(1990s)

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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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.”

(more…)

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Do you guys plot against me?

Seriously.

Do you sit in darkened rooms and tent your fingers and cackle darkly that “Yessssssssss, this shall break him?”

Because with these requests, you are officially taking the piss.

Guys, I review cartoons and superhero movies. That’s what works for me. That is my comfort zone. What made you think an austere, melancholy arthouse film like Where the Wild Things Are was a good fit for me? People, this movie is fancy. To review a movie like this you need to know about… like…shots…and…sound mixing and…mise en scenes and shit.

I mean, what’s next? A wacky Unshaved Mouse review of Andy Warhol’s Empire?

Bahia!

Heading into this review I feel like so many screenwriters who’ve tried to adapt Maurice Sendak’s 1963 classic children’s book must’ve felt; “How do I get a movie/review out of that?!”

But, I’m proud, I’m stubbourn and I’m too damn dumb to quit so let’s do this.

Where the Wild Things Are wasn’t really part of my childhood growing up, (we were a Dr. Seuss and Narnia fam), but I’ve come to appreciate it as an adult since it entered MiniMouse’s story rotation. In less than 200 words it tells the story of Max, a young boy dressed in a wolf costume who acts so wild that his mother sends him to bed without dinner. Then his room changes into a jungle, he goes on a journey, meets some monsters, becomes their  king, has a party, has a moment of reflection where he wonders what he’s even doing with his life and returns home to find his dinner waiting for him. That’s it.

But it’s not. Or maybe it is. Where the Wild Things Are is one of those books that’s just begging to be interpreted. It’s like, it’s there on your bookshelf, taunting you: “What could I mean? Oooooh, what could I mean? There’s a boy, in a wolf costume. Is he a metaphor for wild, unchecked masculinity? Look at my gorgeous art, am I not dripping in symbolism? What about the Goat Boy? He’s got to represent something, right?”

The Goat Boy represents goats.

Couple this with Sendak’s weird, elegant, ever so slightly off prose and you have all the elements of a cult classic: It’s pretty, it’s weird, and no one knows what the fuck it all means. It also sold like gangbusters, which put it in the company of books like Watchmen and Cloud Atlas, books that everyone wanted to make into a movie while having absolutely no idea how. It presents a unique problem to any adaptation; there’s simultaneously too much and too little. Disney worked on an animated adaptation for a while back in the eighties before finally throwing their hands in the air. But it was Maurice Sendak himself who finally decided that the best person to bring his story to the big screen was Spike Jonze, director of such modern classics as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and the single greatest thing ever:

Am I wrong?

Production began in 2006 and finished three years later, massively over-budget and dogged by rumours that its own studio hated it. How did it turn out? Well, we’re going to find out. On this blog. Where I review it. Because somebody thought that was a good idea.

(more…)

Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990)

Alright, this series of reviews that was supposed to last for one month has been going on since August so it might be a good time to pull the car over and try to figure out how we got here before the cannibal hillbillies come back. We started with animation in the silent era before moving to the dawn of integrated sound. We then had animated shorts as visual accompaniement and advertising for music and then as wartime proganda. Moving into the fifties we had the Golden Age of Warner Brothers shorts, the ignoble end of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies in the sixties, the advent of more adult themed animation in the seventies and the first glimmer of the Pixar era in the eighties. So that brings us up to the nineties, a decade I am old enough for it to still feel like it was ten years ago. Refresh my memory, what was happening in animation in the nineties? Oh that’s right! The renaissance!

 renaissance

No, no, no. The ACTUAL renaissance.

renaissance

 

Thank you.

So, exciting times. Great time to be an animation fan. Disney’s back, kicking ass and taking names, animé is more readily available in the west than ever before and even Western TV animation has stopped eating paste and is becoming increasingly not-awful. What changed? Well, the generation of kids who had grown up watching classic Disney movies and Warner Bros shorts were now adults and working in the film industry and wanted to bring the medium back to its former glory. Foremost amongst those kids was a guy called Steven Spielberg. Now, I say the word “Spielberg” and, depending on your age the first image that pops into your head is:

 jaws

Or…

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-274

Or…

AP-SS-233 The Spy Who Shagged Me , February 4, 2004 Photo by Blake Little/newline.wireimage.com To license this image (3905509), contact NewLine: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207-868-8940 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) NewLine.wireimage.com (web site)

Or..

