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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin, The Return of Jafar

“Why do they keep making these?!” was the eternal lament of the Disney fan from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s when the Disney Sequel walked the Earth in all its terrible glory. Couldn’t Disney see that these filthy hack jobs were tarnishing the reputations of the pure and virtuous Disney canon? HAD THEY NOT EYES?! Well, yes, they had eyes. But here’s what they were looking at.

Consider Aladdin. It comes out in the winter of 1992 and it is the mutt’s nuts. Critical darling, instant pop culture icon and oh yes, the biggest box-office of any movie that year, animated or live action. It makes $504 Million dollars on a budget of $28 Million. Which basically means that for every dollar Disney put into Aladdin, they got $18 back. That’s a heck of a return on an investment. That is a good, good day. That is a win.

A few years later, Disney are working on an Aladdin animated series. It’s not an entirely new idea, The Little Mermaid also had a series. But there’s a lot of hype for Aladdin because instead of being a prequel series like Mermaid, this is going to be an actual sequel series where we get to see what our favourite Agrabahns did after the movie. And some bright spark realises that the three episode arc that opens the series actually kinda works as a movie if you squint. So why not release it as a movie? Not in theatres, God no. But maybe direct to video? VHS is super hot right now and Disney movies sell like hot cakes. So why not skip the theatres all together and just go straight to video? You know? Like porn?

Perhaps understandably, Disney were a little leery of taking their cues from porn. But they did it anyway and here’s what happened:

Return of Jafar became one of the biggest selling VHSs of all time. It made $300 Million dollars. $300 Million dollars for a movie that never sold a single ticket. On a budget, estimated, to be $3.5 Million dollars. Remember Aladdin’s oh-so-impressive return of 18:1? Jafar had a return of investment of $86 dollars to every dollar.  That’s not a heck of a return. That is market changing. That is paradigm-shifting. That, honestly, is a wee bit scary. So if, for example, you were a huge multinational who cared only for filthy lucre…

“How VERY dare you…”

Then the question becomes, not “Why did they keep making them?” but “Why did they ever stop?” That’s the kind of return that turns executives into junkies, chasing that hit for decades. 86 dollars for every dollar spent. That’s basically free money. This thing was huge.

And when you think about it, it still kinda is. Return of Jafar is without a doubt the only Disney Sequel that’s almost as famous as its prequel. Disney are actually considering a live action remake of Return of Jafar to follow last year’s live action Aladdin. Could you see any of the other sequels being considered for that?

Well yes, but only when I’ve been dosed with fear toxin by the Scarecrow.

Return of Jafar has also been a beneficiary of what I like to call “Space Jam” effect, the sharp divide in critical opinion between people who were already adults when a movie came out and those for whom it was as mother’s milk. Best-selling video of all time, remember? There are a lot of millennials out there with fond memories of this one, and even people who utterly despise the Disney sequels will go to the mat for this one. This one’s good, they’ll say. Leave it alone. He’s with me. Go burn some Tarzan sequels.

But does it deserve that loyalty? Is it actually any good? Well, it’s complicated…

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Mouse Hunt (1997)

This review was requested by patron ED. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

I know this is a question that you’ve all asked yourselves at one point or other, but I’ll ask it anyway; how do we talk about Snuffly Whiskerwinks?

As a young mouse growing up in a human world, Whiskerwinks was more than a hero. He was an inspiration. An icon. Without a doubt the greatest mouse actor who has ever lived, a performer of incomporable range and depth. A mouse who smashed the Hollywood fur barrier and went on to to give life to such iconic roles as “Mouse in Shawshank Redemption”, “Mouse in Fiddler on the Roof” and Willy Loman in the 1985 screen version of Death of a Salesman. He could do more with a twitch of his whiskers than most other actors could do with their whole tails. To see Whiskerwinks on screen is to see a master in full command of his art. But how then do we square this with what we know of Whiskerwinks’ personal life? Does the fact that he moved audiences to tears in a sell-out run of Hamlet in the West End mean that we can ignore the allegations made against him by his own son in his explosive tell-all biography “Body of a Mouse, Heart of a Rat”? Do his multiple Oscars erase the stain of years of virulent anti-gerbil statements and cat apologia? Is his legacy as a performer so great that we can overlook his legacy as a husband and father, and the hurt that his behaviour caused his wife and 716 children? Are we really just going to forget the time he got off his face on Gouda at the 69th Academy Awards and scurried up Meryl Streep’s leg, causing her to jump on a chair and shriek “EEK!”?

