Magical Movies Tour: Aladdin

Aladdin is almost as good as it’s predecessor, and has a few things really pushing for it to be better, but it doesn’t quite cohere in the same way. Likely this is because of the lack of Howard Ashman’s guiding hand. He worked on it early but his AIDS diagnosis and the progression of the disease stopped him from taking the real hand he wanted in it. (Aladdin was his dream project)

It’s still very good. The animation is lovely, the songs are great and frankly, as much as I love the balanced ensemble cast of Beauty And The Beast, the shining beacon of Robin Williams as The Genie is very, very hard to resist.

It’s an exceptional performance, a magic never again replicated by Disney Animation. (Danny DeVito in Hercules and Eddie Murphy in Mulan are the only ones even playing the same game and they’re not in the same league.) The way the animation is tailored to William’s outsized performance style, and ability to touch your heart is exceptional work, and the performance it’s self introduced an entire generation to this master performer and what he did.

It also has what I rank as the number two best Act II duet ever written in “A Whole New World.” (The number one is another Ashman And Menken classic, a little ditty called, “Suddenly Seymour.”) There’s something magical about the song, your typical Disney love song being about the thrill of the first date but “A Whole New World” is about the second date, about that feeling that you’ve gotten past the pleasantries, and something magical is about to happen.

I found myself more entranced than I thought I would be watching it again. It’s the one from this era I go back to the least. (It’s Mike’s favorite, so we watched it a lot as kids. Little Mermaid was mine and Oliver was Mary’s. It might be the only time I was more normal than my siblings) But I was absolutely thrilled to be watching it again.

I want to talk a little about Jasmine. The first Disney Princess Of Color is a more interesting character than I think people give her credit for. All of the previous princesses were beautiful but none of them seem conscious of that beauty’s power like Jasmine (actually none since are either.) Jasmine knows who she is, as a princess and a beautiful woman she has certain privileges and she uses them. She’s imperious and insistent on her due, she uses Aladdin (while he’s posing as Ali)’s & Jaffar’s lust against them. She’s actually pretty fascinating. There’s something a little problematic about the fact that she’s the first non white female lead in a Disney film and half her character is using her sexuality but that doesn’t make it less interesting in a vacuum.

Next week we feel the love for The Lion King. 

Magical Movies Tour: Beauty And The Beast

As much as I personally prefer The Little Mermaid (and it is quite a bit.) there’s just no way to deny that Beauty And The Beast is an outright masterpiece of a film, and should be on those lists of “perfect movies” and yet it somehow never makes it.

Beauty And The Beast is flawless, the stunning animation, the pitch perfect voice performances, the simple and yet emotionally resonant love story, those songs. My God, those wonderful, wonderful Ashman and Menken songs, “Be Our Guest,” “Belle,” “Something There,” “Gaston,” “The Mob Song,” and of course the title track, performed with heartfelt timelesss musical theater precision by Angela Lansbury and then with deeply of it’s moment pop gusto by Celine Dion and Peabo Bearnson.

I have a lot of opinions about this movie and the many pop culture conversations that have sprung up around it, and, thankfully, the conversation has turned from the “Belle has Stockholm Syndrome” narrative that dominated a few years ago. (Nope. It’s just that your high school English teachers failed you and you don’t know how to parse a pretty straightforward narrative about growth and forgiveness without taking everything so fucking literally.) But it’s difficult to somehow say that this movie is widely and universally acclaimed and yet still somehow, underrated?

It is so good though, so beautiful and special that it is somehow, universally loved and acclaimed and yet somehow underrated. Watch it again, any time you get a chance and see something you hadn’t seen before, because there’s always something.

Next week, none of us have ever had a friend like Aladdin. 

