"IF THERE WASN'T A TRON, THERE WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN A TOY STORY"
Posted on Apr 14 2011 by Greg
So says John Lasseter
in one of the many bonus features on the Tron and Tron:Legacy five-disc combo set
, containing a Blu-ray and DVD each of 1982's Tron
and the recent Tron: Legacy
, plus a digital download disc of the latter. (You can also get each film separately, but why unless you have the earlier DVD and don't want Blu-ray?)
Lasseter's quote comes from what are billed as the "original DVD features" that were included in the much-sought-after first DVD release of the original Tron
, which Disney did not reissue until now. Turning away what might have been a great amount of profit, the studio withheld the original film from reissue when the new film premiered, reportedly to avoid what might have been assumed as technical comparisons from the 1982 movie to the shiny new 2010 one.
They needn't have worried much, but it didn't seem to matter in the long run, because today both films are among the best sellers in the DVD market. And even though they don't compare well when judged primarily by special effects standards, they actually both stand together better than expected.Steven Lisberger
is still one of the most unique films to come from Disney or any other studio, now as well as then. There is simply nothing exactly like it, including Tron: Legacy
, which is undeniably a tribute in its basic look, but also resembles a good many current big-screen special effects extravaganzas.
There's no way that modern filmmakers would replicate what is very much a product of its era in scope and resources, and Tron: Legacy
is lightyears beyond its predecessor in astonishing visuals. And like the original, the sheer, overwhelming proponderance of eye-filling sights leave little room for characters, though both tried valiantly. Tron: Legacy
has the lion's share of labor, having to survive comparisons to its predecessor and reconcile two storylines, all the while relaunching a franchise that has been like shining gold in a locked treasure chest for decades.
On the third point, Tron: Legacy
succeeds extremely well. Like Star Trek
, which transformed from a canceled network series with high ambitions and vision that transcended its limited sets and effects and built on itself through new incarnations, Tron
was a great idea that occurred before the medium could handle it and even Disney didn't know what to really do with it for almost three decades -- though perhaps now has come into its own.
The key was to catapult the franchise, and Tron: Legacy
hit the mark. The animated version previewed on the disc is just one piece of the pie; a high-tech dance party called ElecTronica
at Disney's California Adventure
Park is another; and apparently the merchandise is already doing wellBruce Boxleitner
and Jeff Bridges
appear in both films, a plus for fans, though clearly many enthusiasts do miss Cindy Morgan
(who appears on the earlier bonus features). Rather than relying on star power to sell the new film (and jeopardize sequels with high contractual demands), Disney wisely gave Garrett Hedlund
and Olivia Wilde
a high-profile showcase. Wilde -- who has already distinguished herself superbly on TV's House
, is especially impressive -- she is a scifi icon in the making, along the lines with Star Trek: The Next Generation
's Seven of Nine.
What's especially fascinating about Tron
, though, is the road entertainment and effects took between the two films, which can be traced on the bonus features (though the earlier Tron
DVD set did have a few more, so keep your old one if you have it). It was an influential film that inspired countless viewers, especially those within the film and video industry.
Both films make good use of the clarity of Blu-ray. The only missing feature is a new commentary track. But we can still hear the comments on the original film by Lisberger himself, who seems to have been welcomed into the new production by the new creative team.
HAIL TO THE PRINCESS RAPUNZEL
Posted on Mar 28 2011 by Greg
Rumors of the end of the Disney Princess movies, to paraphrase Mark Twain
, "have been highly exaggerated." Tangled proved it by being a huge theatrical hit. Part fairy tale, part musical, part romantic comedy, somehow it all came together despite a long, difficult history of behind-the-scenes changes and rearranges, including giving the film a "hip" title instead of Rapunzel
(or as it was known in an earlier incarnation, Rapunzel Unbraided
When the Tangled
trailers originally aired, I was apprehensive because of the title change and the skewed trailers with their blaring pop music tracks. Would it be a spoofy, Shrek
-y send up? Would Rapunzel herself be the tough-talking "today" lady so common in recent animation? Would it end with a boogie dancing '80s top-40 chestnut?
