Tag Archives: Disney

March Bonus Review: The Little Mermaid

Before I begin, let me explain what happened last week. I had some PC problems and I basically ended up without a working one from early Tuesday until early Saturday. Which basically translated to me missing all my usual update times. So, this week I’ll put up two anime reviews with the extra probably going up on Saturday. Now, with the elephant properly addressed, let’s move on.

Little Mermaid.png

When I reviewed The Black Cauldron a couple months back, one of the things I noted was that, unlike this film, it’s not one of Disney’s atrocious offerings. Well, I knew I’d have to extrapolate on that eventually. And today, is that day.

Story:

So, we know the basic story. A mermaid falls for a human, trades her voice and possibly her freedom for legs & a cloaca in order to woo him. That’s right, Ursula doesn’t give her a proper human body. That’s canon.

So, what exactly makes this film so bad? Well, let’s start by talking about the motivation problem. Say what you want about Disney’s early heroines like Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora or Maid Marian. Say they’re boring damsels with nothing better to do than wait for their respective Princes to come to their rescue. But, one thing all of them have over Ariel, is that they’re in bad situations through no fault of their own. They get cursed, kidnapped or forced to do nothing but chores by their wicked stepmother.

Ariel, in contrast, lives a charmed life. She’s a princess in a great undersea kingdom. She has family and friends who love her. Her dad even lets her go to Hominid-con with her weird fake legs provided she follows some fair boundaries. But she feels unsatisfied because she wants to go up to dry land and have free reign of thirty percent of the planet instead of seventy. Plus her dad has rules and she’s sixteen so she considers that totally bogus. Basically, she has the same issues as Blanda in the second series of SAO.

The second problem, which ties into the first, is that Ariel directly causes all of her own misfortunes. The first thing we see her do is shirk off an obligation in order to almost get eaten by a shark. After that she decides she’s totally in love with a human she spied on for five minutes and actually interacted with for thirty seconds. And by interacted with, I mean she pulled him ashore so he wouldn’t drown. And in order to chase after that human dick she’s been craving, she basically puts herself in a hugely perilous situation by taking a contract from the sea witch who everyone with multiple brain cells should know isn’t trustworthy. Ursula even gives her an advantage by taking away her voice so her stupid, vapid mouth noises won’t immediately ruin her chances. That’s sporting of her.

Then there’s the third major narrative problem. The romance is shite. Yeah, there’s not much romance for Snow White, Aurora or Cinderella either since they basically marry the boring dudes who rescue them from their lousy situations but at least these guys do something for them. Ariel just sees her boring prince and decides she’s sick of the Mermen at Hominid-con with their fake human bits, she wants a real human dick. You could seriously replace Prince Whatever Who Cares with any decent looking dude and it would all be the same. Princess Vapid would probably still totally fall for them too because this has as much in common with a love story as the Star Trek/ X-men crossover has in common with a psychological horror.

Another thing I have to bring up is messaging. Most media for children is trying to convey some kinds of messages for the audience. Usually, I don’t talk about it because it’s basic stuff like “follow your dreams” or “even if you seem small, you can make a difference if you try.” In this case, I’ll make an exception because any possible message you can take from this film is horrible when you think about it for five seconds. Is the message “When you’re a teenager you know what’s best and your parents need to acknowledge it?” Maybe it’s “If you get yourself in a serious mess, Daddy will bail you out. Don’t worry about it.” Perhaps the message is “That attractive person you’ve never spoken to but you’ve been stalking totally wants you. You just need to get close to them and make it happen.” Or how about “Shady contracts always work out for the person who signs them because if someone’s trying to trick you, they’ll get their comeuppance.”

Characters:

Here’s another major issue with this film. The most likeable character, is the villain. Which shouldn’t happen since Disney villains tend to be very much evil for the evils. Then we notice who she’s up against. Ariel is a useless vapid cunt. Flounder is the obnoxious sidekick character. Although he’s probably delicious with some butter, a little lemon and pepper. Sebastian is the over-indulgent nursemaid. King Triton would be a decent enough character, since he’s just a dad trying to do what’s best for his daughter but they fuck it up at the end where he decides that he’s had enough of her shit and he just lets her go off to make the boring Prince’s life miserable.

