Ranking the Disney Canon – 27: The Great Mouse Detective

“Bravo! Bravo! A marvelous performance! Although I was expecting you fifteen minutes earlier. Trouble with the chemistry set, old boy?” – Ratigan

The Great Mouse Detective was the first film released after The Black Cauldron, and the tone of this 1986 film is directly opposite of our worst Disney feature. As opposed to the dark, dramatic, epic fair that The Black Cauldron tried to be, The Great Mouse Detective is a comedic, lighthearted film that returns to the brighter character models and overall magic that hadn’t been seen from the studio in a long time. (The somewhat ironic thing about this return to brightness is that most of The Great Mouse Detective takes place, in fact, at night.) The Great Mouse Detective is actually one of the most important films in Disney history. The success of this film, especially in comparison to The Black Cauldron’s failure, convinced Disney to both continue pushing new talent (this is the first film from our good old friends John Musker and Ron Clements) and to continue pushing the Animation department, eventually leading towards The Little Mermaid’s release in 1989.

The Great Mouse Detective draws its inspiration from the stories of Sherlock Holmes, and more specifically, the children’s book series Basil of Baker Street. The film begins with Olivia Flaversham watching her father being kidnapped by a mysterious peg legged bat, Fidget. Around the same time, David Q. Dawson returns from tour in Afghanistan, and comes across the crying Olivia looking for the famed Basil of Baker Street. They find him, and he takes interest in the case after figuring out that his long time rival, Professor Ratigan, may be behind the kidnapping. Basil, Dawson, and Olivia set out to figure out Ratigan’s location and his plan, and must act to outsmart Ratigan and save England before it is too late.

STRENGTHS

I can’t get far in this post without mentioning that Basil is a personal favorite character of mine. He is one that short list of “Disney Characters that I Wish Were More Popular So That They Would Be Used More.” I love his over the top attitude, the fact that he has the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes, yet there is this naivety, this cockiness about him that gives him a great build throughout the movie. He has a clear and great arc which leads to a ton of fun character moments throughout the entirety of the film. I especially love the fact that he isn’t just a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes. Basil is his own character. His own, extremely awesome character. Basil has so many wonderful moments, but two of my many, many favorite Basil moments are his introduction and his figuring out how to escape the death trap. These are two excellent and high energy scenes that really make him shine.

I also like the relationship that forms between Basil and Dawson. I love that though Dawson is a reluctant partner, he eventually becomes the perfect associate and friend to Basil. He becomes what Basil was missing, the reason he could never catch Ratigan even in his most brilliant moment. Dawson is clearly able to reign Basil’s insanity in, and to inspire Basil in his darkest hours. Dawson needed to be a huge aspect of Basil’s arc, and that’s what he is. Dawson and Basil’s bromance works on a number of levels.

Overall, I like the inspiration it takes from the Sherlock Holmes stories. Even though it is not much of a mystery, since the fact that Ratigan is the villain is revealed pretty early, it still is a lot of fun to discover the plot and the clues alongside Basil and Dawson, as well as discover Ratigan’s personality and plan for rule. Basil, Dawson, and Ratigan are great variations of their Holmes counterparts Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty. At the same time, it never falls back on the fact that Sherlock Holmes is the inspiration. That’s what it is, inspiration. It is its own wonderful story with its own wonderful characters.

Back to the character side of things, Ratigan is a fun villain. You can tell that Vincent Price had a ton of fun voicing the character. Like Basil, his own the top nature is what makes him really fun, and it really is shown that he has the same level of intelligence as Basil. You really believe his success is warranted and a believable, and for a comedy villain, he is extremely competent. Yet it is also believable that he would put our heroes in one of the greatest Bond Villain traps known to man. He’s even got an awesome song devoted to his greatness. Ratigan is great.

Also, for a largely comedic film, The Great Mouse Detective has some pretty inspired action, mostly in its final moments. The highlight of all of this is by far the Big Ben sequence. The Great Mouse Detective was one of the first major animated films to use computer animation within its running time, and it is used to full effect. The interior of Big Ben is completely CG animated, and it looks great, and actually adds to the sequence. For the comfy the film has, I love that the dramatic moment, the climax, actually feels dramatic. It adds so much to the fun of the film.

You may have noticed that I consistently use the word Fun when describing the Great Mouse Detective, and that’s really the greatest thing about this film. It’s a ton of fun to watch. Nearly every moment of the film is extremely enjoyable, save for one or two minor scenes, which is in all honesty are still good. The Great Mouse Detective ranks among my most underrated Disney films because of its great quality.

I do greatly appreciate the use of Basil Rathbone’s voice from one of his classic Sherlock Holmes performances for the Sherlock Holmes cameo. Just a fun moment for a geek like me.

WEAKNESSES

Honestly, the film doesn’t have a ton of glaring weaknesses. What puts it just outside of the Top 25 is that everything in this film is great, but it needed a bit more in each great aspect to turn it into a classic. The sleuthing in the film is great, but it could use a bit more mystery solving. The relationship between Basil and Dawson is great, but it could use one or two more scenes of them playing off of each other’s strengths and finding themselves perfect for each other. Ratigan is a great villain, but we could be shown a bit more of his planning to get a great sense of his criminal mastery. This goes on and on. The film is great, but it is only great. As we reach the Top 25, the best of the best, just being great all the way through is only going to get you so far.

That isn’t to say that the film is perfectly great. One scene that always bothered me is the film’s second of two songs “Let Me Be Good to You,” which is sung at a bar where Basil and Dawson are undercover looking for Ratigan. The song is fine and dandy, but it has nothing to do with the plot, does nothing to build the characters, and is sung by a character that has never appeared before and will never appear again. The time spent on this song could have spent making that Dawson and Basil relationship become the classic relationship it could have been. It’s a very minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

And with the quality of films in the Top 25, you better get used to this style of weakness section.

