Disney

Heathers (1988)

“Okay everyone, are we ready to review Don Hertzfeld’s “It’s Such a Beautiful Day?”

“Uh Mouse, we got a problem.”

“Oh, what’s up?”

“Well, it turns out “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” isn’t available on any of the main streaming sites.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to order the DVD instead.”

“Well, darn.”

“And the DVD’s not going to arrive until after the review is due to go up.”

“Well, darn.”

“Because the world’s in the grip of a global pandemic the likes of which has never been seen in living memory, the whole country is in lockdown and western civilization has been brought to its knees.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to review something else.”

“Okay, Heathers is next in the queue, let’s just do that.”

“Wait…what was the last one you said?”

Heeeeeeeeeey so things have been a little more immediately apocalyptic around here than usual, huh?

Hope you all are staying safe and indoors. For obvious reasons, this review is going to be on the short side.

“What reasons? You’ve been at home for the last week, if anything you should have MORE written than usual.”

“Yeah, but I was working from home and you’d be amazed how much work you have to do when you’re not being distracted by office politics.”

Anyway, this is going to be less of a plot point by plot point recap and more…a sort of…movie review if you can imagine such a thing.

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Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Whereas other film-makers are driven to explore certain themes or character archetypes or genres, what seems to get Robert Zemeckis out of bed every morning artistically is the tech: How can this or that new special effects technique be used to tell a story that’s never been told? And while I personally don’t think that’s necessarily the greatest starting point for telling a story, fair is fair, it’s lead Zemeckis to create some truly fantastic films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy and also movies that people insist on thinking are fantastic, like Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

Robert Zemeckis is a true film-making pioneer. And by “pioneer” I mean “person who goes to strange new places that it might have been better for all involved if he’d stayed at home”. Specifically, with his 2004 film The Polar Express he discovered the Uncanny Valley and liked it so much he decided to build a cabin and the spend the rest of his career there. Today’s movie is part of a sequence of Zemeckis directed and/or produced movies that used the gimmick of taking famous actors and slathering them in digital paint to create something that eschews the believability of live action while also avoiding the tedious charm and inventiveness of animation (I know, right? Isn’t that the dream?). Seriously though, I am genuinely agog at the amount of time and money Zemeckis has spent on something that could never be anything other than the worst of both worlds. Motion capture can be a wonderful tool, sure, and many films make excellent use of it. But Zemeckis seems to want this one tool to be the whole movie. It’s like he’s trying to build a house entirely out of spanners. It would be pointless, as there are far better materials to build a house out of and a spanner house would be ugly, cold and utterly unsuited for actual human beings so I think this metaphor is doing trojan work.

In case I’m being a little too subtle up in here, Mars Needs Moms is a bad, bad, bad film. It’s the kind of movie that legendary film critic Pauline Kael would have referred to as “a stinking pile of the devil’s ass biscuits”.

She was a treasure.

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“Since when is a shortcut cheating?”

“Are you there God? It’s me. Mouse.”

“WHAT TROUBLES YOU MY SON?”

“Well, I’m supposed to review Captain Marvel…”

“AH, AND YOU’RE WORRIED BECAUSE YOU’RE KINDA OF MEH ON IT BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO INDULGE THE MOST TOXIC ELEMENTS OF FANDOM BY GIVING IT A BAD REVIEW?”

“Actually, I was more wondering whether I really have to give an exhaustive way-too-long explanation as to why there are so many DAMN characters named Captain Marvel?”

“YES, YOU DO.”

“Why?”

“BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I PUT YOU ON THIS EARTH TO DO.”

“Fair enough.”

That’s right people, we’re doing this. If you want to just skip ahead to my thoughts on the movie you’re free to join us after the jump. Just know that you’re dead to me. Now, I would bet good money that there have been more characters named “Captain Marvel” than any other superhero mantle. There have been a few Batmen, a bushel of Flashes and a whole mess o’ Green Lanterns, but by my count there have been no fewer than TWELVE Captain Marvels and that’s not even counting Captain Marvel Juniors, alternate future versions and weird rip-offs like Marvelman, Marvel Boy and the Marvellous Ms Maisel. So what gives? Well, it comes down to a combination of legal shenanigans, bad luck and weird coincidences far too complicated to go into here. Nonetheless, I will go into it them here.

