Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin, The Return of Jafar

“Why do they keep making these?!” was the eternal lament of the Disney fan from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s when the Disney Sequel walked the Earth in all its terrible glory. Couldn’t Disney see that these filthy hack jobs were tarnishing the reputations of the pure and virtuous Disney canon? HAD THEY NOT EYES?! Well, yes, they had eyes. But here’s what they were looking at.

Consider Aladdin. It comes out in the winter of 1992 and it is the mutt’s nuts. Critical darling, instant pop culture icon and oh yes, the biggest box-office of any movie that year, animated or live action. It makes $504 Million dollars on a budget of $28 Million. Which basically means that for every dollar Disney put into Aladdin, they got $18 back. That’s a heck of a return on an investment. That is a good, good day. That is a win.

A few years later, Disney are working on an Aladdin animated series. It’s not an entirely new idea, The Little Mermaid also had a series. But there’s a lot of hype for Aladdin because instead of being a prequel series like Mermaid, this is going to be an actual sequel series where we get to see what our favourite Agrabahns did after the movie. And some bright spark realises that the three episode arc that opens the series actually kinda works as a movie if you squint. So why not release it as a movie? Not in theatres, God no. But maybe direct to video? VHS is super hot right now and Disney movies sell like hot cakes. So why not skip the theatres all together and just go straight to video? You know? Like porn?

Perhaps understandably, Disney were a little leery of taking their cues from porn. But they did it anyway and here’s what happened:

Return of Jafar became one of the biggest selling VHSs of all time. It made $300 Million dollars. $300 Million dollars for a movie that never sold a single ticket. On a budget, estimated, to be $3.5 Million dollars. Remember Aladdin’s oh-so-impressive return of 18:1? Jafar had a return of investment of $86 dollars to every dollar.  That’s not a heck of a return. That is market changing. That is paradigm-shifting. That, honestly, is a wee bit scary. So if, for example, you were a huge multinational who cared only for filthy lucre…

“How VERY dare you…”

Then the question becomes, not “Why did they keep making them?” but “Why did they ever stop?” That’s the kind of return that turns executives into junkies, chasing that hit for decades. 86 dollars for every dollar spent. That’s basically free money. This thing was huge.

And when you think about it, it still kinda is. Return of Jafar is without a doubt the only Disney Sequel that’s almost as famous as its prequel. Disney are actually considering a live action remake of Return of Jafar to follow last year’s live action Aladdin. Could you see any of the other sequels being considered for that?

Well yes, but only when I’ve been dosed with fear toxin by the Scarecrow.

Return of Jafar has also been a beneficiary of what I like to call “Space Jam” effect, the sharp divide in critical opinion between people who were already adults when a movie came out and those for whom it was as mother’s milk. Best-selling video of all time, remember? There are a lot of millennials out there with fond memories of this one, and even people who utterly despise the Disney sequels will go to the mat for this one. This one’s good, they’ll say. Leave it alone. He’s with me. Go burn some Tarzan sequels.

But does it deserve that loyalty? Is it actually any good? Well, it’s complicated…

(more…)

Mouse Hunt (1997)

This review was requested by patron ED. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

I know this is a question that you’ve all asked yourselves at one point or other, but I’ll ask it anyway; how do we talk about Snuffly Whiskerwinks?

As a young mouse growing up in a human world, Whiskerwinks was more than a hero. He was an inspiration. An icon. Without a doubt the greatest mouse actor who has ever lived, a performer of incomporable range and depth. A mouse who smashed the Hollywood fur barrier and went on to to give life to such iconic roles as “Mouse in Shawshank Redemption”, “Mouse in Fiddler on the Roof” and Willy Loman in the 1985 screen version of Death of a Salesman. He could do more with a twitch of his whiskers than most other actors could do with their whole tails. To see Whiskerwinks on screen is to see a master in full command of his art. But how then do we square this with what we know of Whiskerwinks’ personal life? Does the fact that he moved audiences to tears in a sell-out run of Hamlet in the West End mean that we can ignore the allegations made against him by his own son in his explosive tell-all biography “Body of a Mouse, Heart of a Rat”? Do his multiple Oscars erase the stain of years of virulent anti-gerbil statements and cat apologia? Is his legacy as a performer so great that we can overlook his legacy as a husband and father, and the hurt that his behaviour caused his wife and 716 children? Are we really just going to forget the time he got off his face on Gouda at the 69th Academy Awards and scurried up Meryl Streep’s leg, causing her to jump on a chair and shriek “EEK!”?

