A cold, hard analysis of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

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FINAL

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Even though certain movies might have been made decades ago, usually I can enjoy them in the age I’m in, in the here and now. But for me to fully appreciate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I think I’d have to have been part of one of its original audiences in 1937. I first saw the movie during its 50th-anniversary re-release, and I’m afraid that the — forgive me — sexual politics of 1987 sort of laid the movie bare for me.

Yes, I can easily appreciate its technical aspects. The fluid, hand-drawn animation — an element that seems to drift further away in modern movies — is truly something to behold. And the rich and funny characterizations of the Seven Dwarfs — something that was thought impossible for a feature-length cartoon (of which, of course, this was the first) — remain distinct and enjoyable.

But then there’s the little matter of…Snow White.

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She is the movie’s heroine, the groundwork upon which Disney laid the foundation for the movie’s premise, its reason for being — and I’m afraid she comes off as too much of a simp for me. I can understand her being frightened in given situations. (Who couldn’t get chills from the scene where Snow White scampers nervously through the dark forest and is seemingly menaced by every tree?)

But at some point through all of these adventures which Snow White proves worthy to survive, couldn’t she have developed just a bit of a spine? At no point in the movie is she not entirely dependent on someone else for her well-being — the Wicked Queen, the woodsman who spares her life, and those damn dwarfs. And of course, the prince who awakens her with “love’s first kiss.”

And what about those dwarfs, and the shortchanging they get? After tending to her every need for Disney knows how long, she gets swept off her feet by that one-kiss prince, after which Snow White is perfectly content to abandon her wards, and they her. As the Wicked Queen would say, “Bah!”

We all have particular movies where we can appreciate the skill and talent that went into them, and yet we’re still left baffled as to their wide popularity. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it appears, is my cross to bear.

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How the critics stole Christmas

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Like most people who love Chuck Jones‘ TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I’ve been watching it since I was a kid, and I can never get enough of it. (The less said about Ron Howard’s ghastly movie version starring Jim Carrey, the better.)

I wish I could find a fresh way to describe how much this cartoon delights me, but I can’t. So instead, I refer you to a very enjoyable blog titled Tralfaz, which dives deeper into the creation of animated movies and TV shows than I would have ever thought possible.

Click here to read the blog’s surprising account of how some contemporary TV critics sniffed at what has long since become a holiday classic. If you ever get too full of yourself as a blogger or critic (and I can be as guilty as anyone), remember that the work you’ve critiqued will probably last long after you do.

 

Your Saturday morning cartoon

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Did you know that the Looney Tunes troupe did a parody of Casablanca? It came out in 1995 and is titled Carrotblanca (starring guess-who). It was originally released as a curtain-raiser for a forgettable Warner Bros. family filim, The Great Panda Adventure.

When I first heard about this release, I was dying to see the cartoon; the pandas, not so much. So one day on my lunch hour, I drove to my local bijou, dutifully paid full admission, sat through Carrotblanca, and left to go back to work. It was worth every dollar of my movie ticket.

Carrotblanca is 14 minutes long, an epic by Looney Tunes standards. It was produced by Warner Bros. during their brief “cartoon renaissance” period of the 1990’s, when someone in the front office got talked into actually making decent theatrical cartoons again for a while. (Chuck Jones did his final theatrical work during this time.) And in the grand style of Jones’ mock-epic The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1949), this cartoon features practically every member of the famous Looney Tunes ensemble, from famous to peripheral. Enjoy!

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Mighty sporting of the little black duck (and friends)

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At last, those tired spy-movie spoofs are right where they belong — right in the middle of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I wouldn’t have thought that the sensibilities of a seven-minute cartoon could be stretched to feature length as well as in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Not even Space Jam (1996) went for broke as much.

If you tried to diagram the plot for this movie, it would probably look something like several Looney Tunes strung together. It starts out with a harried movie executive (Jenna Elfman) firing and then trying to re-hire Daffy Duck. Then it turns into the story of a security guard (Brendan Fraser) who finds out that his father (two-time James Bonder Timothy Dalton) is, guess what, a secret agent. Then there’s the whole subplot about the Acme Corporation’s evil leader (Steve Martin) trying to turn the world’s human population into monkeys. And the mind still reels at Bugs Bunny and Daffy finding out that the Roswell UFO incident wasn’t a fake.

