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Lady and the Tramp

“Butch-a he say he wants-a two spaghetti speciale, heavy on the meats-a ball” -Tony

One month before the opening of Disneyland in July 1955, Walt Disney’s 15th animated feature was released: Lady and the Tramp.  The story first came into being when Disney artist and writer Joe Grant approached Walt with an idea inspired by the frolics of his pet Spaniel named Lady.  Walt liked the sketches that Grant had shown him, and gave him the go-ahead to start developing the idea further.  Through the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, Grant and some other artists at the studio worked on a number of ideas for the story, however, Walt was displeased by all of them, as there wasn’t enough action to be drawn from the stories he had been shown.  Also in the 1940’s, Walt read a story called ‘Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog’, which encouraged him to continue developing the original story by having the main character, Lady, fall in love with another dog.  By 1943, a treatment had been completed for the film, but unfortunately production had to stop, as at that time the studio was working on their WWII propaganda cartoons.

At the beginning of the film, the camera passes over a small turn-of-the-century town in America at Christmas.  We are then introduced to ‘Jim Dear’ and ‘Darling’, who are exchanging presents.  ‘Darling’ is given a pink hat box wrapped in a ribbon by ‘Jim Dear’, and inside she finds a Spaniel puppy; our heroine, Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy, who has also played many other Disney characters).  Apparently, this scene was inspired by a present that Walt gave to his wife Lily, a Chow puppy in a hat box.  We are shown some of the challenges that Lady faces as a puppy, such as climbing the stairs and getting through doors.  When she is allowed to sleep on her owners’ bed for one night, there is a dissolve to adult Lady, sleeping on the same spot on the bed years later, because now she is fully grown.

We are then introduced to Lady’s neighbours, Jock and TrustyJock is a Scottish terrier who is chipper and quick-witted.  His friend Trusty is a Bloodhound, a slow thinking old-timer; the complete opposite of Jock.  We are also introduced to Tramp, a stray dog who is very street-wise and likes to live life in the now.

After Lady notices a negative change in the way her owners are treating her, she discusses the problem with Jock and Trusty.  They put two and two together, and realise that Darling is expecting a baby.  Tramp overhears the conversation and begins to tell Lady how life will change once the baby arrives:

“When the baby moves in, the dog moves out”

When the baby arrives, Lady does not get kicked out, however when Jim Dear and Darling take a trip together and leave Aunt Sarah in charge, things take a turn for the worse for Lady.  She clashes with Aunt Sarah’s two Siamese cats, Si and AmAunt Sarah decides that Lady is not safe to be around the baby, and takes her to the pet shop to be fitted with a muzzle.  Lady manages to run away, but is chased by some stray dogs, which Tramp manages to save her from.  He takes her to the zoo and tricks a beaver into removing her muzzle, so that she is now free, just like him.

Cue famous meatball scene…

Tramp takes Lady for an Italian candlelit dinner at Tony’s Restaurant.  The comedic characters of Tony and Joe, two Italian chefs, lighten the tone of the film, even though they aren’t on screen for too long.  It is Tony who sings the song ‘Bella Notte’ as the two dogs eat their spaghetti and meatballs.  The next day, Tramp stirs up a coop of chickens, but unfortunately, Lady is caught for his crime, and taken to the dog pound.  Here, she meets a handful of weird and wonderful characters, including Peg (voiced by singer Peggy Lee), who tells Lady through the song ‘He’s a Tramp’ about Tramp’s reputation with the ladies.  When Lady is finally taken home from the pound, Aunt Sarah ties her up to the dog house in the garden, where she is visited by Tramp.  She confronts him about his exploits and gets angry at him for leaving her to be taken to the pound, at which point Tramp leaves.

 Lady then sees a rat entering the house and fears for the baby, she barks hysterically, and Tramp comes back to help.  Tramp enters the house and goes into the nursery to confront the rat, beginning a battle which ends badly for the rat.  Aunt Sarah hears all the noise, and sees Tramp standing next to the crib which had fallen over as a result of the fight; she then calls the dog pound to come and pick Tramp up from the house.  Jim Dear and Darling are returning from their trip as Tramp is being taken away by the dog catcher, and they rush into the house.  Jock and Trusty realize what has happened after overhearing everything, and run after the dog catcher’s wagon to try and help Tramp.  Although they manage to stop the wagon, it tips over, falling on Trusty; it is at this point that Jock and the audience believe him to be dead.

