Oliver & Company (1988)

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I have strange memories of this movie. Not because that I think this movie is strange, but instead because I can’t really remember when I first saw it. It’s confusing to me, because I KNOW I had toys of Oliver and Dodger and Fagan’s cart from some fast food restaurant (BK or McDs, of course!). The question that I don’t know the answer to was did I see it in theaters? I would have been 3 at the time, so I’m doubting I did. Knowing me, I just saw animal toys with a Happy Meal and I was sold.

So with that in mind, the first time I saw this movie and REMEMBERED it wasn’t until middle school. We never owned it growing up, and I have the one and only Disney Channel to thank for why I know this movie. There was a period when they played it all the time. I just have one thing to say: I am so happy they did.

I’m going to say this up front: this movie is not to be missed, especially if you are a fan of Disney. Is it a masterpiece? No. Not at all. The animation isn’t that great, the characters are hit or miss, but oh my goodness is it entertaining and hilarious and has some heartfelt moments. First of all, this movie is so 80s I want to cry (in a good way). We have boom boxes, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, and awesome 80s music in New York City. Billy Joel (along with Madonna, the Eagles, and Phil Collins) was one of the first artists I ever listened to (thanks mom and dad!), and the fact he’s in this movie just makes it that much better.

This movie is a strange twist (no pun intended) on the classic book Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. Instead of humans, half our characters in this movie are animals. Oliver is a kitten that starts in a box wit his brothers and sisters on a street corner. They all get chosen, and he doesn’t and finds himself on the street. Starving, he enlists the help of a suave dog named Dodger to steal some hot dogs. After realizing that Dodger wasn’t planning on sharing, he follows him back to an old boat on the docks, where he meets the rest of the dogs that call themselves the “gang.” From here we see our human leader, Fagan, get in trouble with our villain, Sykes. He’s not able to pay him back the money he owes him. Sykes gives him 3 days to come up with the money, or else. Oliver slashes one of his Doberman pinchers on the nose, Fagan sees, and the cat is officially in the gang.

The next day they’re off searching the streets for money or items that Fagan can pawn to pay back Sykes. They spot a limo, and knowing it might be a good shot, come up with an elaborate plot to stall it. However it goes a bit wrong, and in the process of fleeing, Oliver gets stuck and the little girl who was sitting in the back of the limo, Jenny, rescues him and takes him home. She decides to keep him, names him Oliver, and they have a fun time. Jenny also has a poodle named Georgette, who is exactly NOT thrilled to have the addition of a cat to her home.

The Gang decides they’re going to rescue Oliver, and they do, although oliver exclaims he was happy there. upon realizing Oliver came from an upscale house (via his new collar), Fagan decides to ransom the kitten for money to pay Sykes back. Jenny gets the message, and she and Georgette head out to get Oliver with the little bit of money in her piggy bank. Fagan tells his plan to Sykes, and he sees potential for more, so when Jenny runs into Fagan and he realizes he can’t take money from a little girl, Sykes instead kidnaps the girl. It’s now up to Fagan and the Gang to get her back.

——————–

I’m a fan of the musical Oliver! and I have to say that I actually understand this version better. Although that might be because I haven’t seen the musical in years, but it’s much more focused on the relationships of the adults as opposed to the animals/kids. This is something that always annoyed me with the musical. It gets REALLY boring. This movie? not so much. I’m not going to compare the stories, because it’s worthless. I’m just taking this one as it is.

That being said, I don’t know. If I had seen this as a smaller child, I don’t know that I would have completely understood it. I would have gotten that the gang was trying to steal from the rich people, and Oliver didn’t want to go, and then the bad man kidnaps the girl, but I don’t know that I would have understood everything about Sykes and Fagan. I still don’t really understand exactly what Sykes does. Is he a loan shark? a mobster? He hangs out in a broken down old warehouse but has really nice stuff. How did Fagan get mixed up with this guy? As a villain he’s ok. He’s evil and kidnaps a kid and ransoms her. He has two domermans who are pretty evil. He’s a different type of villain in my eyes. We don’t see him much, and he’s not threatening our main character until later in the movie. We know he’s bad, but we don’t really care until Jenny gets kidnapped.

Our other characters are pretty good for the most part, although I wouldn’t call any of them “deep.” Oliver is a cute little orange kitten who’s not afraid to speak his mind and has a knack for being brave (and voiced by a baby Joey Lawrence!). He’s a good character, but honestly, even though the movie is named after him, I don’t know that I would call him the “main” character. This really is an ensemble cast. But look how cute!

Obviously a Mets fan too

Obviously a Mets fan too

 

Dodger is a smooth-talking dog who ends up getting a soft spot in his heart for Oliver after tricking him. He’s some sort of Terrier mix (yeah, the dog trainer in me is figuring out cartoon dogs again) that’s voiced by Billy Joel. It’s as great as it sounds. Dodger is definitely my favorite in this movie. He’s not willing to give up on his friends. He’s sweet but puts on a bad boy exterior. Plus he can wear sunglasses:

The Dodger, One bad puppy....

The Dodger, One bad puppy….

Our other dogs in the gang all have their own quirks: there’s Einstein the incredibly dumb great dane, Francis the bulldog who is well taught and loves Shakespeare and ballet, Tito the chihuahua that’s hilarious and falls in love with Georgette, and Rita, our least developed character, who just seems like a token female. Then we have Georgette, the pedigree, 6 time national champion poodle owned by Jenny. She’s a girly girl (voiced by Bette Midler), who is a spoiled brat of a dog. She does get a bit annoying, as does Tito’s constant wooing of her. But it’s not that bad.

On the human side we have Fagan (voiced by Dom DeLouise in apparently his personal favorite roll), the dim-witted but big hearted criminal. His character design is great, as he looks like a cross between a homeless person and a sailor. Jenny is a cute girl and actually not that annoying.* She’s just a typical kid who loves her kitten and will do anything to get him back. I do have to give her credit for heading to a seedy part of town to get him though! (although that might be stupid… why didn’t she tell her butler Winston?). You get the feeling that she acts older than she actually is because he has to. Her parents are gone, and we get the feeling that that happens a lot. They’re not going to make it home in time for her birthday. Yeah. These people win “parents of the year” awards. Our last human character worth mention is the butler, Winston. He’s pointless except for the fact he’s watching Jenny while her parents are out, and he loves wrestling to the point where it’s kinda hilarious.

This was Disney’s first musical since The Fox and the Hound (apparently their definition of a “musical” is 3 or more songs, FYI). In all honesty, these songs are really hit or miss for me. “Once upon a time in New York City,” performed by Huey Lewis, is great! It sets the scene of the beginning and takes us through Oliver’s demise in the box as everyone he’s with gets adopted. Then there’s Dodger’s song, “Why Should I Worry?” Oh my god I LOVE this song. I’m a Billy Joel fan, and geez, this song is so catchy you have to start singing. I also enjoy “You and me,” the song Jenny sings to Oliver on the piano. It’s short and cute. There are a few other songs, like “streets of Gold,” and Georgette’s song (which I don’t know know the name of), which are ok. They’re not awful songs per se, just not as great as the first two. All in all, these are good songs and I’m glad Disney decided to include them.

