Monday, December 12, 2011

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

I can confidently say that this was in fact the first Disney movie I saw in theaters. I remember entering a contest at the old Brighton movie theater and winning a big Beauty and the Beast gift basket. I was seven, and a boy, so I decided that my sister would like it better. For me, Beauty and the Beast has been something that has taken a while to grow on me. I'm sure I found it entertaining as a child, but in essence I found it to be more of a girl's movie, so I didn't watch it that many times. Same with The Little Mermaid. Those were my sister's favorites, not mine. I would have rather watched Aladdin or Hercules. That being said, it's much higher on my list now that I'm older. I may not of seen it when I was younger, but Beauty and the Beast is very much a masterpiece of storytelling. I'm not the only one who thinks so either, as evidenced by it's nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars in 1992. Whether you think it's a girl's movie or not, you have to admit that it's a great piece of film. I can guarantee that everyone in my generation has at least seen it once in their lives and can recount a funny scene or sing one of its many songs. I think it's up there with The Lion King in the nostalgia department.

Beauty and the Beast was yet another idea that Walt wanted to do in the early days of his full length motion pictures. Attempts to actually make the film in the 30's and 50's didn't pan out since they writers couldn't come up with a good enough draft. It's also thought that Disney was discouraged from making it in the 50's, as Jean Cocteau had just released a film version in 1947. Thanks a lot, France! After the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit however, Disney decided to give it another go. The first thing that makes Beauty and the Beast different from its predecessors is that it was made through a script instead of storyboards. So, it was written like any old live action movie by having a screenplay. Because of this fact, Beauty and the Beast has an unusual amount of writers. One might say that too many cooks would ruin the recipe, but as we have all found out, that wasn't the case for this movie. On seeing the original story in 1989, Jeffrey Katzenberg hated it so much that he ordered the process to be completely redone. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale were hired on to direct the film, though the only thing they had ever directed was Cranium Command, a ride in EPCOT. Ron Clements and John Musker were asked to direct, but declined since they had just finished with The Little Mermaid and wanted a rest. Katzenberg wanted to make Beauty and the Beast a Broadway musical type performance, much in the same vein as The Little Mermaid, so he asked Mermaid's songwriter Alan Menken and other songwriter Howard Ashman to develop the music. Ashman, just learning that he was dying of AIDS, was reluctant to join the struggling production team, especially since he was already working on Disney's pet project, Aladdin. He ultimately decided to sign on, but due to his health, all pre-production had to be moved to his home in New York. Disney was finally on its way to delivering another hit. Now they just had to get a decent script made.

The original story of Beauty and the Beast basically just has the two eponymous characters, which wasn't really working out for Disney's version. They wanted to find a way to brighten up the gloomy story and make it fun to watch for the whole family. They decided the best way was to add a whole bunch of characters. The biggest additions were the household items that talked, and an actual villain in Gaston. The household items would function as the comedy relief for the somewhat dark tale, and Gaston would provide the suspense and pig-headed charm. This, unfortunately, was not pure genius dreamed up by the Disney writers, but a borrowing of ideas from the French film of 47', which had a oafish suitor and inanimate objects that come to life in the castle. The characters however, were given a life of their own and were apparently good enough to have the script accepted by Katzenberg in 1990. The production team started on the storyboards and had to fly back and forth from California to New York to have Ashman OK each one, though they were in the dark as to why.

Unfortunately for the production team, the film had to be done in two years instead of the usual four thanks to the two years wasted on the original script. Though the movie may have been rushed, the product came out exceptionally well. Beauty and the Beast is the second film to use the CAPS digital scanning, inking, painting, and compositing system of software developed for Disney by Pixar. Not only did the software allow the production team to cut a lot of time out on animation, but also added color, depth, and multiplane effects. Computer animation was not used extensively in the film, mostly taking place in the ballroom scene. This scene however, led many executives to jump on the computer animation bandwagon.

The music sequences went through a few changes throughout production. "Be Our Guest" was originally supposed to have the household objects singing to Maurice, Belle's father, instead of Belle herself. One of the story artists suggested that it would make more sense for Belle to be the recipient of the song and the directors had the sequence redone. "Human Again," which was a song sung by the household objects about what it will be like when they are back to normal, was written and recorded, but ultimately scrapped since it caused story problems about the timeline over which the story takes place. Menken and Ashman thus had to come up with a replacement song. "Something There" became that replacement song, one sung by Belle and the Beast on their growing affection for each other. This was added very late in the game and to save on time they made it a voice-over song. "Human Again" was later revised by Menken and used in the Broadway version of the musical and was included on the 2002 DVD release of the animated film. During pre-production, Ashman succumbed to his illness and passed away eight months before the film was released and before the film was even finished. Ashman's work on Aladdin had to be picked up by another songwriter, Tim Rice. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to Ashman's memory.

Beauty and the Beast, AKA La Belle et la Bete, was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneve in 1740. The better known version was written a few years later by Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Geez these French people have long names! Beaumont's version goes like this: There once was a man who had three daughters. The man was very wealthy and gave his daughters all they desired. The most beautiful and unselfish of the daughters was the youngest, named Belle. One day, the father learns that his fortune is gone since all of his ships were destroyed in a tempest, or a very big storm. The family is forced to move into a small cottage and all work to stay alive. The father then learns that one of his ships did in fact make it out of the storm and was arriving at a nearby port. Before the father set out, he asked his daughters if they desired a gift that he could bring back to them. The first two daughters, thinking that their father's riches had returned, asked for jewelry and expensive clothes. Belle asked for something far less extravagant: a simple rose, as they didn't grow in the area they lived. The father set out and arrived at the port, only to find that all his belongings and goods had been used to pay off his debts. He was basically no better off than he started. He relented that he was not able to buy his daughters their gifts but started on his way home. He, of course, got lost along the way and wandered into a majestic palace. There he found a large feast laid out. He assumed it was a gift from the non-present owner. He partook of the feast and then took a nap. When he woke, he went off again, but not before he took the lowliest rose out of the mysterious owner's rose garden.

