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Rewatching Disney's Animated Classics

Discussion in 'Movies' started by benbess, May 1, 2019.

  1. Message #1 of 74 May 1, 2019
    Last edited: May 1, 2019
    benbess

    benbess Producer

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    I've just started a rewatch of Disney's hand-drawn animated classics. Many of these are movies I've loved all my life. They work on multiple levels, but part of it is that hand-drawn animation can take us into a kind dream world in a way that maybe no other type of movie can. This article has a handy chronological list of all of Disney's animated movies....

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Disney_theatrical_animated_features

    As we all know, the first Disney animated movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, release in 1937. Disney bravely bet his whole company on this movie, and it became the biggest box office hit of the 1930s after GWTW. The animation still amazes in places, and a lot of the humor still works, but Disney later surpassed this movie in both story and animation technique. The "someday my prince will come" song, and a few other elements of this movie, are for me somewhat dated. Again, parts of this movie are still fantastic, but overall I rate it a "B".

    PS SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS WHOLE THREAD.
     
  2. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    If teaching a class on the history of full-length animated movies, I'd actually start with Pinocchio. I'd show clips of Steamboat Willy, some 1930s cartoons, and maybe five minutes of the Wicked Witch and her apple from Snow White, but then get as soon as is practical to Pinocchio. Pinocchio is still a masterpiece in terms of technique, themes, and emotion. Pinocchio also has stunning use of the multi-plane camera set up, which is explained here by Walt Disney himself in a 7 minute video filmed in 1957....

     
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  3. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    Geppetto's loneliness and creativity provides the touching opening for Pinocchio. There are so many amazingly beautiful and funny touches in the opening scenes, and the character animation is beyond anything that Disney did before this—the cat Figaro, the fish, Jiminy Cricket, and the wooden Pinocchio. Plus the clocks. The animation inspires awe and wonder. I don't think Disney ever did anything better.

    And then Pinocchio has moments that can be described as horror, such as Stomboli imprisoning P, P's nose growing, the Coachman's red face, turning into a donkey, Monstro, etc. All of these are stunning and memorable.

    And the songs are all wonderful. When You Wish upon a Star, as many have said, is almost a theme not just for anyone who dreams, but for Walt Disney himself, and also for the animators and other artists who worked on this movie, and who made what was impossible just a few years before come true:

    "If your heart is in your dream
    No request is too extreme
    When you wish upon a star
    As dreamers do....
    Like a bolt out of the blue
    Fate steps in and sees you through...."

    Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's song, as we know, won an Oscar.

    Plus there are so many laughs in this movie! And then there's swelling emotion, especially at the end.

    My rating for Pinocchio: "A+"
     
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  4. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I just wanted to stop in to say that I think you’re killing it and I hope you’ll keep up these writings. I feel inspired to watch these films again after reading your posts.
     
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  5. Message #5 of 74 May 2, 2019
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
    benbess

    benbess Producer

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    Thanks for your too-kind words. Anyone who feels like it, please feel free to post your thoughts, feelings, etc. on these films. There's so much more to say about Pinocchio. An few pages could probably be written on the animation of water in this movie alone.

    But next, of course, is the amazing and mind-bending Fantasia. For me, however, the blu-ray of Fantasia, by replacing the voice of Deems Taylor, has damaged the experience of this movie. Someone on youtube apparently feels the same way, and so has gone back and put the original voice of Deems Taylor back in for the opening couple of minutes!++

     
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  6. Sam Favate

    Sam Favate Lead Actor

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    When my kids were born (10 years ago), I had this idea that when they were old enough, we'd have Friday or Saturday nights watching the Disney classics in chronological order on our projector (we have all the films on blu-ray). It didn't quite work out that way, but we did manage to show them all (I think) of the films. Some they remember more than others, and some they took to more than others. (Bambi and Winnie the Pooh were the ones they watched multiple times, like on a loop.)

    Regarding Snow White, I recently wrote that some movies aren't successful, some are moderately successful, some generate sequels, some have lasting cultural impacts, some create movie franchises, some earn hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, but only one or two movies have ever created a real-life empire. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs did just that. Walt Disney used our shared cultural history by interpreting folk and fairy tales and gave them his own spin (usually a happy ending and a positive point of view). Snow White began a successful run of animated films through the 30s, 40s and 50s, which lead to the creation of Disneyland in 1955, and continued on after Disney's death, to the present, which includes six movie studios (including the recent acquired 20th Century Fox), theme parks and hotels all over the world, television stations, and a major web streaming service set to start this year. And you can trace it all back to the financial success of this charming medieval tale.
     
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  7. richardburton84

    richardburton84 Stunt Coordinator

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    Dubbing issues aside, I personally prefer the shortened introductions on the VHS with Taylor’s actual voice as the restored intros give away a little too much of what happens in the segments as opposed to the shortened intros which only give the basics of each segment.
     
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  8. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I think the longer intros served a function in 1940 that’s no longer needed today. Nobody had ever seen anything like Fantasia and Disney was understandably concerned that the audience might need extra context for what they were going to see. And Taylor was such a popular public figure that more of him would have been seen as a plus at the time.

