Saturday, December 29, 2018

Animation Celebration Double Feature - Fantasia & Fantasia 2000

We end 2018 with possibly the most unique movies you'll find at this blog. The original Fantasia was Walt Disney's most ambitious film, a blend of classical music and images that was unheard of in 1940. The movie has always been popular with critics, but didn't do well with audiences at the time; like Alice In Wonderland, it wasn't until the 60's and 70's that teens and college students made it a cult hit. Even with the boost from critics and animation nuts, it took 60 years for Disney to finally bring another round of music and images to the big screen. Are they worthy of the acclaim? Let's head to the concert hall to find out...

Disney, 1940
Hosted by Deems Taylor
Directed by Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, and others
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach and others

The Story: There really isn't one. Instead, we get a series of shorts scored to pieces of classical music, many of which we'd today refer to as "music videos." Composer and music critic Deems Taylor introduces each segment.

Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor: One of Bach's most famous pieces opens the film, first with the live-action orchestra, then with a series of abstract images.

The Nutcracker Suite: Some of the most popular pieces from the Tchaikovsky ballet get a nature theme here, with fish, flowers, leaves, fairies, and mushrooms dancing, whirling, and leaping in time to the changing seasons.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Mickey Mouse's most beloved short has him as the title character, who uses his boss Yensid's hat to cast a spell on a broom that will make it carry water for him...only to nearly drown when the spell works too well and too many brooms overflow the room with gallons of water!

The Rite of Spring: Another ballet adaptation, this one to the once-shocking primitive music by Igor Stravinsky. The short depicts the beginning of Earth, from the first organisms to the end of the dinosaurs.

The Pastoral Symphony: Pegasus, unicorns, and male and female centaurs frolic at a festival for the Greek god of wine Bacchus, but Zeus and Hephaestus bring on a storm to spoil the party, set to the music of Beethoven.

Dance of the Hours: The third ballet adaptation is actually a spoof, turning Ponchielli's popular piece into a comedy where some of the most unlikely animals to ever sport toe shoes somehow manage to bring the house down...literally.

Night On Bald Mountain/Ave Maria: Mussorgsky's intense music kicks of the finale, showcasing Disney's most purely evil villain, the devil Chernabog and his minions. They're finally chased off by dawn, and a performance of Franz Schubert's religious choral number.

Animation: If you're a big fan of old-style hand-drawn animation, you'll likely find at least one thing to love here. From the frothy pastels of "The Pastoral Symphony" to the colorfully cartoony "Dance of the Hours" to Chernabog's entrance in "Bald Mountain," Disney threw everything he had into this one, and then some. Even the Mickey Mouse "Sorcerer's Apprentice" is far above the norm for one of Mickey's shorts, with wonderful details on the brooms and Mickey's dream sequence towards the end.

Favorite Number: Most people would cite "Rite of Spring" or "Bald Mountain," or even the charming "Sorcerer's Apprentice," but my two favorites are "The Nutcracker Suite" and "Dance of the Hours." Not only am I a big fan of the original Nutcracker ballet, but I love the soothing nature-themed animation Disney did here. The hopping Chinese mushrooms in particular are just too cute! "Dance of the Hours" is one of the funniest shorts Disney ever did. You won't see ostriches, elephants, hippos, and alligators perform ballet anywhere else, and it's hysterical.

Trivia: Disney wanted those lovely classical pieces to sound as pretty on the big screen as they do live, so he and his sound people collaborated with RCA to create the first full, multiple-audio-channels stereo system, which he called Fantasound.

The prints of Fantasia that are currently available on home media are of the original two-hour "roadshow" version. Or most of it, anyway. A few brief bits of an especially offensive black caricature in "The Pastoral Symphony" were snipped out after the late 60's and have never been restored. Disney also dubbed Deems Taylor's voice with Corey Burton when they couldn't find the original audio for his segments in 2000.

What I Don't Like: Deems Taylor's intros can be witty, but they also tend to explain the entire segment...and ruin the surprise for many of them. I think they should have just stuck to him saying what was coming next and then letting Leopold Stokowski and his orchestra and the animation do the talking.

This is kind of a mixed bag. I'm not the biggest dinosaur fan and find most of "Rite of Spring," despite the animation, to be dull. Likewise "The Pastoral Symphony" is cute but until Zeus shows up, there's not much going on.

The Big Finale: I'm going to go on to say that, while I like many of the segments, there's just as many that I'm not as fond of. I actually thinks this works better as a series of shorts than a movie, especially if you have younger kids who may get restless at some of the darker segments. Recommended seeing at least once in full for the gorgeous animation and sheer history involved.

Home Media: I'm afraid this is another Disney animated feature that's currently out of print and is commanding insane prices online. Your best bet may be to do what I did and check used venues like eBay or Goodwill.


Fantasia 2000
Disney, 2000
Hosted by Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, and others
Directed by Don Hahn, Eric Goldberg, and others
Music by Ludwig Van Beethoven and others

The Story: Once again, there's no real plot. Well-known celebrities of the late 90's introduce more segments based after popular pieces of classical music.

Symphony No. 5: Another abstract Beethoven opening, although this time we end with bats being chased out by light.

Pines of Rome: One of the more unusual shorts has a family of humpback whales who somehow have the ability to fly in this literally and figuratively soaring piece by Ottorino Respighi.

Rhapsody In Blue: George Gershwin's famous symphonic jazz concerto underscores a day in the life of several New York residents in the early 1920's, with animation inspired by the artwork of legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102: This retelling of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" probably comes the closest of any of the segments in either movie to feeling more like a typical Disney film. A toy soldier falls in love with a ballerina doll, but an ugly jack-in-the-box wants the doll for himself.

The Carnival of the Animals: A super-short segment that depicts a goofy flamingo who is gets obsessed with a yo-yo while his friends try to get him to return to their duller routines.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: The original Mickey Mouse short turned up here as well.

Pomp and Circumstance: No, this one has nothing to do with graduations. Donald Duck may be able to bring all of the animals to Noah's Ark, but he has a harder time finding his wife Daisy.

Firebird Suite - 1919 Version: We actually do get a Firebird here, a mythical creature who seemingly destroys a fairy and her forest home...but she manages to survive and bring rebirth to the land.

The Animation: Once again, there's some gorgeous work here. The use of color in "The Firebird Suite" is particularly outstanding, and "Pines of Rome," with it's majestic whales soaring in the clouds, is awe-inspiring. Even the Donald Duck "Pomp and Circumstance" is beautifully handled, well above any of his original shorts.

Favorite Number: As a huge Donald Duck fan, I thought "Pomp and Circumstance" was rather sweet (when you can get the images of high schoolers marching to get their diplomas out of your head). "Pines of Rome" is probably the most unique short Disney has ever done, and surprisingly touching too, especially in the finale. I also love jazz and of 20th century history and got a big kick out of the largely comic "Rhapsody In Blue."

Trivia: "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" had actually been storyboarded by Disney in the late 1930's, when Walt first considered doing a series of animated shorts based around Hans Christian Anderson stories. (Frozen and The Little Mermaid also saw their initial development around this time.)

Fantasia 2000 was the first animated film to be shown in the IMAX format.

What I Don't Like: The celebrity guests were even less necessary than Deems Taylor. Some, like Jones and Angela Landsbury, did muster the appropriate gravity for the occasion...but what on Earth were Steve Martin in "wild and crazy guy" mode and magicians Penn and Teller doing here? Their comedy clashed with the more solemn or whimsical tone of many of the segments.

"The Steadfast Tin Soldier" was Disney's first venture into full CGI on the big screen, and it hasn't dated well. The doll's stiff movements are appropriate for a toy, but the jack-in-the-box looks more weird than scary. And this is another Hans Christian Anderson story that Disney changed the ending to.

As much as I like the Donald segment, they might have chosen something slightly less well-known than "Circumstances." I'm probably not the only person who kept seeing diplomas during that segment instead of ducks.

The Big Finale: Same deal here. While not considered to be a masterpiece like the first one, there's enough here for families and animation fans to enjoy.

Home Media: Also out of print, also expensive online and hard to find elsewhere. Once again, try checking used venues.

Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 Special Edition DVD

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Greatest Showman

20th Century Fox, 2017
Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, and Zendaya
Directed by Michael Gracey
Music and Lyrics by Benji Pasak and Justin Paul

This was the film that inspired me to create this blog. Several pre-teen and young teen girls I know raved about it, even calling it their favorite movie. I was surprised and delighted to hear people at such a young age giving rave reviews to a musical. When I was their age in the early-mid 90's, you would have gotten made fun of for admitting you liked a live-action movie musical. It got raves from some adults I talked to about it as well, especially for the music and Hugh Jackman's performance. Let's head to New York City in the 1840's to find out if this is really "The Greatest Show," or if it's as much of a fraud as Barnum's illusions...

The Story: PT Barnum (Jackman) starts off as a poor servant to a wealthy family just outside of New York. He falls in love with Charity, the daughter of the family, early. She goes away to finishing school, and he first sells newspapers to make his fortune, then joins the railroad. He returns his Charity (Williams) years later. They wed and raise two girls, Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely). They live simply, but Barnum wants more.

