redemption era

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.

(more…)

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #55: Zootopia/Zootropolis

 

"Mr Disney? There's a Mr Chernabog here to see you?"

“Mr Disney? There’s someone here to see you?”

"What? But the world thinks I've been dead since the sixties, who even knows I still work here?"

“What? But the world thinks I’ve been dead since the sixties, who even knows I still work here?”

"He said his name was Mr Chernabog?"

“He said his name was Mr Chernabog?”

"CRAP. Tell him I can't see him."

“CRAP. Tell him I can’t see him.”

"I would sir, but I'm not really here. I'm just a hallucination caused by your black-magic addled mind."

“I would sir, but I’m not really here. I’m just a hallucination caused by your black-magic addled mind.”

"DISSSSSSSNEY I WOULD HAVE WORDSSSS WITH THEE."

“DISSSSSSSNEY I WOULD HAVE WORDSSSS WITH THEE.”

"Cherny! C-Train! As the world Cherns! How the fuck are you?"

“Cherny! C-Train! As the world Cherns! How the fuck are you?”

"YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, SSSSSORCEROR. AND THE LORD OF BALD MOUNTAIN KNOWSSS NOT OF MERCY."

“YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, SSSSSORCEROR. AND THE LORD OF BALD MOUNTAIN KNOWSSS NOT OF MERCY.”

"Whoah! Hey! Walter Elias Disney is a man of his word, so how bout you settle down and tell me what this is all about?"

“Whoah! Hey! Walter Elias Disney is a man of his word, so how ’bout you settle down and tell me what this is all about?”

"WE HAD A PACT, YOU AND I. I GAVE YOU IMMORTALITY AND IN RETURN YOU AGREED TO CREATE FOR ME AN ARMY OF THE MOST DEPRAVED, HELLISH CREATURES EVER TO WALK THE EARTH."

“WE HAD A PACT, YOU AND I. I GAVE YOU IMMORTALITY AND IN RETURN YOU AGREED TO CREATE FOR ME AN ARMY OF THE MOSSSSSST DEPRAVED, HELLISSSSSH CREATURESSSS EVER TO WALK THE EARTH.”

"What? Furries?"

“What? Furries?”

"I MUSSST HAVE MORE FURRRIESSS! MORE! THE CROP GROWSSS THIN! THE CROPS GROWSSSS THIN!"

“I MUSSST HAVE MORE FURRIESSS! MORE! THE CROP GROWSSS THIN! THE CROPS GROWSSSS THIN!”

"What are you talking about? We made Robin Hood!"

“What are you talking about? I made Robin Hood! That should have kept you balls deep in furries for years!”

"THAT WASSSS OVER FORTY YEARSSSSS AGO!"

“THAT WASSSS OVER FORTY YEARSSSSS AGO!”

"Fuck. My. Ass. Yikes, sorry. My bad. I'll get right on that."

“Fuck. My. Ass. Yikes, sorry. My bad. I’ll get right on that.”

"BE WARNED! IF I DO NOT RECEIVE AN ARMY OF FURRIESSSS BEYOND RECKONING I SHALL EAT..."

“BE WARNED! IF I DO NOT RECEIVE AN ARMY OF FURRIESSSS BEYOND RECKONING I SHALL EAT…”

"Eat my soul, yeah, got it. Laurie? Get on the phone to the boys in animation and tell them we need a movie so chock full of furry bait that half the country will be yiffing by Christmas."

“Eat my soul, yeah, got it. Laurie? Get on the phone to the boys in animation and tell them we need a movie so chock full of furry bait that half the country will be yiffing by Christmas.”

"I already told you, I'm not really here!"

“I already told you, I’m not really here!”

"Just do it woman!"

“Just do it woman!”

***

Some blogs might tell you that Zootopia/Zootropolis came about as part of an ongoing effort by Disney to address the more troubling and regressive aspects of their legacy and take on a pressing real world issue. But only I will tell you the truth, namely that it was part of a desperate ploy to pay off a faustian bargain made by immortal warlock Walt Disney by creating an army of furries for a demonic lord of evil. That is why, after all, the people come to Unshaved Mouse.

But first of all, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Not that one.

Sit down, Francine.

Namely, why the hell is this called “Zootropolis” on my side of the pond? Well, Disney haven’t actually given a reason for the name change. One possibility of course is that, as sophisticated Europeans, we would know that any utopia, even a zootopia, is impossible in an imperfect world and refuse to see the movie purely on the grounds of philosophical consistency. Also, there’s the fact that a zoo called “Zootopia” is opening in Denmark soon and maybe Disney’s lawyers didn’t want the hassle. Who can say?