    I still hold on to my VHS version in addition to the DVD and Blu-ray. And I saw an IB Tech 35mm print of the shortened version a couple years ago that was very enjoyable.
     
  9. Message #9 of 74 May 3, 2019
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
    benbess

    benbess Producer

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    For a biography of Walt Disney I recommend Neal Gabler's wonderful book "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination," which was published by Vintage in 2007. It's a 600+ page epic, but I think it's a real page turner.

    Back to Fantasia. A few months ago I was watching a video about the restoration of a movie (unfortunately I'm not recalling which movie at the moment) and it involved taking a tour of the film archive of the Library of Congress. In that archive they had a brief clip showing that that they had an original Technicolor print of Fantasia. I wonder why Disney can't get the original voice of Deems Taylor from that?

    I first saw Fantasia with my mom, who at the time played violin in an orchestra. She had first seen the movie as a child herself, and it had helped inspire her interest in classical music back in the late 40s. The opening part at first puzzled me, because it's just colored lights on the orchestra for quite a while, but then that amazing blend of animation and music took the audience away to a realm of surreal and abstract imagination keyed to that fantastic music by Bach. Ever since then I've been able to "see" or imagine colors and forms when I listen to music with my eyes closed. I'm pretty sure Fantasia helped me do that.

    I like all of Fantasia, but my favorite parts are The Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Rite of Spring, and Night on Bald Mountain.

    Was Fantasia the first major Hollywood movie with stereo sound?

    Although both Pinocchio and Fantasia have been recognized as classics for decades, on their original release in 1940 both of them actually lost money. Rereleases, of course, put them in the black long ago, and then sales of vhs tapes, DVDs, and blu-rays have made lots of money for Disney, but at the time the losses from these movies plunged the Disney company into a financial crisis, which is detailed in Gabler's biography.
     
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  10. richardburton84

    richardburton84 Stunt Coordinator

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    Maybe the print was only of the general release version with shortened introductions, so it probably wouldn’t have done much good in that case.

    As for the stereo question, if Fantasia wasn’t the first Hollywood film in stereo, it’s certainly the oldest to have its stereo tracks somewhat intact (something that is owed to the film’s 1956 reissue), though the actual tapes for the music have long since deteriorated from what I’ve read.
     
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  11. Mysto

    Mysto Screenwriter

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    Actually saying Fantasia was the first film release in Stereo would be giving it a disservice - It had 8 tracks so it may have been the first surround sound movie.
     
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  12. Message #12 of 74 May 3, 2019
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
    benbess

    benbess Producer

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    If anyone is looking for Disney shorts from before Snow White, Netflix has a small selection under the title The Three Little Pigs. It has that famous cartoon from 1933 with the hit song about the big bad wolf, as well as three sequels to this one. Together these cartoon shorts almost make a mini feature, plus it shows how rapidly Disney animation advanced even from 1933 to 1936. During the 1930s, however, Disney's sense of humor for the shorts seemingly got weaker. As the animation became more sophisticated, and Disney started to become a family brand name, some things that might be seen as humor that might be unsettling for some were taken out. Just as Warner Bros cartoons started to get their mojo and become hilarious, some Disney's shorts became simultaneously perfect and also a bit "flat" in terms of fun. But actually these are still fun. In any case, this little set of cartoons leaves Netflix on June 1st.

    Also leaving fairly soon, I assume, are all the rest of the Disney titles on Netflix. Since I don't own Pocahontas on blu-ray (we had it in VHS and then DVD, but after we got rid of those apparently didn't take it to the next level), I decided to watch Pocahontas even though it's obviously out of order for what I thought was going to be a more or less chronological rewatching of these movies.

    Anyway, I thought Pocahontas from 1995 was very close to excellent on every level, and boy did it give me a pang of pain for 20+ years ago when we could look forward to a new hand-drawn animated movie from Disney every year. From 1989 to 1998 we had more good to great Disney animated movies released that any other ten year period in history. I mean think of it—The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan. Wow. Even Hunchback of Notre Dame, where the songs imho are mostly not up the quality songs on the others here, has some wonderful character animation, effects animation, backgrounds, and a serious and fascinating story (that borrows a lot from the 1939 movie!). Anyway, a lost era. If only hand drawn animation from Disney could come back. Sigh.

    But Pocahontas is a wonder. What beautiful multi-plane animation! And given the embarrassing and shameful treatment of Native Americans in the otherwise good Peter Pan (1953), this is a noble in the best sense effort, with very expressive facial animation from the main characters. The backgrounds and colors are awe-inspiring, and the water animation here, like in Pinocchio, is a delight. Some of the big profits from the earlier animated movies, and all of the VHS tapes we were buying back then, were clearly being invested by Disney into the best animation that had been done since Walt Disney was alive. Although the songs in Pocahontas don't have the marvelous wit of the songs in the earlier features by Howard Ashman, they are soaring and tuneful. Overall, Pocahontas is an epic animated musical that actually has quite a few good bits of historical truth in it.
     