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Or…

Schindler's List

But you probably don’t immediately think of animation. Nonetheless, Steven Spielberg is like the Forrest Gump of American animation post-1980. Practically every pivotal moment involved him somehow. Don Bluth? Spielberg produced his earliest films. The Disney Renaissance? Wouldn’t have happened without Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The drastic improvement in TV animation? Would have looked very different without Tiny Toons, Animanaics and Pinky and the Brain. Dreamworks? Whaddya think the “S” in “Dreamworks SKG” stands for, hombre?

Shaddup.

Shaddup.

So in the wake of Roger Rabbit’s incredible success, Spielberg’s production company Amblin and Disney partnered to bring the long defunct animated theatrical short roaring back to life with a series of high budget, high quality Roger Rabbit shorts. And my God, you just need to look at the calibre of talent attached to these things to see how serious they were. Rob Minkoff, who would later go on to direct the single greatest canon Disney movie of all time I said it it’s official no one can disagree it’s over I won,  super producers Don Hahn, Rob Marshall and Spielberg himself of course, Charles Fleischer and Lou Hirsch as Roger and Baby Herman and they even got Kathleen Frickin’ Goddamned Turner back to voice Jessica Rabbit even though she only averages three lines a short. So, before we go any further there’s two things you need to know about these shorts.

1)      As animation, they are absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

2)      As cartoons, they don’t really work.

That’s not to say that they’re complete failures. Anything this beautifully animated fully justifies its existence. But they are a fascinating example of the whole being less than the sum of the parts, and why sometimes fans of something are not always the most qualified people to make a new version of that thing. I’ll get back to that in a second. Only three shorts were made, with a fourth cancelled in pre-production and they very closely follow the formula established in Somethin’ Cookin’, the opening short in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The formula is as follows:

1)      Mommie Dearest leaves Baby Herman in the care of Roger Rabbit, warning him that there will be dire consequences if anything happens to him.

2)      Baby Herman wanders off into danger.

3)      Roger loses his goddamn shit and screams like a Bedlam inmate.

4)      Roger has to protect Baby Herman while suffering violence upon his body normally reserved for the Christ.

5)      Gratuitous Jessica Rabbit cameo.

6)      Gratuitous Droopy cameo.

7)      Roger ruins the take and bursts through the fourth wall into the real world and everybody hates him for being a screw up.

8)      FIN.

So let’s see how that plays out in practice with Roller Coaster Rabbit, the second short and by far the strongest.

(more…)

The Iron Giant (1999)

When I was a wee rodent there was a book in the school library called The Iron Man that I read many times. It’s a simple little fable, about a boy named Hogarth who befriends a giant robot of mysterious origin…and then the robot saves the world from a colossal alien dragon the size of Australia.
anywayyyy
I can’t honestly say I loved the book but it definitely stuck with me, as any novel featuring a continent sized extra-terrestrial dragon would and it’s picked up a largish following in the years since it was first published in 1968. One of those fans was Pete Townshend, the lead singer of that famous band.
"Who?"

“Who?”

"Yes."

“That’s them.”

Townshend adapted the story into a musical, the rights of which got picked up by Warner Bros, which had just swallowed Turner Feature Animation whole, along with most of its animators. One of those animators was a likely lad named Brad Bird, who has worked on some animation in his time and is generally understood to know what he’s doing. Bird was put in charge of adapting Townshend’s musical, which he did by making it…not a musical. ‘Kay. Regardless, when it was screened for test audiences the response was absolutely ecstatic. Unfortunately, Warner Bros had neglected to prepare any kind of marketing campaign for the movie because Quest for Camelot had tanked so badly the year before. This had convinced the excecs that audiences weren’t going to go see animated films that weren’t made by Disney.

