A new life is waiting…

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TARZAN


Directed By:
Chris Buck & Kevin Lima
Produced By: Bonnie Arnold
Based On: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes (1914)
Premiered On:
June 12, 1999
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

Arguably the last of the Disney Renaissance films, as technically Fantasia 2000 is akin to its predecessor being a collection of short films and the film Dinosaur is more akin to the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Enchanted insomuch that while there is animation involved there is also a lot more live action work. While I don’t deny that Fantasia 2000 is truly the big bang ending to the Disney Renaissance, because let me tell you, you’ve not seen a greater cartoon segment than the likes of that which featured the characters of the Phoenix and the Sprite of Spring, Tarzan still makes for a good finale.

The basic summary of the film goes that a English couple’s boat sinks in the midst of a terrible storm but they, and their infant son, survive and manage to make a home for themselves in the jungles of Africa. Unfortunately, as the introductory song attests, for all that is beautiful and wondrous in such an environment, so too are there many dangers. Tarzan’s parents are killed and the young baby boy is adopted and raised by the gorilla Kala as a child of her own, despite the misgivings and outright dismissal from her mate and leader of the gorilla troop, Kerchak.

Time goes on and though Tarzan initially struggled to thrive and survive amidst the apes and the other animals of the jungle, he grows in strength and prowess, eventually, and rather unknowingly, avenging the deaths of his parents and that of Kerchak and Kala’s own lost child by fighting and killing the leopard Sabor. However, Tarzan’s view of himself and the world around him is rocked down to its very foundations as some new visitors have come to the jungles of Africa. Strangers who look very much like him.

As before, there is much more to the story beyond what I’ve said but as with Mulan and other Disney films I’ve reviewed, I want to entice people to watch these films for themselves based on what little I’ve described rather than how much I’ve laid out. That and save for The Black Cauldron and a few other films further down the line, I’m looking at you direct-to-DVD “sequels” your time is coming, I’ve yet to see any soapbox upon which to stand upon.

Between the book and the film, there is actually quite a surprising amount of differences, particularly in how certain characters are portrayed and how the original novel ended. First and foremost, Tarzan’s first encounter with humans was not with Jane Porter, her father, or his cousin Clayton, but rather a tribe of African natives that had moved close to his territory and whom had, unknowingly, incurred his wrath with but one single mistake.

They killed Tarzan’s mother.

Though he avenged her, Tarzan kept a rather antagonistic relationship with the tribe, enough so that they started to believe him as being more of an evil spirit than a fellow human being and attempted to placate him in various fashions.

Contrary to what happens in the film, Kerchak actually fights Tarzan to the death, which thus promotes him to being the Lord of the Apes as he’s so aptly named. Another, rather weird difference I’ll admit, is that in the novel, it was Tarzan himself who not only discovered his parents’ cabin but who taught him how to read and another visitor to Africa altogether, a French naval officer, who teaches him how to behave amongst civilized people.

Oh, and teaches him French too but that’s to be expected really…

One final, and admittedly rather surprising, difference between the novel and the film itself is how it ends. See, rather than staying with Tarzan in the jungles of Africa, Jane and her father left for America, specifically Wisconsin, and though he eventually made his way to her and renew their old acquaintance, Tarzan and Jane did not end up together as she was, at the time, engaged to another man and Tarzan chose to not interfere with her happiness.

Considering she was going to be married to Clayton, Tarzan’s cousin and all around scumbag, I’d say some interference was more than necessary.

With the likes of Phil Collins adding to the music of the film, pinning down one song in particular was as easy as it is difficult. For while the song “You’ll Be in My Heart” has won both Academy and Global Globe Awards, it is still technically a lullaby and while an extremely wonderful and heartwarming song, it does not truly describe the adversities of Tarzan. “Strangers Like Me” comes at a close second and is tied with “Son of Man” for both actual music and fun visuals, especially the former with the various attempts at educating Tarzan.

Ultimately, it falls upon the introductory and ending song of the film, “Two Worlds” that best fits for the film as a whole. Aside from all but spelling out the hardships that Tarzan faces being a part of two different worlds, the world that he knows and the world to which he belongs… There is rarity amongst films wherein a song perfectly fits with what is happening on screen and this song is hands down the first to come to mind whenever I think of such things.

Overall, I give Tarzan… hrm… Oh, who am I kidding, ten out of five once more. Aside from stunning landscapes and wonderful music, the animation quality in this film is virtually second to none in the entire Disney Renaissance. It is an actual fact that, currently mind you, Tarzan is the most muscularly accurate depiction of a human being in animation history, which in itself is extremely hilarious as many of the animators had presumed that animating him would be extremely easy as the only clothing they had to worry about was his loin cloth.

Swift as the coursing river…

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MULAN


Directed By:
Barry Cook & Tony Bancroft
Produced By: Pam Coats
Inspired By: The Tales of Hua Mulan (Ancient China)
Premiered On:
June 19, 1998
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

The first of three Disney animated productions to be made primarily at the animation studio located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or as it was known then Disney-MGM Studios, located in Orlando, Florida. While coming close to the end of the Disney Renaissance, I can assure you all right here at the beginning of this review that Mulan is well and truly one of the greats in any era of Disney Animation.

The story of the film begins long ago, roughly 200 so years BCE, in the Han Dynasty of China where the Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu, have invaded. The emperor commands a general mobilization of all available soldiers and, unfortunately for our titular heroine Mulan, her father is the only man in their family. Knowing that allowing him to go will mean his death, Mulan steals her father’s armor and disguises herself as a man, taking his place in the army.

Of course, being a Disney film, there’s a wee bit touch of magic and mystical hoodoo in the form of one of Mulan’s former, at the time mind you, family guardians. A small dragon named Mushu, who is by far my absolute favorite amongst all Disney sidekicks bar none and not just because he’s a dragon but then, I already made a whole review about him already, so let’s just move along shall we? Though, if I may make a note of at least one scene in particular that solidified my love for Mushu, it’d be this one right here:

Much like Hercules before her, Mulan’s original story does not truly have any one story that defines her from beginning to end. In point of fact, there have been several, slightly different renditions to Mulan’s story though the overall plot remains the same. That being her stealing her father’s armor and fighting in the army. The one major difference however between the film and the multiple variations of the story is one thing in particular. That being how long Mulan served in the army. In the film it was… I’d say at best a season, perhaps even a year but in the original story?

Mulan served in the army for over twelve years.

More to the point, she served for twelve years and gained enough prestige to earn herself an official post which she turns down much like in the film itself, but no one is made wise of her deception until she returns home and dons her old clothing before meeting her comrades.

I imagine that the look on their faces was one for the record books.

Speaking of Mulan’s deception of gender, the animators of the film did a fantastic job in creating minute but still noticeable differences in Mulan’s facial appearance throughout the film. If one were to have Mulan and her male identity of “Ping,” you’d most certainly call them twins but not identical enough for one to not immediately guess which was which.

As to the song that best describes this film as a whole… I want to say it’s the song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” if only because of how utterly fun a song it is for what is, essentially, a montage of success but that’s not really what Mulan’s story is about no matter how great a job Jackie Chan does at singing it. No, the honor of the song that fits her and her film best is the song that she sings herself, the song aptly named as “Reflection.”

It’s far from a happy song, nor is it one that is packed with stunning visuals, but there is that one moment. Blink and you might miss it but it’s there regardless. The difference between the mask we wear on the outside to show the world and the person within trying so desperately to get out.

