I know I know. I’m about three months out of date with this one, but I decided to create some random principle where I wasn’t going to pay any money, other than the subscription, to Disney+. Even though it’s Disney and I love them almost as much as I love my family. Then I pissed about during the beginning of December (ok, pissed about = watched Christmas films), rather than watching Mulan on 3rd December when it became available for free.
Alas, I have now watched it and am about to divulge my thoughts to you.
When they initially announced that Disney were remaking Mulan as a Live Action, my daughter and I were super excited. We could not wait to see what they were going to do with ‘Reflection’ and ‘I’ll Make A Man Out of You’, as they are two of our favourite Disney songs (the latter in particular). However, it became apparent by about 20 minutes in, and a lack of ‘Honor To Us All’, that this was a non-musical remake. Heartbroken! It has always been my opinion that the 1998 version has the most underrated songs of the Disney films and I could not believe that they had removed them all!
So that was the first down point for me. The second? There is no Mushu! He has essentially been replaced by a phoenix, that occasionally crops up to give Mulan a bit of confidence and general direction.
Third down point. No ‘Mulan’s Grandmother’ and the ‘lucky’ cricket. Instead, we have Mulan’s sister (who doesn’t really add much, to be honest).
If you were expecting a remake of the animated Mulan, this is not what you will get. Instead, more of a film adaptation of the Chinese folk tale of the same name. It’s a lot more ‘straight’ than the original (which I would certainly say was a comedy). Rather than the guidance of her ancestors, through Mushu, Mulan seems to have magical powers, referred to as Chi (which I always thought was what the Chinese called ‘energy force’… I could be wrong… I’m probably wrong). There is a lot of combat in this film, of which a large amount seems to be strongly aided by CGI and other special effects. We also get a sorceress, who is assisting the antagonist at the start, but is on Mulan’s side by the second half.
I appreciate that I seem to be focussing on the negative, but I did enjoy this film, as did my daughter and, when he had decided to join us on the sofa during the second half, my son (and he doesn’t like films… except for Moana). So, it does the job with entertaining various age groups. It has some lovely cinematography, stunning scenery and, based on songs from the original 1998 version, a beautiful score (even if it doesn’t have that awesome bit of music when she takes her fathers sword and chops her hair off in the original).
Give it watch. You can’t sing along and you’re unlikely to laugh, but I’d recommend it otherwise.
Happy New Year! We send you all our best wishes for a much better 2021, to you and your families and remember:
“As you know, a film is only as good as its creators, and you and your team have been in charge of creating the works that were supposed to lead Disney into a glorious renaissance that proved we could still flourish without Walt.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem?! Are you kidding me George?!” There are five BIG problems! Namely, ‘The Rescuers’, ‘The Fox and the Hound’, ‘The Black Cauldron’, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ and ‘Oliver and Company’!”
“Ah… Well yes, I know they didn’t exactly “wow” the world…”
“You can say that again…”
“But I honestly think we’re on the right track! Our market research has shown that kids want their films to be full of unrelenting melancholy and darkness, less songs, characters with obscure hard to remember names, artistic pretentiousness and no jokes or joy, so…”
“What market research is this?!”
“My grand-daughter. And because she doesn’t want any friends, she always has the time to give really thorough explanations of the things she wants to see in her films! Ok, so not all her ideas are appropriate, but then she is a bit weird if truth be told, spends most of her time sitting in a dark room and then there was the fox incident that we never talk of, but otherwise…”
“George, we need a change…”
*sigh* “I know, and I am CERTAIN that you’re going to love the next film we’ve started work on…”
“George, I’m bringing in some different people.”
“We’ve been speaking at head office and we’ve decided we need a fresh perspective, some younger writers, a couple of composers who will write some memorable songs…
“We wrote memorable songs!”
“Sing one Disney song from the last ten years.”
“urrrm… There was a king, he had some horns, he really sucks…”
“No, you’re making that up George. You didn’t even bother writing any songs for ‘The Black Cauldron’. At least that’s what I was told anyway, I never actually watched it…”
“But boss you can’t get other people in!”
“Because we’ve started work on our next film already!”
“Ok and what is it?”
“The Rescuers Down Under!”
“George, no-one liked the first Rescuers film! Why are you making another?!”
“Because it’s better!”
“……….. Because it’s in Australia!”
“Well yeah. And what exactly are the new writers going to do that’s SO amazing?!”
“Well, they want to do a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic ‘The Little Mermaid’.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? Who the hell wants to hear a story about a fishgirl on heat?! IT WILL NEVER WORK! THESE OTHER WRITERS KNOW NOTHING! Release both of our films and we’ll see who has the last laugh! You can have this on the record: there is no conceivable way that a film about mermaids will do better than a film about brave detective mice!!!!!”