Today we’re looking at Whiskerwinks’ last performance before his sordid and untimely death in 1997. Obviously, I’m not going to go into details here. You all know the story, and there’s no point picking over who was on who’s yacht, who strangled who with a belt, who ate who’s stash of whatever-it-was and eventually had to be surgically extracted from Johnny Depp’s cloaca. Let the dead past lie.

So on this here blog we’ve talked a little about Dreamworks’ early output when they were still putting out some of the funniest, most beautiful traditionally animated movies out there and before they had settled into their comfortable rut as the Pepsi of American animation. But we haven’t really touched on their live action output. Mouse Hunt holds the distinction of being the first DreamWorks family picture. Obviously, casting Whiskerwinks in a family movie makes about as much sense as casting Michael Vick in a remake of Homeward Bound but this was the nineties. Nowadays, of course, your movie would be boycotted if you tried casting a rodent who lost eight different children in five different games of blackjack but it was a different time.

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

As a general rule, I don’t watch the “Making Of” features of the movies I review, because:

a) The movie should be able to stand alone as a discrete work without additional media required to appreciate it.

b) I’m hella lazy, y’all.

But after…experiencing the subject of this review, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension, I felt that I might need to read the manual. During the “Making of” there’s a moment where director WD Richter is asked what the movie is about and responds with a deep sigh and a muttered “Oh God…”

It’s that kind of movie.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension is what happens when a lot of very smart, very talented people decide to take twenty million dollars of someone else’s money and have as much fun as it is possible to have legally. This is a cult film. No, scratch that. This is a CULT film, engineered to be so from the atoms making up the film stock upward. You are either in on the joke, or you aren’t. And I have to confess, my first watch through I was very conscious of what I like to call “The Rocky Horror” effect, the sensation that you would really be enjoying the movie you are watching if you weren’t alone and stone cold sober. It’s not a “watch at home alone on a cloudy afternoon” movie. It’s a “crack open a few beers with some rowdy friends” movie. Or possibly a “watch under the influence of hallucinogens and then found a religion” movie.

What’s it about? Oh God.

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

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In 1959, scientist CP Snow gave his highly influential lecture; The Two Cultures where he posited that Western civilization had prioritised literature and the humanities to the point that even the most educated members of society were functionally scientifically illiterate. Snow argued that we needed to spend less time on the arts and more time on mathematics and the hard sciences.

Flashforward to 2019 and, as I write this, the most pressing question in contemporary culture is which of a series of interchangeable slabs of orange bacon some wan from Longford is going to put her leg over first so good news, Mr Snow!

“Excellent, so presumably you are all now well versed in the noble sciences?”

“Feller, fer an egg-head you sure do say some dumb shit.”

The influence of The Two Cultures can be seen in The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s novel. Originally released to poor sales, it quickly surged on strong reviews and is now considered one of the classics of 20th century children’s literature something something something segue CHUCK JONES!

Okay, when it comes to the question of who was the greatest Looney Tunes director there are no wrong answers as long as that answer is CHUCK JONES! No disrespect to Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob McKimson or Bob Clampett (well, a little disprespect to Bob Clampett the credit-hogging cad). Together, these men created some of the greatest, most timeless cartoon characters of all time and also Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe LePew.

But the cartoons by Chuck Jones are just on another level. They’re not only hilarious (though, my God) they are art. They transcend their medium.

But by the late 1960s Jones had left Warner Bros and was working for MGM, trying to salvage the Tom and Jerry series after the studio had rather disastrously experimented with continuing the series with cheap Czech animation.

Yes, that’s what this was referencing.

The Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons were better received but to be perfectly fair Jones’ subtle poised style was always a bad fit for the frenetic Tom and Jerry shorts. I do love his re-designs for the characters though.

But Jones’ last animation for MGM was their adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is also the only feature length animation he ever directed (not counting various Looney Tunes compilation films). This movie was on heavy rotation in the mouse house when I was growing up, and when the grainy VHS tape that we had used to tape it off BBC 2 was lost there was much wailing and gnashing of incisors which is why my brother requested that I review it.

“Yeah. I did. FIVE YEARS AGO.”

Sorry bro. This one was an absolute bear to track down. I’ve been waiting to do this review for so long that all the Trump jokes were originally going to be Tea Party jokes.

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #57: Ralph Breaks the Internet

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So occasionally I will actually watch movies made for grownups and recently Ms Mouse and I saw Rocketman, which I can best describe as “Bohemian Rhapsody but not terrible”. Apart from quality the two movies are scarily similar but then I suppose that’s just the nature of musical bio-pics. They all follow the same pattern: You  start out with our protagonist living in grim, post-war Britain, all cobble-streets, glass milk bottles and tuberculosis. You have the unsupportive parents saying “Yew’ll nevah make nuffin o’ yoself” and then the moment where they decide to rename themselves from Rodney McBorningname to Elvis Stardazzle and then fame, fortune, a sleazy manager played by a Game of Thrones alum, rises, falls, break-ups, breakdowns and a moment where the protagonist’s oldest and dearest friend from childhood reads them the riot act.

What does this have to do with Ralph Breaks the Internet? Because if the Disney canon was a musical biopic, this movie would be the point in the story where Elvis Stardazzle is slumped over a table in a trashed mansion covered in a thick layer of cocaine and groupie juice, having driven away all the people who ever loved him with his massive ego and unwillingness to see how far he’s gone off the rails.

Guys, I’m not going to toy with you on this. I fucking hate this movie. My brother, the Unscrupulous Mouse, declared this the worst Disney canon movie since Dinosaur and, while I can’t agree, I really want to.  Can I sit here and tell you that animation is worse than Chicken Little? No. Can I tell you that it’s worse directed than Home on the Range? Well…I mean…no. No I can’t do that. What’s wrong with Wreck It Ralph 2 isn’t anything to do with the animation or direction or voice cast but with an attitude of insufferable all-encompassing smugness that sets me little mouse teeth right on edge. Everything from that FUCKING title to the instant datedness of the references to the obnoxious “what you gonna do about it?” reminders of the Disney corporation’s near cultural stranglehold on every nook and cranny of pop culture. I hate it. I hate this. I hate what Disney’s become.

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Back in the thirties, they laughed when Walt Disney said that he was going to make a feature length animated film. “Oh, how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little cartoon man thinks he can make movies”.

The little cartoon man then proceeded to make Snow Whiteone of the most successful movies of all time. Then, a decade later, Disney announced that he was branching out into live action movies.

“Oh how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little animated feature man thinks he can make movies with real people”.

At which point Disney fixed them with a steely glare and said “Okay, just for that? I’m going to own you. All of you. It may take decades but I now dedicate my every waking moment to ensuring that one day, everything you own will belong to me. Every movie you’ve ever made, every studio, every piece of merchandise, every character. You sneeze, I will own the dirty hankie. Every red cent you ever earn will one day BELONG TO WALTER ELIAS DISNEY SO I SWEAR ON THE OLD GODS AND THE NEW.”

And they chortled at that because some motherfuckers never learn, do they?

An important step on Disney’s path to total global conquest were their live action films of the 1950s. These were usually classic tales of derring do from literature dressed up real nice with a few catchy songs. Probably the best remembered film of this era was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on Jules Verne’s staggeringly prophetic novel about how big an impact submarines were going to have on all our lives.

Leagues marked something of a watershed moment for Disney’s live-action fare as it was the first Disney film to get a really top-tier cast with household names like Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason. In fact, even though Disney had already made several fairly successful live action movies at this point, Kirk Douglas needed quite a bit of coaxing, with his part being substantially altered at his request.

“Okay, so Ned Land should be introduced with two hotties on either arm.”

“Fine.”

“And he has to win every fight he’s in!”

“Fine.”

“And everytime he’s not onscreen, everyone should be wandering around going “Where’s Ned? Where’s Ned?”

“Fine.”

“And I want my son to play Ant-Man!”

“That is a WEIRD ask, but okay.”

As director, Walt hired director Richard Fleischer, much to Fleishcer’s surprise as he was the son of Max Fleischer, Disney’s long-time rival.

“Don’t you hate him?”

“Richard my boy, I keep my friends close, my enemies closer and the people my enemies care about in the same building where I work. Under armed guard.”

“Ah. So. Am I a director or a hostage?”

“The job calls for you to fill several roles.”

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The Breadwinner (2017)

This review was requested by patron Alex Hu. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Fuck Wikipedia.

