Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

The first Maleficent movie was one of the better Disney live action adaptations because it was one of the few that did more than slavishly recreate the animated movie. I mean, a version of the story where the bad guy is actually the good guy is not the most original thing, but at least it’s something. (I know I didn’t like Dumbo which did the same, but it was bad for other reasons). This sequel had the potential to be something really good and at times its seems poised to realize that potential, only for it to be kind of muddled and distracted. Early on, the movie, when Maleficent is preparing to meet her daughters new in laws, practicing small talk with her raven companion, hints at a much better version of this. A movie that builds to the conflict between Maleficent and fey against the humans. A comedy of manners that spirals out of control. Instead, the movie jumps right to a brewing war.

The problem is the movie has so much to get to that it can’t let any of it land. There is the marriage plot, the people kidnapping fairies, the dark fey, like Maleficent, who are itching for a fight with the humans. Much of it needs to be explained. But in the midst of all the explaining, there is little time for anything else. It also renders the heroes alternately moronic and inert. The connection between Aurora and Maleficent was established in the first movie, it doesn’t make a lot of sense how quickly she believes the worst of her. Maleficent has to get all of the history of the dark fey and their current situation in a quick dump, with no time to process finding a whole world of people just like her. Phillip’s mother Queen Ingrith is plotting a war, and the movie has to walk the viewer through it.

All of these plots could be interesting, if the movie either handled them with a lighter touch or had a little more time to work through them. It almost feels like the last two parts of a trilogy smashed together. Maleficent’s journey doesn’t quite work. She goes from distant, but loving mother, to spurned and hated, to prophesied hero over the course of this movie, but none of it really lands. No one else really has much of an arc. Aurora learns something she already knew. Everyone else learns that racism is bad.

At least the movie looks good. The magical creatures don’t exactly look real, but they look appealing. The fey are really well done, with their wings looking and acting like real appendages most of the time. It also has some awe inspiring castles and vistas. The movie simply looks good.

Angelina Jolie is pretty great as Maleficent. And Michelle Pfeiffer seems to be having fun as the evil Queen Ingrith. Elle Fanning has precious little to do as Aurora, and Prince Phillip spends most of the movie being ineffectual. It is just short of being a waste of a great cast, only saved by how much the actors seem to be enjoying themselves.

As messy as it is, I still largely enjoyed Maleficent Mistress of Evil. I don’t think it’s good, but there are enough interesting things going on that I don’t regret seeing it.


The Lion King

I didn’t like The Lion King (2019). My complaints are essentially the same I’ve had with other ‘live action’ remakes of Disney’s animated movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book. Not only is there nothing about the movie to recommend it over the original, it add feels saggy and tame on its own merits.

Everyone knows The Lion King. It is the tale of cat Hamlet, a young prince must loses his father and fights for his throne against his treacherous uncle. The story works in the broad strokes as well as it ever did. There is still a big break in the middle of the movie that doesn’t quite work. But it still does a good job of setting up its characters and their philosophies and having them come into conflict. It is too bad there is a strictly better version of this movie that already exists.

There is a clip running around comparing the new version of “Hakuna Matata” with the old one, with the comparisons illustrating just how lacking the new one is. That is illustrative of the entire movie. The animated version has a lot of energy, a lot of coming because it is not limited by what actual animals can do. They could draw a lion doing anything, like swinging on a vine or standing on pyramid of singing animals. Real, or realistically animated, animals cannot do that. So instead of anything interesting, characters just walk around while singing. It feels like all the personality is gone. It is hard to create human emotion in a realistic cat face, let alone a warthog. The hyenas all look the same. The baboon mystic Rafiki can no longer do kung fu, Timon can no longer hula dance. Nothing interesting can happen. In making the lions look real, it makes it a lot harder to tell Scar and Simba apart in their big climactic fight scene. It is just two tawny beasts in the dark batting at each other.

The problem with this movie is that unless you are completely enamored by the digital effects wizardry, there is absolutely nothing about that makes it worth watching over the original. It is the Lion King, with less personality, less energy, just simply less. The movie tries to find more for its female characters to do, but it mostly fails. Giving Nala and Sarabi a few more lines really changes nothing. The only thing that I would even consider calling an improvement is Billy Eichner as Timon, who makes him a little more acid that Nathan Lane did. But even then, Lane was great.

The Lion King has made a bunch of money for Disney. So we’ll get more of these. And I’m part of the problem, I guess, because I went to see it. But I am tapping out. I’ve enjoyed exactly one of these remakes and The Lion King is likely the last one I’ll see in a theater.


