Category Archives: Disney Films

Toy Story 4-2019

Toy Story 4-2019

Director-Josh Cooley

Voices-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts

Scott’s Review #966

Reviewed December 10, 2019

Grade: B

Toy Story 4 (2019) is the fourth installment in the Pixar/Disney produced Toy Story series, now nearly twenty-five years old! The glitter is beginning to fade on a once endearing franchise and hopefully this is the last one- additional segments are not needed unless desperation develops.

After a slow start and too many retread moments, the film shows bombast and familiar heart and tenderness in the finale, presumably wrapping up the lengthy story with a neat bow. The animation is vivid and colorful, almost astounding, making up for an unnecessary story.

In a flashback sequence, nine-years after Toy Story 2, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is donated to a new owner and Woody (Tom Hanks) begrudgingly decides to maintain his loyalty to owner, Andy. Years later and now a teenager, Andy donates a forgotten Woody to a young child named Bonnie, who lacks the affection for the toy that Andy had. When Bonnie makes and bonds with Forky, a toy made of plastic, Woody struggles to convince Forky that each is more than garbage.

When Bonnie and her parents embark on a summer road trip to an amusement park, Woody and other familiar faces are along for the ride. The group meets other forgotten toys, some benevolent and some sinister, at the park and a nearby antique store. Woody’s dear friend and comic relief, Buzz (Tim Allen), is in the mix and helps all the toys realize that they are not forgotten, and that they can still bring joy to children.

The film provides an unwieldy list of celebrities in major and minor roles. The incorporation of characters like Chairol Burnett, Bitey White, and Carl Reineroceros (voiced naturally by Carol Burnett, Betty White, and Carl Reiner) may not be necessary, but it’s fun to watch the credits roll and see who’s who from the cast. The minor characters are little more than window dressing, but the creativity is admirable.

The main story of abandonment, loyalty, and discarding of one’s toys is ample and nice, but has occurred in every segment thus far in the series. Do we need to see this again? Yes, it is an important message for both children and adults, but why not simply watch the first three installments of Toy Story, each brilliant in their own right? Ty Story 4 plays by the numbers with little surprises.

One glaring notice is how almost every single adult is either incompetent or played for laughs. I get that the main draw is the toys and outsmarting the adults is half the fun, but when Bonnie’s father assumes his navigation system is on the fritz, rather than catching on to the fact that one of the toys is voicing the system, one must shake his or her head. Suspension of disbelief is required more and more in these types of films.

Toy Story 4 picks up steam in the final twenty minutes with a thrilling adventure through the amusement park and a cute romance between Woody and Bo Peep. When long forgotten toy Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) emotionally rescues a lost child, she is rejuvenated and breathes new life into both the child’s life and her own. In a darling moment, Forky meets another creation named Knifey. Knifey suffers from the same existential crisis as Forky once did, and Forky immediately becomes smitten with her, both realizing that even though they are odd looking, they still matter.

The nice lesson learned is that even toys from the 1960’s and 1970’s can provide warmth and comfort to a young child and are more than “of their time”. This is a clear and bold message that correlates with human beings and how advanced age does not come with an expiration date. Everyone matters and brings importance. The overlying theme is heartwarming and central to the film, bringing it above mediocrity.

What should certainly be the final chapter in a tired franchise that continues to trudge along, the bright message and strong animations remain, but the film feels like a retread. Given that Toy Story 3 was made in 2010, Toy Story 4 (2019) needs to bring the series to a conclusion before installment 5, 6, 7 or 8 results in dead on arrival.

Mary Poppins-1964

Mary Poppins-1964

Director-Robert Stevenson

Starring-Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke

Scott’s Review #965

Reviewed December 9, 2019

Grade: A-

Mary Poppins (1964) is a lovely Walt Disney production that shines with zest and an ample supply of good, cheery tunes. A family affair, it will hardly disappoint, with sing-along’s and enchanting story for miles. It’s tough to knock a film that has it all, but it does border on sickeningly sweet wholesomeness at times with too much schmaltz mixed in. This can easily be forgiven because of the robust music, dazzling visual effects, and perfect casting, making the film enjoyable entertainment for all to enjoy.

The Banks family reside in London, England, the foursome consisting of George and Winifred Banks, along with children Jane and Michael. They live a comfortable and happy upper-middle class existence. When their nanny quits after the children run away to chase a kite, the panicked George requests a stern, no nonsense nanny, while the children (now returned home) desire a kind, sweet one. Through the marvel of magic, a young nanny (Julie Andrews) descends from the sky using her umbrella. Mary Poppins teaches the children to enjoy chores through tunes with the help of a kindly chimney sweep, Bert (Dick Van Dyke).

Mary Poppins cheerily take the children on several adventures teaching them valuable lessons along the way. The drama created involves light situations such as the irritable George threatening to fire the nanny because she is too cheerful, or a mini-scandal at the bank where George works. These side stories are trivial and nonthreatening since the film is really about the antics of the magically odd nanny and her relationship with the children.

The film is unique in that it combines live-action with animation so that the result feels magical and inventive. This is most evident during sequences that feature animals, especially the superb scene where Mary Poppins transports Bert, Jane, and Michael into a picture where they ride a carousel and leisurely stroll the day away. The appearance of horses and a fox makes the scene both beautifully crafted and filled with joy.

The casting could be no different and is flawless across the board. Standouts are Andrews and Van Dyke, the former appearing in her very first film role. Not to be usurped by her most iconic role as Maria in the following year’s brilliant The Sound of Music (1965), Andrews possesses a benevolent and delightful spirit which works perfectly in the role, to say nothing of her powerful voice. Van Dyke as the romantic interest, is equally well-cast, and together the chemistry is easy and apparent.

Mary Poppins was met with critical acclaim when it was released, during a time when Disney ruled the roost and musicals were a dime a dozen. It received a total of 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture – a record for any film released by Walt Disney Studios – and won five: Best Actress for Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”. This was quite a feat as the film was up against My Fair Lady (1964), a similar film, which won the biggest prize of the year.

Rated G and a box-office success, Mary Poppins (1964) is a legendary Walt Disney film that uses creative techniques and musical numbers to develop a fine finished product. The song standouts are “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, as each offers candy for the ears and immeasurable fun. The classic songs and the cohesive sentimentality make this one easy to enjoy with repeated viewings.

The Sword in the Stone-1963

The Sword in the Stone-1963

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Voices-Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson

Scott’s Review #896

Reviewed May 10, 2019

Grade: B

The 1960’s, while not known as the very best of decades for Walt Disney productions, offers a small gem of a film in The Sword in the Stone (1963). The film, flying marginally under the radar, is not typically well-remembered but is a solid offering, mixing elements of magic and royalty within a cute story. The production holds the dubious honor of being the final Disney animated film to be released before Walt Disney’s death.

While the film is not great, neither is it bad. Engaging and innocent it does not offer the ravaging tragedy of Bambi (1942), the emotion of Dumbo (1941) nor the beauty of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). What the Sword in the Stone does offer is an adventure with an appealing lead character, mildly entertaining supporting characters and a whole host of fun antics enshrouded around education.

Set during ancient times, the King of England has died, leaving no heir to the throne. This elicits peril and worry since with no successor in place, the country is doomed for war. One day a miracle occurs and an odd “Sword in the Stone” appears inside a sturdy anvil in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whoever removes it will be the new king.

Despite a myriad of attempts none of the strong townsmen succeed and England is reduced to the Dark Ages, leaving the sword and the stone forgotten. When one day a twelve-year-old lad named Arthur appears, he teams up with his tutor, Merlin the wizard, and the adventures commence. Inevitably Arthur can remove the sword from the stone and will go on to lead the Knights of the Round Table, accomplishing many amazing feats and becoming one of the most famous figures in history- King Arthur.