Art & Visuals:

I do have to give the film credit in this regard. They did a good job of designing a magical underwater kingdom and a lot of the undersea scenes where they’re just showing the ocean life swimming around look good. The only serious problem with the art is that the final action sequence is pretty anti-climactic.

Acting & Music:

As a whole, the acting is basically competent. Jason Marin’s performance is annoying but that’s also a product of his character being that type. Jodi Benson is also pretty obnoxious to listen to, but that’s not so much her acting as it is the fact that every stupid thing that comes out of Ariel’s mouth makes you want to punch her. I don’t condone beating sixteen year old girls, but if I had to deal with her for an extended period of time I would be sorely tempted.

Some of the music is pretty catchy with the obvious examples being Under the Sea & Part of Your World. That being said, they are not good songs. Part of your World, in particular, has some stupid lyrics. Take this part:

Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters

Bright young women

sick of swimmin’

Ready to stand

First off, you sometimes have to reprimand your child. Even when they’re a teenager because teenagers think they know more than they actually do. Secondly, you are not bright, Ariel. Every single thing you say and do indicates that you would lose a battle of wits to a toothbrush. You’re the type of person you could keep occupied for days by handing a slip of paper with “turn over” written on both sides. Third, these last couple lines make no sense. It would be like me saying I’m sick of walking and ready to hover.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Give Ariel and Prince Whatever a developed relationship. Instead of her falling for him after stalking his ship for five minutes, have them actually sneak out to meet one another as an ongoing thing. You can fix the whole Ursula thing by having Ariel trade her appearance and voice. You can even still make her pretty. You can make the impetus him saying that he has to find a bride within a short frame of time. That gives more motivation behind why Ariel would risk so much for him. And by more, I mean any.
  2. Make Ariel older. Seriously, a lot of Triton’s perfectly reasonable boundaries become less reasonable if she’s, say, nineteen and an actual adult. Which makes for a more interesting, nuanced discussion.
  3. Have Ariel display actual intelligence and gratitude for what she has. That would go a long way in making her not a horrible character.

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s why The Little Mermaid is a rubbish film. It may actually be Disney’s worst big budget animated feature. If it’s not, I either haven’t seen the film that is or I can’t remember it. I’ll give it some credit for the competent acting and for having some nice visuals, but I’m not going to give it a whole lot given how egregiously terrible the writing is. I’m giving it a 2/10.

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December Bonus Review #3: The Black Cauldron

Disney may be one of the world’s most famous studios but it’s not one I’ve looked at all that much, unless you want to count all the Marvel reviews I’ve done. It’s pretty much been The Rescuers. So, let’s look at another Disney feature. The Black Cauldron was released in 1985 and it was a huge commercial failure and it’s probably the film Disney likes to acknowledge the least. Yes, even less than Song of the South. Now, I never saw this film as a kid. I wasn’t born yet when it came out and its flop status basically meant that it wasn’t one of those “classics” that was released a thousand times and made available everywhere. So, let’s take a look at the film and ask two questions. First, does it deserve its negative reputation? Second, why did it bomb so badly?

Black Cauldron.png

Story:

We open with an explanation of what the titular Black Cauldron is. It’s a seal for an evil being who was feared even by the Gods. And those with wicked intentions seek to use its power for their own ends. We cut to a small farm where an elderly man and his assistant look after a pig. The assistant, Taran, wants to go out into the world as a soldier and stop the Horned King but is quickly reminded of his place. He’s washing the pig, Hen Wen, when she suddenly becomes agitated. It turns out she has the power of prophesy. The old man uses her power and becomes worried that the Horned King will find out. As such, he sends Taran off to hide with her and keep her safe. He’d go but he’s very old.

This results in Taran coming up against the Horned King and embarking on a quest to find the Black Cauldron to keep it out of wicked hands.