This movie has heart and it’s hilarious. It’s not perfect, but it’s here to stay and certainly shouldn’t be missed. I love the characters and some of the music. Even if the plot’s not perfect, the characters and jokes are enough to stay for. It’s not one of my “underrated” movies, but it’s definitely one that often gets overlooked. I’m glad The Disney Channel played it over and over in the mid 90s, and I hope they’re still doing stuff like this now. It’s a good way to show off their less known movies and introduce a bunch of kids to them. It’s great.

I give Oliver & Company (1988) a 3.1 out of 5. It’s not perfect, it’s not a classic, but it’s good. Still has one of my favorite songs ever 🙂

Up Next: The Little Mermaid (1989)

 

*This movie was actually originally supposed to be a sequel to The Rescuers and Jenny was supposed to be an older Penny, hence why they look the same and have similar names.

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The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

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Alright, on to the first of Disney’s churned out movies strictly to make money! Just kidding. This one probably had some residual from the Dark Ages of Disney. In fact, I know it does. The Little Mermaid is technically the official beginning of the Disney Renaissance, (aka, my childhood), so by default this one and the next are in the “Dark Ages.”

There were lots of Mice in the 80s. Between the two rescuers movies (ok, one of them was in the 70s), this one, and Don Bluth’s Secret of Nimh and An American Tail, there was some sort of public love for seeing the little critters dressed up like people. The funniest part is that most of these movies are actually pretty good. Of all of them my least favorite is The Rescuers. The Great Mouse Detective, in my mind, is another one of Disney’s under appreciated treasures.

This movie is based on the book Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus. The main character Basil, and his sidekick Dr. Dawson are based on the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, Basil lives below the human counterpart in 221b.

There are still a lot of people who don’t even know this movie exists. Well I’m here to tell you something: With all the Sherlock adaptations out in the past few years (movies and tv), this movie deserves a watch if you like any of those. I myself am a BBC Sherlock fan, and upon watching this again for the first time in years, found it SO much more enjoyable. That’s probably because now I’m familiar with the story. Lord knows I never read any of the books.

This movie follows our Titular mouse, Basil, as he attempts to locate a little girl’s (Olivia Flaversham) father, a toy maker. He’s been kidnapped, and the only clues we have were that he was kidnapped by a peg-legged bat. Luckily for Olivia, Basil knows exactly who this bat is and who he works for. It is his arch-nemesis, Ratigan. Basil wonders why Ratigan would want a toymaker, and they’re off tracking down things and following clues to find not only Olivia’s father, but figuring out what Ratigan’s plan is and thwarting that as well.

This movie, like anything Sherlock Holmes-y, is fun. It’s a change of pace for Disney, seeing as they’ve never really done a mystery before. And they do it well. It’s still actually a pretty dark movie, as were a lot of them in the 70s and 80s, but it’s not nearly as dark as The Black Cauldron or even the Rescuers. We’re back to fun, funny characters, crazy hijinks, and killer villains. The only thing missing really are the Disney songs.

The characters in this movie are great. Basil is great. He’s quirky but good at his job, with an almost innate hatred of people but a love of solving crimes. He’s fast talking and arguably insane, but incredibly smart with an almost instinctual skill for picking out clues. he’s not the most social, but through the movie he learns to trust and almost count on Dr. Dawson, at the end asking him to stay on and live with him and solve crimes. He’s everything you’d want in a Sherlock Holmes character shy of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ahhh Benedict Cumberbatch....

Ahhh Benedict Cumberbatch….

Our supporting characters are good as well. Dr. Dawson is a war veteran with a want to help people. He can’t help but help Olivia seek out Basil, then gets coerced into staying and helping, only to find out he loves it. He doesn’t freak out if he’s in trouble, and actually remains relatively calm. Olivia is a sweet girl, and for once we have a kid who’s not at all annoying. She just wants nothing but to find her father. She is a bit talky and wants to be included instead of staying and letting the adults do the investigating. While this does get her in trouble, it’s nice to see a girl with a good head on her shoulders that doesn’t cause our other characters too many problems. She also has an affinity for Basil’s dog (actually he’s Sherlock’s dog), Toby. He acts as their tracker and transportation. Sure he’s just there for the really little kids, but he’s cute. As a really supporting character we have Olivia’s father, Hiram, who I mention strictly because he’s voiced by the same guy who does Scrooge McDuck. That’s right. It’s awesome.

On the villain side we have our sidekick character, Fidget the peg-legged bat. his character design is unique and definitely makes you think of something scary, but as a character he’s a bit of a crazy henchman. he has a job to do but seems a little skatter-brained, which is enjoyable. Then we have Ratigan, voiced by Vincent Price. I LOVE Ratigan. This villain is just so cool with everything! He holds everything together, is arrogant beyond all belief, but he has a reason to be. He’s a total bad-ass. I mean, he feeds anyone who disagrees with him or gets on his nerves to his pet cat Felicia. We see that in the movie. He’s calm, cool and collected, but a completely smart criminal mastermind with his heart set on ruling the world. It’s a thing in the movie that he gets mad when people point out he’s a rat, but at the end seems to embrace that this is why he’s insane and goes all Dr. Jeckyl/Mr Hyde on Basil’s ass inside Big Ben. I just love him. Plus, he gets the best villain song we’ve had in a LONG while (and one that will get stuck in your head. “To Ratigan! you’re one of a kind!). I mean. He’s freaking awesome. Just look at all the crazy awesomeness:

I might have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with this villain...

I might have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with this villain…

They drew this guy in such a way that you can just feel the evilness dripping off of him. His smile is one of underlying deception. You can never tell what he’s thinking. He’s just great.

I don’t really have much else to say about this movie. I don’t really want to give a ton away because if it’s a movie you haven’t seen, you really should. It’s not my favorite underrated Disney movie (yeah, I have disney lists inside of lists), but in my mind it certainly is under appreciated. The characters are great, the action is great, the characters are great. And props again for Disney using CGI for the gears inside of Big Ben. The ending is GREAT, btw. Very intense!

My only qualms with this movie is that if you don’t know anything about sherlock holmes or old style mysteries, you might find it a bit boring. I know I did until I had watched Sherlock on the BBC. In fact, I was surprised how much more I liked it. Not that it’s exactly like a Sherlock episode, but there are hints here or there that I think you just have to be familiar with to thoroughly understand.

Go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

I give The Great Mouse Detective (1986) a 3.5 out of 5. Not perfect, but great fun!

Up Next: Oliver & Company (1988)

 

The Black Cauldron (1985)

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I’m going to work this review a little different than I have in the past. Instead of just blabbing mindlessly, I’m going to pose a question and try my best to answer it. Why? Because this movie is the biggest Black Sheep in Disney’s animated canon (notice I didn’t say the studio itself – obviously that goes to Song of the South).

