Dreamworks

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

Okay guys, this is going to be a short one. Firstly because I fell waaaay the damn behind schedule with this review and secondly because I review movies by recapping the plot and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron has less of a plot and more of an outline. Very, very little happens and less of it is of interest. Because once again, I have tried to love Dreamworks and it has repaid me with treachery.

Thou false jade.

You see, I had never seen this one. In fact Spirit was the last of the early traditionally animated Dreamworks films I hadn’t seen and I was all set to continue my concerto writing meth dealer analogy from the last review, arguing that Dreamworks could have surpassed Disney as the greatest American purveyors of traditional animation if audiences hadn’t been seduced by the glossy CGI succubus (Pixelitia! How I curse thee!) and then…ugh.

So true story, I sat down to watch this with Mini Mouse and at around the hour mark she turns to me, rolls her eyes and says:

“Daddy can we PLEASE watch something else?”

Dreamworks? She’s a five year old girl. If you can’t sell a five year old girl a cartoon with horses, you have FAILED. You have failed more totally than it should be possible for human beings to fail. You have created a masterpiece of ineptitude. You broke the damn scale.

What went wrong? Let’s take a look.

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The Road to El Dorado (2000)

Early Dreamworks was an odd beast wasn’t it? I mean, let’s look at their first five movies. You had the worse version of the worst early Pixar movie starring Woody Allen which was a selling point in 1998. They then followed that up with the SINGLE MOST BEAUTIFUL TRADITIONALLY ANIMATED MOVIE EVER MADE BY A NORTH AMERICAN STUDIO FIGHT ME. After that was Road to Eldorado which we’re reviewing today and then a Claymation remake of the Great Escape with chickens. And then you had something called Shrek. I have no idea what Shrek is, but apparently it was a big deal at the time. Shrek. What is that? Sounds like a Care Bears villain from the eighties.

“Good work gang! We stopped Shrek from stealing the happy crystals!”

“Grrr, I’ll get you next time you meddling bears, or my name’s not Shrek!”.

Sorry, where was I? Right, the wildly inconsistent early lineup of Dreamworks. And here’s the thing, I know I rag on Dreamworks a lot, but today I want to rag on us.  I think we failed Dreamworks. I think we messed up. Dreamworks was like a little boy who came home from school one day and said “Look! I wrote a concerto!” and we were all “You idiot! You’ll never amount to anything writing concertos!” and the next day he came home and said “Today I sold some meth!” and we were all “That’s our boy! You keep selling that meth!”.

The kid had talent. The kid had potential. But we encouraged the wrong behaviour and now we have a meth dealer. Yay us.

HOW IS THERE A POSTER ALREADY?

And here’s the thing. We’re still doing it. We’re still rewarding bad behaviour and punishing good work. There’s a growing consensus among movie critics that sites like Rotten Tomatoes are a cancer on the craft. I’d never really bought into that until I casually checked Road to Eldorado’s RT score for this review.

FUCK YOU ROTTEN TOMATOES.  YOU DIE IN A FIRE AND WAKE UP IN A GODLESS VOID.

I know, I know, everything’s subjective and everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but COME ON. This is Road to Eldorado people!  ROAD TO ELDORADO. RTED. I’m starting to think I’m the only one who understands the significance of that!

The film was originally conceived by Jeffrey Katzenberg, a man who specialises in films that make you go “Hmmmmmm…”

As in:

Hmmm

Hmmmmmmmm

HMMMMMMMMMMM

HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

So stop me if you’ve heard this story. An animation studio plans a big, epic drama set in a reimagined Incan civilization. A big time rock star is brought on to write the songs. But then, oh noes! The studio decides to go in a radically different direction and turn the whole thing into a comedy, the story has to be reworked from scratch, directors come and go like Trumpian wives and everyone involved has a thoroughly miserable time. That’s right, Katzenberg was so dedicated to ripping off Emperor’s New Groove that he even ripped off its troubled production history.

Now THAT’s commitment.

I kid, I kid. Seriously though, the production was a hot mess and the first director, Will Finn (an animator with a “holy shit” list of credits that includes NIMH and the entire Disney Renaissance) talks about the movie the way Ahab talks about the white whale, as an eternal nemesis who took something from him he’ll never get back. Also, he doesn’t think it’s a good movie. Which brings me back to my earlier point.

BECAUSE IT’S ROAD TO FRICKITY FRUCKING EL DORADO.

