Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

Tinkering With The Classics

September 7, 2012

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An Active3D Review: Tinkerbell: Secret of the Wings
Rating: * (out of 5)

Since Uncle Walt went up to that great big DisneyWorld in the sky, his company – like the rest of Hollywood – seems to have lost much of its creative spirit, seeking refuge in the sequel and spin-off market.

Instead of leaving the classic Disney pictures sacrosanct, they’ve mined them for all they’re worth, and, in so doing, have departed from the spirit of those stories and characters.

This latest venture is a gobsmacking example of the above. Tinkerbell, you may remember, didn’t speak in Peter Pan, the tale that gave her character life. Now, she’s not only completely out of Peter Pan’s world, but she speaks like an American teenager, and has undergone a whole character change. She’s apparently veered off in this direction before, but it’s been in direct-to-video releases from which my gaze was spared. Because this is a theatrical 3-D release, however (at least in South Africa, if not necessarily around the globe), I have had to be exposed to this awful, new-generational Tinkerbell. If I had to draw an analogy: compare a quaint mom-and-pop candy store in the countryside, to a sterile, brashly-lit designer clothing store in a mall.

We’re served up a yarn about summer fairies and winter fairies, with the inhabitants of each world being banned from entering one’s another’s turf… And then it takes a soap-opera-esque turn *** SPOILER ALERT *** when we find out that Tinkerbell has a sibling from an illicit affair (it’s couched in more polite terms, but that’s pretty-much what it is).

It’s all too horrible. I kept thinking, “but this isn’t the Tinkerbell that we know and love”. And yet, it persisted, as if to spite me and all my childhood memories. This sorry matter would’ve been a lot more palatable had it been about another fairy; a new character altogether – call her Twinkle-Toes, or whatever. Of course, that still wouldn’t have compensated for the corner-cutting animation that the great Disney would never have condoned, or the lacklustre script – but at least it could’ve been some kind of Saturday morning diversion for mums and tiny daughters. As it stands, it’s little more than three-dimensional sacrilege.

Partially successful; Pixar’s ‘Brave’ new departure

July 29, 2012
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‘Arrow ‘arrow – what’s goin’ on ‘ere?

An Active 3-D review: Brave

Rating: ***½ (out of 5)

This Disney/Pixar adventure is such a departure from what we’ve been seeing from Pixar, that it knocked me completely off-guard. For starters, gone are the smooth, clean, plastic shapes, and clearly delineated edges, of characters such as those in Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Here, it’s gritty and rough – and the setting is grand, sweeping and mountainous. We even have a female director running the show, so this is fresh turf on so many levels.

The story’s set in Scotland during those far-off agrarian times when each of the various clans held sway over its region. Our heroine, the young Princess Merida, whose bountiful, tousled mop of red hair is – I dare guess – a motif for her fiery, independent spirit, lives with her parents (King Fergus and Queen Elinor) and her little triplet brothers. Merida’s voiced – quite appropriately – by Glasgow-born Kelly Macdonald.

Our olden-day-yet-new-age princess discovers early in the tale that she’s about to be married off. It’s tradition, so there’s little room for discussion. Merida’s a self-possessed lass – and, incidentally, a dab hand with a bow and arrow – and she’s not about to be farmed out to the first kilted hopeful who comes along. Therein lies our drama.

Although the Scottish accents have obviously been reigned in, they’re still a tad tough to follow at times, and I’ve always thought that I had quite an ear for Britain’s range of linguistic quirks. (Which led me to wonder how our American cousins have coped…)

I found Brave to be a relentlessly loud film – although that may well be because we previewed the movie at Montecasino’s Il Grande cinema – where the lads were eager to show off their new Dolby Digital 7.1 sound system.

It should be noted that the Disney tag doesn’t automatically mean that the film’s appropriate for the littlies. It has elements that I found to be startlingly dramatic, such as a great big grizzly bear that crops up in the film much as the crocodile had done in the Disney classic, Peter Pan. It could be argued that my formative years established unreasonable expectations within me, but, if I see a bear in a Disney movie, I expect it to be cuddlesome. Yet, by my oath, there’s nothing huggable about this bear (even if one’s embrace could indeed encompass its furry girth). Again, this is quite possibly the ‘fault’ of the wonderful Il Grande cinema, which now boasts an even larger, post-revamp screen. So big screen, big sound, big bear; it definitely doesn’t add up to entertainment for the wee ones, who are bound to be terrified.

