Classic No. 30 Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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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!


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.



‘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!


‘On your marks! Get set!’



(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???!’)


We’ve decided that here again is another film which features two protagonists – it is called Beauty AND the Beast after all! Before we start, we must point out that the creative team forgot to give the Beast a name … yes they forgot to give their protagonist a NAME!



‘All you have to do tonight is come up with the name of your main character’

Couldn’t even do that …


‘Some people would say that’s real sloppy’

The filmmakers openly admit that they blundered in the DVD commentary (and also offer the amusing suggestions of Tyrone, Bob and Steve as name possibilities). Somehow Adam has become common public knowledge as the Beast’s name, but we’re unsure as to where it initially popped up. However, we’ll still be calling him Beast … because we’re stubborn.

We’ll start with Belle!


Belle is intelligent and quick-witted with a gentle and no-nonsense personality. She has the maturity and sharpness of a Cinderella, but the liveliness and curiosity of an Ariel.

And like Aurora, they both know how to bed flop sob:



Belle was animated by Mark Henn (co-animator of Ariel) and young British animator James Baxter. The production team were inspired not only in her design but also in the voice casting of Paige O’Hara by Judy Garland (her blue and white dress is most certainly an allusion to Dorothy).


It wasn’t the only Wizard of Oz reference


Screenwriter, Linda Woolverton was inspired also by George Cukor’s Little Women, stressing that she incorporated a lot of Katherine Hepburn into Belle’s characterisation. To this day, Belle is the only brunette of the Disney princesses.

(Special Note from Melissa: Yes Rapunzel becomes a brunette, but to be honest hearing that when blonde hair is cut, it turns brown and all its magical properties cease to exist, hardly make brunettes feel fantastic … you can tell I’m a brunette. So hooray for Belle being a true fellow brunette!)

They were originally going to ask Jodi Benson to play Belle.


‘… Very original’

However, Howard Ashman suggested O’Hara as her voice sounded more mature and ‘European’ … perhaps they could have cast a European actress? Although Belle had the same live-action model as Ariel, Sherri Stoner, a characteristic for Belle was specifically taken from O’Hara – hair falling in her face and tucking it behind her ear.

The town thinks that Belle’s odd, without really justifying why other than calling her ‘different’ (because she’s the only one who dares to wear blue?!), ‘dazed and distracted’, ‘never part of any crowd’, and that she reads.

(Special Note from Melissa: Having a main female character who reads meant a lot to me as a child – alongside Matilda, and a little later Hermione)

Not only does she read, but she walks and reads simultaneously, annoying the townspeople in the way that people who walk and text at the same time do – as she leaves destruction behind her (Ironically enough today the townspeople would all be walking and texting …). The funny thing is that this town acts amazed that she reads, and yet the book that she’s read twice (Why is a librarian/bookseller stunned that a person would read a book twice?) is seemingly a fairy tale book. She’s hardly reading Tolstoy. Plus, the book she returns is about a beanstalk … and an ogre.


Never go back!

Her favourite book however, that sounds a little more interesting.



‘Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try and stay awake’

Actually is Belle reading The Princess Bride?


Well that is how Beauty and the Beast ends …


… it can only delay it for a while

Belle is a non-conformist within her town, and yet she would fit in in so many places. Her town is full of many two-faced, narrow-minded people. She’s surrounded by philistines who think that reading is weird and Gaston is awesome.


Fellow UK-dwellers, Belle’s town would have voted leave


This stupid sheep is a metaphor for this stupid town

They also emphasise that it’s a pity (and a sin) that she doesn’t fit in, simply because she’s beautiful – like her beauty is wasted on her.


What the town thinks of Belle

It could seem like Belle has a superiority complex over her town and is perhaps patronising (‘little town full of little people’), but they turn out to be awful anyway (more on Belle’s relationship with the town’s biggest jerk, Gaston, in ‘Antagonist’!). Belle, like the Beast is isolated and lonely, with no one to converse with on a similar level – even the bookseller can’t wait to get her out of the shop! Her father is loving but not the sharpest tool in the box. Belle is relatable partly because her wants and desires are vague – a very twenty-something character, she wants ‘adventure in the great wide somewhere’ and feels certain that she wants more than ‘this provincial life’.

When she’s on the cusp of the end of Act One, she reaches the castle and her character reveals true strength and power, as she takes her imprisoned father’s place to save his life. It is a truly excellent scene, as she shows the Beast genuine compassion and sacrifice – an emotional moment. Her strength is not only in her sacrifice but also her response to it, as she pleads for her father, and then accepts her fate, but also in her emotional reaction.


Now that we’re at this point in Belle’s journey, let’s talk about our other protagonist, the Beast. The Beast has a major character arc and journey. As a young Prince, he was transformed into a hideous beast because he was ‘spoiled, selfish and unkind’ and there was no love in his heart.



He spent 10 years between the prologue and the film’s beginning, wallowing in self-pity, anger and bitterness. He essentially went through the nastiest puberty possible – hair everywhere, hormones going crazy, mood swings, rapid growth spurt and major insecurity. Somehow he was not missed by anyone (part of the enchantment?) and his parents are either absent or deceased – either prospect seems rather bleak! He let himself go over the years, and has forgotten how to live like a man. In the film’s first third, he seems more like the antagonist than the protagonist. He’s vicious and frightening in the first scene that we see him with Maurice, and it is only when Belle offers to take her father’s place that we see the true humanity in Beast for the first time. From this point on, he is less the animalistic predator, and more an impatient, insecure young man with a temper.

Laurence Fishburne, Val Kilmer, Tim Curry and Mandy Patinkin were considered for the role of the Beast. Robby Benson completely convinces in the role. It could have been very easy to cast an actor with a gruff or booming voice. Benson has a powerful voice, laced with vulnerability and sincerity – the cracks in his voice are what makes the performance – that moment when he says ‘It’s hopeless’ is one of the film’s most poignant moments.


 His journey highlights the message that this is a film about regret and redemption – about how a stupid mistake that you make in your youth can ruin your life (and others’ lives too), unless you are able to redeem yourself. His relationship with Belle is his only chance to do that – he needs her. In fact, there is a role reversal from the usual in Beauty and the Beast. Although we do have a couple who rescue each other, in that the Beast saves Belle from being mauled by wolves and Belle rescues the Beast from a combination of death and eternal beast-dom, it is the male character who really is the prince in the tower that needs to be set free and rescued by a love interest, rather than the female. If the Beast were female, audiences would bang on about what a damsel in distress the character is. Drawn from his love for another, he gives up his will to fight and live, and yet when she comes back, he suddenly has the drive again as life now feels worth it.


Yet there are no outcries of ‘Beast can’t do without a woman!’

All the while instead of critics focusing on that, Belle is frequently criticised (Disney’s ladies are always criticised … as we’ve realised over time!) for two factors in particular: Stockholm Syndrome and for being too perfect. Belle being Beast’s prisoner will always be problematic. How many times have we heard people bring up Stockholm Syndrome as if they’re the first person to come up with that idea? The Beast is humbled when Belle berates him, ‘You didn’t even let me say goodbye!’ – his first major turning point. He and the staff emphasise that she is a guest, not a prisoner. As we see, Belle could easily run out and leave (she does it!), but when the Beast saves her life, she chooses to stay … which is complicated, especially when later on, she says ‘If only I could see my father’ – as it reminds as that she is a prisoner. However, when he ‘releases’ her, she leaves – again SHE CHOOSES TO LEAVE.

(Special Note from Melissa: Wouldn’t it have been better if Belle had brought Maurice back to the castle? Wouldn’t he have been better cared for there? Especially with all of the staff looking after him? But then … we wouldn’t have the climax. Moving on!)

Belle isn’t perfect – she does make mistakes, her curiosity and stubbornness gets the better of her and later she accidentally sells out the Beast to save her father, setting the mob on him – ‘this is all my fault’ she says repeatedly. Also, she invades his privacy by going into the West Wing when he specifically told her she could go ANYWHERE except the West Wing – it’s like reading his diary – don’t do it! Curiosity gets the better of her and she deceives his trust. Furthermore, she could have destroyed the rose. Well done Belle you nearly destroyed the castle’s entire life support system.

(Special Note from Both. The more we say West Wing the more we think of this fictional exchange: BEAST: You’re free to watch any boxset you like. Except The West Wing.
BELLE: What’s
The West Wi-?

It’s interesting that Belle would prefer to invade on the Beast’s privacy than see a library … especially when you see how thrilled she is later when the Beast presents it to her as a gift. On that note, it is lovely that this is the gift that Beast gives Belle when he wants to give her something special – more meaningful.


By the way we can’t stop laughing at the Beast’s face in that shot

Beast’s library sadly was recently bumped off the Most Marvellous Looking Library On Screen very recently:


The library gift leads to Belle reading Romeo and Juliet to the Beast. Belle certainly upgraded her literary prowess from Jack and the Beanstalk … what did the bookshop in her town sell?! Her mind must have been blown by the ginormous library. She finishes the play complete with romantic sighing …


Then Beast asks if she can read it again … did Belle seriously read the entire play? Complete with different voices for different characters? The filthy Shakespeare puns? The violence? It’s no feel-good love story worthy of these facial expressions:


‘Ahhh ‘There rust and let me die’ – gives me that warm fuzzy feeling’

When Belle and Beast don’t get along in the beginning, the interaction between them is hilarious, particularly when their stubbornness is at the forefront, for example when Belle can only be heard through the door while they’re in ‘hate’ mode – it’s the stuff of screwball comedy:

Beast’s first mistake when not letting the ‘beggar woman’ in was that he lacked compassion and was too proud. Belle teaches him about compassion, but their conflict in the two of them not getting along is that the Beast is too proud to show his true vulnerability and humanity, while Belle cannot see the man behind the monster and ‘doesn’t want to get to know him’ even when the Beast ‘tries’. But if the Beast’s true sin is pride, and Belle’s is prejudice, we indeed have Jane Austen all over again! Well she is one of the queens of romantic comedy. Belle and Beast do have an Elizabeth and Darcy-like relationship. In fact, the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale may have inspired Jane Austen rather than the other way around! Belle, like Elizabeth Bennet, is lively, intelligent and witty, while Beast, like Darcy, struggles conversing with strangers and comes across as cold, proud and disagreeable. In the beginning, they dislike each other, but both Darcy and Beast fall for their respective lady (both whom are from a lower social standing to them), and consequently they become much better people in their love for another. It takes until the end of both stories for both ladies to admit their love for their respective man, letting go of their initial prejudices and seeing the gentleman beneath the ‘beast’ exterior.


Shame these two didn’t do a Beauty and the Beast adaptation in the 1990s

Back to our couple again: The argument between Belle and Beast in the scene in which she is tending to his wounds is a strong contender for one of the film’s best scenes. It reveals that they are both as stubborn as each other, and also that they were both wrong in their respective situations – they can’t back up their actions – the Beast is right – Belle shouldn’t have gone into the West Wing, and Belle is right – the Beast needs to learn to control his temper. Belle is the first person to truly stand up to the Beast and not take any of his rubbish. He is accustomed to living with staff who were either afraid of him, walk on eggshells around him, indulge or pander to him. She calls him out on his terrible attitude and behaviour, but all the while she expresses gratitude for saving her life – a touching end to a fiery scene. Brenda Chapman led this sequence and she was inspired by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn films (curmudgeon and spitfire – both as stubborn as each other!). When she had to pitch it to Katzenberg, she said that she really struggled with pitching, but because Ashman adored the idea, he supported her and fought to keep it in the film, defending the scene to Katzenberg.

There’s such give and take between the characters – Beast struggles to eat with cutlery, but Belle compromises and makes it easier for him. He loosens up when she plays with him in the snow.


Resulting in hilarity

She and the staff seem to be guiding him along to becoming a gentleman. The Beast’s arc from a beast to a gentleman means … Beauty and the Beast is a makeover movie.



Fits right in

After the Beast has completed his My Fair Lady experience, that’s when he has to be the true man, as he lets Belle go, despite the fact that the rose is down to its last few petals. The decision to let Belle go is mature, selfless and a huge step forward for the Beast.

Beautifully animated (/acted)

He lets her go because he loves her, and yet afterwards (ironically) he responds immaturely to the situation. The castle is under attack, his staff are under threat, and when they come to him for help, he says ‘It doesn’t matter now. Just let them come’, leaving them to defend themselves.


It certainly reveals the selfishness of rulers, and yet at the same time that he has reached his lowest point, and it’s devastating anyway. When he dies (and he truly does die! He is resurrected but for at least a minute he’s gone), it’s one of the canon’s most emotional moments, and tying back around to the theme of redemption and regret, Belle regrets her own actions and realises too late that she loved him – it is an earned reunion between these characters, as in their flaws and all of the mistakes they have made, they know that they love each other and that’s all that matters.

It really hangs on letting us think the worst

When the Prince behaved like a beast, he looked like a beast. But he ultimately became a true gentleman inside, earned the love and respect of another, and so he is rewarded with his former form, which seems fair after 10 years of living in a body that was not his own.


Some people are not so lucky. But she’s not allowed to complain.



Remember how infamous the hunter in Bambi is in that we never even saw his face? Or his gun? A bird is shot off screen and we see the body hit the floor in the background. Similarly, in The Fox in the Hound, birds are killed off-screen, with the only sign being a flump of feathers (how tasteful …). We really get an idea of Gaston when we openly see a bird shot mid-air, fall to the ground, and stuffed awkwardly in a bag by a sidekick – with Gaston standing as if he were posing for an artist – ‘You’re the greatest hunter in the whole world!’ / ‘I know’. ‘Man’ is no longer hiding in the shadows off camera or a hermit hunter with no friends but his dogs – he’s taking centre-stage – unashamed, cocky, and abrash with over-the-top masculine energy.

Gaston marks a departure from the conventional Disney antagonist, as he doesn’t become a fully-fledged villain until about half-way through the film. He begins as a humorous, egocentric jerk and ends the film as a murderous psychopath.

His ultimate goal, of wanting Belle to be his wife, feels rather small when compared to the goals of previous villains, but unlike his predecessors he already has power over his dominion – as everyone in town (with the exception of Belle) thinks that he’s great, he’s ‘everyone’s favourite guy’. He starts the film in a position of power, but his fatal flaw is an inability to accept anything other than absolute, uncontested love and admiration. He refuses to accept Belle’s rejection of him, and becomes more aggressive in his pursuit of her. This is particularly alarming as he doesn’t pursue Belle out of any romantic feelings, nor does he view her as another person: he merely wants her for a trophy wife.





He could have wooed any young lady in the village and likely been successful – he didn’t need Belle! He had it all! That brings us to another point – Gaston is … MENTAL! Seriously, the ‘surprise’ proposal and wedding in one day is one of maddest situations in the canon so far. It’s a strangely hilarious and disturbing scene all at the same time.


And everyone thought Prince Edward was mad – at least he said ‘in the morning’ and not right now! Along with other previous Disney Princes

He already shows that he is a little unhinged in the film’s beginning, especially in his aggressive and possessed response after Belle rejects him – alarm bells ringing! Through the character of Gaston, Beauty and the Beast tackles lad culture, everyday sexism and male sexual harassment. Belle and Gaston’s initial interactions are amusing, mainly in the juxtaposition between her wit and his idiocy – ‘Gaston you are positively primeval’ / ‘Why thank you Belle’. She clearly can’t stand him and thinks he’s rude and conceited, but we imagine that she never believed his character would take such a cruel turn and is later enraged by his behaviour. Belle never says yes to Gaston, even when he attempts to blackmail her in the final act. The more she says no, the more he harasses her, and she constantly holds her own – Belle is a fantastic role model for young women, and Gaston is a reminder to never give in to a man that treats you with such abuse and a lack of respect, all under the guise of ‘adoration’.

Even though Gaston is not an intelligent mastermind, he is ruthless enough and in a high enough position to get his way. The love and admiration that the villagers have for him also takes a more sinister turn, as they all willingly go along with his schemes, even as they become more extreme. Nobody speaks up on Maurice’s behalf when Gaston attempts to have him committed to the insane asylum (a truly awful scheme), instead they’re all standing by to see Maurice get taken away. Then, when the asylum plot is nullified, the villagers all rally behind Gaston with the intentions of killing the Beast (even though, moments earlier they weren’t even aware of his existence).


Stupid town of sheep!

(Special Note from Both: This scene really strikes a chord, showing the effect that fear can have over people en masse – even if the fear is unfounded, there are those who will take advantage of the situation and exploit people’s fear … mark current politics)

Gaston lives in a town where everyone (par Belle) thinks that he is fabulous – he is an honorary sovereign in his own dominion. Beast and Gaston are two sides of the same coin – their paths have a degree of symmetry (scarily enough they both share traits of abusive behaviour – a more disturbing angle of the story). The Beast is the prince of his castle, and Gaston is the closest that the town has to a prince – while they both have an extent of ‘rule by fear’, the difference is that Gaston is popular and ‘likeable’, and the Beast is not.

(Special Note from Melissa: We’re back to Jane Austen again! It feels easy to compare the Beast to Darcy and Gaston to Wickham – the former who does not make a good first impression but turns out to have a heart of gold, the latter popular with the crowd and likeable on first impression, but truly is a despicable scoundrel. The difference is that Belle is not fooled nor charmed by Gaston, unlike her counterpart in Elizabeth Bennet … go Belle!)

Both Gaston and Beast threaten to hold Belle’s father captive, and the bargaining chip in both situations ends up being Belle herself – the difference is that Belle puts herself forward in the first instance (to the Beast’s surprise), while Gaston proposes the idea in the second. Belle would rather be a prisoner to a potentially dangerous Beast than marry Gaston – perspective.

(Special Note from Both: To quote our recent production of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a line from that resonated with us during rehearsal, thinking of Belle and Gaston: ‘Had I been seized by a hungry lion, / I would have been a breakfast to the beast, / Rather than have false Proteus rescue me’)

Something that speaks volumes about the difference between Gatson and Beast is that Gaston snubs Belle’s reading (‘It’s not right for a woman to read’), whereas the Beast gives Belle a whole library, and the two of them develop a bond through reading together – plus he loves to hear her read – he likes her the way she is already.


Although he is a vain, self-centred character, Gaston is no coward – he demands the chance to fight the Beast himself, and he follows through on this. Despite his villainous nature, his willingness to lead the charge, and fight the Beast himself is a commendable trait. During the actual fight, Gaston utilises underhanded tactics to gain the advantage, but he still faces his opponent one-on-one.

(Special Note from David: For me the most inadvertently funny moment is when Gaston shoots the Beast in the back with an arrow)


“AAAARRRRGGHH! Seriously, what the hell?!”

The fight between our two ‘beasts’ becomes vicious, and ultimately Gaston plays dirty – he stabs the Beast in the back, after the Beast nobly (through gritted teeth) lets him go.  However, paralleling with how he had everything and didn’t even need Belle, he didn’t need to stab the Beast, he could easily have walked away and gone back to a village where everyone adores him, but he just couldn’t let it GO – his fatal flaw. Ultimately he falls to his death immediately afterwards.


Should have married one of the triplets

Perhaps he hit Lefou on the way down – for one last time.


‘No one dies like Gaston, falls from heights like Gaston!’

Apparently an original draft for Gaston’s demise was supposed to be that the wolves would maul him after surviving his fall from the Beast’s castle with a broken leg …

(Special Note from David: Whereupon the wolves would get run off by a dog with the raggedy old voice of Pat Buttram)


‘Been there my friend’

We must point out that Gaston, in spite of the sinister turn his character takes, is hilarious – he is one of the funniest villains in the canon, up there with Ursula, Ratigan, Shere Khan and Prince John. He’s so egocentric, it’s impossible not to laugh – the song, ‘Gaston’ alone is comic gold. The relationship between Gatson and Lefou is so enjoyable to watch – you could make a drinking game on how many times Lefou is walloped by Gaston.

A favourite exchange of ours:

There was constant backing and forthing between Andreas Deja and Jeffrey Katzenberg over Gaston’s appearance – handsomeness versus cartooniness. It was the age-old problem that the animators did not want to animate the handsome man and Deja openly acknowledges that he felt annoyed about animating what initially felt like a pretty-boy soap opera character. However, this debate paid off; the compromise was that Gaston had a crooked nose (likely broken), strong jaw and chin, and huge build, and Deja came to love animating the character, establishing the balance between a humorous and handsome design. Apparently, there was even a poll in the office on the appearance of Gaston’s chest hair – about 20 drawings were submitted.


Before we move onto the next section, we’d like to discuss another antagonistic presence within the film: The Enchantress. Is she for good or for bad? It’s rather ambiguous in many ways. Isn’t enchantress just a happy, shiny word for witch? Not a great deal of explanation is given about why she cursed not just the Prince, but also the entire castle and all of its inhabitants, but it certainly comes across as a very villainous spell no matter how you choose to view it.  

The Enchantress coming by is like the equivalent of Supernanny coming round to sort out unruly children, but instead of disciplining him, she transforms the 11 year-old child prince into a beast … as you do. Basically someone that pops into a disruptive lifestyle to offer hard truths and ultimately improve the environment in the long run …

But Mary Poppins wouldn’t condone this:


Seriously I’m reporting you

She disguised herself as an old beggar woman, offering him a rose in return for shelter. Hmm an elderly lady bearing a shiny red gift. Why does this sound familiar?




‘Seriously? No I’ve read about things like this. Get OUT!’


‘You’ve got to be kidding!’

The Enchantress warned him not to be deceived by appearances, while deceiving him with her appearance. There are plenty of mixed messages in this prologue.


‘You should be deceived at times, but not at other times’


Unlike previous villains like Maleficent or Ursula who make their evil doings known, the Enchantress is a phantom presence. Is she like a darker version of the Blue Fairy? There to teach the protagonist a very hard lesson?


Also concluding with death?! Perhaps the Blue Fairy and the Enchantress are more alike than we thought!

It just seems so cruel and violent a punishment. She curses a child … for a whole decade! He has spent his entire adolescence as a beast. It’s not like Jumanji, he doesn’t get a do-over – he is never getting those young years back! Who made her judge, jury and executioner? What right has she to come in and judge this young kid? Really, she could have handled this better!

Witness hilarious judging from Reginald D. Hunter

Also, were the staff punished to make the Beast feel the weight and guilt of his actions, or were they being punished for their crimes? Did they over-indulge the child prince to the extent that the kingdom could have had this on their hands:





Though if Lady Olenna were the Enchantress we’d be very pleased

We never see the Enchantress, but her influence has a significant bearing on the entire Castle storyline, and she manages to make her phantom presence felt when Belle intrudes upon the West Wing. Just as Belle is about to discover the Beast’s true identity, the enchanted rose glows brightly, drawing her attention away. This in-turn leads to the Beast frightening Belle, and her running away. Through one simple action, the Enchantress very nearly managed to prevent the curse from being broken. Like Ursula emerging from the waters to distract Eric from Ariel, Belle is distracted from the truth with the flash of the rose – cruel really.


The only counter argument is that she could have been trying to prevent her from finding out as it would make her ‘ineligible’? Does the Beast become human again because the Enchantress’s curse was broken? Or because this is the result that she wanted anyway? A mystery!

Supporting Cast


Some people call him the Space Cowboy

‘Crazy old Maurice – he’s always good for a laugh’ – says random, awful lads in the pub. Truth be told, Belle’s papa, Maurice is a bit mad and generally good for a laugh. While he does fall into the role of comic relief, like many Disney fathers before him, his compassion for Belle makes him more similar to scatter-brained Gepetto (also an inventor of sorts) than Disney Dads who are there to chew the scenery. In the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, the ‘beauty’s’ father has a much bigger role to play and half of the story is from his point-of-view. While his relationship with Belle is a huge part of the heart of the film, the team made a great decision to reduce the father’s role from the source material, so we get our protagonists together at a much faster pace. ‘Be Our Guest’ was originally sung to Maurice, in a bid to be closer to the original story (they also changed him from a merchant to a kooky inventor).

Maurice is a loving, but rather absent-minded parent; he cares a lot about Belle, but is generally inattentive towards her interests. When Belle attempts to talk to her father about how she feels as though she doesn’t fit in, he is too preoccupied with his own invention to pay her much attention. He also demonstrates a lack of understanding of his daughter’s interests when he suggests that Belle could talk to Gaston, a ‘handsome sort of fellow’.


‘And why not talk to Biff Tannen? Or Regina George? Or that guy from Edward Scissorhands … whatever his name is? They’re all handsome people’


Maurice is a rather bumbling, yet endearing character, and is consequently treated very cruelly throughout the film. Nevertheless, he is very well-meaning, and shows his love for his daughter when he pleads with her not to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner, stating that he has already lived his life and that she shouldn’t throw hers away.


Unlike this awful human being

(Special Note from Both: Check out a review of this dreadful Beauty and the Beast adaptation … what a hilariously awful looking film!

Maurice does not have much of a character arc of his own, but he is very central to the plot’s actions: after getting lost in in the woods on the way to the inventors’ fair, Maurice ends up a prisoner in the Beast’s castle …

(Special Note from Melissa: Completely his own fault. As we’ve learned from Black Beauty, ALWAYS LISTEN TO THE HORSE! He completely ignores Philippe the horse’s suggestion of taking the prettier, safer looking route, and then later passive-aggressively asks ‘Where have you taken us Philippe?’ Ugh that was YOU Maurice!)

… after Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner, he inadvertently trigger’s Gaston’s villainous plot, by raving to the townspeople about the Beast (truly not doing himself any favours); and after Belle and the Beast share a romantic evening together, concern for her father’s wellbeing draws Belle away from the castle – which could very easily have resulted in the entire household staff remaining cursed forever.


Nice job idiot!


Lefou is Gaston’s diminutive sidekick and lackey, who constantly sucks up to his ultra-macho companion. Constantly praising Gaston’s prowess as a hunter and an alpha male, even though there doesn’t seem to be anything in it for him – seemingly hoping that his credibility will improve if he’s seen to be hanging around with everyone’s hero.

(Special Note from David: There’s a definite ‘law of the playground’ feel about Lefou and Gaston’s friendship)

We’ve previously lamented the sidekicks to the main villains being too irritating, to the extent that they undermine the villain’s credibility. Fortunately, Lefou – though irritating by design – manages to be the right kind of annoying (a difficult balance to get right) and serves as an entertaining secondary character. There’s something very satisfying about seeing Lefou get punched, which is a satisfaction shared by the animators. A loyal spaniel to Gaston, Lefou even waits outside in the snow for God knows how long, for Belle and Maurice to return.

His design is noticeably cartoony when compared to all of the other human characters, and this is utilised to its fullest effect each time that Gaston clobbers him. For the bulk of the running time, he provides comic relief, but during the ‘Mob Song’ and the subsequent attack on the castle, he is briefly seen in a more outright villainous manner. His ultimate fate is unknown, but it’s unlikely that he’ll take Gaston’s place as the town’s hero.

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(Special Note from Melissa: Perhaps Gaston actually lived as landing on Lefou softened the blow …)

(Special Note from David: Absorbing the impact) 

Howard Ashman apparently came up with the idea that the staff were transformed into household objects, as opposed to the objects themselves being enchanted and non-speaking (this is evidenced in the original 20-minute opening). However, we assume that the objects in the castle are a combination of real human staff and lifeless objects that have been enchanted by the curse – Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee style:


We wonder if they were inspired by Bedknobs and Broomsticks for the furniture fight the mob scene?

Otherwise, Beast would have a ridiculously large number of staff, and besides why would so many of them not have (or barely have) faces? But does that mean those ‘characters’ go back to being inanimate objects afterwards? It’s mind-boggling when you think deeply about it …

The main household staff could all very easily have fallen into formulaic, ‘safe’, character types: the womanising Frenchman, the stuffy Englishman, and the elderly English Tea lady. It is a real testament to the filmmakers, therefore, that the characters have become so beloved – the ways in which they are animated, written and performed really makes them stand out. Although like comic book super villains, their names are hilariously on the nose – how convenient it is that they were already called Mrs Potts, Lumiere, Cogsworth and Chip – God help anyone in the castle whose name was Monsieur Flushington or Madame Toilette.


This character, let’s call her Madame Fawcett, is a contender for the most miserable looking member of staff … doesn’t help that Mrs Potts jollily bobbles around her with the freedom of movement

Much like Maurice, none of the household staff go through character arcs of their own per se, but they all have their parts to play within the story. They are all affected by the curse (we assume that while the Beast does age, they don’t, so they could also be dealing with the conflict of immortality), and consequently they are invested in the romance between Belle and the Beast because so much is at stake. However, their interest is more for selfish reasons (justifiable, but selfish nonetheless). With the exception of the naïve young Chip, none of the household staff ever refer to Belle by her name, because to them she is simply a means to an end (they refer to Belle as ‘her’, ‘she’ ‘the girl’, etc) – ‘Someday the girl will come …’

While Beast does not have anyone as emotionally invested in him, this does change progressively when he mellows out and consequently there are some lovely moments when the staff are rooting for their master – when Mrs Potts gives him tough love, and when Lumiere gives him romantic advice. Although before that, when they have to walk on eggshells around him, they end up treating the Beast like he’s stupid sometimes.


‘Uh, master. Have you thought that, perhaps, this girl could be the one to break the spell?’

(Special Note from Melissa: Seriously Lumiere, what did you think he was going to do, eat her?)


Lumiere and Cogsworth are one of the best Disney comedy double-acts, and they have a very amusing repartee in their love-hate relationship. Delightfully enough, Nik Ranieri and Will Finn who animated the respective characters, had a very similar relationship to the bickering couple with similar personality traits, hence why they were assigned these roles. They even played up to this by acting out Lumiere and Cogsworth’s final scene as live action reference.


Interestingly enough, Cogsworth was written with John Cleese in mind, but he turned it down to play the villain in An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. David Ogden Stiers plays the role fantastically, with for the most part, a very solid accent, but we did hear the occasional slip (the way he says ‘process’ gives him away). The late Jerry Orbach delivers his role with superb energy – but not being French, we’re less likely to notice accent slips!


