Of all the nerve! I’m going to be absolutely brutal on this one. Wish Upon a Starfish begins with Sebastien looking for Ariel and telling her she’d better be studying for her “Crab Philosophy” test…okay, I already have a million and one questions here.
Ariel is receiving some kind of education? Sebastien is her tutor now (why am I not surprised)? But most importantly, which crab philosophers are on the curriculum? Crabistotle? Socrabstes? Crab Camus?
Anyway, Sebastien tells Ariel that there’s a storm going on overhead so she swims to the surface to see if she can get some of that sweet, sweet human swag. She finds a music box with a ballerina figurine (I would really have liked if this was the same music box we see in Part of Your World but alas) but Sebastien and Flounder yell at her to come back because the storm is dangerous. Somehow.
Well yes, actually. They get hit by a wave and we next see Ariel unconscious, washed up on a beach with Flounder beside her. And Flounder’s first words are “Ariel, are you okay?!”
Like, sweet and all that he cares about her so much but sometimes it’s okay to prioritise your own needs, y’know?
The episode begins with Ariel riding a sea horse throughout the entire ocean to wish every single sea creature a good morning and to continue her descent into self-parody. One creature who is not having a good morning however, is whatever the hell this thing is:
So this…flipped bird from evolution itself is a Bad Luck Creature and none of the other sea creatures will have anything to do with it because it’s supposedly unlucky which, clearly from the fact that it’s living, it is. The creature, which we shall call Lucky, is very sad because all of the other ocean denizens shun it and call it names.
Ariel comes across this abomination and starts make cooing noises and oh God, you know what this means don’t you?
If my kids ever ask me about the nineties I’ll tell them of a wondrous time when the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War was over and we were all free to focus on what was really important: dinosaurs and whales. Seriously, if it wasn’t big, extinct or going extinct it could get fucked. The mania of interest in dinosaurs obviously followed in the wake of Jurassic Park, whereas the world’s global bout of cetaphilia was a result of the movie Free Willy, a film about boys and whales and whales jumping over boys.
This episode deals with Spot, a baby killer whale that Ariel adopted in the pilot for this series which I haven’t reviewed because Disney, in their infinite wisdom, decided to not put it on Disney plus. And this episode is a sequel to that one where Spot returns because Disney was decided in 1993 that having an episode about a killer whale trying to escape from a water park might be an easy sell.
Actually I can’t be sure of that. This episode aired in October 1993, a mere three months after Free Willy premiered which seems like an awfully quick turnaround. I mean, that would mean that this episode was just slapped together in ninety days and ohhhhhhhh I see…
Ariel and Flounder are out minding their own damn business when a naval battle between some pirates and the Royal Navy breaks out overhead. During the battle, one of the pirates drops a boot and Ariel, little hoarder that she is, is fascinated by it and takes it back to Atlantica to show to her friends. Now, The Little Mermaid the film had a lean, tight little screenplay with very little fat which was to its credit. But it does mean that Ariel’s world is really under-populated. She has literally two friends in that movie (Sebastien is more of an authority figure), Flounder and Scuttle and she hasn’t actually met Scuttle yet. So the episode has to create some new fish friends for Ariel. Who are these fresh new additions to the rich Mermaid canon? Well, we get an unnamed posh lady fish who loves fashion dahling and an uninspired Woody Allen impression. God, uninspired Woody Allen impersonations used to be everywhere in cartoons and they were never a good sign. Foodfight!had one. That should teach you plenty. By a rather morbid coincidence this episode would have aired right around the time Dylan Farrow went public.
Things get off to a bad start right away when The Little Mermaid the series violates the unwritten rule that all Disney series from the nineties have to have an absolute banger as a theme song. Instead, TLM has a wordless medley of the themes for Under the Sea and Part of Your World. Fantastic pieces of music no doubt, but it still feels more than a little lazy.
