Category Archives: The Disney Canon

February 9, 2017

Disney Canon #56: Moana (2016)

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[The waitress pours sparkling water.]

BROOM Thank you.

ADAM Thank you. Could I get some ice too, please?

WAITRESS Sure!

ADAM Thanks.

[She goes.]

BROOM First let me think about what I’m gonna order so I don’t have to think about it later. What kind of thing are you gonna get?

BETH I’m gonna get the mushroom toast to share, and then the Mediterranean salad.

BROOM I think I have to get one of these expensive meals, because I haven’t really had a full meal yet today.

BETH Go ahead. I’ve eaten a lot today.

BROOM I’ll just get the brick chicken.

[The waitress returns with ice.]

ADAM Thanks a lot.

WAITRESS Any questions about the menu? So far?

BETH I think we’re actually ready.

WAITRESS You’ve seen it before! Okay!

BETH Yeah…

WAITRESS You can go ahead.

BETH Okay… I’ll start with the mushroom toast.

WAITRESS Mm-hm!

BETH And have the Mediterranean salad.

WAITRESS Okay! Not with the chicken or whatever but just the Mediterranean salad.

BETH Just the salad. Thanks.

WAITRESS Okay. And you sir?

ADAM The orecchiette [orəˈkɛtə] pasta please.

WAITRESS Orecchiette [orəˈtʃɛttiː]!

BROOM I’ll have the Tuscan chicken.

WAITRESS And the chicken. Okay.

BETH Could I also have a glass of Côtes du Rhône?

WAITRESS Sure! Gentlemen, anything else to drink right now?

BROOM Just the water for me.

WAITRESS Okay.

BROOM Thank you.

WAITRESS Sure!

[She goes.]

BROOM Rest assured we’ll all be reading the orders in the transcript.

ADAM Maybe this is just resonating with my emotional state lately, but: this movie felt in a lot of ways like a pastiche of many other Disney movies, but the longing for the world to be fixable — and specifically ecologically fixable — is what stood out most strongly to me as emotionally different from the pattern. Although I guess it was true of Brother Bear, too.

BETH This was much better than Brother Bear.

ADAM It was.

BROOM If Brother Bear didn’t inspire those feelings, then they didn’t apply.

ADAM Yeah. It made me feel really wistful and upset. But then I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Again, perhaps because of the election.

BROOM I didn’t think I was going to talk about that — it didn’t really rise to the level of being conscious — but I realize in retrospect I did have thoughts like “Is the ocean really still this pretty, or is it gross now? Will it ever be beautiful again?” And actually at one point I thought “Probably if I were in the middle of the Pacific ocean, it would be beautiful and pristine, and my images of ecological disaster ruining the earth are all just from words in the newspaper. The reality would be better.” When she broke the coral I had a fleeting thought about how the Great Barrier Reef is being destroyed by the millions of acres, and then, “but if I were there it would still look like beautiful nature, and that scale of destruction would actually be less acutely frightening to me.” Everything is more terrifying as a sentence than as a physical reality.

[The waitress brings cutlery.]

BETH Thank you.

[She goes.]

BETH When it’s a sentence, like…?

BROOM You know, “The Great Barrier Reef is dying. The corals are dying after thousands of years.” I don’t have much more to say about that. Only when you said it did I realize I had thought about it during the movie.

BETH I wasn’t really thinking about it in those terms either.

ADAM Maybe everyone should say what struck them the most and then we can launch off from there.

BETH The thing that struck me the most was that this occasionally gave me this feeling —

[The waitress brings and pours the wine]

BETH Thank you.

WAITRESS Cheers!

[She goes.]

BETH … that only Disney has given me. I’ve felt this feeling and it’s hard to describe, but it’s in Disney World in certain rides, and it’s in older Disney cartoons. The time I felt it here was during the “Shiny” song, when everything was neon.

BROOM Black light.

BETH Yeah. It’s a kind of feeling that reaches into me and delights me in a way that nothing else ever has. And it’s very particular to Disney. That’s the thing that stuck with me the most. I thought the movie was a little long. I thought it lagged a little bit a couple times.

BROOM How long was it?

ADAM An hour forty-five.

BROOM That’s pretty long for a Disney movie.

BETH But overall I thought it was more imaginative than many of them, and let itself be free with its animation in ways that felt new to me.

[A waiter appears with the mushroom toast.]

WAITER Hello how are you. Mushroom toast?

BETH Great.

[He sets it down.]

WAITER Enjoy.

[He goes.]

BETH You guys can share this.

BROOM I felt like on a sensory level it was very rewarding, but I felt the basic conceit — that they were taking elemental myth and applying a modern journey-of-self psychological story over it — just didn’t make any emotional sense. I was sleepy so I was watching it through childlike eyes, just asking “what journey are you taking me on?” A kid is gonna watch this happily enough because it’s so tactile, but… All the gestures about character worked, they were delivered with expertise, but they didn’t work for this movie’s story. There was no there there. I felt unengaged.

BETH You want some mushroom toast?

ADAM No thanks.

BETH You want any?

BROOM Yeah.

ADAM There was definitely a lot of “the true journey is within” psychology. I’m trying to remember in recent movies… Obviously, whats-her-name…

BROOM Rapunzel?

ADAM No, the rabbit from Zootopia.

BROOM Judy Hopps.

ADAM Judy Hopps, thank you. Judy Hopps has to discover her inner reserves of courage, but it wasn’t quite so overt. Or in Frozen, or in Tangled — a lot of the recent ones — this one was more explicit about it. But I feel like those are sort of connected, in my mind: the fact that they were going to dive deep into the mythologies of another culture is tied to the impulse to be psychologically sensitive. So they at least strike me as thematically connected.

BROOM You’re saying that having all those cultural advisers is the same kind of sensitivity as being sensitive to whether a person is being herself, which is what the story is about?

ADAM Yeah, they’re both things that [conservative roommate] would have disapproved of, in college.

BROOM They’re both for snowflakes.

ADAM Yeah, I guess. So to me they seem harmonious thematically in that way. Although I agree with you that that has nothing to do with the underpinnings of the real mythology.

BROOM I spent most of the time thinking about myth. If someone gave me a book of Hawaiian and Polynesian Mythology, which I assume is the main source for this stuff, I would find it esoteric and kind of dry, even though the stories were about fire and water and gods, because it’s not my cosmology. It would take a lot of imaginative work to plug into what makes a myth powerful to the people whose myth it is. And I just thought, “that’s a worthwhile creative project, to make that stuff come alive for the general audience,” and that’s just not the project they took on. They pulled stuff from that mythology book just so they could do another Little Mermaid musical.

BETH Do you think that’s what they felt that they took on, though?

BROOM No, not directly. I don’t think they thought “let’s tell this story as it is.” I think they thought “let’s use this story.”

BETH Or “let’s evolve it.”

BROOM Or “let’s tell this story our way.” They would probably say, “We made it relevant. We made it modern.”

ADAM Presumably in the real mythology Maui is not, like, kind of a jerk who gets humanized by a little girl in the course of their seafaring journeys together. So yes.

BROOM “Prometheus, why are you so sad? You took the fire, man, you’re awesome! Why are you so down on yourself?”

ADAM Isn’t that exactly what Hercules was?

BROOM Yeah. So this is the same directors as Hercules, which was like a straight-up comedy, riffing on Greek myth. Because everyone knows those myths, so they could make the whole thing be in quotes. It was like Into the Woods: you already know the story of Little Red Riding Hood so we can joke about it. But no-one knows this story. I mean, I didn’t even know Maui was a god. I knew Maui was an island, but I didn’t know he was a demigod.

ADAM He’s “just an ordinary demi-guy.”

BROOM Yeah. I’m not sure that means what they wanted it to mean, but yes. Anyway, maybe also because I was sleepy, in my head I started trying to do the real project of bringing these big mythological feelings to life. This huge green goddess is responsible for life and joy and the ocean… How would you tell that, in a way that didn’t sideline it to a story that was actually all about coming of age and getting over your parents’ issues with themselves. Maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about any of that.

BETH I didn’t watch it like that at all. I always just revert to kid mode when I watch these.

BROOM And the kid enjoyed this.

BETH For the most part. The kid got bored a little bit.

BROOM So that’s another way of saying what I’m saying. At the beginning, when they say “You need to practice governing. What should we do?”

BETH “She’s doing great!”

BROOM I thought, kid me does not know what’s going on: “They’re on this island, walking around talking. Clearly this is more boring than the magic ocean, so I guess the significance of this is ‘thing that’s too boring.'” Which is correct. But there was a lot of it to sit through.

ADAM But is that any different from Belle’s walk through the village? Obviously, rebelling against the thing everyone expects you to do is the ur- Disney plot, though I was having trouble remembering all of them as I was sitting there. I guess all Ariel has to do is go to mermaid school, right? She’s disobedient by exploring human artifacts, but she’s not disobedient by being —

BROOM It’s exactly the same: she’s not supposed to go beyond the border.

ADAM Right, but they didn’t get into quite so much detail about what her real responsibilities were, right?

BROOM She was supposed to be a royal darling. She was supposed to be at that concert and sing “ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

ADAM And Simba doesn’t really have any governing responsibilities either.

BROOM Well, he does by the end. He’s going to.

ADAM But they don’t get into the substance.

BETH He doesn’t practice.

BROOM They don’t show the day to day, they don’t show him signing and vetoing, but they show the landscape and say that this is his domain, and I think James Earl Jones says something about how they keep peace among the different species by their firm rule. Something like that.

ADAM Well, I appreciated that it felt like more than that. It wasn’t just boring formalities. She was actually abdicating responsibilities — until it turned out that it required her to do the thing that she wanted to do anyway. But before that, when she was just disobediently going out into the ocean, she had a real job to be doing.

BROOM Yeah… sort of. It wasn’t clear. It was still “practice.”

ADAM She’s gonna be the chief. She has to get ready. So, I have a confession. I wasn’t going to tell you this: I did actually see this with my nephews already, in November.

BETH That’s hilarious.

ADAM Because I had to. Everyone made me. I was like, “I can’t because I have to see it later,” but then they made me. So I saw this before.

BROOM What was the point of not confessing until now? You just thought I’d be angrier about it if you hadn’t already done your duty?

ADAM Wait, what?

BROOM What was the point of not confessing it but then confessing it?

ADAM Because it relates to a point I’m gonna make! It’s in service of this discussion. At first I thought, “well, it’s not relevant, so I can gloss over it.” But it did feel different on two viewings.

BROOM Wait, when did you see it?

ADAM Thanksgiving, with my nephews.

BROOM Did you see it before or after texting me to say “we have to see Moana when I get back.”

ADAM I don’t remember. Probably I was texting you because I was trying to fight off my family and show them that we couldn’t go it see it. But then the only alternative was to see Sing, which was so execrable that… anyway.

BROOM It’s fine. Go ahead, tell me about your nephews’ response.

ADAM No no, it’s about my response. The first time I saw it, it had a much more dreamlike coherence, and I was really taken with the flow of it. But watching it the second time, when I knew what was gonna happen, it felt a lot more chunked into discrete incidents that didn’t really necessarily have any driving story rationale.

BROOM For example: remember the part when they fought with coconuts for 8 minutes?

ADAM Right, exactly.

BETH I did enjoy that part, though.

ADAM Yeah, it was entertaining! And it shows that she has pluck and determination. But, yeah, this time it felt more like it had business in the middle of it just for its own sake.

BROOM Level 1: The island. Level 2: Getting past the reef. Level 3: Coconut fight. Level 4: Land of the monsters.

ADAM Probably not coincidentally, it reminded me a lot more of “Monkey Island” this time than the first time.

BETH It reminded me of “Donkey Kong Country.”

BROOM Yeah, it was very much like “Donkey Kong Country Returns.” It reminded me of video games in its look, its feel, its thought patterns, its rhythms. Everything.

ADAM But the other thing was that [nephew 1] and [nephew 2] were engrossed in it, and were also quite upset in the middle. I mean, [nephew 2] was quite upset! During the crab, and when the grandmother dies. He was really into it. I think he might have started talking back to the screen in the middle of it.

BETH That’s cute.

ADAM So they seemed to like it.

[A waiter comes with the entrées. He sets down the first one.]

BETH Thank you.

[He begins to set down the second one.]

BROOM That’s for him.

ADAM That’s for me, thanks.

[He sets down the second one.]

WAITER Chicken?

[He sets down the third one.]

BROOM Thank you very much.

WAITER You’re welcome; enjoy.

[He goes.]

ADAM So my estimation of it went down a little bit. But the psychology aspects of it are the things that do feel organic, at least to the story they’re trying to tell, as opposed to just being business. So maybe that’s why I’m more sympathetic to that aspect of it.

BROOM What do you mean, “it feels organic to the story they’re trying to tell”?

ADAM Well, isn’t there something at least slightly touching about the fact that at the end, the way they defeat evil isn’t through some swirl of Ursula going down in a whirlpool, but that she has the courage to stand there and let it come towards her? That’s much more impressive than, like, “he aims a shot and it hits her right in the eye! AAAARGH! I’m melting, I’m melting!”

BETH I thought it was very much like that Beyoncé video, when she’s walking and her hair’s flowing. When she’s approaching the goddess or whatever.

BROOM Lava monster.

BETH The lava monster. It felt like it was taken from a piece of culture that we don’t usually see in Disney.

BROOM I.e. Beyoncé.

BETH Uh-huh.

ADAM And having hip-hoppy songs. And frankly, having that crab song, which was weird, for a Disney movie.

BROOM Why? What about it was weird?

ADAM It’s just that it’s not the Broadway register that you expect.

BROOM You know who these songs were by!

ADAM Yes, yes, well that’s what I’m segueing to, here.

BETH I thought the songs — which were by Lin-Manuel Miranda — had a better flow and were more interesting than usual.

ADAM Yeah, they were sort of jazzy, they had syncopation, and they had pretty good lyrics. I liked the line “You can’t expect a demigod to beat a decapod.” That made me laugh. I guess BROOM didn’t like that line.

BROOM You know what you left out.

ADAM No.

BROOM “You can’t expect a demigod to beat a decapod — look it up.

ADAM Okay, that’s not as good.

BROOM Well, that’s what it really was. Also, what makes it a decapod? I don’t understand.

ADAM I don’t know.

BROOM I’ve gotta look it up.

BETH Can I have a small piece of that chicken?

BROOM You can have as much of this as you want.

BETH Just cut off a little edge.

ADAM I thought the “perfect daughter” song was really good and sort of jazzy.

BETH I thought “You’re Welcome” was good.

ADAM Yeah, I liked that song. I liked the big Disney, you know, “and then I’ll know how far I’ll go” song. Not as good as “Let It Go,” which is basically the exact same song, but.

BROOM Is that what the words were?

ADAM [sings:] “And no-one knows… how far it go-oes,” meaning the horizon. But then she also finds out how far she’ll go.

BROOM But that was the refrain? Wasn’t “know who I am” a lyric? No?

BETH I think ADAM is right. But essentially that’s the same thing.

BROOM All right. Well, I thought —

[The waitress appears]

WAITRESS How was everything prepared? Good?

BROOM Very nice.

ADAM Thank you.

[She goes]

BROOM This is all going in. Because it feels like there’s strangely a lot of it.

ADAM It always goes in!

BROOM It’s my favorite part, in some ways. I thought that the songs were in a certain sense weak. And that sense is, I think, a weakness for Lin-Manuel that Hamilton in a way disguises, because of the way Hamilton works — that he’s not much for “show don’t tell.” He mostly just tells you, in so many words, like, [sings:] “I gotta lotta conflict / Inside me / Sometimes I think I’m great / Sometimes I don’t.” And just says it. This opening song was like [sings:] “We live on this island / And it’s great / We have a lot of culture / We love each other / We don’t need anything else.” Instead of being about the sun, or the grass, or whatever. Except for when it’s “time for an image!”

ADAM Well, “the coconuts” and “the taro root”…

BROOM Yes, but he didn’t use those as the story of the song, he used those as, like, “Exhibit A” toward his thesis statement, which was completely on the nose.

ADAM What’s an example of a Broadway song that does what you’re calling for, here? Just so I understand. I mean, don’t all Broadway songs work that way?

BROOM Well, the first song in Oklahoma: “Oh what a beautiful mornin’ / Oh what a beautiful day / I got a wonderful feelin’ / Everything’s goin’ my way.” Then he describes the meadow and so on. So: is the point of that song to establish that it’s a beautiful morning? No. That’s what he’s talking about, but the point is to establish a mood, and this character, and sympathy for the character. The fact that it’s a beautiful morning and he feels good is actually to the side of what the song is doing for the audience. In a Lin-Manuel song, if someone says it’s a beautiful morning, it’s because he thought, “for the plot, the audience needs to know that this is morning is very beautiful.” He would have written for Curly to walk out and sing, like [sings:] “Livin’ on a farm / Works for me! / I never lose sight / Of what I got comin’ to me!”

BETH That was a good impromptu alternate Oklahoma.

BROOM So, yes: every song every written says something “in so many words.” But if you pick the thing that is the dramaturgical function of the song to be the thing that the song is saying, you’re missing the opportunity to do so much more.

BETH Yeah. I guess that’s why this didn’t feel like art to me. I was just thinking about the best Disney movies, like Dumbo, or Pinocchio, the older ones, and how they felt greater than what’s on the screen. And this just felt like a well-executed thing on a screen.

BROOM Right. I actually had the thought: if you took out all of the explaining of the story, the art direction is so good that the under-layer, the dream layer, would work by itself. So they should have taken it out!

ADAM So a song like “You’re Welcome,” which gives you a lot of plot background about Maui, but also has the humorous function of distracting her from the fact that he’s putting her in a cave. Does that have the flaws that you’re describing? I’m just trying to understand.

BROOM No, not really. That’s a functional song. But during that song I was thinking: did he really create the sun and the wind? Then of course, yes, “you’re welcome.” There’s no sarcasm there. He’s a cosmic force! Why would we laugh at that?

BETH I was thinking, if he did those things he’d be more than a “demigod.”

BROOM That’s why myth is such a weird thing to treat this way. He lifted the islands out of the sea? Then it’s not actually braggadocious, so to speak, for him to say “you’re welcome.”

ADAM But he did it because he had a void in his heart. That, I thought, was the weakest scene in the whole movie. When she sees that tattoo and says, “You just have to believe in yourself.” And then he can suddenly do his magic again.

BROOM I liked that the tattoo was revealed quickly in the crab song. And we pick it up, because the crab says what it is, if we’re listening fast enough. But then we got to the scene where we had to listen slow to the same thing. I thought, “of course, they had to make it lamer.” The crab sings something like “People didn’t want you / You’re trying to compensate for it.” Then we have to watch this other scene where he says [slo-mo:] “Peeeooople diiidn’t waaant meeee… Iii’m tryyyiiing to cooompeeensaaate…”

ADAM I guess all that is is the magic feather done over again. Well, actually, it’s a lot weaker than the magic feather, because the whole point of the magic feather is that… Well, I don’t know. Maui does have a magic fishhook.

BETH I thought that we were gonna learn that actually he didn’t need it.

BROOM At the end, when the fishhook breaks, and he says, “Well, I’m still Maui!” I know that that’s what they set up to be the arc, but it functionally isn’t. He’s defined by being a magical god who does god things, and now he can’t anymore. What’s he gonna do? They don’t answer it. It was bizarre.

ADAM I was surprised that Heihei was by far the weakest sidekick. I guess that’s obviously intentional.

BROOM It seemed like a satire on sidekicks.

BETH I actually thought they had put him in as a joke for themselves.

ADAM But what a strange joke. I assumed they put him in to be like Wilson the volleyball, because otherwise it’s terrifying and insane that she’s on a boat by herself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But couldn’t he have done anything? I mean, he saved the jewel once, but the jewel drops in the ocean like twenty times! The ocean could have just saved it.

BETH Yeah, the ocean was kind of finicky.

BROOM The ocean will do anything…

ADAM Except when it won’t.

BROOM … right, except when she’s gotta do it herself. But if anything goes wrong, don’t worry, the ocean will take care of it. She doesn’t row all the way to the island at the end, so the ocean pushes her the rest of the way.

ADAM Yeah, or she’s knocked unconscious in a storm and luckily she washes up exactly where she needs to be. Whew!

BROOM That’s what’s weird about doing myth in this way. At the beginning of Mimesis, Auerbach talks about the flat, unpsychological style.

ADAM The world of Greek mythology.

BROOM Right, the style of the Odyssey. Everything is flat, there’s no background, and that this is a certain mode of storytelling.

ADAM Which is just the opposite of having psychological backstory, and trying to spend the whole movie explaining explaining why people do the things they do, and where they find the wellsprings of inner strength to do them.

BROOM Right. Part of the power of those kinds of stories is that your subconscious has to fill that in. And here they say essentially “don’t worry about figuring it out; we figured it out for you. Trust us: it’s exactly the same as The Little Mermaid, so this’ll be easy.”

ADAM I still did really like it though. I found it very entertaining. It’s so beautiful, and it’s so — it feels like it’s handling its material with sensitivity and grace. And I liked the ending. And I liked — I thought they finally got the gender politics sort of effortlessly right.

BROOM Close to effortlessly. The effort shows, but.

ADAM Well, it’s all part of a long history of trying harder and harder, but, like, finally they believably got there, I thought.

BROOM But when Maui does the bit about “Hero to all men — and women! To everyone: to all!” That seemed like self-satire too. It was like they were saying, “You remember how hard we used to have to work at this! Ha ha but we’re way past that, now!”

ADAM It is a little weird when he gives her the speech about “I put a stone, as did my father, and my father’s father, and all…” Whoa.

BETH “Now you.”

ADAM “Now you, and your stone is a seashell,” which isn’t really —

[The waitress appears]

WAITRESS Do you want another bottle of water, or are we switching over to tap?

BETH Let’s switch.

WAITRESS That’s fine!

ADAM Thanks.

WAITRESS Okay, here, you can take the rest of this first since you have some in here. Here you go!

[She pours the remaining water from the bottle into ADAM‘s glass]

ADAM Thanks.

[The waitress goes]

ADAM Glad you guys didn’t want any! Right: the seashell is not actually an appropriate thing to put on the mound, because you can’t put another thing on top of the seashell, Moana!

BETH Crushing it, you can!

ADAM Why do they need to go wayfinding to the other island at the end, even though they’ve already saved their island?

BROOM Are they saying “wayfinding” or “wavefinding”?

BETH Way. With a Y.

BROOM It’s just the actual word “wayfinding.”

BETH Mm-hm.

ADAM Yeah.

BROOM I thought that at first, and then I thought, “oh, no, they’re saying ‘wavefinding,’ they made this thing up to sound magical.”

BETH I thought it was because they’re explorers.

ADAM Oh, just as a hobby?

BETH Yeah, this is what they do now because she’s restored their voyager nature.

ADAM Well, obviously that’s true, but that doesn’t make any sense. But you’re obviously correct.

BROOM Here’s what I wanna know: how did Disney Animation Studios allow this and Lava to be in production at the same time?

ADAM Right. Lava You.

BROOM I think the name of the movie was just Lava but “I Lava You” was the refrain.

ADAM I did think about that as I was watching this.

BETH I had forgotten about that.

BROOM Like, when the goddess lies down and becomes the island, that was exactly the imagery from Lava.

ADAM Maybe that’s where they got the idea for this movie.

BROOM Or vice versa. What’d you guys think of the short, which I can’t remember the name of. Possibly “Paul,” or “Internal Anatomy,” or something like that. [ed.: Inner Workings]

BETH I thought it was good. I was fine with it.

ADAM It was fine.

BETH I liked that… in the middle when he was goofing off and satisfying his desires, I thought, like, “this isn’t a solution. You can’t just run away.” I liked that they had him go back to his job and be happy and then spread the happiness to everyone there.

BROOM I liked that too.

ADAM Yeah, I agree. At first I thought they were just gonna have him quit his job.

BROOM Throw the cell phone in the snow.

ADAM Yeah. Right, thank you. Another movie that I’m surprised has lasted.

BROOM It didn’t last. Nobody likes that movie.

ADAM Yeah, but I still think about it sometimes. “Bracket, ed, colon, Hook, close bracket.” I was putting in your editor’s note. Or you could do it with a hyperlink.

[minor digression about Hook ensues]

ADAM The short: maybe I resented it a little because I’m a corporate lawyer.

BROOM Does that consist of a lot of this? [makes single-finger key-tapping gesture from the short]

ADAM In a larger sense? I don’t know. Does happiness consist of buying sunglasses from the sunglasses girl, and then marrying her?

BETH Maybe!

BROOM Did he marry her?

BETH Yeah, they had two kids.

ADAM In the closing credits.

BETH One looked like her and one looked like him.

BROOM I was kinda distracted during that because the people behind us were unwrapping something really noisily.

