See that face smack dab in the middle of the poster there? That’s the face I made when I found out I’d be reviewing one of my favorite Christmas movies (and also when I realized I wouldn’t be publishing it on time; Happy Valentines Day!) Because, honestly, what can I say about Home Alone that hundreds before me already have?
There’s an argument to be made that Home Alone shouldn’t count as a Christmas movie because it’s a story that can be done on any given day of the year – except that Christmas is tied into this film’s very identity. Kevin’s house is full of reds, greens and whites, the soundtrack is stuffed with Christmas tunes, even beloved classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street are playing whenever a TV is turned on. Add themes of family and togetherness and a magical score by John Williams, and you’ve got a movie with Christmas in its DNA.
While Home Alone didn’t impress critics upon release, it made enough bank that it held the title of highest-grossing comedy of all time until 2011. It’s entered the pop culture lexicon not just here in the states but abroad. The film’s release in most former Soviet-occupied countries aligned with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and is so tied to that feeling of holiday cheer and nostalgia for a monumental positive change that it’s broadcast with the same heartfelt frequency as It’s A Wonderful Life in America. “It’s not Christmas without Kevin” has become something of a popular slogan for most stations that air it. But why does this simple story retain so much of its appeal 30 years later?
I don’t think it’s a big secret that Gravity Falls is my favorite series from Disney. Not just animated series, I mean out of everything the channel ever churned out. It was mysterious, funny and occasionally frightening, with deep themes of family and growing up and some of the most well-written television characters to come from the 2010s. When it bowed out after two near-perfect seasons, it left some enormous shoes to fill. What show could possibly live up to the standards it set?
Well, it turns out the answer was one no one asked for, but we’re sure as hell thankful we got anyway.
Hot take for y’all, especially from someone who grew up in the 90’s and enjoyed the hell out of the original DuckTales: the 2017 reboot blows its predecessor out of the water. It takes the fun, creative adventures from the first series, adds a much-needed measure of character arcs and development (Huey, Dewey and Louie have actual distinct personalities now!) and amps it up with a huge dose of heart and enough lore borrowed from the Carl Barks and Don Rosa comics to win over even the most jaded fans. Also, as opposed to his unceremonious draft into the navy in the first series, Donald Duck finally has a part to play in the new adventures! (Well, in 13 out of the 65 of them anyway…way to get my hopes up, Disney.) By the time I was halfway through the first season I thought to myself, “Yes, this is it. This is the successor to Gravity Falls,” (though The Owl House definitely ties with that sentiment as well, and Amphibia isn’t too far behind).
I’m woefully behind on Season 3, but am well aware that they’re bringing in more characters and plots from the other classic Disney Afternoon series that were hinted at since the very start, and I can’t wait to see how they’re re-interpreted. On a similar note, since this episode deals with some major revelations from the tail end of Season One that have ramifications for the rest of the series, I must warn you that this review will have spoilers.
Remember, remember the eighth of November The Russia-Trump treasonous plot I know of no reason the Russia-Trump Treason Should ever be forgot.
Good day to you, fellow readers. You may call me Vhelf, and I speak to you in lieu of our usual gracious, witty, and might I add gorgeous authoress. Allow me first to apologize for this intrusion. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comfort of everyday predictability – the milk man, the paper boy, evening TV – though suffice it to say nothing will be predictable on this day of November the Third. I thought that perhaps, before you go about on your daily routine and head down to the polls to cast your vote as is your right and duty as Americans, we might mark the occasion with a little chat.
There are of course those who do not want us to speak through the polls. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and hooligans with guns driving trucks with obnoxiously huge flags will soon be on their way to various sites and drop-off boxes. Why? Because while the floor is always open to deep, meaningful conversations about important issues, actions speak louder than words. Words open the door to the truth, and for those who will watch and listen, deeds will enunciate that truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have people screaming at you for being a snowflake and to consider their feelings while suppressing your own and soliciting your submission as they parade about on the necks of those they view as beneath them.
How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well, certainly there are those more responsible than others, and God willing they – and one vile man in particular – will be held accountable, but truth be told, many of you need only look in a mirror.
I know why you did it. Some of you bought the rhetoric of returning this country to a better time from your past without considering that the past might not be as great as you remembered. Some of you simply didn’t trust his more qualified, rational female opponent who had only a philandering husband and a slightly dodgy internet history against her. Some of you were fed up with the constant bickering between both parties and stayed home in the misguided belief that your indifference would somehow make a real difference. And, in the case of certain people mistaking NPR tweeting the Declaration of Independence as “promoting liberal rebel propaganda”, well, some of you were just plain stupid – and bolstered by the man affirming your outdated and disgusting views of the world. Fear, disinterest, and racism got the best of you, and you turned to the orange-dyed egg teetering on his border wall, Trumpty Drumpfty.
