Film review – Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley, 2019)

It’s lovely to see the gang back again. After three 5* films, this is the first one that, for me, drops the standard a little.

Woody, Buzz and Jessie have never looked so good. What a difference 24 years makes. In the opening scene there’s a rescue mission that involves Woody leaving the playroom and being exposed to rain. It is nothing short of stunning. You feel every drop off water hitting him, soaking into the materials of his clothes, bouncing off his hat and face. One can only wonder what Ralph Eggleston and John Lasseter would have made of this all those years ago.

Whilst the visuals are as close to perfection as 2019 will allow, I couldn’t help but get distracted by the voice acting. Of course, each of the actors have aged with the fans of the movies, but I could definitely hear that in their acting performances. If there’s another nine years until they decide to make a 5th installment, Tom Hanks will by then be 72 years old. I honestly just don’t want to hear Woody in his eighth decade.

The storyline lacks the oomph and coherence expected of other Pixar films. Whilst it’s somewhat predictable, it also has the feeling of a team trying to add in about 25 minutes to a film they’d crafted but realised didn’t run long enough. It just went around in circles for a little too long when the end was in sight, with an antagonist in the form of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) that was played too softly throughout to ever leave us worried that she’d be a genuine threat.

It’s not a bad film and doesn’t ruin the series, but I think they need to draw a line under it now. It’s an addendum to the perfect ending of Toy Story 3, and it only just gets away with it.

Disney’s Fantasia 2006 – The film that almost was

When production on 1930s short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was nearly finished, Walt Disney knew he had something great on his hands. He also knew he had something costly on his hands. It was originally conceived as an elaborate Silly Symphony short cartoon, partly to explore Walt Disney’s love of classical music and partly to reignite public interest in the waining Mickey Mouse. The blend of high-quality animation and Paul Dukas’s memorable classical symphony proved this was a cut above the usual fare, though it came in at a budget of $125,000, which would never be earned back were it to be released as a standalone short. [1]

Using the Mickey comeback as the starting point, production was vastly expanded. Thousands of artists and twelve directors were tasked with creating eight additional segments to accompany the first short. [2] Seven made the final cut (including the intermission segment) and were included in the original theatrical release of Fantasia, Disney’s third animated feature film. It was released to much fanfare in 1940, garnering immediate and sustained critical success. It has gone down in the history books as a masterpiece.

The original plan to re-release Fantasia every few years with a new short segment replacing one of the original shorts never came to fruition, although work was started on some newer segments. [3] One completed short, titled ‘Blue Bayou’ and based on Debussy’s Clare De Lune, found its way into the 1946 package film ‘Make Mine Music’ (though with different music as backing). Indeed, both ‘Make Mine Music’ and the subsequent ‘Melody Time’ are spiritual successors of ‘Fantasia’, using the basic concept – a series of unrelated short films set to music – as their starting point. Had Disney released these films with a Fantasia prefix, they would surely be more likely to be better understood by the modern public.

Fantasia 2000

Alas, it wasn’t until 1999 that the sequel proper was released, in the form of Fantasia 2000. This time, seven new segments were included alongside the inclusion of the now-iconic short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Critically it fared well, though it wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece. At the box office, it recouped its money and made a small profit.

There were some real triumphs here, although my favourite segment has to be The Firebird, which provides an emotional closing for the feature.

A third Fantasia film?

A further follow up was started in 2002, with a working title of Fantasia 2006. However, by 2004 the film was shelved. The reasons for cancelling the project were never confirmed, but looking at the facts the reasons aren’t hard to deduce.

From Fantasia 2000 onwards to the cancellation of its sequel, Walt Disney Feature Animation released seven films: Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home On The Range. In that same time-span, Pixar released Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. That doesn’t include Toy Story 2, a film that dwarfed Fantasia 2000 at the box office and was released just three weeks earlier.

This was a troubling lack of success in what is considered as a transition phase for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Financially, they were going through a string of failures akin to the 1980s, just before the renaissance in the late 80s and through the 90s. As such, the third Fantasia film was cancelled. Now was not the time to take risks with passion projects.

Does any footage survive?

More than just fragments of shorts, Fantasia 2006 was far beyond the planning stage and well into production when it was called off. Not wishing to waste their efforts, the various production teams were tasked with finishing their segments, with the proposal that each would be released independently as short films.