For the adults, there’s enough to relish, including the top-notch voice cast, from Billy Connolly (voicing Merida’s mountainous but loveable dad) and Emma Thompson (as the mom, Elinor), to Robbie Coltrane to John Ratzenberger (whose talented tones appear to have become a staple in Pixar productions). Having said that, the film’s feminism is a touch on the strident side, and the disarming charm of the bulk of Pixar’s earlier features is largely absent. I suppose that we can’t always expect Pixar to tick all of the boxes. I believe that this beloved animation studio let the side down with the Cars movies (yes; both of them), and this film, too. It’s undoubtedly entertaining, but it doesn’t punch through as one of the studio’s greats.

In fact, the highlight, for me, was the delightful, European-style Pixar cartoon, La Luna that precedes the feature.

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Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ 3-D

May 20, 2012

An Active 3-D review of the Ster-Kinekor 3-D Blu-ray release.

[An expansion of my review that appeared in the Johannesburg Saturday Star newspaper:]

Movie: *****

Disc set: *** 

“Allow me to waltz you around my newly dimensionalised library…”

The suits who run the show over at Disney are seldom afraid of recycling product, and this fine film has certainly done the rounds, having appeared in standard cinemas, on home video (in numerous formats), and on IMAX screens. Now, with the entrenchment of Digital 3-D on the theatrical scene, the studio’s taken to converting some of their older releases to 3-D for re-release. This movie recently opened on the 3-D cinema circuit in the States, but the option to do so locally was dropped – which is where this 3-D Blu-ray edition really comes into its own.

The story is a jazzed-up version of the original tale by 17th century French author Charles Perrault, and tells of a beautiful young lady who is held captive by a hideous creature, and who learns, in the course of her stay, to recognise the real, inner beauty of others, regardless of their external appearance. Apart from the extra characters that were created to flesh out the story for a feature-length movie, the tale was turned into a musical; and one that was good enough to be parlayed into a hit Broadway musical. Does it work in 3-D? In stiller scenes which involve lots of foreground and background interest, the 3-D is breathtaking. I found the faster-moving sequences not terribly easy on the eye, however. The original film used a mix of traditional 2-D animation and computer-generated backgrounds, and the 3-D process somehow heightens their differentness…

Extras: Some interesting featurettes, including a chat with the composer of the songs, Alan Menken, and a ‘story reel’ of the original visualisation of the first third of the film – which is worlds apart from the finished product. We also get four versions of the film to watch: the original 1991 cinema release, the same version with accompanying behind-the-scenes videos shown “picture-in-picture”, a slightly longer re-release cut, and – obviously – the 3-D edition. Sadly, this boxset still falls a flat in the bonus features department. Given the vast capacity of Blu-ray discs, one would expect Blu-ray releases to carry forward all bonus features from previous DVD releases. This carries some, but not all.

Also, the bonus disc promises the fascinating behind-the-scenes featurette called ‘Beyond Beauty’ (I’ve seen it on DVD) plus another extra or so, on some other “Disc Two” which doesn’t exist. It turns out that this bonus disc is nicked from the two-disc 2-D Blu-ray edition, in which it is Disc One… (Still with me?) A disappointing rush-job, which one doesn’t expect from a normally-meticulous studio such as Disney.

Three Toy Stories – in Three Dimensions

May 20, 2012

[My review that appeared in Johannesburg’s Saturday Star newspaper:]

3-D Nirvana for Toy Story fans!

Disney has recently been converting selected favourites of the last two decades into 3-D, with varying success. When Toy Story 3 was opened in 3-D, it was decided to release its predecessors (now in 3-D!) as a run-up; hence what we’re examining today. Beauty and the Beast and Lion King were combinations of traditional 2-D animation and computer-generated backgrounds, so their conversion to 3-D yielded predictably mixed results. All of the Toy Story movies, however, were entirely created within a three dimensional virtual world, so the process was easier for the techies – and more impressive for the viewer. The films are all separately available in two-disc sets (which include 2-D versions and bonus features). It’s a treat for stereoptiphiles (which is fancy-speak for 3-D fans).

