Monday, January 28, 2013

My Favorite 2D Animated Disney Movies

       This month, I’ve reviewed some Disney classics, listed favorite songs, villains and have ranked the Pixar movies from least favorite to favorite. So, I’ve pretty much covered everything and now to finish off Disney month properly, here are my absolute favorites, and by that I mean favorite of the traditional, 2D animated movies (for the record, the “Toy Story” films are my all time favorite animated movies ever made, traditional animation or not). As of now, Disney has released 46 animated movies, some better than others, but most of them are great. So here’s a list of my own personal, top 14 favorite traditional 2D animated Disney classics. Now this isn’t going to be an easy list to do because there are just so many great ones to choose from, so don’t be too disappointed if classics like “Pinocchio”, “The Sword in the Stone”, “Fantasia” and “The Lion King” are not mentioned, I like all those too, but I can only list so much. Also, these films aren't being arranged in any specific order of least great to greatest, it's just my personal favorites thrown out one at a time (well, #1 is definitely my number one favorite). So with all that said, let’s look back at all the magic, fantasy and joy that Disney has to offer.

#14 Robin Hood

Now here’s a very simple and very fun family adventure film. It may not qualify as great material but it is still a lot of fun to watch. Something about these characters and this world where everyones an animal morphed person is a real joy to be submersed in. I can watch these characters have simple conversations with each other all day and I’ll be satisfied, their just that much fun. Throw in some catchy music, fun action scenes, funny jokes and you got yourself a nostalgic gem. 

#13 The Princes and the Frog

What a breath of fresh air to get a traditionally animated Disney movie in the late 2000’s, with traditionally wholesome charms and some of the best characters that Disney has provided in years. Also, count on Disney to take a location as dark and gloomy as a swamp and turn it into a magical and vibrant world in of itself. I especially love all the jazzy tunes and the overall look and feel of Louisiana. Not much else to say, it’s fun, magical, refreshing and a personal favorite. 

#12 Tarzan

Disney's “Tarzan” is about as exciting as animated jungle adventures get, it’s faced passed and full of riveting action sequences. This film also marks the next big step in Disney animation, the stuff they do with Tarzan when he goes tree surfing is just awesome. The story is also good, the characters have their conflicts and the sound track by Phil Collins is outstanding. Overall, “Tarzan” is a really fun adventure for kids and does a great job taking a well-known story to an exciting new level.

#11 The Rescuers Down Under

Now here’s a film that takes a relatively simple plot and turns it into an awesome animated experience. The first “Rescuers” movie from 1977 is one of the cutest animated offering from Disney but it’s the sequel that comes off as a far stronger film. It isn’t quite as heartwarming as the first but the characters are still just as great as ever. The real strength of this movie lies within its amazing production value. It was the very first impressive looking animated film that set the standards for the animation shown in “Beauty and the Best” and “The Lion King”. Every shot is an eye opener, with a huge scope, detailed settings, occasionally beautiful scenery and the eagle flight is honestly one of my favorite moments from an animated movie, capturing the beauty of flight perfectly. There may not be much more to this film other than an exciting family adventure, but then again movies like “Raiders of the Lost Arch” are still praised simply for being a good old fashion adventure flick, so why not this.

#10 Hercules

Back when I was a little kid, “Hercules” was my favorite Disney movie that I’d watch all the time. It was a super hero story, it had giant monsters, it had catchy music, it had an awesome villain, it had slapstick comedy, it had memorable characters and stellar animation, it was just an awesome flick. As an adult, I still enjoy this film and found other things to appreciate. The characters have depth and the message is genuinely wholesome. All the Greek references are fun, the colors are great, the lighting is stylish, and I especially love the look and design of the film, which was based on artist Gerald Scarfe's work. Every time I watch this film I discover something new or notice something that represents a change in the story or in a character. In a nut shell, “Hercules” is a colorful and faced paced film that offers a lot of entertainment as well as some decent morals for young viewers.

