Hey everyone! The newest episode of Escape From Vault Disney is out and I’m on it along with my good friend, avatar artist and Detective Cat creator Charles Moss, and voice actress Rae Harrell! We had a blast looking at the Disney Channel “classic” Phantom of the Megaplex and we hope you enjoy listening to our rambling. Have a listen here, here, here, here, or here. Most of all, stay tuned to the end for a very special announcement!
It’s the 90th anniversary of everyone’s favorite goof. Whether you know him as Dippy Dawg, George Geef, Mickey’s loyal pal, Max’s dorky dad, one of Donald’s many sources of frustration, or just the character you compare to Pluto when debating pants and anthropomorphism, Goofy is the best kind of everyman. He’s adaptable to any situation and a master of physical comedy. Name a sport, and he’s “mastered” it. Name a job and he’s tackled it; his resume is nearly as long as Homer Simpson’s. Goofy’s cartoons have aged the finest out of the Fab Five’s thanks to a healthy dose of slapstick and wry modern commentary. He even survived the move to mundane 50s suburbia with most of his good humor and personality in tact. And like his costars before him, we honor him and his nine decades of goofing it up here today.
The usual rules apply: no bits from films, only short features (but A Goofy Movie would be Number One if that weren’t the case). And while Goofy works just as well on a team as he does solo, this thankfully won’t be another matter of sorting through Mickey cartoons where he steals the spotlight. But before we begin, here are some well-deserved Honorable Mentions:
Goofy and Wilbur – Goofy officially gets his moniker in this charming short where he and his grasshopper pal risk life and limb in the name of fishing.
Victory Vehicles – Goofy and his ilk develop a variety of creative and implausible modes of transportation as a response to the war effort.
How To Be a Sailor – The reason why I barely saw this cartoon growing up is because the ending is one big screw you to the Japanese due to Pearl Harbor. But everything else up to that point is fantastic.
Goofy’s Big Kitty – This Mouse Works short has Goofy confuse an escaped circus lion for his new kitty.
How to Wash Dishes/Be a Waiter – These shorts appear to have misleading titles as they instead show Goofy globetrotting and becoming an actor respectively…but how they circle back to what the titles promise is genius.
How to Play Golf – Playing a good game is easier said than done when an angry bull gets involved.
Baggage Buster – Gags run amok when Goofy is tasked with unloading a magician’s trunk.
Get Rich Quick – Goofy catches the gambling bug; a quick reminder that golden-age animation was created with adults in mind.
Double Dribble – The rules of basketball barely apply when Goofys of varying size are involved.
Fathers Are People/Father’s Day Off/Father’s Weekend/Father’s Lion – Goofy’s first forays into fatherhood come with many pitfalls and pratfalls – and the occasional risqué joke.
The How To Stay At Home shorts – These extra-short shorts were created for Disney Plus in response to the pandemic, but Goofy learning to adapt to these unusual circumstances will make you smile.
Goofy’s Radio – Goofy spends a day in the countryside, oblivious that his radio is the only thing keeping him from being a mountain lion’s lunch.
Teachers Are People – Nothing but respect for good teachers in my house, even though Goofy doesn’t get much of it here.
How To Take Care of Your Yard – Goofy gains a green thumb but destroys his home in the process.
How To Sleep – An insomniac Goofy tries varying methods of getting forty winks when it’s time to actually go to bed. Shockingly relatable.
How To Be A Spy – Paranoid that his neighbor is out to get him, Goofy attempts to master the art of espionage.
How To Be A Rock Star – Goofy pursues stardom in the music world.
How To Camp – This How To short takes an interesting turn when Goofy is abducted by aliens.
A Goofy Movie – How could I not mention this? It’s Goofy as we’ve never seen him before, a fully-developed, compelling character that makes you feel things other than humor.
My introduction to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Match Girl was through a picture book with beautiful illustrations by Rachel Isadora which I discovered in second grade. I was instantly endeared to the poor protagonist and enchanted by the wonders she experienced – though the ending left me in a state of shock. I didn’t know what to make of it. The story fell out of sight and out of mind until the Platinum Edition DVD of The Little Mermaid came out. Packaged with it was a new animated short from Disney retelling the Match Girl’s tale.
