Among a few Disney films deserving of the title “masterpiece,” Fantasia remains a unique achievement.
It’s a Marvel movie! It’s a Disney cartoon! It’s … a Marney movie! It’s set in San Fransokyo! Wait, what?
At the intersection of Disney and Marvel, in a pan-Pacific megalopolis spanning San Francisco and Tokyo, in a world with one foot in science fiction and one in superhero adventure, is Big Hero 6. By my lights, this is a very good place to be.
Looking at those Cars eyes is worse than having no remnant of Pixar at all this year.
With this sequel to last summer’s spin-off from the franchise that descended from Pixar’s Cars, the World of Cars has left behind not only stock cars, the open road, specific real-world settings and Larry the Cable Guy, but racing itself. Practically nothing is left of John Lasseter’s original vision, except those blasted windshield eyeballs. In this melancholy year without Pixar, it’s worse than no reminder at all.
It may be Pixar Ultra-Lite, but Disney’s Planes is a pleasant change of pace from the likes of The Croods and Turbo.
Both the big race and international flavor recall Cars 2 as well as DreamWorks’ Turbo, the protagonist of which had the same personal crisis as Dusty, a longing for speed he wasn’t built for. Yet Planes, in its modest way, cannily avoids the pitfalls that made those films unsatisfying.
Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is widely celebrated as a beginning, the first feature-length animated film in Hollywood history. It’s just as correct, though, and perhaps more illuminating, to hail it as a culimination — as the crowning achievement of years of experimentation, discovery, growth and achievement by Disney’s animation team.
An intriguing question posed to me in another forum: “Who is the worst Disney villain? Mother Gothel in Tangled is bad (kidnapping, brainwashing). The evil Queen from Snow White?”
Both newly available in multi-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo editions, Dumbo and The Lion King were each developed during one of Disney’s two periods of greatest creative flourishing … Both Dumbo and The Lion King are much beloved, though in my opinion they’re both overrated and comparatively disappointing.
Chronologically, The Lion King stands between the striking triumphs of the early Disney renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin) and the bumpy deterioration of the latter 1990s (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, etc.). One way or another, it’s at the turning point between Disney’s creative renewal and its eventual decline. Fans might locate it near the pinnacle, along with Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t feel the love.
Disney’s new Winnie the Pooh is an unexpected gift, an unlikely return to a magical and gentle world that belongs so firmly to the past that I would have thought the journey all but impossible.
(Newly available on Blu-ray/DVD) Rather than a static motion picture, Fantasia was originally conceived as a repertoire, a selection of presentations that over time could be augmented by new pieces while old ones were retired, like an orchestra rotating its concert lineup … Ten years ago, amid the wreckage at the end of the 1990s Disney Renaissance, the Disney studio marked Fantasia’s 60th anniversary with Fantasia 2000, a film intended to honor in a way the original repertory conception of Fantasia.
At the intersection of great animated films, great filmed stage musicals, and great fairy-tale romances, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast stands alone. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, it is simply the quintessential Disney masterpiece, the perfection of everything that Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid aspired to.
From the beginning the rodents were always there, tiny sidekicks running around in the periphery of Disney animated features, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White’s woodland attendants included chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits as well as raccoons, bluebirds and other critters — everything but mice, it seems, though there is at least one mouse in the picture, an irritable little fellow in a mouse-hole in the Dwarfs’ house who objects to the sweeping squirrels using his hole as a dust-bin.
Yesterday I wrote about the possible effects of the box-office success of Alice in Wonderland on fairy-tale revisionism in family films to come. The flip side is the box-office disappointment of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, which hit DVD shelves yesterday.
There’s a villain with magical powers — but instead of Disneyfied magic, like Aladdin’s friendly genie, the film’s New Orleans voodoo is an occult world of terrifying powers and principalities in which the villain himself is at much at risk as anyone. It’s almost Disney’s most overtly Christian depiction of magic and evil at least since Sleeping Beauty, if not ever — though the waters are muddied by a benevolent, swamp-dwelling hoodoo mama in a sort of fairy-godmother role.
The last gasp of Disney Animation’s post-Walt malaise before the 1990s Disney renaissance, Oliver & Company borrows names and vague situations from Oliver Twist, but in place of Dickens’s sentiment and Victorian moralizing Oliver has only a misguided stab at “attitude.”
Emotionally resonant, visually dazzling, imaginatively captivating, thematically rich, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio may just be the greatest of all the early Disney masterpieces, possibly outshining Snow White, Fantasia and Bambi.
As interpreted by Disney and director Wolfgang Reitherman, The Jungle Book is essentially a coming-of-age parable about carefree childhood and adult responsibility, embodied respectively by Mowgli’s two mentors, Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther (Sebastian Cabot).
Somebody has to say it: Made at the height of Disney’s early brilliance alongside Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bambi, Dumbo is the odd weak link in the chain.
Coming in the wake of a string of early classics — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi — Disney’s Cinderella represents, alas, the early stages of Disney-itis.
The process of growing and learning is often glossed over in plot-driven coming-of-age films like The Lion King. By contrast, Bambi is about nothing else. With the patient single-mindedness of a child learning to walk or talk, the film focuses on the young deer prince’s repeated attempts to prop himself up on his stilt-like legs, to hop over a log, to say a word, to distinguish one boldly colored or flying thing from another. We see Bambi makes friends, cower at a thunderstorm, discover girls, and, in a defining, indelible scene recalled by subsequent films from The Lion King to Finding Nemo, face crushing tragedy. We watch him go from perplexed distaste at the mysteries of the opposite sex to falling head over heels, and we see him confronted with the implacable necessity of fighting for love.
Now, encouraging signs of change in recent Disney films suggest that the Mouse may be starting to get the message. The new trend began with surprisingly strong pro-family themes in direct-to-video sequels such as Lady & the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. This positive depiction of family continued in the theatrically released (though still low-budget) sequels Return to Never Land and Jungle Book 2.
Is Home on the Range really the final entry in the canon of Disney’s traditional hand-animated feature films — a body of work that goes back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and includes such landmarks as Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Beauty and the Beast?
The modern era of Disney animated greatness started with a splash in 1989 when the promisingly fresh The Little Mermaid hit theaters. Delighted audiences actually burst into applause at colorful show-stopping musical numbers like the sprightly "Under the Sea" and the enchanting "Kiss the Girl." Coming as it did after a string of uninspired releases (The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, Oliver & Company), The Little Mermaid set the stage for a creative comeback.
Oo-de-lally! As post-Sleeping Beauty Disney animated features go, Robin Hood is a fine entry, better than The Sword in the Stone or The Fox and the Hound but not as good as The Jungle Book or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
In retelling these tales, the Disney animation house inevitably, yes, Disneyfied Milne’s creations, as it did everything it touched, from the dwarfs in Snow White to the satyr in Hercules.
The voices are different, but the story is the same.
If Fantasia failed to spark a hoped-for entertainment revolution, its achievement is all the more starkly singular. A joyous experiment in pure animation, an ambitious work of imaginative power, a showcase of cutting-edge technique, and a celebration of great music, it is without precedent and without rival. I’ve watched it far too many times to count, and I have yet to begin tiring of it.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.