The Hunchback of Notre Dame Is One Of Disney’s Modern Classics

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Walt Disney Studios has largely made its fame on taking classic literary stories and adapting them for the big screen.  For the most part, doing so has led to great success for Disney.  So it goes without saying that when Disney’s heads decided to bring Victor Hugo’s literary classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame to audiences in animated form doing so was a pretty big risk.  That is because this is hardly the happiest of stories.  Somehow though, Disney managed to pull off the job and craft what should be considered to be one of the company’s modern classics.  Whereas its renditions of The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Cinderella and others are considered the company’s original classics, its take on Hugo’s literary masterpiece fits nicely into the category of modern classics.  This is the case for a variety of reasons. In watching this rendition, one can’t help but be taken back to Disney’s golden era.  From the subtlety of the mix of hand drawn and digital animation, to the big song cues to the animation, one actually feels as if one is actually watching a stage presentation made into an animated film.  And while it may be a little bit scary for younger audiences with its darker elements, it still stands as one of the better works in Disney’s modern era.

Viewers that closely watch the newly re-issued Hunchback of Notre Dame I/II combo pack will catch a subtlety that others might not that harkens back to Disney’s golden era.  That subtlety is a mix of animation styles.  There are a handful of scenes throughout this movie that show on one side, the rougher, less “streamlined” animation style sitting side by side.  This is explained briefly in the original “Making of featurette” that was included in the movie’s previous release.  Actor Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) explains the reality behind the misconception that all animation done for Disney movies—at the time—was done by computer.  The difference between the hand drawn animation and digital animation is pretty clear.  And the very fact that animators tried to duplicate the animation of Disney’s famed “Nine Old Men” even in the slightest in this feature makes it worthy of at least a little bit of respect.

If the attempt by animators to replicate the animation of Disney’s most famed animators isn’t enough for viewers, then perhaps the story’s musical numbers will help win over audiences.  Composer Alan Menken returned for this movie after having massive success nearly a decade prior on another of Disney’s biggest modern classics in The Little Mermaid.  The animation works in tandem with the big musical numbers to really leave viewers feeling like they are watching a stage presentation in animated form.  That’s even more the case now that the movie has been re-issued on Blu-ray.  There is just a certain quality on which one can’t put one’s finger that pulls audiences in and makes the story believable.  That’s the sign of a quality work.

If the song cues and the animation aren’t enough, then the movie’s more comical moments will entertain audiences.  Even in some of the movie’s darker moments, the story’s writers come up with some pretty funny moments to help lighten the mood.  A prime example of this comes late in the movie, in the final showdown sequence.  As Quasimodo and Frollo face off in the cathedral’s tower, soldiers are below, trying to break in.  Laverne (voiced by the late Mary Wickers) helps in the fight by calling on a large group of birds.  This moment is a tribute not just to the classic Warner Brothers movie, The Wizard of Oz, but also to Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic, The Birds.  While the latter tribute may have been unintentional, it is there.  It’s just one of so many moments that will have viewers laughing.  Add in Jason Alexander’s comedic timing and viewers get more than enough laughs to offset the movie’s darker moments.  Those darker moments being offset and the movie’s enjoyable musical numbers and hybrid animation together make The Hunchback of Notre Dame one of the better movies from Disney’s modern era.  One might even go so far as to call it one of Disney’s modern classics.  It is available now on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Disney store at http://www.disneystore.com/the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1331583/1000316/ and at the Disney DVD store at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-two-movie-collection.html

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The Sandlot Still A “Hit” Twenty Years Later

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Two decades ago, what is one of the best modern coming-of-age stories ever crafted was released in the form of 20th Century Fox’s baseball based story, The Sandlot.  In the twenty years since that movie first debuted, it hasn’t’ lost a single bit of its shine, even with a previous Blu-ray release having been put out a little over two years ago.  What continues to make The Sandlot so appealing to this day is its continued ability to relate to viewers of every age.  It reminds older audiences what it’s like to be a kid.  It reminds them of all the joys and simplicities of being young.  And despite being set in the 1960’s, it’s a story to which even today’s younger audiences can relate.  Older viewers remember the “good old days” of hanging out with friends, and getting into all kinds of trouble.  They remember the joys of simply being kids as well as the trials and tribulations of being the “new kid” trying to fit in in a new environment.  And even today’s generation knows of these joys.  So for those audiences who have yet to see this movie, it makes for a nice addition to said individuals’ home libraries.

The Sandlot 20th Anniversary Edition was released on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack last week, only a little over two years since its previous Blu-ray release.  Little has changed between that release and this one.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The story is so enjoyable in its own right there really is no need for much in the way of bonus features.  Though some audio commentary would have been a nice addition to offer viewers more insight into the story and how everything came into place.  Especially being that 20th Century Fox is celebrating the movie’s 20th birthday, it would have been just as interesting to have any of the original cast members that could have been recruited to offer their own retrospective on the movie and its meaning to each one to this day.  Perhaps that could be taken into consideration for the movie’s twenty-fifth or thirtieth anniversary edition.

