Epic Disney Watchfest 11: Lady and the Tramp & Mulan: The Pinnacle of Movie Reviews

If you are just joining us, please check out this page for info on what this is all about. My buddy Mattress commented recently that he would have to be paid a boatload of money to run through all these Disney movies like I’m doing. I said, “Why do you think I’m doing it???” and then admitted there was actually no boatload of cash. In reality, this process has been pretty crazy but also really fun. I mean, I’ve never watched 35 movies in 20 days. It’s zany and awesome. So zany and awesome, in fact, that I’m already looking for others similar undertakings to undertake. But, despite the ultra-amazingness that is this Epic Disney Watchfest, I can’t help but think that a moment will come where I can’t watch another single traditionally-animated film. It hasn’t quite happened yet, and that’s probably because we’re hitting the stretch of absolute Disney classics. But still, I feel like another shoe is going to drop any day now. We shall see. As things stand, it has been a really enjoyable ride, and I’m glad you’ve joined in with me. On to the reviews!!

Lady and the Tramp

Lady-and-the-Tramp

Lady and Tramp enjoy spaghetti while making movie history.

Ok people, your wait is over. The votes are in, and it’s clear you feel that I haven’t made enough wacky analogies in this film review series. Well, I intend to fix that right now. Without further ado, I want to introduce you to a little game I like to call “If All the Movies of This Watchfest Were Car Rides, What Would They Be?” Here is an example of how to play.

If The Great Mouse Detective were a car ride………..it would be the same as driving a 1988 Toyota Tercel to grab a bite to eat – effective, not fancy, gets the job done, takes you where you want to go on a budget, and slightly pleasurable because, after all, you get to eat.

Make sense? Let’s try another one.

If The Black Cauldron were a car ride………..it would be like trying to do a backflip in a monster truck. The idea is great, and if it works, it’s amazing. Unfortunately, things usually end like this.

Still a little hazy? Try this.

If The Lion King were a car ride………..it would be like pulling up to your high school reunion in front of everyone in a Maybach. There’s just so much right with that picture that it’s unbelievable.

I think you’re getting it.

If Pocahontas were a car ride………..it would be like driving an Acura to your reunion – certainly a nice ride, but nowhere nearly as impressive as the Maybach.

Got the idea? I thought as much. So, let’s move right to the latest film on the list, Lady and the Tramp.

ltposter

Lady and the Tramp is his Happiest Motion Picture.

If Lady and the Tramp were a car ride………..it would be cruising a country road on a Saturday afternoon in a 1958 Cadillac convertible. The top would definitely be down, your elbow would definitely be propped up on the windowsill and your choice of great music would be playing over the vintage radio. The wind would be blowing through your hair, the warm sun would be shining, the birds would be happy and you would have nothing else on your agenda but enjoying the beautiful drive. It would be one of those rare, perfectly gorgeous days where you would get to enjoy every moment including fireflies at dusk, a radiant sunset and a cool clear night with stars twinkling (and at least one shooting star to complete the effect). It would be the most comfortable and relaxed drive ever.

If that astute analogy doesn’t do it for you, let me explain in simpler terms: Lady and the Tramp is a lovely film with no major flaws, gobs of positives, and tons of heart. It is easily one of the best pictures of this whole Watchfest. What makes it so great are three things: the beautiful presentation, the characters and the music. I give it an 8.4/10 and recommend it to all audiences.

Lady_and_the_tramp_DE_01-e1329366715500-1024x396

Lady was once a puppy.

Let’s go deeper.

PresentationLady and the Tramp was the first animated feature to be shot in the burgeoning CinemaScope widescreen format, so it realllly stand out from earlier movies using a full frame aspect ratio. I love love love this. The wider frame makes for a larger, more detailed presentation, which, just like in Sleeping Beauty, causes everything to pop. For example, I adore the quaint home and yard in which Lady lives – the colors are vibrant and the details are sharp. It’s a very vivid picture. Another example would be the famous spaghetti eating scene. That scene is beautiful not just because of the emotion of the moment but also because of the vibrant world in which it takes place. Next time you watch that part, look at the background – it is a work of art. The lighting is great, and there are nice little details like clothes hanging on the line. Great stuff.  NOTE: that scene received much attention from Eyvin Earle, the same man that made Sleeping Beauty the visual masterpiece that it is. It’s no wonder the image of those dogs sharing a plate of spaghetti became one of cinema’s most iconic images.

Si and Am are mischievous.

