Category Archives: Film

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

This past December, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs turned 80. On December 21, 1937 the world was introduced to feature-length animation. Well, maybe not the world since that date was just the premiere. It wasn’t until February 4, 1938 that the rest of the United States was introduced to the picture. The film was behest by production delays and budgeting concerns and the mood was that this would be Disney’s greatest failure before it arrived. That wasn’t the case, and it’s a good thing because had Snow White failed we likely would not have the many subsequent pictures, or maybe even a Disney. This post should have ran in December, but since I was elbow-deep in Christmas I sat on it until now, timing it with the picture’s wide release. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a remarkable achievement and a film worth celebrating any day, but especially so when it turns 80.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had to be a special film in order to justify the need for an extended running time. Prior to its release, cartoons were relegated to the pre-show, if you will. Theaters would run a Mickey Mouse or Betty Boop or some other toon before a picture along with news reels and other pieces of film. Since there was less competition from other past times, a trip to the movie theater was practically an all day affair as opposed to modern times when movie-goers are left griping that a cartoon short is too long. In order to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs stand out, Disney naturally injected a huge amount of cash into the production. Live footage was recorded to animate over, numerous backgrounds were painted in lovingly detail, and a new camera technique even had to be invented. The Multiplane camera is a massive structure that basically separates three backgrounds at three different distances from the camera. This creates a literal foreground, middle-ground, and background for a given scene and the camera can zoom or pan on the image creating an illusion of depth. It’s on display right at the beginning of the film and it’s a fun little trick that would be utilized for basically all of Disney’s animated films to come.

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The Queen approaches her magic mirror.

Originally, Walt Disney thought he could produce the film for around $250,000. That’s a tiny sum by today’s standards, but in the 1930’s a typical Silly Symphony cartoon cost about $25,000 to produce. Disney must have assumed the feature would be ten times as long and cost ten times as much money as a result. If that was his reasoning, he failed to account for all of improvements he wanted to make to the process as the picture ended up costing around 1.5 million dollars. That was a rather colossal sum at the time, especially for a cartoon few thought would be a success, including brother Roy and wife Lillian. Disney had to mortgage his own home and most likely put up every piece of collateral he could to get the picture made. It was a gamble, but it paid off since what makes the film so special is the production values which help to cover a fairly pedestrian story.

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Young Snow White will spend quite a bit of time socializing with the various animals of the forest.


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
basically establishes the template for the Disney “Princess Movie.” A kind and good-natured young woman is made the target of a ruthless villainess through no fault of her own. This young woman, either a princess or soon to be, then just sort of lets everything happen around her hoping against hope that a prince will come to her rescue and take her away to live happily ever after. It’s a common setup for fairy tales and it’s a pattern that will be reused in both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty years down the road. Of the three, Snow White is the one that follows it most closely. When the film begins, we find out that Snow White has lost her parents and is left with only her cruel step-mother, the Queen Grimhilde (Lucille La Verne). Despite being a princess, she’s forced to tend to the castle like a commoner while her jealous step-mother looks on concerned that Snow White’s beauty will soon surpass her own. When her magic mirror on the wall confirms this, the Queen responds with violence and commands her huntsman to lead Snow White into the forest where he is to kill her and return to his queen with the maiden’s heart in a box.

Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) is a happy and contented young woman despite her station in life. I suppose being a servant in a castle is probably better than a peasant, but we are introduced to her washing the castle steps in a tattered dress while she sings a happy song (“I’m Wishing”) to the birds that swarm around her. A dashing prince (Harry Stockwell) hears her song from outside the castle walls, scales them, and surprises her by sneaking up alongside her and joining in her song. Frightened, Snow White retreats into the castle proper disappointing the prince, but a little peak his way lets us know she’s more than a little curious.

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The box intended to hold Snow White’s heart.

Love will have to wait, as the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) leads Snow White off to pick wild flowers where he is to do as his queen commands and end her life. When first confronted by the Queen, he is alarmed at the request and once the moment is upon him he finds he is unable to go through with it. Sobbing, he begs Snow White to flee from the evil woman sending her into a panic. She runs through the forest which takes on a supernatural quality. Trees reach out to her with thorny fingers and hideous visages as she screams and runs this way and that. Her dress gets caught multiple times, she stumbles into a bog, and bats and owls frighten her further. When the animals of the forest come to her aid she reacts with fear once more causing them to flee. Seeing their fear seems to snap her back into reality, and Snow White is soon apologetic and gradually calms down.

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The cautious dwarfs return home to find an intruder in their house.

