Renaissance

Tarzan_(1999_film)_-_theatrical_poster

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #37: Tarzan

(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.)

So as I sit here in my small, dank COMFORTABLY APPOINTED DISSIDENT CONTAINMENT RECEPTACLE, forced to eat NOURISHING RATIONS FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL and being brutally beaten about the head with THE BRILLIANT INTELLECTUAL REVELATIONS OF MARXIST THOUGHT I’ve had time to think. Mostly, or course, I’ve been darkly plotting what I’m going to do to that BENEVOLENT FATHER OF THE PEOPLE COMRADE CROW, ALL HAIL CROW! once I NEVER ESCAPE. But I’ve also been thinking about Tarzan. What happened to Tarzan? Why is it that no one seems to remember this movie? If I walk into a room and randomly sing the first few lines of “Hakuna Matata” or “Part of Your World” chances are that the whole room will join me for the chorus. “Two Worlds”? Crickets.
Why did this movie leave so little trace on pop culture? Well, it wasn’t really that popular when it came out, right? Wrong. This thing opened at Number 1 and outgrossed Mulan, which had already been seen as a major return to form for Disney. And it’s not like the critics were leery of it either, this thing got crazy good reviews: 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.  So why has this movie, like me, been largely forgotten? Part of the problem, I think, is that by the turn of the millennium Disney had become a victim of its own success. In America, from the late nineteen thirties to the mid nineties Disney was pretty much the only studio making top-tier feature length animations. Sure, challengers would occasionally arise (the Fleischers in the thirties and forties, UPA and Hanna-Barbera in the sixties) but for most of that half century the only studio willing to risk the massive investment of time and money that is involved in making a feature length cartoon was the mo’fuckin House of Mouse. And don’t forget, most of the movies that we’ve covered on this blog were not all that successful financially. Even the really big hits like Sleeping Beauty cost so much that their massive box office takes were a Pyrrhic victory. Disney made most of their money in merchandising and the theme parks, which meant that smaller studios that didn’t have the luxury of owning theme park were content to leave the feature length animation pastures to Disney. But then, something happened. With the advent of new computer technologies, producing a full length animated feature went from being impossibly expensive and prohibitively time consuming to merely hugely expensive and massively time consuming. Disney capitalised on this, and in one the whitest hot streaks in movie studio history, ushered in the Renaissance. These movies were huge, some of the most successful of all time. Suddenly what had previously been seen as a white elephant was now one of the most profitable genres in the business. And why was that?
pixar
Okay fine, yes. Pixar’s success was the main factor, but the way was prepared by Disney’s earlier success with the Fearsome Four of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King.
"AW C'MON!"

“AW C’MON!”

Disney created a market where animated features could be hugely successful and now they had to contend with a host of rivals, some of them mighty intimidating. There was Pixar of course, who released Toy Story 2 the same year as Tarzan, and were now well on their way to being one of the most critically lauded studios in cinema history. And then there was Dreamworks, run by former Disney boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose ruthlessly commercial movie making would produce three of the biggest grossing films of all time. And that’s not to mention the dozens of smaller rivals that sprang up in the wake of Disney’s early nineties successes. Heck, it’s gotten to the stage where it seems like anyone can release a full length animation. Even these idiots!
And I this is why I think Tarzan doesn’t stick in people’s memory. Not because it isn’t an awesome movie (it is) but because it was released in a time when Disney were no longer kings in their field. Pixar had taken the crown of critical darling, DreamWorks the crown of commercial money-making animation powerhouse (or they would with the release of Shrek a few years later). Tarzan came at the tail end of the Renaissance, overlapping with the beginning of Pixar’s reign and it just got lost in the folds. So let’s take a look at this thing, before the guards come and shackle me GENTLY to the wall and begin PLAYTIME WITH FRIENDLY DOGS who will brutally LICK my FACE while a DEDICATED SERVANT OF THE GLORIOUS REGIME OF COMRADE CROW, HAIL CROW! shoves THE GLORIOUS TRUTH OF THE ETERNAL REVOLUTION up my OUTDATED BOURGEOIS WORLDVIEW. This will probably be my last review. And God help me, I’m writing it on toilet paper.
Movie_poster_mulan

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #36: Mulan

 

(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.)

Hello internet! Man, I don’t know about you but I’m back, feeling well rested and ready to review some goddamn Disney movies! Who’s…

…with…

…me…?

Santa Claus, Lex Luthor and Asian Nixon? But they’re mortal enemies!

Okay, is it just me or has the blog gotten…sorta…Communisty since I’ve been gone?

Comrade Mouse, how's it hangin' dawg?

Comrade Mouse, how’s it hangin’ dawg?

Gangsta Asia?! What’s been going on around here?! Why does my blog look like May Day in Red Square?

I'm now Comrade Gangsta Asia. And your blog is the people's blog now thanks to the glorious socialist revolution we had in your absence. Um...for rizzle.

I’m now Comrade Gangsta Asia. And your blog is the people’s blog now thanks to the glorious socialist revolution we had in your absence. Um…for rizzle.

Alright look, you can be a communist character or a gangsta character but not both, you’re not fleshed out enough to support two defining traits.

Yeah, this is really hard.

Yeah, this is really hard.

Second, who staged a communist uprising on my…why do I even need to finish that sentence?

Hello Mouse.

Privyet, Mouse.

Oh heeey Comrade Crow. Look, I know I haven’t been featuring you much on the blog in the last…

Ten months.

Ten months. Cinderella review.

Wow! Really? No, c’mon, you had that cameo in the Beauty and the Beast review…

Silence! As a remnant of the old regime you are considered an enemy of the blog. Take him away!

Silence! As a remnant of the old regime you are considered an enemy of the blog. Take him away!

Dammit. See, this is why you have to be careful of offending communists. They tend to hold a grudge.  Disney learned this the hard way when they financed Kundun, a biopic of the current Dalai Lama that kinda portrays China in a negative light. You know, like Ike always gets the short end of the stick in movies about the life of Tina Turner. So anyway, China heard that Disney had been talkin’ smack and didn’t think that China would hear it.

Yes, Hollaback girl is about Chinese international relations. That songs has layers, man.

Yes, Hollaback Girl is about Chinese international relations. That songs has layers, man.