The biggest general issue with the story is the pacing. It never gives you time to sit with the main characters and get to know them. You pretty much go from one big event to the next pretty rapidly. If the film were even twenty minutes longer and had some time to breathe, it could have been legitimately an excellent film.

The film does provide you with an adventure. Even if it is hectically paced. There’s consistently something interesting happening. It also does a good job with tone. The film is considerably darker than other Disney films of the time but it’s never over done or poorly done. I quite appreciate the sacrifice scene towards the end as well. It has some power to it. I also like the way it works to give all its major characters a place in the party and moments to shine. In terms of fantasy films for a younger audience, this is up there.

Characters:

One side issue with the overly rapid pacing is that the characters don’t get as much development as I would like. That being said, they aren’t bad compared to a lot of the Disney films from that time. They’re at about the same level of complexity as Disney’s Robin Hood. 

One thing I will credit the film with is having the best Disney Princess of its time. Seriously, when this came out the Disney Princess formula was basically taking a helpless damsel, putting her into trouble outside of her control and letting the hero come to her rescue. See Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty & Maid Marian from Robin Hood. Princess Eilonwy, in contrast, takes an active role in the adventure and she meets Taran when she comes to his rescue. She’s portrayed as an equal partner in the adventure. Even if you compare her to all Disney heroines that existed at the time, Miss Bianca and Alice are the only two better characters and being number three is pretty respectable.

Art & Visuals

Here’s another area where you have to give this film credit. It looks stunning. The art direction is very impressive. The movements are smooth. The backgrounds look great. The Horned King is intimidating and his Cauldron born are pretty damn creepy for the five minutes they’re on screen.

Acting & Music:

Most of the acting is decent enough. The positive exceptions to that are John Hurt, who is excellent as the villain and Susan Sheridan who gives a strong performance as Eilonwy. The big exception in a negative sense is, unfortunately, Grant Bardsley as Taran. His lines just come across as awkward and stilted half the time. It’s like he wasn’t sure whether or not to exaggerate for the film and he kind of starts to only to pull it back. And all without much of that troublesome emoting. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is pretty fantastic.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Take some more time to develop the characters and their relationships. If there’s one thing that could have benefited this film more than any other, it’s more relaxed pacing. Like I said, I’d give it an extra twenty minutes of run time.
  2. A different lead to play Taran. I’m sorry, but Bardsley sucked.
  3. Explain about the magical tools a bit. Of our main characters, three either have or acquire magical implements and there’s not really an explanation for, say, what Eilonwy’s glowing bauble actually does. Or why the bard carries a magic harp that snaps its strings when he lies.

Final Thoughts:

Is this one of Disney’s worst films? Personally, I’d say it isn’t. Honestly, I thought it was pretty solid. It has some notable flaws, certainly, but it also has quite a few factors going for it. I’d certainly put it far above Disney’s shit films like The Little Mermaid. I’d also put it higher than the more mediocre films like The Aristocats. So, why didn’t it do well? I think the fact that it is darker than Disney’s other films of the time was a factor. It’s tough to pull off a departure like that. I would also say Bardsley’s performance was a part of it. It’s not easy to sell audiences on a character who sounds like that. The hectic pacing and the film’s high budget were probably also contributing factors. Still, I’d go so far as to give this one a 7/10. It’s not one of Disney’s best, but it’s pretty good. If you haven’t seen it and you like fantasy, give it a try.

August Bonus Review: The Rescuers

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The Rescuers was a Disney film from the late 70s. Although they started development in the early 60s but it was considered too politically charged which led to it being canned and then picked up again later. I’m not sure what’s so political about it. Maybe the idea of a woman doing what was traditionally “men’s work.” Maybe the scene where Miss Bianca explains the merits of income redistribution due to a massive income disparity being unsustainable for a healthy nation. (Okay, I made that one up) or maybe it’s because the original script was completely different.

Story:

We open with a young girl throwing a bottle into the water. We follow the bottle through a series of really nice watercolour looking stills until it lands and gets found by a bunch of mice. Fortunately for the young girl, these are the helpful, nice variety of mice who chew through ropes to free lions among other things. We cut to a meeting of the Rescue Aid Society, a group of mice that take it upon themselves to help those in trouble. And they’ve called this meeting of global mice solely to assign one or two to save the girl. This organisation may have had some problems with efficiency before they formed their mobile Rescue Ranger units.