Okay. So. Our story begins in 1940, a mere two years after National Comics (later DC) birthed the modern superhero genre with the creation of Superman. Fawcett Comics introduced their new character, Captain Marvel, whose gimmick was that he was actually a little boy named Billy Batson who turned into a suspiciously Superman-like superhero when he shouted his magic word “SHAZAM!”.

It was, and remains, one of the most perfect concepts for a superhero ever. If you subscribe to the belief that superheroes are, at their core, innocent power fantasies for small children, that is about as perfect a distillation of the concept as you can get. Kids could imagine one day growing up to be Superman. But you could be Captain Marvel now. And it was easy. Just say a magic word and you could be bigger, tougher, faster and smarter than anyone else. Which, when you’re a kid growing up in a world where everything is tough and confusing and bigger than you…that’s the dream, right? The comic also introduced the obligatory kid sidekick, Captain Marvel Junior and the almost as obligatory distaff counterpart; Mary Marvel:

She’s Billy Batson’s long-lost sister Mary Batson with the same powers who also took the Captain Marvel mantle for a time so we’re counting her. She’s also one of the very earliest female superheroes and beat Supergirl to the punch by almost a full decade. Anyway, back to Captain Marvel.

So not surprisingly, with such a killer concept, Captain Marvel quickly became the most popular superhero in America, even outselling his inspiration, Superman. National Comics, obviously, weren’t going to let that slide and brought in a new top-tier creative team with fresh ideas to re-vamp Superman and nah just kidding they just went crying to Johnny Law. National took Fawcett to court over copyright infringement and the judge decided that two Caucasian superheroes with black hair was just too big a coincidence and ruled in National’s favour. By this point, the superhero boom was on the wane so Fawcett simply ceased publishing Captain Marvel. That was not the end of the story. In fact, that was barely the beginning of the beginning. So now, let’s talk about Marvel Comics, and how they came to acquire…

“But what about me Mouse?”

“Oh Christ, I’d forgotten about you, MF Enterprises Captain Marvel.”

Yeah, okay, weird little digression here. By 1966 the rights to the character name “Captain Marvel” were up for grabs and a comics company called MF Enterprises published three issues featuring…this.

So…this is Captain Marvel. Allegedly. He’s an android who can split into his constituent parts by yelling “SPLIT!” which is a word. He reforms by yelling “XAM!”, which is not. His alter ego was Roger Winkle. He is, by near unanimous decree of the world’s foremost Marvelogists, the worst Captain Marvel. And it pains me to say this as he was created by Carl Burgos, creator of the greatest superhero of all time; the Original Human Torch.

Man loved his androids. That he did.

Alright moving on.

So National’s old rival Timely Comics had, by the sixties, changed their name to Marvel. Realising that the formerly most popular superhero in America coincidentally had the same name as their company, they figured it was a no-brainer to buy the name for themselves and create their own Captain Marvel.

The first Marvel Marvel was Mar-Vell, an alien spy of the Kree Empire who comes to Earth to prepare the way for an invasion and ends up falling in love with this planet of psychotic apes and becomes a superhero. Mar-Vell never really caught on as he was strictly squares-ville, daddio. He was like Reed Richards without the Thing as a foil, or Captain America without the instant, irrevocable cool that comes from having punched Hitler in the face. To make Mar-Vell more Hip to the Trends, Marvel roped in Rick Jones, perennial sidekick and the Young Peoples’ favourite. Now the status quo was that Mar-Vell was trapped in the Negative Zone but could swap places with Rick Jones in the real world whenever he was needed, a premise that superficially resembled the Billy Batson/Captain Marvel set-up while simultaneously losing everything that made that concept appealing. Captain Marvel asks “what if you could turn into an all-powerful superhero” and Captain Mar-Vell asks “what if you could go to a lightless never-ending void while a strange grown man did things with your body?”

One of them is timeless wish-fulfillment, the other is the kind of thing that takes many years of costly therapy to process.

So it’s not surprising that, like Shakespeare’s Thane of Cawdor, nothing became Mar-Vell in this life like the leaving of it. The best remembered Mar-Vell story is Jim Starlin’s The Death of Captain Marvel, in which Captain Marvel applies for a mortgage just kidding he bites the big one. What made this story so unique at the time was that Mar-Vell doesn’t go down fighting some giant, world-ending threat. Instead, he succumbs to cancer and dies quietly in bed surrounded by his friends. The story was well received and is one of the reasons why Mar-Vell’s death is one of the few in comics to never have been permanently reversed (at the time of writing). And it’s at this point in our story that our Marvel-trickle becomes a full on Marvel-deluge.

So, this is the root of why there are so may DAMN Captain Marvels. Firstly, the name is versatile, gender-neutral and doesn’t nail you down. If your character is named “Batman”, for instance, you’re kind of limited in what kind of superhero he can be. Your options are basically; Weird Creature of the night, baseball-themed vigilante or British Officer’s Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman during the Great War. But for Captain Marvel, all you need is a character who is in some way marvellous and the superhero community’s famously lax attitude toward the chain of command. You can slap the name “Captain Marvel” on any random hero regardless of their power set and it makes about as much sense as any other. Secondly, it doesn’t really look good if the dude or dudette bearing the company’s name is a third string scrub (spoiler, a lot of these dudes and dudettes were third string scrubs), so when one Captain Marvel is a bust, editorial has plenty of incentive to reboot and try again. Case in point…

Monica Rambeau, an African American lady with energy powers, first debuted in 1982 before Mar-Vell’s sheets had even cooled. She didn’t have any connection to Mar-Vell and didn’t keep the name for too long, later being renamed Photon, Pulsar and Spectrum to the point where she’s one of those superheroes who’s better known by her civilian name. Monica is actually one of the most successful of the Marvel Marvels, rarely being off the shelves. As a diversity two-fer with a cool power set and pretty solid fanbase, she’s appeared in multiple team books such as the Ultimates, Nextwave and even lead the Avengers for a time.

Alright, how many is that? FIVE?!

Okay speed round. The Vells!

Okay, Genis-Vell. Mar-Vell’s son who took up the old man’s mantle before going crazy and then dying. Interesting titbit; Peter David and Bill Jemas had a bet to see who could get the most sales for their respective books. David at the time was writing the Genis-Vell version of Captain Marvel and Jemas was writing Marville which was…it was something. It was many things. Post modern deconstruction of superheroes. Satire of  the Aol-Time Warner Merger. Philosophical-religious treatise. Strong contender for worst comic of all time. Captain Marvel won that one, which I’m mentioning because God knows these characters need something in the win column.

I am very tired and I have not even begun the review. Phyla Vell!

Genis-Vell’s sister. Took up the mantle after his death before becoming the new Quasar (another cosmic superhero mantle that gets around). Played a pretty big role in the Annihilation sagaaka one of the greatest comic events of all time, so she’s okay by Mouse.

“Aw, thanks Mouse.”

“SHUT UP AND KEEP MOVING THERE’S NO TIME!!”

Who’s next? Oh didn’t think I’d remember you did you, Amalgam Captain Marvel!?

“Bless you, kind sir.”