Writing this review was quite difficult.  If it was a bad film there would be plenty to talk about, but it isn’t a bad film.  In fact, since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it was the highest grossing Disney cartoon of that time.  The story was actually the first since Dumbo to be penned by the studio, and was the first feature-length cartoon to be produced in Cinemascope.  As, at the time, many cinemas were not equipped to show Cinemascope films, Walt had to film two versions of the movie, one regular version, and one widescreen version.  The regular version would often cut characters out of a scene, and provide a limited view of the environments, whereas the widescreen version shows the film in all its beauty.  The fact that it was shown in Cinemascope had to be a major draw for audiences in the 1950’s.  The backgrounds were particularly enhanced by this feature, as you could become more drawn in to the environments and the time period in which the film takes place.  The backgrounds are very intricate, particularly the houses, which ooze 1900’s charm and elegance.  This could have something to do with the fact that the artist, Claude Coats, was trained in architecture.  Originally, Mary Blair had done many concept paintings for this movie; however she left the studio whilst the film was still in production, which is when Coats was put in charge.  It is hard to imagine how different the film may have looked if she had continued with the project, as her style was very unique and distinctive.

The town where the story takes place is very much inspired by Walt Disney’s boyhood home of Marceline, Missouri, and in turn, also bears resemblance to Main Street U.S.A in the Disney parks.  It took 150 artists to draw 2 million drawings, resulting in 110,000 Technicolor frames of film, to complete this movie.  That’s a lot of drawings!  This would explain why the movement of the dogs is so fluid.  Anyone who has ever owned a dog or spent time with a dog can see, when watching Lady and the Tramp, how much observation and research of the canine-kind has gone in to making the film.  Stretches, scratches, licks and jumps all seem to be perfectly drawn by the artists to give the genuine feeling that these dogs are real.  So as to give the audience a feel for what life is like for a dog, it was decided that you would see humans as minimally as possible.  Sort of like the ‘feet’ in Tom and Jerry, you never see the face, you only hear the voice.  Although you do see a few humans throughout the film, it only happens when needed to, to move the story along.  The rest of the time it is solely feet, hands and legs.

Jazz singer Peggy Lee co-wrote most of the songs in the film, as well as voicing 4 characters, Darling, Peg, Si and Am.  The character of Peg was named after her, and also had the same walk as her.  Possibly the most famous scene in the entire movie, the spaghetti and meatballs scene, was almost not included in the story at all.  Walt didn’t like it, but was eventually swayed after seeing a full animation test of it.  You made a good choice, Walt!

I am reviewing this movie from the Diamond Edition Blu-Ray.  It has to be said, that this is another Disney classic which seems to have been given a new lease of life thanks to the wonder of HD.  The backgrounds especially are crystal clear, and the characters seem more lifelike than ever.  As has come to be expected from Diamond Editions of this kind, there are a ton of special features.  All of the features from the original DVD release are present, including of a ‘Making Of’ featurette, a puppypedia, a music video, deleted scenes, and storyboard versions of the film.  The Blu-Ray features consist of more deleted scenes, and a very nice interview with Diane Disney Miller called ‘Remembering Dad’.  She talks about Walt’s apartment in Disneyland, and also about the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.  This is a really nice feature, probably the best on the Blu-Ray, particularly for any Walt fans!

If you have never seen Lady and the Tramp, there is no better time to do so.  It looks beautiful; it has a simple, romantic storyline, with plenty of laughs along the way, as well as many memorable songs and characters.

I give this movie 5 Tinks.


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The Haunted Mansion

It has a Living Room, and a Dying Room…

Ok, so at the time of writing, Halloween is only a few days away, so I thought I would get cracking with a review of one of Disney’s supposedly more spooky efforts, The Haunted Mansion.

The film starts off nicely, with a promising title sequence which gives a nod to the floating candelabra in the Haunted Mansion attraction.  We are also given a glimpse of a back story, which doesn’t seem to give much away to the viewer.  We are then introduced to workaholic Jim Evers, (Eddie Murphy) who is a realtor, and his slightly neglected wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), who are due to celebrate their anniversary.  It appears that Jim had not been too attentive to his family recently, so to try to get back in his family’s good books; Jim decides to take them all on a trip to the lake for the weekend.  Before they leave, Sara receives a phone call from Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), who is looking to sell his property, a large mansion near an isolated bayou.  On their way to the lake, Jim and his family stop off at the mansion to do some business.  When they arrive, they are solemnly greeted by Master Gracey’s butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp) who then introduces them to Mr. Gracey himself.  It is made painfully clear to the audience that Master Gracey has a questionable interest in Sara, Jim’s wife; however Jim seems pretty oblivious to that at this point.