Suddenly a beast appeared and scolded the man for taking one of his most prized possessions after he had gave him such a feast and hospitality. The beast is about the kill the poor father until the father explains that it was only a gift for his youngest daughter. The beast spares him, but tells him that the father, or the youngest daughter must come to palace and live there with the beast for the rest of their days. The father agrees and receives not only the rose for Belle, but the jewelry and expensive clothing for the other daughters. He returns home and gives the daughters their gifts, but Belle notices that something is troubling her father. He reveals his predicament and Belle volunteers to go to the palace in her father's place. She arrives at the palace and is received graciously by the beast who tells her that he is her servant from now one. The beast gave her all that he had to give and talked with her every day. Each night, he would ask her to marry him, but Belle would refuse. Each night, Belle would have odd dreams of a handsome prince asking Belle why she keeps refusing the Beast's proposal. Each time Belle responds that she only loves the beast as a friend. What guy hasn't heard that one before? Belle lives with the beast for several months, never connecting the beast with the prince in her dreams. She eventually gets extremely homesick and asks if she can go home. The beast relents, but asks her to come back to him in a week's time. She agrees and the beast gives her a mirror and a ring. The mirror will allow her to see the beast at any time, and the ring, when turned three times, will take her back to the palace instantly. She is welcomed back home by her family with much joy, but her sisters see how well fed and happy she is. They become incredibly jealous and decide they want to ruin everything for Belle. Knowing that Belle has only the week to spend with them, they attempt to have her say longer so hopefully the beast will become angry and gobble her up. They rub onions on their eyes to make it appear as if they are crying and beg Belle to stay just one more day. Belle is moved by her sister's (un)genuine feelings and stays an extra day. The next day, Belle checks on the beast with her mirror only to discover that the beast is dying from a broken heart by the rosebushes where the rose was taken. She uses the ring to get back to the palace and tries to save the beast. She weeps over the dying beast and tells him that she loves him. One of Belle's tears falls on the beast and he magically turns into the handsome prince that she recognizes from her dream. They get married and they live happily ever after. A lot of similarities between the two versions, though characters are omitted from each one. The beast is portrayed different ways in the book versions, some as a scaly gremlin creature, some as a hairy boar or Bigfoot looking beast.

Beauty and the Beast was released in November, 1991 to universal praise. Many named the ballroom scene as the highlight of the movie along with the many musical numbers. Others praised the way that Disney attempted to undo the female stereotypes of their previous films by making Belle a smart, independent woman who didn't do housework the whole movie. I have still heard nitpickers complain about the abusive relationship side of the movie. Some claim that the movie supports the notion that women should stay with an abusive male, because eventually they will change and become the perfect man. I, for one don't think that was the message that Disney was trying to get across, so I think those people are just trying to find something wrong with a great film and great story. Beauty and the Beast even went on to do the unthinkable and be the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It lost to Silence of the Lambs, but it's still a huge honor.

Beauty and the Beast has gone on to make 377 million overall, not counting the amount it's going to make with the 3-D release coming in January. Its also found an audience on Broadway, as it has become an extremely successful Broadway musical. Whether you love the movie for the characters, the story, or the songs, Beauty and the Beast is just Disney at its best and ranks up there with Snow White, The Lion King, and Bambi.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Disney's The Rescuers Down Under

"By nature I'm an experimenter. To this day, I don't believe in sequels. I can't follow popular cycles. I have to move on to new things" -Walt Disney

Perhaps Walt was turning in his cryogenically frozen pod when the Disney team finally developed a sequel for The Rescuers. As you can tell by the quote, Disney didn't very much like sequels and one can hardly blame him. In animation and in live action movies there seems to be a drop off point in quality after the original movie. There are rare exceptions like The Dark Knight and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but for the most part there are stink burgers like Oceans 12, Spiderman III, and Grease II. Hollywood attempts to ruin perfectly good movies by adding unnecessary episodes to them, but was it this way with Disney? In my opinion, Disney has done this many times, with only a few exceptions. The three canon sequels, The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, and Winnie the Pooh are all great. Disney knows which ones to release on video only and which ones to release in theaters. Though they have strayed away from releasing many sequels on the big screen, Disney has released a ton on video. Thirty-seven to be exact. I'll admit that I've only seen a few of these video sequels, but the ones I did see weren't terrible. Granted, they were the two Aladdin sequels and the sequel to Lion King. Lion King II was alright. Not up to par with the first one of course, but it was entertaining. Aladdin II and III were awesome films if I'm remembering them correctly. They were the first ones to be released as video sequels and it seemed that everyone had seen them. Since then however, Disney has released a sequel for basically every movie it's ever made. Since I haven't seen them, I cannot say that I know they are terrible, but from a general consensus and the number of petitions that people have started to ask Disney to stop making sequels makes me think they might be crummy. So Walt Disney may of had a point when he said numerous times that he wouldn't do sequels as long as he was alive. Some movies just work better on their own.

As evidenced by Oliver & Company, this wasn't the first time that Disney had tried to make a sequel out of The Rescuers. The movie had made a lot of money for the studio and they were convinced that people would come in droves to see the continuing adventures of Bernard and Bianca. When the Oliver & Company idea didn't work, they put the sequel idea away for a few years. After the amazing success of The Little Mermaid, perhaps the Disney head honchos felt they could afford to take a gamble and finally make a sequel. So they already had the main characters figured out, but what scenario would excite audiences? Anyone will tell you that one of the most important parts of the story is the setting. The setting determines a lot of what will happen in the story just for the fact that different environments cause different things to happen. So what setting should this Rescuers movie be in? They already did the South, and the city motif was rejected earlier. Then Disney remembered that a short time earlier, America had went through a love affair with all things Australia. After the release of Crocodile Dundee, America couldn't get enough of Australian culture. Disney didn't bother to check and see if the love was still there and determined that if the setting was in Australia, people would come and see it.

Since the technology wasn't up to par for The Little Mermaid, Disney couldn't release a film that was completely made digitally until this movie. The CAPS process, or Computer Animation Production System, made hand painted cels obsolete by digitally inking and painting cels. "The animators' drawings and the background paintings were scanned into computer systems instead, where the animation drawings are inked and painted by digital artists, and later combined with the scanned backgrounds in software that allows for camera positioning, camera movements, multiplane effects, and other techniques." This made production time a lot less. Disney could now churn out a movie a year like they wanted to since they had the technology. CGI was also present in the film, such as the opening field sequence, McLeach's truck, and the high flying sequences with Cody and Marahute, the golden eagle. In other words, this film looks awesome. The eagle scenes are incredible on the small screen, but I imagine they would be even better on the big screen. I honestly cannot remember if I saw this one in theaters. Even if I did go I doubt I paid much attention to how cool the animation looked. It was probably all, "Oooh! Big birdy!" and "Kangamaroos!" One thing that distinguishes this movie from the rest of the Disney Renaissance is the fact that it has no songs. I can't really blame Disney on this one, as I can't see where they would of fit them in.

