Aladdin (1992) Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements

Aladdin1  One of my all time, joyfully favorite animated films is ALADDIN, brought to us during the high point of the Disney Golden Age.  It’s a toss up for me between BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN as to which is my all time favorite.  I suppose I would consider them equally superior films, but ALADDIN I saw at least 5 times when it was out in the theaters.  One of the great things about this film is that it energized the comedy aspect of what Disney films could be, having been influenced by a lot of Warner Bros style humor.  It also contains one of the great Disney Villains, Jafar, who instantly became a classic when this film first came out.  It’s a good story well told, and thankfully this is one of the few films where they didn’t let Robin Williams write the film with his fast talking dialogue as the Genie.  There are some animated films featuring Williams that let him go a little to far with the improvisation, forgetting about the rest of the story.  It takes about 30 minutes before the Genie is actually introduced into the film, but thankfully the energy of the film is high and it keeps its sense of humor at an equal level to Williams performance.

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I have always admired this film for many reasons.  Its one of the few Disney films that really tries to break out of the tired doldrum Disney humor, which often in the past has been considered cute and charming, but not exactly funny.  ALADDIN as a film is a standout among all those films, as the comedy is full charged and well executed.  It’s got a unique style, and is one of the first films in awhile to break away from the 80’s Disney style and allow other styles to influence it.  In this case, it was Al Hirschfeld’s quality line drawing, full of pleasing round shapes that add to the Arabic style.  In an interesting twist, the villain Jafar is played opposite the rest of the cast, full of sharp angles to make him more threatening.

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Jafar has always been one of my favorite villains, and one of the reasons I like him so much is that, while he’s a dangerous threat, he also has an understated sense of humor.  By the end of the film when he goes power crazy, he hilariously starts going into puns.  “Things are unraveling fast now, boy!” (unravels the magic carpet) “Don’t toy with me!” (turns Abu into a Monkey Toy) “I’m just getting warmed up!” (breathes fire) etc. etc.  It’s great that he can be funny as well as equally threatening.  While he brings a serious tone to the film, he’s never too serious that you can’t relate to him.

But of course, one the greatest animation performances in this film is the Genie, masterfully animated by the great Eric Goldberg.  I was watching a documentary on the film, and one of the funny aspects they brought to the character was that the Genie was made Jewish, and the joyful underlying concept of the film is that it’s actually a buddy comedy between a Jew and an Arab.  Animation has never been more manic than with the character of the genie, whose constant transformations are hit with perfect timing.  I remember the first time I saw animation of the Genie in a trailer for Aladdin.  I knew the film was going to be amazing because I had never seen Disney animation go to the level of energy as they did with the Genie.  He’s a great classic character, and an all time great comic performance, both by Williams and Eric Goldberg’s animation team.

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The other thing I want to mention about this film is the music.  Not just the great songs by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, but the great score by Alan Menken, which is one of my favorite of the newer Disney films.  It’s funny how the same score is played as a lighter playful theme for Aladdin, as well as being made ominous for the villain, Jafar.  It’s definitely a classic Disney score.

I imagine the film ALADDIN is probably responsible for a lot of the more comedic animated films we have today, although these later films seem to lack something when it comes to storytelling.  ALADDIN in itself is a blessing in disguise when it comes to how joyously fun it is as a film.  This film did a lot for putting pop culture references, but it does so in a way that makes sense, because the Genie can travel through time.  He can do anything.  So a lot of the jokes he makes, Aladdin kind of shrugs off because he doesn’t get it.  but the rest of the film remains true to itself and it’s comedy and shows it can handle its own even without the aid of Robin Williams.

ALADDIN is a remarkable achievement in animation and story.  Up there with THE EMPERORS NEW GROOVE, it is probably one of the most fun out of the Disney line up of films.  It’s a definite classic and truly one of the great animated films of all time.

BREAKING BAD: Walter White’s Silent Partner: Survival

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It’s pretty amazing to see how ahead of the game the writers have been on BREAKING BAD all this time.  No one can truly predict where and what will be the final fate of Walter White will be.  He is a lone man on a mythological journey…a man who near the end of his life (thanks to the disease cancer), he realizes in that moment he doesn’t know who he is.  He wants to be a provider for his children and his family.  He doesn’t want his cancer to strip the family dry of medical bills before his death.  So he does the one thing nobody could ever dream doing:  He uses his chemistry talents and goes into the meth business, producing the most perfect purification of meth that anyone on the market has ever seen.  He’s a brilliant man.  But he’s also haunted by his previous lost enterprise.  When his chance to be a partner and run a multibillion dollar organization goes down the drain, because he sold his share too soon to pay off a few months rent, it was survival that ruined his chance at success.  And yet in the end, survival is what he’s been stuck with.  There has been no peace for him, and the path he’s ultimately chosen in his meth world is full of strife and consequence.  Bodies have piled up all around Walter White, and yet his partner “survival” is always there to bail him out.  If this were Dexter, survival would be Walt’s dark passenger.  Every single time he has done something awful, he still manages to get out, despite the lives that he’s ruined.  There is always a sign…a signal of some sort hanging like a piece of meat that tells Walt he can get out of a situation, and Walt always takes the out.

