Yearly Archives: 2013

December 30, 2013

42. Fishing With John (1992)

Written and directed by John Lurie


Criterion #42. Our first non-feature: a TV show, the complete run of 6 episodes.

I remember when it was still possible to come across weird stuff on TV. Now that we have hundreds of channels you’d think it would be a heyday for coming across weird stuff, but it’s not: more TV has turned out to mean more formulaic TV. Very few of those hundreds of channels are run with the spirit of the nonchalance that seemed to hold for decades, throwing on weird stuff in the middle of the night because why not, who really cares. Nowadays they care, and dare little.

It feels like the whole ethos of trawling for weird stuff is gone. The internet took it over and normalized it. Google is the behemoth of our time because all day every day is a trawl now. Even the most intimate “hey check this out” has been co-opted by calculating business interests. “You won’t believe this one weird artist’s unbelievable work that will drop your jaw” is a scam, delivered several times a day courtesy of the lamest people in your life. We harden to protect ourselves against the grift and bit by bit it becomes impossible for our jaws to truly drop. The old feeling of being a lone explorer happening across some undiscovered island has been usurped by the hateful metaphor of the virus: It’s viral! It’s a viral hit! Get infected! That really hurts, Charlie. And it’s still hurting!

Reading this little reminiscence (which may or may not be by someone I know) earlier this year put me in mind of that old pleasure of coming across the incomprehensible on TV, and how essentially 80s it now seems. This is another thing from the early 80s that someone once described to me as having had a similar effect on him. Late-night TV used to be its own world with its own laws.

For myself, in a slightly different vein, I think of the grinning bewilderment of the day I came across this without warning. How is it that this is being shown on TV, and yet it still feels like I will never have it common with anyone but a very few? Or, in yet another key, the day a few years later that I flipped channels to find this and sat in expectant confusion, which is to say transported, for the whole thing. How must the world really work, seeing as this exists? Time to rethink.

Such experiences are also the subject of, among other things, this (1976) and, I gather, this (1983), spine #248, which I am dreading a bit.

The sadder loss in the present day is the other side of the equation: nobody seems to want to make weird stuff anymore, either. People certainly want to make “this one weird thing that will drop your jaw,” or “this kind of amazing album by this kind of amazing band” but nobody wants to be a real freak in the night because almost nobody believes in unilluminated night or unlisted stations anymore. The hip of being weird so as to resemble late-nite mystery was overtaken by the mere hipsterism of being encyclopedic. All weirdness is just part of a typology. How horrible.

I guess the word I’m looking for is “underground.” When the mass culture goes underground (into the bomb shelter), where does the underground go? They walk among us, maybe. I guess that’s what Fight Club was about (17 years ago!). Who’s keeping it real today? Where’s my counter-culture?

The answer probably is: if you want to find it you have to dig, and be honest, you don’t really dig, do you. No, I don’t. I just expect that flipping channels will eventually turn stuff up. I probably just need to be more adventurous in my explorations if I want a sense of adventure. Okay fine, good advice, thanks.

Well, anyway, these thoughts were provoked by watching “Fishing With John.” This is one of those things that you might well flip to and be surprised existed. Utterly relaxed, pointless, TV jazz. John Lurie, first-class New York hipster (in the original sense), makes a hipster fishing show where his cool celebrity guests get to be cool, in the sense that nobody tries to do anything in particular, such as be clever or catch fish or really anything. It’s a show about it-is-what-it-is. It’s just TV mystery vacation. Is there anything cooler than utter lack of anxiety? Not in those days. Maybe now, but not then.

The presence of an authoritative-sounding PBS-style narrator is silly in itself, and then he is made to say silly things (“How deep is the ocean? Nobody really knows for sure.”), and so the whole fabric of TV-showism is brought in on the joke. The point: TV is weird, fishing is weird, celebrity is weird, this show is weird, life is weird. And weird is, obviously, good.

Lurie’s commentary is as thoroughly low key as what’s onscreen, so he never comes out and says that he had any particular intention per se, but he does say several times how much he enjoys watching fishing shows and also making home movies of his own fishing vacations. And I think that’s really about it. The show is just some more time spent in that same goofy vacation zone of the mind. I can go there by watching a fishing show or actually going fishing, or in this case, by watching a weird pseudo fishing show made, while actually fishing, by a guy who likes fishing shows. This was very much John Lurie’s vacation but we’re welcome to watch and have our own.

This is an artifact of a less anxious time that really wasn’t so long ago. Let’s try to reach toward such things in a genuine spirit. Being cool can be ours again if we just clap our hands and believe.

[Speaking of which, I saw a production of Peter Pan a couple weekends ago at the Yale School of Drama where at the end the bombs of World War I fell and Peter Pan was gassed to death, with gas-masked Wendy the only survivor. What’s sad is that the audience basically gets what’s being gotten at by a stunt like this. A child knows better – that’s some blatantly absurd adult self-pity. Adults need to get over themselves. They did when I was a kid and they still do.]

I feel in fact aware of how uncool and unrelaxed a way of talking about this show this whole entry is, and possibly this whole blog has always been. (With the exception of a few cool entries.) Another thing this show reminded me of was the “creative arts” summer camp I went to as a pre-teen, which was somewhere at the intersection between fingerpainting and hip, and was very in keeping with John Lurie’s attitude here. I think the animation teacher may even have tracked some of The Lounge Lizards over the reels of freeform kid-produced chaos.

Here are a bunch of other dimensions of this show I could talk about but won’t: manhood; celebrity and selfhood; commonalities in re: cool/manhood of the various guests (Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper); relation of silliness to spiritual experience (via trance, music, etc. as implicitly linked in the show); relation of home movies to creative moviemaking; career trajectory of John Lurie and current status, including my previous encounters with his music; skepticism vs. celebration of other people’s self-indulgence/self-amusement; fear vs. anxiety as illustrated on the show/psychoanalysis of John Lurie. Other stuff. But what’s better to say is that the show made me want to take it easy. It celebrated taking it easy and I was glad. And writing about any of this stuff, at least right now, would not be taking it very easy.

The music is all by Lurie and is an integral part of the creative fabric of the show. It carries a lot of its “meaning,” insofar as it has a meaning. The meaning is, I’m gonna write some music now. On the commentary at one point he says that writing soundtracks is easy because basically anything works with anything. I enjoyed hearing this voiced, since I’ve thought it myself but have always been cowed by the fact that I know others don’t think it. John Lurie it seems is not cowed by such things, ever.

There are many interesting little cues I could choose, but the show’s theme song is undeniably the correct choice. This despite its being a song, which I have carefully avoided thus far. I figure that since this disc’s being a TV show makes it an exception within the Criterion Collection, it can also be an exception to my rule. Track 42. As is often the case with these, our musical selection about sums up the flavor of the whole thing. It’s silly, but it knows that there’s more to silliness than just being silly. In there somewhere is the nature of art.

This show is some kind of art. Maybe there should be another word than art for what it is. Or maybe, rather, there should be another word than art to describe that stuff we usually mean by “art.” Because this sort of thing if anything strikes closer to home. I felt affection for this DVD because it did not seem to come from very far away.

I recently read Pauline Kael’s long 1969 essay on “Trash, Art, and the Movies” in which she is at pains to praise “trash” while denying that it is “art.” Why is “art” so sacred that we need to reserve the word “art” for it? I would rather apply the word cheerfully to all, you know, art.

Thanks, Criterion, this was a treat.

What I’ve written here is all over the map but if the map is small enough who cares.

December 23, 2013


Movie idea: serial-killer/self-help genre mashup.

Two homicide detectives are on the trail of a sick killer who is using the power of positive thinking and The Secret to easily kill anyone he wants. They must descend into the seamy underworld of self-help – and realize their own full potentials – before he kills again.

First proposed title for this movie was “Smell The Roses.” More on the nose: “How to Win Friends and Kill People” (or, possibly preferable, “How to Kill Friends and Influence People.”)

I guess this is more of a book, not a movie.

December 17, 2013

41. Henry V (1944)

directed by Laurence Olivier
written by William Shakespeare
text edited by Alan Dent


Criterion #41.

[The only onscreen title is as seen above, but posters for the original release of the film did call it Henry V. In a spirit of eager pedantry I originally gave this entry the long title, but then I thought better of it. I figure that if even the original posters were against using it, it would be too perverse of me. IMDB has no such scruples.

The above is the official writing credit, but the adaptation is generally attributed to Dent and Olivier together, and to these two IMDB and Wikipedia add Dallas Bower, credited in the film as Associate Producer. I think the commentary track may have offered some clarification on this point, but I forget. I’m not that eager a pedant.]

Technicolor is reassuring, and this comes from the era when it was at its most Technicolorish, the palette of The Wizard of Oz and The Adventures of Robin Hood: intense but matte, never electric. The contrasts are brash and loud but in that same forthright way as a WPA poster. In the 40s, noisy juxtapositions of color could still be essentially modest. Color hadn’t yet begun to leer and preen.

Laurence Olivier manfully declaims the “we lucky few, we band of brothers” speech, culminating in a roar of courage from the armored troops… and then seconds later, cut to a closeup wherein one can’t help but notice that he is wearing not just ruby red lipstick but also, distinctly, cobalt blue eyeshadow. And yet the whole 40s colorscape is so sexless and unworldly that the absurdity registers only as yet one more moment of dreamlike color-experience. The entire spectrum has somehow been rendered too assured, too masculine to deliver any sort of crisis of masculinity. Perhaps this is part of why The Wizard of Oz is so beloved by gays. The colors palpably relieve the viewer of gender anxiety.

I am grateful for the way the surface of such movies can relieve me of all sorts of anxiety. My point about the Wizard of Oz could also be put this way: it manages to contain things that appeal to gays while unmistakably not being “for gays.” One always wants to enjoy things without being implicated by them, without having to answer for one’s enjoyment in self-awareness. I always prefer things that do not call me out, or pose and say cheese. The movies of that era, their palettes and everything else about them, treat me with a touching dignity. An entertainment for you, sir. Here is some green, sir, and some red, for your pleasure. Thank you kindly, I say.

I let this movie wash over me, or let myself wash over it, without any great effort to comprehend, because that old-fashioned cultural hospitality is worth a lot to me, whereas the content here is decidedly not. Who gives a crap about Henry V? I’ve always disliked biopics and topic-pics (i.e. whatever genre The Social Network is), and I feel the same way about “history plays.” Namely: who do you think you’re kidding? These sorts of “dramatizations” of the non-dramatic seem to me exactly like the “dancing about architecture” we’re always being warned off. Acting about history?

Sure, it’s a basic human impulse to try to parse our reality into stories; that’s what storytelling is for. I get that. But the transmutation from objective fact into aesthetic form is essentially a magic act, and if you’re not careful, the essential lie of it will be exposed. It’s exactly because magic is a trick that it needs to be intuitive. A magician will turn a dove into a bouquet but never into a car; a certain conservation of matter has to hold. Biopics and history plays feel to me like an obvious violation of the conservation of dramatic matter. There is no earthly way that that can be a this. So obvious a violation, in fact, that I sense that audience and artist alike can only have accepted it through some kind of bad faith, a self-deception. (e.g. Being determinedly delighted by a magician who transforms a woman into a single chocolate sprinkle because the tickets were so expensive, or because the woman was hot.)

In his well-assembled but flatly delivered commentary track, Bruce Eder says — I paraphrase — that history plays came into fashion in the 1590s because the advent of political stability for the first time in centuries brought with it a newfound pride in “national heritage.” The plays cashed in on the national mood. I appreciated the tip-off; to me this is a convincing psychological background for the dramatic bad faith at work in Shakespeare’s plays about kings. The audience – Queen Elizabeth chief among them – was feeding itself an “edutainment” bill of goods as a ritual of political self-satisfaction. Shakespeare lovers have miles to say about the noble genius of the parts, but as for the whole… really, who cares?

Here’s who: people with their own political bad faith. “Hey, let’s film that famous play Henry V for the war-effort, because it’s about war and has those two famous pep-talk speeches. It’ll be tasteful propaganda because it’s about ye olde medieval times and thus relevant only by analogy, just like the Russians did with Alexander Nevsky.” “But wait, what was this play Henry V actually about and what is it actually like to sit through? Isn’t it about a battle fought for cynical and non-noble reasons, and isn’t it furthermore kind of a formless hodgepodge of stuff calculated to be topical in 1599?” “Surely no, because it’s Shakespeare. We’ll edit it if we have to, make it work out somehow. The main thing is definitely to say these words here because they are by Shakespeare, i.e. prestigious. One way or another, we’ll figure out how to get the audience to swallow it.”

So the end result, though it is full of creative intelligence, is another sort of bill of goods, a war-effort spin on the standard “middlebrow” package, which was in its heyday in 1944. The greatness of Shakespeare can be yours! See! The fabled Globe Theatre as it appeared in the oh-so-historical past. Hear! The words of the immortal bard pronounced with loftiest dignity. Gasp! At the grandeur and terror of a hundred-horse medieval battle (that we copied shot for shot from Eisenstein). Struggle! To understand exactly what is being said or going on, but Keep! It to yourself. Rise! To the occasion. Bear! a long and arbitrary succession of events. England expects that every man will do his duty!

Laurence Olivier has, like his modern-day equivalent Daniel Day-Lewis, the virtue of seeming to be at peace. I am more willing to watch him do essentially phony things if he seems relaxed. His legendarily great acting skill seemed to me just a very composed species of broad indication, but I need to see him in more. Robert Newton as the “rogue” Pistol is certainly a charismatic clown but not actually funny. My favorite performances were the French bad guys, who I thought did a better job than most of embodying the text rather than just delivering it with class. The movie as a whole mostly just delivers with class. But there are moments that work. I’ll grant Mr. William Shakespeare and Mr. Olivier the scene where Henry roams the camp in disguise. The famous pep talks are pretty good too.

The art direction is rich and excellent, variously suggesting theater, Hollywood, storybook, medieval illumination, and ever so occasionally, historical reality. The photography is generally attractive. The color I have mentioned. This is a very fine movie to pay no great attention to. I had a perfectly good time letting my thoughts play over the surface and then flit where they would.

The score is by William Walton and had no small part in making his reputation. It is that rarity of rarities, a movie score with a subsequent concert-hall life, where it exists as a short suite (I think in two different versions) and a longer “scenario” with narrator. There are quite a few rerecordings, including one with Olivier speaking. Walton offers up just what you’d expect – a lot of fanfares and other pomp, some authentic period music and some manufactured, the requisite orchestral battles and whatnot – but, as with Olivier, his British composure itself is satisfying. Real “high” composerly care has been taken and it feels luxurious.

The onscreen orchestra’s overture to the play is pretty catchy and I was going to make that the selection, just as Criterion made it their menu music, but it’s only Walton in quotes. So here’s the end credit, which in the suite is called “Agincourt Song” because it is a setting of the authentic 15th-century Agincourt Carol about the events of the play. Pretty lucky for Walton this song existed! Here’s the selection, our imaginary Track 41. This gives a good sense of the movie: a thoroughgoing class act, to be sure… but also, who needs it?

Once more unto the breach!

December 16, 2013


1: 19372: 19403: 19404: 19415: 19426: 19427: 19448: 19469: 194710: 194811: 194912: 195013: 195114: 195315: 195516: 195917: 196118: 196319: 196720: 197021: 197322: 197723: 197724: 198125: 198526: 198627: 198828: 198929: 199030: 199131: 199232: 199433: 199534: 199635: 199736: 199837: 199938: 199939: 200040: 200041: 200142: 200243: 200244: 200345: 200446: 200547: 200748: 200849: 200950: 201051: 201152: 201253: 2013

It is done.

A digest retrospective follows.

1. 1: 1937 (1/7/08)

ADAM It has certain iconic images that are competitive with anything else Disney produced, but as a story it’s much too slow. It’s archaically paced and boring… There’s no actual bit of dialogue or interaction that’s particularly memorable, but all the songs are pretty memorable… I would call this a promising first effort for Disney. But it’s no Ratatouille.

BETH I had thought that the last scene, where she’s in the glass case, took fifteen minutes of screen time. My memory of it was that it was much longer than it actually was, and the rest of the movie was much shorter, I guess because I was so upset by it… I think girls probably like it more, because they want to be Snow White… I was a princess for Halloween when I was nine, but I wasn’t obsessed with princesses. I know people are really obsessed with princesses now. We had My Little Pony.

BROOM Ninety percent of the movie is quasi-comic business with the dwarfs that doesn’t completely work… It’s constructed like a short, with a series of gags on the same theme. Here there were a lot of gags about washing… I liked the lush feeling, like a children’s storybook had come to life and you could enter into it. Even when it was boring, I still liked the way their chairs and doors looked… There’s a dynamic quality to what’s on screen that must have been incredible at the time.

2. 2: 1940 (1/17/08)

ADAM It’s a lot more dramatically taut, although it’s still not a fully developed story. It’s a picaresque with three episodes… The nightmare quality is easily the most compelling thing about the movie. It’s really frightening… I don’t think the movie hangs together as a plot, but I do think it’s got a lot of very suggestive and interesting elements.

BETH It’s like a terrible dream… I hated Pinocchio as a kid. I remember being made to watch it in school and just wanting to run away. Maybe it’s more of a boy’s movie… The entire time, he’s in situations that you don’t want him to be in. It lasts the whole movie; he just moves from one situation to another, and it makes children feel uncomfortable… The animation seemed more confident.

BROOM It may not be like a normal plotted movie in form, but it’s something legitimate in itself. It has its own kind of arc… It felt like they had relaxed into storytelling the best way they knew how. But still within a European framework… It’s supposed to be a story about moral choices, but it doesn’t read that way to children, because the moral choices are indicated in peculiar vaudeville ways… The movie is a technical advancement in every way… I think it does hang together, as an allegory about boyhood and encountering the world. And it hangs together for children in a different way, as a dreamlike succession of compellingly weird things.

3. 3: 1940 (2/08)

ADAM I think it’s not successful… My difficulty in listening seriously to classical music is that I am too liable to drift off and not pay attention, and that tendency does not need to be facilitated… I think the two ballets are the most successful for me, in that ballet music is meant to be accompanied with visual spectacle… If it’s supposed to be high art, why are the cartoons so preposterous? I mean, almost all the segments are pointedly juvenile… I’m not unsympathetic to this movie. I appreciate that it’s trying for something astonishing.

BETH I thought Night on Bald Mountain was the best one, the most stylish and visually rich… The movie would have held up better if it had been more abstract, and not cute cartoon characters running around… I was obsessed with this movie when I was a kid. Most of the drawings I did from around fourth through sixth grade looked like things in this movie. I would draw skies that were purple with lines shooting up from the sun, trying to make it look like the very end of the last one.

BROOM I marvel at the fact that this movie is what it is, that it asks people to look at something very abstract and stylized… I feel like the Nutcracker segment is a high point in animation art… I feel like shot for shot there are artistic choices being made in this movie that are the boldest things Disney ever did. I’m not saying all of them work, but I like that the movie is chock-full of bold choices. It maintains a remarkable level of lush intensity the whole time.

4. 4: 1941 (3/08)

ADAM That was awesome. I love that movie so much. It’s the best one… The whole movie I was quivering with indignation at how mean they were to him; it hurts my feelings. And all of the stock characters are highly appealing and individuated, and the songs are all great… I think that the shortness of it totally works; it feels packed with incident… It’s touching and thrilling and sad… I think this is an early peak which it will be hard to match.

BETH I really did not like this when I was a child, and I think it’s because his mother is taken away. Even though the Times review said it was a happy movie, and Disney himself said it was a happy movie, it did not seem happy. And the ending still seems a little bit abrupt… When I was watching it just now, I thought, “Maybe Adam is Dumbo.” I wondered if that was why you liked it so much… I don’t have any reservations but I remember not liking it, so I would not expect my kids to like it. Maybe boys like it more; maybe boys can handle the material better. I was so upset by it that I did not want to keep watching it… All around, thumbs up.

