Classic No. 33 Pocahontas (1995)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

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‘I don’t want to jump to conclusions and get us all excited, but I think we’re definitely going to win’

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‘Pocahontas, no points …’

Perhaps we are immediately being too harsh regarding Pocahontas, but of all of the films that we have seen so far, nothing quite sums a film up as well as this delightful series of Father Ted quotes. Pocahontas likely has the cockiest and most pretentious origin of all of the films we have seen so far in the canon. As we discussed in our previous review, Pocahontas was the Team A project to The Lion King’s B Project – the Home Run to The Lion King’s Base Hit – the one nearly all of the top animators wanted to work on – predicted to be the prestigious, Best Picture-winning ‘West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet meets Native Americans’, guaranteed hit. Result – B project, The Lion King became one of the highest grossing films of all time, while Pocahontas made about a third of what The Lion King made worldwide, made less than Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and received mixed reviews. What went wrong for Pocahontas?

The Rescuers Down Under director, Mike Gabriel initially partnered up with veteran animator Joe Grant (he left Disney in 1949, but returned in 1989 to work on the Renaissance films – what a leap! The last time we spoke about Grant was in our Lady and the Tramp review). They initially worked on an adaptation of Swan Lake, but their outline was dismissed as ‘the most amateurish, worthless nothing. There is no movie here, no story’ – we have no idea who said that but we can most certainly hazard a guess. It’s a shame as there could have been potential in a Swan Lake film – especially if they’d run with the ballet and incorporated dance into it – that could have been exciting and risky.

But this happened instead, produced by Richard Rich, former Disney animator … 

So! Gabriel wracked his brains for other ideas, focusing mainly on American Wild West legends such as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Pecos Bill …

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Pit of Despair flashback!

However at the infamous Gong Show, Gabriel made Disney history as his pitch for Pocahontas was the quickest story turnaround in the studio’s history. He took a one-sheet colour image of Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, wrote ‘Walt Disney’s Pocahontas’ on the front, and on the back wrote, ‘an Indian princess who is torn between her father’s wishes to destroy the English settlers and her wishes to help them—a girl caught between her father and her people, and her love for the enemy’. At the time Peter Schneider had been very interested in an animated version of Romeo and Juliet (a West Side crossed with cats film was suggested at one stage …), so he really got on board with Gabriel’s idea: ‘We were particularly interested in exploring the theme of ‘If we don’t learn to live with one another, we will destroy ourselves’’.

Again, this was the project that the top animators wanted to work on, including star animator Glen Keane, who was assigned Pocahontas, and many fought to swap from The Lion King to Pocahontas. Eric Goldberg, supervising animator of the Genie, became Mike Gabriel’s Co-Director (inspired especially to work on the film by the 1992 LA Riots) and Tom Sito was appointed as Head of Story. Determined to be authentic (and likely trying hard to make up for the appalling representation of Native Americans in Peter Pan), they hired mainly Native American performers and employed Native American consultants. It all seemed very exciting as it would be Disney’s first ‘American’ story, the first to showcase a true historical figure and the first to have an interracial romance at the film’s heart.

So … what happened? Jeffrey Katzenberg really pushed for the film to be a sweeping romantic epic, even more so than Beauty and the Beast, to strive for a Best Picture win, likely also considering that Dances with Wolves won Best Picture in 1991, which features Native Americans. We imagine this was the mindset:

When you look at a creative project with ‘AWARD!’ in mind, it is very possible to be led astray. Katzenberg pushed for Pocahontas to be older (initially pitched as Pocahontas’s real age, 10-12), for there to be an adult relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith, and for the animals to be mute. Executive influence became so difficult that Goldberg worked under the pseudonym, Claude Raynes for Chuck Jones Productions, just to get a breather. Both he and Sito thought the film would be more cartoony, comic and broad but the ‘higher-ups wanted it more winsome, more gentle. Some of the folks were so concerned about political correctness …’ A specific example was when an executive took umbrage with the fact that Meeko was wearing a Spanish ruff, and Percy a feather, in a drawing by Joe Grant: ‘Animals don’t have the intelligence to switch their clothes! They don’t even have opposing thumbs’.

Despite their efforts to be authentic, story and character went off into a multitude of directions, and consequently prominent Native American activists issued an open letter condemning the film for its historical inaccuracies, and stereotyping of the Indian people. We’ll discuss this in Protagonist and Story.

What did we think of Pocahontas?

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No … no we didn’t like that one. No we were a bit disappointed with that one to be honest. That wasn’t very good at all! You know we generally love Disney but that film was catastrophic!

Ok maybe that’s being a tad harsh, but we’ll be fair! Let’s dive in and analyse. But first, Original Trailer Time!

  • Somewhat bafflingly … we may have come across a trailer that is quite good! The epitome of the ‘trailer that makes the film look better than it actually is’
  • However we do still have ‘SHEEEEEE was the daughter of a chief’. You never fail to disappoint or amuse us Original Trailer Man
  • ‘No not that … way’ – cue the sounds of kids laughing … a lot (Special Note from Melissa: This is my own memory of seeing this trailer in the cinema)
  • The editing makes it look like Pocahontas’s dive had a butterfly effect, causing the storm to happen
  • ‘HEEEEEE was an explorer’
  • ‘Come taste the sun sweet berries’ – coupled with shots of CHERRIES! LIES!
  • Kokoum makes ‘bad smell’ face, which is backed up by Meeko going ‘Bleghhhhh’
  • ‘I think my dream is pointing me down another path’: Did Kokoum get erased from existence when she said that?
  • Love that changed the world? Erm no! Seriously, stop lying Original Trailer Man
  • Dangerously close to giving away the ending – ARGH!
  • ‘I love him Father’ / ‘BRAVO!’ Thanks for the support Wiggins
  • ‘Experience the adventure … until you can paint with all the colours of the wind’ at which point you can stop experiencing the adventure.

