Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1942-1946)

5. Bambi
The first thing you notice about “Bambi” is how visually beautiful it is. This is definitely a step-up from the bland backgrounds of “Dumbo.” Here you get rich, detailed, picturesque forest surroundings. The character designs are also very memorable and well-done.

The next most starling characteristic of the film is just how dark it is. Though there are plenty of cute animal antics throughout, this film certainly doesn’t back away from mature themes. The death of Bambi’s mom is infamous for how many children it’s traumatized over the years and the scenes remain heartbreaking to this day. Then there’s the scene were Bambi must fend off his girl from another suitor, which contains a not too subtle allusion of sexual assault. The fight that follows is very visually dynamic as well. And the final scenes were man invades the forest with fire and dogs are harrowing and very effective.

Of course, this is Disney, so it all turns out okay in the end, but still the fact that the film is not only willing to go there but does so in dramatic and well done ways is surprising and, frankly, gutsy.
[Grade: A]

6. Saludos Amigos
The film is utterly and completely forgettable. For whatever reason, old school Disney slapstick antics does nothing for me and that comprises a good section of this film. Perhaps the schadenfreude quality of live action slapstick is completely lost in a cartoon. The documentary segments are mostly boring and I found the narrator irritating. Fortunately, it’s also very short, only 48 minutes long.

The Pedro the Airplane segment is kind of cute, though it really doesn’t have much to do with the subject matter. The final segment features some interesting animation and the music in this film is at least different from the dull tunes that accompanied most of the films from this era. For the most part, however, being a Disney completest is really the only reason to own this one.
[Grade: D]

7. The Three Caballeros
I remember disliking this film immensely as a child. Watching it again, now knowing it was a sequel to the mediocre beyond words “Saludos Amigo,” my expectations were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised. First off, it feels less like a package film then the last one. The Pablo the Penguin segment is really the only stand-alone bit and everything else sort of flows into each other in a weird way. The aforementioned Penguin segment is cute and funny and features the ever likable Sterling Holloway.

This film is really a major improvement over its predecessor in just about every way. The animation is more colorful and you even get a little bit of “Fantasia” style experimentation. The music is far better too, with the title
song being particularly catchy. There is some documentary bits thrown in but they come off far more interesting this time. As does the slapstick comedy, which feels less like harmless Disney stuff and more like the anarchic Looney Tunes/Chuck Jones productions and is, naturally, funnier.

The film’s energy does burn out before it’s over with the last twenty minutes feeling a lot longer then they should. And the part were an animated Donald Duck chases after live action young girls in bathing suits comes off as just a little creepy. Still, this is far better then I remember.
[Grade: B-]

8. Make Mine Music
Yawn. Here we go again, guys. “Make Mine Music” is remembered, when its remembered at all, which isn’t often, for featuring “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.” Both sequences easily stand as the high points of the film. The former might have its origins as a “Fantasia” bit due to its classical soundtrack. Sterling Holloway is along to explain things and makes the segment go down easily. The wolf actually being intimidating is another strong point. “The Whale” is well regarded for its nice animation. Its quick pacing and snippets of opera music make for smooth sailing. At least, until that downbeat ending which is certainly surprising. “After Your Gone” is another notable segment, its jazzy, energetic, creative, and short.

The rest is dire, to say the least. “Blue Bayou” and “Two Silhouettes” are both sleep inducing, especially the last one which might as well have been called “Roto-scope-mania!” “All the Cats Join In” has its moments and features some unanticipated almost-nudity. “Casey at the Bat” has some creepy physical comedy. With the way it anthromorphizes hats, of all things, “Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet” comes off as slightly odd, though the Andrew Sisters keep things going. (God, is that what pop music was like in the forties?) A segment about the Hatfields and McCoys is cutted from the home video release, for some unforeseeable reason. Okay, that’s done. Let’s continue. [Grade: C]

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