Disney Classics #11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad

The final film of the wilderness period is another I hadn’t seen before, this includes stories based on The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These are narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby respectively.

For my money the Ichabod Crane story works best, as it’s got a stronger story and is done with genuine humour. The story is handled well and the animation is cartoony but well done, and Crosby’s voice is a good choice for the narrator.

The eponymous character is slightly pompous which makes the mishaps that befall him more entertaining.

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The Mr Toad portion was unlikely to score big with me as I’ve never liked The Wind in the Willows and the character of Toad is such a douche. The court sequence however is well done and the characters are well realised, but the plot is simple and like I said, Toad is just annoying.

This feels like a lesser film from the get go and despite sterling work from Rathbone and Crosby, neither half really catches fire. It’s entertaining enough, but compared to many other Disney movies it’s weak and rather forgettable.

A shame because as a short the Ichabod half would work quite well, but bolted together it doesn’t quite work. It’s better than the compilation of shorts that preceded it, but it still doesn’t feel like a proper film.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #10: Melody Time

Another compilation movie, which like Make Mine Music uses popular music as the driving force behind many of the sections. And again, the results are a mixed bag.

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These package movies were later cut up and distributed in different ways and the opener “Once Upon a Wintertime” must have appeared on a Christmas video because I’d seen it before. The short is rather quaint, dealing with a young couple who go skating on a frozen pond and there’s a nice touch in having the young lovers followed and copied by a pair of lovestruck bunnies.

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Quaint and sweet

It’s all cutesy stuff, but not without its charms and there’s a little bit of action as tragedy almost befalls them thanks to some thin ice and a waterfall. It’s decent enough, and in the context of this movie one of the high points.

The low comes courtesy of a section called “Trees” which is instantly forgettable. Another duff entry is the story of Johnny Appleseed, who is apparently an American folk hero. Why is hard to see from this offering as the story seems to be that this fella went and grew apples in the West. That’s it. I’m sure the real story has more to it, but here it’s all rather dull.

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Johnny Appleseed, one boring, boring folk tale

Johnny goes West, befriends the critters, plants the trees and these help the westward expansion of America. I don’t want to get too political here, but even for a kids’ movie this dumbs down the pioneer years and we see Native Americans briefly at a festival where they celebrate apples, everyone is happy with the new status quo. Most worryingly is a kind of manifest destiny vibe where Johnny’s guardian angel tells him to go West to help the frontiersmen, as if the whole thing is divinely mandated.

The musical accompaniment is alright, but the story is rather uninvolving. Slightly more entertaining is “Blame it on the Samba” which reunites Donald Duck and Jose Carioca for the third time. This upbeat number is quite fun and the visuals, featuring the cartoon characters interacting with live action organ player Ethel Smith. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be a story or much of a point, and it’s just a nice upbeat part.

Similarly “Bumble Boogie”, which presents a jazzy update of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is quite fun. It’s got a surreal vibe and the marriage of music and visuals is well done, with the musical instruments morphing into flowers and other things which the bee hero navigates his way through.

The remaining two sections have clearer stories and the first of these, “Little Toot” sung by the Andrews Sisters is quite good fun, dealing with a young tugboat who wants to be like his dad but only succeeds in causing trouble before coming good.

The last section, and the one which closes the film, is the story of Western folk legend Pecos Bill and is narrated by Roy Rogers. It’s got some nice moments, mainly from the hyperbolic exploits of the hero, who lassos a tornado and uses lightning to light a cigarette. There’s a goofy spirit to the proceedings and it’s probably the most fun of the sections, and the story is well done. The visuals are reminiscent of the madcap Looney Tunes style and it has an energy which is lacking elsewhere.

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Pecos Bill in action

Again the wilderness period throws up another package film, and this one has more misses than hits. While the art is solid throughout, and the marriage of live action and animation is slicker here, it still feels lacklustre and too much seems to be included to bump up the running time.

I can’t wait to get back to proper feature length stories, oh well, at least the end of the wilderness period is in sight now.