The movie brings back the pair of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. It's fun to see them again in a movie, especially since that was Eva's last performance before she died in 1995. Helping Bernard and Bianca throughout the film is Jake the kangaroo rat, voiced by Australian native Tristan Rogers, and Wilber the albatross, voiced by the hilarious John Candy. In what I think is one of the best casting calls that Disney has ever made, they had the villain McLeach voiced by the gravelly voiced George C. Scott, best known for playing Patton in the eponymous movie. Scott was a hugely talented actor and he wasn't a slouch as a voice actor either. Though McLeach is not one of the more popular or well known Disney villains, he still steals the show throughout the movie. Here is a disclaimer for the rest of Disney movies that I will cover: Frank Welker does all the animal voices. By that I mean that any animal that is present and doesn't actually talk is voiced by Welker. I've mentioned him before but this man is the animal voice person. Any cartoon show or movie with animals in it that make a lot of noises, chances are that he's doing the sounds. He's been in everything. Seriously, check out his wikipedia page or imdb. He is probably best known for voicing Freddy on Scooby Doo, something he has done since the premiere in 1969. Welker does Marahute and Joanna the egg hungry goanna in this film. I watched the film the other day to refresh my memory on some of the storyline and realized that the nursemice sound an awful lot like Minnie Mouse. Turns out I was right, as they were voiced by Russi Taylor, the long time voice of Minnie Mouse and spouse of Wayne Allwine, who voiced Micky until his death in 2009. So yes, Mickey and Minnie were married in real life.

The Rescuers Down Under was released in fall of 1990 to an opening weekend box office earning of $3.5 million. That was way below expectations so Katzenberg decided to pull all advertising for the movie. While he probably saved some money by not paying for additional advertising, I can't help but wonder if the movie would have done better in the long run had he kept them. Without advertisment after it's release, the movie only went on to gross a measly $27 million with an additional $47 million from overseas. Nothing to sneeze at, but it ended up being the least profitable animated movie Disney released in the 1990's. Critics found the movie to be so-so. Roger Ebert found the movie to be fun to watch, especially the eagle flying scenes. Many critics hailed it as great animation and beautifully drawn. Others found the setting to be a little bit lame. As it turned out, America was done with the whole Australia craze by the time 1990 came around. Some critics argued that the story could have taken place anywhere and the Australian setting wasn't all that important to the underlying plot. Others claimed that the Rescuers were not in it enough, not coming in until a third of the way through the film and not doing anything to help the boy until the very end. This is all nitpicking and sour grapes if you ask me. I like the movie a lot and I got a lot of joy out of seeing it again. Wilbur is great comic relief throughout the movie and I found the love triangle to be fun to watch. Watch it again if you haven't seen it in awhile and you too will realize that not only is it a great movie, but also that Bernard technically kills McLeach in the end. That's right.....a mouse kills a dangerous poacher.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Disney's The Little Mermaid

Thanks to the commercial success of Oliver & Company and the Disney/Amblin film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Disney was able to do what they proposed and start pumping out an animated film every year. Their first movie after Oliver & Company would be one that Disney had proposed very early on: The Little Mermaid. After Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had wrapped, Disney was looking to make a package film that involved several of Hans Christian Anderson's tales. The Little Mermaid was to be one of them. This idea was eventually shelved for one reason or another and it collected dust until 1985. The Great Mouse Detective's co-director Ron Clements happened to be browsing a bookstore when he discovered a book of Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales. This gave Clements an idea and he promptly wrote up a two page draft for The Little Mermaid. He presented it to CEO Michael Eisner and Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg at a idea suggestion meeting. Eisner and Katzenberg passed on it, feeling the mermaid tale was too close to the sequel they were working on for the sequel to Splash. (Splash, Too did actually get made, but as a TV movie.) Katzenberg must have thought it over, as he greenlit the idea, along with Oliver & Company the very next day.

The staff started writing drafts of the story, making a few changes here and there and adding characters, when they stumbled on the original story ideas from the late 1930's by Kay Nielson. Incidentally, the changes the group from the 80's had made to the story were almost identical to the changes from the 30's script. Ron Clements and John Musker turned the two page story into a twenty pager, though had to set the thing down for a while, as the studio wanted to focus more on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Oliver & Company, two movies that were happening in the nearer future. When production of the two films were complete, the two set out to find out exactly what kind of musical this was going to be. They turned to songwriter Howard Ashman, who had wrote the songs for Oliver & Company. Ashman, among other things, had Clarence, the English-butler crab turned into a Rastafarian Jamaican crab and shifted the music in the film to reflect this. In other words, you have Ashman to thank for "Under the Sea." At the same time, Katzenberg, Clements, Musker, and Ashman revised the story format to make it more like a broadway musical story structure, making the musical numbers the tent poles of the story. Ashman teamed up with Alan Menken, both of whom had written the music for the off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors together, to write the entire score for The Little Mermaid.

Disney poured a ton of money into this movie. I think they knew they had something special on their hands. Besides the main animation studio in California, Disney had a satellite studio built inside of MGM Studios in Walt Disney World (Keep in mind that MGM Studios opened its doors to the public in 1989). This group of animators were tasked with animating the Roger Rabbit short that came before the movie and helping out with the ink and paint for the movie's animation. This was the last Disney film to use hand painted cels and analog camera and film work. In all there were over a million drawings done for the movie. The movie was to be the first to be completely digitally processed but the technology wasn't quite ready yet. The honor instead goes to Disney's next film, The Rescuers Down Under.

Ariel was based off Alyssa Milano, who at the time was on Who's The Boss? Something that had been gone since Walt Disney's leadership was the use of live-action references. Sherri Lynn Stoner was used for the live reference though less animators were privy on using live action references, insisting on using their own creativity. One animator was so dead set against it that he left the studio. A fun fact about Ariel's design is that the studio decided to make her a redhead so people wouldn't confuse her for Darryl Hannah's mermaid from Splash. For Ariel's voice they found Broadway actress Jodie Benson. Benson is now synonymous with Ariel, even voicing her for the video game series Kingdom Hearts. Benson also voiced Barbie in Toy Story 2 and 3. Ursula in turn was based on drag performer Divine. My younger audience and even my peers may not know who that is, but check out the movie Pink Flamingos if you're really curious. Pat Carrol ended up doing the voice for Ursula, but wasn't Clement's and Musker's first choice. The script was specifically written with Bea Arthur in mind for Ursula. Bea Arthur's TV show, The Golden Girls was owned by Disney, so Clements and Musker figured they could get her easy. She wasn't interested. Several other actresses were considered for the part, even Roseanne Barr. Ursula's personality in general was based off of Madame Medusa from The Rescuers. The Little Mermaid was not exactly thick with recognizable names. The most recognizable to me even now is Buddy Hackett, who voiced Scuttle the seagull. One funny thing about the voice actors is the fact that the Disney team hired Ben Wright to voice Prince Eric's butler but had no idea that he was a veteran of Disney films. Wright had to remind the people working on the film that he had voiced Roger in 101 Dalmatians. Other notable voice actors who did additional voices for the movie included Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, and Nancy Cartwright (she does the voice of Bart on The Simpsons).

