Tag Archives: Disney

MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY (2013) Dir. Dan Scanlon

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Last Friday I went on a renting binge to play catch up on the animated features I had missed in 2013. To my biggest surprise, Monster’s University, while not a hugely spectacular film…I actually walked away feeling some enjoyment from the latest Pixar canon. That’s really saying something because Pixars features over the past 8 years have failed to thrill me in any way. The last great Pixar film in my mind was THE INCREDIBLES, which is where I really feel that the studio peaked in terms of outstanding and sophisticated storytelling.

There’s nothing terribly sophisticated about the plot of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, which borrows from several different college films in the 80’s. Here, the attention is focused on Mike Wazowski, who is made the main character this time. I really liked Mike’s journey through the film. While he never achieves his dream of becoming a scarer, what he does find is a talent for being a coach. In the film he’s pretty much an over achiever, studying every aspect of what it means to be a scarer. The film does address such things as following your excitement and finding your calling.

Sully’s journey through the film is also interesting, as here we find out he was actually an under achiever in school, sliding by on the reputation of his father. Sully as it turns out knows very little about scaring, as his ego brazenly takes over because of the reputation his father holds over the scarers at Monsters Inc. It’s not until he teams up with Mike, and their fraternity OozmaKappa competes that Mike and Sully manage to form a friendship, playing to each other’s strengths to become a winning team.

I also enjoyed the amusing OozmaKappa fraternity, with their tagline, “We are OK.” It’s your typical underdog sports movie, where the most unlikely team has to face tremendous odds to win the day. Surprisingly, most of the competition stuff didn’t stick with me as much as the business with Mike and Sully, although the library sequence where the competitors have to get passed a giant monster librarian was pretty amusing.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is an enjoyable film. It’s on the small scale for Pixar films, but as far as making more original films goes, Pixar could use a “Dumbo” sized film…something that’s more emotional and intimate. Not everything has to be on a grand scale, although there are quite a few sophisticated crowd shots that must of been a chore to animate. But anyway, it’s recommended viewing. Definitely check it out.

More THIS IS INFAMOUS Articles

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Hey everyone!  Just wanted to supply a link to some of my This Is Infamous articles over at http://www.thisisinfamous.com.

I recently commented on Disney’s purchase of INDIANA JONES:

I also talk about WHAT IS OUR POINT OF ATTRACTION WHEN IT COMES TO MOVIES?

And more recently, I did a CLASSICS NEVER DIE: HOLIDAY EDITION!

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.

Moviecappa One Year Anniversary!!

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Hot damn!  Moviecappa is One year old!  I missed it by two days, it was actually on May 10th, 2012 that I first started this site.  I for one am very grateful that I have kept this site going for that long.  I started this site because I have always had running commentary in my head when I go to the movies as well as when I see what goes on in the industry.  It’s a place for me to talk about why I think the movies are important, and what we can do to see them get better.  It’s also been my vision that this could be a place for filmmakers to come and talk about movies, and discuss the thing we want most out of them:  good storytelling.  This site was created out of passion, and I hope to see more discussion and bigger things to come for this site in the future.  If you have been an ongoing reader of the site, thank you so much for coming back and for your support!  Greater things are yet to come!  So stay tuned!

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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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Walt Disney Footage: Home Movies shot by Ward Kimball

This is kinda fun. Some home movie footage turned up of Walt visiting the home of a businessman named Dick Jackson, who operated a small scale railroad in his backyard, very close to the one Walt would build in his own backyard. Many of the children seen in the film are Ward Kimball’s kids, John, Kelly, and Chloe, and wife Betty.

Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) Dir. Sam Raimi

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I’m not sure how exactly to judge a film like Oz: The Great and Powerful.  The movie is pretty much everything I expected it to be.  There were no real genuine surprises.  It’s everything that you would expect from a film that is basically meant to set itself up as a franchise for more Oz movies, making The Wizard of Oz now into a kind of Lord of the Rings Epic, only setting up everything that would be so familiar to us from what we know about Oz, and never deviating towards any new or interesting concepts.

One of my personal favorite Oz films was Disney’s Return to Oz, which came out it 1985.  It’s extraordinary.  Not only that, it’s also frightening as hell, with truly terrifying villains (The Wheelers, Mombi, The Nome King), and a dark gritty world.  Yet it’s everything I feel an Oz film should be.  Heck the original Wizard of Oz from 1939 and the Wicked Witch of The West is one of the greatest and scariest villains of anyone’s childhood.  With Oz:  The Great and Powerful, if there was anything that disappointed me more about the film, it was that complete lack of darkness that, to me, has always been the underbelly of the Oz movies.  The witches in this film are not scary.  Neither are the flying monkeys, or the green faced guards.  When the transformation occurs for The Wicked Witch of the West, for some reason they didn’t bother to change Mila Kunis’ voice.  They still kept her somewhat pretty.  In the back of my mind I kept thinking…this is supposed to be the thing of nightmares?  When Evanora makes her transformation into the Witch of the East, that was the only time I got any sense of fear because she actually looked like a terrifying witch!  It’s ironic that Raimi never explored this dark side considering he’s responsible for The Evil Dead films.  The Evanora witch at the end reminded me of one of Raimi’s creepy witch characters from those films.  But “Oz” never gives any thought to exploring the dark side of the Baum books, which to me shows the greatest misunderstanding for what theses stories are supposed to be about.

