Category Archives: Top Tens

Nine Properties I would love to see as Animated Series

So, Disney has apparently decided that they should do animated TV-Shows based on their properties again. And why not? DreamWorks already does it, and it worked just fine back in the 1990s. And to be honest, the properties they picked this time around have a lot of more potential than the ones they did back then. I really look forward to the Tangled TV-Series because I really wanted to know how Rapunzel learns to adjust to the life out of the tower (though I do fear that Disney might end up going for something more shallow in an attempt to appeal to the perceived target demographic), and Big Hero 6 is practically made for being a TV -Series.

This got me thinking, though. Are there any other properties I would actually like to see as animated TV series? And what would they look like? So I considered and came up with a small list, not just of Disney movies which would work particularly well as a TV show, but also some untapped book properties as well as some franchises which I think could do really well with a shift to animated TV. I ended up with nine, because I didn’t feel the need to force this into being a proper top ten, especially since this isn’t a ranking at all, I sorted them based on the year of creation. After all, every adaptation can potentially be good – there are just some properties which are more suited for a TV shows than others.


The Letter for the King (1962)

What is it about?

It’s a book by Tonke Dragt, set in a kind of medieval setting. It tells the story about Tuiri, a young man who is about to become a knight. His last test is spending a night thinking about the path he is about to take in a chapel, when suddenly he is confronted with the decision to either fulfil this last test or listen to a request for help, thus abandoning his knighthood. He naturally does the latter (or it would be a really short book), and starts a very dangerous journey, trying to deliver an important letter to another kingdom, while being followed by a number of different enemies.

Why do I want it?

The book has been adapted into a movie once, but that went as well as you can expect when you cram a story about travelling to a number of different places into a relatively short running time. The character moments kind of got lot along the way, which was a shame, since the story is actually not that much to write home about unless you are really invested in the struggle of the character, and a number of different scenarios, which simply can’t be rushed but need room to breath. In addition, the story is a little bit episodic from the get go, meaning Tiuri reaches a place, deals with some sort of hurdle to overcome, and then goes to the next place. It could easily fill 20 to 30 episodes if handled right. And if the first season is successful, well, there is a second book about the adventures of Tiuri, which is just as good if not better.

How should the series look like?

I’ll be honest here: There is no particular reason for this to be an animated series, it could work in live action TV just as well – with a proper budget. And that is kind of the problem, because I doubt that any network would spend that much money on some strange European property, no matter how well-known it is in a number of countries. American networks and studios are a little bit snobby in this regard. But if they do an animated series, I would prefer classical animation in a style reminiscent of medieval art and paintings. It needs to look kind of romantic but also colourful.


Voyagers! (1982-1983)

What is it about?

It’s a mostly forgotten but still beloved by those who know it TV-series about time-travelling. You have a time-traveller, a child who accidentally becomes his partner and one of the greatest time travelling device ever created in the Omni. The episodes are about fixing history – meaning something went wrong at one point and the protagonists have to ensure that history goes the way it was supposed to.

Why do I want it?

While the show had a lot of flaws, mainly due to its very American perspective on history, it was also very educational. It is one of the main reasons I ever developed an interest in history and how it affects us today. I think we need another show like this, which teaches children something in a fun way. I am usually not into time travel at all, but the fact that the Voyagers worked outside of time sidestepped a number of possible paradoxes. I guess you could also simply reboot the show for Live-Action TV, but I am hopeful for it catching on better the second time around. If you go for multiple seasons, you have the problem that the child actor will age out of the role pretty fast (the original one had only three season which run in a less than two years, and the child-actor had already hit a grown spurt by the end of it, which put him pretty firmly in the teen category). So, animated it is.

How should the series look like?

The original show had a few steampunk elements to it, and I would like a remake doubling down on this, at least when it comes to the design of the Voyager Headquarter. I also think that it would be important to portray the historic figures in it as adequate as possible. I am not sure if CGI is able to do that, and Stop-Motion has always a weird feeling to it. So (surprise, surprise), traditional animation is it. I actually think I would like the Disney style, along the lines of what they did in the short “Ben and I”.


The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

What is it about?

Well, animation fans should know this hidden gem from the Disney canon. In short, it is the story about a Mouse-version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Why do I want it?

It is kind of a no-brainer, really. During the 1990s, Disney made direct-to-video sequels and TV-shows about more or less everything, but somehow they mostly managed to miss out the properties, which were perfect for some kind of sequel. The Great Mouse Detective could be a wonderful detective series for children and young adults, and between the book series the movie was based on and the actual Sherlock Holmes stories, there is a lot of material to draw from. They could even introduce an early version of the Rescue Aid Society at one point, thus suggesting that Basil belongs in the same universe as The Rescuers, just in a different time period.

How should the series look like?

Like the movie, naturally. The style is perfect for TV anyway.


Harry Potter (1997-2007)

What is it about?

Do I really have to explain? It’s Harry Potter, you need to have lived under a rock to not at the very least know the basics.

Why do I want it?

Mostly because I always felt that the movies were really dissatisfying. I loved the sets, the costumes (mostly), and they were an okay watch overall, but there was so much lost in the adaptation that I really, really want a better one. But I don’t think that the audience would accept another one anytime soon, plus, even if you would redo the movies already knowing which details would become important later on and which not, it would still be nearly impossible to cram all the information into movie lengths. So why not a TV series? An animated one, to ensure that the actors don’t grow out of their roles, and to allow some creativity when it comes to spell-casting. Though it would be important that the creators take the book series serious and don’t dumb down the themes in it.

How should the series look like?

Ever seen Harry Potter Fanart? Yeah, something along the line of the most popular artists would be great. I also want to add that while I want a version which allows the different story-arcs some room to breath, it doesn’t have to be a slavish one-to-one adaptation of the books. There is certainly a little bit room for improvement, some details which could and should be added in order to avoid some of the plot holes.


Operation Nautilus (2001-2001)

What is it about?

It’s a book series by Wolfgang Hohlbein, also called Captain Nemo’s Children. It is set around the time of the first World War, and describes how a group of teens end up commandeering the Nautilus (yes, THAT Nautilus), finding traces of the Atlantian Civilisation at the bottom of the ocean while evading the war ships.

Why do I want it?

Well, for starters, the teens in the series all have different nationalities, meaning they are working together while their respective nations are at war with each other. I have the feeling that this is a message which will be desperately needed in the upcoming years. But it is also one of the book series which had a number of great ideas, but doesn’t really work that well as a whole. Really, don’t get me started on how much it went of the rails, and how terrible and contrived the finale was. I would love to see someone take another stab at the concept, using the best ideas of the book and building on them, step by step. Basically I want a more or less original series based on the concept and the characters of the book series.

How should the series look like?

In this case, I can see every form of animation working just fine, as long as the result doesn’t look too cartoony. The story might be fantasy, but it is set in a realistic setting, and the animation should reflect that.


Treasure Planet (2002)

What is it about?

Another of Disney’s overlooked gem. The movie is basically Treasure Island in Space steampunk style. Disney actually did plan a series based on the movie, but after it bombed spectacularly, the series was scrapped.

Why do I want it?

The world of Treasure Island just look infinitely interesting. I own the DVD, and it fascinating how much thought the animators put in the working of the ships. There are a number of details which never made it into the movie. I would love to see a series exploring more of this world. Jim could go on even more travels and crazy adventures.

How should the series look like?

Well, like the movie, naturally. (I have a deja vu….).


Firefly (2002)

What is it about?

Well, Firefly is the Whedon show which infamously run for only one season but still managed to spawn a cult following and eventually a movie. It was a quite interesting concept in that it took the concept of Wild West in space a little bit more literal than even Star Trek did (and that franchse has “Trek” in its name!) going for a very dusty look during a time, in which most Science Fiction shows created a very pristine future. It also frequently experiemented with story-telling, creating some very memorable episodes in its short run.

Why do I want it?

It only run one season. Do I really have to say more? It deserves to get a proper continuation, but with the various actors having aged out of their roles by now, an animated series is the only way to make it possible without it being too grating. It could pick up where the original show left off (ignoring Serenity) and just continue the story.

How should the series look like?

I lean towards traditional animation in this case, because I think it would be easier to capture the feel of the original show in this style. Not that CGI can’t do dusty and dirty – see Rango – it’s the character animation which worries me. That can end up fast in uncanny valley territory.


Supernatural (2005-now)

What is it about?