Ramsley has a chat with Jim, and then leaves him alone in the library, where Jim accidentally stumbles upon a secret passage into a long corridor.  It is at this point in the film where a lot of influences from the attraction can be seen.  The schizophrenic pictures on the wall will be familiar to Disney theme park fans, as well as the ‘inside out’ busts and the ride’s signature purple wallpaper with glaring eyes.  At the end of the long corridor Jim finds a door that appears to be bulging, with what he suspects to be termites.  He passes through the door and continues deeper into the mysterious darkness.  Meanwhile his two children are following a floating ‘glow’ up into the attic, (time to whip out your imagination a bit at this point) where we can see a bridal gown (another Haunted Mansion reference) as well as countless other cobweb-clad objects.  In the attic they see a portrait of what appears to be their mother, but are sharply told not to ask any questions by a strange little man, who is actually a ghost called Ezra, and a jumpy maid called Emma.

In the meantime, Jim encounters Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly) in the séance room.  Fans of the ride will be familiar with this scene, where Madame Leota’s head smoothly recites incantations from inside a glass ball.  There are musical instruments floating within the room that periodically make noises in response to her readings.  Jim has a very strange encounter with Leota and is seen running down a corridor trying to escape a cacophony of instruments from the séance room; this is one of the film’s many pathetic attempts at comedy.  We then learn that Master Gracey is in fact dead, and needs Sara (who he believes is a reincarnation of his lover) to be reunited with him to free all of the residents of the mansion, who are also all ghosts.  We are then treated to what is possibly the best part of the movie (at a stretch), as Jim and his children are carried through the grounds of the house in a horse and carriage.  Haunted Mansion fans will recognise the horseless carriage from outside of the attraction in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  It is also here that we see a lot of the ghosts which occupy the famous attraction, the see-saw ghosts, the groundskeeper and his dog, and the particularly famous ‘Hitchhiking Ghosts’, also known as Phineas, Ezra and Gus.

Things become a little more tedious after this scene, and the rest of the story limps along lifelessly, however I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who wants to give this movie a fair chance!

The Verdict

The Haunted Mansion was released after The Country Bears and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and all three are based upon Disney theme park attractions.  Of course, there is no need for me to tell you which one of these films did insanely well at the box office, unless you have been living under a rock since 2003.  Unfortunately, The Haunted Mansion followed in the footsteps of The Country Bears, and did a belly flop into that ‘at capacity’ pool of Disney duds of years past.  What could have been something very creepy, very dark and very entertaining turned into a snooze-fest, dragged lifelessly through its 99 minutes by Eddie Murphy at a (pardon the pun) deadly slow speed.  Although watchable, it does beg the question of why this popular and well-loved attraction had to be degraded in a film which is in a tug-of-war over whether it wants to be scary or comedic.  In the end, neither wins out, leaving us with a confusing and shabby storyline with flat characters and drab dialogue to match.  Eddie Murphy should have been as strong of a character as Captain Jack Sparrow, carrying the story and making for very many laughs along the way, however he relies on his signature smile to steal a giggle from the audience, which hasn’t worked since the 90s.  Marsha Thomason who plays Sara Evers delivers some truly wooden acting, making the ghosts look vivacious.  Master Gracey who is played by Nathaniel Parker does not seem to have that ‘aura of foreboding’ about him that you would expect from a dead man, and therefore does not make for a very remarkable character, where he should have been exactly that.  The two most outstanding performances are by Jennifer Tilly and Terence Stamp, although they cannot carry the film along on their roles alone.

Ok so having angered all the fans of this movie, all 3 of them, I will move onto some good points, of which there are few.  As I mentioned earlier, there are many references to the attraction which the movie is based upon.  The main story of the film follows, albeit loosely, the story which runs through the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris, as it involves a bride and a bunch of dead folks.  I mentioned above the scene with Madame Leota, the Hitchhiking Ghosts and the decor throughout the mansion.  Haunted Mansion buffs will also welcome the sight of the singing busts, which are actually voiced by the Dapper Dans Barbershop Quartet who perform in Disneyland.  The famous ballroom scene from the ride is also shown to the audience briefly, however it is not as grand as it is in the ride.

The sets are rather beautiful, large, spacious, luxurious, yet old and musty at the same time.  I remember visiting some of the sets at Walt Disney World at one point, and they were interesting to see, however I did wonder how many visitors had actually seen the film first.

In contrast to Pirates of the Caribbean (I make this comparison since the films were made around the same time and have the same basic idea behind them), there seems to be a lot of scenes and/or characters which have been taken directly from the attraction and used in the same form, rather than using them simply as a framework to build upon.   Sadly, since the film relies upon the audience’s sense of nostalgia regarding the attraction, it severely chops down the number of viewers who will ‘get it’, and therefore again cuts down the re-watch ability of the movie.  In fact, the ride which lasts only a few minutes, holds much more charm than this film ever could.

