Disney has had great success of late producing new versions of familiar classics. First it was The Jungle Book, and now Pete’s Dragon. Both the original and this update mix live action with an animated dragon but in very different ways. In the original, the dragon (Elliott) was intentionally made to look like a cartoon character. The studio wanted to extend its success with Mary Poppins, which had mixed live action with animated sequences so successfully. In the current version, Elliott is , through the magic of CGA, made to look real. He’s a dragon with fur, instead of scales, and with his broken tooth and goofy grin, he’s like a big plush teddy bear.
The current movie is interesting in that it mixes in some L’Enfant Sauvage to the story. When Pete’s parents are killed while the family is on an outing in the remote woods, Elliott raises him for 6 yeas before he’s discovered by mankind. He was 5 when he went missing so apparently doesn’t have all that much trouble fitting back into society. The movie is a great little family film and says a lot of family and loyalty. It’s also a two-hankie film, but they’ll persevere, they’ll be tears of joy in the long run. That’s the magic of a movie like this, which carries on the Disney tradition of wholesome entertainment, something we certainly need as an antidote to this age of lies and corruption. The Blu-ray, seen on a 4K display, is breathtaking at times; there’s also a DVD in the package in case you haven’t upgraded formats lately, and an HD copy you can take with you. Highly recommended.
Walt Disney had miles of imagination and vision, and fortunately for us, he decided that he wanted to make a feature length animated film. Before the fact, his critics dubbed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs “Disney’s folly,” but once it opened they had to eat those words and replace them with words of praise. That was way back in 1937, even before I was born, and it’s still one of the “fairest in the land.” Looking at this new Blu-ray, the first in Disney’s ‘Signature Collection,” one just marvels at how good it looks and sounds. It was made without computer assistance or what we’d consider modern techniques these days, yet it looks just as good as most of what studio produce in 2016. Yep, it’s a classic all right but there’s nothing moldy about it!
And it plays well as a story expertly told, with outstanding character development. Using different voices and different animators for each dwarf insured that each was a specific character. The evil queen is one of the most terrifying villains in the history of Disney movies, and Snow White is to die for. This new edition presents a perfect image and re-tooled sound and a boatload of extras that show how it was done in the first place. And guess what, it’s still G rated so is that rare title that the whole family can enjoy together. Thanks to this release, the new “Signature Collection” is off to a rousing start. Don’t miss it. If you don’t have Blu-ray yet, Disney has included a DVD, but you really need to see the Blu-ray if at all possible. It’s of demonstration caliber!
The latest Disney title to receive the Diamond Edition treatment is 1992’s Aladdin, a musical adventure with music and lyrics by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. It was an instant success, becoming the highest grossing release of the year, and spawned several sequels as well as a most successful Broadway musical comedy. It’s big draw was from casting Robin Williams as the voice of the genie, though two other comic sidekicks register good laughs as well, the evil Jafar’s parrot, Iago, and Aladdin’s monkey, Abu. There’s also an extraordinarily personable flying carpet, whose tassels turn into hands as need be. In fact, the supporting characters really steal the show from lovers Aladdin and Jasmine. Jasmine, however, is something of a break through, a dark-haired princess who doesn’t wait to be rescued but takes things into her own hands.
The Diamond Edition contains a Blu-ray disc version, a DVD version, and a digital HD version that you can download. The picture and sound have been honed to be perfect and this Aladdin is a delight to see and hear. The extras are icing on the cake. There’s one that presents Robin Williams outtakes and another extra identifies many of the characters that Williams’ shape-shifting genie imitates, from Groucho Marx to Marlon Brando to Arsenio Hall. Another extra tracks the live Broadway show and its out of town tryouts. This was so exciting to me, I’m about ready to book a train ticket and go see it. In sum, this is another Disney release that is a must for every collection.