(Also, since Alan Young has always been Scrooge McDuck for me, it is very odd to hear him as the voice of the toymaker father.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best song is no doubt “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind.” Not only is a catchy tune with great lyrics, but it does wonders in introducing us to Ratigan and all of his glory.

There are many scenes I could have chosen for Best Scene, including the two Basil scenes I mentioned in my earlier Basil rave. However, since I already shared those with you, the best scene becomes the climax, the chase through the skies of London and the fight through Big Ben.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Great Mouse Detective is high on my list of underrated Disney features. Save for one or two minor faults, the film is great all the way through, with a fantastic set of characters and some great humor, alongside the great homages to the classic stories it is inspired by. I could just imagine how great a TV series would have been with these characters, that is how much I love them. Though it could do more in all of its aspects, it is still a film I highly recommend. Discover the wonders of Basil and Ratigan for yourself. Don’t leave yourself in a mystery.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 28: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

” So, here is a riddle to guess if you can, sing the bells of Notre Dame: What makes a monster and what makes a man? Whatever their pitch, you feel them bewitch you, the rich and the ritual knells of the bells of Notre Dame.” – Clopin

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is another film that is part of that famous Disney Renaissance era, as most of you readers probably already know. Hunchback, hot of the heels of Pocahontas’s release in 1995, was the second film in the short subsection of the era where Disney attempted to make more serious and dramatic films in their animation department. And just like Pocahontas, Hunchback comes from a source material that one could possibly argue is questionable material for a Disney adaptation. Hunchback is actually remembered as one of the most adult and “dark” Disney films ever put into the canon.

Adapted from the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, The Hunchback of Notre Dame follows the story of Quasimodo, the bell ringer of the famous church. He is taken care of by Frollo, who accidentally killed Quasimodo’s father as a child, and was ordered by the Archdeacon to raise Quasimodo as his own in order to repent for his sins. While Frollo dreams of ridding Paris of corruption, Quasimodo dreams of spending one day in the outside world. He gets this opportunity during the annual Festival of Fools. After he is embarrassed by the crowd, he is protected by the beautiful Gypsy Esmerelda. Esmerelda soon finds herself the subject of Frollo’s wrath, and is only able to escape it by finding sanctuary in the Church. She and Quasimodo bond, as Frollo obsesses over Esmerelda. As Frollo rampages through Paris attempting to find an escaped Esmerelda, Quasimodo and friendly soldier Phoebus must protect her and save the outcasts of Paris.

STRENGTHS

There are a certain number of Disney Animated films that I can say I appreciated more as I’ve grown older. Hunchback is one of those film. You hear a ton about how dark the tone of the film is, especially compared to other Disney works, and I certainly agree that the film may have some moments inappropriate for Children. However, as I said in the first post, I am looking at the films as I see them today. And as I see it today? Hunchback is a film that would only work with this tone, and work with this tone it does. Hunchback as a ton of strong and memorable moments that come through its ability to play off of its tone.

One aspect that works with the tone is the film’s villain, Frollo. Frollo ranks up there among the most purely evil Disney characters, and yet his lust for Esmerelda makes him a complex Disney villain. Frollo is a great villain, capturing your attention from the moment he appears, He is engaging, scary, memorable, and well acted. Frollo is the perfect example of this film’s strength, and to the end, is a charismatic, engaging character. Tony Jay gives the performance of a lifetime in the role, culminating in the song, “Hellfire.”

“Hellfire” is one of the most infamous songs in Disney history, and with a subject matter of Frollo’s burning desire for Esmerelda, it can’t be anything else. Thanks to Tony Jay’s stunning performance, fantastic imagery, and clever lyrics that truly show the emotion of Frollo, Hellfire works on a number of levels. Sure, it may not be the most family friendly song in Disney history, but it is an extremely powerful number.

In fact, Hunchback is full of extremely strong numbers. I would estimate that Hunchback is one of the most underrated soundtracks in Disney history. The music is a little bit more stage-like and Broadwayesque than other Disney films, and there is a higher number of slower songs, and that’s why it may be a bit forgotten, but it is full of strong, powerful songs. Alongside “Hellfire”, highlights include “Topsy Turvey,” “Out There,” and “God Help the Outcasts.” Another aspect of the soundtrack I really like is the use of contrast through song. Right before “Hellfire,” for example, Quasimodo sings a song about Esmerelda called “Heaven’s Light.” Right before “Out There,”  Frollo sings to Quasimodo about his faults. Alan Menken is really able to do a ton with the tone.

And all of this is before mentioning the score. This is a really good score. The use of Religious Latin Chants throughout the film are brilliant, and it uses the inspiration from the songs to create some great tracks. This is especially true during the film’s more intense sequences, where the intensity of “Hellfire” is matched and the music adds a ton to the emotion of the scene.

A final note on the strengths will return to the character front. Quasimodo and Esmerelda are great characters that are simple enough to understand, yet have some complexities around them. I really like how the two stories and their desire to fit in connect and play off of each other. They are extremely likable, which is great for a film of this tone.

WEAKNESSES

The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s mature tone can work against it in some spots, but it may not be in the way you initially think. I think you can sense a bit of fear in the film that it is too mature, and so there are scattered bits throughout the film of more lighthearted bits. For every “Hellfire,” there is a sequence where George Costanza makes a fart joke. There are some Disney films that use this method effectively (The Lion King comes to mind). It doesn’t work as well with Hunchback because the tone is so starkly different. That isn’t to say that it didn’t need humor, because it does. The humor just needed to be a bit more subtle.