Anyway, remember the Under the Sea sequence from the original movie? Sure ya do. Well, it turns out that’s just how life is in Atlantica all the time, a never-ending calypso-infused bacchanal under the kindly patrician gaze of beloved despot King Triton. So Triton and Sebastien are taking a trip see the “turtle races” and Ariel and Flounder take the opportunity to go exploring. Near a sinister looking volcano they hear a weak, pathetic voice begging them for help and discover an unseen creature trapped in the volcano’s crater. Ariel wants to help but Flounder reminds her of the legend of a terrible monster that was trapped in a volcano (much like this one actually) by the ancient Atlanticans and that would certainly doom their entire civilization if it was ever freed. Ariel, naturally, tells Flounder not to be such a little bitch and frees the creature which turns out to be…the thing, the thing I just said.
Look, in my time I’ve clapped back at people who disputed bad reviews I gave with the shop-worn riposte “well it wasn’t made for you!” but there does come a point where you have to admit that something just…wasn’t…made for you. Case in point, over the next few posts I’ll be reviewing a cartoon series made for nine year old girls in the early nineties. And it’s one thing to dunk on DarkWing Duck but beating up on a show made for little girls is cheap even for me. Fortunately, Unshaved Mouse inc. has a nine year old girl on staff and she kindly agreed to watch the series with me. And Mini Mouse peaced out after three episodes so I know it’s not just me. Actual transcript:
And look, I wanted to like this series. Hell, I have always wanted to like this series. I’ve mentioned before that The Little Mermaid was the first Disney movie I ever owned on VHS. I loved that film as much as it was safe for a seven year old boy in a rough North Dublin school to love that movie. And I remember being deeply bored by this series. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. Not because the series is good (oh no) but it is ABSOLUTELY BUCK WILD.
In 1964 British-Norwegian author Roald Dahl published Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I wouldn’t call it the greatest Dahl novel (I actually prefer the sequel, believe it or not) but it’s a fun romp nonetheless where you the reader get to enjoy one of the most scabrously funny writers of the twentieth century sit an entire generation of children down and say “Listen up, you little bastards. Here’s why you suck.”
However, it has to be said that the ending is objectively terrible. Willy Wonka finishes the tour of his factory, glances over his shoulder and sees that Charlie Bucket has survived his gauntlet of death by dint of having no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, and essentially says “yes, you, bland cipher child, you shall inherit my chocolate factory!” And that’s it. That’s the ending.
Now, a mere seven years later the book was adapted into Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory directed by Mel Stuart and starring the late great Gene Wilder in the title role. The screenplay is solely credited to Roald Dahl but around 30% of it was actually written by David Seltzer, including (I’m pretty certain) the scene I want to discuss. It’s a movie that I love with all my heart and soul and consider one of the very best literary adaptations ever made. I love this film. I love the performances, I love the songs, I love the gags. Those weird, Monty Python-esque skits where the whole world goes nuts looking for the Golden Tickets? I love ’em. And, in my opinion, it improves on the novel in every single change that it makes.
Removing Charlie’s Dad? Makes Charlie more sympathetic and gives Mrs Bucket more of a focus. Having each child only bring in one parent to the factory? Trims the fat. Making the Oompa Loompas little orange dudes instead of Arican pygmies?
But these are all mostly minor, cosmetic changes. There are two scenes added to the story that drastically change the meaning of the story and the character of Willy Wonka. The first interpolation happens between Violet Beauregard being turned into a blueberry and Veruca Salt being sent to the furnace (man, this movie is a fun time). Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe steal Fizzy Lifting Drinks and almost get chopped to pieces by a ceiling fan. They belch their way to freedom and rejoin the tour, with Wonka seemingly none the wiser.
Now, a lot of people hate this addition and I can definitely see why. The whole point of Charlie is that he’s not like the other kids. He’s supposed to be the good one. And, you could argue that by stealing the Fizzy Lifting Drinks Charlie is actually worse than the other kids. I mean, it’s definitely worse than Augustus Gloop drinking from the chocolate river. Wonka just let those kids loose in a chocolate world and told them to go nuts, so why wouldn’t Augustus drink from the river? Why is the river off limits but not anything else? Mike Teevee was definitely out of line but I think the real blame is on the Oompa Loompas for shrinking him. Violet Beauregard may have taken the chewing gum against Wonka’s advice, but at least she was upfront about it and didn’t steal it behind his back! And Veruca…
Okay, Veruca just straight up trashed the egg laying room like the Rolling Stones trashing the Miami Hilton.
