Film review – Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

THIS ARTICLE IS FULL OF SPOILERS

Hugh Jackman is, in the superhero film world, a living legend. There has never been a single actor or actress that has achieved relentless success across so many different films in this genre, making a character his own and developing it into one of the big guns instead of just part of a team. Like the character Wolverine, the actor behind him seems like he’ll play the part forever.

And yet we come to Logan, a wisely-timed and fitting ending to the franchise and Jackman’s input into the character. It’s hard to believe it but this is the tenth time we’ve seen the character – seven X-Men films have now been made, along with three Wolverine-focussed standalone films. It seems impossible to think anyone will fill the role, meaning this could be the last time we see the character for many years, possibly ever.

It could well be the best superhero/mutant-hero film ever made.

Set in the world 2029, the film finds Logan worlds apart from his former self. Hiding out in a disused smelting plant in New Mexico, he is working as a chauffeur whilst hustling for prescription drugs for Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whom he lives with alongside Caliban (a surprisingly sincere Stephen Merchant). He is tracked down by a mysterious woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who is trying to get him to take a young mutant girl named Laura (the brilliant Dafne Keen) to specific co-ordinates in South Dakota before Transigen finds her to either kill her or take her back into their shady mutant development programme. The company, which we have previously glimpsed in X-Men: Apocalypse, is headed up by Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), whilst they are hotly pursued by head of security and leader of the Reavers Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

Jackman reportedly took a pay cut to ensure this film received an R-Rating in USA. The result is certainly the most brutal cinematic portrayal of Wolverine yet, with no holding back on any of the gruesome details. It is certainly not a kids’ film. Jackman looks battle-worn from the start, the reasoning given that the adamantium is now poisoning his body and losing its regenerative abilities. His best cure is to drink alcohol, which may mask the pain but won’t cover the endless scars across his body.

The perfect muse for Jackman’s final turn as Logan is Patrick Stewart, reprising one last time his Professor X character. Now in the midst of a horrific battle with dementia, he struggles to keep control of his telepathic abilities. What is really interesting here is that it is a study of people at the end of their life who are losing their usefulness to society. Okay, this is shown in the most extreme manners when someone has superpowers, but the poignancy is still there for everyone to see.

To add extra emotional weight to the film, the young girl is revealed to be the kind-of-daughter of Wolverine, in that she shares some of his genetic make-up. In the greater comic book storylines she is X-23, who first appeared in 2003. Whilst not strictly his daughter, this is a clever plot device as it means the two characters are immediately drawn to one another, despite their tendency to mistrust those around them.

It may be masquerading as a film about mutants but this is so much more – a character-driven drama about old age and retirement.

Inevitably, the ending is upsetting, as we see our titular hero sacrifice himself to ensure the safe passage of his daughter. The final scene, especially the final shot, is absolutely perfect.

A fitting end to one of the greatest film characters of our time.

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Film review – Saludos Amigos (Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, 1942)

Saludos Amigos is a comporomise film. It’s a feature-length film, but only just; a mere 42 minutes and you’ll be done on this one. It’s a film that also only exists as a product of a good-will tour of Latin America, with Walt Disney acting as an ambassador for the USA to counter-act the popularity of the Nazi Party in certain countries when it was produced in the middle of World War Two. 

The film consists of four segments, all of which are a mixture between documentary films and short animated sequences. The animators, technicians and filmmakers were sent to countries such as Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil and observe what they saw, making sketches and jotting down any ideas they had. It is therefore a wonderful work that captures the beauty of the landscapes and cultures of 1940s Latin America, whilst also serving as a brilliant piece of political evidence when viewed some 75 years later.


Of the four segments, the standout is Aqualero  do Brasil, which introduces José Carioca – a well-dressed Brazilian green parrot who speaks fast and smokes a cigar. He befriends Donald Duck and shows him some cultural highlights of Rio de Janeiro, with a great sequence involving the samba.