I seriously do wonder what happened at Chez-Disney that allowed one of the least requested sequels of all time to see the light of day. After a decade of “Meh”, ‘The Little Mermaid” was such a change in quality, even a Disney-cynic like myself, enjoyed it so much that I no longer can really use the term cynic as a blanket statement to describe my feelings about Disney anymore (I’m also rather liking being able to enjoy the childhood favourite films of my wife and the Disney fans that read my blogs rather than callously shitting all over them! Long may it continue). But to then follow up that success with ‘The Rescuers Down Under’ is so frustrating, I’m left wondering how this came to pass…
My favoured theory is that this film was a dreg from the “Um… what shall we do next” era that is the 1980’s, that took so long to complete, it ended up being released after ‘The Little Mermaid’. This idea is supported by the presentation of ‘The Rescuers Down Under’ (TRDU) being far more dated than ‘The Little Mermaid’ despite being released after and boasting more modern animation techniques. I’m also wondering if there was a new team in charge of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and the old team were left to finish up their tenure by diligently continuing with the adventures of Bernard and Miss Bianca, whilst the Disney world changed around them. Alternatively, maybe Disney were just obsessed with proving to the world that they could make a genuinely good mouse detective film. If anyone can enlighten me as to what the hell they were thinking, I’d really like to know.
Whatever the reason, it’s impossible not to feel deflated watching TRDU after a seeing the adventures of Ariel and co, the week before. It doesn’t even feel like this film was made with any real purpose other than a lack of other ideas. It certainly doesn’t offer anything new to the Disney catalogue. It’s a lot of what we’ve seen already, but in Australia. That means frolicking kangaroos instead of rabbits, basically. Half the characters don’t sound remotely Australian. In fact, they sound more British. But then, Disney has had a history of being somewhat liberal with accuracy in this area.
The payoff in the first Rescuers film, was apparently seeing Bernard and Miss Bianca become a couple. I didn’t really care, and I wasn’t even aware that it was something I was even supposed to care about either! This time around, the big question is whether Bernard will propose to Miss Bianca, and whether Miss Bianca will say yes. The catch is that there is a cocksure Australian kangaroo rat named Jake who is also vying for Miss Bianca’s affections. Let’s be honest here. The true nature of mating rituals between mice would have meant in reality Miss Bianca would have copulated with Jake within 15 seconds of landing in the country before shagging a fair proportion of the other rodents that roam the Northern Territory that day for good measure. Hell, Bernard may have even given Jake a good seeing to. That reality could have changed the tone of the film significantly I admit… Also, considering how vigilant the Australians are with the importing of foreign species, in order to not disrupt their fragile ecosystem, the reality is, two horny mice on the back of a giant albatross would probably be shot out of the sky.
A standout feature of TRDU, is the endless filler used to bulk the movie’s modest runtime. During the first Rescuers film, we were treated to some spectacular padding, involving the world’s longest preparing-to-fly-on-the-back-of-a-bird-and-then-flying-on-the-back-of-a-bird scene in the history of cinema. Whilst this film does have an impressively drawn out preparing-to-fly-on-the-back-of-a-bird-and-then-flying-on-the-back-of-a-bird scene, the sequel outdoes itself with a one-mouse-sending-a-message-to-another-mouse-on-the-other-side-of-the-world-via-many-forms-of-communication-and-via-many-different-places-such-as-The Marshall Islands-and-Hawaii-for-example-by-incorporating-the-help-of-many-other-freakishly-intelligent-mice-to-pass-the-message-on scene, that literally has us shouting “hurry the fuck up!” at the television.
Another thing that bothers me is that the antagonist is a someone who kills animals for sport. Now don’t get me wrong, as I’ve made clear in the past, I believe all trophy hunters should be featured in a new Saturday night family gameshow I plan on creating called ‘Who wants to be a millionaire and then castrate a poacher?’. I’ll explain the premise if people want, but I think the title is fairly self-explanatory. But this is the third film that deals with the subject, and as a sensitive soul who likes some escapism from the worst of humankind in his films, this is too much. An antagonist like Ursula is perfect, as she is a detestable psychotic-drag-queen-octopus. It means that I can be desperate for her demise, but as I’ve encountered precious few psychotic-drag-queen-octopus’s during my life, she never strikes a chord that is too uncomfortably close to home. For me, TRDU creates more rage than escapism, even if the bad guy does eventually reach a grisly demise. Also, there are many films out there, where the good-guy vs bad-guy narrative works perfectly well when the bad-guy is just a self-centred jerk. You still want the good-guy to win, you still want the bad-guy to get what’s coming to them, as no thoughts about mistreatment of the vulnerable need to overwhelm the empathic parts of the brain.
A positive I can at least say is that TRDU is an improvement upon the original instalment. It’s still short on laughs, but without quite the oppressive bleakness of the original. Its story is very similar but slightly more polished. The characters are still relatively two-dimensional but at least afforded some time to develop some personality, where the original had next to none. But I think the biggest success I’ve noted is that the film bombed both commercially and with critics. This means that the planned second sequel was scrapped. That’s right, there was supposed to be another Rescuers film. Which means that in some dimension, people foolishly flocked to see this film and were rewarded with a future that a few years later, saw Elton John contributing songs not for ‘The Lion King’, but for ‘The Rescuers…. in space!’ (made up title). Breathe a sigh of relief Disney fans. You had a narrow escape.
I miss watching The Little Mermaid.
This film was fine, but just not necessary to the franchise. I think the protagonists are lovely, as Bernard is adorably geeky and Bianca classy, but with a beautifully kind heart, but they still wouldn’t come close to making my top ten favourite Disney characters (a list that I now feel compared to share with you when we have watched through all the films up the current date).
Hated the antagonist (job done, Disney). What a twat (was gonna use another word there, but stopped myself). Found that Frank lizard character completely pointless and extremely annoying, if I’m honest. As if Gurgi in The Black Cauldron wasn’t annoying enough, we seemed to get his irritating reptilian cousin here. Urgh.
In my opinion, the natural progression from The Little Mermaid would’ve been straight on to Beauty and The Beast, but alas, we go this in the middle.
Still, BATB is coming next, so keep your eyes peeled for that one. Another of my absolute favourites.
It’s the big one. My wife’s favourite film. A review that not only determines if I’ve liked this film, but going forward, possibly how much my wife will like me…
When I first started reviewing all the Disney Animation Studios films, I knew that my reviews would be coming from a vantage point that was somewhat different than that of most other people online. There are plenty of professional reviews. There are plenty of reviews from Disney fans. But reviews from Disney-cynics who are only doing so because they’re the glorified lab rat of a Disney-obsessed wife carrying out a madcap experiment on Disney-conversion? Not so much…
But I have also realised during the course of nearly thirty films dating from 1937 to near the turn of the 1990’s, I am in a rare and privileged position that nearly all the Disney fans that still draw breath have never got to experience. And that is to experience the Disney collection as a near blank slate in chronological order. It may not seem a big deal, but it’s fascinating to experience a much-beloved company’s ups and downs, as well as see their progression and development film-by-film, without prejudice (well, except for the small prejudice of having already decided I don’t like Disney, but you get my point). It’s not something that would be much concern to many fans, as they would watch films in a sporadic order, rave about the ones they liked and treat the ones they don’t like as if they don’t exist, and conclude that Disney is a mostly amazing film company…
But when you’ve watched every moment of every scene (with exception of those that were deemed too racist by ‘Disney +’, or those that I deemed too shit to bother concentrating on), you realise that Disney, for all its moments where you can appreciate how it could create such fanaticism among its fanbase, is ultimately as flawed at times, as most other things in life. And without a doubt, this is the case in certain decades far more so than others. As I may have mentioned once or a hundred times in previous posts, the 1940’s were largely less about plot than propaganda as well as annoying birds, creepy ventriloquist dummies and finally, ducks whose behaviour would almost certainly mean that it is on some sort of register that bans it from being in the vicinity of a high school (have you ever seen Donald Duck in a van or on a flying carpet near a high school? Exactly). And despite having plenty of films I personally didn’t enjoy throughout the subsequent decades, Disney appeared to drive off another proverbial creative cliff in most people’s eyes near the end of the 1970’s.
However, the other benefit of watching these films for the first time in chronological order, is that I can start to sense trends in the mindset of the higher-ups at Chez Disney, as well as the creative direction and some of the lessons that they are learning en-route. Even if I didn’t know the next film was Kerry’s favourite film of all time, I can feel that something is changing in a positive direction, and that lessons on how to make an entertaining film for Generation X (and even Y) are being learnt. Considering what’s at stake with the upcoming movie on a personal level, I hope my prediction is correct… The reason that I’m auspicious, is that there have been three things I didn’t like about older Disney films. Ok, there’s been hundreds, but three MAIN issues in particular.
Lots of frolicking animals but at times painfully little character depth.
Pretentiousness. “Look how clever our animation is! Aren’t we iconic! We haven’t made a successful film in a decade, but you must love our snooty highbrow approach to cartoons!”
A lack of humour beyond the frolicking animals that at times borders on sheer misery.
As I mentioned in the previous post, whilst the last two films (The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company) were by no means classics, these bothersome qualities were finally showing some signs of being eradicated. I was pretty sure modern Disney and Pixar films would not have gotten away with accommodating these things as much in the eyes of the audiences of today, so the big question is, will this be the film to bring about the change I so crave?!
Regardless of that, this is still a Disney movie, so the film starts with frolicking animals. Not just animals, seagulls. I live on the coast. Seagulls are either trying to steal your food, wake you up at sunrise or attempting to crap on your shoulder. Disney, you like killing animals, where are the shotguns now?! We then get frolicking dolphins. Oh, by the way, you know when you want to catch a good shot of a fine sailing vessel but an attention seeking bastard of a dolphin fucks it up by photobombing it?
On the ship we meet Prince Eric. He’s a fine-looking chap. And within thirty seconds he has shown more personality and had more dialogue than the Princes were afforded in the whole of ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ combined. Meanwhile, under the sea (pun intended), we meet some merfolk. King Triton is having a concert held in his honour. The song is performed by Triton’s six daughters. There’s no sign of a mother, but this is Disney so not sure if that fact even has to be commented on anymore… Considering there’s six daughters, the mother probably succumbed to exhaustion. How do merfolk give birth? Do they lay eggs? How do they reproduce? How many people have asked this question already?! Millions no doubt. But the performance is ruined however, when it turns out that the Kings youngest daughter is missing….
