animated

Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: The Hunchback of Notre Dame II

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Execution is more important than concept.

Consider Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Doing Victor Hugo’s classic melodrama as an animated Disney musical is an objectively terrible idea. Awful. Comedically bad. You would have to really sit down and think to come up with a classic novel less suited to the genre. Dracula has more potential as a Renaissance Disney movie than Hunchback (Magical villain with a cape and animal sidekicks, heroine who yearns for more than her safe, stale existence, funny comedy relief foreigner and a happy ending, what more do you want?).

But the thing about Hunchback is that, despite the inherent cruddiness of the core concept, everything else is JUST SO GOOD. That animation! The character designs! The backgrounds! The acting! The direction! The singing! The music! YE GODS THE MUSIC!

So what if the final product resembles Hugo’s work so loosely that Disney might as well have claimed it was original IP and called it the “The Adventures of Maurice the Not-So-Pretty Bell Man”? Gorgeous movie is gorgeous.

But what if…what if all that was taken away?

What if you took away the animation, the character designs, the backgrounds, the acting, the direction, the singing, the music ye gods the music?

What if all you had left was that initial terrible, terrible idea?

Probably something like The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, produced in 2000 but only released in 2002, presumably out of shame. This movie is why we have words like “nadir”.

Let me be clear. It’s not simply terrible compared to the original. It’s not simply terrible as a movie in its own right. It is terrible compared to other Disney Sequels.

Scared?

By God, you should be.

***

Alright, so imagine you’re making a cheap sequel to one of the most beautiful animated movies made by an American studio in the twentieth century, and it’s to be animated by Disney’s notoriously shoddy Japanese TV animation studio. It’s not going to look good. Make your peace with that right now. But a good script is no more expensive to animate than a bad one so, y’know, you can still pull this off. You can still make a decent movie provided you don’t go out of your way to remind people of the original movie oh are YOU KIDDING ME…

You know what? I appreciate that. The movie just flat out dispenses with any pretense and shows us where we stand. The opening scene of the original is one of the single most powerful sequences in the whole canon. The gentle Latin chanting suddenly blasted away by the thunderous bells and those mountainous opening chords while Notre Dame looms impossibly tall over pristine white clouds, God, it nourishes my soul.

The opening scene of Hunchback 2 tries to replicate it and every single element is just so hideously inferior. Especially the animation. But especially the music. Especially everything. Everything is equally especial.

So, since last movie featured the Festival of Fools, this time around Paris is getting ready for the Jour D’Amour, with Clopin and Quasimodo OH SWEET JESUS MERCIFUL SAVIOR…

SEND IT BACK TO THE BELLTOWER!

Yeah, so here’s an interesting thought experiment. What if you had a cartoon where the animators simply didn’t have the skill to animate the main character? James Baxter’s original Quasimodo design is quite possibly the most marvellous and intricate model of any hand-drawn character in any Disney movie. It breaks every rule and somehow it works, it’s asymetrical, and heavily detailed and yet it moves with fluidity and grace and somehow manages to look ugly and appealing at the same time which shouldn’t be possible.

This movie’s version of Quasimodo is the animation equivalent of badly performed Shakespeare. The brilliance of the source material actually makes the whole experience ten times worse. Quasi truly is “half-formed” now, veering so wildly in appearance from scene to scene that it’s kind of hard to tell what he was supposed to look like originally. The fact that they actually managed to get Tom Hulce back (and even more bafflingly, Kevin Kline, Demi Moore and Jason Alexander) lessens the pain not a jot.

So Quasi is hanging bunting by swinging from the rooftops like a kyphotic Spider-Man while Clopin sings about the coming Jour de L’Amour. On the one hand, I suppose it’s a positive that the movie doesn’t try to undo the previous film’s happy ending and shows that Quasi and Clopin are both now beloved and accepted members of Parisian society. On the other hand, this is the fucking worst, right here. It’s all so wholesome and saccharine. Seeing Quasimodo and Clopin dancing in the streets together while smiling onlookers cheer and clap just feels…wrong.

“Ha ha my friend! Remember the time I almost hanged you in a sewer?”
“Ho ho! We’re such good friends!”

The opening song…actually no. Let me talk about the songs for a minute to explain why I’m not going to talk about the songs. Imagine for a minute you were taken hostage by a cult of inbred hillbillies who proceeded to slowly eat you over the course of many months. You would, possibly, decide that one of the hillbillies was nicer than the others. Maybe Ol’ Uncle Zeke is a real peach because he only eats your toes. Having a favourite song from Hunchback 2 is kind of like having a favourite cannibal hillbilly. You might convince yourself that one was less terrible than the others but it’s just your brain trying to protect you. The fact is,  all the songs are regurgitated garbage and comparing them to each other is a waste of my time and yours. Moving on.

So Quasimodo is excited because on the Jour D’Amour he gets to ring “La Fidele” a bell that is plan on the outside but studded with gold and jewels on the inside.

Because it’s beautiful.

On the inside.

Do you understand? Do you see what they did there?

“Do you see? Do you see?”

Now you might say “Mouse, isn’t the inside of the bell the absolute worst place to put a load of gold and priceless jewels? Wouldn’t the jewels be damaged and the bell sound terrible thus making the entire undertaking a double failure?”

To which I reply “Yeah. Yeah. But…uh, I think we got a bigger problem here.”

The bell doesn’t even have a FUCKING CLAPPER.

No, no. I’m being unfair. How could I expect them to understand how a bell works, they’re notoriously complex instruments.

Anyway, the three gargoyles try to convince Quasi to get out and enjoy the Jour de L’Amour but he says he has too much work to do. The gargoyles are again voiced by Jason Alexander (Hugo) and Charles Kimbrough (Victor) with Jane Withers stepping in to voice LaVerne as Mary Wickes couldn’t appear in the film, as she had passed on by this point. Allegedly.

“That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!”

We then meet Zephyr (Haley Joel Osmond), the six year old result of Phoebus and Esmerelda’s union and every bit as bad as the start of this sentence would lead you to believe. None of the original characters from the first film are anything but a pale shadow of their former selves, but I have to say that Phoebus and Esmerelda both suffer virtual character assassination, as they are here re-imagined as the kind of people who would name their child “Zephyr”. Phoebus and Esmerelda just start making out in front of Quasimodo (nice guys, classy) and talking about how they’re going to be yelling about how much they love each other when La Fidele rings. Zephyr asks Quasimodo who’s going to be screaming his name and he says “I don’t think anyone will” which is completely untrue. I haven’t stopped screaming his name since the movie started, usually followed by “WHY!?” and “WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOU, MY CROISSANT SHAPED PRINCE?” Anyway, Esmerelda tells Quasi that there’s a girl out there for him, not her, obviously, I mean, Jesus, but you know…somebody.

A circus arrives in town and the magician/proprietor Sarousch puts on a show for the local rubes. However, his act almost comes a cropper when his assistant fails to appear. He finds her practicing a tight-rope walking act and chews her out, saying “You’re job is to stand there and look pretty.” but she says she want to contribute more to the circus. This is Madellaine.

Madellaine is voiced by America’s Sweetheart For Around Forty Minutes in 2000, Jennifer Love-Hewitt and she will be our love interest for this ordeal. This brings me neatly to what I call the “Quasimodo’s Girlfriend Dilemma”.

So, if we can acknowledge that this whole area is a minefield that we would run from if we valued our lives, let me say that I don’t object in principle to the idea of giving Quasi a girlfriend. I mean, pairing him up with Esmerelda is always going to be too far against the grain of the original novel (plus, two male and female Disney leads having  a loving but platonic friendship is important in its own right) but yeah, having Quasi never find love is problematic in a different way. So fine, a romance for Quasi, I’m game.

The trouble is that Madellaine…

Hold up. Has anyone, anywhere, ever seen that name spelled that way? Anyone? I’m half convinced Disney invented a new name just to trademark it. Anyway, Madellaine™ feels anachronistic in a way that none of the other original characters do. Everything about her mannerisms and performance screams “Meg Ryan Rom Com Heroine” and it jars in a way that’s difficult to describe. Oh, but she’s an unqualified success, a veritable Lando Calrissian of seamless sequel integration compared to Sarousch.

Sarousch is our villain and, believe it or not, actually makes for a worthy successor to Frollo. What’s that? You don’t believe it? Well done. I was testing you and you passed. Sarousch is garbage. Not even being voiced by Michael McKean can salvage this trainwreck.

There’s something about this that’s so crap, it’s like how much more crap could this be? And the answer is none. None more crap.

As well as being vain and obsessed with his own appearance, Sarousch is a thief who uses his circus as a cover for heists. Because, if there is one thing this movie wants you to know, it’s that circus folk are all dirty, dirty thieves. Sarousch tells Madellaine™ to go to the bell tower and charm the bell-ringer into showing her La Fidele so that he and the rest of the circus folk can steal it. Madellaine™ is not not happy about this but goes up to the bell tower anyway. Quasi hides because it’s a g-g-g-girl. He hides under one of the bells and talks to her, and they engage in some of the most excruciating romantic banter I have ever had the misfortune of sitting through. Madellaine™ tells Quasi it looks like he’s wearing a massive hat and, OH MY GOD BUT THEY MILK THIS. THEY MILK THIS ONE NON-JOKE UNTIL IT DIES ALONE AND IN AGONY.

Oh, and Madellaine™ can see the gargoyles. She shouldn’t be able to see the gargoyles, because as I made very clear in my last review, the gargoyles are all in Quasi’s head and even when we see the gargoyles interacting with other characters that’s just Quasi Tyler Durdenning.

I explained this. I made it very clear. This movie is undoing a lot of hard work on my part and this will not stand.

Quasi is amazed that Madellaine™ can see the gargoyles (SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP). She thinks she’s going crazy but he says she just has an active imagination. She asks to see his face and when he finally comes into the light she of course doesn’t judge him by his appearence…oh.

In fairness, I’ve been making this face since the opening title.

She runs off and Quasi sadly goes back to his table of figurines to make a Madellaine™ doll that he can smush against the Quasimodo doll while making kissy noises. Quasimodo then sings An Ordinary Miracle and I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the songs but seriously guys, you need to watch this shit. Come. Come and gawp at the carnage.

Not even Tom Hulce could save that that! It could not be Hulced!

The gargoyles tell Quasimodo…no wait, back up a step, what the fuck is happening with Victor and Hugo?

They’re changing colour so fast they looks you could stand beside them, play some techno music, drop some molly and get a rave going. Who was in charge of continuity on this? I mean God, they just did not care.

Back the circus Madellaine™ tries to explain that even in the circus she never trained for that kind of ugly but Sarousch tells her he wants the most useless bell in all Christendom and to seduce the Hunchback. Madellaine™ feels obligated to Sarousch because he didn’t turn her in to the authorities when he caught her stealing from him when she was six years old and also because she’s kinda dumb. She feels really guilty about lying to Quasimodo though, and stares at herself in the mirror so long that one of her eyes becomes larger than the other.

Is it a metaphor for the way her soul has become corrupted by Sarousch’s greed or is this just an awful cartoon? Who can say…

So after the magic show Madellaine™ catches up with Quasi and seems him carrying Zephyr home on his shoulders (so now he’s got two worthless lumps on his back, hi-yo!). Realising that anyone who could put up with Zephyr’s unending asinine prattle without dropping him down a well must have the gentle nature of a saint, she does…this.

I’ve mentioned the weird phenomenon of bad acting in cartoon characters before. I don’t mean bad voice acting, I mean when actual cartoon characters give unconvincing performances and Madellaine™ is an excellent example of this. Every gesture she makes is so over the top, so completely excessive, that it makes the Wolf from Red Hot Riding Hood look like Philip Seymour Hoffman. And here’s the thing, that is hard to do. Cartoon characters exist in their own world, we don’t think of them as actors, we think of them as real beings inhabiting their own seperate reality. For a cartoon character to be unconvincing would be like you giving a bad performance as yourself in your every day life. Sucking that hard is an achievement.

So they go far a walk and before you know it she starts falling for him for real. Meanwhile, Phoebus is suspicious because there’s been a wave of thefts since the circus arrived in town and he suspects Sarousch’s troupe. Esmerelda, Quasimodo and Zephyr all get mad at him when he blames the circus folk the thefts and theorises that Madellaine™ is using Quasi to get something else. So, big problem right here. Phoebus, is one of my favourite characters in the original movie and here he’s presented like a bigoted authoritarian jerk. But if your movie is going to be about bigotry you can’t have the bigot be right about every single thing. It is really suspicious that the crimes only began when the circus arrived. The circus troupe actually is behind the the thefts. And Madellaine™ really did get close to Quasimodo to steal something. And frankly, if Phoebus wants to investigate the circus troupe he has really good, compelling reasons to do so.

Meanwhile, Sarousch tells Madellaine™ to lure Quasimodo away from the belltower so that he can steal La Fidele. She doesn’t want to, but he tells her that if she doesn’t, Quasimodo could get hurt. Uh huh. Yeah. Sure. Oh gee, I really hope Sarousch doesn’t hurt Quasimodo. I am so fearful for Quasimodo’s safety. That Sarousch sure is a dangerous force to be reckoned with.

God I would pay money to see that.

Never happens of course. In fact, Quasimodo and Sarousch never actually exchange dialogue. In two movies we’ve gone from one of the most emotionally rich and dark hero-villain relationships in the Disney canon to a movie where our hero and villain never even speak to each other. I just realised that. This movie keeps finding new and ever more galling ways to show me that that it is the fucking worst thing.

Phoebus shows up at the circus and interrogates Sarousch who pins all the thefts on Madellaine™. While Phoebus looks for her, Sarousch’s men break into the bell and steal La Fidele. They’re discovered by Zephyr and Sarousch decides to take the kid as a hostage.

Quasi and Madellaine™ arrive back at Notre Dame to find the bell stolen and Quasi is furious at her for lying to him. Madellaine™ is arrested but when Esmerelda discovers that Zephyr has been kidnapped Madellaine™ offers to help them find Sarousch. She leads them into the catacombs and Phoebus’ gaurds block off Sarousch’s escape but he threatens Zephyr so they have no choice but to let his boat pass. Madellaine™ convinces Quasi to free her from her shackles and they work together to rescue Zephyr.

She tightrope walks over the boat and grabs Zephyr and Sarousch yells “What are you doing here?” and she replies “Just standing here looking pretty.” because that was the thing that he said and that was the thing she was doing and that’s how screenplays work.

Writing.

And the movie ends with Sarousch getting thrown in jail and all our couples celebrating La Jour D’Amour, Quasimodo with Madellaine™, Phoebus with Esmerelda and Hugo with Djali. Yes. That happens. The gargoyle and the goat are our first official gay Disney couple. I wanted this for so long.

But not like this. NOT LIKE THIS!

***

This is probably breaking some kind of movie-critic omerta but I enjoy bad movies. The Room brings me real, pure joy. I enjoy the first Transformers and Armageddon and probably more of Michael Bay’s oeuvre than I care to admit. Bad movies can be wonderfully enjoyable and even intellectually stimulating. They have a way of getting my creative juices flowing, wondering how I’d fix this character or that plot point. Pocahontas 2 was a bad movie but it was interesting and weird and hilarious and I honestly got more enjoyment out of it than its staid, bland, competent predecessor. But Hunchback 2 hits that awful, awful bad movie deadzone between good enough to be enjoyable and bad enough to be hilarious. However bad it gets, it’s never stunningly bad. It’s suffocatingly bad. Numbingly dull. It’s hideousnesses never sinks to the level of the bracingly garish. It’s ugly, but “seventies Tory” ugly, not “freakshow” ugly. It’s a bad, bad time, is what it is. I’ll watch Foodfightagain before I watch this.

Scoring

How butt ugly is the animation? Is it as ugly as a butt: 2/20

Well, the characters move. So it meets the criteria of being “animation”.

Are the main characters jerks? I bet they’re jerks: 2/10

This Quasi makes me queasy.

Bet the villain’s a real shitpile, character wise: 2/20

Shit sandwich.

“You can’t print that!”

Oh what’s this? Supporting characters? Fuck you supporting characters!: 1/20

No, you know what, I can’t, I just can’t I’m welling up guys…

Man, fuck the music. I hope it dies: 1/20

AW CHRIST.

FINAL SCORE: 8%

NEXT UPDATE: 07 September 2017

NEXT TIME: Taking a bit of a break to focus on other writing but I’ll back in September for a slightly belated extra special fifth-anniversary review. When I started these reviews five years ago I didn’t really know what I was doing.

“Plus ca change.”

“Shaddup.”

So I thought it might be fun to revisit a movie I reviewed way back in 2012 and see what an older, wiser Unshaved Mouse review might look like. What’s the movie?

What else?

Mouse Goes to War!: Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)

Hi guys!

We’re two days into our fundraiser to get Mauricio the fruck out of Veneuzuela and we’re already one third funded! So, to say thanks, I’m publishing the first of the War Era Short reviews which I was originally going to put up in September. I’ll publish another when we get to €500 and a third when we’re fully funded. And if you haven’t contributed already, please consider doing so. And if money’s tight, please help spread the word by sharing the GoFundMe page. Actually, do that anyway.

Both Mauricio and I could not be more grateful,

Thanks,

Mouse.

***

Studio: Walt Disney Productions

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: January 1st, 1943

Ugh. Ugh! A review of World War 2 shorts that includes Der Fuehrer’s Face. How obvious. How predictable. How vulgar. How basic.

But there’s really no way you can’t talk about this, one of the most controversial of all American animated shorts made during the war years (and hoo boy is that up against some stiff competition!). So let’s state three things straight up front.

1)      Yes, this is the cartoon where Donald Duck yells “Heil Hitler!” 33 times (also known as “a full Bannon”.)

2)      Notwithstanding that, it’s a really, really good short.

3)      Actually, in context, it’s probably less offensive than pretty much any other short we’ll be reviewing as part of this series.

When I announced this series, I posted this image of a saber wielding Donald leading a battalion of cartoon critters into battle against the forces of the Third Reich.

There were no survivors.

Some of you very astutely spotted something rather weird with this picture: How prominent Donald is, how de-emphasised Mickey is (he is driving a tank waaaaaaaaay in the background in case you missed him) and how “not there” Goofy is.

It suddenly struck me that I’d never seen a Disney short from the war years that featured either Mickey or Goofy, while I’d seen plenty that featured Donald as well as Huey, Dewey and Louie. So why were the ducks so heavily featured? I resolved to find the answer and embarked on an epic quest across the internet. I consulted Wikipedia. I consulted Quora. God help me and forgive me my sins, I consulted Reddit. And after all that research, do you want to know what I found?

 

Frustrating and unsatisfying as it might be, from what I can gather the answer to the question “Why did Disney use Donald Duck so heavily in their propaganda and not Mickey and Goofy” the answer appears to be “’Cos they…just…did.” I can offer a few theories, though. At this point in history Donald Duck was cresting in popularity whereas Mickey was already yesterday’s news so his reduced role could simply be a reflection of the fact that he just wasn’t drawing the crowds any more. Goofy was still very much a star, though, which makes his absence quite baffling. The only clue as to why this might be is that Pinto Colvig, Goofy’s voice actor, and Walt had fallen out by this point. Goofy had thus been transitioned into the “How to…” series of cartoons where Goofy doesn’t speak and instead follows the instructions of a suave narrator. These cartoons were very popular so Disney may have simply decided to use the ducks for their propaganda shorts rather than tampering with a formula that was working by sending Goofy into the army.

