Zootopia (2016)

No, this movie isn’t out on DVD yet. This is actually the first movie I feel like I have to review before I own it. For a few reasons:

  1. I’m leaving Disney and well, this is Disney. It fits in here and I’ll do it here.
  2. This movie pertains to SO MUCH going on right now in The U.S. and the world. I really want to bash this movie over everyone’s heads.

I will start by saying that I have been excited about this movie since I heard it existed. Why? Because Lasseter was excited about it when it was pitched to him. And we all know I believe Lasseter = Disney God.

I was also excited because it joins a handful of other Disney movies that do NOT feature humans (the others being Bambi, Robin Hood, The Lion King, and Chicken Little). Also excited because it was said to be a mystery, and existed in a land where animals weren’t just anthropomorphic but maintained their animal adaptations and habitats. As a biology person who loves mysteries, I was EXCITED.

Needless to say there are SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet. It goes a little something like this (go with me as I’ve only seen it once and this is liable to be a LONG synopsis):

We open and get to know one of our main characters, Judy Hopps. She’s a kid in a talent show giving us the history of the land we’re in. Apparently predators used to eat prey but they’ve since evolved and now they live side by side. We also learn that Judy wants to become a cop in Zootopia, a feat which has never been accomplished by a rabbit before. Her parents (who are hilarious, btw) tell her to settle and just be a carrot farmer, but she has higher dreams.

We also see her get bullied by a fox named Gideon, which leads to her parents not trusting foxes. Then we’re thrown into a montage showing her living her dream and becoming the first rabbit ever to go through the police academy and assigned in Zootopia city center as part of Mayor Lionheart’s Mammal inclusion program. Except… Chief Bogo puts her on Meter maid duty while all the other cops are assigned to missing mammal cases (14 in total. This will be important later, I promise).

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Not willing to let it get her down, Judy gives herself the goal of writing 200 tickets before noon, which she hits before getting conned by a fox and his partner (a fennec fox) posing as a father and son wanting to buy a popsicle from a pachyderm establishment. She helps them out only to learn through following them that they melt the larger popsicle down into smaller ones to sell and make a profit (again… will be important later). She confronts him, but it doesn’t go well, and he shuts her down.

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It’s pretty good con, using a Fennec Fox as a kid.

Later she’s busy meter maid-ing when a weasel runs out of a grocery store, having robbed the place. She gets excited and pursues him until he is arrested, only to learn that he stole onions. Bogo is not happy she left her post and is ready to fire her when Mrs. Otterton comes into his office begging for someone to help her find her husband, Emmett (Emmet Otter… anyone? anyone?). Judy agrees much to Bogo’s dismay, and with the assistant Mayor Bellweather in the room, he can’t tell her she can’t. So he gives her 48 hours to find Mr. Otterton or she relinquishes her badge.

Upon getting the case file from front desk man Clawhauser (who I swore was Josh Gad for the entire movie only to learn it wasn’t…) she only has a single picture from his last known location. However, upon noticing he is carrying one of the popsicles the fox who conned her was selling, she has a starting point.

So she finds that fox, whose name is Nick, and pretty much blackmails him into helping her.

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Luckily he knows everyone in the city and through his reluctant help, they track Mr. Otterton’s whereabouts to a completely clawed up limousine. After speaking with the owner of the Limo (I won’t spoil who it belongs to), he sends them to the driver, who talks about how Mr. Otterton went all “savage” and began destroying the inside of the car after he started talking about something called the “night howler.” Judy and Nick then watch as before their eyes the driver too turns savage and they must escape.

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I would run from that too!

She calls for backup, but of course when backup, including Bogo, gets there, the savage panther driver that she had handcuffed is no longer there.

Bogo is disappointed in Judy and tells her to hand in her badge, as obviously she could not produce Mr. Otterton (and quite honestly, he doesn’t believe her about the savage story.) This is the moment Nick has a change of heart and pretty much tells Bogo off, telling him that they still have 10 hours to produce Mr. Otterton, and they will be going.