The Sword in the Stone entertains and pleases the eyes in many regards with vibrant colors and an array of bells and whistles creatively interspersed throughout a myriad of scenes. The main villain of the story, Madam Mim, is Merlin’s main nemesis. Haggard and dripping with black magic powers, she can turn from a pink elephant into a queen with the flick of her wrist as she giggles and prances about. Despite being dastardly she is also fun and zany and delights in her brief screen time.

The whimsical antics of Merlin are the best aspects of The Sword in the Stone as the senior gentleman bursts and bumbles from one oddity to another in earnest attempts to aid Arthur. Thanks to clever writing an educational angle is a robust incorporation to the story. Merlin can see into the future, at least in glimpses, such as knowing that the world is round not flat. What a great learning tool the film provides for young kids to discover.

The story risks playing too amateurish in some parts where I can see children under the age of twelve enthralled but adults finding the film too childish to take seriously. Despite my best efforts to stay tuned I noticed tidbits of the film that seem too cute for me. When Merlin and Arthur are turned into squirrels and strike the fancy of adorable but clueless female squirrels, the scene seems best catered to very young audiences.

What would give the film some bombast would be a good solid theme song or a powerful love story. Both aspects, able to solidify a hit for Disney, are glaringly missing. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contains the lovely “Someday My Price Will Come” while Snow White and the Prince offer a rich love story. While good, The Sword in the Stone can reach only second tier of Disney classics, missing the upper echelon with only so-so musical offerings.

A slight miss is the way Arthur’s voice changes back and forth from child to teenager going through puberty and this is drastically noticeable. The reason, rather perplexing when analyzed, is that three different actors were used to play Arthur resulting in some consistency issues. Why not just use one actor or age the character slowly and gradually deepen his voice? The back and forth feels sloppy.

At the end of the day the criticisms targeted at The Sword in the Stone (1963) are minor and forgivable as the film plays above average graded on its own terms. The film has a nice message for children about the importance of education and is a wonderful delight best served to the whole family.

Lady and the Tramp-1955

Lady and the Tramp-1955

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts

Scott’s Review #894

Reviewed May 5, 2019

Grade: A-

Released mid-way through a decade of prosperity, Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a lovely production representing an innocent time that still holds up well decades later. A Walt Disney film, the story, animations, and characters are charming with a wholesome yet sophisticated vibrancy. A year in the life of its main character (Lady) never was more richly created providing adventure, romance, and fun for the entire family.

During the turn of the twentieth century, presumed to be somewhere in the mid-western part of the United States, John Dear gives his wife Darling a Cocker Spaniel puppy that she names Lady. The couple are immediately smitten with Lady providing her with all the comforts of warm and lavish country living. As months go by the Dear’s become pregnant causing Lady to feel left out. When the baby arrives and the Dear’s go on a trip, their dog hating, and incompetent Aunt Sarah arrives, leaving poor Lady at risk for her life.

Meanwhile, a stray mixed breed named Tramp prowls the streets protecting his friends and avoiding the dog catcher. He dines on Italian leftovers at Tony’s and lives his own idyllic life, proud not to be owned, able to live on his own terms. He befriends Lady through mutual acquaintances Jock and Trusty who reside nearby. When Lady faces peril the duo embark on an exciting escapade that leads them to a dog shelter and a farm as they begin to fall in love with each other, eventually resulting in a candlelit dinner for two at Tony’s, the highlight of the film.

Each of the animal characters is a treasure and voiced appropriately providing Lady and the Tramp with life and good zest. Tramp is gruff yet lovable with a “footloose and collar-free” outlook, charming and bold in his determinations. The voice of Lady is the polar opposite- demure, feminine and proper. Her voice is cultured without being too snobbish. In supporting roles, Tramp’s fellow strays Peg (a Pekingese) and Bull (a bulldog) possess a New York street-savvy that is perfect for their characters.

Besides Aunt Sarah, the dog catcher, and a hungry rat, Lady and the Tramp contains no villains and each of these characters are somewhat justified in their motivations. The rat just wants to eat, the dog catcher is doing his job, and Aunt Sarah, a cat lover with two Siamese pets, is foolhardier and more clueless rather than dastardly. She can be forgiven for wanting Lady to have a muzzle because she misunderstands Lady’s intentions towards the newborn baby. These characters are more comical than deadly and Si and Am add mischievous shenanigans to further the plot along.

The heart of the film belongs to the sweet romance between Lady and Tramp. The two dogs immediately appeal to the audience with instant chemistry. The “Footloose and Collar-Free / A Night at the Restaurant / Bella Notte” medley is the best of the song arrangements as the duo share a delicious plate of spaghetti and meatballs. In the film’s most iconic and recognizable scene the pair lovingly munch from the same spaghetti noodle- if that is not love then what is?

Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a charmer containing innocence, vivid colors and a rich, welcoming story. Beginning on Christmas and ending exactly a year later, Lady and Tramp’s wonderful journey is topsy-turvy, but culminates in the birth of a litter of puppies cheerily celebrating life. The happy ending is a perfect bow on a Disney film that is enchanting, harmless, and inspiring. The quintessential American love story between the pampered heiress and the spontaneous, fun-loving pup from the wrong side of the tracks — has rarely been more elegantly and entertainingly told.

Song of the South-1946

Song of the South-1946

Director-Harve Foster, Wilfred Jackson

Starring-James Baskett, Billy Driscoll

Scott’s Review #893

Reviewed May 4, 2019

Grade: B+

Song of the South (1946) is a Walt Disney film buried in the chambers of cinema history, reportedly an embarrassment never too soon forgotten by the legendary producer and his company. The reason for the ruckus is numerous overtones of racism that emerge throughout an otherwise darling film. Admittedly the film contains a racial cheeriness that cannot be interpreted as anything other than condescension to black folk and numerous stereotypes abound.

The mysterious appeal of the film during modern times is undoubtedly because of the surrounding controversies that hopefully can be put aside in favor of a resounding positive message and glimmering childlike innocence that resonates throughout the course of the film. The hybrid choice of live action and animation is superlative, eliciting a progressive never before seen, experience that would be shameful to be spoiled amid the surrounding controversies.

Taking place during the Reformation Era in Georgia, United States of America, a period of American history shortly after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the film has quite the southern flavor and feel. Seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is excited to visit his grandmother’s (Lucile Watson) lavish plantation outside of Atlanta along with his mother, Sally (Ruth Warrick), and father (Erik Rolf). He is soon devastated to learn that his father is to return to Atlanta for business, leaving Johnny behind.

Johnny plots to run away from the plantation and return to Atlanta but develops a special friendship with kindly Uncle Remus (James Baskett) who enchants the young boy with sentimental lesson stories about Br’er Rabbit and his foils Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. Drama ensues when Johnny feuds with two poor neighbor boys and develops a friendship with their sister, Ginny. He also forms a close bond with Toby, a young black boy who lives on the plantation.

Thunderous applause must go to the creative minds who thought of the idea of mixing the animations with the live action drama which results in positive and compelling effect. As Uncle Remus repeatedly embarks on a new story for Johnny to listen to the audience knows they will be transported into a magical land of make-believe as a clear lesson results from these stories.

Uncle Remus is an inspiring character- extremely rare to find a black character written this way in 1946. Often black characters were reduced to maids, butlers, farm-hands, or other servant roles. While the film does not stray the course with casting these roles aplenty, including Uncle Remus himself, his character is different because he is beloved by little Johnny and respected by the grandmother, treated as part of the family. His opinion counts for something and not merely dismissed as rubbish.

