Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1999-2001)

37. Tarzan
The last two DAFs lacked a real visual punch; “Tarzan” more then makes up for them. With its deep, rich, colorful backgrounds and lively character designs, the animation is just splendid and a wonder to be hold. The wonderful animation is probably the main reason to see this, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with the story.

Many liberties are taken but this is an at least semi-faithful adaptation of the first novel. It’s brought to life in a energetic fashion with several exciting moments, though the story does have something of a been-there-done-that feeling to it.

The voice cast is pretty decent, with Minnie Driver’s Jane being one of Disney’s most appealing female characters. I found the voice of Tarzan to be awfully uninteresting, though, and Rosie O’Donald’s casting is pretty gimmicky.

It would be easy to make fun of Phil Collin’s music, since, hey, it’s Phil Collins, but the songs are actually pretty good and probably the last thing of any worth he’s done. I would compare this to “Aladdin” in that, why the film doesn’t really do anything spectacularly different, it is still very entertaining.
[Grade: A-]

38. Fantasia 2000
A worthy follow-up to the original. I’m not sure how necessary the inclusion of the celebrity hosts were and I could have done without seeing “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” again. This one is also decidedly less experimental then the original.

Still, the images and music are matched nicely. “Rhapsody in Blue” is without a doubt my favorite segment. The rich use of color and the fluid animation matches the laid-back melody of the song perfectly and I suppose the story of everyday people breaking away from their boring lives to live their dreams appeals to me on some level. “Pines of Rome” and “Firebird Suite” are both beautiful, sweeping segments filled with gorgeous CGI animation. I would have loved to have seen them on the IMAX screen were their large scale probably could have been appreciated more. Beethoven’s Fifth is a nice segment and the closest you get to the tone of the original film.

“The Steadfast Soldier” has very nice animation and is highly enjoyable in a typically Disney sort of way. “Carnival of Animals” is colorful, playful, funny, goofy, short and sweet. I liked it a lot. “Pomp and Circumstance” is definitely the lame-duck segment this time around. Pairing Donald Duck with Noah’s Arc and the graduation march just doesn’t quite gel with me. It’s also one of the few cases were I feel that the traditional animation is limiting the scope of the story. Though not as intense an experience as the original, “Fantasia 2000” is still damn good and carries on the spirit of first film, at least. [Grade: A-]

39. The Emperor’s New Groove
Different from what you’d expect from Disney and I can’t help but feel that’s part of the movie’s strength. It’s a hilarious buddy comedy full of highly quotable dialogue and lots of great gags. The movie feels a lot like a Looney Toons skit, tossing out any air of seriousness in favor of just good-old goofiness.

However, the filmmaker’s were smart. To prevent the film from burning out on its own energy, they pace the story with several softer scenes, like of Pacca’s family life, in-between the humor. The result works very well, and the film keeps it up until the end.

The cast is nice. Patrick Warburton is the most memorable, get’s all the best lines, has the best delivery, and is just the funniest member of the cast. This is probably the best thing David Spade has ever done. It’s also nice to hear from Eartha Kitt. John Goodman gives a solid performance though it hardly breaks any new ground for him.

Sting’s music was originally far more involved but it’s been scaled back to just one song now. This is a good thing because, as far as aging British pop stars go, Sting doesn’t have the talent of Elton John or the luck of Phil Collins. (I feel the latter’s success on “Tarzan” was more of a fluke on Collins’ behalf.) The one song of his that did make it into the final cut is awful but luckily just plays over the end credits. “The Emperor’s New Groove” has a rapid fire wit about it and got the most laughs out of me since Genie in “Aladdin.” [Grade: A]

40. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
As a change in direction, an attempt to do a sci-fi action/adventure film, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” gets some points for being a little different. Sadly, the movie is pretty mediocre.

On the positive side, there is an excellent voice cast including names like Michael J. Fox, James Gardner, Leonard Nimoy, James Varney, and veteran voice actress Cree Summers. While many of the supporting characters are quite interesting and amusing, they are perhaps just too many of them for the cast to be properly developed. We never get any sense of brotherhood among the group and few of the characters seem to be designed beyond basic gimmicks.

