Tag Archives: Disney

📽️ Disney Time – The Princess and the Frog

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 49/58Title: The Princess and the Frog
Year: 2009

Well, this isn’t a sentence that I would have been expecting to say when I first started this challenge – but I preferred Bolt to The Princess and the Frog. There’s no doubt that, in this film, there is a definite return to the feel of what made the Disney classics of old (and the Renaissance) so distinctive. However, something has been lost along the way and it just doesn’t quite measure up.

It starts out well, a few good opening tracks and they really establish the world of The Princess and the Frog as being a fairy tale in the semi-modern world. You have an exceptional supporting character in the spoiled, but ultimately good-hearted, best friend. There’s great motivations and some cutting commentary (for a Disney animated film) on how hard it is to be a working woman of colour trying to achieve their dream. Then it just sags in the middle.

My husband put it well when, having finished the film, he said that this film had sixty minutes of story which had to be stretched with 30 minutes of padding. He isn’t wrong. Once Tiana has kissed the transformed prince and they begin their adventures in the swamp, the whole thing begins to lose steam very quickly. The introduction of more sidekick characters feel more a way to extend the movie than to actually contribute something salient to the plot (although the story arc of the firefly is incredibly poignant and ultimately comes out of left field).

I guess that if this had the songs of Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King or the better written gags of Aladdin or even Bolt that this could have worked better. It’s just strange that, at least for me anyway, this film completely front-loads their best songs, which leaves you a bit lost after the brilliantly dark voodoo-inspired sequence for ‘Friends on the Other Side’. Nothing quite reaches the heights of ‘Almost There’ or ‘Down in New Orleans’, which means you have to wait until the final confrontation with the villain before things really start up again.

There are some positives in this film though. Firstly, this is the first time where – in what is ostensibly a Disney princess film – the prince ends up growing and changing for the sake of the female protagonist. Sure, Tiana comes out of it softened slightly having finally been given the time to remind herself what it’s like to not work all the time – but the big character development is for Prince Naveen. He comes in as this shirking womanizer and ends up maturing and ready to work to help the love of his life achieve her dream. We kinda saw this in Beauty & The Beast, but that was more the destruction of psychologically damaging barriers than a marked shift in goals and behaviour.

It’s also worth noting that this is a beautiful looking film. After a long time with CGI Disney, it was great to return to the world of traditional animation for the penultimate time. With Bolt and Tangled we’re now at the stage where the quality of computer animation is high enough that you don’t miss traditional as much, but this is the last time where a Disney animated film looks like a classic Disney film. Seeing how I’ve been doing this for the better part of a year by now, the loss of an art style feels like something worth mourning as we go into the first CGI Disney film to look truly beautiful: Tangled.

📽️ Disney Time – Bolt

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 48/58Title: Bolt
Year: 2008

The Disney Revival has arrived. After months of watching the likes of Chicken Little and Treasure Planet, the time has finally arrived for my almost weekly journey through the Disney Animated Canon to be very enjoyable. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but here is Bolt to save the day – just like in the film.

It’s been about a decade since I last saw Bolt so I did worry, prior to watching it, that it wouldn’t live up to the memory that 19-year-old me held. Thankfully it has and, possibly because of this challenge, I really think I enjoyed all the more. This isn’t Disney at it’s best and, when I reach the end and make a ranked list, it probably won’t be within the Top 10 – but it was definitely a good watch and a bellwether of the great films to come.

So, what or who got us to this point? Well, that would probably be due to animation genius (who is now disgraced due to allegations of sexual misconduct) John Lasseter. Bolt is the first Disney film where he receives an executive producer credit, with the remaining films (until Frozen 2) being released with him as Studio Leader. It cannot be an accident that this uptick in quality, and the better targeting of a film’s content and humour to all ages, happened when Disney brought him over from Pixar to oversee their output.

Between Bolt and Meet the Robinsons (which I want to post a reminder here about my actually liking) there has been notable improvements in the animation, the stories ability to focus and on the voice direction. We’re not quite at the level of Zootopia, but that’s going to be technological restrictions rather than the cost restrictions that you see in Chicken Little. 

