Saturday, September 29, 2018

Stubs - Aladdin

Aladdin (1992) Voices by Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker. Narrated by Robin Williams. Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker. Produced by Ron Clements, John Musker. Screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio.  Run Time: 90 minutes. U.S.  Color, Animated, Fantasy, Musical, Comedy

For most of the 1990’s, Disney Animation went through what has been called a renaissance. After a disappointing run in the 1980’s, a new creative team took over and turned things around, starting with The Little Mermaid (1989).

On the cusp of that era, in 1988, lyricist Howard Ashman pitched the idea to Disney to turn Aladdin into an animated musical film. After writing a treatment and some songs with his partner Alan Menken, Linda Woolverton was brought in by the studio to write a screenplay. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements were given a choice of three projects to pursue: Swan Lake, King of the Jungle (later to become The Lion King) or Aladdin.

They chose the latter and wrote their own screenplay. Jeffrey Katzenberg, then the Disney studio chief, had issues with it and gave it to Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to rewrite. They made the changes to not only the Musker and Clements script, but to the original story itself.

While Aladdin and the Magic Lamp may be an ancient Arab folktale, it actually takes place in China. The plot of the original story is far more complicated than the story most of us remember and certainly what is depicted in the Disney Aladdin:

In the original tale, which dates back to the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Aladdin is recruited by a sorcerer, who passes himself off as the brother of Aladdin’s deceased father, Mustapha. Aladdin, who is young, poor and ne'er-do-well is convinced, along with his mother, that the sorcerer is going to set Aladdin up to be a wealthy merchant. However, the sorcerer is really only interested in having Aladdin retrieve a wonderful oil lamp from a booby-trapped magic cave.

After finding himself trapped in the cave, Aladdin uses a magic ring, given to him by the sorcerer as protection. Rubbing his hands in despair he releases a genie from the ring. The genie takes Aladdin home to his mother. Aladdin is still holding the lamp and when his mother tries to polish it, a second, more powerful genie is released, who is bound to do the bidding of the person holding the lamp.

With the aid of the genie, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful and marries the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Babroulbadour, after foiling her marriage to the vizier’s (advisor) son. When the sorcerer returns, he offers the Princess a new lamp for old exchange. Not knowing the lamp’s importance, the Princess agrees and gives him the genie’s lamp. The sorcerer orders the genie to take Aladdin’s palace, along with all of its contents to his home in Maghreb.

Aladdin still has the magic ring and while that lesser genie cannot undo what has been done, he can transport Aladdin to Maghreb. There, he recovers the lamp and kills the sorcerer in battle and returns the palace and princess back home.

The happy ending has to wait. The sorcerer’s more powerful and more evil brother tries to get revenge. He kills Aladdin’s brother and disguises himself as an old woman known for her healing powers. Babrouldbadour is once again duped and commands that the woman stay in the palace. But Aladdin, who has been warned of this danger by the genie, slays the imposter. Aladdin eventually succeeds his father-in-law to the throne and now everyone can live happily ever after.

Changing a story or book for its cinematic treatment is nothing new in Hollywood. Call it poetic license or whatever you want, many times the Hollywood treatment has made a story more palatable and accessible to a wider audience.

Moved from China to an unidentified Middle Eastern location, the Disney Aladdin opens with a Merchant (voiced by Robin Williams) who tries to sell us goods but ends up offering to tell us the story of Aladdin.

Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) and his parrot assistant Iago (Gilbert Gottfried).

Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), Grand Vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah, and his wisecracking parrot assistant, Iago (Gilbert Gottfried), are waiting for a petty thief who has stolen half of an asp that bring forth the head of a panther whose mouth opens to the Cave of Wonders (Frank Welker), in which lies a magical oil lamp.

Jafar offers to let the thief keep all the treasure inside in exchange for retrieving the lamp. The thief’s attempt fails as the cave swallows him whole, but the voice from within tells them that only a “Diamond in the Rough” can enter.

We’re shown this “diamond in the rough”, Aladdin (Scott Weinger), a “street rat” who is being chased by authorities for stealing a loaf of bread. His only pal is his pet monkey Abu (Frank Welker), who helps him escape as he runs through the marketplace and up on the rooftops. But once he’s safe, this thief shows he has a heart of gold and gives his hard-won food to some starving street urchins.

Meanwhile, the Sultan's daughter, Jasmine (Linda Larkin), is frustrated with her life in the palace. She is tired of her father’s (Douglas Seale) attempts to find her a prince for a husband and flees to Agrabah's marketplace. There she meets Aladdin and the two begin a friendship. Jafar has Aladdin arrested. When Jasmine orders him released, Jafar lies and tells her Aladdin has already been executed.

In the disguise of an elder, Jafar releases Aladdin and Abu from the dungeon and leads them to the Cave of Wonders, promising a reward in return for retrieving the lamp. This time the cave allows them to enter but warns Aladdin to not touch anything but the lamp. They discover a magic flying carpet, but it is Abu’s attempt to steal a gem that causes the cave to collapse. The carpet flies them back to the entrance and Aladdin delivers the lamp to Jafar. His reward is that Jafar tries to kill him. Once again, Abu comes to Aladdin’s aide and thwarts Jafar, stealing back the lamp just as he, the carpet, and Aladdin fall back into the closing cave.

