Top Ten: Disney Songs

So, before we get into the list, here are three rules (some more arbitrary than the others) that I decided to play by in order to make the impossible task of picking out the ten best songs of the entire Disney Canon  a little easier for me. First rule: Only movies in the Canon are eligible. That means no “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” or any song from Mary Poppins, even if they probably would have made the list. Second rule: Only movies written specifically for the movie they appear in. So, for example, all those Elvis songs featured in Lilo & Sitch are not eligible. Third rule: Only one song per movie, because otherwise, the list would have ended up being all Beauty and the Beast songs.

And one more thing before we start. This is not only a ranking of the songs, but of the way the song and the animation work together to service the movie. Good songs featured in lame sequences, or great sequences scored to lackluster songs won’t make it on this list.

IWannaBeLikeYou10. “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book (1967)
Written by Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
Performed by Louis Prima
“I Wanna Be Like You” is without a doubt the stand-out musical number in The Jungle Book, and Louis Prima was inspired casting for King Louie. Apparently, the jazz musician was really excited about voicing a Disney character. So much so as to send the studio story notes about the character. Prima’s performance of the song is just fantastic, full of the excitement and vitality that make King Louie such a memorable character despite the fact that his appearance probably doesn’t amount to ten minutes of screen time.
What About…? The only other song from The Jungle Book that I considered was “The Bear Necessities“, which is fun and sweet, but doesn’t have the anarchic power of “I Wanna Be Like You”.

Friend Like Me

9.“Friend Like Me” from Aladdin (1992)
Written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Performed by Robin Williams
Talk about show-stopping numbers… The first part of Aladdin has quite a bit of problems, but they all disappear once the Genie (Robin Williams) arrives with his thunderous performance of “Friend Like Me”. Your response to Aladdin as a movie might depend a lot on how much you like Williams’s schtick. I find it really funny, and if for no other reason, “Friend Like Me” deserves a spot on the list just for the amount of flexibility adopted by the animators to capture Williams’s riffing in cartoon form.
What About…? I’m not a huge fan of the rest of the Aladdin score, but I will admit to having a soft-spot for “A Whole New World“, even if its lyrics are a little too cheesy even for Disney standards.

CircleOfLife8. “Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1994)
Written by Elton John and Tim Rice
Performed by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M
I said this in my review, but it bares repeating, who doesn’t know the opening african chant to The Lion King? The rising sun over the savannah, and all animals walking together to greet young Simba as he is lifted in Rafiki’s arms are all some of the most prevalent images in the contemporary public consciousness. There might be certain weaknesses to the songs in The Lion King, but “Circle of Life” is a spectacular beginning to a wonderful movie.
What About…? For a while, and just for the sake of being a contrarian, my list didn’t have any Lion King songs. That obviously didn’t last long (there’s no denying the power of “Circle of Life”). I also considered “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” thanks to its visual playfulness, and “Be Prepared” because how the hell is there a Disney song that features Nazi imagery?

UpDownAndTouchTheGround7. “Up, Down, and Touch the Ground” from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Written by Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
Performed by Sterling Holloway
“I’m short, fat, and proud of that”, all of the appeal of Pooh as a character in a single song. Watch this and tell me it’s not the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen. The Sherman brothers were masters of coming up with silly little songs, and when paired with Sterling Holloway’s sweetest performance, the result is pure magic.
What About…? This one is full of classic songs, it was really hard to pick just one song. The two that came closest to making the list were “Little Black Rain Cloud” and “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers

WhistleWhileYouWork6. “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey
Performed by Adriana Caselotti
Pretty much all the songs in Snow White are good, but I had to pick one. “Whistle While You Work” just happens to be my favorite. I also might have given it the advantage based on historical bases. I mean, this is the beginning of the cheery princess that cleans up the house with the help of cute little animals, and where would we be without that character stereotype? It’s also a very fun song to sing while cleaning up your own house.
What About…? Like I said, the Snow White score is pretty fantastic. The stand-outs that didn’t make the list are “Someday My Prince Will Come“, which is a very good song, but not the best sequence in the movie, and  “Heigh Ho“, which is terrific, but also really short.

