Thumbelina

ThumbelinaThumbelina is one of those fairy tales that Disney didn’t make a movie for and yet oftentimes gets credit for. Maybe it’s because their Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson, voiced the titular character.

Thumbelina 1

Thumbelina is a cute movie about a young girl who is the size of a thumb gifted to an old woman who wants nothing more than to have a child of her own. Born of a flower, Thumbelina is small, curious, and beautiful and loves nothing more than learning of the great big world out there around her. She is also an adept singer, and it is this voice which attracts the attention of several figures, most importantly Cornelius, a young fairy the same size as her. Thumbelina 2Unfortunately, another figure has heard her melodic voice, Mrs. Toad the vivacious toad who owns a river boat troupe and wants Thumbelina to perform for her and marry her son, Grundel.

Just as unfortunately for them, Cornelius has already promised to return for Thumbelina, having declared his unyielding love for her and he refuses to give up on this love for a young lady he literally met yesterday. No wonder people think it’s a Disney movie, that right there is like… a trope of theirs.

Thumbelina 5Having taken cues from her last animated adventure (the voice actress of course) Thumbelina steadfastly believes her fairy boyfriend will come and save her at some point but she takes the initiative and escapes captivity first. Along the way she meets the swallow, Jacquimo, who actually is the one to inspire her to escape by releasing her and sending her on her way. So while she had a man’s help to cross the raging river about her, she did go off on a long journey almost entirely on her own, which is more than most animated characters can say.

THUMBELINA, from left, Thumbelina, voiced by Jodi Benson, Berkeley Beetle, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, 1994, ©Warner Bros.

Thumbelina goes through many trials and tribulations, from the Berkeley Beetles who want her to perform at their Beetle Ball to the Mr. Mole, the blind rich mole who wants to marry her and solve all of her woes. Of course, he has the aid of his kindly housemaid, Miss Fieldmouse, but that’s beside the point.

All this time, of course, Cornelius is a gallant hero who will apparently stop at nothing to save a girl, as already established, he only met yesterday. But this is alright, because she returns his feelings.

Thumbelina 3Thumbelina is a cute, adorable movie and, in my opinion, is one of Don Bluth’s best pieces (A Troll in Central Park, of course, being one of my all-time favorites after this). One of these days I’ll have to introduce you to this other animated feature favorite of mine, The Princess and the Goblin.

An American Tail

An American Tail is an old movie, to us anyway, and it is a fun adventure starting a talking animal… a mouse.

An American Tail

No this isn’t The Rescuers by Disney or Jerry from Tom & Jerry, Fievel is our hero and the tale begins in the late nineteenth century. Fievel Mousekewitz and his family are forced to abandon their home in Russia because the cat problem is just that bad, so they leave for America to live the American Dream “where there are no cats and the streets are paved with cheese” of course. It was a sleeper hit and earned a lot of money, apparently to Disney’s chagrin. Of course, this is Don Bluth we’re talking about, what on Earth did you expect?

It is a cute movie, as most animated films tend to be, but deep within this cuteness proximity is a deep story about persecution. The Mousekewitz live in fear of the feline gangs that roam their streets, paralleling a real life issue for many of live in crime-magnet areas. Because this is an animated film there is of course music at every turn, if only because animated films must have a soundtrack that blows the budget!

Fievel is voiced by Phillip Glasser and life is breathed into this little mouse who has dreams of rejoining his family after he is lost at sea and presumed dead. His family grieves but most move on as they deal with new, and at times more difficult, challenges than the cats of Russia ever posed; the cat-mafia of New York City. All the while, Fievel is in the same city, having floated there via a bottle that somehow makes it across the ocean. He befriends a pigeon named Henri and finds himself in an assortment of adventures after being sold to a sweatshop by Warren T. Rat.

Determined to find his family, however, Fievel refuses to give up and does everything in his power to overcome oppression in 19th century America.

This movie was a surprise hit to the viewers of the eighties, what with The Little Mermaid and all, but it simply proves once more that Disney does not and should not hold the monopoly on animated films.

Animated films in the US are intended for children in distinct comparison to other countries in which case animated movies and shows are targeted towards a variety of people of all ages because that’s how you make a profit. That does not mean that this is a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a cultural thing.

So, take a moment and enjoy this animated film. You might actually find parallels to life as we know it today.

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty is a timeless tale that has been told time and time again (but not nearly as often as Cinderella). It was one of the last films that Walt Disney personally oversaw, with the very last one being The Jungle Book. It is my favorite Disney film but even it has major flaws.

