Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

The Nightmare Before Christmas

April 16, 2019

(SPOILER ALERT for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Go watch it and come back or read on at your own risk)

I am a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I have written about the movie several times before. Last year, during the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I started a tournament bracket for best Disney Animated film and I took Nightmare Before Christmas all the way to the finals and the movie won the whole thing. You can find those words in the First Round, Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and Finals. Basically, I talked about how I have dealt with both anxiety and depression in my life and how the movie mirrored a lot of moments in my life. I also talked about how Danny Elfman’s music was probably the best he will ever achieve in this movie. I also related how I had experienced my own job-based depression and I learned to better balance my life and work. I also finally found a job that I love doing which allows me to kick ass by day and be creative by night. I am almost always thinking about this movie in one way or another so I want to express some of that.

A thought I literally had last night as I was driving home from work was sparked by the lyrics of “Town Meeting Song”. The song suddenly resonated with me even more when I realized a few things. First, I feel like the song is mostly about cultural differences but I will set that aside for the moment. The song takes place about halfway through the movie and Jack has just arrived back from Christmas Town. He is bubbling over with excitement about this huge discovery that he has made. Then he tries to explain something that he does not fully understand himself. He talks too quickly and when his audience does not get it, he keeps plowing forward instead of going back to clarify. This is so relatable. The more excited I am, the more I tend to ramble and throw things out there. It is excitement through the lens of anxiety. When I have a moment to breathe and maybe write things out, I do so much better at explaining everything in a linear manner. Part of the real emotional conflict of the movie begins here.

Even if Jack explained himself better, his endeavor would probably still be doomed. Jack loves Christmas because it is a shiny new toy but he does not really understand it himself. He proves that in “Jack’s Obsession” when he experiments and tries experiments to dissect Christmas. As I got older, I grew to appreciate this scene better. Jack is trying too hard. Christmas is not world peace or famine relief. It is a holiday intended to be a simple and good time. Sometimes you just learn to enjoy things by taking a deep breath and a break and coming back to things later. I have solved a lot of my problems by letting my mind wander and coming back to things. A problem that had bested me previously was now something I easily dominated. Jack also isolates himself from everybody else in the town. Sometimes another perspective can help you figure out a problem. Another set of eyes could have been just what Jack needed.

Continuing along that line of thinking, I was trying to think of what Jack could have done to actually succeed at his mission in this movie. He clearly got the citizens of Halloween Town excited about the possibilities of Christmas but he was having trouble getting everybody to see his vision. At first, I thought that Jack should have taken the townspeople in small reconnaissance groups to actually show them Christmas Town. That way they would have actually seen and understood what Jack was telling them about. Then I realized how stupid that idea was. It is just spreading the problem around. The secondary conflict of this movie is between Jack’s vision of Christmas and the rest of the world’s vision of Christmas. In order for Jack to succeed, those two visions should be one. If he had actually stopped to talk with Santa Claus then he could have set up a cultural exchange between the two towns. Of course, that would have stopped him from having a huge life event that allowed him personal growth and allowed him to overcome the main conflict of the story.

Of course, he does not stop and talk to Santa Claus because he does not believe he needs to. I feel that this is because he has a confidence problem stemming from depression. Jack has been the King of Halloween for a long, long time. We are never told but I always thought it was probably since the advent of the holiday (whatever that means). He has gotten really good at his job which means that everybody is always looking to him for guidance and saying what a good job he is doing. Part of his depression is that he is disinterested in his job because he is too good at it. He discovers Christmas and is happy at a possible new challenge. However, he is still stuck in that mindset where he is the king of all he sees. So he dives into Christmas with overconfidence. Shaking loose from depression is not that easy and he literally crashes and burns. It is only when he accepts who he is and learns to not be complacent that he truly starts to find happiness.

So those are a few thoughts I have had recently and I hope they let you love this movie a little bit more. Please tell me what you think about The Nightmare Before Christmas or tell me why I am wrong about it being the best Disney movie.

 

(Written on 4/11/19)

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The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (2009)

April 2, 2019

When Saving Mr. Banks came out in 2013, it renewed public interest in Disney history. It feels like back then, the public did not have as much backstage information as we do now. While I am not interested in that sort of information ahead of seeing a movie, I am intensely interested in all of that information. I especially enjoyed the movie’s depiction of the Sherman Brothers, two guys I did not really know about before the movie came out. The Sherman Brothers seemed like blue-collar guys who worked a long time at banging out songs for Disney and eventually for other studios. At the time, this documentary was suggested to me to learn more about them but I never got a hold of it. While I was looking at The Aristocats as a movie to watch this month and also after watching Mary Poppins Returns, my interest was renewed. Thankfully, streaming has gotten better and more accessible and I could now easily rent the documentary.

The Sherman Brothers spent the majority of their careers and in fact their lives working for Walt Disney. Among other awards, they won two academy awards both for Mary Poppins. However, even some huge Disney fans like did not realize how prolific they were. They are most famous for stuff like Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Parent Trap, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh, and also the Disney park attractions It’s a Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room. But the documentary stunned me pretty quickly by pointing out that they also wrote a hit song for Ringo Starr. Also, outside of Disney, they wrote the music for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Snoopy Come Home, and Charlotte’s Web. Those are just the cream of the crop selections. Their work together was so much more than that. They wrote hit songs, they scored whole movies and put a lot of the soul into very good films. They also did a bunch of stage musicals. However, they are most known for films and they still hold the record for most scored musical films. They also hold the record for most performed song of all time for It’s a Small World.

Their story is a reminder that, under the surface, Disney is not always the saccharine sweet world that appears to be. Two guys who worked together for most of their life ended up having a fractured personal relationship with each other even as their professional relationship flourished. Part of what made them successful was their clashing personalities. In fact, the two of them come off as two sides of the same coin to me. Dick Sherman was fairly manic and enjoyed more positive and optimistic songs. Bob Sherman was a little dourer and lowkey and had more of a traditional writer’s soul and embraced tragedy more. Maybe each was inspired differently from one of their most formative experiences, the US Army during World War II. Dick was drafted into the Army and spent his entire tour of duty working with the Army Glee Club and the USO and never even left the United States. On the other hand, Bob enlisted at age 17 and ended up getting shot in the knee and sent home with a Purple Heart and in a severe amount of pain.  He was one of the first American soldiers to walk into Dachau.  However, even if they did not like each other, they always pushed each other and supported each other.

The story of the two brothers is supported by the great production values I have come to expect from Disney. The first big thing is that they were able to secure the rights to most (if not all) of their music. That allowed them to underscore each little part of their story with a song from their vast music library. Much like the songs’ original purpose, the songs help tell their story in an emotional way. It also serves to astonish with how much they contributed to projects I knew about and ones I had never even heard of. It also highlights how much their songs were influenced by what they went through in their lives. Additionally, the movie was high profile enough to get big names to talk about how the Sherman Brothers influenced them. I was astonished to see John Williams pop up and comment on two fellow film composers, giving them a lot of credit for what American movies sounded like. Same goes for Randy Newman, Kenny Loggins, and Alan Menken. Of course, performers like Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews get to talk as their careers owed a lot to the brothers. Same goes for Hayley Mills who also benefitted from the brothers’ songs.

