Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 42 - The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Movie: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Released: October 5, 1949
Formats Released: 1 VHS, 1 Laserdisc, 1 DVD
Format Watched: DVD
Watched Wife: Wife, Woody and Belle
Snacks: Microwave Popcorn & Coke Zero

The problem with this film is that there is not much to the movie, and nit much out there written about the movie. This film was produced in the late 1940's as a package film ( a feature length film made up of smaller, independent segment). World War II took a large toll on Walt Disney Animation (or Walt Disney Productions as it was known back then). At the start of the war the war department basically took over the studio to produce propaganda pieces. They decided the direction the studio would take and they monopolized a lot of the animators. As such, production on features came to a virtual stand still. It wasn't until the end of the war that they could focus on feature films again. The problem was the studio was in financial trouble and couldn't afford to dedicate the time needed to produce a full length film so they produced these package films made up of smaller, easier to produce parts. This film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, was the last of the package films until Fantasia 2000.

My Thoughts on the Film:

Taken for what it is, the film is very enjoyable. Nigel Rathbone is the narrator for The Wind in the Willows and Bing Crosby was the narrator, and basically the only voice actor in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I personally enjoyed the Wind in the Willows segment, I think it had a better, more exciting story. It's no wonder that Mr. Toads Wild Ride was one of my favorites at Disney World.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was timely for the season, and would have been spookier if I had not watched it in the middle of the afternoon. I did enjoy the gag of skinny Ichabod eating as much as humanly possible. The animation in the scenes with the Headless Horseman was amazing. One thing my wife pointed out, several of the characters from this film, with minor adjustments, were like characters in Beauty and the Beast.

The Wind in the Willows is just a madcap, whirlwind adventure. Mr Toad obviously, much to the dismay of his friends, jumps from one fad to the other, throwing himself into each one, whole hog, Something I can relate to in my younger years. He does have the habit of emerging from each one scot-free, a talent I have yet to master.

Favorite part of the Film:

I'm going to go with Mr Toads escape through the city. The clever gag of hiding the ball in the dress as a hump was great.

Things I never noticed before:
- There are only about 3 voice actors, including the narrator in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Final thoughts on the film:

Like I said before this is a very enjoyable film, with the Legend of Sleepy Hollow being perfect for the fall season. As enjoyable as it was, thought, I'm glad that this was the last of the package films and they moved onto Cinderella.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Randomness - Death of the movie camera

I somehow missed this last week, but feel the need to talk about it now. It's official, the movie camera is dead. I'm talking about the camera that uses actual, honest-to-god film. For some reason this bothers me. I make my living in the digital world, I'm a computer technician, I write a blog, I have a $2000 digital camera, later today I'm going to pick up my new iPhone, but the "death" of the movie camera bothers me.

I like to think of myself as an analog guy in a digital world. I love my Polaroids (I have many), I have a ton of vinyl LP's that I still listen to. Other than my digital SLR my newest camera was made in 1968. I still have darkroom equipment to make my own prints from negatives if I wanted to. But I don't, most of what I do is digital because it's easy to use.

I grew up watching films. It wasn't until high school that we started watching videos. I remember the teachers getting the movie projector out and loading up the film. Running it through the machine and hooking it to the other spool. It was always a position of honor to be the one who got to sit at the projector and hit the little lever to stop the film from jumping. My brother used to make and edit Super8 films and we would watch them in the living room as a family. Even as late as the mid 80's Disney was selling 8mm films in the parks for people to take home, rather than VHS tapes.

I had a photography teacher tell me one time that working with film was an art and a craft. There are so many variables that go into working with film. You can repeat the same steps exactly and get different results because of something as minor as the temperature being off by a few degrees. When you work with film you have to have a feel for how the film will react.

We are going to loose those artists that have a feel for film. In my lifetime I know that working with film we become like being a blacksmith or a hat maker. Only a small number of people will fight to keep the tradition alive and people who are just growing up now will not experience the pleasure of seeing a true "Film", they will get just a digital reconstruction of what a film used to look like, and the world will be a sorry place for it.

Man, I sound old! "Back in my day...." Enough of this randomness. Up next is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Random Thoughts on music

I've said it several times. I love film scores. Whenever I see a film I am always making an effort to listen to the music as much as I watch the film. If you were to look at my iTunes you would see that out of 330 albums, a good 80% of them are soundtracks. There are a lot of Disney albums, but a lot of other scores as well.

