Pocahontas (1995)

I think they had some floating Mufasa leaves left over and didn't know what to do with them...

I think they had some floating Mufasa leaves left over from The Lion King and didn’t know what to do with them…

We’re going to start this review with a story:

Once upon a time, there was an animation studio called Disney. They had two movie ideas green lit to move forward, and two animation teams upon which to bestow them. One project was given high regards. It was said that this movie was going to be the follow up to Beauty and the Beast; this movie was going to be the crowning jewel in the Disney canon, and it would be nominated for a best picture award, and it would WIN. This project was given to Team A – the best animators at Disney. Team B got the second project – still a movie, but not held in such high regard.

One of these movies was The Lion King. The other was Pocahontas. Can you guess which is which? Hint: It’s not what you think.

That’s right. Everyone at the studios thought Pocahontas was going to be the bigger hit. It was in development for 5 years before it came to theaters. As everyone knows, this movie was a hit, but had it’s fair share of criticisms (it’s also the only “rotten” Disney movie during the renaissance on Rotten Tomatoes at 56%).

So what happened? LOTS OF THINGS. Yes that’s right. We’re going to rant in this review. Which is actually sort of funny because when it came out, I liked this movie. I have proof:

Yes that's a ribbon dancer and me in a pocahontas shirt...

Yes that’s a ribbon dancer and me in a pocahontas shirt…

It gets better. This was actually a choreographed dance to the songs from the movie....

It gets better. This was actually a choreographed dance to the songs from the movie that my sister and I performed for my family….

I feel like at this point in my childhood, I just assumed all Disney movies were going to be good, so I figured this one was too. I knew it wasn’t historically correct, but it didn’t anger me. Oh kids. We’ll watch anything.

This was Disney’s first attempt at a movie based on history. The story of Pocahontas, how I remember it from school, goes like this: Settlers came to Virginia and started up Jamestown. The natives were skeptical, but the chief’s daughter Pocahontas was known for wandering into the settlement and seeing what they were up to. It’s said that Pocahontas taught John Smith things to help them survive, and a friendship was struck.

Now what everyone remembers is that at some point John Smith was captured by the Natives and his face was going to get crushed in with a hammer-thing, and Pocahontas came and laid her head on his, telling her father to stop.

So this movie…. ohhhhh this movie. Pretty much just forget everything I just told you, because Disney took major liberties with this one….

Now I am willing to forgive a few things. Because in fact we didn’t know how old Pocahontas really was when John Smith first met her. Different accounts have her at different ages. But those ages are not 16-19. Those ages are 8-12. Oh Disney – why do you have to turn everything into a love story??

This still just feels SO wrong.

This still just feels SO wrong.

I get what they were trying to do. They were trying to get this big story about how people are all just the same and differences shouldn’t matter, blah blah blah. In all honesty… if they had done an original story with that idea or made this based on fiction, it would have been better. The fact they’re calling this Pocahontas and it’s nothing to do with the real story is crap. I wonder how many people in the world now think that this is really what happened. *face palm*

The story is screwed up, but it had good intentions, so it’s honestly not the thing I actually hate the most about this movie. There are oh so many to choose from. Where shall I start?

First of all – THERE ARE NO CLIFFS IN VIRGINIA. Now again, I know what they were going for. This movie and its backgrounds are super artsy. In all honesty the backgrounds are beautiful. They were going for style like Sleeping Beauty. I get that. But here’s how it doesn’t work. Sleeping Beauty had all those angles in the backgrounds as well as the characters. Here, it’s just the backgrounds that are sweeping and angular. While the characters are beautifully drawn (actually some of Disney’s most realistic looking people), they’re not angular. They almost don’t fit their own background. therefore, things like this…

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I dare anyone to go to Virginia near the ocean and find me a cliff like this. I will give you $1,000

… end up looking out of place. This was one of my mother’s qualms with the movie when we went to see it, and I never understood why she was upset. Now I do, and it’s legit. Again, they’re screwing with the story. Why? Was there any reason? Or did they just need somewhere big and dramatic for the goodbye? (maybe the animators from The Lion King showed them Pride Rock and they went “Oh! We need something like that too!)

As I said, the rest of the animation is actually beautiful. The stylized backgrounds really are pretty, but it’s almost like they went overboard. Where they didn’t, however, was on Grandmother Willow. A CGI character face and she looked absolutely awesome. While that doesn’t seem like much now, you have to remember this movie came out in 1995. That was the same year Toy Story did. Before that, no one really knew how much CGI could do, so the use of it in this movie was kinda groundbreaking. Looking back on it now, if you try really hard you can tell it’s CGI, but they did a good job.

The animation on the rest of our characters is pretty good too. They all look pretty realistic (even if I think they made John Smith look like a girl…). But dear sweet lord. Does any actual human being have the measurements of Pocahontas? I mean really? And how in the hell are her lips so red? I’m sorry Disney, but this was supposed to be a little girl and you turned it into a sex symbol. She doesn’t even look Native American! She looks Asian! I had a friend in elementary school who was Chinese. We called her Pocahontas when this came out because their faces were extremely similar. Seriously Disney. Just… stop. I don’t know how I’ll forgive you.

I have a few more issues with this movie before I talk about some of the few saving graces. First is our villain, Ratcliffe. Voiced by David Ogden Stiers (aka: Cogsworth), they try to paint this guy as a man at the end of his rope, greedy and coming to Virginia for gold. He makes the men dig like crazy to find it, and when the Natives are around, talks the others into thinking they’re hiding it/they’re evil, etc. Simply put, Ratcliff belongs in a mental institution.

Yes - THIS is the face of sanity...

Yes – THIS is the face of sanity…

He does. He’s greedy and self-centered. BUT…. he’s a forced villain. This movie was supposed to be all about the two sides and two types people viewing each other with misunderstanding. That’s where their distrust for each other comes from. We would have had that without Ratcliff, and it probably would have made for a better movie. Without having someone play the paranoid person, the actions of each alone or the unknown of each side could have fueled hatred. That’s kinda how they played it on the Natives’ side. Someone got shot, fear was instilled, and suddenly they have to be destroyed. Why did we need this whole gold thing??? Personally, I think they ruined the movie with Ratcliffe.

My other HUGE qualm with this movie is the way they went about conveying their message. It’s a good message to convey, but Disney literally POUNDED US OVER THE HEAD WITH IT. Beauty and the Beast assumed its audience was smart. It used characters to convey the message. The Lion King had words of advice, but they were given to the main character, who needed to understand them like we did. Pocahontas uses phrases like “they’re different from us, which means they can’t be trusted,” just randomly. They just say them. Not to anyone, but typically in a song. They really want us to know this message, and it gets kinda tiring. It’s almost like they were trying to fill this movie with entirely wise quotable phrases. It gets annoying.

One part where they actually did the message right was the whole storyline with Meeko and Percy. These two don’t talk, they’re at odds and hate each other for no reason other than ignorance. But then something happens that frightens one, and the other comes to his aid. Without words, these two managed to show the whole idea of this movie: Acceptance. And they did it so much better than any other speech or song ever could.

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Some other smaller issues/funny things about this movie I dislike:

~ The scene where Pocahontas meets John Smith and she runs away her canoe. She doesn’t understand him, then she listens with her heart and suddenly she can speak english???? Meeko and flit are like “WTF??” I would be too guys. I would be too.

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~same scene: NO ONE can jump that high into a tree.

~There are a LOT of songs in this movie. Like… a lot. 13 minutes into the movie we’d already had 4 songs. 26 minutes in we were on song #6 (I was keeping track). This normally wouldn’t be a bad thing for me, but this is kinda overkill.  There are tons of reprises and part 2’s. Some are good, but it’s just… there’s a lot.

So what do I like about this movie? Doesn’t seem like much, but let’s see if I can find some stuff.

~ First off, I actually adore the character of Grandmother Willow. She’s a good role model for Pocahontas and is a good embodiment of some of the beliefs Native Americans hold. She plucky and wise.

~Meeko, Percy, & Flit. For me, they are what saves this movie. The humor with them (especially Meeko) is very well done, especially given the fact they can’t talk.

~While I complain about the number of songs, I actually do enjoy a few of them. Colors of the Wind is a message filled song, but it’s sung to someone instead of the audience. John Smith needs to learn these lessons, which is why I don’t count it as someone pounding me over the head to realize that I have to treat the earth better. My personal favorite from this movie, though is either “Just around the river bend” (I enjoy the off beat syncopation and weirdness that goes with this song musically), or the first part of “Savages.”