Hans Christian Anderson's version of The Little Mermaid is just a bit different from Disney's. In Anderson's, the little mermaid is the youngest of the King's daughters but is basically looked after by her grandmother. When she turns 15, the little mermaid (she isn't called Ariel in the original story) is allowed to go up to see the land above the sea. While she is admiring the upper land from the sea she notices a prince on a boat from afar and instantly falls in love. A storm rolls up and sinks the boat however and the little mermaid saves him, pushing him on shore and watching over him until a girl happens upon him. The Prince incidentally does not see the little mermaid. After this episode, the little mermaid asks her grandmother about humans and if they live forever if they don't drown. Her grandmother responds that they live much shorter lives than merfolk (around 300 years) but human's live on through their souls which go up to heaven, whereas merfolk just turn into foam. Tough break for the merfolk. The little mermaid desires the prince and an eternal soul so she goes and visits the local Sea Witch. The Sea Witch gives her legs but in return, she takes her tongue, for the little mermaid had the most intoxicating voice in the world. The Sea Witch also warns that if she drinks the potion, she will never be able to go back to the sea and walking on her legs will feel like walking on sharp swords. In addition, she only gets a soul if she is able to get true love's first kiss and the Prince marries her, thus sharing his soul with her. However, if the Prince marries someone else, at dawn of that day, the little mermaid will die brokenhearted and turn into foam.

I know what you're all thinking: "How dumb could this girl be? There is no way she'll agree to that!" She does. Apparently having her true love is more important than being banished, stepping on invisible swords, and potentially turning into foam. Remember that she hasn't even interacted with him when he was conscious, so how does she even know that she is in love with him? I have a feeling this isn't going to turn out well. She drinks the potion and gains legs, quickly finding the Prince who is amazed at her beauty and is seemingly attracted to her though she cannot talk. The Prince likes most of all to see this mysterious new girl dance for him. The little mermaid dances for him, even though she feels as if she is dancing on daggers. Now that is commitment! The Prince's father tells him one day that he must marry the Princess from the neighboring kingdom, though the Prince confides in the little mermaid that he doesn't love the princess. He tells the little mermaid that the only one that he could marry would be the girl that saved him on the beach that day of the storm. we go. So, in a funny twist of fate, the girl that saved the Prince was actually the Princess who was in the area going to school at the temple near the beach. They arrange to be married, much to the little mermaid's chagrin. She realizes that this will be the end of her and she waits to turn into foam. Right before dawn however, one of her sisters gives her a knife that was given to her by Ursula in exchange for her long hair. She explains to the little mermaid that if she slays the Prince with the knife and has the blood drip on her legs, she will turn back into a mermaid and will avoid death. The little mermaid cannot bring herself to do it however and throws herself into the sea at dawn, becoming foam. Now, in the original ending, that's all that happens. The little mermaid dies and everyone learns a valuable lesson on making deals with Sea Witches. In the revised ending, the little mermaid becomes a daughter of the air, a kind of spirit after she dies. The other daughters of the air tell her that because she strove to get a soul, she is getting the chance to earn one. All she has to do is do good deeds for three hundred years and she'll be allowed in heaven. Can't tell which ending is worse? I can't either. Many criticized Anderson's changed ending and thought it too much of a "better do the right thing or you're going to hell" story that was meant to scare children into behaving. I personally like the movie much better.

As you know, Ariel doesn't die in the end of the movie, but wins Prince Eric's heart and with Eric, defeats Ursula. A much better ending in my opinion, but most fairy tales had weird depressing endings. The Little Mermaid is probably one of the most beloved Disney movies of my generation. Sure it's more directed towards girls, but I've always liked it and I know plenty of other guys that like the movie too. It doesn't matter who the lead role is, as long as the story and songs are really good. And this movie has some really good and catchy songs. Heck, "Under the Sea" won the Oscar for Best Song, so you know at least that song was fantastic. "Part Of Your World" was almost cut because Katzenberg thought it was too boring! The movie wouldn't be the same without it! There isn't much to hate about this movie. It's got a strong lead, a Jamaican crab and a flounder fish named....Flounder as sidekicks, a bird that doesn't know what a fork is, a menacing octopus with two really freaky eels, and a love interest that will run a boat into said menacing octopus for love. Seriously though, how did Ursula not see that huge boat coming at her! It was like slow motion and she still gets stabbed with the mast! Oh, and the whole sequence with Sebastian and the French Chef is basically my favorite scene in the movie. Anyway, it's a great film and the official mark of the Disney Renaissance. I thought we'd never get here!

Jeffrey Katzenberg warned the directors ahead of time that since this was a "girl's movie," it would probably make less than Oliver & Company, which had been the studio's biggest hit of the decade. As time went on though, Katzenberg realized that this movie could really be a big hit and may be the first to hit over $100 million, thus being a blockbuster. The Little Mermaid did do better than Oliver & Company, but didn't hit the $100 million mark. It would gross a little more than $84 million in its initial run, earning 67% more than Oliver. With the 1997 re-issue, the film earned an additional $27 million, plus another $99.8 million from outside North American continent. This brings the grand total to $211 million dollars, so I think Katzenberg had his blockbuster. Critics praised the film for not only its story, but for the main character, Ariel. Many found her independent and rebellious nature refreshing, as most Disney Princesses had not taken a very proactive role in their films. Disney finally had their major hit, and they planned on keeping the rate going. Not only had the movie been a smash hit, but it established the animation department as the main money making branch of Disney. In years past it had been the theme parks, live action movies, and TV shows that made the studio profitable, but now animation was once again the key to Disney's success.