Mrs Potts often acts as a kind-hearted – yet no-nonsense – voice of experience; offering advice to the Beast, and reassurance to the rest of the staff. Angela Lansbury plays the role incredibly well, seeming a natural fit for the character (she was one of Ashman’s only choices to play the part). It is very nice to have Lansbury return to Disney, twenty years after Bedknobs and Broomsticks, to be a part of such an iconic feature.


We’ll never forget your positive moves


Funnily enough though, Mrs Potts steamrolling Cogsworth to offer Maurice a cup of tea reminds us more of Irish hospitality than English hospitality. Actually had Beauty and the Beast been released later in the 1990s – how could this casting NOT have happened?


Chip is an interesting little character. Originally, he was a one-line part, but apparently, Bradley Pierce’s vocal performance was so cute that they expanded his role.


And consequently deleted this mute musical box character … BYE!


As we have discussed before when chatting about child characters in Disney films, Chip could easily have been an annoying character, but he’s not; he genuinely is a sweet kid, and thankfully not overused (or using pop cultural or dated vernacular … shudder). Again, he is the only one of the household objects to refer to Belle by name and he actually plays a surprisingly significant role in the climax. However we must point out, is Mrs Potts actually Chip’s mother? He calls her ‘Mama’ but she does seem a little old to be his mother … Plus, who are Chip’s brothers and sisters? Does Mrs Potts have a favourite? Does Chip have a literal ‘chip’ on the side of his head? Did Mrs Potts give birth to all of the children or did she adopt them? Or are they just ‘enchanted’ – not actually real children (yikes!)? Or perhaps they’re a ring of Lumiere’s illegitimate offspring. We’ll never know.


(Special Note from David: But then they’d all be little candles)

(Special Note from Melissa: Or little tealights)

When cornered by the mob they protect the castle by beating them up in a variety of comic and deadly ways (seriously deadly!), demonstrating the revolutionary spirit of the staff.


Watch out Beast and Belle, Chip may work out that Maurice’s invention could be rather useful in an uprising  and tell everyone all about it …

Why do the knights with roving eyes not help out in the battle? Seriously they would have been useful, as shown (again) in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.


By the way, the Battle is a strange one … overall it has a slapstick comic style, and yet we have shots like this:


Like the Beast transforming back into human form, it is surreal seeing the staff as themselves, as like the Beast, we are used to seeing them a certain way. We leave them with Lumiere realising that after years without certain ‘parts’, he can now get down to business with Babette after she grazes him with her actual feather duster (no metaphors here).


‘It is not ok that I’m aroused by this?’

However, he ends up ‘clock-blocked’ by Cogsworth


No matter Lumiere, Cogsworth will probably perish in a few days when he realises that all of his internal organs are either missing or in the wrong place – his cogs fall out a lot during the film.


‘That’s gonna hurt if this spell ever gets broken’

They tease a possible romance between Mrs Potts and Maurice.


‘I’d take tea over coffee any day’

Anyone we’ve missed? Yes! Despite featuring in only two scenes, Monsieur D’Arque makes such an impression with his sinister design …


… and Tony Jay’s fantastic voice work (he called it his ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ voice). In fact he makes such an impression that Jay was offered a much larger (and influential) role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame – more to come on Jay. Madame de la Grande Bouche is a fun character and it’s a shame that she doesn’t feature more (and that we don’t see her human form at the end … what’s her story?). Also we’ll give a shout out to the footstool dog – a voiceless character that is cute … just for being a dog.

Artwork and Imagery

The film’s artwork is very striking, paying homage to the style of the Golden Age, and yet feeling entirely new, aided by the CAPS system. The main locations within the film are fully realised and contrast with one another effectively as the action switches back and forth, from Belle’s town to the Beast’s Castle. At the beginning, the village is seen in a golden, autumnal daylight; while the Beast’s castle is dark, cavernous and filled with mystery. As the action progresses, the castle becomes brighter and more accessible, while the village is painted in a more sinister light – the lighting in the village scenes gets darker, such as when Gaston speaks to Monsieur D’Arque in the very dimly-lit tavern. The two worlds collide during the finale, which brings the darkness back to the Castle, before the closing moments when the enchantment is lifted and the Castle is seen in total brightness. Lighting is excellent!

Here are some particularly beautiful shots:

The iconic ballroom sequence is noted for its innovative use of CGI (and other scenes too of course), especially as the camera sweeps around the characters. As the years have gone by, it’s hard not to notice the use of CGI but it doesn’t negatively impact the film.

The animation really stands out with some of the most memorable character designs to date. Special mention has to go to Glen Keane (as ever) for his work on Beast. It is another masterpiece! While Robbie Benson gives so much to the character through his vocal performance, some of the most outstanding moments for the character come through his changes in expression at key moments in the plot: when Belle offers to take her father’s place, and when he makes the decisions to let Belle go and later Gaston. Keane said that he had had enough of Beauty and the Beast beasts looking like they were alien creatures – he wanted the beast to look like something of our world. After extensive research (including many zoo visits and trips to the local taxidermy), the Beast became a hybrid creature formed of a gorilla’s brow, a bison’s head, a wolf’s legs, a lion’s mane and a bear’s body, and with the eyes of a human (into the soul of the Prince).

The Beast’s final design as a human is constantly a source of debate – the consensus seems to be that (ironically) most audiences preferred his look as a beast. Even critics were miffed:

Janet Maslin. The New York Times. ‘… the Beast is ultimately revealed to be a paragon of bland handsomeness beneath his glowering exterior’

Dave Kehr. The Chicago Tribune. ‘In a rush of uncertainly executed shooting stars, the Beast is reborn as a rubbery-faced Tom Cruise clone. The sense of anticlimax is overwhelming’.

John Hartl. The Seattle Times. ‘The major problem with Beauty and the Beast isn’t unique to the Disney animators, who have not quite managed to pull off the Beast’s inevitable transformation at film’s end (they’ve never had much luck with those bland Prince Charmings anyway). You may feel the way Greta Garbo did when she emerged from Jean Cocteau’s live-action 1946 version. “Give me back my Beast,” she is reported to have said’.

The filmmakers themselves even said that they knew that no design that they came up with would please everyone because audiences had fallen in love with the Beast (‘Who’s this guy???’ … ‘I want my bison!’), not … this:


Perhaps darker hair might have felt closer to our Beast?


We realised through capturing screenshots that he briefly has facial hair … and ginormous eyebrows

(Special Note from Melissa: It reminds me of the end of Grease when Sandy appears post-makeover. When I was little, it used to baffle me as it didn’t look anything like her and I missed the old Sandy!)




‘Tell me about it … stud!’

It’s also strange that the Beast, as a human, looks as ‘mature’ as he does in stained glass and in the portrait when, mathematically speaking, he was likely eleven when he was cursed. It was a major bone that Howard Ashman picked with the directors, as he felt that it was more tragic if it were a child who suffered at the hands of the enchantress – the directors imagined an Eddie Munster-like beast boy and thought it was silly – he was not impressed with their response, and apparently let them have it.

The trouble is they never quite made a final decision and in terms of story and character, he is clearly a young adolescent (which is visibly clear in the Work-in-Progress version), and yet in the final film he looks too mature. CHOOSE!

On another note, what a 90s looking kid on the left!

Another criticism we have in terms of the Beast’s imagery is that we feel like we see him too soon. When Belle says, ‘Come into the light’, we’ve already seen so much of Beast that it doesn’t seem like that much of a surprise. That early shot of him on all fours is marvellously primitive:


We wonder if they should have kept the Beast looking as animalistic as possible until Belle’s sacrifice for her father, when his true humanity does begin to emerge.

The animation during “Be Our Guest”, another Busby Berkeley-influenced number in the canon, is bright, lively and filled with spectacle, the perfect blend of animation and a big-scale stage musical number. As the song progresses it becomes more and more like a sequence out of Fantasia, which feels like a very fitting homage to the studio’s Golden Age. There are so many visual allusions to previous Disney films, particularly (shockingly enough!) Pit of Despair age film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad – there seems to be a lot of inspiration there in the Brom/Gaston comparison, the similar-looking settings of the tavern and the village, and the rather dark tone. Even though it was added in years later, “Human Again” marks the return of Walt’s dancing brooms – another nod to the studio’s legacy. Because “Human Again” was inserted into the film a decade later, the animation does look somewhat different from the rest of the animation in the film, rather like when watching an episode of an animated series from one season and then, immediately afterwards, watching one from a much later season – it does jar a little.

For all of its triumphs, there are a few shortcomings in the animation: unfortunately, the ending to the film feels a little lifeless as it is simply a redressed version of the ending to Sleeping Beauty – try not to look to closely at the main character’s faces, and ignore the fact that none of the other characters move at all. Cut corners and time pressures are very clear in specific moments, particularly in background characters. Another noticeable hiccup occurs during the scenes between Belle and Maurice, when Belle’s face suddenly becomes huge – inconsistency between artists perhaps?

(Special Note from David: It’s very hard to ignore once you’ve seen it; I call it “Belle’s Big Weird Face”)

One of the film’s most striking moments in terms of artwork and imagery is the Beast’s transformation. We’ve had a multitude of these in Disney and they tend to all be amazing, from the Queen’s 1931 Jekyll-Hyde-inspired transformation into a hag, to Lampwick’s horrific metamorphosis into a donkey, to Cinderella’s rags morphing into a gorgeous ballgown (Walt’s favourite shot), to Ariel’s dangerous transition from mermaid into woman. Glen Keane did not want the transformation to be a ‘suddenly the Prince appears’ like it’s a magic trick – he wanted the audience to actually see the process. The transformation itself reminds us of an artistic representation of Jimmy Stewart’s romantic speech to Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life:

‘And the moonbeams will shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair’

Just beautiful.


The soundtrack to Beauty and the Beast has become one of the most recognisable and iconic within the entire canon, but it might never have existed at all if the original plans for the film had gone ahead. A lot of this can be attributed to the success of The Little Mermaid, which proved that there was a lot of momentum in the animated musical genre, and the plans for Beauty to be a non-musical were scrapped. Ironically, at this point in the canon (and to be honest, likely to date!), it is the closest film in tone and style to a Broadway musical.

(Special Note from David: I don’t always agree with Jeffrey Katzenberg, but he had a big say in this decision, and consequently Beauty and the Beast ended up being a lot more like The Little Mermaid and less like The Rescuers Down Under, which has to be considered a good thing!)

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were brought in to weave their magic once more and sadly this would be the last full soundtrack that they would create together.

(Special Note from Both: The duo worked on Aladdin too, in conjunction with this, but many of Ashman’s songs would not be used in the final film – we’ll talk about that in more detail next time)

Menken’s score, marked specifically in the opening theme, is clearly inspired by ‘Aquarium’ from Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals and we associate this theme with the Beast. Perhaps the choice of ‘Aquarium’ could be drawn from the notion that the Beast is in his own ‘aquarium’, stared at by others – a young man trapped in a beast’s body/aquarium, when he should be free. Belle’s theme is drawn from the ‘Isn’t this amazing’ strain from the opening song, ‘Belle’, as she steps into a world that’s the stuff of the books that she reads. They are both beautifully striking themes that run through the score, with the former evoking haunting vibes, and the latter peaceful and majestic all at once.

On the soundtrack, ‘Transformation’ and ‘The Beast Lets Belle Go’ are both exquisitely poignant, with the former taking us to such a low point in its tragedy, only to rise up to pure wonder and victory. The original track for the viola-led ‘Death of the Beast’ features on the soundtrack and we must point it out, as it is gorgeously tragic and beautiful. Perhaps it may have been perceived as too sad, reflecting the mood at Disney at that point. The ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme, like the ‘Part of Your World’ theme is the heart and centre of the film’s tone, and really does resonate – it sticks with you always. The first time we hear the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme is when Belle sees the rose interestingly enough. It is a beautiful score that truly captures the darkness and wonder of the film’s tone. Only Menken’s second score, he really entered the cinema’s music industry as a composer on a high – we have loved his first two scores.

“Belle” is written in the style of an Operetta – very Gilbert and Sullivan-esque – a number which frequently transitions between song and spoken dialogue. It is the closest that Disney has ever come to emulating the stage musical in the opening number. At just over five minutes in length, it covers a great deal of ground from a storytelling standpoint, introducing the film’s heroine, the townspeople, and the antagonist. We learn that Belle doesn’t fit in with the villagers, and that they in-turn misunderstand her for being non-conformist. Gaston is also introduced, along with his motivation of wanting to marry Belle – which will drive his actions throughout the narrative. In other words, it’s a delightfully put together exposition dump.

(Special Note from Both: In a quarter of the time more has been established than in Richard Purdum’s original 20-minute opening)

The tune is reprised slightly later on, except this time Belle is alone and is allowed to be the entire focus – it is the closest that she gets to having her own number – the ‘I Want’ song. She had previously mentioned her dissatisfaction with the life she was living, and this time she seems more determined to find something new – vague enough to reach twenty-somethings like us.


The music swells and then doubles in scale as the entire orchestra are brought into play, and the visuals are reminiscent of the opening to The Sound of Music as Belle dances, open-armed, at the top of a hill.

“Gaston” is a bawdy drinking song with homoerotic flourishes, instigated by Lefou in order to cheer up Gaston following Belle’s rejection of his proposal, by telling him how great he is. Very quickly everyone in the tavern joins in, and Gaston is such an ego-maniac that he gets caught up in the number too – ‘As a specimen yes I’m intimidating’ – modest. It is surprisingly like a waltz, underlined with French themes, as if it could be titled ‘Waltz for Gaston’ or ‘Ode to Gaston’. Musically the tune begins with quite a melancholic strain, before giving way to a lively ‘oom-pah-pah’ rhythm, while the lyrics are filled with enjoyably comic witticisms that we have come to expect from Ashman’s writing style, as well as the occasional not-so-subtle innuendos.


Could it be anymore euphemistic?

Just … these lyrics – these lyrics: ‘Every last inch of me’s covered with hair / ‘Then goes tromping around wearing boots like Gaston’ / ‘I use antlers in all of my decorating’ / ‘When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs every morning to help me get large’. HA! The lyrics are so ridiculous that it almost sounds like running out of ideas and just coming out with the silliest things possible – wonderful.

Sung fantastically by Jesse Corti and Richard White, this could be considered the film’s ‘Villain Song’ but for the most part it is rather light-hearted, goofy and comic. That said the Gaston Reprise marks the beginning of Gaston’s transition from blockheaded jerk into violently obsessive psychopath, still hilariously written – ‘No one plots like Gaston, takes cheap shots like Gaston, plans to persecute harmless crackpots like Gaston’.



 “Be Our Guest” could be considered a filler-number as far as the story is concerned (especially since the song was originally sung to Maurice – technically closer to the source material) but it does provide some exposition for the household staff – proving that there’s more people wound up in this plot than just Belle and the Beast. It is the most extravagant musical number in the entire film, and perhaps the most well-known song from the film’s soundtrack (with the possible exception of the title track). It is a number that allows the artists and animators to show off, decorated metaphorically with the indulgence of a wedding cake, which would not have been conceivable ten-years prior. If you do consider it to be filler, it compensates for it by being entertaining and incredibly catchy. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury sing with such glee and delight that it’s infectious, with the former laying on the young Maurice Chevalier in his performance. It offers a true sense of so much pent up repression and energy in the characters in their being allowed finally to break free of their mundanity and just do something – resulting in over-the-top service and ending appropriately with corks popping and fizz spilling – an orgasmic finish.


Baz Luhrmann must have been inspired by both Be Our Guest and Gaston when he created this number

(Special Note from Melissa: Although there is something rather awkward about the notion of servants only living to serve … because clearly they have no other desires of their own)

We came across an amusing story on Howard Ashman’s website (please check it out – it’s a wonderful read). Animator, Nik Ranieri, went on a huge rant to Ashman one day about how he heard these demos for a new project, Beauty and the Beast, and that the songs were absolutely awful, nothing next to the brilliance of The Little Mermaid … slowly he realised that Ashman wrote the songs … yikes. Consequently, the song that he dissed the most, ‘Be Our Guest’, was ironically the song he would have most to do with as he was given Lumiere to animate. Careful what you say!

“Something There” was a late addition to the film (written to replace the deleted ‘Human Again’), but it feels entirely necessary as it skilfully illustrates the growing affections between Belle and Beast. We hear Robbie Benson’s normal non-Beast voice for the first time (sung internally within the Beast’s mind) as he starts to feel hopeful-yet-melancholic- his gentle tones remind us of the Prince inside. There is a reprisal of Belle’s musical motif – which was initially heard during the opening number as she sang about Prince Charming in the story she was reading – as she has now encountered a Prince Charming (of sorts) of her own. Her motif changes lyrically to ‘new and a bit alarming’ – one of Ashman’s final notes when he was very ill as he listened in over the phone from hospital was ‘Tell Paige … Streisand’ – they immediately got it – ‘New and a bit alarming’. The tune has a very childlike, Christmassy-feel to it, although this is a little problematic as it incorrectly gives the impression that months have passed by, when it has actually only been a couple of days.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a remarkable song, which immediately manages to solidify itself amongst the timeless songs from the canon. The tune sounds like a piece of classical music which feels like it has always existed (very much ‘as old as time’) and works effectively with or without the lyrics.  Lansbury’s performance of the song is akin to Cliff Edwards’ version of “When You Wish Upon A Star” – it will never be topped no matter who sings it. Initially Lansbury was reluctant, as the demo sounded too pop-like in Menken’s style, but Ashman acted out the song more like how a little English tea lady would sing it, sent her that demo, and she felt reassured. Lansbury got it in one take.

It is musically the heart and soul of the entire film – beautiful, elegant, intimate and yet soaring all at once – a burst of emotional musicality. So simple and yet so impactful, it is a song about true love. Lyrically, the song does not have Ashman’s usual wryness. Like when Shakespearean characters who usually speak in delightful, witty prose, suddenly change to verse, this is Ashman figuratively changing from prose to verse. It is as simply sincere as ever with no witty or ironic inserts. Something has changed, and it is beautiful and yet sad all at once.

Far more of a Villain Song than his earlier number, “Mob Song” fittingly demonstrates how much of a dangerous adversary Gaston has become over the course of the film. Upon discovering that Belle has feelings for the Beast, Gaston manages to rally the entire village together to hunt down the Beast and kill him. There is an impressive ominous pulse which builds in intensity throughout, as the villagers make their way from Belle’s house to the Beast’s castle. Ashman shows off his skill with lyrics and allusions, by throwing in references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth (‘Screw your courage to the sticking place’) and also a 1920s Cole Porter musical (‘Fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong’) all the while creating a powerful sensation that something huge is about to happen. It is truly a dark horse number as it never seems to be anyone’s favourite, but it is fantastically executed in its intensity and power.

Finally, just a quick note on “Human Again” – a song which was originally cut from the film, but then added back in years later for the film’s re-release in IMAX and subsequent VHS and DVD releases – impressively all of the necessary cast members were able to reprise their roles. It begins as a gorgeous, intimate little waltz, complete with accordion for Lumiere, and develops into a full ensemble burst of exultation, as they tidy the castle up, Disney style:


But they keep the animals OUT this time

The song does not add much to the story, but it once again reminds us that the fates of all the household staff are linked to that of the Beast. The tune is lively and upbeat, although tragedy runs through the lyrics, as they demonstrate everything that all of these characters have missed out on for more than a decade. It is the ensemble’s ‘I want’ song – and it is delightful to hear what they want to do afterwards. It is a ‘when the war is over’ song too, inevitably reminding us of conflict-driven France in the two World Wars – ‘I’ll be cooking again, be good looking again, with a mademoiselle on each arm’ could be straight from a soldier’s mouth. ‘When the world once more starts making sense’ … true indeed.

It is the first Disney animated feature to start a trend that is a pet peeve of ours … ending the film with a pop version of the film’s main song over the credits … argh. Lansbury’s version is so much lovelier, and while Celine Dion (who was a rising star at this stage) and Peabo Bryson are both talented singers … it’s just so sickly sweet and 90s power ballad to the max. Lansbury’s version is wonderful and stands the test of time (many critics agreed and much-preferred Lansbury’s version to the power ballad version). We understand that it is for financial and marketing reasons – after all it reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, but … argh we’re just not fans … and we’re aware that it will not go away for at least a few years. Gah.


The Beauty and the Beast story is quite honestly a ‘tale as old as time’. As we said in the opening, while the fairy tale was written in the 18th century, the story in different forms has been around for approximately 4000 years. The original 20-minute opening that they presented was much closer to the 18th century source material – Belle is not an only child, Maurice is a merchant, and they become down on their luck financially and have to downsize. In 20 minutes, we do not see the Beast, and we see very little of Belle – already a huge problem, when animated films around that time were usually 70-80 minutes long on average. Gaston is a fop conspiring with a horrible auntie-figure that comes to live with the family for Belle to marry him because MONEY. While there is an incredibly moving moment involving a music box (check it out if you can – it resulted in a gasp from one of us), it is a very filler-heavy opening, and we’re glad that it was ultimately scrapped, especially since no songs were planned for that version. How sad the musical world would be without ‘I use antlers in all of my DECORATING’.

Disney offers yet another sharp, witty script with solid gags that becomes incredibly moving as the film progresses. Smart changes were made in the adaptation process, and clearly effort and thought went in: e.g. the symbolism of the rose (in the original story, the Beast was furious that the merchant took a rose from his garden); the origin story of the Beast (in the original, he was an innocent, cursed because an evil fairy was miffed that the Prince would not make love to her); the enchanted objects being cursed staff (very similar to the dwarfs having specific character traits, Disney put their own spin on a blank canvas of an idea and made it into something very compelling and memorable) …


Hello Mr Sugar Bowl from The Sword in the Stone by the way

… ; Belle being a reader; the inclusion of a misogynistic yet ‘loved by all’ villain, and many more.

The story is a very mature one, up there with Lady and the Tramp. The film is a romantic drama/comedy that, in many ways, would not be out of place in a live action film or television series. While it is most certainly a romance, it is also a coming-of-age story for the Beast’s character (Disney loves those old Bildungsroman narratives don’t they?). In a way, it’s an allegory for coming out of the awful, hormonal adolescent years into level-headed maturity. It’s a make-over story too, as we giddily pointed out (Beast does go from walking on four legs, barely dressing and unable to eat with a spoon to Fred Astairing his way around the ballroom in a suit … also he successfully eats with a spoon – growth). The film also has an upstairs-downstairs vibe about it in that the servants’ dramas unfold in connection with the ‘masters’ (like Downton Abbey or er Upstairs Downstairs).

However, there are problems in terms of story in Beauty and the Beast. The film does have plot holes, particularly in its timeline. The weather is … extreme to the extent that audiences to this day are still confused on the timings of the film. At the beginning, it’s autumn, then it’s winter, then seemingly at the end it’s spring … all in the space of a few days.


It seems like they didn’t always think things through, or they would start with an idea, and then forget about it, realise ‘oh no that doesn’t make sense’ and then go ‘oh well no one will notice it’s fine’. The crazy timeline is one of the reasons why ‘Human Again’ was originally cut as they discussed the lengthy passage of time in the lyrics. But there was a major problem – so Maurice is wandering around looking for Belle for weeks? So Lefou is sitting outside of their house for months? It didn’t make sense, so they cut the song (and fixed the song so it fit the timeline when it was re-inserted), but even now, it seems a little off, mainly due to the seasons … but then again, it could be the ‘enchantment’ of the castle that is causing mad weather.

Again, concerning time, this enchantment took place 10 years ago? 10 years is … a long time. 10 years ago, we were 16 and 17 – a LOT has changed since then! The Beast, as we said, was 11, and the condition was that he needed to find requited love before his 21st year … pressure. What have he and the staff been doing these past 10 years? How did no one pass by the castle in a decade? Is Maurice stopping by truly the first time they’d had a guest since the enchantment? Especially since ‘You’ve come to stare at the beast’ makes it sound like this has happened before. Where’s the food coming from? How do the villagers not remember that there was a Prince living in a castle nearby a mere 10 years ago?


Are they in a JJ Abrams style ‘Lost’ bubble, where no one is able to see it until the enchantress conveniently decides to let someone through … because cheating?


How were Gaston and the ‘fifty Frenchmen’ able to find the castle so speedily? There are a number of deus-ex-machinas in the film from Maurice’s invention to the magic mirror – we guess the magic mirror showed them the way?

The story is formed through a question – ‘Who could ever learn to love a beast?’ This is immediately followed by the title, so we assume it’s the ‘beauty’ who learns to love the ‘beast’. In fact, likely the young lady that we immediately see in the next shot.

Unless they were trying to tease that Gaston would be the beauty that would learn to love the beast.


‘Here in town there’s only he who’s as beautiful as me’

David’s Verdict

I often find it difficult to talk about the really good Disney films, as it is much easier to critique a film’s failings than it is to heap on additional praise. I have approached every film in the canon with the intention of enjoying them, and some films have met those expectations, whilst others have disappointed. Beauty and the Beast is a film I had seen a few times before, and so I already knew that it was really good, and it is also a film which is generally accepted as one of the best Disney films. Therefore, there’s not much left to say in praise of it, which hasn’t been said before. When reviewing The Little Mermaid we both felt that there was a lot more to say about the film, defending the characters and plot-elements which often came under fire (as well as praising the overall quality), but since Beauty and the Beast doesn’t get as much criticism, there’s not as much to say.

To keep things relatively brief, then, I’ll say this: Beauty and the Beast is rightfully acknowledged as one of Disney’s best films, and the production team who created it really embody the idea of the ‘Perfect Storm’ with all of the right components in place at the right time. I really like the two leads, I think that Gaston is a great antagonist (being both hilarious and imposing in equal measure) I enjoy the whole supporting cast, and the soundtrack is one of the studio’s best ever.

One final point I’d like to make: working on this blog has really brought to my attention how much of a contribution Howard Ashman made to the Disney Renaissance (arguably the most successful period in the studio’s history). Obviously he wasn’t solely responsible for all of the success, but I really don’t think that he gets enough recognition for the contributions he made. In the space of a few years, Howard Ashman helped to create two of the most beloved, and enduring Disney Animated Classics in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and it’s heart-breaking to think that he never got to see Beauty and the Beast finished. It’s also upsetting to think of what he might have created had he not passed away so young. Disney movies are renowned for having iconic sad moments, from the Seven Dwarves weeping over Snow White’s dead body, to the death of Bambi’s mother, and many more still to come in the canon, but for me one of the saddest is the dedication to Howard at the end of the credits for Beauty and the Beast.

Melissa’s Verdict

Beauty and the Beast was a film that I did grow up with, but I never owned it on VHS (likely borrowed or rented). I was in a panto version of the fairy tale when I was 9 (it had practically nothing to do with the film … in the slightest) which got me thinking about the film again – a few years later I bought the platinum DVD (it was my first Disney DVD) and it had a huge impact on me at the time. At that stage, I’d gone off current Disney and felt disillusioned with what they were releasing. Watching Beauty and the Beast after not having seen it for many years, I was completely spellbound – it was the first time I truly grasped how amazing Disney animation was – the skill and artistry that went into these films began to sink in – in writing, artwork, characters and music. It made me want to revisit the old Disney classics again, so I’m always grateful to Beauty and the Beast for having that impact on me.

Watching it again for The Disney Odyssey, and seeing the films that came before it in date order, its impact has not diminished. I love the musical theatre feel of Beauty and the Beast – the songs are fantastic, the protagonists are engaging, the antagonist is simultaneously dark and hilarious, it looks visually stunning and the script is really strong. The story does have some plot holes here and there and background characters can look a little iffy from time to time, but they do feel minor in juxtaposition to what the film excels in. The voice acting and character designs complement each other wonderfully – Glen Keane, Mark Henn (and James Baxter!) and Andreas Deja particularly stand out for their work on Beast, Belle and Gatson – the ‘love’ triangle. The voice work for all of the characters are excellent, and I can’t even point anyone out specifically because they’re all brilliant – a true ensemble cast. The relationship between Belle and Beast is one of the more mature ones in the canon, and the film touches upon troubling and dark themes from everyday sexism in the Gaston plot to the sinister cruelty of the enchantment – more than I had ever realised! Alan Menken and Howard Ashman have triumphed again in their score and songs – it’s sad to think that this is the last film in which all of the songs are co-created by this amazing creative partnership (at least Aladdin has some!). As David said, doing The Disney Odyssey has reminded me of how important Ashman was in the creative drive of the Renaissance Era – and it was hard not to well up at the end of the credits. Beauty and the Beast is an excellent film, which made me laugh and feel moved all at once. Although I still wonder .. which do I prefer – Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid? Will have to think about that …


Beauty and the Beast ultimately left behind a huge legacy – it was the first full-length animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (it lost to The Silence of the Lambs), and to win Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) at the Golden Globes – what a triumph! It was also the first since Mary Poppins to be nominated for Best Picture from Walt Disney Pictures and the first musical since All That Jazz. Let’s not forget that Gregory Peck advocated for The Jungle Book to be nominated for Best Picture, leading him to resign from his position as President of the Academy when he was unsuccessful. Until Up and later Toy Story 3 were nominated, Beauty and the Beast was the only one (it still is the only one to be nominated in a selection of five films and the only hand-drawn film) … but an animated film has never won, likely not helped by the Best Animated Feature category, which was introduced in 2001.

Beauty and the Beast was nominated for four Academy Awards in total, Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Music, Original Song for ‘Belle’, and Best Music, Original Song for ‘Be Our Guest’. The film won Best Music, Original Song for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Best Music, Original Score. Beauty and the Beast was also nominated for BAFTAs, Saturn Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Grammy Awards, Hugo Awards, and PGA Awards. It won Golden Globes for Original Score and Original Song, Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature and Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Field of Animation for Glen Keane (YES! YOU STAR!), an ASCAP Award, a BMI Film Music Award, DFWFCA Awards, a Golden Screen Award, Grammy Awards, a KCFCC Award, a LAFCA Award, a Golden Reel Award, a National Board of Review Award, a National Film Preservation Board Award, and a Young Artist Award … in a nutshell, they did rather well didn’t they?

