Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: The Hunchback of Notre Dame II

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Execution is more important than concept.

Consider Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Doing Victor Hugo’s classic melodrama as an animated Disney musical is an objectively terrible idea. Awful. Comedically bad. You would have to really sit down and think to come up with a classic novel less suited to the genre. Dracula has more potential as a Renaissance Disney movie than Hunchback (Magical villain with a cape and animal sidekicks, heroine who yearns for more than her safe, stale existence, funny comedy relief foreigner and a happy ending, what more do you want?).

But the thing about Hunchback is that, despite the inherent cruddiness of the core concept, everything else is JUST SO GOOD. That animation! The character designs! The backgrounds! The acting! The direction! The singing! The music! YE GODS THE MUSIC!

So what if the final product resembles Hugo’s work so loosely that Disney might as well have claimed it was original IP and called it the “The Adventures of Maurice the Not-So-Pretty Bell Man”? Gorgeous movie is gorgeous.

But what if…what if all that was taken away?

What if you took away the animation, the character designs, the backgrounds, the acting, the direction, the singing, the music ye gods the music?

What if all you had left was that initial terrible, terrible idea?

Probably something like The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, produced in 2000 but only released in 2002, presumably out of shame. This movie is why we have words like “nadir”.

Let me be clear. It’s not simply terrible compared to the original. It’s not simply terrible as a movie in its own right. It is terrible compared to other Disney Sequels.

Scared?

By God, you should be.

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Thank you all.

We did it.

We have succeeded in raising €1000 to get Mauricio out of Venezuela. Mauricio can now begin getting the necessary paperwork, and, all going well, he should be safely in Colombia in a month or two. I will of course keep you posted.

I know I promised another World War 2 short review when we were fully funded but I have to come clean; I didn’t expect us to be funded so quickly so I haven’t got anything written yet.

Plus, what with what’s currently going on in the States the cartoon I was going to review…

Yeah. It just…doesn’t feel like the right time. Or maybe it’s too right a time.

I dunno. I will continue with this series but when I’m in the kind of head space that I can actually be funny.

In the meantime, enjoy the Hunchback 2 review.

Y’all did good.

There is an easy solution to this…

If you ever visit Ireland and you are even slightly interested in sport, you need to see a hurling match played in Croke Park. The fastest field game in the world, whose origins stretch thousands of years, played in front of over 70,000 screaming fans. You will never experience anything else like it.

Hurling and Gaelic football are the glue that hold this country together. Every county, from tiny Louth to mighty Dublin have their teams and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has a presence in every village and town in the country. It’s something we all do together. We have players whose families have been in Ireland since the Ice Age, and players who just got off the boat from Nigeria or China or Poland. It’s a beautiful thing, and I say this as someone who doesn’t even sport. But if you were to see a game played in Croke Park and you were able to tear your eyes away from the field and scan the crowd, you might notice something a little weird.

“What the…”

So, a controversy that has been quietly bubbling in Ireland for the last few decades is the…tradition…of some County Cork fans to fly the Confederate Battle Flag during their matches. Why do they do this? Well…it’s sort of a…joke.

So here’s the background. County Cork is the largest county in Ireland by area and has the second largest city in the republic, Cork City. And it’s a lovely place. Gorgeous scenery, tons of history and the people are really, really lovely despite having an accent that could shatter glass. Now Cork has always had a bit of a rivalry with Dublin because we’re deadly and it’s not unusual for Corkonians to refer to their city as “The Real Capital”. Cork is also known as “The Rebel County” because, during the Civil War (the Irish Civil War, I mean) they were a centre of Anti-Treaty resistance whereas Dublin was the seat of the Pro-Treaty government. And also, the Cork county colours are Red and White.

So.

Red and White. Rebel County.

See what they did there?

Like I said, it’s a gag. Not a very funny one. But it’s not like Cork fans who fly the flag are advocating slavery or white supremacy, they’re just implying that Cork is going to rise up and overthrow Dublin (as if, we would crush the rebellious dogs). But, as many people both inside and outside of Cork have gained a greater understanding over the years as to just what that flag represents, the rising chorus of “NOT FUNNY!” has started to become deafening.

And I have a solution. I’m not here to lecture anyone. I’m not here to soapbox. I would just like to point out that there is a perfect alternative to the Confederate Flag for Cork fans to use.

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Mouse Goes to War!: Jungle Drums (1943)

Hi guys! We are now halfway there to getting Mauricio safely out of Venzuela and, as promised, here is the second of the war era animated short reviews. Because you’re all superheroes, and because I thought it might be particularly cathartic right now to watch some Nazis get punched in the face, today we’re looking at one of the Superman shorts from the 1940s.  Enjoy, and please consider donating if you haven’t already.