It turns out that the youngest daughter, Ariel, has sneaked off with a fishy friend named Flounder to search the ruins of a ship. Within less than a minute it becomes clear that Ariel is sassy and full of personality. She’s nice, but nothing like passive, characterless homemaker Princesses that preceded her. And my god does she ooze sex appeal. This is slightly concerning as she’s only sixteen and I’m not sure if the fact she’s animated makes it ok, or a hundred times worse… Based on how many people in film and TV have commented on how hot she is, I going to assume it’s fair game. Sexy burlesque mice from ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ move over, you have nothing on this piece of… fin.
It turns out that Ariel has a slightly less than healthy obsession with humans and their artifacts, and she’s looking for things to add to her not-at-all-strange collection. Their scavenging is interrupted however by a shark, because sharks tend to roam in the waters of the Pacific Ocean and a small pocket of the North Sea coast near Copenhagen. Apparently. Happily, they don’t get eaten and escape alive and well, meaning at that point we don’t have to roll the ending credits to the world’s most pointless and depressing seven-minute film. Just imagine if that was the whole film. Would certainly get people talking…
Anyway, they swim to the surface where they meet a….ugh…. seagull. The seagull is called Scuttle. Ariel shows him the treasures she has found. He tells her that a fork is a dinglehopper used for styling hair, and that a smoking pipe is a snarfblat, an item used for making music. So not only do Seagulls steal your dinner, act as an unwanted alarm clock and use your shoulder as a commode, they’re also compulsive liars too. Dicks. It’s all really funny though.
We’ve had over ten minutes of a Disney film without an antagonist cackling insanely so I think it’s time that’s put right. We say hello to Ursula who is… I think a drag artist octopus? With issues. Definitely many issue going on there. She has two eels named Flotsam and Jetsam. Triton banished Ursula from his court some years ago, so she wants revenge. And unsurprisingly, she will get to him through Ariel.
We return to Ariel who’s getting a bollocking from Triton about not being at the concert and going up to the surface where those bastard humans hang out. She then goes to her not-at-all-creepy, museum of human artifacts. Triton’s crab, Sebastian, is keeping an eye on her. We are treated to yet another song in which Ariel sings about wanting to be human. A few days after watching ‘The Little Mermaid’, I realised what a disproportionately high number of Disney films I’ve watched of late when I watched the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and how it’s infiltrated my psyche. Early in the film when the female lead feels sad, empty and wants to expand her world much like a Disney princess, she steps outside to cinematic and emotional music… and doesn’t spontaneously burst into song. It bamboozled me. Isn’t that what happens in films?! We even improvised the song she would have sung, had she been in a Disney film. The whole thing was made even more disconcerting by the lack of birds, squirrels, fish and/or crabs pissing about around her as she goes about her business. Speaking of which, Flounder and Sebastian have quite the frolic during Ariels performance.
Back to the story and she’s gone to the surface to look at some fireworks, which turn out to be from a party on Eric’s boat. She pervs on him for a bit, whilst he talks about wanting to find ‘the right girl’. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Ariel will be that girl. If I’m correct, you’ll all be so impressed….
All goes wrong though, when a ferocious storm erupts with near implausible speed. After lightning sets the ship alight, Eric winds up unconscious in the sea. Ariel saves him though and pulls him ashore. She does what anyone would do in this perilous situation. She sings in his face. Even though she runs and hides before he wakes, he falls in love with the mystery girl based on her voice alone. At least this should make it easy to find her again, as it would take a pretty ridiculous scenario for a girl’s voice to completely vanish into thin air after all…
Unfortunately, Ursula is watching all these events unfold on her weird bubble television thingy, and concocts a most devilish scheme…
In trying to convince Ariel that life is better under said sea and away from humans, Sebastian sings her a song. Having not completely existed under a Disney free rock, I did know the song ‘Under the Sea’ was from the Little Mermaid. I actually rather liked the song even before watching the film, but when put in context of the story, it’s definitely my favourite Disney musical number to date. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get through to a hormonally addled sixteen-year-old girl, even with aid of a song and dance routine… So, Sebastian is left with the task of reporting back to Triton that his youngest Daughter wants to indulge in sexy-time with a human. Triton loses his shit about this and proceeds to give Ariel another almighty bollocking before destroying a load of items in Ariels creepy museum of human artifacts. Ariel responds by being every teenage girl who’s ever lived, shrieking “BUT DADDY I LOVE HIM!” before bursting into tears.
Flotsam and Jetsam take this opportunity to offer her some assistance with her problem. Ariel agrees to go with them. I mean, who wouldn’t look at these two and conclude that they can be trusted?
For fucks sake Ariel! Come on, even completely blinded by love for a dude you’ve just met, who in god’s name doesn’t have a few more reservations about these two? Look at them!!!