I almost forgot about all the nasty rumors about the movie! Everybody seems to know about the tower on the castle that looks a little bit different, and the priest at the end of the movie who seems to be a little too excited about officiating. Turns out that the tower that supposedly looked like a certain male part, was done on accident and the animators claimed it couldn't be helped since all the towers were phallic looking to begin with. People still claim that the priest rumor is true however, though Disney has claimed that its just the man's knee. Disney since has removed both the tower and the bulge as to keep people from sending them nasty letters.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oliver & Company

One thing I distinctly remember from my childhood is the story of Oliver Twist. My father had first introduced me to the story through the musical movie version Oliver! I fell absolutely in love with it, singing it's songs and even experimenting with pick-pocketing my fathers wallet. I got pretty good at it until my father reprimanded me. Obviously, he did not want his daughter pick-pocketing strangers or growing up to be a thief. I can honestly say I have not pick-pocketed anyone since then. I mention Oliver Twist because this is basically an animal version of the famous Dickens novel. Instead of some street urchins, there are a bunch of dogs and a cat. Oliver & Company is one of the few Disney movies that takes place in a contemporary setting. Originally it was supposed to take place in modern (80's) day London, but the filmmakers eventually decided that New York City would be a better setting. If you've watched the movie and suddenly realized, "Hey, this movie has a whole lot of product placement," well you wouldn't be wrong. Disney wasn't trying to sell Coca-Cola or Sony products, but trying to make New York look real. Anyone who has been to New York, or watched anything that takes place in New York has noticed the abundance of advertisements, especially in Times Square.

Another fun fact about the movie is that the production title was Oliver and the Dodger. Both titles honestly aren't that great if you ask me. Something that's a little odd to think about is that the producers wanted to make this into a sequel of The Rescuers. They would have Penny living in New York and continue the storyline in that vein. The producers realized that the story they were thinking about developing wasn't convincing enough, so they scrapped it and started from scratch. The only thing that stayed was the New York setting and a character that looks a whole lot like Penny from The Rescuers, named Jenny. I bet it took them all but two minutes to come up with that one.

What sets this movie apart from its predecessors was its use of CGI in a big way. While The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective had used it only in short sequences, Oliver & Company used it throughout the whole film. The skyscrapers, cars, trains, Fagin's scooter, and the subway chase were all computer animated requiring Disney to form its own department solely for the effects. If you hadn't noticed with the last couple films, Disney had kind of gotten rid of the musical element from its animated films. Oliver & Company was the test subject to see if Disney could sneak its way back into that. According to Disney, if the movie has three or more songs, it's considered a musical. Now let's all transport back to the mid to late 80's and remember fondly the really cheesy musical videos that dominated MTV. Well, that type of entertainment was so "in" that Disney decided to make its musical numbers more like music videos. Trust me, watch the part with "Why Should I Worry" and it'll all make sense.

Disney went all out in the voice acting department and got all well known (at the time) actors or singers to voice Oliver & Company's characters. Most notable were up and coming actor Joey Lawrence as Oliver and singer Billy Joel as Dodger. If you don't know who either of them are then you haven't listened to a radio station that plays the 80's ever and didn't watch TV in the early 90's. Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong plays Tito, the excitable and often angry chihuahua. Other names that you may recognize are Bette Midler playing the poodle Georgette, Jenny's dog and the always enjoyable Dom DeLuise as Fagin. I think the only one I recognized when I was a child was Fagin's voice, as I had watched An American Tale and Fievel Goes West a million times and Dom had done Tiger's voice in both films.

Disney needed the star power because they were going up against the new behemoth that was Bluth Animation studios and their film, The Land Before Time. While Bluth's film didn't have anyone in the way of famous actors voicing the characters in The Land Before Time (if you don't count voice acting extraordinaire Frank Welker as Sharptooth), he did have executive producers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall. The odds weren't looking in Disney's favor as they weren't having the most successful string of movies and The Great Mouse Detective was destroyed by Bluth's An American Tale. Disney needed more than critically acclaimed movies; they needed commercial successes.

Like I mentioned before, after the sequel to The Rescuers didn't pan out, Disney decided to do a new take on Charles Dicken's classic novel Oliver Twist. You may have noticed a few differences between the two, the biggest being that this is a story about animals and not about people. There are more differences between the movie and the novel than I can count so I won't go too much into it. If you have read Oliver Twist, then you know that basically everyone dies in the end (Sorry...late Spoiler Alert). This is not the case in the Disney version, as one can expect. Fagin and the Artful Dodger are legitimate villains in the book as is Sikes. In the Disney version however, Sykes (spelled with a Y for some reason) is the only person perceived as a villain. Fagin and Dodger are thieves but the audience is meant to have sympathy for their plight. The four characters are the only ones carried over from the book, with Oliver and Sykes keeping their demeanor from the original story. Sikes in the book is actually part of Fagin's gang but is no less dangerous and ruthless. In the Disney version, he is a loan shark that demands money from Fagin and the eventual kidnapper of Jenny. The part about Oliver joining a group of pickpockets and eventually being adopted by a rich family are about the only parts of the Oliver Twist story that are recognizable.

Oliver & Company was released November 18th, 1988, the same exact date that Bluth's The Land Before Time was released. I can't help but feel that Bluth did this on purpose, but who knows who set the release date first. Bluth's film took the number one spot for the weekend and ended up grossing 84 million worldwide to Oliver & Company's 50 million. Disney had lost the battle with Bluth but the film was still a success. Because of said success, Disney announced that it would release an animated film every year from now on, which they have done except for the years 1993 and 2006. The movie release also prompted the first partnership with McDonald's, with McDonald's selling Christmas ornaments with Oliver and Dodger on them. McDonald's has, for the most part, released toys or cups or other cheap junk in conjunction with Disney films. Even though the film was successful, people weren't able to see it at home until 1996 when it came out on VHS. While the film was a commercial success in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a critical success. Critics found the songs to be lackluster, the animation stiff, and the plot predictable. Siskel and Ebert gave the film a thumbs up with Siskel saying the story was too fragmented and was one of the lesser in the Disney canon and Ebert saying it was "harmless, inoffensive." Gee thanks, Ebert. John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, went as far as to say the movie should be used as a form of torture. Everybody's a critic!

I've always like Oliver & Company, as has my sister who wrote the intro. Sure it's not Sleeping Beauty or Bambi but it's good old Disney fun and it is good to see films in a contemporary setting. While not the first Disney film I saw in theaters (I was almost three at the time), it was one of the first I watched when I was a child, though now I have no idea how I saw it since it didn't come out on video until 96. Hmmmm....mysterious!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Disney's The Great Mouse Detective

I honestly hadn't seen this movie probably since I was a young child. I got the chance to finally watch it again last week and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I'm not the biggest fan of Sherlock Holmes but the mouse version of his antics is a fun watch. Basil is a brilliant if not eccentric detective that seems to be a might skiddish around children. Along with his new found friend Dr. Dawson, they set out to stop the evil but entertaining villain Ratigan. There's action, suspense, comedy, and true heart to this film. You may even find yourself rooting for the bad guy because he's so devilishly cool. All I know is that this is one that I will be owning in the near future.