Disney Score: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #9: Fun and Fancy Free

This movie is essentially a double feature of shorter stories, and both parts are pretty decent, if flawed.

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The linking device is Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), who sets up both stories. Firstly he arrives in a playroom where he plays a record which plays music by Dinah Shore that serves as narration for the first part.

This deals with the story of Bongo, a circus bear who fed up of his “gilded cage” escapes and winds up living in the woods. He struggles to adapt at first but soon finds his feet and falls for Lulubelle.

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Unfortunately, having been raised in the circus he has no idea of bear courtship rituals which apparently involve slapping each other, and he is hurt when Lulubelle strikes him. Lulubelle then gets grabbed by the hulking, bullying Lumpjaw. When Bongo realises his mistake he runs back to Lulubelle and fights off his rival.

I kinda dug this part because the story is quite well done and the action is madcap and fun. There’s also a marvellously surreal sequence as Bongo and Lulubelle fall in love, which is rather trippy. I also like that as with Dumbo the film is pretty hard on how circuses treat animals, which is quite ahead of it’s time. There are a few parts when it drags a little and the song isn’t particularly catchy, but it still mostly works.

Jiminy then finds a invitation to a party and goes to it. Here he arrives at the weirdest party ever. I get that this film comes from a more innocent era, but for a modern viewer it’s kinda weird that a grown man throws a party for a little girl which is only attended by her and his two ventriloquist dummies. I guess that in the context of the film the ventriloquist dummies are meant to be real characters, but it still feels odd. Why not throw in another couple of kids?

Also, ventriloquist dummies are creepy as hell anyway, but one of them in particular, Mortimer, will haunt my dreams.

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What nightmares are made of

The ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen, then narrates the story of “Mickey and the Beanstalk”, with the dummies throwing in gags along the way. Some of these gags actually work, and the dummy Charlie offers sarky commentary and postmodern nods to the story. The story is of course Jack and the Beanstalk but with Mickey in the role, accompanied by Goofy and Donald.

It’s worth mentioning that this movie would be the last feature length outing for Mickey where Walt himself provided the voice.

The story is familiar and told with a few changes, Happy Valley is suffering because the Golden Harp has been stolen, and when they grow the beanstalk they find it in the possession of the giant. It’s an okay story, but it goes on a bit long and sags in the middle.

There are a few moments where it works, such as when Donald, mad with hunger, tries to kill the farm’s cow, which the little girl is appalled by. And Donald is the most entertaining as the barely controlled ball of rage.

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Mickey and Goofy are their usual selves and the story is told well enough. The ending where Willie the Giant is shown to have survived is a cop out and a daft flourish the movie doesn’t need.

The two part structure actually works, with both stories having enough room unlike in the previous episodic movies. But it doesn’t feel like a complete film and the presence of the creepy dummies hurt it a lot in my view.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #8: Make Mine Music

We’re still deep in the wilderness years for this one, which is kinda like a pop music version of Fantasia, with this being a series of animated pieces to music. The problem is that in terms of art and music it can’t match the earlier effort. This is understandable as this was made during the Second World War and many of Walt’s men were overseas or making propaganda. Feature length animation had stopped being a priority and like Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, this is a package affair.

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While those were linked by themes of location, here it’s a much more muddled effort and as such the segments are rather hit and miss. As a kid I must have seen some of this as I remember the “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met”, the final part and this is one of the stronger, telling a complete story which uses music well and is quite funny.

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Aside from this it all felt new to me. Some pieces like “After You’ve Gone”, “Two Silhouettes” and “Blue Bayou” are incredibly forgettable, and I’d struggle to give many details on any of them, despite having watched it a few hours before writing this.

These are the more serious parts and they all fall flat, with the comedic entries having to carry the film and even here they drop the ball. “Casey at the Bat” a reading of a poem about a cocky baseball player coming a cropper is quite fun, but goes on a bit.

“Peter and the Wolf” is the closest this gets to classical and it’s a well done piece, with the different instruments working well and the cartoon style in bringing the characters alive is charming, even if the ending is a cop out.

