Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo is one of the most beloved Disney animations. It was also the movie to help Disney out of its run of financial losses. This is somewhat surprising due to the team working on the film were the B-team, as the A-team was working on Bambi. Dumbo was a more economical film to make after the excessive budgets that weren’t profitable in Pinocchio and Fantasia. It helped that Dumbo was only sixty-four minutes long. Audiences loved Dumbo for its simple storytelling and emotional attachment. Considering it was a financial success without much international distribution says something to the impact it had at the time.

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Dumbo starts with a moving scene showing cranes delivering babies to all the animals, all except Mrs Jumbo. Sadly, Mrs Jumbo gets on the train the next day along with the entire circus to move onto the next location. By luck, the crane that was carrying Mrs Jumbo’s baby spots the train and unites the two. Once the bundle is unwrapped revealing the young elephant the cute ques turn quickly to dismay from the crowd of elephants once they see his ears are huge. The name Dumbo is given by those elephants quickly to the tears of Mrs Jumbo, who loves her baby wholeheartedly. The teasing soon proves to be too much for Mrs Jumbo as they open the circus at the next town and Dumbo is teased relentlessly by the visitors. Mrs Jumbo in a fit of rage tears the place down and earns herself exile from the show and away from Dumbo. Like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio before, Timothy Mouse makes it his mission to help Dumbo through these hard times and tries to excel him. After a bad start, Dumbo ends up as the star in a clown act that mocks him further. In one of the most memorable scenes, Timothy Mouse and Dumbo try picking themselves up, however, the pick-me-up seems rather literal as they become intoxicated and see “Pink Elephants”. The morning after they find themselves at the height of a tall tree that they realise Dumbo flew up. And here our story ends with Dumbo’s ears being the most incredible trait as he can soar through the air, and finds himself in stardom and reunited with Mrs Jumbo.

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After what has come before, Dumbo is cheaply made. The story may be rich with merit, however, the animation is largely simple and undetailed. There are massive blocks of scenes that are as if they could have been coloured in by the way of a colouring-in book. For example, a scene where all the elephants are gossiping is filled with just flat grey bodies, with only minute detail on the trunk and face, leaving no detail of depth to the body. Dumbo by today’s standards would be a straight to video release, much like the Disney animated sequels that were plentiful in the 90s and 2000s.

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The story to this day has continued to resonate with audiences and just this year a live-action film was released. However, time has not been completely kind to the film as more and more critics find controversy in the crow sequence near the end (atop the tree with Dumbo), for portraying African American stereotypes. It’s easy to see why Disney is the target of this sort of thing when they are by all purposes a family-friendly company. I have no qualms with it as it is timely to that era. With the release of Song of the South only a few years later, critics have reason to criticise the scene. The scene was going to be cut or reconfigured to edit out the crows with the release of Disney Plus, and thank goodness they had the sense to not go through with it.

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Dumbo is a really short story that goes by in a breeze, but I think more could have been added to the film, so I’m curious what they added in the live-action film to almost double the screen time. Whatever the case Dumbo is a good wholesome film.

What do you think of it overall?

Previously The Reluctant Dragon

Next Bambi

Robert Ring

Splash

Quite literally a fish out of water tale.

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The classic tale “Den lille Hayfrue” by Hans Christian Andersen, or as English depicts it, The Little Mermaid is a remarkable tale beloved by children since it was first published in 1837. The story is about a young mermaid searching for a life above the sea amongst people, where she proceeds to fall in love with a prince and makes a Faustian bargain with the sea witch to continue out her days as a human. A statue inspired by The Little Mermaid story was unveiled in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1913. The statue represents a mermaid looking longingly across the land, longing to be human. It has been a subject of vandalism over the years, from decapitations to paint jobs. Like the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Little Mermaid has been retold time after time, in some respect, the vandalism represents the times of change in society and this is seen through each adaptation. The fairy tale has been retold and modernized to this day, with the most iconic being Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Before the heralded Disney animated film was Splash.

