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 Movies Tour: The Black Cauldron

Note: These are the only things I’ve felt like writing for the past two weeks, so I’m going to start posting two a week. I’ve gotten way ahead of myself and want to share my thoughts! Hooray!

Well, that was better than I expected.

Everyone always talks about what a tremendous failure The Black Cauldron is, as a film on it’s own, and as an adaptation of the wonderful The Chronicles of Prydain, and in reality it is perfectly fine as both. The movie takes on the first two books in the series, The Book Of Three and The Black Cauldron, and omits so reasonably important characters, (Wither thou, Gwydion?) but it does an OK job by them.

Taran’s relationship to Hen Wen is perhaps given a bit more weight, (Hen Wen is an oracular pig, in case you forgot.) and Gurgi is given a bit more weight. (To be fair Gurgi is kind of a perfect Disney character.) Eilonwy is pefectly sketched as in Fleudeur Flam (though his true self, a king in his own right, is never revealed). The Horned King is terrifying and clearly the portion of the film the most love was given to.

I’m not saying The Black Cauldron is perfect, and you can certainly see how many of the people working on it moved on to work with Don Bluth, because it reminds me much more stuff like Thumbelina and A Troll In Central Park than anything else Disney’s ever done, but it’s wasn’t the awful mess I was expecting. It got the characters right, at the very least, and inspired me to purchase the books for Kindle. (This was another Quarantine Watch)

Next week, the awakening begins with the light stirrings of The Great Mouse Detective.

Magical Movies Tour: The Fox And The Hound

When we were in Kindergarten, my friend Bailey and I used to go to her house and watch movies at least twice a week. Bailey was the youngest of five and her family had a big new construction house, a bunch of pets and a landscaped pool in the back yard, so I basically thought her house was the coolest place in the world, and I have fond memories to this day of the time spent there. (Also, she had a baby this weekend! Congratulations Bailey!)

One of the movies we would go back to over and over again was The Fox And The Hound so I was really looking forward to watching it again.

Um, how do I put this in a way that doesn’t disgrace my six year old memories and nostalgia?

The Fox And The Hound is not particularly good.

“The Best Of Friends” is a sweet song and sequence, and there’s some kind of race relations parallel to be had when you talk about Todd and Copper’s friendship. (Certainly something about how healing doesn’t happen all at once, but slowly, over generations.) But it’s all a little half baked. The animation isn’t all that good, and the story needs work, and the characters are more like sketches.

It’s such a let down even from The Rescuers which was a step down even from it’s predecessors.

Look, I know this is generally considered on of the dark times for Disney Animation, and I so get that after watching this movie. It’s just such a bummer to not enjoy a movie I loved so much when I was little. But it’s not a good movie. The animation is not up to par, the story is slow, the characters are dull, the songs (save one) aren’t memorable.

Next week we’ll talk about The Black Cauldron, which I am fully ready to be completely let down by given how much I absolutely loved The Chronicles Of Prydain. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh

The first time I watched these Winnie The Pooh stories they were broken up individually on video cassettes, so I watched some of them more than others. But I watched all of them, over and over again.

In fact as I rewatched this, all the way back in March, from my Quarantine Couch was rocking back and forth humming along to “I’m Just A Little Black Rain Cloud,” and I felt like I was home from kindergarten again, my mom throwing Winnie The Pooh on to give her another 30 minutes to wrangle Mary in the afternoons. (We were both half-day kids)

That’s been a big bonus of this project, getting into the nostalgia of the thing. The coming weeks are going to just be more and more of that as we enter into the movies that I remember seeing in the movie theater and then watching over and over again on video.

Anyway, Winnie The Pooh, which tells some of A.A. Milne’s stories in delightful animated fashion. I’ve mentioned before that charm goes a long way with me, and oh boy are these shorts (stitched together as chapters in a book) charming out butt. It helps that the characters are so broadly and yet specifically sketched, and their interactions are always surprising. And Pooh himself is lovely, really a perfect child’s hero, kind hearted, a little selfish, and always does the right thing, eventually.

Christopher Robin also made more of an impression watching as an adult. We’re in his little world here and he’s the grown up, oddly enough. The animals all need his help with almost everything, the way a child would with an adult. It’s a sweet fantasy for kids, and I think part of what has made Winnie The Pooh endure for as long as it has.

Next week we return to the water works, with The Fox And The Hound. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Rescuers

I don’t know if it was the quarantine, or that I watched this on a day with four other movies, or that Penny is just the saddest character in the history of the world, but I was very emotional watching this one.

Seriously, I think I cried four times and the movie is only an hour and twenty minutes long.

First of all let’s talk about that airy seventies guitar pop soundtrack. I love that crap, I did have to double check that it wasn’t actually Linda Rondstat singing the songs (it wasn’t it was Shelby Flint) like in An American Tail, which has a lot in common in this movie, as it is also about the secret paralell world of tiny animal people, and involved Don Bluth. (Bluth actually got bumped from this movie when the older Disney animators decided they wanted to work on it.)

Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart are wonderful as Ms. Bianca and Bernard two mice working for the Rescue Aid Society, an internation coalition of mice who help the helpless, and who meet in the walls of the U.N. (Like, so cute) They’re on a mission to find a little girl who’s message in a bottle was found by the society. That little girl is Penny, a six year old orphan who just wants to be “dopted” but keeps being passed over for cuter,, younger kids. (Oh I’m sorry, was that an onion ninja?) Penny’s been kidnapped by Madame Medusa, who owns a pawnshop near the orphanage and needs a little kid to go into a pirate cave to get a diamond.

It’s a needlessly complicated plot, but the whole thing is very emotional and seriously, every time that little girl opened her mouth I burst into tears.

OH there’s also an albatross who is also a plane? Look, I loved this movie, I don’t know what to tell you.

Next week is The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, which, if I know me and my emotional state, means I will be crying more. (And also technically was released BEFORE The Rescuers but in the same year and because Disney Plus sorts The Rescuers first, so I watched it first.)