I keep saying score, when I talk about the soundtrack and it drives my wife nuts. There is at times a difference between the soundtrack and the score of a movie. Take a look at the Transformers (2007) soundtrack. It has 12 tracks which account for less than 5 minutes of music used on the screen. If you look at the album Transformers - The Score you will find the music that makes up the other 95% of the film. This is the music I love.

I have about 230 hours of soundtracks in my iTunes that I listen to on a regular basis so a lot of times I will hear a piece of music somewhere, a commercial, at the mall, or in this case at EPCOT, that I know I have heard but it will take me some time to process it.

At this point I should say that I don't watch all of the Disney movies on the same day that the my blog entry comes out. Right now I just finished the Rescuers Down Under that I watched last week along with two other movies. When I was watching the Rescuers: DU I keep hearing some music and thinking it was really familiar, so I popped in The Rescuers and scanned it listening to the music, but it didn't come from there. It bothered me but I chalked it up to a composer reusing some music (see the Rocketeer and Star Trek - The Wrath of Kahn for an example).

So on Sunday we went up to Universal and EPCOT for my wife's birthday. We had dinner at Restaurant Marrakesh, which was amazing, and stopped to have our pictures taken in front of the fountain on the way out. Right as we were getting up there the fountain show started and I heard that music again. It was the track "Cody's Flight" from The Rescuers:DU. I had heard it two weeks before when we went up for the 40th anniversary celebration and it got lodged in my mind for some reason.

At least now I know I'm not going crazy... er....

Day Thirty Four - The Rescuers Down Under

Movie: The Rescuers Down Under
Released: November 16, 1990
Formats Released: 1 VHS, 1 DVD
Format Watched: VHS
Watched With: Woody & Belle
Snacks: None

I'm actually watching this film out of my very loose plan. This is the second film in the Disney Renaissance of the 1990's. I originally was going to watch all the films of the renaissance in order, but I felt it was better to watch this film right after The Rescuers. This way it is better to see the similarities and differences in the two films.

This film also holds a very special place in my life. This is the film I saw on the very first date I went on with my now wife. I met my wife on my birthday in 1990, and this movie came out the very next weekend. I don't really remember much of the film in the theaters, only bits and pieces but I have seen it a few times since so it's not completely new.

This film made a number of firsts for Disney and for films in general. It was the first Walt Disney Feature Animation sequel, of 1977's The Rescuers, it was the first Disney film to be made completely with the CAPS system (Computer Animation Production System) which also made it the very first film to be assembled and completed in a digital environment (it would be transferred back to analog film stock for use in theaters).

My Thoughts on the Film:

Bob Newhart and Eve Gabor came back to reprise their roles of Bernard and Miss Bianca. Bernard Fox, also from the first film, reprised his role of the RAS Chairmouse as well as the outback Doctor and they were joined by John Candy, playing Wilbur the brother of Orville from the first movie. George C Scott does a great turn as the villain in the film to round out the cast. The cast was perfect for this film. I've said before that I like Bob Newhart's style, I like to think that have the same type of self deprecating humor that he has so his character in the film appeals to me.

The setting of the film, the Australian outback, is really only the location of the film and it doesn't play a "character" in the film. Some of the old reviews that I read seamed to think that this was a problem and that except for the title the film could have been set anywhere. This could be true but it doesn't really matter, it's the characters and the story that matter, the location only really sets the tone, it did it's job and got out of the way.

The use of computer animation continued it's rise in Disney Animation in this film. The sea of flowers at the beginning, McLeach's truck and the New York and Sidney skylines were all done with computer animation. As I think I said in The Great Mouse Detective, I have no problem with the computer animation as long it was not done for the sake of doing it. All of the computer animation in this film was used effectively and transparently and used in a spot where traditional animation would have been a nightmare.

This film also featured an amazing soundtrack by Bruce Broughton. It is amazingly easy to get swept up in the music to this film. From the didgeridoo at the opening, the outstanding "flying" theme, the "Bernard the Hero" theme and even the little call back to the Rescue Aid Society anthem. Unlike the location, the music almost does play a character in the film.

