ReelReviews #112: Woo-oo! Ducktales (2017 reboot)

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MARCH 16, 2017 SCREENING: DuckTales (2017 pilot)

 

Woo-oo!  Having grown up on the original 80s Ducktales cartoon (which makes me feel freakin’ old, seeing as it was 30 years ago), I’m one of the many adults who couldn’t resist tuning into the August sneak-peek of the NEW Ducktales, thanks to the 24 hour marathon of “Woo-oo!”, (its appropriately named pilot episode) on the Disney XD channel.

 

Although the regular episodes of the series won’t start until September 23rd, the pilot premiered a month earlier and it’s only now that I’m blogging this much belated review. So what can be said about Ducktales that hasn’t been said already? Well, I’ll throw my 2 cents into Scrooge’s vault.

 

Most of the reviews I’ve seen online have nothing but glowing praise for the new Ducktales. I really liked it too, but I have to hesitate before lavishing unqualified accolades for the new incarnation of Ducktales. Compared to its iconic 1987 predecessor, Ducktales 2017 has yet to earn its place as a part of television history, nor has it stood the test of time like its previous version.  Ducktales 2017 had numerous examples of both positives and negatives, so on the whole I have to say it was a mixed bag.

 

For me, the weakest element of the new series is the completely new (aside from Donald Duck himself) voice cast.  It actually pains me to say that, since I fell in love with the new cast singing the “Ducktales” theme on YouTube and I thought it was really inspired casting to have people like David Tennant as the new Scrooge McDuck. Simply put, the new cast sounds almost nothing like the original cast, and often, they don’t even attempt to do so. It’s not just a matter of “getting used to” the new voices – in many cases, they seem wholly inappropriate for the characters, even if you welcome the idea of a new take on those characters.  Scoorge’s nephews, for example, now sound like middle-aged comedians, which is not surprising, since that’s who’s voicing them. And while I didn’t expect Tennant to try and slavishly mimic Alan Young’s Scrooge, I expected him to at least get the “crusty old miser with a heart of gold” essence of the character down.  The most I can say is that Scrooge still sounds Scottish, but that’s not surprising since David Tennant IS Scottish. Tennant’s enthusiasm for the role is clearly present, but I’m just not hearing Scrooge McDuck. Even Kate Micucci, who on paper seemed like she’d be the “most like” the original character, bears virtually no resemblance to the 1987 Webby. Strangely, the only voiceover actor who mildly invokes the style of his 1987 counterpart is Beck Bennett as Launchpad McQuack.

 

Another thing that irked me was I sincerely hoped the 2017 series would be a revival of the 1987 series – that is, even if it didn’t directly pick-up where the ’87 series left off, it would start off with Scrooge and his nephews relationship clearly established and presume that the adventures in the 80s show were canon and had already “happened”, so we’re seeing new adventures. Alas, this is a “reboot” in the true sense of the word, and that means the writers will be ignoring everything that happened in the classic 1987 series and starting over scratch. This was demonstrated from day one, as “Woo-oo!”, gives us another origin story where Donald’s nephews meet their great uncle scrooge for the “first time”, and the episode revolves around Scrooge learning to accept them. I strongly felt we didn’t need to see that.

 

Now, aside from the negatives, the rest of the pilot was superb television, IMO.  The simpler and sleeker animation style had me a little worried the new Ducktales might be aimed more for the kindergarten crowd than the original show. Nope. The new Ducktales pretty much remains an all encompassing family show like its predecessor, and shows the same mix of action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, and sci-fi that made the original show so engaging. I think its rare to find that combo in kid’s shows these days.

 

 

I am reluctant to admit it, but some of the changes seem to give the show more gravitas than the original. For example, in the 1987 Ducktales, Scrooge’s archenemy Flintgold Glomheart might be mistaken for Scrooge’s brother – they look identical aside from Glomheart sporting a kilt and gray beard. Here, there is no question Glomheart looks and sounds completely different from Scrooge and they are totally different characters aside from both being Scottish billionaire Ducks.  Webby Vanderquack, pretty much a damsel-in-distress role in the original show, is much more proactive and has a lot more to do in the reboot.  Huey, Dewey, and Louis have distinctive personalities in the reboot, compared to pretty much being clones and interchangeable in the 1987 series. The revamping of these iconic characters make me look forward to what Ducktales will do with other classic characters like Magica de Spell, Duckworth, and Professor Ludwig Von Drake.

 

Aside from completely changing the voices, Ducktales 2017 has an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude and transplants much of the classic Ducktales universe over to the new show. The souped up version of theme song might be even better than the original, the humor is still sharp and will make adults as well as kids laugh, and Ducktales still has a tour-de-force, upbeat spirit of adventure and fun.

