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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thoughts on the 2010 Oscars, Disney Animation and What's at Stake...

I might get some heat for this, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I don’t think that Up deserves to be nominated for Best Picture for the Oscars.

Don’t get me wrong, now – it’s a good movie. But honestly, the only thing that I really, truly loved about it was its first ten minutes, where we learn what Carl experienced in his life, explaining why he is such a grumpy old man.

It is incredibly moving, a real tear-jerker…and then, there’s the rest of the movie.
And it’s, well, ok. Not as amazing as the beginning, in my honest opinion. You have this great build-up and you end up with not as big a pay-off.

Copyright Disney/Pixar

Then you look at Beauty and the Beast, the only other animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture, back when there wasn't even a category for feature-length animated films. The movie never drops its momentum…it continues to build, the action really swells, you feel emotionally connected to all of the characters – and the ending makes it feel whole. The music, animation, story and talent were superb and just created an amazing story. Beauty and the Beast truly deserved its nomination.

Copyright Disney

Don’t get me wrong. Up is not a bad movie – it’s cute. But I am just not convinced that it deserves to stand alongside Beauty and the Beast in this category.

If any Pixar film deserved a Best Picture nod, it was WALL-E.

Now there was a spectacular film. Visually astounding (sorry Up fans, but you have to agree that the animation in this film blows Up out of the water), emotionally moving, and social commentary (even though Stanton denies that he intended to do so). The film had Disney heart and intelligence.

Copyright Disney/Pixar

I remember when the Oscars were approaching after the film had been released…there were rumors of WALL-E being nominated for Best Picture. But that didn’t happen.

Maybe it didn’t because The Academy was afraid that it might have actually won.

Here’s my theory: the Academy is using Up as their way of undercutting the argument that there is a strong bias against animated films. “Hey, there’s no way anyone would expect Up to beat Avatar – and no one will remember our history with turning our noses up to animated films!”

It’s no secret that the Oscars can be bogus.

Up is – well - up against some really big films. I’m not fully convinced that Avatar should win, but I think it will.

At least Avatar didn’t end up as a Best Animated Feature Film nominee (as I heard some suggest that it might).

And what about The Princess and the Frog? Won’t it just be a real kick in the Disney jewels if the film doesn’t win for Best Animated Feature Film? Oh sure, the Disney company would not be upset to lose to itself if Up won…but let’s think about the long-term ramifications of all this. The Princess and the Frog was supposed to (hopefully) kick-start the new classic animated Disney Renaissance, much like The Little Mermaid did in its day. Unfortunately, with the economy being what it was/is, while the public still opened its arms to the film, it didn’t get the type of box office numbers the big wigs were hoping for (though I think they need to keep in mind that the film grossed plenty of money in its previews in California and New York, and has done amazingly well in terms of merchandise sales)…and now rumor has it that the Disney company is shying away from princess films (don't believe me? Tell me why marketing decided to change the upcoming Rapunzel film from Rapunzel to Tangled - apparently by eliminating the word "princess," they believe they will attract more men to see the film)...they might be even re-thinking the classic animation revival.

Copyright Disney

That’s the sad truth of all of this, folks. By withholding those ten dollars and instead watching an illegal copy of The Princess and the Frog online, you are potentially killing any hope for classic Disney animation to survive. And then we’ll be stuck in a CG animated world forever, because the Disney Company got the stupid idea that that was what made an animated film popular. They might still have those thoughts, or they might be coming back.

Remember those dark ages when Disney released CG films without the aid of Pixar? Disastrous. The company failed to acknowledge that while Pixar had a unique look, it also stuck to great story-telling. And while I have criticized Up here, it is also a great illustration of that.

I just really hope that John Lasseter can keep everything in perspective for Disney. And maybe he will re-think trying to “shake up” the Disney Princess formula when it comes to music…but that discussion is for another time. Maybe for a certain upcoming Blu-Ray critique, perhaps?

As for the Oscars, I guess we will see what happens in a couple of days.


Monday, February 1, 2010

A Lovely Dress for Cinderelly!

In case there are any children stumbling upon this blog, I must apologize and/or warn you now of my PG-13 word usage.

Sometimes, there really is not a better word to use. You just need to be honest. I fully believe in honesty (at least, when you choose to express yourself in an artistic medium).

Many of you can probably relate to this at one time or another in your life (especially if you happen to be a female). Women can be, well - bitches, to put it plainly. Backstabbing bitches. And their bad behavior usually is the result of an issue involving competition.

Cinderella wants to go to the ball. It is not a huge request (never mind that she’s a slave in her own house). Even the royal family wants every maiden in the kingdom to attend! But Lady Tremaine, Drizella, and Anastasia know that having Cinderella at the ball would be serious competition (though they would never actually admit it). She is beautiful and graceful, whereas they are just awkward. Luckily for her two brats, the evil Stepmother pretends to play fair and tells Cinderella that if she gets all her chores done and can find something suitable to wear, then she can also attend the ball. Of course, Lady Tremaine knows that she doesn’t have anything suitable to wear – as long as they can give her a lot of busy work to do, she will have no chance to make herself look presentable, and they can get their way.

Even with all the work she has to do, Cinderella is still very hopeful and excited towards the prospect of going to the ball. She quickly grabs her deceased mother’s old dress (most likely one of the few things she inherited at all) and a sewing/fashion book, hoping to make some alterations. It’s only a little old-fashioned, but with just a few tweaks – ah, but there is no time. The brats in the house are screaming for Cinderella to come down and wait on them hand and foot. Resigned, Cinderella determines that her dress “will just have to wait” while she takes care of the monsters downstairs.

Her furry and feathery friends know that those nasty women are not going to give Cinderella a moment’s peace…they have to do something. They owe it to her. She’s always taken care of them and has the biggest heart – why shouldn’t she go to the ball?

Now, let’s remember – this outfit was comprised of Cinderella’s dead mother’s old dress, some minor accents that Drizella and Anastasia deemed worthless, and some spare lace and thread.

The following sequence is, I find, one of the most painful and heart-wrenching things to watch.

Nasty, vicious, cold-hearted bitches.

Just imagine how much that dress meant to her. What if that was the only memory left of her mother? And her best friends, as small they are, went to all that trouble to give her the gift of a night out.

I’m not sure if Cinderella would have dared take the unwanted beads and sash if she had known, but they were unwanted nonetheless.

A lot of people put such an emphasis on Cinderella’s ballgown. Yes, it is beautiful, iconic…princessy. But that pink dress has real emotional value – and God, what a story element! When those nasty girls rip her dress to shreds, there is absolutely no way that you cannot sympathize for this girl.

That dress and her experiences with it represents why I identify with her the most, I think. As a child, I had a hard time fitting in with my classmates…my mother taught me to always be kind and to think of others. As a result, a lot of people have abused my kindness. But I almost always found solace in my mother and pets. Eventually, I went to high school and found more people that I could relate with, and got away from the people I’d been trapped in middle school with for too long…but I still experienced a fair share of Drizellas and Anastasias, especially when I started dating. It is good to remind yourself that eventually your prince will want you over them.

At the end of the day, Cinderella would have been just as happy in her mother’s old dress. And while I think it was important that she ended up getting her own dress to live out her own personal fairy tale, I wish that her Fairy Godmother had also waved her magic wand and put her pink dress back together.