(1950s)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Back in the thirties, they laughed when Walt Disney said that he was going to make a feature length animated film. “Oh, how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little cartoon man thinks he can make movies”.

The little cartoon man then proceeded to make Snow Whiteone of the most successful movies of all time. Then, a decade later, Disney announced that he was branching out into live action movies.

“Oh how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little animated feature man thinks he can make movies with real people”.

At which point Disney fixed them with a steely glare and said “Okay, just for that? I’m going to own you. All of you. It may take decades but I now dedicate my every waking moment to ensuring that one day, everything you own will belong to me. Every movie you’ve ever made, every studio, every piece of merchandise, every character. You sneeze, I will own the dirty hankie. Every red cent you ever earn will one day BELONG TO WALTER ELIAS DISNEY SO I SWEAR ON THE OLD GODS AND THE NEW.”

And they chortled at that because some motherfuckers never learn, do they?

An important step on Disney’s path to total global conquest were their live action films of the 1950s. These were usually classic tales of derring do from literature dressed up real nice with a few catchy songs. Probably the best remembered film of this era was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on Jules Verne’s staggeringly prophetic novel about how big an impact submarines were going to have on all our lives.

Leagues marked something of a watershed moment for Disney’s live-action fare as it was the first Disney film to get a really top-tier cast with household names like Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason. In fact, even though Disney had already made several fairly successful live action movies at this point, Kirk Douglas needed quite a bit of coaxing, with his part being substantially altered at his request.

“Okay, so Ned Land should be introduced with two hotties on either arm.”

“Fine.”

“And he has to win every fight he’s in!”

“Fine.”

“And everytime he’s not onscreen, everyone should be wandering around going “Where’s Ned? Where’s Ned?”

“Fine.”

“And I want my son to play Ant-Man!”

“That is a WEIRD ask, but okay.”

As director, Walt hired director Richard Fleischer, much to Fleishcer’s surprise as he was the son of Max Fleischer, Disney’s long-time rival.

“Don’t you hate him?”

“Richard my boy, I keep my friends close, my enemies closer and the people my enemies care about in the same building where I work. Under armed guard.”

“Ah. So. Am I a director or a hostage?”

“The job calls for you to fill several roles.”

(more…)

Bats versus Bolts: Hammer Time!

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

Has there ever been a studio so wholly identified with a single genre as Hammer? Even though the studio in its day produced comedies, science fiction films and dramas, this English studio is so inextricably linked with its horror output that you’d have a hard time convincing the man on the street that there isn’t, and never has been, a film studio called “Hammer Horror”. You can’t fight alliteration, man.

Nowadays the Hammer canon is beloved as cosy, oh-so-British mid-century film-making. A pleasant, rainy bank holiday afternoon with Granny might easily be spent watching Christopher Lee sucking some poor unfortunate tavern wench’s claret through her jugular. But back in the day, these things were edgy. When The Curse of Frankenstein was released in 1957 critics rended their garments and proclaimed it the harbinger of the end of civilization, a disgusting affront to decency, nothing but violence, cleavage, blood and all kinds of unthinkable depravity by Jove.

Aaaaaaaand the British public responded by ensuring that the movie made its budget back seventy times over.

After that, Hammer’s fate was sealed. Hammer and the horror genre were wedded on the spot and the marriage has, with a few bumps along the way, continued all the way to the present day.

Unlike last time, this bout promises to be a much more closely fought affair, as we have The Curse of Frankenstein starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee versus Dracula starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Both considered to be among the greatest horror films ever made, both featuring absolutely iconic performances. This is going to be a monster mash for the ages.

(more…)

Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959)

A thought occurred to me going into this review: I’ve probably written more about Donald Duck than any other cartoon character. Throughout the life of this blog he’s been following me around like a little, white, feathery stalker:

Saludos AmigosMelody TimeFun and Fancy Free, Der Fuehrer’s FaceAdorable Couple, Fantasia 2000, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and of course The Three Caballeros, the movie that turned a regular dime-a-dozen review blog into the seething cauldron of madness it is today.