 

Magical Movies Tour: The Rescuers Down Under

There was a window of years where American Pop Culture was really into Australia. I was quite young for this but I still remember it reasonably clearly. Nerf Boomerangs abounded and The Rescuers Down Under came out. (Oddly, in my mind this movie and Fievel Goes West are linked. I looked it up and they didn’t come out near each other so I think it’s just the way time works when you’re little.) I don’t know if it was because of Crocodile Dundee or because we were all smitten with that Mel Gibson fella (boy, do we regret that one now) but we were super into Aussie crap in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Which brings me to The Rescuers Down Under, the last Disney animated flick to not be a super mega hit for about 10 years. It’s a charming little tale, and if like me you’re enamored of Bernard and Bianca, then it’s a straight hit. I don’t like it quite as much as The Rescuers because it’s technical marvels and huge natural scope are less charming than the original. Also Cody, a little boy kidnapped because he caught poacher in the act is nowhere near as endearing or well drawn a character as Penny. (He’s also a good deal less pathetic. Just a dead dad, his mom’s waiting at home for him.) Also I can’t figure out why he’s American? What the hell is an American kid doing running around the Outback?

There’s some great details here, the restaurant for critters in a chandelier in New York, the collection of animals that Cody’s befriended. (I assume the rules of this universe dictate that children can talk to animals and it’s just something we all forget as we grow up?) Bernand constantly trying to propose but Bianca getting sidetracked, an evil Geela Monster named Joanna, this is all good stuff. It’s just not quite as good as the stuff in The Rescuers.

Next week it’s onto the undisputed crown jewel of this era in Disney Animation, Beauty And The Beast. 

Magical Movies Tour: Oliver And Company

There’s a definite thematic connection between Oliver And Company and 101 Dalmations. If the older film captures the feel of everything going on in London in the 60’s, there’s some real true 80’s NYC vibes.

It also happens to be the first Disney movie I can really remember falling in love with. We had both the soundtrack cassette, with those great songs, “Once Upon A Time In New York City” sung by Huey Lewis, “Why Should I Worry” by Billy Joel, “Perfect” by Better Midler, and the less high profile but still excellent, “Streets Of Gold” and “Good Company,” a read along Golden Book cassette featuring actual sound samples for the dialog, (“Yeah, yeah! When we gonna get those hot dogs?!” was oft repeated by the Nayden children) and the movie itself on VHS. Mary had a stuffed Oliver, we knew the movie by heart.

Retelling Oliver Twist with animals, casting Oliver as a teeny adorable kitten was a stroke of genius, and since most of America knew Dickens’s novel best as a musical anyway, that also follows. As an adult I have some questions, but they’re the kind of thing that I can brush off in a children’s film. Things like, “Fagan is definitely a heroin addict, right?” “Is Sykes with the mob, or a drug dealer? Like, what’s his deal?” “Did 5th Avenue types have butlers still in 1989?” Regardless of these niggling questions, the movie is a great watch.

Look, in the coming weeks I’m going to have trouble evaluating these movies with any kind of clear critical eye because I adore them so much. We’re into the Renaissance now, the movies that defined my childhood and lifelong Disney fandom.

Yes, next week we dive deep into nostalgia, with The Little Mermaid. 

 

Better Than It Has Any Right To Be: The Legend Of The Three Caballeros

Remember back when time had meaning and I watched The Three Cabelleros and Saludos Amigos and was completely and utterly charmed. Well, this week, in an attempt to escape from just you know, life in general, I rewatched Gravity Falls(On second viewing, still totally rules) and then the first season of Duck Tales, and then a few episodes of season 2, until I got to “The Town Where Everyone Was Nice” which is where Scrooge, Webby, the boys and Donald go to Brazil and meet up with Jose and Panchito, who in this story were in a band with Donald in college. (They’re also, like Donald, lovable losers.) (They have an episode in season 3 as well, “Louie’s 11” and it is a delight) (So much Caballeros this week you guys!)

Then I remembered that the long whispered about in the corners of the internet where we all talk about how Duck Tales is better than it has any right to be, that The Legend Of Three Caballeros was also better than it had any right to be. I could have this conversation about Duck Tales infinitely, because Duck Tales is incredible and I love it so much. (Also I miss Aless and our morning after a night of fun ritual of ordering breakfast sandwiches and watching Duck Tales.)

But hanging with Jose and Panchito again, I decided to check out their show.

