The Great Mouse Detective - Disney Films Project

We were excited to get to this selection in our Disney Films Project because it's a fun one!

This is an underappreciated film that often gets overlooked because it came out at a time when Disney was not producing it's finest work. I really adore this story and the characters are fun and memorable. Ratigan is one bad guy RAT (gasp!) and Basil and Dawson make a great detective team. In fact, Dawson is my favorite character in this movie. His kind manner is so sweet and he's pretty funny in the bar scene because of his innocence.

The animation is solid and the story moves along nicely. For me, this is the film that shows the glimmer of some great works on the horizon. I give it 7 out of 10 Mickey ears. It's nothing earth shattering, but it's one that I really enjoy watching.

Second Opinion with Alex Nelson

Welcome back to the real Disney movies. We apologize profusely for your time experiencing Black Caludron, and assure you it will never happen again.

This particular title saved Disney from bankruptcy, an action for which it deserves more credit than it has. The animation in particular is a highlight, especially in the toy shop sequence, but extra credit goes to the clock tower, Disney’s first foray into CGI Animation. You probably didn’t notice at first. That’s how well done it was.

The plot is not spectacular, I admit, but that’s the consequence of the situation. As it stands, it’s a clever homage to Holmes that manages to pay respects while still giving the Disney formula a fair shake. Black cauldron was too far in one direction, and Pete’s Dragon too far in the other. This is where things should be, at least for now.

The characters are all excellent. Credit to the young actress playing Olivia, who manages to avoid the pratfalls of a child role in a Disney production, and actually stands out. Basil is also a credit to the animators, managing to play his role with aplomb.

But what’s Holmes without his Moriarty? Praise to Vincent Price as Ratigan, his last role in movie history. You can tell he’s enjoying it immensely. 

I give this movie 5 out of 10 Mickey Ears. The film is solid, if not standout. But sometimes, you have to start small in your climb back to prominence.

The Black Cauldron - Disney Films Project

When you review a big body of work like our Disney Films Project, you have to bear through some of the less than stellar offerings. It's a good exercise to watch both the good and the bad and boy, was this one bad!

Katie's  thoughts

Wow. I wanted to believe that all the bad I had heard about this movie over the years was exaggerated, but it really is just a terrible film. I guess if another studio had produced it, I wouldn't be so hard on it. There are plenty of animated films out there that are garbage, but you really don't expect to get one with the Walt Disney name slapped on it. 

I don't really have a big problem with how much liberty they took with the story because that happens in movies. They are rarely true to the original book and we've certainly seen that Disney can get pretty far off from the source material. I do have a lot of issues with the quality of the animation, the haphazard storytelling, the dark content, and the busty women. This is supposed to be family entertainment? The dancer in the bad guys lair does a twirl of her skirt that seems to reveal that she isn't wearing underwear? What the what?

For a movie about a scary skeleton king, it was pretty boring overall. The characters seemed like sketches of themselves in depth and literally as animated beings. The animation seemed to have rough outlines around it that made it look like cutouts on a background. Other parts of the movie seem to have better quality drawing though so again, it's all a jumbled mess. I really felt like I was watching a poor version of something like the Swan Princess. It certainly never felt or looked like a Disney classic.

Oh, and the little furry character was weird and hard to understand. I guess I'll let Alex cover that though.

Bottom line is that this movie gets ZERO out of 10 Mickey heads on our rating scale. I just can't even give it 1 Mickey for effort or pity.

 

Last Second Warning with Alex

The film is schizophrenic in it's design. One minute, there's a countryside, next minute there's a demon castle. This goes on for The Entire Film! 

Gurgi is the example of Jar-Jar Binks long, long before Jar-Jar existed. Have you seen a film that forces it's Kid-Friendly character down your throat? This is that film.

They also felt that the villain needed a sidekick for some unfathomable reason. That's Marketing's idea, I'm sure. 

The whole film looks like a 80's cartoon that got rejected. This is saying something, considering the type of cartoons that were in the 80's. I felt like I was watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

Does this film want to be a bold new direction, or stay to the Disney formula? It feels like both were happening at the same time. 

This film gets ZERO out of 10 Mickey Ears. This is the worst Disney film ever, and almost bankrupted the studio. 

The Rescuers - Disney Films Project

Our Disney Films Project is sure a big undertaking! We are plugging away though and the good news is that it is a lot of fun! 

I've been looking forward to The Rescuers coming up on our list as it is one of my childhood favorites. I was about 8 years old when it was released in theaters and it just captured my imagination. Mice saving the world? Adorable! Bernard and Bianca made a great team and I loved all the other fun characters like Rufus the cat and the swamp folk. And even though Nero and Brutus are villains, they are sort of hilarious.

