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Blu-ray REVIEW: Saving Mr. Banks
Blog, Movies
Posted on Apr 07 2014 by Greg

If you care anything about Disney, music, art, storytelling, the human condition, irresistible forces, immovable objects, imagination, conflict, compromise, respect, heart, soul and kites, you either already have or will definitely appreciate Saving Mr. Banks.

At the root of the story, though, may be the volatile and dynamic nature of creativity. Writing a book, making a movie, composing songs -- all of these come from scratch, but they all connect to life experiences and deep emotions, sometimes not even realized by the creative person.

You're not doing your job as a creative if you don't come up with something you become attached to. But once you do that, you set yourself up for hurt and defensiveness. It's realizing that and dealing with this phenomenon that is the constant challenge in a creative endeavor.

Few movies capture such an ethereal concept as well as Saving Mr. Banks. It's not about what room Walt Disney stood in on February 3, 1062, nor is it about who is opposing whom. And it's downright foolish and misguided to see it as one side "winning" over another. A creative thing is a living thing and it lives on in film, music, print and more. It's about the work, not who is who. That transcends the time, setting and players.

The performances are spot on. Lots has been said about the actors, but I also loved the way it was filmed, the sequences that tied one era to another, and the superb musical score.

Not much in the way of bonus features on the Blu-ray (would have loved a commentary), but the major documentary is very fresh and filled with insight not found anywhere else. The rousing film wrap moment when the crew sang "Let's Go Fly a Kite" is downright tear-jerking. In a good way.

Mary Poppins has been inducted into the National Film Registry, it's soundtrack in now in the Grammy Hall of Fame and this film cements the Sherman Brothers as artists at the level of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gilbert and Sullivan. That alone makes it an important motion picture.

DVD REVIEW: Jungle Book 2 Blu-ray
Blog, Movies, TV
Posted on Mar 29 2014 by Greg

This is actually the second sequel to Walt Disney's 1967 animated hit, The Jungle Book. The first sequel was released in 1969. It wasn't an animated film, it was a Disneyland record album called More Jungle Book, co-written by and starring Phil Harris. The story was no great shakes, but there were some nice new songs, including a few from the Sherman Brothers.

It might have been nice if the makers of Jungle Book 2 were aware of the album, if only for a few of the songs and tweaks here and there. Both are not much more than retreads of the first story with nearly identical scenes (the Kaa and Shere Khan sequence is almost a direct lift).

The 1969 record focuses primarily on Baloo, who is depressed because he misses Mowgli. He goes to the man village. Bagheera and King Louie follow him and meet Mowgli. Louie tries to touch fiery coals and burns his hand. Baloo is captured but his friends rescue him. Baloo and Mowgli have a nice reunion in the jungle, but Mowgli goes back to the man village, promising to return once a week.

2003's Jungle Book 2 focuses more on Mowgli and his two new friends, including Shanti, known only as "The Girl" in the original film. Baloo pretends to play with Mowgli in scene spoofing Cast Away's Wilson. Baloo goes to the man village, Shere Khan follows, panic ensues. Mowgli and his friends enter the jungle. Kaa, the vultures and the monkeys return to do pretty much what they did in the last film. I won't spoil the ending, just guess.

Popular as The Jungle Book is -- and tempting as it had to have been to make into a sequel -- it's the story that is the major challenge. The first film, which clearly met and surpassed the challenge, was a celebration of great characterization in voices, music and animation. The sequel has lines like "You can take the boy out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the boy."

Like a pair of new Manolo Blahniks, the sequel is slick and technically superb as direct to videos go, but there must have been long meetings about "what can we do once they reunite?" They can't open a restaurant or solve crimes (unless it's a Disney Afternoon series). So almost everything in the sequel is repeated from the first film, albeit with much more technical virtuosity. I have to wonder if the film makers themselves wanted to expand the story but were hampered by meddling that forced them to take the "surefire" approach.