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Classic No. 32 The Lion King (1994)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

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With one of us four years old and the other five when The Lion King was released in the UK in October 1994, this is a milestone moment for us in the canon, as it came out at a time when we remember the release ‘hype’. But what we didn’t know, until the last few years, was that two films were made simultaneously by two different teams – one film was perceived as the ‘A’ project (predicted to be a prestigious, Best Picture-winning, ‘West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet meets Native Americans’, guaranteed hit) and the other the ‘B’ project (dubbed as experimental ‘fill a gap’-ish). The former was Pocahontas and the latter was The Lion King … one of the most commercially successful films of all time.

Let’s swivel back! Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy Disney and Peter Schneider came up with the initial idea for a film based in Africa, during a plane journey to Europe to promote Oliver and Company. Thomas Schumacher became involved because ‘lions are cool’ … Scripts flew around over the next few years from a number of writers, from Thomas Disch writing a treatment called King of the Kalahari, to Linda Woolverton writing King of the Beasts, and then King of the Jungle. The plot was rather different, focusing on a war between lions and baboons … More on that in Story!

Initially Oliver and Company’s director, George Scribner, was appointed as The Lion King’s director. However, he would leave after six months, as he clashed with Roger Allers’s style and disliked the choice to make it a musical film, as he had envisioned a more documentary-like ‘National Geographic’-esque film, probably closer to Bambi than your average Renaissance era musical. Producer, Don Hahn, Directors, Rob Minkoff (Scribner’s replacement) and Roger Allers and Head of Story, Brenda Chapman, rewrote the story, aiming to focus more on the theme of ‘leaving childhood and facing up to the realities of the world’. Screenwriters Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts came on board, and the title changed to The Lion King as King of the Jungle made no bloody sense. Fun fact: Apparently Richard Curtis and Ben Elton were approached to write the screenplay.

As we said, The Lion King was the B project. Most of the top animators chose to work on Pocahontas, while The Lion King was filled up with more inexperienced – but eager – staff and top animators who were interested in animating animals (e.g. Andreas Deja and Ruben Aquino). At that point Pocahontas seemed like the better option – Glen Keane had been assigned to work on it (allegedly everyone wanted to work with Keane as he was perceived as the crème de la crème of animation at that stage … because he’s awesome), Mike Gabriel who’d directed The Rescuers Down Under, Eric Goldberg who’d received acclaim for Genie, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s music was already there on display, and to top it off, animators were excited that it was an ‘American’ story. The Lion King was not in a great place when it came time to choose a project – the African rhythms had not yet been incorporated into the film, so Elton John’s tunes sounded very poppy next to Menken’s Broadway pizazz, and it hadn’t quite found its feet in terms of story – it was being pitched as ‘Bambi in Africa’. Some even tried to transfer over to Pocahontas but were told ‘no’.

Despite Katzenberg’s feelings that the film was ‘a little a bit about [him]self’ (based on his early career in politics), he set up this competitive streak between Team A and B, stating that Pocahontas was a home run, and The Lion King was a base hit. It was being stressed that animals don’t sell – audiences want to see people. Ultimately, like the animators being kicked out of their building and into rickety-old Glendale, it inspired Team B to work even harder and prove themselves. Akin to two siblings, the golden child wound up being the disappointment despite high expectations, and the black sheep became incredibly successful despite low expectations …

Do we think the Black Sheep proved itself? Let’s see! But first …

Original Trailer Time! Disney made a landmark move in that they released the entire ‘Circle of Life’ sequence as a teaser trailer in 1993. It was so well-received that many became concerned that the film as a whole wouldn’t live up to the teaser trailer.

However because it was a teaser (and a scene from the film), we won’t be looking at it, but instead the full trailer released in 1994:

  • Lebo M you are AMAZING!
  • Oh hi Original Trailer Man – any mystical epic vibe you had been going for in this trailer has now officially been squashed
  • We genuinely misheard 32nd animated motion picture as ’30 second’ – hardly qualifies as ‘feature-length’
  • For some insane reason, Hans Zimmer’s incredible score gives way to a trumpet fanfare straight out 1960s Disney … looking at you The Sword in the Stone! … just WHY???
  • ‘This’ll all be mine’ ‘Everything the light touches’ ‘Wow’ … misleading editing there!
  • We’ve got to commend the trailer for strategically avoiding giving away Mufasa’s death
  • Oh wait no they DO give it away … cheers trailer. Compliment withdrawn
  • What’s with the AWFUL score in the background? 90s to the max!
  • Unsubtle name dropping – ‘Grammy winner Elton John and Academy Award winner Tim Rice’
  • A very different arrangement of ‘Circle of Life’ there … we’re not fans

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Classic No. 31 Aladdin (1992)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

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‘Disney, you’ve had a Best Picture nomination – what are you going to do next?!’

Aladdin is the film that follows not only Disney’s, but one of cinema’s major milestones – it follows the first animated feature film to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Beauty and the Beast. Could they top it? But more importantly, did they even want to top it?

