Category Archives: Classic Comedy Teams

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.

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Batman: The Movie (1966) Dir. Leslie H. Martinson

Batman1 There’s nothing like having a joyous revisit to the comic, tounge in cheek world of the 1960’s Batman.  I’ve always loved the original TV show, and the stellar cast of famous movie stars playing the caped crusaders most notorious villains.  The hokiness and cheeseball aspects add to the fun, and now here we have one of the great joys of silly cinema, Batman: The Movie!

It’s funny looking at this movie today because compared to TV shows that are blown up in budget for major theatrical releases, Batman: The Movie doesn’t feel nearly as big, but more like a more expensive episode of the TV series.  But I think that works in the movies favor, in a time when there was no concern to make a Batman movie epic, even for the cheesy 60’s TV series, but the amount of fun the show brings is the same as what’s brought to the big screen.  The big aspects of the film are the fact that Batman’s 4 major villains, The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler have joined forces to use a dehydrating machine to reduce U.N. officials to dust and take over the world!  Mwahahahaha.  Along with them are their henchmen, who shout “Yo-ho” after every command, while traveling in the Penguins supersized Penguin shaped submarine.  As silly as the film is, I actually found some of the model and effects work to be impressive, even though they were cartoonified to the max.  The villains, particularly the Penguin, steal the show, but what’s great about the old Batman series is that everyone is brimming to life with personality and character.  Even smaller supporting roles such as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred have their moment in the spotlight.  Batman is given some great comic material, downplaying everything with a “goofy seriousness”.  My favorite scene in the film is when Batman is trying to get rid of a lit bomb, and he runs through the public streets trying to get rid of it.  Everywhere he turns there’s nuns, school children playing, he tries to throw it in the pier and there’s a group of ducklings, until finally he turns to the camera and says “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”  Oh so true.

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One of my other favorite bits in the film were the times when the heroes were deducing the villains next move:  “But wait! It happened at sea. See? C for Catwoman.” “An exploding shark … was pulling my leg.” “The Joker! It all led to a sinister riddle. Riddle -er. Riddler?”  And you gotta hand it to Robin for his instantanious deductive reasoning and solving riddles.  There’s also a great gag where Batman is in the elevator and reads 7 different languages for the UP button.  Then of course the talked about gag with the porpoise that dives in front of an exploding missile saving their lives.  It’s all great stuff.

It’s funny to see how Batman plays on two different levels, one where kids can take it absolutely seriously, and adults who can enjoy it for the comedy.  Because part of the magic with Batman is how it takes itself completely seriously in the midst of it’s absolute silliness.  There may never be a show or a movie like it ever again, but Batman: The Movie is one of a kind, and it’s great fun for everybody.

Cinecon 49!

49film_couldhappenHey everyone!  Cinecon 49 is coming up soon!  For those who don’t know, Cinecon is a terrific classic film festival held every year at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and features fantastic prints of some rare Hollywood treasures, some of which are so good and yet currently unavailable on DVD.  This is your one place to see them!  The festival this year is held Labor Day weekend, from August 29th to September 2nd.  Already the site has updated with some of the films they will be showing this year. Check it out here!

Toy Story (1995) Dir. John Lasseter

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I took a great class yesterday from Marshall Vandruff, a terrific artist and teacher. The class was a Visual Storytelling Analysis of the film Toy Story, where we went through the entire film, stopping after each sequence and discussing the story structure and emotional line of the film. It was an absolutely terrific seminar. I wanted to talk a little bit about Toy Story as a film in general, because it really is such a great, well told story.  This is a film where the story was allowed to be what it should have been.  There was a tremendous amount of searching to find the film this would eventually become, but this movie turned out to be the ultimate game changer for animation.  What’s even more astounding is that this film does not feel dated in the slightest.  While the animation and visuals would technically be considered “primitive” to what CG films can do know, Toy Story was still approached with a wonderful artistic eye, and the visuals are still just as wonderful and aesthetically pleasing to the eye as it was when it first premiered.