 

Finally, Ducktales 2017 ends its pilot episode with a surprise twist, and one that has yet to be explored in any previous incarnation of Ducktales, and will no doubt play an important role in the new show.

 

Overall, I’m upset that Ducktales 2017 has shown up to “override” the stories and beloved characters from its predecessor television show, but I’m excited what the future will hold for this new series once it establishes itself in its own right. Perhaps the only major problem is it seems the new Ducktales, while being wholly a “kids show” on paper, is generating far more excitement for 30 something adults these days.  Time will tell if the next generation of kids grow up loving Ducktales, too.

 

 

 

*** out of ****

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RetroReviews #29: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

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JUNE 10, 2013 SCREENING: THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010)

 

 

 

Can a classic Mickey Mouse short from 1940 film Fantasia work as a feature length live action movie? Yes and no. Yes, it was indeed adapted into such a movie, and 2010’sThe Sorcerer’s Apprentice is watchable and entertaining. On other other hand, it’s a not a particularly good movie, and aside from the title it has next to nothing in common with the original cartoon short (aside from iconic scene that is cleverly worked into the live action movie)

 

 

I’m not the biggest fan of Nicholas Cage. I liked his early films in the 80s and 90s, but once he became a big Hollywood “star” in the mid 90s, his career started to bore me from that point on. Here, Cage is cast as “Balthazar Blake” a former apprentice to the great Merlin himself. Balthazar is well over a 1000 years old in 2010, and he finds himself recruiting an apprentice of his own when the evil sorceress Morgana is freed from a urn in 2000. Cage was surprisingly impressive in the role, and convincing carried the story as a powerful mysterious wizard who has many centuries of experience and tricks up his sleeve.

 

 

Unfortunately, a key area where the film faltered was with its title character – the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The “adult” version of the character is supposed to be a college student, played by Jay Baruchel. Baruchel is easily the worst part of this film, and comes across more like a character you’d meet it a Woody Allen film (a high-pitched, obnoxious neurotic type) than the type of role required in the story. I simply couldn’t buy him as a wizard-in-training, and his presence in every scene ruined much of the movie for me. Worse, Baruchel is nothing like the younger version of the character shown at the beginning of the story, and the 10 year old version of his character is actually much more likeable, heroic, and masculine than the 20 year old counterpart from the rest of the film.

 

 

Aside from the title character that I absolutely despised, the rest of the film worked for me. It was a silly story but the film worked internally and had me along for the ride. The action scenes are good and exciting, and the film has a suitable level of suspense and fun, lighthearted moments for a Disney movie. The way one sequence from the original 1940s short film was worked into this completely different live action version was a highpoint – especially considering the two stories are nothing like. I hate to pin down an entire review to one casting decision, but the bottom line is that I could recommend this movie is the title character worked within the film’s structure. He doesn’t, so I can’t. It was a weak idea to begin with and that fatal flaw makes the movie fall apart. I think it’s unfortunate, since the rest of the film is enjoyable and has a lot going for it.

 

 

 

 

** out of ****

 

RetroReviews #27: Enchanted (2007)

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JUNE 6, 2013 SCREENING: ENCHANTED (2007)

Nobody does a better job parodying Disney movies than Disney, and perhaps the finest example of that is the 2007 film Enchanted. I found this film to be extremely entertaining and masterfully made because it does something sharp with a now tired premise. Enchanted is yet another film where a cartoon character leaves their crazy universe behind and enters the “real world” (which usually means New York, and does in this case as well) through an inner-dimensional gateway.

Now that this premise has been done with every famous cartoon character from The Smurfs to Rocky and Bullwinkle, it’s hard to think of a time where a movie ever did it and kept the audience engrossed in the story. That’s where Enchanted comes in. The main character in this film is a composite character of every Disney princess you’ve ever seen, her suitor/rescuer is a composite version of every Disney prince you’ve ever seen, and the villain/main antagonist of the movie is a composite of Disney’s greatest female baddies, like if you put the evil stepmother from Cinderella, the evil queen from Snow White, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, andCruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians in a gene splicer together, added steroids, and hit frappe.