After he loses his job as a shipping clerk, he takes out a loan to buy a building in New York and showcase unique waxworks. Business is slow, and Caroline suggests it's because the waxworks don't move. Taking this to heart, Barnum and his family hire "freaks" - unusual or deformed people with rare talents, like the bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), midget Tom Thumb (Sam Humphery), and 7-foot tall Vasily Palvos (Radu Spinghel) - and pull them together for what becomes New York's most popular circus. He even brings on young playwright Philip Caryle (Efron) as his partner.

A trip to England to meet Queen Victoria brings him in contact with Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). Captivated by her beauty and stunning voice, he convinces her to join the show and becomes her manager. Meanwhile, Philip is having his own romantic misadventures. He wants to woo Anne, the show's trapeze artist (Zendaya), but she's African-American, and his stuffy family doesn't approve of the integrated paring. Charity has also discovered her husband's affair with Lind, and both woman walk out on him...just as protesters destroy the Museum. Barnum thinks he's through, but it takes his family of "freaks" to remind him that the show must go on, and while his illusions may be make believe, true love and friendship are as genuine as they come.

The Song and Dance: No wonder the kids loved this. It's an absolute blast. Jackman's on top of his game from start to finish. Efron, Williams, Zendaya, and Settle (who sings the movie's best-known song, "This Is Me") are also excellent. Special kudos to the wonderful costumes and art direction that ably recreate both the grimy New York of the mid-19th century and the spangle-and-glitter world of Barnum's Circus. There's more energy in this movie than there was in many of last year's bigger sci-fi extravaganzas.

Favorite Number: "This Is Me," Lettie's anthem to the protesters outside the Museum, won the Golden Globe for best song and got an Oscar nod. My favorite numbers are "Come Alive," where Barnum and his family hire their unusual performers, and the hit ballad "Rewrite the Stars" as Philip explains to Anne why their relationship can work...and Anne points out all the reasons it can't. The opening and closing number "The Greatest Show" has some great circus acts and wonderful choreography.

Trivia: A somewhat more historically-accurate musical retelling of PT Barnum's life, Barnum!, opened on Broadway in 1980. Jim Dale played PT; Glenn Close was his Charity. It's probably best-known for the recording of the 1982 West End version with Michael Crawford in the title role.

What I Don't Like: While the music soars, the plot remains flat. Critics took potshots at the historical inaccuracies from the moment this came out. We don't get to see Charity's early death and only two of their four daughters, Barnum's later career in politics, or the ill-fated venture into real estate that's really what ruined him in the 1850's. To this day, no one knows what caused the fire that destroyed Barnum's first museum, but it was likely due more to his pro-Union sympathies during the Civil War than any resentment towards the "freaks."

For all this movie's talk about diversity, it still focuses on the good-looking white guys. The movie falters in the second half when Barnum's rather dull affair with Lind and Philip's only somewhat more interesting relationship with Anne come into the spotlight. The real Barnum's life and career was a lot more interesting than that.

The Big Finale: The fate of this movie was much like that of Barnum's Circus. Critics didn't know what to make of it, but it eventually became a word-of-mouth hit during the 2017-2018 Christmas season. Put me in the latter camp. The problems with the cliched book are mostly overcome by the wonderful performances, delightful music, and the stylish production. If you haven't seen this one yet, do so, especially if you have pre-teens or young teens of your own who loved other recent musicals like Hamilton.

Home Media: As the most recent movie I've reviewed that's available on home media and a fair-sized hit, you can easily find this movie in pretty much any format of your choosing, both streaming and on disc.

Amazon Prime (buy only)

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Magical Christmas Double Feature - Mary Poppins & Mary Poppins Returns

Merry Christmas! Once again, my original plans fell through...but this time, there's no scrambling for reviews. I saw the currently-in-theaters sequel to Mary Poppins in theaters with my sister this afternoon and decided that it was the perfect opportunity to revisit the original film as well. After all, Christmas is a time to reconnect with old friends and family as well as new ones. Oh, and if you haven't seen Mary Poppins Returns yet, you might want to wait until you see it to read the second review, as there will be spoilers. Now that we've gotten the warning out of the way, let's return to London, this time to #17 Cherry Tree Lane in 1910, just in time to witness a bit of chaos in the Banks family...

Mary Poppins
Disney, 1964
Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, and Glynis Johns
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Music and Lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman

The Story: There's a bit of a row on Cherry Tree Lane. Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) Banks have run off, and their Katie Nana (Elsa Lanchester) is quite tired of their antics and quits. After a local constable (Arthur Treacher) retrieves them, their stuffy banker father George (Tomlinson) decides to find them a new nanny. The kids have their own ideas and write an ad. Their mother Winifred (Johns) thinks it's sweet, but her husband insists that it's nonsense and throws it away. It manages to reform and end up in the clouds anyway.

The last person Mr. Banks expects to see at the door is Mary Poppins (Andrews), a stern but attractive young woman who takes firm command of the family the moment she enters. It seems that, despite her protests, "practically perfect" Mary can do all kinds of magic, from pulling an entire household out of her carpet bag to taking the kids into an animated chalk drawing with her chimney sweep friend Bert (Van Dyke). She even takes them to visit Bert's Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn), who flies when he laughs too hard.

Their father is aghast at all this lunacy and insists that a trip to the bank where he works is just the thing to return them to earth. The trip turns into a disaster and ends with the kids running out again. It takes a dance on the rooftop and the loss of his job for Mr. Banks to finally understand what Mary and Bert are trying to tell him...that his family means more to him than any bank job.

The Animation: The effects that blend live-action and animation are downright amazing for 1964, and still look good to this day. I've always especially loved the sequence with Bert dancing with the penguin waiters in unison. The animation itself, with the sketchy style of Disney at the time, is just ok, but the interaction between the actors and the animated characters still mostly works very well.

The Song and Dance: While coming off as a bit softer than the books, Andrews is still a wonderful Mary, especially during the animated sequence. Accent aside, Van Dyke more than matches her as energetic and lovable Bert. Tomlinson and Johns also do well as the Banks parents, who eventually discover just how important their children are, and Dotrice and Garber as fine as the kids.

One of my favorite parts of this are the beloved character actors who pop up in small parts. Along with Treacher, there's Reginald Owen as the ship-shape Admiral Boom and Jane Darwell in a cameo as the bird woman. The costumes and sets are also excellent, ably recreating the slightly grimy London of 1910.

Favorite Number: "Chim Chim Cheree" won the Oscar and "Supercalafragilisticexpealidotious" and "Jolly Holiday" are fun dance routines in the animated sequence, but for my money, the best numbers in this movie are the two slow songs. "Feed the Birds" is absolutely gorgeous, possibly the Sherman Brothers' best ballad. The sweet counter-psychology lullaby "Stay Awake" is almost as lovely. There's also the big ensemble number "Step In Time," with Bert and his buddies kicking up their heels all over the roof...only to be outdone by Mary.

Trivia: It took 20 years for Walt Disney to convince author PL Travers to let him make this movie, and she did indeed get script approval. She was one of the only people who disliked the film when it came out, and in fact was so offended by it, she wouldn't let anyone - including Disney - touch her books again until after she died.

That was David Tomlinson as the voice of Mary's talking parrot umbrella. Julie Andrews was the whistling robin in "A Spoonful of Sugar" and the female pearly singer in the animated sequence.

A stage musical version debuted in London's West End in 2004. It was a hit there and later on Broadway in 2006, and it sounds like a revival is gearing up for the West End next fall.

What I Don't Like: A lot of people complain about Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent, but at least he tried for one. Ed Wynn just sounds like himself. While the animated sequence has dated pretty well, some of the other effects are a bit obvious today, including Mary Poppins coming and going. And yes, it is softened from the books. The stage musical and the sequel (see below) make more use of the darker edges in the book series.

The Big Finale: It may not be "practically perfect in every way," but it is still a lot of fun for families and fans of fantasy-oriented musicals or Andrews and Van Dyke

Home Media:  I have the 45th anniversary 2-disc DVD set from 2009, but it was upgraded in 2013 to the 50th anniversary on Blu-Ray, and it can be found for streaming as well.

Amazon Prime (buy only)

Mary Poppins Returns
Disney, 2018
Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, and Emily Mortimer
Directed by Ken Marshall
Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman

The Story: It's now 1935, and Cherry Tree Lane is once again in chaos. Michael Banks (Whishaw) still lives in the family home with his three children Annabelle (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanel Saleh), and George (Joel Dawson). He was an artist, but after his wife Kate died, he gave up painting and got a job at the bank where his father once worked. Kate apparently took care of most things for the family, including the finances. He took out a loan on the house, and now William "Weatherall" Wilikins (Colin Firth), the nephew of original bank owner Mr. Dawes (Dick Van Dyke),  wants to reposes it. His sister Jane, an activist and social worker, helps him take care of the children but has even less money. If they can't find stocks that Mr. Banks owned and sell them, they'll lose the house.

Mary Poppins (Blunt) literally blows in on the end of a kite. Jane and Michael have no problems welcoming her back. Jack (Miranda), a cheerful lamplighter and Bert's apprentice, is even happier to see her. The current Banks children are less pleased. They insist that they can take care of themselves and have no need of a nanny. Mary shows them otherwise when she takes them on an adventure during their baths, on a romp in a china bowl that turns into a nightmare, and into the bowels of London to visit her cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), whose life is literally turned upside-down. She and Jack finally prove to the kids and their father and aunt that sometimes, all you need to do is look at life in a different way.