#9 The Fox and the Hound

Of all the Disney movies to feature animals as the main characters, this one is my personal favorite. It seems to represent that special time from our child hood, when the best thing in the world was spending time with your best friend. The movie’s worth watching just for those adorable scenes of our two lead characters as cute little pups having fun together. Most Disney movies seem to fallow the same formula of a man and woman falling in love, but this film is different, it’s all about two kids who started up as best friends, but then grew up to be enemies. It’s a very dramatic and refreshing concept for a kids film. It ranges from dark and tragic, to uplifting and beautiful, and as a result, it doesn’t feel like any other film to come from Disney. The atmosphere is great and I especially love the conflicts at the end of the film, as it’s not your typical good vs. evil scenario. The ending is one of the phew scenes in an animated movie to get me all chocked up inside. Seriously, if this ending doesn't get you at least a little teary eyed, then you just don’t have a soul.  

#8 Pocahontas

If you can get past the films questionable (possibly offensive) depiction of a Native American culture and lack of proper history depictions, there are still a lot of things that I really love about this movie. The music is stellar, and some of Disney’s greatest songs are featured in this film. I love its magical air, the morals are great and Pocahontas herself is one of my favorite leading Disney woman. She has more of a spiritual nature, connected to the great things in life that we take for granted. I especially love how this is a story about warring neighbors with two people from opposite ends falling in love, kind of like “Romeo and Juliet” or "West Side Story", except this time the relationship was more beneficial for both sides. Beyond all of that, I just love looking at this film, the colors are so warm and the backgrounds are such rich spectacles. This is a film that you can watch on mute and still have a great time. I honestly think it’s the most beautiful looking animated Disney movie ever made, and that's saying something.

#7 The Emperor’s New Groove

Oh Yeah, gotta include this film, it’s simply the funniest, hippest and purely entertaining film to come from Disney.  Seriously, if “Mel Brooks” or “Monty Python” ever tempted to do a Disney film, it would probably be like this. Both “Aladdin” and “Hercules” had their comedic moments but “The Emperor’s New Groove”  is the only one that had me laughing myself silly as a kid. The film contains every great cartoon, comedy cliché, like the shoulder angel arguing with the shoulder devil, pointless moments like the chimp and the bug, someone arguing with the narrator, and my personal favorite, the lead character pausing the movie just to give the audience pointless information, classic! Despite being more like a “Looney Tune” cartoon than a theatrical animated Disney movie, there is still a lot of heart in this film and a genuinely touching reformation story about a selfish king that became a dignified man. The characters are a lot of fun, with their zany personalities but there not without some depth. All in all, it’s just joy wrapped in one big package. 

#6 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

You couldn’t ask for a more wholesome and innocent family film than “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, as it’s such a timeless treasure that no family should be without. For many kids, it was one of the very first animated movies they ever saw, thus one of the most nostalgic movies ever made, and it set the standard for animated films for decades to come. With all the new developments in animated technology, this film still stands strong with its magical story and wonderful characters. The songs are charming, the characters are unforgettable and the storytelling is light as air, which makes this one of the most simplistic, yet magical experiences you could ask for and that’s good enough for me. Personally, it’s my favorite of all the films to come from Walt Disney himself. 

#5 Aladdin

No Disney collection is complete without this gem from Disney’s second golden age. It's simply the equivalent of a classic Disney movie, and whenever I think of a popular Disney hero, Disney princcess, comedic side character or Disney villain, these are the characters that always come to mind first. That doesn't mean there my absolute favorites, but they are the most nostalgic. It’s just an excellent cast of scene steeling characters that hold your attention through the entire film. The music is great, the animation is top notch, there's a subtle message about excepting one's self for who they are, the lovers have great chemistry and it’s just one of the most thoroughly entertaining animated films ever made. Like I even need to say much more, you’ve all seen it, you know how good it is and if you haven’t seen it, then I’m sorry to say that your child hood just wasn’t complete.

#4 Beauty and the Beast

This is what you call a near flawless film, because everything just works. The female lead is great, the villain is perfect, the supporting characters are excellent, the animation is stunning, the music is unforgettable and it’s a classic fairy tale with deep subject materials like discovering the ugliness of one's life and finding the true beauty hidden deep within. I regrettably didn't grow up with this film the same way I did with other Disney classics, so it lacks the Nostalgic factor, but it hardly matters because this is still a great film and well worth watching weather you’re a kid or an adult.

