Tag Archives: Disney Live Action

Cinema-Maniac: Newsies (1992) Review

On the surface “Newsies” has my attention being based around true events that are usually ignored and starring a young Christian Bale. While the material doesn’t sound riveting Bale is more than capable in providing a compelling performance to carry the film. However, upon discovery it was a Disney live action musical it turned into a worst case scenario that instead of subverting expectation it plays into them. Creating one noisy mess of a film that could have worked for both it actors and the story if it knew to be a drama or musical instead of sloppily meshing the two together.

Newsies is a musical based a true story about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. Immediately the film begins to crack opening with a poorly written and constructed song about working (oh come on, that lazy Disney formula). Now I’ll accept back in 1899 New York City “Newsies” sang on a daily basis on just about anything, ten years old were allowed to hang out in pubs and drink the night away, and I’ll even buy Joseph Pulitzer plan to make more money will obviously not work if it all leads to something compelling. It never amounts to much because of the Disneyfication of a film that clearly was meant to be a drama is tailored into an indispensable, uninspired mess. Missing is coherency in its narrative structure to support dialogue dramatics and the musical numbers. Pacing is erratic sometime going for long stretches without a musical number to having too many songs pile up on each other. The quiet moments of the film are filled with indispensable cliches. From the cast of heroes there’s a newsboy on crutches, the little kid, the rebellious hero going against the establishment, and of course the hero’s best pal that warms up to him, who has a pretty sister. Not to forget the one dimensional villains whose only defining traits are to make money or pick on children. There’s nothing wrong with simple morality, but when the characters themselves acknowledge how stupid they act it begs to question what is actually consider morally good by this film standard. Our protagonist, Jack Kelly, lies for a living to make money to not starve to death. A trait that is meant to earn the audience sympathy, but Joseph Pulitzer who makes a honest living selling newspaper and gave kids jobs barely scraping by with their wages in the first place is perceived to be bad. Since Pulitzer is the standard villain who hates people and motivated by money his action have a predictable outcome to the conflict. On both sides you have characters whose action are supported with a weak body of characterization to take them seriously.

In middle of the erratic pacing and cliches it calls characters are the plotlines simultaneously having too much with little breathing room and stretched out beyond repair. Token supporting characters drop in and out at a moment notice. For example, Jack Kelly visit his best sister house falling in love with his best pal sister. All that was needed for Jack Kelly heart to be taken away with his significant other wasn’t the growth of their relationship, learning about each other, but occasionally gazing at each other in one scene and they know it’s meant to be. It doesn’t matter that Jack Kelly shares more scenes with a older man another supporting character than he does with his own love interest. Jack Kelly also has his own arc to overcome which is too kinda organize the Newsies to strike. A job later handle to another character temporarily which goes to display the lack of importance of their position. None of the characters feel important to in fighting for their cause. Every one of them feels disposable and interchangeable with one another. Weak characters, scatter plot lines, erratic, and some badly written musical numbers can create a noisy snooze fest of a film. Top it all off, the motivation to start the strike is thrown away at the climax as if to say I give up.

If judged as a Disney musical it’s PREDICTABLE! Anyone not familiar with the “Disney” formula here’s how Disney lazy efforts usually play out; It opens with a choral arrangement preferably a work song (Carrying the Banner), characters grow up in a montage over the span of a single song, dead or absent parents that occurs quickly or off screen and probably in a montage with no dialogue or brief mention, a “I want” song sung by the protagonist (Santa Fe), and the gilded cage: you’re trapped in this place, probably for your own safety. For me the film did no favor playing it safe by the book. Not one element or plot device used made a difference in how it all played out. In particular the dragged out ending which is similar to “We Are the Champions” by Queens if it only bragged for seven minutes repeating “No times for loser cause we are the champions”. The ending is similar to that minus the musical talents of Queens being replaced by off key singers by non professional young stars and poor musical composition, and sound arrangement from the adults putting it together. It should be noted that once a musical number ends the character act back to normal like nothing happened every time making even less sense when seeing our protagonist dance in the middle of the street despite wholeheartedly singing about his past struggles to reach his dream. Like the characters, it best to pretend choreographed musical numbers and songs never happened.