Supernatural is the longest running Sci-Fi Series in the USA, which is frankly downright impressive. Impressive enough that I recently decided to figure out what the big deal is, proceeding to binge watch the whole show. And I actually liked it quite a lot after I discovered that it is about so much more than just two to three attractive leads experiencing a lot of man-pain (what? We all have our prejudices). There are actually a number of really creative ideas in the show which I adore. I would recommend the first five season of it to everyone – what follows is a little bit more wonky, but still has its moments.

And yes, I am aware that there is already an anime based on the show…I’ll address it later.

Why do I want it?

Unlike Firefly Supernatural is an ongoing show which still utilized the same actors. But I nevertheless would love to see a complete reboot of it. While I do like a number of ideas in the show (careful, I will now go full-on spoiler) especially the concept of not so fluffy angels or a Supernatural series becoming the Winchester Gospel and their take on the apocalypse, there are also a lot of elements which I feel prevent the show from reaching its full potential. Partly it is the format. The writers have to fill a lot of episodes, so they often drag plot-lines out or throw in detours, and since the writers change, there are sometimes elements which are just left hanging in the air, contradictions in the lore and quality shifts. Partly it is the budget. They did a fairly good job with depicting angles (love the shadow wings) and heaven, but hell has been an ongoing disappointment so far. Partly it is simply the writing. I can’t be the only one who actually wanted to see at least half a season with Godstiel being the big problem Dean and Sam have to deal with it, instead of getting one episode and then having to deal the whole season with boring black goo.

I just feel that it would be great to rewrite the whole thing, using the best story-arcs, streamlining some aspects (like the whole “the police looks for the Winchesters” thing), making some elements bigger and dropping a few more questionable decisions. I want the best of the world of Supernatural combined with visuals which aren’t possible to do on a TV budget. I want a more careful world-building, with clearer rules. And doing this in an animated show would allow for doing it without it feeling like a cheap knock-off from the get go.

To achieve that, it would be necessary that it becomes more than just a retelling. It should have its own set of twists.Which is what the Anime kind of tried to do, but more in the single episodes than in the actual myth arc. But that is exactly the place where they should start. Why not actually go for the notion of Sam being part of an army of people with tainted blood this time around instead of doing the whole “one surviver” solution, which, imho, was mostly picked because of budgets restrains? Why not changing around some stuff? Like, the whole idea of Castiel being under mind control from heaven would have actually fit was better into season 6, when there was still one archangel left. This storyline can lead into Castiel being freed of said mind control which would then make his pact with Crowley way more understandable.

Then there is Adam, who is still one big black mark on the series because he is apparently still in the cage and nobody seems to care. His character could be handled better from the get go. For example instead of repeating the whole “Adam is already death” shock (which lead to some problems down the line – death really hasn’t much meaning in the show when characters are constantly brought back as soon as it is convenient), it would be interesting of Adam is actually younger when Dean and Sam meet him, and they make the decision to leave him with a relative of his mother, hiding the Supernatural from him, because they want him to have a normal live. That would naturally cause resentment in Adam, which would be hashed out further down the line when the angels start to use him. Similar elements, different story, and the opportunity to explore some ideas which never got the attention they deserved, that’s what I want to see. In case someone is curious: I also would love to see the fight for the seals in greater detail, a more creative take on the cage, the pagan gods as a third party and more of the fight between the various angels. I also felt that the show really should have explored the relationship between Castiel and Jimmy Novak instead of forgetting about the latter for multiple season just to explain then that he has been in heaven for quite a while. And without the budget restrains, it could create a more complete world, in which the Winchester adventures actually have a large impact. What happens when there is suddenly an increase of paranormal activities which can’t be ignored, when there are people declaring themselves to be god and others who leave their families because they agreed to be a vessel or have been hijacked by a demon? There are numerous options for a rewrite, which honours the original while still being its own thing.

How should the series look like?

I discovered that I actually don’t like the Anime style at all, though my issues are more with the Anime style of storytelling than the actual drawings. See, Anime storytelling is extremely melodramatic, with a lot of telling instead of showing. But that is more or less the opposide of what makes the show work. Yeah, it is sometimes corny, but what makes it so great is the underlying realism, the constant demystificing of our beliefs. Angels are just dicks. Demons exist, but they can be defeated. Yes, it has its dramatic moments, but it can also be funny or just really horrofying. So what the show would need is a drawing style, which allows it a lot of freedom to design certain elements of it really freaky and go all creative with it. Supernatural is also a series which likes to play around a little bit on a meta-level. Therefore I like the idea of mixing different kind of animation. Normally stop motion would clash horrible with traditional animation, but it could be used here for a deliberate “off-feel”. The important part is that they pick a style which allows the characters to show a lot of emotions in their faces, as well as some really creepy imagenary. So perhaps traditional animation with a realistic touch to it is in order, but with an emphasis on the character animation.


Inside Out (2015)

What is it about?

It’s a view into the mind a girl, showing how her emotions struggle with some big changes in her life.

Why do I want it?

Of all the properties I put on this list, this is actually the one I want the least. Inside Out works just fine as stand-alone movie. But Pixar currently has a bad case of sequilities, so they will revisit one of their most successful properties sooner or later. And if they do, I just can’t see them figuring out a story which doesn’t feel like a repetition of the first movie. So, why not go smaller? Focus on small events in Riley’s everyday life, and let the emotions comment on it. And yes, that is more or less like Herman’s Head, but doing the same concept with the perspective of a teen as centre could yield a nice little show for this demographic. Just keep it small, and simple.

How should the series look like?

CGI. That’s the style of the movie and they should stick to it. I can actually see the emotions working if they based them on the concept drawings, but I somehow can’t see Riley in this style, so it would be better to stick to what works.


So, that is my list. There are other adaptations and/or sequels I would like to see at one point, but those are the ones I would love to see specifically as animated TV show. What do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Or do you have some ideas on your own? I would love to hear about them.

 

 

 


Marvel Musings: The Ten Worst Decisions of Phase 2

Somehow this ended up more a long article than a top ten list. Most of the problems in Phase 2 are simply to complex to explain them in a few sentences. Overall, though this was surprisingly difficult, mostly because Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy are so good movies, that I would need to go very nit-picky to criticise them. Same with the first season of Agent Carter. But I finally found ten decisions which didn’t really work out in Phase 2:

10. Agent Carter, Season 1: The Marketing

It would be a lie to claim that the Marketing for the Marvel movies during the first two phases was particularly inspiring.

Iron-Man-3-Fan-Made-Movie-Poster-iron-man-33843692-1200-1663

Don’t you think that you should have changed up the poses at least a little bit?

 

thor-2-poster-dark-world-chris-hemsworth

I am blue, not red. That is totally different!

 

It usually got its job done, but the floating heads, the questionable “woman leans into man” poses, the by the numbers trailers, would have failed to create any interest in a property which the audience isn’t already predisposed to care for. Which is why the marketing for Agent Carter turned out to be particularly problematic. Haley Atwell is awesome, but Captain America The First Avenger is a criminally underrated movie within the MCU, and there are always enough people who can’t imagine that the story centred around a love interest could be any good. Spoiler Alert: Those people were wrong. But it certainly didn’t help that Marvel used the worst tag-line ever in the trailer (“Sometime the right man for the job is a woman.”), and laid it on thick with the feminism theme.

Now, some will claim that this is a proper description of what the show is about (though I would argue that it is less about promoting feminism and more about acknowledging sexism, which isn’t exactly the same thing), but it nevertheless left the impression that the show is a kind of apology for not giving the fans the Black Widow movie they want so badly. Above all though it did nothing to convince the audience that this is more than a little side-dish which one might deign to taste if it is ever shown on Netflix. What it should have done is convincing the audience that this is an event, the first female lead Comic book show since the god-awful Birds of Prey, as well as an exploration of the past of the MCU, including Tony Starks roots.

But the marketing failed to create the appropriate hype. As a result, Agent Carter never got the love it deserved. Oh, the first season was critically highly acclaimed, and Peggy Carter herself became immediately an Icon. I am sure we will see her blue dress and red hat on Comic cons for years to come. But there is still a sizeable number of people, including MCU fans, who have never seen just one episode. Which is too bad. Because it is a show worth watching.