Except by those who have seen it and it’s small but loyal group of fans, this movie is generally forgotten. Even the studio it came from wants to push it from existence. It never came out on video for the first time until 13 years after its theatrical run. It’s never gotten a “Diamond Edition” or “Platinum Edition,” isn’t on Blu-Ray, and isn’t like a lot of other Disney movies where it moves in and out of the vault every 7 years. You can get it on amazon (that’s where I acquired it), but it’s just cheaply put on DVD (even though it’s supposed to be the 25th anniversary edition. Yeah right!).

The reason for Disney to completely hate this movie is quite simple really. It was a complete box office disappointment. At the time it was made, it was the most expensive animated movie ever made, and tied for the most expensive movie EVER made. You read that right. It cost $44 million, and only made back half of that. Many call it the worst Disney movie ever made. They say that this is when Disney “lost its way,” and forgot what the studio was all about. So, given all that, here are my questions that I will attempt to answer during this review:

Is The Black Cauldron truly deserving of all this criticism? Should we really just forget about it? Is this really when Disney lost its way?

We’re going to take a few things into account to determine this. First, let’s talk about where this movie came from. This movie is loosely based on the first two novels of a children’s fantasy series called The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. This series of five books was published in the 60s. They won Alexander the Newbery Honor and the Newbery Medal. While not as well known, the books are comparable to The Chronicles of Narnia in sales, and currently it has a 5 star rating on Amazon with glowing reviews. I mean, it’s insane how good some of these reviews are. I feel like I need to read these books now.

Now I’m not one to compare movies to the source material. I believe that movies are movies, and books are books (I’m probably the only Harry Potter fan in the world who actually likes Order of the Phoenix…). That being said, a lot of people and a lot of critics are not so forgiving as I. This was one of the biggest criticisms I’ve ever heard about this movie: It was too ambitious and didn’t stick to what made the books so memorable.

The fact that this movie is based on two of the books is a bit of a problem. I feel like if this movie were made now, it would have only been based on one of the books, with the idea of making it into a series. That’s what we do now. Back then, not so much. Instead, Disney took the idea of the movie and tried to make a cohesive screenplay with more at stake. The first book centers around the rescue of a man named Prydain from the evil Horned King. The second book is our main character seeking to destroy the legendary black cauldron that can turn dead men into zombies. The movie is about our main character (Taran) in a race to find and destroy the black cauldron before the Horned King can use it to rise to power.

In that one sentence, the movie doesn’t sound so bad. That’s because that is the plot of the movie in the smallest nutshell possible. The idea was good; it’s the execution that was… not so good. I’m not even going to explain the actual plot here, because it’s complicated; more so than it has to be. I’ll try to expand a bit without getting confused myself. Here we go:

There’s a future-seeing pig at the farm where our protagonist Taran is an assistant pig-keeper. They find out the Horned King is after the Black cauldron, and knows that the pig, Henwen, can help him locate it. Taran takes the pig out in the woods to safety, but go figure, she gets captured, and soon Taran finds himself in the castle of the Horned King. He finds Princess Eilonwy (or more like she finds him) and Fflewddur Fflam, a minstrel, and the three escape with Henwen to the “woods” to search for the black cauldron. They encounter fairies and a strange creature named Gurgi before finding the cauldron with some witches who want to trade something for it. They get the cauldron, but oh look, the Horned King gets it from them. He rises the dead, Gurgi sacrifices himself to break the cauldron (or does he?) and it’s the end.

It’s not just that the narrative is a bit complicated, it’s just not executed well. There’s too much in it. They don’t stay too long in any one place, and it’s all rushed. At the same time, strangely, this movie feels like it drags on. I have to agree with the critics on this one: Disney was too ambitious in the story. That’s one point for Disney – but it’s not enough to try to erase it from existence.

The other criticism with the story is that it’s too dark. Personally, I have no problem with it. In fact, I would LOVE to see Disney do another big dark fantasy like this. To me, it’s no darker than Medusa kidnapping a kid, or Cruela wanting to murder puppies. But I don’t think that’s the problem. The animation is DARK. There aren’t happy colors in this movie at all. There’s no songs. there’s nothing but our characters and their adventure. There isn’t really even a ton of humor. Is that “un”- Disney? maybe.

But I ask you to consider this: The Rescuers had a lot of dark animation. The Fox and the Hound had a dark story. One of the differences between those movies and this one is that those also had humor. Yet as I mentioned in The Fox and the Hound review, the humor that was there seemed misplaced. In Disney’s later “I’m going to pretend we ever made this movie” The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (another dark movie) the humor from the gargoyles seems incredibly misplaced (but we’ll talk at length about Hunchback later).

I for one applaud Disney for realizing that this movie was not befitting of tons of humor. They saw what they wanted to do, and they did it. They didn’t compromise by trying to make it too “kiddy.” That, to me, is the saving grace of this story. They aimed this movie at teenagers, not kids. They didn’t bow to the masses by adding something in to make it more appealing or funny. It isn’t necessarily un-Disney. It’s just Disney realizing that for this project and the audience they were trying to target, humor didn’t fit.

Ok. So the narrative isn’t that great. It’s too ambitious and convoluted and according to some (but not me) too dark and very un-Disney. What about the characters? I’ve always said I’m a person who enjoys characters more than plot. The problem with this movie is that, as I mentioned before, the plot is so rushed and there is so much, it ruins any chance we have at character development. It’s really a shame. Apparently the characters in the books are great (again, I feel I really need to read these books now).

This is what kills me the most about the movie. You can see that these characters have a chance to be great. You can see that Taran has the chance to be an amazing character (in all honesty, he’s not bad… they had a little time to get him built up in the beginning). Where they really crapped out was the supporting cast of Gurgi, Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam. They’re all caricatures of fantasy characters. There is nothing about them that really stands out. There could have been. Eilonwy is definitely not a damsel in distress. She’s good at what she does, is strong-willed, but… all that fades and she becomes more like a little girl after they escape the Horned Kings castle. Why didn’t you make her into a badass??? I’m picturing a younger Daenerys Targaryen here. She could have been awesome, and she had that little floating light that became useless that could have been cool!

Fflewddur is completely forgettable. He could have been a soft humor-type character, and that would have fit. Gurgi, our attempt at a funny character, is memorable if only for his voice that makes him hard to understand (and therefore not funny). seriously, I feel like I have to watch this movie over and over just to understand this thing. In the books, apparently he and Taran end up with an amazing friendship. You don’t see that here. He’s an annoyance, then sacrifices himself, and suddenly everyone is acting like he was their best friend.

You don’t see the connection between the characters. You don’t see the friendships. They’re just people who happen to be on this journey together. They even throw in a romance between Taran and Eilonwy (which was in the books, but not till the 4th or 5th one) at the very end, and it’s like “whoa, where the hell did that come from?” It is nowhere else in the movie at all. In some ways, Taran is a reason to watch the movie. Some people might think he’s annoying, but I think he’s just a kid trying to prove himself and save his pig and have an adventure. It’s just…. it bugs me so much because I can see what this movie could have been. I see what the characters could have been to each other. And it could have been awesome.

