Tuesday, February 28, 2012


McMoose: "Hey man, I got my meal, but you left out my sweet tea. I need that, then I'll be lovin' it!"

Oh, life in Alaska. Never a dull day.

P.S. Unknown photo credit; it's a Facebook share. Thanks internet world!

Jungle Acrobatics: Tarzan

Tarzan is a unique Disney film. It has a lot of firsts for Disney animation, mostly concerning death. It was the last big hit of the 90’s, before the slump of the early 2000’s (ahem, Home on the Range). The amount of symbolism and allusion alone makes it stand above other Disney films. The animators had to invent new technology to create the clear look of 2D characters against a 3D background. Technology, story and character development work together to make this film excellent.
            This ‘deep canvas’ technology makes the film visually stunning. There’s one point in the film, when Jane is running from the crazed baboons, that she says it can’t get any worse, then gets slowly drenched by a sudden downpour. Her yellow dress slowly darkens, just as fabric would when getting wet. It’s this attention to detail that makes the film excel.
            Even though Phil Collins sings the music (again), I still really enjoy the music. I always loved “You’ll Be in My Heart”, but “Strangers Like Me” always spoke to me more. For one, it is a love song—just look at the lyrics. “Why do I have this growing need to be beside her…Every gesture, every move that she makes/ makes me feel like never before” signal the love-song side of it. But more importantly, I like that it shows that it’s okay to love something, or someone, different. There are so many cultures and subcultures that don’t mingle with one another, but that’s dangerous. People should fall in love based on who the person is, not where they come from or what they look like.
            Ironically, Tarzan also tackles the nature vs. nurture debate. Think about it: a man raised by gorillas, yet he can still adapt to whatever culture he’s confronted with? Obviously he struggles with who his family is and who he wants to become. On the flip side, he was raised by both a strong, overly dominant male figure as well as a nurturing, kind mother figure. The result was a strong man, with a gentle and caring side. The only time we saw Kerchak soften was towards Kala, whereas Tarzan can be gentle with anyone. He often plays with the baby gorillas, whereas Kerchak only saves them from being stampeded to death. Which, granted, is important.
            There are multiple firsts in this Disney film. The tragedy that occurs to Tarzan’s parents is explicitly shown much more than violence in other films. The bloody paw prints is one thing, but if you’re paying attention you’ll see his parents’ dead bodies lying face down on the floor. Kala and Tarzan both study the photo of Tarzan and his parents, with the glass broken only over Tarzan. His parents were no longer in danger; the broken glass symbolizes Tarzan’s present danger, as opposed to his parents’ safety in death.
            Death is a main theme in Tarzan. The film opens with the alternating visuals of Kerchak, Kala and their baby and Tarzan and his parents. We see his parent’s giant ship go down, with them barely escaping. We see Kala and Kerchak playing with their baby as Tarzan’s parents build their tree house. Then we see the gorilla baby meander into the forest while everyone else is sleeping. Then we hear his screams. It’s nearly as heartbreaking as Bambi’s mom not making it back to their little nest in the bushes. Except in Bambi, we only heard the shot and saw Bambi’s reaction. In Tarzan, we see the predator, we hear the baby gorilla dying, and we see the reaction of the parents. It’s the trifecta of depression. I know Kala has to be in the heartbroken mindset to be willing to stand up to Kerchak about keeping Tarzan, but killing her baby is just too much for me. For the story to be powerful, this tragedy has to happen. But it was too much to hear the baby gorilla’s dying screams. That kind of terror is clearly heard, and the sound department truly hit their mark.
            We see more death when Tarzan kills Sabor, the jaguar that killed his parents and Kala’s baby. It’s an intense and emotional scene. I couldn’t help but say out loud, “But there are way more gorillas—if they just work together, they’ll defeat Sabor easy-peasy.” But then Tarzan wouldn’t finally earn Kerchak’s trust, so I guess I see the story arc. But still.
            Even more death comes with the villain. Once again, it’s implied death. But for the first time, a Disney villain is killed by hanging. James brought to light an interesting point that I’ve thought about before. When a villain destroys themselves (Mother Gothel in Tangled, Clayton in Tarzan) the hero still tries to save them. The hero, in this case Rapunzel or Tarzan, don’t want the villain to die; they should be served formal justice (I started to write ‘proper’, but both their crimes are pretty terrible, so death isn’t improper). The hero’s willingness to save even those who tried to do them harm demonstrates just how inherently good they are.
            I did like the allusion to adoption. It will always be hard for people to acclimate to new families and cultures. Tarzan is a terrific example of that. He struggles to fit in, yet finds close friends (who save his life) that are true and good. He struggles to gain the support of Kerchak, yet ultimately succeeds. Regardless of how different the two parties may seem, they find a balance. I like that.
            And how could I not love the (literal) jungle acrobatics? Jane spirals, football-style, through the trees in the conclusion of the film. Tarzan's feet movements were based on skateboarder Tony Hawk (this movie came out back when he was just newly popular, as was skateboarding), but clearly someone was watching some circus videos because those acrobatics are big-tent-awesome.
            My main issue with the film is that is seems to take place in a few dozen different time periods. Kipling, Darwin and Victoria weren’t in the same places at the same time. Jane and her father bring an automatic typewriter, a phonograph, a projector and projection screen with them, yet wear clothing from the 1800’s (Victorian England). The discrepancy in time periods is jarring, because in so many ways the film is detail oriented.
            The opening sequence is a bit off as well. For one, that ship was HUGE. So were Tarzan’s parents the only two people to survive, or the only two people on it? And if the ship was on fire, how did they salvage so much of it (ahem, windows?!) in order to build the most awesome tree house ever (minus the non-jaguar-proof aspect)? And if Tarzan was an infant (wearing what appeared to be terribly close to disposable diapers), he would have had to have been born on the ship—which means a photograph of the three of them wouldn’t have existed. And where the heck were his parents going when they became shipwrecked? Also, jaguar’s don’t live in Africa, they only live in South America. Well, there goes my detail-oriented compliment.
            Of course there’s a blatant Lion King reference. When Kerchak dies and Tarzan is taking leadership over the family, he crouches (gorilla-style) and raises his chin in the air, then pounds his chest and does his token Tarzan yell. All in the rain, after a big battle. Yup, someone definitely watched Simba’s taking-over-the-pride sequence. Surprisingly, there were also quite a few Pocahontas references. Tarzan’s and Jane’s hair regularly blow over the phases, a la Pocahontas in the beautiful scene when John Smith first sees her. But, more blatantly, is Kerchak’s speech about the humans. He tells the family to stay away from humans, as they are dangerous and different is bad! Sounds awfully close to Pocahontas’s dad’s speech when the Englishmen arrive.
            But it’s because of these scenes that are so reminiscent of other Disney animated features that the film is excellent. It’s the same mindset, the same craft that made the Disney Renaissance such a success. And I’m getting closer and closer to The Lion King, and thus to the Disney Renaissance films that began my Disney obsession long, long ago.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Real Peter Pan

          Growing up, I loved the story of Peter Pan but often got distracted while watching the Disney version. Then 2004’s Finding Neverland and 2003’s live-action Peter Pan cemented the Peter Pan love. Now I’ve watched the Disney version again, but feel a little put off by it.
            For starters, the way the Indians are portrayed is atrocious. J.M. Barrie and the Disney Animation Studio received much criticism for their portrayal of the Indians; Disney stayed true to Barrie’s descriptions, causing them to have the same issues as Barrie did. Their noses are huge, their grammar is terrible, their skin is bright red, and they sing about their skin being red because of blushing when they’re kissed. Being Native American, I didn’t appreciate all of the stereotypes without any positive references. Though, I must admit, Tiger Lily is pretty much the most awesome name ever.
            Another issue I had with the Indian scene is that they give children—from toddler Michael to tween Peter Pan—tobacco. The peace pipe is being passed around, and we see Peter Pan use it. Then Wendy takes it from toddler Michael before he can smoke, but passes it to John, who must be younger than Wendy. He actually smokes it, but it turns him green. Either way, children smoking is not acceptable animation. The fact that Peter Pan makes it look okay, and not terrible, doesn’t help a bit. If I didn’t know Walt would never do this, I would think Phillip Morris or another tobacco company paid the animators to add that sequence. But I do know Walt would never allow such a thing.
            Both Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are Disney adaptations of British authors. With the outbreak of World War II, Walt quickly learned how important the European market is for Disney animated features. Walt wanted to ensure that these two adaptations would appeal to the British audiences. To do so, he found actors who sounded both British and American, appealing to both major release markets simultaneously. This is yet another example of Walt’s genius. He liked actress Kathryn Beaumont so much for her in-between accent that he put her in the female lead for both films—she played Alice and Wendy. That’s quite a feat for any young girl.
            There are a couple of thing I find funny. One is that the same actor typically plays Mr. Darling and Captain Cook, meaning the father figure is also the villain. Especially in animation, when voice acting is so crucial, it’s ironic that the father plays the villain—quite literally. I loved that the father redeems himself and begins remembering his own childhood in the conclusion of the film.
            I’d also like to point out that none of this nonsense (Wendy and the boys going to Neverland, getting kidnapped by Indians and Captain Hook, nearly dying repeatedly) would have happened if Mr. Darling had just let Nana, the dog-nursemaid, stay inside. She would have protected the children from Peter, Tinker Bell, and all the dangers that come with them. See what happens when you put the dog outside? And poor Nana, having to pick up the same toys, over and over again. Sweet, OCD-clean puppy.
            It’s rumored that Walt wasn’t pleased with the finished product of Peter Pan. He found Peter cold and unlikable. Personally, I found Peter to be precisely that. I also found Tinker Bell to be vain, jealous, and downright mean. The only positive thing she does is save Peter, and that’s probably out of guilt for leading Hook right to him. Granted, she does point out that Wendy and the boys are under attack in the crow’s nest during the big fight scene at the end, but again, that’s probably out of guilt.
            I’d completely forgotten what a minx Tinker Bell can be. She starts out the movie getting distracted by her own reflection, and then worrying over the size of her hips. Then she gets stuck in the sewing drawer, and her hips prevent her from getting out via the lock. Her vanity was clearly used to foreshadow her ability to get trapped, but it still shows as vanity. Then all her attempts to off Wendy—she doesn’t even know if Peter likes Wendy that way! Tinker Bell reminds me of a vicious high school student. She is only concerned with the world in how it relates to her and her crush, and she’ll do anything to crush her opponents.
            I find it very fitting that Disney made an animated film of Peter Pan. Because, let’s be honest, Walt is a lot like Peter. He did grow up and become responsible, but it’s the fun-loving and child-like innocence sides of him that provided an avenue for his creativity to flourish. Thankfully he never crowed like a rooster, or at least not that I’m aware of.
            Sadly, the special features left much to be desired. There really weren’t any, other than games and commentaries (by Roy E. Disney, not Walt). There also aren’t any clear lines I can see that The Lion King took from. With a lot of these films, I can see where LK animators found inspiration. I have trouble with this one, though. Perhaps the dandelion seeds that Tinker Bell kicks provided inspiration for Simba’s falling in the grass scene, where the seeds take his scent to Rafiki. Even I’ll admit that’s a stretch.
            Peter Pan was enjoyable, but I found myself once again getting distracted and doing things like folding laundry while watching it. This is partly out of necessity and partly because, while the animation is beautiful, I agree with Walt. It’s lacking that special something that makes Disney features sparkle.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Round Two: Fantasia 2000

I much prefer to watch movies twice before I write about them. I get attached to characters much too quickly to not know their fate. The first time I watched Fantasia 2000, I was worried about the little baby whale in “Pines of Rome”. I didn’t like that he got separated from his family. The animation is visually stunning, which I noticed much more this time around without the worry about little while finding his way out of the ice cavern. Also, those birds are mean.
            It feels almost wrong to say, but I enjoy Fantasia 2000 more so than the original. The animators really captured my attention, even without dialogue. Fantasia struggled more to do that. The dinosaur sequence always puts me to sleep. The lack of dialogue was more noticeable to me in the original. Whereas in sequences like “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Piano Concerto No. 2”, the story was so clearly laid out visually I didn’t need or notice the absence of sound. Much like the first eight minutes of UP, the plot is so well presented that the dialogue would have cluttered it.
            The musical selections were also more familiar, or at least were so to me, than in Fantasia. It was especially interesting to see re-imaginings of overly-used music; the best example being the Noah’s Ark rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance”.  The first time I watched it, I was too distracted by the graduation theme to fully focus on the plot. But I remembered as I watched this time how well it fit, and liking it at least some the previous time I watched it.
            It would be incredibly hard for me to choose a favorite from Fantasia 2000. The toy soldier and the ballerina always capture my heart, so it must be in the list. The whales are gorgeous, and the aurora borealis backdrop is close to my heart because of my life here in Alaska (though we have yet to see them more than once, despite our efforts. We need to step up our efforts this winter; we’ve been slacking). I love Donald and Daisy’s reunion in the Noah’s Ark number. I’ve always loved “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, but that’s mostly Mickey Mouse love. And the yo-yo-ing flamingo—what’s not to love?!
            “The Firebird Suite” reminds me of Bambi, the little deer that captured my whole heart and really inspired this whole project. The stag, standing noble over the land, reminds me of Bambi’s father. He looks so noble and sweet. And the fairy, with her near-death, inspires me still to keep going even when I feel burned out. The nature fairy is so lovely, and the animation so magical, it couldn’t not make the list of favorites. It’s also my Lion King link. The rebirth of Spring so reminds me of the rebirth of the Pride Lands, as rain washes away the literal and figurative ash and new plants grow in its place. Lovely, beautiful symbolism.
            Which essentially puts the entire film in my favorites-from-the-film list. Oh, sheesh. But who could blame me? It’s excellent animation and glorious music. If only Walt could have seen the realization of his dream—Fantasia was built upon and changed, and it was truly magical.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Real Alice: Alice in Wonderland

About two months ago, I ruined all Alice stories for me forever. I read this magnificently written book, Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin. Why would reading this book forever ruin all Alice in Wonderland type stories? Because the book, while fictional, is based on letters and first-hand accounts of the relationship between Mr. Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, and Alice Liddel, the little girl whom both Alice titles refer to.
            According to these accounts, Alice’s relationship with Mr. Dodgson was not appropriate. Nothing happened—this was Victorian England, after all—but regardless, it is still disputed if he proposed. In any case, Alice Liddel was forever colored as ‘ruined’, despite her chastity. She most likely fell in love with Prince Leopold, who most likely loved her back, as each named one of their children after the other. Because of Alice’s relationship with Lewis Carroll, Queen Victoria would not give her blessing for Alice to be married to Prince Leopold. He died quite young, as he was a hemophiliac, while she married another and lost two of her sons during World War I. Not nearly a happily ever after for either of them.
            And now, both the beloved children’s classic and Walt’s re-imagining of Alice’s adventures are tainted for me with the knowledge of the lives not quite fully lived and the abandoned love between Alice and Leopold. Curse myself and my love for historical fiction.
            Anway. The movie version. Very funny, very pretty, and the perfect voice actress for Alice. Walt was so enchanted by her voice—not quite British, not quite American, but enough of each to appeal to both audiences—that he also had her play Wendy Darling in Peter Pan. The styling of the famous Mary Blair is clear and present, and it makes the film lovely. It was lovely, and had I not been distracted by the dark story behind the real Alice, I would have loved it. It made me laugh, it made James laugh (which, let’s be honest, is much more difficult than making me laugh). I thought the Red Queen was terrifying and I really wanted to put her in a time out (well, she was acting childish). My only complaint was that I knew precisely when Alice was about to wake up, thus I didn’t feel the suspense at all.
            The influence of artist Mary Blair—who first joined Disney in the early 40’s and was one of the artists on the South American trip—is very clear and very beautiful. She has a certain way of using color that is very stylized and clear. The constant presence of music, and the way it’s used, is also excellent. If I hadn’t read that dang book, I would have loved it.
            What’s most exciting to me is what Walt’s Alice represents to me. I’ve gone down my own rabbit hole, watching these 50 films. And Alice—she’s number 25. My halfway-point. As a reward (to myself for getting here and you for accompanying me) the following video is the one that inspired this whole project: the Disney 50 animated films countdown. Enjoy—I know I am.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pollyanna Goes Prehistoric:Dinosaur

I had a heck of a time getting my hands on this movie. First, Netflix sent the wrong movie for two weeks. Then I got super mad at them, and went to their competitor—Blockbuster. But Blockbuster also failed me. So I did what I had been avoiding—I called Netflix. Why had I been avoiding calling? I really, really don’t like calling companies. But I bit the bullet and called—and it was totally worth it. I have to say, Netflix’s customer service team has never disappointed me. Not only did the guy make me feel better and apologize profusely for my trouble, he diagnosed what was wrong with our queue and fixed it so it wouldn’t happen anymore. And that’s how Netflix won my heart back. Sorry, Blockbuster. You had your chance, but Netflix and I…we’re soul mates.
            Ahem, moving on. I worked really hard to keep my expectations in check while waiting, waiting, waiting for Dinosaur. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that it was one of the 50 on my list. I had thought it was a Disney Channel movie, because I had first seen it on Disney Channel. I was in elementary or middle school and was channel flipping when the opening credits started. I paused, just to see what it was. And it sucked me in.
            Twelve years later, I’m still sucked in. I still cried. I felt just as heartbroken at the beginning tragedy that I did as a tween. I’d forgotten how many deaths there were, though. I spent the whole movie in suspense, worried about who would go next. And when dinosaurs did die—they showed it. Not as grotesquely as in Fantasia—we all know I didn’t like that dinosaur animation-- but it still showed a lot of dead dinosaurs.  Most surprisingly, they showed the villain’s death; well, they showed the villains’ deaths and the antagonist’s death. Disney usually employs ‘implied death’ mechanisms to show the demise of their villains. Think about it—we don’t see Bambi’s mother get shot, nor Gaston’s final resting place in the endless chasm, and Mother Gothel literally dissolves before she can hit the ground. Their deaths are implied, and we know our heroes are safe, yet we don’t visually see their death. When the dust clears, we see the villain-dinosaur’s twisted body. It’s way too creepy, I think. I love the movie—but I’ve seen enough animated dinosaur corpses to last a lifetime.
            The overall lesson of the film was great. Aladar, the dinosaur raised by lemurs (it may sound ridiculous, but it works. That’s the power of Disney), befriends any he comes by and wants to help everyone. His upbeat attitude and desire for the group to work together clearly stem from his adopted family’s loving acceptance of him. Aladar makes everyone feel welcome and loved. His can-do attitude lands him on the wrong side of the selfish, survival-of-the-fittest leaders. Which means he befriends the small and the old---aka, the ones most likely to die. Talk about a nerve-wracking movie!
            One thing I appreciated was that at one point, Aladar’s Pollyanna-esque attitude failed him. He wanted to give up, and he was just plain mad. That’s when the difference he made on his little mini-herd becomes clear. It was also reassuring—especially to someone who naturally has an upbeat attitude. At some point, even those with the best attitudes feel let down and want to give up. After getting the car stuck in the driveway (yes, again) on my way to pick James up from work (at 11:15 p.m.). Meaning he wasn’t with me. It was snowing like crazy and I couldn’t see the path down the driveway. Thankfully he got a ride home from work and we got it unstuck. But at one point before he arrived home, I may have shoved the snow shovel into the three foot high drift and stamped my foot like a child throwing a temper tantrum. In my defense, I’d been trying desperately to get unstuck for twenty minutes, it was still snowing like crazy (so much so that my previously-dry hair was soaking wet). Then I did it. I gave up. At least, until James got home. Then I put my now-filthy-and-soaked coat on, shoved my feet into my boots and we got that car unstuck. Not unlike Aladar, actually.
            Technologically speaking, Dinosaur is amazing. It’s made up of CGI dinosaurs against real backdrops. Crews filmed in Florida, Venezuela, Australia, California and Hawaii. Even more amazing, to create a perfect paradise for dinosaurs, they combined multiple location backgrounds to create the ideal location. That innovativeness speaks to Walt’s spirit. And how could you not love a movie that Walt himself would have loved? The film is so visually striking because of the combination of CGI and real footage. It is in moments like these, when I think of the technological innovations Walt had to invent to achieve his dreams, that I wonder if he knew the impact his vision would have on our world. Could he have known that the Disney name would come to stand for all that is wholesome and dwells in childlike innocence? I hope he had at least an inkling.
            No Disney chapter of mine would be complete without the Lion King references found in the film. They practically ran rampant in this one! First, there’s Yar’s comments when Aladar’s egg first hatches, “Babies grow up! You keep that thing, one day, we'll turn our backs, it'll be picking us out of its teeth! Things like THAT eat things like US as snacks!” Compared with   Timon’s first realization that Simba is a lion cub:
            Timon: Geez! It's a lion! Run, Pumbaa! Move it!
            Pumbaa: Hey, Timon, it's just a *little* lion. Look at him. He's so cute and all alone! Can we keep him?
            Timon: Pumbaa, are you nuts? We're talking about a lion; Lions eat guys like us! 
Seems a little familiar, no? I thought so. I also thought it odd when Neera’s brother and Aladar are battling, the brother throws dust in Aladar’s eyes because Aladar is winning. Kind of like, oh, I don’t know, Scar throwing embers in Simba’s eyes when Simba had already won?! I’m not complaining—I love Lion King allusions. But if this keeps up, I may have already covered all Lion King related content before I get to that chapter! Ha! Just kidding. I could never run out of things to say about The Lion King.
          All in all, I recommend going and renting Dinosaur and giving it a chance. Good luck finding it, though!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Netflix ruined my life...again

UPDATE: I take it back. Netflix once again has my heart. See the post Pollyanna Goes Jurassic for details.

Dear Netflix,
 I would have written my angry letter privately, on your website, where only your customer service representatives would see it and find some way to resolve the situation and appease my anger. Unluckily for you, there isn't a write-in 'Contact Us' form. Instead, you told me to call. I don't like calling. I can't fully express my frustration over the phone, because the person on the other end didn't mess up my queue-- you did. And, having worked in customer service, I can't sound angry to someone who has no fault in my problem.

So here's my problem. I'm doing this project and I need the movies in a very specific order. That's why I spent a long period of time organizing the queue in that very specific order. Now, you keep rearranging it without myself or my husband going on to the website to change it. Now, instead of telling me The Emperor's New Groove was going to take longer, you sent Alice in Wonderland and then told me. So I had to wait for Emperor's, watch it, watch Alice-- out of order, mind you, because Alice shouldn't have been next. Then, when I made sure Dinosaur was at the top of the queue so it would ship out next, you moved it and Peter Pan to some random spot in the middle. Which I then had to fix--again. And, to add insult to injury, when my husband added three movies to the bottom of the queue--without moving them to the top spot-- you moved them to the top spots. So instead of receiving Dinosaur, we got Lethal Weapon 4.

Imagine my shock and dismay, if you will, upon discovering that what was in the little red envelope-- which once brought such joy-- instead brought frustration, anger and a lot of confusion. Not only did you not send the right movie, but you sent the wrong wrong movie, too! James had added Lethal Weapon's 2-4, but wanted them in their chronological order. Yet you sent 4 before 2. Tsk, tsk. Someone needs to re-watch the Sesame Street episodes on counting, Netflix.

Of course, we had to send 4 back without watching it-- it couldn't be watched out of order. And then, last night, as I'm drifting into dreamland, James says, "Oh, Netflix e-mail. They're sending Peter Pan." And instead of dreams, I felt anger. Because now you've done it: Now I have to go to Blockbuster. To rent Dinosaur. Because Peter is still two movies away (Dinosaur, Fantasia 2000, Peter Pan). Curse you, Netflix. Curse you.

Not love anymore,
 A once-loyal customer who hadn't set foot in a Blockbuster in 5 years since starting Netflix

P.S. You should be ashamed. I'm very disappointed in you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wishing and Believing: Cinderella

          After the package films of the 40’s and the war years, the Disney studio was in debt. The last film to actually make a profit—and not just recoup costs—was Snow White, released a full 13 years before Cinderella. The entire future of the feature animation studio was riding on this one film. If Cinderella had flopped, we’d have a world without Ariel, Belle, Jasmine—and a world without Simba. What a sad world that would be.
            Thankfully, Walt and Roy O. Disney were two geniuses working together—one a creative genius who demanded the highest quality from his artists, and one a financial whiz. Though Roy wanted to close the feature animation studio without Cinderella, a project Walt had been working on in his mind since his Laugh-O-Gram studio in his pre-Hollywood days, during the 1920’s. But Walt believed in Cinderella, and believed in it enough to use it to save his studio. Walt’s most famous quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” rings true to his own life. He believed his studio could be saved by a hit, so he made a hit.
            I wasn’t super excited to watch Cinderella for this project. I love the story and the art, but parts of the movie have always bored me. Granted, I’m much more likely to watch Cinderella than I am Snow White. Yet I own both of them on DVD. I can’t explain it. They’re like comfort objects; when I need them, I need them right then. And after watching Cindy again, I like her even more. I like what she did for the Disney studio in the 50’s, I love the music, and I’m catching more and more little things I never noticed before.
            I’m not sure if I was just in the right mood to watch it this time, but I enjoyed it a lot more. This could be partly due to that Walt biography I recently finished. Walt was listening to Ilene Woods, the voice of Cinderella, sing the “Sweet Nightingale” song in the studio. After she finished, Walt just sat there, silent, for five minutes. When Walt approved of something, whether from his animators or actors, he rewarded them with a “That’ll work.” Ilene was nervous, and rightfully so. Then Walt surprised everyone by saying that he imagined her singing, and then bubbles filled with her image harmonizing. New technology had just been developed, and Walt was determined to use it and perfect it.
            Because I knew precisely when that scene was, I was excited to see it and watch what was first visualized in Walt’s mind take shape. Then there’s the plus side of the hidden Mickey in the same scene. There was also a lot I had forgotten about—the cat and mice chases, the key up the stairs sequence and the ballroom dance scene. The music was also much more enjoyable than I remember. Which is why it’s no surprise that part of what saved the Disney studio was their expansion in the merchandising—specifically music merchandising. By maintaining ownership of the music from the film, selling the sound track and selling the sheet music, the Disney studio created a whole new avenue for profit.
            I spent quite a while watching the special features on these discs, and a lot of quality archival footage is included. Many radio interviews with Ilene Woods provided a lot of background information on her and how she won the role of Cinderella over 309 other actresses—without even knowing she was auditioning! She sang the demo reel for the musicians to show Disney, and he said that was his Cinderella. She has a lovely, iconic voice that I’ll always associate with the grace and charm that is Cinderella.
            Part of what made me love the movie more this time around is that Cinderella, while sweet, kind, generous, loving and charming, she is also spunky. For example, when the proclamation from the King announcing the ball arrives, her voice and facial expression changes when she says she supposes it’s important enough to interrupt the, ah, music lesson. Her slight mocking of the step-sisters’ terrible attempt at music shows some insight into her character. It shows that while she is forced to be a servant in her own home, and she accepts it with grace, she isn’t limited to it. She knows she deserves better and keeps a hope alive in her heart, even in the darkest moments, that one day life will be better.
            The special features on the Cinderella disc were extensive. But I certainly learned a lot. For instance, Walt’s (reported) favorite piece of animation was the transformation scene, when Cinderella changes from rags into a ball gown. There were also a few songs that were cut, and I think rightly so. It could just be they weren’t as developed as the ones in the final cut, but they just weren’t Disney caliber.
            Cinderella is such a Disney icon, I was a little intimidated to write about it. The Disney Golden Age (Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) is such a big deal—if even one of those movies had failed, the Disney studio we know and love would be drastically different. In each Disney World theme park, there’s a Walt museum. It looks small sometimes from the outside, but it holds a vast amount of information and clips, scale models of Disney Land and images of Walt and Roy as children. I think Roy gets unjustly overlooked a lot of the time; if it weren’t for his financial smarts, Walt’s dreams would have bankrupted his companies more than once.
            Walt had one studio before he came to Hollywood: Laugh-O-Gram Pictures. While there, he began work on the short films that helped him establish the Disney Brothers Studio when he arrived in Hollywood—the Alice films. He combined live action and animation in a way no one had ever seen before.
            Perhaps less well known than the Alice films are Walt’s fully animated shorts from that same time period. He first began his 30 year affair with Cinderella at the Laugh-O-Gram studio. He made an animated short of Cinderella, and she and the Prince even do the Charleston! As someone who can only dance if it’s to swing music, I definitely appreciated that.
            As if two discs of Special Features weren’t enough, I went on IMDb to do a little more research on the voice of Cinderella and discovered a fun fact: the American Film Institute has a Top 10 Animation Films list. Huh, who knew?! Of course I then had to find the list. And here it is, in its entirety:
1.      Snow White
2.      Pinocchio
3.      Bambi
4.      The Lion King
5.      Fantasia
6.      Toy Story
7.      Beauty and the Beast
8.      Shrek
9.      Cinderella
10.  Finding Nemo

            In case you missed it, there are 7 Disney movies, 2 Pixar and 1 DreamWorks. The studio that produced the film is a very important factor for me—it basically determines if I see it in theatres opening weekend (All Pixar and most Disney), in theatres at all (most Disney), or wait until it comes out on Netflix (DreamWorks, if I bother at all). Now, I don’t have anything against DreamWorks except that they were Disney artists and I don’t believe the split was a happy one. Heck, John Lassetter has gone back and forth from Pixar and Disney for years, yet he’s still one of my favorite directors and executive producers. And, generally speaking, a DreamWorks film may be enjoyable, but it lacks that emotional tug that is synonymous with Disney and Pixar.
Granted, that list was created in 2008, before UP, Toy Story 3, or Tangled. And I have to disagree with a few, and not just Shrek. Don’t freak out, I enjoy Shrek. It’s funny. But for me, it lacks greatness. In UP, Carl and Ellie’s love story makes you cry within 8 minutes of the film starting—with ZERO dialogue. So while Shrek’s antics may make me laugh, and the pop culture wit is extraordinary, I can’t say I think it deserves to be on the Top 10 Animated Films list, either. But I also don’t think Pinocchio earned his place there, either. I do, of course, greatly agree that Simba should be on that list, only a little higher. ;)
            Another interesting note is that the voiced narration that begins the film may sound oddly familiar, if out of place. That is because it is the much less scary version of the actress who also voiced Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmations.
            Another interesting tidbit: Cinderella is the first film that all of Disney’s Nine Old Men worked on together. They were shuffled around a bit, with the animator of the seven dwarves being the lead animator for the Step-Mother. But that’s how Walt worked—he saw opportunity for growth, and he saw who best fit where. It was an invaluable quality that made his films so excellent. Walt himself was not a great animator—which is why he employed so many great animators. It’s also why he caused so many techniques to be invented—he didn’t know what wasn’t possible. His creativity wasn’t confined by what was possible, because he simply didn’t know when something he asked of his animators was impossible.
            The scene with Jacques and Gus-Gus taking the key up the stairs is memorable. I was completely surprised when Lucifer (that’s the cat’s name; he’s modeled on animator Ward Kimball’s actual cat!) captured Gus—and the key—in the bowl. It was a suspenseful moment when the cat-and-mouse chase (literally) all throughout the movie could finally end—with the cat winning. The mice rebel and start attacking (like villagers with pitchforks and fire, except they are mice after all—so they have forks and candles on sewing thread spools!). It’s a genius scene, full of suspense, as Cinderella has very limited time in which to save her future. It’s truly animated genius.
            I can’t recall why I didn’t like this movie growing up or even delight in it a few years ago. But I can—ungrudgingly—say that I now love this film. The music is stuck in my head (particularly “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”), I keep recalling funny images and plot points. It’s clever and wonderful and I just love it (now).