Movie Review: The Aristocats (1970)


Title: The Aristocats
Release Date: December 24, 1970
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

I thought I may have seen The Aristocats as a child, but upon watching it for this review, I think I may have only seen some scenes of the movie.  The story is basically Lady and the Tramp (with cats) crossed with One Hundred and One Dalmatians (with cats). It clearly comes from the era when Disney didn’t know what to do next with their animated films.  Dutchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens are set to be heirs to their owners fortune, leading the butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) to try to get rid of them.

Stranded in the countryside, alleycat Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris) helps them back to Paris while wooing Duchess.  After dancing with Scat Cat’s (Scatman) jazz band, and some further hijinx, the cats are reunited with their owner and extract their revenge on Edgar.  The animation is limited for a Disney production although there is some interesting color and motion in the dance scenes.  Two floppy-eared dogs and a motorcycle play a part in some great comedic scenes.  On the downside there is a horribly racist depiction of a cat with the worst Chinese stereotypes.

Other than that, there is nothing really bad about The Aristocats, but there’s also nothing really good about the movie.  It’s just kind of is.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: The Jungle Book (1967)


Title: The Jungle Book
Release Date: October 18, 1967
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

The Jungle Book is a musical comedy based on the works of Rudyard Kipling, and is the last animated movie which involved Walt Disney in its production.  It’s a straightforward story of a boy raised by wolves named Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), who the wolves council determine must now return to the human village for his own safety.

The movie is episodic, linking together various musical numbers and set pieces with animals that Mowgli encounters on his journey.  The supporting characters make the film.  These include Mowgli’s allies, Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot), a serious panther who oversees Mowgli’s exit from the jungle and Baloo (Phil Harris), a carefree sloth bear who wishes to adopt Mowgli to Bagheera’s strong disapproval.  The villains include a hypnotic python named Kaa (Sterling Holloway), a scatting orangutan named King Louie (Louis Prima) who wants the secret of fire, and Shere Khan (George Sanders), a Bengal tiger who hates humans and is determined to kill Mowgli.

The movie features some great music by the Sherman Brothers, with the exception of the most famous song, “The Bare Necessities,” which is by Terry Gilkyson.  The animation captures the movement of animals in a convincing way as well as providing a number of comic gags.  I’ve always thought that movie ends oddly with Mowgli deciding to go to the human village basically because he’s horny.  Nevertheless, this is a competent, straightforward Disney comedy musical.  Not quite an all-time classic, but a does the job for 78 minutes of entertainment.

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: Peter Pan (1953)


Title: Peter Pan
Release Date: February 5, 1953
Director: Clyde Geronimi | Wilfred Jackson | Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

I remember watching Peter Pan with Mary Martin on TV and seeing a revival of the Broadway musical with Sandy Duncan as a child.  Later I read the play by J.M. Barrie.  But I never saw the Disney movie until I was an adult, and my general impression is that it is pretty awful.  Revisiting the movie for my Disney Animated Features project did not improve my feelings of the movie.

I get the appeal of the story and why it’s persisted in popularity for over a century.  The adventure and imagination are irresistible.  Any child would love to fly off to a magical world.  The pirates are Hilario and scary. And growing up is overated.

And yet, the movie is horribly sexist.  Tinker Bell immediately hates Wendy in the most awful stereotype of female jealousy.  The mermaids are no better. How is that Tinker Bell became a Disney icon when she spends this entire movie being a vindictive turncoat?  As awful as it is, it doesn’t compare with the viciously racist deception of Native Americans.  I had to fast forward through the cringey song and dance numbers.

Perhaps there’s a way to redeem Peter Pan, but I’m not the one who’s going to do it.  Don’t watch this with your children, there’s so much better out there.

Rating: *1/2

Movie Review: Fantasia (1940)


Title: Fantasia
Release Date: November 13, 1940
Director: Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen, David D. Hand, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, Ford Beebe, T. Hee, Norman Ferguson, and Wilfred Jackson
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

When I was a kid, my family never bought prerecorded VHS tapes of movies, and yet we somehow ended up with a copy of Fantasia.  And with no urgency to return it to the rental store, it sat on the shelf unwatched for years. Still, somewhere along the way I saw portions of Fantasia elsewhere, particularly The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  This was my first time watching the movie in full.

The movie features the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, performing on a backlit stage so that the various instrumentalists appear as large shadows as they perform.  This blends into the first animated segment Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which builds on the music with abstract imagery.