Rating the Disney Canon Part 4 (of 5)

Sorry about the delay, I ended up working a few extra shifts and not having the time to get this finished.  Here is part four, which brings up into the top 10, which has at least one guaranteed surprise. Also, as promised, my list of Top 10 villains

Top 10 Disney Villains.

10: Madame Mim.  The Sword in the Stone  Was she a villain just thrown in because the film was lacking one? Maybe.  Is her wizards duel with Merlin maybe my favorite thing ever? A definite yes.

9: Shan Yu. Mulan This guy is a scary monster of a man.  He perfectly straddles the line between being a invading force of nature and being just a man.  He lacks a little in the personality department, but he makes up for it in menace.

8: Gaston. Beauty and the Beast.  He’s not really threatening, just sort of pathetic.  Like a fairy tale Zapp Brannigan.

7: Captain Hook.  Peter Pan He would be higher if I could be convinced that he is any sort of real threat to Peter Pan.  He isn’t, but he is very entertaining.

6: Hades.  Hercules  I have a problem with Hades generally being depicted as a villain, he’s no worse than most of the Greek Gods.  They were all awful.  But James Woods used car salesman of a villain is the best part of a good movie.

5: Ursula. The Little Mermaid  She puts on some great performances as the villain, and despite what my Mom says I was not scared of her as a child.

4: Jafar.  Aladdin The sheer contempt he shows for everyone else in the movie is enough to get him on the list.  The fact that he is actually an effective villain pushes him close to the top.

3: Scar. The Lion King Maybe the most successful Disney villain, and like Jafar one to hold the rest of the characters in contempt.  He preening showmanship in his song sets him apart too.

2: Cruella de Vil. 101 Dalmatians She is not only unspeakably cruel, she is also incredibly petty.  Her plan to make dogskin coats only fails because she feels she has to have her “friends” puppies to go with the other eighty or so she already has.

1: Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty She may not have the best help, but she towers over the rest of her movie with a presence that is hard to match.  Plus, even Jafar’s giant snake genie can’t match her dragon transformation.

Madame Mim is on this list just for the wizards duel.  Because I put her on there, I had to leave off at least on worthy villain, like Shere Khan.  But I did manage to stop myself from putting Clayton from Tarzan on there just because he is voiced by BRIAN BLESSED, so I am proud of my impartiality.  Now, on with the list.


16: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves The one that started it all is still excellent.  I don’t really have much to say about Snow White.  Its historical significance makes it required viewing, but nothing about it is especially notable.  It is simply a very good, very old animated movie.


15: Bambi.  This is easily among Disney’s best looking movies.  There is the awe inspiring rain scene as well as the fight between Bambi and another buck near the end.  Those scenes look completely different, but they both look great.  Then there is the whole traumatic shock of Bambi’s Mother being killed. The only reason it is as low as 15 on my list is that I prefer movies with a stronger plot, rather than Bambi’s  handful or loosely connected vignettes.


14: The Lion King.  The big daddy of the Renaissance movies, but one I find to be a little overrated.  A little, I said.  The songs are among the best in the company’s history, and there are plenty of memorable characters. But the bridge between the adventures of young Simba and the revenge of adult Simba is a little weak.


13: Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty has a couple of things going for it.  It has the best villain in the entire Disney Canon, (see top of this post) Maleficent.  She dominates the other characters in this movie.  I put Philip on my list of heroes just because he fights her.  Sleeping Beauty also has one of the best realized aesthetics of their output. The whole film looks like an animated version of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  It looks amazing.


12: Hercules.  This one has a strong central trio, with Hercules, Megara and Hades all being great characters.  Much like Sleeping Beauty tried to capture a medieval look, Hercules looks something like old Grecian art.  It is not quite as effective, but it still looks good.  The only things keeping this out of the top 10 or even top 5 are some bad comedy relief characters in Pain and Panic and some dreadful joke lines from deVito’s Phil.


11: Peter Pan Watching this again brought a couple of things to the fore.  First of all, the Indian scenes do not play anymore.  They are cringe inducing.  The second thing is that Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are awful.  Tink tries to straight-up murder Wendy, while Peter alternately shows off for Wendy and ignores her.  Wendy, though, is great.  She is both childish enough to really enjoy the idea of Neverland but mature enough to realize that somebody has got to be the grown up.  Of course, the ending, with her father relenting and allowing her to stay in the nursery, pretty much erases all the development she during the movie.  Plus, jerk that he may be, Peter Pan still engages in some delightful swashbuckling.