There’s an odd bit of animated symmetry this shares with The Little Mermaid: both mark the finale of a time-honored animation method. The Little Mermaid was the last film from Disney to use traditionally inked cels before switching over to the CAPS system. The Little Match Girl, meanwhile, was the final Disney product to use CAPS. While the artistry on display left me in awe each time, I rarely revisited this short on account of how it stayed true to the story. And since Andersen had a penchant for downer endings…you get the idea.
This short is brought to us by Don Hahn and Roger Allers, the producer and director of The Lion King respectively, and anyone who’s seen that movie can verify their ability to leave you a sobbing wreck. The Little Match Girl was supposed to be a part of a Fantasia continuation that was tragically canceled; as such, the story is told solely through the visuals and set to the emotional strains of Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No.2 in D Minor (my fellow theater nerds will also recognize this as the music behind Kismet’s “And This is My Beloved”).
So, are you ready to start off your holidays as a tear-streaked mess on the floor?
The very first review I wrote for this blog was the 2009 animated masterpiece The Secret of Kells, a gorgeous blend of Irish art, fantasy, and history which, incidentally, centers around the growth of a young artist. So what better way to mark this blog’s fifth anniversary than to look at another animated classic that masterfully expands on the themes of creativity, the nature of the artist, their work, and how public perception and greed thwarts the new and experimental?
Oh, and it’s also the first Pixar movie I’m reviewing because somehow I never got around to one in the past five years (so-so holiday specials notwithstanding).
You know, animation directors rarely get the recognition they deserve. A ton of work goes into creating each scene, each character, each frame from scratch, and it’s not surprising that two or more people usually have to share the responsibility of getting the movie out on time. Only a select few animation directors have risen to some prominence outside of their community, but not quite to the level of their live-action peers – with perhaps one exception.
Brad Bird, maybe you’ve heard of him: The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, helped kick off The Simpsons; he even made the jump to live-action and made some pretty good stuff in that medium too. I specifically say medium because, as he so rightfully stated, animation, like live-action, is a medium, a method used to produce artwork, not a genre. There is a distinct difference that studios and the public tend to ignore because of the stigma that animation is meant for children. Animation is a means to tell stories through, not a boxed-in category to dump kids’ movies into.
You’d think Bird’s passion and dedication to crafting mature stories for both adults and children would have made him a shoo-in to direct Ratatouille, especially after his Oscar win for The Incredibles. That wasn’t the case, however. Long-time animator and storyboarder Jan Pinkava got the ball rolling, but was replaced when the the film hit story troubles. Anyone who’s kept an eye on Pixar’s output will undoubtedly note that whenever a director is switched out during production (Brave, The Good Dinosaur, and depending on your POV, Toy Story 4), the resulting features wind up being, well, let’s call them a mixed bag. But in this case, bringing Bird onboard was nothing short of a godsend for Ratatouille. The film may have started as Pinkava’s brainchild, but it was Bird who really got what the story was about. His drastic changes, from redesigning the rats to be less anthropomorphic to even killing off one of the central characters, reinvented the film from the ground up, and got him his second Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
I’m happy to say that at the time this review is being wrapped up, Ratatouille is undergoing something of a critical re-evaluation and renaissance; yes, it was a big hit on release, but there was a long period of time where, despite its overwhelming success, it was something that Pixar itself seemed to have forgotten about. There were no plans for a sequel (unless you count the uproarious short “Your Friend, The Rat”), no TV series, no high demand for a consumer product line, little to no character presence in any of the Disney parks, and it wouldn’t receive a proper ride until 2014; even then, it was added to Disneyland Paris (a clone was set to open in Epcot’s World Showcase last year though it was delayed due to 2020 being…2020). For whatever reason, nobody was interested in talking about it or utilizing its potential like most of Pixar’s other films. That apparently changed as of last year; Maybe the movie gave people that comfort food for the soul they craved during quarantine, or the Kingdom Hearts 3 minigames centering around Remy controlling Sora reminded them how fun it was, or maybe it was the Ratatouille musical meme on TikTok that became so popular that they turned it into an actual musical. But I have to ask, why? Why did Ratatouille fall off the radar for so many in the first place? Well, after poking my nose in a few places, the main consensus I got from people who didn’t believe it rose up to Pixar’s lofty standards was because they considered it “boring”.