My Favorite part of the film:

It's hard to choose an absolute favorite in this film, but I have a couple. Top of the list is the Indiana Jones-esk map scene showing the RAS SOS traveling from station to station on the map, along with the "native" mice (I love Hawaiian shits, so mice in them rock). The flight sequence at the beginning of the film is great as well. This I remember from the theater, I remember almost getting the feeling of flight looking at the screen and that stuck with me. I love, in general, that Bernard is basically the true hero of this film, and he gets the girl!

Thing's I never noticed before:

- Mice in Hawaiian shits!
- Mice tricking Air Force people away from the computer with a random phone call
- Cockroaches as waiters (yuck) in the fancy restaurant
- "Pea Soup"
- The Outback Doctor using a shotgun to administer "shots"

Final Thoughts:

I was actually a little shocked to learn that this movie only made $47 million at the box office, an initial return of only $10 million. I would have thought that this movie would have made a lot more. I think it's a case of timing. This movie came out right after The Little Mermaid, which was a strict musical fantasy. That movie was a smash hit showing that Disney meant business again. The Rescuers Down Under, was grounded in real life. There were talking animals, but only kids could understand them. There was no magic, no fantastic (other than Australia) settings and no singing. When this movie came out people were expecting something like The Little Mermaid, but they got this, and I think it turned some people off. Their loss. I was a 16 year old on a first date and I remember parts of this movie, so I know I'm not alone in thinking that this movie has a little going for it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Day Twenty Nine - Peter Pan

Movie: Peter Pan
Released: February 5, 1953
Formats Released: 2 VHS, 1 DVD
Format Watched: DVD
Watched With: I was alone :(
Snacks: Swiss Roll and sugar free cherry kool-aid

Who doesn't love Peter Pan? It's a classic and for good reason. it's a story about growing up but not doing it too soon. It also is a story about the consequences of not growing up. Walt was fond of this story and worked to make it the film released after Snow White but licensing problems forced the production to wait. It wasn't until the mid to late 40's that production really came into full swing. The pressures of WWII slowed down production on just about everything due to the take over of the studio by the US military. Peter Pan also has the distinction of being the last film that the 9 old men worked on together.

My thoughts on the film:

Unlike many of the other films I've watched recently I actually have a pretty good memory of this film. I'm pretty sure I haven't watched the film since we bought it when it came out, but I also have the film on VHS so I'm pretty sure I've watched it a few times.

The film really does look into the idea of growing up and the changes that are made by children. By Wendy being told that she would have to move to her own room and removing her from the antics and imagination of her brothers she is being told that she has to drop her belief in magical things. Oddly, Peter Pan, after he takes her to Neverland, tries to make her the mother figure of the Lost Boys, putting her in the position of the grown up. She experiences some grown up things like jealousy of other girls who are interested in Peter Pan and the life or death (if any one can really die in Neverland) consequences of her decision to come to neverland.

The film is slightly marred by the depiction of Native Americans. I have talked before about the dangers of looking at old films from the lens of today but I think that this is something that should be talked about. The boys decide that rather than hunting bear they will hunt the indians, placing them on the level of animals. This is the area that I have a problem with. Most people cite the song "What made the red man red?" as the area of most concern but I don't really see it that way. It's a funny little song that shouldn't be taken as indians are red because they a blushing, it's just a cute little song in a children's movie that shouldn't be taken so seriously.

My favorite part of the film:

I actually have two favorite parts. First is the little gag of Tinkerbell on the mirror suddenly noticing that she has hips. It's a little throw away gag but the expression on her face is priceless. I'm really fond of the scene where they are flying over London. The background paintings used for that scene are amazing considering the number of buildings that they put into them .

Things I never noticed before:

- Tinkerbell's scene on the mirror
- One of the mermaids looks a lot like Ariel
- In the first scene on the pirate ship there is a seagull flying around in the background setting up the shaving scene to come in a few minutes, it's a nice little detail that could easily been omitted without effecting the story

Final Thoughts:

It's easy to see why this is considered a classic in the Disney playbook. The story is nice and tight, there is some decent character development considering the short run time of the film and the gags used in the film are for the most part pretty funny. I think that anyone who has not watched this film recently should sit down and have another look at it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day Twenty Eight - The Rescuers

Movie: The Rescures
Released: June 22, 1977
Formats Released: 2 VHS, 1 Laserdisc, 1 DVD
Format Watched: Original VHS release
Watched with: Woody
Snacks: Jif creamy peanut butter on saltines, sugar free cherry kool-aid

This film is considered the last film of the Golden Age of Disney animation and the last big success for Disney Animation until The Little Mermaid.