He’s not worse than Veruca but, other than the upper echelons of the Nazi party, no one is.
Before we get into the review, I want to address something. Certain commenters (who shall, by virtue of me being the bigger mouse, remain nameless) stated in my last review that I have been “negative” and “harsh” on the Disney canon of late.
Let’s call this out for what it is: VICTIM BLAMING.
It’s a pernicious practice, and I will not tolerate it particularly if I’m the victim. Have I been harsh on Disney recently? Scathing? Even cruel? Yes. But who threw the first punch?
Raya is a historically significant film and definitely represents a demarcation point in the history of the canon. This is, after all, the first canon movie to go straight to streaming (although it did receive a restricted theatrical run). It also, to me, represents the irrevocable “shrinking” of movies. There are no big releases any more, there are no big unifying cultural moments. A few years ago I remember walking home one night and hearing a group of girls on the other side of the road spontaneously bursting into a chorus of “Let it Go” but it kinda feels like that kind of culturally ubiquitous megahit can’t happen any more. There’s too much content. We’re all watching different things. A movie being released in the cinema was kind of an imprimatur of significance, but the cinema might not have survived the decade even without Covid shoving it into a shallow grave. Gloria Swanson was right, she was just off by half a century.
Sorry, this is all frightfully maudlin. I guess for me Raya is less a movie and more a totem of a strange and tragic moment in history.
Also, I don’t really want to talk about it because it sucks and apparently that’s a dangerous opinion. Lindsay Ellis talked shit about this movie and I’m pretty sure she’s dead now or in witness protection or something.
Anyway. Raya and the Last Dragon. Thank you Covid, for sparing me the price of a cinema ticket. I don’t care what they say, ya ain’t all bad.
Firstly, I have to thank regular commenter Lupin the 8th for sending me the media file that allowed me to finally (finally) cross this review off the old list.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring Kevin Sorbo was a TV series that ran from 1995 to 1999 that dared to ask the question: what if Greek mythology was Baywatch?
It was an occasionally entertaining, perenially stupid mid-nineties hunk of cheese now best remembered it’s much more influential spin-off show. Lucy Lawless appeared as a villain in Hercules before audiences said “More hot lady in the leather who kicks ass please” and Xena the Warrior Princess was born. Basically think “Distaff Hercules with more nineties ‘tude and the blatant homoeroticism delivered with a saucy wink instead of a slack-jawed stare”.
It was, simultaneously, a hugely important and influential chapter in the history of women in television and a queer cultural touchstone and dumb as all hell. This was the show that depicted Abraham and Julius Caesar as contemporaries despite the fact that Abraham was more ancient to Julius Caesar than Julius Caesar is to us.
Together, these two shows formed a kind of mini-television universe…
Okay, focus. Focus.
The final, second-least weird part of this mini multimedia franchise is today’s movie is the animated feature Hercules and Xena: The Animated Movie-The Battle for Mount Olympus or HXTAMTBMO for short. This movie came out in 1998, which I find significant because the previous year saw the release of a certain other, beloved, animated depiction of Hercules. Oh yeah, you know the one I’m talking about.
Seriously though, while you might be tempted to view HXTAMTBMO as a cheap cash in on Disney’s Hercules there was actually some talent behind this one. It was directed by Lynne Naylor who was one of the co-founders of Spümcø animation (the Ren and Stimpy lads) and who worked on Batman: The Animated Series. It was produced by Sam Raimi, had the main cast of the show on hand to voice their roles and scripting duties were handled by John Loy who wrote for Pinky and the Brain. Okay! Not a bad bench of talent. This could be good? Right? Right?
Guys, let me level with you. I’ve spent four years trying to track this movie down. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about animated movies it’s this; cartoons are like a politician’s tax returns. If someone’s trying to hide them, it’s not because they’re just so damned good.
