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The post-"Lion King" Disney story as told through 3 recent releases
Blog, Movies, TV
Posted on Mar 18 2013 by Greg

Disney has been releasing Blu-rays and DVD's of their animated features at a rapid rate lately, perhaps anticipating the new big format change. Only the tried and true standbys, like Peter Pan and soon, The Little Mermaid, are receiving lots of notice, while these other features are popping up in retail outlets relatively quietly.

With the release of three sets of features and their sequels last week, the sequels no longer standing on their own but now almost as bonus material, it makes one think back to the time when even a Disney direct to video sequel was a big deal and could even inspire a Happy Meal.

If you haven't seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan and Brother Bear lately (and who has time with everything else competing for our time and attention?), it's well worth rediscovering them, all of which look sensational in the crispness of high def. Now you can easily see the Belle cameo in Hunchback!

You can also see how they have held up since their release. While their technological advances have been surpassed in the years since (such as the then-miraculous CGI crowd scenes in Hunchback and Mulan), each retain their own power and artistry.

More than that, they exemplify the drama that was going on behind the scenes at Walt Disney Animation that picks up where Waking Sleeping Beauty left off. Jeffrey Katzenberg had departed, Pixar was on the rise, Disney had opened studios around the world and animators were starting to come down from the euphoria and attention they had enjoyed during the Beauty and the Beast and Lion King days.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
The Voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Tony Jay, Mary Wickes, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough
Original Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz


Making an animated film as ambitious as The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a bold move when you consider that the film leaves less opportunity for Disney to enrich its other divisions than say, another princess movie. Hunchback might have made a great Broadway show (and still would, as it was very successful on stage in Germany), but it's more adult than perhaps any Disney feature since Fantasia and less conducive to plush toys (though there were a few). But Disney Animation was riding so high at the time, there seemed to be no limit to how high they could reach, and are to be admired for pushing the boundaries given the chance.

And push it does. Hunchback has some highly electrifying scenes, especially for a mass-market animated film. The human animation is downright astonishing, especially considering that, according to the commentary, while there was some modeling done, this is not that watery rotoscope stuff.

Frollo is the most purely evil of all Disney human villains, with no redeemable features and a creepy depravity that is brought to a boiling intensity in the set piece, "Hellfire." Animator Kathy Zielinski, again according to the commentary, dressed as the villain to get the details of the outfit right. I suspect that there was also a strong influence from the animation of Maleficent and Lady Tremaine as well. You could almost imagine Eleanor Audley's voice coming out of Frollo!

This score is perhaps the pinnacle in Alan Menken's already spectacular music career. Few songs reach into your heart and soul like "God Help the Outcasts," sung to perfection by Heidi Mollenhauer as the singing voice of Esmeralda (Demi Moore delivers a superb speaking performance as well.)

This is a film, which, like the novel, explores heady material about life, death, religion and politics, thus perhaps too pithy for everyone who saw it back then. Hunchback wasn't the hit that Lion King was, though it would have been somewhat unrealistic to expect so much. I do think that of all Disney features produced during this period, Hunchback may be much more revered in the future than it ever was in its own time.

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Audio Commentary with Producer Don Hahn, and Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale
- The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- "A Guy Like You" Multi-Language Reel

2013 & 2002 DVD Bonus Features:
- Audio Commentary with Producer Don Hahn, and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale
- The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- "A Guy Like You" Multi-Language Reel
Topsy Turvy Underground Game
- Topsy Turvy Sing-Along song

The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Bradley Raymond
The Voices of Tom Hulce, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Michael McKean, Jane Withers Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough
Music by Carl Johnson
Songs by Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Chris Canute, Randy Peterson, Kevin Quinn, Walter Edgar Kennon

How do you follow the eye-filling spectacle and tireless detail of the original Disney Hunchback, perhaps the most elaborate feature since Pinocchio? First, you make the script strong to overcome the time and budget restrictions on a made-for-video sequel. You also get a skillful director, in this case Bradley Raymond, who has done miracles since with his second Tinker Bell movie and Return to Never Land.

Retaining the original voice cast, albeit relegating Esmeralda and Phoebus to cameos, what would seem to be unthinkable actually works. It takes on the task of following up on a Disney epic as well a Hugo classic. Instead of taking a somber, pompous approach, this film tells a more intimate story in a remarkably convincing way. You start out thinking, "Oh come on! Quasimodo gets a girlfriend? Please!" but Jennifer Love-Hewitt's character is just enough of a non-conformist to make it plausible.

