Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Disney Animation Reviews #37: Tarzan

Disney Movie Review: 37/52 - Tarzan

Ryan Dosier - Continuing Disney animation’s string of hits and misses comes Tarzan (1999), which is a really enjoyable film and quite a strong one when compared to the previous Disney animated film, Mulan. While by no means a masterpiece, Tarzan boasts some strong music, animation, and action making it quite a worthwhile Disney entry.
The film opens in stunning fashion with the backstory of what happened to Tarzan’s parents. This was a smart choice on the part of the filmmakers. By including this, we get an understanding of why a human is living with apes. The sequence with Tarzan’s parents is also one of the most powerful in the film, with some impressive action and silent character development.

In fact, most of the first 10 minutes of the film is completely silent (other than Phil Collins’ music), which is a very interesting choice. It works very well for the film and provides a different sort of feeling for the movie. This also gives a chance to showcase the stunning background art done on the film. Set pieces like the giant waterfall, the tree house, and the dense jungle are all breathtaking pieces of art.

Phil Collins also makes a triumphant stand in Tarzan with his fantastic soundtrack. “You’ll Be In My Heart” is a lovely song and perhaps the strongest in the film. The other songs littered throughout are strong but not as memorable, even though “Son of Man” is really great, you probably won’t find it on any “Disney’s Greatest Hits” albums. The scatting, nonsense song “Trashin’ the Camp” is also a real delight, but works much better onscreen than it does off. 

The animation in Tarzan is magnificent. Tarzan himself is animated by the great Glen Keane who does an impeccable job of moving the ape-man on his knuckles and tiptoes. The movements feel incredibly natural and it’s really an incredible animated feat. Other characters like Kerchak the leader of the gorillas and Tantor the elephant are also animated with dexterity and beautiful movements. It’s amazing how much nuance the animators could get out of such a huge elephant. 

Many scenes in the film are exciting and well animated, but the strongest by far is the scene where Tarzan fights off the leopard. The animation on the leopard is insanely good and the fight is coordinated and animated really, really well. It brings you to the edge of your seat to watch it—as any good fight scene should.

One of the weak points in Tarzan is its voice cast. While Rosie O’Donnel and Wayne Knight are wonderful as Terk and Tantor respectively, the rest of the cast doesn’t measure up. Tarzan himself is especially weak in this regard. A good voice actor makes their character stand out and be noticed, Tarzan does not. He has no real sense of character and is mostly silent and dull. Tarzan just never really manages to click as a character. Thankfully, Jane is an enjoyable character, with wit and simplicity that make her both funny and charming. 

When the final scenes of Tarzan came, I was left with a feeling of satisfaction. I greatly enjoy watching Tarzan leap and bound and swing and surf through the trees, I love the music, and I find the story compelling. The top-notch animation is what stands out most for me in Tarzan, but the whole film is a swinging good time.

3.5/5 Elephant Hairs

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Ratatouille Themed Area at Disneyland Paris

Davide Maugeri - Maybe not many US Disney Parks fans are aware of the fact that Disney Imagineering recently bestowed us European fans with the gift of a brand new Disney/Pixar attraction called Ratatouille - L'aventure totalement toquée de Remy (Ratatouille - Remy's totally nutty adventure). Located in Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Resort Paris, the brand-new dark ride is an instant masterpiece which succeeds in delivering a very fast-paced and whacky journey through Gusteau's kitchen and Remy's climb towards success, much to Chef Skinner's disbelief.

Walt Disney Studios is a park that has always suffered a way lower attendance than its neighbor park, Disneyland. Why? Simple. While Disney Parks all around the globe are renown for their attention to details, immersive landscapes and stunning dark rides, here you'll find none of those. Walt Disney Studios began as a very tiny park that tried hard to hit off its American big brother, Disney's Hollywood Studios. Sadly, Walt Disney studios is way way smaller than its counterpart and much less interesting. At first I was quite impressed by the park's entrance: guests enter a huge movie lot which houses a superb recreation of a Hollywood Boulevard glowing and glittering through the night with all its signs and banners, only to lead them to the classic Disney Bros Plaza, which is almost identical to Hollywood Studios' with the only difference that you actually feel like you're walking towards the famous Hollywood Hill, and the famous Walt and Mickey statue can be found in the middle. But after a while, you feel the disappointment growing as you can't help but notice that all of those majestic skyscrapers and breathtaking sights of the Hollywood Sign on the hill are nothing but mere panels, disposed on a fake perspective, and most of the surrounding "real" buildings hide a horrifying scaffolding on their back. Sadly, most of the rides have the same problem (I won't even tell you what you see on the back of Flying Carpets over Agrabah while queueing Crush's Coaster). So it's no wonder that most of the guests (including me) leave the park and move to Disneyland, where they spend the rest of their day. But after visiting the Ratatouille area, I do feel like Walt Disney Studios park is finally starting to slowly get the California Adventure treatment. So this means Walt Disney Studios park is finally worth spending a whole day in it? Absolutely not. But still, Ratatouille - L'aventure totalement toquée de Remy is a great addition to it, and we're about to find what makes it special... and what doesn't.
We enter the park relatively early in the morning and as we try to head to the Ratatouille area we're promptly blocked by some Cast Members who force us to turn back and enter the area by another path, which took way longer to get us there. Once we arrive, we're instantly stunned by the impressive amount of detail present in the whole area (Remy is literally everywhere, in the fountain, in the buildings, even in the sewer covers!), the Parisian architecture is reproduced at its finest, including cracks on the walls, those typical French funnels and more. We start to get in line, even though we know we won't be riding before 80 minutes, but after a while we can't help but notice the line isn't proceeding at all. Many guests give up and decide to leave, plus the weather gets worse and it starts to rain. Frustrated, we ask Cast Members for an explanation, and all they say to us is that they're experiencing technical problems and are unsure on when the attraction will be fully functional again. Wow. What a great start for a ride that has been operating for even less than a month.