Christian Bale delivers a good performance. When not requiring to sing Bale brings some likability to Jack Kelly. Charming one moment and alienating the next swiftly conveying his character personal turmoil. He’s the only actor who manages to overcome the annoying New York accent making it a part of his character unlike the rest of the young cast where it’s a nuisance to listen too. Singing on the other hand Bale voice cracks going for the high notes. However, his crack voice works for his solo number “Santa Fe” showing off some good dancing skills. Bill Pullman is meh in his role, though among the most tolerable not having that New York accent to handicap him. Robert Duvall plays Joseph Pulitzer not making much of an impression. Duvall has little screen time and even less of a personality given the character he has to portray. At best Duvall is one note, though given how standard the role is written in this film there’s no way he would have pulled off anything interesting unless it was meant to be intentionally cheesy. The supporting cast has some interesting names from David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Trey Parker, Josh Keaton, and number of others that get tossed to the sideline. Their performances are average unable to deliver the more heavy side of the material with any emotion. Some of them are better singers than Christian Bale, but unlike Bale,when the supporting cast speak in their New York accent it can get annoying. Despite a good performance by Christian Bale the film is miscast. The characters we follow are meant to be children, but all have the appearances of teenagers going against the concept. As for the music it ranges from where the mute button like “Carrying the Banner”, to well that just happen song like “King of New York”, and finally to that was surprisingly good like “The World Will Know”. Hopefully among the few songs made for the film you’ll find one you’ll like because it’ll reuses some of them twice and about five of those musical numbers are performed on the same set despite having of a number of sets that perfectly captures its era. Dancing choreography while well performed, much in vein of the story is uninspired.

Newsies on the surface for me had the ingredients to hold my interest, but once Disney got involved attempting to mesh drama and musical together poorly it became tedious. Anyone who knows the Disney musical formula will find no surprises in this repetitive film that takes no risk nor executed in the manner to make it enjoyable. Even if the plot does interest you the characters are one dimensional cliche and so are the standard villains. Plotlines aren’t developed to support itself without a musical number to liven things up. The music is limited and generally badly sung while the drama side of the story tread familiar waters like it a commitment to the end. All in all, Disney tried something different, but at the same time it was afraid to do anything different ending up with a film with the worst qualities of the studio present for two noisy hours of boredom.

3/10

Cinema-Maniac: Dragonslayer (1981)

Dragonslayer is an interesting film in Disney ridiculously large catalogue of family films. For starter, it’s a more realistic take on a typical fantasy story, contains partial nudity, some blood and gore, and no memorable characters. It says something when the best remember element of the film is a special effect that isn’t on screen for much of it duration leaving a bigger impact than anything else with longer exposure. It has some intelligent ideas and semi-subvert dark take on an overuse formula, but it’s characters and actors hold it back from greatness.

Dragonslayer is about a young wizard apprentice sent to kill a dragon which has been devouring girls from a nearby kingdom. Now the way the film is set up is also it biggest downfall. It build up is done right in sparingly showing the dragon and creating its image as this big menace that is seemingly invincible. Giving the world a true sense of danger as the dragon unprecedented timing of attack raises fear. Leading to characters to pursue any option possible from a gaining helping from a bumbling sorcerer’s apprentice to a so call…”Virgin Lottery” (brought to you by Disney) to sacrifice to the dragon. Seeing the influence the dragon has over the kingdom holds your attention and so does the dragon when he appears on screen. While also doing away with some narrative points in its genre that prevents it from being part of the norm. Maintaining it’s overall dark tone with deaths being prevalent throughout even for major characters you expect to survive. It characters bog down some of it more complicated religious and politics subjects. As mention earlier the “Virgin Lottery” (brought to you by Disney) is challenged making a statement against Authoritarian. This plot point correlates some religious ideals. It’s not the inherent quality of the belief (or tool, or skill, or invention) that determines whether it’s good or bad, it’s how it is used.

Then there are the human characters that are a mixture of cheeky comedy, satire, and seriousness minus a balance. Much like the actors that play them, they aren’t compelling as if their performances were meant for different films. Peter MacNicol is not a capable, commanding presence. He is barely more masculine than the female lead and probably a few octaves higher. MacNicol looks and acts exactly like his character should even if he is the star of the film he always fits with the cast without standing out. However, he fails to make the hero compelling with his clumsy transition between comedy and drama. Ralph Richardson performance is artificial with his limited screen time. Richardson dies in two scenes in the film coming across as an old man bad role play of a cheesy fantasy board game. Caitlin Clarke is fair playing against gender type with her character. She’s able to conceal an important trait of her character physically and verbally, but once that trait is revealed she plays naturally in a routine love interest going through the rocky, a dragon is trying to kill me motion. John Hallam plays the obligatory rival with no redeeming value. Whenever he’s on screen he has one mindset; I’m angry. Peter Eyre is both hilarious and pathetic, as a king who can think of nothing more forceful than bleat. Chloe Salaman is okay as the film progresses so does her performance improves with material that gives her character some emotional turmoil to showcase. As a whole the acting is fair, but limited by the material giving the actors a hard time when deciding to switch direction.

