The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

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It’s a good thing you’re not a big fat guy otherwise this would be REALLY difficult…

Fun (but maybe sad) fact: This is the first Disney Animated movie since The Little Mermaid I didn’t see in theaters. I remember going “wow ok that looks stupid. Disney’s lost it.” To be fair, I was 15, had just moved to New Jersey and was trying to fit in. I didn’t know many people and didn’t know if it was “ok” to like Disney or not. But yeah, I never saw this movie, and none of my high school friends (to my knowledge) ever saw it in theaters either.

We should be extremely sad we didn’t. When I finally did see this movie my freshman year of college, it was followed by a adventure in the night to remove a brick from a path (long story but a tradition at my college – although we were bad and did it freshman year instead of senior year… Then did it again senior year…) in which we operated with our own theme music, complete with dramatic freeze sound effect.

Oh yeah... that one.

Oh yeah… that one.

If you’ve seen this movie, you understand that completely. If you haven’t, you’re probably thinking I’m a complete idiot. This movie continued to make everyone in my dorm laugh for the entire four years of college, and it became a go-to for me during finals week. Why? because it’s hilarious.

Watching it now, 7 years after leaving that place, I will admit the humor is extremely immature. But it’s still ridiculously funny.  This movie, like Dinosaur, is just so out of place in the Disney canon. The only movie I would even think of comparing it to is Hercules, simply because it knows what it is and it’s a little “off” from typical Disney fanfare. But even Hercules is tame compared to this.

So what’s this one about? We have another original story here. Let’s see:

In the Andes mountains of South America we have Kuzco, the 18 year old Emperor. He’s selfish and spoiled and has his own theme music. He invites a man from a nearby village, Pacha over strictly to tell him he’s going to build his summer house where his village used to be. Distraught, Pacha gets ready to head home.

We also meet Yzma, Kuzco’s advisor who wants nothing more than to get rid of him. She’s a witch-like character, with potions, one of which will kill him. During dinner that night, she has her sidekick Kronk poison him. But the vials get confused and they end up turning Kuzco into a Llama. Yzma tells Kronk to get rid of him, but Kronk can’t bring himself to do it. He drops him down the stairs, and Kuzco the Llama ends up on the back of Pacha’s cart.

Pacha gets back to his village where we meet his family. He finds Kuzco the Llama in his cart, and he orders the man to take him back to the palace so that Yzma can change him back. Pacha agrees, but only if he promises to build his home somewhere else. They head out, taking on all sorts of dangers while in the meantime Pacha trying to explain to Kuzco how what he’s doing isn’t fair and wondering how he can be that heartless.

In the meantime, Yzma finds out Kronk didn’t destroy Kuzco and those two set out to find and kill him. At a restaurant, Pacha overhears Yzma and her diabolical plan. He tries to tell Kuzco, but the Emperor doesn’t listen and instead is so excited that Yzma is there that he dismisses Pacha and goes after Yzma. But then he overhears Yzma’s plan, grows sad, and can’t find Pacha.

Distraught, Kuzco wanders in the jungle, deciding there’s nothing he can do and he better jut get used to being a llama. He runs into Pacha again, who agrees to help him change back into a human. They run home to get supplies only to find Yzma and Kronk there. After Pacha’s family helps distract them, Pacha, Kuzco, Yzma and Kronk all race back to the castle. There’s a bit of a fight over the vials but in the end Kuzco ends up a human, deciding not to build a palace in the village where Pacha lives, but his own little house so he can be with his friends.

The end.

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This movie’s largest strength is its humor. My God this movie is hilarious. We get slapstick. We get humorous characters. We get great interactions between these characters. We get amazing one-liners and ridiculous speeches and ridiculous… everything. There’s fourth wall, there’s smart jokes, there’s immature jokes, there’s ridiculousness beyond compare. At times it plays more like an old Looney Toons short than a Disney movie…

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I could literally just post a ton of quotes or gifs from this movie and laugh my ass off and have all of you think I am the weirdest person alive because quotes never come across as funny. But instead of doing that, I’m just going to tell you to watch it. Some of these jokes are great, smart, hilarious, immature, etc. There’s a mix of everything. It’s great. But I will leave you with a favorite:

.... OR to save on postage, I'll just poison him!

…. OR to save on postage, I’ll just poison him!

Let’s talk about these characters for a second. First we have Kuzco, the main character and emperor of the Incas. Kuzco is, quite easily put – a jerk. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and is willing to do anything to get what he wants. Only through becoming a llama and having to put his trust in someone else does he learn how good it can feel to care about others. He’s rude and immature. He’s typically a character that I wouldn’t be able to stand, and sometimes I honestly can’t (part of that is David Spade, who I’m not a fan of). I have to be in the right mood to watch him. But at the same time, I’m a bit more forgiving with this character because he just doesn’t know any better. He’s never had anyone tell him no, he’s never had anyone tell him how to act, and it’s gotten to his head. He’s the spoiled little rich boy we love to hate, and for a while we honestly don’t think he can change. Then he just surprises everyone and actually learns what a jerk he’s been and how good it is to care about people.

He's also the only Disney character to EVER interrupt the movie to remind people that HE'S the protagonist...

He’s also the only Disney character to EVER interrupt the movie to remind people that HE’S the protagonist…

Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do without Pacha. Voiced by the ever prevalent John Goodman, Pacha is the complete opposite of Kuzco. He has a family he cares about, a modest but well appreciated living, and a big heart. He’s the first person who’s actually stood up to Kuzco and told him “no,” but he’s the only one who’s been in the situation to do that. He believes the guy can change and that he does care. Honestly, Pacha is a nice guy, but he’s a bit “blah” for a character. It’s like he’s the only semi-serious guy in this movie (I guess it needed one, right?) But without Pacha we wouldn’t have a story. He’s important, sweet, and a good friend.

