Magical Movies Tour: Treasure Planet

In the great “Ninjas or Pirates” debates of the early internet I always landed squarely on the pirate side. (Daredevil and Batman aside) This was largely because of Disney stuff. Disney fricking loves pirates and I grew up loving them too. I think the company has adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate novel Treasure Island 3 times, if you count Muppet Treasure Island (and you should because it is a delight).

For all it’s steam punk and sci-fi trappings, Treasure Planet is a very straightforward adaptation of the story which is actually a smart decision. And it’s also proof that if you’re going to go back to the well, the best way to do it is in spectacular fashion, or straight back to basics.

Treasure Planet somehow manages to do both, and it’s a really special movie for that. The animation is spectacular and smooth, the characters are memorable. Although I could really do without giving Jim Hawkins that early 2000s “You’re not my dad!” energy. He’s supposed to just be a sweet kid who wants to go on adventures, what’s wrong with that. (I love Treasure Island and have many opinions about it.) This sticks to the Tarzan, “Soundtrack not musical number” style, although this time the songs are by John Rzenick of The Goo Goo Dolls, which is, a choice. It feels like a dated choice even for 2002, when the flick hit, The Goos are kind of a 96-98-ish phenomenon.

Unlike Atlantis, which definitely shares some DNA with this movie, I 100% can see why this didn’t hit. It is super niche. But if you’re the kind of person who is very into Emma Thompson voicing a sexy cat lady pirate (and I think by this time y’all should know that I am) then you will probably be on board for the rest of what’s going on here. Long John Silver as a cyborg, the parrot replaced by a shape shifting alien, a whacky robot instead of a marooned former sailor, I loved every bit of it.

Next week, we discover our true selves with Brother Bear.

Magical Movies Tour:Lilo & Stitch

Much like The Emperor’s New Groove there’s a certain stripe and age of Disney Fan for whom Lilo & Stitch is the be all end all. Unlike New Groove, it’s footprint is bigger, and I don’t like it that much.

It has it’s charms and as a grown quirky imaginative kid, I appreciate that kids like me a little younger had Lilo to look to. Not to mention non nuclear families and people of Polynesian decent. Stitch is a fun character too, and probably the reason why the film left a bigger footprint than the rest of the ones from this era.

As a Disney parks fan, escaping Stitch is impossible. He is fracking everywhere at Walt Disney World and has been pretty much since the movie came out. And again, I see the appeal, Stitch is little kid Id writ large, running around causing mayhem and being only lightly corrected. That kind of energy

The movie does what it does well, and balances it’s intergalactic adventure and family dramedy portions spectacularly, I’m also really into the soundtrack, a combination of new songs and a good selection of Elvis’s greatest hits, but I don’t know why I just can never get into it. I’ve tried a few times and it just never quite clicked with me.

I of course, am not made of stone so therefore, “Ohana means family, family means no one gets left behind or forgotten” and “This is my family, I found it all by myself, it’s little and broken but still good, yeah, still good,” make me weep like a baby.

Next time, we’ll blast off looking for Treasure Planet 

Magical Movies Tour: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

I think that if Titan AE didn’t exist, Atlantis: The Lost Empire would have a bit more of a cult following, but the type of people who’d love it, already gave their hearts to Titan AE, and didn’t have room for this.

Other people that would love this movie, The Firefly people. (I’m not a Firefly person, but most of my friends are. GUYS! WATCH ATLANTIS! YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE IT!)

The thing that stands out the most to me on this is the unique look. It doesn’t really look much like anything else. The characters are boxy and angular and the world of Atlantis itself is alien and beautiful and captivating. It’s also exceptionally fast. We’re on the road to Atlantis, dishing out exposition along the way, about 10 minutes in. It’s actually quite impressive how expediently it gets you into it’s world and on it’s wavelength.

I’m not a big “celebrity voices don’t belong in animation” person, but I will say that Michael J. Fox’s performance as Milo is both very good and super distracting. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of his, (I was a weird kid who was super into Spin City.) but I find his voice and style of delivery so distinct that hearing it come out of an animated character, even one that in his youth and when he was healthy, he could have easily played in live action, just feels eerie. (Odd that I don’t feel this way about Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, but I don’t. I do a little bit about Kevin Kline as Phoebus in Hunchback.)

This sounds like the movie itself didn’t make an impression on me, but it really did. I think it’s a pretty fun movie that got buried somehow. I’m not sure how, I suppose it is that there’s nothing else quite like it, and it was also a time before everyone realized those 70’s and 80’s nerds who loved Superman and Star Wars had preteen and teen kids who they’d passed that nerdiness onto.

Next time we’re on that Hawaiin roller coaster ride with Lilo & Stitch. 