Aladdin frees the Genie (Robin Williams) from the lamp.

Aladdin rubs the lamp and unexpectedly unleashed Genie (Robin Williams), who reveals he will grant Aladdin three wishes with the exception of murder, romance, the revival of the dead or additional wishes. But Aladdin is clever and tricks the genie into magically freeing them from the cave without actually using one of his wishes. Genie tells Aladdin that he won’t receive any more magic help unless he explicitly states "I wish". While contemplating his wishes, Genie tells him he would wish for freedom, since he is a prisoner to his lamp. Aladdin promises to free Genie as his last wish. Aladdin’s first wish is to become a prince so he would have a chance to win Jasmine’s heart.

Jafar using mind control on the Sultan (Douglas Seale).

Meanwhile, Jafar uses mind control on the Sultan and convinces him to arrange a marriage between himself and Jasmine. Jafar then would have legal claim to become Sultan himself. But before he is able to succeed, Aladdin appears and parades into the Sultan's palace as "Prince Ali Ababwa". While the Sultan is impressed by the new suitor, Jasmine rejects Ali.

Aladdin takes Jasmine (Linda Larkin) on a magic carpet ride.

The Genie suggests to Aladdin to tell the princess who he really is, but Aladdin keeps up the act and takes Jasmine around the world on the magic carpet. Jasmine begins to suspect that Ali is actually the man she met in the marketplace and during the trip tricks Aladdin into admitting it. She demands the truth from Aladdin, but instead, he fabricates a story about sometimes dressing as a commoner to escape palace life. The couple kisses as Aladdin returns her home.

The Genie tries to convince Aladdin to tell Jasmine the truth.

Afterward, Aladdin is kidnapped and thrown into the ocean by Jafar, who makes a second attempt to arrange a marriage. Genie rescues Aladdin as his second wish, even though he can’t say the magic words himself. Aladdin returns to the palace and exposes Jafar's plot to the Sultan. After noticing the lamp in Aladdin's possession and realizing who Aladdin is, Jafar flees.

Despite his promise, Aladdin has second thoughts about freeing Genie with his third wish. He believes without Genie he is "just Aladdin". Meanwhile, Iago steals the lamp and brings it to Jafar. Now that he is the Genie's new master, Jafar uses his first two wishes to usurp the Sultan's throne and become the most powerful sorcerer in the world, enslaving Jasmine and the Sultan and exposing Aladdin as a street rat, before exiling him and Abu to a frozen wasteland.

Using the magic carpet, Aladdin and Abu return to the palace and Aladdin tries to sneak in and steal back the lamp. Jafar proposes using his third wish to make Jasmine his queen, but Genie protests that he cannot grant that wish since it involves love. Jasmine, however, has decided to feign interest in Jafar, allowing Aladdin to make a grab at the lamp. But Aladdin gets caught and has to battle Jafar, who turns himself into an enormous cobra and traps Aladdin.

Jafar claims to be "the most powerful being on Earth", to which Aladdin argues that Genie is more powerful. Jafar uses his final wish to become a genie himself without realizing genies are not free. As he is sucked into a lamp of his own, he drags Iago with him. The Genie sends Jafar's lamp flying into the Cave of Wonders.

Despite Genie’s urging, Aladdin doesn’t use his third wish to become Prince Ali again. Instead, he keeps his promise and frees Genie. Upon seeing his daughter’s love for Aladdin, the Sultan changes the law to allow her to marry whomever she wants. The newly free Genie leaves to explore the world while Aladdin and Jasmine celebrate their engagement.

Genie goes out to explore the world.

Like most of the films of the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin is a wannabe musical. Fourteen songs were written for the movie, though only six were actually used. All the music for the film was written by Alan Menken, with Howard Ashman and Tim Rice providing lyrics; the latter replacing Ashman after he died of AIDS in 1991. For the most part, the voice actors in the film do not sing their parts. The exception is Robin Williams, who is prominently featured on two of the movie’s songs: “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”. The former was recently used in a sing-along tribute to Williams on Broadway. (Aladdin was turned into a musical, which opened on Broadway in 2014, after playing other venues for about three years prior.) The movie would win two Academy Awards: Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song for “A Whole New World” and another nomination for “A Friend Like Me.”

Robin Williams also voices the Narrator of the story.

Despite his billing, Williams is the star of the movie. Known for his manic improvisational style of humor, the film seems to take advantage of Williams’ ability to change his voice and accent at the drop of a hat. During the song “Prince Ali”, Williams is called upon to be a woman swooning over the prince, a small boy in the crowd as well as commentators treating the princely parade as if it were the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day or Tournament of Roses Parade. The film even seems to incorporate his ability to mimic other actors and personalities including Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rodney Dangerfield, Ed Sullivan, and Peter Lorre. Likely, because it is an animated film, many other improvisations and impersonations never made it to celluloid, but in so many ways Aladdin showcases Williams’ versatility.