Sleeping Beauty

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, la de dah you know it. Princess Aurora, raised as Briar Rose in the woods by three fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather is coming upon her sixteenth birthday whereupon a curse placed on her by the wicked Maleficent will cause her to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Obviously this should mean you would consider bringing her back home and out of hiding after her sixteenth birthday and that every precaution would be taken without abandon…. Right?

Sleeping Beauty Fairies

Yeah, while the fairies of Maleficent are downright ignorantly abusive these ones here are just plain stupid at times. But they’re fun and adorable and good hearted, so we chalk it up to the curse affecting them so that it would be fulfilled. They truly want to protect Aurora, and that is all that matters in my book.

Sleeping Beauty Dance

It is quite fortunate/unfortunate that on the day of her sixteenth birthday, Briar Rose is sent deep into the woods to find berries, which she’ll be happy to let you know she just picked up yesterday, and her lilting voice attracts the kindly animal-folk and, of course, a handsome young stranger. Having been raised to never talk to strangers but not how to avoid loopholes, Rose dances with the handsome stranger throughout the woods and they end up romantically leaning against a tree as the sun sets. Of course, this is where she decides to run a la Cinderella and the plot really kicks in. Maleficent proves herself a dangerous foe, to the point where she is one of, if not the most, powerful and frightening villains that Disney has ever crafted (Until Angelina Jolie came and gave her a well rounded personality of course, but that’s next week’s review!).

Sleeping Beauty - Maleficent

What Sleeping Beauty has over Snow White and Cinderella, the previous two Disney Princess flicks, is that the Prince actually has a character and he spends more than just a single song with Aurora before he declares his unyielding love for her. Where it fails in the same arena is the fact that the title character, Aurora, gets about a dozen or so lines of dialogue outside of singing, doesn’t talk for the entire second half of the movie (granted neither does the Prince), spends half the movie asleep, and overall suffers for screen time to accommodate the Three Good Fairies, Diablo, and Maleficent (who doesn’t fare much better herself really but then she also got a spin off with a hotter and sexier version of Diablo. Which may have made bestiality just the tiniest thought in your mind). Why is this problematic for a story about a slumbering princess? Because a lot more could have been spent developing her character before this and Phillip could have proven himself more capable without them if he had simply been given the chance.

My number one complaint of earlier Disney films has almost always been the lackluster treatment of our supposed main characters. When the comic relief gets more screen time than your title character there’s a serious problem. That Maleficent gave Aurora more screen time and development at the expense of other characters (namely Phillip but this is entirely justified in context) granted it was only about twenty minutes longer but most of that was spent on the prologue and epilogue while the meat of the story hinged closely (with alterations of course) to its source material, this movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love Sleeping Beauty, but even the things I love have flaws.

Anastasia (1997)

Anastasia is a tragedy about a revolution being launched against an Imperial Family and leaving behind apparently no survivors. This film, animated by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman under Fox Animation is one of several films that toyed with the idea that Anastasia Romanov, the youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, had actually survived this gruesome massacre. Unfortunately it would later be discovered that none of the Romanov’s did escape. But that doesn’t lessen the beauty of this movie.

Anastasia_1997_DVD_Cover

Once again we are dealing with an animated feature that is not related to Disney. This film provides more voices for a character than is probably necessary, and of course it’s our title character. Anastasia is voiced by Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man) and Meg Ryan (Everything) as a child and adult respectively while Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls) and Liz Callaway (like the go to singer when you’re doing an animated feature and you weren’t lucky enough to get Jodi Benson) again as child and adult. At least most of Disney’s films cast actors and actresses who could sing or weren’t afraid to do so.

Anastasia, after escaping the tragedy that night, conveniently falls and hits her head in such a way as to give her amnesia. Wandering alone in the middle of the snow, where upon no one recognizes the young girl they’re ALL looking for, she finds an orphanage where she is dubbed Anya and is raised in squalor. It isn’t until she’s a young lady and is kicked out that she goes on a cross country journey to find out who she is, during a montage no less!

Finding her way to the palace the plot truly begins as she meets Dimitri (John Cusack from 2012 and singing voice provided by Jonathan Dokuchitz) and Vladimer (Kelsey Grammer from X-Men Days of Future Past!) who are auditioning young women to play the role of their lives, Anastasia Romanov. How convenient!

Anastasia 1

It is around this time that Bartok (Hank Azaria), a talking bat, finds his master, Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) the instigator of the eradication of the Romanov family. Upon beginning his new plan he discovers that Anastasia is still alive and does what should be impossible at this age considering it was apparently impossible when she actually looked like the missing poster… he identifies her. Of course a wizard did it so that’s alright.

The movie is silly, fun, and entertaining. Beautifully animated with a score and soundtrack that gives it an edge over some other animated films not done by Disney. Anastasia is definitely worth your time.