But are these characters so bad that we should lock them in a vault and forget about them? No, definitely not. The characters actually are very Disney. They look Disney and feel Disney. They’re just not the best Disney’s ever come up with. Are they the worst? I would argue no. There have been much less developed characters *cough*Sleeping Beauty*cough*

How about the villain? Disney always makes memorable villains, and to its credit, the Horned King is definitely memorable. He probably gave many children nightmares, actually. He looks like a skeleton with horns, wears a long robe, and is just… scary. Here:

The-Black-Cauldron-Horned-King

Not the best detail I know. There exist NO good pictures on the web of anything having to do with The Black Cauldron

The scene where he uses the black cauldron is nightmare-inducing. It really is. I can see why families were shocked this came from the same studio who brought you the story about singing and dancing animals (even if, again, this movie really was aimed for teenagers…).  They’ve even cut out 3 minutes of the film to keep the rating to PG (it was the first Disney movie to ever get that rating). But personally, he’s a freaking awesome villain. he doesn’t do much, and a lot of people think he’s just a scary face. That might be true, but what he does do is scary as hell. Not safe for children under 6, or 8, or for me, 10. I would have had nightmares for weeks if I had seen this as a kid.

I could say a lot more about this movie. I could talk about the politics of Disney animation at the time and how it might have influenced this movie’s outcome. I could talk about the animation and how it’s heralded as the only thing that was good about this movie (The animation is really cool). I’m not going to though. I wouldn’t say it well enough. This movie had so much going wrong for it, it sort of makes me sad. It makes me sad it wasn’t better. It makes me sad that because of this movie, things changed with Disney animation. There was no more hand-brushing cells. Instead, the focus was on churning out money-making movies. You could say that Disney animation lost it’s art with The Black Cauldron. Had it been a success, maybe it would have delayed that change for a few years.

So I ask you, what’s more un-Disney? What’s Disney “Losing its way”? A dark movie, or taking the art out of animation? Walt was about embracing new ways of doing things. He loved telling stories and entertaining children and families. He loved the planning process and storyboarding. He loved animating. It makes me wonder what he’d think of his company now, and what he thought of them back then. I don’t know that he would have liked The Black Cauldron, but at the same time, I don’t think he would have started churning out movies just to make money. I dunno. Just something to think about.

The Black Cauldron has its issues. It has a lot of them. It was too ambitious, and the story and characters suffered for that. But I’ll ask my questions again: Is it truly deserving of all this criticism? Should we really just forget about it? Is it really when Disney lost its way?

My answer: No.

Although it ranks very low on my list of Disney movies, I still find it enjoyable, funny enough. Yeah it feels long and yes parts are boring, but I want to watch it because I want to go on this adventure. I want to see something I haven’t. I want to pick out parts that maybe I never understood the first few times around. I want to understand everything Gurgi has to say. I want to watch the Horned King bring those bodies back to life. It’s a strange feeling watching this movie. You want it to end, but at the same time you don’t.

It’s a movie worth remembering, even if it is for the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t be forgotten. It should be given a Blu-ray release and celebrated as a movie that was put out in the wrong time; before its time. There are many fans of the movie, and I bet there would be more if it were widely released today. Now, we’re ok with dark things. Even Disney of all studios is so ubiquitous with everything that seeing violence and darkness from them is OK. They own Marvel and Star Wars now! But back in the 80s, it was just the animation studio and the family movies. At the time, darkness like this wasn’t ok. It was surprising. But we shouldn’t just ignore this movie. It has a right to exist, and a right to be celebrated. I mean hey! Did you know it was the first Disney movie to use CGI? I didn’t!

If you know someone who owns it and you’ve never seen it or never even heard of it, I really think it’s worth a watch, even just once. You may not like it. You may think it’s the most god awful thing you’ve ever seen. Or you may get lost in the animation and the scenery. I would LOVE to see Disney do another fantasy epic. I would love to see them embrace their darker side, because I think they can do it, and could do it well. I just don’t think that’s ever going to happen (boo).

If anyone’s interested, this is a great article that Slate did on this movie. Really really great. It goes into more detail about the politics in the studio at the time, the new President of Disney, and everything that I didn’t touch on:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/dvdextras/2010/10/the_black_cauldron.html

I give The Black Cauldron (1985) a 2.8 out of 5. Believe it or not it’s actually not my least favorite Disney movie, although it’s my lowest ranked (so far).

Up next: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

 

The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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Tod: Copper, you’re my very best friend.

Copper: And you’re mine too, Tod.

Tod: And we’ll always be friends forever. Won’t we?

Copper: Yeah, forever.

Confession: I cry like a baby when I watch this movie. This movie will break your heart if you let it. But it will also teach you an amazing lesson. I saw this movie for the first time when I was probably about 7 or 8 (younger? I don’t really remember). What I do remember is that this was the first Disney movie that really stuck with me after I watched it. It stuck with me because it taught such a simple but such a profound lesson: enemies are a result of learned prejudices.

Seriously, think about it. As a small child, you don’t care who you play with, as long as you’re having a good time. Adults might tell kids to not play with someone, or that that person isn’t worth your friendship. Maybe it’s a girl (you don’t learn till 1st or 2nd grade that girls have cooties). Maybe it’s someone of a different religion or race. As a kid, you don’t care! Why should you? You’re having fun, and that’s what matters.

Then you grow up, and that innocence disappears. You learn about the differences between people. You learn about religion, race, and other affiliations. You learn about history, and about the hatred that burned in people’s hearts (and still does) for certain “different” people. From there, you can choose to believe those mantras, perhaps become like your parents and the generation before you, or you can choose to remember what it was like playing with that one kid who was “different.” To quote the Broadway Musical Kinky Boots (yeah i know that’s an odd choice, but it came to me) “You change the world when you change your mind.”

This is exactly the type of thing that goes on in this movie. We have Tod, a baby fox who has just been orphaned and taken in by an old widow, and we have Copper, a foxhound pup who was just purchased to be a hunting dog. They live next to each other, and one day meet. Copper has no reason to want to kill Tod, and Tod has no experiences that tell him he should be afraid of Copper. A friendship blossoms as the two go swimming and play all sorts of games. It’s only after the other dog with Copper, Chief, chases him that he understands dogs can be dangerous. The other animals around the farm try to educate Todd about hunters and hunting dogs. The Owl, Big Mama, tells Tod that one day Copper will be trained to hunt down animals like him, but Todd never believes that Copper could do that.

Winter comes, and Copper’s owner Amos Slade takes him and Chief on a long hunting trip, where Copper can learn the ropes. They return in the spring, all grown up, and the night Todd sneaks out to say hi to Copper, Chief wakes up and sees him, and soon all three are after him with a gun. After allowing Tod one chance to get away, Copper watches as Tod leads Chief up a railroad bridge and the dog falls off, almost dying. Hatred burns in Copper’s heart for what his old “friend” did to his mentor, and he can’t believe he let Tod go.

