Coco

Director: Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina

Nominated for: Best Original Song; Best Animated Feature

Coco was wonderfully bright, colourful and vibrant – and became even more so once we travelled to the Land of the Dead. They did the land of the dead really well actually as let’s face it skeletons can be pretty scary, especially if you’re  kid but that’s not a problem here. And they have managed to make every skeleton a very definite character. I do feel Coco-Movie-2017-Pixar-Box-Office-Predictions-Weeklike I missed a number of the cultural easter eggs that Pixar are bound to have included, but then I’m not that target audience really.

I thought I was all prepared for what has become known in our house as the Pixar punch in the gut – you know that moment when you’re happily travelling along in the film and all of a sudden they pull on your heart-strings and something really emotional happens. There’s a moment like this is most Pixar movies – the beginning of Up (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, 2009) which is still one of the saddest montages I’ve ever seen, the defining moment in Big Hero Six (Don Hall & Chris Williams, 2014), the incinerator scene from Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) – but they usually happen towards the beginning of the film so it’s over and done with and then you can enjoy the rest of the film without being reduced to a blubbering mess. Turns out I wasn’t and was quite spectacularly reduced to a blubbering mess in a cinema full of young children all coping really well with the film.

Family is obviously the big driver for Coco and I love meeting all the different characters that make up Miguel’s family. The Day of the Dead is actually a really lovely sentiment – for one night of the year your family, your ancestors get the chance to visit and check up on you. You may not be able to see them but they are with you and can share in your love and joy. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older that I find this a wonderful idea.

tumblr_p4d68cLsGs1rf9go5o1_500My favourite part of Coco without a shadow of a doubt is Dante, the animal sidekick. He is hilarious – this mangy street dog that dutifully follows Miguel around even into the Land of the Dead. I like to think that Dante would totally be my spirit animal – he’s certainly as clumsy as I am!

The song just isn’t in the same league as “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey) – it’s not that memorable. I’d pretty much forgotten it by the time I’d left the cinema. The same cannot be said of “This Is Me” which I have not stopped listening to since seeing the film at the beginning of January. However in some ways this doesn’t surprise me as Pixar don’t seem to do songs in the same way that Disney do. So it’s not got my vote for Best Original Song.

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Beauty and the Beast

Director: Bill Condon

Nominated for: Best Costume; Best Production Design

I’m a late 80s baby and therefore the Disney movies from the early 1990s, like The Lion King (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994), Aladdin (1992, Ron Clements & John Musker) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990, Hendel Butoy) hold a special place in my heart as they are the ones I grew up like, and none more so then Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale) which is my absolute favourite animated Disney classic. Needless to say I was a little bit wary when they announced that Beauty and the Beast would be the next in the current line of Disney animations to be re-imagined as live-action films. I also couldn’t wrap my head around how they were going to have real actors being the wonderful objects – like would they be identifiably the face of the actors providing the voices or what? I certainly did not expect to like this new version of Beauty and the Beast … nor did I want to like it … but I have to say that Bill Condon did an exceptional job and actually surpassed my expectations (and they were high expectations indeed!!)beauty-and-beast-2017-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

That’s not to say there aren’t elements that didn’t quite gel with me because there were. And sadly the one that just didn’t sit right at all was Emma Thompson’s Mrs Potts – or more specifically her accent. Now it was always going to be difficult to take one the role that was made iconic by the wonderful Angela Lansbury but I had faith the Emma Thompson would be the women to do so. And she wasn’t – her singing voice is wonderful but the accent she used for Mrs Potts was all wrong for me. I understand wanting to put your own spin on a character but Emma’s got such a lovely voice anyway that I didn’t really get the decision to go with an accent. In fact the accent’s in general were sometimes a bit hit or miss – like Ewan McGregor’s French accent as Lumière.

Sir Ian McKellen was brilliant as Cogsworth – the irascible old clock forever put out by Lumière’s failed plans. The relationship between the two of them is hilarious. And Cogsworth gets even better when they’re returned to their human forms and you discover that there is a rather unexpected harridan of a wife in his past life. Actually the way that they linked the villagers with those who had been trapped in the enchantment was one of the new elements that I liked the most. I also thought the idea of adding Stanley Tucci as a piano, Maestro Cadenza, was a brilliant one but then I love Stanley Tucci as an actor. He adds a lot of humour to his roles. Kevin Kline fits as Maurice – and by adding more of a back story to his life becomes a much sadder character which makes you love him even more.

mVa0DfBgIWHlLuke Evans just is Gaston – he’s perfect. It’s as if the animated character has walked off the screen and become Luke Evans. The look is spectacular and he can back it up with the voice needed for Gaston too. It is spot on casting! As is the casting of Josh Gad as his hapless sidekick LeFou. The interplay between the two of them is wonderful. But what I really like is that LeFou is allowed to develop emotionally as a gaston lefoucharacter. He definitely starts off as Gaston’s sidekick who blindly follows all his instructions and directions but he actually develops something of a conscience and begins to make decisions for himself after coming to realise that Gaston isn’t really the leader everyone makes him out to be.

Dan Stevens grew on me as the Beast but then I think that was just getting used to the make-up. The addition of the opening scenes of him as the spoilt Prince before the enchantment befalls the castle was a great decision as it shows the starting point of the man and makes his journey through knowing Belle all the more meaningful and a noticeable change in character by the end of the film. And the man has a set of lungs on him – I was very taken with his voice. I absolutely adore the new song written for the Beast. It’s beautiful, haunting and so emotional and perfectly fits the moment. But then the film benefited from having Alan Menken on board to write the music which meant that any new additions would still fit with the original songs thanks to him being the original composer. 

Belle is the Princess I want to be – even now – as she’s a reader and a feisty character. She’s not the damsel in distress that previous Disney Princesses were – in need of the Prince to save her. In fact it’s she who saves the Prince! As such it was really important to have the right person for her. And I actually love that it was Emma Watson. I know that the comparison has been made between Belle and Hermione from as far back as the very early Harry Potters but it is a worthy comparison and you just know that J.K Rowling will have been inspired by Belle when writing Hermione so it’s a choice that made sense for me. Sure there were moments when it was like ‘Oh there’s Hermione’ but not so much that it took you out of the film.

The costumes are simply stunning! They’ve managed to maintain the magic of the original film while at the same time putting their own stamp on things. Actually that’s one of the things the whole film did really well – the new additions were done carefully and enhanced the original film rather than detracting from it. It must actually have been quite a daunting position for the costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, as these costumes headshots_1490713523438.0are so iconic and yet animated so don’t exist in the real world in the same way. Especially the yellow ball gown that is very much the signature piece of the film. She has done an exceptional job – I got goosebumps the first time that scene comes on. It’s everything the original was and yet more because it was real this time. But I think the costumes that blew me away the most in terms of technical ability were the debutante dresses from the opening scenes that establish the Prince as the loathsome character he started as. These are all done in shades of cream, off-white and ivory and are absolutely stunning. They’re gorgeous – every one is an individual design that relies on different textures and patterns rather than colours to make them different from the others around them. It’s quite a brave thing to do as it could so easily have just all blurred into one but it was done masterfully and added a level of richness to the film. images

Now nothing is going to be able to replace the original animated Beauty and the Beast for me because that will always be my favourite Disney. But I will say that this film did an admirable job and actually took me by surprise in terms of how much I loved it. The new additions bring an added spark of life to the film without replacing or removing anything that made the original so magical in the first place. And oh my god – the library – so much more mind-blowing in this film than the animation. I’m still so very jealous!!

Fantasia

Director: Ben Sharpsteen

1940

“Although now commonplace, creating images to interpret music was revolutionary when this audacious milestone in animation and stereophonic audio recording was conceived and executed by the Walt Disney studio to universal acclaim and astonishment.” (159, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

41b563y0qal-_sl500_aa300_I have a vague memory of watching Fantasia when I was much younger but it wasn’t really one that stuck in my head for very long. I re-watched it recently and found it fairly disjointed and as Errigo says below somewhat disappointing. “Even on IMAX screens, the exhibition scene of choice for the most recent of Disney’s several anniversary restorations, recordings, and releases of their prized 1940 animation landmark, Fantasia can be disappointing because it is still a remorselessly kitsch experience, however impressive and groundbreaking an achievement.” (159)

The music is incredible, there is no denying that, but there isn’t a narrative to tie the different segments together and I think the film suffers because of that. It was an experiment that may have worked when it was produced in 1940 but just couldn’t stand the test in time. As the different segments were all animated by different teams there isn’t even a single cohesive visual style that could hold the film together. And some of the animation is clearly still  at the time of production. Having said that there are some foreshadowing of animation that would go on to form some of Disney’s later films. The one segment that I particularly enjoyed was the one that focused on mythology as I could see aspects of design that would be honed at a later date to form the basis of Hercules (1997, Ron Clements & John Musker) which is actually one of my favourite Disney movies.zeus2

I found that the segments Errigo mentioned as having held up the best against the ravages of time (“Mickey Mouse, never more delightful than as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice desperately trying to halt the self-replicating brooms he has conjured up to do his chores, the dancing Chinese mushrooms, a darling chorus line of eyelash-batting pachyderms, the hippos in ballet tutus cavorting daintily and fleeing caped alligators […]”) are the ones that didn’t really make an impression on me. Especially the much beloved Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment with Mickey Mouse but then I have never really found Mikey Mouse a sympathetic character. There is of course the exception of the dancing hippos because those are amazing! fantasia

It’s not one that I would watch again – mainly because I found the lack of narrative created a fractured film. It would work as a series of videos that would be amusing to watch as stand alone shorts but put them together and for me it just all falls apart.

The Princess Bride

Director: Rob Reiner

1987

“Rob Reiner’s friendly fairy-tale adventure The Princess Bride delicately mines the irony inherent in its make-believe without ever undermining the effectiveness of the fantasy.” (739, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

The Princess BrideNow The Princess Bride has an enormous cult following but it is one of those films (much like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, John Hughes) that I ever really understood the appeal of. I have given it a number of tries across the years and it just does not appeal to me. You would think that a fantasy film from the 1980s would be right up my street but this one really isn’t. The humor is reminiscent of the Monty Python films, which as you may know I am equally ambivalent of. It’s not the sort of humor that makes me laugh, I think it is base and juvenile and it just does not seem funny to me in the slightest.

“The colorful characters and adventures are, at their best, like live-action equivalents of Disney animated features, with lots of other fond Hollywood memories thrown in.” (739) The characters may be live-action equivalents of Disney animated features but they do not translate very well. Animation gives the directors and writers the leeway to do things that would appear completely ridiculous in a live-action movie. The Princess Bride attempts to make these larger than live characters fit in the real world but falls short in my opinion. I’m not saying that it cannot be done because it can – but it is nominally done most successfully by Disney (the most recent success that jumps to mind is Enchanted, 2007, Kevin Lima) There has to be a subtlety to the performance that results in a successful film, which seems to be severely lacking in The Princess Bride.

“Not even the crude ethnic humor [-…-] pricks the dream bubble, and the spirited cast has a field day.” (739) They certainly do go for it – overacting seems to be the watch word. While I guess the mood Reiner was going for was very much a tongue-in-cheek one but it just doesn’t wash with me. There isn’t really anything that made any sort of positive impression on me. But please by no means let my opinion colour your perception of the film – watch it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. After all that’s what makes cinema, and the arts in general, so interesting – everybody has their own opinions and one person’s masterpiece can be another person’s disaster.

Toy Story Trilogy

Director: John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich

1995, 1999, 2010

“A Hollywood film franchise that heralded a new era in animation, the Toy Story trilogy irrevocably changed the cinematic landscape when the series’ first instalment arrived in the mid-1990s.” (844, Jo Taylor, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I do remember Toy Story coming out and being immediately taken with the idea that my toys had an entire life of their own when I wasn’t playing with them – it was magical in a way that only Disney Pixar could be. And I did indeed grow up with the trilogy – I’m not entirely sure how I feel about there being a fourth instalment imminent, as I really felt that the whole story arc was finished perfectly in Toy Story 3. 

Toy StoryWoody and Buzz are brilliant characters, well they all are really – I love Rex being a complete scaredy cat and that Mr Potato Head would not be out-of-place in the Bronx. Buzz is wonderfully naive in the first film, entirely convinced that he really is a space ranger which is counterbalanced by the cynicism of Woody. Tom Hanks is awesome as the self-confessed hero of the trilogy. Supposedly he provided so much improvised material during the recording of the first film that the animators are still using that material in the upcoming fourth instalment.

“And if the first two films detailed the wondrous adventures and occasional travails of infancy and youth, the third instalment tackled the bittersweet reality of growing up.” (844) Toy Story deftly set up the franchise and introduced the core group of characters and while I would have been happy to continue watching their adventures the addition of new characters in Toy Story 2 only added to the fun of watching these films. Joan Cusack as the rowdy cowgirl Jessie was a brilliant addition to the little family that Pixar had created. And Bullseye, a horse who acts like a loyal dog, is adorable. And then we get to Toy Story 3, with even more new characters, although unlike before these adorable cuddly additions are not always as good as they first appear. Mr Pricklepants is brilliant with his delusions of grandeur, ably voiced by Timothy Dalton.Toy Story 3

I think part of the joy of watching Toy Story is that there are toys in the films, even if only in the background action, that I remember playing with during my childhood, especially the chatty phone and the etch-a-sketch. The humor of Toy Story is very much two-fold which allows the franchise to grow and expand beyond being simply a children’s film. On the one hand there is the obvious humor that appeals to children and then there is the more subtle humor that will ensure the adults are equally as interested. It’s this second level of humor that allows me to continue returning to the films as I grow up and still find something new or funny each time. There are also numerous pop-culture references littering the trilogy with the most obvious one being the relationship between Buzz and Zod that echoes the iconic relationship of Luke and Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)

“Two scenes heighten Toy Story 3‘s gravitas and emotional heft: the near-oblivion encounter faced by the toys when they are almost pulled into a furnace, and Andy’s realisation that he must let go of his youth and pass on his toys to a more appreciative and understanding child. It is these moments, interspersed among the usual banter and knockabout scenes, which saw the film resonate strongly among an adult audience.” (844) I remember the hype surrounding the release of the third instalment of the wonderful Toy Story series and how I thought that the reactions couldn’t possibly be as strong as they were suggesting – grown men crying in the cinema over the fate of some fictional animated toys, surely not? And then I watched it and I was beyond choked up at the two scenes mentioned by Jo Taylor above. There was a very palpable sense of peril for the toys that we had come to know and love over the length of this series that really did cause some real emotion.

“The Toy Story series realized the emotional depth that could be invested in animation, recalling earlier Disney successes, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Bambi (1942), and highlighted how much had been lost among the less adventurous traditional animated features of recent decades.” (844) I’m not sure I totally agree with this as the Disney films of the early 90s, Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale), Aladdin (1992, Ron Clements), and The Lion King (1994, Roger Allers) were very much the films of my childhood and I will always count them as my favourite Disney films, although I can recognise just how much Toy Story shaped the studio as well as the face of animated films to come. If there are any people out there who have yet to see any of the Toy Story films (and if there are then what have they been doing with themselves?!) I cannot recommend this trilogy strongly enough – you’ll laugh, and you’ll cry and you will feel incredibly attached to some wonderful toys and you’ll feel happier for it. Toy Story reinvigorated Disney and launched its sister company, Pixar resulting in some brilliant films.

And see how easily Tom Hanks can still slip into the persona of Woody in the clip below. 

Mary Poppins

Director: Robert Stevenson

1964

Much like with The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) Mary Poppins is a film that I really have to be in the mood for in order to appreciate it. And after having watched Saving Mr Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013) which covers the culmination of Disney’s long courtship with P.L. Travers, I was definitely in the mood to watch the finished article. “As far back as 1938, Walt Disney had been trying to but the rights to the Mary Poppins books.” (428, Edward Lawrenson, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Mary Poppins and Bert singingMary Poppins is magical and like most Disney films was a staple of my childhood. I loved Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, dodgy cockney accent and all. He is the everyman and very much facilitates the telling of this story. I think there’s a small part in every child watching Mary Poppins that wishes they had a nanny like her, someone they could go on magical adventures with.  Jane and Michael Banks sometimes grate on me but then you know me – I have something of an issue with child actors for the most part. Mrs Banks is wonderfully scatty and far more focused on her campaign for equal rights then her children, at least in the beginning anyway. Despite this you can’t help but feel affection for her.

“Set in a stylized version of Edwardian England – and including some groundbreaking sequences combining live action and cell animation – the film features Julie Andrews as the eponymous nanny employed by the affluent Banks family.” (428) As a child I loved the animated elements of the film for the fun they portrayed. Now as an adult I still love the animated elements of the film and marvel at the technical genius of the technique used, especially considering when the film was produced. These elements still fit fairly seamlessly into the film, even in a time when computer graphics and special effects are advancing incredibly fast, which is a testament to the skill of the artists. I particularly enjoy the penguin waiters who even now produce multiple belly laughs whenever I watch them. 

“With the action interspersed with the Sherman Brothers’ infectiously catchy songs, it ultimately sees Mary Poppins bring the Banks children closer to their well-meaning but negligent parents, with the help of friends that include the happy-go-lucky chimney sweep Bert (the much maligned, cockney-accented Dick Van Dyke)” (428) The songs are indeed insanely catchy and stick with you for days afterwards. They do always bring a smile to my face when I hear them.

Frozen

Director: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Nominated: Best Animated Feature; Best Original Song

Ok so Disney may have done it again – Frozen is brilliant! The animation is exquisite as always with really textured costumes this time around and the songs are back on track … and let’s face it songs play a big role in any Disney film.

FrozenI absolutely loved the fact that the story revolved around sisters. While I identified with Elsa naturally as I am an older sister, I also found myself recognizing aspects of myself in Anna too. Especially young Anna when she is constantly knocking on Elsa’s door trying to get her to play – that’s completely me and I know how much it drives my younger sister mad.

The singing is exceptional in this film but then when you cast Idina Menzel in the role of Elsa you wouldn’t expect anything else as everyone knows she has an amazing set of pipes on her. The big surprise for me was realizing that Kristen Bell did all her own vocals herself. What a dark horse. I never knew she could sing like that (and I’ve loved her since discovering Veronica Mars [2004-2007, Rob Thomas] years ago!) I couldn’t help but smile when the second snowman created was called Marshmallow but then that’s my fan girl showing as Veronica Mars fans are known as Marshmallows. But enough about Veronica Mars and back to Frozen.

My favorite song is actually not the one nominated for Best Original Song but rather “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” It’s such a catchy song (I’ve been singing it since watching Frozen) and a surprisingly emotional one. I like that it charts the whole of Anna’s childhood, one removed of not only her sister but her best friend and then her only family. 

I love the trolls who initially disguise themselves as rocks and the reindeer Sven is just adorable. But then I have said it before that one of the many things Disney excels in is creating memorable and lovable animal characters. There’s a lot of similarities to Tangled (2010, Nathan Greno & Byron Howard) though you never forget that this is a new story. Again though that’s a very Disney trait, referencing their back catalogue. Olaf, the friendly snowman who loves warm hugs, succeeds spectacularly in providing comedic moments. He is fantastic and I instantly fell in love with him. He is eternally optimistic, even when melting, and you can’t help but adore him. Olaf

“Let It Go” is the obvious song to nominate in Frozen as it is the show stopper in a film packed with musical numbers. It is spectacular both in terms of animation and vocals but then Menzel’s voice lends itself perfectly to rousing epic numbers. 

Frozen was brilliant – everything a Disney movie should be. There was beautiful animation, catchy songs, lovable sidekicks and some heart-string tugging moments. And I think it will go on and scoop the Oscar for Best Animated Feature as well as potentially Best Original Song too (though I still like “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 more)Anna, Kristen Bell, Elsa, Idina Menzel