Film Review: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Release Date: March 11th, 1977
Directed by: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Vance Gerry, Xavier Atencio, Ken Anderson, Julius Svendsen, Ted Berman, Eric Cleworth
Based on: Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
Music by: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman (songs), Buddy Baker (score)
Cast: Sterling Holloway, John Fiedler, Junius Matthews, Paul Winchell, Howard Morris, Bruce Reitherman, Jon Walmsley, Timothy Turner, Clint Howard, Sebastian Cabot (narrator)

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 74 Minutes

Review:

“It’s not much of a tail, but I’m sort of attached to it.” – Eeyore

It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen this animated Disney classic but I loved it as a kid and I think it still plays exceptionally well.

The story is narrated by the great Sebastian Cabot and it features a bunch of small tales set in the world of Winnie the Pooh. So this is more of an anthology featuring the same core characters than it is a feature length story.

The animation is smooth and dreamlike and I still think that this is the best adaptation of the written material and the quintessential Winnie the Pooh film to introduce to kids that might like the character and his world.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh also features a pretty stellar voice cast that brings these characters to life in a remarkable and memorable way. Sterling Holloway, especially, achieved legendary status with his performance, here, as he gave the world the voice and personality that we would forever associate with Pooh.

I also didn’t know until now that Clint Howard provided his voice for Roo, the little kangaroo character. That, in its own way, adds another layer of coolness to the picture.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Robin Hood (1973)

Release Date: November 8th, 1973
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry, Frank Thomas, Eric Cleworth, Julius Svendsen, David Michener
Based on: the legend of Robin Hood
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Peter Ustinov, Phil Harris, Brian Bedford, Terry-Thomas, Roger Miller, Pat Buttram, George Lindsey, Andy Devine

Walt Disney Productions, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Buena Vista Distribution, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, Robin, you’re so brave and impetuous!” – Marian

When I was a kid, this was, hands down, one of my favorite Disney animated films. It still is, actually, because upon viewing it this time, the first in years, I was pulled right into it and captivated by it from start-to-finish.

I think I just really love these interpretations of the legendary characters and I always loved that they used animals, as opposed to humans. In a way, it made it unique and helped it stand out amongst all the other Robin Hood pictures that were made before it… and after it, for that matter.

The opening song and credits really sets the mood and makes you feel pretty laid back. Ultimately, this is a laid back picture and even though it has some good action sequences, it’s still just kind of a chill movie.

It’s also playful and I think that it was a really good thing that they brought back Phil Harris, who played Baloo in The Jungle Book, to play a very similar looking bear in the role of Little John. Baloo’s look and voice are very distinctive and Little John just feels like that fun-loving character we all know and adore.

This also features a lot of characters but you’re not overwhelmed by them and most of them get their own moment to shine. It’s just a cool ensemble cast of various animals and personalities but it meshes together incredibly well.

I also like the art style of the film. It employs the same style as the films from One Hundred and One Dalmatians forward but also looks more crisp and refined. The motion of the characters is very fluid and it’s just impressive all around.

While everyone should already know the general story of Robin Hood, all the little unique flourishes in this one are really creative and well-executed. At the end of the day, this stays true to the legend but is also very specifically Disney.

Robin Hood is a pretty stupendous animated feature and in my opinion, still one of Disney’s top animated films.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Also known as: Majo no takkyûbin (original Japanese title, lit. Witch’s Special Express Delivery) 
Release Date: July 29th, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Kappei Yamaguchi, Koichi Yamadera; English Language: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds, Edie McClurg, Pamela Segall, Lewis Arquette

Kiki’s Delivery Service Production Committee, Nibariki, Nippon Television Network, Studio Ghibli, Toei, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.” – Kiki

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a pretty cute movie. Well, not as cute as My Neighbor Totoro but that film is on a different level of cuteness.

Here, we meet a teenage witch that goes off into the world to train as a witch but also has to survive and thus, gets a delivery job for a baker that also lets her live upstairs.

Ultimately, this is a sweet coming of age story where the character is full of doubt and lacks confidence but has to find those things within herself and does.