PinkElephantsOnParade5. “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo (1941)
Written by Oliver Wallace, Ned Washington
Performed by Mel Blanc, Thurl Ravenscroft, The Sportsmen
It might be a little far-fetched to think all of this was a product of Dumbo being drunk, but who am I to say what the effects of alcohol are in young elephants. What I do know is that there is no way you watched this scene as a kid and were either scared as hell or completely fascinated by it. It’s simply one of the best dream/hallucinating sequences in all of cinema. If you have a stoner friend who hasn’t seen Dumbo, he’ll appreciate it if you show him this.
What About…? The other big Dumbo song is the Oscar-nominated “Baby Mine“, but if I have to be honest, that is one of the cases I talked about above, where a fantastic sequence (Dumbo reencounter with his mom always brings me to tears) scored to an unmemorable song.

BellaNotte4. “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Written by Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee
Performed by George Givot and the Studio Chorus
If you ever find yourself watching a montage of the most romantic movies (be it while watching the Oscars, or YouTube, or wherever people watch montages nowadays), and this scene is not included, you can rest assured that whoever put together said montage is a complete imbecile.
What About…? If I had allowed more than one song per movie, be assured that Peggy Lee’s steamy rendition of “He’s a Tramp” would have been a very, very serious contender.

IveGotNoStrings3. “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio (1940)
Written by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington
Performed by Dickie Jones
Hard to pick from a score as fantastic as what Harline and Washington wrote for Pinocchio (I was very close to pulling my hair out), but I am very comfortable in my pick of this funny, little song. It is funny, catchy, and it features fantastic animation in the way the marionettes move and dance around our little wooden hero.
What About…? This was probably the hardest movie to pick just one song from. I mean, Pinocchio simply has the best Disney score from any Disney movie released before the nineties. “When You Wish Upon a Star“, “Give a Little Whistle” and even “Hi Diddle Dee Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me)” could have comfortably earned a spot in the top ten.

PartOfThatWorld2. “Part of That World” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
Written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman
Performed by Jodi Benson
I said it once in my review, and I’ll say it as many times as it is necessary, because people just have to know that this is the best “I Want” song ever written. It’s also probably my favorite of all Disney songs.
What About…? If my love for “Part of That World” weren’t as unreasonably high, I would have had a horrible time picking just one song out of The Little Mermaid’s score. “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are amazing, and I flirted with the idea of choosing “Poor Unfortunate Souls“, because I wanted to have a villain song in the list, and Ursula’s number is probably the best such song in the Canon.

Belle1. “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman
Performed by Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Alec Murphy, Mary Kay Bergman, Kath Soucie, and Chorus
Since I just wrote that “Part of That World” is my favorite song, you must be wondering why I didn’t have it at number one. Well, while it is fantastic, there are two reasons I picked “Belle” for number one. First, because I think Beauty and the Beast is the best score of any Disney movie and it deserved to have the top spot. Second, because the sophistication with which “Belle” works as both a song to introduce us to the world, the tone, and the main character of the movie is like nothing Disney had ever done (or has done since, to be honest).
What About…? Like I said, the best score in all of Disney history (give or take your Mary Poppins). It has all of the big Disney areas covered. A great villain song? You got “Gaston“. A show-stopping number? There’s “Be Our Guest“. One of the most romantic songs ever? you just have to listen to the eponymous “Beauty and the Beast“.

Before I go, let me just list a number of songs I considered for the list, but sadly didn’t make it. They are (in chronological order)…
– “The Three Caballeros” from The Three Cabaleros
– “
The Working Song” from Cinderella
– “Cruella De Vil” from One Hundred and One Dalmatians
– “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from Hercules
– “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan
– “Son of Man” and “Strangers Like Me” from Tarzan
– “I See the Light” and “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled
– “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “For the First Time in Forever” from Frozen

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Mean Girls (2004)

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It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the release of Mean Girls, which had a decent run in theaters only to become one of the most popular and influential movies of its generation. I was twelve at the time it was released. Maybe a little young to have seen it (some of the jokes went right over my head), but definitely not too young. I loved it. You see, at twelve, my obsession with the Oscars was just starting, so I was in a very “this kind of movie is good” and “this kind of movie is bad” mentality. It was also a year of discovery as I started watching as many movies as I could.  Mean Girls was the movie that made me realize that mainstream comedies could be great. Like really great.