Anyway, if you read this blog you’re probably aware that Disney have been on one hell of a hot streak for the last few years, producing movies that are both critically lauded and hugely successful. That in and of itself is nothing new, the Disney canon goes through peaks and troughs and this is just one peak of many. But one thing that is different this time around is that Disney is more and more comfortable making movies that actually have something relevant to say about the world. I once called Walt Disney the most apolitical American artist of the twentieth century. His movies were beautiful, funny and charming but they almost never had any kind of political message or agenda beyond the most broad “be nice, everybody” kind of sentiment. They were meant to appeal to the broadest audience possible in their own time which in practice meant that they were very conservative and very, very white.

Fast forward to today. In my review of Princess and the Frog I called the current era of the Disney canon “The Redemption Era”. Unlike the Lost Era that preceded it, where Disney was trying to definitively break with the past, new types of story, new styles, new animation techniques, the Redemption Era wears its classic influences with pride. It loves and respects the canon. But it is not blind to its flaws, either. The Redemption Era is a Beatles fan who has every album but never forgets that John Lennon beat his wife. It doesn’t simply ignore the more troubling aspects of the Disney canon but makes challenging them a core part of its identity, whether that’s doing a Restoration Era fairy tale with an all-minority main cast or a Renaissance Era musical where the princess doesn’t marry a prince at the end.  Zootopia takes this to a new level. Regular commenter Kahnamanko called it the most topical and socially relevant movie Disney has made since their World War 2 propaganda shorts and I think that’s probably true. But does that make it a good movie? Does the simple fact that it’s willing to tackle such a pressing and hot-button issue as racism make it a classic that will stand the test of time? Let me answer that question with a question, do you feel a burning desire to watch any of the following movies; Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Crash or Lions for Lambs? Yeah, didn’t think so. Movies that directly address the great issues of the day are often very worthy endeavours but they rarely end up being particularly beloved movies. Does Zootopia defy the odds? Let’s take a look.

***
(more…)

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #54: Big Hero 6

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
And so, like putting on an old comfortable pair of shoes, I return again to the Disney canon. Good to be back everyone, feels like I never left. Unshaved Mouse doing what he was always meant to do, reviewing Disney movies! Put the Disney dance party album on repeat because the whole gang’s here! Including my collection of traitorous good for nothing maps who betrayed and abandoned me the very second things got rough and have now come crawling back like the worms they are.
“Hooray!”

“Hooray!”

“Ah, don’t be like that, Mouse.”

“Ah, don’t be like that, Mouse.”

“Don’t talk to me.”

“Don’t talk to me.”

"'S only ever love, M. You know that."

“‘S only ever love, M. You know that.”

“Where did you go anyway?”

“Where did you go anyway?”

“We just hung around with Rubber Lotus for a while. At first it was fun, but then it got a little weird. He kept asking us to call him “Mouse”. Did you know he has a shrine to you in his wardrobe?”

“We just hung around with Rubber Lotus for a while. At first it was fun, but then it got a little weird. He kept asking us to call him “Mouse”. Did you know he has a shrine to you in his wardrobe?”

“Yeah. Shrines. Never not creepy.”

“Yeah. Shrines. Never not creepy.”

And of course, since I’ll be reviewing a Disney movie that means the return of our old pal Walt Disney!
“Hello folks! Good to be back, Mouse. Glad to see there’s no hard feelings over that whole “brainwashing” thing.”

“Hello folks! Good to be back, Mouse. Glad to see there’s no hard feelings over that whole “brainwashing you to do my dark bidding” thing.”

“None. What. So. Ever.”

“None. What. So. Ever.”

"Glad to hear it. Say, you keep gritting your teeth like that you might chip your incisors."

“Glad to hear it. Say, you keep gritting your teeth like that you might chip your incisors.”

After the marriage of Disney and Marvel, the two companies did what many couples do in this situation; put their children from previous marriages in a room together and try to force them to like each other. In this case, Disney CEO Bob Iger told the Disney animators to look through Marvel’s back catalogue to see if they could find properties that would make good animated movies. Now, people who’ve followed my blog from the beginning know that when Disney adapts other properties, fidelity to the source material is not usually high on their list of priorities. Marvel fans, conversely, have a list of priorities that reads
Priorities
Marvel fans tend to get a little…um….Rain Man-esque…about movies changing even small details about their favourite characters, and films that don’t respect the source material tend to get eaten alive like a cow being dipped in a vat of piranhas.
Poor bastards never had a chance.