Also, the story is just there. The idea of a pet becoming separated from their owner is not a new idea (hell, Disney have done it multiple times with their Homeward Bound films), but Bolt found a way to being new life to it. They manage to modernize it and make it more interesting to a modern audience not by updating the technology and cultural references (as lesser films in the Disney canon have done), but instead bring in some interesting psychological ideas of a deluded TV star dog having to come to terms with his own normalcy in a scary and uncontrolled world.

There are times, however, where Bolt begins to follow the conventional story beats (like the 12 minute before the end argument that actually makes no sense in terms of character development), which smack you in the face every time it happens. It’s going to take a film or two more before that habit, built as a crutch in the years of the recent wilderness, subsides – but until then it does know off half a star from any final ranking.

Even though there are still 10 films left on the list to see, there are only two of them left that are traditionally animated. After next time, having watched The Princess and the Frog, it’ll just be the 2011 version of Winnie the Pooh left. It’s weird to think that after years of one way of animating, I’m nearly seeing it’s death in Disney’s movies. But that’s something worth mourning in a future post.

📽️ Disney Time – Meet The Robinsons

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 47/58Title: Meet the Robinsons
Year: 2007

The disappointment that was Chicken Little, a film so bad that it is in the running for the worst entry in the Disney Animated canon, managed to spur me forward all the more. This is the final film in the canon (until the cinematic release of Frozen 2 which I will have seen by the time this post goes up) that is not a re-watch. So, how did it go?

Well, my expectations going into this film were low. Not as low as they should have been after Chicken Little but as this is not too well-reviewed and has made no real impact on wider culture, I did a bit of calibrating. In the end, I quite liked this film.

It’s still got a bit of the spaghetti throwing that Home on the Range had but, rather than being just attempts at humour, Meet the Robinsons had a lot of fun science-fiction elements. The issue, however, is that no matter how interesting some of these were – they barely spent enough time on them so they could be developed fully. For example, the dystopian future we see at the end was really cool but we needed to spend more time there to really have the full impact.

However, despite the inability to focus at times, I really have to praise Meet the Robinsons for creating a time-travel story aimed at children that had a decent amount of complexity which was all properly sewn up by the end. It makes this the first Disney film for a while where I can actually see where they made a proper attempt to appeal to their adult audience, which I am very grateful for.

In terms of animation, we are continuing to see the development of a distinct Disney CGI style (although the foreheads are still weirdly tall) and is definitely a step up from Chicken Little. However, it is still not at the point where I don’t find myself wishing that this had been made with traditional animation instead. Not long until that changes though and I’m interested to find out where that tipping point will be.

This is it people, not only am I about to enter the current Disney period – known as the Disney Revival – but I am headed into the home stretch of this whole list. The next film on the list is Bolt – the first Disney film that I saw in the cinema (albeit the student cinema at university) since Hercules.

📽️ Disney Time – Chicken Little

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 46/58Title: Chicken Little
Year: 2005

Just when I thought that I had seen the depths to which this era between the Disney Revival and Renaissance sank, here comes Chicken Little. Commercially, this was a massive success with the opening weekend matching The Lion King and with it being their first film to top the box office since Dinosaur. In a way you could say that this film helped to make a business case for putting more effort back into their animated offerings, but that might be giving this a bit too much credit.

Chicken Little is one of those films that I can probably use as an example of what happens of when you make a film for the sake of it, rather than one with any sort of story to tell. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what you would write on the back of the DVD box for this one. The story is so gossamer thin and inconsequential that they manage to fit in a full baseball and alien invasion plot and I’d argue that neither of them are even that necessary. Especially the alien invasion, which just fizzles out.

I would love to find something positive in this film, but honestly I’m not sure what there is. The animation is worse than an episode of Paw Patrol to the point where the protagonist’s father looks somewhat freaky, the central character is fundamentally unlike and then there’s the continued reliance on pop culture references that would completely fly over the head of any child watching it in 2005 and elicit groans from any adults watching it. Seriously, I wish I could have just switched this off.

