Saturday, October 27, 2012

D52 - Week 43 - Treasure Planet

Amanda's Loot

Treasure Planet is what happens when you take a classic that has been beloved by generations, and retold hundreds of times on film and on radio, and try to change all the parts that make it a classic in the first place.

Treasure Island was written in the mid 19th century about the 16th or 17th century.  To me part of the draw is that the characters were living in a semi-primative time that was more violent, more simple, and colored with the kind of nostalgia of those who have only lived it through tales from an older generation.  I get the same feeling when watching black and white reruns of I Love Lucy, but certainly not when the setting is of an unknown future.  This is not to say the future isn't cool and interesting, but it doesn't give me the sense of glowing familiar adventure that I hope for through this sort of story.

Treasure Island had a much more sympathetic main character in Jim Hawkins.  A poor kid who lost his father and dreams of helping his family and just gets roped into a big adventure.  Treasure Planet's Jim may have been introduced as a bright eyed kid with big dreams, but when we meet him as we will have him for the remainder of the film, he's a teenage ruffian who is breaking the law and being hauled to his house by law enforcement! I don't want to root for this kid!  I want him to go to Juvie and pay his debt to society!  He doesn't deserve a fun adventure!  Also he easily has the worst haircut I've ever seen on any Disney character ever.  How does combining a "seagull" and a "rattail" possibly result in something attractive?  It doesn't.

I'm also quite a bit concerned about our so called "villain."  It's one thing to portray someone as good just to pull a gotcha in the end, but in Treasure Island, John Silver is found out as bad and stays that way to the end.  In Treasure Planet he goes bad, goes soft, is still bad but gets set free.  I just can't get behind this.  Not only that, it really adds to my dislike of the hero character.  He really ought to have turned him in.  A Disney Hero ought not have such gray ethics at the end of the movie.  At the beginning, sure, he's still figuring things out, but at the end A Disney Hero doesn't set a proven murderer free.

And as for Ben Gunn....Good Lord, Martin Short.  I know you pretty much can't portray any character without making him eccentric and spastic, but this has got to be the least likeable portrayal I've ever seen you do.  Stop trying to be funny because it's just too painful and annoying to watch.  Why can't you go back to the late 80's and be a little more sincere?  You were both funnier and more likeable then.

As for the structure of the movie, well, I'm glad that the plot was easy to follow.  However, it must be said that there is a very fine line between a montage and a music video. Treasure Planet does not know where that line is.

Favorite Character: Ugh. I guess Morph was cute-ish.
Least necessary character: Flatulence Alien.  WAY overused.  Mind you, this is coming from someone who is utterly utterly comfortable with her own bodily functions, so to say that FA was too much really ought to tell you something.
Overall: Read the book and culture yourself, because watching this movie sure won't.  Only for completionists.

Kevin's Treasure

Treasure Planet has a lot of good ideas going for it, but good ideas alone do not always a good movie make. I like the idea of John Silver being "updated" to have cyborg parts, his "bird" being a physical-and-audio mimic alien, the map being a... a whatever it was. There are many good ideas, but those ideas aren't used very well. In the book, Jim is warned of a one-legged man, and when John Silver, a man with one leg, comes into the picture, you figure, "Ah, hmm, that must be the guy." because you have a rough idea of how uncommon one-legged men are. In this movie, Jim's warned of a cyborg, and you see a cyborg guy, and...well you assume he's the guy because you figure that's what the movie's trying to tell you. But I find myself thinking at the back of my mind, "In this alternate science fiction fantasy, how common are cyborgs? There's all manner of aliens and such, and a lot of weird out-there technology, so maybe when Silver talks of so many other cyborgs around, it's not much of a stretch? As Amanda mentioned in the Atlantis review, when you want to use an incredibly fantastic fantasy world, the trick is in making the rules and history of that world clear near the beginning of the story. Treasure Planet latches us with a probably fascinating setting of a leash but yanks us with it, dragging us along non-stop while giving us a rushed tour of it all. At the climactic end Jim Hawkins seems to be done for as he falls down a pit on his jet board that he can't seem to be able to restart, but saves himself by reigniting it from the sparks of the wall and - well, even putting aside the Mythbusteretics of whether or not this could work this way... was I supposed to realize the thing worked on a fire ignition system? For all I know it was just a lawn mower type of start-up. Granted you need a fire somewhere to get a jet blast, but then again there's all of that glowing orb and portal technology that just exists and - well my point is, when he restarted his board, I think the movie expected me to think, "That Jim is clever and quick-witted! He figured out how to create the required sparks for his impromptu jet surfer under pressure!" but what I thought was, "How is he going to .. oh. I guess when he does that, the thing works that way."
And speaking of technology, isn't it funny the way things in the TP world are so advanced that people use holographic story devices and projection orbs instead of paper but haven't gotten past a more complex form of rope than...just plain ol' rope? And how the spaceship has the expense and technology to propel itself and create an artificial gravity but passes on any form of automated dish-washing system? It is funny, but in the sense that I hope it's intentionally meant to be funny. So maybe it's not all so bad if you look at it as a "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" or "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"-esque outrageous retelling. But even then I think I'd still even rather choose Tim Curry and Muppets.

