Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Retro Reviews: Sounder

Taking place in Louisiana, in the year 1933, an 11-year-old African American youngster David Daniel Lee Robertson III, (known throughout the film as "Boy"), living with his sharecropper family, embarks upon a journey to find his father, when he gets arrested and sentenced to five years at hard labor after stealing food to feed his family. Accompanied by his dog Sounder, Boy also makes the arduous crossover from boyhood to manhood with the help (and sometimes hindrance) of various people along the road, which includes staying a little while with a dedicated African American schoolteacher. (Wikipedia) Sounder first aired January 19, 2003, as a component of the ABC anthology The Wonderful World of Disney.

The mood of Sounder is bittersweet, touching, and uplifting. The plot centers around racism, being down on your luck, and coming of age. It is a drama and family movie. In approach, Sounder is serious and realistic.

The feature presentation is based on a book written by William H. Armstrong. It's a made-for-TV remake of director Martin Ritt's 1972 theatrical feature of the same name, and starring Kevin Hooks (as the son) and Paul Winfield (as the father). In this remake, Kevin Hooks is director, while Paul Winfield plays the role of the teacher.

Compared to the original film, which isn't a Disney film, I liked both movie adaptions. The story is really good. What I like about it is how the boy changes from the beginning of the movie to the end. I would also recommend the original film. There is a part 2 to the original, that I wasn't able to find. Anyway, the music for both adaptions is good.

Overall, I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars. The same rating I gave to the original.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Disney Animation Review #36: Mulan

Disney Movie Review: 36/52 - Mulan

Ryan Dosier- While not a total misfire and not a bad movie by any means, Mulan (1998) is not nearly as entertaining or moving as its two predecessors, Hunchback and Hercules. For the most part, Mulan is a relatively weak film with disappointing writing and storytelling that never lives up to the great Disney standard. 

The first 15 minutes or so of Mulan are really, really boring. Mulan (the character) never shows any appealing traits other than wanting to break the traditional Chinese woman mold. Perhaps she didn’t resonate with me since I’m a guy… but I still connected with Ariel and Belle, so that can’t be it. The opening of the film is dark, serious, and straight-laced, making for an awkward transition when the Eddie Murphy-voiced Mushu appears. Thanks to Murhpy’s brand of humor, Mushu tries to pull the film in a whole new tonal direction that never works. Mulan never finds its balance between the silly and the serious moments.

This isn’t to say that Mushu isn’t a fantastic character, because he is. The little red dragon is hysterical and by far the most entertaining and engaging part of the film. Murphy must have eaten most of Mulan's voice acting budget, because he is the only standout voice in the piece. Mushu delivers the funniest lines and snappiest quips—which is probably mostly Eddie Murphy ad-libs. I say this because Mushu's lines are very funny and don't match the rest of the slow film.

Again, I found Mulan herself to be terribly dull. She does have some extremely heroic actions throughout the film, but nothing about her makes her standout like Ariel, Belle, or even Pocahontas. Mulan’s voice actor, Ming-Na Wen, seems like she is bored the entire time and never breathes any real life into the character unless she is singing--which is probably because her singing voice is provided by someone else, Lea Solanga. That said, her song “Reflection” is wonderful and one of the few great moments for the character.

The music in Mulan is notably, painfully weaker than anything else from Disney in the 90s. “Reflection” is the song that stands out the most, but the upbeat “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is more enjoyable and is easier to listen to again and again. The only other song is “A Girl Worth Fighting For” and it never accomplishes anything but being awkward in both its music and lyrics. Mulan's soundtrack leaves so much to be desired. 

The artwork put into Mulan is wonderful. The set pieces, such as the impressive Emperor’s Palace, are wonderful. The designs of the characters and the objects they interact with are very clearly inspired by the ancient Chinese. Even the smoke and the fire in the film curls and twists like an elegant Chinese water painting. If nothing else struck me about Mulan, then the designs certainly did.

Mulan suffers from many things and unfortunately becomes the weakest Disney animated feature released in the 1990s. The characters are poor, the music is forgettable, and the story is dull. Mushu and the wonderful design work make Mulan worth viewing, but your attention won’t be held too steadily.

2.5/5 Lucky Crickets

Monday, July 21, 2014

Retro Review: Homeward Bound

Michael Wermuth- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a live-action film based on the book The Incredible Journey. The movie focuses on three house pets – Dogs Shadow (voice of Don Ameche) and Chance (Michael J. Fox), and cat Sassy (Sally Field)– as they get separated from their owners and head for home. The film is narrated by Chance, who had recently been rescued from the pound. Due to him being abandonded by his previous owners, he is not as attached to his owners as Shadow and Sassy are.