Of course, the center of this documentary are interviews with the brothers themselves. Both Bob and Dick were still alive when this movie was made and it is so good that they could get their story down on film in their own words. This was made possible through the efforts of their children who got together years into their own lives, feeling too much distance from each other because their fathers were estranged. Everybody involved was interested in telling a complete story, with both the good parts and the uglier parts. And frankly, the ugly parts could have been way worse. The story also makes clear how many lives the brothers changed with their music. Mary Poppins alone changed people for all time and is still changing people generations later. It also shows how infused they were with the Disney spirit and how much they influenced that same Disney spirit for the better. They attacked their work with enthusiasm and it really shows.

Overall, I loved this movie. The movie paced itself and told their story beat by beat without going over the top in celebrating two people that I could spend two hours gushing about. It is really inspiring to see how their minds and process worked. They really were compliments for each other, with the dark meeting the light and joining together for something great.  Their creativity came from conflict which is astonishing.  They created a lot of stuff for family entertainment but it had heart, soul, and intelligence.

(Written on 3/30/19)

The Aristocats (1970)

April 1, 2019

Except for a single dog when I was little, our family was always a cat family. We got our first cats while we were on a family trip to visit a Great Aunt who we were not particularly close with. I only really remember two trips. During one trip we got a Nintendo Game Boy and on another trip, my two brothers and I each got a kitten. Pretty strange now that I think back on it. I wonder if my parents were even notified ahead of time. Anyway, we were pretty young and we each got a kitten. We were not the most imaginative little kids so we named them Andrew (mine), Blondie, and Baby. Baby stayed with us the longest and was the only cat who left us due to natural causes. We had plenty more cats over the years. Hans, Everest, Velvet, and many more. Sadly, many of them ran away and more than one was hit by a car. We were city kids but we did not have the heart to keep them inside and they lived full lives before they met their untimely demises. Still, we really liked our cats and they loved us in the way cats do.

Anybody who reads this blog or browses my archives should know by now that I love Disney. Pretty much anything they do is up my alley. Even the less good stuff is more enjoyable than the output of other companies. This movie was one that I had missed during my childhood probably because of the way the Disney vault works. For those not aware, the Disney vault was a policy where Disney would only sell copies of their animated movies for a limited time before hiding them away again in order to drive up demand. Thanks to streaming, that policy has now ended. Anyway, I always loved the older animated films because of their use of accessible, commercial jazz and show tunes. Movies like The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and Oliver and Company were a bit jazzier than the run of the mill Disney Princess film (not that those weren’t great too). When I saw that the Aristocats has more of a swinging jazz soundtrack, I wanted to check it out. It makes sense, this was the last movie with music written by the Sherman Brothers. (More on them tomorrow).

So the first thing I noticed was that they brought Maurice Chevalier out of retirement to sing the opening song during the opening credits. This is something akin to what Disney would do later by having Dr. John sing the opening song to The Princess and the Frog. The movie is full of great, memorable characters. The star of the movie is no doubt Eva Gabor. She and her sister Zsa Zsa had distinct accents that just immediately screams class and sophistication. Her kindness just shines through her voice. Phil Harris plays the alley cat who comes to the rescue. He has such a fun and laid back voice that I could have heard him talk much longer than he did. He is a Disney veteran as he was both Baloo and Little John. The three child actors did well. Their voices and animation made them really come to life as both kittens and children. The other big standout voice is Scatman Crothers who is doing a Louis Armstrong impression. Apparently,. Louis Armstrong was supposed to do the part but was too sick and Crothers filled in. Still, having Phil Harris, Maurice Chevalier, and Scatman Crothers in the same movie is a great musical achievement in itself.

The animation is really beautiful, not only for the time. While the technology back then was leagues behind where we are now, drawing talent never really changes. I had always thought that this movie was just standard fare, similar to the art style of movies like The Rescuers. However, a lot of the art direction looks like Toulouse Lautrec artwork I saw in the Louvre. I definitely saw some nods to earlier animation, though. For example, the cats look similar to Figaro of Pinnochio and Dinah of Alice in Wonderland. However, they do not look like Lucifer from Cinderella so maybe cats can be matched by alignment. An interesting theory. The art is paired up with some great music. As I suspected, there is some great jazz and some great show tunes each showing a different world. The jazz was inspired by greats like Louis Armstrong and Herbie Hancock and it is definitely very playful. The show tunes are more in the style of musicals like the Sound of Music, prim and proper but pleasant.

Overall, I loved this movie. It was a sweet little movie in the classic Disney style. There is just so much positive energy in the movie that it is hard not to smile. However, it is not too saccharine sweet like the Sound of Music. It just felt like a good movie with a pleasant story filled with pleasant characters. The villains are even more comical than cruel. It has so many cute moments and some genuine laughs that it earns. It shows that Disney always had a way about it, a tradition they continue to follow. All of it is tied together with great artwork, good music, and interesting voice actors. Well, except for the racist Chinese caricature.

(Written 3/29/19)

Media Update 3/14/19

March 14, 2019


Captain Marvel

I was not a huge fan of Carol Danvers growing up but I think for good reason. Writers did not know how to use her and used her too infrequently. When Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, and Emma Rios had their run on Captain Marvel with Jamie McKelvie’s redesign, they breathed new life into the character. This was the first time she called herself Captain Marvel and was the birth of a whole new fandom, the Carol Corps. After that, I really loved the character and when they announced this movie, I was excited. This movie absolutely does justice to the spirit of that character. Part of that is the absolute brilliance of Brie Larson in the lead role. She is just so charismatic and perfect in the role. It also does not hurt that we have Samuel L. Jackson as a younger Fury as her co-star. We also get great performances from Jude Law, Anette Benning, Lashana Lynch, and Ben Mendelsohn. Like most big Marvel releases, I saw this with my friends in a theater and I spent the thing either grinning or laughing the entire time. It was such a great adventure from beginning to end. This was a movie that cannot be denied. I cannot wait to see where they take this character next both in Avengers: Endgame and hopefully beyond. For now, I will bask in the joy of this movie. I wholeheartedly recommend it.


Battle Angel Alita

I was wary of another live-action anime adaptation but I heard some good buzz. I really liked the interesting mix of CGI and live action that created a somewhat unique art design for this movie. This is a world where humans coexist with cyborgs. Cyborgs are accomplished with a combination of CGI and practical effects. Similar to Astroboy, there are a sky city and a dirty city below which is a pretty common trope in science fiction. However, they pull off a gritty and lawless future city very well. This is a collaboration between two famous directors. The first is James Cameron who has awesome technical know-how but went artistically bankrupt a while ago. The second is Robert Rodriguez, a guy who was able to figure out this script and utilize the technical wizardry to create spectacle that also has a good story. Rosa Salazar plays the title character and her voice acting and motion capture are so charming. Christoph Waltz is on top of his game as usual as the hardened but kind mentor. Mahershala Ali gets to play an insidious and sneaky villain. Jackie Earle Haley plays to his strengths of being a psychotic villain. Jennifer Connelly plays a bitter and cynical woman. I also liked some smaller performances from Idara Victor and Keean Johnson. The animation moves seamlessly with the live action stuff and it all follows a great little story about self-discovery and the warrior’s way. I definitely recommend it.