Poor bastards never had a chance.

So it’s not really surprising that the comic that Don Hall (director of Winnie the Pooh and writer on most of the Lost Era movies) chose the comic Big Hero 6 to adapt instead of a better known property because…well, no one gives a piping hot shit about Big Hero 6 and this way they could mess around with it as much as they needed to. In the comics Big Hero 6 is a Japanese superhero team that operates as a parody of Japanese pop culture tropes. I haven’t read the comic myself but reading up on it raised a few red flags for me, number one being that the mini-series they first appeared in was written by Scott Lobdell, a writer whose work is (if I may be horribly blunt) not my cup of tea.
Secondly…Okay, there are those who would consider this kind of broad cultural parody to be racist in and of itself. I’m not one of them. Irish people come in for a good bit of this kind of thing and I think as a nation our general attitude is…
all in good fun
But…some of the details about this book, like the fact that one of their enemies is the embodiment of all the people who were killed in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…
New spittake
Yeah, I think we can all agree that “loose adaptation” was probably the way to go on this one.
So much for the book. What about the movie? Oh, and while I’m not in the habit of putting up spoiler warnings I’m aware this movie only came out in 2014 so yeah, I will be discussing all major plot points just like I always do. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, get on that. The rest of you? Let’s roll.

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #53: Frozen

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

"Come again?"

“Come again?”

""Well…I was wondering if you wanted to come over and destroy me? You know? Like old times?"

“Well…I was wondering if you wanted to come over and destroy me? You know? Like old times?”

"You…want me to destroy you?"

“You…want me to destroy you?”

"Yeah, you know. You trap me in some alternate universe and then I escape and…you know?"

“Yeah, you know. You trap me in some alternate universe and then I escape and…you know?”

"Mouse. What’s this all about?"

“Mouse. What’s this all about?”

"Oh. Well, see I’m supposed to be reviewing Frozen…"

“Oh. Well, see I’m supposed to be reviewing Frozen…”

"OH MY GOD SHUT UP YOU’RE AT FROZEN ALREADY?!"

“OH MY GOD SHUT UP YOU’RE AT FROZEN ALREADY?!”

"Yeah!"

“Yeah!”

"NO WAY!"

“NO WAY!”

“I know!”

“I know!”

"It seems like just yesterday that…"

“It seems like just yesterday that…”

"I know, right?"

“I know, right?”

"Well congratulations!"

“Well congratulations!”

"Thank you."

“Thank you.”

"No, seriously. I mean, you know. You stuck with it through to the end."

“No, seriously. I mean, you know. You stuck with it through to the end.”

“Well, you know, it was all for the fans…"

“Well, you know, it was all for the fans…”

"That’s just…go you."

“That’s just…go you.”

"See, the thing is, I think people are expecting some kind of big epic climax with all the plotlines of the last two years just being tied up neatly and I just thought that since you’re my arch-nemesis…"

“See, the thing is, I think people are expecting some kind of big epic climax with all the plotlines of the last two years just being tied up neatly and I just thought that since you’re my arch-nemesis…”

"I’m your arch-nemesis? Really?"

“I’m your arch-nemesis? Really?”

"Well yeah, I mean…amn’t I your arch-nemesis?"

“Well yeah, I mean…amn’t I your arch-nemesis?”

"Oh…of course you are. (Yikes)."

“Oh…of course you are. (Yikes).”

"So…you want to come over?"

“So…you want to come over?”

"You know Mouse, I’d love to but I don’t really have a lot of time what with this new job…hang on, call on the other line."

“You know Mouse, I’d love to but I don’t really have a lot of time what with this new job…hang on, call on the other line.”

"Okay."

“Okay.”

"Thank you for calling EA customer support, your call is important to us. Please hold. Sorry, where were we?"

“Thank you for calling EA customer support, your call is important to us. Please hold. Sorry, where were we?”

"The Frozen review."

“The Frozen review.”

"Right. Right. Listen, Mouse you’re overthinking this. Is this going to be the last review you do?"

“Right. Right. Listen, Mouse you’re overthinking this. Is this going to be the last review you do?”

"Well, no."

“Well, no.”

"Right. Then it’s not an ending. You don’t need a big climax. And besides, if you just try to cram in as many cameos and running jokes as you can it’s just going to turn into a massive circle jerk. Your readers just want to see you review a movie they love. Trust your instincts, do the best job you can and that’ll be enough."