The story is simple, but entertaining. The animation is not top notch, but I never worried about that as a child. It's pretty representative of what the Disney studio was producing at the time. Overall, it's a film that has stood up to the test of time as I still enjoy watching it today. I give it 8 out of 10 Mickeys.

Second Opinion with Alex Nelson

Well, here we are with the last good film of this time period, in my opinion. The Rescuers is what Disney’s output should have been after Walt’s death. Don’t get me wrong, the Pooh short compilation is excellent. But Rescuers is more akin to the successes of old.

We have characters that actually stand out, from our heroes, Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, to the supporting cast, such as Orville, Penny, Rufus and Evinrude.

… And do my eyes deceive me? After ages of ineffective second stringers, do I see …ACTUAL VILLIANS?

I’ve never been so glad to see someone evil in my life!

Granted, Madame Medusa is basically a Cruella ripoff. But if you’re going to make a villain, making one that is like one you own that is menacing is the lesser of two evils compared to phoning it in for comedy. And by having two gators and a bumbling minion, the film manages to have it both ways! Nero and Brutus are imposing reptiles, and Snoops is inept enough that he seems relatable, but still somewhat of a jerk. Special mention to the entire cave sequence, which was built for tension. It wasn’t easy, but they pulled it off, after many mistakes across the canon after Walt died.

And the soundtrack is excellent. Not just the moving songs, but also individual pieces that underscore sections, such as the chase in the bayou, and the cave sequence. One can find incredible music here.

The animation is a bit odd on the outlines, likely as a result of Disney wanting to show what they could do with the technology. Also, having parts of the finale spelled out for the audience is a bit problematic. Still, things could have been much worse.

My final rating for this film is 7/10 Mickey Ears. Why couldn’t the other films have been like this?

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Disney Films Project

 We are finally back on board with our Disney Films Project and we were both very excited to get to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. 

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I usually do my review first and then let Alex wrap things up, but his review is so fabulous that I think it deserves top billing!

 

Second Opinion (actually the first opinion) with Alex

So here we are. Walt’s best package of shorts, collected and integrated seamlessly into each other.

There’s an old song from The Moody Blues called “I Never Thought I’d Live to be a Hundred.” One of those ballads about longevity and experience.

This film is that idea, in three simple, moderately clever stories. But let me flip back to page 1, for the audience.

The whole thing began with Walt seeking after stories, as he so often did. The idea of some old wood and a group of stuffed animals interested him more than many would believe, and he cottoned to taking the whole thing home.

A series of short films ensued, one of Disney’s greatest successes, and the last project under his jurisdiction to hit theaters. Thus the film is placed canonically.

You can’t really tell that this was originally three short films. The bridging sequences are so well done.

And the film doesn’t disrespect the other patrons in the theatre, either. Clever moments with the character animation, as well as the sly winks to the book setting, with characters walking through one illustration to another, the text itself being acted upon in the story, and even a segment where the Narrator aids in the story proper.

As for Heffalumps and Woozles, my Co-reviewer finds it to be surreal to a confusing degree. But that’s kind of why I like it. This isn’t meant to be taken seriously! It’s weird, offbeat, and a nice change of pace. Childish, off kilter, and proud of it, this is the type of thing that can only come from the mind of a child, executed with an odd finish and plenty of reminders of what we are seeing on the screen. From the pop-guns and reminders of stitching, to the absolutely daft rhyme scheme, this is the type of nonsense I LIKE!

Sterling Holloway is a perfect match for his character, and everyone else slides into their role just as easily. The one, and only, complaint I have is with Gopher. The reason? He was actually devised to fill the role of Piglet. The director felt that having a more folksy character would work, a thing that basically says “We’re an American Film.”

After waves of fan protest, Piglet was put back into the book canon. But watching that first segment can be absolutely confusing if you don’t know what’s going on. Like, who hired the contractor, and why is he here?

Other than that, and a repetition of “The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers” that happens often enough to be somewhat irritating, the film is brilliant, and hearkens back to a simpler time.

And that leads me to the ending again. That same sense of “Doing nothing” and letting your own story unfold? That’s what I had, and what we all have inside of us. Deep down, this is a melody we’ve all heard, but it’s still beautiful, even if one lives to be a hundred.

As long as there is hope, fond memories, and good cheer, the story of Pooh and his friends will live on. And much like I can still find comfort in my hobbies, there will always be a way back into those woods for those who truly believe.

I have no choice. As an objective viewer, I can find fault with some of the story, but I can also understand everyone’s view point, and care too deeply to lobby anything less than 10 out of 10 Mickey ears, despite any cynicism I may have towards the film.