There’s probably only one man in Hollywood who could meld these shards of plot into a cartoon/live-action movie, and happily, the Warner Brothers hired him. His name is Joe Dante, who made his name in the ’80s directing cartoon-like feature films (GremlinsInnerspace). Dante has probably been licking his chops at the thought of doing a Bugs/Daffy feature ever since he had them do a cameo in Gremlins 2, and he has done himself proud. Even though the original Looney Tunes directors have long since gone to comedy heaven, Dante’s lead “actors” don’t seem to have aged a bit. It’s like finding a newly uncovered Marx Brothers movie.

As for the flesh-and-blood performers, Fraser, Elfman and the rest of the movie’s live actors, they’re admirably good sports, cheerily getting walloped around by hand-drawings. The only sour note is struck by Steve Martin, who overdoes trying to be even more cartoony than the cartoon characters.

In a year filled with typical Hollywood blockbusters, who could have guessed that Finding Nemo and this gem would be the year’s highlights? Some days, a movie viewer feels like Porky in Wackyland.

TOY STORY 3 (2010) – A toy valedictory

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Toy Story 3 was released in June of 2010, just in time to garner Father’s Day box-office, but it would have been more appropriate for high-school graduation day. The movie has an elegiac tone to it – with plenty of the expected laughs, but also with the throat-catching idea that we’re seeing the end of an era for a group of old friends.

And did I just write all teary-eyed about a movie with a “3” in its title? For that, thank the wizards at Pixar, who continue to maintain their standards of high quality and never forget to include a storyline with pulse-pounding heart. In a movie world where every successful trend gets copied to death, why can’t Hollywood pick up on this one?

The story here is that toy-owner Andy is heading off for college, dooming his childhood toys to a drab life in the attic. Most of the toys, including Buzz Lightyear (voiced again by Tim Allen) and cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), brighten up considerably when they hear they might be donated to a day-care center. Loyal cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) advises the toys to stick with Andy’s choice, but the others relish the thought of being endlessly played with. The remainder of the movie dramatically demonstrates the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Along the way, the veterans compete for screen time with new toy characters. These include Lotso (Ned Beatty), a seemingly huggy bear with a dark side that Darth Vader would be proud of; and Ken (of Ken-and-Barbie fame), who has a retro side we’d never imagined, and is voiced by Michael Keaton with all the gusto of a career comeback.

Happily, the old characters get some hilarious new quirks of their own. By itself, the results of switching Buzz Lightyear to Spanish-language mode might have won this movie its Best Cartoon Feature Film Oscar.

Funny thing is, just when you think the movie’s over, it finishes with a valedictorian scene that will have many moviegoers – including your faithful correspondent and his son – blubbering in the aisles. Again, that’s Pixar standing head and shoulders above the mass of indistinguishable CGI stuff. Just try and copy this formula, Hollywood – moviegoers everywhere are begging you.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto: The ultimate love-hate relationship

BugsDaffyElmerFinalThe following is my entry in the My Favorite Movie Threesome Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from July 28-30, 2017. Click on the banner above to read bloggers’ tributes to real and fictional trios from throughout the history of cinema!

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(The following is based on viewings of the original series of Popeye cartoons produced and directed by Max and Dave Fleischer from 1933 to 1942. If you have not treated yourself to these delightful animated films, allow me to introduce you to them by way of my tribute-website. Click here to visit my site filled with reviews of these groundbreaking cartoons.)

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ABOVE: Bluto as Sigmund Freud??

Sometimes, a character’s psychological quirks are so conspicuous that you can’t help commenting on them, pretentious as it might sound. After multiple viewings of Popeye cartoons, I’d have to say that the psyches of Popeye & Co. are ripe for picking as well. And so…the doctor is in.
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Popeye

Popeye puts on a very elaborate facade to disguise a very damaged psyche. It is assumed that he got his nickname (and his condition) from a very violent brawl. Nevertheless, to have such a moniker as your only given name — he is never referred to in any other way, in the comic strips or the movies — is to have a major loss of identification and individuality.

Further, other than his belligerent father — who, at first, does not even want to be rescued from imprisonment on an island, much less reunited with his son — we know almost nothing about Popeye’s formative years. What of his mother? Was Popeye perhaps born illegitimately, and is that why he looks upon single mother Olive Oyl’s upbringing of baby Swee’Pea with nary a shrug? This man appears to have psychological scars he finds far too painful to be re-opened.

Popeye compensates for his multiple pains in the same way many men do — with his over-abundant machismo. He has built up his upper torso to the point that his muscles look abnormal. He also deludes himself into thinking that downing cans of raw spinach at pivotal moments make him stronger-than-average. While spinach does have well-known nutritional value, there is no evidence that instantly absorbing such spinach will provide abnormal musculature in just a matter of seconds. Therefore, we can conclude only that spinach serves as a placebo for Popeye — a way for him to swallow his internal pain when circumstances become too much for him.