Alice Facepalm

 Goddamit Warners. Quest for Camelot didn’t tank because audiences wouldn’t take a punt on non-Disney animation. Quest for Camelot tanked because sometimes God pays attention. So of course, released into theatres with zero publicity The Iron Giant crashed harder than a giant alien death machine falling from the sky. In the years since, it has become one of the most critically beloved animated American films of the 1990s. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Gargoyles: Eye of the Beholder

Okay, let’s get the important business out of the way.
IT HOLDS UP. LIKE, DAMN.
Rewatching Gargoyles for this review I was expecting a sugar rush of nostalgia and maybe a melancholy recognition that it was good for its time but not the masterpiece I remembered from childhood. I did NOT expect to get hooked and embark on an epic binge watch that had me wondering whether I could squeeze in just one more episode at four in the morning.  For those of you who never saw it, and you zygotes who are too young to remember, let me explain what Gargoyles was.
Take the shadowy urban action and moody aesthetic of Batman the Animated Series, add the “team of superhero creatures fighting evil in secret in modern day New York” setup of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, stir in some exceptionally high calibre voice talent, stellar writing and the finest animation Disney had done for TV up to that point, ladle in generous portions of Shakespeare and world mythology and add salt to taste. Boom. You got salty Gargoyles.
By the mid-nineties, there was something of a renaissance in television animation underway as studios moved away from the cheap, thinly disguised toy commercials of the eighties and started to create shows of a higher calibre. I described this in the Ducktales review, and while this renaissance was kickstarted by Disney, by the mid-nineties their TV output had in many ways been surpassed by rivals Warner Brothers, who had brought the thunder with such classic shows as Tiny Toons, Animanaics and of course Batman the Animated Series. This last one is the most relevant because Gargoyles is very much an attempt to beat Warner Bros at their own game and create their own BTAS. This led to some bad blood between the two shows, with Batman creator Bruce Timm dismissing gargoyles as “namby pamby…with all that Celtic fantasy crap.”
"Hi. Mr Timm? Unshaved Mouse. Huge fan. Go fuck a stoat."

“Hi. Mr Timm? Unshaved Mouse. Huge fan. Go fuck a stoat.”

Which of the two series is better was a subject of fierce debate when I was growing up but having re-watched both I have come to the profoundly unsatisfying conclusion that they were both superior in different ways. Batman pushed the envelope of what was possible in kid’s animation artistically. In its Art Deco style, its mood, and its use of shadows and camera angles it’s hands down the more visually arresting show. But, while Gargoyles might look a little generic compared to Batman, I think the former beats the latter in terms of narrative ambition. Remember, Batman had a cast of characters that had been part of pop culture’s consciousness for almost sixty years at that point, but Gargoyles creates a new cast of characters, mythology and history out of whole cloth and uses them to tell a story with a depth and scope that hadn’t been seen in children’s animation in the West up to that point. The characterisation is also phenomenal. While at first glance the gargoyles are stock character types, peel them and you’ll find the layers have layers. And that’s not even getting into the villains. Most cartoons are extremely lucky if they can boast one of the all-time great cartoon villains. Gargoyles has at least four.
So what’s our premise? Well, in 10th century Scotland Castle Wyvern is guarded by a clan of gargoyles. Stone by day, big scary demonic lookin’ bastards by night. The gargoyles are led by Goliath (Keith Motherfucking David at his Keith Motherfucking Davidist). The gargoyles have lived in peace with Castle Wyvern’s human inhabitants for years, but they’re still distrusted by them because this is the dark ages and they look like the devil. The gargoyles get caught up in a load of court intrigue and betrayal and counter betrayal complicated enough for an entire series of Game of Thrones and the upshot is that Goliath comes back from patrol to discover that almost his entire clan was smashed to pieces by humans while they slept during the day. Only seven of the Castle Wyvern clan survived and they were placed under a spell by a vengeful wizard who thought they had killed someone who they actually hadn’t killed long story. The spell caused the gargoyles to turn to stone and stay that way, day and night, forever. The only way the spell could be broken would be if Castle Wyvern were “raised above the clouds” and if you’re getting a real “til Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane” vibe off this then that’s entirely intentional. This series could not be more indebted to MacBeth if they made MacBeth a character on the show which by the way they totally did.
"My friends call me Scottish Play."