ADAM At least they weren’t the girls in front of us, who had the largest hair of anyone who’s never been to a movie before.

BROOM When you sat down, you said “I don’t want to sit in that other seat because there’s a guy in front of me.” And then the muppet with the giant hair came and sat in front of you. Or with a giant hat, right?

BETH The muppet has a hat, yes.

ADAM Why do you think Pua didn’t get to be the sidekick?

BROOM That also seemed like deliberate internal commentary about sidekicks. They set up the pig as the legitimate sidekick — I think that was supposed to be the joke for the savvy audience. “Here’s the likely sidekick, and here’s the garbage sidekick,” and —

[The waitress appears]

WAITRESS These guys are — Did you want me to wrap it up for you or are you still working on it?

ADAM Yeah, you can wrap it. Thank you.

WAITRESS Okay! My friend Edward’s gonna finish you all out. I’m gonna set out along my way.

BETH Oh.

ADAM All right. Thanks very much.

BETH Thank you.

[She goes. Edward clears the plates while we wait.]

BROOM Thank you.

[Edward continues clearing plates.]

ADAM Thanks.

[Edward continues clearing plates. He goes.]

BROOM I genuinely don’t remember what I was saying.

ADAM You were saying that it was a joke about sidekicks.

BROOM Yeah. You know what I was saying. That they deliberately picked the bad one.

BETH Can you just note how many seconds went by during that?

BROOM Yes.

[ed.: 40 seconds from ‘The waitress appears’ to ‘I genuinely don’t remember what I was saying.’]

ADAM What else struck me about this? Um…

BROOM It looked like they were all dolls made of nice soft plastic.

ADAM But they took trouble to show his skin, underneath the tattoo animation, in a way that was believable and appealing.

BETH Yeah.

BROOM The tattoos seemed like a big scheme to keep the traditional animation department alive.

ADAM Was that hand-drawn?

BROOM Yeah, in the credits it said, “hand-drawn animation directed by…”

BETH Hey, whatever! I thought it was cool.

BROOM I agree.

ADAM I liked the grandmother.

BROOM I liked the grandmother too.

BETH I did too. I thought she was a good character.

ADAM I thought she was an appealing mix of comic and wise.

BROOM She was very grandmotherly.

ADAM I liked that she died. That’s a useful thing to teach kids about: that your grandparents will die.

BROOM I thought, “whoa!” when that wave of death comes down the mountainside when she dies. That got to me.

BETH But then she turned into the stingray!

ADAM It was just the wave of her soul force, coming down the mountain.

BROOM But it looked sort of gray in the moment of death. The light went out in the house.

BETH Yeah, all the lights went out —

[The waitress appears with ADAM‘s wrapped leftovers.]

ADAM Thank you.

WAITRESS Mm-hm, thank you very much, sir.

BROOM Have a good night.

[She goes.]

ADAM Are there any other world cultures that have yet to be mined to make a Disney movie? Remember that Big Hero 6 happened?

BETH Eskimos?

BROOM That’s what I just thought of too!

ADAM Eskimos?

BROOM Yeah! They haven’t done one yet. Simple.

ADAM I guess.

BROOM They’ve done two Hawaiian ones, now!

ADAM It’s true. Although this was really more French Polynesia.

BETH Yeah, it felt more Polynesian.

BROOM Is Maui a god beyond Hawaii?

ADAM I don’t know. It just felt more Polynesian generally.

BROOM I also assumed it was in Polynesia, but then when they talked about Maui, I thought, well, that’s what Maui is named after, so.

BETH Well, they had a Hawaii department as well as a Fiji department…

ADAM They’ve never done one in India. Although I guess The Jungle Book is set in India, sort of. I guess more than “sort of.”

BROOM And Mulan is set in China. Have they done one in Japan?

ADAM Well, Big Hero 6, sort of.

BROOM That was in Nouveau Tokyo, or whatever it was called.

ADAM San Fransokyo, I think.

BROOM Has there been a Russian one? There was that faux-Disney Anastasia in the 90s, but I don’t think Disney has done a Russian one. In this new era of glorious detente there will surely be one.

ADAM Although all the fairy tale ones could be in Russia.

BROOM Trust me: the next Disney movie? It’s gonna be Russian. No, none of those fairy tales take place in Russia! The backgrounds are…

BETH They’re Danish.

ADAM There’s no “Peter and the Wolf” thing that they did?

BROOM Is there an Italian one?

BETH and ADAM Pinocchio.

BROOM Oh right. It’s true that it’s Italian. But it’s not very Italian.

BETH French?

BROOM La Belle et la Bête. What about our other European friends? What about Poland? What about Denmark?

ADAM The Little Mermaid at least presumably is set in Denmark. And Frozen is set in, like, pan-Scandinavia.

BETH Australia? Oh, wait, right…

BROOM The Rescuers Down Under.

BETH Of course. Excuse me!

ADAM Is there one set in Germany? Oh, Hunchback of Notre Dame is also set in France.

BETH I don’t think there’s a German one.

ADAM Except insofar as Sleeping Beauty and those others are German.

BROOM Yeah, that’s where I think Snow White takes place. In the Black Forest. Does it not?

ADAM I don’t know that you have to put all of that in.

BROOM And I think The Three Caballeros takes place in Germany.

ADAM Relatively few of them take place in the actual United States. I mean, Dumbo.

BETH Lady and the Tramp.

ADAM Brother Bear. Home on the Range.

BROOM Chicken Little.

ADAM Big Hero 6, sort of.

BETH It’s a crossover.

ADAM I suppose the original Rescuers. And what was the one that was like All Dogs Go To Heaven but wasn’t?

BROOM Oliver & Company. What about Iceland?

ADAM There’s never been a Canadian one.

BROOM Yeah, so we’ve got a northern one, an Alaskan one, or a North Pole one, that’s yet to be made. The Arctic.

ADAM Is it expressly about climate change, or only implicitly?

BROOM I don’t know; was Brother Bear about climate change?

ADAM Too soon. It was just about the environment generally.

BROOM 2003 was “too soon” to be about climate change?

ADAM I thought it was like 1998. Oh, Pocahontas was also set in the United States.

BROOM Pocahontas was sort of about ecological stewardship.

ADAM Well that’s what I was saying when I said it was a familiar Disney theme, and I was just struck more by it this time.

BROOM Bolt is also very American; they travel across the country.

BETH And the Judy Hopps one.

BROOM Zootopia took place in Zootopia.

BETH Okay, but that was America. That was future America.

BROOM Did you know that in the UK that same movie is called Zootropolis? That’s the truth.

ADAM If the Disney themes are “being discontent with where you are” and “establishing your place vis-à-vis your family,” then “environmental trauma” is certainly also one of the themes.

BROOM What do you think it would stir a person to do, if they grew up watching Moana?

ADAM Well, I felt very stirred the first time I watched it to want to save the oceans, and then I felt sad that that’s essentially impossible for a person to do. I felt a sense of deep longing and shame about that.

BETH It made me think about what it means to be chosen to do something. I was thinking about all the other kids on the island — if everyone on the island was “chosen” to do something, it wouldn’t work. There has to be this concept of special-ness.

BROOM That’s like what I said about Pygmalion. It would be better if a Disney movie said: “everyone has dreams; we just happen to be following this one person.” It’s not that the protagonist is Harry Potter, they’re “a person.” But it’s like Disney can’t get that far. Are there any of them that had that quality?

BETH Well that’s why I liked the one with the princess who opened her own business.

ADAM The Princess and the Frog. Also set in the United States.

BETH Because she was just industrious.

ADAM She wasn’t actually a princess, right?

BETH I can’t really remember.

BROOM Maybe she was the princess of the Mardi Gras parade or something and that’s how they got around it. But she was from a rich family, wasn’t she? Oh no, she wasn’t; her friend was rich and she wasn’t.

BETH It was more about deciding to do something and making it happen.

ADAM So you want to see a Disney movie about a little girl whose roommate becomes a Broadway star, and she stays and works in a cafe and is consumed with bitterness.

BETH No! And she decides, “I’m gonna do something for me. I don’t need ‘talent.’ I don’t need to be ‘chosen.'”

BROOM Well, “talent” is good. She just doesn’t need to be chosen.

ADAM She doesn’t need to be the chief’s daughter and be the one who totally changes the way of life for her people. It’s about the taro root girl. She gets married and, you know, she develops some new taro root recipes.

BETH But she can have an exceptional life too! It just doesn’t have to be magical.

BROOM These movies are emotional experiences. ADAM, you’re staying within the mindset of the movie and saying “well, if you’re not the chief’s daughter, you’re a boring nobody.”

ADAM No — everybody has a job on this island.

BROOM But what I’m saying is: the same emotional thrust of the movie — that is, “what happens to you is important” — could be delivered, because that’s how the movie is going to feel, without the movie having to say explicitly that this is happening because everybody agrees that they’re the one and only princess. They could just be “chosen” by the story.

BETH Yes.

ADAM So you think it should have been a movie about a girl who is not the chief’s daughter and it turns out at the end that she wasn’t chosen by the ocean, she just decided to do it all by herself. And the ocean was her magic feather.

BETH Yeah!

BROOM I don’t know if this movie needed to be that way, but —

BETH But I like that concept more than this idea of waiting to get the sign from above that you’re special in some way, so that you can succeed. Because I think that messes with kids.

BROOM My favorite Lin-Manuel line in this was something about “when you hear a voice whisper inside you / that is who you are” or something like that.

ADAM He only wrote half of these songs, you know. Not all of them. He’s doing an entire Disney movie now, which he was engaged to do before Hamilton became a hit.

BROOM Well, this one must have been in the works for some years. I guess he got this on the strength of In the Heights.

BETH But the credits thanked the Hamilton cast.

ADAM Probably because these guys got to go see Hamilton.

BROOM Remember when Rent was like a big, big thing?

ADAM Keenly, yes.

BROOM So in 20 years, presumably people will be saying “remember when there was all that Hamilton going on?”

ADAM But Rent now feels humiliating. To think back on the fact that I loved Rent is embarrassing. I think Hamilton will age better than Rent.

BROOM You think people are generally embarrassed about Rent, and won’t be embarrassed about Hamilton?

BETH I do.

ADAM Yeah, Rent feels super teenage, and not cool teenage.

BROOM It’s based on La bohème! He took La bohème and updated it into the vernacular! It shows that some themes are everlasting! It was so diverse!

ADAM I know! It had a lesbian couple, and a drag queen with HIV…

BROOM Yes! It’s like the vibrant youth reclaiming this important old story! You don’t think people will feel exactly the same about Hamilton in 20 years?

ADAM You mean it’s going to turn out to have been embarrassing?

[Edward appears.]

BETH We’re not gonna — we’re done, thanks.

EDWARD Coffee, tea… ?

BROOM No thanks.

BETH No thanks.

ADAM No, we’ll take the check.

BETH Thank you.

[Edward goes.]

ADAM I mean, I hope not.

BROOM “What’s your name? / My name is Alexander Hamilton…” Just think your way forward, here…

ADAM The President of The United States repeatedly attended Hamilton.

BROOM And look what’s happening to him now. [ed: 1/16/17]

ADAM Although I guess the cast of Rent did perform at the Democratic convention.

BROOM What’s the number of minutes in a year?

ADAM Five-hundred-twenty-five thousand six hundred.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM My Moana sum-up is: there just wasn’t a place for my heart in it. I was able to get stuff out of it because it was rich with skill and good intentions, but with Frozen, for example, it was very easy for me to get caught up emotionally, and with this it was almost impossible.

ADAM Yeah, I don’t think this will be as sticky as Frozen in my memory. Not that I remember Frozen so well, but certainly the songs are gay classics already. I don’t think these songs will endure.

BROOM I hear they’re about to open a sing-along version of this. So there are people who want to sing along with this. Or at least Disney thinks there are.

BETH Well, maybe that’s a way to perpetuate those songs.

ADAM Yeah, you’ve gotta teach them to people.

BETH I agree with your assessment, BROOM. Putting that on the record.

BROOM And yet you liked it better.

BETH I did like it better, because it had those… things in it, that really get me. It’s just about colors. I just like colors.

BROOM Yeah. Palette is the most fundamental issue in these movies.

BETH It had a really great one.

ADAM The next movie is Wreck-It Ralph 2.

BROOM Now that is not a good idea.

ADAM Release date: March 9, 2018.

BETH So more than a year.

ADAM Followed by Gigantic, inspired by Jack and the Beanstalk, release date November 21, 2018.

BETH Okay. So this was it for this year.

ADAM Followed by “TBA” and “TBA.”

BROOM I wish I had liked it more. But I’m pretty tired. I might have liked it more if I had felt better.

BETH I think so. I saw you kind of lolling.

BROOM Yeah, I let myself loll. It was in moments when the movie was specifically disappointing. I would think, “you’re going to embrace me now, right?” and then it wouldn’t. So I’d just put my head down.

[long digression reading headlines about Disney’s upcoming live-action productions and collaborations with Lin-Manuel Miranda]

ADAM Are we done recording?

BETH I think we’re done.

BROOM We can be done.

ADAM Thanks, everyone. See you in 2018.

disney56-end

March 15, 2016

Disney Canon #55: Zootopia (2016)

disney55-title-temp

[This screenshot and the one at the bottom of the page are from the trailer, not the actual film. They’ll be replaced whenever the next entry in this series goes up. (The Big Hero 6 placeholder images have just now been upgraded to the real thing.)]

Full spoilers (and other kinds of spoilage) throughout. The reader is firmly advised to have seen Zootopia — now in theaters — before proceeding.


ADAM I thought that was high-class all the way. Solid quality, and pleasing. I’m happy to elaborate on that.

BETH I also liked it very much. I don’t know where I’m landing in terms of how it falls in the canon, but I was really into it. Those are my opening thoughts; we will all elaborate.

BROOM I had a very complicated reaction; I’m not sure I can make a one-sentence opening statement. I wanted to hash it out in conversation. I don’t know what it adds up to in one sentence. And maybe no reaction to a movie is really one sentence. So I’m not going to fake like I have one sentence.

ADAM That’s interesting, because I felt uniformly positively about it. I thought the characters were compelling and inspirational without being one-note, and I thought it was appropriately subtly topical, and it was really beautiful to look at and had a lot of imaginative jokes on the main theme. And I also think that a detective story was a good peg to hang it on, because everyone can find a detective story engaging for two hours, even kids. It wasn’t too complicated for kids to follow but it wasn’t insultingly straightforward either. It was more interesting than just “little girl moves to the big city.” That’s what I was afraid it was going to be, but it was more than that.

BETH Did you predict who the bad guy was?

ADAM I did only once it became clear that the predators were being framed. Because there was only one “prey” in the whole movie, other than Judy.

BROOM I guessed who it was when they got to the drug lab, and not before.

ADAM Yes, for me it was when she said “but who’s been framing all these predators?” which was right before they walked into the drug lab.

BETH I’ll just own up to not guessing. Then when I saw it who it was, I thought, “oh, duh.”

BROOM But I’m proud to say that I did guess, much earlier, that the victims were all suffering from the drug effects of the plant that she had elaborately named.

BETH I also knew it was a drug, but I didn’t put it together with the plant.

ADAM Yeah, if I had gone back and made a lineup of all of the things in the movie that we hadn’t used yet… It was pretty good about using everything it introduced. Even the sloth got reused, in a way that I found pleasing. All right, Broom, so what were your complicated feelings?

BETH Do you have ideological issues?

BROOM I guess you could frame it that way. I’m kind of surprised that you guys don’t immediately know what would be complicated about my response to this; I assumed that everyone would intuitively agree on what was complicated about this movie. But I guess not. The complication has to do with the purported topicality of it — the messaging of it — as it relates to the premise of the anthropomorphic world. Which is not a premise they invented for this movie, it’s a longstanding premise. They tried to both interrogate it and its metaphors, and also keep running with it. I didn’t know how to reconcile — and I was hoping to try to work this out now, unless it’s a just waste of your time because you really didn’t have any of these issues — but I didn’t know how to reconcile the message of it —

ADAM The message being “We are more than our biological origins, and you can be anything you want when you grow up, and don’t stereotype”?

BROOM Yeah, more or less. I took the message of it just to be a standard contemporary anti-bigotry message, as you’d find in any number of editorials and medium.com essays.

ADAM All right, so, on the one hand…

BROOM Well, wait, before we dig into “what Broom thought” — You personally did not have issues in this direction? It really worked for you, or you didn’t “go there,” or… ?

ADAM Well, yeah — though I’m not saying that I’m going to disagree with your view once you articulate it.

BROOM Yeah, but I think that an unarticulated ease with something should usually be left intact. I don’t want to claim that you ought to question what you didn’t question, if it just felt right to you. The important thing is, to you, it didn’t feel like a problem? Because I didn’t come up with my problem to try to be smart; I felt uncomfortable.

ADAM No, I didn’t feel uncomfortable.

BETH I think I’m somewhere in between you. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but it was also sort of on my mind: “What do I actually think about this?” Like when she was in the press conference saying cringeworthy things, I thought, “well, wait…” This is always my problem with movies: when I’m taken by them, when I’m wrapped up in the watching of them, I’m not really outside of them enough to talk about what I think about their ideologies. “I was just into the movie! What do you want??”

BROOM That’s why I wanted to pause the conversation before I start articulating this further. I think that if a movie worked for you, allowed you to get wrapped up in it, that means that whatever ideology we try to identify in the movie — if we identify it accurately — it’s something that your subconscious is comfortable taking on. I can say for myself that within the first five minutes of the movie — when they explained “This is how our world works: predators used to be predators, but not anymore! Now we live together!” and then they cut to different animals in an audience together, and one type of animal is being “a hick” — I just felt it, I felt immediately very uncomfortable.

BETH Because even the upending of those stereotypes — addressing them at all — is uncomfortable?

ADAM That hick fox — he gets to come back and be a pastry chef.

BROOM Again, I don’t want this to all be about the way I happen to end up expressing it… but I guess I’m really hearing that you guys didn’t have that experience at that moment. So I guess for me the issue is: we only want to watch movies where different animals are different kinds of people because that feels true about the world. And insofar as it feels true, that’s what we — from an ideological standpoint — would call “bigotry.” Now, I personally am very uncomfortable with the public rhetoric around bigotry because I think it doesn’t acknowledge the ways in which that perception of the world is natural and inevitable…

ADAM Natural and inevitable that what?

BROOM We can’t deprogram ourselves by deliberately “upending” these perceptions. Natural and inevitable that people experience other people as, essentially, different kinds of animals. A slow-moving person at the DMV seems like they’re from the slow-moving species of person. That’s a psychological reality, one that cartoons jibe with. At least for me. Do you disagree with that?

ADAM No, sure, I mean, Speedy Gonzales… But the part I’m not following is, what part of that seems uncomfortable to overlay on the way people are with each other?

BROOM Boy, so you really don’t feel it the way I do. Okay, let me see if I can formulate this…

ADAM If it’s too complicated to unpack, we don’t have to.

BROOM I can do it! I’m just reluctant to create a conversation that seems to be about the words I use to describe it, because for me it’s an intuitional thing, and I would rather you counter what I’m saying with your intuitions. But I guess your intuitions were copacetic.

ADAM My intuition was that all Disney movies have messages; in recent years they’ve all tended to be politically progressive messages. If you think about The Lion King as an early, ham-fisted politically progressive message, and then compare it to something like this…

BROOM I consider The Lion King to be the turning point, toward deliberate messaging.

ADAM But they all have deliberate messages. You know, Dumbo‘s message is “believe in yourself.”

BROOM But I think a refrain in our discussions about many of those earlier Disney movies was that while we might pick apart politically incorrect things that occur in them, probably the creators never consciously thought about those things. Those movies were a revealing of subconscious assumptions, because the artists were just using their intuitions to work out what would make a good story. There was a relative lack of deliberate philosophizing, which is exactly what allowed us to see the various stereotypes and subconscious ideologies. Whereas since The Lion King, it really feels like they run everything through a conscious censor, to make sure it makes sense, and then try to say something deliberately.

ADAM They’re not all expressly political. The message of Lilo and Stitch was “Ohana means Family, and Family means no one gets left behind,” which is not a political slogan per se. But here, what I appreciated about it was that it was a little smarter than The Lion King. The heroine has her own unexamined prejudices, and that creates problems; but she overcomes them, she’s not a bad person. And you identify with her stereotypes at the beginning, because the fox is shifty, he is a kind of con-man, but as you get to know him, it turns out not only is there a backstory that explains that, but also he’s so much more than that. It’s easy to identify with the progress of the hero, and that makes it a little more impactful. That’s why I didn’t feel uncomfortable with it. And I didn’t feel that they were essentializing any of the animals…

BROOM You didn’t? “Essentializing” is exactly the word. Why else were any of those characters assigned to those animals, if not the essentialization — racialization — geneticization — of personality traits?

ADAM But the villain was a sheep! And there was that hammy gay tiger who loved Gazelle! And —

BROOM But those are just a few foreground story-inversions of the actual operative premise of the anthropomorphic world. The whole idea of Zootopia — when we first heard about this movie two years ago, we thought, “A city of animals? That hardly even counts as a premise!” It’s just such a basic, ground-level thing, in cartoons. It goes back to Aesop. Why would we ever tell a story about a talking animal? Because certain people seem like that kind of animal. But what do we mean when we say people “seem like” an animal? We mean something very subjective, an impression, which nonetheless we might share with our whole community of peers, to whom it seems equally intuitive. Like, guess what, hicks with a Southern accent seem like they might well be a different species from me! And all my friends agree, it does kinda seem like hicks are a different species. So hey, you know what would be a great way to represent them in a cartoon: as a literally different species. That feels intuitive and satisfying. So then this movie says “We’re going to actually talk about this head-on,” but…

ADAM But for the most part, it wasn’t like all the rabbits only talked to other rabbits. I don’t think she even saw any other rabbits in the city.

BROOM I mean: what do the predators eat? — in this scenario where we’re claiming that they’re both actually and specifically predators, and not, at the same time.

ADAM They didn’t get into that I assume because it would be uncomfortable for human audiences, thinking about the sources of our food.

BROOM The metaphor is that minorities who cause fear in the majority because of stereotypes are depicted here as “predators,” but in this world they have none of the actual traits that predators have — except for the ones that are funny for throwaway jokes in the course of a scene. That all puts us in a very uncomfortable place. If we want to see each other as equals who should be treated equally, the premise of our depiction cannot be that we’re different species based on our different personalities or social roles.

ADAM I understand that, but… they were all mammals! They didn’t really get into their essential species natures. This is the first one I can think of where there was no love story, and I guess that was deliberate, because that would be a whole other level of uncomfortable conversations, if there had been any kind of sex.

BROOM How is what you just said not an expression of exactly the kind of stuff that the movie was ostensibly telling us to get beyond? Are the fox and the rabbit in the movie “just people,” who are essentially equal and can be in love? Or are they essentially different, in a “fox vs. rabbit” kind of way? In which case, what does that correspond to?

ADAM It doesn’t map on perfectly to human society, because they are essentially different, which is why there were no cross-species couples in the movie, because rabbits can’t mate with foxes.

BROOM Right.

ADAM But on the other hand, the movie’s not saying “therefore people are different species.” That’s just carrying the metaphor too far.

BROOM Then where does the metaphor end? What is the metaphor, in your mind?

ADAM The metaphor is that, like… I don’t think it does, nor did it feel to me like it — It neither intended to nor unintentionally landed on “different types of people are different species.”

BROOM You don’t think that’s the metaphor?

ADAM No. My mind didn’t go there while I was watching it.

BROOM I think your mind didn’t go there because that’s been the subconscious premise of all anthropomorphic cartoons, forever. Like, if there’s a Sidney Greenstreet character in a cartoon, the huge crime boss that you go into the back room to meet, and of course he’s a hippopotamus because hippopotamuses are really big — it works just like a caricature does, it says “Let’s admit that our response to this ‘type,’ when we talk about ‘types,’ is essentializing.” When they talk about “typecasting” in Hollywood, they’re talking about the fact that we see each other with these prejudiced eyes that are reponsive to superficial things. And a cartoon that shows such things as different kinds of animals, and has fun with it, is basically an embrace of that aspect of our nature. Which I think is good, because I’m very wary of all the rhetoric now about seeing past race. I think that you can’t deliberately see past what you are seeing, and cartoons show us that. So Zootopia was a cartoon in that spirit, that nonetheless was — on a storytelling and philosophical level — trying to say “Here’s what we’re gonna do about it.” I felt like the cartoon itself reveals why we can’t just think our way out of it, “nice” our way out of it. Here’s a cartoon where we’re watching a rabbit with big eyes getting beat up by a fox, and you can’t deny that the scene makes sense to people.

ADAM Right, but then a half hour later, you find out that the fox, when he was eight, got beat up by a bunch of rabbits.

BROOM Different fox, but yes.

