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Meet the Robinsons

‘Bake them cookies, Lucille!’  – Grandpa Bud. 

Close your eyes, and think of Disney.  What comes to mind?  Maybe Mickey Mouse, possibly princesses and castles, or maybe Uncle Walt!  What you probably don’t think of are space ships, dinosaurs and singing frogs.  Another of Disney’s less-mentioned movies comes in the form of Meet the Robinsons, which popped up in 2007 after 4 years in production.

Twelve-year-old science-crazy Lewis lives in an orphanage, and is fed up with nobody wanting to adopt him.  He gets the idea into his head that his mother (who we saw leave him as a baby at the start of the film) will want him back now that he is older, so he sets about making a brain-scanner, so that he can try to remember what she looks like.  This is much to the dismay of his long-suffering room-mate, Goob, who, with no sleep due to Lewis’ ‘inventing’ through the night, loses his important baseball game.  Remember that part, it is important later!  Lewis takes his invention to the school science fair where he meets Wilbur Robinson, who claims that he is from the future.  He is looking for a time machine that a man in a bowler hat has stolen.  Sadly, Lewis’ memory scanner falls apart and causes chaos; enough chaos for Bowler Hat Guy and his robotic bowler hat Doris to steal the scanner unnoticed.
Wilbur then finds Lewis on the roof of the orphanage, and tries to persuade him to fix the memory scanner.  Lewis says he will only fix the scanner if Wilbur can prove that he is from the future.  So, Wilbur throws Lewis into his own time machine/spaceship and whisks him off to 2037.  This year is also used in the film The Time Machine, as the year that the world would end.  When Lewis realises that Wilbur really does have a time machine, he refuses to fix the memory scanner, saying that the time machine can take him straight to his mother.  They end up arguing and crash the spaceship, and Wilbur asks Lewis to fix it.  Lewis agrees, but only if Wilbur takes him to see his mother after it is fixed.  Lewis is hidden in the garage, so as Wilbur’s family do not see him.  However, he isn’t there long, before he ends up outside and meets the rest of the Robinson clan.  He comes across Grandpa Bud, who is looking for his teeth and has his clothes on backwards, Uncle Joe who works out, Uncle Art the ‘super hero’ who delivers pizzas (voiced by Adam West…yes, thatAdam West), Aunt Billie and Gaston.  We also briefly meet Lucille, who is in a room that appears to be a disco, and is ‘baking cookies’.  Then Lewis is back outside again, still with Grandpa, where he meets the dog, who is wearing glasses.  One of the wonderful one-liners in this movie:Lewis: ‘Why is your dog wearing glasses?’

Grandpa: ‘Because his insurance won’t pay for contacts.’

Next Lewis meets Uncles Spike and Dimitri, and a large purple octopus called Lefty.  Then we meet the mother of the family, Franny, who is conducting an orchestra of frogs; the singing voice of Frankie the frog is voiced by Jamie Cullum.  Lewis does not meet Wilbur’s Dad, but Wilbur tells him that he looks like Tom Selleck (cue photo of Tom Selleck).  The introduction to this massive and wacky family is probably one of the best sequences in the whole movie.

Are you starting to see what I mean when I said that this is not the traditional Disney film?

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story, but it does get weirder!

The story is based on the book by William Joyce called ‘A Day with Wilbur Robinson’.  Some of the characters are based upon real relatives that Joyce had, such as his grandpa who had so many artificial bits and pieces such as false teeth and a glass eye (Grandpa Bud), or his uncle who was 7ft tall and claimed that he was from outer space (Uncle Art).

There seems to be more characters in this movie than you would expect there to be in your average film, however, most of them do not play a big part at all, and are there simply to aid some of the many fabulous one-liners that make this film unique.  The whole Robinson family represent freedom, and they do whatever makes them happy; they even celebrate failure, as it means that you will learn from your mistake and move forward!  The main characters such as Lewis and Wilbur are easy to identify with, especially for young children.  Design-wise, the characters are rather similar to the ones that are found in the original book.

The version of the future that we see here is rather similar in many ways to what you would see in Tomorrowland in a Disney theme park.  In fact, you see Lewis and Wilbur fly past ‘Todayland’ in their spaceship, with almost an exact replica of Space Mountain in the background, and the original Rocket Jets.    

