Thursday, April 26, 2012

D52 - Week 17 - One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Or, as the DVD cover calls it, 101 Dalmatians.

Kevin's turn:
For me the highlight is the look. The change in art style, specifically in the backgrounds, is a pleasant treat not just because it's so different from what we've been seeing in Sleeping Beauty and the like but also because this is the only one of the Disney films that has that look. If it had been used subsequently the interestingness may have worn off quickly, but as that colored-straightly-but-outside-the-lines scenery stays within the confines of 101 Dalmatians and 101 Dalmatians only (I don't think the sequels/spin-offs even used it), it's the best reason to revisit Pongo and his pals. If I were to choose a favorite dalmatian of the 101, it'd definitely be Pongo. Which is a shame that not enough of the movie is about him, but the less dynamic puppies. I quite enjoy everything up that happens before the scene with his children watching television, and for me I actually think it goes downhill from there. The movie does a nice enough job of showing us A Day in the Life of Pongo at a calm pace, then has to go and ruin things by trying to be an action flick. Except, even when the story calls for action, things still seem to happen awfully slowly and leisurely! Do we really need to wait as the colonel listens to each single line of Twilight Bark code? Get on with it! Sure, Pongo forcing his pet to flirt isn't hugely exciting either, but I'd rather watch almost-mundane events played out well than almost-exciting events played out boringly. It doesn't help things that, as b***hy as Cruella DeVille is, she isn't what I would call scary or threatening. It's already established that she's not the type to get her hands directly dirty, so why would we be worried about her finding the dalmatians? Because if she did, she'd...what, call over Jasper and Horace and have them do something about it? I'm shakin' in my bootses, I am. Oh, and since it's obligatory that every review of a Disney film must point out any racial insensitivities as if the reader wouldn't have noticed it on their own (see my own Lady and the Tramp post, I guess), how offended do you think actual English people are by the two thugs?

Kevin's Kontemplation: So, we see the animals talk to each other while humans are around. But they're not really speaking the same language as the humans, because the humans and animals can't understand each other. So one would think that maybe when we see the animals talking to each other, they're really just barking/meowing/whinnying at each other (and that a dog can understand a cat who can understand a horse and so on) and we're just getting the "dubbed" version of their sounds.This holds up when you note, for example, that Sergeant Tibbs "whispers" (which would really be soft mewing?) when earshot of the bad guys. But if this is the case, why is the "Twilight Bark" a special thing (that we don't hear dubbed)? What would be the difference between sending out a Twilight Bark and, well, just bark-talking as they've (supposedly) been doing but very loudly? Are the barks really an entirely separate form of communication from the way we see them talk normally throughout the picture? If so, what exactly is going on when they non-barkingly (or meowingly, mooingly, etc) speak to one another?


I can't disagree that the style of this picture is so obvious as to define it.  I find the scratchy animation lines, and the blocky background layouts both interesting, and yet not distracting.  Kevin mentions that it is not seen elsewhere and this is not so.  Patch's London Adventure does indeed attempt the blocky background style, but doesn't do all that good a job of it and because the character animation is clean and without the xeroxed look, it does nothing to align itself with the original film. 

That being said, I think this film is a standout for the many technical breakthrough that happened at the time.  The Xeroxed cell animation was among those breakthroughs.  While I would never claim to be an expert nor indeed an amateur animation buff, I can't deny that seeing the actual animation of the actual artists up on the actual screen really makes one appreciate how much individualism and genuine artistry is in something so large as a Disney film. 

Naturally it was impossible to develop the personalities of so many characters, and I find it a shame that we weren't even given the names of the main 15 puppies.  Of them I can only name Penny, Patch, Freckles, Roly, Lucky, and Domino, and that last one might only be canonical in the Sequel!

Alas, I disagree with my dear Kevin at this point because I for one adore Cruella.  She's not one to get her hands dirty, but she represents a new sort of villian that hasn't been seen quite as deliberately in previous Disney films. She represents the scheming, clever (though crazy), managerial villian.  She hires or intimidates others to do her dirty work before attempting to take matters into her own hands.  She makes sense in today's society as the CEO who is corrupt but unaccountable for his deeds as he allows his underlings to take the wrap.  I also know that there are some truly excellent corporate evil deeds in future films that we shall encounter soon enough and I salute Cruella for laying a little bit of groundwork in this sense.

