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EW says: "Walt Disney's Live Action Films Sucked." Au contraire, mon hack


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#1 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 23 2004 - 01:32 PM

In this weeks "News + Notes" section of that proud bastion of show biz journalism known as Entertainment Weekly, they have a sidebar discussing potential CEO's to fill in once Eisner gets the boot (and he will, it is just a question of when and with what harm to the company). Included on the list, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, is Walt Disney. It lists his possible "pros" and his "cons". Included in his cons, the fact that he is indeed dead, and then this curious bit: "Also, his live action films sucked."

Hmmm. I realize that modern kids may only know of Walt's live-action film work from remakes and from the piss-poor choices Buena Vista has made in regards to releasing Walt's quality films on home video...but shouldn't an entertainment journalist know what the hell he or she or it is talking about before condemning someone's body of work in such a fashion?

These films "sucked"?:

Treasure Island
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Darby O'Gill and the Little People
Mary Poppins
So Dear to my Heart
Pollyanna
Old Yeller
The Three Lives of Thomasina
Third Man on the Mountain
The Light in the Forest
Swiss Family Robinson
The Parent Trap
The Living Desert (Oscar-Winner, added to National Film Registry)
The Vanishing Prairie (Oscar-Winner)
The African Lion
White Wilderness (Oscar Winner)
Secrets of Life
Jungle Cat
Those Calloways
The Happiest Millionaire (Uncut Version)

His low-budget, made-for-TV comedies released theatrically sucked...no one is going to argue the greatness of The Ugly Dachsund or Monkeys Go Home or The Monkeys Uncle, etc etc etc. But I don't blame Lucas for making the Ewok movies and the SW Christmas special. I don't blame Spielberg for some weak "Amazing Stories" episodes or SeaQuest episodes. Walt Disney made many damned fine live-action films, it's not his fault that Michael Eisner has left them rotting in the vaults while he orders up CGI remakes of Dumbo.

#2 of 46 Brian W.

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Posted February 23 2004 - 01:59 PM

Walt Disney's live action films have really gotten the short shrift, simply because they have the Disney name on them.

A while back I saw part of a live action Disney film from the 1960s, but I can't recall the title. But I was surprised and impressed at what a well-written and well-acted drama it was, quite emotionally powerful. I mean, it wasn't brilliant or anything, but it was very, very well made.

It was a film I'd never even heard of. I wish I could recall the title now. But at the time I thought, "The reason I've never heard of this film is because it's a Walt Disney film."

Don't forget "Ride a Wild Pony," Ernest. Real good film, shot on location in Australia with Australian actors.

#3 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 23 2004 - 02:03 PM

Describe the film, the plot.

#4 of 46 Brian W.

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Posted February 23 2004 - 02:06 PM

Of which one? The one I can't remember the title of?

#5 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 23 2004 - 02:34 PM

Yes, the film whose title you can't remember. Describe the plot for me. Not "Ride a Wild Pony".

#6 of 46 Bryan Ri

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Posted February 23 2004 - 03:11 PM

I definately enjoyed Iron Will.


Bryan

#7 of 46 Francois Caron

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Posted February 23 2004 - 03:21 PM

I remember watching those old family oriented live-action movies in the theater when I was a kid. I definitely remember being entertained by them. Their storylines were probably very simplistic in nature, but they were perfect for kids. I never had any trouble understanding them.

#8 of 46 Brian W.

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Posted February 23 2004 - 03:25 PM

Well, let's see... it's been a good year since then, and I only saw twenty minutes or so of it. It involved a boy in his early teens, who I think lived on a ranch. He had run away, I think. I think he had run away before.

The parts I saw mostly involved the parents arguing about it... the father was the boy's stepfather, and I think they had not been married that long. It was a big blowup argument, where the mother accused her husband of not acting like a father to him. But it made an impression on me because I was surprised at how well-written and mature and non-corny it all was.

It looked to me like it was filmed in the late 60s, or maybe the very early 70s. I'll see if I can a complete list of Disney films online -- the title should ring a bell if I hear it.