So let’s talk about the movie. Watching this for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was a little weird, since Mean Girls is most remembered and praised for Tina Fey’s screenplay than for any of its visuals. That is probably deserved, since Fey’s screenplay is so hilarious and poignant, but director Mark Waters did a pretty commendable job in bringing North Shore High School to life and populating it with colorful characters. Really, the casting in this movie is off the roof. Nathaniel Rogers and Joe Reid just released a podcast commentary of the movie in which they very smartly point out how, unlike many lesser high school comedies, the cast of Mean Girls is so universally on point. And no one is more on point than Rachel McAdams as Regina George. This may very well be the best performance of her career, and I am still a little sad she hasn’t follow that up with better roles. But I probably don’t need to tell you how great she is. You probably remember all of her wonderful facial expressions, like my favorite shot right here. I mean, what is going on behind that face?

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Blue Ruin: Hobo with a Shotgun

Blue Ruin

There are a couple of disappointing shots towards the beginning. There is also a moment, roughly by the midpoint of the running time, when the movie loses a bit of steam. That is it. That is all the bad things I can say about Blue Ruin. Even then, that middle-slump is quickly overcome with the movie’s thrilling final act, and those shots I mentioned are only disappointing because they look like typical “independent movie” framing in a film that shows an outstanding level of original personality. Blue Ruin is the second film by cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier. Just last week, the release of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence was perpetuating the assumption that directors of photography don’t make good directors, and now, one of the most assured, confident, and exciting films of the year is directed by a DP.

Macon Blair stars as Dwight, whom we meet as a homeless man, living in a rusting blue car by the beach, and searching trashcans for food. Very early in the movie, Dwight is visited by a police officer that tells him a certain man is being released from prison. These news send Dwight in a long quest for revenge, that like most movies about the subject, ends in tragedy and lots of bloodshed. Blue Ruin’s might not be the most original of premises, but Saulnier proves to be a reliable screenwriter, making the story develop at the perfect speed, and taking it to the most fascinating and surprising places without making it feel like he is stuffing his movie with pointless twists designed to shock the audience.

And like I said above, he proves to be an even more reliable director. I don’t to spoil the experience of watching the movie for the first time by going too much into its plot, but suffice to say that Blue Ruin features some of the most thrilling sequences of the year, including one involving Dwight and a man in the trunk of a car, and especially one where Dwight tries to fight off home invaders in what feels like an R-rated version of Home Alone. 

You can tell Saulnier’s background by the way he focuses on the visual to tell the story (A lot of the movie unfolds in silence). This man knows how to use a camera. He knows how to frame a widescreen shot in order to get the most information out of it whether the scene takes place in a dark interior, or in the middle of an open landscape. Blue Ruin looks and feels like a postmodern take on the southern noir (you can feel the heat, the sweat, the grimy danger), but also like its own thing. It doesn’t necessarily want to look for references and inspiration in other works, it is, above all, interested in doing whatever works for this particular story. If there is a word to describe this movie, is effective. Or assured. Either way, they’re both fantastic qualities for a small independent movie to have.

Grade: 8 out of 10 (maybe 9? Let’s see if time makes it grow on me even more…)

Top Ten: Movies in the Disney Canon

The Disney Canon Project has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that the fun is over. Actually, depending on your point of view, some of the most interesting stuff might be coming up. I’ve prepared a series of lists about my favorite elements of the Canon that will come out in the following weeks. This is the first of them, and it is one that I have been trying to make since I was a very young child, but I couldn’t, and hadn’t really been comfortable to make it until now that I have officially watched them, and all 53 movies in the Disney Canon stand fresh in my mind. So, without further ado, here’s a list of my ten favorite Disney Movies.

CinderellaFilms

10. Cinderella (1950)
If you ask someone to picture the most conventional conception of what a Disney movie looks like, they’ll probably picture something fairly similar to Cinderella. And although it wasn’t until the studio’s renaissance period of the early nineties that it started to rely strongly on the musical princess (Disney only released three movies starring princesses before 1989), Cinderella, with its family-friendliness, classic ideas of femininity, cute sidekicks, and happy ending, may look very old-fashioned. But this doesn’t mean that it’s not a good film. Not only are the images and production values wonderful, but like I wrote on my review, there are aspects of the movie and the main character -especially the power dynamics in household between Cinderella, the Stepmother, and the animals- that speak very directly and effectively to the way children see the world. That might be a personal theory of mine, but believe me, I haven’t met a single small child who has seen it and hasn’t been captivated by this movie.