José may have been a bit of a flash in the pan outside of Brazil but in his homeland he’s still as loved today as he ever has been, happily sitting alongside Donald and Mickey as the face of Disney.
It’s nothing that will wow modern audiences. It’s simply not as entertaining as the five animated features that proceeded it. It is, put simply, a quirk.

The Problem With Zavvi’s UK Disney Steelbooks

There is a huge problem brewing with Zavvi’s steelbook range in the UK.

When Zavvi initially launched them in 2014, there was much excitement from the steelbook community and Disney fans alike. Marrying two strong groups of collectors together was a financial goldmine for Zavvi and Disney. At £20 a pop and with each item having a limited run of around 4000, the revenue on the entire collection was considerable. £80,000 per release, over fifty releases… That’s potentially over £4m of revenue by the time the series was over.

Out rolled the big hitters. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King from their 1990s renaissance period. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella from their classic princesses era. New releases for Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Wreck It Ralph sold out quickly as pre-orders.

They’d suckered everyone in and could hope for a continued interest as more were released. Or could they?

Suddenly they were into the realms of the unknown. Sure, Tangled will sell well, but what about the less popular releases? The Sword in the Stone? Brother Bear? What about Oliver & Co or Saludos Amigos?

They started on this path, but clearly something in the numbers gave them cold feet and by the time Treasure Planet was launched in February 2016, they decided no further vault releases would see the light of day. Instead, all that has been issued since then is the new release item Zootopia and a pre-order for Moana, due for release in April 2017.

To make matters worse, Zavvi have now taken to reissuing all the Disney films already available as standard steelbooks, but this time as lenticular steelbooks, which indicates that they aren’t planning any further standard versions. For those collecting the set and with 35 Disney steelbooks in their possession, that’s something of a kick in the teeth.

WHAT’S LEFT TO RELEASE?

The following Disney vault films are yet to see the light of day as steelbooks, though some aren’t even available as Blu-rays yet.

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

Fun and Fancy Free
Disney Classic #9
Originally released on September 27, 1947
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 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

The Black Cauldron
Disney Classic #25
Originally released on July 24, 1985
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Great Mouse Detective
Disney Classic #26
Originally release on July 2, 1986
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

The Rescuers Down Under
Disney Classic #29
Originally released on November 16, 1990
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

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

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Disney Classic #41
June 15, 2001
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Lilo & Stitch
Disney Classic #42
Originally relased on June 21, 2002
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Home on the Range
Disney Classic #45
Originally relased on April 2, 2004
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Chicken Little
Disney Classic #46
Originally relased on November 4, 2005
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Meet the Robinsons
Disney Classic #47
Originally relased on March 30, 2007
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Bolt
Disney Classic #48
Originally relased on November 28, 2008
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

IS THERE A SOLUTION?

Well, without the numbers to help guide us, it’s difficult to speculate on making a business decision that should be focused on a financial gain. No business runs for long on a loss, so we can’t expect them to issue something that loses money.

However, there should be a compromise. Those invested in the majority of the items so far are more than likely to want to complete their collection, so they’d need to estimate how many people make up that pot.

There are groups of films there that can be treated slightly differently. Classics #6-#11 (Saludos Amigos, The Three Cabaleros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) are obviously niche items, but someone interested in one of them would surely want to pick all of them up. One solution on that front is to group them all together as one or two boxsets, which helps people complete the series whilst reducing their risk on people buying just one or two of them and leaving the rest. Indeed, the total running time of the six films is around 6.5 hours, so they could be done over two discs.

Some of them are popular enough for a standalone release. Bolt, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Oliver & Co. and The Rescuers would fall into that category.  Limiting the releases to 1,000 copies and making that explicit on the item description would tempt in some sales to collectors – anything extremely limited with a Disney logo on it is bound to ignite interest.

It doesn’t help matters when the faithful shoppers are getting bombarded with pre-order emails for steelbooks of the likes of Street Fighter, Flight of the Navigator and Short Circuit.