She walks through the forest which leads her to a little cottage. Inside she finds the place a mess with dust everywhere and dishes piled high in a wash basin. She notices the tiny furniture and the many beds upstairs adorned with silly names like Sneezy and Bashful and deduces this must be the home of some children. She happily cleans and prepares a meal while the many critters assist her. Of course, this home does not belong to children but to the seven dwarfs who are hard at work in a nearby mine harvesting various wonderful gems. They sing their little song as they work, which leads into perhaps the film’s most famous tune, “Heigh-Ho,” as their work day concludes and they set off for home.

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Snow White meets the seven dwarfs.

Upon arrival, they find the house is occupied and they immediately suspect the worst. Doc, the dwarf with glasses, is apparently the leader of the troop but Grumpy is the one with the loudest opinions. Little, beardless Dopey, is apparently the one lacking in wits and he’s encouraged to venture upstairs and see who is sleeping in their beds. He sees Snow White and mistakes her for some kind of monster and the other six dwarfs need little convincing that he did not as they all scamper away in fright. Eventually, they return to the second level and see that the individual resting in their beds is not a monster, but a beautiful young maiden. She awakes to her own surprise that the inhabitants of the castle are not children, but seven dwarfs. The ice is broken almost immediately, and the new friends set in for a night of feasting, laughter, and dance.

Meanwhile, the evil queen knows her huntsman has betrayed her, and utilizing her magic mirror once more, she finds where Snow White is hiding. Turning to her book of spells, she concocts a potion that will disguise her as a hideous old hag and another that will coat an apple in poison. Any who consume a portion of the apple will fall into an eternal slumber. Only love’s first kiss can break the spell, and the Queen dismisses the possibility as soon as she reads it.

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Lots of singing, lots of dancing. This particular sequence will be re-animated numerous times in other productions, most notably in Sleeping Beauty when Aurora dances with the owl.

The rest of the story is likely not foreign to anyone reading this. The dwarfs head off to work the next morning while the Queen finds the cottage and is able to trick Snow White into taking a bite of the poisoned apple. The dwarfs, alerted by the forest critters wise to the Queen’s plan, are too late, but they do successfully chase off the Queen indirectly causing her to meet an untimely end. Unable to bring themselves to bury Snow White, they instead incase her in a glass coffin and stand vigil for many months until her prince eventually finds her and wakens her with a kiss. What convinced a prince to kiss a long-dead maiden is beyond me, but I suppose you can’t argue with results.

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The story is capable of charm especially when the dwarfs all line up for a goodbye kiss before work.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is an achievement not because of its story, but because of its production. The plot is well-paced leading up to and including the introduction of the dwarfs to Snow White. The whole sequence of a frightened group of men tip-toeing through their cottage is a delight and genuinely amusing. Their warming period to Snow White is needed to make their reactions to her eventual “death” convincing, though it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a significant amount of padding at this point of the picture. Not accustomed to creating features, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs falls victim to long stretches of time where nothing really happens. Just seeing characters dance and be merry might have been enough entertainment for a crowd in 1937, but to a modern audience it starts to feel long. Watching the film with young ones at home and this becomes even more obvious as their attention wanders. And yet, the film ends in a some-what rushed fashion reducing the emotional payoff of the moment when Snow White awakens. Despite that though, the dwarfs feel genuine in their remorse when they find Snow White apparently dead. From an emotional standpoint, it’s the film’s highest point as the little men, especially Grumpy, are reduced to tears at the horrible sight.

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The Queen in her witch guise will probably put a little chill in the hearts of viewers even today.

Even 80 years after the fact, the animation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still remarkable to behold. Because live-action actors were utilized to map out the movement of the characters, everything has an elegant flow to it. It’s eerily realistic and the Queen looks especially splendid with her large flowing robes and dramatic movements. As an old hag she creeps along convincingly. If not for her cartoonish nose you’d think it was live footage and not animation. The only limitation of this approach, essentially tracing live footage onto animation cels, is in the facial animations. The small details and realistic proportions for Snow White are difficult to translate to a drawing (hence why so many animated characters have over-sized eyes and mouths) so her mouth kind of “floats” on her face and her eyes sometimes lack any semblance of life to them. The dwarfs, by comparison, have a more cartoonish appearance so they don’t have the same limitations. They mostly have large, bulbous noses and simple, but expressive, eyes. Live footage was tracked for them as well so their movements are not out of place when compared with the more human characters. All of this adds up to create one spectacularly animated film.