#3 Treasure Planet

If you can’t afforded to go to Disney land in California, Florida or anywhere, then just rent this film, because this is every bit as exhilarating as any theme park ride, and its complete with drops, spins, speed, action and all kinds of enjoyment just being blown in your face at every minute. Yet, the films non-stop excitement never over shadows the characters or the message, which always stuck with me. The plot is a traditional treasure hunt adventure, but the focus is on a very nicely put together father /son kind of relationship between the hero and villain. It’s not the traditional Disney formula and it’s a refreshing concept for the film. The visual effects are amazing, combining CGI effects with traditional hand drawn animation, and it’s all just another big step in developed technology. The music is great, the pacing is fast and fun, it has a heart in the center and even though I didn't grow up with this film the same way I did with the others, it’s still a personal favorite and an awesome adventure through outer space. 

#2 Fantasia 2000

Whenever I’m feeling too picky about a film, I always look to “Fantasia 2000” to remind me that it's all about the experience, not the details. This is a film that has no dialog (at least from the cartoon characters) and no running plot but that’s the point, it’s the perfect example of a visual media. It’s not telling an emotional story, and instead it’s more like an emotional experience. There’s beauty, there’s terror, there’s comedy, there’s drama and it’s all brought to life with the simple use of combining animation with great music. The visuals are just amazing to look at, it’s so colorful and it all matches with the music so well that it literally becomes visual poetry. Characters convey so much with just their expressions and body movements that you don’t need dialog to get attached to them and it’s the simplicity of the whole experience that allows me to just enjoy this without critically analyzing anything. Even though the film has epic music combined with big visuals, it still flows with the graceful rhythm of a ballet. “Fantasia 2000” is just as beautiful to watch as it is to listen to.

Before I reveal my number one choice, here are my honorable mentions ...

"Peter Pan" (1953), 
"The Little Mermaid" (1989)
"Mulan" (1998)
"The Rescuers” (1977),
"Fantasia" (1940), 
The Three Caballeros” (1944) 
Sleeping Beauty” (1959). 

#1 The Hunchback of Notre Dame

With its strong visuals, sensational music, dark themes, epic size and beautiful message of tolerance, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is arguably my personal favorite. Honestly, I just love how out of the box this one is, going for a more mature angle that plays for both kids and adults alike. The story is engaging and everything is brought up on a grand scale, the quire is big and the sheer size and scope of this film is just massive. The musical numbers are also some of my favorites, sounding great while still moving the story forward like an on stage musical. I also like how dark this film gets, it took more chances but it never went to far that it became unpleasant, in fact it always had something positive to balance out. It also features a small cast of characters but there’s something so down to earth and genuine when their together on screen that they stand out as some of Disney’s finest. The hero is kind and humble, the villain is awesome, even complex and the supporting characters all do their job perfectly. There's even parts when this film touches on issues of faith and religion. All this and more, as if I even needed more, land “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as my personal favorite, traditionally animated Disney movie of all time.

      The End

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Disney’s Fantasia 2000 (1999) (Movie Review)

    Disney’s 1940 masterpiece “Fantasia” was the very first animated picture that I feel in love with. It was something that was on in the house all the time when I was a kid, and it’s remained an inspired classic through the decades. Sixty Years later, the studio releases a theatrical sequel titled “Fantasia 2000”, and I’m not going to lie … I love this one even more. 
It's not a competition between which I think is the superior movie, it’s all a matter of which I’d rather watch when I’m in the mood … and there’s simply more shorts from this sequel that left a bigger impression on me. The 1990’s was a golden age for Disney animation, and I was very fortunate to be a part of the generation that grew up with the classics of the time. “Fantasia 2000” in my mind was the grand finale of this Golden era, and it remains securely ranked among my top three absolute favorite movies the studio has ever released. Like its predecessor, the film is a collection of silent animated shorts, which are all set to classic music. 
The difference I feel between the two is that there’s more variety to these shots, with different art styles on display, different tones, and each short was helmed by a different writer director. A number of Disney animators that worked on the classics of the 90’s like “The Lion King”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” all got to pick and choose what piece of music and style of animation they wanted to pay homage to, and as a result, I just feel like it took the basic out-line of “Fantasia”, and got creative. Also like the original, I just feel a lot of passion behind this project, like it was something these artists really wanted to do. Roy Disney especially got involved with this film, and while he’s always been the figurative overseer of Disney animation, this was something really important to him, and as such, he really put his hands into it.  

