Classic Cinema

See Four Disney (and One Pixar) Princess Movies on the Big Screen

AMC Theaters is having a Disney Princess film festival (or something of the sort). But who cares about the “princess” stuff, I’m just stoked to be able to see some great films from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios on the big screen again.

(Images © AMC, Disney, and Disney/Pixar)

Starting today, AMC will be screening these five animated films over the next five weeks. Check the AMC website or mobile app for a theater near you (and check out this cool poster artwork, too).

Beauty and the Beast (1991) — Sept. 15-21

Mulan (1998) — Sept. 22-28

Tangled (2010) — Sept. 29-Oct. 5

The Princess and the Frog (2009) — Oct. 6-12

Brave (2012; the only Pixar film being shown since she is the only Pixar character that’s also been crowned a “Disney Princess”) — Oct. 13-Oct.

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Blu-ray Review

“The Lion King”

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ perennial favorite The Lion King (1994) is back on Blu-ray (and DVD and Digital HD), this time as “The Circle of Life Edition” under the “Walt Disney Signature Collection” moniker. The film is currently available for download on your favorite Digital HD platforms and the new Blu-ray version gets released this Tuesday, August 29.

(© Disney)

Chances are excellent that, if you’re a Disney fan, you already own a copy of The Lion King on DVD, Blu-ray, or VHS. The Lion King is the fifth Disney animated motion picture title to join the “Walt Disney Signature Collection” established in 2016 (previous titles are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and Bambi). While it’s unclear to me why this new collection even exists (other than to possibly provide a new simplified “halo” brand for Disney’s home entertainment offerings and/or to generate more revenue), having a pristine Blu-ray copy of these beloved films along with the opportunity to have Digital HD copies of them (if you’re into building up your digital film collection like I am) is always a good idea. But is this new “Walt Disney Signature Collection”/”The Circle of Life Edition” (whatever that means) worth your time and money?

The film’s digital transfer is gorgeous (which I also thought of the 2011 Blu-ray release). It was a pleasure to watch this beautifully animated film again. Included on the Blu-ray is a brand new sing-along version that displays fancy subtitles during all of the film’s songs. I watched some of this version as well and the subtitles are done in a colorful and fun way which should be very appealing to young readers. Probably the more compelling reason to get this new version is to have your own digital copy of the film (again, if you’re into that).

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(© Disney)

The new special features are a mixed bag. My favorites were the “Inside the Story Room” segments where co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff reunite and introduce some fascinating video footage of the film’s storyboard presentations from 1993 when the film was in production. Some of these I had seen before and some I had not, but I enjoyed them all. I also liked “Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation” where Matthew Broderick (voice of adult Simba) and Nathan Lane (voice of Timon) meet up with former Disney Animation chief Thomas Schumacher and talk about the making of the film. My only complaint is that the segment was too short.

Other special features (which may vary by retailer) include a dance and paint performance piece by artist David Garibaldi and a team of modern dancers called “Visualizing a Villain”; video footage of some of the film’s vocal talent recording their dialogue for the film superimposed on top of the final animated clips called “The Recording Sessions”; and an audio commentary track with producer Don Hahn and co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. Other specifications for the release are at the bottom of this post.

The timing of this re-release is confusing to me, since the “reimagined live-action” (aka photo-realistic CGI) remake of the film directed by Jon Favreau is currently in production isn’t scheduled to be released until 2019 and there’s no other promotional thing to tie it to (even the Broadway musical is still going strong–it’s now the third-longest running musical in Broadway history behind The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago; Cats comes in fourth). It will also be interesting going forward to see what Disney does with all of their home entertainment releases with the recent announcement of their own exclusive streaming service to begin in 2019.

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“Remember who you are.” (© Disney)

Still, I’m happy to have both a beautiful Blu-ray and new Digital HD copy of this beloved film which I hope that my friends, family, and I will be able to enjoy for years to come. So, if Digital HD is your thing or you just need a new version of the film, the “Walt Disney Signature Collection” version of The Lion King is a winner. (And I still don’t have a clue what “The Circle of Life Edition” means other than it’s just a name for this 2017 release.)