Overall, I give Mulan a solid ten out of five stars. An amazing story, stunning art, and a just the right amount of kid friendly silliness and adult orientated seriousness. The music pays great homage to the native lands of China and the landscapes, from the recognizable Great Wall of China to Mulan’s quaint little village, fill me to the brim with a fierce desire to go and see these places for real even if I must bend the laws of time to do so!

Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR


Directed By:
Anthony & Joe Russo
Produced By: Kevin Feige
Screenplay By: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Premiered On: May 6, 2016
Distribution By:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Now that it’s been a little over two weeks since the film’s premiere, I feel it safe to review but I will say that, as usual with any currently playing film, this review will contain MINOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.

I admit, when I heard that this was going to be the third, and final, film of the Captain America trilogy, I was worried. While it is certainly true that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is quite different from the comics, what with them pairing up Black Widow with the Hulk of all characters never mind the drastically different origin story behind the Vision, I still worried that they would take too much from the actual Civil War that occurred in the comics.

Though, to be fair, that Civil War is undeniably far worse than what occurs in this film for a vast variety of reasons. First and foremost much as I’m sure all of us would love to see there’ll likely never be a singular film that has characters like the Fantastic Four, the Punisher, Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, and everyone in-between including younger characters (both literally and figuratively) all sharing the same screen. Second, because of the sheer scale of superhumans in the comics, it took something far worse than a bomb that killed several humanitarian workers from Wakanda.

In the comics, it took a bomb that took the lives of over six hundred people, including sixty children and all but one member of a team of heroes.

Though the tragedies of innocent deaths were limited to a far smaller number in the film, the overall problem remains though in a far more different sense than in the comics. In the film, rather than creating a Superhuman Registration Act, which is essentially a superhuman signing over their identities, powers, and weaknesses, a new concept was born.

The Sokovia Accords which would put the Avengers under the control of a United Nations panel. Unfortunately, much the SRA, the Accords has divided the Avengers into two splintered factions and, much like in the comics, the simple yet so eloquent idea of simply sitting down and talking this through is all but tossed out the window.

However, I will give credit where credit is due. Steve and Tony attempt to speak of their opinions several times but are constantly being interrupted by some event that needs their immediate and direct attention. Particularly with Steve as his best friend and former war colleague is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and given his already large rap sheet as the Winter Soldier, a kill-on-sight order is preferred over capturing him alive.

Yet that one moment, that one blessed moment, where Steve Rogers and Tony Stark actually take the time to sit down and talk… It really shows off how alike and yet how different the two of them are from each other. Both agree that something like the Accords needs to happen and yet neither of them can agree on just what precisely that is and how to best handle it.

Speaking of handling, here’s where I find myself with the one and only thing that I didn’t particularly care for in the film. Steve’s nigh obsession with keeping Barnes, AKA the Winter Soldier, safe and alive even if it means going against those whom are his dearest and closest friends. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Steve feels an obligation towards Barnes, firstly as a fellow soldier/survivor of World War II and secondly because of the whole Winter Soldier debacle, but for crying out loud, it’s exactly as this one scene goes.

Captain America: “He’s my friend.

Iron Man: “So was I.

While I shan’t reveal it here, as this was one moment in particular that I honestly didn’t see coming until it was seconds away from happening, a major reveal was made that neatly solidified the divide between Captain America and Iron Man and irreparably fracturing the Avengers. This reveal was something that, admittedly, we don’t know how long Steve knew about but that he knew it at all and didn’t try and say anything to Tony about it…

It was cowardice, a cowardice that he admits to freely if not directly to Tony.

Aside from this, there was one… nitpick, I guess you can call it that I had. That being that somebody had the brilliant idea of promoting Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross into Secretary of State and making him the de-facto government liaison to the Avengers. This is the guy who all but made it a life goal to tracking down and capturing the Hulk and who has a, direct quote here, “fanatical anti-superhero point of view.”

Oh yeah, I’m sure he’s the best candidate into ensuring the Avengers full and united cooperation.

Moving on to the two new additions to the MCU, I’ll confess that I knew that the Black Panther was going to show up eventually. While not a common member of the Avengers overall, there have been far too many nods towards vibranium and its origins in his home country of Wakanda for him not to make a cameo appearance at the least. When I learned that he had a more solidified role, I shrugged and thought to myself, hey, who knows, he might prove to be an interesting character.

And much like how Hawkeye went from being “meh” to “amazing” in my opinion, so too did the Black Panther. I give a lot of credit to the actor Chadwick Boseman who helped develop the Wakandan accent based on the Xhosa language, that he learned from the actor who plays his father in the film. Boseman made it a point to speak with this accent during the entire production, regardless of whether or not he was on camera, which puts him leagues above most other actors and actresses in my book.

As to Spider-Man, if anyone recalls hearing a massively loud “Whoopie!” when the reveal trailer first aired, that may well have been me. Spider-Man has been, and likely will always be, one of my top favorite superheroes and seeing him included in the MCU of all films had me doing backflips of joy.

Spider-Man in film has been a near constant disappointment. As said in the Honest Trailers for the original trilogy, Peter Parker looked like a puppy and in the mask sounded like a smaller, far less threatening puppy while the “Amazing” duo was a stuttering twit who couldn’t seem to comprehend how to hide his powers and abilities from people.

The MCU version however, is well and truly Spider-Man for how he looks and acts, both in and outside the costume. There’s a moment in the film where Tony asks him outright why he does what he does and I thought to myself, “Oh god, not another rendition of great power comes great responsibility.” Because, let’s face it, the other five films all but beat that line to death when, to my surprise, Peter answers with this:

When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you.

Last and certainly not least, is the quipping. The trilogy was several lacking in this thanks in no small part to the puppy voice and the duo was constrained by silly stuttering, but this one? Oh man, it’s well and truly Spider-Man quipping like mad at all the right moments, particularly during the fight with a gigantic Ant-Man.

“Hey guys, you ever see that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?”

That line alone cracked me up but combined with War Machine and Iron Man’s response to it brought honest to God tears to my eyes.

Overall, I give Captain America: Civil War… eh, four out of five stars. I’d give it a solid five, or even higher, but let’s be honest, this is the film that is, quite literally, The Empire Strikes Back of the series. A team divided is never a pretty sight to see, but knowing full well who, and what, is on the horizon… Oh man, let us hope they get their act together and quickly because this Civil War is but the opening game.

From a zero to a hero…

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HERCULES


Directed By:
Ron Clements & John Musker
Produced By: Alice Dewey, Ron Clements, & John Musker
Inspired By: The Tales of Heracles (Ancient Greece)
Premiered On:
June 14, 1997
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

At last, we come to a film that has generated the most mixed feelings I’ve ever had for a Disney film, animated or otherwise, which I’ll try to refrain from speaking about until the end of this review. Disney’s take on the tale of Hercules (or rather Heracles as he’s actually known in Greece as “Hercules” is in fact his Roman name but more on that later) is easily the most… Censored, I suppose is as good a word as any.

Whereas films such as Pocahontas, which were romanticized purposefully, or films like Tangled and Frozen, which became virtual originals in their own right, Hercules is one of the few films that has been given the most work over of any story bar none. It takes too much of the original tales to really be called a loose adaptation and changes far too much to be readily ignored either. Still, the story of the film in itself is rather straightforward.

