Disney Animated Marathon, 2013
So... Halloween, as you can imagine, means a lot to me. But it's also one of the few traditions to have hooked me within the actual 80's itself. I was alive for 7 full years during the decade (my first year of school was 1988) and this is perhaps the only thing I actually remember from it. That and going to Disney World in December, 1989. Sometime around then, my family started paying for The Disney Channel. (Anyone remember when that was a pay channel?) And, sometime around 1990-91, Disney re-aired this special. And... yes, from the intro, I nearly melted. I already had a thing for The Wizard of Oz, decorations, costumes, I loved Halloween and became enamored with dark things. But this special truly marked a turning point in my life- it sparked my obsession with creepy, spooky movies.
Thanks to people like Michael Eisner, it was hard to get your hands on a lot of Disney's movies unless your local library had a copy of - for example - The Cat from Outer Space (ours did). And when I saw this special, I wanted to see all the films and shorts in it. You can imagine how that crusade went. So, I wound up putting Disney on the back burner sometime around 1993 when I got brave and wanted to begin watching trash. And I was an extremely naive kid too, so while I kept what I was watching to myself- it never really occurred to me that low budget production values were something people resented. Or that horror was a bit of an under-the-table popular genre. Which is ridiculous- it's every bit as nerdy or strange to rave on for 25 minutes about cyborg assassins, intergalactic space alien battles, bloodthirsty rogue cops, prairie-prowling lone-wolf antiheroes and suave secret agents who treat women like objects to conquer, and extra-terrestrials who live off Coca-Cola and have breakdance parties at McDonalds'. But mention one little movie where a guy in a hockey mask butchers a dozen people- then they look at you funny.
Yes, Disney is responsible for my love of horror. Not alone- I don't think any one source is ever responsible for that. But the more of their films I watched, the more my specific taste was formed. Classic Disney themselves are fundamentally rooted in heady tone and atmosphere. And this compilation paired with the fact that The Disney Channel began acquiring Halloween-themed specials they didn't produce (most dear to my heart: The Worst Witch, fuck you if you don't love that movie) helped in making horror this larger-than-life mythical genre I was convinced was tailor-made for me before I was able to start sinking my teeth into the real thing. It also caused me to place Disney themselves on a pedestal. At this point, my roots with Disney were actually in the live-action canon. After re-watching a good 30 of those this year, hoping for a major rush of magic and fond memories... I can tell you there's a very good reason Disney are typically associated with their animated output: the live-action films suck. There are precious few exceptions (The Love Bug and, in my opinion, The Moon Spinners, Return from Witch Mountain, and The Gnome-Mobile) and all are subject to The Nostalgia Rule. (Which, of course, is that one is likely to mean more to you than the others because it was Your First or your father loved it or similar.) Even Mary Poppins, which everyone knows is the best live-action film.
So, it's always been something that makes me a little proud- that Disney actually care about Halloween. Sure, one could argue that's because it's another cash cow they love to milk. But, as Roseanne proved (another defining moment of my youth...that show's Halloween themed episodes), Halloween is something people care about. Well, it used to be. Until our culture got all Matrix'd and Harry Potter'd and Lord of the Rings'd. It also doesn't help that the horror genre has been pushing for gritty realism since about the time of The Blair Witch Project. Pity they almost never achieve it and cop out to non-characterization, pitifully bad writing, and much self-aggrandizement (among other things). But, we still cared about it in the 90's.
Disney's Halloween Treat isn't the first of the major Disney Halloween specials (there are at least 3 more) but it's the most memorable thanks to an insanely catchy theme song (try getting it out of your head for a week afterward) and title. It also has the wonderful novelty of being hosted by a talking pumpkin on a Van Tassel-like table of party refreshments. That thing spooked me pretty good as a child and became a legend in my memory- I was sure I'd seen it but couldn't prove it to myself. You didn't always see the things you remember (sometimes they're from dreams). But, then, I found this on YouTube and the rest is history. Access to A Disney Halloween is difficult from time to time due to Disney of course removing so much of their shorts that are uploaded to the site. The major difference is that the latter half of the program is hosted by Hans Conried (the voice of Captain Hook from Peter Pan) as the Magic Mirror from Snow White. That's awesome. The structure of the program consists of about 3-4 clips every 10 minutes. Objectively speaking, this special as a whole leaves more than a little to be desired. Some of the most essential clips (such as the Huey, Duey, and Luey short, Trick or Treat) are relegated to filler for the theme song intro. As are The Skeleton Dance and Lonesome Ghosts, although the latter isn't as good as you remember (Trick or Treat, on the other hand, is). The animated films get the most attention, although even there they completely glanced over the scariest villain in their canon- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. If Madam Mim gets a slot here, I see no reason why Alice in Wonderland is ignored entirely. And what about the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence from Dumbo? Or the (lovely and awesome) rip-off "Heffalumps and Woozles" sequence from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day? Or Kaa's skin-crawling "Trust in Me" number from The Jungle Book? Or, the boys turned donkeys in Pinocchio; or Monstro for that matter?
