GETTING RESCUED NOT ONCE, BUT TWICE
Posted on Aug 17 2012 by Greg
A substantial number of Disney animated feature debut on Blu-ray this Tuesday. One release, perhaps more than any other, stands as a crossroads between "old school" and "next generation" Disney animation: The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under
When The Rescuers
premiered in 1977, it was very well received but the public and the press, though things behind the scenes were getting tumultuous.
Based on Margery Sharp's book, The Rescuers
follow two mice who rescue humans on behalf of their Rescue Aid Society (a group that co-exists behind the walls of the United Nations building). Eva Gabor
voices the lovely Bianca and Bob Newhart
There's wonderful casting all the way around, harkening back to an era when Disney did enlist celebrities for the lead characters (who promoted the film on The Merv Griffin Show
) and allow character actors and voice actors to round out the casts. Disney was still the name above the title and the studio had neither the budget nor the inclination to cast the multi-million-dollar variety of superstar often heard today in theatrical animation.
Times were simpler then, perhaps, and so is the film, which follows a very linear storyline as the mice board an albatross (voiced by longtime radio star Jim Jordan
of Fibber McGee and Molly
) and head for the bayou to rescue a little girl from Madame Medusa (the flamboyant Geraldine Page
in her second Disney film) and her flunky Snoops (a caricature of Disney historian John Culhane
voiced by Disney comedy veteran Joe Flynn
in his only animated Disney role).
Not a musical, the film does have atmospheric songs performed offscreen by Shelby Flint
, who hit the pop charts with "Angel on My Shoulder" and had become a very busy vocalist for TV shows, commercials and animation (Snoopy Come Home
, Rankin/Bass' Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July
, NBC's The Borrowers
). An Oscar nomination for Best Song went to "Someone's Waiting for You." (Robie Lester fans take note: she is the singing voice of Bianca.)
But at the Disney studio, animators were becoming divided about artistic direction and Don Bluth
was not pleased with what he saw as shortcuts on The Rescuers
. Within a few years of this film, he would lead an artist walk out that impacted the next feature, The Fox and the Hound
, the last feature to combine the talents of new and veteran animators.
You can also see this blend in The Rescuers
-- masterful work by artists who worked with Walt and those that they mentored. Of course, the animation of Medusa is astounding, its roughness and energy captured in the sketchy, "scritchy" look of the xerox cel process. This a look didn't always suit the films in which it was used, but it works well here.
The Disney studio had never produced a sequel to any of its animated features before The Rescuers Down Under
, but much had changed by 1990, including a new management team and transformations in corporate philosophies. But unlike some of the direct-to-video features that would emerge, this film boasts superior production values that actually exceed that of its predecessor.
Some of that sheen is due to rapid advances in computer technology, making specific settings, effects and animated objects more accessible. The CAPS system was perhaps the biggest develop to debut in The Rescuers Down Under
. This eliminated the need for inked and painted animation cels -- the artwork went directly into the system for outline and color. Because of this, there is no breakdown in image quality (which could happen with layer upon layer of cels). Eva Gabor
and Bob Newhart
are back as Bernard and Bianca, this time flown by a different albatross. Jim Jordan
had passed away, so John Candy's
voice added not only contemporary celebrity, but also a broader comedy potential and therefore appears in much more of the film as comic relief.
The biggest difference is that the villain is, this time around, not played at all for laughs, but completely evil and disturbingly unbalanced, brilliantly voiced by George C. Scott
There are no songs at all in this sequel, though "Rescue Aid Society" is part of the underscore. Bruce Brougton's
score is excellent -- and the recurring theme heard in his music is also used for the dancing fountain at the Epcot
WHY THE ORIGINAL "DARK SHADOWS" IS STILL COOL
Posted on Jul 28 2012 by Greg
My daughter and I approached the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp
big screen version of TV's Dark Shadows
with some caution, not because we were worried about the comic aspects promised by the trailers (which turned out to be deceptive), but simply because it may not have been very good, since the buzz was less than overwhelming.