     There are eight animated musical segments in this film, and right off the bat, I feel that each short plays at just the right length. For as much as I love the shorts from the original, they were admittedly longer then they needed to be, some I felt overstay their welcome, and it resulted in a film that … while still great … was just two hours too long for its own good. This film hits a perfect run-time of seventy-four minuets, the pace is tight, and I never feel like anything is on-screen for too long. Another noticeable difference is that, unlike the one host from the first movie, this film has a wide selection of celebrity appearances acting as lead-ins to each short. 

On the one hand, it dose make the film feel like an event that’s similar in spirit to the Oscars, which is kind of cool. The down side is that most of them are talking down too little kids with silly jokes, and the film loses the same dignity that made the original appealing for adults. I think the film would have been stronger if it just had one respectful host all the way through … namely either James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury or Quincy Jones, as they were easily the three best of the bunch. Bette Midler has some annoying comments, but I like that her scene provides some insight on the shorts that didn’t make the final cut. 
I’ve never been a fan of Steve Martin, but here … boy dose his silly antics feel out of place. The ones who really needed to be cut from the film all together are Penn & Teller, who’s guest scene is really hard to watch. Still, despite the occasional announces, nothing about these celebrities ruin my overall love of the experience. I will also say that I love the design of the orchestra setting, and the concert seems to be held in some kind of parallel void, with these gorgeous backdrops. From this point it’s probably best to just go through each short in sequential order, and give my thoughts.

(Beethoven’s 5th Symphony)

Of all the great pieces of music in the world, I don’t think there’s anything more iconic then “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony”, which is why it was an inspiring choice to start the event with this number. Those first opening musical notes alone are so universally well known, that they invoke both a timeless quality and sense of grandeur. Much like the first film, this short focuses on abstract illustrations set to the music, but this time there’s a little change up. We have a small story involving a mother butterfly protecting her baby from a swam of evil bat creatures, and I love seeing simple stories presented in a unique art style. The music is grand, the colors pop, and it just makes for an electrifying opening.  

(Pines of Rome)

Next is another story of a baby animal in the care of its parents, but this time it’s whales out in the Arctic … and they can fly. This whole sequence is extraordinary, and really compliments the imaginations of the Disney animators. “Pines of Rome” is already a grand and phenomenal piece of music, and setting to something as odd, yet as epic as flying whales is really something inspired. I’m not usually a fan of combining CGI with traditional hand drawn animation, but it really works here. The CGI makes the size and scope of these whales look tremendous, and there’s some really cool camera tricks in this short that you don’t usually see in animation. More then anything, this short just keeps building and building to a triumphant finale, which leaves me exhilarated every time. The final sequence of these whales diving from a massive cloud formation is beyond stunning, and really something to spark the imagination.     

(Rhapsody in Blue)

With the musical segment “Rhapsody in Blue”, we see the Disney animators once again getting creative and adding some variety to the presentation. Now, I’ve adored Jazz music my whole life and George Gershwin is one of the great pioneers to launch Jazz into the modern age, with most of his pieces becoming a standard for Jazz composers to draw inspiration from. His 1924 composition of “Rhapsody in Blue” was one of his very first, and I could listen to it all day. The premise of this short fallows various people living in New York, each stuck in a ruff spot, and each with a dream to accomplish something special. In many ways, this segment echo’s back to the Greek Mythology short of the first film, as it’s set in one colorful location, and following various characters through a day in their lives. The animation style is a direct homage to one Al Hirschfeld, who was an early illustrator from the 1900’s, and achieved fame for his abstract portraits of famous Hollywood celebrates. This segment was animated and directed by Eric Goldberg, who previously directed Disney’s “Pocahontas”. However, while that project was another job for him, this “Fantasia” segment was a passion project, and you can just feel the whole thing was one big love letter to a great artist that inspired him.    

