Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: Dumbo

Dumbo, 1941

"I seen a peanut stand, and heard a rubber band; I've seen a needle that winked its eye.  
But I been done seen about everything when I see an elephant fly." 

I was doing a bit of background reading on this movie, and I found out that Disney made Dumbo to be simple and cheap, to make up for the financial failure of Fantasia.  Lets face it...even though I loved the movie, Fantasia was received very poorly by the public.  Because of this simple mindset that went into creating Dumbo, the animation isn't as detailed, and is in fact more "cartoon-y" than previous movies.  Plus, it's only like an hour long.  Fun fact: It also made use of watercolor backgrounds, which apparently were only used in 2 other Disney animated films: Snow White and Lilo and Stitch.  Anyways, trivia time is over...

I loved this movie.  Yes, the animation is simple and lacks the detail that would later become a Disney trademark.  But I think this is the first movie that Disney made where I really adored the main character.  Dumbo, although he doesn't speak, is so stinkin' cute.  It was easy to fall in love with the little baby elephant, because lets face it - who doesn't love baby animals?! There were many 'awwww' moments in this movie.  

Despite only being an hour long, there are a lot of great scenes in the movie.  The music is great, although I think by far the best song in the movie happens when Dumbo goes to visit his mother, who is in confinement.  A lullaby plays ("Baby Mine") while his mother rocks him through the cell doors.  I'm totally not ashamed to say that I cried during this song.  Watch it, and you'll see why.  This poor elephant has nobody in the world except for his mother, who he can't even be with.  Thankfully, Timothy Mouse befriends him and helps him cope with the bullies in the circus who make fun of Dumbo for his long ears.  I think its kind of funny that they created the friendship between a mouse and an elephant - it shows that relationships can form even in the most unlikely places!

Another scene that I love happens when Timothy Mouse and Dumbo accidentally get drunk and have hallucinations of pink elephants.  Yep, that totally happens.  This is so trippy! It's a bunch of neon elephants dancing and multiplying and warping into weird stuff.  Even the song is trippy.  Seriously, if you haven't seen this, go to YouTube and look up "Pink Elephants on Parade."  You'll love it.

Yes, there is the allegations of stereotypes with the black crows being stereotypical African-Americans.  I doubt Disney intended it to be this way, though.  The crows are super smart, and are sort of free spirits who don't take orders from anyone.  And, despite teasing Dumbo in light-hearted fun, they are actually the characters that are the nicest and most supportive of him.

Overall grade: A+

There was nothing about this movie that I didn't like!  It was short and sweet, full of endearing characters, tear-jerking moments, and plenty of humor.  If you haven't seen it, check it out! I guarantee that you will like, if not love, this movie. 

Review: The Reluctant Dragon

The Reluctant Dragon, 1941

 "I promise not to rant or roar, and scourge the countryside anymore!"

I've never seen this movie before.  I've never actually even heard of it before.  It's a weird little movie, consisting of four different parts.  First, there's the live-action part that takes you through Walt Disney Studios and shows you how the movies are made.  We see everything ranging from the film score, the animation studios, the camera room, and even how they mix the paint.  Some of this was pretty interesting - they had a funny segment on voice-overs where we met the voice of Donald Duck.  We also saw the animation of Bambi, which wasn't going to be released for another year.  So that was kind of cool.  However, I can see how this would be boring for people who aren't really interested in the movie-making process.  

There are four short animated segments in the movie.  The first is a black and white segment featuring Casey Junior, who we will later see in Dumbo.  They used this animation to show how Disney creates and implements sound effects.  It's really not very exciting at just shows Casey Junior in various states of motion and a bunch of guys banging on random household items to create the sound effects.  

"Baby Weems" is the next cartoon, which we see when we reach the storyboard section of the tour.  It's a short technicolor cartoon that tells the story of a baby who was born smarter than any other genius in the world.  The baby gives speeches and becomes a world-renowned figure until something happens and he gets sick.  What happens to the baby?! You'll have to watch the cartoon to find out!!!  (I wouldn't watch it, though.  It's basically set up like a storybook, told by a narrator along with a slide show of cartoon pictures.  Like a storyboard.  Which makes sense.  Because they are trying to explain how storyboards work.  Woo.  It's still boring.)

Goofy's "How to Ride a Horse" is the next cartoon, and in my opinion, it's the best.  I don't really remember what part of the studio it was associated with, because I was getting pretty bored with the live-action section by this point.  But this cartoon definitely caught my attention again.  Not only do we have a character that is funny and interesting (Goofy), but we also have another funny and interesting character (the horse) that provides conflict and interest when it comes to the story.  The Horse doesn't want to be ridden, and so he is always doing his best to outsmart Goofy, which creates for some pretty funny moments.  This is definitely a cute cartoon, and I'd watch it again.

