Disney shamelessly plays the cute card here, turning what could be a revealing documentary into something almost painfully adorable. We can't help but smile and sigh all the way through this delightful adventure, even though everything has been bent to make these wild creatures as human as possible. Frankly, this does a huge disservice to the realities of nature. But it does make the film a lot more engaging.
The camera crew traveled to the deepest rainforests of Ivory Coast in West Africa, where they follow a young monkey they name Oscar. He's being raised by his loving mother Isha, who teaches him how to crack nuts, collect berries and mash his fruit. Their clan is led by the aloof but benevolent Freddy, who helps protect them from outside threats. The main danger comes from a neighbouring valley, where the greedy Scar leads his band of thuggish chimps on raids into Freddy's peaceful paradise. And when Isha is killed in one of these attacks, Oscar struggles to fit in with his extended family. With nothing to lose, he turns to Freddy himself, with unexpected results.
There's a genuinely amazing story at the heart of this film: alpha males almost never adopt scruffy under-aged orphans as their own. And the growing bond between Oscar and Freddy is astonishing to watch. But then Oscar is so relentlessly cuddly that he'd probably even melt Scar's heart given half the chance. Unfortunately, the filmmakers paint Scar as pure evil, vilifying him so completely that they actually undermine the law of the jungle. And all of this is further manipulated by Allen's trite narration and an annoyingly obvious score.
Continue reading: Chimpanzee Review
Continuing on its recent arc of solid storylines in its animation and quality visuals, Atlantis is successful in both being a wide-eyed roller-coaster ride for kids and is interesting enough to keep adults from passing out from boredom. The film follows the adventures of Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a bookworm/boiler room attendant/linguistics expert who probably hasn't had a date in years. Milo's grandfather was an explorer looking for Atlantis who knew where to discover the location of the lost city -- in a hidden journal. With the help of eccentric billionaire Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney), the lost journal is recovered, providing new clues to Atlantis's whereabouts. Milo then joins a group of rag-tag explorers -- including a 200-person Navy, enough surplus to take over a small county, and no cute sidekicks -- in the search for the city of Atlantis.
Continue reading: Atlantis: The Lost Empire Review
Though it's still good, pop this Special Edition DVD into your player and you're instantly greeted with a crash of noise. Beauty lets you know right from the start that it is not a subtle film, full of bluster and fire and singing and talking everything. (And everything talking at the top of its lungs.)
Continue reading: Beauty And The Beast (1991) Review
One of Disney's greatest achievements, this is to my knowledge the only animated film to be turned into a Broadway musical. (Beauty and the Beast doesn't count, since that film had prior life outside the Disneyverse.)
The Lion King is primarily memorable because it's not based on a fairy tale or a children's story, and thus avoids the cliches that saddle so many Disney flicks. There's no "love conquers all" message, no moral about how trying hard will make everything come out OK. In fact, for much of its running time, The Lion King says the exact opposite: Hakuna Matata means "no worries," right? It's in the past, so let it go. But The Lion King also tells us that we can learn from the past, that tyrants should be overthrown, and that we should own up to our mistakes in the end.
This also makes The Lion King one of Disney's most adult movies. Though it's rated G, it features numerous scenes of peril and death -- with lion cub Simba orphaned after his uncle kills off his dad to usurp the throne and title of king of the jungle. But that too is part of the famed Circle of Life. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Simba runs off to live in the jungle -- gettin' real, ya know -- stricken with guilt that he (thinks he) killed his father. Eventually he returns home to showdown with evil uncle Scar, who has been ruling the jungle with an iron fist, disrupting the Circle of Life.
The Lion King is one of Disney's last great 2-D creations, with computers aiding in some truly stellar moments such as the wildebeest stampede. Lots of perspective shots and moving cameras make this one of the genre's most film-like movies.
If there's anything annoying about the film, it's the singing, young Simba sounds like a young Michael Jackson. On the new song added to the just-out DVD release of the movie, the atrociously vapid "Morning Report," he sounds like a castrato Michael Jackson. You almost don't want him to succeed, but thankfully, Simba eventually grows up and is replaced, voice-wise, by Matthew Broderick. By way of other extras, there's a whole second disc of goodies, including an extensive selection of making-of footage, a deleted scene or two, an alternate first verse of "Hakuna Matata," a special home theater audio mix (sounds good), and about a bazillion kid-friendly features like games and singalongs.
The Lion King has rightfully spawned one of the most enduring industrial complexes ever to come from an animated cat. Way to go, Disney.
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