Aladdin itself originates from ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. It was not originally part of ‘Nights’, but was edited into the collection by Antoine Galland, a French translator who claims that he heard the story, along with ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ and ‘The Seven Voyages of Sindbad’, from a Syrian storyteller in Aleppo. Ironically enough, despite being part of a Middle Eastern collection of tales, the Aladdin story is set predominantly in China.

(Special Note from Melissa: But perhaps that has all the authority of Shakespeare setting Measure for Measure in Vienna, when it is clearly London … and in fact any of his plays set in European cities)

Aladdin, like Beauty and the Beast had very rocky beginnings. It was originally the dream-child of Howard Ashman, who had been in a local theatre production of Aladdin when he was a child, in the title role. Ashman wanted to write and direct the film; he pitched it in 1988 and wrote a 40-page treatment, writing songs with Alan Menken. He re-imagined the Aladdin story as a campy 1930s-style musical in a Hollywood-ised version of Baghdad, paying homage to the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road movie musicals. The story featured a villain named Wazir, his parrot sidekick Sindbad, and Aladdin had three pals called Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Princess Jasmine was a shallow, spoiled brat that Aladdin falls for, all the while a girl-next-door tomboy inspired by Judy Garland would be his true love in the end. There were two genies; the ring genie sung Arabian Nights, while the genie of the lamp was an amalgamation of Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.

Both Ashman and Menken were super jazzed up about this project (we could tell as they sound very giddy in the demos). Unfortunately for the two of them, the studio dismissed Ashman’s treatment, and they were removed from Aladdin to rescue Beauty and the Beast, which at that point was in dire straits. Beauty and the Beast’s screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, took on Ashman’s treatment and incorporated some elements of The Thief of Baghdad into the screenplay (because Disney had purchased the remake rights …), adding a villain named Jafar, a thief named Abu and a handmaiden for Jasmine. It had no songs … that would have been tragic. It got tossed around to different screenwriters, but in the end, John Musker and Ron Clements picked it as their follow-up to The Little Mermaid. They had a choice between Aladdin, Swan Lake and King of the Jungle.

Well … they all happened … one even at another studio

Ashman was glad that Musker and Clements had revived his baby, and while only two of his songs from the original treatment ended up in the film, Arabian Nights and Friend Like Me, when the dynamic duo were brought on board, Ashman and Menken wrote two new songs, Prince Ali and Humiliate the Boy … we’ll come back to these in Music. Unfortunately, Ashman never saw Aladdin through; when he wrote those two songs, he was already extremely ill, and he died shortly after the first story reel presentation – he passed away in March 1991. Tim Rice was brought in to be Alan Menken’s new lyricist.

The infamous story reel presentation became known as Black Friday – another case of déjà vu from Beauty and the Beast, Katzenberg hated the reels and told them to start again … again – ‘Guys, I gotta tell you, I was so disengaged that all through the movie, I was working on the guest list for my wife’s surprise birthday party!’

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Nice

So, they had to start again, the mood was apparently ‘funereal’ and Katzenberg refused to change the release date of 25 November 1992. Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were brought in to rework the screenplay, meaning that the four of them get screenwriting credits for the final film. From Black Friday, they had eight days to make a new outline. PRESSURE! Eight days later, Katzenberg accepted the new treatment, and the film got made … thankfully.

A lot changed from that original treatment from 1988; it very well could have been an incredibly different film. We’re happy with the way Aladdin turned out, but it is hard not to wonder what could have been … However, what did it end up being? Likely Disney’s most postmodern-esque, most self-aware film in the canon so far – this is the moment when the creators felt brave enough to challenge its own medium and style, and even poke tongue-in-cheek fun at both themselves and Disney itself.

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How did they do? Let’s find out!

But first … the let’s enter the Cave of Wonders … also known as Original Trailer Time.

  • Wait a minute! That’s not Aladdin music … did we put the right trailer on?
  • Hmm … 3 years ago … last year … what happened 2 years ago Original Trailer Man?Ah yes, using the glory of their previous recent hits, not including The Rescuers Down Under of courseit may as well be lifted out of the Renaissance altogether

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  • ‘A beautiful girl looked into the heart of a beast and found the man of her dreams’ … on the strength of that tagline, you may have avoided Beauty and the Beast altogether!
  • ‘Come with us and enter a whole new world’ … how clever
  • One of Robin Williams’s conditions was not to be heavily used in advertising … um about that …
  • Someone very crudely shoehorned in the title mid-sentence – so fast and shoddy it feels like subliminal messaging
  • ‘A whole new world of excitement’ … thanks we got it!
  • Poor Alan Menken – never gets named in these trailers!
  • They certainly give a lot away in this trailer – we even get a shot of the genie hugging everyone at the end of the film!
  • They’re really downplaying Abu and Iago in this trailer … hmm we wonder why? We don’t even hear a syllable from Gilbert Gottfried

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Classic No. 30 Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

It’s been a LONG time since we have posted a review. We’ve been insanely busy from March-August with one of our theatre productions, which took up nearly all of our time outside of work, meaning that the blog had to take a another step back, which is always hard to do, as we love writing it so much. But we’re very glad to be back writing, and here is our review on Beauty and the Beast. We hope you enjoy!