Mary Poppins Returns

Over and over, I have proclaimed on this blog to be a big Disney nerd which is easier to be now that Disney basically owns everything. Mary Poppins is a movie I remember well from my childhood and I still listen to the music from it to this day. The Sherman Brothers were an amazing songwriting team. So when a sequel was announced, I was definitely interested in it. The trailer made the movie look a lot like the original. The original was whimsical but it had a lot to say about its characters, mostly the Banks family. This movie picks up the story years later with the Banks children now grown up and Michael has three kids of his own. Emily Blunt is an awesome Mary Poppins, strict but fun, confusing but enlightening. She is every bit the enigma she was in the original movie. Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a lamplighter who used to be Burt’s apprentice (with the same ludicrous accent). The three children are delightful as Michael and Jane were. Ben Whislaw plays Michael Banks, a befuddled and clumsy artist who is just trying to keep his family afloat. Jane (played by Emily Mortimer) has inherited her mother’s activist spirit and is supporting the labor unions. The music is so good. It feels like the Sherman Brothers songs and yet feels new as well. I was also really happy to see hand-drawn animation again. Not that I hate CGI but a movie like this just deserved a return to classic Disney animation. The art style felt like the original but with a little extra polish that new filming technology inherently brings with it. I definitely recommend this movie.

 

Music of the Week:

Wiley, Sean Paul, Stefflon Don – Boasty ft. Idris Elba

Bailey Bryan – Perspective

The Cranberries – All Over Now

Hozier – Dinner & Diatribes

Dorothy – Missile

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Women Heroes”
– I finished Fate/Apocrypha Season 2
– I finished Carmen Sandiego Season 1
– I finished Unsolved: Biggie and Tupac
– I finished The Umbrella Academy
– I finished Lorena
– I started Grimm Season 5
– I watched more Lucifer Season 3
– I watched more The Seven Deadly Sins Season 3
– I watched more Russian Doll Season 1
– I watched more Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 1

Top 11 Favorite Disney Villains Pt. 2

November 3, 2018

We now return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Top 11


5 Ursula (The Little Mermaid 1989)

Ursula was a sea witch who lived near the kingdom of Atlantica somewhere under the sea. From the looks of it, she lived on the outskirts of the kingdom where few people dared to go. She lived among the bottom feeders and decay of the ocean. She lived there because she had been banished by King Triton, the ruler of Atlantica. Her crimes are unexplained but, based on her actions during the plot of the film, she probably deserved her banishment. Even so, she has plotted her revenge against Triton for a long time. She is a practicer of magic and, like Dr. Faciler above, has great power to make magical bargains with merfolk. She is akin to a crossroads demon. Through the power of the bargain, she has been able to punish merfolk who were foolish enough to leave Atlantica to visit her. She makes magical bargains with these poor unfortunate souls and when they cannot hold up their end of the bargain, she is able to transform them into helpless sea polyps. Eventually, she targets Triton’s youngest daughter Ariel who wishes to connect with the human world. She agrees to transform Ariel into a human in order to pursue Prince Eric but she stacks the deck in her favor by taking Ariel’s voice in the bargain. Without the gift of speech, Ariel finds it more difficult to make a true connection with the object of her affection. When Ariel comes close to beating the odds, Ursula uses her magic to hypnotize Eric to win the wager. She then uses Ariel as a bargaining chip in order to take Triton’s power. Now having succeeded in her revenge, she remains petty and tries to kill Eric and Ariel and that leads to her getting killed in the tussle. If she had simply gone back to the sea and consolidated her power, she could have easily killed Ariel, Eric, and the rest of both royal families.


4 Jafar (Aladdin 1992)

Jafar was the Royal Vizier of Agrabah, a Middle Eastern-flavored land ruled over by a Sultan. In many Muslim countries, the Vizier is a high-ranking political advisor and Jafar had somehow made sure to ascend to this position. He was the Sultan’s most important adviser and he wielded great political power acting often as the Sultan’s voice. Based on what we know of the Sultan from the film, Jafar may have been the most direct cause of the disparity between economic classes in Agrabah. While it is not completely his fault, he has an obvious disdain for the working class and the poor and probably never did anything to help. He uses the country’s rules to help him manipulate the Sultan into making decisions favorable to Jafar’s plans of domination and power. His magic seems to be derived mostly from researching and obtaining enchanted objects. Eventually, his goal becomes to find the legendary Cave of Wonders where he will find a genie who will grant his wishes for the power to achieve his goals of domination. When that plan initially fails, he becomes desperate and tries to force marriage on the Sultan’s daughter, Jasmine, in order to inherit the power he wants. He uses mind control and manipulation to try to achieve that. Eventually, he successfully obtains his wishes and becomes a powerful sorcerer and seems to have more ready access to magic. He uses that to punish those he felt wronged him, damage the city, and even tries to enslave the mind of Jasmine. He tries to kill her when that does not work but he is felled at the last minute by his own hubris. Jafar always desired power and used the rules to manipulate those around him but, in the end, he was captured by somebody else’s rules.


3 Hans Westergaard (Frozen 2013)

Hans was born as the thirteenth son of the king of the Southern Isles. His family would often mistreat him and he always felt that he got lost in the shuffle when it came to the royal family. As one would expect, he was bullied by his older brothers and he felt neglected by his parents. As a result, he grew bitter and desperate for some sort of path to power so he could finally be above his brothers. The problem was that he was so low in the line of succession that he would never become king of the Southern Isles. He decided to try and marry the newly crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa, in order to escape his position. When Elsa proved to be inaccessible, he targeted her naive younger sister Anna. He used her desperation for human contact and her storybook outlook of love to manipulate her into agreeing to marry him the first day they met. He planned to use this love as an open door to become the heir to the throne of Arendelle. His marriage proposal caused friction between the sisters and caused the Queen to curse the land into eternal winter. He used that crisis to further ingratiate himself to the citizens of Arendelle by leading relief efforts. He allowed the Duke of Weselton to drum up anti-Elsa sentiment which led to an assassination attempt on the fugitive Queen. He later decided to let Anna die, blame it on Elsa, and then execute Elsa for the crime and also to bring back summer. That plan ultimately fails as the sisters are able to reunite and refute his claims of marrying Anna and he is defeated and captured. He is sent back to his former life to be punished by his father and his brothers. In the end, he tried to escape a bad situation the wrong way and he made it worse.


2 Mother Gothel (Tangled 2010)

Gothel was a witch living alone in the wilderness when she observed a single drop of sunlight fall to the Earth. She tracked the point of impact and found a flower infused with its magic and she found that being near the flower had healing properties and stopped the aging process. She hid the flower’s existence and used its magic for hundreds of years to stay young and healthy. Eventually, the kingdom of Corona came into existence nearby and she avoided it. When the Queen of that kingdom grew deathly ill, Gothel was powerless when guards found the legendary flower and it was used to heal the Queen. The flower’s magic passed on to the Queen’s daughter, Rapunzel, and her hair gained the healing properties. Gothel decided to kidnap the baby and raise her in her tower in the wilderness in order to maintain that healing magic for herself. So, first she kept the flower a secret so that only she had access and then she kidnapped a child for the same reason. She positioned herself as Rapunzel’s mother in order to control her but never loved the child. She constantly ground Rapunzel down with passive-aggressive and sarcastic behavior and kept her isolated and ignorant. When Rapunzel convinced Flynn Rider to guide her away from the tower, Gothel was furious and desperate. She hired mercenaries to track the pair down, perfectly willing to let them harm Rapunzel and kill Flynn. Even at the end, she tried to manipulate her false daughter who was also her kidnapping victim into choosing to be re-imprisoned in exchange for Flynn’s life. She dies when Flynn does what she could never do and sacrifices the magic for somebody else’s happiness.