“Right. Then it’s not an ending. You don’t need a big climax. And besides, if you just try to cram in as many cameos and running jokes as you can it’s just going to turn into a massive circle jerk. Your readers just want to see you review a movie they love. Trust your instincts, do the best job you can and that’ll be enough.”

"Wow. You're right. Thanks HK."

“Wow. You’re right. Thanks HK.”

"Think nothing of it. Soon I shall destroy you."

“Think nothing of it. Soon I shall destroy you.”

***
So.
Yeah.
What crushing burden of expectation?
Okay.
Alright.
Okay.
Wow.
Okay.

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #51: Winnie the Pooh

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
Dearly beloved.
We are gathered here today in the sight of the internet to mourn the loss of our dear friend, traditional Disney animation. TDA had of course been in very poor health this last decade or so, but we had thought he was finally turning the corner. The fact that he had been so close to a full recovery makes the circumstances of his death even more wrenching, especially knowing that his murderer still walks free.
You're a killer, Harry.

You’re a killer, Harry.

 What were you thinking Disney? Sending Winnie the Pooh out, alone and unarmed, against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? In summer?!

"He knew the risks."

“He knew the risks.”

Well, there’s nothing left now. Traditional Disney Animation is dead. Lower him in.

Oh! Hold off the earth till I have held him in my arms once more!

Oh! Hold off the earth till I have held him in my arms once more!

"Mouse. C'mon buddy. You gotta be strong for Latin America."

“Mouse. C’mon buddy. You gotta be strong for Latin America.”

"There is nothing inside me. I am hollow now."

“There is nothing inside me. I am hollow now.”

You’re right. You’re right, I’m sorry.

Gotta get a grip.

A grip…

On Daniel Radcliffe’s lily white pencil neck…NO! BAD MOUSE!

 As absolutely crazy as it seems it retrospect, putting Winnie-the-Pooh up against Harry Potter probably wasn’t that outlandish an idea on paper. The two properties are aimed at quite different age demographics, and Disney was probably banking on their movie hoovering up all the younger cinema-goers who’s parents wouldn’t be willing to take them to a movie that is essentially Schindler’s List with wizards.

Oh Disney. Your naive belief that parents have any real control over what their children watch is what makes you so loveable.

Oh Disney. Your naive belief that parents have any real control over what their children watch is what makes you so loveable.

And while Pooh was undoubtedly the underdog in this fight, let’s not forget that the Bear of Very Little Brain is also the Bear of Massive Merchandising Revenue. Pooh may in fact be the single most valuable character in the whole Disney stable. So why was this movie absolutely crushed at the box office?

Okay fine, because it went up against fucking Harry Potter, but indulge me, please.

Bad reviews? Oh hell, no. Critics ate this up.

The fact that it was released in summer instead of in winter like most Disney movies? Nah, see I never bought the “People won’t go to see movies that are on at different times than movies like that movie are usually on” concept.

I have a theory.

If you want a bloodbath polite and well reasoned debate, ask a bunch of Disney fans how many sequels there are in the Disney canon. Rescuers Down Under  certainly. And Winnie the Pooh. But after that? Is Fantasia 2000 really a sequel considering it has no plot? Is Three Caballeros a sequel to Saludos Amigos? And if it is, does Melody Time  make it a trilogy since José Carioca and Donald Duck appear in it too? Hell, you could argue that Fun and Fancy Free  is a sequel to Pinnochio  because they both feature Jiminy Cricket and are both pant-shittingly terrifying.

But…if you were to ask just a normal person on the street how many sequels are in the Disney canon they’d look at you funny and ask “What’s a Disney cannon?”

Disney cannon

Pictured: A Disney cannon.

Y’see, to ordinary movie-goers the concept of a Disney “canon”, the idea that some movies are more Disney than others is meaningless. Disney made it, it’s a Disney movie. QED. Why should they care which part of the company created it? I mean, let’s be honest here, the whole notion of the canon is just a marketing gimmick that allows Disney to put a seal of quality on some of their movies while allowing them to pretend that their less exceptional output somehow doesn’t matter and OH JESUS CHRIST I’VE WASTED TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE.

Now, Joe Sixpack may not really get what the canon is, but he has slowly, and through painstaking trial and error, learnt one very important lesson:

Avoid Disney sequels like the fucking plague.