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With Nick on board completely, Judy has Assistant Mayor Bellweather pull up the traffic cams only to find that a van came by and wolves came and took the savage driver. Assuming these are the “night howlers,” they track them to a facility to find all 14 of the missing mammals. They are all savage (and all predators – that’s important too), and the Mayor has been trying to figure out what went wrong and how to get them back to normal, but no one can figure it out (this is all discovered covertly, of course). Judy sends a video of Mayor Lionheart admitting he kept the police out of it to Bogo, who goes on to arrest Lionheart.

Judy becomes a hero and respected at the police office for finding all of the missing mammals, and when they interview her, she gets a bit flustered on how to answer the questions (despite some coaching from Nick) and begins to quote what the scientist in the facility told Lionheart – that it might come down to biology and the fact that predators are hard-wired this way. Obviously this interview has some fallout. Nick can’t believe that she believes that and leaves her. Animals begin to suspect predators will turn “savage” at any moment. Lionheart is removed from office and Bellweather becomes Mayor. She in turn wants Judy to become the new face of the ZPD, to which Judy declines and turns in her badge bc this isn’t why she became a police officer, and she needs to fix this.

She returns home, where she learns through a random encounter that a “night howler” is not a wolf, but a plant (a flower actually) that will turn anyone savage – even a rabbit. With this new information, she heads back to Zootopia, finds Nick and begs forgiveness, then they’re off to find out who’s behind the plot and who’s been causing the animals to turn savage.

I’m actually going to end it here because, well, I can’t give away everything!

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so OMG this movie. How how how did they do this?

This movie is about prejudice. It’s about race and discrimination. It’s about feminism and judging people based on what they look like or do, not what they are. AND IT MAKES SENSE TO KIDS. AND IT DOES IT WELL.

This movie should belong to Pixar. Because it takes this incredibly deep message and tackles it head-on without looking back or being sorry its doing it. And it succeeds. It succeeds without bashing it over a person’s head because this is just how things work in this world. It makes sense in the world that is so unlike ours but yet… it is… so… much… like… ours.

The elephant refusing service to Nick and his partner in the beginning because he’s a fox. Discriminating against Judy because she’s a rabbit and not “big enough” to be a real cop. Nick’s entire backstory (omg i’m going to tear up). The whole thing with “only rabbits can call each other cute. When someone else says it it’s…”

Predators being affected and targeted by the Night Howler to instill fear in the general public, which we’re told is 90% prey animals. Suddenly they can’t go anywhere and do anything. They’re judged simply for being who they are. Hmm, sound familiar to a certain issue we’re all dealing with right now with syrian refugees and religious fear (not to mention the more domestic racism this country deals with on an everyday level)??

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Zootopia is a movie that starts out saying “Sly fox, dumb bunny,” but in the end it’s really about how to break those stereotypes. Judy and Nick do it. “It’s a place where anyone can be anything.”

Let’s talk about our characters for a bit. There are a lot so I am really just going to focus on our two main characters, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde.

We’re in a day and age at Disney where female characters really are capable of doing anything. We saw that in Frozen, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and we see that again in Zootopia. Judy doesn’t care about what rabbits “should” do. She just knows what she wants to do, and puts her mind to it and accomplishes it. She’s strong, brave, smart, and sly enough to outwit many characters she comes in contact with.

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She’s from a podunk little town where everyone has the same beliefs…. and the same prejudices. Her parents don’t trust foxes. They even give her fox repellant when she leaves for the city. She has a bad experience with Gideon (a fox) as a kid, and so of course has this preconceived notion as to what foxes are like. But even we can see in the beginning that she’s trying to fight that and be impartial. She tries to help Nick and his partner in the beginning almost to prove to herself that not all foxes are horrible. Of course this backfires, as he is what she thought, until she gets to really know him (but more on that later).