1 Oogie Boogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993)

Obviously, the world of Halloween Town is different from ours and morality plays out a little differently. However, when it comes to Oogie Boogie, he is clearly on one side while the rest of the town is on the other side. The citizens of Halloween Town like to scare and disgust the humans of our world but none of them seem to actually want to harm anybody. Obviously, our world responds well to being scared on Halloween but not the rest of the year. However, Oogie has a different idea about Halloween and his kind of fear and desire for harm are not fun for anyone. Because of this, Oogie seems to have been banished and ostracized by the rest of Halloween Town except for his minions. He is constantly scheming to take over Halloween and he would probably make it a much darker holiday. It is obvious that he has taught his minions to be more violent than the other citizens as demonstrated in their song. If he was successful in his plans, it is sure that the world at large would suffer and humans might die. He is constantly kept in check by the presence of Jack Skellington, the only thing he seems to actually be afraid of himself. When Jack gets distracted by depression and Christmas, Oogie sees his opening and convinces his minions to give him Santa Claus. He tries to consume Santa Claus. Although it is unclear what this would have achieved, at the very least it would have at least magically damaged Christmas if not outright killing it. In the end, he was defeated (but not killed) because fear made him run from Jack and he was defeated by his carelessness.

Top 11 Favorite Disney Villains Pt. 1

September 22, 2018

Top 11

Obviously, I am adding a SPOILER WARNING here but for eleven movies that you should have seen by now. There are still a few Disney animated films that I have not seen but these are my favorite based on how important I think they are but mostly how much I enjoyed them. Some, like the Evil Queen and Malificent, have become more iconic to me in later materials but this is based solely on their appearances in Disney films.

11 Syndrome (The Incredibles 2004)

Syndrome did not start out as a villain. He used to just be Buddy Pine, a boy who was a huge fan of Mr. Incredible. He geeked out over his favorite superhero but his fandom started to become unhealthy when he started to take it farther. He tried to convince Mr. Incredible to accept him as a sidekick and in the process, endangers himself, others, and causes trouble for Mr. Incredible. As a result, Incredible gets frustrated and has Buddy taken away from the police and rejects him. As a result, Buddy grows resentful and bitter and changes into the super villain Syndrome. Since he could not become a hero, he decides to kill all heroes so that he can finally be the only hero. Whether intentionally or not, Syndrome represents the worst parts of fandom. First, he becomes such a fan that he tries to insert himself in Mr. Incredible’s life and career. He is rightly rejected because his sudden appearance causes complications. Second, he becomes bitter by being rejected instead of just going off and doing his own thing. He could have forged himself as an impressive hero and earned respect as Mr. Incredible’s peer eventually. Third, he grows to hate the thing he loved because it is not how he envisioned it. He is played with annoying perfection by Jason Lee as a sociopathic, toxic young man.


10 Ernesto de La Cruz (Coco 2017)

Ernesto was a famous musician in Mexico who became an Elvis-level celebrity, with elaborate stage shows, costumes, and backup singers. He died in a stage accident and he is still mourned and practically worshiped at least by the people of his hometown of St. Cecilia and probably the rest of Mexico. However, like a lot of celebrities, the public does not know the whole story. In truth, Ernesto does have a lot of talent for performing but had little imagination. He dreamed to become a celebrity for the fame and fortune and not at all for the love of music. Fortunately for him, he was able to convince his friend Hector to join him on the road to stardom. Hector was truly gifted and was able to write many beautiful and popular songs. When a homesick Hector wanted to go back home, Ernesto killed him and took his songbook for his own. This is especially despicable because, if Ernesto asked, Hector might have given him permission to play his songs as Hector had given up on being a star. In the afterlife, Ernesto remains a big celebrity but he still only plays the songs Hector wrote. When he meets Miguel, Hector’s great-great-grandson, he sees another Hector he can exploit. However, when Miguel proves as difficult as his ancestor, he tries to take him out too. Ernesto is arrogant and uncaring but deep inside he is also afraid of his secret getting out, desperate for fame, and jealous of men like Hector. He is willing to ruin or kill anybody who opposes him and thinks nothing of exploiting the people around him. He is played by Benjamin Bratt with Antonio Sol doing the singing. His performances makes him smarmy but it makes you believe that he could convince others to love him.


9 Scar (Lion King 1994)

Scar is the brother to Mufasa, the ruler of the Pride Lands which is an area around Pride Rock which is somewhere in the African wilderness. They both belong to a pride of lions who have passed down the title of ‘king’ from father to son for generations. In the event that his brother were to die, he would become king but that was changed when Mufasa and He observed the birth and early childhood of his brother’s son Simba with obvious displeasure. Scar always wanted to be king and resented that his brother became the monarch of the area. He was forced to resort to the lesser role of adviser to the king. This is a role he is obviously not satisfied with. He befriends some of the scavengers of the land and stages a coup by murdering his brother and convincing his nephew that it was his fault. In Simba’s absence, Scar rules over the Pride Lands as a cruel dictator instead of the benevolent monarch that his brother was. Scar is largely based on Claudius from the play Hamlet who envied his brother’s life and killed him and took it over. Scar is much like any bad bureaucrat who believes they know what is best but do not actually have any good ideas. Scar and his cronies over hunt the Pride Lands and the environment suffers and a once thriving area suffers. Scar holds no illusions that he is what the Pride Lands need. He is gleeful about being cruel to get what he wants and uses fear to control his subjects. Jeremy Irons is really good at being unapologetically evil and slimy which became kind of a theme for his career around that time.

8 Gaston (Beauty and the Beast 1991)

Gaston is the most handsome alpha male in the small town where the heroine Belle lives with her father. It is never explicitly mentioned but he is a town hunter who provides meat for the town. As a result, he seems to be idle often and he also seems to be independently wealthy as well. He is accompanied by his assistant LeFou who he treats horribly. However, he seems to treat everybody in town pretty horribly.  Gaston gets it into his head that he is the town’s most eligible bachelor, an idea that is reinforced as many women in town pursue him and flirt with him. As the most eligible bachelor, he believes that he deserves Belle as his wife. To get this clear, he believes that he <deserves> Belle as an award for being the most handsome and the strongest guy in town like she is some award. When Belle repeatedly turns him down, he cannot accept it and remains in denial as if it was some sort of game she is playing. Instead, she is not interested because Gaston is a pig and has no chemistry with her because she is a dreamer and an intellectual and he is shallow. When Gaston finds out that Belle might be falling for somebody else, somebody ‘unattractive’, he flips out and lets toxic masculinity completely take over. He tries to blackmail her into marrying him but when that does not work, he decides to kill her potential suitor. When he is defeated in combat, he is granted mercy but he still refuses to believe that he has lost his chance at Belle and attacks only to be accidentally killed by the man he was trying to kill. He is the patriarchy made flesh and he dies, still raging about not being the winner for the first time in his life. He would have lived if he had just accepted that one girl in town did not want to kiss him.