This humor causes the occasional pacing glitch, especially when concerning the Gargoyles, the weakest link of the film. This glitch can be either a one line moment or an entire song. Right in the middle of Frollo’s stunning rampage through Paris, the Gargoyles sing a extremely comedic song for Quasimodo, and right afterwards, Frollo returns to his rampage. It’s not necessarily a bad song, but it just doesn’t fit in the moment. Later, the gargoyles little moments in the climatic final battle are a constant annoyance rather than a funny moment. Again, I’m not saying that they should be removed from the film completely, but they needed to have a different style of humor in order to fit.

And for as strong Frollo, Esmerelda, and Quasimodo are, there are some other characters that could be stronger. Clopin, in my opinion, is sorely underused. He is the perfect mix of subtlety and over the top that the film could have used more of, and some of the best parts of the film involve him. Phoebus is not a terrible character, but compared to the rest of the cast, he seems to be just a witty pretty boy. I do appreciate the fact that he is good from the beginning even though he is on the “wrong” side, unlike John Smith, but I just wanted more from him.

Finally, a minor note on a major part of the film. I like the love triangle between Quasimodo, Esmerelda, and Phoebus, and the Quasimodo-Esmerelda relationship is strong. The Phoebus-Esmerelda relationship is good, but it could be much stronger. I like how their contrast makes them the perfect match, but I wanted to see it built more. It could have been a classic Disney romance, but instead it is just a good Disney romance.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

To be perfectly honest, I could easily just say that “Hellfire” is my favorite scene and favorite song, partly because it is. But because I just gushed about it in the Strengths section, I’ll share a few more moments instead.

“Topsy Turvey” is arguable the film’s next strongest song, and is one of the few moments to fully utilize Clopin. I like the build throughout the song for both Quasimodo and Esmerelda, and it has some fun visuals as well.

I think the strongest non musical sequence in the film is Esmerelda’s first real meeting with Quasimodo, and her subsequent escape. It’s really the scene that hammers home the film’s message most, and is a great character relationship builder.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first true indicator that The Disney Canon was extremely strong. This is one of the films that has continued to rise from its initial ranking because of its strengths in numerous aspects. As it kept rising, I thought it would be able to creep into the Top 25, among the best of the absolute best. Once we got to this point, however, and I looked at my list and I saw the caliber of films that we have upcoming, even in the very next ranking, I realized that this is where the journey would have to stop.  Hunchback is very strong, but it has just enough glitches to put it behind films that are stronger. This is still a “Wow” factor in my head. If this is where Hunchback falls, the Top 25 is going to be a lot of fun.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 29: The Emperor’s New Groove

“Squeakity squeak, squeakin’.” – Kronk

This is amazing. We are not even are the Top 25 yet, and I’m already watching films where I’m having trouble finding strong enough weaknesses. The quality of the Disney canon is quite remarkable.

The Emperor’s New Groove certainly has the most interesting development history of any film in the canon. The film was originally known as Kingdom of the Sun, and was supposed to be an Incan take on the classic Prince and the Pauper story in the grand dramatic Disney Musical style that was a staple of the 1990s, with music by the world-famous Sting. As the production wore on, the story started to have great trouble, and a screening with 50% of the film finished garnered a very poor response. Soon, the director was fired, the script was rewritten, and the once dramatic Disney Musical transformed into the zany, over the top comedy you know and possibly love today. Kuzco, Yzma, a heavily altered version of Pacha, the Llama transformation, and David Spade are the only aspect that were kept from the original idea. You could have seen an extremely different film.

The story of The Emperor’s New Groove follows the young emperor of the Incan empire, Kuzco, who one faithful day alerts the peasant Pacha that the hill where he lives will become Kuzco’s new Summer Home, while also firing his advisor Yzma and her assistant, Kronk, for posing as the emperor herself. For revenge, Yzma plans to poison Kuzco and take over the empire. Due to a mistake made by Kronk, Kuzco is actually given a potion that transforms him into a llama. Kronk is then tasked at disposing of the body, but one guilt ridden change of heart later, Kronk accidentally places Kuzco on Pacha’s kart. When Pacha discovers Kuzco, Kuzco decides he has to return to the palace, and attempts to go at it alone, but soon finds he might need Pacha’s help to get there. Meanwhile, Yzma discovers Kronk’s misdeed, and sets off with Kronk to make sure the job is finished herself.

STRENGTHS

This film was transformed into a comedy throughout its production process, and in the end, the film does what it’s changed self set out to do. It has some very, very funny sections, especially in its middle section. Each character has their strong comedic moment and their quotable moments. There are so many quotable moments in this film, moments that you take with you. That’s a sign of a good comedy.

It’s not just moments though. Many of the film’s funniest moments are not one-liners but how humorous scenes build and succeed for an extended amount of time. That’s also a sign of a good comedy. The diner scene, the “family reunion” scene, and the hanging off the bridge scene are just a few examples of the fantastic way the film is able to keep entire scene active and hilarious. It’s great that you have both the one liners and the great scenes.

Many of the film’s best and most quotable moments come from Kronk, fantastically voiced by Mr. Patrick Warburton. This was my first introduction to Patrick, before David Puddy, Soarin’ Flight Attendant, and Joe Swanson, so Warburton will always be Kronk first to me. Anyways Kronk is no doubt the absolute funniest character in the movie, and has so many fantastic character quirks. Kronk is one of the reason I keep coming back to this movie. He plays off all the other characters very well, he is simple yet brilliant, he has awesome shoulder angels, and he can speak squirrel. Riiiiiiiiight.

Of course, the main characters have to be good too. Luckily, the relationship between Kuzco and Pacha really works. Again, it all comes down to contrast. Pacha and Kuzco play so well off of each other that it not only creates tension, but ends up create a great relationship. Kuzco is at his strongest when with Pacha, and many of his best moments are quotes towards Pacha. Pacha himself has a good enough emotional core that we care about him and care about him teaching Kuzco a lesson. One of the great modern Disney Bromances.