Pacha’s family are the more hilarious ones in this movie. His wife Chicha is pregnant (a first for Disney!) and always reminds me of “small but mighty.” She’s got an attitude on her and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She’s smart and a good mother. She loves Pacha and all she’s looking to do is protect her family and their way of life. Then we have Pacha’s kids, Chaca and Tipo. Disney somehow managed to capture the insanity of childhood. It’s like they thought of the most annoying/funny things that kids could do that put it with these characters. They’re hilarious and sweet at the same time.

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At the very last we have our villains (this is an insanely small cast!). Remember how I said back in Hercules that Hades really made that movie for me? Well, same here.

First we have Yzma, Kuzco’s advisor who wants nothing more than to get rid of him and become empress. She’s a secret magician/witch with an underground lair (Pull the lever Kronk! Wrong Lever!…. Why do we even have that lever!). What I love so much about Yzma is how smart she seems, but really isn’t. If she was, she wouldn’t keep Kronk around. She would also be smarter about how to get rid of Kuzco.

But in the end she’s an enjoyable villain simply because she’s ridiculous and she has this insane drive and hatred for this child she’s had to serve. She can’t stand him and believes she could do a better job. What’s interesting is that she really has no insane takeover plan. In any other movie, you could swap these two characters and Yzma would be the hero. Kuzco IS a jerk. She’s trying to rescue the empire. Sure she’s selfish too, but it’s not like she has any diabolical plan to turn people into slaves. She just wants to rule. There’s something to be said for her. She’s not crazy evil. You can relate to her.

Then there’s Kronk. Kronk is by far a lot of people’s favorite characters in this movie, and he’s mine too (although I enjoy the play that he and Yzma do more than him as a character).

This picture explains their personalities perfectly...

This picture explains their personalities perfectly…

Kronk is Yzma’s sidekick, and he’s so insanely dumb it makes you wonder why she keeps him around. He’s got the mindset of a child, and he’s so innocent that again, he’s not really evil. He just does things because Yzma tells him to, it’s not like he’s actually aware of what he’s doing (except when his shoulder angel/devil pops up). Kronk actually has a good heart, and I think that’s why a lot of people love him. He’s evil but not. It makes for some very funny scenarios.

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I do want to talk about this story, because although it got good reviews, critics weren’t that enthralled because it didn’t “feel” like a Disney movie. Personally, this one feels more Disney than Dinosaur, but who am I to say that? It wasn’t ambitious. The animation wasn’t over the top and unbelievable. This was just a cute little hilarious buddy movie.

There’s a reason: This movie went through production HELL. First it was a huge picture started after The Lion King in 1994 with Sting doing all these songs (Shoutout to “funny friend and me.” LOVE that song). It was called Kingdom of the Sun, and was more akin to The Prince and the Pauper than the movie we got. Honestly? it sounded interesting. Apparently it didn’t do well with test audiences, and there was a general lack of direction with the movie. In 1998 there wasn’t much progress done on the movie, so there were threats made and the director quit. The movie got a huge overhaul and due to the lack of time before the 2000 release, quality of the animation suffered.

Here’s what I have to say: Is there something wrong about having a smaller picture? This was certainly different for Disney. While it may not have garnered as much attention, this movie is one of a kind – in a good way.  Why does every movie have to be big and ambitious? You know, this movie, in that aspect, reminds me of the Fox and the Hound. That was a “smaller” movie, but look what it did. It focused on a good lesson, and did it well.

This movie is similar. For such a ridiculous movie, it could have easily been forgettable. But here’s why I keep coming back to it. This movie has heart. Serious heart. Not as much as other Disney movies, and not nearly as much as The Fox and the Hound, but it’s there, and in more doses than Dinosaur or Pocahontas. We connect with these characters because we are these characters. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. We’ve all been selfish. We’ve all wished to get rid of someone we don’t like. We’ve all been naive. We’ve all been a pushover with a big heart. We’ve all said what’s on our minds. We root for Kuzco because we believe, like Pacha, that “no one can be that heartless.”

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Would it have been cool to get a huge movie about the Incas and sun-gods? Yes. I hope Disney rethinks South America as a setting (Maybe if Moana does well…). But for what it is, I’ll take it. It’s a great little movie with laughs and heart. I’m sorry I never saw it in theaters, but I’m glad I saw it later.

I give The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) a 3.2 out of 5.

Up Next: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

 

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Dinosaur (2000)

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Ah, Dinosaur!

Sadly, this movie means we are officially out of our Disney Renaissance days. The next decade is going to see a few things that the 90s did not, for better or worse: 1) more original stories, 2) strange re-imaginings of classic stories/tales, 3) the rise of computer animation (for better or worse), and 4) the disappearance of Disney songs (in the majority of movies… a few sneak in).

I’m sad already.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hidden gems in this era, much like there was in the Disney Dark Ages of the 70s and 80s. We’ll get to those later. This movie, Dinosaur, isn’t what I would call a “gem,” but it certainly isn’t bad. There are far worse movies in Disney’s canon than this one, in my opinion. This movie is just… it’s familiarly weird. That’s the only way I can describe it.

What I mean by that is that literally everything about this movie just isn’t what you’d think of when you think of “Disney Animated movie.” Back in 2000, I knew Disney put it out, but I didn’t think it was part of the animated canon until I literally saw it listed on the list on Wikipedia, I dunno, like 8 years ago?

What do I mean when I say this movie isn’t Disney? You have to understand something. Until this point, my childhood had been filled with Disney movies that were musicals. They were adaptations of fairy tales or books. They were everything I just listed up there. This movie wasn’t any of those things, so I think my teenage brain stored it somewhere else.

