Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Walt Disney’s cartoons were as ripe with syncopated, jazz-age cartoon violence in the early years as anything you’d find in a Bugs Bunny short, a fact well documented in this deluxe package of Mickey Mouse cartoons from 1928 to 1935.
Mickey was a louche youth; a smoker, beer drinker and tobacco chewer, and while we’re never told just how he ended up on a chain gang, it’s not hard to imagine how such an cheerful but reckless malcontent would run afoul of the law. This early, edgy Mickey is such a departure from the winsome corporate mascot of today that Leonard Maltin pops up onscreen whenever you dip into the first of these two discs, to warn the viewer that this Mickey comes from a much earthier place than modern Mickey.
It’s basically the evolution of the mouse, from madcap line drawing to sophisticated animation over the course of seven eventful years. While Disney never indulged in the acerbic satire that typified classic Looney Tunes, the crazed energy of these little masterpieces is somethign they have in common, and a real joy to rediscover.
Ice Age aims for the crossover market exploited so masterfully by Pixar - kids and parents, as well as animation fans; an apparently lucrative demographic - and misses just barely.
The story as simple as it’s anthropologically unlikely: a trio of endangered paleolithic mammals - a steadfast mammoth, a goofball sloth and a deceitful sabre-toothed tiger, voiced respectively by Ray Romano, John Leguiziamo and Denis Leary - decide to return a lost human baby to his cro-magnon tribe before the advancing glaciers prevent their escape. It tries to be both arch and heartwarming at the same time; part Disney, part Warner Bros. Pixar managed this delicate feat beautifully with Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc., but it obviously isn’t as easy as it looks.
While the animation is spectacular, the script lets the film down, and feels like an overbuilt short-film idea. The creators, Blue Sky Studios, may surprise us yet, as evidenced by “Bunny”, a transcendental, Oscar-winning short included in the two-disc package, which scores the emotional punch in a few minutes that Ice Age misses over an hour and a half.
Lilo & Stitch
Animation fans who despaired for Disney after soft-soap product like Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid will be reassured by Lilo & Stitch, the first Disney film in decades to be powered by a touch of anarchy and vinegar.
The genius was the creation of Stitch, an escaped product of alien genetic engineering, built only to destroy, who ends up as a little Hawaiian girl’s pet puppy. Anyone who’s lived with a certain sort of uncontrollable dog or cat will understand where the idea came from. There’s also an alien hit squad dispatched to capture Stitch, and an apparently villainous social worker bent on putting Lilo in a foster home.
Mostly, though, there’s Stitch, cute enough to sell a million plush toys, while bent on onscreen mayhem. He manages to do what no one thought Disney capable of anymore - put sweet and crazed together in one film. Includes bonus deleted scenes, a game, music videos and a Disney tour of Hawaii.
My Neighbour Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was a sort of miracle - an animated feature that used the medium’s unlimited visual vocabulary to create a truly astounding imaginary world. If cartoons are basically one endless special effect, why can’t every cartoon invoke the same sense of wonder?
My Neighbour Totoro, an earlier Miyazaki feature, is from the same world as his masterpiece, a rural Japan where children can see, and interact, with fantastical spirit creatures. Totoro is less harsh, or epic, however, but just as magical; the soot sprites from Spirited Away are here, along with the title creature - the king of the forest, a huge koala-like companion - and a caterpillar-legged cat with a fur-lined bus on its back. Adults will scratch their heads at this kind of surrealism, while kids tend to take it for granted; the best response, actually.