Geez Louise with cheese on top, this Epic Disney Watchfest is about to get real. Like, I think we just got to the big leagues, and things are only going to get bigger. Wednesday night, Brazle and I watched The Rescuers and Oliver & Company, and those films make The Black Cauldron, The Fox and the Hound, and The Great Mouse Detective feel like triple-A instead of MLB (with the possible exception being FatH – I feel like that movie could play in the bigs if it were a human and a baseball player. It could be like a really good, heart-warming clubhouse guy). I really liked both movies, but I would give The Rescuers the higher rating, probably a 7.7/10 with Oliver & Company commanding a 7.3/10.
This is the first film of the Watchfest that I really remember well – I think my sister Jill liked watching it when we were growing up. Revisiting it 36 years after its release, I am surprised by how well it stands up. It has good voice-acting, an interesting plot, beautiful artwork, memorable character, humorous moments and very well-done animation; it’s no surprise this was a successful film. What is surprising is that out-grossed Star Wars in several European countries including France and Germany. How crazy is that? I agree with your unheard answer – it is REALLY nuts.
The Rescuers is based on the “The Rescuers” series of books by Margery Sharp, and like in the books, the Rescuers are an international group of animals committed to helping people and animals in need. In this case, the person in need is little orphan Penny. She is kidnapped and forced to search for a gigantic diamond called “The Devil’s Eye” by a mean woman named Madame Medusa who owns a pawn shop and a pair of trained alligators named Nero and Brutus.
SPOILER ALERT: adventure ensues, Penny is rescued, and Medusa gets her comeuppance. Oh, and by the way, the heroes of the story are two mice, Bernard and Bianca. That’s probably important to remember. And Bianca is voiced by Eva Gabor, which is important or something. Also, Bob Newhart voiced Bernard. Yippy skippy!
There’s a lot of stuff that’s interesting about this film, but in the name of brevity, I will reserve my commentary for the two things I liked most about the film – the artwork and animation.
Regarding the Artwork: the movie opens with Penny tossing a message in a bottle into the swamp. We are then treated to the opening credits/song set over beautifully hand-drawn still photos of the bottle lost at sea. I LOVE this. It feels very artistic and lends gravity to the situation. Later in the film, we are treated to some gorgeous artwork as Bernard and Bianca make their way from NYC to the swamp. Still, there are other times when wonderful drawings are used (the depiction of the UN building and the swamp come to mind); suffice it to say the extra attention to art works very well. In addition to being tasteful, it is a necessary texture that takes things up a few notches, especially in the re-watchability category.
Regarding the Animation: this film has some real top-shelf animation. Madam Medusa is especially great – her facial expressions are some of the best of the Watchfest thus far. Then there’s the exterior shot of the UN building – the beautiful art is enhanced by the nice animation on the flags waving in the wind and cars coming and going. Another standout is inside the UN – there are several humans depicted, and in many of the cases, their movement looks almost life-like. I’m not sure, but I think there is a good chance those moments were rotoscoped. In all, the animation seemed as though it received more attention than normal, and that extra attention really enhances the film.
In summation, I would say The Rescuers is a good movie. Not just good for an animated film, but good all-around. It has great characters, good voice talent, an interesting plot, gorgeous art, impressive animation and humor. 7.7/10.
Oliver & Company
After the wasteland that was the Disney animation departments efforts of the early- to mid-eighties (according to almost everyone), the powers-that-be came as close as they ever did to axing the animation department (which probably wasn’t terribly close, but still). When The Great Mouse Detective earned modest box-office success, those same powers-that-be figured there might be life left in animation. But, with the memory of the bloodbath that was The Black Cauldron still fresh in everyone’s mind, they weren’t 100% ready to commit to animation again – they needed another sign that it was truly a viable movie format. The movie they turned to was Oliver & Company.
My initial reaction is to say that Oliver & Company is by far the slickest of the movies we’ve watched so far. Not the best, but the slickest. It has the most CGI and the best songs, but even more importantly, the most humor and the most style. Throw all that in the pot and out comes a highly enjoyable movie that paved the way for the next wave of HUGE Disney hits. Critics were mixed as to the merits of the film – some saw it as having a thin, predictable plot. Others felt like the songs were sub-par. Still others decried the animation as being stiff. Audiences didn’t care about any of that – they seemed to like the direction things were going, especially with the humor and style.
Think about it. If you remember the late 80’s, think back to where culture was. Rap music was coming on (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince anyone?), Michael Jordan was coming to prominence, and Ferris Bueller had only two years earlier painted the town red on his Day Off. All those things have one thing in common – style. This movie managed to captured that feeling whether in the music, dancing, clothing or dialogue. Dodger, for example, is a really cool character. He is carefree, smooth with the ladies, and wears sunglasses. I’m pretty sure that as a kid, that’s about all I would’ve wanted, and if I wanted it, there were probably lots of other kids who did too. In addition to that breezy, hip, street-smart style, there is a cool film noir vibe to the criminal underpinnings which is stylish but in a different way.
And one mustn’t forget the humor. The 80’s saw the rise of Sam Kinison, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman, and a slew of other extremely talented comics who began to transform the personality of our culture. One of those people was Cheech Marin. In casting Marin as Tito the chihuahua, Disney learned a critical lesson – hiring top comic talent can really send a film over the top. Just think – nearly every Disney movie after Oliver & Company featured at least one grade-A comic or comedic actor to nail the humor to the wall. Of course, there was comedy in Disney’s previous animated outings, but it was often childish and not too intelligent. That all changed for the better in O&C – Marin killed it and created the comedic template which the Mouse Guys would tap into time and again thereafter.
Before I close, I must say, Oliver & Company isn’t all style and humor with no substance. There is a sweet story of Oliver the kitten getting abandoned alone in NYC and learning the importance of friends no matter what the situation. That kind of heart-warming story is what Disney has always been great at, and I must admit, without real heart to movie, the style and humor would’ve pushed it too far from what got the studio to that point in the first place. Some critics felt the studio did stray too far, but I disagree. Looking back, Disney had to release a movie like Oliver & Company. It was either that or be relegated to the history books as the film studio that popularized animated films yet couldn’t change with the times. In O&C, Disney showed that they had their finger on the pulse of the nation after all, hinting at great things to come.
So, in closing, Oliver & Company is a fun movie. It combines style and humor with a sweet story, setting the tone for Disney’s next phase of awesomeness. It is enjoyable for kids of all ages. 7.3/10.
Next Up: The Little Mermaid
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Grant Stevens loves movies and basketball. He also loves music. Check out his music website at www.grantstevensgroup.com. He is the founder of the Use Ironic Correctly Society, and he also is the greatest writer of all time. Check back for more delicious posts.