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The hillbilly star crossed lovers who turn up in “The Martins and the Coys” are quite good fun too, even though it is a bit weird to see a bloody turf war turned into comedy. Nonetheless, it’s got some nice touches and the ending where the loving couple fall out after marriage is a neat kicker to the story.

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“Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet” is sweet enough but rather dull, but the jazzy “All the Cats Join In” is a treat. Capturing the fun, fast paced life of a group of teenagers it’s cleverly animated with the artist’s pencil adding details as the story progresses. The dance scene is quite good fun, and the energy of the piece lifts the film, although any momentum is utterly lost in “Without You”, a mournful ballad of lost love.

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All in all this is a frustrating watch with the changes in tone jarring and the lack of a through line to connect the pieces means it never feels like a movie and rather just a collection of shorts. And you wonder why they’ve been put together in this order.

Disappointing.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #43: The Princess and the Frog

Long time readers will know that I’ve been doing the Disney Classics films in order, but I’m going to jump ahead to include this on my list of favourite movies.

This movie was Disney returning to their roots with a fairy tale inspired story rendered in traditional animation and introducing the latest Disney Princess. And it ticks a lot of boxes, boasting a quality soundtrack, a funny script, a great villain and an involving central story. On it’s own merits it would rank high on my Disney list but what makes it a personal favourite is a sentimental attachment.

This is the first movie that MWF and I watched together, before we were a couple and just friends. We’d hung out for the day chatting and then put this on as MWF insisted I had to see it. It would be a while after this that we got together, but the movie and the day we spent together when we watched it were when I started to genuinely fancy her.

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The movie riffs on the traditional Frog Prince story, but gives it a clever twist. The old tale is retold in New Orleans, at the start by Eudora (voiced by Oprah Winfrey), a black seamstress to the daughter of her white boss and her own daughter, and the boss’ daughter dreams of meeting her prince. The seamstress’ daughter wants to run a restaurant with her father, but he reminds her that it takes hard work as well as wishing to get things done.

We then jump forward to the 1920s, and the seamstress’ daughter Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is now a young woman, still chasing her dream of the restaurant by working two jobs and saving every penny she can. Her social life suffers and her mother worries that she is failing to enjoy her life and is working too hard. An opportunity to get the money needed for the building she wants for the restaurant arises when her old friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) offers her a catering job as her wealthy father is hosting a big party.

Charlotte, still obsessed with landing her prince is excited as the party is hosting Prince Naveen, a handsome, suave young man.

Naveen (Bruno Campos) is a bit of a playboy and used to having money, although his parents have now cut him off. Arriving in New Orleans with his valet Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) he wants to live the high life but Lawrence reminds him he needs to settle down and get married if he wants to get back on the gravy train.

Naveen and Lawrence meet Doctor Facilier (Keith David), a voodoo witch doctor who reads their fortune and then tricks them into a bargain. His magic transforms Lawrence into Naveen, while Naveen becomes a frog who they lock away. Facilier plans for Lawrence to marry Charlotte, after which he will kill her father Big Daddy (John Goodman) and get his fortune and influence.

Naveen escapes and at the party meets Tiana, who has just been told her bid for the building has been rejected. Inspired by the story he tells Tiana she needs to kiss him, thinking she is a princess. She is reluctant to do until he promises to give her the money for her restaurant. When they kiss, however, it is Tiana who is transformed, becoming a frog as well.

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Naveen turns on the charm

Naveen realises that Tiana, despite her costume, is not a princess and that’s why it didn’t work. She in turn learns that he is broke. Both then get lost in the swamps and must try to find their way back in order to stop Facilier’s plan and return to their human form. Along the way they are assisted by Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) a trumpet playing alligator who dreams of playing Jazz and Ray (Jim Cummings), a cajun firefly. They are led to meet voodoo queen Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis) who they hope can help them.

The movie works because it’s got bucketloads of charm and a host of cool characters. And unlike a lot of Disney movies the leads are among the best characters on show here, with both Tiana and Naveen being very likeable. Their dynamic works brilliantly with the strait laced Tiana clashing with the laidback, pampered Naveen. Naveen oozes suave charm throughout and his carefree approach to life is fun, although he comes to learn that some things require work and that sometimes sacrifice is needed. In the same way he helps Tiana loosen up and realise that there are more important things than work and success.

