Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Let it go, let it snow

Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Voice Talent: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana
Released: November 27, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Animated Movie (won)
Best Original Song - "Let it Go" by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (won)

When I announced as my Facebook status that I was watching Frozen with Kristen Bell and Adele Dazeem, I thought I was being clever, but only six of my 150+ friends liked it. Perhaps not everybody saw my status or maybe not everybody saw the Oscars and didn't get the John Travolta screwing up Idina Menzel's name joke. Oh, well, I thought it was funny and that's what counts, right?

I really enjoyed this movie....except for one tiny, little, miniscule thing that bothered me. Elsa and Anna are sisters born into a royal family and live in a huge palace. One morning, Anna (the younger sister) wakes up Elsa and pleads for her to do her thing. In one huge room that is completely empty, we discover Elsa has the power to create ice and snow. She makes the entire floor an ice skating rink, she makes it snow, she builds large snow hills for Elsa to slide over, snowmen, if it can be made out of snow or ice, she can build it! As I was watching this, I was thinking how cool that was and how I couldn't wait to see the scene where we discover how Elsa got her power....except we never do! They never explain to us WHY she has this unusual power. Nobody else in her family has this ability either. At least that would explain it's a generation thing passed down to each family member.

While Elsa is performing her magic, she accidently points at her sister and the magic hits her in the head, rendering her unconscious. Her parents rush her to a colony of magic trolls who heal her, but also make her forget that Elsa has these powers so she won't be tempted to make Elsa build her her own personal winter wonderland. The trolls warn Elsa that her powers can be good, but can also be dangerous if she isn't careful. This has Elsa wearing gloves (because everything she touches with her bare hands turns to ice) and pushing her sister away. She is worried if she plays with Anna again, her magic will come out and she will hurt her.

Being a Disney movie, the music was a large component and was heavily promoted. A lot of people have complained that "Let it Go" is overplayed, but I don't hear it on the radio that much. Not, like, say, "Happy". I don't think "Let it Go" is as good as or will be a classic like "Beauty and the Beast", but it's the movie's big epic song and the only one sung by Idina Menzel. A lot of the songs are just the characters singing what they would normally just say in a dialogue so I find that highly amusing. It would be like if I were to read this review and just start singing it. In the song, "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" (the title is as straight forward as it sounds), we see a montage of Anna as a kid, teen, and young woman (or maybe as a kid, pre-teen, and teen? I'm not really sure how old our two main characters are) trying to persuade her older sister to come out and play with her. I do enjoy the song Olaf the snowman sings about loving summer and he sings, "Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle, but put me in summer and I'll be a.....HAPPY SNOWMAN!"

As expected, Elsa's powers get out of hand and to protect herself and everybody else, she runs away to live in isolation in a huge ice castle and an abominable snowman to keep people away, not knowing that she has left her own village in an eternal snowstorm. When Anna goes to confront her, Elsa's magic hits her in the heart which is the worst place for someone to be struck. Her friends are told that if she receives an act of true love, then she will be revived. Her new companion, Kristoff, who has been helping her get to Elsa's ice castle thinks this means she needs to be rushed back to the man she's only known for one day and got engaged to (because he was gorgeous!) but I (and I assume everyone else!) thought this meant that Kristoff was going to save her life, but Disney went another direction and had it as the sisters saving each other's lives which I thought was a nice touch.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Learning to Fly

Director(s): Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen
Voice Talent: Edward Brophy, Verna Felton, Cliff Edwards, Herman Bing, Sterling Holloway
Released: October 23, 1941

Oscar nominations:
Best Score - Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace (won)
Best Original Song - "Baby Mine" by Frank Churchill and Ned Washington (lost to "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good)

This movie is so old that I wasn't even born yet when it was re-released (in the United States) the first time (1972) OR the second time (1976). Dumbo is the cutest thing ever and very endearing. I remember the "cameo" he had in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I found out that TIME magazine was to feature a cover story on Dumbo in its December 1941 issue, but had to scrap it when the events of Pearl Harbor rightfully became the top priority.

The movie starts out with the stork delivering baby animals to their mothers and it's all very cute. We see a mother tiger bonding with her two cubs, a mother giraffe delighted by her new baby, and many others. Dumbo's mother, Mrs. Jumbo, is expecting her own little one, but whenever a wrapped-up bundle of joy floats near her, it always diverts and goes another direction. She doesn't receive her baby until the next day when she's on a train with a traveling circus. The stork gives this whole production where he reads a poem and sings a song and it's like, c'mon, get on with it! It always begs the question why did he do this whole show for Mrs. Jumbo, but all the other animals just got their babies dropped in front of them?