Si and Am are mischievous.

Another reason I love the wide-screen presen-tation is that it is actually impossible for one character to spatially dominate any given shot. I am not the biggest fan of movies in which the majority of the screen is dominated by characters. I suppose watching an actor talking on a screen just strikes me as uninteresting. I much prefer something like Indiana Jones, a series in which the setting and world are alive and get as much screen area as the characters do. In Lady and the Tramp, this is the case by default. It makes my heart happy. Overall, I think this film is one of Disney’s most beautiful works.

It's Lady and the Tramp II bad this sequel exists.

It’s Lady and the Tramp II bad this sequel exists.

Characters: The characters in Lady and the Tramp are wonderful. Of course, Lady and Tramp are enduring as the unlikely love birds, and there are many other memorable players. For example, Jock and Trusty make a wonderful tandem. They aren’t as over-the-top comedic as a duo like Timon and Pumbaa, but they are heartwarming pillars of the film. Then there’s Aunt Sarah, the cat lady and main catalyst for Lady and Tramp ever really connecting. She is wonderful to hate, being someone who doesn’t “get” Lady at all.

I also love Aunt Sarah’s cats, Si and Am. They are Siamese if you please, and they serve as perfect troublemakers akin to Lucifer in Cinderella. Another great pair of characters are Tony and Joe, the Italian food magnates in Lady and Tramp’s town. Some of the funniest dialogue in the movie happens when those two interact. Like, when Tramp brings Lady for dinner, Joe says “Well son of a gun! He ‘s-a got a Cocker-ell Espanish girl!!” and it’s like infinity times funnier when he says it than when you read it here. And when Joe says he’s got a nice plate of bones for the dogs, Tony tells him “I break-a your face-a” which is outlandish and great. As you can see, Lady and the Tramp is full of great characters. For being such an old movie, they really hold up well.

LadyandTramp1

Tony and Joe are available for weddings and birthdays.

Music: The last things that really stands out to me about Lady and the Tramp is the music. The soundtrack is loaded with great numbers, and they serve to inject a special energy into the film that only music can bring. For example, when Si and Am show up singing the Siamese Cat Song, it brings that whole scene to life. My sister and I used to sing that song to each other all the time, and I can tell you, it holds up marvelously all these years later. Another standout track is Bella Notte from the famous spaghetti scene. Sung by Tony, it conjures up a vibe similar to the classic standard That’s Amore, and it really sets the perfect tone for the “spaghetti kiss”. There are lots of other great songs, but those are the two that really stand out. Suffice it to say, this movie has lots of good music.

In closing, Lady and the Tramp is an iconic Disney picture. It stands the test of time as a great film, and I feel that it is immensely re-watchable thanks to the beautiful presentation, memorable characters and tasteful music. I give it an 8.4/10 and recommend it for any audience.

Mulan

Mulan is based on a Chinese folk story.

Mulan is based on a Chinese folk story.

If you’re wondering where the review for Hercules is, it’s still in my brain, waiting to be written. I watched Hercules with Brazle and Cary before officially launching this project, so I never wrote a review. Maybe I’ll get around to that at some point. Maybe for the book?? We’ll see. That brings us to Mulan.

Mulan had a rough start. After watching the beautifully animated and gorgeously inked Lady and the Tramp, the art and animation of the newer film looked so simple that I thought I was watching a straight-to-video movie rather than a theatrical release. I honestly thought I’d borrowed Mulan II rather than Mulan. Apparently, it was actually Mulan. Oops. Talk about a bad first impression. Though Mulan could single-handedly stop the invading Huns, she couldn’t entirely win me back to a favorable opinion due to overly cartoonish artwork and some weird characterizations. It’s a fun movie for kids, but I don’t see myself ever returning to ancient China anytime soon for more Hua Mulan.

Saving China was apparently just the beginning.

Saving China should have been the ending, too.

I know, I know – it might seem like I’m being unfair. You might be thinking ‘But Grant, Mulan was purposely designed to have a minimalist appearance in order to mimic traditional Chinese art lol!’ and you would be correct in pointing that out. The problem I have is the art design doesn’t make me think ‘Hey look! Animation that recalls the simple lines of Chinese art!’ – it just looks cheap. I will not pretend to know a lot about the history of Chinese art styles, but I can say that Disney likely could have captured the essence of the Center of All Nations much more effectively with a more lush art style. After all, the country of China has some of the most gorgeous landscapes and vistas of the entire world, and I felt like that wasn’t represented at all in this film. Pity.