Tiana is one of the better Princess heroines, as she’s shown to be smart, tough and hard working throughout. While she may need her priorities sorting out she is still a great heroine, being very proactive and swinging into action when needs be. She’s a very modern princess and works well, telling the audience that it isn’t enough to wait for good things to happen, you have to go out and make them happen.

The supporting cast are great, particularly Ray and Louis their guides in the swamp. Louis’ stupidity is endearing and his bizarre dream works well, and Ray is just flat out brilliant. With his bayou accent and spirit he is more than just comic relief and serves to educate the leads as to what love is about.

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And Tiana’s loud, brassy friend Charlotte is a great character, full of life and chattering constantly she could easily be a simply ridiculous character, but the script gives her a chance to show greater depths of friendship, decency and kindness. All of this without diluting her over the top character.

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Charlotte- Ditzy but sweet

Of course, all the best Disney movies have a great villain and here the film scores a big win with the sneaky, smooth talking Doctor Facilier, wonderfully voiced by Keith David. During his songs and speeches he delivers funny asides and is shown to be a smart, scheming foe. Distinctly creepy at times, it also works because Facilier doesn’t have power in a real sense, having received his gifts as part of a deal with his “friends on the other side”. It means that he too is under the cosh and the dark forces are kept at the fringes although they do make menacing appearances, and his main skill is reading and exploiting people’s weaknesses.

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The plot flows well and the development works, with the relationship feeling real and the turns making sense. There’s also a gut punch in the final act which continues a Disney trend of actually sneaking in some dark moments into what people dismiss as cheesy and cheery kids films. Even as a grown man it left me with a lump in the throat.

Of course, it all ends well, and the ending is satisfying. It’s a very rewatchable flick and the music, influenced by the New Orleans setting is filled with some crackers, especially the villain song and Ray’s ode to his distant love Evangeline.

Fun, charming and well done this is one of my favourite movies and high on the list of my favourite Disney movies too.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Beauty and the Beast

I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.

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The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.

Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.

Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.

Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.

Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?

This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.

Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.

But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.

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Belle: A great heroine

She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.

The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.

One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…

These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.

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Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.

However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.

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The old ones were a lot friendlier looking, I’m just saying

Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.

But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.

Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.

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Le Fou tries to calm Gaston

As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.

All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.

It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.

Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Films of 2016

So, I saw a fair few new movies this year and these were my favourites.

10. Doctor Strange

Marvel goes magical as Benedict Cumberbatch dons the cape as the sorcerer supreme in a hugely entertaining and gorgeous to look at movie of a selfish man forced to reassess his priorities and become a hero. Full review.

9. Ghostbusters

Rebooting a much loved and well crafted movie was always going to be tricky and the makers of this flick caught a fair amount of flak. I loved the original but the new version worked for me. It kept the laughs coming and the four leads all did their jobs well. As good as Murray and Co? No, but still pretty damn good. Review.


8. Captain America: Civil War
The biggest Marvel movie so far pits hero against hero as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chris Evans) clash over new restrictions on the heroes. Great fight scenes and a solid story ensure this is an entertaining super flick up there with the best in the MCU. It also introduced the latest on screen Spider-man who’s probably the best so far, and that’s just after a few minutes.

I’m Team Iron Man, by the way. Find out why.

7. Pete’s Dragon

A gloriously warm and charming story about a boy raised in the wild by a dragon and his journey to find a new family. Reduced MWF to tears and left me a little choked up too. Magical filmmaking. Review.


6. The Revenant
A gritty and at times grim tale of survival features a fantastic central performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and is utterly gorgeous. Thoroughly gripping throughout. Full review.

5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I have mixed feelings about the Harry Potter films but this prequel/spin-off really worked for me thanks to the fantastic beasts living up to their hype and a core group of very likeable characters. Really charming film. I rave about it here, but there are spoilers.

4. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets the superhero he deserves as he plays the crude, wise cracking mercenary granted superpowers and out for a cure. Gloriously OTT violence, postmodern humour and a real sense of fun this movie was a real winner for me. Read me barely containing my man crushing here.


3. Moana
The latest Disney movie features a strong female lead embarking on an exciting adventure and a scene stealing turn from Dwayne Johnson. Great fun. The full review is here.


2. Zootropolis
A Disney film with a buddy movie vibe fused with a noirish conspiracy this is a wonderful movie with a good message at the heart. There’s also a fantastically creative and innovative world created. Loved it and it stands up to repeat viewings. Review.

1. The Jungle Book

A remake of a much loved classic that I was nervous about which actually blew my socks off. Fun, moving and gorgeous this was a masterpiece. The voice cast is good, the thrills gripping and the characters loveable. A gem of a movie and I gush about it here.

Have I missed one of your personal favourites, or picked a movie you hated? Let me know, but keep it civil!
You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #7: The Three Caballeros

The second film of the “wilderness period” struggles as it feels far too close to it’s predecessor. Like Saludos Amigos this is based in South America, episodic and features Donald Duck.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched them so close together but I had no idea how similar they would be. Similar, but with the earlier film being superior.

The problem here is that they rely too much on mixing live action and cartoon and in some places this looks a bit creaky. Also the Donald Duck parts are the weakest mainly concerning Donald running around chasing women.

Some of these sequences are flat it trippy as he and his companions Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles (a red rooster from Mexico) jump through the pages of books about the continent. Donald chasing after real human women is a bit weird and you wonder what Daisy must have thought. While played for laughs it feels drawn out and starts leaning into sex pest territory.

Luckily some of the other sections work quite well. The music is quality and the different folk dances are quite good. But the real winners are the animated shorts which are rather charming. The first about a penguin who dreams of escaping to warmer climes is funny and well done with a “grass is always greener” ending.

The other is a goofy but entertaining story about a young boy who finds a flying donkey who he buddies up with and uses to win a race. The whole thing is narrated by the boy as a grown man, exasperated by his youthful stupidity and there’s a nice breaking if the fourth wall. It helps that the donkey is cute and likeable.

It’s okay, but drags in places and hasn’t aged well. There’s also a sense of trying to cover old ground. The animated shorts work but you wonder if they wouldn’t have been better as stand alone shorts.
Not without it’s charms but a weak effort.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #6: Saludos Amigos

It wasn’t until I got with MWF and saw her complete, chronological collection of the Disney Classics that I realised that my impression of the series was out of whack. I always thought there was this long Golden Age and then the shaky 70s-80s era before the Silver Age of the nineties and onwards. It turns out this isn’t the case.

The first five Disney films (see earlier posts in this series) mark the Golden Age of big, much loved and familiar hits. Then there’s this period of lesser known films before Disney emerges from the wilderness with the twelfth movie Cinderella which kick-starts the Silver Age which lasts until the early ’80s.

What’s a shame is that this film, the first of the wilderness years is actually quite a charming piece.

But it is easy to see why it hasn’t endured as much as the others. The travelogue style feels a little dated as does the South America it represents. For later audiences seeing the film open with the artists boarding a plane and some stock footage might spark memories of dull educational films. Like Fantasia it feels like a gamble and something which you can’t imagine the studio trying now.

The documentary parts are done quite well and there’s affection and respect in how they treat the local cultures even if it is brief and simplified. But they mainly serve as a frame on which to hang the different animated sections.

The star here is Donald Duck, who I’ve always preferred to Mickey (who was always too squeaky clean, and Donald’s temper makes him more relatable). Donald plays the hapless tourist who has to deal with the dangerous conditions at Lake Titicaca and a temperamental llama. This sequence is quite fun and well done, especially a dangerous rope bridge crossing.

Donald reappears in the final sequence, a musical number where he dances to samba music with Jose Carioca, a green parrot from Brazil, who introduces him to various parts of South American culture. The scene is quite cool with a catchy, cheerful soundtrack and the birds interacting with the artist’s paintbrush which is pretty cool.