With respect to Walt Disney Animation Australia, which turned out consistently great work (TV animation too often gets a bad rap, frankly), this may be one of the least satisfactory of the direct to video sequels. The best that can be said is that it's an opportunity to spend some time with favorite characters again.

Bonus Features
Backstage Disney:
Synopsis of the Original Movie The Jungle Book
The Legacy of The Jungle Book

Deleted Scenes:
"I Got You Beat"
Music and More:
Sing Along with the Movie
Music Videos

DVD REVIEW: Springtime with Roo & Recommendations
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, Music
Posted on Mar 21 2014 by Greg

While practically every cartoon character ever created has, at one time or another, saved Christmas, there are precious few animated specials or direct-to-videos with a springtime, Easter or even an Easter Bunny.

This made-for-TV Disney Winnie the Pooh animated feature is one of the few. It makes sense for spring to be a cherished part of life in the Hundred Acre Wood, with its rolling landscapes, shady trees and colorful flowers.

There is so much niceness among Pooh and his pals -- and this is a good thing in this age of "edgy" cynicism, even in children's entertainment -- we can still look to Eeyore for lovable, relatable gloom and to Rabbit for lovable, relatable angst and neuroses. In other words, they're for us adults in throws of life's drama.

Rabbit adopts a Scrooge-like role in this story, which features original songs and overall is a very attractive production. David Ogden Stiers is a marvelous narrator, by the way. Very Sebastian Cabot.

Only one extra feature is basically a song player -- I would have liked to see a few episodes from the Emmy-winning "New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" series.

Other recommendations for Springtime family viewing:
***** Here Comes Peter Cottontail - Danny Kaye (All-time fave)
***** It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
***** Easter Parade - Judy Garland and Fred Astaire (MGM classic)
****   The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town
***     The First Easter Rabbit - Burl Ives, Robert Morse (Mad Men)
**       Yogi The Easter Bear - Hanna-Barbera

Floyd Norman Talks Jungle Book, Hanna-Barbera and "The Old Mousetro"
Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Feb 09 2014 by Greg

With the arrival of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated hit The Jungle Book, there’s been a lot of attention to Disney Legend Floyd Norman, and rightly so. He worked for the studio at a point when it was changing in size, focus and its approach to animation. His career at Disney, as well as at other studios, including Hanna-Barbera, happened as tectonic shifts were occurring in entertainment as well as in the country.

Floyd also has no problem speaking from the heart. His opinions and his love for his craft, especially as it flourished at Disney, is matter-of-fact. And he has had reveled in affectionate but barbed satire of his workplaces through the insider gag sketches that have become legends in themselves. From Walt to Bill and Joe to Michael and Jeffrey, check out his cartoon collections and enjoy the ride.

With all this in mind, the challenge of an interview with Floyd is figuring out where to start and trying to avoid the same old, same old. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.

GREG: First of all, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, The Animated Life. And what I loved about it was how you were up front with the pros and cons of the business, but always in a way that didn’t diss anyone. It’s the kind of book I would want to write someday, even though my career can’t get near the same chart as yours.

FLOYD:  Thank you. I really wanted to bring readers into those days, to know what it was like when I worked in the Walt days, and what I have learned about animation.

GREG: I also want to thank you for the eloquent and knowledgeable way you have addressed recent public character attacks on the man you call “the Old Mousetro.”

FLOYD: Thanks again. I said what I thought needed to be said, and it was all true. I was there.

GREG: You were at the Walt Disney Studios during what might be called a sea change in its approach to animation. Sleeping Beauty was the classic fairy tale done on a grand scale, but its box office results made it necessary to look at animation in a very different way.

FLOYD: Well, the  had changed a lot. We had to make features with a lot less money, but still retain the quality people expected. I think we succeeded in a lot of ways, particularly with the strength of the story and the characters. The budget didn’t matter to the audience and they still loved the work we did.

GREG: Even though it’s not a very equivalent comparison, you also experienced a similar turning point during your Hanna-Barbera days. As the studio grew, the cartoons were done, as you’ve said, “Faster, cheaper!”

FLOYD: Yes, and some of the things I worked on were fine, while some weren’t very good.