The Road to El Dorado

Growing up I was inundated with Disney. Disney was seemingly the singular source of animated films that were actually good movies. But I find myself to be a part of a lucky generation. A generation where awesome and adorable animated films that aren’t in any way tied to Disney were being made and a released. Unfortunately, since Disney all but had a monopoly on animated flicks, people tend to judge all others with a heavy hand and a snotty attitude.

The Road to El Dorado

The Road to El Dorado, much like The Swan Princess, is a traditionally animated film that wasn’t produced, inspired, or in any way related to Disney aside from the fact that the Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO, left Disney and started this company… oh and now they distribute films under Touchtone for Disney… I guess they didn’t get very far. But this is beside the point, this animated feature was in no way related to Disney when it was first released!

The Road to El Dorado is an interesting tale of two men, thieves really, named Tulio (Kevin Kline, who played Captain Phoebus in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh, who played Professor Gilderoy Lockhart and would go on to direct Thor and Cinderella… for Disney), who are best friends who are cunning and cheerful. One thing that has always drawn me to this movie, which while never mentioned in the final film because of the ‘moral guardians’ is that Tulio and Miguel were, and are, intended to be a couple. Not just partners in crime and best friends, an actual couple. But because this was an animated film in the year 2000 and animation is clearly only for children, it wasn’t stated in the film even though all of the subtext, undertones, and jealousy were left in. Kind of like Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus from the original dub of Sailor Moon (in which almost nothing was removed so we were left with an obviously lesbian couple who were cousins. Way to go America).

The fun part, though, is that because they treat the relationship like any other natural and normal thing, you can simply ignore it for the story and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. The two, surviving catastrophe when their latest plan goes awry, end up on a row boat in the middle of the ocean with a horse, Altivo (Frank Welker who has played too many animals in Disney films for us to name here. Let’s just say most.). With no food, drinkable water, a map that they stole almost by accident, and tensions running high, the two are ecstatic when they wash up on the shores of a tropical beach.

Soon Miguel begins to recognize things on the island as they are on the map, and the three of them end up making their way through the jungle where they run, surprisingly, into a woman being chased by guards. All of their dreams suddenly validated, they are surprised when they are dragged back to the golden city, AKA El Dorado, where native people are aplenty with a source of wealth that is so plentiful it has two forms of meaninglessness to them, because the totem that Miguel and Tulio are riding Altivo in front of is an effigy of their Gods. Enter Chel (Rosie Perez) whom was being chased by the guards. This is where you can ignore the intended romance, as obviously they’re interested in each other and Chel and jealous of one another to the point where I could call this Degrassi or X-men and the relationships would be almost identically convoluted (I kid, I kid. In Degrassi you actually can tell).

Rolling with the God mistake, Tulio and Miguel begin to grow attached to El Dorado and the people within it. Of course, there’s always one bad apple out there to ruin everything.

Check out El Dorado, it’s a fun, entertaining movie with a multiple-choice plan of understanding it!

Shrek

A deconstruction is an interesting concept where films, books, and television are concerned. After a while media tends to get set in their formulaic ways and we’re still willing to shell out money for the same old stuffy plots and characters because we’ve grown attached to them. That’s where a deconstruction comes in. Whether it’s of comedy, horror, action, fairy tales a deconstruction can, (ironically in Scream’s case) bring new blood into a genre.

Shrek

Shrek did this in the early 2000s where fairy tales are concerned and in the process made a lot of fun at Disney’s expense (something that Disney seems to be okay with) over the years. Fairy tales are beautiful stories set in vaguely European timeframes with a touch of magic depending on the plot. The characters work strange jobs that you might not be accustomed to, like blacksmith, farmer… waitress. Okay it wasn’t that long ago but really, it all has a bit of a fantastical edge to it, doesn’t it…?

So, in your standard fairy tale you have the knight in shining armor, the beautiful princess trapped in unseemly circumstances, the oppressive tyrant who put her there, the loveable animal sidekick, and the woodland creatures who know how to set the tone. Throw in a fire breathing dragon and a kingdom wide journey and you’re made. All of these are tools of the trade, so to speak, and each and every single one of them have a very different purpose in this fairy tale.

Shrek (Mike Meyers best known for Austin Powers) is our Knight in Shining Armor and he is neither charming nor clean, or nice… Or a knight… moving on! Fiona (Cameron Diaz best known for Charlie’s Angels) is our beautiful nonstandard Disney Princess™ who is neither helpless nor Disney. Donkey (Eddie Murphy best known for tanking his career with Pluto Nash) is our loveable animal sidekick who is really more annoying to our main hero, but he’s a talking ass so what did you expect? And Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow whom I know from Dexter) is… short and evil, so basically like Tyrion Lannister with a little less cunning and a lot more evil.