I want to talk about this last one, “Savages.” They totally copped out by changing the words… seriously. The movie and the soundtrack have different words because they originally thought the words were too “racist.” I’m sorry, but the original words showed the hatred that burned in Ratcliffe’s heart toward the Natives. It’s not like Thomas or the other guys were saying these words. The whole point was that this is how they viewed them. IT’S NOT RACIST. Especially because we, the viewers, know that he’s in the wrong, and what he’s saying isn’t true.

~The song during the credits (which was similar to “Human again” in Beauty and the Beast: written and cut out then added back in horribly on the re-release). “If I never knew you” is a great song. My older sister played it constantly on the piano.

~The Animation. Other than the cliffs. Seriously. Look at this:

Pocahontas-landscape-disney-princess-34295590-1152-672

Although I’m extremely sad to learn that Grandmother Willow wouldn’t have existed. Weeping Willows are from China and wouldn’t have been in Virginia in 1607

That’s not a lot. I remember I almost didn’t buy this movie when it came out on DVD, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I don’t hate this movie, but I don’t love it either. Maybe it’s nostalgia, because this movie really isn’t that great. It would have been interesting to see what they would have done if they had kept Pocahontas her real age and done more a father/daughter type relationship with John Smith (who was also older…).

I’ve heard someone call this movie pretentious, and I kinda have to agree. The confidence drips off every frame in this movie. You can’t help but see it and almost dislike the movie because of it. Disney was right: They could have had another oscar worthy hit… if they had cut down on the “pounding messages over our head” thing. If they had made it more realistic. We don’t need a love story like this to get the message of acceptance through the heads of the audience.

And in the end, I much prefer Kiara’s speech from Lion King 2 to Pocahontas’s…. that’s sad. Score 1 point for Disney Sequels.

I give Pocahontas (1995) a 2.9 out of 5.

Up Next: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

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Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (1998)

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Kiara: A wise king once told me we are one. I didn’t understand him then. Now I do

Simba: But they…

Kiara: Them? Us? Look at them. They are us. What differences do you see?

 

Can I just say how much I love the play on words of this title? It means his literal pride of lions, but it’s also in reference to his daughter. Oh that’s clever. (edit: it was late when I wrote this. I apologize…)

Ok. Second of my three Disney sequels put out by Disney MovieToons (DisneyToon Studios now). My Return of Jafar review was actually torture to get through. This one? not so much. Don’t judge me, but I actually love this movie. Does it rank with the first one? Hah. No. Not at all. Barely anything can. But this movie is a solid effort. You just have to ignore all the glaring plot holes…

While the first movie was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the sequel is based on Romeo and Juliet. We follow Simba’s daughter, Kiara, as she goes through her life, much like we did with Simba. Here’s the plot:

Kiara is Simba’s headstrong daughter, who likes breaking rules just as much as her dad did. One day while she’s exploring, she wanders into the “out lands,” where she meets Kovu, a cub from a banished pride of lions that supposedly supported Scar’s reign. The two hit it off until the parents intervene.

We learn from Kovu’s mother Zira that Scar hand picked Kovu to follow in his paw prints and become king. Simba threatens to kill them should they ever return, and lets them go. Simba attempts to teach his daughter not to wander off and talks about the circle of life, to which Kiara responds by saying she doesn’t want to be queen. Her father responds claiming that ruling is in her blood, as he is. Essentially, they are one and the same.

Struck with an idea after meeting Kiara and realizing the two cubs wanted to be friends, Zira plots to train Kovu, and when he gets old enough, use Kiara to get to Simba and kill him.

Time passes, and we see Kiara set out on her first hunt (she’s a horrible hunter). Timon and Pumbaa spy on her on Simba’s orders to make sure she’s safe, and she runs into them, gets upset, and goes off to hunt away from the pride lands. Zira sets her plan in motion and sets fire to the grass, trapping Kiara. Kovu moves in and rescues her, claiming to Simba, Nala, and the rest that he’s left the outsiders and should be judged as himself, not by what the others have done. Simba says he reserves judgement, and all head back to Pride Rock.

Kiara gets Kovu to help her with her stalking and hunting, and soon Kovu learns how to have fun and realizes that he cares about Kiara more than he probably should. They fall in love, Kovu plans to tell her about the plan Zira had, but Simba interrupts them and wants to talk to him. Out in the savannah, he’s ambushed by Zira and the others, and Kovu is banished from the pride lands. Upset, Kiara goes off to find him and tries to talk him into returning, claiming that their families will be fighting forever if they don’t do something about it.

Zira wants revenge, and the two prides meet on the savannah to fight it out. Kovu and Kiara get there in time and manage to talk some sense into all but Zira, who still tries to kill Simba. She ends up going over a cliff and dying, and the rest of the lions join their prides together and head back to pride rock. The end.

There are a few things that are good about this movie, and there are some things that are bad. I’m going to talk about the bad first, because it’s so much easier…

1) There are a TON of plot holes. The whole idea of Scar having a mate in Zira and a whole group of lions who followed him? Where were they in the original movie? (oh and don’t worry, Kovu isn’t Scar’s son – there’s no incest, I promise). There are also suddenly no hyenas. They’re claimed to have just “run off.” These two things are a bit hard to stomach at first, but if you can get over them and just go “ok, whatever,” it makes the movie much more enjoyable. Don’t worry about continuity. Just take this movie as it is.

2) The “culture” that made the first movie so incredibly special seems to be glossed over in this movie. It’s still there, but almost as an afterthought. The way they do some of this stuff, it’s almost making fun of it, in a way. I’ll explain: In the first movie, Rafiki was this shaman; this wise old monkey who seemed to know the secret to life and was needed to help Simba realize his life path. In this movie? He’s a freaking matchmaker. That’s right. We still get scenes of him in his tree, of course. He talks to Mufasa, telling him things aren’t going well between the two prides of lions, and his idea is to put them together. It’s ok I guess, but at the same time, something has never really sat well with me on that whole thing.

I also don’t like that Mufasa has sort of risen above to become this God-like being. Simba still talks to him (ok, that one makes sense), but like I said… Rafiki talks to him like he knows all the answers. They were arguably equals in the last movie. Both were conveyed as very wise. Suddenly Mufasa knows all?

3) Zira. She’s trying to be evil. She’s trying to be scar, but it doesn’t work. I don’t want to call her a rehash of an old villain, because she’s not. She has a lot of similarities to Scar, but she is a different lion and a different character. It’s just… when you have a villain like Scar in the first movie, you have to go a complete direction in a sequel. She’s too similar and it doesn’t work.

4) I’m sad we don’t see Nala. And there’s too much Timon and Pumbaa. Yes, it actually isn’t annoying and their characters are used in a good way, but I think there’s too much. With Nala, yes I realize this movie is about Simba and his daughter and they were going for the same thing he and his father had, but it would have been nice to see her a little bit more. She was such a strong character in the first movie. Here, she’s just in the background.

Ok. Those are my issues. I’ve honestly made my peace with most of them and realize that this is just the way it is. But I forced myself to bring them out for this review because otherwise I wouldn’t be honest with myself on this movie. So what’s good?

1) Simba. I actually adore seeing Simba in a father roll. Do they get the bond he and his daughter have down as well as he had with Mufasa? No. But in some ways, that’s not the story’s fault; it’s the characters. And it’s actually for a good reason. Simba, quite simply put, is really overprotective of Kiara. He wants her to stay on marked paths as a cub, sends Timon and Pumbaa to follow her all the time, and at one point as an young adult he tells her he can’t go anywhere without an escort. It seems incredibly out of character and I know a lot of people that have seen this actually hate what they did to Simba. But me? I like it. Because it’s realistic. He lost everything as a cub. He lost his father, who he was closest to (he even still has dreams about losing him again). Now, as a father, he’s terrified he’s going to lose her, because he loves her. That’s some real stuff there. That’s taking something that happened in the first movie and having your character have changes in personality because of it. It’s believable. I also like with Simba how even he can still learn stuff from his daughter, like at the end. He’s not all knowing. He’s not perfect, or as perfect as his father seemed, but that’s ok.

