March 1, 1996 in Seven

Politically Correct Or Not, Disney Animators Can Tell A Good Story

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The ads call it “the biggest video event of 1996!”

And who are we to argue?

Something about a Disney video release causes cash registers to ring.

“Pocahontas,” which grossed $141.4 million in theaters during 1995, is all set to become a video blockbuster. Just as “Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” did before it.

If you’ve ever spent time in a house with small children, you’ll understand why. Some of my friends know the lyrics to “Under the Sea” by heart.

Two hundred straight viewings of “Little Mermaid” will do that to you.

Imagine having to sit through 200 takes of Vanessa Williams singing “Colors of the Wind” (which should win “Pocahontas” composer Alan Mencken another Academy Award).

Actually, even with all the furor over “Pocahontas” (see capsule review below) - some of it understandable, some of it not - it makes for an enjoyable view.

Still, “Pocahontas” is probably the slightest of the most recent releases, both thematically and in terms of production values.

Just for fun, here is one critic’s list of the best of Disney animation:

The modern era

“Beauty and the Beast” (1991) - This Belle doesn’t take the back seat at any ball.

She’s as capable of taming the wild beast as she is of handling a brutish suitor.

The music is superb, as stirring as any recent Broadway show of note, and the animation - especially the computer-enhanced sections - is about as state-of-the-art as traditional animation can get.

“Aladdin” (1992) - OK, so this is a film that angered a lot of people because it ostensibly characterized all Arabs as ruthless, sword-swinging buffoons.

To which I say, lighten up, folks - this is a cartoon, a clever, well made and very funny adaptation of the Arabian tale about a boy, a girl and a magic lamp.

Fans of Robin Williams have to include this performance in any retrospective of his greatest works.

“The Little Mermaid” (1989) - This slim tale about a mermaid who wants to be a human began Disney’s resurgence as the creator of classic animated tales.

It has everything - romance, adventure, funny creatures, singable songs and moral lessons that don’t go down like beets.

The classic era

“Snow White” (1937) - Oh sure, I’ve heard the story that this film has caused more nightmares among children than the very idea of Baywatch Barbie.

But the story is pure Disney, with good winning out over evil only after a musically attended struggle.

Just imagining the amount of work that went into making animation this good is awe inspiring.

“Pinocchio” (1940) - Pinocchio breaks his strings and dances. Pinocchio escapes from the Pleasure Island of bad boys.

Pinocchio and Geppetto escape from the belly of Monstro the whale. Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) sings “When You Wish Upon a Star” - this version of the Italian folk tale is filled with almost too many memorable sequences to recount.

“Bambi” (1942) - Kids still cry when Bambi loses his mother, and they still laugh when Thumper falls in love. Disney critics have always bemoaned the company’s so-called softening of a story’s political message (think of “Pocahontas”), but you dismiss the environmental statement here at your own peril. Man is indeed in the forest, and we all better watch out.

Pocahontas

***

Yes, she is Indian Barbie and he is Pioneer Ken. Yes, the Disneyesque script has about as much in common with history as Formica does with slate.

And, yes, you have to wonder why Disney would even want to tackle a subject that is so loaded with politically correct signposts.

But if you look at this animated feature aside from all its cultural hot points, if you look at it merely as a cartoon movie in the typical Disney tradition, well, even then it doesn’t match up to the best of the recent past.

The animation is mostly serviceable, although occasionally it is breath-taking. The story is meaningful, even given the offset from reality that is little more than an excuse for message marketing (“Buy the ‘Pocahontas’ doll! She’s environmentally conscious, has a mind of her own and is a knockout in her buckskin swimsuit!”).

But the movie has an abrupt feel (one more plot point and five more minutes might have helped), and its 1940ish sense of melodrama seems a little stodgy in the 1990s. Still, given its faults, the film does tackle topics in a more serious manner than any “Batman Forever” or “Judge Dredd.”

And the animals - a hummingbird, a raccoon and a surly bulldog - are cuter ‘n bugs. Rated G.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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