So this movie is weird. I’ll try to explain that more as I go, but for now, so I don’t get off topic and start rambling, here’s the plot:

In the beginning of this movie (which is insanely well done btw), we see the attack on an Iguanadon nest/herd by a predator called a Carnataurus. This attack leaves one little egg all alone. It soon gets picked up by another smaller predator, who loses it, and eventually this egg is carried down the river and then in a Pterasaur’s mouth to an island, where a group of Lemurs find it and decide to raise the little Iguanadon, Aladar, as their own.

Fast forward some number of years later, and the lemurs are having their annual pairing-off ritual. This is cut short, however, as they watch a giant meteor plummet into the ocean just past their island. Aladar manages to get off, rescuing only part of his lemur family: Yar – the grandfather, Plio – his “mother,” Suri – her daughter, and Zini – Plio’s brother. They reach the mainland and start their search for a new home and other animals.

Their search isn’t for too long, because eventually they run into a herd of miss-mosh species that were also driven from their homes from the fireball and are now on their way to the “nesting grounds,” which is believed to have been shielded from the blast.

Apparently this fireball left this world a complete dustbowl...

Apparently this fireball left this world a complete dustbowl in a matter of days…

Led by a socially darwinistic iguanadon Kron, Aladar and his family struggles to fit in, seeing as they believe everyone should have the chance to survive. They travel, we get a love interest in Kron’s sister Neela, and Aladar decides to lend a hand and stay in the back with the older, slower dinosaurs Baylene (a Brachiosaur) and Eema (a Styracosaurus). At one point they get separated because they weren’t moving quick enough and get stuck in a cave after hiding from the ever evil Carnataurs. After fighting them and causing a landslide, they get stuck in the cave and travel to the back to find the way blocked except for a little sliver of light. Baylene saves the day by breaking through it and low and behold, the nesting grounds were behind it!

But of course, there’s a problem. The way they used to get in is all blocked. Knowing that Kron is going to send the herd up and that they will die from the drop, Aladar races back through the cave and to the rest of the herd. He has an argument/fight with Kron, Neela stands up for him, and he begins to lead the herd past. However the way is blocked by the one surviving Carnataur. Aladar tells the herd to “stand together” so he can’t pick them off, and they manage to get past. Well, everyone but Kron, who refused to go with them. the Carnataur goes after him, Neela and Aladar follow to rescue him, but both end up dying. Sad.

But happy! Everyone ends up at the nesting grounds having babies. The end.

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The most agreed upon criticism of this movie is that that plot is crap. We’ve seen it before, it’s nothing new, and the characters don’t do anything to make it memorable. While I will agree that the plot is very familiar, I don’t think it’s fair to go so far and say that it’s exactly like The Land Before Time or any other dinosaur oriented movie. There are differences not only in actual plot or the actual characters but the motivations and relationships between characters. Some of them can thoroughly be enjoyed.

In Dinosaur, you have this really unique set-up idea that different types of animals have a different worldview. It’s not prejudice, it’s just differences of opinion. You have the dinosaurs who see their lives and actions governed by Social Darwinism: survival of the fittest. If someone drops dead, too bad, you just leave them. Then you have the mindset of the mammals (the lemurs in the movie) that if you work together as a team, everyone will reach their goal. (wow that sort of sounds like communism. ah well)

A dinosaur is actually helping another one! Blasphemy I say!!

A dinosaur is actually helping another one? Blasphemy I say!!

Yes I know. A biology person like me should have major issue with this because that’s obviously not the mindset of mammals and technically all animals do the whole “survival of the fittest” thing, but I’m willing to look past it because this is a movie and they’re using it to explain a point and the lesson of the Disney movie.

Straddling this gap between the dinosaurs and mammals we have our main character, Aladar. He’s a dinosaur but was raised by lemurs, so his mindset is more like them. He struggles to fit in wherever he goes, and can’t help but try and explain his views to the others because to him, it’s common sense. He’s an enjoyable enough character even if he is a bit “bland.” His difference is this mindset and his compassion, which does make him different enough (in my opinion) to be memorable.

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The dinosaurs Aladar and his family are traveling with are not viewed as “bad” (save one), but instead, they just need help. You could say Aladar is more selfless than the other dinosaurs because of his mindset, and this might be the lesson Disney wanted you to walk away with. Travel slow and help others, and everyone is happy in the end (I honestly don’t know what I think about that lesson…). Our stubborn leader, Kron, could be argued as a bad guy, but I don’t think this is actually fair to him. He’s just stubborn and set in his ways. He views Aladar’s help as a challenge and can’t give in and seem weak.

Here's Kron with another minor character, Bruton

Here’s Kron with another minor character, Bruton

We also have another villain, the more prehistoric (as in, apparently doesn’t have the smarts to talk in this movie…) Carnataur. He’s what instills fear in the hearts of our dinosaurs and leads to this belief of survival of the fittest in Kron – if someone else is getting eaten, it means you’re not! It’s kinda interesting we have this 2-tiered villain structure, and to a point it works, but I wonder if focusing more on Kron (even if the Carnataur is an off-screen villain) wouldn’t have worked better.

Along with Aladar, we have his family of Lemurs, including Grandpa Yar, rational and sweet Plio and her daughter Suri, and wise-cracking Zini. Most of these characters are sadly forgettable, although they are enjoyable (if that’s possible).

On Aladar’s side with the Dinosaurs we have the elderly but dainty Brachiosaurus Baylene, tough Styracosaurus Eema, and ankylosaurus Url (who again is apparently dumb enough he can’t talk). It’s nice to have some older characters in a movie like this, and it’s nice that our young protagonist isn’t too “good” to make friends with them. They see how nice that is too, claiming that Aladar made them feel wanted again. They’re good characters and central to the plot and motivation of our characters, but again, they’re all a bit forgettable.