Robin Williams impersonates Jack Nicholson amongst others.

For a number of reasons, the film was a huge success grossing over $500 million on a budget of $28 million. This is mostly hand-drawn animation, but there are CGI elements and Pixar Animation, then it’s own independent studio does receive a credit. The film’s success spun off two direct-to-video sequels, The Return of Jafar (1994) and Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996). On the first, Williams was replaced by Dan Castellaneta, who is best known as the voice of Homer Simpson.

After his performance as Genie, Williams had a falling out with Disney. Having done his voice work for scale out of gratitude for his success in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Williams only had a couple of conditions. First, neither his name nor image could be used to promote the film and his character from the film could not take up more than 25% of the image on a poster. He had another movie, Toys (1992), scheduled for release a few weeks after Aladdin’s release and didn’t want to be in competition with himself. But Disney went back on both of Williams’ conditions.

When Disney wanted to make a trilogy out of the story (three is a magic number in Hollywood), Castellaneta was hired to voice the Genie in The Return of Jafar and the animated television series which followed. However, a change in studio management and a subsequent apology from the then-new studio head Joe Roth brought Williams back for Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Even though Castellaneta had already recorded the Genie part, his work was replaced by Williams.

Even though the film might be aimed at children, this is definitely a film the whole family (meaning adults) can enjoy, too. While there are definitely some dark elements at play (Jafar), the comedic elements are its equal thanks in large part to Williams’ performance. Like most films from the Disney Renaissance, I would highly recommend this film. You may even find yourself watching this film more than once.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island

If you’ve been alive for the last 20 or so years, you’re no doubt familiar with Scooby-Doo, one of Hanna-Barbera’s most successful franchises, in some form or another. Since the original 1969 cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the iconic group of meddling teenagers and their Great Dane spawned numerous spin-offs and TV movies into the present day, although production of Scooby-Doo material had stagnated over time, with the various series and specials relegated to re-runs. However, the 1998 home video release of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island proved popular enough that it more or less revived the franchise, which lead to the production of further spin-offs and yearly direct-to-video features, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. We’ve decided to take a look at Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island in honor of its 20th anniversary to see how well it holds up today.

After solving cases for years, the Mystery, Inc. gang grow bored of mystery-solving and go their separate ways. Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) and Fred (Frank Welker) have started a successful TV series, Velma (B.J. Ward) becomes the owner of a bookstore and Shaggy (Billy West) and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) are fired from an airport security job after consuming food designated as contraband. After Daphne expresses a desire to see everyone again, Fred gathers everyone together on her birthday to go on a roadtrip while filming her newest show, which involves finding locations that are actually haunted. Their search leads them to a remote home in New Orleans on Moonscar Island. While the gang is initially skeptical about how haunted the island is, they gradually discover that this time, the monsters are real.

(L-R): Fred (Frank Welker), Velma (B.J. Ward),
Shaggy (Billy West), Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) and
Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) reunite to film Daphne's new show.

Compared with most other versions of Scooby-Doo, Zombie Island has a more realistic atmosphere and more mature storytelling. The film explores what happens to Mystery, Inc. after they become adults and it’s interesting to see their lives with varying degrees of success before they regroup to relive their glory days. As part of this more mature direction, the story features actual deaths and the gang encounter real monsters, mainly the titular zombies. There is also more of an effort to give the characters depth, including a hint of romantic interest between Fred and Daphne that gets explored to some degree during the plot. This interpretation of the Scooby-Doo mythos is one of the more intriguing ones because the audience gets to see the gang reacting to a fairly rare situation and the story manages to successfully take the source material more seriously. There’s also a little humor to balance out the horror, mostly through subtle jokes about the franchise, such as a visual gag where Shaggy opens a suitcase to reveal multiple sets of his classic wardrobe.

While the story is able to stand the test of time, there are minor faults. For one, the character Snakebite Scruggs (Mark Hamill) doesn’t serve much of a purpose outside of saving Shaggy from a group of alligators and expressing bitterness towards the presence of “tourists” on his fishing grounds. Additionally, since Zombie Island came out in 1998, the setting features outdated technology, mainly a non-digital video camera, that would feel out of place in any other time period.

What helps the movie hold up today is the still-impressive traditional animation. The animation of Zombie Island is more fluid and detailed than most other Scooby-Doo productions before and since and features a darker color palette that fits in well with the atmosphere. Naturally being direct-to-video means that this movie would have a higher budget than a standard TV series, but even then, it seems to top many of the other direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films of recent years.

The detail helps the animation hold up today.

Zombie Island also stands out with its choice of music. Where previous versions of Scooby-Doo used pop music, this movie goes for a harder alternative sound with original tracks “The Ghost is Here” and “It’s Terror Time Again” performed by Skycycle, along with a cover of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” by Third Eye Blind. The original tracks add to the mood of the scenes they’re used in and are also memorable tracks in their own right, especially “It’s Terror Time Again.” The voice acting is also done well, as even though not all of the original voice actors returned for this project, the featured line-up captures the feeling of their respective characters.