Rediscovering the original Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was one of my most pleasant surprises doing this blog. It really is a lovely little film. But it wasn’t the last Winnie the Pooh movie to be released by Disney.

 Not by a long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

...long...

…long…

Alright, screw this, I gotta review to write, you get the idea.

Alright, screw this, I gotta review to write, you get the idea.

And it’s not like these were all straight to video either, quite a few of those movies actually had theatrical releases. So is it any wonder that the public weren’t queuing down the street for this one? They didn’t know that all those sequels were done by DisneyToons and that the grownups were actually in charge of this one. All they knew was that Disney had released a long string of pretty shitty Winnie the Pooh cartoons (no pun intended, I honestly swear to God). It’s Disney’s fault. They didn’t protect their characters.

You release a movie called "Frankenpooh" you deserve every damn thing that happens to you.

You release a movie called “Frankenpooh” you deserve every damn thing that happens to you.

So here we are. This is how it ends. But how does it end? With inspiring last words, or a damp fart as the muscles relax with the onset of death?

Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #50: Tangled

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

My housemate Christine is one of those people who only gets around to seeing the movies everyone’s talking about years after the fact.

"Movies cut into nap time."

“Movies cut into nap time.”

This is good for me doing what I do because it means I get a perspective on movies long after the hype has died down from someone who hasn’t been swept up in the groupthink that tends to form around any given movie. Christine finally got off her branch to watch Frozen and Tangled. In that order. And this has led her to formulate what I like to call Christine’s Principle. And the principle is as follows: If you’re going to watch Frozen and Tangled, for God’s sake watch Tangled first because boy howdy does it suffer in comparison. Tangled is not bad. Tangled is in fact quite excellent, but it’s just not Frozen and seeing as they’re both Disney CGI movies featuring blonde princesses, doglike hoofed mammals and some seriously questionable parenting the comparisons are inevitable. And in a way that’s unfair to Tangled because, while it is no question not as good a movie as Frozen, I think there are areas where it is arguably superior.   What areas you ask? Well, the animation for one. I remember watching Tangled in the cinema and seeing that scene where Gothel is being hoisted up to the tower on Rapunzel’s hair. The textures and colours are all just so sumptuous and beautiful and I remember thinking for the first time that if Disney never went back to traditional animation I could live with that. Then of course I banished the thought from my mind and spent a week cloistered away scourging my back as penance. But there’s no denying it, this is a gorgeous, gorgeous film. It’s rumoured to be the most expensive animated film ever made and the second most expensive film of all time, and it looks like it. It also has a pretty killer script and I would say a better supporting cast than Frozen. In fact, now that I think about it, what makes Frozen so frickin’ great?

Oh. Right. The songs that will define a generation.

Oh. Right. The songs that will define a generation.

Tangled was huge when it came out, but it’s definitely been overshadowed by its younger sister in recent years. Is it time for a reappraisal? Let’s take a look. Oh, but let’s address the elephant in the room first. Tangled was originally called Rapunzel, but the name was changed to make it more gender neutral to appeal to boys. This move has caused quite a controversy so let me very quickly give my opinion on this pressing issue.

Don't care

Let’s take a look at the film.

 

***

The movie begins with our narrator Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) setting up the backstory like the silver tongued devil he is. Long time ago, a teardrop fell from the sun, and instead of incinerating all life on earth, grew into a golden flower. This flower was discovered by an old woman named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) who found that by singing a certain song, the flower could turn her young again. How did she know the right words? Why a flower? Look, this whole sequence is pretty much a load of plotholes held together by spit and glitter glue.  To whit; in the local kingdom the Queen is expecting a baby and, naturally enough, seeing as she’s about to become the mother of a Disney princess her health takes an immediate change for the worst. The king realises that what with his wife about to give birth to a Disney princess it’ll take a miracle to save her, which sounds about right. He has his troops search for this magical flower that he’s heard rumours of…somehow, and they steal it right from under Mother Gothel’s nose.

All in the game, yo.

All in the game, yo.

Um, sorry. As I write this I’m on holiday in the wilds of Wexford with Season 1 of The Wire on in the background so there might be some bleed across. Also, I gotta point this out: Flynn chews Mother Gothel out for hoarding the flower for herself and not sharing its powers, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the King straight up stealing it and making it into fucking soup so that no one can ever use it again. I know, I know, he probably doesn’t know how to use the flower properly (even though the rest of his intelligence about this supposedly unknown plant has been right on the money so far). Alright, anyway, they didn’t see the flower’s “Do not use while pregnant” warning label because the Queen gives birth to a baby with a head of golden hair worthy of the god of thunder.