The musical soundtrack to Song of the South is particularly cheery and easy to hum along to. The most recognizable song is “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which reoccurs several times throughout the feature. The best rendition is at the end of the film when the mix of live action and animation culminates with the sing-along. My favorite appearance is when the “blue bird” referenced in the lyric comes into play resting on one character’s shoulder, true to the lyrical content.

The accusations of racism are justified as keen viewers will understand the condescension towards blacks in several scenes. More than once a parade of black people is seen traipsing through the plantation, singing songs, not exactly cheerfully but not despondent either. The scenes have eerie slavery overtones- despite the black character’s all presumably being free to come and go, the reality is they all work for white folk. The black plight and struggle are completely sugar-coated and feels dismissed.

The animated characters are voiced by strong ethnic voices and are presumed to be ridiculous. The usage of a Tar-Baby character, completely enshrined in black tar seems offensive almost teetering on the implication of promoting a blackface, minstrel show moment as the character, once white, is then turned black because of the tar. Song of the South is not the only film of its time to face racist accusations- the enormous Gone with the Wind (1939) and Jezebel (1938) faced similar heat.

Song of the South (1946) is recommended for those who can recognize the racism that exists throughout the film but also can appreciate the films artistic merits. Wise and resounding friendships between white and black characters are evident as is a lovely story about determination, fairness, and respect. The film should be both treasured for its nice moments and scolded for its racist overtones.

Dumbo-2019

Dumbo-2019

Director-Tim Burton

Starring-Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green

Scott’s Review #889

Reviewed April 24, 2019

Grade: C+

Dumbo (2019), the live action remake of the charming and emotionally charged animated original from 1941 contains some positives but ultimately underwhelms coming up with less than a stacked deck. The problematic and gnawing element that persisted throughout the Disney film was too much of a cute or child leaning quality for my taste. Assuredly though for an afternoon at the theater with young children under the age of twelve the film is a recommended fun activity and utterly appropriate.

My expectation, knowing that Tim Burton was at the director’s helm, was for a darker, perhaps murkier interpretation given some in his catalog of films. After all, Beetlejuice (1988) and Dark Shadows (2012) though flawed contain some wicked charm and naughty humor but Dumbo is considerably soft as the director chooses a safe, more accessible path. To be fair, creating magic from nearly eighty years ago is a tough task for anyone to achieve.

World War I veteran and amputee, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to rejoin the financially problematic traveling circus owned by Max  Medici (Danny DeVito). A widower, reunited with his two children Holt is assigned to oversee the pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo as she gives birth to an unusual looking elephant with giant ears who comes to be known as Dumbo. The children discover that Dumbo can fly when aided by a feather as the evil V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) attempts to profit from Dumbo’s talents at any costs as he adds to his fabulous creation, Dreamland.

The art direction and the look of the film are where Burton succeeds. With dark looking creations and windy, spider-like sets, especially in Dreamland, the film has the directors signature stamp.  The costumes and styles are to be complimented given the year was 1919 and the wardrobe and hairstyles are in match with the times. The circus stars and characters from the fat lady to the exotic jugglers are well-cast adding good texture and multi-cultural flavor to the production.

The standout musical number is the poignant and sentimental “Baby Mine” wisely featured twice during the film. Since the song is so lovely this proves a bold move and my favorite part of an otherwise mediocre experience. Sharon Rooney sings the version featured during a touching and painful scene between separated elephants Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo, and the rock band Arcade Fire performs a different rendition over the end-credits. Anyone needing a good cry would be advised to check out the emotionally charged song.

While the acting among Farrell, DeVito, and Eva Green as Colette, the French trapeze artist who falls for the sexy Holt, all play their roles admirably, two performances left me with critical fire. Keaton, typically a standout performer goes full-throttle with an over-the-top and one-note performance as the villainous Vandevere. Cartoon-like with herky-jerky head snaps and tic-like movements, the actor appears silly and ineffectual at creating any sort of robust character. Young actress, Nico Parker as Milly, Holt’s daughter, gives a dreadfully wooden performance in what could have been the film’s most likable character.

Besides one or two tender scenes the film largely goes for a cutesy vibe, not feeling fresh nor especially genuine. A Disney production, the film feels quite mainstream, lacking edginess, like the producers had dollar signs and major success on their minds over artistic merit or staying true to the original. Other than a quick shot of the number “41” on the front of a train, a clear tribute to the animated original’s year of release, the remake strays very far from the first Dumbo with a few new characters and sadly no gossipy female elephants anywhere in site.

A disappointing offering, the live-action Dumbo (2019), the year’s first in a series of five expected Disney releases (Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and Lady and the Tramp being the others) lacks much more than a couple of sweet scenes, an adorable elephant, and admirable sets, feeling utterly ordinary in flavor. This is a misfire compared to the legendary, teary 1941 version of Dumbo.

Mary Poppins Returns-2018

Mary Poppins Returns-2018

Director-Rob Marshall

Starring-Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Scott’s Review #848

Reviewed December 29, 2018

Grade: A-

Mary Poppins Returns is a charming mixture of reboot and sequel to the immeasurably glorious original, Mary Poppins (1964). Impossible to live up to the magic of that film, the 2018 version comes quite close with a delightful turn by Emily Blunt, numerous Hollywood stalwarts in small roles, and gleeful musical numbers sure to leave audiences humming upon their exit from theaters.

Events begin to percolate twenty-five years following the original story and the setting is 1935 London amid the Great Depression. His wife recently deceased, Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) lives in the house he grew up in with his three children and housekeeper (Julie Walters) in tow. His sister Jane lives and works nearby as a labor organizer. Faced with the dreary reality that the historic Banks house may be foreclosed, Mary Poppins (Blunt) arrives in elegant fashion on her umbrella to resume order and save the day.

Though her character does not overtake the film, Emily Blunt is dynamic in the title role. Her prim and proper good British charm and sensibilities crackle with wit and poise. It is tough to imagine anyone but Blunt in the role as she does so well with putting her stamp on it. With a smirk and a quick matter-of-fact tone, the character is both no-nonsense and utterly kind. The casting of Blunt is spot-on as she becomes Mary Poppins.

The London setting is both adorable and fraught with good culture and sophisticated manners. The inclusion of the storied Big Ben is meaningful to the tale in a major way and a teachable moment for children unfamiliar with London at all. Furthermore, the inclusion of an important time period in history-the inclusion of the Great Depression-is immeasurably positive.

The supporting characters are rapturous and a treat for elders familiar with the original Mary Poppins film. Meryl Streep plays Topsy, Mary Poppins eccentric eastern European cousin to the hilt, but never teeters over-the-top. Colin Firth adds snarky charm as the villainous bank president, and Angela Lansbury gives grandmotherly zest as The Balloon Lady, an ode to the original novel. Finally, Dick Van Dyke is a delight as the heroic Mr. Dawes Jr. who comes to the rescue at the last hour.

The real winners though are the enchanting musical numbers. With the lovely London landscape in full view Mary Poppins Returns gets off to a spectacular groove with “(Underneath The) Lovely London Sky”. Performed by the charming Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Jack the Lamplighter, Mary Poppin’s sidekick, the star has what it takes to keep up with Blunt. This is evident as the duo mesmerize and entertain with a colorful number, “A Cover is Not the Book”, alongside an animated music hall. Finally, fans will revel in the naughty and clever “Turning Turtle”, performed by Streep.

The costumes and lighting are both big hits. As Jack lights and defuses the street lights we get to see the luminous dawn and the evening sunsets which give the film a nice luminous touch. During the film’s conclusion and subsequent race against the stroke of midnight the moonlight is featured giving the film a warm glow. The period piece costumes are lush, but not garish, adding flavor and capturing the time-period perfectly.