Suddenly, Disney found itself frozen out of what was rapidly becoming the most lucrative movie market on the planet. China only allows a limited number of Western films to be screened there each year and if you think Disney isn’t willing to bend over so far that its lips actually touch its own anus just to get a sniff of a chance of a shot of that market…well, you haven’t really been paying attention.

"Hello, Fan Bingbing? I'm just calling to let you know that China's strength and prowess fills with joy and contentment."

“Hello, Fan Bingbing? I’m just calling to let you know that China’s strength and prowess fills me with joy and contentment.”

"But of course, Mr Stark. China is well aware of its greatness. NOW DANCE!"

“But of course, Mr Stark. China is well aware of its greatness. NOW DANCE!”

iron-man-dancing

But back in 1997, Disney decided on a slightly more dignified way of  currying favour. Mulan originally was going to be a short, straight to video animation called China Doll, about a poor Chinese girl who’s rescued by an Englishman and taken to live happily every after in the West. And that, from the offensive title to the paternalistic premise, pretty much sounds like the worst fucking thing ever. It was  Robert D. San Souci, the children’s author and sometime Disney consultant, who suggested instead making a movie version of the Ballad of Hua Mulan (not to be confused with the Ode to Fa Mulan). You can read the poem here, it’s quite short and also pretty amazing. It’s a 1500 year old poem that simply and unabashedly makes the case for gender equality, depicting a young girl who goes off to fight a twelve year military campaign in place of her aged father, wins honour and prestige and returns home at last, revealing to her astounded comrades that she was a woman the whole time.  So, we have a Disney movie that not only is going to delving into depictions of a non-European culture, but also dealing with the issue of feminism. Race and gender? Well surely this can’t go wrong?

Well…no. Actually. It didn’t.

You know, I’ve been doing this a while now and if I’ve learned one thing it’s this: Every movie has its defenders. No matter how little I, or the general consensus, rate any Disney movie, there will always be someone to fight its corner. There are Pocahontas fans, Black Cauldron fans, Aristocats fans and even Three Caballeros fans. Well, maybe “fans” is not the right word for that last one.

Cultists, that's the word.

“Almighty Rooster, hear our prayer.”

Conversely, on the other end of the scale, no matter how highly a Disney movie is ranked and rated and praised, there will always be someone who doesn’t think it’s all that. I know people who don’t like Lion King, Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Hunchback…hell there are some sick fucks who don’t like Beauty and the Beast! But…not for this one. Honestly, I have never met or spoken to a single Disney fan who does not absolutely adore Mulan. Do I agree?

Fuck yeah I agree!

Sorry, you may have wanted me to string you along until the end of the review before revealing my opinion of this movie but…really? The fact that I composed a goddamn ode to the main character didn’t tip you off? Yeah, I love this movie, and I love Mulan herself, without a doubt the most badass character in the Disney canon. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the story of Mulan, or, as I like to call her; The Death Who Walks.

Probably best to do it as quick as possible.

Probably best to do it as quick as possible.

(more…)

Hercules

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #35: Hercules

 

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

Pff. Hercules. What a poser. You want to talk about impossible labours? Try writing a comedic review about a comedy while looking after a sick baby, fighting off a stomach bug, grappling with unreliable internet connection and only three days to write the review because you’re going on holiday. Now there’s a challenge. Especially if it’s a good comedy. And I’ll admit, this is a funny movie. Maybe it’s just because it comes right after three of the most serious movies in the canon (yeah, Lion King is light-hearted in places but nothing that has that death scene gets to call itself jovial) but fair is fair, it goes for the yuks and it gets them more often than not.

Production started in 1994 under the directorship of Ron Clements and John Musker, the directing team behind The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, the movie it most closely resembles. In fact, if I had to describe Hercules it would be, “Aladdin, but more.” Actually no, it would be “Aladdin, but too much.” Hercules sees Aladdin’s celebrity voice actors, heavy emphasis on comedy, deliberate anachronisms and pop culture references and raises the stakes like a wild-eyed gambler in a saloon who won’t listen to his wife pulling at his arm and screaming at him not to bet the farm, Lawence! The end result is that…that…

Aw hell, I can’t hold it in anymore…

ONE YEAR BITCHES!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

winter-festival-fireworks

Sorry, where were we?

Oh right, Hercules. My point is, while Aladdin  is overall a very fun and light movie, they still treated the story as something that mattered. You care about Aladdin and Jasmine, and while the genie might seem like a joke dispensing machine, he does actually get some quite affecting character beats.

I've been chopping onions, shut up.

I’ve been chopping onions, shut up.

Hercules though? The whole thing just comes off as such a lark that it’s kind of hard to give a damn about anything that happens. It’s an easy film to be entertained by. But not really an easy film to care about.

This represents Disney’s first foray into actual mythology rather than fairy tales, literature or legends. And no, a legend and a myth are not the same thing. In fact, let’s do a quick crash course on terminology (please let me do this, this is literally the only time my degree in Folklore has had any, even slightly, practical use).

Okay, so a fairy tale (or as folklorists prefer, a wonder tale) is set in a faraway place, a long time ago. It’s not about a real place, and it’s not about real people. It’s a fictitious tale told purely for enjoyment and usually has fantastical elements and magic and what have you. A legend, while also fictitious, takes place in a real place and time and features real people. So, for example, Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree is a legend. It never actually happened, but Washington was a real person and it’s set in a specific time and place, Colonial America.  Finally, a myth is the remnant of a now extinct religion. Hercules is a myth because both he and Zeus were once genuinely worshipped as gods and the tales featuring them had the weight of religious belief behind them. Myths tend to be taken more seriously than legends or wonder tales and while wonder tales tend to be considered universal (which culture gave rise to Cinderella?)  myths remain very closely linked to their native culture. This may explain why this movie is absolutely loathed in Greece, where its, shall we say loose, interpretation of the Hercules stories enraged the Greeks.

Whoah whoah whoah, hold the phone. The Greeks were pissed off about something?

Whoah whoah whoah, hold the phone. The Greeks were pissed off about something?

Was their ire justified? Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Hunchbackposter (2)

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

Hey, you know what I love? Long, angry flame wars. By which I mean, I do not love those. At all. I bring this up because…while I know that I don’t have anything to worry about (the followers of this blog were, after all, recently voted Nicest Commentariat on the Internet)…
There was a whole ceremony and an award presented by Tom Hanks and a crazy party after…did I forget to tell you guys?