Naaaaaaahhhh...

Naaaaaaahhhh…

Unfortunately, Mother Gothel, not content to just fucking die because she’s not royalty, breaks into the palace to get her shit back. Instead she finds the baby and realises that by holding the baby’s hair and singing the magic song she can recover her youth. Gothel steals the child and hides her away in a tower far away in the middle of the forest where no one can find her and raises her as her daughter. So the movie begins and Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is now about to turn eighteen. When designing Rapunzel the Disney team had an interesting challenge. The story basically demands that Rapunzel be a beautiful girl with long blonde hair. The trouble is, a beautiful girl with long blonde hair could very easily end up looking like Barbie and everyone hates that dead-eyed skank. I actually love the design for Rapunzel, which is beautiful but also kind of dorky, with freckles, a faint lisp, a button nose and a slight overbite (although I admit I only noticed that last one when I saw the movie in 3d). Rapunzel is paired with Pascal the chameleon, who is just adorable. The two muse about what to do, and Pascal wants to go outside but Rapunzel says that they need to stay in the tower which brings us to the first song When Will My Life Begin?, which shows all the ways that Rapunzel has been killing time in the tower while waiting for something to actually happen. A great Disney movie needs great songs and unfortunately early nineties Alan Menken was unavailable, leaving us with his less talented brother, early 21st century Alan Menken. As an “I want” song, When Will My Life Begin? just doesn’t have the sense of yearning and urgency that you need in a tune like this. It’s pretty, and the lyrics are fine, but whenever I hear this song it sounds to me less like the anthem of a Disney princess and more like the theme music for a Disney Channel sitcom called That’s So Rapunzel!  Meanwhile, Flynn Rider and his colleagues in extra-legal entrepreneurship; the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), are breaking into the palace to steal Rapunzel’s unused baby tiara…which when I type it out like that is actually a spectacularly horrible thing to do. Flynn was the end result of something called the “hot guy meeting”, where directors Nathan Greno and Matthew Howard got a bunch of female Disney employees together with pictures of guys like Hugh Jackman and Ryan Gosling to cobble together a Frankenstein’s monster of utter hotness.

He does the dishes without asking and his dick is shaped like a Y.

He does the dishes without asking and his dick is shaped like a Y.

They manage to swipe the tiara simply by virtue of the palace not having bothered to beef up security after that whole “heir to the throne kidnapped by one wrinkled old lady” affair.

"Hey sarge? Do you think maybe one of us should actually be looking at the thing were supposed to be guarding?" "Look, I dont care what you learned in your fancy seminar Larry. Round here we do things my way."

“Hey sarge? Do you think maybe one of us should actually be looking at the thing we’re supposed to be guarding?”
“Look, I don’t care what you learned in your fancy seminar, private. Round here we do things my way.”

The three crooks rip and run and flee into the forest where they’re chased by the palace guards. At the tower, Rapunzel is working up the courage to ask Mother Gothel if she can leave the tower to see the floating lights that appear in the sky every night on her birthday. These are actually lanterns that everyone in the kingdom sets alight to guide the lost princess back home. Mother Gothel is a really interesting villain, lacking in power and magical ability but more than making up for it in guile and intelligence. She’s an expert manipulator, which makes sense when you remember that she’s been alive for centuries and has had plenty of time to figure out what makes people tick. In the Princess and the Frog  review I complained that there was no real relationship between Tiana and Facilier. Tangled d0esn’t repeat that mistake, and in fact I’d argue that relationship between Rapunzel and Gothel is one of the most fascinating and difficult to unravel hero/villain dynamics in the whole canon. My wife, who frequents crazier neighbourhoods of the internet than I, has had blazing online rows with people who genuinely claim that Gothel is a good mother who’s just trying to protect her daughter. Now, obviously that’s bullshit, but I will admit that I think that Gothel, in her own twisted way, does love Rapunzel. Or at least, as much as a narcissistic sociopath can love anything or anyone other than themselves. But that’s just it. Gothel loves herself, ergo she loves the flower which keeps her young and beautiful, ergo she loves Rapunzel who keeps her young and beautiful. Her love of Rapunzel is borne out of her own narcissism, but it is real. Later in the movie when Gothel comes back to the tower and finds that Rapunzel is gone her reaction is not the snarling rage you’d expect from a Disney villain in this situation (think Jafar losing the lamp) but sheer, blind panic. In short, exactly the reaction of any parent who’s lost their child. But ultimately, I choose to believe that Gothel loves Rapunzel because it just gives the story so much more thematic weight and real-world resonance. Very few of us are kidnapped from an early age to be raised by a stranger for their own nefarious ends, but all too many of us have a parent who genuinely loves us but is nontheless, you know, emotionally devouring us whole. The exchanges between Rapunzel and Gothel, the passive aggressive controlling, the “joking” belittling comments are all things that many, many children have to deal with (not me, let me just state for the record, Momma Mouse is a diamond). But nonetheless, there is a real tenderness to some of their dialogue (“I love you more.. I love you most.”) that makes me think that Gothel has genuinely deluded herself into thinking that everything she does is for her adopted daughter’s good. And if that good is also Gothel’s good, win-win, right? Alright, so Rapunzel asks if she can leave the tower and Gothel knocks this on the head with Momma Knows Best, a comedic villain song in the vein of Poor Unfortunate Souls. Menken does his best work in the movie with fun little ditties like this and I Have a Dream later on. It’s when he tries reaching for the big emotional beats that he comes a cropper. After scaring Rapunzel shitless with tales of red-toothed bandits, ravenous beasts and various members of the Cheney family, Gothel departs. Meanwhile, Flynn has double crossed the Stabbington Brothers…and there’s a surname to not piss off…and made off with the tiara on his own. He’s pursued by the palace guards, the captain of whom is riding Maximus.