Worldwide, the film made $451,421,625 at the box office … double what The Little Mermaid made. The film also received huge critical acclaim. It was even previewed at the New York Film Festival in September 1991 as a work-in-progress, with 70% of the film complete and 30% consisting of storyboard reels and pencil and computer tests – the first time Disney has ever made such a bold move – they presented an unfinished Disney film to an audience of adults. That audience gave the film a standing ovation. Wow.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, ‘Lightning has definitely struck twice. With Beauty and the Beast, a tender, seamless and even more ambitious film than its predecessor, Disney has done something no one has done before: combine the latest computer animation techniques with the best of Broadway … It is more darkly forbidding and at times more violent than the average animated children’s fable’. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times said that the film ‘like 1989’s The Little Mermaid, reflects a new energy and creativity from the Disney animation people … A lot of ‘children’s movies’ seem to expect people to buy tickets by default, because of what the movie doesn’t contain (no sex, vulgarity, etc.). Beauty and the Beast reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too’. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune wrote, ‘More than just a terrific animated film for children, Beauty and the Beast revives the American movie musical, building on the success of the Oscar-winning The Little Mermaid … The beautiful title song, performed poignantly by the richly textured voice of Angela Lansbury, makes the case for all lovers to look past their partners` faults and into their hearts’. The Seattle Times’s John Hartl called it ‘a model of clear, precise storytelling, of state-of-the-art technique used to advance a story rather than show off’.

The Washington Post’s Hal Hinson called it ‘a delightfully satisfying modern fable, a near-masterpiece that draws on the sublime traditions of the past while remaining completely in sync with the sensibility of its time … For the first time in a Disney cartoon, you don’t feel as if you’ve slipped into a time warp … There’s even a kind of impudence in the comedy; you don’t feel clobbered with wholesomeness … The storytelling is brisk and engaging, the animation imaginative and deeply textured, the music and the production numbers sublime. Let’s not mince words — it’s great.’ Hinson however disliked the Beast, saying he cannot compare to the Jean Cocteau Beast: ‘This Beast …  seems completely lacking in poetry. He’s a lunk without either mystery or pathos … he’s precisely what the rest of the movie isn’t — dimensionless.’

There were also some more mixed reviews. Jay Boyar of the Orlando Sentinel wrote ‘Considered together, the songs and the incidental music form an elaborate, affecting score in the later-Sondheim mode. Much as I like Beauty and the Beast, I think I would have preferred it if its dark parts had even been darker … But to give Beauty and the Beast an even harder edge might have been too big a commercial risk for Disney’. Michael Sragow of the New Yorker wrote, ‘It’s got storytelling vigour and clarity, bright, eclectic animation, and a frisky musical wit … Throughout, the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken score is clever and fluid in the best Lerner-and-Loewe manner, with flashes of oddball humour that keep everything light and bouncy. (Gaston’s theme song trumps ‘C’est Moi’, from Camelot) … There isn’t anything particularly haunting, and not all the script’s variations are fresh. But this is easily the zippiest Disney cartoon feature in the thirty-one years since 101 Dalmatians’.

Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune’s review is one of the more negative reviews that we came across. He dismissed the frequency of Disney animated film releases: ‘The new Disney management, recognizing the perennial value of a “classic“ cartoon, has been encouraging their production at a breakneck pace, with uneven and sometimes slapdash results … several miles short of the genuine Disney classics of the `30s, `40s and `50s … the film has little of the technical facility, vivid characterization and emotional impact of Disney past’.

Beauty and the Beast, referred to by critics as the best Broadway show that wasn’t even on Broadway, inevitably became a Broadway show (starting a huge trend for Disney over the coming years … it also confirmed the Beast’s name for good). It opened at the Palace Theatre in 1994 and it ran until 2007 – the film was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical and it received mixed critical reviews. To date (2016), it is the ninth longest running Broadway show in history.

It was released in IMAX in 2002 (and on Platinum DVD), and ‘Human Again’ was inserted into the film after being such a success on Broadway – the creators were inspired by the edits made to the early Star Wars films to do the same for Beauty and the Beast!

Beauty and the Beast is No. 7 on the AFI’s list of Top 10 Animation films, No. 22 for Greatest Movie Musicals, No. 34 for 100 Passions and No. 62 in 100 Songs for ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In 2002, it was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.

A live-action film, as we speak now, is on its way in March 2017 (two years after Cinderella), starring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere (now we like Ewan McGregor but oh God have you heard his accent in the teaser trailer? Even he said in an interview recently that his French accent, despite being married to a French woman, is dreadful), Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and Josh Gad as Lefou …


Frozen crossover dreams come true for many we’re sure …

Beauty and the Beast, despite its enormous success, will always be  bittersweet and etched in sadness as it coincided with the death of Howard Ashman from AIDS at the age of 40. At the Academy Awards, Ashman received his Oscar posthumously – his partner, Bill Lauch, accepted it on his behalf. In multiple documentaries, it’s really moving when everyone that worked with him recounts their final days and weeks with him. 25 years have gone by since the release of the film and those who knew him still feel emotional when talking about him. We’ve experienced only two films in the canon that have been marked by his influence, and as of where we’re at right now, they are both currently in our Top 5s. Ashman was frequently referred to by those at Disney as another Walt – it is easy to see why. His loss was clearly felt, and we are sad that once we’ve finished Aladdin, that’ll be it for Ashman’s wonderful lyrics and his magical touch on Disney animated films. Ashman left behind a talented group of people at Disney who will go on to make amazing things (that we’re looking forward to reviewing!), but it’s still sad that he won’t be there. New York Times critic, Janet Maslin delighted in a sample of Be Our Guest lyrics and said ‘This demonstrates Mr. Ashman’s gifts as an outstandingly nimble lyricist. His death from AIDS in March at age 40 cut short a brilliant career, but the jubilant energy of his work will long live on’. Indeed it will.




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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


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.


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



‘Uh Miss Bianca … it has been 13 years since we last appeared on screen together’


‘Still superstitious nonsense’


‘Also Miss Bianca where has my superstitious nature gone? David and Melissa felt the need to put that quip in for me because that part of my personality has vanished’

For the first time in the canon, main characters are returning for a sequel, but there is a problem: despite the insistence in the ‘Making Of’ documentary that it is a ‘film about them’, Bernard and Bianca do not appear until nearly 18 minutes in, and they do not engage with Cody until close to the hour mark. They did not interact with Penny until roughly the same time in The Rescuers but in that film we meet Bernard and Bianca very early in the running time. In the sequel we meet them approximately a quarter into the film, and on top of that, it keeps cutting back between them and any number of other character – meaning that their screen time is cut down even further. This creates a dilemma when naming them as the protagonists – even though, logically speaking, they are the obvious choices, but they feel much more like supporting cast this time.

Why did we get behind Bernard and Bianca in the first film? They were perceived as underdogs within their world. The Chairman questioned their ability to complete this mission – ‘You? Miss Bianca?’ (with the added patronising comment: ‘Dear lady, this is absolutely without precedent. I mean, it’s not like the old days, when it was a man’s world. However, I suppose there has to be a first time’) and of course, ‘A janitor and a lady? Good heavens. Bless my soul’. Not only were they underestimated for their gender and social status, they were underestimated for being mice. Rufus said, ‘Two little mice? What can you do?’, Bernard had self-doubt, and even Penny questioned whether they had brought someone ‘big’ with them. In the end however, they completed the rescue mission, despite mass scepticism, and this was the film’s through-line. In The Rescuers Down Under, they do not need to prove themselves anymore – time has passed, they clearly have cases under their belts, and they are perceived as the RAS’s top agents.

So where does the film decide to take returning protagonists? The film becomes bogged down in a subplot about Bernard attempting to propose to Bianca, only to be interrupted before he can pop the question. This is a writing trope for an episode of a sitcom, not a feature film.

(Special Note from David: I had not seen the film before, but as soon as the characters appeared I groaned out loud, because I knew exactly what was going to happen, saying: “please tell me this won’t be drawn out for the whole film”)

(Special Note from Melissa: And I responded by looking sheepish – ‘Um … yes’ … There are other ways in which they could have integrated the proposal subplot in, with more tension and emotional connection between the two characters. What if Bernard loses the ring in order to rescue another? What if Bernard proposes to Bianca during a dangerous moment in which they don’t know if they will survive?)

Here is something that we wrote in our review of The Rescuers that we feel is very relevant:

‘As individual protagonists they may not be dynamic enough to hold an entire film on their own, but together they work beautifully’

‘It is a co-dependent partnership as they both rescue and protect each other from danger. In other words, there is no incompetent male or damsel in distress in this male-female pairing – it refreshingly avoids that cliché’

What we praised about them, sadly, is very limited in The Rescuers Down Under. We loved Bernard and Bianca’s co-dependant partnership, but this is not something that is sustained in the sequel. It seems as if the filmmakers wanted to make it Bernard’s story instead of Bernard and Bianca’s story – it is as if the 1970s original was a more pro-feminist film than the 1990s sequel. They are not as dynamic on their own, but as a team, they are appealing; there is not enough of them working as a team in the film. Furthermore with the addition of Jake, the dynamic duo has become a trio, and, unfortunately, a sort-of-but-not-really love triangle, which is where we lead to a flanderisation of Bernard.

Let’s consider a non-Disney sequel – Back to the Future Part II (a similar era after all). Back to the Future and The Rescuers have somewhat similar finales – after the adventure and its obstacles have taken place, the protagonists are back home, mission accomplished and all is well, until someone blasts in, with news of another mission that they need to immediately pursue. A sequel has to add further conflict to the ‘all is well’ tone of the previous film’s ending. In the case of Back to the Future Part II, Marty has suddenly gained a ‘tic’ that he didn’t have in the first film – he flips out when anyone calls him ‘a chicken’. It is incredibly goofy, but it is meant to be the source of his developmental arc, which is taken seriously. Despite previous character development, in The Rescuers Down Under, Bernard is even more insecure and feels threatened by other potential partners for Bianca, primarily Jake, although this extends out to the degree of insane implausibility:

vlcsnap-2016-02-25-21h52m07s209 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-21h52m16s528

Bernard we are sure that Wilbur is not going to have a fling with your girlfriend. We are sure that it’s not possible. Can we get a second opinion? Professor Lupin, can an albatross have a relationship with a rodent?


Thank you

Despite the development he had in the first film, they have to make this ‘love-triangle’ to give Bernard something to fight for, and this arc that he has to be tougher and more direct in order to succeed – even though he was tough and direct in the original’s climax so it feels redundant. Because Bernard’s point-of-view and arc are given more focus, Bianca has been shafted as she has been given a lot less to do. Eva Gabor still does a great job, and her character has not been flanderised (fortunately!), but she is pushed to the side and plays less of a part in the rescue. We never have any doubt that Bianca will choose to leave Bernard, and start a relationship with Jake – it is not even an issue. Jake flirts and Bernard is insecure, but Bianca treats everyone with her Bianca-esque charm and friendliness; we know she loves Bernard, and she is confident in her love for him. She stands up for him when Jake calls her faith in him a bluff. But the finale is all about Bernard proving his manliness – the climax music is titled ‘Bernard the Hero’ in the soundtrack – which really says it all. Top RAS agent, who underwent scepticism due to her gender, has now become ‘a girl worth fighting for’. It’s hard to say who of the two get the worse treatment – flanderisation or reduction?

In the original film, they are clearly the central characters, and we watch their relationship grow and develop throughout.  It could be argued that, since the characters (and their relationship) underwent a lot of development in the first film, there is not as much need to develop them further this time around. However, there still needs to be a better justification for bringing these characters back, than the one we get. Character interaction is much less nuanced, but whenever there is a fleeting moment of tender interaction between Bernard and Bianca, we really enjoyed it, because that is when they are their old selves. Their roles in this film are probably best summed up by this moment:

vlcsnap-2016-02-25-22h04m49s809 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-22h04m29s847

A sweet and genuine moment, which harkens back to the first film

But then, almost immediately the moment is literally turned upside down (for a cheap laugh) and all the focus is put on one of the other characters:


And the moment’s over


Bryan Brown, Clint Eastwood, Paul Hogan, John Mahoney, Jack Palance and Mandy Patinkin were considered for the role of McLeach.

(Special Note from Both: Consider for a moment the ‘could have been’ scenarios for this character…)


‘Hello my name is Percival McLeach. You stole my eagle. Prepare to die’

Clearly the studio was aiming high with their expectations with the villain, looking at the calibre of actor they were considering. In the end the role went to George C. Scott, who does about as good a job as can be done with material that is far from stellar. After all we know that we’re well and truly in the nineties when the film’s villain is an evil poacher, who doesn’t really have much of a motive for his actions other than ‘just because’.

McLeach is a more realistic type of villain than many of his counterparts: there is nothing grand or theatrical about his plans or actions, he is simply a selfish poacher who wants to kill or capture rare animals. A problem with this is that he is not a very entertaining character to watch – and in many ways he could be seen as a forerunner to many of Pixar’s villains (often more realistic, but consequently less entertaining).

One of the biggest problems with McLeach as the film’s villain is that he is featured too prominently throughout the film. A great many villains within the canon often appear for short bursts at a time, but McLeach gets many lengthy scenes, during which not much is accomplished. Having just seen The Little Mermaid in which Ursula wastes little time in any scene in which she appears, always moving the plot along, it seems a bit counter-productive to have a villain be so uncertain about what his plan actually is. Moreover, McLeach spends quite some time musing out-loud to himself, as he tries to figure out how to outwit a young child.

Another significant issue with McLeach is that his status as a threatening villain is frequently undermined by the presence of a comic sidekick. McLeach is too prominently featured, and so is Joanna.

Nevertheless, he does have some genuinely impressive villainous moments, such as gleefully admitting to Cody that he killed Marahute’s mate; then capturing Cody and leading everyone else to believe that he was eaten by crocodiles.


And only a TRULY EVIL person would do this

He also succeeds in capturing Marahute, and nearly triumphs during the film’s climax, were it not for the timely intervention of Bernard.


“I would have gotten away with it too, had it not been for those pesky mice!”

He is not a particularly intelligent villain either, demonstrating a severe lack of logic when it comes to Marahute’s eggs (after all, why sell rare eagle eggs when you can just feed them to your pet?). His lack of education is something in which he takes a great deal of pride, bragging about having made it to the third grade.


“If only I’d made it past the third graaaaaaaaaaaade!”


Supporting Cast

Alongside Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart, the filmmakers wanted some of the original voice actors to return to reprise their roles.


Not you


Maybe you can appear in the TV series … or the third Rescuers film?



Unfortunately, Jim Jordan, who played Orville, had passed away two years before the film’s release. Instead of replacing Orville with a new voice actor, they decided to create a new character called Wilbur, Orville’s brother and an allusion to the Wright Brothers. Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, and Steve Martin were considered but in the end the role went to John Candy.

John Candy is an incredibly likeable actor, and the filmmakers must have been delighted to have him be a part of the film – but his presence really affects the film in a negative way. The character of Wilbur is far too prominent throughout the film – especially when you consider how brief Orville’s involvement was in The Rescuers – and just about every scene he is involved in becomes centred around his character. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Bernard and Bianca were reduced to playing supporting roles in their own film, as soon as Wilbur arrives on the scene the film becomes ‘the John Candy show’. Worse still is the fact that his material is not funny, and instead seems to be purpose-built to test the audience’s patience. Entire scenes are dedicated to his character throughout the film, nearly all of which could be removed and it wouldn’t affect the plot in the slightest. He just goes on and on and on and ON!





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When thinking about Cody, we truly wondered whether he was the film’s protagonist instead of Bernard and Bianca. The film could easily have been called The Boy and the Eagle and it still would make sense. While Penny never steals the spotlight, but instead is the emotional centre, Cody is a lot more featured. Cody, unlike Penny, could be included in the title as one of the ‘rescuers’ – after all, when we first meet him, he immediately answers a call from a digeridoo-playing kangaroo –


Who forgets whether she’s doing an accent or not … is it English? Australian? American? What are you doing???


– who tells him that the great eagle, Marahute is in danger and needs to be rescued. His prerogative throughout the film is making sure that Marahute and her eggs are safe, and that’s what gets him into trouble. Technically the reason as to why Cody was captured in the first place was because he tried to rescue a mouse caught in a trap. McLeach lets him out of the hole, tells him to run along home, and Joanna sees the mouse, attacks the bag, and that is how McLeach catches sight of the feather.


‘So if you think about it, this is all … your fault’


‘Yeah but don’t push it though’


‘A stupid mouse!’

In a way the Cody/Penny comparison is going back to the argument that we made in terms of Disney princesses, they fall into the privileged and unprivileged categories – Penny is an unprivileged child while Cody is privileged, with the former being an orphan, and latter who has a loving mother. Furthermore, Penny was going about her business when she gets abducted – she wasn’t looking for trouble – while Cody actively puts himself in dangerous situations. A trope of the Disney Renaissance is ‘curiosity killed the cat’ – characters are either curious or bulldoze their ways into dangerous situations – even when told that it’s a trap.

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‘Why did you do that? … I was running towards you waving my arms yelling ‘Don’t do that!’’

He is nearly killed at the film’s beginning, firstly from climbing a huge cliff and then when he is knocked off the cliff after freeing Marahute.


You’re free!


Long live the kid!



Luckily, Marahute rescues Cody from a nasty fall (see, she’s a rescuer too … they’re ALL rescuers!), and they go on a fantastic flying adventure.

Speaking of that, akin to The Sword in the Stone’s Arthur, Cody makes a series of scary faces:

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Cody is almost killed multiple times in the film, which is probably why critics questioned the film’s darkness so frequently. In pursuing a selfless pursuit by rescuing animals from harm, he is, in a way, selfish and thoughtless as he is risking his life, shutting out his mother and making her worry – quite like our previous protagonist, Ariel! He is passionate, courageous and cares deeply about the animals’ welfare, however to the extent that he makes stupid decisions that get him in trouble, and consequently put the animals at risk too.

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He constantly insists that the Rangers will come and save him … but this doesn’t lead to anything … because they never show up.


My rangers will come and save me


Your rangers are dead. I killed them myself


Then why is there fear in your eyes?


They didn’t come

‘Cody stop trying to make the rangers happen. It’s not going to happen’

So where were the rangers all this time?



It’s just … odd. We know from watching the film that the rangers found the bag and they assumed the worst, but why do they build up this notion from Cody that they will come and save him?

Cody doesn’t have an Australian accent, which admittedly is strange. Apparently, Joe Ranft wanted an Aborigine Australian child to voice Cody, but he was overridden with the decision to cast “a little white blonde kid.” Adam Ryan is Norwegian-American, and ended up voicing the character for the Norway dub as well. He does a good job: much better than some young male voice actors from Disney’s canon:

We’re talking to you

There was one thing that bothered us about Cody – the tone in which he speaks to Bernard.


Don’t you dare be patronising towards Bernard! He is an agent and a grown man, not your hamster! Plus he just saved your life! Also go and see your mother! NOW!

OK … Cody’s Mother is an unusual situation. We both love how it is handled and yet simultaneously we feel puzzled. We never see her face:


‘It really doesn’t matter that I haven’t seen her face!’

This is effective, particularly in specific scenes like hearing her calling his name as the camera pans away from her isolated home, and of course, the scene when a ranger knocks on the door and hands her Cody’s destroyed bag.

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It is incredibly sad and subtly handled, but it means that we really wanted a reunion between her and Cody. Even if we never see her face, but instead just being able to see her reunited and able to hug her child, knowing that he is alive – it felt like we were building up to that moment but it never happened. We really appreciated that the film seemed to be embracing the power of maternal love, paralleling Marahute’s love for her eggs with the Mother’s love for Cody – but the ending didn’t satisfy that feeling – even Marahute is not reunited with her eggs at the end. Instead, we get a dumb scene between Wilbur and the hatched eagles … that is only in voiceover.

(Special Note from Both: Bravo. You nearly got us with a strong emotional anchor and you blew it by not concluding it)

Jake –

(Special Note from Melissa: Or as I like to call him, Hugh Jake-Man the Kangaroo Mouse)

– is there to be the token Australian … in a film set in Australia. He is also there to be the Mark to Ross’s Rachel; in other words, Bernard sees him as a threat to his relationship with Bianca. He is forward and openly flirts with her, to the extent of even stealing Bernard’s move.

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Cocky, adventurous and self-confident, Jake is clearly inspired by Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee. He is an air traffic controller who, oddly enough, seems to leave his post in the name of rescue … and likely in the name of a possible fling with a European. While he is attracted to Bianca, he doesn’t think much of Bernard (the feeling the mutual), and is patronising towards him:

He even calls him Berno:


‘What’s his name Berno?’

‘No it’s Bernard’

‘Whatever! Hahahaha!’


‘You big tree!’

Jake does have a few snarky zingers up his sleeve:


But with the occasional damp squib:



He does teach Bernard a thing or two about wildlife in the Outback – having to look a potential predator in the eye:

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Plus he seems to be happy for Bernard and Bianca at the end – he gives him a thumbs up!


‘You know Jake … You really are a good guy’


‘I know … I hate that’

The supporting cast also features two non-speaking characters in prominent roles. Marahute the eagle, is saved by Cody, but becomes a rescuer herself when she saves Cody from nasty falls on multiple occasions. A mother and a widow, she is a very sympathetic character – aside from how stunning the flight sequences are, it is the nuanced details in close up shots that are special. The gesticulations are so realistic and the relationship between her and the boy is very sweet and touching.

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Our other non-speaking character, Joanna, is well-animated in terms of her movement. As a character, she has occasional funny moments in terms of slapstick, but while Marahute is featured too little (likely due to the complexity of animating her scenes), Joanna is featured a lot. She seems to be inspired by Disney cats from the past like Lucifer and the Siamese Cats. The scene with her trying to eat eggs is funny to watch:

So who have we missed out?


Not you … but close

Instead of the Winnie the Pooh B Squad, we get the C Squad:



‘The C Squad also known as the Odd Squad’

Winnie the Pooh’s Australian cousins – like the Care Bear Cousins. The film itself seems to know how inconsequential these characters are because McLeach says, ‘It’s the last you’ll ever see of them’ … and it is!

Unless Cody goes back to rescue them after the film is over, for all we know, they’re still there. At least the B Squad did something in the climax. It’s a pity, only because the Koala is probably the best character in the film, seeming rather self-aware that he has been shunted into the pointless scene:


However, it is not a pity because the C Squad contains Frank, or, as we like to call him, “Iguirgi”.


It is as if someone has taken Bill, Gurgi, Roger Rabbit and an iguana, thrown them into a blender, and thus Frank was created.

(Special Note from David: To sum up, he appears … is annoying … and then is gone)


‘Will somebody shut him up?!’

But seriously there is this whole scene that goes on FOREVER in which Iguirgi has to get the keys to let them all out, and is so ANNOYING along the way … only for McLeach to come in, and take Cody away.


‘It was a waste of ******* time’

The trouble is that in terms of supporting cast, with the exception of Cody and Marahute, they consist mainly of show offs trying to chew the scenery. There are too many characters packed into a short film, meaning that there is less focus on the more interesting characters for the sake of indulging too many ‘performers’ into one cast. The Little Mermaid had a big supporting cast but every character was either useful or entertaining, and if there was ever a chance that a character could have become annoying, they would not outstay their welcome.

Artwork and Imagery

The Rescuers Down Under is the beginning of a new era in animation as it was the first 100% digital animated feature film at Disney – CAPS, initially a development tool that has been integrated into all of the Passing the Torch era films is now running wild and flying high and painting the town red – Pixar has even appeared in the credits! The colouring, effects and final print were all digital. Production time was cut down by approximately six months. It is also the first Disney animated film to use fully-rendered CG backgrounds, with the shots of the UN building, the globe and the Sydney Opera House:


Once Upon a Time in Sydney [City]

(Special Note from David: Retrospectively speaking, this shot does not look great!)

Multi plane shots through computer layering was much easier to do than manually producing the shots with multi plane cameras. The flying scenes with Marahute were allegedly inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Glen Keane recalled, ‘We were told to pull out all the stops in the eagle sequences’ – he spent one year working on the Marahute scenes – only seven minutes of the film’s running time! His work on Marahute is magnificent – you’ve done it again Glen!  The Bear, Ratigan, Ariel, Marahute, what next?! We’re sure whatever it will be will be really –

… Keep working on it

It is much more polished, glossier and cleaner than the original film. Even returning characters look like they’ve been scrubbed up – they’ve had a good wash!

The landscape designs are very grand, creating a very strong sense of scale that the older art-styles would not allow. The close-ups of wildlife at the beginning look very distinctive. The zoom through the fields may have looked impressive … once … but now it feels jarring and odd – not as majestic an effect as one would hope for (particularly for the film’s opening). However, for the most part, it is a very good looking film – in fact, at times, it could be considered one of the most striking looking films in the canon so far – the artwork and imagery is the film’s best feature. Here are some particularly striking shots:

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The way in which animal characters are animated is pretty decent, but Marahute’s design, again, is the stand out. Animators went to the San Diego Zoo to observe Australian animals and the Peregine Fund in Idaho to observe birds of prey. Although the Florida team didn’t get any field trips, they did keep a few mice in their studio, which became their resident pets. A big plus in the film is that the non-speaking animal characters do not look ‘gendered’ – Marahute and Joanna are female, but they look like animals, rather than trying to make them look stereotypically female by giving them big eyelashes, lipstick or eyeshadow.


It is the only film from the Renaissance era that is not a musical, and the second non-musical in the canon. Even The Rescuers had incidental ‘voice from the heavens’ music telling the characters that ‘tomorrow is another day’ or ‘to be brave’, or the inner dilemma of a bottle’s psyche. As well as a delightfully awful song that only Eva Gabor could made sound passable.

I’m fahhhbulous dahling

Bruce Broughton was initially signed to score Home Alone; technically he did the score and his name was even listed in some early adverts but he left the project to score The Rescuers Down Under.

(Special Note from Melissa: Funnily enough, when we were listening to the soundtrack, David remarked that it sounded like a Christmas film at times … I’d say this is not a coincidence)

The score has truly great moments in its swells, evoking the sense of drama and tension and beauty in the right places. But at this point, animation needed to be taken seriously, and this score is taking animation seriously, particularly in marvellous moments like ‘Cody’s Flight’. Bernard and Bianca’s theme that runs through the film is lovely. In fact anything that thematically connects musically to the Cody/Marahute pairing and the Bernard/Bianca pairing is when the score is its best – when there is an emotional anchor. When the underscore became quintessentially Australian, our ears pricked up as it really had its own character, particularly in the use of characteristically Australian instruments.

So what’s the problem? It is a grand and atmospheric score that truly would not be out of place in a big Hollywood movie – but there’s the rub – it is the score’s virtue and also its flaw. In the effort to treat it like a big Hollywood action adventure score, which is brilliant, it also runs the risk of becoming generic and losing the film’s identity. At times, it does feel generic, like it could belong in any film. If we consider recent scores from Disney, like Alan Menken’s score in The Little Mermaid, and Henry Mancini’s score in Basil the Great Mouse Detective, they felt purpose built for the film. The score varies from moments of brilliance to being good, fine, just ok or … odd. The score is very jumpy, erratic and sometimes jarring; when listening to the soundtrack, we frequently had to adjust the volume because it would, out of the blue, suddenly be super loud. Our opinion is that because the film cannot make its mind up about what it wants to be, the score can’t either.


It is not uncommon for a sequel to take on a different tone to its predecessor, and in some cases a sequel may be a completely different genre altogether. While The Rescuers was more of a mystery, The Rescuers Down Under is an adventure movie. Perhaps this stark transition goes some way to explaining why there is some slightly inconsistent character development for the two leads.

While the film’s action set-pieces are visually striking, the plot itself is much weaker this time around. In the original, the villain’s plot was already in motion when the film began, and it drove the narrative right from the first frame, whereas this time a significant amount of the running time is spent on trying to decide exactly what the plot is.

‘I did it thirty-five minutes ago’

The film is also guilty of a lot of time-wasting, as there are numerous sub-plots which add little to the overall narrative, and don’t really end up going anywhere. Examples of this would be Cody getting locked in with the C-squad, Wilbur’s torture scenes and (to be completely honest) any scene involving Wilbur. The inclusion of these scenes is particularly frustrating when the main storylines lack a proper pay-off at the film’s conclusion: Cody doesn’t get reunited with his mother, and Marahute doesn’t get reunited with her eggs.

(Special Note from Both: The last time we can remember feeling cheated out of a satisfying mother/son reunion was in Dumbo which skipped their reunion, but at least showed them together again at the end)

Also, as we’ve previously mentioned, Bernard and Bianca’s ‘proposal’ sub-plot feels more like a stalling tactic, than an effective narrative device – it’s a sitcom plot, and while it works at sitcom-length, in a full-length film it drags on and on, as Bernard takes ages to pop the question, only to eventually be interrupted anyway – copy and paste, rinse and repeat.


‘Uh Miss Bianca, uh I would be honoured if uh-‘


‘Spit it out Bernard!’



Again, rather than it being Bernard and Bianca’s story, it is Bernard’s story and his journey, but even then, they take a back seat and Cody and McLeach are more in the spotlight … and Wilbur’s unnecessary plotlines.

Any time the talk turns to eggs, brace yourself for filler:

Ok that is not in The Rescuers Down Under … but it may as well be:

We’ve also somewhat avoided / side-stepped this throughout this review, but really … what … was … THIS?

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The pacing of the film is rather inconsistent, which is a shame because there are times when the film excels. The opening fifteen minutes involving the flight sequence and Cody’s kidnapping are paced very well, and the final fifteen minutes also play out very effectively.