Hades, Lord of the Underworld and eldest brother to Zeus, learns that his ploy to take over Mount Olympus by way of releasing the Titans he and his fellow Olympian gods had vanquished long ago has only one minor failing point. That being Zeus and Hera’s newborn son, Hercules whom Hades immediately has kidnapped by way of his stereotypical comedic incompetent minions Pain and Panic and given a potion that will turn him fully mortal and thus able to be killed.

Unfortunately, said minions fail to turn Hercules fully mortal as he retains his godlike strength and deals out a surprising amount of damage to the two imps before they retreat back to the Underworld. Years go by and Hercules, a young teen, goes to a temple of Zeus to try and learn his origins and more besides. His father, speaking to him through the statue in the temple, tells him that in order to become a god once more, he must prove himself a true hero and sends his young son off to the satyr Philoctetes, or Phil for short.

A few more years go by and Hercules makes a name for himself in the city of Thebes by first combating and vanquishing the Hydra, just one of many monstrous pawns Hades unleashes upon his nephew before he realizes the lad’s one true weakness. That being Meg, Hades’ unwilling servant who likewise has slowly but surely begun to fall in love with Hercules despite how much she strives not to.

Seeing as there is no one true definitive claim to what story of Heracles, as the tales had been told time and time again through various means in the ancient world, I won’t try to nitpick the differences between those original tales too much with this film. However, someone just so happened to have replaced my usual chair with a soapbox so I make no further apologies.

First and foremost, the one true change above all others, is Hercules himself insomuch that he is a son of Zeus and Hera. This is not the case in any of the myths. Hercules, or Heracles as I’ll refer the original stories version, was born of Zeus and a mortal woman whom he had an affair with. One of several other women in point of fact as Zeus, the Lord of Olympus and God of the Sky, is also the most infamous deity in all the various pantheons of the world for his adulterous/erotic escapades.

If you want specifics, Zeus had over 92 children, forty or so of which were divine while the rest were mortal. Of those children, only seven of them were by his wife Hera and of those seven only about four of them were bestowed any major influence or power over mortal kind.

Speaking of the Queen of Olympus, it is actually Hera, not Hades, who is the major thorn in Heracles’ side from day one. In point of fact, upon learning that a midwife had helped bring him into the world despite her efforts, she turned that midwife into a weasel and spent a good chunk of Heracles’ life tormenting him whenever and however she could. Heck, he was named Heracles, which essentially translates to “Glory of Hera” and was named as such as a means of mollifying her.

This did not work and backfired on Heracles with a vengeance.

How bad?

Well, his wife, Megara (AKA Meg to her friends), and his children were unwittingly killed by him when Hera drove him insane and would have remained as such hadn’t a friend managed to cure him of the god-induced insanity. Seeking penance for his crimes, Heracles was given ten impossible labors, which became twelve due to certain circumstances.

Many of these labors are featured in the film itself, most notably with Hercules fighting the Hydra, which was labor number two after defeating the Nemean Lion, a creature that boasted an impenetrable hide and who bears a remarkable resemblance to Scar now that I look at it…

The last major difference between the film and the original tales that I’ll focus on, because by the gods there are so many, is that of Pegasus. See, in the film he is made by Zeus, with some cirrus, nimbostratus, and a dash of cumulonimbus even, as a gift to Hercules. He is stated as being a magnificent horse despite having the brain of a bird but that’s neither here nor there. See, Pegasus’ origin is vastly different than what is portrayed in the film.

See, it was actually Poseidon, the Greek God of the Oceans and Sire of Horses, who… technically… created Pegasus. The most commonly accepted origin behind Pegasus is more to do with his… “mother,” the eldest of the Gorgon Sisters known as Medusa. Contrary to what you might be thinking, Pegasus was not “born” so much as “sprung” and by sprung I mean leapt out of the gushing blood issuing from Medusa’s neck when the hero Perseus had beheaded her.

… The tales of Ancient Greece, ladies and gentlemen… Making the likes of the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Andersen look like writers for Sesame Street by comparison…

As to the music… My favorite song in the film as a whole has been, and will always be, Meg’s song “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” but it is, unfortunately, not the song that I would pick that best describes the film as a whole. No, that honor goes to the song sung by the Muses “Zero to Hero.” The song is not only incredibly fun to listen to, visually speaking its comedy gold.

There are so many jabs towards what our modern world does with people of fame and fortune that seeing it in ancient times is nothing short of hilarious, particularly when those jabs even take aim at some of Disney’s own faults like merchandising the heck of out a popular film.

Overall, I give Hercules… blast it all, ten out of five stars. Much as I nitpicked on the vast differences between it and the original source material I will always, always, judge a movie based on its own merits and believe me Hercules has plenty of them. It’s not often we see a film where we see that it’s the power of a hero’s heart and not their, if you’ll pardon the pun, herculean strength that defines them. That and as I’ve said time and time again, no Disney Villain will ever compare to the scene stealing likes of Hades.

It looked almost like Heaven’s Light…

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THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME


Directed By:
Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Produced By: Don Hahn
Inspired By: Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris (1831)
Premiered On:
June 19, 1996
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

A film that is arguably one of the more controversial of Disney Animated Films and is often debated as the start of the slow decline of the Disney Renaissance, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a film that is, in essence, The Black Cauldron of its generation. I say this insomuch that while it hasn’t been shoved to the wayside as the afore mentioned film has been, it comes pretty close to being all but nonexistent. Even I, an avid fan of all Disney works, quite nearly forgot about this film.

While I’ve said the likes of The Rescuers is one of the darker Disney films, both literally and figuratively, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is much more so in the figurative sense as far as overall story. The plot begins in the year 1482 where we learn the origins of titular hunchback named Quasimodo, which is incorrectly stated as meaning “half formed” when it in fact means “Low Sunday” the day that Claude Frollo found him.

Of course, Frollo only found him because he had, quite literally, chased Quasimodo’s mother to the steps of Notre Dame where he had, inadvertently, killed her thinking she was making off with stolen goods. Realizing his mistake, Frollo initially attempts to kill Quasimodo as he views him as a monster but the archdeacon of the church stops him proclaiming that for the crime that he did, on the very steps of a church no less, his soul is stained with sin and to try and make recompense, he must raise and care for the child as his own.

We fast forward several years and learn that Frollo has cared for Quasimodo in the loosest sense of the word, barring him from ever leaving the towers of Notre Dame where he serves as the unseen and oft mysterious bell ringer. Here is also where we have a unique twist on the usual “I want” song insomuch that it’s Quasimodo who sings it versus the main female lead, that being the most recognized fictional gypsy the world over, Esmeralda.

Thinking himself safe to mingle in the crowds during the Festival of Fools celebration, Quasimodo and Frollo both meet Esmeralda for the first time. In the case of the lonely hunchback, he falls in love with her because she was the first person to ever show him kindness whereas Frollo… Is seduced by her charms and, eventually, comes to the conclusion that his lust can only be sated by either having her for himself or by burning her as the seductress that she is, in his eyes, so that his soul may be saved from eternal damnation.

There’s more to the story than just that of course, what with the three talking gargoyles that may or may not be nothing more than figments of Quasimodo’s imagination speaking to him as different aspects of his personality. There’s also the captain of Frollo’s guard, Phoebus, who is quite likely the only decent human being in all of freaking Paris as far as he treats people, especially the likes of Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and their respected people.

This film, for how dark a tale it spins, pales in comparison to how the actual book goes. First and foremost as the most glaring difference of all is the fact that Quasimodo was not the protagonist in the story but rather Esmeralda’s husband, whom she only married as a means of saving his life as he had unwittingly stumbled upon their secret Court of Miracles and could only leave by way of death or by joining with another in matrimony.