9. Daredevil, Season 1: Fisk defeating himself

I wasn’t exactly as enamoured of Wilson Fisk in the first season of Daredevil as a lot of other fans were. I certainly saw the potential in the character, but for me the one thing I really need of a villain is that he has to terrify me. But I was never sure who the true mastermind actually was, Wesley or Fisk. Fisk’s hold on Hell’s kitchen often seemed flimsy, mostly based on the power the other crime lords gave to him for some never explained reason. This impression was underlined by the fact that in the end, all the efforts to collect evidence against him seems to be pretty useless (especially since in the case of Karen, Ben and Foggy, the process often involves trying to find information either Daredevil has already uncovered or the audience already knows). The only thing which was needed all along was Fisk loosing his temper and wrecking his allies so that eventually the right person would flip on the syndicate. Hallelujah.

8. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2: Side-lining Trip

Some fans would say that killing Trip was the big mistake of Season 2. I was actually largely okay with the decision in itself, though the fact that his death didn’t accomplish anything does rank a little bit. I also don’t think that it established a “dangerous pattern”, since the show is more or less an equal opportunity killer (the only ones safe seem to be the original six actors – their characters suffer in different ways) and the show runners could not know that Daredevil and Jessica Jones would both go ahead and kill the black older character in the show. My main issue with his death was that the character was barely present in the episodes beforehand anyway. Which is too bad. Him being the grandson of a Howling Commander could have allowed way more interesting angles than just him providing some nifty gadgets. And since we barely got to know him anyway, his passing didn’t cause much anguish in the end.

7. Jessica Jones, Season 1: Robyn

I am usually not into over-the-top violence. I am pretty much convinced that there are few stories which require going all graphic. Nevertheless  I liked the Netflix-shows we got so far. But both of them have some serious plotting problems which lead into disappointing third acts. In Jessica Jones, this is partly due to the fact that she has Killgrave under her control multiple times but decides not to kill him, and only one of those times Killgrave manages to escape through careful planning. That the third escape is the result of a giant coincidence doesn’t help at all. Ant this coincidence ties back to one particular character.

I know that Robyn isn’t meant to be endearing (she practically says it herself). I know that she is supposed to be annoying. I am not sure if her relationship to Ruben was supposed to be as off-putting creepy as it was, but I guess they did get the point across that caring too much for a person can just be as damaging as the opposite. But while I do understand the concept, I think the execution added a very dissonant element to the show. Especially Robyn is like fingernails on chalk board every time she turns up. That she is the one who frees Killgrave the third time Jessica has managed to capture him is just the spoiled cherry on a smelling top.

6. Ant-Man: Keeping Edgar Wright too long on the project

The movie we didn’t get tends to be the better one in our minds. So it is no surprise that a lot of people bemoan the fact that we never got Edgar Wright’s Ant-man. I am not sure if he was even the right man for the job in the first place, considering that what most people love about the Ant-man comic is usually the Wasp, and if there is one thing Edgar Wright doesn’t have, it’s a record of writing compelling female characters (or giving females any room in his movie at all).

But in a way this is a useless discussion. What we got, was a really good movie. Which could have been even better if it’s director hasn’t been forced to jump into the work of someone else, rewriting the script during production and rushing the movie out in an insane short time for a special effect heavy piece like this in order to meet the planned release date. In the end the vision of the two directors does clash in the movie. And the whole thing could have been avoided if Marvel hadn’t patiently waited for Wright to wrap up the other projects he was interested in, but had insisted on a reasonable schedule. Who knows, if they had done that we might have gotten the Wasp as one of the founding members of the Avengers. Maybe not. But the movie would have certainly been way more cohesive overall.

Watching this movie I have always the felling that Wright wanted to make a movie about the relationship between mentor and mentee (hence the villain being a former mentee of Hank Pym) while Peyton Reed wanted to discuss the relationship between fathers and daughters as well as transporting the idea that Superheroes don’t fight for the world, but to make said world a better place for the people they care about. The two ideas are kind of wrestling with each other for screen-time. And I think that could have been avoided if Marvel had not waited ages for Edgar Wright to finally get the project off the ground.

5. All movies and shows: Lack of diversity

I decided to put this one in the middle, because this is an important issue, it is also something Marvel is clearly working on. Plus, while I am an advocate for more diversity and a better portrayal of females in the media, the lack of the former is not necessarily impacting the quality of the movies in itself and the latter has been a problem for decades which won’t vanish from one day to another. Marvel has made baby steps in the right direction though.

We got two female lead TV-shows in Phase two, and more shows and movies with diverse characters are in the works. There is also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which has an unusual high ratio of diverse characters for a network show, instead of the usual token characters. On the other hand though, there are places at which Marvel could have done better. For example the Netflix shows are overwhelmingly white and have this unfortunate habit to kill of the old, black character on top of it. With Daredevil this turns into a true problem, because the show is full of criminals of different ethnicities (and stereotypical behaviour), but we have yet to see a mayor Asian character on any Netflix show which wasn’t some sort of villain.

Now, Marvel had a good excuse in Phase 1 because they needed to establish the universe with the best-known characters they had, and those are all white males due to the time during which most of those stories were written. Marvel’s more diverse franchise, the X-Men, is sadly firmly under the control of Fox. But now that the Marvel brand alone is enough to get the attention of the audience, it is time to do better wherever possible.

4. Thor, The Dark World: Tying the story Back to Earth

One of the most common question which was asked during Phase 2 was “where are the other Avengers?”. If there is one franchise in which this shouldn’t have been an issue, it’s the Thor Franchise. I really don’t get it. There is this impressive alien world we haven’t explored at all. And yet, we keep going back to earth. Why so complicated? Why not starting the movie with the bifrost being repaired and Thor going back to earth, inviting Jane to Asgard? Not only would making her the eye of the audience have given her character a purpose, there would have also been no need for all the contrivances needed to tie her into the plot. When I was watching the movie, I am actually very invested in the world and in everything involving Loki. But whenever it cut back to earth I was immediately annoyed. I just hope that the third movie will stay as far away from earth as possible.

3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1: Rushing the Team Building

It is common wisdom that Marvel’s first attempt at television started utterly mediocre. But the opinions differ what actually went wrong. Was it the lack of actual comic book characters? Partly, since a lot of people had unrealistic expectations in this regard, but I think it is mostly that the characters which were presented to us were not properly fleshed out until the end of the first season. The writers just portrayed them in the broadest strokes possible and expected the audience to be invested in them.

I think most of the problems within the first season steamed from the second episode. So, we have this team, consisting of the two cocky scientists, the two mysterious specialists and the new kid on the block stepping into the world of spies. So far, so good. Perfect opportunity to allow the characters to get to know each other step by step, with the usual conflicts which happen when different personalities clash with each other. But nope, that takes too much time. Let’s throw the team into danger and declare them a team because they survived together so that we can get to the “fun” stuff. Problem: The fun stuff isn’t much fun if you don’t care for the characters involved in it. And you won’t care for the characters if you don’t know them.

The show rectified this problem towards the end of the season. It wasn’t even that complicated to make the first step. Just put all the characters into a lie detector, ask them some question and based on the different answers the audience gets a read on them. This fairly simple scene made me understand the characters more than anything which came beforehand.

The sad thing is that this mistake caused a lot of people to drop a show which is just getting better and better. At this stage I think it is as good as the Netflix shows – just in a very different way. It’s exactly the right mixture of drama and fun, but without going all melodramatic about it as most shows nowadays do. I never rued that I gave the show second chance.

2. Age of Ultron: Too many arcs

Okay, this will be a long explanation, ending into an equally long rant. But first, a question: What are the parts of Age of Ultron people normally like? Well, the party scene, the farm scene, the Hawkeye during the last battle, the final confrontation between Vision and Ultron. And what are the scenes which are usually disliked? The romance and the mystical bathing pool. What have the last two in common? They are an attempt of giving characters some sort of arc while setting up future movies. And they are not needed. At all.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed of characters having an arc – if it serves the overall story. When I watch an Avengers movie, I don’t do it because I expect some ground-breaking character development (that’s what the stand-alone movies are for), quite the opposite in fact. I watch it, because I want to see the characters I already know interact with each other, I want to know what they think of each other and how they react to each other quirks. The party scene works so well because it gives me exactly that, a measuring up between the different characters. The farm scene works so well, because it gives the characters some downtime to come to terms with their defeat – and then starts to drag because the romance rears its ugly head.

Yeah, I am one of those fans, who were fuming about this particular plot point in the movie. At this point common wisdom has apparently decided that those who had an issue with this were overreacting and/or obsessive feminists. But I frankly don’t care. I have some serious issues with the way Black Widow is portrayed in the movie, which all boil down to “for some reason Joss Whedon started to write her as a female character instead of simply a character”, but in the end, the whole romance doesn’t do Bruce Banner any favours either. The main issue with this arc is that it doesn’t really tie into the actual main arc of the movie. It is a distraction, which takes the viewer regularly out of the story. Sure, Hawkeye gets a lot of character development in this movie, but it all ties into the main arc. The romance doesn’t. It is just a useless filler. As is Thor’s hot tub myth machine.