The best parodies don’t come up with an obvious one-dimensional copy of the source material, but manage to get the tone and characterization so spot on that their parody version could work in a legitimate version of that story. A fine example is the evil villain in the film Galaxy Quest, General Sarris. The film is a parody of Star Trek, but he actor plays it straight, and he’s such a cruel and vicious evil giant grasshopper-like alien that you could see him working as the villain in a real Star Trek movie. In fact, he’s actually better and more effective than most of the villains from real Star Trek movies. The same is true of the antagonist in Enchanted. She is the evil Queen Narissa, portrayed by Susan Saradon as deadly serious – and she’s extremely effective at being a purely evil, cold-hearted hateful bitch, and is extremely threatening and frightful character for a PG rated film.

One element why Enchanted works better than the countless other “cartoon character comes to the real world” films is that Princess Giselle doesn’t remain in cartoon form when she enters the “real world”. She instead becomes a real flesh-and- blood human being (played by Amy Adams), albeit while retaining all her ridiculous cartoon nature and personality. (Ralph Baski came up with a similar concept for his 1992 adult-orientated film Cool World, but it failed to live up to the potential that it does here). Anyone else from Giselle’s universe who enters the “Real world” over the course of the film also becomes a flesh-and-blood real life being, which can extremely chilling in the case of the evil queen, or extremely funny in case of her cute animal companions (squirrels, etc.) joining her in New York. Once they are in the city and interact with “normal” people, the characters continue to behave and react exactly as they would in their cartoon fantasy, giving us some hilarious moments when they randomly burst into song until someone shuts them up, and so forth.

One of the more remarkable elements is that the original pitch for Enchanted wasn’t something Disney did in-house. Instead, they purchased a script for a more “R-rated” type film that had the same basic structure, and reworked it as a “family friendly” film, while keeping the same biting satire mocking their own brand of films. The first 10 minutes of the movie takes place in the world of the animated Disney princess, and the creators of Enchanted did an amazing job managing to stuff in every standard and over-the-top cliché you can find in their “Walt Disney animated masterpieces”. Once in the real world, they also managed to slyly insert numerous references and in-jokes about Disney movies – for example, no less than four Disney princess voice-over actresses have cameos in this movie as characters in the “real world”.

The film is not without flaws – while the ending with the evil Queen transforming into a dragon and fighting the prince is effective, it’s exactly what the audience would expect and doesn’t work as a parody because its more of a cop out to resolve the story than a homage. The film could have also used an additional 10-15 minutes of running time to flesh out some of its plot points, and it suffers from the politically correct representation of the world in modern Disney films. Still, this is one movie where I have to whole heartily agree with critics and audiences that Enchanted got the praise it deserved. It grossed over $340 million on a $85 million budget, won the 2007 Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Motion Picture, received two nominations at the 65th Golden Globe Awards and three nominations at the 80th Academy Awards. Given all that, I’m surprised the film didn’t receive more “buzz” at the time it was released. It’s not a masterpiece, but as far as the genre its doing and the storyline its trying to tell, this movie is as good as it gets.

*** ½ out of ****

RETROREVIEWS #18: PETE’S DRAGON (1977)

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MAY 24, 2013 SCREENING: PETE’S DRAGON (1977)

 

 

 

 

Pete’s Dragon is the second of two Disney cartoon dragon movies I watched during my fantasy film marathon. It was a completely different experience, so usually I’d spend this time telling you whether I felt it was the better or worse of the two films. However, I can’t because it pretty much breaks even. In contrast to 1941’s The Reluctant Dragon (which spent most of its time talking about Walt Disney Studios than telling us the story of the reluctant dragon) this movie lives up to its title – its all about a 10 year old boy named Pete, and his dragon, Elliott. Of course, this twist here is that Pete’s magic dragon has the ability to make himself invisible, so nobody in the film gets to see Elliott except Pete. Originally, this was going to be the case for the audience as well. The final film gives us about 20 minutes of seeing Elliott on screen, and he is depicted in cartoon form. It’s animated well enough, though given how annoying Elliott is, I can’t help but wonder if I’d enjoy this movie if he had been “invisible” the whole time.

Many live action Disney films of the 1970s (The Apple Dumpling Gang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc.) haven’t aged well, and I’d probably add this movie to the list. In the film’s defense, if we rated it for being annoying, it ‘s not in the category of big budget, more-modern looking movie George Lucas’ epics like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which both had the most annoying sidekicks on the planet, regardless of what else they had going for it). This film features a number of notable actors as supporting characters (Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, etc.) and the all do their job well and have a decent script to work with. Elliot seemed like a one dimensional “harmless loveable doofus that everyone is scared of” stock character to me. Much of the movie involves slapstick with him accidentally knocking things over and making grunting sounds showing he’s sorry about it. Again, I’d have to use the George Lucas comparison: I didn’t care for this character, but he’s not as bad as Jar Jar Binks.