Simbakiara

2) Kiara and Kovu. Simba’s daughter Kiara is cheeky, plucky, headstrong, and has attitude. I love every second of it. She’s also smart and willing to look past the faults of others to see what they’re truly about. You could say she’s incredibly naive as well, but it plays to her favor. Kovu, on the other hand, has been put through rigorous training his whole life. He’s like a brain-washed soldier that learns the truth about what he’s been told, and learns what life can be through Kiara. He’s not as smart, and he’s having trouble dealing with what exactly he wants to believe/do in his life. I enjoy watching these two together. It does get a little sappy once they’re “in love,” but it’s still kinda nice.

3) The music. I really shouldn’t say I love the music in this sequel, because it makes me feel dirty. Normally sequel songs suck. But here’s what’s different about these songs: first, the opening song was taken from the musical. Although it doesn’t quite fit as well as The Circle of Life, it works. Zira’s song is blah, but still catchy. But the others are catchy or actually good. “We are one,” and “Love will find a way,” I would argue, are better than a lot of Disney Canon songs. You can tell that they put a little bit more effort into these songs.

So that’s all I’m going to say about this movie. I think you either like it or you don’t. As a movie itself, it’s not bad – I’ve seen way worse. Sure it’s a little corny, but I don’t mind that. As a sequel to one of the most popular Disney movies of all time, it’s a bit of a disappointment. At the same time you can tell they put a little more effort into everything, probably because it was a sequel to the Lion King. The animation isn’t bad, the songs aren’t bad, the characters aren’t bad. I enjoy this movie. If you go in with an open mind and just want to spend more time with the characters you loved, or get to know some new ones, you might find it surprising.

I give Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride a 3 out of 5. Again, not ranking this on my canon list

Up Next: Pocahontas (1995)

 

The Lion King (1994)

 

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Confession: I have this movie memorized. Not “I think I could say the words along with them” memorized, but literally memorized. I’ve sat down and recited the whole thing before with nothing but silence in the background (this was to a friend who didn’t believe me – and pretty much my husband when we watched it this time). I know random trivia about this movie that no one would want to know, like how many times you see Mufasa’s or Simba’s claws. I knew Nala’s mother’s name and Scar’s real name before it was common knowledge because of the internet. I own two full sets of Lion King trading cards, one of which I collected myself by buying pack after pack at Albertsons.

I even bought a special binder to put them in...

I even bought this spectacular binder to put them in…

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I’m still weirdly proud of this collection… I wonder if they’ll be worth anything someday.

To put it short, I was obsessed with this movie. OBSESSED. The funniest part is that I remember seeing the trailer for this movie before Aladdin and thinking “wow, that looks stupid.” That’s why I never trust trailers anymore. What the hell do I know, right? Obviously nothing.

I’m going to tackle this movie much like I tackled Beauty and the Beast. No, this movie wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, nor do I think it should have been. It isn’t as perfect as that movie, but it is arguably more popular. This movie was everywhere. There were toys at Burger King and at every single store that everyone just had to have. There were hand held games and video games (this was before video games with movies were really a “thing.”  It won awards for music. The songs were on the radio. Elton John was actually cool again (and this movie is probably one of the few reasons 90s kids even know he exists). I had many friends obsessed, like me, with the songs and the characters. We would argue about who the best character was and share random stupid trivia with each other. We brought stuffed animals to school read ins. We got tv spin-offs. EVERYONE saw this movie at least once. It’s still the highest grossing 2D animated movie of all time, and 19th highest grossing movie ever. I imagine 1994 was a lot like what’s been occurring here this past winter due to Frozen. So here’s what I want to know: Is this movie deserving of all this attention? Is it worthy of being such a high grossing/well known “classic”? Or is it all just a bunch of hooey?

My short answer is that yes, it is deserving of everything. But let’s go into detail, shall we?

Let’s start with the plot. Everyone knows the plot so I’m not even going to bother. If you are one of the probably 100 people in this country who doesn’t know The Lion King, I’ll wait here while you read the wikipedia article….

I'll just sit here and entertain myself...

I’ll just sit here and entertain myself…

Good? Ok. Now before I start discussing the plot I want to get a few things out of the way: We’ve heard all the controversies by now people. YES, there was a Japanese anime series called Kimba the White Lion that has a lot in common with this movie artistically and character wise. Personally, I don’t care. Disney has said it was all coincidental. Do I believe them? meh… I dunno. But does it matter? Not really. The Lion King is the movie I care about. If anything, this controversy has made it so that Kimba the White Lion is more recognized. Disney did you all a favor! (btw, the anime series is great – I encourage everyone to check it out).

This is Disney’s first “original” story since The Rescuers Down Under. I put that in quotes because producers have said they based The Lion King of many different sources, from the Bible and the story of Moses to Shakespeare. The latter is what everyone seems to remember. This story is basically Hamlet with animals. (Fun fact: it’s also only Disney’s 3rd movie to feature ONLY animals and no humans – The other two being Bambi and Robin Hood)

Here’s one of the reasons I think this movie was and is so popular: This movie and this plot has the ability to appeal to literally everyone. We follow our protagonist Simba from a cub through childhood and adolescence into adulthood. It’s a story that everyone knows because we’ve all had to grow up or are currently growing up. Everyone can relate to Simba and this story in one way or another. Yes, maybe we haven’t all had our father die by wildebeest stampedes, but we’ve all had to deal with our own hardships, and we’ve all reacted to them and we’ve all fallen and had to get back up. We’ve all lost ourselves and forgotten who we are. We’ve all needed help, and we’ve all risen to the challenge. That’s what living is. That’s what this movie is really about; it’s about growing up, figuring out who you really are, and fighting for what’s important.

The characters in this movie, like the plot, also have wide appeal. Let’s take our protagonist, Simba. I hate to say it, but he’s more believable than a lot of other Disney characters. He’s not a boring, perfect character. He has flaws; a LOT of them. Other Disney characters have flaws to, but Simba’s seem real. They change as he goes through his life, but they make him who he is and they make him interesting. He’s a cheeky kid who likes to break rules (and let’s face it, we all had a side to us as a kid that was pretty much like Simba). He’s a young adult who feels he has lost his way. He feels he has to hide everything (including who he is), and has no idea what to do to be happy. He has this huge secret that eats away at him for years simply because he’s ashamed, and it affects his life. This is all incredibly realistic. Again, I feel that almost everyone can relate to Simba about one thing or another. We’ve all had secrets. We’ve all lost our way. We’ve all wanted to just forget about responsibility and scream “Hakuna Matata,” but then we realize that that’s not living, and that’s not who we are.

Along with Simba, what this movie really does well is it shows us all types of relationships. We have father/son, friendships, romance, etc. This movie treats its characters and their relationships with the utmost importance. Sure we still have our comedic duo, our token bad sidekicks, and our love interest, but this movie makes you understand how much these characters mean to each other. Let’s take the most important one: Mufasa and Simba. Mufasa is a huge, strong, brave ruler; his subjects see him as this, the hyenas see him as this, and Simba does as well. But then we also get to see a softer side of this lion when Simba is nearly killed by the hyenas. As he’s talking to Simba and admitting his weaknesses, we can see the bond strengthening. We can see it strengthening anytime the two are together. Mufasa is an amazing father, because he’s everything that goes with it: he’s also a confidant, teacher, role model, and friend. That’s why it hurts so much when he dies – we understood the bond they had.

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It’s not just with these two that we feel it, though. We feel it to a lesser degree with Simba and Nala, Timon & Pumbaa (acceptance & unconditional love), and even Simba and Zazu. We see it in the Hyenas and Scar. This movie does relationships and characters so well I almost want to cry. They’re all unique, they’re all well rounded and deep. Even if they only have a supporting part, Disney spared no time in making them the best they could be. (Sarabi is still one of the best Disney moms out there – she won’t take no crap from nobody!)

Good characters and good plot make for a good movie, but it takes something more for a movie to be truly special. What this movie did was it didn’t just give us a story with these characters, but it built a world around these characters. We have an entire culture in this movie, and I really think that this is part of the movie’s appeal. It starts at the very beginning with the very first words sung, and ends with the last roar. There is a whole belief system in this movie, and it is extremely cool. We have ceremonies for baby lions. We have the belief that kings are in the stars. We have “Hakuna Matata.” We have the Roaring at the end to signify who’s ruling. It’s done in such a respectful and serious way that as an audience we go along with it, like that’s just the way it is. Not once do people go “wow, uh… that’s weird,” because we’re all just “oh this is so cool! How unique!”