If you don’t love the character of Kiki, you’re probably not a human being. Also, her cat Jiji is the perfect feline sidekick. I loved the hell out of him, especially in the English language dub where he’s voiced by Phil Hartman, sadly in one of his last roles.

The American voice cast in this is great all around, though. While I typically watch anime with subtitles because of their history of shitty dubs, the second generation English dubbings of the Studio Ghibli films are top notch and it’s this one that really solidified it for me.

Overall, this is a great feel good movie that should appeal to all ages but especially kids closing in on their teenage years.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: The Aristocats (1970)

Also known as: The AristoCats (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 11th, 1970 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Ken Anderson, Larry Clemmons, Eric Cleworth, Vance Gerry, Julius Svendsen, Frank Thomas, Ralph Wright
Based on: The Aristocats by Tom McGowan, Tom Rowe
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Paul Winchell, Lord Tim Hudson, Thurl Ravenscroft, Dean Clark, Liz English, Gary Dubin

Walt Disney Productions, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Buena Vista Distribution, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them!” – Marie

Well, The Aristocats was a lot more fun and lively than I remembered. This is a classic Disney animated feature film that I hadn’t actually seen since childhood.

The story is about a rich lady that loves her cats. She decides to leave everything to her cats in her will with the butler getting everything after the last cat has passed on. Once her butler discovers this, he decides to get rid of the cats, so he can obtain the woman’s inheritance upon her death.

I forgot how cool of a character the cat, Thomas O’Malley, was. After revisiting this, he may be one of my favorite protagonists from animated Disney movies. He’s just a pretty suave, romantic and heroic character that meets Duchess and her kittens, once they’ve been dumped way out in the country. He helps them on their adventure back home and along the way, becomes the surrogate father figure to this family. He also introduces them to his other feral cat friends who are pretty awesome jazz musicians.

Out of all the animal-centric Disney movies, this one is the most entertaining, overall. It’s also heartwarming and sweet. There really isn’t a character that you won’t love, except for the villainous, greedy butler. However, he gets what he deserves in the end.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Also known as: Tonari no Totoro (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi; English Language: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Frank Welker

Tokuma Japan Communications, Nibariki, Studio Ghibli, Toho, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Trees and people used to be good friends. I saw that tree and decided to buy the house. Hope Mom likes it too. Okay, let’s pay our respects then get home for lunch.” – Tatsuo Kusakabe

Considering that this was released with Grave of the Fireflies, I don’t know how Japanese families got through both movies, as the feels are so damn strong in both of them. However, I hope that this one was shown second, as it’s the one that leaves you on a positive note.

This is one of the cutest movies ever made and I think it’s damn near impossible not to love, unless you’re a heartless heathen that hates everything wholesome and sweet in the world.

The story follows two very young sisters as they move into a new house with their father in the Japanese country. Their mother is sick in the hospital, so throughout the film, they visit her when they can but as the story rolls on, you learn that her condition has worsened.

All the while, supernatural things are happening in and around their home. The girls eventually meet a spirit named Totoro. As legend would have it, he only appears to those who are near death. The girls can see him because of their mother’s condition.

The girls have a few cool adventures in this and the spirit world opens to them more and more. However, even if it feels like the writing is on the wall regarding their mother’s mortality, this does have a wonderfully positive ending that I wasn’t expecting, especially after seeing Grave of the Fireflies before this movie.

Up to the point of this film’s release, this was Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus and for great reason. It’s his most endearing and human story out of his earliest pictures. This is also the first that I feel became truly iconic outside of Japan. In fact, Totoro went on to be Studio Ghibli’s mascot.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1990)

Release Date: October 25th, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: George T. Miller
Written by: Karin Howard
Based on: The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Jonathan Brandis, Kenny Morrison, Clarissa Burt, John Wesley Shipp, Martin Umbach, Thomas Hill, Noah Hathaway (uncredited archival footage)

Cinevox Filmproduktion GmbH, Bavaria Film, Warner Bros., 89 Minutes

Review:

“Ahh, but have you ever read a book twice? Books change each time you read them.” – Mr. Koreander

While I never saw this as being as great as the original film, I did like it back in the day when it came out. It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, though.