And then we have the longer cartoon "The Reluctant Dragon."  For being the title cartoon in the movie, this was pretty disappointing.  The story itself is interesting enough - a town finds out that there is a dragon living outside of their town, and become fearful and wants him to be slain.  A boy goes to check out the situation and finds the dragon, who prefers poetry to fighting, and who is very sweet and happy and gay.  Yep, the dragon definitely is a bit of a flamer.  It's kind of adorable.  Disney should have gone further with this vibe, but of course they didn't (this was the 1940s after all).  This little story didn't seem very cohesive, though, because at the end the dragon has a mock battle with the knight, where he pretends to get stabbed and pretends to die.  But then later on, he becomes accepted into society, because he's friendly and doesn't want to hurt anybody.  Ummm....what? Didn't society just see him get stabbed and die?  Also, the crowd was totally cheering when the dragon 'died'.  So I'm wondering what happened between then and from when he was inaugurated as a town citizen?  Were they not freaked out that this zombie dragon came to life?  I don't was weird.  The story could have been fleshed out much more into an actual animated feature, and I think I probably would have liked it better if it had been more elaborate.  

Overall Grade: C (-)

Yeah, not going to lie...this isn't Disney's best work.  With the exception of the Goofy cartoon and the few interesting tidbits from the studio tour, this was a snoozefest.  Save your time and just YouTube Goofy's "How to Ride a Horse."  You can thank me later.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Fantasia

Fantasia, 1940

"What you're going to see are the designs and pictures and stories that music inspired in the minds and imaginations of a group of artists. In other words, these are not going to be the interpretations of trained musicians, which I think is all to the good."

 Fantasia was quite the bold move for Disney.  How do you make a movie for children that has no dialogue to it?  How do you make classical music fun?  I might be a bit biased, but I think that Fantasia is one of the greatest animated features that Disney ever made.  There are eight different "stories," each told through music and animation.  

The first (Toccata and Fugue in D minor) is abstract, alternating between live action shots of the orchestra and animated bursts of light, color, and lines.  To me, this was a poor choice to start the movie with.  It doesn't tell a story, and it is much more metaphysical than any of the other pieces.  A better choice would have been to start with the Nutcracker Suite.

The Nutcracker Suite makes up the second story, and shows a variety of dances, bringing objects in nature to life.  We see dancing leaves, flowers, and mushrooms (my personal favorite - the baby one is so cute!), as well as fish and fairies. It's much more exciting to watch than the first section, but the best is yet to come.

The third (Sorcerer's Apprentice) is the most famous segment from Fantasia, which tells the story of a magician's apprentice, played by the beloved Mickey Mouse, who thinks that he has more powers than he actually does.  The music accompanies this animation so well that I don't even really notice that there is no dialogue.  

Following Sorcerer Mickey, we see the evolution of planet earth - a long, somewhat boring segment until we get to the dinosaurs - then it gets super exciting!  It's an interesting choice of music (Rite of Spring), and even more interesting that Disney decided to animate this music with dinosaurs...especially since the original music was for a ballet.  This is actually a little morbid, because along with the evolution of dinosaurs, it also shows the extinction of dinosaurs....and the music is kinda creepy, not gonna lie.

Next we lighten up with the Pastoral Symphony, a programmatic piece of music, which means that when the composer wrote the symphony, he had a particular story in mind.  It's kind of cool to see the story brought to life in animation.  This is my favorite segment of Fantasia!  There's pegasuses, (pegusi? I don't know what the plural of Pegasus is) baby cupids, centaurs, fauns, and all sorts of mythological creatures.  We also see the gods - Zeus, Apollo, and Bacchus, the god of wine. 

Following this is the Dance of the Hours, a whimsical ballet with elephants, ostriches, and hippopotamuses (yep. seriously.)  It's completely ridiculous, but it's also very fun!

The dramatic finale is Night on Bald Mountain which transitions into Ave Maria.  Holy cow, what a finale!  First we see this big scary demon raising hell (literally) to this terrifying music - it's perhaps one of the scariest moments in any Disney movie!  When the Ave Maria starts, the demons go away, and we get a bunch of monks walking through a forest into a cathedral.  Not going to lie, I don't really love the Ave Maria part.  It's a little anticlimactic.

Overall Grade: A(-)

I love this movie.  I am also a classically trained musician, so I am totally biased.  I love seeing Disney animation paired with some of my favorite classical pieces.  While I would have done some things differently, I still think this is such an innovative and unique project, and it remains one of my absolute favorite Disney movies.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Pinocchio

Pinocchio, 1940

"A lie keeps growing and growing until it is as plain as the nose on your face."