BROOM The movie is notably different from the previous three in that it’s really dialogue-based and contemporary… For the first time, you aren’t inclined to watch for the craft. They’ve really mastered it and you just watch the story. The sequences play so smoothly. The better musical scoring was a part of it – the underscoring works perfectly and draws you into it. I felt like they had gotten to a level of craft where now they could make any Disney movie… I would be happy to set kids down in front of this now.

5. 5: 1942 (3/08)

ADAM A greater contrast with the preceding movie could not possibly be imagined. The politics of Dumbo are very subversive, whereas Bambi is just a paean to conformity… The movie is like Mickey Mouse to Dumbo‘s Donald Duck… All the characters were cardboard. And the one-dimensional, mechanistic view of human life portrayed here is what makes it uninteresting… The music in this was appalling. This just seemed like a shoddier effort.

BETH It was really dull. I just didn’t think it was engaging. I thought the idea behind it was nice, but I don’t know if there’s a way to do it that could keep you interested in the characters, because the characters aren’t the point… They found a way to make very cute rabbits not be cute. Things like that weren’t working for me and eventually I decided that it was all misguided. I think they had good intentions… It seemed like the animators got excited every time they had to do something dark; I thought the forest fire and the fight in rainbow colors were really excellent. Finally! That all came in the last fifteen minutes of the movie.

BROOM I had mixed feelings, but I wasn’t struggling against the kind of gut distaste that you guys seem to have had. I saw what it was trying to be: primal beauty, and adorable, and a couple of other things. They didn’t quite fit together, but I understood and could sympathize with what each moment was supposed to be… I thought that the cuteness was actually done conscientiously. It didn’t feel like it was going for cuteness in a cheap Hallmark card way, as a ploy. But then there were three scenes in a row that were trying to be adorable, and that was too much, too one-note… The story rode an uncomfortable line between complete anthropomorphism and nature documentary.

6. 6: 1942 (5/08)

ADAM That was totally meta. That was crazy. People paid money to see that in a theater? I found it really entertaining, but it’s hard to imagine that it would be entertaining as anything other than a curiosity… I was interested in the way that all the stories in this movie were told before they were told. They made it very clear that these were just filmed anecdotes. They show the artists thinking up the plane before they show you the plane. Which was weird.

BETH I don’t understand why it’s in their canon. I thought it was going to be a feature, not a bunch of shorts… I thought it was really great, actually… I would tell people to watch it if they see it on television. It’s a good rainy day movie. Very low-commitment.

BROOM It was like something to show to schools… I think it did its job on me. Also, it was about specific South American things that I hadn’t been overexposed to. Lake Titicaca, and gauchos – I’ve never had this particular stuff shoved down my throat before, so I’m perfectly happy for Disney to show me some cartoons about it… I found the movie pretty charming. But it’s totally not in the category of “feature film”… I like the concept behind it, that benign superficial tourism and just the beauty of a country can be sold as a reason that we should have good relations with that country.

7. 7: 1944 (6/08)

ADAM I feel weirdly intoxicated right now… If you set aside the idea of it being edutainment, and think of it as a Freudian descent into the underworld of the mind, there’s a definite sort of logical and inexorable progression from cheerful stories to Satyricon, basically… During the climactic scene, I was weeping with embarrassed giggles… I think this might be appealing to adolescents in its message of impossible-to-satisfy sexual chaos… It may not have been coherent and it may not have had any kind of structure or purpose, but it was definitely trying to go balls out at something… I would tell anyone to watch this movie. Particularly people who are not Disney fans.

BETH [absent]

BROOM We weren’t stoned in any way, but I feel kind of like we were… I liked that it was set in no-man’s-land, with just a weird pink and red background, just a place of pure fun. That indeterminate space where craziness happens… Clearly the impetus for the movie to exist was similar to Saludos Amigos, even if it wasn’t commissioned by the government. But given that project, they made such anti-educational choices. There was very little content, and a lot of it was repeated from the other movie… I feel like this was some kind of a turning point for the studio; there was definitely a sense that this was less cared for. But that last sequence was something.

8. 8: 1946 (7/08)

ADAM That was cheerfully stupid but it was still stupid. I do not recommend that people see this. I think this was the worst Disney production I’ve ever seen… I think it’s reprehensible that they actually marketed this in theaters. It felt like a collection of leavings… This might be a lower point even than the late-70s trough that we’re all familiar with.

BETH I saw a bunch of the individual pieces when I was a kid, because The Disney Channel would air them before or after shows, and I think that’s the best way to view them. When they’re all together, you can notice that they don’t really add up to anything and aren’t that great… It just doesn’t even seem like a movie.

BROOM This seemed genuinely slapdash, far more than The Three Caballeros, though “slapdash” isn’t really a fair word to use for any Disney movie… It was certainly far less entertaining than any of the previous ones. I have the least inclination to watch any of it again. Although I would watch the “All The Cats Join In” segment if it was on, and I would also watch “After You’ve Gone.”

9. 9: 1947 (8/08)

ADAM That was terrible. It was an uneven pastiche of all sorts of crazy things. I thought it was lazy of them to resurrect Jiminy Cricket and Cleo for such a shoddy purpose. Bongo was like, here’s this circus plotline, and then here’s this unfit-for-the-wilderness plotline, and then here’s this bears slapping plotline. Also, as a paean to spousal abuse, it was irresponsible… Just as in The Three Caballeros, the terrible shock of seeing live-action people is almost physically upsetting… Charlie McCarthy is an asshole.

BETH That sucked, okay? It’s like they weren’t even trying, like they weren’t even thinking. Could they not have come up with a story? That was one of the worst Disney things I’ve ever seen… I give Bongo a C-minus… I thought they were definitely inspired by Warner Brothers, but, as I said at the time, they didn’t know how to do it. It wasn’t as funny, it wasn’t as slick, and it just looked like an imitation… I hope I never have to watch it again and I’m really glad you didn’t buy it.

BROOM There are lot of Disney shorts, and we accept that a lot of them are stupid. The only thing that’s distinctive about these is that they were packaged as a feature-length movie and included in the feature canon. But it’s just some shorts, of not very high quality. It’s not that shocking… I found more atmosphere to enjoy and be creeped-out by in the frames than I did in the actual stories… The flavor of this whole movie was: “Let’s just get out the stuff that we have, and use it, and put something in the theaters.” There’s also a feeling of nostalgic sadness saying goodbye to Donald, Mickey, and Goofy, because we’re not gonna be seeing them again in this project.

10. 10: 1948 (9/08)

ADAM It may have been better than the last one but let’s be clear: it wasn’t actually good… “Bumble Boogie” was psychologically satisfying, and sort of creepy… “Johnny Appleseed” was the dreckiest of the segments. I thought the cornpone Parson Weems quality of it was disturbing… I thought “Little Toot” was pretty adorable, in spite of myself… “Trees” was the campiest thing I think we’ve seen in any Disney film… Much of the psycho-sexual quality of “Pecos Bill” was disturbing.

BETH That was the best of the “package” films… I really expected it to be terrible, so it was nice to see some pretty backgrounds and fun animation… Here’s my problem with this movie as a whole: none of the characters – except for the chipmunk – seem like Disney characters. The bodies of the animals – like the bunnies in “Wintertime” – they were husky in a strange way. They didn’t seem as lithe, as nimble, as animals usually do in Disney. And their faces seemed dumber. Johnny Appleseed had this weird, not-quite-characterized face… I thought the characterization of the tugboats in “Little Toot” was better than any of the animals or people in this movie.

BROOM I thought this was an encouraging improvement on both the story and technical fronts… I’m not saying that this was great, but I really enjoyed it, especially because I had no expectations for it. I found myself feeling really pleased that it had some verve and panache. In places… Short for short, almost all of them were better than the average of Make Mine Music, which it was essentially a continuation of… I thought “Bumble Boogie” was awesome.

11. 11: 1949 (10/08)

ADAM That was awesome!… I found The Wind in the Willows totally charming. It was like a Dickens story crossed with a Wodehouse story… I liked that this was not yet in the Disney mold of, like, a spunky hero on a voyage of self-discovery.

BETH That was one of my favorites. I thought The Wind in the Willows was pretty interesting but not for kids at all. There’s just no way they could follow it. It was hard even for me. You have Scottish and British dialects, and the story is about, like, a deed… I still think that for these to be the first two stories that they tell as regular stories in ten years was a strange choice.

BROOM I thought both segments in the movie required a sophistication of narrative comprehension that kids just don’t have. I remembered seeing both halves, separately, and not being able to really follow either of them… Interesting thing about this movie: there are no truly sympathetic characters… In many ways this movie did seem like it initiated a new direction, toward what Disney is now… This feels like a more conservative, less visually-oriented type of storytelling. I felt like here they suddenly have maybe fifty percent of the elements of the Disney movie “brand” in place.

12. 12: 1950 (11/08)

ADAM While it was more dated than I had ever realized, it’s still very good-natured… Could there be a lusher, more exhilarating moment in the history of cinema than when the sparkles clothe her and she emerges in that wedding gown?… It was cheerful, and maybe not especially well drawn, but it had a pleasant liveliness to the drawing. It was totally bearable. Though there were moments when Cinderella seemed a little too much like someone from a 1950s soap commercial; the anachronism of it jarred me a little, but otherwise I enjoyed it.

BETH I hadn’t realized how many animal hijinks there would be… As a kid, I was always waiting for it to get back to her and her dress… I think it was solid kids’ entertainment, and it felt more contemporary as kids’ entertainment than any of the previous Disney movies. I can imagine kids still watching this.

BROOM This is a seventy-minute movie, and of those minutes, about thirty were cat and mouse bullshit… The fairy godmother scene is the best in the movie by a long shot. Not just because of the dress or the pumpkin, but because it has atmosphere and something exciting is happening… I found the mice very difficult to take. I think if you excised all the animal material, you’d have a pleasant 25 minute movie. This was just tedious… It felt thin, and it felt a little cynical on the part of the studio.

13. 13: 1951 (11/08)

ADAM I didn’t think that was very successful. To me one of the most compelling parts of the book Alice in Wonderland is the sense of malice that emanates from all the characters, which is only imperfectly translated here. It just loses some of its delicious arbitrariness.

BETH I thought it was really good. It was so different from any Disney movie we’ve seen. I thought it felt a lot more daring… I didn’t like this at all when I was a kid. It felt like I was in a nightmare. I was supposed to sympathize with Alice, and I couldn’t bear to. Placing myself in her position made me feel horrible. I felt like I needed to get out.

BROOM I thought it was great. When I was a kid, I was aware of the softer tone of the movie as compared to the book, but watching it now, I didn’t feel like the differences from the book actually detracted from the pleasures of this movie itself… By borrowing one-fiftieth of the wit of the books, they made the movie seem full of interesting material. And delightful, to my mind… I think that the Mary Blair designs looked fantastic.

14. 14: 1953 (12/08)

ADAM This might be my new favorite… The remarkable thing about the movie is that it makes both childhood and adulthood seem unappealing, but does so in a way that’s totally charming. Well, maybe not “unappealing,” but they’re both mixed bags, like life is. It does not feel like a fairy tale… It was ambiguous. And it really packed a lot of adventure into seventy-five minutes. There was not a dull moment in this movie… I thought this was deeply satisfying. And thought-provoking, and subtle.

BETH I liked it a lot… Maybe I’m wrong, but why is this movie not more popular? Is it popular? It seems like we’ve all seen it just once. It’s not a “beloved favorite.”

BROOM I enjoyed it now. But as a kid I didn’t understand what it was supposed to add up to. I think it only makes sense at a remove from childhood, because it’s a depiction of childhood as seen by adults… This was definitely the most sophisticated script so far. There was also, notably, nothing at all artsy in it… Not only were the people animated better, but the staging was better here than anywhere before. Every scene somehow was conveyed in a hugely kinetic way.

15. 15: 1955 (1/09)

ADAM I didn’t realize that dogs were so ethnic… In basically every scene of the movie, I was comparing it to the equivalent scene in Guys and Dolls, which this was sort of the animated version of. This is a little sentimentalized compared to that – it’s not wrong to say that this is an overly greeting-card-like movie. But it was fun… It has an easy, worldly, slightly cynical quality.

BETH I thought the movie was a lot of fun. I don’t think it was a great piece of filmmaking, but it was solidly entertaining… It’s like the song “Uptown Girl,” by Billy Joel… I thought some of the background transitions – where Lady would be in the garden and then suddenly in a terrible doghouse in the rain – I thought those were nice, and something we haven’t seen before.

BROOM It felt very slick and modern. There’s really no difference between this and the version of it that they would make today. Not even in tone… The animation of character acting gets better and better, more elaborate and interesting. Both of the leads were very well done. And that scene with the spaghetti – people don’t just like it because of that image, but because the whole scene is played so well… The movie keeps picking things that have genuine sentimental value and then just going too far. But I didn’t resent it as being totally phony. It’s calculated, but by people who were trying hard to do a good job at something a little bit tasteless. Overall, I was just impressed by the effortless confidence of it.

16. 16: 1959 (2/09)

ADAM This movie was almost exclusively attractive visually. They totally abandoned lushness and went for “zap! pow!” flatness and quasi-abstraction. And it was great, visually… But nobody’s motivations make any sense… Maleficent is sort of the hero of this movie. She’s the only person with any force of personality… I think this is the most arbitrarily fairy-tale-like of all the movies. It’s the one where people’s motivations matter the least and the abstract arc of the fairy tale is the most important, and I think that makes sense to pair with Tchaikovsky, a sort of abstract, classical soundtrack that comes from above.

BETH The colors! It’s like they discovered fuchsia for the first time. I found it delightful, and I thought they were being very daring… The problem is that you can’t relate to anything for a really long time… We don’t know her or care about her… I thought maybe they were utilizing color so boldly because they knew that kids wouldn’t be into the story, and they were trying to get them involved aesthetically.

BROOM The script just doesn’t work. They obviously have a problem, because the story is just “A curse was placed on her, and on her sixteenth birthday the curse came to pass, but then the prince came and saved her.” They decided to put the longest delay in between the morning of her sixteenth birthday and the evening, and they made it be about the dress, and the cake – just artificial delays, because the story doesn’t have anything to offer… It’s all stylized. Every layer of the movie is artificial… Almost every background is beautiful and striking… It had a materialistic attitude toward even the elements of fairy tale stories. There are no emotions in this movie.

17. 17: 1961 (3/09)

ADAM The story was a little flat, but visually it was top-notch. They decided to be cartoony again. For real. It was like the Sleeping Beauty cartooniness taken to a jauntier and more confident level… I think the way that they portrayed the city with line and patches of character that spilled over line was really lovely… I thought that the puppies were not all that well characterized… The dogs themselves, while perfectly adequately animated and pretty acute, were nothing magical. It was the backgrounds that I thought were really amazing. And Cruella herself.

BETH The way they used color was very sophisticated, I thought… When we first saw Anita, I thought, “they’ve done the perfect female face.” I thought she looked pretty, and smart, and looked like a real person. She’s wearing this very fancy, expensive outfit, and seems to have a career and a life. And then she just became a domesticated, kind of frumpy version of herself.

BROOM The designs of the still imagery, and also the lively way that they animated it, starting with the opening credit sequence, were all gratifying… I felt like this movie made Lady and the Tramp feel like a warm-up… I was struck by how television was a recurring theme here. It was sort of showing how Disney had embraced television… I thought the first half of the movie was a lot better than the second half.

18. 18: 1963 (4/09)

ADAM It’s striking to me that this is the first explicitly moralistic one… The movie struck me as sort of slipshod, coming to it now… It felt like budget cuts. It was so drab… I call attention to the fact that the only women in this movie are those squirrels and Madam Mim and the dishwasher woman. But of course there are no sympathetic males either. Everyone’s unpleasant, really… I don’t have much else to say about this movie. It was ramshackle… It was fine.

BETH I was thinking about why I liked it so much when I was 13 or 14, and I think it’s because it feels modern, in a way that everything prior to it did not… Also, it’s always active… I don’t think that this was a great work, but it was entertaining to me in the same way. It never lapses, I felt… It didn’t have as much class as I thought it had. So what, though? As kids’ entertainment it was fine.

BROOM 101 Dalmatians felt like, “wow, look what we came up with! It’s great! The movie doesn’t totally hang together — but look at this new look and style and attitude we came up with!” And here it immediately already felt like, “the formula is in place, let’s turn out another one”… The whole movie gave me the impression that there was no big picture for any of the artists anymore. Real care seemed to have been put into it only on the scale where a single person was working on his own… It felt like a chintzier product.

19. 19: 1967 (5/09)

ADAM I thought it was funny that this was Disney’s response to the 60s. They tried to do the Beatles, but their Beatles were singing barbershop. They obviously said, “let’s get some of this crazy 60s stuff in,” but they had no idea… I liked the shaggy style of the drawing here, with stray lines. It looked like an animated sketchpad… You can see the Hanna-Barbera-ization proceeding apace. Sort of a jauntier, cheaper animation style; less moralizing and more slapstick… “Easygoing” is what I would call this movie. It’s like nobody meant any of it, for the whole movie. And that’s sort of comforting.

BETH I thought Shere Khan was a great villain character… I liked Mowgli’s face. I thought he was cute and easy to watch. A lot of times I think kids’ faces look obnoxious… It feels like it was made by people who had done a lot of pot. A lot about it seemed so 60s-y.

BROOM I certainly liked this movie a lot when I was a kid… The movie is just a series of encounters with characters, some of whom have songs. Well, I guess they all have songs, but some of the songs suck… The slapstick was generally well-animated, but a lot of it was pretty lazy stuff. I guess Sword in the Stone was like that too. I feel like The Jungle Book has a little more human warmth, which is probably why I liked it better… The movie didn’t demand anything of us. There’s no investment to be made in it; it’s just a series of diversions.

20. 20: 1970 (7/09)

ADAM It was sort of like 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp, turned down to five… The movie was just so boring!. It was just painfully dull. “What are all the things we can think of about upper-crust French people? Doing boring shit?” I’m surprised they didn’t have a whole scene that was a porcelain-painting lesson… There were all these things that felt like, “[exhausted groan], so what other obstacles can we throw at them?”… None of it hung together at all.

BETH It was very boring. Especially if you’re tired, it’s really unwatchable… It had a Scooby-Doo quality to it… I did like the backgrounds. The elaborate furniture and that sort of stuff, I thought, was nicely done. It had a mood… I think it was mostly the script. I think the lack of threat was a problem. There wasn’t enough conflict driving the action, throughout.

BROOM I thought the animation was actually all it had going for it. It felt like this non-starter project had been handed over to the art department and they had done a fine, serviceable job of it. What it was lacking was any reason to be, any story interest. I also thought the musical score really dragged it down constantly… The whole movie suffered from the same flaw: total insensitivity to whatever little story there was… The main problem with it was that it was just an animated movie about cats for the sake of there being an animated movie about cats.

21. 21: 1973 (7/09)

ADAM That was like all the delights of childhood in a single package. I remembered everything about it… You can see why Robin Hood is a sex object to me. He has those big huggable eyes, like a Japanese anime hero… I feel totally satisfied. But I will say that it has a sort of “François le champi” pleasure to it, which I don’t think it would have a second time.

BETH It was a little bit dull and it felt cheap, but it was fine. The music felt like Love Story to me, like a live-action romance movie. The rest felt like a very long Saturday morning cartoon. A cartoon that I would have watched on TV as a child. It was nothing: it was not exciting, it was not suspenseful, it was not terrible. It was solid… I guess if I had seen this as a kid I would have liked it.

BROOM I had immediate access to the way I felt about every moment when I was eight, but I’m still not sure what this movie is like from an adult’s perspective… I think the script is more grown-up in its construction than many of the movies we’ve seen, and certainly more than any of the Hanna-Barbera-type cartoons that you’re comparing it to… I can see that it has a lot of standard fare common to other kids’ stuff. But I think from a technical standpoint, the character animation is very good. There are a lot of kinds of acting and expression in it that they haven’t tried before – sarcasm and joking around.

22. 22: 1977 (10/09)

ADAM I thought that was almost unwatchable. I was so upset. I adore the books and that’s part of why I’m so angry about this. It’s interesting that this tried so slavishly to make the point that it was following the books, because it failed so utterly to capture their spirit… I used to think that Sterling Holloway was a great choice for the voice, but it’s just so treacly and bumptious!… The real Pooh has an intense seriousness about everything he says.