Sure, both arcs have some kind of pay-off. The romance ends with Natasha forcing Bruce to Hulk out and Thor comes back with the conviction that yes, the Avengers really need to create Vision. In both cases, though, you could have had the same scenes with less complications. Bruce certainly doesn’t need a romance in order to make the decision “maybe I should leave the Avengers”. During this movie he first helps Tony to create a dangerous robot and then looses control of the Hulk to such a degree that he wrecks the city. He has already ample reason to believe that maybe he should stop being close to the Avengers. The whole scene with Black Widow forcing him to Hulk out, it could have happened without the romance and imho, it would have made the betrayal even worse if Natasha had done it not as his love interest, but as a member of the Avengers betraying his wishes for the greater good. In the end, the romance arc diminishes a potential powerful storyline involving betrayal within a close knit team.

And Thor? My only comment to this is: Why so complicated? Why does Thor need to go to Selvig in order to take a bath at some strange place in order to have a vision? Why can’t he simply visit Heimdall, who then tells him that yes, there are Infinity stones popping up left and right, and they now apparently deal with another one?

So, let’s imagine we had made this changes. No awkward flirting between an attractive woman and a guy who is nearly old enough to be her father and unable to have sex to boot. No mystic pool. Instead a lot of time to spend on the twins and their interaction with the Avengers. I for sure would have taken one talk between Natasha and Wanda over all the nonsense they did with her character in the movie.

1. Iron Man 3: The last twenty minutes

I have complained about this before, specifically about Tony getting rid of his arc reactor and why I consider this problematic. But that is only one of the numerous problems which pile up in the finale of Iron Man 3. There were some minor issues with the movie beforehand, but this is the point at which it falls apart. Tony’s army of robots turn up, begging the question why Tony didn’t bother to activate them when his house got attacked. Though most likely they wouldn’t have been useful anyway, considering how easily they get destroyed in the final battle. But the real insult is Tony healing Pepper in a short narration. No movie can get away with piling up conflict and problems and then solving them by basically saying “yeah, the main character took care of that”. No one. Not to mention that Tony being able to remove his arc reactor in an operation makes him look even more stupid in the second movie, in which he is dying because of it. Iron Man 3 is mostly an okay movie in my eyes. A little bit too ambitious for its own good, but I liked what it tried to do. The last 20 minutes make my blood boil, though. There is nothing redeemable about this hot mess.

Okay, this became quite a long article. I guess I will do something more fluffy and less wordy the next time around. Perhaps the most emotional scenes?


Marvel Musings: The Best Action Scenes of Phase 2

I have to say that I felt that most of the action in Phase 1 was okay. Enjoyable, rarely boring, but action beats which I would feel compelled to watch over and over were rare. Phase 2 is another matter though. The action suddenly became, for the lack of a better word, creative. In Phase 1 I was entertained by the movies despite not being a big fan of action. In Phase 2 I started to specifically rewatch certain action scenes because I loved them so much. It’s not because I have suddenly discovered my interest in explosions, but because the movies started to offer more than that. Much more. So let’s take a look at the

Ten best action scenes:

10. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Season 3: Coulson’s Portal jump

This scene is simultaneous awesome and totally ridiculous. For the poor souls who have given up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  too early: Hydra has opened a portal to another planet and sends a team through. Coulson, who is really out for blood in this episode, jumps out of a plane under fire and manages to hit the opening in the ground spot on, is catapulted into the air on the other side and ends up rolling down a ditch, hitting his head. After an episode which was incredible tense, it was the perfect ending point. A fist-pump combined with a big “oh sh….”.

9. Thor, The Dark World: Switching through the convergence

There isn’t really much which works for me in Thor the Dark World. But I have to give it to the writers: The idea for the final battle is very creative. Especially the part with Thor’s hammer having to take the scenic route in order to reach him again. If I would care more for all the people involved in it, this one would be way higher. As it is, it gets points for thinking out of the box.

8. Age of Ultron: Taking out Baron von Strucker’s base

As important as the Battle of Sokovia is, as an action beat it mostly left me cold. It felt too much like a repeat of The Avengers. The best moments are happening more in-between the actual action beats, like Thor distracting Ultron, Captain and Natasha deciding to fight until the last minute even if it means their death, Hawkeye talking to Wanda and especially Vision confronting Ultron. Iron Man vs the Hulk Buster was a little bit too long and self-indulgent for my taste. The very first battle, though, was close to perfect. The way the Avengers are fighting with each other shows from the very first moment how close the team has grown between movies. The call-back to The Avengers when Thor hits Cap’s, but this time around in order to take out the enemy, is perfect. As is the moment when Cap just grabs his bike and throws it into the attackers.

7. Ant-Man: Ant-man vs Falcon

One thing which is sometimes a problem in Marvel movies, is that the writers tend to pin fighters with similar abilities against each other. In two of three movies Tony is fighting a guy in a suit, Steve always goes up against another person with Super-serum perks, Gamora fights Nebula aso. It is therefore very refreshing to see two characters with a totally different set of abilities have a go at each other in a fairly detailed fight. Poor Falcon though. How do you deal with an enemy, you barely see coming? But if anything put across that Ant-man is not just a joke, than this moment.

6. Agent Carter, Season 1: Dotty scaling down the stairway

The fight scenes in Agent Carter don’t tend to be very fancy, mostly because Peggy’s style is very direct – meaning she tends to grab the next heavy object in order to smash it in someone face. Which is awesome because I am kind of tired of female fighters having to do those flips all the time. I have to admit though, the scene in which Dotty was scaling down the stairway in an acrobatic act was awesome!

5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Season 2: The Sacrifice of the BUS

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really ramped it up in the second season. There are countless great fight scenes for Bobbi, May and even Daisy gets her moment to shine. But the moment which stuck out to me the most was this one: The team intends to infiltrate a base. They do so by flying into the danger zone with a larger plane (the so called BUS) and a smaller plane on top. The BUS is destroyed and May flies the smaller plane to the ground, pretending to be part of the debris. It is not like the audience sees a lot of the fancy flying. This is still a TV show on budgets restrains, so it is shown exactly as much as needed so that the audience understands what is going on. But for some reason showing the characters in the plane makes the scene even more tense. The moment also works on an emotional level. The BUS was the main base of the team in the first season. In this episode the original six characters are on a mission together again – for one last time. The destruction of the BUS is a reminder that there will be no going back to the beginning. The team we got to know in the beginning is gone, and will never be again. But it got send off with a bang.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy: The Battle for Xandar

To ruin my geek cred for good: I am not a big Star wars fan. What bores me the most about this franchise (and Star Trek for that matter), is what most fans love the most:  The space battles. I usually don’t really get invested in a bunch of models or CGU ships firing BS laser at each other. It always looks the same, and it rarely feels real for me. But in Guardians of the Galaxy, I enjoyed every single action scene, including the space battles. I think mostly because it was so much more than just ships in some sort of vacuum firing at each other. That is especially evident in the battle of Xandar. The flying under the explosion, having to evade the attackers in order to reach the main ship and the blockade which is formed in the end in order to keep the Dark Aster from reaching the ground, every moment in this is so not what I have come to expect from a space battle. It helps that the fighting in the air is interrupted by scenes from the ground, and the battle within the ship. Not to mention the emotional moment when the Dark Aster finally crashes towards earth. I can watch this again, and again, and again.

3. Iron Man 3: Skydiving Stunt

I already hinted it when I wrote about phase 1, but most fighting scenes with Iron Man leave me pretty cold. He is always either walking through the crossfire or making those fancy flying moves, but in the end, it is always about shooting a tank missile in the right direction. But this scene is really tense. For one, it really feels like a situation in which Iron Man could fail. He might not be able to reach all the falling people in time, they might end up being too heavy for him, but he does it in the end. The scene is so well done, I am even able to forgive that it wasn’t him at all in the end.

2. Daredevil, Season 1: The Hallway fight

What else? This scene has become legendary. And for good reasons. This is the antithesis of fake CGI action. The set-up is actually fairly simply, one guy fighting his way through a group of gangsters. But the way it is shot, from the stark yellow light to the seemingly lack of cuts (there actually are some, but they are well-hidden) while the camera moves up and down the hallway, makes it stand out immediately. But the choreography is the icing of the cake. The way how Daredevil becomes visible more exhausted during the fight, how the goons fall down but trying to stand up again after a while, every detail in this just works. And that it is done on a Netflix budget makes it even more impressive.