(Special Note from David: The absolute damp squib of an ending notwithstanding)

Logic also goes out the window in terms of story – how is it possible that Bernard can bear the weight of a grown human boy … in a fast flowing current? Bernard is unrealistically too heroic to the extent of implausibility:


A wizard did it

The Rescuers Down Under feels much more like what we now know as a Pixar film today, rather than Disney, which, we realised afterwards, makes sense as Joe Ranft was the Story Supervisor, and it was the most that Pixar had been involved in up to that point. The plot and narrative structure reminded us particularly of Up. The first fifteen minutes of both The Rescuers Down Under and Up stand out as marvellous moments in animation, but the story and structure become progressively more clunky further into the film – they peak too soon.

An important point that we must reiterate is that the context of film, storytelling and what audiences want, has changed between 1977 and 1990. The top films of 1977 were Star Wars, Annie Hall, Rocky, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, Julia and The Goodbye Girl, while the top films of 1990 were Home Alone, Ghost, Dances With Wolves, Pretty Woman, Rocky V and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Tastes have changed and The Rescuers Down Under has technically changed with it – and yet at the same time, due to the 13-year gap, it never quite fulfils either – it feels far from its predecessor tonally and stylistically, but because it’s a sequel, it could not have its own individual identity – it’s stuck in the middle between wanting to be a sequel and changing to another genre of film.

(Special Note from Melissa: Between 1977 and 1990, Rocky crammed in four sequels … we are not by any means praising that, but it goes to show how much time has passed)

The two Rescuers films tend to be very divisive in the eyes of fans, generally people will prefer one over the other. This is understandable since the two are so different tonally and aesthetically. We feel that we prefer The Rescuers’ story over The Rescuers Down Under because it is more cohesively put together, and more sure of what it’s trying to tell. However, we can completely understand how some people would prefer The Rescuers Down Under because it’s a more action-packed movie, and although it is still a dark film, the atmosphere is lighter than its predecessor.

Or we could look at it this way:


‘We can agree to differ’


‘No we won’t agree to differ because you’re very, very wrong’

David’s Verdict

I had not seen either Rescuers films before starting the Disney Odyssey, so I was able to approach each film with a fresh perspective. People either prefer one or the other, and I personally feel that The Rescuers is the superior film. It was not a masterpiece by any means, but it had better pacing, told a better story and was nicely centred around its two leads. My opinion is not swayed by nostalgia for either film, although I think another influential factor is which film you watched first. Because I watched the original first, I couldn’t help but make comparisons whilst watching The Rescuers Down Under and this is where many of my negative opinions on the film come from. As a separate entity the film is fine, but as a sequel I think it’s quite poor. I don’t feel that this is entirely fair, but because it is the only sequel in the canon at this point I can’t overlook it (I don’t consider The Three Caballerosto be a sequel to Saludos Amigos as neither are proper films per se).

Something that the film does have going for it are the scenes involving Marahute in flight, which are a great showcase for Glen Keane’s artwork as well as the new animation techniques which are now more readily at the studios disposal. It was also nice to have both Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart return to reprise their roles from the first film – but as soon as Bernard and Bianca made their first appearance I groaned because I could see the ‘attempted proposal’ sub-plot coming a mile away.

I don’t really have much else to say about the film. Perhaps if I had seen this film as a child – or if we’d watched this one first I might be less hard on it, but then again maybe not. I can understand why some people prefer this film over the original, but I feel that the plot is very uneven in its pacing, there is too much time-wasting, the dialogue isn’t memorable and the humour falls flat most of the time (although Jake’s “Nice bluff Miss B” line was genuinely funny – probably my favourite line from the film). I’m glad I’ve seen it, but I won’t be in a hurry to put it on again.

Melissa’s Verdict

While I owned The Rescuers on VHS as a child, I didn’t own The Rescuers Down Under, but I definitely watched it a few times  (and was most definitely so afraid of Cody’s scary faces and falling off a cliff that it gave me nightmares) and my strong memory of it came from this old trailer from my The Little Mermaid VHS copy, which promoted The Rescuers Down Under alongside The Prince and the Pauper. I also remember a kid from school saying that he had the film (when at that point I hadn’t seen it in ages), and he said that he would lend it to me … he never did … I think this same kid was convinced that Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was made into a film, and also said that he would lend it to me … it wasn’t and he never did. You can see this pattern.

So! I did feel excited to see this film again. Unfortunately I was disappointed. But I’ll start with the good stuff. The film has striking visuals throughout in terms of backdrops and the flying sequences are fantastic. Any scene with Marahute is memorable and wonderfully animated, and I do love the scenes between her and Cody – it feels like the heart of the film, and again the make-up of Cody’s flight works brilliantly – the animation, the meaning and the score are perfectly balanced to create a stand-out scene. Whenever Bernard and Bianca get a sweet moment together (the little that they do get together), I enjoyed those scenes too, and having an already established relationship is a good move for Disney – they don’t do that often at all and I’m glad that Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor returned to voice the characters again. I also appreciated a few moments of slapstick, primarily in Joanna’s amusing expressions and movements. I was genuinely moved by Cody’s mother, even though we never saw her face, primarily due to the scene in which she receives his destroyed backpack. I was genuinely sad that I didn’t get to see them reunite.

However, there really are a lot of problems with this film. Aside from being impressed by a few dark moments, I wasn’t entertained by the villain. The character felt very homogenous and by-the-numbers, and perhaps in an attempt to be more realistic, akin to Oliver and Company’s Sykes, it lost that sense of pizazz and razzle dazzle that I associate with many of my favourite Disney villains. I think it’s a real shame that Bernard and Bianca have had to take a back seat in this film, considering what a strong presence they were in the original film. I really loved their growing relationship and co-dependent partnership as a pair of underdogs, and it is a pity that it had to become a ‘Bernard finding his manhood’ story, and consequently shift Bianca to the side. The score is hit and miss, the characters’ screen time are not fairly distributed at all (due to too many characters with little substance like the C Squad), and the narrative structure is a mess, on account of indulging too many ‘time-wasting’ filler scenes. John Candy was such a loveable actor, but I really don’t like the material that he has in this film. Nearly all of Wilbur’s scenes felt pointless and expendable, and in the case of the medical torture scenes … I just don’t know what they were thinking at Disney.

I agree with David that I’m glad I’ve seen it, but if I had to choose between The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under, it would be the former hands down. I just prefer the quieter nature of the original, its melancholic, dark tone, its emotional voice, its allusions to mystery and film noir, and the intimate, nuanced relationships between characters, especially between Bernard and Bianca. That film has issues too – neither film is perfect, but it is still my favourite of the two. Overall The Rescuers Down Under has striking animation and a touching (brief) relationship between a boy and his eagle, but it misses the mark in narrative structure with its too many superfluous characters, certain characters being given way too much screen time (including the villain and comic relief), and in its attempt to be too much like a live action Hollywood film, it loses that sense of Disney magic.


On its initial release, The Rescuers Down Under was preceded by The Prince and the Pauper, a Mickey Mouse short – the second Mickey Mouse short since the 1950s (Mickey’s Christmas Carol accompanied the 1983 re-release of The Rescuers)

The Rescuers Down Under won every award that it was nominated for, including a Genesis Award for ‘Feature Film – Family’; a Golden Screen Award, the Animation Award at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards; Best Sound Editing for an Animated Feature at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards; and ‘Most Entertaining Family Youth Motion Picture – Animation’ at the Young Artist Awards.

Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars: ‘After a few uncertain years in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Disney animators (assisted now by computers) are back in top form’. Although, Ebert made a comment that surprised us because of how random it seemed – ‘There’s one reservation I have about the movie. Why does the villain have to be so noticeably dark-complexioned compared to all of the other characters? Is Disney aware of the racially coded message it is sending? When I made that point to another critic, he argued that McLeach wasn’t dark-skinned – he was simply always seen in shadow. Those are shadows are cast by insensitivity to negative racial stereotyping’. Variety called it a ‘sort-of-sequel’ that ‘boasts reasonably solid production values and fine character voices. Too bad they’re set against such a mediocre story that adults may duck’. Gene Siskel referred to it as ‘A bold, rousing but sometimes needlessly intense Disney animated feature’

Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the film for its ‘first-rate’ animation, ‘spectacularly inventive’ direction and that it has ‘distinct debts to the “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones films, not to mention “Crocodile Dundee’. However she called the plot ‘a trifle dark and un involving for very small children [leading the film] into a strange melange of styles … The mice themselves are enjoyably dowdy, comfortable throwbacks to a time before earth-shattering conquests were the sine qua non of children’s entertainment. The film’s action sequences, on the other hand, provide the dizzying heights and spectacular exploits to which live-action audiences are by now well accustomed, and they seem derivative despite the ingenuity of the animators’. It seems like musical numbers were missed: ‘This film’s slightly more grown-up, adventurous approach may be the reason it does not include the expected musical interludes, but they would have been welcome’.

However read what Maslin wrote here: ‘Wilbur gets into one of the story’s more lighthearted scrapes when he is imprisoned by tiny mice dressed in hospital uniforms, attempting to work on him with an “epidermal tissue disrupter,” which turns out to be a chain saw’. Maslin put ‘lighthearted’, ‘imprisoned’ and ‘chainsaw’ in the same sentence.

The financial failure of The Rescuers Down Under put Disney off releasing animated sequels to canon films in cinemas, and in terms of box office, it was the least successful of all of the films from the Renaissance era films. However, the box office ‘failure’ was influenced strongly by major film competition the weekend that it opened – Home Alone was released that same weekend. Home Alone grossed more than 10 times what The Rescuers Down Under made. Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered that all marketing for the film be pulled.

Although we prefer the original film, it is unfair that marketing for The Rescuers Down Under was pulled – it really didn’t deserve that. It’s as if Katzenberg realised after the success of The Little Mermaid, that making an animated film with a live action adventure movie sensibility (and no songs) did not seem so appealing (profitable), and wanted everyone at Disney to stay on the animated musical path … essentially to not allow The Rescuers Down Under to succeed, as it may pull the animators off that goldmine path. Was it a greater good moment?  A canon sequel would not be made again until Fantasia 2000 (1999) and Winnie the Pooh (2011) – they certainly leave mighty gaps between canon sequels.

(Special Note from Melissa: But that didn’t stop them making a hideous range of direct-to-video/DVD monstrosities known as ‘Disney sequels’)

However, the film leaves another form of legacy. The 1990s in cinema is strongly associated with the rise in films with a strong environmentalist or conservation-based message. With The Rescuers Down Under being right at the beginning in 1990 – the first environmentalist Disney animated film since Bambi, we can say that it formed part of that trend and perhaps even inspired more to come.

Posted in 1989-1999 Renaissance Era | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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.

The decade started promisingly enough: The Fox and the Hound felt like a real throwback to the Disney films of old, with a similar aesthetic and tone to Bambi as well as a willingness to go to darker places story-wise for strong dramatic effect. The film also proved that the young animators were more than capable of taking over the mantle from their predecessors. But it still revealed, due to its similarity in tone to Golden Age films, that they were still walking in the shadows of the older animators. They needed to find their own identity.

However, this was followed by The Black Cauldron, a cinematic disaster whose failings cannot be understated. The film was substantially over budget, spent more than a decade in production, was sliced to pieces in the editing room (losing entire scenes and most of the finale) and when it was released, the animation studio was on incredibly shaky territory. When we watched the film for the first time we were really hoping we would see an underrated classic, but instead what we got was a confused mess of a film. The most disappointing thing about The Black Cauldron is that during its production, artists and animators had hopes that this would be the studio’s crowning achievement – its own Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Things picked up shortly thereafter with Basil the Great Mouse Detective – one of the studio’s smartest, wittiest and most consistently entertaining films to date. Stellar voice acting, memorable characters, and a great story – all key components, combined by a team of artists whose love for the project shone through in the artwork (which was made on a greatly reduced budget). Basil the Great Mouse Detective showed that even though the studio were down, they were certainly not out.

Unfortunately, this was then followed with Oliver and Company a film that embodied the notion of the marketing department winning out over the artists and creatives. The film feels incredibly hollow, being largely comprised of songs that serve no purpose to the story, but were crammed into the film in the hope of producing a hit (off the back of which the album sales would skyrocket). There was not a great deal of substance to the film, and retrospectively it does not hold up too well, although at the time it was released the film was a financial success (proving that the marketing department can be right … sometimes).

David’s Verdict

This era has been a struggle to get through, and we’ve taken our time getting there. As we have arrived in a more recent time-period there are a lot more documentaries and interviews, there’s plenty of archival footage and there is also the fascinating Waking Sleeping Beauty film which chronicles the studio from 1984 (when the animation department was under threat of closure) to 1994 (when The Lion King was released). Our output has slowed down, but we have learned a great deal about the studio, particularly interesting are interviews and retrospectives about the creative process for The Black Cauldron as it is a film the studio don’t really like to talk about.

I have a lot of praise to give to The Fox and the Hound for its bleak tone, complex themes, dealing with social class systems and prejudice, and particularly for the ending which didn’t reunite the two leads at the end (a rarity for the studio). The Black Cauldron was terrible, a really disappointing film in so many ways (WatchMojo recently named it as the most underrated Disney film of all time, although they didn’t really pose much of an argument as to why, other than the fact that it has developed a fan-base over time). Basil the Great Mouse Detective however is a strong contender for my favourite Disney film (although I will have to wait until I’ve seen the rest before I can say that for certain). Then Oliver and Company is a film that I thought was okay when I first watched it, but I grew to like it less and less over the course of writing the blog entry.

This has been an era which has fluctuated in quality rather dramatically, from good to bad, back to good and then back to bad again. It seems as though the studio was struggling to gain some proper momentum. However, this would all change very soon

Melissa’s Verdict

This era took us ages to get through, but I must say to its credit, no one can accuse it of not being an eclectic era at Disney, as the newer animators were clearly determined to find their niche, their identity and command of creative control at Disney. For me, Basil the Great Mouse Detective is the best film that Disney animation gave us during this era, and truly a candidate (at the moment) for one of the strongest films in the canon. Ron Clements and John Musker proved themselves as a strong partnership, and knowing that they would create more films together, with Basil being their debut as a team, is very exciting indeed. Basil has a fantastic protagonist and villain, with a witty script, and genuine threat in the final act – a stellar film. I would call The Fox and the Hound the second best of the Passing the Torch era quartet, as I enjoyed its melancholic, quiet nature, and the emotional levels that it goes to, particularly in its bittersweet ending. However, it is still a problematic film, with an unnecessary filler subplot and the mistake of not killing off a supporting role when they really should have done. Also The Fox and the Hound hasn’t quite got the stamp that I am starting to associate with the films of the new generation of animators, because it was the literal ‘passing the torch’ moment.

I had high(ish) hopes for The Black Cauldron, knowing that it was a cult film and perhaps was unfairly treated, but no … it was in fact a bad film. It was dull and irritating (with a horrible supporting character with the name of Gurgi), but had potential to have been much better, considering its source material. Oliver and Company is also a bad film, but a different kind of ‘bad’ to The Black Cauldron. While they were both messy films, Oliver and Company just has ‘marketing’ all over it, and feels embarrassing in how it tries so hard to be ‘cool’ – it also seemed to get worse the more we watched it.

So overall, it is a 50-50 era for me – I enjoyed two of the films, but disliked the other two. We could have called it the Coin Toss era! That’s hindsight for you. Or the Finding their Feet era? They really were finding their feet at Disney, and I must say, through the good and the bad, I have enjoyed seeing them find their way throughout this era – it was like watching them go through the misery of puberty – with moments of awfulness and embarrassment mixed with genuine wonder of they were capable of creating as they grew in confidence. As David said, watching the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty was a real eye-opener for me, as it revealed that yet again, Disney animation was on such rocky territory, and needed to stay on the creative tightrope or face falling for good. All of the Passing the Torch quartet of films had something great about them that I believe will stand them in good stead for the next era – The Fox and the Hound’s emotion, The Black Cauldron’s risk-taking, Basil the Great Mouse Detective’s strong script and characters, and Oliver and Company’s awareness that a hit song can go a long way. Put them together, and you may have a recipe for the film that marked the beginning of The Renaissance Era: The Little Mermaid.

Posted in Updates & Overviews | 6 Comments

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


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!



The last time that the canon featured a princess as the protagonist was thirty years ago with Aurora in Sleeping Beauty ­– it has certainly been a long time coming! However there is a strange reversal in thought when it comes to Ariel. Many have criticised the first trio of Disney Princesses, Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora, for being passive, dull and thus not good role models for girls. In our reviews, we disagreed with this school of thought, admiring Snow White for her kindness and resilience in spite of her troubled life, and Cinderella for her maturity and level-headedness in response to her despicable step-family, meaning that when we see Snow White poisoned and Cinderella break down, it is heart-breaking to watch. Aurora is a trickier one as her role is much smaller than Snow White and Cinderella, with the three fairies (her guardians) as the true leads, but she is still a pawn in a horrible game. In fact, so far Disney princesses have fallen into two categories: either the unfortunate young women who suffer at the hands of family abuse (Snow White and Cinderella), or the privileged young women who become pawns in games  that are much bigger than them (Aurora and Ariel).

When The Little Mermaid came out, critics praised Ariel for being different from previous Disney princesses because she is active and when she wants something she doesn’t wait for it but goes out and gets it. These are also admirable traits for a leading character. It seems as if viewers complain when female protagonists are ‘passive’ and also when they are ‘active’, when they are ‘kind’ and when they are ‘rebellious’. If protagonists are female, from critical point of view, they are always under scrutiny. It is annoying. Why can’t a character just be what it is … a character?! Characters who have virtues and vices, positive and negative qualities, etc.

So … who is Ariel, what is she? Ariel is a teenage mermaid with a secret desire and curiosity for objects from the human world, and a yearning to be part of it. She saves a human prince from drowning, falls in love with him, and after a major argument with her father, King Triton, over her controversial desires, she strikes a deal with Sea Witch Ursula, to become human. The generational conflict between her and her father sparks an interesting and identifiable dynamic. She is more willing to see the good in the humanity, while he insists that they are their enemy – the open-minded younger generation in conflict with the conservative ‘set in their ways’ older generation. Ariel’s curiosity is a virtue and a flaw – her fatal flaw and yet ultimately the making of her.


‘What’s a fire and why does it – what’s the word? Burn?!’

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You had to ask didn’t you?

Ariel, as a character, has received a lot of criticism, primarily on account of being interpreted by many as an anti-feminist character. The ‘selling’ of her voice can be interpreted as the silencing of women – the chaste, silent, obedient model. But bear in mind, it is the villain who takes her voice away – a female villain at that, who is bombastic and not at all quiet – Ursula does not believe what she is preaching – she is spinning a line. In terms of Ariel’s voice, it revolves around the idea of sacrifice – to give up something so precious in order to experience her dream – it is a huge deal for her. When she loses her voice and gains legs, she is no demure figure, she is very expressive and active. From the perspective of others, she is eccentric as she combs her hair with a fork and blasts a pipe, completely lacking in ‘ladylike’ grace. Eric takes her on a tour of the kingdom and as opposed to being lead by him, Ariel is eagerly leading Eric around, excited by all of the wonders around her. In fact, she is so excited at being able to fulfil her dream of experiencing the human world that she seems to forget that she must kiss Eric or everything will go awry. It goes to show that her dream of experience comes before her desire for Eric.

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Besides, what is wrong with Ariel wanting to become a human woman? She is fascinated by the human world and we discover this from the first few minutes of her character’s introduction; she is a collector with a desire for knowledge. She does not sell her voice and gain legs and a vagina for a man. Ariel has been dreaming of life up above for a long time, long before meeting Eric (her collection must have taken years to build!) – it’s not as if she was singing about how spectacular it is being a mermaid, and then suddenly she meets Eric and BOOM she wants to get some cool legs to wrap around him. No. She dreams of being part of that world before meeting Eric. She is fascinated first by objects and customs, then by the beauty of man. It is only when she gets a crush on a young prince that the lyric changes from part of that world to your world. The idea of not only experiencing the world that she yearns for, but sharing it with someone, is even more exciting.


‘Maybe if you had someone to share it with … someone you love’

Even after she has developed a crush on Eric, these shots alone reveal that her temptation to do the deal with Ursula is because she wants to be human, and not ‘get her man’:

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Look how anxious she looks about the ‘true love’ clause … it’s something that she is less sure about at this point

Ariel’s desire to experience the world is what draws us to her character. However, we must also point out: since when has falling in love become ‘anti-feminist’? We are feminists and we would say that love is a wonderful thing! Do you hate Bernard for falling in love with Bianca? Or Bambi with Faline? Besides, Ariel and Eric risk their lives for each other. Ariel saves Eric from drowning, Eric saves Ariel from giant drag-queen sea monster who is trying to kill her, and in between they protect each other from dangerous situations. Why is this not acknowledged more? They are a co-dependent partnership.

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Furthermore their relationship is very sweet and, despite the magical elements, there is a lot of familiarity in the way in which they respond to each other – for example, the animators capture the moment when you’re attracted to someone very well:


vlcsnap-2016-02-01-23h29m45s889In connection to the representation of young love, the animators also portray emotional heartbreak masterfully too:

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(Special Note from Melissa: If this film had been made today, it is less likely that Ariel and Eric would get married. Would they be together? Yes. On the other hand, it does work as it means the two kingdoms have been united by love. However for me, the ideal happy ending would be that after the wedding, she and Eric go travelling and see the world together, as that was Ariel’s dream to begin with … well they do sail away on a ship – I can imagine that’s what they do afterwards!)


And not this

(Special Note from David: Why is there even an assumption that they do get married straight away? Ever heard of a little thing called ‘passage of time’? It happens in films … a lot)

(Special Note from Melissa: One jump ahead of the plotline / One swing ahead of the tale / Sometimes audiences DON’T THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!)

Writer, Graham Linehan made a comment [we’re paraphrasing here] that for a long time in television comedy, female characters were not allowed to be the butt of the jokes as often as male characters – more often than not, female characters would only be given ‘reacting’ material, rolling their eyes or sighing at the men and their comedy antics – not allowed to be goofballs themselves– ‘I make a special effort to write comically interesting female characters. I never want women in my shows to just be commenting on how silly the men are being. They also have to have negative characteristics to make it funny’. Ariel is a goofball – she creates some of the funniest scenes in the film, and it is so refreshing! And as Linehan said, characters have to have negative characteristics to be amusing.

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Ariel is criticised for being bratty and being stupid choices. Yes – she does behave like a brat and she does make stupid choices – we are not going to argue with that point. In fact, we were mightily miffed that she doesn’t turn up to her own performance, embarrassing and letting everyone down – not cool.

(Special Note from Both: For us as performers, this ticked us off even more than her putting the ocean in jeopardy … we have priorities!)

However, she is very young and is still learning. 16 is a tough age – we’ve been there!


‘Ohhhhhh I want to go to the surface!’


Watching this film, we were suddenly reminded of Pride and Prejudice’s Lydia, the youngest Bennet sister in a family of five daughters. Because Pride and Prejudice is angled more from Elizabeth’s (the second eldest) point of view, readers are more prone to dislike Lydia. Lydia, spoiled and selfish, runs away with a man who has no intention of marrying her (and an imprudent match besides!); it causes a major scandal and nearly ruins her family’s reputation. Luckily for Ariel, Eric is no Mr. Wickham and is actually a decent fellow. Although in Triton’s eyes, Eric and Ariel would make a very imprudent match indeed! Being underdeveloped characters, it is easy to imagine Ariel’s sisters as the other Bennet sisters and impose their personalities on to them.


‘O! Thoughtless, thoughtless Ariel!’

Akin to the Bennets, it is the youngest sister who marries before them all at 16. It must be why Triton was so keen on the news that Ariel was in love.


‘Finally! One of my daughters will be married!’

We are not convinced by Triton’s merry mood – what father would be this happy? Happy that is until he finds out that it is a human ‘scoundrel’.

(Special Note from Melissa: But don’t worry Triton, eldest sister Attina will soon marry a wealthy, kind-hearted merman named Bingley, and 2nd sister Alana an even wealthier, brooding merman named Darcy)

It really puts that lake scene in a new light … another story for another day … ‘I wanna be where the mermaids are’

Speaking of Ariel’s sisters, do Disney princesses not tend to have female confidantes (at least up to this point in the canon)? Ariel’s friend is a boy (Flounder), she seeks advice from a male kook (Scuttle) and her chaperone is male (Sebastian), and yet she has no engagement with her six sisters. There could have been a great opportunity for a ‘sisters bonding’ scene when they realise that Ariel is in love – perhaps in the vein of West Side Story’s ‘I Feel Pretty’ scene. Her sisters are named Attina, Alana (initially misheard by David as Banana), Aquata, Adrina, Arista, Aquata and Adela (the wickedly talented one).


If Ariel were here, they would make up all the colours of the rainbow … bravo Ariel

(Special Note from Melissa: I’m from now on insisting that the family name for Triton and his daughters is Dazeem … oh dear the sisters are so inconsequential that we’re talking about them in Protagonist rather than Supporting Cast … by the way ‘great father who loved us and named us well’ ??? It is as if Triton looked through a Babies Names book and got bored so he would never get any further than the As … every time)

All of the sisters’ names have significant definitions, and the name, Ariel, originates from Hebrew meaning ‘lion of God’. We really noted comparison between Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and our protagonist in The Little Mermaid. Shakespeare’s Ariel is an air spirit who desires liberty from his/her authoritarian master, as Disney’s Ariel desires freedom from the chains of her own fins and ultimately from her father’s rule. The Shakespeare connection is possibly not a coincidence – after all the name is a creation of the filmmakers – Hans Christian Andersen did not give his protagonist a name.

(Later: No, apparently it was a coincidence … they may have actually been more inspired by Footloose than Shakespeare)

Ariel is prone to rash and hot-headed decisions. She may be a bit of a Lydia – spoiled, self-centred, impulsive, and thoughtless, but she also has an element of Lizzy about her – stubborn, unconventional, energetic and playful. It means that Ariel is a well-rounded character, complete with virtues and flaws. Her actions make sense for who her character is – she is privileged yet restless, she has a dream that she knows cannot happen, and she is vulnerable when manipulated by an older and wiser villain. Ariel, as you often can be as a teenager, does not realise that her actions will have such an effect. She believes that she is adult enough to make her own decisions and mistakes. We imagine that she had no idea that if she had failed in her deal that her father would take her place.

(Special Note from Melissa: It reminds me of something that my Mum says – for the most part, a child will never love their parent as much as the parent loves their child. This makes complete sense in The Little Mermaid. As an adolescent, you don’t realise how much your parents will come through for you when you are in trouble, or how others can be impacted by your actions. Ariel probably thought that no one else would have to get involved)

Ariel is not a perfect protagonist – her inadvisable actions stem from foolishness, rebellion, and the follies of youth, but she is also driven by passion, energy and zest for life – that is what makes her a role model in a more positive way. But regardless of that isn’t it more important to have a character who feels real rather than a picture perfect role model for children? We do not see Ariel as an anti-feminist character – we see her as a character. She does suffer and her foolish actions can teach children about gullibility, trust and ultimately stranger danger. Her actions do result in suffering – it is the consequence of being manipulated and getting screwed over. The film teaches an important lesson: don’t sign contracts. Or at least read the small print. Or give it a few days to think it over. Otherwise, it’s a bad idea.

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Imperfect – yes. Interesting – also yes. Some have argued that Ariel didn’t learn anything from her experience. We disagree – she has gone on a massive journey. Words do not need to be said. A telling moment in her character is when Eric is washed up on the beach for a second time, and on this occasion, Ariel does not go to his side. She sits on a rock, distancing herself, grieving for her lost freedom, love and guilty for her actions, and it is such a melancholic image – it is very similar to the ending of The Fox and the Hound at this point. However when Triton gives her legs (and a glittery 1980s dress), her father is not giving her a prize for her foolishly stupid actions and bad behaviour. Triton realises that all this needn’t have happened had he been more understanding in the first place and communicated with his daughter. He knows that he has played a part in this calamity too. Triton letting her go also resonates profoundly with audiences – suddenly it becomes so identifiable – every parent has to let their child go.

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Lastly, Glen Keane and Mark Henn’s animation for Ariel is some of the best character animation that we have seen so far, particularly during the Part of Your World scene and when she is unable to express herself vocally. However, Jodi Benson’s voice work also contributes to the character’s appeal, bringing passion, strength and sincerity to her performance.

Oh yes, one more point … What did Ariel do on that third day??? Seriously, she wakes up, sees Eric saying that he wishes to marry Vanessa at sunset, runs away, and then BAM … cutaway and it’s nearly sunset. What did she do all day? Is this a plothole?

(Special Note from David: As far as I can judge, there are only three possible options: 1. Upon noticing that Eric was going to marry someone else, she went to her room and cried all day. 2. Knowing she had only one day left to be a human, she painted the town red and boogied the day away. 3. Starred in a midquel)

(Special Note from Melissa: Or she slept in, late into the afternoon … because she’s a numpty)


‘Wha- wha- what time is it?’


‘Three o’clock in the afternoon, your highness’


‘Oh, thank God for that, I thought I’d overslept’


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Ursula is so terrifying that most characters do not speak her name: the Sea Witch, the Demon, the Monster, etc. Modelled on drag queen Divine, voiced by Pat Carroll and animated by Ruben Aquino, Ursula is one hell of a villain. She is fabulous dahling – an old school diva with pizazz.

(Special Note from Melissa: Ursula makes putting on lipstick seem like the best thing ever)

The script had been written with Bea Arthur in mind, but her agent turned the role down. However initially Elaine Stritch was cast as Ursula but her style of working clashed with Howard Ashman’s so she left the project and was replaced by Pat Carroll. Carroll has terrific inflections – she is eating those lines. She asked Howard to deliver Ursula’s lines because he had fantastic inflections, deliveries and ad-libs for the character, and when she asked if she could borrow from him – he said ‘I was hoping you would’.


Oh Howard, you scamp!