With not quite enough oomph to rival the original Mary Poppins (but really who expected that?) Mary Poppins Returns (2018) nonetheless is enchanting and inspiring in every way that a remake or sequel should be. The film is polite, polished, and filled with an authentic zest given the mixing of human and animations. A fine creation and splendid entertainment.

Oliver & Company-1988

Oliver & Company-1988

Director-George Scribner

Voices-Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin

Scott’s Review #818

Reviewed October 8, 2018

Grade: B

Oliver & Company (1988) is a darling animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures, the twenty-seventh Disney feature film to be produced. The film is based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, but Oliver is now a homeless kitten who joins a gang of dogs, and the setting moves from London to the dangerous streets of New York City- present times.

We meet Oliver (Joey Lawrence) as he huddles with other homeless kittens in a cardboard box, chilly from a driving New York rain. As all of the other kittens are snatched up by adoring animal lovers, Oliver is inexplicably left on his own. He eventually meets up with Dodger (Billy Joel), a mongrel with street smarts, and the duo steal hot dogs from an abrasive food vendor. When Dodger swindles Oliver out of his share, the kitten follows the dog to a barge, which turns out to be the hideout of Fagin (Dom DeLuise), a human pickpocket. Fagin houses a gang of assorted dogs as he is bullied by loan shark Sykes.

As Oliver bonds with the miscreants, his life suddenly takes a positive turn when he is rescued from the streets by a kindly, wealthy little girl named Jenny and her bumbling butler, Winston. Jenny’s parents are on holiday in Europe, leaving she and Winston running the house. Along for the ride is Jenny’s sophisticated and spoiled pet poodle, Georgette (Bette Midler), who takes a disliking to Oliver.

By the 1980’s Disney films were hardly the hot commodity they once were, and the small budget is evidence of that. To be fair Oliver & Company is not on par with classic, lovely offerings such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), or Dumbo (1941). In fact, the film has a severe and decidedly “1980’s quality”, mostly due to the upbeat soundtrack, that decades later make the film feel rather dated. Speaking of the soundtrack, the highlight is a treat entitled “Why Should I Worry?”, a tune sung by the ensemble cast and impossible not to hum along to.

The film features an array of famous voices that are perfectly cast. The film makers wisely cast plenty of native New Yorkers, which results in a huge measure of authenticity. Brazen voices like Midler’s, Joel’s, and Cheech Marin’s as feisty chihuahua Tito, give credibility to their characters. The odd romantic pairing of Georgette and Tito, on the surface completely mismatched, gives a good dose of comic relief to the story.

The story written for Oliver & Company is really the best part of the entire production.  Anyone familiar with the famous Dickens novel or Oliver! (1968), the most famous of the film incarnations, knows how the story will end. This did not hinder my enjoyment of the animated film though, a compelling and charming experience. Sykes makes a great villain, drawn with a long face and enormous chin, interesting, but not too scary to frighten young children.

One conspicuous emission is the elimination of the important character of Nancy. As fans know, Nancy played a vital role in the original story. Perplexing is the decision not to include her, but perhaps her ultimate death would have made the story too dark, so this can be overlooked.

Surely not the best in the Disney bunch, Oliver & Company (1988) is nonetheless a decent offering sadly overlooked by fans and critics alike. In fact, the film is nearly forgotten and suffers from a dated quality if not for the widespread knowledge of the classic novel. The film is not one of the storied Disney treasures, nor should it be dismissed altogether. The result is a darling, innocent experience meant for pure enjoyment.

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

Director-Ava DuVernay

Starring-Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #788

Reviewed July 16, 2018

Grade: C

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) is a film that I had high hopes for given the enormous marketing push, first rate cast, and especially the acclaimed female director involved with the project, Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th). Additionally, having admired the 1962 novel I expected a rich, earthy, and mysterious experience. Sadly, whether it be a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation given the star power involved, or some other factors leading to disconnect, but this film really disappointed me. It’s not terrible, but definitely suffers from miscasting, way too much CGI, and a story that is not very compelling.

Thirteen year old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is having a tough time of it in school. Smack dab in the “awkward phase”, she is picked on by school mates because her father (Chris Pine) has disappeared- presumably having ditched the family. In reality, he is a scientist who has been transported to another world after solving the question of humanity’s existence. After Meg and her family are visited by a strange woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Meg, little brother Charles Wallace, and Meg’s crush, Calvin, time travel in order to find a way to save her father.

Fans who have read the wonderful novel written by Madeleine L’Engle will most certainly be disappointed since many details of the film are vastly different from written page. DuVernay certainly attempts to take the film out of the 1960’s and into 2018 (I have no issue with that), but the film feels so slick and modern with the visual elements and heavy use of CGI, that the story suffers enormously. To be clear, the film is gorgeous to look at, especially in the sweeping outdoors scenes, but in this case, too many bells and whistles spoil A Wrinkle in Time.

The three strange women characters: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) are completely butchered. In the novel, each are portrayed as peculiar, mysterious, and similar to witches: frumpy, awkward, yet lovable. In the film, however, they are colorful, glamorous, empowered, but lack any real uniqueness or intrigue. I am all for female empowerment, but the characters just felt wrong. Kaling is fine in the smallest role, but in the case of Witherspoon and Winfrey, appears a case of “we have big stars, let’s find roles for them.” A tough sell with Mrs. Which is to think of Oprah as anyone other than….well, Oprah! Witherspoon’s attempts to be goofy and the comic relief of the film do not work.

The casting of newcomer Storm Reid is lackluster. I have no issue with the character of Meg being changed to bi-racial, in fact I feel that’s a plus in the modern age. However, the actress is not the greatest, appearing both sullen and wooden in various scenes. Nor does she have any chemistry with her love interest, Calvin. This is a shame since the theme of young love would have been a nice addition to the film and was a coming of age element in the novel.

At the risk of being overly critical, A Wrinkle in Time is not a total disaster either. The progressive and heroic message of the overall film is quite inspired. If kids watch the film (and since it is Disney produced and heavily advertised I can see no reason why they wouldn’t) they will be exposed to a nice message of good conquering evil. And on a side note, the villain is safe and hardly conjures up much fright, so no worries by parents of the film being too scary.

With heaps of buzz and anticipation regarding A Wrinkle in Time (2018) the film seemed poised to become a blockbuster hit and a great spring flick. Instead, the film has largely been derided by critics and audiences alike. With creative genius, star power, and a huge budget involved, something clearly ran amiss as the final product is fair to middling. Let’s hope director Ava DuVernay gets her groove back with her next project- I expected more.

Coco-2017

Coco-2017

Director-Lee Unkrich

Voices-Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt

Scott’s Review #737

Reviewed April 4, 2018

Grade: B+

Winner of the 2017 Best Animated Feature Academy Award, Coco is an exuberant and colorful affair filled with marvelous lights and a Mexican cultural infusion that serves the film well, making it feel robust with diversity and inclusion. The overall theme of family, traditions, and musical celebration is apparent and makes for good razzle dazzle with lots of upbeat song and dance. Mixed in is a lovely inter-generational theme, where older folks are respected, something all too lacking in today’s real world.

Miguel Rivera is a twelve year old boy living in Mexico with his extended family, including his elderly great-grandmother, Coco- sadly suffering from intermittent dementia. Through flashbacks we learn that Coco’s father, (Miguel’s great-great-grandfather), was an aspiring musician who abandoned the family for greener pastures. Subsequently, all music has been banned by the Rivera clan in favor of a modest shoe-making business.