 

 

 

This was another slow moving, boring movie, although I had actually gotten into the story and found myself rooting for our heroes by the climatic showdown at the lighthouse. Apparently this film is remembered for its musical number, “Candle on the Water“, though I doubt the song did much for me since I draw a blank when I try to remember any of it. What can be said in the movie’s favor is that it mixes live action and animation pretty well, and has them interact together in much the same way that later films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would do. In this way, I suppose the movie could be seen as a pioneer in its field, though what it gave us in 1977 pales to the type of the stuff they do today in that category. It does deserve praise because this was the first involving animation in which none of the Nine Old Men — Disney’s original team of animators — were involved. Still, I didnt’ care for the green-and-pink design of the dragon with his shaggy hair and stupid grin. It too, comes across as very “1970s” style character designs. This is more of a matter of personal taste, I suppose.

 

 

 

It’s ultimately a fun little movie and I don’t regret watching it. At the same time, I don’t think I’d want to rewatch it, or recommend it to others.

 

 

 

** out of ****

 

 

 

 

 

RETROREVIEWS #17: THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941)

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MAY 23, 2013 SCREENING: THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941)

 

As I kid, I always used to confuse Disney’s two loveable bumbling animated dragon movies, 1941’s The Reluctant Dragon and 1977’s Pete’s Dragon, so I decided to watch them back to back on consecutive days during my fantasy film marathon. How do they stack up? Well, the good news is that once they’re fresh in your mind, the two movies don’t really have much in common aside from featuring an overweight gentle friendly dragon. However, they don’t really offer up anything really compelling or memorable, either. Here’s a balanced look at both movies, starting with The Reluctant Dragon.

 

The surprising thing about the 1941 movie is really what it turns out the movie isn’t about: the reluctant dragon. The film clocks in at 76 minutes running time, and only about 10 minutes of it (a portion of the film that occurs near the end) is actually the animated segment about the reluctant dragon. So what fills the vast remainder of the movie? A wraparound segment about the “magic” of Walt Disney studios. Some of it is really interesting and fun, but unfortunately, much of it is as hokey and dated as it sounds. Rather than just give us a straight “behind the scenes” look at Disney animation studios of the 1940s, the film goes with a fictional story about an ordinary Joe wanting to pitch his reluctant dragon story to the studio (which he is too modest to do, leaving his wife to talk him into visiting the studio and seeing Walt Disney in person). Once inside, swell Mr. Disney is nice enough to meet him face-to-face and give him a grand tour of the studio himself. What a guy! Walt Disney plays himself in the movie, and while he is always a delight to see on screen and an important figure in history, I found myself preferring to watch “Saving Mr. Banks” with Tom Hanks as Disney, than watch the Disney company’s “look how awesome we are” puff piece from the 40s.

 

A huge irony about this movie is that most the “Disney animators” in the movie, (who talk about how great it is to work for Disney) were actually actors cast as animators. The real-life animators went on strike around the same time this movie came out, which led to quite an embarrassment for Walt Disney Disney pictures at the time. In fact, it probably contributed to the movie flopping at the box office. In fairness to Disney, the strike happened after the movie was completed so its fantasy version of “real life animators” really wasn’t deliberate, and the animation techniques and various production offices they show at the studio do appears to be genuine – however, much of the information they give about movie making magic is relevant to 1940s film-making and no longer holds true today.

 

Not surprisingly, the bulk of this feature length movie is no longer shown its in original form today. It can be found in some obscure Disney releases, like the 2002 out of print DVD release Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio, or as exclusive DVD available to Disney Movie Club members by mail in 2007. More often, the 10 minute animated short has been released on its own and packaged with other Disney cartoon shorts on DVD. The short is cute, harmless fluff. It lives up to its title by giving us a story about a reluctant dragon who doesn’t want to fight battles with humans, so he and a “brave knight” scheme to hide in a cave and pretend to have a battle (complete with shouts and sound effects) so the local villagers will believe he slayed the dragon and stop pestering both of them. Ironically the whole wraparound segment about “Mr. Disney” agreeing to make this cartoon seems to be its own version a phony story presented to audiences so they will leave the studio alone.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the “studio tour” that were really funny and provided some good information to viewers, and it was a genuinely innovative idea to create a “package film” in this manner, and give us something different besides a series of unrelated cartoons strung together. However, the end result gives me much of the same reaction that critics of the 1940s had: we were expecting a feature length movie about a dragon, and didn’t care for an idealized version of what Walt Disney Studios is like. It’s passable entertainment, but considering how Disney prides themselves on being such “pioneers” in the industry, they could have given us so much more.

 

** out of ****