The Animation: Some of the biggest praise for the movie has been how they managed to match the animation up with the original, right down to it being 2D, rather than computer. I like how they managed to make it look like an actual porcelain bowl, including all the details on the humans' costumes being painted on, rather than real flounces and buttons and such.

The Song and Dance: Blunt makes a practically perfect Mary Poppins, maybe even better than Andrews. While she can still be kind, she's also vain and a bit of a snob, as per the original books. Miranda's having a ball as Jack, and Whishaw and Mortimer are adorable as the older Bankses. Look for some fun cameos from Van Dyke and Angela Landsbury in the finale. Firth makes an appropriately smarmy villain as well.

The scenery and costumes are just as gorgeous as the original. Everyone talks about the sequence in the china bowl, but my favorite sequence was their swimming adventure in the bathtub. The underwater effects in that sequence are incredible - and seem to be mostly done with the same 2D animation.

Favorite Number: Ironically, once again, the best song was a ballad, the touching "The Place Where Lost Things Go." (Having lost my own stepfather in October, I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried during the end of that song.) Miranda and his fellow lamplighters have a blast with the ensemble number "Trip a Little Light Fantastic." "Can You Imagine That?", the swimming sequence, and Mary and Jack's music-hall duet "A Cover Is Not a Book" are also a lot of fun.

What I Don't Like: Most critics have complained that it feels too much like a retread of the original. I thought it had enough twists and turns to avoid deja vu, but there was a lot of overlap - an animated sequence, Mary comes in after a kite flies, her buddy is a jack-of-all-trades menial worker with a bad Cockney accent, there's a big number with her and his friends and another one with a character actor known for their eccentric roles, an elderly banker ends up swooping in to save everything in the end.

The save the house plot did make for a bit more excitement than the original...but it also felt like it was trying a little too hard to be an action movie. As nifty as the finale on Big Ben was, it does feel like it loses the simplicity of the original.

The Big Finale: I'll have to see how I feel when it comes out on home media, but for now, I absolutely loved Mary Poppins Returns. The delightful performances, music, animation, and production design more than offset the complaints about the rehashed script. I highly recommend grabbing the kids or any friends who are musical fans and getting to the theater as soon as possible.

Home Media: The soundtrack can currently be found on CD and for streaming on Amazon and elsewhere.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Animation Celebration Saturday - Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas

Disney, 1997
Starring Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters
Directed by Andy Knight
Music by Rachel Portman; Lyrics by Don Black

Yes, this is why I didn't review this follow-up to the massively popular Beauty and the Beast as a double-feature with the original, like I did with Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid.  I couldn't resist saving it for closer to the holiday. If there was ever a Disney movie that was a tough act to follow, Beauty is it. It was one of the biggest hit movies of the early 90's, and is one of three animated movies to date to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. How does the first sequel compare? Let's return to the castle of the Beast, this time in late December, and find out...

The Story: The bulk of this one is set during Belle's (O'Hara) time at the castle, when she and the Beast (Benson) were just starting to warm up to each other. The Beast is set against anyone celebrating Christmas. Belle thinks otherwise. Christmas is just the thing that the residents of the castle need to give them hope. What she doesn't know is that the Beast was transformed into a monster on Christmas Eve, and it understandably soured him on the holiday. She's determined to celebrate anyway, whether he likes it or not.

Meanwhile, Forte (Curry), a dour organ, is equally determined to keep his hold on the Beast. He'd rather remain an object and have the Beast notice him and his dull and dark songs than be ignored again. He convinces a piccolo (Paul Reubens) to first sabotage their efforts to cheer up the Beast, then snitch when Belle leaves the castle to get a tree. Not to mention, the castle decorator, Angelique (Peters), thinks they'll all just be disappointed again. It takes a gift from Belle to show the Beast what hope is really all about and convince him to rethink his stance on the holiday season.

The Animation: A real mixed bag. Some of it isn't bad for a direct-to-DVD feature. More effort was put into this than Little Mermaid II or Pocahontas II, especially the first version of "As Long as There's Christmas," with the objects stacked via computer effects to resemble a tree. Most of the other CGI effects look as cheap as they likely are. Doing Forte entirely in CGI hasn't dated well at all. It looks obvious and clashes badly with the hand-drawn animation in most of the remainder of the film.

The Song and Dance: There's more to enjoy here than you might think. Not only did they bring back most of the original cast of the first movie, but we also have Peters (who gets to sing a nice duet on "As Long as There's Christmas" with O'Hara) and Curry, the later digging into his role as the selfish organ with relish. Jeff Bennett gets some funny moments as a Yiddish ax who chops wood to heat the castle.

Favorite Number: While the two versions of "As Long as It's Christmas" are lovely, my favorite song from this one is "Stories." Belle sings this salute to the adventures a good story can take us on to Chip as she writes and illustrates a book for the Beast. Not only is the animation depicting the book as she creates it gorgeous (and pretty accurate to many fairy-tale anthologies), but as a fellow book-lover and writer, the message of the song really hits a deep chord with me.

What I Don't Like: Unfortunately, like Little Mermaid, this is pretty much a rehash of the first film with a weaker villain. Curry's performance does make Forte a cut above Morgana from Mermaid, but he still can't compare to Gaston and his outrageously over-the-top masculinity. Other than the "Christmas" duet, Peters is barely in the movie. Bennett's ax has some good lines, but he's also a bit of a Jewish stereotype and may annoy some folks and offend others. Other than "Christmas" and "Stories," the music is dull and flat; Curry's "Don't Fall In Love" is especially disappointing.

The Big Finale: For all it's problems, I will admit this has become a guilty pleasure of mine since I picked it up on DVD about a decade ago. It's definitely one of the better direct-to-home-media Disney movies of the 90's and early 2000's. If you have fans of Beauty and the Beast around or are looking for a fun movie to show your elementary-school-age kids during Christmas break, you can do a lot worse than this. (It's a bit dark for really the really young guys.)

Home Media: It looks like the Blu-Ray/DVD combo is out of print at press time; your best bet here may be the rather nice DVD set or streaming services like Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime (buy only)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Scrooge (1970)

Paramount, 1970
Starring Albert Finney, Sir Alec Guinness, David Collings, and Dame Edith Evans
Directed by Ronald Neame
Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse

We're returning to the Christmas Carol well one more time for this retelling from the early 70's. I remember seeing this one frequently on cable and independent stations throughout the holiday season during my childhood. Does it live up to those fond memories? Let's once again return to London and Scrooge's counting house to find out...

The Story: Ebeneezer Scrooge (Finney) is the meanest, stingiest man in all London. He's so mean, every street kid in the area either avoids him or mocks him. He won't give one cent to the poor, refuses to go to his nephew Fred's (Michael Medwin) Christmas dinner, and has to be coerced into giving his clerk Bob Cratchit (Collings) the holiday off. He thinks he's the smartest, quietest guy around, and it's everyone else who is a problem. His late partner Jacob Marley (Guinness) would disagree. He shows up in chains and insists that Scrooge has to change, or his chains will be even heavier. Scrooge follows the Ghost of Christmas Past (Evans), Present (Kenneth More), and Future (Paddy Stone) as they show him how he came to be the way he is, what he's missing by being so miserly...and what will happen to him if he doesn't reform in the years to come.

The Song and Dance: You'd think Finney would be out-of-place as Scrooge. He was only in his 30's when he made this movie, at the tail end of his swinging Tom Jones popularity. He's actually not bad, especially in the beginning when he's being a grouchy old jerk. More makes a particularly robust Ghost of Christmas Present, and Collings is charming Cratchit. The period-accurate costumes and sets add a lot to the story's authenticity - they were Oscar-nominated. There's some surprisingly decent special effects for the time period as well, especially when they show the older and younger Finney together during the past sequence.

Favorite Number: The catchy "Thank You Very Much," performed by the street kids in the Future segment to celebrate Scrooge's demise, also got an Oscar nomination and is probably the film's best song. I also like "Christmas Children" for Bob and his kids as they shop for their goose, "December the 25th" for the Fezziwigs at their party, and The Ghost of Christmas Present's philosophy "I Like Life."

Trivia: This is another holiday movie musical with a stage version, though it seems to have mainly played in England. Tommy Steele starred in the most recent revival in 2012.

What I Don't Like: While Dame Edith Evans was a decent Ghost of Christmas Past, why was she dressed like a normal old woman in a Victorian gown? They couldn't pull off the effects to make her look more like the ethereal light ghost in the book?

Was it really necessary to have Scrooge end up in literal hell in the end? The sequence down below seems more like filler and them trying to give Guinness more to do than any real necessity to the plot. It was strange when Disney did it in Mickey's Christmas Carol, and it's even weirder here.

The Big Finale: The nitpicks with the weird finale and Evans aside, this may be my favorite musical version of A Christmas Carol. Finney and a delightful cast have a lot of fun with one of Leslie Bricusse's best solo scores.

Home Media: For some reason, Paramount's current Blu-Ray version doesn't come with the film's overture that can be found on my DVD, and it's not seen on most streaming platforms, either. Otherwise, this is fairly easy to find, usually for under ten dollars.

Amazon Prime

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

White Christmas

Paramount, 1954
Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin

This one comes partially by request by frequent reader "Spike"...and partially because it's one of, if not the most beloved of all Christmas musicals. It runs constantly on cable during the holidays, especially on American Movie Classics, and has become a huge favorite of many musical lovers. It was even made into a stage musical in 2004. Does the film hold up as well as it did when it was the biggest hit movie of 1954? Let's head to a World War II Army camp to find out...

The Story: Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Kaye) meet during World War II when Phil saves Bob's life from a falling building during a show they put on for the outgoing General Waverly (Dean Jagger). Davis convinces Wallace to become his partner. They go on to have a huge act in the post-war era, eventually becoming Broadway producers.

By the mid-50's, Phil is tired of Bob's workaholic tendencies and is trying to pressure him into getting married. He's not buying it, until they meet the beautiful Haynes sisters at a Florida club. Elder sister Betty (Clooney) is sensible and steady; her younger sister Judy (Vera-Ellen) is more spontaneous. Phil sees that his friend is eyeing Betty and tries pushing them together. He even pays for the girls' tickets out of town when the sheriff comes after them. Bob's not happy about that at first, until the girls thank them for it. Phil even manages to talk him into following the ladies to Vermont.

Betty and Judy have a gig at a small New England inn, but they may not be able to keep it at first. The inn isn't doing well. Vermont hasn't had snow in weeks. Not only that, but the inn is run by none other than the former General Waverly, who sunk everything he had into buying and remodeling it. Bob and Phil first help by bringing their Broadway show to the in to draw customers. After Bob sees how upset Waverly is when he's turned down for a military commission, he comes up with a plan to make him feel like he's wanted. Bob's not as lucky with Betty, who leaves when she thinks he's using the General to get ratings. He's hoping he can get her back...right in time for the title song to come true...

The Song and Dance: The music, colorful widescreen cinematography, and some fine performances carry the day here. The four leads absolutely glow in their numbers, especially in the more upbeat first half. Kaye in particular is having a ball as the goofier half of the partnership, and pairs well with spunky Vera-Ellen. The Technicolor and VistaVision widescreen cinematography is spectacular. As beautiful as the real Vermont is, it never shown quite like this, in rainbow colors that make it look more like Oz than Montpelier.

Favorite Number: The two versions of "Sisters," both with the girls and the spoof routine with the guys, are hilarious must-sees. Kaye is having the time of his life in the guys' version, and his enthusiasm eventually spreads to Crosby as well. Minstrel shows aren't highly regarded today, but the Minstrel Medley that features the old Berlin revue hit "Mandy" and a few corny jokes (not to mention some odd color choices) is so lively and enjoyable that you can mostly overlook the dated origins. Kaye gets to show off his own fine dancing abilities in his duet with Vera-Ellen, "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing."

The movie's best number occurs right in the first five minutes. Bing performs "White Christmas" while accompanied by nothing but a tinkling music box and bombs falling in the distance. It's a truly touching moment, and probably my favorite part of the movie.

Trivia: The movie was originally intended to be a reunion between Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire after the success of Holiday Inn and Blue Skies in the 40's, but Astaire declined the role. His replacement Donald O'Connor got sick and had to drop out as well. Danny Kaye eventually filled in.

The photo that Bob shows Phil of "Freckle Faced Haynes, the Dog-Faced Boy" is actually of Carl Switzer, the original Alfalfa on the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts.

Two of the songs that debut here were actually written for other projects. "What Can You Do With a General?" was intended for the unproduced Stars On My Shoulders, while "Snow" was originally titled "Free" and had been cut from the Ethel Merman stage show Call Me Madam.

"Count Your Blessings" was nominated for an Oscar in 1955, but lost to the title song from Three Coins In the Fountain. It would be Irving Berlin's last song nomination.

What I Don't Like: It's the second half where things falter. The whole fuss between Betty and Bob could have been settled by just talking like sensible people without her taking off. She  should have asked Bob for the whole facts, rather than jumping to conclusions and assuming he was going to use the General for ratings. (Especially given that she was well aware that Emma wasn't the most reliable source of information.) The musical number "Choreography," with its weird, stylized dance moves intended to parody the dancers-turned-directors of the 40's and 50's, is a dated oddity that's doesn't really fit in with the film's more nostalgic or comic tunes.

The Big Finale: I personally prefer the earlier, less elaborate Crosby movie Holiday Inn, but this one certainly has many charms of its own. A terrific cast sings some mostly great Irving Berlin music backed by some of the most colorful cinematography of the 1950's. No wonder this has become a favorite of many during the holidays. Even with the duller second half, it's still highly recommended.

Home Media: I have the original 2009 DVD release, but it's been upgraded at least twice since then. The current version can be found on its own as a DVD or Blu-Ray or paired with It's a Wonderful Life (another popular holiday classic that Paramount currently owns) on DVD, as well as on most streaming platforms.

DVD - Classic Christmas Collection 2-Pack (with It's a Wonderful Life)
Amazon Prime

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Family Fun Saturday - The Muppet Christmas Carol

Disney, 1992
Starring Michael Caine; Voices of Brian Henson, Dave Golez, and Frank Oz
Directed by Brian Henson
Music and Lyrics by Paul Williams

This was the first Muppet film made after the death of Jim Henson in 1989; Richard Hunt, the long-time voice of Scooter and Janice, had also passed away in the interim. No one was sure whether to go forward with it. It was only did mildly well during December 1992 (competitors that holiday season included Home Alone 2 and Aladdin), but has since become popular with families and fans of both the Muppets and A Christmas Carol. Let's once again head to Victorian London, this time populated by more than a few unusual creatures, to see how well this version holds up now...

The Story: Once again, we have Ebeneezer Scrooge (Caine) throwing around evictions like they're water on Christmas Eve. His staff includes several rats and Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog), who can't talk Scrooge into more coal, but do manage to get him to give them Christmas off. A blue furry Charles Dickens (Gonzo) and his rat buddy Rizzo follow Scrooge as he returns home, where he first encounters his former partners Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf). They're laden with chains and cash boxes from their years of greed, and tell him that three ghosts will haunt him that night to help him avoid their fate. Dickens and his rodent friend follow Scrooge through his sad past and a happier present...but even they won't venture into a spooky Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge finally realizes just how important friendship and family is, whether your friends are human or felt.

The Song and Dance: Michael Caine makes a fine Scrooge here. He works well with the Muppets, never looking down on them or seeing them as anything less than real. Gonzo and Rizzo are hilarious as the story's narrators and have most of the movie's best lines. The running gag with Rizzo and food is cute, especially in the beginning, when he and Gonzo have to jump a fence, and then he goes back for his jelly beans. Piggy makes a perfect Mrs. Cratchit, too. Her piglets Belinda and Bettina are just too adorable - like mother, like daughters!

I've always loved the mix of CGI and practical effects in this one. The Ghost of Christmas Past still looks incredible. In fact, I think it's one of, if not my favorite version of the first ghost. In the book, Dickens describes the Ghost of Christmas Past as a changing, flowing, timeless being of light, and that certainly describes the ethereal creature they came up with. Even today, it's still quite impressive. The Marley Brothers are the appropriate mix of goofy and menacing, as are the spiders who stand in as the scavengers in the Future segment. The London sets and Muppets on the streets are appropriately grungy and dirty for the time period, and the costumes, on felt and humans alike, are spot-on as well.

Favorite Number: Kermit's best moment is the sweet "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas," first as he and the rats close the counting house, then as he heads home. He, Robin, and the Cratchit family also get to sing the lovely "Bless Us All." The Ghost of Christmas Present leads my favorite song from this film, the boisterous "It Feels Like Christmas," as he leads Scrooge through a London that's alive with good will and some fun dancing.

What I Don't Like: I own the DVD release with the extended fullscreen version, and that's the one that was released on video as well. I have no idea why the bosses at Disney cut the solo ballad for Scrooge's fiancee "When Love Is Gone." They claimed it was too slow for kids, but it didn't bother me in 1992, and it doesn't now. If anything, it gives more meat to a scene that seems too rushed without it, not to mention the song is heard again in the finale.

In fact, I kind of wish they'd done more with the past sequence. Both Scrooge's back story as a neglected child and his relationship with Belle are given short shrift, probably because they couldn't find room for Muppets in them.

The Big Finale: Even in it's cut general release version, this is still a charming musical Christmas Carol that the whole family can enjoy. If you have young kids who aren't up to darker retellings of this story or are a big Muppet fan, this is one of the better Muppet movies and is highly recommended.

Home Media: As one of the most popular Muppet movies and a holiday favorite of many, this is easily found in most formats, both disc and streaming.

Amazon Prime

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Musicals on TV - Babes In Toyland (1986)

Orion Television/NBC, 1986
Starring Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, Jill Schoelen, and Richard Mulligan
Directed by Clive Donner
Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse

And now, we go back a bit to give you NBC's big holiday offering for 1986. It made decent enough ratings then, but wasn't well-received, despite getting a theatrical release in Europe. Is this worth the sled trip to Toyland? Let's head to a snowy Cincinatti, Ohio to find out...

The Story: Lisa Piper (Barrymore) is an 11-year-old girl living in Cincinatti with her older sister Mary (Schoelen), her younger brother, and her harried single mother (Eileen Brennan). Lisa is used to being her mother's helper, which makes her feel quite adult. She takes it on herself to warn Mary and her guy friends Jack (Reeves) and George (Googy Gress) about a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, dashing to the toy store where they work. The store's sleazy owner Barney (Mulligan) wishes she'd go away, but she does manage to help her sister and the guys evacuate the building. They're on their way home in the thick of the blizzard when Lisa slides out on the new sled Mary gave her and hits a tree.

