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Tag Archives: Disney

Happy 4th of July

Dear readers: be safe and try to resist having the oversized dolls from Disney’s America on Parade (1976) haunt your dreams.

The Who What Why Where When And How Day

Nostalgia time: The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World was a 1977 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney starring the jump suited, semi-forgotten ’70s edition of the Mickey Mouse Club — you know, the one with Blair from The Facts of Life in the cast. As a tyke, I was obsessed with the mouseketeers and afternoons would find me a) watching the show, or b) reenacting skits from the show with the kids who lived across the street. We also owned the record album (which contained a white-bread rendition of “Walking the Dog,” I recall) and wore it out.

This Disney World outing was a special memory for me, since the Florida park seemed like such a mystical, faraway place. Disneyland was semi-accessible, but Disney World might as well have been Paris or London. Watching the show now, it looks like one long (and cheesy) commercial. Three years ago, I finally got to go. Didn’t see River Country, however.

Weekly Mishmash: November 28 – December 4

poster_lastmileThe Last Mile (1959). The instant watching options on Netflix are still somewhat spotty at this point, but things have been improving over the last few months with a large dump of lesser-known, older flicks that never got a DVD release — including this intense little prison break drama. The film is set almost entirely in a single prison room as several death row inmates ponder their fates and the shabby treatment they’re getting from the guards. The clever use of limited sets, luminous black and white photography, and a soundtrack that is the very epitome of Crime Jazz all work in the picture’s favor, but mostly what elevates this otherwise routine movie is Mickey Rooney chewing the scenery like nobody’s business as a feisty fireplug of an inmate. The better Rooney performances always had an unhinged quality, going back as far as his hyper Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This one is no exception: even when the film gets too draggy and overly religious in its second half, the ever hammy Mickey remains at its fascinating center. TCM will be running this one on December 30th as part of their month-long Rooney tribute.
Palooka (1934). Another offering on my 50 public domain comedies DVD set. As I make way through these films in chronological order, 1934’s Palooka arrives at the tail end of the pre-Code era. While this boxing drama based on a popular comic strip doesn’t win any awards for originality, it is pleasantly jazzy and reminiscent of the Warner Bros. product of the time. The film follows nebbishy Stuart Erwin as he goes from country bumpkin to boxing star. His success is due somewhat to good genes (parents are boxing champ Robert Armstrong and spitfire ex-showgirl Marjorie Rambeau), but mostly it’s a result of underhanded doings by gangsters and his manager, played by Jimmy Durante. Also on hand is Lupe Velez as Irwin’s gold-digging hussy of a girlfriend, whose impossibly low-cut gown is the first clue that this is pre-Code stuff. The film gets draggy at times, and Irwin is seriously miscast, but it’s also a good opportunity to see Durante and Velez at their most dynamic. The two share the movie’s closing gag, which is priceless.
album_partridgeuptodateThe Partridge Family — Up To Date. As far as TV’s made-up musical groups go, the Partridge Family have never truly gotten their due. Their 1971 album Sound Magazine is, no joke, friggin’ fantastic. Total bubblegum for sure, but the elements that made them special (David Cassidy’s creamy voice, sharp production, white bread backup vocals and harpsichords galore) were at the top of their game on that particular platter. Up To Date, which preceded Sound Magazine by a season, isn’t quite as diverse or memorable but it does boast the dreamy hits “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.” Other notable tracks include the guitar fuzzy “Lay It On The Line” and the delightful “That’ll Be The Day.” Written by frequent P.F. contributor Tony Romeo, it’s the one track that anticipates the wonderfulness of Sound Magazine. Another thing — Suzanne Crough rocks some good tambourine here.
Seventh Heaven (1927). Classic silent romance from director Frank Borzage and stars Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. The epic story is set into motion when waifish Gaynor is thrown onto the street and taken in by kindly street cleaner Farrell. As the two share Farrell’s humble seventh-floor abode, they fall in love and marry — only to have the arrival of World War I separate them. First impression of this film is that it’s rather long and stodgy (and no match for F.W. Murnau’s contemporary Sunrise), but it’s also charming with a beautifully nuanced performance from Gaynor. Between this, Sunrise and Street Angel, it’s no wonder she was the recipient of the first Best Actress Oscar. I also enjoyed the charismatic Farrell and several of the supporting actors. The petite Gaynor and gangly Farrell always seemed like an odd physical match, but they do have an undeniable chemistry. I suppose this would be considered the 1927 edition of a Chick Flick. Borzage’s direction is assured and passionate, most notable for his still-impressive vertical pan up seven flights of stairs. What a set piece!
Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009). Absorbing documentary deals with Disney Animation’s journey from irrelevance and near-death in the early ’80s to its second golden age starting with 1989’s The Little Mermaid through 1994’s The Lion King. Surprisingly for a Disney-endorsed product, the film casts an admiring but not entirely flattering view of studio heads Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. It also generously uses contemporary news footage and shots of press clippings to show how the studio’s inner dealings were communicated to the outside world. Eisner and Katzenberg come across like canny Hollywood players who are willing to learn but constantly at odds with creatives. It’s a very old story, but the fact that it covers a relatively recent period and all the major players are on hand to speak works in the film’s favor. I was very suspicious that the film might come across as too cozy and complimentary of that era’s offerings (which are entertaining but a shade too Broadway-ish for my personal tastes), but that wasn’t the case at all. Despite all the executive-level turbulence, the film actually makes Disney look like a fantastic place to work!