They lead her to Ursula who offers her a contract that would allow her to become human for three days. If she can get the Prince to make out with her, she stays human. If she fails, she’ll be turned into a…. a….. um….
… one of those things. Oh, and she has to give her voice as payment to Ursula (😮). Fortunately for Ursula, she has come prepared with a song complete with choreography to make her case for why Ariel should sign. Who could resist an argument made in song after all? Certainly not Ariel, who puts pen to paper….
Ariel finds herself ashore with legs. And a lack of clothes. So, her mission to lure a young prince is off to an auspicious start. It should be noted that throughout all this, and the rest of the film for that matter, Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle are never far away, because Disney must have cute animals nearby at all times. They are helpful though, for example in this case, they make a rudimentary dress to cover Ariel’s lady garden. Obviously, out of all the people in the world, Eric is the human who finds Ariel first. Erics mind is still on finding the girl with the sexy voice, but he clearly fancies Ariel even though she can’t talk. He brings her back to the castle. No, not like that. I think he’s concerned for her health and that she has lost her voice from the shock of being out at sea.
There’s a lovely moment at dinner time where she takes the fork, believing it to be a dinglehopper, and starts combing her hair with it. Whilst this is happening, Sebastian almost gets boiled alive by a psychotic French chef. How do I know he’s French? Because he is very, very French. You have to hand it to Disney; they go ALL IN on their national stereotyping. He also sings a fun little ditty about the joys of slaughtering sea creatures. Sing along kids.
Meanwhile, Triton realises that he has royally fucked everything up. He sends out search parties who can’t find Ariel anywhere.
The next day, Ariel and Eric do lots of fun stuff together. They’re clearly getting closer, despite Ariels inability to talk. That evening, they are on a small rowing boat when Sebastian senses the opportunity to create a romantic setting by singing a song. It’s rather familiar. That’s probably because ‘Kiss the Girl’ is Kerry’s favourite Disney song of all time and therefore I’ve heard her singing it quite a few times, to say the least. At this point, I need to talk about the songs in this film generally. While a lot of them aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I’m really impressed by how well they’re written, the lyrics, the vocal performances and how great the choreographing is that accompanies them. I understand that this film introduces a new song writing team (Howard Ashman and Alan Menken) and the difference cannot be overstated. For me, this is the biggest game changer that separates ‘The Little Mermaid’ with all that has come before.
The song appears to do the trick and they’re about to kiss. Unfortunately, Ursula is concerned about how well Ariel is doing and decides to tip the scales somewhat. Or at least gets Flotsam and Jetsam to tip the boat. The moment has been successfully (and literally) dampened.
I’ve mentioned in the past about how Disney seems to get carried away with endless scenes of frolicking animals, only to suddenly realise that they have most of the story to tell with about eight minutes runtime remaining. Snow White still remains the ultimate example of this. With a little over ten minutes to go, ‘The Little Mermaid’ does a fine job continuing this tradition… This is how the rest of the film feels:
Ursula entrances Eric and, for good measure, turns herself into a hottie and gives herself Ariel’s voice that’s contained in the necklace she’s wearing so he will marry her instead. Then they are suddenly about to get married on his ship until Scuttle and his bird friends attack Ursula, causing the necklace to break, meaning Ariel gets her voice back so she can tell Eric that that voice belongs to her, but before they kiss the spell breaks and Ariel becomes a mermaid and Ursula snatches her and takes her underwater causing Triton to give himself up to save his daughter which gets him turned into one of those…
…Ok pause, just what are those things?! I’m going to need to consult the Disney fandom site here, as these things are just plain odd. Ok, apparently they are called Polyp’s. That is absolutely no help at all. They appear to hold people’s souls. But my god are they weird looking…
…Anyway, Ursula gets Triton’s magic trident (try saying that three times fast) but when attacked by Ariel, Eric and their animal buddies, she accidently blows Flotsam and Jetsam into smithereens before becoming a giant, who ends up being killed by Eric, causing all the merfolk, including Triton, to turn back from those weird polyp things into merfolk again, leading to a scene where Triton sees how sad Ariel is and decides the kindest thing to do is fulfilling Ariels dream of becoming human, which results in her and Eric getting married. Roll credits.
So that was quite an action packed final ten minutes… While for me it did feel slightly rushed, it was lovely having a Disney film that I didn’t once find myself clock watching at any point, so I’ll take this ending instead every time. And to be honest, a rushed ending is a very minor quibble in a film where there were very few criticisms to be found. I mentioned earlier about how I was sensing an upward trend and was expecting this film to be a step up. I have to say I was surprised at just what a giant leap forward this film was. Everything about it from the story, to the characters, to the humour and the songs were consistently on point. It’s the first film that didn’t feel in some way dated, and it’s also the first film where I feel Disney truly conveyed that a sense of fun for the viewer was more important than the stroking of their own artistic egos. I would absolutely recommend ‘The Little Mermaid’ as must watch for non-Disney fans. Ultimately, this did feel like the film that completed the transition to a more modern style of presentation and possibly for the first time, I look forward to what’s coming next (I’ve just remembered the next film is another ‘Rescuers’ film, so scrub that previous comment…).
