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“You can forget the tears an’ troubles of the world outside. There’s nothin’ but fun and diversion here!”
– King Brian Connors of Knocknasheega
Ah, back to Disney already.
You know, it’s around this weekend every March that’s a treasured time for me and my family; a time where we can gather around and indulge in some of our cultural heritage, maybe enjoy a nice dinner of corned beef and cabbage, all while worshiping a beloved patriarchal saint…
HAPPY SAINT JOSEPH’S DAY!!
What? I’m Italian from my father’s side. While others go out in green, I stay at home and enjoy some nice homemade pastries with my family. It’s not like there’s any other holiday revolving around a saint that involves getting plastered in the name of nationality.
Going back to what I said in my previous review, we’re inundated by so much Disney in the media, particularly from their animated films, that we often forget their value. Just as often, there are great films by Disney that tend to fall by the wayside and be eclipsed by more recent and popular movies.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People is one of them.
Made during Walt Disney’s time, Darby O’Gill, based on the stories by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh, is an amalgamation of Irish folklore and classic Disney moviemaking magic. It’s got that Uncle Walt touch that mixes in a lot of bright, happy moments with plenty of dark, scary ones, as well as some old-fashioned charm emanating from its actors and its production design. There’s a lot of effort put into making you believe you’re in a village among the green hills of Ireland that you forget that it’s filmed in a backlot in sunny California. Plenty of research was done in presenting these classic myths and it shows (there are moments when the actors even speak real ancient Gaelic). And I’ll go into more detail about the special effects once I get to them because for a movie well over fifty years old, they still hold up surprisingly well –
Also, this one of the few live-action Disney movies to have a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%. I don’t normally go to Rotten Tomatoes to judge the quality of a film, but it always warms my heart to see a movie that doesn’t get enough love have such a high score.
And what else can this movie offer to sweeten the deal?
The film opens with a special thanks from Walt Disney to King Brian of the Leprechauns for making his cooperation in making the film. It might seem odd, but remember, this is Walt Disney. He wanted to make his films, as fantastical as they were, seem as real as possible. When filming the Wonderful World of Disney episode meant to promote the film, “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns”, he played up his encounters with King Brian and Darby as an actual event. It might come off as cheesy to some, but that was Walt’s secret; he could make anything seem possible.
Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) is the caretaker of the wealthy Lord Fitzpatrick’s estate, but he’s getting on in years. More often than not, he can found at the pub telling tales of his encounters with the titular little people – better known as leprechauns to us non-Irish folk – rather than hard at work. Darby has a daughter, Katie (Janet Munro), who’s something of the town catch, if not for her sweet girl-next-door looks then for the privilege she has of living on a fine estate. Katie, however, isn’t interested in finding a man just yet, preferring to taking care of the house and her father.
Katie is visited by the Widow Sugrue, a nosy busybody who’s hoping to make a match between Katie and her son Pony. Lord Fitzpatrick pays a surprise visit accompanied by one Michael McBride (Sean Connery) and Katie runs out to find her father. Sure enough, he’s at the local watering hole telling anyone who would listen about meeting the king of the leprechauns himself, Brian Connors.
The movie makes excellent use of perspective shots and angles when it comes to the leprechauns and humans sharing the screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Jackson was influenced by this just a bit when making Lord of the Rings.
In his story, Darby has King Brian cornered in the old Gaelic ruins of Knocknasheega outside of town. Darby, who’s been chasing the fair folk around for a good portion of his life hoping to get some of their fabulous wealth for himself, is one step ahead of Brian when it comes to any tricks he might pull to escape, and insists Brian grant him three wishes before he releases him (because leprechauns and genies are the same thing?)
Brian grants Darby’s wishes for a pot of gold, a long healthy life and a good crop of potatoes that year (because this movie won’t rest until we see almost every Irish stereotype in existence. No, seriously, take a shot every time one pops up throughout the review). And then Brian asks what Darby’s fourth wish will be because apparently he can grant extra wishes if he feels like it. Darby, who’s in a generous mood, asks for some of his neighbors to be given a pot of gold as well. Darby’s gold vanishes before his very eyes, because as Brian says “Three wishes I’ll grant you, big wishes and small, but wish a fourth wish, and you’ll lose them all!” and he disappears.
The people in the pub are enraptured by the story, except for Pony. Pony’s a bullying brute who loves getting drunk at the bar, starting fights to make himself feel more macho, and dismisses this old man’s story as fairy-tale nonsense and WAIT JUST A DARN MINUTE –