Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Disney+ Project, Part 8: the 1970s

More Disney! (See our earlier thoughts herehereherehereherehere, and here)

Welcome to the 1970s in Disney animation. We've finally reached films that were made during my lifetime. While Disney has often echoed its earlier work, using the same voice actors or animators or a similar style, that seemed especially obvious in these films, which is something my daughter and I both enjoyed. 

We delighted in hearing Phil Harris (Baloo of Jungle Book) as Thomas O'Malley and Little John; Eva Gabor as Duchess and Bianca; Pat Buttram as Napoleon, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Luke the Swamp Mouse; Sterling Holloway whom we'd already admired as Mr. Stork, Flower, The Cheshire Cat, and Kaa, returning in the 1970s as Roquefort and Winnie the Pooh. 

My daughter is interested in voice acting as a possible future career, so we make special note of those performances and these voice actors were so much a part of the soundtrack of my childhood that I feel that warm and gushy rush of nostalgia whenever and I hear them. 

We also saw a lot of visual echoes, with familiar animal shapes in chase scenes from Robin Hood and the Rescuers, and Cruella de Vil's seeming cousin Madame Medusa. 

Three of our four selections had couples that crossed "class" barriers: Duchess and Thomas, Robin and Maid Marian (in Disney's version, there's no mention of Robin being nobility--he's just some guy), and Bianca and Bernard. 

The music of the Aristocats is similar to the tunes from Jungle Book in the jazz influence, too. My daughter and I enjoyed that "Easter egg" feeling that spotting these connections and echoes gave us. 

In case, you haven't read the other posts, the basic project is that my 12 year old daughter and I are watching all the Disney animated features in chronological order since Dad got us Disney plus this winter. We're using the wikipedia list and so far there have been only a few that weren't available on Disney Plus: Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons, Victory Through Air Power, Make Mine Music, Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, and The Sword and the Stone (which we found from another source and watched). So, we've watched 23 films so far.

So how do the 70s stack up?

Story-wise, we found these less problematic. While Duchess was a bit of a damsel in distress, Marian and Bianca have serious backbone and a sense of adventure.

The films were mostly free of "ick" moments of leering men and voluptuous women or racial stereotyping or outright offensive portrayals as we'd found in earlier films. They still play well to twenty-first century women like us. We weren't pulled out by outmoded references or outdated humor like we sometimes were with earlier flicks.

Animation-wise, production seemed a little less careful. Thomas O'Malley in the Aristocats looked like a completely different cat in some scenes, especially when he was supposed to be frightened. He changed shape and size throughout. We were pretty sure we spotted some repeated footage in Robin Hood and the Rescuers, like you might see in a Hanna Barbera production, a sign of cost-cutting.

In contrast Winnie the Pooh was highly creative with its use of the text of the books as part of the animation and breaking of the fourth wall as characters interacted directly with the narrator and seemed to know they were in a story.

So far as animation sequences, we loved Tigger sliding down the words on the page when the narrator shook him out of his tree and the opening sequence where a book is opened and all the drawings begin to move. Or when Pooh Bear bounced on lines of text. It was fun how this feature in particular kept reminding you that it was really a storybook.

Even though, she came in to this one expecting she might be "too old" for it, my daughter really enjoyed the sweet stories and fun characters. She thought a lot of the denizens of the Hundred Acre Woods reminded her of her own friends. It's a low stress cartoon that feels very soothing, in the same way that Totoro has been for her throughout her childhood: something you watch when you want something calm.

The 70s get a bad rap sometimes artistically as an era of tacky exploitation and low production values, but we felt these films are still well-worth seeing.

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