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Splash is the first Disney movie created under the Touchstone Pictures banner in 1984, as Disney wanted to produce more content for adult fare. These films would still be generally wholesome movies, however, they contained suggestions of sex, booze and sometimes drugs. You certainly wouldn’t find these ideas in the live-action Disney films before it. Splash was also the movie to get Tom Hanks out of television and into stardom.

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The movie starts twenty years in the past with a young Allen on a trip with his family at Cape Cod. Allen jumps overboard to see a young mermaid before being ripped back onto the boat by the crew. Now in the present Allen (Tom Hanks), works a successful job with his brother in the shipping of produce goods, but his love life is in shambles. Allen can’t seem to find commitment in any of the women he has relationships with and they eventually leave him because of it. After a big bender Allen decides to travel back to Cape Cod to perhaps find himself, but when he’s knocked out of his boat and drowning she finds him instead. The mermaid played by Daryl Hannah watches Allen awaken on the beach and there ignites the romantic spark Allen has been missing since he first met her as a boy. When Allen approaches her she kisses him and leaves by the sea. It later becomes apparent that Splash is The Little Mermaid story without any of the context. Instead of showing us the sea hag granting her a wish, we understand that she has been given a week’s time frame for being on land. Allen and the mermaid now called Madison experience a romantic and comical relationship as she hides her true identity from him. What may seem like a happy ending is only just the beginning as Dr. Kornbluth tries to uncover who she is, while Madison must eventually confront Allen before its too late.

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Splash was a fresh take on The Little Mermaid story at the time and is still holds up great. What works best is the relationship between Hanks and Hannah. Madison is a much stronger character than Ariel and heads towards society head-on in search of Allen. Allen isn’t a Prince Charming character either but a sweet down to earth guy that she shares a spark with. While these two carry the bulk of the film, the supporting characters in John Candy playing Allen’s brother, and Eugine Levi playing the villain brings a lot of wholesome laughs and fun to the screen. Splash is a good romantic comedy that doesn’t drown you in fantasy but makes the film feel like a believable tale in the present day.

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The ending is spectacular and I don’t think you would see it done like that today.

Robert Ring

The Reluctant Dragon

Walt Disney was on an upward projection as the success of Snow White allowed for his studio to relocate and become a haven for Walt. The idea was to make the best environment for all of his staff with living arrangements, entertainment, gymnasiums and anything that Walt found would be endearing to everyone. The problem is that the amazing facilities were not available to everyone, it was a faulty system based on hierarchy. Before Snow White, the studio offered bonuses to the staff when the animated shorts proved successful, but these bonuses went out the door to allow for the development of the new studio. Staff at the top were awarded wages as high as $200-$300 per week, while at the bottom staff were earning $12 per week. The staff at the top could get their meals provided for free throughout the day, while the rest had to pay absurd prices. It’s no surprise that after the successful unionization of other animated studios that Disney would be next.

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Disney was the best-animated studio to work for before every other studio became unionized, but times were changing. From within, employees started becoming disgruntled and went on strike. After five weeks Disney had to give in to them. Walt felt betrayed as he spent so long creating what he thought was an idealistic career path for his company that he thought he knew better. Even after things began to settle Walt would always remember that his people turned on him, and he would always carry that from then on and seek to slowly remove those that fought for it in the strike. Walt would go so far as saying that the strikers were communists and some of who would be blacklisted. During the strike Disney released The Reluctant Dragon, and the entire film is essentially an advert for the amazing way of life and work for the Disney studios. In the end, The Reluctant Dragon was slightly profitable, although it probably did more damage than good releasing it in the middle of the strike.