Today we’re looking at Whiskerwinks’ last performance before his sordid and untimely death in 1997. Obviously, I’m not going to go into details here. You all know the story, and there’s no point picking over who was on who’s yacht, who strangled who with a belt, who ate who’s stash of whatever-it-was and eventually had to be surgically extracted from Johnny Depp’s cloaca. Let the dead past lie.

So on this here blog we’ve talked a little about Dreamworks’ early output when they were still putting out some of the funniest, most beautiful traditionally animated movies out there and before they had settled into their comfortable rut as the Pepsi of American animation. But we haven’t really touched on their live action output. Mouse Hunt holds the distinction of being the first DreamWorks family picture. Obviously, casting Whiskerwinks in a family movie makes about as much sense as casting Michael Vick in a remake of Homeward Bound but this was the nineties. Nowadays, of course, your movie would be boycotted if you tried casting a rodent who lost eight different children in five different games of blackjack but it was a different time.

(more…)

Bats versus Bolts: The Nineties

This review was requested by patron Mathom. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Here’s a recommendation for you if you like vampire stories (and, since you’re reading this post I’m going to assume that you’re at least on cordial terms with them): Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. The first novel is set in an alternate universe where Dracula succeeded in bringing vampirism to Britain, married Queen Victoria and has become the Prince Consort. The rest of the books detail the history of this alternate Earth where vampires are everywhere with virtually every literary and historical character that Newman could think of nodding their head in at some point or other.

The fourth book in the series, Johnny Alucard, begins in the 1970s where Francis Ford Coppola is in Romania filming a biography of Dracula, who is dead by this point (or is he? Ooooooooooooooh). The whole joke is that the filming of this version of Coppola’s Dracula ends up mirroring the legendary clusterbollocks that was the shooting of Apocalypse Now, complete with storms, the military extras being called away to fight battles, Martin Sheen (Harker) almost dying during a scene and Brando (Dracula) being…well, Brando.

Seriously, somewhere there’s an alternate universe where the dominant life on Earth is sentient gazebos and in that universe Marlon Brando is still an asshole.

The filming of our universe’s Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Spooky Fun Time Emporium wasn’t nearly as hellish as all that, but it did arise from another legendarily troubled production; Godfather 3. Winona Ryder had been cast by Coppola to play Mary Corleone, but dropped out, leading to Coppola having to cast his daughter Sofia in the role. Ryder was worried that Coppola resented her for that (like the rest of the human race) so she brought him a script for Dracula that she had found as a peace offering. Coppola had been a fan of the book since he was a teenager and was taken with James V. Hart’s screenplay (I don’t know that the “V” stands for vampire, but I also don’t know that it doesn’t stand for that). Filming began in…

“AHEM?”

“Yes?”

“What about me?”

“What ABOUT you?”

Sorry Team Bolts, if it seems like your movie is kind of an afterthought this time around, it’s because your movie is kind of an afterthought this time around. Whereas Dracula was one of the ten highest grossing movies of 1992 worldwide and a veritable icon of nineties cinema, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein…well be honest. You’d forgotten it existed, hadn’t ya? If this bout was decided on pop culture legacy alone, Bats would take it in a walk. But is that really fair? Did Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein really deserve to be forgotton? Did Bram Stoker’s Dracula really deserve to be acclaimed? Did you know that they actually had the stones to release a novelisation of the movie and call it “Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Fred Saberhagen”? All these questions, and more, shall be answered!

(more…)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

As a general rule, I don’t watch the “Making Of” features of the movies I review, because:

a) The movie should be able to stand alone as a discrete work without additional media required to appreciate it.

b) I’m hella lazy, y’all.

But after…experiencing the subject of this review, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension, I felt that I might need to read the manual. During the “Making of” there’s a moment where director WD Richter is asked what the movie is about and responds with a deep sigh and a muttered “Oh God…”

It’s that kind of movie.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension is what happens when a lot of very smart, very talented people decide to take twenty million dollars of someone else’s money and have as much fun as it is possible to have legally. This is a cult film. No, scratch that. This is a CULT film, engineered to be so from the atoms making up the film stock upward. You are either in on the joke, or you aren’t. And I have to confess, my first watch through I was very conscious of what I like to call “The Rocky Horror” effect, the sensation that you would really be enjoying the movie you are watching if you weren’t alone and stone cold sober. It’s not a “watch at home alone on a cloudy afternoon” movie. It’s a “crack open a few beers with some rowdy friends” movie. Or possibly a “watch under the influence of hallucinogens and then found a religion” movie.

What’s it about? Oh God.

(more…)

Boris.

Boris.

Boris.

Boris? Boris!

Boris. Boris. Boris.

Boris…

Boris. Boris! BORIS?! BORIS?!!

