It is done.
A digest retrospective follows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.