Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Aristocats (1970)

Although I have seen a number of animated Disney films when I was younger, there are some gaps in my knowledge of the Animated Canon that I have sought to gradually fill in based on personal interest and word of mouth. One such film is The Aristocats, an original production that is noted for being the final animated film Walt Disney personally approved of in his lifetime. Though I was aware of it at the time, I eventually gained more interest in giving it a fair look after noticing how much shelf presence the character Marie had on a trip to Disneyland, as well as having read a manga featuring the character. While it’s not quite as good as some other Disney movies from the time period in my opinion, I still liked it and was able to see the appeal.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Although the DCEU consisted of mostly duds (depending on who you ask), one of the few films that stood out was Shazam!, a 2019 film about the DC hero of the same name (previously known as Captain Marvel). While not without its flaws, it was still a very fun time, enough that we eagerly awaited the 2023 sequel, Fury of the Gods. Unfortunately, while Fury of the Gods still entertains, it feels like something got lost along the way.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Anastasia (1997)

Looking back on the career of former Disney animator Don Bluth can be an interesting experience. While he did manage to do well early in his solo career, his reputation started to decline after All Dogs Go to Heaven failed to compete against Disney’s The Little Mermaid, as well as his follow-up feature Rock-a-Doodle being not as well received. When Fox attempted to compete against Disney (years prior to the merger) by opening up their own animation department, Fox Animation Studios, Bluth was brought at the helm and his career found a bright spot with the studio’s first film, the acclaimed Anastasia (1997). Unfortunately, the failure of their second theatrical film, Titan A.E., led to the entire studio shutting down and Bluth to all but fall off the face of the Earth. Along with Anastasia’s acclaim came the long-standing misconception that it was Disney film due to sharing a number of elements with their output at the time; while it actually is a Disney film now by virtue of their ownership of Fox, it is, for all intents and purposes, a Fox Animation Studios film and not an entry in the Disney Animated Canon. This confusion is what eventually led to me watching Anastasia out of curiosity, though it was pulled from Disney+ by the time I got around to it and I had to watch it on demand through Starz, and I ended up enjoying it more than I anticipated.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Oliver & Company


Following the financial failure of The Black Cauldron, Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg invited Disney animators to pitch ideas for future animated features. Among the many pitches, story artist Pete Young suggested “Oliver Twist with dogs”, which manifested in 1988 as Oliver & Company, the final film in Disney’s “Dark Age” of animation. Although critics had a divisive reaction on release, it still did very well enough at the box office, making an estimated $121 million against a budget of $31 million, enough that justified Katzenberg’s mandated yearly release schedule.

In the years since its original release, Oliver & Company has also gained a cult following, much like other overlooked Disney films like Treasure Planet or Atlantis: The Lost Empire. One key factor in this film receiving comparatively little attention, however, may be that it came out only one year before Disney’s take on The Little Mermaid, which kicked off the Disney Renaissance. Regardless, there are plenty of things to like about Oliver & Company that make it worth watching it today, even if the finished product is far from perfect.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Black Cauldron


If there’s one film that could be considered the black sheep of the Disney Animated Canon, it would be The Black Cauldron, the studio’s 25th animated feature. Released in 1985, The Black Cauldron is recognized as the antepenultimate film in what’s colloquially considered Disney’s “Dark Age” and is notable as not only the first film from the studio to receive a PG rating and feature CG, but also the most expensive animated film ever made at the time. Unfortunately, it was also a box office bomb, earning a mere $21.3 million compared to its $44 million budget, and nearly bankrupted the studio, as well as sideline any further attempts at adapting the source material, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, for decades. On top of that, it didn’t get a proper home video release until 1998 entirely as a result of its failure.