"Stallion to a murdered mare. Father to a murdered foal. And I will have my revenge. In this life, or the next."

“Stallion to a murdered mare. Father to a murdered foal. And I will have my revenge. In this life, or the next.”

Maximus, like Pascal, gets no lines but his various whinnies and grunts are voiced (again, like Pascal) by Frank Welker who has…um…crap…hang on…

Let me just consult "Ye Old Tome of Frank Welker Gags".

Let me just consult “Ye Old Tome of Frank Welker Gags”.

Alright, here’s one: “Frank Welker has voiced more characters than there are freckles on Rupert Grint.” Huh. Well that seems both improbable and needlessly mean to Rupert Grint.

Man, Im starting to scrape the barrel here.

Man, I’m starting to scrape the barrel here.

Anyway, Maximus is my favourite character in this and probably one of my favorite supporting characters in the canon. It’s interesting that Disney already tried the “horse who wants to be a lawman” gag in Home on the Range to miserable effect. It works here though because unlike Buck, Maximus is fucking fantastic at it. This horse is like Judge Dredd with hooves. He gets no lines, but you just know that in his head he refers to Flynn as “Evildoer”. Couple this with some just GODDAMN SUBLIME facial animation and you have one of the all time greats. There’s so many lovely little touches. There’s one bit where Flynn swings on a vine and knocks the captain off Maximus and tries to ride off with him. Maximus stops dead, turns around, and his pupil actually shrinks in rage when he sees that this criminal degenerate has dared to sit on his back.

If looks could kill

Maximus tries to get the satchel back which ends with Flynn and Maximus falling off a cliff…

LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!!!

LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!!!

…and landing deep in the forest. Flynn hides from Maximus and finds himself outside Rapunzel’s tower. He climbs up and immediately gets laid out cold by Rapunzel wielding a frying pan because it’s a breakfast time and she’s serving up some pain. Sunny side up. I’m a writer. Of course in this situation the tricky part is what to do with the body. I’m told. So Rapunzel stashes the unconscious Rider in her closet and finds the tiara in her satchel. Gothel comes back and Rapunzel is about to show her Flynn as proof that she can take care of herself but Gothel goes completely psycho when Rapunzel even broaches the subject of leaving the tower so instead Rapunzel comes up with a plan. She asks Gothel for some new paints from a town that’s three days journey away and Gothel, probably anxious to sweep the whole matter under the rug, agrees. With Gothel gone, Rapunzel takes Flynn out of the closet and ties him to a chair. When he comes to she offers him a deal; if he takes her to Corona (the kingdom, it’s not named in the movie but the Disney wiki’s never steered me wrong yet) and brings her back, she’ll return his satchel with the tiara. Flynn really doesn’t want to return to the scene of the crime and tries desperately to get out of this, even bringing to bear the awesome power of The Smolder.