At the middle of this whole culture is Rafiki. A weird animated cross between a mandrill and a baboon (fun fact: he was actually supposed to be a baboon at the beginning and a villainous character and not the rafiki we know and love by a long shot!). This monkey acts as a shaman, confidant and spiritual leader for our royal line of lions. He’s there to help push Simba in the right direction and talk some sense into him. He somehow connects the spiritual world to the real one. It’s amazing. People love Rafiki, and with good reason. He’s the wise old guy we all wish we had in our lives. He tells it like it is in a way no one can understand. His scene with Simba is the most quoted scene out of the entire movie, and with good reason. It has some extremely good advice in it. I think people connected not only to Rafiki, but the idea that this movie has it’s own culture, and that’s just unique in a Disney movie. It was well done and incredibly believable and magical.

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Can we also talk about how adorable it was that we got this twice? I kinda adore this.

Can we also talk about how adorable it was that we got this twice? I kinda adore this.

 

Reason number…. 5? that I think this movie did as well as it did (and why it deserves it) is, of course, the music. I’ve talked about Disney music before and I praised it like crazy in Beauty and the Beast because of how “musical” it is. The Lion King is not like that. It’s songs aren’t “Broadway ready” in the same way, but they do convey emotion/wants/storyline well. We also get one of our first “song montages” in this movie in “Hakuna Matata” when Simba grows up during the instrumental part (Disney will come to love this idea later…). Honestly, it works. All the songs work. They’re all classic and we all know them. I will be honest though – I have never liked “Can you feel the love tonight.” It’s always kinda bugged me. I dunno. Just a personal issue.

I am going to take a quick break from my list and mention a random thing (well it’s not that random): A lot of people have been giving Disney crap in the past few months about how Frozen is going to Broadway. They wonder why would people want to see a Disney movie (or any movie for that matter) redone on broadway (Broadway’s in a bit of a slump creativity wise right now… most of their “new” musicals are movie adaptations). While I understand to a point (for example – do we really need a Rocky musical?) I think you have to take it on a case to case basis

Case in point: This show. I love this movie, but I love the broadway show even more. Sure I know the plot, but you don’t go for that. You go for the atmosphere. You go to be awed. You go to hear the music pound in your head and cry when the Circle of Life is sung. You go to lose yourself. You go to learn more about these characters that you thought you knew everything about. You go to hear the new (amazing) songs. There is a reason this show has been on Broadway for as long as it has. IT. IS. AMAZING. Who cares it if twas a movie first. If you love this movie, go see the show, even if you think you hate broadway. You won’t be disappointed. I’ve seen it 4 times and each time I get chills and I cry from how beautiful it is.

LK6Wide

Not to mention the costumes are UNBELIEVABLE.

Ok. My break is over. This movie has a ton going for it, but I have one more reason that I think this movie did so well: Scar. Seriously. I think this movie wouldn’t have done so well had there been a villain any different than the one they got, voiced by someone other than Jeremy Irons. This villain is incredible. Not deep incredible like Gaston (no one can beat that), but just… evil incredible. Disney’s had some evil villains before, but none quite like this. This one actually committed murder on screen. He had a score to settle with his brother. He was angry he wasn’t first born and the one who ruled. He was angry, and he acted on it. But man oh man did he act on it. The most amazing part? He doesn’t care he just killed his brother and his nephew. He’s that evil. Jeremy Irons apparently didn’t want this part, and the producers had to talk him into it. Thank GOD they did. His voice is slippery and slimy just like his character. Scar is one for the record books, and is definitely one of the most evil villains Disney’s ever created. He’s also a blast to watch.

Just look at the evilness. He doesn't give a shit about that kid...

Just look at the evilness. He doesn’t give a shit about that kid…

So there you have it. My reasons for why The Lion King did so well, and me rationalizing my obsession with it when I was in 4th grade. After this movie came to theaters, I really didn’t think Disney would have another hit like it for a long time. I turned out to be right, for the most part. It’s a movie that makes you laugh and cry (pretty sure this is the first movie I ever cried during…). It’s a movie that makes you sing along and quote. It’s an experience, not just a movie.

Admit it, you cried too!!

Admit it, you cried too!!

I give The Lion King (1994) a 4.8 out of 5. Little Simba can get on my nerves a bit, believe it or not…. and this movie is not as perfect as Beauty and the Beast, even if I do like it more.

Next up: The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (1998)

The Return of Jafar (1994)

Hehe... Aladdin looks high...

Hehe… Aladdin looks high…

I don’t have much to say about this movie. The Return of Jafar was not released by Disney Animation Studios, but instead DisneyToon Studios (actually at the time it was called Disney Movietoons). This Studio is responsible for direct to video movies/sequels. Their first movie was the Ducktales movie (oh geez, remember that one!?), and now they are the ones doing all those Tinkerbell movies… yeah.

Return of Jafar was their first direct to movie sequel of a Disney canon movie. It’s actually the first three episodes of the tv show Aladdin that ran on the Disney Channel from ’94 to ’95. It was originally just going to air on TV, but after the success of the movie, they released it on video. Yes, that’s right. You can blame this movie for all those horrible horrible direct to movie sequels that ruin your memories of the original Disney movies.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a huge fan of these sequels. I’ve seen probably way too many of them, and most, if not all, are worse than the movies they’re based upon. That being said, there are a few that somehow manage to be better or at least similar in quality to their predecessors. I own three. Of those three, 2 I actually like probably more than I should. Then there’s this one.

You can tell this movie was supposed to be on tv. Not only is the Animation completely awful (more so than any other sequels), but it’s just a quick 69 minutes. This movie exists for one purpose only: to take the character of Iago and explain why in the TV show he hangs out with Aladdin. Essentially, this movie exists to explain why Iago is good.

Here’s the plot: Aladdin and Jasmin are getting ready for their wedding (wait, didn’t that happen at the end of the last movie? ohhhh plot holes!) and Iago somehow gets out of the genie lamp that has trapped Jafar. He’s pissed at Jafar and instead of letting him out, drops him in a well. Iago heads to Agrabah, convinced he’s going to take over. However when he’s in the market, he inadvertently saves Aladdin’s life from a thief named Abi Small (haha – his actual name is Abis Mal. I don’t care. I’m calling him what I always did as a kid). Suddenly, Aladdin feels like he owes the bird. Ready to take it and milk it for all its worth, Iago explains that he was just a pawn in all of Jafar’s dealings in the past. Aladdin buys it, takes him to the palace where, of course, no one believes him. Jasmine gets mad at Aladdin for even thinking Iago could be good. Oh yes, and the Genie returns.

Meanwhile, Abi Small comes across the lamp and lets the Jafar Genie out. They head back to Agrabah – Abi small wants vengeance just as much as Jafar does.

The Genie and Iago help Aladdin and Jasmine get back together. Iago begins to question what he believes because Aladdin stood up for him, and no one’s ever done something like that for him before. Jafar shows up and tries to get him back on his side. There’s some stuff that happens (this is typically when I stop paying attention) but at the end Iago ends up destroying the lamp that has Jafar in it, destroying him as well.

That plot may or may not be exactly what happens, because like I said, I kinda stop paying attention about halfway through. It’s not my fault. it’s the movie’s.

Do the characters seem similar to the first one and do they maintain their personalities? HAHA. Actually, these versions are more like caricatures of their originals. Aladdin still does bad boy things even though he now lives a cushy life (really, he wasn’t into stealing before, and now suddenly he is?). Ok… I can see because at the beginning he steals gold away from Abi Small and ends up giving it to the people, but that wasn’t what made Aladdin interesting. In this movie (as well as the TV show) that’s his one trick. He’s a quick talking robin-hood type character. I don’t know that that’s really Aladdin. I’m not saying he wouldn’t become a robin-hood type, but at the same time, now that he’s in power, he could do things on the inside to help those outside. I dunno. He’s not the same to me.

Neither is Jasmine. Suddenly she has absolutely NO personality. She’s not argumentative, she’s not standing up for herself. NOTHING. She’s just there. Sure she gets mad at Aladdin for bringing Iago to the palace, which is quite understandable, but then forgives him in two seconds after a song just because she forgot what it was like to be in love with him? (on a side note: I actually adore the song Iago sings to get them back together, but the whole idea of it is stupid)

Our side characters are also kinda just… there. All I have to say about the Genie in this movie is that it’s Dan Castellaneta trying to do his best Robin Williams impression. He’s also just a caricature of the Genie in the movie (for better or worse). There’s no depth to him anymore, and he really is just a stupid comic relief. In all honesty this movie would have been better if he wasn’t here. There’s really no point to him.