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  13. richardburton84

    richardburton84 Stunt Coordinator

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    I’ve always considered Pocahontas to be very underrated as far as the Renaissance films are concerned. As you mentioned, the multiplane camera effects are very good and I like how the backgrounds are very similar to those of Sleeping Beauty (my favorite Disney film). Also, the music is one of the best of Menken’s Disney scores post-Ashman, not only in regards to the songs (they really should have kept If I Never Knew You from the start), but also in the instrumental underscore, especially with that glorious finale.
     
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  14. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    Now that you mention it I do see a parallel in the beautiful backgrounds of Pocahontas and Sleeping Beauty. Both amazing movies.

    My overall rating on Pocahontas is an "A". It's gone up for me over time. I still think that Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast are slightly higher, and get my "A+" rating, but Disney was really doing good work with their animated features during these years.
     
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  15. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    Going back to Fantasia, I enjoy the bold for the time depiction of evolution that's shown in the Rite of Spring segment. Here's a nice short article on it....

    http://www.extinctblog.org/extinct/2017/11/29/bringing-evolution-to-the-masses-disneys-fantasia-as-history-of-biology

    "....So what does the Fantasia sequence actually show? We start by zooming into a volcanically active Earth, as various torrents of lava dance artfully to the first few sections of the Rite of Spring. As they cascade into the ocean, we fade to a point of view from beneath the waves, panning down into the inky blackness, which in turn fades into clusters of microorganisms. We have no picture of abiogenesis itself here – veritable clouds of microbes already float in the primordial ocean. We zoom in on a particularly intrepid pair of such microbes briefly, shown above – “and we who live on earth today may well give them a respectful salute down through the ages,” says narrator and musicologist Deems Taylor in the accompanying book (1940, p. 72) – before another fade (crafted from silt rising from an undersea vent) brings us to a collection of tube worms. These are soon replaced, in turn, by trilobites, jellyfish, and some early fish...."

    More at the link.
     
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  16. Jake Lipson

    Jake Lipson Lead Actor

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    This is why I've stuck with the 10th Anniversary DVD of Pocahontas, which restores that song, rather than upgrading to the Blu-ray, which inexplicably removes it again despite the directors' obvious excitement that it had been reinstated. (Just listen to their commentary.) I'd rather watch the film in SD with that song in there than in HD without it, because it improves the film significantly. They probably won't do it, especially now on the eve of the Disney+ launch, but I keep wishing Disney would reissue the Blu-ray with the extended cut on it. I would buy that in a second if they did this. Even the music division of the company did it correctly when they released the Legacy Collection soundtrack and included it. Why is it so hard for the Blu-ray division to follow suit? Sigh.

    Anyway....I agree, Ben, this is a great idea for a thread. Carry on.
     
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  17. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I pulled this out of storage (from my mom’s attic) on the occasion of this thread. I recently hooked my VCR back up and I was in the neighborhood anyway, so...

    C346CF7C-76F5-4031-BBCB-F6B4BA549310.

    Hello Deems Taylor!
     
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  18. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    I remember articles written about Fantasia when the VHS was released saying that Disney's big flop had finally paid off big time for the studio (the videocassette sold many millions of copies). I'm sure with the theatrical reissues, Fantasia had finally turned a profit before the advent of videotape cassettes, but this release really made it an unqualified smash hit.
     
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  19. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I think this was the first time Disney Home Video used “masterpiece” in its branding. If I remember correctly, all the other Disney animated films were put out as “classics”. I think when Snow White got its first VHS release, they used “masterpiece” again for that.

    PS I think I was 7 or 8 when that VHS came out. I’d like to think that’s pretty good condition for something that belonged to a kid. Was always proud of and careful with my tape collection, even back then.
     
  20. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    Way back in 1938-1940, when Fantasia was being made, its c.$2.3 million production costs were quite high, since back then even an "A" movie might cost around a million or so. As far as I know, maybe only Pinocchio, GWTW, and The Wizard of Oz were more expensive than Fantasia around that time, although probably there was one or more expensive movies from that time that I'm forgetting. And with the European markets closed off by World War II, the losses on this movie were close to crippling for Disney. Wikipedia's article on the movie says:

    "Fantasia began to make a profit from its $2.28 million budget after its return to theaters on December 17, 1969."

    There was also a re-release in the early 1980s, but the VHS release in 1991, as Matt, says, was what made this movie into a surprise gold mine for Disney, 51 years after it was produced. And those huge profits from VHS sales launched the long-delayed sequel, which became Fantasia 2000, again according to wikipedia:

    "The commercial success of the 1991 home video release of
    Fantasia convinced Eisner that there was enough public interest and funds for a sequel to which he assigned Disney as executive producer."

    We haven't yet mentioned Fantasia 2000, but this is also a very good example of the art of animation, with the segment on The Firebird particularly stunning. I also like the segments for Beethoven's 5th symphony and the Pines of Rome.
     
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