Favorite character: The narrator. Heck, can't I just listen to Tony Jay read Treasure Island instead?
Least necessary character: Was there any helpful help provided by BEN that the others wouldn't have been able to do themselves?
Overall: Have you ever had someone describe a dream they just had the night before to you, with such excitement that you feel you should be excited for them about it too? But they're so excited that they include unnecessary details? And you can't quite find it as interesting as they seem to, even though you know the events of the dream should be exciting by their very nature? Treasure Planet is like that.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

D52 - Week 42 - Lilo & Stitch

Experiment K114

I cared much for this one.

Stitch is an interesting character, not just as a movie character, but as a merchandise character. I just find it interesting how often you see him on stuff. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, they've been around forever; that makes sense. Princesses, very understandable. Winnie the Pooh and friends, okay. Pixar characters. And then there's Stitch. It just seems odd because I never got the impression that the movie Lilo & Stitch was a huge enough breakaway everlasting hit that would warrant still seeing his face on stuff ten years later. But now that I've actually watched the movie in full, I do find myself with a strange desire to have some small representation of Stitch, like a keychain or something. Maybe a fluffy one. But that would be silly. No, a pin. That's more manly and grown-up.

The film just hits me in just the right ways from start to finish. There seems to be a running theme in this blog of deeming not-actually-princesses to be Disney Princesses, and it would be easy to do that here too. You still get a character who finds he* wants more in his life, and he ends up falling in love with the first person he meets (though despising the interest at first, which would be the thing to do for a couple of future Disney Princesses), it's just that in this case it's family love.

I love the character designs, from the inevitable far-out aliens to the cherubic humans. And the scenery does a great job of selling Hawaii as a place that people call home, whereas usually it's only seen in travel documents as a heavenly vacation spot. I mean, it still looks like a great place to be, but at least L&O acknowledges that the beaches can get crowded (unless you happen to have an alien to scare everyone away) and that you might see big dudes in tiny swimwear (at least Lilo can find appreciation in it). Try to find those things in the glossy brochure photos (big entertainer locals in swimwear do not count). And I'll always take cartoonish science fiction* over the straight-forward kind, because it makes it easier to overlook things like sound in space and how exactly all of the aliens besides Stitch were able to communicate with the Earthlings. And..was Stitch always able to understand English, and just not able to speak it well until learning it, or did he not speak much until the end because he was trying to learn, or...nope, no. I won't get into that.
I do love that I get to see the complete opposite of the alien-destroying-a-huge-city cliché. And the way playing against that cliché is a vital part of the plot itself. And the way the humor just happens to hit the sweet spot of my character-based humor sensibilities. It's a nice break to get characters who happen to be funny, rather than ones who come across as deliberately playing for laughs at the screen. And blending that humor with the moments that need to be taken seriously. I don't want to hype it up too much as to say it's a perfect movie, but it might just be an example of my perfect movie.

I'll go ahead and embarrass myself here. Bambi was sad, but...maybe because I knew what was coming, I wasn't terribly fazed. Dumbo, more depressing than tear-jerking. But Lilo & Stitch, man. Maybe it was because I didn't expect it to be that emotional (spaceships! creatures! hula dancing!), but it actually got to me. Lilo and Nani have a believable relationship and react to each other in an appropriately believable way. And even though I've had no outside experience with any experiment 626s, I'm strangely convinced that that's how one really would deal with his own emotions in that scenario. As odd as that sounds. So his struggle to find his Ohana is surprisingly compelling. It beat against the tear ducts, and I could've held it together, if not for that one line that broke my "I will not tear during a cartoon alien movie" barrier:
 "I hear you cry at night."
~stream~ OH GOD that's so sad. Why'd you have to go there, movie? He...he...I'm gonna need a moment.