1961’s 101 Dalmatians, based on the children’s novel by Dodie Smith, is one of Walt Disney’s most appealing and enduring animated films. The movie practically saved the studio which was having difficulty paying the cost of hand painted animation cells. A new Xerox process was developed, whereby the artists’ drawings could be copied straight to a transparent cell. The artists liked it because their work was not subjected to any possible degradation and the studio liked it because of the money saved, though Walt Disney himself was not fond of the process as an artistic advancement. The movie was one of Disney’s first modern efforts. The dogs watched their hero on TV, and there were contemporary automobiles. The story focuses on two Dalmatians who have 15 puppies which are stolen. They investigate only to find that 99 puppies have been stolen by the movie’s villain, Cruella De Vil. The race is on to save them all, but Cruella is ruthless in her pursuit.
What a villain Cruella is, one of the greatest in all film, live or animated. Not only does she want to make a series of coats out of the hides of Dalmatians in 1961, she’s even more evil than ever in 2015 as she blows clouds of toxic green smoke from the pink cigarettes in her cigaret holder. One of the chapters on this Diamond Edition Blu-ray-DVD-Digital HD makes an anti smoking statement. Enjoying this movie again after 50 plus years, I also noted it is not just for dog lovers as one of its bravest heroes is a cat, Sgt. Tibbs. Disney could often treat cats as villains, but Tibbs is an unquestionable hero. There are a lot of neat extras with this set, including statements from the animators on what fun they had making the movie. There’s also a music video of Cruella’s theme song and a lot more. If you have children, you can give them a wonderful experience with this movie and remember it fondly yourself. the Blu-ray reveals all the details of its magnificent animation, and the soundtrack has been tweaked to play in 5.1 with even a few off-screen surround effects. A must for any animation collection or household with children or young at heart adults. It’s rated G.
In case you’ve only experienced American animation -Disney, Warner Brothers, DreamWorks – this is an invitation to explore the wonderful world of Japanese animation through the films from Studio Ghibli, Japan’s answer to Walt Disney. Some years ago Studio Ghibli formed an alliance with Disney to release its films in versions dubbed in English by well-known actors like Timothy Dalton, Mariska Hargitay, and Willem Dafoe. Most of these have made it to DVD and many to Blu-ray. The latter format is the way you want to see Studio Ghibli films so you can enjoy every wonderful detail. For February, 2015, Disney has released some lesser Studio Ghibli films on Blu-ray: Tales From Earthsea [PG-13], Pom Poko [PG], and Porco Rosso[PG]. All contain both a
Blu-ray disc and a DVD. Tales from Earthsea is based loosely on Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels and tells the story of a mythical land of magic that has become unbalanced. Crops wither, dragons reappear and an evil sorcerer is to blame. Heroes are needed. Pom Poko tells the story of a band of tanuki, small bodied Japanese dogs that are masked and thus resemble raccoons, who are trying to save their forest outside Tokyo from development. They learn to transform into almost anything, including humans. Some of the best Studio Ghibli visuals ever are included in this movie, but beware, its environmental message is a bit preachy, even for a tree huger like me. There’s a lot of narration; I found that this was the one release that worked better in English. For the others I preferred the original Japanese with English subtitles.
Porco Rosso is a stirring adventure about an aviation hero who is under a curse that causes him to have a pig’s face. In thrilling sequences, he battles sky pirates to get the girl and maintain his honor. Directed by Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, this is the best of the three releases. The most interesting supplement I found is almost hidden. It’s on Tales from Earthsea and is called “The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack.” At first you might think it is short, but let it run past what initially looks like an ending and it’s an hour long documentary on film composer Tamiya Terashima and his quest to find the right medieval and baroque instruments to play the score when contrasted with a full symphony orchestra. There are some really neat sounds from all the instruments considered. In closing, parents note that Studio Ghibli films are not always G rated. I’ve put the ratings alongside the titles above. As an introduction to Studio Ghibli I urge you to start out with the best: Spirited Away [PG] and Howl’s Moving Castle [PG]. Then you will want to see them all!