Monday, March 31, 2008
Disney Films That Aren't (Part One)...
Sometimes when my friends and I go to the movies as the credits start to roll and we begin talking about what we liked and didn't like about a film, I also tend to have in the back of my head...
"This coulda' been a Disney film."
What do I mean by that? Well, usually it comes up when I've seen a film that reflects the kind of story one would expect from a Walt Disney Picture. A good story that is suitable for the entire family. One that can be enjoyed by parents and kids without talking down to either of them. One that stresses values and commitments. One that focuses on compelling characters that provide ideals and role models that keep an audience interested.
So, I know some of you are then asking... "What are some of these films?"
The Harry Potter series
J. K. Rowling's tale of an orphaned boy that is a potentially powerful wizard in a battle of good versus evil is a perfect example of this. I remember after seeing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" thinking why didn't Disney buy this property? The characters and richly detailed story are perfectly in line with the kind of family fare that the Mouse should be putting out.
Don Bluth's film based on the real life princess from Russia is wonderful film about the Czar of Russia's daughter and features great animation with an equally devilish villain, Rasputin. This film could have easily had the Disney logo before it. The story and characters are pure Disney even if the distributor is not.
The Mask of Zorro
I loved this film. It should have been made by Disney. It had the perfect story, setting and actors to retail the adventures of the man that leaves behind the letter "Z". Truly a great time. I told my friend as we left the theater that this should have been made by Disney. It was a modern retelling of the old Zorro show. Disney had done it as a television show in the 50's and the Suits should have realized its potential now. Sadly, another studio beat them to it. The sequel, unfortunately was horrible... it's almost as if they forgot what made the first one good.
The Indian in the Cupboard
On his ninth birthday a boy receives an old cupboard from his brother and a little Indian figure made of plastic from his best friend. These two gifts turn out... a flawed, but sweet tale about magic and the meaning behind it. Worthy of having the castle in front of it.
A Little Princess
Alfonso Cuarón's enchantingly heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of a girl named Sara whose her father enlists to fight for the British in WWI, that travels to New York to attend a boarding school. Soon she battles with the headmistress, Miss Minchin, who belittles her and works at grinding down Sara's view that every girl is a princess(very Disney, btw). A wonderful film. This would have been a great film to have done for Mickey... actually, any film Alfonso Cuarón does would be great for the Mouse. His adult films as well as his family films, but this being a Disney site/post it makes sense going with the family film category.
When I first heard of this film I was aghast... why/how remake a classic? Especially one that has been done many times on stage and screen. Of course, I've since then decided that it all depends on the approach you take with certain material. As the "Neverland" script I mentioned in my "Top 5 Scripts Not Made By Hollywood" post. I was amazed at how fresh and interesting the movie was even though I knew the story, P.J. Hogan and Michael Goldenberg's script takes the classic J.M. Barrie book and gives us a lively, inspired take that is very difficult to do with something so known and well loved. If Disney is going to remake "Alice in Wonderland" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" I hope they take this course... it would be a smart move.
Babe & Babe: Pig in the City
I know I said I don't care much for CG talking animal movies, but "Babe" was to me, a modern representation of "Charlotte's Web", with all the morals and lessons of that classic book... since then, Charlotte's Web has been made into a film, but I think that "Babe" is a better representation of it than the official adaption. Chris Noonan did a great job with the original and surprisingly, George Miller(Mad Max, Road Warrior) one-upped him in the sequel to make an equally interesting tale.
Home Alone & Home Alone 2
I'm a little hesitant calling these would be Disney films because they could also be Warner Bros. cartoons with the hi-jinx that take place throughout the story. Little Kevin getting left behind on Christmas to fend for himself against the looniest, dumbest crooks to ever break out of a cell block. The second film is essentially a remake of the first(like Terminator 2) with a bigger budget and new locations.
The Lord of the Rings series
I'd like to kick Michael Eisner's butt for letting this fall out of Miramax's hands, but perhaps it's for the best as it was originally going to be just two films and taking it to New Line helped flesh it out to one film per book... of all these films, this is truly the one that actually was going to be a Disney film or at least one of the film companies owned by the Mouse. This grand tale has everything one would want in a sweeping epic from Disney. Although I liked "Narnia", I didn't warm to it as much as this film series which had a much grander and layered story. While "Narnia" felt like a fairy tale one tells your kids, this one felt like a fantasy one reads by themselves.