One more film, just one more and it’s time for the current period of the Disney Revival to begin. Next on the list, Meet The Robinsons, is my final new film for this list outside of Frozen 2 which, at the time of writing, has yet to be released. Will my next film be an undiscovered interest like Atlantis or a complete downer like Chicken Little. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

📽️ Disney Time – Home On The Range

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 45/58Title: Home on the Range
Year: 2004

By most metrics, Home on the Range is one of the worst films in the Disney Animated Canon. It has a ridiculously low Metacritic score and an abysmal score on Rotten Tomatoes. Going into this I had very low expectations and thankfully that helped me out in the end – the kicking in the attention span that was Brother Bear really helped there.

Still though, I’m not entirely sure why Disney even made this film. Hell, this was given an extra year in favour of Brother Bear and this still ended up being a bit of a mess (then again, this is the same story with The Emperor’s New Groove and we all know how that turned out). They didn’t even manage to make a film that was over 80 minutes long and without any obvious theatre.

So, what’s this about? Well, in a nutshell, it’s about three cows who chase the bounty for a cattle rustler in order to stop their farm from being auctioned off. It’s a weird idea for a film, but weirder ideas have made for great animated films. This is not one of those great films. On the whole, it’s just a bit bland with the occasional trippy yodelling sequence that never reaches the heights of Dumbo‘s ‘Elephants on Parade’.

In terms of humour, this is very much one of those spaghetti thrown against the wall kind of films . Some of the lines are genuinely quite funny with Jennifer Tilly and Judi Dench doing the absolute best job that they can. Roseanne Barr, on the other hand, clearly had it in her contract that she got to improvise a bunch of her lines and… it doesn’t quite work. Not great given that she’s the lead cow.

Two more films now stand between me and Bolt. It’s a bit of a strange film to hang a landmark on, but it’s the film that signals the uptick in Disney quality. Still got Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons to go though. Who knows they may surprise me… or then again maybe not.

📽️ Disney Time – Brother Bear

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 44/58Title: Brother Bear
Year: 2003

Looks like the Disney downward spiral is continuing with today’s film. I mean, just when I thought I couldn’t be less engaged with a Disney film of this millennium, here comes a rewatch of the 2003 film Brother Bear. A film that may end up ranked near the bottom of the entire canon.

Let’s just get down to it – Brother Bear midst just fail to engage me, but it might have just taken things that I disliked about other Disney films and just smashed them together. For example, what was one thing I really disliked about Tarzan? The music as written and sung by Phil Collins that came in more often than required. Who write and sang the music to Brother Bear that played too frequently, that’s right Phil Collins and the songs were not as good as the ones in Tarzan.

There were also some very distinct choices with the animation, specifically how it changed a third of the way in so that it became more cartoony. Also, this change coincided with a change in aspect ratio, which would have been a neat idea if you didn’t have to spend half an hour with a crappy aspect ratio. By the time the film went to proper widescreen I was already so disengaged that the impact was lost.

Then came the biggest issue for me – I never liked the main character and all his actions are extremely predictable to the point where I paused the film and my husband pretty much guessed the remaining 50 minutes of his journey. Similarly, Koda the baby bear deuteragonist just had one speed: annoying. The only genuine laugh that this film served me was an elderly female bear claiming her husband was dead when, as he yelled from afar, he was very much alive. So yes, this film just was not for me.

Now, if online review are to be believed, Brother Bear is not the worst Disney film of the last 20 years. No, that title belongs to the next film on the list and, honestly, I really hope to blow past these as quickly as possible so I can watch the quality go back up again. One month’s worth of Disney to go, I guess.

📽️ Disney Time – Treasure Planet

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 43/58Title: Treasure Planet
Year: 2002

If you are a major film studio, like Disney, and you have two films to release in one year Then all power to you. However, if the second of those films is Treasure Planet then it might have been a better idea to take another look at whether you think it’s actually ready. With this film, I’m not actually sure whether more time would have helped much, but at least the CGI might have progressed further to the point whereby the space whales might have aged a little less poorly.