I mentioned the middle section at the beginning, but I want to say that the middle of film is no doubt the strongest section. You hear about the second act slump, where the second act is hard because you need to get the audience to care once they know the character’s goals. New Groove does that pretty well by becoming a tour de force of relationships and humor. Everything between Kuzco discovering his llama form to his reuniting with Pacha and the “family reunion” are great, with most of it eclipsing great and going into excellent mode.

WEAKNESSES

The beginning and ending of the film, however, have some issues. Let’s begin with the beginning. Makes sense, right? Anyways, the beginning of the film is a bit too slow, both on the pacing side and on the jokes side. Outside of parts of the opening song, Kronk, and one brilliant section from Yzma (“AND I WILL SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!”), there is not a ton of material there that’s memorable or strong. The best part of the beginning, again outside of Kronk, is the set up of Pacha’s Emotional attachments, which comes very much towards the middle of the film. There just needed to be more ooomph in the beginning.

The beginning of the film also demonstrates a bit of a weakness within Kuzco. Without Pacha to play his jokes off of, he isn’t that strong of a character. Surprisingly enough, he doesn’t really do well when paired against Yzma or Kronk. Kuzco doesn’t really pick up for me until he wakes up and discovers he is a llama, which coincidently is also the turning point of the film to me. After that, he is good, but again, it is because he has a good straight man to play off of.

I have mixed feelings about the third act. The third act is stronger than the first act, and at times is almost as strong as the middle act the comes before it. I really like the call backs to both Kronk’s Shoulder Angels and the climbing together, and I am a sucker for the random, fourth wall breaking humor that the film gives us in one of its funniest moments. However, once Kronk disappears, the whole thing starts going downhill. (Coincidence? I THINK NOT!). Once Yzma becomes a kitten, much of the drama and stakes are  lost, and the film pulls out one too many Deus ex Machinas out of its behind. The film needed to take itself seriously for just a moment. Just one tiny, simple moment.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Though the musical aspect was eventually dropped, the movie does have one musical sequence: the opening number, “Kuzco.” By default, it wins. I’m not trying to shortchange the song, however. It has its moments.

There are so many scenes in this film I could choose at it’s best, but I am going to highlight the diner sequence. It’s hilarious, shows off all of the character’s best aspects, and has them all playing with each other without actually doing it, a brilliant move.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The next film is the one where the strength of the Disney canon really showed to me, but this was the start of it. The Emperor’s New Groove is another one of those films that I wish I could rank higher. It’s fun and funny, with some classic characters and gags that easily become part of your comedy lexicon. Even with some of the faults in the first and third act, New Groove is able to work extremely well. Considering the fact that this film is completely different from its original vision, that’s quite an accomplishment. It just turns out that the rest of the canon is so strong that it falls in the 29 spot. Don’t let that get you down. If you haven’t seen it, learn some squirrel and laugh a little.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 30: The Rescuers Down Under

“Du-duty? Well, I never thought of it… Well, okay, how does… next April sound?” – Bernard

” Heavens, no! We must act immediately, tonight!” – Bianca

“To-tonight? But Bianca, this is so sudden, I mean… don’t you at least need… a gown or something?” – Bernard

“No, just some khaki shorts and some hiking boots!” – Bianca

The Rescuers Down Under is sort of the “Odd Film Out” within the group of films released in the 1990s Renaissance Era. It is not a musical, the only canon film of the 1990s to be so, it takes place in contemporary society and is not based on a fairy tale or other mythological tale, and it was the first sequel to a single story film in the canon. (The Three Caballeros and Fantasia 2000 also fall more into the “spiritual successor” category than the sequel category anyways, though Winnie the Pooh will be considered an official sequel.) The Rescuers Down Under, released in 1990, comes 13 years after the original film, The Rescuers. This wasn’t the first attempt at a Rescuers sequel. Oliver and Company was originally intended to be a spinoff of the original film, and another sequel was planned around 1996 before being scrapped. It is also known as being the first film to use the CAPS animation system, which would give the 1990s its defining animation look.

The Rescuers Down Under, as the name implies, takes our heroes to the Australian Outback, where a young boy named Cody constantly explores the Wilderness, having the unique ability to communicate with animals. On one particular day, Cody befriends a rare, Golden Eagle, but soon afterwards is kidnapped by a local poacher, Percival McLeach, who dreams of using the eagle’s rarity for his own monetary gain. A mouse witnesses the events, and proceeds to alert the Rescue Aid Society in order to achieve their help. The heroes of the first film, Bernard and Bianca, are assigned the mission, interrupting Bernard desire to propose to Mrs. Bianca. Together with Wilbur, their transportation and brother to the original film’s Orville, and Jake, the local RAS agent, the two once again partner up to save a young child.

STRENGTHS

The Rescuers Down Under is able to parlay some of the strengths of the first film into this one. One area where this movement is evident in through our returning characters, Bianca and Bernard. Both characters are in top form in this film, and are just as enjoyable in this film as they were in original. Part of the reason why this works is that Bernard and Bianca work just as well here as they did in the 1970s. They never feel out-of-place or out of time. Bernard, performed by Bob Newhart for the second time, once again stands out, and his nervous bravery is always a fun trait.

The mice, alongside Jake, have some fun adventures in the outback. For as much screen time as it gets, their story, on its own, has some very good moments. Again mentioning Bernard as a highlight, his main arc works well, with his infatuation with the love of his life and his rivalry with Jack work very well for his character, and give him the most to work with among the trio. Outside of Cody, he is the character you care most about, and for good reason. Bernard is a great character, and it is good to have him show it for the second time.