So funny story, after killing the original Billy Batson Captain Marvel in court, DC comics actually bought the rights to Fawcett’s old characters. However, since Marvel had trademarked the name “Captain Marvel” this meant that DC could use Billy Batson’s Captain Marvel but couldn’t actually call any of the comics he was in “Captain Marvel”. And that’s why DC have desperately been trying to gaslight you into believing that the character is actually named “Shazam” for the last few decades. Incidentally, Eggman is actually named Robotnik and we have always been at war with Eurasia. Anyway, in the early nineties DC and Marvel did a crossover called DC versus Marvel where the two universes collided. This culminated in a glorious bit of silliness where the two companies created Amalgam Comics, an entire comics line of grotesque merged abominations like DarkClaw (Batman crossed with Wolverine) and Super Soldier (Superman smushed into Captain America). Billy Mar-Vell was the result of cross-breeding DC’s Captain Marvel with Marvel’s Captain Marvel and I’ve typed the word “Marvel” so often now the word has lost all meaning and has become a weird glyph.

“Mouse! We’ve got no room left for all these Captains Marvel!”

“STACK ‘EM SIDEWAYS LIKE FIREWOOD WE’RE NOT STOPPING!”

Next up is…oh not this asshole…

Kh’nhr. Oy. Okay, so during the Civil War event Reed Richards was building a Gitmo for superheroes in the Negative Zone and discovered that Captain Marvel (Mar-vell, obviously, why would that be confusing?) was still floating around in there because time in the Negative Zone is loopy doopy. Reed is all “hey, so you’re gonna die of cancer in the future but while you’re here, wanna help me trample on your friends’ civil liberties?” and Mar-Vell says “sure”. He then spends a few issues moping and doing absolutely feck all until it’s revealed that this Captain Marvel is actually a Skrull sleeper agent impersonating Captain Marvel named Kh’nhr. That’s right. The Skrulls sent this guy to Earth disguised as someone who was already dead. From this, we can deduce that they thought he sucked and deserved to die. They were correct.

Who’s next? Mahr-Vell from the Ultimate universe.

He’s like Mar-Vell. But in the Ultimate Universe. Got an extra “H” in his name. Like Mar-Vell, he turned on his Kree Masters to save the Earth. Unlike Mar-Vell, he came to regret it as everyone in the Ultimate Universe was a massive asshole.

Okay, coming up to the home stretch now.

Noh-Varr! Birthed from the Victorian opium den that is the mind of Grant Morrison, Noh-Varr is yet another Kree but this time from an alternate reality who washes up on Earth like a drunken sailor. A bad experience with SHIELD has him declare war on Earth and all humanity but he was eventually convinced to become a hero by Kh’nhr, which is is basically like being inspired to pursue a career in music after a chance encounter with Kid Rock. Usually going by Marvel Boy or Protector, he is on this list solely for that one time Norman Osborn recruited him to be on his Dark Avengers team as Captain Marvel. He peaced out as soon as he realised that they were actually the bad guys. Which, considering they were called the “Dark Avengers” he really should have twigged earlier. Thank God he’s pretty.

Which brings us to drumroll please…

Carol Danvers. Actually one of the older characters on this list, but the newest and current Captain Marvel. Back in the seventies, Marvel was in the habit of cranking out distaff versions of their male characters just so nobody else could do it first (which is how you got She-Hulk, Spider-Woman and Womanverine)*. One of these characters was Carol Danvers, aka Ms Marvel who gains Mar-Vell’s powers after being caught in an explosion with him and getting some of his DNA (that’s their story, anyway). She had her own series written by Chris Claremont which didn’t sell but was well regarded by those who read it. After it was cancelled, she bounced around the Marvel universe for a while until the creative team decided to celebrate their #200th issue with a story where Carol is abducted, brainwashed and raped by her own child. And it’s presented as a love story.

Man, I hope ToysRus got their money back.

Fortunately Chris Claremont was having none of it, and when he was handed the reigns to X-Men he had Carol deliver an epic “Fuck You” to the Avengers for basically abandoning her to her rapist and had her join the X-Men. Claremont ended up using a lot of the concepts that he had originally intended to use for Ms. Marvel, in case you were wondering why a series ostensibly about mutants fighting racism features so many aliens and giant flaming space birds. Anyway, her presence on the X-Men during Claremont’s run cemented Carol’s position as pretty much the most popular Captain Marvel-adjacent character at Marvel. So when the time came for Marvel to try for the UMPTEENTH GODDAMNED time to have a Captain Marvel that people actually gave a shit about she was pretty much the only choice. How’d that work out? Well…Marvel’s attempts at pushing her harder than Roman Frickin’ Reigns has definitely created some backlash, but there’s no denying that she’s the first Marvel Captain Marvel to have any real purchase in the popular consciousness. And of course, a big part of that is today’s movie.