Matthew Robbins textures his film with muted brooding colors for the coarse-flavored peasant environment to the more brightly-colored dragon sequences. Effects-wise the film sometimes shows it age in some poor blue-screen rendering, especially in the big climactic action scene. The dragon is a mix of richly detailed animatronics and stop-motion animation, to produced a monster that shown realistically in close-ups, yet could be given motion in a wider shot with little difficulty. And though there are moments when the inevitable choppiness of stop-motion work shows on the whole it still looks menacing. Probably the best marriage of old and new might be to use digital techniques to erase the telltale signs of a stop-motion or other type of puppet, allowing the tiny model to move as fluidly as a “real” creature. A minor but vital character to the film’s design is fire, and there are several distinct colour schemes – the blazing amber-redness of the dragon’s breath, the swirling green that signals the rebirth of sorcerer Ulrich, and the bluish-amber in the pools of intense heat which pepper the dragon’s cavernous lair. As for the confrontation between human is dragon is realistic as the hero has a difficult time even holding his own against the dragon with good weapons.

Dragonslayer is darker than most of Disney live action films, but also missing are some compelling leads that made some of their classics widely remembered. It subvert from the norm of Disney with it dark themes and a more gritty take on fantasy that doesn’t pander (much) to what viewer expects. While none of the actors or characters ever share the glory as the special effect driven dragon it has other elements worth getting into.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Movie Review

Saving Mr. Banks is about author P.L. Travers reflection on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. Alternating between the 1960s production of Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers childhood in the early 1900s the story is told in non chronological order. The film would have still worked the same if told in order, but the shift between the different era keep things moving without contemplating its own purpose. Themes click a lot faster and character specific moments serve more than essential piece of development as they better correlate the connection Traverse has with her work. By its own structure it’s a design that juggles the correlation between Travers personal life and the work of fiction she holds so dear to her, silver lining the acceptance of change and letting go of the past, and a what it means to be a storyteller. All these ideas are balanced making the journey with earnest emotions. However its characters are a different story. This being a film about P. L. Traverse she is the most define and only three dimensional character. Everyone she interacts gets across a theme which in this story is a positive. Much like the flashback this provides depth in the main theme and sheds a light on how Traverse sees her work and understand the power it has on other.

One of theme that never comes full circle is addiction. While the core relationship of fatherly love works. What doesn’t work is the attempted correlation of addiction between Travers and her father. P. L. Traverse is at a point in her life where she stopped her addiction to tell stories and the core of Travers flashbacks is her father addiction to alcohol. The film wants to tell us that Travers has a deep connection towards her father, but unlike Travers where her inspiration for writing is clear of her father root is misguidedly vice versa. With no exploration in what triggered Traverse drinking problem it also negates what made Traverse stop writing in the first place. Things are missing from these two backstory with one having no beginning and the other having no ending. Still, it’s for it few flaws the story can connect to the viewer no matter how much of it is accepted as truth or fiction.

In a movie about artists that are addicted to their craft, you need actors that work with the same type of fervor. Emma Thompson despite not getting top billing gets the most screen time, gets the toughest job, and delivers the film best performance. She becomes very dislikable and yet sympathetic at the same time. Tom Hanks gives Walt Disney a humanized performance that separates the flawed man from the myth the Disney Company. The rest of the cast does not disappoint, and we even see Colin Farrell potentially impresses as the loving yet extremely defective father figure. Paul Giamatti chief amongst the supporting actors as Travers’ driver, Ralph, a doleful puppy in human form that responds to every brush-off and verbal slap with another smile and encouraging word. There’s no lazy leaning towards slapstick or cheap shots, rather director John Lee Hancock steers their scenes gently allowing both the frostiness and the occasional sprinkles of sunlight to sparkle with sincerity. Hancock visually is creative in framing a true story to be grander than it probably was. One particular noticeable sequence is when the creative team performs one of the songs and Travers has a flashback. For a film that is about the writing process, Saving Mr. Banks never really shows about the writing process that Travers goes through, but explores the writing process of adapting a work, from one medium to another.

Saving Mr. Banks is more about fathers and a storyteller emotional connection towards their work than it is about the making of a beloved film. With a focus on the bigger picture it gives a better understanding of the value that storytellers hold to their work which in some form or another is seen as an extension. It’s a film that can connects to storytellers as strongly to any kind of audience.

8/10