Commentary &Disney 22 Jan 2013 08:28 am

Rambling on some Disney Features

- A stash of Disney animated features were on television this Sunday. Hercules, Lady and the Tramp, Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, Cinderella, and The Lion King all followed each other immediately, one on top of the other. Actually some of them even overlapped each other. The credits for Hercules (miniscule and too tiny to read) played on the left half of the screen while the opening credits for Lady and the Tramp played on the right half of the screen. They were going to milk every ounce of Disney Family viewing they could for the money.

I was pretty sick on Sunday, the flu has struck our little home hard, and I’m not yet down for the count but feel pretty close. So I could see how much of this 2D mania I could stomach – flu and all. I didn’t come in to it until the very end of Hercules, which is probably the one film I would have liked seeing again, but virtually missed.

Some quick notes: It was nice to see Lady and the Tramp letterboxed for Cinemascope. The opening is still as tender as ever, and the Siamese cats are beautifully layed out for scope. The layout, backgrounds and animation – particularly the effects animation of the chase for Tramp in the dog pound wagon is exceptional. I think it’s probably one of the best sequences in the film. “Bella Notte,” of course, works well, but except for the sentimental emotion the sequence was never one of my favorites. There isn’t much for the dogs to do while the singing continues. They do pull a lot out of the spaghetti, but for much of it, the dogs just sit there, or in closer shots chew their food.

Alice seemed loud and aggressive though some of the coloring seemed inspired, and it’s amazing to see how much of Mary Blair is still in there in some parts – particularly the end of the caterpillar sequence. I found the Cheshire Cat a blessing in the wilderness. A lot is done with little subject matter, and it’s all in the excellent animation, of course. It’s obvious that Alice is a tough character to animate, but she’s done brilliantly. Essentially, she’s the “straight man” for everyone else in the film. She just sits there while the other characters bounce their schtick off of her. As I noted in a past post I am intrigued by the use of shadows in the transitional parts of the film. It works stunningly well , and this device virtually holds a lot of the film together in some odd quiet little way. I’d be curious to see more of this done with other films. You need a director with a big vision watching out for the film as a whole. I’m not crazy about a lot of the wild animation of the many zany characters that seem more cartoon to me than do they feel like Lewis Carrol creatures. There’s an interesting little scene where Alice sits down to cry in the woods. At first, she’s alone, then like Snow White in a similar situation feels sorry for herself and lets go. Little woodland creatures, deer and squirrels and rabbits and birds surround Snow White. Alice greets the odd little cartoon characters which feel as though they’d escaped from Clampett’s Porky in Wackyland. The woodland characters in Snow White serve the purpose of moving the heroine forward in the story to the dwarfs’ cottage. The zanies in Alice just disappear before she stops crying. Essentially, they’re pointless little creatures that offer nothing to the film. Fortunately the Cheshire Cat returns at this point. He fades in just as all the others have faded off.

Aladdin has always bothered me. It feels more like a Warner Bros film than a Disney feature. The wild animation and even the style of the animation gives me good reason to feel this way. However, I think I came to terms with that in watching it again (maybe my 12th time?) mixed in with these other movies. The film is what it is and does it well. Eric Goldberg’s genie is a classic combination with the Robin Williams voice over, and Eric gets full use of that voice and the business happening on screen. The material presented has dated some, though not as bad as I expected. How lone before kids don’t know who people like Ed Sullivan are? Though I suppose this is similar to the personalities left over from the celebrity cartoons of the 30′s & 40′s. Mother Goose Goes Hollywood needs a program of its own to tell us who half of those caricatures represent. And they are great pieces of art that Joe Grant did for them. The villain in Aladdin tries hard but he’s not menacing just threatening. There was never anything that I worried about with him, and this feeling goes back to my very first viewing of the film. I do like the tiger in the film, Jasminda’s pet. That cat makes up for the ineffectual father. His character is not anything I can really associate with.

Cinderella is a very interesting film. I go into it thinking I hate it and get completely tied up with the extraordinary pacing of the film. Every scene is so exact and tight. They really knew what they were doing. I’m not the biggest fan of the human animation, but at the same time I’m in awe of it. It isn’t really rotoscoping, but it’s so beautifully pulled off the live action they shot, that it feels completely fresh. The cartoon animals play off the humans as the dwarfs did in Snow White. They look as they they come from different films and the style of animation is so different. The set pieces are exquisite. That entire piece with Cinderella locked in her room, the animals fighting to release her all those stairs away and the final reveal of her own glass slipper. It’s so beautifully melodramatic and so perfectly executed. Yes, this is an odd film for me to watch.