Heck, Quasimodo in the book was actually far worse off than the film version in that he was half-blind and completely deaf from the ringing of the bells. More to the point however, contrary to how the film opens, his becoming a ward of Frollo’s was not because of the man accidentally murdering his mother but because Quasimodo had been purposefully left there in an equal exchange as another baby had been taken to replace him. A baby who was born with the name of Agnes but was given a new name upon her abduction…

Esmeralda.

The truth bombs don’t stop here, oh no, for you see ladies and gentlemen, the illustrious Phoebus? The man whom I stated not more than a few paragraphs ago as being a shining example of human decency? He is not only engaged to be married in the novel but is totally okay with sleeping with Esmeralda and is only interested in seducing while she herself is actually in love with him for the fact that she thinks of him as being a “true man” unlike the so-called “coward” that she had married.

The novel also ends far more tragically than the film’s version as not only does Esmeralda die, by way of hanging, but so too does Quasimodo as he goes to the graveyard where the bodies of the condemned are laid to rest and stays there beside Esmeralda’s body until he dies of starvation. The feels only pile up higher as, a little over a year later, the tomb is opened and their skeletons are found. When the attempt is made to separate them, they crumble into dust.

… Is it me, or does this whole affair sound a lot like a soap opera to anyone else?

Surprisingly enough, this film did well enough for itself in Germany that, in 1999, a musical version of it premiered entitled Der Glöckner von Notre Dame or The Bellringer of Notre Dame. The musical is almost exactly the same as the film itself with a few minor differences such as the names of the gargoyles being changed and their comedy being toned down by several large degrees.

In point of fact, this musical actually has more in common with the original novel than the film itself does as, just like in the book, Quasimodo is unable to save Esmeralda who dies from smoke inhalation but not before giving him her thanks and appreciation for being a good friend. Frollo arrives and says that the two of them are now safe from her seductive poison but Quasimodo doesn’t hear this.

No, he only hears the roaring chant of the gargoyles telling him to kill Frollo and he does so gladly by tossing him off the cathedral. Phoebus arrives on scene but is too injured to help Quasimodo who takes up Esmeralada’s body and lays her down upon the steps leading into the cathedral.

Fearing that he will be blamed for her death, he turns to flee when a small girl emerges from the crowd and twists her body to show that she is just like him. The rest of the crowd follows suit and the musical ends with the discovery of Quasimodo and Esmeralda’s bodies in the crypts of Notre Dame.

The musical ran for three years, becoming one of Berlin’s longest running musicals, and had, rather surprisingly, been picked up again for a North American release back in 2014 but failed to make it to Broadway.

Speaking of music, I suppose that now is as good a time as any to discuss my opinion on the one song that fits this film as a whole. I’ll admit, it was a though choice to make as quite a lot of the songs can fit this slot. Quasimodo’s “Out There” for example in describing the courage it takes to go out into the world despite the fears and troubles that might tie you down.

Heck even the songs “Heaven’s Light” and “Hellfire” sung by Quasimodo and Frollo, make for a good example of how one can be as afflicted by love as another is by lust and how, oftentimes, it is how one views and interprets these feelings that shows what kind of person they are.

However, these are not my choice for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. No, that honor goes to Esmeralda’s song “God Help the Outcasts.” While it is no visual marvel compared to the likes of The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” nor is a song that entices one to sing and dance like The Jungle Book’s “The Bare Necessities” this is a song that I think ought to be listened rather than heard, and believe me is there is a difference.

Overall, I give The Hunchback of Notre Dame… eh, three out of five stars. It’s a good story with a great message to it but it’s hunkered down by dark undertones that most would not be comfortable in viewing as adults never mind as children. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard the word Hell used in literal context, as in referring to the actual place rather than as cuss, in Western animation.

This here is always the first to come to mind. It’s not a film for everyone but I think that it’s one that everyone should see at least the one time, if only to come away from it with the idea that the difference between monsters and men lies not with what is one the surface, but what is buried beneath.

Run the hidden pine trails of the forest…

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POCAHONTAS


Directed By:
Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg
Produced By: James Pentecost
Inspired By: The Life & Legends of Pochontas (1595-1617)
Premiered On:
June 16, 1995
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

The one and only Disney Animated Film to be loosely based on actual historical events, Pocahontas is a film that is, quite possibly, the most neutral of all Disney films insomuch that people either love it or, at the least, don’t quite care for it. Rather ironic too considering that whilst the studio was making this film alongside The Lion King, most were of the opinion that this was the film to be the box office sensation.

Got to give Disney some credit though, they timed the release of the film so that it debuted in on the 400th anniversary of her supposed birth year, as it and her actual birth date, were never able to be confirmed and only speculated upon.

The film’s take on the tale of Pocahontas is a more romanticized version of her encounter with the Englishman John Smith and the first Jamestown settlers that had arrived upon her native soil from the Viginia Company led by John Ratcliffe in a quest for gold. By teaching and learning from each other, John Smith and Pocahontas grow closer together despite the increasing animosity between their respected people.

That is until it all comes to a head following a series of very unfortunate events that lead to John Smith being captured and is set to be executed by her father. Thankfully Pocahontas arrives just in the neck of time to save him, placing her head above his own with the declaration that if he is to die, then so to must she.

What makes this film of particular distinction amongst most Disney films, or even animated films as a whole is how it portrays the relationship of Pocahontas and John Smith. More specifically, that they are the one and only “couple” to not actually get together in the end of the film.

Instead, John gets critically injured saving the life of Pocahontas’ father and has to go back to England to receive proper treatment and though he invites her to come with him, Pocahontas says that her place is still with her people but that she will always be with him forever and that she will await his eventual return.

That… is so freaking refreshing and so unbelievably vexing at the same time. I have always been a sucker for those types of romances where two people come so close to that happily ever after ending only to have to go their separate ways, for goodness knows how long. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen this happen in an animated film, and the majority of them are of the Studio Ghibli variety so technically even less than that.

Now, as this is based on history and legend let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am, nor will I ever truly be, a historian in any way, shape, or form. As many of my closest friends and family can attest, I’m lucky if I can properly recall what day of the week it is never mind the actual date. That being said, I will only mention the most glaringly obvious differences between historical fact and animated fiction.

First and foremost, Pocahontas’ name is not actually Pocahontas. In point of fact, it was common for Powhatan Native Americans to have several different names for a vast variety of reasons. Their birth names, secret names known only to those closest to them, and even changing their names around important occasions/events in their lives. Pocahontas was born with the name Matoaka, which roughly translates to Bright Stream Between the Hills. I think Disney did a sort of tongue-in-cheek nod to with the song “Just Around the Riverbend.”

She was later named Amonute, which means nothing. Not literally but in the sense that it doesn’t actually have any meaning or translation. The name of Pocahontas was actually a nickname of hers she earned as a child and most likely a reference to her rather frolicsome nature, or so historians supposed. The name Pocahontas means “the naughty one” or “spoiled child.” Pocahontas would eventually take the name of Rebecca when she became a baptized Christian.

This was also the name that her tribe primarily referred to her by towards the English because of the superstitious fear that if her true name was known to them, then the English could possibly due her harm. A trope that is actually used quite often in most fantastical settings now that I think about it…

The next, and as far as I’m concerned, most telling difference between historical fact and fantastical fiction, is one little minor detail that Disney glossed over with a vengeance. See, John Smith was about late twenties to early thirties when he met Pocahontas. As to the girl herself…

She was eleven.