ADAM And did that feel unreasonable?

BROOM That was in the context of “learning,” in a very deliberate way. That felt to me like “this one bit of the subconscious has for the moment risen into the view of the consciousness, so what do we say about it?” But we’re still surrounded by a sea of the subconscious, and the subconscious says: “the world is a city of different kinds of animals that are hilariously different from each other, and there’s a sight gag for each one.” That’s the unexamined ground-level. Then, yes, ever since The Lion King, there’s also this additional conscious element that purports to be an examination of it.

BETH I’m trying to think about how I would see it if I were a child, what I would take away from it. And I originally was angry with the parents for being so — you know: “We can’t expand our boundaries. Learn to be complacent; that’s the way to have a happy life.” I think rejecting that has been a message in Disney movies all along: “Push your boundaries! See what you can be! You can do anything!”

ADAM “I wanna see what’s over that ridge!”

BROOM Yeah, or as the lyric had it in this movie, “I wanna try everything!”

BETH And I think that’s a good message. And I like how it kept showing that she was put in these fear-inducing situations and refused to succumb to them. The race stuff is more complicated. Because I think what it wants me to take away — which is sort of what Sesame Street wanted me to take away — is that the world is made up of all different types of people, all different types of creatures, and you don’t necessarily know anything about them just by looking at them. You have to spend time with everyone and get to know them. And I think that’s what it was trying to say. You can’t make a judgment before you know what someone is about. Very basic kids’ stuff, but not at all offensive, I think. It’s not like I’m not hearing what you guys are saying, but I think — as far as messaging goes — it did it with a pretty light touch, in an unobjectionable way.

ADAM Yeah, I didn’t come away thinking “Idris Elba is a water buffalo with whom I cannot mate.” Although I get what you’re saying. It hadn’t occurred to me to think about it in those terms, but.

BROOM So, during the pivotal press conference scene, when she says, “well, there might be a biological component…”

BETH I wanted her to say “This is just what I heard the doctor say in the lab!”

ADAM That was pretty negligent of her.

BROOM I think they tried to introduce that she’s frazzled by the situation so she’s just reaching for things to say.

BETH Yeah. I wanted that to be more explicit, for my own child- empathy reasons.

BROOM I could see a whole story conference playing out, about how to set up that beat. But did you not at any point think, “Well, I don’t know what the rules of this world are! For all we know, the thing she’s saying could be true!” Because it’s not a question of any real principle, it’s just up to the Lords Of Disney, the writers who made up this fantasy story. Our faith — that these predators aren’t actually reverting to their original predator-nature — is purely a political-correctness faith. Because as far as anthropomorphic animals go…

ADAM But it was also set up by the whole movie. By the logic of the story — we’d been told at the very outset that predators and prey had overcome their tendencies…

BROOM Yeah: how and by what means? Total magic! We have no idea!

ADAM Right, but we already knew that was part of the internal logic —

BROOM So at this point in the story we’re challenged to have faith in that, a thing which has been completely glossed over…

ADAM It was obvious that Emmett Otter hadn’t suddenly turned into a bad person. That’s why they made him seem so meek.

BETH Yeah, I think that’s why they used Emmett Otter as the primary case.

ADAM Do otters eat meat? I don’t even know what otters eat. I guess so.

BETH Fish, I thought.

ADAM I guess that makes you a predator. There were no fish in this movie. Well, it is a mammal city.

BROOM I felt like they were very much in “The Bell Curve” territory here. The character says, “Well, if the science shows it…” and we the audience are supposed to be shouting “NO! No, the science would never show that!” And it has nothing to do with the movie — there’s no actual science to evaluate here — it just has to do with our political anxiety that it could turn out that way. Which in this particular movie…

ADAM But it was flatly refuted by this movie.

BROOM In The Three Little Pigs, guess what! The wolf is a dangerous wolf! That’s also a cartoon with talking animals. In this movie, at the beginning, a rabbit voice-over tells us that wolves are not dangerous anymore, and then later in the movie it’s called into question whether wolves are dangerous anymore. There’s no philosophical principle to which we’re referring here.

ADAM Understood. But given that the whole setup of the movie, for the first hour or so, is that predators don’t eat prey, suddenly when a mild-mannered family-man otter goes berserk in the back of a limousine…

BROOM Like I said, I was able to guess what was going on! Well before that, in fact.

BETH So would you not want your children to see this because you find it problematic?

BROOM No, I don’t think it does any damage. But… Well, actually my personal feeling — and I recognize that this is a fringe point of view — I think it does a certain kind of damage in suggesting that this underlayer of what’s going on — the basic perception of “different animals are different from each other, a predator is different from prey” — it suggests that society will be better off if we all fervently deny that that’s what we perceive. This felt like a cartoon about the virtue of that kind of denial, which is something that I already find discouraging in contemporary culture.

BETH That’s a good way of saying what your problem with it is. I get that.

BROOM I’m disheartened by all the public rhetoric about how much good we can do by denying — not what “is true” in some objective sense, but what seems true to us. And cartoons are about what seems true to us.

ADAM But I did think this movie was more progressive — or rather, a more second-order take on this problem. It didn’t actually say that all of the animals are the same, or that you can’t see that they’re different species.

BROOM For example: all Italians look like rats. [ed.: shrews]

ADAM Like, Judy was cute, and she did have bunny-like characteristics, but they were part of the benign variation in the grand mosaic that was the political fabric of this community. It wasn’t saying that she was not a bunny, or that bunnies are identical to elephants. If it had just been two different types of animals, it would have been creepier and more unsettling, but the fact that it was a thousand types of animals, it felt easier to take. And nobody was saying that all animals are the same — but all animals have the same rights. That kind of pluralism felt intuitively comfortable to me.

BROOM I was uncomfortable even before the plot went there, just in the fact that it was about whether she can be a cop. “No bunny has ever been a cop!” “Well, I’m going to, because I don’t believe in those limitations.” And then there are overt and overwhelming physical reasons — she’s like one-tenth the size of all the other cops.

ADAM Right, but then it turns out in the training that she has other virtues that compensate for that. She’s able to use her lightness and quickness to surmount the tundra wall!

BETH She has ingenuity!

ADAM She’s able to dash around the big rhino and make him hit himself in the face!

BROOM [feigning revelation] Ohhhhh! I see!

ADAM The movie explicitly addresses your objection and dispatches it.

BROOM No. Because my objection is not to the logic of the story — Does she get to be a cop? Oh she did, you’re right! I forgot! — I’m saying that visually, the impact of this as animation — what are we experiencing? This is not a thing that exists in the real world…

ADAM Well it is, actually.

BROOM Where someone is absurdly one-tenth the size of all their coworkers? That doesn’t happen!

BETH I actually had the thought, “They’ll need to make a tiny badge for her! They don’t need to do that with people.”

ADAM When women first started becoming police officers, it was a common objection that they were not physically as strong as men. But then it turns out that there are other things, other ways that women are different that makes them more talented police officers, like their emotional intuitiveness… Again, not to be essentialist… But I think gender is an instructive example. Gender is not like race; everyone acknowledges that men and woman are physically different in certain ways, and even emotionally different in certain ways, but it’s not… People nowadays ought to think that men and women have the same rights and the same ability to aspire to the same things, notwithstanding — in fact, precisely because of — their partial differences.

BROOM Wait. I mean, I recognize that that’s become a standard bit of rhetoric, that last part of your sentence there, but I’d like to hear you back it up: what do you mean, “because of their differences, that’s why they have equal rights”? How does that work?

ADAM No, I don’t mean because of their differences they have equal rights, I mean that once we acknowledge that the difference between men and women is benign and something to be celebrated, then it’s possible to appreciate the ways that men’s and women’s differences can inform and better institutions, as opposed to be something to be overcome. I’m thinking of, like, Sonia Sotomayor talking about “a wise Latina” on the Supreme Court, and why her different perspective is valuable. I mean, first-order feminism was all about claiming that women were the same as men, and latter-day feminism is all about saying that women are different than men, and not only is that okay, but it’s actually beneficial to men that women’s perspectives be included. So, to me, you’re right, with race it’s a much creepier thing to imply that there are physical or essential differences…

BETH But there are. I mean, it’s “creepy” only because we’re supposed to believe that everyone’s equal, but it’s…

BROOM My attitude about all of this stuff is that, like, race, gender — whatever categories you want to put people in — they have statistical meaning, but not individual meaning. But they do have individual meaning to people subjectively, because the way we experience the world is in terms of categories. And a cartoon of animals is about that experience, that unshakeable experience, that there are categories of things. It’s actually comforting to see a cartoon that says “Y’know, a little weaselly guy? He’s kinda like a weasel!” And you think, “Yeah! He is! Someone doing a Steve Buscemi impression is kinda like a little weasel character!” And that is bigotry. That is the essential thing that society is always trying to stamp out.

ADAM You’re saying this movie wanted to have its cake and eat it too, in that way.

BROOM I think the public rhetoric wants to have its cake and eat it too, and this movie was exposing that, in, to me, such a naked way. A cartoon about animal-people, I’ve always felt, is a bastion of admission that we do in fact see the world this way.

ADAM Because Robin Hood is tricky, and the rhino guards are stupid.

BROOM Yes! They’re rhinos! They’re leather-skinned, beady-eyed thugs!

ADAM I was thinking about Robin Hood a lot during this movie.

BROOM Yeah, because Nick was like Robin Hood.

ADAM He was like the fox Robin Hood meets George Clooney.

BETH A little bit.

BROOM Beth, did you identify with Judy? When she was crying, I thought, “she’s crying like Beth.”

BETH Yeah, I did.

BROOM ‘Cause you thought those were your parents, and that’s where you’re from, and now you’re in the big city.

BETH Not exactly. But when she was crying I thought, “That’s kind of like me.” So we both had that thought.

ADAM So this may have been the most flawlessly executed gender progressivism in all of our Disney movies thus far, and it was helpful that it wasn’t a love story, in that sense.

BROOM Do you know why that was the case? Because they didn’t mention gender once in the whole movie. That is what makes it an actual subconscious, intuitive progressivism.

ADAM Although I’m sure it was very conscious at Disney.

BROOM Well, I think that’s been a long process of being anxious about something that actually could have come so much more easily. We didn’t actually have to go through Pocahontas to get here. All you have to do is just make the movie. No one needed to see Pocahontas before they could accept Judy Hopps.

ADAM I don’t know. [My nephews] love Dora the Explorer, but I don’t think Dora the Explorer could have been made without Pocahontas.

BETH It’s so hard to say. But I’m kind of more on Adam’s side, because these things become part of the culture and then they seem like they were always there.

BROOM I think things become part of people’s actual subconscious interpretations of the world, and then that’s what they depict.

BETH Well, everything feeds everything.

BROOM But I don’t think that Lady — and the Tramp — was depicted as such a “lady” in need of a “tramp” because the writers thought “Let’s reinforce this stereotype!” It’s just what they had in them.

ADAM But they’ve been, like, thrashing their way out of it. Every single movie for the last thirty years has been trying and trying and trying. I know that Brave is not a Disney movie, but… Each one has been this, like, two-point-oh, three-point-oh, version of a feminist protagonist.

BROOM Yes, I totally agree. This movie just did it with grace: the protagonist is this bunny who happens to be female but it’s never necessary to mention it.

ADAM Although I think the fact that she was female worked into the story, you know? There were no other female cops.

BETH There was one other.

ADAM But most of the cops were male.

BROOM Maybe I’m just expressing my own private experience of this movie in saying that the feminism didn’t seem labored, but it didn’t seem labored in that respect. And I don’t want to learn the wrong lesson and say “Well, they had to go through thirty years of hard labor to get to that point.” They didn’t earn this by doing those other movies.

ADAM But they learned how to do this. Which was not intuitive to them.

BROOM It’s not the same “they”! There’s a generational shift over thirty years.

BETH I think culture was going through these same cogs, you know, in the Clinton era, so that was what was being reflected in Pocahontas.

ADAM As you probably know, there’s been a kerfuffle in the last few days because Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan for having “started a national conversation about AIDS,” and people freaked the fuck out.

BETH They really freaked out.

ADAM Right. And then yesterday, Hillary Clinton released a long Medium post in which she ate her words, and everyone is happy now.

BROOM Well, she ate her words for two sentences, and then just talked about her good record on AIDS.

BETH Are they genuinely happy?

ADAM Yes. Everyone seems to have laid down their arms. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that changed between the 80s and today, and things that seem totally right-as-rain and normal today — there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get to a place like that. And this movie makes me think of that, because Disney has been trying so hard not to be “the princess studio” for so long, and so badly, but finally, this felt more or less natural and graceful. And God bless you, John Lasseter. Finally you guys have more or less figured it out, and I’m glad of it.

BROOM Also in Inside Out, the gender was not a key issue in that movie.

BETH That’s right.

ADAM As we start to talk about “why are there no cross-species relationships” and “what do the predators eat” — it got me thinking: making a movie like this is actually very ontologically complicated! Figuring out how to depict a universe like this that will carry you along briskly enough that you don’t start thinking about, like, “where’s all the animal poop?”

BETH I like that we saw a preview for a movie in which an animal poops, right before this started.

BROOM That was the first onscreen animated defecation I’ve ever seen, and it was in the preview.

BETH And it was a bunny.

BROOM I believe that in the Silly Symphony era, when they made “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and they put a bunch of different animals in the bandstand cheering them on, they just drew it, without any reflection at all. Nobody talked about how that world worked; they drew it and subconscious stuff came out. And nowadays — first of all because of how things are nowadays politically, but also because the animation production process is so long and elaborate — it’s gotta get discussed. I mean, I’m sure there are still concept artists for whom the work is just a pouring out of the subconscious: “I just kind of imagined how their world might look and I thought maybe the traffic light would look like this!” And that stuff ends up in the movie, and something subconsciously true is being revealed there. But like you said, this is a complicated question, and one that the movie takes on in a very direct way.

ADAM But only in part. There’s a lot of sight gags about it, but they really keep you moving along. Part of the reason the movie felt so refreshing was because it moved so fast, and they had to move you so fast so that you wouldn’t stop to think about things like this.

BROOM But they also asked you to stop and think about it.

BETH At the end, the bunny and the fox are partners, but I’m not ruling out that they could get together.

ADAM Yeah, they’re like Scully and Mulder.

BETH They’re like Scully and Mulder, there’s a flirtation there, so in my child’s heart, I’m rooting for them, and I don’t have a problem with it. I’m not thinking about the problem.

BROOM Sure.

ADAM What’s in the natural history museum in Zootopia?

BROOM I thought we were going to see people in there. I was interested to see.

ADAM I thought the nudist colony was one of the funniest jokes in the movie, precisely for this reason.

BROOM Yes, it was funny. It can be funny to knowingly play with conventions. But it means rising above something that made intuitive sense and artificially distancing yourself from it, going “Ha ha, what were we thinking!” And there’s always a real answer to the question “what were we thinking.” When you’re making fun, you’re always avoiding the real answer.

ADAM The Wikipedia “Talk” page is really going to get into these problems!

BROOM But — keeping in mind that there was like a 20-person team credited with “Story” — consider: this movie did not inherently have to begin with a narration stating that “Predators and prey used to be as you know them to be in the real world, but now they just get along.” They could have just started the story. Certainly the Silly Symphony of “The Tortoise and The Hare” just started right in; they didn’t narrate us in with “In this world, the animals act like people! Let’s see what they’re up to today!” Whereas this movie very conspicuously started with “Hey, you think that predators attack prey. Well, here they used to. But now they don’t anymore.” That’s throwing down a gauntlet and saying “Think about this!” And then later in the movie they really do make you think about it, because there’s a scene where at a press conference about whether predators are dangerous, a bunny says that maybe they have a genetic proclivity to be dangerous. You can’t tell me “oh, it just carries you along, you just roll with it!” This is a movie about a flub at a press conference! It’s about Hillary Clinton saying the wrong thing! Very explicitly.

BETH Yeah.

[digression about Hillary ensues]

ADAM So if I had sat down to write a movie about “all the animals live in a city together”… I mean, the mind boggles at all of the world-design challenges that that entails. Yes, I guess the rodents would have to live in a little town, and I guess the penguins would have to live…

BETH Right, there would have to be a very cold place.

ADAM Right, and a very hot place. Although if they have to go to the bank, what do they do? Well, you saw that water buffalo going through the blow-dryer before he gets on the subway, so I guess… Anyway, as a kid, my mind would have spiraled out of control thinking about these things.

BROOM At the beginning they showed some of the weather machinery, and I was surprised. “They’re really going to take the time to show how there’s snow there and rain there?”

ADAM They showed that?

BROOM They showed snow-belching machines and then rainforest showerheads, when she was on the train at the beginning listening to Shakira.

BETH It seems like what you keep coming back to is that everything is very consciously designed, in a way that it didn’t used to be, and that stories have become so much about integrating political agendas…

ADAM About answering objections.

BETH Yeah, starting from a defensive standpoint instead of just a “let’s tell a story” standpoint.

BROOM I think it doesn’t actually start there, but it goes there, with a sense of purpose about it.

BETH Because we’re so aware of all the criticisms that might be lobbied.

BROOM As soon as a movie starts up and shows cute animals of different species interacting like different “types” of people, I feel like “Okay, we’re in the politically incorrect world of gut feelings. I get it, I’m all for it, and I’m happy to watch this cartoon.” But then what the animals are talking about is “How are we going to get over our differences? Maybe we don’t actually have any differences!” and my head immediately starts throbbing. I feel like “Oh man, they’re screwed! They’re in for it now!” And that’s how I felt the whole time. I said I had a complicated reaction, so all that’s the discomfort side of it. I also thought it was great! I had a great time watching it; I love that they finally did a noir mystery.

ADAM I thought about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but of course that wasn’t a Disney movie.

BROOM Sure it was.

ADAM Wasn’t it Touchstone Pictures?

BROOM Touchstone was just Disney’s adult distribution arm. Yeah, it was like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which was already supposed to be like old Humphrey Bogart movies. And it was like L.A. Confidential. It was a New York noir and an L.A. noir mashed together. The city in which she arrived at the beginning was totally New York, and the city in which they investigated the mystery was totally L.A.

ADAM There was an actual intersection of Tujunga and Vine, which I think is in Burbank where the Disney Animation Studio is.

BETH There were lots of cute gags.

ADAM I liked the gag with escalator and the giraffe. I liked the gag with “Mr. Big” — even though it’s sort of obvious. When my high school did Guys and Dolls, they cast the Collins twins, of NBA fame, as the bodyguards for the shortest guy in school. So I’d seen that gag already.

BROOM When the woman was crossing Fifth Avenue and the donut was coming at her, and she’s saying [New Jersey accent] “Oh your shoes are to die for” or whatever, I thought, “Huh, they put in ‘a Jew’ and the Jew is a vole,” or whatever she was [ed.: shrew]. Then later: “Oh, she was an Italian.” Well, it really comes to the same thing.

BETH I really thought she was a Kardashian type.

BROOM She was a New Jersey Italian.

ADAM But they were from The Godfather — that’s a whole other country.

BROOM But that’s just it. A person could actually be Italian. Nobody at this table is, but it would just be like being ourselves, except we’d happen to be Italian…

ADAM But they weren’t really Italian, they were from The Godfather… Okay, I mean, I get it —

BROOM Understand: my discomfort when I thought she was a Jew was not, like, “Those are my people! How can you do this to me?” It was more like “Don’t you know that by your own rules you’re not allowed to do this?” Don’t they realize the dissonance? That’s basically the issue. Like, the whole movie is very carefully about the fox, and let’s be real clear about what the fox is not: he is not black. The fox is Jason Bateman; the fox is not black. She’s afraid of him, she carries pepper spray because of him, he’s a “predator” who’s not actually inherently dangerous but grew up being treated that way so now he’s cagey… but he is not black, he’s Jason Bateman.

ADAM I had forgotten that George Clooney is the voice of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Maybe that’s why I was thinking about George Clooney.

BETH Well, but also the glasses…

ADAM He was hot. Let’s just be honest.

BROOM Which one, Fantastic Mr. Fox, or this fox?

ADAM This fox.

BROOM He was no Robin Hood.

BETH I would agree that Robin Hood is sexier than this guy.

ADAM I don’t know, I liked this guy a lot. He was kind of a wiseacre.

BETH Eh, he had a polyester shirt…

BROOM Adam, in the pantheon of furry-dom, Robin Hood will always be at the top. This guy is just, like, supporting a pilaster at the bottom.

ADAM I kind of liked Gazelle’s tiger dancers with the glitter on their faces.

BETH I knew you did. They had some good moves.

BROOM I thought the idea of “Gazelle” was pretty funny.

ADAM So was that desk cop tiger who was into donuts gay?

BROOM and BETH Yes.

ADAM Okay. He was playing, like, the gay friend from Mean Girls.

BETH He was “everyone’s best gay friend.” Which, again, I guess you can raise questions about…

ADAM So do you think a gay tiger can have an interspecies romance, because it’s non-procreative?

BROOM Did you guys really not experience some kind of internal buzzer when she says “Bunnies can call each other cute but it’s kind of offensive coming from you,” and he says, “Oh, and here I am, some stereotype of a donut-eating cop,” and then she says “You actually have a donut caught under your neck fat”…

BETH Yeah, so, what are you doing, movie?

BROOM Yeah, did you not have a moment of thinking “This is all amusing but what is the movie?” I’m not offended, but what is this?

BETH Yes. I kept asking, like, “So are you just trying to confuse us out of being critical of this, because you’re so aware that you’re, like, aware on top of aware?”

BROOM I want to be clear that I was never once “offended” by anything in this movie. It was all very easy to take, no problem. But talking about whether these movies are “dreams” or “theses”…

ADAM This felt like a thesis to you.

BROOM This felt like… an anxiety dream.

BETH Do you think that in ten years this will seem like an outdated way of making a movie about this subject?

BROOM Yes. I don’t think this will age well as an issue movie. But I think the detective story in it will make it watchable and it will continue to be sold for decades.

BETH So what would you liken it to, in the canon?

ADAM I assume Broom will liken it to the vulture Beatles in The Jungle Book.

BROOM No. I don’t think this exact thing existed before. The vulture Beatles were there just because some animator drew them and thought “it’s funny if we draw mop-tops, like on those silly mop-topped boys who are so famous.” And that’s it. I don’t think this kind of overthinking existed back then. It didn’t exist prior to The Lion King.

ADAM Well, they were making fairy tales, before.

BETH Right, they weren’t doing a lot of original stories.

BROOM Seriously: when the protagonist is sitting opposite the new mayor and saying “because of my gaffe at the press conference I don’t think I will be a good front for the new racial politics of the police department,” I was thinking “this is not a Disney movie! It’s a now movie.” And I was also wondering about the little kids in the audience — what is that worth to them? Thankfully, the lighting was really pretty the whole time.

ADAM It was really pretty to look at.

BROOM I wish everyone’s eyes had been smaller. Other than that, the look was great.

BETH I wish her eyes weren’t purple. That was distracting to me.

ADAM That just made her feel like an anime hero. What did you think of the lemmings that work at Lehman Brothers — I mean “Lemming Brothers”?

BROOM You tell me. Is that where you felt like you were depicted?

ADAM Was that a sly Wall Street joke? I guess so.

BETH Did you see the ad for “Zuber”?

ADAM “Migrate yourself.” I liked that the different species of animals had different logos on their iPhones.

BROOM I didn’t notice that. I saw that she had a carrot.

ADAM Yes, but the mayor or somebody had a paw.

BROOM I had the thought at one point that the DVD era — or Blu-ray era, or streaming era; the “you’re gonna watch it a thousand times at home” era — has created this aesthetic where they really pack stuff into the screen, which creates a whole different experience. It’s a little alienating; it doesn’t feel as much like you’re the intended audience. There’s the feeling that stuff is being lost on you constantly.

ADAM Yeah, I didn’t catch all of the movies that the weasel was hawking.

BROOM I saw that the three old ones were familiar, and then he said “even movies that haven’t come out yet,” and I tried to vacuum them up with my eyes but I couldn’t take it all in. But guess who will: people who buy it on Blu-ray.

ADAM [My nephews.] I think they’ll really like this. And this is a good soft introduction for kids to noir, which I approve of.

BROOM I kind of wish there were a politically-unburdened mystery investigation Disney movie.

[digression ensues about Jessica Rabbit]

ADAM I do think the pace helped forestall objections. This was a lot more frenetically paced than a movie from the past. It had so many scenes in it, so much happened, and there were so many characters. That was satisfying.

BETH And so many little cut-away jokes.

BROOM I will register a minor beef. They should not do double callbacks. A single callback is very satisfying.

ADAM They did a double callback to the pen.

BROOM Yeah. “It’s called a hustle.” The second time isn’t satisfying! You get to do it once!

BETH Yeah. That’s just, like, a basic rule.