And it is, indeed, better than it has any right to be, and suiting The Cabelleros, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and is super silly. It subtracts the racism for the most part so, yay! The idea is that Donald, Panchito and Jose’s ancestors were mystical adventurers and it’s their turn to take up the mantel. There’s also a whole thing with a trapped goddess named Xandra, a villain who has been transformed into a magical staff, Daisy’s nieces, April, May and June. (They are fine, but I miss my boys).

The animation is great, and the story is bonkers and the jokes are good and you get to hear “The Three Caballeros” 13 times, because that’s how many episodes there are. (There are a few other songs too.) Donald gets angry a lot, a Jose flirts with every woman they meet and Panchito dives into adventure without thinking and it’s great.

Because I love those stupid birds and their dumb guitars and their absurdly catchy song.

“THEY SAY WE ARE BIRDS OF A FEATHEEEERRRR…”

It’s on Disney+ and I think people should check it out.

Magical Movies Tour: The Great Mouse Detective

For an Anglophile, I’ve never cared much for Sherlock Holmes stories. They’ve just never hooked me, and hearing everyone talk about they’re the best detective stories (when Poirot exists!) always bothered me. But I’m a sucker for stuff like The Great Mouse Detective, as we learned during The Rescuers and Robin Hood, the secret parallel world of animals, is going to get me.

The Great Mouse Detective is also just a very good movie. The story is fun, Basil, our Holmes stand in is a manic bit whirlwind of a her. Professor Ratigan is a wonderful villain, the music  numbers are delightful vaudeville confections.

I also like Olivia, the little girl who seeks out Basil to find her kidnapped father, and Dr. Dawson, our Watson stand in. Just in general, it’s a lovely little movie. I don’t have much more to say, it’s just a quality little flick, which despite my lack of enthusiasm for Sherlock Holmes in general, really got to me.

Sorry this is so short.

Next time, it’s Once Upon a Time In New York City, and my nostalgia goes into overdrive with Oliver And Company. 

Magical Movie Tours: Robin Hood

Is there a more magical moment in this era of Disney Animation (considered a bit of a dark time, if you must know) than the illustration of Alan O’Dale as a Rooster, coming to life on the page and explaining the conceit of this film, that it’s the animal kingdom’s version of Robin Hood, and singing, “Robin Hood and Little John, walking through the forest, Ood-a-laddy, Ood-a-laddy, Golly what a day!”? I can’t think of one, but I’m only two movies in. (I figure from The Aristocats to Oliver And Company) 

I loved this one too. It’s funny how as we movie closer to the time I’ve been alive (this is still a good 14 years before my birth) I’m starting to like more of the movies, rather than the previous every other. We’re not quite in my exact zone of nostalgia yet, that hits with Oliver and the so called Disney Renaissance, but I still watched these ones more as a kid than the early films.

Anyway, Robin Hood is a delight, the meta conceit that we’re seeing a version of the legend told over again, it’s a story about stories in it’s way, and it’s also got some fun character designs, even if they are mostly recycled, and the music is cute and catchy.

The love story feels reasonably organic, if cut off abruptly because the final set piece of rescuing the townsfolk gets in the way, but I still love Robin and Marian’s walk through the woods after the tournament, and the accompanying song, “Love,” which I thought was the most romantic thing in the world when I was little.

Unlike a good number of my generation and ilk (nerdy queer folks) I’m reasonably sure that Robin Hood did not turn me into a furry, largely because I am not a furry, but I can totally see why if you were inclined that way this movie would awaken it, because DAMN, that fox is ATTRACTIVE. Which is to say, I do agree that Disney made us all into a bunch of weirdos. (I blame my wild obsession with musical theater and poofy princess dresses on the company.)

Next week we talk about The Rescuers and their adventures in children saving and super 70s soundtracks.

Magical Movies Tour: The Aristocats

Seriously, I think when I finish these and start going back these little animal tales are going to go into regular rotation. They are just so entirely sweet and easy to watch. I enjoy the characters and the creative ways that they create character.