Magical Movies Tour: Dinosaur

Wow, Dinosaur is boring.

The thing it has going for it, the photo realistic dinosaurs are kind of cool, but their appeal is exhausted after the first twenty minutes. After that there’s still like an hour and a half of movie.

The plot, such as it is, involves a baby dinosaur who is orphaned and raised by monkeys, who one day finds a heard of his own kind who are escaping a comet and moving to their nesting grounds. His monkey guardians are psyched about this, because they were very worried their adopted dino son was never going to meet a nice girl and mate. Luckily, there is a nice girl dino of his own species. She’s got a dickhead brother though who’s stubborn belief that he’s right is going to get them eaten by a Carnosaur.

Anyway, then they walk to the valley and our lead dino and dino girl have babies of their own.

Look, this movie is visually stunning and is definitely a technilogical marvel, but it is so dull. There’s just nothing exciting or interesting that happens. Even the few chases involving the Carnosaur are over quickly and don’t hold much suspense.

This did inspire a fricking TERRIFYING ride at Animal Kingdom that I have vowed to never ride again.

Anyway, next week, we’ll enter the hilarious cartoon world of The Emperor’s New Groove

Magical Movies Tour: Tarzan

Tarzan has a weird distinction for me as a movie that I like perfectly fine but I know a ton about the production process of, even before I started tracking that sort of thing because it was released in the summer of 1999 and that was the first summer that my family had The Disney Channel.

The cable station had been around forever but that year our cable company shifted the package around so we finally had access to it. As life long Disney nuts, and you know, a ten and twelve year old girl, Mary and I were glued to it. Disney Channel was our default, “what do you want to watch?” choice. And because of that, we saw just about every “making of” clip available for Tarzan. We knew every song by heart before the movie came out, we knew that Phil Collins had the idea for “You’ll Be In My Heart” before he even started working on the movie, (He was writing about his daughter), and we knew that Tarzan’s movements were modeled after extreme athletes (skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers).

Outside of all that intimate knowledge was really loving the music. I think our transformation from pop loving giggling girls to prog rock teens is definitely marked here. (Obviously the Tarzan soundtrack is not actually Prog, but Phil Collins, as a former member of Genesis has that in his musical DNA). Also, we were in choir. If you were in choir from 1999 to 2010 you probably had to learn “Trashin’ The Camp” at some point. “You’ll Be In My Hear” got the Oscar, but I’ve always felt like “Son Of Man” is the really standout song of the pack. I’ve also always loved that they used the music as a soundtrack rather than a Broadway style cast album, (Except for “Trashin’ The Camp” which gives Rosie O’Donnell a stand out moment.) because it helps the episodic feel of the movie. It’s like a series of beautifully animated music videos, rather than a straight musical, kind of cool and creative.

My real affection for the music though, does not take away from the fact that Tarzan is pretty forgettable as a movie. It’s fun enough, the animation is clear and creative, but it’s just kind of there. It doesn’t do much of anything new with the Tarzan mythos, the characters aren’t particularly distinct (compare this to The Jungle Book, which is perhaps unfair, but you remember something about each animal Mowgli encounters.) and everyone feels like they’re just caught up in the story beats that they have go through in order to make a Tarzan movie. It actually made me think of the when I saw Spectre and Aless and I walked out going, “Well, that sure was a Bond movie, alright.” Nothing wrong with it, just nothing particularly right with it either.

I’m trying not to get to hyped about next week when we take on Fantasia 2000, because, I know it’s been a little while, but do you guys remember how fucking much I loved Fantasia? 

Magical Movies Tour: Mulan

I know last week I WENT OFF about how Hercules is my favorite of this run, but that was of course before I watched Mulan again which is as different from Hercules as could possibly be, and also might be my favorite?

Mulan is a really special movie for so many reasons. I do really love the “girl disguises herself to go to war” trope, which of course started likely with the Ballad of Hua Mulan, (though my Western Catholic example was always Jeanne D’Arc.) and Disney’s version of the tale is remarkable for a few reasons.

First of all, there are several truly incredible animation sequences. The battle with the Huns on the mountain side, and the final battle at the Imperial Palace have always been stand outs, but this time, I was really moved by the montage of Mulan getting ready to leave home.

It’s moody and epic and a little bit foreboding. The music helps that but the images in that sequence are just absolutely incredible. Mulan sitting on the Great Stone Dragon, seeing her parents in silhouette, and the lightning crashing as she makes her choice.  I was really moved by it.

I also was super moved by the ending when all of the city bows to Mulan after the emperor, but I think that’s just because I watched The Return Of The King the week before I watched it and had a bit of an emotional hangover.