The Hungarian mouse, Miss Bianca, asks for the assignment. The chairman hesitates, since this is apparently the first time a female mouse has actually been given a rescue assignment, in spite of their being several female mice in the group. She’s given the assignment but told to take a partner. Naturally, all the male mice volunteer because Hungarian ladies, and lady mice apparently, are smexy. She picks Bernard, the janitor. Probably because he’s the only one who isn’t in a position to claim all the credit. And the two set off to find the girl who needs help and come to her rescue.

Narratively, the film does basically everything right. The pacing is well crafted. It knows when to have calmer, slower moments and when to go into more intense sequences involving cars, swamp mobiles alligators and other perils. Even the song placement is very nice. The writers do a great job of conveying just how difficult it is for two little mice to try and be heroes. The climax is superb.

About the only thing I can criticise is that the Rescue Aid Society has a bunch of representatives from various countries and then one from the entire continent of Africa. Maybe Africa’s continental branch was busy with rescue work and they thought the meeting was just to touch base so they picked one agent to represent them. And then she found out that they’d called everyone for one rescue operation and she went back to report that the other continental branches had way to much time on their hands before returning to Wakanda.

Characters:

Miss Bianca is a great character. She clearly cares about helping others and doing her assignment, but she also gets as much joy out of things as she can. She’s taking the adventure seriously but also enjoying everything it has to offer. Which makes her a delight to watch. Bernard is kind of the opposite. He’s always worrying and scared but does what needs to be done any way. Which makes him a very courageous character but he’s also just a bit annoying. I also like Penny quite a bit. Her first response upon meeting the mice is just “did you bring the police?” which is very sensible. But then she wants to swipe Madame Medusa’s swamp mobile because she wants to drive it. And she taunts the cloying crony because he’s scared of the alligators. Which is great. The villains are pretty much your typical Disney antagonists. Nasty, trashy people who just want wealth even if it means sending a child into a hole to search for treasure. Although they do take it to another level by giving Medusa a shotgun to fire off indiscriminately. I actually love that scene, not gonna lie.

The side characters are a lot of fun. Whether it’s Zipper… I mean Evinrude or the muskrat couple. He gives people moonshine to perk them up and she goes to town with the rolling pin in the climax. Actually, the little swamp critters charging into action is one of the best parts in the film. Rufus & Orville are fun supporting characters too.

Art:

The film clearly didn’t have the most robust budget in the world. They take some short cuts in order to save on animation, including the stills at the opening and some slow scenes but it still looks quite nice and it is well animated.

Sound:

For the sake of this review, I watched the English version for the first time. I have to say, the acting is really good. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor make for strong leads. Michelle Stacy makes for a strong Penny. Geraldine Page, Joe Flynn, Jim Jordan and the others are all good. In terms of music, the Rescue Aid Society anthem is a great, upbeat tune. Tomorrow is Another Day is an excellent song to aid in the atmosphere during a calmer moment & Someone’s waiting for You is a beautiful but also sad melody. I will say, I liked Wenche Myhre’s versions better than Shelby Flint’s but Flint’s are great too.

Final Thoughts:

The Rescuers may just be one of the five best Disney animated films of all time. And I’m not even joking. It’s a great adventure with a strong cast, strong characters, perfectly placed, well written songs a strong visual aesthetic and a lot of scenes that are memorable for all the right reasons. Its flaws, by comparison, are pretty minor. Ultimately, I give it a 9/10.

November Bonus Review: Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls is a Disney cartoon that ran from ’12 to ’16 with two series and forty episodes. At its time, it got a lot of attention and a lot of adults were praising it as being an example of what a kid’s cartoon should be. Which I kind of ignored because I’ve heard the same thing about a lot of other cartoons, some of which have been utter bollocks. So, I’ll be watching through it for the first time for this review. Shh, don’t spoil it.

