive light- the animals are caged and bored, the punters are cruel and mock our hero and the carnies are mean and exploitative. And the clowns are jerks.

Therefore it’s a little worrying to see the teaser trailer include some bollocks about the circus being a family.

Nope.

You can’t make out that Dumbo wants to be there or is happy, circus treatment of animals was horrible and surely the happy ending nowadays should be instead of becoming a circus star, Dumbo should instead fly off to freedom?

Reading the film’s Wikipedia page it looks like we may get Michael Keaton as the villainous moneybags who’s after the flying elephant, with Colin Farrell as the nice guy circus worker and Danny De Vito as his boss. De Vito’s character will probably be put forward as a bit of a rogue, but ultimately good compared to Keaton’s despite both being in the exploiting animals game.

3. Tim Burton

I have serious issues with Tim Burton. He’s one of those frustrating directors who can make great movies but regularly churns out dross. At his best he can craft striking visuals and interesting stories of outcasts and weirdos (Sleepy Hollow, Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) but he can also lose himself in art student pretension and almost self parody.

Is he suited to making a kid’s film like Dumbo? Or will his quirks unbalance the whole thing?

4. Disney’s Track Record

Since they decided to start remaking their animated movies Disney have had mixed results. While I loved two of these films (The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast), I found Cinderella to be a bit limp and needless, and Maleficent took an imperious and evil villain and added a mopey backstory and turned her into a tragic heroine. Sorry, but it didn’t work for me.

So, will this be a case of creating a film which is both familiar yet individually charming, or a rather pointless remake?

5. Clowns

I hate clowns. We don’t need more films featuring clowns.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Theatre Review: Disney on Ice

I’ve always been impressed by figure skaters, the athleticism and skill on show is something I’ve watched since the first Winter Olympics I can remember (Lillehammer ’94, maybe?). I appreciated it even more following the ’90s roller blading fad where I struggled on wheels and realised I’d be in serious trouble if I ever tried skates.

So, when WoM wanted to go see Disney on Ice’s latest show Worlds of Enchantment I wasnt a hard sell. The skill of ice dancing married with the magic of Disney? What could go wrong?

Nothing as it turned out as the show was absolutely amazing. The performers were sensational and there were a few big moves that impressed.

The framing device has Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy take the audience on adventures to different places, which set up abridged versions of the Disney classics Toy Story 3, The Little Mermaid and Frozen, along with a short skit featuring characters from Cars. These feature many of the big moments and songs from each story.

The whole show is really fun and captures the vibe of Disney, with the characters waving to the crowd and encouraging them to dance and sing along, which WoM eagerly did.

It’s hard not to hit the mark with crowd pleasers like “Under the Sea”, “Kiss the Girl” and “Let it Go”, and the two hour show flies by.

As a big old Disney nerd I loved it and really enjoyed both the technical side of the effects used while still just loving the fun characters and stories. I will have Disney songs in my head for the next few days but I don’t count that as a bad thing.

The one problem with the show is that it has increased my desire to return to Walt Disney World even more now.

A cracking show. 9/10.

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.


Bucket List #30: Ride an elephant

In my naivety I’d somehow gotten into my head that elephants were like dogs or horses, and that after centuries of living alongside man were kinda happy with their role. I imagined that for a creature as large as an elephant, a person on their back wouldn’t be a big deal. 

And so, as part of a Tarzan style fantasy I added riding an elephant to my bucket list.

How I imagined it going

Of course, this turned out not to be the case and reading about the elephant riding industry in Asia made for depressing reading (more). With all this new info I couldn’t in good conscience hop aboard Jumbo or Nelly and have a ride.

But crossing something off the bucket list without having done it seemed to be a cop out. I could just delete stuff if they became too tricky to achieve, and for me part of the idea of the list was to stretch myself.

No, it would have to stay. And to cross it off I would have to get creative.

And so, back in the Autumn I worked out how I could do it without any animals suffering. Where could offer such a solution? Disney World of course. 

Yes, high on my list of things to do in the happiest place on Earth was jump aboard the Dumbo ride. And so, I succeeded in riding an elephant.

And before anyone says this was the easy way out, they’ve obviously never suffered the suspicious stares you get as a lone adult male queuing for what is essentially a children’s ride.

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.


Walt Disney World: Epcot Top 5

Epcot, or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow to give it’s full name, differs from the rest of WDW, and feels a bit more grown up. There are still rides and characters about, but it might be a bit dull for younger visitors, and there is an educational vibe to much of it.

There was also a food and wine festival going on and so there were more childless adults here.

Still, there was enough to keep older kids interested and the World Showcase with zones based on different countries is cool.

It’s also well worth staying for the closing firework show “Illuminations of Earth” as it is stunning. Anyway, here’s the top 5:

5. Spaceship Earth

Hosted in the park’s iconic globe this ride takes you back in time to see the development of civilisation. Narration from Judi Dench adds some class and the end part “imagine the future” is great fun, using photos from the ride to add you to cartoon visions of the future.

4. Short Film Festival

A trio of Disney and Pixar shorts presented in 3D. The Mickey Mouse story “Get a Horse” is the best, making great use of the technology to make a fourth wall shattering film loaded with sight gags. And it was cool to rewatch Feast and Piper.

3. Soarin

WoM wanted to ride this flight simulator, but was nervous due to her aversion of heights. Being a good husband I reassured her and did my best to keep her calm.

My confidence evaporated when we wound up higher than I had anticipated, and my own elevation anxieties kicked in. The ride is wonderful and incredibly immersive, the gigantic screen makes you feel as if you’re actually flying over the global landmarks you’re shown. Of course, my enjoyment was tempered when I made the rookie mistake of looking straight down.