The songs are pleasant but not as memorable as the ones in the original. That was one tall order that was just too insurmountable. And even though the sequel repeats some of the same elements as the first film, particularly having yet another festival, the result is very entertaining.

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love-Hewitt
- A Gargoyles Life: It's Not Easy Being a Gargoyle

2002 & 2013 DVD Bonus Features:
- Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love-Hewitt
- A Gargoyles Life: It's Not Easy Being a Gargoyle
- Festival of Fun Activity

Mulan (1998)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
The Voices of Ming Na Wen, B. D. Wong, Eddie Murphy, George Takei, June Foray, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe
Music by Matthew Wilder
Lyrics by David Zippel
Music Score by Jerry Goldsmith


Mulan is significant in that it was the first feature produced almost completely by Walt Disney Animation Florida, a top-flight studio that doubled as a Theme Park attraction. Guests could wander along picture windows and watch animators at work on real shorts and features. It was a wonderful thing to see while it lasted.

Mulan was also my daughter's first movie. Even though she was just a baby then, she has seen it many times since and it is one of her all-time favorites. This is a great dad and daughter movie, in any case.

The strength of Mulan is that its a story that makes a strong statement without beating it over your head. The sense and reason of equal treatment arises through character, situation and example. Within the context of a patriarchal society, the film is able to make its case without compromising its time or place. There is no question about what Mulan must do, yet she is not trying to "prove" anything,doing what she has to do for her fathers and her family's honor.

Mulan herself is one of the most engaging Disney heroines of all time. She only doubts herself once, but most of the time she just figures out what to do because it has to be done and it's right. Mulan emerges as the strongest and smartest of her fellow recruits. Rarely is such compassionate, unselfish motivation seen in film or TV.

Not one song stops the action. Mulan is not a musical, but it has extended musical sequences that are carefully planned. Donny Osmond and Lea Salonga sing their roles beautifully (this being Donny's first Disney project since he and his brothers appeared on the Disney TV show to promote The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in 1969. (It was very groovy.)

Marni Nixon, famed Hollywood ο¿½Β¿Β½ο¿½Β¬ο¿½β€œghost singer" who dubbed Marilyn Monroe, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and even Margaret O'Brien, sings for Grandmother Fa, whose voice is none other than our Lovely Lady June Foray.

2005 2-Disc DVD Bonus Features
- Audio Commentary by Pam Coats, Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook
- Deleted Scenes (Keep 'Em Guessing, The Prologue Chronicle, Shadow Puppets Prologue, The Betrothal, Shan-Yu Destroys the Village, Mulan's Daydream, The Emperor's Dream)
- Music & More ("True to Your Heart" Video with Stevie Wonder; "True to Your Heart" Video with Raven; "I'll Make a Man Out of You" Video with Jackie Chan; Video with Christina Aguilera;  "Reflection" Video in Spanish)
- Backstage Disney: The Journey Begins (Discovering Mulan, The Ballad Of Hua Mulan, 1995 Presentation Reel, 1996 Presentation Reel); Story Artists' Journey (Storyboard to Film Comparison, Introduction, Storyboard Only, Final Film Only, Storyboard to Final Film Comparison), Design (Art Design, Character Design, Ballad of Color, Still Art Galleries); Production (Progression Demonstrations, Digital Production); Music (Songs of Mulan); International Mulan (Mulan's International Journey, Multi-Language Reel, Publicity Art)
DisneyPedia Activity: Mulan's World
Mulan Fun Facts

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
Audio Commentary by Pam Coats, Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook
- Deleted Scenes (Keep 'Em Guessing, The Prologue Chronicle, Shadow Puppets Prologue, The Betrothal, Shan-Yu Destroys the Village, Mulan's Daydream, The Emperor's Dream)
Classic Backstage Disney: Mulan Fun Facts, The Journey Begins (Discovering Mulan, The Ballad Of Hua Mulan, 1995 Presentation Reel, 1996 Presentation Reel); Story Artists' Journey (Finding Mulan, Storyboard to Film Comparison: Mushu Breaks the Dragon); Design (Art Design, Character Design, Ballad of Color); Production (Mushu Awakens, Matchmaker Meets Mulan); Digital Production (The Hun Charge, Digital Dim Sum);
Classic Music & More("I'll Make a Man Out of You" Video with Jackie Chan;  "Reflection" Video with Christina Aguilera; "Reflejo" Video with Lucero; Songs of Mulan