7 Judge Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1996)

Frollo is a judge and minister of justice in Paris, France. He presides over the Palace of Justice and he uses them to both keep the peace and further his personal agenda. Like a lot of the most misguided religious people, Frollo is prejudiced. He believes in a ‘natural order’ but that natural order involves Christianity and nothing else. If you are not Christian, then you are guilty in the eyes of Judge Claude Frollo. Specifically, he has a vendetta against gypsies because they are heathens in his eyes. They flaunt their non-Christian lifestyle and seem to make a mockery of society. In the beginning of the movie, he accidentally kills a gypsy woman and is shamed into adopting her baby. However, her baby grows up with a hunchback and a disfigured face so Frollo treats him like an abomination. Years later and his goal has become to discover the Court of Miracles, the Gypsy sanctuary, and destroy it and murder them all. Yes, this is a Disney film. When a Gypsy girl, Esmerelda, defies him in the middle of the city, it enrages him and his twisted mind fixates on her. He hates what she is but he finds that he also lusts after her and racism and bullshit guilt clash in his head. He pursues her across the city terrorizing, torturing, or murdering anybody who he thinks might be hiding her. When he is questioned by his captain of the guard, he sentences him to death for insubordination. When Esmerelda refuses to sleep with him, he tries to kill her too. When all of this fails, he tries to kill the young man who is supposed to be his son. He only dies because his religious mania makes him see the face of Satan which frightens him into death by falling. He is an unstable man who got further destabilized and twisted by his religion and it ultimately killed him.


6 Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog 2009)

Dr. Facilier is a fortune teller and general voodoo practitioner for hire (also known as a bokor) on the streets of New Orleans. Bokor are usually supposed to serve the loa (or voodoo spirits) with ‘both hands’ meaning they work for good and for evil. However, Facilier apparently was somehow connected with dark loa who are much more proficient in dark magic. So, Facilier became accustomed to being in control of dark powers through his ‘friends from the other side’. Of course, he also seems to be indebted to these loa and trusting in them ultimately proves to be his undoing. While these dark powers may have influenced him into a wicked life, it seems that he did not start off so good anyway. He mentions being descended from royalty but he has obviously fallen on hard times as he tries to swindle tourists and locals on the streets of New Orleans. He has formed a grudge against the wealthy of the Big Easy and actively works against them, seeming to believe he is owed wealth and power. This is a direct contrast with Tiana who works hard for everything she has and is not looking for handouts. He built an infamous reputation around town and is left with the desperate and the ignorant to prey on. He shows that he is very willing to curse or kill to get what he wants and what he wants is to rule New Orleans. Facilier cannot grant himself boons through his magic and so he manipulates others by giving them gifts whether they want them or not. He does not care who gets hurt as long as he satisfies his own desires and pays his debt to his dark masters.

Disney March Madness 7: The Semi-Finals and Finals

August 25, 2018

Bracket

We have come down to the wire so this entry is going to be more about the impressions I got from the final four films both initially and over time. As we get into the nitty-gritty, I am going to drop a spoiler warning here just in case.

Moana vs. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Moana was a revelation for me when it was released. It continued the evolution of Disney Animation Studios that Frozen had started. It took lessons learned in movies like Frozen and The Frog Princess and took them further. Moana was just such an interesting character. I could feel her frustration at not being able to satisfy her curiosity and her wanderlust. Having dreams but never getting to realize them is a very human experience. She also felt like I did as a teenager. You are tired of listening to your parents but you know they are both right and wrong about everything. Last time I did not talk alot about the grandmother character but she was so important. Most of us have that family member (or more than one) who wink at us and agree that our parents are full of crap. They encourage us by treating us like a human being rather than a child. Their behavior toward us is not as colored by fear for us and the other biases that a parent has. Moana is also about our internal compasses. There is that moment in our development where we stop using the compass that our parents and loved ones provided for us. We start to make decisions on our own. Sure that leads to us making a few mistakes but it is important to make our decisions and plot our own courses.

In direct opposition to the Moana, let us take a look at the love story in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Whereas a lot of previous Disney films had romance as their main plot, it is a subplot in this movie. Jack is not looking for romance like many Disney Princes or Princesses. He is looking for something that is missing from his life but it has to do with lacking a feeling of fulfillment in his life. As expressed, it is mostly focused on something lacking professionally. For Jack, the love story is treated as a bonus. It is something that he did not need but he allows himself to have in the end. Also, Sally is not your usual female in a disney animated film. She is not a damsel in distress and in fact she spends the whole movie trying to save Jack in somewhat of a reversal. As a literal captive, Sally wants a new life just as much as Jack does. On top of that, she repeatedly forgets about her own plight when she sees him hurting. She feels bad for her friend and wants to see him happy again. In turn, Jack sees her as a good friend but he loses sight of that due to depression and then excitement. When they come together at the end it is two friends who realize they fit together. They love each other and they are ready to start again at a new level.

Main Character: Both main characters are relatable to me but Jack edges ahead by being more universally relatable.

Supporting Characters: Nightmare has a lot more supporting characters than Moana. One of Moana’s is The Rock but each character in Nightmare is given a lot to do and a lot more personality.

Villain: The main villain of Moana has no lines while Oogie Boogie is one of the most dynamic villains in animation history.

Music: This is tough. I would actually say that Moana’s Lin-Manuel Miranda just barely beats Danny Elfman’s music.

Story: For me, the story of overcoming depression is more impactful than a journey to fix the world and find your place in it. It just felt more real.

Animation: While Moana’s animation is smooth and beautiful, there is something about the novelty of good stop-motion animation that just feels better to me.

Winner: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Coco vs. Inside Out

In Coco, Miguel is forbidden to play music and, possibly because of that, he is drawn into it further. He slowly develops a love for music and he seeks to achieve his dream of becoming a musician like his ancestor. I know a little bit about that. When I was in high school, I wanted to study theater in college. I was told that I should minor in theater so that I had a back-up plan. To me, that felt bad (though in hindsight it was spot on). When my folks told me that I could apply to major in theater, it was such a validation of my feelings and my dreams. In Coco, Miguel gets to have that same feeling. His living family tells him that he cannot pursue music. He travels to the underworld and his family there also tells him no and he is given the choice between music and life and he still finds that choice difficult. In the afterlife, he finally gets to perform in front of a crowd for the first time and he loves it. When he plays a second time, he finally gets that validation from a family member and it gives him even more courage. He is eventually able to convince his entire family, living and dead, to let him give music a try. In life, true validation comes from inside. Miguel knew he wanted to be a musician and when it starts to work out, he is sure of it. However, getting the blessing of his family is a welcome confirmation and it makes it easier to be happy and successful.

In Inside Out, Joy and Sadness are separated from mission control and are therefore unable to exert their influence on Riley. While this happens because of an accident (in Riley’s brain) it actually ends up illustrating a key point of emotional and neurological processes. Riley has been forced to move to a new city and she has to leave her comfortable routine and her friends behind. That is difficult enough for anybody but Riley is a young teenager and she has difficulty processing the feelings that come from that change. When Joy and Sadness are misplaced, it is exactly like depression. She does not feel sad but she definitely does not feel happy. She feels very close to nothing. That is what depression is. You just do not feel a lot of feelings and it takes a while for those feelings to return. One of the other key themes of the movie is growing up. While Joy and Sadness are separated from mission control, they are constantly in danger as the worlds inside Riley’s mind are literally ripped apart and new worlds start to be created. These worlds represent Riley’s interests and parts of her personality. As she loses interest in something, that world is destroyed and new interests create new worlds. Again, we see the effect of depression as the un-feeling starts to destroy any interest she has in anything and the worlds inside her mind start to crumble. That is also what depression is when you have no interest in doing anything.