Realizing that her beloved Todd is in danger, the widow takes Tod to a game preserve where he’ll be safe and lets him go. Tod adjusts, meets a beautiful girl fox Vixie, and all seems happy ever after. But Amos Slade and Copper are out for vengeance. They break into the game preserve and hunt down Tod using all means necessary, including fire and those awful foot traps. The two friends now seem as if they were never friends, fighting and drawing blood. At one point, Amos and Copper anger a bear, and it seems the foxes are home free. But a yelp from Copper causes Tod to pause. He returns and saves both Amos and Copper from the bear before almost dying himself. Laying almost unconscious in the water, Amos loads his gun, ready to get revenge, when Copper stands in the way. Realizing perhaps that they can just let this one go, Amos drops his gun and he and Copper leave.

So epic. Cue crying here...

So epic. Cue crying here…

Phew! I don’t go into detail that much on summaries any more, but this one deserves it. This film was considered a financial success when it was released, but it wasn’t a hit. Reviews were mixed. Many critics (including Ebert) praised the message of the film, loving that it was more than just a cute film about animals. Yet the majority of critics seemed to think the movie was just “so-so.” They believed the characters and humor were formulaic. Some people argued it was too dark for kids, when it was obviously aimed at them.

I think this movie does have a following, but I believe audiences are just as split as critics, even now. To me, this movie is one of the first real “underrated” Disney movies. Is it dark? yes. Is it violent? yes, at times. Is it scary? yes. Are the characters a bit formulaic? I’ll be one of the first to say yes. Despite all of that, this movie, at its core, teaches a lesson so profound for kids AND adults that I’m willing to forgo extremely good characters. That, to me, is the definition of MY “Underrated” Disney movies.

So the characters are formulaic? That doesn’t mean they’re bad. Tod and Copper are very enjoyable. Tod’s a little imp and incredibly smart, and Copper always reminded me of that easy going quiet kid who was really a genius but you’d never know it (at certain topics). They did keep their personalities in tact as they grew up, which is nice.

Chief and Amos aren’t really villains to me as they are just… adults. They’re angry and were brought up a certain way. Does that make them evil? no. It just makes them stuck in their ways. But even Amos shows that he can change at the end.

Our three bird characters are enjoyable. Big Mama acts as Tod’s authority figure out in the woods, while the widow (who seems like such a sweet woman!) is one indoors. Big Mama tries to teach Tod about the world and the harsh realities. Our other two birds, Dinky (a sparrow…?) and Boomer (a woodpecker) are honestly just there for the kids, and the inclusion of their storyline in trying to get this caterpillar, I admit, does get on my nerves. It’s clear it was put there for humor to go between the seriousness, and it does detract a bit.

Vixie is Tod’s love interest and eventual mate. She’s boring and just kinda… there. That’s all I’ll be saying about her (although she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which is a bit refreshing.)

There are… 3? songs in this movie. Two of them are voice over songs, and one is actually sung at the present moment. I enjoy these songs more than the ones in The Rescuers by far. If you’re a Disney fan, you know the song “Best of Friends.” How can you not get a smile on your face? So cute. The song sung by Big Mama about the hunters (Lack of Education? I have no idea what it’s called) is kinda bizarre, but it tries to teach a (good? arguable) lesson. Then there’s the song the widow sings when she’s driving to drop Tod off at the game preserve. DEAR SWEET LORD DISNEY MADE ME CRY. I never cried when Bambi’s mom got shot. I never cried when Trusty got hit by the cart. I never cried when Baloo almost died. Not since “Baby Mine” in Dumbo have I bawled like a baby when watching a Disney movie for these reviews. She’s saying goodbye to the only friend she’s had in a while, and she’s doing it because it will keep him safe.

I also cry at the end after Copper stands in front of Tod. They walk away and just smile at each other. They know that they may never see each other again, but there’s an understanding there. They were always friends, and they will always be friends. UGH DISNEY. WAY TO MAKE ME CRY!

Despite all the problems with this movie that critics and that I have, it’s a movie I can’t shake. I don’t watch it all the time, but it is always one that goes through my head as I stare at my movies and wonder what to watch. Like all my movies that I claim are “underrated,” a lot of it is formulaic. But a big part is NOT. When was the last time Disney taught us a really profound lesson as a kid that kids could understand?

Don Bluth was an uncredited animator on this movie, but I like to think he was involved in a lot more than that (although I know he wasn’t…). I’ve reviewed this man’s work. His early work always had a knack for taking hard topics and making them easy for kids to understand. This movie reeks of that, and I LOVE it. He’d leave during the production of this movie to go off and make The Secret of Nimh. He didn’t like the way the company was being run and wanted to return to the classic style of Disney (which is bizarre to think about giving he made some really dark movies, same as Disney…).

Ok… I’m not going to go off on a tangent. I’m going to wrap up. The Fox and the Hound isn’t Disney’s best movie. It splits a lot of people, and I understand why. To me, it’s a good one. Not in my top 10, but still good. Like I said, it’s a movie you can’t shake. As a kid you watch it and you realize that friendships really can last forever if you fight for them. As an adult, you watch it and go “wow… how much has my life been influenced by things other people believe?” Why can’t we just talk and play as adults and not care? Why should we let things like religion, politics, race, orientation, or even geography get in the way if we really care about someone? I like to think seeing this movie at a young age made me part of who I am today (and my parents – they obviously were influences of course!).

It does have scary moments, but you can bet I’ll be showing it to my kids. I’ll be watching it with them to hide their faces or talk to them afterwards about what they got from the movie, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

I’m really torn how to rate this. I have to be impartial and judge on the MOVIE…

I give The Fox and the Hound (1981) a 3.2 out of 5. Ah that kills me, but it does have a lot of issues. It’s much higher on my personal list….

Next up: The Black Cauldron (1985): aka – the movie Disney wants you to forget… (along with Song of the South).

The Rescuers (1977)

 

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Oh boy. These next few reviews are going to be really hard to write. Not because the next handful of Disney movies is bad per se, it’s just that well… they typically rank pretty low on everyone’s list of Disney movies. This movie, The Rescuers, is the last movie Walt had any sort of anything with. Honestly, I’m guessing that his involvement with this was very minimal, because I think if he had been involved, it wouldn’t have turned out quite like this. You can see the beginnings of some very Walt-ish ideas, but then different forces took over and led it another way.

The Rescuers signifies a turning point in Disney animation that would rule for the next decade. A lot of people call this time the “Dark Ages” of Disney, but I personally don’t think it should be called that. Are the movies made in the late 70s/80s great? No. But I’m a big believer that each of them has redeeming qualities. I’m going to talk about my very first completely underrated Disney movie (to which I believe there are a lot…) in the next few reviews. I’m going to try not to be too harsh on these movies, because in the end, I DO like them. I mean, I still own them all. Every single one.

All these movies in this time period (I’m talking about The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, and The Great Mouse Detective) have a few things in common. 1) they’re MUCH darker. Disney ditches the fairy tales for dark, dramatic story telling with mixed results. 2) they have very few if any songs, and most the songs are not sung by characters but instead in the background.