Fave: Cruella.  I can relate to Crazy Ladies.
Least Fave: Perdita.  Perdy, you need to pull yourself together.  If it isn't "OHHhh my babies!" it's "OOhhh it's that devil woman!" or "OOOhhh it's no use Pongo." Would even a little bit of positivity cause you to lose your spots or something? Grow a spine already!
Overall:  This movie falls somewhere in the middle ground. There's a lot to love, but there's an awful lot to make it a bit of tediousness.

Incidently, I found the opening sequence of this film to be one of the most memorable thus far and again, it has everything to do with the technology of the time.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

D52 - Week 16 - Sleeping Beauty

Kevin Says:
There's something I really like about Sleeping Beauty. But what is it exactly? It's not the story. It's not particularly engaging, and frankly full of plot holes (why can't the Golden Girls, I mean, the fairies turn Maleficent's hench-creatures into flowers?). And yes, it is another one of those very short movies padded into over an hour of sequences. Is it the beauty of the art itself? The film is full of beautifully drawn and animated art, but nothing I can think of that Fantasia had done better. But oh, the characters! They're all, um...well  stout fairy makes me laugh, especially when she wiggles in frustration. I wouldn't say I love the movie just for them (though I do think a better title would've been The Three Fairies of Sleeping Beauty). What of the music? It's lovely, isn't it? Who could forget the best song of the whole thing...come on, sing along with me...SKUMPS! SKUMPS! A toast to the home! One grander by far than a palace in Rome! I'm...actually not being all that sarcastic when I say that. Okay, so maybe I tend to get mixed up with which songs are in Sleeping Beauty and not. Which is not to say that they're not catchy or memorable, just that...Once Upon a Dream could just as easily have been Cinderella's song, couldn't it? Even "Skumps," for a while, I could've sworn was from "The Sword in the Stone." And my second-favorite song, Riddle Diddle 123, is disappointingly only used instrumental as background music.
So what have I gone through...story, animation, characters, music...what else could it have b-OH wait! I've got it! Now I remember my favorite thing about Sleeping Beauty, that wins out over any of its other qualities in my opinion....

Amanda Says:

The best part of Sleeping Beauty besides how we all slept standing up together in a garden in France is the sheer amount of work that went into it!  The story is indeed heavily padded and full of holes and the music is stuffy at best and bland at worst, but it's a lot like saying finishing fourth grade wasn't worth it because nothing especially interesting happened then, when in fact it laid a lot of groundwork for future success. 

Of course, Sleeping Beauty was the first to be filmed in the astonishingly wide at the time 70mm format.  The intricate and heavily detailed backgrounds and sequences were among the first in animation to hail style and artistry as the biggest selling point of a film (Fantasia being neck and neck in this instance).  Even the musical approach was interesting as nearly all of it was re-scored from the ballet of the same name.  I would go so far as to say that Sleeping Beauty was sort of the remix of its time taking a little of what had already been established and then doing something totally different while leaving the basis utterly recognizable.

Favorite Character: Tough call between Meriweather (the stout fairy) and Drunken Minstrel.  Boy he sure does a good job stealing wine right out of the bottle that his master is holding!
Least favorite Character: It's a bad thing when the horse is more memorable than the Prince right?
Overall: Beautiful, but I really did find myself asking "Why not?" every time the fairies claimed not to be able to do something.  You can put an entire kingdom to sleep but you can't wake up one girl?  You can make a sword fly from the hand of a Prince into the heart of a dragon, but you couldn't do it without the Prince?  Why not?

And another thing, you fairies!  You are so incompetent at making a dress, a cake, and cleaning a room that I don't understand how you managed to live without magic for 15 years!  My suspension of disbelief has reached its limit!

Craft time: Ummmm.... Ah'm thinkin, Ah'm thinkin!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