The Cody and McLeach story by itself is pretty well done. McLeach is the glue that keeps this relationship greatly at odds. McLeach is intimidating, outspoken, and convincing, and does a good enough job to succeed as the villain. One of the best things about him is his unapologetic love for this craft, so to speak. It doesn’t make him the deepest character. but this attitude does give him some fun moments. He especially plays well off of his partner in crime and pet, Joanne. All of the scenes in the film with McLeach are ones you want to pay attention to, even his comedy scenes. I also appreciate the fact that he has a beer belly. A great touch there, design team.

The film does a good job at playing up the antagonistic relationship between McLeach and Cody. McLeach’s obsession with the Golden Eagle and Cody’s true care for the creature really create some good conflict and good scenes. While Cody is not as great as Penny was in The Rescuers, he is able to prove himself as a smart character who really cares for what he believes, which helps in getting the audience to care for him as a character.

The film does have some good action, in particular the non climatic types of action. One scene of note is when Cody first meets the Golden Eagle and frees her. This brief section involving Cody gliding on the Eagle is really neat, stunningly animated, and exhilarating, which is great considering that fact that it is not a chase scene or a climatic action piece. Another small moment like this is when Wilbur attempts to land on Jake’s too small runway. These small moments are some of the film’s best, and it is the attention to making every moment great is what makes this film fun.

WEAKNESSES

This film is full of great moments. As mentioned above, both the Cody storyline and the Rescuers storyline are entertaining and have fun character moments. The problem is the very fact that I have to mention these storylines separately. The Rescuers and Cody don’t actually connect until the film’s final minutes, which means that throughout the entire rest of the film, the two storylines are unconnected.

This film has a weird similarity to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, in that, when the storylines are looked at a separate entities, they are strong, and in this case, extremely strong. When put together, however, there is this feeling of disconnect between them. Unlike in the first film, Bernard and Bianca are not around to see much of what is happening with Cody and McLeach. It feels like there are two separate movies going on here, where the events are loosely connected to each other, which finally end in a crossover. Mind you, these would be two good movies, but they would feel separate nonetheless.

Also, for a film about The Rescuers, there isn’t as much of them as you’d think. In fact, the film spends much more time around Cody and McLeach than around the Rescuers. Cody and McLeach actually steal the show from Bernard and Bianca due to the fact that they have much more show around them. Mix this in with the occasional cut-away to Wilbur’s antics in a hospital, and you’ve got even less time on-screen for our heroes When you go to see a film about The Rescuers, you expect The Rescuers to feature. It’s even more disappointing considering how strong the sections with the Mice are.

Also, not a ton of rescuing by them either. In fact, Cody is smart enough to rescue himself the first time through, even if it does barely fail. Whereas in the first film, the mice are constantly involved in trying to free Penny, here, the journey aspect of the film doesn’t allow them to be there at all. This causes the Rescuers to be entertaining, but not doing much until the film’s third act.

Speaking of not doing much, my final gripe is the disappointing use of Jake. Jake has a pretty good introduction as a smart adventurer stuck manning the RAS Australian runway. It shows his skills as well as his personality very well. However, as soon as he sees Bianca, it all goes down the drain, and he transforms into just a character for Bernard to be jealous of. Jake had great potential to have an arc of his own, and could have become his own character in this film. While he certainly is able to alter Bernard, Bernard never really has an effect on him.

(Actually, two more quick gripes: Though the Australian Outback is awesome to look at, there isn’t enough of the culture in the film to help justify its use as a setting, and the film ends much too abruptly, without so much as a wrap up from any of the characters.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Rescuers Down Under is one of the few films in Disney history to feature absolutely no songs whatsoever. The score is good, but I wish it used a bit for Australian influence.

The film’s best scene is a combination of Cody’s first meeting with the Golden Eagle, and his first encounter with McLeach. It’s a great start to the film, even if it contributes to the overexposure of Cody and McLeach.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Rescuers Down Under, even though it truly is the black sheep of the Disney 90s, is full of strong moments. The two distinct storylines each have their wonderful moments in both character and plot. However, these two storylines fail to connect in a way that gives the film one unified form, and there are little issues with Character exposure and characters themselves. The film is way down under from the quality of its predecessor, but it is still strong enough to be placed at spot 30.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 31: Saludos Amigos

“Here’s an unusual expedition: artists, musicians and writers setting out for a trip through Latin America to find new personalities, music and dances for their cartoon films. So, adios, Hollywood, and saludos, amigos.” – Narrator

Saludos Amigos is the third package film we are looking at, and the first one made. It is one of the two “South America” films that were made as a part of the Good Neighbor Program set up by the United States government. The Good Neighbor Program was an effort by the U.S. to make friendly relations with South America, introducing the culture to both sides of the border, in order to prevent a potential alliance between South America and The Axis Powers of Europe. Walt and his animators were one of the chosen groups of head down and find material for a potential series of films. The two films that Walt created are probably the most famous things to come out of the Good Neighbor Program.

Saludos Amigos consists of four segments, each representing a different South American country. Each segment is introduced with live action shots of the country at hand and small explanation of the culture, with the exception of the second segment. The film begins in Lake Titicaca, on the border of Bolivia and Peru, where Donald Duck explores the culture and the high mountains surrounding the area. The film shifts over to a group of animators in Chile, who become inspired by the famous Andes Mountains and create the story of a young mail plane named Pedro. Next on the list is Argentina, where the life of a Gaucho is uncovered, with a little help from our old pal Goofy. The film ends in the largest country in South America, Brazil, introducing use to Jose Carioca, his relationship with Donald Duck, and his love for the samba.

STRENGTHS

The film is gosh darn entertaining all the way through. All four segments are wonderful, hilarious, and strong throughout their entirety. Unlike the previous Package Films we have seen, the weakness of the film do not come from weak segments or segments that fall out by the end. You’ve got four extremely entertaining shorts here, and it is a wonderful thing. They are shorts that you don’t mind watching over and over and over again. They stand together on their own, yet are very well connected for this package film.