My rating of The Lion King film: 5 out of 5 stars

My rating of “The Circle of Life Edition” Blu-ray special features: 3 out of 5 stars

And speaking of “The Circle of Life,” here are are a couple of covers of that great song for your listening pleasure. First up is a rendition the Mormon Tabernacle Choir along with YouTube star Alex Boyé  recorded at a concert last month (I sing bass with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and performing this song was a real treat for this Disney nerd).

I promise you that I don’t keep up on boy bands, but it really does seem like 98 Degrees hasn’t been doing much for years. (The last I even remember seeing Nick Lachey was in his MTV Newlyweds days with his now ex-wife Jessica Simpson.) However, 98 Degrees’ newly recorded cover of “The Circle of Life” is also a fun one.

Specifications (Movie Only)

Product Offerings

Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy); Digital HD/SD; DVD

Feature Run Time

Approximately 89 minutes

Rating

G by the Motion Picture Association of America

Aspect Ratio

Blu-ray/1080p High Definition/DVD – 1.78:1

Audio

Blu-ray – DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (English); Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish and French)

DVD – Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, and French)

Subtitles

English ESL, English SDH, French, and Spanish

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Classic Cinema, Movie Posters

Tale as Old as Time…

Just making a shout-out to Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ original 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast. The original teaser poster for the film is below. I will be seeing Disney’s high-priced and high-profile photorealistic remake soon (it opens in U.S. theaters today), but as for this weekend, I’m planning to spend some time with the original animated classic instead. 

(© Disney)

Even as The Walt Disney Studios continues to remake all of their animated classics in a photorealistic style (which really bums me out), at least they aren’t taking away the original animated motion pictures that I love. Thankfully, Disney is remaking their animated canon with some care and artistry, but these classics don’t need to be remade; rather, they need to be re-released regularly and re-watched on the big screen and the great creative minds working at The Walt Disney Studios should devote their considerable time, talents, and resources to original storytelling instead. A dream is a wish your heart makes, right? (Oh wait, Disney already remade that one, too…)

(© Disney)

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Thoughts on Movies

“The Films of Ron and John” Film Festival

Ron Clements and John Musker are two of my favorite animation directors at Walt Disney Animation Studios. The directorial duo are responsible for making two of the great films of the Disney Animation renaissance during the late 1980s-early 1990s, specifically 1989’s The Little Mermaid and 1992’s Aladdin (one of my all-time personal favorites). 

Ron and John have directed five other films for Walt Disney Animation Studios: 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective, 1997’s Hercules, 2002’s Treasure Planet, 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, and 2016’s Moana (which was just released last weekend and it’s fantastic).

To celebrate the pending release of Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios put on a retrospective of Ron and John’s films at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California last month. 

I attended two screenings in person at the El Capitan–Treasure Planet on October 10th and The Great Mouse Detective on October 11th–and I watched the other films at home on Blu-ray. I had the distinct, geek-out pleasure of meeting Ron and John before the Treasure Planet screening where they signed some stuff for me and the other 49 people that were first in line. As a happy and unexpected bonus, they then watched the film in the row immediately in front of me after they introduced the film onstage (many thanks to the ticket lady at the El Capitan who happened to sell me a ticket on that row). I felt like I had died and gone to Disney Animation heaven.

Waiting to meet Ron and John (sorry about the blurry pic)

Cool art cards were given out at every screening. Here’s the one for “Treasure Planet.”

Art from the specific film was on display, too. Here are some of the pieces from “Treasure Planet.”

Ron and John talking “Treasure Planet” before they sat in right in front of me for the film’s screening

The screening for The Great Mouse Detective was really enjoyable and informative, too. While Ron and John didn’t attend in person (they gave their remarks in a pre-recorded video played before the film), in attendance were co-director and Disney Legend Burny Mattinson and director and animator Rob Minkoff. 

Waiting in line (and geeking out) to meet Burny Mattinson and Rob Minkoff

Signed art card for “The Great Mouse Detective”

Art from “The Great Mouse Detective” on display

The “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ at the El Capitan

Burny and Rob talking about the production of the film

My only regret is that I couldn’t stay in California for a week to see all six films on the big screen. My thanks to Walt Disney Animation Studios and the El Capitan Theater for putting on such a classy and cool event.