Before Dumbo is delivered to his mother, the stork is sitting in a cloud trying to locate Mrs. Jumbo. He knows he's in the right location because when he looks down, he sees an outline of the state of Florida (complete with the word FLORIDA written across it). And he's only sitting in a cloud, so it was pretty amazing that he could see the entire state of Florida! At first I thought, well, Disney World is located in Florida and this is a Disney film, then I remembered that Disney World didn't even exist when this movie was released (it wouldn't open for another 30 years) and even Disneyland didn't open until 1955.  So I think it's just pure coincidence that the movie takes place in Florida and Disney World would eventually find its home there.

You're no prize either, kid! 
Mrs. Jumbo names her baby Jumbo Jr. and the other female elephants coo over how cute he is, but once it is revealed he has huge ears, they all laugh and recoil and give him the nickname "Dumbo" (because big ears apparently make you dumb?). It's a bit mean-spirited that the title of the movie is the cruel nickname those repugnant elephants gave him! The animation is very pretty, although the drawings were very simple at times. I did take some issue that Dumbo's ears were huge in some scenes, while in others they weren't as big. And I wanted to smack those kids for making fun of Dumbo's ears, especially the main one who had huge ears himself AND an overbite AND buck teeth.
At least Dumbo is cute...can't say the same for that ugly kid! And did nobody see this jerk kid go into the elephant's territory and GRAB Dumbo and assault him? Well, gee, no wonder Mama Dumbo went crazy on that kid's ass!

Being that the other elephants shunned him and his mother is now in solitary confinement, Dumbo is all alone until he meets Timothy the Mouse, who has a very grating accent. It was amusing when he scares all the female elephants and they all try to escape from him. One is holding on to a pole, one is perched on a stool, and another is hanging upside down from a clothes line...try to explain the logistics of that one!

"Baby Mine" and "When I See an Elephant Fly" are two songs I remember quite well and fondly from my own childhood. I'm sure I must have seen Dumbo when I was a kid, even though I have no memory of it, but I'm quite sure I had a Disney songbook and tape with all the classic Disney songs. The start of the song when Dumbo is nuzzling his head and trunk against his mother's trunk and being cradled and rocked by it and tears start pouring out of his eyes...awwww.  And then you see that cute montage with all the baby animals and their mothers. I loved that the hyenas laughed while they slept and the mama kangaroo was acting like a rocking chair to rock her baby to sleep. I didn't know that hippos slept underwater, though! I always thought "When I See an Elephant Fly" was a clever song and enjoy the puns..."I've seen a horse fly", "I saw a peanut stand", "I saw a front porch swing" .... just very clever with its use of words. I had never known that the main crow was named Jim Crow...that's uh, interesting! And I don't think that was a coincidence! "Pink Elephants on Parade" is just frightening and goes on way too long. I had completely forgotten about that song, so I must have blocked it from my mind!

Monday, April 7, 2014

He's a Lady

Mrs. Doubtfire
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Bronsan, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Lisa Jakub
Released: November 24, 1993

Oscar nominations:
Best Makeup (won)

Chris Columbus had a knack for getting families to flock to theaters with his holiday releases (see also Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter movies). I vaguely remember seeing this with my own family and the theater was packed. As a kid, I remember loving this movie and thought it was hilarious and my favorite scene was the one in the restaurant where Robin Williams has to pretend to be Mrs. Doubtfire because the family has invited him (er, her!) out to celebrate Sally Field's birthday, but he also a job interview set up on the same night at the same place and has to keep changing from Mrs. Doubtfire to himself and back again until things start getting out of control and his cover is blown.

But I am getting ahead of myself! Daniel and Miranda Hilbrand (Robin Williams and Sally Field) have three children: Lydia (Lisa Jakub - the only other role I've known her from is Independence Day (didn't she play Randy Quaid's daughter?)); Chris (Matthew Lawrence, best known for Shawn's half-brother in Boy Meets World); and Natalie (Mara Wilson, the Dakota Fanning of the early '90s). We learn that the Hilbrands' marriage has been rocky for quite awhile now and after Miranda comes home from work to find that her husband has given their son an elaborate birthday party complete with farm animals and rap music. They get into a huge fight and end up getting a divorce. Now, I can understand why Miranda was furious with what her husband did, but getting a divorce over an out-of-control party (and was it really that bad? It's not like there were any drugs involved! I mean, if Skylar White can stay with her husband after she finds out he's a meth dealer....c'mon, now!) seemed a little...extreme. But I understand they needed a reason for them to separate. It was just a lame reason, that's all.