Judy is voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, who I think was a great choice. She’s got a naivety to her but a very can-do attitude and the ability to talk circles. I LOVE that they use a rabbit’s natural adaptations of good hearing, speed and jumping to her advantage. I also love that through Judy we almost get a lesson as to how Cops are supposed to behave. She has this picture in her mind about what being a cop in Zootopia is going to be like, and, well… it doesn’t turn out the way she wants it to. When she’s asked to be the face of the ZPD and turns it down, she does so because she says she was brought in to help all people, and this would be turning her back on some of them. That that’s not what cops do (or something like this… I’m not quoting obviously). It’s another interesting (and timely, in the U.S.) lesson that Disney chose to stick in there quickly.

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Also, if the whole story about Judy doesn’t correspond to “women can do and be anything,” you’re just not paying attention to this movie.

Now let’s talk about Nick. He’s voiced by Jason Bateman who honestly I’m surprised took this long to voice a Disney character. I’m a fan of Bateman, especially Arrested Development, and I was excited to hear him. He does pretty well giving Nick a layer of sass and confidence that gets stripped away as the movie goes.

I’m going to give away his backstory, so if you want it a surprise… well, skip the next few paragraphs. Whereas Judy has been fighting her stereotypes her whole life to become a cop, Nick gave in to his. The only thing he ever wanted was to become a scout:

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Seriously cute

But then just as he gets an invite, he’s bullied and tormented as a kid by prey animals who said they would “never let a predator” into their scout group without a muzzle. They attack and muzzle him, humiliating him and disillusioning him in that one action with how the world really is and how predators really are seen and treated. So… he became what society wanted him to be. He became the sly fox. The con artist.

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Look how suave he is.

Is this who he really is? No. But no one ever gives him a chance to be who he’s capable of being until Judy comes along. And not even that. In the beginning when she is blackmailing him he continues to be suave, and purposefully sabotaging her investigation because, well, he thinks she’s just a dumb bunny. But then there’s the scene where they lose the savage limo driver and Bogo tells her to hand in her badge, and that she wasn’t cut out for this. In that moment, he understands. This is her moment of humiliation and disillusion that he had when he was a kid. And he’s not going to let that happen to her. In that moment, he understands that they are more alike than different. Neither of them are like their stereotypes.

Their relationship is one of the things that makes this movie so special. This is one of the few Disney movies where there really isn’t a romantic relationship central to the story, and this movie really excels BECAUSE of this. Judy and Nick have a friendship that ends up based on acceptance. Is it perfect? no. But they understand each other, and their chemistry is great.

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This is near the very end of the movie. Yeah that carrot pen is more important than you’d think

I’m not going to go into great detail, but a lot of the other side characters are great. Clawhauser (Nate Torrence – Not Josh Gad…) is the bumbling but sweet front desk cop with a love for all things “Gazelle” (a singer in Zootopia) Chief Bogo (Idris Elba… apparently he is just voicing Disney characters now)  is firm but you kinda get he’s not exactly the smartest guy in the world. We’ve got Flash the sloth, mayor Lionheart, and others to round out our cast. None of them are really that blah. They’re all funny or needed. And the jokes are good, so we’ll keep them.

But then there’s Judy’s parents (Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt), who definitely (IMO) steal the supportive character show with probably all of 10 minutes (if that) on screen. They have some of the best lines and the banter back and forth and with Judy is comic gold. How they have time to spend with one of their 389 (or something) children is beyond me, but hey, they must be awesome parents, or she must be their favorite.

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The last character I want to talk about is the villain. That being said, there are major SPOILERS ahead. I’ve kept it major spoiler free for the most part so far, but I really can’t discuss this without naming names. You have been warned.

I’ll admit it. I should have seen it coming. Disney is sort of getting into a rut with their villains these days. It’s always the person you least expect. King Candy (or Turbo), Hans, Robert Callaghan. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad way to do it (and i’m all for twists in movies), but… let’s just say in Moana I’m going to assume the bad guy is really someone who early in the movie was thought of as good.

Case in point: Bellweather. Criminal mastermind.