I had one hell of an intro lined up for this one. I was going to open with a description of the Book of Kells, and detail how the blue dye illustrating this mediaeval masterpiece of Irish art had to be imported all the way from ancient Afghanistan. I would then tie that into a line from The Breadwinner where the character Nurullah describes how the ancient peoples of Afghanistan traded all over the world. Then  I was going to connect that to how director Nora Twomey’s previous film The Secret of Kells led directly into The Breadwinner, showing how Ireland and Afghanistan have, improbably, been transmitting ideas and beauty between each other for millennia. And how even between two incredibly distant nations there can be bonds of shared history and culture. How we are all, truly, one people.

And then I go to Wikipedia and discover that the theory of the Book of Kells being created with ink from Afghanistan has been debunked so never fucking mind then.

“Don’t know why I bother really.” 

Anyway, this is the third film of current animated hotness Cartoon Saloon. Like their previous two movies, this is an international co-production, this time between Ireland, Canada and Luxembourg.

“I helped!”

“Aw, you sure did.”

Directed by Nora Twomey  and produced by Angelina Jolie, The Breadwinner is based on the novel by the same name by Deborah Ellis. Upon the movie’s release in 2017 it was heralded as an instant classic and became the only non-American film to be nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2017.

Boss Baby was also nominated. Because the Oscars are meaningless nonsense.

But is it really that good? Does it really deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as classics like Boss Baby and Ferdinand (seriously, fuck the Oscars)? Let’s take a look at The Breadwinner or, as I call it, Mulan but Everything is Terrible.

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Flight of Dragons (1982)

Man, you guys do love your animated fantasies from the late seventies/early eighties don’t you? In fact, I’ve now reviewed enough of these things that they’re starting to run together. Which animated fantasy centring on wizards and a war between science and magic with seriously dodgy gender politics is this again? Nit?

“Yessum?”

“I need some kind of filing system.”

“I have waited many long years to hear you say those words. It was worth it.”

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Bats versus Bolts: Universal Horror

This review was requested by patron Mathom. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

New Year, New Mouse, New Regular Feature!

This is Bats versus Bolts!

Someone ask me what Bats versus Bolts is.

“Sigh. What’s Bats versus…”

Glad you asked! Dracula and Frankenstein are two of the most famous and frequently adapted stories of all time. Hell, Dracula alone has been adapted…hang on let me just Google that…

Uh. No, Google. I’m pretty sure that’s not right.

Anyway, in every decade there are Dracula movies and Frankenstein movies that reflect the culture, trends and social forces that created them and I thought it would be cool to take two from each decade and pit them against each other in a no holds barred monster mash. So let’s start with the two most iconic versions, Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein from the nineteen thirties.

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“It’s a mutation. It’s a very groovy mutation.”

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Much like an awesome party where someone suddenly showed up with a suitcase full of tainted MDMA, the X-Men film franchise got real bad, real fast. From the dizzying (well) highs of X2 the franchise had laid two massive turds in a row and was now in the unenviable position of having exactly as many bad films as good ones (also known as the Star Trek ratio). What was to be done?

“REBOOT!”

“Well hang on there, let’s not just go with the most obvious knee jerk response let’s think about the best way to erase past mistakes and inject new life into…”

“GRITTY REBOOT?”

“Okay, good, good, we’re thinking outside the box now, let’s just try a little harder…”

“Urrrrrrrrrr…”

“YOUNG AND SEXY REBOOT!”

“YES! HE CAN BE TAUGHT!”

Alright, all joking aside, the idea for a movie about the early days of Xavier’s School for Gifted Child Soldiers had been knocking about since the shooting of X2, and as an idea it’s pretty damn bad. Making a movie about the earliest adventures of the X-Men is like making a movie about John Lennon and focusing solely on his time in the Quarrymen. That was the worst part. Virtually all the good stuff came later. For a while. Then things got really, really awful.

In this analogy, Rob Liefeld is Yoko.

But First Class also shares much of its DNA with what was originally going to be the second instalment of the X-Men Origins spin off series, Magneto. After Wolverine Origins bombed so hard that the box office was glowing in the dark, the ideas for Magneto were bundled up and worked into First Class.

So how does this grab-bag of sewn together bad ideas and discarded movie bits work as a film?

Surprisingly well! Except when it doesn’t. It’s complicated.

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