I didn’t make it to The Lion King. I’ve seen that about half a dozen times in the last few months so preferred watching my soap opera – Downton Abbey.

Watching these films back to back to back like this sort of lessens them but at the same time one is overwhelmed by the amazing craftsmanship held so high for so long. For years I felt the modern films, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules were lesser efforts compared to what the “masters” did. But now I’m sure they’re every bit as good as some of the later classics. No, I don’t think Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi can be beaten today, but the new films are definitely equal to Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and anything later than that. (I actually think Sleeping Beauty is in a class of its own and haven’t seen the equal to that from the more recent people. Actually, I take that back. I think Prince of Egypt is right up there. That’s a magnificent film, and it’s one I’d like to discuss more in depth sometime soon.)

Oh, of course, this is all my own opinionated nonsense. Someone else would have a completely different list. I’m, obviously, leaving cg films out of this discussion. To be honest, I can’t even find a story there that I think measures up to most of the Disney classics. I’m also not thinking much about non-Disney works, but there’s an obvious reason for that. However, some of those Dreamworks 2D films are exceptional and deserve a lot of attention. Attention they haven’t received. Spirit has stunning animation, as do a number of others. They really need a bit of time.

I had some bigger thoughts brought on by watching them all, but I’ve gone on too long already. So I’ll let this rambling post fizzle out. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m getting to enjoy writing these diatribes.

6 Responses to “Rambling on some Disney Features”

  1. on 22 Jan 2013 at 2:31 pm 1.the Gee said …

    ” However, some of those Dreamworks 2D films are exceptional and deserve a lot of attention. Attention they haven’t received. Spirit has stunning animation, as do a number of others. They really need a bit of time.

    What do you mean by them needing more time? For your appreciation or some revisited critical assessment or what exactly?

    Actually, that brings up something (perhaps only interesting to me right now)

    Is Disney the only feature animation studio that does revivals, re-issues its films for screenings? Even with the 3D-ified 90s movies, it re-issues.

    But, has Dreamworks or any other studio bothered to try? And, I could see some anime features sort of qualifying as an answer but I guess part of this is whatever a studio considers its “classics”. (not to be cynical, but, these days one generation could pass before something gets that label slapped on it.)

  2. on 22 Jan 2013 at 4:48 pm 2.Alfred von Cervera said …

    I think The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the highest aesthetical point the new generation of Disney animators reached. I also agree with you, but for some reason, maybe completely personal, the films made on the 70s stand so well against time, even though they pale in comparison to Pinoccio, Bambi, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.

  3. on 23 Jan 2013 at 12:59 pm 3.Michael said …

    I like thae artwork on he Hunchback, too. I’m not crazy about the way the story works, but the songs are out of this world. The Hunchback is beautifully animated as is the villain. I’m not crazy about the Demi Moore character and I hate the idea of the gargoyles animated as well as everything about them.

    A lot of work went into that film. A Noble effort.

  4. on 29 Jan 2013 at 6:30 am 4.Nat said …

    Regarding Disney films and Warner Bros, I’d say that The Emperor’s New Groove is even more like a WB film than Aladdin.

  5. on 29 Jan 2013 at 9:09 am 5.Michael said …

    The Emperor’s New Groove was certainly an outgrowth of what was started in Aladdin. However, Emperor has the starkly angular characters which moved off angled motions and betrayed the circular moves of the beautiful WB cartoons. Emperor was also nastily cynical and sarcastic as well. It played off the humor of celebrity David Spade, and chose the very dark and unpleasant humor of that comic in a poor attempt to be hip. It’s definitely not a film I’d play for children. Whereas Aladdin played for both chldren and adults, Emperor was designed for 14 year old boys. No wonder Sting was so upset. This may be closer to the more recent attempts at bastardizing the WB characters than anything Jones, Freleng or McKimpson ever did.

  6. on 07 Apr 2013 at 1:48 am 6.Dan said …

    I remember really disliking Hercules when I saw it in theaters as a kid. A lot of people really love it and label it as one of the best movies to come out of the studio, though I think a lot of that is the “90′s kid” phenomenon. Michael Barrier’s comments on the film coupled with an extensive (and incredibly scathing) review on TV Tropes has made me very reluctant to revisit it.

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