Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dinosaur (2000)

Aladar and Neera

Dinosaur is a perfect example of the over ambition that Disney previously got caught in on projects like The Black Cauldron and The Rescuers Down Under.

It’s the story of Aladar, an orphaned Iguanadon, who’s discovered by a family of lemurs when he’s a baby and they raise him as part of their clan. After a meteor destroys their home, Aladar and his lemur family join a herd of other dinosaurs as they journey to the nesting grounds. (If that sounds a lot like The Land Before Time to you, you’re not alone.) Despite the similarities to that other beloved animated dinosaur flick, this film has nice moral lessons about acceptance and perseverance through struggle that’s bound to resonate nicely with kids.

Visually, though, it was an enormous achievement (although the computer-generated imagery hasn’t stood the test of time all that well). It’s a technological achievement as well. At first, the film was to be made using stop-motion animation, which would have been impressive enough on its own. But once word of Jurassic Park’s production circulated, complete with computer-generated dinos, Disney quickly switched gears and went the CG route, too. The characters were all computer-generated and then dropped on top of real-life shots of locations in Hawaii and Australia. The New York Times praised the technological effort behind the film: “The reason to see this movie is not to listen to the dinosaurs but to watch them move, to marvel at their graceful necks and clumsy limbs and notice how convincingly they emerge into sunlight or get wet.”

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Fantasia 2000 (2000)

In Rhapsody in Blue, a caricature of composer Gershwin.

Fantasia began as a project that would be reborn and reimagined every time it was told. Walt envisioned it as the epitome of the artistic achievement of animation, and would relaunch it every few years with new sequences, new ideas and new ways of telling stories.

The problem was, after it was told the first time, it wasn’t touched again.

As the studio realized the strength of the animation renaissance that was gripping it, a few characters behind the scenes began scrapping ideas together for a Fantasia revival as early as 1991. The best storytellers in the company were invited to be a part of this project. Directors for each of the shorts in Fantasia 2000 were sourced from the crews of The Lion King, The Rescuers Down Under, The Fox and the Hound, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and even Hercules.

They were doing Walt’s work. But then the machine of the modern studio got in the way. As with many projects that try to live up to their history while renewing themselves, it turned into far more of a production than it needed to be.

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Tarzan (1999)

Tarzan was the last hit Disney would enjoy for awhile.

With the last few animated features, Disney was trying to shed its kid-flick image and appeal to a broader, more mature audience. Tarzan was no exception to that effort.

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel Tarzan of the Apes, this beautifully animated film is one of Disney’s more faithful adaptations. The film explores big themes like identity and family — both biological and the ones we create for ourselves.  Tarzan spends much of the film intimately aware of the differences between himself and the ape family who adopted him after he was orphaned in the jungle. His journey of self-discovery is truly touching and the film packs a pretty good emotional punch at points. His efforts to please pack leader Kerchak provide interesting tension throughout the story, as well as a nice, film-long subplot while Tarzan befriends Jane and her father, and learns more about who he really is.

The characters are quite likeable. You really feel for Kala (voiced beautifully by Glenn Close) and her journey — she is the ape who takes Tarzan in after her baby’s life is claimed by a menacing leopard. Minnie Driver brings a certain sass and independence to Jane that is a delight to watch. And it’s refreshing to see a female lead who has more on her mind than getting married.

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Mulan (1998)

“I’ll make a man out of you.”

I used to think Mulan was a great girl power movie about challenging social conventions and rising to any challenge. It’s not.

Mulan is based on an actual ancient Chinese fable. In the original, Mulan is the daughter of a general and, despite it being against a woman’s place in society at the time, he taught her to ride and wield a sword. Just like in the film, when one man from each family was drafted, her father volunteered despite his age. Mulan stole her father’s armour, dressed as a man and went to war in his place.

But that’s where the similarities end.

There is no love story in the classic version. Mulan returns home and bestows the armour on her younger brother, now old enough to wear it. She dresses in the clothes of a woman and wears make-up. Eventually her friends from the army return to visit and are shocked by the dazzling woman before them, and her story of the young warrior who became a lady spread across the land.

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Hercules (1997)

“Honey, you mean Hunk-ules!”

I have clear, distinct memories of my first viewing of almost all the films in this era, but Hercules is not one of them. While sometimes it seems like it’s one I haven’t seen as much, but at other times it feels like I’ve been watching it forever. (Ask William; I was quoting pretty much the whole thing.) Put simply: Hercules is just pure fun.

The story takes its inspiration loosely from classical mythology — a first for Disney, outside of some shorts in Fantasia. The birth of Hercules to Zeus and Hera throws a wrench into Hades’ plan to take over the cosmos. In an attempt to take baby Herc out of the picture, Hades enlists his henchmen to turn the babe mortal and kill him. Of course, they fail and leave our hero alive as a mortal, but a misfit with superhuman strength. He then spends the majority of the film figuring out who he is, where he belongs and how to be a true hero — all while Hades continues his plot to overthrow the gods.

While the story itself is pretty straightforward, where this film truly succeeds is in its screen and song writing. The nuances of mythology and the backdrop of ancient Greece provide ample comedic opportunity, and the writers are not shy to cash in. The one-liners are amazing:  Thebes is described as the “Big Olive;” after a night out with Meg, Hercules proclaims, “And then that, that play, that, that, that Oedipus thing. Man, I thought I had problems;” and, my personal favourite, when Hermes declares, “I haven’t seen this much love in a room since Narcissus discovered himself.” Disney even pokes fun at itself with the line “It’s a small underworld, after all, huh?”

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