The backgrounds in the film are also lovingly crafted. Disney would perhaps learn eventually that not so much detail was required, but considering this was the first feature it’s not surprising they went a little overboard here. Every dusty little nook and cranny of the cottage is created. Wood grain appears on every wooden object and you can even see little hinges and bolts where appropriate. There’s also a nice water effect early in the film from the perspective of the wishing well that Snow White looks into. Such an animation trick is hard to pull off and I can only imagine how breath-taking it was in 1937. The scary forest and the Queen’s laboratory are also exquisitely drawn. In the case of the lab, it’s convincing to believe the Queen has been inhabiting this place for a long time. Her transformation into the old hag is perhaps not as ambitiously animated as it would be if done today, but is still effective and even a bit frightening. I also really enjoyed the little touches, such as a pair of buzzards stalking the old woman seemingly foretelling of her demise. And when she actually convinces Snow White to taste the poisoned apple we experience it through her eyes as she eagerly rubs her hands together and looks upon the girl with hungry eyes. When Snow White collapses, we just see her hand hit the ground by the witch’s feet as the apple rolls away. I don’t know if this was an artistic call or a bit of self-censorship on their part not wanting to show Snow White’s death onscreen, but it’s effective nonetheless.

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The most iconic scene and song from the picture probably belongs to the “Heigh-Ho” sequence.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is as much remembered for it’s stellar look as it is for its music. Music and Disney are intertwined and many of the studio’s animated productions are synonymous with their musical numbers. That is certainly the case for Snow White as many tracks have gone on to become celebrated and often associated with the Disney brand:  “Heigh-Ho,” “I’m Wishing,” “Whistle While You Work,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” These songs are all often referenced and sung today by children and adults alike. Though societal attitudes have somewhat tarnished “Someday My Prince Will Come” as this is an easy point of reference when deriding the trope of a young woman simply waiting for a man to come and better her life. A song that has aged just fine though has got to be “Heigh-Ho,” as who hasn’t left work on occasion singing that one to themselves?

Certainly the notion that a “Princess Movie” should seek to empower young women is perhaps the biggest obstacle for an old picture like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to be enjoyed by a modern audience. As an amateur animation historian, I enjoy this picture for the story behind the scenes, the real-world struggle to get it made and the fantastic artistic results. As for the actual story within the film, I do recognize the short-comings of the Snow White character. While it’s not a bad message to encourage unfailing optimism, like a character hoping against hope that their life will improve if they stay the course and be a good person, it is a bit unfortunate to see a young woman simply rely on a prince to carry them off to the happily ever after. I suppose it would have been nice to see more resolve from the title character. Instead of running off like a frightened child she could have shown some determination or maybe even fought off her attacker. The short run time necessitates a hastening of the romance in basically all of these films, so that part I can forgive. As a “Princess Move” though, Snow White is guilty of many of that genre’s sins. When compared with Disney’s other films, I’d probably slide the character ahead of the rather boring Aurora, but behind Cinderella who is at least more sympathetic given her relationship with her step-mother is explored in greater depth than what we have here.

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Given the film’s historical significance, it hardly comes as a surprise that the characters can still be found at the various Disney parks around the world.

Given that there are numerous “Princess Movies” to show your sons and daughters, I don’t think the message contained within Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is particularly damaging or anything. Today’s kids can find better role models in modern pictures, but I also personally doubt many would seek to truly emulate the characters here because they’re fairly shallow. The dwarfs are the real stars are they’re consistently funny and charming and the Queen is memorable for being scary and cruel sure to leave a mark on a young child. Snow White, by comparison, is a bit boring and her look and even singing are some-what dated and not likely as captivating as modern characters. If your child prefers her to Elsa then consider me surprised. Because the film is a bit slow for children, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs feels more like a picture that will entertain adults more than children, especially if the audience is just looking to drink-in the glorious animation. As the first feature-length animated production in the US, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is definitely worthy. Even with a pedestrian story, it looks fantastic and stands the test of time as a result. I imagine that when production began way back in 1934, that’s exactly what Walt Disney hoped to accomplish. Well done, Mr. Disney.

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Dec. 11 – Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas

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November 1997

So this one is a little different. Basically all of the entries up until now have been for television specials and cartoon shorts. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is a feature-length direct-to-video Christmas special based on Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. It’s sort of confusing to describe, because I guess you would call it a midquel (assuming that’s a real word), but it’s also a sequel since the events of the film are told via a flashback. See how that can get confusing? Anyways, I’ve mostly been running through the plots of these specials scene by scene, but doing so for a feature would take quite awhile, even though it’s admittedly a pretty short sequel since it only runs about 71 minutes, so I’ll try to be brief here, but probably won’t succeed.

The Enchanted Christmas was released in November of 1997 and is yet another direct-to-video film based on a popular animated one. Disney was churning these things out left and right during the 90s until John Lasseter was hired to oversee all of Disney’s animation and basically put an end to them. They’re mostly terrible and do nothing to enhance the value of the original films that spawned them. They’re basically cash grabs meant to capitalize on the popularity of those films without sinking in the capital required to make a legitimate sequel. They did more harm than good to both the Disney brand and the original films, and I honestly haven’t seen one that I consider good, though I admittedly haven’t seen many of them because of their subpar reputation.