It turned out to be a highly entertaining celebration of the original series, with exactly the touches you might expect from the parties involved - horror, blood, pathos, humor, goth and irony. Dark Shadows
was made into a feature film before, in 1970, when the series was still on the air. MGM, which was going through one of its many financial downturns, was buoyed by the film's success. Unlike the series, it was filmed in several real locations, but like the series, it starred many of the original cast members. The film was more graphic in its violent, bloody retelling of the Barnabas storyline, but did so with the kind of brisk economy a daytime soap could not have.
However, no feature film or series revival could ever capture the magnetic power of the original series. Looking beyond the low budget and relishing the occasional flubs and shaking tombstones, the original Dark Shadows
was able to dig deeper into its characters and pull viewers into the day-to-day "reality" of the lives of the denizens of Collinsport.
There were several kinds of characters, generally. The main protagonists were the supernatural creatures, and they all had a sort of awareness of each other, from werewolves, zombies, witches to of course, vampires. Like the witches and warlocks of Bewitched, they were a society unto themselves, either in opposition or alliance with each other.
Then there were the crossover characters who knew about the supernatural creatures but didn't necessarily have any powers of their own. Dr. Julia Hoffman was chief among them, moving and shaking among the Barnabases, Quentins and Angeliques.
Then there were what we like to call the "clueless" characters, who were drawn in and out of involvement with the supernatural people and events yet seemed to live on the periphery. Roger Collins, Elizabeth Collins and even Victoria Winters fell into this category.
Watching the series again on DVD is loads of fun, especially sharing it with your kids (I know it requires patience with the leisurely pace of the show, but they'll get drawn in).
You have to admire the clever way the writers protracted each storyline to maximum stretchability, but gave you just enough to keep hanging on, adding in wonderful moments that add more and more facets to each character. For example, the "B" story of Elizabeth's marriage to Jason McGuire is pretty tedious, but it brings out the gallantry of Barnabas and helps form him into the landmark sympathetic vampire that set the standard for all to come. Joan Bennett
and Jonathan Frid
have a fine scene in which she's thinking of jumping off a cliff and he talks about death -- each talking about different things, unaware of what the other is expressing, yet affecting each other. Those moments occur a lot on the original series, born of necessity to keep the series going, but also adding to the viewer's attachment to the characters.
There never was anything like it and there may never be again. But fortunately, all 1,225 shows are on DVD. You don't have to wait days between episodes like we did in the "old" days, and without commercials each show moves much faster and runs about 23 minutes.
As the series went on, things got more wild. There was parallel time in the present, trips back to 1795 and 1840 and parallels inside there, too. The cast was like a repertory groups, playing numerous roles. Keeping track of everything was part of the fun.
And yes, it was fun. Outlandish fantasy, but much like a fairy tale cut off from the real world for pure escapism. A getaway from the troubles of the day into a world of people with problems so off the wall that it's kind of cathartic. And it's often funny without meaning to be in its melodramatic fervor.
If you've never watched it before, start with Collection #1
, which picks up when Barnabas joined the show and it skyrocketed. Continue to the end of the series as you please, and then if desired, there's a DVD series called "The Beginning," which covers the less-successful, pre-Barnabas shows in which the pedestrian gothic story was given jolts by the entrance of a ghost and a phoenix.
How much you get into it is up to you. But you'll never experience anything like it in any other form, no matter how much CG and 3-D and dazzling digital stuff comes along.
"PLANET" CERTAINLY IS A TRAY-ZURE, ESPECIALLY IN BLU-RAY
Posted on Jul 16 2012 by Greg
Hopefully someday, when they make a sequel to the excellent documentary to Waking Sleeping Beauty
maybe?), we'll see how Treasure Planet figured into the behind-the-scenes nachinations of the post-Katzenberg Disney animation division. One can't help but wonder whether Treasure Planet fell victim to some of these politics, or, as perhsps it was with John Carter, the public just didn't want a scifi/space version of Treasure Island.
The film itself is jaw-droppingly impressive. Few films from any studio have blended cel animation with CG as perfectly, created such vivid, vulnerable characters and such breathtaking, detailed panoramas. Seeing it on the new Blu-ray
is almost like seeing it for the first time, unless perhaps you saw it in IMAX. Every line and every miniscule object or person in the distance can be seen in razor sharp clarity.