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In a lot of ways, it makes sense. She’s a smaller animal that feels disrespected and undervalued not only in her job but I’m sure her life. She makes jokes about it almost the entire movie, and tells Judy more than once that “us little guys gotta stick together.”She works for a lion and thus has a underlying hatred towards predators. Whereas Judy is our character who tries to defy her stereotype and Nick was one who sank into his, Bellweather represents the person who got mad at her stereotype. She blames everyone who’s not like her for the way things are and the way she’s treated, gets mad, and seeks revenge. She views the predators as having some type of edge on the world and in her mind they are the “villains” for always putting the little guys last. In her mind, she’s freeing the world from their tyranny.

I’ll come right out and say it. Bellweather is a terrorist. She uses the Night Howler to create fear and panic in the city and targets a specific group, the predators. As she says, they are in the minority (Zootopia is 90% prey animals), so the majority should go along with her, right?

Except she doesn’t speak for all the small animals, just as those savage night-howler predators don’t speak for their kind. Terrorists (as we’ve learned from our real life experiences) are typically in the minority of whatever group they come from. They don’t represent their group as a whole. And this is another thing this movie shows us.

Seriously. This movie just gets smarter and smarter the more I think about it.

Alright enough on characters. I want to talk about not only how great this animation is but OMG the world they created is unbelievable!

They could have easily just made this a busy metropolis with no character. A “look at the animals that live in a city like us” thing. But they didn’t. Instead, they took the idea of neighborhoods like in NYC and designed the city based on how animals would design it. We have Sahara square, where all the desert animals live. We have Tundra town, and the Rainforest District. And each is a different habitat, and animated beautifully. I can’t begin to tell you how brilliant and creative this is. Again. This is the kind of thing we typically expect from Pixar.

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I really wish we could have seen more of it. We got to the Rainforest District and got to see a bit of Tundratown, but I want to see all of it! Again, am I the only one wishing for a Zootopia 2?

The only other thing I’m going to say about this movie is that it is (unsurprisedly?) chock full of references. Some are extremely apparent, some are incredibly subtle (I suggest going to youtube and searching for “Zootopia Easter Eggs” if you’re curious – there are way too many to put down here). Some had me laughing so incredibly hard, some my husband didn’t catch (or didn’t know about) and some we both went “Did they really just do that in a Disney movie?”

A few of my favorites that are pretty blatant:

  • The Character of Emmett Otterton. Come on. Obviously a play on “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (both the book and the more well known muppet adaptation)
  • The weasel that steals from the grocery store in the beginning then holds the key to uncovering the villain at the end’s name is Duke Weaselton, obviously a play on the Duke of Wesselton from Frozen. Not only is he voiced by the same person (The ever awesome Alan Tudyk), but they actually call him “wesselton” in Zootopia and he corrects them “It’s Weaselton.” hahaha.
  • The Godfather reference in Tundratown. Classic.
  • And of course, the Breaking bad reference. I haven’t even seen the show but even I knew when they got in that rail car and saw the blue flowers that they were going for that. Even better when there was a knock on the door and voices go “It’s Walter and Jesse.” 10 points for Disney for that one.

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  • Also anyone notice Mrs. Otterton has the same coloring as Rapunzel from Tangled? and Nick looked an awful lot like Robin Hood?

Like I said, there’s a ton of other references. But those were some of my favorites.

This movie is… well, it’s awesome. I could probably go on and on about it and it’s pertinence to the world today, but I really don’t want to turn this into a political or incredibly depressing post. The point is that this movie teaches about prejudice, judgements, and in it’s 3 more important characters represents what happens with each road you decide to take. It’s got some amazing visuals, unforgettable characters, incredible heart and some quick wit and hilarious jokes. This movie requires more viewing by me to determine where it falls on my Disney list, but I’d be safe to say it’s probably at least in my top 10-15.

I give Zootopia (2016) a 4.5 out of 5. Solid entertainment.