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World

I was once a mouse of honour.

Once I had a code.

My very first post on this blog, half a goddamn decade ago, set out some rules that I swore I’d follow come hell or high water:

No live action movies.

No Pixar movies.

No direct to video Disney sequels.

So here we are. Come and witness as my last scrap of virtue is torn away. Today, I review a direct to video Disney sequel, the cinematic equivalent of hiring a prostitute to dress up like your high school sweetheart, something beautiful and pure rendered tawdry and mercenary.

Oh come, come, Mouse, I hear you cry. Are they really as bad as all that? Well…

Okay, real talk time. None of the direct to video sequels made for the canon movies are as good as or better than the movies they are based on. Not one. By definition, really. I mean. If Disney Toons had somehow made a sequel to The Little Mermaid that was even better, they wouldn’t have released it straight to video, right? They’d have given it a full theatrical release and made it an official entry in the canon like The Rescuers Down Under or Winnie the Pooh (is Winnie the Pooh still in the canon? Disney?)

“Um…yes? I dunno. Look, the canon is just a marketing gimmick, who even cares?”

“Oh yeah, sure, I understand, I just dedicated FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE to this, no biggie.”

But, y’know. I’m fair. I’m a fair mouse. Everyone says so. Believe me. And while all of the Disney cheapquels are objectively worse than the movies they were based on, that doesn’t mean that they were entirely without merit. In fact, let’s play the game that’s taking the globe by storm, Mouse Says Nice Things About Disney Sequels For As Long As He Can!

Return of Jafar: Obviously (OBVIOUSLY) not as good as Aladdin but it actually did some interesting stuff plot wise by giving Iago a character arc and actually leaving a real, lasting change to the status quo by having him become a hero. Maybe not a great movie but a very decent pilot for a better than decent TV show.

King of Thieves: Robin Williams back as the genie, some much needed delving into Aladdin’s backstory and a fairly satisfying conclusion to the story of the Agrabah gang.

Lion King 1 ½: As a sequel it busts the original’s continuity straight to hyena infested hell buuuuut…great cast, really nice animation, some genuinely funny gags and Diggah Tunnah is honestly a good enough song that it could have been in the original movie (and a good song in a Disney sequel is a rare, precious thing indeed).

Bambi 2: Patrick Stewart as the Prince of the Forest. It’s truly sad when a Disney Sequel is making better use of Patrick Stewart than the actual canon movies.

Cinderella 3: A Stitch in Time: Faced with the task of making a second sequel to Cinderella and with the imminent closure of their studio, Disney Australia went all in on a batshit insane time travel caper. They went out fighting. They went out weird. And we salute them.

And as for today’s movie…

Okay, look. We need to take a minute to talk about the plight of a certain persecuted minority. A proud people who have suffered indignity after indignity in the face of a hostile and uncaring majority.

I refer, of course, to Pocahontas fans. And I am sorry that I must add to their legacy of suffering, because the truth is this:

I prefer Pocahontas 2 to the original.

“Never thought we’d be mobbin’ for Pocahontas of all gol-durn things.”

No, I’m not joking.

No, I’m not just trolling you.

No, I’m not being contrarian.

No, I haven’t suffered some kind of head injury.

Here’s the thing, if you love Pocahontas you probably love it for the music and the animation and I’m obviously not going to pretend that Pocahontas 2 holds a single solitary candle to the original in either of those categories. But in terms of story…

Okay. It’s not perfect. It’s not even particularly good. But. This is the story of a young Native American woman who most leave her home, travel across the sea and navigate the intrigue of a strange and hostile foreign court with the survival of her entire tribe hanging in the balance. And that, to me, is automatically more compelling than the warmed-over Romeo and Juliet plot of the original.

Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Announcing: Mouse goes to War!

TEN HUT!

So, having tallied the results from the recent poll to see which series of shorts gets reviewed next, I found I had a three way tie between WW2 propaganda, The Censored 11 and Over the Garden Wall with the Fleischer Superman Shorts coming in at a distant fourth.

So I decided to do the propaganda shorts as I figure that it has enough overlap with the other categories to keep the largest number of you happy since some of the Fleischer Superman cartoons and Censored 11 were also war propaganda and so could be covered in this series. And for fans of Over the Garden Wall, I promise I will cover them at some point (Frog and I have been talking about doing them as co-reviews for a while now).

See you on the frontline.

DISMISSED!