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The Reluctant Dragon starts with a husband and wife that come up with an idea that they think is a great idea for an animated feature after reading a book entitled The Reluctant Dragon. The movie then follows the husband as he travels to the Disney studios to pitch the idea. Along the way, he experiences nearly all manners of production to create animation at Disney. Between that, we get to see various animated shorts such as the animated work-in-progress “Baby Weems,” followed by a Goofy short, and finally “The Reluctant Dragon.” All the animated shorts are entirely mediocre, even for the time. It’s the live-action segments that become charming the longer you spend going through the Disney studios that make the film watchable.

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Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this feature. It was clearly made as a way to generate some income to keep the studio afloat after experiencing financial losses with Pinocchio and Fantasia. The Reluctant Dragon segment is the most boring segment of the entire thing. The live-action components seem to be the seed that generated plenty of straight to television live-action features, that Disney would produce after the second world war. This feature, however, would have worked much better as a prime time feature on television. It must have been a great disappointment for many going to see this at the cinema after seeing such wonderful productions in Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia.

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I don’t even know if hardcore Disney fans would enjoy this feature in its entirety. I recommend skipping it or checking it out on Disney Plus for a few minutes.

Previously Fantasia

Next Dumbo

Robert Ring

Cinema: South Korea

South Korea is not without a colorful film history, one that has survived countless hands from oppression by the Japanese, who sought to make propaganda through film, and to the censoring of content by the Korean government in later years.

seoul_cinema_billboards_1950sSouth Korea is relatively a newcomer to cinema, as political turmoil from the occupation of Japan prohibited filmmakers from making nationalist Korean films, and instead films that were a rally of propaganda for Japan. During this occupation, Korean-language films were outright banned from being developed. The Japenese occupation was to the point where Korean values were forced into Japanese values, even to the changing of family names in Japanese ones. These sentiments do not erase South Korea’s earliest films, however, most of these films were destroyed by the Japanese. This period of oppression ended with the end of the second world war in 1945.

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It could be argued that South Korea did not really have a film heritage until the 1960s, when film auteurs really started appearing, and these filmmakers were not conservative. They liked to push their own creative and political edge into their films to thwart the censorship that had oppressed the nation. Titles like A Flower in Hell (1958) by Shin Sang-ok showed an on-screen kiss, which was taboo. Even in My Sassy Girl (2001), a romantic comedy that ran for two and a half hours wouldn’t show a kiss. While South Korea’s cinema was starting to boom, North Korea, in a famous case kidnapped Shin Sang-ok and his wife in a means to boost their own industry. North Korea’s films resulted in propaganda films, while South Korea suffered a significant loss by missing one of their prolific film auteurs.

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South Korea is one of the few nations which has successfully upheld a national film industry, one that can compete with Hollywood, and the surrounding Japan and China within the South Korean box-office. In places like Australia, there are very few successful films, and these successes are such by making back the budget and then profiting a little more.  The Australian film industry cannot compete with Hollywood films, when “the good,” Australian films are made for a select audience, and “the bad,” try to appeal to everyone. South Korea has had it very different. Firstly South Korea was censored by the Japanese occupation, and then by a new military regime with the thought that media can be used as a weapon of influence unless strictly censored. So when Ghost (1989), the first foreign film was being distributed in South Korea, the filmmakers strongly went against what they thought was going to be another form of oppression. These protestors did everything they could to trouble the release of the film by splashing paint on the cinema screens showing the film to releasing live snakes. This push was somewhat successful and probably the key to keeping their national film success in the form of a quota system. This quota system until 2006 required 146 days of screenings a year devoted to local South Korean films. In 2006 the quota would be reduced to 72 days as it was clear that international markets would not destroy their industry that was stronger than ever by the New Wave.