The Iron Giant
Brad Bird's best film so far is his first. The utterly classic tale of a boy growing up with a single mother that is looking for a friend, searching for a father and finds both in the form of a giant robot from outer space. Set in the highly paranoid late 50's when the "Red Scare" was running across the nation. A pure delight. What E.T. is to Spielberg, this is to Bird. I only wish that it had been made by Mickey and the gang, it might have gotten a better marketing push and ended up being a box office success instead of just one with the critics.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
What "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" did for the current generation, this film did for the 70's generation. This wacky, sometimes dark film is filled with wonder and song set about the factory of the mysterious Willy Wonka as played by Gene Wilder. While I love Johnny Depp, this film gets the story right in more ways... while Depp's portrayal comes off as a "What would happen if Michael Jackson owned a candy factory" kinda thing. A vigorously smart tale that doesn't talk down to the audience, be they child or be they parent or anything in between...
The Secret of Nimh
Don Bluth's greatest film and finest achievement. After leading a revolt from Disney because of declining quality and lack of direction, Bluth created this tale that was to show Disney how to make a great animated film(again). The story of Mrs. Frisbie, a field mouse recently widowed and is forced to care for her 4 children by herself. Mrs. Frisbie goes on a fantastic journey to find help for her family. The animation design is pure Disney... the studio that put it out was not. For shame, Mouse... for shame.
The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner made an utterly charming film that boys, girls and adults alike can enjoy. Giants, a beautiful princess with villains and swashbuckling swordplay from a leading character modeled after Errol Flynn. Oh, and Billy Crystal funny as he can be. This should have been part of the Disney family of films.
Another film set in the late 50's dealing with the race for space and Sputnik... my favorite film by Joe Johnston, actually one of only a couple I like by him. The other being the flawed Disney film, "The Rocketeer"(meddlesome Suit interventions and a story for another day). Based on the true story of Homer Hickam who grew up in a small coalmine town and developed a love of rockets after seeing what was happening in the larger world around him. With a small group of friends he pursues his love against a narrow minded town and critical father. Sweet, almost "Capraesk" quality to the film and that is saying a lot from me since I adore Frank Capra. File this under shoulda, coulda, woulda for the Mouse.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Ok, now if Disney can make it's own enjoyable, pedestrian rip-off of this with "National Treasure" then why the heck couldn't they of done the original? That's what I keep saying to myself. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg together are the closest thing we've really had to Walt Disney(Lasseter being the one exception). There is a reason, more than financial that Indy and Star Wars are in the parks... they belong in the Disney canon of films even if they aren't owned by Disney. Everything about "Raiders of the Lost Ark" says Disney... too bad Disney didn't say yes when it came to making this.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A great film about a fun loving kid that rebels against the societal norms of his school and family just to have a "Day Off" from the grind. Life moves pretty fast, as Ferris says... although I don't watch or mind films like "High School Musical", it would be great to see Disney Suits trying to find modern representations of this 80's classic to entertain tweens and adults alike. I say, "Save Ferris, Save the Mouse"...
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg's love letter to growing up in a divorced family combines his love of science fiction(Amblin, CEOTK) with a tale of a family trying to cope with what life throws at you. Especially when it throws an alien from another planet at you. The story of Elliott and his family living in a suburb of a Californian town that discovers we are not alone. The boy's isolation and longing for a redemptive father figure are played out as he befriends someone like himself. Someone that feels lost and alone in a world he didn't create... even if that someone is from millions of miles away. Classic and again... pure Disney. Ironically, this one was offered to Disney and Ron Miller and his Suits turned it down. There were questions about scenes in the script Ron felt a Disney audience would be unaccepting of. He was kicking himself after opening weekend, of course...
The Secret Garden
Agnieszka Holland's film based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic book is an amazing, spectacular family film. Caroline Thompson's screenplay is dead-on perfect in presenting a young British girl born in India who loses her parents in a tragic earthquake. She returns to England to live at her uncle's castle. Once there, the uncle, troubled by his own loss neglects her as did her lost parents and she explores the estate, discovering a garden that has also been locked and neglected(see a motif building here?). Some of the servants boys befriend her and together they restore the garden while discovering the many secrets that the castle holds. A marvelous film to watch with kids or without. Pure Disney, though it is not...
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
I never really thought of Ian Fleming(James Bond's creator) as a children's novelist, but this film is based on a book by him. The screenplay by Roald Dahl(yes, that Roald Dahl) and director Ken Hughes captures the story of an eccentric professor that invents Steampunk type gadgetry that is always in financial trouble. He creates a revolutionary car which a foreign government wants to have and tries to acquire by any means necessary. Much fun and lampooning thus doth begin...
Star Wars Trilogy(original)
The original saga of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is a living, breathing throwback to the days of Flash Gordon serials and is the sort of valued tale that the Mouse should have been turning out in the 70's. It's attempt was "The Black Hole" which didn't exactly meet the expectations of Suits or audiences. Star Wars is a story that was built for Walt Disney Pictures and should George Lucas or his kids ever decide to sell Lucasfilm, is the most compelling reason the Mouse should buy it. No other company, in my opinion, could handle this property better than Disney.