… So yeah, moving on away from that uncomfortable subject, let’s talk music shall we?

Much like The Lion King, there is no contest in my choice of song that best fits the film as a whole. “Colors of the Wind” takes the word beautiful in every possible meaning. It is a song of learning to see past the differences, to look beyond what we know, and to see and learn things we otherwise pass up as being beneath our notice or not worth our time. Visually speaking… oh man, where do I even start? I suppose that the one moment, the absolute moment, that cements this song as one of the best in Disney history, is at the lines of learning how to paint with the colors of the wind. Give it a watch and I’m sure you’ll see exactly what that means.

As I stated before, you will either love this film or hate it. I’m sort on that same ground myself because while I do enjoy this film for reasons I’ll soon touch upon, I too am of the group that doesn’t quite care for the liberties this film has taken. On its own, if it were merely a story, I would gladly give it ten stars.The art is nothing short of astounding at every scene to such a degree that I could pause the film at any particular point and make a lithograph worthy screenshot. Well, most scenes because Ratcliffe is most definitely a face for radio.

As it stands, because I well and truly can’t let go the biggest change in what is otherwise an integral part of history, I give Pocahontas… six out of ten. Blast it that somewhat tragic romance ending gives it extra credit for bucking the usual Disney tradition involving romance with their characters, especially their princesses.

There’s more to see than can ever be seen…

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THE LION KING


Directed By:
Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Produced By: Don Hahn
Inspired By: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601)
Premiered On:
June 15, 1994
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

Easily one of the most recognized and most popularized of the Renaissance Era if not the entirety of the Disney Animated Films, The Lion King would have reached even loftier heights had the Internet been what it is today. Currently, this film stands at being the highest grossing film of its year, the highest grossing traditionally animated film, and sits at fourth in highest grossing animated film.

Heck, including the live stage musical version of the film The Lion King, as of September 2014, is the top earning title in box office history for both stage production and films, surpassing the record previous held by The Phantom of the Opera which had previously grossed $6 billion.

The basic summary of the film goes that a young lion cub, appropriately named Simba which is the Swahili word for “lion,” who is destined to succeed his father, Mufasa, as king of the Pride Lands. However, the envious greed of Scar, Simba’s uncle, knows no bounds and he forms an alliance with the hyenas to see to it that he becomes king and that they, in turn, will never go hungry again.

Scar’s plan to kill his brother works perfectly and though he manipulates Simba into thinking that the fault lay entirely upon him, the cub runs away into exile, narrowly avoiding the pursuing hyenas. Years past and following an interesting perspective of life, love, and honor from a few old, and departed, friends, Simba returns home to challenge Scar and bring an end to his tyranny over the Pride Lands.

As stated above, the film is inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet but seeing as there are quite a lot of differences between them, chief being an all animal cast and what have you, I’m afraid there’s far too many to make serious note of. I will say though that while the overall narrative is not anything new per say, as the concept of jealous sibling killing older sibling for the crown has been done nearly to death by this point, The Lion King takes a rather refreshing new stance at it.

While there is plenty of humanization in the cast of characters, there are still a lot of nods towards how these animals behave and act in the wild. Case in point, when Scar openly insults both Mufasa and Simba before walking away, Mufasa gets all up in his face asking him if that’s a challenge. Mufasa allowing Scar to remain in the Pride Lands was not done entirely out of love towards his brother, but with pity as well as only one male lion may rule a pride at a time and Scar, by his own admittance, lacks the brute strength necessary to become a king by conquest.

Even the hyenas are, somewhat, true to form despite the grand amount of complaints made to their overall portrayal during Scar’s villain song. Hyenas are one of the more unique species of animal in that they are not only a matriarchal society, but are actually quite large as far as group size in concern. An average clan of hyenas, particularly the spotted hyenas featured in the film, is about eighty members at minimum but do generally forage/hunt in smaller packs like what we see Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed do in the film.

Oh, one other particular thing about the film that I feel worth noting is that, much like Jodi Benson is for Ariel, there is one particular character in the cast who has, for the most part, been voiced by the same voice actor since the original film. That character in question: Puumba, which, I don’t know why, still amuses me to this day.

As to my choice in song, there’s little to no contest. “The Circle of Life” defines the whole entire franchise and is easily one of the more recognized phrases excluding hakuna mata. The song itself is one that I’ve yet to find an equal in as far as melody and lyrics are concerned but visually? There is no equal and likely never will be at least until such a time as this film is remade into a live action adaptation.

Overall, I give The Lion King a solid ten out of five stars. A visual masterpiece that will stand the test of time and a story that can watched over and over again by people of all ages. It is also a franchise that’ll likely continue for several generations to come as well, seeing as there is now yet another new tale to tell in in the form of The Lion Guard

The legend will never be the same…

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THE JUNGLE BOOK


Directed By:
Jon Favreau
Produced By: Jon Favreau & Brigham Taylor
Based On: Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1895) & Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967)
Premiered On:
April 15, 2016
Distribution By:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Given that it’s Earth Day today, I had plans to actually review the film Ferngully as it is one of the first theatrical films I had ever seen and whose villain is still among my top ten favorites but then I had to go and see Disney’s latest live action adaptation to one of its Golden Age Classics, The Jungle Book.

Now, as per usual with reviews based on current film, there will some small SPOILERS in this review. I’ll try and keep it to the bare necessities but that’s all that I promise. First and foremost, seeing as I’ve already previously touched upon the difference between the novel and the original film, I’ll focus more on the differences between this adaptation and the animated one though I’ll refrain from speaking about Mowgli himself as the film is his story just as the animated one was. I will also admit that this film does base itself more on the book than the animated film does, namely in how the animals present themselves in groups referring to those outside their respected groups as “people,” ironically enough.

Anyway, one of the biggest differences between the films is Mowgli’s relationship with the Seeonee wolf pack. Namely, that he actually is shown having one. Oh yes, it’s touched upon very lightly in the animated film but in this one? Oh man, where do I start? Akela, though referred to strictly by name by Mowgli is as much a father to him as he can be though he strives to maintain the professional distance of an alpha wolf in the pack. As to Mowgli’s adopted mother Raksha… I believe that I will use a direct quote from the film itself here.

No matter where you go or what they may call you, you will always be my son.

That is just so freaking refreshing to see in a Disney movie. Seriously you’ve no idea how utterly rare it is for there to be a significant mother figure in a Disney film, live action or otherwise, that with just a few words emphasizes all that a mother is.

Bagheera is the same if a bit surlier than his animated counterpart, going to extreme lengths to keep Mowgli safe for reasons not fully revealed in the film proper. He’s also a lot closer to Mowgli in this film, something of a second father to him after Akela though, more often than not, a harsh but not wholly unforgiving teacher as well.

The major difference in Kaa is making the hypnotizing snake into a female and I admit, I was a bit surprised by this, even more so when they choose Scarlett Johansen, famous for her role as the Black Widow in the Marvel Film Franchise, to voice her. That is, until I actually heard her speak… Kaa still maintains her hypnotic color swirling eyes but coupled with that voice? Oh man, she quite literally put Mowgli under a spell. Unfortunately, an old, and frankly extremely overused, Hollywood trick gets a place in this film thanks to Kaa, namely the old “finding an enormous piece of snakeskin before meeting said enormous snake.”

Though, to be fair, this might actually explain Kaa’s behavior towards Mowgli. See, snakes are unbelievably hungry after shedding their skin as most of them won’t eat during that time, which can be anywhere from two or more weeks depending on the size and species of the snake. Considering how much Kaa reveals to Mowgli of his past and of Shere Khan, it seemed rather odd that she’d want to eat him.

I mean, I get the idea of hypnotizing him out of his little head but way make the effort of showing him his birth father’s death, the origin of Shere Khan’s scarred face and hatred of man, and even how Mowgli was found and brought to the wolves by Bagheera? Heck, she even tells/warns him outright of man’s “red flower” otherwise known as fire.

Baloo is surprisingly different yet wholly the same insomuch that while he still strives for the bare necessities of life, he’s actually more of a con artist in this version of the tale, as Bagheera calls him such outright. Make no mistake though, he’s got a heart of gold and is made of surprisingly sterner stuff than what one would expect from a sloth bear. He risks his hide for Mowgli more than one occasion and even makes it a point to tell the boy to stay behind him when some bushes are rustling suspiciously and was even the one responsible for saving him from Kaa.

He also has one of the best lines in the film as an animal comments to him how Mowgli is unlikely to succeed any more than those who Baloo had tricked before, to which he replies, “You have never been more endangered than you are right now.

I laughed so hard at that line that I’m still aching and it’s been nearly a week since I saw the movie!

As to King Louie… I think out of all the voice actors that were chosen for their respect roles, the voice of Christopher Walken for King Louie surprised a lot of people. An original character in the film, Louie was easily one of the bigger examples of the film’s time period, that being the jazzy sixties. True, he was a king but one that seemed to command authority based on his uniqueness of being an orangutan, a species not native to India. On a similar vein, Walken’s Louie is in point of fact not a ginormous orangutan as I had originally believed, nor is he a cousin to King Kong as others have joked.

He is in fact a Gigantopithecus, a species of ape that stood around twelve feet tall and had likely gone extinct as recently as one hundred thousand years ago. Aside from this major bodily difference, this version of Louie, much to Walken’s credit, comes off as being a true leader insomuch that he sounds like an outright mafia kingpin amongst the monkeys with his all too casual introduction of, “Call me Louie.”

Seriously, I have expected him to start smoking a cigar or taking a drink of martini or something.

Last, but certainly not least, is the main antagonist of the film. Shere Khan is a far worse villain in this film than he is in the animated one. The original version makes it appear as though Shere Khan is the only tiger in the jungle, or at least the only one that hunts in that specific part of it, but in this film it’s much different. Baloo initially dismisses the threat of a tiger being after Mowgli until Bagheera informs him that it’s Shere Khan specifically, which helps to encourage the bear into forcing Mowgli to go the man village even if it hurts them both.

Contrary to the animated version, this Shere Khan is wounded though not in the same manner as the book version. Instead, Shere Khan’s face is horribly scarred by fire and is even blind in his left eye. In point of fact, while Shere Khan has a healthy respect for fire, he does not possess pyrophobia as his animated counterpart does, or at least not to the same debilitating degree.

While I am by no means a master in the art of storytelling, I tend to pride myself in being able to spot guess where a story might be heading and I was downright floored by Shere Khan’s reaction to Mowgli showing up to confront him with a burning torch in hand. This Shere Khan is, without any unnecessary spoilers, far more cunning and patient than his animated counterpart, willing to go to extreme lengths to see that Mowgli is not only killed but that no one, not even Mowgli’s wolf family, would be willing to stand beside the man cub.

One thing that I want to give this film credit for is the music, primarily the opening theme that harkens back to the original film. As to actual songs, as I’m sure many people are already aware thanks to teasers from the trailers, certain songs from the original make it into the film itself.

Kaa’s song, “Trust in Me” is sung during the credits and not the film proper. Of the three, it is actually my favorite to listen to as this incarnation of Kaa makes it into a truly creepy lullaby unlike any other. Baloo does sing “The Bare Necessities” but it really can’t compare to the original only because Bill Murray, for as great a voice actor as he is in this film, is by no means a singer. That and the song itself is purposefully sung as how one would sing any song without any kind of musical accompaniment, at least in the film itself. King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You” is easily the best as far as visuals go and rides on the coils of Kaa’s song too only for one reason.

Christopher Walken himself sings it.

Nothing more needs to be said.

One last thing to note before I give my final thoughts towards this film is how much of a success it has garnered in its opening weekend. It is the second biggest live action adaptation of a previously animated Disney film, just behind Alice in Wonderland, and tied with Maleficent in its Thursday preview earnings of $4.2 million. In point of fact, it has earned a total of $103.6 million in its opening weekend, exceeding expectations by 40%. Expectations that had been raised more than once prior to the film’s actual release might I add.

Overall, I give this film a solid ten out of five stars because really, it deserves no less. Visually stunning in scenery and characters alike, this movie is a fantastical rendition of a classical book and an animated classic combined. I’d even go so far as to say that this is easily among the top of Disney live action films as a whole and not just those based on previous films, animated or otherwise.

An Arabian night…

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ALADDIN


Directed By:
Ron Clements & John Musker
Produced By: John Musker & Ron Clements
Based On:Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” (Arabian Fairy Tale)
Premiered On:
November 25, 1992
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

While it can be argued as to the popularity of the film itself compared to others in the Renaissance, one cannot deny that Aladdin has had one of the biggest impacts insomuch that it is one of the only Disney Animated Feature film to receive a televised series and not one but two straight-to-video sequels. A television series that lasted for eighty-six episodes, making it one of the few exceptions to the “65th Episode Rule” that was prevalent in the 90’s to early 2000’s where most Disney television shows could not extend beyond sixty-five episodes.

As to the film itself, the story goes that the wickedly sorcerous vizier Jafar has been seeking entry into the illustrious Cave of Wonders wherein there lies a magical lamp with a genie. While Jafar has succeeded in finding the Cave of Wonders, he cannot enter it himself as the Cave itself declares that only one who is a “diamond in the rough” can enter and even that individual cannot touch anything within save for the lamp.

Thus enters our titular hero, Aladdin a penniless thief who does his best to survive the streets of Agrabah and who, rather inadvertently finds himself in the company of the local princess, Jasmine, who has sought to run away from the palace lest she be forced to marry a man she does not love before her sixteenth birthday.

… Wait, if she’s fifteen, how old is Aladdin?

(Checks Disney Wiki…)

Ah, he’s eighteen…

Welp, moving on past that den of awkwardness, through some devious trickery, Jafar manages to con both Jasmine and Aladdin, the princess believing the thief had been executed while Aladdin is duped into entering the Cave of Wonders with the promise of a handsome reward should he retrieve the lamp. Aladdin enters the Cave but thanks in no small part to Abu, finds himself trapped with a seemingly useless lamp and an enchanted carpet that is not only able to fly but is actually sentient to boot.

Thankfully, Aladdin rubs the lamp and discovers that the lamp itself is quite worthless compared to what lay within, a “cosmically powerful” Genie who states that Aladdin is his new master and thus can receive any three wishes his heart desires though with a few quid pro quos and such. After tricking Genie into getting them out of the cave, Aladdin makes his first true wish, to become a prince so that he might be able to marry the princess. Of course, Jafar, after a time, manages to put two and two together and realizes just who the pauper turned prince actually is and sees to it that he gets the lamp, and Genie, for himself.