As Miguel realizes his passion for music, he comes into conflict with his family, who have other aspirations for the young man. Miguel embarks on a fantastic journey to the magical and somewhat frightening land of his deceased ancestors, coinciding with the festive Day of the Dead celebration, a tradition of Mexican culture. There he realizes the true nature of his great-great-grandfather’s sudden departure.

Coco is a film that can really be enjoyed by all members of the family and is structured in just that way. The blatant use of multiple generations holds great appeal for blending the family unit together. Pixar successfully sets all the right elements in place for a successful film, and the well-written story only adds layers. The film is quite mainstream, yet appealing to the masses.

Perhaps very young viewers may become frightened by some of the skeleton laced faces of Miguel’s ancestors in the other world where he visits, but these images are somewhat tame and mixed with vibrant colors and wonderful production numbers. These images are undoubtedly meant to entertain rather than be scary and the creatures possess a friendly vibe.

Having viewed the film on an airplane traveling cross-country (admittedly not the best way to watch a film), I was entranced by the lovely and touching  musical number, “Remember Me (Lullaby)”, so much so that I was moved to tears right on the plane. How’s that for effectiveness? The emotional level reached via this song impressed me immensely about Coco, even when the story occasionally is secondary to the visual or musical elements.

In fact, for me, the story began to lag slightly until the aforementioned big musical number came into play. The song really kicked the action into high gear in an emotional way, and I became more enamored with the characters and the connections they had to one another. The love that Miguel and his relatives share became clearer to me and the conclusion is fine and satisfactory.

A slight miss to the film, corrected mid way through, is the bratty and entitled nature to Miguel. Heaving sighs when he does not get his way, this seems more apparent early on and was quite the turn off- at first I did not care for the character, yet I knew I was supposed to. Thankfully, the character becomes, naturally, the hero of the film and ultimately a sweet, likable character. I began to ponder,  “is that what kids are really like these days”?

Pixar does it again as they create a family friendly experience with a positive, yet non cliched message of belonging, forgiveness, and the importance of family connections, that feels fresh. In current times of divisiveness, especially with immigration and other cultures being attacked, how appropriate to experience a feel-good, yet not contrived project.

Cinderella-1950

Cinderella-1950

Director-Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilifred Jackson

Voices-Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley

Scott’s Review #731

Reviewed March 7, 2018

Grade: A-

Cinderella is a lovely 1950 Walt Disney production and a film that rejuvenated the animated film genre after a sluggish 1940’s period, thanks in large part to the ravages of World War II. The film glistens with goodness and bright colors, offering a charming fairy tale based story based on hope and “happily ever after”. Cinderella is enchanting on all levels.

Told largely in narration form especially to explain the history of the story, we learn that Cinderella’s parents have both died, leaving her an orphan and living with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine. Her stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia are jealous of Cinderella’s natural beauty and she is abused and berated regularly, forced to work as a servant in a rundown chateau- tending to the trios needs and demands. Despite her unhappy life, Cinderella makes the most of it and befriends mice, birds, and many other animals she meets, singing and dancing in a cheery way.

Life chugs along for our heroine, until one day the King of the royal palace decides to throw a lavish Ball in order for his son, the Prince, to finally find his soulmate and marry her. The King requests that all eligible unmarried women attend. As Cinderella excitedly requests to go, Lady Tremaine cruelly grants her request, provided all of her work is done, having no intention of making things easy on her. In true fairy tale form, the Prince falls madly in love with Cinderella while many hurdles face the pair on their way to happiness.

Given the time period when Cinderella was made (1950), the timing was excellent for a lavish production, to say nothing of the fantasy that many young girls undoubtedly experienced of a handsome prince rescuing them, whisking them away from a life of doldrums to undying love. Female empowerment had not yet taken hold during the 1950’s, so the male rescuing female message was palpable and appealing to many. Dated not in the least, a story of true love overcoming hardship can always find an audience.

The colors and animations of the production are lush and powerful, oozing with perfection and drizzling with fantastic elements of romance and spectacular wealth. An example of this is the lavish ball at the palace- as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother  transforms the young girl and her transportation into a magical fantasy of horses, gowns, and carriages, it is quite extravagant in its beauty.

Engaging, with a bit of humor mixed in, are the supporting characters of the three evil ladies and the bumbling Grand Duke- interestingly voiced by the same person as does the King. As Drizella and Anastasia attempt to impress Prince Charming, their awkward and haphazard mannerisms and scowls perfectly counterbalance the charm and grace of Cinderella in sometimes comical fashion.

Comparisons must be made to 1937’s masterpiece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and both films could easily be companion films to each other, being watched in sequence for better study and marveling about similarities. Both Snow White and Cinderella are purely “good” characters, singing lovely tunes, embracing animal friends and various forms of wildlife- they are both more or less also “saved” by men. In present day, instead of this being offensive or “old fashioned” , it still remains enchanting and a celebration of true love.

Cinderella is a treasure to be enjoyed after all of these years, never aging nor becoming dated or irrelevant, which is a true testament to the power of film. Carving a story of values and honesty, of hard work and of good payoff, generations of fans can appreciate this everlasting treasure.

Pinocchio-1940

Pinocchio-1940

Director-Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices-Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

As a follow-up to the marvelous 1937 Walt Disney production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio is a darling tale  of a wooden puppets longing to become a real boy. The film is vastly different from its predecessor in that the protagonist is male and the thematic elements are Italian (based on an Italian children’s novel), but similarly, Pinocchio is a touching experience and is magical and whimsical, telling a humanistic story about wishes and dreams coming true.

As narrated by a fantastic, cheerful little insect named Jiminy Cricket, an elderly wood-carver, Geppetto, creates a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for the puppet to be turned into a little boy. A mysterious, yet lovely Blue Fairy arrives one night and tells Pinocchio that he must be brave and truthful for the desired effect to occur- Jiminy serves as his conscience. Throughout the remainder of the film  Pinocchio’s morals are tested by unsavory characters, who attempt to steer him down a dark path.

Certainly Pinocchio is intended as a message film to little boys and girls everywhere regarding the importance of being honest and truthful, but with some comic elements mixed in so as to not make the experience too dark or scary. This is evidenced by the , by now legendary, way in which Pinocchio’s nose grows longer with each fib that he tells.  What a valuable lesson the film preaches, and is a main reason the adorable story holds up so well in present times. Some values never go out of flavor.

In wonderful Disney form, Pinocchio features an emotional, tearjerker of a scene towards the end of the film as Geppetto mourns the loss of his son.  The scene is sweet, touching, and will fill even the hardest of hearts with feeling- regardless of age. In this way Pinocchio becomes even more of a timeless treasure, and is a film that the entire family, generations upon generations, can enjoy together. Films of this nature are so important as a bonding form.

Enough praise cannot be given to the incredibly effective theme song of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, belted out by Jiminy Crickett. The resounding tune is as emotional as it is timeless and bold, belted out at just the ideal time during the film and is still identified with the legendary film. In fact, over the years the song has come to be identified with the Walt Disney company itself.

One slight oddity of the film is how Geppetto- clearly at the grandfather age- is the father of a young boy, which perhaps in 1940 might be perceived as sweet, but in 2018 may be perceived as a bit creepy or at least unusual. Still, this is a minor flaw and easily overlooked. In fact, I have come to assume Geppetto serves as the grandfather in the story.

