Fantasia

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1940, 125 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures. Master of Ceremonies: Deems Taylor. Music written by Johann Sebastian Bach, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Paul Dukas, Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Amilcare Ponchielli, Modest Mussorgsky and Franz Schubert. Music performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Plot summary: Modern animation meets classical music, from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Schubert’s Ave Maria.

FAntasia posterReview: In the late 1920s and 30s, Walt Disney first mixed animated pictures with classical music in a series of cartoon shorts called Silly Symphonies. As an advancement of this concept, he soon started working on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice based on Goethe’s famous poem and Paul Dukas’ composition. Created to boost Mickey Mouse whose popularity had suffered in the shadow of the Silly Symphonies, the piece was colorful and lavish, and thus soon burst the budget. Without much ado, Mickey’s short was included in another production, a film Disney’s favorite mouse was destined to become the signature star of. Designed as a concert with a Master of Ceremonies, a famous conductor and a real orchestra, Disney’s third feature broke new ground. By combining live action scenes with animated stories, Fantasia blurred the lines of reality and imagination, of classical music and pop culture imagery.

Released on November 13, 1940 the film was received with mixed reviews and mild audience approval. On the eve of America’s entry into WWII, the majority of movie goers was looking for funny cartoons rather than sophisticated culture. Unfortunately, Fantasia didn’t attract music lovers either. Instead, they turned up their noses at Disney’s picturesque concept. For them, the animation destroyed the power of classical music and its most appealing effect, the stimulation of the human mind and its imagination. It presented prefabricated pictures rather than create an atmosphere that allowed the audience to form their own inside their heads. That form of criticism may sound peculiar to film enthusiasts. After all, a movie is nothing but a sequence of moving pictures. But it is also a fair argument for anyone who appreciates the fine art of music and all the emotions it evokes.

Re-released to theaters several times during the war and after, Fantasia had a hard time making enough money and was finally presented in different versions and shorter cuts. Released as part of the Walt Disney Classics collection in 1990, the film finally found everlasting success on VHS and laser disc. It is now available in its full glory on DVD and Blu-ray as a compilation with Fantasia 2000, a film that finally continued what Walt Disney himself had once planned to be a series of motion pictures inspired by the best of classical music and tales.

Top Cat

TV classics: Top Cat

USA 1961-62, one season, 30 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Production Company: Hanna-Barbera. Voice Talents: Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Leo DeLyon, Marvin Kaplan, John Stephenson

Plot summary: He’s the boss. He’s the VIP . He’s a championship. He’s the most tip top – Top Cat.

Top CatReview: In 1961, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought a cat to life who was one of a kind. Top Cat and his gang, Benny the Ball, Brain, Choo Choo, Fancy Pants, and Spook. Set in Manhattan, the animated show felt like a mixture of The Phil Silvers Show and The East End Kids, a series of B pictures from the 1940s. TC (as Top Cat was called by his friends) was the perfect con-man. He always knew how to get the best for himself and his fellow alley cats. Charlie Dibble was their harmless enemy, a local policeman whose wit was no praise for the NYPD.

Like most Hanna-Barbera productions, Top Cat was not only directed at children and their parents but also at a general audience who loves to laugh. Following into the footsteps of The Flintstones, the show used pop culture references and adult topics in a fantastic world that followed its own rules. Unlike its predecessor, however, Top Cat only got a chance to shine for one full season. Since its cancellation in 1962, the show has lived on in comic books and reruns around the world, especially in the United Kingdom where the program is most commonly known as Boss Cat. Today, TV’s coolest cat is available on DVD. A wonderful treat for animation fans and geeks, or anyone else who enjoys the style and humor of TV’s Golden Age.

Bambi

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1942, 70 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on the story “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” by Felix Salten

Plot summary: When Bambi is born, the little fawn is surrounded by novelty and affection. As he grows up, he finds friendship and love, faces danger and loss – experiences that prepare him to eventually follow into his father’s footsteps, The Great Prince of the Forest.

bambiReview: There are stories you fall in love with as a child that stay with you for a lifetime. Bambi is such a gem. Originally published in 1923, the book was written for an adult audience and made into an animated feature in 1942. Although not an instant hit with critics or American audiences alike, Walt Disney’s fifth feature production turned into a classic generations of children have grown up with. Equipped with a then unprecedented love for detail and a new realism in animation and narrative style, Bambi ultimately learned to stand the test of time. Re-released to theaters six times until it conquered nurseries and family rooms around the world on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, Bambi’s story is now an essential part of many vintage  movie collections.

Introducing us to the lives of fawn Bambi, hare Thumper and skunk Flower, Disney’s adaptation stayed true to the essentials of Felix Salten’s popular book. Criticized for depicting the grim realities of forest animals in our modern times, the film addressed human negligence and hunting as two issues Bambi and his friends have to cope with in their young lives. Although a lot less colorful in its description of the loss Bambi has to face, the film hit a nerve at the time of its release and still does today. Memorable and haunting, Bambi does what fairytales used to do: it wraps a tough lesson in a charming tale that remains relevant beyond your childhood days. Like many of its live action peers from Hollywood’s Golden Age, the film had a message without being preachy. Paired with masterful character animations and an Academy-Awards-nominated score, Bambi still resonates today and looks as beautiful as ever, 71-years after its original release.

Watch the original trailer here.

Sleeping Beauty

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1959, 76 minutes, Technicolor / Technirama, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on La Belle au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault, with music arrangements from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty

Plot summary: On her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora is doomed to prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep until her true love comes to kiss her awake.