D52 - Week 15 - Lady and the Tramp

Kevin's contributes:
For those who haven't heard, I'm going to be an uncle soon! My sister's first child (a boy) is due May 20th. The downside is that her and her husband's dog, who though not well-trained is friendly and loveable, will get the ol' heave-ho  as a result. It's a shame especially since he didn't do anything wrong himself and won't even realize why he had to leave his owners. This is what helps me take to heart the main theme of Lady and the Tramp. It is a story of the confusion and fear of possibly being emotionally replaced. Not so much the love story between a sheltered lady dog and a streetwise mutt, as the trailers and promos and title would want you to think. Sure, Tramp plays a pivotal part in what would happen to her, but really only by way of being a love interest and coming to the rescue at the right time, which makes him more or less a Disney prince, just without the royalty. Yet the movies weren't called Cinderella and Prince Charming or Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip or The Little Mermaid and Prince Eric or well you get the point.* As far as Disney princes so far, though, Tramp at least has a personality to speak of! Touch too arrogant for me to call him "likeable," but barring that he is and does a great job of carrying the story along. But no, this isn't really a love story as much as a story that happens to have a love-ish element added. I'm not even sure if her meeting Tramp was necessary for anything other than making the film longer. It couldn't be for Lady to learn the importance of leaving her cushy life to explore the world outside of her own home, since, the end she doesn't do that at all! Was it for Tramp to learn the lesson that living a leashed life is pretty sweet? No, no no. If there is a lesson to be found anywhere it only works to ignore the differing-classes theme and focus on how, hey, a new human in the household seems scary and threatening at first but you'll get used to it and things will be back to a comfortable new normal soon. And the whole Tramp thing, well, that's just a separate story that happens to collide with the first one near the end. Just like a typical Seinfeld episode!
In the final scene Jim says, "Where did you put the dog biscuits? You know, the box Aunt Sarah sent for Christmas?" Is it meant to mean that Aunt Sarah has changed her ways by then? I guess it's nice to know that she no longer hates Lady, but it would be nicer to be given an explanation of why, rather than just this cryptic and easy-to-miss clue. Maybe she just felt bad about having lost Lady and is now in Jim Dear and Darling's debt? Or something else happened that we can only imagine, like having discovered her cats to be the horrid nasty things they are? Your guess is as good as mine.

 *Beauty and the Beast being an exception, but we'll get to that later in the year.

Trivial thingies:
-What was up with that scene where Jock and Trusty try to propose to Lady? How would that have worked, as far as their humans are concerned? Think about it.
-It makes more sense that Tramp would become part of the Dear/Darling household since no one would lose a dog in that transaction, and it was largely the Dear/Darlings' decision. But here's a question: What do they call their new mutt? Do they serendipitously name him "Tramp" because of his history, or confuse things by giving him a new name? Now that I think of it, I'm not sure if any of the dogs in the picture actually called him "Tramp" as a name (as I have been), rather than just calling him the tramp, so maybe this is all a moot point. Speaking of names given to the dogs, it may seem condescending for Tramp to constantly call Lady "Pidge" or "Pigeon," until you realize the alternative is to call her "Lady," which also sounds condescending when you put it into use at that level.

Favorite character: Tramp makes me want to own a dog just like him.
Characters that are admittedly necessary to the plot but that I did not like at all:  Damn those cats. They're not villains I "love to hate," they're villains I'm bothered at the existence of. Does Aunt Sarah not notice them causing the same sort of messes and ruckus at her house? Or worse, do the cats only act that way when they have the chance to pin it on another animal? And they might as well have been named Ching and Chong, or something. The Asian stereotyping almost makes you seem more comfortable with the Scottish, Mexican and Italian stereotypes.
Overall: I'd just like to end my part by saying that Amanda and I have eaten at Tony's Restaurant and it was a fantastic experience, and dare I say a more enjoyable experience than its claim to fame moviesake.

Amanda's bit:

Lady and the Tramp is a lot of things and among those things I think we can all agree that it's a period piece.  While the story is engaging, the voice casting perfect, the pace brisk, the design precise, and the music hummable, I think it's the careful honing of all these elements that makes this movie very nearly a slice of life.  While none of us ever grew up at the turn of the century, we can relate in small ways to our heroes and supporting characters.  Does the newspaper still come to your door via bicycling youth?  Do you still wash cloth diapers by hand and hang them out on the line?  Are your shoes buttoned to the very top? 

I don't think I can add much more to the very astute statements Kevin makes above.  What we have in this movie is a story in which many unrelated characters merely cross paths and those crossings change the outlooks of each of them.  Lady discovers the unleased life, but hates it prefering her owners over her lover.  Jock and Trusty (and perhaps Aunt Sarah) realize that they are horrible classist elitists and feel shame for it.  Tramp sees that the happiness of a carefree, cage-free life has its limits.  And Jim Dear catches pneumonia finding hugely out of season watermelons at the turn of the century but knows it's worth it for a blond blue-eyed baby boy.