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The New Wave of South Korean films began around the mid 1990s, in fact it included music, television, and games too. This era was the start of high quality and stylistic films such as My Sassy Girl (2001), Oldboy (2003), and The Host (2006). There are certainly many more, but these are some I particularly like. The New Wave focused on being stylistic and understanding/creating diverse pop culture as South Korea was also modernising. This wave has redefined the future of the South Korean film industry, and the box office has shown twenty-seven of the top fifty grossing films there were made between 2009 and 2014. From a western approach, just look at Oldboy. It came into the appeal of international audiences with favorable reviews as Roger Ebert (2005) wrote on the value of the film, “We are so accustomed to “thrillers” that exist only as machines for creating diversion that it’s a shock to find a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose”. Ebert’s statement highlights the significance of everything working for the story’s sake, and not just for the benefit of an audience draw. This puts Hollywood films into a certain perspective where they fall into troupes as a device, whereas South Korea’s long-standing history of censorship has allowed filmmakers to be more respectful of the boundaries they are stepping over and approach violent material for a reason. The same can be said about My Sassy Girl, where some traditions are still upheld by filmmakers when it comes to the lack of an on-screen kiss, which did not trouble the film in any shape, but instead was used to create a quirky romantic comedy that feels fresh because of it. The new wave showed us that South Korea is a flourishing film industry that is unique and is a positive influence of cinema across the world.

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The history of South Korean cinema has been filled with disregard by controlling forces in the early years, taking away artistic integrity in place of pro-Japanese values, and only positivity was allowed in later years before creative freedom was permitted in films by the mid 80s. The New Wave of filmmakers such as Jae-young Kwak, Chan-wook Park, and Joon-ho Bong, are just a few iconic film directors that transitioned South Korea from a certain dictatorship, and into a place that can make creative works distinctive of South Korea. Today South Korea is thriving and expanding more than ever before with box office films at the highest they’ve ever been, and deals that are putting the country into working relationships internationally, while also being amongst them in the competitive marketplace.

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The best film of the year, in my opinion, is the South Korean film Parasite, so be sure to check it out and explore the vast library of films from South Korea.

Robert Ring

Batman: Under the Red Hood

This is one of the very best Batman films ever made!

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This animated film from the beginning starts with the Joker hitting Jason Todd, the second iteration of Robin with a crowbar. Robin is beat senseless before he is blown up by a bomb killing him just as Batman approaches the scene. The start of this film alone is the darkest opening of an animated film I’ve ever seen. Five years pass and Batman is still haunted by the memory of the event. Batman is more withheld and unwilling to take on help from Nightwing because of the loss of Robin against his new foes the Red Hood and Black Mask. The Red Hood is another mysterious figure that brings to light some twists in the Batman mythology, one that will shock you if you go into this film blind.

You will not forget this film because of the twists and turns, but you will also be surprised by the amazing performances in it too. John DiMaggio does an impressive take on the Joker that I’m surprised isn’t brought up when people are ranking the different iterations of the Joker character. I mean this Joker is intimidating in size and looks. With as much drama there is in this film, it’s surprising how dramatic it is throughout the entire runtime. It seems like they really perfected the form of these animated features with this film, and every film after should aim for this quality. The Red Hood is a key figure and watching this film as a companion to the video game Batman: Arkham Knight would be a real treat.

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Without spoiling any more on an animated feature with a runtime of 75 minutes. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a fantastic Batman one shot and the best DC animated film I’ve seen to date. You MUST check this one out!

Previously Batman: Year One

Robert Ring

The Simpsons: Season 2

It’s fair for people to have been unaware of The Simpsons during its first season, however by its second the show was inescapable. There was merchandising, Butterfinger commercials, a music video, and The Simpsons even appeared at the Emmys that year. The show really had a sense of what it could do in the second season and the potential of what it already had. It didn’t seem like a cartoon anymore, it was now a sitcom that had more to say than any other sitcom on television. This was no longer a show with a core group of characters, what The Simpsons found was that they had a town full of core characters with plenty of stories to tell.

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Season 2 contains twenty-two episodes. Here are the highlights:

Bart Gets an F

I always love the spirt of Christmas episodes on sitcoms, they’re always about a lesson to be learned, and they are at the last moment with a wink of divine intervention. This episode is exactly that minus the Christmas setting. Bart is failing all his classes but doesn’t care until he is told he will need to repeat the school year and fall behind his fellow classmates. It’s an episode that we all relate to as school children. We see Bart actually trying to study and everything is trying to distract him from it. There’s a lot of emotion from Bart this episode that we don’t normally see that sets this one out from the rest in what becomes a rather moving episode.

Bart the Daredevil

If there’s an episode of The Simpsons I can recall being repeated on tv time and time again it’s this one. The Simpsons go to a monster truck rally where there are daredevils pulling wild stunts, which leads Bart on a quest to do the same. Bart keeps upping the danger to appeal to the growing fans he’s gathering, which eventually leads him to an impossible jump across a canyon. It’s at this point we see Bart and Homer’s relationship at its best as Homer is willing to do the jump in place of Bart so he won’t hurt himself. It’s an incredibly heartfelt moment followed by one of the funniest bits of the show to date as Homer misses the jump and tumbles down over and over again down the cliffside.

Itchy & Scratchy & Marge

This episode is striking for the fact that this episode is about Marge fighting for censorship against the violence in Itchy and Scratchy. The moral at the end of the episode is that it doesn’t really work because where do you stop and for her it was when people wanted to rally against the nudity shown on the statue of David. The hypocrisy of this episode comes in the form of next season’s episode Stark Raving Dad when a mental patient calls himself Michael Jackson and Michael Jackson did sing, but because of allegations against the man and having been thirty years since airing the episode has been pulled from broadcast. I’m for the original message of this episode and it’s a great episode that is relevant in today’s culture, but maybe the producers of the show should rewatch it too.

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish

Homer decides to eat everything on the menu at a Sushi bar and unbeknownst to him, he orders a fatal fish that if prepared wrong could kill him. The doctor says he has a day left and we watch Homer deal with his mortality as he makes a checklist of everything he wants to resolve before he dies. It’s a terribly sweet episode that even today feels dire even with the knowledge that he won’t die.

Treehouse of Horror

Most children have probably first experienced the horror genre in the popular Treehouse of Horror segments. This is the first of what became an annual special that shows three spooky tales. At first, these specials are a little jarring because the characters become very different over the course of the episode. The very first segment, for example, has the Simpsons move into a haunted house that tries to get them to murder each other. And in the next segment they are abducted by aliens. This segment is particularly good as the aliens are showing hospitality to the Simpsons, who in turn think they are trying to fatten them up for eating. Finally, the episode ends with a segment recreating the famous Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

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These five episodes are the standouts of season two for me, yet I could go on because Season 2 is jam-packed with so many other great episodes that you may have in here over my own selections. There are a ton of memorable moments like the naked portrait of Mr. Burns, Homer meeting his rich brother, the marriage counseling trip where Homer gives up the legendary fish for Marge, and so much more.

The Simpsons: Season 2 overall is fantastic.

Previously The Simpsons: Season 1

Next time The Simpsons: Season 3

Robert Ring

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

When Breaking Bad ended I thought it was the best we would get for years. Even with so many great shows out there, Breaking Bad is without any rivals. It gave us the landmark for perfection. Nobody wanted the legacy of the show touched or messed with as it could potentially take away from it. But then creator Vince Gilligan shortly after the show’s end decided to make a prequel series that starred one of the favorites from Breakin Bad, with Saul Goodman. Everyone was skeptical about Better Call Saul and for all the right reasons. It seemed as if it would be a cash grab as Breaking Bad in the last couple of years took off and this would be a way to further capitalize on the franchise. It turns out that wasn’t the case. For one, Vince Gilligan could have gone on to do anything he wanted when Breaking Bad ended, and yet he stayed because he had more stories to tell in this realized world he created. When Better Call Saul premiered it was overall positive with some hesitation. The same was said about Breaking Bad when it premiered, and the further the show goes along the bigger the stakes and investments we have towards it. Today, Better Call Saul is heading into its fifth season next year and is servicing the characters in ways we didn’t expect. It’s not more Breaking Bad, but it’s close.