I needn't have been concerned. Tangled turns out to be a Disney fairy tale in the classic sense that straddles the difficult line between "straight" storytelling, screwball comedy, romance and yes, even a little suspense -- because, like Cinderella
, we know it's all going to be fine but we want to see how it works out.
And speaking of Cinderella, there has never been a Disney animated film with a more complicated villain than Mother Gothel since the Stepmother in Walt Disney
(Cruella and Madame Medusa are close contenders). The evil is all about psychological abuse, the manipulation of a person into submission that is so effective that the victim is compelled to sustain it, even though they yearn for more.
How many of us have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, a situation in which we are led to believe that we're "lucky to be here" or "better off than the alternative" by a person or a group who knows your true worth but conceals it by convincing you you're not capable otherwise? Who hasn't had the boss/parent/partner/friend who criticized you so much you started to believe you really were worthless? I was astounded to see this complex dynamic dealt with in a Disney animated film.
Both Rapunzel and Flynn have self-doubt but they trod on anyway. They didn't start out contemptuously loathing each other the way couples do in way too many films nowadays, either. Their character arcs were the most plausible we'd seen since Beauty and the Beast.
The Alan Menken/Glenn Slater
songs were not tossed in at random just to fill up an album or make a great theme park number (though they probably would), but because they had a crucial book requirement. They all served the story -- and I've Got a Dream" was the funniest number since "Gaston."
Often when the story was just about to approach a cliché, there was a gag or twist that punctured it. And the horse -- Maximus -- stole every scene.
Animation-wise, there was a hand-drawn quality to the expressions that I don't recall in most CG films, especially in the more human-styled characters. In his commentary on Toy Story 3
, Lee Unkrich
said there had been huge strides in CG humans and clearly both films were able to benefit.Tangled
didn't make me get all misty eyed the way that Toy Story 3
did, but it was, in tone, more of a grand epic romp overall. I liked it much more than I thought I would. My wife and kids loved it, too.
The Tangled Blu-ray
is truly dazzling, making full use of meticulous detail, design and color. The DVD does not contain as many bonus features as the Blu-ray, but there aren't all that many overall anyway. One highlight is a segment in which lead voice actors Mandy Moore
and Zachary Levi
breeze through a lighthearted trivia trek which includes a quick rundown of all 50 Disney animated features (a list that has, historically, changed a little bit over the years). Sure wish there was an audio commentary, though.
There seemed to be no doubt that Mandy Moore was a perfect fit for the singing and acting duties of playing a Disney princess. The surprise is Levi, who has far more range than he often is allowed to display on TV. Clearly he has more stage experience than the unpretentious persona evidenced in various appearances. He even has a decent singing voice.
Like Mickey Mouse, who started it all, the fairy tale is the heart of Disney storytelling. They can and should stretch and go outside the box but they should never totally abandon the core form. Nobody does it better. Makes me feel sad for the rest...(somebody stop me!)
TALES OF EARTH, SEE?
Posted on Mar 16 2011 by Greg
For those of us who cherish the films of Studio Ghibli and especially the master animator Hayao Miyazaki
, it's always something of an event when a new film comes out. Tales from Earthsea
is such an event, though it's actually the first film directed by his son, Goro, but according to the brief special feature doc, the Ursula LeGuin
fantasy book and short story series was long envisioned by the senior Miyazaki as an animation project -- with Ms. LeGuin very much in favor of the full Ghibli treatment for her creation.
And that it does. Tales from Earthsea
is a grand epic fantasy with astonishing design and scope. Though cel animated, CG is also used to enhanced the movement over ground surfaces, for depth and other imagery that would be more cumbersome (if possible) to be done by hand. It must be made clear that the CG serves the 2D animation rather than overwhelm it, much as it did in Beauty and the Beast
and The Great Mouse Detective
, only on a much bigger scale.
I'm no expert on the Earthsea
stories, but from what I can estimate from various synopses, this film takes several characters and situations and crafts its own cohesive storyline, avoiding the intense intermingling of characters and arcs that weave throughout the LeGuin works. Overall, the film stands on its own, though we are left with a few loose ends here and there.
Few movies have the layered intelligence of Tales from Earthsea
, with its musings on life, death and human existence within a very engrossing story about a youth who starts out on the run because of a murder he can't explain. He's mentored by an elder wizard and do some farming as well engage in as swashbuckling action...well you have to see it.
Perhaps in part because this Earthsea is Goro's first feature as director, it's been released at the same time as a new Blu-Ray version of Miyazaki's first feature directed for Studio Ghibli, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
(I would assume an Earthsea
Blu-ray is forthcoming).
Completely by coincidence, Nausicaa
takes on a staggeringly prophetic tone in the shadow of recent natural and man-made disasters in Japan, making it all the more hard-hitting as allegory.
Virtually all of Miyazaki's film convey this theme with varied intensity. In Nausicaa
, pollution and industrial waste is the major element as this fantasy world is plagued by a deadly poisoned jungle and the relation between people and animals, in this case bug-like creatures that young Princess Nausicaa understands and champions.
The film is lentgthy for an animated feature, yet does not flag or sag. It's an overall dark story without much humor, but the subject matter holds little room for flippancy. The voice cast, showcased on one of the bonus features, matches that of a major Hollywood live action movie, the case including Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman
and Edward James Olmos
For DVD owners, you will find that a few of the bonus features have been moved to the new disc. But again, Blu-ray especially accentuates that remarkable, meticulous detail of the world of Nausicaa and the imagination of Miyazaki.
"BAMBI DEER?" "YES, HE IS, DARLING."
Posted on Mar 09 2011 by Greg
Sorry for the Police Squad
The great thing about a great film is its ability to elicit a nostalgic response in addition to taking on a new meaning with each new viewing.
again after a few years, this time with my own family on the new Diamond Edition
, brought back the memories of each time I saw it in the past (this goes back to the 1960s) and how it resonated then and still does now. This is perhaps the closest an animated film comes to being a moving painting, a work of art in motion. Yet, Bambi
is even more than that because the effect is more than visual.Bambi
has one of the most powerful and imitated musical scores in the film industry. Let's face it, when "man in in the forest," it might as well be Jaws
. And while its last two songs are more a part of the 1940s period in which it was first released, the first two, "Love is a Song" and "Little April Shower," are masterworks, in their composition and execution.
The main observation I took away from seeing Bambi
this time around was how much it reminded me of a Hayao Miyazaki
film in tone and design. There are many held cels, pausing for emotional effect much like anime, and the environmental theme has had decade-long ramifications. I wonder if the great Japanese animator was inspired by this film in particular.
The one aspect of Bambi
that was played down over the years has been the voice cast. No voice cast received less credit in a Disney animated feature, as was Walt Disney
's plan at the time, because it was felt that knowing the voices detracted from the animated characters (which is arguably true, especially in this age of star voices). But it's nice that the cast has been revealed more recently and can be researched elsewhere, though not so much in the DVD, except for some comments on a bonus feature.
The person I would like to bring into the spotlight here is Paula Winslowe
, who embodied the warmth and strength of Bambi's mother flawlessly with impeccable diction and remarkable depth in so few lines. It may surprise fans of the golden age radio classic, The Life of Riley
, that Ms. Winslowe played the long-suffering yet loving wife, Peg, to William Bendix
's Chester A. Riley -- a fine example of her versatility.
The new Blu-ray is stunning, as the film itself is, and features a new interactive feature that allows you to access additional material on your laptop while the film plays (in addition to a few new bonus features). Most but not all of the older bonus material presented on the previous two-disc DVD, but I'm keeping my old one to keep all the features.
Props to the people at Walt Disney Home Entertainment for not being completely Blu-ray-centric for those who still cling to standard DVD by including the newly-enhanced "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" feature, which replaces Patrick Stewart
from the earlier version (another reason to keep the old DVD set) and adds about 26 additional minutes of expert, on camera commentary and a constant stream of supporting visuals that fly by on the screen as the entire film plays. This sort of feature appeared on the recent Blu-ray of Alice in Wonderland
and it is a terrific experience. Kudos to the people who worked so hard on it. Maybe this kind of feature, which is like an audio commentary only very visual, needs a catchy name like "ArchiveVision." I hope more Disney titles include this fine feature.
ALICE IN BLU-RAY LAND
Posted on Feb 10 2011 by Greg
Alice in Wonderland
is one of my favorite books. I enjoy watching version after version, each taking a shot at making Lewis Carroll
's dreamlike, episodic prose and poetry into a film or TV production that is cohesive and at the same time, worthy of the fantastic images we all have in our minds as we read.
Unless the story is changed markedly--as Tim Burton
did with his 2010 version, the only big screen Alice
that was a box office smash--many have tried with varying results. Walt Disney's 1951 version, which is presented for the first time on a 60th Anniversary Blu-Ray combo package
in this edition also including a not-quite-so-decked-out-with-bonus-materials DVD.
The Alice material was clearly close to Walt Disney
since he did his own twist on the idea in his first successful film series, the Alice comedies, in which a live action Virginia Davis
interacted with animated creatures. Alice in Wonderland
was also almost the first Disney animated feature until Snow White
was ultimately selected. Mary Pickford
was to play a live Alice for Disney, along with Ginger Rogers
--and even Margaret O'Brien, whose mother turned it down because of the price offered (a fact she recently told talk show host Stu Shostak on a recent shokusradio.com
By the time Alice was underway as an all-animated feature, the studio was still hurting from WWII losses, the 1950 release Cinderella
had helped things considerably and high hopes were dashed when Alice
initially underperformed at the box office.
The musical score lived on through the decades, even though the film was out of general release for 23 years and shown twice in edited form on TV. The ultimate public embrace of Disney's Alice
came over the last few decades as it became a staple of home video and cable TV. Now, as Alice voice Kathryn Beaumont
states quite truthfully in the new bonus documentary, it is absolutely now one of the most popular and beloved Disney animated features.
The very things that were problematic for Alice
as a '50s movie have become assets in modern times. The choppy, episodic nature makes it ideal for television and video. It's loose, zany, irreverant style is welcome to kids brought up on Spongebob
. The voice cast, once almost completely well-known to the world at large, now fits the characters better than ever--and have become iconic on their own And perhaps above all, the look of the film is a monument to the legendary Disney art director Mary Blair
. See the recent New York Times review
for more about that.
For those on the fence about investing in Blu-ray, Alice provides a very strong argument. The crisp angles are razor sharp and each color's nuance is shown to best advantage.
But my favorite feature on the Blu-ray disc is "Through the Keyhole-A Companion's Guide to Wonderland," which is better described as a "video commentary." Like an audio commentary, this bonus feature accompanies the entire film, which plays on one part of the screen or another while expert commentators like Brian Sibley, Paula Sigman
and many others discuss the film, Walt Disney, and especially Lewis Carroll, in a very sensitive and non-sensational way, offering thoughtful insights and endless details.
For DVD owners, you may want to keep your previous editions (there are three) to hang onto all the features, many of which have been included only on the Blu-ray this time around (though DVD player owners can still enjoy very nice "Reflections on Alice" featurette, which includes comments from the marvelously effervescent Stacia Martin
and others). But I still don't think that absolutely all the marvelous features from the wondrous laserdisc of Alice have all been included on any DVD or Blu-ray.
But if they want to do another reissue, that's fine with me. Like Mary Poppins
, regular home video reissues keep the films fresh and in the public eye. If that makes me a little "mad," well, don't let's be silly!
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