Ultimately, this picks up where the first film left off, which actually only adapted the first half of Michael Ende’s classic children’s book. This does take some extreme liberties, though, and there are still some cool things from Ende’s novels that weren’t properly adapted. Granted, some of it may be too bonkers for the medium.

While I think that the sets and most of the special effects are pretty well done, this still looks cheaper than the first movie, which also came out six years earlier.

Because of the passage of time between films, the kids were all recast. While I generally like Jonathan Brandis, I thought that his Bastian just wasn’t on the level of Barret Oliver’s. Additionally, I liked the spunk of the new Atreyu but Kenny Morrison also wasn’t on the level of his predecessor, Noah Hathaway. As far as the Childlike Empress goes, the new actress looked noticeably older, which was odd, as she isn’t supposed to age.

One casting change that I did like, however, was John Wesley Shipp as Bastian’s dad. In the original movie, he was played by “Major Dad” Gerald McRaney, who did an okay job but he was only featured in one or two short scenes. Here, the dad discovers the book and realizes that his son is inside it, trying to save an entire world. When I was a kid, I loved Shipp in this even more because he was starring in The Flash at the same time.

Overall, this is a much weaker film than the first but it isn’t a total dumpster fire like what came after. Also, there’s still enough here to enjoy.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Jungle Book (1967)

Release Date: October 18th, 1967
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry
Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, John Abbott, Louis Prima, Bruce Reitherman, Clint Howard

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, 78 Minutes

Review:

“What do they call you?” – Baloo, “His name is Mowgli, and I’m taking him back to the man village.” – Bagheera, “Man village? They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him.” – Baloo, 

While I always liked The Jungle Book it wasn’t one of the films that popped into my head when thinking of Disney’s greatest classic animated features. However, seeing it this time, the first in a few decades, gave me a new appreciation for it, as seeing it through the eyes of an adult made it a richer experience.

The reason for that, is that even though I can relate to Mowgli, I have more appreciation for Bagheera’s point-of-view and also have grown away from my more care-free ways that Baloo exhibits. Well, until Baloo has to ultimately let the kid move on and live his life.

The magic of this film is that it can connect to anyone through the youthful Mowgli but it has the ability to speak to the adults watching it in a way that the kids also probably understand but can’t fully connect to until they’ve actually experienced more in life.

Also, this is just such a fun and jovial movie that its music really stands out for this era of Disney pictures.

I also like the art style and the lush colors and environment.

It reminds me a lot of the film before it, The Sword In the Stone, in how this plays more like two friends going on random adventures where the main plot is just kind of secondary. Except, this does that better and overall, provides a more memorable and emotional bond.

The Jungle Book is simply great. It’s a positive, fun, coming of age story that has some of the best tunes in the history of Disney films.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Sword In the Stone (1963)

Release Date: December 12th, 1963 (London premiere)
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Bill Peet
Based on: The Sword and the Stone by T. H. White
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Rickie Sorensen, Karl Swenson, Junius Matthews, Sebastian Cabot, Norman Alden, Martha Wentworth

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Sounds like someone’s sick. How lovely. I do hope it’s serious. Something dreadful.” – Madame Mim

This was one of my favorite animated Disney films to watch growing up. Although, I wouldn’t consider it to be one that’s near the top.

This tells the story of a young King Arthur, called Wart in this, as he meets Merlin the wizard and learns many lessons from him. Although, the film plays more like an anthology of comedy skits with a very thin overall narrative.

However, in the end, it all comes together nicely and we see Wart pull the legendary sword from the stone and thus, become the first king in a new lineage of royalty.

I do like the humor in this and the sequences are still enjoyable. It would be really hard not to like Wart and Merlin and their adventures.

The animation is also good and it kind of shows a change in what was the typical, standard Disney style. This visual change started with One Hundred and One Dalmatians but then again, Disney really experimented with the visual style of Sleeping Beauty, a few years before that. But I like the ’60s style, as well as how they started to color their films a little more vividly.

