Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998) - Moving on from John Smith

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World - A New Land and a New Love

DVD cover Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998

In Walt Disney Feature Animation's "Pocahontas," Captain John Smith befriended the young native American Pocahontas, chief's daughter, and they fell in love. Loosely based on real-life events, Walt Disney Pictures' direct-to-video "Pocaontas II: Journey to a New World" (1998) continues the story of "Pocahontas" pretty much up to the end of the real story. Almost all of the voice actors return from "Pocahontas," with the exception of Mel Gibson as John Smith, who now is voiced by Mel's brother Donal Gibson. Smith is not the central male figure in this continuation anyway, as Pocahontas engages on adventures of her own. Both "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II" take tremendous liberties with the facts, which is upsetting to some people who expect a more respectful stance. Disney movies, of course, never have been likened to documentaries. Watching the two movies is a fairly seamless experience that might excite interest in the real history by younger viewers, though the quality difference and enjoyment factor between them is staggering.
Pocahontas John Smith in a canoe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas, Meeko and John Smith
Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) obtains a warrant for the arrest of John Smith from Ratcliffe's friend King James (Jim Cummings) by underhanded means. John Smith is arrested, and everyone is told that he is dead. Wishing to avoid issues with the Powhatan Nation, the King sends diplomat John Rolfe (Billy Zane) to Virginia to smooth things over with Pocahontas' father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means). The King wants Rolfe to bring the chief back to England for discussions. Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) is sad about Smith's death, but she comes to terms with his passing. Rolfe arrives and tries to take charge of matters, which irks Pocahontas, who is a free spirit and feels everything is under control already.
John Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
John Rolfe
Rolfe doesn't know the name of Chief Powhatan and mistakenly comes to believe that his name is "Pocahontas." At a dance that night, Rolfe brings a gift of a horse for "The Mighty Pocahontas." When he sees who Pocahontas is, Rolfe is embarrassed. He finds the real chief and asks him to come to England, but the chief refuses. Pocahontas, wishing to avoid a war, volunteers to go in her father's place. After some timely advice from spiritual tree Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt), Pocahontas sets off with Rolfe for England. Pocahontas' animal friends racoon Meeko (John Kassir), hummingbird Flit (Frank Welker) and pet dog Percy (Danny Mann) stow away. The ship's captain, unclear as to what is happening, tries to arrest Pocahontas as a stowaway herself, but Rolfe protects her, softening her feelings towards him somewhat.
Pocahontas with Flit and Meeko Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas with her animal friends
Upon arriving in England, Rolfe learns that Ratcliffe has convinced his buddy the King to send an invasion force to Virginia if things do not go smoothly. Rolfe then takes Pocahontas to his estate outside of London, where his housekeeper Mrs. Jenkings (Jean Stapleton) treats Pocahontas with kindness. The King invites Pocahontas and Rolfe to The Hunt Ball, where it is understood that if Pocahontas acts improperly, the invasion force will sail for Virginia. Pocahontas gladly accepts the challenge and dresses up in the English style, a hoop dress and high heels. Taking the event seriously, Pocahontas learns English manners from Rolfe, and he teaches Pocahontas how to dance. Pocahontas even replaces her mother's necklace with an English one.
London England Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Medieval London, England
At the ball, Pocahontas flatters the King and gets along well with the Queen (Finola Hughes). Ratcliffe, though, is determined to have her make a poor impression so that he can invade Virginia, so he arranges a bear-baiting. Pocahontas gets upset and berates the King and others for laughing at the bear's mistreatment. The King in turn gets upset at Pocahontas and, at Ratcliffe's suggestion, arrests her and her bodyguard Uttamatomakkin (Brad Garrett) with the intention of executing them. Rolfe, desperate, encounters a hooded stranger who succeeds in breaking Pocahontas and her bodyguard out of prison. When safe in the woods, the hooded stranger reveals himself as none other than John Smith. It turns out that both Smith and Rolfe have feelings for Pocahontas.
King James of England Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
King James
Pocahontas returns to her normal look and visits the Queen, explaining what happened. John Smith then appears and convinces the King that Ratcliffe lied about gold being in Virginia, the reason for an invasion fleet thus being negated. Smith, Rolfe and Uttamatomakkin then rush to stop the invasion fleet, captained by Ratcliffe, from sailing. Arriving at the last moment, the three manage to throw the sailors overboard and then crash the ships together. Ratcliffe fights a duel against Smith and loses, but then draws a pistol. Rolfe and Pocahontas capture Ratcliffe, who then is arrested by King James on shore.