So let’s dive in:

The Rescuers is actually based upon a series of books written by Margery Sharp (wow, I learn stuff every day). It centers around two mice named Miss Bianca and Bernard. They’re members of a mouse society whose soul purpose is to help children in need. After a bottle with a note washes up on shore, the two mice are on the case to find a missing girl named Penny. Their detective work sends them to an orphanage, a pawn shop, and finally the Louisiana Bayou where they find out she has been kidnapped by a jewel-loving Madam Medusa. She wants to use Penny to find The Devil’s Eye, an extremely large diamond that is located in a deep hole that only Penny can reach. It’s up to two mice to rescue the girl and outsmart Medusa and her band of crazy critters.

This movie actually was a huge success at the box office, which honestly I kinda find hard to believe. It was their first big hit since The Jungle Book (what?? no love for Robin Hood??) and it’s last until The Little Mermaid. Yeah. Crazy.

Anyway. Ok, ok, this movie isn’t that bad. It actually has a lot of redeeming qualities. For one, the main characters are actually very good. Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor) and Bernard (voiced by Bob Newhart) are actually two of my favorite Disney characters. I love their interactions. I love their quirks. Bernard is paranoid about the number 13. He’s super careful, and very hesitant about everything. Bianca is laid back and has her heart set on one thing: saving this girl. She’s caring and loving and is willing to do anything. At the same time, she’s very ladylike to the point you can’t believe someone like her is even willing to get down, dirty and dangerous. She’s not afraid of anything. She packs three suitcases with her on the trip, and Bernard is such a gentleman he carries them, all the while worrying that the stairs have 13 steps. These two are great. I’ve barely scratched the surface on these two, but they are amazingly fleshed out characters. The movie is worth watching just to see these mice.

And for me, that’s it. Seriously. The other characters I could take or leave. Penny’s a little annoying. She has an obsession with a bear and treats it like its real. Yes I know real kids do that but is it just me or does she seem a little too old for that…? Her voice is also annoying. We have a cat named Rufus who helps them find where Penny went. He’s ok I guess. Good for the 5 minutes he’s on screen. We have a band of bayou critters that help out. One’s obsessed with moonshine. There’s a dragonfly who flies a boat around. As you can see I’m not too attached to these characters…

How about the villains? eh… Medusa is scary I guess….

Ok I take that back, she's really scary. How is Penny not running for cover?

Ok I take that back, she’s really scary. How is Penny not running for cover?

I mean, she did kidnap a kid. She’s completely insane, and that always makes for a good movie. I could forgive it, except the entire movie all I think about when I watch her is Cruela De Vil. I seriously feel like they recycled her, instead giving her a diamond obsession instead of a fur obsession.  She’s not exactly like her in looks, but it’s reminiscent. She’s bony and skinny like Cruela would have been under her fur coat. She has an odd shape, long fingers, and a long nose that just adds to her ridiculousness. She’s a bit more unstable than Cruela, which I guess is interesting. To me, she’s not that memorable of a villain, which is kinda sad, because she is just so insane.

Her accomplices are just… ugh. Mr. Snoops is her clumsy stupid business partner, and he’s just… stupid. Brutus and Nero are her pet Alligators, which are actually ok. They’re scary enough (especially at the end when they decide to randomly turn on her). They seem like the most put together members of our villain party, which is saying something cause they don’t talk.

There are two songs: The Rescue Aid Society song, actually sung by mice, and “Someone’s waiting for you,” which is sung in the background when we see Penny struggling to be forced to live with the crazy people. Neither are really catchy. In fact, the latter I would file under “songs that put me to sleep as a kid” along with the love song from Robin Hood and that one from Sleeping Beauty.

Despite my hatred of most of these characters, this movie does not rank at the very bottom of my list. Bianca and Bernard save it for me. And there are some funny jokes. There’s also a scene which I think it just freaking awesome, even though it’s so simple: Bianca and Bernard are in the boat (a leaf) with Evinrude the dragonfly and see Penny being taken by the two alligators. They head off after them and end up in front and get caught in the wake between the two swimming reptiles. It seems like something so simple yet to the mice it’s like a freaking tsunami. I LOVE that scene. It makes danger out of something so seemingly simple. It’s so cool.

I don’t know what else to say about this movie. It’s not horrible, but for me, it’s such a change that it’s hard for me to digest. The colors are drab and dramatic. The tone for me is just not a Disney movie. It’s more expected of a Don Bluth movie (and that makes sense – this is the first movie he ever worked on…). It has it’s fans, but except for our two mice, I’m not one of them (wait till I talk about the sequel though…)

I give The Rescuers (1977) 3 out of 5 stars. Solid effort, but without Walt there, it went way too dark.

Up Next: The Fox and the Hound (1981)

The Star Wars Saga

 

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Happy Star Wars Day! Don’t be alarmed, I WILL be reviewing all of these movies separately somewhere down the road. However because it is May the 4th, I figured it would be fun to do short little paragraph reviews of all 6 movies. There will be no summaries, no major talk on characters. Just general movie talk. How does it fit in with the rest of the saga? What are my overall thoughts?

Some background: I’ve seen the original trilogy countless times. I was brought up a Star Wars fan, and in the midst of the newer trilogy, I was always in the theater watching them (for better or worse). Star Wars is in my blood.

My Husband and I are watching them in what I believe is called the “revised” order (if we decide to cut out Ep. 1 it will be called the “Machete” order). It’s designed to be an order that doesn’t ruin the surprises and magic of the original trilogy. A lot of die-hard Star Wars fans say that this order makes the saga better, and is a good way to introduce the saga to children. What you do (if you’ve never heard of this) is watch IV and V first: you still get the surprise of Vadar being Luke’s father, Yoda existing, etc. Then, after, you watch (I), II, and III as a flash back on Vadar’s life, with I being optional. Then you watch VI as a wrap up. Any questions?

Good. Here we go!

Episode IV: A New Hope

What a great start to a great saga. This movie is exciting, quirky, fun, hilarious and full of adventure. We get introduced to some great characters, have some epic one-liners, and I have to say the banter between Han, Luke and Leia is still great in this movie. Although made in 1977, it holds up quite well. I don’t mind the changes Lucas made in this movie in adding in a few CGI characters and backgrounds to Mos Eisley and other parts on Tatooine. Personally, I think they add to the atmosphere and make it seem like it really is another planet vs some random desert in Africa. I do have to say this movie always feels a bit long to me. I always manage to lose my attention after they escape from the Star Destroyer and rescue Leia. I dunno if I’ve just seen it too many times or what. Still a great start. On to the next!

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

I love that in this movie the empire gets vengeance. If the good guys were on top all the time, it wouldn’t be as interesting. We’re left not with a happy ending like A New Hope, but loose ends that need tying. I love that. Personally, this movie is much better than the last. I know more of the lines, and for me it’s more memorable. Sure it doesn’t have as much banter between our characters, and Luke has a different storyline than the others, but it’s just as enjoyable. We get world building and mythos building with Yoda(!!) and of course the brilliant reveal of Vadar as Luke’s father. Again the changes with CGI aren’t distracting, and in fact they add again to the worlds, especially at Cloud City. I love that this movie is darker, but still not super serious. Great great great. Next up!

