Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Fun and Fancy Free. The Disney One.

Fun and Fancy Free

What's it all about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Fun and Fancy Free" (Disney, 1947). In the spirit of other Disney films of the time, this one is a musical vignette program comprising two short segments intercut with framing segments.

Yumpin' Yiminy!

We are first introduced to our host, Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) who leads us to our first story, "Bongo," narrated by Dinah Shore.


Bongo is a circus bear, an incredibly talented performer who brings joy to audiences everywhere… but behind the scenes he's treated as a slave and lives a lonely, solitary existence.
We've all been there, am I right?

One day on the circus train his longing for freedom reaches new heights and he manages to break free, slipping away into the wilderness.
Yep, a breath of insect-filled, pollen-laden fresh air!

For the first time in his life he tastes freedom and nature, and is doubly enamored when he meets Lulubelle, a similarly sized female bear.
Disney formula: Same as the male character model with eyelashes and pink clothing.

Bear bottoms in the grass with bear-nekkid onlookers.

The two are getting to know each other when they're interrupted by the hulking Lumpjaw, a bully bear with eyes for Lulubelle.
The bigger, more powerful version of the hero used in current Disney films...

When Bongo tries to stand up for her, Lulubelle delivers him a few slaps to the face, and then inadvertently slaps Lumpjaw, who sweeps her up in his arms. Hurt by what he perceives as a betrayal by Lulubelle, Bongo retreats dejectedly, only to discover that the wild bears show their affection by delivering slaps to one another.
Seems healthy.

Can Bongo win back his love from his larger rival?

Mickey and the Beanstalk

Our second story is told by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his "friends" Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd (both his stage dummies who are articulated by other performers in this segment) for the young Luana Patten.

I'm not gonna lie: This was funnier than I was expecting.

This is the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk" with Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney), Goofy (Pinto Colvig), and Donald Duck (Clarence Nash) standing in for the characters of Jack and his mother. In the land of Happy Valley, all is peace and happiness thanks to the magical music of the Singing Harp (Anita Gordon), until she is abducted by some unknown force.
Damsel (instrument?) in distress.

The land quickly dries up and becomes unlivable, with its few remaining inhabitants starving in the once-prosperous land. In this harsh environment, farmers Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are forced to sell their precious cow in order to avoid starvation.
No, you're not playing "Kingdom Hearts."

Mickey trades the cow for some magic beans, which after a confrontation with Donald are lost down a hole in the farmhouse floor.
The sense of scale in some of these shots is impressive for the time.

That night in the moonlight, the beans grow uncontrollably, hoisting the trio into the stratosphere where they come upon a castle owned by Willie the Giant (Billy Gilbert).
If he's just dumb, is he still really a villain?

They quickly discover that the monster has stolen the harp to help him sleep. Can the three diminutive heroes rescue the harp and restore Happy Valley?

A product of a specific timeframe

As I have mentioned before in other reviews, this film comes from a time when Walt Disney's studio was more focused on short musical cartoons rather than feature-length films. This one has a little of the live-action mixed with animation magic that Disney was developing at the time and later perfected with "Mary Poppins."

"Mixed media" seems an apt description.

It's pretty short, clocking in at just under one and one-quarter hours, which makes it a perfect film for people with short attention spans.

Not exactly a classic...

Chances are that unless you're a Disney diehard, you've never seen or heard of this feature. While it's similar in structure and length to "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," it really doesn't have the staying power of that other film. The "Bongo" segment is very forgettable, following story beats that were cliché even at that time.

Even these guys forgot about it.

I don't know if this has contributed to the collective ignorance of "Bongo," and maybe I'm reading too much into it, but there seems to be an approval (even glorification) of domestic violence in this segment. The "Beanstalk" portion isn't even the first time Mickey Mouse fought a giant, as he already encountered one in "The Brave Little Tailor" short from 1938. The most memorable contribution to Disney arcana in this motion picture was Willie the Giant, who appeared again as the Ghost of Christmas Present in 1983's "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (unfortunately repeating many of the same jokes).
Kiss him!

Better than it might seem

That's not to say that this movie isn't without its merits: For one, the animation is pretty good. It's not going to win any awards, but it is competently done nonetheless. The film is also extremely funny in spots. The Edgar Bergen dialog is more humorous than I was expecting, and really shows why he was such a draw for so long. The beanstalk segment is another great example of Donald Duck being a complete murderous psychopath, which is always disturbingly pleasant to see. The sense of scale in the fight with Willie is communicated well, and overall "Beanstalk" is the standout of the two featurettes.

