The Disneyathon – Part 9: The Dark Age

Link to previous part: The Disneyathon – Part 8: The Bronze Age

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Baloo has certainly let himself go.

Whoopee, another live action musical but this time I have an excuse to put it in the Disneyathon as the animated dragon is in a good chunk of the movie. Also when he touches something it becomes animated too. The magic of cinema!

Pete’s Dragon is an odd movie. Beside it having the most boring plot and characters it’s littered with plot holes, has more musical numbers than can fit on an album cover and it’s like the stupidest movie in this entire Disneyathon. Pete’s Dragon also feels like it’s trying too hard to be like other Disney movies.

Before we talk about all the stupid stuff I will say I did find this movie quite entertaining. It’s a turn your brain off situation, where the stupid antics these characters get into adds to the charm. I kind of like Elliott as he’s the typical non speaking lovable animal character but he’s been given a much bigger role. The main kid Pete was okay – he’s the most developed character in the movie next to Dr Terminus who is your typical cartoon villain. Helen Reddy is in this movie and she’s easily the most under-developed leading actress I have seen in a movie. She’s not a good actress but she can definitely sing and I wouldn’t be surprise if that’s how she got the role.

This movie is very goofy and whenever it gets serious you feel like you’re watching a different movie. The characters are clowns! Since Elliott can turn invisible they just keep repeating throughout the movie that Pete needs to fit in and can’t go telling the townsfolk about Elliot. Next scene he’s telling the townsfolk about Elliott and Elliott causes destruction and ruins people’s day wherever he goes. Helen Reddy wants Pete to stop going on about Elliott, next scene she’s yelling at townsfolk for picking on Elliott. Whatever is in that beer they drink throughout the movie must make everyone all carefree and brain dead.

Oh yeah, this movie also features various scenes of people drinking alcohol, including the animated dragon, child abuse/child beatings, lost husbands, people going insane and an entire musical number about a con artist wanting to cut up a Dragon for cash!! Rest assured, this is a kid’s movie or it wouldn’t be in this series. We also learn Elliott is like Mary Poppins as he comes down to help children in need. I’m not sure what he does besides being a fun pet as all he does is cause trouble, grab unnecessary attention and the child has to tell him off for doing the wrong thing. It doesn’t matter because this movie features no consequences for people’s action so Elliott is as great a master planner as Mary Poppins.

Pete’s Dragon is dumb! I bet kids would like it, but it’s also over two hours long and makes up the runtime with scenes that go on forever or are just filler. It’s light entertainment and could be a good laugh with a couple of friends but the novelty will soon wear off. To be honest I think it would have been better animated, but then I guess we need the real Helen Reddy singing 20 different forgettable songs. 5 to 6 out of 10. The charming side of it slightly edged it for me.

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Something’s wrong with Bernard’s face.

Our third and final movie of 1977 is The Rescuers. I do like watching these movies but they are starting to get pretty formulaic. I’m guessing Disney realised that so I appreciate that The Rescuers is different and I think I enjoyed this more because of it.

I really don’t have much to say about this as it’s just harmless entertainment. I prefer The Rescuers over movies like Aristocats and Robin Hood as the plotless feel just works better with adventure movies. The set pieces do a great job at keeping you interested and it adds to the intrigue of the world.

I was taken off guard a bit as I had seen this movie a few years back and I still found it quite tense. A scene that stuck out to me is when Penny, Bernard and Miss Bianca are in the cave that’s slowly filling up with water while they’re looking for the Devil’s Eye diamond. It’s also very cartoony especially near the end which I feel just adds to the charm.

It took a long time, but in my opinion Bernard and Miss Bianca are the best couple in this series thus far. It probably helps that their romance is very much sidelined whilst they focus on finding Penny and this helps make their relationship feel more believable. The side characters are also alot more tolerable and don’t really slow down the movie. I guess the weakest character is Madame Medusa – I like the energy Geraldine Page gives to the role but she’s a poor man’s Cruella de Vil.

There is also world building present. The soundtrack and animation also isn’t too bad and overall this movie is a much needed improvement. It’s nothing amazing as it’s a pretty standard adventure flick. However I was fully engaged in the story and I’m giving it a 7/10.

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For some strange reason I thought this was a cute kids movie, but I have been wrong before.

Welcome to the 80’s where all that sweet stuff you liked from the previous decades is traded for more dark complex stories.  There is still the occasional musical number and cutesy funny scene to remind you that this is a Disney movie.

The Fox and the Hound is one of the best Disney movies produced since Walt’s death, mainly because it’s very story driven. This one sticks to the familiar Disney style but it also makes something new of it. It’s a tale of two opposites meeting and forming a friendship, but since they’re opposites their social status forces our two leads to become rivals.