On the subject of the voice acting, Zombie Island holds the honor of having the first permanent recast of the voice actors used within the franchise. Following the death of Don Messick, to whom Zombie Island is dedicated, Scott Innes became the voice of Scooby-Doo; Casey Kasem declined to reprise his role as Shaggy unless the character would be depicted as a vegetarian, so Shaggy is instead voiced by Billy West in a one-off role; Mary Kay Bergman replaced Heather North in the role of Daphne and B.J. Ward replaced Nicole Jaffe as Velma. In contrast, Frank Welker was the only original cast member to return and still continues to voice Fred.

I can’t really end this without addressing an interesting bit of trivia regarding the origins of Zombie Island. The reason the plot unfolds the way it does is that apparently, the script borrows elements from an unfinished episode of SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron called “The Curse of Kataluna”, also written by Glenn Leopold, who wrote Zombie Island.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is easily one of the better examples of the Scooby-Doo franchise. The darker and more realistic atmosphere, consistent tone, incredible voice acting and mature writing all help this movie stand the test of time. While I would recommend this movie to anyone even remotely familiar with Scooby-Doo, as it’s still perfectly enjoyable for adults, I would advise parents to keep in mind that the subject matter could be genuinely frightening for small children.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Following the release of Bambi in 1942, Disney released a series of package films, comprised of multiple shorts told through a framing device, throughout the 1940s, beginning with Saludos Amigos in 1942 and ending with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad in 1949. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad adapts two stories, those being the 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and the 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Though I had not seen the movie for the longest time since I was a kid, I found it to have aged really well; as this is a collection of two stories, I will be talking about how the movie works as a whole in addition to covering each story individually.

The framing device consists of an unseen narrator reading from a book in a library, covering The Wind in the Willows first in spite of the title. Both halves of the movie are amazingly well-animated, as to be expected from a movie featuring Disney’s Nine Old Men. The quality of the animation is, aside from its narrative, one factor that allows the feature to stand the test of time, with the opposing tones of each tale demonstrating the capabilities of Disney’s animators.

The Wind in the Willows is, despite what the title may tell you, the first story presented in this movie, about a group of friends; a toad named J. Thaddeus Toad (Mr. Toad) (Eric Blore), a badger named Angus MacBadger (Campbell Grant), a water rat named Ratty (Claude Allister) and a mole named Moley (Colin Campbell). Mr. Toad is a toad known for his manias, which puts a strain on Toad Hall and MacBadger, who tracks all of Mr. Toad’s damages. Ratty and Moley soon try to stop Mr. Toad from pursuing his latest mania, a canary yellow gipsy caravan pulled by a horse named Cyril Proudbottom (J. Pat O’Malley), only for Toad to become obsessed with a motorcar. Despite Toad being locked in his room, he is later accused of stealing a motorcar. In court, Cyril testifies that Toad merely traded the deed to Toad Hall to a group of weasels at a pub to get the motorcar, however the witness and bartender Mr. Winky (Ollie Wallace, uncredited) says that Mr. Toad actually tried to sell him a stolen motorcar, landing Toad in prison. After managing to escape, Mr. Toad and co. make plans to take back Toad Hall once it turns out Cyril was telling the truth.

Prior to my most recent viewing of this movie, I had actually read a more recent (unabridged) printing of The Wind in the Willows from IDW Publishing, with illustrations by David Petersen of Mouse Guard fame (I would highly recommend this version of the book if you’re looking for a more modern printing), to see how much it differs from the book. The movie presents a Disney-fied take on an abridged version of the book, adapting the Mr. Toad-centric chapters and tying them together with its own narrative; the adaptation is done well enough that it works on its own, helped by the aforementioned stellar animation along with narration by Basil Rathbone. I wasn’t too bothered by the creative liberties taken, especially since apparently most adaptations leave out two admittedly superfluous chapters of the 12-chapter book and Mr. Toad is arguably the more popular character, though I will note some of the more major changes here.

The version of the book I read for narrative comparison.

In the book, J. Thaddeus Toad and Angus MacBadger were simply named Mr. Toad and Badger, though Water Rat and Mole were nicknamed Ratty and/or Moley at points. Additionally, the weasels (joined by some stoats in the book) were given a more expanded role in the movie, as was Cyril, who actually barely had a presence in the original story to the point where he didn’t have any lines and wasn’t even named; then there’s the addition of the character of Mr. Winky, who wasn’t even in the book at all. A more major, perhaps the most important, change is that, in the book, Mr. Toad was outright guilty of stealing the motorcar in the first place, though a different version of his prison escape still occurred. Fans of either version may recognize a much more radical change in the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride dark ride at Disney theme parks, which ends with Mr. Toad going to hell for some reason.