The other sections are a slapstick piece about Argentinian gauchos featuring Goofy which is daft fun.

There’s also a short about a young plane trying to cross the Andes which has enough peril to keep you hooked and is rather sweet.

Due to the way it’s set up it’s not the most cinematic of films and it feels more like a TV special. But it’s entertaining enough and manages to educate while still feeling fun and keeping the momentum going. 

It lacks the level of artistry of Fantasia or the narrative drive of the other films and so while it’s charming enough it doesn’t stick with you in the same way, and it does seem dated in places.

That being said, I was glad I watched it and enjoyed it while I did, but it’s definitely a lesser entry.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Moana

Disney have been in fine form the last few years and their latest continues that trend being a delightful, charming adventure which even raised MWF’s spirits during a weekend she was suffering with “man flu”.

The story follows Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) the daughter of the chief of a small Polynesian island. Despite her father trying to guide her towards her responsibilities as future chief, she is bewitched by the sea and longs to explore it, despite the tribal law of never leaving the safety of the reef. When the fish supplies start to dwindle and the coconut harvest is rotten the island is in trouble. 

Mama’s grandmother (Rachel House) shows her a hidden cave where Moana discovers the ships used by the tribe when they had roamed the seas generations before, but stopped as monsters and storms claimed their ships. These monsters were the result of Te Fiti, an island goddess and bringer of life having her heart stolen by the demigod Maui. The heart was lost but found it’s way to Moana as a small child as the ocean had chosen her to help restore the heart.

Moana sets out to find Maui and get him to return the heart and stop the darkness which threatens her island. However, she has little experience at sea and discovers that Maui (Dwayne Johnson) is a self centred braggart who is powerless without the hook which carries his divine abilities.

She convinces him to aid her by playing on his ego and need to be the hero and they set off to find his hook so that they can complete their mission. On the way they must face a giant, treasure hoarding crab and coconut pirates.

Can they return the heart? Or will the powerful lava god that defeated Maui before be too much for him again? And when things get hard can she count on the selfish demigod?
What I love about this film is that the heroine and her quest is genuinely captivating and Moana is a strong, believable protagonist. She is driven and determined, but also fallible and doubts herself. Out of her depth she nonetheless shows grit and resourcefulness and pushes onwards. 

This all stems from a sense of duty to her people, and her responsible attitude means that she is at odds with Maui from the get go. Maui, voiced with easy charisma and overblown swagger by Dwayne Johnson steals the show somewhat thanks to his showy posturing. It’s a testament to Johnson that even removed from the physicality that made him famous his natural charisma still shines through. 

His moving tattoos are a nice touch and he is developed over the course of the film, developing nicely into the hero he proclaims himself to be at the start.

His first song “You’re Welcome” is a boastful delight and his moving tattoos, depicting his past deeds are a nice touch, especially his bickering relationship with one of them. He’s a hugely memorable character and his unwilling partnership with Moana is handled well. 

They spark off each other and his repeated attempts to ditch her are quite amusing. Their developing affection is done well, feeling natural and never clunky, and they play off each other well with her quiet determination contrasting nicely with his loud bravado.

The supporting cast don’t have much to do, although the character of Gramma Tala is very amusing and loveable. Confessing to be the village’s “crazy old lady” she is the only person who encourages and understands Moana’s desire to leave the island and guides her quest. Despite filling the “wise elder” role she is a fun presence and some of the scenes between her and her granddaughter really hit home emotionally.

Gramma Tala captures the warmth that is at the heart of this film, and which comes jumping from the screen. I was utterly charmed and loved every second.

The film looks gorgeous and the characters are designed beautifully and there is plenty of visual humour from Moana’s pet chicken and Maui’s tattoos, and plenty in a clever, charming script. 

It’s laugh out loud funny, gripping and filled with wonderful characters. It’s not the best Disney film ever, but it’s pretty damn high on the list.

Verdict: Simply amazing. Fun, fast paced and full of character, this is a great family movie with a great heroine and a scene stealing Dwayne Johnson. Disney knock this one out of the park and produce another superb movie. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.