'El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie' film premiere, Arrivals, Regency Village Theatre, Los Angeles, USA - 07 Oct 2019

After the success of Better Call Saul, we were willing to go anywhere Vince Gilligan wants to take us and without question… until he confirms a movie post Breaking Bad. For a show that ended so perfectly, it’s sacrilege to us fans for him to touch it. As the movie nears we make exceptions for the movie if it’s bad, thinking we can just scrub it from our minds. However, when thinking about it the one person who would not want to ruin the magnum opus of a franchise is Vince Gilligan. That being said we know he would only do this if he had a great story to tell, and I’m happy he did.

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El Camino starts us off right where we left off in the finale of Breaking Bad. Walter White has just got his revenge against the men who killed Hank. Walt then saves Jessie. Jessie flees the scene as Walt dies. And here we are. The movie is about watching Jessie get himself away from the manhunt out for him. While Walt may no longer be with us he is still with Jessie. Jessie is using what he learned from Walt to access each problem head-on. Jessie is thinking three steps ahead and what we have with Jessie is still this sense of innocence. That’s something we lost with Walt near the end until he redeemed himself to us in the last episode. A lot of the movie is watching Jessie come up against dead ends and trying to escape. Every time it seems he may be stuck we see a flashback that helps give us context on how Jessie can see a way out. By the end, one may think this is it for Breaking Bad, but we’ve had so many returns to this world that I’m not so sure.

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There are many surprises to be found in El Camino and it keeps you nostalgic in a good way. It doesn’t hurt Breaking Bad whatsoever. If you thought you knew what happened to Jessie when he got in the car at the end of Breaking Bad, you would not have guessed this adventure. It made me so happy to see more Breaking Bad in every possible way.

El Camino is a perfect companion piece to the last episode of Breaking Bad and acts as a bittersweet epilogue to the series. Watch it on Netflix now.

Robert Ring

Fantasia (1940)

Disney made a smash hit with Snow White that gave them the funding to expand their studios and work output. While the profits of the first feature film went straight back into the business the budget of the next animated feature, Pinocchio was double that of Snow White. Sadly Pinocchio would only make back just over half of its budget. It’s clear by the sheer work that was going into these productions that Walt Disney was getting them as near to perfection as possible regardless of the money required. After Pinnochio was a financial failure at the time, it was but a blip on Disney as they had made one of the biggest films before that, and while Pinocchio was made at a loss, it was still a masterpiece. However, it was imperative for Disney to make money on the next animated feature because there were now higher stakes as the studio had moved to a bigger location and employed much more staff.

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Fantasia would have performed better on release if it could get into more theaters. Disney instead required the theaters to upgrade their sound systems to Stereophonic sound for Fantasia to run in them. Basically, it brought sound into modern times, and sound was only rather new in theaters back then. This sounds similar to when James Cameron basically did the same for 3D when Avatar came out and most theaters had a refurbish in at least one cinema to allow for audiences to have a slightly more immersive experience. That’s all Walt wanted, he wanted his films to be seen in the best possible way they could be. For Fantasia, it was to recreate the opera experience in an animated spectacle. Fantasia would also lose money at the time although it did play in select theaters nearly all year round. Between Fantasia and Dumbo, there would be a union strike from inside Disney that could have ended the company completely and would change Walt forever forward.

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To describe Fantasia, for the most part, is to describe a poem. Without knowing the context we draw our own emotions however close or far from the meaning they may be. Overall, what we get is the feeling of a mood. Fantasia has a fascinating opening. Deems Taylor, our narrator, walks forward and gives us a formal introduction to the different types of imagery we are about to watch. That could be music that follows a narrative, or just imagery that comes to the mind like a fever dream without a sense of direction. From here we are given some beautiful images of the orchestra being silhouetted against interchanging colored backgrounds. The music and imagery seamlessly transition to animation and we are carried along without question. There are eight segments that are self-contained and follow along to a piece of music. The most notable is before the midway mark is The Sorceror’s Apprentice, the one where Mickey wears the big sorcerer’s hat and animates a broom to do his chore. It’s still a splendid segment. It was originally the inspiration for Fantasia in the first place as it was created as a Silly Symphony, but came to cost way too much to be profitable in the short format. Now it’s the centerpiece of Fantasia, and the thing that I would say propelled Mickey into the icon he is today.