Toy Story (Ster-Kinekor Disney Blu-ray) *****

A pioneer; the first entirely computer-animated feature film, and an astonishing feat which rapidly has us empathising with the challenges and joys of being a child’s toy. It also establishes an ensemble of lovable, quirky characters headed up by Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) the intergalactic cop.

The bonus features offer interesting insights into the development of the lead characters, and how the guys at Disney came to accept the relative autonomy of the newly-formed Pixar team. There are some fun anecdotal shorts, but most the fascinating aspect for me was seeing how much the story’s look-and feel changed from the early days to the completed product.

Toy Story 2 (Ster-Kinekor Disney Blu-ray) ****

As ‘middle child’ of the trilogy, it lacks the originality of the first film and the emotional ‘end of an era’ feeling of the last. It does, however, expand the toys’ social circle by throwing a sassy cowgirl, Jessie (Joan Cusack), and sinister prospector, Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) into the mix. And let’s not forget Al, the sinister toy collector, voiced with aplomb by Wayne Knight (perhaps best known for being Jerry Seinfeld’s nemesis, Newman).

Bonus features include a profile on Pixar head honcho John Lasseter, and a moving tribute to the beloved Pixar staffer Joe Ranft. There are also heaps of other extras, too numerous to detail here, but, if you’re interested in behind the scenes info, the extras packed with first two Toy Story movies won’t leave you wanting!

Toy Story 3 (Ster-Kinekor Disney Blu-ray) *****

This closing chapter asks what any toy would do, had it the sentience to contemplate such existential issues: “What will become of us now that ‘our child’ has grown up?” In doing so, it speaks to the issues of moving forward into adulthood and deserting the magic of our childhood fantasies as much as it addresses the issues of looking back; and of loyalty. Cloaked in grand adventure, it’s actually a five-tissue tear-jerker!
Bonus features are lean in this package, seeing as Pixar’s process has already been so well explained in the earlier discs. They’ve thrown in the Oscar-nominated cartoon, Day & Night, that accompanied the film on its theatrical release, but a big let-down is that it isn’t the original 3-D version.

The Comeback King – in Depth

August 26, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review:
The Lion King 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): ****

I was hardly champing at the bit to see The Lion King again; no matter what format. I’ve seen the 35mm theatrical version, the IMAX version, the DVD version and – twice – the stage show. South African musician Lebo M, who had a minor part to play in the show’s creation, also cast a shadow of disrepute over the stage production when it opened locally… So you could comfortably say that The Lion King was both overplayed and tainted in my eyes.

Then there were my low expectations of the 3-D version. Firstly, its characters existed in 2-D animation format, which presents a largely insurmountable problem, dealt with further down. It’s a lot easier to do a stereoscopic conversion on a movie that was created in a computer graphic environment (such as, say, the Toy Story movies). The reason for this is the characters are already created in 3-D, within a 3-D environment. All that needs to be done (give or take a tweak or two) is to set up a virtual ‘second camera’ alongside the original viewpoint, in order to simulate binocular (or stereoscopic) human vision.

2-D animated characters have hard, cleanly-defined and outlined edges – like cardboard cut-outs – unlike the rounded edges of 3-D-animations. This means that, try as you might, the edges of the characters will always have that cardboard feel about them, and the best that the 3-D conversion team can do is “pull out” certain features such as noses, etc. This visual extrusion, or telescoping, of character’s faces, was a distracting – if expected – element of this revamped rerelease, though I learnt to live with it, in the final analysis… My reservations in that respect were largely overcome by the splendid work that the stereoscopic conversion team has done on the foregrounds and backgrounds, pulling us right into the action.

I remembered anew that this is not a shabby film to start with, and I’ve finally come to appreciate the sweep of its Shakespearian drama. And it’s a good-looking film that looks all the more striking in 3-D splendour. And to think that I had been looking forward to being disappointed!