For those in the mood for a charming, classic animated Disney picture, 1940’s Pinocchio is a mesmerizing and creative experience, and at its core is a timeless benevolent lesson in goodness and purity. Artistically filmed and told, Pinocchio is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production from Walt Disney.  By this point Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work. However, due to mixed reviews and a poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for a number of years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora. After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby. Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kindly. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her own personality, but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety. While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora, it is Merryweather who arguably saves the young girls life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip getting star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the grandiose showing, and lush with colors bright as stars. The sparkles which drizzle from the fairies wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration. In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways. The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the enriched goodness of Snow White and Aurora are the most obvious. In addition, both contain dashing princes to come to the rescue in just the nick of time, and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films. Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the aforementioned Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains all of the elements of an empathetic , feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Scott’s Review #634

Reviewed April 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Upon going to see 2017’s spring release offering of the live action version of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was not sure what to expect. Would it be a cheesy or amateurish retread of the 1991 animated smash only with human beings? Why the lackluster March release date? Surely this is telling, otherwise why not release the film in the coveted fourth quarter with potential Oscar buzz? I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but this version of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, romantic, and lovely- a spring treat for the entire family to enjoy.

Our protagonist , Belle, (producers wisely casting Harry Potter legend Emma Watson), is a kindly farm girl living with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline),  in a quaint village outside of Paris. Considered a bit odd by her village mates because she loves to read, she rebuffs the advances of dashing soldier, Gaston, because he is arrogant- the other village ladies (as well as Gaston’s gay companion LeFou) flaunt over Gaston’s good looks.

When Maurice ventures into parts unknown and stumbles upon a dilapidated castle, he is locked up by a vicious beast, having once been a handsome prince, since cursed by a beggar woman. The only way the beast can return to his former self is to find true love before a wilted rose loses all of its peddles- enter Belle to the rescue. Belle convinces the Beast to let her stay prisoner and release her father. Will Beast and Belle fall madly in love? Of course they will. The fated romance is part of what makes the film heartwarming and nice.

The now legendary classic fairy tale feels fresh and energized with the Disney produced project. Director Bill Condon carefully, and successfully, crafts an honest effort, making sure that while providing a fairy tale happy ending, not to make the film seem contrived, overblown, or overdramatized. I fell for the film hook, line, and sinker. it is an uplifting experience. The song and dance numbers abound with gusto and good costumes- my personal favorites being the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast”.

The crucial romance between Watson’s Belle, and the Beast, earnestly played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey fame), works in spades, as their chemistry feels authentic and passionate. As Belle is at first held captive by the misunderstood bad boy in lieu of Maurice, the pair at first loathe each other, but this is done with innocence and no malice. Condon wonderfully exudes the right amount of slow build to make the pair beloved by audiences with the correct amount of pacing.

The CGI is heavy in Beauty and the Beast, as is expected. The distraction of the Beast is a bit confusing. Was the Beast a complete CGI creation save for the close ups or was Watson dancing with Stevens when filming commenced in certain scenes? I am unsure.

The controversial “gay storyline”, which helped the film be banned in the southern United States and Russia, as well as other countries is pure and utter rubbish. The subject is explored extremely superficially and not worthy of all the fuss. In fact, worthier of mention is the wonderful diversity that is featured in the film, most notably in the opening sequence. Interracial couples appear in the form of Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), the opera singer turned wardrobe, and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) turned harpsichord. On the gay issue, how sweet that the implied gay character of LeFlou finds love with another man at the end of the film.

A minor complaint is the scattered authentic French accents by many of the household staff and village people, but Belle and Maurice speak in British tongue. Being a fairy tale, liberties must be taken and suspension of disbelief is certainly a necessity, but this was noticed.

Beauty and the Beast is a lovely experience that mixes fantastic musical numbers with romance with a side of diversity mixed in for good measure. Since the film will undoubtedly be seen by oodles of youngsters and teens this is a wonderful aspect to the film and hopefully, a shining, positive example in film making.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various Voices

Scott’s Review #625

Reviewed March 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the debut feature length production by storied producer, Walt Disney, and has the grand honor of being the first animated feature ever to be made. Until the time of its release, animated stories were not features at all, but rather, shorts that were shown as gag-filled entertainment not to be taken very seriously. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made animated films something to be appreciated and respected- the film, released in 1937, was re-released in theaters many times until the 1990’s and is a blueprint for what animated features would become. The film is based on the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale and is a cherished treasure.

Beautiful inside and out, Snow White is a lonely princess who lives with her devious wicked stepmother, the Queen. Making the most out of her troubled life, Snow White hums and sings with her bird friends who gather to keep her company as she is forced by her stepmother to work as a scullery maid . The Queen is a vain woman, jealous of Snow White’s natural beauty, constantly consulting her mirror to ask “who is the fairest one of all?”. One day the Queen decides to put an end to Snow White and orders a henchman to kill her in the forest and return her bloody heart to her in a box. When the henchman is unable to do the deed, he pleads with Snow White to flee. She winds up in a little cottage housing seven dwarf men whom she befriends as the Queen is determined to take drastic measures to find her.

Circa 1937, and for years to come, animated features were not created as they are today. Rather, they were simplistic- and wonderful- in the use of storyboards and drawings in their creation. This daunting task, and the creativity involved, makes them just lovely to look at. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the debut animated feature, the drawings are fantastic to view- like pictures- and to appreciate the craftsmanship involved. The characters are richly created, with bright, vivid colors that distinguish them from one another- the bright red lips of Snow White and the blue and gold colors of her dress contrast with the regal purples used on the Queen, to say nothing of the deep red color of the poison apple. The color makes the apple appear delicious, but also dangerously blood red. These nuances make the characters deep with texture.

The friendships Snow White makes with the dwarfs and the animal life in the forest are whimsical and filled with love and the animal element later would become a staple of Disney’s works- Dumbo and Bambi. The animals are naturally fond of Snow White because she is joyous and kind- they in turn warn her of impending danger as the Queen turns herself into an old woman and lumbers towards Snow White, snug in the cottage.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs features an old style romance- the handsome Prince takes a shine to Snow White, noticing her natural beauty as she sings and later determined to save her- which of course he does when he magically kisses her in the films finale. The songs featured only enhance the love story- “Some Day My Prince Will Come” is a lovely ode to romance and is tenderly sung by Snow White as she longs for the Prince’s touch, frustrated with her life.

The creation of the seven dwarfs is done in magical fashion and seven little men living together seems quite natural in those innocent times. Each distinctive from each other- Dopey being my personal favorite in his innocence and playfulness- Happy, Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, and Bashful are all written with great zest as we fall in love with each of them from the first moment we meet them as they belt out “Heigh-Ho” in unison.

Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs deserves merit for being Disney’s first, overlooked can be the omission of any family members of Snow White’s besides the evil Queen. Where is Snow White’s father and mother? Any siblings? Certainly they are presumed dead, but they are never mentioned. Also, why does the Queen have a Magic Mirror and why does she have special powers that nobody else has?

At one hour and twenty three minutes, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a quick film, but does not feel underdeveloped. The story and the characters are rich with appeal and intrigue making the film a classic that should be shared with all youngsters. It is a classic tale of good versus evil, a great love story, and sets the tone for other Disney masterpieces to follow.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #594

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: B+

After hearing so much buzz about WALL-E, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Disney-Pixar has created another fantastic film. Visually, it is a creative and intelligent experience that warrants the praise it has received. They also do a lot with the intricate graphics and animations.

In a futuristic world where humans have destroyed their environment, and thereby abandoned planet Earth. Robot, WALL-E, is left to clean up the mess. He then meets a fellow female robot named EVE, and the two develop an innocent, sweet relationship that is charming and authentic.

The humans in the film are portrayed as fat, lazy, incapable of intelligent thought, and most unable to move very much since technology has trained them to be as such. Sad.