Perhaps the best solution is to launch the remainder as a subscription service, with one released every month over a two-year period.  This could be modelled on their ZBOX series, and they could throw in other items to sweeten the deal. It may not be perfect but how else will they ensure people stick around for the release of Dinosaur?

Short film review – The Ugly Duckling (Jack Cutting and Clyde Geronimo, 1939)

This Walt Disney Productions short animation fell under the Silly Symphony banner when it was released in 1939. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short, the eighth in a run of eight Walt Disney films to do so.

It’s a fine little episode that tells the tale of a swanling that somehow ends up in a nest of ducklings, and is immediately shunned and ridiculed for being different to his surrogate brothers and sisters. 

A duck? Nah you must be quackers.

It curtails the original Hans Christian Andersen story by removing the whole extended pain of being without a family for around a year, skipping straight to the point where he is found by a swan family, presumably his own. In doing so, they miss out the point where he turns into an adult swan and the ducks are in awe of his beauty.
In its short sub-nine minute running time, it manages to fit in a surprising amount of substance. This is, for the whole part, a tale about an orphan who is unwanted by his new family. This would surely resonate with anyone in any element of this situation, and there is no holding back when the mother and father have a full-blown argument in front of the innocent swanling. Indeed, there’s a suggestion from the drake that since he looks nothing like the swan then perhaps his duck wife has been sleeping around. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

The animation is, inevitably, a thing of beauty. Two of Disney’s Nine Old Men were on animation duty (Milt Kahl and Eric Larson) and it certainly has the feel of one of their classic films (it was released between Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Pinocchio). There’s a certain amount of warmth you find in these old animations that has never been replicated.

It’s probably not the best short releases around this time from Walt Disney Studios, but it is deserving of all the praise it has received over the years. Why not revisit it? You’re only 78 years late to the party!

Short film review -Steamboat Willie (Walt Disney, 1928)

If you’ve seen a Disney Animation Studios film recently, then you’ll have noticed a short clip of the beloved Mickey Mouse captaining a boat, whilstling a little tune and looking like the happiest little mouse you’ve ever seen. It’s quintessential Mickey, summing up everything about what we know and love about him, in what were the first moments the world ever shared with him.

The year was 1928 and Walt Disney was reeling from a fall out with his business partners that had left him without his prize asset – the increasingly-popular Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Walt Disney was determined that his comeback would be the first cartoon to synchronise pictures and sound, and this determination was rewarded with unprecedented popularity. The rest, for want of a better phrase, is history.

The film itself is a sweet little vignette that sees Mickey get musical on a group of farmyard animals, and is mostly harmless, slapstick fun. Aside from the opening scene, this isn’t really a Mickey we’re used to in the 21st Century, though it is a much more savoury offering than what was just around the corner with the follow up films (the most shocking of which is the smoking and drinking version of Mickey portrayed in The Gallopin’ Gaucho, released later in 1928.

It’s hard to believe that from this point onwards it was built into one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century, but seeing is essential viewing for anyone who sees themself as a fan of Disney.

Short film review – Donald in Mathmagic Land (Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark, Joshua Meador)

As educational short films go, Disney’s animation about their ever-stressed duck taking a trip through a land filled with mathematical tales, quips and facts is pretty darn entertaining.

Released in 1959 alongside a poorly-remembered live action film called Darby O’Gill and the Little People, the film went on to receive a nomination in the Best Documentary – Short Subject category at the Academy Awards. [1] [2]

It charts Donald’s journey through Mathmagic Land, as guided by the voice of a spirit (Paul Frees). He learns about the origins of maths, starting with Pythagoras in Greece, then the pentogram and the golden section, the appearances of the golden section in nature, architecture and art, the application of maths in music and its relevance to games (especially chess, which features a nice reference to Alice Through The Looking Glass).

That the film covers a relatively thorough history of one of the most important and fundamental basic principals of life and remains interesting is somewhat of a miracle, so much so that the film went on to be used as an educational tool in schools across America. It’s easy to see why. Its relevance endures and it would still be useful in the modern education system.