Up Next: Toy Story (1995)

 

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Enchanted (2007)

I feel like I can’t move out of Disney Animation without reviewing this movie first. Half animated, half live action, I could have stuck it with when I review classics like Mary Poppins and Pete’s Dragon, but it just won’t fit as well there. So I’m putting it here.

When I saw the first trailer for this movie, my first thought was “Oh God that looks AWFUL.” It looked like a horrible mix of rehashed Disney movie and RomCom with way too much strangeness. I figured there’d be horrible songs and it would be campy as hell. So needless to say I didn’t go see it. Instead, I let it pass in the theaters, then I kept hearing people talk about it and how funny and great it was. Three (I think?) of the songs were up for an academy award. And that got me to thinking “hmm, maybe this movie isn’t as weird/campy as I thought? I’ll give it a watch.”

And I. Loved. It.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear about this movie. It IS campy. It IS weird. It IS a weird mix of Disney movie and RomCom. And somehow… it works at being incredibly charming.

Our movie starts in Animation, in the fictional land of Andalasia. A beautiful Maiden named Giselle dreams of finding her true love, and will know so based on their first kiss. Meanwhile, Prince Edward is hunting trolls and hears Giselle singing and must go find her. He rescues her from a troll, they sing together and are ready to be married. But just before the wedding, Prince Edward’s stepmother, Queen Narissa, pushes Giselle down a well that transports her to Life-action land and NYC.

Trying to figure out where she is and cope and get back to Edward, Giselle and her Naivety are taken pity on by Robert and his daughter (ok at this point mostly his daughter) Morgan. They take her back to their condo and Robert allows her to stay the night.

Meanwhile, Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip tells Edward what happened, and he heads to Real-world land to find Giselle, along with Queen Narissa’s Henchman Nathaniel, who is tasked with making sure he doesn’t find her.

Hijinks ensue as both parties deal with being in the real world, and slowly Giselle and Robert bond. Giselle and Edward are eventually reunited, but at this point she has changed immensely from having learned about the real world, but still agrees to go back to Andalasia after going on “A date.”

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Aka: let’s do everything touristy in New York!

This date culminates with a dance, in which Queen Narissa, after losing faith in Nathaniel, shows herself in the real world and poisons Giselle. After attempting to bring her back to life and failing, Edward realizes her true love is Robert. He kisses her and brings her back to life. Upset, Queen Narissa turns into a dragon,and fights not Edward but Giselle at the top of the building. She wins, the dragon plummets to the ground, Giselle stays with Robert, Roberts Fiance goes to Andalasia with Edward, and no one in NYC seems to pay any attention

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This movie could have so easily been awful. It has a lot of Homages to classic Disney movies, it has a lot of strangeness, and it pretty much makes fun of the Disney way of thinking about love. But. It. Works.

Here’s why:

Disney took itself seriously, as did every single actor and actress that worked on this movie. You can tell that although they are making fun of Disney EVERYTHING (songs, falling in love at first sight, true loves kiss, etc) they also LOVE these things.

And that, my friends, is why this works as a perfect parody. It’s the same reason Mel Brooks Parodies are good, and all those “not another [insert type of movie here]” movies are horrible. Mel loves his source material. To truly do a good parody, you need to also love the thing you are making fun of. Everything has something “wrong” with it if you look close enough. parodies are meant to poke fun of these things. But with love.

Another reason this movie works is the actors. Amy Adams in the multiple years after this movie has come out has established herself as an A-list actor, appearing in a huge range of films and having an oscar nomination out of it. But back in 2007, I knew her as “that girl that had that small part in Catch me if you Can.”

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Yeah… that’s really her.