Maybe the visual scope and tech detail overwhelms the characters and the narrative, as some suggested was the case with Sleeping Beauty. However, there's some superb acting here, including the now-A lister Joseph-Gordon Levitt as Jim Hawkins, Brian Murray as Silver, Martin Short as BEN, Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia and the always dependable David Hyde-Pierce as Doppler (a character that suggests those Duckburg "dog people" from vintage Disney comics).
The generous bonus features, pretty much the same ones from the earlier DVD release, are very copious. Instead of an audio commentary, there is a vast "Visual Commentary" that starts and stops the film with supplemental information, stretching the experience out well over two hours. A feast for animation fans.
My son loved this movie when he was seven and he loves it today. It was an attempt to grab the non-Princess audience for Disney features, and while it would never attract the "Hot Tub Time Machine" older males, it's great stuff for younger kids.
Be sure to show your kids Walt Disney's original Treasure Island to compare and contrast the storyline. The relationship between Silver and Hawkins is more from Walt and less from Stevenson. And hey, reading the classic book is nice, too!
COULD THREE COWS SAVE THE FARM...AND CEL ANIMATION?
Posted on Jul 13 2012 by Greg
When Home on the Range
was first released, for some reason the fate of 2-D or "traditional" animation was resting on it, as Disney was still in a tempestuous internal swirl and did not yet own, nor at the time have hope to stay attached to, the formidable Pixar -- who to this day, have had an unbroken string of films with strong, and usually gigantically successful openings.
It seems odd now to pin such hopes on such an unpretentious film, one that revels in its non-CG-ness and harkens back to the sunny Disney vistas of Pecos Bill
, Paul Bunyan
and the lesser-known Saga of Windwagon Smith
The performance of Home on the Range
at the box office is less a refection of its quality than simply that there wasn't much of an audience for cartoon westerns starring cows in 2004. When you strip away its history and look at the film on its own (and many will today when they watch the new Blu-ray/DVD
), you have a highly entertaining romp with fun characters, a loose story, some magnificent artwork and top animation.
Most of all, there some really fine songs, especially "Little Patch of Heaven" and the haunting "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again" (the latter been inspired in part, according to composer Alan Menken
, by the despair following 911).
While the leading cast received much attention, one of the nicest things about Home on the Range
is that it also employed such talented actors as SCTV's Joe Flaherty
as Jeb, the goat, and, in particular, Carole Cook
as Pearl. Cook was a close friend and protegé of Lucille Ball
and played Bessie in the beloved film, The Incredible Mr. Limpet
Watching and listening to the generous bonus features, it is evident that a great deal of skill and creativity goes into a film like this, so it cannot be dismissed as mere fluff, though it certainly does not leave you with the same glow as Beauty and the Beast
. Nor it is intended to do so.
The most comical thing in retrospect turns out to be that a lighthearted animated movie about cows could be held up as the deciding factor in the future of cel animation. Of course, it didn't happen that way, and there have been other traditional features since, including last year's well-received and exquisite Winnie the Pooh
NOW IT'S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE...DON GRADY
Blog, TV, People, Music, Records
Posted on Jun 29 2012 by Greg
Some folks who remember Don Grady
as Robbie Douglas, the teen-turned young husband on the long running TV sitcom My Three Sons
, may not also know that he was one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers
, joining the series later in its run under his real name, Don Agrati.
With his untimely passing this week, he not only leaves behind two iconic TV personas, but also an extraordinary music career that in sheer volume and scope, eclipses his onscreen work.
Don Grady was part of Yellow Balloon
, a feel-good late '60s pop group at the same time as he was still performing on My Three Sons
. He has written numerous scores for stage, TV and video (including a lot of Disney video bonus materials and games) and an acclaimed Las Vegas show called EFX
The items most overlooked in his various obits are some Disney albums that literally millions of families have listened to for years: Disney Princess Tea Party
and, ever more notably, Disney's Princess Christmas Album
Both albums feature the magnificent voices of such greats as Lea Salonga, Paige O'Hara, Judy Kuhn
and Jodi Benson
-- plus arrangements, production and original compositions by Don Grady. These albums will never really become dated and will surely be reissued in one form or another for untold generations. We can never know how many scores of children will be delighted by this fine work.
That's a mighty impressive legacy.
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