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Finally we have Neera, Aladar’s love interest. She doesn’t get enough screen time in my opinion, but I like her story. She’s the one who has her mind changed during the course of the movie, and begins to believe what Aladar believes in and falls in love with him because of his compassion and bravery. He instills in her hope, and she’s the one who eventually stands up for what he believes in even when he’s not there.

Ok, so I’m with the critics on this one. The plot and the characters are just eh. They’re good for the movie, but on the whole they’re forgettable. The ideas and the lesson are also kinda blah. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it was executed in the best way.

Now let’s talk about where this movie excels. And this is why I think this movie is “weird.” First of all. The animation is GORGEOUS. I’m not talking about the backgrounds, because those are actual live-action filmed backgrounds. I’m talking about the dinosaurs themselves. This movie was made 14 years ago. You would expect us to be able to tell that these are CGI. But you can’t. The way the muscles move on them. The detail on the skin. The coloring. Sure their movement is a bit awkward, but I’m willing to forgive that. It is still unbelievable. This is why I keep posting pictures in this review. Gorgeous!

The live-action backgrounds were a stroke of genius. I remember when I first learned that they were actual backgrounds. I almost figured they were cgi too because of how good the dinosaurs were. The two fit seamlessly and you forget you’re watching a hybrid movie like Pete’s dragon. The trees and water are all real. The caves and mountains are all real. Even when Aladar’s escaping his island and getting blasted with bits of exploded ultra hot meteor? Real! (they launched fireballs from the trees on a path to the ground… crazy!) It’s gorgeous and I would watch this movie strictly for the animation.

I would also watch this movie strictly for the music. Yes there are so songs (I think that was a good call… that would have completely and utterly ruined this movie…), but the score is drop dead gorgeous. James Newton Howard’s score fits the movie beautifully and fills it with emotion that the characters might not be so good at conveying. It’s one of the saving graces for the movie. I own this soundtrack and still constantly listen to it.

I also want to say that this movie has a strange but awesome voice cast (except D. B. Sweeney… he’s kinda flat…) including Juliana Margulies, Ossie Davis, a young Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian!!) and Max Casella…

That's right, Newsies fans. Race is back!

That’s right, Newsies fans. Race is back!

This movie isn’t great. It’s not good even. But somehow, it manages to be enjoyable. It’s forgettable characters and familiar plot might hurt it, but at the same time, sometimes you just need a movie like that. I agree with the critics and what they say about this movie. I hate that it’s not better, but I’ll take it for what it is. I still like it.

I give Dinosaur (2000) a 2.9 out of 5

Up Next: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

Fantasia 2000 (1999)

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I find it sort of ironic that this movie a) is called Fantasia 2000 but came out in 1999 (although I remember seeing it the summer of 2000…. so either I’m all screwed up or they are…) and b) this movie is what caused the end to the Disney Renaissance. The first is a classic. Sure I don’t like it too much, but everyone knows Fantasia. You would have thought that would have been enough to at least make this a movie that made money. But… it didn’t. It actually came in a full $20 Million dollars under its budget. Yeah… that’s not good.

So why did it falter? I honestly have no idea. The first tanked as well only to become more popular after coming out on video. Maybe this is just one of those movies that people just don’t go see in a theater. The first one is long. Maybe parents didn’t think their kids could sit for it? Maybe they didn’t think they’d enjoy it? No idea. But this movie is shorter (more along the lines of other Disney movies at 74 minutes long) and arguably more kid friendly.

The “Kid friendly” vibe is why people also hated this movie. I know lots of people who can’t stand this one even though they love the original. They can’t stand that it’s toned down for kids (is it?). They can’t stand that they almost forcefully tried to recreate a classic. They can’t stand that they tried to make Donald the new Sorcerer Mickey. They say that there’s no emotion and no feeling in the pieces like there was in the original.

Here’s what I say to them: Walt always wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing piece. He wanted to add to it as time progressed, using new musical pieces and new animation techniques. Imagine being an animator and being told you’re going to do another Fantasia. Holy crap I would be not only incredibly excited, but I would feel immense pressure. To be a part of something like this is magical. If you don’t see the emotion, then you’re not listening to the music correctly. As for toning it down for kids – I view this movie not only as an immensely unique piece of animation, but as a way to introduce classical music to kids in a way they will enjoy. This movie arguably does that better than the first.

So as you can tell, I like this one arguably better than the first, but is it really? I’m going to try and be removed as much as I can with this one. Let’s dive in:

#1: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor – I. Allegro con brio by Ludwig van Beethoven

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They say in the movie that this is similar to the first one in the first Fantasia, where it paints a series of pictures that don’t necessarily tell a story. I hate to break it to you, Disney. This definitely tells a story. You have characters, drama, etc. Learn what your own terms mean! Other than that this one is…. eh. It’s my least favorite in the whole movie. The animation is still cool. I personally don’t think it fits the music as well as it could, nor do I think this is what I’d think of when I listen to this music, but obviously one animator did. I also find it disappointing that they only used one of the movements.

 

#2: Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi

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I will say that this movie did tend to use songs that are more popular or at least known to the general public. This one was one of the few I did not know going into the movie (I was 15 at the time so I guess I know my classical music?). The music itself is beautiful. I love Respighi’s pieces, and this one I was pleasantly surprised with. I also personally like this “story.” I know what people are going to say: It makes no sense, it’s weird, what the hell happens to the whales at the end, etc. I just have one question: why does this have to make any sense? It’s like a dream. You listen to music, see a story, and it just happens. Yes this one is weird, but it’s also touching too. Whales with magic to fly that end up going to the sun and back in the water (are they all dead? who knows who cares?). The part where the little whale gets separated always gets me.