Now I try to respect most other’s opinions when it comes to animated movies, but…boring?
Is fast-paced, expressive computer animation that still holds up with what Pixar puts out today boring?
Are colorful, relatable characters in a vibrant reimagining of the City of Lights boring?
Is an original story that shows how creativity can apply to an unlikely field and an even more unlikely creator boring?
Is one of the most iconic actors of the twentieth century delivering the greatest speech about criticism and its relationship to art boring?
If your answer is no, then you’ve come to the right review blog.
A long time ago in Russia, a young Jewish man was on his way to his wedding accompanied by his friends. As they passed by an old tree in the woods, the groom noticed to his amusement a stick poking from the ground that resembled a bony finger clawing its way out of the earth. In jest, the groom placed his wedding ring on the stick and recited his vows to his “wife”, performing the wedding ritual and making his companions roar with laughter. Little did he know that he made a grave error indeed.
The ground began to shake beneath them. A enormous hole opened up, out of it where the stick once lay rose a horrifying corpse! She was little more than a skeleton wrapped in bits of skin and a rotting wedding dress with a spider’s web for a veil. The bride had been murdered on her way to her own wedding years before by anti-Semitic Cossacks. Now that the groom had made his vows to her, she claimed him as her own.
In terror and desperation, the groom and his friends fled to the rabbi for help. Surely the wisest and most learned holy man in the village would know what to do. The groom presented his dilemma (as a hypothetical question, of course), but as the rabbi pondered it, the doors of the synagogue burst open, and there before them stood the corpse bride. Once again she laid claim to the young groom, this time with the whole village – and the groom’s living bride – there to witness it. With the situation blown wide open, the rabbi gathered other rabbis from the surrounding villages to consult with them. The village waited anxiously for their outcome, the groom’s living bride most of all. Finally, the rabbi presented his answer:
“It is true, you have put the ring on the finger of the corpse bride and recited your vows, which constitutes a proper wedding – however, the vows state that you must seek a life together hallowed by faith. Since the bride is already deceased, she has no claim upon the living.”
The groom and his living bride were relieved. The poor corpse bride, on the other hand, wailed and collapsed to the ground in tears. “My last chance at a happy life, gone! My dreams of love and family will never be fulfilled, every thing is lost forever now.” She was a pitiable sight, a heap of bones in a ragged wedding dress sobbing on the floor – yet who should show her compassion but the living bride herself? The young woman knelt and gathered up the corpse bride, holding and comforting her like a mother would a crying child.
“Don’t worry,” she murmured in her ear, “I will live your dreams for you. I will have children in your name, enough for the two of us, and you can rest knowing our children and children’s children will be taken care of and never forget you.” The living bride tenderly carried the corpse bride to the river and dug a grave for her, decorating it with stones and wildflowers, and laid her in there herself. At last, the corpse bride knew peace, and she closed her eyes. The living bride and her groom were married, and she kept her promise to the corpse bride: she had many children, and those children had children, and they always told the story of the corpse bride and the kindness she was shown so she’d never be forgotten.
This is a semi-abridged version of an old Jewish folktale that would have remained in obscurity if it hadn’t reached the late Joe Ranft, storyboard artist for Pixar and a little movie called The Nightmare Before Christmas. He passed it on to his good buddy Tim Burton and big surprise, this rather macabre love story clicked with him. Corpse Bride debuted in 2005, the same year as Burton’s Willy Wonka remake, and it’s safe to say that this my preferred film between the two. Obviously, comparisons between this and the previous Tim Burton stop-motion musical (which he did NOT actually direct, see the opening of my Coraline review) will be inevitable, but Corpse Bride is a fine companion piece to Nightmare in nearly every way.