She awakens in Toyland, a magical world where teddy bears are cops and everyone rides around in cute, colorful little cars like something out of an amusement park. What she finds isn't as amusing. The evil Barnaby (Mulligan) is about to wed pretty young Mary Quite Contrary (Schoelen), who is trying to save her family from being evicted. Mary really loves Jack Be Nimble (Reeves). Lisa immediately stops the wedding, earning Barnaby's ire and that of Mary's dithery mother Mrs. Hubbard (Brennan).

Barnaby first accuses Jack of stealing cookies from his cookie factory and has him arrested. Lisa and Georgie Porgie (Gress) break Jack out, but Barnaby has another plot. He wants a Jar of Evil that the kindly Toymaker (Pat Moriata) has been collecting. He thinks that jar will give him enough power to take over Toyland and eliminate toys from the world! Lisa and her friends do their best to stop him...but in the end, it's up to Lisa to remember that one of the greatest weapons we can have is the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child.

The Song and Dance: There's some really cute ideas here. I love details like Barnaby's vulture-things with an eye that helps him keep track of his enemies and Mrs. Hubbard carrying around a list to remember every single thing she says or does. Lisa's attempts to play matchmaker to the two mid-way through are pretty funny, as is how they manage to break Jack out of jail. Barrymore does fairly well as the child who refuses to believe that she's still young; Mulligan's having a fine time chewing the scenery to atoms, both as the scuzzball toy store owner and the old-fashioned silent movie-style villain.

Favorite Number: The children's chorus song "May We Wish You the Happiest Christmas," performed as Lisa is making her way to the toy store in the opening, is reworked later in Toyland as a wedding song for Barnaby and Mary with almost the exact same lyrics. Not only is that a nice touch, but it perfectly emphasizes the Wizard of Oz-like feel the story is going for. Mulligan can't sing, but he throws himself into his big number "A World Without Toys" anyway.

Trivia: The version of this that I own (and that was released on video in 1991) is the shortened European theatrical version. The original TV broadcast included longer versions of some scenes and more numbers, including a duet for Mary and Jack when the latter is in jail.

What I Don't Like: Mulligan and Brennan are the only ones who seem to have any real grasp of the material. Keanu Reeves in particular does not belong here, and Schoelen is only slightly better. They both work better in the opening sequence at the toy store than in Toyland and have no chemistry whatsoever. Other than the joke with the "Happiest Christmas/Wedding" song, most of the music is bland and very far from Bricusse's best work. The only person in the cast who can actually sing - Brennan - doesn't. The dialogue is corny and forced, and the bored readings of many lines doesn't help.

The production looks incredibly cheap. The amusement park cars are more silly than whimsical, and the full-body costumes for the animal characters and toy soldiers were probably pulled off the rack from the nearest party store. The villainous characters are a little better. The designs of the trollogs (Barnaby's vulture-like minions), the trolls, and his mooks Mack and Zack are actually pretty scary. I just wish you could actually see them. Barnaby is supposed to live in a dark bowling ball in an evil forest, but the lighting is so dim, you can't really tell what's going on in those scenes.

The Big Finale: This is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine, and has been since it ran occasionally on the 25 Days of Christmas marathon on Fox Family Channel (now Freeform) in the early 2000's. I can't in all good faith recommend it to those who haven't built up an immunity to cheese or didn't grow up watching those Fox Family broadcasts. Unless you're a really huge fan of the cast or love campy or so-bad-they're (slightly) good movies, you'll want to give this one a pass.

Home Media: That 1991 video was sold at McDonald's as part of a big holiday VHS promotion in 1992. It's out of print, but still fairly easy to find. (I dubbed my copy off one of them.) To my knowledge, this has never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray in the US. It is free for downloading on Amazon Prime, and the original full TV version can be found on YouTube.

Amazon Prime
Babes In Toyland - The Director's Cut (YouTube)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Musicals on TV - A Christmas Carol: The Musical

Hallmark Entertainment/NBC, 2004
Starring Kelsey Grammer, Jane Krakowski, Edward Gower, and Jesse L. Martin
Directed by Arthur Allen Sederman
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Lynn Aherns

The early years of television coincided with the Golden Age of Stage Musicals in the 1950's and 60's. Barely a year went by between roughly 1950 and 1969 without at least one new musical appearing on TV, either a live adaptation of a Broadway show, or more rarely, an original work. While this died down by the early 70's, musicals began to turn up more frequently again about a decade ago. This one was adapted from a long-running mid-90's hit that ran at the theater at Madison Square Garden in midtown New York and made into NBC's big holiday event for 2004. Let's head to the London Exchange to see how Scrooge is getting on...and how different this retelling is from other versions of this story...

The Story: Ebeneezer Scrooge (Grammer) is the most miserly man in London. He refuses to help a poor family, only grudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit (Gower) Christmas Day off, and tells his nephew Fred (Julian Ovenden) that he will not dine with him on Christmas. He doesn't want anything to do with the holiday, charity, or people. A female lamplighter, a barker for a pantomime, and a beggar woman all warn Scrooge that he needs to change his ways. He doesn't consider it...until the ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley (Jason Alexander) turns up with a group of ghouls who insist that Scrooge will become one of them if he doesn't change soon.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Krakowski) arrives first, showing Scrooge his troubled days as a poor youth whose father was arrested for his debts. He insists that his son make a fortune and hang onto it. Scrooge finally makes his way to old Fezziwig's (Brian Bedford) bank, where he falls in love with the beautiful Emily (Jennifer Love Hewitt). After the death of his mother, and then his sister, he throws himself into his lending the expense of his relationships. He buys Fezziwig out and loses Emily, and then Marley when he dies at the office.

The boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present (Martin) has a happier vision for Scrooge. He takes him to see his nephew Fred's party and the Cratchit family's tender and happy meal. Scrooge is especially taken by their small cripped son Tim (Jacob Collier). He's shocked when the ethereal Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Geraldine Chaplin) shows him a future that's less than pleasant - if he doesn't reform, he'll die, unmourned and unloved. But perhaps there's hope for Scrooge after all..

The Song and Dance: I really like some of the ideas on display here. The Wizard of Oz-like use of the lamplighter, barker, and beggar to double as the ghosts and reveal Scrooge's feelings of guilt actually works pretty well with the story. Jesse L. Martin has a blast as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Gower and Linzi Hateley are lovely as the Cratchit parents. I also like that they work in some details that other family-oriented adaptations leave out, like the ragged Want and Ignorance children under the Ghost of Christmas Present's cloak, the ghouls appearing with Marley, and the emphasis on Scrooge's sister.

Favorite Number: The Cratchit family gets two good ones. Tim and Bob sing the charming "You Mean More to Me" as they shop for Christmas dinner, and the family sings "Christmas Together" when they're having their much-anticipated meal.  The best of the chorus numbers is the well-choreographed "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball," with it's leaping dancers and whirling couples.

What I Didn't Like: First of all, other than the songs I just mentioned, the score just isn't that memorable. The opening chorus number "Jolly Good Time" is especially bland. "Abundance and Charity," with Martin and the Rockettes, is basically there to give the dancers something to do. Marley's "Link By Link" is actually pretty good...until we get to the dancing ghouls, with rattling chains and rolling heads. They look like six dancing Beetlejuices. What was wrong with the book version, with Scrooge staring out the window and seeing wandering ghosts?

For that matter, what was wrong with the book version of Scrooge's past? Scrooge being a child neglected by his father because his mother died giving birth to him suits the story far better. It feels like they gave Scrooge Charles Dickens' real-life back story instead, and it's just too much. And I know Jane Krakowski is quite attractive, but did her number really need to involve pole dancing around Scrooge's bed, and what was with the skimpy costume? She didn't look like a Ghost. She looked like she got lost on the way to Las Vegas.

The Future segment is even more off. It feels rushed, like they just wanted to get the whole thing out of the way in three numbers or less. Geraldine Chapman looks more like the book Ghost of Christmas Past than Future. (Admittedly, Grammer, who pretty much sleepwalks through this movie, does seem to wake up for this segment; his performance of "Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Today" is truly impassioned and is by far his best moment.)

The Big Finale: Might make nice background music while working on your Christmas cookies if it's on TV or online, and it's not bad for fans of Grammer or the songwriters. Otherwise, it's nothing you need to go out of your way to see.

Home Media: It's currently out-of-print on disc; your best bet is likely digging it up on cable or on streaming services like Amazon Prime (where it's free with the service).

Amazon Prime

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Animation Celebration Double Feature: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

We're going to kick off the Christmas season with a look at two of the most beloved holiday specials ever made made. Starting out as Videocraft in the 1960's, Rankin-Bass eventually churned out 18 Christmas specials between 1964 and 2001 (as well as three Easter specials, a Thanksgiving special, a New Year's special, and one that was centered more around winter in general). Rudolph was their first holiday stop-motion show in 1964, and one of the earliest frequently-repeated animated Christmas specials. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town came out in 1970, just as the Rankin-Bass studio was really starting to pick up in popularity. Let's head to the North Pole to learn about the stories of these two favorite gift-givers and see if these specials really do "go down in history"...