#9 of 46 Brian W.

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Posted February 23 2004 - 03:49 PM

I did some searching on IMDB, and it might be "Smoke."

Quote:
This film works on three levels; it is a boy and his dog story, a story of a boy's coming of age and a story of the relationship between the boy and his stepfather. The standout performances here are Ron Howard as Chris, a boy struggling to cope with the loss of his father; and Earl Holliman as Cal, the stepfather who wants badly to be accepted by Chris. Shug Fisher and Jacqueline Scott also are quite good, as is the dog star. (I love dogs.) There are some excellent scenes in this film, and the story will move you. This one will stay with you long after it is over.


The year sounds about right - 1970 -- but I have no memory of Ron Howard being in it.

#10 of 46 Patrick McCart

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Posted February 23 2004 - 03:54 PM

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Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are two classics!

Sure, for ever "Leagues" there is a Merlin Jones...but Disney produced a lot of great live action films in the 1950's and 1960's.

#11 of 46 Brian W.

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Posted February 23 2004 - 03:58 PM

You know, it is "Smoke." After finding this All Movie Guide review online, I recalled more details:

Quote:
Smoke stars Ron Howard as a sullen farm youth who resents the fact that his widowed mother (Jacqueline Scott) has remarried. Earl Holliman costars as Howard's new stepfather, a sheep rancher, who'd give anything to gain Ron's love and respect. Nursing an injured German shepherd back to health, the boy invests all of his affections in the dog. When the dog's real owners show up, Howard is certain that Holliman will betray him and return the animal. Just as in the original William Corbin novel, Smoke ends on a note that is both satisfying and logical. Ron Howard's real father Rance shows up briefly in a flashback sequence. Originally presented as a two-part episode of TV's Wonderful World of Disney, Smoke first aired February 1 and 8, 1970. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide


Strange that I don't recall Howard playing the boy.

#12 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 23 2004 - 04:35 PM

I've seen most of Walt Disney's films, you're talking about a made for TV movie released a few years after Walt's death. It's a good thing Ron Howard returned to the Mouse House for Splash - wonderful movie. I still think it is Howard's best. He should do more romantic comedy, he's good at it.

#13 of 46 Casey Trowbridg

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Posted February 23 2004 - 04:44 PM

Ernest, you made some interesting points and I would have to agree that most of the movies that you listed do not suck, I say most only because I haven't seen some of them.

Maybe, given how current EW is regarding Star Wars, they are still under the impression that Walt Disney is still alive? A little inside joke from the Star Wars thread for those of you that are confused by that comment.

I can't decide whether or not I'm actually surprised that they overlooked so much of Disney's live action library when they wrote this.

#14 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 23 2004 - 05:35 PM

Well, the same mag listed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as one of 2003's best DVDs, then a few issues later, here's some hack saying "Walt Disney's live-action films sucked".

Bashing Disney is easy - but damn, bash them where they deserve to be bashed. That company is ripe for satire, but anyone who says Walt Disney's live-action films "sucked" obviously doesn't have a clue as to what he or she is talking about.

You know what's amazing to me personally? Look at that list I posted above. Did you know that many of those films flopped at the box office? As incredible as it seems today, Darby O'Gill was a flop. The powerful drama Three Lives of Thomasina - flop. The oscar-winning So Dear to my Heart - flop. The Light in the Forest - flop. Third Man on the Mountain- flop. Pollyanna - flop. Those Calloways - flop. This is why so many of these great films have been slow to come to DVD - they were box office bombs, and yet *Walt* Disney continued to make high-quality live-action films, in additon to the high-concept/low-budget fantasies that became the studio bread and butter. Disney's "E-ticket" live-action films like Kidnapped and Darby justified the Merlin Jones films and the Flubber movies.

Today, no one remembers these "E-ticket" films, they only remember Tommy Kirk turning into a sheepdog and Fred MacMurray inventing Flubber, etc. There is a great wealth of buried treasure here, folks. It is slowly, slowly, slowly making its way onto DVD.