I am reviewing this film from the DVD version, (not the Blu-ray, I wouldn’t waste my money on that) which has a few underwhelming features.  The one I headed to first was ‘Disney’s DVD Virtual Ride: The Haunted Mansion’, thinking, as you would, that it was something to do with the attraction rather than the film.  Ok so they got me to click on it, but as soon as I realised that it was a very poor tour of the mansion in the film, it was swiftly turned off.  The rest of the features include commentaries, a deleted scene, an outtakes reel, and one of those God awful music videos.  If you’re looking for information on the ride, there is a feature that allows you to see photos and learn about the history of the attraction when you put the DVD into your computer.

I think children may enjoy this film, however for anyone else; it is certainly one to miss.

I give this movie 2 Tinks.

A Side Note:  Director Guillermo Del Toro is a massive fan of the Haunted Mansion attraction, and has, at the time of writing, almost finished the screenplay for a remake of The Haunted Mansion.  Of course, from a director such as Toro, great things are expected.  Great, dark, things.  Apparently the illusive Hatbox Ghost who was a part of the Disneyland attraction for not very long after it opened will be the villain in this film, and in honesty, I cannot wait to see it!

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

‘I have done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.’ – Captain Nemo

First off, I would like to state that this review was a joint effort.  Thanks Dad!  It would be silly to know a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fan and not utilize their wealth of information…

After Treasure Island and Robin Hood rolled out of the Disney studios in the early 1950s, another live action adventure would not be far behind them.  Though originally intended to be an animated feature, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (based on the novel by Jules Verne), after much storyboarding, was put into production as a live action feature.  This is the 2nd Cinemascope film ever made, took 2 years to make and wound up at $9 million.  This is one of Disney’s hidden treasures, which almost got the Disney Studio closed down, and which also apparently never made any money…

The Story

At the start of the movie, curtains go up to give the feeling of being in a theatre.  An elaborate copy of the novel appears on the screen and opens to a page that tells of a sea monster that is menacing shipping in the year 1868.  Next, a steam ship is seen sailing on a calm evening sea.  The camera pans down to show a monstrous shape surrounded by a green glow, rising from the depths of the sea and heading for the ship at a great speed.  A large explosion suggests that the ship has been destroyed.

The scene then switches to San Francisco harbour, where three of the principle characters are introduced; Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), a harpooner, immediately gets involved in a western salon-style fist fight for no logical reason.  Meanwhile, French Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre) are trying unsuccessfully to find a ship to take them home.  Approached by a government official, the French pair are persuaded to join an American warship that is setting out on an expedition to prove or (preferably) disprove the existence of the monster that is causing such havoc with the nation’s shipping.  Ned Land also joins the expedition-to hopefully kill the monster if it can be found.

Whilst in search of the monster, there are a few false alarms, such as the sightings of whales and dolphins.  They finally give up searching for the mysterious creature.  Ned celebrates in the form of song.  His singing causes a ship to blow itself up in the distance.  Well, actually, a ship just blows up, causing them to believe that something struck it, possibly the sea creature.  Sure enough, the creature’s menacing shining lights are soon seen in the distance.  We never really see much of the creature other than the very top of it and its gleaming ‘eyes’ for a good while into the film.  This adds to the mystery of what it might be.  The warship fires at the monster which attacks their ship, and unfortunately, Ned’s harpoons are no match for its tough outer shell.  The creature strikes the ship a glancing blow, causing the Professor and Conseil to go overboard, and while they are swimming, looking for safety, the monster emerges out of the mist, looking a lot less frightening without its menacing lights aglow.  Finally, realising that it is a man-made craft, they climb aboard, searching for signs of life, but to no avail.  Pierre discovers a large room in the submarine with beautiful red velvet seats, matching curtains, and a grand organ taking centre stage at the end of the room, with reflections of the sea coming in through the window and adding a mystifying characteristic to the silent submarine.

Ned is found floating along on one of the warship’s boats, and ends up joining Conseil and the Professor on the submarine.  Aronnax, fascinated by the underwater view through the saloon window, spots the submarine’s crew performing an underwater burial ceremony, complete with coral cross.  It isn’t long before the Professor and Conseil are spotted through the window by the crew, who capture them as they try to escape in Ned’s boat.  We then meet Nemo (James Mason), captain of the submarine that we now learn is called the Nautilus.

The three companions end up as guests/prisoners of Nemo’s, who by his own admission is not a civilised man.  After an eventful meal where we meet the remaining main character, Esmeralda the sea-lion, Ned’s best buddy, there is an expedition to collect food which provides an opportunity for some spectacular underwater photography.  There is also the obligatory tour of the submarine and its (apparently) atomic power plant. 

