Archive for the ‘animation’ Category

DVD Review: ‘Beetlejuice: The Complete Series’: It’s DVD time!

May 26, 2013

BeetlejuiceFans have long awaited the arrival of Beetlejuice: The Complete Series. Indeed, for many this animated 1989-1992 TV spinoff is even more beloved than the 1988 film with Michael Keaton.

You can’t get more of it than this: all 94 supernatural adventures of ghostly Neitherworld prankster Beetlejuice and his human friend, goth girl  Lydia. They’re due in a 12-disc set Tuesday, May 28, from Shout! Factory.

For some, nostalgic appeal will be enough. For others, the flat, 2D animation will seem crude and cost-challenged compared to today’s routine CG wonders. But for anyone, the cheeky comedy should have merrily manic moments. (more…)

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DVD Review: ‘Tennessee Tuxedo And His Tales’ — A details-driven look at simpler times

March 11, 2012

Your fondness for Tennessee Tuxedo And His Tales: The Complete Collection should owe much to nostalgia for the ’60s ‘toon character, as well as tolerant appreciation of animation that’s limited without being charm-challenged. Both such things should make this elaborate set a treat for aficionados.

But let’s keep it real.

Due Tuesday from good ol’ Shout! Factory — true keepers of vintage flames —  the extensive set’s 2D animation is so far from today’s state of the art that I can’t imagine many current kids warming to it, even though it’s aimed largely at them. But then, modest animation didn’t stop Jay Ward’s Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons from being widely considered as among the best ever for TV. (more…)

DVD blog review ‘Yogi Bear’: Grin and bear it

March 22, 2011

Online reviews of Yogi Bear (new on Blue-ray and DVD from Warner Bros.) are apt to tell you it’s the worst film of the past year, or at least one of the worst.  Of course, some of these same reviewers adored painful and banal “artistic” films such as Cyrus. So go figure. Or better yet, decide for yourself based on your own criteria.

If those criteria include the fact that you tolerated — if not secretly enjoyed — Brendan Fraser’s Furry Vengeance, then have I got a pic — as in picture, not pic-a-nic — for you. Yogi Bear is another such outdoorsy comedy of misery, with the 1961 vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoon bear and puny pal Boo Boo foraging for feasts among visitors to financially troubled Jellystone Park, while poor Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) tries to make the trains run on time.

A standard save-the-farm (or park) plot involves a corrupt mayor played with amusingly zealous avarice by Andrew Daly (try telling me this show-stealer is not entertaining) and a budding romance between Smith and pretty documentarian Rachel (Anna Farris). They interact reasonably well with the havoc-causing, computer-animated Yogi and Boo Boo, the only talking animals in the park, which seems to be normal in this fantasy world. (For a park that’s struggling, wouldn’t a talking bear be a big tourist draw in itself?)

Cavanagh is quite likable and charming in his put-upon, plucky, beleaguered way, and he has more screen time than anyone. Yet he’s fourth-billed behind Dan Aykroyd as Yogi’s voice, Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo’s and Scary Movie refugee Farris. That’s Hollywood.

Sure, this slim, slight, slapsticky comedy will bore some adults who can’t bear to watch. But as Rocky Horror’s Dr. Frank N. Furter might say (how’s that for an adult reference), they didn’t make this for you. They made it for kids — and forgiving Baby Boomers who recall Yogi’s TV antics from the good old days.

No, Yogi Bear isn’t great. But cranky critics are wrong, because neither is it reprehensibly bad for this sort of thing, that being innocent, light-hearted children’s entertainment.

So lighten up, people. This may not be better than your average film, but for what it sets out to do, it gamely gets the job done.

Ice Age 3 Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Scrat finds love

October 27, 2009

For family entertainment, Fox’s Ice Age 3 Dawn of the Dinosaurs is an excellent ticket. Kids will love it for the usual reasons (slapstick action, amusing characters Scrat and Sid), while adults will get the sly uptakes on some lines and situations.

That said, this third film in the series is geared down a bit for the kiddies, with lots of baby action (cute little T Rex’s, anyone?) and pregnancy situations for babies-to-be (Ray Romano and Queen Latifah’s mastadons are expecting, as their diverse gang of critter friends migrate from polar regions to a hidden, lush kingdom overrun with dinos).