 The owners have to temporarily relocate due to the kids’ stepfathers job, and on the way drop off the pets to be taken care of by a family friend. However, the pets are unable to understand that they have to be without their owners for a few weeks, and eventually run away to go back home. Along the way, Sassy falls into the river and gets separated from the dogs, Chance gets too close to a porcupine (“HE BIT ME WITH HIS BUTT!”), and the trio find a lost girl, among other things.

 This is a good movie, but after watching it again for the first time in years, it’s amazing how sad this movie is at times. Particular sad points come when the kids have to say goodbye to their pets and Shadow cannot understand why his owner, Peter, is sad, and the climax, in which Shadow falls into a muddy hole and struggles to get out.

 The animals are good characters. Chance and Sassy are the funnier ones, with many of the best lines (including Sassy’s catch phrase “Cats rule and dogs drool” and Chance’s excitable “Turkey turkey turkey!”). Sassy gets a little character development after falling into the river, learning to appreciate the dogs better after getting lost. As for the kids, the oldest son Peter gets the most to do, while the other two don’t seem to do much. This movie also has some great music. It’s a great family film to watch.

Friday, July 18, 2014

111 Awesome Disney Songs, Part 2

Ryan Dosier - My countdown and review of 111 Awesome Disney Songs continues today with 11 more of my favorites. Check out Part 1 for more!

12.)   "God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
One of the most beautiful Disney songs ever recorded is this breathtaking song from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The song, sung by Esmerelda, has some of the most meaningful lyrics in any Disney song--and the music is great as well. It's a slow song, but as a power ballad with a message, it's almost unparalleled in Disney musical canon. Favorite Lyrics: "I ask for nothing, I can get by/But I know so many less lucky than I/Please help my people, they look to you still/God help the outcasts, when nobody will."

13.)   "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)" from Pinocchio
Pinocchio is one of my favorite Disney animated features, and I love this song from it. Honest John, the sleazy fox who steals Pinocchio away from school with promises of bounties from being an actor, croons this tune with ease. He's such a fun, bouncy, nonsensical song that is really hard not to enjoy. Favorite Lyrics: "Hi-diddle-dee-dee/An actor's life for me/A wax mustache and a beaver coat/A pony cart and a billy goat."

14.)   "He Lives in You" from The Rhythm of the Pride Lands
This powerful song was featured in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, but its first appearance was on the sequel album, The Lion King: Rhythm of the Pride Lands, which featured more music inspired by the film performed by the incredible Lebo M. "He Lives in You" was also later used, to incredible effect, in The Lion King on Broadway. This song is resonating and stunning and one of the finest examples of African choral work out there. Favorite Lyrics: "He lives in you/He lives in me/He watches over/Everything we see/Into the water/Into the truth/In your reflection/He lives in you."

15.)   "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins
You're lying if you say you can't immediately here Dick van Dyke's fantastic performance of this song in your head just from reading the name of the song. Dick's performance is this song is magic--bubbly, loving, and delightful. This song is a highlight of Mary Poppins, with the animation of the penguins and the farm animals. A true wonder. Favorite Lyrics: "Ain't it a glorious day?/Right as a mornin' in May/I feel like I could fly/Have you ever seen/The grass so green?/Or a bluer sky?"

16.)   "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book
Thinking about it now, I can't think of a Disney song I adore more than "The Bare Necessities." Phil Harris is one of the finest singers and performers that Disney ever had. The songs he sang always oozed fun and happiness, and none moreso than this classic from The Jungle Book. It's one of the best anthems for fun and relaxation that one can find, Disney or not. It's a kick, baby. Favorite Lyrics: "And don't spend your time lookin' around/For something you want that can't be found/When you find out you can live without it/And go along not thinkin' about it/I'll tell you something true/the Bare Necessities of life will come to you."

17.)   "The Bells of Notre Dame" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Another Hunchback song? Blame iTunes shuffle... this is the stunning opening performance from the film. Performed mostly by the jester Clopin, "The Bells of Notre Dame" is a fine showcase of many voices: Tony Jay as Frollo, David Ogden Stiers as the Archdeacon, and Paul Kandel as Clopin. It's a marvelous, operatic-influenced introduction into this much darker Disney world. It deserves to rank among the best Disney opening songs. Favorite Lyrics: "Now here is a riddle to guess if you can/Sing the bells of Notre Dame/Who is the monster and who is the man/Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells of Notre Dame!"