And I think that speaks to the character’s versatility. Donald’s got layers, man. He can be a skirt-chasing lady’s man, a plucky underdog, a swashbuckling adventurer, a child-like innocent, a scheming trickster, an acerbic straight-man, a devoted and loving parent, a hard-ass authoritarian or a cow-murdering psycho killer and it all feels like the same character. He’ll fit into a lot more situations than Goofy, say, while at the same time retaining a distinct personality and never succumbing to samey genericness like Mickey. That probably explains why he’s the hardest working cartoon character around, he can do it all. Even teaching kids about maths.

“You mean “math”.”

“I mean SHUT YOUR BURGER HOLE YANKEE PIG DOG!”

“Wow, that escalated quickly.”

“Hey who are you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who’s this new continent, what’s he gonna do?”

“Um…I’m North America? I’ve been here for ages, guys.”

“North America what?”

“Uh…North America the continent?”

“No, no, no, you need a gimmick. Like Gangsta Asia, or Otaku Oceania or Gullible Latin America.”

“I thought I was Handsome Latin America?”

“Of course you are.”

“Oh good.”

“Come my friend, it’s continent makeover time baby!”

“Guys, c’mon, I got a review to do.”

“Yeah. And we’re padding things out to hide the fact that it’s only 28 minutes long, you have no idea how to start this review and you don’t know anything about maths.”

“It’s math.”

“SILENCE YOU EAGLE FONDLING RUNNING JACKAL!”

Which brings me neatly to Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land.

“Smooooth…”

(more…)

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Americans calling my nation’s national holiday “Saint Patty’s Day” is one of those things that, as an Irishmouse, I am supposed to be Very Annoyed About. Honestly, it doesn’t bug me. Way I see it, if Irish Americans hadn’t turned March 17 into a major celebration of Irish identity and history in the eighteen hundreds, today the feast of Saint Patrick would be about as big a deal as the third Sunday of Ordinary Time so I say let ‘em call it whatever they like. At this point, it’s as much theirs as ours. Ireland and America have always had a very close relationship, culturally. This has often been a very positive thing, but it does cause problems. Picture Ireland as a man with a very quiet voice and a huge megaphone with the words “MADE IN AMERICA” emblazoned on it. Ireland has a global cultural presence and clout far, far beyond what you’d expect for a small country with a relatively paltry population and that’s largely due to the outsize influence Irish emigrants have had in the shaping of the world’s only cultural hyperpower. But what that means is that what the world perceives as “Irishness” is often filtered first through an American prism. Small Irish voice, big American megaphone. The result is that how we’re perceived by the rest of the world is often completely out of our hands.  Take a look at this picture:

The photo was taken in 1946 in County Kerry in the West of Ireland. The gentleman on the left is one Séamus Delargy, the founder of the Irish Folklore Commission, an organisation tasked with collecting and cataloguing the vast body of oral folklore, songs and poetry that had been passed down by word of mouth by the Irish people since time immemorial. The Irish Folklore Commission, incidentally, later became the Irish Folklore Department in University College Dublin where I got the degree that has made me the wealthy, eminently employable mouse I am today.

Oh, and the guy on the right is Walt Disney.

So, around the end of the second world war, Disney had set his heart on making a film based on Irish legends (Disney’s great-grandfather was from Kilkenny). He was put in touch with Delargey and over the next decade the two men corresponded continously. Delargy viewed Disney’s film as a chance to bring some of the treasure trove of Irish folklore his commission had uncovered to a wider audience, and dispatched crates of books, plays and manuscripts to Burbank. To Delargy’s disappointment however, Disney eventually decided to base his Irish film on Herminie Templeton Kavanagh’s “Darby O’Gill” books. Here we have the relationship between Irish folklore and it’s American amanuenses personified. Delargy says “Here is a huge and varied body of folktales full of magic, heroes, epic quests, tricksters and romance.” and Disney replies “That’s nice. Leprechauns, please.”

This movie’s reputation is a little hard to assess. In America, it’s fairly obscure, but amongst those who know of it it’s quite highly regarded. Hell, no less an authority than Leonard Malthin, a man who eats Disney movies and shits special limited edition Blu-Rays , called it “not only one of Disney best films, but certainly one of the best fantasies ever put to film.”

Well. Clearly SOMEONE’s never seen Hawk the Slayer.