Main Character: Miguel is a more rounded main character than Joy and Sadness who are fun but only aspects of personality.

Supporting Characters: Miguel’s family is a lot more varied and fun than

Villain: Inside Out does not really have a villain but Coco’s villain would win anyway.

Music: This is no contest as the Mexican guitar stylings far outweigh the more orchestral Inside Out.

Story: The supernatural journey that ends in a very grounded way beats a teenager’s emotional self-discovery.

Animation: The animation in the two is comparable but the art direction in Coco is so much better.

Winner: Coco

Coco vs. The Nightmare Before Christmas

I could go on and on about how I love the Day of the Dead but that is not the main reason that I love this movie so much. My grandmother had several strokes during her old age and those strokes and heart problems contributed to dementia. It started slow. She started to forget a few things here and there. Pretty soon after that, she was caught wandering the streets and had to be brought back home. Eventually, you could come into the room and remind her who you were, leave the room, reenter, and she would have already forgotten you. Eventually, she forgot everything. At its roots, Coco is about memory. Miguel does not know who his great, great grandfather is. He does not know because most of his family never met him. His great-grandmother is suffering from memory loss and has been slowly forgetting her father. At the end of the movie, we get to see the scene above. Miguel sings in a house without music for the first time and he sings a song that his great, great grandfather wrote for his daughter. We see that song stir her memories and that allows her to experience the joy of the memory of her father once again. It is a beautiful moment both because it is full of pure emotion and also because it is supported by the supernatural adventure that happens before.

The part of The Nightmare Before Christmas that I love the most is actually about depression. It resonated with me a lot more later in life. Jack has been the King of Halloween for a long time. He has gotten so good at it that he has started to get bored and that has led to him falling into a deep depression. When I worked at a theater up in New Jersey, I eventually reached the same place. A lot of shows felt the same as the last and I got bored and tired. I eventually decided that I did not want to go back and I returned to Baltimore to start again. I got another job and I worked hard for years and then I got bored again and depressed again. Jack happens upon Christmastown and suddenly his life has a new purpose. He is excited by having this new thing in his life even if he does not fully understand it. However, even that does not last for long and once again he finds himself depressed again. In the song above, he pities himself but then he has a revelation and he realizes that he is what he is and he embraces that. Similarly, a year ago I realized something. My job cannot make me happy. My family cannot make me happy. Things cannot make me happy. Only I can decide to be happy and my life has been more positive ever since. Jack and I had that same revelation where he decides to find the happiness in what we do and who we are with instead of letting doubt consume us. It is the only way to live, even if you are an undead skeletion.

Winner: The Nightmare Before Christmas

March Madness 6: The Pixar Quarterfinals Pt. 2

August 4, 2018

Bracket

Ratatouille vs. Inside Out

Ratatouille is the story of a young, foodie rat who joins up with a human in order to realize both of their dreams of cooking and love. Fundamentally, it is a story about being out of place and then finding a new place that accepts you for who you are. I never felt that way with my family like Remy but I did feel like that in high school. I watched this movie after I had found a new tribe among the theater people in college. It was the first time I had felt somewhat accepted but even then I still felt a little out of sync. The highlight of the movie is Remy the Rat played by Patton Oswalt. Oswalt, like me, was born a geek and knows a lot about being out of place and then finding your tribe. He really embodies the ennui and frustration of dealing with a family that does not understand him. He also uses his well-honed skills to be as likable as possible which is difficult when you’re dealing with rats animated to actually look like rats. His main co-star is Lou Romano who is not only an actor but also a member of Pixar’s production art team. He is lovably awkward but unfortunately largely forgettable. As are many of the other supporting characters who are performed by great actors like Brad Garrett, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O’Toole, Will Arnett, and Ian Holm. The animation was a great leap forward and the art style was stylized to be more French and different from the humans in the earlier Incredibles.

Inside Out is the story of a little girl and the swirling emotions inside of her. While we do get to know the little girl, the main characters are the embodiments of her Joy and Sadness. All of Riley’s emotions just want the best for her but Joy also wants her to be happy all of the time. At its heart, the movie is about finding emotional balance during the hard times. Joy and Sadness go on an adventure through Riley’s mind and begin to learn what their connection is. I watched this one in theaters early on a rainy Saturday morning and it was perfect for that. The animation is great as there are two different art styles. One is as we watch Riley and her parents interact and the other is inside Riley’s brain which is far more fluid and delightfully weird. Joy is played by Amy Poehler who brought happiness to the role but also determination. Phyllis Smith played Sadness and brought to the role a sadness it was hard not to feel sympathy for but also some intelligence. They are supported by Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling who play Anger, Fear, and Disgust respectively. Riley’s imaginary friend is played by Richard Kind and he is so engaging. Kaitlyn Dias, Kyle MacLachlan, and Diane Lane play Riley and her parents and I loved spending time with all three of them. Like most Pixar movies, there were so many grown-up moments among the fun silliness but this one especially was relatable.

Main Character: The creation of a true partnership between Joy and Sadness was fun and engaging to watch which topped Remy’s journey for a place in the world.

Supporting Characters: The supporting cast of Inside Out is more engaging and likable than Ratatouille. The humans in Inside Out are also way more interesting than the humans in Ratatouille.

Villain: Because Inside Out really did not have a villain, the villain of Ratatouille wins here.

Music: I thought that the French-styled music in Ratatouille was better than the respectable mood music from Inside Out.

Story: I felt like the story and experiences in Inside Out were more fundamental to the human experience and therefore had more impact. It was also just more fun.

Animation: The animation and dual art styles of Inside Out were naturally more superior as the technology and creative process had evolved.

Winner: Inside Out

Monsters Inc. vs. The Incredibles

Monsters Inc. is a story about monsters (of the under the bed or closet varieties) who discover that their world is not quite what they have been told it is. Mike and Sully are a partnership, a true friendship that must deal with the biggest crisis their world has ever seen. At its heart, the movie is about both overcoming prejudice and also corporate culture. The two heroes must rise above their blue-collar background and challenge the very system they have relied on for their entire lives. I saw this one four years after it was released while working for a summer camp and I felt sad that I had missed it for so long. Mike is played by Billy Crystal and he is the brains of the operation but also the more anxious character. Sully is played by John Goodman and he is the warm, generous one of the pair. They are opposed by James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, and Frank Oz with a slimy corporate air. They are supported by Jennifer Tilly, John Ratzenberger, and Bob Peterson (another memorable Pixar woman played by a man). The animation is very good and a lot of credit goes to the art team for creating such unique and varied monsters to populate their world. The worldbuilding is a lot of fun and they created a lot of interest in how that world worked (which is why they made the prequel).