He promised you greatness, he promised you security. Instead, he separated immigrant families and stuffed children into cages like animals, gutted women’s, LGBT and civil rights back to the medieval period, openly attacked any voices of dissent, allowed a pandemic to put the entire planet on hold for three-quarters of a year, barely lifted a finger when his own people called for aid, defied safety regulations when he himself became a victim of his own incompetence (and incontinence), and openly encouraged a rise of white supremacy not seen since a certain mustachioed lunatic came to power in 1930’s Germany. And all he demanded in return was your constant effusive praise, and silence where everything else was concerned.
One week ago, I sought to end that silence. One week ago, I cast my early vote for Joe Biden to remind this country of what it has forgotten. Joe was not my first choice initially, not even among my top three, but compared to the gibbering germ-spreading geriatric currently holding office, he is our best shot at making fairness, justice and freedom more than just words. That kindness, empathy and inclusion are stronger than selfishness, greed and fascism. With Kamala Harris at his side, we have a chance at bringing this country back from the brink of war and turmoil, and restoring the equality and peace that had been stolen from us. At the very least, we won’t be spending our days under the covers with a stockpile of booze hoping to ride out World War Three or quarantine through sheer inebriation.
If you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of this administration remain unknown to you, don’t let this third of November pass unmarked. Do the research and open your eyes. And if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, if you seek what I seek, then I ask you to stand in line at your registered voting location, no matter how long it takes, vote blue all the way, and together we shall give them a third of November that shall never, ever be forgot.
I know I just put out the first review I’ve written in months, but as the great Groucho Marx once said, “Hello, I must be going!” December will be here sooner than you think, and I’m ready to get back to the annual tradition of reviewing one short, one special, and one movie that befits the most wonderful time of the year. There’s no shortage of classics and time-honored favorites to choose from on the Christmas Shelf. Last year’s charming 2-D animated hit from Netflix, Klaus, is there, and Home Alone has just turned 30 (it’s as old as I am and that makes me feel so much older for some reason). And if you just can’t get enough of Frozen, I’ve gone and added Olaf’s Frozen Adventure too.
This pandemic has also given me time to catch up on television I’ve put aside for too long, and several of the shows I’ve watched have had some fun Christmas outings that I’ve added to the list. All the holiday episodes of the beloved comedy Community are there, as well as Phineas and Ferb’s “Christmas Vacation!” and Milo Murphy’s Law’s “A Christmas Peril”. If you’re feeling a little nostalgic, there’s The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh‘s “The Wishing Bear” or Teacher’s Pet‘s “A Dog For All Seasons” and “The Blight Before Christmas” (Disney+ is really on the ball when it comes to the obscure toons). Speaking of, it’s pretty likely Disney+ will add more holiday content on to their service in the near-future, so keep an eye out because you might be able to vote for them here as well.
Anyways, you know the drill: check out the Christmas Shelf and let me know the short, special and feature film you want me to review in the comments or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Patreons get extra votes among other perks, and I’d like to thank them now for their contributions during this trying time: Gordhan Rajani, Sam Minden, and Amelia Jones, you guys are the best!
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.
“Push the button, Max!” – Professor Fate, usually before a catastrophe of his doing strikes
To say things have gotten tumultuous since the last review would be a gross understatement. But we’re not here to discuss today’s upheavals, important as they are. Let’s just take a moment to reflect and laugh. Lord knows we could use a good one right now.
Directed by esteemed comedy director and Hollywood bad boy Blake Edwards, The Great Race is a loving pastiche and send-up of silent comedies and melodramas from the early days of cinema (classic Laurel and Hardy in particular; the film even opens with a dedication to them). Thankfully the movie itself is not silent. What kind of genius madman would try to make a silent comedy in the late twentieth century?
Believe it or not, The Great Race was inspired by a real automobile race from New York to Paris that took place in 1908. Some of the more outlandish elements of the race like floating on icebergs across the sea were even based on genuine ideas that were proposed for the race but wisely ruled out. Despite its star power and a huge budget, The Great Race was a flop on release and quickly fell into obscurity. Critics assumed it was trying to ride off the popularity of Those Magnificent Men And Their Flying Machines, another big-budget all-star comedy with a similar premise. I’m more inclined to believe that its failure was due to the roadshow phenomenon that boomed in the late ’50s dying out at this point. It would be several more years until the epic format of a three-hour film with an overture and intermission faded from theaters completely, but audiences were already losing interest, and that rung The Great Race’s knell. Regardless, it’s garnered something of a cult fanbase from automobile aficionados (the original cars are still displayed at conventions), fans of classic cinematic comedies, and it even inspired the wildly popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races.