Good intentions, but Disney dips

April 27, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: MARS NEEDS MOMS 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

Smart tagline; you gotta hand it to them.

The premise is entertaining enough: a young lad, Milo, who lives with his mum, is bratty and lippy. After a heated exchange with his mother (who has bust him for trying to avoid eating his broccoli by feeding it to the family cat) he expresses the wish – as petulant kids often do – that he didn’t have a mom. Unbeknownst to him, however, planet Mars is on a mission to harvest earth moms with good child-rearing skills. It’s a long story, and I’ll leave the film to bore you with those details, but the long and short of it is that the evil Martians abduct his mother that very night. Milo manages to stow away aboard the aliens’ spacecraft, and an adventure is born. Needless to say, the boy will soon regret his harsh words – and prove his love for his mom.

Although it bears the Disney badge, this tale, based upon the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, is the product of a Robert Zemeckis outfit, ImageMovers Digital. And therein lies one of its biggest problems. Mr Zemeckis – much as I’ve loved his movies over the years – appears to be irretrievably welded to a technology known as motion capture, in which actors have computer sensors dotted all over their faces and bodies which inform the behaviour of computer-animated characters. He used the technology in A Christmas Carol, the animated 3-D movie which starred Jim Carrey. In that film, most of the characters appeared squint to me. In this film, emotions and expressions still seem trapped within the rigid, computer-animated faces. If you’re going to depend so heavily on the actual actors for facial expressions and body movements, then for goodness’ sake, just use the actors as they are, and place them, if necessary, within a computer-generated environment – as happens in Tron Legacy and Thor.

The sentiments expressed in the film are noble ones, and are quite appropriate to the Disney brand, but I couldn’t get over the bloodless 50-yard stares of these motion-capture avatars. The technology is honestly not worth pursuing. If you’re going to use sensors to (try and) replicate the facial expressions and body language of the characters, then why not cut out the middle man and use the real thing? The whole point of animation, as I understand it, is to stylise and exaggerate, in such as way as reality can’t. Motion capture technology is merely robbing animators of their powers, and I truly believe that Uncle Walt would be mortified to have his name attached to such endeavours.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

March 20, 2011

No, it isn’t a 3-D remake of the Leone/Eastwood classic (although it’s an interesting idea!). I’m talking, rather, about three recent releases on the 3-D theatrical circuit.

Ideally, I’d end with the best, last – but if we are to follow the headline I’ve set myself, then first up will have to be…

THE GOOD:

As far as we know, Disney didn't do any marketing tie-ins with hair strengthening products for the release of TANGLED. Talk about a missed opportunity...

TANGLED 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): * * *

Disney revisits ‘Rapunzel’ – and adds numerous plot elements, in order to stretch a slender story’s running time to that of a feature film.

We’ve been told (although we don’t necessarily believe it) that this is to be the last of the Disney “Princess movies”, as the markets have apparently dictated that Disney’s primary market is little boys. All this gender nonsense is very silly as far as I’ve concerned, as there is much in this film to delight both genders – and all ages. Romance, action, comedy – and even a “wicked stepmother” role; Mother Gothel. The execution of this character, in terms of its writing, voicing and animation – brings us closer to the horror of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs than we’ve been in a long time.

Although the trailer had given us a taste of the sly, “grown-up” humour we should expect, it had no left no clue of the nastiness we’d be dealt by Mother Gothel! There an issue here that will find a resonance in glamorous Hollywood as much as in humdrum suburbia – and that would be Mother Gothel’s ruthless desperation in her effort to hang onto her youthful looks…

Tangled is a musical, in the tradition of the Disney standards, but not a great one. Yes, it did earn Randy Newman an Oscar for Best Song, but all the nominated songs at this year’s Academy Awards were lacklustre, so it was no great achievement, sad to say. And don’t get me wrong; this blog does indeed recognise Mr Newman’s godliness… on the whole!

[This is a landmark movie in that it’s the 50th animated film to emanate from the Disney studios. Pixar films are excluded from the count as they’re a separate studio, even though they used to be distributed – and are now owned – by Disney.]