TangledFilms9. Tangled (2010)
I hope that by this point in time, after how miserably Disney failed at trying to be hip and copy studios that were more popular at the time (Dreamworks, Pixar) in the 2000s, there is no doubt in everyone’s mind that Disney is at its best when it embraces its legacy and doesn’t try to run and hide from it. It is fitting, then, that the best movie they have released in the last twenty years is a very classically structured fairy tale. Tangled is less ambitious than its contemporaries in what it is trying to say about the idea of the “Disney Princess” (and it is funny that, while being 3D, it ended up being a much more classical movie than the 2D Princess and the Frog), but it shows the most heart and detail of al of Disney’s recent releases. You just have to read my review to know what a fantastic pair of characters I find young Rapunzel and evil Mother Gothel to be.

PoohFilms

8. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
I always have difficulties judging The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh alongside other Disney movies, because it has the particular distinction of being the only movie in the Canon to be composed exclusively out of pre-existing material. But even if the three shorts that make up the film were released on their own throughout the sixties and seventies, they are great, and since the movie is considered canon, they must be ranked according to their greatness. There are very little movies that manage to perfectly capture the mentality of a child. One of them is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, and another is this Disney gem. There is a reason why characters like Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore resonate with children up to this day, and they have never been better represented on film, or any other medium (yes, including the books), than in this movie.

LittleMermaidFilms

7. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Many animated movies have had the distinction of “saving” Disney, but while Dumbo and Cinderella saved the company from financial bankruptcy, The Little Mermaid did a different kind of deed. It saved the studio from irrelevance. The fantastic story about Princess Ariel and her wish to know what live is like above water captivated critics and audiences, became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, won two Oscars, and ushered the golden period known as the Disney Renaissance. All of these accomplishments are more than deserved, since The Little Mermaid is an absolutely great movie, featuring a quality of animation not seen in American cinema since the fifties, a wonderful heroine, one of the most memorable villains, and some of the very best songs in Disney’s filmography.

DalmatiansFilms

6. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
The period in which Disney had to cut back on expenses, and started using the “xerography” process of animation isn’t regarded as the best moment for the studio, but it started out with a bang in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which is perhaps the most lively and energetic of all Disney movies. I think I love practically everything about its design, and the version of the early sixties these characters live in. And I shouldn’t leave the content of the movie behind, since this is a thrilling adventure that holds up surprisingly well, and infinitely better than the live action remake starring Glenn Close. It’s perhaps the movie I was most delighted to rediscover during this project, as I got all curled up and invested in the idea of these puppies managing to escape the hands of heartless Cruella De Vil.

LionKingFilms

5. The Lion King (1994)
The most epic of Disney movies, and for a long time also the most successful (it was just unseated by Frozen a few months ago). The Lion King is the very first movie I saw in theaters, so it will always have a special place in my heart, but its very high ranking on this list is not base don sentimental reasons. It is a fantastic movie on its own right. For starters, it features some of the most beautiful animation in the Canon, including a handful of iconic images that even the most pretentious of filmgoers could recognize. The Lion King was a massive phenomenon, and it keeps resonating with audiences for a reason. It is the best example of what a powerhouse Disney managed to become during its Renaissance period.

SnowWhiteFilms

4. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The movie that started it all is undoubtedly a masterpiece of the genre. Disney spent a good part of the thirties just inventing and perfecting technology in order to make Snow White, and thus, he ended up creating a complete new genre. It was the first animated feature produced in the United States, and it was so successful that for virtually fifty years after its release, all animated movies would be made based on its image. Singing princesses, woodland critters, a set of funny sidekicks, and a luxurious, bigger-than-life villain are all animation traditions that started with this movie. The movie is a visual marvel, with wonderful watercolor backgrounds and flawless animation, it is one of the best movies of the thirties, and one of the most important moments in the history of cinema.