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Like The Little Mermaid, another beautiful poster

After the controversy of The Rescuers Down Under being pulled from the screens early (including its marketing), Disney needed a hit. Although there have normally been significant gaps between Disney releasing fairy-tale films (13 years, 9 years, and a whopping 30 years), the release gap between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast is a mere two years! Disney’s 30th animated classic from the canon, Beauty and the Beast, originates from the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and later abridged, rewritten, and published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in the 18th century. According to research, variants of the tale have been around for at least 4000 years. Like The Little Mermaid, Walt Disney attempted to adapt Beauty and the Beast during the Golden Age and again during the Restoration (Romantic) era. We imagine that there was a struggle to adapt this ‘beast’ because when it comes down to it, most of the fairy tale …

(Special Note from Melissa: In terms of the couple anyway, notwithstanding that half the plot is actually about Beauty’s father – But Daddy and the Beast has less of a ring to it somewhat)

… consists of the unlikely pair having dinner together, the beast proposes, the beauty says no, rinse and repeat, until the end – hardly the most scintillating plot for a film. There was also fear of having to compete with the French 1946 Jean Cocteau version – perceived by many as the definitive adaptation of the fairy-tale.

Fast-forward decades later, following the critical and box office success of The Little Mermaid they opted for another fairy tale (instead of waiting 30 years), and offered it to Who Framed Roger Rabbit director, Richard Williams. Williams turned it down to work on his long-term (30-year-long!) baby The Thief and the Cobbler, but suggested British director, Richard Purdum. It was originally conceived as a non-musical; the team relocated to London to work on it, and six months later they returned with the first rough 20 minutes of the film. After the presentation, they were told to bin the whole 20 minutes and start again.

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‘I’ve got to write the whole thing over again!’

Purdum resigned from the project. Ron Clements and John Musker were approached to direct but they were knackered from The Little Mermaid. They took a chance on two young first-time feature directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, appointing them as acting directors for a few months before officially giving them the job. Don Hahn stayed on to produce, and Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplay (with a very strong story team behind her). Throwing the non-musical concept out of the window, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were asked to provide their musical touch and help save this sinking ship. At that point, Ashman’s heart was in his pet project Aladdin, but he grew into the idea and both he and Menken jumped on board, casting the film in New York (rather than the usual LA casting) – and thus Beauty and the Beast became the second Broadway infused animated musical of the Renaissance. Despite its rocky beginnings, would it surpass the success of The Little Mermaid, and make up for the under-performance of The Rescuers Down Under? Let’s see! But first … ORIGINAL TRAILER TIME!

  • Walt Disney presents … Bambi?!
  • He was a lonely beast cursed by a mysterious spell’ … we’ve all been there!
  • She was the beautiful young girl who could set him and his kingdom free’ … so no pressure?
  • Also we have to point out, how 90s sounding is this trailer??? ‘He was a’/‘She was a’ – it sounds like a parody!
  • ‘Until something wonderful happened’ thanks for the spoiler Original Trailer Man! We may as well just start the film half way through
  • ‘It’s a story filled with fun’ – We don’t think having someone sneeze in your face is FUN!
  • Seriously how much of the climax are you showing?
  • Very little of Gaston in this trailer … surprised!
  • ‘From the Academy Award winning composer and lyricist of The Little Mermaid’ … whose names we won’t mention … nice
  • Credit where credit’s due – once Be Our Guest starts, the editing is top notch … are they getting better at this?

So on to the review!

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‘On your marks! Get set!’

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‘BAKE!’

(Special Note from Melissa: For so many years, my sister and I used to be in hysterics during this scene as it sounds like he’s saying ‘bake’ – ‘What does she want me to do? BAKE???!’)

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Classic No. 29 The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

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The Rescuers Down Under is a milestone in the canon – it is Disney’s first full-length animated sequel film; but, to be honest, the idea of a The Rescuers sequel has been hovering around ever since its release in 1977. They initially considered Oliver and Company as a possible sequel to The Rescuers (what with the whole Jenny/Penny and her ‘awful adopted parents’ debacle). Basil the Great Mouse Detective was on the shaky ground of not being greenlit because it was too similar to The Rescuers, and then on steady ground when they remembered that The Rescuers made a lot of money. The Rescuers is really the last Disney film that was purely in the hands of the older animators before they passed the torch in The Fox and the Hound. It is fascinating and remarkably symbolic that the newer animators, with a handful of canon films under their belt at this stage, chose to produce a sequel to that particular film.

At the time, Disney were referring to it as their first animated action-adventure film, with Jeffrey Katzenberg saying, ‘I wanted to do an action-adventure movie, which Disney’s never done’.

What Jeffrey? You mean THIS isn’t an action adventure?

The film was produced by theatre-man Thomas Schumacher. Schumacher is currently the President of Disney Theatrical Group and The Rescuers Down Under was his first project – the first of many! The screenplay was written by Jim Cox, Karey Kirkpatrick, Byron Simpson and Joe Ranft. Ranft was also the Story Supervisor. Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel directed The Rescuers Down Under. They were allegedly inspired by live-action films more than animated films with directors such as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean as major visual influences. Gabriel saying, ‘We were inspired by great films, not great animation or great comics or great cartoons. We try to incorporate great film techniques to tell a cinematic story’.

Disney had set up an Animation unit in Florida in 1989 at Disney-MGM Studios, and The Rescuers Down Under was the first feature-length film in which they had contributed. They took on key scenes that lead to ten minutes of the final film. Mark Henn, who co-animated Ariel with Glen Keane, moved to Florida to base himself at this studio, and he was responsible for a few scenes that featured Bernard and Bianca, and McLeach. Henn had not worked on the original The Rescuers but saw the film six times: ‘Having a chance to do them [Bernard and Bianca] in a new film for a new generation was a real thrill, a real challenge. I just remembered the things I liked about those characters and put myself into it.’

