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Blog, Movies
Posted on Oct 15 2011 by Greg
One of the latter day projects that the late Roy E. Disney was surely most pleased with had to be the Disneynature series. Since he earliest days with the Disney Studios, he was closely involved with the True-Life Adventures series and other animal-related films (he even wrote the script for the Disneyland Records Storyteller vinyl album for Bambi).

Disneynature doesn't just pay lip service to the tradition of combining spectacular animal footage with gripping dramatic narrative, it delivers, thanks to partnerships with some of the best wildlife photographers and documentarists in the world. African Cats is a great example of this level of quality.

Narrated with a combination of familial warmth and grave intensity, Samuel L. Jackson guides us offscreen through the politics between lions and other wild cats, their triumphs and losses. So parents be prepared for some heavy stuff in parts, including real catfights (as opposed to the reality show variety).

There is also some humor, particularly in the end credits. While the genuine film credits appear on the right, at the left appear animals, one after the other, with amusing "behind-the-scenes" credits for fight choreography, etc.

The Blu-ray brings out the already-stunning photography as well. The extras are sparse, though, and I would have loved to see more of how the film was made, as was shown in other DVDs in the series.

This makes a good pairing with The Lion King, to compare and contrast from animated fiction to live action documentary. African Cats is about as close to the real thing as many of us will ever get.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 30 2011 by Greg
Like Jack Benny and Annette Funicello, it's nearly impossible to find anyone who has anything truly negative to say about Walt Disney's Dumbo, the 1941 animated classic that signaled the pinnacle of Disney storytelling and raw artistry and the end of a golden era that was halted by WWII and a studio strike (which is expertly chronicled within the bonus treasure on this Blu-ray/DVD.

Dumbo really looks magnificent in this 70th Anniversary restored version, especially with Blu-ray, but what really delights me is the presence of an excellent new audio commentary. The commentators is historian Paula Sigman, master animator Andreas Deja and Pixar director Pete Docter. There's even a little video about Dumbo in the Disney Parks.

The DVD is not missing the key bonus features, which is a nice thing for those who do not have Blu-ray, but there are a few extra games, galleries and cartoons exclusively on the Blu-ray. The biggest addition is the entertaining Disney View system which adds visuals on your computer while the film runs in real time).

Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 19 2011 by Greg
Okay, dress up cute puppies in costumes and give them adorable voices and put them in a fluffy vehicle that shows them off to their adorable-est? Another "Buddies" movie on DVD and Blu-ray, this time Halloween-themed.

Yes, a new special edition DVD and Blu-ray of Citizen Kane was also just released--but look at those little puppy faces in these clips from Spooky Buddies...awww...what to choose, what to choose...

And did Charles Foster Kane have special offer coupons in his newspaper? We'll never know, but here's one for Spooky Buddies.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 01 2011 by Greg
It seems that no one who embarked on creating a sequel to one of Walt Disney's most celebrated animated classics went forward with a foolish sense bravado -- as if it were possible to recapture the circumstances that combined Walt himself with a "perfect storm" of artistic talents to bring the 1942 Bambi to the big screen. Add to that, a direct-to-DVD budget that would never match modern-day dollars it would have taken to reach the level of the original. Fortunately, the sequel's creative team were not that foolhardy and instead approached the project with respect, affection and reverence.

What the makers of Bambi 2 did have, however, was digital technology allowing them to fashion vivid settings very much in the painterly style of the first film; some very elaborate animation (particularly for a direct-to-DVD release) and most of all, the supervision of master animator Andreas Deja to keep the standards as high as possible.

The results are remarkably effective. It cannot summon the power and majesty of the original (and it would be outrageous to expect that in any case), but Bambi 2 is one of the most solid and satisfying of the much-maligned Disney video sequels.

In addition to the very sincere adherence to the visual style, it is the sound track that impresses, with the great Patrick Stewart voicing the Great Prince and a spot-on voice cast clearly chosen for their accuracy in reproducing the original cast instead of relying on a lot of celebrity names. The young boy voicing Thumper is especially amazing. It is a triumph of smart voice casting over marketing demands.

Also notable is Joel McNeely's score, which interpolates themes from the landmark music by Edward Plumb and the melody of the Oscar-nominated "Love is a Song." New songs, particularly "There is Life" sung by Alison Krauss, are fine complements to the new story, as were the songs in the original. One might object to the easy-listening contemporary style of these songs, but the 1942 songs were performed very much in the style of their time, as well.

On Blu-ray it all looks even better. But you'll definitely want to pair this with the Walt Disney classic and not worry too much about making comparisons. Just revel in their respective merits.

My only real issue is with the title. "Bambi 2" simply invites comparison and suggest the inherent misgivings of a sequel. I'm sure there was much discussion before the title was selected, but I would have preferred the alternate, Bambi and the Great Prince. Maybe there was a concern that this title might have made some expect that Bambi was going to encounter a rock star or a box of elbow macaroni.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Aug 25 2011 by Greg
A new Walt Disney Home Entertainment product line has just introduced three live-action Walt Disney Pictures features, all filmed in India in Hindi language with optional English subtitles. Disney initiated an ambitious roster of movie productions in India in recent years, including one animated feature called Roadside Romeo.

The recent trio of live-action features -- all released with the full-blown Walt Disney Pictures logo and intro -- are actually quite different in style and tone, all PG family-friendly for the most part (only one is rated PG-13 for violence).

My favorite of the three films is a gentle, offbeat family comedy/drama called Do Dooni Chaar, which translates as "Two Twice Equals Four." An underpaid, under-appreciated school teacher struggles with family squabbles as he putt-putts to work every day on a broken down scooter. His lame but lovable efforts to impress relatives, deal with his adolescent children and scrape together enough money for a small car (even buying boxes of detergent and, using the law of averages, get a winning prize ticket inside one of the boxes) are amusing and just far out enough to be funny but not so outlandish to be ridiculous..

The film is pretty stark and unsentimental, yet it ends on a very sweet, believable note. Along the way, there are some songs. Music and songs are a staple of Bollywood films, but rather than songs stopping the action and the cast singing and breaking character, the songs are heard on the soundtrack much as they are in American films and TV shows.

My 12-year-old son loved Zokkomon, which was aimed squarely at his age group. A sort of Karate Kid-meets-Zorro, Jr., this Disney Channel-style feature concerns a small, superstitious village under the corrupt thumb of a greedy despot, whose adopted nephew (shades of Harry Potter) becomes a ghostly superhero that spurs the children into action and helps lead the adults into realizing the truth.

This film could easily be dubbed and shown on Disney XD. Might be a little creepy for very small children, though. The songs in this film were a blend of off- and on-camera singing but they still seem to make sense and accentuate the narrative.

The most lavish of the three films, Once Upon Warrior, is also the most typical of what "Bollywood" films are "supposed" to be, at least based on my limited knowledge of them and my daughter's observations of films she watches at the home of our Indian neighbors. That makes it a rather unique experience for American audiences unacquainted with the "typical" genre.

Once Upon A Warrior is a full-blown action/adventure/fantasy, drenched in color and detail and played to the hilt by its cast. It comes complete with a dashing, rebellious hero, a lovely and mysterious maiden and a Maleficent-like evil witch to whom power is everything.

The film veers from grim, serious drama to broad comedy, not always seamlessly. Again, I'm looking at it with an inexperienced eye, so perhaps it's just perfect to the Indian audience, to whom it is is primarily directed. There is a lot of action violence, including a scene in which the hero has his eyes stabbed out (we really don't see, but we know), so it's not for everyone.

The songs are the most interesting aspect. This is something I am told is a staple of Bollywood movies, in which the actors seem to completely break out in song and change their attitude as they bop and sing to the bouncy tune. It's a little jarring at times and kind of amusing. But perhaps that is the intent -- we're not supposed to take any of this too seriously, let's take a break and have some fun and dance a bit. It's certainly an entertaining thing to behold.

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