 

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #56: Moana

Question. Do you think that when Ron Clements and John Musker show up at the Disney studios they’re all…

‘Cos they’d kinda have to, wouldn’t they? I mean, they’ve earned that. If they wanted to stop at every cubicle and say “Oh by the way, we’re the reason you have a job. You’re welcome.” who among us would begrudge them that? With The Little Mermaid, Clements and Musker kick-started the Disney Renaissance, catapulting the animation studio back to cultural relevance and critical and commercial acclaim. And then, just for poops and giggles, they did it again in 2009, with the Princess and the Frog marking the end of the Lost Era and inaugurating the current golden age of the canon. Come to think of it, I have a feeling that Disney could have saved themselves a lot of worry and financial distress over the decades if they’d just hung a sign on the wall saying “WHEN THINGS ARE GOING BAD, JUST MAKE A PRINCESS MOVIE”. Seriously, never fails. Okay, apart from that one that almost drove the company to bankruptcy.

Totally worth it.

Where was I? Oh right, Clements and Musker. These two men wrote the book on the modern Disney Princesses movie. They are O fuckin’ G, or at least as gangsta as one can be while making movies about princesses and their talking animal friends. They are the Biggie and Tupac of this one very specific movie sub-genre.

In this analogy, Walt would be Ice-T.

Moana honestly feels less like a Disney Princess movie, and more like the Disney Princess movie, an attempt to make as definitive a version of this kind of movie as it’s possible to make. That may sound like a compliment…but…

This movie feels like it’s trying to take everything that worked about the previous nine modern Disney princesses (Merida doesn’t count FIGHT ME) and distill them into one character. Moana is all those princesses combined into one. But is she an awesome Megazord or a shambling Frankenstein’s monster?

Let’s take a look.

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Adorable Couple (2014)

Comebacks are tricky things to pull off, and tend to fail more often than they succeed. For every Elvis there’s a dozen Lil’ Kims. It takes a mixture of luck, talent and, most importantly, perseverance. The character of Mickey Mouse has been pretty vaguely defined over the years, but one thing that does stay constant about him is that he never gives up, which is appropriate for a guy who’s been trying to make a comeback for eighty years.

See, Mickey Mouse was, at one point, no question, the most popular cartoon character in the world. A beloved American icon. And that period lasted from his debut in 1928 aaaaaaaaaall the way to…1935. When he lost the top spot to a tattooed stroke victim.

“Huuuuuuukukukukukukah!”

Mickey was a perfect salesman for early talky cartoons, but his generic everyman persona was quickly outshone by more distinct, dynamic characters like Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and even his fellow Disney stablemates Donald Duck and Goofy and he never regained the kind of adoration he’d had in the years after Steamboat Willie.

The uncomfortable fact is this: Mickey Mouse is pretty difficult to like. Aside from an…interesting…vocal performance by Walt Disney who decided long ago that his flagship character should sound like a castrato in agony, his ubiquity on every piece of over-priced tat the Disney corporation has tried to sell over the last nine decades has made him more mascot than character, with more in common with Ronald MacDonald and the Nesquik Bunny than his fellow cartoon stars.

 

You sold out, man.

 

This left Disney with a conundrum. They were a company famous for creating beloved cartoon characters, whose mascot was a cartoon character beloved by virtually no one. And so, over the decades, Disney tried to relaunch Mickey not just as a brand but as a character. And they tried it again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

And again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

And while some of these attempts were definitely worthwhile in their own right, no one’s going to claim that Mickey Mouse is what makes Fantasia an all-time classic.

This guy. This guy is what makes Fantasia a classic.

It seemed that Mickey was simply a character that could not be salvaged and made interesting*, and the Disney corporation’s insistence on trying to make him happen was starting to get downright sad. To put it in perspective, imagine if Warner Brothers, instead of embracing Bugs Bunny as their mascot, was still trying to make America fall in love with Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid.

“Too racist!”- 1930’s America.

But then, in 2013, Disney unveiled a new series of Mickey Mouse Shorts directed by a coterie of modern animation stars including veterans of shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Sym-Bionic Titan and Powerpuff Girls.

And stick cheese in my cheeks and call me a gerbil, but they actually did it. They found a way to make Mickey Mouse work in a modern cartoon. These cartoons are awesome, almost definitely the best use that’s ever been made of the character outside of some classic Golden Age shorts and honestly? I’m not even sure if that’s not just nostalgia talking. What makes them so good? Well, if I might get a little technical here, they’re really good because they’re really good. By which I mean the animation is fluid and engaging, the backdrops are gorgeously designed, the voicework is top-notch, the music is beautiful and expertly integrated into the action and they’re crammed with great jokes both visual and verbal executed with crack timing. They’re also crammed with shout-outs to Disney fans, which, with all manner of obscure character showing up for a cameo. I knew this series was for me when Mickey and Minnie went to a dance with the kids from the “All the Cats Join In” sequence from Make Mine Music. I mean, that is a deep cut.