2013 DVD Bonus Features
- Audio Commentary by Pam Coats, Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook
- Deleted Scenes (Keep 'Em Guessing, The Prologue Chronicle, Shadow Puppets Prologue, The Betrothal, Shan-Yu Destroys the Village, Mulan's Daydream, The Emperor's Daydream)
Classic Music & More ("True to Your Heart" Video with Stevie Wonder; "True to Your Heart" Video with Raven; "I'll Make a Man Out of You" Video with Jackie Chan; "Reflection" Video with Christina Aguilera; "Reflejo" Video with Lucero; Multi-Language Presentation; Mulan's International Journey; Multi-Language Presentation)
Classic Backstage Disney (Finding Mulan, Mulan's Fun Facts)

Mulan II (2004)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland
The Voices of Ming Na Wen, B. D. Wong, Mark Moseley, George Takei, June Foray, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh
Music Score by Joel McNeely
Songs by Alexa Junge and Jeanne Tesori

Making a sequel for Mulan seems, unlike those of other Disney features, a natural. You might not be able to duplicate the epic battle scenes, but you could make more of the characters and their relationships. Sadly, Mulan II falls far from what it might have been.

A better title could have been How I Met Your Mulan. Countless rom-com clichο¿½Β©s abound. Sure, it's a contemporary take on an ancient legend, but do Mulan and Shang really have to do that "men never ask directions" routine? Sure to be dated phrases are spoken, like "Why the face? and "He's gross."

Most of the songs cover the same ground as in the first film. One might especially take exception with the song that appears to be intended as the breakout, "I Want to Be Like Other Girls." Yes, the song is about sheltered young ladies wanting to break free, but in this day and age, does every parent want their daughter to follow the crowd as these lyrics also imply?

A lot of work goes into films like these, and I regret deeply to sound so negative. There is a lot of talent evident in Mulan II, particularly the dazzling color palette. It's just that there must have been some behind the scenes disagreement about what the film was supposed to be. This is largely a comedy with most of the characters reduced to types.

In this film, Mulan makes an anachronistic speech about being shocked at arranged marriages, even though in the original film, she was fully aware of the cultural norms of her time. She went to the matchmaker fully prepared to face this situation.

This film goes on to depict a pat Brady Brides pairing of the three recruit characters from the earlier film with three princesses, perhaps suggesting that marriage is the only way for a person to be happy, as long as you can choose your partner (and get to know them for a couple of hours). Even when the princesses had discovered their independence, they reverted to another social convention and so did Mulan. Trying to have it both ways, modern and traditional, the story just gets lost in itself.

It's nice, though, to hear June Foray again, though we get to see precious little of the Fa family in the sequel.

2005 DVD Bonus Features
- Deleted Scenes (Battle Sequences, Mei Flirts, The Escape Part 1, The Escape Part 2), "I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls" Video with Atomic Kittens
- Voices of Mulan
- Mushu's Guess Who Game
- The World of Mulan Activity

2005 DVD & 2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features
- Deleted Scenes (Battle Sequences, Mei Flirts, The Escape Part 1, The Escape Part 2)
"I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls" Video with Atomic Kittens
- Voices of Mulan

Brother Bear (2003)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
The Voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Wanda Sykes, D. B. Sweeney, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan, Harold Gould
Music Score Phil Collins and Mark Mancina
Songs by Phil Collins


Surely it was not intended to reissue Mulan and Brother Bear at the same time because they bookend the peak and the valley of Walt Disney Animation Florida. But they are connected by their history as the first and last films produced at is now called Disney's Hollywood Studios (Lilo and Stitch was the middle feature). There is still an animation walk-through attraction at the Park, but there are no longer glimpses at working animators.

Brother Bear could be considered one of the most overlooked of the post-Lion King era. Some critics made comparisons, which are not untrue, but this is a very different film in style and pretension. It is a very simple fable rather than a sweeping saga.

Like a classic fable, the theme is broader than the story depicted. This is really a story about intolerance and hatred that is counteracted when the protagonist walks in the other's shoes, or in this case, paws. Another film that invites comparison is the more recent Brave, since both showcase humans that become bears, but again, the focus is very different here, aside from mutual understanding.