Might not be great for kids

If you're of a certain age, you probably saw much worse when you were a kid, but the more humorous jokes will probably fly over most children's heads, while the violence introduced in the "Bongo" segment and implied murderousness of Donald Duck may be a bit much for modern kids to appreciate. Also, ventriloquist dummies are creepy at any age, so just be cautious when watching with younger kids.

Where can I find it?

"Fun and Fancy Free" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Hacksaw... Not the tool, not Jim Duggan.

Hacksaw reviewed

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "Hacksaw" (Disney, 1971). This is another "Wonderful World of Disney" made for TV movie from the disco decade. Tim Andrews (Tab Hunter) is taking big city businessman Olney Curtis (George Barrows) and his daughter Sue (Susan Bracken) on a fishing trip.


Daughter of Fisher-man.

Tim is a man of many skills: Bush pilot, cowpoke, classically trained concert violinist, wilderness guide, fish and wildlife expert, tracker, expert horseman, field surgeon, racing driver, computer expert, and game trapper. I only made two of those up (I'll leave it to you to figure out which).
The talented Mr. Dripley.

While exploring, Tim and Sue come upon a beautiful horse which Tim explains is a wild stud named "Hacksaw" by the locals.
Film star.

Sue notices that Hacksaw is interested in the mare that she is riding (Twinkle Toes), and talks Tim into trying to catch the wily horse by using the mare as bait. Thus begins a series of events that leads to Tim bonding with Hacksaw and eventually competing in a championship chuck wagon race.

Wait, what?

Confused by that last sentence? Good. I have opinions…

I don't know that I have ever watched a more rambling movie than this one. It's not boring, exactly; it's more like a series of five to ten minute shorts that chronologically connect to one another shown back-to-back over an hour and a half. It's sort of like Richard Linklater's "Slacker" if you just stayed with a couple of characters throughout. While the bond between Tim and Hacksaw is the primary driver of the film, it's not really deeply explored in any real emotional capacity. Even when the movie tries to elevate the stakes by showing a daring rescue or by putting Hacksaw in jeopardy there's no "edge of your seat" suspense. Let me see if I can sum up the plot of this film from memory:

  1. "The Rancher" (Ray Teal), our narrator regales us with the tale of how Tim Andrews got into chuck wagon racing.
    Our omniscient guide.

  2. Tim flies the Curtises to the Rockies.
  3. Tim and Sue try to catch Hacksaw but accidentally snag a grizzly.
    Hilarity ensues.

    Hilarity ensues... Again.

  4. Hacksaw follows the mare to Tim's ranch where they catch him.
    More believable than the human love story.

  5. Everyone tries to ride Hacksaw to no avail.
    Here we meet our bad guy.

  6. Tim uses Hacksaw as a pack horse while Sue goes back to the city.
  7. Tim discovers that Hacksaw can pull a sled while gathering firewood.
  8. Winter comes, and Tim and Hacksaw rescue a pilot from a crashed plane.
    Seriously not suspenseful.

  9. Sue returns and Tim enters Hacksaw into a sled race, which he loses.
    If at first you don't succeed, just cry about it.

  10. Sue goes home while a rancher offers to teach Tim how to race a chuck wagon, where *cough* "The big money is."
  11. Spring comes and Tim trains for the chuck wagon races with his business partner, Cascade Joe (Victor Millan).
    There is a "musical" interlude here. Yes, that is in quotes.

  12. Tim's rival sabotages him by bringing another stud to the ranch where the horses fight.
    Horses "acting."

  13. An injured Hacksaw is missing, everyone looks for him.
  14. A healed Hacksaw returns just in time for the big chuck wagon race.
  15. Sue and her father come back to watch Tim and Hacksaw win the big race.
    Got it on the first try!

  16. Inexplicably, the movie keeps going for a little while longer.

It's like a vignette film smooshed with a "sports film." You've all seen sports films: There's a passionate and skilled individual or team who tries to win but is beaten by an evil cheating rival (in this case Russ McCubbin as "Dusty Trent"), but overcomes their failings through pluck and training and eventually beat the evil bastard(s). The problem with this film is that there's multiple sports and Tim Andrews just falls ass-backwards into them. He loses the first race he ever tries and seems DEVESTATED. He doesn't even have any interest in chuck wagon racing until the last quarter of the film and wins the first championship race he ever tries. How is that an underdog story? And chuck wagon racing. CHUCK. WAGON. RACING. Seriously, how is this a sport, let alone a "big money" sport?!