BETH I thought it was dull, but it was interesting to me that both Pooh and Tigger seemed like very self-involved characters. That felt new. It seemed new to be so self-referential in general.

BROOM This was three different short features that had been packed into one movie, and I think the quality of those three shorts varied. They weren’t all at the same level, and I think the idea of packing them together was detrimental to all of them… I thought that at least in the first segment, they had in some ways gotten the spirit of it across. The conceit that they’re stuffed animals and these stories are sort of Christopher Robin’s playing with them, but they’re also sort of their own beings in their own world… I thought that was handled carefully. I thought they had struck a nice balance. And then in the latter segments it drifted and started to feel more like an episode of “Gummi Bears” by the end.

23. 23: 1977 (11/09)

ADAM It was very fun. It was totally cheesy and often inadvertently fun, but that doesn’t make it less fun… The music was the best part for me. All the pieces were so corn-alicious… No element of the plot made sense at all… This period of the late 70s feels like the conceited nadir of children’s entertainment. It feels like a bleak time for children’s culture in America. And we were in it!… It was blatantly inferior to the product of the 30s, 40s and 50s. But it was fine. I feel like we’re erecting castles on a continuously sinking platform.

BETH I thought it was great. It was really entertaining… The music was like Herb Alpert backing Joni Mitchell… I thought the story was actually better than usual. I, as a grown-up, was pretty involved in this stupid plot… I loved it; I thought it was so much fun; BUT

BROOM Part of the fun for us is that it embodied all sorts of clichés and tropes and standards that remind us of our childhoods. Not that it was necessarily of high quality. But that’s still fun… I thought that in many places the animation was particularly exuberant compared to what we’ve seen recently… I felt like I was seeing the rudiments of the post-Little Mermaid style, the slick 90s product — the idea of integrating many different varieties of crowd-pleasing stuff in a contemporary, fast-paced way — but it felt to me a little like they hadn’t worked it out yet.

24. 24: 1981 (1/10)

ADAM It was composed of nothing but clichés the whole time… The plotting was terrible… It had weird racial overtones. You know, this is usually the story about the slave boy and the massuh’s son, meeting on the road twenty years later and they won’t acknowledge each other, and cue the violins… I think that this really may be the nadir.

BETH That was poorly done in every respect… I thought the color choices were strange and off in many of the scenes. I thought the outlining was weird — sometimes there were glow-y parts on the tops of the bodies that didn’t make sense. It looked like a bad Saturday morning cartoon… The music was full of wrong choices for the material.

BROOM That was not very good… A lot of the recent ones seem to have been taking older ones as models to some degree, and this was clearly built on the Bambi model. But they just didn’t have it in them. I felt like they just weren’t smart enough to do it… I feel like this story deserved a tragic ending, but they didn’t have the guts for that, so it ended on a nothing note… The reliance on Warner Brothers routines was, again, sad.

25. 25: 1985 (1/10)

ADAM That felt like a He-Man cartoon. It also had the feel of an eighties cartoon in that the backgrounds felt like watercolor and the action felt like shrinky-dinks, pasted on. The plot felt like a Lord of the Rings knock-off… It was sort of charming. I mean, all eighty minutes I was awake. There were always things happening; there were no digression caterpillars… I totally would have enjoyed watching this as a kid: it had a lot of plot, and I wouldn’t have minded the failure of characterization.

BETH The backgrounds were a lot nicer than I thought they would be. I was really expecting this movie to be a lot uglier. Actually it was really ugly; or at least it had a lot of ugly things in it. And scary things… All the special effects seemed lovingly done, like the backgrounds. The layouts, too — the actual design of the shots… I was expecting it to be worse than the worst that we’ve seen, and it was much better than that. It wasn’t the worst by far.

BROOM It wasn’t scary in an old warm-hearted “being scared is fun” way. It was scary in an 80s way, sort of a Steven Spielberg scary, like Poltergeist… It was certainly very different from anything that had come before. We’re really in an entirely different cultural territory here… There were a lot of sequences where the tone was confused, or where the music was a little confusing… The movie was really an effects showcase, whereas there have been almost no effects in any of the recent movies. For the first time in several decades, it felt like the animators were doing something that they found exciting. Which is not to say that the final product was so great, but it certainly felt enthusiastic.

26. 26: 1986 (3/10)

ADAM It looked like a Don Bluth movie… I would have liked this as a child because I liked anything that was lavishly about travel to a foreign city. This had a queen and Big Ben and Sherlock Holmes and all of the things that England is… I probably would have enjoyed this just fine as a kid, but it’s just a nothing. There’s nothing here.

BETH It didn’t look like a Disney movie, the same way that The Black Cauldron didn’t. It looked like an 80s kids’ cartoon… I liked a lot of the backgrounds. I thought the street scenes, the outdoor backgrounds, were nicely done. The indoor backgrounds I didn’t really like, but whenever it was nighttime outside I thought they did a nice job… This was way too scary for me as a seven-year-old. That was like my worst fear as a child, that some bad guy was going to come and take away my family… I don’t think I would have enjoyed it and I don’t think I would show it… I was pretty bored watching this.

BROOM I think this movie should have been called The Mouse Detective. Because it’s not that great. It was bad principally in the music and timing departments. A lot of what we saw and had to think about would have been bearable had it been done tightly, but it wasn’t. There was a certain amount of flair in some of the animation, but it wasn’t serving any greater cause, so it didn’t add up to anything good… I don’t think it’s right. I wouldn’t show this to my kids. It gets a lot of things wrong. The song sequences are so wrong-headed.

27. 27: 1988 (4/10)

ADAM I have to say: this movie had panache. It was funny… There are at least three songs that I am still humming right now… There were little touches that were really good, things that they clearly took pleasure in doing right… It’s striking to me, as someone who is living in New York and someone who was obsessed with depictions of New York as a kid, that this is not a movie that would be made today. This is a New York full of ethnic toughs, and crime, and graffiti in the subway, and class hatred. No one would ever even think to make a movie now where the good guys are like “‘Eyyyy, get outta my way!”

BETH It wasn’t as bad as the last two. In parts it was funny. And the songs were decent for once… I felt like they ripped off their own movies, a little bit. Like Lady and the Tramp.… The drawing style was still that sleazy, cheap style, and not what we’ll see in The Little Mermaid, which looks wholesome and not sleazy… I actually loved the bad guy in this, but I didn’t think he was appropriate for children. It’s like the fourth kidnapping in a row! As a kid who was afraid of kidnapping: duh, no wonder I was! Everything had kidnapping in it! They tied her wrists up. Everything that I feared happened to that girl… Two and a half stars instead of one and a half stars.

BROOM I had been anticipating that we would see The Little Mermaid as a sudden rebirth out of ashes. But I actually saw this as sort of a halfway point, building toward that from where they’d been… I thought Bette Midler’s musical number was a huge blast of adrenaline for the Disney organization. We saw several different song styles being tried, and then in the middle of this is the mock-“Broadway song,” and it lights up the screen!… I thought the most important thing that they’d rediscovered was timing, which I keep saying the movies lack. This one, finally, had a sense of timing. The sequences flowed… But how good is it really? Not that good.

28. 28: 1989 (5/10)

ADAM I thought I was going to be blown away by how this looked — and it looks fine — but what I was actually impressed by was its wit. Which surprised me. I did not remember that, and I was tickled. There was even redeeming humor in the turgid romantic parts… I liked it for all the right reasons.

BETH I didn’t think it looked that amazing either, though it wasn’t bad — but it was very tight. The music was good, the story was good, and it felt like everyone working on it was excited by the idea of an under-the-sea movie. They were very inventive in coming up with fun things to animate… It felt very fresh. Very 90s, but fresh.

BROOM I think that all of its greatest strengths were in what we would attribute in a live-action movie to “directing.” The whole movie was done very much like Broadway. There’s a very particular way that songs and lines play on Broadway, and it’s something that this movie did consistently and with confidence. And not just the songs; I felt like all of the storytelling beats were from that same school, and done exactly right so that you could just lap it all up easily… I would say about one-half of the animation was better than it had been, and about half of it was about the same… I thought it was great. I really enjoyed watching it, and I haven’t felt that in a long time.

29. 29: 1990 (6/10)

ADAM That was a lot more visually sophisticated than I was anticipating… I don’t think it has respect for kids’ intelligence. The dominant mode of this movie is a sort of wiseacre jokiness… It was like the Simpsons episode where they go to Australia… Although it was superficially attractive, it all looked sort of tinselly, in a way that I found distinctly unappealing. Everything seemed like it was coated in cellophane. It’s clear they took a lot of pleasure in an accurate, toylike approach. It all had a “collector’s” quality to it, which is not wholesome… A weird albino Disney movie.

BETH Did they really use Australia very well as a setting? No! They didn’t do anything with it… The whole bird adventure at the beginning was dumb. You have absolutely no sense of where things are going to go from there. Then they go in a pretty pedestrian direction… The Bob Newhart mouse is a pathetic mumblebum. There’s nothing appealing about that mouse!… I thought it was funny that there was a “wanted” posted nailed to a tree. In the middle of the forest? This took place in modern times!

BROOM It had more shadows indicating three-dimensional rounding than any movie we’ve seen yet. But to me, that gives things a slightly unsavory quality… Everything is just trope upon arbitrary trope… Why did this movie happen at all? There’s no there there. It’s like to create the substance of the movie they just used some machine that churns things out. Whereas to create the individual shots, they actually used something much more interesting than what they had used for Little Mermaid… This was your classic polished turd. It was highly buffed nothingness.

30. 30: 1991 (8/10)

ADAM It’s so shamelessly and unapologetically enthusiastic about what it is that it’s extremely infectious. It’s like Glee fifteen years earlier… It feels like drag. But glorious, pretty, lush drag. It felt like a Judy Garland Christmas special… I feel like the Gaston character is like an indictment of my whole value system. He’s unlike all other Disney villains, which I think is cool. He’s not like a typical lisping uncle — it’s a little more creative… I think this is totally satisfying. As a kid I was enthralled by its wide-eyed itselfness.

BETH I was very entertained by it… Belle isn’t a bad role model. She’s a decent person who likes to read. And she’s pretty. It’s interesting to me that both of her suitors set up these “choose your dad or choose me” scenarios… It’s hard for me to believe that movies about girls going on adventures really appeal to boys…. Because I’d never seen this before, right now I think I like it better than The Little Mermaid, because it was all new to me.

BROOM You can complain about the PC-ization that we’re seeing here, but I think that most of the thinking about “the message we’re sending to girls” pays off, by making this genuinely a more wholesome movie… The main difference between this and the early Disney movies of a similar wholesomeness was that those movies were somehow “open” whereas this felt very constructed, very directed, like a Broadway show. It’s more clearly just a series of displays of stagecraft. It feels a little phony… My fifteen-years-later feeling was that it holds up pretty well, and is good for kids, and I still like The Little Mermaid better.

31. 31: 1992 (10/10)

ADAM I think the Robin Williams sort of cuts the Broadway schmaltz. They have both themes, and they’re both oppressive in and of themselves, but together they’re sort of bearable… Aladdin is pretty cute. He has those big neotenous eyes that make you just wanna hug him… There is a moral, but the moral is, like, “free yourself!” But it’s a perfect message for the 90s. It’s this vapid sort of “do whatever you want!” There’s no actual content to it… What year is this? 93? Totally Clinton. It feels like it’s of that time. Vapid. Ahistorical.

BETH It seemed very of its time. The movie was not boring, and kept me interested the entire time. And I thought the references were amusing, but in a long-term way, unsuccessful. I know those references; kids of the 2040s aren’t going to get any of those weird jokes… I thought I was going to be annoyed by Robin Williams, but he was at his Robin-Williamsy best… The songs were shitty. He can’t sing!… It’s not preachy, like most of the Disney movies have been…. I felt like the people who made this were challenging themselves to see how much they could pile on. It didn’t have the soul of The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. Which is fine.

BROOM I like that it’s visually stylish in a way that hearkens back to the old ones and is also totally garish in a new, 90s way, and is exuberant about its garishness. I thought it had the best backgrounds in years… The movie was right on the line for me. Because when I first saw it, I loved it, but now part of me was thinking, “this is so cheesy”… I enjoyed this, but I feel like it’s enjoying something somewhat distasteful. I feel like if you had showed this to the 1940 audience, they would have thought, “that was offensive! and abrasive!”… I think the CGI has aged well, because it was used with taste, with an eye for its otherworldliness.

32. 32: 1994 (3/11)

ADAM That was as dated as any movie we’ve seen in the whole run. That was just a great big wallop of 90s, in a way that is distressing to me. It had that portentous, vaguely environmentalist, vaguely multi-culturalist, heaping political correctness… The only thing that was legitimately exuberant about this, as opposed to fake exuberant, was anything with Jeremy Irons in it. He’s great… It felt like the film version of a Maya Angelou poem… I think the 90s had a sense — this was the period in which history was over, right? And we sort of mistook shallowness for greatness during that period, in a way that is depressing but very much characteristic of a time of basic peace and prosperity.

BETH It was excited about how politically correct it was being… I liked a lot of the nature long shots, like trees silhouetted against the dusk. Things like that. But the movie!… It was slow, too… I didn’t get sad when the dad died, which is weird. I think which means that the movie was flawed somehow. I cry at everything. I really do. I didn’t even get close to crying at this movie… All the songs were terrible.

BROOM I was aware of just how lush a thing any Disney animated movie is, even when it’s not satisfying or good… I think this movie is all screwed up. It felt like all this mythic stuff was just happening because it had been calculated and read about. The reason those things are meaningful in other movies is because they have the quality of having come from the subconscious. Which means not a lot of puns, and not a lot of music overexplaining every moment, which is a holdover from the Broadway aesthetic. If it just had cooled off and let us feel that we were watching a dream, it would have had so much more to offer. But it never did… It’s art without sincerity at a very elaborate level of execution.

33. 33: 1995 (4/11)

ADAM That might be the worst one. Four movies ago we were so excited that this breath of fresh Broadway air was being blown into the Disney musical, and now they’ve already exhausted that possibility… I find this exceptionally offensive because it’s about a really lurid and tragic period in American history. To take a nominally historical subject and make it into just cannon-fodder for your schmaltzy story is terrible… It was just a total pastiche of every cliche image of Native Americans that anyone could think of… They had no personalities… Garish and unpleasant to look at.

BETH They didn’t seem to think about who would be watching this. Does this appeal to kids at all? It’s a love story! As a kid, I never cared about the love story part of stories, and it was all a love story. And then it was war-ish. I just don’t feel like they were thinking about how it was playing to the intended audience… It was just so dull! Even in the beginning, when the ship was going through the storm, I found my mind wandering… Occasionally there would just be a nice picture on the screen… A very irresponsible movie.

BROOM For me what made it was terrible was the intensity of the complaint that I’ve made about previous movies: that they did not understand the reasoning behind what they were doing. It’s based on a fervent superficial familiarity with prior Disney movies… We didn’t believe that the characters loved each other; we didn’t believe that they were characters… The songs are very bad. The lyrics are very bad… Why Pocahontas? “Powerful. Female. Minority.” And because this movie so deeply doesn’t work, because this story doesn’t actually lend itself, it’s so transparent that that’s the only reason this movie exists. And that’s embarrassing!

34. 34: 1996 (7/11)

ADAM That was, like, three-hundred percent. I don’t know if it was good, but it was compelling. I mean, wow. To be clear, this was terribly ill-conceived, and I can’t believe this got green-lighted. But it was just so passionate. Just a wrong property to make into a lush animated musical… I saw it said in one of Elizabeth Taylor’s obituaries that “she brought down studios.” And that’s sort of the level of craziness of everything about this… I think the songs are the least effective thing about this, because they’re so discordant… I mean, it was good. I liked it! Or, it wasn’t “good,” it was memorable.

BETH I thought it was beautiful. I thought that the illustrations were really lovingly done… I can’t imagine a child watching this… It was compelling. My barometer is how frequently I look at the clock to see how much time has passed, and I wasn’t doing it very much… With all of the songs, I was just imagining them imagining how it would play on Broadway.

BROOM It couldn’t be more misbegotten. It boggles the mind… The “Hellfire” song is the best sequence by a longshot, because it’s deeply inappropriate for a Disney movie, and they go all-out. And because it had mystery and atmosphere and doesn’t fully explain itself; it just shows us imagery that’s effective. The rest of the movie is very diagrammatic… They were trying to do an epic melodrama. This is their Les Misérables… It definitely had flair, but I feel like it also needs to be pointed out that it was bad.

35. 35: 1997 (9/11)

ADAM I actually found it a pleasurable experience to watch. I was gripped. I mean, I understood that it was being cheesy and cynical, but I also responded to all the trite devices and the cheap heart-tugging… You know, they are sort of oscillating on this, if you will, David Letterman versus Maya Angelou; those are the only two emotional poles of the nineties… This was more Jay Leno than David Letterman… I’ll admit I was a little moved by “Go the Distance.” I empathize with feeling ostracized because of your superhuman strength and golden tresses… I think we all agreed that they pretty much played out Broadway sincerity by this point. So what were they going to do, if not this?

BETH It was colorful but I found the characters very ugly… The love song sounded like the introduction to a TV show from 1986. And I like that! But it didn’t make sense. I didn’t think any of the songs made sense… I think Aladdin is better. The songs were better integrated, and it felt more lush.

BROOM It’s a film without heart. And it’s detrimental to a movie not to have any heart… I think Hades is a very well designed and animated character, above their normal standards… I just think there was a mismatch between Alan Menken’s doo-wop Broadway style, and the spirit of this movie, which wanted to be like BLAM! BLONK! They shouldn’t really have been singing… I felt like, “I don’t really care about the love between Megara and Hercules!” I didn’t really care about anything enough… There were a lot of nice layouts. Pretty things to see… Basically, a good time, to a low standard of sophistication.

36. 36: 1998 (11/11)

ADAM This movie is obviously responding to the criticism of all the Disney heroines. It’s like, “Fine! You think that Disney heroines are passive princesses? Take that!” It seemed calculated to appeal to both P.C. critics of their female characters and Asian markets… In Beauty and the Beast there are at least three songs that we can all sing happily and that are pretty good. Even the notes of these songs were generic and bad. At that point, why even do a musical?… This was just kind of a journeyman effort.

BETH It wasn’t bad. It actually was fine. I found all of the ridiculousness entertaining. Yes, compelling. Who cared?… It seemed like different things were happening than usually happen in Disney movies, and that’s why I was okay with this movie. Such as gray zombie Huns coming to life… I thought the backgrounds were nice… I wasn’t constantly looking at how much time had elapsed, which is always my indicator.

BROOM It was bad, and in the second half I really lost my willingness to humor it. I thought the basic premise of this movie was not necessarily mishandled, but after it became action sequences and denouement it was all completely fumbled. The entire last act made no sense, literally or emotionally… I thought the animation was generally nice. Though it seemed like it had some real geeks working on the animation staff… None of it felt natural. It was embarrassing if you paid attention to it, so we didn’t. To be accepting of this shows that our standards have dropped exponentially.

37. 37: 1999 (1/12)

ADAM Come on, everyone! Didn’t this touch your heart? I was very touched by the rank sentimentality of this movie… I found the Phil Collins score extremely effective and touching. I would like to stand up for this movie, because I enjoyed it very much at the time; it was one of my favorites of the nineties ones, and still is. Even though it is a little sentimental — but they’re all a little bit sentimental. Even though it’s a little bit archetypal — but they all are… I frankly enjoyed his unnatural physique. Finally the shoe was on the other foot, gender-wise.

BETH I thought this was pretty dull, except that the action sequences were well done… I actually liked the woman here… The music wasn’t as cheesy as it usually is. It was very restrained. They didn’t overdo “musical numbers” at all… The background illustrations were among the best we’ve seen. I didn’t think the faces were good.

BROOM This was my least favorite in a while. I was waiting for something to be meaningful to me but it felt totally synthetic. The opening, about his parents dying, I was willing to take that as something. But all the Sonic The Hedgehog stuff, I felt distant from it… This one had more of that skeevy geek-sex veneer on it than any of them. The whole thing has this amped-up synthetic quality… “You’ll Be In My Heart” is actually not a bad song… I thought — especially at the beginning — that the editing pace had been goosed up significantly from where it had been, in a way that numbs me. It was cut like a trailer… And the jokes. And everything.

38. 38: 1999 (6/12)

ADAM I thought that had the same dispiritingly humdrum quality as when we go to see all the Oscar-nominated animated shorts… I think this was sort of in poor taste. Did there really need to be a leaf or an ash or a butterfly wing for every single note in every single piece this time around?… The colors and the look were so garish. Having to have everything magenta and green is the same as having to have a little swoop or flourish for every note, which is the same thing as picking — I mean, “The Pines of Rome”? What the hell is that?… The whole concept of the year 2000 in retrospect is stupid and embarrassing. But pompous at the same time. And this movie is the kind of thing that summarized the year 2000, to me.

BETH I was thinking about how challenging it must be to start with pieces that exist and try to craft a story to them. They didn’t usually work, but they were interesting… I thought the famous-people aspect was really distracting. I think the bad jokiness makes the whole thing feel out of touch. And now weirdly out-dated… They had a lot to live up to. People by this point had such a different relation to classical music than they did in 1940 to begin with.

BROOM The original “Sorceror’s Apprentice” being included just points up what has gone missing over the generations in between… The first Fantasia has so much greater feeling for the music and for what the animation can be, and this one was hampered by the lack of insight into those things in the present day. There’s a certain sensitivity and taste lacking… We’ve worked our way through the 20th century watching Disney become more and more a set of rote gestures. This felt like a good-faith effort to recapture something that they had genuinely forgotten how to think about… As we talk about these movies we lower and lower our expectations because the minds making them seem to have smaller and smaller ideals.

39. 39: 2000 (7/12)

ADAM They sort of head-faked us into thinking this was gonna be another Jungle Book, but it was actually like The Poseidon Adventure... I’m not so sure that this was a failure, the way it seemed like it was going to be at the beginning, when it was all that swoopy CGI and Kevin Costner music… There wasn’t character development, but there was strong characterization… I mean, this movie wasn’t good. It just wasn’t quite the nadir that I was anticipating… If you’re composing the list of the five Disney movies you absolutely never want to see, this is probably not one of them… I’m glad that it was strange.

BETH For seventy-five percent of it, it was really dark… By the time they were in the cave, I was responding to it. I was talking back… Early on — maybe it’s just because I was so turned off by the beginning — no one seemed appealing to me or worth caring about. But then it subverted expectations… I think it’s part of what was gripping about it, that it had this otherworldly quality… The CGI just wasn’t that good. It was very noticeable.

BROOM I found the atmosphere of the movie strange. It felt unearthly. The characters were kind of at arm’s length, compared to most Disney movies… There were the terrible one-liners that a lot of movies now have. And then there were plot events that fit into this formula. And there wasn’t, for me, a sense of character in between. It sort of made the movie feel like it was happening in a strange other space… I’m surprised you two disliked the opening so strongly; to me, it’s the wisecracking that’s embarrassing… The strangeness is in subtle tonal things, but what’s really going on is very run-of-the-mill, standard stuff, with stupid jokes. It’s kind of an insult to us.

40. 40: 2000 (8?/12)

ADAM I was gonna say it was like a “Looney Tunes,” but it’s actually like a “Tiny Toons.” As a kid, I would have been in stitches at the “Wait a minute, what you just said doesn’t make sense!” jokes. “Wait a minute, I’m going to spell out a convention here!”… Actually the humor and the style remind me eerily of “Monkey Island”… Didn’t you think it was ugly to look at? It felt Hanna Barbera… John Goodman was a little earnest for me. It was hard to take watching him save the llama so many times… There is no love story in this movie. And that is very satisfying because it avoids a lot of stupid treacliness. Also no songs… I’m sure if I had seen this when I was ten, I would have been transported.

BETH It was strikingly unambitious in terms of what it wanted to be, but it was completely successful. I think of Disney movies as all trying to be greater than what this was. It was really silly, and the time went so much more quickly than it had for maybe the past ten… But it will never be a classic. It reminded me of watching a cartoon episode of Friends. The types of jokes are not the way people joke now. I think that this type of joking ended with September 11th… I thought some of the backgrounds were nice. It felt Saturday-morning-esque, a little bit. It felt the least Disney of all of them. But that was a fine thing! … It’s a good script all-around. It’s really tight… This was a precursor to the “bro-mance,” about ten years ahead of its time.

BROOM It makes me smile! I take issue with the idea that this is unambitious. I think it’s ambitious in a totally different direction… This needs to be seen as a significant accomplishment, if only because everything that it tries to be is something that so many movies have try to be, and they rarely get even close to working. It’s usually incredibly tedious. But there’s something really fluid and natural and joyful about this movie that I am very impressed by. It’s exactly what Disney usually sucks at! What else did Hercules want to be but this, a movie that we thought was charming and silly the whole way through? There’s rarely a joke that I don’t cringe at in other Disney movies. This was never embarrassing to me.

41. 41: 2001 (9/12)

ADAM It’s a lot more ambitious than The Fox and the Hound, that’s for sure… They tried not to make the characters cliches even though they were all stereotypes. They were each doing a bit, but the bit was a little different from what you’ve seen before… I did have some fun with this movie. If this was your first introduction to the ragtag team of caperers movie, what an awesome movie this would be… It had a lot of crescendo animations. The city was a little disappointing, but things like the columns, and the volcano, and even Washington D.C. in 1914, I thought, looked kind of cool… Aren’t you at least glad they tried something different?

BETH I kept thinking about Ocean’s Eleven. It has, like this movie, a ragtag team of experts that aids in an adventure. And it’s a short, fast movie in which you get to know each of those characters and like them and root for them. And there’s also a lot of action. I think this movie wanted to do exactly that and completely failed. It was incredibly obtuse… The characters looked a little Adult Swim-y, from the early 2000s…. I thought it sucked. I was so disappointed. I thought I would like it based on the trailer. I thought the tropes would provide. And they really let me down. I think it’s mostly the script’s fault.

BROOM Despite being full of stuff and visually very accomplished, this movie managed to have not a single thing in it that genuinely caught my interest… I felt like this was tried-and-true crap being dished up again but not right… There were no moments that were real; there was no time that you got to feel that you were really somewhere… I have a tip for screenwriters: never have your screenplay revolve around a magic crystal… I thought this movie was horseshit and yet I also thought the animators did seem to care. They seemed excited about the way it looked and the stuff they were doing visually.

42. 42: 2002 (11/12)

ADAM It was so sad! I teared up multiple times. There was a lot of social realism that we’ve never seen before and will never see again. And it’s really effective, in part because it’s paired with the surrealism of the aliens. It would be actually really depressing to watch a movie about a little girl whose family is rent apart by uncaring social workers… I thought all the jokes were really affecting. The interaction between the sisters was satisfyingly real but funny… I thought it was great. I thought it looked really pretty but without being over-the-top beeeautiful.… This was probably the best one after the classic ten. It’s the best non-classic one.

BETH The script was great and it had nothing to do with anything Disney had ever done before. It had aliens, but it also had a social worker, it had Elvis. I mean, when have we ever acknowledged outside culture in a Disney movie?… It felt like it was more the story of one person than of a team. All of the 90s movies felt like a bunch of people working on a concept together, and this felt like a very personal story that they managed to tell very well… The way the bodies were drawn was completely different from how they’d been treating women up until now: very strong legs, unbalanced features, not completely proportionate… This is one that I feel like, “oh, I would want kids to watch this!” I thought it was great.

BROOM The tone and spirit of the script was completely different from the norm, but in being about real emotions in the way that it was – which I think is so great – it was tied into the original Disney tradition. Essentially, this is the movie that I’ve wanted them to make, for the last thirty years of movies. And they only did it once… It is beautiful. The backgrounds are all watercolor. They haven’t used backgrounds like that since the 30s, and it gives it such a lush, human feeling. It’s a feast for the eyes… There was a real spirit in all the designs… I was thinking that this was a five-star masterpiece for the first two-thirds of the movie. Some of the air came out toward the end.

43. 43: 2002 (1/13)

ADAM It wasn’t a world-class movie, but it was solid. I was entertained the entire time… That’s a tribute to Robert Louis Stevenson, who totally carried this movie. It wasn’t Disney-stupid-plotted, the way they all are… A steampunk Treasure Island is a great idea… I thought the very idea of having moral complexity in the villain was significant. Admittedly he switched from all good guy to all bad guy to all good guy, but at least he switched from something to something… I liked that this was a Disney movie where the father was gone and not the mother, for a change… It doesn’t make sense that the treasure of a thousand worlds is mostly rings. Aliens don’t even have fingers!

BETH I was entertained by it… The thing that I couldn’t get out of my head was that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character was just like my brother… I don’t know how to watch these movies if I have to think of my actual response. I would fall asleep in order to avoid watching this movie, if I was watching it for real. But I made it be okay! I changed whatever I was seeing into something that was okay… Most of the characters were unlikable. Even the main character wasn’t really likable.

BROOM I found the setting so weird. I didn’t know what the rules were. What is normal and what isn’t? “Steampunk” is supposed to be this stimulating mashup, but this just seemed like a bizarre mix of things… All the aliens looked sort of like snails, or like globs of clay. And an all-farting slug. I didn’t understand what flavor of imagination it was all supposed to be… There’s just less warmth than I want in most of these movies most of the time. The big thing that surprised us about Lilo and Stitch is that it had a modicum of real warmth in it. Here, even the big “relationship,” between him and Long John Silver, was just D.O.A. There was no real feeling there.

44. 44: 2003 (2/13)

ADAM All that very grave multiculturalism at the beginning really felt like the first term of the Bush administration. I kept picturing Karen Hughes wearing a scarf and President Bush lecturing Muslim countries on the dignity of women. It sort of upset me, honestly. Maybe I’m just constructing this after the fact, but Pocahontas felt to me like a more naive, dippy, Maya Angelou-type multiculturalism, whereas this was just so studied and self-important that it kind of grossed me out… I thought it was really lovely to look at it… The main thing that bothered me in the first third of this was the three bro-y bros. But I guess you have to make them relatable somehow, and that’s the chintziest way to do it.

BETH I thought their color palettes were very interesting and vibrant. They clearly cared about which colors they were choosing. And they were diverse, too; they really switched it up based on the locations. But their handling of light was a little wrong. They were trying for accuracy and not hitting it, but being very overt about the attempt… They hardly distinguished the brothers. I didn’t even know who the main character was until the other one died… The humor was really bad… These were among the worst songs we’ve heard. There was no subtlety to the lyrics at all.

BROOM I expected this to be sanctimonious and grating, but it turned out to be just super-boring. And thin. Pretty much every element wasn’t really at the level they should have held it to… I thought the coloring looked blatantly like it had been done on a computer. The colors were all sort of tasteless, cheesy… The movie’s supposed to be all about character, but they didn’t give us any real characters. Not even in the designs… The hero is a teenager who thinks he has all the answers but actually has a lot to learn, but his progression just played as “Go away kid, I’m sullen and annoyed. Oh wait, there’s fun in the world!”… And it seemed like it had the wrong ending.

45. 45: 2004 (2/13)

ADAM I liked it! It wasn’t magisterial the way Disney sometimes tries to be… I had the uncomfortable feeling that they intended to repopulate Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with these characters, had the movie been successful. My hat is off to history for that not happening… It was more like Spongebob than Warner Brothers… I would show this to my children unreservedly. But I probably won’t remember any of it… As a real estate attorney, I was excited to see the signing of a deed as the pivotal exciting moment… But it feels like a mistake from a marketing perspective. Because what is this? This has no longevity to it. You can’t build a ride around this. You can’t sell products around this. And you wouldn’t want to.

BETH There was, I felt, a definite homage to Warner Brothers here, in a lot of the jokes and style. It was coarse. It felt unlike Disney in its joking around… I have no problem with this movie… The yodeling song was awesome!.. Why was this so poorly received? It just wasn’t that bad… I guess because there’s no one to want to be. You can’t aspire to be a cow the way you can a princess. When you’re a kid, it’s like you’re watching your aunts. You’re not watching pretty people… It did occur to me toward the end: why would kids care about a real estate transaction?… It seemed like everyone was having fun. The actors and the animators.

BROOM This movie was fine. It was probably the most insubstantial yet. It was just a bonbon… It felt like the descendant of some of the late-60s early-70s era movies, the Robin Hood era. It had some of the same easygoing quality… The entire second half is all kooky action sequences, and they were either too kooky, or too long, or just dull. My attention flagged… I do think there was probably a miscalculation in the plotting. It wasn’t really for kids… It’s a little like “Wind in the Willows”: There were some bad guys who were like these bad guys, and nobody cared; it was about a deed, and nobody cared… I thought the colors were so much better than Brother Bear. This is what stylish palettes look like. This had so much more professionalism to it.

46. 46: 2005 (2/13)

ADAM That was contemptible. That was awful. That was unquestionably the worst one. I could make a BuzzFeed-style list of things that I hated about that movie. The contemptible message of the movie. The father-son dynamic. The absurd gay stereotype… It had that manic knowingness and topicality that is like a noxious growth in these kinds of animated movies in recent years. It was gruesome… Remember how in the mid-2000s it became very popular in hit movies to have a sequence where all the characters sing along to a song from the 60s or 70s? A la My Best Friend’s Wedding? What if we do it eight times?… If there’s anything good to say here, it’s that now you know which is the worst one, when people ask.

BETH I’m only angry that I had to watch it. I’m not necessarily angry about it. But it was terrible. By far the worst. It was ugly and it was super-nerdy. It thought it had something to say about emotions, but it didn’t actually know what it was doing. The whole movie was really Asperger’s-y! And that’s why it was so hard to watch… I think they just went through a lost era in the mid 2000s… This is going to get one star in my Netflix account.

BROOM It was incredibly uncomfortable to watch because it was by stunted nerds trying to address what it’s like emotionally and socially to be a nerd, but they just don’t understand enough about it to make a movie… All of the “humor,” the constant cultural references — it’s like a Rainman thing. It’s comforting to nerds. That’s what “cosplay” is: “You’re dressed as that thing! You dressed up as the thing!” This movie dressed up as a bunch of different things… When the father finally turned it around and said “I believe in you,” he still didn’t actually believe in him! These writers couldn’t imagine any greater, more authentic kind of support from this terrible parent.

47. 47: 2007 (3/13)

ADAM That one felt like it was for littler kids than any we’ve seen so far. I don’t know if you’ve seen a Disney Channel show recently, but they all have the same style of twelve-year-old boys talking in this wry, meta way. Knowingness that is totally wholesome… It had a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse quality to it. But Pee-Wee’s Playhouse creeped me out as a child. I always thought that felt like an unsafe place to be… This wasn’t particularly attractive to look at. There were large stretches of CGI background where they didn’t bother to put stuff. “Well, it’s either grass or sky”… It got better toward the end… This had its heart in the right place and was intermittently amusing.

BETH I enjoyed it, but I think once you get to be eleven or twelve, you’re aware of what’s cool, and this wouldn’t be cool enough… I thought it had a great message: that it’s okay to fail… I didn’t mind how it looked. I thought they were using color interestingly. They desaturated it sometimes. In that first scene, and the Kung Fu fight scene… I don’t like the use of pop songs in these movies. It’s interesting that the Broadway-style songs, even though they’re equally cheesy, somehow aren’t as jarring.

BROOM I thought the movie as a whole was sweet and fun… I think they successfully made a movie for a range of different ages. I had some issues with the execution, and some story choices, but I basically found it appealing, because its innocent attitude was real. It’s easy to take that for granted and say, “well, of course this kind of positive playful attitude exists,” but it’s a thing that doesn’t show up in mass culture so much any more. So I’m happy that they made a movie that was basically just about play. And the morals they added sat pretty well with it: That you’re always free to take responsibility for yourself. And that no matter how zany your worldview is, you can have a happy home that matches it.

48. 48: 2008 (5/13)

ADAM “I have a swell idea for our next picture! It’ll be The Adventures of Milo and Otis meets The Truman Show meets Inspector Gadget.”… I thought this was basically sympathetic and pleasurable to watch… It was like watching Buzz Lightyear in his Buzz Lightyear mode for an hour and a half… There were a lot of bits in here that I couldn’t decide if they were homage or borrowed. All of the emotional beats in this movie were just business ripped from other things… I thought the agent character was well done because there are people like that and I haven’t seen that particular take-off on an agent stereotype in a movie.

BETH I know it was only five years ago, but: this one felt like it could have been made now. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but this was the first one that feels like it’s contemporary with us… When Bolt puts his head out the window, that’s the moment that I will remember from this movie. The simple pleasures of life. Like at the fireplace, when she says “it doesn’t get any better than this.”… I think there’s some desperation on the part of Disney. I think it’s looking at Pixar and feels like “we need to bring it.” And doesn’t really know how… It was a really good looking movie.

BROOM This was in the “post-Toy Story” category… I like anything that makes contemporary America look like a fun place to be… There are a lot of unfortunate habits and mannerisms in comedy these days… It was interesting where the emotional beats were. In a way, the biggest one was just on driving across America, and being yourself… But the movie didn’t really take you anywhere meaningful. The old thing Disney would do, in the Bambi days, is declare, “life is like this,” and it would be intensely that. Now the idea is: we’re going to make a throwaway movie; it’ll have the requisite single-tear moments; we promise not to embarrass you too much with them… The whole movie was just fine as one of these things.

49. 49: 2009 (7/13)

ADAM It was a little too impeccable. It was so carefully regional and carefully politically-correct-but-not-too-politically-correct… How many “New Orleans details” can we throw into this? How much gumbo was there in this damn movie? And Mardi Gras beads and streetcars… I liked the voodoo man. He was different from other Disney villains in a way that was interesting… When she was a waitress and then an actual literal prince arrived, I was like, “oh really??” Couldn’t she just have been a metaphorical princess, for the Disney princess line? No… It had the nourishing attention-to-detail of American Girl Place.

BETH I was disappointed, but I liked the first twenty-five minutes or so. I liked that it was about someone who had real-world dreams. She wasn’t a princess. She wasn’t striving for something imaginary… I’ve had easier times getting into the past couple movies, I think because the heroes were male. But in this one I initially was relating to the character, and then when it started seeming like a mess to me, I was like, “Oh, I can’t connect to this anymore.” Because my initial thoughts were, “Oh, this is so much more about reality than usual!” I was let down by where it went… The backgrounds were super-lush. I thought the colors were wonderful. I enjoyed looking at it.

BROOM I was kind of bored in the first half because it was so thorough in being familiar… I do think there was something interesting about where the movie went when it came time for a moral: that it’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need, which is different. And that getting what you want is not actually important, and it’s just going to get in your way. It’s a complicated moral, because these movies are all about what you want!… When you flip through a children’s book, the question is, are the pictures spaces that you can sort of zone into? Sure, these were! It was like Thomas Kinkade, inviting me into all these cozy lights… You know, it was fun! I didn’t mind it so much.

50. 50: 2010 (8/13)

ADAM I think the fact that many of the characters had semi-plausible psychological motivations – as opposed to “we must get the MacGuffin” – was satisfying. And the mother’s psychology actually seemed convincing to me, something that a teenager might empathize with… It was just knowing enough for a child… Kudos to them for going back to their theater-fag roots. It really does work well with unashamed fairy tale… I thought she looked good, I thought he looked good, I thought her hair looked really good and moved around in a satisfying way. I thought those lanterns were over the top but actually very pretty… To me this is the most satisfying one since Lilo and Stitch.

BETH I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought that it was one of the better structured stories that we’ve seen in a really long time. The script was really smart. But I didn’t like a lot of the micro- level things. The jokes felt too 2010 and I think won’t age well, and will seem kind of obnoxious in the future. But maybe in a charming way, the way that The Sword in the Stone seems charming in its 60s-ness… Visually, I have very mixed feelings. I thought her eyes were distractingly, wrongly big. He looked fine, so I don’t understand why they had to do that to her… This is up there for me, too. Not because I connected with anything. I just felt respect for the execution of this story.