~deep sigh~

So, how about that music, huh? The soundtrack isn't as all Elvisy as I was expecting it to be, not that it would necessarily be a bad thing if it was. Elvis Presley-heavy would still be better than, say, Phil Collins-heavy. Yeah, I should stop bagging on Phil Collins. But hey, how about that Alan Silvestri? That's pretty much the only thing left for the movie to seem tailor-made for me: Hire the guy who also did the soundtracks for four of my long-standing personal favorite movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy. I feel like I should personally thank the producers for that, on top of everything else.

I was preparing to and hoping to enjoy this movie (based on what I already knew about it), and I was not at all disappointed - I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. If I had to come up with anything negative to say about it....hmmmm. How about....Nani's thighs are distractingly hefty.

Favorite character: How often have I voted for a title character? I feel like I should stitch some sort of counted cross stitch Stitch.
Least necessary character: I like David, but he doesn't get to do much.
Overall: Lilo & Stitch joins The Hunchback of Notre Dame in my D52 Movies I Wish I Had Seen Much Earlier list, though for different tonal reasons.

*He's called a "he" throughout, but if he's a completely unique species with no relatives, isn't Stitch basically genderless? Or does Jumba create his experiments with a gender in case he plans to breed them with other creations? I expect this is addressed in one of the sequels, none of which I have seen yet?
**By the way, I count Star Trek TOS as cartoony science fiction. Some of the time. But not the actual animated series. That's just hard to watch at all.

Amanda's Galactic Treatise

Lilo and Stitch falls very squarely in the unlikely winner category.  Recent Disney movies up until this point have been lackluster, without focus, confusing, forgettable and so forth, so thank goodness for Stitch, because it's the Disney Savior of this generation.  It's about darn time someone got around to making a movie that he or she would want to watch instead of trying to pander to the crowd.  I guess what this movie has going for it that the last handful of films did not is sincerity.

Suspend your disbelief enough to accept that aliens exist, can speak English, and are hiding among us and you open yourself up to a very giving and vibrant piece of work.  I'm thrilled that the makers brought Hawaiian culture to the masses in a way that wasn't so hokey and tourist mongering.  They really managed to make something interesting without being insulting to the native people and without going too far with the political correctness and so ending up incredibly bland (Pocahontas team, I'm looking at you!)

The tiny family of Nani and Lilo is believably represented and just as believably broken, and yet the hurt and confused love that they share feels as real as anything you would experience in real life.  Everyone can relate to the fear of uncertainty that Cobra Bubbles' presence represents.  And Stitch is as touched by Ohana as anyone who has ever felt loneliness could be. 

And yet as heavy as the themes are, there is somehow plenty of room for humor.  Pleakley's obstinate rule following is a bit of a joke at the expense of the government.  Stitch's Elvis impersonating feels to me like a good hard jab at pop culture's constantly changing (and yet still somehow static) view of "a model citizen." Even David as a cliche lovestruck kid is good for a few laughs.  And really, who doesn't get a good chuckle from a little bit of mayhem now and again.

It's such an off the wall idea that any summarizing I were to try and do would never do justice and be detrimental to my glowing recommendations so suffice to say that Lilo and Stitch is an excellent movie and you won't really know how good it is until you've seen it for yourself.

Favorite Character: Jumba Jookiba is the winner for me.  His voice was excellently cast and you can always rely on him to help you along with the story with a little talking to himself in his evil genius sort of way.
Least necessary character: Pudge the Fish.  I'm just not really convinced that he controls the weather at all.
Overall: Excellent in so many ways. It's beautiful to look at.  It's beautiful to listen to.  There is so much engaging story and all of it so precisely told without relying on a heavy handed story before bedtime around the fire. Insert an annoyed glare at Atlantis here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

D52 - Week 41 - Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Kevin's Discovery

I didn't care much for it.

Amanda's Findings

Wow, Kevin, thanks for that stellar and concise review.