10: Lady and the Tramp.  Disney’s best love story?  I’d say so, despite having another famous love story near the top of this list.  It also has some of the best animated animals this side of Bambi.  Also, maybe the best songs.  Even its standard issue racially insensitive scene isn’t anywhere near as bad as either Peter Pan’s or Dumbo’s.


9: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  This is just delightful.  Though many Disney movies use a storybook aesthetic, none do more with it than Winnie the Pooh. It actually takes place in a story book, with a narrator that plays an integral part in the goings on. It also has probably the most genuinely charming cast of characters in any Disney movie.


8: Atlantis: The Lost Empire.  Yep, Atlantis is in my top 10.  I stand by it.  Despite its rather dismal reputation, Atlantis is a fine film.  It is an altogether pleasing combination of Disney, Indiana Jones and Miyazaki-esque anime, though honestly not quite as good as that combination sounds.  Still, it is excellent.  Milo is a fun science-y hero and most of the supporting characters are a lot of fun.  This movie is just a blast.


7: Tarzan.  This might be my innate love Edgar R. Burroughs, but I really enjoy this movie.  Tarzan, the character, is great.  This version of Jane is great.  I especially enjoy Tarzan’s gliding through the trees animation.  Plus, you’ve got Brian Blessed, ahem,  BRIAN BLESSED doing the voice of the villain.  It steals a lot of its jungle characters from the Jungle Book, but it gives it protagonist more to do.

Tomorrow, I hope, I will have the last entry with the top 6 Disney movies.  And nothing else, because my tank of Disney related thoughts is running low.  I do have a couple of supplemental posts about films distributed by Disney, with my lists of best Pixar movies and Miyazaki movies. The second one is only very loosely connected, but I watched a bunch of them after seeing the Wind Rises and this is as good a time as any to post it.

Links to the rest of the list:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5

Rating the Disney Canon Part 2 (of 5)

Time for the second part of my take on the Disney Animated Canon.  But first I’d like to take a little detour and discuss my ten favorite Disney heroes. Just the fellows today, tomorrow I will have my list of heroines. So I’m going to list the characters, the movie they are from and a quick little bit about why I like them.

10: Milo Atlantis The Lost Empire  He is a different sort of hero, a man who gets by with his brains rather than brawn.  Plus, Michael J Fox voices him perfectly.

9: Prince Philip Sleeping Beauty I’ll be honest, he’s mostly on here for that fight with Dragon Maleficent.  That scene is great.

8: Basil The Great Mouse Detective Yes, he’s just Sherlock Holmes as a mouse, but Sherlock Holmes is awesome.

7: Wart The Sword in the Stone  He is mostly just learning at the feet of Merlin, but there is something completely endearing about his unending eagerness.

6: Tarzan Tarzan He wrestles a leopard.  Do I need to say more?

5: Robin Hood Robin Hood He is possibly the best take on this character to ever appear in a film, apologies to Errol Flynn and Cary Elwes.

4: Ralph Wreck it Ralph  His search for recognition and how to be a hero is one of the best arcs in a Disney film.

3: Hercules Hercules  He is the greatest hero ever created. Disney’s version is pretty great.

2: Simba The Lion King Cat Hamlet’s journey from a somewhat selfish kid to a worthy king is a good one.

1: Aladdin Aladdin He’s really just the best. He’s as dashing as Robin Hood, but with a better character arc.  He’s charming and easy to root for, but also flawed.  Just a great character.

This list skews heavily to established heroes that have a Disney version.  I guess Disney does better with villains than it does with heroes.  Actually, many of their character’s share the protagonist role and kind of get lost in the ensemble.  Some, like Beast, are good characters to watch but not really good people. He’s not the protagonist and he’s definitely not a hero.

On with the countdown. Continue reading

Rating the Disney Animated Canon, Part 1 (of 5)

So a couple of weeks ago, flush with time if not with sense, I got the bright idea to watch all of the Disney animated films.  The real ones, not including any of the crappy sequels that no one wanted or liked; I’m not stupid.  My plan was to rank them, with some thoughts on each one.  I figured that I could get a week’s worth of blog posts out of it.  First I checked my usual movie places:Netflix, my Mom’s DVD collection, my brother’s family’s DVDs (he’s got young children), my copy of Wreck-it-Ralph, to see what I had access to. It turns out that nearly the whole of the Disney Canon was right at my fingertips.