…Then I watched The Princess and the Scrivener’s video on the film (do check out their channel by the way) where they raised a highly pertinent question. If you’ve seen the movie already, I’m sure you’ve noticed one major difference between this and the story it’s based on:
So because Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride changes the setting of this Russian-Jewish folktale to England and made the characters Christian (as well as taking Burton’s own dodgy history when it comes to diverse casting into account), does that make it guilty of Jewish erasure?
Look, events this past year have made me re-evaluate many of my views and privileges as a white person. I want to be as woke and supportive of as many marginalized voices as possible, and that includes reassessing media I previously assumed was harmless or at least fair for its day. I truly want to see more Jewish characters and stories in mainstream entertainment that aren’t overused stereotypes or victims (the only Jewish movies I can think of that don’t involve the atrocities of World War 2 are Fiddler On The Roof and Yentl). After seeing Scrivener’s video, I sometimes wonder how much more we could have gotten if they kept the film more grounded in its Semitic roots. In fact, wouldn’t there be far more tension and a greater commentary on marrying outside of race, class and religion if they kept Victoria Christian but made Victor Jewish? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a thoughtful, questioning rabbi to counter Pastor Gallswell’s narrow-minded austerity?
That being said, however, I still don’t have much of a problem with the changes made in Corpse Bride. Folktales are meant to be retold with changes naturally evolving through the centuries. Sometimes the true strength in a story lies in how it well it can be told through different ethnic lenses. HBO’s animated series Happily Ever After is excellent in this regard, giving us creative cultural retellings of familiar stories ranging from an Inuit Snow Queen to a Rastafarian Rumpelstiltskin. The fact that so much of the grimness and heart of the original tale remains after its conversion to Christianity is a testament to how well they managed to pull this adaptation off.
There’s a lot to be said about J.K. Rowling, her consistent novel output since 2007, her living below the poverty line despite her level of fame, her absolute devotion to the representation of minorities and the LGBT community, but truly her greatest contribution to the literary world – no, society in general – is the eighteenth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. Where do I begin with it? What do I say that other minds more clever and eloquent than mine haven’t already? It’s exceedingly well-written with so many iconic moments etched into our hearts: the unicorns’ strike, Snape and Professor Grubbly-Plank finally confessing their feelings for each other, the drunken game of Quidditch over Mt. Fuji, Cornelius Fudge discovering the cure for herpes, Dobby marrying his sock collection! And yeah, I liked the goblin musical number! It was witty and a bold departure from the genre! All you musical haters can suck a dragon’s toenail!
If you can’t already tell, I have a lot of strong feelings for this particular entry in the Harry Potter saga. But instead of recapping the entire book, I’m going to do something a little different, possibly even risky. I’ll be reviewing the chapter that defines this whole story and is the crux of Harry’s emotional arc throughout the entire series, Chapter Thirteen: The Handsome One.
Last year I talked about Fantasia, which is not just one of my favorite Disney movies, but one of my favorite movies in general. And if I may be self-indulgent for a moment, it’s also one of the reviews that I’m the proudest of. Fantasia is a visual, emotional masterpiece that marries music and art in a manner few cinematic ventures have come close to replicating. One question that remains is what my thoughts on the long-gestated sequel is –
…you might wanna get yourselves some snacks first.
As anyone who read my review on the previous film knows, Fantasia was a project ahead of its time. Critics and audiences turned their noses up at it for conflicting reasons, and the film didn’t even make it’s budget back until twenty-something years later when they began marketing it to a very different crowd.
“I don’t wanna alarm you dude, but I took in some Fantasia and these mushrooms started dancing, and then there were dinosaurs everywhere and then they all died, but then these demons were flying around my head and I was like WOOOOOAAAHHH!!”
“Yeah, Fantasia is one crazy movie, man.”
Fantasia’s unfortunate box office failure put the kibosh on Walt Disney’s plans to make it a recurring series with new animated shorts made to play alongside handpicked favorites. The closest he came to following through on his vision was Make Mine Music and Melody Time, package features of shorts that drew from modern music more than classical pieces.