1. Captain America, The Winter Soldier: The Elevator Scene

It is a good thing that I have a “one per movie or Season” rule, or this movie would have made up half of the list. Ever – single – action – scene in this one is awesome. And I was very close to picking the battle on the bridge, because of the emotional pay-off and the fancy knife-work in the hand-to-hand combat. It’s those details which make a scene like this special. But in the end, it is hard to beat out the elevator scene. First you have the tense built-up. The way more and more people enter the elevator, while Cap notices a number of small details which tell him that something is off, ramps up the expectation that something will happen. And then the fighting starts, with Cap having to take out a whole group of agents with fancy gadget trying to capture him. Similiar to the Hallway fight in Daredevil, this one is personal and intense. Though my favourite is the shot from above at the end, showing him standing between the bodies of the fallen enemies. It’s simply perfection from start to finish.

I have spend now so much time praising the MCU, I am starting to think that I should criticise it a little bit more. So the next two lists will be about my least favourite elements of the MCU.


Marvel Musings: The Best Action Scenes of Phase 1

Yeah, I decided to go for action first. I guess I should start with a small disclaimer: I am not the type of person who is satisfied with a lot of destruction and cool special effects. In fact, there is nothing worse for me than a movie which offers nothing but that. Nothing more boring than an action scene which goes on for too long – though too long is relative. Sometimes five minutes can be too long, sometimes I can still be entertained after half an hour if an action scene is well-made. So, don’t be too surprised if I don’t necessarily go for the big action scenes:

5. Hulk vs Abomination

The Incredible Hulk is not a movie which will ever get a lot of love from me. There are a number of issues I have with it, but not necessarily more I have with some of the other early Marvel offerings. But it is a monster movie. I think that monster movies are boring. Jurassic Park might be the one exception, and even that is not a movie I would be keen to watch again and again (yeah, I know, I am not a proper nerd). Thus said though, the final battle scene is pretty cool. I certainly take it over most of Iron Man flying around (with some exceptions, but that is a topic for phase 2).

4. Thor vs. SHIELD

I guess everyone else would pick one of the more big scale action scenes on Thor. But to me, this is the one I got the most invested in, simply because of narrative behind it. Sometimes a smaller scale delivers a better pay-off, and in this case the pay off is Thor trying to lift his hammer, while Clint Barton is ready to shoot him the moment Coulson gives an order. I guess I experienced the scene differently than die hard comic book fans. I didn’t realize what the cameo meant back then, I just thought that the remarks he made were funny. The whole set-up lamp-shaded something which has always bothered me in a lot of action movies. If there is a guy fighting through a bunch of goons in a more or less open room, why don’t you simply shoot him from afar? So they already won me over there. But when Thor finally reaches his hammer that was easily the first time I actually felt for him in this movie. (What? He was an annoying brat beforehand and strangely unbothered by being cast out).

3. Black Widow vs. goons

In a way, this is the opposite for Thor scene, because this is hand-to-hand combat in a location, in which a shot from afar isn’t that easy to take. And seeing Black Widow move smoothly through a bunch of goons, not pulling her punches in the slightest, is a welcome change from the usual Iron Man action, which is usually very low on direct confrontations. As much as everyone is harping about the inclusion of Black Widow into Iron Man, this was the scene which made it worth it. At least for me. (Could have done without the “sexy crouching pose” though)

2. Cap jumps over the explosion

The First Avenger is barely mentioned when it comes to action. I guess because most of the action scenes are either pretty simple  in the sense of them being more about Steve running through the streets, or they are part of the montage. The movie also rarely lingers on an action packed moment, unless it is for a money shot. But then, for someone like me, this is perfect. There is certainly no danger of an action scene in The First Avenger overstaying its welcome.But the moment which gets my attention every single time is Bucky and Steve trying to escape the burning facility. The fight shortly beforehand, when Cap confronts the Red Scull the first time is kind of pathetic. But the scene after? When Bucky first has to walk over the small make-shift bridge and then encourages Steve to jump? It’s very old school adventure movie suspense, but it works on me every single time.

1. Battle of New York

What else? This deserves the credit for the fact alone that it is a half an hour long action scene (at least) and yet, I was never bored by it. I think what I like the most about it is how it showcases the different abilities of the Avengers. After that scene nobody will ask why exactly Cap is the leader, he obviously has a tactical mind. Between Hulk taking out the giant alien ship, the group shot and “puny god” this action sequence is full of memorable moments. But what I like the most is that this battle is as much about protecting the people on the ground and limiting the damage on a very specific section of the city as it is about taking out the enemy. The camera often takes the perspective of the people on the ground, instead of taking in explosions from afar, like a lot of action movies do.

All in all, Marvel started pretty well, action-wise. In a way, each movie got a little bit better in this regard. Especially The Avengers. If there is one aspect in which the movie shines, it is the action. Especially in the way how every action-scene is about more than just action. Each of them also tells the audience something about the characters in question. I think you could watch just the action scenes of the movie, and you would nevertheless have a pretty good idea of the characters involved. That is the kind of writing which makes action work even for someone like me, who needs more than explosions to be satisfied.


Marvel Musings: The Most Defining Scenes of Phase 2

I have thought a long time where I should make the cut between Phase 2 and 3. It is easy with the movies, Phase 3 starts with Civil War. But the TV shows? Does the third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. belong to Phase 2 or 3? I finally decided that everything which aired before 2016 is Phase 2 and everything after it Phase 3.  So, Phase 2 includes in my eyes Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, the first seasons of Agent Carter, Daredevil and Jessica Jones as well as Season 1, 2 and the first half of Season 3 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But before I list the most defining scenes of this phase, I have a dishonourable mention:

Iron Man 3 : Tony throwing away his arc reactor

I already mentioned in my last article good and bad consequences. Tony being forced to live with the arc reactor in his chest was one a great consequence, a constant reminder of what his weapons can do. And Iron Man 3 just took it away! Forget the Mandarin, this is the true crime of this movie. Because if a consequence like this can just be reversed in a fast narration, what is the point of anything? Imho, this is the single worst decision which was ever made within the MCU.

But enough ranting, let’s talk about the good stuff. Here are the ten most defining moments of Phase 2 (be warned, there will be spoilers):

10. Ant-Man: Thomas the Tank Engine

The MCU spend Phase 2 with final fights which just got bigger. Iron Man suddenly had an army of robots as back-up, Thor was jumping through the convergence, Age of Ultron lifted a whole city into the air – it seemed like the only direction for the MCU was up. And then Ant-man came around and went small (pun intended). Pulling back from the big battles to more personal stakes gave the MCU the breathing room it needed. And nothing stands more for this approach than having a fight in the bedroom of a little girl, with Thomas the Tank Engine as special guest.

9. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3: Coulson “kills” Ward

Biggest mistake ever! Coulson had the change to destroy Hive once and for all. The only thing he had to do was to forget his revenge and haul Ward back through the portal, bringing him to justice instead. Now he has unleashed a monster on the world. The only thing this event isn’t higher on the list is because it will most likely not impact anything else but the show.

8. Agent Carter: Peggy walking down the street

Welcome in the past, with an image, which summoned up the theme of the first season perfectly. Peggy walking in the opposite direction of a crowd dressed in in a costume which instantly became eponymous  for her with its blue, white and red colour palette symbolically summons up the struggles of her life. Always on her own path, stepping to her own tune, paving the way for S.H.I.E.L.D. – and for the Avengers. After all, it was Nick Fury who brought them together.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy: Star-Lords Dance

Guardians of the Galaxy was not only the surprise hit of Phase 2, it was also the first step into the space-verse of the MCU. And nothing defines the movie and this corner of the universe as well as Peter Quill dancing his way to a hidden treasure, using alien vermin as microphone.

6: Daredevil: Matt takes out people smuggler

The Netflix shows opened up yet another corner of the MCU, one for the gritty street-level heroes. And the first scene set the tone for it. Bloody, brutal and a hero which walked away with a number of bruises, there was no doubt that this would be different from everything which came beforehand after this scene. The show gets bonus points for showing how the Battle of New York impacted the community.

5. Age of Ultron: The Battle of Sokovia

Maybe it should be higher, but I guess there will be more than one element which causes the Civil War. But at this point the battle already was referenced in Ant-man and impacted Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with the now more negative view on heroes and gifted.