***

Studio: Famous Studios

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: March 26, 1943

Recently, the internet came down with a case of the vapours when it was announced by the BBC that the next Doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker, who has lady bits.

Jolly good, quite right, good idea, quite right, jolly good and not before time. Now, when it comes to Who I haven’t really had skin in the game since Ecclestone left but I’m sure she’ll kill in the part. There have been bad Who writers, bad Who directors and even bad Who seasons but they have never cast a bad actor in the lead role (no, not even him) and I doubt very much they’ve started here. But Whittaker’s casting does raise some interesting questions. How will people in the past react to a character whose main defining trait is showing up out of nowhere and bossing everyone around when it’s a woman doing the bossing? How will, say, the Puritans react to this trouser wearing lady with a mysterious blue box and what can only be described as a magic wand? Will every episode of Doctor Who consist of angry peasants trying to ascertain if Jodie Whitaker weighs as much as a duck? It’ll be interesting to see how they handle it.

Of course, the status of women in society has swung wildly upwards and downwards over the millennia depending on the era and society in question. Progress is not a hill, but a rollercoaster. Consider Lois Lane, who, as the perennial love interest of one of the most famous pop-culture icons of the last century has had an unbroken presence in various media for almost eight decades now, and so represents a useful yardstick for the portrayal and status of women in American culture. In the Silver Age, this was Lois Lane.

The fifties saw Lois’ role as a daring and accomplished journalist minimised to almost nothing so that she could engage in an unending spiteful love rivalry with Lana Lang over who could dupe Superman into marrying her first. It was a terrible time to be a woman in America, and it was a terrible time to be Lois Lane.

Contrast this with a decade earlier, where we find Lois Lane wasting bitches with an uzi.

“Take that ya rat bastards! When you get to hell, tell em Lois sent ya!”

World War 2 brought huge advances both for women and minorities because America had to either make the most use of every available person regardless of race or gender or risk total defeat to the forces of fascism and America was all “Ugh, fine.” You see this in the Fleischer (later Famous) studios Superman shorts with their depiction of Lois Lane, still one of the finest interpretations of the character three quarters of a century later. And possibly the character’s finest hour is today’s short, Jungle Drums.

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Mouse Goes to War!: Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)

Hi guys!

We’re two days into our fundraiser to get Mauricio the fruck out of Veneuzuela and we’re already one third funded! So, to say thanks, I’m publishing the first of the War Era Short reviews which I was originally going to put up in September. I’ll publish another when we get to €500 and a third when we’re fully funded. And if you haven’t contributed already, please consider doing so. And if money’s tight, please help spread the word by sharing the GoFundMe page. Actually, do that anyway.

Both Mauricio and I could not be more grateful,

Thanks,

Mouse.

***

Studio: Walt Disney Productions

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: January 1st, 1943

Ugh. Ugh! A review of World War 2 shorts that includes Der Fuehrer’s Face. How obvious. How predictable. How vulgar. How basic.

But there’s really no way you can’t talk about this, one of the most controversial of all American animated shorts made during the war years (and hoo boy is that up against some stiff competition!). So let’s state three things straight up front.

1)      Yes, this is the cartoon where Donald Duck yells “Heil Hitler!” 33 times (also known as “a full Bannon”.)

2)      Notwithstanding that, it’s a really, really good short.

3)      Actually, in context, it’s probably less offensive than pretty much any other short we’ll be reviewing as part of this series.

When I announced this series, I posted this image of a saber wielding Donald leading a battalion of cartoon critters into battle against the forces of the Third Reich.

There were no survivors.

Some of you very astutely spotted something rather weird with this picture: How prominent Donald is, how de-emphasised Mickey is (he is driving a tank waaaaaaaaay in the background in case you missed him) and how “not there” Goofy is.

It suddenly struck me that I’d never seen a Disney short from the war years that featured either Mickey or Goofy, while I’d seen plenty that featured Donald as well as Huey, Dewey and Louie. So why were the ducks so heavily featured? I resolved to find the answer and embarked on an epic quest across the internet. I consulted Wikipedia. I consulted Quora. God help me and forgive me my sins, I consulted Reddit. And after all that research, do you want to know what I found?