Sleeping-Beauty-PosterReview: As a child, I dreamed of being a great sketch artist. I wanted to be able to draw characters as cute as Minnie Mouse and as easy on the eyes as one of Disney’s early princesses. Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. I had a picture of her in a book, a book I read so often, its binding is now broken. Luckily, the picture is still as immaculate as Aurora’s beauty and I thus still cherish the artwork as one of Disney’s best. Truth be told, I cannot recall watching the film when I was little but that book has left a lasting impression on me. Watching the film now, as a grown-up, is like adding voices to a film I have already seen on paper many times. And it is every bit as wonderful as I had always imagined. Especially the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather won my heart. Their warmth, woolgathering and practical sense of humor puts the cherry on top of a film that turned out to be Disney’s last fairytale until The Little Mermaid revived the genre in 1989.

To summarize the story: on her day of christening, Princess Aurora is blessed with beauty and song by two good fairies. Maleficent, their evil peer, drops in uninvited and casts a spell on the baby princess: on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on a spindle and die. A third good fairy tries her best to attenuate the curse and rephrases it so the princess will only fall into a deep slumber that can only be broken by true love. Alarmed by their daughter’s destiny, the King and Queen ban all spinning wheels from their kingdom and entrust their only child in the care of the three good fairies to keep her safe from harm. Raised as Briar Rose, the princess spends an enchanted childhood in a remote little house in the woods. Unaware of her title and status, she reaches her sixteen’s birthday but is ultimately unable to escape her fate. Saved by Prince Phillip who fell in love with her voice and charm, she breaks the malicious spell and lives happily ever after.

Considered corny and trite by some in our cynical times, Princess Aurora and her dashing prince are still beautiful to look at while their story remains engaging and timeless. Although released in January 1959, production started as early as 1951 and kept designers, musicians and actors busy over the course of nearly a complete decade. Inspired by medieval times, Sleeping Beauty’s visual style set itself apart from Disney’s previous productions. Princess Aurora and her prince, however, were once again based on live action models, following a tradition Cinderella and Snow White had started before them. Despite the praise for its elegant villain, the film (like other productions of the era) fell surprisingly flat with audiences and critics alike. Now considered a Disney classic, it may be hard to understand why. Based on a fairytale classic, Sleeping Beauty introduced new aesthetics as well as wonderful musical arrangements. Sadly, though, it did not manage to create the kind of sparkle Pinocchio and Bambi had a decade or two earlier. Still breathtaking in its detail and color today, the feature film can be marveled at in full length on DVD and Blu-ray. A true gem for anyone who still has a heart for some good old-fashioned romance and three genuine fairies who are a treat of their own.

Bugs Bunny

TV classics: The Bugs Bunny Show

USA 1960-2000, forty seasons, 1040 episodes, approximately 25 to 65 minutes each, ABC / CBS, color. Voices: Mel Blanc, June Foray, Arthur Q. Bryan, Daws Butler, Bea Benaderet, Paul Frees, Marvin Miller, Hal Smith, Larry Storch, Barbara Cameron, Julie Bennett, Sara Berner, Robert C. Bruce II, Paul Julian, Dick Beals, Stan Freberg

Plot summary: What’s up, Doc?

Screen shot 2012-03-31 at 7.46.03 AMReview: Who doesn’t know the Oscar-winning hare and his illustrious friends: Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig from The Looney Tunes, Sylvester, Roadrunner, Coyote, Pepe’ Le Pew, Granny or Elmer Fudd?!

Originally created for a theatrical series presented by Warner Bros, Bugs Bunny tickled the risible muscles of a worldwide audience as early as in the 1930s. Three decades later, he was an instant hit on TV, first in black and white but soon in color. As the star of his own show, he was cocky, adroit and always perky, a favorite of adults as well as children. In his forty years on television, he shared his stardom with Roadrunner and Tweety, but never outgrew his famous “What’s up, doc” attitude. A Saturday morning treat for many years, The Bugs Bunny Show was finally canceled in the year 2000 but has been rerun since in several countries.

As one of those infamous classics, the show inspired spin-offs, homages and a new generation of Looneys, the Tiny Toons, in the early 90s. Available in parts on DVD, the show is still fresh, wacky and a lot of fun – a true gem for anyone who’s still a kooky little kid at heart.

The Flintstones

TV classics: The Flintstones

USA 1960-66, six seasons, 166 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benaderet, Gerry Johnson, Don Messick, John Stephenson

Plot summary: Yabba dabba doo!

Review: Meet Fred and Wilma, last name Flintstone, a couple of modern Stone Age Honeymooners whose next-door neighbors are the Rubbles. Betty and Barney are best friends with Wilma and Fred and together, they live through everyday adventures in Bedrock, including household mishaps and dinosaur malfunctions. Although things get rocky from time to time and their friendship is tested on occasion, the Flintstones and Rubbles are like Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel – nothing can separate them for long. Two married couples in the beginning of the show, they grow even closer at the arrival of baby Pebbles and Bam-Bam soon after.

With their endless references to pop culture and contemporary topics, the show is now available on DVD and offers a great look back at small-town America of the 1960s. What was hilarious then is still amusing now – from dinosaur-operated cranes, over foot-powered cars to mammoth trunks as garden hoses. Show creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera reinvented and redesigned modern-day amenities to translate the roaring 60s into a rocking Stone Age that appealed to children and their parents. Although declining in popularity after rejuvenating the plotlines with the inclusion of Pebbles and Bam-Bam, The Flintstones were the first animated show in TV history that lasted more than two seasons and has an ongoing impact on popular culture today.

Originally inspired by The Honeymooners, the show has stood the test of time with generations of families and is still a treat for anyone who enjoys imaginative storytelling and loves to chuckle about names like Gary Granite, Rock Hudstone or Perry Masonry.

Enjoy a sample episode here.