 In Ireland it is most certainly not obscure. And our relationship to this particular movie is…complicated. It was a huge hit when it was released here, with Disney himself attending the Dublin premiere which virtually brought the city to a standstill. But it arrived at a very crucial period in Irish history, when Taoiseach Seán Lemass was trying to cast off the nation’s image as a rural backwater and promote Ireland as a modern economy ready to do business with the world. The success of this movie and it’s bucolic image of rural towns and cheerfully superstitious peasants had many in government muttering between clenched teeth: “You. Are. Not. Helping.” Today it remains a staple of Irish television, particularly around Saint Patrick’s day, and is one of those movies that almost every Irish person has seen once, along with Michael Collins and Die Hard*. But there has always been an undercurrent of resentment to this movie, with many feeling that it’s…what’s the word I’m looking for?

“Racist?”

“Ah, no.”

But “Darby O’Gill” has definitely become a shorthand for fake, inauthentic Oirishness in film. But is that reputation justified? Let’s take a look, just to be sure. To be sure.

To be sure.

(more…)

Bully for Bugs (1953)

Jiminy Christmas, hard to believe we’re already halfway through Shortstember. I’ve honestly been having a blast with these reviews and I hope you have too. The downside of focusing on only one short per decade, though, is that we’re now halfway through the twentieth century and I’ve already missed two chances to talk about Bugs Frickin’ Bunny and the Goddamn Looney Tunes and that shit ain’t right. The Looney Tunes series of shorts and its sister series Merry Melodies began in 1930 and 1931 respectively, as a naked attempt by Warner Bros to ride Disney’s coattails in the wake of Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies Shorts. In case you’re wondering, the different between Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies originally was that the ‘Tunes were in black and white and the Melodies were in colour (kinda, Disney had Technicolour exclusively at the time) and certain characters were exclusive to each (Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny both started out in a Merry Melody despite now being the quintessential Looney Tune characters). By the forties though, both series were being done in colour and characters were freely crossing over from one series to the other and there wasn’t really any appreciable difference between the two. So, if I say “Looney Tunes” from here on in, just assume I’m talking about a Warners Brothers short that could have been either a Looney Tune or a Merry Melody. Makes no difference. They’re all beautiful, man.

Broadly speaking, (and I rarely speak any other way), the Looney Tunes started out as Poor Man’s Disney in the thirties, had become the sassy, irreverent anti-Disney by the forties but by the fifties Disney were completely out of the equation. Warner Bros had established an artistic and comedic sensibility that was entirely their own and was beholden to nobody. And we talk a lot about how funny these shorts were (and make no mistake, a top-tier Looney Tune is nothing less than the Platonic ideal of comedy itself) but less discussed is just how beautiful the shorts of this period had become, with special credit due to the absolutely stunning backgrounds of Maurice Noble.
noble-1
noble-2
noble-3
As for the animation, by the fifties the Looney Tunes characters had evolved from rubber limbed, bug-eyed loons to comic actors with the poise and timing of a Carey Grant or Peter Sellers. The phrase “Looney Tunes” conjures images of anarchic, bombastic violence but the fifties-era shorts are possessed of a wonderful sense of subtlety and comedic restraint. Forties era Bugs Bunny might turn to the audience and yell “Crazy, ain’t it?!”. Fifties era Bugs Bunny does the same gag with a single, perfectly raised eyebrow. This is the era where you get shorts like “One Froggy Evening”, “What’s Opera Doc?”, “Duck Amuck” and the hunting trilogy (“Duck Season! Wabbit Season!”). Every element just came into its own here, the direction, the voice acting by the incomparable Mel Blanc, the animation, the writing, the music…
To watch Looney Tunes shorts from the fifties is to be in the hands of masters at the very top of their game.
I’m not going to review one of the really big name shorts like the ones I’ve already mentioned because I try to go a little off the beaten track with this series (Steamboat Willie was an exception because its influence is so vast I knew I’d have to talk about it anyway) so instead, let’s take a look at 1953’s “Bully for Bugs”.

(more…)

Cinderelly audioy is now uppy!

Hi guys,

 

The audio review for Cinderella is now up and looking for a loving home in your earholes. Big thanks to Erik Copper for all his hard work in revealing the tyranny of the Mouse Queen in audio form. And don’t forget, I’m still taking suggestions for movies for the Charity Movie Death Match, so leave ’em in the comments here.

Mouse out

Disney Reviews by the Unshaved Mouse #16: Sleeping Beauty

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.

