Friday, September 19, 2014

Robin Williams: A Look Back

     Good old Robin Williams, I think the most unhappy person in the world could easily have his frown turned upside down thanks to him. Well, as many of us know, Robin Williams passed away on August 11th 2014, and I wanted to take a moment to just look back on his career and reflect on the impact he left. I’m not going to make this a full tribute covering everything he did, this isn’t going to be a documentary style post, it’s just a short tribute to this talented actor and a truly wonderfully man. Robin Williams always felt like a member of the family to me, I grew up with so many of his movies, and he always had this genuinely warm and charming presence. It always came across to me that Robin Williams had a mission in life to bring joy to anyone and everyone around him, at least that was my impression of him.

      Technically speaking, I was first introduced to Robin Williams when he supplied the voice of the Genie of the Lamp from Disney’s 1992 classic “Aladdin”. Too this day, the genie is still one of my all time favorite animated characters, and personally, I think it's one of the greatest characters the Robin ever portrayed in a movie. The way Williams brought him to life with fast wit, character impersonations and improvised lines before the animation was even added was just spot on. But he wasn't just funny, he was also quiet subtle and charismatic. Williams definitely made this character his own, and in a sense, this character always seemed to be the embodiment of how I viewed Williams in real life. He seemed like a real life cartoon character that would always switch between subtlety and side splitting comedy.

      Interestingly enough, I never cared for any of the other animated characters that Williams did voice work for. He supplied the voice of a bat character in the animated 1992 picture “FernGully – The Last Rain Forest”, and for some reason he didn’t have that same charisma and charm he had when supplying the voice of the Genie. However, in the 2001 motion picture “A. I. Artificial Intelligence”, Williams supplied the voice of a character called Dr. Know, it was a brief scene, but I have to say, it was the best thing about that whole movie.

       Now obviously I didn’t know who the actor was when I watched “Aladdin”, however I did grow up with two other movies in the 90’s that allowed me to put a face on him. The first was “Flubber” from 1997 and the other was “Jumanji” from 1995. Neither are particularly great movies, but I do still find myself watching them from time to time because they have a strong nostalgia factor, and Williams still supplied his usual charm and hummer in both films. “Jumanji” in particular was one of my favorite movies that I watched all the time as a kid and I think it features one of Williams’s most versatile performances. He was funny and witty as usual, but he was also quiet tense and even a little serious.

      The big movie that made me a hard core Robin Williams fan was the 1993 motion picture “Mrs. Doubtfire”. In this film, Williams plays a divorced dad who disguises himself as an old house maid in order to spend time with his kids. This is was without a doubt one of his funniest movies and it perfectly demonstrated how talented he was as an actor, and a master of making funny voices. Much like “Jumanji”, Williams displays a wide range of acting talents ranging from emotional, to cheerful, to heart breaking, to laugh out loud funny. After I saw this movie, I had to get my hands on any one of his comedies I could find, and I also had to start watching his improve shows. He really was a master of improve comedy because he always did something new for each show, it was never the same act repeated again.

     Once I started middle school, I saw another Robin Williams movie that introduced me to his more dramatic and passionate side. The 1989 motion picture titled “Dead Poets Society” changed the way I looked at Robin Williams. He was no longer just a funny comedian, he truly was an inspiring and talented actor. For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, it’s a prep school drama, and Williams plays a teacher who teaches his students to view the world in a new light. It’s a powerful, emotional, and deeply touching experience that really just needs to be viewed on its own because I can’t do it justice. I’ll just say that if you’re a Robin Williams fan, do yourself a favor and see this movie because I honestly think it’s his best film.

      After words, I started to pay attention to his more dramatic movies like “Awakenings” from 1990, and his Oscar winning motion picture “Good Will Hunting” from 1997. This is yet another strength of Robin Williams that I just loved, he could be so versatile, going from really funny and cheery, to really dramatic and humble. Many of his movies like “Good Morning Vietnam” and “What Dreams May Come” also struck that perfect balance between light hearted fun and down to earth drama, and that’s when Robin was at his best. Like any great actor, he did have his share of bad movies too, and his latter day comedies like “License to Wed” from 2007 and “RV” from 2006 were some of his absolute worst. Thankfully he also had some really good supporting roles in films like “Night at the Museum” and “Happy Feet”.

       If you’d like to know how I feel about some of his movies in more detail, I’ve posted three full movie reviews as of the time I’m posting this tribute. I posted a full review of “Good Morning Vietnam” back in March 2011, I posted a full review of the Disney sequel “Aladdin and the King of Thieves” back in August 2012 and I recently posted a full review of “What Dreams May Come” back in August 2014.

      It’s always sad when someone dies, but the thing that makes this celebrity death all the movie tragic is that it was an apparent suicide, which resulted from depression. It really breaks my heart that such a sweet and funny guy like Robin Williams would be in such a troubled state of mind, and it’s even harder to except when so many of his movies like “What Dreams May Come”, “Patch Adams” and “Dead Poets Society” revolved around the seriousness of suicide. I really hope and pray that Williams rests in peace, because he was a truly gifted and respectful man that brought so much joy to my life and obviously the lives of millions. He will certainly be missed, and he’ll be remembered for years to come. Weather he was entertaining us with his standup comedy, or touching our hearts in one of his drama’s, one thing remains certain, at least for me. Robin Williams was one of kind, someone special and I feel so privileged to have grown up with so many of his wonderful films, shows and I sincerely hope that the following generation of movie goers with be as fortunate.