While The Aristocats manages to combine the plots of both Lady And The Tramp and 101 Dalmations it doesn’t feel like a copy and that’s probably not something you would notice unless you were watching them all right in a row the way I am. Duchess and her three kittens, Marie, Toulous and Berlioz live a privileged existence in Paris, 1910, the beloved house pets of a retired opera singer. When Madame changes her will so that her fortune is left to the cats instead of her loyal butler, he decides to get the cats out of the way, abanoning them on the side of the road in the countryside.

Quickly, the adorable kitties encounter Thomas O’Malley, an suave alley cat who find the beautiful Duchess irrestiable (though he’s a bit thrown that she’s a single mom!) and they begin their trek home to Paris.

There’s excellent music in this one, with the title tune (sung by the inimitable Maurice Chevalier, should I watch Gigi while in quarantine? I probably will) always sticking and also the fabulous “Everybody Wants to Be A Cat,” wins as the catchiest song this side of “Under The Sea.”

Next week we watch the movie that launched a thousand fetishes, Robin Hood. 

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 Episode 12: “Victory And Blood”

The Clone Wars is over. It’s end is bleak and terrible and sad, unbelievably poignant and conclusive. Of course having watched Rebels, we know how this ends for these characters and because of Star Wars we know how this ends generally.

But, I’ve never really bought into “The Prequel Problem,” a tale well told is worth it regardless of if you can guess the ending, and The Clone Wars is, if nothing else, a tale well told. And this final chapter, where Rex and Ahsoka save one another, after everything they’ve been through and more importantly those final images.

Despite the betrayal of Order 66, Ahsoka and Rex bury each of the clones that died on their ship, marking their graves with their helmets, and leaving her light sabers behind. When Vader finds the scene he picks up the saber and looks to the sky walking away.

It’s over, and as far as anyone knows, Ahsoka Tano is dead, the only Jedi who truly understood Anakin Skywalker, (Not a Jedi) and Anakin himself is about as gone as possible right now.

This show has come to mean so much to me over these past few years. It’s deepened my love for this world and these stories that have always been with me, that will always be with me.

And so much of that comes from Ahsoka. From this girl who learned her own code and morality, who will help people when they need it, no matter what. I’m so grateful for her, thank you to Dave Filoni and Ashley Eckstein for her. Seriously, watching her story unfold has been the greatest pleasure, and seeing this chapter close properly was wonderful.

Star Wars will always be my favorite fandom. It is home, even when it’s at it’s worst I love it so much. These past eleven weeks have been such a gift, and I’m tremendously happy to have had them.

Next week we talk about the Darth Vader comics. Which I very much enjoyed.

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7, Episode 11 “Shattered”

“Execute Order 66,” I actually cannot hear those words without taking a big ass inhale of breath. It begins a long slide into weepiness that last for the next half hour of movie in Revenge Of The Sith, rivaled only by Return of The King and Avengers: Endgame for absurd blockbuster blubbering for me.

So I held my breath as Ahsoka sensed what happened between Mace Windu, Anakin and Palpatine, leading to the execution of Order 66. It’s devastation and also important to note that Ahsoka might be the most powerful force user in the series, before Rey? She’s not fully in her powers yet, that doesn’t come until she passes through time with Ezra but she’s still strong here. Strong enough to connect while looking for Anakin, something we’ve only ever seen Yoda do with such specificity.

Anyway, after this moment of darkness, she turns to Rex, who is shaking, talking to himself, refusing to follow his programming and kill Ahsoka. Unfortunately the rest of the Troopers don’t have will and try to fight her. Of course she wins and gets away, taking Rex’s warning, “Find Fives” to heart and searching for a file on Fives, learning that his malfunctioning inhibitor chip caused his death. Rex sent himself a message in this file, which is why he was able to resist.

Ahsoka practices some “cogninative recalibration” on Rex, and also, to get the two of them away, releases Darth Maul, to spectacular effect. She reminds him that she doesn’t trust him and also that she kind of hopes the clones kill him which is great. I know I talked about it last week but it bears reiterating, Ashley Eckstein and Sam Witwer are doing unbelievable work here.

OK, we’ll finish up tomorrow. I’m not sure I’m ready. How far will we go into Episode III, where will we end?

I don’t know, but I bet I’ll be crying, and crying a whole lot.