Which I am finally starting to review after two and half thousand words what the hell was I thinking?

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Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

There are movies that I am just aching to review. Where I have jokes and observations and asides all ready and planned literally years in advance. Where I am just absolutely raring to go.

And then there’s movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, a movie that almost feels engineered by some nefarious super villain to be absolutely impossible for me to review. Every tool in my critical toolbox is rendered useless by this thing. Can I rave about it? Honestly, no. It’s one of the slightest of the Studio Ghibli films, I didn’t grow up with it and I don’t have any particular affection for it.  Can I slam it? Hell no, it’s still Studio Ghibli after all and an absolute technical triumph. I can’t really do story analysis, because there’s not really much story. Is it even interestingly weird? It is quite possibly the most grounded and least weird piece of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen (low bar, I know, but still). Interesting or troubled production? Nope. Apparently it was just…like…a movie…that…got…made. No one went crazy during production. None of the animators were involved in a murder suicide pact. Nothing. Damn selfish, I call it.

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The Rise of Skywalker I saw (and nobody else did)

Spoilers for The Last Jedi from the outset, spoilers for Rise of Skywalker after the jump. 

I sense a great disturbance in the fandom…

Rise of Skywalker has begun its inevitable conquest of the global box office and people are about as mad at it as it is possible to be at something while still giving it a billion dollars. Call me Nostradamouse but I have the feeling this is going to end with two extremely angry, polarised factions dominating the fandom, those who love The Last Jedi and those who love Rise of Skywalker. And, while history shows that eventually the changes to canon Rise of Skywalker has wrought will be grudgingly accepted just like the New Editions, Midi-Chlorians, Leia being Luke’s sister, Jar Jar and the Ewoks…things are still pretty raw right now.

This is not my review of Rise of Skywalker because I’m not going to be doing a review of Rise of Skywalker because other than the occasional obscure bit of media here and there Star Wars is a picked clean zebra carcass on the Serengeti of the internet. Honestly, I don’t think I have anything to add by reviewing any of these movies. But in the coming great Jedi/Skywalker debate this is where I am:

Rian Johnson tried something bold, gutsy, admirable and radically deconstructive with The Last Jedi. Unfortunately, he did it with Star Wars, possibly the one major franchise least suited to that kind of take. Star Wars is very purposefully echoing the ancient tales laid out in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. They are supposed to be hero tales of the very oldest sort. What Johnson did was give us a fairy tale where the prince finds out he’s actually the heir to a small pub in the Netherlands, then gets eaten by the dragon, and the Princess frees herself and goes on to found a successful chain of business schools. It’s…different. Certainly. It subverts your expectations, no doubt. It’s probably got something frightfully clever to say about privilege and gender roles and such but it is also, on a very fundamental level, unsatisfying.  During Last Jedi I felt the following conversation was taking place.

“Ha! Isn’t this great? You don’t want to see some boring story about a Chosen One discovering a shocking secret lineage and fulfilling their Destiny as the galaxy’s saviour!”

“Of course not, why else would I be watching a Star Wars movie? Now please do something about all these ghastly space-ships.”

As for Rise of Skywalker, while the desperate back-peddling Abrams carries out to undo two of Johnson’s most significant choices would be hilarious if it wasn’t so bloody artless, I do kinda feel for the guy. Johnson left him with some very large corners to paint himself out of and precious little paint to do it (may cover that in another post). And yeah, Rise of Skywalker is a big messy, fan-servicey mess of fan-service (I’m a writer, me) but you know what? It’s fun. It’s got Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley having adventures and shooting flying storm troopers with C-3PO and Chewie and that is a good time. And Star Wars should be fun. Last Jedi feels like a slog, slowly watching our heroes being winnowed down and ground under by disappointments and betrayals.