As you may have guessed, The Enchanted Christmas is no exception. I did enter into this thing expecting the worst, and I can at least say my expectations were not met. This film isn’t terrible. On its own, its a serviceable piece of entertainment. It would probably be more fondly remembered if it had just been a television Christmas special rather than something you actually had to spend money on to either purchase or rent (and these videos usually weren’t any cheaper than the released to theaters features) in order to view.

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Belle and The Beast get to enjoy a nice moment early in this one, but some meddlesome instruments mess it all up.

The Enchanted Christmas opens with the characters from the film preparing for Christmas. They’re human, so we know this is occurring after the events of the movie. They start talking about the previous Christmas, which is what sets up Mrs. Potts to tell us about the Christmas that almost wasn’t. Now we’re back in time and everyone is enchanted as household objects. Belle is imprisoned in the castle following her escape attempt and The Beast is somewhere licking his wounds. The main chunk of the movie is going to take place in this window, or essentially the montage from the original film in which Belle grows accustomed to The Beast and they have a snowball fight and it all leads to the ballroom sequence. The main plot of this story is Christmas is coming and Belle is a bit excited about it. The servants of the castle also view her enthusiasm for the holiday and the general good vibes it typically brings about as an opportunity to perhaps bring Belle and Beast closer. The problem is that the curse they’re all under was apparently inflicted upon The Beast and his subjects during the Christmas season, so Beast has a hatred for the holiday as a result. It’s a convoluted setup for a film, but in the end it’s a pretty conventional setup for a Christmas special.

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This is Forte and he looks pretty terrible, but with Tim Curry’s voice at least he sounds good.

Surprisingly, basically everyone from the film has returned to voice their character for this. I’m not sure if they were contractually obligated to, but at least Disney was willing to spend money to make the characters sound the way they’re supposed to. There are some newcomers, of course, and one of them is unveiled early. Tim Curry is the voice of Forte, a large organ in the bowels of the castle. He apparently is a trusted advisor for The Beast and someone he confides in alone, making it at least somewhat believable that he could have existed during the events of the original film without our knowing. Forte is actually quite content as an organ since he’s essentially immortal. He doesn’t need to eat, or sleep, and is free to compose his music for as long as he pleases. Since he likes being this way, he has a vested interest in keeping The Beast from falling in love with Belle. He also has an assistant named Fife, a piccolo voiced by Paul Reubens. We’ll also be introduced to Angelique, the former castle decorator who was turned into a Christmas angel decoration and Axe, who works in the boiler room.

The gist of the movie is Belle trying to bring Christmas to the castle, and something preventing that from happening. Fife works for Forte because Forte promised him a solo in an opera he’s written. It seems like a pretty silly incentive, but I guess when you’re a literal musical instrument something like that sounds promising. He’s so eager that he interrupts Belle and Beast when they’re having a little moment while ice skating. He basically serves as Forte’s eyes and ears since Forte is immobile in his present form. Meanwhile, Belle sets out to decorate the castle, only for The Beast to intercede and forbid it.

Belle’s machinations lead her to finding Angelique among the castle’s Christmas decorations. Angelique is convinced that The Beast’s foul mood and general pessimism towards Christmas won’t end well and does not wish to participate. She’s also a bit glum, since being a Christmas decoration, she’s not really free to roam the castle either because she’s out of season or because The Beast hates Christmas – I’m not sure which is the reason. Belle uses her gift of song to raise Angelique’s spirits and gets her to come around to the whole Christmas idea allowing this feature to at least pretend that it’s a typical Disney movie.

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Angelique, who as a Christmas decoration is apparently banished from sight until December, or at least until after Halloween.

Fife lets Forte know what Belle is planning, and he basically uses that info to further drive a wedge between she and The Beast. He tells Beast that Belle doesn’t care how Christmas makes him feel, only how it will make her feel and trys to play it off as Belle being selfish. It works too as we find out Beast is pretty easily swayed. This sets up a nasty confrontation between Belle and The Beast when she tries to secure a Yule log from Axe. She explains to Beast that everyone is to place their hand on the log and make a Christmas wish, to which The Beast mocks her by asking what her wish was last year, because it certainly could not have come true for her to be where she is now.

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The little guy next to Chip is Fife, who is voiced by Paul Reubens.

Like most Christmas stories, a heartfelt gift is a way to thaw a frozen heart. Belle creates a book for Beast, and even though he’s put a wrench in her plans, she still gives it to him. When Beast is alone with Lumiere he ponders opening it, but the candlestick man says he can’t open it until Christmas, but does remind him that people typically make gifts for others they care about. This gets through to Beast, and he returns to Forte to command him to write a song for Belle as a gift. Forte is not surprisingly pretty irritated at this request, but he goes along with it and starts playing an enchanting melody. It gets the attention of Belle who comes into the room to check it out. Prior to this, she was talking about getting a Christmas tree, and Forte preys on that by telling her where to go for a tree:  The Black Forrest. Now, Belle is apparently none too bright because that sounds like a pretty ominous place to venture. Of course, Forte is setting her up, and Belle plays right into it.

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I bet you can’t guess which one is Axe.

To my surprise though, The Black Forrest isn’t so bad. All Forte wants is for Belle to break her promise to never leave the castle. Following that whole wolf attack in the first film, it sounds like a sensible idea anyways. Once Belle sets off with Chip and Axe, Forte brings her absence to the attention of The Beast which just sets him off. He destroys the Christmas decorations in the main hall and races off to bring her back. Before he gets there, Belle and her horse Philippe fall through some ice after Fife startles the horse. The Beast arrives in time to save her, but that doesn’t spare her from the dungeon.

Angelique visits Belle during her incarceration in the dungeon. She admits that she was wrong to deny Christmas and gives us our first lesson of the holiday:  Christmas isn’t about fancy decorations and gifts, it’s about being with those you love. They resolve to have the best Christmas they can, given the circumstances. Beast, after being told to destroy the rose by Forte and give up on being human again, finds himself alone with the enchanted rose and watches as another petal falls and lands on his gift from Belle. Opening it, his heart grows three sizes that day and the true meaning of Christmas enters his soul and The Beast gains the strength of ten Beasts – plus two! Maybe not exactly, but pretty much, and he goes and apologizes to Belle and lets her out.

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Forte, before the enchantment took hold. How did Beast not know this guy was a villain?!

Forte is pretty pissed at this point and decides it’s time to just reduce the castle to rubble. He begins playing as loudly as possible, and since his pipes run through the castle wall he’s capable of really getting the place shaking. Fife finally figures out a solo in some opera for no one probably isn’t a good enough reason to allow a bunch of people to die, and he gets The Beast. When The Beast enters the room he’s not really sure what to do, but Fife instructs him to destroy the keyboard on Forte. In doing so, Forte is unable to continue playing and he gets destroyed. The Beast mourns him a bit, but who’s going to let such a thing stop them from having a good Christmas? Certainly not The Beast! We jump back to the present and everyone seems happy to have relived those events through story and Belle receives a single rose from The Prince as a gift. She seems happy to have it, though I personally think he could do better.

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Beast’s showdown with Forte is very…green.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is okay. I’ve seen worse. It kind of retreads a lot of tropes from Christmas specials that came before it. As a midquel, it does okay at fitting the story into the events of the movie. We can kind of believe that the story could have taken place without some of these extra characters showing up. It would have been nice if instead of creating new characters like Fife and Angelique if they could have just given a voice to a background character from the film, but I can’t say it really bothers me much. The animation is obviously not on par with the original film, and Forte is animated using some rather crude CGi. This is that era of film making where CGi was new and exciting and being shoe-horned into traditional animation even though it looks way out of place. Forte isn’t the worst instance of this sort of thing, but he doesn’t look good. Tim Curry gives a nice performance though, and I actually enjoyed the concept of Forte more than I expected. He works as a villain, just not as a visual. Had he been animated in the same style as the others he would have been all the better for it. The new songs are not memorable though, and it’s a major drop from the original film.

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And a merry Christmas was had by all! The end.

If you want to see this film you’re best bet is to just go out and get it. It went out of print for a little while, but I started seeing it show up at retail last year probably to capitalize on the excitement over the forthcoming live action film. My guess is that Disney probably prints off a few this year as well to sell at Christmas and that’s that. Whether or not you encounter a copy “in the wild” might be a matter of luck, but online retailers are likely to have some stock and it’s available digitally too. For a little while, it was a bit pricey on the second hand market, but that seems to have come down. I’ve never seen this film shown on television, and since most of these sequels, prequels, and midquels are kind of regarded as Disney’s dirty little secrets it’s probable that the studio likes to distance itself from them and not air them on television. Or they actually sell well enough on their own at retail and they don’t want to diminish that return (and this one has made a ton of money for Disney, reportedly almost $200 million). If you choose not to watch it though this holiday season you probably won’t be missing much. This basically exists for those who really adore the original film to the point that they don’t care about the quality of the story here, they just want a chance to spend some time with these characters once again.