 

Frustrating and unsatisfying as it might be, from what I can gather the answer to the question “Why did Disney use Donald Duck so heavily in their propaganda and not Mickey and Goofy” the answer appears to be “’Cos they…just…did.” I can offer a few theories, though. At this point in history Donald Duck was cresting in popularity whereas Mickey was already yesterday’s news so his reduced role could simply be a reflection of the fact that he just wasn’t drawing the crowds any more. Goofy was still very much a star, though, which makes his absence quite baffling. The only clue as to why this might be is that Pinto Colvig, Goofy’s voice actor, and Walt had fallen out by this point. Goofy had thus been transitioned into the “How to…” series of cartoons where Goofy doesn’t speak and instead follows the instructions of a suave narrator. These cartoons were very popular so Disney may have simply decided to use the ducks for their propaganda shorts rather than tampering with a formula that was working by sending Goofy into the army.

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This is a rescue operation.

Since President Nicholas Maduro assumed control of Venezuela in 2013, the nation has been in political, economic and social freefall. While the government pushes a constitutional amendment that will give Maduro dictatorial powers, 75% of the population have lost an average of 19 pounds due to food shortages. The healthcare system has broken down and violence is rising as people fight for ever scarcer food and medication. Venezuela’s 30 million citizens are facing nothing less than an existential threat.

And one of them is our friend Mauricio.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you probably know Mauricio. He did the video review a few years . He’s been a regular commenter here almost from the very beginning. He’s a pal, and he’s in real danger.

That’s why we need to get him out now.

I’ve set up a GoFundme page for  Mauricio. The goal is to raise a thousand dollars, which should be enough to get him safely to Colombia, rent an apartment and pay for food until he finds work. Please donate whatever you can, big or small. If we all work together we can get him out of there safely.

Thanks guys

Mouse.

Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World

I was once a mouse of honour.

Once I had a code.

My very first post on this blog, half a goddamn decade ago, set out some rules that I swore I’d follow come hell or high water:

No live action movies.

No Pixar movies.

No direct to video Disney sequels.

So here we are. Come and witness as my last scrap of virtue is torn away. Today, I review a direct to video Disney sequel, the cinematic equivalent of hiring a prostitute to dress up like your high school sweetheart, something beautiful and pure rendered tawdry and mercenary.

Oh come, come, Mouse, I hear you cry. Are they really as bad as all that? Well…

Okay, real talk time. None of the direct to video sequels made for the canon movies are as good as or better than the movies they are based on. Not one. By definition, really. I mean. If Disney Toons had somehow made a sequel to The Little Mermaid that was even better, they wouldn’t have released it straight to video, right? They’d have given it a full theatrical release and made it an official entry in the canon like The Rescuers Down Under or Winnie the Pooh (is Winnie the Pooh still in the canon? Disney?)

“Um…yes? I dunno. Look, the canon is just a marketing gimmick, who even cares?”

“Oh yeah, sure, I understand, I just dedicated FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE to this, no biggie.”

But, y’know. I’m fair. I’m a fair mouse. Everyone says so. Believe me. And while all of the Disney cheapquels are objectively worse than the movies they were based on, that doesn’t mean that they were entirely without merit. In fact, let’s play the game that’s taking the globe by storm, Mouse Says Nice Things About Disney Sequels For As Long As He Can!

Return of Jafar: Obviously (OBVIOUSLY) not as good as Aladdin but it actually did some interesting stuff plot wise by giving Iago a character arc and actually leaving a real, lasting change to the status quo by having him become a hero. Maybe not a great movie but a very decent pilot for a better than decent TV show.

King of Thieves: Robin Williams back as the genie, some much needed delving into Aladdin’s backstory and a fairly satisfying conclusion to the story of the Agrabah gang.

Lion King 1 ½: As a sequel it busts the original’s continuity straight to hyena infested hell buuuuut…great cast, really nice animation, some genuinely funny gags and Diggah Tunnah is honestly a good enough song that it could have been in the original movie (and a good song in a Disney sequel is a rare, precious thing indeed).

Bambi 2: Patrick Stewart as the Prince of the Forest. It’s truly sad when a Disney Sequel is making better use of Patrick Stewart than the actual canon movies.

Cinderella 3: A Stitch in Time: Faced with the task of making a second sequel to Cinderella and with the imminent closure of their studio, Disney Australia went all in on a batshit insane time travel caper. They went out fighting. They went out weird. And we salute them.

And as for today’s movie…

Okay, look. We need to take a minute to talk about the plight of a certain persecuted minority. A proud people who have suffered indignity after indignity in the face of a hostile and uncaring majority.

I refer, of course, to Pocahontas fans. And I am sorry that I must add to their legacy of suffering, because the truth is this:

I prefer Pocahontas 2 to the original.

“Never thought we’d be mobbin’ for Pocahontas of all gol-durn things.”

No, I’m not joking.

No, I’m not just trolling you.

No, I’m not being contrarian.

No, I haven’t suffered some kind of head injury.

Here’s the thing, if you love Pocahontas you probably love it for the music and the animation and I’m obviously not going to pretend that Pocahontas 2 holds a single solitary candle to the original in either of those categories. But in terms of story…

Okay. It’s not perfect. It’s not even particularly good. But. This is the story of a young Native American woman who most leave her home, travel across the sea and navigate the intrigue of a strange and hostile foreign court with the survival of her entire tribe hanging in the balance. And that, to me, is automatically more compelling than the warmed-over Romeo and Juliet plot of the original.

Let’s take a look.

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June Foray: (1917-2017)

June Foray has died, a few months shy of her hundredth birthday and the animation pantheon has lost one of its true gods.

Pick a female cartoon character of the last century and the odds are good that June voiced her. She was the Looney Tunes’ Granny from 1955 to 2014. She was Magica De Spell. She was Cindy Lou Who. She was Rocky J. Squirrel, Natasha Fatale and Granny Fa.  In her time she was married to Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Goofy, Sylvester and Yosemite Sam. Her filmography reads like the history of American animation itself. Disney. Warner Bros. Hanna-Barbera, Simpsons, Family Guy, Powerpuff Girls.

She voiced Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in his final short.

She wrote and hosted radio shows in the nineteen thirties, and voiced video game characters in the 2010s.

She did it all, folks. She did it all.

She was often stuck with samey roles and nothing parts but listen to enough of her voicework and you will hear a performer of staggering range and versatility. Some called her “the female Mel Blanc”. No less an authority than Chuck Jones is said to have retorted “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

Sometimes a death leaves me sad and despondent. Not this one.

I look at June Foray’s life and all I feel is amazement, and wonder, and joy.

What a life. What a life.

Brava.

Thanks for everything, June. I mean, thanks for almost literally everything. 

 

“Dormammu! I’ve come to bargain!”

Back in my Ant-Man review I had some pretty harsh things to say about Ant-Man as a superhero concept. But you shouldn’t take that to mean that I don’t like the character. To tell the truth, I’ve always found Hank Pym to be oddly compelling. There’s something about the guy who is good but will never be the best and the gnawing insecurity that brings that I think a lot of writers can empathise with.

Conversely, for this review I re-read some classic Doctor Strange stories and have had to come to terms with something deeply troubling about myself.

I, straight up, do not like Doctor Strange.

I love silver age Marvel comics. I love the aesthetic, the corny jokes, the ridiculous villain names, the artwork, the snarky editorial captions from Stan Lee, all of it. It be my jam. But my God, reading Doctor Strange is a slog.

And I think my issue with him is this; Doctor Strange is a character who rewards bad writing. Characters should challenge their writers. Superman and Captain America challenge their writers to portray them as morally pure and incorruptible while still being human and relateable. Spider-man is a challenge because he requires funny dialogue. Wolverine is a challenge because he requires almost no dialogue.

But Doctor Strange’s whole schtick requires him to recite turgid, purple prose at every problem he comes across and it is just such a grind. Even a phrase of such magnificent silliness as “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!” starts to lose its appeal after the twentieth time reading it. But ultimately, it comes down to this: Wizards should not be main characters.

Glad you brought him up, we shall return to him presently.

When you have a main character who is a wizard it is almost impossible to generate real drama. So many Doctor Strange stories boil down to this:

EVIL WIZARD: I will do this bad magic thing!

DR STRANGE: I will cast a spell that stops you from doing this bad magic thing!

EVIL WIZARD: Aha! I have cast a spell that means your spell doesn’t work!

DR STRANGE: But I use my magic forcefield to block your spell!

EVIL WIZARD: But my spell is too powerful for your forcefield!

DR STRANGE: Nuh uh! My forcefield has infinity power!

And then the bell sounds and they have to go back to class. It’s basically the same problem as technobabble in bad episodes of Star Trek; artificial problems solved by an artificial solution. It’s never concretely stated what Strange’s magic can and cannot do, so there’s no reason to think that he won’t just pull a random spell out of his ass to deal with whatever the problem is. It’s why wizards are usually relegated to supporting roles. We follow Arthur and Frodo, not Merlin and Gandalf. Harry Potter gets around this problem by clearly establishing the rules of how magic works in its universe. Yes, Harry can use magic, but he never uses a spell that we don’t see him learn in class. So the audience is never in doubt as to his abilities and what the real odds are in any given confrontation.

Strange can be great when used as a supporting character, a kind of consultant brought in to help other characters when they run afoul of the supernatural. But as a lead character he just does not work for me. Can the second live-action Doctor Strange movie change my mind? Oh yes. I said “second”.