Jafar, as a returning villain, is also very “meh.” He was such a great villain in the first movie, that he should have been so cool as a genie. He tries, but it’s just not there. Same with Abi Small (who actually ends up as an antagonist of the tv show).

In fact, the only character in this movie that is actually worth watching this for is Iago. As much as it pains me to say this, he is the only character who grows and changes in this movie. You can actually tell he’s having trouble coming to terms with what to do and who to listen to. In the end he redeems himself, because he actually knows what it’s like to have someone care about him. Is it a great, well done character arc? It’s an interesting one, and not horribly done, but it’s not great either. Like the rest of this movie, it’s “meh.”

Let’s move to songs. There are somehow seemingly 10 bajillion songs in this 69 minutes. Most of them are so incredibly forgettable, but I do like a few of them. I actually own the song “Forget about love,” that Iago sings. It’s funny and sarcastic and hilarious. I also enjoy the song “second rate” which is a Jafar song. They’re not good at all in terms of classic disney songs, of course, but they’re enjoyable.

This movie, on the whole, is forgettable. I own it simply because of nostalgia, and somehow my 9 year old self thought this movie held up well. Nostalgia goggles off – this movie isn’t great. It’s not horribly bad, but it is bad. Aladdin shouldn’t have had a sequel, simply put.

I give Return of Jafar (1994) a 2 out of 5. Not ranking it in my canon list, btw.

Up Next: The Lion King (1994)

Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin3-1

I have a serious love/hate relationship with this movie. It’s really bad. REALLY bad. I absolutely hate certain aspects of this movie. Others I simply adore. Just be forewarned. This is going to be interesting.

Of course I saw this movie in theaters. I think after how amazing Beauty and the Beast was, EVERYONE saw this movie in theaters. They wanted to see if Disney could produce another amazing movie. How did they do? Let’s find out:

Our movie opens with a street vendor trying to sell us (yes us, the audience – oh boy fourth wall..) a few things before pulling out a lamp and claiming it once changed the course of a young man’s life. He then starts to tell us the story. It goes something like this:

In the desert there exists a magical cave, called the Cave of Wonders (done in CGI, actually looks pretty good). We meet our Villain first, a man named Jafar. For whatever reason, Jafar really wants to get into this cave, but the cave tells him only one can enter. After he does some magic, it turns out it’s this man named Aladdin, our main character. He’s a man who lives on the streets, resorting to stealing what he can to survive. Also in our story is Jasmine, the princess of the Kingdom who’s being forced to marry by her father the Sultan. Upset with him, Jasmine runs off and runs into Aladdin in the market. He helps her out of trouble and shows her around before he’s caught by Jafar’s men (Jafar is the royal vizier, btw). Jafar then poses as an old man and takes Aladdin to the cave of Wonders, where he enters and is told to touch nothing but the lamp (which is good, cause that’s what Jafar wanted). Well something else is touched, Aladdin ends up stuck in the cave, and we figure out that this lamp he was sent to retrieve is really a genie lamp.

Aladdin suddenly has three wishes. He wants to be able to be with Jasmine, so he has the Genie make him a prince. They parade into Agrabah and after a bit, Jasmine is nice to him and figures out that he is the boy she met in the market place, who she thought was dead. Aladdin (now Ali) lies and tells her she’s really a prince, and he was just pretending like she was to escape the pressure. Jasmine has finally picked a suitor, but Jafar happens to see the lamp and realizes who Ali really is. there’s some stuff that goes down, Jafar ends up with the lamp and all hell breaks loose as he makes himself sultan and a powerful sorcerer. He shows them all that Ali is really Aladdin, a no good street rat worth nothing. He attempts to kill him (for the 4th or 5th time) to no avail. Aladdin comes back, outsmarts Jafar, frees the Genie with his last wish, and everyone lives happily ever after.

….. I don’t really know where to start. I guess I’ll say that for the first 35 minutes, this movie is good. Great even. We have some great characters shaping up, some great music, and an actual love story with two parties involved that actually seem interesting. Then… Then this comes:

Yes.... this....

Yes…. this….

This is the biggest problems I have with this movie. I want to make myself explicitly clear: It’s not like I dislike the Genie as a character. In the moments where he’s serious, it’s good. I actually really enjoy the relationship he and Aladdin end up having. But… but… oh God.

Here’s what it is: This was the first animated Disney movie to put in pop culture references. It is not their last. It’s not that I despise pop culture references. If done right, they can actually add to a movie in a way that makes the audience connect with the move on a personal level. They go “oh look, isn’t that hilarious and funny because we do that too!” Sometimes it dates the movie, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the reference. If done right, people 10 years from now will still understand the reference and still think it’s funny.

Aladdin is everything that is wrong with pop culture references, in my mind. The Genie is rank with so many pop culture references that you can’t breathe without one popping in. People have since come up with a theory that the entire movie is actually set in a apocalyptic wasteland. That’s how people rationalize how Genie knows all this stuff. Because otherwise, it’s just THERE. He does all this wacky stuff, and people just deal with it like it’s normal. Aladdin doesn’t sit there and question why he’s talking like he is or using inventions that won’t be made for thousands of years. This is like two different movies. We have the serious (comparatively) love story with Aladdin, Jasmine, Jafar, etc. Then we have this strange slapstick overridden, crazy, joke-filled insanity that is the Genie.

I’ll be the first to admit that I laughed at the Genie as a kid. I didn’t get half of his references, but I laughed. That’s why the Genie is there; he’s for the kids. But Disney’s already proven that you don’t have to be all sorts of stilly stupid to make kids laugh and enjoy their movies. What, did they think that the rest of the movie they had was boring so they decided to bring in Robin Williams and tell him “do whatever”? Because the rest of the movie is definitely not boring. I never thought that, even as a 7 year old.

The Genie is way too over the top. The plethora pop culture references do NOT work in this movie, and as a result this movie doesn’t hold up at all. It’s the first Disney movie I’ve reviewed that actually seems dated. The early 90s was when we had crazy humorous family movies (The Mask anyone? Jim Carrey in general? Robin Williams in general?). This one sticks out. That’s what I hate about this movie. It’s not timeless.

He also does an impression of Jack Nicholson, who I legitimately have a phobia of.

He also does an impression of Jack Nicholson. I have a legitimate phobia of this actor. Even just looking at this picture makes me freak out. Seriously.

Again. It’s not that I dislike the Genie character. He’s actually a good, fully fleshed out character. He has wants and dreams, and has the affinity to bond with people. He can be serious, and when he is (or when he’s being contained a bit) he’s actually quite enjoyable. And again. I love the relationship he and Aladdin get. It’s actually one of the best things about the movie. I just…. ugh.

Let’s talk about something else.

How about Aladdin? He’s a pretty good character. He has the dream of every person in Agrabah – to live in the palace. He resorts to stealing but has a good heart. He’s generous and kind. He’s brave. He’s also ashamed of who he really is. He thinks Jasmine won’t understand or won’t still feel the same way if she found out he wasn’t a prince. This is a serious flaw that he spends the entire movie getting over. Even then, it’s Jafar that outs him. I actually really enjoy the character of Aladdin, even if he is sort of “blah.” I think that’s because at its heart, this really is a romantic movie. It’s a bit of a change of pace for Disney, especially having a guy be the one falling so hard and trying like crazy to get the girl. It’s nice.

Can we all please also remember when this happened on Full House?

Can we all please also remember when this happened on Full House? The voice of Aladdin is playing Aladdin! Oh the Irony…

Jasmine, honestly, I could take or leave. Sure she has personality. She’s stubborn and speaks her mind and wants nothing more than to be free to make her own choices. But other than that? She’s just kinda… there. She does seem very smart, but never comes up with her own plans. She’s kinda rough around the edges and resents being who she is. At least till the end. I know this is before Disney heroines were “do it yourself” people, but still. She escaped the palace! Obviously she can do a lot! Her father the Sultan is of the “short & squat” Disney father variety, is super clueless, and almost like a large child. At the same time, he loves his daughter. He’s a rule follower. There’s not really much to say about him. He’s entertaining, and the right kind of humor for this movie.