Treasure Planet is by no means the first time that Disney took a work of classic literature and moved it into a more modern setting. However, when the last time you did that was Oliver & Company, that really should give you pause. Especially when you are planning to do the same thing by taking a classic literary villain and redeem him. Seriously, it’s Long John Silver, why do you need to give him a redemption arc. This isn’t as heinous as the redemption of Fagin, but it’s still unneeded.

I guess that the big problem that I have with their film, other than the weird redemption arc, was that I was bored. This is a story that is meant to be a swashbuckling adventure and instead a lot of the actual treasure hunting takes a backseat to the storyline of giving the lead character a new father figure in the shape of the cyborg incarnation of Long John Silver… including a really unneeded musical montage.

Now, I have no problem with Disney transferring the story of Treasure Island into space. It’s a great idea that if Disney had doubled down on making everything either futuristic or alien or at least raypunk. Instead they limit the sense of otherworldly wonder, which is missing the point of the story. I also have a problem with the consistency in tone. The protagonist would make you believe that this film is for older children/teens. However, you also have an alien shipmate that communicates purely through the sounds of flatulence. Seriously, what were they thinking with that alien.

When I think that this is the Disney film that Emma Thompson’s voice is attached to, it makes me feel really sad. She deserved better than this. I also find it so hard to reconcile that the people that brought us Treasure Planet were the same directors that ushered in the Disney Renaissance with The Little Mermaid and then strengthened it with Aladdin. Then again, let’s just consider this a blip in their careers because they are soon going to be bringing be Moana and The Princess and the Frog. Just got to hold out until then.

📽️ Disney Time – Lilo & Stitch

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 42/58Title: Lilo & Stitch
Year: 2002

It’s been 6-7 years since I first watched Lilo & Stitch, apparently as part of a previous Disney binge as that was around about the same time that I saw Brother Bear. Since then, I’d actually pretty much forgotten about this film for the most part except for one thing: I knew I enjoyed it. On the re-watch, I am glad to say that it still held up and is likely to end up as in my Top 3 for Disney of the 2000s.

Unlike Atlantisthis is a film that I remember being advertised heavily. Pretty smart advertising as well seeing how they really used the love of the Big 4 Disney Renaissance to peak your interest as Stitch arrived during iconic scenes and (like in his own film) ruins everything. Thankfully, these promo spots are all on the Blu Ray, which made for a lot of fun before diving into the film proper.

It’s a brilliant idea to have him be front and centre in the adverts, as Stitch is one of the best original characters that Disney have ever created. In terms of looks, he fits into the same aesthetic as Nibbler from Futurama – i.e. cute because of the amalgamation of traditionally ugly features on a huggably small body.  He also has one of the most complex emotional journey’s that we see a non-human character go through in a Disney story – someone built for a destructive purpose that is still able to love and be loved.

As with a number of other Disney films of this era Lilo & Stitch‘s story really does skew older. Granted, Lilo as a protagonist is still a young girl, but for the film to work you need to be able to empathize with her older sister’s struggle to act as Lilo’s caretaker. Especially as Lilo is a child who has been emotionally damaged by the sudden death of her two parents and has been ostracized by her peer group as she uses her eccentricities as a coping mechanism.

This all makes Lilo & Stitch sound very doom and gloom for a Disney film, but worry not as they really do find ways to bring in the funny thanks to Stitch and other aliens who are hunting him down. Still though, what sets it apart is how much this film can grab you right by the feels and actually does an impressive job of subtly lampshading future events and even gives hints at the dark backstory of Lilo’s parents’ death before you actually hear about it (hint: it’s to do with the fish she feeds a sandwich to during her introduction).

So yea I guess this is it, the last good Disney film until Bolt. The next group are going to be somewhere between mediocre and the bad. Oh well, I managed to get through Disney’s other critical deserts of the mid-to-late 1940s and the 1970s – so I’m sure that the next five films will end up flying by.