One of the first things I noticed about the movie was the difference in animation from The Black Cauldron. While the animators were still trying to get out of that older, choppier look for The Black Cauldron, they appear to have shed off all old animation and replaced it with a smoother look. How did they do it? Elementary my dear Computers did a lot of the work. The layouts were done on computers, and the use of video cameras made a digital version of pencil testing possible. With computers helping the animators, the production for the movie only took one year. That's a stark difference to The Black Cauldron. While The Black Cauldron may have been the first Disney movie to use CGI in any form, The Great Mouse Detective took it to the next level. The whole chase scene in the interior of Big Ben was CGI, the background that is. You can really tell when you see the scene. All in all the whole movie looks great.

Probably the only well known voice in the cast is the master of horror, Vincent Price. Remember how I said that who is cast as the voice ultimately decides on who the character really is? Well this was definable the case for the role of Ratigan. At first he was to be a thin and weak rat, but when Vincent Price signed on, they changed the character accordingly. Ratigan was changed into a robust and strong villain, more than able to pick a fight with Basil. Voicing Ratigan was a lifelong dream of Price's. Not specifically voicing Ratigan, but voicing a Disney character. Everybody's bucket list is different! Voicing Ratigan ended up being Price's favorite role, and you can tell that he had fun doing it. British actors Barrie Ingham and Val Bettin voiced Basil and Dawson, respectively. While you may not recognize Bettin's name, you may recognize his voice as the same as the Sultan of Agrabah in Aladdin. Alan Young who voices Hiram Flaversham also voiced Scrooge McDuck. I was inexplicably excited to find this out when I started watching the movie. I literally burst out saying, "SCROOGE!" Sorry, I loved Ducktales when I was a kid and still do.

The Great Mouse Detective is a movie based on a book series based on a series of books and movies. The movie is specifically lifted from Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, with all the same characters and only a few differences in characters. Titus meant for the books to be a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes, naming the character Basil after the alias that Sherlock Holmes donned in several of the Sherlock Holmes books like The Adventures of Black Peter. The only difference between the book and movie version of Basil is his ability to play the violin. In the book series, Basil cannot play the violin like Sherlock Holmes, who lives above him in 221B Baker Street, but plays the flute instead. Dawson functions as Basil's personal biographer, though that isn't really touched on in the movie. Dawson is of course a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes' companion, Watson. Professor Padraic Ratigan, who is based on Sherlock Holmes archenemy Professor James Moriarty, is actually a mouse in the book series. They decided it would be interesting to have Ratigan as an actual rat and have him freak out at someone every time they referred to him as a rat. He was just a very large rat-like mouse!

Disney did a good job of making the characters true to their tributes. Basil and Dawson are both based off of the real life actors who portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Watson in several movies, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, respectively. Not only do they look like mice version of their tributes (especially Dawson), but they sound and act a lot like them too. If you love watching Sherlock Holmes movies, then you'll definitely enjoy this movie. The animators attempted to make Ratigan even more like the person who voiced him by giving him poses that were based off of Vincent Price's exaggerated Shakespearean gestures. One voice credit that I failed to mention before was the voice of Basil Rathbone, who voices Sherlock Holmes in the film. If you checked Rathbone out on wikipedia though you may notice that he died in 1967, almost twenty years before this movie came out. So what gives? Disney took a sound clip from Rathbone reading the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," spoken in 1966, just months before his death. Most attribute the voice clip from being from one Rathbone's movies, but you can really tell the difference in the voice, being as he is awfully old in 66'. Since they didn't get the clip from one of the old Sherlock Holmes movies, they couldn't rightfully splice Nigel Bruce's voice in there. Therefore, Laurie Main provides the voice of Watson in the film. Having Sherlock Holmes' voice in the movie is a great treat and sure to excite fans of the older films. Something that I found entertaining was the personification of the Sherlock Holmes story into a mini version. Basil actually lives underneath Sherlock Holmes' house. Queen Mousetoria lives in Buckingham Palace with Queen Victoria, which gives away that this all is supposed to take place in Victorian era London. Queen Mousetoria's Diamond Jubilee even coincides with the real Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. This movie is just fun. It's like the Rescue Aid Society underneath the United Nations building in The Rescuers. One last note before I go into how the movie did critically. Like a few movies before it, this features a cameo from an earlier Disney movie. If you look at Ratigan's gang you notice that one of the members is not a mouse, but a lizard. It just so happens to be Bill the Lizard from Alice in Wonderland! This is another one of those things that jumped out at me when I watched the movie. There is another small cameo while they are in the toy shop: if you pay attention you can see Dumbo as one of the many toys in the shop.

If you don't love The Great Mouse Detective for it's story, then love it for something else. It literally saved Disney Studios. The higher ups were basically convinced that they should stop making animated films after the huge financial disaster that was The Black Cauldron happened. When the The Great Mouse Detective came out in June of 1986, it was a hit with critics and with audiences. It was more light-hearted then Disney's last film and it's characters were much more likable. With a budget of $14 million, the movie ended up raking in $25 million. With this critical and financial success, though modest, it convinced the higher ups that Disney Studios was still capable of making money and churning out good films. Without this movie doing well, we may of not had the Disney Renaissance.

Everybody has their favorite scene from this movie, whether it be the escape from the sinister trap they are put in at the end of the movie, or the climactic and visually stunning fight in Big Ben. One scene that has particularly stuck with me is when Ratigan, who has been in denial about being a rat the whole movie and tries to be this suave and sophisticated mouse of the town, embraces that he is a rat and tears his nice clothes, pursuing Basil inside Big Ben with the look of sheer madness. Really, the scene is terrifying. If you clicked the hyperlink above you see part of the scene. With this film, Disney appeared to be on the right track, but could they keep it up?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Disney's The Black Cauldron

Disney's The Black what? If you found yourself saying this, then you are not alone. The 25th Disney animated film is probably the most unmemorable and least recognizable Disney film of the canon. Is it that bad? It's not great, but it holds a special place in my childhood. I can remember going to Sam's Club with my parents and seeing the movie on the shelves and wondering what the heck it was. Little did I know that the year I was born, there was a fantasy movie that Disney had tried to pull off, mostly to appeal to all the trendy fantasy nerds. I think that was an oxymoron. I was thirteen when the movie was finally released on VHS, making the release year 1998. I thought myself exceptionally privy on Disney movies, so I was a little confused on why I hadn't seen this particular one. I begged my parents to buy it and watched it as soon as I got home. Remember that I was thirteen and kind of easy to please, so I really enjoyed the movie. This was a darker animated film with a lot of scary characters. I love anything scary, gothic and spooky so this movie was just for me. I wasn't really into fantasy stuff though, and I'm still not that much into it. Needless to say, I have a soft spot for this Disney movie.

