Month: March 2013

Bcposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #25: The Black Cauldron

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

 

***

By the mid nineteen eighties, something had gone very wrong at the Disney animation studios.

To an outsider, this might not have been immediately apparent. Sure, the movies weren’t as good as they had been, but Rescuers had been a huge hit, and The Fox and the Hound had been a decent success financially. But inside the studio, things were starting to go sour. The last of the Nine Old Men were retiring, and the animation staff had dwindled to a mere two hundred or so, a situation made worse when Don Bluth essentially said “screw this noise” and left with a fifth of the studio’s animators.

Just threw them in his truck and drove like hell.

Just threw them on his truck and drove like hell.

The animation department, once the heart and soul of Disney, was increasingly being seen as more of an appendix, and an inflamed, extremely expensive appendix at that. Some members of the board were openly asking if the Disney company should even be making animated films, and instead suggested focusing on the theme parks and merchandise.

Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew and a senior executive of the company, fought tooth and nail to keep the animation wing open, saying that without new characters being created, the theme parks were essentially museums, commemorating something wonderful that was now dead.

At the heart of this dispute was the Black Cauldron. Twelve years in production, massively over budget, the Black Cauldron was supposed to be the movie that put Walt Disney animation back on the map, charting a new course away from the traditional children’s movies the studio was famous for and moving into darker, edgier territory. But it was quickly reaching the point where even if it was a massive hit, it would be hard pressed to earn back the money that had already been spent on it. The movie’s two directors Ted Berman…

Ted Berman

and Richard Rich…

Richie Rich

…were not hugely experienced, and Disney management was starting to have serious misgivings about what was going on over in the animation building.

Jeffrey Katzenberg (yes, that one) had been brought in by new Chief Operating Officer Michael Eisner to run the motion picture division, which included turning around the animation unit. On arriving at the animation unit’s new facilities (a crappy little industrial estate where they had been sent after being unceremoniously evicted from the main Disney lot) Katzenberg asked to see the partially completed film. Production Manager Don Hahn described what happened next:

Katzenberg entered the screening room and closed the door behind him. We waited, not a man among us dared to speak so much as a word. Occasionally, from behind the door would emerge strange sounds, a low growling like some strange beast from the tropics, or a whine of pain and horror. At last, Katzenberg emerged from the darkened room and I think I may have cried aloud in horror, such was the change that had come over him! His hair had turned purest white and his fingers now shook as he raised a cigarette to his trembling lips and desperately drew upon it. His eyes stood stark and white in his face, now gaunt and greenish. He seemed too weak to stand and slumped into a chair, muttering darkly to himself, his gaze oscillating about the room but not meeting the eyes of any man there. And then, with a terrible fury that seemed conjured from the aether he leapt to his feet and cried “You fools! You monomaniacs! Have you no care for this abominable thing you have unleashed?! This thing will be the death of us all, I say!”

For you see, in their desperation to replace the magic and inspiration of Walt Disney, the animators had turned to a false power. A most powerful and ancient evil. A being known…as the Horned King.

And he’s standing in my living room right now.

help me…

Begin the review Mouse.

Begin the review, Mouse.

Yeah…see. I really don’t want to watch this film.

Then you shall die. You must review the film and proclaim me the greatest Disney villain of all time.

Then you shall die. You must review the film and proclaim me the greatest Disney villain of all time.

YOU ARE THE GREATEST DISNEY VILLAIN OF ALL TIME can I please go now?

Pull yourself together Mouse! Just stay calm and finish the review! You can do this!

Pull yourself together Mouse! Just stay calm and finish the review! You can do this!

You mean, if I can watch this movie from start to finish and review it I might survive?

Whoah, whoah, whoah. Don't go putting words in my mouth.

Whoah, whoah, whoah. Don’t go putting words in my mouth.

Alright. It’s fine. I can do this. I mean…it’s a Disney movie for God’s sake! How scary can it really be?

A PG RATING!?Oh bollocks...

A PG RATING!?
Oh bollocks…

The movie begins with the following narration:

Legend has it, in the mystic land of Prydain. There was once a king so cruel, and so evil, that even the gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron.  There his demonic spirit was captured, in the form of a great black cauldron. For uncounted centuries The Black Cauldron lay hidden, waiting, while evil men searched for it. Knowing whoever possessed it, would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors. And with them, rule the world.”

STONEHENGE!

STONEHENGE! WHERE THE DEMONS DWELL!

Surprised I didn’t go with a Lord of the Rings joke? Trust me, my supply is limited and must be used sparingly.

(more…)

The_Fox_and_the_Hound

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #24: The Fox and the Hound

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

***

We’re getting close to the halfway point now in this mad fool’s quest to review every one of the Disney canon classics, so now is as good a time as any to make a confession.

I’m full of it. I’m a fake. A fraud. A charlatan.

I don’t know anything about animation.

I  make it up as I go along.

Also, I was in Dallas that day, I'm a crack shot former Marine and my best friend is  a Cuban communist crow. You figure it out.

Also, I was in Dallas that day, I’m a crack-shot former Marine and my best friend is a Cuban communist crow. You figure it out.

Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. What I mean is, I’m constantly learning as I do this. Every review I do, I’m basically sitting down to a movie I may not have seen for years (or in a few cases, never at all) and then researching on the fly. This means that a lot of my preconceptions of these movies are constantly getting blown apart, and it often feels like this one discrete group of films never runs out of ways to surprise me or to show me my own ignorance. That’s part of the fun. Take this week’s offering for example. I had this idea that the animation quality of the Disney movies declined terribly after Walt’s death, and wasn’t restored until the glorious Renaissance (praise to the great Renaissance!) of the late eighties/early nineties. I was convinced that pretty much every movie in the Mourning Era was an ungodly, poorly animated mess that wouldn’t pass muster in Soviet era Czechoslovakia.

I can't remember if this screenshot is from Rescuers or Aristocats.

I can’t remember if this screenshot is from Rescuers or Aristocats.

So then, imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch The Fox and the Hound only to realise I was looking at some of the most beautiful animation in the canon since…honestly? Sleeping frickin’ Beauty. I’m not saying it’s on par with that, obviously. I’m just saying you have to go back that far before you come to a movie with better animation. It’s a thing to behold. It becomes a little less surprising when you realise who was working on it though. Wolfgang Reitherman, who directed Sleeping Beauty and all of the Scratchy Era movies produced this film, his last for Disney before retiring. On animation duty were the last of the Nine Old Men; Ollie Johnston & Frank Thomas and a whole host of long time Disney veterans. But you also had the new generation of Disney animators which today reads like a “Holy Shit!” list of animation greats; Don Bluth, Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Glen Keane and Brad Bird.

This, but with animators.

This. But with animators.

(more…)