Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (2002-2004)

41. Lilo and Stitch
It’s interesting to note the direction the Disney Animated Features took during the 2000s. They have all been a bit different from the typical mood established during the nineties.

First off, “Lilo and Stitch” gets a lot of credit for its unique look. This is some of the best character designs I’ve seen in a long time. Everyone has a rounded and smooth look to them and even background characters, like the aliens on the ship at the beginning, have a cool, memorable appearance. Also of note is the brilliant color and beauty that the backgrounds have. You really get a sense of location here. While “Rescuers Down Under” really just used its exotic location to spice things up a bit, you get the feeling that the creators not only did their research on this one, but actually fell in love with Hawaii and its culture. The use of music, color, and atmosphere lends the film a feeling all to its own.

Another unique attribute the picture has is in its lead character. Though Emperor Kuzko, The Beast, and Quasimodo could claim the title, I think Stitch is Disney’s first leading anti-hero. Though the character does come around in the end, he still maintains many of his rambunctious qualities. Lilo, voiced spiritedly by Daveigh Chase, too is quirkier then you’d expect, and naturally, all the more endearing because of it. It might not be exactly new ground, but I love how Lilo and Nani’s relationship is handled. They actually act like real relatives in that they love each other but don’t always get along. The movie’s humor is also a little more off-kilter then usual.

The characters of Jumba and Plenkly aren’t fleshed out all that well and are clichéd, despite Kevin McDonald and David Ogden Stiers injecting some life into them. The movie’s climax lacks some punch and the action scenes, though beautifully animated, don’t work as well as the other parts of the film. I also found some character’s changing sides at the end to stretch believability, a very nice, Disney-esque move for a film that seems to do it’s best to separate itself from that attitude. Still, “Lilo and Stitch” serves as something of a swan song to the golden period of the nineties. Sadly, the studio has yet to produce something as wildly entertaining as this film is. [Grade: A-]

42. Treasure Planet
As a sorta’-steam punk take on the classic tale, I found this one appealing. Seeing how the concept is played with in alternate takes on familiar stories is always something I enjoy. This is also something of a double edge sword, however, as it makes the story predictable too. Still, there are enough twist to the formula to keep it fresh.

The animation is excellent and full of color and movement. Several of the action scenes are quite exciting and nicely directed. The character designs are unique and many of them are paired with energetic voice performances, particularly Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Brian Silver, and Michael Wincott. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a good actor but goes a little too board with his performances. The film feels the need to give Jim Hawkins a few too many cute comic sidekicks, as Martin Short’s B.E.N. character is borderline irritating. The super happy ending plays to the audience’s expectations a bit too much and I found it mostly unnecessary. And why it might get me laughed at by the music snobs, I actually like John Revsnick’s original songs quite a bit and they blend with the film’s mood excellently. [Grade: B]

43. Brother Bear
It is so glaringly obvious how much this one wants to be “The Lion King.” Instead of African tribal influence, you have influence from Eskimo culture. You have two comic relief side-kicks. You have the world seen through the eyes of animals, again.

However, while that film was brimming with a unique subtext and packed a real emotional punch, “Brother Bear” feels so hollow. There is no subtext, no suspense, and the characters are barely memorable at all. While Phil Collins produced some excellent, suiting music on “Tarzan,” his stuff here characterized the horrible pop-music pap that is his standard today.

The voice acting tries. Tries and fails. Being a “Strange Brew” fan, I did enjoy Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis’ moose characters. They at least got me to laugh. The ending is a terrible cop-out and seems to be written solely to make way for the inevitable Direct-to-DVD sequel. “Brother Bear” is painfully mediocre and represents a studio that has completely forgotten what made it great in the first place. [Grade: C-]

44. Home on the Range
I expected the worst, especially after the lousy “Brother Bear” and the awful advertising campaign. Maybe due to my low expectations, I didn’t completely hate this one. It’s still weak, without a doubt, and is barely a blip on the Disney radar, but there are one or two moments.

I like the voice cast, despite its dependency on established actors. The music is pretty decent, and I dig the Bonny Taylor number and the yodeling cowboy. The attempts at emotional resonance are ineffective but at least
you get the impressive the writers gave a half-way shit and there are one or two colorful moments though there should have been more.

The story is pretty lame, the character designs are bland, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s role is downright hateful towards the audience, the results overall are lazy and boring. Still, it’s better then “Brother Bear.” [Grade: C]

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