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Other than The Sorceror’s Apprentice we are treated to amazing visuals that take us to the heavens and to hell, and to the beginning of time itself. A Night on Bald Mountain is rather chilling and would have come across as terrifying on initial release as we watch this massive gargoyle take havoc over a small township. Or seeing dinosaurs brought to life for what must have been the first time on the big screen in the Rite of Spring. The parts of Fantasia that may seem abstract still keep you entertained. With a lengthy two hour duration, you may start to wiggle around in your seat just because it can be draining to move from narrative to narrative every ten minutes or so.

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Fantasia is a hard sell, and I might’ve rathered that we just jumped in without any introduction or understanding of what was to come. It would feel more like a piece of German expressionism then. All those films are still just as stylistic and memorable even after a hundred years. Walt Disney was putting a lot on the line so it must be assumed he didn’t want to alienate anyone what is, for the most part, an expensive experimental film. It’s hard to see how Snow White would have been a risk today, but Fantasia definitely still is, and Walt had plans for a sequel he wanted to start working on soon after. Walt may not have gotten his sequel in his lifetime but nearly sixty years later we would get Fantasia 2000

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Fantasia is not for all. It’s a film that might be more moving watching by yourself on a Sunday afternoon. I liked it and respect it a lot. I know I’ll get something different out of it when I watch it five years from now or twenty.

Previously Pinocchio

Next time The Reluctant Dragon

Robert Ring

Joker

When Joaquin Pheonix turned down the role of Doctor Strange fans were understandably upset, but then it all turned out in the end when Benedict Cumberbatch took the role. The thing is Joaquin Pheonix wouldn’t be able to work within the constraints of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. The character depth we’ve come to find in the MCU films are shallow and fit into archetypes we see all the time. They will never get a fast one over the fans, not really because we can see where the characters are heading. They also wanted to lock Joaquin down for a slate of films within the MCU. So why would he turn down Disney and later choose to do a character in a DC film? Well, Warner Brothers gave him freedom, and what we got is an amazing arthouse film centered around the greatest comic book villain of them all.

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Joker takes place in the seventies as we follow Arthur Fleck, the man who will become the monster we love to hate. Arthur works for a company that rents out clowns, so he will go from holding up a shop sign to cheering up ill children at the hospital. Arthur’s life isn’t much, but he’s satisfied that he’s on the right track as he thinks he’ll become a big stand-up comedian someday. Arthur struggles at connecting with society and tries to emulate others to become more accepted. This is usually due to his affliction for laughing at inappropriate times, he can’t help it and is even carries a medical certification of the fact when in public. After a number of bad turns, he is fired from his job and his life turns to disarray. The city of Gotham seemingly follows these bad beats as Arthur gets knocked down time and time again. While Arthur seems to not be able to gather the spotlight in comedy clubs he finds himself to be an icon for the downbeat that are sick of being treated poorly by Gotham. Arthur becomes like a martyr to Gotham and in his place, Joker is born.

