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Over 70 years and it still holds up!
The first Disney classic and still one of the best.
the animation is fluid and clean, the musical score by Frank Churchill is excellent. The songs due to Snow White's slightly irritating singing voice may not all hold up to repeat listening but they are well written, fun and don't distract from the movie. The story is the king here as it's very well told and remains interesting throughout.
Character wise Snow White does kind of suffer from a lack of personality but at least she's no fool and she remains likable. The prince also suffers from having no personality. Each dwarf works perfectly as comic relief and all are endearing and funny, the best Dwarfs although its hard to choose are Doc, Dopey and Grumpy. Walt Disney did a lot of experimenting with snow white and if it was one future Disney tradition that he got 100% right first time was creating a threatening and memorable villain with The Evil Queen. She has a menace to her appearance and mannerisms that make her a deeply effective villain and definitely the best villain of the Golden Age features.
If there's anything in snow White that doesn't work anymore its that in some scenes all the dialogue rhymes as if they were meant to be songs which at one point they were, today this comes across as cringe worthy in some scenes but overall the film remains a Disney classic.
Critical grade: 10/10, Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Chicken Little (2005)
Easily the worst Disney animated feature
When this first came out the last Disney animated feature I saw theatrically was Lilo & Stitch and seeing the trailer for this as a 12 year old 3 years later I thought that it was some sort of Dreamworks comedy like Shark Tale which I had watched and disliked. Seeing the trailer it didn't look funny so I waited for it to be on TV when I finally did I was horrified to find it was made by Disney!
In all seriousness this was the company that had recently made Tarzan and Lilo & Stitch, 2 of my favourite animations and then they made this crap.
1st problem is that it doesn't feel like a Disney movie and unlike The Black Cauldron this isn't a good thing. It feels like it was aiming more for the Shrek or Madagascar vibe and even then it utterly fails. Unlike Shrek, Madagascar or Mark Dindal's earlier hilarious film The Emperors New Groove, Chicken Little is relatively devoid of laughs, it has a few here and there but none of them come from the main characters or the comic relief.
Chicken Little who is really the only close to likable character in the film and even then I find it hard to care about him when he sings terrible renditions of "I am the Champion" and makes poor jokes.
His dad Buck Cluck brings on a terribly forced message about parental care, this message is so forced that it makes Ferngully and Pocahontas's messages seem subtle in comparison.
Then we have our unfunny and clichéd comic relief characters, Abby Mallard the nerdy ugly duckling, Runt the fat, goofy, lazy pig and Fish the weird, silent guy. There's only so much of Runt and Abby singing dated, once popular songs like the Spice Girls "Wannabe" and "I Will Survive" I can take and it doesn't help that Runt's singing butchers the songs more than they already are. One of the film's few original songs "One Little Slip" by Barenaked Ladies also unsurprisingly sucks. It's not a terrible song but I wouldn't want to hear it in a movie.
There are also 2 other bad firsts for Disney movies, one is that it has the Dreamworks style of annoying and poorly thought out Pop culture references and while they were somewhat funny in Shrek they aren't here. The other is that they have some pretty ugly character designs just take a look at Foxy Loxy, Turkey Lurkey or any of the other overly big headed animals in the film.
Is there anything that can possibly make Chicken Little worse, yes and its aliens, yep the somewhat OK story about Chicken Little trying to make the others in the town respect him is jettisoned in favour of a war of the worlds sub-plot. The aliens appear in the second half and the film from then on is just nuts, its crazier than Ren & Stimpy and The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Big Lipped Alligator movie is the best way to describe this half.
The only good things about Chicken Little is that its cgi while not as good as Pixar's is OK and that it's relatively lively and colourful.
My final verdict is that this movie is a failure, The Previous title owners of worst Disney cartoon like The Black Cauldron, Pocahontas and even Home on the Range can thank their lucky stars as this film will probably for a few decades hold the shameful title of Worst Disney animated feature. Mind you it's still better than many of the DTV sequels and the crap on the Disney channel.
Critical Grade: 3/10, Personal Enjoyment: 4/10
The Black Cauldron (1985)
Disappointing, but still worth a watch
I find it quite ironic that this film was the one that was supposed to take the company away from the run of unjustly called lacklustre films like The Aristocats and The Rescuers. This movie ended up epitomising how dull the Disney movies had supposedly become by becoming a spectacular flop.
That said it's a generally good movie. It's story is told very well despite the rather slow pacing and the artwork and animation is spectacular in some points such as the high energy dragon chase scene when Hen Wen is captured and the heavily edited Cauldron born sequence. One special note is that its very different from the other Disney movies as it is quite dark and has absolutely no songs. The musical score by Elmer Bernstein serves its purpose very well and frankly I'm surprised there was no Oscar nomination.
The film is very ambitious and in trying to be dark, powerful and epic it sometimes fails. It also doesn't help that the final battle between Taran and The Horned King is very anti-climatic. The Cauldron Born scene is also too abrupt, its delightfully chilling but the army isn't given anything to do though this I blame more on Jeffery Katzenberg and him deleting the very graphic content from much of this scene as well as around 10 minutes of the whole film. Another problem is poorly written dialogue.