 

#3: Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

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I’m torn between saying this is my favorite in this movie or if it’s one that comes later. This segment is the longest and by far the most unique. It’s drawn in Al Hirschfeld’s style and set in depression-era NYC. I love the animation. I love the story lines of all the different characters. I love the way they interconnect. I love the way the music fits to it. It’s lively and animated music, and it’s perfect. A definite favorite that I could watch over and over.

 

#4: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major I – Allegro by Dmitri Shostakovich

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This piece is used as the music for the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and apparently the animators knew they wanted to do this short and went and searched for a perfect piece of music for it. I personally always thought the artistic process is the other way around, but who am I to judge? The music fits well, to the point you can’t picture anything else when you hear those little drums. The animation is beautiful (even if you can blatantly tell it’s CGI), and I like the story.

 

#5: The Carnival of the Animals, Finale by Camille Saint-Saens

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I’m starting to see a trend. Why did they only use the finale? This is literally like, 2 minutes long. Yes the whole Carnival of the Animals is fourteen movements and 25 minutes long, but couldn’t they have picked a few and strung them together? or done the whole thing? Has anyone ever listened to all of it? it’s amazing and awesome. Can you imagine what they could have come up with with that? Ah well. In this we get a flamingo playing with a yo-yo instead of fitting in. It’s short but hilarious. I want a movie on this whole segment.

 

#6: They inserted The sorcerer’s apprentice in here. If you want to know my thoughts on that, read my Fantasia review. I’m not going to reiterate it.

 

#7: Pomp and Circumstance, Marches 1, 2, 3, and 4 by Edward Elgar

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This one seems incredibly silly, and to a point, seeing the animals march off the arc to the graduation music IS silly. But it’s amazing how well the rest of the music flows. It’s unbelievable. I know that Disney was trying to make another Sorcerer’s apprentice, and it didn’t work, but what they got is still good. It’s still a cute short with everyone’s favorite angry duck and his role in Noah’s arc. It’s funny and touching. Even if it’s still kinda funny….

 

#8: Firebird Suite – 1919 version by Igor Stravinsky

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For those people who say that this movie has no emotion, I point them to Fantasia 2000’s final piece. This is by far my favorite of the entire movie, and it is unbelievable how beautiful this is. I still remember my aunt leaning over to me in the theater after a close-up of the Elk’s eye and whispering “that… that’s why I don’t eat meat.” Yes that’s random but it shows so much emotion on the animator’s part. The spring sprite also conveys her emotion well. The depiction of the volcano spirit as a firebird is corny but works, and this is one that you don’t know will have a happy ending or not. You get beauty, drama, sadness, hope… all of this in 5 minutes. I always tear up during this piece. The music is gorgeous and fits perfectly. This is the one segment that could have easily been in the original movie. Job well done*

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So there we go. This movie does have a lot more of the legitimate story segments, and maybe that’s what people are upset about. Personally, those were always my favorites in the original, so having more of that type makes this movie more enjoyable for me. Is it groundbreaking or classic like the first? no. I enjoy it more, but it is just a retread. They used more popular songs and in all honesty except for a few segments, the animation isn’t anything more or less than their movies. Yes they used CGI on some and hand drawn on others, but if you look at the detail that went into some of the segments in the original you’d be blown away. Maybe I’m being picky, but remember, I like this one better…

I give Fantasia 2000 (1999) a 3.7 out of 5. Still solid work.

Next up: Dinosaur (2000)

 

If they ever do another one, I want them to just use Holst’s The planets. You could do a whole movie on those songs. Just a thought.

 

*The last shot of that segment looks an awful lot like Mt. St. Helens. Does anyone know if that’s what they based it on or is it just some random volcano…?

 

Fantasia (1940)

We’re going backwards in time to review this one. I’m going to pretend I meant to do this because it will be easier to compare this “classic” with its sequel back to back, but I can’t lie. I simply forgot that I bought this as a double pack blu-ray and filed it where Fantasia 2000 went. Whoops!

Anyway, this movie is always heralded as a classic and one of Walt Disney’s finest works. Now please don’t get me wrong: I love this idea of putting animation to music. I love that this movie makes people listen to classical music when they wouldn’t before. It makes people appreciate things that they might not appreciate otherwise. The ideas behind this movie are phenomenal. I know why it’s heralded as a classic. But me? I’m not really that into it. I’m not going to just randomly sit down on a saturday night and watch this movie. I have favorite pieces and favorite animations, but to watch this whole thing… it’s long. And for me, it’s a bit like torture.

This movie was thought up as Walt was finishing a silly symphony short entitled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Apparently Mickey Mouse’s popularity was declining at the time, and he hoped staring him in a cartoon would give him a little push. When production costs got too big, he decided to combine this short with a few other classical pieces that would be animated – some to tell stories, some not. Thus, Fantasia was born.

This movie is all about beauty and the experience. In Fantasia (as well as the sequel) there are 3 different types of music and animation: 1) music that tells a definite story, 2) music and animation that paints a series of set pictures but has no strict storyline, and 3) music that exists for it’s own sake. Disney called this “Absolute music” and it was animated with a series of abstract images.

With all that in mind, let’s see what Fantasia has to offer:

Piece #1: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johan Sebastian Bach.

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As if we didn’t realize that this movie isn’t really for kids, Disney starts us out with a piece of music that has no definite pictures and simply starts with dramatic lighting on the orchestra. My thoughts? the animation and the music is beautiful. It’s just… not a story, and I tend to like those better. Would my mind think of the same pictures? maybe, maybe not. I imagine if I meditated maybe my mind would be imaginative enough to think of stuff like this. Not my favorite, and certainly not a good way to start the ball rolling in my opinion.