There were some films I couldn’t watch. The war films, the package films, whatever you want to call them I didn’t have them and didn’t know anyone who did.  So I decided to skip them.  Maybe I missed out on some of the best that Disney has to offer, but their reputation suggests that I didn’t.  Of course, as I found while watching these, sometimes the general consensus on these movies is just flat wrong.  So I didn’t watch Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time or The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  I also haven’t yet seen Frozen. That should be rectified shortly.  I figure I’ll just slot it in where it goes, assuming its as good as everyone says.

Today, I will be starting with the bottom of this 46 (or 47 pending Frozen) film list, the bottom 10 Disney movies.  This will be the only entry that has movies that I consider outright bad on it.  For the most part these are all really good films.  Let’s begin.

46: Chicken Little.   I have difficulty expressing in words just how much I disliked this movie. It is bad in every conceivable way.  It looks terrible.  It’s not funny.  It isn’t entertaining at all.  I can’t think of one redeeming feature of this movie. It is wretched.  I don’t think I’ve seen a movie with less appealing characters.  They are all ugly as sin.  I’m done talking about this movie.  I hate it.

45: Home on the Range.  This is a movie I probably should have watched again, as I last saw it in the theater as a “reward” for doing well on my end of year tests in High School.  But there is nothing in my memory that suggests that this movie is worth revisiting.  It is just kind of a mess.  Like Chicken Little, it is another failed comedy that is just not funny.  I don’t remember it being anywhere near as ugly as Chicken Little, though.

44: The Rescuers.  This is the first entry that is I’ve got significantly different that most.  I don’t like the Rescuers.  It is just unbearably dull.   The mouse heroes are vaguely interesting, but not enough to prop up the rest of the film.  The little kidnapped girl is a void. The villain is a bad retread of Cruella de Vil. Also, there aren’t any worthwhile songs.  It is just a slog of a film.

43: Dinosaur.  This is a movie made to show off their new 3D technology, but thirteen years later it doesn’t hold up.  Too bad they didn’t put much of a story in there to back up the visuals.  Other than some unnecessary and unfunny lemurs, there is nothing really bad about the plot and characters, its just bog standard stuff.  It is the same basic story as The Land Before Time, only not quite as good.

42: Pocahontas.  Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks this move is terrible.  Unlike the previous entries on the list, this is at least well animated.  But the story is wretched.  It is preachy, but still manages to work in some magical natives.  It has mostly forgettable songs, though the good ones are standouts, and some terrible comic relief characters.  This movie seems to exist as an attempt to smother the Renaissance in its crib.

41: Meet the Robinsons.  While not a good movie, Robinsons is a drastic step up from their previous 3D attempt (see the top of the list).  It looks fine, occasionally good, and there is glimmer of something fun in the story.  It is still quite messy at times, though.  It is heavily flawed, but often entertaining.

40:  Oliver and Company.  Were it not for the Billy Joel sung “Why should I worry?”, this would probably drop three or four spots on this list.  It is a compromised take on Oliver Twist starring animals.  Like the real Oliver Twist, the main character is mostly a spectator in his own story, only here the other characters can’t pick up the slack.  This does seem like a dry run for the ideas that made the Renaissance successful, but its not quite up there.

39: The Aristocats.  There are some mildly amusing bits her with Tom O’Malley the alley cat, but otherwise this is just a lesser version of 101 Dalmatians.  The songs are also quite catchy, but that still doesn’t distract from the fact that the villain’s plan is stupid and Disney already did this story better.

38: Cinderella.  I know this is one of the widely considered classics from Disney, I don’t care.  It is a turd.  Cinderella gets little to do in the movie, it is mostly about some intolerable animals and their sub-Looney Tunes (note: I have no problems with Looney Tunes, but what happens here is no where near that good, though it has a similar tone) quality hijinks.  Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo is a fine musical number, but the rest I didn’t care for.  This is the weakest of the films that Walt Disney himself worked on. Even for a Disney brand fairy tale, the story is regrettable pap.  Cinderella does little for herself and pins her hopes on the idea that the Prince will save her.  At least most of the other Disney Princess have something else going for them.

37: Brother Bear:  This is a much better film than Pocahontas, at least. Actually, there are quite a few things I liked about this movie. The most notable is the aspect and tone switch after Kenai turns into a bear.  It is a cool little switch.  But there just wasn’t enough going on to move this one up higher in the line.  Were it not for Home on the Range, this would have made a suitable send off for Disney’s traditionally animated features.

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow I should have the next ten ready to go, though I don’t think there are any great surprises in that part of the list.