There was a whole ceremony and an award presented by Tom Hanks and a crazy party after…did I forget to tell you guys?

…but nonetheless I’m a little nervous going into this review. Hunchback, man. People feel…”strongly” about Hunchback. There are those who will loudly and passionately proclaim this to be the unacknowledged masterpiece of the Renaissance, the best thing Disney ever did. And then there are the Hugo loyalists, who think that the movie is an absolute disgrace to the source material, the perfect case-study for the abominable practice of Disneyfication. And then there are some who don’t have any particular fealty to the source material and just hate it as a movie. My friend Moira, (bracketsandampersandsyoureadnow) has often told me she just finds the whole film to be downright nasty and unpleasant.
So, which camp do I fall into?
Alright, let’s be honest here. This movie has problems. Serious problems that run right to its very core. The source material, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, quite frankly is not suited to being adapted into a Disney movie. Not because it’s dark, although it is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Disney can do dark. It just can’t do bleak. Now, full disclosure, I haven’t actually read the novel…
Yeah. That’s right. I didn’t read the 200,000 word 18th century French novel to research my silly little cartoon blog. Scandal.

Yeah. That’s right. I didn’t read the 200,000 word 18th century French novel to research my silly little cartoon blog. Scandal.

…but it ends with Frollo being flung from the cathedral by Quasimodo, Esmerelda being hung and Quasimodo mourning beside her body until he slowly starves to death.
mickey_head
Coupled with that, the book is an often scathing critique of religious hypocrisy and extremism…right?
"Hm? Uh...sure, why not?"

“Hm? Uh…sure, why not?”

And that’s something that Disney is just not cut out for. So we get changes like Frollo being a judge rather than the Arch-Deacon of Notre-Dame which leads to all kinds of plotholes and general silliness. These two forces, the dark source material and the sunny demands of the Disney formula are constantly pulling this movie in different direction and often threaten to tear the whole thing to pieces.
And yet…and yet…
When it works? When the emotional power of the story comes together with the gorgeous visuals, the near flawless animation, some great voice work and an absolutely spine-tinglingly excellent soundtrack by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz?
Guys, when this thing works? It SOARS.
And it’s brave too. I mentioned the laicisation of Frollo (and you know what? Fair enough. Catholic parents shouldn’t have to deal with a Disney movie telling their kids what’s wrong with their faith any more than Aladdin should have a screed on the depiction of women in the Qur’an) but notwithstanding that, this movie goes to some pretty dark places. And in its portrayals of sexual obsession and prejudice it’s remarkably honest and unvarnished. And that’s really Hunchback all over. It’s a weird, misshapen, sometimes ugly thing on the outside. But inside it has such beauty, and heart and courage…it’s kind of like…um…
Dammit, I had something for this.

Dammit, I had something for this.

Ah well, let’s take a look at the film.
Pocahontasposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #33: Pocahontas

 

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

We’d been working it on it for a couple of months and then Jeffrey calls a “breakfast meeting”. And in the meeting, we have the whole crew from Pocahontas and Lion King. And Jeffrey said “Pocahontas is a home run! It’s West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet with American Indians! It’s a smash hit!  Lion King on the other hand, it’s kind of an experiment, we don’t really know if people are going to want to see it.””

Rob Minkoff, Co-director of The Lion King.

Guys. You know me. I’m not a hatchet artist. I don’t enjoy tearing movies to pieces. I didn’t start this blog because I wanted to take cheap shots, I did it as a cynical promotional tool to advance my writing career because I love this gorgeous, hilarious, deeply weird gaggle of animated films we call the Disney canon. And I know a lot of you have been looking forward to seeing me feast on this thing’s entrails like a rabid boar but I honestly cannot think of anything more dispiriting to write and unpleasant to read than one long, unending rant.
So…
I’m laying down a few ground rules right from the start. Think of these as handicaps to give this movie a fighting chance so that it doesn’t just turn into a complete bloodbath.
  1. I’m not going to mark this movie down for its inaccurate portrayal of Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, Amerindians, Native Peoples
These guys.

These guys.

Not that the movie doesn’t get a lot of things wrong (I have it on good account that it does) but it’s not like I’m an expert so I don’t really feel qualified to call the movie out on its failures in that regard. See, the thing is…it is damn hard to write a portrayal of Those Guys in any medium that doesn’t end up annoying somebody. There are just so many stereotypes and tired tropes floating around that it is almost impossible to write a character that doesn’t fall into at least some of them. (Actually, if there are any Native Americans or people of Native American ancestry reading this I would be very interested to know if there are any portrayals in TV or movies that you feel actually got it right. Let me know in the comments.)  I am under no illusions that by deciding to make this movie Disney wasn’t setting itself up for a lose/lose situation.
Having said that, let’s be clear: They FUCKING LOST.
  1. I’m not going to mark this movie down for its historical inaccuracy.
It’s a cartoon. Not a historical document. So I don’t particularly care that Pocahontas is not twelve and John Smith is not a forty year old ginger. I will still mock this movie like the dickens for comedic effect, but it’s not going to have an impact on the final score.
  1. I’m not going to mark this down for failing to address the issues of genocide, forced relocations, slavery et al.
It’s a movie set in 1607. Short of one of the characters getting their hands on a time machine, how can the movie address events that wouldn’t happen decades or even centuries into the future? Granted, it hangs like a big black hanging thing over the entire movie, but that’s more history’s fault than the film’s. Besides. Do you really want to see a Disney movie that gave a realistic depiction of the Jamestown settlement? (Answer: No, no. Not even a little. No.)
I’m laying down these rules because, honestly, if this movie was good? If I cared deeply about the characters? If I was entranced by the story and thought the script was witty and emotionally satisfying? If I loved the art style and didn’t find the songs insufferably smug? None of the above would matter. You think I care that Mulan is set in the wrong dynasty or that Jungle Book makes no reference to India’s struggle for independence from British rule? Not a bit. So if it doesn’t matter to me when the movie’s good, why should it matter when the movie’s bad?
Oh yeah. The movie’s bad. Really bad. Like, a failure on all but the most technical level. Technically, it’s fine. The story structure is pretty much text-book. The animation is largely excellent if joyless and devoid of any real inspiration. But this thing is dead inside. It’s like someone killed a Disney movie and staged a macabre puppet show with the body. It’s the worst kind of formula driven, corporate movie making trying to hide its soullessness behind  a vague veneer of empty New Agey spirituality. And it’s dumb. It’s really dumb. There are dumb movies, and there are smart movies and the great earth is big and rich enough for both but one thing I cannot stand is a dumb movie that thinks it’s smart.
So. How came we by this travesty?
Being Irish, I know a thing or two about booms and busts and when I read about the giddy optimism that was bubbling through Disney by the mid-nineties I can’t help but feel a little twinge of Celtic Tiger PTSD.
True story. Where I live was right in that thing's crotch.