I'm going to try and keep this summation short and sweet. This works well because there isn't a whole lot to say about The Black Cauldron. Some of the Nine Old Men had been trying to make this movie since the mid 70's but couldn't really get the ball rolling. The books the movie is based off of, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron had came out in the mid 60's and this was right when fantasy was starting to gain it's footing in pop culture. By the time the 70's rolled around you had role playing fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons which premiered in 1974. The craze was just starting so Disney wanted to hop on the trendy bus and take it all the way to the bank. Unfortunately for Disney, the trendy bus broke down and they had to put a lot of money into it to get it going without ever getting to the bank. After the Nine Old Men couldn't tackle the dense books, the new animators decided to take a crack at it. What came from the new animators efforts was the most expensive animated movie Disney had made so far, costing 25 million dollars to produce. Keep in mind that this was the early days of computers so they decided to make a few computer animated scenes. Though it's a little hard to tell in this movie, the baubles, the boat, and the cauldron itself are all computer animated.

The Black Cauldron was adapted from the first two books of The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Alexander's books are like most fantasy novels in that they are kind of confusing with all the funny names and have a sweeping narrative that involves the usual fair of sorcery, swordfights, unlikely heroes, and evil kings and wizards. I have, since writing this post, read Llyod Alexander's "The Black Cauldron," and I have to say that it is incredibly different from the movie. It's way better than the movie in fact, so you should do yourself a favor and check it out, no matter what your age. For one, Hen-Wen is not in "The Black Cauldron." The prescient pig is only really in Lloyd's "The Book of Three." In the book, Taran, Fflewddur Fflam, Prince Gwydion, Prince Ellidyr, Doli, and Adaon all set out to destroy the Black Cauldron, which is the hands of the evil Arawn. Like in the movie, the cauldron is able to make the "cauldron born," who are the undead and cannot be killed. Believing that the Cauldron is behind enemy lines, the group sets out to retrieve and destroy it. Princess Eilonwy and Gurgi eventually catch up to the group, not wanting to be left behind. A quick note about the characters: Taran, Eilonwy, Fflewddur and Gurgi are basically the same from book to movie. The biggest character shift is Doli, who in the movie is a fairy, but in the book is a dwarf. Doli belongs to the fair folk, but at no point in time does the reader get the impression that Doli is anything but a brutish dwarf. Oh, and Doli can turn invisible whenever he wants, though it makes his ears feel as though there are bees buzzing around in them. As for the characters that didn't make it into the movie, well they are probably the most interesting characters in the book. Prince Gwydion is the courageous hero of the first book, and the man that Taran really looks up to. Adaon is the level headed travel mate that speaks of dreams, mostly because they are the supposed future. Adaon is able to be prescient because of his brooch, but eventually passes it on to Taran. Prince Ellidyr is the bully of the book. He is one of the more complex characters of the book so I won't go into too much about him. The witches, Orrdu, Orgoch, and Orwen are present in the book, and do in fact possess the cauldron as they did in the movie. The only difference is that the group has to barter something else than a magic sword to get the cauldron. The cauldron comes with the same destruction directions: whosoever goes into the cauldron of its own free will will destroy the cauldron, but will not climb out again. There are many other characters and plot twists that I could speak of, but I just wanted to give you a small taste of the book and how it compares to the movie. Seriously, read it. Who cares if it's a young adult book.

If you happened to have seen this movie, then you may have noticed something that makes this one stand out from the others: there's blood and scary monsters everywhere. This is Disney's first animated movie to receive the rating of PG. The funniest thing about the whole production was the fact that they were actually afraid that they would get an R rating for awhile because of all the violence and scary images. Jeffrey Katzenberg had just taken over as studio chief and when he saw the first version of the movie, he freaked out. He was certain that they would get an R rating which would basically bury the movie. They did a few cuts here and there but it only went down to a PG-13 rating. They cut it down even further and it stopped at where we know it now, PG. Something happened though when they cut out all the dark and violent scenes from the movie; the movie became disjointed. The scenes didn't really mesh together that well anymore. Disney had a problem but they went along anyway hoping the movie would do well with teenage males, a group that it never really appealed to in earlier years. I would like to see what the movie looked like before the cuts to see what Katzenberg thought of as a PG-13 or even R rated movie. One of the most disturbing scenes in any of the Disney movies is the death of the Horned King as you can see by the above picture.

The movie, on top of the cuts and violent story had another thing going against it: its characters. They were kind of dull, and audiences and critics realized it quickly. Why do you think we don't have Princess Ailonwy with all the other Disney Princesses? Why is there no mention of The Black Cauldron at any of the theme parks (OK, so there is an attraction at Disneyland Tokyo)? Why did it take Disney thirteen years to release the movie in any way shape or form? The story was a bleak one, and the characters didn't help. The Horned King was scary, yes, but really wasn't that threatening in the end. Taran is an OK hero, but doesn't really scream memorable. Then there's the one character that either made you love the movie or cringe every time you heard his voice. I'm talking about none other than Gurgi. Gurgi sounds a little like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, but is much more annoying. He likes to rhyme most of what he says like "Munchies and Crunchies" and is basically a cowardly half dog half badger for most of the movie. He ends up saving everyone yes, but man was he annoying along the way.