In my research into The Wind in the Willows, I have found that some people apparently believe the book to be about homosexuality, which seems to stem from the interactions between Water Rat and Mole, which could admittedly get oddly personal at times in how they express their emotions (for example, there's a scene in one chapter where Mole openly cries when he senses his old home nearby and he and Water Rat nearly pass by it). In the end though, these chapters are more about world building and setting up each of the characters, including Badger and Mr. Toad (that said, two of those chapters are superfluous and are just filler to break up Mr. Toad's prison escape). At its core, however. the book is more about Mr. Toad's fascination with a motorcar to the point where he steals one and suffers the consequences; by the end of the book, he turns over a new leaf and becomes a better toad.

In adapting the book to a feature, Walt Disney cut out the Water Rat and Mole chapters because he thought they wouldn't be interesting enough, which, along with the aftereffects of WWII, necessitated adding the in-production The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (more on that later) to fill out the running time. Though a number of changes both major and minor were made to try and make what was left of the story work as a Disney movie, I think the end result is an interesting attempt at trying to capture the real essence of the book and what most readers take away from it, that being the character of Mr. Toad.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the second and arguably more famous part of the movie, especially considering the poster and just about every home video box art emphasizes this story. Ichabod Crane (Bing Crosby) is a dandy who arrives in the village of Sleepy Hollow and becomes the new schoolmaster, where he wins the affections of the village’s women to get food from them, before falling in love with a woman named Katrina van Tassel; the narrator (Bing Crosby) explains that Ichabod is really after her money, as she is the daughter of the richest man in the village, Baltus van Tassel. Ichabod’s actions do not sit well with Brom Bones (Bing Crosby), a strong man whom Ichabod managed to overtake as the attractor of Sleepy Hollow’s women, leading Brom to try to take Katrina away from him. Upon seeing that Ichabod is superstitious, Brom finally gets back at him by telling him the story of the Headless Horseman at a Halloween party, which scares Ichabod. After the party, Ichabod is going home through the forest on horseback, leading to his famous encounter with the Headless Horseman.

Unlike The Wind in the Willows, I have not read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” prior to watching this movie, however I did enjoy it for what it was. Bing Crosby, the biggest singer of his time, demonstrates his talent in the realm of voice acting as he voices the two major characters of the story and narrates most of the events. The famous scene with the Headless Horseman is animated spectacularly, aided by a strong buildup and the absolute lack of narration throughout the entire sequence.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is the result of needing to fill time after cutting The Wind in the Willows in half, however the end result is a really good package movie. The animation is spectacular and each segment features some great vocal talent as well as some well-timed humor. It’s easy to see why “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” half took off the way it did, though the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Disney park ride keeps the Mr. Toad character relevant for some.

The version some people are more familiar with.

Though presented as one package, the two stories have often been released individually on home video, however you can still find a proper collected DVD in stores (incidentally, the DVD copy I watched this movie from turned out, upon being opened, to be so old that it (for some reason) included 17-years expired coupons for Energizer batteries). Though one may be more tempted by one half of the movie over the other (The Wind in the Willows segment may be a turn-off for some purists), I would still recommend watching it in its original packaged form as intended if you can find it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut

Note: This review contains spoilers for Deadpool 2 (2018).

After the original Deadpool (2016) broke numerous box office records, Deadpool 2 (2018) was produced and released. Though its box office fell just shy of its predecessor, $734 million vs the original’s $783.1 million, its success was enough to spawn a special home video release, dubbed the Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut (written on the box as the Deadpool 2 Super Duper $@%!#& Cut). This cut boasts 15 minutes of additional footage, including all-new jokes and extended sequences. After we got our hands on a copy, we proceeded to watch it to see how well it stacks up against the original theatrical cut (although we did not watch the original theatrical cut again prior to this review).

At its core, both versions of Deadpool 2 are nearly the same. The story is still about Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) wrestling internally with the aftermath of Vanessa’s (Morena Baccarin) death while also dealing with a man named Cable (Josh Brolin) who has come back in time to prevent a dystopic future, no matter the cost. The main theme of family is still a running thread that’s explored in different ways throughout the movie.

Beyond this core, however, the Super Duper Cut is features a number of differences from the original within the extra 15 minutes, some more obvious than others. Among the most noticeable are extended sequences which include new dialogue and quips, including the scene where Domino (Zazie Beetz) and Deadpool argue over whether or not luck counts as a superpower, as well as new scenes inserted into others, such as showing additional methods of Deadpool trying to kill himself in the wake of Vanessa’s death. Some of the subtler changes involve using alternate takes of a scene and, in turn, alternate jokes. One such alternate take is when Deadpool, in this version, asks Cable three different questions about the future, while another is when Deadpool has different dialogue with Russel (Julian Dennison) outside of the orphanage. There are also a couple changes made to the soundtrack, most noticeably the song that plays while Deadpool’s group walks toward the orphanage before the climax.