True story: Where I live was right in that thing’s crotch.

Under the guidance of the Katzenberg/Eisner/Disney triumvirate the Disney animation studio had gone from being a financial liability to a money making machine. Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King. One after the other.

"HEY! WHAT ARE WE, INVISIBLE?!"

“HEY! WHAT ARE WE, INVISIBLE?!”

Four of the biggest animated movies, hell, four of the biggest movies of all time in a six year span. Couple that record box office take with equally record breaking VHS sales and merchandising and you are talking about a billion dollar enterprise. I wouldn’t be surprised if years later it turned out that the real reason Katzenberg left was that Eisner kept cheating during their daily money fights. And, to their credit, Katzenberg and Eisner made sure plenty of that money got to the people who made it all possible. Suddenly, the animators’ parking lot was filling up each day with Bentleys and Jaguars. Generous bonuses were being lavished all around and the animation wing had a brand new state-of-the-art office building built just for them. But there was a cost to all this. Whereas the animation studio that Walt Disney had founded would slowly and methodically work on one film, release it, and then start on the next, Roy Disney had decreed that a new full length animated film would be released every year. As well as working on Pocahontas, the animation studio was finishing off Lion King, prepping for Hunchback of Notre Dame and working on A Goofy Movie and Nightmare Before Christmas. This massive workload resulted in long hours, stress and more than a few ruined marriages. And the toll wasn’t merely psychological either. Watch interviews and footage of the Disney animators of this period and you’ll see a lot of people rubbing their wrists, flexing and unflexing their fingers, squinting…we don’t normally think of artistic fields of endeavour as being physically gruelling but animation can put an absolutely brutal toll on the human body. Then of course there was the tragic death of Frank Wells, a huge psychic shock to the company made worse by the ugly fallout and Katzenberg’s departure from Disney.

It’s not possible to recount why Katzenberg left without getting into a lot of “he said she said” bullshit. From what I can gather Katzenberg’s version of events was that Eisner promised Katzenberg the  position vacated by Wells but then withdrew the offer because he was jealous of how Katzenberg was getting all these press accolades for having turned things around at Disney. Eisner, for his part, says that the position was Katzenberg’s for the taking if he’d just waited a while and not been lobbying for it so soon after Wells’ death. Did Katzenberg resign? Was he fired? Don’t know, honestly don’t really care. The point is, halfway through production of Pocahontas Katzenberg had left Disney vowing revenge.
"Fools! I shall destroy them all!"

“Fools! I shall destroy them all!”

I think all these factors, the over-work, the shock of Wells’ death, the sheer weight of expectation to keep the gravy train on the tracks and the bad blood caused by Katzenberg’s departure all combined to make Pocahontas a thoroughly miserable experience for the animators to work on. I have no proof of that, maybe it was an endless merry go round of delight, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way. There is a sense of joylessness that pervades this thing, like everyone was just gritting their teeth and thinking of the paycheck.

Kind of like me, except I don’t get paid.
Sigh. Let’s just get this over with.
The_Lion_King_poster

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #32: The Lion King

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

When The Lion King came out in 1994 I was eleven years old, and starting to develop an interest in movies that extended beyond just watching them. I remember reading a lot of the newspaper articles that came out before, during and after its theatrical run (and there were a lot them, I think we sometimes forget that this movie was an almost Jurassic Park level cultural event). One of the things I remember reading about this movie was that it was the first animated Disney movie not to be based on an existing story. That may strike you as surprising, considering that it’s pretty much cemented in everyone’s mind now as “Disney’s adaptation of Hamlet”, and even Disney themselves have pretty much owned that assessment. But the origins of this movie are a lot hazier than that. From what I can gather, Lion King began in the eighties from a conversation between Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy Disney and  Peter Schneider (president of Walt Disney Feature Animation) that boiled down to “We should do a movie set in Africa.” “You know what, we should do a movie set in Africa.”   From that conversation the movie took a long and often deeply weird journey to the big screen (in some alternate universe, there’s a version of this movie where Scar is a baboon, Rafiki is a cheetah and ABBA provided the music.) So many different theories and suggestions and accusations have been flung at this movie that its true creative origins may never really be known.

Just who is Simba? Hamlet? Moses? Joseph son of Jacob?  Is he the young Jeffrey Katzenberg, overcoming his own insecurities and self doubt to become the king of the animation jungle? Is he Roy Disney, the heir trying desperately to escape the titanic shadows of his uncle and father? Is he Jesus?

Keyser Soze? The Third Man? A tin of yams? Kobra Kommander? Barbara Streisand? A previously unknown species of racoon? Seventh US Vice President John C Calhoun? STOP ME IF I GET IT!!

Keyser Soze? The Third Man? A tin of yams? Kobra Kommander? Barbara Streisand? A previously unknown species of raccoon? Seventh US Vice President John C Calhoun? STOP ME IF I GET IT!!

But the “Lion King as Hamlet”  story is the one that’s stuck, and for good reason. I don’t just mean the obvious similarities in plot. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, and the one usually proclaimed as being his best. At well over five hours, you will almost never see the entire text performed fully, meaning that every production cuts and trims the play to create a new version that best reflects the artistic vision of the director and cast. In this way, every production of Hamlet is unique. Some will focus on the relationship between Hamlet and his father. Some focus on his love affair with Ophelia, turning the play into a romantic tragedy. Still others will excise almost every other character and focus on Hamlet’s inner turmoil, turning the play into a psychological study. There are as many potential Halmets as there are stars in the sky. This is because the play is about, well, everything.