Not wanting to panic WoM I had to play it cool until we were back on the ground. It was worth it however, as she loved it.

2. Frozen Ever After 

A newer ride with some cool animatronic effects featuring some of the movie’s best songs. This was lots of fun andba few quick drops and backward parts keep you on your toes.

1. The Finding Nemo stuff

There’s quite a big section devoted to Finding Nemo which is cool as I love that movie. There are three sections but I’m counting them as one. 

Part one is a fun ride which mixes screens, animatronics and projections on real tanks, as you help Marlin look for Nemo after he wanders off.

Then there’s the actual aquarium which features a wide range of sea creatures and is pretty cool. There’s also a dolphin show.

And finally “Turtle Talk” an interactive show featuring Crush the sea turtle as he answers audience questions. I always dug Crush due to his surfer drawl and laid back vibe. He works well as the host and it’s fun and educational, and there are some cameos thrown in as well.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom Top 5

Much as we enjoyed Animal Kingdom, it was definitely my least favourite of the parks. Given how much I loved Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom this isn’t harsh criticism.

It’s just that I left both of those parks with a list of things I still wanted to do, whereas here it felt like I got everything out of it in one day.

I loved the wildlife aspect, but Pandora was a dud. Anyway, here’s the top five:

5. Feast of the Lion King

A fun show featuring animatronic characters alongside dancers, acrobats and Timon. The performers work the crowd well and it’s fun and vibrant.

4. Finding Nemo: The Musical 

A clever show which sees performers use large puppets of the characters to provide a condensed, musical version of the story. Fun but a little lightweight. Also don’t take little kids as the death of Nemo’s mother and siblings broke a few younger audience members.

3. Kali River Rapids

Fast paced river ride with fast turns and drops. You will get wet but this is very much part of the fun and it packs in plenty of thrills. Very entertaining.

2. Rivers of Light

Animal Kingdom’s nightly firework show this works off the theme of light, water and life. Using boats, lights and projections this was visually striking and the theme of how all life is connected is cool. The skill, artistry and technology on show are admirable and it’s wonderful.

1. Kilimanjaro Safari

As a nature lover the safari was a big draw for me and it didn’t disappoint. The reserve is set out in a clever way which provides the animals with plenty of space. The bumpy ride adds to the atmosphere and the guides provide interesting and entertaining commentary.

There are wonderful animals to see and for a Brit it’s nice to see the animals of Africa basking in the sun and not sulking in drizzle. The kids aboard were fascinated and anything that gets children into loving nature and conservation is a good thing.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Meeting Characters

I have a friend who went to Walt Disney World and refused to have pictures with the characters. I guess they saw it as childish or lame.

I think they were wrong. Meeting the characters is a lot of fun.

Sure, I felt a little odd and self conscious at first, but like the whole Disney experience it goes a lot better if you just throw yourself into it all. Don’t try and resist or act cool, just go with it and let the Disney atmosphere sweep you along. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun. 

For me the easiest moment to go with it came when my inner child came rushing to the surface. Why? Because I met the towering galactic hero that is Chewbacca.

We were waiting in line and next up when Chewie came around the corner to greet us. In that moment I didn’t think about the fact it was a staff member, I just was overjoyed to be face to face with a character from one of my favourite movies. Look at the photo below, look how childishly happy I am. 

There were other great moments in meeting the characters from Tigger jumping on me as I walked through Magic Kingdom to Peter Pan consoling me into having been tricked into marriage and growing up. Also there was the knowledge that our nephew back home had been amazed to see photos of his aunt and uncle with Mickey Mouse.

I really wanted to meet Stitch, one of my all time favourites, but was told he probably wasn’t going to be about. So, when we found him a few days later I was stoked to add him to my photo album.

I’ll admit that I found it easier with the masked characters than those without (e.g. the Princesses) but they were all magnificent and fun. I got really into meeting as many as possible, and seeing how great they were with guests was heartwarming.

So if you go to Disney do yourself a favour, get an autograph book and go meet these iconic characters.

Let out your inner child, your outer adult will enjoy it just as much. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom Top 5

WOM favours Hollywood Studios but for me this is the best of the parks. It’s got the iconic castle, a variety of different themed areas and more rides. It even has a section devoted to my favourite Disney movie Tangled.

With so much here narrowing down a top five was tough, so here are a few honourable mentions: The Muppets’ Great Moments From History show, Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.

And now the top 5:

5. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Similar to the Toy Story games at Hollywood Studios this sees you riding an armed cart through various stages trying to hit targets. The difference here being that there are no 3D screens, just a laser pointer. It made it more challenging but I still managed to beat WOM twice and max out the scoreboard.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean

An old ride but with new updates and appearances from Jack Sparrow, means it continues to appeal. It’s surprisingly dark with scenes of pirate debauchery and one where they auction off female prisoners as “wives”. That’s probably part of the appeal and what sets it apart from most of the park which is bright and happy.

3. Jungle Cruise

A boat ride in a jungle setting with animatronic characters this was elevated by our guide, who delivered a stream of cheesy gags, puns and one liners, all delivered in wonderful deadpan. 

2. Festival of Fantasy parade

All the characters appear aboard some fantastic floats. The cheerful vibe is infectious and it’s hard not to become a big kid and return the waves of the characters. Simply joyous. 

1. Haunted Mansion

The best ghost train ride I’ve ever been on, thanks to some great effects and delightfully creepy design and flourishes. It’s also helped by a sense of humour and flair reminiscent of Vincent Price or old Hammer movies. Great macabre fun, but please, don’t take little kids on it.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.