Perhaps the most celebrated of the shorts is Destino. This was first conceived as a collaboration between Walt Disney and surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Dali and studio artist John Hench had made just 17 seconds before production was shelved in 1945, though this was enough time to have a basic concept scoped out in the form of storyboards. 58 years later, production was finally finished by a team of animators under the direction of Dominique Monféry. It’s visually stunning and an conceptually mind-blowing piece of art history as well as a work of art in its own right. It has been criminally underappreciated, partly due to the fact it is so hard to track down. If you want to find it now, you will need to purchase the Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray and navigate to the bonus features menu. It is seven minutes well spent.

Five-minute short Lorenzo was released in 2003 with the live-action Kate Hudson feature Raising Helen. It’s a bizarre short about a cat with a cursed tail, which develops a life of its own. The tango track “Bordoneo y 900”, performed by Juan José Mosalini and his Big Tango Orchestra, was used as the soundtrack, moving it further away from the original concept of classical music for Fantasia 2000. It hasn’t gone down as a must-see short, and it is arguably more charming than breathtaking. To find it now and enjoy it in the best quality, USA readers need to hunt down a copy of Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection on Blu-ray.

Pixote Hunt had already contributed the Symphony No. 5 segment to Fantasia 2000 (along with directing the interstitial segments), and was also the man behind One by One. The eventually-released version ended up using a song that was intended for original The Lion King film but was cut late in the production. It did end up being used in the stage musical before being used again in One by One. It’s a lovely little work of art that centres around a child feeling inspired to make and fly kites in his local village in an unidentified African country. The music isn’t integral to the film and it feels like it was a pairing made to suit its inclusion on the Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride home media release. Had it been included in the Fantasia 2006 release it would undoubtedly have been paired with some equally-fitting classical music, but the fact the animation was finished is still a blessing.

The Little Match Girl is the most memorable of the finished shorts. An eight minute story told without any dialogue that still maintains your interest is usually the mark of something very special. It is set to the third movement of Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Alexander Borodin, meaning what you can see is very much exactly as it was imagined for Fantasia 2006. It’s a achingly beautiful animation, and marked the last use of CAPS (Computer Animated Production System) by Disney following its extensive use throughout the 1990s in their renaissance period. USA readers can find The Little Match Girl as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray of The Little Mermaid or as part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection from 2015.

Other than these four finished shorts, we are left to speculate what else would have been included in a final feature release. I’d guess that Disney wouldn’t break mould with the format of live-action inter-segment introductions to break up the short films, so there would be some of that in there. It wouldn’t be a Fantasia film without the inclusion of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Siberia-set short film Glago’s Guest was completed around the same and could have been included, although it has been seldom seen by viewing public (including myself) so this is mere speculation.

Probably most exciting to Disney aficionados would be remastering and recutting the short Clair De Lune, which, as previously mentioned, was an unused short from the original Fantasia film. It was later edited with a different soundtrack and retitled Blue Bayou, which was included in the Disney feature Make Mine Music. Putting the original classical score together with the existing footage would top off something of a celebration of the past for the studio.

So there you have it. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. Its hard to argue that their eventual switch in concentration has helped ensure they got back into the hearts of a generation of children. With Moana, Zootropolis, Big Hero 6, Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, we’ve had so much enjoyment out of the studio in recently years. This wouldn’t have been possible if the studio had folded with one too many passion projects in a period in which they were struggling. 2006 wasn’t the time for looking to the past when everyone around was looking to the future.

[1] LA Times article – ‘Fantastic ‘Fantasia’: Disney Channel Take a Look at Walt’s Great Experiment in Animation’ – http://articles.latimes.com/1990-08-26/news/tv-552_1_walt-disney

[2] Grand Rapids Symphony article -‘A Look Inside Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000’ – https://www.grsymphony.org/blog/posts/a-look-inside

[3] D23 – The Official Disney Fanclub article – “15 Fascinating Facts About Fantasia.

Zavvi Disney Steelbooks – An update

In February 2017, I published an article that criticised Zavvi’s policy on Disney steelbooks. I still stand what I said at the time, because the situation was dire and frustrating. There had been 35 brilliant releases from them, but the new items had started to dry up before dropping off a cliff. To make matters worse, they’d started re-releasing some of the more popular films again with lenticular cases.

