Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1951-1959)

13. Alice in Wonderland
Decent, but not great. You’d think with a story like this, the animators would go crazy, but I get the feelings that they were restrained. Still, there are plenty of memorable sequences throughout and Wonderland is a pretty entertaining place.

The film doesn’t have much of a story, admittedly. It’s just Alice running into different characters without out any real flow. The film completely burns out in the middle and the final act didn’t really hold my attention. The music isn’t all that good and only a couple of the songs stick. (“I’m Late,” The Unbirthday Song” and “Painting the Roses Red” being it.)

“The Walrus and the Carpenter” segment is near perfect, however. It’s interesting to see characters like the Cheshire Cat and The Caterpillar brought to life, but I’ve never revisited this one as much as some others. Ultimately, I feel it’ll take a more experimental mind to faithfully bring Lewis Carol’s vision to the big screen.
[Grade: B-]

14. Peter Pan
Another favorite from childhood that holds up. Very little about this movie doesn’t work. It has the elements of a fun swashbuckler as well as a beautifully realized fantasy and surprisingly, it retains most of the psychological subtext of the original play.

Continuing the trend of Disney films at the time, all the characters are likable and surprisingly well-round. Wendy and Tinkerbell are far more resourceful then past Disney heroines and Captain Hook is a great villain, despite succumbing to wacky slapstick antics. The film is plotted far better then you’d expect, with a tight structure and even a little suspense, especially during the capture of Tiger-Lily.

While the music hasn’t gone onto become as iconic as other Disney tunes, I like it a lot, especially the score which, with its use of the pan flute and other airy instruments, is a bit of a departure for Disney. The Indians might bother some overly PC people now a days and not all the slapstick is successful, but this is still one of my favorites from Disney’s second golden period. [Grade: A]

15. Lady and the Tramp
The first in Disney’s “Pets in Peril” films, a theme they would revisit at least four more times. Considering some of the high stakes of those later films, this one is fairly reserved, which is ultimately its strength. The simplicity of the tale has allowed it to hold up pretty well over time. The romantic aspects of the story are handled well. There aren’t any “love at first sight” moments, it’s a realistic relationship that builds over time. Weird that they would get that right with two dogs. (Another weird moment is when the two dogs wake up together after having spent the night together. Gee, Disney, that was a little subversive, don’t you think?)

The animation isn’t spectacular but is nice and smooth and helped along by playful character designs. The musical numbers are also worth-while, with “Bella Notte” and “He’s a Tramp” being the stand-outs. The Aunt character is really more of a bitch then is necessary and is more annoying then menacing. And, hey, nice job putting a baby in peril there at the end. I keep telling you guys, Disney was up to some shit back in the day. Ultimately, how emotionally involving the film is what makes it endure. [Grade: B+]

16. Sleeping Beauty
The first thing I notice about this film is how brilliantly colorful it is. The bright colors and generally excellent quality of the animation as a whole provides this with a strong energy that carries the whole movie. This also a bit of a departure for Disney in that it comes off feeling more like a fantasy epic then a typical Disney film. This is due to the tone, which is slightly more serious then past efforts, and the scope, which is considerably larger then the other features. Basically, just on a visual level, I highly enjoyed this film.

Luckily, it works on other levels too. While the title character, Princess Aurora, and Prince Philip get top billing, it’s really the four different fairies that drive the plot. The three good fairies are a good example of Disney character with distinct personalities that play off each other very nicely. They are also the characters that save everybody’s asses over and over again and get very little thanks for it. Then there’s the fourth fairy, Malifcent, the bad guy. Truly one of Disney’s best villains. Imposing, powerful, and ruthless, she sums up the classical fantasy villain archetype perfectly. The music takes a back seat to the animation here, though the score is quite pretty and much more sweeping then you’d expect. It’s very different from the Disney Animated Features that came before and after, but certainly one of the studios’ greatest achievements. [Grade: A]

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