Boris.

BORIS.

Boris? Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris Boris..

BBBBBBBBBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Boris.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

Like Unshaved Mouse? Please consider supporting my Patreon.

In 1959, scientist CP Snow gave his highly influential lecture; The Two Cultures where he posited that Western civilization had prioritised literature and the humanities to the point that even the most educated members of society were functionally scientifically illiterate. Snow argued that we needed to spend less time on the arts and more time on mathematics and the hard sciences.

Flashforward to 2019 and, as I write this, the most pressing question in contemporary culture is which of a series of interchangeable slabs of orange bacon some wan from Longford is going to put her leg over first so good news, Mr Snow!

“Excellent, so presumably you are all now well versed in the noble sciences?”

“Feller, fer an egg-head you sure do say some dumb shit.”

The influence of The Two Cultures can be seen in The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s novel. Originally released to poor sales, it quickly surged on strong reviews and is now considered one of the classics of 20th century children’s literature something something something segue CHUCK JONES!

Okay, when it comes to the question of who was the greatest Looney Tunes director there are no wrong answers as long as that answer is CHUCK JONES! No disrespect to Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob McKimson or Bob Clampett (well, a little disprespect to Bob Clampett the credit-hogging cad). Together, these men created some of the greatest, most timeless cartoon characters of all time and also Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe LePew.

But the cartoons by Chuck Jones are just on another level. They’re not only hilarious (though, my God) they are art. They transcend their medium.

But by the late 1960s Jones had left Warner Bros and was working for MGM, trying to salvage the Tom and Jerry series after the studio had rather disastrously experimented with continuing the series with cheap Czech animation.

Yes, that’s what this was referencing.

The Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons were better received but to be perfectly fair Jones’ subtle poised style was always a bad fit for the frenetic Tom and Jerry shorts. I do love his re-designs for the characters though.

But Jones’ last animation for MGM was their adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is also the only feature length animation he ever directed (not counting various Looney Tunes compilation films). This movie was on heavy rotation in the mouse house when I was growing up, and when the grainy VHS tape that we had used to tape it off BBC 2 was lost there was much wailing and gnashing of incisors which is why my brother requested that I review it.

“Yeah. I did. FIVE YEARS AGO.”

Sorry bro. This one was an absolute bear to track down. I’ve been waiting to do this review for so long that all the Trump jokes were originally going to be Tea Party jokes.

(more…)

“All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles… to have a precious few of them back.”

Like Unshaved Mouse? Please consider supporting my Patreon.

1981’s X-Men storyline Days of Future Past didn’t actually invent the trope of the Bad Future (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features one and that’s just the oldest one I can think of) but it may honestly be the single most influential use of that trope. Certainly in comics, maybe in general. If you’ve ever read a story where a character travels back in time to prevent a future with a purple sky, ruined buildings and too many damned robots, chances are it was influenced by this one X-Men story by Chris Claremont. It’s also one of the best-regarded X-Men stories in the franchise’s history, right up there with The Dark Phoenix. But whereas TDP is something of a weird digression, bringing in alien space empires and giant cosmic fire birds, Days of Future Past ties neatly into the X-Men’s recurring themes of prejudice (depicting a future where mutants are close to being wiped out) and the dangers of radicalism (Mystique’s assassination of a senator having brought that future about).

I’m not saying parables on racism can’t have giant planet-eating space-birds you understand, I’m just saying it’s a heavier lift.

Honestly, this one story’s impact has been so huge that if you actually go back and read it it can be a little underwhelming because it’s tropes and story beats have been copied so often elsewhere. Plus, the whole thing is wrapped up in one issue! They didn’t stretch it out across two years and have it cross over with every other Marvel title! What even the hell? But nonetheless it’s a story that is an intrinsically important strand in the X-Men’s big shaggy carpet and it was only a matter of time before the movies took a crack it.

The X-Men franchise is probably the most faithful to its source material of any superhero movie series and I don’t really mean that in a good way. Put it like this, Days of Future Past (the movie I mean) uses an incredibly convoluted time-travel plot to retcon away disastrous decisions made by previous creative teams. Just add a couple of Wolverine clones and Magneto revealing that he faked his death by pretending to be another villain who was pretending to be Magneto and you have the MOST X-MEN THING EVER. So at this point in the franchise the X-Men movies had been rescued from their Brett Ratner/Gavin Hood induced nadir and had been returned to their glorious prior status of being “quite good”.  Brian Singer returned to the director’s chair with a mission; to integrate the previous “quite good” X-Men First Class and The Wolverine with his own X-Men movies thus creating one, unified timeline of acceptable quality.