Well, I for one think there's a lot more to say here.  First and foremost, let us immediately bring to the forefront that Joss Whedon was one of the writers for this film/ TV-show-hopeful.  I can't personally say much this way or that about it because I really don't know a whole lot about Joss Whedon's body of work.  With the exception of Toy Story and Dr. Horrible, he doesn't mean a whole lot to me. However, I'm not so far gone from society that I don't recognize his name and know that it relates to a number of other outstandingly popular science fiction series. Atlantis itself feels to me like it would have been a fabulous TV series and here's why:

Atlantis is stuffed full of interesting characters with presumably rich backstories.  The downfall in my opinion is that it was in fact stuffed full.  There just isn't enough time in a film with this much exposition to dedicate to all the side characters.  Had this been a TV series from the start, there would have been no need to force character arcs into a quick set of 12 second bedtime stories.

Atlantis involves an entire society heretofore unknown to the rest of civilization.  This of course leaves a great deal of room to expand on the history, culture and way of life of the society to which we've been introduced.  A nice big handful of episodes would have been great, but as a movie it felt like the 4 minutes of cramming before a high school class that was having a big test.

Atlantis  included a lot of pop culture-y stylistic choices such as "hippie," "steampunk," and "Victoriana" which could easily have been used to death in hypothetical conventions in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

But most of all, Atlantis had a rich, potentially interesting story with a lot of detail and it just didn't come across in the final film.  There just plain wasn't enough time to build up the kind of suspense that was needed for such a heavy piece of work.  You need a lot of time not only to tell the story in the first place but also for the audience to allow all that information to sink in.  I for one don't remember any of the names of any of the characters outside of Milo and Kida.  What I do remember: Fast Talking Black Guy, Dirty Man, Jim Varney, TNT Dude, Grandma Smokes, and Holy Freaking Huge Freaky Lips Latina.  Even the villians had potential considering for most of the film, you're kept mostly in the dark as to who is going to turn on the group.  It's pretty obvious, to tell the truth, but had this been a series, I suspect that it would have been a huge, ground-breaking, surprise in the season finale.

Shoot, you know what?  It all went by so fast, I don't really remember what DID happen! Something about flying fish cars and a lava pit and Kida was God? Bah, it's all a wash.

Favorite Character: I guess Milo, because I don't remember enough about the others.  I liked Grandma Smokes though.  She was just cliche enough to love.
Least Necessary Character: For the sake of a series, they all were pretty necessary.  For the sake of just one movie, All of the nick name side kicks could have gone and it wouldn't have affected the plot in the least little bit.  Seriously, anything they did could have been reassigned to the two villians.  Anything.
Overall:  I mean, it looks pretty, and it was a cool premise.  It just didn't gel.  All it boils down to is what Kevin said earlier.... I didn't care much for it.

BONUS:  For the record, Blind Chief of Atlantians was voiced by Leonard Nimoy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

D52 - Week 40 - The Emperor's New Groove

Kevin's Groove
The best thing The Emperor's New Groove has going for it is that it's not Dinosaur. It is kind of funny, isn't it - both films were released in the same year, so there must've been a long overlap during which both were being made at the same time. One a "realistically" styled computer-animated story told straightly, the other a very VERY very cartoony hand-drawn feature-length Saturday morning cartoon done with only scant traces of seriousness at all. If I had to pick one over the other, I'd easily pick TENG, but it would be rather like choosing a handful of rock candy over a bowl of wilted lettuce.
It certainly looks a lot nicer. There are some fascinating character designs and animations, including the awkward way newbie llama Kuzco tries to walk. It's funnier, in the sense that there are some bits worth laughing at, and Dinosaur had none.
But there's this thing that they both have in common. I'll warn you. I'm going to ramble yet again!
Again, we get a character who is presented as a Bad Guy because...well, because she's the antagonist of the title character.  She does try to have Kuzco killed, and that does make her a bad person. However, to have a good reason to root for Kuzco to triumph over Yzma, you would have to ignore that one scene in which Kuzco himself has a guy killed. Yeah, when Little Adorable Piglet-voice Man is thrown from a tower window, it's played for laughs in a toon slapstick fashion, so you assume he'll be okay, but what bothers me is that you have to be consistent about this sort of thing. Because not too much later on, Kronk is seen being legitimately concerned when Kuzco is close to... also falling from a great height. There's no precision to the comparison since it's not clear just how high both of those heights are, but ... come on. If the frail old man was able to survive his collision from the sky onto the ground, I'm sure the young, healthy emperor will be fine when he hits the water. Or maybe this all makes more sense if you try the notion that Kronk is too stupid to realize you can't kill a cartoon character that way?
But even so, I actually don't see why Yzma is more evil than Kuzco is. Plotting to kill a guy isn't "worse" than casually having a guy killed, is it (Well, we'll let the Incan justice system sort out the degrees of murder involved)? Yzma is ... not the nicest person, personality-wise, but then again Kuzco was also a jerk. Really the only important difference is that we later find out that Kuzco is... not a complete jerk. But who's to say Yzma wouldn't have changed her ways had she not met Pacha herself and had to undergo a coming-of-age-new-buddies road trip, complete with cliché waterfall (I'll admit I do at least like that a joke acknowledges it being a cliché) and unreliable rope-bridge (there was something awfully familiar about that guy trying to cross a dangerously high broken rope-bridge with a llama... intentional homage, yes or no?)? And the lead-up to the climax of the movie suggested that there was something at stake for Kuzco to reach Yzma and reclaim his rightful place on the throne, but was there really? Maybe I missed it, but was there any indication of what would be different with Yzma in the emperor's place, other than the egotistical cosmetic changes