I’m sorry I’ve fallen so far behind in my reviews that nearly four months have gone by since I’ve published one. That’s not to say I haven’t been working on them, heavens no. Unfortunately, the stress of trying to balance responsibilities and creative standards left me with a severe case of burnout. And that’s on top of everything else that’s gone on since, for good or for ill:
Putting together everything for the storyboard class I would be teaching, including mastering Google Classroom and putting general paperwork in order was exhausting.
I was asked to teach another online art class, this time by the folks who run an annual city-wide art show I’ve been a part of for the past two years.
I’m partaking in SCBWI’S Summer Conference since they’re holding it online instead of Los Angeles this year, which meant revamping my portfolio again, completing new artwork and preparing to meet and query new contacts in the field.
My sister got (legally) married in my backyard the first week of July and I stood in as a witness/Maid of Honor. Fun! Not so fun was the large amount of people she invited for the barbecue afterwards who didn’t wear masks or abide by social distancing rules. I suffer from allergies and spent the following fortnight thinking every cough and scratchy throat meant the end was near.
I had to marathon the entire first season of The Umbrella Academy in less than a week in order to edit a full video review of it for Krimson Rogue before Season 2 premiered. (On the plus side, now that I’ve finally watched the show for myself, I’m excited for the next season!)
I got into the top ten of the Mx Disney editing competition and I’ve been going into editing overdrive near the end of each month to meet the crazy deadlines.
Anxiety. That is all.
And no, I have not watched Hamilton yet. I will once I finally have two and a half hours to fully invest myself in something that doesn’t directly involve me shaping it.
So here’s how it’s going to go. When it comes to this blog, I’m still going in the order things were meant to, even if they are horribly off-schedule. The next review finished will be The Great Race, followed by the (very late) fifth anniversary review, and then I’ll be taking some time to kick off the series of Faerie Tale Theatre reviews, which should be out by the end of the summer at the latest. My original plans for the fifth anniversary was to revisit the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake and share my thoughts on it, but two things happened:
I have A LOT to say about the remake which means it would be a very, very long read; so long in fact that I may have to split it up. Also I wasn’t entirely looking forward to watching it again and didn’t want to mark such a momentous occasion by nagging in 6000-plus words.
This past weekend I finally got some down time to myself and wound up revisiting a classic that has long been a favorite. It’s resonated with me at the best of times, yet none more so than at that very moment. Maybe I was in the right frame of mind, maybe it was the timing, but after everything that’s happened in my creative pursuits up until then, I was so moved by this picture’s simple message that I was compelled to write about it.
And there you have it. They may not be excuses, but they are something. One plan I also had for the rest of the year was to look at the first five movies I reviewed and see if they (and what I initially wrote about them) held up, though that might have to be swept off the table too unless you really want to them also.
Hope you’re all having a safe and fun summer, and hopefully I’ll see you soon.
Hello, everyone. It’s a funny thing about this social distancing/quarantine we’ve all hopefully been partaking in these past few months; one concern that briefly crossed my mind was running out of things to do before boredom or cabin fever set in. It turns out the opposite has happened: so much to do and not enough time in the day! All this to say that unfortunately, May’s movie review isn’t ready yet (spoiler warning: it’s The Great Race, one of the most underrated comedies ever filmed). I sincerely apologize and will try to get it up as soon as I can.
“She said, knowing full well how long it took the last time she promised that.”
Okay, so in order to complete May’s review without collapsing under my workload or burning myself out, I’m afraid I’m going to have to forego June’s movie review. That way I can still have the energy to finish the May movie review, work on the new series reviews, and prepare a review I’ve long had in mind for the blog’s fifth anniversary (it’ll five years come July, holy fishpaste…) I assure you, these delays and work piling up is due to some pretty major things I’m currently doing with my life. It all ties back to a certain conversation I had a few weeks ago with my mother (my mother who, by the way, is a blonde progressive hard-working passionate woman I owe much of my personality to):
“Hi honey, you remember the dean of the college you graduated from that I also taught at for over thirty years, you knew her since you were three, practically your godmother?”
“Yes, mom, what about her?”
“She’s heading an online summer program and she thinks YOU would be a great teacher for one of the classes.”