“My friends call me Scottish Play.”

Anyway, flashforward a thousand years and David Xanatos (Jonathan Frakes), billionaire playboy philanthropist has Castle Wyvern disassembled, and rebuilt, brick by brick, at the top of his Manhattan skyscraper just to see what would happen. The spell is broken and Goliath and his surviving clan of gargoyles become the defenders of New York from all threats both human and supernatural.

I went back and forth over just how to approach this review. At first, I was going to do a general review of the whole series before remembering that there were 65 GODDAMN episodes.

Kitty

And that’s not even counting the third season that never happened and which we shall never speak of again.

I then thought about reviewing one of the story arcs like “The World Tour” or  “City of Stone”. But “City of Stone” focuses more on two side characters than the main Gargoyles and also there’s a lot of flashback stuff that would get really confusing and probably be boring to read. And as for “Word Tour”,  I had (again) forgotten that Goliath and Eliza were putzing around on that damn boat for nineteen episodes so once again…

Kitty

So finally, with the deadline approaching like an oncoming walrus on a bobsled I decide to just review one single episode which I think encapsulates the things that I most loved about this show.

lAZY MAN
That episode is Season 2’s “Eye of the Beholder.”
Let’s take a look.

(more…)

“Could you please pull over? I think I’m going to be sick.”

Captain America is old school. Real old school. One of the very earliest generation of superheroes who has managed to remain not only relevant but arguably more popular than ever…
Hello?
Hello?
Where is everyone?
“C’mon guys, we got a review to do!”

“C’mon guys, we got a review to do!”

“Fuck you, mazerunner!”

“Fuck you, mazerunner!”

“WHOAH! DUDE!”

“WHOAH! DUDE!”

“We don’t review movies on 1st April. We told you this.”

“We don’t review movies on April 1st. We told you this.”

“Yeah dawg, this mo-fawkin day is like your personal “Friday 13th done knocked up Halloween and this here’s there ugly-ass day baby.” day”

“Yeah dawg, this mo-fawkin day is like your personal “Friday 13th done knocked up Halloween and this here’s there ugly-ass day baby.” day”

“We all know what’s going to happen. Horned King or BluCatt or one of the bajillion evil dudes you’ve managed to piss off will make you review something terrible and who suffers?”

“We all know what’s going to happen. Horned King or BluCatt or one of the bajillion evil dudes you’ve managed to piss off will make you review something terrible and who suffers?”

“Me?”

“Me?”

“US! So I refer you my previous “Fuck you mazerunner!” Good day!”

“US! So I refer you my previous “Fuck you mazerunner!” Good day!”

“Guys…”

“Guys…”

“I said “good day” sir!”

“I said “good day” sir!”

Guys c’mon. That was the old Mouse. This blog has become a lot more serious since I started reviewing Marvel movies. As the movies have become more mature, I say, so too has Mouse. Look, today’s movie is Captain America: The Original Avenger. It’s a great film, nothing bad’s going to…

Guys c’mon. That was the old Mouse. This blog has become a lot more serious since I started reviewing Marvel movies. As the movies have become more mature, I say, so too has Mouse. Look, today’s movie is Captain America: The Original Avenger. It’s a great film, nothing bad’s going to…

“Don’t you mean “first” Avenger?”

“Don’t you mean “first” Avenger?”

“No, look, it says here right on the cover…”

“No, look, it says here right on the cover…”

Wait. That’s not Chris Evans and his boyish blue eyes that would melt your heart.

Wait. That’s not Chris Evans and his boyish blue eyes that would melt your heart.

Oh no.
“Mouse. Sit down. Our game is about to begin.”

“Mouse. Sit down. Our game is about to begin.”