You have questions.
1) Yes, it’s a real movie.
2) No, it’s not a porno.
3) Yes, that’s the legendary Jessica Walter, star of Arrested Development and Archer.
4) No, it’s really not a porno.
5) It’s terrible, but also wonderful.

Let’s take a look.

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Once More With Feeling (2001)

Before I start this review I feel like I owe an apology to Martha Brady, who donated to Joanna all the way back in 2015 and requested this review. And the truth is, I think I may have put this one off a little too long. I would have been a happier mouse if I had not lived to see the day when I posted that I was going to be reviewing Once More With Feeling, possibly the most beloved episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a significant number of readers had not responded with:

“Who’s that?”

No.

No.

No no no.

You bloody millenials with your avocado toast and your auto-tune and your trigger warnings GET OFF MY LAWN! HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHO BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER IS? WHAT YEAR IS THIS?! HOW OLD AM I?! WHO’S PRESIDENT NOW?!

Alright, sit your asses down while I explain some things to you. You like TV? Well, it used to be crap. And then Buffy the Vampire Slayer came along and now it’s good. That sounds like hyperbole but..it’s kinda…not? Buffy, a never hugely successful (in ratings at least) TV spin-off of a pretty terrible movie on an also-ran network with no name actors was an unlikely avatar of the current television Golden Age ™. But in terms of impact on how TV is made, written and discussed it’s probably one of the all time most influential shows. It inspired a generation of TV writers, begat a slew of imitators, began a slow and steady move towards female-led drama in network series, turned Joss Whedon into a bona fide geek God, birthed the “actually this is a real goddamn thing” academic field of “Buffy studies” and helped move nerd culture firmly into the mainstream. Apart from the Simpsons, it’s hard to think of a show that has had a bigger impact on how dialogue is written for TV, with the show’s snarky, pop-culture laden patois instantly setting it apart from the pack when it premiered. And it is responsible for a website so dear to my heart, with TV Tropes actually beginning its existence as a Buffy fansite. The premise is this: You know the blonde cheerleader who gets killed by the monster in every horror movie ever? Well, what if she was actually the latest in an ancient line of demon hunting warrior women? Buffy Summers, outwardly an ordinary if not particularly popular California high school student, battles the forces of evil in her home town of Sunnydale. She is aided by her mentor and “Watcher”, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), sweet-natured nerd/witch Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brandon) whom Wikipedia describes as “a classmate of Buffy’s with no particular skills or abilities”. Which, firstly, harsh. Secondly, incorrect.

Because damn, that boy could smoulder.

In its early years, Buffys central gimmick was literalising the expression “high school is hell”, putting a supernatural spin on the trials and tortures of trying to get through your teenage education in one piece. The girl who nobody notices becomes literally invisible, a teacher who preys sexually on her students is actually a giant praying mantis, the foreign exchange student is actually an evil mummy instead of just an evil foreign exchange student. That kinda thing. As the series progressed it started delving deeper into Slayer lore and fleshing out its world to tell an epic tale of good versus evil. It also got increasingly experimental, with episodes with almost no dialogue, or music, or even basic narrative logic.

The Cheese Man was my favourite character. Mostly because of the cheese.

And undoubtedly the most ambitious episode the show ever did was Once More With Feeling, an extra-long episode that was a comedy horror…musical. Now, Buffy was not the first or last show to do a musical episode. Ally McBeal, The Cosby Show, Xena, hell, I Love Lucy did one all the way back in 1956. But they rarely go this “all in”. This is not simply an episode of a TV show where the characters sing a few songs, this is a fully scored musical with over a dozen original songs and fully choreographed dance numbers which the cast had to learn and rehearse while also making every other episode of the TV series. It was, by all accounts, an absolute ordeal. But did Whedon’s ambition overshoot his talent? Was this musical a Hamilton or a Spider-man: Turn off the Dark?

Let’s take a look.

“Oh yeah, Mouse is gonna take a look! At the sets and the costumes! The songs and the book!”

“And if he doesn’t like it then he’ll say “It sucks!”
‘Cos he’s the fuzziest, loviest critic in the whole wide…”

“What are you DOING?!”

“I thought we were doing a musical review? It’s my opening number!”

“No, I’m doing a review OF a musical, not a musical…how would that even work?! No one can hear you on a blog! It’s all text! That’s
a terrible idea!”

“I…I spent six months writing the score. Are you serious?”

“Yes! No singing!”

“Alright, but YOU have to tell Gangsta Asia his big dance number is cancelled.”

“Wow. He is in INCREDIBLE shape.”

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