The Incredibles is a story about a man looking back at his youth and being somewhat dissatisfied with where his life has gone. He took joy in his life with his kids and his wife but something is missing. That thing that is missing is his superhero career. At its core, the movie is about figuring out that the future can be better than the past if you work to make it that way. I watched this one on DVD well after it came out. Arguably the main character, Bob Parr, is played by Craig T. Nelson who had experience playing a dad and brought a real middle-aged gravity to the role. His wife is played by Holly Hunter and she is so good that many wanted her to be the main character. They are supported by Wallace Shawn, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, and Elizabeth Pena. Brad Bird is particularly hilarious and charismatic as the fashion maven Edna Mode. The villainous Syndrome is played by Jason Lee and he is so hatable. The animation is absolutely beautiful and much of it styled like what live-action superhero movies would soon look like when Marvel really got going. One of my favorite things about the movie is the way the characters move and this is the first 3D animated movie that really nailed human beings in a way that kept away from the uncanny valley.

Main Character: The Parr Family are much like most families I have met and are a little more relatable than working stiffs Mike and Sully.

Supporting Characters: The supporting characters of Monsters Inc. are a little forgettable while the supporting characters in The Incredibles are given some of the best lines and more personality.

Villain: The toxic masculinity and toxic fanboy nature of Syndrome is so relevant to our world and is way better than the fairly bland corporate villains of Monsters, Inc.

Music: I prefer the dramatic full orchestral score of The Incredibles over the simpler Monsters, Inc.

Story: I feel like the story of a family learning to be on the same page while literally defeating the ghosts of the past is better than uncovering corporate lies.

Animation: These two are actually pretty comparable but the slight edge goes to the cinematic camera angles and composition of The Incredibles.

Winner: The Incredibles

March Madness 5: The Pixar Quarterfinals Pt. 1

July 2, 2018

Bracket

Up vs. Toy Story

Up is the story of an old man who tries to go on one last adventure to honor his wife and unexpectedly and reluctantly teams up with a small boy. He gets more adventure than he could have possibly expected. The first couple of minutes of Up are done largely with very little dialogue and it is one of the most touching scenes in cinema history. In the future, the opening sequence of Up will be used by Blade Runners to root out replicants. That portion sets the scene for the rest of the movie and it ended up being a very emotional movie for me. It also had some real genuine laughs. Ed Asner plays the lead character, Carl, and his weary, grumpy demeanor hides a depth and heart that gradually is revealed. He is joined by a small kid, Russel, who is a very accurate portrayal of a kid. Unknown Jordan Nagai plays the role naive, energetic, kind of dumb, but it is hard not to like him. Finally, we have Dug, the talking dog who is played by director Pete Docter similar to a kindergartener who unconditionally loves everybody. The combination of all three bring a lot of laughs but they also bring a lot of heart. The movie has a mix of nostalgia for the pulp adventure films of the first half of the 20th century but also some new ground.

Toy Story is the tale of a bunch of sentient toys led by a cowboy toy named Woody. He is threatened by the arrival of a brand new spaceman toy. This is Pixar’s first feature film and it had a monumental effect on the animation industry as it revolutionized both animation technology and storytelling in family films. Pixar took a fresh new approach to things and that rising tide caused the ships in the harbor to rise or sink. Woody was voiced by the always likable Tom Hanks who for once got to be less likable. He is joined by Tim Allen who is a perfectly reasonable straight man and also very likable. The rest of the cast is played by brilliant character actors such as Jim Varney, Jon Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, R. Lee Ermey, and Annie Potts. Their dialogue always immediately shows instead of tells of the long history the toys have had with each other and creates an imaginative backstory without hitting us over the head with it. Woody and Buzz’ tale is familiar in so many ways. As an older brother, I experienced the fear that my younger brothers would usurp me. As a friend, I was worried that my friend’s girlfriends would push me away and cause me to be forgotten. Everybody has experienced that moment of being hot and then fearing they are suddenly not.

Main Character: Carl Fredrickson is a much more rounded and flawed character than Woody’s jealous panic.

Supporting Characters: Russell was an absolute gem of a character and the offbeat comedy of Dug was amazing. Still, they just barely beat Buzz and a cast of some of the best character actors as toys.

Villain: Arguably, Woody is also the villain of the movie and he is a far better villain than Charles Muntz.

Music: Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is probably the best thing he ever wrote but the score of Up beats the score of Toy Story.

Story: The story of laying your wife rest while learning to continue on with life beats the tale of learning that friendship is more important than fame.

Animation: This is not really fair as Toy Story was so early in CGI animation but it blew me away at the time but Up is years in the future and obviously better.

Winner: Up

Coco vs. Toy Story 3

Coco is the tale of a young boy in Mexico who finds himself as a living person stuck in the afterlife during the Day of the Dead festival. Instead of worrying, he decides to use this false death as an opportunity to connect with his ancestors and explore his family history. It is also the tale of musicians and how they connect with music and history. Pixar always does its research and they did a great job exploring the traditions and lore of the Day of the Dead and used that to create an impressive world beyond the veil. They also did a lot of research with actual musicians and they were able to animated fingers on guitar strings in a way that it is clear that the characters are actually playing music. The movie also does a lot to talk about memory and legacy and how important that is and the different ways that it is important to people. Young Anthony Gonzalez plays the lead role, Miguel, and he plays him with both rebelliousness and heart. He is joined by both Benjamin Bratt and Gael Garcia Bernal as his guides through the afterlife. They both do a great job and contrast each other in the best ways, each teaching important lessons. It would be a crime not to mention a beautiful performance from Alanna Ubach as the deceased matriarch of Miguel’s family. She has such power to her personality when she is on screen and she is mirrored by Renee Victor in the living world.

Toy Story 3 is the story of a bunch of toys worrying about the loss of their owner who is about to leave for college, finally officially outgrowing his old friends. Yearning to be played with again by actual kids, they go on an adventure to find their new place in the world. This was the movie that Pixar was not originally going to make but Disney forced their hand when they were prepared to continue the franchise alone. The Pixar crew dug deep and tried to figure out where they could take the story next after two outings. To their credit, they figured out a beautiful way to end a trilogy but also how to open up the story for future opportunities. They made the story fresh again by tweaking the previous formula once again and adding bigger stakes. They also added a real villain with a full backstory for the first time in the franchise and that added a new dimension of conflict into the movie. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen returned to once again portray Woody and Buzz Lightyear, now old friends instead of rivals. They are once again joined by great character actors Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Estelle Harris. Joan Cusack returns from Toy Story 2 and helps to breathe new life into an old franchise. Helping with that, we have a villain in Ned Beatty and there are also newcomers Kristen Schaal, Timothy Dalton, and Jodi Benson. This makes it possibly the most star-studded movie in Pixar (and possibly Disney) history.

Main Character: While it is a bit unfair to have Woody and Buzz gang up on Miguel, the young boy has so much more going on than the two old friends.

Supporting Characters: Although Toy Story 3 has an all-star cast full of likable and fun characters, Coco wins with relative unknowns who have a lot of more subtle charm.

Villain: Ernesto is insidious and spineless and he is a much better villain than Lotso who is probably the franchise’s first real villain.

Music: Hands down the beautiful sounds of the Mexican guitar top a traditional score with the usual contribution from Randy Newman.

Story: A story of family, love, and redemption definitely beats what is basically the same themes being explored as the previous two movies (albeit with new twists).

Animation: Although the two movies are not far removed when it comes to release dates, the art direction of Coco is absolutely stunning and leagues ahead of the more mundane world of Toy Story.