DVD Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas DVD
With her mission at an end, Pocahontas decides to leave for home. Rolfe and Pocahontas come close to admitting they like each other, but Smith butts in and says that he wants to be with Pocahontas instead. Rolfe leaves, and Pocahontas breaks up with Smith. Then Smith leaves, and the ship sails, with Rolfe nowhere to be seen. As the ship sails off, Rolfe appears on deck as a stowaway, and he and Pocahontas kiss as the ship sails into the sunset.
Pocahontas dressed up Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas in her ballroom attire
The plot of "Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World" is so far from real events that anyone familiar with the real events may have difficulty watching it. Ratcliffe was not involved with Pocahontas at all, and, in fact, was long dead by the time that Pocahontas ever sailed for England. There was no invasion fleet, no motivation of invading to find gold, and Rolfe's entire relationship with Pocahontas (they were married) occurred prior to and during the stay in England. That Pocahontas died suddenly and mysteriously right at the point that "Pocahontas II" ends is perhaps the oddest relationship between film and real life of all.
Pocahontas dancing with John Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas and Ratcliffe dancing
The almost universal reaction to "Pocahontas II" is one of disappointment. The animation is inferior to the original, with faces that are far less expressive. In fact, if Rolfe and Smith did not have different-colored hair, it would be difficult to tell them apart. The (fictional) story is weak and melodramatic, and the songs by Marty Panzer and Larry Grossman would have been better off left out (though "Things are Not what they Appear" is fairly tuneful).
Ratcliffe in chains Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Governor... former Governor Ratcliffe
All that is minor, though, compared to the travesty of the story line. If Disney wished to completely fabricate events in a real person's life, why not at least complete the set-up from the original "Pocahontas" and have her wind up with Smith? Of course, she married Rolfe in real life, but only because Smith left and (yes, the film is correct on this) everyone thought him dead. One may argue that there was nothing between Smith and Pocahontas in the first place, but if you spend an entire film establishing a deep and abiding live, carelessly brushing that off in the final five minutes of a sequel makes absolutely no sense. This is the rare Disney movie with a supposedly happy ending that, in fact, is quite unhappy for many viewers. One can make the argument that "Pocahontas II" ruins all the good feelings engendered in "Pocahontas," which, for all its faults, lay a lot closer to historical truth than "Pocahontas II."
Pocahontas, Ratcliffe, Smith Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
The romantic triangle
"Pocahontas II" was a tragic mistake on Disney's part. It is no wonder that Disney stopped making direct-to-video sequels to its feature animated films a few years later. Having directors Tom Ellery and Bradley Raymond end the sequel with Pocahontas breaking up with her big lover from "Pocahontas" just leaves you gaping at the screen in frustration, especially since Rolfe is so unimpressive. Even little kids who see "Pocahontas" likely will be disappointed.
Pocahontas Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
A fantasy moment
Underlying the other problems is that there is very little chemistry between Pocahontas and Rolfe. In an odd way, Rolfe is almost made to appear unlikeable throughout "Pocahontas II." It is as if the screenwriters Allen Estrin, Cindy Marcus and Flip Kobler were unclear until the end themselves how they wished to end "Pocahontas II," then flipped a coin and decided to have Pocahontas wind up with her real-life husband rather than her "boyfriend" from the first film.  There also was little humor, as the sidekicks Meeko, Percy and Flit seem "just along for the ride" in more ways than one. Pocahontas turns from being a sweet lover of the forest into an insistent peace activist who never seems happy, which never was the case in real life and robs her in "Pocahontas II" of having any meaningful relationship with anyone.
Blu ray package Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
The Blu ray package has nice extra features
It is amusing how Disney could completely change the ending of "The Little Mermaid" to make it happy, but with "Pocahontas II," it changes everything but the man who she really ended up marrying - making the ending sad for any fan of the first film. On the positive side, there is more action in "Pocahontas II" and Ratcliffe is more central to the story as a creepy villain. It also is fun seeing Pocahontas doing different things, as long as you don't dwell too long on what those things are. "Pocahontas II" may be useful for showing kids that life doesn't always turn out the way that you expect or want. The two-disc, two-movie blu-ray set does have an interesting documentary on the Disney project "Hiawatha" and how that directly influenced the genesis of "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II." "Pocahontas II" really isn't any worse than your average animated television series show, but it is only recommended for die-hard fans of the first film who just want to see more of the real American princess and aren't too demanding about things like plot and character development.