I’d go further into how Jafar is stopped but really, there’s too much karmic justice to be had there for me to spoil it to those who haven’t seen it so I’ll take a moment to talk about something that always intrigued me with Genie: the rules to what wishes he can and cannot grant.

Rule 1: He can’t kill anyone. Now, while I’m quite glad of this fact, that’s a rather odd thing for Genie to be incapable of doing. As most action films can attest, it’s frightfully easy to kill people so I wonder if it’s more of a matter of personal preference on Genie’s part.

Rule 2: He can’t make people fall in love. Yet… as powerful an emotion as love is, that begs the question of whether or not Genie can create other emotions in people. Take the animated film Anastasia for example. Rasputin all but admits to using sorcery to inspire the Russian Revolution and lead to the downfall of the Romanoff family. There are many, and arguably far more dangerous, emotions than just love.

Rule 3: He can’t bring people back from the dead. However… He goes on to add, “It’s not a pretty picture, I don’t like doing it.” This means that Genie can in fact bring people back from the dead but it’s not a true resurrection in the strictest sense of the word. They’d be brought back to life yes but they’d be stuck in whatever state their body is in at the time, making for quite the ugly picture I’m sure.

Last but not least is the unofficial Rule 4: No wishing for more wishes. Now one is a remarkably easy one to get around. I mean, seriously, for as long as I’ve ever contemplated the idea of what three wishes I’d make via a genie, this never once occurred to me. What’s the easy way of getting more wishes but not outright wishing for more?

Well, nobody ever said that you can’t wish for more genies now did they?

Heh, I love me a good loophole…

One last thing that I feel worth mentioning in regards to Genie, and by extension Carpet, is how old he is. Upon being released from the lamp, he states that ten thousand years can give one an incredible crick in the neck. I had initially passed this off as Genie being… well, Genie, until he later spots Carpet. He remarks, quote, “I haven’t seen you in a few millennia.

… Just how long has Genie and Carpet been trapped in the Cave of Wonders? More to the point, who, or what, had put them there in the first place? The Cave proved that the only true treasures within it were Carpet and Genie, why would anyone go to such lengths to keep them hidden? Well, Genie I can understand, but Carpet?

He’s a sentient flying rug. Admittedly, one that can apparently fly from Egypt to Greece to China and back to Arabia far faster than should be possible and not once drop his passengers despite the speeds he must be going. So what exactly is the harm in having him “loose” in the world versus Genie? Heck, the television series showcased just how many other far more malignant magical threats there are that can be far worse than Genie could be even in the hands of a villain like Jafar.

Having said all that, let’s focus on the differences between this film and the original story.

First and foremost, contrary to its source material, that being the famous collection of Arabian folklore and stories in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, or simply Arabian Nights, Aladdin’s story does NOT take place in Arabia but in China. The next major difference is that Jafar, or rather the sorcerer whose name I can’t pronounce let alone spell correctly, tricks Aladdin and his still living mother that he is the brother of Aladdin’s father. The overall plot remains the same from here save for another very drastic difference.

Aladdin doesn’t find a single genie. He finds two. One was bestowed to him by the sorcerer who either didn’t know of the genie’s presence or simply didn’t care as this genie, known as the Genie of the Ring, is actually quite weak in comparison to the Genie of the Lamp.

The most that the Genie of the Ring could do was free Aladdin from the enchanted cave whereas the Genie of the Lamp granted him riches, power, and a castle that was twice as magnificent as the sultan’s own. Also, because really I find this far too amusing not to make note of, that whole scene with Jasmine using her, ahem, feminine wiles on Jafar? That’s in the original story too.

As to my choice in song for the film… I’ll admit, if I was going with a song that fits the film as a whole, I’d say that the song “Arabian Nights” should be the one as a good tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement to the original source material. If I were focusing on the romance between Aladdin and Jasmine, I’d definitely say that “A Whole New World” definitely takes the entire cake. I’ll confess, it is, thus far, my favorite of the romance songs from Disney. However, in honor of the man who brought the miraculous power of laughter to the masses, my choice in song is “A Friend Like Me” as sung by Robin Williams, the voice of Genie.

Aside from being a stunning array of animation that I’m sure left many an animator with cramped hands, there is no better demonstration to what wishes Genie is capable of granting. More to the point though, this song helps demonstrate how much of a “diamond in the rough” Aladdin actually is. Considering all that he sees Genie is capable of granting him and the near limitless potential of three wishes, Aladdin focuses on something that even Genie admits that he cannot grant: love. He could have anything and everything that he has ever wanted in life but the one thing he wants is something that not even magic can grant…

Good job, Al. Good job.

Overall, I give Aladdin… Ah, who am I kidding, most of the Disney Renaissance get a solid 10 out of 5 stars from me and this one is no exception. It’s visually stunning, its music is nothing short of phenomenal and positively delightful to sing along with, and it’s a story that may be well known but can still be enjoyed by anyone, no matter how old or young they may be.

A tale as old as time…

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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


Directed By:
Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Produced By: Don Hahn
Based On: Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1756)
Premiered On:
November 22, 1991
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures

If there is but a single film of the entire era of the Disney Renaissance that defines it as a whole, Beauty and the Beast is easily one of the top contenders for a multitude of reasons. It is, at the time of this post, the only Disney Animation Studios film to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards and was the only animated film period until 2009 with Pixar’s film Up and the year after with Toy Story 3. However, considering there was nearly a two decade long gap between those Pixar films and this one, that says quite a lot for Beauty and the Beast as a whole.

Despite not winning Best Picture, having lost out to a film that redefined the psychological horror genre, Beauty and the Beast went on to win Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its titular “Beauty and the Beast,” which I’ll discuss a bit more later when I get to the music.

Besides the Academy Awards, the film won three Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score – Motion Picture, and Best Original Song – Motion Picture for its titular song. It also went on to win five Grammy Awards as well for Best Album for Children, Best Pop Performance by a Group or Duo With Vocal, Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture, Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

All of those awards for the same titular song too might I add.

Speaking of the music, I feel it worth honoring that the man responsible for all of the lyrical songs in this film, The Little Mermaid, and the songs “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali” from Aladdin worked on them on his deathbed.

For you see, my dear readers, Howard Ashman had been diagnosed as being HIV positive in 1988, midway through production of The Little Mermaid. Though failing in his health that did not stop him from continuing to write songs for Disney and he continued his work in his home in New York. On March 10, 1991 producer Don Hahn and the animators of Beauty and the Beast visited Ashman at the hospital where he weighed a mere 80 pounds, had gone completely blind, and could barely speak. Though the film would not be released until far later that year, they had told him outright that the film was incredibly well received by the press.

He died four days later at the age of 40.

The film Beauty and the Beast is dedicated to him with these words: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.

Here’s to you, Mr. Ashman. Here’s to you.

On to the basic summary of Beauty and the Beast, as I do not wish to go to the same lengths as I had with The Black Cauldron, though I will give some of my deeper, and slightly soapboxing, thoughts on a few scenes in particular.

Our story begins in a castle wherein a prince has recently turned away a beggar woman seeking shelter from the cold winter night and has offered up a mere rose as payment. The beggar woman turns out to be a powerful enchantress whom, seeking to punish the prince for his arrogance, casts a multitude of spells upon him and his domain.