This inflection came straight from Howard Ashman (we’ll come back to this in Music)

It is impossible not to consider Little Shop of Horrors when thinking of The Little Mermaid – after all, Ursula and Audrey II are both tentacled sassy villains who manipulate the vulnerable protagonist that dreams of something more, by bribing them with the object of their affection under the motivation of a world dominating scheme.


Her squid/drag design is very inventive – animator, Matt O’ Callaghan apparently came up with the squid idea after many different sea creatures had been tried and tested by different animators. The animators thought that the fatter designs always looked more interesting than skinny ones. Ursula is hilarious and yet she is incredibly threatening. She is an intelligent villain, using weakness, espionage and vulnerability to manipulate and exploit her victims.

(Special Note from Melissa: Regina George from Mean Girls must have taken a leaf out of her book – tactical, slow manipulation – the fighting has to be sly in ‘girl world’ and she is one sly fighter. Clever villains can be only vanquished (according to Disney … and Tina Fey) through moves that don’t give the villain time to think their way out of it)

Whether it be impaled by a ship

Stabbed by a magic sword

Or hit by a bus

A word of advice to Disney villains: Do not make yourself huge. It only makes things worse:



The gigantic Ursula was not actually the original ending. In the original ending, closer to Sleeping Beauty, Eric throws the trident and stabs her – hoisted by her own petard.  However this was changed on account of a note from Jeffrey Katzenberg – ‘Can you make it more Die Hard?’ So instead Eric steers the ship and stabs her in the belly. Eric has gone a step above Prince Phillip – no magic helping him out!


In the original script, Ursula is Triton’s sister, which can be interpreted as an interesting jewel of subtext. Was Ursula originally a mermaid, but was punished for her crimes by banishment and being transformed into an ugly squid? How Greek. After all, she says that she used to live in the palace. If so what did she do?


If they are brother and sister, this shot is rather … suggestive

Ursula is a master manipulator as she brilliantly exploits Ariel. She knows that this will work because a parent will sacrifice themselves for a child – as she describes it, she is ‘the key to Triton’s undoing’. Ursula is completely right and she succeeds. She exploits Ariel by getting her on her side – by being ‘nice’ to her she is perceived as the magical benefactor, which is perfectly timed after the huge row between Ariel and Triton – see how her minions immediately swoop in – Ursula likely witnessed the whole event. The fact that Ariel falls in love with a human boy is the icing on the cake for Ursula – ‘It’s too easy!’

Ursula’s ‘little garden’ of former mermen and mermaids offers horrific implications and grotesque imagery:


Yikes! Worse than the fate of the Pleasure Island boys?


How did ‘Beanpole and Fatass’ not pay the price? Discuss

Alongside her garden of horrors, she has two minions called Flotsam and Jetsam – eels with slippery voices and a glowing eye each, through which Ursula is able to observe and carry out her evil plans.


‘Do you know what those are Highness?’


They are very reminiscent of the Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp.


Hilariously enough Ursula accidentally blasts them to bits:

Ursula ironically is the main female influence in Ariel’s life during the film, despite her having six sisters. She does spout anti-feminist advice to Ariel with absolute panache:

Bear in mind, again, it is the villain saying these lines. It seems odd that she is taken so seriously by viewers – we’re not supposed to agree with her! She takes Ariel’s voice because she knows through espionage that Eric remembers the voice of the woman who saved him – her face was a blur as he was just regaining consciousness. It is delightfully scheming. She also has collateral – she can use it herself. However she didn’t think Ariel would get even close to kissing Eric due to the voice obstacle – it is a flaw in her otherwise clever plan.

Conveniently also a case of rage against a red-headed teenager

In desperate measures, she transforms herself into a human woman called Vanessa, and uses Ariel’s own voice against her – a vicious and sinister plan, especially as she possesses Eric into forgetting Ariel and marrying Vanessa. Even when that plan is foiled as the enchantment is broken at the wedding and Ariel regains her voice, the sun goes down and all hell breaks loose.

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She is the master of timing


Is it us or is this image hilariously animated despite it being a frightening scene?

Ultimately Ursula succeeds in her plan and achieves her goal – she wants power (symbolised through the crown and the trident) and she gets it. She just did not anticipate getting stabbed by a ship – she underestimated the young man – in a way Ursula is sexist towards men – after all she tells Ariel that men are only interested in one thing … and in this case she was wrong.



“Drop … your … trident”

Overall, Ursula is a brilliant villain – one of the best and most sinister villains that we have seen so far in The Disney Odyssey – she is theatrical, conniving, sultry, witty and vicious – a blend of old Hollywood, musical theatre, German cabaret and campy drag rolled into one entertaining nightmare of an antagonist – a villain who adores being the villain.


To quote Vincent Price’s Ratigan, she is ‘wicked, so delightfully wicked’.

Supporting Cast


Sebastian is an excellent supporting character. The court composer and curmudgeon with a heart of gold, originally he was pitched as English, old-fashioned and stuffy with the name Clarence (we wonder if they were influenced by It’s a Wonderful Life?). It is only because Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wanted to incorporate reggae, calypso and ska influences into the music that Sebastian became Caribbean (specifically Trinidadian, according to Samuel E. Wright, because he couldn’t do a Jamaican accent), old-fashioned and stuffy – bravo to fighting stereotypes! It is as if they put Baloo and Bagheera into a blender full of sea water – ‘the entertainer’ and ‘the stick in the mud’.

 (Special Note from Melissa: Another name from The Tempest! Even if the name Ariel was a Footloose coincidence, The Tempest is still an obvious choice as inspiration for The Little Mermaid – shipwrecks, tempests, liberty, young love, etc… Ferdinand and Eric are similar, Ariel is a cross between Miranda and Ariel, Ursula has a touch of Caliban and Antonio, while Triton is a blend of Prospero and Alonso – the list could go on!)

Sebastian plays a prominent role in the plot’s motion. Initially sent by Triton to keep an eye on Ariel and make sure she stays out of trouble, he discovers to his horror that she has a controversial hobby with controversial desires, saves a human from drowning and then falls in love with him – all under his watch.

Despite being stuffy, Sebastian knows how to put on a good show, with two very entertaining persuasion songs – although ironically both songs fail in their purpose.

The emotional centre of Sebastian and his connection to Triton and Ariel makes him go beyond being an average sidekick. Sebastian even has his own subplot in which he has to encounter a villain of his own – a manic French chef determined to cook him.



He is a multi-dimensional supporting character reminiscent of Shakespearean roles like Pisanio and Tranio (the reluctant, hard-working servant who comes through for the young lead) with an impactful and heart-warming arc of his own. Howard Ashman wrote the sweet turning-point speech that Sebastian delivers to Ariel when he finally decides to help and support her, knowing that if he does not, she will be unhappy. He is also funny, entertaining and engaging, aided by Samuel E. Wright’s excellent performance as a neurotic crab – you really feel his panic, exasperation and glee rolled into Sebastian’s character. Interestingly enough, Wright would love to improvise and yet he was told to stop improvising in the recording booth – ‘Sam you can’t do that. This is not Robin Williams!’ A year later, he was asked to come back and ad-lib again – he was now allowed to ‘go nuts’ in the booth.

Shortly thereafter Robin Williams would be cast in Aladdin ­– what irony.

Flounder plays the part of the supportive best friend – a nervous counterpart to Ariel’s rebelliousness, showing the male in a double act as cowardly figure who needs to be rescued (but he does later return the favour in the climax). Flounder is Michael Cera before there ever was a Michael Cera – non-threatening, caring and awkward. He is so awkward that he is lousy at telling the truth – you’d think it would be the other way around!


He fades more into the background as the film progresses, since Sebastian becomes Ariel’s chaperone, which makes sense considering that Flounder is water-bound.


Get him back in the water QUICK!

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We love Scuttle (voiced by Buddy Hackett) – he never overstays his welcome, he is genuinely funny and likeable, and he plays a significant role in the film’s climax. To be honest, all of the supporting characters play significant roles in the film’s climax! No one is wasted.


Here’s looking at you Einstein

We love that Scuttle’s misinformation actually comes to fruition in really amusing visual gags. His shtick as he explains what the fork (dinglehopper) and pipe (snarfblatt) are for is hilarious, especially the ‘humans would stare at each other all day … got very boring’ line.

However the film-makers make the smart decision and get Scuttle, Flounder and Sebastian (the comic relief) out of the way during very serious moments, such as the two storms.

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“See you when the weather clears up and the dramatic scene is over”

Despite being a ‘mythical’ royal figure, Triton is actually one of the most realistic parents in the canon so far. It is the first time that we have explored this type of parent in The Disney Odyssey. Triton has to reprimand Ariel on several occasions. As a child, you would see him as more of an antagonist, but as you get older, you start to see more from his point of view. He is clearly a father trying to protect his daughter from harm – from the dangers of the human world. Although Triton should really keep his grammar in check when trying to make a point to his daughter.


We never find out why Triton has such animosity towards humans (we have not reached the ‘We must explain everything’ era in Disney yet … plus we know that it is explained in the non-canon third film). Of course it can translate into other forms of prejudice too – allegories for the clash between religions, nationalities, races, etc… He is a single father and judging by this film alone (again the third film isn’t canon) we do not know what happened to Ariel’s mother. Is he a widower? Do his daughters all have different mothers? Was he abandoned? Regardless of that, being Ariel’s only parent, he would likely feel even more protective.

However he is not just an angry, overprotective father. We are privileged to see what Triton is like when Ariel is not around. When she is first in trouble for not showing up to the concert, he berates her and as soon as she storms off, he asks Sebastian if he was too hard on her. When he destroys her grotto, it reminded us of the stepsisters ripping up Cinderella’s dress, but coming from a very different place emotionally. Both are horrific scenes, but the stepsisters’ actions come from such a negative place, while Triton in a rage sees her actions as the last straw: ‘So help me, Ariel, I am going to get through to you; and if this is the only way, so be it!’ It is a huge mistake, and he knows it as soon as he has done it. Seeing red, he perceives this as the only way to keep her from harm, and essentially to make her ‘normal’. It is an emotionally abusive and painful scene that immediately makes hoarders and collectors begin to hyperventilate. The shot of a conflicted Triton looking guilty as he leaves while his daughter sobs makes the scene really resonate – Andreas Deja was the supervising animator and he makes such fantastic choices for what could easily have been a stock overprotective parent.

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We do not see Triton again until much later when he sends a search party out again to find his daughter. The image of him alone on the throne and full of regret as he asks ‘What have I done?’ is deeply poignant, raw and hard to watch – like a Lear who has lost his Cordelia. He feels the guilt and regret that the last time he saw his youngest child was on such poor terms in an unpleasant, aggressive and violent scene.


His voice actor, Kenneth Mars does a really wonderful job in his performance. He was not the original choice for Triton – Patrick Stewart was asked and had to turn it down due to conflicts in scheduling with Star Trek.

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Unfortunately these were the only vocal performances that Patrick Stewart would give in Disney animated films

When he sacrifices himself for Ariel, it is such a moving moment in a wild climax. Later on at the film’s end, it is even more touching when he lets her go in a beautiful scene written by Howard Ashman.

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(Special Note from Melissa: Every time I watch these scenes I am a big crying blubbering mess!)

Triton does have an arc, as he overcomes his personal prejudices, and more importantly, that he has learned that he must let his daughter go – that is the real heart of the film as opposed to the prejudice angle. Ariel and Eric as a couple have broken boundaries, changing Triton’s views on the human world, and breaking the barrier between the two worlds. Triton loves Ariel more than he loves his kingdom – even placing the kingdom in danger to save her from a ruined life, and later lets her leave their world, to embark upon a new one that she loves.

(Special Note from David: The reason Triton is such a stern authoritarian is that he has previously had bad experiences of people not respecting his authority …)

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Eric is often considered by many to be a dream prince – he has a dog (whom he risks his life for), is a musician, wants to meet the ‘right’ girl, knows how to sail (being the Prince of a coastal town, he certainly knows his way around a ship), and ultimately defeats the villain in the name of true love … by stabbing her with a ship.


Never knew you had it in you Eric

(Special Note from Melissa: Plus … he’s so pretty)

(Special Note from Melissa: So pretty I want to cry)

Eric, voiced by sixteen-year-old Christopher Daniel Barnes (who had an incredibly mature voice for his age!), speaks the first line in the film, as he declares his delight at being at sea. He is likeable and like Ariel, has an adventurous spirit and is willing to put his life on the line for others. Eric is the ideal youthful Shakespearean-like lead. The name, Eric, is Old Norse meaning ‘one, alone, ruler, prince, powerful, rich’. It is a common name in Scandinavia and the name of a long line of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish royals – how fitting. Eric is a romantic and is the first Disney prince to have a detailed storyline and an arc. Something that the Nine Old Men and Company would dread and avoid at all costs. Well done. Finally! They wanted him to not be the clichéd, buttoned up prince character that we’ve seen before, but instead be someone who is much more down-to-earth, like ‘one of the guys’, and was allegedly even inspired by Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.


Sounds about right for the romantic lead

Ariel’s rescue of Eric is such a magically-infused moment – she is a mermaid after all! Eric is grateful to the mysterious woman with the enchantingly beautiful voice who saved his life, and is not at all macho about it – his lack of shallowness is revealed further in his not being fond of the statue made in his honour. He obsesses over the woman who saved his life to the extent that it nearly makes him miss his chance of happiness.

His disappointment that Ariel is mute, and clearly ‘Couldn’t be who [he] thought’ is so insensitive – learn to be aware of your surroundings – she can still hear and see you!

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‘Dude she’s right there’

Like Ariel, Eric too is stubborn, and in his case is determined to find ‘the one’ – perhaps he is a little closer than Ariel to previous Disney princesses and princes.


‘Someday my princess will come!’

But he becomes smitten with Ariel through her energy, eccentricities and her excitement. During their boat date, he holds back from kissing her, partly from shyness, but mainly from not wanting to betray feelings for the girl who saved him from drowning. They do come very close to kissing. Ursula did not bank on Eric falling for a voiceless Ariel, but he does. Eric, a dreamer, makes the decision (with some guidance from Grimsby) to embrace the ‘real’ girl right before him and leave the fantasy behind – and he throws the flute into the sea.

Then Billy Zane comes back to life and hypnotises Old Rose into marrying him … HA!

Eric is ready to commit to the eccentric, sweet woman that he has come to know and love. It is a brilliant scene – haunting, evocative, beautiful and ultimately chilling as he becomes enchanted by Ursula/Vanessa – a love-in-idleness-like enchantment, except unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there are no comic implications, but tragedy alone.

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Except for this bit – he is hilarious during the wedding, when he doesn’t even move or blink during the wedding chaos.


He’s like this cat

The only way it could have been any worse would be if Ursula had pulled him down to a watery death in the sea akin to mythological sirens.

Eric never had to get involved in the climax, but he does. He accepts that Ariel is a mermaid and swims down to her, throwing … something … at Ursula.


Seriously what is that?

He does not want to lose Ariel, and ultimately he kills the villain, saving the ‘mer’ civilisation from tyranny, and thus uniting the two kingdoms together.  As we said before, both Ariel and Eric rescue each other during the film – it is not a one-way street. Their relationship is a sweet one and it does grow over the three days that they share together – an old Hollywood style young romance.

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Grimsby is Eric’s own equivalent of a Sebastian figure – a stuffy ‘crabby’ chaperone/mentor – trying to keep Eric’s feet on the ground, like Sebastian attempts with Ariel. He is a comic role who gets a few very amusing moments, and yet simultaneously he delivers one of the film’s most meaningful lines.


‘Eric, if I may say, far better than any dream girl is one of flesh and blood. One warm, and caring, and right before your eyes’

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Although Grimsby you were rather quick to accept it when the ‘dream girl’ finally does show up, completely disregarding what you said before:


‘Ha! Forget what I said last night Eric! I just went a bit mad’

Grimsby is voiced by Ben Wright, who had previously voiced Roger in One Hundred and One Dalmatians nearly thirty years ago at that point. Funnily enough, when he was cast to play Grimsby, no one was aware that he had voiced a Disney character before! Sadly Ben Wright died before the film was even released – it was his final role.

Artwork and Imagery

The Little Mermaid is Disney’s last full length animated feature film to not be digital. It is the final film to use hand-painted cels, optical effects and analogue camera – using over one million drawings. After that, The Rescuers Down Under would be the first Disney animated film to fully embrace the CAPS system; therefore it is the last chance before 100% digital for the animators to be completely hands on. However that does not mean that there are no CAPS or CGI shots – the penultimate shot of the rainbow framed ship is CAPS made, and a staircase, carriage and ships are CGI-based. The film highlights the creativity and inventiveness of animation. It is something that has been missing for a long time at Disney – corners have not been cut! The musical sequences look brilliant, varying from gorgeously intimate solo numbers to Busby-Berkeley-esque chorus numbers, especially next to something as soulless as Oliver and Company.

Here are some particularly stunning looking shots:

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More money and resources were dedicated to The Little Mermaid than any other Disney animated film in decades, mainly due to the success of Basil, Oliver and Company and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The underwater setting of The Little Mermaid required the most special effects animation since Fantasia nearly fifty years ago and you can really see the impact. The water sequences look so impressive – fluid and seamless. Approximately over a million bubbles were drawn, meaning that the bubble effects had to be created in a separate institution at Pacific Rim Productions in China. Animator, Kay Nielsen’s story sketches from the 1930s (when they were developing The Little Mermaid as a short) were brought out for inspiration and he even receives a credit in The Little Mermaid (check out these sketches – Nielsen’s artwork is beautiful). Consequently the storm sequence is incredibly striking and a real throwback to Disney’s artwork in the Golden Age.

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See how fantastically animated the voice stealing moment is – Howard Ashman personally directed Ariel’s live action model in how to portray a ‘voice’ being pulled from her throat:

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The film is clearly a result of old and new styles blending beautifully together. Ben Wright, as Roger and Grimsby, bookends the Ub Iwerks Xerography era, from One Hundred and One Dalmatians to The Little Mermaid.

The character animation is at as high a standard (and likely even higher!) than Basil the Great Mouse Detective. Glen Keane and Mark Henn in particular have triumphed, with such wonderful and realistic animation for Ariel. It is the tiniest details that make this film stand out and reveal that the younger animators know what they’re doing: Triton’s guilt after destroying Ariel’s collection, Sebastian’s world-weary expressions, Ariel having to communicate without words, Eric’s possession scene, Ariel’s heartbreak, Ursula’s … just everything Ursula does! There is always something to watch in this film – not a single frame is wasted. Sexual tension and chemistry has not been more intensely (and genuinely) shown in a Disney film as between Ariel and Eric:


Aside from the talent of the animators, one of the reasons why the character animation had made such a leap in quality is that for the first time in many years, extensive live action reference had been used to assist the animators.  Even Kathryn Beaumont (Alice and Wendy’s voice actress) was called upon by the team to offer advice about live action reference as the young animators were not as familiar with this procedure. Sherri Stoner, a Groundlings performer with a flair for improvisation, was cast as Ariel’s live action performer, and she brought a lot of her own personal ‘isms’ to the Ariel which ended up in the final film. These personal ‘isms’ brought by all of the live action performers are likely what makes the film feel so honest and relatable.

Alongside Stoner’s performance, Ariel’s design was also inspired by Alyssa Milano and astronaut Sally Ride for her underwater hair. Speaking of hair … Ariel’s hair became a huge debate. Should it be blonde? Brown? Red? Black? Jeffrey Katzenberg shot everyone down with, ‘Everybody knows that mermaids are blonde’

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However in the end, Katzenberg did not get his way, because they did not want Ariel to look too similar to Daryl Hannah in Splash. As Roger Allers pointed out in an interview, ‘yellow’ underwater in the dark does not look great, while dark red looks striking, particular in juxtaposition to green. Instead, they decided on a fiery red for the passionate Ariel, coupling it with the complementary green of her fish tail. Ariel’s pink dress when she is on land is a combination of the three previous Disney princesses’ outfits. Snow White’s puffy sleeves with diamond patterns, Cinderella’s full skirt, and Aurora’s off-shoulder and slim arms, and of course the … pink colour …




‘Make it blue’

Ariel’s wedding dress certainly made us remember what era we were in …


Hello 1980s! 


‘Good heavens child!’ 

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The designs of both Triton’s and Eric’s palaces are a step in a new direction for Disney. Eric’s is very Mediterranean, while Triton’s is gorgeously fantastical in its appearance. The film is also loaded with iconic imagery, which we feel has been lacking for a long time in the canon.

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Oh welcome back you glorious, glorious music!

Alan Menken had never done a film score before and was apparently very nervous about it. Howard Ashman felt that it was important that the songs be integrated into the score and thus persuaded Menken to do it, especially as he had not done the score for the film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors, and regretted it because most of the score were his melodies, and the score ended up getting a Golden Globe (and frustratingly enough because of that technicality, it was not his to receive). We are glad that he took the plunge (following an audition) because the score is glorious. It is the most detailed and character theme-centric score since Mary Poppins and the most detailed of all animated films so far – the effort of the score is mind-blowing. The animators recall the exciting feeling that they felt hearing music being created in Ashman and Menken’s room at the studio going up and down the corridors and they knew that this was a project that they wanted to be involved  it felt like the old days at Disney.

Something that we realised from buying the Legacy edition of The Little Mermaid soundtrack is that there is nearly always music underscoring the action and dialogue in the film – the soundtrack is over 80 minutes long. While listening to the soundtrack you feel like you are watching the film – except … you’re feeling the film through the music rather than seeing it – the emotions really come through and it was easy to know what was going on – the music speaks for the characters – it could easily play over muted dialogue and  it would still work beautifully. There’s a clear distinction between land and sea themes, and classical themes transcend through the score. The music encapsulates adventure, romance, comedy, dreaming, threat and horror. The main titles are strikingly emotional and hauntingly beautiful, completely characterising what The Little Mermaid is all about – it moves you to tears – and that is bookended with the ‘Happy Ending’ which feels like a real homage to the classic Disney fairy tale films, solidifying itself as a classic among them, complete with a Disney chorus.

(Special Note from David: Naturally!)

Offering us some Deja-vu from the Golden and Pit of Despair eras (Peter and the Wolf and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), every character has a dominant instrument – Ariel the flute, Triton the French Horn, Scuttle the clarinet, Eric the Oboe and Ursula … well … she has them all dahling. Each character has a leit-motif that is distinctive like the way in which the Sherman Brothers did in Poppins. The use of the leit-motifs are so impressive in choices that they make, particularly in significant moments, and especially revolving around the Part of Your World theme. Of course, this is Ariel’s theme, and it is the heart and centre of the score, but the way in which it gets used or manipulated by other characters can vary from melancholic, to tragic, to absolutely horrific and sinister. After being rescued by Ariel, Eric keeps playing the melody on his flute to reflect that he can’t get over her, and when Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto, a horrible, distorted version of the tune is playing in the underscore. But the most painful instance is Ursula using Ariel’s ‘voice’ through the Part of Your World melody to steal her identity and hypnotise Eric. When she is transforming into Vanessa, Part of Your World plays but with a typically Ursula-like brass instrument, and of course, the haunting use of Ariel’s aria on the beach. It’s just … evil. She has quite literally stolen her voice. It gets even worse when the wedding boat sets sail and the organ is playing the ‘Tour of the Kingdom’ music from their date, which can be described as Eric and Ariel’s ‘song’ – their ‘song’ is now being used as Eric and Vanessa’s wedding march.



The songs inform the viewer, define character and push the narrative forward. Menken and Ashman’s songs have such a rare combination of wit, sharpness, hilarity, and campiness and at the same time, genuine emotion and tenderness. We haven’t had such fun and intelligent songs since The Jungle Book. Their songs never feel forced – it is as if they just popped up into being, and yet when you hear the demos, it is wonderful to experience how the process of how these songs came to be through such creativity and hard work. Their knowledge of theatre and storytelling shines through so much in the songs and the score that it moves us. At last – such a wonderful double act.

Fathoms Below is a sea shanty sung by the sailors on Eric’s ship – a nautical ditty that has shades of an upbeat version of the opening of Les Miserables. Although not likely to be anyone’s favourite number from the film, it immediately sets the tone for The Little Mermaid and offers exposition without going too much in detail (a deleted scene reveals much more exposition and is consequently less mysterious). It establishes the divide between worlds – between the human characters and the (perceived to be) mythical mer-people. It is a grand opening that feels exciting and epic – the grandest since The Journey.

The Daughters of Triton is all the sisters really get to do in this film … other than complain about Ariel being in the … bathroom(?) for too long. It feels very like a beauty queen or débutante number (which makes sense as Howard Ashman’s latest show Smile had been about beauty queens), as they all introduce themselves, saving Ariel for last in the ‘shocking’ reveal that she is not there.

(Special Note from Both: We are seething … Ariel … why???)

In a rather Goneril and Regan move, the sisters are all schmoozing about how wonderful their father is, while Ariel pulls a worse one than Cordelia by … not turning up at all.


Good job idiot

Although touchingly enough, Daughters of Triton can be heard in the underscore when Triton lets Ariel go – it genuinely surprised us.

Part of Your World is a whole story in itself. Initially, Ariel’s number was going to focus on her romantic interest, as a love song to a human statue, but Howard Ashman, when meeting with John Musker and Ron Clements for the first time, advised that it may be better to angle Ariel’s ballad from the point-of-view of her desire to be part of the human world. He had the idea behind Part of Your World very early on, even during that discussion. When the song was written, Clements and Musker suggested uses of nonsensical expressions like ‘gadgets’, ‘gizmos’ ‘whosits’ and ‘whatsits’ instead of referring to physical things, as Ariel has had information from Scuttle, an unreliable source. The song was jokingly referred to by Ashman and Menken as Somewhere That’s Dry, punning on their ballad from Little Shop called Somewhere That’s Green – in both songs, both leading ladies long for something more, and the melody phrase ‘part of your world’ is rather similar to ‘somewhere that’s green’.

Howard Ashman was determined that Ariel must have a number, as there is always that moment in a Broadway musical when the leading lady must sit down and tell the audience what she wants, and that is when we fall in love with the character. They succeeded – this is the song that makes us fall in love with Ariel, because we understand her heart’s desire, as if we had read her diary or opened a window to her soul – which is the essence of the ‘I Want Song’ in theatre. The song is the heart and centre of the film that has absolutely cemented itself as the film’s signature number and as a classic in the canon. As we said before, the theme is heard repeatedly throughout the underscore, and works beautifully.

Jodi Benson recorded the song in dim lighting to evoke the feeling of being underwater, and Howard Ashman stayed with her during the process, directing her and coaching her to bring out the very best in her performance . He would play other characters while she was recording dialogue too. It was after hearing Jodi Benson’s performance that Glen Keane felt determined to not only animate Ariel, but to animate the Part of Your World sequence, which is one of the film’s major highlights. However trouble was afoot after the infamous screening for school children. The film was still rough, and these kids nearly ruined The Little Mermaid because they got squirmy during Part of Your World, and one kid dropped his popcorn. This caused Jeffrey Katzenberg to insist that they remove it from the picture entirely, to which Howard Ashman responded ‘over my dead body’. He, Menken, Musker and Clements argued and pleaded, but it was Glen Keane who managed to save the life of this song, by arguing that he should not let some hyperactive kids influence a decision like this, to which Katzenberg responded that it wasn’t just that, it was that the song was ‘boring’. Keane managed to persuade Katzenberg to keep it at least until the next preview when it would be shown fully animated. The number was incredibly well received at an adult screening, even moving some spectators to tears. Katzenberg later admitted that he felt embarrassed that he ever considered cutting it, as he could not imagine the film without it. It has become Disney’s Over the Rainbow, the classic song and heart and soul of the film that was nearly cut due to fears of slowing down the picture and being dull to children … thank God they survived.

However as much as this is a wonderful song … we rolled about laughing on Ariel’s ‘end scene’ gesture:

(Breathe) End scene

Under the Sea is the film’s big hit (and the big award-winner too) – a Cole Porter/Busby-Berkeley-esque song complete with wordplay, wit, puns and a super-fun bassline. It is a really fun number  that makes you want to get up and dance with its infectiously catchy melody and eclectic variety of instruments. The calypso influences musically make it stand out from anything else in the canon – Samuel E. Wright performs this song brilliantly with delightful energy and wonderful little touches thrown in throughout.

Poor Unfortunate Souls really may be the best villain song we have had so far in the canon. What an inspired number! It pushes the story forward in leaps and bounds, offers delicious characterisation and is wickedly hilarious, sexy and frightening all at once. It is the show’s most theatrical number, pumping out a cabaret vibe that exudes sleaze, wit and danger. It builds, builds and keeps on building to this phenomenal climax – it is as if Ursula is the feverish conductor of a ballet or opera that begins on the quiet and just explodes into chaos – the spell moment feels very Fantasia-like. Pat Carroll was not the first choice for Ursula and these are moments when you are so glad that things don’t work out with what is originally planned in casting, because she is perfect in the role. However we will point out that if Pat Carroll had not played the role, there is only one other person who could have played Ursula, and that is Howard Ashman. Even Pat Carroll admits that she was initially intimidated, and asked Howard if he would sing the song for her first before she recorded the number, and it suddenly clicked when she heard and saw him perform:

“I said, ‘I got you, Howard. I know exactly what you want.’ He gave me that performance! Come on, I’m honest enough to say that. I got the whole attitude from him … and his shoulders would twitch in a certain way, and his eyes would go a certain way … I got more about that character from Howard singing that song than from anything else.”

Have a listen here:

There is also a reprise of Poor Unfortunate Souls, sung by Jodi Benson who is playing Ursula at that point in the film. She is having a fabulous time Ethel Merman-ing her way through the song, particularly on her pronunciation of the word ‘mermaid’ – hilarious and yet incredibly sinister as Ursula uses Ariel’s stolen voice to sing about her plan to destroy her life. Word of advice to Ursula though, did you ever read Rumplestiltskin? NEVER SING ABOUT YOUR SCHEME!

