Tuesday, November 30, 2010
After the success of SNOW WHITE, the Disney studios were, financially, doing quite well. Walt built a new studio for the animators.
But then the war in Europe broke out causing a decline in the foreign revenue for his films. Then, the animators went on strike.
Amid what he calls one of the worst times of his life, in 1941 Walt is recruited by the government to go on a goodwill tour of South America. With both Germany and the US trying to get the continent to side with them, Walt was thought to be the perfect ambassador for the country. He was to travel in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, with a group of writers and animators from the studio and use that material for a future film.
Using archival footage of the trip, along with letters sent home by family members, this is a very interesting look at this period in history, before Pearl Harbor. Like an actual trip to South America, this is a leisurely journey. It might go on a bit too long, with some interview segments not adding much to the overall story. But when it focuses on Walt and the trip itself, it is very good.
The DVD contains a few short deleted scenes. Most valuable is the inclusion of SALUDOS AMIGOS, the cartoon that was the direct result of the trip. This is the original version of the film. Earlier DVD releases have removed scenes of Goofy smoking.
WALT & EL GRUPO is available on Walt Disney Home Video.
Monday, November 29, 2010
While I still have a fondness for this era of Disney that was led by Walt Disney's son in law Ron Miller, with THE RESCUERS and PETE'S DRAGON being favorite films when I grew up, for the most part, it isn't considered to be a highlight in the studio's history.
By the early 80's, the studio was in trouble. Animator Don Bluth had left the studio (and would go on to make THE SECRET OF NIMH) taking many of the animators with him.
Then, in 1984, after a corporate battle, Roy Disney brought in Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to run the studio. Also coming onboard was Jeffrey Katzenberg.
WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY follows this entire era. Directed and narrated by Don Hahn, an animator on the lot from the pre-Eisner era, who would go on to produce BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the film chronicles the success and failures, egos and battles that went into creating the modern era of Disney animation.
This is not a "talking head" documentary. All the key people were interviewed, including Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney. All of their views are heard as voiceovers played over archive footage from the era. It seems the animators were having a lot of fun with home movies and video throughout the decade (look for a young Tim Burton at an animation table in footage from 1980).
This is a surprisingly honest look at the studio. Ending in 1994, with the passing of Frank Wells, and Katzeneberg leaving the company, this is yet another excellent documentary on Disney.
The DVD contains over thirty minutes of deleted and additional footage about the film and different aspects of the story. There are also three wonderful tours of the studio, shot by animators, in 1980, 1983, and in 1990.
WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY should be a must see for all Disney fans.
WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY is available on Walt Disney Home Video.
As a big Disney fan, I've known about the two for years. As I put on the film, I was expecting another appreciative look at the genius of the two.
The film is made by the sons of Bob and Dick, Greg and Jeff Sherman.
Very early into the film, after a brief introduction, the filmmakers talk about attending the premiere of a stage version of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, which the duo were also responsible.
The cousins mention that the brothers sat on different sides of the theatre, with their families. And, even though the families lived seven blocks from each other, this was the first time the cousins had spoken in forty years!!
With that revelation, I was hooked. What happened? How could the brothers have such a difficult family relationship yet have created so many great songs?
Through interviews with the two brothers, the at times cantankerous Bob and the more easygoing Dick, Greg and Jeff tell a wonderful and fascinating tale. Also interviewed are fans and co-workers. Clips of all of their songs are heard. I wasn't even aware they did the music for non-Disney fare like SNOOPY COME HOME and CHARLOTTE'S WEB.
The DVD contains over a half hour of extras, mostly deleted scenes. There is also THE SHERMAN BROTHERS JUKEBOX where you can click on various song titles and get clips of the brothers performing them.
For Disney fans, music fans, heck just about anyone, this should be a must see. I went into this thinking I knew the story, and I was wrong.
THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS STORY is available on Walt Disney Home Video.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
FANTASIA is the ultimate Walt Disney film.
While SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO may be favorites of many, FANTASIA still stands today as a perfect example of everything that Disney was trying to do. From the bold experiments with animation to the use of his characters, if you want to get an idea of who Walt Disney was, this is the film to see.
Long before MTV, Disney took various classical compositions and set them to animation. Most famous is the Mickey Mouse starring "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" with Mickey battling runaway mops. But there is something here for everyone. There is "The Nutracker", "The Rite of Spring" and the unforgettable "Night on Bald Mountain".
While some may consider FANTASIA 2000 as just a reworking of the original, Walt Disney's goal was always to have the original film a sort of work in progress. As the years went on, it would be rereleased with new segments added and others taken out. Unfortunately, with the original not being a success at the box office, they had to put it all on hold. The 2000 release kept the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and added segments like a New York set "Rhapsody In Blue" by Gershwin based on Al Hirschfeld drawings, Beethoven's Fifth, and even "Pomp and Circumstance" with Donald Duck.
Having seen the original film various times over the years, in a theatrical rerelease, on laserdisc and the previous DVD, I put on the Blu-ray without having seen it in a few years.
While the set contains both FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000 on different discs, on starting up FANTASIA I thought a mistake had been made. The opening, with the musicians warming up, looked like it was shot yesterday. Did they accidentally put FANTASIA 2000 on disc one? No, this was the original.
The film looks better than it ever has. In fact, I think the original looked better than the sequel.
The Blu-ray contains several extras. The most notable is on the disc for FANTASIA 2000.
That disc contains DESTINO. This is a short animated film started as a collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney in the mid 1940's. The six minute short was abandoned for various reasons and the production art shelved away in the Disney archives where it went unseen until the 1970's. In the 1990's, Roy Disney teamed up with a group of animators, including the still living Disney animator who worked with Dali on the preliminary sketches, to complete the film. It finally premiered in 2002 and was nominated for an Academy Award.
DESTINO is clearly a Dali short. I see little influence of Disney. There is also a full length documentary DALI AND DISNEY: A DATE WITH DESTINO (running 1:22:18) on the lives of Disney and Dali, how they got together, up through the decision to finally complete it. The short and this documentary are worthy of their own release. The fact that they are just an extra on this set makes this even more of a must buy.
Other extras on the set include
DISNEY FAMILY MUSEUM (4:05) - A look at the Walt Disney museum in San Francisco.
THE SCHULTHEIS NOTEBOOK (13:51) - A feature on the "Rosetta stone of special effects animation", a notebook kept by an animator containing a step by step outline of how each sequence of FANTASIA was filmed. This was only discovered recently, in the home of its late owner that was willed to a group of nuns.
MUSICANA (9:20) - A featurette on an attempt in the 1970's by a group of Disney animators to continue on the FANTASIA story, with drawings of several sequences.
Both films contain audio commentaries by Disney historians, including those from the previous 2000 DVD version containing audio clips of Walt talking about the films as well as Roy Disney.
For serious Disney fans, this set could be the Blu-ray of the year.
Do not miss it!
FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000 is available on Walt Disney Home Video