I wouldn't "love" to see the running time eaten up by clips- after all, I could just watch the movies myself but... you know, they had a thing going and they could have done more with it. What I've always wanted to see was more original content interspersed with the clips. There's a ton of stuff the scary pumpkin could have done. They could have treated it like an actual party and had guests- either from Disney productions or from other famous spooky movies. Like, what if Tippi Hedren and Janet Leigh dropped by? Or Anthony Perkins and Vincent Price? Or costumed characters from the theme parks? I know the tradition was that Walt interacted with the animated characters but, barring that, it was a far better idea to do the same with celebrities instead of... what eventually happened: Michael Eisner himself pretending to be "a new" Walt and having skits with the characters. The ego on that sonofabitch. And I'm not even a Walt apologist. This is violating the legacy of the company and the memories of the people who loved the films, shorts, and television shows as much as it's an insult to Walt personally. And just the kind of thing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
As a full 35-40 minute special, the nostalgic fun is going to fit and start: the film clips are best viewed on the Platinum, Anniversary, Diamond, Gold Collection, and Special Edition DVD's, clips from the short cartoons are nice additions if you haven't seen them nearly as many times as 101 Dalmatians or Peter Pan, depending on which you wore out on VHS as a child, but the fun stuff is the hosted segments. And that's sadly fragmented to the point of being jarring when the pumpkin's voice comes back. Also, he narrates over Bing Crosby's narration without the volume being adequately regulated. This is a good idea for a compilation jumping off point but if you know these films as well as I do, you probably want something new. And I love cheese and cheap 80's direct-to-video / direct-to-cable shows, so, the Pumpkin Party was a real missed opportunity.
I've got a rip of that and it brought back a ton of memories, those old Disney clip shows were really awesome.
Yeah, after this one- it's all uphill. My favorite really is...
Well, I'll get to that shortly.
Okay, so: now that I've got myself a copy sitting in front of me, I can tell you the exact differences between Disney's Halloween Treat and A Disney Halloween. Apparently, this was released the year after Treat as a grand expanded edition with a lot more bells and whistles. Though, some segments existing in the earlier special are snipped a bit (Snow White most notably is missing the Hag's demise, Peter Pan chooses a different, shorter, scene to feature, and Mickey's Parrot cuts the bit with Mickey and Pluto scared in bed). (And the clip from Pluto's Sweater featuring Minnie reading a monster book - probably the most interesting thing she ever did - is excised.)
And the narration changes. By that, I mean the actual monologues (most notably the intro to Donald Duck and the Gorilla and the exit line for the "Wizard's duel" clip from Sword in the Stone). But, yeah, the old narrator is gone in favor of That Famous Trailer Guy's voice. I'm going to shoot in the dark and say: Don LaFontaine? This guy. Although, you may also recognize the voice of the guy who narrated Treat. Since A Disney Halloween's narrator did a lot of horror trailers, you might be partial to him but I prefer Treat's guy. (As you can tell, since I'm the one who uploaded those Phantasm radio spots.)
Other than that, old clips are expanded (especially the clips from Fantasia, Trick or Treat, and Lonesome Ghosts) and there's quite a bit of new stuff. No surprise considering this is at least twice the size of Treat. Despite that, sadly, the creepy talking pumpkin is completely cut out except for part of a panning shot. And... unbelievably: the Cruella chase from 101 Dalmatians is missing and all clips from Disney's essential adaptation of Legend of Sleepy Hollow are thrown out entirely. That's cold, Disney. This came so close too to being the definitive Disney Halloween special. I don't know who gave them the same advice I was thinking but they took it to heart.