Amy Adams OWNS Giselle. She is essentially playing a Disney princess who gets disillusioned by real life. But instead of being depressed about everything that isn’t the way she thinks it should be, she instead takes the differences of the real world and tries to impress upon Robert that you can act crazy and romantic and it will work. That women like that (clue to guys: they really do!!). She injects a little bit of Disney simple life into the real world in the same way that he injects some real world onto her. As the movie progresses she becomes much more realistic but still holds onto that bubbly personality that believes in true love and happy endings and that singing will make you happy. She has this child-like Naivety that I think we all wish we had.**

I would also like to give a shout out to the costume and hair people who did an amazing job helping Giselle make this transition from “cartoon” to “more realistic.” I mean, they took her from this:

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To this:

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Kudos. This helps mirror her inner changes 🙂

On the flip side we have Robert. He is an “actual” adult. He has a job, responsibilities, is working on keeping a relationship afloat, and has been left by his wife and forced to become a single parent to his daughter, who he is trying to teach can be anything and can be confident and powerful.

You could argue that Robert teaching his daughter to be confident and that she can be anything is almost negated by the fact that a “princess” shows up and plays into all of her fantasies, but I think that’s almost the point of this movie. Confidence comes in a lot of different ways. You just have to be confident in yourself and what you believe. And Giselle is. She doesn’t care she’s walking around New York City in a dress made from curtains. She isn’t embarrassed to start singing in the middle of central park. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks because she is confident.

On the other hand, Robert acts how many of us would act given the circumstance. He doesn’t want to help her. He wants her to only stay a night then leave. You can almost sense that he thinks this woman is on drugs (he does tell his daughter Morgan to sleep in his room that night). He is a down to earth, serious adult.

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How most of us would react if someone randomly starting singing in the middle of Central Park

In the same way that he changes her and makes her become more realistic (all while maintaining really who she is deep down), she changes him to see some of the “magic” and “fun” that can be had, even as an adult. This is the best message in this movie. Adults, sometimes it’s ok to be silly, sing at the top of your lungs, and believe in fairy tales and true love. It’s ok to let your kids be kids and love Princesses. There will be plenty of time to teach them about empowered women, but what exactly is “empowerment”? Like I said before, as long as someone is confident, I don’t see the difference.

Our side characters are a bit hit or miss for me honestly. James Marsden plays Edward, and you can tell he is having a blast with this role. He’s crazy and over the top. He’s really stuck in Andalasia and unlike Giselle has no want or ability to change. But man is he fun to watch. Same goes for our little animal sidekick (who doesn’t talk during the majority of the movie but is fun to watch all the same)

The same goes for Nancy, Robert’s Fiance (Idina Menzel). First of all, I love Idina, but she plays this part kinda wooden. Maybe that’s the point. But she’s a woman who wants all this fairy tale stuff and isn’t getting it with Robert. by the end of the movie she’s better suited for life in Andalasia, and that’s where she goes, to live out her fantasy and live Happily ever after.

Our villains Narissa and Nathaniel are complete Disney Tropes, but again, you can tell that  Susan Sarandon and Timothy Spall (who is typecast here as he always seems to be) are having a blast in their rolls. I was a bit disappointed that they couldn’t think of a villain more original than a wicked witch/Maleficent hybrid, but eh. I will say, however, that I kinda loved it that they gave Nathaniel a bit of motivation for always doing Narissa’s bidding. I also loved that he realized as the movie went on that he was being used and the relationship wasn’t exactly “healthy.” It’s an interesting way to go in delving into the motivation behind why bad henchmen follow the bad guy, and although I could take or leave Nathaniel’s character, I enjoyed that aspect of it.

The songs in this movie are almost, again, “typical” Disney songs, but they are enjoyable. I like to think that this movie, not The Princess and the Frog, was actually the one to herald back the era of Disney musicals that I missed oh so much. The songs do what they’re supposed to do, and are a bit forgettable to be honest. Although I have a personal affinity towards “so close” (the “single” – totally not a disney song…) and “That’s how you know.” That song is just so freaking adorable, and we’d all act completely like Robert in that song…

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The “I’m doing it because you’re making me” look

All in all, Enchanted (2007) is an enjoyable Parody that exists on its own as a relatively enjoyable, albeit campy movie. If you try to think too much while you’re watching it, it won’t be enjoyable. So just get yourself to believe in fairy tales for an hour and a half, and you won’t be disappointed.