The biggest problem here is that it's based on The chronicles of Prydain book series, these complex books can't be worked into 80 minutes, even though it only covers the first 2 books there's a lot of things which are left out The first problem is that many important characters from the books including Ellydir, Gwydion, Achren etc are left out of the movie as are explanations for items like the magic sword and Eilonwy's bauble.
The characters that remain are also an issue. Taran is well animated but his personality and character are undermined by some hokey dialogue, Eilonwy is also well drawn and has far more personality but unfortunately she's wasted on this film as she isn't given anything to do. The Horned King is easily by design the most terrifying villain to come from the Disney Studio. This is what Sleeping Beauty's Maleficant should have been like, while she had no motivation The Horned King wants to be an overpowered god through unleashing an army of murderous skeletons that only obey him. He infuses fear into every screen appearance but again like Eilonwy it's a shame that he doesn't get to pick up a weapon and fight for himself rather than sitting in that chair. The comic side of the film works a bit better although I will say that while Flewddur has personality and does entertain he doesn't add anything to the story. Creeper (the Horned King's imp) also entertains whilst Gurgi while not overly funny is one of Disney's most endearing comic sidekicks.
So overall it's not the garbage that many, including the people working at Disney have taken it for and its not the epic masterpiece that it could have been but its a good movie nonetheless. It's highly entertaining and holds it's dark tone better than the later dark Disney's (Hunchback & Atlantis). It's a shame it was a box office failure and it would be better for the film if Disney finally re insert the deleted footage. heck it would probably invoke more interest in the film if people saw the poster for a Disney cartoon with an R-rating on it.
Critical grade: 7/10, Personal enjoyment: 9/10
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
So Much better than An American Tail
In 1986 there were 2 animated mouse films Don Bluth's An American Tail and Disney's The Great Mouse Detective, one overrated and one underrated. Surprisingly it's actually the Disney mouse film that's underrated.
The Great Mouse Detective was given very little publicity on its original release and was made for cheap because Disney couldn't afford another expensive box office bomb like it's predecessor The Black Cauldron. I find it strange that An American Tail made more than double the amount of money this film did and even became the record holder for animated films until Oliver & Company beat its record. The Great Mouse Detective is simply a much better movie. It's story is told simply and quickly which leaves no room for boredom in this film. It's character animation is also better than that of An American Tail and there is far more fluidity and smoothness in the characters movements. The background art isn't as good as The Black Cauldron's or An American Tail's but that just goes to show that in times of little money Don Bluth spent his money on making the backgrounds nice whilst Disney spent their money on creating a solid cast of characters.
Basil is an eccentric, genius who's a lot of fun to watch and is voiced with great enthusiasm by Barrie Ingham and out of our 3 protagonists is easily the most fun.
Dr Dawson is a kindly old soldier who while rather dull in comparison to Basil still does well as Basil's bumbling sidekick.
Olivia isn't at all cloying like Feival sometimes could be and is optimistic for the most part and manages to do quite a bit for herself rather than being a sappy pessimist.
Now for the villains they really went all out. Fidget the villain sidekick is surprisingly threatening despite having a deep and silly voice thanks to Candy Candido's great voice work. He and his clumsiness manage to serve up quite a few laughs throughout the brisk film but like Basil and the other characters he too is overshadowed by the films excellent comic villain.
The nefarious Proffesor Ratigan, excellently voiced by Vincent Price is easily one of Disney's best and most underrated villains, he's right up there with Scar, Shere Khan, Ursula and the rest of the A-grade, better known villains. He like Basil is an eccentric and loves his job so it makes it more fitting that this is a character driven plot in which the rivalry between the hero and the villain is so strong. Ratigan the master criminal and Basil the master crime solver. That said this was one of the first Disney films to have a truly tense climatic battle, as Ratigan shows the true rat inside of when when trying to kill Basil in the well rendered cgi Big Ben clock tower.
Although it isn't a musical, the few songs in it are fine. "Let Me Be Good to You" is an OK song but it's also easily disposable. The other 2 songs sung by Vincent Price are "Goodbye so Soon" and "The Worlds Greatest Criminal Mind" are much better and add some fun to the film. Henry Mancini's musical score is also very good and harshly underrated.
If there's any problem with The Great Mouse Detective is that it's story lacks substance and that much of the movie is relatively unmemorable but other than that I highly recommend the movie and it was an excellent start on Disney animation's road to recovery.
Critical Grade: 8/10, Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Rock a Doodle is one of the worst cartoon films ever for many reasons.
Firstly it has terrible animation, the animation looks as if it was made at the same time as say "The Aristocats" which was made in 1970 and the animation in that looks better than Rock a Doodle's.
Then the characters were annoying with the exception of Chanticleer. The mouse looked so stupid and her lisp was so irritating and the bird had an equally annoying voice and was a pointless character.
Patou the dog looked like one of the typical Don Bluth characters with over-exaggerated mouth movements so when they talk they look as if they're struggling to talk and their lips are stuck together. Phil Harris did his voice well but the narration was overused so much.
Edmund is the most annoying character in the film because the scene where he gets turned from a real human into an animated cat was weird and stupid. Also he was made to try and look cute like Fievel from American Tail but it was so clichéd even down to the over-sized jumper and the voice is even more annoying than Fievel's it makes you hate him.
Then the story of the Grand Owl wanting to make it dark permanently so he could eat the farm animals was stupid. Some of these farm animals are pigs and cows so how can something as small as an owl even dream of eating some of them.
To top it all off the film had really unbearable songs to add to it so overall it is a very bad cartoon. not recommended at all.
Oliver & Company (1988)
Hey man if this is torture, chain me to the wall!
Between the expensive The Black Cauldron and The Little Mermaid, Disney released 2 cheaply made but fun, fast, relatively carefree and highly underrated movies. 1986's The Great Mouse Detective and 1988's Oliver & Company. The film became a surprising hit in 1988 when it was up against The Land Before Time and made $53 million in the USA alone which made it temporarily the record holder for animated movies and spurred the Disney studio with enough confidence to release a new animated film every year from then on.
This movie has gotten a bad reputation from critics and I could never understand why, in fact most of their comments feel somewhat unreal, as if they were just trying to criticise it for anything good or bad.
They often say it has a predictable story which I'll admit is quite true but the story of Oliver & Company is told well, besides this simple story also has a surprising amount of heart.
They also say it has bad animation which I say is total rubbish. The background artwork was stylised in the same Xerox Style of 101 Dalmatians to give New York City a defined look which it does well, also the character animation is just as fluid as in other Disney films of the time. I also give the film top marks for its then ambitious cgi which while obvious to the educated eye brings the traffic packed roads of New York to life as well as allowing the director to use more unique camera movements during the final chase along the Brooklyn Bride subway system.
Now onto the characters and I'll start with Oliver, the naive and fun loving little kitten. Often in animated movies a cute, naive, baby animal or human can get really annoying such as in Rock A Doodle and A Troll in Central Park but Oliver is about as cute as a cartoon character can get without being annoying, mainly because he doesn't talk too much and was very well designed and voiced.
Dodger is voiced very well by Billy Joel, especially since it was his first acting job and the character has a good care-free vibe to him.
Tito is easily the funniest character as Cheech Marin brings in some great voice work for the hyper little dog and the slapstick is done well in many of his scenes particularly those with Tito and the other comedy highlight, Georgette also voiced well by Bette Midler who gives her a hilariously snobbish attitude.
Fagin is voiced by Dom Deluise is easily Dom's best performance for an animated movie and is probably the only one in which his character isn't annoying.
The rest of the supporting cast are the other 3 dogs Rita, Francis and Einstein and while they don't have as much personality as the other characters they're still quite fun to watch and listen to. There's also Jenny, the little, kind, rich girl that eventually adopts Oliver and becomes like a surrogate mother to him who again is OK to watch.
Then we come to the rather menacing villain of Sykes and his vicious Doberman's Rosco and Desoto. He's a greedy loan shark who obviously has links to a mob or mafia of some sort, voiced with a sly, subtlety by Robert Loggia. .
Finally I'll get on with the film's music. The highly underrated musical score by J A C Redford is quite unique for a Disney movie and is often a key part of many of the film's toughing moments, it also gives the film a nice contemporary feel to it. Then there's the songs and being the first Disney musical since The Fox & the Hound they really brought song back to Disney. The songs here are easily the best songs since The Jungle Book over 20 years before, so as all the songs are good I'll start with my least favourite. "Good Company" is a simple but slightly too sweet song which shows how Jenny and Oliver bonded over the 2 days since she found him. Then there's Georgette's arrogant, silly and fun Broadway styled song "Perfect isn't Easy" which in a small way echoes the kind of Broadway songs that would fill the later Disney musicals. Rita's funky, soul styled "Streets of Gold" is another fun song, though the longer version on the soundtrack is better than the movie's it's a fun way of the gang explaining to Oliver how they steal to survive. The next song is the wonderful opening song "Once Upon a Time in New York City" sung by Huey Lewis and written excellently by Howard Ashman. This smooth and easy song whilst 80's styled still holds up in telling the story of how Oliver became lost and alone on the city streets. Now could it ever be possible to find your favourite song in a Disney cartoon? well I did with Billy Joel's Golden Globe nominated "Why Should I Worry?". This song is so much fun to listen to and is a care-free and outstandingly catchy way for Dodger to show Oliver his street smarts and what is needed to own the NYC streets. This pop styled song is surprisingly great, is the movie's highlight scene and one of Disney' s best songs.
So is there anything wrong with Oliver & Company, yes and its the script in some places which lets it down particularly in the scene where Oliver & the gang try through a number of schemes to rescue Jenny from Sykes before the excellent subway chase climax.
Overall though there are definitely better Disney films out there it would be a shame to trash on this film for not being what it doesn't try to be. So I highly recommend Oliver & Company as a film for anyone to enjoy.
Critical Grade: 8/10, Personal Enjoyment: 10/10