Fast-forward nearly fifty years later to the golden age known as the Disney Renaissance: Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney surveys the new crop of animators, storytellers, and artists who are creating hit after hit and have brought the studio back to his uncle’s glory days, and thinks to himself, “Maybe now we can make Uncle Walt’s dream come true.” He made a good case for it, but not everyone was on board. Jeffrey Katzenberg loathed the idea, partly because he felt the original Fantasia was a tough act to follow (not an entirely unreasonable doubt) but most likely due to the fact that the last time Disney made a sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, it drastically underperformed (even though the reasons for that are entirely Katzenberg’s fault. Seriously, watch Waking Sleeping Beauty and tell me you don’t want to punch him in the nose when Mike Gabriel recalls his opening weekend phone call).
Once Katzenberg was out of the picture, though, Fantasia 2000, then saddled with the less dated but duller moniker Fantasia Continued, got the go-ahead. Many of the sequences were made simultaneously as the animated features my generation most fondly remembers, others were created to be standalone shorts before they were brought into the fold. Since it was ready in time for the new millennium, it not only got a name change but a massive marketing campaign around the fact that it would be played on IMAX screens for a limited run, the very first Disney feature to do so. As a young Fantasia fan who had never been to one of those enormous theaters before, I begged and pleaded my parents to take me. Late that January, we traveled over to the IMAX theater at Lincoln Center, the only one nearest to us since they weren’t so widespread as they are now, and what an experience it was. I can still recall the feeling of awe at the climax of Pines of Rome, whispering eagerly with my mom at how the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue looked like a giant Etch-A-Sketch, and jumping twenty feet in the air when the Firebird’s massive eyes popped open. But did later viewings recapture that magic, or did that first time merely color my perception?
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Hold it for three seconds. And as you slowly exhale, say to yourself:
Henry Selick directed Coraline, not Tim Burton.
Henry Selick directed Coraline, not Tim Burton.
HENRY SELICK DIRECTED CORALINE, NOT TIM BURTON.
“Shelf? You got something you want to get off your chest before the review?”
“Yes indeedy do, Cynicism.”
I was waiting in line to meet Neil Gaiman at a Barnes and Noble book signing and a group of people behind me kept parroting a certain widespread falsehood to each other that drives me up a wall. Coraline was Henry Selick’s long-anticipated return to form after Monkeybone, and the film was advertised as being from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas. HOWEVER, since that film tends to have Tim Burton’s name preceding its title, people often assume that he directed it. Ergo, those folks assumed Tim Burton directed Coraline and proceeded to bombard me with facts they pulled out of fat air to back themselves up. Never mind that a two-second glance at Wikipedia on their phones could have cleared all this up. And never mind that by attributing this stunning fantasy-horror masterpiece that Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro wish they could have invented to the wrong man further pushes whom I consider the Chuck Jones of stop-motion animation into undeserved obscurity.
I corrected them on their erroneous assumption and pointed out that the genius we were about to meet would most likely agree with me as he himself has been trying to dispel this notion for the past decade. But they stubbornly refused to listen. No, these idiots, with all the bullheaded conviction of a staunch flat-earther, were determined to prove that Tim Burton really helmed Coralne. After all, what would Neil Gaiman, the man who wrote the book Coraline was based on and handpicked Henry Selick himself to direct the movie, know about it anyway? I quickly gave up and tried to focus on not word vomiting once I finally got to shake hands with my all-time favorite writer. In the end, I walked away with a copy of The Art of Neil Gaiman signed with a very encouraging message from the man himself, and no doubt the losers behind me ended up doing the walk of shame after Gaiman the Mighty lay waste to their narrow minds and dealt their egos an irreparable blow.
Anyways, I love Coraline. I love the animation, I love its creativity, I love most of the characters, I love how it doesn’t cop out when it comes to the scary elements, and I love how this was my introduction to Neil Gaiman’s work and to Laika Animation. As someone who is always eager to support new original animated films, I will forever kick myself for not seeing it in its original theatrical 3D because the visuals, well, they pop.
