“Lilo and Stitch” (2002), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 42nd animated motion picture. A quirky little movie with a big heart. Stitch, a crazy space alien/genetic experiment, escapes from confinement, crash lands his spaceship in Hawaii, masquerades as a dog and gets adopted by Lilo, a cute and lonely Hawaiian girl who loves Elvis Presley and who is facing some difficult things in her life. Beautiful watercolor backgrounds, a method not used in a full-length Disney animated feature for decades, give the film its soft, subtle look. The film highlights the wonderful Hawaiian term of “‘ohana,” or family. The Hawaiian ‘ohana comprises not only those family members related by blood, but all who share a common sense of “aloha,” or love and compassion. “‘Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
Tag Archives: 51 in 2011
“Atlantis: The Lost Empire”
“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (2001), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 41st animated motion picture. An ambitious sci-fi adventure that doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Set in 1914, a team of explorers (with varying skill and motive) embark on an excursion to find the lost city of Atlantis. The film is wonderful to look at (it was originally released in widescreen 70mm format) and has some really interesting characters, set pieces and ideas. The filmmaker’s high-concept backstory about what happened to Atlantis gets overshadowed by a convoluted plot that tries to accomplish too much too quickly. However, I’m completely crazy for the film’s design inspired by comic book artist and writer Mike Mignola. “Atlantis is waiting.”
“The Emperor’s New Groove”
“The Emperor’s New Groove” (2001), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 40th animated motion picture. A zany comedy that would be more at home at Warner Bros. than at Disney (although I’m very glad Disney made the film). Set in South America during the Incan Empire, this fictional tale tells the story of how a selfish young emperor gets turned into a llama by his evil advisor and how, with the help of a kind farmer, he figures out that life is not just all about him. The distinctive art design was inspired by Peruvian landscapes and Inca art and artifacts. The film gets its laughs from its great character animation and from its hilarious vocal cast featuring David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton, Wendie Malick, Eartha Kitt and Tom Jones (yes, THE Tom Jones). Includes original songs written by Sting. “No touchy.”
“Dinosaur” (2000), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 39th animated motion picture. Talking dinosaurs and their lemur friends try find the safe and verdant “Nesting Grounds” after their home gets trashed by meteors. They have to overcome their own infighting along the way as well as steer clear of the nasty “carnotaurs” who want to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The film has some technical innovation and visual appeal with its combination of live-action backgrounds and photo-realistic computer animated characters. However, the dreadful, derivative plot sinks it early on and it never recovers. You know you’re in trouble when when two of the dinosaurs in the pack are sassy old ladies (voiced by British actress Joan Plowright and Della Reese of “Touched by an Angel” fame) that belong more in “Steel Magnolias” than in “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” As the Della Reese character says, “Who booked this trip anyway?”
“Fantasia 2000” (2000), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 38th animated motion picture. “The Concert Feature” continued. According to Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew and the executive producer of the film, Walt Disney’s original vision was to regularly re-release “Fantasia” in theaters but with new and different segments each time, keeping it a perpetual work in progress.
Following somewhat the original plan, “Fantasia 2000” has seven new animated segments that were created by Disney animators during the 1990s (the “Pines of Rome” sequence was the first to be completed in 1993) and one returning segment from the first “Fantasia”–the iconic “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” starring Mickey Mouse and a bunch of bucket-toting brooms with music by Dukas. The soundtrack is provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine. The new musical selections include pieces by Beethoven, Gershwin, Shostakovich, Respighi, Saint-Saens, Elgar and Stravinsky. The film has multiple celebrity narrators, including Maestro Levine. The Disney animators also created an absolutely spectacular animated backdrop for the orchestra this time around–it has to be seen to be believed.
“Fantasia 2000” was the first animated feature-length film to be formatted and exhibited in the IMAX large screen format. Seeing this film in IMAX was a real treat, especially for this animation fan. The Blu-ray Disc set released in 2010 (along with the original “Fantasia”) is beautiful, but I believe both films are best experienced in a large theater equipped with a killer sound system. Hopefully, Disney will provide the opportunity again someday.
“Tarzan” (1999), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 37th animated motion picture. A fantastic adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ oft filmed Tarzan of the Apes novel. Animation is an excellent medium for the telling of this story and the Disney artists definitely do it justice. The jungle setting designed for the movie uses a computer-animation technology referred to as “Deep Canvas,” which creates animated backgrounds of tremendous depth and texture. All of the film’s songs were written and performed by drummer Phil Collins, who serves in a way as the story’s narrator. In this version, Tarzan has dreadlocks and literally surfs through the trees (his movements were based on those of pro skateboarder and extreme spots icon Tony Hawk). The filmmakers also keep classic Tarzan elements intact, including city-girl/love-interest Jane and the unmistakable Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarzan_yell). A great film. “And, Daddy, they took my boot!”
“Mulan” (1998), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 36th animated motion picture. Based on the ancient Chinese legend about a brave woman who disguises herself as a man and joins the army to fight in place of her ailing father. According to the legend, Mulan is offered a prestigious government position by the emperor after great success in the wars, but she chooses to return home to her family instead. The story gets Disneyfied (aka modified) to, thankfully, wonderful results. It’s really an entertaining, moving and beautiful film–almost like a gorgeous Chinese painting come to life. Themes of family, sacrifice and honor really resonated with me this time around. The mountain battle/avalanche scene is one of the best action sequences in any Disney animated film. “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”
“Hercules” (1997), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 35th animated motion picture. A comedic, musical retelling of the myth about the famously strong demigod. The filmmaker’s have a blast with Greek mythology and its pantheon of characters and stories (along with references to countless Hollywood films). The jokes and sight gags are fast, furious and non-stop (a personal favorite–“Somebody call I-X-I-I.”). The film’s distinctive look can be attributed to British cartoonist and illustrator Gerald Scarfe, whom Disney hired to be its production designer (he was also the animation director for the trippy “Pink Floyd The Wall” film; check out his his official website at http://www.geraldscarfe.com). Supremely entertaining, if not a bit overwhelming. ”It takes more than sinew/Comes down to what’s in you.”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 34th animated motion picture. Loosely based on Victor Hugo’s tragic novel. Really difficult source material for a Disney animated musical and perhaps too serious and heartbreaking for the genre. The novel’s themes of social injustice are in tact, but with some liberty taken in their interpretation. While Quasimodo still doesn’t win the gypsy Esmeralda’s heart, at least he gets a hug and some acceptance rather the mournful demise given to him in the book (again, maybe not the best story to make into a family animated film…just sayin’). The comic relief added to balance the heavy storyline (talking gargoyles, cartoony battles, etc.) is a bit jarring and seems out of place. Nevertheless, the animation is top notch, particularly the magnificently drawn cathedral. The music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are complex and compelling, too. The song “God Help the Outcasts,” Esmeralda’s prayer while she is taking sanctuary in the Notre Dame cathedral, is a highlight–her plea to help the “poor and downtrod.” “I thought we all were the children of God.”
“Pocahontas” (1995), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 33rd animated motion picture. More for grown-ups than little kids, the film is Disney Animation’s version of “Romeo and Juliet”/“West Side Story.” Historical inaccuracies aside, this animated musical is a serious and beautiful take on the follies of greed, racism and war and the importance of caring for the earth and for each other. The stunning animation is accompanied by some poignant songs and a great vocal cast. Russell Means, the voice of Chief Powhatan in the film and a respected spokesperson for the preservation of American Indian heritage, said that “Pocahontas” is “the finest film ever done in Hollywood on the Native American experience.” “You can own the earth and still/All you’ll own is earth until/You can paint with all the colors of the wind.”