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rankin-Bass (Videocraft), 1964
Voices of Billie Mae Richards, Burl Ives, Paul Soles, and Larry D. Mann
Directed by Larry Roemer and Kigo Nagashima
Music and Lyrics by Johnny Marks

The Story: Sam the Snowman (Ives) narrates this holiday tale. Rudolph (Richards) is the son of one of Santa's (Stan Francis) reindeer, Donner (Paul Kligman), and his mate (Peg Dixon). He's adorable and smart, but right from the start, he has one big problem - his nose glows bright red. Embarrassed, his father first hopes he grows out of it, then covers it. That doesn't stop all of the other reindeer at the North Pole from making fun of him when it's found out. The only reindeer who doesn't is a kindly doe named Clarice (Janis Orenstein). She thinks he's cute, but her father doesn't want her hanging around with him. Understandably upset, Rudolph runs away.

He's not the only one having problems with the rampant conformity at the Pole. Hermie (Soles) is an elf who would rather be a dentist, but apparently career changes are frowned on for elves. He encounters Rudolph after taking off as well, and they decide to travel together. They're eventually joined by boisterous prospector Yukon Cornelius (Mann) After dodging the Bumble Snow Monster, they find themselves on the Island of Misfit Toys, where toys with defects or who are unwanted by children are sent. The head of the island, King Moonracer (Francis), asks for them to encourage Santa to take their toys on the sleigh. Rudolph is more worried about his nose giving them away and takes off. Everyone else goes after him, including the Bumble Monster. They do manage to rescue him and his parents...right before a major storm hits...

The Animation: This was revolutionary for 1964, and still looks pretty good, even for today. The pastel colors and adorable designs give it the look of a frosty fairy tale, or a mid-20th-century Christmas card...and makes Rudy's red nose stand out even more. Rudolph and Clarice are so huggable, you wonder how anyone could possibly not want play reindeer games with them, red nose or not. Love the more menacing or majestic designs like the Bumble and King Moonracer, too.

The Song and Dance: For the most part, this one remains charming and really cute. What I like about this one are the unique characters. There's no one like Yukon Cornelius anywhere else in animation, or Hermie, for that matter. King Moonracer, for all his limited screen time, is just plain cool. Rudolph is a darling, and god bless Clarice for loving him for what he is! The Bumble somehow manages to be menacing and oddly funny at the same time, with his wide ice-blue mouth and furry yeti-like body. And just you don't often see an elf who wants to be a dentist.

Favorite Number: As someone who has felt out-of-place her entire life, "We're a Couple of Misfits" hits closer to home for me than it probably should. Clarice's "There's Always Tomorrow" is a really sweet ballad, and gets a nice number too, with the animals in the forest all trying to help cheer Rudy up after the incident at the reindeer games. The standards here, along with the title song, are Sam's "Silver and Gold" as he describes why those colors are so important to Christmas (and Cornelius), the misfit toys' "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year," and the big number for Ives and the chorus in the finale, "Holly Jolly Christmas."

Trivia: There's almost been more replacements, changes, and additions to Rudolph than to the Star Wars Original Trilogy. The "Misfits" duet was replaced from the mid-70's to the late-90's by a similar song called "Fame and Fortune." There was also a scene with Yukon Cornelius finding a peppermint mine in the finale. "Misfits" was restored to the special in 1993; "Fame and Fortune" is now it's own number. (The peppermint mine sequence remains missing on most edits.)

What I Don't Like: Some of the attitudes here, especially towards women and people with disabilities, can seem more than a little harsh to modern ears in the first half. Donner in particular comes off as nasty to his own young son, and even Santa has his jerk-ish moments. "Silver and Gold" is a lovely song, but it really has nothing to do with the story and seems to be there as filler and to give Ives a slower number.

The Big Finale: While some aspects of the story haven't dated well, for the most part, this remains quite charming, with memorable characters and colorful animation.

Home Media: Though CBS continues to run Rudolph annually, they cut out parts of the numbers to fit in commercials. You're probably better off picking it up on discs or online. It can also be found as part of a collection with 6 other Rankin-Bass specials owned by Dreamworks/Universal, including Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (see below).

DVD - The Original Christmas Classics set

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town
Rankin-Bass, 1970
Voices of Mickey Rooney, Paul Frees, Fred Astaire, and Keenan Wynn
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass
Music by Maury Laws; Lyrics by Jules Bass

The Story: A group of elves lead by Tante Kringle (Joan Gardner) who live just beyond the Mountains of the Whispering Winds adopt an orphan they name Kris Kringle. When Kris (Rooney) grows to adulthood, he insists on taking the toys they create into Sombertown, over the mountains. There's two problems with that. First of all, the mountain is guarded by the cranky ice sorcerer the Winter Warlock (Wynn), who doesn't like people invading his turf. Second, the even crankier Burgomeister Meister Burger (Frees) has just outlawed toys in Sombertown. With the help of the kids in the town, a wayward penguin named Topper (Frees), and the lovely schoolteacher Jessica (Robie Lester), Kris manages to create a legend that will outlive the Burgomeister's strict laws and reform the Winter Warlock.

The Animation: A bit more colorful, as appropriate for a story about Santa Claus. The pastels have been replaced by bright reds and cool whites for the Mountains of the Whispering Woods and the gray dimness of Sombertown. I loved the sequence towards the end with Winter casting his magic over the Christmas trees - the backgrounds here are especially lovely.

The Song and Dance: Rooney's good humor and a defrosting Wynn liven up this unusual story. Once again, I give them credit for trying something different. I never would have thought of the origins of Santa Claus done as a Robin Hood-style folk tale, with Kris defying the Burgomeister's increasingly harsh rules to make children happy. I also like Lester as Jessica, who scolds Kris for giving out toys at first, before becoming the first person he defrosts with a toy.

Favorite Number: My favorite song from this one is Kris and the Winter Warlock's cheerful "Put One Foot In Front of the Other," as Kris encourages Winter to change his grumpy outlook on life. The elves explain why they make toys and what they'd once been in "The First Toymakers to the King." Astaire, as post officer narrator S.D Kluger, gets to sing the lovely "What Better Way to Tell You."

What I Don't Like: While ending with the Burgomeisters falling out of power is a fairly realistic touch, it also feels a bit dull and anti-climatic. I would have like to have seen more done with Jessica rescuing the others. In fact, we never do see how she actually gets them out of the dungeon! Yes, the reindeer can fly, but as Winter points out, they can't dissolve prison walls.

There's some really dark moments for this one, including sequences of the Burgomeister actually burning the kids' toys and Kris and the elves finding their destroyed home in the mountains. Jessica's big solo ballad "My World Is Beginning Today" is quite good, but it's accompanied by a rather odd series of psychedelic images that smack more of 1970 than vaguely late 1800's.

The Big Finale: Though not quite as beloved as Rudolph, it has enough of it's own charms to make it equally worth a look during the holidays.

Home Media: Same deal, only this one can currently be found on Amazon Prime along with on disc and streaming.

Amazon Prime

Thursday, December 6, 2018

I'll See You In My Dreams

Warner Bros, 1951
Starring Doris Day, Danny Thomas, Frank Lovejoy, and James Gleason
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Music by Walter Donaldson and others; Lyrics by Gus Kahn

If you've never heard of Gus Kahn, you're in good company. His name may not be as recognizable today as that of Jerome Kern, but you've probably at least hummed one of his songs once in your life. "It Had to Be You," "Carolina In the Morning," "Makin' Whoopie," and "Ain't We Got Fun" are among the famous songs he wrote the lyrics for. Let's see if this biography soars like so many of his most popular lyrics...

The Story: In the early 1910's, warehouse worker Gus Kahn (Thomas) brings his pile of songs and patriotic musicals to a song company to have considered for publication. He shoves them into the arms of one Grace LeBoy (Day), who promptly tells him to write less patriotism and more romance. He's angry at the criticism at first, but then goes over to her house in a tie and tells her and her parents that he's reconsidered. They create a partnership for a few years, but their publisher (Gleason) tells them that Grace isn't a good enough songwriter. He joins with composer Egbert Van Alstyne, writing the hits "Pretty Baby" and "Memories."

Grace keeps pushing the reluctant Gus into bigger and better things, even after they finally get married in 1916. She's plugging his latest hit when she's pregnant with their first child, a son. By the time she's having their second child, a daughter, she's pushed him into a big Ziegfeld show in New York and a partnership with perpetually drunk bachelor Walter Donaldson (Lovejoy). Grace is worried that he may be making a play for the show's star Gloria Knight (Patrice Wymore), but to Gloria's annoyance, he's only interested in his family.

The Depression wipes out the Kahn's savings and the style of upbeat tunes that Gus specialized in. Grace eventually convinces him to go to Hollywood, but while he does write music there, he's too temperamental to stick with one studio for very long. It takes a heart attack and the revival of film musicals in 1933 for Kahn to finally settle down and appreciate his wife and just how much his music has touched others.

The Song and Dance: Kahn died of a final heart attack in 1941, but Grace and his children were still alive, and their input makes this biography more honest than most. This is refreshingly domestic and small-scale compared to most musical film biographies, with it's emphasis on Grace and Gus' relationship and their home life with their children and their maid Anna (Mary Wickes). Anna's long and contemptuous relationship with Gus is the film's funniest running gag. Even the Chicago setting and the simple black and white cinematography marks this as something a little different.

Favorite Number: Day and Thomas are at their most charming in their duet of "Makin' Whoopee." Grace and Gus perform it on a train going back to Chicago. No backstage fuss, no melodrama, just two wonderful performers having fun together. Wymore gets the film's sole production number, "Love Me or Leave Me." Day also does a really touching version of the title song towards the end of the movie, when Grace is starting to worry about Gus and his health.

