A temporary replacement for TMINE’s Orange Thursday feature in which I review a readily available movie you’ve probably already seen
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a hole in my mind. Through a weird combination of timings, I missed out on watching pretty much every Disney movie ever made. I just grew up in the wrong years relative to Disney release days. It’s weird.
But we’re in lockdown and one of the great successes of this period has been Disney+. Disney had a five-year plan for obtaining subscribers to its new streaming service… but is already more or less there. And we’re one of them.
So Lovely Wife, who had a similar gap in her cinematic education, and I decided to take advantage of the lack of new movies and new TV being released at the moment to watch some of those cultural touchstones we’d missed out on. Plus anything else that took our fancy.
We’re still working our way through them, so there’ll be more to come, and there’s absolutely no point properly reviewing them either, so after the jump you’ll find a potted selection of potted reviews of just a few of the things you can find on Disney+: The Jungle Book (1967), Aladdin (1992), Mulan (1998), Brave (2012), Moana (2016) and The Lion King (2019).
The Jungle Book (1967)
Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear have a difficult time trying to convince a boy to leave the jungle for human civilisation.
Obviously, this one is a classic. But it’s a very episodic affair, with Mowgli effectively doing a Snowpiercer and wandering from location to location where he meets a different kind of animal who sings a different kind of song.
So plot-wise, no great shakes, but man, what characters, what voices, what songs! There are a few that never quite hit our collective psyche, but there’s a stonkingly high success rate and you’ll pretty much want to dance to all of them.
But it is a product of its time. Noticeably, there’s the vultures who are basically The Beatles. Politics-wise, you also get Mowgli falling for the young girl who sings a song about how all she wants to do is get married one day. Problematic, that.
A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.
We move on more than 20 years from The Jungle Book for this and while clearly this is still Disney, things are 20 years better overall. Okay, so the songs aren’t quite as good, with only one really good one that I can even remember (‘A whole new world‘). It’s also still problematic – it’s one thing not to cast Middle Eastern actors for the voice work (although Gilbert Gottfried? Really?), but to not even draw characters as Middle Eastern? Oh dear.
But you’ve got a proper plot with real twists and turns and decent reveals. The characters are well drawn and have nuance (apart from the baddies).
Jasmine is a great character, too, and gets to be a protagonist as much as Aladdin. This is despite the fact she’s also oddly sexualised and the Vizier’s many designs on her are just plain creepy.
But best off, you have Robin Williams, who clearly just did whatever he wanted when he was in the voiceover booth and they animated it. Which is fine, but even in 1992, I don’t think there’s that many people who would have got the references to You Bet Your Life.
Overall, very enjoyable and still stands up to viewing now.
To save her father from death in the army, a young maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China’s greatest heroines in the process.
We move on a few years, we get more progress. But only a little. We get a female lead and some Chinese actors, including Ming Na Wen and BD Wong, in the main roles; but we also get the “they’re Asian so that’s close enough” casting of Pat Morita and George Takei, as well as the “well, they sound good” likes of Miguel Ferrer and Miriam Margolyes.
It’s also quite derivative. For the second time, we have a female protagonist’s whose main aim is to escape from her predetermined marriage in order to… find true love with someone else. We have Eddie Murphy as the voice of the comedy sidekick (cf Shrek), following on from Robin Williams’ success in Aladdin, but he’s no Donkey – or Robin Williams. And the bad guy is basically the Vizier again, just not as smart.
There are some fun scenes, but no memorable tunes or even moments. This was basically the first also-ran – and the first where I suspect I’ll enjoy the love action version more than the animated version.
Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
Time moves on again. Now we’re in Pixar territory, so it’s CGI, not animation. It’s set in Scotland and most of the actors are actually Scottish (Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson), although Emma Thompson (half-Scottish) and Julie Walters sneak through. We also have a mother-daughter story, rather than almost mandatory father-daughter story. But it’s still ‘princess must escape from a predetermined marriage to choose her own fate’.
There are no songs in this, but the plot is decent enough once it gets over the difficult hump of the first 15 minutes. The bears are great, too. I quite enjoyed it and there are bits I loved. But on the whole, there have been better Pixar movies and better Disney movies.
In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches Moana’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.
This was probably our favourite of the whole bunch. Yes, it’s basically Wonder Woman – princess on a Paradise Island longs to see the outside world and leaves it, to encounter gods and demi-gods wherever she goes. It’s also yet another “princess tries to escape her predetermined fate and create her own one”. And yes, we have “if they’re from anywhere in the South Pacific, they’ll do, even if they’re white and from New Zealand” casting.
But at least that fate is being queen, rather than being married. And it’s Polynesian myths, not Greek myths. And it’s Temuera Morrison, Oscar Kightley and Dwayne Johnson. Yes, the Rock sings! And it’s a great song.
Plus the ending is… surprising. It’s great. I can’t help but feel, though, they should have had the pig, rather than the rooster, as the animal sidekick (“Of course you’re a princess. You wear a dress and have an animal sidekick”)
The Lion King (2019)
After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
And now we’re as up to date as up to date can be. We’re fully CGI but so good, it might as well be live action. We have a virtually all black cast (except for John Oliver), some of whom are even African. We’ve got James Earl Jones back as Mustafa, because who’s going to recast James Earl Jones? Sure, it’s another father-son story but the women are important and have agency.
But oddly, all the best bits are thanks to the original movie, particularly the darker aspects such as Simba being blamed for his own father’s death. All the weakest bits? Down to the modern production. I like Donald Glover a lot and yes, he’s a good singer and better than Matthew Broderick, but he feels a bit light for the role. Seth Rogen is annoying, even as a warthog. John Oliver is annoyingly posh English (“Tally ho!”). And the copious Shakespearean references remind me of Containment moments.
It’s fine and probably better than the original The Lion King, to be honest, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is particularly great. It’s just not Moana great.