I was 14 when Toy Story first came out.  From what I do remember about seeing the film, I remember how much I liked it although I didn’t know the impact it would have that one day CG would completely take over the animation field.  I never saw myself wanting to go into a career in CG after this, but I saw it as the use of a different medium.  The story was great, and the film itself was a lot of fun.  There was one particular scene that hit me pretty hard when I first saw it, and still today it’s my favorite scene in the whole film.  It’s basically the fall of Buzz Lightyear when he discovers that he’s not a space ranger, just “an insignificant stupid little toy”.  It’s his fall from grace and his discovery that the world was never what he imagined it would be.  The scene I refer to in this is where Buzz and Woody are talking in the middle of the night at Sid’s house and Woody is trying to get Buzz to help him escape.  Buzz just sits their alone with his sad line, “I can’t help.  I can’t help anybody.”  It’s been a few years since I’ve watched this film, but yesterday as I watched the film I couldn’t help but be moved to tears by this sequence.  Not in a heavy depressed way, but as the scene plays out, the two of them have reached a penultimate moment where they couldn’t get any lower and two guys that were once enemies finally reach common ground.  It’s a beautiful scene.  And when Buzz finally sees the words “Andy” on his shoe and gets the message that there is a new, better life for him out there, you see a character that finds bliss in that moment.

There’s a lot of great visual storytelling devices in this movie.  I’ve always liked the opening sequence with Andy playing with his toys.  The camera is always kept at the Toy’s point of view, even though they are in “play mode”, meaning they don’t move.  When we’re introduced to Woody, who appears to us as just an ordinary toy, the camera keeps everything so that we see what he sees in his head, from going down the stair railing to spinning in the chair with Andy.  One of the interesting things that was pointed out when I was in the class was an idea that started out as a cliche joke and goes on to become an important part of the story.  The scene starts with the army men going to investigate the new birthday presents Andy is getting.  After one of them gets crushed, the wounded soldier shouts out “Go on without me!” to which the Army captain returns and says, “A good soldier never leaves a man behind!”  This theme is echoed through to the final sequence in the film, where twice Woody and Buzz make self sacrifices for each other.  For instance, the first time Buzz is caught in a fence as the moving van is leaving, and he shouts to Woody, “Go on, I’ll catch up”, to which Woody who is right at his moment of victory, decides to jump down and help Buzz.  Then the second time it happens, Woody’s leg is caught in the dogs mouth and he cries out to Buzz, “Take care of Andy for me!”, to which Buzz shouts No! and jumps on the dog, pulling up and snapping its eyelids.

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From a structural standpoint it was interesting to see how so many different elements are set up and paid off later in the movie.  The story structure of this film is a solid as they come.  The sequels were never quite the same when it came to this film, and one of the things I enjoyed about this film was Mr. Potato Head, who is much more of a smart ass, and while he’s not a villain, he is a bit more of an antagonist figure here.  A part of it is that he’s somewhat jealous of Woody’s position as Andy’s favorite toy, and manages to convince the other toys not to let Woody come back to them after what he did to Buzz.  While Potato Head makes some good points, at the same time, you can’t help but feel his motives are a little ulterior even if he’s not conscieous about what he’s doing.  There’s a part of him that already wants Woody to go away anyway, just because Woody decided to be self-proclaimed leader of the toys.  Potato head even gets a bit of comeuppance at the end of the film when the race car flies into him and his body parts scatter all over the place.  And then of course, he gets a happy ending when he finally gets Ms. Potato Head!

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I’ve always had problems with the sequels for this film, because to me the idea of the toys getting replaced because their masters grew up or moved on…for some reason that story was never important to me.  It’s almost like it comes to a shock to all the toys that their master is going to grow up, when I think if every toy before hand had to deal with this, you’d think toys would have some plan or initiative on what to do when they had to move on to another master.  You’d think instead of “holding on” to each other, that one day they would split up and move on to other people, and one day eventually end up in the trash pile.  But that’s just what their existence is.  It seems like they’re not okay with the idea of dying or moving on.  I was more interested in the first Toy Story because it dealt with the toys dealing with ordinary problems that we can relate to as people.  The jealousy of a new toy coming into the picture when Buzz arrives, which angers Woody, is very human and a story we can all relate to when somebody comes into our lives we didn’t ask for and we don’t know how to deal when that person comes in with newer or more impressive ideas than the old toy.  Some of the aspects we talked about in this film were the metaphors about how the space race came in during the 60’s and took over when before every kid was interested in cowboys and Indians and then suddenly everyone was into space and astronauts.  All of this helps to build on a great rivalry with the characters.

Toy Story will always be one of Pixar’s greatest triumphs.  The story is so solid as well because the filmmakers had no choice but to go in that direction.  They had to accept and allow the story to unfold and be what it wanted to be.  It’s disappointing to me that the rest of the Pixar films (at least everything after The Incredibles) couldn’t be as on par and allow their films to bloom in the way that Toy Story does.  It’s just a great solid film, and one of my favorite animated films ever made.

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Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939) Dir. Sidney Lanfield

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

“There’s no doubt of it in my mind. Or perhaps I should say, my imagination. For that’s where crimes are conceived and they’re solved – in the imagination.” – Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Today I want to talk about one of my all time favorite films, The Hound of The Baskervilles, starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson.  Basil Rathbone for a few years now has grown to be one of my all time favorite actors.  He is most well known for playing heavy villains in several of the Erroyl Flynn swashbucklers, as well as being involved in one of the greatest sword fights ever filmed, facing off against Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro.  Here with Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, this is the movie that made me fall in love with him.  I have seen all 14 Sherlock Holmes films with him and Nigel Bruce.  12 of them take place in modern times, where in at least one Holmes faces off against the Nazis!  But the first two, The Hound of The Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes take place in their respective Victorian Time periods.  The rest of the films took place in modern times and were considered “B” films making them more inexpensive.  But Hound of the Baskervilles is most definitely an “A” picture, with high production values, a great script, hilarious comic moments, suspense, and an terrific threat to our heroes.

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The most obvious reason these films work so well is the tremendous chemistry between Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson.  The two of them are almost like a comic team, bouncing off one another back and forth, throwing jibes, quips and sometimes hilarious insults at one another.  But there is a bond here that stretches the imagination, and makes for a unique pairing.  Unlike many other Holmes and Watson team ups, here about 90% of the time Watson is constantly getting fed up with Holmes’ erratic behavior.  The two men adore each other, but it constantly gets on Watson’s nerves when he gets almost everything wrong in his deductions next to Holme’s genius.  There’s a funny sequence where Watson comes up with a thorough deduction for the crime, and Holmes praises him for his insight, to which Watson asks, “Did I get anything wrong?” and Holmes’ reply, “Just about everything!”  There is also another section where Holmes has fooled Watson with a disguise as a begger, to the point where even I was surprised I didn’t catch on.  Watson just fumes at being tricked by Holmes.  Holmes: “Come now, Watson, don’t be in such a huff.”  Watson:”HUFF??  I’m in NO HUFF!!”  These are the comedy teams worth paying attention to, as Holmes and Watson make for an entertaining pair.

But getting on with the actual movie, the story for The Hound of the Baskervilles is a great one, with a great nemesis to boot.  The mysterious hound is frightening, murdering people on sight as they rush through the gloomy marshes.  There’s the odd maid and butler couple at the house, helping to give the signal and hide a man out in the marshes.  The supporting cast does a great job here, especially Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville, the next victim in line to the deaths of the Baskervilles.  He comes of as likeable and good natured, making us just as concerned for him and his safety.  The rest of the cast as well is just as good and likable support for Holmes and Watson which the majority of the film is based on.  The villain revealed later on is intriguing, as well as being real and manipulative.  The build up to the climax of the film generates a great amount of suspense as well.  This film is truly a classic above all others, including the terrific production values put into the film.

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The Hound of the Baskervilles in my mind is the penultimate Sherlock Holmes film.  It compares like no other version of Sherlock Holmes film can.  It’s comparable to The Chrismas Carol starring Alistar Sim, which is quite possibly the greatest version of the film, because nobody can compare to the joy and wonderful love for life when Scrooge has his joyous awakening at the end of the film.  In this film, no other pairing of Holmes and Watson can come close to the the classic comic pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, and the wonderful, inspiring chemistry they bring to the roles.  The films hilarious and wonderful last line, “Oh Watson…the needle!” makes a subtle reference to Holmes’ morphine addiction, which not to many versions talk about, and even for 1939, those people who are spry enough to catch onto the reference, its a great touch and a great ending to a classic film.  If you haven’t seen Hound of the Baskerville’s do yourself a favor and check it out.  It’s not only a real treat, it may well be the most fun you ever have watching a Sherlock Holmes film.