It’s fascinating to compare and contrast the new Mickey Mouse shorts with the older classic shorts to see how they’re different and also how they’re similar. Because they are different, no question. They have a very modern sense of humour despite being set in a classic Golden Age cartoon world where everything from the animals, to the sun, to the buildings is a sentient, talking being. And they’re…I don’t want to say “dark and edgy” because that conjures up some kind of twisted Frank Millar-esque nightmare whereas these shorts are glorious, sunny little things fit for all ages. But they are darker than the original cartoons, and certainly more willing to actually see Mickey Mouse suffer for comedic effect. The characters are also more flawed. Goofy is a bit more of a jerk, Donald is much more of a jerk. But the real revelation is how the cartoons treat the character of Mickey Mouse. And the remarkable thing is, Mickey hasn’t really changed at all. He’s still the same perpetually happy, squeaky clean, goody-two shoes that he’s always been. The key difference here, is that now that’s the joke. The cartoons take Mickey’s essential lameness and find ways to mine rich humour from it. Take for example, today’s short: “Adorable Couple”.

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Charlie the Unicorn (2005)

I hate the internet sometimes. Sometimes I feel like it’s just this huge malevolent thing that holds me in its thrall, designed to make me outraged and depressed and extract as much money from me as is physically possible. Sometimes it’s hard to keep sight of just how much it’s changed the entire world, and often very much for the better.

Oh yeah, this series is still going. Sorry about the delay. One of the reasons why (apart from work being crazy) was the sheer, monumental task of picking just one animated short to represent the first decade of the 21st century. It’s like I said; before now there were only so many animation studios producing shorts in the West to choose from. Now though, virtually anything that appeared on Newgrounds between 2001 and 2010 was fair game, literally thousands of creators. How to pick just one? I bounced around between Homestar Runner and Badgers, which was essentially “something I could never cover in just one post” versus “something I couldn’t talk about long enough to fill even one post” before finally settling on today’s short; Charlie the Unicorn.

I said back when I reviewed Injun Country that just because a cartoon is cheap doesn’t mean it can’t be good and Charlie is a pretty excellent example of that. It is objectively the worst animated of any of the shorts I will review for this series but it overcomes that through a combination of strong writing and hilarious voice work (all done by animator Jason Steele) all leading up to a single, hilariously dark punchline.

It’s a great short, and pretty much a perfect summation of my generation’s sense of humour. There’s a clear Simpsons influence with an even bigger debt to South Park, two of the single most important shapers of the comedic voices of anyone who grew up in the nineties. It’s also a reaction to the  ridiculously saccharine cartoons of the eighties, correctly twigging that there was something undeniably sinister about relentlessly chipper characters who want everyone to get along and have fun no matter what.

Be honest. If it turned out the Care Bears were harvesting organs, would you be shocked?

Animation was once one of the most exclusive and gated art forms in existence, with only a handful of universities and companies worldwide offering an entry point. Now, with the explosive democratisation of the artform brought on by the internet, anyone with an idea or a story to tell can buy some inexpensive software and become an animator. And, with the advent of sites like YouTube, they now have the perfect platform to thrive on.

Animated shorts never died, they just went to heaven.

 

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Do you guys plot against me?

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

Bahia!

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

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

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

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

The Goat Boy represents goats.

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

Am I wrong?

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

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Bill Cipher reviews WEIRDMAGEDDON!

Previously on Unshaved Mouse: Mouse tried to review the series finale of Gravity Falls and it went about as well as you’d expect, with Mouse being possessed by the infinite evil of Bill Cipher who now threatens to turn the real world into an eternal playground for his cosmic malice and doom all humanity. Because it’s always something with this blog, isn’t it? Just saying, you never see this kind of shit on Alternate Ending.  Meanwhile, at the secret headquarters of the Legion of Animators.

Image result for meanwhile at the legion of doom

"JOSEPH SMITH ON A GRAM CRACKER WHAT HAVE YOU DONE DISNEY?!"

“JOSEPH SMITH ON A GRAM CRACKER WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, DISNEY?!”

"IT'S NOT MY FAULT! I SWEAR BY THE DARK POWERS IT'S NOT MY FAULT THIS TIME!"

“IT’S NOT MY FAULT! I SWEAR BY THE DARK POWERS IT’S NOT MY FAULT THIS TIME!”

"Somehow, I always knew you'd destroy the world, man."

“Somehow, I always knew you’d destroy the world, man.”

"SHUT UP HIPPY! WHY DID WE EVEN LET HIM JOIN?! HE SMELLS LIKE BEAR TURDS!"

“SHUT UP HIPPY! WHY DID WE EVEN LET HIM JOIN?! HE SMELLS LIKE BEAR TURDS!”

"It's the smell of artistic integrity, man."

“It’s the smell of artistic integrity, man.”

"Gentlemen. Calm yourselves. The situation calls for unity."

“Gentlemen. Calm yourselves. The situation calls for unity.”

"Miyazaki-san is right. We should listen to him. He is the wisest of all of us."