As far as music goes, this isn’t one of Disney’s more musical efforts, but the story doesn’t really call for that anyway.  The wonderful Danny Elfman wrote the score, with artists such as Rufus Wainwright, The All-American Rejects and Jamie Cullum contributing to the soundtrack.  On the whole, the music is upbeat and futuristic in a very Disney-esque and charming way, although whenever Lewis’ family is mentioned or we are meant to feel his sense of loneliness, the music does take on much more of an emotional feel.

There is a theme running through this film which comes from the saying ‘keep moving forward’.  Anyone familiar with Walt Disney will recognise this from one of his famous quotes, which is actually tagged onto to the end of the movie.  A nice touch!  In fact, the whole film does share the same values that Walt had about the future and moving forward.  Lewis is actually very similar to Walt, wanting to make the world a better place through technology.  There are a few nods to Walt and the Disney theme parks throughout this film, as the director is also quite a fan of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Meet the Robinsons was released in 2007, two years after Chicken Little, which, if you have read my review on that, you will know I’m not a fan of.  That is an understatement.  Most folks tend to think of Pixar when they see a CGI Disney film, though neither of these films had Pixar involved.  This film is actually the first film to be released under the new Walt Disney Animation Studios label, after the Disney/Pixar agreement expired.  In the case of Chicken Little, I actually wish that Pixar had been on hand to…well…to scrap that movie and make a better one.  Where Meet the Robinsons is concerned, Disney did an amazing job all on their own.  Meet the Robinsons was the fourth highest grossing film that year, behind Ratatouille, Shrek the Third, and The Simpsons Movie. (it is streets ahead of Shrek the Third).    

This is definitely an odd film.  In this case though, odd is good.  If you are a fan of the values of Walt Disney, a fan of the theme parks, or a fan of sci-fi in general, this is the Disney film for you!  It is definitely one of the less talked about Disney movies, and it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets.  I would say that teenagers and young adults would probably be the target audience for Meet the Robinsons, as its random and bizarre characters and comical scriptwriting are fantastic, and a lot of the jokes will probably be lost on a very young audience.

I am reviewing from the DVD edition of the film, which isn’t exactly loaded with special features, but there is the expected ‘Backstage Disney’ section which is the best bit.  It includes interviews with the director, some of the voice artists, William Joyce, Danny Elfman and some of the other artists that are included on the soundtrack.  There is an audio commentary which is always fun to listen to, as well as deleted scenes, music videos (sigh) and a game.  This is probably worth picking up on Blu-Ray if you have the option to do so!

I give this movie 4 Tinks.


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The Nightmare Before Christmas

Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems 
In a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams 
For the story that you are about to be told 
Began with the holiday worlds of old…

Originally I was planning on reviewing this film for Halloween, however with the film being a crossover of Halloween and Christmas, I decided to aim more for Thanksgiving.

I went to see The Nightmare Before Christmas when it was released in 1993, and although I was about 4 at the time, I still enjoyed it, and have loved watching it ever since.  It was originally released under the Touchstone Pictures banner, since it was thought that it was too dark to be released as a Walt Disney Picture.  The movie is entirely stop motion animated, and took 3 years to complete.  It is based on a poem by Tim Burton.

The title sequence introduces us to an assortment of bizarre and wacky supporting characters who reside in Halloween Town.  The song ‘This is Halloween’ sets the tone for the rest of the film with its upbeat tune and dark lyrics.  We are then introduced to the hero of the story, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town.  The people of the town seem to adore him, and he plays up to their cheers, however, we soon see that Jack is bored with his role of Pumpkin King when he wanders off forlornly into the woods.  Another great song here as Jack sings about his boredom with the ‘same routine’ every year, and how he longs for something different.  Jack walks through the night until he is in a part of the woods he’s never been to before.  It is here that Jack discovers the ‘Holiday Doors’.  There are several trees standing in a circle, and on each tree there is an image representing a different holiday, including; a four-leaf clover for St. Patrick’s Day, a heart for Valentine’s Day, and a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Out of all these doors, Jack is drawn towards the one which has a Christmas tree painted on it.  He opens the door and falls into the tree, which transports him to Christmas Town.

Meanwhile, Jack’s love interest, a rag doll named Sally, is being held against her will by her creator, Dr. Finkelstein, though she often manages to outsmart him so that she can escape his lab.  Sally is concerned for Jack, who has seemed distant and lonely recently.  The love story between Jack and Sally runs very loosely (almost not at all) throughout the whole film.

