Movie Review – The Shaggy D.A.

The Shaggy D.A. (1976)
Written by Don Tait
Directed by Robert Stevenson

I remember watching the original Shaggy Dog film as a kid and enjoying it quite a bit. I remember memorizing the Latin incantation and playing the film out with my siblings. Now it’s been twenty-plus years since I last saw that movie, and I never happened to sit down and watch the follow-up. By this time, the original Wilby Daniels, Tommy Kirk, had been arrested for marijuana possession, and thus his career with Disney was terminated. In 1976, Dean Jones was a go-to in the studio’s acting stable, and so he was put into the role.

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Movie Review – The Million Dollar Duck

The Million Dollar Duck (1971)
Written by Ted Key & Roswell Rogers
Directed by Vincent McEveety

This was the first film that critic Gene Siskel walked out on. He would only do that with two subsequent movies (1980’s Maniac and 1996’s Black Sheep). The story is a stock Disney script for the time, one of the gimmick comedies, not rising much above a Disney Channel original movie. The production quality is at the television level as well. By the midway mark of the film, I was checking out, despite trying to stay engaged from the outset. There are only so many gags you can do with this plot before it wears out its welcome.

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Movie Review – The Barefoot Executive

The Barefoot Executive (1971)
Written by Lila Garrett, Bernie Kahn, Stewart C. Billett, and Joseph L. McEveety
Directed by Robert Butler

At some point in the late 1960s, Disney shifted from more fantasy-oriented live-action films like Mary Poppins or Bedknobs & Broomsticks to what is referred to as “gimmick comedies,” spurred on by the phenomenal success of The Love Bug. These movies were intended to be silly for kids and more “mature” and contemporary so that the parents would enjoy them as well. Roy Disney, Walt’s older brother, took over after Walt took ill and eventually passed away in 1966. The company actually created a cinematic universe with some of these movies, starting with The Absent-Minded Professor and leading into a trilogy of films starring Kurt Russell as college student Dexter Riley. A total of five films were set at the fictional Medfield College. The legacy of these movies can be seen on the Disney Channel with its original sitcoms. They are the spiritual successors to the cheap television-style plots of these movies.

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Movie Review – Old Dogs

Old Dogs (2009)
Written by David Diamond & David Weissman
Directed by Walt Becker

How does one end a year and a film series about forgotten terrible movies? Well, the best way, in my opinion, is by subjecting yourself to one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Yes, this is the second time I’ve watched Old Dogs. Do you see what I do for you people? Old Dogs came out a decade ago, a film that marked the movie duo we’ve always wanted to see, John Travolta & Robin Williams…? This is a film with so many strange things happening on the screen, and I have some theories about what the picture was originally going to be. Let’s not waste a single moment more.

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Movie Review – Disney’s The Kid

Disney’s The Kid (2000)
Written by Audrey Wells
Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Why am I doing this? I perfectly reasonable question to ask. As someone who watches lots of movies, reads up on actors, directors, writers, genres, etc., I will eventually come across movies I half-remember or never even knew got made. These are not low budget, indie picture but films with considerable financial backing, starring well-known performers, and distributed by major studios. Yet, they have been forgotten, very intentionally. There are approximately 700 English-language films released in the United States annually. With all of the quality control mechanisms and studio notes, we still get complete stinkers put on the big screen. Or the studio realizes in the wake of filming that they have just financed a disaster and try to cobble together something palatable in the editing room. Regardless, these movies are released and then systematically ignored by the people who made them, hoping general audiences allow them to fade into obscurity. Well, I’m here to watch them and write about them for this “We’d Rather You Forgot’ film series.

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Movie Review – Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 (2014)
Written by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Gerson
Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams

In 2004, Pixar released The Incredibles, a superhero film ahead of the curve with Iron Man and the MCU not launching until four years later. My first thoughts after the end credits rolled were that Brad Bird and company had succeeded in making the best Fantastic Four film, which would be proven correct when Fox released the groaningly terrible FF live-action movie in 2005. Bird understood the core essence of these characters and about the fundamentals of what drives kids of all ages to lose themselves in an afternoon of comic book reading.

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My Favorite Underrated Disney Movies

With the release of the CG Lion King remake, I got to thinking about which Disney movies I love that don’t get that love in return. Here are my thoughts on my favorite underrated Disney animated flicks.

The Sword in the Stone (1963, dir. Wolfgang Reitherman)
While you might think this Disney version of the legend of King Arthur is just based on general stories it is, in fact, an adaptation of T.H. White which was one volume of four in The Once and Future King series, which was in turn a more modern updating of Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Not only that, Walt Disney was inspired to approve the project as the studio’s next feature after seeing the Broadway musical Camelot in 1960. Instead of a high adventure film, The Sword in the Stone is a light comedy, focusing purely on Arthur’s adolescence and the first few months of training with the wizard Merlin. The primary arc of the film is not about Arthur becoming the king but finding strength and bravery within himself. Along the way, there’s lots of great visual comedy, especially when Merlin and his rival Madam Mim start breaking out the spells.

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Movie Review – The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King (1994)
Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton
Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff

I just never saw the original Lion King. I was 13 when the film came out, and in our large family, we couldn’t afford a lot of theater trips. My siblings watched Beauty and the Beast to an absurd level so that film dominated the Disney obsession our home. With the release of the computer-animated remake this weekend, I thought it was a good time to finally watch this seminal animated movie, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year.

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Movie Review – Moana

Moana (2016, dir. Ron Clements, John Musker)

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Moana is captivated by the stories her grandmother tells about her people and their mythology. The story of the demigod Maui particularly inspires a sense of exploration in the young woman. However, she is the daughter of the village leaders and is expected to maintain life on the island as it is. The ocean begins to communicate with Moana, and she learns from her grandmother that their people used to sail across the ocean living on different islands. When Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti, the island goddess, darkness began to spread across the world. That darkness has reached the shores of their island and Moana cannot stay put any longer. She sets out to find Maui and restore the heart of Te Fiti, saving her people.

