Friday, December 25, 2015

The Making Of Mickey's Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas to you all. I figured I should write something special for the Holidays. Definitely something animation oriented.

There have been a lot of animated Christmas specials made over the years, like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, all that Rankin/Bass crap, that sort of thing. However, one that comes to mind just as much as those other specials to me, is Mickey's Christmas Carol.



How many people were introduced to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol through this cartoon? Well, I can certainly say I was. Even watching it all these years later, it still holds up as being an incredibly enjoyable take on the story. One thing that should be noted is that, for something that squeezes the story into under a half-hour, it still has a lot of entertainment value. The animation is energetic and full of spirit, the writing's clever and funny, and the emotional moments manage to hit the mark. Plus, you can't go wrong with Scrooge McDuck playing the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. It's definitely one of my favorite takes of the story. That opening song, in particular, still sticks with me.



My little sister has this cartoon on DVD among her Christmas DVDs. The DVD in question had Mickey's Christmas Carol along with a few Christmas-related Disney cartoons that came after the main feature.

There's just one problem with the DVD: There's no Behind-The-Scenes features!



To give you an idea of the period this was made, it was an incredibly turbulent time for Disney. Most of the old pros had passed away or retired by this point (though there was a credit for Eric Larson as animation consultant on the short's credits,) and the new guard was still trying to find their voice. Mickey's Christmas Carol was first released in 1983 along with a re-release of The Rescuers, and it was Mickey Mouse's first short in 30 years by that point. I actually consider it something of a transitionary film, because this was where then up-and-coming animators like Mark Henn and Glen Keane got to really stretch their wings without most of the Nine Old Men's involvement. Two years later, the failure of The Black Cauldron would cause the heads to question whether it was worth keeping the animation unit on board, but after The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company made a considerable amount of money at the box office, they relented and let the animators stay. This, of course, led to the smash success of The Little Mermaid at the end of the decade and the start of Disney's Renaissance period. (Want to learn more? Watch the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. It's a very insightful look into this period of Disney history.)

So to rectify this situation about the lack of Behind The Scenes features on the Mickey's Christmas Carol DVD, I figure I'd share a couple of things I found. First is the featurette for the making of the film, which can be found on the 1984 VHS of Mickey's Christmas Carol, but was thankfully put on Youtube for all to see:


Michael Paraza also talked some about the making of the short on his blog, Ink And Paint Club: Memories Of The House Of Mouse. If you have some time to kill, go over there and give it a read. And give the original special a watch, if you haven't already.

Hope you all enjoy your holiday season!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Thoughts On Disney’s “Gigantic” Announcement

CAUTION: Expect some strong opinions regarding Frozen and Disney in general. Also, this article was started in August, so a few things might be out of date.


There’s been a lot of buzz regarding this year’s D23 Expo, which is basically a Disney-themed convention, regarding some of the new Disney and Pixar projects that have been announced, including the unveiling of a new Inside Out themed short, “Riley’s First Date?”, more developments on the new Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess And The Frog) film “Moana”, the Pixar film “The Good Dinosaur”,  as well as the other upcoming Pixar flicks, that kind of stuff.

However, what caught my attention particularly was the announcement of a new Disney fairy tale film, “Gigantic”, loosely based off the story of Jack And The Beanstalk.

From what was announced, this new take on the tale will be directed by Nathan Greno (Tangled), produced by Dorothy McKim (Get A Horse), have songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen), and will be released in 2018.

Naturally, I couldn’t let this pass by without giving my say on it.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’ve been increasingly critical of a lot of Disney’s current decisions and methods. I know a company’s got to change with the times, but I highly doubt THESE particular changes are for the better. I mean, yeah, Frozen IS currently the highest-grossing animated film out there, but when you really look at this film like I did, does it really deserve THAT MUCH success? (Personally, my answer is no, it does not.) And yeah, they bought Lucasfilm and are currently making a new Star Wars film series, but is it REALLY necessary to have a new Star Wars movie since it’s been YEARS since Return Of The Jedi, the last chronologically released movie, came out? (Read this article to understand why I have doubts about this.) And yeah, the live-action remakes of classic Disney animated features are making money, but is there really any need to remake some of them at all? And yeah, the animation unit has pretty much gone all CG now, but whatever happened to John Lasseter’s big declaration of reviving hand-drawn animation at Disney? You know, back when he still gave a crap about things?

Maybe it’s because Disney was a huge part of my childhood, but some of these changes leave me feeling kinda cynical. I mean, yeah, I still support some of the new output from the Mouse House and I do try to keep my optimistic side open, but even as someone who loves Disney, I still have my doubts and mixed feelings about how things are being handled and feel it could be run a lot better.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s this movie going to be about?



In Spain during the Age of Exploration, Jack discovers a land of giants hidden among the clouds, where he befriends this female giant named Inma who is, according to descriptions, “11 years old, 60 feet tall, fiery, feisty and a lot to control,” and agrees to help her find her way home. Along the way, she treats him like a toy, there’s some stuff about evil “storm giants” and most likely other adventurous stuff. I dunno, this is still a fairly new announcement.