The story itself is very sweet, touching, and sends a very important message about society and taking care of our environment. Very enjoyable.

The Aristocats-1970

The Aristocats-1970

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #570

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: B+

The golden age of Disney films mainly occurring prior to the release of this film, The Aristocats is a latter day Disney film, released in 1970- the first release since Walt Disney’s death in 1966. It is a darling story with a very cute subject matter- cats living in sophisticated Paris face peril from their butler. Like many Disney works, the film’s message pertains to the treatment of animals. The Aristocats is much safer fare than the dark Bambi or even Dumbo, but it is a fantastic film worth watching.

Glamorous and elegant retired opera star, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, lives peacefully with her gorgeous mother cat, Duchess, and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse in the heart of Paris, circa 1910. They are sophisticated beyond measure and enjoy every luxury known to cats, and are accompanied in their estate by English butler, Edgar. One day while Madame is discussing her will with her attorney, Edgar learns that she plans to leave her entire estate to her cats, until their death, then all goes to Edgar. Filled with greed, Edgar plots to kill the cats. This leads to an adventure in the country as the accosted cats attempt to find their way back home to Madame, with the help of feral yet kindly cat friends.

Ever so sweet to the film is the burgeoning romance which erupts between Duchess and Thomas O’Malley, as he  aids the cats in returning to Paris. It is classic girl from high class, meets the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks- only cat style. The chemistry is readily apparent between the pair and, on a personal note, my female cat Thora certainly seemed smitten with Thomas O’Malley as she sat smiling at Thomas as she watched the film.

During their adventure, Thomas and Duchess manage to dance and sing along with Thomas’s best friend Scat Cat, who leads a Jazz band of alley cats- this makes the film light and lively in tone. The group also shares adventures with English geese, Abigail and Amelia Gabble, who share a fondness for style and a prim and proper manner.

Throughout it all, the group continues to be pursued by Edgar, who is portrayed more as a bumbling villain than a sinister one, making The Aristocats a fun film rather than anything too heavy or sinister.

The sophistication of the film is really what makes me enjoy it so much. The high style of the Parisian city blocks, Madame’s gorgeous mansion, and the beautifully drawn French countryside are my favorite elements. I love the contrasts with this film- the city and the country, the high brow characters meet the more blue collar ones, but in the end, everyone comes together to conquer the mischievous foe.

Whereas, in Bambi man is the serious enemy, in The Aristocats, Edgar is more of a buffoon than a true dangerous element. He is cartoon-like (no pun intended), thereby the film is more of a caper with hi-jinks than of true danger.

For the cat lover in all of us, The Aristocats is a delightful film with a nice message, and a wonderful cultural experience. Who can forget the fantastic theme song, “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat”?

Toy Story 3-2010

Toy Story 3-2010

Director-Lee Unkrich

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Scott’s Review #562

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B+

It is not easy for sequels to succeed in the creativity or the originality categories, but surprisingly, Toy Story 3 is a fresh, imaginative, fun film. The characters are charming, interesting, and heartwarming, and the film is able to avoid a sappy result. Pixar has another hit.

Andy, now grown up and headed off to college, sees no reason to keep any of his childhood toys, now irrelevant and headed for the scrap box- at least that is what Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and friends, fear will happen as the dreaded day approaches. They must scheme to avoid their fate.

Many interesting new toys are introduced to this franchise with unique personalities, thereby giving a fresh approach, yet not forgetting the past. I adore how Toy Story 3 has many dynamic themes (loneliness, abandonment, togetherness), that play very well together with a nice message.

On a deeper level, the film certainly reflects the modern era. People are so easily thrown out, forgotten, and abandoned, whether through a job, relationship, etc. so that makes this film a sad reality if one chooses to look at it that way, which most won’t.

Great movie for kids and adults alike with a meaningful, relevant message. The film is not a sugar-coated affair and offers a cold reality, while still remaining accessible.

Dumbo-1941

Dumbo-1941

Director-Ben Sharpsteen

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #559

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

One of the best produced (and at sixty-two minutes, one of the shortest!) of the classic Walt Disney films of the golden age, Dumbo, in similar fashion to another Disney classic, Bambi, is both heartbreaking and mixed with fun entertainment. It should be heralded and viewed by everyone- children and adults alike, and teaches a valuable lesson in acceptance and tolerance- messages that never go out of fashion, despite the film being made in the grand old year of 1941.

To draw more comparisons to Bambi, we are introduced to the title character, as Dumbo is nuzzled and cherished upon being brought into the world by storks, by his warm and affectionate mother. Dumbo is an elephant and his mother a circus elephant, where she spends her days as entertainment, along with a group of other female elephants- none of whom has her grace, kindness, or dignity.

Sweet Dumbo is born with an imperfection- he has enormous ears. While others- namely the female elephants- ridicule and stare in horror at the lovable little elephant- his mother embraces and cuddles her little bundle of joy, eliciting a genuine, good-nature warmth rarely seen in cinema history. There is something so innately good about this character, (Mrs. Jumbo). She has a richness and way about her that is fantastic and consuming.

Sadly, one day, while entertaining the masses, a bratty human kid taunts Dumbo, causing Mrs. Jumbo to go ballistic, immediately going into protection mode. She is then deemed a “mad elephant”, shackled, and chained, and worse yet- separated from her baby. How anyone can watch this portion of the film and not shed a tear or get a lump in their throat is beyond me. Walt Disney was a master at eliciting raw emotion from his audience and writing a heartbreaking yet charming stories.

The centerpiece of Dumbo is the wonderful bond between mother and son- a sweet and powerful connection almost everyone can relate to. The pride and joy in Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes when she is granted a visit from Dumbo while imprisoned is magical- it means the world to her.

The supporting characters are key to the richness of the film- Timothy Q. Mouse is an important character to the story. Upon Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo’s separation, he becomes Dumbo’s only friend, sympathizing with Dumbo, and is instrumental to Dumbo’s reunion with his mama as well as his future successes in the circus. The bitchy female elephants are crucial too- despite being one of their own, they still reject Dumbo and mother. There are some light moments, as when the ladies, (Catty, Giddy, and Prissy), gossip and act superior to others.

Another fun scene, to balance out the heavy drama, occurs when Timothy and Dumbo accidentally mistake champagne for water, causing them to hallucinate and imagine pink elephants.

Dumbo is important in that it sends a powerful message about the way animals (especially circus animals) have historically been treated. Why animals should be used to amuse and entertain human beings is anyone’s guess, but this film is a powerful reminder of such. Fortunately, the film goes for a happy and satisfying ending, which should please fans. An animated classic for the ages.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Scott’s Review #556

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Fantasia-1940

Fantasia-1940

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Leopold Stokowski, Walt Disney

Scott’s Review #544

Reviewed December 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Before viewing this 1940 gem by Walt Disney, I was naive to knowing exactly what Fantasia was about- certainly, I had heard of it and knew it was an animated production, but was also mystified by it. Now embarrassed, I realize what a creative treat I missed out on. Better late than never.

I expected a Walt Disney animated story along the lines of Snow White or Pinocchio, but I was sorely mistaken by this assumption. While the film took me a bit to get into, it is a marvel and quite extravagant. The mixing of classical pieces and animated story is brilliant and is visually amazing. There are eight pieces in total, all with stories to tell.

Animated films are not typically my genre of choice, but this one impressed me quite a bit, if nothing more than the imagination involved. A Fantasia reboot emerged in 2000.

Fantasia 2000-2000

Fantasia 2000-2000

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Steve Martin, Bette Midler

Scott’s Review #535

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Reviewed December 4, 2016

Grade: B+

Fantasia 2000 is a visually stunning remake of the 1940 Disney film. The modern version is produced by Roy Disney, nephew of the famous Walt Disney.