Les Poissons is the anti-Maurice Chevalier number – an over-the-top character number for a French chef determined to cook Sebastian (much to his horror! His reactions are hilariously animated), as he’s such a ‘succulent crab’. Like Fathoms Below, it is not likely to be anyone’s favourite (just because of the competition!), but that doesn’t mean that it is not of a high standard. It is a filler number, but René Auberjonois puts in so much vocal effort and energy into his performance – the constant backing and forthing from twinkle-toed delight to sadistic maniacal glee makes it go beyond sub-par filler. The beginning of the song feels like a precursor to Be Our Guest – actually the anti-Be Our Guest! Also from Ashman and Menken’s previous music, it is a successor to Dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. The delightful French instrumentation in contrast to hilariously gruesome lyrics is fantastic. Apparently they didn’t want to use the can-can, but felt that in the end it was the only piece of music that really worked in this context.

And that can work brilliantly


Kiss the Girl is the most pop-like song in the score, and yet still feels like a timeless, theatrical number, with (again) some Berkeley flourishes – but overall it is a sensual serenade. Instead of Sebastian having to persuade Ariel like in Under the Sea, he now has to convince Eric to kiss Ariel in order to save her from a doomed life. The two separate worlds have collided, as Sebastian and his animal friends strive to get the human prince together with their mermaid princess – such a huge moment. So much is at stake that tensions run high, and yet ironically it is such a romantic, intimate and relaxed song, aided by its Caribbean flavour provided by Samuel E. Wright’s sensual performance – he certainly created the mood! The number reminds us of the sweetness and awkwardness that brings you back to being a teenager, when you are shy, becoming aware of your romantic and sexual feelings, and when you don’t know whether to make a move or not.


Bedroom eyes are discovered


Alongside goofy romantic eyes

Plus we get the hilarious moment when Eric tries to guess Ariel’s name, until Sebastian becomes impatient and just whispers it irritably in his ear. Wow imagine if he had just let Eric go on.


‘Mildred? Diana? Rachel?’


‘I’ll give you a clue’



(Special Note from Melissa: Because I miss the Great British Bake-Off dearly, for fun I would say that the Signature Bake award goes to Part of Your World, the Technical Bake award goes to Poor Unfortunate Souls, and the Showstopper award goes to Under the Sea.)


Ron Clements and John Musker ‘s writing has been brilliant so far – Basil the Great Mouse Detective had a fantastically written script, and The Little Mermaid, with extra sprinklings and direction from Howard Ashman’s creative mind, creates a great story, one of the best so far in the canon. It is at heart, a very emotional story, not at all afraid to hide from that; the characters’ goals and actions come from emotional places – Triton’s love for his daughter, Ursula’s desire for power, Sebastian’s conflict between a father and daughter, Ariel’s longing to be part of a world that she cannot be part of, and Eric’s yearning to find the ‘one’. Aside from the songs, this may be why audiences identify so much with the film – despite the magical dressing, it is a very human story.

Loosely inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s original story, Disney’s The Little Mermaid uses the following factors from its source material – a mermaid rescues a prince from drowning, falls for him, and does a deal with a sea witch to become human in exchange for her voice. This is as far as it really goes, but they are powerful elements for a story and form a solid narrative for the film. The rebellious young princess with ‘unusual’ interests longing to be part of another world has a mythical vibe and yet is frequently embraced in modern writing.

Interestingly enough, when the team dug through the archives to discover that Walt and his team were working on a The Little Mermaid short back in the 1940s, they realised looking through the minutes from meetings that they had very similar story ideas! Walt, true to his attitude on most adaptations, notably The Jungle Book, made a note that they do not need to literally do Andersen’s text, but instead draw upon it for inspiration. Therefore they cut out ‘heavy’ stuff like the mermaid longing for the immortal soul. Walt came up with the idea of the mermaid humming a song and the prince groggily waking up and remembering the ‘haunting refrain’ – huge inspiration from Walt! However a thought-provoking element of the 1940s idea was that the mermaid wouldn’t know what price she had paid until she tries to speak to the prince for the first time, and realises that she can’t.

The film starts and it continues moving forward – it is a very goal-driven film – when characters want something, they take it.

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We have seen the deleted scenes and despite being interesting, they were wise cuts as they would have slowed the action down. Apparently during the process, Jeffrey Katzenberg said that while he loved all of the film’s components, he didn’t quite love it yet. During this period of major story trouble, Howard Ashman wrote three key scenes – Sebastian trying to persuade Ariel to go home and relenting, Sebastian’s coaching scene in the bedroom, and Triton and Sebastian’s final scene. That 3rd scene was initially all done in silence, but Ashman emphasised that they really shouldn’t be afraid of having the words spoken. These scenes made a huge difference. The narrative and storyboarding flows brilliantly, balancing humour with emotion, and the film has fantastic use of tension and timing. Because of Ursula’s ticking clock in her ‘Three Day Deal’, the stakes feel incredibly high.

It is not only one character who has a developmental story arc – there are multiple plots/subplots that interweave effortlessly. The plot revolves around Ariel, and anything that could be perceived as subplot connects with the main plot. There is a father-daughter conflict, an evil scheme, an unlikely duo ‘road trip’, a mystery, and a romance. The four main characters have goals, and Ursula’s scheme weaves a web of all of these goal strands.

Ariel’s objective – Wants to experience the human world

Eric’s objective – Wants to find the right girl

Triton’s objective – Wants his child to be ‘normal’

Ursula’s objective – Wants to rule the sea

Interestingly enough, the young characters achieve their goals by the film’s conclusion, and the older characters do not. Ursula’s objective is achieved but destroyed in minutes, while Triton chooses to let go of his objective, embracing that his child will never be ‘normal’, and instead accepts her ‘oddness’ and the success of Ariel and Eric’s goals – she can live in the human world, and Eric can be with his daughter. The story reveals the changing of the guard – the progressive younger generation have enlightened the older generation – perfectly summed up in Triton’s rainbow at the film’s end. However the ending is beautifully bittersweet – it is not a sickly sweet happy ending. Triton has to let his daughter go, and Ariel has to leave her family and friends to live her life on the land.

The biggest issues for us in terms of story was that the climax felt over too soon, and while the film has terrific pace, it could have afforded to slow down at times, primarily because the material is brilliant and we want to see it, but also because we want to see more. The shark scene seems a little redundant too as he never appears again, and it feels mostly like screening tension for tension’s sake (we’ve heard that it didn’t tend to be any of the creators’ favourite scene) and of course  … WHAT DID ARIEL DO ON THE 3RD DAY? We need Columbo on the case! Or Basil …

David’s Verdict

The Little Mermaid is a film that we have waited a very long time to get to in The Disney Odyssey. As we have proceeded through the studio’s history, we’ve really taken notice of how much things changed since Walt Disney’s death, and the long-term impact that his passing had on the artists and animators at the studio. The lack of a clear leader-figure to pull everything together and to keep things on track was really evident, and for such a long time nobody was able to step into that role and have a truly noticeable impact.

All of that changed with the arrival of Howard Ashman – people at the studio called him a “new Walt” which was not the sort of endorsement to be given lightly. However, the praise was rightfully given as The Little Mermaid firmly solidifies itself amongst the true classics in the Studio’s canon. For the first time since Sleeping Beauty (released thirty years prior) comes a film where it looks as though the studio has well and truly put their all into it. It is one of the most fully realised films in the canon at this point – I would consider The Jungle Book and Basil the Great Mouse Detective to be amongst my all time favourite films in the canon, but I will admit that they are inhibited by budgetary restraints and consequently look very sketchy at times. It is a genuine delight to see the artists and animators able to really showcase their abilities – the film looks fantastic.

The film tells its story really well, the pacing is consistent and the musical numbers are skilfully integrated in order to ensure that the plot is always moving forward. Also it’s worth mentioning that the soundtrack to the film is brilliant – every song is memorable and serves a clear purpose (even the throwaway comedy song is entertaining and memorable). Songs like “Part of That World” and “Under The Sea” are indelibly ingrained into cinematic history. The film also has a really great score, something that hasn’t been so apparent since Mary Poppins (and probably the most well rounded original score in an animated film ever up to this point).

The film also boasts a great cast of characters, all of whom serve a purpose to the plot. We have already discussed the characters at length, so there’s not really much to add, except to say they they’re all really well designed and really well acted.

All of the components in the film work really well, and a significant factor within this is the fact that Howard Ashman really cared. He cared about the characters, he cared about the songs – and that translates into the final product really clearly. The Little Mermaid was truly a labour of love from the artists and animators at Disney, and consequently it is one of their best ever films.

Melissa’s Verdict

The Little Mermaid is one of those films that I do not remember watching for the first time … simply because it was always there! Our scrappy old family VHS copy was likely bought when I was still an infant, so we have had it for as long as I can remember. I loved watching it as a child, but as per usual with Disney films during this period, when DVDs became mainstream, VHS copies would get tucked away (and pre-teen-isms would kick in) and it wasn’t until 2006 when I bought it on DVD, initially as a Christmas present for my sister, that I realised how bloody marvellous this film is – and upon re-watching it for The Disney Odyssey, I loved it even more. However, during my teen years, while I really liked The Little Mermaid, I always insisted that Beauty and the Beast was the superior film … I’m really not so sure now. But you’ll have to wait until that review before I can even work that out for myself.

The film encapsulates what I love about the possibilities of cinema – and in this case the possibilities of the animated musical. The work, effort, creativity, joy and care that went into this film is as clear as day – John Musker, Howard Ashman, Ron Clements and Alan Menken were a phenomenal team, and everyone else who played a part in this film did an absolutely wonderful job. I love the songs, the score, the characters and the story. The lead, the villain and the supporting cast are all engaging and entertaining, aided by high-quality and truthful character animation, brilliant vocal performances, and a witty, yet tender script from Musker and Clements. Ariel is an appealing, heart-felt and identifiable leading lady, while Ursula is so delightfully evil that it’s fantastic seeing them together in the Poor Unfortunate Souls scene. The narrative structure is solid, balancing humour, emotion, and tension, meaning that I constantly felt invested in the plight of all of the characters. It features one of the best romances in Eric and Ariel, one of the most sinister schemes in Ursula, and one of the best parent-child dynamics in Triton and Ariel, so far in the canon. The film never felt slow, which was good, and yet it meant that sometimes it moved a little faster than I wanted it to – it could have afforded to slow down at certain critical moments and it wouldn’t have hurt the film. The artwork is really lovely and at times absolutely beautiful to behold, but again, like Basil, character animation is the true strength in The Little Mermaid.

The gorgeous score for The Little Mermaid is one of my favourites so far in the canon, and the songs are fantastic – not only a return to form, but an ignition of something different, and perhaps in a way even greater. Music has returned to being the heart and soul of Disney animated films. If I had to choose, Part of Your World would likely be my favourite song, mainly due to how much it is entwined into the film’s score, and how much passion and longing swells not only in the music, but in the vocal performance. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had brought something very special to Disney, and it really shows when watching the film. Howard was indeed ‘another Walt’, and knowing what went on behind the scenes during production, truly enriches the film in my esteem even more. I love the theatrical sensibility of The Little Mermaid, which goes beyond the music and songs, whether it be in Ariel’s yearning desires for more, in Ursula’s delightful manipulation, in Sebastian’s lavish entertainments, or in Triton’s bittersweet decision to let his daughter go at the end – theatre transcends – The Little Mermaid feels like theatre but has partnered fantastically with the wonders of cinema and the amazing possibilities of animation. It is a triumph and a glorious return to the musical and the fairytale at Disney.

(P.S. There is a scene in The Little Mermaid that partly (in among many reasons) inspired me to want to do The Disney Odyssey in the first place. It was the scene in which Grimsby gives Eric his words of advice on love, and Eric’s thought process in which he decides, in silence, to let go of the fantasy and embrace the girl before him, until (un)timely intervention steps in with Ursula/Vanessa’s hypnotic enchantment, as she emerges hauntingly from the ocean, all accompanied by breath-taking underscore. I felt blown away by that scene watching it a few years, and it reminded me how powerful Disney animation can be, and how it does not always get the credit that it truly deserves. Yes, Disney is popular – it gets that credit – but sometimes I feel like the films do not get seen as works of art in entertainment as much as they should be)


Jeffrey Katzenberg warned The Little Mermaid team to not get their hopes up – it would not likely do as well as Oliver and Company because ‘guys’ movies do better than ‘girls’ movies. John Musker remarked in an interview that he never even considered it to be a ‘girls’ movie’ and believed that it would transcend gender lines. It is not surprising that Katzenberg said this because in 1980s Hollywood, sadly, there was truth in that and it is a debate which continues today. However, consider animated films that could be perceived as ‘girls’ films, simply because of their female protagonists – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella – these are the films that practically saved Disney animation and ignited their own eras – the Golden Age and the Restoration (Romantic) Era. Alongside this warning from Katzenberg, there was also a widespread fear of the film being constantly compared to the ‘classics’ and ultimately considered to be inferior.

While there were critics who did think that way, The Little Mermaid was a critical and financial success. It was released in 1989 in the USA, but in 1990 for the majority of the world, including the UK. Similarly to what recently happened initially with Frozen, the film had a good opening weekend (good not great), but it just kept playing and playing and playing, becoming an enormous hit. It made $84,355,863 at the domestic box office. In its lifetime, the film made $111,543,479 domestically and $110,800,000 internationally… much more than Oliver and Company. The film was released on the same day as Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven, which made a mere $27,100,027 at the domestic box office.

Variety called The Little Mermaid Disney’s ‘best animated feature since “Jungle Book” … [which] should come as no surprise to admirers of “The Great Mouse Detective,” writer-director collaborators John Musker and Ron Clements’ exceptionally appealing 1986 animated feature that helped salvage the art form at the studio after it had nearly sunk into “The Black Cauldron” … It’s also hard to say enough about the contribution of lyricist Howard Ashman (who co-produced with Musker) and composer Alan Menken, whose songs frequently begin slowly but build in cleverness and intensity’. They refer to Under the Sea as an instant classic, and that ‘Newcomer Jodi Benson (Ariel) also exhibits a show-stopping set of pipes on the ballad “Part Of Your World,” a “Les Miz” ringer’. Their biggest criticism is that ‘the filmmakers succumb to the annoying MTV-influenced convention of some too-quick cuts … and jarringly awkward edits, as if overly concerned with rushing the story along’.

Roger Ebert loved the film: ‘Watching “The Little Mermaid,” I began to feel that the magic of animation had been restored to us … Something seems to have broken free inside all of these men, and the animating directors they worked with: Here at last, once again, is the kind of liberating, original, joyful Disney animation that we all remember from “Snow White,” “Pinocchio” and the other first-generation classics. There has been a notion in recent years that animated films are only for kids. But why? The artistry of animation has a clarity and a force that can appeal to everyone, if only it isn’t shackled to a dim-witted story. “The Little Mermaid” has music and laughter and visual delight for everyone’.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times also had nothing but high praise for the film: ‘The heroine of Hans Christian Andersen’s story ”The Mermaid” failed in her bid to become human, and became a disembodied spirit relegated to spending centuries in limbo. ”The Little Mermaid,” a glorious Walt Disney version of this tale and the best animated Disney film in at least 30 years, is due for immortality of a happier kind … ”The Little Mermaid” is a marvel of skillful animation, witty songwriting and smart planning. It is designed to delight filmgoers of every conceivable stripe. Teenagers will appreciate the story’s rebellious heroine … Adults will be charmed by the film’s bright, outstandingly pretty look and by its robust score. Small children will be enchanted by the film’s sunniness and by its perfect simplicity’. Maslin also wrote that Ashman and Menken scored ‘a bull’s-eye with ”Part of Your World,” a powerhouse ballad … Any Broadway musical would be lucky to include a single number this good. ”The Little Mermaid” has half a dozen of them’.

The Little Mermaid won two Academy Awards – the first time that a Disney animated film has won any since The Jungle Book (1967) and the first Disney film since Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) – Best Music, Original Song for Under the Sea, and Best Music, Original Score. Kiss the Girl was also nominated for Best Song. It won and was nominated for exactly the same awards at the Golden Globes. Under the Sea also won Best Song Written for a Motion Picture or Television at the Grammy Awards and the film won Best Recording for Children, while Kiss the Girl was nominated and the film was nominated for Best Instrumental Composition for a Motion Picture or Television.

It won the Golden Screen Award in Germany, the Animation Award at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, the BMI Film Music Award at the BMI Film and TV awards, the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in an Animated Feature at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards, Best Family Motion Picture (Adventure or Cartoon) at the Young Artist Awards. It was nominated for Best Casting for a Comedy Feature Film at the Casting Society of America awards, for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures at the PGA Awards.

Akin to The Rescuers’ naked lady fiasco, The Little Mermaid has its own controversy – and not only one, but two. The palace in the cover art of the original VHS release appears to fashion a spire that looks like a phallus – it was allegedly an accident based on the artist working late into the night and in a hurry. The second controversy is the ‘knee jerk’ one – the minster at Eric and Vanessa’s wedding appears to have an erection – the defence was that it was his knee, but organisations used it to complain about subliminal messaging in Disney films – there was even a lawsuit.

(Special Note from Melissa: Wow … some people have way too much time on their hands. I own this VHS copy and have had it for 25 years … both the cover and the screenshot did not have any impact on me as a child. I didn’t even notice it until I read about it on the Internet years later. It did not ‘ruin’ my childhood or have any impact on me psychologically – so sorry to parents out there who love to find a reason to complain that Disney have traumatised or corrupted their children)

There was direct-to-video sequel and prequel to The Little Mermaid, as well as a TV series and a Broadway musical (and later a reinvention of the musical). The film was re-released in cinemas in 1997 in the USA and 1998 in the UK. A 3D re-release of the film was cancelled in 2013 due to the under-performances of Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. 

(Special Note from Melissa: I would go berserk that this happened but to tell you the truth I don’t think The Little Mermaid would look great in 3D. However I would have been thrilled to have seen it in 2D on the big screen!)

The overall legacy that the film left is that it reignited the Disney musical, and more importantly established even further the fruitful connection between musical theatre and animation. It brought Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to the forefront! Jeffrey Katzenberg, despite his initial cynicism, later described The Little Mermaid as the ‘foundation on which the renaissance was built’.

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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


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



Oliver, voiced by Joey Lawrence, is the male ingénue of the film – orphaned and abandoned he endures a great deal of hardship within the first five minutes of the film alone. During the opening Once Upon A Time in New York City sequence, he has to confront rejection …


(Special Note from Both: Because why would you want an orange kitten when you can have a BLUE one instead!)


(Special Note from Melissa: What is with the 1980s and puppies/kittens being all the colours of the rainbow?)

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Bet they were partly responsible 

(Special Note from David: Also who is selling these kittens? Who is collecting the money? Who is changing the sign???)

(Special Note from Melissa: And what is wrong with these people? Who doesn’t stop to look at a cute kitten? If I see even a cat, I have to stop and gape at it for at least a few minutes)


Most realistic character in the film

He spends a night out on the streets where he encounters torrential rain and a pack of scary attack dogs.


Welcome to New York Oliver!

It’s as if Disney is foreshadowing a film that would be released nearly 20 years later … where New Yorkers are also not a pleasant bunch:

Giselle: You see I’ve been wandering very far and long tonight and I’m afraid nobody’s been very nice to me.

Robert: Yeah, well, welcome to New York!

Thank you!

Even though he encounters horrible people and scary beast dogs, Oliver remains a well-meaning character who doesn’t want to do wrong by anyone (like his Oliver Twist counterpart) – which results in characters like Georgette and Dodger exploiting his naiveté for their own ends. This innocence, coupled with the fact that he’s a small kitten makes the character sympathetic. However, he is also capable of standing up for himself, as demonstrated when he scratches and bites his attackers (incidentally this is very believable behaviour for a kitten).

We wonder if they could have made him a bit more of a naughty or scruffy-looking kitten. Perhaps a bit of a Marley-like Clearance Puppy? Or Clearance Kitty?!

In a similar fashion to Lady in Lady and the Tramp, Oliver doesn’t speak until seven minutes into the film. But unlike Lady, he actually says very little during the film’s running time. Despite being the main character (and his name being in the title), he feels a lot more like a member of the ensemble than the central focus of the film. His main goal in the film is to find a home and a family, and he actually achieves this objective very early on. After this there isn’t really much for him to do and the focus is placed on the other characters, thus unfortunately becoming a little redundant. During his first mission, he even pipes up, ‘What do I do?’


‘You go long’


‘How long?’


‘… Until we start to look very small’

When he is found by lonely child, Jenny, he is truly happy – happy enough that there is a love montage of the time that they spend together – all less than 24 hours of it. The sad situation is that he was so desperate to find ‘family’ that he clung onto a mangy gang of outlaw dogs and their dirty hobo master, that as soon as they accepted him into their roost, he immediately finds a much better opportunity, and Dodger  makes him feel guilty for wanting to take it.

(Special Note from Both: Sounds like your first job!)

Overall as a protagonist, Oliver is … fine. He is cutely animated (he is a kitten after all!), he is not annoying (as we discussed before some child characters can be), and is willing to stand up for himself. But unfortunately he does feel very sidelined, especially when you consider how prominent and central previous child protagonists have been in the past, e.g. Pinocchio, Snow White, Arthur, and Mowgli. His best moment is probably when he admits to the gang that he was happy living with Jenny. Child characters of a similar ilk to Oliver tend to be in the supporting role rather than the leading role. We have come across a similar scenario before, in which the protagonist of a film actually speaks and features very little. Sleeping Beauty is a prime example of that. The difference is that in Sleeping Beauty  there are supporting characters who really are, at heart, lead roles in ‘supporting role clothing’ – and they are really engaging and entertaining characters with a strong emotional anchor. This is why instead of jumping immediately to the ‘Antagonist’ section we’re going to speak next about supporting characters …

Supporting Cast


Dodger, voiced by Billy Joel (Steve Martin and Burt Reynolds were both considered for the role), is the laid-back, streetwise dog – who plays takes Oliver under his wing during the film, rather reminiscent of the Chief/Copper relationship from The Fox and the Hound.

(Special Note from Melissa: If Chief wore sunglasses … and didn’t have the voice of Pat Buttram)

Despite being the alleged ‘cool’ one from Fagin’s gang, he eventually shows a more sensitive nature and softer side where Oliver is concerned, which ultimately makes us connect it with Baloo and Mowgli. However while Baloo figuratively is Mowgli’s ‘fun uncle’ and Chief is Copper’s ‘grumpy mentor’, Dodger is Oliver’s ‘cool older brother’. Initially he cheats Oliver and enjoys himself at his expense during Why Should I Worry?, getting kicks out of making him look like a chump.


Despite how ‘cool’ Dodger makes himself out to be, he, like the rest of his gang, is a bit of a loser. He takes the ‘artful’ out of the ‘Artful Dodger’. If the character really was as cool as the writers want him to be, he wouldn’t have made up exaggerated stories about fighting off a ferocious beast in order to get sausages. He is appropriately shamefaced once his lie is revealed.




It’s obvious that Dodger was inspired by Lady and the Tramp’s Tramp, but Tramp is a much more appealing character because he has very significant growth, going from a free-wheeling, cocky ladies’ man to ‘Tramp the Married Man’ (to Shakespeare fans, ‘Benedick-style’). Dodger is loyal and does come through for his gang and for Oliver, but the character could have done with more development and less time spent on trying to make the character ‘hip’ and ‘what kids want’. Dodger is ‘playing’ cool, rather than being cool.


‘I’m a hip old doggie who can hip hop bebop dance til ya drop and yo yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa’

He is such a symbol of 1980s animation marketing gone wild in trying so hard to be cool and appeal to kids and teenagers that at times it’s cringe-worthy. Oliver and Company marketing is this girl:

It’s also this same mentality which is why characters like this exist:

He’s even called Cooler … LAME

Dodger is also guilty of a very irritating character trope – he gives Oliver the ANNOYING passive aggressive cold shoulder rather than being happy for him when he finds a home. He goes off into a sulk and guilt-trips the child, taking it so personally. The rest of the gang seem to be sympathetic and understanding towards Oliver’s circumstances, while Dodger throws an immature tantrum. Even Tito says ‘Lighten up’ …

(Special Note from Both: When Tito notices that you’re being annoying, it’s a bad sign!)

Speaking of the gang, this ragtag gang of misfit outlaws make up the majority of the supporting cast.



It seems that the animators were inspired by that one scene in the pound in Lady and the Tramp, and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if these characters had their own movie?’

(Special Note from David: Oh boy! That was my least favourite scene from Lady and the Tramp – all of the dogs were irritating stereotypes. The big difference being those characters only appeared in one scene – this time around they take up most of the film!)


Tito, voiced by comedian Cheech Marin, is another Disney misfire of Gurgi-like proportions (though really no one can be quite as terrible as Gurgi … surely … we hope not): the overly talkative comic relief character, surely intended by the studio executives to be the breakout character from whom the bulk of the merchandise will be based. The most alarming thing about the character is how prominently featured he is, ahead of all the other characters. It’s like the film is trying to find excuses to make him more annoying.


‘Tito I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud’


‘He’s very loud for such a small dog’

(Special Note from Both: It genuinely seems like he’s in the film more than everyone else – and that’s not a good thing!)


(Special Note from Melissa: There’s also this subplot in which he is pursuing Georgette even though she’s not interested … persistence on the verge of harassment … sounds like a 1980s movie. Plus he seems to be wearing a ‘buddy band’:)

Does he reach Scrappy Doo levels of annoying? Yes.


Einstein, voiced by Richard Mulligan, is big and stupid, and tends to disappear whenever the animators forget about him. Even we forgot he was in the film! We’re imagining someone coming up with the name Einstein for an intellectually challenged dog and giving themselves a real pat on the back … effort.


Francis, voiced by film, television and theatre actor, Roscoe Lee Browne, is a British bulldog, a lover of theatre and the arts, and thus did get a few laughs from us with his zingers. Patrick Stewart was apparently considered for the role of Francis.

(Special Note from Melissa: We’re involved in theatre, so it’s impossible not to be amused by those kinds of characters!)


Though that was a terrible line reading from Macbeth! Francis there’s a whole world of Shakespeare that you have not discovered yet


Rita, voiced by Sheryl Lee Ralph, is a tough, streetwise lady dog who gives Sykes’ Dobermans some sass, and gets a whole song to herself before completely fading into the background. But really they all (except Tito) fade into the background after their set up scene. They all get a really decent showcase in their first scene when they stand up to the dobermans and protect Oliver, and when they are very affectionate towards Fagin. But that’s it … the characters do not go anywhere after that. It’s as if they packed all that development in there, but then that’s it.

Fagin is the homeless owner of Dodger and the rest of the gang, a down-on-his-luck little Tramp.


But unlike this little Tramp, he lacks a certain je ne sais quoi …

He has gotten in too deep with a loan-shark. Despite the fact that the character is living outside the law and makes a living by foraging and (presumably) stealing, the film focuses on his sympathetic side. He is loved by all of his dogs, and they band together to cheer him up when he’s feeling at his lowest.

(Special Note from David: This leads to a very strange moment when they feed him a dog biscuit, which he very slowly eats)


‘When you wish upon a star …’

Dom DeLuise gives enough warmth and likeability to the character – although it could be argued (or stated outright) that he gives the exact same performance in numerous Don Bluth films. It’s interesting that they did not ‘take the bait’ and go for a Jewish performer, considering that the Dickens counterpart is one of the most famous Jewish characters in literature …

Speaking of literature, he reads Oliver and the dogs a really crap book about two characters suspiciously called Sparky and Bumper … subtle Disney, real subtle.


This is Chapter 7???

The character has our sympathy, primarily because he’s really quite a pathetic loser. Also … there’s no nice way of saying this, he is a very ugly man! His Dickens counterpart is described in the novel as ‘grotesque’, and he is a strong contender for the most grotesque character in the canon so far:

And he’s not left out of the Lady and the Tramp counterpart game:

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His pathetic nature is particularly prevalent in the scene where he meets Jenny, and she indirectly accuses him of having done terrible things – to which he doesn’t have much of a counterargument. It is a very redeeming moment when he does do the right thing and gives Jenny back Oliver – especially since he feels so badly about it that he attempts to make it appear like he did not kidnap him – very sweet – and of course especially since he knows that at this point he’s a dead man.


Well I figured what the hell …

On a separate note, one has to wonder how much money he borrowed from Sykes, and also what he spent it on.

(Special Note from David: Dog biscuits? Top quality literature? A knock-off Super Mario oufit?)


During his first mission, Oliver is found and adopted by a rich little girl called Jenny … not Penny.


Penny – didn’t you get the memo?! We’re not doing a sequel to The Rescuers… yet … and even if we are, who says you’ll be in it?


OK we’ll think about it




Jenny, voiced by Natalie Gregory, is a lonely young girl in need of company. Despite living a rather lavish lifestyle (living in a mansion, being driven around in a limo and having a butler) she dresses plainly (but has a very 1980s hairdo with studs in her ears – a first!) and only has a small amount of money to her name, which she keeps in a piggy bank.

(Special Note from Melissa: Unless she spent all of her savings on Oliver’s collar and bowl …)

It is true that because Oliver and Company was originally going to be a sequel to The Rescuers, the little girl may have been Penny … Penny was adopted by a couple after she obtained media exposure from an incredibly valuable diamond. Remember this?


Maybe I can pawn this teddy too …

So now they are wealthy from Devil’s Eye riches and what do they do? Go on ‘business’ and leave her at home with the butler … we are so glad that this isn’t actually a sequel to The Rescuers because seriously how sad would that have been?!

(Special Note from Both: Seriously, this girl’s parents are terrible people. They do not seem to notice how upset their child is and they lavish obscene amounts of attention on their poodle. Who are the real villains of this film?)

The real Jenny is a sweet-natured girl, who takes an immediate shine to Oliver – and naturally she ends up adopting him. She is also an innocent victim of Fagin’s blundering, and finds herself kidnapped by Sykes as a result – so she is deserving of our sympathy. Although the ransom call to Winston certainly raises a few eyebrows.


Seriously, does she have any decent authority figures in her life?!