Jafar is a good villain as well. His character design is slimy and evil-looking, and his voice fits him well. He’s obsessed with power (as it seems most villains are) and wants to be sultan. He attempts anything to get into power, even mentioning that he should marry Jasmine if no suitor can be found. He is very smart (arguably the smartest person in the entire movie), and has some pretty good plans up his sleeves. He’s not afraid to kill (which is pretty scary), but at the same time, this villain is also very…. funny. I can’t really describe it. Jafar to me has just always been funny and entertaining and a bit over the top. Maybe it’s just watching him with the Genie. They’re so opposite but he takes it all in stride. He’s an odd villain for an odd movie, but he fits in well.

I just need to use this picture because it makes me laugh.

I just need to use this picture because it makes me laugh.

This movie is FULL of sidekicks. It’s almost like when they were deciding to make this movie, someone raised their hand and went “Let’s give everyone in this movie an animal sidekick!” We have Abu, Aladdin’s monkey sidekick. He has broken chirping/sometimes words, and is the right type of humor for this movie. Iago, Jafar’s parrot sidekick, (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) is one of the better villain sidekicks. He’s evil, smart and maniacal just like Jafar is. They have a playful relationship that suggests almost mutual trust and respect (Iago is strangely my favorite character in this movie). Then there’s Rajah, Jasmine’s tiger sidekick. He’s kinda pointless. I’ll be honest.

Then there’s the flying carpet. Whoever had the idea to add this guy into the movie and have him be a full blown character was all shades of brilliant. This thing has no head, eyes, or mouth, but somehow conveys emotion better than a lot of characters and actors. Plus he gets Aladdin out of trouble more than a few times, and comes in handy for easy transportation.

Aladin-magic-carpet

Yes, you’re a better actor than Shia LaBeouf, little Carpet, and we love you for it.

The songs in this movie are very hit and miss for me. I adore “A Whole New World” (although they flew from the middle east to Greece to China REALLY quickly…), as well as “One Jump.” “Friend like me” is catchy but again, I have issues with the Genie, and watch it now it’s just a whole lot of craziness that’s ridiculous. “Prince Ali” is easier to stomach for me (I have this song in French… don’t ask why). What we’re missing from this movie is a really good Villain song. Jafar just gets a reprise. But then again I guess he wouldn’t want to sing a song…

At its core, Aladdin has a lot of heart. It has good characters and believable relationships between said characters (better than some other movies). It has a good message to just be yourself and don’t be ashamed of it, and that anyone can spark change. It has all these great things going on for it. It has subtle humor and jokes that I didn’t even get when I was a kid. But then… then it just gets ridiculous and insane. UGH!

Ok… in the defense of the people who wrote the Genie for a second: After this movie, a group of animators would leave Disney Animation and head off to form another animation studio called Dreamworks. Yeah. Suddenly it all makes so much sense. Because of course the people who animated the Genie were the one’s who would end up doing Shrek.

One more random thing. Remember this part:

Genie_Reads_the_Aladdin_Script_by_GamerAshley

It’s the part where Aladdin’s upset and the Genie comes in and “reads” the script and says that this is the part where you free the Genie. Well, have you ever noticed that IF ALADDIN HAD FREED THE GENIE WHEN HE WAS “SUPPOSED” TO, THE MOVIE WOULD BE OVER. Think about it. Jafar would have never gotten the lamp. Although Aladdin’s secret would have come out eventually, they probably would have gotten married before anyone was the wiser. Now I know this movie is about being yourself, but yeah. Next time follow the script!!

As I said, I have a major love/hate relationship with this movie. In the end, it really is more love than hate, though. It has its flaws, but this movie is a good one. And your kids will probably love the Genie, even if you despise him.

I give Aladdin* (1992) a 3.3 out of 5.

Up Next: The Return of Jafar (1994).**

 

*This movie is now a musical on Broadway. I fear for everyone who goes to see it. What, oh what, Disney? Are you that strapped for cash that you have to delve to this thing for Musicals? I watched “Friend like me” at the Tonys, and it was…. yeah. It was bad.

**I own 3 Disney Sequels. Yes I know they’re not technically Canon. Yes I know they’re put out by a different studio, but I have no where else to put them if not with their parent movie.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Belle-Beast-(Beauty_and_the_Beast)

There exists no “perfect movie.” For one, everyone’s tastes are different. What aspects of a movie one person will love, another person might hate. You also have people who have different tastes in genre. Some people despise animation and think it’s just “kid stuff,” the same way other people (like me) dislike horror or war movies.

The Academy Awards are humanities attempt at finding that perfect movie (and perfect actor/actress). When I was a kid, the Oscars were on every year in my house. We enjoyed attempting to stay up late to watch them. We cheered for our favorites and cried when they lost (or grew overly angry… that was actually more common, especially as I got older). Although as an adult I now have a love/hate relationship with the Oscars, I still watch them. Every year. While it can be argued that the Academy is all about artsy movies and seem to ignore the movies that cater to the masses, I am a bit more forgiving. Movie-making is a form of art. I’m not saying I’m not upset because certain movies were never nominated, or certain actors/actresses weren’t nominated (heck, every year I get upset about that!! *cough*EmmaThompsonthisyear*cough*). I’m just saying that I understand.

That being said, it’s like the entire world turns upside down when the Academy goes and nominates a movie that doesn’t seem to “fit” its strange little imdi-movie mold. Like animation. Sure, now there’s a “Best Animated Movie” category, but in the 90s, there wasn’t. In 1992, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast made headlines as the first full-length animated movie ever to be nominated for best picture (along with Silence of the Lambs, Bugsy, JFK, and Prince of Tides). Although it didn’t win, being nominated meant something: This movie was good. Not just family fun good, but good.

So let’s look back and see if it deserved to be nominated. Let’s see if we can find out why this movie was nominated when others weren’t. Let’s see if it’s deserving of my 5/5 rating (which so far only 3 movies have gotten – The Iron Giant, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke).

—————–

First thing I have to say: Holy Shit does this movie look AMAZING on Blu-ray. I have seen this movie so many times I’ve lost count. I know what it looks like on VHS and DVD. What they did to restore it is unbelievable. Seriously.

So alrighty. Everyone knows the story of Beauty and the Beast. The beast used to be a prince until he turned an old woman away from the cold one night because of her appearance. She was in fact an enchantress and as punishment for not seeing the beauty within, transforms him into a beast.

Years later, we meet Belle, a beautiful but “odd” girl who enjoys things like books as opposed to men. The most handsome man in town, Gaston, believes he should marry her, seeing as they are both so beautiful. But guess what? Gaston’s not exactly a nice guy, so Belle has to turn him down over and over. Belle’s father Maurice is an inventor, and on the way to a fair, he gets lost, gets attacked by wolves, and ends up at the Beast’s castle, where he is taken prisoner. Belle finds out and finds him in the castle, striking a deal with the Beast that he can take her instead and let her father go. The Beast agrees, let’s Maurice go, and Belle is left in the castle.

The other “people” in the castle get excited because this girl could break the spell, but there’s one problem: their master, the Beast, can’t control his temper. After he angers her, she runs away, but runs into those wolves. The Beast comes to her aid, they strike an understanding, and love begins to unfold. It’s only after Belle finds out her father is sick in the woods looking for her that the Beast lets her go. Belle and her father return home to find Gaston and the village wants to have Maurice committed for the ranting he did about the Beast. Belle proves he’s alive, and suddenly Gaston senses she loves him and decides they must go destroy him. The village men go marching on the castle, there’s a bit fight, and… well, I’m not gonna give away the end. (although I’m sure everyone knows it…)

——————

Here’s the thing about this movie: Everything is just so well done. The characters are well done and memorable. They’re deep and well developed. The songs are good (this is one of the few Disney movies where I actually like ALL the songs), the animation is BEAUTIFUL. The plot is well thought out, easy to follow, and seamless. This movie is as close to perfect as you can get.

I love characters, so let’s talk about them first. Belle is my mother’s favorite disney character, and in all honesty she’s one of the few Disney Princesses I could actually stand as a little kid. I think part of that reason is that she’s not overly girly, and she’s not searching for a guy. She doesn’t need romance to be happy; it just happens to find her. She knows what she wants in a man, and is willing to wait for it. She’s confident in herself, even though she’s different than everyone else. She knows what it’s like to be judged, and although the Beast’s appearance startles her at first, she never is really “terrified” of him. Also, she loves books. What a great roll model!