Dig, Dig, Dig, Remix, Remix, Remix

“Wishery” is another Disney video mashup from (I think) the same person who did similar treatments for Alice In Wonderland and Mary Poppins. Snow White’s trilling voice sounds weird enough on its own, mixed up like this it is truly mesmerizing.

Weekly Mishmash: June 27-July 3

poster_boyslavesBoy Slaves (1939). Did you notice? TCM last week did a morning-long salute to Anne Shirley with several lesser-seen programmers that the pert actress appeared in — including this child labor exploitation flick. Shirley is glammed down and plays a rather low key supporting role in this one. The story revolves around a a group of Depression-era kiddie hoods who find themselves trapped at an unforgiving turpentine farm run by weaselly Charles Lane. As much as this tries to be a hard hitting exposé a la William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road, the film stumbles with a half baked plot and predictable casting straight from the Dead End Kids playbook (alpha male, funny black guy, pipsqueak, etc.). Shirley has a few good moments as the one girl at the otherwise male-dominated farm (what’s up with that?). Some good scenes and an interesting idea, but mostly flat and boring.
Meet the Missus (1937). The other Anne Shirley/TCM opus we watched this week is an affable RKO programmer about contest-crazy housewife Helen Broderick, who drags henpecked husband Victor Moore to a Miss America-like pageant in which she’s a front runner. This is one of those movies that is, while pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of things, enjoyable enough entertainment. The movie lampoons the ’30s contest craze and beauty pageants in an interesting way. As for the cast, the rubber limbed Broderick is a fair comedienne, and Moore (whom I’ve never seen before) ably does the flustered husband bit. Shirley has a thankless, miniscule role as the couple’s daughter; her scenes are worth watching only for being paired with the dreamy, unknown Alan Bruce (who might as well be Brad Pitt’s grandpa).
Pinocchio (1940). “When you wish upon a star…” Since we had some extra time this holiday weekend, we took in a few old Disney animated features recently purchased on DVD. Pinocchio is the studio at its grandest. This was a transitional work, especially with the character designs; Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket both have the round curves and oversized heads of classic Disney characters, while others like the fox and cat who lure Pinocchio into debauchery have a more rudimentary Silly Symphonies look. The background paintings are some of the lushest ever, especially the detailed rendering of Geppetto’s village in day and night. This film, literally and figuratively, also gets into some of the darkest territory Disney ever ventured to. Today’s namby pamby Disney corporation would never attempt scenes with trapped boys helplessly turning into donkeys, and it’s executed beautifully here. One clever detail I never noticed before: the gigantic eight ball and cue that forms the entrance to Pleasure Island’s pool hall is evocative of the trylon and perisphere at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. That couldn’t have been a coincidence.

still_pinocchio

poster_saludosSaludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). This south-of-the-border double feature was the viewing fare at our stay in my parents’ cabin in Northern Arizona. These were interesting to watch, knowing their historical significance as World War II propaganda pieces. The quaint Saludos Amigos is a pleasant if disjointed little travelogue, with Donald Duck guiding viewers through live action footage of South America and some forgettable shorts set in the region. It’s cute, but nothing compared to the quasi-psychedelic follow-up, The Three Caballeros. That film has not only a stronger concept (Donald opening gifts representing the varied cultures of South and Central America), but it also boasts some of the craziest visuals the Disney animators ever attempted. One has to wonder what they were smoking during Donald’s colorful freakout at the end (also the fact that Donald constantly lusts after human women is a bit … odd). The innovative Technicolor live action/animation mashups are a marvel to behold, and the music (particularly the Brazilian “Baía” segment) is divine. In my book, it’s one of the more underrated Disney animated ventures.
The White Ribbon (2009). Just before World War I, the children in a tiny German village come under suspicion for a series of tragic mishaps. The film presents the pure evilness of the crimes committed, and the childrens’ blasé attitudes towards what they did, as the basis for Germany’s developing fascism. Although the film sets up a lot of stories which are never adequately resolved, for the most part I was spellbound. This was mostly due to the film’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, replete with carefully composed, beautifully framed shots. That, paired with a talented cast of unknowns apparently straight out of the 1910s, makes this one of the rare films that presents a fully realized other world. Complaints about the inconclusive ending are duly noted, but I was too wrapped up in all the sharply defined characters in this Children of the Damned/rural Germany universe to care.

Weekly Mishmash: May 16-22

poster_codetwoCode Two (1953). Fun, documentary style flick about L.A.’s motorcycle cops. This film follows three men (Ralph Meeker, Robert Horton and Jeff Richards) as they go through arduous boot camp at the police academy (look fast for the same roadway from the Charlie’s Angels opening credits), make their way through office gruntwork, and finally earn their badges as motorcycle patrolmen. This film is awfully backward in its portrayal of manly men and their worried wives and girlfriends, and the many straightforward shots of people driving hogs around might make you reach for the nearest gun. It’s still fascinating from a historical point of view, however, with plenty of gritty footage straight out of an industrial training short. The film picks up a bit once the dramatic stuff gets under way, with rogue cop Meeker chasing down an underground cattle thieving ring. There’s also a scene where the hunky leads relax in bathing wear — nice!
Dead Again (1991). This is the third time I’ve seen this Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson thriller (it’s one of Christopher’s all time faves). It is one of those films that people either love or hate. Despite the film’s ludicrousness, I always fall for it, even to the point of not seeing the many “twist” plot points that get thrown at you like so many ham-handed scissor references. I think it’s because Branagh and Thompson are so committed to their characters, and they seem to be having a grand time playing both 1940s lovers and a contemporary pair who are not at all freaked that they physically resemble said 1940s couple.
Niagara Falls (1941). This breezy Hal Roach production was the latest offering in our cheap-o public domain comedy film fest. The print on our DVD was surprisingly crisp and clean looking, matched by comedy that was actually quite enjoyable on its own modest terms. The plot concerns a pair of young strangers (Marjorie Woodworth and Tom Brown) thrown together under unpleasant circumstances. When the two seek lodging at a Niagra Falls hotel, they are mistaken for newlyweds and booked in the same room. Although the two seem to have an easy way out (why don’t they just say they’re not married?), they are forced together via a zealous country hick (Slim Summerville) — much to the dismay of his long-suffering bride (ZaSu Pitts in full-on “oh dear” mode). A short, silly farce made watchable by a pleasant cast and slick production which could almost be mistaken for an MGM b-movie. The falls themselves appear through the magic of rear screen projection, by the way.
Night of the Comet (1984). I rented this expecting some good ’80s cheese; well, it’s cheesy alright but not so good. A comet hits earth, turning most of humanity to rust colored dust save for two vapid L.A. teens. The girls (Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney) make their way to a neon-lit radio station, where they and a handsome stranger (Robert Beltran of Star Trek: Voyager) must elude zombies and mysterious agents who are coldly monitoring the trio. Interesting concept, but the production’s cheapness and plodding pace are a huge bummer. The film couldn’t decide whether the comet made people into dust or zombies, so they went with both and apparently hoped no one would notice. On the plus side I dug the ’80s shopping montage and the many shots of an empty downtown L.A. (shot at 5 a.m., perhaps?), and Stewart made for a nice, level-headed heroine.
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). Another relic of Disney live action musical cheeriness from the ’60s. I find these flicks fascinating, but this 1880s-set opus left me puzzled. For one, the movie doesn’t really revolve much around the title band, preferring to stick with crusty grampa Walter Brennan’s political convictions (he’s a Democrat and Grover Cleveland supporter; son Buddy Ebsen is a Republican). Much time is also devoted to a romantic subplot with Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson serenading each other to indistinct Sherman brothers songs. The family itself has too many kids who don’t have enough screen time to make an impression (even 14 year-old Kurt Russel gets lost in the shuffle) — a symbol of this pleasant yet overlong production. The one thing I did enjoy was the crafty “Ten Feet Off The Ground,” which can be better heard here on the great Café Apres Midi Meets Disney compilation.
album_essentialbarbraBarbra Streisand — The Essential Barbra Streisand. Being a proper music loving queer, I decided to explore the rich catalog of Barbra Streisand on eMusic. At first I only wanted to get her first two “Greatest Hits” albums from 1970 and ’78, but then I realized that the same credits could be used on this 2002 compilation with twice as many tracks. This set covers her first forty years in the biz in an even-handed fashion. Babs’ earliest stuff is the highlight, of course. From the opener “A Sleepin’ Bee” one can tell what a breath of fresh air she was, and old style singer’s singer with uniqueness and vitality. I’m delighted they put in the wonderfully sung “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” but my favorite tune of hers is the rendition of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End” — a song that by all rights could have been a hippie-dippy mistake, but Barbra’s enthusiasm makes it a joyous romp. From there on out, her music got more formulaic and overproduced as ironically her singing improved. I can admire the virtuosity in a “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl, but it’s missing the spark of something like “Lover, Come Back to Me” from 1963. Whoever compiled this tended to pick vocal virtuosity over hits (a nice tactic), which means entire albums are sometimes omitted. For example, I kinda wish they included something off 1984’s pop-oriented Emotion, but then again it would have destroyed the flow between the Yentl and Broadway Album selections. And there’s also the matter of everything post-’85 being such a crashing bore. It really says something that even when doing a snoozy ballad, though, the woman is like buttah.