BROOM And at the very end there was another one between the two of them.

ADAM Well, they kept calling each other “Dumb bunny,” “Sly bunny,” “Sly fox,” “Dumb fox.”

BROOM They just went a second round on a couple of things. You can’t do it twice!

BETH Well, maybe kids like that stuff.

BROOM They do.

ADAM Should we read the New York Times review?

BETH Yes. Which I think said it was more for grownups for kids.

BROOM I think texturally, and zanily, there was plenty to keep kids interested. Those kids in the theater stayed quiet the whole time.

BETH Yeah. They were into it.

BROOM But it still hurts my feelings, in a way. Because I feel like animation, this kind of pure world of the imagination, is the antidote to a lot of the anxieties that burden our public culture…

BETH You feel like no one can be free.

ADAM It’s a “critic’s pick!”

BROOM Of course it is! It was very good! I feel like in some ways this is a five-star top-of-their game movie. I just also wanted to scrub certain things out of it.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM That seems awfully offhand of the New York Times. Surely they recognize that these movies are important.

ADAM Yeah, that was kind of too short, too B-grade.

BETH It was dismissive, in a way.

BROOM It’s weird! Doesn’t the New York Times realize that…

ADAM That we’ve been doing this project for five years? More than that.

BROOM Eight.

BETH So what’s the next Disney release?

[we look it up]

BROOM 56: Moana, November 23, 2016.

BETH So Thanksgiving.

BROOM And 57: Gigantic, March 9, 2018.

ADAM I guess King of the Elves has been put on ice.

[Conversation continues very loosely. Too loosely to represent here. Then we decide to close it up.]

BROOM It had a lot of great stuff in it. In some ways it was a very satisfying movie.

ADAM I would recommend this, Madeline. Madeline will have already seen it by the time she gets around to reading this.

BROOM None of my reservations are reservations about the watching of this existing movie. They’re just about whether the existence of this movie is the ideal state for society. But guess what: here it is. It’s Zootopia folks! We’re livin’ in it!

BETH You could say that about so many things, though. Should this have been made? Should anything have been made?

ADAM The next one is the prequel, about the Zootopia civil rights movement. Which is actually much more serious; a lot of dead bunnies in that movie. Maybe the predators eat soylent, or something.

BROOM That’s it! They eat people! Where are the people? They’re being ground into meat.

BETH The fox was really into those blueberries.

BROOM Foxes do like blueberries, right? They must eat more than just mice.

ADAM I mean, what did Robin Hood eat?

BETH Everyone was really into that pie.

ADAM It was like a vegan paradise.

BETH I think that’s what we were meant to believe, that they all just eat vegetables.

BROOM It was made very clear to us in the nudist scene that they have no genitalia, so we know that things work very differently in their world. Maybe they all only exist, like, inside a computer, in a virtual reality, like in The Matrix. That would explain all these inconsistencies. All right, thanks, guys. See you again in November.

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November 19, 2014

Disney Canon #54: Big Hero 6 (2014)

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[I considered redacting the spoilers in the conversation below, but on reflection, I don’t think there’s anything very precious about the surprises in this movie. Consider yourself spoiler warned: the following conversation gives away absolutely everything that happens. See the movie first, why don’t you. Why not.]

[Also, a more basic warning: This is by far by far the longest of these conversations. For no good reason.]

[Seriously. I considered posting it in two parts but decided that would just be a needless formality: pacing yourself appropriately is ultimately up to you, the reader. Ergonomic microbreaks are encouraged.]


ADAM I should say first: I did enjoy it. But it had almost no Disney Animation DNA left in it, which was a little wistful, coming at the end of this project, or at least the trailing edge of this project. It had a lot of Pixar, it had a lot of Marvel, it had a lot of Blade Runner. And I got a faint but persistent note of Scooby-Doo for much of it.

BROOM For sure.

ADAM Almost every influence but Disney, actually.

BROOM There was Disney DNA. The protagonist has no parents, so that he can go on a free journey of self-discovery, and work out his emotional issues. And — I guess it’s more out of the Pixar playbook, but still — the scene where he sees the video of his brother, and realizes that he’s on the wrong path, that hate is not the way… That’s not really an old-school Disney formula beat, but it’s a medium- to new-school Disney beat, right?

ADAM What are you thinking of?

BROOM You know: the Lion King goes into exile but then realizes he wants to live his destiny and be who he truly is.

ADAM It was a lot sadder than most Disney movies, in its literal events.

BETH Well, Bambi

BROOM And The Lion King more recently.

ADAM That’s true.

BROOM We all talked about how Lilo and Stitch was a wonderful updating of some of those emotions. This had some similarities with that.

ADAM And I guess there’s a note of Brother Bear here too.

BETH I thought it was great. I really, really enjoyed it, and didn’t really have many problems with it. I mean, I’m interested to hear what your problems are…

ADAM Well, I don’t want to overemphasize my problems, because I really liked it. It was just a very conventional plot that was sort of dressed up with a lot of…

BETHstuff.

ADAM But the stuff was all very satisfying.

BETH I really enjoyed that it was a fully-realized world, that it took place in this San Francisco/Tokyo hybrid. It was the future, but not too far in the future. I guess maybe it was just a parallel universe.

ADAM It was the San Francisco of Starfleet Academy.

BROOM I would say it took place in a comic book. But at the same time it also sort of stood outside comic books, which I think is part of the way that they imagined they could adapt a Marvel property into something for general audiences.

ADAM Was this really a Marvel property?

BROOM I believe the story of this movie is that after they bought Marvel five years ago, they looked through the catalog to find something they could use, and this is some obscure comic book they hit on — which apparently isn’t really like this. I think it has some form of Baymax-the-big-robot and Hiro-the-kid, and that’s about it. So they said, “We can use this and make it into our own thing.” And I think having the characters keep joking about comic book tropes was part of repackaging it for non-Comic-Con audiences.

BETH That was something I was thinking about — and I guess this goes back to it not being like a Disney movie: it seemed like something that was being made by the animators for themselves more than for kids.

ADAM Because it’s about amazing nerds?

BETH Yeah, and the superhero fantasy, and cool tech. Yes, amazing nerds.

BROOM I didn’t feel it as sincere as that. To me it seemed a little calculated, in a lot of different directions. Maybe that’s just because my mind was running faster than was appropriate.

ADAM My word was “triangulated.” You know: it’s an American movie that’s intentionally appealing to Asian audiences. It’s an action movie that you can take kids to… and has strong female protagonists. It felt marketed. And think of the tie-ins! The video-game tie-ins, and the Disney ride tie-ins. No wonder the entire executive staff of Disney Animation was credited! But, again: even as I perceived that, I took authentic pleasure in the pan-Asian setting and the videogame thrills and chills. And in all the doodads, which were very well executed.

BROOM I felt strange for a lot of it. I mean, obviously I didn’t really feel all that strange, but the more overtly comic-book-y it got, the more disoriented I got. Like, that the bad guy wore this scary mask

ADAM “It’s old man Callaghan!”

BROOM It was strange combination of elements, tonally, from a bunch of different worlds. Like you say: on the one hand “it was old man Callaghan,” but at the same time…

ADAM There was a Daphne, and a Velma, and a Shaggy. And the black guy was like a Fred.

BROOM Fred was always kind of a problematic character, because he would seem to be the hero, but he isn’t.

ADAM Sorry to interrupt with that.

BROOM No, the Scooby-Doo connection is absolutely there; I thought about it too. And all of those characters in this movie made me a little uncomfortable.

BETH Okay, yeah. If I had to have a problem with it, it was with them. See, I can have problems with it, but in the moment I was very much enjoying it!

ADAM That’s totally cool!

BROOM Yeah, I’m not naming this stuff to say “let’s all agree to dock the movie a few points for these things.” They’re just responses that I happened to have. Such as: the Jewish-American Princess character somehow made me squirm.

ADAM The who? You mean the Latina character?

BROOM She was Latina?

BETH The tall one?

ADAM She was voiced by “Genesis Rodriguez.” And she kept saying “Hiro” [with palatal H and tapped R].

BROOM I thought that was her being absurdly over-sensitive about his Japanese name.

ADAM No, I think that was just her Latina accent.

BETH Oh, I took it the same way BROOM did.

BROOM That was the only word she said that way! I thought it was just her idea of how culturally enlightened she was.

BETH I thought of her as Phoebe from Friends. Just as sort of this goofy ditzy person.

ADAM It’s true that her weapon was a heart-shaped purse that produced colorful balls.

BROOM It seemed so clear to me that she was Jewish. I don’t know where I got that from, since neither of you guys got it.

BETH It didn’t even cross my mind.

BROOM I guess my discomfort came from the combination of her and the “sarcastic Asian” woman, where there was no layering to the sarcasm to indicate a real personality underneath.

ADAM You mean the Sonic the Hedgehog girl?

BROOM Right. That always bothers me, when someone’s defensive front is presented as what makes them awesome, and it’s never acknowledged that it’s just a front. That happens in nerd-culture stuff all the time.

ADAM She reminded me of the main character from the last one, but just on the surface. What was that girl’s name?

BROOM From Frozen?

ADAM No — what was that movie that we just saw? The “Everything is Awesome” one.

BROOM That’s not a Disney movie. That’s The Lego Movie.

ADAM Oh, so it’s just the last movie I saw in a theater! Sorry! Nevermind, everyone!

BROOM Right, “Wyldstyle.” But that’s exactly what I’m talking about, because there they eventually break it down and admit, “well, her name’s not really Wyldstyle, because that would be absurd.”

ADAM It’s Fat Becky.

BROOM It’s Lucy or something.

ADAM That’s from a scene in Pitch Perfect where it turns out that Fat Amy’s real name is actually Fat Patricia. It’s funny when you peel off the mask and there’s an equally ridiculous mask underneath it.

BROOM So… I’m not actually comparing it to Chicken Little, but it made that same kind of claim: “hey, we’re in the fun world of nerds!” And I don’t buy that as a complete description of any world. So I was sort of hoping it was eventually going to get broken down, and it didn’t. Whereas the actual Scooby-Doo kids certainly aren’t “awesome nerds.” They don’t joke with each other self-consciously.

ADAM They don’t live in a social world, they live in…

BROOM … a van.

ADAM … a world out of space and time. They don’t have relations to any characters other than the five of them. I mean, Fred would never speak to Velma in real life.

BROOM In this movie “Fred” is the name of the Shaggy role. But that he’s the rich kid makes him into a John Hughes kind of character.

ADAM That was a funny touch, that he basically lives in the Spreckels mansion.

BETH And they get to practice on the butler.

BROOM I don’t know what the Spreckels mansion is.

ADAM It’s the fanciest mansion in San Francisco. In real life Danielle Steele lives there.

BROOM It was during that sequence, when they decide to be superheroes and then they’re practicing at his mansion, that I specifically had the thought: “This movie is weird. This movie is not one thing. It’s a bunch of things.”

ADAM I felt it in three very distinct segments. And I liked the middle segment best. There was the beginning segment, which was like…

BETH “I have the awesomest brother in the world.”

ADAM It reminded me of… was it the beginning of Treasure Planet? “We’re alone in our room and we’re bored.” Dreaming of things and bein’ little misfits. And then the middle segment, from the explosion up to the superhero room, was the most satisfying. Because far and away, Betamax — what’s his name?

BETH Baymax.

ADAM Far and away, Baymax was the strongest element in the movie. And then the end was just… Remember when Lilo and Stitch sort of goes off the rails and becomes an action movie? It felt like that.

BROOM Yeah, exactly, every movie has to have that happen so it can end.

ADAM But the middle was super-lovely and awesome.

BROOM Since they kept saying “The bad guy must be Krei!” I thought, “Well, I guess that means it’s Callaghan. But why is it Callaghan? What is that supposed to mean to us?” And I’m still not sure.

ADAM I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I guess you should know that if a character’s voiced by James Cromwell, he’s gonna be the bad guy.

MS. BAREBURGER So we’re doing last call; do you guys want to get in anything else?

BETH No, we’re okay.

BROOM I think we’re gonna be good.

MS. BAREBURGER Okay.

BETH Thank you.

ADAM Thank you. … … … (You’re gonna be famous!)

BROOM You think she’s Hispanic?

ADAM No. There’s nothing about the character that actually looked Hispanic. Until I noticed that she was pronouncing things that way.

BROOM Just “Hiro.”

ADAM But there were no other Hispanic characters in the movie! So she had to be the Hispanic one.

BROOM Well, that’s why I was surprised they made her Jewish.

ADAM Anyway, I thought that Baymax was the soul of the movie. Obviously.

BROOM He was also a marshmallow robot who didn’t really have any perspective. At the end, when they go into Star Trek: The Motion Picture space, into V’Ger…

ADAM I thought of it as What Dreams May Come space.

BROOM Yeah, the void, the lost socks dimension.

ADAM Nebulae.

BROOM When he has to leave Baymax there — spoiler alert! — I thought “This is Beth’s perfect movie: saying goodbye to a marshmallow.” If there’s anything that could make her cry…

BETH It did.

BROOM … it would be a movie where someone carries around a giant pillow the whole time, and at the end it’s like, “I have to leave you here, pillow!” Which I guess is the plot of Castaway with Tom Hanks.

BETH Well, it did make me cry, so, you’re right.

BROOM But it was exactly because Baymax represented nothing other than Hiro’s own emotions that he carried around with him. Or, like, the concept of a hug.

BETH That’s right. But I knew that the disk was going to be in his glove.

BROOM But how satisfying was that? At the end — spoiler spoiler alert — when he makes a new Baymax because he has the disk, weren’t you like, “Hooray, Baymax lives!… or… well, new Baymax lives… or… well … I don’t know, does this actually make up for Baymax being gone?”

BETH When he said, “Hi, Hiro,” then, yeah, it was like, “Baymax lives!” Because he remembered.

ADAM Do you find it consoling when Dumbledore appears in the portrait after he’s killed?

BETH Yes.

ADAM It’s like that.

BROOM My real answer about Dumbledore is that it feels a little like: “So his death meant… what?” It’s exactly like how Obi-Wan Kenobi keeps coming back in the other two movies. When I would rewatch the first one, when he died, it was just in quotes. It was just an event in the story like any other. Because I know he’s going to get to keep talking whenever he wants. He can walk around like anyone else. He’s blue. He’s fine.

ADAM I was very surprised that Hiro’s brother didn’t contrive some way to come back. I totally thought that was going to happen.

BETH I thought that might happen.

BROOM I did consider that the bad guy might turn out to be the brother. But I thought, “that would be pretty rough.”

BETH When they were about to unmask him, I thought, “It’s the brother! Oh my god!” But no, it wasn’t.

BROOM It’s Spencer Tracy.

ADAM I thought it was Krei the whole time. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t think to think ahead, in movies.

BROOM Krei was like Crispin Glover.

BETH And Callaghan was like Sam Waterston.

MR. BAREBURGER Okay, California with beef, medium?

BROOM California for me. Yeah, thank you.

MR. BAREBURGER The Mediterranean with lamb, medium.

ADAM Thank you.

MR. BAREBURGER Sweet fries.

BETH Yeah, just in the middle. Thank you.

ADAM Can I get some—

MR. BAREBURGER This is curry ketchup, special sauce, and ranch.

ADAM Can I get some mustard too?

[MR. BAREBURGER goes to get it]

BROOM “Sir, if you insist. If that’s what you need, to make you happy. We’ll do it.”

ADAM All right, so: the animation was just extraordinary. Just gorgeous.

BROOM What did you think about their skin?

ADAM It was the right side of the uncanny valley. They didn’t try to make it too porous. Like, pore-y.

[he is given mustard]

ADAM Thanks.

BROOM They did something with it that was new. It definitely had some kind of blushing translucency that was a new technique. And I at first had kind of an icked-out response. Not exactly that it fell in the CGI uncanny valley: it looked to me like real fake skin. It looked like those silicone, you know…

ADAM RealDolls?

BROOM Yeah, or like, “the robot that’s got a hand!” where the hand looks genuinely fleshy, and that’s creepy. It looked like that kind of skin.

ADAM But what beautiful 3D!

BROOM Aren’t you glad we sprang for the 3D?

BETH I am glad.

BROOM And… RPX! [ed: “Regal Premium Experience.”]

ADAM My favorite 3D moment was when you’re hovering outside the window in the rain, going into the memorial service, and the bay window just looks slightly bulbous. It just looked perfect. I had never thought about how you could use animation to do all the crazy shit that you can’t do in a real movie. Why even bother having motion-capture? Just animate it, and some day it’ll be good enough that you won’t even notice. That’s the feeling I got for parts of this movie.

BROOM When they were landing on the secret island, for a second I thought, “oh, they’re going to have them land on a live-action island!” And then of course realized, “no, that’s just something that looks particularly photorealistic in their animation system.”

BETH Yeah, there were a few times when I forgot that I was watching animation. And that, I think, is why when they were on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, I really felt worried for them! Because it was that realistic.

BROOM I had the thought at one point that the outdoors in this movie felt more outdoors than most animation. Maybe that’s a credit to the people who did the sky, or the weather, or the lighting, or whatever. It felt like we were really outside, which is rare for CGI.

ADAM So what do you think about the design concept for San Fransokyo being: San Francisco with paper lanterns? And, like, Chinese dragon heads on the top of the Transamerica building and the Golden Gate Bridge.

BROOM Please take this as innocent, and not as cranky: what is the point of these kinds of mash-ups? Are they supposed to mean something political, or about the cultural overlap that actually exists between those cities? Or is it just, like, “what if two things were the same thing?”

ADAM ‘Cause it’s cool, man.

BETH I think it’s that. “Wouldn’t it be cool and weird if these cities combined?”

BROOM But some combinations would seem all cyberpunk-y, and some would just seem stupid. If I was like, you know, “It takes place in Paris/St. Louis,” you’d say, “What’s the point of that?”

BETH The point is someone thought of it! Someone had a dream.

ADAM It adds to the futuristic post-racial funkiness of the movie. But also, it’s cool. But also, it’s cross-cultural marketing.

BROOM The basic idea goes back to Blade Runner and other stuff; it’s been in sci-fi for a long time. And I think a lot of the time it’s supposed to represent…

ADAM Dystopia.

BROOM … some kind of political futurist speculation. Like in Clockwork Orange where they all speak bits of Russian. That’s a Cold War idea: “you have no idea what kind of havoc is going to be wreaked on your sense of cultural lines.” So it seems to come out of some idea like that, but it’s really just arbitrary stuff. I guess this is the same question as “what’s the point of steampunk?” And the point is undoubtedly that it gratifies some subconscious desire, but I’m not sure I have a theory about what that desire is.

ADAM I really liked the music.

BROOM I thought the score was pretty good for one of these.

ADAM When they were about to play some really obnoxious song… what was it?

BROOM “Eye of the Tiger.”

ADAM And I thought “Oh man,” and then it turned out just to be a gag. “Thank god!” Because I was gonna be really annoyed by that.

BETH I thought it was funny.

BROOM To me, that moment was one of their hedges, where they’re ostensibly saying “Ha ha, we’re all sick of that kind of movie.” But of course this is exactly one of those movies. They’re just not using that particular cue.

ADAM Well, I appreciated that they didn’t use that cue.

BROOM So I guess you guys didn’t have any sort of underlying feeling that the movie was pretty weird?

BETH I feel like I might later reflect on it and have completely different feelings, but in the moment…

BROOM I just mean in the moment.

MS. BAREBURGER I’m just gonna drop this ’cause we’re starting to close out but take your time with it, no rush.

BETH Okay. Thank you.

ADAM I don’t know. I mean, it was a weird mash-up, but it was pleasurable, and it felt tonally consistent. And the kids in the audience, as represented by that Russian woman behind us, or whatever she was, seemed to like it.

BETH Polish, I think.

BROOM I think that was Russian they were speaking.

ADAM Whatever it was, she was the most childlike person in the audience. She really liked when Baymax deflated.

BROOM The sequence where he gets drunk because his battery is running out was pretty funny.

ADAM “We jumped out a window! Shhhhh!” Maya Rudolph didn’t have much to do.

BROOM Yeah, great role.

ADAM She got to talk about those chicken wings.

BROOM So I thought the one girl was Jewish, you can take it or leave it — but really I was uncomfortable with all of the racial-typed nerds. I’m a little embarrassed for the big black guy to be a coward — or, you know, a nervous Nellie — because “look, we’re inverting stereotypes!” is just as embarrassing as sticking to them.

BETH I think millenials and beyond are so post-racial as to not even think of stereotypes as being inverted with these characters.

ADAM Yeah, they don’t even see race!

BETH That’s what I’m actually saying, though!

BROOM Yeah, BETH is actually saying it, and at the same time you’re accustomed to making fun of it. And that’s kind of how I feel: they really don’t have that stuff in their heads at all? Aren’t they in fact intensely proud of their rejection of it?

ADAM Let’s ask Eddie. He’s a millenial or beyond.

BETH Okay, yeah! I really genuinely believe it.

BROOM Eddie, his nephew?

BETH No no no, I’m not saying that.

ADAM I’m just being silly. I’ll stop undermining your point.

BETH I’m saying I genuinely believe that younger people are not attuned to that stuff, and not because they’re less sophisticated, but because they’re growing up in a place where it’s just not as prevalent. It’s just not part of their experience the way it has been for us. Maybe that’s naive of me, but…

BROOM When you were a kid, didn’t you feel incredibly savvy about all of the aspirational pandering stuff in kid culture? Like, the fact that The Care Bears existed — didn’t you get that it was not because the world had actually become an emotionally accepting world, but because someone had this sanctimonious sale they were trying to pitch to you?

ADAM No. I did not.

BETH Well I hated, hated, hated The Care Bears. But it wasn’t because of that. It was just because they were the most boring possible thing.

ADAM Well, we can keep talking about this subject if you want to…

BROOM What subject is this?

ADAM Race and stereotyping in the movie.

BROOM Oh yeah.

ADAM … but I did want to know what you thought about science in the movie. Because it made being a nerd seem super-cool, but then it also had a lot of that… what was that Sandra Bullock movie? The Net? It’s what I think of as “science mysticism,” where there’s not actual science; you just throw around a lot of words.

BROOM I thought here they’d actually been very careful about the words, to the point that the dialogue seemed forced. “Is that a lithium-ion battery?” “Yes it is.”

ADAM Okay, yes, they had a lot of technical consultants, but the effect was still that sort of blizzard of… You know, any movie where the way you interact with a computer interface is grabbing images in front of you…

BETH Grab and pull.

ADAM I was getting all annoyed that it was like, “Tech is amazing, and it’s easy, and it’s all about being brilliant!” But then thankfully they had the scene at the end where Tadashi has to try 87 times to get Betamax to work.

BROOM Baymax.

ADAM Which of course is what actual science is more like. So I was grateful for that. I did on the one hand appreciate the message “Thinking is cool! Use those big brains of yours!” But on the other hand, “thinking” just meant, like, videogames.

BROOM I respected their desire not to let it be just movie-ese tech talk, like, “Mr. President, the…” Well. You know. Any line that starts with “Mr. President.” But at first it was a little overkilled, and then they kind of let the whole issue go. After that initial scene where he visits the lab there isn’t too much science talk.

ADAM I guess I should have figured out that they were introducing all the sidekicks, but it didn’t occur to me.

BETH Yeah, I felt like maybe the beginning was a little rushed.

BROOM Or, rather, too slow.

ADAM Well, they had a lot of sidekicks to introduce, so it took a while.

BROOM I can imagine them in story meetings: “Is it really necessary to introduce them all before the plot gets in motion?” “Yes, obviously it is, or else it won’t feel like assembling a team of friends, later.” “So how are we going to introduce them all without giving away what’s coming? What role should they play in the opening section?” “They’ll play the role of enticing him into a more ambitious lifestyle.” But do you really need four lively characters to serve that function? No, you don’t. So it didn’t really work, I thought.

ADAM There had to be six of them, because of the title. God, if only someone had enticed me into a more ambitious lifestyle when I was at an impressionable age.

BROOM I felt that way watching this movie. “Why didn’t someone come to me and say ‘Too bad you don’t want to be here at the awesome place that’s perfect for you’?”

BETH “Age doesn’t matter.”

BROOM Yeah, he’s going to college at 14, and his friends are all 20.

ADAM That was like the Good Will Hunting segment. But yeah, who wouldn’t have liked that? Maybe I wouldn’t be just, like, a burnout corporate lawyer, if someone had come and told me to, you know…

BROOM Yeah, and I wouldn’t be just a bot fighter. I had more to say about that sequence but I forget what.

ADAM It felt slow.

BETH I was confused too.

ADAM I didn’t understand it was a superhero movie, so I didn’t know what I was being set up for.

BETH Me neither. I hadn’t read anything about the movie. So I was like, “Okay, so… he’s going to school. And these guys want him to go to school… Okay…” Thoughts about the brother character?