Below is the ball-room scene from "Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World."


Monday, January 21, 2013

Home on the Range (2004) - Roseanne Plays a Cow

Home on the Range: Roseanne Barr versus Randy Quaid

DVD cover Home on the Range 2004

"Home on the Range" (2004), directed by Will Finn and John Sanford for Walt Disney Feature Animation, is a hand-drawn animation feature (using the CAPS computer process) which came out during string of Disney film disappointments at the box office. The animation field had completely changed over the previous decade, and Disney movies were having trouble keeping pace. "Home on the Range" is pleasant enough, but it couldn't complete with the new franchise films and solo hits that year from other studios like "Ice Age," "Shrek 2" and "The Incredibles." Despite being headlined by popular television comedienne Roseanne Barr, "Home on the Range" got lost in the shuffle among all those classic hits and never found its audience. As a comedy, the laughs are relatively few, but undemanding viewers may enjoy the notion of talking cows plotting revenge against a cattle rustler.
Maggie's udders Home on the Range 2004
Maggie confronts a visitor
Cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) raids the Dixon ranch, getting every cow except Maggie (Barr). Mr. Dixon sells Maggie to Pearl (Carole Cook), a sweet older lady who runs the "Patch of Heaven" farm. Sheriff Sam, though, soon arrives and warns her that the local bank that holds the mortgage on her property is threatening to foreclose. Pearl has three days to come up with $750, or he will have to sell the farm. Maggie convinces her fellow cows Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) to help Pearl find the money so that she can save her farm.
Pearl's farm Home on the Range 2004
Maggie and friends leaving A Patch of Heaven
The trio heads to town to see if they can win prize money at a fair. While there, Rico the bounty hunter (Charles Dennis) stops at the sheriff's office and drops off a fugitive, collecting the reward. He needs a rested horse, so he obtains the sheriff's horse, Buck (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and prepares to track down Alameda Slim as his next project. Hearing about this, Maggie tells her friends that they can save the farm if they can just track Slim down for the $750 reward.
Maggie, Grace and Mrs. Calloway Home on the Range 2004
Maggie and friends
Going undercover among a large herd of steer, Maggie and her friends wait for Slim. He appears, and promptly starts a yodelling song that puts all of the animals into a trance except for Grace, who is tone deaf. Grace snaps her two friends out of their trances, and the three watch as Slim creates a rockslide that prevents Rico or anyone else from following him and his stolen steer.
Rico, Buck and the Sheriff Home on the Range 2004
The sheriff doesn't look very intimidating
Maggie and the others find Rico and start talking to his horse, Buck, who is an old friend. Buck gets carried away telling an old story and starts acting out past events, making Rico mistakenly believe that Buck is afraid of cows. Rico, who needs a horse who is comfortable around cattle, takes Buck back to the sheriff, but Buck, determined to prove his worth, escapes. Maggie and her group, meanwhile, find a peg-legged rabbit named Lucky Jack (Charles Haid) who leads them to Slim's hideout, an abandoned mine.
Rico and Buck Home on the Range 2004
Rico has come for his bounty
Slim then reveals his sinister master plan: he steals cattle from people he knows, then uses the money he gets from selling the animals to buy the properties when they are auctioned off. When buying land he goes under the alias "Mr. O'Delay." Maggie and her friends promptly capture Slim, but Slim's gang and a buyer chase them onto a steam train. Rico arrives, but it turns out that he works for Slim. Slim escapes and heads off to the auction as Mr. O'Delay, but Maggie and friends drive the train to the farm and confront Slim in front of everyone.
Maggie, Buck, Rusty, Mrs. Calloway, Grace Home on the Range 2004
Maggie and friends planning their next move
The animation process for "Home on the Range" was well-developed by this point, having been introduced in "The Rescuers Down Under" and used for well over decade in hits like "Tarzan." Other studios like Pixar, though, were moving past this creaking technology, so "Home on the Range" was the last film for a while which used traditional animation at all. Some complain that the animation in "Home on the Range" is garish, but others think that the visuals are a high point of "Home on the Range." It certainly is full of color and multiplane effects that give the scenery a somewhat flat look, but with great background detail. The 2D animation is of high quality, it just isn't to everyone's taste.
Alameda Slim Home on the Range 2004
The colors in "Home on the Range" are very vivid
A bigger problem with "Home on the Range" is the script by directors . The year 2004 was a high point in animation due to the large number of high-concept films released that year, and "Home on the Range" has a very simple story that could have been told equally well in the 19th Century. In that sense, it is similar to the failed "Treasure Planet," whose story actually was adapted from a story of that time. Character development in "Home on the Range" is thin, as there is an entire farm full of characters who each need a little time to make their appearance and give their background. "Home on the Range" might, even then, have worked as a children's Disney movie, but there is an element of crudeness that seeps through "Home on the Range" that probably stems from Roseanne's uniquely confrontational form of comedy. The film opens with shot of Maggie's udders, who then says somewhat salaciously (for a kid's Disney movie), "Yes, they're real, quit staring," which must make no sense at all to anyone below the age of about eight.
Maggie and friends Home on the Range 2004
I've never seen a sky quite that color before
Alan Menken, who hit his high point in his collaborations with the late Howard Ashman, is around to provide the score, which is perfectly adequate but certainly not in the league of, say, his classic "Beauty and the Beast" numbers. Country singers k.d. lang and Bonnie Raitt sing a couple of country songs, but there isn't anything that is going to send you home snapping your fingers, and the characters themselves don't sing anything as used to be the norm. When you combine the relatively weak score with the weak slapstick, the thin plot and the debatable animation, there really isn't much of a draw to "Home on the Range" beyond crude jokes.
barn animals Home on the Range 2004
All of the animals posed for a group shot
There are some nice moments in "Home on the Range," as in any Disney movie. Alameda has three dim-witted nephews who provide some light comic relief, but there big-name comedians in "Home on the Range" who should be doing that. There is a lot of what can best be described as mordant barnyard humor:

“Jeb: Well, I think we all know what happens now!
Mrs. Calloway: Jeb, don’t start!
Jeb: Now we all get eaten!
Mrs. Calloway: Jeb!
Audrey: But who would eat a chicken?”
The fundamental issue with crafting an animated film like "Home on the Range" that appears solidly targeted at a specific demographic (here, Middle America) is that, because the tale is not organic to the storytellers or the process, the plot becomes formulaic and relies on stereotypes (you don't get any more trite than a "helping the widow save her farm" plot). Slim is the standard dastardly villain, Buck is the standard eager young hero desperate to prove himself, and so on. You might expect this Disney movie to suddenly shake off the corn and reveal itself as some sort of arch parody or satire - but it doesn't. If you like Roseanne's brand of comedy, though, this is a good film to see, because she gets off her share of acid-tongued one-liners that are, as usual, delivered with great timing.
Alameda Slim Home on the Range 2004
Randy Quaid is great as the dastardly Slim
If you are looking for an animated Western and already have seen "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West," you might want to try "Home on the Range." It will help a lot for your enjoyment, though, if you are a fan of the leads, who all have distinctive personalities that some find amusing and others, well, don't.

Below is the trailer for "Home on the Range."


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brother Bear (2003) - Nice Lessons from this Disney Movie About Acting Responsibly

Brother Bear: Nature is Calling

Film poster Brother Bear 2003

During the Disney Renaissance that stretched from "The Little Mermaid" to "Tarzan," Walt Disney Feature Animation maintained an upbeat, positive tone in almost all of its Disney movies. If characters weren't singing positive tunes, they were cracking jokes or getting even with someone who had wronged them. When you left the theater, you were either marvelling at how funny or moving Robin Williams or James Woods or Jason Alexander had been, or you were humming classic tunes composed by Howard Ashman or Alan Menken. Well, "Brother Bear" (2003), helmed by first-time feature directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker, wasn't overwhelmingly funny (though it did have some humor), and it didn't have very memorable songs unless you really, really like Phil Collins. What "Brother Bear" did have was an admirable message about acting responsibly towards the world in which we live. It is one of the lower-key animated Disney movies and largely forgotten, but remains worthwhile for the right audience. The decline of Disney movies from the heights of the 1990s was becoming obvious by this point, but "Brother Bear" still possesses a thoughtful charm about it that many of the lighter-themed, more popular Disney movies lack.
Kenai, Denahi, Sitka Brother Bear 2003
"And for our next song...."

It is North America some time shortly after the last ice age. Three brothers, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), Denahi (Jason Raize) and Sitka (D.B. Sweeney), are preparing for the sacred ceremony in which Kenai becomes a man. It is time for Kenai to receive his sacred totem, which turns out to be a bear of love. This means that in order to become a man within the tribe, Kenai must prove that he can live his life with love, and all that love implies. Kenai is upset, desiring something more heroic, and believing that all bears are thieves. It turns out to be the perfect totem, though for Kenai has a lot to learn about love, bears and everything else in the wild.
The brothers kayaking Brother Bear 2003
Disney sure knows how to make living in a frozen Hell look like fun

Somwhat ironically, a bear then steals some salmon from the tribe. The three brothers pursue the offending bear onto a glacier. During a battle against the bear, Sitka sacrifices his life to save his brothers. The bear survives and escapes, and Kenai makes it his mission to hunt the bear down and kill it despite his remaining brother's belief that the bear was not at fault. Kenai tracks the bear up to a mountain lake and needlessly kills it. Sitka, now a powerful spirit in the form of a bald eagle, watches all this and decides that Kenai needs to learn a lesson (apparently the totem wasn't enough), so he turns Kenai into the dead bear. This way, Kenai can atone for his wrongdoing and understand the bear's point of view. Denahi, meanwhile, now thinks that the bear (inhabited by Kenai) has killed both of his brothers, so he vows to track the bear now inhabited by Kenai down and kill it, just as Kenai did (perhaps Denahi needs a lesson, too?).
Kenai in human form Brother Bear 2003
"Bears are nothing but thieves."

Kenai, in the bear form, gets caught in a raging river and swept down through some rapids. Tanana (Joan Copeland), the shaman of Kenai's tribe, who somehow knows what is going on, heals Kenai, then advises Kenai to go back up into the mountains to find Sitka and admit that he was wrong for killing the bear. Tanana then disappears, and Kenai sets off on his new mission to find Sitka. In his new form, Kenai discovers that he can understand the speech of the wildlife around him. Kenai soon meets two brother moose, Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, reprising their roles as the comic Canadian Mckenzie brothers). Proceeding on his way, Kenai gets caught in a trap but is freed by a chatty bear cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez). Kenai agrees to go with Koda to a nearby salmon run, after which Koda promises to take Kenai back to the mountain.
Koda Kenai Brother Bear 2003
"Are you trying to be annoying?"
Denahi still is hunting Kenai, who tries and fails to kill Kenai several times. Kenai and Koda run into Rutt and Tuke again, and they all catch a ride on some wooly mammoths, which speeds up their journey to the salmon run. Escaping Denahi again, the two bears reach the salmon run and meet a large group of bears. The leader is an amiable sort named Tug (Michael Clark Duncan), and Kenai feels at home with the other bears. While staying with them, Koda tells a story which makes Kenai realize that he was the one who killed Koda's mother.
Koda Kenai Brother Bear 2003
Very lovely visuals in "Brother Bear," like a painting

Kenai leaves out of guilt, but Koda finds him. When Kenai tells Koda the truth, Koda is the one who leaves, leaving Kenai on his own to find the mountain. Koda runs into Rutt and Tuke again, and they inspire Koda to go back and forgive Kenai. Denahi then shows up and is about to kill Kenai, but Koda steals Denahi's hunting gear. Kenai then helps Koda, which causes Sitka to realize that Kenai has learned his lesson. Sitka changes Kenai back into human form, but then Kenai has a big decision to make as to whether he wishes to live as a man with his tribe, or as a bear with Tug and his group.
Koda river Brother Bear 2003
Koda gets his fish

The animation of "Brother Bear" is hand-drawn, with computer graphics used for discrete scenes such as the salmon run and a caribou stampede. The animators spent a great deal of time outdoors, sketching and painting in Florida (not much like Alaska, granted, but it does have animals, too), in order to get the details of the animals right. "Brother Bear" is in 2D, and uses a neat trick of changing the film's aspect ratio when Kenai is transformed into a bear, broadening the film out and using brighter, more vivid colors. Thus, you can tell what stage of "Brother Bear" you are at with a quick glance, as everything seems livelier and more lush after Kenai changes into a bear.
Rutt, Tuke, Kenai Brother Bear 2003
"We camp here tonight!"
Phil Collins, who did the well-received soundtrack for "Tarzan," returns to do the same for "Brother Bear," with Tina Turner singing the opening and a Bulgarian women's chorus adding a very fine, moving number. The melodies of the various songs are tuneful enough, but the lyrics strike some people as a bit trite. If you liked the "Tarzan" score, you'll probably like this one as well, but the "Brother Bear" songs often sound less inspired than in "Tarzan." Mark Mancina once again adds the background music, as in "Tarzan."
Kenai Koda Brother Bear 2003
Hail the call of nature!
There are many people who love this quirky little black sheep of the recent Disney movie oevure. "Brother Bear" has the advantage of being highly respectful of its roots, the native peoples of Alaska and the Yukon. "Brother Bear's" message is simple, direct powerful and sound. On the flip side, there really isn't much new in "Brother Bear - the songs and background music are reminiscent of "Tarzan," the visuals are pretty enough but hardly astounding (natural vistas like this are one area in which  live action shots soundly trump any animation), and the plot is so straightforward and "positive" that a blind man could see the resolution with his cane about half an hour in. There are over two dozen writing credits on "Brother Bear," and having that many cooks stirring the broth usually means trouble.
Kenai Koda Brother Bear 2003
Time for a decision by Kenai
Disney movies dressed up as public service announcements will always find those who love them, there's no question about that - it is the other 95% of the possible audience that may skip this particular Disney movie and wait for one with a little more tension, edge and overall significance for a larger group of characters. The problem isn't that someone's personal spiritual journey toward enlightenment and understanding isn't important, because it is - it is that not everyone feels they need to learn these same lessons or are lacking the understanding gained by Kenai, and if you already know a lesson's subject matter, the temptation to stay home in bed and rest rather than going to class to hear something you already know can be, well determinative.
DVD Brother Bear 2003
I love DVD artwork, and this is lovely
The bottom line is that "Brother Bear" is a beautiful, moving film for a reasonably limited audience that can't get enough of its off-beat humor and paean to wildlife and the spirits of the outdoors. Brother Bear's earnest tone and noble portrayals perhaps makes up a tiny bit for the howls of politically correct outrage that greeted "Pocahontas" some years earlier, and Disney is very sensitive to criticism. "Brother Bear"'s overall performance (including home video sales) justified a sequel, "Brother Bear 2," released direct-to-video in 2006. "Brother Bear itself turned into a major hit on the home video market, selling millions of units (that perhaps is where "Brother Bear" should have been released in the first place). There also was a video game of "Brother Bear" for Game Boy Advance and Windows. One practical benefit of "Brother Bear" (which may account for some of those home video sales) is that its mellow tone is a capital way to soothe a rambunctious child, probably even better than "Spongebob."
Koda, Kenai northern lights Brother Bear 2003
"It's a good thing we're bears, or I'd be pretty darn cold being out in Alaska at night!"

If an animated film about the spirits of the forest is your thing, "Brother Bear" is the film for you! Just about anyone can enjoy "Brother Bear" if they are in the mood for a tranquil, inner journey. "Brother Bear" is out on Blu-ray now, that's the package to get. Otherwise, if perhaps you are looking for some action or romance or a princess or whatever else is on your agenda, "Brother Bear" is one Disney movie you may safely skip and not feel as if you really missed a forgotten treasure.

Below is the trailer for "Brother Bear."


Disney Infinity - Animated Video Game out Summer 2013

Disney Infinity - Exciting Game Pushes the Animation Boundaries

Walt Disney is expanding its animation reach this summer with a new video game, "Disney Infinity."

The starter pack consists of characters from "The Incredibles," "Monsters, Inc." and  "Pirates of the Carribean," with later "available-separately" packs to be revealed. "Marvel" and "Star Wars" characters are confirmed to be appearing in this game at some point.  "Disney Infinity" has similarities to the Activision published "Skylanders" games: players take real, physical toys and place them on a sensor (in Disney terminology, the "Infinity Base"). The character selected then appears, playable, on screen. "Power discs" enable special powers for the character: to activate them, you stack the disc underneath the character on the Infinity Base. Every character has basic abilities - all characters have slightly different powers - that the power discs add upon.

"Disney Infinity" isn't so much a game as a gaming platform. By having the base able to read characters, the number of possible game heroes is limitless. You control characters from, say, "Toy Story" and have them battle against one of the monsters from "Frankenweenie." The characters are able to fly, drive, run, and jump as they shoot ray-guns and and use grappling hooks, or drive miniature tanks.

Disney Infinity's due for a June 2013 release on Wii, WiiU, PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, PC and mobile platforms. Here is the official Disney/Pixar Infinity press release. is preparing the game for Disney.

Rumored/Spotted Worlds:

Phineas and Ferb
Nightmare Before Christmas
Toy Story
Walt Disney World Resort
Lilo and Stitch
Rumored/Spotted Power Discs:
Finding Nemo
Alice In Wonderland

Below are a couple of videos about the game that show it in action.

Disney Infinity

Disney Infinity Premiere


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Inside Out (2015) - Working Title of Pixar Project

Concept art Inside Out 2015
Concept art for "Inside Out"
Not much is known about this Pixar project with the working title "The Inside Out." Directed by Pete Docter of "Up" and "Monsters, Inc." fame, with co-director Ronnie del Carmen and produced by Jonas Rivera (all three of whom worked on "Up"). The film is set for release June 19, 2015.

Pixar has given this hint:

From director Pete Docter ("Up," "Monsters, Inc.") and producer Jonas Rivera ("Up"), the inventive new film will take you to a place that everyone knows, but no one has ever seen: the world inside the human mind.
More information as it becomes available.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Treasure Planet (2002) - Science Fiction Take on Treasure Island

Treasure Planet: Stunning Visuals Can't Save This Classic Tale

Walt Disney Feature Animation adapted the 1883 classic novel "Treasure Island" in "Treasure Planet" (2002), another attempt by Walt Disney Pictures to broaden its viewing audience. The directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, had ignited the Disney Renaissance with their "The Little Mermaid," expanded it with "Aladdin," and extended it with the comic "Hercules." "Treasure Island" was one of their pet projects which they had been planning since the mid-1980s. It has the distinction of being the first feature-length film to be released simultaneously to both regular and IMAX theaters. While people tended to like this Disney movie when they actually saw it, "Treasure Planet" bombed at the box office, the first real clunker of an animated Disney movie since "The Black Cauldron." The plan to draw in male viewers by foregoing the princesses and the witches didn't work, and therein lies a tale, a pirate's tale, aaaarrrrggggghhhh.
Jim solar sailing Treasure Planet 2002
Solar Sailing looks like fun
As a child, Jim Hawkins (Austin Majors as a child, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an adult) is interested in the space pirate Captain Flint. As a teenager, he helps his mother Sarah (Laurie Metcalf) out at the family inn and likes to go solar surfing in his spare time. One day, a rocket crashes nearby and the pilot, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), gives Jim a map and the single caution to "beware the Cyborg." The map turns out to show the location of Captain Flint's Treasure Planet. After Bones dies, a gang shows up and burns the inn down, with Jim, his mother and Jim's friend Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) barely escaping.
Solar sailing Treasure Planet 2002
Jim solar sailing high above town
Doppler, who looks like a dog, obtains a ship for them to use to get to Treasure Planet. Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson), a feline creature, commands the "Legacy" along with her first mate Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Brown). Among the crew is the cook, father-like John Silver (Brian Murray). Jim works with Silver and forms a thin friendship with him as a paternal figure. Silver falls overboard at one point but is saved by Jim, though Arrow is lost during the same incident. Jim blames himself for failing to secure the lifelines and allowing Arrow to drift away, but sabotage by crew member Scroop (Michael Wincott), an insect-shaped being, actually is to blame.
The Legacy in port Treasure Planet 2002
And now, ladies and gentlemen, the star of our show - the ship!
The Legacy reaches Treasure Planet, but Silver leads a mutiny because he wants the gold, aaarrrgghhhh. Jim, Amelia and Doppler abandon ship, but Jim forgets to take the map. Silver, though, assumes that Jim took the map with him. Silver shows that he truly does like Jim by not harming him as he escapes. The lifeboat that Jim and the others use, though, is shot down by another of the mutineers, injuring Amelia.
The Legacy Treasure Planet 2002
The visuals really are quite stunning
Once on Treasure Planet, Jim and the others meet B.E.N. (Martin Short), a comic robot who has been abandoned on the forested planet. Silver and his gang soon turn up, but Jim and B.E.N. evade them and return to the Legacy to get the map. Scroop, though, is guarding the ship and is about to capture Jim when B.E.N. turns off the artificial gravity, sending Scroop helplessly off into space while Jim manages to hang on to the mast. When Jim and B.E.N. get back to B.E.N.'s house, they find that Silver has captured Doppler and the injured Amelia, and Jim must give Silver the map.
Jim on ship rigging Treasure Planet 2002
Jim seems to enjoy playing sailor
The map leads them to a space portal which transports people to anywhere in the universe, with Flint's treasure deep beneath the planet's surface (one can think of a lot better uses for the portal than getting treasure). In fact, Treasure Planet isn't even a planet, but instead a giant spaceship. The group goes down to the treasure, and they find the skeleton of Flint holding a missing part of B.E.N.'s memory. When Jim inserts the memory back into B.E.N., the robot warns that the planet will explode once the treasure is disturbed - which they have just done. The planet in fact does erupt into spasms, lava killing two of the pirates. Silver sacrifices a fortune in treasure to save Jim from certain death, and everyone escapes to the Legacy. The ship, unfortunately, has been damaged, and things look bleak. However, Jim and Doppler figure out a way to send the ship through the space portal, transporting everyone back to the spaceport on Jim's own planet as Treasure Planet disintegrates.
Captain Amelia Treasure Planet 2002
Captain Amelia is actually kind of sexy for a bug
Amelia detains the pirates and recommends Jim for the Interstellar Academy. Jim, meanwhile, catches Silver trying to escape, but decides to let him go. Silver leaves behind his pet Morph (Dane A. Davis), a shape-shifting creature. As he leaves, Silver throws Jim enough booty that he picked up on Treasure Planet to rebuild the family inn.
Silver Jim Treasure Planet 2002
Aaarghhhh, then we swing left at that star, aaaarrghhhh