You can count the number of Disney films featuring Mickey’s Gang on your hands, and Saludos Amigos is one of those films. Here, they use them to the absolute fullest effect they can, and it is a brilliant way to introduce and bridge the American and South American cultures. The strongest parts of the film are those featuring Donald and Goofy, and Goofy especially. In fact, if this Goofy section had been released as a short, I would probably rank it very high in the list of Goofy shorts, and that is a huge compliment. This is also one of the few films in the canon where the classic Disney Narrator/Character juxtaposition and interaction that is a stable of the Goofy shorts is present, and as always, it is hilarious and brilliant.

Donald Duck will later star in the sequel to this film, but hints of his great connection to South America are seen here. The Lake Titicaca segment is perfectly Donald, and it’s great to see him and the new character Jose Carioca interact in the final segment, even if it is for way too short of a time together. One of the things I love about this film, from an American point of view, is that the hilarious moments of Donald and Goofy never overshadow the lesson at hand. The characters and the setting work together to create something perfectly entertaining and educational.

You would think that the live action, educational segments would be boring and unappealing, but in reality, there is just enough to keep it interesting, and before it even has a chance to get  tedious, it switches to the animated segment. Personally, I find these looks into South American culture fascinating. This semi-documentary style is unique to this film, and I think it really works. For three of the segments I get enough taste of the culture where I feel that I learned something and was still entertained. The narration is very well written, and easily transitions into the animated segments. I would say that Saludos Amigos has the strongest connections between segments of any Disney Package Film.

WEAKNESSES

It’s way too short.

No, that’s not all I’m going to say on the matter. The fact is, Saludos Amigos is the shortest film in the canon by a landslide. In total, from start to finish, it only runs for 42 mintues. That’s a short, short film. I love this film to death, but it’s length always leaves me wanting more. I’ve watched this film so many times, and yet I always feel like a lot more could have been done and explored in this film. Luckily, the second film, The Three Caballeros, picks up the slack, but it doesn’t excuse this film’s shortness.

While all of the segments are entertaining and awesome in their own way, they still have some issues. The Chile/Pedro segment is good in terms of being entertaining and fun, but it doesn’t represent the culture of Chile as well as the other segments do. I know the film gives the excuse that cameras were not allowed in the country, but this is an animated film. The culture could have easily been represented in a different and unique way. Also, while the Pedro segment is entertaining, it doesn’t actually explore an aspect of the Chile culture like the Lake Titicaca, Argentina, and Brazil segments do. It just dramatizes the Andes. It is still a good segment, but feels a bit out-of-place, and disappointingly so.

The Animated segment of Brazil also has a bit of an issue. It’s beautifully animated, designed, and has a great use of Donald Duck, and introduces us to the character of Jose Carioca. The problem is that the character part of the segment goes by way too quickly. Jose is such a strong character with a fantastic design and personality, but he is introduced to us with only 5 minutes left in the feature. There is no time for him to really introduce us to neither himself nor his home country of Brazil. It’s a shame really, and luckily we will see a lot more of him in The Three Caballeros.

Nothing really happens in the Brazil segment, which is a shame since the live action lead in to the segment presents us with a potentially wonderful segment. The other three segments in the film are short too, but I feel they are packed with a lot more substance, especially the Lake Titicaca and Argentina Segments. I wish the Brazil segment was a bit longer, especially since it is the closing number. The film should have gone out with a bang. It’s not like the film is running long anyways. Another 5 minutes could have done great things for the segment. The segment is still strong, but it has some tiny weaknesses that plague it.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Even though I just chastised the Brazil segment, it does have a brilliant number attached to it, “Aquerela do Brasil” (AKA “Watercolor of Brazil).

The best segment is the Gaucho Goofy section representing Argentina. It is classic Goofy in the fullest, and as mentioned above, as strong as any Goofy short.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I love Saludos Amigos. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and a film I love to introduce to others. It’s easy ability to share comes in the fact that the film is only 42 minutes long. There is much that is strong with this film, especially the Lake Titicaca and Argentina segments. Unfortunately, the length and smaller issues with the other two segments lead you wanting a lot more from this film. I love this film, and it’s only at 31. That should tell you the quality of the films we will be seeing the rest of the way through.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 32: The Princess and the Frog

“You know, if you are going to let every little thing bother you, it is going to be a very long night!” – Naveen

(This quote isn’t so much a description of my thoughts on the film, but more a comment on myself as a reviewer.)

The Princess and the Frog was Disney’s triumphant return to the realm of Traditional Animation. The first major project started after the buyout of Pixar, the Princess and the Frog, helmed once again by everyone’s favorite directors, Ron and John, did all it could to recapture the magic that defined the Renaissance of the 1990s. This would be the first in a new wave of traditionally animated films by Disney, and it was announced that the goal would be to see a new traditional film every 2 years.The Princess and the Frog was released in 2009, and marked the true beginning of the next era of Disney Animation.

The Princess and the Frog takes the classic tale of the princess needing to kiss a frog and transplants it into 1920s era New Orleans. Tiana, a young independent black woman, dreams of opening a restaurant. She finally get the opportunity when her best friend, Charlotte, pays her to cater a ball her father is hosting for the arrival of Prince Naveen. Naveen, having just been disowned by his family for not working, plans to marry into a rich family in order to regain his lifestyle. His plans go array when he tricked by a voodoo witch doctor, Dr. Facilier, and is transformed into a Frog, while his butler is given Naveen’s normal appearance. At the party, Tiana is informed that she is not going to be able to obtain the building she desired for her restaurant. Dejected, she runs off by herself, and runs into Naveen. Naveen offers Tiana money if she kisses him, but the plan backfires, and Tiana is also transformed into a frog. The two end up in the Bayou, where they meet cajun firefly Ray and trumpet playing alligator Louis, who help them to meet Mama Odie, who holds the key to transforming them back. Facilier, however, knows that his plans to take over New Orleans rest in keeping Naveen a frog, and he uses his power to try to stop their journey.