18.)   "A Star is Born" from Hercules
From one of Alan Menken's greatest opening numbers, to one of his finest closing numbers! "A Star is Born" is one of Hercules' greatest songs, unsurprisingly performed by the Muses. The song's extremely exciting tone and lyrics makes for a true happy ending. It's a rock ballad with gospel influence, and it's so hard not to cheer by the end. Favorite Lyrics: "Within your heart's the power/For making you a hero too/So don't lose hope when you're forlorn/Just keep your eyes upon the skies/Every night a star is/Right in sight a star is/Burning bright a star is born"

19.)   "Hakuna Matata" from The Lion King
Ah, the lazy man's anthem! Who else but Disney and Elton John could make a Swahili phrase sung by a meerkat and a warthog an international song sensation? "Hakuna Matata" is incredibly catchy, bouncy, delightful, and most of all FUN. In fact, I can't think of a more fun Disney song, period. It's a pivotal tune for The Lion King, Disney, and anyone born in the late 80s and 90s. Favorite Lyrics: "It means no worries, for the rest of your days/It's our problem free philosophy/Hakuna Matata."
20.)   "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" from Song of the South
Okay, maybe I was wrong... "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" may give "Hakuna Matata" a run for its money as the most fun Disney song. It became an anthem for the fun and freedom that Disney represents for quite awhile. But then when Disney decided to never let Song of the South see the light of day again and the song sort of faded back. But it still remains incredibly delightful and hopeful and just a whole lot of fun. Favorite Lyrics: "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay/My, oh my, what a wonderful day/Plenty of sunshine/Headed my way/Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay."
21.)   "Today is Gonna Be a Great Day" from Phineas and Ferb
Phineas and Ferb is one of the most inventive and joyful shows in Disney animated history. Every episode brings the funny and the crazy, and it all starts with the excellent theme song by Bowling for Soup. It showcases the carpe diem attitude of the show incredibly well and shows that literally anything could happen on the show, from giving a monkey a shower to building a time machine. Favorite Lyrics: "There's 104 days of summer vacation/Til school comes along just to end it/So the annual problem for our generation/Is finding a good way to spend it/Like maybe building a rocket or fighting a mummy/Or climbing up the Eiffel Tower/Discovering something that doesn't exist/Or giving a monkey a shower!"

22.)   "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast
This week's list is jam-packed with my favorite Disney songs ever. "Be Our Guest" is one of the most brilliantly performed and written songs in Disney history. Howard Ashman's lyrics are stunning, Alan Menken's music is magic, Jerry Orbach's vocals as Lumiere and Angela Lansbury's vocals as Mrs. Potts are unbelievable--it's a perfect song. I could listen to it forever and ever. Favorite Lyrics: "Be our guest, be our guest/Put our service to the test/Tie your napkin 'round your neck, cherie/And we provide the rest/Soup du jour, hot hors devours/Why, we only lie to serve/Try the grey stuff, it's delicious/Don't believe me? Ask the dishes!"

Planes: Fire and Rescue Film Review

Today's film review was written by our pal Dallas Thompson, and republished with permission from his website, Relive the Magic. 

Dallas Thompson-Today, Planes: Fire and Rescue is flying in to theaters nationwide! Dusty Crophopper is back in the sequel to the 2013 Cars spin-off film, Planes, and this one does not disappoint! Mixed reviews have been coming in for Planes: Fire and Rescue so far, but the reviews are better than the first one, which this movie is a whole lot better than the original.

Right from the start, this movie takes Dusty from a racer to a Firefighter-in-training. It starts with Dusty learning that his engine has a broken part that is unfixable, and there aren't any duplicates left in the Country. Because of this, he can't go fast, and as a result, is unable to race. Furious, he goes for a "ride" and goes too fast and he creates a fire at the small-airport or plane landing place, I can't remember the name right now though. With the help of the others, they knock over the water tower to put the fire out, which gets the place shut down.

Determined to help get the place back open, Dusty volunteers to become a firefighter and begins training to get certified. He joins a team of firefighters and learns and assists in putting out wildfires alongside Blade Ranger, Dipper, Windlifter, Cabbie, and a few other cars known as 'The Smokejumpers'.

Overall, I thought Planes: Fire and Rescue was a huge step in the right direction for the Planes series. It had a more original plot, a good message, and great characters, some of which was lacking in the first film. I did see the film in 3D, but it didn't add anything, so I recommend just sticking with the 2D for this film. I do think, however, this film won't really appeal to adults as much as kids, but it is a great movie for the family to see together! I personally would give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Planes: Fire and Rescue is Now Soaring in Theatres Everywhere in 3D!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mickeyology 101: The Early Years of Disneyland

Mitchell Stein- It all started with a simple merry-go-round.

