Tag Archives: Dreamworks

Tangled (2010)

Rapunzel

Rapunzel

Tangled marks an interesting point in Disney’s evolution. For a decade, Pixar had produced more creative and more artistic films. It had produced more memorable characters and more impactful stories. With that company’s acquisition in 2006, Disney also bought the brains behind Pixar’s magic in John Lasseter.

With Lasseter in charge of all creative for both companies, though, the vision behind each set of films began to meld and slowly become indistinguishable from one another.

Tangled marks a clear beginning of that process. It is the first film that Lasseter oversaw from start to finish. The film was announced a year after Lasseter took hold of the reins and Pixar became part of the Disney family of companies.

With a budget of $250-million, Disney bet big on Tangled being a huge success. Given the box office gold that had come with Lasseter’s previous projects, it was more than likely a safe bet. But it was still $100-million more than anything Disney had spent on a film in the past decade.

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Chicken Little (2005)

Chicken Little sounds the sky-is-falling alarm.

Chicken Little sounds the sky-is-falling alarm.

Chicken Little is a familiar story: An old moral tale about the true meaning of courage and community. Walt had originally produced the story as an animated short in the 1940s, but this modern rendition is a computer-animated romp that touches on the original lessons while losing much of the magic.

The original story that became Chicken Little was actually born in Buddhist scripture. In a story called Duddubha Jataka: The Sound the Hare Heard, a hare is startled by the sound of fruit falling nearby and immediately comes to the conclusion that the world is coming to an end. Terrified, he gathers up all the animals of the forest and together they stampede for safety. A lion quickly stops them, though, and investigates the cause of the noise. Upon realizing it was just a falling fruit, and not the end of the world, the lion restores calm and order. The story is about the power and importance of deductive reasoning and evidence-based actions. It is a classic morality tale.

That story was written approximately 2,500 years ago and it has since morphed into dozens of forms. In the 20th century, it is more commonly called Henny Penny, The Sky is Falling or Chicken Little. It is a story for children. The Disney version of the story is not so far off the original tale. While it takes the traditional liberties the studio has always taken with its source material, it is still about a careless panic squelched by deductive reasoning and calm examination — sort of. This story also has aliens.

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Home on the Range (2004)

Roseanne Barr's and Judi Dench's bovine alter egos.

Roseanne Barr’s and Judi Dench’s bovine alter egos.

Disney’s downward spiral of an identity crisis continues with Home on the Range, the story of two dairy cows and a show cow who set out on a western adventure in a bid to save their ranch, Patch of Heaven, from foreclosure.

Rather than focus on the expert storytelling for which Disney had become known during the renaissance, this film was more about playing catch-up to the other animation studios that had burst on the scene in the 1990s — notably Dreamworks and Pixar. There was a lot going on in this film that was clearly about imitating the primary competition, and it proved to be very distracting. Lucky Jack, the rabbit, drew similarities from Ice Age’s Scrat; the slapstick comedy of the farm took a page out of Warner Brothers’ famous Saturday morning cartoons; and the antics of the pigs and goat bore an amazing resemblance to Chuck Jones’ Looney Tunes. In this case, though, the story was weak and the opening setup was just plain dull, even confusing. The film never came close to rivalling the films coming out of both Dreamworks and especially Pixar at this time. Disney was being left behind in a bad way.

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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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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Quasimodo

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is among the darkest films Disney has ever produced, on par with The Black Cauldron for sheer terrifying evil and outpacing Scar for inciting chills.

But Quasimodo is a different kind of hero. Far from the bumbling unlikely hero of Cauldron, or a would-be king rising to challenge his usurper, Quasimodo’s quest is simply to learn to love himself and dare to let others love him. His is a far more universal story than the dark tales Disney had previously told.

The film is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 classic, but as with all Disney adaptations, it differs significantly from the source material. As Walt famously told his team to ignore everything about The Jungle Book’s plot, the Disney studio in the 1990s was set firmly on making Hunchback as family-friendly a film as possible.

Frollo, rather than being the archdeacon of the church is now a judge. Esmerelda is threatened and hurt, but does not die in the end and the sexual tension of the story is toned down significantly.

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