While The Rescuers is probably one of the best candidates in the canon for a sequel (truly – we went through them all – for us The Rescuers, Alice in Wonderland and Basil are films in which a [good] sequel would make sense in their contexts), but the timing to do a sequel to this film does seem off. First of all, a child who watched The Rescuers in 1977 would, by 1990, be either in their late teens or early twenties – the youngest that a person would be who was alive in 1977 would be 13 years old in 1990 (and a kid wouldn’t even be that aware or focused between the ages of 0 and 3, so really the age would be 16!) – hardly your average Disney spectator – re-releases notwithstanding.

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Even Mike Gabriel seemed on the fence about whether it was a good idea – the DIRECTOR: Peter Schneider asked me if I’d ever consider directing and I said, “Well, after watching George [Scribner, director, Oliver & Company], it doesn’t look like it would be much fun.” It was sort of a non-committal reaction, but in a couple of months he called me into his office and asked if I’d direct Rescuers Down Under. And I thought to myself at the time, and I probably should have said it out loud, “Now there’s a movie everyone’s gonna want to see. How could you top the first one?” But I didn’t and I took the job and co-directed with Hendel [Butoy]’.

That fills us with confidence

Did everyone go and see it? Did they top the first one? Let’s find out!

But first, Original Trailer Time for an Original Sequel:

But first, Original Trailer Time for an Original Sequel:

  • A frantic and over-excited drum-beat tries to overpower the Original Trailer Man in volume
  • The music is really trying to convince us that it’s Indiana Jones we’ve come to see
  • ‘Australia’ – a solitary house and tree in the middle of a big field … that’s all there is
  • According to Original Trailer Man, Australia is ‘mysterious’ and ‘untamed’ … we’re sure it’s not to Australians!
  • ‘It was a world of amazing adventure and discovery until’ … they blew up?!
  • An ‘eagle’ trapper or ‘evil’ trapper?! We have no idea!
  • It makes it look like Cody’s just been hanging over the crocodiles this whole time …
  • ‘It’s the rescuers in the most dangerous mission ever’ … that’s a bold statement
  • Jake’s ‘army of misguided mates’ … you’d do better to refer to them as ‘a miscellaneous group of weirdos who are barely in the film’ … also … JAKE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW ANY OF THEM!
  • ‘Hey who killed the music?’ The trailer editor did!
  • ‘Throw another shrimp on the barbie sports fans’ … oh dear … the 90s have arrived

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Passing the Torch Era Overview

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

The 1980s were a turbulent decade for Disney; many of the older animators retired and the young artists took over; the studio was taken over by new management and the animators were moved from their beloved studio in Burbank to warehouses in Glendale; former Disney animator Don Bluth founded his own studio, and went head to head with his former employers – enjoying a respectable amount of success; and on several occasions there were very frightening possibilities of the animation department being shut down altogether. It is hardly surprising therefore, that during such a chaotic and unpredictable time, the animated films that were released were of varying quality.

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Classic No. 28 The Little Mermaid (1989)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

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First of all, SURPRISE! We had said in our Oliver and Company post that we were going to review Who Framed Roger Rabbit next … However, we were so thrilled to have finally reached this film that we really wanted to get our thoughts out here. Don’t worry there will be a review of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the future. Secondly, we (again!) apologise for this mad delay between posts and all we can say is … life happens. One of us went to visit family straight after finishing Oliver and Company, then we both went away to our families for Christmas. Plus in between all that – jobs, projects, eating, sleeping, etc. But we must implore that we love writing this blog – it’s such a fantastic journey for the two of us watching these films and getting the chance to explore them – we wish we could just write all the time! But alas. Hopefully the wait will have been worthwhile as we basically have here below a short ‘book’ for you. Thank you for your patience (throughout our blogging history!), we love reading your lovely comments, and we hope that you enjoy this one.

The Little Mermaid – the beginning of Disney animation’s Renaissance Era, and the era that took place in our lifetimes … this is a big one for us! So where are we at Disney now? Basil the Great Mouse Detective had been a critical success, Oliver and Company turned out to be a big financial hit and Who Framed Roger Rabbit a major financial and critical triumph. However when The Little Mermaid first went into development, these films had not been released yet – the Disney animators were still in the deepest, darkest frame of mind – The Black Cauldron was an expensive flop, management had changed dramatically, they were facing the troubling experience of being shafted out of Burbank and into Glendale, and animation was hanging by a thread. Change needed to happen …

Ron Clements initially pitched the film after coming across Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid at a bookshop and finding it to be a very cinematic story. Before pitching the idea, he wondered why Disney had not attempted Hans Christian Andersen’s story before, only to find out later that they had done. It was in development during the late 1930s and early 1940s as a short that likely would have been part of lo-and-behold … a package film.

It could have been part of the Pit of Despair era

However the planned package film would have been a series of Hans Christian Andersen shorts, and major developments took place on The Little Mermaid short. Storyboards, watercolour and charcoal drawings, script and story planing sessions with Walt, all took place. It was shelved due to the impact of the USA joining WWII, and remained in the archives until the 1980s. However when Ron Clements pitched it, The Little Mermaid was ‘gonged’ at the infamous gong show meetings, as it was considered to be too close to Splash and Splash 2 was in development. However a few days later, Jeffrey Katzenberg said that he and Michael Eisner had changed their minds and that they would love to put it into development. Splash 2 was never made (sorry Splash fans). After being such a successful writing partnership for Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Ron Clements teamed up with John Musker to write the script for The Little Mermaid and later they were assigned as directors. Then Howard Ashman and Alan Menken came on board, and a brilliant creative quartet was formed.