The other thing that seemed odd was the abundance of Jewish Chinese people and Chinese New Yorkers. I love to see people take risks with their creative choices, so I can’t totally fault Disney. But, it’s not like the Native Americans in Pocahontas sounded like they just stepped off a subway or just got home from a bar mitzvah. That would’ve been weird, right? I mean, I get that the Jewish and Yankee characters are supposed to be humorous; as the Spirits of the Ancestors, they were meant to be completely ridiculous. So why not make them weirder, right? Why NOT make them sound Jewish or Yankee-ish, right? I’ll tell you why – it cheapened the presentation. It’s like the writers couldn’t think of anything funny, so they just made the Spirits Jewish-Yankees. In the end, I didn’t feel like this choice ruined the movie, but it didn’t seem to help and it didn’t feel fitting. On the flip side, it seemed totally fitting for Mushu the dragon to sound like Axel Foley. Go figure. By the way, here.

Mushu is played by Axel Foley.

Mushu is played by Axel Foley.

Alright, I’m done ripping Mulan. Now for some good th– wait! I’m not done ripping! One more thing! There is some cheesy 80’s music when Mulan is stealing her dad’s gear and heading off to war. That musical choice is so bad it’s nearly incomprehensible. Actually, it’s so bad that it’s AWESOME. So maybe it’s not quite a rip.

The soundtrack has great cover art.

The soundtrack has great cover art.

Okay, so here’s something good: I just like the fact that Mulan was made at all. Here’s why. Growing up in Houston, many of my classmates were children of Asian descent. In my final few years of high school, it’s hardly a stretch to say I was often one of the few “white” kids in a class full of Asian and East Indian students. It was tough, for I wasn’t completely adept at understanding and appreciating other cultures back then. But, I learned a valuable lesson in relating with my multicultural peeps from Mulan, believe it or not. The movie came out when I was in high school, and I remember that one day during band rehearsal, some goofy white kid made a severely insulting remark about Mulan, calling her something akin to a prostitute. The remark seemed to go in one ear and out the other for me, but not for the guy sitting next to me. We’ll call him Mark.

Mark is of Chinese descent, and he is extremely smart, extremely talented and extremely kind – the type of person who rarely causes waves with anyone. But when that remark was made, he became completely indignant. He turned to the goofy white kid and proceeded to give him an earfull about how Mulan was an important cultural symbol for Chinese people and how the kid didn’t have to like her but he should show respect. It was a surprising outburst from Mark (since he was typically so passive) thus it making the message even clearer: Mulan isn’t just a fairy tale, but a huge part of Chinese heritage, and as such, she shouldn’t be called a prostitue, even in jest.

Unbeknownst to army officials, Mulan is really a girl.

Unbeknownst to army officials, Mulan is really a girl.

But the even deeper message to me was that Mark and I were very similar – he takes just as much pride in his heritage as I do in mine. It was probably extremely cool for him to see one of his peoples’ stories presented on such a big stage. I mean, being a Christian, I get excited anytime someone decides to make a theatrical depiction of something from the Bible, and though Mulan isn’t a religious story, it developed in Mark a level of passion similar to my passion for the Biblical narrative. In that moment, I began to appreciate other cultures ever so slightly more. Some of those reading this might understand and appreciate different cultures very easily, but I didn’t, so for that reason am I glad Mulan was made.

I know that was a long sidestory, but I can’t evaluate Mulan without considering the positive effect it had on me. So, there. Overall, I think Mulan, as a sheer cinematic experience, is a little weaker than other Disney offerings. It suffers from a cheap-looking art style and weird creative choices. But, I’m still glad it was made, and I would encourage everyone to watch it at least once. Oh, and Eddie Murphy is pretty good in his warmup for Shrek. 7.1/10.

Next Up: Peter Pan and Tarzan 

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

Grant Stevens just finished watching all the Disney traditionally-animated movies (the ones that matter, at any rate). NOw he just has to finish writing the reviews. No big deal – Grant can write these things in his sleep. What else would you expect from a multiple Pulitzer prize winner? Check out his music endeavors: www.grantstevensgroup.com

2 thoughts on “Epic Disney Watchfest 11: Lady and the Tramp & Mulan: The Pinnacle of Movie Reviews

  1. Congratulations Grant on completing your Disney viewing! I can’t wait to read the rest of your awesome, enlightening, entertaining reviews!

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