Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1973-1981)

21. Robin Hood
Reminded me a lot of “The Jungle Book” and not just because Phil Harris plays another bear. Like that film, this one also features an excellent voice cast and very good music. Another similarity is the strong character personalities. Like many of the best Disney films, most of the enjoyment comes from watching everyone respond to everyone else. I generally dislike villains that are played for comic relief but Peter Ustinov’s performance as King John made it worth while.

The animation is good though this film features a lot of recycled footage. The story is pretty weak and doesn’t have a lot of drive behind it, though I really like the Archery contest sequence. The generally laid back tone has a double edge to it in that it makes the film a friendly, enjoyable watch but can also put you to sleep pretty easily. One of the more minor Disney features but a fun one none the less. [Grade: B]

22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
This film really opens up conflicting emotions in me. It is incredibly sugary cute, almost to the point of being coy. The music is only okay with much of it sounding alike, though “The Blustery Day” and “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” are pretty good. The “Heffalump and Woozlies” section is awfully similar to “Pink Elephants on Parade” in both the imagery and the music.

The film is very charming and it’s hard not to love the characters. It’s really the innocence of the material that is its soul. It is the world of a child’s imagination, completely void of danger and fear.

Though the film isn’t completely naive, as the coda hints at the sadness of leaving behind the whimsies of childhood. It’s this heartwarming section that really decided my opinion of the film as a positive one. The film’s goal seems to be to speak to the viewer’s inner child, the one that still sees their teddy bear as a dear friend as opposed to just a stuffed toy. On that level, it is a success. [Grade: B+]

23. The Rescuers
I notice Don Bluth’s name in the credits which makes me wonder how much creative input he had in this project. It seems more like something he would do as opposed to a traditional Disney feature. Even the animation is more reminiscent of his studio’s style. I don’t know how explored the concept of mice having a mini-society within our own was when this first came out, but it does add some nice twist to the idea.

The opening section of the film is very moody. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor have nice chemistry together as the lead characters. The story isn’t wholly original but is at least told with some energy. Madam Medusa is a pretty good villain. The single mindedness and cruelty to a little girl makes her into a nastier if less memorable Cruellia DeVille. The music is nice in a way though some of it sounds a bit too much like bad seventies soft pop. I did like the “Rescue Aid Society Theme Song” however.

The animation is perfectly passable but hardly extraordinary. The swamp animals that play a minor role in the plot during the climax are awfully annoying and mostly unnecessary. And yes, I do have an older copy of the film, one that still has the nudity hidden in the background. That seems to be the main reason anybody talks about this now a days which is pretty goofy if you ask me. [Grade: B-]

24. The Fox and the Hound
About half of this is good while the remaining parts fair from mediocre to poor and the bits are distributed unevenly throughout the picture. I really liked the beginning, how it starts out with a slow, quiet pan through the forest before the action starts. The animation is very nice and crisp, certainly a step up from what was seen in the past couple films. Some of the film’s earlier moments are fun and cute without being too cute. Tod’s first night in the forest and the final confrontation with the bear are both very strong sequences, not sugar-coating the cruelty of nature too much. I liked the ending, which is sad and strangely downbeat for a Disney movie.

The cast is very mixed bag. Sandy Duncan has a clear, likable voice, Pearl Bailey is good as Big Momma, and it’s always nice to hear from Kurt Russell. Mickey Rooney is horribly miscast and would it have killed Paul Winchell and John Fielder to come up with voices different then their “Winnie the Pooh” characters? The music isn’t very good with “The Best of Friends” being the only track worth mentioning. Chief living was a cheap cop-out and while I appreciate the film’s attempts at drama, it isn’t handled very well and comes off sounding pretty silly. Ultimately, “The Fox and the Hound” might have been an attempt at trying something different but has a lot of kinks that needed to be ironed out first. [Grade: B-]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

The horror remake trend isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. When relative obscurities like “My Bloody Valentine” get a polished do-over, things are out of control. We mostly have Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company to blame for this. I’m hardly a fan. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” re-do wasn’t a complete abomination but was, at best, competently mediocre. Everything else the studio has had its fingers in range from boring (“The Amityville Horror”) to god awful. (“The Hitcher,” the “Chainsaw” prequel.) So when I heard they got their hands on my beloved “Friday the 13th,” I was cautious, to say the least.

Now that the movie is out, what can I say? First off, this one doesn’t shake off the annoying Platinum Dunes trademarks. All the teens look like they were plucked from underwear commercials. (Even the nerd looks ready to do a GAP ad.) There are far too many cheap jump-scares, in which the music and sound effects blast way up in order to get a response from the audience. (I’ll admit, one of these got me. Damn dog.) Even some shaky-cam direction is thrown in, though not enough to ruin the movie. And a personal gripe of mine: The location of Crystal Lake has always been ambiguous. The Ohio plates in the first movie say one thing while the closeness of Manhattan in the eighth movie says another. I guess it’s been moved way south for this one, because we have another case of Beautiful City People being hassled by ugly, sweaty, redneck southerners. Does everybody in Hollywood think people south of the Mason Dixon line look and act like that?

Anyway, if you can ignore all of that bullshit, you’ll have a good time. “Friday the 13th 09” gets a lot of stuff right. This is mostly thanks to Derek Mears performance as Jason. He’s smarter, faster, and nastier then previous incarnations but it doesn’t mess with the established concept of the character. Personality wise, it’s the same Jason we know and love. The mythologies of the previous films are respected, as well. Yes, I would have liked to have seen more of the camp and Mrs. Voorhees but the fact that they’re present means a lot. (That whole mine-shaft thing doesn’t make sense though. Jason having an underground lair is cool but there were more logical ways to explain it.) Marcus Nispel isn’t a bad director and he knows how to create atmosphere. With the teens at the summer home and the brother looking for his missing sister, the story mostly plays like a combination of three and four, with elements of two and one thrown in for flavor. (Yea for Baghead Jason!) The teens are clich├ęs, with some of them not even being that distinct, but none of the acting is distractingly bad. (I do have a problem with one line of dialouge: "Say hi to Mommy for me!" Ugh.)

But when has that ever mattered much? It’s the ways that Jason terminates them that counts. The movie seems unusually centered on machete deaths but there is variety and most of the kills show creativity. (The machete is comically huge, by the way, and looks ridiculous in the hands of anybody but the Sultan.) The dock sequence is the best in the movie and actually creates some minor suspense. Ultimately, it’s “Friday the 13th.” We’ve got Jason, we’ve got Crystal Lake, we’ve got teens getting naked, having sex, doing drugs, making stupid decisions, and getting gorily killed off. We even have something exploding out of the water at the end of the movie. On top of all that, it’s all competently put together. Welcome back to Crystal Lake. Sure feels good to be home. [Grade: B+]