Peter Schneider had worked with Howard Ashman and Alan Menken on their off-Broadway show Little Shop of Horrors (a very cartoony musical – practically like a live action cartoon) and producer of the film version, David Geffen, highly recommend Howard Ashman to Jeffrey Katzenberg. Howard Ashman was given options of what projects he could pursue, and he chose The Little Mermaid: the only animated film in the list of choice projects. He was incredibly excited about the idea of working in animation, and embraced the possibilities that animation offers to storytelling through music. Howard Ashman not only wrote the lyrics but he co-produced the film with John Musker, and had a major impact on the production process and final film. Roy E. Disney referred to Howard Ashman as ‘another Walt’ to the new generation of animators and staff at Disney – there are almost no words to describe what he did for Disney at this point and for the future of animation and musical theatre. We recommend that you watch Howard Ashman’s lecture to the animators from 1987 … it is marvellous. We could spend our whole review quoting from it (but it would take a long time … and our reviews are long enough!).

This creative quartet wanted to make an animated film that could sit on the shelf with the ‘classics’ and the effort that would go into the process of making this film was phenomenal. Howard Ashman in his lecture emphasised that there is a very strong connection and application between musical theatre and animation, and that if you look back at the timeline of Disney’s films, its connection (musically speaking) to what was going on in theatre at the time were similar and would overlap. But at this stage in the 1980s, we have not had a ‘musical’ in the traditional sense at Disney since The Jungle Book (more than five songs that are not ‘performances’ or a ‘voice from the heavens’ within the film) – basically since the days of Walt, and even musical films were in a difficult spot at this point. Howard Ashman pointed out that audiences do find it hard to accept live action musicals, because ultimately they expect more realism from live action. Audiences are more willing to suspend their disbelief in the theatre, and Howard believed that animation has a similar impact – audiences know that there are actors in front of them performing and audiences know that what they are seeing on screen are drawings – the animated musical must return! Disney had an enthusiastic team who are determined to reignite the fire of the animated musical. Were they successful?

Original Trailer Time!

  • For the first time ever, Original Trailer Man’s opening salvo makes sense and is actually well-phrased (what is this madness?!)
  • Arial’s aria is hauntingly in sync with the logo
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Bambi, and Sleeping Beauty are perceived as Disney’s only classics …  hmm wonder why The Black Cauldron never makes it into these throw-backs?
  • ‘Exploring the mysteries of her strange new world’ … first of all you were doing so well, and second of all … what???
  • ‘Fantastic adventure above the waves’: a ship blowing up … must be for the alleged ‘boys’ in the audience according to ‘market research’
  • Trailer stop giving away the FARM! Seriously, there are so many spoilers here! So much content squashed into a short period of time
  • Apparently Chef Louis lives under the sea – what a twist!

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Classic No. 27 Oliver and Company (1988)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

Oliver_poster

After the release of The Black Cauldron, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg invited animators to pitch ideas for a new animated feature film; it was known as the infamous ‘Gong Show’. John Musker and Ron Clements suggested Treasure Island in Space and The Little Mermaid (sound familiar?), while Pete Young brought up Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist with dogs. Jeffrey Katzenberg had been keen on the idea of a live action version of Oliver! the musical while working at Paramount so Young’s project was greenlit. At this stage Roy E. Disney was the new head of the animation division, George Scribner and Richard Rich were announced as the directors, while Pete Young was the story director.

The environment at Disney had severely changed during production for Oliver and Company – what used to be a very relaxed environment suddenly became an incredibly stressful pressure cooker. The staff were grieving for many reasons – Wolfgang Reitherman had died in a car accident in 1985, which was a huge shock – Reitherman had been such a prominent figure at Disney that the 1970s could even be referred to as the Reitherman years. That same summer, the animators were pushed out of their beloved historically significant studio at Burbank and into Glendale. The staff were working long hours. Management, still learning the ropes in animation themselves, were coming down even harder, and the longer they were there, the more opinionated they were becoming about the animated films, and the more wires would end up crossed. Job security was incredibly fragile and the staff were despondent. Richard Rich was let go, not only from the project, but from Disney altogether, along with many other members of staff. Pete Young worked really hard on Oliver and Company and tragically passed away at the age of 37 from ‘complications from flu’ (we will come back to Pete Young in the film’s legacy).

Oliver and Company as you can see clearly had a lot of ugliness and grief surrounding its production. However there was also a huge drive – Don Bluth’s An American Tail had been a huge commercial success and management at Disney were determined that Disney feature animation get back to being top dog, and this is where marketing comes in – with celebrity voices, product placement, a contemporary setting and dogs in sunglasses. The guns are out and a Western shoot out between Disney and Bluth is imminent.

(Special Note from Melissa: Or a perhaps a Parent Trap style war)

Disney are ready … with their ‘coolness’ … see SUNGLASSES ARE COOL RIGHT?

So what became of this film? And what do we think of it? Let’s find out, but first … Original Trailer Time!