I give Enchanted (2007) a 3.7 out of 5

**I totally have a friend like Giselle. I love her to death because through everything she hasn’t given up on anything. She reminds me to stay happy no matter what. We all need a friend like that and I think this is most of the reason I love this movie…

Up Next: Zootopia (2016) BC I can.

 

Underrated Disney Movies

I love me my underrated Disney movies. In some ways, a lot of these have found their way to the top of my personal list. But I guess before I delve into my list of underrated Disney movies, what exactly constitutes one?

Well first off, an underrated movie doesn’t make the entire world go see it. You won’t see any Frozen or Lion King on this list. These are movies that are extremely good but maybe didn’t do too well at the Box office. They might have still made a profit (or maybe they didn’t). These are movies that have gotten pushed to the wayside for differing reasons. They’re the movies that when you say them, people go “wait, what movie now? Disney did that?” or maybe people know about them, but thought they’d be bad, so they never went to go see them.

These are movies that I think are gems. They are movies that might teach a unique lesson. I actually LIKE the fact that half of these movies never garnered a huge audience and got hugely popular. These movies I think are deeper than your typical Disney flare: they have something about them that makes them incredibly special that maybe not everyone saw.

Some of these movies were easy to come up with, and others weren’t. t do have to say that a lot of these are prone to ME thinking they’re underrated. Especially the newer ones on the list. It’s possible I didn’t see them as popular as they really were at the time. Some of the newer ones are ones I believe will possibly fall to the wayside in years to come. If they have a question mark (?) by their entry, I was hesitant in adding them but will try my hardest to explain why I think they are underrated.

You will also notice this is not a “Disney movies people forget exist” list. I didn’t include The rescuers, Oliver & Co, or even The Sword and the Stone. While these are good movies, they don’t have that special something that I think these other movies have.

These are in chronological order…. not in any other type of order…

Let’s go!

1. The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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I think everyone in the world should watch this movie right now. It teaches tolerance in a way kids can understand. It’s from Disney’s “Dark Ages” but it really is a gem. It preaches its lesson by not preaching, but instead getting viewers to fall in love with two adorable characters and then watch them grow up and we see the first hand effect on what cultural norms can do to change a person (or in this case, animal). It has some incredibly memorable moments, action, adventure, and laughs. I’m not going to justify why this is underrated. It just is because movies that can teach the lesson that it does in the way that it does are few and far between. And I bet the only people who really love this movie and know about it nowadays are the people who were a) kids when it came out, or b) kids when it came out on VHS for the first time. I’m the latter.

2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

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My personal favorite Disney movie is also one that people (and the studio – where’s my blu-ray diamond edition special release??) not only forget about, but don’t seem to want to watch. It’s “too dark” or “too adult” for kids. I’m sorry, but this movie came out when I was a kid (11 years old to be exact), and I’m here to tell you it has always been a favorite of mine. It takes a hard story and makes it reachable for kids to understand. It takes incredibly complex ideas such as hatred and damnation and lusts and intolerance and somehow spells it out so that kids understand. It doesn’t patronize them. Instead, it admits that kids CAN understand this stuff, and should. It treats its viewers like adults. It has amazing music, animation, and characters that are some of the best (minus the gargoyles…).

3. Treasure Planet (2002)

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You can blame the advertising and styling for this one. No one saw it because it was “different” for Disney. And it is, and you know what, I think you do have to just kinda go with the flow a bit with this movie and say “ok, that’s an anthropomorphic cat-human-thing.” But this movie is superb and way underrated because it’s a) the best adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and b) We get some of the best relationships in a disney movie EVER in this one between Jim and Silver. Plus, it’s a Disney movie where the bad guy turns out good(ish). Whether you like it or not is up to you, but it’s on my list because I would watch it over and over just to see the characters.

4. Lilo & Stitch (2002)

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Ok, this might be my first stretch. Because I know there was a TV show and direct to movie sequels, but I still didn’t feel like people went to see this movie. I feel like no one ever talks about it except to say how cute Stitch is. If that’s all they took away from this movie, those people need to watch it again. I was in High school when this came out, so maybe that’s why I get the feeling this wasn’t a huge movie for Disney. I wasn’t the age when all my friends might have been obsessed with it. (although I did have huge Disney fan friends…).