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Disney Reviews the Unshaved Mouse #49: The Princess and the Frog

 

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

God I hate when this happens.
See, here’s the thing. I already knew what I was going to say about Princess and the Frog months ago. I had my arguments prepared, I’d done my research, the only thing remaining to do was to sit down and watch it again before actually writing the review. And then, of course, my opinion of the movie changed pretty substantially and now I’m back to square one. Alright, a lot of you have been asking me my opinion on the Princess and the Frog, and until very, very recently it was this:
Don’t like it. Hugely disappointing. Major flaws. Disney screwed the pooch. To get traditional animation back in contention they needed a perfect ten and we got a five. Mouse not happy.
But then…yeah, I watched it again and it’s safe to say that my opinion has mellowed quite a bit. Not totally. The problems I thought were there are still there. What problems you ask? Three are the problems, and the number of the problems is three.
  1. Tiana
You know, given Disney’s sterling record of diversity it’s kind of amazing that it’s taken this long for us to have an African American princess.
"Ha! Good one!"

“Ha! Good one!”

I’m actually not being sarcastic. Think about it, since Little Mermaid in 1987, of the seventeen canon movies featuring humans we’ve had Arab protaganoists, Asian protagonists, Native American protagonists, gypsy protagonists, Hawaiian protagonists, Mayan protagonists and even that most reviled and loathed of all minorities…
belle-and-the-beast-in-beauty-and-the-beast-disney-couples-25378817-1280-720

The French.

So, why has it taken them this long? Well, seeing as you’re on the internet you probably aren’t aware of this, but race can be something of a sticky wicket. By which I mean, Disney knew that if they fucked up on this they would be eaten alive so it’s probably not surprising that they took this one nice and slow. And, in my opinion at least, they succeeded. There is nothing problematic about the character of Tiana. She is as positive and progressive a depiction of an African American woman as you could hope to find. On a possibly not unrelated note, she is also really, really, really, really, really boring. Who do I blame for that? The writers? The animators? Voice actor Anika Noni Rose? No. At the risk of being unpopular, I place the blame solely on…
You
Yes you, people on the internet.
This movie came under an insane amount of scrutiny long, long, before it was even released, with Disney making many changes in response to every new backlash and charge of racism. Now, some of the criticism may have been fair, but honestly some of it just strikes me as petty. For example, the heroine’s name was originally “Maddy” which was changed to Tiana because “Maddy” rhymes with “Mammy”. So, yeah, I know right? Wasn’t that a bullet narrowly dodged? Now I, for one, was unaware that names that happen coincidentally to rhyme with racist slurs are racist by association but I’ll certainly keep that in mind in fut…OH MY GOD!!!
GET HIM THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!!!!

GET HIM THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!!!!

So, it’s understandable that the script for this thing feels like it was written by someone walking on eggshells. And yes, obviously writers have to treat the issue of race carefully and with sensitivity, but I think a certain degree of good faith is required on behalf of the audience as well. It’s just the problem with living in a world where any blowhard can get on his virtual soap box and complain about a movie that hasn’t even been released yet and why are you all looking at me like that? But there is another problem with Tiana that goes beyond all of that. Alright, the simplest, most basic story you can tell goes like this. Character A (the protagonist), wants something, and we want to see him get that thing. Character B (the antagonist) wants something that is mutually exclusive to what character A wants, and we don’t want to see him get that. The characters struggle against each other, and from this we get conflict, drama and finally resolution. Now, you can alter and flip and rearrange and deconstruct or just flat out ignore this model in literally an infinite number of different ways but most of the time that’s what it boils down to. The central conflict is the heart of the story. And Tiana exists almost entirely outside the central conflict. She’s essentially an onlooker in her own story. The conflict is between Naveen and Facilier. You could conceivably have a movie just about those two. What is the relationship between Tiana and Facilier? What’s the personal stake? As the old lady once said, where’s the beef?
  1. The Script
Not bad, but really needed to be funnier. And from Clements and Musker we had a right to expect better.
  1. Randy Goddamn Newman
Fine in small doses, don’t get me wrong. But to write a musical you need versatility almost as much as you need raw songwriting talent. Your songs need to be versatile enough to convey an entire emotional spectrum and Newman just can’t do that. There’s an unmistakeable saminess to his songs that make them less emotional beats in the story set to music, and more mere musical intervals (with the exception of Friends on the Other Side, which is awesome.) This is the single biggest problem with the movie in my opinion. There’s enough good in the rest of the movie that a Howard Ashman or Sherman Brothers or Kristen Anderson Lopez could have lifted this up to the realm of the all-time greats.
Well okay, enough about what they got wrong. Let’s take a look at what they got right.

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