We also get an animal-transformation sequence that probably could've had a lot of potential for creativity and fun, but isn't played out anywhere near as well as the Merlin-Mim duel from The Sword in the Stone.

Anyway, I'm running out of time and might add to this later but Amanda has plenty to say anyway., so let me end mine for now with....
Favorite character: If you can't get Vincent Price for your comically weird "villain," get another 60s Batman series villain portrayer: Eartha Kitt!
Least necessary character:
Overall: A movie that tries too hard to be funny too often and occasionally succeeds is at least better than a movie that tries to be too seriously and emotional and fails completely.

Amanda's Groove

I'm so glad TENG became a Saturday morning cartoon series because that was clearly its calling.  The slapstick, the breaking of the fourth wall, the comic "villian" without a backstory,  the heavily stylized characters.  It just all fits so perfectly.

Now here I have to reference Kevin's post and voice my disagreement through the use of hoity toity theatrical blabbity.  There are a small handful of traditional conflicts that are recognized in classical theater and a few of them are as follows: Man vs. man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Beast, etc.
I think the folly that Kevin has fallen under is the idea that this movie has a Man vs. Man plot in which Kuzco as the protagonist is pitted against Yzma as the antagonist.  To this I say nay-nay.  In reality, I think this falls somewhere in between Man vs. Self and Society vs. Man.  Kuzco's main problem isn't Yzma, because for three quarters of the movie he doesn't even know she's out to get him, his main problem is his own bad attitude as pointed out by Pacha (Society). Yzma is merely one of the plot devices providing convenient turning points for Kuzco's self discovery.

Turning points of course are any points within a story that change the situation or condition of the main character.  Turning points that Yzma and Kronk provide:  Turning Kuzco into a llama (changing his physical being); accidentally tossing him onto a cart so that he ends up with Pacha (changing his physical location and societal group); being overheard plotting his death (changing his emotional state); and so forth.

Even at the end when he's facing off against Yzma while trying to get the Essence of Human, it's all down to a conflict against himself as he decides between his personal desire to become human again and the societal correctness of saving his fellow man.

Most unfortunately this has become more of a lesson than a review.  Yet, it feels a bit like a compliment to the film.  While on the surface it's a slap-sticky, nonsense-filled, David-Spade-starring, piece of fluff, there is actually a lot of structure under the surface that gives it some sense and makes it oddly relate-able.  The terribly interesting character design makes it very watchable, and the music might not add a whole lot but it's not detracting either and Tom Jones is always good for a laugh.

Favorite Character: Yzma.  She's voiced by Eartha Kitt with every bit of camp that we loved her for as Catwoman and that take she gives the camera/Kuzco while Kronk talks to his shoulder angel/devil made me laugh out loud.
Least necessary character: Pacha's family.  I just don't think we needed his family at all to understand his plight of feel for him.  Plus those kids were a little bit insufferable.
Overall: Seems like a movie I would have hated, but I actually enjoyed.  But you don't have to take MY word for it!