Again this movie suffered from what I’m going to call the “strangeness” factor. It has Aliens and Hawaii. Not typical fanfare for Disney. But this movie is SO much more. It’s about belonging and family and what constitutes a family and that family is important and you’d do anything for them. It’s letting kids know that ALL types of families are good, and we have almost REAL people and REAL situations (except the alien part). Sister trying to scramble and provide and grow up after parents die? Check. Messed up little girl suffering from something after her parents die? check. realistic sister relationship? check. This movie has so much heart. It just chose to explore it in a strange way.

5. Brother Bear (2003)

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I know a LOT of people that don’t like this movie, and i know I’m in the minority of people that actually might possibly call it a favorite. BUT… let me explain why it’s here on the list (it’s not because it’s strictly a favorite, I promise!!)

Yes, it’s a body swapping story. Yes, there are lessons that come along with that. Disney had never done an animated story like this before, and this one gets deeper than you think. Not only does our main character Kenai learn that bears aren’t the horrible monsters he thinks they are, but he learns that his past actions have affected someone he genuinely cares about. Coming to terms with that and telling the truth about it is why I have this on my underrated list. That’s deep for Disney. It’s about learning that what you used to believe actually hurt someone you love and dealing with the outcomes. You can’t take back your choices. You’re stuck with what you did and what you thought in the past. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change and be a better person (er, bear) and make up for in in the future.

6. Meet the Robinsons (2007)

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I would attempt to name them all L to R, but I can’t…

If you had told me 10 years ago I was going to put this on this list I would have laughed at you. Because the trailer looked ridiculous. Because this movie seemed ridiculous. And in a lot of ways, it is. In a lot of ways, it’s messy, and weird, and disjointed. But if you look past all that and get to the heart of this movie, you’re left going “whoa.” I talk about it in my review, but the lesson in this movie of not dwelling on the past and to “keep moving forward” is unique in a Disney movie. That’s why it’s on this list. The idea is so great, and in some ways it’s done well. Lewis is great as is our villain (with regards to the lesson). They don’t bash it over people’s heads, but it’s not super subtle either. This movie COULD be better, but it’s underrated in my mind because I think this is a movie no one went to see. And they really should just give it a chance.

7. The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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Ok this one IS selfish. And it’s different than the others on here. But this movie SHOULD HAVE BEEN bigger than it was. It SHOULD HAVE BEEN Disney’s rise back into the Revival. Because it’s good. It has everything that is so “classic” Disney and so much more. It has an amazing protagonist. Great side characters. A good Villain. Good songs. But did it get much mention? no! Ugh. I wish this movie had done better. Because it’s awesome and does not deserve to get forgotten (which I feel like it already has!). It teaches that hard work and perseverance are good, and you need them to get ahead in life, but they aren’t everything. You need to strike a balance between work and play and love.

Rant over.

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I was going to add Tarzan (1999) and Mulan (1998), because I think they’ve fallen to the wayside now, but eh, I can’t bring myself to do it. I think they were somewhat popular when they came out. But I do think they are movies that everyone should see for differing reasons (see my reviews for more info)

So there you have it. 6 movies I think everyone who is a true Disney fan shouldn’t skip. Movies I think that deserve more credit than they got, even if just a little. Movies that make me think or might have a profound effect on a child’s thinking. Or an adult’s for that matter.

Next up: Enchanted, then on to Pixar!

 

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)

 

 

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahhh Benedict Cumberbatch....

Ahhh Benedict Cumberbatch….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: Oliver & Company (1988)

 

The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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

Copper: And you’re mine too, Tod.

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

Copper: Yeah, forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So epic. Cue crying here...

So epic. Cue crying here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rescuers (1977)

 

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

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

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

So let’s dive in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: The Fox and the Hound (1981)