DumboFilms

3. Dumbo (1941)
All great cinema, but Disney in particular, manages to achieve classic status by tapping precisely in the correct spot in the audience’s minds and hearts. Dumbo, which was made for cheap after Fantasia and Pinocchio failed to turn a profit, managed to hit right on the bullseye. It was a huge success that saved Disney’s finances, but in its simplicity (at 64 minutes, it is the shortest movie in the Canon)* it goes straight to the point and tells one of the most moving and effective stories of animation (and cinema) history. If you want to witness the living proof that movies don’t need to be long to be great, watching Dumbo will do the trick

*Correction: As friend of the blog ‘The Animation Commendation’ mentioned in the comments, Dumbo is not the shortest film in the Canon. That would be Saludos Amigos. It’s still very short though. 

BeautyBeastFilms

2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and with good reason. Some of the animation is still a little uneven compared to what the studio would achieve in the following years, but in terms of marrying story and visuals, there’s no beating the masterpiece of the Disney Renaissance. The character development, the structure of the story, and the simply fantastic music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman not only make Beauty and the Beast the masterpiece of the Disney Renaissance, they raised the bar of sophistication for all animated movies to come.

PinocchioFilms

1. Pinocchio (1940)
The unexpectedly huge success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs gave way to Disney’s most ambitious period. For all the flaws you may or may not find in the work of Walt Disney, there is no denying that the man always worked on projects he felt passionate about. And he never seemed to have more passionate than when his gamble to make an animated feature-lenght film succeeded. Instead of trying to make another Snow White, he shot for the stars, and came up with two of his most impressive works ever. I have my problems with Fantasia, but Pinocchio, the studio’s second feature, is simply the best animated movie ever made. The shot that pans over Geppeto’s village towards the beginning of the film alone is outstanding, but then you have one of the best song scores of the Disney Canon, and some of the most effectively primal and psychological sequences too. The relationship between Pinocchio and Geppeto, the seamless proficiency of the animation, and the movie’s treatment of its darkest passages are all signs of the relentless genius Walt and his collaborators were determined to achieve in order to secure animation’s place in the sun.

Don’t worry. I know what you’re thinking. “A top ten is not enough, we need a full ranking!” Well, I figured as much. Now, ranking them was going to be a little too much for me, but here are all the other movies in the Canon in roughly my order of preference:

Other Really Good Movies:
Mulan, The Emperor’s New Groove, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Fantasia, Robin Hood
Good Movies:
Frozen, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Aladdin, The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Hercules, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, The Three Caballeros, Fantasia 2000
OK Movies:
The Sword in the Stone, Alice in Wonderland, The Great Mouse Detective, The Princess and the Frog, Pocahontas, Bolt, Wreck-It Ralph, Meet the Robinsons, Melody Time, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free
Not-So-Good Movies:
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under, Oliver & Company, The Fox and the Hound, The Aristocats, Saludos Amigos, Home on the Range, The Black Cauldron, Brother Bear
The Bad Movies:
Trasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Dinosaur
The Horrible Movies:
Chicken Little

Robots vs. Dragons: 2014 Summer Box-Office Predictions

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Last year I ventured into unexplored territory for me as I predicted what would be the most successful movies of the summer (at least as far as collecting dollars goes). Summer is well known for being the time of year when the major studios take their biggest dogs out to play, in search of those valuable teenagers’ money. It is no lie that Hollywood is trying to slowly turn the whole year into summer blockbuster season –Captain America was released in April and has already made summer-numbers, and the movie that sure to be the biggest earner of the year (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I) is coming out in November-, but it still known that Summer is where the true bloodbath of tentpole vs. sequel takes place.

Before we get into this year’s predictions, let us look at last year’s experiment. Turns out I did… reasonably well for the first time. Six out of the ten movies I picked made it into the actual top ten. I got the top four in the correct order (Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University). I also got number five and six, albeit in the incorrect place (I should have swapped the order of Stark Trek Into Darkness and Fast & Furious 6). I didn’t get any of the last four, which is logical since those are the really hard predictions to make. I had Pacific Rim and The Lone Ranger on my list, both big box office disappointments that barely cracked the top 20. Anyway, on with the show… Here’s what I think will be the top ten box office performers for the summer of 2014:

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction (trailer)
Release Date: June 27
Studio: Paramount
Predicted Box Office: 375 Million
It doesn’t matter if these Transformers movies suck (they do, although I must admit I didn’t see the last one), people seem to love to see quick cuts of CGI metal parts crashing against each other for three hours. This is the only movie with a wide release that weekend, which suggests not only Paramount, but all the other studios, expect this to make a gazillion dollars, and why wouldn’t they? The last three movies in the franchise all made more than 300 Million dollars.

2. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (trailer)
Release Date: June 13
Studio: Fox/Dreamworks
Predicted Box Office: 350 Million
Listen, who didn’t love the first How to Train Your Dragon movie? It was freaking awesome! By far the best (and only great) movie released by Dreamworks Animation in the close to two decades it has existed. And in case you didn’t know, with Pixar not releasing a movie this year, this is basically the only big animated release of the summer, and families always are a good demographic to try and make your movie hit big.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (trailer)
Release Date: May 23
Studio: Fox
Predicted Box Office: 300 Million
I really have no idea how much money this movie’s going to make. The X-Men franchise has been faltering a little bit lately. First Class and Wolverine both made more than 100 Million, but that is far from the numbers the mutants used to make back in the early-to-mid 2000s. What makes this time different? Well, Fox is trying to pull off the closest it can to an Avengers with this one, featuring characters from both the older and newer movies.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (trailer)
Release Date: May 2
Studio: Sony
Predicted Box Office: 275 Million
Summer means lots of superheroes, and all seems to indicate people aren’t tired of them yet. I personally didn’t care at all for The Amazing Spider-Man, and it seems like part two is going to be just as messy as part one… Not that audiences will really care though, although I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and predicting this sequel won’t be much more successful than its predecessor, although that would still make it number four of the summer.

5. Maleficent (trailer)
Release Date: May 30
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 225 Million
For some reason people like watching gritty new versions of fairy tales. Alice in Wonderland, one of the worst movies released in my lifetime, made a gazillion dollars. So did Oz: The Great and Powerful. Disney’s latest attempt to get those bucks is Maleficent, which I hope doesn’t make as much money as those previous movies, but it still has Angelina Jolie, and that trailer scored to Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” makes it look cooler than it probably is.

6. Godzilla (trailer)
Release Date: May 16
Studio: Warner Bros
Predicted Box Office: 200 Million
Talking about trailers, nobody was particularly invested in a remake of Godzilla, but the marketing campaign (especially those amazing trailers) look so freaking awesome even I am excited for director Gareth Edwards’s take on the famous Japanese monster. “But Pacific Rim failed at the box office and it was about giant monsters” you will say, to which I’ll say that 1) Pacific Rim was nowhere near to Godzilla as far as brand names go, and 2) Pacific Rim was a terrible movie.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy (trailer)
Release Date: August 1
Studio: Disney/Marvel
Predicted Box Office: 200 Million
It seems like Marvel can do no wrong these days. However, this movie about a group of intergalactic heroes (one of whom is a talking raccoon) who aren’t all that famous even with comic book fans will surely be the biggest testing ground for how far Marvel can go in its box office dominance. Still, I’ll believe a Marvel movie can fail at the box office when I see it.

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (trailer)
Release Date: July 11
Studio: Fox
Predicted Box Office: 180 Million
Perhaps the biggest, and most gratifying, surprise of 2011 was how the team led by director Rupert Wyatt managed to make an absolutely amazing movie out of a Planet of the Apes prequel. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, although not perfect, was one of the most inspired and exciting blockbusters in a very long time, and from what I hear, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has the potential to expand on the greatness. The problem is that even if people should be talking about it, I don’t hear much excitement for the movie. If my prediction comes true, Dawn would make roughly as much as Rise, and I don’t know if that’s what Fox is hoping for.

9. 22 Jump Street (trailer)
Release Date: June 13
Studio: Sony
Predicted Box Office: 180 Million
Just like Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised in 2011, the 2012 equivalent was 21 Jump Street. Who would have thought the remake of a teen soap of the eighties would be one of the smartest and funniest mainstream comedies of recent years, and the movie that made us realize that we needed Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill to team up. Virtually everyone I know loved the original, so I expect the sequel to make big bucks.

10. Tammy (trailer)
Release Date: July 2
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 160 Million
At this point, Melissa McCarthy might very well have replaced Will Smith as the most reliably bankable movie star out there. She broke through with her scene-stealing role in Bridesmaids, and she had two big hits last year in The Heat (with Sandra Bullock) and Identity Thief (with Jason Bateman). This time, she is on her own, but there is no question in my mind that America loves its Melissa McCarthy.

