Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The House of Mouse

Busy busy busy this week. Here's a review of the new Disney movie, which i think might be the best animated film they've done on their own since Pocahontas. It's more of a feature article than a review, but i hope you find it interesting anyway.


Disney lost its way for a while. After the glory days of our collective childhood, with their steady succession of classic musical adventures from Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King, the animation giant’s pool of ideas seemed to stagnate. The only stand-out classics for the past decade were the Toy Story movies, and one suspects that Pixar did the lion’s share of the creative work on that franchise. So why did Disney dry up? What happened in the intervening years, and how will they regain their crown as the animation studio to beat?

One idea, and one I hold close to my own sing-along heart, was Disney’s decision to stop making animated musicals. While the musical as a genre had been out of fashion in mainstream, grown-up cinema since the sixties, in animation and children’s film it was still going strong. Try and imagine The Lion King without Hakuna Matata, or Aladdin without A Whole New World. Imagine how different, how empty your childhood would have been without Be Our Guest or Under the Sea. Singing along to Disney was part of growing up; but in recent years, for some unknown reason, the music has died, dragging audience figures and critical acclaim down with it.

Perhaps it was a bid to compete with Pixar, who have never made a musical; perhaps some market researcher told them children these days want catchphrases and comedy penguins more than catchy tunes; perhaps they just couldn’t be bothered any more. Whatever the reason, the Disney musical died a death in the mid-nineties, and (not necessarily as a direct result, but certainly as an interesting parallel) the company as a whole has suffered.
Thankfully, at the start of this new decade, Disney seems to be going back to its more tuneful roots. With the release last year of The Princess and the Frog, and with their new movie Tangled released this week, we have two Disney musicals in the classic tradition, and the good news is that they’re both great.

Tangled is a new spin on the classic fairytale of Rapunzel, which takes its cues as much from Shrek as from The Little Mermaid. The characters are energetically voiced and playfully rebellious, the script is fun for adults as well as children, and there are two genuinely amusing animal sidekicks, neither of which, thank the lord, are voiced by Eddie Murphy. While the film is needlessly in three dimensions, because the studios haven’t yet realized that their audiences have brains enough to follow a film that isn’t literally jumping out of the screen, it does look beautiful. One particular scene at the film’s climax is visually spectacular enough to rival any magic in the Mouse House’s back catalogue. But the real reason this film stands apart from anything the studio has done for a long while is the music. When the characters sing, it feels like you’re watching a REAL Disney film. The characters break into song and the film comes to life.

There is an obvious reason for this. The songs and music are written by Alan Menken, whose name you might not know, but whose music you were raised on. He composed the score for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and just about any other Disney film you secretly sing along to. His songs shaped our childhood, and now he’s back at the studio what won him his eight academy awards, introducing a whole new generation to the wonders of the animated musical. Watching the musical sequences in Tangled reminds you how you felt when you first saw Aladdin and Jasmine take that magic carpet ride, or sat down to dinner with Belle and Lumière. Alan Menken’s music makes you a kid again, and really, isn’t that what watching a Disney film is all about?

Also this week I had my first read-through for Antigone, which went spectacularly well. My cast are all lovely and i honestly can't wait for our first proper rehearsal tomorrow. Working with a small cast is such a relief, you have no idea.
And finally, I'm running for election at my student union. I'm running for activities officer, and if i get elected it'll be a full time job for a year, paying £17,000, to do stuff I've been doing for the past 3 years for free because i enjoy doing it. More info on that as it progresses, but wish me luck.
That's all for now. Have a wonderful evening.

No comments: