Film Review: Bambi (1942)

Release Date: August 8th, 1942 (London premiere)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising director), James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Norman Wright
Written by: Perce Pearce, Larry Morey, Vernon Stallings, Melvin Shaw, Carl Fallberg, Chuck Couch, Ralph Wright
Based on: Bambi, a Life In the Woods by Felix Salten
Music by: Frank Churchill, Edward H. Plumb
Cast: Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, John Sutherland, Sam Edwards, Paula Winslowe, Sterling Holloway, Will Wright, Cammie King, Ann Gillis, Perce Pearce, Thelma Boardman

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 70 Minutes

Review:

“What happened, Mother? Why did we all run?” – Young Bambi, “Man was in the forest.” – Bambi’s Mother

In spite of it’s darker moments, Bambi is one of the most peaceful and serene motion pictures ever produced. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at and Disney once again shows a leap in improvement in the fluidity of their animation.

What’s interesting is that not everything in this is hand-drawn. Most of the backgrounds and landscapes are painted but it also blends really well with the traditional animated characters. It has a wonderful, dreamlike symbiosis and even if it looks like the patented Disney style, it also has a real uniqueness to it. Frankly, the picture looks more like a painting come to life than anything they’ve done before this.

Now I wouldn’t say that it’s as an incredible as the masterpiece that was 1940’s Fantasia but it’s an impeccable looking animated feature in its own way.

As far as the story goes, this is one of the most heartbreaking films Disney has ever made. It’s effect still holds up and even if you’ve seen Bambi a dozen times over, it’s emotional moments are still a punch in the gut.

At its core, this is really a simple coming of age movie where the characters just happen to be animated animals. But their issues and struggles aren’t all that dissimilar from human beings and it’s not hard to relate to what happens onscreen.

Out of the original five pictures, I’d rank this towards the top.

After this movie, Disney got a bit more experimental and wouldn’t return with a feature length animated story until 1950’s Cinderella.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Dumbo (1941)

Also known as: Dumbo the Flying Elephant (working title)
Release Date: October 23rd, 1941 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director), Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Samuel Armstrong
Written by: Otto Englander, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Based on: Dumbo, the Flying Elephant by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl
Music by: Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace
Cast: Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, Cliff Edwards, James Baskett, Nick Stewart, Hall Johnson, Jim Carmichael

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 64 Minutes

Review:

“[singing] I seen a peanut stand /And heard a rubber band /I’ve seen a needle that winked its eye / But I been done seen about everything / When I see an elephant fly.” – Jim Crow

Coming off of the masterpiece that was Fantasia, Disney had its work cut out for them but this was still a great animated feature film. I’d say that it falls somewhere between Pinocchio and Snow White, which just proves how consistently good Walt Disney Animation Studios were from the get go.

Dumbo is a really short film at just 64 minutes but it tells its story well and also still has time to get in some of the most iconic musical sequences in Disney’s long history.

The tone of the film is very similar to Pinocchio and it also shares some narrative similarities, as it follows a young, newborn character, as he tries to overcome adversity, learn from his experiences and grow into someone better. Like Pinocchio, it’s a film about personal growth but it does it in a fresh way that doesn’t simply retread what Pinocchio already did.

Additionally, where Pinocchio was an improvement in animation over Snow White, this film improves upon its predecessors. The animation is even more fluid here and Disney got really experimental in some sequences. The use of animated shadows is superb for the time and then in the “Elephants On Parade” musical sequence, Disney experimented with animating vibrant colors over a black background. They had to tweak and rework how they produced that sequence and ultimately, their innovation won out, creating one of the coolest moments from any Disney picture.

Dumbo isn’t close to being my favorite motion picture in the larger Walt Disney oeuvre but it’s simple, straight to the point and displays the greatness of the cinematic craftsman behind its production.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Book Review: ‘Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History Book’ by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson & Sam Witwer

I never got to play Dungeons & Dragons, even though I was fascinated by it. My mum dumped the religion on me pretty hard and then by the time I was older and didn’t care about that, none of my friends really cared about playing D&D anymore.

I’ve always adored the franchise and everything within it, as I’ve always loved fantasy, especially sword and sorcery fiction and movies. I also dug the hell out of the cartoon when I was a kid, which I was actually allowed to watch for some reason.

This big, thick, hardcover masterpiece is a damn fine book to add to your collection. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, the artwork collected in this alone makes the book well worth the price tag.

One really cool thing about this is that it’s foreward was written by Joe Manganiello. Yes, that Joe Manganiello, who apparently was a massive D&D fan. Sam Witwer, another actor known for a lot of his sci-fi roles, also contributed to this.

This book covers a lot more than even its large size would imply. It shows the history of the property in just about all of its forms from early role-playing manuals to the animated series to video games to comics to books and just about every other medium and product that adorned the Dungeons & Dragons name.

I love this book. Right now, it’s on my coffee table. Granted, I should probably move it before someone with French fry fingers gets it all nasty. 

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: anything, from any media, about Dungeons & Dragons, as well as other big, hardcover art books on cool nerd shit.

Film Review: Fantasia (1940)

Also known as: The Concert Feature, Highbrowski by Stokowski, Bach to Stravinsky and Bach, The Musical Feature (working titles)
Release Date: November 13th, 1940 (New York City – original roadshow version premiere)
Directed by: Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen, David D. Hand, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, Ford Beebe, T. Hee, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson
Written by: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Music by: various
Cast: Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor (host, narrator)

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 125 Minutes, 124 Minutes (2000 roadshow restoration), 80 Minutes (1942 cut), 120 Minutes (1991 VHS cut), 115 Minutes (1946 cut)

Review:

With only their third animated feature film, Walt Disney Animation Studios achieved true perfection and describing Fantasia as anything less than a masterpiece should be criminal.

Okay, hyperbolic speech aside, this is still an amazing motion picture that was, hands down, the best use of the animation medium up to its existence. Frankly, it’s still a hard movie to top and it has aged tremendously well, still being one of the greatest works of motion picture art in history, regardless of its genre or style.

Now I can see why this wouldn’t be some people’s cup of tea. But we can’t all appreciate greatness or understand the artistic and historical significance of something so old in a time where people barely have the attention span to read just a tweet.

Fantasia is an incredible motion picture, regardless of how you may feel about it, as it showcased how versatile the animation medium is while also taking it to a level that people couldn’t have fathomed in 1940.

It’s a beautiful looking film that’s meticulously crafted and executed on every level. It showcases the best animation of its time with some of the greatest musical creations in human history and it all comes together in a perfect, visually stunning, audibly pleasing and fluid composition.

The film is a series of different small films within the larger tapestry. Each one features classical music tunes played with incredible animated visuals that are cued up to the music. It’s a unique and really cool experiment that more than paid off for the studio and it’s gone on to inspire countless other films and animated releases in various formats from film, television, video, live shows and modern concerts that use animation and cued lighting techniques to respond to the music being performed.

Out of all the old school animated Disney pictures, this is the one that I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen. It’s eluded me over the years but hopefully, if we’re ever in a post-pandemic world, I’ll be able to eventually see it how it was truly intended.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Tummy Trouble (1989)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Tummy Trouble (alternative title)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1989
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Frank Marshall (live-action part)
Written by: Kevin Harkey, Bill Kopp, Rob Minkoff, Mark Kausler, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Richard Williams

Amblin Entertainment, Silver Screen Partners IV, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 7 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry about a thing. I’ve learned my lesson! I’m a reformed rabbit, a better bunny, a happy hare.” – Roger Rabbit

After the immense success that was 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Disney didn’t waste any time in producing their first Roger Rabbit theatrical short. This one, Tummy Trouble, originally played before Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in the summer of 1989.

While Roger Rabbit didn’t exist before 1988, the character was an homage to the animated shorts of yesteryear, as it channeled the work of other golden age animated shorts by studios like Warner Bros., Disney and Paramount.

With this, Disney took the instantly beloved and bankable character and gave him a legitimate short of his own.

The story sees Roger babysitting Baby Herman, who ends up swallowing his rattle. This prompts Roger to take Herman to the ER only to find himself in a zany, slapstick adventure akin to the work it’s an homage to.

Honestly, this is fantastic. For what it is, it’s damn solid and even if it didn’t bring theatrical animated shorts back to the level of prominence they once had, it did temporarily reinvigorate and re-popularize the medium and concept.

The animation is incredibly good and it’s quality can really be seen in the motion of the action, as well as the colors and how dynamic they are.

I wish Disney had really stuck to their guns and gave us more than three of these in the theater. Every Disney film could have had one of these shorts but they only saved them for just a few films.

Now I know that producing just this short took nine months but Disney could’ve had multiple teams working on putting out a few per year. I think this would’ve really helped their live-action films in that era perform better and it would’ve only grown Roger Rabbit’s popularity. Hell, it could’ve led to a second feature film.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the full-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Film Review: Pinocchio (1940)

Release Date: February 7th, 1940 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director), Hamilton Luske (supervising director), Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee
Written by: Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner, Aurelius Battaglia
Based on: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Music by: Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith
Cast: Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Mel Blanc, Walter Catlett, Charles Judels, Evelyn Venable, Frankie Darro, Thurl Ravenscroft

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“[after singing “When You Wish Upon a Star”] Pretty, huh? I’ll bet a lot of you folks don’t believe that, about a wish comin’ true, do ya? Well, I didn’t, either. Of course, I’m just a cricket singing my way from hearth to hearth, but let me tell you what made me change my mind.” – Jiminy Cricket

I figured that I’d followup my review of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Pinocchio. I’m planning on working my way through all the Disney animated films of the classic hand drawn style. I think I’ll probably just do them in order, as opposed to jumping around.

To start, I’ve always liked this story more than Snow White and the animation is also a step up, as it looks more fluid, more refined and kind of pristine by comparison.

While I know that these movies have been digitally restored and tinkered with, you can still see a difference in the overall craftsmanship between the two films. And that’s not a knock against Snow White, as it is still better than anything that came before it. This is more to illustrate how Walt Disney really jumped forward with this picture.

This is also a main reason as to why I want to review these films in order, as it makes it easier to see the progression of Disney’s artists, as well as the company’s overall execution.

Apart from that, I find this to be a good, amusing and lighthearted film that has stood the test of time. It’s still funny and while it might not seem relevant, it still has lessons within it that are important for kids to learn. In the simplest terms, this movie shows kids that its not cool to lie or to be a crappy person.

The film also does a fantastic job at expressing wonderment. It’s a great adventure where Pinocchio is a fish out of water but also in awe of all the things that seem greater than himself.

It also teaches about stranger danger and how some people shouldn’t be trusted and that there are schemes and scams in the world, waiting to exploit those who aren’t careful.

I love this film. While it’s not my favorite of the classic Disney animated pictures, it is definitely one of the best of the earliest crop.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Release Date: December 21st, 1937 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
Written by: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, Webb Smith
Based on: Snow White by The Brothers Grimm
Music by: Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, Leigh Harline
Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen, Stuart Buchanan

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid. I’m so ashamed of the fuss I made.” – Snow White

I’ve owned all of the original Disney animated films on DVD for years. I’ve always been a big fan of the classic hand-drawn 2D animation style and I’ve never really gotten into the Pixar CGI stuff. In fact, one of the first things I wanted to be, as a kid, was a Disney animator.

I also figured that reviewing all of these films is long overdue, as I’ve already written nearly 2000 film reviews on this site since its launch in late November of 2016. So why not start at the beginning with Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film?

That being said, I’ll probably do one of these per week until I get through the thirty or so that existed before CGI took over and killed the style that made Disney a massive company.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn’t just Disney’s first animated motion picture, it was also the first one that I saw in the theater. I saw this on the big screen around 1983 or so, when I was four years-old. That experience always stuck with me and it helped fashion a lifelong love of Disney’s classic animation style.

This isn’t my favorite of these movies but it’ll always be special because it was my introduction to them.

I feel like everyone on Earth has seen this film but, as I’m learning as time goes on, the younger generation doesn’t have the attention span to indulge in anything old. To them, classic Disney is Toy Story 2 and films like these are relics that are probably seen as racist or offensive because everything is racist and offensive now.

For Disney’s first big feature, this is really well done. It has some issues with smoothness and how the characters move and flow but it is better than what was the norm in 1937. Also, Disney’s skill would improve with each movie until they really hit their stride around 1950.

I’ve always liked this story, even if it’s overly simplistic and plays more like a series of musical sequences tied together with a paper thin plot but honestly, that’s most musicals. And while I’m not particularly a fan of the musical genre, it has always worked for me in Disney’s animated films. Here, it’s no different and it was cool revisiting this simply because I forgot some of these songs.

This is a fairy-tale and you have to suspend disbelief but on that same token, this isn’t a film that really asks too much from its audience. It’s clear that the film was made in an effort to let its audience kick back and enjoy the feature without having to use a lot of processing power. In that regard, it works.

Granted, if you’re an overactive thinker like myself, there are a lot of questions you might have. Especially, now that you’ve reached adulthood and have a hard time taking things at face value.

For instance, the ending is kind of odd if you want to nitpick it apart. Actually, it’s slightly disturbing.

To give a brief rundown: the girl gets poisoned to death. Then the Dwarfs won’t bury her, so they just keep her corpse around the house as they build an opulent, intricate, gold and glass coffin to display her dead body in like a jewelry counter at Piercing Pagoda. Then a prince hears about this and sets off on a journey to kiss this corpse and bring it back to life like a zombie. I’m assuming all that didn’t happen within an afternoon and would also have to assume that Snow White got pretty rank.

See, there I go overthinking it like an overthinking adult.

The ending actually is fine but it’s pretty dark for a kids’ movie. But that’s also kind of cool, as it’s obvious that people in 1930s America didn’t coddle their damn kids into being complete weaklings. I’m glad that things were still that way when I was a kid in the ’80s: going to the movies at five to watch Gremlins.

Anyway, despite my weird tangent about the ending, this film just tells its story, throws in some tunes and gets it all over with in just 83 minutes. I wish more movies were only 83 minutes.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Lily C.A.T. (1987)

Also known as: LILY-C.A.T. (Japanese title)
Release Date: September 1st, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Hisayuki Toriumi
Written by: Hisayuki Toriumi
Music by: Akira Inoue

Victor Musical Industries, Studio Pierrot, Streamline Pictures, Discotek Media, 70 Minutes

Review:

“The wall – it ate the cat!” – Dülar Delcassé

Lily C.A.T. is a mostly forgettable anime OVA from the late ’80s but I still kind of like it. Sure, it’s a blatant ripoff of both Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing but that doesn’t make it a crappy film.

Quite the contrary, actually, as these two concepts work well together and shown through the anime medium, they work tremendously well. Really, this film is a visual feast, especially for fans of the ’80s anime style and anime horror.

But I have to call a spade a spade and this is really derivative and uninspiring beyond just the sweet visuals.

I like the story but I also already liked it when I saw it in the films it takes its plot from. There are certain points in the plot that are original but it does feel like most of the characters are basic archetypes. That makes it easy to follow, I guess, but it also makes it really predictable on top of how cookie cutter it already is, plot-wise.

I can’t really recommend this unless you like ’80s anime, sci-fi horror and a bit of the cyberpunk aesthetic thrown in.

Like I said, this is mostly forgettable but at least it’s fun, energetic, a bit badass and kind of cool despite its lack of originality. Plus, it’s a pretty short flick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the two live-action movies it borrows heavily from Alien and The Thing, as well as other ’80s sci-fi and cyberpunk anime.

Film Review: Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Release Date: August 8th, 1986
Directed by: Nelson Shin
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: The Transformers by Hasbro, Takara
Music by: Vince DiCola
Cast: Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Orson Welles, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Scatman Crothers, John Moschitta Jr., Michael Bell, Casey Kasem, Chris Latta, Clive Revill

Toei Animation, Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, Hasbro, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Megatron must be stopped… no matter the cost.” – Optimus Prime

I’ve been meaning to revisit this for awhile, as I’ve also wanted to review the television series seasons after the movie. However, my DVD was missing and I just found it under my DVD shelf. It could’ve been there for years.

Anyway, having dusted this off, the 20th Anniversary Edition, I fired it up and gave it a watch. Man, it’s been too long and it doesn’t matter that I have nearly every line of dialogue still memorized, because every time I see this, it still feels like the first time.

I love this movie and it’s definitely the better film between it and Hasbro’s other major motion picture: G.I. Joe: The Movie. This was also the only one to get a theatrical release, as the backlash this film received, as well as it under performing, made them re-think their strategy.

However, the backlash and criticism was stupid and I wrote about it here.

Beyond that, it doesn’t matter that the franchise’s primary hero was killed off in the first act of the film. In fact, it gave this film much more weight than an episode of the cartoon could have. It also paved the way for a new line of toys and characters, which is really what this franchise was designed for.

For fans of the animated show, this movie was larger than life. It took these beloved characters and their universe and threw them up on the big screen and gave audiences a story that was worth that larger piece of real estate.

Now the plot isn’t perfect and the film has a few pacing issues but the pros far outweigh the cons and Transformers has never been cooler than it was with this movie.

The animation is done in the same style as the television show except it’s much better and the film looks stupendous. Honestly, it still looks great and it has held up really well, even with modern CGI and computer programs doing most of the heavy lifting.

Transformers: The Movie still feels like a living, breathing work of art. It’s an animated film of the highest caliber from an era that was stuffed full of so much fantastic pop culture shit.

That being said, there wasn’t an animated film that I appreciated and enjoyed as much as this one when I saw it. Looking at it now, I still feel the same way, other than a handful of Japanese animes that I discovered later.

Sure, this is no Akira but for something produced by an American company, it’s light years ahead of its domestic competition. Hell, I even prefer it over the best Disney movies of the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Transformers television series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.