BROOM I had mixed feelings… Half of the movie had a very surface-y quality to it, during which I was just thinking, “Oh god, it’s everything I hate about Broadway and video games…” And then suddenly it felt like they were genuinely telling a story, and I relaxed… It’s weird to have a realistic mother-daughter relationship that turns out to be completely false in a movie for kids… What I hate about Broadway isn’t just in the songs. It’s the way the characters were presented, and the way the dialogue was presented. The idea that telegraphy is of course the only possible mode… But the bones of it were not actually an attitude movie. And I enjoyed that movie, the straight story… It worked well enough.

51. 51: 2011 (9/13)

ADAM They were obviously bored, because they had not just one, but two flight-of-imagination fantasy sequences. That was obviously all that was getting them through the day… There were eight people credited for story in this movie. It was kind of a mashed-up version of two or three different stories from the original books, but they didn’t really fit together… Winnie-the-Pooh was sort of self-centered here, but he did still seem like the Winnie-the-Pooh of the books… It all feels like the Finance department. Some business school graduate was like, “What properties haven’t been sufficiently monetized?” And then they were like, “Okay, I guess we can squeeze some more out of this.” And then the animators were like, “What?”

BETH It was 53 intolerable minutes… I think the choice of Zooey Deschanel to be the singer is indicative of the attitude they were taking toward this: “Let’s be twee! This is Winnie the Pooh, it’s inherently twee, so let’s play that angle! Christopher Robin is like the perfect hipster kid!” It was like the Wes Anderson version of Christopher Robin’s bedroom… It doesn’t feel like it belongs… Something I really didn’t like: when his stomach suddenly burst open and stuff started coming out! What was that??… During the sequence of the Backson chalkboard animation, I thought, “You could just make a whole movie that looks like this. Maybe you should, because that would be more fun than what we’re watching. And who’s stopping you?”

BROOM Adam, you complained about the first movie that they had made Winnie-the-Pooh an asshole, that they had completely betrayed the charming childlike spirit of the originals. And I thought you were overstating it a bit. But here everything you said seemed to me true… The strength of the first movie is its really rich character animation. Here everything had that dull, flat, spiritless quality… Winnie-the-Pooh’s honey wet dream is gross and creepy… When the animation first kicked in and the music started, and it was clearly twee-ified, I thought, “Oh, I see! Might this possibly work?” And then after 20 seconds I thought, “I don’t think it’s gonna work.” And then there were 53 minutes left.

52. disney52 (11/13)

ADAM I was delighted by this movie when I saw it in the theater, and I continue to be delighted by it. Even if it is Pixar-ified… I felt generally warm towards the characters — maybe not so much towards Sarah Silverman, but towards John C. Reilly. I thought their borrowings from the real world, their Shrekisms, were actually clever and amusing. And I thought it was visually pleasurable to watch. “Sugar Rush” was over-the-top in a way that was satisfying; it was a mix of Mario Kart and Candyland that felt instinctively right to me… I thought Candyland being this noir underworld was funny.

BETH Overall I really liked it. But I have kind of mixed feelings… I thought the script was kind of weak. I thought that ‘getting a medal’ was very flimsy as an excuse for pretty much everything that happened. But I just went with it. It was fast-paced, for one of the longest movies that we’ve watched… It does contain worlds that you experience fully. “Sugar Rush” was its own thing, and the tower was its own thing. And I as a kid would have kept thinking about it that way. “I want to go back to that apartment building and see it again. I just want to see the crowds in the stands yelling.” I feel like it was fully realized in its setpieces.

BROOM It was formulaic and not in a gratifying way… I enjoyed when they played the actual games. But most of the movie consisted of him and Sarah Silverman trading quote-unquote banter… I was hoping to experience a new fantasy of “what kind of world do video games live in?” But it was just more Monsters, Inc. The massive industrial train-station mega-workplace just seemed so done and lame… Skipping around from game to game is the joy of this concept, so putting most of it 20 minutes in and then being done with it was a mistake… The price of picking something “hot” is that you have to really have legitimate insight into that thing. They glossed over any interest there could have been in making video games the subject matter.

53. disney53temp (12/13)

ADAM I have almost entirely positive things to say about it… The songs managed to be sort of Broadway and a little bit contemporary, but sound relatively natural with the action… I think this is the first one we’ve seen in a long time where there was a semblance of character development and backstory that was more than just “yearning.” … I really admired the politics of it. I think in general it’s better to make politically progressive movies than not, but this really wore its progressivism lightly… It looked totally gorgeous. And a really subtle use of 3D… I think this was super-good. Solid.

BETH The negative things I have to say are almost all about the songs, which I felt were very weak. Remarkably annoying. The lyrics were overly cutesy and cloying. The jokes were just not funny, to me. They were trying too hard… This movie is going to feel dated in 20 years because of the style of the songs… I basically didn’t have a problem with the snowman. I expected to… The animation was great!.. It wasn’t trying to be Pixar. Even though it was influenced by it… I feel like I’ve never been as attracted to a cartoon as I was to Kristoff. He was very well drawn and acted and written.

BROOM It did feel like a sequel to Tangled, but I thought it was a hundred times better. Even in terms of the songs, it was a more coherent overall tonal package. But the actual specifics of the music and lyrics were rote and uninspired… Kristoff was great. He was my favorite “guy” in one of these movies… The 3D was beautiful, and the lighting was beautiful… This is their best fairy-tale-and-we-mean-it movie since Beauty and the Beast... I really liked the sensitive new-age psychology of it, that when she’s afraid she becomes more dangerous… It did not lack for trying to be hip and appeal to the kids, but it did what I’m always hoping for them to do, which is to do that with some class, and care about it.


Except this isn’t the end, quite.

Stay tuned for final reflections from the panel.

December 7, 2013

Disney Canon #53: Frozen (2013)


BROOM While we’re waiting to place our orders, let’s start by talking about the short that preceded the movie, “Get A Horse.” Many of these movies have been released with theatrical shorts but this is the first time we’ve watched one, so let’s talk about it. I think that falls within the range of our project.

ADAM I thought it was promising. The humor was a little broad but it was a very effective use of 3D.

BETH It was. When the curtains swished, I thought, “That looks like a real curtain! That stage looks like a stage!” I was impressed, and I thought it was charming that they really mimicked the old animation style accurately.

ADAM Although they did modernize Mickey Mouse’s head.

BROOM Very very slightly. It was a loving and careful re-creation of the old style, which is a thing that in this project I’ve frequently said I don’t think they can even do when they try. And here they did.

ADAM And it looked cool. The effect of them going back and forth from the movie world to the real world was neat.

BROOM The short was just a piece of technical showing-off, and it was a good one. It had a little too much sadism in it. By the end I thought, “This doesn’t all quite fit with the old Disney spirit.”

ADAM Right, it was a little Itchy & Scratchy.

BROOM Some of those old cartoons do have casual pitchfork-in-the-ass sadism, but here it happened six times. It was when the pitchfork got pushed further in that I thought, “ooh, I don’t think they would have done that in the 20s.” But I really enjoyed and respected the whole thing.

BETH I actually was fooled at first, thinking that we were going to see an old cartoon.

BROOM They got you.

ADAM Well, why don’t we just start. Because we don’t know how long the waiter is going to be. Well. I thought it was great. I have almost entirely positive things to say about it. In fact I can’t even think of any negative things.

WAITER How are you guys doing?

BETH Good!

ADAM We’re gonna just have dessert.

WAITER Sure! What can I get for you?

ADAM The… pumpkin pot-au-creme.

WAITER Pot-au-creme.

ADAM And the apple crisp.

WAITER Pot-au-creme and apple crisp.

BROOM That’s it.

ADAM And I’ll have a Laphroaig with a single ice cube.

WAITER Sure. Any drinks or anything for either of you guys?

BETH I’m gonna have the Taylor Fladgate.

WAITER Anything for you, sir?

BROOM Nope, just the water. Thank you.

BETH Thank you.

WAITER Thanks guys.

ADAM See, I knew that would summon him. Let me start over.

BROOM You thought it was great.

ADAM Almost entirely positive things.

BROOM In fact you can’t even think of…

ADAM … any negative things to say right now.

BETH That’s awesome.

BROOM I also thought it was great and I also have almost entirely positive things to say. But I could think of some negative things to say if we had to.

BETH The negative things I have to say are almost all about the songs, which I felt were very weak. Remarkably annoying.

ADAM Let’s talk about the songs, because I disagree with you.

BETH Wow. I thought that the lyrics were overly cutesy and cloying. The jokes were just not funny, to me. They were trying too hard.

ADAM Okay, I don’t necessarily disagree with that. But I thought the bigger risk was that the songs would be intrusive and weird. They managed to be sort of Broadway and a little bit contemporary, but sound relatively natural with the action. For a Disney musical.

BETH Okay, sure.

BROOM I agree with both of you. Maybe you do too.

BETH Yeah, I agree that the integration of the songs was nice.

ADAM I mean, I can’t remember any of the songs now.

BETH I can’t either. Truly.

ADAM But at least they sounded kind of like natural speech, and they had a slightly current pop flavor to them.

BETH I thought they were a little overly current-pop, and this movie is going to feel dated in 20 years because of the style of the songs.

BROOM I don’t think either the style of the songs or their integration were wrong. I saw the movie as an attempt to work with the impulses they had during Tangled and improve on them. And in almost every way they did. Even in terms of the songs, I think they did improve on making the movie a more coherent overall tonal package. But I also thought that the actual specifics of the music and lyrics were rote and uninspired. The script was sensitive to character in a way that the jokes in the songs weren’t; they were just borrowed from a Broadway playbook and grating.

ADAM I think this is the first one we’ve seen in a long time where there was a semblance of character development and backstory that was more than just “yearning.” [drink is delivered] Thank you.

BETH [drink is delivered] Thank you.

ADAM Maybe it wasn’t very much, but Elsa had some complexity. She wasn’t a villain, but she had legitimately motivated coldness. She was likable even in her dislikability.

[Discussion about various character relationships for a while, in a way that is unfortunately too dependent on spoilers to convey. Maybe the transcript will be instated here after the movie leaves the theaters. Or something.]

BROOM I thought that Kristoff was great. He was my favorite “guy” in one of these movies. Maybe ever.

BETH I agree. He seemed like he did smell kind of bad. In a cute way.

ADAM He had that big nose.

BETH He was very well drawn and acted and written.

ADAM I thought he was great. I mean, I was torn, because Hans was also really cute. And funny.

BETH I didn’t like his nose. It was too pointy.

ADAM I mean, who doesn’t yearn to meet someone at a party and finish each other’s sentences?

BETH That song concept was agreeable to me.

ADAM I thought “finish each other’s… sandwiches” was a funny line.

BETH Uh-huh. [ed.: BETH was in fact in the bathroom during this song.]

BROOM But that was right on the edge of the kind of joking that I thought didn’t fit with the movie.

WAITER All right. There we are. Pumpkin pot-au-creme. And the apple tart.

BETH and ADAM and BROOM Thank you.

ADAM Let’s talk about the politics, because BROOM mentioned them [in the redacted part of the conversation]. I too really admired the politics of it. I think in general it’s better to make politically progressive movies than not, but this really wore its progressivism lightly.

BETH I wasn’t really thinking about its feminist underpinnings while I was watching it. It was just a story.

BROOM You know what the “Bechdel test” is?

ADAM I was thinking about that the whole time.

BETH I’ve heard the term but I don’t know what it is.

BROOM Alison Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist, coined this notion in her strip sometime in the 80s…

ADAM One of the characters says, “I’ll only see movies if they pass this test: There have to be two women… who have a conversation with each other… about something other than a man.”

BROOM And most movies do not pass this test.

ADAM An embarrassingly large number of movies do not pass that test.

BROOM Probably all of the Disney movies thus far. I mean, I don’t know that for sure, but many of them. But this one does.

ADAM I thought about that a lot, because I thought, “they’re really going for it!”

[Spoilers on the degree to which they went for it.]

BETH So let’s talk about the snowman. I basically didn’t have a problem with him.

BROOM Me neither.

ADAM Yeah. I was really surprised.

BETH I expected to, when I saw him in the ads.

BROOM I don’t know what to call that voice he was doing — sort of a Jewish New York simp.

ADAM He was doing something like the Gilbert Gottfried parrot, lite.

BROOM I kept thinking of Richard Simmons.

ADAM I thought he was funny because the humor wasn’t ‘tude humor. It was legitimately funny because it was so totally out of place for the rest of the movie.

BROOM I was so concerned about ‘tude, going into this, because on the poster they’re smirking some serious smirks. But in the actual movie they barely ever made that face.

BETH Apparently Disney put a lot of effort into marketing this to boys.

BROOM Because it’s about two women.

ADAM I saw a preview for this and it was all Sven and Olaf cavorting on the ice.

BETH They’re trying to trick boys into seeing it, basically. Because they know that boys would actually think it was fine, and like it.

BROOM Somewhere, maybe in the review I read, it was pointed out that this is the first Disney animated movie that is co-directed by a woman. Who also wrote it.

ADAM What was her name? Jennifer Lopez?

BETH Jennifer Lee.

ADAM There was also a Lopez.

BROOM That’s the songwriters. They did Avenue Q. Which was sharper than this. When she sang about how when she sees a cute guy she wants to stuff her face with chocolate, I thought, “I don’t think this script would have had her say such a thing!” Then it did, later. But I think they got it from the song. That really felt like a wrong note in this movie.

ADAM I thought it looked totally gorgeous. And a really subtle use of 3D.

BROOM Yes, the 3D was beautiful, and the lighting was beautiful.

BETH The animation was great!

ADAM The ice looked great.

BETH And even just the bodies.

BROOM I’m so glad you guys are saying this stuff, because while I was watching I was worried that I was just having a severe case of, you know, Critic’s Toothache Syndrome. “Maybe I’m only liking this because I’m just in a different mood today. And susceptible to the effect of actually being in the theater. Maybe I would have liked all those other ones if I hadn’t been so cranky, because this seems great to me.” But no, you agree, it was legitimately better.

BETH Yeah.

ADAM I mean, even the trolls I didn’t mind.

BETH I liked the trolls a lot.

BROOM I thought their song was one of the most interesting moments in the movie, because the discomfort the characters are feeling, the audience sort of shares in a happy way, thinking, “I don’t know… are they supposed to be falling in love?”

ADAM Well, when they start singing that song…

BROOM But you don’t know until the song is going. And even then…

BETH I was preoccupied during most of the movie thinking, well, there’s clearly a romantic connection here, so what are they going to do with it?

[Spoilers about what they did and didn’t do with it.]

ADAM I’m glad the trolls weren’t all voiced by black actors. Just the most prominent one.

BROOM So, you’re the only one here who has any memory of “The Snow Queen.” Can you tell us what happens in it?

ADAM Not this! I’m trying to remember exactly what happens. I mean, somebody’s heart does get pierced with ice. And there is a voyage to an ice castle where the snow queen lives. But I don’t think it ended like this. And I think there was some Jesus in it.

BROOM Well, there would be.

ADAM It’s weirder. This was pretty satisfying.

BROOM I really liked the sensitive new-age psychology of it, that when she’s afraid she becomes more dangerous. That she is born with power and she becomes dangerous because she’s told to fear her own power.

BETH I thought about you so much. “This is exactly BROOM’s stuff!”

BROOM I really identified with it and was moved by that. And I thought, “does this come from Hans Christian Andersen?”


BROOM It seemed like a very 2013 thing to put in a movie. But also a thing that I would never have expected Disney to go so far as to put in a movie, because it’s a step beyond the existing pat fantasy psychology; it’s a little subtle. I wish that the songs had risen to it. But, you know… I thought “Let It Go” was basically close to the mark for what it was supposed to be.

ADAM “Do you want to build a snowman…?”

BROOM That one was problematic.

ADAM Oh, I don’t know. If you have to have a call and response song…

BROOM When she sang that line the first time, I thought, “oh god, please don’t let the next line have ‘snowman’ at the end of it too.” And it didn’t… but then later in the song she did sing ‘snowman’ on two parallel consecutive lines. Dammit, they did it. They did that thing. “Do you want to build a snowman…? It doesn’t have to be a snowman…!” Argh! Stephen Sondheim, go away!

ADAM What’s wrong with that?

BROOM It’s just, like, a Stephen Sondheim trick from 1970, and stop already! Stop doing that!

ADAM To have a rhyme where the word is just repeated in a slightly different context?

BROOM Yeah, to indicate vulnerable melancholy. The song goes into an extra loop to be poignant.

ADAM You mean like a fifth bar.

BROOM It’s like, the lyric can’t get away, because the feeling is stuck and festering. It came at the end of that song, when they’re grown up and she’s singing into the keyhole, and it’s already sad, and then there’s that beat where she adds “… it doesn’t have to be a snowman…” I feel like, “you guys just got that from your stupid musical-theater-writing class! It’s so rote! This movie is already doing better than you are!” In fact in that moment, my thought was, “The lighting guy is doing such a lovely subtle thing compared to what the songwriters are doing.” And the music itself: basically every song said “You know how there are songs that go like this? Well, we wrote one of those.” They never had any turns that you didn’t already know and expect.

ADAM Wasn’t there a song that went: [hums ‘Go the Distance’ from Hercules]

BROOM That’s from Hercules. That song is more interesting musically than any of the songs in this, and that’s not a very interesting song. All of these songs were like, “phrase 1; phrase 2; phrase 3; phrase 4” the four things you already thought they were going to do. And then the bridge. And there’s nothing to them. That works when it’s a comic song, like the snowman’s song about summer. In that case it helps the joke that it’s “just one of those songs.” But when it’s supposed to be a big anthem, you want a little more than that.

ADAM Why did they have like an Africa drum tribal thing at the beginning?

BROOM It felt totally inappropriate.

BETH It made me fear what the movie was going to be. But then it disappeared until the very end.

BROOM I guess it was an attempt to be Scandinavian. Like, the sounds of the trolls. But they didn’t even get close to it.

BETH It sounded like The Lion King.

ADAM If you compare this to, say, the two moose in Brother Bear, they could have done that with the sauna-keeper or the reindeer, and they didn’t. I appreciate that.

BROOM This is their best fairy-tale-and-we-mean-it movie since Beauty and the Beast. I put it to you. Does anyone want to agree with me?

BETH I agree.

ADAM By that do you mean with the possible exception of Lilo and Stitch?

BROOM That was in a whole other category. It wasn’t a fairy tale.

ADAM Yeah. I think this was super-good. Solid.

BETH And its own thing. It wasn’t trying to be…

BROOM Well, it did feel like a sequel to Tangled, but I thought it was a hundred times better than Tangled.

BETH I was going to say it wasn’t trying to be Pixar. Even though it was influenced by it.

BROOM I thought this movie — and the previews we saw, for that matter — were the best 3D I’ve seen yet. And I just saw Gravity.

ADAM The 3D was a lot better than Gravity. Maybe it’s because it’s animated, but Gravity had that Captain EO jaggedness to it. I’m not sure how to describe it.

BROOM This 3D had a very soft, gentle touch. It was really well done.

ADAM There were hardly any spears in your face.

BROOM The very first thing in the movie was, but it was a good one. Very effective. In Gravity when her teardrop is a sphere and it comes at you, there’s an effect of “hold on everyone, look what I’m doing!” This movie never said “hold on everyone, look what I’m doing.”

ADAM Well, well done Disney. What else do I have to say? BETH, I think you sort of look like Princess Anna.

BETH Thank you. To me she looked like my cousin Molly.

WAITER Should I clear this stuff out of the way for us then.


ADAM Thanks.

BROOM Both sisters had the ski-jump noses and the twisty lips that might be ready to do some ‘tude, but they didn’t do it. It was a lot of the same slickization of feminine features that offended me in Tangled, but there it offended me in part because they made her out to be this fabulous theater girl. Anna, yes, she had a lot of “spunk” and “attitude,” and it was fake, but in a way that didn’t feel like a selfie.