I should also mention that Daniel has also quit his job as a voice talent for a cartoon after he has issues with one of the animated animals he voices smokes a cigar. I know they were trying to paint him as a family man who has moral values and wouldn't want his own children to emulate anything they see on a cartoon, but I feel like most people in that position would just turn the other cheek so they could keep their easy, comfy job. 

Miranda gets custody of the children and Daniel, having moved into an apartment, only gets one day a week with his kids. When he is saying good-bye to his kids, he gives his son and youngest daughter big hugs and a heartfelt good-bye, but only a quick hug and "Take care of them" to his oldest daughter! He is told by his social worker that if he gets a job and keeps a clean apartment, he can see his kids more. He is willing to do anything to see his kids more and gets his chance when Miranda tells him she is looking for a house-keeper/baby-sitter while she is at work. While she is distracted by the kids, he takes the ad she is going to mail to the newspaper (I guess they didn't have the Internet in 1993!) and changes a couple of the digits in the telephone number. He calls Miranda a few times, pretending to be interested in the job and makes them as awful as he can so she won't hire them and once he calls in as the perfect person for the job, she will have to hire him. Even though he used different voices, I found it suspicious that Miranda never figured out that it was her husband. Surely she's heard him use some of the voices before or at least would recognize his tone or something. When he calls in as the perfect English nanny, she asks for a name and he sees a headline in the paper that says, "Police doubt fire...." and that is how he came up with the name. Now, if you remember in August Rush, that's how he came up with that name as well...only it was on a truck, not in a newspaper. 

With the help of his brother (Harvey Fierstein) who works in theater, they concoct Daniel into Mrs. Doubtfire complete with makeup, wig, and wardrobe. Now they did a good job of making Robin Wiliams not look like Robin Williams, but you would think his kids would think it's weird that their new nanny is this huge old lady who towers over them...which they do point out, but Mrs. Doubtfire explains that she played football in school because of her bulky build. 

I already told you that my favorite scene was the Mrs. Doubtfire reveal, but after a recent re-watch, I have changed my mind. Now it's the scene where he's come back to his apartment after a day of work dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire and his social worker is there to check on his place to make sure it's up to standard. He explains he's Daniel's (much older) sister from England and that he'll go up and get Daniel, but the social worker offers to go up with her (these pronouns are a bit tricky!) So Daniel has to pretend to be himself and his nanny alias. In his bedroom, he quickly changes out of his Mrs. Doubtfire (while making one pun too many), but in his hurry, his mask falls out the window and is smashed by a large truck. He makes the mistake of telling his social worker that his sister makes a great cup of tea, which the social worker would like, so he has to go into Mrs. Doubtfire mode again, going back into the bedroom to put on her clothes and wig, only he doesn't have her face, so he improvises by sticking his face into a cake covered with whipped cream (no idea why he had a homemade cake in his fridge since it was established he didn't know how to cook - and this was before he started watching Julia Child cooking shows to learn how to cook). He explains it as a beauty mask to the woman. The funniest part is when he's handing the cup of tea to the social worker and asks her if she wants any cream, and a big dollop of whipped cream falls into her cup and he says,"Oh, now you have cream and sugar!" It was so gross, but also hilarious. And I loved how the woman put some of the whipped cream on her own face to test its exfoliating powers.

Before he was (one of many) James Bond, Pierce Bronsan was in this movie as Miranda's old colleague/flame who has started seeing her again. This leads to some awkward conversations between Miranda and Mrs. Doubtfire where Miranda spills her guts to her housekeeper/nanny about her ex-husband. This movie loved to use its full advantage of having Robin Williams and it gives us plenty clips of his many impressions (which seem to go on far too long...), but to me, it's Sally Field who delivers what I think is the funniest line in the whole movie. It's not the actual line that is funny, per se, but the way she says it. When it's revealed that her ex-husband is Mrs. Doubtfire, she (naturally) has a horrified look on her face and says, "You were her the whole time? The whole time?" The way she says it and the angry look on her face is great and made me laugh out loud. 

I feel like a scholar could go more in depth with this movie and discuss its seemingly negative view on transgender society, because, while very subtle, it is there and make me go, hmmm. Of course they play it off as a joke (like when his son freaks out when he finds out his seemingly female nanny pees standing up), but maybe I'm just looking too much into it.