Shakespeare took a relatively simply story, the Danish revenge tale Amlethus, and within this finite framework staged one man’s contemplation of the entirety of human existence boiled down to the one single, terrifying question embodied in the play’s most famous line. Those six little words that we’ve all heard so often that their true power is often overlooked.

To be. Or not to be.

Is it better to be alive, or dead? To exist or to not. To be something, or to be nothing. It’s the single most important question. It is, in fact, the question that must be answered before any of the others can even be considered.

If Hamlet seeks to ask the first question, Lion King can be said to ask the second. Obviously this is a Disney movie, so the answer to the first question will always be “To Be.” Disney is all about optimism. Hope. Good triumphing over evil, no matter how powerful or malevolent it is and notwithstanding its ability to turn into a gigantic monster at the end of the third act. So once you’ve answered “To be”, what’s the second question? Well it’s the question we all deal with every day; “How do I live my life?” The Lion King is about finding your place in the world, represented in the movie as The Circle of Life, a natural and harmonious order that is only kept in balance when everyone meets their responsibilities to themselves, to the world and to their fellow creatures.

Oh, are you reviewing Kimba the White Lion? Oh wait...

Oh, are you reviewing Kimba the White Lion? Oh wait…

Taran...

Taran…

TAAAAAARAAAAAAANNN! TAAAAAARAAAAAAANN!

TAAAAAARAAAAAAANNN!
TAAAAAARAAAAAAANN!

Oh God, are we actually doing this?

Fine.

Yes, this movie has long been accused of being a ripoff of Tezuka Ozamu’s manga and animé Kimba the White Lion. And frankly, I find the entire idea preposterous. Why would Disney, the greatest animation studio in the world, need to steal from a relatively obscure children’s cartoon from the sixties? But fine, let’s see the so called “evidence” for this supposed theft which I am sure is not at all compelling in any way.

Kimbasimba

simpsons-awkward-collar-pull-o

Okay, so it’s pretty obvious that someone in Disney who was working on the Lion King was familiar with Kimba the White Lion and snuck that in as a visual reference. And you know what? That’s fine. It’s called “an homage” if you’re feeling arty, or “a shout out” if you’re keeping it real, man. You may call it theft, but film makers do it all the time. The Untouchables recreates the “pram on the steps” scene from Battleship Potemkin but no one’s suggesting that Brian De Palma should write Eisenstein a cheque. Which is good, because Eisenstein is dead and De Palma has been having a pretty bad run lately and probably doesn’t have a lot of cash to spare.

totally stole from Warner Bros anyway.

Ozamu totally stole that scene  from Warner Bros anyway.

What else ya got? Well, the name surely? Kimba. Simba. I mean, what do they think we’re stupid or something? Disney obviously changed that one letter of the name so we wouldn’t realise that this is a remake of Kimba the White Lion!

BEEP! Wrong answer.

As I’m sure quite a few Disney fans and Swahilis are screaming at the screen right now, “Simba” is Swahili for “lion”. The Disney animators learned quite a few Swahili phrases when they went on a field trip to Africa to research the film, and they ended up working these phrases into the movie. Well…then where the hell did Ozamu get “Kimba” from? Not a clue. TV Tropes offers the theory that Ozamu was going to name the main character Simba but changed it because there was a popular soft drink of the same name, and then goes on to say that that theory has been disproved and that the real reason is “complicated and doesn’t make much sense” and leaves it at that.

Don't you play coy with me, you little tease.

Don’t you play coy with me, you little tease.

The ripoff story actually began (as so many problems in this life do) with Matthew Broderick. When originally offered the part, he misheard and thought that they’d said “Kimba”. Being familiar with the old cartoon he then proceeded to run his mouth off saying that he was doing a remake of Kimba the White Lion . He later said:  “I kept telling everybody I was going to play Kimba. I didn’t really know anything about it, but I didn’t really care. I’m kind of an asshole like that. Also, I have the genitalia of a mosquito. I don’t mean that they’re small (although they are). I mean that I actually literally have the reproductive organs of an insect.”

It must be true. You read it on the internet.

It must be true. You read it on the internet.

The case for ripoff gets steadily weaker after that, ranging from the somewhat plausible (okay, both father lions have a wise baboon friend) to the pretty lame (of course the hyenas are comedy relief villains in both, THEY’RE FUCKING HYENAS) to the just kind of pathetic (Here’s Kimba running! Here is Simba also running!). The only other compelling piece of evidence is a very early piece of concept art depicting a white lion cub playing with a butterfly.

Earlypresentationreelwhitelionking

Okay. I am willing to entertain the theory that at some point, very early on in its production they considered making this movie a Kimba remake. But here’s the thing. That’s not the movie they made. If Disney released this movie in its current form as  Kimba the White Lion they would have been in contravention of the Trade Descriptions Act. Because, a few similarities here and there notwithstanding they are nothing alike. In the areas where it really matters, characters, plot, dialogue, animation The Lion King is completely its own movie. Its art style is totally different from Kimba (I’d get into Ozamu’s shameless aping of Bambi but he’s not on trial here).  And as I said in my Aladdin review, what’s in it for Disney? Why would they hide the fact that the movie they made was a Kimba remake if that was actually what they intended? To stiff Ozamu out of the money for the rights? Please. After Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin Disney had more money than your average sultanate. Jeffrey Katzenberg could have gathered up a few million from the back of the couch and paid for the rights. He certainly would have if there was any reasonable chance that Ozamu could have taken Disney to court for IP theft. No. What we have here is one possible visual homage, the coincidences that will inevitably arise between two pieces in the same genre using the same setting and Matthew Broderick running his big stupid mouth off. I find the accused…

Not guilty

Now let’s take a look at the film.

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Aladdinposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #31: Aladdin

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

In her video on the rivalry between Dreamworks and Disney, the Nostalgia Chick called Aladdin “The first Dreamworks movie” and I think that’s pretty much spot on. Of all the movies of the Disney renaissance this is the one that most strongly bears the stamp of one Jeffrey Katzenberg. Celebrity voices? We got celebrity voices. Broad comedy for the kids with slightly more adult humour for the grown ups? Come in, my friend. Trendy pop culture references and catchphrases that seem refreshingly modern at the time of release but as the years go by seem more and more…um…
NOT!

NOT!