I’m (strangely, I know) going to talk about the Beast and Gaston at the same time. The portrayal of these two characters is seriously why this movie is so good.  They could have just gone and made an evil villain and a Beast who looks menacing. They could have made both these characters with no personality, but they didn’t. And the reason I’m talking about them together is because they both change during the course of this movie, but in opposite directions.

Gaston starts out as an over the top, pompous, handsome, conceited man. There’s nothing really villainous about that, it’s just who he is. It’s annoying, sure, but it’s not evil. He really wants Belle to be his wife, because in his mind, that’s his perfect mate; she’s beautiful, like he is. He grows more angry as she turns him down and humiliates him over and over. He’s pushed to the brink to do some pretty evil stuff, like getting Maurice committed if she doesn’t marry him, to get what he wants. It’s only after Belle shows the Beast on the magic mirror and talks about him does Gaston go into full blown evilness and insanity. He doesn’t understand how anyone could love this creature, especially someone like her. Jealousy rears its ugly head, and he’s willing to do anything possible, even kill, to get Belle to be his.

The Beast, on the other hand, is the opposite. He’s been in this animalistic form for so long that he’s essentially become what he looks like and what he thinks he should be. He’s not evil in the beginning though, he’s just hopeless. He’s given in to the fact that he’s going to be like this forever and knows he can’t change. But here’s what I love: you can see even early on that this guy does have a good heart, and a soft spot for others. When Belle’s up in the tower after he drags maurice away, she complains about how she didn’t get to say goodbye. His face softens ever so slightly as he seems to have a change of heart. It’s subtle (and animated wonderfully), but it’s there. He’s not a bad guy. It’s like he suddenly realizes at the point after he saves Belle from the wolves that he doesn’t have to be this monster anymore. That he can change and he can be better. In the final battle, the movie even goes so far to show that the Beast doesn’t have it in him to kill anyone. He’s not that creature anymore, and probably never was.

This movie is all about how looks can be deceiving and how it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. These two characters show this beautifully, and over the full course of the movie. It’s nice and subtle. You don’t have someone smashing it over your head, talking about “oh he may look evil, but he’s really nice.” You learn the lesson through the movie. This movie believes its audience is smart and can figure things out for themselves.

Our other characters in the movie, despite being supporting, are surprisingly fleshed out. Sure we have some characters there simply for humor (Lefou) but again – it’s subtle. There’s very little slapstick. There’s no inappropriateness. The humor instead comes from either stupidity (in Lefou’s case) or simply the glaring differences in personalities, like Lumiere and Cogsworth. These two are the odd couple of this movie, and it works to the movie’s advantage.

We also have grounded side characters, like Maurice (yes I’m calling him grounded), and Mrs. Potts. They’re there to remind the characters to be realistic, and pull us all back if it gets too crazy. They’re both sweet and caring, willing to go to lengths to give a good pep talk or protect the ones they love.

Disney loved side characters in the 90s

Disney: Loving side characters since the 90s

Ok, enough on characters. I’ve mentioned how I really enjoy all the songs in this movie. I actually didn’t used to. Sure they were all catchy, but I never thought they were anything special. In all honesty, I thought a lot of them sounded the same. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized the reason these songs are so catchy. I’ve realized why I like them: They’re actually used correctly.

Let me explain: I am a HUGE broadway fan, and I believe Disney is what started me on that love affair (that and my older sister’s favorite movie as an 8 year old was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). Songs in shows and movies have a few different reasons for existing. 1) they move the story along in a more entertaining way, 2) they convey emotion in a better way than words, 3) they convey thoughts and messages better than just words, 4) they convey something about the personality of the character that’s singing them/character development, or 5) They’re there for the show stopping number (come on: every show/movie needs to have one of these!)

Sometimes, you have songs that just seem stuck into a movie. Sometimes you can’t understand why for the life of you they chose to put that song there. Either it doesn’t convey anything, or the words don’t match the animation, or it’s pointless. Disney’s actually pretty good (although some movies better than others). They normally don’t put songs into the wrong places. The difference between other Disney songs and these though, is that these songs fit perfectly. Every single one of them. This movie was tailor made as a musical, and it’s no wonder it does well on Broadway. (only a few Disney movies are like this, btw).

“Belle” tells us about our main character and her quirks and personality. The reprise of the song tells us what she longs for. “Gaston” tells more about our villain and is remarkably good character development for him (even if it just solidifies what we thought before). “Be Our Guest” is our show-stopper. It also introduces Belle to the idea that the castle is enchanted and helps get from point A to point B. “Something There” conveys incredible emotion from both main characters. “Beauty and the Beast” is a waltz that somehow conveys emotion and brings a nice change to scene that would become the scene in this movie. “The Mob Song” helps moves the story along. I mean, can you imagine that scene without the song? boring….

BTW, this ballroom, in CGI still looks incredible in Blu-Ray even 23 years later...

BTW, this ballroom in CGI still looks incredible in Blu-Ray even 23 years later…

Now I do want to talk about one other song. This is the song “Human Again,” that was written at the time of all the others (and recorded) but ultimately cut from the theatrical release. They put it into the Broadway show, and when the movie came out on DVD for the first time, they animated a scene around it and added it back in as an “extended” edition. First off: I LOVE this song. I’ve seen the broadway show and it’s beautiful. The song conveys the emotion of all the objects in the castle. It’s a good glimpse into our side characters that we didn’t have before. That being said, the animated scenes around it – not so good. They’re honestly stupid, silly slapstick that does not fit the rest of the movie. This song works well in the Broadway show, but not the movie. I’m glad they pulled it.

I have a few more very random things to talk about. They’re not issues I have with this movie (because honestly I have none…), but more just things I’d like to share.

~ A lot of people online argue about what the curse the Beast was under actually meant. At at the beginning we’re told that the rose the enchantress gives him will bloom until his 21st year. A LOT of people have taken this to mean that the Beast was 12 (I dunno how they got that age…) when he was transformed. They wonder how Chip can be alive, etc. Here’s how I take this whole thing: They were all time-locked. He was the age he is now, as was everyone in the castle, when he met the enchantress. He had 21 years to find a person to break it. This explains chip, how everyone looks so young, why Adam (yes that’s his name) is still in his 20s. It’s not that hard to figure out people.

~ Can we just talk for a second about how awesome Maurice is? He enters a castle and then doesn’t really freak out about the inanimate objects being alive. All he says is “fascinating, how is this done” and “incredible.” It’s just like after that, he’s ok with it. “Oh ok, so the automan is a dog. Cool.”

~ My favorite scene, hands down, is the one in front of Belle’s door after she doesn’t come down to dinner. You know which one I’m talking about:

I still laugh EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I still laugh EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

~ And yes, there is an easter egg (I saw it this time!). When Gaston falls to his death, little skulls flash in his eyes. You know, in case we didn’t believe he actually died from that fall…

So what? Did this movie deserve all the attention it got? Definitely. Although it really wasn’t a favorite of mine growing up, I’ve grown to adore it as an adult. There really is nothing that I can find wrong with this movie. The characters are amazing. The plot is seamless. The animation is beautiful (did I mention that already?), the songs are good. It’s family friendly. It teaches a good lesson but doesn’t shove it in your ears. It believes the audience is smart. I can’t believe there’s people out there that haven’t seen this movie. It should be required watching for anyone over the age of 6.

I give Beauty and the Beast (1991) a 5 out of 5. Classic in every sense of the word.

Up Next: Aladdin (1992)

The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

This movie is why I wanted Giant birds to still exist... and I desperately wanted to be friends with one.

This movie is why I wanted Giant birds to still exist… and I desperately wanted to be friends with one.

Before this movie, Disney had only thought of doing a sequel once. Funny thing was that it was still a “Rescuers” sequel, although more direct. It would have followed Penny, and I honestly don’t know if it would have included our mice friends Bernard and Bianca. This movie never came to fruition, and any leftovers of that movie were fashioned into the move “Oliver and Company.”

I will be the first to say that I am happy that they decided to go in a different direction. Without it, we might have never gotten this movie. It’s small and stuffed between two mega hits in the Disney Canon, but I, for one, LOVE this movie. People glaze over it or have never heard of it, and in reality, that’s not really fair. This movie deserves to be known. It’s not as memorable as Beauty and the Beast, sure, but it’s still good!