ADAM Like a duckface.

BROOM Yeah. There was a selfie quality to Tangled. This didn’t have it.

BETH I’d be interested to see Brave now just to compare.

BROOM I also appreciated that this was a basically sexless movie. They dressed up and looked pretty and wanted to attract men, but there was no undercurrent of sex in it.

BETH They did have really good bodies, though.

BROOM That’s just a given.

ADAM And both of their male heroes were very handsome. I would be happy with some slash fiction.

BROOM Not being turned on by the male physique, I wasn’t sure how Kristoff read to those who are…

BETH He was the cutest one ever.

ADAM He was totally dreamy.

BETH I feel like I’ve never been as attracted to a cartoon as I was to Kristoff.

BROOM Well, that’s great, because I was attracted to his humanity, because he did not seem at all porny. A lot of their “good-looking guys” have seemed kind of porny. Whereas this felt to me like an actual “guy,” that girls might like because he’s genuinely guy-y. The ways that he was kind of a clod were characteristic of a real type. I know people of that type.

ADAM I liked the villainous old prince from Weselton. “A chicken with the face of a monkey” is funny.

BROOM Why did he say that?

ADAM I don’t know. I liked that he cut loose in this incongruous way.

BROOM I was so glad that this was our last one. I mean, obviously it’s not our last one for all time, but it comes at the end…

ADAM … of a hot streak.

BROOM Of a hot street? Is that an expression?

ADAM Streak.

BROOM Oh. I like “at the end of a hot street.” Here’s why I felt positive about this one: because they were living up to positive values that matter without feeling retrogressive. It was very 2013. It did not lack for trying to be hip and appeal to the kids, and it just did what I’m always hoping for them to do, which is to do that with some class, and care about it a little bit. And they did.

[ADAM begins looking up the New York Times review]

BROOM I would see this again. And those of you reading this: I recommend you see it in 3D. It really contributed to the sense of being in the spaces of it, which were so pretty. BETH, I would readily tell your family to go see this at Christmas time.

BETH I was considering it.

[we read the New York Times review, which casually contains major spoilers and should not be read until after viewing]

ADAM There you go.

BETH We really did it.

BROOM So: loyal readers. Next what’s going to happen is…

ADAM You don’t need to tell the loyal readers. They’ll get it.

BROOM Well, we have to have a sign-off on this one. Stay tuned…

ADAM That’s true. Stay tuned for the future!

BROOM Stay tuned for the recap post and then for summary contributions from all involved.

BETH Yes. We just need a couple bucks more.

ADAM You should just put in the tip.

BROOM Well, what is it?

ADAM You should leave… eleven.

BROOM So the question is, how am I going to get the title and ending screens? I’m going to have to find a site that’s already ripping this movie off.

BETH Oh, you’ll find it. We’re all set, thank you.

WAITER Thank you so much. Have a great night.

BETH You too.


December 5, 2013

La cantatrice chauve (1950)

Eugène Ionesco (1909–1994) [born Eugen Ionescu]
La cantatrice chauve (anti-pièce) (1948-50)
translated by Donald M. Allen as The Bald Soprano, Anti-play (1956/8)


I rolled 1351. This is on line 1350, the first Ionesco.

I think I could direct this one pretty well. Clarification: In my experiences observing theatrical directors I’ve learned that directing is 10% imagining how things should go, 70% dealing with people to try to get things to go that way, and 20% coming to terms with what ends up happening instead. When I say I could direct this one pretty well, I just mean the first 10%, the fun part. I guess I really mean that I could imagine this one pretty well. And I did. I imagined real performances, and blocking and lighting and sound and everything. I put on a good show in my head.

I was able to do this while “sight-reading,” as it were, because this show is pure nonsense. I didn’t need to know where it was going because the construction is musical and self-generating. It has no rational arc or goal-oriented forces. It is simply in formal motion. It spools out. That’s not to say that it was written that way; it functions improvisationally but it surely required careful editing and shaping to maintain that impression.

To refer to the brain hemispheres again (I know, I need a better terminology for this), this one was for R. Some might even say that the play is R thumbing its nose at L – that’s more or less the index card version of Ionesco – but to my mind, R just doesn’t have any reason to thumb its nose. Nonsense is its own impregnable kingdom. It has no enemies.

L says: I could easily dig into this, just like I could easily dig into anything, but goddammit I need a break – seems like everyone’s L does – and this is clearly it. Take it away R, while I crawl into this hammock with an umbrella drink. Knock yourself out.

R says: this is like a full one-act’s worth of Exploding Penguin Sketch. Or any other Monty Python bit with the shrill housewives (“pepperpots”) whining absurdities. It might be interesting to work out a chain of historical influence that encompasses both Ionesco and Monty Python — or not. Or the ahistoricity of absurdity. Or something. Might be interesting… for L! For my part I just think it’s great to see people sitting in a room saying things to each other BUT SILLY.

The premise here is the stilted, inane world of the “Thank you, my name is Mr. Smith” sample sentences in language courses. That’s plenty premise for me!

If you tell a four-year-old that there’s a kangaroo in the refrigerator, the four-year-old will say “NO THERE ISN’T!” with great glee. Four-year-old me at least. I’m not sure why, but somehow it’s delighting to have occasion to check in with one’s knowledge that there isn’t a kangaroo in the refrigerator. Perhaps because it’s such comfortable knowledge; unlike many worrisome things in the world, this one isn’t even slightly uncertain. And because the kangaroo and the refrigerator are both friendly currency. It’s not like there’s a demon in the refrigerator. The Bald Soprano is all about unthreatening everyday this-and-that, except it’s all SILLY! NO THERE ISN’T! YOU’RE BEING SILLY!

The more important reason that kids are delighted when adults are silly is because adults aren’t generally silly. To stage a play that says, deadpan, “It’s pretty silly to put on a play, isn’t it? BANANA!” offers the audience a similar gift: the acknowledgment of shared innocence, which is to say shared absurdity. Isn’t that why nerds love Monty Python, ultimately? Because the cruel intricacies of social interaction are being openly acknowledged — by people with British (i.e. grown-up) accents, no less — to be a senseless charade, a kangaroo in the refrigerator.

(Nerds, of course, no longer need Monty Python these days — and I get the impression Monty’s remarkably long prominence is finally in real decline — because internet interaction offers an RPG-style escape into the discrete, away from all that bewildering nudge-nudge R-style business of face-to-faceism. Nobody wants reassuring satire about something they are already committed to eliminating from their lives. You got 19 likes! Level up! With friends like these, how could the dead parrot sketch possibly ease anyone’s pain? Face-to-faceism’s sins are so quaint and human compared to the Brazil of Facebook; I feel like talking to that mild and personable pet shop owner would be a rare and relaxing pleasure. Who isn’t pinin’ for the fjords?)

Okay, now go back to before the parenthetical and get ready to pick back up from where we were.

So: It seemed clear to me that Ionesco was up to the same sort of thing. Toward the beginning there is a prolonged sequence of Mr. and Mrs. Martin realizing the exceedingly obvious with surprise, an inch at a time. When the scene finally reaches a sort of endpoint (they conclude that they know each other and are married to each other), the maid emerges to address the audience and reveal, also at pointless length, that the impossibly obvious conclusion they have reached is secretly not so after all (because one of their outrageously obvious realizations was actually mistaken, for an absurd reason). When the maid is finally finished with this announcement she does a false exit only to return and conspiratorially add the tag: “My real name is Sherlock Holmes.” The profound inanity of this punchline, carefully placed at the end of a long descent through what already seemed entirely inane, is, I think, at the core of what the play does. To me it says: the infantile is the real, and to get the benefit of it we are going to have to strip down through your embarrassment, by stages. A “groaner” like “My real name is Sherlock Holmes” must be earned and then endured so that it can be surpassed on the road to purity. Sign me up!

And the play does end, as it must, in a pure state of inanity, a chaos of everyone on stage shouting language gobbledygook that has been calculated not just to be senseless and stupid but to be embarrassingly so, which is to say bracing and cleansing for those who need a cleanse, and delightful for those who are just waiting for the adults to finally let down the facade, if only for a moment. Here the facade is down:

Mrs. Martin: Silly gobblegobblers, silly gobblegobblers.
Mr. Martin: Marietta, spot the pot!
Mrs. Smith: Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti!
Mr. Smith: The pope elopes! The pope’s got no horoscope. The horoscope’s bespoke.
Mrs. Martin: Bazaar, Balzac, bazooka!

So that all seemed clear to me, and I know exactly how to direct it/perform it in my imagination. It is not, however, how Ionesco seems to be played or understood generally, and this pains me. So I’ll let L handle the rest:

Harumph harumph. Broomlet Book Club undersecretary “Maddie” was moved to go searching for insight into the peculiarly niggling footnotes about discrepancies in the first production that pepper the text (e.g. after the direction for Mr. Smith to sniff for a smell of burn: “*In Nicolas Bataille’s production Mr. and Mrs. Martin sniffed too.”) and came across this article about its director Monsieur Bataille, which she forwarded to me. It gets at the heart of the interpretative matter:

“When we first read the play, we played it as a comedy,” the director recalls. “But our great discovery was that it lost all of its vitality when played for laughs. So we went against the comedy, playing it as tragically as possible.”

Bataille’s company virtually stumbled upon the Absurdist style…

…”Ionesco,” Verdier says as Bataille pauses, “is very sensitive, you see, about Nicolas being his discoverer, even though he really is. Nicolas found the key to the subtext under the absurd surface of the text, and this had a profound influence on Beckett, (Harold) Pinter and (Edward) Albee.”

The 80-year-old playwright and the 66-year-old director have carried on a friendly, but sparring relationship, as if wary of being too linked to each other…

That is to say: the director and his cast found they weren’t up to selling the comedy as written, so instead they sold the gimmick of willful mal-performance. And then lo and behold willful mal-performance turns out to be so strange and disorienting a thing that the audience’s anxieties of incomprehension kick in and soon enough there is a smell of eager pretension on the air.* The audience is unable to maintain the impression that they are seeing what they are actually seeing — that being: a wholly perverse non-delivery of a play — and so they begin to suspect mysterious depths, that there may be something rare and fine and difficult at hand, something with subtext, something high. Not the genuine absurd — how childish that would be! — but rather Absurdism, a thing one can smoke and be French to with ease. Absurdism goes on to be installed as a whole emperor’s new aesthetic in theater departments everywhere. And Ionesco, seeing his cavalcade of bracing silliness converted into a beret-wearing cipher that does just the opposite of what it was meant to do — i.e. coddles pretentious avant-gardism rather than detonating it in googly-eyed embarrassment — registers his horror in what seems to me an admirably resigned way: by inserting disdainful footnotes in the play’s own mode of pointlessness. (*In Nicolas Bataille’s production, the audience sniffed too.)

Of course Ionesco was an undiscovered young nobody when he wrote this, and its success made him Ionesco, even if that success was on terms he never intended. So did he later sell out and cater to the berets? Or perhaps make peace with them? That I don’t know. I haven’t read his other works. (Well, I read Rhinoceros in high school but that was a long time ago.)

Yes, the above is just speculation. But at its heart is an observation I will stand by:

The magic of theater is mostly ritual and situational and applies to anything done under theatrical circumstances. It is not particularly dependent on intention or even execution. This is why terrible performances tend to be either excruciating or campily wonderful, but rarely indifferent: because the magic works, and its power, for good or for evil, cannot be denied. This affords tremendous leeway to theater artists, as even their most indulgent and senseless experimentation will seem vaguely potent under the lights. “I don’t know what this is but it’s interesting!” is the motivating principle behind a great deal of theater art. Part of that interest, part of what attracts an artist to a choice, is the impression of secret meaning. But since the audience isn’t privy to the process, they will have the sense that the artist actually has that secret meaning in hand and is teasing them with it. In fact what the artist has actually done and understood is frequently shallow beyond the audience’s will to imagine. (Especially at these prices!)

It is very difficult to sustain an awareness that something seemingly rich, deep, and challenging is actually just a smoke bomb chucked in the magic machine by someone else’s anxieties, or someone else’s impish whim. (Much easier to struggle struggle struggle to understand and then smile a Mona Lisa smile, chuckle knowingly, and light another cigarette.) But one should cultivate a capacity for this awareness, because it relieves one’s own anxieties. And cigarettes are bad for your health.

I guess this applies to all art.

R: Silly gobblegobblers, Trix are for kids! R out! (throws down mic)

December 3, 2013

40. Armageddon (1998)

directed by Michael Bay
story by Robert Roy Poole and Jonathan Hensleigh, adapted by Tony Gilroy and Shane Salerno
screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams


Criterion #40.

Armageddon is a movie about where an asteroid that is going to hit the planet Earth and so NASA scientists and experts decide they make a plan which is to send heros to space and he blows up the asteroid. It stars Bruce Willis is the hero and Ben Affleck the good guy, his friends are Steve Buscemi and Liv Tyler. There is also a fat guy and a black guy! I would recommend it for Americans and for people who just like to see a good time, get the popcorn ready, its gonna be a big one! :)

Seriously I think its good when a movie doesnt take itself too seriously otherwise it can be boring, its not a lecture. Lighten up people lifes too short.

Its stupid how much bonus stuff they put on here, 2 discs!? I mean who cares. Michael Bay who directed it seems really proud, gimme a break. Hey Mike if you dont care about what eggheads think why did you want to be a criterion collection, GOTCHA! Even I could of made this movie if you gave me a billion dollars THATS WHY ITS AWSOME so get over yourself Michael Bay.

In one part the government is like “so will you do it” and Bruce Willis is like “yes, oh just one more thing we dont want to pay taxes ever again” hellz yeah

btw if your like me and you like saying hellz yeah more than just once, dont worry, there are definitly a bunch of other good places you can say it too. Actually they made the movie work so that you can be saying it the whole time if you need to. hellz yeah

I know its weird when Ben Affleck puts cookies in Liv Tylers pants and says thats why the world is worth saving, you have to just roll with it. Its not suppose to make sense, thats why its real its like when people are in love. At the end Ben Affleck says I love you to Bruce Willis no homo but seriously it is sad. Is it dusty in here lol

A lot of parts of this movie seem like whatever theyre saying they were making it up doing whatever they want, on the commentary Ben Affleck says they were. I like it I think that shows that they are real guys and not all stuck up about script lines like Sir Kenneth Brainagh or something. Yeah its dumb, its the kind of movie youd like to have a beer with. Even if it does kinda go on on and on. Your gonna need a bigger popcorn! B)

Inside of the criterion box says “this dvd would not have been possible without the generous support of Michael Bay” NO SHIT, lol again

Some people reading this review are probly like “yo this is the low road, I dont get why you wouldnt take this opportunity to say something trenchint about Armageddon it could be fun, cultural critique bla bla” suck it haterz, Im not here to turn everything into a new york times documentary for you. Michael Bay basicaly says it all on the commentary let me type the actual words he said…

“You know, this movie was criticized by the critics quite a bit, and the thing that’s amazing — most critics are 45 years old, on the average, and… I remember, I was watching an esteemed LA Times critic sitting in a theater full of 800 people and he didn’t know that I was there, and I was watching him. And he literally looked like he had a scowl on his face. And I’m telling you the audience… 12 times cheered. And I don’t think he liked that. I think the audience nowadays is not listening to what critics are saying. Especially for these type of movies. These are entertaining movies. This is a movie where you’re supposed to just lose yourself and be entertained. And we’re not doing anything more than that. And there’s nothing wrong with movies that just go for entertaining an audience. And the thing is, I knew this movie would have an audience, I knew this audience would be a huge audience too, and it really caught middle America – big time.”

hellz yeah need I say more I didnt think so.

ps oh shit I forgot the music! hehe. this is the music during the credits that comes between aerosmith and some chick singing leaving on a jet plane. it goes from basicly the credit for first assistant sound editor to the credit for lead scenic painter. its by Trevor Rabin from Yes so you know its gonna rock, prepare to have your ears blown away! first theres the Titanic irish flute to remember how great America used to be in the 90s (and before) and I guess also Liv Tylers upper lip, then comes the hero march that kicks ass, put it on next time your saving the world B) It also sounds like football. I like it for when Im working out or cleaning to feel like Im Bruce Willis. It rocks pretty hard, trust me, youll hear it! Then at the end there is some asteroid music like for a news report or something, look out! Then that chick starts singing so I faded out, you better get the CD if you want to hear the rest, worth every penny trust me B)

November 22, 2013

Disney Canon #52: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)


ADAM It seems appropriate that on the day of the New York Marathon, we’ve completed our own marathon. I think we may be the only people we know who can say that we’ve seen all of the Disney Animated Canon films in chronological order.

BROOM I think that’s correct. You have several times said “We must be the only people in the world…!” which I don’t think is true. “Only people we know” I do think is true.

BETH Only people in the world who have recorded conversations after each viewing.

BROOM I’m the only person in the world who does a lot of the things I do. It’s a good way to be.

BETH I agree.

BROOM I think this was a good thing to do.

ADAM So what does this say about 2012?

BETH It was hard not to keep thinking about Snow White and how different the world was when that came out.

BROOM I’m going to request that we not make this the valedictory conversation, because we’re going to do that as its own event.

ADAM Do we have to rewatch everything first?

BROOM I’m preparing a retrospective post that we can read to refresh our memories, and then we’ll all discuss. But let’s talk about Wreck-It Ralph (2012).

ADAM I was delighted by this movie when I saw it in the theater, and I continue to be delighted by it. Even if it is Pixar-ified.

BETH Overall I really liked it. I have kind of mixed feelings and I’m trying to work those out quickly in order to discuss.

BROOM I don’t have mixed feelings, I just have unenthusiastic positive feelings. It was good enough. There were things that I was disappointed weren’t in it because they would have made for a better movie.

ADAM Such as?

BROOM It was formulaic and not in a gratifying way. It reminded me of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: “We’ve already exhausted all actual interest in the premise. What’s left is to work out these technicalities of plot.” In this movie, I really don’t care about who wins the race, or whether the girl is a glitch. I care about what it’s like in the world of video games. That’s the main appeal of this premise. But they just handled that in the style of, guess what! Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story. The secret world of video games is… a big bustling workplace with a tramcar, just like in Monsters, Inc. (and a lot of other things). “Yup, that’s what video games are like too. And now that you know that, you have to watch a story. And we made up this story.” They could have focused on charm, but it seemed like they were focused on other things sort of out of plot-necessity. Which is how I felt about Harry Potter toward the end of the series.

ADAM I thought there was plenty of charm here. Did you play Mario Kart?

BROOM Not much. I recognize the style of game.

ADAM You might have enjoyed it more if you’d played Mario Kart. It had all of the characters who play Mario Kart, but it was also clever…

BROOM I enjoyed when they played the actual games; I enjoyed when he was in his game, and then the shooter game, and then when they were racing at the end. But most of the movie consisted of him and Sarah Silverman trading quote-unquote banter, and it was neither here nor there. To me. In my heart.

BETH Did you like the making-the-car scene?

BROOM I just felt a little bit outside of the sense of investment that would have made any given thing that they did actually fun. I mean, it looked the part. For a kid watching, it looks fantastical. It’s certainly one of their craziest movies.

BETH Yes, but not really, because it falls in with the culture of the time. It’s not crazy, it’s how things are.

BROOM Another thing that came to mind was the second Lord of the Rings book (and movie) where I was invested in the real story, of the ring and the quest, and then suddenly the narration goes: “In the kingdom of Rohan, the king is under a spell and his daughter doesn’t know what to do.” And I would feel this sinking feeling, because who cares? The story becomes about how your story bumped into this other story. And that’s how this was constructed too. Wreck-It Ralph, the title character, is going to go in search of his medal!… but what’s it really about? Sarah Silverman vs. the King of Cartoons in some other place. Oh, okay…

ADAM I don’t know. What did I like about it? I felt generally warm towards the characters — maybe not so much towards Sarah Silverman, but towards John C. Reilly. I thought their borrowings from the real world, their Shrekisms, were actually clever and amusing. And I thought it looked visually pleasurable to watch. “Sugar Rush” was over-the-top in a way that was satisfying; it was a mix of Mario Kart and Candyland that felt instinctively right to me.