4. Thor, The Dark World: Loki replacing Odin

With any other villain, this would only be half as interesting. But Loki is one of the most unpredictable characters in the MCU. What is his plan? What happened to Odin? And why did he send Sif to Earth twice since he has taken the throne? All questions which will be hopefully answered in the next Thor-Movie.

3. Captain America, The Winter Soldier: Bucky is alive

Not exactly a big surprise for avid Comic book readers, but let me tell you, for the general audience this came pretty much out of the left field. “Who the hell is Bucky?” is one of the most memorable lines in the MCU. And it practically rewrote history. Did Bucky kill Kennedy? Howard Stark? What exactly did he do while he was under Hydra’s control? And what will happen now that he has broken through the conditioning? Not to mention that he will apparently cause the rift between Steve and Tony.  

2. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 : The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. / Ward is Hydra

Okay, it might be slightly cheating to give the show credit for something which happened in the movie (thus allowing me to put the other important twist in The Winter Soldier on the list), but those two events are too closely connected to each other to not consider them one. Plus, it is one thing to intellectually know that S.H.I.E.L.D. will never the same again, and another thing to see everything falling apart up close. When Ward turned out to be a traitor, nobody saw it coming, even though it made sense. And having Hydra back in the picture provided a string of compelling villains.

1. Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2: The Terrigen is released into the Ocean

It is kind of odd that THE big event in the MCU happened in the TV-show and not in the movies, but here we are. Even though the movies will most likely never officially acknowledge it, here is one of the main reasons why there is a sudden influx on super-powered people in the MCU. Supposedly Doctor Strange will be the last origin story, but we won’t need them anymore either way. There is no longer the need to make up strange accidents or experiments (though no doubt those will still happen), fishoil pills are now the to-go reason for Superpowers. Kind of goofy, but also very fitting. And a good preparation for the Inhumans movie, even though that one will most likely stand-alone, too.

Well, this was a little bit more difficult than the first list, mostly because some of the impact was difficult to gauge just yet. Next list will be easier. I will either go for best action or most emotional moment – feel free to tell me what you want to see first.


Marvel Musings: The Most Defining Scenes of Phase 1

I is always difficult to do Top Ten lists of an ongoing series, because as long as new content is added, it will always be subject to change. Thankfully the MCU has this handy little Phases. So I start with Phase 1. And I’ll use a handy tool to do so: Top Five lists. Yes, Top Five, not Top Ten. I’ll do Top Tens once I reach Phase 2, but since Phase 1 consists of exactly six movies (Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers), I think Top Five lists will provide exactly the right groundwork, especially since every movie is allowed to provide exactly one moment. And I am starting with the five most defining scenes of phase.

To clarify, with “most defining” I mean those scenes which define the movie in question, preferable scenes are both memorable, as well as having a big impact in the universe. And you might have guessed it: The incredible Hulk didn’t make the list. Of all the MCU movies, it is the one which can be skipped most easily. If not for General Ross turning up again in Civil War, I would claim that nothing in it carried actually over to later movies. But let’s see what the other movies have to offer.

The Five Most Defining Scenes of Phase 1:

5. Iron Man 2 / Tony watches the old recordings of his father

Now, the picture I connect the most with this movie is Tony sitting in the donut (yeah, that says more or less all about it). But the moment I think resonates the most within the universe is this one. Tony’s complicated relationship with his father was already hinted to in the first movie, but here the MCU opens a whole can of worms. But even more, it opens a door to the past. The MCU would feel way smaller if not for the sense that behind everything we see on screen, there is a rich history behind it. And Howard Stark is the first link to this history, being one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. I don’t think that they will address it in Civil War, but he is also one of the elements which split Steve and Tony apart. For Steve, Howard Stark is a friend, someone who fought by his side. For Tony, Howard Stark is the guy who always ignored him, and who gave him a legacy of death. In a way, he is the embodiment of the fact that every story has more than one angle.

4. Thor / Loki lets go

I could also simply say “Loki” because to this day, he is the biggest unsolved mystery in the MCU, and it all started with this moment. Sure, he spends the whole movie pulling off a convoluted plan in a desperate attempt to get attention from his (adoptive) father.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger / Steve wakes up in the future

Currently there is (again) this discussion going on which Avenger should die in the upcoming movie. I think that death is the most boring of all consequences. After all, if a character is death, his story is over, right? But what happens to Steve is one of the most compelling of all consequences. The world he knew has vanished and he has now to deal with a century with an entirely different outlook on war and heroics. And on him. But the MCU goes for extra-points by now only exploring what his sacrifice meant for him, it also examined what it meant for those who left behind. Especially Peggy and Howard.

2. The Avengers / The Group Shot

There is a reason why this group shot of the Avengers is constantly used by “Honest Trailers”. This was it, the moment all the work Marvel put in Phase 1 culminated into one memorable money shot – quite literally. Before the Avengers became the highest grossing Superhero ever, the very notion of a shared universe was considered to difficult to pull off. Now every studio is trying to built one of their own, with so far questionable success. We will see if any of the attempts pan out, but even if they do, The Avengers will always be the first, the trailblazer for the current age of Comic book movies.

1. Iron Man / “I am Iron-man”

It is hard to believe that there actually is something even more important than the Avengers changing movie making forever, but at least as far as the MCU is concerned, this is the moment which threw down the gauntlet. It says “no, we won’t do the whole secrecy thing”. It says “we’ll write our own rules”. It says “we love comic books, but we know that there are some clichés which have to die”. This scene set the tune for the MCU which is, despite all its craziness, still firmly connected to reality, in a sense that it asks the question: “If there really were superheroes pop up in our reality, how would we react?” And really, why should someone like Tony Stark hide his true identity? Being a rich genius, he is a walking target anyway. So why not be a flying one?


The Top Ten Disney Composer and Songwriter

This article might be a little bit premature. Perhaps I should discuss some of the soundtracks first before making the list. On the other hand, though, it might be a good idea to introduce some of the most prolific Disney Composers and Songwriters before discussing their work.

You’ll notice that most of the composers I listed are from the 1990s onwards. That is not a slight to the musicians from the older movies, but a result of two factors:

1. If you don’t count the package movies and Fantasia (which I only took into account as secondary achievements for this list), there are only 20 movies made before the Disney Renaissance, as opposed to 30 to consider for the time after, due to the increased number of movie releases.

2. In a lot of the old productions it is a little bit sketchy which musician did what, and some stayed unaccredited for their work.

For this list, I only ranked musicians which worked on multiple projects for Disney – so as much as I dig Jerry’s Goldsmith’s work on Mulan, or Peggy Lee’s contribution to Lady and the Tramp, they were not considered. I also did the ranking based on the contribution for Disney specifically, with an emphasis on the animated features, and not based on their overall body of work. There are a lot of famous musicians who didn’t end up on the list at all or in a very low spot. There are even some Disney Legends which didn’t make the cut, either because they only worked on one single (alas remarkable) project, or because they, for some reason or another, didn’t work on that many animated movie projects.


 

10. Leigh Harline and Ned Washington

One certainly can’t make a list like this without mentioning the two minds responsible for When you wish upon a star, Disney semi-official anathema, which resulted their first academy award for best song. The only reason those two are not higher is because I am not sure how great their overall influence on the movies actually was. Ned Washington was a very talented lyricist, who was also responsible for the text of Baby Mine, but he rarely worked for Disney. And while Leigh Harline’s work on animated shorts, especially the Silly Symphonies, left quite a mark, he left the studios in 1941 after a row with Walt Disney, who allegedly didn’t like the music for “Pinocchio”. Considering that Harline did score a best film music nomination for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and won the award for “Pinocchio”, I guess it is no wonder that he didn’t see eye to eye with Disney on that matter.

Leigh Harline and Ned Washington were not a regular Song Writing team, as far as I know this was the only project they worked together on for Disney. But they were both named Disney legends in 2001, so I think it is fair to list them together nevertheless.


 

9. Randy Newman

Most of the work Randy Newman did was for Pixar and not for Disney. In fact, Pixar’s musical identity of the early days is pretty much defined by the Newman family from start to finish. Randy Newman (who worked on “A Bug’s Life”, “Monsters, Inc” and “Monsters University”, “Cars” and the “Toy Story” trilogy) and his cousin Thomas Newman (“Finding Nemo”, “Wall-E”), worked on more than half of Pixar movies which currently exist. Personally, though, I prefer the soundtracks by  Michael Giacchino (“The Incredibles”, “Ratatoille”, “Up” and “Cars II”) .