Trivia: Kahn's son Donald grew up to become a songwriter and musician in his own right. His most famous composition was the pop hit "A Beautiful Friendship."

What I Don't Like: This is absolutely not for people who like their musicals big, colorful, and bold. It's a small-scale story with songs mostly performed by the two leads and one major chorus number. The story itself is fairly cliche, hitting all the usual beats of a musician's rise and fall; while the family angle is an interesting twist, the plot itself is nothing you really haven't seen before, particularly in the angst-ridden second half.

Like most musical biographies of this time, once we get out of the early part of the 20th century, the costumes and sets stop reflecting the actual setting and start looking too modern. No one looks like they're dressed for the 20's and 30's during the segments set during those time periods. Once Gus' songs get popular, it looks like 1951 for the rest of the movie.

The Big Finale: If you're a fan of Day or Thomas or like your musicals on the smaller side, this charming tale of one of the most beloved lyracists of the early 20th century and his strong-willed wife is definitely worth a watch.

Home Media: This was one of Day's biggest hits (and was Warners' second-biggest hit of 1951) and can easily be found for streaming and on DVD via the Warner Archives.

Amazon Prime

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cult Flops - Mame

Warner Bros, 1974
Starring Lucille Ball, Robert Preston, Beatrice Arthur, and Jane Connell
Directed by Gene Saks
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Auntie Mame - a fictional biography of a madcap society woman and her loving if bewildered nephew and staff - was a smash hit book by Patrick Dennis in 1955. It later became an equally popular play, and then a blockbuster movie with Rosalind Russell in 1958. The stage musical debuted in 1966, and with Angela Landsbury as Mame, was an even bigger hit. Mame's charmed life seemed to end there. Landsbury was passed over for the film version in favor of Lucille Ball, who was then at the tail end of her her celebrity as the biggest comedienne on television. When it finally debuted around Easter 1974, reviews were scathing and the film was a major flop. It didn't help that the brassy musical comedies that were big in the 60's had gone out of style by the mid-70's. What happened here? Let's head down to Beekman Place in New York City, where the party is just getting started, and find out...

The Story: For Mame Dennis (Ball), every day is an adventure. It's the Roaring 20's, and she's determined to roar right along with it, especially after she adopts her late brother's son Patrick (Kirby Furlong). She wants to show her "little love" and everyone around her, including Patrick's shy nanny Agnes (Connell), how to live life to the fullest. Trips to speakeasies and fire houses and schools where children run around naked may amuse Patrick, but it doesn't delight his conservative trustee, Mr. Babcock (John McGiver). Babcock has him taken away, just as the Depression hits.

Mame first gets a job in a "terribly modern operetta" starring her friend Vera Charles (Arthur), but she forgets her one line. She goes through a series of jobs, until she meets the handsome and charming southerner Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Preston) while working as a saleswoman in a department store. They end up getting married after she charms his family during a wild fox hunt. Beau dies in a skiing accident, leaving Mame back in the black but alone. She and Vera decide that Agnes is their next project, but she gets a little too into the "life is a banquet" thing and comes home pregnant. She's even less happy when a now-grown Patrick (Bruce Davidson) announces that he's going to marry a snotty college girl from Connecticut (Doria Cook-Nelson). Mame has to find someone more appropriate for Patrick while helping Agnes with her delicate condition, too.

The Song and Dance: Most of the complaints centered on Lucille Ball's performance, claiming she was miscast. I thought she was just fine, especially during comic set pieces like the roller skating sequence after she meets Beauregard and the wacky fox hunt. Arthur and Connell are even better repeating their Broadway roles, and Preston makes for an especially charming southern gentleman. The costumes are a lot of fun, from Mame's 20's lounging outfits to that stunning red gown with the massive fan trim she wears to her party for the Upsons in the late 1940's.

Favorite Number: "We Need a Little Christmas" is probably the best-known song from the show, and the number based after it is too adorable. Mame comes home from her sales clerk job and decides to cheer everyone up by celebrating early. (I love Agnes doubling as a tree covered in tinsel garlands.) Robert Preston gets a touching ballad Jerry Herman wrote expressively for the film, "Loving You," performed during the montage of Mame and Beau's decade-long honeymoon. Ball is hysterical flubbing her line in "The Man in the Moon."

Honestly, the movie is worth seeing just for Beatrice Arthur and Lucille Ball going at each other in the classic friends song "Bosom Buddies." They're just too funny in that number; their expressions at each bit of sarcasm is perfect.

What I Don't Like: Ball's singing voice was never terribly good, and while that works for chorus songs or in the comic "Bosom Buddies," her croaking does the dramatic ballad "If He Walked Into My Life" no favors. The soft-focus filters used to make Ball look younger just makes the film look out of focus at some points.

The Big Finale: I think the critics have been way too rough on this one for years, especially those who saw Landsbury in the stage show. If you love Lucy, the original book or movie, or big, bold musical comedy, you'll want to give Mame another chance at life, too.

Home Media: Ball's ongoing status as a major icon of comedy is probably the reason this one can be found on most formats; it was just released to Blu-Ray by the Warner Archives last week.

Amazon Prime

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Animation Celebration Saturday - Beauty and the Beast

Disney, 1991
Voices of Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Landsbury, and Jerry Orbach
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman

If The Little Mermaid kicked off the Disney Renaissance of the 90's, the tremendous success of this movie codified it. This was one of the biggest hits of 1991, the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and one of the most talked-about films of the early 90's. Is it worthy of that legacy, or should it be run out of the castle? Let's head to a small town in France and find out...

The Story: Belle (O'Hara) may live up to her name, but she's still an outcast in her town, due to her love of books and sharp mind. Most of the residents don't know what to make of her. Handsome but obnoxious hunter Gaston (Richard White) wants to marry her, not because he's especially interested in her, but because she's the prettiest girl and he's the best-looking guy. She wants to expand her horizons, and she gets her chance when her inventor father (Rex Everheart) is held prisoner by a fearsome beast (Benson). She offers herself in exchange. She's upset and lonely at first, until she meets the moving objects who acts at as the Beast's servants, including Lumiere the candelabra (Orbach), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Landsbury), and Cogsworth the clock (David Ogden Stiers). The entire castle is under a spell, and all the objects are desperately hoping that Belle is the one who will break it and get through to the Beast. Gaston, however, has his own plans for Belle and her father...

The Song and Dance: I've loved this movie since my family went to see it on it's release in November 1991. Belle is still one of Disney's best princesses. She's not only smart and beautiful, but is sensible enough to figure (most) of what's going on with the castle and the enchantment well before the end of the film.

It also has one of the best male villains of any Disney movie. I used to dismiss Gaston as a vainglorious idiot when I was younger, but after having seen the live-action version, I've come to realize that he's one of the most frightening antagonists in the Disney canon. He's scary because not only because people like him exist, but because they're considered normal, where good people like Belle and the Beast who don't look or act as society dictates are not. The entire town follows him without question after one glimpse at the mirror, just because he says the Beast is bad, and they encourage his pursuit of Belle despite her obvious disinterest.

The Animation: Bold and colorful, the fabulous work on this movie was a big part of the reason for that Oscar nomination. From the sweeping shots of the Beast's gloomy Gothic castle to the bustle of the town, every detail is as perfect as one could wish. The animation on the human characters is even better. I've always loved Belle's facial expressions; she's still one of the most expressive female Disney characters. She says more with raise of an eyebrow than most animated characters say with tons of dialogue.

Favorite Number: The music codified the Broadway style of Disney films for the rest of the decade. As lovely as the Oscar-winning title song is (and the swirling pas de deux performed during it), my favorite song has always been the rollicking Busby Berkley parody "Be Our Guest." I have to hand it to the enchanted objects. For things that have barely been used in 10 years, they sure can put on one heck of a show! I'm also fond of the charming "Something There" for Belle and the Beast, and the opening number that introduces Belle, Gaston, and most of the town.

Trivia: Walt considered Beauty and the Beast for an animated film after the success of Snow White in 1937, but the studio couldn't figure out the story then and shelved it. They tried again briefly in the 1950's, but decided it was too close to Cinderella. It started up again after Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a hit in 1987, but was originally scripted as an action fantasy, not a musical. The music didn't come in until after the success of The Little Mermaid in 1989.

Lyricist Howard Ashman was ill with AIDS during the pre-production of Beauty and the Beast. He died in March 1991 and never got to see the finished film. The movie is dedicated to him, in a moving line at the end of the credits.

Along with the Best Picture nomination, the movie was nominated for Best Sound and won for Best Score and Best Song ("Beauty and the Beast"). "Be Our Guest" and "Belle" were also nominated.

What I Don't Like: The blending of CGI and 2-D animated elements was revolutionary in 1991, but it occasionally looks fake or weird nowadays. I always wondered exactly what Belle does in the town, besides read and help her father. We don't get to know many of the other objects in the castle besides Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth.

The Big Finale: Not only one of my favorite animated movies, but one of my favorite movies, period. I loved the 2017 live-action version too, but this is the one you really need to see.

Home Media: Probably thanks to the release of the live-action version last year, this one is currently in print and is very easy to find in most formats.