It’s perfect in its simplicity, and may it stay that way for as long as we humans live. Let us never be drowned in the flood of the world. Let us always keep that silly old bear in our hearts.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wander off to the wood again. See you for the next review, and sorry for the emotion poured into this one. Rest assured, the rose-colored glasses come off next review.

After all, I can’t slam something I actually own, now can I?

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Katie here again and I honestly don't know how I can follow that great review! So I'm just going to add a few of my own comments. I also love this collection of shorts and my favorite one is the opening segment of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. It's absolutely charming!

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I have to admit that I'm not a fan of the Heffalumps and Woozles part of the middle short of the Blustery Day. It always freaked me out as a kid, and I don't love it as an adult either. It's the only reason I'm docking a Mickey and giving this a 9 out of 10 rating.

Winnie the Pooh has been a favorite in our family for a long time. In fact, I had my own Pooh plush when I was just a little girl in the 1970s.

Winnie the Pooh is the perfect childhood friend. Everyone should have a silly old bear around to make them feel happy. I'm so glad he has been part of my children's lives as well!

LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya

It's been very well established here that we are big time LEGO fanatics and I don't think you can really claim to be a true fan if you aren't familiar with Nathan Sawaya's incredible work. We own this book and have previously reviewed it here. We love to study his LEGO creations. They are truly works of art!

Here's more information from Nathan's official website:

BIOGRAPHY

Nathan Sawaya delights adults and children alike with his bright, blocky sculptures made entirely out of LEGO bricks. He rediscovered this quintessential childhood toy after experimenting with a range of mediums, and has been working with it exclusively since the early 2000s. His painstakingly constructed forms encompass such everyday objects as umbrellas and pencils; animals, insects, and natural phenomena; portraits of celebrities; and human figures that serve as ciphers for his emotions. Among the largest of his works is a 20-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, included in “The Art of the Brick,” a traveling exhibition of his work. Sawaya’s approach is uniquely democratic, as he explains: “I use the same LEGO bricks that you can buy in toy stores. […] If you get inspired to make your own creation, you too can go use the exact same bricks that I use.”

American, b. 1973, Colville, Washington, based in New York, New York

You can browse through his online gallery here and see some of his incredible masterpieces.

Be sure to head on over to his gallery to see a more complete listing of his art.

Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Sawaya!

Time Wounds All Heels: An Agony of Disney's Modern Moviemaking.

I'm pleased to share an editorial about Disney's focus on live action movies written by the one and only Alex!

In 2010, Tim Burton got it in his head to take his mental stylings to an old English tale, that of Alice in Wonderland. Disney had tried and failed first time round, as had many others, but that never stopped anyone before. The result was a live action/CGI hybrid that was insane in staging and should have died on the vine. The critics ravaged it, but it became, at time of release, the 5th highest grossing film of the year, and Burton's most profitable. 

Disney noticed, and followed up on their actions. Cinderella was press-ganged into a remake, which was adequate, but unneeded. 

Yet again, the film hit the box office with thunderous success, and alongside it came the official mandate: Make More Of These!

Jungle Book was also successful, mainly due to Jon Farveau, known for Elf and the Iron Man films, reinforcing the idea that Disney had hit the jackpot.

Looking ahead, we can see several films, ranging from obscure to successful in initial release, lined up for conversion. Judge Doom has returned, throwing darts into artists' eyes, and pocketing the money for himself. Disney feels that animation is something that can be reheated in a microwave of live-action, then slapped on the market to sell like hotcakes. We've been here before. This thinking led to the making of several films with the same basic formula and recycled animation. 

Both in the 70's, and during Eisner's reign, recycled ideas were the norm. In both instances, the studio suffered .We've already had to bear this lesson twice before, and no one has learned anything, save how to disguise their money-grubbing ways. I implore animation fans to protest these films, and to show up in droves for the actual animated films. No one should pressure one art form out because of what is shiny and new. 


If Disney likes their old library of films, then why are they changing them? What do they have to be ashamed of? And why does their studio seem committed to such action, if it already has Star Wars and Marvel? If films like The Finest Hours are still making money, why do you need to change classics that were well received to begin with? Is it all about money now? Or is there one vein of creativity that you haven't bled dry, waiting for the next changing of the guard? Time's catching up to you, mad that you've wasted his gifts, and recycling old ideas won't stop him forever.


There's only two roads open to you now:
Either prove that there's still some glimmer of Walt's innovation inside the studio, or sacrifice it all for the bottom line. The choice is yours. I hope you know what to do. Because if you don't, Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, and Warner Bros. will be happy to take over.