Yeah. This movie was really where that whole Dreamworks style was born. And that’s actually not a diss. I knock Dreamworks a lot on this blog (as is my God-given right as  a Disney fan), but I’ll be the first to admit that when their formula works it works damn well. One of the reasons I think Aladdin is so good is because it combines the best of both Disney and what would later become Dreamworks. It’s funny and snarky but it’s got also got a heart as big as all outdoors. And yes, it’s by far the most glitzy and “Hollywood” of the Renaissance Movies. That’s Katzenberg’s influence as well. When directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker showed Katzenberg the original test reel he hated it so much that he told them to start again from scratch. Now, you’ll remember, the exact same thing happened to Beauty and the Beast as well but this was different. With Beauty and the Beast, the original concept was reworked into an Ashman/Menken musical. Aladdin was ALREADY an Ashman/Menken musical. The new creative imprint that reshaped the movie after the disaster of the showreel screening (“Black Friday” as it was called) was Katzenberg and new script writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Even Katzenberg’s choices of phrasing were pure Hollywood; when telling the animators that Aladdin needed to be more heroic and someone worthy of Jasmine he said “He’s Michael J. Fox, he needs to be Tom Cruise.”
He needs to be more utterly terrifying?

He needs the grin of a mako shark and the cold dead eyes of a killer?

The fact that Aladdin is such a showy, glitzy, thrill ride I think leads some to dismiss it as the airheaded “pretty one” . “Sure” tut the snobs “It’s entertainment enough for the proles. But is it art?”
 
Balderdash!

Balderdash! 

Well, I would actually say that there’s more artistry on display here than in Beauty and the Beast. And lest you think I’m just engaging in more unwarranted BatB bashing I’ll throw my beloved Little Mermaid in and say it’s more artistically accomplished than that film too.
 
Mouse! How could you!?

Mouse! How could you!?

Let’s start with the artwork. The backgrounds in Mermaid and Beast are generic and pretty bland. Now look at Agrabah.
 Agrabah
Like the characters (with the deliberate exception of Jafar) everything about the city is curved, unique and inviting. The artists based the architecture of the city on Arabian calligraphy and it actually compliments the characters rather than simply being a static stage for them to perform. And the character animation is another giant leap. Think of how much character and emotion they manage to invest in the magic carpet, a goddamn rectangle. And that’s not even getting started on the feat of animation that is the Genie. So yeah, I don’t buy the argument that just because this movie is more fun than Beauty and the Beast it’s somehow less of an artistic achievement. If anything, the fact that it’s so entertaining while breaking serious new ground in the field of animation makes it an even better film in my eyes. Look at it this way:
Chocolate is great.
Broccoli is good for you.
But broccoli that tastes like chocolate CHANGES THE WORLD.
 
Let’s take a look at the film.
Beautybeastposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #30: Beauty and the Beast

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

“A long time ago, in the faraway land of Ireland, there lived a little boy. This little boy loved the films of Walt Disney, more perhaps than anything else in the world. One dark and stormy night, an old beggar came to the door, seeking shelter from the never-ending Irish rain and the gentle whimsy of the locals. In payment for shelter, he offered the little boy a most precious gift; a VHS of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And the little boy said “Screw off. I hate that movie.”

The beggar stared at the little boy for a good two minutes. Finally, he said:

“I’m sorry, I must have misheard you. I thought you said you hated Beauty and the Beast.”

“I do.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“It sucks.”

“It does not suck. It’s the greatest achievement in the history of animation. It’s hot stuff, you little shit.”

“It’s boring. It’s a boring, overhyped, whiter than white bread slice of pandering Oscar bait.”

Suddenly, the beggar transformed into a powerful magician with the most pimpin’ moustache the little boy had ever seen. 

download (6)

He cast a spell on the little boy, transforming him into an unshaved mouse. The mouse begged for mercy, and the Magician told him that there was one way that he could become a human again. He must review every one of the Disney animated canon one after the other, so that he might learn to love Beauty and the Beast. If he could not find it in his heart to love that movie, and be loved by it in return, he would remain a mouse forever. As the years passed, he fell into despair.

For who could ever learn to love…a boring, overhyped, whiter than white bread slice of pandering Oscar bait?”

Sigh, let's just get this over with.

Sigh. Let’s just get this over with.

Ohhhh…I’m gonna catch hell for this one.

Okay.

So.

Ahem.

Yeah.

I don’t really like Beauty and the Beast.

"Zeke! Run to the next town over, we need more men!" "How many men?" "ALL OF 'EM!"

“Zeke! Run to the next town over, we need more men!”
“How many men?”
“ALL OF ‘EM!”

EVERYBODY CHILL!

Please, just step away from the comments! Let me explain!

It’s me. Okay? It’s me. It’s not the movie, it’s me. I know it’s not a bad movie. Hell, I know it’s a superb movie. And if you’re worried that I’m going to trash this movie that you love, and show you a whole bunch of flaws in it that you never noticed and ruin it for you forever, no. That’s not going to happen. I play fair on this blog, and this movie will be walking out with a very high score. Probably.

My dislike of this movie is, I freely admit, largely irrational. It’s kind of hard to put into words but…

Okay, the animation is top flight, the music and songs are some of Howard Ashman’s and Alan Menken’s best work, it has one of the best leads in the Disney canon…

But it’s just. So. WHITE.

It’s so white. It’s whiter than white. It’s “Gandalf after he comes back from the dead” white. It’s whiter than a Mitt Romney rally.

ARGH! MY EYES, I'M BLIND!

ARGH! MY EYES, I’M BLIND!

So there’s that. Plus, I don’t know if it’s just me, but there’s nothing more likely to push me into disliking something than being constantly told by everyone that I’m wrong, and I just don’t get it and that I should change my opinion because it’s clearly stupid and…oooooookay. I’m starting to realise why my wife hates Ariel now.

Yeah. Not so fun, is it?

Yeah. Not so fun, is it?

Sorry. It’s just a movie I’ve never been able to fall in love with. But hey, maybe this review will finally give me the chance to see this film in a new light and break the curse once and for all. We can hope.

Production began on Beauty and the Beast back in 1989 and it was originally intended to be a very different film from the one we have now. But around six months into production, director Richard Purdum and producer Don Hahn were ordered to scrap everything and start again from square one, retooling the film as a Broadway-style musical with songs by Ashman and Menken.