Dark Horse: Neighbors (trailer)
Release Date: May 9
Studio: Universal
I don’t know if this comedy about a square couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) living next to a fraternity house (led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) is going to be any good, but judging from that trailer, I think it has the potential to become a huge hit. It’s also, without any Fast and Furious or Despicable Me movie coming out this year, Universal’s biggest hope for success this summer.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Pocahontas (1995)

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Pocahontas is a movie that makes me sad, but not in the way its producers intended. It’s not that I am swelled up in the romance between the young Powhatan princess and Englishman John Smith, it’s more that I love so many aspects of it, and yet, can’t bring myself to love the movie itself, because, well, this was a very misguided project to begin with. Who decided to turn a story about one of the most controversial aspects of American history into a Disney romance? Anyway, that’s not what this post is for -I already wrote about Pocahontas for the Disney Canon Project- this post is for The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, in which a movie is picked every week and people chime in with their favorite shots. This is great news, because if there is anything that I unreservedly love about Pocahontas, is its visuals. It is a strong contender for topping my list of the best looking movie Disney ever made. I’ve examined the design and animation of the movie very carefully, and so, even if I didn’t know exactly what shot I was going to choose for this post, I knew what scene it was going to come from.

The two best things about Pocahontas: the production design (the beautiful greens, the angular trees) and the fantastic job the animators did on Pocahontas herself, one of the most delicately animated characters I’ve ever seen. The worst thing about Pocahontas: the screenplay. Thus, it is reasonable that the best scene in the movie is a silent one. I’ talking about the first encounter between our heroine and explorer John Smith. The one that ends with the somewhat iconic image of Pocahontas standing in the mist, hair blowing in the air. The image I picked, though, comes a little earlier, as our heroine spies on the Englishman from the top of a small cliff. The reason I picked this image is that I find it so beautiful. I don’t really have much to do except show you the image, which I find to be so fantastic but please note the unusual angle from which it is drawn, the tree’s silhouetted branch, the misty background, the soft light on the grass and Pocahontas’s face – not to mention her curious and playful expression! God damn, is this movie beautiful.

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Disney Canon: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

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Re-watching movies is a very curious thing. I’ve you’ve been reading the entries in this Disney Canon Project of mine, then you might have expected me to have such an opinion. After all, the main reason to have watched and reviewed all the movies produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios was -besides nerdy completism- curiosity to see what I would think of the movies I loved in my childhood after watching them again. It was worth it, since many of opinions of them changed. Some for the better, some for the worse, but all in interesting ways. Anyway, this is all to say that, very fittingly with the reasons for the creation of the project, my opinion of Wreck-It Ralph has changed quite a bit in the two years since I first saw it.

Back in 2012, when I still had the old blog, I wrote a very enthusiastic review of the movie, in which I expressed my happiness for what I was starting to sense was a new golden period for Disney. It is true that the studio’s success (both critically and financially) has only grown since John Lasseter was appointed creative chief, but while I used to think Wreck-It Ralph was a ket ingredient in said growth, I now have much more mixed feelings about it. I still think that it is, after all, a good movie. But I find in it a lot to question and analyze (which is good, since I’m writing a blog post about it). To do so, I’ve decided to look at Ralph through a number of movies to which it has been often compared to. Somewhat tellingly, none of these movies are part of the Disney Canon.

The first thing people said about Wreck-It Ralph (myself included) was that it felt like Disney was making a Pixar movie. 2012 really felt like a Freaky Friday year for animation, with Pixar making a Princess movie (Brave) and Disney delving into the basic formula that had made a success out of Pixar. Because if there ever was a Pixar formula (especially during the company’s first years), it included presenting the audience with a colorful, and fantastical part of our world that we didn’t know about. Like the secret life of ants and other bugs in A Bug’s Lifethe life of the monsters that hide in our closets in Monsters, Inc., and most similar to Wreck-It Ralph, the secret life of toys in the Toy Story trilogy.

There is no denying that Wreck-It Ralph follows this formula very closely. It is, after all, the story of the secret life of video game characters, and what happens behind the scenes at a local arcade. The protagonist of the story is Ralph (John C. Reilly), the Donkey Kong-like villain of a game called “Fix-It Felix Jr.”. Ralph is tired of having to play the villain part and not being accepted by the other characters, so he decides to leave his game so he can win a medal and prove his worth as a hero.