The forest surrounding his castle, and even the building itself, becomes a place of terror and nightmares, the woods filled with hungry and ravenous wolves and once cherubic figures and statues turned into grisly gargoyles. The castle’s numerous staff turned into living items such as teapots, clocks, feather dusters, and even a candlestick. Last but not least, the prince himself is turned into a hideous monster of a beast and is given two “gifts” from the enchantress.

One is a magical mirror that allows him to see the outside world that he, in his new form, will never again be welcomed in. The other is the same rose she had offered, now enchanted to represent how much time the Beast has to break the spell. All that he needs to do is to find it in his heart to love another and to earn their love in return before the last petal falls on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. If he succeeds, he and his will be restored back to their human forms but should he fail, he will forever remain a monster.

Thus, through a series of rather unfortunate events Belle, a girl who loves books to such a degree that Wikipedia outright calls her a bibliophile, comes to the Beast’s castle, exchanging herself to be his prisoner in her father’s place as the bumbling inventor had, rather inadvertently, found his way into it. Though their relationship is admittedly quite rocky at the start, the two of them slowly start to grow closer together.

There’s far more to the film than just that, including the likes of the most arrogant Disney Villain known as Gaston who has vied for Belle’s affections simply for her appearance and the fact that she is the only person, male or female, who doesn’t swoon at his feet. I’m not exaggerating that bit either as Gaston’s “villainous” song is having an entire bar singing his praises.

Now if you’ll pardon me a moment while I get on top of my soapbox here, there are a few scenes of note that I feel worth mentioning.

The first scene, which is the film’s first song and Belle’s “I want” song aptly named “Belle,” is one that I don’t necessarily have a problem with as far as Belle is concerned. Rather, it’s the people of the village that she and her father live in all but outright gossiping behind her back about her oddities, calling her odd, strange, funny, and even commenting that she might not be that well either physically or in the head. Heck, the bookstore owner, arguably the only person in town with any common sense and fairness towards Belle, is astonished that she’d want to read the same book for a third time.

Being an avid book lover myself, this always got on my nerves as a kid and it wasn’t until I was older and I learned the… ah… lackluster history in regards to what women were “expected” to do back in an age where idiocy was in far more abundance than common sense. Even so, I still can’t wrap my mind around a town like Belle’s being so stupidly focused on the fact that she likes books and doesn’t “socialize” like she does with the rest of them. Then again, considering that Gaston himself admits to never having learned to read, I’d hardly be surprised that anyone else in this town could write their own names never mind reading them.

Though, to be at least somewhat fair, towards the townsfolk, there is something of a joke towards Belle’s love of books insomuch that her extremely brief cameo in the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame has her walking the streets of Paris whilst reading. Considering how often I’ve done something similar myself when I was younger, I’m of the opinion that this was the first time she had read her favorite book and had, unwittingly, walked to Paris and back again without ever once realizing it.

On to something that has divided fans of this film for some time now is the addition of a scene that was missing in the original release. A scene that focuses on the deleted song from the film that was later included, and adored, in the Broadway musical called “Human Again.” Speaking frankly, I’d have liked this scene if they had animated back then rather than nearly a decade later. Though they try their best to match it, there are several minute differences in the animation styles that are just jarring to see.

However, there are two major things of note in this scene that I feel worth mentioning, though one can admittedly be attributed to an earlier song “Be Our Guest.” In the case of “Be Our Guest” we only truly see that the cook of the castle, an iron stove, has the same semblance of humanity as most of the other objects due, such as eyes, a mouth, something to resemble arms, etc. However, we also see a multitude of forks, spoons, and other accessories moving about.

In the song “Human Again” there are a blush brush, a hair brush, a hair comb, a bottle of perfume, and even a freaking dustpan that were all clearly human once before never mind the possibility of the suits of armor having been knights and/or soldiers to the prince. Admittedly, many of the staff were turned into an object that bore some significance to their post in the castle, such as the maids being turned into feather dusters and the chief cook into a stove, but there comes a puzzle into all this in one particular moment in the sequence.

Belle finishes reading the tale of Romeo and Juliet and the Beast asks her to read it once more, but instead she asks him to read it to her. He admits that while he had learned it had been a long time since he had actually bothered to read. Being a prince, he’d have a higher education than even Belle as far as reading and writing is concerned, especially considering the sheer size of his library. It wasn’t until I heard a particular line in the song “Be Our Guest” that it all suddenly made sense.

Ten years we’ve been rusting…

Holy Sugar Honey Iced Tea.

That… That is so unbelievably horrific for such a seemingly innocent little line…

No, seriously, think about this for a moment or three. Putting aside the Beast for the moment, look at Chip Potts, Mrs. Potts youngest child turned into a teacup. He is all of six years old, seven or even eight at the oldest, and has likely been so for over ten years, meaning that while the Beast was clearly aging and growing older as the years went by, none of the staff of the castle were meaning that the enchantress, perhaps realizing that the staff were guilty only by association to the prince, didn’t deserve to be cursed under the same circumstances. If and/or when he died, the curse may have been lifted from them, allowing them a chance at normalcy once more.

Of course, considering they spent nearly a decade as household objects, normalcy is a relative term. Goodness knows that if magic weren’t heavily involved Chip and the rest of them might have forgotten how to even walk seeing as not a one of them had anything resembling legs let alone feet.

It gets far worse when one adds the Beast into the equation. If he’s close to turning twenty-one at this point, that would mean that he had been all of eleven years old at the time of the enchantress’ visit. I’m sorry, but even at five years old I knew better than to invite a total stranger into my home for the night and with him being a prince, the Beast had far more reason to do so as she may well have been an assassin in disguise rather than a cold blooded witch of an enchantress.

I’d use a far more suitable word but I try to keep this blog PG-13.

Seriously though, the enchantress is a blanket word for one of the worst Disney Villains to ever exist and yet has no continuing role in the film proper. I mean really, how many of the castle’s staff had been cursed that night and had only been at the castle in a short period of time? Could you imagine starting work at the castle, a job that would pay extremely well and help you support your family, and then be turned into say, a coatrack, for TEN YEARS? If your family didn’t think you dead and moved on/away then they’d at least have aged significantly in that time and time, easily one of the most precious things in all of Creation, cannot be regained once it has been lost.

… Sigh… I suppose now is as good a time as any to discuss my choice in song for the film as a whole, which I’ll state outright is not the song “Beauty and the Beast” despite how apt a choice it is. Aside from being a literal titular song and the dance sequence between Belle and the Beast being one of the most recognized romantic moments in cinematic history… Alright, not really helping my case here but bear with me a moment. The song itself is one that shows how two entirely different individuals can come together despite their differences but that’s not how I feel the film itself is about.

Instead, my choice in song is “Something There” as sung primarily by the Beast and Belle. It’s not romantic dance in a ballroom but it’s the moment where I feel that the two of them start to actually fall in love with one another. True, this follows the Beast rescuing Belle from the wolves and her helping tend to his wounds and him giving her a library as a thank you… Dang, I’m not on my A-game today at all with this…

Alright, alright, just… Just watch them. Listen to the lyrics but just look how the two of them act and interact with each other.

Overall, I give this film ten out of five stars because anything less would really be an injustice. This film represents everything that is Disney, from animation, to song, to story, and to heart. True, there may some moments which may startle or even frighten younger audiences, the Beast for all the awesome that he is, is still a rather frightening sight when enraged, but what little darkness there is, is outshone by the light in this film. It is one that I can wholeheartedly say is among my top three personal favorites of Disney Animation of all time from Golden to Silver to Renaissance to Millennial and here in our current Revival Era.

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