Let’s do this.

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Deathmatch 2017: This aggression will not stand, man.

During the 2016 election there was considerable debate as to whether Donald Trump was simply a con man using nativist rhetoric to win the nomination and who would then swiftly abandon populism and ram through a hard-right platform designed to enrich the one percent, or whether he was actually the racist authoritarian that he played on TV. The answer turned out to be: “Yes.”

Things have gotten real bad, real fast and I think it’s clear that we are living in times that will have large, detailed chapters in future history books. I awoke this morning to learn that a close friend of mine is now banned from entering the United States purely because of her place of birth. The wall is being built. A white nationalist is now sitting on the National Security Council. The nation built by the poor, the tired and the huddled masses is refusing to admit refugees. The most powerful office in the world is less trusted and respected after eight days of Trump than after eight years of George W. Bush. I confess that I am deeply afraid.

As well as being afraid, I am angry, frustrated, appalled and sickened. But one thing I am not is despondent. I am not pessimistic. I am not disheartened.

not-today

Because the last week has reaffirmed what I already knew. The American people did not elect Trump. Trump was elected by a combination of fluke, a rotting and archaic electoral system, voter suppression and intervention by a hostile foreign power. The American people are the ones who voted for Hillary Clinton by a massive margin, who staged the largest demonstration in the nation’s history against Trump’s nascent kakistocracy and who are now fighting against the illegal detention of refugees at American airports.

The good outnumber the wicked and they always will.

This is a time when all people of good will must put whatever skills they have towards resisting Trump. For me, that means writing snarky reviews of movies which I will be the first to admit is not the most obviously useful skill in an anti-fascist resistance movement.

But that is why this year’s Unshaved Mouse Charity Movie Deathmatch is in aid of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So, how does the Deathmatch work?

  1. Make a donation of $5 or $10 to the ACLU.
  2. Email your receipt to unshavedmouse@gmail.com letting me know which movie or series gets your vote (a 5 dollar donation counts as one vote, 10 counts for two)
  3. Deathmatch runs all through February. Every two weeks, the lowest scoring three movies/series will be eliminated in ways not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
  4. Highest scoring three movies/series at the end of the month get reviewed and get to go home to their loved ones.

Mouse, I’m wealthy, I’m charitable and I want you to review something NOW.

A $35 dollar donation gets you any movie or episode of a TV show reviewed that you like. $60 gets you two. $100 gets you four and quite possibly a statue somewhere when this all blows over.

What if I buy a review for a movie or series that’s competing in the death match?

In the case of movies, if you give a $35 donation and request a movie that loses the deathmatch, you get the review anyway. If your movie wins the deathmatch then I will contact you and ask you for your second choice and you get two movies that you wanted reviewed instead of one. Fair enough?

In the case of a TV series  that wins the deathmatch, I’ll review an extra episode for every person that gave a $35 donation for that series.

Boring stuff done, so let’s MEET OUR FIGHTERS!

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The Prince of Egypt (1998)

(DISCLAIMER: 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.)

Writing reviews is only partly why I do this blog. The other part is getting to know you guys; finding out your likes and dislikes, your passions and the things that drive you crazy. Learning the things that make you all wonderful unique human beings and then selling that information on to advertisers. And you’re a pretty diverse bunch. In the regular cohort of commenters I’ve met evangelical Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Catholics and a larger-than-I-would-have-thought-possible contingent of furries.
 
"Not my fault. I didn’t ask to be this gorgeous."

“Not my fault. I didn’t ask to be this gorgeous.”

 
And by and large we all tend to get along and I’d really like to keep it that way. Sooo…just to remind everyone, today’s movie is Prince of Egypt, a 1998 animated movie based on the story of Moses. It is not a sacred text, even though it’s narrative is based on one depicted in a sacred text. But it’s a movie. Got that? It’s just a movie. And if I make jokes about Moses, please remember that I’m mocking Moses the character played by Val Kilmer and not the actual prophet and oh God, please, please don’t kill me I have a wife and child who’d kinda miss me oh dear God I don’t want to die.
 
Ahem.
 