Here goes…

THE BAD:

“Step on it, Gramps – if you drive hard, maybe we can whizz past the box office without anyone noticing!”

DRIVE ANGRY 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars):  ½

Nicolas cage appears hell-bent on destroying any kind of respectable reputation that he may have accumulated for a handful of half-decent movies he’s done in the past. And “hell-bent” would be a particularly apt expression in this context, as Cage plays an guy who returns from hell – wait for it; on a motorbike – to avenge his child’s death and simultaneously punish the folks who’ve kidnapped his granddaughter (it’s the same villains, lest we get confused…). I think I’ve said enough. Can I go now?

Oh, but I still have to deal with…

THE UGLY:

"Hopefully this circular saw will dismember me - and spare me the rest of this movie..."

SAW 7 3-D (a.k.a. SAW 3-D)

Rating (out of 5 stars): zero

We’ve been assured that this is the “final chapter” in the ‘Saw’ franchise – which is reason enough to face every new day with a smile.

Whereas the Saw films’ initial outing had some kind of reasoned plot to drive it, this dire affair has the thinnest excuse of a ‘script’ upon which to hang a series of stomach-churningly violent deaths.

I live in South Africa; a country where brutal crimes are committed against innocent people, in their homes, every day. Why would I want to see a film that celebrates violence and cruelty with such relish; a film that reduces human beings to bleeding bags of pulp and guts? I would never advocate censorship, although I like to think that officials in the film companies exercise some discretion over what they distribute. To me, the very notion of releasing such a film into the South African marketplace, is an exercise in inexorable bad taste.

Disney’s 3-D Slate

September 12, 2009
Jim Carrey in Disney's 'A Christmas Carol'

Jim Carrey in Disney's 'A Christmas Carol'

You wanted the most up-to-date listing of Disney’s coming 3-D releases, and we have ’em right here, on the blog for South Africa’s 3-D faithful.

First up is A Christmas Carol, which opens toward the end of the year. Although it’s in 3-D, it features four dimensions of Jim Carrey – i.e. he plays Ebenezer Scrooge in addition to the triad of Yuletide spooks.

Some will moan that this is overindulgence on the part of Carrey, but I would argue that the three Ghosts of Christmas are actually projections of the Scrooge character – or parallel-universe possibilities of the same man, to express it in another way. It therefore makes absolute sense that one actor should play Scrooge and all of the ghosts. (And, given the current economic climate, I daresay that the studio saved millions in additional star salaries…)

Then, early in 2010, the original Toy Story and its sequel are being released in 3-D reincarnations. That way, the studio gets to milk even more box office out of titles that have already been fat cash cows on both theatrical and DVD release. These stereoptifications will further serve as a teaser for Toy Story 3, which opens shortly thereafter – in 3-D, of course. Would I miss any of these screenings? Don’t be daft!

Due to open here early in April, Disney’s 2010 take on Lewis Carroll’s trippy classic, Alice in Wonderland: 3-D, directed by Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee and Timothy Spall. If that doesn’t sound like cinematic Nirvana to you, I’m afraid you’ve probably been watching too many WWF reruns to recognise a good thing…

The splendid Beauty and the Beast (arguably one of the best Disney animated movies to be made after Uncle Walt’s passing), underwent an image format conversion for its IMAX release a few years ago, and is now also being revamped for Digital 3-D release. For that happy day, I’ll go out and buy a suit.

In case you’re concerned about the possibility of the hallowed art of Disney-style ‘cel animation’ perishing in this brave (yet counter-traditional) new digital age, fear no more. For the past few decades, Uncle Walt’s nephew (and Disney Vice Chairman) Roy Disney, has fought off the “modernisers” by insisting upon the preservation of his uncle’s style of animation. More recently, Pixar/Disney’s Big Guy John Lasseter has added his considerable muscle to this lobby.