                                                       Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Party House Musical Numbers in Animated Movies: My Top 10 Favorites

I don’t know why but musical numbers are always more fun when there animated. Why, because they can do a lot more then what you get in live action, and when I was a kid, I obviously loved the party house songs the best. Musical numbers that were wild, colorful, over the top and energetic. So that’s what I’ll be counting down on today’s list, my favorite party house musical numbers from animated movies, and any animated movie can apply.

10. Whale Wash (Car Wash)Shark Tale

Christina Aguilera teams up with Missy Elliott to bring us an upbeat and colorful rendition of the classic song “Car Wash”. The best thing about this dance number by far is that it takes place in a work environment as opposed to a night club. I think most of us from time to time would like to imagine our jobs being this colorful and this musical. It’s got a catchy beat, a wild location and a toe-tapping Will Smith fish at center stage, I’d say it’s a perfect start for my list.   

9. It’s Tough to be a GodThe Road to El Dorado

The Natives of El Dorado may not be that sophisticated, but they sure do know how to throw a party. In this DreamWorks picture, two con men find their way in the lost city of gold, and their deception of being visiting Gods leads to one hell of a catchy song number. With lots of bright colors, lots of zany visuals, and the combined talents of musicians and song lyricist Elton John and Tim Rice. It’s a fun party number, and by animation standards it’s certainly worth adding to my countdown. 

8. Every Thing is Awesome!The Lego Movie

This is arguably one of the catchiest and thoroughly joyful songs on my list. I’d go so far as to say it’s this generations Zippity Doo Dah. Much like “Shark Tale”, this song takes place in an everyday work environment, thankfully our lead characters are the jolliest people every, and every day is a big upbeat musical number. The visuals are colorful, the environment is very active, and the lyrics are so simple that’s there bound to get stuck in your head.   

7. The girl I left behindAn American Tail: Fival Goes West

Like many songs on my countdown, I listed this one for deeply nostalgic reasons. Back when I was a kid, my friends and I were crazy about this movie, and this was always one of our favorite scenes. The whole Wild West setting and style helps it stand on its own, there’s a lot of energy in the animation, and even some creative visuals. It’s also a rare treat to have a girl lead the song, usually their only specialties are the soft quiet songs. It’s all good, toe tapping fun in this cowboy saloon.  

6. Under the SeaThe Little Mermaid

It’s about time I included and musicale number from a Disney movie, and I bet you’re not surprised I chose this one. What can I say, everything about this song just puts a big smile on my face. It’s catchy, memorable, colorful, has a fun variety different fish and it’s just a real joy to watch. I don’t know what it is about fish and party songs, but the music always seems to be the most fun when it’s in the ocean.

5. Hot Wings (I Wanna Party)Rio

We’ve seen how fish party under the sea, now let’s look at birds and how they fly with style, musical style that is. The creative minds of “Rio” certainly knew how to take advantage of their feathered leads because birds come in so many colorful shapes, sizes and there’s no limit to what they can do while flying. With Jamie Foxx and of “The Black Eyed Peas” leading this song, Anne Hathaway as an electrifying backup singer, and a night club full of colorful birds, how could I resist including “Hot Wings” on my countdown.   

4. Russian Flowers Dance (Nutcracker Suite)Fantasia

Here’s another up-beat dance number from an equally classic animated Disney movie. The dance of the Russian flowers is probably the first official party house musical number I ever saw in a movie, and boy howdy, did this ever hype me up as a kid. The colorful flower designs, and upbeat tempo of the song just matched together perfectly. The only down side is that it’s a rather short scene, in fact it’s only one minute, while most of the others are about three minutes in length. Despite that, it’s still a really fun piece from the Nutcracker Suite segment of “Fantasia”, and I’ll bet Tchaikovsky would be pleased to hear his most popular music alongside this scene.  

3. Holding out for a Hero 
      Livin Da Vi Da LocaShrek 2 

How do you like that, two party house songs right back to back. This really is one of the all time greatest dance numbers in an animated motion picture because it’s also the climax of the movie. The rhythm and pace of the tunes are matched with all the flashy and imaginative action perfectly. It always has me invested, excited and laughing the whole way.

2. Eye to EyeA Goofy Movie

Once again like “Shrek 2”, we have a big song number that also serves as the finally of the movie, except this time it’s a completely original song made for the movie, and that just makes it feel special. I remember being a little kid back in the mid 90’s, my friends and I always went nuts with this song, we’d be dancing around the room, pillow fighting, and just having a lot of fun with it. I know this technically isn’t a great A rock song, but for nostalgic reasons, I really enjoy this. It’s upbeat, it’s energized, the characters are having a lot of fun in it, and it’s personally one of my favorite song numbers from a Disney movie.  

Before I reveal my number one pick, here are some Honorable mentions:

Girls N’ Boys of Rock and Roll – The Chipmunk adventure
Everybody Wants to be a Cat – Disney’s The Aristocats
The Zing Song - Hotel Transylvania
Doo Bad Shi Doo – Disney’s Tarzan

1. Animal Circus (Firework)Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

There shouldn’t be any surprise that the animal circus from the third Madagascar movie is number one on my list. This should be the text book definition of a party house musicale number in an animated movie, I really can’t think of any other film that had a song number featuring this much colorful imagery, this much energy and this much creativity with the overall design of the segment. Set to Katy Perry’s “Firework”, this circus is incredibly energized, visually interesting, imaginative, upbeat, and has no shortage of incredibly colorful visuals.    

                                      Party on Guys!