Winner: Coco

March Madness 4: The Disney Quarterfinals Pt. 2

June 23, 2018

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Aladdin vs. The Little Mermaid

Aladdin is a streamlined and musical take on a classic tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights which is, of course, some of the most well-known folklore from that region. An invention of that region, genies (or ‘djinn’) have permeated popular culture and this is one of the most famous mainstream takes on the myths. This is a tale about class differences, the artificial barriers we place between each other, trusting your own self-worth, being honest, and true friendship. The lead character of the movie is Aladdin who is played by Scott Weinger who has made a good living playing the character in a lot of material. He gives such a fun but vulnerable performance especially when he is singing. It is not a stretch to say the star of the movie is Robin Williams as Genie. This was my first exposure to Robin Williams and I was instantly a fan. I cannot stress enough how much the character of Genie makes this movie special. Linda Larkin plays Princess Jasmine and does a great job of playing a confident, independent woman. She was kind of the first example of a woman like that in fiction for me. The villain, Jafar is played by Jonathan Freeman and he has to be in the top 10 of Disney villains (which is another post I could write hmm). The animation is very fluid and felt like a new era of a marriage between CGI and traditional drawn animation. The movie is entertaining from start to finish.

The Little Mermaid is adapted from an original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale but the story was given a much happier resolution. It uses a different mythical creature, this time the mermaid often spoken of by sailors. This is the last fully drawn Disney animated movie and while earlier movies were rotoscoped from live models, this one was drawn freehand. Of course, they still used the live models. In this movie, the princess of Atlantica has become curious and obsessed with the world of the surface and makes a devil’s deal to try and achieve her dream of walking on land. Princess Ariel is played by Jodi Benson, a young relative unknown who really embodied a young woman pushing against literal and figurative boundaries of her world. Her voice is so pure that it is a shame that she only gets to sing one great song. Samuel Wright plays Sebastian, a crab who advises the King and is tasked with watching over the headstrong princess. He sings two very memorable songs in a very musical Jamaican accent. Finally, the villain is Ursula who was apparently patterned after Baltimore’s Divine (a local drag queen). She is great as the scheming witch who easily engages in mind games. In fact, she sings her villain song directly to the protagonist without scaring her away. One of the main things keeping this movie from winning this particular matchup is that Ariel does not really have any internal conflict. She has conflict with Ursula and her father but never really learns anything new about herself.

Lead Character: Aladdin is a fun, lower class individual who learns lessons about honesty and friendship which beats the fact that Ariel does not really learn anything but things work out for her anyway.

Supporting Characters: Genie, Jasmine, Abu, and the Sultan beat Sebastian, Flounder, Eric, and King Triton.

Villain: This one is close but Jafar is far more twisted and his almost pathetic, weaselly nature beats Ursula’s admittedly complicated, witchy villainy.

Music: Legendary musical writer, Alan Menken, wrote some great, fun songs and even wrote two songs that built off of Robin Williams’ legendary motor mouth. Unfortunately, there is no villain song (it was cut out) but the rest of the soundtrack more than makes up for it. Menken also wrote the music for Little Mermaid but it makes sense that the music he wrote three years later would be better. For me, it comes down to better instrumentation and Robin Williams putting it over the edge.

Story: I still feel like a tale of a diamond in the rough realizing his worth is better than the tale of a young woman achieving her dream.

Animation: While Little Mermaid has some beautiful drawings but Aladdin wins with absolutely fluid animation mixed with early but smooth CGI.

Winner: Aladdin

 

Mulan vs. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Mulan is the story of a young woman in feudal China who poses as a man to enlist in the army to both cover for her family and to find herself. This was another in a long line of Disney animated films trying to explore other cultures. This was probably to make up for the first eleven or so animated films (with humans in them) being about white Europeans. However, the first two were Pocahontas which was an insult and Aladdin which unfortunately cast only white people as Middle Eastern people. This was also part of a movement to make more proactive female characters which would get better in small increments through Disney’s history. It also based on the tales of Hua Mulan, which are not talked about much in the US. The power behind the movie lies mostly in how well-crafted the character Mulan is and that has a lot to do with the animation and the vocal performance by Ming-Na Wen and the singing performance of Lea Salonga. They show both Mulan’s weaknesses and strengths to create a more interesting character. She is unsure of who she is or what she wants but is also strong and smart. BD Wong does a great job as Captain Shang, the superior officer that falls in love with Mulan (and possibly the first bisexual Disney character). Eddie Murphy is also part of the cast at the absolute height of his powers and you could definitely do much worse casting a Disney sidekick (although casting somebody actually Chinese would have helped). As I mentioned in the first round, the movie has beautiful music including one of Disney’s catchiest songs which was sung by Donnie Osmond.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a story about a man who is suffering from depression and ennui but nobody understands and worst of all he does not understand. By embracing something new he starts to come out of his depression. This movie is the awesome combination of musician Danny Elfman and animation director Henry Selick. Selick is a genius director when it comes to animation and, when he has a good script, he always knocks it out of the park (see Coraline). Danny Elfman is known both as the frontman for the band Oingo Boingo and the composer for most Tim Burton movies. The heart of the movie is Jack Skellington as played by Chris Sarandon with his singing done by Danny Elfman himself. Every single time I watch the movie, I feel everything Jack feels as he talks and sings. He is joined by Catherine O’Hara as Sally, the ragdoll-like Frankenstein-esque monster woman who is experiencing a similar sadness and longing. The two are opposed by Ken Page as Oogie Boogie, the actual boogie man who wants to stomp all over everything. This is the only stop motion film in any of the brackets which makes it stand out. In fact, it is one of only three stop-motion films that Disney has done period since the process costs a lot of money and time. However, here it is done so well as each model is artfully crafted to breathe life into every frame. It is an astonishingly good movie.

Lead Character: Jack’s journey to find what is missing from his life beats Mulan’s similar but less emotional journey.

Supporting Characters: Mulan has Captain Shang, Mushu and a few soldiers who get a few lines which is beaten by a whole town full of characters who feel very fleshed out. Lock, Shock, and Barrel alone beat Mulan’s entire cast.

Villian: Shan Yu is more of an elemental force and we do not learn much about him beyond the conflict he starts. In contrast, Oogie Boogie is charismatic, has motivations, and depth.

Music: The power of Donnie Osmond pales in comparison to the magic of Danny Elfman at full power.

Story: Both movies have interesting stories about self-discovery and both movies have a character posing as something they aren’t to try and fix their life. However, Jack’s story resonates with me more.

Animation: The stop-motion technology of Henry Selick blows traditional drawn animation out of the water.

Winner: The Nightmare Before Christmas

I have a couple of notes here as I realized two interesting things since I wrote the previous post in this series. First, I realized that three out of four of the Disney Quarterfinalists were written and directed by the same two guys. Ron Clements and John Musker wrote and directed Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. They also wrote and directed The Little Mermaid which unfortunately had to lose its match in this post. That really says something that these two guys were able to have such great success. The other thing that I remembered is that two of the quarterfinalists were movies that I watched on heavy drugs. I watched Aladdin in the Intensive Care Unit of Johns Hopkins after heart surgery in fifth grade. More recently, I watched Moana while recovering from getting my wisdom teeth removed. Neither of these viewings was the first viewing but they were memorable.


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