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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection

Here we are again, on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I blog about one of the many movies I own.  This time, we check out some great Disney stuff with The Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection.  This was originally in my notes at August 30, 2015.

When I first did The Pixar Short Films Collection many moons ago, one of the things I mentioned was that, when John Lasseter took charge of Walt Disney Animation, one of the first things he did was resurrect their animated short films program.  And look!  They've finally made enough short films to get their own compilation Blu-Ray.  This Blu-Ray compiles most of the animated shorts that Disney has made in the past 15 years.  And even though Lasseter's been in charge of Walt Disney Animation for almost a decade now, it's really in the past 5 years that Disney's animated shorts program has finally picked up steam, garnering critical acclaim and Oscar nominations. 

I almost gave this compilation a pass, but then picked it up when I discovered that some of the animated shorts were some of the Fantasia 2006 segments.  Did you know that Disney was all hot to make a third Fantasia?  As you can tell by the working title, it was intended to be their animated blockbuster of 2006.  But, that's around the time that Disney declared traditional animation dead.  So, along with a few other traditional animation projects in the works, Fantasia 2006 was scrapped, and some of the segments that were near completion were finished up as short films. 

I bought this Blu-Ray, and then was separated from my home entertainment system for about a week as I went on vacation.  Now that I'm home, and sitting around the house unwinding, what better way to unwind than by finally watching this compilation? 

John Henry - Disney brings the legendary American folk hero to life!  Now, from what I remember from reading online back in the day, this was supposed to be in front of Toy Story 2 way back in 1999.  But, because John Henry is African American and the short mentions his time as a slave, Disney got cold feet and decided not to put in theatres.  It was eventually released on video in 2002 as part of a compilation of Disney shorts about American folk heroes.  I tell ya, this one is great.  As it was made back in the 1990s, it truly is seeped in that period of animation history now known as the Disney renaissance.  Can you imagine if Disney had their animated shorts program running back then?  A new animated short film in front of all the great animated films they made in the 1990s?  We were deprived, I tells ya.  Anyway, this is a pretty good rendering of the legend of John Henry, with great music and spectacular animation.  One thing that got me about the animation was they never erased the rough pencil animation, so you occasionally see the pencil lines bleeding through the finished animation.  Since the entire visual aesthetic is supposed to be a patchwork quilt brought to life, it works for the look.  A classic that really deserved its theatrical release back in 1999. 

Lorenzo - One of the completed Fantasia 2006 segments!  It did the film festival circuit in 2004, picking up an Oscar nomination.  The music of choice:  the tango.  The story:  a cat name Lorenzo mocks a tail-less cat for his loss.  Well, this tail-less cat places a curse on Lorenzo's tail, and Lorenzo's tail takes on a life of its own, as they soon engage in a deadly tango.  So, remember the Evil Dead films, where Ash has to fight his own possessed hand?  Imagine that as a Disney cartoon.  And Lorenzo even comes to the same grizzly conclusion as Ash...only, Lorenzo doesn't affix a chainsaw to the stump where his tail used to be.  The animation is of a particularly unique style...it looks like chalk drawings brought to life.  Just amazing.

The Little Matchgirl - Another completed Fantasia 2006 segment!  (There are 4 in total, but only 2 made it to this Blu-Ray.)  Man, between The Little Mermaid and Frozen (which is very loosely based on The Show Queen), Disney has done good adapting the works of Hans Christen Andersen.  And this one is no exception, as we are treated to a very faithful rendition of the Andersen tale, as a young girl freezing on the streets begins lighting the matches she's selling for warmth, and each one gives her a vision of a better life.  Unlike The Little Mermaid and Frozen, this one is *very* faithful to the Andersen original.  Yes, the Little Matchgirl dies, and yes, you will cry.  It deserved a much better release than as a bonus feature on the Little Mermaid DVD. 

Goofy:  How to  Hook Up Your Home Theater - GOOFY!!  The first animated short under the Lasetter era, and it's a new Goofy cartoon!  I loves me some Goofy.  They decided to resurrect the classic Goofy "How To" shorts, as Goofy purchases a brand-new home entertainment system and proceeds to hook it up in classic Goofy fashion.  It's just so awesome seeing a new Goofy short.  This was originally released in theaters in front of National Treasure: Book of Secrets.  (Apparently, it was originally going to be in front of Enchanted, but Lasetter said, "Ya know, these don't always have to be in front of animated films.")

Tick Tock Tale - Pixar really did good with the "inanimate objects come to life," so it was time for Disney to get in on the action.  This one takes place in a clock shop, as all the clocks come to life one night, and make fun of a misfit clock who's always running a little slow.  But, as is the formula, what makes him a misfit allows him to save the day when a burglar strikes the store.  It's cute, with some great photorealistic animation bringing the clocks to life.  This was supposed to be in front of The Princess and the Frog in 2009, then was shuffled around to be in front of Tangled in 2010, but wound up skipping all that and just doing the film festival circuit.

Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa - OK, so when Lasetter took charge of Disney animation, he realized that one field of animation that Disney had never represented themselves in was the animated holiday special.  And thus, the Prep & Landing franchise was born.  How does Santa get in and out of every house on Christmas Eve so quickly?  Well, it's thanks to a special division of elves known as Prep & Landing.  They go in ahead of Santa to smooth things over:  put out fires in the fireplace, make sure all the kids are sleeping, and lay out the milk and cookies for quick snacking.  And our heroes are two of the most elite Prep and Landing Elves, Wayne and Lanny. 

Holy crap, I just realized.  They're named after the two most prominent NHL players of the Battle of Alberta in the 1980s:  Wayne Gretzky and Lanny McDonald. 

Anyway, Disney has produced two half-hour special starring Wayne and Lanny:  Prep & Landing and Naughty vs. Nice.  But in between production of those two specials, they managed to squeeze out a short featuring Wayne and Lanny, as Mrs. Claus enlists their aid to help get the perfect Christmas present for Santa.  The Prep & Landing specials haven't really been my thing, so this is just more of the same.  Originally shown on TV alongside the Prep & Landing specials. 

The Ballad of Nessie - Originally in theatres in front of 2011's Winnie the Pooh.  An adorable tale of Nessie, as we see how she came to call Loch Ness her home.  "Adorable" really is the best term, as Nessie's character design comes across as this adorable little girl dragon.  It's fun, it's silly, and it actually has a pretty good message for little kids. 

Tangled Ever After - This is where the Disney animated shorts program really starts coming into its own, as we revisit the characters from Tangled mere moments after the film ends.  It's the wedding day for Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder, but tragedy strikes when Pascal (Rapunzel's pet chameleon) and Maximus (palace horse and ally to our heroes) lose the rings.  It's pure, classic, cartoon slapstick as Pascal and Maximus go on a mad chase throughout the palace to try to recover the rings.  Disney should be doing more stuff like this.  Remember when Figaro, the cat from Pinocchio, actually got his own series of animated shorts?  Do that with more of your adorable animal sidekicks, Disney.  This was in theatres in front of the 2012 3D re-release of Beauty and the Beast

Paperman - This one was in theatres in front of Wreck-It Ralph.  A man and a woman meet on a train platform one day.  It's love at first sight, but their trains comes and they're called away to their jobs before they can act on their feelings.  At work, the man looks across the street and sees the woman works in the skyscraper across the street.  So, he tries to get her attention by throwing paper airplanes at her.  Dude, this one is romantic as fuck.  You will believe in true love after seeing it.  They actually put the soundtrack on iTunes, and I listen to the music from this short constantly.  Pure love....that's what this one is. 

Get a Horse! - When I saw this one in theatres in front of Frozen, I wished I had paid the extra for 3D.  I have no doubt that the creators went to town on the 3D effects to help sell the short's premise.  It starts off as a long-lost Mickey Mouse short from the 1920s.  Then Peg Leg Pete shows up to mess stuff up, and he breaks the fourth wall by throwing Mickey out of the screen.  When he emerges from the screen, Mickey becomes fully realized computer animation of today, and soon figures he can get his revenge on Pete by manipulating the screen in a myriad of ways.  This just reeks of cleverness, and the premise really does pay off. 

Feast - We see a relationship from a very unique point of view:  the dog, and the table scraps he gets fed.  When his owner is a bachelor, it's pizza and nachos.  But when he finds "the one," it switches to veggies and fine cuisine.  It tries to reach the romantic heights of Paperman, but doesn't quite get there.  The dog is cute, though, and he gets a happy ending.  It was in theatres in front of Big Hero 6

Frozen Fever - And here it is, the main selling point of the Blu-Ray, and why Frozen's Anna and Elsa are front and centre on the cover.  Following the success of Tangled Ever After, and Frozen becoming a full-on pop culture phenomenon, of course Disney would pump out something new with the characters.  It's Anna's birthday, and now that Elsa is (mostly) well-adjusted and no longer lives in fear of her own powers, she sets out to give her little sister the super-awesome birthday party that she's always deserved.  Thing is, though, Elsa has come down with a cold, and every time she sneezes, she creates a little tiny snowman who runs off to wreak havoc.  So, Elsa fights on through her cold to make the party happen, while Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf hunt down the little snowmen.  It's kinda cute, but I'm one of the few who wasn't impressed with Frozen to begin with, so more of the same doesn't really appeal to me.  Although, near the end, when Elsa's cold starts hitting her hard and she starts acting kind of drunk, that is pretty funny.  Drunk Elsa has to be my favourite Elsa...next to Slave Elsa. 

Seriously, Elsa in the Slave Leia metal bikini from Star Wars is becoming a popular cosplay combination.  Google it.  Even better, Google Image it. 

And, she creates snow people with her sneezes?  I agree that the conjuring up of snow people has to be one of Elsa's most-glossed-over powers.  All I'm saying is, when Disney finally makes Frozen 2, I want to see Elsa unleash an army of ice demons to protect her queendom. 

And that'll do it for this first compilation of Disney animated shorts.  I'm a little saddened that some of the other Fantasia 2006 segments weren't included, but they're all over YouTube.  This collection is nostalgic for me, as I have fond memories of the many VHS compilations of shorts Disney put out in my childhood.  I like that Disney is doing this, as it was the animated shorts that built the studio. 

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