Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Release Date: June 15, 2001
Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
One of the most under-the-radar animated film releases in recent Walt Disney Pictures memory, Atlantis: The Lost Empire pretty much stands alone as a Jules Verne + steampunk + Indiana Jones action-adventure story with science fiction and fantasy elements. Milo Thatch (perfectly voiced by Michael J. Fox), a scholarly cartographer and linguist, is recruited to join basically a military expedition to find the lost continent of Atlantis in 1914. Their inevitable discovery of a surviving civilization puts the noble and idealistic Milo at odds with the exploitative mission of the rest of the task force. He also befriends Kida, the princess of Atlantis (portrayed by Cree Summer), who is a criminally underdeveloped character who is drawn in ways that seem designed to appeal to the male gaze.
It’s stunning that this movie was released just a year after The Emperor’s New Groove which was saturated in the ironically-detatched pop culture of its era. Atlantis, by contrast, is disarmingly straightforward and sincere in its storytelling in a refreshingly old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, old fashioned means that Atlantis is derivative and predictable in all of its plot beats. I can’t put finger on it exactly, but this movie comes so close to being great, and again and again fails to do so. Everything looks good and all the pieces are there, but it just lacks the Disney magic that brings it all together. I wish this movie had succeeded because there’s an opening for a solid animated adventure classic in the Disney canon.
Release Date: June 27, 1997
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney adapts ancient Greek mythology – albeit using the Roman name Hercules instead of the Greek Heracles – with a story of an idealistic hero’s journey mixed with an old-fashioned screwball comedy and a sports drama (a la Rocky). And it’s all scored with gospel music, which is a strange, even subversive, contrast to the story. The artistry of the movie draws on Greek art and architecture which is then punctured with visual puns and pop culture references effectively. But acting carries the movie. The slimy, villainous James Woods does a great job bringing to life the slimy, villainous Hades. Susan Egan channels the wise-cracking, world-weary female characters of the golden age of Hollywood into her peformance of Megara. And Danny Devito steals the show as the grumpy satyr who trains Hercules to be a hero. While I wouldn’t count on this movie to get you a good grade on your Classics course exam, it is an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.
Author: Jim Zub
Ilustrator: Filipe Andrade
Publication Info: Marvel (2017)
The merger of Disney and Marvel creates the opportunity based on classic Disney World attractions. This series tells the back story of Epcot’s original Journey into Imagination with the Dreamfinder (the comics reveal his given name as Blarion Mercurial) and Figment. The story begins with Mercurial working as a reasearcher at a university in London in the early 1900s and creating an invention that harnesses imagination and makes it reality. First he creates his sidekick purple dragon Figment, and then they’re drawn into imaginary worlds where they experience a series of adventures. The comic basically acknowledges that the 1980s Epcot attraction was steampunk before the word “steampunk” was coined. The story is basically a G-rated adventure akin to the Five Fists of Science or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And being set in imaginary worlds, it benefits from lavish illustrations by Andrade.
Recommended books: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan, The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Erez Yakin, and Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Production Company: Walt Disney Picture / Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar’s story of a rebellious Scottish princess is another instant classic. Merida enjoys a life where she can spend her time on horse riding and archery and has no interest in her parents’ expectations that she marry a suitor from of the kingdom’s three clans. The story is very familiar, and one true to life to feudal societies, but it is all a frame to the much more relatable struggles of a her girl with her mother.
Seeking to change Queen Elinor’s mind, Merida asks the help of a hilarious witch – er, wood carver – whose tricky solution is to literally transform Elinor into a bear. Girl and bear then must face various challenges together that bring them closer together and better understand the other’s point of view.
In addition to a satisfying story, this movie also has a ton of humor, including the comical body movements of characters like King Fergus, Merida’s mischievous triplet brothers, the aforementioned witch, and Elinor’s efforts to learn to be a bear. It’s also beautifully animated and I was stunned when freezing the movie how lifelike the scene appeared.
If you are like me and haven’t seen Brave up until now, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Title: Robin Hood
Release Date: November 8, 1973
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Robin Hood is a strange movie. The English legend is loosely adapted with all the characters portrayed as anthropomorphic animals, which is an interesting touch. Doubly odd, despite the English setting, the music has a country twang and some – but not all – of the characters have a drawl rather than an English accent (I do like the music by Roger Miller, even if it doesn’t seem to fit). Although the movie was made in 1973 (in fact, it was the #1 movie in the United States the week of my birth!), it feels much older. The animation is limited and lacks the artistry of earlier Disney films. Dance sequences were recycled from earlier Disney animated features, and other elements feel derivative, like Little John essentially being the same as Baloo from The Jungle Book. The movie is episodic with each sequence generally being different ways that Robin Hood & co can humiliate Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. While Robin Hood has its charms, I did find myself wondering when it was going end, which is not a good sign for a movie that is only 80 minutes long.