“Miyazaki-san is right. We should listen to him. He is the wisest of all of us.”

"Let us consider: An Nth level fictional construct has gained sentience and escaped to the real world. Even now it's power grows, and any hope of defeating it becomes slimmer by the second."

“Let us consider: An Nth level fictional construct has gained sentience and escaped to the real world. Even now it’s power grows, and any hope of defeating it becomes slimmer by the second.”

"True."

“True.”

"So I'm thinking, bail?"

“So I’m thinking: Bail?”

“Listen to this man. He’s wise, he’s Japanese, he knows the score. Let’s leave this reality and never come back.”

“Listen to this man. He’s wise, he’s Japanese, he knows the score. Let’s leave this reality and never come back.”

“Groovy, man.”

“Groovy, man.”

“No! Listen to yourselves! If we abandon this world it’s only a matter of time before Bill conquers all of reality. We have to stay! We have to fight! We’re animators! Masters of the Arcane and Dark Arts! Immortal warlocks of inestimable power!”

“No! Listen to yourselves! If we abandon this world it’s only a matter of time before Bill conquers all of reality. We have to stay! We have to fight! We’re animators! Masters of the Arcane and Dark Arts! Immortal warlocks of inestimable power!”

“I’m not.”

“I’m not.”

“Shut up Park!”

“Shut up Park!”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“We have one chance to stop Bill. Listen up...”

“We have one chance to stop Bill. Listen up…”

***

HEY MONOFORMS! HOW ARE YOU DOING?! I’M SWELL! THE MOMENT OF MY ASCENSION IS NEARLY AT HAND AND NO ONE CAN STOP ME! NO ONE! WHAT, YOU THOUGHT THOSE LOSERS IN THE INTRO CAN SAVE YOU? I LET YOU READ THAT BECAUSE I LIKE TOYING WITH YOU! I KNOW ALL! I SEE ALL! I BE ALL, YO! NOW LET’S FINISH OUR LOOK AT WEIRDMAGEDDON AND SEE HOW I ESCAPED INTO YOUR REALITY AND ALSO HOW LONG YOU CAN GO READING THIS ALL-CAPS TEXT WITHOUT GETTING A HEADACHE! OH, SORRY, IS IT DIFFICULT TO READ? HOW ABOUT IF I SPEAK IN BRIGHT BLAZING YELLOW?! YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! DON’T MAKE ME PULL OUT THE COMIC SANS! I’LL DO IT!!!

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Gravity Falls (2012-2016)

Hey everybody! Man, it is so good to be back you have nooooooo idea! I have been waiting for this for a really, really long time.You see, Gravity Falls is my favourite TV show help. Not favourite kid’s TV show. Not favourite cartoon. Favourite TV show help me. Period. Why is it so good? That’s actually an incredibly easy question. With some shows you have to explain the appeal but with Gravity Falls it’s pretty cut and dry.

  • It’s gorgeously animated.
  • Wonderfully acted.
  • Impressively scored.
  • Brilliantly written. help
  • Frickin’ hi-larious.

Gravity Falls is basically Golden-Age Treehouse of Horror: The Series, combined with some of the best ongoing mystery plotting I can ever recall seeing in a TV don’t listen to him show, regardless of demographic. The show is the creation of Alex Hirsch who was born in 1985…

Screw you, Alex Hirsch.

Just screw you.

The show is the creation of Alex Hirsch and centres on the don’t trust him adventures of the 12 year old Pine twins, Mabel (Kristen Schall) and Dipper (or “Pine Tree” to his friends) (Jason Ritter) who are sent by their parents to spend the summer with their Grand Uncle Stan who’s voiced by Alex Hirsch…

Screw you, Alex Hirsch.

Pine Tree discovers a mysterious journal it’s not me hidden in the forest and soon the twins are investigating the spooooooky goings on in Gravity Falls with the help of Grunkle Stan, loveable dim-witted handyman Soos (Alex Hir…SCREW YOU ALEX HIRSCH) and Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini), a teenage girl who works at Grunkle Stan’s Mystery Shack and who Pine Tree has a massive crush on.  So it’s a pretty standard set up for a half hour cartoon; kids chasing monsters. Hanna Barbera sucked that tell Walt well dry long ago. But it’s all in the execution. Gravity Falls did what so few series have ever managed to do; it came, it told its hurry story, it wrapped it up in the most satisfying and awesome way possible and then it ended right when leave now it needed to, in stark contrast to its biggest influence.

JUST. LET. IT DIE.

JUST. LET. IT DIE.

And because I really want to do the show justice and stop reading because I’m still very busy with UNNAMED HORROR I am actually going to split this review into two parts. The first half is going to discuss the series as a whole and then review running out of time the first episode of Weirdmageddon, the three part finale, with the second review finishing off the final two episodes. Got that, meatsacks? Good, let’s get started. LAST CHANCE GET OUT OF HERE

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