  • ‘For over fifty years Walt Disney has turned great stories into unforgettable animated motion pictures’ … fair point! Although there were a few ‘slips’ along the way
  • Even though he drew attention to fifty years, the logo says sixty years … we know it’s referring to Mickey’s birthday, but … it’s just confused!
  • Fun seeing Mickey’s development over time, and let’s throw in Tinkerbell for good measure
  • Always a risk to remind us of previous classics, because there’s a chance … that this one won’t hold up in comparison (*spoiler alert*)
  • ‘A new twist on the classic story of Oliver’ … hope you didn’t spend all day coming up with that one
  • ‘Come on let’s eat him!’ – the story of how Oliver was eaten by a pack of losers
  • ‘Fagin’ ‘The Dodger’ and … the rest
  • ‘Out to take New York for all its worth’ followed by Fagin saying ‘It’s worthless’ … hahahahahaha
  • Caricature of Peter Schneider in the Pawn Shop
  • Oliver was ‘catapulted’ – stop with the puns … NOW!
  • He was ‘catapulted into a whole new world’ … did it have a new fantastic point of view? Was it perchance a dazzling place he never knew?
  • ‘Only to be rescued by his gang of friends’ … thanks for giving away the ending Original Trailer Man!
  • ‘I just wanna go back’ ‘Back with his Uncle Tito! Mwah!’ NO!
  • According to this trailer, both Huey Lewis and Ruth Pointer voice Oliver
  • ‘Your family is cordially invited to meet our new family’ … hmm really? Our new family which unlike previous films is cooler and thus better
  • ‘The vicious villain determined to destroy Oliver’ … did you even watch this film Original Trailer Man? Sykes doesn’t know who Oliver even is!
  • Also Original Trailer Man you never once change your tone of voice – so whether you’re saying ‘Come meet our new family … with songs by Billy Joel … with Sykes the vicious villain’, it is all said in the same breezy upbeat tone
  • The underscore of Good Company … is horrible

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Classic No. 26 Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

Basilposter1

Basil the Great Mouse Detective is a film that is not given as much credit as it should be. Hidden between the failure that was The Black Cauldron and the successes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid, Basil the Great Mouse Detective is a forgotten gem. Its own success at the box office at the time was dwarfed by the major success of Don Bluth’s An American Tail, the highest grossing non-Disney animated feature ever, several months later. Even Disney themselves do not seem to acknowledge the scope of Basil, with Jeffrey Katzenberg saying ‘Everything about The Great Mouse Detective is at a level of 80%. Everything about it is pretty good as opposed to GREAT’. We beg to differ – it is not an 80% film.

Very loosely inspired by Eve Titus and Paul Gadone’s Basil of Baker Street series of books from the 1970s (which in turn were based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books), rodent equivalents of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and James Moriarty in Victorian England seemed like a perfect fit for Disney. However the idea stayed in development for a long time, due to fears of it being too similar to The Rescuers. But The Rescuers was financially successful and after all, the Walt Disney Company started with a mouse so … what the hell.

Michael Eisner eventually greenlit the project, but the budget was sliced in half and the team were given only a year and a half to complete the film. The film had four directors, Burny Mattinson (who stepped back to produce in the end) and Dave Michener, plus soon to be The Little Mermaid double act John Musker and Ron Clements. It was a tough time of disillusionment for the animators. After the abominable failure that The Black Cauldron was at the box office, new management came down hard. The animation department were moved from the original building on the lot in Burbank where Walt Disney and co. made the classics, to a shabby converted warehouse in a rubbish part of Glendale. They were given this news by memo – the business equivalent of being dumped by text.

The morale was incredibly low, despite the appearances that management were keeping up for the media.

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Smile everyone! We can’t let anyone know how dismal it is right now

But Basil of Baker Street (the film’s original title) was a project that the animators were excited about and determined to prove their worth to the higher ups, and their audiences. In a storyboard meeting, it was said that Basil of Baker Street was going back to what animation is supposed to be. A great deal was at stake with this film – The Black Cauldron had lost to The Care Bears Movie and there had been huge losses. Animation was in trouble, and management even pointed out that Disney may not even get to release any new animated films and instead just keep re-releasing the classics. Roy Disney, in fear that the company would become a museum, objected fiercely and got management on his side that animation was vital at Disney. This film needed to do well to keep animation at Disney alive. It was Cinderella all over again.

New management in the 1980s meant an entirely new perspective on the business of filmmaking in animation – a perspective entangled in money, statistics, charts, focus groups and test screenings. Basil of Baker Street, a title that the animators loved, was perceived as ‘too British’ by the marketing team and would ‘alienate’ American audiences.

(Yes God forbid a film inspired by Sherlock Holmes is too British – that’s just madness!)

Vice President of Feature Animation, Peter Schneider announced that they had changed the name to The Great Mouse Detective, much to the fury of the team (although as you can see by our title, it is Basil the Great Mouse Detective in the UK and Ireland). Animator, Mike Gabriel said ‘That’s when we knew we were in trouble with the new leadership … Basil is a character you can fall in love with, the great mouse detective’s kind of an arrogant little idea that we didn’t think was going to connect with an audience … the resistance was fierce [but] it wasn’t going to change’. In response to this decision, an inter-office memo was sent out in Schneider’s name, announcing the renaming of films in the canon: Seven Little Men Help a Girl, The Wooden Boy Who Became Real, Robin Hood with Animals, Puppies Taken Away, Two Mice Save a Girl, Two Dogs Fall in Love, A Boy a Bear and a Big Black Cat, The Amazing Flying Children, The Girl With the See-Through Shoes, The Girl Who Seemed to Die, A Fox and a Hound are Friends, The Evil Bonehead, etc…

Hilarious. We applaud you!

Schneider was then asked by management to explain himself. He was furious and feeling like the joke memo was undermining his authority, he blew up at the animators, demanding to know who did it. Apparently the animator who wrote the memo was Ed Gombert but none of the team would turn him in. Funnily enough the memo ended up in the L.A. Times …

Despite Schneider’s fury, apparently from then on, the animators had more respect for him, as he acknowledged that he, like them, wanted to make great films at Disney. In turn management had more respect for the animators as this joke memo showed their frustration and passion for what they did. Even Head of Marketing Robert Levin said that they would be much more sensitive to the animators in the future. But The Great Mouse Detective it would be. So how does this film, in spite of this incredibly rocky and turbulent time at Disney, fare? Let’s find out!