The result of their campaigning can be witnessed in Disney’s new 2-D, “hand-animated” film, The Princess and the Frog, which releases in SA on January 29th 2010. (Yes, this is a blog for the 3-D geek, but I’m a Disney devotee, so I trust that you’ll pardon this small digression…)

Those who enjoyed the Pixar title Cars will have to wait until 2012 until they can clamp eyes on the sequel, which will be in 3-D, of course. And finally, fans of the sci-fi author Philip K Dick (whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? inspired Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner), are busting a spleen in anticipation of Disney’s King of the Elves. It will be a good two years-plus before they can sample the Disney Studio’s adaptation of this short story of Dick’s.

Disney 3-D Slate with Anticipated South African Release Dates:

A Christmas Carol 3-D – November 6th 2009

Toy Story: 3-D (The original, reworked into 3D) – January 1st to February 26th 2010 [Updated September 16th 2009]

Toy Story 2: 3-D (The original, reworked into 3D) – January 15th to March 12th 2010 [Updated September 16th 2009]

Alice in Wonderland3-D – March 5th to April 2nd 2010

Beauty and the Beast3-D – May 28th [* This release date has been put on hold by the Disney organisation.  I’m pretty sure that the movie will still be released – just no longer sure when, at this stage… *]

Toy Story 3: 3-D : 3-D– August 6th 2010 [Updated September 16th 2009]

Rapunzel: 3-D – November 26th 2010 [Updated September 16th 2009]

Tron: Legacy3-D – December 17th 2010 [This title added September 16th 2009]

Newt3-D – Winter 2011

The Bear and the Bow3-D – December 2011/January 2012

Cars 23-D – Winter 2012

King of Elves3-D – December 2012/January 2013

‘Yellow Submarine’ to Resurface in 3-D

September 5, 2009

Yellow SubmarineRobert “Back to the Future”  Zemeckis is currently engaging with the folks at Disney regarding a 3-D remake of The Beatles’ animated psychedelic fantasy, Yellow Submarine .

It doesn’t sound like the worst of ideas, given that the story’s trippy nature is ideally suited to the medium of 3-D. One can only hope, however, that the original’s Swingin’ Sixties graphic style is preserved. If they go for a completely different look-and-feel, then why not go for a different story and band altogether? (Were Tim Burton, for example, to make an animated musical featuring a British band’s music, it wouldn’t surprise us if he chose The Smiths…)

Zemeckis is one of the prominent poster-boys of the current 3-D revival, and this feature will be his fourth crack at 3-D; his first having been 2004’s The Polar Express, which we didn’t see locally in 3-D as the 3-D version was only released in a handful of IMAX 3-D venues around the world.

The popular director’s second 3-D movie was the dreadful Beowulf, which we had the dubious honour of catching at local 3-D theatres. Zemeckis’s third 3-D effort is the Jim Carrey vehicle, A Christmas Carol, which opens in 3-D (and 2-D, for those who care) on November 6th 2009 – in the US, UK and SA simultaneously.

The producers are hoping that their Yellow Submarine remake will be ready to open in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Don’t get me started on the projects (a rapid rail system in particular) that the South African government promised to have ready and in place in time for the 2010 World Soccer cup in South Africa. A Hollywood studio, however, I’m more likely to believe than a bunch of bloated politicos…

‘Up’ Due to Land in SA

September 3, 2009

up-3d stillI’ve just seen Disney/Pixar’s ‘Up’ in 3-D (it opens in SA on September 11th). Bearing in mind that it’s easy to be disappointed with anything that’s seen this much hype, I was absolutely blown away.

Pixar has hit us with all the goods: we have high adventure, dastardly villains, cliffhanging suspense (often quite literally so), frantic comedy – and, most importantly, moments of drama that are so moving that only the coldest of hearts will fail to be moved.

The 3-D effects are interestingly quite underplayed – to the degree that I frequently forgot that I was watching a 3-D movie. Undoubtedly, the 3-D brings with it the underlying psychological effect of added realism – without resorting to showy, in-your-face effects.

The scriptwriters dealt with subjects – such as death – that aren’t frequently visited in Disney movies. As such, its one of the more “adult” family movies on the block.

I might be shot down by my peers for calling it “uplifting“, but it’s just that – one of the most sublime cinematic experiences you’ll have this year!