“Me?! I barely had any patience teaching you Microsoft Word, why would you both think I’d be able to teach a class?”
“She said it would be geared towards younger kids as a way of getting them interested in the arts.”
“Well, it’s one thing if it’s for kids, but I’m still not sure if I’d be the right -“
“She wants you to teach them storyboarding for animation.”
“…Mother, you had my curiosity. Now you have my interest.”
So yes, I got a summer job. As of this June you may refer to me as Professor Shelf, storyboard emeritus. It’s my first time teaching a class, if it wasn’t obvious enough already. I’m excited because it’s a topic I’m more than well-versed in, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous also. Though I’ve got my hands a little extra full making the preparations, learning Google Classroom and such, I promised you that I’d be reviewing a new series again, and I’m holding myself to it, though I hope you can forgive me for delaying it a bit while I square away my syllabus. You voted, I counted, and I’m here to announce what show I’ll be covering next. Drumroll, please!
Whenever I discuss Sleeping Beauty with someone who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for Disney, they have an irksome tendency to get it muddled with Snow White; their excuse being “it has the same plot”. I’ll admit, there are some surface similarities that even the most casual viewer can pick up on: a fairytale where a princess is forced into unconsciousness and wakes up with some necking, the comic relief and villain being the most beloved characters, a little frolic in the forest with animals, the antagonist plunging off a cliff, you get the idea. In fact, Sleeping Beauty even reuses some discarded story beats from Snow White, mainly our couple dancing on a cloud and the villain capturing the prince to prevent him from waking his princess. Yet despite that, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are two wholly different movies shaped by the era and talents of the time.
I’ve discussed how Walt Disney was never one to stick to a repeated formula, no matter how successful it was. He must have noticed the parallels between his first movie and this one, but decided to make one crucial change for Sleeping Beauty that would forever differentiate the two: the look. We all know the traditional Disney house style: round, soft shapes, big eyes; charming as it was and still is, Walt was sick of it after several decades. Meanwhile, artists like Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle were producing gorgeous concept art that rarely made a perfect translation into the Disney house style.
Walt wanted to make a feature that took the pop artistry of their designs and made the animation work for it instead of the other way around – which brings us to another animation studio that was doing well at the time, United Pictures Animation, or UPA.
UPA didn’t have the kind of budget Disney normally had for their animated projects, but what they lacked in fluidity they made up for in style. Watch The Tell-Tale Heart, Gerald McBoing-Boing and Rooty-Toot-Toot to see what I mean. UPA were pioneers of limited animation, taking their scant resources and creating some striking visuals with bold geometric designs. Through this, they defined the look of 50’s animation. Though perhaps unintentional, Sleeping Beauty comes across as Disney’s response to UPA, or what would happen if UPA had the funds they deserved. The characters’ contours are angular but effortlessly graceful, defining their inherent dignity and royalty. And the colors, ohhh the colors…
Because of the immense amount of work required to animate in this difficult new style (and in the Cinemascope ratio, no less) as well as story troubles and Walt barely supervising the animation studio now that he had his hands full with live-action films, television, and a theme park, Sleeping Beauty had a turbulent production that lasted the entirety of the 1950s. For a time, Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame was set to direct. Director Wilfred Jackson suffered a heart attack partway through production and Eric Larson, one of the Nine Old Men, took the mantle from there before Walt Disney replaced him Clyde Geronimi. And even after that, Wolfgang Reitherman teamed up with Geronimi as co-director to get the film finished after no less than three delays. Also, Don Bluth got his foot in the door as an assistant animator for this feature, beginning his short-lived but impactful tenure at Disney. Did all this hamper the movie, or did they succeed in what they set out to accomplish?
Well, one of the reasons why this review took so long was because I had a hard time not repeating “MOVIE PRETTY” and “MALEFICENT AWESOME” over and over. Make what you will of that.
We made it to April, folks! Congratulations on keeping your social distance and don’t stop washing those hands! Anyway, you don’t have to worry about spreading germs here. Voting is open to everyone, and here are your options, tailored specifically for comedic purposes:
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The Great Race
You can leave your vote in the comments or email me email@example.com. Remember, unless you’re a Patreon supporter, you can only vote once. Supporters get perks such as extra votes, early access to certain posts and adding movies of their choice to the Shelf. If I can get to making $100 a month, I can go back to making weekly tv show reviews. As of now I’ve got $20 to go before I reach my goal! Special thanks toAmelia Jones,Gordhan Rajaniand Sam Minden for their contributions!