Release Date: November 24, 2010
Director: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Disney’s take on the fairy tale Rapunzel, is loosely tied to the original story (basically the long hair and a tower). As any good contemporary adaptation should do, Rapunzel has far more agency and assertiveness than the original character (or princesses in early Disney films). In this story she is a “lost princess” (one day Disney will create an anti-monarchical heroine)held captive in a tower by the witch Mother Gothel, who kidnaps Rapunzel as a baby, because the magic hair keeps her young. Instead of being rescued by a prince, Rapunzel essentially accosts the swashbuckling thief Flynn Rider and forces him to take her on a journey, although of course they grow to become friends and then fall in love.
There’s a great mix of humor and adventure, with cheerful songs sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi in the lead roles. Visually, the film is enticing and the animators never cease to impress with gags based on Rapunzel’s long hair. My 11 y.o. son said “this is weird,” but he did like the animals in the movie, the martial horse Maximus, and Rapunzel’s chameleon sidekick Pascal. I like them too.
Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Release Date: July 9, 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
The first – and only other – time I watched this movies was when it was first released in the theaters. Expectations were low for a movie based on a theme park attraction and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, of all people. But early reviews were good, so some friends and I went to see it and it was … fun! Johnny Depp’s quirky take on Keith Richards as a pirate is of course the most memorable thing about this movie. But on rewatching, it’s clear the other actors are doing a good job too. Keira Knightley portrays Elizabeth Swann as a natural leader and Orlando Bloom realizes that playing the straight man doesn’t mean being dull. I also notice that the many action set pieces are not only entertaining but they all also advanced the plot or character development. So this movie does everything that a big budget cash-in on a theme park ride produced by Jerry Bruckheimer shouldn’t and remains a classic.
Title: The Wizard of Oz
Release Date: August 25, 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
I watched this movie for the first time in a long time, and well, it’s basically just as I remembered it, which is a good thing. It’s an adventure, it’s a symbolic journey of self-discovery, it’s a musical, it’s funny, it’s scary. It looks really fake, but to the point that the painted sets and props are weirdly effective works of arts in their own right. I was born long after color film was standard but the transition from the sepia of Kansas to the majestic colors of Oz is still astounding. Watching as an older adult, I am also impressed at how the young Judy Garland handles being central to almost every scene. About the only thing that is not good about this movie is that it’s not a good adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book which I also love. One day, I’d like to see a faithful film adaptation of the movie made too, but this version will always stand alone as its own great thing.
Author: William Goldman
Title: The Princess Bride
Narrator: Rob Reiner
Publication Info: Phoenix Books (1999) [Original published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1973)]
Other books read by the same author: The Silent Gondoliers (as S. Morgenstern)
“Life isn’t fair, it’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
The recent death of William Goldman prompted me to seek out one of my all-time favorite books, The Princess Bride. If you’re familiar with the classic 1987 film adaptation, Goldman’s book is even more funny, more clever, and more sweetly satirical. The book is written with a framing device in which he discovers that a beloved adventure book read to him by his father when he was sick as a child, was actually a long political satire that bored his own son. So Goldman decides to publish an abridged version with only the good parts. All of this framing device is fictional, as Goldman invented both the story of The Princess Bride and a fictional wife and son.
The audio book version I found to listen too is disappointingly an abridged version, ironic since The Princess Bride is already supposed to be an abridged book. Many of the scenes that don’t correspond directly to the movie are left out of the audiobook, including the majority of Goldman’s framing device interrupting the narrative. The audiobook doesn’t even have the Reunion Scene. As a bonus, the book is read by Rob Reiner – director of the film – in his wonderful Bronx accent.
It’s definitely worth putting this on to play to your kids if you’re not up for reading the book out loud yourself.
Recommended books: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Author: Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Title: The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare
Publication Info: Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Authors: The Princess in Black (I’ve read all of the Princess in Black books multiple times, but only reviewed the first one for some reason).
I received a free advanced reading copy of the 6th book in the Princess in Black series through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.
My daughter and I enjoy reading the Princess in Black books which gently send up princess culture and superhero stories while be sweet and charming in their own way. In this adventure, Princess Magnolia leaves monster-fighting behind to attend a science fair. Or so she thinks, until a goo monster emerges from a volcano model!
Princess Magnolia changes costumes to become the Princess in Black, and the Princess in Blankets introduced in The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate is also there to help. But then, three undisguised princesses also help out. The book has a good message about working together to solve a problem. We also get the goo monster’s perspective, and he just wants somewhere where he can fit in. And the princesses (and monster) even use public transportation!
It’s a ripping good yarn and things end well for all involved. My 6 y.o. and I have read it multiple times already and she’s not yet tired of it.