The bonus features aside, The Sandlot 20th Anniversary Edition is still a wonderful addition to any family’s home library.  It offers so many fun and funny moments both for parents and kids alike.  Watching Squints fake a drowning in order to get a kiss from a certain young lifeguard is one of the story’s many funny moments.  What young boy hasn’t fantasized the way that Squints did?  And the boys’ various plans to get the Babe Ruth signed baseball back from “The Beast” will make viewers of all ages laugh.  There is a certain reality to those scenarios.  It’s one of those “boys will be boys” types of scenarios.  And speaking of “The Beast”, his ability to thwart the boys’ every attempt is equally comical in its own way.  Then of course, there is also the famous chase scene in which Benny is being chased by the massive Mastiff.  The music and shooting style made this one of the movie’s best moments, if not the best moment in the movie.  It’s tough to put a finger on exactly what makes this such a memorable moment.  But audiences of all ages will love the entire sequence. 

The chase scene with “The Beast” and the boys’ attempts to get Smalls’ signed baseball back make for their own share of enjoyment.  Just as enjoyable and relatable is the story element of the myth surrounding the owner of “The Beast”, Mr. Mertle (James Earl Jones).  The boys all believe that Mr. Mertle is this evil man who told “The Beast” to eat a boy years ago.  But after Benny retrieves Smalls’ baseball, the pair meets Mr. Mertle for himself, dispelling the myth once and for all.  Again, while this story is set in the 1960s, this is another element to which audiences even today can relate.  Every young generation has its myths surrounding certain figures.  And the revelation about the figures’ always turns out to be entirely different from what is believed.  It makes for yet another of so many great moments included by writer/director David Mickey Evans and co-writer Robert Gunter.  The Sandlot 20th Anniversary Edition offers more memorable moments than could be shared in one sitting.  There are so many that audiences will consider their favorites.  And it’s because of this abundance of wonderful moments and equally wonderful writing (and camera work) that anyone who has yet to add this timeless story to their home library will want to do just that.  The movie is now available in stores and online and can be ordered direct online via the 20th Century Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com/the-sandlot-20th-anniversary.html.

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Peter Pan Diamond Edition Another Welcome Re-Issue From The Disney Vaults

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Peter Pan is one of the greatest of Walt Disney’s original classic animated features.  This animated take on Sir James M. Barrie’s classic literary work may not stay entirely true to the original.  But what movie ever adapted from a book ever does or has?  Considering that, one is left wondering what exactly it is that makes this adaptation of Barrie’s classic story so timeless on screen.  The very first aspect of the movie’s success is a simple one that is echoed in the 2004 movie, Finding Neverland.  Johnny Depp plays Barrie in the movie.  At one point in the movie, he notes that once a person loses their childhood, their innocence, it’s gone.  Peter Pan really shows that Walt Disney was perhaps himself just a big kid in an adult’s body.  Thus audiences got the final product of fourteen years’ work that so many still love today.  Wendy’s father states before she goes off to Neverland that everybody has to grow up.  Sure, everybody has to grow up.  But that doesn’t mean that in growing up, everybody has to lose at least some sense of their childhood.  It’s that element of childhood after all, that helps establish the suspension of disbelief that makes this story timeless.

Peter Pan is the embodiment of the belief that while we all have to grow up, we should never completely lose our childhood.  That is the most important aspect of Peter Pan’s success.  It’s an excellent reminder both for kids and their parents across generations.  That aspect is but one part of what makes it timeless.  Another aspect that makes this adaptation such a success is its animation.  As is the case with Disney’s other early animated features, this feature stands out because of its entirely original hand drawn animation.  The colors used throughout the feature are so rich and vibrant.  They make the story feel “alive.”  By comparison, so many of today’s “animated” features are crafted through computers.  In turn, they all feel sterile and look alike.  Animation through this venue takes away any identity from said features.  But true hand drawn animation gives classics such as this one its own identity and life.  It’s a stamp of originality so to speak.  And it’s something that once again is examined in the bonus features included in the brand new triple disc Diamond Edition of Peter Pan.

The new triple-disc Diamond Edition of Peter Pan offers a whole new generation the same joy that was offered to their parents and grandparents.  The inclusion of the bonus features will also offer a whole new appreciation to parents who originally watched it as kids themselves.  It discusses the importance of the hand drawn animation through the new feature, “Growing Up With Nine Old Men.”  This feature is a culmination of sorts from bonus features on previous Disney re-issues.  It offers a glimpse at the lives of Disney’s famed “Nine Old Men” from the vantage point of those who were closest to them; their own children.  Their children discuss the hard work and long hours put into making Disney’s classic films, Peter Pan included.  Audiences will appreciate learning that one of the “Nine Old Men” was not just an illustrator, but a true artist.  He was a painter outside of his job.  His daughter explains his attention to detail in his paintings just as he did with his art for Disney’s films.  It’s just one of the bonus features that audiences will appreciate with this latest re-issue.

If the discussion on Disney’s “Nine Old Men” wasn’t enough to earn new appreciation for Peter Pan, perhaps the short feature on Tinkerbell, “Tinkerbell: A Fairy’s Tale” will do the trick.  Audiences get a glimpse into the woman who was the original inspiration for Tinkerbell as well as Tinkerbell herself being an example of a progressive woman.  As is noted, she represented a very independent, strong and strong willed woman who would eventually become the basis for so many of Disney’s modern princesses.  As short as this feature is, had a person not watched it before, then watching it now with the movie’s new re-issue will show just how far ahead of everything this movie is simply through this factor.  And hopefully it will develop a new appreciation among audiences who had otherwise never considered Tinkerbell’s overall importance before.  It’s just one more of so many features included in the new re-issue that exemplify why Peter Pan always has been and always will be a timeless family film both in the world of Disney and in the movie industry as a whole.

The brand new triple-disc diamond edition of Peter Pan will be available next Tuesday, February 5th.  It will be available in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Disney’s online store at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com

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