Admittedly, the style is now somewhat dated but it has a classic feel of 1950s era Disney about it. This is hardly surprising. Two of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” worked as directors on the film. [3]

It is a great shame that so many of these old Disney shorts are hard to locate in a good quality transfer and few are held in high regard, largely due to the lack of knowledge of their existence. Anyone who enjoys watching the early Disney animation films is doing themselves a disservice if they are yet to discover the shorts being released around the same time. These are the same animators, story writers and directors, throwing together ideas and experimenting with animation, perhaps to try something out for a future release, or maybe just finishing ideas that were started with a plan for a full release before ending up as a short instead.

There are so many to choose from, many of which were released in the UK on the Disney Fables series of DVDs. Owning all six of them is a great start – you will have in your possession six hours of short animated films, covering 25 animated films, several of which were Academy Awards nominees and winners. It’s about time that Disney worked out a way to get these out there again so yet another generation can enjoy them.

[1] I can’t imagine people were overly-fond of the film at the cinema.Having paid to see a film that’s 93 minutes long, imagine the dismay when you sat down and realised it had a 26-minute short film about maths tagged at the beginning of it.

[2] Quite why this wasn’t nominated as an animated short is beyond me. I incorrectly assumed that the category didn’t exist at the time but this proved to be an incorrect assumption, having been around for over 25 years in 1959.

[3] Wolfgang Reitherman and Les Clark were two of Disney’s “Nine Old Men”, a group of nine original animators that worked at the Disney company. Many of them went on to direct feature films themselves and every Walt Disney Animation film featured at least one of the nine until 1985’s The Black Cauldron.

Film Review – Vaiana (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2016)

Walt Disney Animation Studios have released their 56th animated film, the musical Moana. I’m going to whisper this quietly, but it might actually be better than Frozen.

The story follows 16-year-old girl Vaiana as she defies her passage to become the leader of the tribe on the fictional island Motunui. Her father Chief Tui, leader of her island tribe, and her mother Sina are fearful of the water and want her to remain on the island, but her outgoing grandma Tala encourages her to leave and hunt down the demigod Maui to solve a mysterious curse that she believes has led to a poor harvest.

Vaiana and Maui


The basics of the story are, on the face of it, quite by-the-numbers. There’s a teenage protagonist, which makes it relatable for the younger viewers. She goes on a quest that has a practical purpose but also helps her develop as a person. She teams up with an unlikely buddy to help her in her journey. We’ve seen it many times before but the familiarity doesn’t hamper its success.

Where the story excels is threefold. Firstly, it has a brilliantly sharp and humorous script, which the actors are clearly having a lot of fun with. Secondly, the animation of both the characters and the surroundings is absolutely stunning. Finally, the music, which was written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i, is outrageously good, and goes much further than simply one great flagship song (in this case “How Far I’ll Go”, sung by the lead and effectively Vaiana’s answer to “Let It Go”).

Indeed, it is unfortunate that the film has been unleashed in the same year as La La Land, which is destined to sweep up at most of the award ceremonies, at least in the Best Song categories. Miranda may have to have another attempt in a less competitive year.

There are a couple of nice smaller roles that are grasped by those involved. Alan Tudyk may be more famed for his turn as K-2SO in Rogue One this year, but he’s equally hilarious as Hei Hei the Rooster here, constantly stealing scenes with sound effects that match the ridiculousness of the island’s most endearingly stupid bird. Elsewhere, there’s a hilarious scene featuring Tamatoa, a giant kleptomaniacal crab who has a penchant for all things shiny.

Vaiana is a must see this holiday season and should be top of your list if you need to entertain any younger relatives over the coming weeks.

Check out the reviews of other Disney animated features and shorts here:

Zootropolis
Kronk’s New Groove
The Emperor’s New Groove
Destino
Melody Time
Big Hero 6
Frozen

Note: This article was originally published for the English-language version of the film and has since been adapted. You can find the original version here.