The most important thing for me however, is that when my wife says in a few years’ time “would you like to watch The Little Mermaid?”, I can look her in the eyes and honestly say “yeah, I’d like that!”.
Yes! He loved it! It’s almost made the months and months of him moaning about my beloved Disney, worth it. Of course it’s worth it. I had a hunch he would change his tune after seeing this one. In case I haven’t mentioned it, IT’S MY FAVOURITE FILM OF ALL TIME! I’m not sure I’d be such a good singer if I hadn’t sang ‘Part Of Your World’ over and over, from age of seven onwards.
A few things I would like to add, in response to Ben’s review.
“When Will My Life Begin” from Tangled would’ve made aa perfect addition to the beginning of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
When we worked together in an office, one of my best friends and I would sing ‘Les Poissons’ from start to finish, in the office. We are a delight.
I wish that ‘The Rescuers Down Under’ had never been made because, A) The first film was shit, so why make a sequel, and B) Our next film would be Beauty And The Beast, which is amazing! See you on the other side, brother
In relation to The Little Mermaid, needless to say…
What could be more Disney than staring a film with an orphaned kitten nearly drowning in a cardboard box? He’s already bloody miserable as all his siblings have been taken and rehoused (no doubt leaving him to wonder if there’s some anti-ginger prejudice prevalent in New York City) and tomorrow he will discover that most humans are in fact bastards.
Yet despite this most depressingly familiar of introductions to the 1988 film ‘Oliver and Company’, something seems to be changing. After spending months trawling through the Disney Animation Studios back catalogue, experiencing varying states of enjoyment and torture (and because I’m not a Disney fan, mostly the latter), it wasn’t until the previous film ‘The Great Mouse Detective’, that I first started to detect a few hints of something that I would best describe as “modern”. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why that is, but I suppose a sense of playfulness and awareness are making their way through the usual strait-laced, stiff upper lip of vintage Disney. I think it’s more a sign of the times in which the films were made, that lead them to be this way. Modern animations tend to be far more casual. Well they tend not to have lectures on Latin American subculture, long deviations discussing advanced animation techniques, entire films that don’t crack a single joke or a dude in full suit and bowtie explaining how the animation perfectly symbolises the 19th century classical music piece that accompanies it.
If ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ had indications of a modern approach to kid’s films, ‘Oliver and Company’ ups that considerably. Ok, the music isn’t exactly modern, but MC Hammer is still more contemporary than Big Band Swing music, and if truth be told, a style I have a soft spot for. That’s not to say that either of the films are classics, and that’s something most Disney fans and reviewers all agree with, but I’ve found them an easier watch than most that have come before. And bearing in mind that this film is an adaptation of a Dicken’s novel, it has far more plot detail than most films I’ve reviewed and that’s impressive.
Trying to review this film invokes memories of when I had to review ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’. When dealing with higher-brow literary classics, it doesn’t exactly offer many plot points that I feel compelled to rip the piss out of. Furthermore, due to the greater plot density, if I were to take my usual approach of a scene by scene deconstruction, I could be typing for days. But what I will say is that I definitely found ‘Oliver and Company’ a far easier watch than Ichabod and Mr Toad at least… Ultimately, there’s nothing particularly good or bad, nothing particularly outrageous or stupid and nothing especially memorable either.
So, forgive me for largely skipping over this film, but things are about to get far more interesting next time out for one reason or another. For starters, next time out we have ‘The Little Mermaid’, which happens to be Kerry’s favourite film of all time. The stakes are high on this one. If truth be told, I’ve rarely been so worried about disliking a film! But furthermore, we exit the creatives downturn and enter what I’ve learnt to be the Disney renaissance. What this entails for a someone like me is yet to be seen. Will the modern classics be the films to finally win me over? Considering my review of the next film may determine whether I have the respect of my wife or not, I really, really hope so…
We’re watching The Little Mermaid tonight (Monday 23rd November)!!!! I’m so excited!!!!
Still, I digress from Oliver & Company. I have to say, I didn’t know what to expect from this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s actually really enjoyable. I already like the story of Oliver Twist and used to watch the musical a lot as a child (“Oom-pah-pah oom-pah-pah that’s ow it goes!”, so I already knew it would be a good narrative, but the adapted characters were good and it had some really catchy, contemporary songs.
In conclusion, I would recommend it as a solid family film.
We are now deep into the “Great Disney Depression” of the late seventies and eighties. This is an apt description for two reasons. Firstly, Disney are in a creative lull that has resulted in box office flops and reviews that aren’t just sycophantic love letters. So, if the Disney-loving critics have concluded that recent films haven’t been up to scratch, you can imagine how much I’ve detested them. Secondly, “depression” is an ideal term because recent movies have been just that. Depressing. For me, ‘The Rescuers’ had bleak undertones, yet zero humour or warmth to balance it out. ‘The Fox and The Hound’ went one better and didn’t just restrict the bleakness to its undertones. No Disney film prior had relentlessly felt so melancholy, and this is from the same company that brought you tales of attempted puppy-skinning. And Bambi… And to top it off, last time out we had ‘The Black Cauldron’, where the deliberate upping of the ‘dark and scary’ factor could have made it a memorable film for positive reasons, had it not been for the unfortunate obstacle of it being utterly crap.