If you want a taste, go rent or buy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Pollyanna, and Old Yeller. The long-forgotten, acclaimed Those Calloways was released on DVD two weeks ago. Anyone hear about it? Anyone review it?

Nope.

I'll be reviewing it, and submitting it up here for you guys.

One of the worst thing that can happen to any artist is corporate neglect. This is exactly what we're seeing with *Walt* Disney's truly great live-action films.

#15 of 46 Seth Paxton

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Posted February 23 2004 - 06:46 PM

I agree. I thought Disney built just as much charm and history off of his live action films as the animated ones. A trip to Disneyworld even hints at that when you can climb the Swiss Family Robinson Tree or ride the 20,000 Leagues sub (well, that's gone now isn't it? Still it was one of the mainstays).

Those elements existed because fans were attached to them. And Old Yeller and Mary Poppins are 2 major classics.

I don't understand why anyone would be under the impression that Walt's live films sucked...well, I can see how they would be now by reading EW and taking their word for it.

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#16 of 46 Greg_S_H

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Posted February 23 2004 - 06:52 PM

Would Johnny Tremain be included in the list of good films? I've enjoyed the book, but haven't had a chance to see the film yet.

#17 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 23 2004 - 07:08 PM

No. It would fall into the "made for TV but released theatrically and sort of sucked" category.

#18 of 46 DougFND

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Posted February 24 2004 - 09:41 AM

Screw EW! Two of my favorites when I was little were "The Snowball Express" and "Gus"!

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#19 of 46 Ernest Rister

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Posted February 24 2004 - 02:14 PM

Tim Conway has a fantastic interview on the Apple Dumpling Gang: SE DVD where he talks about his experience with Disney in the 70's. His Gus comments were laugh-out-loud funny. Paraphrasing, he said, "You know when you're making a film about a field-goal kicking mule, you're *probably* not going to be nominated for an Academy Award. You don't even rent a tuxedo."

There are a lot of fun, dumb, Disney films - In Search of the Castaways, The World's Greatest Athlete, The Cat From Outer Space, The North Avenue Irregulars and my fave, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, just for the performance of Jim Dale alone. Dale plays three roles in the film - brilliantly. He's the meek, gentle preacher Eli and his twin brother, the lead-slinging, gunfighting hellraiser "Wild Billy", as well as the creaky acid-tongued coot, Jasper Bloodshy. It's a true tour-de-force, the kind that leaves you scratching your head wondering what in the world happened to such a gifted performer, why he couldn't make a go of it in Hollywood. (Dale has recently won praise for his audio book readings of the Harry Potter books, though I myself have never heard them). Hot Lead and Cold Feet has other outstanding performances, including Darrin McGavin as the slimy scenery-chewing lawyer out to kill both Eli and Wild Billy, and western character actor Jack Elam strutting his comedic skills in a series of aborted duels with Don Knotts.

Not exactly Citizen Kane, and not on par with other western comedies like Cat Ballou, not to mention Blazing Saddles - but I think it is one of the better Disney films from the stagnant 70's period. It has been completely ignored and forgotten by the modern Mouse House, with no DVD or home video release planned for this year.

The last time the title was made available on Home Video was in the early 90's on VHS, and Disney even sunk so low as to record it on LP mode to save money on videotape. I'm not kidding.

#20 of 46 Scott Leopold

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Posted February 24 2004 - 03:03 PM

It's EW. EW. I cancelled my subscription a few years back after I realized each issue was giving me a headache. They have absolutely no editorial continuity, and have never required any of their writers to actually research their work, or know what they're talking about.

As for the Disney live action films, even some of the lighter fluff pieces were a lot of fun. I think many people recognize the best ones as true classics, and would hopefully just instantly disregard EW's opinion.

One Disney live action classic that hasn't been mentioned yet is one I consider to be among their best, and easily one of their most important films: Tron. True, it was made long after Walt's passing, but it had a huge impact on the film industry, and still holds up well today.






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