***

Let’s talk a little about “house styles” shall we? A house style is basically where you have a large number of creators working on a single work, and so they modify their individual artistic voices to conform to a uniform style. The goal is essentially to make something that is the product of all these individual people seem like it’s the work of one person, a single artistic voice.

Say you’re a journalist. Depending on which publication you get work for, you will have to write in a completely different style than you might normally use. It’s almost like becoming a different person. 

This is you as the New York Times…

…The Sun…

…The Guardian…

…aaand the Daily Mail. Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week!

It’s something that most writers have to deal with, and learning to adapt to a house style is a vital skill for anyone hoping to make their living as a scribe. And I absolutely SUCK at it. I learned this when I tried to get a job writing for Ireland’s most popular soap opera.

My idea was for a two year long crossover with Eastenders set during a zombie apocalypse, but here’s the thing…the zombies are actually GHOSTS.

Pff. No RTÉ. I think you’ll find that it is you who are “wildly impractical“.

(more…)

Disney Reviews by the Unshaved Mouse #15: Lady and the Tramp

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. 

***

Hello everyone. A little bit of housekeeping before we get into this week’s movie. Back in my Alice in Wonderland review I used three racist anti-Irish cartoons to demonstrate why nineteenth century artist John Tenniel was invited to suck my…ahem…unshaved mouse. Now, I’ve since discovered that one of these cartoons:

THIS little treasure.

…was actually not by Tenniel but by his contemporary Thomas Nast. Which honestly I should have twigged as their styles are quite noticeably different. I’ve since changed the Alice review but I felt I should come clean anyway. So yeah, I was sloppy. Sorry. John Tenniel?

Ahoyhoy?

 I apologise for confusing you with that OTHER racist dick weasel.

Oh, quite alright my dear fell…I SAY!

So, now that I’ve hopefully eaten enough crow..

Figure of speech, figure of speech! God! Don’t look at me like that.

…we can get on with the review.

(more…)

Disney Reviews by the Unshaved Mouse #14: Peter Pan

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. Would you like me to review a particular animated film? I’m currently fundraising for my play Joanna and I need your help! In exchange for every donation of €10 or more I will review ANY cartoon you like. Details HERE.

The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light tiptoed across the waters; and by and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremor ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

JM Barrie, Peter Pan

I don’t know what it says about me that, on the cusp of my thirties, most of my favorite books are still children’s books. Watership Down, The Mouse and His Child and the inspiration for this week’s movie Peter Pan, by JM Barrie. Peter Pan is at once a rip-roaring children’s adventure, a great work of literature and a haunting meditation on the nature of childhood and innocence. It is a work of breathtaking, melancholy beauty. And yet, unlike many great works of literature, it seems perfectly suited for adaptation to screen (probably something to do with the fact that the story began life as a play). This is a story replete with sumptuous visuals and thrilling action, in the right hands you could make an absolutely fantastic Peter Pan movie. And they did.

In 2003.

Seriously. See this movie.

But that’s not the movie we’re looking at today. This is Disney’s 1953 adaptation. Well, I love Disney. And I love Peter Pan. This can’t go wrong, surely?

Why!? I love Jeff Goldblum AND Flies! HOW COULD THIS GO WRONG??!!

(more…)

Disney Reviews by the Unshaved Mouse #13: Alice in Wonderland

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. There is an audio version of this review here.

 

***

Here’s a controversial statement: Revenge of the Sith is my favorite Star Wars movie.

Here’s another controversial statement: I do not care for Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland. Never have. I can certainly see how it has some good individual elements, but for me the whole is just a series of bizarre, barely connected episodes featuring an unlikeable protagonist sprinkled with contemporary (at the time) political and cultural references in place of any real plot or characterisation. So basically it’s a nineteenth century Family Guy. 

Yeah. I just compared Alice in Wonderland to Family Guy. Come at me, bro.

But-but-but-but Mouse!” I hear you stammer “What about the iconic characters, the ingenious wordplay, the wonderful illustrations by John Tenniel?”

WHO SAID JOHN TENNIEL!!??

Okay, this is a comedy blog and I realise it can sometimes be a little hard to tell when I’m serious or not so let me make my feelings absolutely crystal clear…

John Tenniel…

…can suck…

…a DICK.

So that must mean I hate the Disney version, right? Well…funny story.

(more…)