There are nine segments in total, each set to a classical music piece. Masterpieces such as Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven and Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin are featured. The Rhapsody piece is a gorgeous story of four individuals who dream of a better life in 1930’s New York City. The four do not know each other, but their lives intersect in a unique way.

Each segment is introduced by a celebrity: Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, and Quincy Jones appear, adding helpful thought and interpretation.

The final piece, in particular, is both moving and breathtaking. Firebird Suite-1919 version- by Stravinsky tells of a sprite (an ethereal entity), awoken by her companion, an elk, as a volcanic spirit has erupted in the peaceful forest, burning it down. The sprite must work to rebuild the peaceful land. It is an earnest, heartbreaking piece.

Being somewhat of a film traditionalist, I prefer the original slightly, but this version is great. Fantasia 2000 is wonderful to look at.

Inside Out-2015

Inside Out-2015

Director-Pete Docter

Starring-Amy Poehler, Diane Lane

Scott’s Review #272

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Reviewed September 8, 2015

Grade: B+

Frequently, when I view a modern animated feature, (and by modern, I mean 1990 and beyond), I am either bored or left with a “meh” feeling- or both. It seems the trend is “let’s create a manufactured film that will appeal to five year old’s who will drag their parents to it”. It is almost as if mediocrity is accepted in animated film, but Inside Out challenges this trend with a thoughtful, interesting slab of story. With this latest Pixar offering we find a refreshing, intelligent film that makes the viewer think, in addition to containing a genuine cute factor, with lots of colors and interesting animation interspersed throughout.

Our story finds eleven year old Riley Anderson, and her five different personalities, working within her brain in unison. The emotions are five distinct little people representing (and named) Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. They overlap, conflict, and humorously strive to take control of Riley’s mind and thought processes. Joy is the central, and obviously happiest of the emotions. They all live in Riley’s conscious mind, named Headquarters. One day, Riley and her family pack up and move from Minnesota to the unknown and overwhelming city of San Francisco to capitalize on a job opportunity offered to Riley’s father. The city is bustling and the family is thrown for a loop. Riley in particular has a difficult time adjusting to this vastly different world and finds herself friendless and acting out of character. Sadness accidentally begins touching other emotions within Riley’s mind, which sets off a plethora of strange emotions causing her to behave strangely and become irritable. Joy and Sadness struggle to return to Headquarters and fix the issues.

Inside Out is a complex animated film and will certainly go way above the heads of many youngsters who will undoubtedly see it. I find this rather refreshing. It is a coming of age tale for adults and mature kids that challenges its audience rather than spitting out a retread or formulaic family story that we have scene countless times over. In fact, Riley and her parents are arguably supporting players in the story, taking a back seat to the small, interesting creatures in Riley’s mind. In a way, her mind is a carnival of riches and cool characters emerge. I smiled as more characters were introduced. Riley’s imaginary friend from years ago, named Bing Bong, was pulled to the forefront of her emotions, as he was sadly was forgotten in her mind. Who cannot relate to this? A childhood ritual of creating a friend.

I adored the trip through Riley’s mind and marveled at the revelation of the inner workings of her mind- with creative colors and bright interesting lights. What a super-cool adventure for a young film lover to experience! Inside Out is quite sophisticated. The main concern is the level of patience that this film requires. It is not a force-fed story, but rather encourages one to experience and feel. Touching scenes do prevail, but the message I receive from Inside Out is an important one- a multitude of emotions in every human being is normal and the way the film shows them overlap and work together is ingenious- nobody is one emotion all the time- nor should they be as the movie promotes successfully. Human beings are meant to feel.

The film also contains humor. I had to laugh out loud when one character sees a button labeled “puberty” and assumes it is nothing of importance. This inside joke is also alluded to at the conclusion of the film- a sequel perhaps? Given that Riley is only eleven years old, puberty will be the natural progression and an enormous one at that.

Inside Out challenges the norm in animated film and entices audiences to think. It feels genuine, which is impressive in itself. It is sentimental without feeling contrived or corny. The film succeeds on many levels.

101 Dalmatians-1961

101 Dalmatians-1961

Directors-Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi

Scott’s Review #226

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Reviewed March 8, 2015

Grade: A-

101 Dalmatians is a darling Walt Disney film that encompasses wholesomeness, love, and devotion. Set in London, which adds a level of sophistication to the film, it tells the story of lonely songwriter named Roger Radcliffe, who lives in a flat with his faithful and devoted Dalmatian, Pongo. Their’s is a happy existence, but something is missing. Pongo, voiced by Rod Taylor (of The Birds fame), is determined to find a mate for both himself and for Roger and sets about to do just that by watching lady’s and their dogs walk the streets in front of their home. He is successful in finding the perfect match for both (Anita for Roger, Perdita for him) and the four of them look forward to years of happiness together until a sinister friend of Anita’s, Cruella De Vil, enters the story. Cruella sees profit in the Dalmatians and attempts to steal and destroy them.

Cruella De Vil is a delicious villain, and certainly one of the most entertaining in animated film history, but more than that, she is comically devious. Her maniacal laugh and witty language make her a perfect foil for a wholesome couple and wonderful, cute little pups. Certainly, the audience does not root for her, but there is something wicked and fun about her over-the-top character.

The film, made in 1961, has wonderful artistic direction that animation today does not have- the scenes look like beautiful drawings and there is a Mad Men quality to the design. The “look” is very different from current animation in that it is sleek and constructed skillfully and not loud, fast, and bombastic.

I love how the film is from the point of view of the Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita and not from the perspective of the human beings simply telling the story about their dogs- this adds to the level of empathy felt for the animals since they are the central characters and we see their attempts at rescuing all of the stolen dogs. Also wonderful is how all of the dogs of London (and various other species of animals) band together in rescue. They work as a team to save and protect their own that are being mistreated and sent to their slaughter.

An enjoyable scene involves the climactic car chase between Cruella’s gaudy, luxury car and a furniture van. As the pups are using the van as a means to escape, a cat and mouse game ensues providing comedy and dramatic flair. As the vehicles wiz along dirt and back roads towards London, the scene is among the most suspenseful of the film. In addition to this riveting scene are others involving the dogs tiptoeing past their captives as we cross our fingers they will not be heard and subsequently caught, and an adorable scene showcasing the dogs cleverness at covering their spots with soot in order to escape.

A heartwarming, inspirational film for the entire family to enjoy many times over, 101 Dalmatians will leave you smiling and humming. It is a truthful, wonderful film about love for animals.

Frozen-2013

Frozen-2013

Director-Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring-Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

Scott’s Review #43

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Reviewed June 18, 2014

Grade: B

The adjective which springs to mind about the latest hit animated film that has overtaken the nation is “cute”. The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story (which is modified immensely) and tells the story of 2 royal sisters (Elsa and Anna), one of whom has special “ice” powers and accidentally injures the other causing a rift. From this point, there are a series of misunderstandings, love interests, a handsome prince, and an adventure through the snow, and a Snow White type theme. The story as a whole is uplifting, sweet, and certainly targeted to kids and parents seeking a wholesome, safe experience, but is it too safe?

My one criticism is the lack of diversity and culture in the main characters as they are all similar in looks, which doesn’t set the best example for kids watching. The musical numbers certainly stick in your head as I was humming them for days. The songs are very trendy, pop leaning which may make this film age quickly and have an overly current flavor. I loved the frozen, icy, wintry animation sets which are perfect while watching in the winter months. Olaf, the sidekick, mini snowman is witty and steals the show.