STRENGTHS

This is another Disney film where much of its Strength comes from its side characters. The Bayou characters, Ray and Louis, are very energetic, memorable, and have fun interactions with the rest of the cast. Ray in particular is presented so well that his sacrifice at the end of the film actually causes a very emotional response within the audience. Jim Cummings does a wonderful voice acting job with Ray. Louis has a fun gimmick with his trumpet playing dreams, and helps to further the New Orleans feeling.

You know who really steals the show, though? Charlotte. Charlotte comes out of absolutely nowhere to steal nearly every scene she is in. My favorite part of her character is the fact that she has all the signs of that pompous, self loving diva, yet she is the absolute nicest person in the world. Jennifer Cody (who would actually go on to win an award for this role) knocks the performance out of the park in one of the absolutely best voice performances of the past 10 years. A very surprising breakout character, but I’ll take it.

The journeys of Tiana and Naveen are well-defined and make sense. I really like how the film presents both of their views on life as extremely faulted. By making Tiana and Naveen see life at the extreme opposite of the spectrum, it really allows for them to change each other and for them to grow. Naveen’s arc in particular is very good, and I certainly see how Tiana’s philosophy has a major effect on his character.

Naveen is a very likable character, only partly because he has an awesome accent. His vibrant personality is enjoyable, and he never comes off as a jerk, which is a mistake that could have easily been made. His laziness never turns into something that turns you off from him. Naveen is no doubt the stronger of the two main characters.

Finally, while I am not normally a fan of Randy Newman, I must admit that The Princess and the Frog has a pretty strong soundtrack. While “Friends on the Other Side” and “Gonna Take You There” are only strong in sections and not as a whole, “Down in New Orleans,” “When We’re Human,” and “My Belle Evangeline” use the jazz influence to the max.

WEAKNESSES

While the difference in enjoyment of characters is not as drastic as it was in The Aristocats, The Princess and the Frog does suffer from the same sort of weakness. Tiana and Naveen overall just are not the strongest of characters. They certainly improve when together on-screen, but as individuals, they tend to falter. A major reason for this is that we never really given the background on these characters, and thus we are not given much reason to care about them. I mean, when most of the exposition and background for Naveen comes from the villain during the villain’s song, there is a bit of an issue.

The Princess and the Frog does a lot of “Telling, not Showing” to build these characters, and this is especially true for Tiana. We are told she has the extreme drive to fulfill her father’s dreams, and that she feels that working hard is the only way to go, but we are never shown why she has this drive. Sure, we see her with her father in her youth, but then we are just told that her father died in service. Why did this drive her to be the person she is today, especially since her father told her never to forget about family? While “Almost There” is a catchy song, it fails to give us a true look at the character’s desires the way “Part of your World” and “Belle” do. When we are not able to understand her point of view, it becomes very hard to care for her. In fact, she almost becomes unlikable at some points because we see her being so stubborn without knowing why she is so stubborn.

Part of the issue is that the film spends way too much time following the two as frogs. Yes, I get that the film is based on the fact that they become frogs, but there is so much of it that the film being to drag in the middle. There is a ton of fluff throughout these segments that could have been cut out for some more introduction to Tiana and Naveen. The Frog Hunters sequence is a good example of this. The segment does not help build Tiana or Naveen, and it is a “Lighten the Mood” scene at a point where the mood did not need to be lightened. Almost 7 minutes this sequence takes up could have been used to show an extra scene in Tiana’s Childhood, or to give more of an introduction to Prince Naveen, while also honeslty quickening the pace of the film’s second half.

We have another weak Disney Villain with Dr. Facilier. He has all the potential of a great Disney Villain, with the cool gimmick and the fun yet evil personality. He falls, however, because his plans are way too vague. There’s maybe one sentence about how his plan will help take over New Orleans. But why is New Orleans so important to him? What is the nature of his relationship with his Friends on the Other Side? If this plan is life or death to him, why was he wasting time doing petty tricks on the street? With this character, the stakes never feel high, and it feels like they just pushed the “Take Over New Orleans” part in to try to raise them. It also doesn’t help that he has very little interaction with the protagonists, as his strongest scenes are when he is manipulating Tiana and Naveen.

I don’t mention a score unless it is very good or very bad. Well, The Princess and the Frog is a good example of why I dislike Randy Newman. The score is disconnected, unmemorable, and underplayed. The difference in quality between the songs and the score is absolutely shocking.

Finally, a nitpick. I really hate the name for this film. It makes no sense and is misleading. It really should be The Frog Prince.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

This is another film where the best moment is also a song. “My Belle Evangeline” is my favorite moment of the film. It is a memorable bonding between Naveen and Tiana, and a wonderful moment for Ray.

The best song is the film’s opening number “Down in New Orleans,” sung by music legend Dr. John. The song is just catchy, and Dr. John’s vocals add a lot to the song. It really sets the mood well for the story.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I adored The Princess and the Frog when it first released because I was extremely happy that the classic Disney animation of the past had returned. As I’ve seen the film more times, however, I certainly see more of it’s faults. The film is still extremely enjoyable with good music and memorable side characters, and the Tiana-Naveen relationships has its strengths. I just wish that a little bit more time had been given to developing these characters, and that the film would have picked up the pace in the second half. Still, Disney Animation is back in form, and I love it.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 33: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

“Christopher Robin, can you make a one-hero party into a two-hero party?” – Winnie the Pooh

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is the Unofficial Package Film. It is the only package style film to not have a release in the 1940s. The film was released in 1977, during another period of time where the financial fortunes of the Disney Studio were not the best it could be. Winnie the Pooh is unique in that, unlike any of the package films before it or anything that would come after it, it is actually composed of the three previously released Winnie the Pooh shorts from the decade before the film’s release. All of the other package films, and all the other Disney films, for that matter, feature at least 95% original content.