 

#2: The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky

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This one falls into the second thing up there: this music paints definite pictures but there’s not a strict storyline. Instead, we get the depiction of nature and a bit of the changing of the seasons in the way that only Disney can do. We have frost fairies and Chinese mushrooms. To me, this one starts out a bit slow, but I really enjoy the music and the animation is perfect for the music.

 

#3: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

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Mickey stars in this classic tail (ha… I typed that by accident but I’m leaving it in bc it’s a horrible pun) of an apprentice who uses magic from his master to help with his chores. How many people out there don’t know of this one? It’s fun and fantastical, not to mention, once again, the music fits the animation incredibly well. Classic and wonderful.

 

#4: Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky

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I know I’ve said that I enjoy music that paints a definite picture, and for the most part, it’s true. Then there’s this thing. Disney uses this music to depict the history of life on earth, mainly focusing on the Dinosaurs. Again, the music fits well, surprisingly. But this is the one I have the most qualms with. Mainly because this piece is just so goddam boring. And LONG. The animation is literally dark. The music isn’t that interesting (to me at least). I do think it’s interesting though from a historical perspective. What we used to think Dinosaurs looked like vs what we think they look like today is mind-blowingly different. This movie and this clip almost reminds us of that fact, and I think that’s kinda cool.

 

#5: The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven

btw, I want a movie with these guys...

btw, I want a movie with these guys…

I LOVE this one. The music fits perfectly (again), I love how we move from random character to character in the mythology world. I love that there’s a story but not really. It’s more of just a day in the life in this place. We still have humorous characters and love and action. The portrayal of the gods is magical. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s my favorite clip in the entire movie.

 

#6: Dance of the Hours by Aimilcare Ponchielli

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What better way to expose kids to the ballet than with Ostriches, Hippos, Elephants and Alligators? Again very well done, I always enjoyed this too just because a) it is humorous, and b) they take it seriously. What I mean is that we know kids are going to laugh because here’s a hippo and an elephant being all graceful, but man, these characters are serious about dancing! Love it! *On a side note, every time I hear this music I can’t help but think of Allan Sherman’s popular 1963 song… “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”

 

#7 : Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky

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Fun fact: Disney still gets complains from parents that watching this segment terrified their child and caused nightmares. What do I have to say for that? Go Disney! Way to shed that family friendly image! But in all seriousness, I was one of those kids, to the point that when I watch this segment I really have to remind myself that I’m not a kid anymore. It tells the story of the Devil Chernabog and a night when he summons the evil spirits. This music and the animation is terrifyingly good. It’s haunting and scary and beautiful at the same time. It is a bit boring though. It suffers from the same thing that the Rite of Spring does. The animation is Dark. The music (although this is much better) is kinda “eh.” Especially that Ave Maria part in the middle. If I wasn’t terrified of this thing as a kid, I was nodding off to sleep.

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So there you have it. Fantasia is an amazing idea, and executed very well. Is it a favorite? As I mentioned in the beginning, I wouldn’t just sit down and watch the whole thing. I would probably pick out my favorite segments. Those I could watch over and over. At over 2 hours, it’s long, and it feels it. But the segments are great, and it’s a great way to introduce the idea of classical music or animation with no words. It’s unique, wonderful, and I wish I could say one of a kind. But I can’t…

I give Fantasia (1940) a 4.4 out of 5.

Up Next: Fantasia 2000 (1999)

 

 

Tarzan (1999)

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Well, we made it. This is the last movie is the so-called Disney Renaissance. Personally, I think this movie is extremely under appreciated. I was 14 when this came out, and it struck a chord with me that I still can’t really describe. I’ll try my best.

I’m actually surprised Disney hadn’t adapted Tarzan before this. After Walt’s love of adapting old books and classics into family friendly fanfare, I would have expected this to be on his list. Maybe it was, and he died before he could get it out there. We’ll never know.  Anyway, this movie is based on Tarzan and the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, a magazine published the novel published in 1912 and 1914 respectively. It followed the life of our titular Tarzan, a man raised by apes and later (in subsequent novels) integrated into human society with less than happy endings. Disney’s movie, story wise, seems to be pretty close to the first novel. A few things were changed, but I understand why they were (we’ll delve into that later).  Let’s find out about our ape-man now, shall we?

We are introduced to our titular character as a baby, when we see his parents survive a shipwreck and wash ashore. They end up building an amazing treehouse in the jungle only to get eaten by a leopard named Sabor. At the same time, we meet the gorillas Tarzan will call his family. We watch as a little baby gorilla is eaten by the same leopard (seriously disney? Murder and infanticide in the first 5 minutes?). Distraught, Kala, the mother gorilla, hears Tarzan crying and goes and rescues him from Sabor. After talking the Silverback, Kerchak, into keeping him, she takes to raising him as her own.

Fast forward maybe 8 years(?) and we see Tarzan as a kid struggling to fit in. He’s not a good climber, he’s not as fast as the other gorillas, and Kerchak doesn’t seem to like him very much. We meet his friend Terk, who dares him to get the hair from an elephant to fit in. After causing a stampede, Kerchak gets mad and Tarzan goes off. He doesn’t understand why he’s different. Kala attempts to explain to him that although they look different on the outside, he and the gorillas are all the same inside. A renewed sense of hope, Tarzan decides he’s going to make Kerchak accept him by working hard to be the best ape ever.