Isn’t that just beautifully dissonant? Take what you know about an archetype and turn it on its head and you have something that is not only ironic (in a proper use of the term for once) but also extremely refreshing. Everybody expects a helpless princess despite G.I. Jane telling you that women can be strong or even Hermione Granger saving Harry Potter’s ass every once in a while. Everybody expects a typical animated romance because of something Disney has been selling for, by that point just under seventy years. With a deconstruction you don’t need to do what is expected. You can take the archetypes, the symbols, themes, motifs, and even the very setting itself and throw it in a blender or, if there’s metal involved chuck it in the microwave, twist the ending like Shrek famously did with True Love’s Kiss. Not only is it a lot more fun, if done right, but it’s a lot less constricting.

The Swan Princess

Good news everyone! You’re going to the cannibalistic world known as… Oh, sorry that’s the wrong animated character (Sorry Professor Farnsworth, maybe when we do TV reviews you’ll get your chance to shine!).

The Swan Princess

This review is about an adorable fairytale that wasn’t made by Disney! Say hello to Princess Odette, a young girl who wants nothing more than to not marry Prince Derek from a neighboring kingdom, a match set up from birth for Odette (Michelle Nicasto) and a very young age of Derek (Howard McGillin)… all but immediately after her mother died during childbirth (something that isn’t ever mentioned on screen but come on… the Queen never shows up once). Once the two of them are of a slightly more mature age, let’s say six or seven, King William (Dakin Matthews) and Queen Uberta (Sandy Duncan) conduct annual visits of three months to Queen Uberta’s kingdom, and we can only hope that the King has some form of regent looking over his… never mind that actually makes so much sense as to how the evil sorcerer Rothbart (Jack Palance) could plan and plot without ever being caught by the Royal Guard.

In the meantime, over the years Odette and Derek find themselves disagreeing on everything and always getting into one another’s way. Odette, starting as a precocious child, grows into a tomboy who wants nothing more than to just play with Derek and his friend Bromley (Joel McKinnon Miller). As young girls’ trend to do, but not Princesses who are named Merida, they grow out of their tomboyish phase and learn about boys! Which tends to annoy Derek more than her wanting to actually play rough house with him. Oh young romance how dreamy you can be!

The years continue to tick by until, let’s say eighteen to twenty two based on figures and maturity, plus the age of majority for ruling a kingdom in what is obviously based on some form of medieval European country, and William and Uberta hope desperately that this, Derek and Odette’s last meeting that something will come of it. Thankfully, all of their hard work and effort over what is more than likely a decade, Derek and Odette are breath taken by who they have grown up to be and love at last sight is a new thing. They dance, they smile, and then reality sets in with a single question, “What else?”

This film trumps Disney in a single regard that has only just come to their attention, a long lasting mature relationship cannot, I repeat, CANNOT be expected to be of any kind of substance when you know someone for a day (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White), based on a lie (Aladdin, Princess and the Frog the last of which was in 2009 but at least spent the ENTIRE film focusing on a relationship), or simple fascination with their looks (The Little Mermaid, 1989 but which had the courtesy of moving beyond pure physical attraction to something a little deeper and… okay three days is still an awful timeframe to get married). In comparison, while it may have been during a montage, Derek and Odette have known one another for at least ten to twelve years and when they actually start to feel something for one another, Odette is quick to crush it when she realizes that Derek doesn’t know why he loves her and the only reason he can come up with is her beauty.

Their relationship is anything but easy over the years, but the rest of the film builds them up so that when they actually do reach a natural relationship it is worth so much more than most other relationships in this medium. But this is just the underlying plot, the rest of the film deals with the titular Swan.

Odette, having refused a marriage proposal from Derek, leaves with her father for their kingdom when they are assaulted, William is killed and Odette is captured leading to a search effort spearheaded by Derek to find Odette and prove his love to her.

Captured by the disgraced sorcerer Rothbart, who wants to be a king “legally,” Odette is cursed to become a Swan every day with her only respite being at night if she can make it to the lake and float under the moon’s brilliant shine. Rather than being a damsel in distress who is simply waiting for someone to find her despite having no clue where to start searching for her, Odette, with her new friends Speed (a turtle, Steven Wright), Jean-Bob (A frog with dreams of being the star of the fairytale but this isn’t the Princess and the Frog so wait your turn – John Cleese), and Puffin (a… puffin voiced by Steve Vinovich), goes out and finds her true love to try and convince him of her plight.