Amazon Prime (Buy Only)

There's more Beauty and the Beast to come! Look for the direct-to-home media follow up Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas later this month!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Wizard of Oz

MGM, 1939
Starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Margaret Hamilton
Directed by Victor Fleming and others
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by E.Y Harburg

And now, we travel over the rainbow to take on one of the most famous films - in any genre - of all time. While not a huge hit when it first came out, it's become a classic in re-releases and on TV. The tale of Dorothy and her companions and their journey to the Emerald City has become a touchstone to families and children of all ages. Let's head to Kansas to see if the movie is truly worthy of that legacy...

The Story: Dorothy Gale (Garland) is not having an easy time in dull Sepia-toned Kansas. Her aunt, uncle, and their farm hands don't listen to her when she tries to explain that the local grouchy old lady Mrs. Gulch (Hamilton) has threatened to take her beloved dog Toto away. To Dorothy's horror, they don't have a choice about letting him go when Gulch shows up with court orders. Toto escapes, and Dorothy runs away to save him. She's found by a traveling fortune teller (Frank Morgan) who encourages her to go home. She gets back just in time to run inside just as the farmhouse is hit by a tornado.

The twister lands her and Toto in the Technicolor land of Oz, where she's greeted by tiny little people called Munchkins. They're celebrating because her house landed on the Witch of the East, who had been persecuting them. Glinda, the pretty Witch of the North (Billie Burke), sends Dorothy along the Yellow Brick Road to ask the Wizard who rules Oz to help her find her way home. Along the way, she meets three familiar friends who join her on her journey, a goofy cowardly lion (Lahr) who wants courage, a wobbly scarecrow who wants brains (Bolger), and a very sentimental tin woodsman (Jack Haley) who wants a heart. They're dogged every step of the way by the nasty Witch of the West (Hamilton again).

The witch captures Dorothy when the Wizard sends them to her domain to get her broomstick. Dorothy doesn't really want to kill anyone, but she doesn't have a choice. She's not happy with what the Wizard turns out to be, either. He does offer her a ride home, but Dorothy misses the trip. It's Glinda who helps her see that she had the way home all along...and that no matter how far over the rainbow we go, home is never far from our hearts.

The Song and Dance: Making this movie was a long and arduous process, but it was absolutely worth it. The Sepia and Technicolor cinematography both glow with an incandescence that makes that rainbow pale. Everyone puts in fine performances; Garland won a special award for best child performer at the Oscars. Hamilton's green-faced witch has frightened generations of children with her fireballs and cackling voice. Bolger, Haley, and especially Lahr are delightful as Dorothy's beloved companions. The movie has one of the most famous scripts in film history, and probably some of the most quoted lines. ("People come and go so quickly here!" "There's no place like home!")

Favorite Number: Thank goodness Harburg insisted they keep "Over the Rainbow!" The executives thought it was too slow, but it really defines the whole movie, well before Dorothy hits Oz. Garland sang it frequently throughout her career, and it's still associated with her to this day. I've always enjoyed the three versions of "If I Only Had...," sung by each of Dorothy's friends when she meets them.

Trivia: There was originally supposed to be another number, "The Jitterbug," which had Dorothy and her friends being attacked by a bug sent by the Witch on the Yellow Brick Road. It was deemed extraneous and was deleted, along with reprises of "Over the Rainbow" and "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead." The footage for all three numbers is now lost, but the audio recordings survive and are frequently included as extras on DVDs and CD soundtracks.

What I Don't Like: Unfortunately, deleting the "Ding Dong" and "Rainbow" reprises does mean that there's no musical numbers in the last third of the film. The two songs might have added a little more meat to the second half. Some people today consider the basic message of never leaving home to be a bit on the dated side. And yeah, there are times, especially with the moving trees and the obvious painted backgrounds, where the older effects are pretty obvious.

The Big Finale: Not my all-time favorite musical, but I like it enough to understand why it's so beloved. I probably don't need to recommend this one to anybody. If you haven't seen it yet, do so, especially if you have young children.

Home Media:  Goes without saying that this one is pretty easy to find. While it's no longer an annual TV event, it turns up fairly frequently on Turner Classic Movies, and it's available on most formats.

Amazon Prime

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Cult Flops - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Paramount/Warner Bros, 1971
Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, and Julie Dawn Cole
Directed by Mel Stuart
Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

It'll probably be a surprise to many people to find this review under the "Cult Flops" banner. It wasn't a big hit with critics or audiences when it came out, who dismissed it as a bland children's film. It took constant showings on TV and cable and being a hit on video to turn it into one of the most beloved family musicals of all time. Does it deserve its popularity, or should it be sent down the garbage chute? Let's take a trip to Willy Wonka's famous factory to find out...

The Story: Charlie Bucket (Ostrum) is a poor boy who often passes by the massive chocolate factory owned by the mysterious Willy Wonka (Wilder) on his paper route. A tinker (Peter Capell) tells him ominously that "no one ever goes in, and no one ever goes out." His beloved old Grandpa Joe (Albertson) explains that Wonka closed the factory to visitors after spies stole his secrets. No one knows who is making the candy. The mystery creates an absolute riot when it's announced that five people who find a golden ticket in a Wonka bar will have a tour of the factory and win a lifetime supply of chocolate. Four of the tickets go to spoiled, selfish children who care more about the chocolate than the wonders in the factory. Charlie's shocked when he finally finds the fifth.

Not only does the trip turn out to be as wild as the factory's unpredictable owner, but one of Wonka's rivals, Slugworth (Gunter Meisner) goes to the kids with a scheme of his own. Charlie has to resist the temptations of both Slugworth and the factory...and in doing so, learns that the most important thing isn't having a sweet tooth, but a sweet and honest heart.

The Song and Dance: Gene Wilder gave one of his best and most iconic performances as the oddball title character. He's mostly pretty subdued, even when the kids are going down garbage chutes and falling into his chocolate least until he gets angry at Charlie in the finale over his messing around with one of his concoctions in the factory. Albertson is equally good as cantankerous and energetic Grandpa Joe, who is quite thoroughly enjoying his first time out of bed in twenty years. Ostrum and the other children are all excellent as the main five who get involved with all the lunacy in the factory. I always thought Roy Kinnear and Leonard Stone were hilarious as Veruca and Violet's very different businessman fathers, and David Battely has fun with the small role of Charlie's goofy teacher.

Along with the performances and wonderful music, the movie has some of the most intricate sets and cinematography of the early 70's. No wonder everyone is amazed when they enter the Chocolate Room. The details there and in the Inventing Room later, as well as during the infamous "freak out" boat ride, are a delight to behold.

Favorite Number: Wilder's "Pure Imagination," performed in the Chocolate Room as the rest of the tour goers are enjoying the candy, is probably the most famous number from this movie today. (It's so associated with the film and the story, both stage musical versions pretty much had to include it.) The opening number "The Candy Man" had a hit cover by Sammy Davis Jr, who was a big fan of the song. My personal favorite number is "I've Got a Golden Ticket." Albertson and Ostrum are just having so much fun with their rollicking routine for that song, you can't help but sing along.

Trivia: One of the reasons for the film's initial failure was it was originally conceived partially by Quaker Oats to kick off a line of real-life Wonka bars. The candy didn't go over any better than the movie did. Rumor has it they actually melted on shelves. (Nestle would do far better with the Wonka brand over a decade later. It was a Christmas tradition in my family in the 90's and early 2000's to get a Wonka bar in our stockings in the hope of finding the golden ticket. We never found one, but at least the candy was pretty good.)

Road Dahl wrote an early draft of the film, but it was ultimately deemed to be too dark and reworked by others. He eventually disowned the movie, complaining about the additional songs, bumping up Wonka's role, and several of the scenes that hadn't been in the book.

If Violet and Veruca seem to be a bit nasty to each other, even for bratty kids, there was a reason for that. Julie Dawn Cole and Denise Nickerson, who played Violet, had major crushes on Peter Ostrum and spent most of the shoot trying to show off for him.

What I Don't Like: Dahl has a point about some of those additional scenes. The out-of-nowhere ending kind of ruins the interesting mystery they had going with Slugworth. The random scenes of people trying desperately by any means necessary to get those golden tickets are funny, but they also do nothing to advance the plot and are really kind of bizarre. (Especially the soap opera spoof with the woman whose husband was kidnapped and exchanged for Wonka bars.) There's a few sequences from the book that are missing, notably the entire segment about the Indian prince who wanted a chocolate factory.

As nifty as the sets are, some of the effects do show their age nowadays. Violet's face in the factory is really just a blue spotlight, everyone in the Chocolate Room is obviously eating candy out of plastic props, not mushrooms and giant fruit, and the parents are right that the Chocolate River looks more like the dirty water it was than anything edible. Not to mention, some of the kids come off as so likable, it's hard to hate them the way you should when they're finally taken out.

The Big Finale: While I do like the non-musical Tim Burton remake as well, this one still has plenty of it's own charms. Delightful performances (especially from Wilder and Albertson), a great script, amazing sets, and one of Bricusse and Newley's best scores makes this one confection that remains very sweet indeed.

Home Media: Alas, both the 40th and 45th anniversary editions seem to be out of print  on DVD and Blu-Ray at press time. Your best bet may be streaming services like Amazon Prime or if you're really into this movie, the Blu-Ray/DVD Collector's Edition combo.

40th Anniversary Blu-Ray/DVD Collector's Edition
Amazon Prime