Good job idiot!

Not-willing-enough-to-pay-the-ransom Winston is just fat Edgar, who after nearly dying of suffocation from being locked in a box and shipped to Timbuktu, decided to atone for his past sins by treating animals with compassion: he now suppresses his anger by watching wrestling on television.

(Special Note from David: Well, this film was made in the late 80s, during the wrestling Boom period – so this isn’t completely unfounded)

(Special Note from Melissa: God this film is desperate – even the stuffy butler is endorsing a popular product of the 1980s)

Last of all Georgette – she is an overly pampered, and consequently incredibly conceited poodle, voiced by Bette Midler. She is a prize-winning show-dog into whom Jenny’s horrible absent parents have invested an excessive amount of money.

(Special Note from Both: This is particularly upsetting, especially when you consider that their daughter receives a lot less attention than their dog)


Jenny’s bedroom

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Georgette’s bedroom

Also maybe we spoke too soon about Fagin …


Seriously TIME MAGAZINE???

She appears to be playing the role of antagonist for quite some time – jealous of Oliver, she refuses to allow him to live in the same house, and manipulates others in order to get rid of him. Conceited and selfish characters can be entertaining (such as Cruella de Vil and Madame Medusa) but Georgette is just IRRITATING, and rather than having sharp-tongued witty dialogue or amusing outbursts, she instead throws out groan-inducing clichés such as “I broke a nail!” – the laziest diva joke you can do! She also undergoes a very unconvincing switch from bad-guy to good-guy as she abruptly joins up with Fagin’s gang during the third act – although this doesn’t result in any changes to her character.

(Special Note from David: I was certain that she was just deceiving them, and was just waiting for the opportune moment to complete her heel-turn)



Sykes, voiced by Robert Loggia, is a very understated villain by Disney standards, maintaining a quiet sense of menace whenever he appears. Compared to Fagin he has a very imposing stature, and he is always flanked by his two Dobermans: Roscoe and DeSoto, who will viciously attack if he gives the command.


(Special Note from Both: Woah Roscoe and DeSoto you were really scary until you started talking)

All of his scenes take place at night, so he is always in dimly lit surroundings – he does get a very impressive entrance (despite his obvious CGI car) – he is a villain who is taken seriously by the animators and writers.


Although he does unwittingly have the best comic line in the whole film: the stoic, deadpan delivery of the ridiculous line, “Didn’t order any pizza”. We had to stop the film and rewind it we were laughing so much.

It’s comparable to this scene in Some Like It Hot:


My birthday? Why it ain’t for another 4 months


Sykes possesses many of the same characteristics as Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine, yet doesn’t succeed in being as effective. Sykes is a shady businessman without any familial connection to Fagin (or indeed any of the other characters) so there’s no psychological warfare going on. Instead he relies on physical intimidation, which isn’t quite as engaging, but can still be impactful. The problem with Sykes is that he is not very entertaining. The voice is not memorable, lacking the charm and charisma that previous threatening villains have had, and the design has a Saturday-morning-cartoon villain style rather than a film style. Disney have set such a high standard for memorable and entertaining villains, and he does feel below par, as beyond being threatening and calm, little effort has gone into giving him a solid personality. He is a suit with a head. A lone shark who seems to have no human beings to do any heavy lifting for him … Also why is a seemingly high-powered businessman dealing with such a hobo? That is clearly a foolish investment!

One thing that is very memorable about him is his death. While chasing Fagin’s gang across the Brooklyn Bridge, his car is hit head on by a train, killing him instantly …

If only he had been voiced by Pat Buttram he could have shrugged it off.


Pfft what a wimp

Then Sykes’s corpse fell through the Brooklyn Bridge’s portal bang splat into the middle of Kate and Leopold’s  nuptials.

(Special Note from Both: Fagin and the gang manage to cheat death in the most ‘convenient’ and implausible way possible … the scooter just jumps out of the way … somehow)

It seems also that Roscoe and DeSoto don’t share Tito’s immunity to electrocution – they seemingly die from electrocution.



‘Tito you’re different from most dogs. All that happened was balloons kept sticking to you’

Fun fact: Marlon Brando was allegedly offered the role of Sykes personally by Eisner, but Brando turned it down, suspecting that the film would bomb …

Artwork and Imagery

One thing that is consistently jarring about the film is the artwork. From the opening establishing shots of New York, to the closing moments where the exact same shots are recycled (in reverse) the film looks cheap. It has Saturday-Morning-Cartoon written all over it. The patchiness and faded washed out colours makes it look like it has not had a great restoration – or worse maybe that was intentional.

New York: the City that Never Sleeps:


Maybe you should you look awful!

(Special Note from Melissa: For the first time I have really struggled to find striking imagery from a Disney animated film!)

Here is the best we could find:

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The backgrounds often look unfinished, with details not filled in – and the general colour-scheme is unappealing, making New York look ugly most of the time. There are times within the film when it’s clearly the intention to make the setting look run-down and unattractive (such as Fagin’s run-down boat, or the alleyways in New York) highlighting the low financial status of the main characters, but these don’t always have the desired effect as the film generally looks ugly no matter what parts of New York are being discovered. Plus grotesque artwork can be just as striking and beautiful as pretty artwork – it’s no excuse.

When it was intended to be a sequel to The Rescuers, it would have made more sense, as it would be consistent with the artistic style of the original, but even that film looked better than this! Plans for a Rescuers sequel changed, and yet the artwork remained grimy and unappealing.

There have been many occasions when Disney have had to struggle with budgetary restraints, and consequently the artwork has looked sketchy in places, but they were usually able to creatively mask these issues so that they didn’t stick out so much. Oliver and Company just looks cheap and ugly throughout, not only in backgrounds, but in characters – especially background characters.


Oh God it’s painful

Also Rita and Georgette wear make-up … it’s weird – very very weird. Did the animators think that we wouldn’t be able to tell that they are female without it???

The most explicit element about the artwork is the appearance of product placement. It does add authenticity to the look of New York, but again … it’s very in your face and Disney marketing clearly sticking its nose right in there and marking its territory.

(Special Note from Melissa: They spent so much money on product placement that they couldn’t afford the rights to their own characters)


Check out this cheap Pongo knock off

Another explicit element is the use of CGI in the film. It is the first Disney animated film to have its own department set up for generating computer animation. Disney invested $15 million into the ground-breaking CAPS system (Computer Animation Production System) – the first digital ink and paint system in which backgrounds and characters can move independently. We have seen CGI before in Disney, but this is first time that it has been prominently used – it is used for buildings, as well as cars, scooters, trains, bikes, stairs … basically any means of getting around has CGI!


Except this school bus. Seriously who animated this??? Have they never seen a school bus before?

However because it is heavily used, it holds up a lot less than previous attempts such as in Basil, The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound.

One of the strongest elements of the artwork is establishing a world from the perspective of cats and dogs, again very reminiscent of Lady and the Tramp. Animators shot photos of New York streets as reference, using cameras set high off the ground to get a cat’s and dog’s point of view, and that does work very well.

And let’s give the film credit – we applaud who ever drew Jenny’s birthday presents from the gang:


Pretty much sums it up


The score for Oliver and Company is a strange one, as technically there is nothing wrong with it. When heard in isolation there are some really nice orchestrations, and moments in which musical phrases from the songs are integrated into the arrangements. So what’s the problem? The problem is, as pleasant as it sounds, quite often the music doesn’t sound as though it was composed specifically for this film. Although a little reminiscent of the score from The Rescuers (adding further weight to the fact that originally this film was going to be a sequel), it does not express the personality of the film, but instead feels rather generic. It really makes Oliver and Company feel like a film that was thrown together from various existing components – rather than created with much care.

(Special Note from Both: J.A.C. Redford did the score and he has done orchestrations and conducted for many films with brilliant scores, such as Saving Mr Banks, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, and even .. Skyfall … suddenly feeling a The Rescuers flashback coming on)


‘Who will rescue me?’

Once Upon a Time in New York City is sung by Huey Lewis (it doesn’t get much more 80s than that!). It seems fitting that this song is the opening number, because the synthesisers, couples with Lewis’ familiar sounding voice, really encapsulate the time period the film is set in. With that in mind it does fall into the same trap as Tomorrow Is Another Day from The Rescuers as it sounds more like the opening theme tune to Oliver and Company: The Sitcom rather than the opening number for a feature film.

For the first time in ages we have a song that alludes to dreams! When was the last time we had a song about dreams? We attribute this to the arrival of Howard Ashman.

(Special Note from Melissa: While watching the film, I said that the song reminded me of Little Shop of Horrors … only to immediately discover that Howard Ashman co-wrote it!)

Yes Howard Ashman has made his first major appearance! Known at this point mainly for Liitle Shop of Horrors, he co-wrote this song with popular songwriter Barry Mann. Mann is the co-writer of Grammy-winning Somewhere Out There from An American Tail and would go on to co-write the songs for Muppet Treasure Island.

Were it not for the fact that the name Oliver is mentioned in the song, it could be applied to PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING set in New York

(Special Note from Both: Dub this song over the opening theme of any TV show set in New York, or any trailer from a film set in New York. Seriously anything! It’s a very entertaining game. Let us know if anything particularly fits well. Our particular favourites are: Watchmen, On the Town, You’ve Got Mail, Kate and Leopold (and any of the opening credits from Friends). We challenge you to find others! Mute the trailer and play MUSIC over it: Post them in comments below)

The song, while enjoyable (and hilarious in dubbing games), it does eventually outstay its welcome. It initially works really well, but then the upbeat tone no longer fits. It is amusingly callous that Huey is singing an upbeat woohoo about New York City, while Oliver is in peril, being rejected and fleeing for his life in torrential rain from beast dogs.


‘So Oliver don’t be shy!’

Almost as callous as this:

‘This will be fun!’ shouted Milo

Alongside his callousness Huey Lewis is omniscient – he knows Oliver’s name before he has even been named!

Why Should I Worry is clearly the film’s intended pop hit that management were hungry for, with its hip hop happening 1980s beat. The chorus is fun and insanely catchy, with Billy Joel really giving it his all, but management’s desperation for a hit is so transparent that it’s amusing. The song makes Dodger sound like a cooler character than he actually is, likely because Billy Joel is naturally more comfortable and in his element with singing than acting. It sounds like a song that would be used in advertising and would not sound out of place in an advert for chewing gum or shower gel.

(Special Note from Melissa: As a child watching the trailer for Oliver and Company, I used to think the lyrics were ‘Wash should I worry’ likely because Dodger is washing himself at the same time … a child’s logic … I suppose the shower gel advert would have fitted in that case!)

Despite how chilled out this song is, Dodger acts like a massive tool to Oliver, endangering his life.


‘Screw that Consider Yourself crap. I consider Myself’

Streets of Gold is a bit of a confused number. One of the Pointer Sisters, Ruth Pointer sings the song, and it sounds like it could have easily been lifted from the cutting room floor of Fame … or an exercise video.

(Special Note from Melissa: On its own the song is very enjoyable in a get out those leg warmers, fluorescent leotards and buddy bands out, because it’s workout time real bitchin 1980s style woohoo!)

The song is better when you listen to it completely out of its context. In the film, it is severely cut down and placed in such a way that we barely even noticed that it was there. When listening to it on the soundtrack, Pointer’s singing sounds very soulful and lively, with a fun 1980s beat, but in the film, it is a drive-by song that is shoehorned in, with minimal bearing on the plot, because HITS. Furthermore Rita’s character becomes incredibly sidelined from this point on. It is also strange that Sheryl Lee Ralph did not sing Streets of Gold, considering that she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in Dreamgirls in 1982. Plus Ruth Pointer and Sheryl Lee Ralph … really do not sound like each other. It is just bizarre – why did they not just get Ruth Pointer to voice the character or Sheryl Lee Ralph to sing the song? Of course dubbing the singing voice does frequently happen in Hollywood but considering that Bette Midler and Billy Joel both voice and sing for their characters, it is very peculiar.

Perfect Isn’t Easy is not only character number, but a Broadway diva number – this should be good. But it isn’t. It really, really isn’t. It’s a painful number that sounds like nails on a chalkboard, it has strange notes and is completely all over the place.

(Special Note from Melissa: This is not the best showcase for Bette Midler … or Barry Manilow … but this isn’t the first time he’ll co-write unsettling songs … just wait for 1994)

It also really doesn’t help that the song is full of weird and unpleasant imagery – weird and unpleasant imagery that is reminiscent of The Three Caballeros – yes THAT weird.

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(Special Note from David: Jenny’s absentee parents have lavished so much affection upon this poodle that I wouldn’t be surprised that Georgette owns a villa in Bahia)

(Special Note from Melissa: Judging by this song, Georgette is probably what drove Jenny’s parents away for so long. They were going slowly insane.)


You drove them away with your NOISE

Good Company accompanies Jenny’s growing relationship with Oliver. They spend all day together and have what can only be described as a date.


Rowing in Central Park


Taking a stroll in Central Park (Oh God was A Troll in Central Park wordplay?)



Sharing an ice cream


Going on a horse and carriage ride


Buying him jewellery


‘We want to keep out of the whole area of actually being in love with the cat’

But the song itself? OK there is absolutely nothing wrong with the little girl’s voice – it sounds like a normal little girl singing (and Natalie Gregory was dubbed). Also Disney have proven before that they can take very simple lyrics and make it into something touching and affectionate. But this song is unforgivably generic, bland and one drone of a tune. It has lazy written all over it, like it was written in a day, and even that seems too much!


(Special Note from Both: Although uncredited, we figured out who really wrote this song)


‘It looks like you’re writing a song. Would you like some help?’


It is intriguing that straight after Basil the Great Mouse Detective, an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, Disney chose to greenlight another British adaptation. When you consider how sniffy marketing were about the ‘too British sounding’ Basil of Baker Street, it’s no wonder that they decided to relocate the 19th century English Oliver Twist to 1980s New York. Oliver and Company seemed to be in development hell story-wise for a while. Originally called Oliver and the Dodger, it was going to be a revenge story opening with the Dobermans murdering Oliver’s parents Batman-style. Originally all dogs, George Scribner suggested that Oliver be a kitten and Fagin be a human. He also had this idea that Oliver be a rare breed of cat and that’s how the ransom idea came about … it was not well-received. Roy E. Disney also had an idea that Fagin tries to steal a panda from the zoo … it was likewise not well-received.

(Special Note from Both: This reminded us of Walt’s idea that The Rescuers involve saving a polar bear called Willie … that Disney family and their madcap ideas!)

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We imagine the production meetings went something like this

Indeed Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg tore it to shreds in a storyboard meeting. In fact the further away the story got from Dickens, the more they criticised.

There are ultimately several strands to the story in Oliver and Company. Primarily the story is about Oliver, the orphaned kitten attempting to find a home inspired by its Oliver Twist roots, but this then becomes the story of Fagin’s plight – to pay off a debt within three days (or as Sykes puts it 3 sunrises, 3 sunsets, 3 days … specific) or get killed, and finally it becomes the story of Fagin and his gang of dogs rescuing a young girl from Sykes’ clutches. These storylines do intertwine and come to a resolution, but the problem is that Oliver himself gets lost in the shuffle to the extent that it hardly even feels like his story by the end.

(Special Note from David: It’s supposed to be Oliver’s story, but his group of exhibitionist friends can’t help but steal his spotlight – in a similar way to selfish actors who are determined to get themselves noticed at another’s expense)

When you think about it, the film actually does a reasonable job of adapting the story of Oliver Twist, at least as far as the story structure for the protagonist is concerned. Unfortunately this isn’t completely followed through, and the film instead falls back on some less admirable tropes – pointless musical numbers that don’t further the plot, an over-reliance on the supporting cast, and the comic-relief characters compromising the tension during the finale – this will not be the last time that they do this …

(Special Note from Both: Quite often a Disney film knows to get rid of the comic characters during particularly dramatic scenes – but not here!)

David’s Verdict

Oliver and Company is a mess of a film. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of unified thought going on as a part of its production process. The studio pressure to appeal a contemporary audience through the use of modern pop songs is at odds with the dark tones of the story – which in-turn are at odds with the goofy humour of the scenes involving the antics of the gang (especially Tito). Disney had clearly been rattled by the success of Don Bluth, and seem to be adopting his style whenever the film takes a foray into more serious territory. It’s also very unusual to have Bluth-Golden-Boy Dom DeLuise in the cast. The result is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be; by trying to broaden the appeal to wider audiences the end result doesn’t really feel like a Disney film.

In addition the film doesn’t look very good. It would seem that the animators were so excited about the developing use of computer-generated images, that the hand-drawn artwork received less attention. More often than not the film looks more like a Saturday Morning Cartoon than a feature film, and the title (which is rubbish, by the way) also sounds like a venture for the small screen.

To its credit the film has some positive attributes: Sykes, while not particularly entertaining, is an effectively sinister villain and his scenes are always taken seriously. The main animal characters are all animated very well, and there are some genuinely funny one-liners from Francis. I also enjoyed the songs “Once Upon a Time in New York City” and “Why Should I Worry” (which will get stuck in your head).

Unfortunately there’s not a huge amount that I can praise about this film, and even the positives have conditions attached. There’s not much that works about the film that Disney haven’t already done before – and done better. 

Melissa’s Verdict

I did not grow up with Oliver and Company at all so it is through The Disney Odyssey that I have watched this film for the first time. My only childhood memory of it is from a trailer on old Disney videos advertising its release ‘for the first time on video’ likely around 1996. I knew very little about the film other than the fact that it was based on Oliver Twist and set in New York with dogs and cats. My knowledge was really from this trailer:

The trailer is about 2 minutes in – ‘Chain me to the walllllll’ remained ingrained in my head for many years (funnily enough both of us said the same thing!)

While doing The Disney Odyssey, we often watch films more than once, because usually on the second viewing, we spot extra details. When we watched Alice and Wonderland, we hated it on the first viewing, but after having watched it a second time a few weeks later, we did appreciate it much more. Most of the films are better on the second viewing. In terms of Oliver and Company, it is the opposite. We were very easy on it on the first viewing, calling it ‘alright’ and ‘a bit of fun’, but after watching it again, we felt annoyed and exasperated by it. It’s not a horrible film as such. It reminds me more of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon than a film – I’m surprised it was never made into one to be honest. Oliver and Company feels like such a precursor to the Dreamworks format with its product placement, pop cultural tone, celebrity voices and pop soundtrack. It is also clearly inspired by Lady and the Tramp, which is one of my favourites so far in the canon – however their styles are very different.

In my opinion, Oliver and Company’s artwork and imagery is very mediocre and below par from what we expect from Disney, and I genuinely struggled to find some really striking animation. Their use of CGI is ambitious, but unfortunately (unlike previous films which have used minimal computer animation) it does look incredibly dated and jarring. We have seen cheap looking artwork through films like Robin Hood, but the difference is that Robin Hood made up for its cheap appearance through charm, humour and an engaging hero-villain dynamic, which I’m sorry to say, Oliver and Company really lacks (I did get a few laughs from Francis however). I enjoyed a few of the catchy songs (the first three … I detest the other two), but I enjoy them more out of the film’s context, because while watching the film and these songs would randomly pop up (especially with Perfect Isn’t Easy and Streets of Gold), this kept going through my head:


I like the way in which Oliver is animated with his kitten mannerisms, but ultimately Oliver is placed in the shadows while the supporting cast are at the forefront, with irritating characters like Tito and Georgette chewing the scenery, and Dodger endlessly spewing out dialogue that someone clearly thought sounded ‘cool’. In fact that is my issue with the whole film; it thinks it’s being really cool, hip and ‘what kids want’ when really it … isn’t. This video sums up how Oliver and Company appears to me:

Overall, it is a very messy and confused film which tries so hard to appeal to a 1980s audience and especially to children/teenagers, that it completely lost sight of what’s important – making a good film with appealing characters, excellent artwork and a strong, engaging story.


Oliver and Company is a film that ignited a number of trends that are very familiar to us today. It was the first Disney animated feature film to include advertised products that exist in the real world. Although famous people have voiced characters in Disney films before, Oliver and Company’s approach had a very different feel – it was using celebrity voices and a pop soundtrack to market the film, like stunt casting. Can you believe that this is the same company who once didn’t even credit the actors let alone use them to market the film? Akin to An American Tail, Oliver and Company had a major promotional tie-in with Sears and McDonalds – marketing was on fire!

“Hey Dodge we make beautiful music together!”… oh God … plus it already sounds like the battery is dying in the advert

We don’t know which is worse …

The Happy Meal Disney contract had officially begun – running from 1988 to 2008 (Disney claim that from 2008 onwards they only want to associate their characters with ‘healthy’ food … burn).

It was the first animated feature film at Disney to have a separate computer department set up for production, which, as we know, will lead to computers becoming much more integrated into animation. Director, George Scribner said in The New York Times review, ‘Computers can’t do emotions and characters’ … how times will change George! Oliver and Company is also the last animated Disney feature film to use cel overlay – a technique used to make the background match the lines of the xeroxed objects in the film.

The film was nominated for a Young Artist Award for ‘Best Family Animation or Fantasy Motion Picture’, a Grammy Award for ‘Best Recording for Children’, a Golden Globe for ‘Best Original Song’ for Why Should I Worry. It won a Golden Reel Award for ‘Best Sound Editing’ at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards.

Despite its commercial success, Oliver and Company was not released on VHS until 1996 despite being highly requested. That same year it was re-released at the cinema, on the same day as All Dogs Go To Heaven 2.

(Special Note from Melissa: Calm down Disney Don Bluth did not even work on that one!)

Although the film financially did very well, Oliver and Company received very mixed reviews. On the Siskel & Ebert show, Siskel gave it a ‘thumbs down’ while Ebert gave it a ‘marginal thumbs up’. Our usual place to look for a Disney review since the beginning of The Disney Odyssey, The New York Times … does not give a review but instead a rundown of how things are going at Disney, written by John ‘Mr Snoops’ Culhane – he strangely avoids talking much about the film itself other than synopsising it.

However the financial success of Oliver and Company led to the executive decision and announcement that a Disney animated film would be released every year – a dream that goes back to the days of Walt Disney. Remember when Pinocchio and Fantasia came out in 1940, Dumbo in 1941 and Bambi in 1942? Disney toppled over into the Pit of Despair after that – the Package Film era – and never quite managed to achieve the pattern of one film a year again. Since Walt passed away, the future of Disney animation had been on incredibly rocky territory – the announcement that there would be an animated film released every year seemed groundbreaking, ambitious and risky. The last time this was attempted partly resulted in strikes … in a way the 1940s and the 1980s have a lot in common (including shoulderpads). In interviews, management seemed to be stressing that despite the extremely high financial costs of animation, they must carry on because that is what Disney is truly all about. We can imagine this conclusion came after many difficult conversations, considering that feature animation was close to becoming part of heritage rather than the future at one point in the early 1980s.

Remember the war between Disney and Bluth? How did it turn out with Oliver and Company and The Land Before Time being released on the same day?

At the domestic box office, Oliver and Company beat The Land Before Time. Oliver and Company made $53,279,055 at the domestic box office while The Land Before Time made $48,092,846.

Don’t get too cocky Disney – The Land Before Time beat Oliver and Company internationally.


… Oh

Yes Oliver and Company made $74.2 worldwide, while The Land Before Time made $84.5. However Disney in a way was defeated by itself. Which film made $156,452,370 at the domestic box office, $351.5 worldwide and was the 2nd most financially successful film of 1988?


Next time everyone, next time!

Final note: We had said before that we would acknowledge Pete Young. He worked at Disney in the 1970s and 1980s, becoming a Story man and working his way up the ranks. He developed a short called The Small One, co-writing it with Vance Gerry. He worked on Story for The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver and Company. He successfully pitched Basil along with Ron Clements, which was greenlit by Ron Miller, and later successfully pitched Oliver which was greenlit by Katzenberg and Eisner. From what we have read about him, he was a hard worker and incredibly passionate about storytelling. It is tragic that he passed away so young, and we wanted to acknowledge him because it is only through writing this review that we found out about Pete Young, and his impact and legacy really should be celebrated more.

Posted in 1981-1988 Passing the Torch Era, Disney | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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


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.


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.



We’ll get straight to the point: Basil of Baker Street is one of our favourite protagonists so far in The Disney Odyssey. Although apparently at Disney they initially struggled with getting Basil’s character down, with an early approach to the character that was closer to Conan Doyle’s Holmes being rejected for being unlikeable. They then went in the opposite direction, apparently with a ‘Bing Crosby’ approach, that also didn’t work.

(Special Note from Melissa: Bing Crosby couldn’t even channel loveable jerk C.K. Dexter Haven without seeming too vanilla to be true)

Their final inspiration was Pygmalion’s Henry Higgins, and then they finally found the right balance, especially when they cast Barrie Ingham in the role. Originally actors like John Cleese, Michael Palin and Peter Cook were considered for the role of Basil. Cleese was even offered the role but had to turn it down due to filming schedules for A Fish Called Wanda.

However, Barrie Ingham provides a highly entertaining performance, showcasing great versatility to correspond with Basil’s penchant for disguises. Ingham’s voice is eloquent and witty, a natural fit for the sharp-tongued sleuth, and yet there’s a warmth to his vocal performance which ensures that there is no doubt that Basil is an agent for good. Barrie Ingham seemed to just get his character and really loved playing the role: “Playing Basil is just as thrilling to me as playing a lead in The Royal Shakespeare Company. I found Basil to be surprisingly sensitive. He is terribly egocentric but in the end, it is his sensitivity that prevents him from being bombastic and overbearing. He has a lot of frenetic energy which made his character quite a challenge.”

Curiously one of the most appealing aspects of the Sherlock Holmes character is his lack of social skills – he is very eccentric, and consequently can be very blunt, tactless and even rude to others, but it doesn’t come from any feelings of genuine malice, it mainly comes from a lack of perception of human emotions. His mind operates in a very intellectual way, one which transcends social decorum and politeness (which could be seen as inhibitors to the true professional mind). The introduction to his character is one of the most memorable for a protagonist, and one of our favourites. He bursts into the room, accompanied by lightning and an over-the-top disguise.

Following that at rapid speed he makes a deduction straight out of A Study in Scarlet, already builds a rapport with Dawson, ignores the child, waves a gun around with great abandon, nearly shoots Dawson in the face, destroys some pillows, is on the verge of a huge discovery, then has a minor nervous breakdown.

A very genuine concern would be that Disney might sanitise such a character, for fear that it would be sending out a bad message to impressionable audiences if their protagonist was perceived as impolite. Again that easily could have been the case when they went down the road of Bing Crosby Basil. Fortunately that isn’t the case, and as a result Basil is one of the strongest protagonists in the canon thus far. Despite being egotistical and incredibly self-involved, the character is full of charm, charisma and British dryness; he manages to remain likeable and engaging throughout.

A complexity to the character is that he is much more self-serving than he is concerned with good winning out over evil. The one moment when Basil feels like giving up occurs, not because of the dire nature of the situation and its consequences, but because Basil was outsmarted by Ratigan. He prises his own ego above the fate of their civilisation.

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A great deal of humour emerges from the character’s lack of tact and sensitivity, and rather than sanitising this aspect for the children, Olivia actually becomes the butt of this as part of a ‘rule-of-three’ running gag when he calls her by the wrong name.

(Special Note from David: Ingham’s delivery of the subsequent “Whatever!” is what really makes this joke work, as it could very easily be a lame gag if delivered by a lesser performer)

The character is rather reminiscent of Robin Hood (another protagonist that we love), a charismatic and energetic character who regularly assumes different identities, and matched with an excellent vocal performance from an established English actor. The difference is that while Robin Hood is sharp and witty, he is also popular and compassionate, while Basil is socially awkward and not altruistic in the slightest. Robin Hood helps the poor, but while Basil does help the public too, he does it primarily to satisfy his intellectual urges. He is only interested in Olivia’s case when he realises that Ratigan is involved. His softer side is revealed now and again (but sparingly and when it matters most), and when the situation gets dire in the climax, he does care about the welfare of others. Essentially his heart is in the right place, without sacrificing the true essence of his character.

Having an incredibly cerebral character in a lead role is an inspiring move for Disney – a character who succeeds on account of his intellect rather than his physical prowess. It is a point they were trying so hard to prove in The Sword and the Stone, but do a much better job of it here, primarily because Basil is already intelligent. The battle of wits between Basil and Ratigan is one of the main factors that makes this film so enjoyable. When each character is outwitted by the other, they lose it:

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When outwitted to the highest degree, Basil goes into a fit of depression, while Ratigan’s feral side completely gives out. As we see in the film’s climax, unlike Robert Downey Jr, Basil is no fighter so the stakes feel high when a wilder enraged Ratigan, having given up on their intellectual war, gets embroiled in a physical fight, for which Basil is out of his depth.

Lastly like characterisations of Holmes before him, Basil says ‘Elementary my dear Dawson [Watson]’

But we must point out, literary Holmes himself never actually said that:



Akin to our feelings about Basil, Professor Ratigan, the film’s answer to Professor James Moriarty, is one of our favourite antagonists in the canon so far.

While Basil shared certain similarities with Robin Hood, his arch rival also shares traits with Prince John – particularly with regard to the voice actors’ enjoyment playing the part. Much like Peter Ustinov before him, Vincent Price was clearly having so much fun playing the part of Ratigan – Price himself stated that Ratigan was his one of his favourite roles that he ever got to play in his very long career. At Disney, they got the idea to cast Price after seeing him in 1950 film, Champagne for Caesar: Glen Keane recalls, ‘We realised we had found the perfect actor for the role.  Price’s expressive voice and attitude inspired us to further redesign the character’. Originally Ratigan had been designed as scrawnier figure, but Price’s voice invoked a larger, more bombastic and theatrical presence. When he was asked to audition, Price said that if anyone but Disney had asked him to audition for a role, he would have been really offended: ‘Disney is really a magical name to me. They had never offered me one of these parts before, so I really wanted to do it because when you’ve been around as long as I have what you look for are new challenges and voicing Ratigan was a real challenge!’