But I digress, this is supposed to be about Disney first and foremost, not Pixar. Otherwise Randy Newman, who was named Disney Legend in 2007, should be higher on the list. But for the animation studios, he only worked on “Princess and the Frog”, which has one of Disney’s weaker soundtracks.

I consider Randy Newman a decent musician but not a particularly good song writer, which makes him largely unsuited for the common Disney movie. He is a better fit for Pixar due to the lack of songs in their movies. Thus said, When she loved me happens to be one song of him I really, really like, mostly because it is one of the few cases in which his habit to simply describe what is right there on the screen works due to the song adding an emotional level. Usually his songs have the tendency to slow down a movie at the wrong place, but in Toy Story II the song slows down the plot at exactly the right place, giving the audience a moment to take in Jessie’s grief. I therefore consider this as his best work for Disney (even though it was technically done for Pixar).


 

8. Phil Collins and Marc Mancina

Phil Collins style of music is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he did work on two movie for Disney, “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear”, both times with Marc Mancina. There is not question which one is the better soundtrack. While I don’t think that the songs and score of “Brother Bear” are bad by any means – Look through my eyes and No Way Out were both turned into singles, and Welcome would later be used in the parks for “Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams” – the music is not as well utilized as it should be. “Tarzan” on the other hand resulted in a well deserved academy award for You’ll be in my heart.

There are  three aspects which make the soundtrack stand out. One is the use of some very obscure instruments from Mancina’s personal collection. The second is the fact that this it is one of the few Disney movies in which the songs are sung from the off and not by the characters. And the third is the bilingual bonus: Phil Collins decided to personally sing the Italian, German, Spanish, and French versions, too, as a thank you to his fans.

Phil Collins was named Disney Legend in 2002. Marc Mancina is connected to the upcoming Disney Movie Moana.


 

7. Henry Pryce Jackman

It is a little bit difficult to truly judge the musician’s currently working for Disney. But it would also be wrong not to acknowledge them, especially considering the recent successes. It is hard, though, to properly rank those musicians. None of them left their mark on that many movies (yet).  Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have worked on two movies, “Winnie the Pooh” and “Frozen”. Henry Pryce Jackman worked on “Winnie the Pooh”, “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Big Hero 6”. And I guess the first reaction of most people would be to say that the Lopezes are more deserving for recognition, because they penned Let it go.  But that is only one song, and neither soundtrack they did so far really convinced me. They have written some good songs (and yes, they won an academy award, but there are other academy award winners which I didn’t even mention because they simply didn’t work that long or that successful for Disney), but in terms how the music is utilized in the movies they worked on, there are some serious flaws which make me hesitate to give them more than a nod. Which I have now done.

Jackman is a name I have noticed for some time. Unlike the majority of people, I have the habit of always staying to the very end of the movie. And that includes the end credits. Now it would be a lie to claim that I read all of them, but there are some categories I do tend to pay attention to. Who was responsible for animation, who for the special effects, and, especially when it sounds like a composer I might know, who did the music. Jackman was an understudy of Hans Zimmer, who has a very distinctive style. Now, Hans Zimmer didn’t make the list because he is more a DreamWorks than a Disney musician, despite his involvement in project like “Lion King”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”  and “Muppets Treasure Island”. He did some really great work for the studio, but he didn’t shape the style of movies they way other people on this list did.

Jackson on the other hand pretty much set the tone for Disney’s more action oriented animated movies. He is apparently one of the guys Disney’s like to go to for a good score. So no, Suger Rush is not by him, nor is any of the other Songs in “Wreck-it Ralph”.  But the rest of the soundtrack is just as good if not better. I especially love the Wreck-it Ralph Theme which is played in the game central station scene. It sounds busy, somewhat computer-like, but also cheerful. It’s a perfect fit, and one of my favourite Disney scores.

This in mind, I listened to the soundtrack of “Big Hero 6” (which was kind of an unusual experience, I normally don’t do that before watching the movie in question). And while I can’t judge how well it fits the movie (which I can’t watch yet because Disney got the brilliant idea to delay the release in Germany until the end of January…thanks a bunch, Disney, for ruining my yearly Disney Christmas or New Year watch), it sounds amazing. Reboot immediately put a smile on my face. If Jackman were a song writer, I think he would have already gotten way more recognition for his work, and I hope he will get it one day…after even more amazing soundtracks.


 

6. James Newton Howard

Talk about a truly underappreciated musician – at least in terms of his work for Disney. James Newton Howard is nowadays widely recognized, but his contribution to Disney tends to get overlooked. He provided a number of really remarkable soundtracks, but none of them were attached to a truly successful movie. Just look at the list: “Dinosaur”, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet”, as well as the Disney produced movies “Gnomeo and Juliet” and “Maleficent”. His soundtrack is, Imho, the only good thing about “Maleficent” and perhaps part of the reason why so many people give the movie a pass. A good soundtrack paired with striking visuals can elevate a movie considerable (“Pocahontas” and “Hunchback of Notre-Dame” are other examples for the phenomenon), even if the actual plot is very weak. Especially the haunting version of Once upon a dream is very memorable.

But the quality or the level of success of those movie doesn’t diminish his contributions in the slightest, at least not for me. Hopefully he will be attached to other more successful Disney Projects in the future. Until then I declare “Treasure Planet” as his best work so far (even though my beloved I’m still here was not written by him but by John Rzeznik). Especially Silver Leaves is an equally thoughtful and uplifting piece.


 

5. Paul Joseph Smith and Frank Churchill

Of all the musicians which worked for Disney in the early days, those are the names which stand out the most. Both of them worked on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (together with Leigh Harline and Larry Morey) and created some of the most memorable Disney songs and scores of the 1930s and 1940s.

Paul Joseph Smith worked for nearly his whole career for Disney, but “Cinderella” was the last movie project he did for the animation studios. After that he mainly worked on life-action movies and especially documentaries. His idea to combine wildlife scenes with classical music in a somewhat comical fashion has been criticised, but more often copied. Though my favourite work by him is with no question the soundtrack for “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”. Considering his body of work, it is no wonder that he was named Disney Legend in 1994, earlier than most of the other musicians on this list.

Frank Churchill’s live story is equally successful and tragic. In his way too short time with the Disney studios, he was one of the pillars of the musical division. Joining the studio in 1930, he worked on many of the shorts and penned Who is afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, which was a huge commercial success. After “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, he became supervisor of music at Disney. But he also fought with depression which only worsened by heavy drinking in reaction to the death of two of his friends and fellow orchestra members within a month of each other. In 1942, Frank Churchill committed suicide. Supposedly he died at his piano from a self-inflected gunshot wound. During his time with Disney, he received three academy award nominations – two of the posthumously for his work on Bambi  – and one win in the category “Scoring of a Musical Picture” for Dumbo. One of the last projects he was working on was “Peter Pan” for which he got partial song credit. And while I think that “Bambi” is his best work due to the onomatopoeia he integrated into the music, Never smile like a crocodile will always be my favourite song he co-created. He was named Disney Legend in 2001.


4. Oliver Wallace

Characteristic  for the 1950s was that Disney didn’t use one or two musicians for a movie, but a number of composers – a fact which greatly contributed to the lack of presence of them on this list. Because of this practice, there weren’t really any true stars. But there was still someone needed who ensured that the different songs would fit together for the movie, and this person was Oliver Wallace. He managed this, by integrating leitmotiv-like elements into the score (I already commented once on the role of A Dream is a Wish your Heart makes in the score when I discussed the “I want”-song).

But at this point, he was already one of the Disney veterans. Joining the studio in 1936, he had already won an academy award (together with Frank Churchill, and like him he was named Disney legend in 2001) for “Dumbo”. In addition, he was one of the oldest members of the studio age-wise. Born in 1887, he was 14 years older than Walt Disney himself – one can certainly not accuse Disney of ageism, considering that he hired a 49 year old guy, and not because he was a known expert in his field, but because he brought a unique collection of skill sets to the table which he acquired during his unusual career and unsteady life. After all, animation was a new art form back then. There was no formal education.