ADAM He was super-hot.

BETH Yeah, and they knew it. They were dressing him to be, like, “the perfect dude.”

ADAM He was the hottest Asian dude in a Disney movie since the Mulan guy.

BROOM Surely half-Asian, right?

ADAM Right, because Aunt Cass was not Asian.

BROOM Wasn’t there a picture of the parents on the wall?

ADAM In, like, Samurai outfits.

BROOM Yeah, totally traditional dress. Maybe that’s a wedding photo… but at least one of the brothers was in it! It seemed to me like it was showing us that both the parents were deeply traditional Asians. There was no half-anything about it. So I didn’t understand what I was looking at, there.

ADAM But the brother was super-hot.

BROOM See, I didn’t know that. This is one of those cases where I didn’t know it.

ADAM And sensitive.

BETH Yeah. Really, the perfect guy.

BROOM That’s what you said about the guy from last time!

BETH That’s right! But this guy was even more perfect.

ADAM Yeah, I wouldn’t want to date them both at the same time. Maybe marry this one, and that one… Well, but the other one was Jonathan Groff. Hard choices, Disney. And I would have been okay dating the big black dude too. Even though he’s a coward. It’s okay.

BETH I couldn’t go for him.

BROOM ADAM, he’s such a nerd.

BETH Just because he was muscular?

ADAM Yeah.

BROOM You’re sure that he had muscles?

ADAM He appeared to. Yes.

BROOM He could have just had a big ribcage.

MS. BAREBURGER How are you guys doin’ over here?

ADAM Great. We’ll pay up.

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks so much you guys.

BETH Thank you.

BROOM Thank you.

ADAM Thank you.

MS. BAREBURGER Are you guys…?

BETH Wait a second, I’m gonna put a card in too. One sec. You can split it.

ADAM Thank you.

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks.

ADAM Luckily Hiro wasn’t that hot, ’cause he was only 14.

BETH Luckily!

BROOM Luckily for all of us.

BETH He wasn’t hot at all! He was cute like a little kid.

BROOM Why don’t they put the perfect girl in? They never do. They’re more sensitive about that.

BETH They think that they do.

ADAM You didn’t think Elsa was the perfect girl?

BROOM They always have some kind of personality that comes first. They can’t just be, like, “a wonderful person,” like Tadashi.

ADAM Tadashi was too good for this world. I should have seen it coming.

BETH I thought that the one princess… the one who wanted to run her own business?…

BROOM Oh, with the frog?

ADAM Princess Tiana. She was pretty great.

BETH … I thought that she was basically a really good person.

BROOM But her personality was that she “didn’t get it,” until deep into the movie.

BETH Okay, but she was a real person.

BROOM She was an admirable person.

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks so much you guys.

BROOM Thank you.

BETH Thank you.

BROOM That’s different from just being a simple presence, where you can imagine, “ooh, I would gladly date her.” Like with these guys you’re talking about.

ADAM You know, the more I think about this, the more it did feel like Brother Bear. It’s an odd strain in Disney-dom. And for that to be the sole surviving remnant of Disney DNA is weird.

BROOM The only real reason for the parents to have been absent in this story is because if there had been parents, they would have been grieving for the brother as well, and they needed to make Hiro be alone in his grief.

ADAM Yeah, Aunt Cass didn’t seem to give a shit.

BETH She looked really sad at the wake.

ADAM At the funeral, yeah, well, that’s good of her. Aunt Cass seemed to be a little bit medicated.

BETH Or just sad and lonely. A lonely lady running a restaurant by herself, who has a cat.

ADAM I thought it was a missed opportunity that they never actually showed us Mrs. Whatsername who was dressed ridiculously inappropriately for an 80-year-old.

BETH Yeah, they should have, just for one shot.


ADAM All right, so what did you think of Feast?

BROOM Also very strange.

BETH Yeah, Feast was really weird!

ADAM I didn’t like Feast at all.

BETH Feast is not going to be nominated for an Oscar!

ADAM No, it probably is. They always are.

BROOM I liked how it looked. And I would never bet against a Disney movie being nominated for an Oscar.

ADAM What a creepy message!

BROOM What was the message? I thought it was just about a visual style.

ADAM The message was “Junk food is…”

BETH Okay, so it was, like…

ADAM “Lovable girl gives us greens, but we love her anyway because she makes our master happy.”

BROOMBut what if I don’t like greens?”

ADAM Yeah, it was weird. Really, the only raison d’etre of that short was the dog being cute.

BROOM I think it was that they had created a different style of rendering, this sort of edgeless smooth world.

ADAM It was attractive, but it creeped me out on a number of levels. Like, the weird gender stereotyping. It was weird. Ugh.

BROOM It was offering us a little sensual world. Food is a natural part of that. That’s the kind of thing these images are good for. A lot of times with these things, I feel like we’re just going through…

MS. BAREBURGER Thanks guys.

BETH Thank you.

ADAM It’s just, like, “we have some images that we want to give you, and we have to hang them on a plot, and so the plot is gonna be the most awful, stupid…” I mean, what was the last one that we saw? About the umbrellas in love?

BETH Oh, that’s right. Yeah, umbrellas.

BROOM That wasn’t on Frozen, though, because that had Get a Horse. Where was that umbrellas thing?

ADAM It must have been two ago.

BROOM But we didn’t see that one in the theater. Did we see the umbrellas in the package of Oscar-nominated shorts? [ed.: Yes, as a non-nominated extra. It was originally released with Monsters University]

ADAM Anyway, that was awful too. What was two Disney movies ago, before Frozen?

BROOM It was… you know, Break-Em-Up Harry. What was that called?

ADAM Oh, the Candyland one.

BROOM Beat-Em-Up Barry.

ADAM Wreck-It Ralph. I think it might have been the short before Wreck-It Ralph. [ed: that would be Paperman]

BROOM Anyway, here’s what I was going to say about plotting: I feel like when I’m watching them the way that a kid does, or as I would have as a kid — i.e. the best way — I’m watching very intuitively, I’m not thinking analytically, and a lot of these kinds of questions, like, “what’s the message this is sending?” — those questions don’t even occur to me. And I think that they’re often written in that same mindset, by people who operate that way all the time. They’re people who are very sensitive to whether things look right, and whether they feel right on kind of an irrational level, and so you end up getting these very deep cultural-subconscious ideas coming out in them. I think it’s so obvious that the message and the story and the meaning of Feast are messed up that it’s clear they weren’t thinking about it that way. I think it was just worked out like: “then they’ll have to be in love… and then something will have to come between them…” I don’t know how exactly to put it, but in a very intuited, unconceptual way. The same way I as a kid understood every cartoon as, like: “Sure, now the bad guy falls in the chasm, ’cause bad guys fall in chasms.” You never “thought it out.” I don’t think that Feast had been “thought out.”

ADAM Yeah, I agree.

BROOM I don’t know if that means it does in fact work on some magical deep level, and I’m just uncomfortable with it.

ADAM No.

BETH No. I don’t think kids liked that movie. I mean, maybe they liked part of it, I don’t know.

BROOM It looked nice and you got to look at food. That was the point of it, I think.

ADAM BETH, How do you feel about your gender being symbolized by a sprig of parsley?

BETH I don’t feel like it was.

BROOM It’s not presented as a bad thing, really. You spend the whole first half of it hoping for something healthy to show up.

ADAM I thought something horrible was going to happen to the dog after eating all that horrible food.

BROOM Exactly. So when you see the sprig of parsley, you think, “Thank god he found this woman.” Right. And then later, when he goes back to his old ways…

ADAM It turns out he’s a slob in a bathrobe, in fairness.

BROOM … and the dog is eating Eggo waffles, you’re meant to think, “this is clearly no good.” So I don’t think it was negative stereotyping.

ADAM Yeah, but it was just gross. It creeped me out. Okay. Should we read the New York Times Review?

BROOM All right.


BETH But what you were just saying… about how when you’re watching a movie and you’re not thinking about it analytically — that was how I watched Big Hero 6. And so having come from that place, it’s difficult to… That’s why I feel like it has been difficult for me in this conversation to get myself to a place of thinking about it analytically, because I really did enjoy it on the level that it wanted me to.

ADAM I want to be clear: I very much enjoyed it, and I don’t want to nick it unnecessarily. Because it was a pleasure to see in the theater.

BROOM I haven’t said the words “I really enjoyed it” yet, but I basically did. I had a good time, and I never disengaged completely. But I did feel genuine feelings of “what’s going on?”, which I think were unforced, kid-like feelings. However I also have the psychological sophistication to understand that I may have had those genuine problematic feelings because my mind is just involuntarily accustomed to working too hard, and were I more relaxed generally I would have soaked it all up.


ADAM How did Callaghan get the headband?

BROOM You’re joking, right?

ADAM No, I’m not.

BROOM He didn’t have the headband.

BETH He built the mask.

ADAM No, I understand, but when he caused the explosion, how did he get the shield to form? Did he take the headband? Did we miss that?

BROOM Oh, I see.

BETH Also, this bothered me: when they were leaving afterward and saying, “hey, let’s go get dinner,” I thought, “you guys, you left all of your stuff in there, and that guy wanted it! What are you thinking?” I don’t think Hiro took the headband with him.

BROOM All right, here are some other things I have to say: When he did his demonstration, I already thought it was scary.

BETH Oh, yeah, me too. It was clearly, like, “oh, this is obviously going to be used for evil.”

ADAM “This is a disaster.”

BROOM “I hope no one ever builds this.” He could have gotten into school any way he wanted. It didn’t have to be this. There are a million things you can eat that aren’t cheese. The next thing is: he apparently made all that in two days of fast-motion, so afterward, he could have just made another army of microbots!

BETH No, it was like a month.

BROOM He slept in the chair, and then woke up the next day and finished it.

BETH No no no! That whole stop-motion sequence is a month where people come in and go out, there’s a party…

ADAM Yeah, didn’t he write down how to do it?

BROOM He himself did it! So he could have gone home to where he still has his 3D printer, or whatever…

ADAM I see, and made a counter-army.

BROOM Which is, like, the greatest invention of all time and the most dangerous, and he could have pursued it himself. Also, he could have built his own headband!

ADAM “Use that big brain of yours! Think of another angle.”

BETH I really liked that fake stop-motion sequence. I thought it was very nice.

BROOM Next thing: I believe this is the first Disney movie, and one of the only movies in my entire life, that had no title at the beginning. No titles of any kind until the very end.

ADAM What are you gonna do?

BROOM Good point! I guess I’ll use the title from the end at the top of the page. I have to.


BETH When the Minions ad started, I thought, “Wait, is this it? Is this the movie?” Because I really didn’t know.

BROOM That’s a sequel to Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2.

BETH Yeah, well, I’m just that out of it.

BROOM I haven’t seen them, but I know that, because I’m not out of it. What other previews did we see?

ADAM We saw some awful previews. We saw Hillsong: Live Your Faith, or whatever.

BETH Oh, WHAT IS THAT?? Super-offensive!

ADAM Well, it’s not offensive to a Christian!

BROOM “Offensive” isn’t really the problem — it’s just Christian rock — but I was shocked that it was on a general Disney-distribution movie, that they assume there will be enough overlap in the audience.

ADAM “They’re changing the world… but the world isn’t changing them.”

BROOM “It’s not about them… it’s about Him.” That’s weird! I mean, this is on a Disney movie, in Times Square!

BETH Yeah!

ADAM I felt violated by that. What else did we see? We saw Tomorrowland, which looks… pretty cynical. By the way, she shouldn’t go into that world; she doesn’t know what’s happening to her body back on Earth world. Hello! She should at least have picked it up with some plastic and taken it to a secure location before she did that.

BROOM And put on restraints.

ADAM Put herself in a well-ventilated room.

BROOM Probably in the movie they address this question. Or maybe every now and then they cut back to her lying on the floor of the detention center, twitching.

ADAM What else did we see?

BETH The penguin thing.

ADAM Oh yeah, Penguins of Madagascar. The woman behind us really liked that.

BROOM Yeah, you said your dad would like that, I assume because it had that…

BETH The kind of humor.

BROOM South Pacific humor.

BETH That’s a good way to characterize it.

ADAM Were there any more previews? There were, and they were bad.

BROOM Annie.

ADAM I had read that they were making Annie with a black lead. Who was that? Is that Quvenzhané Wallis?

BROOM The girl? Boy, I don’t know.

BETH Who is that?

ADAM She’s the little girl who was nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

BROOM It could have been. I don’t know. And Jamie Foxx. And Cameron Diaz.

BETH And some other famous woman. Well, there’s some nice British lady.

ADAM Oh, no, you’re thinking of Paddington, because it has Lord Grantham in it!

BETH That looked just miserably bad. That looked so embarrassing.

BROOM My thought was: it’s a kiddie movie, and it’s a style of kiddie movie that the three of us don’t generally have to encounter. It might not actually be a bad one of those. It was just that the music was so aggressive in that ad: “It’s awesome!! Every joke in this stupid movie is awesome awesome awesome!!” “That. Was. Amazing!” I imagine that for the four- and five-year-old target audience, it might not be the worst movie there is.

BETH You’re right.

BROOM Because, you know, when Nicole Kidman appears saying “Did you say marmalade?”… in the course of the movie it’s probably so obviously tongue-in-cheek that it’s charming. At least potentially.

ADAM Was that Nicole Kidman? I didn’t even notice. “Did you say marmalade?” That’s pretty funny. I can tell that that could be funny.

BROOM Movies like that are supposed to seem like a lark for these adult actors.

ADAM “Stranger danger, keep moving. It’s some sort of bear.”

BROOM What was bothersome to me was just that the preview was pushing it so hard. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to see that movie. I don’t like those kinds of movies.

BETH No, you’re probably right about it.

ADAM Okay, now let’s read the review. I don’t think you should put all that stuff about the previews in.

BROOM Or maybe I should!

BETH Do what you like.

[ed: Okay! FYI, we also saw previews for Inside Out and Spare Parts]


[we read the review… in the course of which:]

BROOM “… The group is as harmoniously balanced as a university diversity committee, and largely distinguished by safe quirks of personality rather than stereotypes and unfunny accents.” My insertion here would be: it only occurs to you to say that, Manohla, because they were in so much the same school as stereotypes and unfunny accents.

[and:]

BROOM I thought that the joke of him processing space like a robot, when he has to move that chair in his very first scene…

ADAM Or when he comes out from behind the bed; that’s the funniest thing.

BROOM I wish they had brought that joke back later in the movie. I know it got inconvenient for them to have him be an idiot, but I thought it was clever to have him be as unsophisticated about space as real robots.

[finally we reach Manohla’s lame conclusion: that it’s too bad Disney “didn’t decide to take a real leap into the future, say, by making Hiro a girl”]

BROOM That was a dumb thing to say.

ADAM That was a sort of easy shot.

BROOM It doesn’t even make any sense.

[BETH goes to the bathroom]


ADAM Well, it was satisfying. Even if it had sort of a pedestrian plot and sort of odd things mashed together, it’s still… we’re a long way from The Rescuers Down Under.

BROOM Well, The Rescuers Down Under was stupid. But it does feel a little like the specialness of this product that we’ve been tracking through the years is, like she said at the beginning of the review, mostly out of the cultural system. I know, I’m the one who said that it did still have some Disney DNA.

ADAM I think this movie will make a fortune.

BROOM I think it’ll do well but I don’t think it’ll beat Frozen. I think Frozen spoke to people at that deep Disney level. I thought it was better than this.

ADAM I thought Frozen was better constructed than this. And it had some emotional high points that spoke to pent-up need. Like a girl saving a girl, and a great power ballad.

MS. BAREBURGER Thank you guys.

BETH Thank you.

BROOM Thank you.

[we exit and begin walking uptown but we do not turn off the recording]


[You are more than 2/3 of the way through.]


ADAM Whereas this felt sort of Studio Ghibli-ish in its visual whimsy. Which I like. But those movies aren’t blockbusters.

BROOM Those movies feel much more like dreams, of the heart. Whereas this felt like a superhero movie. Mostly.

ADAM With dreamy floating cats.

BROOM Yeah, some of that, it’s true. So in the scene where Fred is singing a song about what awesome superheroes they are, and is making up stuff that isn’t in fact their story…

BETH I think that might have been my favorite part.

ADAM “The lost amulet…”

BROOM Right, that they found an amulet in the attic. Even though they already have a real superhero story that they’re in the middle of… That’s funny, but it’s also exactly why I felt like “I don’t know where I am!” He’s in it, but he’s not in it; we’re in it, but we’re not in it. Or are we just supposed to be many many layers inside it? I don’t know.

ADAM I’m glad Manohla Dargis also thought of Scooby-Doo. That was satisfying.

BROOM I think the comparison is unavoidable.

ADAM But Scooby-Doo has a reassuring pattern. It doesn’t matter how scary a Scooby-Doo episode is, because you know what’s going to happen at the end. Though I was still always scared by, like, “It’s an Easter Island mask and it’s chasing them!” That always scared me, every time, but…

BROOM Even though the music would be, like [imitates]?

ADAM Yes! It always scared me! But you still knew it couldn’t be that bad, because at the end, someone would be unmasked.

BROOM Yes. The monster always turned out to have been a costume. Even if it was something impossible, like a skeleton. How does a skeleton costume work? It just does.

ADAM Scooby-Doo had a deep conservatism that I found reassuring. And here, too, even though that was a very scary Kabuki mask he was wearing…

BROOM It was very scary!

BETH It was super-scary. I was going to tell my brother. I mean, of course my niece is too young for this anyway. But for the next six years she’ll still be too young!

ADAM Excellent taste in masks, Callaghan.

BROOM Yeah, it didn’t really seem to match his personality. Where would he get the idea to be a scary Kabuki bad guy?

ADAM We hardly know anything about him. He’s probably really into manga.

BROOM Spencer Tracy wouldn’t pick that mask! Please. He also seemed like he could be one of your uncles, BETH. They wouldn’t do that; they don’t have that sense of themselves. He just seemed like a professor.

BETH He really seemed like Sam Waterston to me.

BROOM Well, that’s not so different. I’ll tell you this: I was certainly surprised to find out he spelled his name with a G. That was a real twist for me, late in the game.

BETH That’s the traditional Irish spelling.

ADAM My only friend named Callaghan spells it with a G, so I was braced for that.

BROOM I thought it was compelling for his motivation to be exactly the mistake that Hiro is guided away from, which is that he turned his grief into furious revenge. The most profound thing in the movie is when Baymax asks Hiro “if we kill him, will that improve your emotional state?” and Hiro says “Yes! No! I don’t know!” Ultimately, all of Callaghan’s rampaging is needless, because his daughter is actually in hibernation. She’s wherever Mr. Spock goes.

ADAM Did you think that was a touch of Sleeping Beauty at the end?

BROOM When she comes out of the pod? It was the same pod that Sigourney Weaver sleeps in in Alien, and/or the pod that Leonard Nimoy gets in in the Star Trek movies…

ADAM It also reminded me of Gravity.

BETH Yeah, and when Baymax falls away it’s very much like what happens to George Clooney.

BROOM That’s true. I was thinking of Star Trek during that whole sequence, because that’s what it looked like. And there’s also a self-sacrifice in Star Trek.

BETH I liked the moment when Hiro confronts Callaghan and says “what are you going to accomplish?” and there’s just an instant where you think he’s going to change his mind and relent. And then only action — I think some kind of thing falling — is what breaks it.

ADAM No, it’s Krei talking. He ruins it because he’s such a douchebag.

BETH Oh right, he says “I love that robot!” or something like that.

ADAM He says, “Listen to the kid, Callaghan!”

BROOM I thought Krei was well handled. I was sorry for his nice building getting destroyed.

ADAM “Everything you love is going to be sucked into this vortex… like, office furniture!”

BETH The standard office chair is still being used in the future.

ADAM The Aeron chair.

BROOM In the first section of the movie, I was thinking, “you know, I might have various anxious uncertainties today, but when I was a kid, it’s pretty clear I would have liked this, because it has all these places in it and all this stuff, and I would have rolled with it.” And then it got to the shot where the Kabuki man shows up in the warehouse, and I thought, “Ooh, but I definitely wouldn’t have liked that.

ADAM Yeah, it felt menacing to me.

BROOM His nanobot horde was awful.

BETH When their car went underwater and it was filling up…

BROOM I saw you cringe.

BETH That’s a real fear of mine!

ADAM And Baymax has told him to buckle his seatbelt, and it’s stuck!

BETH Ugh!

ADAM Did you see Cloud Atlas? A lot of the San Francisco sequences reminded me of the 70s sequences of Cloud Atlas, where she’s the investigative reporter. And her Volkswagen bug also plunges off a bridge.

BROOM Oh, I forgot about that. How does she get out? I don’t remember.

ADAM I don’t remember either. But it has those same sort of Dirty Harry San Francisco noir visuals. But yeah, that sequence, ooh.

BETH I thought, “If you’re going here, then I’m probably going to feel uncomfortable a few times.”

BROOM I wasn’t worried because I knew Baymax was a big flotation device.

ADAM Even though you know they’re going to be fine. Why the guy doesn’t just entomb them with nanobots, I don’t know. They were his students! Has he no heart?

BROOM I know! When they wanted to establish that his revenge was about emotions going out of control, and that he had not intended to kill Tadashi, when they wanted us to see him in this tragic psychological light, they have Hiro say “You let Tadashi die! He went in to save you!” and Callaghan says “I didn’t ask him to do that! That was his mistake!” … I thought, “but you can’t deny that you’ve been very deliberately trying to kill me for the last 15 minutes! You made the bots into a pile driver that you were going to drop on me!”

ADAM Maybe if the nanobots had been puffy and white but had the same functionality, they would have been less frightening. I mean, it really speaks to the importance of good design. “Don’t you think the armor will compromise my non-threatening huggable healthcare personality?”

BROOM I know I’m the one who started calling them nanobots, but they’re actually “microbots.” A nanobot would be microscopic.

BETH This might be the longest we’ve ever spoken about a Disney movie.

BROOM I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. [looks at recording counter] Oh wow, it’s long, isn’t it. I guess I should stop it now?

BETH You’re the one who has to transcribe it!

BROOM So, readers, I guess we’ll see you again at Zootopia in March 2016.

ADAM Is that the next one? Oh god.

BROOM In March 2016! How much of an imposition on your heart is that really, that you have to say “Oh god”? You’re gonna have to see a 90 minute movie in a year and a half. “Ugh! Oh, brother!”

BETH Well, wait, what did the “Oh god” mean?

ADAM I just meant that that title doesn’t sound promising. Like, what’s wrong with fairy tales, guys? Frozen made a billion dollars.

BETH This one will make maybe not that much, but close.

ADAM While you were in the bathroom, BROOM said he thought Frozen tapped something pent-up.

BETH Oh, Frozen was definitely better. It was a more soulful movie.

ADAM Just the hunger to see a girl save a girl, and hear that fabulous song, that’s worth a billion dollars right there. Whereas I don’t think this has that resonance, in the same way. The hunger to see a really hunky half-Asian dude, maybe.

BROOM To see him get blown up.

ADAM Well, you don’t see that.

BROOM He really shouldn’t have run in there.

ADAM Yeah, what a chump.

[we turn off the recording and ADAM departs]


[but lo! moments later, BETH’s secret thoughts stir and the recording comes back on!]

BETH It’s always interesting for me when I experience something cultural and am truly transported, and then I’m in a situation where I’m required to analyze it and talk about it, as a work… You know, I think what we were doing was talking about things as both experiences and as products, and in this particular case I had trouble thinking about it as a product, I think because of the emotional state I have been in today, working; I needed some kind of release, and it really provided exactly the release that I needed. I found it challenging to talk about… and I said this earlier, so this is kind of just a repeat, but this is just what’s on my mind now… to think about its motivations and think about its, you know, cynicism, if it was cynical. I can’t… Because it reached me, I feel like, “well, my experience wasn’t cynical, so it’s not cynical.”

BROOM I sympathize with the difficulty of figuring out how to hold to that. Because there is this feeling that… My whole life, in fact, earlier in my life when I wasn’t struggling as life-and-death with these kinds of issues as I have been, I had this thing that I would keep returning to, this idea, that being analytical gives you some kind of…

BETH Control, or order, or…

BROOM Yeah, defenses, or cachet if you like; it gives you some kind of edge over other people, which is an unfortunate principle because being analytical is not always a good thing to do. And yet, once you do it, it raises you above everyone else, and then you either…

BETH It sure makes you feel smart, you know?

BROOM It makes you feel safe, and makes them feel unsafe. And I always knew that that was a bad thing. And yeah, I’m trying to find a different solution, now, to that problem, just like you’re talking about. And I think that part of the solution is to defuse it by making it be about the person, because it is about the person.