It’s the most fascinating concept to come from this studio as Tod and Copper’s dynamic is the best part of this movie. Their friendship I’m a bit iffy on as it felt as under-developed as any romantic relationship from Disney. Which is funny as  I liked the interactions between Tod and the girl fox. I will say Tod and Copper’s friendship got more interesting when they were adults. I appreciate that this is about halfway through the movie instead of the last 15 minutes like a similar movie.

It’s a very well paced movie as it nicely builds towards Tod and Copper’s inevitable breakup. The chase scene between Tod and Chief by the train was nail bitingly intense. I only wish Chief actually died in this sequence, instead of getting a copout bandaged leg. Also having Chief die would have raised the stakes and Copper’s decision would have had a real consequence. That’s what really bugs me about this movie as poor decisions are made and no one ever really pays the price. Tod repeatedly causes trouble and he never suffers any real consequences, except I guess being abandoned in the forest, which I will admit was pretty sad.

I think this is one of the few Disney movies to not have a happy ending and I commend them for it. Tod and Copper don’t re-form their friendship or ride off into the sunset together. Copper convinces his master to spare Tod and they just go their separate ways, ending on neutral ground. Afterwards it’s still pretty happy, but it’s more bittersweet than anything.

The Fox and the Hound is a solid movie. It has some issues, but overall it was an entertaining and insightful movie. I’m giving it a 7 to 8 out of 10.

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Did I put in the right movie?

The Black Cauldron is a movie I wouldn’t have known existed if I didn’t have the power of the internet at my disposal. It’s probably a good thing too as this one film nearly killed the entire studio.

The days of Snow White, Cinderella and Aristocats are long gone and now Disney is more grown up and delivers dark, story centric movies. The last two movies provide the set-up for this movie’s big jump into darkness. The Black Cauldron is ambitious, as the cutesy parts of it are overshadowed by the dark tone and the haunting imagery. It has a similar feel to Sleeping Beauty’s darker moments. If only a Blu-ray version existed as the image quality would look even better than your standard DVD version.

The background behind the film is more interesting than the actual movie itself. At the time there was a fight over creative control between old and new animators and this film was at the centre of the ongoing battle. Refocusing on the actual film, it’s okay. Not as bad as I was expecting, but it could be better.

The plot is a bit messy as it doesn’t have enough time for things to really develop. Characters, locations and important objects are thrown into the movie with zero explanation as to why they’re there and what their purpose is. There is a princess in this movie and I was kind of expecting that due to her title and status she would have played a bigger part. There is a land of mole fairies that is hastily introduced and then kicked out. Taron and Gurgi are the only two main characters with plot significance and their motivations are muddled.

Let’s talk about The Horned King, a character that would feel right at home with all of today’s boring evil wannabes. I felt kind of bad picking on Madame Medusa, but after seeing this movie she’s nothing compared to this joke of a character. Remember the giant devil guy from Fantasia? He looked cool and scary, which is the same with The Horned King except he’s given an entire movie to shine and yet does nothing with it. They talk about how evil he is and how if he wins it would be bad for everyone, but it doesn’t pay off. He takes the Dr Claw approach of sitting around, ordering henchmen to do all his work and when it’s time to finally do something he’s defeated 5 minutes later. Great!

Disney villains like this should be charismatic and able to prove that they’re a threat. The Evil Queen from Snow White is pretty uninteresting, but she does stuff to remain memorable unlike The Horned King who sits in the dark on his stone spooky chair. Come on, Disney Villains are supposed to salvage the average movies, not the dumb heroes.

Back to the movie and there are no musical numbers, which I am grateful for. This is the first Disney movie to be rated PG, because of its darker themes and that is my main problem with this movie. Disney is known for making family friendly films and these last two movies are alot darker than the older movies. They’re bold enough to give this a shot, but not enough to put their whole bodies in the water. They were fine with testing their audiences back in the bronze age and now on the brink of financial ruin they’re too afraid to do something bold.

The Fox and the Hound did really well at using the source material to create a unique story, while The Black Cauldron tries to be a family film whilst telling its own original darker story, and it just doesn’t work. It has no faith in the audience to take this heavy material and they don’t know how to appease them. Which is very much the case as about 15 minutes of the movie was cut after the test screening audience were terrified of the monster Disney had created.

Overall it’s a heavily flawed movie from a once great studio. The Black Cauldron is okay, the only highlights are the presentation and the worst villain in this series thus far. I’m giving it a 3/10. If you have kids I guess it depends on how much heavy content they can take. As for everyone else you’re better off watching The Song of the South, as that film is more memorable.

My Official Disneyathon Ranking List

Link to Next Part Coming Soon.

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