(more…)

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #57: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Like Unshaved Mouse? Please consider supporting my Patreon.

So occasionally I will actually watch movies made for grownups and recently Ms Mouse and I saw Rocketman, which I can best describe as “Bohemian Rhapsody but not terrible”. Apart from quality the two movies are scarily similar but then I suppose that’s just the nature of musical bio-pics. They all follow the same pattern: You  start out with our protagonist living in grim, post-war Britain, all cobble-streets, glass milk bottles and tuberculosis. You have the unsupportive parents saying “Yew’ll nevah make nuffin o’ yoself” and then the moment where they decide to rename themselves from Rodney McBorningname to Elvis Stardazzle and then fame, fortune, a sleazy manager played by a Game of Thrones alum, rises, falls, break-ups, breakdowns and a moment where the protagonist’s oldest and dearest friend from childhood reads them the riot act.

What does this have to do with Ralph Breaks the Internet? Because if the Disney canon was a musical biopic, this movie would be the point in the story where Elvis Stardazzle is slumped over a table in a trashed mansion covered in a thick layer of cocaine and groupie juice, having driven away all the people who ever loved him with his massive ego and unwillingness to see how far he’s gone off the rails.

Guys, I’m not going to toy with you on this. I fucking hate this movie. My brother, the Unscrupulous Mouse, declared this the worst Disney canon movie since Dinosaur and, while I can’t agree, I really want to.  Can I sit here and tell you that animation is worse than Chicken Little? No. Can I tell you that it’s worse directed than Home on the Range? Well…I mean…no. No I can’t do that. What’s wrong with Wreck It Ralph 2 isn’t anything to do with the animation or direction or voice cast but with an attitude of insufferable all-encompassing smugness that sets me little mouse teeth right on edge. Everything from that FUCKING title to the instant datedness of the references to the obnoxious “what you gonna do about it?” reminders of the Disney corporation’s near cultural stranglehold on every nook and cranny of pop culture. I hate it. I hate this. I hate what Disney’s become.

(more…)

Jeeves and the Brexit Spirit

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of having a perfectly topping morning yanked out from under you so hard it makes your teeth rattle? Only the other day I awoke to find the sun beaming down on God’s creation, the birds outside the window giving it their best and Jeeves appearing by my bedside with a tray of eggs, bacon, buttered toast, morning paper and a rather promising looking pot of coffee. In a word, everything that would make a chappie think that this day was going to be a good ‘un, possibly a great ‘un.

But then, just as I had opened negotiations with the bacon I caught a glance of something in the newspaper which caused me to inhale so sharply that before I knew where I was the bacon was bouncing around my left lung, no doubt in a state of some anxiety. Jeeves, ever with the keen eye, noticed the young master’s distress and applied a couple of hearty, congratulatory smacks to the upper posterior which dislodged the misplaced breakfast and after a few minutes of fluent coughing I was in a decent enough state to tell him that it was too bally much.

“Jeeves!” I said “It’s too bally much!”

“Sir?” he said, concerned and, I fancy, deeply moved by the depth of my passion.

“They’ve only done it again!” I wailed “Compared me to another one of these dashed brexiteers!”

I showed him the offending article, which made the case that one of these coves (Reese-Mogg, Jonson, Farage, Smithering-Finnickhan, I forget which) was practically your humble narrator’s identical twin and implying that there was no worse insult that could be levied and still printed in a respectable newspaper. Well, I mean to say, what?

Jeeves seemed furious. Practically incandescent with rage. By which I mean, I fancied I saw him raise his eyebrow a sixteenth of an inch.

“Most disturbing, sir.”

“There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to sue!”

“I would advise against that, sir. Cases relating to libel rarely result in favourable outcomes.”

“But dash it, I have to do something!”

Those who know me will tell you that Bertram is not thin-skinned. Far from it. In fact I rather think that, when it comes to skin, I yield to no animal except perhaps a particularly resilient rhinoceros. It could scarcely be otherwise with the family that Providence has seen fit to afflict me with. Well do I remember the time my Aunt Dahlia recounted how she had once saved me from choking as a small child and how she now considered that, not a crowning moment of heroism, but one of the great blunders of a long life. And she, I remind you, being the Aunt who actually likes me.

But I mean to say, what’s a lad to do when one’s very name has become an epithet and short-hand for the nation’s premier blisters? Hath not a Bertram eyes? If you tickle a Wooster, does he not tell you to pack it in and stop acting like an ass? I say my name has been dragged through the mud quite enough, and if no one shall speak in Bertram’s defence, then Bertram must. So here it is.

(more…)