The Rescuers Down Under centers once again around our mice friends from the first movie, Bernard and Bianca, members of a mouse organization called the Rescue Aid Society. This time, they’re investigating the kidnapping of a boy named Cody by a Poacher named McLeach in Australia. Turns out Cody knows the location of the extremely rare Great Golden Eagle named Marahute, who McLeach is trying to capture. It’s up to Bernard, Bianca and some new friends to rescue Cody and save Marahute from a horrible end.

What’s so great about this movie is that it’s not just a rehash of the first Rescuers movie. It’s actually a vast improvement. We have a better story, way better characters, beautiful animation, humor, and a unique location. I mean really – Disney needs to go back to Australia!!!

Many of our characters are new, but our two main characters Bernard and Bianca are the same (I guess Cody could be argued to be a main character too – he has a lot more screen time than Penny ever had). How do they compare to the first? In all honesty, they’re pretty much the same. Bernard has somehow lost his triscodecaphobia and is much less superstitious, but still isn’t super confident. He spends the entire movie trying to come up with a way to ask Miss Bianca to marry him, but something or someone always gets in the way. Miss Bianca, on the other hand, is exactly the same as the first movie. She’s motivated and not afraid of anything. She’s willing to do anything to save this kid, and nothing is going to stop her. It’s nice to see their relationship move forward, but it’s nice to see they still have the same chemistry as they did in the first.

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Love these two: Look how worried Bernard is!

Acting as a threat to Bernard (and half the reason he feels he can’t ask Bianca to marry him) is Jake, our Australian mouse (he’s a species of hopping mouse, FYI, see below… yes the Biology dork in me totally looked it up). He’s struck by Bianca’s beauty and flirts with her the entire movie, making Bernard very uncomfortable to the point he begins to worry that Bianca doesn’t love him. Jake, on the other hand, is just a flirt. He’s actually a nice guy and completely respects Bernard, even if he does think he’s a bit “soft.” He, on the other hand, lives in the outback and knows how to wrangle any critter he can to help them on their way. He’s a good if not strange addition to their party, but a needed character I feel in this movie. It’s nice to have our duo become a trio.

Yep... That's Totally Jake. I'm so proud of myself!

Yep… That’s totally Jake. I’m so proud of myself!

The last character on the mouse side of our story is Wilbur, an Albatross and Orville’s brother from the first movie. Voiced by John Candy, he is just as great and funny as you would expect John Candy to be in a Disney movie. After landing in Australia, he pulls his back and spends part of his time in a mouse hospital (the most crazy/hilarious place ever), and the rest of the movie attempting to find Bernard and Bianca and help them. He ends up stumbling upon Marahute’s nest and the eggs after McLeach has captured everyone but Bernard, and the mouse gives him the job of sitting on the eggs. He’s a smaller character than the three mice, but a better character than Orville ever was in the first one.

So while we have the story line going with our mice trying to find our kidnapped child, we actually have another running storyline with Cody and McLeach. The movie actually starts out like this. We meet Cody as he rushes off into the outback to answer a call from his outback friends (aka: a kangaroo) that Marahute is stuck in a poacher’s net. He goes and rescues her, the bird thanks him in the most amazing way possible, and he suddenly has a friend for life. She takes him to see her eggs, he finds out the daddy eagle was killed, and he’s off home only to fall into McLeach’s trap.

When I was a kid, I would have dropped everything to be Cody. Think about it: This kid can talk to animals, he rescues them, flies on a giant eagle, and gets to be outside all day. That was my dream. Five minutes into this movie, and I was hooked. But all that aside, how’s Cody as an actual character? Well… he’s MUCH better than Penny. This kid is smart, has a good heart, but isn’t willing to give up his friends and their safety. He never really seems scared to be in McLeach’s care, and in fact acts out yelling and screaming, claiming the rangers are going to get him. He knows this guy is going to get it in the end, even if it seems hopeless. He’s selfless and loves Marahute and wants to do anything to protect her and her eggs. Is this realistic? Maybe…? I dunno. Would a tough little kid stay tough in the hands of a kidnapper? Penny sure did in the first one too. It’s honestly probably because Disney didn’t want to portray kidnapped kids realistically (aka: TERRIFIED). They needed them to be strong. Cody is definitely strong in the face of danger.

Now we have McLeach. If there was ever a dumb villain in a Disney movie, this guy would be it. He’s a poacher and seems smart on how to do that, but doesn’t really have the smarts on anything else. He’s a one trick pony, but at the same time they found lots of ways to make him entertaining. He’s not a “scary” villain at all, but he is causing our main character problems. He doesn’t value nature as Cody does, and sees animals as objects, not as individuals. Except Joanna, his Goana. Yeah… It took me years and watching Steve Irwin to make that connection and finally laugh at the joke Disney was making with that name. Joanna is the best. She’s his sidekick, and she’s just as evil but just as dumb as he is. She offers comic relief to a movie that wasn’t hurting on it before, but it’s refreshing. She’s a funny character and she never even has to utter a word.

This picture shows their relationship so perfectly...

This picture shows their relationship so perfectly…

This is one of Disney’s only attempts at an environmental piece, and in all honesty, they do a pretty good job. It came out before Ferngully, so no one can accuse them of copying the “fad.” It doesn’t shove its message in your face, but it puts it at a level that kids can understand. It gets them to care about animals and realize that hunting these animals (Poaching. Hunting is different) is bad. It gets them to think about what will happen to the eggs if the mommy eagle dies. It introduces us to a fictional bird that seems so real you almost wish or wonder if it ever was. It’s a different kind of environmental message than “protect the forests,” and I think I kinda like that. How many stories have an anti-poaching message? It’s super unique, and I love it.

The animation on this movie is beautiful. I don’t know if something happened between The Little Mermaid and this movie, but wow. Don’t get me wrong, I like the animation in the Little Mermaid, but this just… it’s such an improvement. Some of this scenery is gorgeous. Some of these scenes are gorgeous. The CGI flowers in the beginning are pretty good for 1990. The animation in general on the mice is much better than the original. The flight with Marahute is definitely one of my favorite pieces of Disney animation, even if it does seem to go on for a little too long.

But it's just so pretty!!

But it’s just so pretty!!

I do have a few criticisms of this movie, but I’m not going to do paragraphs on them, because their either just my personal issues or things that really don’t need a ton of expansion. Instead, I’m just going to list them:

~ There’s a scene in McLeach’s where Cody is locked in a room with a bunch of other caught animals. He attempts to help them escape, but McLeach finds him and pulls him out. Did anyone else ever wonder what happened to these animals after McLeach tumbles off a waterfall? did they just die there?? I want to know!!

WHAT HAPPENED TO FRANK?!?

WHAT HAPPENED TO FRANK?!?

~I talk about how great this animation is but one part that really bugs me is when they’re all in McLeach’s weird truck cage. The bars are so close together it looks awful. I know it’s the design of the cage so small animals don’t get out, but I dunno. It almost always gave me a headache in certain scenes.

~ There’s also a scene where McLeach and Joanna find Marahute’s nest and Joanna goes down to eat the eggs after the mom’s been caught. Everyone else is caught except Bernard, who somehow in the span of 5 seconds manages to hide the real eggs and replace them with rocks. Is this mouse super strong now??

Those are all stupid criticisms really, but every time I watch this movie I catch them and wonder about them. If that’s all I can find wrong about this movie, though, that’s not bad. I am sad they didn’t continue with Bernard and Bianca. I’m sad that this movie came out when it did between the movies it did. It gets shoved to the wayside when in fact it’s a wonderful little movie. It’s not a huge musical or a fairy tale. It doesn’t have a princess or a prince, but it’s memorable.

So I say this: Please Disney. Do another movie in Australia. I would say do another rescuers movie, but without Eva Gabor, it wouldn’t be the same. These movies, however, are fun. Let’s follow another two mice in the R.A.S. You have a franchise that you didn’t expand on. In this world now where Franchises are the way to go, you have one that I bet would do well. Don’t go crazy, but explore it. You had a good thing going with this one.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you loved the first one, I bet you’ll like this one even more. I actually saw this one before I saw the first, and in that order, the first was kinda a let down. This movie really is that much better. Watch it yourself and see what you think.

I give The Rescuers Down Under (1990) a 3.7 out of 5. Has a few random plot issues, but generally good, solid fun.

Next up: Beauty and the Beast (1991)