La La Land (2016)

Hollywood has made yet another movie about Hollywood! It’s also about compromises, almosts, and might-have-beens; strangely, this Hollywood movie doesn’t quite have a happy Hollywood ending. Worth watching unless you’re one of those people who can’t abide musicals.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/la-la-land/id1179249419

Frozen (2013)

Oh, where to start. I’m stuck. I am, as it were, frozen.

Right. Well, when all else fails, go back to the beginning.

Frozen, like The Little Mermaid, is a Disney adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story. As a child I watched the low-budget Faerie Tale Theatre Snow Queen, which is a lot closer to the Andersen story. The Disney version of the tale has some stunning visuals and one good song, but—for reasons having nothing to do with other versions—I think its story is deeply flawed.

Though some say it’s a story about the problematic relationship between two sisters, I’d say Frozen is one girl’s coming-of-age tale or rite-of-passage story. Rite-of-passage stories have a life problem, a wrong way of addressing it, and a moment of acceptance. Anna’s problem is her sister’s unwillingness to face the world. Anna spends the whole movie wrongly acting as if she can soothe her sister’s fear, and totally fails because Elsa has to master her fear herself. Anna grows up when she accepts her sister as-is. Seems simple, right? Disney went and made it all complicated.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/frozen/id741238771

See below for more on why I thought Frozen was disappointing, including a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Frozen (2013)

Thumbelina (1994)

“Let’s get out of this stinking weather before we’re statistics. I can’t even feel anything in my feelers anymore.”

That’s a brilliant pun. It’s the best line of dialog in the whole movie, and like all the best lines in Thumbelina, it belongs to the beetle, who sounds like Iago in Disney’s Aladdin. (Both characters were voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.)

Unfortunately, “can’t feel anything” describes the effect the movie had on me. In spite of all the supposedly empowering messages in it that could have been meaningful, it left me numb.

If you saw and enjoyed Thumbelina when you were little, maybe you can see and enjoy it now. Otherwise, I’d say the odds are slim to none.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/thumbelina-1994/id694969660

Keep reading for more (MUCH more) on why I didn’t like the movie, along with a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Thumbelina (1994)

Annie (1982)

Huh. Well, I really don’t know what to think of Annie. On the one hand, it’s really long, and as some reviewers point out, it doesn’t really go anywhere or mean anything, but on the other hand, I’m super nostalgic about the songs! I had fun watching it, but I have no idea whether a child or adult who has never seen it before would enjoy it.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Also below: Some things about the movie that surprised me, and the history of the character as she has appeared in a wide range of media from 1885 to 2014.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/annie/id281680630

Continue reading Annie (1982)

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

To call this movie didactic is to make ‘didactic’ a compliment! The story is a clever allegory about a boy who’s bored because he’s lazy, jaded, or both. When he suddenly finds a huge gift box in his bedroom one day after school, he pulls it open to find a tollbooth and a car that takes him through a gate to another world, where he must convince two kings to allow Rhyme and Reason to return to a land suffering from chaos and discord. On the way he has to learn to value knowledge and thinking using words and numbers as tools to defeat the demons that lurk in the Mountains of Ignorance.

Much of my love for this movie is probably nostalgia, but even if you’ve never seen it before, I think you’ll love the colorful Dr. Seuss–like visuals, the allegorical names, and the thrilling adventure quest itself.

The movie is mostly a cartoon, but opens and closes with live-action sequences filmed and set in San Francisco.

I was so pleased when Warner Brothers released The Phantom Tollbooth on DVD. I loved the movie for years. I must have seen it by borrowing it on VHS tape from the library, Turtles, or Blockbuster, and I probably only read the classic 1961 book years after the fact.

I was reminded of The Phantom Tollbooth when I watched Disney’s Robin Hood because one of the voice actors (Candy Candido, who has a very distinctive, very low voice) is in both. In this movie, as the Awful Din, he sings: “Haaaaave youuuuu… ever heard an elephant tap dance, on a tin roof late at night? That’s noise! Beautiful noise!”

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-phantom-tollbooth/id386179275

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

Robin Hood (1973)

Disney’s Cinderella has more cat-and-mouse antics in it than us grown-ups tend to remember it having; Disney’s Robin Hood, similarly, seems to have more marching in it than I would have thought possible. It’s a charming story, though, possibly in part because of all that celebratory marching!

I love the despicable babyishness of Prince John, the adorable aspirations of the rabbit kid who wants to be just like Robin Hood, Marion’s demure wistfulness about her childhood sweetheart… and the way the snake somehow has eloquent body language despite not having a body. (Snakes are so awesome!)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/robin-hood/id656527876

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat as well as a few other thoughts on the movie.

This post is part of a series on versions of the Robin Hood legend.

Continue reading Robin Hood (1973)

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast is one of my four favorite Disney animated films. I love the wistfulness and bookishness of Belle, the over-the-top bluster and brawn of Gaston, and the romance that’s anything but love at first sight. The talking objects, frankly, I could do without, but the ballroom scene with its unbelievably realistic computer-generated architecture and magical blue and gold colors will never cease to be utterly breathtaking.

I don’t remember whether I saw the movie in a theater in 1991, but I know I had the VHS tape because I still do. I also have the soundtrack. I watched the relaunch with the superfluous song scene (“Human Again”) in 2002 in the IMAX Theater at Navy Pier in Chicago with my then boyfriend, now husband. I am looking forward to the 2017 live-action version with Emma Watson; I enjoyed Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), so I assume they won’t mess up this remake either.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/beauty-and-the-beast/id439510925

See below for some things I noticed on this rewatch, including SPOILERS, as well as what I learned from an entire DVD’s worth of Bonus Features.

Continue reading Beauty and the Beast (1991)

The Jungle Book (1967)

Yes, that’s a VHS tape of The Jungle Book, and I just watched it at home using my VHS player. (Nothing beats a video that starts off with “Coming Soon in 1997.” Did you know that they released the 1989 movie The Little Mermaid back into theaters that year? Best Disney movie ever.)

I have mixed feelings about the Jungle Book cartoon. On the one hand, I love watching Bagheera slink around and roll his eyes. Shere Kahn is delightful as well. The voice of Baloo is just perfect. The animation of Kaa the snake is hilarious. On the other hand, I can’t get over the fact that Kaa speaks with the totally incongruous voice of Winnie the Pooh, a character who is the opposite of sneaky and threatening, while the Mowgli in this story does absolutely nothing but sulk and giggle and sulk and giggle the entire time. The only time he makes a decision is in the tacked-on ending invented by Walt himself—about which, more later—and his use of tools is limited to the aimless swishing of various twigs.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-jungle-book/id636328918

SPOILERS, including a detailed plot summary and comparisons with the 2016 movie, below.

Continue reading The Jungle Book (1967)