Expectations then, are at possibly an all-time low coming into today’s film ‘The Great Mouse Detective’. Now, judging by the title, I have a gut feeling that this film will in some way involve a mouse, who is a detective. And is probably pretty good at it too. Just three films ago, we had the aforementioned ‘The Rescuers’, which also involved mice solving a mystery, and in about three films time, we will have ‘The Rescuers Down Under’. This leads me to believe that someone high-up at Disney HQ really gets their kicks from watching rodents solve shit. I just hope that this mouse is a lot more entertaining at doing his detective malarky than Bernard and Miss Bianca, possibly involving something that can actually raise a smile in the process….
The film starts in London circa 1897. It must be London because this is an American film, and this scene depicts cobbled streets, horse and carts and church bells which is pretty much how Americans depict London even in the 21st century. We find ourselves at a toy shop called Flavershams where we meet a sweet little mouse called Olivia and her father, Mr Flaversham. They are very Scottish. Mice don’t live very long so I find it very impressive that they’ve made it all the way from 19th century Scotland to London within their lifetime, let alone also having the time to set up a successful toy business once settled…. Mr Flaversham is giving Olivia a toy for her birthday. She’s very happy. But trouble lies ahead, can you guess what? Correct! A bat with a wooden leg swoops in and kidnaps Mr Flaversham. This is definitely Disney. A cute mouse who has clearly already lost her mother now having to witness her Father’s disappearance as well, resulting in her cries of “Daddy!” ringing out over the city… This sort of infant distress is bread and butter for the creative minds at chez-Disney. They must be moist with joy. Roll intro credits.
Next, we are introduced to a mouse who narrates with a VERY English accent. The Queens English obviously. Again, exactly how Americans always portray people in the UK. I wonder if he has a very posh English name? He’s called Dr David Q Dawson. Yes then. Plus, I imagine the Q stands for Quentin as I cannot think of any other male names beginning with Q… He may wish that we refer to him as Dr David Q Dawson, but the reality is that down the pub, his mates call him Dave.
Dave finds Olivia crying. After explaining her predicament, Dave takes her to Baker Street to see Basil, the great mouse detective. Anyone who has seen the 1980’s British cartoon ‘Dangermouse’ will be sensing some déjà vu around about now, as that also features a mouse on Baker Street that essentially rips off Sherlock Holmes. But of course, Disney will put its own inimitable stamp on this familiar scenario (less jokes and more frolicking animals with dead / wounded parents).
Initially Basil thinks it’s an inappropriate time to help Olivia. What a dick. But once he realises that Mr Flaversham was taken by a bat with a wooden leg, he suddenly becomes interested. Not because the why’s and how’s of a bat having a wooden leg (which would certainly arouse most people’s interest), but because he works for the evil Professor Ratigan, Basil’s arch enemy.
Let’s meet this Ratigan then shall we? Ratigan must be pretty damn awesome. How do I know this? Because a load of rodents declare this in a song. You don’t take the time to learn a song and dance routine unless you’re really invested in the lyrics you’re singing. He must be GREAT. Not only that, he’s also quite entertaining. Ok, so he feeds one of his drunken mouse lackeys to his pet cat (no, I’m not sure how a rat successfully has a pet cat either) because he was drunk and annoying, but there’s been far more irritating baddies than this. Of course he still possesses that typical Disney antagonist trait of revelling in doing evil things just because they’re evil, rather than the more realistic ‘doing bad shit that’s self-serving and/or mean and justifying it’s the right thing to do usually because of some self-entitlement, prejudice or pleasing some deity’.
Ratigan has a “diabolical” scheme. Basically this scheme involves kidnapping the queen and replacing her with a mechanical version that will declare Ratigan the king. I’m quite liking this plan, but more for the ingenuity than the actual questionable logic that it could work. So Mr Flaversham was kidnapped, it turns out, so that he would make this mechanical toy version of the Queen. Why is he doing this dastardly deed? Because if he doesn’t, some bad shit will happen to Olivia. Oh Ratigan you scoundrel.
Speaking of Olivia, she wants to go on the journey to upend the bad guys. Basil says no but she accompanies him and Dave anyway. By using Sherlock Holmes dog to sniff out where the Bat (who is called Fidget, apparently) has gone, they wind up in a toy shop where they discover Fidget trying to get parts to make the fake queen. Unfortunately, in what could only be described as a colossal fuck up, Fidget not only gets away, but also manages to kidnap Olivia in the process.