“Katzenberg?”

“Katzenberg?”

“Please. Please. Red Skull is fine. I have come to collect on that favour you owe me.”

“Please. Please. Red Skull is fine. I have come to collect on that favour you owe me.”

“I owe you a favour?”

“I owe you a favour?”

“Of course. I allowed you to review How to Train Your Dragon and now you must do something for me. You must review 1990’s Captain America, one of the worst Marvel movies ever made!”

“Of course. I allowed you to review How to Train Your Dragon and now you must do something for me. You must review 1990’s Captain America, one of the worst Marvel movies ever made!”

“Shock! Gasp! That thing you said would never happen happened!”

“Shock! Gasp! That thing you said would never happen happened!”

“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your ninties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”

“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your nineties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”

“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your ninties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”

“Then come. And let us see if this snark of yours is stronger than my hate.”

So I hope no one will object if I skip the historical overview and earnest analysis of Captain America as a character until the next review? When I review a Captain America movie that wasn’t assembled by meth-addicted gibbons? Brilliant, let’s crack on.
AD

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An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)

Hey everybody. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and for all you other religions…um…good luck with whatever you got goin’ on right now. Keep on truckin’. Yes it’s the night before Christmas, and despite belonging to a species that traditionally is known for not stirring at this time of year,  I’ve decided to review…
"Mouse...Moooooouuuuuse..."

“Mouse…Moooooouuuuuse…”

“Jacob Marley?”

“Jacob Marley?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life! Link by link! Yard by yard…”

“I wear the chain I forged in life! Link by link! Yard by yard…”

“Stop. Stop. No. Look, this is not going to be a Christmas themed review. We’re not doing the Christmas carol thing. Sorry.”

“Stop. Stop. No. Look, this is not going to be a Christmas themed review. We’re not doing the Christmas Carol thing. Sorry.”

“But it’s a tradition…”

“But it’s a tradition…”

“Yes. One that’s been done to death. Sorry, not happening. Get lost.”

“Yes. One that’s been done to death. Sorry, not happening. Get lost.”

“Dude, I’m a ghost, you’re going to have to do better than “Get lost!”

“Dude, I’m a ghost, you’re going to have to do better than “Get lost!”

“Sigh. AVAUNT THEE FOUL SPIRIT! RETURN TO THE NETHERWORLD FROM WHENCE THOU CAME!”

“Sigh. AVAUNT THEE FOUL SPIRIT! RETURN TO THE NETHERWORLD FROM WHENCE THOU CAME!”

“Oooh, nice. “Avaunt”. That takes me back.”

“Oooh, nice. “Avaunt”. That takes me back.”

Right. So. Today’s movie is An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West, a sequel to a Don Bluth movie made without the imput of Don Bluth. Now, “Sequel to a Don Bluth movie made without the imput of Don Bluth” is a sub-category of film with a slightly lower degree of prestige and respect than “Uwe Boll video game adaptation” or “hobo snuff film” and this film’s reputation is not exactly sterling.
40! There are Police Academy movies with higher scores than that!

40%?! There are Police Academy movies with higher scores than that!

So, following the stunning success of An American Tail (which, I remind you, was a big freaking deal) Stephen Spielberg wanted a sequel to be the first production of his new animation studio, Amblimation. Bluth by this time was based in Ireland and was working on The Land Before Time with Sullivan Bluth so Spielberg had to bring in a new team of animators under the direction of Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells. Amblimation is a weird little footnote in the annals of American animation history, tapping out after only three films (this one, We’re Back and Balto). I haven’t seen Balto and I do NOT care for We’re Back...
IT DID.

IT DID.

…but I think Amblimation could have been a real contender under different circumstances. Why? Because, if nothing else, the animation in these movies was SMURGES. Let’s take a look.