Aronnax, Ned and Conseil have different attitudes to Captain Nemo and their captivity on the Nautilus.  Ned has several confrontations with Nemo, and is desperate to escape.  Aronnax is overwhelmed by Nemo’s genius, and makes it his mission to persuade the captain to share his secrets with the rest of the world.  Nemo at first refuses, saying that such power in the wrong hands could destroy the world.  Conseil, at first, remains faithful to his professor.  Nemo gradually opens up to Aronnax, revealing some of his past.  At one point, he takes the professor ashore, to show him gangs of slaves loading nitrates into a ship-a cargo used for the manufacture of explosives.  Nemo reveals that he was once one of those slaves, before escaping and setting up a base on the island of Vulcania.  The Nautilus lies waiting for the nitrate ship to sail, and when it does, it attacks it, ramming the ship at full speed.  The ship sinks and explodes-watched by Aronnax, Ned and Conseil through the Nautilus’ window.  Aronnax is furious with Nemo, calling him a murderer and a hypocrite.  Nemo defends himself, calling himself ‘the avenger’, and saying that those on the ship were the real dealers in death.  In his mind, by preventing that cargo from reaching its destination, he has in fact saved hundreds of lives.  His actions are, in modern terms, those of a terrorist.

The Cast

It is hard to imagine anyone else but James Mason as Captain Nemo after watching this film.  He lives and breathes the role, perfectly portraying the mysterious and questionably villainous captain.  Kirk Douglas’ portrayal of the outspoken, down-to-earth Ned Land is also wonderful, providing comic-relief in an atmosphere which needs a little lightning from time to time.  Conseil as played by Peter Lorre, is the voice of reason, though torn between the beliefs of the Professor and the thoughts of Ned.  Paul Lukas portrays a perfect vision of a professor of this period of time.  He is intrigued by Nemo, and in a way they are similar through their fascination with knowledge; however the professor is much more civilized than the captain.

The Production

So 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, may not be one of the most famous Disney movies, but the Nautilus is instantly recognisable, even if you don’t know exactly what it is!  In fact, there were several different models of the submarine used for filming, including 20ft, 11ft and 6ft models, as well as a model of the fin of the Nautilus which was attached to a real submarine, for shots showing only that part of the vessel sticking out of the water.  Along with these outer elements of the submarine, a 150ft deck of the Nautilus was also made for shooting interior scenes.  A ‘squeezed’ version of the Nautilus was also created, to be filmed with a standard lens, and still be seen normally when projected in Cinemascope.  Production Designer Harper Goff designed the Nautilus, and said that it was basically a cross between an alligator and a shark, and was powered by nuclear energy, not by electricity as in the novel.  The Nautilus was furnished by Emile Kuri, who also designed Walt’s apartment at Disneyland.  The organ used in the film was bought for a mere $50, and can be found in the Haunted Mansion attraction in Disneyland, being played by a ghost!  The curved couch from the Nautilus can also be seen in the library set of the Haunted Mansion movie.

Harper Goff also designed the special diving suits which were worn by crew members when shooting underwater scenes.  They were essentially scuba diving suits, made to look like diving suits.  They had metal helmets which weighed 150lbs, and had tanks on their backs which contained enough air for 1 hour of filming.  Underwater shots were particularly difficult to shoot, especially as, when the crew all stood on the sea bed, the silt was stirred up and everything became too cloudy to film.  They got round this by putting carpet (that’s right, carpet) on the surface, preventing them from kicking up any of the floor.  Another difficulty they faced was that they were using only natural light to film, and weeks of cloudy weather put the film behind schedule.

A total of 3 lots were used for filming: Burbank, Universal and 20th Century Fox.  Of course, filming was expensive, with the original estimate at $2.7 million and the final total reaching $9 million.  It took them two years to complete the film.

The part of the film where we see Ned and Conseil trying to escape from natives on an island was shot in Jamaica, and there is a lot of footage of the crew, including Walt himself filming here.  If you look closely as the natives run towards the camera, you may see that one of them has ‘Eat at Joe’s’ written on his head…Another man’s head says ‘I ate Joe’.

Whale of a Tale is a fairly well-known song, especially in the world of Disney fans.  However, Kirk Douglas does not believe that he had a very good voice, but admits that he thought he did at the time.  Whilst this is the only song in the film, the main theme of the film is dramatic yet delicate and adventurous.