There’s some of the Aladdin formula at work here as well, and it’s really the only one after that where it works. Eddie Murphy’s performance as Mushu is a delight of comic relief, the antics of the cricket are also fun, and the ancestors as a kind of comedic Greek chorus make for a nice bit of business too.

There’s still a steep drop off in quality this run from The Lion King, but it’s also not nearly as pronounced as I remembered. Pocahontas is a stinker, but everything after that is actually pretty good to great. (Mulan and Hercules)

Next time, that “pretty good” streak continues with the Tarzan. 

Magical Movies Tour: Hercules

*Contented Sigh* I love Hercules.

In the course of this project I’ve been compelled to get my butt off the couch and dance a total of five times, “Bear Necessities,” “Why Should I Worry?”, “Streets Of Gold,” and then, “Zero to Hero,” and “A Star Is Born.” Which I think says something. Hercules is, as the kids say, a BOP. This movie SLAPS. It is so much fun, just oodles and oodles of fun.

It doesn’t hurt the cause that it is an adaptation of Greek myth, a genre I am inordinately fond of. (Have you heard the gospel of our lord and savior, Rick Riordan? How about Lore Olympus? Wanna talk about Lore Olympus?) To be fair Disney’s Hercules is a loose adaptation of the greatest hero Greece has ever known. (Or, “My jerkiest brother” as Jason Grace calls him.) (Oh no, I gave myself a sad) It’s still a really fun ride.

It’s incredible watching this after watching Pocahontas and Hunchback, because I really do like it so much more. Perhaps it’s because it’s less self serious? Because it uses a different music style? I like that it leans into being a cartoon quite a bit. Hercules’s strength is used for physical comedy as much as it is for incredible action set pieces. (And that fight against the Hydra is really cool.) I also like the voice performances. James Woods is an unrepentant dick head but he’s perfect as Hades and Danny DeVito slays as Phil. Tate Donovan is completely winning as Herc, and Susan Egan creates a GODDAMNED ICON with Megara.

There are few songs in the world that have implanted themselves as much in my brain as “I Won’t Say I’m In Love.” It’s a wonderful song and so much fun at karaoke. (If you’re wondering I usually take the Muses part and someone else takes Meg.)  (That someone else is often Kristi.) (I miss karaoke)

I don’t have more words to spill here but I just had a blast watching this movie again.

Next week, we’ll bring honor to our families by watching Mulan. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Lion King

My brother Mike and I have this weird game we play, where we try to explain the arc of any artist’s (or in the case of Disney Animation, a large group of artists) work into the same frame as Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen is our monomyth, our artist hero with a thousand faces, and the thing is, his career does fit a good arc for most.

So, if we’re talking Springsteen, Oliver And Company is Greetings From Asbury Park, the first gasp of breath, the promise of something beautiful and special. The Little Mermaid is The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, the formula is there for the first time, the people who are paying attention know that there is something special here, but it isn’t getting the attention it deserves yet, Beauty And The Beast is Born To Run, the breakthrough to the mainstream, something beautiful, unique, special and once in a lifetime. Aladdin is Darkness On The Edge Of Town something different and yet of a piece, and The Lion King is The River, a monumental and untouchable piece of pop art that stands on it’s own beyond what came before. The Rescuers: Down Under is The Promise, the weird not an album of songs Bruce recorded in this time but the record company wouldn’t let him put out that are all really good. And after that, things went downhill for a little bit and picked up again in a decade. (Pocahontas to Meet The Robinsons is Nebraska to Lucky Town, The Princess And The Frog is The Rising. We’ve put a LOT of thought into this.)

I love The Lion King, I love the movie, I love the Broadway musical and I never got around to the new version, but I’m sure I’ll love that too whenever I watch it. I actually burst into tears during the opening on this viewing, which was new. (I hadn’t even been drinking much, I was on my first glass of wine) There’s also a lot of affection for the Elton John songs, and again that fabulous voice cast. (Jeremy Irons! Nathan Lane! Whoopi Goldberg! Matthew Broderick! James Earl Jones! Moira Kelly, although to be fair, when Nala is scolding Simba I can now only hear, “I raised you to be a better man than this Luke!”) And the English major in me loves all the Shakespeare. Sure, it has the bones of Hamlet, but Simba himself has much more in common with Prince Hal of the Henry cycle than the Melancholy Dane, which makes for a much more triumphant story.

I love The Lion King so much that instead of pressing on the night that I watched it (which was the same day I watched Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin) I called out to Alexa to play the Broadway cast album. (Part of why I didn’t rush out to the remake was because they’d gone for new songs instead of giving me Beyonce and Donald Glover versions of “Shadowland” and “Endless Night” or just bypassing it entirely with a  John Oliver version  of “The Morning Report”)

Next year we start to climb down the mountain of great to the just good with Pocahontas.

 

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.