The three Winnie the Pooh shorts in the film are presented in order of their original release. Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, released in 1966, tells the story of Pooh’s exploits to achieve honey, including disguising himself as a rain cloud, and paying a visit to Rabbit. Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day, released in 1968, introduces us to Tigger, shows us Pooh’s haunting dream about Heffalumps and Woozles, and has our characters deal with a flood creating Rainstorm. The final short, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, was originally released in 1974, and gives us both Rabbit’s attempts to humble Tigger, and the adventures of Tigger and little Roo.

STRENGTHS

The Winnie the Pooh shorts are regarded as classics in the minds of many, and well, they are classics. Though I’m not going to call them the best shorts Disney ever made, because they are not, each segment does have at least one or two memorable moments that define the Winnie the Pooh. There is a reason that Winnie the Pooh keeps coming back, including the new film coming out very soon.

One of the reason that these characters keep coming back is because they are extremely classic characters. Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Owl, and the gang are a fun group that are unique in that they can each play off the other in a completely different way. The Tigger-Pooh dynamic is very different from the Tigger-Rabbit dynamic, which is very different from the Tigger-Roo relationship. This is proof that the characters have unique qualities, interesting personalities, and quirks that you care about. The characters also work extremely well for the shorts style, yet can be expanded for feature-length work. A very versatile group indeed.

I’ve always thought that Tigger was the best character to come out of the Winnie the Pooh franchise, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh does nothing to disprove my belief. Tigger is an extremely fun character with a catchy song, memorable catchphrases, and a defining personality. His scenes are some of the best the shorts have to offer. You can’t help but to smile whenever Tigger is on-screen.

I give the film credit for a having good content, but most of the best content comes from the middle segment, Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day. The only Pooh short to win the Oscar, Blustery Day is chock full of wonderful moments. The scene between Tigger and Pooh, The Heffalumps and Woozles dream, Owl’s speech to a floating Piglet and Pooh, and Eyeore’s journey to find Owl a home all combine for a highly memorable segment.

Within the 5 minutes of original material, the film does include a heartwarming scene between Christopher Robin and Pooh at the end, dealing with Christopher Robin going away to school. It gives me chills, and just leaves me begging for more new Pooh Material within the film.

Finally, the Winnie the Pooh shorts feature some of the premier Sherman Brothers tunes, even if the songs are a little on the short side. Many of the best songs come from Blustery Day, including “Heffalumps and Woozles” and “The Rain Rain Rain Came Down Down Down, ” but the other segments have classics too.

Also thanks to reader Andrew for reminding me that this is our third Sterling Holloway appearance. It was really silly for me to forget this since this is arguably Sterling Holloway’s biggest role yet! I guess Winnie the Pooh is so distinct to me that I completely forgot!  Sterling Holloway Count: 3

(An extra note: One of my favorite parts of Pooh is the references to the fact that they are in a book, and that they have a narrator. I love fourth wall breaking humor.)

WEAKNESSES

I debated for a long time where this film would be placed on the list, whether or not I would place it closer to the top 25 or lower it closer to the bottom ten. The reason I debate this film’s placement more than any other film? It’s hard for me to rank this film high when only 5 minutes of material was create specifically for the film. When putting into consideration the films we still need to talk about, all of which are 100% full of original content (the lone exception being Fantasia 2000), I just can’t say this film is above any of those when the three shorts were released years apart, rather than being created specifically for the film.

My issue with the content isn’t just a ranking fairness dilemma. I feel that, because the films were released in different years, there is a small difference in tone, style, and character between the shorts. This is because, with the shorts comings years apart instead of being a part of the same film, the characters are able to evolve in the minds of the creators, and through different creative teams. The character of Winnie the Pooh changed a bit between 1966 and 1968. The bee tricking, honey mooching Pooh in Honey Tree differs from the protective, friendship loving Pooh from Blustery Day, the definitive and modern day Pooh. The evolution of the Pooh character gives the audience a weird vibe when the two shorts are next to each other.

There is also the fact that the creative teams changed slightly throughout the release of the shorts. The first two were at least begun under the watchful eye of Walt, but Tigger Too was not. The first two were made within two years of each other. Tigger Too was made 6 years after the Blustery Day. Instead of having one, consistent vision for the characters, the three films have slight differences between each other because many different hands played with the product. This may not be as noticeable when seen individually, but when placed one right after the other, the differences create a jarring feeling.

That may be the main issue I have with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The segments of the film were created as a series of short films. They weren’t meant to be put together in a feature-length film. The fact that Piglet and Tigger don’t appear until Blustery Day seems OK when seen as part of a series, but it comes off as odd when the films are seen as part of a whole. Apart, the shorts are seen as individual stories, but together, the shorts lack a flow and real connection between them. The films are much better when seen as individual short stories.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Out of all three segments, the best sequence to me is the introduction to Tigger. It has great character moments for both Tigger and Pooh, and features many good moments as they interact.

The best song follows in that Disney tradition of crazy dream sequence animation. Heffalumps and Woozles is one of my favorite Sherman Brothers songs. Before, though, is a bonus scene with a great Winnie the Pooh moment.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Again, just because I’m ranking The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at 33 doesn’t mean that I don’t like the film. The film has many great moments and characters, and remains a staple of the Disney output today. I’m extremely glad Winnie the Pooh is a franchise that Disney doesn’t allow to disappear (except when it replaces Mr. Toad and The Country Bears at Disney Parks, but that’s another story.) The segments are wonderful, but as individual segments. Weaknesses are created when these films are put together one right after the other. Plus, it doesn’t help that this film contains very little original content. I’m very surprised The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh got this low on my list, but it’s where it is.