Favorite Character: Joe.  Poor Joe.  He has such an Italian design and it's ruined by such an American name.
Least Favorite Character: I am in complete agreement with Kevin.  WOW I hate those cats!  Racist, mean, grammatical messes they both are!
Overall: Too much good music and too much good design for any apparent flaws to ruin my good time.

- Just for the record in response to Kevin's "Tramp" name dropping perplexity:  The dogs in the pound call him "THE Tramp." Perhaps he had a name and perhaps he didn't.  All we really know is that he is clearly the only trampish dog of note in the tri-county area.

Craft time! .... Is it weird to make a plate of spaghetti?  Oh well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

D52 - Week 14 - Peter Pan

Kevin's bit
I think I can sum up my overall feelings on the movie Peter Pan through my "favorite character" election: Captain Hook. I don't remember many comedic villains up until this point in the line-up. Willie the Giant, maybe? Gideon and Foulfellow, maybe, if you count them as villains at all? There would be many more after him, but it's watching chronologically that makes me appreciate what an fairly original concept it was at a time, to play the main bad guy of a full-length animated feature as the comic relief. It's a weird decision that Hook, being a comic nemesis himself also has a comic relief sidekick, especially since - I think, anyway - that Captain James Hook is plenty funnier than Smee. Smee's "funniness" is over-the-top and can get annoying (I realize he's supposed to be annoying for Hook to find him annoying, but his annoyingness gets annoying, you know what I mean?). It bugged me for a while through this viewing why I found the Cap'n's voice so darn familiar until I realized I was recognizing a completely different actor as another character: Dan Castellanetta as the Robot Devil from Futurama. I wouldn't be surprised if Dan drew from Hans Conried's performance for said Robot Devil.* They're both characters that should be scary and intimidating but are just so darn dandy that it's hard to take them seriously. And that alone makes C. Hook more interesting than everyone else in this movie.
So whenever the dastardly pirate was on the screen I found myself liking the movie but when he wasn't...not so much. I would rather just watch a movie about him - they could it "Hook" and - ah, never mind.
Aaaand least necessary character: It's a tie between the cute little kid whose only purpose is to say cute things while carrying a cute teddy bear (I admit to liking the confused reaction of the real bear, though) and the human form of Simon the Chipmunk. I'm sure this story could've been made without them, right?
Overall: I think I typed "Hook" up there enough to get across the point that he's really the only thing I liked about "Peter Pan."

Kevin's bit-picking: The book explains that Hook isn't his real name, which makes sense since obviously he wasn't born with his hand like that. But does that apply to this movie? Because if that's the case, it's weirdly sporting that James would allow his crew to call him that (in song, even!), considering he doesn't seem happy with or proud of the condition.

*Heck, why isn't Castellanetta doing the voice of Disney's newer Captain Hook? Have you heard Captain Hook in Jake and the Neverland Pirates?

Amanda's bit:

If you can, take the time to read at least one of J.M. Barrie's books first.  They are thoughtful and pleasant and ideal for pre-dream storytelling because they are open-ended enough for the little listeners to invent their own stories. 

As a film, I think it's pretty straightforward.  Some kids get willingly kidnapped, have an adventure, then go home having learned that family and growing up are necessary in life and even something to look forward to.  As far as entertainment value I thing the movie is poorly titled.  When it comes to entertainment, it's really all about everyone else around Peter Pan and not much at all to do with him.  The most entertaining segments are those without the title character.  The Darling parents have more depth and character than the title character.  His fairy/pixie sidekick has much more personality than Pan and his nemesis not only gets more screen time but deserves it too. 

And let's face it, the Crows from Dumbo are way less offensive than the "Injun tribe" in Peter Pan.  I mean really, Mother-in-law jokes? Come on. HOW? Come on. UGH? Oh please, come on.

Favorite Character: Toss-up I love Captain Hook, but I also love how Evil Tinkerbell is.  Jealousy is one thing, but wow, hiring a gang of underage hit men? That's low.
Least Favorite Character: Tiger Lily.  No Lines. No Personality. No respect takin' the man of another woman. BAM!
Overall:  Maybe I criticize a lot, but this isn't a bad movie.  It's got a lot of entertainment value and some decent singalongs and a pretty decent moral that the books make much less obvious.

