Disney Animated Canon: ‘Tangled’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Tangled’

The Walt Disney Animation company is currently enjoying a second renaissance of sorts that is known as the Disney Revival era, and the film that started it all is 2010’s Tangled, the 50th film in Disney’s Animated Canon. Tangled had somewhat of a tumultuous production cycle, and was even officially cancelled until John Lasseter decided to revive the project shortly after its cancellation.

Tangled is estimated to have spent about six years in production, and its roughly $260 million budget makes it the most expensive animated movie of all time. But the time, money and effort that went into Tangled was all worth it. Not only was the film a huge success at the box office, but it was Disney’s most critically acclaimed film in years.

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Tangled is the first film that sprang from Disney’s decision to focus strictly on computer animation, and it is their first film that I believe matched their sister studio, Pixar, in terms of sheer visual fidelity. I never felt that Disney’s previous attempts at computer animation stood up very well against the company’s contemporaries, with 2008’s Bolt being a notable exception (and a film I find to be a bit underappreciated).

One need only look at Rapunzel’s hair to realize that Tangled is pushing the boundaries for what can be done with animation. One of my favorite things about Disney and Pixar is the fact that they aren’t just interested in telling cool stories, but also challenging themselves with various feats of animation.

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Rapunzel’s hair is 70 feet long, and animating all of that blonde was one of the most arduous parts of the film. To better learn how to manage so much hair, Disney actually brought in a woman named Kelly Ward. Ward has a PhD in hair, and instructed the team on the different ways that hair reacts to things like light. Disney is quite famous for this type of authenticity, as they did similar studies for the animal walk cycles in The Lion King, and the snow effects found in Frozen.

Rapunzel’s hair is gorgeous, but it isn’t just for show. Her hair’s length and color are an important part of the film’s narrative, and actually contain special rejuvenative properties. Rapunzel is also capable of manipulating her hair in a variety of ways, the most notable being her ability to use it as a rope, which makes for a deadly attack when paired with her patented frying pan.

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Tangled’s narrative carries a tone that would not feel out of place amongst the films from the Disney Renaissance. It’s a modern, comedy styled rendition of a classic fairy tale, and it still packs the emotional punch that is to be expected from Disney. I really loved how well paced the story was, as the film spends just the right amount of time on pretty much every scene.

Tangled also has a fantastic cast. I’ll go more into detail on Rapunzel in a bit, but her companion, Flynn Rider, is one of the standout characters of the film. He’s a twist on the conventional Disney Prince archetype, as he’s somewhat of a mix between the brash and arrogance of Gaston, and the better qualities of someone like Prince Eric.

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Tangled also gave us not only the best villain of the Revival era, but one of the best villains in the company’s history. Mother Gothel is deliciously evil, and she reminds me quite a bit of other Disney greats like Scar and Cruella De Vil. Her evil smirk alone is enough to qualify her for best Disney villain.

Before Moana came along, I always struggled to decide on a favorite Disney Princess. But whenever I would attempt to finally pick one, I always found myself to be more drawn to the ones that were full of life, and embodied personal dreams. I’ve always loved Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I greatly admired her dream of seeing the world beyond her home, and the way that Disney was able to capture this passion through animation.

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I find Rapunzel to be the modern version of everything that made Ariel great. She has always longed to see what lies beyond the walls of her tower, and to get an up close view of the lanterns that fly every year on her birthday. Her eyes always have a certain shimmer to them, and this, in conjunction with her youthful appearance, makes her one of the more adorable Disney Princesses.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Rapunzel takes her first steps outside her tower. She’s initially reluctant to let her feet touch the grass, but her pure delight at the new sensation, as well as the look on her face, made me feel genuinely happy.

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Seeing her dash through the fields and splash in the ponds (to the obvious delight of Mr. Rider) was a really special moment, and this excitement, and sometimes fear, is a constant throughout the entire film. All of this culminates in her boat ride with Flynn, in which she finally gets so see her birthday lanterns take flight.

Tangled is one of the most important films in Disney’s catalogue. It took the essence of what made Disney films special in the first place, and brought it back in a new and exciting way. This film paved the way for others such as Frozen, Moana and even Pixar’s Brave, and it absolutely earned all of the recognition that it received. (Side note: I’m really excited to see Tangled featured in Kingdom Hearts III!)

 

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’

The historical facts found in this piece were pulled from personal knowledge, as well as the various bonus features that can be found in the Walt Disney Signature Collection release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Walt Disney Animation company is the house that was built by a mouse. The foundation for everything that the company represents today was established by the Mickey Mouse shorts from the Golden Age of animation, starting with 1928’s Steamboat Willie.

But in order for any structure to remain stable and prosperous for decade after decade, a few renovations need to be made here and there. Mickey Mouse may be the foundation, but 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs forever altered the course of not only Disney, but the entirety of the animation industry.

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Walt Disney was inspired to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs after witnessing a silent film based on the fairy tale during his childhood. After returning home from a trip to Europe in 1935, Walt began assembling the team that would ultimately create the world’s first piece of feature length animation.

But why did Walt even want to make feature length animation? When word spread about the project, the film was infamously derided as “Disney’s Folly”, and certain critics even believed that the bright colors that accompany long form animation would cause eye strain for the viewers.

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Making matters worse was the film’s ever increasing budget. Walt initially projected the film to cost $250,000 to make, and this number quickly became $400,000. From here, the budget continue to grow until Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, told him that he would have to present the film (in an unfinished state, mind you) to the banks in order to garner further investment.

But against all odds, Walt and his team pushed through. One reason for Walt’s fervor was his belief that feature length animation was the future of the medium, and instrumental to its longevity. Before Snow White, animation came largely in the form of theatrical shorts that were focused on comedy and gags, and while there are plenty of laughs to be had in Snow White, Disney specifically aimed for a higher level of storytelling with this project.

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“With every laugh, there must be a tear”. This famous quote by Walt perfectly encapsulates the tone and theming of Snow White. The film is funny, charming and whimsical, but also has its moments of profound sadness. The ending is especially poignant, as the viewer is forced to see the normally cheerful Dwarfs in tears over the loss of their friend.

Just as memorable as the tears that followed the end of the film’s story, was the music. When discussing the film’s soundtrack, Walt stated that music would be the thing that stayed with the audience long after their initial viewing. In addition, it was crucial that each song tied into the narrative in some way, even if it’s something as simple as Snow White and her animal companions singing Whistle While You Work as they clean the Dwarf’s cottage.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs featured a number of key animators whose efforts were a large part in crafting the film’s distinct visual style. Albert Hurter and Gustaf Tenggren inspired the team with their European artist sensibilities, while famous Disney artist Fred Moore debuted what we recognize as Disney’s aesthetic. But my favorite tidbit about the film’s animation is the fact that Arthur “Art” Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, was charged with animating the Evil Queen, a stark contrast to say the least.

Snow White is one of the best examples I’ve seen of a team that took advantage of every scene in the film. Not a single frame of animation is wasted. Snow White’s hand motions as she scrubs the cobblestones have meaning, Dopey’s hitch step that was given to him by animator Frank Thomas has meaning, even the Queen’s exaggerated arm motions have meaning. Every shot in Snow White looked like it received an equal amount of attention, and the film has aged incredibly well as a result.

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I’ve said quite a bit about this film without talking about the titular characters, but they are what actually sell the film. Snow White is the first Disney Princess, and as such, she is the standard to which all subsequent Princesses must be held to. Famous Art Director Michael Giaimo stated that it is difficult for a film to not be evocative of the time in which it was made. This means Snow White, as a female, can be a bit more reactive as opposed to proactive at times.

But having said that, I never felt that it made her any less endearing as a character. She is a great representation of some of the most basic, but important human qualities. She is kind, loving and generous, but she’s also not afraid to give Grumpy a playful ribbing every now and again. You can genuinely see bits and pieces of Snow White in every other Disney Princess.

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The Dwarfs themselves are all amazing and unique characters, and they are the source of most of the film’s gags. One would think that having seven different characters of similar physical stature (short with beards) would make each Dwarf less distinct as an individual. But somehow, the team was able to really flesh out each of their personalities.

Each Dwarf has a name that gives somewhat of a surface level idea of who they should be. These names manifest mostly in the form of adjectives, giving us Dwarfs named Sleepy, Bashful and Happy. Some people may find the Dwarfs to be rather one note as a result, but I found myself recalling specific moments focusing on each of them after the film ended.

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The legacy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cannot be understated. Symbols like the poisoned apple, the Magic Mirror and Snow White’s fair visage have become permanently ingrained in our culture, and the film gave us the Walt Disney company whose creations take residence in the memories of every child..

The film’s production is the most important story in all of animation history. It is impossible to predict what the future of the medium would have been had it not evolved past the animated short, and the fruits of Disney’s labor were so sweet that the film was immediately regarded as a classic. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs paved the way for all of the stories that are etched into my heart, and for animation to be as prosperous as it is to this day.

 

What Happened To The Traditionally Animated Feature?

What Happened To The Traditionally Animated Feature?

The art of animation has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a child, my love of animation was purely surface level, but my formative years were spent developing a deep appreciation for the animation process, the creative minds behind said process, and the history of the medium as a whole, and the most interesting facet of animation history to me is the decline of the traditionally animated feature.

Traditional, or 2d, animation is what made the Walt Disney Animation Company what it is today. The production house became what it is today with the help of projects like Steamboat Willie and the Silly Symphonies of the Golden Age of animation, all of which culminated in the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature length animated film. Disney’s history is rife with traditionally animated classics, so it should come as no surprise that they were the company most heavily affected by the industry wide shift to computer animated films.

The Disney Renaissance

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The 1990’s saw Disney return to form in a way that hadn’t been seen in decades. The 1989 release of The Little Mermaid kicked off an era for the company that is known as the Disney Renaissance. In what is widely debated as being the most successful era for the company, the Renaissance era featured beloved classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan and Aladdin.

Almost every film released during this time period was an absolute box office juggernaut, the only exception being 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under. Also of note is the fact that most of the films were Broadway-esque musicals, a theme that the company specifically sought to capture during development of The Little Mermaid.

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The Renaissance era is also notable for having a few of its films be record breakers. Beauty and the Beast was the first ever animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Aladdin was the highest grossing animated film of all time upon its release, but it was later surpassed by The Lion King, which is currently the highest grossing traditionally animated film, and fifth overall.

Disney was unstoppable during the Renaissance era. They once again became a dominant force in the field of animation, and created some of the most revered films in their entire catalogue. This makes the decade that would follow all the more interesting, as it is a period of stark contrast to the success that the company enjoyed during this time.

The Animation Industry: Post-Disney Renaissance

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During the latter half of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990’s, a fledgling animation studio began it’s rise to prominence. 1995 saw the release of the first computer animated feature length film, Pixar’s Toy Story. Released as a joint venture with Disney themselves, Toy Story took the world by storm, and was the start to not only a lifelong relationship with Disney, but to Pixar becoming a name in the animation industry that is synonymous with quality.

Subsequent Pixar releases such as A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 solidified the company’s place in animation, and all three of their 1990’s films grossed higher than their Disney counterparts released in the same year. Pixar’s runaway success sparked an interest in computer animation at Disney. They had been experimenting with the technique for quite sometime, and some of Pixar’s animation tools were actually used in Beauty and the Beast, but in 2000 they would release their first computer animated film, Dinosaur.

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Dinosaur was a technical marvel by the standards of the time, and is still impressive in some ways today. And while the film was a success at the box office, it didn’t quite capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences like Pixar’s films did. Making matters even worse was the surge in popularity of the company DreamWorks. Previous efforts by the company such as Antz and The Prince of Egypt were critically acclaimed, but 2001’s Shrek was a success on an entirely different level.

Disney’s efforts during the Renaissance era went largely uncontested, but in the post-Renaissance world, they had two major rivals in Pixar and DreamWorks. While these company’s films were very stylistically different, they did share one commonality in that they were completely computer animated. This marked the start of computer animation being viewed as something for all ages to enjoy, while traditional animation was looked down upon as cheap content that is suitable for children to watch after school.

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Not helping the situation was the fact that the quality of Disney’s films during this time had dropped off significantly. The post-Renaissance era has some undeniable classics in Lilo & Stitch, which I would argue is just as good as any of the Renaissance films, and The Emperor’s New Groove (and Bolt, which I find to be a little underrated). There’s even a few cult classics in Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. But the rest of the films from this time are mixed at best.

Brother Bear is a decent film, but Home on the Range is arguably one of the company’s worst ones. Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons were Disney’s attempts at computer animation following Dinosaur, and these films are also somewhat of a mixed bag. Both films have cute stories, but the animation failed to match the quality found in Disney’s contemporaries. In summation, Disney’s failures during this decade were the result of their own films dipping in quality, and the rise of new technology in the industry.

The Disney Revival

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Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess & The Frog, is the subject of much debate in the animation community. Thematically, it set the precedent for the Disney films that would follow it, but its box office performance was much weaker than that of its successors. So the question often comes up, should this film be considered the one that started the current era in Disney animation history, the Disney Revival, or is it a transitional film that sits squarely at the end of the post-Renaissance era.

The Princess & The Frog is an important film for a number of reasons. For one, it was Disney’s first attempt at a classic princess fairy tale since the Renaissance years. Second, it is currently the company’s last attempt at a traditionally animated feature on a large scale. The company did release a new version of Winnie The Pooh in 2011, but this film was a much smaller project than The Princess & The Frog.

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In 2006, Disney officially acquired Pixar, and two of the company’s founders, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, began overseeing both Disney and Pixar’s animated features. Disney had previously stated that Home on the Range would be their last traditionally animated film, but Catmull and Lasseter quickly revoked this decision, and decided to move forward with production of The Princess & The Frog. Many key writers and animators from the company’s history were brought back for the project, and the film was seen as a major relaunch for Disney’s theatrical releases.

The Princess & The Frog was a critical darling, and although it did recoup its budget, it failed to meet the box office expectations that Disney had set for it. This was seen as the final nail in the coffin for traditional animation in a theatrical sense, and Disney hasn’t released one in a major way since then.

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Box office failure aside, The Princess & The Frog was successful in at least one aspect. It showed that Disney was committed to going back to what made critics and audiences fall in love with them in the first place, the classic fairy tale. I stated before that thematically, the film set a standard for subsequent ones to follow, leading to the 2010 release of Tangled.

Both critically and financially, Tangled was a rousing success. It was the first Disney computer animated film that I personally felt lived up the standards set by Pixar, and was also noteworthy for featuring an art style that blended in elements of traditional animation, allowing the film to stand out in the crowd. The characters and environments in Tangled really do look like they were hand drawn first, and then translated to the computer.

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Tangled showed that the house of mouse hadn’t lost its magic, and the other films of the Revival era further proved this point. Wreck-It Ralph was a huge success, but 2013’s  Frozen was an absolute titan of a film. With over one billion dollars in revenue, Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, and one of the highest grossing overall. Tons and tons of Frozen merchandise can be seen on store shelves and in Disney parks to this day, and the soundtrack in particular was a cultural phenomenon.

Frozen has thus far been followed by Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana, with Zootopia also bringing in over one billion dollars. But the Revival era films aren’t just insanely profitable, they are considered to be some of the best films that Disney has made in years, which is why the Revival era is oftentimes referred to as the 2nd Disney Renaissance.

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What impresses me the most about these films is the fact that not only are there many more competitors in the field of animation, but each of them is putting out some of the best work they’ve ever done. DreamWorks continues to be successful with Shrek sequels, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, while Pixar has released classic films such as Toy Story 3, Up and Inside Out, which I consider to be one of the best animated films of all time.

Disney’s old friend Blue Sky is still around, but there are also new players like Illumination Entertainment with the Despicable Me franchise, featuring the over one billion dollar grossing Minions film, as well as Warner Animation Group with The Lego Movie and Lego Batman. Disney has never had to perform in a field this skilled or diverse before, but it is truly commendable that they have been able to not only keep pace with their contemporaries, but outperform them time and time again.

The Future Of Traditional Animation

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In a time where every major animation company is utilizing computer generated animation, what is the state of traditional animation? While the style is alive and well on television, there hasn’t been a traditionally animated theatrical film since 2011, at least in a mainstream fashion. Is traditional animation still looked at as something for children, are have we finally gotten to a time where 2d and 3d animation can profitably coexist? To answer these questions, we need to take a trip just a little ways across the ocean.

In many ways, Japan is keeping the traditionally animated feature alive. Films based on popular anime such as Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece still perform incredibly well at Japanese box offices, while original works from Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Ghibli (whose films are published by Disney overseas) make waves worldwide.

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2016’s Your Name. has been the most recent success for traditional animation, and is easily the best thing to happen to the medium in the last decade. Not only was it incredibly popular in its native country of Japan, but its national release made it the highest grossing anime film of all time, as well as one of the top ten highest grossing traditionally animated films, with the majority of the other nine being works by Disney.

Speaking of Disney, some of their recent projects show that they haven’t entirely given up on traditional animation. I stated before that Tangled featured elements of the style, but after production wrapped on that film, Disney began work on an animated short known as Paperman, a hybrid of traditional and computer generated animation.

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Paperman was Disney’s first use of a new, experimental technology known as Meander. The purpose of Meander was to more accurately represent the artist’s emotions by being able to more organically create lines and curves. This technology would be used again in the 2014 short, Feast.

Disney has stated that the Meander technology isn’t yet advanced enough to produce a feature length film, but both myself and many other animation fans would absolutely love to see one sometime in the future. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Meander in action, but I’m confident that they are still working hard on it, as well as thinking about its future applications.

A Traditional Renaissance

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With the success of films like Your Name., in conjunction with Disney’s continued development of the Meander technology, I feel pretty strongly that we will see a resurgence of traditionally animated features in the coming decade. Whether we get them in the form of genuine 2d films like the aforementioned Your Name., hybrid films like Paperman or even computer generated films that are evocative of traditional ones like The Peanuts Movie, I’m extremely hopeful about the future of the medium.

Be it an enthusiastic college graduate, or John Lasseter himself, there’s no doubt in my mind that someone at one of the major production houses is thinking about bringing back the traditionally animated feature. I can only dream about what a modern take on the style by Disney would look like, and I genuinely believe that there is room for both traditional and computer generated animation to both thrive and be enjoyed.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Moana’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Moana’

Disney’s Moana is the latest in a long string of successes that the house built by a mouse has had since 2010’s Tangled (although I would argue The Princess & The Frog). Films like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6 are all amazing, but I found Moana to easily be not only the best film of Disney’s Revival era, but one that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best animated films of all time.

I know that seems like a bold and almost presumptuous statement, but Moana has all the makings that I find contribute to a master class animated film. Countless Disney productions have had stunning visuals, catchy tunes and lovable characters, and while Moana doesn’t really do anything new or groundbreaking, it just proves that stories don’t need to constantly innovate in order to be great.

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Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur is a film that gets a pretty bad rap in my opinion. I’ll concede that’s it’s story isn’t amazing, but The Good Dinosaur is a technical marvel. As a huge fan of animation, seeing how realistically Pixar was able to render that film’s foliage and sweeping landscapes blew me away, and Moana may even surpass it in this regard.

Moana’s opening scenes depict life on a tropical island, complete with plenty of flowers, trees, beach sand and of course, water. I can definitely say that I’ve never seen computer generated water like this before, and I genuinely believe that if I didn’t already know I was watching an animated film, I’d think it was real water.

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But the water isn’t just impressive because it looks realistic, rather, it’s the way Disney handled the animation. The ocean is an actual character in the story of Moana, and it was really cool seeing how it would bend and shape itself for different situations. My favorite part was the way it shaped itself around an infant Moana like a makeshift aquarium.

One thing that I loved about Moana that I don’t usually find is the case with Disney films, was the action. Whether it was death defying feats of naval navigation, or a titanic fight against a giant lava monster, Moana featured a ton of dynamic shots and action scenes. Moana’s outfit was even designed with the action in mind, as her dress was specifically made to not get in her way as she runs and jumps.

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Music is another important half of Moana’s Polynesian aesthetic, and in typical Disney fashion, they attempted to be as authentic as possible. Disney brought in musicians and singers from various Polynesian regions, as well as musicians from Broadway to give the score a tinge of pop music.

The composition team noted that island music is very “percussive and vocally heavy”, so they made sure that this was not only true of the film’s score, but of the film’s story as well. Moana frequently depicts the islanders playing traditional drums, and Maui, one of the film’s leads, even has his own special dance that involves him using his large chest as a drum, accompanied by a heavy vocal chant.

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Moana also has some of the best vocal tracks I’ve ever heard in a Disney movie. My absolute favorite is Maui’s song, “You’re Welcome”, but I also enjoy others such as Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” and “Shiny”, sung by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame.

Let’s talk about the story. At its core, Moana is the story of a young girl that wants to see the world beyond her island. Ever since she was an infant, Moana has been deeply infatuated with the ocean and what lies beyond her home, but the ocean tides are a dangerous place, so her people have long forbid travel across them. As such, Moana has made frequent attempts to set sail for adventure, only to be stopped by her father, the island’s reigning chief.

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But when an ancient island prophecy comes to pass, Moana is chosen as the one that will save her people. She is tasked with finding the demigod Maui, and making him assist her in purging the darkness from the islands.

Along the way, Moana learns a bit about her people’s history. One of the story’s central characters is Moana’s grandmother, Tala. Her stories and passion for the ocean connect Moana to her their true heritage, that of voyagers. With this knowledge in hand, Moana sets course to find Maui.

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I’ll get straight to the point by saying Maui is an amazing character. He’s voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Maui was literally made to be played by him. He’s incredibly full of himself, but it makes him pretty charming overall. However, beneath the muscles and bravado, Maui has a surprising amount of depth and vulnerability. His parents discarded him when he was an infant, and as such, he grew up seeking the love and affection of others, no matter what he had to do.

It’s a bit early to tell, but Moana may end up being one of my favorite Disney heroines, and there are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, I adore the energy that she exudes. I can feel the passion she has for everything she does, and conversely, the moments where she was upset or downtrodden really resonated with me.

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Moana’s goal is somewhat similar to another Disney Princess, namely, Ariel of The Little Mermaid. Both girls had dreams of visiting the outside world, but certain circumstances kept them from doing so. And as soon as an opportunity to leave presents itself, the girls take them without much hesitation. The main difference here is the execution.

We get to see Moana’s dream develop from a time before she could barely even walk, and this all culminates in her embarking on a journey to save her islands from rotting away, and the look on her face as she finally sets sail was an absolute treat.

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We live in a time where female representation is extremely relevant, and while I personally prefer to look at characters beyond their gender, I’d be foolish to ignore that Moana is an amazing female role model. She’s the type of girl that I hope my future daughters will take after.

Moana has typical traits like bravery, independence and resourcefulness, but it’s the way that the film portrays these elements of her character that makes her shine. Does she ask her muscular male companion to rescue her pet chicken from a group of coconut pirates? No, she grabs an oar and proceed to do the job herself. When this same companion is cornered by a giant crab with a penchant for gold, does she cower on the sidelines? No, she makes use of her quick thinking abilities, and gets both herself and Maui out of harm’s way.

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This theme of independence in Moana is consistent throughout the entire film. It even manifests in smaller ways, such as wanting to learn how to navigate the ocean, instead of having to rely on somebody else. By the end of the film, Moana was a strong, island wayfinder, and she was able to lead her people on a new journey of discovery.

I’m not knowledgeable enough on Polynesian culture to know how accurately Moana portrays it, but I was definitely enthralled by how well they at least appeared to capture it. Maui is actually a real character from ancient Polynesian stories, and the film’s various outfits were created after studying various forms of clothing and jewelry across multiple islands.

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The attention to culture even extended to Moana’s voice cast. All of the principal characters, as well as the majority of the supporting cast was voiced by somebody of Polynesian descent. Moana herself was voiced by  Auli’i Cravalho, a young girl who was roughly the same age as her character during the film’s production.

As is standard practice for Disney, the production house sponsored research trips to tropical locales such as Fiji and Samoa in order for the animation team to have realistic points of reference. Special mention was also paid to the various tattoos that adorn the islander’s bodies, particularly Maui. He did not have his tattoos done as a part of the island’s tradition, rather, his are earned as the result of accomplishing different feats. As a fun little bonus, Maui’s tattoos are the only form of traditional 2d animation in the film, and also the source of it’s funniest jokes.

Moana is an absolute masterpiece. In a time where Disney is making some of the most well-received films in their entire history, Moana stood out to me as being above even these other amazing stories. I enjoyed every second of my time with Moana, and I truly believe it is right up there with the best animated films of all time.

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Disney Animated Canon: ‘Beauty And The Beast’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Beauty And The Beast’

1991 saw the release of what is not only one of the most critically acclaimed films to hail from Disney’s Renaissance Era, but one of the most celebrated animated features of all time, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast broke numerous records, both as an animated film and as a musical. It was the first film to receive three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song (something which 1994’s Lion King would later accomplish), and was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture.

This was actually not the first time that Disney had attempted to adapt the classic fairy tale for the silver screen. Around the time of the Golden Age of Animation, Walt Disney Pictures had plans on making a Beauty and the Beast feature length film, but a few story issues caused the film to be shelved for a while. Similar things have happened to other Disney films such as Tangled and Frozen.

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Beauty and the Beast has one of the most beloved soundtracks in all of film, which is kind of funny when you consider that the film was not originally envisioned to be a musical. But after seeing how much of a critical darling The Little Mermaid was, Disney changed course to make the majority of their subsequent films musicals.

While I’m sure the title track would have made it into the film, musical or not, it’d be hard to imagine watching Beauty and the Beast without a few of the other songs. Title track aside, the only song that really stuck with me was Human Again, but the song between Gaston and his men in the tavern, as well as the one that opens the film and follows Belle as she makes her way through the village are great pieces.

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There’s quite a bit of history behind the animation of Beauty and the Beast. At the time, most of Disney’s major animated films had a four year production schedule. But the final version of Beauty and the Beast had to be completed in two years, as half of the usual time was spent working on the earlier, non-musical version.

At first glance, Beauty and the Beast is a film that lacks the natural flair and style of earlier Disney films, as well as its Renaissance contemporaries. It doesn’t have grand fight scenes against villains like Scar of Maleficent, nor does it have the sweeping shots of films like Tarzan or Mulan. But the film is by no means bland or boring, far from it actually.

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Beauty and the Beast is a perfect example of understated animation. At its core, the film is about true love, so there’s no need for it to attempt to consistently wow us with its visuals. Even the village and the castle, the two primary settings of the film, are much more realistic and downplayed.  However, the film is also very aware of the times it needs to crank up the production.

The ballroom dance is obviously the highlight of the film, and for multiple reasons. For me, the most notable aspect of this scene is the color. Up until this point, the film was primarily using natural earth tones (green, browns etc), with the most distinctive color being the blue in Belle’s normal attire. But the ballroom scene is a complete shift in tone and ambience.

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Belle is wearing her famous yellow dress, and the Beast is wearing a classic royal blue suit (heavily modified of course). Even the ballroom itself is bathed in a warm, orange glow. The colors, in conjunction with the music and the dance choreography, made for one of the most famous scenes in all of Disney history.

Another interesting historical fact about this scene, is the fact that it was shot using technology developed at a burgeoning Pixar. Before they became the animation juggernaut that could rival and even surpass Disney themselves, Ed Catmull and Pixar spent years developing the technology to create entire animated features using only a computer program. This program would come to be know as CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), and the ballroom was shot almost entirely using this technology.

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Another piece or gorgeous animation that sticks out to me is the broom dusting scene that takes place towards the end of the Human Again sequence (which also takes place in the ballroom). It’s a really simple scene overall, but I just loved seeing the way it was shot. It’s shown entirely from an overhead perspective, and the choreography from the brooms as they clean the ballroom in time with the music is really a special sight.

I’ve yet to talk about the actual cast of Beauty and the Beast, but I’m definitely saving the best for last in this case. Characters like Belle’s dad are really endearing, and Gaston is a cool villain just by how smarmy and self-absorbed he is, but I’m going to focus on the principal cast, namely: Belle, the Beast and his servants.

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The Beast and his servants’ transformations are the result of a spell that was cast on them by a traveling witch, and it can only be undone if the Beast can learn to truly love and be loved in return. So naturally, the castle inhabitants see Belle as a prime opportunity for romance.

The Beast is not the most entertaining character on his own, but the film almost always gives him other characters to play off of. Seeing him slowly soften up at the influence of Belle, as well as his usually comical talks with characters like Cogsworth and Lumiere make for really memorable scenes.

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The standout characters as far as servants are concerned are easily Cogsworth, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts. Mrs. Potts is the calm motherly figure, and is a huge help to the Beast in his efforts to woo Belle. Cogsworth is the Beast’s right hand man, much like Sebastian to King Triton, and Lumiere is a charismatic and occasionally insightful ladies man. These three somehow manage to provide both levity and depth to the film’s narrative, and are wonderful additions to the cast.

Belle’s character is without a doubt the highlight of the film. The best way I know to describe her is, “the one you take home to mom.”  She’s extremely well read and has perfect manners, but she also knows how to stand up for herself when she needs to.

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Much like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel, Belle isn’t content with just sitting around and waiting for things to happen. The moment she realizes something bad has happened to her father, she hops on her horse and sets out to find him, regardless of the fact that the village has dozens of strapping men that would be more than willing to assist her.

One of the most interesting things about Belle is the dichotomy that she shares with the Beast. She is beautiful and dainty, while he is towering and ferocious. One of the more notable scenes in the film is the one directly following Belle’s rescue from the wolves. As she’s patching up the Beast’s wounds, the two have a very entertaining back and forth, with Belle being the victor. She’s much smaller than the Beast, but doesn’t let that stop her from defending herself.

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Beauty and the Beast isn’t a classic for no reason. It’s a tale as old as time that has stood the test of time. It’s a truly endearing story that teaches us that true love goes deeper than the surface. In addition, Belle is a great role model for young girls. She’s just as strong and independent as her male counterparts, but also not as reckless and headstrong as someone like Ariel or Rapunzel (these two are still amazing characters, they’re just younger and not as experienced as Belle).  I can’t imagine someone not at least acknowledging and appreciating what Beauty and the Beast has done for modern animation, and it will continue to be a classic story for years and years to come.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Dumbo’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Dumbo’

The Walt Disney Company released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 to massive critical and commercial success. The money that they made on Snow White allowed them to produce their next two animated features, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Although these are both fantastic films, they were not nearly as successful as Snow White, especially Fantasia.

Fantasia was an incredibly ambitious film, but it was also a classic example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was released during World War II, meaning Disney could not release the film in a few of the very lucrative foreign markets. The film’s financial failure put Disney in dire straits, meaning there next project had to be a guaranteed success.

The Ninth Wonder of the World

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Released in 1941, Dumbo was Disney’s attempt at producing an animated feature that wouldn’t break the bank, and would be profitable for the company. Not only is it one of Disney’s shortest films (coming in at just over 60 minutes), it was also produced for less than a million dollars. However, just because Dumbo was produced on the cheap does not mean it isn’t a great film.

Dumbo tells the story of a newborn elephant being delivered to an excited mother. She falls in love with her child the moment she lays eyes on him, and decides to name him Jumbo. But when the mother’s fellow circus elephants see that the child has a giant pair of ears, they ridicule him and say the he’d be better off being called Dumbo, a name which he happily embraces.

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At one of the later circus events, a child begins to bully Dumbo by tugging on his ears and tail. This causes the mother to rampage, leading to her being locked up in a cage for the rest of the film. This event leaves Dumbo all alone, as the other elephants are embarrassed by his ears, and frequently pretend like he isn’t even there.

Eventually, with the help of his friend Timothy and a bunch of sarcastic crows, Dumbo learns to truly embrace his imperfection, and uses his ears to take flight.

Of Mice And Elephants

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Dumbo’s best friend is Timothy Q. Mouse. Timothy comes into the film shortly after Dumbo’s mother is locked up, and wishes to make Dumbo happy again. He attempts to not only cheer Dumbo up, but to help him embrace his giant ears as something that makes him special, as opposed to something that he should be ashamed of.

Timothy also functions as somewhat of a mentor to Dumbo, as he frequently gives him tips to improve his circus routine, and always makes sure he is fed and has had his bath. He never hesitates to come to Dumbo’s defense either, whether it’s against the other elephants, or the (very stereotypical) crows.

Cheap Does Not Equal Low Quality

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Dumbo may have been produced on a smaller budget than its predecessors, but that does not mean its presentation looks cheap. After all, this is still a Disney production. While Dumbo does not have the breathtaking shots or beautiful backgrounds of films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it still has its moments of gorgeous animation. Special mention goes to the opening scene of the stork’s flying formation, the shot of the infant animals floating down into their home states and the scene of the circus workers and the elephants setting up a tent in the rain.

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How could I talk about Dumbo’s animation and not mention the infamous Pink Elephants On Parade? At one point during the film, Dumbo and Timothy accidentally get intoxicated off of alcohol. This leads to one of Disney’s biggest “trip out scenes”, with Dumbo seeing incredibly weird images of technicolor pachyderms. I really can’t put this scene into words, it is something that simply has to be watched.

Baby Mine

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The relationship between Dumbo and his mother may not get a ton of screen time, but I still feel like the film manages to portray an endearing relationship. Dumbo gets ridiculed by animal and human alike for his ears, but he always manages to smile through it. The only thing that truly brings him down is being separated from his mother, and the way the sadness on his face is animated really tugs at my little heart.

To briefly talk about Dumbo’s specific character animation, I think the animation team does a really good job with him. He may just be my favorite Disney animated animal. I love when he smiles and laughs, as he has this big goofy look on his face that just makes me want to hug him. In the same vain, whenever he puts on sad expression and begins to cry,  I really feel for the little guy.

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My favorite scene in the film is definitely the musical number, Baby Mine. In an effort to cheer up Dumbo after an awful day at the circus, Timothy takes Dumbo to his mother’s cage. The mother begins to sing an absolutely beautiful song about the love between mother and child, accompanied by various scenes of different animals asleep with their parents. As she rocks Dumbo back and forth in her trunk while the song approaches its end, I’m reminded that there is nothing more powerful than the love that a mother has for her child.

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Dumbo may be a short film that was produced with a small budget, but it has rightfully earned its place as a Disney animated classic. It’s not a groundbreaking or innovative film, but not everything has to break the mold in order to be memorable. Dumbo presents a fun adventure with an excellent message of self acceptance, and provides a handful of really good musical numbers and action scenes. This one is definitely worth a watch (even if only for the Pink Elephants On Parade and Baby Mine scenes).

 

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’

The early 2000’s were a highly transitional period for Disney, and the animation industry in general. This was a time period that followed the fantastic films of the Disney Renaissance era, and was right on the cusp of the cg animation boom. Disney had been fairly uncontested in the realm of feature length traditional animation for some time, as their only other major competitor was Warner Bros, who primarily produced theatrical shorts. Pixar had been leading the charge for cg animation since 1995’s Toy Story, and was followed by DreamWorks, who, while in a distant second, had found success with films like Antz, Chicken Run and Shrek.

A New Frontier For Animation

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Walt Disney Animation Studios first tried their hand at feature length cg animation with 2000’s Dinosaur. While Dinosaur did prove to be a profitable endeavor for Disney, they would not revisit cg animation until 2005’s Chicken Little, and with a few exceptions, have produced mostly cg films since then.

The rise of cg animation led to the subsequent decline in interest in traditional animation. The success of films like Toy Story and Shrek caused audiences to view traditional animation as something that was only for kids, in spite of Disney’s storied success with the medium. This notion was compounded by the fact that Disney’s output of films during this time had varying levels of quality. While films like Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Brother Bear are good films in their own rights, others like Home On The Range don’t live up to the standard of Disney’s previous efforts. One of two major exceptions was 2002’s Lilo & Stitch, but I’ve already talked about that before.

A Disney Animated Comedy

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That brief history lesson was all a lead up to today’s topic of discussion: The Emperor’s New Groove. Released in the same year as Dinosaur and Fantasia 2000, The Emperor’s New Groove featured a decidedly different tone than its Disney contemporaries. Up to this point in history, most of Disney’s films aimed to push the envelope of what could be done with animation, and Dinosaur and Fantasia 2000 are no different. The former was a demonstration of what could be achieved with new technology, and the latter attempted to further advance the storytelling that could be done with animation in tandem with music.

The Emperor’s New Groove doesn’t really do any of these things. It features pretty standard traditional animation, which looks really nice, but doesn’t compare to previous Disney films, (but I’ll always be a sucker for how expressive faces are in traditional animation). It has two big musical numbers that open and close the film, but it’s by no means a musical. Music, groundbreaking animation and rich storytelling are the hallmarks that Disney prides itself on, so what is to be expected of a Disney film that isn’t amazing in the first two departments?

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The Emperor’s New Groove is an animated buddy comedy that centers on the characters of Kuzco and Pacha, voiced by David Spade and John Goodman respectively. Kuzco is a spoiled prince who is used to having everything his way, while Pacha is a humble villager who is also a great husband and father. The two are brought into each other’s lives when Kuzco invites Pacha to his palace, only to tell him that he’s demolishing his hilltop house to build a Summer resort. This sets up an interesting dynamic and conflict in their relationship that the film does a good job of exploring.

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The other two major characters are Yzma and Kronk, the film’s two villains. Voiced by Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton respectively, these two are easily the best part of the film. Special mention to Kronk, as I think this is one of Warburton’s best performances. Yzma is a former palace advisor who seeks to take revenge on Kuzco for firing her, while Kronk is her bumbling but loyal sidekick. Yzma invites Kuzco to dinner, intending to kill him with a spiked drink. As it turns out, Kronk put the wrong potion into Kuzco’s drink, one that turns him into a llama. Long story short, Pacha ends up agreeing to help Kuzco return to his palace and regain his human form, all while avoiding Yzma and Kronk.

One Of Disney’s Funniest Films

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One of the cool things about The Emperor’s New Groove is that it follows a lot of buddy comedy cliches, but still manages to be a fun and endearing movie. It has the typical pair of opposites that learn to accept their differences to accomplish their goal, as well as the obvious villain and her less than intelligent henchman. But all of these characters are really charming and memorable! David Spade’s performance as Kuzco is entertaining just in how full of himself he is, and Yzma playing the straight-man to Kronk’s childlike demeanor leads to some really funny moments. I really think this is one of the funniest Disney films, as there were many times where I was genuinely laughing from the gut. Almost everything Kronk said or did had me at least chuckling, and I love the whole map chase sequence, (which comes with a bit of genre lampshading on the film’s part).

In spite of its comedy slant, The Emperor’s New Groove still has its share of slower, more introspective moments between Kuzco and Pacha. You really get a sense that they’ve become true friends by the end of the film, especially seeing how readily Pacha’s wife and kids, (who are also thoroughly entertaining), embrace Kuzco. These moments never come across as forced, they always feel like they fit naturally into the film’s narrative.

Kingdom of the Sun?

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I’m not writing this to say that The Emperor’s New Groove is some forgotten or underrated classic, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Second only to Lilo & Stitch, this was Disney’s most well-received early 2000’s, post-Renaissance film, it’s just not one that gets talked about often when compared to some of their other great films.

For those of you who are really into animation and production history, The Emperor’s New Groove actually has a really interesting story. It originally began life as a grand musical called Kingdom of the Sun, before being changed into a buddy comedy by some of the higher-ups at Disney. Kingdom of the Sun entered production in 1994, and had a much more adventure driven story, which puts it in line with Disney’s previous films. But Disney executives cited previous ambitious films like Pocahontas, which was a box office disappointment, as reasoning to turn the film into a comedy.

There’s a lot more to this story, most of which is outlined in a documentary called The Sweatbox. It’s a really interesting watch, especially if you’re really into Disney history or how troubled the process of film-making can sometimes be. I’d recommend giving it a watch sometime.

How do you feel about The Emperor’s New Groove, or Disney’s post-Renaissance films in general? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me on Twitter to stay updated on all the latest posts. Thanks for reading, and be sure to have an awesome day!