Fast forward and Tarzan is now an adult. After rescuing the tribe from Sabor, Tarzan almost gets the acceptance he’s wanted when they hear a strange loud noise (a gun shot) Kerchak orders everyone to move but Tarzan is curious. He follows the noises to find three humans have come into the jungle. After the shock of finding creatures that look like him, he rescues the woman, Jane, from a baboon attack. Smitten with her, he returns to her camp the next day against the request of Kerchak and begins to learn more about humans. Turns out they’ve come to study gorillas, and believe he’s the key to leading them to the creatures. but Tarzan knows it would be dangerous.

One day tarzan arrives at camp to find it being torn down. The boat has come to take them back to London. Our Villain, Clayton, talks Tarzan into showing them where the gorillas are, saying that Jane will stay if she sees gorillas. They distract Kerchak, the humans see the gorillas, Clayton marks where they are, Kerchak comes back, and Tarzan is forced to restrain him. Struck with the disbelief in what he’s done, tarzan runs. Kala goes after him and shows him the treehouse and explains where he’s really from, telling him whatever choice he makes she just wants him to be happy.

Tarzan decides to go with Jane back to London, however upon getting on the boat, find there’s been a coup. Clayton throws them in the cargo area and heads back with cages to capture the gorillas. Tarzan breaks out with the help of some friends, they go fight off clayton, and eventually everyone lives happily ever after.

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This movie, to me, has a lot more pluses than minuses. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Honestly, I can see how people don’t like this movie. For me, I can say that yes, it is good. The reason I love it so much is the relationships between the characters we get in this movie. Each group or combination of characters really does well together, and this is one of the strengths of the movie. This doesn’t mean that I love all the individual characters; in fact some of them are perhaps the blandest in Disney’s canon. Let’s start with our titular character, Tarzan.

Tarzan is a little…. blah. Sure he is trying to fit in and sure he seems like a sensitive but brave kid and a lovestruck adult that is just trying to figure out who he is… but that’s ALL he is. He’s not funny or overly charming (He’s actually probably one of the more serious character in the movie… as an adult…). He speaks in monotone when he talks to the humans (which I know ok is probably because he’s learning but come on!). He will raise his voice to Kerchak and WILL stand up for what he believes, but the other half of the time he’s sulking and just does’t know what to think or what to do. At the same time, I can’t get mad, because he’s realistic. If you were brought up by a group of creatures who looked nothing like you and you were an outcast your entire life, you’d probably be this way too. As a kid, he’s more interesting than he is when he was an adult. Why is that? He hasn’t been completely burned yet. He hasn’t let the fact he’s different drag him down. He’s still optimistic. As an adult, he’s just decided through trials that yeah, he’s different, there’s nothing he can do about it, and those who like him will like him. But it made him serious. His character design is a bit bizarre, but I know Disney consulted with people about muscles and whatnot for his body type. It’s realistic, and that’s cool. Whoever came up with giving the kid dreads was brilliant. I mean, he does live in the jungle and has never taken a bath.

In this movie, Tarzan really is the central character, but we have a LOT of supporting cast to help him out. Let’s start with the gorilla side and work our way to the humans and the villain. One of my favorite characters in this movie and by far one of the best Disney mothers hands down is Kala. She’s strong-willed and stands up to not only the Leopard Sabor but Kerchak when she first rescues Tarzan. She’s understanding and willing to put up with everything that Tarzan and the other Gorillas throw at her. She communicates in such a way that teaches Tarzan our central Disney lesson: On the inside, we are all the same. But Kala isn’t all just rainbows and wonderfulness. She has flaws. She’s frightened of the humans that she doesn’t know and sides with Kerchak when he says they shouldn’t go close to them. She’s conflicted because she wants her son to be happy, which in the end means telling him the truth and letting him choose his own path. Kala = awesome.

Leading the troop of Gorillas we have Kerchak. I honestly don’t really know what to say about him. He’s a bit of a trope: overbearing leader. Sure he also seems to have this kind interior that’s really hard to get to, but he’s pretty much just overbearing, especially to Tarzan. He’s a silverback: his job is protecting his family from anything he sees as a threat. For Disney’s sake there are moments when he seems to almost welcome Tarzan with open arms, but it isn’t till the end that he finally understands that even though he looks different, Tarzan has always been one of them.

Our other two sidekicks on the gorillas side are Terk, Tarzan’s best gorilla friend, and Tantor, the elephant that…. lives with them? Seriously, what’s up with Tantor? we see his family in the beginning, then suddenly he’s traveling with the gorillas. Is Kerchak ok with him? I’ve never gotten that! But anyway, I digress. Terk is a tomboyish gorilla who thinks she’s cool and acts all tough and leader-like when really she’s just fine hanging out with Tarzan and doesn’t seem to care what the others think. You almost get the sense that Kerchak doesn’t like her either, but they never come out and say that. She’s loyal to him when no one else is, and I respect that. Tantor, on the other hand, is a 2 ton scaredy cat with some of the best lines in the movie. He doesn’t have much else to his personality, but the two of them are enjoyable together. Their interactions are some of the best in the movie.

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Best Duo since Timon & Pumbaa. That’s right. I said it.

On the human side we have, of course, Jane Porter. Voiced by Minnie Driver, she serves as love interest to Tarzan. Just like Mulan, Jane is a bit more “do it yourself” kind of character, a trait we will see continued in Disney Heroines in years to come. She’s out in the middle of the jungle (yes at first in a dress but then she wises up), drawing and researching alongside her father. This was unheard of at the time, and it’s nice to see a woman who is all about biology discoveries. She sees Tarzan at first as a strange “missing link” that she somehow has this attraction to but is almost afraid to admit it. She has this inner conflict the entire movie about what to feel toward him and again (just like Tarzan) where her place really is.