Now, it may seem that I have a very good handle on the storyline at this point. But that is a lie. The truth is that whilst watching the first half of the film, I didn’t. Here’s the thing, I find it quite difficult to concentrate at the best of times, but during Disney films I find I become even more easily distracted than usual. On top of that, Disney seems to have a habit of mentioning key plot points just once and then never addressing them again. Fortunately, the Disney fandom site provides a good synopsis to fill the moments that my mind goes a wondering. I also thankfully found this less of a problem during the films second half, as the pace picks up and generally more stuff happens…
Basil finds a note containing the list of things Fidget was stealing from the toy shop. He does some detective shit to discover it was written where the sewage system meets the river. So he and Dave go to a bar there, disguised as sailors. It’s a proper dive full of rough sorts who hurl abuse at the entertainment (in this case, a juggling octopus). I then wrote in my notes, “I suppose the cabaret is a juggling octopus, as the usual entertainment in a dive like that in that era would be a sexy burlesque dancer, and they couldn’t have that in a Disney film!!!”. But then out comes the singing mouse and her dancers…. If I was surprised at the sexy manner in which the mouse sings, I was even more shook at the partial striptease and sultriness of the dancing. Obviously not sexy enough to get a semi or anything. It’s a cartoon mouse and no-one gets a semi at a cartoon mouse, so stop talking about it. No-one got a semi, agreed? Good.
After spotting fidget, Basil and Dave enquire about “their old friend” Ratigan. It would seem that they were too obvious however, as Dave gets his drink spiked. In his daze, he jumps up on stage to join in with the dancing burlesque mice that caused no-one to become inappropriately aroused. In the confusion, Fidget escapes, but Basil and Dave follow him through the sewage pipes to Ratigan HQ. But alas, it is a trap. Ratigan is waiting for their arrival.
He decides to dispose of the heroes in true Bond movie villain style. Instead of a quick murder, perhaps involving the pet cat, he instead ties them up. And a whole series of murderous weapons will be triggered in the style of the game ‘Mouse Trap’, by a string that will only tighten enough to start the fucktitude of chaos once the arm of the record player it’s attached to reaches the end of the song Ratigan has written about his victory over Basil. That’s right there’s a song.
So think about this: Instead of taking 3 seconds to shoot them in the face, in the time that Ratigan knew that Basil would be attempting to infiltrate his hideout, he instead did the following: First he went to a hardware shop. There he would have bought all the materials needed to make the various weapons of mouse destruction. Then he would have to have gone on the black market no doubt to obtain a few of the more nefarious instruments required. Then, he and his team would have to laboriously set up the ‘mouse trap’ style mechanism. Next, he would have to go to the trouble of writing a song (or putting an ad out to hire a songwriter to compose some music for him), then writing the lyrics that brag about his victory. Then he would have had to have hired a studio (in those days home studios were unheard of, especially among the rat community). Then he would have needed at least a sixteen-piece orchestra to perform the piece, assuming Ratigan had scored out all the parts for the hired hands. Then he would need to mix the resulting song. Following this, he had to have the track printed onto vinyl. I truly admire the trouble Ratigan went to in order to make the most entertaining murdering device possible. Now this is a proper antagonist. And the resulting song, genuinely made me laugh. My concentration had been wavering throughout the film before this point, but this bit came as close to winning me over as anything else I’ve seen Disney churn out, strangely arousing burlesque mice included…
Ratigan is now free to kidnap the queen and put a toy replica in her place. Mr Flaversham is forced to control this toy queen. She announces that Ratigan will be the new ruler over the rodent world. Now the only way this calamity can be rectified is with a Disney trope checklist to ensure all things end the way we have come to expect:
Daring escape from near certain doom for our heroes? ✅
Stopping the bad guy in the nick of time? ✅
Overblown chase scene? ✅
The moment the bad guy meets his demise it seems like the hero is a goner too, only to for the scriptwriters to go “gotcha! He’s fine, lol”? ✅
They all lived happily ever after (except for the bad guy who drowns if the impact of falling from a great height hasn’t already turned his insides to smithereens)? ✅
So was it a classic film? No. But here’s the thing: I didn’t mind it too much. Maybe it’s because my expectations were so low, especially following ‘The Black Cauldron’. Maybe it’s because my lasting memories of the film were Ratigan’s song and burlesque mice that DEFINITELY didn’t cause a semi. I’ve seen people suggest it was the worst ever Disney film, as well as people who have a soft spot for it. The film saved Disney from bankruptcy, but on the plus side, it apparently triggered an upturn in the quality of future the ‘Animated Studios’ films, so fingers crossed on that one. Overall, I think this film feels a lot more classically ‘Disney’ then many of the recent films. The film ends with Dave discussing how after their success, he joined Basil for many more adventures, just like Watson did with Sherlock Holmes. A reminder that ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ is an adaptation of the book ‘The Great Mouse Detective’. Which is an adaptation. Of ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Frolicking orphan animals and near-death chase scenes aside, it doesn’t get more Disney than that.
That song by Ratigan was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a Disney film in ages! Just needed to express that from the start.
I had seen parts of The Great Mouse Detective in the past, but never the whole film and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I think Ben’s covered my thoughts in his review.
I will add that we have ONE more film until The Little Mermaid!!!!! I’m gonna try and convince Ben to watch Oliver and Company this evening, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.