Family, Animation And Music In ‘The Book Of Life’

Family, Animation And Music In ‘The Book Of Life’

I don’t particularly like using words like “underrated” or “underappreciated”, but I’m hard pressed to find terms more suitable for 2014’s criminally overlooked film, The Book of Life. Not only is it one of the most inventive and unique films released in years, but it is one of my favorite animated films of all time.

One of the more noteworthy facts about The Book of Life is that it wasn’t produced at any of the major animation production houses; no Disney, Pixar, Illumination or DreamWorks (though this seems to be a common misconception). The film was created by the Texas based company, Reel FX Creative Studios, who previously worked on 2013’s Free Birds.

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Free Birds was a modest success at the box office, grossing roughly $110 million against a $55 million budget, but failed to impress critics. The Book of Life is a completely different case in this respect, as the combined directorial and producing prowess of Jorge R. Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro, respectively, were able to craft a film that would go on to be a critical darling.

The Book of Life has all of the makings of a remarkable animated film, but there are a few aspects of it that I believe make it a truly outstanding experience, and one that rivals and at times surpasses its contemporaries. Innovative animation, fantastic use of music in the narrative and the prominent theme of family are elements that make The Book of Life stand out in the crowd, and I’d like to point an analytical eye at each one of them.

 

Family Matters

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The friendship and eventual love triangle between the principal characters of Manolo, Joaquin and Maria is what drives the overarching narrative of The Book of Life, but one central theme that has a huge influence on the story and the characters is that of the importance of family.

Manolo is a member of the proud and charismatic Sanchez family. Every Sanchez man was a world renowned bull fighter, which more often than not led to an untimely death. Manolo, being the Sanchez that he is, has an innate talent for bullfighting, but his true passion lies with music.

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From childhood to adolescence and adulthood, Manolo is always at odds with his father, Carlos, when it comes to bullfighting and music. Manolo doesn’t enjoy the sport, and thinks it wrong to kill the bull, and Carlos finds his son’s distaste to be shameful to the Sanchez name.

Carlos wants nothing but the best for his son, as he believes displaying his strength in the arena will make Manolo a strong and desirable man in the eyes of Maria.

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The father-son relationship story also extends to the character of Joaquin. His father was a once great hero, but died while defending the town of San Angel. As such, Joaquin wishes to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a man worthy of not only Maria’s love, but of the name Joaquin Mondragon Jr.

The theme of family really comes to a head when Manono visits the afterlife. The Book of Life’s entire story and aesthetic are based around the famous Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or, the Day of the Dead, an occasion whose purpose is to honor and celebrate the loved ones that are no longer with us.

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The Book of Life visually conveys this message by having the afterlife separated into two distinct planes, the Land of the Remembered, and The Land of the Forgotten. So long as a living person carries you in their memories, you can live in the bright and colorful Land of the Remembered. But should you fade entirely from the memories of the living, you will be trapped in the dark and depressing Land of the Forgotten.

When Manolo visits the Land of the Remembered, not only is he reunited with his deceased mother, Carmen, but all of his Sanchez relatives. Each member of the Sanchez family is incredibly unique and memorable, and join Manolo on his journey to reclaim the life he was tricked out of, as well as to save his hometown without hesitation.

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I’ve always been fascinated by Mexican culture and the importance it places on familial ties and togetherness, and The Book of Life’s representation of Dia de los Muertos does a phenomenal job of capturing this message.

The Aesthetic Of Mexico

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The Book of Life is a pinnacle example of creative use of art direction and animation over pure visual fidelity. Most of the characters in the film all resemble cute and colorful little wooden dolls, and they are animated with so much charm and personality.

It’s hard to put into word what makes the film’s animation so special without overusing words like “unique” and “inventive”, but that’s really what it amounts to. The entire look of the film is so infinitely entrancing, and it only gets better as the story progresses.

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Every moment in the Land of the Remembered is a festival. There’s a near constant parade with a dizzying array of sights and attractions, and the dark backdrop serves as the perfect contrast for the light show that decorates the scenery.

Characters in the afterlife are designed to resemble the iconic Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls, and every single one of them has a style and charm all their own. I was really impressed by just how different each of the characters looked from one another, and it’s commendable just how much Reel FX was able to do with the central design theme of skulls.

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I’ve never seen a film with the visual style of The Book of Life, and I can confidently say it will not only stand the test of time as more and more visually impressive films are released, but it puts the film shoulder to shoulder with giants like Disney and Pixar.

 

Music And Storytelling

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Music is an incredibly important element to the aesthetic and story of The Book of Life. The expected musical stylings of Mariachi bands are always present in the film, and are largely represented by Manolo’s comic relief Mariachi friends.

But rather than have music be used as a background element, certain songs and pieces are intrinsically tied to the plot. I previously mentioned that Manolo dreams of being a musician, and that bit of information was much more than just flavor text.

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Early on in the film, Manolo’s guitar gets damaged in a scuffle with a pig. Before Maria is sent off to boarding school, she repairs Manolo’s guitar, and inscribes on it the words, “always play from the heart”, words which carry Manolo through the toughest of times.

Not only does Manolo play the guitar, but he sings, quite a few times in fact. The Book of Life features handful of covers, with the two most prominent examples being Radiohead’s Creep, which Manolo sings after feeling that he has lost his chance with Maria, and Elvis Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love.

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Two other standout songs are actually original pieces written for the film. The first of these is I Love You Too Much, a simple, yet sweet declaration of undying love by Manolo. The second is The Apology Song, which Manolo uses to calm a towering bull in the afterlife.

What makes these songs so impactful is the passion you can hear displayed by Manolo’s voice actor, Diego Luna. While a pretty good singer in his own right, it’s the raw emotion in his voice that makes the songs so endearing.

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When he pleads to Maria, you can really feel how much he loves her. And when he humbles the Sanchez family by apologizing to the numerous bulls they have defeated, there’s a strong sense of genuine regret and sadness.

Music really drives the plot and themes of The Book of Life, and as a person who loves music in all styles and genres, I applaud the production team for placing so much importance on it.

Always Play From The Heart

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The Book of Life is a one of a kind film that not nearly enough people have gotten to experience. Every aspect of the film was so clearly made with so much care and attention to detail, and I’d be shocked if someone didn’t become totally infatuated with Manolo and the rest of the cast.

Though it may not be from a studio with a long and impressive track record, The Book of Life still manages to be one of the best animated films ever released. Unique visual appeal, fantastic music and the ever present theme of family all come together to create an unforgettable experience.

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The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was a worldwide phenomenon in 2016. It is currently the 4th highest grossing film in Japan, as well as the highest grossing anime film of all time, dethroning Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It is also the 7th highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time, with most of the films above it coming from Walt Disney Animation.

Your Name has received countless accolades since its release, and I wholeheartedly believe that it deserves every single ounce of praise that comes its way. The film is an absolute masterclass in animation, cinematography, storytelling, character development and all of the little nuances that create great and memorable films.

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My gut reaction upon my first viewing of Your Name was that it is as perfect as a creative endeavor can conceivably be. But rather than gush about all of the qualities that make the film so special, I’d like to take a deeper look into what made it the global sensation that it has become, as well as what this means for the future of traditional animation, and the popularity of anime outside of Japan.

 

Resonance With International Audiences

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Anime films have seen varying degrees of success outside of their home country, though very few have been as revered as Your Name. But what is the reason for this? The film is a masterpiece to be sure, but other amazing anime films like Wolf Children haven’t managed to achieve Your Name’s level of success.

I believe that the major factor in Your Name’s resonance with international audiences has quite a bit to do with its simplicity and relatability. While the film does have plenty of fantasy elements to be sure, at its core, the narrative is one of two people who share a unique and special connection.

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The bonds between people has always been at the heart of many of Shinkai’s stories, and Your Name, with its body switching and communication via notes and digital diaries, is this thematic element taken about as far as it can go.

It also helps that Taki and Mitsuha, the film’s two leads, are incredibly likeable and endearing. They come from two infinitely different worlds, and seeing how they adapt and grow in their new environments surely captured the hearts of many viewers.

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Animation doesn’t only exist to be enjoyed by children, and films like Your Name do a fantastic job of proving this. The film’s storytelling is very mature, and many people that wouldn’t otherwise spare a glance at the film have been willing to give it a try.

I’ve had conversations with people in my personal life about Your Name, and the results often surprised me. One such conversation was between myself and a good friend from work, and he informed me that his mother, who has no idea what anime really is, asked him to pick up a copy of the film from work after hearing great things about it from her friends.

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This story both shocked me and made me extremely happy, and I’m sure this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Aside from the film’s box office success, it’s also done really well for itself on home media. Copies of both the DVD and Blu-Ray release have been flying off the shelves at retailers like Walmart, and the collector’s edition has seen similar levels of demand.

Your Name is a sweet and charming film that respects the time and sensibilities of the older members of the audience. This notion, among many others, is why the film was such a hit with viewers the world over, not to mention just how lovely the film’s aesthetics are.

Anime, No Longer Niche

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I’ve previously written about the history and decline of the traditionally animated feature, and I cited Your Name as an example of the medium’s future. Japan sees the release of many traditionally animated films every year, but offerings are pretty sparse outside of the country.

Before Your Name, there hadn’t been a traditionally animated film of major consequence since Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog, nor had there been any hugely successful ones since Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away during the early 2000’s.

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It is unrealistic to think that traditionally animated films will ever achieve the levels of market share that they enjoyed in the preceding decades, but the success of Your Name has demonstrated that their is room for both styles of film to coexist.

I don’t feel that it is too farfetched to think that we could receive a handful of traditionally animated films per year, amongst the numerous computer animated ones. The caveat to this statement however is that these select films will have to be award winning material.

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All of the marketing in the world wouldn’t have been able to make Your Name a success if it wasn’t a quality experience to begin with. For a film of the traditional ilk to succeed in modern day box offices, it will have to be firing on all cylinders.

One element that can’t be overlooked is the state of anime in pop culture in 2017. Anime has been steadily growing in popularity outside of Japan for decades now, but the 2010’s have seen an explosion of anime being talked about in the mainstream. Anime Youtuber Gigukk has actually done a great video on the topic, and I highly suggest giving it a watch.

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With every year that passes, anime becomes less and less niche. People are always looking for new shows to binge watch, and the widespread availability of anime on services like Funimation Now and Crunchyroll, as well as more popular and mainstream ones such as Netflix and Hulu have been an immense help to anime’s recent growth, a growth that the success of Your Name is both a product of, and contributes directly to.

Looking To The Future

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Animated or otherwise, Your Name is one of the best story experiences I’ve had in years. It has beautiful animation direction, top quality vocal performances and plenty of heartwarming moments that will stick with viewers for years to come.

With new projects in development from Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda and even the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, the future of anime films is looking as bright as ever. But what excites me the most is the prospect of anime becoming more and more widely accepted, as well as the resurgence of traditionally animated films in the mainstream.

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Anime and traditional animation are such wonderful mediums that not enough people respect, appreciate or even know about. The artistry of animation is the perfect vehicle for exploring worlds that were previously thought only to exist in our dreams, and there are so many great and talented people in the world with exciting stories to tell.

To speak of anime specifically, I can’t overstate how influential it has been in my personal life. There’s so much that I’ve learned about Japanese culture, society and mannerisms just from watching anime, and I can genuinely say that it has given me a deeper appreciation of the world beyond my own.

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Crisp and vivid animation, wonderfully developed characters and a rich story are praises that only scratch the surface when it comes to Your Name. It sets a new standard for what can be accomplished with traditional animation, and it is my hope that animation companies around the world are keeping an inquisitive eye on what made the film such an important work of art.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers Down Under’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers Down Under’

The Rescuers Down Under is the oft forgotten film of the historical Disney Renaissance era. A sequel to 1977’s The Rescuers, the film was released to theaters in 1990, and followed 1989’s The Little Mermaid as the second film in the Disney Renaissance, and is the 29th film produced by Walt Disney Animation overall.

The Rescuers Down Under is one of the few Disney theatrical sequels. While many famous Disney films have received sequels and spin-offs on television and home media, the majority of these were produced by Disney’s smaller production houses like DisneyToon Studios.

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Before Pixar became the animation juggernaut that they are today, they actually had a huge role to play in the production of The Rescuers Down Under. Most of the film’s post processing was done using Pixar’s Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS.

This makes The Rescuers Down Under the first film, animated or otherwise, to be pieced together primarily in a digital space. Pixar’s CAPS technology would also be used in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast for the ballroom dancing scene.

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The original The Rescuers film was a sweet, heartwarming adventure about two heroic mice and a kidnapped orphan girl. In contrast, the film’s sequel is full blown action-adventure/comedy, and is devoid of even a single musical number.

The Rescuers Down Under may be tonally different than its predecessor, but the narrative actually follows many of the same beats. Bernard and Miss Bianca, two of the most esteemed members of the Rescue Aid Society, are tasked with rescuing a child who has been kidnapped by a greedy adult.

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The original film’s villain was Miss Medusa, and she took sweet little Penny to a dark and swampy bayou to look for a fabled pirate treasure, the Devil’s Eye. This time around, the villain and message are much more politically driven, and they display themes not shown by Disney since Bambi back in the company’s Golden Age.

Percival C. McLeach is our antagonist for The Rescuers Down Under, and his favorite hobby is hunting down rare animals for financial gain, and just to have a good old time. Much like Medusa before him, he has a scaly pet with a knack for catching little kids.

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Our kid character for the film is a plucky and adventurous boy named Cody, and he spends his days making friends with the local wildlife of Australia. On one particular day, Cody discovers a large golden eagle named Marahute, who is ensnared in a poacher’s trap.

Cody doesn’t hesitate to free Marahute from her bindings, and the present he receives from her puts him on McLeach’s radar. The young boy is promptly kidnapped, and McLeach’s goal is to coerce him to reveal Marahute’s whereabouts. Naturally, Bernard and Miss Bianca don’t waste very much time before they hop on the first albatross flight to the land down under.

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For The Rescuers Down Under, the humble and helpful Bernard has one more thing on his mind besides rescuing Cody, and that’s popping the question to Miss Bianca. But everytime he attempts to do so, at least a few inconvenient things get in his way, and one of those things is newcomer Jake, a cool and confident kangaroo mouse.

Although the story hits a lot of the same notes as The Rescuers before it, the comedy and characters do a great job of filling in what may otherwise be a by the numbers plot. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprise their roles as Bernard and Miss Bianca respectively, and both actors do a phenomenal job.

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The duo’s albatross friend, Orville, is unfortunately absent from this adventure. Jim Jordan, his voice actor, passed away before the film’s production. So instead of finding a new person to replace him, Disney instead opted to retire his character in the film’s story, and introduce his brother, Wilbur (a pretty deliberate reference to the famous flying Wright Brothers).

McLeach isn’t one of the strongest or most memorable villains that Disney has ever written, but he’s by no means bad. George C. Scott does a great job of making the character sound like he loves every minute of his job (bonus points for the southern drawl), and he perfectly fulfills his role in the story.

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While I personally found Penny to be a more enjoyable character than Cody, he actually has a more prominent role in his film’s story. Penny could’ve been any other small child to accomplish Medusa’s task, but Cody actually has an established connection to the goal that his villain is seeking.

The creation of Cody’s character was actually the source of creative differences between the film’s storyboard artist, Joe Ranft, and other members of the team. Ranft wanted Cody to be a native, Aboriginal Australian, as opposed to the blonde haired white kid that he ended up as in the film’s final version.

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One major thing that sets this film apart from its predecessor is the animation. Compared to the 1977 film’s simple, but nice animation, The Rescuers Down Under is much grander in scale. The beginning of the film features a totally enthralling flight sequence with Cody and Marahute, and seeing the pair soar above the clouds and skate over the water was truly incredible.

Marahute was one of the trickier parts of the film’s animation process. In addition to being larger than life, the bird has more than 200 unique feathers, and this staggering amount of detail is the reason that she only appears for about seven minutes of the film.

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As is customary for Disney, the company put quite a bit of work into presenting an authentic version of Australian landscapes and wildlife. In addition to studying the animals of the San Diego Zoo for reference, the animation team also went on a research trip to Australia to get a better grasp environment. Fun fact, the animation team also enlisted the help of Disney MGM Studios in order to finish the film.

The Rescuers Down Under has quite a bit going for it besides being apart of one of Disney’s most successful eras. Having said that, why is the film not as fondly remembered as its contemporaries?

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Well for starters, the film wasn’t nearly as financially successful as any of the other Disney Renaissance films, and didn’t have any songs for audiences to latch onto. It was also sandwiched between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, two of the era’s most beloved films.

In spite of all this, The Rescuers Down Under is still a great adventure film. I think I prefer the story of the original film just a tiny bit more, but I had so much fun exploring the outback with Bernard and Miss Bianca, and it was great getting to spend more time with such lovable characters.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers’

The 23rd film in Disney’s line of animated classics was 1977’s The Rescuers. Inspired by the most famous novels of English author Margery Sharp, The Rescuers was released during Disney’s Bronze Age.

The very first treatment of The Rescuers was done in 1962, and had much heavier political influences than the versions that would eventually be released. For this reason, Walt Disney felt it best to put production of the film on hold, as he wasn’t happy with the story having such a strong political message.

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The film would be revived during the 1970’s, and was initially a part of Disney’s new plan to have two films in production at once. One film would be a more traditional, large scale feature film, and would be headed by Disney veterans, while the other would be a smaller project led by young animators.

One such young animator was Don Bluth, and The Rescuers would be his first time as a main animator on a Disney project. The primary team at Disney had just finished work on 1973’s Robin Hood, and they had their eyes set on adapting American novelist Paul Gallico’s Scruffy, which focused on the apes of Gibraltar during World War II.

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The smaller team’s project would eventually be greenlit over the Scruffy adaptation, and was elevated to being the studio’s feature piece. They began work on the next version of the film, and it starred a polar bear voiced by famous jazz singer Louis Prima, who later died after battling a brain tumor. This led to Disney scrapping yet another version of the film.

In spite of the many road bumps along the way, The Rescuers did eventually grace theaters across the world. Internally, The Rescuers was viewed as a return to form for Disney. Many of the films prior to this one were much more comedic in tone, and Disney wanted The Rescuers to recapture the heartfelt stories that the studio became famous for.

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The Rescuers also has a few other interesting bits of trivia. It was the first film that Walt Disney did not directly work on, and was considered by the studio to be their best project without him. Also, Cruella de Vil of 101 Dalmatians fame was initially chosen to be the villain of the film, but the studio felt that this would be a half hearted attempt at a sequel.

The story of The Rescuers centers on a United Nations inspired organization known as the Rescue Aid Society. The RAS is composed entirely of mice from across the globe, and they come together to help anybody in need.

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At the center of the story is a humble little janitor mouse named Bernard. After the RAS receives a letter of distress from a young orphan girl named Penny, a white mouse named Bianca volunteers for the job, and asks Bernard to assist her.

Penny has been kidnapped by a malicious woman named Medusa (who was actually based on animator Milt Kahl’s ex-wife), and she aims to keep the poor girl in the swampy bayou until she retrieves the Devil’s Eye, a valuable diamond.

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The Rescuers’ story is fun and simple, but it does have plenty of heartwarming moments. There are a number of scenes involving Penny that really make you feel for the character, especially one towards the end of the film where Medusa tells her that nobody would ever want to adopt her.

Medusa, her sidekick Mr. Snoops and her two pet crocodiles are great at being unlikeable, and our two leads, Bernard in particular, are characters that you really want to root for.

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Aside from the main cast, The Rescuers actually has a pretty decent group of supporting roles. Whether it’s the bumbling, yet dependable albatross Orville, the grandpa cat Rufus or the local residents of the bayou, everybody fits quite nicely into the story of the film.

The animation is fairly standard for the times, but still pretty good stuff. It continues the studio’s use of xerography that started with 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, and everything in the film looks soft and colorful. The soundtrack is also pretty good, and is notable for having songs that are tied more into the story, as opposed to being sung by the characters.

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The Rescuers doesn’t get too many mentions when the topic is great Disney films, but it definitely shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s a nice family film with a cute and adventurous story, and is fairly unique in the grand scheme of Disney stories.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Winnie The Pooh’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Winnie The Pooh’

2009’s The Princess and the Frog was Disney’s last major attempt at a traditionally animated film, but 2011 saw the release of a smaller title with much more classic Disney sensibilities and story telling, and that film was Winnie the Pooh.

The 2011 adaptation of Winnie the Pooh is the fifth overall Disney adaptation of the story, and the second one done by Walt Disney Animation Studios themselves, the first one being  1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

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Production on Winnie the Pooh started sometime in 2009, and came as a result of John Lasseter, Don Hall and Stephen J. Anderson wanting to make the residents of the Hundred Acre Woods culturally significant again.

John Lasseter’s leadership brought a feeling of creative freedom back to Disney, and this allowed them to take a chance on a smaller feature like Winnie the Pooh. The film is great, and has plenty of that Disney magic to boot, but it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.

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There are a number of contributing factors to the film’s box office performance. Besides releasing at the same time as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Winnie the Pooh franchise is also one that is viewed as something more suitable for toddlers.

Financials aside, let’s get into what makes this film special. Earlier I mentioned that Winnie the Pooh is much more in line with Disney’s classic films than its contemporaries, but what does that really mean?

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Well for starters, Winnie the Pooh’s runtime matches right up with films like Dumbo and Pinocchio, as it clocks in at just over an hour. And in terms of narrative, there isn’t really a serious storyline going on.

Pooh and the gang are searching for Christopher Robin, as they’ve been lead to believe that he’s been kidnapped by a monster called the Backson. But before we even get to this point in the story, we start with Pooh on a mission for delicious honey, which eventually causes him to run into Eeyore, who is looking for his tail.

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The storyline is cute and entertaining, but not really the main selling point of the film. Rather, the focus is squarely on seeing Pooh and his friends interacting with each other. Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Owl, all of these lovable characters join Pooh and Christopher Robin for tons of laughs and feel good moments.

Winnie the Pooh himself is easily the star of the show, and Jim Cummings’ performance as the rotund yellow bear is as amazing as ever. His constant tummy rubbing, fantasies about eating honey and overall humorous bits of dialogue really brought out that familiar spirit of the character.

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All of the other characters behave just as we remember them too. Piglet is adorable and timid, Rabbit (who is voiced by Tom Kenny of Spongebob fame) is a bit on the stiff side and Tigger is just as eccentric and nonsensical as he’s ever been.

The combination of the great cast and simple story make Winnie the Pooh a perfect fit for small children. They won’t have to keep up with any sort of ongoing narrative, and they can simply have fun and enjoy Pooh’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. But there’s also plenty of fun to be had for older viewers.

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Speaking of enjoyable, Winnie the Pooh definitely didn’t disappoint when it came to the visuals. The animation on the characters is fluid and expressive, and the hand drawn, storybook inspired backgrounds are excellently done.

I also really love the film’s live action introduction. It pans over an old timey little boy’s room, showing off various toys, trinkets and picture frames, before finally focusing on the classic book of Winnie the Pooh.

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This scene is accompanied by narration from John Cleese, and eventually leads to a lovely rendition of the timeless Winnie the Pooh theme song by Zooey Deschanel, who does a fantastic job I might add.

Winnie the Pooh is a short and sweet little film. It’s definitely more child oriented than most of Disney’s other offerings, but I’m sure older viewers could find a bit of enjoyment from things like the cleverly written dialogue.

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I really appreciate the fact that Disney took a chance on a film like Winnie the Pooh, especially considering the fact that they were already fully dedicated to pursuing computer animation. It was super fun revisiting the Hundred Acre Woods, and I hope the film introduced a whole new generation to Pooh and his friends.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Big Hero 6’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Big Hero 6’

The follow up to 2013’s Frozen was a Disney film that was decidedly different than its predecessors, but still retained a bit of that classic Disney charm, and that film was an adaptation of Marvel’s Big Hero 6 comic book. After their acquisition of Marvel in 2009, Disney began researching a number of Marvel storylines for an animated film.

The studio would eventually land on Big Hero 6, and this comic was purposely chosen because of its obscurity. Disney’s version of Big Hero 6 borrows a handful of ideas from the source material, but is largely its own film with its own unique characters and story beats.

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As always with Disney films, the team dedicated a lot of man hours to realizing the look of the film. They created unique rendering systems to convincingly represent foliage, city skylines, cars and buildings. Most notably, Disney created the Hyperion system, which allowed them to create realistic lighting effects across the entire film.

With the character of Baymax, Disney wanted to avoid creating a typical robot. Director Don Hall was inspired by a burgeoning technology known as “soft robotics”, which aimed to give safer and more flexible components to machinery. This tech would serve as the inspiration for Baymax’s non-intimidating “marshmallow” body.

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As far as superhero film narratives are concerned, Big Hero 6 is pretty standard. Protagonist Hiro’s character arc is a simple, “great power, great responsibility” story, with some personal maturity thrown in for good measure, while the villain is just flat out seeking revenge.

Hiro is a 14 year old prodigy who graduated high school at 13, and spends his time participating in illegal bot fights. After some sly coercing from his older brother, Tadashi, Hiro decides to enroll in the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.

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Hiro and Tadashi’s relationship is the emotional throughline that carries Big Hero 6. Tadashi meets a tragic end pretty early on in the film, and Hiro’s journey with coming to terms with this loss is the motivation for every single one of his actions.

Big Hero 6 did a great job of making me care about Tadashi before he was killed. He served as a responsible mentor figure for Hiro, and did his best to keep him on the right path. Even after his death, he still provides support to Hiro when he needs it the most.

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Hiro starts out a bit rough around the edges, but he eventually matures into a young man reminiscent of the older brother that he looks up to. He went from being fully prepared to have Baymax kill the villain, to simply apprehending him like a model superhero, and I can really get behind character growth like this.

Aside from Hiro, Tadashi and Baymax, there are a few other characters that round out the film’s principal cast, namely, GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred. These four characters, along with Hiro and Baymax, make up the titular Big Hero 6.

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These characters are charming, but also a bit on the generic side. Taking a look at just about any still image of them will tell you most of what you need to know about their personality, Wasabi being the major exception. GoGo is the tough and edgy girl, Honey Lemon is the hyperactive and enthusiastic one, and Fred is the laid back, comic relief guy.

Although I found myself really liking these guys, they definitely needed more screentime. Hiro meets each of them when Tadashi shows him around the school’s lab, and this scene was a great introduction for them.

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But one of the more jarring plot elements of the film is how quickly Hiro and the group become best friends. Aside from their introduction, the group doesn’t have a proper scene with Hiro for some time after Tadashi’s death.

In that time gap, there is one really bad montage that shows snippets of the group helping Hiro with his entrance exam project. Fast forward, and the gang behave as if they have been friends for years.

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We also don’t really get to see the team as actual superheroes for very much of the film. I don’t have any real issue with this narratively speaking, as I felt it showed just how inexperienced they are when they take on their first mission, and it was nice getting to know them just a bit before they suit up.

The one plot element that I actively dislike is the villain’s daughter. Up until the reveal that she is alive, Big Hero 6 did an excellent job of subtly highlighting a parallel between Hiro and the villain, and I felt that bringing her back really cheapened the arc of an already simple villain story.

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Big Hero 6 has some truly beautiful scenery. The film doesn’t do very much with the setting of San Fransokyo with it comes to narrative, but it does provide a backdrop for a few really well done scenes, the best of which is Hiro and Baymax’s flight through the city (though special mention goes to the trip through the portal).

Seeing the pair soar through the sky is reminiscent of many classic Disney films, and I really appreciate that the team let this scene breathe and just be visually impressive. It was also really cool how this scene fed into the story, as the whole purpose of them flying was to gain a higher vantage point for Baymax’s scanner.

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Though a bit generic at times, Big Hero 6 still displays that Disney magic. The brotherly bond between Hiro and Tadashi, and by extension, Hiro and Baymax, is genuinely touching. The film has a lot of heart, with gorgeous visuals and cool action scenes to boot, and has a very unique spot in Disney’s line of animated classics.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Walt Disney was a man who never truly gave up on an idea once it came to him. He would simply shelve the thought until he could give it life in a meaningful way. Such is the case with 1951’s Alice in Wonderland.

Walt, like many other children, adored the original Lewis Carroll Alice novels during his early years, and the story was one of the first ones that spoke to him when he originally conceived the idea of a feature length animated film, even before Snow White.

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Funnily enough however, Walt’s original vision for the film was a hybrid of live action and animation. But by 1946, production on the film moved forward as a fully animated feature, with the most commonly cited reason being Walt’s dissatisfaction with Paramount’s 1933 Alice adaptation.

A rough version of the film was completed by 1939, but Walt had a number of issues with both the art direction and the tone of the script. Due to a combination of economic factors such as World War II, and the production of other Disney projects like Bambi and Pinocchio, Alice In Wonderland was once again put on the backburner.

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In spite of its on again, off again development cycle, Alice in Wonderland did eventually see completion. Out of all the classic films in Disney’s canon, this film is one of the more interesting ones to study from a story structure perspective.

The film opens with Alice casually ignoring lessons from her teacher, followed by her singing the wonderful song, In A World Of My Own. A hop, skip and a white rabbit later, and Alice is floating down a hole into the titular Wonderland.

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Wonderland is a place where anything can happen. Everything that shouldn’t be, is, and nothing is impossible (though some things are certainly impassable). This gives the film the perfect excuse to just go absolutely crazy with its scenes and set pieces.

Alice in Wonderland has scenes that are so distinct and drawn out that you could blink, and almost think you’re watching an entirely different Disney film. One scene in particular, the story that Tweedledee and Tweedledum recount to Alice, goes on for minutes without showing our cheeky, blonde heroine.

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Speaking of characters, Alice in Wonderland has an almost staggering amount of them, but the film handles such a large cast in a masterful way. With the exception of the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and Alice herself, no one character sticks around past their unique scene.

But each and every one of them manages to be memorable because of how interesting their segments are. One of the Wonderland denizens that Alice encounters is a hookah loving caterpillar with a strange habit of emphasizing his vowels, but she also comes across a doorknob who never really gives straight answers.

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The most notable characters are the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, but even they pale in comparison to the infamous Cheshire Cat. Not only is he perhaps the most quotable (and cryptic) Disney character of all time, but he occasionally appears to chat with Alice, sometimes even giving her a bit of helpful advice.

Alice in Wonderland isn’t about some grand journey. Rather, it is the story of a curious little girl. With the nature of the story being simple curiosity, Alice doesn’t need to change or grow very much over the course of the story. Instead, she is the perfect vehicle for the audience to enjoy Wonderland.

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The story aspect that fascinates me the most about Alice in Wonderland is her pursuit of the White Rabbit. This is what sets Alice on her journey to begin with, and also what convinces her to plunge deeper and deeper into Wonderland.

And what intrigues me so much is the fact that she never catches the rabbit. She goes through multiple tumultuous situations, but never claims the prize she was after in the first place. I’m sure there’s some really deep meaning behind that, but I’m not quite smart enough to figure it out.

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My only major problem with the film as a whole is Alice’s breakdown scene near the story’s end. She tearfully laments the fact that she is trapped in such an unsettling place, and desperately wishes to return home.

My issue with this scene is that it had no build up. Up to this point, Alice was an energetic young girl who longed for a place beyond the boredom of the real world, making her tears and sorrow feel forced. This scene was probably necessary to provide context for when she does eventually go home, but there still needed to be a more gradual emotional escalation.

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Alice in Wonderland was far from a critical darling upon its initial release. It was panned by fans of the original Alice stories, and Disney was accused of  “Americanizing” the source material. The film wouldn’t be celebrated for years after its release, and eventually gained quite the following with youth culture due to its association with psychedelic drugs (something Walt himself was unhappy about).

Beyond this fact, Alice in Wonderland was looked upon more kindly by general viewers in the years after its release, and I personally appreciate how bold the film was for how it handled set pieces, as well as the wonderful animation that accompanied them.

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Alice in Wonderland manages to be both whimsical, and stylistically different from its sibling films in a way that makes it almost unsettling at times. Wonderland is such a great setting to explore, and it amazes me that Disney’s team created a place where anything can happen, but nothing ever feels disjointed or out of place.

Alice in Wonderland is a great watch, even if just to see how insane a place like Wonderland can be. Mystery is around every corner, and you never know who or what you’ll run into next. If you ever decide to go, I’d recommend avoiding any cats with big smiles and wide eyes.