I have family that are heavily into horses. I have been to rodeos and fairs. I have never heard of this sport.

Not dressed up

It looks like an old TV movie, and that's not a compliment: Film transfer with overblown colors, 4:3 aspect ratio, and even some interlacing artifacts visible during scenes of motion (if you're watching it on a modern television).

Should I watch it?

Unless you're really keen on horse movies I would give this one a pass; The transfer hurts the majesty of the scenery, the acting isn't what I would call "top notch," and the story would be cliché if they would just pick one cliché and stick with it.

Where can I find it?

"Hacksaw" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Cloak & Dagger (not the Marvel one)

Put on your cloak, and grab your dagger

Cloak & Dagger? Stranger Things have titles...

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "Cloak & Dagger" (Universal Pictures, 1984). We're introduced to Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman) AKA "Agent X," a super-spy during the cold war with the Soviet Union that occupied much of the 20th century.

"Jack Flack always escapes!"

He's everything you could want in a hero: Clever, quick, deadly, with spy gadgets galore. But there's a catch…

Flack is the imaginary creation of Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas, after his debut as "Eliot" in "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial"), a kid who is coping with the loss of his mother by immersing himself in military role-playing and video games with his friends Kim (Christina Nigra) and mall game store owner Morris (William Forsythe).

Jack Flack is Davey's OP character

Pictured: Super friends!

When Morris sends Davey and Kim to pick up a product catalog from one of his suppliers, things take an unexpectedly deadly turn; Davey witnesses a murder, and the victim passes him a video game "tape" with a secret message.
"5200?! How the heck am I supposed to use this?!"

Of course, by the time he gets people to listen, the murderers have scrubbed the evidence. Taken home to his dad (also played by Dabney Coleman), Davey quickly learns that they bad guys know where he lives.
Dual roles for Dabney

Can Davey and his imaginary construct of Jack uncover the conspiracy, retrieve the top secret plans, and save the people they love from the cabal of spies that are gunning for them?

Lots to love

I love this movie. It's an adult spy thriller starring a child and his cheesy imaginary friend, and yet it still somehow remains gripping, thoughtful, and even a bit scary throughout. The acting is superb, even the worst actor in the film (a very young Christina Nigra) is absolutely hilarious and believable when she needs to be. The movie doesn't pull its punches: The consequences of violence are in full force, and even though the kids have "plot armor," the people around them are decidedly not immune. Things get quite emotional towards the end (for a multitude of reasons).

Not without problems, however

Is it perfect? Oh no. Not by a long shot. 

I got 5200 problems...

It's a bit funny that they were banking on the Atari 5200 and its notoriously defective controllers as the video game platform of choice in the film, as almost no one in the 80s owned one.

I'm not going to lie: This game looks dope as hell.

The "Cloak & Dagger" game featured in the film is actually an arcade game named "Agent X" which was going to ported to the 5200 as "Cloak & Dagger," but it was 1984 when this movie came out, and if you know anything about video game history you know why this is problematic…

Smile, you're on tape

I've heard a lot of speculation online that the film mistakenly refers to video game cartridges as "tapes," and as a kid who played and rented video games in the 80s let me just say that is was common terminology at the time (in much the same way that all video games in the latter half of the 80s were collectively referred to as "Nintendo") and is in no way an inherent error by the screenwriters. I have many memories of my Dad taking us out for dinner on a Friday night, then stopping by the video store to rent a movie and a "Nintendo tape" for the weekend.

What's a pee-gee?

Is it appropriate for children? That's a tough call. It only has a PG rating, but note that it's a strong "80s PG." On the one hand it stars kids and does not in any way patronize them or pull its punches.

Typical 80s bad guy is... quite scary, actually.

Jack Flack is a cool character and his advice to Davey throughout the film is both humorous and exciting.

On the other hand, there is very realistic death and consequences in the film (with very little gore), and the bad guys are genuinely scary with descriptive threats of violence and the means to carry it out. This dichotomy makes it a tough call, but one should also consider that this film is firmly a product of the 1980s, meaning that the norms of the time were quite different in regards to unsupervised children,

"In my day, you'd be drafted into the war!"

and the "cutting edge" and "futuristic" technology of the time is incredibly dated by today's standards in a way that tech savvy kids might not be able to wrap their heads around.
Pictured: Cutting edge.

Where can I find it?

I watched "Cloak & Dagger" on DVD, but it is available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime Video, and nowhere else that I could find.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Worth your time!