(The Steadfast Tin Soldier)

Hans Christian Andersen was one of the very first authors I ever recognized by name, as my sister and I grew-up with his stories read to us by our parents, and we both had our favorites. For my sister it was “The Little Match Girl”, and for me it was “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”. Naturally, I was thrilled to see one of my childhood favorite books brought to life through Disney animation, and it highlights once again why I prefer this sequel, as it balances its original segments with the retelling of classic stories. This story follows a one-legged tin soldier that comes to life in an enchanted toy room, and falls in love with a Porcelain Ballerina (although in the book she’s made of paper). After a tense confrontation with an evil toy Jack-in-the-box, he tragically falls from a window, and finds himself facing various obstacles ranging from sewer rats to lake fish. Through it all, he remains calm, collected, and believes that one day he’ll be reunited with his love. This short follows the formula with great detail, but replaces the drama with more action/ adventure, and gives the story a happy ending … which is expected from Disney, and actually kind of welcome. I was so use to the books heart breaking twist, and it just felt nice to see a positive ending for the Tin Soldier and Glass Ballerina.

This segment also features a memorable Disney villain in the form of the wicked Jack-in-the-Box. Admittedly, he’s less scary then he was in the book, as that one supposedly had an influence on the human owner, and took the form of a nasty Green Goblin, whereas the Disney version made him an ordinary Jester. Actually, something about his design, and more specifically his face always made me think of the Prince villain from “Shrek”. Still, I’m fine with his change, and I enjoyed seeing him get in more physical confrontations with our hero. The animation in this segment is wonderful, and the CGI models for the characters really enhance their toy-like textures. Also, despite being on screen for roughly seven minutes, the Soldier and Ballerina make for one of my favorite animated Disney couples. Why … because their romance and chemistry is conveyed entirely though visual storytelling, and I simply adore that. Honesty, I feel these two share and convey more in their first meeting then most other Disney couples do with verbal conversations. In the end, there’s sword fighting, a satisfying villain death, and it closes on a triumphant note that leaves me feeling great.  

(Carnival of the Animals)

Initially Roy Disney wanted to bring back the “Dance of the Hours” segment with the Ostriches from the first movie, but then he found some old concept art for the first and decided to expand things with a new bird centered short. One illustration that caught his attention was one of the Ostriches with a yo-yo, and thought that would be a cute concept. Then he figured it was wise to separate this piece from the original and replaced the Ostriches with flamingos instead. Thus, we have “Carnival of the Animals”, a goofy little short with a mischievous flamingo who’s breaking the norm by playing with a yo-yo. This is easily my least favorite of the new shorts, but it’s not bad. The animation is still nice, the music is fine, the comedy is okay, and it’s mercifully short, so I really can’t complain. Plus, it’s nice for a variety show to provide some fun and levity for the kids.    

(The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)

The one thing I could have done without in this sequel is a repeat of the iconic short “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It’s still great on its own, and I always love seeing Mickey Mouse, but I’m just too familiar with this segment … to the point where it honestly feels boring to re-watch. Actually, my favorite part of this was the intermission sequence at the end, in which we see more of Mickey Mouse in a live action setting and interacting with people. Personally, I would have preferred an animated short that continued the story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, like Mickey improving on his magic skills, and maybe even finding favor with his grouchy master. Obviously, it couldn’t hold a candle to the original, but I still would have preferred seeing something new as opposed to the exact same cartoon again.

(Donald’s Ark)

Once again, we have a classic, well known story, but this time it’s a tale from biblical sources, which is admirable for Disney. Then again, even if you don’t have a religious background, your probably still familiar with Noah’s Ark. The difference this time is that Donald Duck stars as the lead, which hooked me in right away. Back when I was a kid, Donald Duck was one of my favorite cartoon characters, and seeing him on the big screen, in a familiar story was highly satisfying. Daisy Duck is also present, which is great because she so rarely gets to stand out in a big role, and this was her first time staring in a theatrical Disney picture. Our two love birds tie into the story fairly well, as it’s all about a pair of every animal embarking on a journey together. However, during the great flood, Donald and Daisy are separated, and neither are aware that the other survived. Donald is naturally funny in this short, as he always is, but he also accomplished something I never thought could be done … Donald Duck got me all choked up inside. No joke, the scene at the end with the two reuniting is about as touching as they get, and it still gets to me on repeat viewings. The music for this short is the equally well known “Pomp and Circumstance”, and that was another piece of music I was pleased to hear in this film. Obviously, we’ll always think of a graduation whenever we hear it, but Sir Edward Elgar did wright and compose the piece for a number of events, so it was great to hear this track utilized in something out of the familiar.         