I just want an excuse to use this picture because I like it

I just want an excuse to use this picture because I like it

Her father is just as enjoyable if not more so. He’s a crazy old guy who lives and breathes his work and is out to prove that gorillas are not just monsters (as was the view at the time).  He provides the comic relief on the human side. In all honesty that all that needs to be said about him!

Now our villain is Clayton. As far as Disney villains go, he’s kinda…. eh. He IS evil. You can tell from the first moment you meet him that he’s the villain, but it’s not as cut and dry as Scar or Maleficent. He’s posing as the muscle for our two biologists so that he can find gorillas, capture them, and sell them to zoos for a profit. In other words, he’s a poacher. I’ve never really liked Clayton much, and there’s really nothing that defines him as a particularly horrid character. He’s creepy and you can tell he’s smart, but nothing really makes him stand out from other Disney villains. He does have a cool death that ends in a hanging though…

Subtle Disney

Subtle, Disney

The animation on this movie is beautiful. I honestly didn’t realize this until I started research for my review, but the vast majority of this movie is animated using 2D rendered on a 3D background. Knowing that, it makes sense, because some of the angles of the shots you’re just like “what? how does that work?” The fact it doesn’t interfere is pretty good. (fun fact: Lassiter told Disney they should use this technique much earlier than they did. Apparently Disney reacted by pretty much telling him it wasn’t a good idea). I do have a few issues with this though: the scene where Tarzan rescues Jane from the baboons goes on FOREVER. It’s like they were trying to show off their animation. It’s just too much. I have also never understood the potbellies on the design of the gorillas. In all other ways, these gorillas are beautifully animated. Their bellies look fine when they’re sitting upright, but you get them to move on all fours and you get this weird distended stomach thing. Real gorillas aren’t quite that bad…

The music in this movie is great, but different. Out of the 6-ish songs we have, only 2 are sung by characters themselves (1 is actually only half sung). The others are all sung by Phil Collins, usually during a montage. There are a LOT of montages in this movie. Granted, we do need some if not all of them, and songs are a good way to describe feeling during a thing like a montage where lots of time passes. It’s just kinda disappointing because I know that after this movie, Disney seemed to take a break from it’s “musicals.” But how are the songs themselves? Personally, I adore these songs. I have always enjoyed me some Phil, and these are just as good. “Son of Man” is a favorite, as is “You’ll be in my heart.” I do have one I despise – “Trashin’ the Camp.” Talk about a completely pointless song. Phil is a percussionist, so I understand his want to put a percussion song in the movie, but seriously…. that song added nothing. nothing.

Before I list a few final thoughts on this movie, I do want to talk about what I think are this movies major strengths. I mentioned the relationships the characters in this movie have. A lot of these relationships are believable as well as incredibly deep. Kala and Tarzan are remarkable together. Every time these two characters are on screen together I want to cry (I do actually in the scene where he says goodbye). The scene where Tarzan covers himself with dirt to be like the gorillas and what she teaches him is PERFECT.

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Disney Mother Award!!

Another thing I LOVE about this movie is (this is me being a giant nerd) how science-y it is. I was a biology major in college, and every time I see the Porters get excited about little things in the wilderness, I get excited because I know what that feels like. They portray it well, and they also portray the whole opinion of Gorillas in the 1800s perfectly. People really DID think these creatures were monsters. Scientists really WERE doing research proving they were different but they weren’t believed. The thought that gorillas lived in groups and made nests and groomed each other and communicated. These were all things that people at the time were learning, and this movie is a reminder of that.

I haven’t talked much about the message of this movie, but that’s honestly because I feel like I don’t need to. It’s similar to the message in Pocahontas actually: The acceptance of those who are different and finding where you belong. The only difference is this movie doesn’t pound you over the head with it. It’s subtle and you learn it through the trials and emotions of our characters. There isn’t much to say. It’s well done.

Now here’s some last minute thoughts that I don’t need to delve into:

~ Sabor is the Leopard that kills Tarzan’s parents and Kala’s first baby then attempts to attack them later. That’s all good, but he’s drawn as a jaguar which lives in South America. Yes maybe only a bio nerd like me would see that but I don’t care. It bugs me.

~Tarzan surfing on mossy branches is equally weird. It’s like they were trying to make him “cool.” It doesn’t fit his personality.

~Tarzan marked the last film (short or feature length) to win an Academy award for 13 years, when the short Paperman (2012) won.

~Has anyone ever noticed that the way Kerchak says “You came back” when Tarzan returns to help him is EXACTLY like the way the Beast said it when Bell came back? inflection and everything.

~Some scenes in this movie never get old. Some are so incredibly funny. This is also a strength of the movie. The comic writing is brilliant (except for that elephant trunk/periscope thing…)

I personally enjoy this movie a lot, and feel that a lot of people feel the same way. But I also feel the way I do about Mulan. I feel like this movie gets overlooked a lot when it shouldn’t. It’s enjoyable and really good. It’s not perfect, but not every movie has to be. Give it a watch if you’ve never seen it. You won’t be disappointed.

I give Tarzan (1999) a 3.9 out of 5.

Up Next: Fantasia (1940) – yes this is out of order but I forgot to do it and figured I’d do this and Fantasia 2000 back to back for comparison.

Quick Update!

Hi all – I swear I haven’t ditched the whole blogging thing. July was BUSY! To be honest I went through a ton of movies and writing drafts in June because I KNEW July was going to be busy and I still ran out of things to post. Some of the happenings in July were planned (My little sister got married this past weekend – Congrats to her!) and some were not (my grandmother passed away at the beginning of the month).

However it is now August and I promise that I will get back to posting. I’ve watched through a bunch of movies I haven’t written about yet, so I will try to get my next post (Tarzan) up here in the next few days.

Hope everyone has had a great summer so far!