My Thoughts on the Film:

I really enjoyed this film, and I didn't think I would. I totally don't remember watching this film before, although after consulting with my wife I know I have, it just didn't leave an impact with me. This is becoming a reoccurring trend with me. This is strange, I have several hundred movies in my collection, some from the 30's and 40's, some I've only seen 1 -2 times and I still remember them. I remember episodes of the Simpsons or Family Guy that I have only seen once, and some of those suck, but for some reason I can't remember most of the older Disney movies that I have seen. I don't get it.

This was an enjoyable movie. It wasn't a great movie, it didn't suck, but it fit nicely into the middle of good. The casting of Bob Newhart was perfect, but I grew up watching him with my family on the Newhart Show so I get his humor. Eva Gabor (not Zsa Zsa) as Miss Bianca fit nicely, adding a European flair to the part.

I liked that the Rescue Aid Society was at the UN, it gives it strange legitimacy, if you need that for a cartoon, and I think that the UN General Assembly should open with a song, it would do the world some good. It was strange and not entirely clear that only kids could talk to animals but it did add a fun gag at the end.

My Favorite Part of the Film:

The opening credits. The use of static oil paintings to show the journey of the bottle along with the song was very effective and a little moving.

Things I never Noticed Before:

- Pretty much the whole movie
- Bernard's superstitious counting of steps

Final Thoughts:

As I said earlier this is a solid Disney film. It fit's comfortably in the mold of family friendly comedies that Disney was aiming for. This was Don Bluth's first film as lead animator (An American Tale, etc) and his style is evident as Bernard and Miss Bianca show similarities to characters from The Secret of NIMH and An American Tale. This may have been the last film of Disney's Golden Age, but it was only four films removed from the Renaissance of the 90's.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Disney Instant Photos

I may not have had the best time at Disney World over the last weekend, but I did have fun taking some pictures. I took up my Polaroid Land Camera 230 and some Fuji Instant film FP-100c (along with my other digital cameras) and went wild.

You can see a slideshow of the instant photo's here

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Walt Disney World's 40th Anniversary

I spent the past weekend at Walt Disney World, for the 40th Anniversary of the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World as a whole. Let me just say that it was an absolute cluster F**K.

The trip started nice enough, we were staying at Pop Century - in the 50's

We spent the first day, Friday, at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, which we loved, we went back on Sunday! We had dinner off site at Giodanos which was amazing. The plan was to get an early night so I could get up for the special pin they were selling in the morning. That's where things started to go down hill.

At 5am on the 1st I'm driving to the Contemporary, because that's where the concierge at Pop told me to park so I could get to the Magic Kingdom to get in line for the pins. I was turned away at the Contemporary and sent to the Magic Kingdom parking lot. On the drive back I noticed large groups of people walking on the side of the road. I stopped to talk to one of them, and they were there for the same reason as me. It turns out there was no transportation from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom.

For people who don't know, the Magic Kingdom is separated from the parking lot by a man made lake that is about 1 mile across. There is a road that runs alongside (and under a portion) of the lake to allow buses to get to the Magic Kingdom. This road has few lights and no sidewalks.

I parked in the parking lot and hoofed it with the others to the Magic Kingdom. In the group I was walking with there was one person in a wheelchair and one person in an electric cart. Since there were no sidewalks these two had to travel in the lanes of traffic. The only real traffic on the road were buses, buses transporting cast members. If you could say a bus is rude these buses were rude, they were honking at the people in the wheelchairs, flying past them with no regard for safety. I was walking in the grass and I felt the wind from these buses.

Fortunatly everyone made it to the Magic Kingdom safely. At this point I only had to wait in line to get a wristband that would allow me to get in line to get the pins and another line to wait to get into the Magic Kingdom so I could go get in line to get the pin. All told I spent 4.5 hours in line to get two pins. It was totally NOT worth it, but I did it because I didn't want to waste the time I had already put into the enterprise. I ended up staying either in or around the park from 5:30am to 11:27pm, when I took the bus back to the resort.

I've been coming to Walt Disney World for a long time, since the late 1970's. I had my honeymoon at Disney World in 1997. When I got my History degree I bought a brick around the world (It's near the automated ticket machines at the Transportation and Ticket Center). I bought an Annual Pass in 2007, I've had a Premium Annual Pass since 2008. I go to Disney on average about once a month. I'm at the World a lot is what I'm trying to say.