In 1989, Disney released The Little Mermaid, a film that would serve as the template for princess movies to come for the next 25+ years. Moana very closely follows that formula: A young woman expected to follow the expectations of her parents, she feels a yearning to travel beyond the borders of the land she knows, an event occurs that pushes her beyond the boundaries, she has a weird/silly/funny pet, she conquers a great evil despite feeling apprehensions. It is the traditional hero’s journey story that has cleverly replaced the original Disney style of princess stories. If you haven’t seen movies like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty recently then you may have forgotten how annoying the characters are. Those earlier animations seem more like an exercise in animation technique more than a story about characters with arcs. So, while I greatly appreciate Disney presenting stories about more active rather than reactive princesses, I hope that we continue to see diversity in character but also in the way stories are told and the types of stories being told. Zootopia highly impressed me as a kind of story I haven’t seen from Disney before.

Moana is a lot of fun, but I know I am not the intended audience for this film. It’s a children’s film and thus the story arcs are very evident and classical. There’s not a lot of character complexity but that wouldn’t be appropriate for the intended audience. One element I greatly appreciated was that the film doesn’t have a villain that follows the characters through the whole movie. This lets the movie feel like an actual myth being retold and keeps the focus on Moana’s arc rather than subplots. There are some antagonists who show up, my personal favorite being the Kakamora, animated coconut pirates. The sequence where these monsters attack has been revealed to be a direct reference to Mad Max: Fury Road and it is just subtle enough that it doesn’t come across as a crass pop culture reference. The film’s final obstacle in the form of Te Ka the lava demon has a clever twist that shies away from the act of killing the “final boss”. Lately, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to films that don’t follow the traditional black/white good/evil dichotomy. And it is very refreshing to see this in a children’s film.

I was very impressed with the level of computer animation. It took me awhile to be sold on the aesthetic as a replacement to classic cel animation for Disney pictures, but at this point, they have really perfected it. I’m not one who expects CG to be “realistic,” I’d rather see the technology be used to create the fantastic and impossible. Why recreate something we can already see in the real world when you can make something look real that could never be. While watching Moana, I was captivated by the texture and weight of objects. The previously mentioned Kakamora looked more like stop motion animation than something that was flat and two dimensional. People still look flat to me, but the world around them (grass, trees, water, man-made objects) looked like you could lift and hold them.

With Moana and Zootopia up against each other at the Oscars, I would still have to give it to Zootopia. This is not a slight to Moana, but an acknowledgment that Zootopia was a kind of story we have never had in as much depth and relevance from Disney before. Moana, while an excellent example of Disney creating more diverse characters, follows a very traditional and unsurprising story arc. It’s a film I’m sure kids and parents will enjoy watching again. Zootopia is a larger statement that I suspect will be remembered and studied in a way Disney films don’t traditionally do.

The Jungle Book (2016, dir. Jon Favreau)

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If you’ve seen the original animated Jungle Book then you pretty much know the story: Mowgli, the man cub adopted by the wolves and watched over by the panther Bagheera, pals around with Baloo the bear, has some misadventures, and ends up in a life and death battle with the brutal Shere Khan. This live-action with CG animals adaptation by Jon Favreau is the latest in Disney’s new trend of remaking past animated films with real people. They have had mixed success: Maleficent did add a lot of unseen story to Sleeping Beauty while Cinderella felt like a banal retread of familiar territory. The Jungle Book is somewhere in the middle. While not the first live action attempt at the story (see 1994’s version with Jason Scott Lee as adult Mowgli) it is very entertaining and the effects are done well enough that you don’t have to travel the uncanny valley for an hour and a half.

Neeli Sethi as Mowgli is our singular human presence (save for one flashback) of the entire film so he immediately has a ton of weight to carry. He does a champion’s job though there is the occasional “act-y kid” moment which can be forgiven when you realize he was playing to some simple hand puppets and green screen. The voice work is great and each actor matches their role. Bill Murray is a perfect Baloo and Ben Kingsley sounds just like Bagheera should. I was not a great fan of Christopher Walken as King Louie though. His casting in anything just feels like a stunt at this point. Lupita Nyong’o voice Raksha, the wolf mother of Mowgli and brings a lot of emotion to the role. My favorite of them all was Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Both his vocal performance and the work of the animators created such a terrifying and insidious villain.

The songs are minimized from the 1967 animated picture to this one. The closest we get is Bear Necessities and just a hint of King Louie’s “I Want to Talk Like You” number. Scarlett Johansson voices Kaa the Serpent and just touches on “Trust In Me”. The personalities are all as you remember them and the plot beats pretty much hit the same as the animated original. The one big divergence and my one major hang up is the way this film chooses to conclude. In the original Rudyard Kipling “Mowgli” stories he ends his time in the jungle upon discovering his birth mother and in the animated original he leaves after seeing a girl about his age come to get water for the village. This version decides to forgo Mowgli ever having a real struggle between the jungle and the village. There’s some brief tension but it ends with him playing around with his pals in the jungle.

For me, Disney’s bittersweet endings like The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, The Fox and The Hound, and others were important. These are metaphors for transitioning from the innocence of childhood to learning about the difficulties of life as an adult. Now, maybe they didn’t need to have Mowgli go back to the village but I never felt like the character struggled with it as much the script would have liked me to believe. The village ends up serving as a convenient plot device for the third act but then is forgotten about. Maybe they have plans for sequel to revisit this more, but I went from really loving this film to feeling a little off at its conclusion.