The remaining segments include:

  • The Nutcracker Suite – a ballet performed by various plants and animals.  Amazingly, master of ceremonies Deems Taylor introduces this piece as “rarely performed.” The Nutcracker being popularized by Disney is even more amazing than “Aquarela do Brasil” being made popular by Saludos Amigos.
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – the most famous segment stars Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice whose attempt to use magic to avoid doing his cleaning work leads to a comic disaster.
  • Rite of Spring – a depiction of the primeval world from the first single-cell organisms to the dinosaurs.
  • The Pastoral Symphony – Unicorns, pegasus, fauns, centaurs, and cherubs frolic about in scenes from a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper come to life (albeit with more bare breasts than you’d expect from an animated movie made in 1940).  Bacchus tries to celebrate but Zeus disrupts the proceedings by throwing lightning bolts.
  • Dance of the Hours – perhaps the other most famous sequence, this is a comedic ballet featuring ostriches, hippopotamuses, elephants, and alligators.  And then it gets weird.
  • Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria – just a wild party featuring various demons, followed by a peaceful lantern-lit procession.

For what it is, an experimental combination of music, movement, color, and imagination, Fantasia is fantastic.  What it isn’t is a family movie you can watch with your kids, although individual segments may be worth watching alone if you’re introducing your kids to music appreciation.  The movie is on the long side and Deems Taylor’s lengthy introductions don’t help it move along.  Fantasia may have worked better as a shorter feature with fewer segments, or even just short films, that carried on as anthology series as Walt Disney intended.  Nevertheless, it remains a spectacular combination of sight and sound.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Brother Bear (2003)


TitleBrother Bear
Release Date: November 1, 2003
Director: Aaron Blaise | Robert Walker
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation
Summary/Review:

The period of around 2000 to 2009 was an odd one for Walt Disney Feature Animation.  After the Disney Renaissance era where every film release was a major event, this decade saw the release of several movies that had next to no cultural impact.  This era produced one unqualified classic in Lilo & Stitch, but most of the movies I’ve watched thus far are either ambitious but flawed (The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Bolt) or obvious duds (Home on the Range, Chicken Little). I keep hoping to discover a lost classic, and while Brother Bear doesn’t quite achieve that, it is a diamond in the rough.

Set among the Inuit people at the end of the Ice Ages, it tells the story of Kenai, the youngest of three brothers.  Kenai comes of age and his tribal leader gives him the totem of a bear representing love.  Kenai objects to this totem feeling he’s called to better things.  Shortly afterward, in a conflict with a grizzly bear, Kenai’s oldest brother Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) falls to his death.  Seeking revenge on the bear, The Spirits along with Sitka in the form of his totem, a bald eagle, transform Kenai into a bear.

Kenai is rescued from a bear trap by a chatty bear cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez), and they join together to seek the salmon run near the spot where Kenai was transformed.  Pixar seemed to pilfer Brother Bear when they made The Good Dinosaur, as both movies feature an odd pairing on a journey of self-discovery across a beautifully animated primeval North American landscape.  Brother Bear is a much better movie though.  While some of the themes of Kenai finding his way to love and respect bears, and become a brother to Koda, are quite obvious, I was nevertheless surprised by the ending.  Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas also appear as a comic duo of moose channeling Bob and Doug MacKenzie.

While an enjoyable and heartwarming film, I feel it would’ve been better if like the later Disney film Moana, more indigenous people were involved in the voice cast and creation of the story.  I also didn’t think Phil Collins’ musical score was suited to the story.  Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Sword in the Stone (1963)


Title: The Sword in the Stone
Release Date: December 25, 1963
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

The Sword in the Stone is an animated adaptation of T.H. White’s first novel based on Arthurian Literature (his work also inspired Camelot a few years earlier).  The Disney version distills the rich and detailed novel down to a few scenes in which Merlin becomes the tutor for Wart (young Arthur) and turns him into fish, squirrel, and a sparrow to teach him lessons.  The standout scene of the movie is a hilarious wizard’s duel between Merlin and the evil Madam Mim.

As a child, I disliked this movie because it was such a poor adaptation of the novel I loved.  As an adult, I am more forgiving and can see the movie’s charm and humor.  Still, I think The Sword and the Stone is below Disney standards.  The limited animation style betrays the possibilities for the fantastical worlds of Arthurian England.  And while Wart’s voice is suitably preteen, it’s odd that he is the only character with an American actor while being voiced interchangeably by three actors.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Saludos Amigos (1942)


Title: Saludos Amigos
Release Date: August 24, 1942
Director: Norman Ferguson | Wilfred Jackson | Jack Kinney | Hamilton Luske | Bill Roberts
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Saludos Amigos is the first of the package films Disney released in the 1940s, and due to the random order of my viewing, the last I watched.  This movie is most directly connected to the Walt Disney company’s goodwill tour of Latin America in 1941, and features full-color documentary footage of Disney artists traveling by plane around South America.

The short film features four segments, one each set in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.  “Lake Titicaca” features Donald Duck visiting the titular lake as a tourist.  “Pedro” is the story of young airplane making his first flight to collect the mail in a journey over the Andes.  In “El Gaucho Goofy” the American cowboy and the Argentian gaucho are compared and contrasted.  The final and best segment, “Aquarela do Brasil,” introduces José Carioca, who teaches Donald Duck to dance the samba. Amazingly enough, the famous title song was only a few years old at the time this movie was made, and Disney actually made it popular in the United States!