The Squid Attack

Of course, I don’t want to give the whole story away; however, one of the most famous scenes in the film is the dramatic squid attack.  This scene was undoubtedly the hardest scene for the crew to film.  There were two takes of the scene; the first take was ruined by a terribly unrealistic squid and a very calm sky, rather than a terrifying squid and a thunderous sky.  The cables which held up the tentacles kept breaking, and the crew started to see that the take wasn’t going to work.  More importantly, this scene had a lot of the film’s budget tied up, and filming it again was going to be very costly.  Everyone working on the film was gravely concerned not only for the future of the movie, but for the future of the Disney Studios, because of the vast amounts of money that were being sucked up solely on that feature.  Thankfully, the extra money was secured after financial backers were shown some shots from the film, and convinced that it would be a success at the box office.  When the second squid scene was filmed, the sky was made darker, taking place at night in a thunder-storm, which meant that the squid would be seen only in flashes of lightning.  However, this was not completely necessary, as a new 2 ton squid had been built, with longer tentacles giving the effect of snakes, as well as different methods being used to move them.  So much water was used on this scene that the entire set was flooded, pouring out into the lot, with even Mr. Disney himself having to don his wellingtons!

The Theme Parks

Disney’s Fantasmic was originally to have a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sequence which would include a Nautilus on one barge, a squid on another, and presumably a fight between the two!  CinéMagique in Disneyland Paris also missed out on a taste of 20k, when the clip was not included in the final cut, and was instead replaced by a clip from The Hunt for Red October.   20,000 Leagues Under the Sea also found its way into the Disney theme parks.  Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland welcomed the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction in October 1971 as a sister attraction to the Submarine Voyage in Disneyland.  This ride lasted until 1994, and is very much missed by 20k fans and Walt Disney World purists.  In Tokyo DisneySea’s Mysterious Island, which is based on the storytelling of Jules Verne, and is home to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea dark ride.  In Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland, which is based on the style of science-fiction writers (Jules Verne in particular) you can find Les Mystères du Nautilus, a walkthrough attraction, allowing you to tour the Nautilus for yourself, including a glimpse of the menacing squid!  Disneyland in Anaheim also housed the sets from the film from 1955-1964.

The Verdict     

If you made it this far, well done!  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is certainly a film that you should see a least once, as it is a Disney classic.  I am reviewing this film from the 2 disc DVD edition, which contains as much information as anyone could wish to know about the film (unless you are a die-hard fan of course!).  Let us look forward to the Blu-Ray!

I give this movie 5 Tinks.

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Sleeping Beauty

‘Thou sword of truth, fly swift and sure, that evil die and good endure!’ – Flora

Ever since I can remember, I have loved watching Disney movies, be they animated, live-action, or even a mix of the two.  I had watched so many of the films over and over again that I still to this day know them inside-out.  One film however, that I never saw to the end was Sleeping Beauty.  As a child, I was not usually particularly frightened by films or T.V shows, but this seemed different.  Maybe it was Maleficent and her terrifying presence, or maybe it was the aura of the unknown that the film carried, however as soon as Aurora saw that green glow, I would turn the film off.  Sounds crazy, but hence, I never saw to the end of the film.  Fast-forward to 2008 when I bought the deluxe edition DVD (in a beautiful gold box made to look like a book); this would be the first time I saw the ending, and boy did I realise what I had been missing out on!

Nowadays of course, there is a Blu-ray release of the film, which is what I will be drawing this review from.  I have split this review into sections to make it easier to read, as it is considerably longer than my other reviews.

The Production

After Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ release in 1937, there was a large gap between fairytale movies at the Disney studio.  The War had led Walt to make several propaganda cartoons, as well as Fantasia, Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo, and many more features which were released in the 1940s.  When Cinderella was released in 1950, this marked the return of the classic fairytale animated feature.  Apparently, work had started on the story of Sleeping Beauty in 1951, merely a year after Cinderella’s release.  The story, unlike many other Disney features, remained almost unchanged from the first idea to the finished product, which left more time for the other elements of the film to develop.  It was decided that Sleeping Beauty would be filmed in Super Technirama 70mm, which is twice the size of a regular film.  This was the first film to be shot this way, and the only other Disney film to use it since has been The Black Cauldron.  It was not until the release of DVD and Blu-ray that regular audiences were able to see the film as it was intended, an expanded version of the film which makes the sides of the image visible as they weren’t before.

Sleeping Beauty was ahead of its time, mainly due to one element: its styling.  Breaking tradition from the classic rounded, cartoony style used on the characters and environments of previous films and shorts, this feature took a completely new direction.  Walt Disney had often admired the concept art created for many of his films, intending that certain styles which had been created by the artists would be apparent in the finished product.  However this was not the case.  For example, Mary Blair did numerous paintings for films such as Peter Pan  and Alice in Wonderland, but by the time the film was put into production and was animated, her style had been drastically watered-down, leaving only hints of her unique style visible.  For Sleeping Beauty, Walt decided that this time the studio would find a style and stick with it, making sure that the final film would be very similar to its original sketches and paintings.