One of the big selling points in the publicity before the release of Wreck-It Ralph was how Disney had managed to get the rights to hundreds of different video game characters in order to have them make cameos in the movie. Although there are many pre-existing toys featured in Toy Story, the most accurate precedent for what was going on in Wreck-It Ralph was Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbitwhich featured classic cartoon characters from many different studios. Now, in my opinion, Zemeckis did a wonderful job of getting enough jokes out of the cameos without letting them overwhelm the story he was trying to make, but before its release, the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph made it look as if the movie was happy to coast on the nostalgia.

That is why a lot of people were surprised when, if anything, Wreck-It Ralph didn’t feature as many cameos as one would have expected. It is clear that director Rich Moore (who prior to this had directed some of the best episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama) was interested, above all, in telling a good story, and I respect him immensely for that. I do have a small quibble with the fact that the movie is very front-loaded as far as cameos go. It’s understandable since the structure of the story doesn’t allow for many cameos in the second half, but I do think that besides a few very solid jokes, involving Tapper and Pac-man, most of the cameos are just appearances without much cleverness to them. That being said, while most of the cameos might be underwhelming, there are many in-jokes about the logic of video games that really work for me, and that show how meticulous Moore and his collaborators were when trying to make this a video game world. A good example is at the end of the following clip, where you can see a character keep walking after he has hit a wall.

But let’s get back to the story, so I can tell you that the movie Wreck-It Ralph has the most in common with from a story perspective is actually none of Pixar’s movies, but Dreamworks’ ShrekThey’re both about a big, clumsy, and hot-tempered solitary hero that must pair up with a little and supposedly funny character to discover his importance and self-worth in his world. And in both cases, the movies populate their worlds with comedic bends on famous characters (video games for Ralph, fairy tales for Shrek). If you’ve been reading these posts regularly, you probably know by now that I don’t think much of Shrek, so I want to say straight away that I think Wreck-It Ralph is a better movie, because while Shrek is very concerned with being hip and subversive with its comedy and pop-culture references, Wreck-It Ralph is even a little dull at times for how much of its “cool movie about video games” credit it is willing to shed aside in order to keep the story going.

The ultimate value of Wreck-It Ralph is, of course, on how much mileage it manages to take out of the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a little girls he befriends in the candy-themed racing game Sugar Rush”, who, like him, is an outcast within her own game. Reilly and Silverman both do pretty fantastic work as the voices of Ralph and Vanellope, and while the story of a stubborn hero who is soften by a funny kid has been done many times before (including by Disney), it is a formula that works, especially when done well. I was especially surprised by how endearing I found Silverman’s vocal work. I was prepared for Vanellope to be very grating, and yes, she has to deliver a few unfunny jokes, but she is less of a comedic sidekick than a second protagonist, and her emotional ark is very satisfying.

I said in the first paragraph that my second viewing of Wreck-It Ralph had hurt it in my estimation, but so far I haven’t said anything all that negative. This is part of the problem I have with the movie. That while there is nothing that I find truly terrible about it, it never quite comes together in the way the best animated movies do. As far as movies that try to imitate Pixar’s style go, it is as close as you’ll get without being the real thing, but it does miss that extra cleverness, and the thematic roundness of the best Pixar films. I have a pretty good idea of what the themes that Wreck-It Ralph wants to explore are, but I am very unclear, and somewhat concerned with the question of what its message is. Not that all movies need to have a message, but I do think it’s valuable that children movies be careful about the message they are giving out, and it seems to me like Wreck-It Ralph is saying that you should just stick to whatever you’re born into and not try to change.

But like I said, those are aspects that keep Ralph from being a great movie, but not ones that keep it from being an enjoyable one. Critics (and myself) certainly found it to be really good when it came out. Many went as far as to say it was the best animated movie of the year, which, ok, 2012 was a very underwhelming year for animation, but there is no way that Wreck-It Ralph, which is fun and entertaining could be called the best the same year that saw the release of ParaNormanwhich is simply one of the most brilliant animated masterpieces of recent years.

Next Week: There may not be any more movies in the Canon for me to review, but the Project isn’t quite over yet. Stick around the next couple of weeks for a bunch of Disney-related lists, starting with a ranking of my favorite movies in the Canon.