Monday, November 18, 2013
Movie Monday: The Disney Live-Action Films Edition
It came to my attention that today is the anniversary of the release of the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, "Steamboat Willie", in 1928. It's a silly little trifle, just over 7 minutes long, and probably nobody who saw it on November 18, 1928, thought that it would be the first step to an entertainment empire. But, it has been said that "It all started with a mouse," and today we are still watching films, animated and live action, from Walt Disney Studios.
Of course, "Steamboat Willie" has come under some criticism over the years for scenes like the one in which Mickey slings a cat around by its tail. And, in reality, criticizing Disney films for one reason or another has become another long tradition. Still, it is an historic bit of film, and not just because it introduced The Mouse that no one dares mess with in a serious way. "Steamboat Willie" was the first animation with synchronized sound. It is also on the Library of Congress's National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
And so here, on the 85th anniversary of its release, in its entirety, is "Steamboat Willie":
The anniversary kind of got me thinking, since it is Movie Monday, about Disney films in general, and how they kind of get short shrift from some people for various reasons. Various of the films have come under criticism for being insensitive to various groups, for being simplistic, for being "kids' stuff", which is not the same as being simplistic, and so on and so forth. I think I might have written here before how some people have taken to watching some of the more recent animated films frame by frame to find images that they find offensive for whatever reason.
But, you know, Disney Studios have made some fine films over the years. Or, at least, they've made some films I really liked on first viewing and continue to like as I've seen them over and over again, over the years. Yeah, there have been bad Disney films, and Disney films I haven't liked. But there are those that have held up, at least for me, over repeated viewings. And so, in chronological order, here are some of the Disney live action films that I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few that come to mind immediately when I think of this collection of movies.
I haven't seen "The Living Desert" (1953) in years. Decades, probably. In fact, the last time I specifically remember seeing it was when I was in the third grade and saw it at school, appropriately enough when I lived in Arizona for a couple of months. But, given the chance, I'd sit down and watch it again. It is a documentary about desert life forms that won the Best Documentary Feature award at the 26th Academy Awards and also won the International Prize at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. It is also on the National Film Registry. Here is just a taste from the introduction of the film:
"The Parent Trap" (1961) is one of my favorite films in the world. That only goes for the original; I didn't really like the remake (from 1998) all that much, although it had its moments. But, the original film is one of those films that I will sit down and watch whenever I find it showing on television. You probably know the story: twins separated as babies when their parents divorce, who discover as young teenagers at summer camp that they actually have a twin. They hatch a plot to return to the parent who they haven't grown up with and then a further plan to get their parents back together. This could have been anything from a pedestrian film to one that was painful to watch. But the way the story is handled, and the performances from all involved - the film stars Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, and Brian Keith - make into something else entirely, a really good film. In this clip, the girls discover that they are, indeed, sisters:
And then there is "Mary Poppins" (1964), which starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The film was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, the most of any Disney film, and won four, including the Best Actress award for Julie Andrews. The also won best actress awards at the Golden Globes and from the New York Film Critics Circle. It was the top box office film of 1965. This, of course, is the story of Mary Poppins, the magical nanny with the carpetbag that had to have been a TARDIS (some of us argue that she had to have been a Time Lord) because it was clearly bigger on the inside that it was on the outside. After all, she pulled an entire floor lamp out of it, among other things. Here is the original trailer for the film, including a glimpse of the tea party that ends up floating up around the ceiling, which is my favorite part of the movie:
Jumping ahead a decade, Disney released "Island at the Top of the World" in 1974. Not a lot of people, I've found, remember this film, and it didn't get very good reviews when it first came out, although I understand that it has become more appreciated over time. This film is an action-adventure that revolves around an Arctic expedition. There are erupting volcanoes, there are whales...and there is an airship. I like airships, so I was probably predisposed to like this movie, and I did. Here is a clip from the film:
I have not, on the whole, liked the more recent Disney movies as well as I have liked the older ones. I'm not sure why, and there are exceptions: I've liked the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and the National Treasure movies are good despite the presence of Nicholas Cage who, as I've said before here, bugs the crap out of me. One of the 21st century Disney movies, however, that I like immensely, is "The Princess Diaries" (2001), starring Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, and Hector Elizondo. I'm not sure what it is that I like so much about this film, which is clearly targeted at teenage girls. I haven't been a teenager in a very, very long time. But I do like it. Here's the trailer:
And then there is "Oz the Great and Powerful" (2013), which got what can be kindly called mixed reviews, but which I liked a lot once I got over the hesitation to see it based on those reviews. It is the story of how the Wizard got to Oz, and it is a beautiful film to look at. It stars James Franco (who also kind of bugs the crap out of me, but not nearly as much as Nicholas Cage does), Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams. But be warned, the Flying Monkeys are even more horrific than they were in "The Wizard of Oz". The trailer doesn't show a good view of the Flying Monkeys, but the small glimpse is enough for you to get the idea:
And, to end on, there is a new Disney film that I just became aware of recently that has premiered in the UK but hasn't been released in the US yet - it will be out next month - "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013), which stars Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. It tells the story of P. L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), who wrote the "Mary Poppins" books, with an emphasis on the efforts of Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks) to secure the rights to the books so that he can make a film based on them. I'm really excited to see this film, which has been getting good reviews after it's London premiere. After seeing this trailer (I've previously only seen the short TV ads for the film), I'm even more enthusiastic to see "Saving Mr. Banks":
I know some of you out there are saying, "But what about the animated films?" Just be patient and stay tuned; I'll write about those in a future edition of Movie Monday.