Here we go again. Every so often I’ll have a moment where I’ll go “Have I really been blogging about animation for X number of years without covering Y?” and this one’s a doozy.
Have I really been blogging about animation for nine years without covering Felix the Cat? Because Felix the Cat is a pretty damn big deal in the history of animation.
Not the first cartoon character, but the first cartoon star, the first cartoon character able to draw a crowd on name recognition alone. The character was created in 1919 by Australian animator Pat Sullivan.
Or, as is now accepted by a majority of animation historians, by one of Sullivan’s animators Otto Messmer.
Honestly, researching this post taught me that Pat Sullivan was what people think Walt Disney was; a talentless credit-stealer and a nasty racist to boot. Anyway. Sullivan’s studio produced a rake of silent Felix shorts in the late teens and throughout the twenties and Felix was, for a time, a full on pop culture phenomenon. And you know what? With good cause. While simple, these shorts have a real charm and wit and I honestly think they hold up a lot better than a lot of later cartoons by Disney and Warner Bros from the early talkie era.
These shorts were also hugely influential on the field of animation in general, with the basic precepts of Felix’s design going on to influence American and Japanese animation right up to the present day, setting the template for characters as diverse as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog. And some people didn’t even bother with being “influenced” and just straight up fucking stole it.
But, by the end of the twenties a sinister new threat had emerged to challenge Felix’s place as the world’s preminent cartoon character: SYNCHRONISED SOUND.
Sullivan resisted the switch to sound for as long as he could, but eventually caved and started producing sound Felix cartoons. Unfortunately, these cartoons did not use synchronised sound and instead were pre-animated with music, dialogue and sound effects being added in post-production, which results in what animation aficionados call “really crap cartoons”. The new series of sound Felix cartoons were cancelled, the studio shuttered and Pat Sullivan spiralled into an alcoholic depression brought on by the death of his wife and died in his forties Jesus Christ that got so bad so fast.
A brief, utterly Disnified run of cartoons by Van Beuren studios in the thirties notwithstanding, Felix was seemingly a defunct property. Having failed to transition to the sound era, Felix disappeared from public view, presumably to a rambling mansion on Sunset Boulevard where he could brood and slip into obsession and madness.
Fast forward to the 1950s and Joe Oriolo, an animator and artist who’d worked with Otto Messmer on the Felix the Cat comic strip, created the Felix the Cat TV Show. This show was arguably the most influential and famous iteration of the character, introducing a host of concepts and characters that are now inextricably linked to Felix like the magic bag, the Professor and Poindexter. And if you love this cartoon…you do you. Personally I can’t stand it but then I’m pretty non-plussed by mid-century American TV animation as a general rule. But yeah, this series gave Felix his second bite of the super-stardom pie and also launched him to Spinal Tap levels of popularity in Japan.
So why did it take so long for Felix to make the leap to feature length animation? Well Pat Sullivan’s death had left Felix in legal limbo but Joe Oriolo was finally able to get full ownership of the character in 1970, probably because Joe Oriolo was an absolute snack.
Oriolo pére passed away in 1985 but his son Don carried on the Felix legacy, finally bringing a full length Felix the Cat animated feature to movie screen in 1988.
Sorry, sorry, my mistake. The movie was completed in 1988 (using Hungarian animation) but only released in the United States in 1991. Very briefly. Before going straight to video.
Oh, and, fun bit of trivia. Researching for this post I first came across the phrase “abandoned movie”. Felix the Cat has been “abandoned” in the United States. What this means is that Felix the Cat DVDs are no longer sold in America. If you’re in America and you want a DVD of this movie you either have to buy it from overseas or get one of the original run of discs from the nineties which will cost you an arm and a leg.
And I know what you’re thinking!: “Mouse, this film that was animated in a second world totalitarian Communist state whose release was delayed by two years before getting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run and then being consigned to home video hell before being full on abandoned at the side of the road in the new millenium sounds like a really good movie!”
Which is what I love about you, reader. Your unflagging optimism. But I’m afraid I have to crush your hopes with the greatest violence possible. How bad is this movie?