I had a hard time to decide if I should place him on rank four or five. I eventually gave him the edge over Smith and Churchill because while his work is slightly less prolific, his impact might be stronger because he was way longer active for the studio.  Until his death in 1963 he contributed to nearly 150 Disney productions, and shaped the package movie era as well as the 1950s with his approach. Due to the collaborative nature of those productions, it is a little bit hard to pick the stand-out soundtrack. “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is one of the few projects on which he worked practically alone, and it certainly gave him the opportunity to shine with his uplifting music. But if I were pressed to name his best work, I would say “Alice in Wonderland”, even though the soundtrack overall is not really one of my favourites. It is nevertheless quite a remarkable feat.

For one because of the sheer number of musicians working on this movie. Not counting Wallace himself, there are no less than six song writers credited for the movie, which is even for this era an unbelievable number. Honestly, was there any musician in the Disney studios not involved in this project? Granted, the list for “Peter Pan” isn’t exactly short either, but that’s mainly because “Peter Pan” was a project which was interrupted by the war and some of the work already done in the 1940s was used ten years later for the final movie. Plans for “Alice in Wonderland” had been around even longer, since Disney was kind of obsessed with the book, but the actually production process didn’t start until after the war. It is honestly somewhat surprising that Wallace managed to create something which does sound homogeneous with so many people involved. I guess having so many songs to pick from might have helped, but he nevertheless deserves a lot of credit for balancing it out.

And two, what I consider the most memorable piece of music in this movie is not derivate of a song.  March of the Cards is certainly a stand-out score, created for a stand-out scene.


 

3. George Bruns

When I looked into George Bruns body of work, I was kind of surprised that his name is more known. After all, he was hired by Disney in 1953 as musical arranger, eventually became musical director and held the position until his retirement (during which he continued to participate in Disney projects) in 1976..

He is the writer of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, a song which was cobbled together under time pressure in order to meet the running time of 60 minutes for the episode in question. In fact, producer Billy Walsh later remarked:

“I thought it was pretty awful, but we didn’t have time for anything else.”

But this song became a big hit, and was largely responsible for the founding of the Label “Disneyland Records”. Bruns was also responsible for Yo ho (A Pirates Life for me), which he wrote together with Xavier Atencio.

I think, his work often gets overlooked because he was mainly a composer and only wrote one other (Oscar nominated) song, Love from Robin Hood, in cooperation with Floyd Huddleston. He was often overshadowed by the actual song writers of the different movies, especially a certain pair of brothers. He also didn’t really have a distinctive style. Bruns worth for Disney studios lay in his ability to immerse himself in the style of the other musicians he was working with to a degree that it is impossible to tell where their work ends and his work starts.

His Magnus Opus is definitely Sleeping Beauty, on which he worked with Tom Adair. A lot of people tend to dismiss his contributions on the grounds of the movie using Tchaikovsky’s music. But this might have been one of the most difficult tasks a musician from Disney ever got. He not only had to rearrange the music in a way which fit the movie, repurposing some pieces in the process – most famously, the puss-in-boots segment became Malificent’s Evil Spell,  and a very short segment from the introduction of the fairies was turned into Once upon a Dream – he also wrote new pieces in Tchaikovsky’s style which fit into the soundtrack so seamless that I didn’t notice it for years despite knowing the ballet very, very well. He also matched the music so well that just by hearing it, I know exactly what is happening in the movie at this point. When I hear Battle with the Forces of Evil, I know at which point Phillip uses his sword and when the yaw of the dragon snaps.

George Bruns was named Disney Legend in 2001, and I think there are few which deserve the honour as much as he did.


 

2. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

I can’t emphasis enough how hard is was to decide between the top two spots. And who knows, if Howard Ashman hadn’t died way too early, this team might have taken the top spot by a storm. But I can only judge by what was, and not by what could have been, and I guess in the end, the team which got the number one spot contributed to way more projects than even Alan Menken did to this day.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman deserve a lot of credit for shaping the Disney Renaissance. Their concept of an animated Broadway musical was what made this particular era so successful. Already providing an outstanding sound track for “The Little Mermaid”, they outdid themselves with their work on “Beauty and the Beast”. I personally consider it the best soundtrack of all Animated movies. Not only is the score fantastic (especially West Wing and Transformation), not only is there not one bad song, but each song serves a purpose in the story to a degree that the movie would make no sense if you remove one of them. I already raved about how perfectly utilized Belle is in an earlier article, but the other songs are no less thought-out. It was Ashman’s philosophy that a song should always contribute to the plot, and his last soundtrack truly turned out to be his best – even though he might have preferred it to be a different one.  Before getting yanked of the project because he was needed for “Beauty and the Beast”, he did work on “Aladdin”, but his song, Proud of your boy, was sadly cut when the story was changed. The movie was emptier for it, though it was added again for the Stage musical.

Alan Menken continued to work for Disney on “Aladdin”, “Pocahontas”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Hercules”, “Home on the Range”, “Enchanted” and “Tangled”, as well as the non-animated movie musical “Newsies”.  He won two academy awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score for “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas”, which made him the most prolific Oscar winner in the music category after Alfred Newman (who won the award nine times). There is no living person who got the award as often as he did (The person which won most academy awards overall is Walt Disney himself).

Personally I think he never reached the highs he did with Ashman. While his scores are still outstanding, I think a lot of the songs just lack the wit Ashman provided – Thus said, I think the work he did with Grenn Slater on “Tangled” was promising, and I hope that they will work together on more projects in the future.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were both named Disney Legends in 2001. Together they shaped one of the most successful period in Disney’s history, and their influence is lingering up to this day. Their work will never be forgotten.

 


 

1. The Sherman Brothers

The list of songs which the Sherman Brothers created for Disney seems to be endless. For ten years they worked on more or less every project, starting “The Sword in the Stone” and ending with “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” (The one notable exception is “Robin Hood”), including the two live-action with animation movies “Mary Poppins” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. They also wrote the music for most of the theme park rides which were created during this time. That’s right, you can blame them for It’s a small World, the song which might be the single most performed and most translated piece of music on Earth (and according to some people the most annoying one). All in all, it is no wonder that they were the first musicians who were named Disney Legends, a honour they received in 1990.

Sadly, the two were also a very volatile pair. Word is that they worked well together under Disney, but when he died, something was missing. They would never reached the highs they did back in those years they worked for him. Their Magnus Opus is definitely Mary Poppins. One outstanding song after another, and while everyone certainly has their favourite, Feed the Bird is somewhat special. Robert Sherman recalled later:

“We seized on one incident, in Chapter 7 of ‘Mary Poppins Comes Back’, the second book — the bird woman. And we realized that was the metaphor for why Mary came, to teach the children — and Mr. Banks — the value of charity. So we wrote the song and took it up to Walt’s office and played it and sang it for him. He leaned back in his chair, looking out the window, and he said: ‘That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what this is all about. This is the metaphor for the whole film.’ And that was the turning point in our lives.”

Feed the Birds is deceptively simple, and yet heart-warming, with all the uplifting power and spirituality of a hymn. I admit though that I like the instrumental version of it even more.  During the scene in which Mr. Banks goes to the bank, knowing that he is about to get fired, it adds so much gravity that the music seems press down on the scenery. Word is that this song was Walt Disney’s favourite.

“We were full-time staff, so we had an office at the studio, and every so often Walt would call us up to his office on a Friday afternoon. We knew what he wanted. When we got there, he would say, ‘I just wanted to know what you boys were up to these days.’ Then he would turn around in his chair and stare out the window, like the first time we played it for him, and he would say, ‘Play it.’ And we would … And you could just see Walt thinking, ‘That’s what it’s all about, everything we do at Disney.'”

When you wish upon a heart might be the heart of Disney. But Feed the Birds contains its soul. A soul that even a large cooperate construct can’t totally crush. In the end, Disney movies will always be remembered for the work of their artists, for stunning animation and unforgettable music. Even if Walt Disney is no longer around, the legacy of him and his artists prevails.


 

 

 


My Top Twenty Fantasia Segments

You might wonder how I intend to do a top twenty of Fantasia segments when there are only 15 overall in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. For this list I’ll also consider the “Forgotten Segments”, meaning every segment every created for a Fantasia movie, weather it actually became part of it or not. That includes the segments which were made for the abandoned Fantasia 2006 project (if you have never seen them, I created a playlist with all the segments which are not part of either “Fantasia” or “Fantasia 2000”. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLeLGHZL8PZ5QUzWqZZnxXuI8Rmq8KYsZj) . And if you count those, then you’ll end up exactly with twenty existing segments overall.

Feel free to share your own favourites and discuss the segments, but keep in mind this is only my personal opinion.


20. “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”

This is the only Fantasia segment I actively dislike, and not just because I consider the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major-I. