Ranking the Disney Canon – 41: Oliver and Company

“This city’s got a beat, and you gotta hook into it. And once you get the beat, you can do anything.”  – Dodger

Oliver and Company was the last of an era, the last film before The Little Mermaid marked the official start of the Renaissance. It was the first musical in almost a decade, and also one of the few films up to that point to take place in a contemporary society, 1980s New York in this case. The musical stylings and the lighthearted feel make the film almost a transition, a mix of what The Great Mouse Detective offered before it and The Little Mermaid would offer after it.

A twist on Dickens’s classic Oliver Twist, the story concerns a young orphaned kitten who will be later known as Oliver. As he wanders the streets of New York, he follows a streetwise dog named Dodger, and is led to Dodger’s gang of dogs, owned by a petty thief named Fagin. Fagin is in debt to a loan shark, Mr. Sykes, and uses his pets to steal potentially helpful items. Oliver gets officially adopted into the gang, and is out helping them the next day. Through a series of mishaps, Oliver gets adopted by a wealthy little girl named Jenny, much to the chagrin of her pet poodle, Georgette. After some time bonding, Oliver is retaken by the gang, and a plan is put into motion to hold Oliver at ransom. When Mr. Sykes takes over the plan, Oliver, Fagin, and the gang must team up to save Jenny.

STRENGTHS

Last time, I mentioned how we were getting to that point in the countdown where the characters in these films were going to have consistently good relationships. I tell you, Oliver and Company almost makes it there. The best relationships in the movies are the ones of unbridled love. The relationships between Jenny and Oliver and Fagin and his dogs are wonderfully presented, and even in the little time we see these build both of these, they use the most of that time to make it very strong. The relationship between Jenny and Oliver especially so done so well. This is in part due to how well Jenny is written. She has so much innocence, and that’s just what the character needs to have.

I love the Big City, New York setting for this film. It certainly is a unique setting in the course of Disney History, and it works very well. There are some very fun backgrounds and establishing shots in the film, and the range of Times Square in the middle of the day to the docks at night is really fun. The city setting allows for some real fun in the musical numbers, and a subway chase scene that in the end is pretty cool.

The music is a success to me. Like in the Aristocats, I don’t think it’s one of the strongest soundtracks in Disney History, but “Once Upon a Time in New York City” and “Why Should I Worry” are strong numbers in my book. “Streets of Gold,” “Perfect isn’t Easy,” and “Good Company” are not as strong as those two, but they work for the film, and have their moments.

Overall, the film has a strong first half. The characters are great, the music is fun, the relationships are there, and the plot moves along almost without a hitch. The first half of the film shows great potential for what the film could be. It’s what happens in the second half that puts Oliver and Company down here at 41.

WEAKNESSES

As much as I love some of the relationships in this film, the film’s most important one, Oliver and Dodger, just flatlines by the end, and that’s really unfortunate because I really want to say it is a success. It starts off so well. I love the first scenes between the two that occur before and during “Why Should I Worry,” and I feel the mentor-protege relationship they have together through the middle of the film is very strong and vibrant. However, after the rescue from Jenny’s house, the relationship goes down the drain.

This may be because the film shifts its focus towards Jenny and Oliver’s relationship, but the Dodger-Oliver relationship just goes all over the place. After Oliver is returned, Dodger argues with him, and they stand off. Which is fine, except that every scene afterwards ignores that this happened, and there isn’t much interaction between Oliver and Dodger for the rest of the film. It almost feels like there is a scene missing between Oliver and Dodger that really solidifies their relationship. Everything that was strong in the first half of the him is sort of lost in the shuffle.

In actually thinking about it, the shift in focus hurts the film more than it helps because it does overtake everything that was set up in the beginning of the film, before Penny appeared. The relationships that were building between Oliver and Dodger, the gang, and Fagin just disappear because all of their focus is on saving Penny. The first half of the film does not feel like the proper lead-up to the climax, and vice versa. You know what would have really helped this? If Oliver had been taken alongside Penny. This would have better in tying the beginning with the end, and would make the film feel less fragmented.

Also, for being in the title of the film, Oliver isn’t really a memorable character. The film just doesn’t put enough focus on him. The film pays more attention to Dodger and the Gang, Fagin, Penny, and Georgette than Oliver. The film is afraid, it seems, to explore Oliver as more than just a cute orphan kitten. He just doesn’t do much during the film. I mean, he does have that moment where he saves Dodger in the climax, but for most of the film, he is just walking around or being pampered. I feel he has no change in character, no arc, nothing to learn. He just exists for the story to work.

Finally, this may be a nitpick, but the one thing that hurts Dodger more than the second half of the film is Billy Joel’s voice work. Look, I like Billy Joel. I think he has a good singing voice and some great songs. However, I just feel the role of Dodger was miscast. I can’t say exactly what I want in the character, but there are moments where I wanted Dodger to have a cockier voice, a more suave voice. Billy Joel just doesn’t cut it for me.

Also, Cheech Marin as Tito outstays his welcome. By the end, you just want him to be quiet for a couple minutes.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

This is actually a weird, because my best moment and best song are both songs, but they are two different songs.

The best moment is probably the film’s Signature Song, “Why Should I Worry.” It has some very fun animation, great character moments, and is a catchy song in its own right.

However, the best song in this movie, and a personal favorite of mine, is “Once Upon a Time in New York City.” It is a great opening number, and really goes alongside the introduction of Oliver.

CLOSING COMMENTS

In the end, Oliver and Company almost makes that leap from good to great. It has a really strong first half, and some very strong relationships and moments. However, everything just sort of fizzles in the second half of the film. There’s not a strong connection between the first half and the second half, and it really hurts everything the film had going for it. It’s strong first half is able to push it up to 41, but as get closer to more consistent films, that’s where it has to stop.

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Ranking the Disney Canon – 42: Meet the Robinsons

” Spike and Dimitri are twins, and I don’t know who they’re related to.” – Lewis

“Neither do we. Go on.” – Wilbur

Meet The Robinsons, a 2007 release, was the first film to be finished after Disney had bought out Pixar, and the influence could certainly be felt. After John Lasseter, the new chief of Disney Animation, was screened an early version of the film. Afterwards, he suggested some changes. By the film’s release, over 60% of the finished material had been reshot, and new characters and entire sequences were added. This film is not only truly a mix of the two different ideals, but also different eras.

Meet the Robinsons is about a young, brilliant orphan named Lewis, who, after years of not being adopted, believed that his original mother would be the only one to accept him. He decides to create a memory scanner so that he may be able to remember what his mother looked like, all the while keeping his roommate, Goob, up all night, and ignoring all potential families. He enters it in his school’s science fair, but everything falls apart when Wilbur Robinson, a teenager and a self proclaimed “Time Cop,” alerts him that a man from the future who wears a Bowler Hat is off to sabotage the machine. Indeed, The Bowler Hat Guy messes with the machine and ruins Lewis’s presentation. In order to prove that he is from the future, and that he needs to finish the machine, Wilbur takes a dejected and frustrated Lewis to the future. He accidentally crashes the Time Machine, and attempts to encourage Lewis into fixing it so he can return home. Lewis soon meets Wilbur’s crazy family, while The Bowler Hat Guy attempts to capture Lewis, all while hiding a surprising secret.

STRENGTHS

Lewis is the film’s best character, which is fantastic since he is the protagonist. His desire and goals, wants and needs are very clearly defined, and are so simple in their core that the audience is sure to care for the character. His arc makes sense and is well thought out, and in the end, we are happy to see the character succeed.

The movie actually has a couple of good twists, and they are credibly built up and believable. The villain’s identity in particular is a really fun twist. It’s an excellent use of plant and payoff that the audience will write off a first as unimportant. The reveal scene is wholesome entertainment, and is able to play off some real laughs.

Speaking of the villain, what’s most effective about him is the contrast between incompetence and competence. Having the Bowler Hat being the brains of the operation is a brilliant move, and the way the Bowler Hat is written in contrast to Bowler Hat Guy helps not only to make some fun back and forth scenes, but allows the villain to make sense as to how he would get this far, which gives the story a whole lot of credibility. And the turn of the Bowler Hat is brilliantly done. There’s also a nice contrast between the good future and the bad future, and the simple use of bright colors vs. dark colors alone gives an uneasy feeling that makes you want the hero to succeed.

The ending is truly chill inducing. Rob Thomas’s “Little Wonders” (which for the longest time I did not know was written for the movie) is perfect for those final few moments, and it’s a fantastic conclusion to Lewis’s story. The moment between Lewis and his future self in particular is a very awesome scene. And having a Walt Disney Quote before the credits roll? Tears in my eyes.

Finally, though I am about to harp on the family, The Robinsons have a lot of funny concepts and characters within their large family. In fact, the film’s best sequence is when Wilbur, and the audience, are introduced to the entire family.  A lot of fun and crazy characters exist in this world. I just wish they were there more. Also, Adam West absolutely nails his role again. The man has a voice of gold.

WEAKNESSES

We are getting to the point where character relationships are going to become a consistent strength rather than a weakness. We still have a few more films to go before that happens, however, and unfortunately Meet the Robinsons falls into the “Almost had it” category.

While the Robinson Family is full of odd, funny, and unique characters, it never feels like they are there for a reason. They feel like they are there more for the sake of being odd and silly than to contribute anything to Lewis’s story. And what is most disappointing about this is the fact that these characters had huge potential to be influences in Lewis’s motivations. It would have been great to see Lewis fall in love with his future wife. It would have been chilling to see Lewis connect with his future father. These scenes would have been great in giving both Lewis and the audience a reason to care about the future. But these scenes don’t come. Instead, the family is just there, being odd, and while it is fun, it isn’t completely satisfying.

Even the film’s best relationship, that between Wilbur and Lewis, could use a bit more building. I know that Lewis’s frustration with his own abilities is a key part to his character and arc ,but I feel it overtakes the plot, and it distracts from the need for a connection. Lewis and Wilbur never feel like friends. Keeping Lewis at odds with Wilbur for much of their time together doesn’t allow the connection to grow, and thus doesn’t make it seem that Lewis cares for Wilbur. More friendship would also make Lewis’s feel of betrayal a lot more hurtful and believable for the character.

I think that the film would have greatly benefited from being 100% redone, just like Bolt would be for 2008. Obviously, this isn’t really possible, as Meet the Robinsons was much farther along than Bolt was, but I think that the film would be much better if it had a clean start with a single, clear vision behind it. From what I know, the finished version is much better than the original cut, but I still think there is a hold over of characters and ideas from the previous incarnation that don’t fit within this film. Also, 10 months of retooling doesn’t allow for characters to be given a lot of build, or ideas to be expanded and made better.

Finally, time for some nitpicking! Time Travel is always a tricky subject to handle, and one always has to be careful to avoid paradoxes and fallacies, as well as the whole “Can the Future Actually Be Changed?” debate. In my opinion, Meet the Robinsons goes down the wrong path. The film makes more sense if all the events that happened to Lewis were supposed to happen, that he was supposed to go to the future, meet his future family, and then save the future. I do not see the uninterfered science fair producing the same future as the interfered science fair, especially considering that uninterfered, Lewis would have succeeded in seeing the memory of his mother. However, the film presents itself as if Lewis’s future self have no memory of time traveling, which suggests the future can be altered. Future Lewis even says so himself. I’m not convinced. The film would have made more sense and had been better off if Future Lewis had given a nod to the fact that this was all in fact part of the plan.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

I mentioned the best moment above, but I’ll type it again. The sequence introducing us to the entire crazy family is a great introductory sequence, which only furthers the disappointment of the squandered potential.

The film’s best song is Rob Thomas’s “Little Wonders.” It just fits the ending very well, and creates great emotion when paired with the images.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Meet the Robinsons certainly has a lot of great moments. The plot is interesting, the protagonist and villain really shine through, and it has a great progression. The rest of its characters, though interesting, don’t reach the potential or feel important, it ultimately it weakens what Meet the Robinsons could be.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 43: Melody Time

“Well, any story about old Pecos is bound to be right strong medicine, so maybe it’s best to sashay into it kinda gentle-like.” – Master of Ceremonies

Hey, we’re at our first package film! It would be a wise choice to explain what exactly a package film is, so that there is not a ton of confusion surrounding it.

A package film is a film in which a collection of shorts are “packaged” together into a single, feature-length production. The films are loosely connected together, or sometimes not even connected at all. In Disney history, there are six films that are classified as Package Films, and each can be paired together in sets of two. There are the “South America” films (Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros), the “Fantasia Cousins” films (Make Mine Music and Melody Time), and the “Feature-Length Shorts” films (Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad). These films were made during World War 2 in order to save money and resources while animators and resources were out helping the fight in Europe.

Melody Time, as mentioned above, is a “Fantasia Cousin,” meaning that the film features segments that are set to music. In contrast to Fantasia, which features classical music, Melody Time features contemporary and lyrical music. In Melody Time, the segments are loosely connected by minute long introductions.

Melody Time consists of 7 segments, which are “Once Upon a Wintertime,” which deals with a couple of budding relationships during an ice skating session, “Bumble Boogie” a jazz remix of Flight of the Bumblebee, “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed,” a retelling of the classic folktale, “Little Toot,” the story of a little tugboat trying to prove himself worthy, “Trees,” a recitation of the poem of the same name, “Blame It on the Samba” a Latin America inspired number starring Three Caballeros co-stars Donald Duck and Jose Carioca, and “Pecos Bill,” the tale of the greatest cowboy to ever live.

STRENGTHS

Melody Time has 2 very strong segments and 1 good segment. Let’s start with the good segment. “Little Toot” is entertaining, and the singers, credited to The Andrews Sister, do an excellent job, and give the storm sequence in the middle an almost hypnotic feel that really works, The reason that the segment is only good in my eyes is that the ending is a little quick and a little weak, and isn’t as fulfilling to Little Toot’s character as it could be.

The final two segments of Melody Time are very strong, and reasons enough to at least check out the film. Blame It on the Samba is a perfect extension of the South America films, and is a classic mix of great character animation and wild and crazy transitions and sets, as well as having a dash of fun live action. It also features two of Disney’s underused characters, Jose Carioca and The Aracuan Bird, in some of their best form. The song is catchy, and if you find yourself shaking along, you can truly Blame It on the Samba.

The highlight segment, though, is Pecos Bill. Narrated and sung by a group of Cowboys, lead by the famous Roy Rodgers, Pecos Bill is the film’s longest segment, and is everything that is great about a package film short. It has great character designs, great humor, engaging characters, fantastic animation, and great music. The segment does a very good job at presenting the legend of Pecos Bill and building that legend in a way that only animation can do, and building Pecos as a fun character, so much so that we actually care about the character when he meets Slue-Foot Sue. All of this in 20 mintues. A true credit needs to go to the filmmakers for pulling this off. Excellent work.

WEAKNESSES

The major problem with this film, and unique to this package film in particular, is that the film starts off with bad pacing. In a film where there is not a singular story with characters to follow through the entire film, it is important to start off strong so that the audience keeps interest. Melody Time is the only package film that fails to do this. In fact, it starts off with two slow segments and one that goes by so fast that it ends before it starts to get interesting.

It’s not that the segments are bad. None of the segments in Melody Time are unwatchable or bad. However, I feel that they are placed in an order that doesn’t allow the audience to get engaged with the material. Once Upon a Wintertime, even with it’s drama, goes off at a leisurely pace. After the “awesomely animated segment that happens so quickly you forget it is there” segment, also known as Bumble Boogie, Johnny Appleseed, while featuring the beautiful artwork of Mary Blair (more on her later in the list), is also a very slow segment. by the time Little Toot comes along, there is the potential for the audience to be bored. And even Little Toot, being an OK segment, may not help matters.

In my opinion, the fact that the two strongest and the two most entertaining segments are the final two is a big mistake. Blame it on the Samba should have been moved up in the order, with one of the slower segments after it. Even if Little Toot would have moved to the fist spot, it would have vastly improved the overall feeling of the film. It would have been much better if the slower segments were in the middle, after interest had been established, since interest can remain, and even if it slowed down, the audience’s intrigue is enough where they won’t be completely bored.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

With the strongest segment being Pecos Bill, no doubt the strongest moment of the film comes from this western themed story. In particular, the segment where the audience is given all the legends of Pecos Bill through song is fantastic. It’s undoubtedly the funniest section of the film, in my opinion.

(This song in this particular segment is a major part of Disney history as well, as it was featured in the legendary Golden Horseshoe Saloon show that starred Wally Boag at Disneyland)

As much as I love the country flavored sounds of Pecos Bill, my favorite song in the film is Blame it on the Samba. As you will see later in this countdown, I love the combination of Disney and South America.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Blame It on the Samba and Pecos Bill give this film so much strength to put it up to 43. The fact that it takes 5 segments to get to these 2 is a very huge issue. Melody Time has a load of good segments, but the film progresses too slowly, especially in comparison to the other package films. Melody Time has a ton of Sweet Melody, but needed a sweeter structure.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 44: Dinosaur

“We can only hope that in some small way our time here will be remembered.” – Pilo

Dinosaur is a really weird film when it comes to The Disney Canon. It was released in 2000, which featured 3 Disney animated film releases that were in the canon (well, 2 if you consider Fantasia 2000 released in 1999). Of these films, Dinosaur was certainly the most low profile release, and most likely one of the most forgotten films in the entire canon. In fact, it wasn’t even a part of the canon for 8 years, only living through an attraction at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom that is very loosely based on the film. It officially became a part of the list in 2008, most likely so that the honor of the 50th film would go to the high-profile release Tangled, rather than the lower profile Winnie the Pooh.

The film begins after a series of events causes an Iguanodon egg to fall into an island inhabited by Lemurs, who adopt the child and name him Aladar. Aladar grows up with the family, and they remain on the island until an asteroid strikes the planet, forcing Aladar and his immediate family to flee by swimming to the mainland. After struggling with a group of velociraptor, Aladar comes across a herd of all kinds of dinosaur, lead by a fellow Iguanodon Kron, who are heading toward The Nesting Grounds in hopes of finding water and shelter. Aladar begins to take his lessons from the island in helping to lead the group, clashing with Kron’s survival of the fittest style. The threat of a Carnotaur attack finally breaks up the group, but Aladar returns when he knows the larger group is in danger.

STRENGTHS

The first thing I need to mention is the beauty of the animation and the scenery. Dinosaur is very unique, in that the backgrounds are mostly live action, and the animation is fit into the real world. This could have caused an absolute disaster, but Dinosaur is able to pull off this mix extremely well. A credit to the character designs, which are mostly realistic, but have just that tinge of cartoonishness that makes them appealing. The live action scenery works its magic to be absolutely stunning at point, and the characters work off of this really well, and are stunning in their own way.

I enjoy Aladar as our protagonist. He is very likable character, and written well enough where he has the potential to connect to the audience. I think his naive nature, his kindness, and his observant mind combine to make Aladar a character that the audience will want to invest in and follow for the course of the film, while also making his journey towards being the leader believable

I also love the contrast that the film has between Aladar and Kron. The “No One Gets Left Behind” attitude and the “Survival of the Fittest” attitude create a great clash, and the characters help to make that clash interesting, at times. Kron is an effective antagonist, and a classic “misunderstood” type of one. The ways that the push Kron’s obsession with protecting the herd is brilliantly done, and actually creates sympathy for the character.

Finally, I have to give my commendation to the film’s 7 minute opening, which, in my opinion, is nearly perfect. It is beautifully shot and full of action. The Asteroid sequence near the beginning is also wonderfully put together. The Carnotaur attacks, especially the climatic one, are also good scenes. One of the best decisions the film made was to not give the Carnotaurs (or the Velociraptors) voices, which make their roles as a dangerous entity much more effective.

WEAKNESSES

I mention good moments at the beginning and the end of the film, but none in the middle. The in-between is certainly the weakest, and it would be an absolute bore if it weren’t for the pieces of conflict between Aladar and Kron. The film certainly needed to slow down after three straight high energy sequences, but it slows down too much, moving as slow as the herd. It really needed another sequence, possibly with the velociraptors, to help pick up the pace and to even further the conflict between Aladar and Kron.

Another thing that would have helped is having more conflict between Aladar and the style of living the dinosaurs have. Aladar has been living away from this group for years. I’m glad that they gave him some sense of his identity from the start, and don’t have him thinking he is a monkey, but I feel that his reaction to seeing his own kind for the first time is extremely underplayed, and it hurts his arc. He should struggle with coming into Dinosaur society for the first time, in comparison to the way he was raised on the island. It is a great conflict and contrast, and it works great when on-screen, but it needed to be on-screen much more, and it could have really helped the second act.

The lemur family ultimately gets lose in the shuffle of Aladar’s journey, which is a real shame since three of the four of them were set up to be great supporting characters. Their relationship with Aladar is built up very well at the beginning, really showing the family aspect of their relationship. As the film progresses, and Aladar’s conflict with Kron and the Carnotaurs, and his relationship with the female Iguanodon Neera grows, the lemur storyline is ultimately forced to be lost. They actually get forgotten about, in my eyes, throughout the second half of the film. This makes them weak as characters, which, again, is a shame since they are the first characters introduced to us, and that they have so much potential as support for Aladar.

Finally, while the film needs comedy, I feel the comedy is misplaced. The comedy relief is a young lemur named Zini, who sees himself as a ladies man. He has a much more modern feel to him, and is the only character to feel out of place in the film. The comedy should have come from Aladar’s own misfortunes in connecting with the herd, and should have happened alongside the lemurs rather than only through them.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Dinosaur is not a musical, so no best song declaration. The Score is decent enough, and has its moments.

The best scene in the film is most certainly the 7 minute opening sequence, which is beautifully shot, beautifully animated, and beautifully put together. If you watch the film for anything, watch it for these opening minutes.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I’m actually rather surprised how much I enjoyed Dinosaur. It’s a fun little film that gets lost due to status as a non major film especially considering it was not a part of this historic canon for almost a decade after its original release. It’s hard to describe what exactly this film does to deserve this spot, as the film does a lot of thing right. The best way I can describe it is that I feel it is stronger than the films below it, but weaker than the films above it. That may seem obvious, but that’s the best way I can describe a feeling that’s almost intangible. It has good characters, good conflict, a strong first act, and a good third act, and good action and excitement, but it also just isn’t as good as other films, and is weakened by an almost boring second act, underplayed themes, and disappearance of potentially strong characters. Dinosaur just places at 44 because it does. That’s all I can say.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 45: The Fox and the Hound

“Darlin’, forever is a long long time. And time has a way of changin’ things.” – Big Mama

Instead of my usual background on the film, I’m going to start this post out with a little observation. 4 of the 6 films I’ve ranked thus far, including The Fox and the Hound, are 4 of the six films that released in the era after Walt’s passing, from 1970 to 1985. And of the two that aren’t ranked down here, one is a package film consisting of shorts released during Walt’s lifetime, and the other is the only film in the history of Disney to receive a sequel that’s also in the canon. I think it is safe to say that I personally consider this period to be the weakest in the history of Disney Animation Studio overall. Again, not to say that the films are bad (in fact, I only say that about The Black Cauldron) but it doesn’t begin to compare to the other eras the studio has had.

Anyways, on to our synopsis. The Fox and the Hound, released in 1981, begins with the abandoning of Tod, our main Fox, by his mother as she is being chased by hunters. With the help of owl Big Mama, woodpecker Boomer, and finch Dinky, Tod is adopted by farm owner Widow Tweed. Soon, Tod starts up a friendship with the neighbor’s new puppy, Copper. The relationship stalls when Tod is chased by Copper’s mentor, Chief, and is shot at by his owner, a hunter. Tod and Copper are separated for many months, during which the two of them grow into adulthood, and Copper grows into a Grade-A hunting dog. Tod attempts to rekindle their friendship, but the two of them break for good when Tod causes a near fatal accident with Chief, cause Copper to swear vengeance against the fox.

STRENGTHS

The strongest points of The Fox and the Hound are most certainly its most dramatic moments, most of which take place in the film’s adulthood section. In these sequences, the action is great, the character’s personalities come out to shine, and film is at its most interesting. The key examples of this are the Adulthood chase scene and the climatic battle between Tod, Copper, and a Bear. The staging and choreography are very well done, and the scenes feel dramatic. The ending is also believable and bittersweet, which works for this film.

The film also has a tonal shift that works surprisingly well. The childhood segments feel playful, fun, and, well, childlike. At the same time, the later adulthood scene feel more serious, dramatic, and adult like. The best way to see this is to compare the film’s two Chief vs. Tod chase sequences. The first one, in childhood, plays more for laughs and fun, while the adulthood one feels a lot more like a life and death situation. It is a somewhat dangerous road to cross, but the film manages to pull it off, at least as well as the material allows it to.

And while the weaknesses I’ll mention below do take away from what the film could be, I’ll say that the film makes us care for our title characters and keeps us engaged in the story, even if it seems like it’s doing its bare minimum to do so. Plus the film is cute. I’ll give it that

WEAKNESSES

For a film called The Fox and the Hound, I don’t think there is nearly enough building of the relationship between the fox and the hound. The film only has one song and two very short scenes dedicated to their friendship, and thus their friendship feels very shallow and superficial. The film hinges on making their relationship as children deep and meaningful, and it barely, by the skin of its teeth, manages to keep it engaging. The song especially hurts this, as I think it doesn’t allow the two characters to show the audience how they connect, especially considering that this is their first time meeting. And at the beginning of their second meeting, they already declare each other best friends. I feel this happens much too quickly, and lacks the reason for a relationship outside of that they play together. Yes, I understand that they are kids, but even kids need to find something more, things that bring them together.

A major reason this issue occurs is that the film has too many asides that really take time away from building this relationship. In the childhood scenes, there are multiple, extended comedic sequences involving Dinky and Boomer trying to catch a caterpillar. These sequences slow down the film and really take away time from Tod and Copper. The same thing happens in the later sections. A scene with Chief comically playing up his injury is absolutely not necessary, and actually feels like a waste of time. I really get what they were going for in the scenes with Tod in the wild for the first time. Ultimately, however, it contributes absolutely nothing to Tod’s character, especially so late in the film, and since his want is clearly to have a relationship with Copper and not to be accepted into the wild. It almost feels like the film is stalling, just waiting for the Copper story to logically come back.

What the film also needed to do was build up the relationship between Tod and Copper and their respective side characters. This is especially true for Copper’s story. His relationships with Slade, his owner, and Chief could be better explored and defined. The film really needed scenes of Copper bonding with Chief and Slade, which would make his vengeful turn much more believable. The film squanders this opportunity for character development when Copper and Chief are out hunting in the winter. Instead of building the mentor-protege relationship, they just play the scene for some laughs, as Chief is surprised at Copper’s success.

The same thing happens on Tod’s side. We never see the relationship between young Tod and Big Mama develop, so the scene where Big Mama explains Copper’s job to Tod is less effective, as we don’t know the trust in that relationship from earlier scenes. Even if these relationships are built up as bad, it would provide an explanation as to why Tod and Copper or so quick in declaring the best friendship. Maybe if Copper and Chief clashed, or Tod had trouble with the rest of the farm, it would make their quick friendship more believable.

The film ultimately needs to have had more in the childhood section and less in the adult scenes. Having a longer, secret relationship would not only have enhanced both characters, not only would it build a more meaningful relationship, but it would also make the second half more dramatic, more gut wrenching, and more effective.

Switching gears a bit, the soundtrack for this film is weird, and it ultimately hurts the film. The few songs the film has are extremely forgettable, and just when you forget there are songs, another one pops up. This film feels like it was a non musical that got musical numbers hesitantly put into it. This is a film that would work so much better if it had no musical numbers. The story doesn’t really fit the musical style. The score is also forgettable, and at times awkward. This is most apparent in the comedy scenes with Dinky and Boomer, which are scored as if they are dramatic sequences. It becomes very off-putting and hard to listen to.

Finally, one walks a very thin line when casting young children in voice roles, and The Fox and the Hound ends up falling on the bad side of that line. Neither Tod nor Copper have good or believable childhood voices, and the lack of acting takes away from appreciating the character. If the film were to try to deepen the relationship between the two, it would need to recast those roles. I don’t know if I could stand more scenes between the two of them talking like that. (By the way, Young Copper is voiced by none other than a future 80s child star, Corey Feldman! Take that for what you will.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The film’s best sequence is, as mentioned above, the final fight between Tod, Copper, and the Bear. Very well animated, very well staged, very dramatic.

In the weak soundtrack, the best song is not even sung by any of its characters. “Best of Friends” plays over a scene of Tod and Copper, and while I feel the song ultimately weakens the segment, it is indeed the film’s best song.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Fox and the Hound had a lot of potential, especially considering how good the drama is. However, the glossing over the character relationships weakens the film to a point that it can’t escape from. It is cute, and actually has a thought-provoking message, but its flaws overtake it and place it in the number 45 spot.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 46: The Aristocats

I’d like to start this post with a little side note to hopefully fend off the potential wolves hungry to defend their favorite films: We got past the point of bad Disney films when we reviewed Home on the Range. Starting with Robin Hood, the rest of the films on this list are at least good. As I mentioned in the introduction, I don’t want to rank a film this low, but in the nature of rankings, I have to. Robin Hood is a great example. I love Robin Hood. It is truly an enjoyable film. However, in comparison to the even more enjoyable films that are ranked above it, Robin Hood unfortunately gets placed this low on the list. Trust me, it’s as hard for me to place a film this low as it is for you to read about.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at The Aristocats

“Humans don’t really worry too much about their pets” – Thomas O’Malley

What’s with me ranking a film right after its follow-up? First I did it with Chicken Little and Home on the Range, and now I’m doing it again with Robin Hood and The Aristocats. Released in 1970, it was the first film made and released after Walt Disney’s death, though it was still approved and partially worked on by Walt.

The film takes place in Paris France, and starts as the owner of four cats, Duchess and her kittens Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse, decides to leave her entire fortune to them in her will. This upsets the overworked butler Edgar, and as the cats practice their piano and painting skills, Edgar plots to dispose of the cats. That night, he sedates them and takes them to the countryside. However, farm dogs Napoleon and Lafayette distract him, and he loses the cats. As Duchess and her kittens wake up the next morning, they run into Thomas O’Malley, a free form alley cat, who falls in love with Duchess and promises to take her back to Paris, with a little help from two geese sisters and Thomas’s jazz playing friends.

STRENGTHS

The pride of this film is its side characters, who steal the show from the title characters (without much effort, but we’ll get to that later). The best and most enjoyable characters of the film are most certainly Napoleon and Lafayette, whose almost Abbot and Costello-esque routine is wonderfully done. Their continual battles with Edgar are hilarious and no doubt the best scenes in the film. They also have an amazing Fourth Wall breaking scene to end the film, and you have to love good Fourth  Wall breaking sequences. Scat Cat and his band, sorely underused, are also memorable for the little screen time they get. Finally, even if he is only on-screen for one scene, the Geese’s drunk Uncle Waldo provides another memorable scene, and also is the subject of one of the few great lines of the film. (“Basted? He’s been marinated in it!”)

I’m also going to give the soundtrack an overall plus, even though it certainly isn’t The Sherman Brother’s strongest work. The title song “The Aristocats”, “Thomas O’Malley Cat” and the film’s signature song “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” are all fun to listen to, and completely make up for the weaker “Scales and Arpeggios” and “She Never Felt Alone.”

Edgar is just on that fringe of good Disney Villain, and ultimately, he works to the story. The physical comedy they give him really works for the character, and his bumbling and egocentric attitude end up making him memorable. I do wish he was a little stronger in manipulation and playing with his master, which would make him just a tad more villainous.

On a final note, it is the first appearance of a characters voiced by Sterling Holloway! Holloway is the John Ratzenberger of Disney films, and for my own personal amusement, we’ll count the number of films see him in. STERLING HOLLOWAY COUNT: 1

WEAKNESSES

Sometimes when dealing with a story that concerns everyday life instead of a concerning a fairy tale world, it is hard to deal with making the story matter and raising the stakes high enough to make the audience care. There are many ways that the Disney studio has dealt with this, including the threat of death to great characters in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the inclusion of a classic romance in Lady and the Tramp. The Aristocats fails to raise the stakes properly, and thus makes our main adventure boring.

There is no race against the clock, no need for our heroes to get back to the house quickly. Sure, the old woman is making her will, but she never is in danger of dying before they return.There is never really a panic in the characters, which only makes sense in Thomas’s case since that is his personality. There is no heavy investment in them making it home quickly, and in fact, the film allows these cats to take their time. This just leads to a boring film. When your main story is boring, you know you’ve got a problem

Our main cats are also boring, in comparison to the other characters that surround them. Duchess is too polite, and is never in that concerned or panicked mode she needs to be. She seems to take things in stride, which is a fine character, but it doesn’t do a lot to help the film. Thomas is never really given the time to evolve the way that other care free characters, such as Baloo (also voiced by Phil Harris) and The Tramp, do. The kittens don’t really do much either, other than have their cute moments and the occasion chuckle (“Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them!”). All in all, their story is not engaging.

It almost seems that the filmmakers agree, as a ton of time is spent with these secondary characters. As much as I love Napoleon and Lafayette, their second interaction with Edgar has nothing to do with the story. It is a great aside and a memorable sequence, but it almost proves to me that the main story was not seen to be entertaining enough. Even the addition of the Geese is a little suspect. Though they seem like they may instill doubt about Thomas unto Duchess, ultimately they don’t contribute anything, and just seem like more characters added to create some sort of spark. Even the bumbling lawyer, an unimportant character, is more interesting.

The romance between Thomas and Duchess is another weak one. They instantly fall for one another, leaving nothing to build on for the rest of the film. Neither really rejects the other’s style either, and even when Thomas does, it is more about him believing he won’t be accepted by a stranger. It really isn’t strong enough, and is, in fact, boring.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The first chase scene between Edgar and the Hound Dogs is practically perfect. Undoubtedly the greatest and most rewatchable scene in the film.

The best song is certainly the most iconic portion of the film. “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” certainly brings the house down, especially at the end.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Aristocats has some very fun moments. I recommend the film if only to watch the wonderful Comedy of Napoleon and Lafayette. However, the film cannot escape the fact that its main storyline is yawn inducing, and its main characters just as much. The Aristocats just needed better cats. Can we get a spin off with Scat Cat’s gang?

Ranking the Disney Canon – 47: Robin Hood

“You know, there’s been a heap of legends and tall tales about Robin Hood. All different too. Well, we folks of the animal kingdom have our own version.”  – Alan-a-Dale

After two straight looks at modern Disney films, we take a step back to 1973 with Robin Hood, one of the first films given the go ahead to production without Walt’s guidance. Even the film before it, The Aristocats, was approved by Walt before his untimely death. Robin Hood was the studio’s first presentation without its creator.

The story is a take on the classic story of Robin Hood, using animals as the characters instead of humans. Our narrator, Alan-a-Dale, tells us the story “as it really happened,” and we follow the adventures of Robin Hood and his partner, Littler John as they rob from the rich and give to the poor. They steal from Prince John (much to the annoyance of Sir Hiss, an acquaintance), outwit the Sheriff of Nottingham, participate in an archery contest, and eventually plan the rescue of the local preacher Friar Tuck, who is scheduled to be hanged. All the while, Robin Hood courts the lovely Maid Marian, and desires her hand in marriage.

STRENGTHS

Robin Hood himself is one of the classic and most fun characters to come out of the period between Walt’s Death and the beginning of the Renaissance. His multiple aliases and disguises are memorable moments for the character, and contribute to some of the best and funniest moments of the film. He doesn’t disappoint as the title character, and he is charming enough to keep the audience interested. His care and dare personality comes across strongly, and is the biggest positive the film has. A big amount of credit should go out to the voice actor of Robin Hood, Brian Bedford, who perfectly captures what Robin Hood should be, while keeping a little bit of Robin within each altered voice.

This film also has some wonderful bits of comedy scattered throughout. The interactions between The Sheriff of Nottingham and the two vulture guards, Nutsy and Trigger, are wonderful. The archery contest is another strong, comedic scene, in both Robin Hood’s acting and Sir Hiss’s failed attempts to expose him. There is a certain amount of charm in these scenes that just makes the film fun in these particular moments.

Prince John and Sir Hiss make a enjoyable main villain duo, with the Sheriff of Nottingham on the fringe of their group, since he doesn’t have much interaction with them. Prince John has a decent mix of comedic folly with actual villainous acts, which makes him viable and not a complete joke.

Finally, while I wish it were a bit more dramatic, the raid on the castle to free Friar Tuck and the rest of the town is overall fun and exciting. Not the best of its kind in the Disney canon, mind you, but it certainly has its moments. The forcing of Robin Hood to return to the castle when he is in the clear by having him save a little child is nothing short of brilliantly done.

And props to Disney for putting in a fraction of the USC (and Wisconsin, but that doesn’t matter really) fight song into the film!

WEAKNESSES

This film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Yes, I said that about Chicken Little as well, but at least this film only goes between two tones. Robin Hood is set in its traditional time period, and features many British voice actors in major roles, such as Robin Hood and Prince John. At the same time, there are many characters voiced by people with Southern accents, like The Sheriff of Nottingham and Friar Tuck. The soundtrack was even written by country legend Roger Miller, and the songs that he wrote have a very country feel to it. It is such a weird mixture that never really meshes well. One never takes control over the other. They both sort of stand on equal ground, which ends up failing more than it works.

Little John doesn’t fit into either of these categories, being voiced by American Phil Harris, and he really seems out of place. The conversation between Little John and Prince John when Little John is in disguise (Too Many Johns!) is extremely awkward, especially since Little John talks in more modern lingo.

(The following isn’t really a criticism, but I feel I need to mention it: This is, in fact, one of the cheapest Disney films ever made, and it reuses a lot of animation from previous Disney films. This isn’t really noticeable to the common public, so I don’t really think it’s a bad thing. However, it is a little striking to see Little John and Sir Hiss look so similar to Baloo and Kaa, their Jungle Book counterparts. Little John and Baloo even have the same voice actor!)

The soundtrack is also weird, in that Roger Miller only wrote the songs that are sung by his character, Alan-a-Dale. That means that two of the film’s songs, “Love” (which was nominated for an Academy Award) and “The Phony King of England” were not written by Miller, and have a completely different style. “The Phony King of England” does gain a bit of a country swing to it, but it still feels like a different style when compared to Miller’s country. Even the score is different in style, having a little bit of a Rock edge to it at times. This lack of a consistent soundtrack certainly doesn’t help in establishing a tone, and can be disorienting.

Another problem that the film has is the lack of structure. Robin Hood lacks a true beginning. The film starts us off with Robin Hood and Little John being attacked by the Sheriff and his crew, and jumps right into the robbing of Prince John. To my eye, there is no clear inciting incident, no reason for this story to be happening. (and if you call the robbing of Prince John the inciting incident, it has a very weak inciting incident.)

The overall structure of events makes the film feel more like a series of vignettes about the life of Robin Hood rather than one, continually rising story. Using vignettes isn’t a bad thing, as we will see much much later in the countdown with Alice in Wonderland, but Robin Hood is clear that it wants to be a traditional, three act structure film. It fails to do so because the actions don’t connect well. The robbing of Prince John doesn’t connect with the next scene of the Sheriff of Nottingham in town. That scene doesn’t connect to the next scene with a group of kids sneaking into Maid Marian’s yard. This scene barely connects with the archery sequence. The Archery sequence doesn’t connect with the rest of the film. This makes it hard to keep interest, as events tend not to lead into other events well.

Finally, the romance between Maid Marian and Robin Hood is one of the weakest in Disney History. They literally share one and a half scenes together. They already know each other before the events of the film, and they’re both ready to marry each other without much question. Maid Marian isn’t even involved with the first half or the second half of the film really. Her major scene is the “Love” song sequence in the middle of the film. She is never put in danger or just out of the reach of Robin Hood. The final rescue doesn’t even involve her one bit! It’s just uninteresting and really forced.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Best scene in the film is most of the archery segment. Outside of the conversation between Little John and Prince John, the scene is full of good acting and high comedy.

The best song is “The Phony King of England.” It has a catchy tune, it has nice lyrics, it is very upbeat, and is a ton of fun to watch.

CLOSING COMMENTS

There are a lot of strong moments in Robin Hood, and I find it an enjoyable film overall. However, with all of its structural faults, awkward mix of styles, and weak character connections, it becomes one of the weakest films from Disney, especially considering the strength of the many of the films above it. I can’t really place Robin Hood anywhere else other than at 47.