Wow.  It's amazing that this movie came just three years after Snow White.  There are so many things that are BETTER - particularly the character development!  I think that it's in this movie that Disney really finds its voice which draws the viewer into becoming emotionally invested in the story.

The story opens with the same fairytale storybook theme, and we are immediately introduced to the characters.  Clearly, Disney realized that they are good at the animal thing, because they made Figaro (the cat) so stinkin' CUTE!!!  Figaro is probably my favorite character in the movie - he just has such a sassy personality!  Also, I just have to say...even the goldfish in this movie was more interesting than the character of Snow White.  Anyways....

Pinocchio is way darker than Snow White.  There's quite a few adult themes - some of which are quite terrifying.  First off, there is the whole kidnapping and child slavery aspect when Pinocchio is sold to Stromboli.  Poor Pinocchio gets locked in a cage and told that once he is too old for show business, he's going to be chopped into firewood.  Um...what?!  That is dark stuff, people.  But no - it gets even worse.  The whole concept of Pleasure Island is enough to keep any kid in line.  (Did Disney secretly just make this movie so that kids would behave and listen to their parents?)  There is a quote that the coach driver says: "Give a bad boy enough rope and he'll make a jackass of himself."  Quite literally.  The transformation of Pinocchio's friend, Lampwick, into a donkey is terrifying.  Imagine- these children have been turned into donkeys FOREVER.  They can no longer speak, they are being sold into hard labor, and they will never see their parents or family again.  Yikes.

Meanwhile, Pinocchio's father, Gepetto, is out looking for his boy.  The part that always makes me sad is when Gepetto has a big, fancy meal cooked and waiting for Pinocchio after his first day of school...and then Pinocchio never shows up.  The poor guy didn't even have his boy for one whole day before he goes missing.  Can you imagine how painful that would be?  And when they show the shot of Gepetto trudging through the streets in the pouring rain looking for his boy...oh man, that really pulls the heartstrings.

Of course, the movie ends happily.  Pinocchio saves his family from the stomach of a whale and finally proves that he is worthy to be a real boy.  They all live happily ever after.

Overall Grade:  A

 Yes, I do think that it's scary, and a little dark for a children's movie, but I just love how the character development draws us into the movie and really gets us emotionally invested.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: Snow White

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, 1937

"One love that has possessed me, one love thrilling me through; 
One song, my heart keeps singing of one love, only for you."

I haven't seen this movie since I was a very young girl, and so re-watching this movie was very interesting for me.  One thing that I did not notice when I was younger was how important the music and the underscore is to the movie.  It's almost operatic in nature!  The music comments on the action all the time - in fact, I don't think that there was any part of the movie where the music wasn't present.  You can tell this is an old-school Disney movie because of the way that it opens with the credits while the music plays something that sounds almost like an overture.  Seriously, guys, this has so many opera influences!  That made me very happy :)

Another great thing about this movie is the pacing.  It's short and sweet and the drama is always moving forward.  Some of the characters are really great; however, some of them are severely undeveloped.  You would think that Snow White would be the most interesting character, but she is just so flat! Why is she always happy and singing?  We see no character conflict, and frankly, that makes her incredibly boring.  Also, is it her plan to just stay with the dwarves the rest of her life and cook and clean for them?  What are her ambitions?  She keeps singing about her prince coming someday, but she doesn't really do anything about it.  Seriously, lady, I'm pretty sure that the last place your prince is going to look is in the middle of the woods where a bunch of old, bachelor dwarves live!  Her innocence and naivete are also sort of annoying to me - but maybe I'm the only person that is bothered by that.  The most interesting characters to me are Doc, who hilariously mixes up his words all the time, and Grumpy, who really has the most character development.  I love how he starts out as an ostentatious sourpuss and by the end of the movie, he shows that he is able to actually care about somebody.  

Other random observations about the movie:  
  •  The chase scene at the end is super intense! The music is so complementary to this, and I found myself at the edge of my seat, even though there was hardly any dialogue.  I think it was a combination of the thunderstorm, the vultures just waiting to pounce, the animals and dwarves coming to Snow White's rescue, and the music itself that made it one of my favorite scenes.  Speaking of the animals..... 
  • I love the animals! They are so adorable, especially the deer and the turtle.  I loved how the turtle was always behind, too - every time he finally caught up with the other animals, they turned and ran the other way, leaving him in the dust again.  And then to top it all off, he was clumsy and fell down the stairs.  I totally identify with that turtle!
  • I really like how they book-ended the piece with the storybook.  It made it clear that this is most definitely a fairytale!
Overall grade I would give this movie:  B

While there were many great elements, I just can't get over the fact that I really didn't like the main character.

Next up: Pinocchio!