(1950s)

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.

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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.
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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”.

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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.

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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“.

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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. 

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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.

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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??!!

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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.

 

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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.

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Horse #12: Cinderella

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

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Around two years ago I read an interview with the head of Dreamworks, Jeffrey Katzenburg, where he outlined the studio’s plans for the next ten years or so. It was essentially this:

Two more Madagascar films. (the first of these has since come out)

Two more (at least) How to Train Your Dragons.

Five more Kung Fu Panda Movies.

The movie industry is, to put it mildly, in a state of panic. Its market share is shrinking in the face of competition from digital entertainment and television and it’s increasingly looking like it doesn’t really know what people want anymore. Adding to their problems, the only genres of movie that consistently generate buffo box office, (animated movies, superhero films, sci-fi/fantasy) are also damn expensive to make. Which is why, when one of those movies does well at the box office, it gets a sequel almost without exception.

Movie people are not bad people. They just want what we want: certainty. They just want to be sure that if they invest millions of dollars into a movie that they’re not going to be living out of a cardboard box by the time the box office receipts are tallied up. In the movie business, a willingness to take risks and be original, to gamble several fortunes of investors’ money on something that you have no way of knowing will be a success, to risk your reputation and your finances for a dream requires nothing less than balls of steel.

You rang?

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