Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1990-1994)

29. The Rescuers Down Under
First thing I notice about this one is how great the animation is. The first shot, slowly observing some bugs crawling around on a leaf, before the camera goes launching out across a field is breathtaking and seems to suggest how this film will be much “bigger” then its predecessor. The scope is certainly larger and the Australian outback adds an exotic flavor to the proceedings, despite the fact that only one character actually speaks with an accent.

I don’t know how successful it as a sequel. The character designs are very attractive and well-done, especially the eagle. Bernard and Miss Bianca don’t even show up until about the fifteen minute mark and aren’t even all that involved with the story until the last act. Their relationship has expanded some and Newheart and Gabor are still good together, though her voice has aged considerably.

The story is awfully similar to the first film. George C. Scott makes a great bad guy and he certainly feels like the star of the film as he owns every scene he’s in. I like John Candy as the new albatross and he gets plenty of funny lines though I did tire of the surfer dude bit after a while. The environmental slant to the story is interesting and gives the pace some drive. I thought there was a bit too much of the cute animal antics and how the little boy communicates so easily with them is just a little disconcerting.
[Grade: B+]

30. Beauty and the Beast
“The Little Mermaid” is generally accepted as launching the new era for Disney animation but I think it’s “Beauty and the Beast” that really perfected the formula. It is the best Disney film in overall quality since “The Jungle Book.”

Somehow the animation quality in these films keep managing to get better and better and the quality here is nothing sort of amazing. Like in “The Little Mermaid,” the songs are like numbers and, unlike in that film, all the performances actually move the story forward and develop the characters.

Speaking of which, all the characters are fascinating and interesting. The two title characters and their developing relationship is built effectively. The supporting cast, particularly the castle servants, also have vivid characteristics. And let’s talk about Gaston, the bad guy. What a brilliant way to turn typical clichés on their heads. The square-jawed “hero” is actual a pompous, and dangerous, egotist. How awesome is that? “Beauty and the Beast” is a masterpiece, really, effective as a romance, a fantasy adventure, and a fairy tale filled with character-based comedy and drama. [Grade: A]

31. Aladdin
“Aladdin” is a film that doesn’t really do anything exceedingly impressive. The animation is pretty much the high standard you’d expect and there are many stand-out moments in that respect. All the voice actors are matched pretty solidly with their character but none of them stand out all that much.

Except for Robin Williams, of course. Williams is basically a cartoon anyway and his manic energy is actually kept in check, for once, and Genie is easily the most memorable character in the film.

The music is quite good, especially “Friend Like Me” and “Whole New World,” though it pales in comparison to the composers’ work on “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” The story is standard and Aladdin’s character arc is about as cliché as they come.

All of this would make you think this is a mediocre film, right? But it’s not. Despite all this, “Aladdin” is still exceedingly entertaining. You get the feeling that the Disney creation team was in such a solid niche by this point. They knew how to create an entertaining, satisfying, memorable, lovable film with an ease that should put any other mainstream studio to shame. Just by using the same tools that had worked so well on their other films, they transformed a story that could have been rather ho-hum into another hit. Good job. [Grade: A]

32. The Lion King
With “Aladdin,” the Disney team proved that they could pretty much create a highly entertaining animated feature without even really trying all that hard. With “The Lion King,” they took it to the next level.

This film has something many of its predecessors don’t and that’s subtext. There are a lot of different angles you can come at from this film and it really does transcend the Disney standard of just being a “kid’s flick.” The movie is something of a “Hamlet” adaptation. There’s a lot of discussion about the relationship between father and son. You could see something of a political statement in how easily Scar ascends to the throne. Simba’s tale
of exile and return almost has biblical cogitations to it. The story has legitimate power to it.

On top of this, you have great memorable characters, wonderful music, beautiful animation, and combination of everything above that suggests an expert hand is at work. So, in short, “The Lion King” might be the proudest achievement of the nineties era of Disney animation.
[Grade: A]

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