All images © Disney

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Current Cinema

The Risk and Payoff of Disney’s “Zootopia”

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(© Disney)

Some of the best animated motion pictures from Walt Disney Animation Studios are the ones where big risks were taken and bold choices were made by the filmmakers. Rather than playing it safe with tried and true formulas all of the time, the filmmakers at Disney Animation have often made audacious artistic and thematic choices that truly raised the bar in artistry, technology, and storytelling. And we, the filmgoing public, have been the lucky beneficiaries.

One need not look further than 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first Disney full-length animated feature and the film that Walt and Roy Disney bet everything on, to know that it was a risk worth taking and that the payoff was commensurate to the financial and artistic gamble that was being made. Or take 1940’s Fantasia, Disney Animation’s third motion picture, that is still one of the most avant-garde animated films to date 75 years after its original release. Then there’s 1989’s The Little Mermaid, Disney Animation’s 28th film and the one that marked the happy and triumphant return of the animated fairy tale musical of which Disney continued on with great success throughout the 1990s. While not all films from the Disney Animation canon that tried something new were always great (1985’s The Black Cauldron and 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire come to mind as films with a bold premise and great potential that didn’t deliver ultimately), the filmmakers at Disney Animation that were allowed to or even encouraged to try something new have been able to create films that are both distinctly Disney and distinctly a work of art with a strong point of view.

(© Disney)

Now there’s Zootopia, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 55th animated motion picture. It’s been a huge artistic and financial success worldwide (currently, its gross earnings stand at $994 million as of this writing and will probably hit $1 billion over the next week or so). I believe the film’s success is because of the risk the filmmakers at Disney Animation took in making the film they wanted to make and telling the story they wanted to tell, a hallmark of the filmmaker-driven philosophy championed by studio heads John Lasseter and Ed Catmull. Rather than just playing safe with Disney Animation’s first buddy cop movie and first anthropomorphic animal tale told in many years (1973’s Robin Hood and both Rescuers films from 1977 and 1990 are among my personal favorites of this sub genre), co-directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore were allowed, even encouraged, to take their animated comedy into a place not often explored within the films of Walt Disney Animation Studios—they made a modern-day allegorical fable with the theme of racial bias as its main focus.

Yours truly at the Roy E. Disney Animation Building on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, CA to see ‘Zootopia’ on March 1, 2016

I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears during the first time I saw Zootopia at the screening I attended in the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ theater on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank, CA. While I was beyond thrilled to see the beautifully animated and designed film in the building where so many of the film’s artists and filmmakers work every day, I think my jaw dropped a few times when the events of the film unfolded. I was shocked and delighted that Disney actually made a movie that so deftly, directly, and appropriately tackled some of the biggest social issues which still face our modern society today.

Co-director Byron Howard says it best in the excellent documentary Imagining Zootopia:

“For Zootopia, I think the thing that I find the most moving about the film is that in this world of animals where all animals are so different from one another, there are things that are common, where they find that connection…Where they find that in the end, we all care about the same things. We all deserve the respect that we want from each other. We deserve to be happy in our lives. We deserve love. We deserve equality. And that’s why I think these movies can be so powerful. Because they are modern fables, we’re able to talk about things that are very, very difficult and we’re able to bring things into conversation that are awkward to talk about.”

And not only couldn’t I believe the film’s themes, but that they included homages to some of the great (and non-Disney) film classics, including The Godfather, Chinatown, and L.A. Confidential, to name a few. And even TV’s Breaking Bad got a shoutout—in a Disney movie! Crazy, yet very clever, smart, and hilarious.

The payoff is big with a very satisfying and well-made film that entertains children and adults alike and that makes you think. The Zootopia team made bold, if not completely unconventional, choices, but they totally work and make the film so much fun to watch. And although the filmmakers decided to go for timely instead of timeless, the creative decisions still felt, well, creative and still Disney to me, albeit it with a bit more of an edge rather than a warm fuzzy. From my perspective, Zootopia is a wonderful concoction for a modern audience that still respects the past and moves the Disney animated feature forward in new and entertaining ways.

(© Disney)

P.S. And even Miranda Sings had a part in the film! Haha.

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