Category: Uncle Walt-a-thon

Uncle Walt-a-thon: The Jungle Book

<- Uncle Walt-a-thon: Sword in the Stone

It gives me a little sense of pride that mine must be one of the few blogs that can post a review of The Jungle Book right after a post on Doctor Zhivago, and it’s not even out-of-place.

Anyway, I already wrote up a closer for this series, but I did want to include The Jungle Book since it was the last film Disney worked on (though he passed away while it was still in production). Also, it was likely my favourite film as a child. I couldn’t even guess how many times I watched this movie before I turned ten, but it was enough that, even though I haven’t seen it in a solid decade-and-a-half, I could still remember every scene, almost every line, even. Only Robin Hood and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day are even in the same ballpark for my favourite and most-watched childhood films.…

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An Uncle Walt-a-thon Round-Up

I’ve already covered each major Walt Disney film individually as part of my Uncle Walt-a-thon project (except The Jungle Book, but he died during the production of that one and Netflix doesn’t have it, so I’m skipping it), but it occurs to me that I haven’t yet shared any thoughts of the project as a whole. So, here are some general impressions and a highlight reel.

Overall, there weren’t any surprises. Based on my childhood memories of these films, I expected a bunch of well-animated children’s films, and that’s what I got. The stories are fairly standard fare for family films, so what interested me most going in was to see how animation improved or changed over time.

Well, the animation quality did improve somewhat from one film to another, but Alice in Wonderland was the last one that was especially striking, visually, though there was a change in style with 101 Dalmatians. There are just a few highlights for fans of animation as such: Snow White, the “Pink Elephants on Parade” in Dumbo, much of Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and perhaps 101 Dalmatians. If I were teaching a class on animation, I suppose those five films would be the ones I’d include.

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: Sword in the Stone

<– Uncle Walt-a-thon: 101 Dalmatians

Besides the English setting, Sword in the Stone has another common Disney trope in that it opens with a picture of a book with some narration. This may have had some novelty value the first time they did this, and I understand that they’re trying to create a certain feeling for the story, but setting up the story with straight narration like this is very easy, and having seen it multiple times now it also feels cheap. Was it just obligatory at this point?

At least the opening narration was partly sung and rhymed this time.…

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: 101 Dalmatians

<- Uncle Walt-a-thon: Sleeping Beauty

It’s another dog story set in London. This does allow some cameos from Lady and the Tramp side characters, but between these two films and Peter Pan, part of me wonders whether it’s just a coincidence that Disney chose to adapt three works all set in England so shortly after each other (more than that if one includes Alice in Wonderland and Sword in the Stone). Just a fondness for the setting?

Anyway, I watched 101 Dalmatians many, many times as a child, but one thing I didn’t remember is that the art style here really feels hand-drawn. Obviously every film has been produced prior to CG animation, but look at this frame, for example:

dalmatians2

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: Sleeping Beauty

<- Uncle Walt-a-thon: Lady and the Tramp

In some ways, Sleeping Beauty is a revised version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, since both adapt fairly simple fairy tales that don’t seem to lend themselves to a feature-length film. Disney has covered wide variety of subjects in his films so far, so it’s sometimes difficult to compare them, but these two lend themselves to comparison.

Of course, Sleeping Beauty does offer better animation than its predecessor. The backgrounds are gorgeously detailed, and the first part of the film has an unusual, flat look to it from the lack of shading, making it reminiscent of simple storybook illustrations. Snow White is also visually appealing, but the extra two decades of refinement shows in the newer work.

The main difference between them, though, is in how they attempt to fill out an eighty-five minute run time. Snow White did so mostly with music. This kept the film entertaining without trying to pad out a very simple plot, but does have some drawbacks. We know next-to-nothing about the world outside the dwarves’ cottage; all we know about the prince, for example, is that he’s handsome, has a good singing voice, and isn’t afraid to kiss a girl while she’s asleep.…

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: Lady and the Tramp

<- Uncle Walt-a-thon: Peter Pan

Maybe I should’ve saved that “still better than Cinderella” line for Lady and the Tramp instead of using it with Peter Pan. After all, Peter Pan is a different kind of story; it’s an adventure story, whereas Cinderella and Lady are “watch the characters not do much of anything except [in Lady‘s case] eat spaghetti and chase a rat” stories.

Now, I’ll willingly grant that perhaps I’m not being entirely fair; perhaps it is largely my fault for being bored because there’s not enough action. As I’ve said before, my main interest in animation is animation, and with a few exceptions I don’t have much patience for works that don’t play to the strength of their medium. Besides, I’m outside the target audience for these films, and I did like Lady and the Tramp alright as a child. I certainly can’t fault the quality of the animation, and there’s nothing major wrong with the plot, it’s just not interesting to me as an adult.…

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: Peter Pan

<– Uncle Walt-a-thon: Alice in Wonderland

Short version: it’s better than Cinderella.

Peter Pan is, simply, far more entertaining. The variety of settings goes a long way by itself, but there’s also a good deal of action, humour, and of course music. Even the plot is, by Disney’s standards, fairly complex, with multiple points of conflict, e.g. Wendy’s opposition to her father’s wish that she grow up, Capt. Hook’s desire for revenge against Peter, Tinkerbell’s jealousy of Wendy, and a couple others. Someone unafraid of a little overanalysis could even write a short paper on how the film’s like a cheerier version of Lord of the Flies, as the Lost Boys are quite the little lot of savages constantly fighting among themselves, and chasing after every novelty that comes their way, whether that’s acting like the Indians, joining a pirate ship, or following Wendy to London (as a side note, I’d watch a movie about the Lost Boys going to London). All Capt. Hook, clearly their leader’s greatest enemy, has to do to convince them to join his crew after capturing them is have his men put together a spiffy song-and-dance routine; it was a nice routine, I’ll admit, but show a little loyalty!…

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: Alice in Wonderland

<– Uncle Walt-a-thon: Cinderella

After the insipid Cinderella, a part of me dreaded what lay in store for the rest of this series; would the rest of the classic Disney films fare as poorly as this? Luckily, these fears turned out to be premature, because Alice in Wonderland is a contender for the best film yet.

The contrast between Alice and Cinderella illustrates Disney’s strengths. No Disney film has a complex plot, so a work like Cinderella which relies entirely on storytelling, though children may enjoy it just fine (which I realise is the primary goal), will almost always bore an adult audience. However, when plot is largely set aside and the animators are free focus entirely on their own craft, as in Fantasia or Dumbo’s “Pink Elephants,” the results are almost always spectacular.…

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: Bambi

<– Uncle Walt-a-thon: The Three Caballeros

After a couple films in a row that I wasn’t really familiar with, we make it to a film I’ve seen many, many times with Bambi.

My first impression is that this film is beautiful. It’s one of the best-looking animated works I’ve ever seen. I’ve mentioned that some of the previous films‘ backgrounds are soft and reminiscent of watercolours, and that’s the case here, as well, but Bambi has probably the most elaborate yet. The character animation is, needless to say, fluid throughout, and I imagine it took a lot of work to get such a variety of animals to all look right. The animation doesn’t go into any of the weird, experimental stuff I usually like; the closest it comes to something like “Pink Elephants” is in Bambi’s fight with a rival deer near the end. However, it does remind me of Fantasia‘s Tchaikovsky segment with the lush colours and use of lighting, so I would consider this as a culmination of everything the studio had been working towards so far in animation technique.…

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