Rise of Skywalker is like your typical Irishman. He has faults, and be God he has many of them. But he’s mad craic.

 But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the version of Rise of Skywalker that I saw and no one else did…

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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

If you like Unshaved Mouse please consider supporting my Patreon.

Guys, tell me the truth. Am I going soft?

Do I just not have the same bile and critical killer instinct I once had?

Because I feel like I just don’t hate the way I used to. Maybe the Christmas spirit has managed to claw its way into my chest and lay its eggs along my cardiac wall. To put it another way, I’ve reviewed three Disney sequels/continuations this year and gave a positive review to every durn one of ‘em.

“Hey, it’s Old Man Mouse, let’s throw snowballs at him!”

“Why you little…beat it, you sequels!”

“Ooooh, whaddya gonna do? Give us a mixed to positive review?”

“Gasp! They’re not AFRAID of me anymore.”

It was with this in mind that I decided to review Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, Frozen short (well, I say “short”) that got people’s dander up something fierce two years ago when it was released preceding Coco. Whereas people were expecting a nice light, seven minute appetiser, they instead got a hefty twenty-one minute late lunch and the backlash was fierce enough that some theatres actually had signs warning ticket-holders that the snowman movie would be taking up more of their precious lives than they might have budgeted for. And, because it’s the 2010s and life is hell, the movie was also accused of racism, with the reasoning being that Disney were too racist to trust people to come and see a movie about Hispanic people without it being preceded by a short set in Scandinavia before the movie about Hispanic people that they had spent $175 million dollars making.

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure

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

Yeah, but why though?

TangledYou gave a sequel series to Tangled? Aladdinfine. Big Hero SixCrying out for it. But Tangled?!

Hey, got nothing against the film. Y’all know that. #9 on my rankings. But of all the canon movies to try and spin a series of ongoing adventures out of why would you…

“Mouse?”

“What is it, SMOWE?”

“I just came to say goodbye. I’m going on a journey to find myself.”

“You’re going to…what?”

“What is my purpose? Who am I, really? Why am I called Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe when most of the time I’m not even that sarcastic? I don’t know where I’ll find the answers to these questions. All I know is, it’s not here.”

“Wait a minute, is this because tvtropes called you a Flat Character?”

“Farewell my friend.”

Well…speaking of characters with hidden layers going off on adventures no one expected or even asked for, what even is this nonsense?

Firstly, what are the two things everyone knows about Rapunzel? She’s got long golden hair, and she’s trapped in a tower. By the end of Tangled, neither of those are true anymore. This is like doing a Robin Hood show where he no longer robs from the rich and has instead become a quantity surveyor. Plus, the movie’s only real villain is dead. And it’s not like this was a particularly rich world that desperately needed exploring.

Nothing against Corona. Lovely scenery, good schools, suspiciously low crime rate. But it’s a pretty generic fantasy kingdom, and fairy light on the fantasy at that. There’s no real magic apart from one flower. No mythical beasts that we see other than a horse who may be some kind of equine god.

And on top of that, we already know how the story ends! Tangled Ever After shows Rapunzel and Eugene getting married with all the main characters from the first movie still alive and the status quo from the end of the first film in rude good health. So what you’ve got is a series where either nothing can happen, or anything that does happen will be reversed and will be ultimately meaningless. Which is why I feel confident in predicting, sight unseen, that this series is garbage and a waste of everyone’s valuable time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to go and validate my obviously correct first impression.

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Bats and Bolts versus Bandages and there are also Werewolves: Sommertime Sadness

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

“But THEN the blogger realised that his next scheduled post fell on HALLOWEEN!”

“Ooooooh.”

“Which meant that he had to review a SPOOKY movie or the commenters would piss and MOAN for all eternity.”