“In our defense, it was halfway through freshman year of college and we were too busy trying to stay on top of everything. Not to mention something as simple as a trip to the movies could have bankrupted us then.”
There are some beloved movies you watch and think “Why the hell did it take me this long to see this?” I can officially count School of Rock as one of them. I once caught some of it on tv during a babysitting gig that was more long ago than I care to remember, but this was my first time seeing it in full. Like Mean Girls, I’ve heard a lot of the lines before I got around to seeing the movie itself, so it’s interesting to see them in their original context. And of course, it stars Jack Black in the role that made him America’s sweetheart. So let’s get to it!
And no, I have not listened to or seen the musical version yet, so I apologize for not making a lot of comparisons throughout.
That’s a rhetorical question, I know exactly where to start. It all comes back to one man, a man with a vision: to stick it to his former boss.
We meet again, Katzenberg.
There’s a lot of history and tangled truths behind the birth of Shrek, and Jeffrey Katzenberg is at the dead center of it. I was sorely tempted to make this another two-parter like the Black Cauldron review to go into more detail, but I was already running behind schedule with March of the Wooden Soldiers so here’s a slightly condensed version:
Between the disaster that was the making of The Black Cauldron and the glorious premiere of The Lion King, Katzenberg picked up a few tricks when it came to making acclaimed animated features. Then in 1994, Disney CEO Frank Wells was killed in a helicopter accident, and the Magic Kingdom was torn asunder as Michael Eisner took the reins and began his descent into madness. Katzenberg hoped that he would inherit Eisner’s former position of Vice President, but here’s where things get tricky. Katzenberg claims that Eisner fired him when he made his ambitions known; but the way Eisner tells it, Katzenberg was impatient, ungrateful, took way too much credit for the studio’s successes, and left of his own accord. Either way, it was a notoriously bitter separation with deep ramifications for the animation industry. Apparently Disney didn’t learn their lesson with Don Bluth because once again they wound up creating their biggest competitor – and this time, they were here to stay.
Katzenberg teamed up with David Geffen and the one and only Steven Spielberg to create Dreamworks SKG, the first major studio to truly rival Disney when it came to making animated motion pictures. The most important thing to them was to not be like every other feature on the market. For the first few years they flipped between making some great traditionally animated films that have been swept under the rug (Spirit, Sinbad and The Road to El Dorado are enjoying a comfortable cult status online and The Prince of Egypt only just got upgraded to blu-ray last year. Still waiting on that Broadway version, though), and openly trying to one-up their direct competition (when not teaming up Aardman to produce the same but with effort and a soul). Pixar announces their next movie is about ants? Dreamworks comes out the following week and says they’re doing a CGI movie about ants. Pixar says they’re making a film about fish? Dreamworks makes one about fish the following year. They make movies for children of all ages but with A-list actors, no Alan Menken musical numbers, and attituuuuude, dude. And nowhere is that jealousy and vitriol towards Disney more obvious than in what we’re reviewing today.
Shortly after Dreamworks was founded, co-head of the motion pictures division Laurie MacDonald gave Katzenberg a book by esteemed children’s author/illustrator William Steig simply called “Shrek!”; a fractured fairytale where a fire-breathing ogre was the hero, a donkey was his noble steed, and his happily ever after is defeating a valiant knight and marrying a princess even uglier than he is. He took one look at it, saw how it turned the traditional Disney-style fantasy he helped re-popularize in the 90’s on its head, the potential for even more slams at Disney fairytales and celebrity voice casting that worked gangbusters with Aladdin and had this to say:
Shrek evolved far beyond its humble literary origins into a green middle finger pointed at Katzenberg’s former workplace, and audiences and critics ate it up because nobody had dared to do such a thing before. And I’m not gonna lie, I loved this movie when I was a kid. But over time, mostly thanks to Katzenberg’s penchant for quantity over quality, Shrek became the very thing it was parodying: a shallow, over-hyped, over-marketed fairytale cash grab, and it’s affected my view of the original installment somewhat.
Well, it’s time for this non-star to get my game on and hopefully get paid. Let’s look at Dreamworks’ watershed studio-defining blockbuster…Shrek.