Broomsticks, Bed Knobs, and Such

What's it about?

In honor of Angela Lansbury (who recently passed away), tonight's nostalgic pic is "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (Disney, 1971).

All of the young men are at war, you see.

During the London Blitz of World War II, Rawlins siblings Carrie, Charlie, and Paul (Cindy O'Callaghan, Ian Weighill, and Roy Snart, respectively) are sent to stay in the British countryside in the north of England.
Corr! We's Bri'ish, we is!

Assigned to stay with a Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) in her spacious home, the trio are disheartened to learn that she has strict rules about hygiene, a weird diet of strange plants, and a ratty old cat she calls "Cosmic Creepers."
They try to make him look creepy, but he's still cute!

Disaffected and preparing to run away back to London that night, they discover that Miss Price is more than she appears, flying on a broom in the moonlight!
Not very lady-like.

When Charlie decides that they can leverage their newfound knowledge into better accommodations, it turns out that the eccentric Miss Price is taking a correspondence course in witchcraft, which she demonstrates by turning Charlie into a white rabbit, temporarily.
Chuck hare.

She explains that she's trying to use her practiced magical skills to aid the allies in their fight against the Germans, but she's waiting on one last spell lesson from The Professor Emelius Browne School of Witchcraft, only to get a letter that the school has closed due to the Blitz. Deciding it would be better to work with the children, Miss Price enchants a bed knob for the diminutive Paul to use to turn her big brass bed into a transport vehicle.
The "knob" in the title.

Three turns transforms the bed into a conveyance.

Thus begins their quest to find the last spell. Along the way they meet and team up with the shifty Professor Browne (Disney stalwart David Tomlinson),
Far more likable than Mr. Banks, IMHO.

travel to an island populated by animals,
Furries unite!

and eventually repel the Germans from their sleepy small town using the ultimate magic spell!

Some background

This film supposedly shared a lot of production overlap with the much more well-known "Mary Poppins" (1964), and it's easy to see that the two are somewhat joined at the hip, with both films featuring live action mixed with animation, both with songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, and both starring David Tomlinson in prominent patriarchal roles.

Rumor has it that the underwater scene was reworked from "Mary Poppins."

This is also Angela Lansbury's first movie with Disney, a relationship that would last decades afterward (this film also was the last "Walt Disney" movie to be awarded an Oscar until "The Little Mermaid" came out eighteen years later).

Musical mehs

I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but I find this one tolerable. For one thing, the first song (outside of the old soldiers singing at the beginning while marching) doesn't even show up until 27 minutes into the film (rather unexpectedly at that point, and you wouldn't even realize that it was a musical until that point). There's only a few songs after that, and they're entirely benign, from the lamentable sadness of "Portobello Road" to the goofy ballroom dancing of "The Beautiful Briny Sea."


The movie does have a habit of wasting some of its acting talent, though. Veteran actors like Sam Jaffe and Bruce Forsyth are only on screen for a few minutes,

They do make pretty scary villains, though.

and even one of the cast headliners (Roddy McDowall) is barely in the film at all.
One of two short scenes with Roddy Mcdowall.

Still, the children are decent enough actors, and Lansbury and Tomlinson have a great chemistry throughout.

My thoughts

For me, if I have to choose between this movie and "Mary Poppins," I'll pick this one every time. I find the story a little bit more grounded, and the fantasy more connected to the rest of the plot. Mary Poppins is basically just a series of vignettes where Burt introduces some situation, Mary drags the kids off to deal with it, and then the sequence ends. In this film, each step of their adventure leads into the next, and often Miss Price is just as much a protagonist as any of the children. The sequence on the Isle of Naboombu is a fantastic piece of anthropomorphic animation, well worth a watch by any aficionados of funny animals.

This is by far the funniest part of the film.

This is that sketchy 70s style Disney that we know and love.

It's made even better by the variety of creatures playing the game.

Let's face it: This movie probably created a few transformation fetishists as well...

Capping the whole thing is the German U-boat raid at the end, where Miss Price uses her ultimate spell to animate the armor, clothes and weapons of centuries past in a spooky battle for Britain.
U-boat, we-boat, they-boat...

I don't mind telling you that this last scene gave me no end of nightmares as a child, and even seeing it today as an adult with a better understanding of what's going on it still seems ghostly and eerie, and I'm here for it!
This sequence is still a bit eerie today.

The special effects are entirely passable and creative.

This one still haunts my nightmares.

Where can I find it?

"Bedknobs and Broomsticks" is currently streaming on Disney+.