“Oh crap…”

“But THEN…when he went to look at his scheduled reviews…wading through Marvel movies, and Disney films and a metric shit-ton of animé the only horror movie that was left for him to review was…”

“VAN HELSING!”

“AHHHHHHH!”

“DUDE! DUDE! NOT COOL! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

“And the worst part is, this is a true story AND THAT BLOGGER WAS ME!!”

So a funny thing happened when I selected Van Helsing to be this year’s hastily thrown together Halloween offering. I watched it for the first time and it was so utterly awful that I realised I could not watch it again for the review. I am dead serious. Faced with sitting through all two hours and twenty five minutes of that monstrosity my brain temporarily paralysed me in my chair and said to me: “You watch that thing again, I am growing a tumour. Don’t try me, fool.”

And I did not go into this expecting to hate it. I was expecting trash. Fun trash. But this movie isn’t trash, it’s sewage. It’s just…God, I hate it. And this got me thinking, why is this movie so bad when it’s got so much in common with another film that I genuinely, unironically love:

Image result for the mummy 1994

Seriously, this flick’s my jam. Maybe not a top twenty film, but it’s a trusty old friend that I’m always happy to see. Now consider this:

Both these films are written by Stephen Sommers

Both these films were directed by Stephen Sommers.

Both these films are edited by Bob Ducsay.

Both are (at least nominally) action-horror-comedy remakes of Golden Age Universal horror flicks.

I guess my question is; what the fuck happened? Why are these two films, which are so similar on paper, on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of enjoyability? So, because I don’t really fancy getting a tumour, instead of doing the standard beat for beat review of Van Helsing, I thought it might be more interesting to compare these two movies in a Bats Versus Bolts style face off. With the understanding that this is less “Which movie is better?” and more “Why is the terrible one so terrible?”

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin and the King of Thieves

Guys, we need to talk about Genie.

From a story-telling perspective, Genie is kind of a curse for the Aladdin franchise, a problem that has to be perpetually written around.

He is what Phoenix was to the X-Men, or Sentry was to the Avengers, a character so ridiculously over-powered that the writers have to bend over backwards to justify why he doesn’t just solve everything with a snap of his fingers and leave the rest of the cast standing there looking like a bunch of putzes.

And that’s just from a story-telling perspective. Of any character from the original film, the one who least needs a continuation to their story is Genie. I mean, fine, you could argue that none of the main cast were really crying out for a new chapter but at least with Aladdin, Jasmine and even Iago there places to go. Genie? Genie’s done. He wanted to be free. He’s free. Can he learn? Can he grow? No.

He already knows who Rodney Dangerfield is. There is nothing more for him to learn.

Which creates a problem. From a strict story-telling perspective, once you’re past the first movie, Genie really should have been quietly shown the door. Maybe have him pop in to say “hi” every now and then and make some pop culture references but having him remain as a main cast member just creates two mountains of work for the writers: the first as to how involve him in the plot and the second as to how to stop him just ending the plot in five seconds.

But…they can’t. Because he’s the Genie. Probably the most popular character in the franchise (heck, one of the most popular Disney characters period) and you can’t have Aladdin without him.

I bring this up because King of Thieves (an otherwise quite fine movie and a worthy finale to a decent TV show) is where this problem is probably at its most blatant. Return of Jafar had very little for Genie to do, but sidelined him for long stretches of its run time, but King of Thieves has even less for Genie to do and perversely, gives him far more screentime.

And the reason for that, of course, is ROBIN’S BACK BABY!

Yeah. After a campaign of grovelling and mea-culpas and a gift of a fruckin $1 Million Picasso, Robin Williams and Disney had finally patched up their differences for the kids and their associated revenue. Poor Dan Castellenata, who by this time had clocked in over forty hours of screentime as the Genie and had even recorded his dialogue for this movie was unceremoniously given the boot and Williams was brought in to re-record everything.

Adding insult to injury, Disney apologised to Castellenata with a frickin’ Renoir.

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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…

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