Now why ever would they have done that? I declare the mystery unsolveable!

Now why ever would they have done that? I declare the mystery unsolveable!

Ashman was eventually promoted from lyricist to goddamn executive producer, and probably had a bigger influence on the film than any other single person. Ashman worked tirelessly on this film, and with good reason. Ashman, like many thousands of other gay American men, was a victim of the AIDS epidemic of the eighties. He would live to finish all of the songs for this movie, and to learn of the movie’s rapturous reception at the New York film festival in an unfinished form. But he would not live to see the final film.

In my review of The Little Mermaid I called it “A Broadway musical in ink and paint” and I really, really should have held off on using that description because it fits Beauty and the Beast so much better. Ashman actually held auditions on Broadway itself and the resulting cast is pretty much wall to wall Broadway veterans. Also, the song-to-dialogue ratio in this movie is even more heavily skewed towards the songs which take up around twenty five minutes of the running time.

Richard Purdum, the original director, left once Ashman and Menken were brought on board as it was clear that Disney were going to make a very different movie from what he had originally intended.

Princesses and songs! Those cavemen do NOT fuck around!

Princesses and songs! NOW! Those cavemen are NOT fucking around!

Replacing him were two young newcomers  named Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, whose previous experience prior to helming this multi-million dollar animated feature was…an animated short for the Disney Land attraction Cranium Command. I’m not joking. Well, actually, their lack of experience was part of the reason they were hired. Eisner and Katzenberg simply wanted someone to ride herd on the animators who in turn could be easily ridden by Eisner and Katzenberg.

Huh huh huh huh.

Huh huh huh huh.

After Purdum’s departure, they were looking for directors who would be under no illusions as to who was in charge. In fact, at the beginning Wise and Trousdale were referred to as “Acting Directors”, which Trousdale would later describe as “acting like a director in the hope that direction would happen.” But as it turned out, Kirk and Trousdale rose to the challenge and proved themselves to be very competent, prompting Katzenberg to promote them to “directors”.

The generation of young animators that had come on board around the time of The Fox and the Hound  had now fully matured into probably the most accomplished animation team in the world. This would be the last film that they would all work together on, as from then on the  studio would work on two movies simultaneously with the animation team being split in two. Many of the people who worked on this film consider it to be the crowning achievement of the renaissance, the true pinnacle. Are they right?

Well, let’s see if this thing can win me over.

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Rescuersduposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #29: The Rescuers Down Under

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

“We knew that Bernard and Bianca would come back in this movie. Because it’s a film about them.”

Thomas Schumacher, producer of The Rescuers Down Under, 1990  

“Wow. Thanks for that stunning revelation into the creative process.”

Unshaved Mouse, Watching the Making Of, 2013

***

Question. Have you ever shown up to the office Christmas party in your gimp suit only to be told that, no, we decided fancy dress was just too much hassle and yes I did send you an email, I did, I’m sorry but I distinctly remember, well check your inbox, wait, do you have a period in your email address? You do? Oh, well, okay, that explains it. Hah. I can totally see your package through the latex by the way?

Gimp Mouse

Hey, I’ve seen the search terms that bring people to my blog, don’t you DARE judge me.

That’s kind of Rescuers Down Under. It was just a little late to the party and now everyone can see its balls and is pretending to ignore it. If this movie had come out a few years earlier, preferably when the Crocodile Dundee craze was still in full force, it could have killed. This movie could have been HUGE. But instead it arrived in the wake of The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid, in case I need remind you, was just a little bit of a game changer.

So the movie going public now had certain expectations about Disney.

Hey guys, I gotta new movie I think you're going to really love!

Hey guys, I gotta new movie I think you’re going to really love!

Is it a wonderland of fairytale  enchantment with fantastic songs and a princess who discovers that the strength was in her heart the whole time?

Is it a wonderland of fairytale enchantment with fantastic songs and a princess who discovers that the strength was in her heart the whole time?

Noooo...it's a sequel to a Mourning Era movie with lots of action and adventure and no songs.

Noooo…it’s a sequel to a  thirteen year old Mourning Era movie with lots of action and adventure and no songs.

EAT HIM!

EAT HIM!

AAAAAH!

AAAAAH!

 Yeah, this movie is not what people were looking for. And if you’re looking for a culprit as to why the Disney movies of the Renaissance Era are utterly totally bound with steel hoops and unbreakable adamantium chains to slightly reliant on formula, this is your reason. On its release, The Rescuers Down Under was a flop, although it may have been a self-inflicted one. Jeffrey Katzenberg famously pulled all the advertising after it had a less successful than expected opening weekend. Might it have become a hit if they’d waited and let word of mouth spread? I dunno. Maybe? It got decent enough reviews, and I think it’s probably safe to say that it’s more well-regarded now than its prequel, which was one of the most successful animated movies of all time. But Disney have always seemed to smell red-headed stepchild on this one. It’s certainly not like they disavow its existence like The Black Cauldron or Song of the South. But you get the feeling that if you mentioned this movie to someone in Disney they’d be like “Oh yeah. That one.” and ask you coldly not to raise the matter again. But make no mistake, this is an influential movie. Firstly, there’s the fact that its failure pretty much ended the talking animal-centric Disney movie until Dinosaur a decade later, and paved the way for the total dominance of the Disney princess movies. People often forget this, but the princess movies are very much a minority in the canon. In the sixty odd years prior to Little Mermaid, there were a grand total of three princess movies, compared to fifteen that focused on talking animals. But in the twenty-five years since Little Mermaid there have been seven princess movies. The success of Little Mermaid caused that, sure, but so did the failure of Rescuers Down Under.

Secondly, this was the first narrative sequel in the Disney canon, and the last until Winnie the Pooh in 2011. Because of this, the business of making sequels was then farmed out to other animation studios. These studios, despite not having the resources and experience of the original creators, nevertheless managed to create new and wonderful expansions of the existing works, creating sequels that could stand up and sometimes even surpaaaaahaaahahahahahahaha!

Who did an absolutely phenomonal hahahahaha...sorry, couldn't say that with a straight face these were pretty much all feculent garbage.

Sorry, couldn’t say that with a straight face. These were pretty much all feculent garbage.

So we can thank Rescuers Down Under for that too.