I’m not sure what it is, but the animation just doesn’t feel very lively. It lacks a sharpness and clarity that many past Disney features had. There’s nice use of CGI and I like the look of the Atlantian civilization. The plot twist about halfway through doesn’t really work either. The final action scenes, however, are nicely done and the best part of the film. This film more or less proves that Disney is at it’s best when doing sweeping, dramatic musicals and that Indiana Jones style adventures aren’t really their thing. [Grade: C]

Monday, April 6, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1995-1998)

33. Pocahontas
After three highly successful films in a row, you get the feeling that maybe the creative juices that went into “Pocahontas” were a little strained. As a result, the film is just not as good as those that precede it. Still, it’s not for a lack of trying.

The music is really spectacular here and certainly the best part. The animation is as excellent as always. Continuing on what was started with “The Lion King,” there is an attempt to work some social issues into the story. There’s a general message of tolerance here. It is clearly stated in the song “Savages” and is some pretty stirring stuff.

Sadly, the film lacks an emotional core. The relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith is not developed fully and none of the supporting characters really come to life. Sad to say, the talented voice cast, including Mel Gibson and Christian Bale, aren’t given much to do. So why I appreciate the visual beauty of the film and its message, I found myself only caring about half of it. And the cute animal antics feel really forced and out-of-place here. [Grade: B]

34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Continuing the trend set by “Pocahontas,” in that it’s unafraid to tackle some heavier issue then you’d expect from a Disney, for a fact, "Hunchback of Notre Dame" might be the heaviest yet. The often visited theme of “accept people for who they are” is the main one, but it is handled with a steady maturity. Religious prosecution and hypocrisy are also major themes. It’s dark for Disney but still tones down the original novel quite a bit by adding several comic relief sidekicks. There are also some moments of slapstick humor that feel incredibly out of place.

The animation is absolutely spectacular, full of long wandering pans across the Paris sky line. The attention to detail is especially appreciated and I love how well done the lighting is. However, the use of cheap CGI extras doesn’t go without notice.

The music is some of the best ever featured in a Disney film, both the songs and the score. “God Help the Outcast” is gorgeous and moving while “The Bells of Notre Dame” and “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” are just some of the other sweeping pieces. The score, with its chanting monks and percussion, is very effective.

The cast is perfectly handled as well. Tom Hulce’s voice is so soft but forceful when necessary. Demi Moore proves herself to be a better actress here then in any of her live action roles. Veteran voice actor, and sadly recently deceased, Tony Jay oozes sinister intent with his deep baritone. The complexity of the character makes Frollo one of the most subversive Disney villains ever. Not quite perfect but “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” ranks third behind “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” as the best of the nineties era.
[Grade: A]

35. Hercules
It makes sense that after the relatively heavy subject matter of the last two features, that Disney would handle a much lighter film. The majority of “Hercules” is a comedy with enduring characters and plenty of amusing sight gags and one-liners.

As far as the animation goes, the style is obviously meant to be similar to the paintings of ancient Greek which contrasts nicely with the light material. There are some nice fantasy designs but there aren’t as many opportunities for beauty as there have been in past features. The action sequences are well-done and the fight with the Hydra and the Titans are both exciting.

As far as the cast goes, James Woods is the best, playing up his serio-comic villain, though Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito, and Rip Torn are also of mention as well as a Charlton Heston’s cameo. The score is good but the musical numbers are pretty light-weight. Selecting a gospel choir as the storytellers of Greek mythology is a bizarre choice but does lead to the best songs in the film. As a whole the music pales in comparison to the composer’s past work. “Hercules” is good but it’s closer to “The Sword in the Stone” then to “The Lion King” on the quality spectrum. [Grade: B]

36. Mulan
The first thing I noticed about this one is the art style which is obviously influenced by Chinese theatrical art and just looks fascinating. It’s a good way to distinguish “Mulan” from other Disney works.

The film can be separated into two very distinct parts. The first half is more comedy focused. The shift to a more serious tone halfway through the film is deliberate and actually works on some level. There are several exciting and well-done sequences throughout. Mulan’s decision to run away is shown in a very moody moment accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s excellent score. The battle on the mountain and the final takeover of the imperial castle are both very well managed.

The music is very underplayed and almost feels tacked on but is actually pretty good, particularly “Be a Man” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For.” The cast is decent, full of strong voices including James Hong, Pat Morita, and George Takai, but no body really stands out. Well, except Eddie Murphy. His role is potentially annoying and the casting is pretty gimmicky but it’s not a horrible performance. “Mulan” is a strong, entertaining effort. [Grade: B+]