Craft time!  Peter Pan booties for Kevin!  They look an awful lot like the Cindy slippers don't they?  Don't judge.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

D52 - Week 13 - Alice in Wonderland

Kevin's section
At one of the malls I like to visit is a place called Cali Juice that serves California-themed (it actually completely exists only in Ohio) smoothies, including The Rodeo Drive, which is very rich and thick concoction with peanut butter and bananas. I know it's not very nutritious but being in that mall makes me want one. And what happens every time I do order one is that I will enjoy the first half of the cup immensely, before I hit the point where the needle of my saccharometer breaks and I barely want to be near the stuff anymore. One can only have so much of a good thing, right?
Anyway, the point is that this describes the way I feel about Disney's (1951) Alice in Wonderland. Before I sit down to watch I expect to enjoy it, having already seen it a few times, thinking back to my favorite moments (anything with the Cheshire Cat, for example). Yes, there's barely a plot to speak of, but that's, you know, the point of it all. Wouldn't it sort of go against the nature of everything else in Wonderland if there was a rhyme or reason to what actually happens to Alice during her visit there? That was one of the things I didn't like about Tim Burton's version. It went about trying to make sense of and explain what she saw and who she met. When surrealism seems to be the very intention of something and there's no need to give it a backstory, why bother? I have the same complaint about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Wonka is much more fascinating when I'm not told why he acts like....oh, sorry. I've started reviewing other movies. Anyway...
I have fun seeing the first...oh, forty minutes or so? I love surrealism! But it's around the scene where Alice gets lost in the woods that I realize I've had my fill of silliness and get a bit antsy waiting for the ending. So it's not that the peanut-butter-and-banana-ness of it loses its quality at that time, just that I lose interest in that quality.
Though I'd read the books and seen this movie before what made it different this time around was that, now, in the context of having seen all of those packaged-short films in a row, Alice in Wonderland did give me package film vibes. If Alice wasn't there, couldn't "All in the Golden Afternoon" have been one of those musical shorts? And wouldn't the story of The Walrus and the Carpenter (who, by the way, I think looks more like a soda jerk than a carpenter) fit in as a Make Mine Music/Melody Time segment? Speaking of those which, isn't it interesting how different the popularity of characters is between, say, The Mad Hatter (who everyone always remembers and got starring status in That Other Movie and his own Once Upon a Time episode) and ... the Walrus and the Carpenter. I should make it a personal challenge to find any Disney merchandise featuring those "beloved" characters!

Favorite character: Okay, The Mad Hatter, but if only for his delivery of "Let'sth not be silly!" So, the Ed Wynn Mad Hatter specifically.
Least necessary character:As far as "evil" characters go, the Queen of Hearts transcends being scary and menacing and just being rather annoying. Also, I can't look at her without seeing the face of Fred Flintstone.
Overall: If you don't expect things like a plot and character development and all that jabberwocky, it's not impossible to accomplish watching this before breakfast.

(How smug am I allowed to be that I wrote that whole review without mentioning drugs?)

Amanda's bit:

I never liked this film.  There I said it.  It has always been on the bottom of my most beloved film lists. As a child I was always terribly annoyed by the entire thing and I think as an adult I've figured out why. 

Alice is annoying.

Alice is the embodiment of every vapid, character-free child who knows what they want thank you very much and no parent, sibling, teacher, or friend can possibly know better than him or herself.  She's selfish.  She wishes for silliness and hates it when it arrives.  She wishes for talkative flowers and animals but when she encounters them is not-at-all amused. She wants to control the lives of everything around her and throws a crying tantrum when she doesn't immediately understand what's going on.  She's only mildly amused during the tea party when she believes she's finally going to get something (namely gifts and cake) out of the whole situation only to walk off in a huff when it is not to be.

Also the plot is thin.  Call me crazy, but I like a little plot in my story.  Maybe it's fine for Mickey through the looking glass when you just want to watch a little zany action, but for more than an hour of entertainment, I need the story to take me somewhere.

Favorite character: Cheshire Cat if only because I'm constantly impressed with Sterling Holloway's distinctive voice and the ability he has to make it fit so perfectly into any situation.
Least Favorite Character: Alice for all the reasons listed above... and she's not even a good singer, dang it!
Overall:  Take this movie in parts, but don't try to sit through all of it at once or you might go mad as a March Hare. Cheesey, but true.

Craft time!  Since the Tea Party scene is generally considered the most entertaining scene, I made a little cozy to keep my tea warm in the cup. And as soon as I find my camera cord, you'll actually get to see it.