Not only that, but Scrat — the pathetic and frantic Looney Tunes-inspired squirrel — finds love. And the computer animation, as always, is superb.

The DVD and Blu-ray are loaded with extras, but the film by itself is worthwhile. Hey, I watched it twice, at home on DVD and on a recent Phoenix-to-Houston flight. They didn’t serve us acorns (sorry, Scrat), but we did get pretzels.

Will there be an Ice Age 4? Does Sid (John Leguizamo) have a lisp? Count on it. After all, there’s still plenty of prehistory to be told.

Jetsons Season Two DVD: An Astro-nomical treat

June 2, 2009

OK, as we know, you can’t go home again. But you can remodel that home, which is sort of what the creators of TV’s The Jetsons did when they brought back the show in 1985 after a 22-year hiatus.

The original futuristic animated sitcom aired for 24 episodes from 1962-63, then began a long run of reruns. In ’85 it returned with new but comparable animation, as well as most of the old voice actors, some of whom sounded a bit different, being older, but close enough. Now, the first 21 episodes of this belated “Season Two” are new on DVD from Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. as The Jetsons: Season Two, Vol. 1.

Besides those shows, there’s a featurette on the transition called The Jetsons: Return to the Future.

I have mixed feelings about these shows. Though they’re largely faithful to the originals, they are not exactly like them in visual presentation, and in some ways don’t try to be. The movements are punched up in different ways, and sometimes the personality wavers. Astro may cry a tear or two, but he doesn’t erupt into pitiable, bawling fits as he did on the ’60s show. There’s just a smidgen less charm, that’s all.

But that said, there’s plenty of innocent fun in the vein of the original, and it’s awfully good to see a fine program which had such a brief TV run get new life this way, much as I applauded the ’70s return of Star Trek as an animated series. Anything is better than a big heap o’ nothing, and in this case The Jetsons’ “anything” is a reliably amusing sendup of what’s really a quaint and cute view of the future. George, Jane, Judy and Elroy also are a much more appealing family unit than, say, the bickering Flintstones of that show’s early years. And what can I say? As a Houstonian, I’m a big fan of the big, lovable dog named Astro, from whom you could argue our hometown baseball team got its name (though the Astros would cite, instead, Houston’s Johnson Space Center and the real astronauts who live here).

At any rate, Jetsons, it’s good to have you back — and let’s hope your label follows up with the remaining 20 shows of Season Two, then the 10 shows of Season Three. Meanwhile, don’t forget 1989’s Jetsons: The Movie, also on DVD.

DVD review: We wished upon a star, and got ‘Pinocchio’

March 11, 2009

Why are the first Disney feature-length animated films so special? In large part because of their intrinsic artistry — but also for what they signify.

With 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the significance was a do-or-die gamble by Walt Disney. He’d sunk most his resources into an untried realm — a feature length “cartoon” — and Snow White was even derided by some in the industry as “Disney’s folly.” But the beautiful, good-hearted fairy tale wound up as a classic, and launched a studio then known for animated shorts into another arena which still thrives and shakes the global pop culture today.

With Disney’s next full-length animated feature, 1940s’s Pinocchio, that significance remains. Too often in entertainment, the so-called “sophomore slump” proves fatal. But Disney’s second animated feature was as good as the first — and provided a slogan for his dream factory via the Oscar winning original song When You Wish Upon a Star.

Now Pinocchio is back via a two-disc DVD and Blu-ray High Definition  debut, both brandishing superbly restored sound and picture, along with the wildly eventful story of a wooden boy who longed to be human and — magically — became so.

These aren’t just special films — they’re precious ones. In an era of fast-action CG contemporaneity in animation — a new art form which I fully embrace — let us not forget or neglect the classics which set the stage so many years ago. Thanks, Disney. We are forever indebted — and should be forever grateful.

Review: Disney ‘Tinker Bell’ weaves magic spell on DVD

October 30, 2008

OK, so Disney’s new Tinker Bell isn’t a typical topic for an adult reviewer who proclaims his love of films such as The Exorcist, but that same adult grew up on Peter Pan and has long been a Disney fan, so I gave Tink a spin.

Produced for release directly to DVD (not counting a theatrical run at the Disney-geared El Capitan theater on Hollywood Boulevard — I even saw Herbie Fully Loaded there), Tinker Bell is a tidy (read: 68 minutes at the credits) foray into fantasy starring the tiniest supporting character of Peter Pan. It’s an origin or prequel, tracing Tink’s birth and origin as she does what all kids do: figures out who she is. This happens in the land of fairies who bring Earth the seasons, the dew, the colors on ladybugs, you name it. It’s Nature personified by winged little boys and girls (led by a queen voiced by Angelica Huston) who act very much like contemporary kids.

And they all speak, including Tink, which goes against her mute character in Peter Pan. If that’s artistic license, I forgive it.

The animation is CG, and it’s gorgeous, especially the vast vistas of natural beauty. The action scenes are lively if not riotous, too. Unlike many recent Disney flicks, this is no musical, though a song or two creeps in, notably at the end credits. Rather, it’s an extremely anecdotal series of comic misadventures as Tink tries to be what she’s not before inevitably embracing her inner “tinker” and helping the universe in the ways she knows best.

There’s virtually no reference to Peter Pan until the end, when that story’s Wendy Darling makes a cameo as an even younger girl growing up in London, with fleeting sounds of the song You Can Fly. For all of us who know what’s to come in Disney’s robustly entertaining 1953 film, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

But with its steady stream of flamboyant magic, Tinker Bell should be soaring fun for today’s kids, especially girls, who aren’t even vaguely aware that the character was reportedly modeled after Marilyn Monroe, a sexpot from their grandparents’ era. (In truth, that’s an urban legend, though Tink certainly is and was a shapely blonde.) For now, though, she’s just another modern girl who happens to be a magical fairy, full of innocence, wonder and a sprightly assertiveness that many of us first fell in love with in our own childhoods. Enjoy.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ DVD shows gorgeous end to a Disney era

October 9, 2008

Like the city in which I live, Houston, I’m no traditionalist. I believe in progress, modernity, pushing forward and the future, whether it’s into space or any other endeavor. And that’s why, though I’m a longtime animation fan and adore classic Disney work, I quickly embraced the shift to computer animation, even though it meant the eclipse of hand-drawn efforts. After all, if it works, it works. And nothing has to be done the same way forever. Progress counts. Otherwise, we’d never have graduated to “talkies.”

But that said, I’m heartened to see the immaculate reissue of Disney’s 1959 masterpiece, Sleeping Beauty, on DVD.

This romantic, exciting film pushed the limits as far as Disney could take them in terms of hand-drawn animation for that time. Not only was it lovely and lavish, with a strong  — and dark — fairy tale story, but it also was produced and exhibited in 70mm in theaters, for a superwide 2:55 to 1 aspect ratio.

That’s the way Sleeping Beauty should be seen, and that’s the way it can be seen on Disney’s new two-disc Platinum Edition (and, to be fair, on its original 2003 Special Edition DVD, now out of print, which also offered a full-screen option).

The story, of course, involves lovable royals in a magical kingdom, including the radiant Princess Aurora, whose beloved is Prince Phillip. The wicked Maleficent casts a spell on Aurora which causes her to enter a timeless sleep, from which Phillip must rescue her, with the help of three tiny fairies.

The film has one spectacular battle scene between Phillip and a dragon (Maleficent in monstrous reptilian form). It also has lovely music from Tchaikovsky, no less, and dazzling creativity  for its elaborate, painstaking animation.

Sleeping Beauty is truly a state-of-the-art picture for the end of Disney’s first golden era of animation, soon followed by more modernized films such as 101 Dalmatians. Much of its creation and history you can learn from intriguing making-of materials on Disc 2.

BTW, the commanding voice of Maleficent is by Eleanor Audley, an actress who also was known for many on-screen roles, unlike some voice actors for classic Disney films. In Audley’s case, you may have seen her as the sternly disapproving mother of Edward Albert’s lawyer-turned-farmer character on Green Acres. Often playing a haughty society grand dame, she also appeared in many other sitcoms of the era, from McHale’s Navy, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dick Van Dyke Show to My Three Sons, Hazel and Mister Ed.