This is pretty much the essence of what comes from setting up a completely safe franchise film.  The story, not surprisingly, has absolutely nothing to say about itself.  It throws in some stuff about Oz, who starts out as a charlatan, but really wants to be a good person, making himself a combination of Houdini and Thomas Edison.  At the beginning of the film, it doesn’t make a lot of sense why he has to act the part of being a charlatan, because he’s actually a really good magician.  He does an incredible act in the Kansas carnival, and its surprising that nobody at all really takes him seriously.  With the act that he does, you’d think he would be the headliner for the whole carnival, because it’s really that good.  Franco does a decent job playing Oz, but there was something about his performance that just felt too modernized for me.  I didn’t believe he could have been somebody out of the early 1900’s.  Even though it’s clear to us he’s supposed to obnoxious and kind of a pain in the ass, I felt like didn’t get enough indications in the beginning about his sweeter side.  This is supposed to be Oz when he’s younger, but it’s hard not to compare him in some ways to Frank Morgan, who is also a bit of a trickster and charlatan as well, but he also has a sense of compassion for other people in the early Professor Marvel scenes, like when he wants to help Dorothy go back to her Auntie Em.  I didn’t understand this need for Oz to have to prove to people he was “good” or why he needed convincing in himself.  I’m not sure why the film didn’t make him out to be more of a really bad magician, which I thought was kind of the point in The Wizard of Oz.  Remember his line? :  “I’m a very good man, but just a very bad wizard.”

Oz’s quest to “find himself” is an illusion because that’s essentially what franchise filmmaking is all about…giving the impression the film is about some kind of moral or lesson the character has to learn, when the true reason for the film is making it as grandiose a spectacle as possible, giving us pretty visuals, a couple of cute sidekicks, not so scary villains who wants to take over the world, something about a prophecy, establishing a heroic group of characters, and by the end setting itself up for more films.  The thing you have to remember too about the original Wizard of Oz was that it was not a hit at the box office.  It was actually considered a failure and didn’t find success with audiences until it started appearing on television, and finally video years later and people started to see and accept what an incredible story it really was.  The original story resonates with all of us…because what that film is really about is finding your way home to yourself.  That theme is what encompasses the entire original movie, and while it has spectacular visuals just like this new Oz film, the theme holds out more than anything and The Wizard of Oz never loses sight of what it is supposed to be.  When Disney made The Return to Oz, it took the story to another level, taking Dorothy deeper into more frightening aspects of her psychology.  The destruction of Oz represents her crumbling psyche into insanity.  It’s brilliant.  Ironically, someone felt they should do a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, but whoever made that decision doesn’t understand one crucial aspect to the story:  Oz is nobody else’s world except Dorothy’s.  It’s kind of like we’re entering somebodies dream world without the actual dreamer being present.  Oz is Dorothy’s world.  Not Oz The Great and Powerful’s.  Oz represents the wonderful place inside yourself.  So what is it supposed to mean for Franco’s Oz, who comes to this place but nobody tells him he can ever go back home?  He’s trapped there, and what’s interesting is that he never struggles with the notion that he might want to leave and go back to his old life.  Even if he finds out how great his is to these new batch of people, he has no chance to go back home and prove himself to the people of Kansas.

But like I said, this is a franchise film, which is not a film that’s supposed to be about something, but instead inducing as much spectacle as possible into the film to please movie fans and get them to want to come back for more.  Oz: The Great and Powerful isn’t about anything other than that.  If we were clued into the fact that we’re in Dorothy’s world without Dorothy being present, the whole concept would shatter.  Already to me it’s the reason this film can never do justice to itself because it introduces a setup to something that was never really meant to have a setup to begin with since its a part of somebody else’s imagination.  It’s a film with little to no real imagination, relying strictly on those familiar aspects of the Oz story so the audience can play a guessing game with it: “Oh…that’s supposed to be the poppy fields…that’s supposed to be the witch of the East/West/North…There’s the scarecrow!  But he’s not alive.  I wonder how they will make him alive in the next film?”  Yet these are all questions that never really needed answering to begin with.

To be honest, I didn’t hate the film, but the movie just never convinced me it needed to exist.  It didn’t really surprise me that I couldn’t find a reason for it being here.  But it almost would have made more sense if the story fell into the realm of satire, or allowed itself to just be intentionally goofy.  Sam Raimi has a great knack for comedy, but here the gags just all fall flat.  We have no investment in the characters, and the film won’t rise above its own concept and allow itself to be more silly and fun…or even scary.  It’s just completely Disneyfied and completely inoffensive.  I wasn’t bored by the movie, but after awhile I just found that it really had nothing going for it, and a concept that doesn’t make much of any sense to begin with.