New clips include a sizeable chunk from The Old Mill, the whole of Winnie the Pooh's "Heffalumps and Woozles," an expanded piece from the Walt-hosted Wonderful World of Color episode "The Great Cat Family," Edgar the butler snatching the kittens and being harrassed by the dogs in The Aristocats, most of the climax from Mickey and the Beanstalk (best viewed in the 1947 feature, Fun and Fancy Free which I will definitely be talking about in detail later), Kaa's "Trust in Me" and partial conversation with Shere Kahn in The Jungle Book, the Queen's transformation in Snow White, a hefty dose of Sleeping Beauty's epic climax, and mini-bits from Cinderella, The Rescuers, Alice in Wonderland, and only a passing mention of Cruella (with insuing clip from the scene where she throws the wine bottle into the fire place).
As you can imagine, this special is a great improvement in most areas over Treat. Yet crippled by what it's missing. Edgar the butler and a shotgun-toting Medusa are great new touches; Kaa, Witch Hazel, and Maleficent are essential; and I'm glad we didn't lose Madam Mim and the Wizard's Duel or the Siamese Cats. But without "Pink Elephants on Parade" and, especially, Bing Crosby's Headless Horseman song and the chase scene right after, it's easier for me to say A Disney Halloween is naked. The Donald Duck short Trick or Treat is every bit as satisfying and timeless (and we finally get to hear that cartoon's actual song and see that final "jump scare" Disney added that makes an idea closer) but shouldn't be serving as a replacement. Let's be greedy and have them both.
At least this special doesn't waste any time. And at 88 minutes, I should be grateful there's so much here. And I am. But with just 28-30 more minutes, I would say there'd finally be room for almost everything that's missing. Including, and this just occured to me, even one Disney wolf villain. There are actually several. In fact, there are so many- picking a definitive one would be hard. There are wolves in The Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf, Lambert the Sheepish Lion, The Sword in the Stone, and at least 2 sequels to Three Little Pigs. There are more, too. Including a clip from Bambi probably wouldn't go over well with parents since it would likely dampen the fun mood but it's always a thought.
There are a host of short cartoons with really creepy imagery. Most importantly- The Skeleton Dance, Haunted House (1929), The Mad Doctor, Babes in the Woods, The Worm Turns, Hell's Bells, and close to a dozen more I'm flaking on. Other film clips might have included the bone-chilling scene in Sleeping Beauty where Aurora in a trance is called to the tower to find the evil spinning wheel, Lampwick's transformation in Pinocchio, Mowgli meeting Shere Kahn in Jungle Book, Lady Tremaine discovering Cinderella was at the royal ball (still one of cinema's all-time scariest stares), Mickey and the zombie-gremlin broom army in Fantasia, and Donald going crazy in Mickey and the Beanstalk (also one of cinema's scariest stares).
And... now I'm done. There's a full version on YouTube and the quality is abysmal as you can imagine. But if you sit far enough away... the possibilities are endless. (Tee hee.)
With Monster Hits, Disney essentially invents a great compromise between the Halloween Treat specials which itself becomes a fool-proof formula: grind the scenes down to images and pair them to pop songs, ala - obviously - MTV. There might be any number of films and shorts that are underrepresented but the use of clips is just brilliant: when Michael Jackson sings "you start to freeze," they cut to a clip of someone on ice turning blue, etc. And if you ever caught the many DTV clips that played on Disney (to all sorts of songs, usually used as filler between stuff like Dumbo's Circus and Welcome to Pooh Corner), you know how clever they were sort of using the clips as visual puns. Including just pairing Lonesome Ghosts, featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as ghostbusters with... yeah, Ray Parker Jr.'s theme to the 1984 mega-blockbuster. Something about this situation almost makes me want to say: could Ramis and co. have been partially inspired by the short?
The song selection is fairly ingenius as well. Potentially somewhat unknown to Disney, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" were famously used in early 80's Universal horror films. Other songs include "Monster Mash" (of course), Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman," Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me," Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," Daryl Hall's "Dreamtime," Pat Benatar's "You Better Run," Spike Jonze's "That Old Black Magic," and Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Also somewhat interesting is the fact that Disney obviously had racked up new movies and shorts in the 4 years between this and Halloween Treat, several of which are included here: The Black Cauldron, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and there's a full promotional clip (hey- home video sales could always use a spiking) for Vincent Price's over-the-top Bond villain kill-trap in The Great Mouse Detective. No music though, when Price's "Goodbye, So Soon" isn't playing.