Something that it very appealing about Ratigan’s character is the fact that he revels in how diabolical he is, taking great delight in his villainy. There are some wonderful nuances to Price’s performance which emphasise this trait: frequently chuckling away to himself, rolling his “r’s” and over emphasising the consonants in words like “wicked”. He is a hilarious antagonist, right up there with Prince John, yet even more diabolical and continuing to raise the bar. The ‘Welcome Basil’ party, the ridiculously elaborate execution he sets up for Basil and Dawson, and his long list of political demands, are only a handful of moments when we’d burst out laughing.


(Special Note from Melissa: I must point out, something I realised from watching the film again is how … bad Ratigan’s scheme is. How did he think everyone would go on thinking the robot was a Queen?:


But at least he does a crap plan with a flair

In Robin Hood, the filmmakers were unwilling to make Prince John too threatening, but this is not the case this time around. They are more willing to take the character to darker places by having him play an active role in killing-off some of his own henchmen for insubordination (new territory for Disney villains).



One of the first things he does is orders the execution of Bartholomew for referring to him as a rat – even interrupting his villain song to do so. Later on he throws his right-hand man Fidget to his death, in order to lighten the load.

(Special Note from David: Take note Peter Jackson, when the villain’s irritating sidekick gets thrown overboard, let him stay dead – don’t let him survive and receive an inexplicably large amount of screentime, for no ultimate purpose!)

Glen Keane animated Ratigan, and already he is becoming one of our favourite animators. His work on Ratigan was done freelance, and there is such fantastic nuance to how the character has been animated, especially when holding back his rage. Ratigan is constantly forcing himself to suppress his violent and animalistic nature behind the façade of a sophisticated and debonair gentleman-criminal, but throughout the film Keane hints at the monster beneath the surface; many times Ratigan appears to be on the verge of an outburst, before he regains his composure.

Basil and Ratigan are two side of the same coin. Under their well-spoken, straight-laced exteriors, lie manic, erratic personalities that comes out in bursts, and have to be repressed. But while the film’s journey brings out Basil’s compassionate side, it draws out Ratigan’s wild side. Consequently when the finale comes around, and the rage consumes him – it really feels as if it has been properly built up. He had spent the entire film in an intellectual war with Basil, he had almost succeeded in winning it, only to be foiled by his adversary. Villains get foiled at the last minute all the time, but his response to it is frightening, horrific and consequently results in excellent tension and smart psychological perspective on his character. Despite denying that he is a rat throughout, he is so consumed with rage that his inner rat bursts through, reminiscent of Lady and the Tramp’s savage rat.

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It is a true Jekyll and Hyde moment, as he races up the clock tower on all fours, his clothes ripped, and abandons the intellectual war to succumb to physical aggression on his physically weaker opponent. But even then, he cannot win. However like a true villain, if he cannot win, he’s taking his opponent down with him – pulling Basil down as he plummets to his death.

Keane would go on to animate many heroes and heroines in future animated films, but here he treats Ratigan like a hero in his own film: ‘At a certain point I became enamoured with heroes and heroines and characters that have a burning desire inside of them to do something, and I love that. Although, I sense that there’s something of the same motivation to – and why I love – Ratigan. I mean the guy truly, deeply believes in himself, and there was this burning desire inside of him to be considered like a mouse, not a rat. He really did want that. At a certain point, though, that shifted to characters that … really pursued their dream and obtained it … But I’ve got to tell you that there is probably no character that I had more fun on than Ratigan’.

Supporting Cast

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Dr. David Q. Dawson serves as the film’s opening and closing narrator, as the whole story is being recounted by him. Like Watson, he is a surgeon returning from service in Afghanistan, as Basil quickly deduces.


We know that Dawson’s design is inspired by Nigel Bruce so he is an older looking, more portly man but … just returned from military service? Hmm.

Alongside the lively and eccentric Basil, he is required to be the sensible one in the partnership; although he does embody the slightly bumbling sidekick at times, especially during the scene in the tavern.

Other Watsons are not pleased

In any adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes formula, the Watson equivalent is typically the emotional anchor in the pair’s dynamic, and Dawson is no exception. Basil has a tendency to demonstrate a lack of tact and sensitivity, but Dawson is there to counteract this, offering a voice of comfort and reassurance. Val Bettin has such a lovely, grandfatherly voice that really suits the character. Perhaps a little too bumbling (but we do have more recent Watsons that counteract this), but when it matters, he’s there to comfort, to advise, and ultimately to knock some sense and hard truths into Basil when he has plummeted into self-doubt and misery. As always, he is the down-to-earth character that serves as a perfect foil to the erratic and flighty Basil.


Olivia was originally intended to be an older character as a potential love interest for Basil or even an infatuated Dawson. However it was decided that she should be a child to better gain audience sympathy.



Good thing that they went off the idea of making Olivia a love interest for Basil. We don’t really perceive Sherlock Holmes as a lady’s man.

Furthermore, it would not have been necessary. The competitive, charged, almost homoerotic relationship between Basil and Ratigan is engaging enough, alongside the sweet double act relationship between Basil and Dawson. A romantic relationship between Basil and alternate Olivia may have been a case of too many cooks.

Anyway back to the real Olivia. Olivia is not as annoying as you would expect, as kids in Disney films can be. She is genuinely a sweet character, voiced by Susanne Pollatschek, a genuine Glaswegian child (no out of place Americanisation or bad accents here!), who was allegedly cast because of the sincerity and naturalism in her performance. The relationship between her and her father, Hiram Flaversham, is very touching.


He looks like a combination between Gepetto and Rufus

A toymaker and a loving father, he only goes through with Ratigan’s scheme because his daughter’s life is threatened. Fortunately, Olivia, cute as she can be, is taken out of the drama at the right time (after being kidnapped at the toy shop), meaning that we can have more ‘adult’ conversation between Basil and Dawson without having to give the kid something to do.

(Special Note from Both: If only Disney had known when to keep Skippy, an unimportant character, out of the drama!)

Disney succeeded with what they were trying to do; we did feel sympathy for her. Plus, she is proactive, bold and able to stand up for herself, demanding to be heard when talking to a dismissive Basil and having the courage to attack her kidnappers. In a way, it’s astonishing that this character is never pointed out as a strong female character. She does have to be saved, but she is a child after all.


Fidget is an incredibly rare type of character in the animated canon: the overly talkative diminutive sidekick to the main villain who isn’t incredibly annoying, despite possessing many of the traits that suggest he would be. The raspy voice of Candy Candido (a regular performer in the studio’s voice actors – his low voice was sped up) coupled with Fidget’s propensity to be overly talkative – even when he’s on his own – should be irritating, but is actually performed in a way that makes it funny. In addition, the character is actually a useful and effective henchman on several occasions – and when he isn’t he pays the price. Even though he remains a loyal henchman to Ratigan, ultimately he is thrown to his death by his own master as a means to lighten the load aboard the airship.

(Special Note from David: You can make arguments that he survived, but I’m going with dead – it’s more effective storytelling that way)



Books, paper, a teacup and a mace … we feel for you Mrs Judson

Mrs Judson, a not too imaginative name-change from Mrs Hudson, serves as a great foil in one scene to Basil’s social ineptitude as she rages at him for destroying her pillows, only for him to close the door on her.

The Queen (inspired by Queen Victoria) has a few zingers in her style of delivery (including her robotic counterpart), and Ratigan’s henchmen, despite being on the side of the antagonist, do show they are not completely heartless (considering that they are background characters), by standing up for and later grieving for poor old drunken Bartholomew when he meets his gruesome fate.

(Fun fact: Bartholomew was also voiced by Barrie Ingham – There’s a subtle element of wish fulfilment for Ratigan here in ordering his death!)

Also, hello Bill. Long time no see.

New Picture

Like Marty McFly, he travelled from the 1950s to the 1980s

A lot has changed since you left Bill. The Nine Old Men have retired and … Walt has been dead for twenty years.


I should have stayed in the 1950s

Artwork and Imagery

The artwork in the film shows the effects of the film’s reduced budget, and certain backgrounds and crowd shots give a clear indication of where the animators had to cut corners. It is not a beautiful looking film, nor is it an ugly film, but rather simple in its overall appearance. We discovered that at Disney they considered making a film about a dog detective instead of a mouse detective … well considering how they animated Toby, we are glad that didn’t happen.


Sheesh you look awful

Also … does anyone at Disney know what a crumpet is?!!


That’s not a crumpet!

Disney this is a crumpet:


You weren’t even close!

Regardless of this there are still some very impressive visual set-pieces and sequences; the folk at Disney were clearly still enamoured with London’s iconography, as Big Ben makes its third appearance in one of their animated features. Here are some particularly striking shots from the film:

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There are also quite a few nightmare-inducing images reminiscent of Pinocchio:

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This time around the famous clock tower plays a more active role in the story as it provides the setting for the climactic showdown. In addition, this same sequence sees one of the studio’s first major steps towards use of computer animation (something they had used incrementally in the past) to create the rotating cogs and gears that make up the clock mechanism. The animated characters are placed inside a CGI background, and thus there are more opportunities for sweeping and follow shots that are closer to what you would see in a live-action film. The effect looks impressive and holds up very well nearly thirty years later.

Where the artists really excel though is with the character animation, especially the characterisation of Basil and Ratigan. For us, it is some of the best character animation since The Jungle Book. Both characters have very clearly defined personalities and there are so many great nuances to the ways in which they move, as well as their facial expressions. Despite their voice actors being so good that they could easily have recorded a radio play, on the other side, you could easily watch these characters with the sound turned off – the artwork is that communicative and impactful. Basil’s eccentricity and liveliness is showcased a great deal, and leads to many genuinely funny moments.

(Special Note from David: A moment that made me laugh out loud was when Basil sank dejectedly down into his armchair, and then slowly his trembling hand reaches out for his violin)

Ratigan also has plenty of memorable moments, getting his first major showcase during “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” where we see his refined artistic nature (playing the harp, admiring his reflection and twirling around like a ballet dancer) as well as hints of the dangerous animal under the surface. He is like a bomb wrapped in pretty packaging ready to explode at any time.


Luckily Disney chose not to go down The Black Cauldron route and we have returned to songs!

It is not a full on musical. There are three songs, one of which is a ‘break-into song’ type, while the others are both performances. But it’s a start!

However we will start off first with Henry Mancini’s score. The score definitely suits the tone of the film – it feels very English, Holmes-like and captures the sense of the period. It feels like the score of a classic detective film, adventure flick or a thriller. It is very brass-heavy, meaning that when other instruments like strings or woodwind or percussion become centre-stage, the emotional and/or intense significance is really felt. The characters’ themes are very distinctive and skilfully reflect who they are to the audience. It is Mancini’s only score for a Disney animated film, and he did a great job! The music in the climax is particularly fantastic – really exciting during the flight chase and super intense and sinister in the clock tower scene. The only issue we had with the score was the jarring moment when immediately following the film’s very harrowing opening scene, it is bluntly interrupted by Basil’s jaunty theme.

Well Basil never was one for indulging in sentiment was he?


“The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” is a highly entertaining song, emphatically introducing the film’s larger-than-life villain. Ratigan is not only someone who takes great delight in being the villain, he also prides himself on his superior intellect – and this song is constructed to appease the ego of such a character. Lyrically the song repeatedly lauds the brilliance of its subject, alternating between Ratigan proclaiming his own brilliance, and his own henchmen reinforcing that fact. The song is broken into different sections, after the initial verse and chorus there is a harp solo (somewhat akin to Duchess’ solo in The Aristocats – perhaps conscious or not it is a pastiche!) to show off Ratigan’s ‘sophisticated-gentleman-criminal’ persona, the main tune then continues but is abruptly halted when one of the henchmen touches a nerve by calling Ratigan a rat. The song is put on hold for a minute as the offending henchman is executed (by being fed to Felicia), then Ratigan threatens the rest of his henchmen with the same fate if they don’t resume the song as though nothing happened, and there is a big Busby Berkeley-style finish.

The song is also a milestone as it is Disney’s first major villain song that is sung by the villain about the villain. Yes there have been songs about villains: Headless Horseman, Cruella DeVil, The Elegant Captain Hook, etc. but The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind has taken us in such a new direction for villains, turning the villain song into a great, bombastic showcase number. It has been fascinating that before doing The Disney Odyssey, we had no idea that the style of villain songs that we grew up with really was relatively new for Disney – it is certainly a trend-setter. The song introduces the antagonist, provides exposition and character development, showcases the different facets of his personality as well as his nefarious nature (not many villains interrupt their own song to kill off one of their henchmen), and even serves to further the plot.

For Sherlock fans, someone made a hilarious video using “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind”:

“Let Me Be Good To You” is an odd number (although not as odd as its backstory but we’ll get to that), it is the only part of the film that feels glaringly out of place.



For the most part Basil the Great Mouse Detective does a good job of maintaining consistency with its time setting, but the song itself sounds too much like it’s from the 1980s, which is mainly because of the style of Melissa Manchester’s singing. It is strange that the song is sung by a character who has no bearing on the plot whatsoever and that we never see again. We do enjoy the scene – an entertaining sequence is taking place, but had the song been better, we may have not have minded her being a one scene character. Originally Henry Mancini wrote more of a Victorian oom-pah-pah music-hall style of song that would have fit the period called ‘Are You the One Who Loves Me’. It was even recorded by Shani Wallis (Nancy from Oliver!) with rough animation – a very authentic touch! Katzenberg however disliked the song because he felt like the 1980s kiddies wouldn’t think it was hip and contemporary enough.

We see where you’re going Katzenberg and we don’t like it

Despite Mancini writing another song, they were still not satisfied. Eisner suggested that Michael Jackson do a song in the bar scene.

We can’t even – what? The suggestion was received with complete silence, and we imagine it was never spoken of again. He also suggested Madonna … alright less bizarre but still, WHAT IS GOING ON? An 1890s English setting and an adaptation inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle, and what Eisner sees as making it perfect are American 1980s pop icons… God we need to lie down.

Finally they brought in Melissa Manchester to write and sing the song, partly because she had won lots of awards … real subtle Disney. All the rough animation had to be retimed to fit the new song, hence why the dubbing looks really weird in that scene. However despite our feelings that the song could have fit the period much more, the lyrics are very provocative for a Disney film. The song was nearly cut because it was considered too risqué, but in a nutshell it was kept in on the grounds that mice aren’t sexy. Logic.

Well … at least we get this strange gem of a moment:

 “Goodbye, So Soon” could easily be dismissed as a throwaway comic song, were it not for the fact that it is genuinely really funny (attribute this to Vincent Price’s performance). By this point Ratigan’s ego has already been established, and here we get the coup de grace with this repetitive number that smugly repeats exclamations of farewell. Having proved himself the superior mind, Ratigan leaves Basil and Dawson with the song playing on a gramophone – intended to set off the trap that will kill them as soon as the song comes to an end. Delightfully wicked and smug (with some enjoyable silliness thrown in).

And of course the chipper Disney chorus have to chime in with a reprise of “Goodbye, So Soon” over the end credits, like they’re doing a number from A Chorus Line.

(Special Note from Both: We thought we’d heard the last of the Disney chorus, apparently not it would seem!)


The story for the film is another standout element, well-paced and rarely staying in one place for too long. The plot isn’t built around a big mystery, so much as a villainous scheme, but the details of the plan are revealed gradually throughout the film, so it is presented in a similar style to that of a mystery. A child’s father is kidnapped (in a rather harrowing opening scene), which is what brings Olivia and Dawson to Basil, but it ultimately leads to getting on the tail of a much greater and more dangerous case. The real centre of this story is Basil and Ratigan trying to outdo and outwit the other, climaxing at the battle on top of Big Ben, reminiscent of Holmes and Moriarty falling from the waterfall. If you’re going to do one Disney animated adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, go for the big guns – Holmes and Moriarty make for an exciting story, and consequently so do Basil and Ratigan

Structurally it is very similar to that of The Rescuers, starting with a ‘cold-open’ to set up the villain’s plot – and then getting straight into the story, and following it right through until the end without any major deviations. Songs – or rather song-sequences – are used to develop the plot (“Let Me Be Good To You” isn’t plot-related at all, but plot-centric events continue to occur during that sequence).

Another similarity to The Rescuers is that the main characters inhabit a society that functions below the human one, but this time around the distinctions between these separate worlds are much clearer. In The Rescuers Bernard and Bianca were able to communicate with Penny despite being different species and from different worlds, this time around though the only characters who cross-over from one ‘world’ to another – Toby and Felicia – don’t interact verbally with any of the characters therein. The separate world’s trope also allows for a fun little homage to Sherlock Holmes, as the famous detective appears a couple of times (in silhouette form only) voiced by Basil Rathbone, living upstairs above Basil.

The filmmakers have learned from previous experiences, and fine-tuned a lot of the storytelling techniques. The story certainly showcases a love for the source material (or in this case the source material for the source material) as well as the setting; the film isn’t afraid to go to darker territory when it needs to, which legitimises the sense of threat posed by the villain, but there is also a lot of humour as well (something that The Rescuers was very light on). The humour and tension bounce off each other fantastically, aided by the tight narrative, witty script, excellent storyboarding and inventive sequences – humour and tension are never used at the expense of the other.

David’s Verdict

The Disney Odyssey has taught me to acknowledge and appreciate a film as a whole, taking all of the different components (characters, voice-acting, music, artwork, story etc.) into consideration when forming my opinion. With this enhanced approach I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t enjoy the film as much as I had done during previous viewings. However, if anything, it only made me appreciate the film even more – and having viewed all of the films that preceded it, I could see the progress made by the studio also.

In Basil the Great Mouse Detective I recognised elements that I had praised from other films: the well-paced and continuous story-structure of The Rescuers, the highly entertaining hero and villain from Robin Hood, and the delightful character animation of The Jungle Book. All of those elements are present here, and it makes for an effortlessly entertaining film. The film manages to be intelligent and yet remains accessible at all times, never talking down to the audience. There are some wonderful performances, particularly from Barrie Ingham and Vincent Price – and interviews show that it meant a great deal to them to be involved in a Disney film.

The film made some very bold moves, particularly where the villains are concerned: despite being a comical villain at times, Ratigan progressively becomes more threatening. Also Ratigan, Fidget and Felicia all appear to meet their demises during the finale.

Due to the reduced budget, the artwork in the film does look quite cheap at times, but generally the film still looks really good – clearly this film was a passion project for the artists who worked on it, and they show their worth despite the financial cuts. The film manages to avoid making characters like Olivia and Fidget really annoying (no mean feat for a Disney film – it’s not something they get right very often) and even though the songs aren’t the most memorable in the canon, they are still enjoyable.

Aside from these nitpicks there really isn’t much about the film that I can criticise, because I really like it. I feel that it’s a film that gets overlooked quite often, and some critics stated that they wouldn’t consider it amongst Disney’s best. I, however, really rate this film very highly and would rank it amongst my absolute favourites from the animated canon – this is a film I will watch again and again.


Melissa’s Verdict

I did not own Basil the Great Mouse Detective on VHS as a child but I remember we frequently borrowed it from the video shop – in fact, there is home video footage of me watching it when I was four. It’s the big chase scene and I look incredibly nonchalant while eating a packet of crisps. I liked it when I was little but when I returned to Basil as a teenager, I loved it, and the more I continue to watch it over the years, the more I enjoy it. While at university, in company of fellow English and Drama students, I came to realise that literary and theatrical types adore this film, primarily because it is a very clever adaptation produced with such a dramatic and nuanced flair.  Basil the Great Mouse Detective is an incredibly enjoyable film, featuring one of the sharpest, wittiest and most intelligent scripts in the canon. Disney animated films have played around with adaptations of (originally) British material many times, but this film really captures Englishness the best so far. The character animation is some of the greatest that I’ve seen since The Jungle Book and the dynamic between the hero and the villain is, for me, my favourite protagonist-antagonist relationship so far in The Disney Odyssey. I haven’t laughed this much watching a Disney film since watching Robin Hood. The Big Ben clock tower climax still gives me goosebumps – it is so intense, well-executed in terms of animation and score, and it is a fantastic stand-off between Basil and Ratigan.

Any issues that I have with the film are relatively minor. I can see where cut-backs have been made, particularly in terms of still backgrounds and some cheaper looking animation (but it is nowhere near Robin Hood levels of cheap). Let Me be Good to You is a jarring song in what is generally a very authentic-looking nineteenth-century setting. I do wish they had held a bit longer on Basil’s possible death, but as always, there’s the fear of upsetting les enfants. In a way because the film is so good and has such a fantastic pace, it is a shame that the film isn’t longer. At the end when we hear Basil and Dawson on another case, I want to see more of these characters! Again mere minor details (also learn what a crumpet looks like!), but despite that, it is a very impressive film that does not patronise its audience, but instead entertains with brilliant character animation, a sharp and witty script, a tight narrative structure, excellent storyboarding and a wonderful balance between humour, emotion and tension. An underrated film, it is a greater gem than Disney ever gives it credit for. The new generation of animators should be very proud. Once more unto the breach! The game’s afoot for Disney Animation!


Basil the Great Mouse Detective made a profit, was a moderate financial success of over $25 million at the domestic box office and was well-received by critics.

Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and praised it, pointing out that Disney had been ‘cutting corners’ in recent decades but computers are here to save the day, somewhat foreshadowing the future for animation: ‘A movie like The Great Mouse Detective … looks more fully animated than anything in some 30 years … For a long time, I was down on the full-length animated efforts of Disney and others, because they didn’t seem to reflect the same sense of magic and wonderment that the original animated classics always had … But now, maybe thanks to computers, animated movies are beginning to sparkle again’.

Nina Darton from the New York Times seemed to love the film: ‘Many of the new crop of children’s animated movies are so saturated with powdered sugar that one suspects just watching them will produce cavities. What a treat it is to see an animated feature that doesn’t moralize or patronize young children, or drown them in bathos. With The Great Mouse Detective … the Disney people have gone back to the basics that have delighted children and their parents for half a century … The heroes are appealing, the villains have that special Disney flair – humorous blackguards who really enjoy being evil -and the script is witty and not overly sentimental. Basil is a delightfully cool character. He doesn’t even especially like children’.

The film was nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Motion Picture, and Susanne Pollatschek was nominated for a Young Artist Award. It won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards.

The Care Bears Movie II was released the same year but unlike 1985 with The Black Cauldron, Basil was not defeated by the cuddly little bears.

Care bear-staring will not bring you financial success

Knowing they must never be defeated by greeting cards bears, Katzenberg hatched a scheme:

And voila! The film didn’t even make half what Basil made. Disney could breathe easy. However …

Meanwhile at another studio: Don Bluth formed a rather dynamic partnership in 1984 … with Steven Spielberg. But not only did Bluth have Spielberg, he also had Universal and the Sears marketing department behind his film, An American Tail – coincidentally a film also about rodents.


Soon this will become much more common with animation studios …

The film had ‘American’ in the title, and it was about a significant part in US history – immigration. Put that against a film set in Victorian England in which they were concerned that the original title was too British, and inevitably there will be trouble. An American Tail became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film to that date, making over $47 million at the domestic box office. It is incredibly fortunate that these two films were not released at the exact same time (it came out four months after Basil) – if that had happened, perhaps there would have been no Disney Renaissance. However, while An American Tail was commercially successful, the critics were not quite so keen, with Roger Ebert giving it two stars out of four, and Vincent Canby from The New York Times giving it two out of five stars. Basil was critically more successful than An American Tail, but was still nevertheless overshadowed. Personally we both think that Basil is a much better film than An American Tail. The underscore for the latter is excellent and there are some very touching emotional moments (especially the ending), but the film is completely all over the place: the narrative structure is very choppy, the animation is uneven, the songs vary in quality, it is tonally very depressing, and most of the characters are either irritating or forgettable.

(Special Note from Melissa: Agh people will hate me for this but personally I prefer the sequel …)

It was another wake up call for Disney, as Glen Keane recalls. He said that he was shocked, as he didn’t even like An American Tail and yet it did so amazingly well – he remembers Katzenberg saying, ‘We are going to get back that mantle’. However despite An American Tail’s huge success, the success of Basil (especially in relation to the bleak failure of 1985), gave new management, Katzenberg, Wells, and Eisner, confidence in the abilities of the animation department. Without Basil’s success, there would be no The Little Mermaid. It is a huge milestone in Disney’s history, bigger than it is ever given credit for. But then again, isn’t that very typical of Holmes?

Understatement and humility. We don’t need any credit.

The film was re-released at the cinema in 1992 and also on VHS that same year. Disney must have been shaken by the calamity that came with the film’s title that they changed the name of the film … again. This time to The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective. That’s … no better. First of all, they’re not adventures! Sigh. Why not just call it Basil of Baker Street and get it over with? It has been released on DVD, but of course, does not receive the special treatment that certain Disney films get. Shame. It’d be great to hear a commentary!

Lastly, Basil the Great Mouse Detective is truly up there with the great adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. It even left its own legacy in future adaptations. With the huge popularity of Sherlock Holmes adaptations these days and the greater warmth from the US market towards British films and actors, it makes us wonder whether Basil the Great Mouse Detective would be more popular if released now …

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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


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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Classic No. 24 The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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


How can Tod be in two places at once? Will this destroy the universe?

The Fox and the Hound marks the beginning of what we like to call the ‘Passing the Torch Era’. The 1980s was a major transitional phase and there was a lot of experimentation taking place, not all of which worked, but we will get to that. For the first time, they had serious competition; beforehand there had been of course many independent animation producers like Ralph Bakshi, Martin Rosen, etc … but Disney was still considered to have the monopoly over mainstream animation. However, during production of The Fox and the Hound, Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, three of the most talented animators at the studio, left Disney to form their own studio: Don Bluth Productions, taking eleven animators with them.

Gary Goldman: ‘We found out that convincing the management (during the ‘70s) that we wanted to add more special effects, cast shadows on the character, water, rain, and other environmental phenomena, it was discouraged. They wanted us to cut costs, not increase costs. It seemed as though the more we tried to return to the beauty of the older films, the more difficult our jobs became. We finally decided that maybe we could turn them around if we started our own company and challenged Disney on the big screen, that maybe then they would see what we were talking about … We loved Disney, but the company was failing and at the time … management was running the show, not the artists. So, we chose to leave’.

When this major event took place, it was such a shock to the studio that production on The Fox and the Hound was delayed for a year. On top of all this, another prominent change was taking place at the studio. The older animators were retiring and the younger, less experienced animators were getting ready to take over. The former led the first half of production, while the latter led the second half, with the older animators officially stepping back, finishing their careers on the film and passing the torch. This was a real beginning for those who would go on to be some of the greatest contributors to animation in film history, such as Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Chris Buck, Ron Clements, Ron Husband, John Musker, Brad Bird, Tim Burton, and many, many more. They were eager to learn, as they were mentored and taught by the older animators …

Based on Daniel P. Mannix’s novel of the same name, The Fox and the Hound truly is a loose re-telling of Mannix’s story. You think Disney’s adaptation is bleak? Spoiler alert: In Mannix’s novel, the fox dies from exhaustion while being hunted down (plus his mate and children are all killed), and the hound is shot when his owner has to go into a nursing home where dogs are not allowed. Truly the Les Miserables or the Titus Andronicus of the animal world … albeit on a much smaller scale. But of course, Disney does go off course plot-wise, creating a less miserable version of the story – note that we say less miserable. The Fox in the Hound is definitely one of Disney’s most melancholic films. How so? Let’s find out! But first as always …

Original Trailer Time!

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Modern 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 Modern Era (as we dubbed it) is divided into two halves (hence why it is has been so long since we last did one of these overviews!) – before Walt’s passing and afterwards. There is a lot of sadness at the studio during this era, not just because of Walt’s death and consequently losing their leader – although that is certainly a significant factor – but also because of the almost constant struggles for the animation department throughout this period. Continue reading

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Classic No. 23 The Rescuers (1977)

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


Based on English novelist, Margery Sharp’s ‘The Rescuers’ series, The Rescuers was in production for four years (an improvement on the ridiculous sixteen months in production that was Robin Hood). The film marks the bridge between the experienced, older animators and the new, younger animators, with the next film, The Fox and the Hound being the film in which the torch was officially passed (but more on that next time). Therefore, The Rescuers is the end of an era – The Modern Era (Post Walt). It is the final film to be directed by Wolfgang Reitherman and one of the last films in the canon to be animated by most of Walt’s ‘Nine Old Men’ altogether. Don Bluth is a directing animator, and Glen Keane, Ron Clements and Andy Gaskill pop up in the credits. The animation itself also marks the end of an era; the Modern Era’s sketchy trademark style changed as development in xerography restored a softer outline, as the lines no longer needed to be just black. Many changes!

Although The Rescuers was released eleven years after Walt’s death, Walt was involved as development began in 1962.

Back from the dead … again!

In Sharp’s novels, it was not called The Rescue Aid Society, but rather The Prisoners’ Aid Society, in which the mice would brighten the lives of prisoners.


But that wouldn’t make a successful movie … oh

 However, Walt disliked the original idea of rescuing a poet from a prison, and wanted Bianca and Bernard to instead rescue a polar bear called Willie …

(Special Note from David: No wonder they missed Walt so much! Who else could come up with gems like that?)

(Special Note from Melissa: Willie the Polar Bear can go and join Rocky the Rhino down in development hell)

When Walt passed away, the animators went back to Sharp’s novels for inspiration. Good thinking.

The Rescuers is the studio’s biggest success since The Jungle Book and the last until The Little Mermaid. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston even considered it their best film without Walt. The older animators knew that they were retiring or at least retiring soon, and so they wanted to go out with a bang, working that extra bit harder. It certainly does capture an element of the bleak, heavy tone of the films from the Golden Age, especially in contrast to the comic, more light-hearted films of the 1960s and 1970s. The humour is a lot more subtle, and is not at all the focus. But on the other hand, it certainly does not look or sound like typical Disney…

Original Trailer Time!

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