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Anastasia (1997)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

I love reading history. I have a copy of Tacitus’ Annals on my bedside table (because I’m just that kind of pretentious prick) and as a modern reader there’s something really bizarre about reading history written in ancient times.
See, you’ll be into a very serious passage about corruption in the Senate or the war against the Parthians (those Parthians, buncha troublemakers I tell ya what) and suddenly ol’ Tacitus will veer off into describing all the dire portents about Nero’s future rule and it’s all dreams of blood, and visions of locusts and more virgins giving birth to two-headed snakes than you know what to do with.
And then he’ll talk about taxes.
As if the previous stuff was just perfectly mundane. But here’s the thing; for Tacitus it was perfectly mundane. Magic and visions and miracles and supernatural powers were just an accepted fact of life back then. And as a modern reader, sure, we might be a bit sceptical but…we kinda just have to accept all that stuff as part of the historical record. Because Tacitus said it happened and he’s our guy on this stuff, you know? You going to call Tacitus a liar? Did you write one of the greatest works of Latin literature, serve in the Senate and later become governor of Asia?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Rome

It’s less impressive when you realise that “Asia” was just a chunk of Turkey back then.

Of course, when you start getting into more recent history, magic and mysticism aren’t part of the picture anymore. Or, at least, they’re not supposed to be.
I think that’s the reason I was always fascinated as a kid by Grigory Rasputin. Here was a twentieth century figure who seemed to come from a time when magic was still real. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Russian royal family had their own wizard.
Wizard
That is awesome.
In secondary school I actually did my final year project on Rasputin and the Romanovs and I’m something of a buff on this whole period of Russian history. And that low sound you just heard is all the Anastasia fans (of which there are a great many) in the audience groaning “Oh God. He’s going to pan it.”
And sure. I can get why you might think that. I mean, if I tore Saving Mr Banks a new one because PL Travers was crying for the wrong reason, I’m probably not going to look too kindly on the February Revolution being started by zombie Rasputin. Or am I? Maybe not. Or maybe yes? Ha ha ha ha! Which door do you choose, Anastasia fans?! Which door?!
“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

Ooooh...thats gotta hoirt.

Ooooh…that’s gotta hoirt.

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

I dunno Don. But I’ve seen where you can go with unfettered creative control and it often involves trolls and penguins with teeth. If it wasn’t for artists just doing it for a paycheck we wouldn’t have I, Claudius, Sherlock Holmes or half of Shakespeare’s stuff. Maybe, just maybe, you managed to make an accidental classic.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at Disney’s Anastasia.
"UGH."

“UGH.”

Sorry. That just slipped out.

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DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

Eighties kids have a tendency to loudly proclaim that the cartoons they grew up with, your Masters of the Universe, your Transformers, your My Little Ponies were so much better than the cartoons made for kids today.

Why do they say that? Lead. Lead was in everything back then. Paint, exhaust fumes, you name it. And lead is well known to have a harmful effect on intelligence. Couple this with the radiation from the hole in the ozone layer frying their brains and the still lingering effects of Chernobyl and quite frankly it’s a wonder that your typical eighties kid can tied their own shoes, much less attempt an objective assessment of the state of made for TV animation then and now. God love them, they’ve suffered through so much. Now, I am an eighties kid by birth but I converted to the church of 21st century animation a looooong time ago so let me put this one to bed. No. Cartoons were not better in the eighties than they are now. Know how I know? Because cartoons have never been as good as they are now. Pretty much every cartoon made for television from the nineteen fifties to late eighties was garbage. Sure, there were talented people working on them, but they were people, not gods, and there simply was no way to contend with the forces of microscopic budgets, corporate mandated toy-schilling and stiflingly conservative broadcast standards and create something consistently excellent or even good. Yes, occasionally an episode of Transformers might get through that still holds up today but these were very, very rare exceptions (I’m talking exclusively about American TV animation I should hasten to add). Contrast that with today: American animation studios are consistently making shows for kids that are better than most of the stuff they make for adults. Pearl from Steven Universe is one of the most fascinating, layered, tragically flawed characters on television right now, period. Gravity Falls is unfolding an ongoing mystery plot with a skill and intelligence that The X-Files and Lost could only dream about. Adventure Time takes Twin Peaks to school with its pure surrealism. Eighties, I hate to break it to you, even our remakes of your shows are a tenfold improvement. You have Transformers? We have Transformers: Prime. You have Thundercats? We have Thundercats 2011. You have My Little Pony? We have Friendship is Magic.  