While the idea of getting a giant little girl involved is admittedly really cute, I’m not sure what to think of this revision. Nowadays, it feels like Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales and stories are adapting sources more and more to the point where they become almost unrecognizable, adaptations in the loosest form of the word. When you look back at something like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs”, even with what was added and changed, it still felt like a telling of The Grimm Brothers’ Snow White. If you read Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen or watched a previous adaptation of it, (I saw the Russian animated version from 1957 before seeing Frozen,) would you be able to tell that “Frozen” was an adaptation of that same story? Hell no, because it’s changed to the point where it can no longer be considered The Snow Queen.

That said, however, I don’t mind an adaptation taking liberties and changing things around as long as the final product is ultimately good enough to stand on its own. The Wizard Of Oz from 1939 is a perfect example of that. It does change things around from the book, but the movie can still be enjoyed for what it is, a fun fantasy adventure with laughs, scares, tears, songs and a coherently flowing narrative. Frozen, on the other hand, sadly fails to do this. Even when you separate it from the source material, it’s not strong enough. Sure, it may have made a lot of money and it’s been overhyped to the point where it annoys a good chunk of the populace, myself included, but the story’s a flawed mess that doesn’t know what message it’s really trying to convey, nor how to properly deliver it. I give it credit for what it tries to do, but a lot of the film just comes off as manipulative rather than sincere, (particularly that atrocious, poorly executed, ass-pull twist involving Hans,) and a lot of the plot elements are capable of taking you out of the film because of how badly written and handled they are. Not to mention that, fantasy aspects aside, it really doesn't make that much sense. It does have nice visuals, and a few of the characters I do genuinely like, especially Olaf, who’s good enough for his own spinoff, but calling it the best Disney movie since Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King? I don’t think so.


I’m hoping that Gigantic doesn’t fall into this trap. I mean, yeah, it really doesn’t sound like the traditional story we’re used to, and the whole teaming up an older guy with a kid has been done by both Disney and Pixar before, with Wreck-It Ralph and Up respectively, but let’s be honest, it involves a normal-sized guy stuck with a giant girl child. I’m sure you could at least get some funny and cute ideas out of a concept like that, and maybe get a possibly sweet story out of the whole thing.

The subject regarding the songs doesn’t fill me with much hope, though. I didn’t like most of the songs in Frozen, either, so while getting Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez might be promising for some people, it’s certainly not promising for me. They might get lucky and turn out something decent, but personally, I would prefer someone like Alan Menken.

And then there’s this little comment that Greno made: “We want to make the definitive version of Jack And The Beanstalk.”

“Definitive”? THIS? I don’t know whether to call that over-confident or just insane.

Granted, the Disney versions of a lot of stories like Snow White, Beauty And The Beast, and Alice In Wonderland ARE pretty much the first things that people tend to think of whenever the name of the story is brought up, and they could, in fact, be dubbed the “definitive” telling of the story. But everyone and their mother knows the actual story of Jack And The Beanstalk all too well. How could a story as well known as this with changes like what was just described be considered “the definitive version”?


Let’s not forget that this story had been adapted by Disney before, most notably with the Mickey And The Beanstalk short that made its debut on the 1940s package feature Fun And Fancy Free. And don’t tell me that they could have forgotten about that one. Not only is the full movie considered part of the Disney Animated Canon, but the featurette on its own was released on video during the ‘90s, as well as on DVD collections with other Disney featurettes.


There was also a Japanese animated film adaptation in the 1970s that did its own unique take on Jack And The Beanstalk, which I found out about thanks to Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide. From what I gather about that one, though, it does seem to have a lot of the traditional elements from the original story, along with all the new things added. If Disney still retained some elements into this new version, like the golden-egg laying goose, the singing harp, and the whole “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum” thing, then maybe one could see how this could tie to Jack And The Beanstalk. It sure as heck wouldn’t make it the “definitive version” of the story, though.

There’s also the issue with the title. Ever since The Princess And The Frog apparently “underperformed”, they’ve been changing the titles of fairy tale adapations into stupid adjectives, like Rapunzel into Tangled and The Snow Queen into Frozen and that sort of thing. Why do they keep doing that? Is it to appeal to a broader demographic or something? Because the average person would consider this a really desperate attempt at doing so. Though, to be fair, considering the really loose adaptations they seem to be making these stories and fairy tales into now, it makes me wonder if they should really leave the name the same or change it to something else, even to something as uninspired as a simple adjective, because as previously mentioned, they’re getting adapted to the point where they can no longer be identified as an actual adaptation. And to think, years ago, Disney artists were poking fun at the fact that they had to change the title of “Basil Of Baker Street” to “The Great Mouse Detective” by sending a fake memo about changing the titles of previous Disney features, like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” into “Seven Little Men Help A Girl” and “101 Dalmatians” into “Puppies Taken Away”. Boy, were THEY na├»ve! (No joke, by the way. This actually HAPPENED.)

(See? Here's the proof!)


Ultimately, though, I’ll just have to wait until it comes out and see it for myself. It might be good, it might be bad, it might be just okay, who knows? Like I said, I still enjoy some of the stuff that Disney puts out, like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, and I am looking forward to checking out stuff like Zootopia, Moana, and this as well, even if I do wish that they’d do more hand-drawn stuff again. To me, quality is what matters most whenever I watch movies or read books or whatever, and there are very few Disney animated movies that I would consider straight up bad, since the majority of them have their own sense of charm or elements of likability and at least SOME effort put into the animation and story and that stuff. Even Frozen, which is currently one of my absolute least favorite Disney movies, has its moments that do work. So, without much left to say, it seems like only time will tell if Gigantic becomes either an enormous success or a colossal fail.