BETH Yeah, it felt like a real game.

ADAM And I thought Jane Lynch was wonderful. And I thought whatsisname from 30 Rock was also pretty wonderful.

BETH Jack McBrayer. He was, but he was just being Kenneth.

BROOM That’s what he’s got.

ADAM That was pretty wonderful! It was amusing!

BROOM I would rather have seen a movie about him and Ralph relating. More than what we ended up seeing which was mostly about “Sugar Rush.”

BETH I was distracted by thinking about who voiced each character, more than I have been in previous movies.

ADAM Because they didn’t just sound like themselves, they were playing themselves.

BROOM And they all looked like them, too. Except for Jane Lynch, but close enough.

BETH She kinda did.

ADAM They weren’t playing themselves, they were sort of playing their own most famous characters.

BETH Yeah, exaggerations of themselves.

ADAM Did you know that [spoiler] was [spoiler]? Did you care?

BETH I didn’t know. I should have known.

BROOM I guess that was my favorite payoff in the plot. I should have seen it coming.

BETH It’s formulaic.

ADAM There were a lot of funny little quips that made me smile. Like that the police crullers were named Wynnchel and Duncan.

BROOM I liked the way that the donuts were animated.

ADAM I liked the way that the king involuntarily giggled, even when he was being menacing.

BROOM Well!…

ADAM Oh right, this is where the homophobia comes in. Go on.

BETH So. According to [guy who is the source of this objection, not present], apparently — this went over my head while watching the movie — apparently Ralph grabs the king and calls him a “Nelly wafer.”

ADAM That’s true, I noticed that. That was right after the “I see you’re very fond of pink.” “It’s salmon!

BROOM Right. So that’s [this guy’s] objection.

ADAM Well, he’s not wrong! I mean, those things did happen.

BROOM But the king character, who, I believe [this guy] described as having gay-stereotype effeminate mannerisms… he was explicitly Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter or the guy on the ceiling in Mary Poppins. He was doing an Ed Wynn impression and so they animated him that way. I thought the idea of such a character being the king of candyland was a stock way of signifying that you’re in a [Ed Wynn lisp:] “crazy plathe where everything ith funny!” And while that may for all I know be in some extent derived from gay stereotypes…

ADAM Then why did they have to have the pink joke?

BROOM You could say that some of those jokes were tasteless, but the gist of [this guy]’s objection was “Disney is supposed to be a gay-friendly company and this is deeply shocking; it’s like having a racial slur in your movie…”

ADAM Well let’s be clear: it’s only a little bit, but it’s unmistakable. I definitely noticed it. Now I’m not saying the whole way they did the character was a gay stereotype. The character seemed equally as much like James Woods as Hades in Hercules.

BROOM You keep saying he seemed so “Jewish,” which I’m not sure I agree with.

BETH He seemed, you know, New York-y.

ADAM Well, that’s what that means!

BROOM I remembered that [this guy] had complained about the king character and how he was handled. So when he appeared, I thought, “Is there a real type of person who acts like this?” “Sure, to a point.” “So was it offensive when the Mad Hatter was like this?”

ADAM It’s not the same thing. I don’t think [this guy] is wrong. I don’t think it overwhelms the movie, but it’s clearly there. And it is true that Disney has this habit of having effeminate — or gender-non-conformist — villains. Ursula was like that, and Uncle Scar was like that.

BROOM But if we’re going to discuss this not on archetypal principle but on the terms of the movie, let’s acknowledge that in the movie it turns out [spoiler alert?] that his inner nature is not really like this, that it is a mask being worn to fit in with the candyland environment. The environment is the explanation for why he acts like that. It’s not that he’s carrying around some sexual identity that makes him act that way; it’s part and parcel of the world he’s a part of…

ADAM But we don’t know that until the very end. A child walking away from this movie is not going to think “oh, he was actually [spoiler].” He’s the king of candy!

BROOM We immediately understand things about him upon seeing this character, and they don’t have to do with his inner life. We know the Mad Hatter is mad, we know he belongs in Wonderland [Ed Wynn voice:] “becauthe he’th a crathy perthon and crathy people talk like thith!” Historically, is there a gay stereotype somewhere under that? There might be, but we’re going layers deeper than what I am ready to be offended at.

ADAM If they hadn’t had those two jokes in there I could agree with you.

BETH Those jokes flew over my head! I mean, I did hear the salmon thing.

BROOM I certainly didn’t hear him say “Nelly wafer.” Did he really say “Nelly” and not “Nilla”?

ADAM It wouldn’t make sense if he said “Nilla Wafer”. And that’s only a pun on “Nelly.” [ed: The script says “Nillie Wafer” and I can confirm that John C. Reilly does in fact pronounce it this way, though the vowel goes by very quickly and it could easily be misheard as “Nelly.” ADAM’s point about its function being the same holds.]


ADAM I thought it was funny when he said “he only glazed me!” and then he giggled.

BROOM I think part of the joke about the pink is [spoiler discussed at length]. Now, if he had said “pink ith fabulouth!” that would have been one thing. But what he says is, “It’s salmon, it’s salmon!”

ADAM I’m not endorsing the view, but neither am I dismissing it.

BROOM The joke about him not wanting to identify with pink is only offensive if you assume that he’s not just talking funny but is secretly gay, that this funny talking is a clue to something deeper.

ADAM That’s not true. If a straight male character has to come out in a dress for some reason in the plot, and somebody else says, “Nice dress, bro”…

BROOM Mm-hm, like in Mulan.

ADAM … the character doesn’t have to be gay for it to be a gay joke.

BROOM What I mean is that to make jokes about people being uncomfortable going outside their gender boundaries is not necessarily homophobic.

ADAM I declare a truce on this subject.

BROOM Good. None of us actually cares about this.

ADAM What do you think about this candyland being this noir underworld?

BROOM When was that?

ADAM Just that it’s this place with a dark secret in its underbelly.

BROOM I would have liked more of that, what you’re describing.

ADAM I thought that was funny.

BROOM I liked the aliens infesting candyland under the surface. I wish there had been more mash-ups like that! That was the whole promise of the movie.

BETH But that would have been overwhelming. There were so many possibilities.

BROOM I really expected that this movie was going to build up to a frantic jumping-from-one-game-to-another climax.

ADAM You mean Roger Rabbit style. As a child, the experience of seeing Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny in the same frame was so overwhelming.

BROOM I thought that at least Mario was going to show up! I thought, like, he would have to go to the bathroom and the plumber would be there…

ADAM Yeah, for some reason Mario didn’t actually appear in the movie, he was just mentioned.

BROOM It was like bragging, “we are allowed to mention him!”

ADAM Bowser was in it. And they had a Nintendo right-right left-left B-A…

BROOM That’s Konami.

BETH That’s right, all Konami games have that, but it was on a Nintendo controller.

BROOM But let me go back to my big disappointment. I want you guys to speak to this. I was looking to experience the new fantasy of “what kind of world do video games live in”? That’s what Tron was trying to do 30 years ago. And then I just got — it glazed me right at the beginning when it became clear that it wasn’t going to be anything I hadn’t seen before. It was just gonna be more Monsters, Inc. Part of the magic of video games is that they already do suggest a strange world with a quality all its own — which in no way reminds me of some massive industrial train-station mega-workplace. That just seemed so done and lame to me.

ADAM Well, I’ve never seen Monsters, Inc., so…

BETH Yeah, me neither.

BROOM Well, well! It’s just like that! All right, then maybe you can’t speak to this.

ADAM It’s interesting to think about it in terms of Roger Rabbit, because none of these are games that children in this demographic would have played. So it’s got a sort of nostalgia flavor to it. When I watch Roger Rabbit I think “it’s all my friends!” But these games — what 8-year-old has played Rampage?

BROOM Well, Rampage is not in this movie. They just borrowed the look, sort of, for Fix-It Felix.

BETH Well, maybe they are playing it because their dad has a console that plays old games, like the Wii…

BROOM On their phones! I thought this movie was maybe going to end on an iPhone. “They unplugged the machine but guess what! We live again! For $2.99!”

BETH I think old games are alive and well in the homes of young children because of our generation.

ADAM Maybe. It did seem like this was more for parents of our generation than for children.

BETH It did.

BROOM I mean… there’s a lot of problems with this. The ending they actually had was, “seems like we’re ‘retro’ now!” That was tacked on and hard to believe. Arcades like that are going out of business. “And I can see Sugar Rush from here…” The whole thing seems so thin. That’s the emotional ending? That he can see Sugar Rush, this made-up game? I’m not moved by that. The script was weak.

BETH I thought the script was kind of weak. I thought that ‘getting a medal’ was very flimsy as an excuse for pretty much everything that happened. But I just went with it. It was fast-paced, for one of the longest movies that we’ve watched.

ADAM You didn’t experience pleasure watching this?

BROOM I did experience pleasure on a mild level. It did feel long to me, in the middle. I didn’t enjoy Sarah Silverman’s character. The wise-crackingness, which I guess was supposed to be the ‘attitude’ of her game, wasn’t worth anything to me.

ADAM The attitude of our time!

BETH It was the pluckiness that she was required to have in order to live.

ADAM Why are you so insensitive?

BROOM And the resolution of her story that she’s not really a glitch, she’s the star of the game, but she likes being a glitch so she continues to glitch… and players love it after all? I don’t know what that is. There’s no moral. It’s every possible ending smooshed together.

BETH No. The moral is: be yourself.

BROOM Be yourself, even if that’s not who you are and someone made you into that by abusing you, when you’re actually a wizard Harry.

BETH Accept who you’ve become.

ADAM I thought it was super-scary at the end, when he turns into the hybrid bug.

BROOM That was overly scary.

BETH And when Ralph was about to commit suicide on Sarah’s behalf.

BROOM Eh. His revelation that he’s a bad guy and that’s good didn’t really fit. He was doing a heroic thing in some other universe. It has nothing to do with accepting yourself as a bad guy.

ADAM Do you think little kids know what happens if you put a Mentos in a Diet Coke?

BETH Well, they’re gonna try.

ADAM For that matter, do I know what happens if you put a Mentos in a Diet Coke?

BETH I think some fizzing.

ADAM It fizzes, probably.

BROOM If you told me the premise of the movie, that we’re following the bad guy from a video game on his quest of self-discovery, I would expect a more interesting story. About really coming to terms with who you are. Not a story where you happen to clean up the mess in someone else’s world and then you’re happy at the end. They missed the boat. It should have been about his relationship with Jack McBrayer.

ADAM But that would have been so boring.

BETH No, I think they could have made it interesting. I’m with you. I think they were struggling about what stuff to put in.

ADAM I think it should have been them sitting across a table in a therapy room talking about “what does it even mean to be a hero?

BROOM To be really accurate, nothing should have changed because video games don’t change. They should have showed us the same game over and over and we should have heard his thoughts.

ADAM And it should have been just sort of an exploration of ennui.

BROOM But really, I think it should have worked like The Emperor’s New Groove, where the good guy and the bad guy have to go on adventure together, and their relationship, which is the source of the problem, gets worked out through the adventure. That would have been more meaningful to me. And skipping around from game to game is the joy of this concept, so putting most of it 20 minutes in and then being done with it was a mistake.

ADAM Did you watch that horror movie with John Ritter?

BROOM Was that a horror movie? I was thinking of that!

BETH I don’t know it.

BROOM The parents end up stuck in TV.

ADAM They’re being pursued by some malevolent force through every TV show. And he ends up in Three’s Company and it’s a big joke. I’ve only seen the trailer.

BROOM Me too.

ADAM It’s called… um… like Change the Channel or something like that.

BROOM Right, Remote Control (1990) or something like that.

BETH Poor John Ritter.

BROOM Wreck-It Ralph. It is what it is.

BETH I think as children’s entertainment in 2012 it was perfectly benign.

BROOM But as with Two Boys [per a prior discussion], I feel like the price of picking something “hot” is that you have to really have legitimate insight into that thing. Video games have this mixed reputation: on the one hand they’re big business and kids love them, and on the other hand there’s a soullessness to them and their culture. Like the Jane Lynch character: is that a good role model for anyone? why does she have to be wearing this breast-tight metal suit? Etcetera. All of the issues with what’s a little skeevy and weird about video games — the obsessive quality they have — these are things people think about when they think about video games. And the Disney humanist finding-yourself thing doesn’t immediately seem like it will fit with that. And instead of addressing it and making a case, they glossed over it. They glossed over any interest there could have been in making video games the subject matter.

ADAM It should have been a Platoon-style meditation on war set in Call of Duty. In an army hospital in a first-person shooter game.

BETH It’s easy to think of sequels to this, though. There’s a lot to plumb.

BROOM The fact that he’s from an innocent time and now things are less innocent: yes, he gets threatened by all the bugs, but it could have been a real thematic element…

ADAM And then he has bug flashbacks in his game.

BROOM I just thought it would have been interesting if something about the innocence of the old game was held up as a good thing. I guess at the end they go “they like us now.”

ADAM I mean, Felix marries Jane Lynch.

BROOM There’s something strange about that, is there not?

ADAM It’s just because she’s three times his size.

BETH And a lesbian in real life and he’s gay. That’s the stuff that was distracting me.

ADAM And they’re friends with Q*bert.

BROOM It was strange. When Ralph is torturing the sucking candy by sucking on him, if you think about the saliva eating away at him, that’s a horrible torture. It’s really horrific.

ADAM I don’t have much else. Eddie enjoyed it!

BROOM I’ll bet. It’s very lively.

ADAM Kinetic.

BETH Colorful. It does contain worlds that you experience fully. Like “Sugar Rush” was its own thing, and the tower was its own thing. And I as a kid would have kept thinking about it that way. “I want to go back to that apartment building and see it again.” I just want to see the crowds in the stands yelling. I feel like it was fully realized in its setpieces.

ADAM And is Snow White that great a story? Honestly.

BROOM It’s a better story than this.

ADAM It just has this aura of timelessness that makes it seem better. I mean, talk about formulaic!

BROOM I don’t know which direction the satire goes here. Are you saying that no-one should complain about anything? Or do you mean what you’re saying?

ADAM I don’t know.

BETH Let’s go to dinner.

BROOM Where do you want to go?

BETH I don’t know. Yay we did it!

ADAM No, we have to read the review.

BROOM Oh right.

ADAM I can’t believe we almost forgot that. Then we would have had to start from the beginning!

[we read it]

ADAM Well! I guess A.O. agrees with me!

BROOM The number one reader reviewer agrees with me. So we have nothing to say to that? So this will end with the transcript saying “we read the New York Times review and have nothing to add”?

ADAM That’s all, folks!

BROOM That really is all. So what’s gonna happen next is…

ADAM Are we gonna make a dialogue about Frozen after we see it?

BROOM Sure. But I think before that we do a wrap-up. That’s not out for three or four weeks, right?

ADAM Yeah. But that’s cutting it pretty close.

BETH Maybe we should. Maybe we should wait to see Frozen.

ADAM And then finally we’re in real time. I mean, we’re in real time now, but…

BROOM Okay, fine.

BETH And then after that we’ll discuss the entire series.


September 30, 2013

Disney Canon #51: Winnie the Pooh (2011)


BROOM Given our project, this is a fascinating artifact. Don’t you think? It’s surprising that they made this movie and distributed it to theaters. Surprising for several reasons, some of which are critical and some of which are just historical. The effort to do honor to the old values and old properties of Disney, and the effort to make it up-to-date — which together were so dissonant and such a failure — felt indicative of where things are in 2011, culturally. When earlier movies made attempts to recapture “the old Disney,” I had the cynical sense that they just didn’t know how anymore. Now it’s like they so utterly don’t know how anymore that they’re very specifically doing an entirely different thing in its place.

ADAM [dubious ‘tude take] “O-kay…?”

BETH I think the choice of Zooey Deschanel to be the singer is indicative of the attitude they were taking toward this: “Let’s be twee! This is Winnie the Pooh, it’s inherently twee, so let’s play that angle! Christopher Robin is like the perfect hipster kid!”

BROOM Are you saying that about Christopher Robin’s portrayal, or the portrayal of his bedroom?

ADAM His bedroom was awfully steampunk.

BROOM It was like Zooey Deschanel album art.

BETH It was like the Wes Anderson version of Christopher Robin’s bedroom.

BROOM Where did we get this couch from?

BETH Room and Board.

BROOM It was like that.

BETH I don’t know how to take what you’re saying.

ADAM Well, I happen to have Zooey Deschanel right here… I haven’t thought of my meta-criticism yet, but can we talk about how dull it was?

BROOM Very dull.

BETH It was 53 intolerable minutes. Except for the Backson song on the chalkboard, which was obviously their “Pink Elephants” moment.

ADAM They were obviously bored, because they had these two — not just one, but two — flight-of-imagination fantasy sequences.

BETH Two Dumbo moments.

BROOM The second one was more like Alice in Wonderland.

ADAM That was obviously all that was getting them through the day. There were eight people credited for story in this movie. The original Winnie the Pooh movie was three different stories from the original books. This one was kind of a mashed-up version of two or three different stories, but they didn’t really fit together.

BROOM The thing with Eeyore’s tail is a story; the thing with them making a trap for something —

ADAM The heffalump.

BROOM — is a story. The idea of “The Backson” being something that got Christopher Robin, because he wrote “back soon,” is something.

ADAM The thing where they make tracks around a tree and then they get freaked out by them… I think that had been in the first movie already.


BROOM The movie was dull because it had no flair, no charm, and the animation was very pedestrian.

BETH The animation sucked. It was Saturday morning cartoon shit.

BROOM It looked like one of those straight-to-DVD movies. You know, like Sleeping Beauty 3: Beauty’s grandchildren are having trouble with their pets!

BETH That’s why it was hard to believe it was released in theaters.

BROOM It all felt like the straight-to-DVD production package. Which would make sense of it. Maybe that’s what it was produced to be, and then they decided “hey, let’s put this one in theaters.” I don’t know.

ADAM Did the first movie have all those typography-interaction jokes, too?

BETH I think it did.

BROOM In a much milder way.

ADAM It had a couple.

BROOM I thought the first Winnie the Pooh movie was okay, but Adam, you thought it was unacceptable. You complained that they had made Winnie-the-Pooh an asshole, that they had completely betrayed the charming childlike spirit of the originals. And I thought you were overstating it a bit. But here everything you said seemed to me true.

ADAM Actually, this time I thought the characters’ personalities were closer to what I recall from… I won’t say the books, but from the Saturday morning cartoons.

BROOM It was like the Saturday morning cartoons, in which the characters’ personalities were nothing like in the books.

ADAM Winnie-the-Pooh was sort of self-centered here, but he did still seem like the Winnie-the-Pooh of the books.

BROOM He was like Homer Simpson here! His honey dream was like Homer Simpson going to the land of chocolate.

BETH But don’t you think that Jim Cummings did a great impression of Sterling Holloway?

BROOM Yes! I was impressed.

BETH That was my favorite part: marveling at how well he did the voice.

BROOM I think he’s the same guy who did it in the 80s and 90s on the cartoon show. But all the other voices were terrible! I mean, Craig Ferguson as Owl was terrible, the Rabbit guy was terrible…

ADAM The Tigger guy was okay.


BROOM No. The original Tigger had a great voice!

ADAM I don’t know, I’d have to watch them side by side.

BROOM And I don’t think what you say about the characters was true at all. The strength of the first movie is its really rich character animation. Rabbit is kind of a Bert, kind of a curmudgeonly nerd, and Owl’s pomposity is real and internalized, it’s not just a thin veneer on an idiot. And Piglet is meek and honorable, he’s sort of like Linus, whereas here he was just, like, They Killed Kenny.

ADAM They all had pretty unappealing personalities, it’s true.

BROOM They didn’t really stick to character consistently, either. Why did we have to see Rabbit doing a bunch of ninja shit and everyone putting on helmets and doing a montage of military cliches? And Piglet doing Indiana Jones, or whatever that was…

BETH Yeah, it was Indiana Jones.

BROOM It’s this really offensive desperate grabbing at other stuff.