GIJoeHeader

You have an army?

We have a HULK.

We have a HULK.

So what happened? Whence came this huge leap forward in quality?

Where else?

Where else?

 

So some time in the late eighties Disney rolled up their sleeves and decided it was time to show these chumps who the big dog was. Disney began producing high quality TV animation intended for syndication. Critics scoffed, saying that this was an expensive folly that would bring the Disney company into bankruptcy.
"Ha. Motherfuckers never learn."

“Ha. Motherfuckers never learn.”

Instead, these shows completely revolutionised the American animation TV landscape. Soon after, Warner Bros also got in on the act with Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and Batman the Animated Series to name a few. In essence, all modern TV animation owes its existence to Disney’s gamble in the late eighties, and in particular to their most popular show; DuckTales.
The massive popularity of DuckTales is something that’s always confused me a little. I mean sure, I watched the show and I liked it fine, but what is it about this story about three duck kids and their miserly grunkle that made it to 100 episodes? Couple of things. Firstly, simply by dint of the fact that it wasn’t terrible it was already head and shoulders above pretty much any other cartoon on the air. But I think another key to its longevity was the fact that it’s quite similar to Doctor Who. One of the reasons that show is older than Jesus is because, aside from the fact that they can recast the main actor, the Doctor has a machine that lets him go anywhere in space or time. There is literally no end to the stories you can tell with that basic premise. And in a way, Scrooge McDuck also has a TARDIS. He’s so wealthy that there’s literally nowhere on Earth he can’t afford to go. Want to do a story on the bottom of the ocean? Scrooge buys a submarine. Want to take him to space? Scrooge buys a spaceship. Want to do a story with dinosaurs? Scrooge gets his personal mad scientist to build him a time machine. Want Scrooge to meet Satan? He has a heart attack and goes to hell because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see heaven. Again, you will never run out of stories.
Another thing to consider is that DuckTales was based on a hugely popular comic book, by the legendary Carl Barks. Although Donald Duck was of course created by Walt Disney, it was Barks who did more than anyone else to flesh out everyone’s favourite psychotic waterfowl, creating Duckburg and a whole host of supporting characters; Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica deSpell (it truly was a duck blur). The Duck comics have never really been huge in the States where the comics scene is of course SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES NOW UNTIL THE END OF TIME but they’re very popular in what I like to call “Asterix country”, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In fact, I even tried to get my hands on a copy of The Many Lives of Scrooge McDuck for this review from my local comic shop. This lead to the following exchange. I swear to almighty God I am not making this up.
Comic_Book_Guy_WEE

“Sorry, it’s sold out. We sold the last copy to Killian Murphy.”

“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”

“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”

“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining for Scrooge McDuck. Who were we to refuse him?”

“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining to Scrooge McDuck. And who were we to refuse him?”

I SWEAR TO GOD.
But yes, Donald Duck comics are a big effing deal in many parts of the world. Personally though, I always found the entire concept of DuckTales the TV show to be really depressing. Think about it. Hewey, Dewey and Louie get sent to live with their uncle, Donald. I don’t think we ever found out why in the show, but there is no good reason that happens. And then, after losing their parents, Donald passes them off on his uncle, a miserly one-percenter who clearly cares more about his money than his nephews while Donald is off in the navy. Those three little ducks must be carting around a metric ton of abandonment issues. The reason why Donald isn’t present in the series apart from a few cameos is that Roy Disney didn’t want any of Uncle Walt’s classic characters getting TV stink on ’em. Instead, the character of Launchpad was created to fill the role Donald usually did in the comics. Today’s movie, Treasure of the Lost Lamp, came out in 1990 and served as a season finale of shorts to the beloved series. Did DuckTales go out with a bang or a whimper? Let’s take a look.