Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Upon re-watching Sleeping Beauty recently I was fascinated to realise that the three fairies are pretty much the main characters 🙂

Obviously they’re not the only characters, but they probably have the most screentime for one and they also take many of the important risks. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather also devise all the plans, in addition to providing the only good comic relief while at the same time being responsible for saving everyone around them!

Of course Auroa and Phillpip have nice singing voices but I think for a lot of people Maleficent stands out most in terms of character – she’s a pretty superb villain, capable of true cruelty, and her colour scheme of green, purple and black is unnerving too.

Visually, I was enthralled.

It wasn’t just the tremendous dragon/forest of thorns scene, but elsewhere too, the art and backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty are amazing – the detail on the bark upon the trees alone is just so great!

The whole forest, really – especially with those distinctive shapes and textures, but many of the castle scenes stood out too. I really liked the illusion of depth there, via that amazing multi-plane camera set up Disney was known for.

However, I was interested to hear something quite dull from director Geronimi – who I believe was unhappy with the art direction and backgrounds by Eyvind Earle, feeling that no-one would even look backgrounds. What a fool, huh? 😀

Sure, I doubt kids of the day would have cared that much but I would like to think that surely, one part of why Sleeping Beauty has endured over other Disney films has to be the art, because I don’t think the film stands above several other Disney titles around due to its storytelling, which I thought was pretty uneven.

On that claim, there’s a bit too much time spent on what I’d call filler, I guess – my favourite example being the two kings in that endless scene where they discuss and agree to things which have already been agreed to.

Even so, I’m really glad I watched this again because if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on some amazing stuff, especially the work of Eyvind Earle.

4 Stars (one of which is probably for the art alone)

By the power of Grayskull!

Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992)

Disney has seemingly always lumbered along plundering fairy and folk tales, sometimes egregiously and other times in a more transformative, artistic manner, and they’ve been a giant in the animation world for probably more than 70 years* now.

Ups and downs coloured that dominance of course and Aladdin landed during one of those ‘ups’ – during a mighty resurgence in popularity after the hit-and-miss period that was most of the 1980s.

Aladdin is noteworthy in Disney history for several reasons that I’m sure everyone is pretty much aware of – featuring Disney’s first non-European Princess, home to some killer songs and the knock-out performance of Robin Williams too, and also good enough in the eyes of the bean counters to get a remake this year.

Aside from those things, it’s a great story that seems equal parts One Thousand and One Nights and Roman Holiday.There’s memorable characters (not in the least being Jafar), a fantastic fictional desert setting, top notch use of vivid colour, animation and fascinating early CGI in some parts. (I know Pixar’s Toy Story gets a lot of attention as early innovators with CGI and obviously the technology pre-dates both films but that carpet ride was a big thrill in the cinema as a kid – looking back now I can almost see the theme-park ride tie-in :D).

For me, this Disney film has a great balance between comical sidekicks, music, romance, actual heroics, sacrifice and villainy, though if you’ve never seen Aladdin you won’t find any curveballs re: the overall story nor the tone, but it just feels like every aspect hits spot on. And following the success of The Little Mermaid audiences were no doubt more than willing to give it a chance (the monster-performance at the Box Office played that out too).

But, to jump back to that magic carpet ride before I finish, I think it’s a really perfectly-executed escape scene, from the pacing to the direction, the dramatic lighting and even the little break in tension for a spot of humour when Abu is clinging to Aladdin’s face, everything works for me:

And a final note, Robin Williams reportedly improvised heaps of material, allowing the team to pick and choose the bits they liked best, but here’s a classic song from Genie instead 😀

5 Stars

*And a studio for longer, just with smaller beginnings when compared to say, the big hit that was Sleeping Beauty.

Anastasia (1997)

Anastasia (1997)

Anastasia could be called an animated musical or an alternate history, a fantasy perhaps, and any of those labels seem pretty fitting to me, but I’d argue it’s a drama before the others – though there is somewhat Disney-like magic here as well.

And while I definitely don’t have much knowledge of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, I do know that back in the late nineties there was still a hypothetical chance that she had survived the revolution, though more bodies found in 2007 likely squashed the rumours once and for all. (I think in Russia actually, the movie was received as a fantasy in terms of its distance from true events.)

But again, at the time of Anastasia’s release there was perhaps still some lingering romance associated with the myth – secret royalty, mistaken identities, lost family deserving of reunion – and so perhaps some of that fuelled the success of the film? Either way, it is undeniably beautifully made and can certainly stand alone when you set all the historical aspects aside.

The movie is the one of the last (so far) to be released by veteran director and animator Don Bluth. He’s know for his long association with Disney and then a string of hit films in the 1980s (like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail or maybe Dragon’s Lair if you’re more into gaming) and I think by the late 1990s he must have had a great team, well-deserved confidence and also, a large budget to make a really impressive film – which he did.

Visually, it’s stunning, from background art to animation to the staging and the direction, to the use of lighting and highlights, it really makes for a fairy-tale like atmosphere at times. I especially like the snow scenes or Anya’s exploration of the abandoned palace and later, the nightlife in Paris. There, the animators step into a romanticised version of the city and create beautiful pointillism-style backdrops that I really enjoyed.

You can probably guess as to what’s coming next – the things that I didn’t enjoy as much; sometimes the character designs seemed a little ‘cheeky’ and by that I mean that I’m not used to see the shape of cheeks drawn in animated works, so that kinda threw me even though it shouldn’t have. And in terms of the magical element, I feel like the Rasputin storyline wasn’t precisely necessary for the film to be great. It would have been an engaging drama without that aspect, which distracted from the main conflict for me. Supposedly Bluth and team used that to sidestep the political nature of the source material but even the mistaken-identity-(kinda)-double-bluff love story would have been enough for me.

Elsewhere, the voice acting is great (though I don’t remember any of the songs precisely). Kelsey Grammar has a rich voice and Meg Ryan is as distinctive as ever too. And that might seem like a bit of a put down to the songs but it’s probably more that I was focused on the story and visuals, rather than the songs themselves.

So, while I think it’s a beautiful film I didn’t love it, but I reckon if you’re interested in American animation and work from one of the teams once able to go toe-to-toe with Disney in the (mostly) 2D world, then I think Anastasia is definitely worth a look.

3 Stars