GREG: But you know, it didn’t matter to us kids watching on Saturday morning. I liked Captain Caveman and a lot of the other shows. Still do.

FLOYD: (laughs)

GREG: No, really! If you take into account the speed you all were working at, it’s a wonder that those shows are even coherent.

FLOYD: That’s because there were some of the best artists working at Hanna-Barbera. It was amazing what they could do.

GREG: But working on The Jungle Book must have been incredible.

FLOYD: I came into it later in the production. There had been changes along the way.

GREG: Is it true that there was originally only one Kaa scene?

FLOYD: Yes. And Walt really liked it so he asked for a second one. Dick and Bob Sherman wrote that great song for it.

GREG: What do you think of the Blu-ray?

FLOYD: I think it looks great. They did a great job on it.

GREG: When I was a kid, my brother and I called the ‘60s Disney cartoons “the ones with the scritchy lines.” We didn’t know what the Xerox process was, and frankly we liked the smoother lines better in the other features. Didn’t Walt hate the scritchy lines?

FLOYD: At first, he didn’t like them, when he saw the look of 101 Dalmatians. But it didn’t bother him later.

GREG: When you watch The Jungle Book now, do you recognize the precise moments of your work?

FLOYD: I recognize every one, every time. I’m grateful for being part of it.

Blu-ray REVIEW: The Jungle Book Diamond Edition
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Feb 08 2014 by Greg

The last animated film completely supervised by Walt Disney, The Jungle Book is a very comedic spin on the Rudyard Kipling. It's not so much that the book was spoofed, but the bare bones of the story were transformed into a lighthearted, character-driven romp.

But it works. The Jungle Book became a smash in its first release and in reissues. The soundtrack album went gold. Somehow taking an atmospheric jungle adventure and adding Phil Harris, Louis Prima and a swingin' jazz attitude resounds with audiences to this day.

What might have been a loose collection of set pieces carefully tie together with the continual introduction of engaging characters that hold interest in a way that is remarkable for such an episodic film. The Disney story department, among them Disney Legend Floyd Norman and Bing Crosby radio comedy writer Larry Clemmons, never allow the proceedings to lag, much as a Pixar film does the same thing.

Most of the songs are by the great Sherman Brothers, including the iconic "I Wan'na Be Like You" and the unforgettable "Trussst in Me," though the Oscar-nominated "Bare Necessities" was written for an earlier draft of the film by Terry Gilkyson (who also wrote and sung the hit, "Marianne").

Richard Sherman and his brother Robert were continually greeted by fans who assumed they had written "Necessities," to the extent that in the introduction created for the Blu-ray, Richard Sherman's appearance is underscored by the incorrect song, rather than perhaps "My Own Home."

If you have the DVD from 2007, you may want to hold on to it, not just because the bonus features are not all on the new DVD but only on the Blu-ray (see below), but also because there are several that did remain exclusive to the 2007 DVD, including the deleted songs.

2014 Diamond Edition Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

2014 Only:
 Introductions by Diane Disney Miller & Richard M. Sherman
Music, Memories and Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman
Alternate Ending: Mowgli and the Hunter
 I Wan’na Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
 Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along
 Disney Animation: Sparkling Creativity

From 2007:
 Audio Commentary
Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
 Deleted Scene: Lost Character Rocky the Rhino
“I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video Jonas Brothers
 Disney Song Selection
The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
 Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
 The Lure of The Jungle Book
 Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
 Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
 Disneypedia: Junglemania!
The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

2014 Diamond Edition DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features

 Deleted Scene: Lost Character Rocky the Rhino
 Disneypedia: Junglemania!

2007 Platinum Edition DVD Bonus Features

2007 Only:
Seven Deleted Songs
Art Galleries
Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

Carried over to 2014 Edition:
 Audio Commentary
Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
 Deleted Scene: Lost Character Rocky the Rhino
“I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video Jonas Brothers
 Disney Song Selection
The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
 Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
 The Lure of The Jungle Book
 Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
 Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
 Disneypedia: Junglemania!

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