The film is slight, but enjoyable enough, especially the music.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Melody Time (1948)


TitleMelody Time
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Director: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

This package film from Disney is meant to be the popular and folk music companion to Fantasia.  It contains seven segments and visually they animation has a greater continuity than other package films I’ve watched.  The shifts in music and storytelling styles are jarring though.  Two of the segments are interpretations of American folk tales, while others include a children’s story, experimental film, and an outtake from The Three Caballeros.

“Once Upon a Wintertime” is a romantic postcard of a man and a woman (as well as a pair of rabbits) ice skating, with vocals from the Andrews Sisters.

“Bumble Boogie” features a swing interpretation of “Flight of the Bumblebee” as a bee finds himself trapped in swirling, surrealistic visions of flowers and musical instruments.

“The Legend of Johnny Appleseed” set the tall tales of John Chapman to music and includes the most overt religiosity I’ve ever seen in a Disney film.

“Little Toot” tells the story of a mischievous tugboat in New York Harbor who has to learn to take responsibility.

“Trees” is a visual interpretation of the Joyce Kilmer poem set to music.

“Blame it on the Samba” reunites Donald Duck with José Carioca. They attempt to dance the samba while Aracuan Bird causes mischief.  Organist Ethel Smith appears in live action and Donald does NOT lust over her at all!

“Pecos Bill” is another tall tale about a man raised by coyotes who becomes the best cowboy and falling in love with the cowgirl Slue Foot Sue.  The story is narrated by Roy Rogers and his crew with live action scenes of them gathered around the campfire.

I haven’t watched all the package films yet, but this is the most enjoyable one so far.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Chicken Little (2005)


Title: Chicken Little
Release Date: November 4, 2005
Director: Mark Dindal
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Being a Walt Disney animated features completionist means watching a movie made 15 years ago that made absolutely no impact whatsoever (despite having the voice acting talents of Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Garry Marshall, Amy Sedaris, and Don Knotts or that it’s the Disney studio proper’s first venture into 3-D computer animation).  The Chicken Little/Henny Penny is updated for the 21st century with Chicken Little (Braff) now being a teenager who has trouble talking about problems with his widowed father, Buck (Marshall). And the sky is falling because it’s really aliens in a camouflaged spaceship.  And no one believes Chicken Little because this is also “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” somehow.  And there’s an elaborate subplot where Chicken Little tries to prove himself to his father by playing baseball.

This movie came out the same year as Madagascar from DreamWorks Animation and appears to be trying the same kind of (already dated from the 90s) self-referential humor with lots of pop music interludes.  Except it’s Disney so they’re also trying to play it sweet.  And all comes out a mediocre mush of recycled gags and forced emotions.   It may be good for young children, but doesn’t have the magic to make it enjoyable for the whole family. But it also has a character who is a fish with a tank of water on his head who cracks me up, so it’s not all a loss.

Rating: **

Movie Review: The Three Caballeros (1944)


Title: The Three Caballeros
Release Date: December 21, 1944
Director: Norman Ferguson (supervising director), Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts,  and Harold Young
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

The second of Disney’s six package films of the World War II era is also the second to originate from Walt Disney & company’s good will visit to Latin America after Saludos Amigos (which I’ve not yet watched).  The movie focuses on Donald Duck receiving birthday gifts from his feathered friends in Latin America, the Brazilian parrot José Carioca and the Mexican rooster Panchito Pistoles.

The first two segments are animated shorts that we watch with Donald. “The Cold-Blooded Penguin” tells the story of a penguin named Pablo who hates the cold and migrates to the Galapagos. “The Flying Gauchito” tells the story of a boy from Uruguay who adopts a flying donkey.  Both stories are cute and feature lots of puns and sight gags.

José then joins Donald and takes him on a journey to Bahia in Brazil through a pop-up book where they sing and dance with Aurora Miranda. Panchito joins them and they learn the Christmas story of Las Posadas.  The three birds travel around Mexico on a flying sarape, exploring various song and dance traditions.  Then things get weird as Donald has surreal visions while singer Dora Luz performs.  Donald then dances with Carmen Molina among shrinking and swelling cactus before the grand finale.

For much of this movie Donald Duck is incredibly horny about the Latin American women performers.  Even if you set aside 2020 sensibilities about the “male gaze” and sexual harassment, the fact that these excellent performances by Miranda, Luz, and Molina keep getting upstaged by Donald going full-Tex Avery is just rude.  I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt they needed nonstop “comic relief” but it doesn’t feel like they had much goodwill for the artists of Latin America.  The visuals are pretty impressive in the animation and I really like the musical numbers, especially Aurora Miranda’s.

Rating: **1/2