Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #49-51: Princess/Frog, Tangled, Pooh 2.

After the fallout of the initial death of Disney's hand-drawn division, numerous in-house employees, devoted audiences, as well as Disney's own brethren at Pixar felt some bitterness over the greedy moves made by Michael Eisner. Pixar in particular, despite their welcome creative partnership with the studio, felt tensions heat up having blame for Disney's traditional efforts floundering placed at their feet, but even more hurt by the studio's decision to take away Pixar's own IP's, and create new direct-to-video sequels (seemingly the only thing at the time that was keeping them afloat) under their Circle 7 branch. It was clear that the once innovative studio was now a toxic workplace of backhanded deception and business decisions.

At least, that's the way it looked to be going, until a corporate shake-up within the Walt Disney Company led to Michael Eisner's resignation as CEO. In his place came businessman Bob Iger, who looked to turn the studio's grim fortunes around, and restore it back to its former glory. One of these very first key decisions was in repairing the fractured relationship with Pixar, with both companies realizing that they were too important to each other to throw away their years of collaboration. Disney later purchased Pixar for a total of over 4 billion dollars, making the studio a permanent staple of the mouse-house's castle. But that's not where it stopped, for Disney's animation branch still needed a new CCO to turn things around. Iger knew that there was only one choice...

Enter John Lasseter. An ambitious former animator from Disney's 80's age turned one of the initial founders of Pixar, and by far the most important voice in getting the studio to become the powerhouse it is today, Lasseter has often proved himself reliable and deft at being able to shape endearing and fantastic stories, and to give his knowledge to young up-and-coming future directors, bringing out the utmost potential in those uncertain in their own abilities. In many ways, Lasseter has proven himself to be the modern day answer and heir to Walt's creative legacy, filed with just as much wonderment and limitless imagination as the studio's fearless founder, and now dividing his time equally between his Pixar kin and his new Disney family, he's proven himself one of the most vital and unique voices in the studio's history. His appointment would soon lead to Disney's next great era of films, the Disney Revival, and after overseeing Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, his first greenlit project would be a return to Disney's hand-drawn roots. It was a film that generated tremendous hype among Disney's enthusiasts, and to start off this next great age of animated features, Lasseter would be turning once more to the very voices who had propelled Disney back to its glory days just twenty years earlier...

Monday, October 10, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #44-46: Bear, Range, Chicken Little.

With computer animation quickly on the rise, and audience turnout waning in the 2000's, the answer that Disney saw as obvious at the time was this; the art of hand-drawn animation was now passe, and viewers wanted something else. In hindsight, this simply isn't true, as the answers lie less with that and more with Disney's out of touch marketing campaigns and inconsistent ability to greenlight good projects, with Lilo & Stitch being the only fluke among that contemporary lineup. But in the Michael Eisner held belief of "fast and cheap", story clearly was less important to what was hip at the time, and so with only a few hand-drawn films yet to be released, the company announced that all future animated features were to be made by computer.

This was a decision that obviously, justifiably infuriated multiple parties. Party A - The casual moviegoing audience that had every right to feel insulted by these superficially motivated money-leeching tactics, and to whom the company was proving unable to appeal to. Party B - The numerous animators who had been cornerstones within the company for decades, now being evicted from their desks and paintbrushes like garbage, as if their hard work and high standard of quality meant nothing. And Party C - Disney's own cousins at Pixar had not taken kindly to the dubiousness of these executive decisions. With their contract expiration date slowly approaching, this made the relationship between the two feel very testy and heated, certainly not helped by Eisner's arrogance and carelessness as CEO, as well as the outrageous and controversial announcement that Pixar's original IP's were now going to see direct to video sequels under a new branch called Circle 7. These were the type of business practices that proved Disney to no longer be the once proud innovators they once were, but was now instead a toxic and cynical workplace. Ironically enough, even when getting in with what was hip by making their first computer animated effort, that did nothing to improve their terrible marketing and lackluster storytelling of the time, here in the age of Disney's official transition...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Brief Thoughts on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

A little kookiness never hurt anyone. In fact, some visionaries have been able to use a signature kookiness to create an entire career for themselves, with today's case in point being Tim Burton, whose Gothic atmosphere and macabre invention have led to wholly original and fantastic films the likes of Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish. In spite of that pedigree, Burton has found himself in something of a slump for ten years now, giving us lifeless underperformers such as Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, with only Sweeney Todd to break up the monotony.

Monday, October 3, 2016

True Story Double Feature: Queen of Katwe & Deepwater Horizon.

We hear the words "Based on a true story" quite a bit. With 2016 being no exception, we've received more than our fair share of films recounting unbelievable or inspiring events and giving them a dramatic narrative format, and a lot of times, given the impossible odds of the scenarios they portray, you can see exactly why studios would think them great choices. However, like any formula, it isn't faultless, as while many of these stories may indeed be incredible, they don't necessarily need these movies to properly honor them, nor do they translate well from book/headline to the screen (ie. Sully).

However, the two films I'm about to talk about today are not among those cases, one being Disney's latest live-action offering, Queen of Katwe about village girl turned chess champion Phiona Mutesi, the other being the latest thriller from Lone Survivor's Peter Berg, Deepwater Horizon about the crew who escaped from the titular oil rig that suffered a catastrophic oil spill and fiery eruption. Both movies are very different in how they approach their respective tales, but both of them are also of considerable quality and dramatic flair, and I hope you'll take the time to give both your attention soon.