We try again one hour later and it appears that someone had intervened to fix the breakdown. We get in line and prepare to wait longer than an hour.
Although the Parisian Disney Resort doesn't have interactive queues yet like its cousins in Florida, I still enjoyed myself waiting in line for Ratatouille. The outside queue articulates on the right side of the building, right next to what it seems to be the restaurant's restock area (it can be seen in the movie as well), complete with delievery schedules posted on doors. There were several brilliantly themed spots on the sides of the walls that allowed me to plunge even deeper in the Ratatouille atmosphere, such as a poster featuring Anton Ego's weekly magazine, an intentionally closed wine bar, many Gusteau's junk food placards (the ones he used to fear so much in the movie) and more. 
Then, we finally enter the majestic building and find ourself on the Parisian roofs we had admired from the top before, with the only difference that now it's night time and Gusteau's sign comes to life to say hello and inform us that «Remy will prepare a culinary masterpiece, for anyone can cook but no one cooks like Remy». -Um, what's that supposed to mean? Someting like «If your dream is to become a great chef, then don't even bother trying because Remy will always be better than you»...?- However, as Gusteau turns silent and freezes, we suddenly hear a dog barking, followed by many others a few seconds after. The dog jamboree comes to an end when the dogs' masters start to yell "SILENCE, TAIS TOI!" (Shut up!). Then Le Festin starts playing. 
Overall, a very nice idea to keep guests entertained while waiting to board. Plus. the moving Gusteau effigy adds a great touch to it. We move on and we find a cutlery container filled with 3D glasses. We help ourselves and prepare to move on to the loading area, where Emile and Colette (weird duo, huh?) provide a safety spiel, respectively in English and French. The loading area is absolutely stunning. We've been magically shrunk down to the size of a rat and now everything is huge. Huge rooftops, huge windows... huge woman silhouette behind the windows. The ratmobiles busily move around the whole area as if they were alive -I had seen many POVs of rides such as Mystic Manor and Pooh's Hunny Hunt, but seeing a real life trackless wagon in front of me was an experience no POV could prepare me for. A ratmobile parks gently in front of us as we are invited to board.

At last, we're riding. Our ratmobile starts to randomly wander across the Parisian rooftops on the sublime notes of Michael Giacchino's score, when all of a sudden, Gusteau's ghost appears and talks to US (wow, I suppose the fact that Remy had never pretended is true after all. Geez! That's some paranormal activity right there!), cheerfully encouraging to follow along. We turn the corner and find the first 3D projection in the whole ride, which is incredibly well blended with the motion of the cars and the theming all around. Remy welcomes us, but he's still uncertain about what to cook. When it finally hits him, he loses his balance and falls into the kitchen, where all the chefs are hard at work. We almost get trampled by a dozen feet, almost crushed by some free falling fruit and later drenched by a mop, while Linguini tries desperately to help, not realizing the best way he could help us out is getting out of the way. And all of that in one single projection.
Now, I have to say that for me, there's nothing better than a traditional dark ride filled with animatronics and solid theming all around. I've never had a soft spot for any projection longer than ten seconds, yet in this case, I understand that building an immense restaurant with 30 feet animatronic waiters and chefs walking around is pretty much unthinkable. Plus, the projections are unbelievably immersive, so I slowly started to forget about it and enjoyed the experience for what it was. We enter the refrigerating room, where Emile and the other mice are greedily eating pretty much everything (still no animatronics so far). Our ratmobile keeps sneaking around the kitchen and we're almost grilled by some stove burners (including a pretty awesome heat effect). After hiding under a dining cart (I LOVED watching the wheels on both sides moving onwards and backwards depending on the direction we were going), we eventually get busted by Chef Skinner, and a rat in a restaurant means WAR! He tracks us down no matter where we hide and repeatedly tries to grab us -nope, no animatronics to be seen yet- as we try to reach for safety in the kitchen, where Remy is now leading the other rats, each one of them working hard to deliever us the best Ratatouille ever cooked. I won't spoil you the attraction finale, but I really have to say, I couldn't have been any better. It was the perfect ending for such a wild ride, and it sure does know how to keep an European audience hooked. We reach for the unload area (right in front of Bistrot Chez Remy, gotta love Disney's subtle ways to persuade you to spend more money) and reclutantly step off our beloved ratmobile, helplessly watching it as it disappears into the darkness without us.

Ratatouille - L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Remy is a wacky dark ride complete with larger-than-life theming, astounding projections and great pacing and timing. Due to the large number of cars moving around at the same time the experience is never the same, depending on which car you're riding -some events may go differently or some characters may take longer to do something, etc.- which adds extra mojo to it. Yet, the large use of projections at every corner and not even one animatronic figure to be found makes it feel like it has just popped out of some Universal theme park, only with a pinch of extra pixie dust that makes Disney rides special all around the world. I absolutely enjoyed this crazy journey through Parisian alleys and Gusteau's Restaurant, but from Disney I expected more than this. If the main goal is to make Walt Disney Studios Park a better place for guests, this is definitely a great start, but we're still miles away from the finish line.

My vote: 7.5/10 

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!