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Ah yes the black sheep in the Star Wars world. I don’t have the same issues with this movie as everyone else seems to have. Yes Jar Jar is annoying and pointless. Yes Jake Lloyd is wooden, but I don’t think he’s that bad. My biggest qualms with this movie are that 1) Dear sweet lord this movie feels SOO long. 2) It’s not as funny 3) The characters are not as good in general, 4) The plot is actually very difficult to completely understand. There are choices that are stupidly done. The few stand outs in this movie are Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, and the animation. this was 1999. This CGI is stunning. Other than establishing a few random things like Anakin’s mother and how Palpatine was elected, it’s sort of pointless. It could have been the start of something so interesting, but nothing builds. Everything is happy at the end and nothing really carries over (i mean come on, they could have let darth maul get away at least to tie the two movies together and have a sort of central threat besides the chancellor/sith lord. I think I’m definitely going to cut this one out when I show them to my kids. It’s pointless.*

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

This one is so much better than Episode I. We have better action, it seems to move quicker (although it’s actually longer in running time), and we actually seem to get to know our characters a little better, and there is better development for Obi Wan, Anakin (especially) and Padme. It has a few good humor moments, and a few REALLY bad ones (oh dear sweet lord the puns!). This plot is still really all over the place, although it is easier to follow. We have two story lines: one with Obi Wan, and one with Anakin and Padme. The dialog is only horrible in certain parts of this movie (Any scene with Anakin and Padme almost makes me cringe… almost – it’s worse in Revenge of the Sith though…). It has a lot of good action and there are moments when I feel it comes close to the original trilogy. Plus, Yoda using a light saber is freaking awesome. Next one!

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Finally. Lucas actually knew what he was doing with this movie. This plot is finally cohesive. We get amazing feelings. Anakin becomes a tragic tale. You actually understand why he does what he does. It’s for love. I either cried or was at the edge of my seat almost the entire movie. Sure some of the dialog is awful. My god, it’s like nails on a chalkboard every time Anakin and Padme have a scene together and have to talk about love. But honestly? I don’t care. This is freaking Anakin turning into Darth Vadar. So many things had to come together in this movie, and they did. It’s depressing and scary, because even though we always saw his dark side, we actually grew to like Anakin. We grew to root for him, all the while knowing what would happen. This one has no humor, but it’s not supposed to. It’s different. It’s dark. And it’s good. Let’s go, next!!

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

This is arguably my favorite movie out of all of them (Yeah I know i’m in the minority on that). I’m probably one of the few people alive who doesn’t hate the ewoks. This movie doesn’t have as much banter and arguments as the other two in the original trilogy, but what it lacks in that it makes up for with a great feeling of the bond these characters now have. Don’t get me wrong, there is some banter, and there still are a ton of dark moments, but this movie is a bit more dark than Episode V. That being said this is much lighter than the Episode III by far. I’m also extremely struck how well this movie works after Episode III. Early on we have Yoda die, and the talk with Luke and Obi Wan about Vadar and his sister. This means so much more now that we know Yoda better, and Anakin better. It’s actually kinda cool. I can’t really explain why I like this movie the best. Maybe it’s because it’s the end, and it’s happy. Maybe it’s because Vadar is redeemed. I don’t know. It’s just fun, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

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This day has been extremely long, but my husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed our Star Wars marathon. This order really is a good order to watch them in. I think next time, we’ll ditch Episode I completely. It really doesn’t fit in, and you wouldn’t miss much if anything at all*

I’m really interested to see what Disney does with Episode VII. I actually think it has the potential to be really good. The cast seems awesome, and now we have people who watched these movies as execs in charge and as writers. I think it’s going to be great. I can’t wait.

Up Next: The Rescuers (1977): Back onto Disney Animation!

 

* While my husband and I were talking about the prequel trilogy and how much Episode I does not fit in and how Episode II really just feels like a parade of bad guys, an idea for how Lucas could have fixed it struck me. So in my mind I rewrote the first and part of the second movie. Really, it’s just one change: they needed to have a central bad guy for the whole prequel trilogy other than Palpatine. So what I thought was that we could have a character like Darth Maul. Let’s say he doesn’t die at the end of the first one. He kills Qui Gon and escapes. Obi Wan is left with hatred in his heart and in the 2nd one, he has to deal a little with staving off the Dark side while hunting down Darth Maul. This leads him to Camino, where he finds the clones, and eventually to Geonosis. Here, he meets Darth Maul again, where we find out he’s actually a disfigured former Jedi. Let the movie continue, and Darth Maul takes the place of Dooku and doesn’t die until the beginning of Episode III. Sure there’s issues, but it was just an idea I had. Because honestly? in episode II, the whole Jengo Fett thing seems really random and pointless. Like he included him just because he could. So what do you y’all think?

Robin Hood (1973)

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Seriously. I’m beginning to think Disney is the only reason I know a lot of classic stories. Forget school. Everyone needs to just watch all the Disney movies, then they will at least be familiar with classic stories enough to be interested to read them. Peter Pan, the Jungle Book, King Arthur, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and now Robin Hood (and of course many countless others as we go forward!).

This is how I was introduced to that do-gooder criminal, and I don’t regret one minute of it.  Later in life I would watch Prince of Thieves (geez was that different!) then Men in Tights (again… different!), but because of Disney, Robin Hood for me will always be a fox. This may or may not be a good thing, now that I think about it…

The story of Robin Hood is based on english folklore dating back to the early 15th century. Through the tellings of this story through the ages, we got the additions of the characters we now know and love, as well as the idea that Robin Hood was a man who supported King Richard, and was forced to rob from the rich to give to the poor when Richard went off to fight in the crusades and left his brother, Prince John, to rule.

Disney’s version thankfully follows the story and ideals as we know them, only with animals instead of people. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are foxes, while Prince John and King Richard are lions (this is brilliant given that King Richard was called Richard the Lionheart). Little John is essentially Baloo the bear in the worst recycling of Disney animation (and voice acting) EVER. Friar Tuck is a badger, and the Sheriff of Nottingham is a wolf.

The story if basically this: Robin Hood and Little John are robbing to give to the poor. They’re outfoxing the Sheriff of Nottingham and when they rob Prince John, he gets upset and decides to hold a archery competition with a kiss from Maid Marian as the prize. Knowing he won’t miss it, he sets up a trap for Robin Hood, but of course, he escapes. Taxes go up, the citizens of Nottingham can’t pay them, and they all end up in jail while Prince John basks in wealth. Robin Hood and Little John decide to break everyone out, steal the money back from Prince John, and at the end, King Richard comes back.