Jesus, this thing has a darker legacy than the book of Leviticus.

And it’s really not fair for this movie to be lumped in with the rest of the sequels. For starters, it’s not a naked and unwanted cash grab with no narrative justification. This is genuinely a story that had a few chapters left to be told. Unlike the rest of the canon, Rescuers was pretty much made for a sequel. The reason Cinderella 2 is such a non-starter is that at the end of Cinderella, all the loose ends are tied up. To continue the story, you have to unpick a perfectly good happy ending only to restore it at the end in a way that’s never going to be as satisfying as it was the first time. But the Rescuers, although it did have a happy ending for Penny, ended with the promise that the adventures of Bernard and Bianca were just beginning. The team had just been assembled. We had gotten all the tedious getting-to-know-you business out-of-the-way and now it’s full steam ahead. This, I think, is another reason why so many of you in the comments pine for that Basil the Great Mouse Detective sequel that never was. It was a concept that still had plenty of places to go, unlike Cinderella, who, once she gets the glass slipper, that really should be the last we hear of her.

No. Seriously. FUCK. OFF.

No. Seriously.
Fuck off.

But Rescuers Down Under does have one other, very important legacy. Like most YouTube comments, Rescuers Down Under was done all in CAPS, a new process that allowed ink and paint drawings to be digitized so that scenes could be arranged by computer. CAPS would continue to be used pretty much until the end of the traditional animation era and was as big a revolution in animation as the use of xerography was in the sixties.

Oh, and it's also why the movie is FUCKING GORGEOUS.

Oh, and it’s also why the movie is FUCKING GORGEOUS.

Of course, the Disney animators knew next to nothing about computers, so they enlisted the help of a small computer hardware company. This company, when not selling computers to government and medical agencies, moonlit as an animation studio doing little animated CGI commercials for Listerine.

They were called Pixar.

Talk about humble beginnings. This Listerine ad only won five Oscars.

Talk about humble beginnings.
This Listerine ad only won five Oscars.

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #28: The Little Mermaid

(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. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

Wow. We’re finally here. Have you been looking forward to this? I know I have. After all, we’re finally going to review the movie that unquestionably, I repeat unquestionably, ushered in the Disney renaissance…

I’m sorry, a mob of angry Disney contrarians has amassed below in the comments. One moment please.

Alright, let's hear it.

Alright, let’s hear it.

Cat

Who framed Roger Rabbit? was the real start of the renaissance!”

"No! Basil the Great Mouse Detective!"

“No! Basil the Great Mouse Detective!”

"Oliver & Company revived the Disney musical!"

Oliver & Company revived the Disney musical!”

Toad

“The Renaissance didn’t start until Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture!”

"THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE IS A MYTH! IT NEVER HAPPENED!"

“THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE IS A MYTH! IT NEVER HAPPENED!”

"GIVE US BARRABAS!"

“GIVE US BARRABAS!”

Okay, okay. I hear all your points so let me just give my response now that I've lured you all into one place.

Okay, okay. I hear all your points so let me just give my response now that I’ve lured you all into one place.

boom

No. I’m sorry, I’ve taken some controversial positions in my time but on this one the conventional wisdom is right. The Little Mermaid marks the beginning of the massive leap in quality in Disney animation that is known as the Disney Renaissance of the late eighties/early nineties. How did this come about? Well it was a perfect storm of a million different things and people coming together but I’ve got a lot to say on this movie so I’ll try and boil it down to the main causes.

1) Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Now, I don’t consider Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the start of the Renaissance because it wasn’t wholly a Disney movie. It was a Disney/Amblin co-production featuring not just Disney characters but Warner characters and those of many other studies and also it isn’t considered part of the canon. But it did lead directly to the Disney Renaissance in a very important way. Remember last review I mentioned how the makers of that movie brought in their own animators because they didn’t think the regular Disney animators were up to the task? Well after Roger was wrapped many of those animators were brought in to work on Mermaid which meant a huge transfusion of energy and talent. This is why Mermaid looks so much better than the films that came immediately before it.

2) Kaaaaaaaaaaaatzenberg!

Jeffrey Katzenberg is a controversial figure in animation and with good reason. He is in many ways the quintessential Hollywood executive, brash, abrasive and confrontational. His artistic instincts could also leave a lot to be desired (he wanted to cut Part of Your World, a choice that would have absolutely gutted the movie and which saner heads were thankfully able to talk him out of). But credit where credit is due, Katzenberg knows how to create entertainment if not always art. His track record before and after Disney is one of a man who knows how to make real crowd pleasers. Also, Katzenberg brought an energy and a drive to a studio culture that had perhaps been a little indolent. If you worked for Katzenberg you fucking  WORKED for Katzenberg. I think of Katzenberg as a Blue Lantern.

And you guys need to stop letting me use MS Paint because my God but I suck at it.

What do I mean? Okay, well in Green Lantern comics you have these alien beings that wear power rings that are fueled by different emotions. The Green Lanterns have green rings fuelled by willpower that allows them to create incredible energy constructs. The Blue Lanterns have blue rings fuelled by hope that do jack shit on their own but when they’re near the Green Lanterns gives them an incredible energy boost because hope fuels willpower. Wow, this is probably the longest and nerdiest explanation I’ve ever given to anything. What I’m trying to say is, Katzenberg is not much of an artist on his own. But if you have him working with talented people he provides the energy and drive to push them to dazzling creative heights. Also, he’s extremely vulnerable to yellow fear energy (citation needed)

Jeff! Behind you!

Jeff! Behind you!

3) Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken created the sound of the Disney renaissance, which was important because with one notable exception, all the Disney films of the Renaissance era were musicals. There had been Disney musicals before, of course, but Ashman and Menken created something very new; Broadway Disney. The movies of this period are Broadway musicals in ink and paint. Everything about them, the big emotions, belting musical numbers, the dance numbers, the spectacle…it’s pure Broadway. Ashman and Menken, probably more than any other individual person, defined the feel of Disney movies of this period. And it all started with The Little Mermaid, whose success basically ensured that it was the template for every Disney movie that came after, triumph after triumph after triumph… until the whole formula was basically squeezed to a desiccated husk and everything came crashing down like a house of wet cards. But we’ll get to that eventually. For now, let’s take a look at The Little Mermaid.

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