Christmas Town is in massive contrast to Halloween Town, adorned with lights, awash with brilliantly bright colours, and inhabited by cheery and joyful people.  Another rousing song by Jack at this point illustrates his disbelief at such a different place to what he is used to, as he asks ‘What’s This?’  The lyrics are quite amusing too:

‘There’s children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads/they’re busy building toys and absolutely no-one’s dead.’

It is here that Jack gets a glimpse of Santa Claus, though he mistakes him for ‘Sandy Claws’.  He is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he heads back to Halloween Town to tell his fellow townspeople about it.  While Jack was away, the town seems to have descended into a state of chaos, even the Mayor of the town declaring that:

‘I’m only an elected official here; I can’t make decisions by myself!

Jack becomes obsessive over Christmas, trying to learn all he can about it, and this causes him to decide that he will take over Christmas for the year; all with the best intentions of course.  He sets all the people in the town to work making Christmas toys, including a hat made out of a rat and a duck with bleeding gunshot wounds.  At this point it becomes obvious that the people of Halloween Town have not understood the meaning of Christmas.  Jack also goes to the extreme of sending his enemy’s henchmen, Lock, Shock and Barrel to kidnap Sandy Claws.  After making the mistake of trawling back with the Easter Bunny, they return later with Santa in a big sack, and are told by Jack to take care of him while he ‘does’ Christmas.  Sally starts to get more and more concerned for Jack, having visions of his idea going terribly wrong, though he doesn’t listen when she tries to tell him.

Up until this point in the film, we have not been introduced to the villain of the story, though he does make a brief appearance in the opening sequence, only as a shadow.  Oogie Boogie has Santa given to him by Lock, Shock and Barrel, and sets to work torturing the poor soul.  One of the most visually exciting parts of the whole film, Oogie Boogie sings ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song’, which tells of the ways he likes to inflict pain and suffering upon his ‘guests’.  The whole scene is set in Oogie’s dark lair, though all the objects like his roulette wheel and dice are fluorescent colours; even Oogie himself, who is usually a brown colour, is bright green under UV lights.

Meanwhile, Jack has set out to create his own Christmas, with his sidekick ghost dog Zero lighting the way for the sleigh in the fog with his glowing nose.  Nice play on Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.  Since Jack never really got the idea of Christmas straight in his skull, he starts delivering presents such as severed heads and snakes to several children in the ‘real world’.  After the police are alerted to someone posing as Santa, Jack is unfortunately shot out of the sky, landing in a snow-covered graveyard.  It is at this stage that Jack realises he has made a mess of everything, and vows to put it right by rescuing Santa from Oogie Boogie and getting Christmas back on track.

The styling of the film, especially Halloween Town, reminds me a lot of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with its sharp silhouettes and weird perspectives.  Christmas Town has more of a Dr. Seuss feeling about it, and is rather similar to the town in The Grinch.  One of the most iconic images from the film is Spiral Hill, which can be seen on the original movie poster, as well as in the Kingdom Hearts series of games, where the whole of the Nightmare world can be explored.

The voice cast are pretty amazing on this film, though by now we shouldn’t expect anything less from Disney.  Jack is voiced by Chris Sarandon and his singing parts are performed by Danny Elfman.  Catherine O’Hara voices Sally and Shock, and Ken Page voices Oogie Boogie.

The music, as I have mentioned above, is amazing, and possibly one of the best film soundtracks I have ever heard.  The songs were written by Danny Elfman, as well as him lending his singing voice to Jack Skellington.  It is hard to choose a favourite song out of the whole bunch, as the lyrics on each track are fantastic and are performed beautifully by the cast.

The Nightmare Before Christmas saw a revival in 2006 when it was released in Disney Digital 3D.  I was lucky enough to catch it on its 3D release and it looked better than it ever did!  Although I am reviewing from the DVD, I have heard that this film gains a lot by being viewed on Blu-ray.  The special features on the 2 disc DVD are pretty good, though in fact, disc number one holds all of the ‘Making Of’ features, which in my opinion are the best features to watch.  There is also a big section on the Disneyland Haunted Mansion’s Nightmare Before Christmas overlay which is really interesting.  On disc 2 is Tim Burton’s short live-action film Frankenweenie, which is a nice watch, along with his animated short Vincent.

As a side note, Disneyland overlay their Haunted Mansion each year to make it look like Jack Skellington just landed down the chimney and decorated the place.  There is a Spiral Hill in there as well as Oogie Boogie and Jack Skellington with Zero floating by his side.  If you ever get a chance to visit over Christmas time, you really should!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this film has rather a morbid aura about it, however it more than makes up for the gloom with plenty of jokes and quirky characters throughout.  The music also lifts the viewer’s spirits even when the subject matter is a little bit gruesome.  Tim Burton’s direction is as interesting as ever and really does not disappoint.  Hopefully if you have never seen this film before you will give it a fair chance, as it isn’t just for the tween Goths and Emos, it is for anyone who loves Christmas, Halloween and simply being entertained.

I give this movie 5 Tinks.

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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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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

‘It’s not my fault, if in God’s plan, he made the Devil so much stronger than a man’ – Frollo


If you have read my review of The Black Cauldron, you may have noticed that I did not give the film a warm reception.  The one thing it did have on its side was that it strayed from the traditional Disney movies by taking on a much darker subject matter.  Another film which is considered to be one of Disney’s ‘darker’ efforts is The Hunchback of Notre Dame which was released in 1996.

The film is based, albeit loosely, on the novel by Victor Hugo which was published in 1831, and is centred on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  It took Hugo six months to write the 200,000 word epic, and he apparently did it with only one bottle of ink!  The Disney team who were working on the film spent a lot of time in and around Notre Dame, exploring it and taking notes to get a feel of what it was like to be there.

At the start of the film we are introduced to Clopin, a jester who is telling the story of Quasimodo to a group of children.  He actually sings the story, as the folks at Disney thought that it would be a nicer introduction to the film rather than having him dryly tell the story.  He tells of how Judge Claude Frollo mistakenly snatched Quasimodo as a baby from his mother’s arms, causing her to fall down dead after hitting her head on the steps of Notre Dame.  The Archdeacon tells Frollo to look after the baby as his own, since he had killed its mother.  After glancing at the baby and seeing it is deformed, Frollo decides to name him ‘Quasimodo’ which means half-formed, and takes him to live in the bell tower, causing the people of the city to know him only as ‘the bell ringer of Notre Dame’.  The story then skips ahead 20 years, where we are introduced to adult Quasimodo.  The audience begins to see what the relationship between Quasi and Frollo is like, with Quasi referring to Frollo as ‘master’, and obeying his every word.   Frollo is determined for Quasimodo to stay up in the bell tower, as he is embarrassed by his hideous form.  In the bell tower we are also introduced to Quasimodo’s ‘friends’, three gargoyles name Victor, Hugo and Laverne.  It is debatable whether these gargoyles really do come to life and speak with Quasi, or if they are simply brought to life by his lonely imagination.  The latter is most likely, as he is the only one in the film who interacts with them properly.We soon find out about Frollo’s strong loathing of the gypsy people who live in the city when he summons Captain Phoebus from the wars to help him drive them out.  As Phoebus arrives, we are also introduced to the leading lady of the story, Esmeralda, who happens to be a gypsy, and her goat (who plays a small part in the film) called Djali.  Esmeralda is a strong-minded woman, with a kind heart, and speaks up for her people as well as Quasimodo.  Phoebus is also a strong character, who does not particularly agree with Frollo’s hatred towards the gypsies, especially after meeting Esmeralda.

Quasimodo longs for freedom, to be allowed out of the bell tower for just one day, and with a little encouragement from the gargoyles he escapes Notre Dame and attends the Feast of Fools for the first time.  The festival calls for the ‘ugliest face in Paris’, and Quasi ends up accidentally taking part and winning.  Realising that, unlike the other contenders, his face is not a mask; the crowd quickly turns on him, ties him down and start torturing him by throwing fruit at him and spinning him around.  Judge Frollo lets the cruelty continue, as a punishment for Quasi leaving the tower against his wishes.  Esmeralda intervenes and frees Quasi, only fuelling Frollo’s hatred of the gypsy people.

I won’t give the rest of the story away for those who have not yet seen it, however, be assured that it does not end the same way that the book does!

While many Victor Hugo fans are quick to mention that the story is simplified and edited a lot compared to the original novel, it has to be noted that in the original story most of the main characters die, and it is understandable that Disney avoided this dismal conclusion to the film in favour of a happy ending.  While it still remains a dark film compared to the likes of Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas for instance, it is still a family film and children love it just as much.

Quasimodo is not as misshapen as in previous adaptations of the story, with his features more rounded and less grotesque.  His hunger for freedom is told through the song ‘Out There’, and his vulnerability shown at the Feast of Fools.  He has strong feelings for Esmeralda, which are not returned in the same form, causing him to despair particularly when he sees her falling for Phoebus.  This same despair is also felt by Frollo when Esmeralda goes missing and cannot be found.  He becomes fixated with her, and Quasi becomes depressed by his lost love; the song ‘Heaven’s Light/Hellfire’ echoes the feelings of these two characters, and the contrast between innocent love and disturbing obsession.  The scene with Frollo singing ‘Hellfire’ is dark, as he stands in front of the fireplace seeing Esmeralda’s form in the flames, surrounded by gigantic faceless figures in hooded red cloaks.

‘Destroy Esmeralda/and let her taste the fires of hell/Or else let her be mine and mine alone’

 This part of the film was met with criticism from many concerned parents as well as religious bodies, (you know it caused a stir when it has its own Wikipedia page!) however, the scene is totally in-keeping with the story and does not, in my opinion, overstep the mark at all.  Frollo believes that what he is doing is right, when it is actually wrong, and his madness swiftly gets out of hand when he orders his men to burn the city to the ground in order to find Esmeralda.

The design of Frollo (Tony Jay) consists of many vertical lines, making him spindly and gothic, yet powerful, much like the architecture of Notre Dame.  This is in huge contrast to the styling of Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), obviously with a hunched back and much smaller than Frollo and consisting of horizontal lines, therefore being overpowered by his cruel master.  Esmeralda (Demi Moore) is sassy and tough due to her life on the streets, no Disney princess!  Her body language is similar to Megara from Hercules, with her no-nonsense hand-on-hip attitude, though she does not show as much vulnerability as Meg, and is very courageous.  Phoebus (Kevin Kline) is the good guy in a bad town, and as well as being an experienced soldier, he is smart and funny, and soon sees through Frollo.  Though his design may make him look gallant and suave, it can soon be seen that by standing up for what he believes in like Esmeralda, he becomes an outcast too.

The backgrounds are stunning, particularly of course, the ones depicting Notre Dame, which is essentially another character in the film.  For the CGI spotters amongst you, you will notice that the bells of Notre Dame are CG, as well as the gypsy caravan which runs into the river, the confetti at the Feast of Fools, and many other elements throughout the story.  For the people out there who like to spot other Disney references in Disney films, you can catch Belle from Beauty and the Beast walking through the street, as well as the Carpet from Aladdin and Pumbaa from The Lion King, all in the same scene!

The music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz are superb, and the songs seem very complex in relation to other Disney films, and of course a lot darker.  As well as deep songs like ‘Heaven’s Light/Hellfire’ and ‘God Help the Outcasts’, there is light relief with the songs ‘Topsy Turvy’ and ‘The Court of Miracles’ sung by Clopin.  The latter are bouncy and energetic, whereas the former are Disney’s darkest and more depressing.  Saying this, I believe it to be one of the best Disney soundtracks ever.

As for the DVD release which I am reviewing from, it could be better.  If you have read my Hercules review, you will remember me hoping for a 2-disc edition of the film.  The same goes here.  Where Pocahontas gets a jam-packed double disc edition DVD and a Musical Masterpiece edition, these two films are left with single disc editions, not containing many special features.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame DVD contains a History of Production, Early Presentation Reel, History of Notre Dame de Paris, Deleted Song ‘Someday’, CGI Demo, Multi-Language Reel and the traditional Disney game.  There are a fair few features there, with the best and most comedic being the CGI Demo, which is a demo of the CGI crowds which were generated for the film.  Highly entertaining!

What is notably missing from the DVD is some of the artwork from the film in a gallery form as seen on other Disney DVDs.  It would be nice to see some of the character and background designs, as they are beautiful.  These can also be seen in The Art of the Hunchback of Notre Dame by Stephen Rebello; if you get a chance to take a look at this book please do, there are some amazing drawings and paintings in it, particularly of Notre Dame.

To conclude, I believe that this film, like many others of its time, is overlooked too much.  However, if you watch it with a deeper knowledge of the story and as less of a cartoon, I believe that you will appreciate it a whole lot more.

I give this movie 4 Tinks.

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