Gravity Falls.png

Story:

We follow twins, Dipper & Mabel Pines, as they stay with their Great Uncle Stan at his Mystery Shack tourist spot in the small town of Gravity Falls Oregon. While exploring in the woods, Dipper finds a mysterious journal that talks about the strange supernatural phenomena happening in the town. Following up on the things mentioned therein will lead to the two having one unforgettable summer filled with adventures & mystery.

I honestly can’t think of any major narrative problems with this series. It’s stories are pretty straight forward & very optimistic, both of which are fine. It can be predictable, for an adult, but it’s intended for children. So, I don’t see any problem there either. If anything, a show for children should be a bit predictable for adults. Since we have a lot more experience with media and, with it, trope knowledge.

In stark contrast, I have to give the series a lot of credit. The strange world of Gravity Falls is highly inventive and it does some subversive stuff. Like having highly cheerful gravediggers or bringing unicorns into the equation only to have them take the piss. Going along that vein, this series is really bloody funny. There aren’t many things that get me bursting out in uproarious laughter. I usually end up having more a quiet chuckle when I find something funny. This got me laughing my arse off quite a few times. Sometimes with jokes that are kind of old, but they just executed very well. To give an example, there’s a line from Grunkle Stan about how “he can’t find the remote and he refuses to stand up” that really got to me. It’s a joke I’ve seen many times and that normally wouldn’t get anything out of me, but the combination of the jape with the channel he’s got on, the distance he actually is from the telly & the delivery makes it really funny. I also appreciate that some of the lessons they bring up are important ones that I haven’t seen in a lot of cartoons. Like the fact that an absent parent doesn’t really care about you and you may as well forget about them and appreciate the people who do care about you.

Then, we have the finale. This one is full of twists and turns. It has a lot of strong triumphant moments and some more melancholy bitter-sweet ones. It has some really sweet scenes, and I’m not using “sweet” in a slang sense. It also has some epic bits that I don’t want to spoil. One thing worth noting is that the theme tune actually changes for the finale episodes. Yes, this series makes the theme tune an important reflection of the state of things happening in the series. Which is a nice tough that you don’t see in many things. The ending is absolutely amazing is what I’m saying.

Characters:

About the worst I can say about this aspect is that some of the mystical creatures they encounter lack individuality. The Manotaurs are pretty much interchangeable, as are the gnomes, as are the unicorns. Which I can’t fault them for too much, especially since the creatures tend to show up as a major part of one episode and then kind of go to the background. Overall, though, I really like the characters. The major characters have just the right level of complexity and development. The side characters may be largely defined by their quirks, but they’re an endearing lot. I freaking love the happy funeral directing couple, for example. They have the best morbid jokes.

Art:

The art uses a relatively simplistic style, but it uses it to great effect. The surreal and bizarre scenes are really well done. The character designs are memorable. I don’t even care that some characters have those weird, huge muppet noses. The scenes flow nicely too. There’s real effort put into making the series look nice and it pays off.

Sound:

Here’s an area where I have some issues. Dipper sounds too old. He’s supposed to be twelve, but his voice sounds like someone who’s gone completely through puberty and possibly started University. Then we have Grenda. One of the big “jokes” surrounding Grenda is that she has a super husky voice. Which is used in an actual humorous way all of once. Other than that, it just comes across as bad acting. I don’t have any real issues with the rest of the cast. They can be exaggerated at times, but there’s always a reason for it. The music is good. I especially like the theme tune, which is evocative of the whole surreal aesthetic except when it changes for the ending stretch. In which case it’s evocative of the situation they’ve found themselves in.

Final Thoughts:

I honestly didn’t expect to like Gravity Falls as much as I did. Especially given my history with cartoons that are lauded as “amazing” & “perfect for adults too.” But it more than won me over with its ceaseless charm, endearing characters, creative scenarios, strong sense of humour & virtually everything else. Ultimately, compared to everything I liked about the series, my few complaints are pretty mild. This is one I’ll probably re-watch at some point. My final rating is going to stand at a well deserved 9/10.