Despite having an awesome release poster, The Black Cauldron tanked. It only make a little over 21 million for Disney, making it an official flop. Most critics blamed the dark story material for the mediocre film, but still pointed out that the narrative was a bit disjointed and the characters weren't very memorable. One of the few who gave it a positive review was Roger Ebert, who praised the film for it's "splendid visuals." Lloyd Alexander himself claimed that the movie had no resemblance to his books, but he enjoyed watching it and hoped that people would read his books which he felt had more depth. Unfortunately for Disney, by 1985 the fantasy craze was over and no one bothered to watch their movie. I'm not sure if I'm just easy to please or what, but I still enjoy this movie, which is more than I can say for most of what Disney released in the 2000's. Check this movie out if you haven't before. You might like it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Disney's The Fox and the Hound

Trouble was brewing at Disney Studios. Don Bluth, who had just been promoted to a lead animator for Disney's movies, decided that he would leave Disney and start his own animation studio. He brought along other animators that felt the same way he did: Disney films had lost their charm and they wanted to set out to do their own work. The last piece that Bluth would work on for Disney in a large part was Small One, the story about the donkey that Mary rides while pregnant with Jesus, in 1978. He worked on a few things for The Fox and the Hound, but not enough to be officially credited. With Bluth and other animators leaving to form a rival animation company, The Fox and the Hound was postponed for a whole year. Don't be too mad at Bluth though. It's thanks to him that we have all the great Disney films of the 90's. How is that? Bluth did something that little thought anyone could do: he created animated movies to rival Disney's and succeeded. If you look at box office numbers and critical reception, it's not an understatement to say that Bluth's animation company owned the 80's. An American Tail would go on to smash all the records for animated films and that movie was topped by his next hit, The Land Before Time. An American Tail crushed The Great Mouse Detective which came out a few months prior and though The Land Before Time only beat Oliver & Company by $10 million, it was considered a much bigger success critically. Some even called The Land Before Time a more Disney like film than Oliver & Company....ouch. What's my point? If Bluth hadn't kicked Disney in the pants with his better films then we wouldn't have The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

Disney had lost Bluth and eleven other animators, but they still had a good group of animators left. This would be the last production that would involve Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, who did a lot of the preliminary animation but basically passed the baton onto the new animators. Who were these new animators that Disney employed? Well, you may of heard of a few of them. John Musker and Ron Clements, who gave us The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and Treasure Planet served as story artists and animators. Tim Burton, best known as director of Batman and Beeltejuice and producer of The Nightmare Before Christmas served as assistant and development artist. John Lasseter, who started out as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride and later became an animator on this film, is known for directing Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and A Bug's Life. Lastly, Brad Bird, a writer for The Simpsons and director for The Iron Giant and The Incredibles served as an animator. This group may seem impressive now, but at the time they were just young animators that had a dream. Hmmmmm...that sounded a bit corny. If you want to see a behind the scene making of the movie, click here.

OK, so I haven't said basically anything on The Fox and the Hound. Let me remedy that by getting into the voice acting. The voice cast for The Fox and the Hound was a meeting of the old and the new. Heading up the old side of the cast as adult Tod was Mickey Rooney, who everyone should know already. If you don't, then you really need to get out more. Another cast member on the older side was the voice of Amos Slade (the hunter), Jack Alberston, otherwise known as Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. A more recognizable name is Sandy Duncan, who voices Vixey, Tod's love interest. Duncan was a popular 70's TV star and stage actor, though the only thing I ever saw her in was The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Then you get the slightly younger stars such as Kurt Russel, who voiced adult Copper. Russel really got his career started when he starred in Disney films as a child such as Follow Me, Boys! and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes in the late 60's. Russel even has the distinction of having his name be the last thing that Walt Disney wrote out on a piece of paper, though nobody is sure why he did it. Some believe Disney wrote the name as a way of saying that Russel was the future of Disney films, and other people(my sister) think this was Disney's way of giving clues to whoever murdered him. And you thought that he died of lung cancer! Russel would shake off his Disney roles and star in cult classics like The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York. One voice in the movie surprised me more than any, and that is the voice of young Copper, Corey Feldman. This is one of those things I didn't know until I was well into my college years. It's funny because this gig was literally his second. He wasn't the famous Lost Boys and Goonies actor when he did the voice. I guess he has Disney to thank for a few things. Keith Coogan, the voice of young Tod also broke into movies with this role, starring in Little House on the Prairie and other TV shows before this. He hasn't starred in much after 1991, but you may remember him from Adventures in Babysitting. Suffice to say, this was a mixed cast.

The Fox and the Hound is about the harsh reality of prejudice, plain and simple. A fox is adopted by an old lady as a pet and the fox quickly becomes friends with a young dog. They have tons of fun until they are told that their friendship cannot last, since they are meant to be enemies. They grow up and the fox is told by the dog that they cannot be like they were and had to live like they are expected to: as mortal enemies. Dog's kill foxes, it's as simple as that. A misunderstanding, a chase, and a bear attack all lead to the two realizing that their friendship can be sustained even though everybody expects them to hate each other. The story has a happy ending of sorts, as we assume that they go on not hating each other.

The story was inspired by Daniel Mannix's novel of the same name, though their plots greatly differ. There are no talking animals in the book version and the fox and dog never become friends. It's more of a story about the life and death of a fox. Tod in the novel runs away from the hunter, Copper and the other dog, Chief and like in the movie, Chief is knocked by a train. In the book, he actually dies. This route was considered for the movie version but Disney was hesitant at that time to kill of a main character, as evidenced with Baloo being alive at the end of The Jungle Book and Trusty in Lady and the Tramp. So, the whole goal for the hunter and Copper is to get revenge on Tod for getting Chief killed. Wonder why they used the name Tod? Tod is similar to Todde, which means Fox in Middle English. Tod apparently has two vixens that he mates and has babies with, all of which get killed by the hunter. Hmmmm...this version might not be as cute and cuddly as the movie version. Oh, and remember how I said that the train hitting Chief was like the movie? There's one point I forgot to mention. Tod tried to get Chief killed by the train. After that, Copper chases after Tod until Tod dies of exhaustion. The hunter in the novel is an old drunk that is forced to go into a retirement home that doesn't allow dogs. Finding this out, he shoots Copper. Aren't happy endings wonderful?

The movie was released in June 1981 and became a moderate box office success. In it's four year production it racked up the largest bill for a Disney movie: $12 million. It made nearly $40 million so they made their money back, but it wasn't as big as The Rescuers. Critics weren't too favorable of this film though. Critic's deemed it completely average. Leonard Maltin stated that the movie was "good news/bad news for Disney" saying that the good news is that the new animators seemed to be in "firm control." The bad news was that the movie relied too much on "formula cuteness, formula comedy relief, and even formula characterizations." Maltin claimed this probably came from the new artists fear of displeasing the memory of Walt Disney. I'm going to take that as the new artists being afraid of the ghost of Walt Disney, who I'm assuming would continually berate them if their artwork and stories were not up to par. Maltin did go on to say that the fight scene between Copper and the bear was one of the best pieces of animation at that time and drew a lot of praise from the animation world. Other critics said basically the same thing, from calling it a cute tale to just plain dull and predictable. I kind of like the movie. It's not way up there or anything, but I do enjoy the lesson of the whole thing. Plus the bear scene is pretty awesome.