BETH Yeah. And I was trying to say that as much as I could, when I was sharing stuff tonight, but I have — and the reason that I’m talking about this now is that I have some sort of embarrassment built up about my inability to really think about it the way that you and ADAM were thinking about it.

BROOM Yeah, but it’s actually the opposite. You don’t have an inability, you have an intuition that not thinking about it that way is better for you. So that embarrassment, if you misinterpret it, will make you do something bad to yourself.

BETH But I think this is how [a friend] experiences most movies, and it’s why she doesn’t dislike anything.

BROOM Because she actually feels good about them.

BETH You know, like on Goodreads, she gives almost every book five stars, and sometimes she gives a four, and very rarely she gives a three. And thinking about that, versus how I experience literature… It’s rare for me to give books five stars, and I think that’s because I am in fluctuating mind- and mood-spaces during my experience of a novel, which takes many days.

BROOM That’s right, you can’t just have a two-hour happy experience with it.

BETH And to have that consistently average out to a five is very rare!

BROOM It’s funny that she’s the counterexample, because I think of her as so deeply anxious. But I guess people who are deeply anxious, it’s always compartmentalized. In fact that’s part of what creates the anxiety. She’s socially anxious, which means she’s not necessarily… when it’s just her and a book, she might actually feel more at ease than you and I do.

BETH Yeah, I mean, she prefers to stay home and watch her shows on TV than to socialize. She would prefer to go to a movie by herself, on an afternoon. That’s the main thing she spends money on, is movies.

BROOM Well, I grew up in my family culture… which I have new ideas about, and I also have a desire to stick to old feelings about, too, because they didn’t need to be as analyzed as they’ve been… but what I grew up with was that you saw a movie, and then afterward you all talked about it, but the spirit of talking about it was not, like, mastering it, or mastering a cultural…

BETH Like, figuring out where it stood in the canon.

BROOM It was socializing what had been individual but now could be social, where everyone’s like, “And when he said that thing, that was funny!” and everyone agrees that it was funny. And then on the flip side of that, “something was weird to me in that scene!” and “yeah, that was weird to me too!” And the point is not to be, like…

BETH Like, “they must have been misguided, or thinking about this, or trying to do this…”

BROOM Well, see, that’s the problem, because in my family the culture also was, that you say it and then you say, “They shoulda done this. They shoulda done it this other way that would have been better.”

BETH Well, sure, which I think is natural.

BROOM Well, yeah, but it does have kind of an element of “if people wouldn’t screw up all the time, we’d be able to be happier!” So…

BETH I guess the upshot for me with this movie is: it’s not a five-star movie. But it’s a solid four, because my experience of it was entirely positive. I just don’t feel like it transcended any… it wasn’t…

BROOM I think that… to get philosophical, maybe unnecessarily… I’ve been thinking about these very issues, and… Maybe you remember, there was a quote — in a passage that I read aloud back when I was reading the Harvard Classics passage-of-the-day, by Burke. Talking about that there’s the Sensibility, and then there’s the Judgment, and that if you enjoy something with the Sensibility but without Judgment, then, you know, it’s amorphous; if you enjoy something with Judgment but without Sensibility, then it’s dry. And I said at the time, it seems like he just couldn’t bring himself to say what I would say, which is that actually, if you enjoy it with Sensibility and without Judgment, you don’t have any problems! That’s fine! But I do kind of agree that the ideal state is to enjoy something with both, which is possible. Sometimes I’ll have the experience of “I’m coasting through this and loving it, but I don’t think that if I thought about it analytically, that pleasure would remain intact, so I’m sort of…”

BETH Holding something at bay, or preventing yourself from…

BROOM Yeah. But maybe that’s just an illusion.

BETH Yeah, and I agree with you, I think that the primo state of experiencing something is to really be in it, and… I don’t know. Now I’m questioning it.

BROOM Like when we watched Rushmore the other day, I enjoyed it with both halves of myself. And that gives you this sense of freedom, like, “I can flop back and forth and I’ll be gratified in either place.”

BETH Yeah, I guess that’s it. It’s having both halves of your brain engaged.

BROOM Or equally able to be engaged. It’s sort of that feeling of not having to… You know, there’s two paths in front of you, and they’re both fine. So there’s no, kind of…

BETH Conflict.

BROOM … yeah. And I think that’s what affects my reviews of things. At least when I’m at my best. It isn’t that in advance I’m thinking, “well, everything has its number of stars and this is certainly not a five, oh ho ho.” It’s more that if you ask me afterward how many stars to give something, and I honestly am like, “all right, let me think”… the answer is going to have to do with whether I felt freedom the whole time, or whether I felt like, “well, this only works one way.

BETH Yeah. So, watching this, I wasn’t thinking about freedom at all. I mean, I think that I sort of did switch off…

BROOM Yeah, it’s an anxious way for me to say it. Like, no one’s taking away my freedom. Go ahead, sorry.

BETH No, but I think that… I really wasn’t thinking analytically, I really just was letting it wash over me like a beautiful bath.

BROOM Yeah. Good!

BETH And that was great.

BROOM I’m happy for you. When I saw that musical last week, I mostly did that. I cried and I just let it move my feelings around. And only when it really left me in the cold was I like, “What? Oh, it’s not working, I guess.” And then afterwards, when I talked with someone who’d been in the show and was sort of sour on it, and they asked what I thought of it, I said, “well, I think it had problems, but I enjoyed it and that’s the main thing.” But then as the conversation proceeded I ran up against exactly what you’re talking about: I couldn’t think of anything to say about being moved by it, because being moved was the end, was complete.

BETH It’s strange. It’s kind of uncomfortable in the aftermath, to feel like, “well, I had this, you know, encounter, and now I’m supposed to talk about it, and I’m not able to access it.” I don’t know, I can’t churn up anything to say.

BROOM But, you know, that difficulty, I think, it’s not right to say that that difficulty is inherent to the nature of experience. I think that difficulty is a specific kind of nervousness, embarrassment, anxiety, on your and my part. And I should not neglect to mention, in my story of trying to talk about that show, that, like, I get nervous in the place where I was, talking to the person I was talking to — lots of things about the social situation I was in, talking about that show, were nervous-making for me. So in that state of nervousness, I was embarrassed, I think, to be effusive about my emotional experiences, which is not itself actually inherently confusing or difficult for me. And I think that that’s probably true for you. I don’t think that effusing — being effusive — about whatever was gratifying to you about the sensory experience or the emotional experience you had here, is so foreign to you. It’s just that there’s something about me and ADAM, and maybe about being out in Manhattan…

BETH Well, just the tone. Yeah, I think it’s the tone that you guys by nature bring to these conversations, and I knew going in, like, I wasn’t going to be able to match it, because I just couldn’t. It had nothing to do with what I had just felt. So I felt nervous about trying to impose my… I think I was pretty honest about it. I think I essentially said that, so.

BROOM Yeah, you didn’t misrepresent yourself as far as I could tell. But you can aspire — and so can I — everyone can aspire, when in a situation where other people are being sucked toward the analytical, at the expense of pleasure, to actually stand up for pleasure. Even though it seems like you are trying to win a battle from a lower station. It’s not actually lower.

BETH Yeah, it always feels like, “I’m gonna fight for the right of the idiot instead of the intellectual.”

BROOM Yeah, but the more that you do that fight, say, you know, “I think that rock should beat paper,” or whatever, just, “no, it flows upstream”… you will start to really hear that you do believe it. I think you’re expressing it somewhat now: you really do believe that enjoying that movie the way you did is better than the nitpicky stuff that I was saying. It’s better for people, it’s a better understanding of the movie. And you have to do that to start realizing that, “yeah, there’s actually as much to say about this as there would be to say about his thing.”

BETH I have a complicated feeling about it, because in some ways I feel like, “well, there’s the experience of a movie, and there’s a conversation that you can have with people about the movie,” and if I don’t have anything to say, then I won’t have a satisfying experience of the conversation.

BROOM Well, what I’m saying is, you’re describing the situation as if you inherently don’t have anything to say, or you can’t scrounge up anything to say: but that’s a description of…

BETH Anxiousness.

BROOM Something that you’re underpracticed at, or… the way nervousness makes itself felt to you, is that your thoughts are harder to grasp, or you can only come up with so many words. I’m saying do whatever you can that’s honest, and aspire to it getting bigger and bigger, rather than doing what you can to meet the other standard, like, “well, I can certainly come up with a bunch of words from this other less sincere part of me”…

BETH Like, from within my experience, say what there is.

BROOM Yeah. And you do, you always have, I’ve always admired this about you, that even against the fashionability of it, that other people are buying into, you will say something very emotionally simple or emotionally direct, because that is better than it. But…

BETH Yeah, I just always feel like that comes out as… I mean, reads as… you know, like a cow wandering into a field in the middle of, like, two professors talking.

BROOM Yeah, right. And I think there’s a kind of nobility in being the cow. Because actually what’s in that field is two other cows with, like, Groucho glasses on, talking like professors. And to show up and be, like…

BETH “Hey guys, we’re just cows.”

BROOM …”Hey guys, we’re just cows,” is really beneficial, it’ll make everyone’s lives better. But to get there you need to practice attributing nobility and, kind of, heroic value to that. Because otherwise the embarrassment just shuts us all up. Professors too. I know those feelings exactly, though. I mean, it’s hard to say, when you’re being a professor: “All I really want is for someone to give me ice cream,” so you end up saying, “Hm! Hm! Something was missing; I don’t know exactly what.” So then if you show up and you’re like, “I’m the ice cream man, guys! Here’s the ice cream!” you’re doing a favor, even if the first response you get is, “Pff! Ice cream! As if! Please!” A few minutes later they will eat the ice cream, and agree that they’re better off. I mean, I try to acknowledge it now as much as I can. I think when I was talking at the restaurant I said, “I get that I probably only had these thoughts because my mind is in an anxious place.”

BETH Yeah, you did say that. You said that a couple times. Can we get juice on the way back?

BROOM Sure. So that you don’t have to listen to my lips smacking?

BETH No. I feel I’m getting a cold for real and I want to “stave it off.”

BROOM Okay. We’re gonna stop this now.

[The recording is shut off a second time. It has not yet come back on. Total duration 1:27:14!]


[I hope it did not take fully 1:27:14 to read. Congratulations. You, the reader, are the real Big Hero 6.]

disney54-end

December 16, 2013

THE DISNEY CANON!

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.

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Except this isn’t the end, quite.

Stay tuned for final reflections from the panel.


December 7, 2013

Disney Canon #53: Frozen (2013)

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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?”

ADAM No!

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.

BROOM Sure.

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.

disney53-end

November 22, 2013

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

disney52-title

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.]

BROOM Yeah.

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.

disney52-end

September 30, 2013

Disney Canon #51: Winnie the Pooh (2011)

disney51-title

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.

BETH Ugh.

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.

BETH No.

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]

disney51-end

August 20, 2013

Disney Canon #50: Tangled (2010)

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[Warning: thorough spoilers. As has often been the case in these discussions. But this one I’m thinking maybe you haven’t seen yet.]

BROOM This project is fifty!

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.

ADAM The humor has kind of a Monkey Island quality, to me.

BETH He looked like Guybrush!

BROOM It felt like a video game in a lot of ways. A couple of which I like, and many of which I don’t.

BETH Visually, I have very mixed feelings about it. I thought her eyes were distractingly, wrongly big. He looked fine, so I don’t understand why they had to do that to her.

BROOM Because she is, and I’m making quotes here, “pretty.” It’s important for pretty characters to have giant eyes.

ADAM What did you think of her manic-pixie-dream-girl haircut at the end?

BROOM I was thinking, “everyone in the audience knows that can’t be done with just a single slice.” Spoiler alert!

ADAM I agree with you about the story. 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.

BROOM But that’s exactly one of the things that… Let me first say that I had mixed feelings about this movie, and I’m not sure that just expressing both halves of it will encapsulate my reaction; I think I need to resolve my thoughts and I haven’t yet. It’ll take me some thinking about it.

BETH But you should just do what you always do and say everything.

BROOM I’m going to. I’m just prefacing this by saying that I don’t think my final judgment of this movie will be as split as I feel right now. During the movie my opinion was on a roller-coaster both superficially and analytically, and now that I’ve seen the whole thing I’m trying to figure out what that adds up to. And I don’t know. But one of the things that I thought was potentially problematic – when I hear myself say this maybe I’ll find out whether I think it was really problematic – was that a teenager could identify with being manipulated by a parent, but this turned out to be the false-parent witch character! They made a point of having them say “I love you” to each other, which we as sensitive children are able to recognize as a bullshit “I love you” that a witch forces you to say. But then the fact that we can recognize this relationship in our real relationships with our parents… I don’t know what we’re supposed to take away from that. It’s weird to have a mother-daughter relationship that is completely false in a movie for kids.

BETH I think it wasn’t completely false. I think there was some real love; I think they had gotten to a place where Rapunzel loved her mother for real, and the mother loved Rapunzel in her needy insecure way that a lot of mothers exhibit.

ADAM Yeah. When she says she’ll go get Rapunzel special stuff for her paints, that was really affectionate.

BETH I think that was real.

BROOM Well, what you’re describing is the relationship from “Into The Woods,” which this is clearly patterned after. And by the way, it seemed clear to me that they knew that their target audience overlapped too much with the audience for “Into the Woods” to copy it exactly. So I figured the difference will be in how it ends. And it just ended with a standard villain death. It did not end with any kind of ambiguity about whether she had ever felt real love.

ADAM Well, this is a Disney movie!

BROOM But that’s exactly why it’s weird to have them saying, “I love you,” “I love you” and then suddenly say “oh wait no, you were a witch, you were a phony mother all along!” It’s weird. Like I said, I have to work this out. While watching I was worrying about kids seeing this, that the next time their parents were manipulative, they’d worry “are you really my parents? do you really love me?”… but then I thought, “calm down, kids work this stuff out better than that kind of paranoia gives them credit for.” But now that I’ve seen it all the way to the end, I’m not so sure what they’d work out.

ADAM That stuff’s all over Grimm’s fairy tales.

BROOM But Grimm’s fairy tales aren’t “contemporary,” and full of attitudirific dialogue to show you that “hey, it’s your awesome world, kids.” Fairy tales are safe exactly because they take place in a fairy tale world!

BETH But this is clearly a fairy tale.

BROOM It is, but her manipulation was not fairy tale. That’s why I say it’s so obviously patterned on “Into the Woods.” The real Rapunzel story is that she’s kept imprisoned in a tower. This idea that she and the witch have a sort-of-mother-daughter relationship is not implicit in the fairy tale.

ADAM But that’s much more interesting than just “she’s kept in a tower,” right?

BROOM It is interesting. But in “Into the Woods,” the use of it is toward this thematic idea that all family relationships are imperfect, have darkness in them, and you’re going to be alone at some point. This movie started there and then just developed toward an ordinary villain relationship. “You want me to be the bad guy? I’ll be the bad guy.” So the ambiguity got washed away in a weird direction. I don’t really know what the upshot of that is. I have to mull over it.

ADAM I think Eddie would have liked the funny dialogue in this. It was just knowing enough for a child. It had that same “Tiny Toons” knowingness quality that I often extol.

BETH Part of what’s funny is just the tone. And I think kids can get that it’s “hey hey!” funny even if they don’t understand it.

ADAM It’s funny just that a big axe-wielding executioner is a mime. And it’s funny also that Guybrush Threepwood is rolling his eyes during the funny song. And that the horse and Flynn keep elbowing each other.

BETH I thought the horse was a great character.

ADAM It was cute but menacing.

BETH It was actually a character.

BROOM I don’t want to be the crank, but that stuff you just talked about is the stuff that I didn’t like. I thought, “this is everything about Broadway that I don’t like.” And I’m not just talking about the songs. It’s the way the characters were presented, and the way the dialogue was presented.

BETH I didn’t like that either. I was just saying I could understand that kids would respond to that.

BROOM During that “we’re tough guys but we’re singing about our dainty dreams” song, my thought was… You know, whenever I type these up, I think, “why do I always have to say ‘my thought was’ and then an entire paragraph in quotes? I just should say it now. ‘My thought is this now!'” But the reason I do this is because I don’t know if it’s my thought anymore. I just know that it was my thought half an hour ago.

ADAM This is a testing forum.

BROOM Yes. So. I was thinking, quote, “this would be funny if it wasn’t telegraphed. And a kid would get this perfectly well even if it wasn’t telegraphed.” If a big guy acted dainty, that would be it, it would already be funny. Instead of a song with the lyrics “Even big guys have dainty dreams! My dream is dainty! My dream is dainty too!” and everyone else rolling their eyes and signalling “boy is this weird!” The whole song was that. I wasn’t able to be amused by it at all, because it spoke everything. As much of the movie did. And I thought, “little kids don’t actually need that. They’re not doing it just to be clear to kids; they’re doing it as a stylistic choice.” Which is what I don’t like about Broadway, the idea that telegraphy is of course the only possible mode.

ADAM Yeah, I didn’t like that chameleon that kept, like, “pointing” the jokes after they were made.

BROOM I didn’t mind the chameleon. I thought, “hey, the chameleon’s motions are pretty small. Kudos to them for keeping them small.” What I didn’t like was that the movie started with [sings forcefully:] “Here’s your hero! She’s a kid like you! It’s a Broadway show!”

BETH But the mom’s Broadway song was really good!

ADAM It was great. It both sounded good and had great lyrics.

BETH It was really Broadway, but I really thought it was effective.

ADAM Kudos to them for going back to their theater-fag roots. It really does work well with unashamed fairy tale. This was sort of unashamed fairy tale in its structure and resolution…

BROOM So let me say what I liked about it: the fairy tale. I believe the story of the movie’s development was that they were developing it as a beautiful fairy tale story, but then at some point decided “this isn’t going to be Rapunzel, it’s going to be TANGLED!!! And she’s gonna say ‘like’ a lot in the lyrics! And it’s gonna have ‘tude!” And I thought that element was strong at the beginning, and then sprinkled in various key places throughout, but the bones of the movie were actually not an attitude movie. And I enjoyed that movie, the straight story.

BETH That’s what I was saying. That the script, on a macro level, was great.

BROOM I mean, I don’t think it was special. Just that it worked well enough and I was willing to watch it.

ADAM But it did work.

BROOM At the end, she could have cured him…

ADAM It’s okay. It’s better for her not to have the magic hair.

BROOM I know, I’m saying he could have cut it right after she cured him.

ADAM That would have been a little too legalistic.

BROOM It would have been a better choice. Like, if you were there.

ADAM But it would have been in implicit violation of her promise. Maybe it wouldn’t have been her fault, but she would have broken the promise.

BROOM When she was making the promise, I was wondering, “is the moral of this movie going to turn out to be ‘go ahead and break your promises to your parents, if they’re evil!’?” When she said, “I never break a promise,” I thought, “well, promising never to leave this tower isn’t good for you. Screw the promise!”

BETH I had that thought. I also thought, “Oh, they’re going to let him die! That’s great!”

BROOM I also thought he was going to die.

BETH I was completely okay with that.

ADAM Nope. There was a second form of magic that you didn’t know about.

BROOM I liked that, because that happens in Grimm’s fairy tales, that tears fall and have a magic power that has not been announced previously. I thought, “Great! Now kids have seen that in a movie.” I also liked that the magic was pure pagan sun magic. It had nothing to do with artifacts or spells. “The sun dropped a droplet of magic. Here we go.” I was down with that.

ADAM I thought her look was really great. She looked a little like Bernadette Peters, in a distracting way.

BROOM Donna Murphy we’re talking about?

ADAM Yeah. You mean Mother Gothel.

BROOM Well, that’s the Bernadette Peters role.

ADAM Oh, she is? I didn’t know that.

BROOM You’ve never seen “Into the Woods”? When you see it, you’re going to go, “oh, Tangled kind of ripped this off.” Big time. Like, when the mother sings, they must have had a meeting and said, “so the mother has to sing the song from ‘Into the Woods,’ but it can’t be the song from ‘Into the Woods,’ she has to sing something distinctly other than that.” So what was this song?

ADAM “Mother Knows Best.”

BROOM The song in “Into the Woods” is “Children Must Listen.” The world is dangerous and children must listen. It’s the same except it’s not funny there. The songs here almost all had a quality of “it’s in quotes, folks!” that I don’t think contributes to anything other than what you mentioned, Adam, that sense of knowingness, which I think is just a shame! It hurts my heart that this was going to be a fairy tale, so why did she have to have Bratzed-up lips at all? I know it was just a little bit, but why at all?

ADAM But, like, “Be Our Guest” has that same lyrical ridiculousness. And so does “Under the Sea,” and all of the songs we really like from the last twenty years.

BROOM Well, both of those are straight-up celebrations of whatever they’re about.

ADAM But there are ridiculous puns about the dancing flatware.

BROOM The point of both of those songs is “what’s going on is great.” This movie didn’t have that kind of song, quite. They had that scene where they danced around in montage. I kind of liked that scene.

BETH Yeah, that was a good scene.

BROOM I thought the look of the animation also had that “Attitude!” “Attitude?” “Attitude.” “Attitude!” “ATTITUDE.” “Attitude!” on-and-on snappy quality.

ADAM You didn’t like that montage of quick cuts where she’s trying to force him into the cabinet at the beginning?

BETH I did not.

BROOM I just didn’t like the spirit of that, that pervaded.

ADAM That’s just cause you’re old, man. You’re a fuddy-duddy.

BETH That’s exactly what I don’t like about it either.

BROOM I mean, the CGI has this sterility to it already. They need to do everything they can to actually humanize it, not go in this other direction.

ADAM Okay, there were some things – like the Thunder Mountain Railroad sequence – that I could have done without; that was a little too much. But 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.

BROOM I got used to the way the characters looked after they had finally had a couple of scenes that were just story and being direct about what they wanted as characters. As soon as it got to the scene in the firelight where they start being honest with each other, and then the mother shows up and sets up her scheme, I thought, “I can watch this now! A plot is happening!” But when they were introducing the characters and they way they did that was just a lot of “hey I don’t know about you but I’ve got a quip to say…” followed by the ‘tude face, which a person can’t actually make but I’m trying to make. I’m trying to make my eyes get bigger on one side than the other. Anyway, that stuff is not character! Kids get so much of that already! That’s what’s so heinous about Bratz.

ADAM No no no, Bratz is not that.

BETH Bratz is much worse than that.

BROOM Bratz is just the extreme form. “If your lips look like this, then you’re done.” This movie is kind of like, “If you go like this [‘tude] and then go like that [‘tude] and then do a take like this [‘tude]… then you’re done.” I appreciated it when he said “I’m a big phony and I actually have these other feelings.” But she never got around to saying, “Hey, I’m a big phony too; I don’t know how I learned to be such a wiseacre since I live all alone.”

BETH That she was essentially socially normal was not believable.

ADAM Okay, come on. Also that her hair was not trampled and dirty after she went through the forest. Let’s have some suspension of disbelief here, people.

BROOM She was socially normal for a theater girl. The obsession with sarcasm.

ADAM She wasn’t that sarcastic. She had a kind of nerdy innocent that I thought was charming. She wasn’t actually completely socially adept. And I did really like the scene of her giggling and then crying and then giggling and then crying. I thought that was amusing and sort of apt.

BROOM It would have been okay if I’d believed in her core, that she was grounded. That’s the point of having an “I want” song at the beginning of these things – which they kind of did, but it was such a teeny-bop kind of song…

BETH And it was also very “Part of Your World.” But much worse.

BROOM That’s what I mean by the “I want” song. But her yearning song didn’t show her heart. It was just this very poppy “So then I cook a meal, I paint the walls again, and I wonder when I’m gettin’ out of this place!” It’s basically all like that, so it never answers the question it’s supposed to, which is “What is it like to be you? What do your feelings feel like? They don’t feel like that song. Nothing that you’ve done is what it feels like to be you.” So half of the movie just had this 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.

ADAM It was a well-executed Broadway-slash-video-game.

BROOM I feel like good execution would be a movie where I was just sucked in and didn’t feel this way.

BETH I was pretty sucked in.

BROOM From the beginning?

BETH Yeah. I mean, I was thinking, “these jokes are not my style; I’m not finding them funny.”

ADAM But at least they weren’t fart jokes. Honestly.

BETH I felt like I could look past that stuff.

ADAM Rapunzel was authentically girly but still convincingly heroical. I don’t know, man, I think that your anti-contemporary dyspepsia is coloring your opinion.

BROOM What was the last one we saw? I didn’t feel this way about it.

ADAM We didn’t really like The Princess and the Frog.

BROOM Well, I didn’t feel this way about it.

ADAM Well, there was no ‘tude in The Princess and the Frog.

BROOM Right, so it’s not just a contemporary thing, it’s a particular way of being.

ADAM And then we criticized it for being wooden and politically correct!

BROOM Well, that’s a different issue!

BETH How can they win?