In the years since, however, The Black Cauldron has developed a cult following due to the very elements that led to its initial failure at the box office. Disney themselves have even acknowledged its existence with a 4K Disney+ release in 2019, a 2021 Blu-ray release (though exclusively through the Disney Movie Club) and representation in the Disney Villainous tabletop game, as well as a small selection of merch for the 35th anniversary. This cult status also led us to finally check it out, as we sometimes do with other lesser-known Disney films. In this case, while it’s certainly not the best film the studio has ever released, it’s easier now to at least appreciate what they were going for at the time.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Stubs - The Lord of the Rings (1978)


The Lord of the Rings (1978) Voices of Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes. Directed by Ralph Bakshi. Screenplay by Chris Conkling, Peter S. Beagle. Based on the novels The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again; The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of "The Lord of the Rings" and The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of "The Lord of the Rings" by J. R. R. Tolkien (London, 1937 and 1954). Produced by Saul Zaentz. Run time: 115 minutes. USA. Color. Animated, Fantasy

While Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the best-known film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, it is not the first one. Interest in making Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy into a film dates back to 1956 and Walt Disney Pictures' acquisition of the rights. No Disney film materialized, but he wasn’t the last one to try to make a film from it.

Apparently, The Beatles tried in 1968 to acquire the rights. According to a BBC report, if the film had made its way into production, the cast would have been composed of Paul McCartney as Frodo, John Lennon as Gollum, George Harrison as Gandalf, and Ringo Starr as Sam. They were also interested in Stanley Kubrick as the director. However, Tolkien didn't like the idea of a pop group doing his story and nixed the sale.

United Artists acquired rights in 1969 after two years of negotiations, partnering with Katzka-Berne Productions, Inc. in the deal. It was reported, in 1970, that John Boorman had been hired to produce, direct and co-write with Rospo Pallenberg an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, UA balked at the cost of producing Boorman’s script.

Ralph Bakshi, perhaps best known for films like Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin petitioned UA several times to direct The Lord of the Rings as an animated feature. In 1975, the studio allowed Bakshi to take control of the project at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. However, MGM’s involvement ended when studio brass failed to grasp Bakshi’s creative vision. They did allow Bakshi to retain the rights if he could reimburse UA the $600,000 the company had spent to develop the property. Otherwise, the rights would revert to MGM the next day. Bakshi contacted Zaentz, who acquired the rights immediately and agreed to be his partner.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Stubs - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) Starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Screenplay by Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole. Based on Marvel Comics. Produced by Kevin Feige, Nate Moore. Run time: 161 minutes. Color. USA Superhero, Fantasy, MCU

The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be a fast-moving train as it continues to pump out films, Wakanda Forever being the 30th in 15 years. All of them have big budgets and make money but that doesn’t mean that they’re all good or all that memorable.

Since the last film, four years ago, there have been a lot of changes in Wakanda. With the unexpected death of Chadwick Bosman, the sequel had to incorporate that, or, either recast the lead. The former was the direction Marvel went.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Stubs - Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris


Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) Starring: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas, Rose Williams, Jason Isaacs Directed by Anthony Fabian. Screenplay by Carroll Cartwright, Anthony Fabian, Keith Thompson, Olivia Hetreed. Based on Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico (1958). Produced by Anthony Fabian, Xavier Marchand, Guillaume Benski. UK-Hungary Run time: 115 minutes. Color. Drama, Comedy, Fantasy

Sometimes lost in this day and age of big budget special effects-laden movies are the ones that deal with stories of ordinary people. Such a film is Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, based on the novel Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico. The book had been adapted three times prior, all for television. The first was as an episode of the anthology show Studio One in 1958. A German television adaptation, Ein Kleid von Dior, followed in 1982. In 1992, the story returned to American TV, with Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, and Omar Sharif.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

God of War: Ragnarök

Note: This review contains spoilers for God of War (2018).

After God of War: Ascension milked the God of War series’ Greek mythology roots for all it was worth, the franchise went in a new direction and began exploring the realm of Norse mythology, seemingly inspired by creator David Jaffe’s original vision for God of War III, starting with God of War (2018). While this new chapter in the franchise was initially planned for at least three games, the increased development time and cost for AAA games led the Norse Era to be capped off at two games, concluding with God of War: Ragnarök (Ragnarök) in 2022. While I did not play this game at launch, I did play the PS5 version as soon as I could when I got it as a gift, as the game was high on my radar once it came out. While Ragnarök is an overall fantastic conclusion to the Norse Era that was worth the wait, the experience was still affected by the amount of content and some technical issues.