While many of these alterations to the movie are worked in really well and are often still funny in their own right, they’re not all perfect. For example, when Deadpool is trying to “win back” Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) outside of the X-Mansion, there seemed to be some alternate dialogue inserted through an overdub, noticeable through a slight change in audio quality and Ryan Reynolds’ dialogue not quite matching Deadpool’s expressions. There’s also an extended sequence during Cable’s arrival to the past that involves two farmers having a lengthy discussion about a toilet paper-based government conspiracy. This scene is raunchier than in the original cut, as it now has an extended bathroom joke, and falls flat compared to the rest of this cut as a result.

Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut is worth checking out. While not everything is seamlessly integrated and some of the new jokes may not be as funny as the original cut, it’s still an enjoyable way to watch Deadpool 2, particularly if you’re already a fan of the movie and want to experience it in a new way. If you have yet to see Deadpool 2, however, it’s best to watch the theatrical cut first before deciding whether or not you want the uncut experience.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review Hub - TY the Tasmanian Tiger

In 2002, Australian developer Krome Studios unleashed their own mascot with attitude, TY the Tasmanian Tiger, based quite heavily on Australian wildlife and culture. Though the character doesn't have quite the same notoriety as other mascots of this variety, the series managed to last long enough for three games before seeming to fade into obscurity. In 2013, however, a fourth game was released that breathed new life into the character, in addition to the first three entries seeing remastered re-releases via the Steam platform. Time will tell if any future developments in the series will see the character really get back on his feet.

Below is a list of every TY the Tasmanian Tiger review on this blog, presented in order of release.

Update (4/22/2020): Added TY the Tasmanian Tiger HD
Update (6/26/2021): Added TY the Tasmanian Tiger 2 HD

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Stubs - Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989, version reviewed 1998) Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono. Produced by Hayao Miyazaki. Run Time: 102 minutes. Japan. Animation, Adventure.

Soon after the release of My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Hayao Miyazaki released his next film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on a novel by Eiko Kadono first published in 1985 as Majo no Takkyūbin. The first of a series of novels: Majo no Takkyūbin 2: Kiki to Atarashii Mahō (Witch's Express Home Delivery 2: Kiki and Her New Magic?) in 1993; Majo no Takkyūbin 3: Kiki to mō Hitori no Majo (Witch's Express Home Delivery 3: Kiki and the Other Witch?) in 2000; Majo no Takkyūbin 4: Kiki no Koi (Witch's Express Home Delivery 4: Kiki's Love?)  in 2004; Majo no Takkyūbin 5: Mahō no Tomarigi (Witch's Express Home Delivery 5: Perch of Magic?) in 2007 and Majo no Takkyūbin 6: Sorezore no Tabidachi Witch's Express Home Delivery 6: Each and Every Departure?) in 2009. It is no surprise that Hayao Miyazaki’s movie based on the first book plays like the first part of a longer series.

It was not Miyazaki’s intent to write and direct the film. He had chosen Sunao Katabuchi, someone he had worked with before, to direct the film. And Studio Ghibli hired Nobuyuki Isshiki to be the screenwriter. Since the book took place in a fictional European nation, Miyazaki and his creative team had gone to Stockholm, Sweden as well as the Swedish Island of Gotland to research settings and other elements for the project.

Upon their return, Miyazaki started to develop his own ideas. He had already been disappointed in the first script and his ideas would change the story from the book’s episodic approach to Kiki’s story and adding in elements not found in the book. Kadono was not happy with the changes and the whole project was on the verge of being shelved before the first frame was shot. But after she visited Ghibli at Miyazaki’s and Toshio Suzuki’s request, she decided to let the project move forward. Miyazaki ended up writing the screenplay and decided to direct the film itself.

Released in Japan in 1989, Kiki’s Delivery Service was a modest success in its home country, earning the equivalent of $18 million on a budget of a little less than $7 million. The first U.S. release came via Streamline Pictures, which used Lisa Michelson as Kiki, Kerrigan Mahan as Jiji, Alexandra Kenworthy as Osono and Edie Mirman as Ursula.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, when Disney got rights to the film, they redubbed the English version and actually made further changes to the film, which were approved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. In place of Michelson, Kirsten Dunst was cast as Kiki. Phil Hartman, who would be making his final film appearance, was cast as her cat Jiji. Standup comic and actress Janeane Garofalo was cast as Ursula and Debbie Reynolds was cast in a smaller role as Madame.

Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) packs her things anticipating her leaving home.

The film opens on the verge of a full moon. Kiki (Dunst), who is thirteen, is anxious to get on with her trip. As a young witch, she is to leave home and spend a year studying somewhere else. Kiki’s mother, Kokiri (Kath Soucie), a practicing witch herself, seems unable to talk her young daughter from leaving. She explains to Miss Dora (Fay DeWitt), a family friend, that she has not had a chance to train her daughter at all, which makes her departure sound even more problematic.

Kiki’s father, Okino (Jeff Bennett), is unable to talk Kiki out of leaving.

Kiki’s father, Okino (Jeff Bennett), comes home from work and is also unable to talk Kiki out of leaving that night when there is to be a full moon. Kiki packs her belongings in a bag and plans to leave along with her black cat Jiji (Hartman) whom she communicates with. Jiji is not as anxious to leave as Kiki is, but he really has no choice in the matter.