The man responsible for the styling of the film turned out to be Eyvind Earle, who had done freelance work on Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp and a couple of Disney shorts.  His work was strong, graphic, unusual yet realistic and controlled.  Walt was so impressed with the look of Earle’s work and, against some of the wishes of other workers at the studio; he decided that everything from the backgrounds to the colours, and even the characters should be influenced by his creations.  Earle had the idea that everything in each shot should be in focus and highly visible, rather than having a background slightly blurred, or something far in the background less colourful.  Of course, the point may be argued that a background is exactly that, something which is a backdrop to the action in the foreground.  This idea of the whole frame being in focus at once sailed boldly in the face of the multi-plane camera which had been used so many time before in other Disney films and shorts such as The Old Mill.  The multi-plane had given a depth and reality to the picture, however it had been used several times over the years, and maybe the decision not to use it in Sleeping Beauty was a good one.  To create depth without the multi-plane, the artists still had large objects in the foreground and small ones in the background, but each thing was in focus and coloured equally to the rest, giving a more flat look.  This evenness gave the look of a moving painting, rather like a tapestry due to its medieval subject matter.  Many of the things in the film such as the trees, the castle, crowds, and several of the characters, are all very elongated, as Earle’s work seemed to regularly contain many vertical objects.  The characters in particular were changed from the more realistic and accurate to slightly more angular, with more ‘pointed parts’.  This style of character animation would rear its head again in the production of Hercules decades later.

With the backgrounds being so clear to the audience, many of the character animators were concerned that their characters would get lost on the screen, however this does not come across in the final film.  As the characters were also influenced by Earle’s style, they seem to fit perfectly in their own living painting.

The main thing that Walt was aware of was that the film should not be another Snow White or Cinderella.  He told this to the team working on the film frequently, although he wasn’t around the studio often at this time.  With Disneyland coming to fruition during the production of the film, as well as the Monorail, Matterhorn and Submarine Voyage all opening on June 14th 1959 (year of Sleeping Beauty release), Walt also had his T.V show and live action films in production at the same time.  It is therefore understandable that much of the work was left to his employees who already had plenty experience working on previous features.   As the fairytale stories that had already been made into films do not differ massively, this is where the style of Sleeping Beauty really freshened up the story.

The environments and character designs are not the only things that changed from the traditional Disney style.  The personality of Aurora in particular is a departure from the former Disney princesses, as she seems smarter; more mature for a 16-year-old, and much less naive.  She has a beautifully strong voice to match her persona, but it is also reserved and delicate.  Mary Costa provided the voice, who was training as an opera singer; therefore she did the voice acting and the singing for Aurora.  For the character, singing is merely an extension of her speech.  The look of Aurora was based on Costa as well as the girl who did the live action reference for the character.

Maleficent is voiced by Eleanor Audley, who also voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and is the voice of Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion in the Disney Parks.  Audley’s voice is extremely powerful and frightening, perfect for a Disney villain.  Her costume was originally designed to be red and black, however black and purple was ultimately chosen, which perfectly complemented the green fog she creates when she appears.  In a way she is similar to the Wicked Queen from Snow White, as she is rather beautiful, just less human-like and sporting devilish horns on her head and bat wings on her shoulders.  As Maleficent makes a lot of speeches throughout the film, it was decided that when nobody was around, she would need someone or something to address.  This came in the form of a crow, which Disney fans often refer to as ‘Diablo’.  While Diablo does not talk and nor is he a main character, he does serve the purpose of sidekick for Maleficent.  You would certainly not like to meet Maleficent on a dark night!

While the princes in Cinderella and Snow White do not play the most inspiring roles in the film, Prince Philip seems like he possesses more of a personality.  He is charming just like the next prince, but he shows a great deal of courage, particularly when attempting to rescue the princess from her tower, fighting through endless thorns and battling a dragon.  He also seems much more human in his animation and facial expressions, maybe even more than Aurora herself.

While all the characters which have been mentioned already were affected by the styling of Earle, the three fairies do not demonstrate this style quite as much.  They do have pointed elbows and the like, but their overall shapes are rounded and soft, giving them a feel of warmth and friendliness.  Their names are Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.  The three are good-natured, but not the brightest crayons in the box!  Flora is the self-appointed leader of the group; Fauna is the ditzy one of the three, and Merryweather is the opinionated one.  In a scene where the three fairies are trying to make a dress and a cake for the princess, their personalities come to the surface, and provide a humorous insight into their everyday lives.  The magic that the fairies have comes in useful in a couple of instances in the film, particularly when Philip is trying to rescue Aurora.

There are some interesting things happening in Sleeping Beauty which you may or may not notice for yourself.  When you see a large crowd, for example, in the christening scene, they do not move, only the lead characters do.  Also, even though the title of the film is Sleeping Beauty, the leading lady is only on-screen for 18 minutes!  The styling by Eyvind Earle, although gothic, is rather modern in terms of the colours used and the clarity of the lines.  This was the last Disney film to be hand-inked, after this, the Xerox machine was used.