BROOM I’m just saying, it’s not like I have a one-note complaint. It’s specific to what I just saw. And I want to reiterate, for parts of it I was like “oh, now it’s working.”

ADAM So what was your single favorite element?

BROOM I think… when they got to the kingdom and were just dancing around, I had a nice moment. “This scene is about whatever it feels like.” I enjoyed that, and I would have enjoyed that as a kid. I think I liked that sequence the best.

ADAM I really liked Mother Gothel. I mean, I’ve never seen “Into the Woods,” but I thought she was just fresh and clever. This movie reminds me strongly of [Kendra Koppelmeyer].

BETH I was thinking about [Kendra] a lot!

BROOM When I said “normal for a theater person,” I was gonna say something about [Kendra].

ADAM Sorry, [Kendra]. Don’t use her last name in the transcript.

BROOM I’ll transcribe it as, um…

BETH [K], period.

BROOM I’ll just make up a different name.

ADAM But put it in brackets to make it clear that it’s not what we were really saying.

BROOM “Kendra.”

ADAM The mother seemed really stage-mother-y to me in a way that was satisfying. I mean, I guess she was vaguely related to the agent character in Bolt.

BROOM That’s what you said during Bolt.

ADAM I cited this movie?

BROOM You said “wait til we see the mother in Tangled.” I’m not sure I see the connection there.

BETH I’m not sure I do either.

ADAM Well, I do, because apparently I’ve cited it twice without remembering. I don’t know, the sort of manipulative fake sincerity. Maybe that speaks to me for some reason, I don’t know why.

BROOM I feel like the wonder of this scene we’re looking at on the menu screen now, the tower in the hidden valley, is…

ADAM This frankly looks more like the Black Cauldron video game.

BROOM Yes, some fantasy world. And the part of me that enjoys that sort of thing is a part that has no interest at all in attitude and a lot of quips in this mode. They’re motivated by a kind of phoniness – he admits! The character admits as much in the movie, which was an interesting thing to have happen.

BETH But the movie was still doing it.

BROOM The movie was still living that way. I wanted the movie to sit at a campfire and open its heart and say, “I’m actually just a fairy tale. I just act like I’m a hip kids’ movie because I feel like I have to, like no one would like me if I was just a fairy tale.” And then we could say, “I like you better this way.”

ADAM I don’t know man. I mean, this is a commercial enterprise. It’s like you want it all to be Maurice Sendak or something.

BROOM You can try to caricature “a nice fairy tale movie” as some kind of extreme thing to want…

ADAM Not “extreme,” but…

BROOM Look, I liked The Emperor’s New Groove, I liked —

ADAM The Emperor’s New Groove was full of ‘tude.

BROOM That’s what my point is.

ADAM I see.

BROOM I’m not incapable of enjoying jokes. None of the jokes in this movie made any of us in this room laugh out loud. They were all jokes that we already know. They were being done to the form, which works for kids because they can go, “I know this form! I know this!”

ADAM Eddie wouldn’t know those jokes.

BROOM I bet he would. I bet watching this he’d feel like, “I get it! Because the big guy sang a little song!” “He hit him with the frying pan!” The frying pan felt like such a story-doctored thing. “Okay, we’re going to put a wacky element in and string it all through the movie, for no reason. How about they all hit each other with frying pans?”

BETH I agree with what you’re saying. And then I’m thinking, “well, I just watched 100 minutes, which is a really long movie, without thinking ‘man, I can’t wait for this to be over,’ which is so frequently what I think when I’m watching these.” And so how do I reconcile that? I didn’t like the attitude but… the movie was pretty good!

BROOM Like I said at the beginning, I’m of two minds and I’m not sure how they’re going to work it out. The other mind is: oh, that was fine. It’s pretty. At first I thought it looked like Barbie dolls, but then I saw that no, it looks better than that. I don’t know how this is all ultimately going to land for me.

ADAM To me this is the most satisfying one since Lilo and Stitch.

BROOM Interesting.

ADAM I mean, that’s a pretty low bar, but still.

BETH This is up there for me, too. Not because I connected with anything. I just felt respect for the execution of this story.

BROOM That may be right, that it’s the most satisfying one since Lilo and Stitch, which is not inconsistent with all of my reservations about it, nonetheless. Because what else is even in the running? It’s better than Treasure Planet.

ADAM It’s better than Bolt, it’s better than Home on the Range

BROOM For me it’s not too far from Bolt. This was a little better because the story started to feel a little richer toward the end.

ADAM I thought it was distinctly better than Bolt.

BETH I liked Bolt. I think it’s better than Bolt but not significantly.

ADAM Well let’s see what A.O. Scott had to say.

BROOM Is there anything that we usually talk about that we haven’t touched on?

ADAM Sexual orientation? There is no sexual orientation in this movie – well, maybe the big guys all doing the dainty things. But that is such a hackneyed gag that it really has no —

BROOM There you go!

ADAM I mean, it is a hackneyed gag! I’m not suggesting that it’s not. That’s what I mean by Monkey Island humor.

BROOM Monkey Island is like a stick-puppet show. It’s like “we made things move on a computer! We made pixels look like people sort of! So what should we make them say? ‘Wah wah wah! Joke! Punchline!'” It’s a Punch and Judy show; of course they’re hackneyed jokes. Whereas here, it’s supposed to be this wonder-world that we lose ourselves in. So my standard is going to be higher. That’s what I mean about the fantasy landscape. Enjoying that is like losing myself in wonder. Which is definitely what they wanted me to do during the… paper towel scene, what were those?

BETH Lanterns.

BROOM It looked like a lot of rolls of paper towels. And they basically had me! I was really on the edge of being able to feel awed by that.

BETH I thought that was a lovely scene.

ADAM Yeah. That was a very effective use of the CGI.

BROOM Beth, it’s funny to me that you are saying this was so palatable to you. Because you know I’m trying not to think about your thoughts all the time. But when I was thinking, “oh, this is all hateful Broadway stuff,” the thought arose, “and you know if you hate it, Beth really hates it. She can’t stand Broadway bullshit.” But I told myself, “don’t even go there. If she’s pissy afterwards, fine.”

BETH But I surprised you.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM I agree the narration was no good. And that lame stuff at the end was just one of a hundred things they could have ended the movie with.

ADAM It’s like the ending of When Harry Met Sally. Actually, the movie reminded me as much of anything of Misery. There’s a scene at the end where the Kathy Bates character bakes him a cake to celebrate finishing his novel, and it has that same Stockholm syndrome-y sweet/horrifying quality.

BROOM Which is why I am dubious about your answer to me that, “no, they really did love each other in some sense.”

ADAM But that’s it. If they didn’t love each other in some sense, it wouldn’t be horrifying. That’s a necessary element of it being jarring.

BROOM Well, I think that’s why we say “Stockholm syndrome,” so that we don’t need to call it “love, like the love a parent has for a child in a Disney movie.” It’s horrifying at the level where even adults don’t “go there.” So I can’t really believe that this movie wanted us to go there and say “that was love, but love also sometimes consists of a witch abusing you.” I just don’t think that was here.

ADAM Well, kudos to you, Disney, for drawing inspiration from a beautiful Fragonard painting.

BROOM The Fragonard element is, I would say, faint.

ADAM Attenuated. But it is lovely. And they didn’t ruin it.

BROOM They didn’t ruin Fragonard?

ADAM Or Rapunzel. The end.

disney50-end

July 22, 2013

Disney Canon #49: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

disney49-title

ADAM It was a little too impeccable.

BROOM Visually?

ADAM In general. It was so carefully regional and carefully politically-correct-but-not-too-politically-correct. It was just careful. I thought it livened up at the end, but the first half seemed a little dead.

BROOM I felt the same way. Once it started to be about the stupid technicalities of the plot, that’s when I had something to care about. Moreso than at the beginning, when it just felt like the obligatory setup of a typical Disney story. And that’s sad. You should get to care about something more than just how the rules of the magic kiss work.

BETH I was disappointed, but I actually 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. I liked that she wasn’t striving for something imaginary.

ADAM [whispers] And she was black!

BETH That’s something that we can get into – though I don’t know if I feel like getting into it — why it is that the black lead character is the earthiest, most grounded heroine in the Disney oeuvre.

ADAM Well, is she really, or is Lilo?

BROOM That’s true. Of course she and her sister were about as “black” as they’d done before.

ADAM Truly, this is the promise of Barack Obama’s America.

BROOM No kidding! But they must have been making it before that.

ADAM Doesn’t everyone have an idealized black friend? Like, in their mind? Okay, let me refine that before you put it in your blog.

BROOM No shame, keep going.

ADAM I mean, of course, the heroine who was very stylized and rendered and characterized but not too characterized… I sort of felt this originally when we had the family in The Emperor’s New Groove and they were homey — but just a little bit off — but in a homey way. The good characters have just been getting more and more good in a focus-group way.

BROOM Don’t you feel that Pocahontas was the worst of that, and now we’ve been going the other way?

BETH What about Brother Bear?

ADAM I’m not talking about the glorious PC-ness of Pocahontas. In the 90s, you would have a commercial where there were three white dudes and their black friend, and they’d be like, “hey guys, wooo!”

BROOM “Wazzuuuup!”

ADAM Exactly, and then in the 2000s, you’d have commercials where all the friends were black, but it was just as much of a “gotcha” post-racial thing, just a little bit more subtle. To me this was that.

BROOM All right, well, I’m going to go further into offensive territory.

ADAM That’s because you have a pseudonym on this blog.

BROOM You can have a pseudonym! Starting now!

ADAM “Mike”?

BROOM How about “Dustin”?

ADAM “Laetitia.”

BROOM When I see portrayals of black characters in children’s fare like this, I have the same skepticism that Adam has, and I think it’s because I sense that…

ADAM … it’s no accident.

BROOM … that it’s medicine, condescending medicine from white people. Because it must be, because we all know that what black people would really do is feed themselves shit.

ADAM Whoa, whoa, I wasn’t going to go there.

BROOM I’m saying it’s subconsciously racist of us, that this is where our skepticism seems to comes from. I recognize myself feeling like, “I could believe that black people would make and enjoy things that denigrate black people,” but when it’s healthy and benign like this, I find myself thinking, “hm, this seems like it must be the work of condescending white liberals.” That cynicism is problematic. When I see something that seems like it would probably be perfectly good for a little black girl to watch, I tend to think, “well, this is obviously white people being presumptuous.” I’d like to get past that.

ADAM But this isn’t for little black girls, it’s for little white girls.

BROOM Well, what makes you say that? This is my point.

ADAM That’s where the “medicine” quality comes from.

BETH I think it’s for everyone, really.

ADAM Can’t we just accept Disney’s medicine? “You tried with Belle, you tried with Pocahontas, you’ve been trying for a long time.” She didn’t even have a dead mother, this time!

BROOM Don’t you see this and Mulan as different from Pocahontas? Pocahontas was not made for a Native American audience. Such people don’t exist as an audience, as far as Disney is concerned. That was purely a sanctimonious guilt trip movie, for the conquerors. But Mulan and this are intended for the Asian and black audience. In a foolish way, but still.

ADAM Oh, I think this is for the white audience that voted for Barack Obama.

BETH I think it’s for the white audience and the black audience.

BROOM Let’s look at the non-politically correct elements. The fact that the bad guy was like every pusher-man pimp stereotype…

BETH He looked like Samuel L. Jackson.

BROOM He looked like Prince to me. But the character was like Sportin’ Life, the bad guy from Porgy and Bess. An old standard negative black caricature.

ADAM But he had more heart to him than Tiana and Naveen did. They just seemed so careful that they lacked vigor.

BETH I agree.

BROOM But that’s why I’m saying they weren’t written “to show white people what black people are like.” I mean, yes, I think they thought it would work both ways, for both audiences.

BETH It wasn’t The Cosby Show.

ADAM It wasn’t as lively as The Cosby Show. Bill Cosby was very gifted at characterizing. This just felt a little wan to me. 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…

BROOM In these movies, when the Rescuers go down under, of course it’s going to be some stupid stereotyped version of Australia…

ADAM But this was even more lavish and quote-unquote “authentic” than the Rescuers’ Australia.

BROOM Yes, this was much better than that. It made New Orleans seem warm and appealing – in fact I was thinking that it might make kids want to go to Mardi Gras, and then the parents will have to say, “no, we’re not going because it’s not actually like that.”

ADAM Was this movie begun before or after Hurricane Katrina?

BETH Absolutely after. Maybe they thought it would be a boost.

ADAM A tribute.

BROOM I’d guess this idea had been kicked around for a while; New Orleans seems as promising a place to set a movie as “down under” or “the old west.” Speaking of which, for much of this movie I felt about the same as I did about Home on the Range. Until it started getting sort of moral at the end. As for the racial aspect, I guess I was relating it to that George Lucas movie…

BETH The one about the Tuskegee airmen.

BROOM Red Wings? [ed.: Red Tails]

ADAM The one that was sunk by its piety?

BROOM The movie he made, he George Lucas, to help black culture. He who is now married to a rich black woman. I don’t know if that qualifies him as a princess…

ADAM Who’s he married to?

BROOM Some successful black businesswoman from Chicago.

ADAM Oprah?

BROOM It’s not Oprah. You can look her up. Anyway, that he made this movie essentially from a condescending white person’s point of view, but a well-meaning one, and I felt like there was the same kind of queasy well-meaningness here. And we ask, “well, why should Disney deserve to be well-meaning?” At first I had the same skepticism that you had: “Oh sure, a beautiful black family that has no characteristics.” Other than that they love each other.

ADAM And are hardworking.

BROOM Hardworking, serious people who happen to be poorer than their extremely spoiled white friends.

BETH But they love life, they love people, they love food…

ADAM But that white girl…

BETH Honey Boo Boo.

ADAM She was spoiled but she had a good heart too. In some ways she was a more interesting character, because she wasn’t Anastasia and Drizella.

BETH She wasn’t a wicked stepsister; she was bratty but loving.

BROOM She was obviously totally spoiled, and they weren’t going to moralize about it.

ADAM And I also liked the voodoo man. He was different from other Disney villains in a way that was interesting. And I kind of liked the slapstick-y ethnic-caricature Cajuns, who remind me of the slapstick-y ethnic-caricature Irish types of sixty years ago.

BROOM The bad guy assistant to the prince was more like one of those characters. He was the same guy who brings the kids to Pleasure Island.

ADAM No, he was an exact replica of someone more recent than that.

BETH He was like someone from Cinderella.

ADAM He had the same voice and the same look as… someone from Aladdin, maybe. That exact character was in one of them, recently, down to the buck teeth. I’ll have to think about it.

BROOM Well, when you read your own words, maybe you’ll think of it. Anyway, I do think there was something interesting about where the movie went when it came time for a moral. Because Tiana kept saying “I’m hardworking; you can’t just wish for things.” And then the lesson was kinda, like…

BETH “No!”

ADAM “You can just wish for things!”

BROOM … “Maybe you should dream a little.”

ADAM Lighten up a little bit!

BETH Relax!

BROOM The spoiled girl and the spoiled guy are both good-guy characters. This is not going to be a movie about how you have to work all the time. The star that he thinks is a firefly is not a firefly, and you are not doing him any good by telling him that. He is happier than you.

ADAM Couldn’t they have waited one year until the following Mardi Gras, when presumably that same girl was going to be the princess again?

BROOM Or couldn’t he have gone to find another princess? His parents probably know some princesses. They might have cut him off, but if he writes home to say “I’ve been turned into a frog; can you get me a princess?” they probably would want to help.

BETH I don’t think he can write, because he’s a frog.

BROOM You got me there.

ADAM Do you think we can find an angry commentator saying that Mama Odie is a magical negro character in a way that is deeply problematic?

BETH Yeah, sure we can find one!

BROOM The whole movie was a magical negro. I mean, she provided her services to other magical negroes; they help each other out.

ADAM Was Naveen black? Or was he just foreign?

BROOM He was of mixed and/or vague race. Which is to say he was from Maldonia.

BETH I don’t think he was “black.”

BROOM I think he was North African slash Mediterranean.

ADAM Well, that was super-progressive of Daddy LeBouff in 1912.

BETH I would say 1920.

ADAM The newspaper splash was “Wilson Elected,” at the very beginning.

BROOM And then she ages.

ADAM Oh, right. So it’s like 1923. Well, that was very progressive of Daddy LeBouff in the 20s.

BETH To even patronize the black establishment.

BROOM To go to her restaurant at the end?

BETH No, at the beginning. He went into the diner. Everyone there was black except for him.

ADAM Well, he just liked the beignets.

BROOM Is it true that New Orleans has always been a little more progressive and mixed? Isn’t part of the point of setting this in New Orleans that black people were genuinely less marginalized there than in other parts of the country?

ADAM The stereotype has always been that in the south, they would “let you get close, but not let you get high,” and in the north it was the other way around; there was no social intimacy with blacks but there were fewer impediments to their success.

BROOM I thought New Orleans was a little pocket with a slightly different racial culture.

ADAM Did this remind you of True Blood?

BROOM I’ve never watched True Blood. It reminded me of The Secret of Monkey Island.

ADAM That voodoo was super-scary!

BROOM Way too scary. When his face changed into a skull-clown during his song… I love it, now, as a grown-up, I find that kind of thing exciting. But way too scary.

BETH I was thinking minimum age 12.

ADAM When he gets dragged to hell in the cemetery? That’s scary!

BROOM Well, he did owe some kind of debt to Papa Legba or whoever. Going back to Mama Odie. I thought her hideousness was interesting, interesting that they had gone there. She reminded me of the dwarf-y old lady who comes to save the house in Poltergeist

ADAM He was the Mad Hatter! Sorry, but, of course! He was the Mad Hatter.

BROOM I don’t know about that. But at least you found what you wanted to say.

BETH Mama Odie looked to me like the witch from Snow White.

BROOM Really? The craggy “here’s an apple” witch?

BETH Yeah, but much more saggy.

BROOM She looked like her skin was falling down, a droopy falling-apart face.

BETH I thought it was calling back to that a little bit. Just sayin’! All right, I guess we’re all inaccurate.

BROOM So the moral was in her song, which is 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.

BETH I liked that moral.

BROOM It’s a complicated moral, because these movies are all about what you want!

BETH I thought, “what is a kid supposed to make of that song?” Tiana says, “I just need to work harder and get my restaurant,” and Mama Odie is like, “God, no! You don’t understand!” As a kid I would be really confused by that.

BROOM I think a kid would understand it, and not be puzzled the way you are now, because they wouldn’t be looking for a moral. I think as a kid the takeaway would have been clear to me. Tiana’s nice and all, and her commitment to work is obviously good for her, but: she’s never danced!? She doesn’t know love!? She needs to be happier! And we all know that. I appreciated that they trusted kids to get it. On the other hand it is confusing because all the other movies that resemble this don’t say the same thing. They say that “what you want” is your storyline.

ADAM [singing] “I wanna know…”

BROOM And also: she still got her damn restaurant at the end.

ADAM That’s true, she did.

BROOM The ending seems to be that they have to settle for just being frogs and being happy, and getting married in the woods, but then of course by magic it all works out that they get what they want too and that’s the real ending. It’s a complicated problem. Because if it had ended with them staying frogs, like Brother Bear, I would have found that totally annoying.

ADAM Where did they get all the money for the wedding?

BROOM The wedding in the woods?

ADAM No, the second, fancy wedding, with the carriage.

BROOM That we saw suggested during the credits?

ADAM I guess the parents came over, so maybe they just sprang for it. But do you think the parents were satisfied being served by their son, the prince, as a waiter in a restaurant?

BROOM He was a “featured dancer,” I would say. And ukelele player.

BETH I thought the backgrounds were gorgeous.

BROOM Yeah, that’s really what I got out of it. A kid watching this would get atmosphere out of it, and sure, so did I. I thought it was redundant with a lot of other movies. I know I’m saying the message was a little unusual, but otherwise it seemed to be copying a lot of things from other movies outright.

BETH Don’t you think it was winking homage, a lot of the time?

ADAM They had Cinderella’s carriage in the first shot.

BETH And they had Cinderella’s dance shot.

BROOM I mean, the whole Cinderella thing happened… I was kind of bored in the first half because it was so thorough in being familiar.

ADAM 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.

BROOM Not for the rules of the magic. Though I don’t think voodoo really cares about princes and princesses. I liked the scary voodoo gods.

ADAM The shadows? They were terrifying.

BROOM Straight out of Fantasia.

ADAM I liked that they pulled Naveen by grabbing his shadow.

BROOM You know, it was fun! I didn’t mind it so much.

BETH I didn’t really like it! But good for you!

BROOM It didn’t really work. But I’ve been teaching myself to watch them the way a kid who enjoys them watches them. And as I get closer to that, it gets simpler. “Was this a picture book?” Sure. 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.

ADAM It had the nourishing attention-to-detail of American Girl Place.

BROOM There was an American Girl quality to it.

ADAM Which is not actually satisfying, because it’s too careful.

BETH I’ve had easier times getting into the past couple movies, I think because the heroes were male. And 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.”

BROOM You have higher standards for the ones with female characters.

BETH I guess it’s just that since I invested part of myself in it, I wasn’t able to watch it the way that you were just describing.

ADAM And then you were like, “All you’re good at is cooking? Why can’t you do archery? Lean in, girl!”

BROOM That’s how everything was for me for a long time. When I read Proust in college, I thought, “this is amazing because it reminds me of thoughts I’ve had, about life!” because that was one of the first times that I’d had that experience. Prior to that, I took almost all movies with the attitude of, “Obviously none of these people is like me! That’s absurd! Of course not! Of course I’m not ‘invested’ in this! I’m watching a movie!” And I think that a lot of the offense that one can take against a Disney movie is some form of “what about me? And what about reality?” Well, guess what! It doesn’t work that way.

BETH I know! But because my initial thoughts were, “Oh, this is so much more about reality than usual!” I was let down by where it went.

ADAM Well, you’ll be pleased to know the next one is about a struggling web designer. It’s mostly about font choice, actually.

BETH Great!

BROOM It’s called Lilo and Beth. Songs? Randy Newman? Thoughts?

ADAM They were good. True to form, but they totally worked.

BETH They didn’t jar.

ADAM I did not feel jolted out of the action.

BROOM I thought the first song was the weakest, and that hurt my impression of the movie. “Almost There.” That’s not a very specific hook.

ADAM Was that the first one? Wasn’t there a “New Orleans” one before that?

BROOM Oh, that’s right, that weird montage of all the characters that we didn’t know yet. At the end, you said, “That was super-complicated!” And it was. Now, in retrospect, I understand that we saw the Shadow Man eyeing John Goodman because he had a plan to kill him and take over the town. But I didn’t follow that at the time.

ADAM Well, it wasn’t a very good plan.

BROOM Now we’re going to institute a new feature that I call “Predict the New York Times Review.”

ADAM I think the New York Times review is gonna be just like what we said. It will be generally praising but a little bit eye-rolling.

BETH I think it’s going to be 80 percent positive.

BROOM I think it’s going to be very positive, because this was the return to traditional animation after they said they were never going to do that again.

BETH It was super-lush. I thought the colors were wonderful. I enjoyed looking at it.

ADAM It was very pretty.

BROOM So I think it’s going to say that it’s great that they’re doing this again.

[we read the review]

BETH Ooh! That was harsh.

ADAM That was a little more cynical than even I felt.

BROOM Boy, I got that wrong.

BETH We all did.

ADAM I mean, it does feel focus-grouped. I think you will be satisfied when you see the next one that it feels a little bit fresher than this.

BETH So this is really just four years ago.

ADAM This is the year that Barack Obama was inaugurated. It was a different time. More hopeful.

BROOM [reads from this article about objections raised before the movie’s release, up to this paragraph:

“Disney obviously doesn’t think a black man is worthy of the title of prince,” Angela Bronner Helm wrote March 19 on the site. “His hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking their head in befuddlement and even rage.”

]

ADAM Well, in fairness, she has a point. What if the guy had been tall and nappy-headed? It would have been a slightly different affect.

BROOM I don’t think you can make a legitimate point by saying, “This character is not black so clearly Disney doesn’t believe that a prince can be black.” That’s not reasonable.

BETH I guess if you’re following the argument that everything in this movie is focus-grouped, then it is reasonable.

ADAM I mean, she does have very straight hair.

BROOM We have these phony conversations. At any time, any interest group can stand up and say, “well, Disney hasn’t yet made a movie with Palestinians in it who are just ordinary characters. They obviously don’t think Palestinians deserve to be a prince and a princess.”

ADAM Come on, come on! Disney obviously was willing to reap the PR benefit of having the “first black princess.” And then the first black princess looks like a white girl with some black, sort of —

BETH I don’t think so!

BROOM She didn’t!

ADAM She has very straight hair, and very Anglo features.

BETH I don’t think her features are very Anglo.

BROOM I think her features were convincing as —

ADAM Well, she doesn’t look like Precious.