It is fortunate that Joaquin Phoenix was available at the time to do the voice of Kenai; it is an excellent performance. SCTV's Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas are pitch perfect as moose versions of their McKenzie brothers (and deliver comic gold on their in-character audio commentary).

But the star of Brother Bear is Jeremy Suarez as Koda. He's still very much a working actor all these years later, and rightly so. Koda's not just cute, he commands the scenes in which he appears and directs the emotional pull of the story.

Phil Collins, who is one of the best musical partners to work in Disney films, according to what Disney music president Chris Montan told me (Collins would make himself constantly available even from his Switzerland home), again creates songs that have a viable pop sound but don't sound dated it all today.

2004 2-Disc DVD & 2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features
- Koda's Outtakes
- Rutt & Tukes Commentary
- "Through My Eyes" Video
- Brother Bear Games (Bone Puzzle; Find Your Totem)
- "On My Way" Sing-Along Song
- Bear Legends: Native American Tales
- Making Noise: The Art of Foley
- Art Review
- Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear
- Deleted Scenes (Where's Koda?; Confession; Muri the Squirrel)
- "Fishing Song (Never Before Heard Song)
- "Transformation Song" with Original Phil Collins Lyrics)

2013 DVD Bonus Features:
- Koda's Outtakes
- Rutt & Tuke's Commentary
- "Through My Eyes" Video
- Brother Bear Games (Bone Puzzle; Find Your Totem)
- "On My Way" Sing-Along Song
- Bear Legends: Native American Tales
- Making Noise: The Art of Foley
- Art Review

Brother Bear 2 (2006)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Benjamin Gluck
The Voices of Patrick Dempsey, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Mandy Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan, Wendy Malick, Kathy Najimy
Music Score by Dave Metzger
Songs by Melissa Etheridge, Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil

The sequel to Brother Bear falls between  "what were they thinking" and "that was better than I expected."

The overall look, though not quite as detailed, is very accurately captured from the first film. Joaquin Phoenix is replaced by Patrick Dempsey, only a breath away from his big TV splash as TV as "McDreamy."

Dempsey's voice is noticeably higher than that of Phoenix, but it stands him in good stead for his squabbles with his leading lady, voiced by Mandy Moore, who later voiced Rapunzel for Disney.

Brother Bear was about tolerance and tradition, the sequel is more of a rom-com triangle that isn't exactly full of surprises but at the same time a nice way to spend some time with some wonderful characters again. It avoids most of the deadly rom-com clichο¿½Β©, thanks to a solid script and some nice tunes by Melissa Etheridge.

Best of all, we SCTV fans get two more legends to enjoy, now Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara play lady moose who are wooed pathetically by the goony moose we met in the first film, again voiced by Moranis and Thomas. They provide the true highlights. I would have liked to see more of them in one form or another, these are great animated comic characters voiced by four of the best in the business.

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Feature
- Behind the Music of Brother Bear II

2006 & 2013 DVD Bonus Features
- Behind the Music of Brother Bear II
- Trample Off, Eh? Game

Roger or Ralph? Stacking them up against the test of time
Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 13 2013 by Greg
Disney's big animated feature of last year, the Oscar-nominated Wreck-It Ralph, was just released on Blu-ray and DVD in the same month as Disney/Amblin/Touchstone's Who Framed Roger Rabbit was also reissued on Blu-ray.

Wreck-It Ralph is considered by many to be the Toy Story of today, since the two films personify the beloved playthings of kids and contain almost endless references to all-time favorites.

But the film's release the same month as Roger draws attention to the fact that Ralph and Roger have a lot in common, too.

When I first saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, it was like an epiphany. While the combination of live action and animation was and still is remarkable (and astonishingly great considering that the effects were all optical and pre-digital), what resounded with me was the cartoon characters cameos and the grand assemblage of them all together (I won't spoil it for those who have not seen it).

I and many fellow animation enthusiasts felt vindicated for all those years of what some termed "baby stuff." Animation was hip, cartoons were now cool and Steven Spielberg was buying cels. Roger Rabbit the film became a benchmark for animation for every age, especially adults who grew up with it and wanted to see it aimed at them.

Thus came The Simpsons and copycats that imitated both Roger and Homer. There were cartoons for kids, cartoons for grownups and a new "golden age" at Disney, where now-classics like Beauty and the Beast delighted everyone. Many of the artists -- and there were TONS of them -- cut their teeth on the huge international effort that went into producing Who Framed Roger Rabbit and went on to greater successes on their own.

So how does it look now? Gorgeous on Blu-ray, particularly the Toontown sequence, but also even the darker scenes take on a luster and sheen because every detail is defined. It holds up quite well, not as shockingly adult as it seemed to parents back in 1988, as compared to today, with far more racy scenes and strong language more prevalent in mainstream media, even "family" films and TV.

It seems likely that many of the cartoon characters who pop up in Who Framed Roger Rabbit may become more and more obscure, sadly, except to animation and Disney buffs. Several generations have missed out on regular TV viewings of classic cartoons, so the character cameos do not all have the impact they had back in '88. It's like watching Around the World in 80 Days today with people who are only familiar with the here and now. They may not know David Niven, much less Cantinflas, and the star-studded parade they encountered in what was a sensation in its day.

Being able to recognize the myriad of video game characters that younger viewappear in Wreck-It Ralph is less critical to the story. It's a blast for fans of video games to spot the cameos, but the film's story and original characters are strong enough so that you really don't need to be a gamer to appreciate it.

Wreck It Ralph
is, at its core, a story about middle age crisis: a big lug who has been doing the same job for years with little or no positive recognition starts to question his life and future. He has anger issues. He goes into therapy with other video villains, including Satan ("That's pronounced '"Sa-teen,'" he says). All that's missing from his journey is a trip to Human Resources.

In Toy Story, Woody worried about being replaced. Wreck It Ralph asks, with apologies to Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?" His character arc is very believable and touching, but never sentimental.

Most of the film takes place in a blindingly colorful game called Sugar Rush, shown off to good advantage in Blu-ray. Clever gags abound: castle Oreo cookie soldiers who sing "Or-ee-O, Yo-oh;" a pit of Nestle's Quik sand; attacks by barking Devil goes on and on. I like the brightness, after decades of bleak, realistic fantasies.

The Blu-ray disc contains all the bonus features, which, considering what a rich film this is, are not as generous as one might wish (no feature length commentary). The DVD disc, though, does include the Oscar-winning short, Paperman.

(also available with 3-D Blu-ray & Digital Copy)

Blu-ray Bonus Features:
• Paperman theatrical short
• Bit By Bit: Creating the World of Wreck-It Ralph
• Disney Intermission: The Gamer's Guide to Wreck-It Ralph
• Deleted and Alternate Scenes
• Video Game "Commercials" for Fix-It Felix, Jr., Hero's Duty and Sugar Rush

DVD Bonus Feature:
• Paperman theatrical short


The new Who Framed Roger Rabbit package includes bonus features from the 2003 Vista Series release, but mostly on the Blu Blu-ray disc. The DVD contains the "family friendly" features from "disc one" of the earlier release (it's pretty much the same disc).
2003 Vista Series Components
Disc 1: Fullscreen Feature Plus Family Friendly Bonus Feature
• The Roger Rabbit Shorts: Tummy Trouble / Rollercoaster Rabbit / Trail Mix-Up
• Who Made Roger Rabbit - Hosted by Charles Fleischer
• Trouble in Toontown Game
• Easter Egg (dashboard button) - Movie Trailer

Disc 2: Widescreen Feature Plus Enthusiast Features
• Audio Commentary: Robert Zemeckis, Jeffrey Price, Roger Seamans, Frank Marshall, Steve Starkey & Ken Ralston
• Deleted "Pig Head Sequence"
"The Valiant Files" Galleries: Character Development, Art of Roger Rabbit, Production, Promotional, Theme Parks
• Before and After Footage
• Toon Stand-Ins
• Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit
• On Set! Benny the Cab Pre-Animation Production Footage
• Toontown Confidential: Pop Up Trivia for the Film

The 2103 Blu-ray disc contains all of the above, plus the features below without the fullscreen version.

The 2013 DVD Reissue disc contains:
• Fullscreen Feature
• The Roger Rabbit Shorts: Tummy Trouble / Rollercoaster Rabbit / Trail Mix-Up
• Who Made Roger Rabbit - Hosted by Charles Fleischer
• Trouble in Toontown Game
• Easter Egg (dashboard button) - Movie Trailer

So, will time be kinder to Roger or Ralph? Roger the movie is already considered a landmark of its kind, while Ralph is not a landmark, it's a fine example of current CG animated features. But as a character, Roger has not transcended the film and become a beloved icon himself (though he still ought to be). Time will tell for Ralph.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a detective story with a fantastic twist, still a rather mature film but definitely enjoyable thanks to its ingenuity and the performances. Wreck It Ralph rises above being "just about video games" and examines the issues each character faces -- issues that will always be relevant, long after video games go out of fashion. It also has superb voice work.

But P-P-P-P-Pleeeeeze! See them if you haven't already. See them again if it's been awhile. Both are clever, rich in detail and highly recommended.

How would Russell Crowe's whistle-blower survive today?
Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Mar 01 2013 by Greg
Much of the Oscar buzz 14 years ago was about Michael Mann's The Insider, an intense, stylized dramatization about Jeffrey Wigand, the former Brown & Williamson tobacco executive who went public with history-making revelations on the iconic CBS newsmagazine show, 60 Minutes.

Ironically, to my teenage daughter, who has grown up in a world in which cigarettes are not the norm in most public places and seemingly always known to be harmful, it's hard to conceive of the magnitude of Wigand's revelations, aside from the chemical additives. Why would the "seven dwarfs" need to lie in court when everyone know smoking isn't good for you? There was a time when it wasn't completely acknowledged and an industry would do anything to keep it that way.

What my daughter did see, however, is one of the reasons that Russell Crowe earned his stature as an A-list actor, beyond just being that guy in Les Miz who wasn't singing as well as the others. His Oscar-nominated performance in The Insider (also nominated for director Mann and the film istelf) is worthy of the highest praise, as is that of Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer and a fine supporting cast that includes Michael "Gandalf" Gambon, Colm Feore and even WKRP in Cincinnati star Gary Sandy (scowling in the shadows as a sinister lawyer).

Speaking of shadows, there are a lot of them in The Insider, along with lots of long, pensive passages punctuated with moody music, odd shots that lingering on extraneous areas of the set or people, close ups on patterns and shapes and pretty much everything that was very much in vogue after Mann's pop culture sensation, Miami Vice -- and its MTV-influence use of color, camera movement and editing -- set the tone for film and TV. Even TV shows of today rely on moody montages set to a contemporary or classic tune to button up an episode.

But when you've got Pacino, Crowe, Plummer and the rest, why jiggle the camera around as if my sister was videotaping a birthday party? Often the style actually gets in the way of the drama, vies for the viewer's attention and only adds to the film's length rather than adding to the mood.

It's the equivalent of a late '60s musical in which things are just beginning to roll along when a character sits down and sings. In a musical, songs say what dialogue cannot, and it's an art to know where to put them. The same is true for signature filmmaking style.

When not done to excess, these creative touches can be impressive, and the Blu-ray shows them off to their best advantage. This is especially evident in scenes painted with color, like the driving range sequence in which Crowe is drenched in a green tint that rivals Margaret Hamilton. Many of the sets are truly striking. Even a simple hotel hallway takes on its own personality.

This is an interesting time in history to watch The Insider again -- or for the first time -- knowing what you know about the events that happened since, particularly in big business and mass entertainment. Al Pacino's character cannot defiantly run his version of the report on YouTube in this era. CBS isn't the conglomerate that it and its rival networks are today. Could an exposι like Wigand's interview even be considered for network TV now -- or would it break on the internet first?

And what of Wigand's fate? On the one hand, big business is bigger than ever and the reach is longer. On the other, there are things like the Whistleblower Protection Act and other efforts to keep these individuals from retaliation.

The Insider a riveting story that takes on a new dimension in light of where we are now, and where we need to go. You just have to be patient with the shaking camera and the other distracting affectations.

Think of a wonderful film...any happy little film...and this might pop into your head
Blog, Movies, Music
Posted on Feb 15 2013 by Greg
With Peter Pan, Walt Disney enjoyed something he could not with Alice in Wonderland, even though both were established through books, plays and other versions. While Alice defied interpretation (though I contend Disney's still comes the closest of all films), Peter Pan seemed to work perfectly as a Disney animated feature and has been one of the studio's most consistent crowd-pleasers.

Except for the "What Made the Red Man Red" sequence, which veers precariously into politically incorrect territory (especially the song lyrics), Disney's Peter Pan is very contemporary in many ways, particularly in its approach to the story as part fairy tale / part Archie comics triangle. I say this as a compliment, as I love Archie comics and the infinite way they expound on a series of simple themes, particularly the love triangle.

In Disney's Peter Pan, the little girls all seem to have matured into young ladies eager to be the one who captures Peter's heart. Wendy is like Betty, Tinker Bell is more like Veronica. (I guess that might make Hook like Reggie).

In a way, Peter isn't so much a child who doesn't want to grow up, he's an adolescent who doesn't want puberty to hit, much as today;s young boy whose voice is changing might keep choosing video games over girls until nature takes its course (though he never gives up the video games even as an adults). This Archie-like love triangle is standard operating procedure for much of today's youth-targeted films and TV, as it is in many grown up rom-coms.

One of the most interesting among the many bonus features (this one from the earlier DVD release) is a storyboard of a deleted sequence in which Wendy and Peter are about to part and the dialogue gets so romantic it might have been a scene from An Affair to Remember.

Speaking of bonus features, those who are not into Blu-rays will notice from the list below that the lion's share of extras are now only on the Blu-ray. You might want to keep the 2007 edition just in case.

However, unless you get the Blu-ray Diamond Edition, you're missing a lot of wonderful, colorful "Mary Blairyness," in addition to other magnificent sights in the crisp, vivid Blu-ray picture. (You can also get it with a digital download disc and storybook app.) I love the scene in "Following the Leader" in which the boys march into a field that towers over their heads. The bright yellow is striking.

By the way, the singers of that song are the Bob Mitchell Choir, who sang in Going My Way, The Flying Nun and hundreds of other Hollywood TV shows and movies. The late Bob Mitchell also used to play the organ at ball games.

And that flying sequence -- I don't care how 3-D movies get, there is nothing like that last flight off Big Ben out over London and into the otherwordly dimension where Never Land exists. One of the best aspects of Disney's version is how it avoids being literal about dream versus reality. Everything is nicely vague and left to the imagination. Too many films ground everything in a stark reality -- even fantasy films!

Besides the delightful feature, don't miss the 40-minute featurette, "Growing Up with Nine Old Men," another holdover feature from the earlier release. It's a charming, warm and memorable way to get to know the families and lives of these great artists in a very human way, thanks to Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas.

Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

Growing Up with Nine Old Men
Deleted Scenes: The Journey Home; Alternate Arrival
Deleted Songs: Never Smile at a Crocodile; The Boatswain Song
Classic Bonus Features (from previous release):
• Disney Song Selection
• Audio Commentary
• Deleted Song: The Pirate Song
• Never Land: The Lost Song
• Never Land Performed by Paige O'Hara
• Second Star to the Right - T-Squad
Classic Backstage Disney (from previous release):
• You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan
• In Walt's Words; Why I Made Peter Pan
• The Peter Pan That Almost Was
• The Peter Pan Story

2013 DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features
• Intro by Diane Disney Miller
• Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale

Also, the superb soundtrack album is available on DVD, there's a new "Songs & Story" version and a new edition of Disney's "Lost Chords" series (with digital booklet by Disney artist/historian Russell Schroeder) available for download, in which several deleted songs are presented in their original demos and in new stereo versions.

Did you know you can suggest movies for the National Film Registry?
Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 25 2013 by Greg
Just watched a fascinating documentary called "These Amazing Shadows" about how the National Film Registry came about and what they do. I did not know you could submit suggestions -- up to 50 a year -- for their consideration.

At their website, they have the full registry list and another list of films that did not make it yet. Of course, there were a few that they didn't have on either list, but that didn't stop me. The review board seems to prefer very eclectic choices, so naturally here's how I obliged with my first 25 picks:

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Cynical yet endearing musical/non-musical; a forerunner for the savvy tone in family films of today; a brilliant satire on mass media frenzy that only gains momentum in its shrewd truth

Babes in Toyland (1934)
The first musical fantasy on film; an operetta that stands up today despite changing tastes; a masterwork of Laurel & Hardy comedy

Babes in Arms (1939)
The first "let's put on a show" musical that also cemented the power of youth-driven cinema that took full hold with the dawn of rock

The Three Caballeros (1945)
The quintessential WWII "friendship" effort with some of the most mind-bending sequences ever (the "Wedding of the Wooden Doll" sequence in "Singin' in the Rain" owes a bit to this film

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

Time capsule of a makeshift family brought together by circumstance, particularly returned servicemen from the war, the changing roles of labor and management

Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
Hollywood's greatest example of transforming a real person into a figure of pure fantasy and childlike wonder; personifying Danny Kaye as an ambassador to children through the strength of music and storytelling

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
The "Citizen Kane" of budget drive-in teen movies in which all the elements work to their fullest effect, from the supporting characters to the guest stars; captures an era and an environment that millions believed to actually exist.