Joker is a fantastic movie. Unsurprisingly, it has also opened the floodgates for media to shred it to bits. Joker is being misunderstood by people who have probably either not seen the film or are fitting it into a narrative that will generate views for their outlet. Joker is not a film that promotes violence, or a film that tries humanizing a monster. Here’s the thing… people are fascinated with monsters. You go to a bookshop and there is half an aisle dedicated to serial killers. People don’t read these books as to how to murder? but instead, we want to know what drove them to it. It’s not always clear what triggers these people to do the things that they do, and yet in a perverse way we are interested. We want to know what made the Joker become the villain of the story? There are also minimal deaths in this movie, way less than any action film. The reason people are holding this one to be so violent is that it feels authentic and resembles our world very closely, even more so than the Nolan films. Like most arthouse films, we are so close to Arthur in every shot that we are intimate with his character so much so that we see how his psychosis morphs into the Joker by the end. This film resembles something like the movie Falling Down with Michael Douglas as we watch over the course of a day his character shifts from a level headed individual to an unstable person on the brink. For these reasons don’t take your children, it’s not a movie for them and it seems that a number of kids are going into this movie.

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After watching Batman: Year One recently, my girlfriend said that this is what she would imagine a Joker: Year One would be and I tend to agree. Joker takes a lot of inspiration from the flashbacks filled within The Killing Joke graphic novel that sees his roots in stand-up comedy and home life. Todd Phillips may have directed Joker, however, it’s Joaquin Pheonix’s movie. You could not have created such a showpiece of what a superhero film could be with just any other actor. At the moment Joaquin Pheonix has a nomination spot for Best Actor in a feature film this year from this performance. And as the year begins to near its end he may keep it, if not win the Oscar. As much as I loved this film I hope it’s a one and done film with Joaquin Pheonix. I hope they do more of these standalone ventures that don’t feel the need to be threaded into a bigger narrative.

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I’m interested to see where everyone falls on Joker once the media blowback settles, like will it be atop of the superhero genre, or fall among the many others in time?

Robert Ring

Highlander

This is certainly one of the great 80s movies in my opinion.

Highlander is very much in the same vein as a vampire film, but more masculine. The difference being that Highlander has swords and Queen (the band). Highlander shows us a world with immortal beings that live through centuries and/or millenniums carrying the appearance of youth. While a stake to the heart won’t kill them a sword that swiftly takes the head will, and the victor will absorb the power of their kill. The immortals are few and far between, they live secretly amongst mortals and seek to take out other immortals because as the famous tagline goes, “There can be only one”. The last one standing is said to effectively be given the power to save the world or destroy it.

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Highlander starts in the present day with our protagonist Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) patiently waiting for a fight with another who has sought him out. The two pull out long swords in an underground parking lot and begin to fight to the death. It’s an absurd scene in the modern world that is filled with guns. But we intercut with the sixteenth century in the Highlands of Scottland. Here we see Connor slain on the battlefield. After some time he comes back to life and his clansmen exile him as they see him to be a devil in disguise. Learning this we understand why the battle in the present is so archaic. Throughout the film, we intercut from the present to the pivotal moments in Connor’s history that help us understand the mythology of the film and the immortals. Like any good vampire film, the hero will fall in love with a mortal and will be forced to outlive them or let them go. Connor also finds a mentor in Ramírez (Sean Connery) that teaches him the way of the immortal. The rest of the film involves Connor being hunted down by an evil immortal that has searched for him across centuries. And the question at the end is who will become the last immortal and win the prize destined to the last of their kind.

Highlander is a standalone film, and given the finale, it has a definitive ending. So it seems bizarre that it became a franchise of feature films, and a television show (with a spin-off show). From what I hear the second Highlander film is one of the worst films ever made, and the third film doesn’t acknowledge the second film’s existence. It has been years since we have had any new Highlander anything. A reboot has been in the pipeline for years now and even Tom Cruise was set to star in it at one point, but for now, it appears to be shelved. Highlander is a story with such great mythology that it could be rebooted into a series of films that could match the biggest franchises. There is so much more that could be fleshed out and expanded that wasn’t initially in the original film. The choreography is pretty dated by today’s standards and that could look amazing today as well as the special effects.

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While the Highlander reboot may be far away there is a whole Highlander universe I’m itching to explore, even if it has some low points. This first film is a seminal fantasy film of good versus evil, and if you haven’t seen it, do so.

Robert Ring