Olive
Olive Oyl

Though this is never specifically stated in the cartoons, one surmises that Olive Oyl gave her heart to a man who was the love of her life, only to be deserted by him and left with his baby (Swee’Pea). It was after this heartbreak that Olive decided she would never again leave herself so vulnerable to one man’s machinations. Thus, she has two rivals for her affections (Popeye and Bluto), and she constantly wavers between the two of them in a classic example of passive-aggressiveness.

She also has difficulty maintaining a home and a job. In the early cartoons, she is seen living in a large (if not lavish) house, but later she is reduced to residing in a shabby apartment. In each cartoon that shows Olive at work, she is always at a job different from the previous ones (child caretaker, stenographer, scriptwriter, etc.). This, too, indicates the instability into which she was thrown when her erstwhile lover left her.

Lastly, even the only two men with whom she will associate often physically abuse her — each one pulling her by a separate arm, sometimes knocking her unconscious, getting her head used as a door knocker when Popeye calls on her, etc. Olive’s sweetness and outward cheer belie a case of extremely low self-esteem.


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Bluto

Simply and obviously, Bluto is the classic bully. He feels he can get what he wants only through loudness and brusqueness, and he has accomplished so little in life that he derives satisfaction only from tearing down other’s achievements.

Bluto is especially annoyed by Popeye, the one person in the world who stands up to him. Nearly all of Bluto’s encounters with Popeye end in a violent fight, usually lost by Bluto once Popeye downs his spinach. One would think that Bluto would eventually admit defeat and deal with his sense of rage, but he continues to fight Popeye every chance he gets.

This battle — both between Bluto and Popeye, and Bluto and himself — has gone on for so long that, as with Wile E. Coyote and his single-minded pursuit of the Road Runner — it is the fight itself that has become Bluto’s reason to live. In the few instances where Bluto and Popeye try to remain civil, the old pattern emerges and they come to blows all over again.

Most troubling of all is Bluto’s documented abuse of animals — horses, parrots, monkeys, etc. — which is a blatant symptom of psychotic behavior. In a way, it’s almost a relief that Bluto has Popeye to beat up, so that he doesn’t inflict his hostilities on others around him (though Olive receives her share of Bluto’s abuse too, as noted above).

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Sadly, Bluto’s rage and lack of self-reflection briefly resulted in his having a split personality, his other persona going by the name of Brutus. Fortunately, this lasted for only a brief period in the 1960’s.

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In conclusion, my pseudo-psychological musings only prove how well-rounded and -thought-out these delightful characters are. I encourage you to seek them out, on YouTube and wherever you can find them.

WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005) – Say cheese!

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I’m very late to the party where Wallace & Gromit are concerned. They’re the clay-animated subjects of three critically acclaimed British shorts, most of which I’ve watched in stupefied silence. But with their feature-length film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, something clicked, and I now consider myself a W&G fan.

British humor is rife with eccentricities, and this pair has enough of them to fill a book. Wallace (lovingly voiced by Peter Sallis) is an inventor of outrageous gadgets, and he lusts over cheese, his favorite food. Gromit is Wallace’s sidekick-dog, who rolls his eyes at Wallace’s latest blunders but nevertheless helps him out of trouble.

The movie’s story is that Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is preparing for the annual vegetable contest that her family has held for over five centuries. Everyone is concerned about rabbits destroying their prize veggies. Enter W&G with their Anti-Pesto service, which vacuums up the wayward rabbits and stores them in a humane manner.

For this, Wallace earns Lady Tottington’s respect but becomes an unwitting rival for her affections. Wallace’s nemesis is Lord Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a hunter who longs to marry Lady T. solely for her fortune, and who wishes to shoot all pests, be they four-legged or human.

Then there’s the titular monster, who’s set on ruining the veggie contest, and who eventually causes Wallace a great deal of guilt.

The plot sounds far more complicated than it plays out. The movie breezes along at 85 minutes and offers a lot of laughs. It also has a surprising share of pathos, particularly as played out on the multi-expressive face of Gromit. He’s a clay-animated Chaplin who says more with a facial expression than many characters do with a page of dialogue. Can we nominate him for Best Animated Actor?

Another of this movie’s virtues is its handmade-ness. Clay animators struggle hard to hide their labors. But every once in a while, if you look closely, you can see a fingerprint on one of the clay “actors.” In these days of sanitized CGI cartoons, I find that kind of charming.