So the big question is, will Walt face down the consequences of his actions?  Dexter went into hiding.  Walt went into hiding too, and you know what?  It broke him.  The phone call to Junior signaled it, and the announcement on the television by his former associates that this was the death of Walter White.  At least in Walt’s mind he’s dead.  We saw in the last shot of the last episode he was in the heat of the moment, about to do something we know may be ultimately dangerous and his undoing.  Which part of Walt died in that moment?  If I had to guess, it’s his need for survival.  The one thing that started it all.  The one thing that ruined his chance at a successful normal life.  When he was a man on the run, survival was all he had left and all he was faced with in that cabin.  For months.  Whatever Walts decision is now, he’s about to face it head on.

Is he going to go after the Schwartz’s for leading him to quit the business?  I don’t think that’s the case.  Is he going to face up to his crimes?  I don’t think that’s the case either.  He’s not someone to let everything he worked for go to nothing.  He’s become fully consumed by the dark.  The one thing that’s left to clue us in is that vile of risen.  Who is it ultimately going to be used on?  Who is he going to go after or wants to go after most?  It’s not going to be himself, because he’s already dead to everyone.

As Walt faces his destiny we can only begin to wonder how it’s going to end.  The thing we are certain of is that the end is not going to be pretty.  It’s going to be dark and gruesome, and possibly costing the lives of everyone involved, until there’s no one left except Walt…a man who will have lost everything to gain an empire…or what’s left of one.  He may be on the verge of secretly reclaiming all that he lost.  He is setting the ground work for something new to build on all that’s come before him.  I have a feeling with Walt in the Finale, we’re going to see a long look into his future, and what his true destiny is that awaits him.  He may as well operate his new empire from another country.  It’s possible that’s what will happen.  But he will be alone.  Without his family, and without the people who once loved him.  Walt is letting go of everything and starting over again.  But he’s going to take a lone vigilante stance.  He wants people to think that he’s dead so he can take his place as the new king of meth.  He’s going to face whats been waiting for him all along.  He’ll fake his death, and he’s going to run a multi-trillion dollar meth empire.  He’s going to be the underground lord of meth.  He’s going to get everything he ever wanted for himself and never realize that he’s alone.  His son or Jesse will probably kill Walt for all the things he’s done.  Somebody close will come after him.  That will be the end of Walt.  Except Walt is already dead.  It won’t matter to anyone anymore.  Or he’ll be taken out in the most pitiful way possible.  Nobody knows for certain.

I love this show.  I just completely pulled that prediction out of my ass.  I’m not going to count on it being right, but hey, that’s the fun of stuff like this.  Breaking Bad, when its all over you will be missed.  I’m glad I caught up with it when I did.

Hercules (1997) Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements

Herc1 It’s been awhile since I revisited the animated Disney film HERCULES, and apart from a schlocky looking CGI Hydra (hey, it was impressive for its time), the movie actually holds up pretty well.  Although I don’t love the film as much or find it nearly as funny as I used to.  It has a couple of good chuckles, and James Woods’ Hades pretty much steals the show.  It’s not as good a film as, say, Musker and Clements’ ALADDIN, and it tries to recapture much of what made that film so popular, only sans Robin Williams, who improvised most of the dialogue for the Genie.  So, Hercules isn’t one of my favorites.  But it’s got some beautiful design work (which must of been a pain in the ass to animate all those sharp angles), and some great layout and background work, thanks to layout supervisor Rasoul Azadani.  HERCULES is a beautiful looking film, and for the most part the story works.  It’s just there’s something about it that keeps me from going gaga in love with it.

One of my favorite characters in the film is Phil, animated by the great supervising animator, Eric Goldberg and his team.  Goldberg has a terrific knack for comic timing in his animation, which worked so well when he animated the Genie in ALADDIN.  Another one of my favorite animators is Nik Ranieri, who supervised the animation on Hades.  Hades isn’t one of my favorite villains ever, but he’s funny and effectively comical here.  There are plenty of great gags I enjoy having to do with his flaming temper, especially when he gets fumed to the point of sucking up his cigar.  Then of course there’s characters like Megara, but to be honest I find her a bit stale.  I give points for trying in making the heroine a bit of a bad girl, but it’s this problem with a lot of women characters in animation, that once they fall in love, they lose their power and independent spirit by settling down.  Whose to say that things will actually work out between Herc and Meg at the end?  What if Herc runs off like her previous boyfriend did.  It’s just one of those stale Disney romances I’m not crazy about.