"Treasure Planet" may be set in space with goofy animal-like creatures, but it is surprisingly faithful to "Treasure Island." The relationship between Silver and Jim is the key to the original Robert Louis Stevenson story, and that bond transfers intact to the Disney movie. "Treasure Planet' is all about the story, and Jim still is a resourceful, capable kid and Silver still a loveable old rogue (classically played by Robert Newton in live-action films - he's the guy that came up with "aaaaarrgggghhhh matey!"). The key difference is that the father-son relationship between Jim and Silver is only really implied in the book, whereas "Treasure Planet" hammers at it time and time again. Subtlety is the better route in this case.
Jim on the Legacy Treasure Planet 2002
Jim is kind of dwarfed by the ship at times, which is a touch too precise
The animation of "Treasure Planet" is somewhat unique. Traditionally hand-drawn characters were used along with cutting edge animation technology that enabled the characters to be placed in a virtual 3D environment. While not quite true 3D, the illusion of depth is apparent, just as it was in "Tarzan." The concept of "virtual sets" was introduced using further refinement of the animation technique known as "Deep Canvas." The overall look of "Treasure Planet" was derived from traditional illustrations of books like "Treasure Island," but there is still a sharp science fiction edge. Sound effects also were traditional, with old toys and other mechanisms used to simulate ship sounds. "Treasure Planet" had a traditional orchestral soundtrack by Disney veteran James Newton Howard, with just a couple of pop songs thrown in by John Rzeznik.
Silver, Jim, map Treasure Planet 2002
Silver and Jim looking at the map of Treasure Planet
Everybody seemed to like the film, there were many nods to the antecedents of the Disney film, and the animation was as good as any ever produced - so what happened? First off, the script is a bit fuzzy - the one thing that Bones says is, "Beware the Cyborg," but it's never really made clear that Silver actually is this dreaded Cyborg - and, if he is, he really isn't that terrifying, certainly not worth a man's dying words. The notorious Flint also is built up early - couldn't they at least have had him alive at some point during the search? Another problem was that the story, fascinating in a 19th Century seafaring setting, simply wasn't that interesting in a culture infatuated with death stars and gleaming white spaceships with elements of fantasy and sorcery mixed in with traditional science fiction. The plot has a slightly gimmicky feel, and not much happens - Jim gets the map, they explore the planet, find the treasure, and escape without it. In that sense, it is like the similar failure from around that time of the simplistic "The Emperor's New Groove." There isn't a sense of wonder, no real danger, and the film pulls its punches when it makes Silver a bit too loveable and removes the edge that comes from wondering what the old buzzard will actually do when Jim it in danger. Making Jim a full-fledged teenager probably also hurt - in the classic live-action films, Jim is a young boy ("Aye, there be young Jim 'awkins"), which gives his heroics and successes a bit more bite and makes Silver's ultimately paternal protectiveness instinctively understandable. It simply isn't as engaging to see a 17-year-old figure things out and skirt danger as it is a seven-year-old. As it is, there is a bit too much of the warm, fuzzy feeling floating through Treasure Planet for it to be engaging for any but the smallest of children.
The original Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver Treasure Planet 2002
Robert Newton was the classic Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" (1950)
It is easy to make fun of any film that fails (what's next, "Gone with the Asteroids"? "Splendor in the Anti-matter Warp Core"?), but "Treasure Planet" doesn't deserve that. The best answer to "Treasure Planet's abject failure is probably two-fold. First, with "Treasure Planet," Disney movies were trying awkwardly to reach out to boys and the studio just didn't know how to do it yet. Apparently, studio executives thought that simply having male characters that bond would do it, when it takes a lot more than that. Secondly, the Disney Renaissance which ended with "Tarzan" had set the bar too high for simple, straightforward tales like this. Pixar and DreamWorks were coming up with completely new concepts of fantasy and wonder, whereas "Treasure Planet" simply re-told a story that seemed a little too familiar. The Disney movie animation and overall execution were stellar as usual, but Pixar and the others were doing that plus creating imaginary new worlds in films like "Shrek" and "Toy Story" which made a simple space trip for booty seem very old hat by comparison. It takes more than a few aliens that look like bugs to attract boys these days.
Jim Morph and B.E.N. Treasure Planet 2002
Jim, Morph and B.E.N.
Musker and Clements would bounce back from this fiasco, but Disney movies in general were mired in a very tough decade. In fact, no animated Disney movie would turn a profit on its initial run until Musker and Clements returned with "The Princess and the Frog" some years later, so clearly it wasn't their fault. Something a lot deeper than mere choice of scripts was affecting all animated Disney movies. Fortunately, Musker and Clements were just the team to right the ship the next time around. All in all, "Treasure Planet" is extremely under-rated, not quite a gem or "hidden classic" or anything like that, but a fun film with intense animation that many younger children especially would enjoy. It certainly is more entertaining than anything you will see in a weekly television series and a great way for a kid to learn a classic tale. A two-disc Blu ray/regular DVD package (the "Tenth Anniversary edition") that came out in 2012 is the best choice.

Below is the trailer for "Treasure Planet."


//PART 2