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Weekly Mishmash: December 7-13

The Black Cauldron (1985). This Disney animated effort has a small cult of fans, although after watching it I don’t really know why. The characters and story are unmemorable, and the animation lacks the usual Disney polish (apparently this was the first film after Disney’s old guard was let go and they needed to train new animators). Although I never saw it in theaters, I do remember Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s review in which they go on about the fortune telling pig character. Maybe those fans were impressionable kids when they first viewed this, but overall the movie was just kinda “blah” to me. Which is definitely not what Disney animation ought to do.
Man on Wire (2008). Solidly enthralling documentary about Philippe Petit, who made headlines in 1974 by orchestrating a covert wire walk across the two World Trade Center towers. Given the rapturous critical reception this film has gotten, it never really bowled me over. It’s certainly a fascinating story, and the 60ish Petit has a puckish energy lacking in men even half his age. The film, however, doesn’t gather steam until Petit gets to the wirewalking itself — well into the proceedings. One thing that works in the filmmaker’s favor is the fact that Petit and his cronies shot a lot of home movie footage of themselves, which is skillfully integrated into new interviews with the participants (see also The Devil and Daniel Johnston from last week).
Old YellerOld Yeller (1957). I expected corniness aplenty with this Disney feature, but the film resonates a lot more than I ever expected. Despite poor Yeller’s ultimate fate, this is well-crafted and non-sentimental entertainment with an uplifting message — one that gives the phrase “family film” a good meaning for once. I loved the warm performances by Tommy Kirk and Dorothy McGuire, which somewhat makes up for that shrill little hellion Kevin Corchoran (why was that kid in so many Disney flicks, anyhow?). By the way, surely I cannot be the only person on earth who is excited about Turner Classic Movies’ month-long live action Disney film fest, right? Well?
Princess Raccoon (2005). Put this on my Netflix queue because I’ve enjoyed the wacky ’60s films of Japanese director Seijun Suzuki and was curious about what the guy was capable of in his ’80s. Well, this is one bizarre movie — and not in a good way, either. An indecipherable tale of a prince and princess from warring families finding love, interspersed with incongruous musical sequences (characters even rap at one point). Ziyi Zhang is a complete waste in the title role. Although we normally love weird Asian movies, we couldn’t make it through the whole thing this time. Sorry, Seijun.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). I never even heard of this movie until recently, but now I believe it’s one of the best thrillers of its time. A serious Walter Matthau is excellent as a New York City port authority supervisor trying to stop a hijacked subway car. This one really gives a good sense of gritty NYC in the ’70s, the acting is uniformly good, and the plot has an irresistible momentum. I could definitely imagine audiences watching this in ’74 and being utterly swept away by the action. My only complaint lies with the weak ending, but overall this was an unexpectedly fantastic film.
Treasure Island (1950). Walt Disney’s first all live action film is so quaintly British that it actually plays more like an airy Technicolor Powell and Pressburger bauble than anything else. Chipmunk-cheeked Bobby Driscoll is the only indication of Disneyness on display here. Though I was somewhat disappointed in the poky pacing — truly, this movie does have a lot of dull, talky stretches — this would be a fun way to kill an afternoon, I imagine. Robert Newton as Long John Silver has that quintessential “arr matey” pirate voice down pat.

5 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: December 7-13

  1. First, thanks for confirming that I’m not the only one repulsed by the antics of Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran in all those Disney flicks. That little snot-nose contaminates any film he’s in, and makes me want to puke.

    Second–you’re not the only one enjoying the Disney fest. I watched eight hours worth of movies today for no other reason than I could.

  2. Welcome to the Pelham fan club, Matt. I love this movie. Way more than I should.

    Have you seen the TCM doc on Disney’s live-action films airing this month? It’s worth a look. Bonus: Kevin Corcoran is in it!

  3. Ivan and Vince, I knew I could count on you two for the TCM live action Disney props! I have that documentary waiting to be watched on the DVR.

  4. Pelham is a classic that too few people acknowledge – a bonus is that Jerry Stiller (Frank Costanza) and George Costanza’s Mom are BOTH in it!

  5. Tim Halbur on December 17, 2008 at 4:32 pm said:

    It was really disappointing to see The Black Cauldron as a kid- I was (and am) a huge fan of the books by Lloyd Alexander. Read the books, forget the cartoon.

    And for the best Treasure Island around, see if you can find this made-for-cable version starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver! I kid you not, one of my favorite movies. Best pirate movie ever, sadly not on DVD…

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