Whilst the article was written out of anger, the result was something of a pleasant surprise. Lilo and Stitch was made available immediately after the article went out. Since then, we’ve seen a five further items hit the Zavvi online store:

Atlantis The Lost Empire

Meet The Robinsons

The Rescuers Down Under

Bolt

Basil the Great Mouse Detective

This is all fantastic news, giving the steelbook collectors hope that finally we’ll get a full set of Disney releases that are in the same format and with consistent packaging.

So what’s left? Well, there’s good news and bad. We’ll deal with the former first…

WHAT’S LEFT TO RELEASE AND CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY IN THE UK?

Fun and Fancy Free
Disney Classic #9
Originally released on September 27, 1947
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Disney Classic #11
Originally released on October 5, 1949
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Disney Classic #22
Originally released on March 11, 1977
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Oliver & Company
Disney Classic #27
Originally released on November 18, 1988
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Dinosaur
Disney Classic #38 (US numbering)
Originally relased on May 19, 2000
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Home on the Range
Disney Classic #44 (UK numbering)
Originally relased on April 2, 2004
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Chicken Little
Disney Classic #45 (UK numbering)
Originally relased on November 4, 2005
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Wild
Disney Classic #46 (UK numbering)
Originally relased on April 4, 2006
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

WHAT DOESN’T CURRENTLY HAVE A UK BLU-RAY RELEASE?

Saludos Amigos
Disney Classic #6
Originally released on August 24, 1942
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Three Caballeros
Disney Classic #7
Originally released on December 21, 1944
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Make Mine Music
Disney Classic #8
Originally released on April 20, 1946
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Melody Time
Disney Classic #10
Originally released on May 27, 1948
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Black Cauldron
Disney Classic #25
Originally released on July 24, 1985
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Winnie the Pooh
Disney Classic #51
Originally released on July 15, 2011
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK, but is available in the US

WHAT NEXT?

So that leaves eight releases that Zavvi could realistically issue in the future. Given their rate of release recently, this could well happen in the next few months.

Where the issues will arise is with the remaining films that are yet to be issued in the UK on Blu-ray. 2011’s Winnie The Pooh reboot seems fairly attainable since we know there’s an HD Blu-ray transfer that is on sale in North America.

The remainder present a real issue, but what can be said is that it’s completely out of Zavvi’s hands. They can’t issue a special edition case for a release that doesn’t have a standard edition.

Interestingly, a gorgeous 55-disc boxset of all of the films has gone on sale at Zavvi. It lists five films as being unavailable on Bluray.

It also excludes entirely the 2011 Winnie The Pooh film, along with Dinosaur (which Kel Smith kindly pointed out is excluded in listings of Disney Animation Studios films in the UK), though it includes The Wild (Dinosaur’s replacement).

So, it’s a slightly confusing situation, but the current activity gives me hope that we’ll finally get as far as we can with the Zavvi steelbook collection.

Fingers crossed for the coming months.

Short film review – Lou (Dave Mullins, 2017)

A sweet short film about a bully’s relationship with a lost and found box in a playground might just make your ticket to Cars 3 worth the entry fee.

Dave Mullins is a first time director but has been working with Disney since 1995 and Pixar since 2000, working in the animation department for the likes of Up, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille and Inside Out. It is clear that his attention to detail and love of a great story is at the heart of this film, which is brought to life wonderfully in a story that lasts only a few minutes.

The film opens with the lost and found box attracting the attention of the children in the playground of a school boy, encouraging them to play with the contents. However, the school bully J.J. begins teasing his class mates by taking away their toys and teasing them in the process. However, when the contents of the lost and found box come to life and start to turn the tables on him, he quickly learns a fast lesson in being nice to his peers, awakening memories he’s hidden inside himself that may be the real problem behind his poor behaviour.

It’s incredibly difficult to create something with such a large story and get the whole point across in a strictly limited timeframe, but Mullins and his team completely manage it. The short is, essentially, a silent film, but it has no difficulty in delivering a succinct but strong message.

The audience, which were mainly children, were completely captivated and gave a spontaneous round of applause at the end of the screening.

You can watch the opening 40 seconds below.