So, let’s get a little background. The story of Moses and the Israelites’ escape from Egypt is probably one of the most widely known stories in human history, and only partly because it’s a foundation text of the three big Abrahamic religions. It’s just a phenomenal story, epic, sweeping, full of spectacular miracles and human tragedy. So it’s no wonder that there have been cinematic adaptations of Exodus for almost as long as there’s been cinema. Some stories work best on the page, and then there are some that are just crying out to be translated into a visual medium. When you read about Moses parting the red sea, or the plagues, or the pillar of fire, your first thought is “Damn. I want to see that.”
 
Be careful what you wish for.

Preferably without having to look at any Middle Eastern people.

Prince of Egypt was the first traditional animated movie Dreamworks made back when they were still trying to do CGI and cel animation simultaneously. I’m actually not entirely sure whose idea the movie was. More than a few sources that I’ve read have said that this was a movie Katzenberg had been trying to get made for years at Disney and failing, but in the “making of” Katzenberg actually says that it was Stephen Spielberg who suggested doing an animated remake of The Ten Commandments. Possible that both men just had the same idea of course, but the way Katzenberg tells it he makes it sound like he was wandering in the desert looking for an idea and Spielberg spake unto him. Of course, after years of having his dream project shot down, Katzenberg might have just come up with the Spielberg story as a cover: “Oh, you think this is a bad idea for a movie? Well guess who came up with that idea. Stephen Goddamn Spielberg, that’s who.”

Realising that their new company’s reputation was riding on this movie, Katzenberg and Spielberg pulled out all the stops; A-list cast, a host of former Disney animators at the top of their game and songs and music by Academy/Tony/Grammy winner Stephen Schwartz and the FUCKING ZIM!!

"ZIIIIIIIIIM!"

“ZIIIIIIIIIM!”

This movie was Dreamwork’s coming out party, a clear warning to Disney that their reign as the undisputed kings of American animation was about to come to an end. But with all the time, money and A-list talent poured into this epic, did the final movie measure up to expectations? Let’s take a look.

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How to Train your Dragon (2010)

(DISCLAIMER: 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.)
My friends, let’s be frank. The last few months have been pretty darn rough on your beloved Mouse. I reviewed two stinkers that actually made me pine for the simple pleasures and artistic merit of Foodfight!, was almost destroyed by an enraged Don Bluth and discovered that my entire life was a sham orchestrated by Walt Disney. And that’s not even taking into account the vile stream of online abuse I’ve had to suffer ever since coming out. As being anti-Oxford comma. Everyone was actually really awesome about the bisexual thing. Anyway, point is, I need a fresh start, to make a clean break.  I’m ready to love again. I just…I just don’t know if I can trust him.
"Come Mouse. Don't I seem trustworthy?"

“Come Mouse. Don’t I seem trustworthy?”

Alright Katzenberg, you win. Let’s review a Dreamworks movie.
Yeah. So. Coming up on eighty animated movie reviews and I’ve yet to review even a single film by one of the largest and most successful animation houses in history. Weird right? And it’s not like I have some kind of bitter fanboyish grudge against DreamWorks. There are plenty of DreamWorks movies that I’d count as some of my all time favourites. I think the difference is, while I consider myself a Disney fan (or did, before recently swearing vengeance on the man and all his works and all his empty promises) I consider myself a Kung Fu Panda fan or a Road to El Dorado fan rather than a DreamWorks fan. The studio’s output is, let’s be honest here, all over the map. Not just in quality either (although Oh My God Yes), but also in style and theme and atmosphere and subject matter. Let’s put it this way; Snow White and Frozen both feel like they were made by the same studio despite being released three quarters of a century apart. Would you be able to guess that Shark Tale and Prince of Egypt were made by the same people? There’s far less of a unifying vision for the DreamWorks movies, and the stuff that they do have in common tends to be stuff that rubs people the wrong way (overreliance on A-list Hollywood talent over seasoned voice actors, pop culture references, dance party endings and that damned smirk). Because they’re, in a sense, less tonally monolithic than the Disney canon they have a harder time winning the same kind of devoted fanbase that Disney has (flipside, they’ll never have the hatedom either). What I’m trying to say is, there’s one Disney, but many DreamWorkseses, ranging from absolute dreck to “Pixar good”. How to Train Your Dragon is on the top of that curve, the most critically acclaimed movie the studio has ever done and a real game-changer for the animation industry. Jack Black once made a joke when he was presenting that Oscar for best animated feature that every year he gets a check from DreamWorks and bets the money on Pixar to win. After HTTYD came out that was no longer as safe a bet as it once was.
But is the movie really as good as everyone says? Let’s take a look.

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