Oct 1, 2011 was the only time in my lengthy number of trips to the World that I felt that Disney had no idea what they were doing. It was all very fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pant's like. It's not like your 40th anniversary can sneak up on you but it was like Disney only had half a plan, no a quarter of a plan, to get people in the doors, after that it was up in the air. They did not have enough Cast Members working, they did not have enough food, enough of the 40th anniversary t-shirts and merchandise, enough sense to limit the number of people coming in the gate. I was in Tomorrowland during the fireworks and I thought a riot was going to break out.

I was let down by my experiences on the 1st and it soured the rest of my trip. It will probably sour any trips I take in the near future. Disney should have known better, I've been on the 4th of July and on New Years, but this was something different. Disney World needs to look at what happened on Oct 1, 2011 and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Day Twenty Two - The Black Cauldron

Movie: The Black Cauldron
Released: July 24, 1985
Formats Released: 2 DVD
Format Watched: 2000 DVD Release
Watched with: My cat, Kelsey
Snacks: Jif creamy peanut butter on saltines, sugar free grape kool-aid

I had originally planned to watch The Rescuers today, I even started watching it but it is on VHS and my VCR decided that after all this time it is now going to start acting up. Having no backup plan I picked The Black Cauldron at random and popped it into the PS3.

As I remember, the Black Cauldron has always been one of my top Disney picks, but after watching it today I have no idea why. I don't know if it was the original print, the digital transfer, or even the multiplane camera used in the original filming, but this movie was a hot, steamy mess.

This movie came during a time of transition in Walt Disney Feature Animation. A new studio head, Jeffrey Katzenberg, came on during production, at one point or another all of the nine old men were involved with then left the project, the studio was trying out a new animation system (which the company would win an Academy Award for) and the studio lacked vision. All of this clearly comes out in the final product.

My Thoughts on the Film:

When the movie finished I literally said "Seriously" to the TV, not expecting it to talk back. I just don't know if I can count the ways that this movie is wrong. If people thought that they forest scenes in Snow White were scary, they must have been hiding under the bed after watching this film. The subject matter is dark, a Horned King is trying to raise an army of the undead. The animation of the undead is haunting, and that's after they cut the really scary stuff. There is almost not motivation for any of the characters, the Horned King wants to rule, Taran wants to be a warrior, Eilonwy wants to be out of the dungeon and the bard is just there.

The consistency of the animation was terrible. Tarens hair changes color during shots, getting lighter and darker, like they suddenly ran out of one color and just used the next closest one. It might be an artifact of the digital transfer, or Disney might have just kept this movie in a damp basement, but at times it looks like there are smudges on the screen, like it's dirty. Twice I stopped the movie to check my screen... It's the movie.

At points in the film they made heavy use of live action effects like smoke and fire and at one point a whole background was a live effect. It didn't work. While watching it I was totally aware of the difference between the animation and the live action. In the scene where Taren is getting ready to go to the Horned King's castle there is a live action shot of smoke that has been tinted red behind the characters. For some reason there is a white outline between most of the animation and the background, I'm sure it's not supposed to be like that.

The biggest problem I have with this film is Gurgi. He is a cute, hairy creature. His motivation reminds me of a dog. He wants to eat and he wants to have friends. His entire existence is to please others. Except for one line, it's not clear if Gurgi even understands everything that is happening. This is the character that the writers thought would be ideal to sacrifice for the rest of the characters. This is just lazy storytelling. Gurgi is the only character that most people identify with because he is like a dog or a pet, and to "kill" him off to save the others is a cheap trick to try and get some emotion (other than terror) into the film.

Favorite Part of the Film:

The end credits...

Things I never noticed before:

- The animation in general reminds me of Gummy Bears, and I can't figure out why
- The movie is terrible...
- that's all i've got... sad I know

Final Thoughts:

If I knew nothing about this film and I came across it on TV I would be sure it wasn't a Disney film. It's like they needed to keep the animators busy and came up with this as a joke. It's like they take everything that is good about Disney Animated films and do the opposite. I would like to say that at least the animation is good, but it's not. It's so inconsistent that it's not even funny. I wish I could say that this is a single black mark on Walt Disney Feature Animations record, but I know I still have Treasure Planet and Home on the Range ahead of me.