This is a beautiful film and I think that adults and children alike can enjoy its beautiful score, the entertaining songs, and the funny characters.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6In a manner of speaking this is the first time that Disney and Marvel actually took advantage of their relationship for Disney’s benefit; in that an animated movie came out of the deal.

Big Hero 6 Cast

Big Hero 6 is a cute movie about a big white marshmallow who…. Wears battle armor and knows how to pound fists?? Okay let’s be honest here Big Hero 6 is an adorable movie about a big white marshmallow who was designed to help people by administering first aid and a multitude of other medical procedures. Created by Tadashi Hamada in the robotics center of his university, Baymax is our loveable, huggable, warrior Marshmallow!

But our story isn’t about Tadashi (played by Daniel Henney) it is actually about Hiro Hamada (Ryan Porter) as he deals with tragedy. A robotics prodigy, to the point where he can beat most if not all seasoned miniature robot battlers, Hiro lives with his aunt Cass Hamada (Maya Rudolph!!) and has recently been accepted to the school his brother went to, alongside his brother’s best friends GoGo (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), and Fred (T.J. Miller).

All of them are incredibly intelligent and talented and for the most part all of the science they are using in the film is accurate (albeit its application might be a little less so). The tragedy, though, strikes on the day where Hiro is presenting his microbots to the Department Head of the Robotics Center at the university, where a fire breaks out and kills the Department Head, Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), and Tadashi Hamada.

Months after his brother’s death, Baymax is accidentally activated when Hiro hurts himself, as is Baymax’s natural protocol. It is at this very same moment that the only microbot that Hiro still has activates and seems to be going somewhere, in a moment of disinterest and annoyance Hiro tells Baymax to figure out where it’s heading. Baymax, the literal adorable marshmallow that he is, takes Hiro’s direction as you might think… directly.

Hiro, forced to track Baymax down, eventually finds him just as Baymax has located the place the microbot was headed, which leads into an even grimmer discovery than one could possibly imagine. Someone has stolen Hiro’s tech and mass produced it for nefarious purposes.

Unfortunately the police are as effective as you’d think they’d be when a child came running into their station with tales of fancy… despite the fact that they live in San Fransokyo which is clearly a hub for robotics technology so you’d actually think the police might be on the up and up on something like this.

By the next encounter, it becomes obvious that Hiro and Baymax simply cannot do this alone, so they enlist Goo, Honey Lemon, Wasabi, and Fred and form the Power Avengers….! Oh, okay well maybe not the Power Avengers (Which isn’t trademarked so yay!), but they do form a group that uses their technological savviness to find, stop, and apprehend whoever it is who stole Hiro’s tech, because it had supposedly been destroyed in the fire this does logically lead into the theory that whoever stole it also killed Tadashi and Professor Callaghan.

This is an adorable movie for people of all ages and walks of life. So give it a GoGo and see what you think!

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor TotoroMy Neighbor Totoro, a childhood favorite of mine, is a grand story that is also a simple story. Sometimes a simple story, one with only mild supernatural goings’ on, is a blessing. Totoro is a cute creature that shows up randomly to two young sisters who are moving into the country with their father so that they can be closer to their mother who is quite ill. A coming of age movie is always something that I can appreciate, and while one might think it for children, anime is something that people of all ages can enjoy.

Satsuki and Mei, in 1958 Japan, are two sisters who are (like most siblings) in love and hate with one another do what most children in their position would do, which is to explore their new surroundings with abandon. The house, big and spacious and seemingly haunted with dust motes, is ripe for adventure as are the grounds that surround it. Grounds that are coated with thick bushes that are planted just so there is a path beneath them (just got to love natural pathways after all!). While their father, who works at home, and Satsuki (the older sister) is at school, Mei is left alone to explore the house and grounds and she almost immediately comes across a mysterious presence that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a bear (and boy are they huggable!).

This is a coming of age story, as previously mentioned, with hints of the supernatural, but the main story is all about Mei and Satsuki coming to terms with one another and strengthening their relationship as sisters.

The animation is beautiful, the score enchanting, and the characters interesting. My Neighbor Totoro is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best movies (In my humble opinion of course, after all Kiki’s Delivery Service is also one of my all-time favorites!), and the mythology is deep (while not jammed down our throats). The power of a simple story is that it allows us to fill in the gaps, of which there aren’t many. A simple story allows us to sit back and relax and simply enjoy the show!

But even a simple story has drama within it, and the drama picks up very near the end so that we can see the importance of family and the strength that those bonds can have. Loyalty is another concept, and that it sometimes will come out of the most unexpected of places. This is why I adore a simple story, for me more things stick out in my mind.