BETH I feel like that one was an in-joke, because it was very quick…

BROOM “In” for whom?

BETH For the animators. “We’re so bored that let’s put an Indiana Jones reference in this.”

BROOM Then they’re so lame! Did you guys sniff Chicken Little behind this at all? Because I did. I had that sense.

ADAM It wasn’t as bad as that.

BROOM No, it wasn’t, it was much better than Chicken Little, but I had that sense of nerd-world.

BETH I wasn’t thinking of it that way.

ADAM I mean, I see what you’re saying, now. Like, Chicken Little is Piglet.

BROOM This Piglet. If you asked, in 2011, what property Disney should make into their next movie, nobody would have said “they should make a Winnie the Pooh movie in the spirit of the 70s one.” It seems so completely not to fit with the times.

BETH I was thinking, what age of child would accept this?

ADAM This seemed to be for very little children.

BETH Very little, like three- or four-year-old kids.

ADAM It was so boring. And all of the gestures towards, like, “Cowabunga!” were not enough to make even six-year-olds want to watch this.

BROOM What age were we when we watched the Winnie the Pooh TV show? Seven or eight, right? You just accept stuff, on Saturday morning. I checked in with that part of my brain a couple times: “If I was just watching this while I ate cereal, would it be fine?” And the answer was: “… yeah, basically.” But here’s something that I wouldn’t have liked even if I was just eating cereal: Winnie-the-Pooh’s honey wet dream is gross and creepy. Like, honey is gross. That he eats it with a full fist has always been gross. It’s bright yellow, it’s putrid, and he sticks his fist into this opaque yellow honey and it goes all over his face, this has always been gross, and then they went and made a whole world of it.

ADAM It’s true.

BROOM And he swam in it. He would be drowning. It was awful.

ADAM And the physics didn’t work at all. He went into the pot and it oozed out, but then actually the level was like a foot below that.

BROOM Those psychedelic things — when I was a kid, it would be like, “wow, this is heady stuff… if everything was honey, how would you, like… sleep?” I’d start wondering “if he goes off that way, would he go forever? And it would still be honey?” That’s what a kid gets into, and in this scenario, the answers to all those questions were horrific. And the fact that Pooh was just reveling in all that horror shows how unsympathetic he is.

BETH I don’t agree with that!

ADAM I remember as a kid watching the Yellow Submarine movie — do you remember “Nowhere Man,” where they’re in that blank space?

BROOM Yes, that’s the epitome of what I’m talking about.

ADAM It actually did trouble me as a child.

BROOM I think it was supposed to, there. I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh’s real honey fantasy ought to have been him in his cozy house, surrounded by all the honey he wants, because he’s like a little British child who wants sweets. Not some kind of Yellow Submarine hallucination…

BETH That’s for the animators, again, because they wanted to play.

BROOM It’s just a wrong move. Like everything else here.

ADAM It all feels like the Finance department. Some business school graduate was like, “What properties haven’t been sufficiently monetized?” And then they were like, “Okay, I guess we can squeeze some more out of this.” And then the animators were like, “What?”

BROOM Well, that’s the purely cynical explanation. I was saying, I think there’s some other kind of thinking at work too, in, say, the Zooey Deschanel thing. “Hipsters really like the innocence of childhood. The innocence of childhood really appeals to people right now, it’s really in. But we have to put a little bit of Go the Fuck to Sleep edge on it.”

ADAM Peter Rabbit on a skateboard!

BROOM When the animation first kicked in and the music started, and it was clearly twee-ified — “Let’s Get Quirky!” or whatever that SNL skit is — I thought, “Oh, I see! Might this possibly work?” And then 20 seconds in I thought, “I don’t think it’s gonna work.” And then there were 54 minutes left.

BETH It’s sad that that was the second to last movie.

BROOM Well, they’ll go on! Life goes on.

BETH I know.

BROOM “It’s sad that this is the present day,” you could say.

ADAM This is Barack Obama’s America.

BETH We’ll have to address that in a wrap-up conversation.

ADAM I don’t know that this necessarily reflects just the degradation of the culture — though surely it does, to some extent — but also, it’s trying to work within this, like, wheezing tradition…

BROOM That’s what I’m saying about straight-to-DVD. If you went to visit Eddie, and they were like, “we bought him this stack of DVDs,” and it was like, The Legend of Tinkerbell

ADAM I’m sorry, you mean Tinkerbell: Pixie Hollow Games.

BROOM Very good, Adam! And whatever the others are: Lady and the Tramp 2, Lady and the Tramp 3, Oliver and More Company, whatever these things are. If you watched one, you’d think, “yeah, I kind of expected it to look like this.” Like a Saturday morning cartoon that goes on a little long, and is cheery, and has second-rate songs.

BETH And jokes.

BROOM And that’s what this was. It’s just that in this series, we keep saying, “this is what they’re making for kids now?” In fact they’re making all sorts of different crap for kids now.

ADAM Surely this had the lowest box office of any Disney animated movie in the last few years.

BROOM Nobody remembers this movie having happened.

BETH I don’t think they promoted it very much.

BROOM Not on the same scale. Basically, it’s strange that it’s on this list. It’s on a different scale.

BETH It doesn’t feel like it belongs.

BROOM And we’ve said that a couple other times. What are the other times?

ADAM Make Mine Music.

BROOM That’s right, in the 40s.

BETH There were 70s ones that felt out of place, too.

BROOM The first Winnie the Pooh, which was a compilation of shorts. And The Rescuers Down Under had that same feeling of “You didn’t really mean that, did you?”

ADAM Why are shorts so boring? If this had been three shorts I would have been even more annoyed.

BROOM Some shorts are good. All right, you want an answer? I think they appeal to a different kind of attention — more of a you’re-eating-cereal attention — which lasts for about eight minutes, happily. You think: “look at that! look at that! look at that!” And then after eight minutes, you think: “Why? Why is this still going on?” And a short can’t answer that question, because it wasn’t built to answer that question. And that’s what was so annoying about this script; that’s why there were all those story people working on it. They wanted to keep the feeling of episodic shorts, but to also have a long arc.

ADAM By which we mean that Pooh’s stomach has to disgustingly growl for 45 minutes.

BROOM Things that we liked: I liked that he sang a duet with his growling stomach.

BETH I did too. I was ready to be charmed based on that song.

BROOM I was already disturbed that the faces were so inexpressive, by the time that song kicked in. The first Winnie the Pooh has that sketchy, 101 Dalmatians look, where you see the pencil lines, and it has a real artistry to it. If Owl turns around and thinks, there’s a lot of cared-for character in every aspect of it. Here it had that dull, flat, spiritless quality. Rabbit was the only one with any skill to it, and then I saw it was done by Eric Goldberg. He’s one of the few names I know anymore; he’s been there a long time.

ADAM I like that Christopher Robin sounded like Kate Middleton’s sister.

BROOM You said something like “It’s Hermione!” That was how he sounded, like baby Daniel Radcliffe. “We found a kid who has a delightful English voice! And no acting skills!”

ADAM [horrible English accent]: “It’s so broad! Et was sewwww brawwwwd!” It didn’t sound like any English person that I’d ever met. It sounded like an English socialite who — you know those girls with the fascinators at the royal wedding? That’s how I imagine they talk.

BROOM Other things we liked?

ADAM …No. Nothin’.

BETH The beginning, I guess. When you said you liked how it looked already, at the very very beginning, I thought, “Yeah, this is nice.”

ADAM You liked that they got the original Pooh doll out of the Victoria & Albert museum?

BROOM They clearly didn’t.

ADAM They said they did.

BROOM The original Pooh doll looks like a ratty little thing, it doesn’t look like this Pooh at all.

BETH Can I say something I really didn’t like? When his stomach suddenly burst open and stuff started coming out! What was that??

BROOM It was disturbing. That’s an element in some of the stories that his fluff comes out and he needs more fluff, but for them to throw it in for just one second like that was like Alien.

BETH It was really upsetting to me.

ADAM Do we think this has any larger social implications than just “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold”?

BROOM You know, we watched a lot of shitty cartoons as kids. We didn’t think twice about whether the center was holding. If we watched an episode of Gummi Bears now, we’d go: [deadpan] “Wow. I really hope those bad guys don’t get the Gummiberry juice to the castle.”

BETH This was better than Gummi Bears.

ADAM It’s true; I went back and watched some Different Strokes the last time I was at the Museum of Television and Radio. They were all really bad. I think the trouble is just when you work in an emaciated form.

BROOM Feature animation?

ADAM Well, Disney feature animation has all these constraints and baggage around it.

BROOM This didn’t really live up to any of those constraints.

ADAM I agree with you, but wouldn’t it have been better if they had just said, “We’re making Howl’s Moving Castle.” Or “We’re making the first Pixar movie,” which was not beholden to anything. And you can already sense now that the Pixar movies start to feel like they’re kind of straitjacketed by expectations. But that was not the case with the early ones.

BROOM Do you think that’s an artistic reality? Or just an reality imposed by the suits?

ADAM I think it’s a partially artistic, partially commercial reality.

BETH I think it’s self-imposed by the animators by what they see works, and what they get accolades for.

BROOM That’s what I thought was going on here. I thought this project had plenty of room, within it, for so much more artistry than they brought.

ADAM You need infusions of fresh blood from outside the form. Part of why Little Mermaid works and seemed like a rejuvenation is because it has this unabashed Broadway thing. And you’ll see that the next one has this unabashedly Pixar-y thing that makes it feel, you know, livelier.

BROOM Even though that is now a 20-year-old thing.

ADAM But it’s the high-low cross, in this case. Where Disney is the high and Pixar is the low.

BROOM I don’t think anyone sees it that way. I think it’s more like “I’m an Apple and I’m a PC.”

ADAM Fine, if you want. Old money, new money. But wouldn’t it be cool if they did a Disney movie that had, like, a Japanese anime infusion in it?

BROOM That was what Atlantis was supposed to be. That didn’t work.

ADAM Well, more stylishly than that. Like, someone who had actually seen a Japanese anime more than once.

BROOM Yes, I do.

ADAM Or what if they let, like, Chris Ware art direct a Disney movie?

BETH During the sequence of the Backson chalkboard animation, I thought, “You could just make a whole movie that looks like this. Maybe you should, because that would be more fun than what we’re watching. And who’s stopping you?” Maybe the suits. But maybe the artists too. It’s not even on the table.

BROOM I like what I’m hearing here. I’m always looking for how to be a better conservative, because they’re essentially conservative, but you’re saying “be radical.” And yeah, it would be great if they were radical.

ADAM Yeah. Some Mary Blair, some something. This just seemed like running on fumes.

BROOM Do you think it has to do with hiring practices? Because who was Mary Blair? Just some artist that they hired. It’s not like they were desperate for fresh blood; it was just part of who they had on staff. Now they hire these people who went to CalArts expressly to be able to do the thing. There truly was the sense of no ideas here, right?

ADAM and BETH Yes.

BROOM As a given. As the baseline. This is why we’re holding up Lilo and Stitch, which is, you know, okay.

ADAM Not that great.

BROOM But we were excited because it seemed like someone had an idea. Just putting watercolors in the background of that movie washed out your eyes: Ah! Something!

ADAM Yeah. I agree. This seemed like it had no possible non-corporate motivations.

BROOM Just a few days ago Beth and I watched, for my second time, the Wallace and Gromit feature-length movie, Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It’s cute. And in the making-of material, someone says that he admires the movie because, quote, “You can’t write charm.” Charm is about sensitivity to all these little touches, and to create something that runs on charm takes great care. And they had done that. I absolutely agree; that’s what makes those Wallace and Gromit movies work: they care about all the things that add up to charm. And that’s what Winnie the Pooh is supposed to be! And it was like they gave it to, you know, swine.

BETH The animators didn’t relate to that.

BROOM I thought the background artists did okay. In emulating the style of the original illustrations.

BETH It’s an easier task. Because you don’t have to draw character.

ADAM I think this was the writers’ fault, primarily.

BROOM I think the fault was spread around pretty evenly.

ADAM Why would you take it upon yourself to rewrite this material? It’s like, “More Alice! Let’s do more stuff with Alice!”

BROOM Alice Down Under! Alice in Space! Alice Planet!

[we read the New York Times review]

ADAM I imagine that if I had had to review Piglet’s Big Movie, I would have been similarly grateful for this.

BROOM It does give some perspective. All right, comparatively, this was a valiant effort to return to quality. But this is what I’m saying about classy conservatism. So sad that this is the classy version. Also, this mention of the jokes with the typography reminded me that I wanted to say: I didn’t like the payoff that they climbed out of the hole on the letters of the book. That joke doesn’t make sense within the scheme of the movie. It’s just stuff. It isn’t satisfying or meaningful or clever.

ADAM They totally forgot about the jump rope, by the way. You’re right, this is better than, like, The Cat in the Hat. You remember that?

BROOM The live-action one, with Mike Myers?

ADAM Yeah. It could be worse. It could clearly be worse.

BROOM Yes, all kinds of things can be worse than other things.

ADAM But the fact that this was bad even though they were trying to, you know —

BROOM First world problems, guys. First world problems.

BETH I have nothing else.

BROOM Here’s something important to say: one left. One left.

ADAM [drum roll sound]


September 27, 2013

Le Misanthrope (1666)

Molière (1622-1673) [born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin]
Le Misanthrope (1666)
translated by Richard Wilbur as The Misanthrope (1952–54)


490. That’s in the middle of Molière’s list, so I read the first work listed. Not sure why that’s the rule, but it is. The Misanthrope, and Bloom specifies the Richard Wilbur translation.

I bought this one. I thought this was something I would feel good about owning, and, in the moment, I liked the way it looked. Beth thinks the cover is tacky, what with the gradient and the fake signature and all, but those very things remind me of comfortable times (i.e. 1993).

I’ll begin by noting once again that plays are short. I can’t stress this enough. We’re not talking about a novel, here. We’re talking about an hour or two.

Richard Wilbur points out in his introduction that Molière’s plays are particularly self-sufficient as texts, such that “a mere reading-aloud of the lines, without any effort at performance, can provide a complete, if austere, experience of the work.” This was borne out. I read the play aloud with a partner (we even made a gentle “effort at performance”) and it charmed — right before our eyes, not just in some imagined theater.

Wilbur’s introduction also notes that maintaining rhymed verse in the translation seemed to him mandatory, essential to Molière’s wit and tone. I don’t know the original but I daresay he did an excellent job. The text is clear and graceful and all sorts of wit lands very nimbly.

We read it aloud with complete rhythmic fidelity to the meter — not robotically, but faithfully in a fluid way — which I found extremely congenial to the tongue and to the ear. And Wilbur’s point about its contribution to the wit is exactly right. The buoyancy made it all delectable.

Not for the first time, I couldn’t help but think: why aren’t Shakespeare’s plays performed this way?

Why are we so afraid of rhythmic speech? It’s something like the aversion to “Mickey-Mousing” in incidental music; there’s this idea out there that strong rhythm makes things tasteless or absurd. As though if the iambs bounce too much, it’s undignified – certainly undignified for, say, Shakespearean Tragedy. But isn’t that just a form of the classic embarrassment of the sensual? Shame at dancing, shame at music, shame at the flesh, shame at art itself? Dance is only absurd in a context of repressing the dance.

What’s so undignified about doggerel, really?

I think that somehow over time we’ve come to think of metered rhyme as something only fit for jest because we wrongly feel it best to try to set “real thought” apart and keep it separate from our art. As though to guard against a threat: that if mere pleasure were to get inside a thought, the senseless vigor would contaminate its rigor.

But obviously that isn’t true; it’s just what art’s supposed to do! The more you integrate the mind — the more the rational’s combined with stuff that stimulates the senses — the more acute experience is. The rational part only gains from someone having taken pains to render it in dancelike verse; it doesn’t make the logic worse, but rather gives it heft and bite, and at some level makes it right.

The dance conveys that thought is good, the joy of being understood, and this can only elevate the author’s sense, and give it weight. And that’s why we should hear the rhyme and feel the iambs keeping time, instead of merely glancing down and with a Harold Bloom-y frown commending Shakespeare’s “splendid song — but to perform it would be wrong.” The notion that in Shakespeare’s plays the rhyme and rhythm are just ways of flaunting discipline and skill — essentially a test of Will — and aren’t to be heard, per se, but only sensed in some vague way, while being willfully obscured by actors who feel reassured by pulling out that standard trick of alternating slow with quick, and taking stabs at “naturalism” by running roughshod through the rhythm — this notion makes no sense to me as anything but anxiety. And yet I know it’s very hard to find productions of The Bard performed in full iambic lilt, where Hamlet singsongs without guilt.

But someday I might see, I hope, a staging of The Misanthrope that honors all the rhymes, as we did, in which I think we succeeded. It wouldn’t be the same in prose, as Richard Wilbur clearly knows.

Or knew, rather.

That tired me out so I think I’m about done here.

The Misanthrope is about the impossibility of absolute sincerity and the grotesqueness of rampant insincerity. It brings up these issues swiftly and elegantly, gets a few laughs with them, sets up some light dramatic conflict with them, and then ends, setting the matter back down without undue moralizing. For this restraint I greatly admire it. The question of sincerity is for each of us to struggle with individually; there’s plenty bite enough in the fact that the philosophical questions are real and timeless (despite the “urbane” subject matter, this stuff is entirely as accessible today as it was in 1666). I found the work far more thought-provoking than I would have found some kind of lesson play on the same subject.

Well, for the duration anyway. Of course afterward I just went on to the next thing and stopped thinking about The Misanthrope. I guess if it had some kind of horrible catharsis and an overbearing moral, I would have been more inclined to wrestle with it in my mind for days afterward.

But that would have been my anxiety at work, clinging to the discomfort as it tried desperately to set right what can’t be set right. You can get people to think about your art by shoving something dismaying in their faces, but that’s the low road. So again, I admire this for going the high road. It comes from an unanxious milieu, a bewigged world of ephemeral grace and wit, and I feel not just soothed but heartened by that soft touch. “For the duration” is a perfectly natural and reasonable amount of time to think about something.

Like I said, plays are short.

I haven’t done excerpts for plays up until now, but why not. I think people like the excerpts. It makes this site a little less blatantly like me talking to myself about something nobody else actually knows about. (Except for Maddie, who so far continues to follow along. Oh, and in this case also except for my reading partner. Never mind, there are plenty of you who’ve read this. But here comes an excerpt anyway.)

This is the first passage that made me chuckle aloud. Alceste, our misanthrope, crusader against hypocrisy, has said that he will not hold back from frankly stating his beloved Celimene’s faults.

I see her charms and graces, which are many;
But as for faults, I’ve never noticed any.

I see them, Sir; and rather than ignore them,
I strenuously criticize her for them.
The more one loves, the more one should object
To every blemish, every least defect.
Were I this lady, I would soon get rid
Of lovers who approved of all I did,
And by their slack indulgence and applause
Endorsed my follies and excused my flaws.

If all hearts beat according to your measure,
The dawn of love would be the end of pleasure;
And love would find its perfect consummation
In ecstasies of rage and reprobation.

Love, as a rule, affects men otherwise,
And lovers rarely love to criticize.
They see their lady as a charming blur,
And find all things commendable in her.
If she has any blemish, fault, or shame,
They will redeem it by a pleasing name.
The pale-faced lady’s lily-white, perforce;
The swarthy one’s a sweet brunette, of course;
The spindly lady has a slender grace;
The fat one has a most majestic pace;
The plain one, with her dress in disarray,
They classify as beauté négligée;
The hulking one’s a goddess in their eyes,
The dwarf, a concentrate of Paradise;
The haughty lady has a noble mind;
The mean one’s witty, and the dull one’s kind;
The chatterbox has liveliness and verve,
The mute one has a virtuous reserve.
So lovers manage, in their passion’s cause,
To love their ladies even for their flaws.

As with the rest of the play, this is, like a good modern standup routine, not only funny but also resonant. Where should tact end? Who is really being mocked here? I laugh in part because I don’t know. Everyone equally, I’d like to think.

Anyway, good going, That’s-a more like it.

See below for the Maddie report, I hope.