📽️ Disney Time – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 41/58Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Year: 2001

A new Disney film in the canon, to me, is about as rare as finding a village in Minecraft – not something that happens at all often and, no matter how bad it ends up being, is always a welcome discovery. I mentioned in my post for The Emperor’s New Groove how this was my first new canonical Disney for 30 posts and I had no idea to expect. Now, I don’t know whether it’s the re-aligned expectations of the last few films, but I loved Atlantis. Might go as far as to say that it’s the best Disney since Hunchback

Love for this film was unexpected. After all, it has the fourth lowest Metacritic score of all the films within the canon – the top three being all films in my near future. In fact, the reviews were so bad in the USA that I don’t even remember seeing Atlantis being advertised in the UK – the other being Home on the Range. With the reviewers went the ticket-buying audience, which made this film a comparative flop.

When watching Atlantis there is a very pertinent question that comes to mind (which also came up with Dinosaur): what makes a Disney film? It’s this question that really seemed to flummox crowds back in 2001 who went in expecting something young children would love and a few decent songs thrown in. Instead you get a film with visuals inspired by the Hellboy comics and a mythology that stands in the larger footsteps of Studio Ghibli films like Castle in the Sky. This is the film that Disney were trying to make all those years ago with The Black Cauldron – and I only hope that Atlantis gets some sort of critical re-evaluation soon.

The animation in this film is not Dinsey at their greatest. It hearkens back to animation we said goodbye to after The Great Mouse Detective and, to be honest the character designs are all over the place to the point where they look like models from three different films put together. It makes up for this in scope though, the use of 3D-modelling for the submersible and the whole sequence near the end with the Atlantean golems is beautifully done. I also really appreciate the work done on giving this culture a specially-constructed language with the view to have it be a possible offshoot of the Indo-European linguistic tree. Hell, this film is the Dungeons and Dragons campaign that most dungeon masters could only dream of constructing.

By no means is this one of the top tier Disney films. When I eventually do a ranking after watching and writing up Frozen 2, I don’t foresee Atlantis appearing in my Top 15. However, it deserves so much credit for being a different direction that Disney could have taken. With films like Zootopia we still see tinges of this more adult brand of story-telling, but with both Atlantis and Treasure Planet being flops – I can see why they would be so reluctant to engage in outlandish world-building for a while.

Next on the list is Lilo & Stitch, which when looking at what is to come, will be the last decent film on the list before 2008’s Bolt. I’m going to make sure that I relish it as much as possible as I know I’ll be missing it like crazy when I am halfway through watching Brother Bear.

📽️ Disney Time – The Emperor’s New Groove

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 40/58Title: The Emperor’s New Groove
Year: 2001

For a Disney film of the modern era, The Emperor’s New Groove is one of the shortest. This speaks to the fraught nature of it’s production and stands as a weird testament that they were able to get anything out at all. It had already gone through a big delay, resulting in it swapping release dates with Dinosaur

Disney, however, aren’t one to forgive lateness and so rather than go through further delays, people were swapped out and this film was rushed on its way to the finish line. This rushing is what gave us the short runtime, the broader comedic tone (especially when you compare this to the films they released in the last decade) and other shortcuts being made along the way. Therefore, The Emperor’s New Groove stands as a weird shadow of what could have been. As it is, this is a film with some truly brilliant moments that are in a comedy that is too broad and repetitive for it’s own good. Makes for an enjoyable watch, but one that is ultimately disposable.

What is not disposable, however, is the voice acting here. Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton are amazing standouts in their roles as the villains, Kitt in particular being particularly brilliant considering the material she had to work with and some of the visuals that ended up accompanying her line readings. It’s because of these two (and the general characterisation of the emperor) that I, for the first and probably only time in Disney history, I ended up rooting for the bad guys.

You also have to give a lot of praise to the people who worked on this under the ultimately pressure-cooker environment of a delayed Disney film. Sure the pressure didn’t create a diamond, but they managed to craft some excellent one-liners, visual gags and set pieces. The entire scene in the diner is a beautiful exercise in old-fashioned farce that has been given a modern and llama-centric update.

Next time on the Disney canon will be Atlantis: The Lost Empire. This marks the beginning of a Disney era where my knowledge is incredibly patchy and starts off with a film that I’ve never seen before (the first since 1948’s Melody Time). I have no idea what to expect from Atlantis, but I cannot help but be mildly excited at the prospect of uncovering some new Disney movies.