I thought I’d put some of my animation talents on display for you. This is an unfinished animation test I made of Ursula from The Little Mermaid reciting the opening spiel to The Haunted Mansion. This is the first part of it which I got done in time for Halloween. The rest will be coming soon, possibly in the next week or so. The whole dialogue is about a minute and 20 seconds. Here this version is about 20 seconds. Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.