Kiki's mother (Kath Soucie) insists Kiki take her broom.

At first, Kiki wants to use a broom that she herself has fashioned, but her mother insists that she take the broom she has been using instead. And with a group of friends there to wish her luck, Kiki and Jiji set off on their year-long adventure; destination unknown. The wind is strong and Kiki has to get Jiji to turn on her father’s transistor radio that she has attached to the broom handle. While they are flying they see another young witch, Senior Witch (Debi Derryberry), and a black cat also flying close by and try to engage her in conversation.

Kiki tries to make conversation with Senior Witch (Debi Derryberry), another witch she meets in flight.

This girl, who claims to be a fortune teller, is near the end of her training and is really not very encouraging to Kiki. As soon as she descends into her town, a major thunderstorm comes through, forcing Kiki out of the skies. She and Jiji take refuge in what they discover the next day is a cattle car on a moving train, making a bed in the hay that is suspended for the cow’s to eat in transit.

Tombo Kopoli (Matthew Lawrence) helps Kiki get away from a policeman.

The next morning, after the storm has passed, Kiki and Jiji get on their way and head towards Koriko, a fairly large city which is on the ocean, which appeals to her. Not really sure what to expect, Kiki descends into the city and gets caught up in the wind, nearly causing a major traffic accident. A policeman catches her and is about to book her when a boy, Tombo Kopoli (Matthew Lawrence), who is smitten with the girl, pretends to need the policeman’s help. This allows Kiki to escape. But when Tombo approaches her, she is not interested in speaking to him.

Osono (Tress MacNeille), a very pregnant baker, has a customer's forgotten pacifier which Kiki offers to return.

After trying to find a room for the night at a major hotel, Kiki catches a break. Standing outside a bakery run by a very pregnant Osono (Tress MacNeille) and her nearly mute husband, she overhears the store owner trying to get the attention of a customer who has recently left. The woman, who has a very young child, has left the baby’s pacifier. Osono is going to have to stop serving customers to take chase when Kiki offers to run the errand for her. Osono is surprised and amazed to find out that Kiki is a witch. When Kiki returns from the errand, Osono invites her in for hot chocolate and eventually offers the girl a room to live in and breakfast, as long as she’ll occasionally help in the shop. Kiki agrees to the terms.

Osono makes Kiki hot chocolate and offers her a job and a place to stay.

Because Kiki’s only talent is her ability to fly, she decides to go into the delivery business and Osono helps her there as well. In fact, she helps her get her first client, Maki (Julia Fletcher), who has a gift she needs to be delivered for her nephew’s birthday that she won’t be able to attend. The gift is a stuffed cat which looks just like Jiji in a cage. But the delivery does not go without incident.

Maki (Julia Fletcher) is Kiki's first delivery customer.

On the way, Kiki flies next to a flock of geese which Jiji is able to understand. He hears them warning about a big gust of wind which Kiki misses out on. As a result, she is blown off course and into the trees, falling next to a bird’s nest. She is called an egg thief by all the birds and she gets chased away. Only then do they realize that the stuffed animal has been lost in the fall.

Her first delivery isn't without issues.

Rather than go back and fight the birds, they go on to Ket’s (Julia Fletcher), the nephew’s house, with Jiji being used as a replacement for the doll. Under the cover of darkness, Kiki goes back to look for the doll. She does find it in the window of Ursula’s (Janeane Garofalo) cabin. Ursula, who is an artist, offers to give her back the doll, but they find out that the head has come off. Ursula offers to sew the head back on the doll in exchange for Kiki doing something for her. So while Ursula sews the doll back together, Kiki scrubs her floor. Even though Kiki isn’t done by the time Ursula is, she’s allowed to take the doll to rescue Jiji.

Ursula (Janeane Garofalo) helps Kiki out of a jam.

Meanwhile, JiJi has befriended the family’s Saint Bernard, who takes Jiji outside to where Kiki is waiting. The dog even takes the doll back inside.

Even though Kiki has given him the cold shoulder, Tombo hasn’t given up on her. He invites her to a gathering of his friends, who are all into flying. He doesn’t give her a chance to say no and promises to come to pick her up at 6. But Kiki gets another delivery job, this time to take a pie for Madame (Debbie Reynolds) to her granddaughter for her birthday. Madame has a friend, Barsa (Edie McClurg), who helps her around the house.

Kiki makes friends with Madame (Debbie Reynolds).

But the pie isn’t quite done, so Kiki helps the two load and ignite a firewood oven to cook the pie to completion. Madame and Barsa are both very impressed by the young girl.

This delivery doesn’t go any smoother than the first one, as a thunderstorm comes up and drenches Kiki and Jiji. When they do make it to the granddaughter’s (Sherry Lynn) house, she is nonplused, not liking her grandmother’s pies.

When Kiki gets back home, she has not only missed Tombo but she has also caught a cold. Osono tries her best to take care of Kiki, who does recover. Osono tells Kiki that Tombo has come by to see her, but that she had sent him away. Osono does have another delivery, though for Kiki to make. Turns out to be to Tombo.