But it was voice work as villainesses that supplied two of her greatest roles. Before Maleficent, Audley voiced the character of the cruel stepmother in Disney’s Cinderella — one of the best Disney’s villains ever (and that’s saying quite a lot).

In short, if classic Disney films scare you — and many of them should — chances are you’ve felt a chill from the imperious, sinister tones of Eleanor Audley’s rich voice. Yes, great animation goes a long way, but great voice talent also makes a huge difference. And until or unless computerized voices are perfected, that’s one artistry which won’t subside in the name of “progress.”

As a DVD prequel, ‘Ariel’s Beginning’ marks Disney’s ‘Mermaid’ rebirth

August 26, 2008

In some ways, Disney’s The Little Mermaid — Ariel’s Beginning is just another made-for-DVD spinoff of a theatrical animated hit. Familiar characters and voice actors return, yes, but the animation isn’t nearly on a level with the original, and in this case — with such a hard act to follow — neither are the songs.

But one thing truly pops out about this prequel to 1989’s The Little Mermaid: As its title suggests, it’s a beginning, but in crucial ways so was its source movie, which was as pivotal a picture in the history of Disney animation as 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Snow White, of course, was Disney’s first feature-length animated film and a brave project which, during lengthy production, was widely branded around Hollywood as “Disney’s folly.” Who’d want to sit through a feature-length musical cartoon, anyway, when animation routinely ran in theaters as seven-minute comedy shorts?

But people didn’t just see it. They adored it, making Disney a new power in theatrical production, a power that’s continued to this day.

Yet after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, that power began to fade. In the turbulent ’70s — a decade of unbridled creativity but also unprecedented rawness in mainstream movies — Disney became a relic in search of a future-forward identity. Its live-action and animated films were largely G-rated clunkers, and the studio struggled to find a contemporary niche.

Finally, with The Little Mermaid, it did. Thanks largely to the superb songcraft of composers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Disney delivered a Broadway-worthy musical (which is where it wound up in 2007) with a spry sense of modernity and not a whiff of stuffy, old-hat innocence. The film was a huge hit and won two Oscars — Disney’s first for an animated film in 18 years. And though it was Disney’s final animated feature totally reliant on hand-painted cells, it launched a rebirth of Disney as an animation powerhouse and led to a long line of hits melding strong music with modern sensibilities, from Aladdin and The Lion King to Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Of course, that bubble burst when computer animation claimed Disney’s long-held throne. Now Pixar delivers most “Disney” hits. Nonetheless, The Little Mermaid is a landmark Disney film — a rejuvenating elixir for a studio that had been stumped. And now, after almost two decades, we see its straight-to-DVD “beginning.”

A prequel, Ariel’s Beginning starts with back-story about the tragic loss of Ariel’s mother and King Triton’s queen, leaving Ariel and her six sisters to languish in a typical teen state — sullen self-absorption — while a grieving Triton unaccountably bans all music from his undersea kingdom. Ariel finds a way around that, of course, and soon the waters are alive with the sound of music — not remarkable or memorable, but frothy and fun, and often evoking the Busby Berkeley style adopted in the original (and repeated, in a warped way, at China’s closing Olympics ceremonies, which played like Fellini meets Busby Berkeley in a creepy collective worker hive).

Ariel’s Beginning also has some unwelcome detours into slangy current-day talk — sheer pandering which doesn’t jibe with the feature film to come. (This one appears to be set shortly before events of the original.)

Still, it’s good to see lovable characters again, particularly Samuel E. Wright’s Sebastian. And while new villainess Marina (voiced by Sally Field) is minor league (as a power-mad  governess, she’s Mary Poppins with ‘roid rage), the film’s high spirits — and its glorification of music — still carry the day.

A new day? Hardly. Really more of a recycled one. But if any Disney movie of the past 20 years deserves a revisit via prequel or sequel, it’s The Little Mermaid, a film without which so much Disney glory which followed might never have happened.