 

Postscript: The live-action Alice sequel has failed. That said, there's still far too much chance of something backfiring with another live-action film for me to recant this message. 

To sum up: Beware of the road that others walk, time and again, while learning nothing, or you'll be trampled by the rush of mistakes that follows. In simpler terms, don't blindly follow the crowd. Show imagination when you make art. Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

Robin Hood - Disney Films Project

Moving along in our Disney Films Project list, we hit upon one of the bigger splits in our opinions. Most of the time, we are pretty close on our viewpoints, but this one definitely left us divided.

Robin Hood was one of my favorite Disney films while I was growing up. Granted, there weren't a lot of them back then to choose from, but I always loved the simple story and the way that animals were used to depict the tale of Robin Hood. I thought Prince John was somewhat funny and also laughed at Sir Hiss. I loved Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and the buzzard guards were my favorite.

When I became a parent and showed Robin Hood to my children, I could never understand why they didn't really get into it. It wasn't one that they asked to watch over and over again. I never thought much about it until we came to do the review for this project. Alex was not pleased when it was time to watch this movie. I was surprised to hear his opinions and once he pointed out some of the flaws of the movie, it did change my viewpoint a bit. However, I still like this movie and I stand by that.

The animation isn't top notch and the story is simple, but I enjoy the characters. I also think the music is cute and does a good job of moving the story along. This one won't win any awards, but I give it 7 out of 10 Mickeys.

Second Opinion with Alex Nelson

Me and my maw. I said I liked all things England last review, and of course they serve up something problematic.

It’s not that the film lacks animation. In between the Xeroxed sequences, there’s innovation enough, I suppose. In fact, if there were better support, this could be a good film.

No, the problem lies in the story.

The title character, the ladies Marian and Kluck, Friar tuck, our Minstrel, and the Sherriff of Nottingham and his goons. That’s all the good characters out of the way, except for, well:

This marks Phil’s whopping THIRD time playing basically the same character. I guess the script formula requires our actor somewhere in the film.

The whole thing is formulaic, make no mistake. I wouldn’t be putting this so low if it weren’t for a real issue.

Children just being children actors is problematic, complete with a sequence written after the writers needed to put plot exposition somewhere in the film. (NOOO! We forgot the ROMANCE! Quick, write an explanation, anybody, we’ve got to hit our deadline!)

But the real issue lies with our opposition.

I already mentioned my distaste for comic villains in the napkin I wrote the Aristocats Review on. I’ll gladly expound on that. If a villain isn’t meant to be taken seriously, they at least need something threatening about them. Look at Kaa. Kaa isn’t much of a villain unless you’re on your own. Fortunately, his intentions are bad, and he knows where to avoid crossing the line.

Look at Captain Hook. He collapses in fear of the Croc? No worries, he’ll blow up your home, and go in for a sneak attack. Codfish, maybe, but when push comes to shove, he’s perfect form for evil.

Prince John and Sir Hiss couldn’t evil their way out of a paper bag. The snake is meh. Not enough cunning, and such a nag. He’s half prop most of the time, and considering the pedigree of his predecessor, Kaa, that’s not suprising, but he’s so- So foppish! He’s practically sniveling!

But our real culprit needs no intro. When you’ve got a villain with embarrassing habits, a villain the other characters routinely mock behind his back, and a villain who’s a wet fart in the bottle of noxious odors that is villainy? When you’ve got that, you SCREWED UP!

PRINCE JOHN ISN’T SMART, ISN’T MENANCING, AND HE SUCKS HIS THUMB. WHAT SORT OF VILLIAN SUCKS THEIR THUMB AND CRIES FOR MOTHER?

Am I dead? Is this my punishment for loving Britain so much in my earlier reviews? To observe this pretender to the throne? Whatever sin I’ve done, I take it back, just, please, make this idiot go back to his preschool or whatever he came from.

If it weren’t for the Sheriff, portrayed as a corrupt old west looter, I don’t think any of the villains would get passing grades. Props to the person who pulled that off. Not to mention he’s actually menacing, unlike our snake and lion.

All in all, the film Gets… 5/10 Mickey ears? Am I writing this right? The Film is Mediocre?

Yes, for no other reason than the perfect casting of our heroes, including the perfect charlatan for Robin Hood, and yes, even the overused Phil Harris.

So that leaves the royal rock pile. (Well, I feel like some punishment is due!) For imperfectly executed menace, a villain that ruins the name villain for all other villains in Disney including Pete, and a completely messed up sense of villain’s purpose, I condemn the writers for Prince John & Sir Hiss to a fate suitable for their treason: Acting as villains in Dora the Explorer. And so shall it be law.