Tombo shows Kiki his propeller-powered bicycle.

Given the chance, the two actually talk and seem to bond. He shows her the propeller-powered bicycle that the gathering was celebrating the night before. Tombo talks Kiki into going with him to see a dirigible that has landed on the beach. The two ride down there on his bike but they don’t make it all the way before Tombo loses control and the two are forced off the road. While they laugh about their incident, friends of Tombo come by on their way to see the dirigible. Even though he invites her to come along with them, Kiki turns down the offer and walks back to her home.

With his friends’ help, Tombo gets to ride on the dirigible. Kiki sees him from a distance and he waves to her, but she doesn’t reciprocate. Tombo even calls her to tell her about his experience, but she hangs up on him.

Kiki finds she's losing the ability to communicate with her cat Jiji (Phil Hartman).

Later, Kiki realizes that she is losing her ability to fly, the thing that she feels makes her a witch. She tries in vain to take flight, breaking her mother’s broom in the process. Further upsetting her is her inability to communicate with Jiji, who appears to have lost the power of speech while he pursues romantic interests with another cat. Depressed, Kiki stays in her room until one day when Ursula comes to town to do some shopping and to see her. She invites Kiki back to her cabin in the woods.

Ursula comes to town to visit with Kiki.

Ursula has been painting a mural about Kiki and needs the girl to pose for sketches so she can complete it. While they’re there, Ursula talks about the magic of art and how much she loves painting. She describes how one day she found that she couldn’t paint anymore and compares that situation to Kiki’s. She tells the younger girl that if she gives herself time away from worrying about it, she’ll get past the mental block. With that knowledge, Kiki returns home.

She gets another delivery job and is called back to Madame’s house. Barsa is pretty excited about the dirigible, which is on the television. There is a live report going on about the airship’s being buffeted by the wind that has once again begun to blow hard.

Madame bakes a special cake for Kiki.

The delivery is really more of a ruse, as Madame has baked a cake for Kiki, wanting to be friends with the girl. Kiki is happy and excited and the two plan to be friends.

Tombo gets carried away by a dirigible.

Meanwhile, things are getting worse with the dirigible. People on the ground are trying very hard to keep it moored, even going so far as to tie it to the bumper of a police car. Tombo is there, trying to help and unfortunately, he is the only one still holding the ropes when the dirigible is carried off the ground. He hangs on helplessly while the crew of the dirigible is helpless to help him. He slides down the rope and unfortunately dislodges the police car, sending it falling into a swimming pool below. When the dirigible is blown into the town’s clock tower, Tombo is left dangling.

Kiki takes it upon herself to rescue Tombo.

Kiki takes it upon herself to try and save him. Borrowing a street cleaner’s broom, Kiki manages to fly, but the rescue doesn’t go smoothly. Before she can get him, Tombo loses his grip and is sent falling to the ground. Kiki manages to fly down and save him before he hits. After saving him, Kiki is now renowned about town and is treated like a hero by the townspeople.

Kiki becomes a local hero as a result and even sees an imitator on the street.

The film ends with Kiki having sent a letter home to her parents, telling them that she’s settling in and feeling good about herself.

I have not read the original story, but I’m struck by the haphazardness of Kiki’s journey. One thinks of young witches studying with someone or someplace where they will be with others like them; Harry Potter had Hogwarts come to mind. Not sure what a young witch will learn going out on her own without guidance to a strange city or how making deliveries and working the counter at a bakery is going to sharpen her undeveloped skills. I know that’s not really the point of the movie really, but, as a parent, I had issues with the premise.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the movie, I did, but I really am left wanting more. Kiki’s Delivery Service is more a slice of life and it leaves itself open for further stories. Rather than more films in the series, the story has since been remade as a live-action film, Kiki's Delivery Service (2014). While Miyazaki’s film is more universal in its appeal and perhaps truer to the original story, which is set in Europe, the live-action film is aimed more squarely at a Japanese audience.

The voice acting is good. I will admit that the only voice I recognized was Phil Hartman’s, who plays Jiji with more than just a hint of sarcasm. His is the most distinctive of the voices. Having watched this film since the passing of Debbie Reynolds, I didn’t recognize her as Madame. That doesn’t take away from the performances of the actors, which for the most part were very good and believable in their tone.

The look of the film is very much like My Neighbor Totoro, which used a very similar color palette and animation style. His research trip to Sweden really paid off as Koriko looks very European without being too specific to one city in particular. A grand background to place the story against. Unlike Totoro, Kiki’s world, save for the flying witches, is not populated with magical creatures, just humans. I really like how they capture the characters moving about, sometimes even stumbling, which makes it seem more real in a way.

A film should leave you wanting more and this film certainly did that. Not only do I want more stories about Kiki, but I’m looking forward to more movies by Hayao Miyazaki. I would highly recommend Kiki’s Delivery Service to anyone, though maybe not for very young children. While Disney may control the rights to the film, this is not a Disney film.