BETH Should she??

ADAM Well, you know what I mean.

BROOM I don’t know what you mean!

BETH On the subway ride home tonight, you’re going to see a lot of black women with beautiful features and straight hair.

ADAM Okay, but fast-forward four years to the debate about Brave. Where in the movie version of the character, the girl has this frizzy red hair, and then they lost heart and made her thinner and have straight hair, particularly in the action figurines. I mean, this stuff matters! And if you’re gonna try to get points for progressivism, you deserve to be faulted for things like this.

BROOM It matters in a game, exactly, of point-giving. Here’s something else from this article:

Donna Farmer, a Los Angeles Web designer who is African-American and has two children, applauded Disney’s efforts to add diversity.

“I don’t know how important having a black princess is to little girls — my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that — but I think it’s important to moms,” she said.

BROOM cont. That’s right! It’s always all to save the children, the children, the poor little children. And then of course Disney wants to show that they’re good guys, they want people to think of them as good guys… How do you feel about the proposal that Ender’s Game the movie be boycotted because Orson Scott Card has written articles against homosexuality? Does that make sense to you?

ADAM I haven’t really followed it, I don’t know the details.

BROOM Someone posted on Facebook today linking to an opinion piece arguing that boycotting Ender’s Game is not a good response to Orson Scott Card’s homophobia — and it got this thread of furious Facebook responses: “This is bullshit!” “This guy should think before he writes.” All this anger because they’re so excited to boycott a movie.

ADAM This is a debate that goes back T.S. Eliot…

BROOM What’s the T.S. Eliot connection?

ADAM He was a raging anti-Semite. Should we not read T.S. Eliot? But this is a different question. This is not about “who is the shadowy creator behind this?” This is about “what are the images that are being put forward for public consumption, and being valorized as somehow a step forward?” So, okay, yes, she’s black, but she’s also wasp-waisted and super Anglo-looking! It just strikes me that it’s, you know, two steps forward, one step back. I get where people are coming from with a comment like that.

BROOM All right. Well, I can get where people are coming from and still think that they’re wrong. The question is whether there is such a thing as “forward.” I think that a lot of this rhetoric is falsified. And when you say it’s not about the shadowy creator, well, the quote in the article about “Disney clearly doesn’t think a black man can be a prince” — that is about a shadowy creator, an imagined enemy figure.

ADAM All right, let me say something different, which is that if we’re trying to score these in terms of progressivism, which maybe is a dubious —

BROOM Okay, but before you finish that: are you? Do you want to score things in terms of progressivism?

ADAM I’m saying, to the extent that that’s the game that we’re being invited to play, and clearly that’s the game that Disney wanted us to play, because that’s how they were building buzz for the movie, I think Lilo and Stitch is a much more quote-“progressive” movie than this is. And a much more radical departure from their normal mode.

BETH Yes. That was a radical movie.

ADAM Lilo and Stitch was a crazy, cool movie, and it’s a shame that it’s not more prominent. In retrospect it seems much more appealing to me than it did before.

BROOM Would you agree with this?: that anyone who says “Give us points for being progressive!”, it hardly matters what they’re doing — they’re not being progressive.

ADAM Well… no. Because sometimes, whatever token thing you’re doing is valuable. If there were a movie about, like, gay princes who had a relationship, I would be super-tickled, no matter how horrible the movie was in other ways. Even if they were body-dysmorphic, and white, and gender-conformist.

BETH But don’t you know people who actually look like that in real life? Why are they supposed to make a character who is not appealing? It seems like what you’re saying is, “Let’s make her look like Precious because that’s real.” But what’s real is everything.

ADAM But they’re inviting us to pat them on the back, so we might as well —

BROOM Well, they’re inviting us to pay them money. And the fact that we want to pat ourselves on the back for boycotting the bad guys and doing business with the good guys is a game that we buy into, that we create. Yes, of course, if I had to go into kids’ entertainment, and they told me, “you know, the moms will be up in arms unless you do this!” Then, sure, I’ll do that. That’s not the same as being proud of myself first and then begging you to love me.

ADAM Well, okay, let me a different proposition, which is that if Disney films did not have totemic cultural power, we wouldn’t be doing this exercise in the first place. For better or worse, their actions are scrutinized. When they replace a fat woman chasing a pirate with a fat woman chasing a pirate holding a pie, we’re entitled to ask, “is that really a legitimate change?” And that’s sort of what they’re doing here. They’re inviting us to consider this in explicitly political terms. And so it’s only fair to take them up on that invitation.

BROOM Okay, but you sort of made a lateral move there. They have totemic power as what they are, which is things for kids to watch. And the mode in which kids watch them is not evaluative, it’s just receptive. Which is why it’s powerful. But then there’s a separate thing, which is the adults looking in critically on the choices. Curriculum review. “Oh-ho, I see you’ve got in your curriculum that you’re going to read Cry, The Beloved Country.” The kids who actually read it have a basically innocent experience. I think sometimes we predict what it’s going to do them and we get it wrong. When an administrative decision is made, that’s an entirely different thing from the actual power the product ends up having. So I think that a lot of the conversation about what power these things have is phony, on both sides —

ADAM I would like to know how my nephews react to this movie.

BROOM You’ll find out.

ADAM I’ll find out. It would not surprise me to find that Eddie had a Tiana doll. I don’t know that I need to carry this torch all night. I mean, I don’t know how committed I am to this position, but that is, I think, the rejoinder to what you’re saying.

BROOM All right. Three to go.

disney49-end

May 13, 2013

Disney Canon #48: Bolt (2008)

disney48-title

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.”

BROOM I’ve never seen Milo and Otis.

ADAM All right, The Incredible Journey, if you prefer.

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.

ADAM It was, in fact, contemporary with this project, wasn’t it?

BROOM That’s right, I believe this was the first one that came out while we were doing this project. This is the first one that we talked about how in some crazy distant future we’d watch it. And this is the crazy distant future, because that was five years ago.

ADAM Although very little has changed.

BROOM In any respect, personal or national.

ADAM Well, no, Barack Obama is president.

BROOM That’s right, that hadn’t quite happened yet.

ADAM That’s a big deal. Okay, so, Bolt. I thought this was basically sympathetic and pleasurable to watch.

BETH I agree.

BROOM Yeah. But you have to get acclimated to what type of movie you’re watching. I feel like I have all these different slots, and the experience of watching these is always “so which kind of thing is this? Okay, and is it a good one of those?” This was in the “post-Toy Story” category.

ADAM It was like watching Buzz Lightyear in his Buzz Lightyear mode for an hour and a half.

BROOM Disney established a thing with Snow White, and then made that for a little while, and then they had to sort of establish a new thing, and made that for a little while. And it feels like a thing was established with Toy Story and we’re still doing it. And that was twenty years ago, now! Most animated movies now still feel like Toy Story, to me.

ADAM Yeah, this certainly did. This felt like it had a lot of animator in-joking in it.

BETH That stuff didn’t bother me.

ADAM There was all that hyper-verisimilitude in recreating the backdrops, which was sort of unnecessary.

BETH But I understand why that’s satisfying.

ADAM To them.

BETH And to me, to see them do it so well.

ADAM But doesn’t it take you out of the movie a little bit?

BETH A little bit.

BROOM No – I thought part of what this movie showed us was America now, and I like anything that makes America now look like a fun place to be. I appreciate that. Because I need all the help I can get.

BETH There could be waffle houses everywhere!

BROOM Well, the waffle house was different; the decor was sixties mix-and-match, like the end credits. But there were some things that were definitely the present day. Like the TV show “Bolt,” surely the most expensive TV show ever produced.

BETH It was basically The Fast and the Furious, but with a dog.

BROOM As a weekly TV show.

ADAM So at the beginning, [Broom] and I knew that it was about a dog that thinks it’s a superhero, but Beth, you appeared to actually think it was about a dog that is a superhero — what was your initial reaction?

BETH I was like, “This is like The Fast and the Furious! How strange that they have decided to go this direction. And also amusing because they seem to be winking about it.” I truly didn’t know what was coming. I would have accepted that. But it turned out to be The Truman Show.

BROOM I thought the very first scene in the pet store was awful…

ADAM It was just like the very first scene of Meet the Robinsons.

BROOM … and when they went into the TV show, I thought, “I see, it was supposed to be overly sappy because it was his origin story on this over-the-top TV show.” But in retrospect I don’t think that’s what it was. I think that scene just kind of sucked, and the rest of the movie seemed sharper than that. But… there are a lot of habits and mannerisms in comedy these days…

ADAM Like the hamster.

BROOM Right. I knew it couldn’t be Patton Oswalt because Ratatouille already got him. So it was just fake Patton Oswalt.

ADAM Let’s go back to your “America now,” because all that Copland-ism on the soundtrack seemed to me to be really hammering that home. And of course they did undertake a journey by U-Haul and truck from New York to Los Angeles.

BETH There were a lot of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure references in this too.

BROOM References? Or just similarities?

BETH Well, probably just similarities, but there were a couple of gags that I think were made with the knowledge of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Like when the pigeons are talking and the truck appears right behind them, it’s exactly like when the bike appears.

ADAM There were a lot of gags from a lot of things, in this.

BETH It was referential but in a smart, non-annoying way.

BROOM I don’t know if those things are referential or just borrowed. Also, the impression one gets watching Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is that the whole structure of it is borrowed. That “someone who has to travel the entire United States searching for something” is already a tired old movie concept.

BETH What old movie?

BROOM I don’t know, but it seems like the point is that it’s standard fare. National Lampoon’s Vacation has the same attitude. There are a lot of these road trip movies.

ADAM There were a lot of bits in here that I also couldn’t decide if they were homage or borrowed. All the Hollywood stuff is obviously borrowed.

BROOM I actually liked the New York pigeons here, I thought they were well done, and I especially liked it when there were L.A. pigeons at the other end of the stereotype. I enjoyed it much more than I usually enjoy that very old bit.

ADAM What, animals having regional accents?

BROOM Yeah: “Welcome ta New Yawk! In New Yawk even da pigeons tawk like dis!”

ADAM Does that happen in… what am I thinking of?

BROOM Oliver & Company?

ADAM Like, Madagascar: Lost In New York?

BROOM Yeah, everything.

ADAM That’s a real movie?

BROOM That’s a combination of several things.

ADAM I’m thinking of Home Alone.

BROOM Pig in the City.

ADAM So what do you think this says about America now?

BROOM I think it just embraces it. I note that we saw some people in New York, but they just looked like “people,” and then we saw some people at an RV stop in Ohio, and they just looked like “people.” There was no impression of class or substantial differences.

ADAM People are pretty decent. Except for agents and network executives.

BROOM Even the agent. There really was no bad guy in this movie, was there?

ADAM Folly.

BROOM Hollywood.

ADAM The agent was as close as it got to a bad guy, and he wasn’t a real bad guy, as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t get a real bad guy sendoff.

BROOM He got booted. He didn’t, like, fall off a cliff screaming.

ADAM I’m grateful that he wasn’t super-Jewy.

BROOM I took him to be…

BETH He looked like…

BROOM I can’t think of his name. I want to see if we’re thinking of the same thing.

BETH I bet we’re not. I’m thinking of… Malcolm Gets.

BROOM No, I thought he was supposed to be the guy from the fashion reality show.

BETH Tim Gunn! I didn’t see him as Tim Gunn.

ADAM A little bit! I was afraid he was going to be the Hades character from Hercules, and he wasn’t that. Or, like, the bird from Aladdin. You know, a sort of grating Jew. That’s the obvious way to take this. And this was like a gratingly sincere —

BROOM He wasn’t sincere! I liked the line about “I’ve got a beautiful girl at home and I’d trade her for you in a second.”

ADAM Sincere’s not what I meant to say.

BROOM I think what you meant to say was “insincere.”

ADAM Don’t cut me off! I thought the whole 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. I think you’ll find, when we get to Tangled, that the stage mother character is also a familiar stereotype refreshingly executed.

BROOM This woman wasn’t a stage mother. She was just, like, Edie McClurg.

ADAM She didn’t have a backbone until the end, but she had a basic goodness.

BETH I feel like they made her into sort of a southern doting mother who’s always around.

BROOM That’s not a “stage mother.”

ADAM She didn’t stand up to venality until the end. Everyone was redeemed by that horrible fire. Except for the studio.

BETH I’m surprised that the show continued to be produced.

BROOM Strangely, this movie was ambivalent about whether that man in the chair was her father. I mean, apparently he wasn’t. But she didn’t have a father. They’re like, “her father got kidnapped!” but later we find out that’s not her father. She just doesn’t have a father.

ADAM Wait, when did we find out that wasn’t her father?

BROOM Well, when we find it out it’s a TV show, there’s no reason for it to be her father.

ADAM Okay. The Penny character has a father back home.

BROOM Except that she doesn’t.

ADAM Bolt doesn’t have any parents.

BROOM You know, this movie is based on something that actually happened to John Travolta.

ADAM I liked the cat. The cat felt like a slightly better version of the Rosie O’Donnell cow.

BETH I agree.

BROOM Who is Susie Essman? I know that name. Is she the woman on Curb Your Enthusiasm? [ed. Yes.]

ADAM I thought Bolt got over the trauma of his whole life not being what he thought it was pretty quickly!

BROOM Because he’s seen Toy Story where exactly the same thing happens, so it’s easier for him. Yeah, it was interesting where the emotional beats were. In a way, the biggest one was just on driving across America, and being yourself. Accepting that if you’re a dog, you should enjoy the pleasures of being a dog and not the pleasures of being a superhero.

BETH That seemed like the core.

ADAM It’s depressing.

BROOM No it isn’t! When he puts his head out the window, you didn’t think that was right?

BETH That’s the moment that I will remember from this movie.

ADAM Wallow in your mediocrity!

BROOM What do you mean, mediocrity?

BETH No! The simple pleasures of life. Like the fireplace, when she says “it doesn’t get any better than this.”

BROOM Real life! She points at the poster and asks, “Does that look real? Does that look real to you?” I endorse that. And also, for all that it’s kind of old business at this point, I enjoyed that the nerd who’s totally gone into Don Quixote make-believe is also the one who can give the pep talk about believing in yourself because you are awesome.

ADAM It’s like Rudy.

BROOM I’ve never seen Rudy.

ADAM You know, the mental invalid of the group is actually the spiritual core. I mean, all of the emotional beats in this movie were just business ripped from other things.

BROOM Yeah, it 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 beats; we promise not to embarrass you too much with them. Unlike, for example, Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler, the preview for which we saw on this disc, where you know that when the tear beat comes, it would be unbearable. But it’s the same basic package.

ADAM But neither is it, like, Mufasa holding Simba to the heavens.

BROOM That’s true. That was an attempt to be primal.

ADAM But they’ve continued to alternate, recently.

BROOM What’s the most recent one that had any kind of weight?

ADAM Brother Bear.

BROOM You’re right. They just fucked it up, but that’s right. Brother Bear did attempt to be about the meaning of life, but it was just so stupid.

ADAM And then Home on the Range was this. And Chicken Little was this.

BETH I have to say, I was touched by parts of Meet the Robinsons.

BROOM But it’s still in this category.

BETH Yeah, it’s still this.

ADAM Epic vs. picaresque. That’s not quite the right division but you know what I mean. There was no “Circle of Life” here. Just the simple pleasure of sticking your head out the window.

BROOM And there’s another type, the Little Mermaid type. That’s not really about the circle of life — maybe a little, it’s about coming of age — but mostly it’s about the emotional heft of the story. The emotions are what’s going to get you through. Not all the bits.

BETH Even Little Mermaid was a bunch of bits, though. Or at least a bunch of showtunes.

BROOM I feel like when you go that Broadway place, it’s about feeling invested in “will she get what she wants?” Whereas here — I mean, it’s John Travolta, who’s gonna care?

ADAM The whole point of a fairy tale is of course that it’s derivative to the point of being runic. The fact that it’s so predictable is because it hearkens back to something deeper and older than ourselves. There’s a comfort and a sort of dignity in that. Whereas something like, Bolt galloping into Penny’s arms — though I guess it turns out that she’s really opening her arms for some other dog, but even that rug-pull is old. But whatever, at least they didn’t fuck it up. I wonder why Madeline wanted me to buy this for Ed? She put it on his Christmas list.

BROOM It’s basically harmless, except that it shows intense action from other movies at the beginning, and so implies that you can watch those movies too.

ADAM You don’t think it creates a world-weariness about Hollywood? Would you let your child watch The Player?

BROOM Did you think that, like, Porky in Hollywood or whatever created a world-weariness about Hollywood? I saw a lot of that stuff as a kid and it didn’t mess me up.

ADAM Or The Muppet Movie.

BROOM “Prepare the standard ‘rich and famous’ contract for Kermit the Frog.”

BETH At the beginning, before I knew what was going on, I was surprised that Disney was apparently showing people killed. Then I thought, “no, I see, the guys in the car crash are still conscious.” But I was still trying to process what that meant.

BROOM Yeah, what’s the last death that we saw in one of these movies?

ADAM Don’t we assume that, like, Ursula dies?

BROOM Yes, and that was twenty years ago.

ADAM Well, in Brother Bear they go into the afterlife.

BROOM Oh yeah, that’s right, the brother dies.

ADAM You guys keep forgetting that Brother Bear exists.

BROOM It’s hard to remember.

ADAM What did you guys think of the music? What did you think of the Miley Cyrus musical intrusion in the middle?

BETH I did not appreciate it.

ADAM It’s not a bad song though.

BROOM I smirked for a while and then just rolled with it, which is my attitude toward all of these.

BETH Sure, it was fine, I just think that’s a bad idea in general.

BROOM You know, five years ago at the beginning of this project, part of my agenda for myself was that I wasn’t going to let my standards slip. But.

ADAM They have.

BETH You have to take everything on its own terms.

ADAM Trophies for everyone!

BROOM You just have to decide what you’re doing, every day. I want my standards not to have slipped. The question is, how do you disapprove of something without being angry at it? Because I don’t feel angry at these people or this movie.

BETH It’s just being mildly disappointed.

BROOM In the world.

BETH In culture. It’s very reflective of what culture is, right now.

ADAM It’s a shame that we don’t have the Pixar movies in this journey. Is Ratatouille worse than Bambi? No.

BROOM I believe it to be.

ADAM Really?

BETH He’s not a fan of Ratatouille.

BROOM I’m very aware of the formulaic-ness of these movies. While the formula is not an insulting one, it is also a distancing one. It’s safe because it’s not unsafe; it doesn’t risk things in a way that would make that experience significant. This movie didn’t risk anything, and we didn’t have to risk anything emotionally while we were watching it.

ADAM You feel like in Bambi you do? I guess when the mother dies that’s pretty bad.

BROOM Yeah, it’s terrible. You feel imperiled in those early Disney movies. But, now, let me reflect: is it just that those remind me of being a child?

BETH It’s hard to know.

ADAM Let’s ask Ed!

BROOM There’s something so worldly about the style of these recent movies. The camera style, the references, everything.

ADAM That’s what I mean about joking about agents and Paramount studios.

BROOM Remember when in The Jungle Book and The Sword in the Stone they started to have a couple of “it’s the 60s, mom!” references, and we were so embarrassed for them.

ADAM The Beatles vultures.

BROOM And television at the end of Sword in the Stone. Just a couple of little moments that said “yeah, we know where it’s at!” And our response was “Oh, please don’t know where it’s at!”

BETH But when I was a kid, I felt adult watching The Sword in the Stone, because I thought, “I get that!”

BROOM You were being pandered to.

BETH I apparently was.

ADAM I don’t know. Worldliness is very pleasurable. Whereas sincere emotion is childish.

BROOM FUCK YOU!

ADAM And as a child, it’s pleasurable to be aspiring to worldliness.

BROOM I wasn’t drawn to that, as a child.

BETH I totally was.

BROOM I would have disliked both of you, then.

ADAM But [Broom], you’re a wounded bird!

BROOM I’m wounded by everyone else’s need to seem worldly. And now I’m fighting back against it. And I think that an animated movie is one of the few things that used to endorse that there are in fact simple things in life.

ADAM Oh, you should have seen this amazing apartment I saw today; it has a dog spa!

BROOM Does it?

ADAM No. My own building has a dog spa. You can leave that out.

BETH Don’t leave it out.

ADAM Even when Aaron Copland is being used hackishly, it still thrills me. Just those kinds of chords make my heart sit up a little straighter.

BETH “Thrills” is strong, but I agree. If you have to rip off a musical style, that’s the one to rip off.

BROOM It means that you’re in America.

BETH It’s nice! It feels hearty. Unlike, you know, every commercial that’s made now, where the music is Philip Glass style.

BROOM Really, Thomas Newman, in the post-American Beauty genre.

BETH This music feels like it comes from a real emotional place, even if it doesn’t.

BROOM I guess what I’m saying is, when we see that montage of America in this movie, and we see a beautiful vista, and a guy playing with his dog, and a windmill, and it’s clearly “the part when you think about beauty,” I, in my wounded bird way, think, “couldn’t there have been a whole movie that was this nice?” Why did we have to earn this moment by crawling through all this commercialism?

BETH Because 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.

ADAM I think actually we should buy [Broom] some Veggie Tales.

BROOM That’ll set me straight. I think Toy Story is actually a more important movie than people might give it credit for. Not just in establishing what you can do with computers, but in establishing a particular attitude toward commercial culture. It’s based on all these plastic products of mass production, and invests them with everything a kid invests them with, and makes them live. And that’s why people love that movie, because it doesn’t feel dirty, it doesn’t feel like a Happy Meal. It just feels like this the real value of toys. And I actually feel sickened now when I see that there are actual Buzz Lightyear toys, because the point was that he represented things that in their actuality would actually be much more offensive than this fully embodied character they created. And I feel like a lot of the drip-down influence of Toy Story, in Pixar movies but especially in things like this that are at one more remove, sort of misses some of the point, which is that there’s all this tawdry stuff in America that people invest with meaning and make real for themselves.

ADAM That’s what I was saying about real estate earlier.

BROOM But it’s different! It’s different when it’s mass culture that’s imposed on you than when it’s a thing that you picked to identify yourself. When you flip on the TV and there’s all this shit there, you don’t say, “this is my TV.”

BETH And you’re calling toys part of “mass culture”?

BROOM Yeah. I feel like kids are the victims of toys, in a lot of ways. They see the commercial and then they want it. They’re not defining themselves as much as just seeking out the thing they’ve been made to lust after.

BETH Right, but once you have the toy, and I thought this is what Toy Story was about, you do infuse it with yourself, and then it turns into something completely different from a mass-produced object. Now it’s you, now it’s part of your world.

ADAM Right.

BROOM Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. And Adam, I know that’s what you were saying about apartments, but I feel like if the initial impetus is “well, I’m going to define myself with this, I’m going pick the thing that represents me,” that’s not how kids pick toys. They just get toys because they think they’re awesome.

ADAM That’s because you find children more sympathetic than grown-ups.

BROOM Well, kids don’t attempt to define themselves with their purchases, and adults do all the time. Maybe kids do now. But that’s not why I wanted toys. I wanted them because, you know, “you run, you slide, you hit the bump and take a dive” – that looks awesome! I never thought, “You know what’s a really [Broomlet] type thing to have? That. And when people see that I have it…”

BETH Have you ever had the thought, “That’s a really [Broomlet] type thing to have”?

BROOM Well, recently, in the search for self. And I’m disgusted by that thought. That’s not how you find yourself. But when I was a kid — I mean, sometimes I’d find a book at the store and think, “I didn’t know this existed but obviously I need to get it because it’s the kind of thing I of course will get.” But that’s a little different from thinking “this fits my portfolio to a T!” I’m pretty far afield here.

ADAM Are you going to put all this stuff in? This is going to be the longest entry ever.

BROOM It’s probably not, unfortunately. I usually talk even more than this.

ADAM Let’s read the New York Times review.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM I just want to remind us that in One Hundred and One Dalmatians they watch a heroic dog TV show where the dog is called Thunderbolt. I thought maybe there’d be a back-reference here that would clarify whether that was where this idea came from. And there was not.

ADAM Maybe they didn’t even know about it.

BETH So A.O. Scott wrote the review of Meet the Robinsons as well, I believe.

BROOM Which was negative.

BETH It was incredibly negative, and suggested that Disney was basically finished. But here he didn’t make any reference to that, or to Disney at all.

ADAM He’s right about the pigeons. I thought it was extremely funny every time the pigeons moved.

BROOM That was actual creative animation.

ADAM It really made them much funnier, when their heads would twist sideways.

BETH It was a really good looking movie.

BROOM I thought Bolt himself was the least good looking thing in it. He looked okay. The whole movie was just fine as one of these things. And maybe the next movie, or the one after that, will say, “they don’t have to be these things anymore! Our standards can go up!”

ADAM I doubt it.

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