Dec. 6 – “Gift Wrapped” starring Tweety Bird

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“Gift Wrapped” (1952)

After yesterday’s rather lengthy write-up, I need something a bit more bite-sized today, so how about a Looney Tunes short? Surprisingly, there really aren’t a lot of Christmas themed Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts out there. Sure there’s a Christmas gag here and there, but usually those are not in cartoons actually taking place on Christmas. Bugs Bunny did have a television Christmas special in the 70s, and Daffy Duck got one decades later, but when it comes to classic shorts the most well known starring a Looney Tunes character is probably “Gift Wrapped.”

“Gift Wrapped” is a Tweety Bird short so naturally it also features Sylvester the cat and Granny. Tweety isn’t one of my favorites as his shorts are almost all interchangeable. Yeah, you could say the same of most of these characters, but his just stuck out the most. In that sense, “Gift Wrapped” isn’t particularly remarkable as a cartoon, but it does take place at Christmas and if you’re only going to watch one Tweety cartoon why not go with the Christmas one?

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If ever your cat eats one of your other pets just give him a firm slap on the butt.

The short opens with a shot of a cozy looking house in the falling snow. A narrator is reciting “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” and Sylvester feels compelled to confirm that there are indeed no mice stirring as he hungrily sits outside a mouse hole. The narration cuts out soon after and it’s Christmas morning. Sylvester comes running down the stairs like a kid all excited to see what Santa brought him. When he unwraps his gift to find a rubber mouse he’s dejected – he wants a real mouse. He soon overhears a small voice singing “Jingle Bells” and notices one of the gifts for Granny is a bird cage with a little yellow canary inside. In a move a little too clever for Sylvester, he re-wraps his gift and switches tags with Granny’s gift.

Granny soon emerges excited for Christmas. She’s a bit puzzled when she opens her gift and finds a rubber mouse, but quickly realizes the tags must have been switched. When she goes to give Sylvester his mouse she finds a contented cat and an empty bird cage, feathers floating in the air. She grabs him and starts smacking him on his rear and out pops Tweety, none too pleased. She dangles some mistletoe over the little bird and tries to get Sylvester to be nice, but it’s a non-starter.

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Yeah, this isn’t going to work. Nice try, Granny.

From here the cartoon becomes a pretty typical Tweety vs Sylvester face-off. Tweety is in his cage and Sylvester is going to try his hardest to get that bird. Sylvester get his hands on the little canary, only to be directed to a Christmas present for him which turns out to be a giant dog. Sylvester tries to use a toy crane to snatch Tweety’s cage, only to accidentally grab Granny instead which earns him a few whacks with a broom. A classic Looney Tunes gag is utilized in which Sylvester cuts a hole in the ceiling to retrieve Tweety’s cage, only for Tweety to hop out and replace himself with a stick of dynamite. The explosion occurs offscreen, and Sylvester quietly lowers the now battered cage back into place before emerging from the ceiling a smoldering wreck. A Sylvester as Native American gag plays out next, only for Tweety to produce a cowboy outfit and pop gun, which wouldn’t you know, ends up firing like a real gun right in Sylvester’s face. Tweety then tries to take a ride on a model train around the Christmas tree, and Sylvester adds additional pieces of track to the train so it drives right in his mouth. The big dog from earlier is waiting though, and once Sylvester eats Tweety the dog eats him forcing Granny to swat the dog until Sylvester pops out, and then do the same to the cat in order to free Tweety.

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Take that, cat!

By now Granny is fed up that none of her pets can get along, especially with it being Christmas! She declares that they will get along and we next see a shot of the three animals from behind as Granny is seated at a piano playing a Christmas tune. The camera eventually circles around and we see over-sized Christmas stamps have been placed over Sylvester and the dog’s mouths while Tweety is free to sing happily. The end!

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It just wouldn’t be a Looney Tunes short if someone didn’t get shot in the face.

As I said, this a pretty straight-forward Tweety cartoon with Sylvester trying different schemes to get the bird, only for Tweety to outsmart him. All the while Tweety is free to break the fourth wall and talk into the camera uttering his typical catch phrases. Granny at least adds a fun dynamic as she gets involved in foiling most of Sylvester’s schemes and the Christmas theme is worked into almost all of the gags in some way. I also appreciate that all of the characters are happy that “Santa came” and no other origin for those gifts is suggested. Lets keep the kids in the dark, right? This is a fun short though, and while I don’t think it measures up to the Disney Christmas shorts from that era it’s still good enough. In the 90s, Cartoon Network could be counted on to play this and other non Looney Tunes Christmas shorts around the holidays, but they basically ditched all of that programming and kicked it on over to Boomerang, which can also no longer be counted on to show these. It used to be readily available on Youtube, but it would seem Warner has cracked down on that practice as I had a hard time finding it there so if you want to watch it I recommend getting the Looney Tunes Golden Collection which has this plus over 300 other cartoons and is usually pretty cheap, like under $40 cheap. There may not be a lot of Christmas cartoons in that set, but how can you go wrong with nearly 400 Looney Tunes cartoons? And you still have time to add it to your list for Santa!


Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Michelangelo

IMG_1679The good thing about NECA’s Michelangelo, the final turtle to be released from their quarter-scale line of action figures based on the 1990 film, is that it’s just like the previous three turtles to be released. The bad thing about it is that it’s just like the previous three turtles to be released.

Let’s start with the good. Mikey is made of the same high quality parts that his brothers are made up of. The paint applications are excellent, the texture of the skin spot-on, and the articulation better than you would expect of a 16″ turtle. He comes with an assortment of extra hands, which are basically identical to what his brothers feature, as well as the customary slice of pizza which fits so much better with Mikey than it does the other three. He has his twin nunchaku which are connected by a pair of nylon ropes to simulate his ‘chuks from the film which did not feature actual chains. He also sports a sublime bag of pork rinds, a unique accessory exclusive to Mikey and another that feels oh so appropriate. His head sculpt, which is naturally the only part of his body different from the others, features a happy expression as opposed to a grim one which also feels appropriate for the character. His wide-eyed gaze makes him look a bit less “alive” than his narrow-eyed brothers, but I wouldn’t trade this head sculpt for another.

Mikey is also just as poseable as the other three, though his choice of weaponry makes finding good poses a little more challenging. The rope between each end of the nunchaku  is pretty short. On the back of his packaging, there’s a picture of him with one end of his nunchaku going over his shoulder so his left hand can grasp it under his arm while his right hand holds the other end. Try as I might, I can’t come close to replicating this pose with my figure. I don’t know if they had to stretch the ropes to pull it off or dislocate the left arm or something. That’s okay though, Mikey isn’t really itching for a fight anyways and I’ve chosen to pose him on my shelf without his weapons at the ready opting instead for pizza and pork rinds.

That’s basically the good stuff. However, there are some flaws with Mikey not really shared by his brothers. For one, he has no holsters for his weapons. There’s a gap between the shell and belt under each arm that they can be wedged into, but in the 1990 film he had holsters on the rear of his shell (they would be moved to under the arm for the sequel) that NECA opted not to include. Curiously, NECA also sent out a promotional image to most retailers featuring Mikey balancing his nunchaku on his finder, but this special piece is not included. Supposedly it’s part of an upcoming set of baby turtles. If that’s the case, the image probably should have been circulated to promote that set and not this figure. However, the thing that bothers me the most about Mikey is his size. Since he uses the same body as his brothers he’s the same height as them as well. In the film, Mikey is noticeably shorter than his brothers and it really stands out to me when he’s posed alongside them. I suppose I could drop him to one knee or try to pose him sitting to hide this fact, but it does bother me, probably more so than it will most people though.

Because of the inaccuracies of this figure, I do feel Michelangelo is probably the worst of the four turtles released. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad figure though. I still think he looks great on his own, and I’d never buy three quarters of the TMNT and not the fourth. I love his head sculpt and I really love that he came with the bag of pork rinds. It’s such a throw-away moment in the film, but for some reason I always loved that scene of Don and Mike avoiding another Leo and Raph confrontation by stuffing pork rinds in their faces.  It also amused me as a kid to see the turtles eating something other than pizza.

This isn’t the end of NECA’s quarter scale line of figures based on the original film. As I mentioned earlier, a set of four baby turtles based on the origin flashback scene is on the way and they’ll also come with a box of pizza in addition to Mikey’s extra piece. I will admit I’m really not interested in that set, so don’t expect a review here. What I am interested in is the Shredder due out sometime next year. He hasn’t been unveiled yet, and NECA isn’t displaying anything at the New York Comic Con so we probably have to wait until Toy Faire to see him. I have high expectations. Another version of Raph is also coming and as far as I can tell it’s a re-release of the figure we have, but with a trench coat, hat, and backpack in addition to his sai. Supposedly, sales of this edition of Raph will determine if NECA goes ahead with a foot soldier figure. I kind of hate it when toy companies do this as it’s basically a lesser form of blackmail, “Re-buy this figure if you want this one. Oh, but he has a new hat!” I would have loved it if NECA had included the coat and hat with the first release, or made it available by itself, but I’m not buying another 100 dollar figure that’s essentially one I already have in the hope that it will lead to a future figure. That and honestly I don’t have much interest in a quarter scale foot solider. I would just want multiples for a small army, but at $99.99 there’s no way I’m buying more than one. So Shredder will likely be the final piece of this line I collect, and that’s fine as I primarily want the four turtles and their arch nemesis. If a Casey Jones comes around I’ll give it some thought.