Walt is known to have said that the true inspiration for Disneyland came to him one day when he took his two daughters to the carousel in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Watching his daughters on the merry-go-round, he came up with an idea of a theme park where adults and kids could have fun. He pitched his ideas to the rest of his team and they thought he had gone crazy. At the time, amusment parks were well-known for cheap rides and rip-off carnival games, but Walt had envisioned much more than that. In order to fund raise his planned theme park, he created a new television show named Disneyland and appeared on ABC (which ironically, Disney would come to purchase decades later) and featured the five different lands scattered throughout the Disneyland theme park.

When the construction was finally over, Disneyland opened it's doors on July 17th 1955 to invited guests, but although only 15,000 were invited and over 30,000 showed up with counterfeit tickets. Other problems included constant ride breakdowns, gas leaks, and a major plumbers strikes, leaving restrooms and drinking fountains unavailable. The day is referred to as Black Friday in Disney lore.

The next day Disneyland opened it's doors to the general public, charging about $1.00 price admission and individual tickets for other rides for about 10-35 cents each.

In 1959, Disneyland introduced the "E Ticket", which was the most expensive ticket and allowed admission into the most popular rides, including Space Mountain, Autopia and Pirates of the Caribbean. In 1982, Disneyland swaps out the Ticket Book for a "passport" good for an unlimited amount of rides. The year of 1999 saw the addition of the FASTPASS system (still used today in Disneyland) which allows guests to earn a pass to an additional shorter line for the attraction.

In 1959, Walt began to look for new land for a second theme park, they looked into purchasing land in Florida, using fake company names in order to keep plans under wraps, which ended up not going so well when the story got leaked to the Orlando Sentenial.
Walt had various different plans for "The Florida Project", including his plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), his futuristic planned city.

Walt Disney passed away on December 15th 1966, before construction even began on The Florida Project. The park opened on October 1st 1971, and was to be named "Walt Disney World" icnluding Walt's full name as insisted by his brother Roy and the plans for EPCOT evolved into EPCOT Center opening eleven years later.


The Mickey Mindset:


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Disney Animation Reviews #35: Hercules

Disney Movie Review: 35/52 - Hercules

Ryan Dosier - Following The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Hercules (1997), yet another woefully under-appreciated gem from Disney animation. The film is the most fun Disney feature since Aladdin and is bouncy, lively, colorful, and hilarious. An eclectic cast of characters rounds out Hercules and the film possesses a fantastic sense of humor.

Hercules opens with some music heavily influenced by gospel and it is outstanding. Alan Menken went from an operatic style in Hunchback to this outstanding gospel soundtrack. The songs performed by the Muses are all magnificent, starting with “The Gospel Truth” and culminating in the fantastic “A Star is Born,” not to mention the rocking “Zero to Hero” in the middle. The performances here are insanely good and the animation matches.

All of the songs in the film are fantastic and they are distributed well between the hero, the heroine, and the sidekick. Phil’s song “One Last Hope” showcases Danny DeVito’s singing ability (I know, right?), while Hercules’ song “Go the Distance” is another master Menken ballad. Megara’s song “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” is also spectacular and a real anti-princess song that works extremely well.

The strongest aspect of Hercules is its outstanding sense of humor. The dialogue is rapid-fire and whip-smart. Characters like Phil, Pain, Panic, and Hades steal the show with their modern dialogue, references, and humor. The whole thing is very “90s” in its sensibility. The snappy comedy keeps the movie from being dull at any time.

The film’s voice cast is stellar. James Woods is a total knockout as Hades, who steals every scene he blazes through. The animation on Hades is also dynamic and outstanding. He is one of the most enjoyable and funny Disney villains yet. Danny DeVito is also spectacular as Phil, my favorite animated role that he has had. He’s snarky and smart and terrific. The rest of the cast is great as well, but these are the standouts.

The character of Megara is a revelation. Disney female characters have never been this strong willed. She stands on her own and doesn’t need anyone. She is the complete opposite of Snow White and shows how well Disney moved their female characters into a new era. 

The designs of the characters and the settings have a very modern, artsy feel to them. The colors abound and truly break the traditional mold. The collection of the Greek gods and goddesses at the beginning of the film is one of the most strikingly colored scenes in recent Disney history. But all of the film is packed with delightful colors and designs. It’s truly distinct in the Disney pantheon.

Hercules is such an exciting, action-packed movie that its quiet and reserved moments are the only ones that don’t really click. Scenes of bonding with Hercules and Phil or Hercules and Zeus just don’t match the emotional resonance of other Disney stories. Yet the nonstop action and comedy completely lift Hercules from this minor fault.

It’s truly hard to say why Hercules is such a forgotten entry in the Disney animation family. It is a wild, fun ride with enough snappy dialogue and terrific music to demand its status as a classic. While not as intense as The Hunchback of Notre Dame or as unendingly funny as Aladdin, Hercules is a spectacular animated film and deserves more attention than it receives.

4/5 Muses