(The Firebird)

Closing out this mighty sequel is a short that’s matched to music from the famous Russian ballet “The Firebird”, and straight to the point … this is personally my favorite short to ever come from Disney animation. In a mere nine minutes, this segment has the emotion, beauty, danger, wonder, story and epic size of a full-length feature film. The premise revolves around a nature Goddess, who’s tasked with bringing Spring back to the forest of a mountain range after the winter season. Unfortunately, the once dormant Volcano is awakened by a fiery beast, and it's hell bent on laying waste to the valley. Not only dose this short feature some of Disney’s finest animation, it’s also a compelling tale that touches on aspects of life, death, renewal, and finally … it makes for a unique mythology that’s very different from Disney’s more traditional fairy tales. Also, the Goddess of Nature … in my view … is one of the most underrated Disney icons. Seriously, I feel this character deserves to be on the same pedestal as the other iconic animated Disney characters. Her design is incredible, the animation on her is phenomenal, and her expressions convey so much, to the point where she feels like a fully rounded character. Back when I was a kid, I naturally went to this movie excited to see some of my favorite characters like Donald and Mickey … what I didn’t count on was for this new and original character to surpass both of them.

     It was also a stroke of genius to feature a literal Fire Bird in this adaption of the Ballet. The design once again is fantastic, and the beast conveys a striking sense of danger. The animation isn’t afraid to get a little dark and sinister during this segment … admittedly not as chilling as “Night on Bald Mountain”, but still effective. There’s also a haunting visual of the entire forest engulfed in flames, which feels like a call back to “Bambi”, but on a more apocalyptic scale. While this makes for a thrilling climax, it’s admittedly the one section of the film that I wish was a little longer. Even the fire birds mighty screen presence is very short, which is a shame considering what an awesome design this is.

     Once the ashes fall, there’s a mature quiet moment with the Goddess slowly coming back to life, and looking in dismay at the death that surrounds her. Her compassion however breaths new life to the environment, and soon, the forest grows a new … possibly even mightier than before. This is personally my single favorite moment from any animated picture I’ve ever seen. The visuals of this forest growing back from the aches is breath taking, the music is triumphant, the build-up is grand, and there’s so much beauty to this on a thematic sense … like, whenever there’s death, there’s always new life ready to start the cycle again. I can’t even do this ending justice … it’s just a powerful moment that’s always connected with me, and it’s easily my favorite ending of any animated Disney production. The final shot alone is so aww-inspiring that I want to recreate it as an oil painting and frame it on my wall.                   

     In the end, everything I loved about the first “Fantasia” carries over into this film … and gives me more. Whenever I’m feeling too picky about movies, I always look back to either “Fantasia” or “Fantasia 2000” to remind me that it's all about the wonder of the experience … not the details. 
Like its predecessor, “Fantasia 2000” is a movie with no dialog (at least from the cartoon characters) and no running plot, but that’s the point … it’s the perfect example of a visual media. It’s not telling an emotional story, and instead it’s more like an emotional experience. There’s beauty, there’s terror, there’s comedy, there’s drama, and it’s all brought to life with the simple use of combining sensational visuals with iconic music. The animation is consistently stunning to look at, the colors are great, and it all matches with the music so well that it literally becomes visual poetry. 

Characters convey so much with just their expressions and body movements, to the point where I don’t even need dialog to get attached to them. It’s the simplicity of the whole experience that allows me to just enjoy this without critically analyzing anything. Even though the film has epic music combined with big visuals, it still flows with the graceful rhythm of a ballet. “Fantasia 2000” is that rare sequel that I love just a peg more the original classic, and after all these years … it’s still stuck with me as one of my all-time favorite animated pictures. It’s an experience that takes my breath away on repeated viewings, and it’s just as beautiful to watch as it is to listen to.

I give Disney’s 1999 sequel “Fantasia 2000” … a perfect 5 stars out of 5.

                                                                                  The End