But first, Original Trailer Time!

Wait there is no Original Trailer Time?

Come ON Disney it’s the 1980s! How could you have lost this? It wasn’t that long ago.

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Classic No. 25 The Black Cauldron

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation

British_Poster_Black_Cauldron

Disney’s real-life inspiration for Mr Snoops, historian John Culhane asked Don Bluth (long before his departure from Disney) about upcoming projects and this was his reply: “Right now, enthusiasm for a story called The Black Cauldron is boiling through the studio, and we hope that the new generation can touch people with that story in ways that Walt never dreamed of.”

This very film that Don Bluth was excited about turned out to be one of Disney’s most infamous films – an expensive flop that they tried to hide for many years. In fact, at the time it was the most expensive animated film ever made, and guess who it lost to at the box office?

What on earth happened? According to animator Ron Clements, “[The Black Cauldron] was supposed to be our ‘Snow White.’ But we just weren’t ready for it.”

The Black Cauldron is based on two novels from Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, a series of fantasy books inspired by Welsh mythology. Ron Miller was Disney’s President and later its CEO during most of the production period. He adored The Chronicles of Prydain, but allegedly was not a risk-taker and kept delaying the project, concerned that the new animators were not ready for it, even when several of the ‘Nine Old Men’ were still around. When a quarter of the newly trained animators left the company to form their own rival studio, akin to what happened to The Fox and the Hound, it had a negative impact on The Black Cauldron. However while The Fox and the Hound came out of the experience overall in good shape, The Black Cauldron got the proverbial ‘black eye’, battered, bruised and completely woozy. Despite Miller’s achievements, such as creating the Touchstone label, establishing the Disney Channel and putting Who Framed Roger Rabbit into development, in 1984, Miller was ousted in favour of non-Disney executives Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg. This trio came into The Black Cauldron baffled, completely lacking context of this long-term project’s journey. Was this dramatic change in management for good, for bad, or for the greater good?

Katzenberg was appalled by the darkness of the film and demanded that it be cut down. Screenwriter, Joe Hale reflects, ‘When Katzenberg first screened the film he told us to cut it by 10 minutes. Roy [Disney] and I got together and found some scenes we could get rid of that didn’t affect the story that much’. They cut 6 minutes, and Katzenberg reiterated ‘I said 10 minutes’.  When Hale protested that that is not how animated films work (they do not tend to get edited post-production), Katzenberg went into the editing bay and began cutting it himself, cutting 12 minutes. In Hale’s opinion, Katzenberg’s cuts ‘really hurt the picture’.

The Black Cauldron is a film of many ‘firsts’: It is the first Disney animated feature film in the canon to not contain any songs, to receive a PG rating (it was nearly given a PG-13 rating), to be presented in 6-track Dolby stereo sound, to be made in cooperation with Silver Screen Partners II, to not conclude with ‘The End’, to have no opening credits, and to have lengthy closing credits sequence that included the crew. The film’s production can be traced back to 1971 when the studio purchased the rights to The Chronicles of Prydain. 12 years to make, 5 years in production, costing over $25 million (although many animators claim it was closer to $40 million) using 34 miles of film stock … what could possibly go wrong?

First of all The Black Cauldron? Probably not the catchiest of names … but it is hard to ignore what came out around a similar time to The Black Cauldron:

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Original Trailer Time:

  • One of the first things that we see is recycled animation from Fantasia … really showing confidence in the new artwork!
  • “Legend has it there was once a king, who was so cruel, so evil, that the gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was trapped forever in the form of a great black cauldron” … um … are you sure you’ve got your facts right Original Trailer Man? Are we watching a different movie?
  • Gratuitous lightsaber shots
  • Taran’s dialogue is so bad that he only gets one line in the trailer
  • Fflewddur Fflam and Princess Eilonwy do not even appear … Yet Gurgi and Creeper do … What is wrong with you trailer?
  • This trailer has a moment of self-awareness – “Escape into a world of darkness [Come and see this movie]” “Are you coming? [to see the movie]” “Me? Go in there [and see the movie]. Oh no no no no no it’s a terrible [movie]”
  • “Through the magic of 70mm photography and 6 track Dolby sound” – ooooooh. Are you harping on about the technological fabulosity to mask a lack of confidence in the film itself?
  • “Soon the Black Cauldron will be mine”. Within the context of this trailer alone, why would the Horned King want the Black Cauldron if he is imprisoned in it??? It’s like a prisoner in a jail cell saying “Soon this jail cell will be mine”. Such is the extent of your blunder Original Trailer Man!
  • “In the great tradition of Disney animated classics now comes the newest Disney spectacle of them all”. Clever marketing, “newest” not “greatest”. Original Trailer Man is not selling it at all, he is just stating a fact
  • Remember that The Care Bears Movie did better than The Black Cauldron at the box office? Check out the former’s trailer and compare the two – complete polar opposites. Hmm wonder why parents chose to take their children to the pastel shades of Care Bears rather than the muddy looking Black Cauldron? Also compare the first lines of each film in the trailers – “The Horned King – that black hearted divil” versus “I’m Tender Heart – a care bear” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gofUwrzVzWs)
  • However despite everything, The Black Cauldron’s trailer makes the film look way better than it actually is … which is saying a lot

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