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.

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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.

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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.

Film review – Day of the Outlaw (Andre De Toth, 1959)

Andre de Toth’s unusually complex Western ‘Day of the Outlaw’ has found its way onto the Master of Cinema label this month as a dual-format release. A forgotten and under-appreciated film, shining the spotlight on it will hopefully mean it finds a much-deserved wider audience.

The film is set in an isolated town called Bitter in Wyoming. The story opens with a couple of men on horses riding towards the camera in a frosty snow storm. It is a clever opening scene by De Toth, setting up the rugged main character Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) with the ominous line, “I’m through with being reasonable.” We know he’s got a bone to pick with someone, with the assumption that we’re going to find out who and why pretty quickly. That we do.

What is essentially a boundry dispute about the location of a barbed wire fence reveals a hidden layer of complication when we learn that Blaise is having an affair with Helen Crane (Tina Louise), wife to Hal (Alan Marshal) of said boundry dispute. She seems absolutely loyal to her husband despite evidently being in love with Blaise.

As tensions continue to rise, the two men end up in a standoff that will likely lead to one or both being killed. This is poleaxed by the arrival of an out-of-town gang headed up by Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives), who pose a much greater threat to the men, their wives, their land and their livelihood.

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At 92 minutes long and a reported budget of just $400,000 (a little over $3m in 2016), De Toth has to work with what he has and work fast. It’s a great achievement that this was done so well, especially in what appears to be torrid weather conditions. Characters are fully realised despite often not being afforded enough screen time to develop them. A good example of this is young gang member Gene (David Nelson), who goes through an internal psychological journey in what amounts to about 10 minutes of screen time.

The film was cited by Quentin Tarantino as a reference point in the run up to The Hateful Eight and it’s easy to see the resemblance [1]. The opening sequence was a direct homage to Day of the Outlaw, with a long shot allowing the lead character(s) to naturally approach through a snow storm to join the viewer at the front of the screen. The secluded setting in increasingly worse weather, high tensions, conflicting characters having to live side-by-side whilst the story unfolds. Nothing is stolen, but it is clearly a film Tarantino rates.

Ryan’s Blaise makes a fantastic focal point around which the film plays out. He is a man who stands by his own morals. His affair with Helen is justified by him essentially saying he has no respect for her husband and thinks she deserves better. He undertakes an openly noble act of self-sacrifice for the good of the townspeople he thinks little of, though refuses to take any credit for it. He is the film’s only hero and he plays it coolly throughout. It isn’t Ryan’s most celebrated role but one worthy of a second look if you’re a fan.

Day of the Outlaw may be a flawed film but there’s enough on offer for fans of the anti-Western subgenre that seems to have found its way back to popular interest following the likes of Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. If you liked any of these films then this is worth checking out.

[1] In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Tarantino stated, “I can definitely say that as bleak as our movie is, we are definitely the funniest snow Western ever made. This is funnier than The Great Silence, it’s funnier than Day of the Outlaw.” Quite what he means by this isn’t exactly clear. There isn’t much humour in Day of the Outlaw.

Destino (Dominique Monféry, 2003)

I recently saw the news that there will be a special exhibition opening at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco on 10th July. Running into January 2016, the exhibition will cover the bond between Walt Disney and surrealist painter Salvador Dali, two men whose creative outputs couldn’t seem further from one another, despite the fact they were good friends who remained in close contact throughout their lives.

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You could take every frame of animation and hang it on your wall.

Were you to create a Venn diagram of the creative output of the two artists, the small ellipse in the middle would be represented by the bizarrely brilliant Destino. First conceptualised in 1946, the film was eventually released in 2003 to the general public as an unusual opening short for Calendar Girls.

Destino may have been realised and released 57 years after it was started, but it was worth the wait. It’s a beautiful, dream-like short that has been lovingly created by a team of Parisian artists based on the original storyboards by Dali and studio artists John Hench. I’ve watched it so many times. I won’t explain the storyline – it’s less than 7 minutes long so you don’t have much to lose.

The film can be watched online at YouTube here:

As a resolution snob, the very best way to watch this excellent work of art is to purchase Fantasia 2000 on Blu-ray“>. For some reason the fact it is included on this disc is barely mentioned anywhere other than on the boxart, with Amazon choosing to just describe the somewhat lacklustre film instead. I feel this is an injustice as something as important as this should be brought to the attention of anyone who might be looking. It really ought to show up when you search “Disney Destino” or “Dali Destino”. It’s a no-brainer.

It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2004, though both this and the extremely memorable Boundin’ from Pixar were beaten by a short called Harvey Krumpet, which you can watch here.

Melody Time (Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson, 1948)

Walt Disney Studios had a glorious start to the production of full-length motion pictures. The first five releases are still considered to be up there with the best animated films ever released: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1939), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940) Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). However, the early 1940s brought a fresh set of problems to the company. First, a union strike led to a mass exodus of staff (around 40% left). Then, when the US and Canada entered World War II, almost all of the animators and production team were either signed up as soldiers or drafted in to produce propaganda cartoons for the war effort. The main production studio was occupied by US military for various reasons. A disinterested public meant that Bambi sold less than expected. 

With a skeleton staff still in place, Disney opted to produce several of what would become known as package films. The first two – Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944) – gave Walt an excuse to leave his normal settings and escape for a few months to South and Central America. Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949) followed, though they were approached from a position of compromise. Their sole purpose was to recoup money lost in various venture so, including the production of war propaganda films for cost only. 

Whilst these films have their own merits, they were mainly box-office flops and over the years clearly haven’t been as well regarded as the films released before of after this spell. [1]

The films tended to feature several short films on an associated theme (with the exception of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad, which was simply two unrelated stories fixed together), often based around some kind of musical accompaniment in the same vain as Fantasia, which was a huge success and is a classic film rich in experimentation and ideas. Melody Time, unfortunately, cannot be classed in the same league.

Melody Time features seven mini-musicals. Of note is the reappearance of The Three Caballeros in the short Blame It On The Samba, which gives us another chance to enjoy some crowd-pleasing characters. Another highlight is Bumble Boogie, which is essentially a cut from Fantasia that never made it near to full production at that point. If you’re a huge fan of both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 then this is another good place to see similar styles. A personal favourite is Once Upon A Wintertime, which features a classic Disney tale backed by a perfectly chosen piece of music.

This film is a curiosity more than anything. It’s not the best of the package movies but stands alongside the Fables releases as something worth checking out to build up a full picture of the company during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Melody Time is available on DVD but currently there are no plans to bring it tk Blu-ray.

[1] The five films released after the return to full-length motion pictures were Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and Sleeping Beauty (1959). Some return to form!