 

 

Duke Weaselton’s Officially Licensed Movies

Around eighty minutes into the magnificent Zootropolis, there’s a great moment where Lt. Judie Hops (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) follow a lead to solve their case. They wind up at a dodgy DVD stand manned by Duke Weaselton, voiced by the ever-entertaining Alan Tudyk.

That character is in itself a riff on his character in Frozen, the Duke of Weselton, but the jokes don’t stop there. His dodgy DVDs are all parodies on recent Disney movies, clearly having a pop at the endless rip-offs that flood the market every time a new Disney film is released.

The films include Pig Hero 6 (in place of Big Hero 6), Wrangled (a take on Tangled) and Wreck-It Rhino (Wreck-It Ralph).

They even then pan onto a second pile of DVDs and Weaselton brags that he has films that haven’t even been released yet. Those include Meowana, which is a take on the then-yet-to-be-released Moana that replaces the lead character with a cat. Giraffic, the second in the pile, is a Giraffe-themed parody of the upcoming Gigantic, which is a Jack and the Beanstalk tale due for release in 2020. Finally, Floatzen 2 is Frozen but with a moose and two otters in the lead roles, with a review attached underneath that reads “The best film of the year starring a moose and two otters.”

Digging even further, there are more hidden in the row above those in the centre of the screen. Most notable is what appears to be a sequel to Giraffic – a similar cover to the first film but with the tagline “AN INSTANT SEQUEL”. There are also alternative covers for Meowana, Wreck-It Rhino and a mystery film in the top left corner of the first screen (as above), which doesn’t match up with any of the other films but could be a draft poster for something like Ralph Breaks The Internet or one of the other upcoming projects.

Zootropolis is full of weird Easter Eggs and it’s certainly worth checking out again to try to pick them all up.

Kingdom of the Sun set for Blu-ray release

The moment has come for Disney fans! They will finally get a chance to see the lost animated film Kingdom of the Sun.

Originally set for release in 1999 and with a score of songs written by Sting, it was sadly axed after four years of production. It eventually was reworked and released in 2000 as The Emperor’s New Groove, which was well received on release and stood out as a highlight of a fairly mediocre period of the studio’s history. (My review can be found here).

The film has long been pined after by Disney fans and finally the studio has green lit a Blu-ray release date of 31st September for it.

Whilst the film isn’t a 100% finished production, it will be the entire film as far as it was completed. This means the full audio track is included, with the lead cast Eartha Kitt as the evil Yzma, Owen Wilson as the llama herder Pacha, Carla Gurgino as love interest Nina and David Spade as Emperor Manco. There’s no space for John Goldman and Kronk is also not featured. The lost songs by Sting are reinstated, including the tracks “Walk the Llama Llama”, “Snuff Out The Light” and the duet with Shawn Colvin “One Day She’ll Love Me”.

Excuse me? I can’t find my lines in this version.

Where animated sequences are incomplete, we will get either uncoloured hand-drawn sequences or storyboard images, although the latter of these will only account for “7% of why we’ll see”.

Even more interestingly, the double-disc release will features the infamous documentary titled The Sweatbox. Filmed by Sting’s wife Trudie Styler, the 95-minute film covers the entire production process, from initial concept to Sting writing and recording his music, and the infamous meeting where the Kingdom of the Sun is shut down and the reworking begins. This ha been available on various online platforms but never on home media and never in HD.

The entire list of features across the two discs are:

– The Kingdom of the Sun (unfinished but restored film)
– The Sweatbox – a 2002 documentary by Trudie Styler covering the production period and cancellation of the original project.
– Isolated audio tracks for the soundtrack with lyric videos for “One Day She’ll Love Me” and “Snuff Out The Light”.
– Introduction from directors Mark Dindall and Roger Allers.
– Kronk’s Not Groove – a short film reimagining sequel Kronk’s New Groove without Kronk existing.
– Concept art gallery, including designs for unused McDonald’s toys and other unreleased merchandise.
– All bonus features currently included on the Emperor’s New Groove Blu-ray/DVD release.

——————

Don’t you just wish this was a true story? The unfortunate reality is that this is an April Fools joke article.

However, like my joke article from last year for the Ewok Adventure Blu-ray release, I’m sure this will garner a lot of interest from fans around the world and will serve as evidence that something along these lines would be a great profit turner for Disney.