The host this time around is frequent Tim Burton cast-ee, Jeffrey Jones, doing his best Tim Curry. (Actually, with that in mind... who played Mr. Boogedy?) To show you the PC'ing of our culture began well before the Clinton years, Jones has clearly been instructed to censor the immortal phrase "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," replacing "hell" with "heck." I don't know why- Rockwell sings it in "Somebody's Watching Me" and it passes through. He does a good job, though since he's stepping into the role Hans Conried has played for quite a while following his introduction as the character in Disney's Coke-sponsored 1950 Christmas television promo for Alice in Wonderland, he shouldn't be pressing his luck by agreeing to repeat a gag he did perfectly before: Medusa's bullets ricochet off her walls and pierce his mirror, causing him to get scared and run away.
It's no surprise that this is The best Disney Halloween special. It's a little less cheesy than Treat but every bit as fun as you'd expect. And then some. Not sure if the clips decided not to include anything from Bambi or Dumbo again but there's just so much stuff here and all of it bounces entertainingly off the picturesque lyrics. Jones is a very good replacement for Conried, several sequences just play Disney's music, and finally they restore the missing Bing Crosby number from Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And, hey, the songs just rule. All of them. Your day will be improved 20-fold after watching this, guaranteed.
Wow, great posts. Haven't seen these, but I love Disney stuff like Mr. Boogedy and Child Of Glass.
Yeah- I believe I saw Mr. Boogedy during an '89 re-airing.
Loved it as a kid. (That's all that's important.)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Most of Disney's power, which entirely informs and influences their reputation, comes from a seduction of your senses within their magical fairly tale worlds. So, it's worth noting that as a whole, Snow White is on the weaker end of that scale. There are any number of reasons why. The music isn't quite as trippy, there's no real mystery to the story, the Dwarfs are living out an honest-to-goodness Silly Symphonies routine. That last one is a key fact to bare in mind when discussing this film. As Disney's first, it's proven to have been cemented in history and our culture as one of their finest. However, as their first, it also has the most trouble carving out its own identity. Some people don't even look back at the Silly Symphonies (which makes sense since Disney treated those even worse than the animated features- some of these tin DVD boxsets were only available in wide release for a month or two, then were consigned to skyrocketing prices on eBay and the like) because they regard this film as the perfected version of that formula. I don't blame them. But if you look at what Disney were able to do after this film, I think it's plain as day that an 83-minute longform Silly Symphony is not what we should be hailing as the definitive crowning achievement of such a mammoth creative empire.
Even if it is their most stunningly iconic portrait of lazy wish-fulfillment. Snow White... doesn't do anything. Sure, the Storybook tells us she's been a maid for her Stepmother for a long time before we're introduced but her opening scene is all about proving she's got that diva Princess behavior ingrained into her nature. She barely mops one step before stopping to take a Singing Break, serenading a wishing well, and sending out her Teenage Goddess waves to lure boys to the yard. She's not a maid, she's a proto-Diana. A traveling philanthropist and goodwill ambassador. Well, good for her. But, frankly, I'm not convinced that she's as perfect in practice as she is on-paper. She has a disturbing habit of baby-talking to almost everyone. She didn't spend enough time with the Huntsman but she moves in with the Dwarfs and, just in case you didn't realize it, these are 7 full-fledged adults. Who, apparently, haven't seen a woman in some time... oh, dear. Now, I know what you're thinking, but let me ask you a question first: when exactly did we get the idea that "being a fairy tale" means shying away from adult themes? Most fairy tales do anything but play coy with horrific or taboo concepts. All things considered, Disney are the ones with the reputation for making fairy tales so pillowy- as to soften their dark edges. To the point where their name itself is used as a bad word: Disneyfication.
You can hardly deny that it fits sometimes. In the case of Snow White, the character can't even remain rounded in her own universe. As I hope I've made abundantly clear: it's not right to talk to grown men as though they're children just because they're short. Or, worse still, that Disney runs with this as a gimmick. They don't challenge her, stand up for themselves- they literally act like children because that's... cute, or something. It's surprisingly easy to get used to, I'll admit. Until Dopey wants a kiss. This has an effect similar to Homer in Near Dark: he would seem to be the youngest, so he wants it badder than the others. There's no other way to classify his behavior: he is horny. But the film has no subconscious (that it's willing to own up to) and tries to set it in-line with his other hyper antics. However, she has to remind us that The Movie thinks these adults are children and have her redirect his lip kiss to his forehead. Yeah... neither of these characters are children. Think about it.