The Sword In the Stone is an amusing picture but I can also see why it hasn’t stuck in people’s minds historically like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio and others. But it’s also unique in that it treads similar territory to Disney’s “princess” movies but from a boy’s perspective.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series, Part II (2007-2011)

Release Date: June 28th, 2007 (Order of the Phoenix), July 7th, 2009 (Half-Blood Prince), November 11th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), July 7th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix), Steve Kloves (Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: Nicholas Hopper (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince), Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Tom Felton, David Bradley, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton 

Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes (Order of the Phoenix), 153 Minutes (Half-Blood Prince), 146 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), 130 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 2) 

Review:

As I said in my review of the first four Harry Potter films, the series improves as it moves on. So I was much more enthused going into the back half of the saga and especially, after the third act of The Goblet of Fire, which sets up a much darker world with the resurrection of Voldemort and the death of a teenager at his hands.

These films are really f’n good and honestly, I was never really into Harry Potter because of how wholesome and whimsical it starts out but as the kids age, that stuff sort of fades away. Sure, there are still some of those moments but it isn’t overdone to an eye-rolling level like the first two pictures, especially.

Additionally, all the kids are much better in this stretch. They feel like real friends because after years of working together, they were. Their bond feels much more real and genuine and the love they have for each other transcends the films, which is exceptionally rare for actors this young and with this little of experience, only really having the previous films in this series under their belts.

It may have been hard to see it in the first few movies but when you look at the total package from start-to-finish, these movies in regards to its young stars, were perfectly cast. It’s also kind of amazing that they were able to pull this off over eight films in a decade, keeping everyone on board. And I say that as someone that grew up loving the Narnia books and just always wanted a film series that made it to the end. None have.

What’s even more amazing is that the other kid actors who aren’t the main three, all grow and improve over time, as well. It’s actually cool seeing these characters and the actors grow up before you, onscreen. I don’t think that it’s something that could ever be pulled off again, as well and as perfectly as it was done here.

Plus, the adult actors were superb in every way. In this stretch of films, they really take a bit of a step back, as the kids emerge as the new leaders of this universe. However, the adults know how to support them in their quest to vanquish evil and reign in a new day.

I had seen all of these films previously but never did get to see the finale. Now that I have, my overall opinion on this series has changed. The finale is one of the best film series finales I have ever seen and it makes everything before it, worth it. Even the early, overly whimsical movies are justified and actually make the strength and growth of Harry, by the end, more meaningful. I mean, damn, dude was just this innocent, happy kid, despite his terrible home life, and he rose to the occasion, became a true hero and didn’t make excuses for or succumb to the hardships he faced along the way. He had doubt, he had fear but he always stepped up to do what’s right.

In the end, I love the total package of this franchise and I really should’ve seen them in the theater over the years. The Deathly Hollows – Part 2 is especially exceptional and honestly, a masterpiece for this sort of film. In the end, it’s one of the greatest finales of the epic adventure genre and a perfect conclusion.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rating: 8.75/10

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rating: 9/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1 – Rating: 9.25/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 – Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Also known as: Laputa (alternative title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1986 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Mayumi Tanaka, Keiki Yokozawa, Kotoe Hatsui, Minori Terada; English Language: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Andy Dick

Tokuma Shoten, Studio Ghibli, Toei Company, 125 Minutes

Review:

“The earth speaks to all of us, and if we listen, we can understand.” – Uncle Pomme

This is the first official Studio Ghibli movie and the studio was off to a tremendous start with this one.

While the same core creative team did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, two years earlier, this picture took that style and formula and improved upon it.

Where Nausicaä paved the way for Studio Ghibli to be born, it’s this movie that really became the studio’s foundation and allowed for other great animated features to see the light of day and touch the world.

This is just a really fun adventure film that’s family friendly, sweet and kind of cool.

This should go without saying but the art and animation are incredible and pretty damn flawless. This was one of the best looking animated features, up to the point of its release. Ghibli would continue to improve, though, but their later work still doesn’t diminish the visual look of this one.

This may even be a good jumping on point for those who would really like to dive into Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre.

I liked the story here and it was pretty simple, which is all it needed to be. This didn’t need to be overly complex with an overabundance of details that would be unimportant by the end. This, like all Ghibli films, carries a message in its story and its something that is timeless, meaningful and I think that kids can grasp it.

I don’t really want to give too much away with these movies, though, as I want to encourage people to check them out if they haven’t.

Rating: 8.5/10