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As for Herc himself, as a hero, he’s just okay.  I’m not crazy about him as a character, but one of the things I do like is that they made him not too bright.  The songs are also one of the better aspects of the film, being light, upbeat, and catchy.  The gospel flavor to a greek story is kind of an interesting twist.

I think one of the problems with Disney animation is something that’s gone back to Walt Disney’s days:  It’s just not that funny.  It’s enjoyable and charming at times.  I know I’m mentioning ALADDIN quite a bit here, but it was the one time the studio took a risk and actually implemented some Warner Brothers style humor into their animation, and it worked big time.  That film has a special tone and flavor all on its own, and it’s just great fun to watch, as well as having Jafar, an absolute classic storybook villain.  There’s a lot to that film that HERCULES just doesn’t have going for it.  HERCULES doesn’t really take enough risks with it’s humor, relying more on pop culture humor for many of its gags.  It has its moments for sure, and its heart is in the right place, but the jokes are working mainly on the surface level, it doesn’t take it to a much deeper emotional place.  It’s basically your average light-hearted Disney comedy.  It doesn’t really let itself be much more than that or go all the way.

In the end, HERCULES is one of the better films of the late 90’s Disney films.  It’s not perfect mind you, but considering some of the pop culture references, it actually holds up okay.  And like I said, some of the animation and design of the film is absolutely beautiful to look at, thanks to the work of some terrific artists who worked on the film.  There are just some things about it I wish could have been a little better.

Wasting Away, Banished and Exiled!

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Well, I suppose I’m over my childhood trauma that was Ursula.  As I posted awhile back, she’s the one Disney villain that completely terrified me as a little kid.  Took me awhile to get over that one.  Maybe I’m just weird that way.  Or insane.  Or both.  But anyhow it doesn’t matter.  This is just another bit of a random post.  It’s quiet again this week.  I’m trying to work on a personal project in the midst of another project that’s in the works.  So far this new idea…is just okay.  Gonna take me some time to figure out the story and what it wants to be.  Bah.  I hate not knowing what a story is supposed to be.  But I suppose the search for the story is all part of the fun of it.  I SUPPOSE.  Sheesh.

I’ve been on a Breaking Bad high as of recently.  Last night’s Rian Johnson episode blew my mind at how good it was.  Extraordinary.  Between this and his film Looper which came out last year, this is a director to definitely keep your eye on.  I’ll be watching this guy for sure.  He’s phenomenal.  Last nights episode was absolutely gripping, showing without having to tell.  It’s the subtext and the fact that this show actually makes you think for a moment that really amazes me (although trust me, sometimes I’ve had to go on the internet afterwards to confirm certain aspects.  Hey I can admit it!)  The episodes end made me long to make a film where just everybody dies or is insane.  And make it a cartoon.  Yes, perfect!  Although admittedly there are times I wonder about that.  What’s my obsession with making dark cartoons.  Maybe not always dark, but sometimes complicated scenarios.  I long to create a masterpiece of television like Breaking Bad.  Seriously that show amazes me.  I want to make animation that powerful, even though Breaking Bad is not animation.  Somewhere I ask myself what I’d like to be.  Maybe Pixar’s dark evil twin.  I had some people comparing Jellyfish Girl to a Pixar film, at least until they got to the end.  That was satisfying to hear 😉

I suppose there’s not much more I can talk about.  This is expected to be a quiet week unless I see a movie that blows my mind.  Oh wait!  I did!  BLUE JASMINE!  Go see it.  It’s Woody Allen’s latest, and it’s a real treat.  It’s as funny as it is sad.  Jasmine is such a wonderful, complicated character.  It’s a real genuine, honest depiction of a melt down into complete psychosis.  It’s just really good.  Go see it or watch it when it arrives on DVD.

I’ll see if I can find more to write about this week if I’m not to busy.  Have a good week everybody.

Slow News Week

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I thought I’d write an update, although I have no idea what to actually write about. I guess I could tell you I’ve been busy writing for This Is Infamous, a fairly new movie website, which I’ve written several articles for. I will have a write up about Cinecon over there pretty soon. There were lots of great classic films screened this year, all of which I had never seen before. Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and you can check out pictures from my own personal Breaking Bad tour I took. Speaking of Breaking Bad, that show is going swimmingly. I am still amazed at how well thought out and put together it is. There is definitely years of writing experience put into it thanks to the passion of creator Vince Gilligan. It’s a great show for sure. I’ve been watching the final season of Dexter as well, and I have to say that’s not going as great as I would have hoped. The storyline has just been kinda scattered. You still can’t even tell they’re building up to a major conclusion. Everything just feels so…ordinary. I’m not impressed.

Sorry everyone, I know I’m rambling on here. I’m currently at my favorite coffee shop in Burbank as I write this. It’s been a good place to draw up inspiration. As well as getting on a caffeine high! Which is what my writing is starting to sound like. Geez. Anyway, I should probably stop at this point…no really, stop now! Stop! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Have a good weekend everyone. 🙂