The gag nature of the film is what pretty much fluidizes the fantasy. The writing staff should have been cooking up a way to make the Prince more active, yet pretty much nothing changes between here and Cinderella (that's about 15 years of the animators learning how to "believably animate human male figures" yet the Princes still stand around, waiting for the someday their Princesses will come). Oh, except for Brom Bones (his day will come, trust me). So, their work with the Prince here is basically "whatever works." True, this guy looks like a girl but he's still in the story. There's a version of him onscreen and it's the product of a lot of hard work for no effect. You have to admit it's shaky when he just comes in as the story requires him. Much flack as Sleeping Beauty receives (from some) in comparison to this film, you know Prince Phillip had a lot more character and was given a lot more to do (yet, why there's more erotic fanfic art of him and not Brom Bones is beyond me). You can tell there's a lot of proud on the screen in Sleeping Beauty but it's the Prince in Snow White where I can certainly shout "lazy" from the mountaintops and not be busted for it. The more you think about it, the more the whole film has a real "we'll call you when we need you" quality about it. Everything but the villain is a use of phone ordering. (Get your very own Prince in 30 seconds, guaranteed. If he's not hot, he's free.)
The Dwarfs do have their moments (my favorite scene was them coming home and trying to find out who's there and what's happened). But truly, if it weren't for the Evil Queen, this film would be unsalvageable. Much has been written and said about her and most of it's true. I won't bore you with anything more than: her motivation is ridiculous (a familiar trait with most of the Disney villainnesses) but she just fucking owns it. Without her, and the still impressive sequence where Snow White runs frightened into the scary woods (which of course is a series of tricks her mind is playing on her that the film doesn't exactly have the character realize... and if she does, she should be ready to have herself committed: that is a mighty long way to go into the realm of freaking paranoia because she doesn't get the concept of darkness), this film would show just about no promise for the masterworks Disney had up their sleeve in the years (decades) to follow. Though, yeah- the backgrounds are gorgeous. This is what people are really talking about when they put the phrase "quality control" in a same sentence with Disney. You can see just how much trouble this movie has with breaking away from the Symphonies mold when Snow White knocks on a door or a deer kicks a wagon 10 times and the music has to provide corresponding notes paired with the actions. I about damn near rolled my eyes right out of my head.
And, last... but certainly not least... we come to the Elephant in the Room: Snow White is a fucking moron. What makes that statement controversial in Disney fan circles is the shocking revelation that people feel as though her reputation as Pure Sweetness, therefore = Purely Without Flaw is utterly imperative to protect in order to keep some association of themselves (why do I like her if she's so dumb?), Disney's quality (in a world full of bookish academics who don't always love the corporation so much), and the balance of inherent good in the world if we don't all view her on a "do as I say, not as I do" basis. Because: the treating the Dwarfs like kids to their faces thing is sort of the movie's right in its own narrative. The character's latent stupidity doesn't become a pattern until she has a literal parade of Dwarfs warn her about the Queen's powers and instruct her directly: do not let anyone in the house under any circumstances. 5 minutes later, what happens? That Old Queen Hag Peddler is in the frickin' cottage. Which itself is a set-up that endangers SW in all sorts of ways. But why bother stabbing her, making a lot of noise and a mess, when she's so stupid- you can play on her idiotically misplaced sense of trust. Even when she's so put-off by this woman, she's backing up into the friggin' wall cowering.
Snow White's dumbness and the forgiveness afforded to her by Disney fans is something that really should be studied. Its existence in the film alone has so many layers. Like- why is the Old Woman in the cottage to begin with? Because Snow White is too stupid to question why the fucking Forest Animals would attack someone instinctively. Um...the movie's kind of been about how Snow White earns the trust of all who are good on the inside. Yet she can't conceive of why they would do something like this. She's scared by the idea of the Queen killing her enough for her to beg the Dwarfs to let her stay but then she laughs at them and smiles their advice off when they remind her of the danger she's in. A smart move on their parts, considering how dense she's been so far in treating them like children (something I think that betrays the Inherent Goodness defense- like most things, it comes into play only when convenient). But she can only see this gesture for "I'm glad they care about me. I'll be alright though." Then the Hag shows up and she is instantly creeped out. But she's so trusting that she doesn't think. I'm afraid trust is not an unconditional thing. It's not really meant to be an instinct. It's meant to be tested and enriched by experience. It's a lesson to be learned and I'm even more afraid by what we learn thanks to Disney fans blindly accepting her actions in light of how unnatural they are. Even in a fairy tale.
Oh yeah... what's up with Sneezy's Hurricane-force gusts of mouth-blown air?
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