The Story

So as a basic outline of the story for those of you who are not familiar…

King Stefan and the Queen are blessed with a child whom they name Aurora.  Although young, she is betrothed to Prince Philip, son of King Hubert.  At her christening, three fairies bless the child with gifts.  Flora gives her the gift of beauty and Fauna the gift of song, but before Merryweather can bestow her gift upon the princess, she is interrupted by an evil witch named Maleficent.  The witch is angry as she was not invited to the christening, and so curses the princess, telling that before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.  Though the third fairy cannot break the spell, she weakens it, and declares that when Aurora pricks her finger she will simply fall into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The King orders all of the spinning wheels in the kingdom to be destroyed, but as a precaution, the fairies take Aurora away to live with them in the forest, change her name to Briar Rose, and disguise her as a peasant.  Whilst in the forest one day she accidentally meets Prince Philip, though not knowing who he is, and falls in love with him.  When she tells the fairies she has fallen in love, they reveal the truth about who she is, and that she has to return home to her parents.

As Aurora is taken to the castle in the dead of night, the film begins to take a dark turn.  Aurora is entranced by a mystical green glow which she follows through the fireplace.  The green glow, of course is Maleficent, who is planning to kill the princess, as per her original plan.  The glow leads her to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep.  The unfortunate Prince is captured by Maleficent, but the fairies break the chains which are holding him, and he rides off to rescue Aurora.  Of course Maleficent does not make his journey an easy one, with her henchmen throwing all manner of obstacles in his way.  Some wonderful ideas were put into practice for these scenes, as the boulders thrown are turned into bubbles by the fairies, the arrows to flowers, and what seems to be molten lava is turned into a rainbow.  On reaching the castle he is greeted with a forest of thorns, but swiftly slashes his way through them, much to Maleficent’s dismay.  At this point in the film, a sense of urgency becomes very much apparent, with the music becoming more dramatic, and the pace of the film increasing rapidly.  After the prince has made his way through the thorns, we get to witness one of the most famous scenes in Disney animated history, (the part I missed as a child!) the battle of Prince Philip and the Dragon.

Maleficent cries: 

‘Now shall you deal with me oh prince, and all the powers of Hell!’

Then we witness her elongated body stretch high above the clouds, and as it does, it turns into an overwhelming nightmare; a gigantic black dragon with a purple stomach and glowing green eyes, breathing green fiery flames down upon the prince.  The thorns are set ablaze with this green fire, as Philip relentlessly tries to kill the dragon with his sword, but he quickly ends up teetering on the edge of a cliff, confronted with the huge beast.  With a spell cast upon his sword by Flora, he throws his weapon into Maleficent’s heart, and with a powerful scream, the dragon falls to her death.

Although the battle is relatively short, it is bursting with adrenaline, fabulous staging, effects and use of colours, as well as astounding animation and use of sound.

Another very famous scene of course, similar to that of Snow White, is the scene which gives the audience a happy ending: true love’s kiss.  Suddenly the room turns from blue hues to warm pinks, as Aurora opens up her sparkling eyes and smiles, as though nothing has happened!  The rest of the people in the kingdom also wake from their sleep, which was caused by a spell from the fairies.

The Blu-ray

Since I am reviewing this film from the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release, it would be wrong of me to not mention how good the transfer is.  The DVD was wonderful, but this goes beyond that.  It is hard to believe that an animated film could look this amazing after 50 years; you cannot help but admire it.  As the backgrounds are so detailed, you may not have been able to appreciate them as much before, but now you can, and appreciated they should be!  Every stone in the wall, every thorn, every leaf, every thread is in such high quality that it feels like you could reach out and touch Earle’s paintings.

The sound too, is beyond clear!  The music was adapted by George Bruns from the Tchaikovsky ballet.  Upon watching the film, it seems as though the music could have been written for it, since it fits so perfectly.  The most recognisable song from the film has to be ‘Once Upon a Dream’, sung by Aurora and Prince Philip upon meeting each other in the forest.

The special features seem to go on forever, and having watched the majority of them, I have to say that I am very impressed.  Of course I would not expect anything less for such a fantastic movie!

Walt also used Sleeping Beauty in Disneyland, naming and theming the castle around the film, and decades later in 1992, Disneyland Paris would acquire its own version of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, complete with Eyvind Earle’s square trees!

The Verdict

There has never been anything quite like Sleeping Beauty either before or after its release.  Other features such as 101 Dalmatians and Sword in the Stone have shown a similarity in character design since the film, but nothing has ever come close to the elaborate and elegant Sleeping Beauty.

The images in this review are from the DVD, therefore are of a lower quality.

I give this movie 5 Tinks.

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