Donatello was slightly scarce, as was Raph, but it seems NECA has upped their production numbers so a set of the four turtles is not hard to come by. You can find them at various specialty shops online and NECA sells direct through eBay too. And sometimes they even show up at Toys R Us. This is probably the best set of TMNT figures I own, and I own some good ones. I know some out there are holding out for a smaller scale version, but at this large scale I can’t deny they look awesome. I heartily recommend all four, but I understand that at $99.99 MSRP they’re not for everyone. It’s still great to finally have a quartet of turtles based on the original movie as that’s the best they’ve ever looked, in any medium. Don’t sleep on this set.


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray

Batman-Mask-of-the-Phantasm-Blu-rayI’ve written about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on more than one occasion, often in glowing terms. I dubbed it the definitive take on the Batman character for film and ranked it pretty highly on my list of best Batman movies of all time. In addition to that, I did a straight-up review of the film as well. Most of these articles are old by the standards of this blog, but all of those write-ups were based on the DVD release of the film. It’s taken Warner years to finally put this film on Blu Ray, but it’s finally here and I’m going to tell you about it.

Now since I’ve already done an actual review of the film, I’m not going to go into much detail though I did re-read my review and I have some embellishments I can make in order to pad this post out. The Blu Ray itself is what is important for this post. Mask of the Phantasm is a film I always felt would benefit from a high-definition transfer because of all of the deep blacks, particularly in the backgrounds. The DVD release was an old one and not particularly good by the standards of DVD. It was re-released in multi-packs with the direct-to-video Batman films based on the animated series and I don’t know if any of those were handled better than the version I have. As far as the transfer goes, the Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray is a mixed bag. My assumption the blacks would benefit was spot-on. Not only are they rich, but the deep blue of Batman’s cape looks great as well and the animation is nice and fluid. Sadly, there’s some blurring that takes place, particularly early in the film. I’m not sure if it persisted throughout at times and I just became engrossed in the plot or if it was confined to the beginning of the picture. Either way, it’s disappointing the transfer isn’t better.

The other disappointing aspect of the release is the complete lack of special features. The DVD did the same as both only include a standard definition version of the trailer for the film and nothing else. I find it hard to believe the likes of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t interested in doing something for this release, be it a commentary or a short piece on the making of the film. The subpar transfer and lack of special features really makes it feel like Warner cared little about the integrity of this release, which is a shame because it’s a film deserving of more respect.

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What you see is what you get.

And what a film it is! In re-watching it for this write-up I’m just reminded of how well it gets the Batman character. Seeing Bruce’s early years as a vigilante really drives home the tragedy of the Batman character. And I don’t mean the sad origin of Batman, but in how Bruce has given up any chance at a healthy life by committing to being Batman. He’s fighting an un-winnable battle to rid Gotham of crime and foregoing marriage, children, and the simple pleasures of life. He’s unquestionably doing good in the community and helping people, but it’s probably not a fulfilling lifestyle.

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The Joker could have felt tacked-on to give the film a recognizable villain, but his inclusion pays off

The other aspect of this film that really merits praise, because it feels overlooked in light of The Dark Knight, is its depiction of The Joker. The Joker of the cartoon series is somewhat of a cornball. There’s some danger to the character, but standards and practices kind of holds him back. He’s overshadowed by the likes of Mr. Freeze and Two-Face as far as memorable villains go. Instead he’s kind of the old reliable stand-by for Batman as decades of Joker material from the comics means it’s relatively easy to come up with a decent episode. Here we get The Joker that the animated series probably wanted to give us, but couldn’t. He’s still a nut, but so much more menacing. There’s a real tension in his scenes because he feels unpredictable. Is he going to aid a character? Kill him? What’s his endgame? It’s a shame he doesn’t share screen time with a character we as an audience are invested in, instead he’s paired with scum and we don’t mind if Joker opts to murder them. And what more can be said of Mark Hamill’s performance as The Joker? He’ll always be my favorite.

What we have here is a mixed bag, a great film undermined by a mediocre release. Even so, the Blu Ray is an easy recommend for those who do not have the film already, especially if you’re into Batman and you’ve never seen it. It may be a brief experience, but it’s worthwhile. For those like me who already had the DVD, it’s a tougher sell. This strikes me as a release that will be discounted to the ten dollar bin by this time next year, so maybe waiting on it is the right move if you’re not eager to re-watch. If you’re perfectly happy with the DVD then sure, feel free to pass on this one. I don’t feel burned by it, but I do feel like at 19.99 it’s probably five bucks too expensive. Next year is the film’s 25th anniversary so perhaps there’s an outside shot of Warner doing a more robust release, but I kind of doubt it. This is probably all we’ll get with maybe a future two-pack coming along with an HD transfer of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, but I doubt that would feature any additional content aside from the films themselves.


Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.


NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.