Pollyanna (1960)

One of Walt Disney's finest live-action films, not the saccharine dreck that the title suggests, but a great cast, great script and a vivid portrayal of small town Americana with more than a little bite

Mad Monster Party (1969)
No, I'm not kidding. The first mainstream feature length stop motion feature featuring legendary character designers in a quirky production that has influenced numerous Pixar artists and surely Tim Burton himself, many years before the "dark" animation of such films as "Nightmare Before Christmas"

House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Also not kidding. Barnabas Collins was the first vampire with a conscience and this film not only compressed about a year of daily TV soap opera drama into one film with economy and style, it also was such a moneymaker it helped save MGM at the time.

Skeleton Dance, The (1929)

The first of Walt Disney's "Silly Symphonies," another blueprint that countless filmmakers have followed

Superman (1978)
Still the finest of the tentpole action/fantasy epics of its time and any time, as it hits multiple audiences at once, tells a great American folk tale and makes its premise seem completely believable while winking with wit at the same time.

Mary Poppins (1964)
The culmination of an entire filmmaker's career, and that of his studio, in one film -- combining everything Walt Disney and his team could do in film, music and story -- with a nod to the Audio Animatronics Theme Park technology that became commonplace in movies in later decades

Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966)
The seed of one of the world's most popular stories and character casts, told with faith to the illustrations -- with a literal book and pages -- a great voice cast and a restrained simplicity rare among animated films of the time

Alice in Wonderland (1951)
The most imaginative vision of the virtually unfilmable world inside Lewis Carroll's mind; breaks all the rules of conventional Disney storytelling; becomes more contemporary as its moves forward in time; a masterpiece of design, madness and relentless abandon; truly like a dream realized on film

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Certainly groundbreaking in so many well-known ways, but also significant in that it made cartoons and animation -- and the love of such -- a perfectly grownup and artistic endeavor. Just ask those of us who took flack for liking cartoons as kids.

That's Entertainment! (1974)

A final -- or close to final -- look at the stars who made the great MGM films of the Freed unit; the last glimpse of the MGM wonderland before it was destroyed; also the movie that was supposed to draw a curtain over the genre but instead was so successful it spawned three sequels

The Long, Long Trailer (1953)
The only feature film to capture the electric dynamic between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at the top of the career and marriage success; a portrait of American "on the move" in which trailer parks were like folksy small towns

Charlotte's Web (1973)
The work that transcends the easily and too often dismissed factory animation of the Hanna-Barbera studio and elevates it to something rare and profound -- perfection in its imperfections, a film that is moving and memorable despite its budgetary limitations thanks to inspired casting and an effecting score. When the remake was being tested, audience members asked "where was the smorgasbord song?" This film gained a following as one of the first animated features to be readily available on cable and video before Disney started opening its vault. It's the "Wonderful Life" of animated features.

The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Originally a TV pilot, this modest, yet strangely dark, comedy made millions and influenced not only the Disney fantasy/comedy genre, but decades of film and TV escapist fantasies after it

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
The postwar baby boom suburban experience presented with charm and unforgettable humor

Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)

A slice of early 20th century life with many real-life misadventures adapted directly from the book by real-life Gilbreths; also notable because Lillian Moller Gilbreth broke down gender barriers, was her husband's partner in ways unusual for its time and was even on a U.S. postage stamp

Quiet Man, The (1952)
John Ford's sweeping portrait of the people of his heritage and perhaps the best example of chemistry between John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, as well as the vivid characters the people so many Ford films

Finian’s Rainbow (1968)
Francis Ford Coppola's only musical (his second commercial feature), the last film in which Fred Astaire danced, Petula Clark's first American film and a surreal look at racial issues with a foot in 1948 as well as 1968

Head (1968)

What might have been intended by the producers as an attempt to "bury" their creations, The Monkees, this stream-of-consciousness experience is one hand a melange of ideas and social commentary and on the other, an extended (albeit wilder) version of their series, still the most successful attempt at launching a fictional pop band that actually became a real one and rebelled against their creators.

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