Epic Disney Watchfest 5: Robin Hood and The Rescuers Down Under: This Review Is Tantamount to Excellence

I just got home from a night of playing piano at the Skirvin Hilton’s Red Piano bar. It was a fun night – there was a Bon Jovi concert, so when I whipped out good ole’ “Living on a Prayer”, everyone sang along. Good times. The point of this is to say that if anything you read comes across as though it were typed with swollen fingers, it’s because it was. Moving along, we are on day five of the Epic Disney Watchfest, and things continue to get more and more real. If one does not watch out, this whole endeavor might even become legitimate. It would be like that song, “Too legitimate, too legitimate to quit”. Just like it. What am I talking about? Anyway, Brazle, Casey, Hayley and I converged on my house on Friday to watch Robin Hood and The Rescuers Down Under. It was completely the most awesome thing that has ever happened; movies are always better when watching them with friends, and the more friends the merrier imho. Here are my thoughts on the movies.

Robin Hood

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Robin Hood is truly foxy in this Disney adaptation.

A couple of years ago, I developed a burning desire to watch a movie from my childhood. I don’t know what brought it on, but I know it gripped me pretty strongly. So, I started to think of what movie I’d like to watch most, and for some reason, Robin Hood dominated my brain. I remembered the film extremely fondly and eventually decided I couldn’t wait to re-watch Robin launching arrows and running around causing mischief. I bought the dvd for like $15 (it’s now selling for $50. What???), opened it up, and popped it in the player. I was so excited. Sadly, as the movie unfolded, I grew more and more disappointed. This wasn’t what I remembered at all! The story was thin, the animation was choppy, and the whole thing just seemed really…..dumb. It hurts me to say that, but that’s how the movie struck me in that moment. I just couldn’t believe how bad it was.

Fast forward a couple years and right there, next on the list was Robin Hood. I had not watched it since that bad experience, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I came away with a much more positive opinion. I still think it has quite a few weak points, but overall, I think it’s a creative, fun little family movie. The weak points would include the meandering story and sometimes lazy animation while the positive qualities would include the archery contest (still fun and exciting), Prince John (totally ridiculous in a good way), the music and some very attractive art design. Overall, I would give this film a 6.8/10. It’s an especially great film for kids and families.

On the music: Casey said she once had the song “Whistle-Stop” as her ringtone. I feel like you should know that, and I also feel that maybe you should make it your ringtone too. It’s a catchy ditty. The other highlight is “Oo De Lally”. Since watching on Friday, I’ve had “Oo De Lally” coursing through me in the same way as caffeine after my third cup of coffee. I’ve even caught myself humming it around clients at work which is obviously an awesome thing to do but still. The moral of the story is, Robin Hood has some catchy tunes.

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Prince John is unhappy that none of his friends will watch Robin Hood with him.

Oddly, the thing that intrigued me most about the movie had no-thing to do with the movie itself. Instead, I was struck by the difference that was made by watching with friends. When I had previously viewed the film, I watched it by myself and came away thinking it was really bad. This time, I watched it with friends and came away thinking it’s a decent film. That’s probably because my peeps were laughing and enjoying themselves throughout, and their reactions lifted my opinion several notches. This goes to show that if you surround yourself with good people, a situation that looks incredibly grim might begin to look very different. Of course, this is not a new revelation, but it really hit home in a different way after Friday. So, go forth and spend time around positive people.

And that’s my review of Robin Hood. It’s kind of weak but good with good friends. Yaaaay!! Geez, now I have “Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest, Oo de lally, oo de lally golly what a day” stuck in my head again.

The Rescuers Down Under

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The Rescuers are down under in this Disney animated feature.

The standard format of our Watchfest is to watch the older movie first and then the newer one. Doing things thusly can really illuminate just how far things have come in animation technology. For example, when we watched The Fox and the Hound and The Great Mouse Detective, things looked very similar until the climactic scene in the clock tower. In that scene, the heavy CGI really stood out. Further, when we watched The Rescuers and Oliver & Company, the basic animation style wasn’t terribly different, but the CGI elements in Oliver really stood out as The Rescuers has none of that new-fangled tomfoolery. So, in both cases, the basic animation looked essentially identical (even over the span of decade or more) with CGI elements acting as the only distinguishing agents.

In the case of jumping from Robin Hood to The Rescuers Down Under, the very first thing I said was “It immediately looks a million times better.” It is true – The Rescuers Down Under marked a fundamental shift in the way Disney made their animated films, and as such, it looks a billion times better than poor Robin Hood, and even quite a bit better than The Little Mermaid (released just one year prior). The difference is the CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) process. Basically, CAPS allows for the inking and painting to be done digitally (along with compositing). This results in an incredibly clean and uniform look to the characters, colors and sets. In short, The Rescuers Down Under looks amazing, and as such, immediately feels like a better movie than the others we’ve watched before it. I call it the “Avatar effect”.

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Bernard and Bianca look better than ever thanks to CAPS.

The Avatar effect means that if a movie exhibits a large enough leap in technology, it will automatically be considered as a really great film despite short-comings it may possess. Sadly, many technically brilliant films have the Avatar effect; it’s a rare film that features a giant leap in tech while also delivering steller “everything else”. The Rescuers Down Under fits the Avatar effect to a “T” – it has gorgeous visuals, but the story is a bit weaker than some of the movies we’ve already watched. Not that it’s a terrible story, but it just feels a little less inspired than some of Disney’s other works, even the original The Rescuers. Regardless, the visuals are so good that I give this film a 7.5/10.

Wow, I just spent two very long paragraphs writing about TRDU‘s visuals. There is more to the story, and I would be remiss if I didn’t address the following two points.

  • The Return of Bianca and Bernard – it was lovely getting to watch Bianca and Bernard one more time. For a couple of animated anthropomorphic mice, I sure like those two. I feel like one of the story’s shortcomings is not focusing more on them – there was too much time spent on other less important characters imo. Even so, it was a pleasure seeing Bernard complain about flying again, and it was a delight seeing Bianca stay true to her belief in Bernard even when the debonair Jake was vying for her attention. Those two might honestly be one of my favorite movie couples. If there was a Rescuers 3: The Thermo-Nuclear Heat Death of the Universe  I would be all in just to see those two again, and to hear someone mangle Bianca’s voice in trying to imitate Eva Gabor. And I would love to see two little mice stop the universe from exploding and destroying everything.
  • The main theme song of this film is INCREDIBLE. Like, it’s really, really, really, really fantastic. I’m not sure how to describe it except that it has thundering percussion, ethnic whistles and raunchy French horns (raunchy is a good thing in this case). It is something else. I am thinking of downloading just that song from the soundtrack – it is up there with the theme song from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. I think it must be the French horns. Any song with bravado and killer French horns is great in my book.

So, there it is. The Rescuers Down Under is a decent film. Though it has a somewhat weak plot, the stunning visuals, rousing title track and likable heroes more than make up for it. 7.5/10.

Next Up: The Aristocats and Beauty and the Beast

Please comment, and feel free to email me your thoughts at grant@grantstevensgroup.com.

Grant Stevens is digging watching all these rockin’ Disney movies. When he isn’t watching movies, he sells real estate and plays the trumpet and piano. He also likes to listen to podcasts from William Lane Craig on the topic of Apologetics. Check out Grant’s musical endeavors at www.grantstevensgroup.com.

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