This story of Robin Hood can be complicated. There’s a lot in there about inequalities of class, taxes, and things that kids just won’t understand. As a kid, I never found this story hard to follow. I didn’t understand why, but I knew the sheriff wanted to take all the money from the people, and if they didn’t have it to pay him, he threw them in jail. I knew that Robin Hood was a criminal in the eyes of the sheriff, but at the same time was helping all those poor people so they wouldn’t go to jail. I got the gist of the movie as a young child. As I’m now older, obviously I understand more of the politics, and I have to say, this movie is actually very adult. It does an extremely good job balancing for kids and adults in terms of story and humor (oh my god there are dirty jokes in this movie!? I think I caught a few…)

I have always thoroughly enjoyed the character of Robin Hood. The Disney depiction is probably honestly my favorite. I don’t know why, the character just seems so down to earth. He’s not emotionally destroyed or annoyingly cocky like some other depictions have been. He is cocky, but he almost has a right to be. He’s good at what he does, hasn’t gotten caught yet, and why not flaunt it? He’s smart and cunning, but in a good way. He has his own issues, but puts them aside so that he can do what he believes is right. He wants nothing more than to have everyone be at peace and does anything he can to help, even if that makes him an outlaw. He laughs at his status, knowing that when King Richard returns, he won’t be viewed that way. He never gets flustered despite being captured and thrown into chains. The only time we see him afraid is at the end when it seems he really does have no way out. He’s strong willed in front of enemies, but almost can’t believe it afterwards. His one true love is Maid Marian, and he will do anything for her.

We have a bunch of other supporting characters that we all know from the stories. Little John is Robin’s friend and partner in crime. In this movie he’s smart and a bit more up to doing ridiculous things (as is Robin) than some other stories. He’s not afraid to threaten or be violent but at the same time you can tell just like Robin he’s doing it for the greater good, not because he’s a bad person. His character design as I mentioned is literally Baloo and while that’s good, I almost wish they could have done something a little more creative. Maid Marian is another fox and she’s kind and all, but she’s just kinda there to be Robin’s love interest (yes that’s really all I’m going to say about her).  I really enjoy Friar Tuck’s depiction in this movie. He’s kind and tries to act in God’s will and stay calm. I love the part where he just loses it. It shows that not everyone can be calm all the time, and I think that’s a good thing to remember.

We also have a slew of very minor characters that are still memorable. We have the rabbit family with Skippy and his sister and his friend the turtle (Did the others have names? I only heard Skippy in the movie…). He’s probably a character that anchored a kid’s involvement in the story, and I think it was a good call. My by far favorite scene (although I have a lot in this movie) is when Skippy shoots an arrow into Prince John’s “backyard” and they have to go get it, interrupting Maid Marian and her Lady in Waiting Cluck. They proceed to do a whole role playing thing on Robin Hood (Skippy) saving Maid Marian from Prince John (Lady Cluck), complete with duel, death, and a kiss at the end. It’s a hilarious scene but also shows that even those that are in good standing don’t like Prince John.

Let’s talk about our “villain” for a moment. I put that in quotes because quite honestly, he’s not that scary. He’s in a class of disney villains that are both meant to be threatening but also funny. Prince John is stupid. He falls for everything, he’s naive, and he acts like a child. A running joke is that when something hurts him he sucks his thumb and begs for his mommy. At the same time he has all this power and all these people who are threatening that can do nothing but listen to him. That’s what makes him scary. He’s obsessed with power and money, and it’s what rules him. Sir Hiss, his snake advisor, is the real brains. Nothing gets past him, but Prince John never listens. He catches on to all of Robin and Little John’s schemes, and tries to warn Prince John. Instead, he gets shoved into baskets and thrown out of viewing boxes. If Hiss had power, he would be the scary one.

To me, the real villain in this movie that shows absolutely no remorse is the Sheriff of Nottingham. And honestly, that’s how it should be in the Robin Hood movies and stories. He’s more tangible. He’s the one who is physically coming around and collecting taxes and arresting people. At the same time, he’s gullible and falls for Robin’s disguises too. But he does seem to have more power and therefore is a pretty legitimate threat.

There is one more character I want to talk about, and that’s the rooster that acts as the minstrel and narrator for the movie. The reason I want to talk about him is because I find it kinda nice and refreshing that Disney took this whole atmosphere and went with it. It could have been easy to just have it look medieval and keep it rooted in the here and now (that’s honestly something the studio does a LOT now…), but they didn’t. The movie opens like a lot of the classics – with a story book. It starts with the rooster telling us he’s the minstrel, and what that means. He sings the first song, narrating the animation. He creeps up later and sings another song when all is lostIt’s a nice, welcome change, and I enjoy it.

Switching gears from characters, I want to mention the animation in this movie. It’s like a lot of the others, but this movie is typically regarded as one of the most noticeable in terms of reusing animation. One, there’s little john, who is seriously just Baloo the bear. We have a whole dancing scene which is reused animation from – again – the Jungle book. It would be one thing if this was done with a few movies between the two, but watching Jungle Book, then watching Robin Hood, it actually is kinda distracting. Yes, I do realize there was a movie between the two. And yes, I know that technically the Jungle Book and Robin Hood are 6 years apart. At the time, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. It would have been noticeable or distracting. But now, with DVDs, it is. It’s like deja-vu, and not really in a good way. I know I can’t gripe a lot about this, but it is one of the things I dislike about this movie. At the same time, I know money was tight around this time, and they had to do what they had to to survive.

The other thing that is lacking in this movie is the songs. This is sort of the beginning of a time period with Disney when songs started to disappear from their movies. Things always fluctuate (geez, we just went though another period where Disney had no songs in movies…) and it’s almost like this was their last hurrah with characters singing silly songs. I do enjoy “The Phony King of England,” and from a story telling perspective, the two that the Minstrel Rooster sing are good. But that’s it. There’s no song that really stands out. For me, songs make Disney movies, and it’s sad that this movie doesn’t have any stand outs. (it does have a stand out boring song though – that stupid love song…. omg, I want to fall asleep).

I do have to make a few random shout outs though: The song “The whistle theme,” from the beginning (it’s instrumental) is the same music used in that oh so horribly popular techno song/thingy from 1999’s The Hamsterdance Song. I believe I was the first person of all my friends to point that out. Yeah. That’s sad. If you have no idea what i’m talking about, go to youtube. I’m not going to post it on here, because… yeah.

#2: This is one of only a handful of Disney movies that does not feature humans at all. It’s also the first. (edit: I LIE!!! Bambi was the first. I wrote this when I was tired. that’s my excuse internet people. Yell all you want!)

#3: Although I’m not in the generation that saw this movie as a kid, I still find this hilarious (partially because I like all of these movies):

Thank you pinterest for allowing me to lose countless hours of my life

Thank you pinterest for allowing me to lose countless hours of my life

Robin Hood is NOT one of Disney’s best movies. At the same time, I know a lot of people who enjoy this movie and lots who simply adore it. Having people like a movie and having it be a good, perfect movie are two completely different things. I thoroughly enjoy this movie. The characters are good, the story is good, it’s got adventure and hijinks, and it’s a great take on such a good story.  If you haven’t seen it, see it. You won’t be disappointed.

I give Robin Hood (1973) a 4 out of 5.

Up Next: The Rescuers (1977)* I don’t own Winnie the Pooh, otherwise I’d do that one. Haven’t seen it in years!

 

* in reality, my next movies might be a really quick review of all (5 or 6… My husband and I are still trying to decide whether to ditch episode 1) the Star Wars movies. May the 4th is Sunday, after all….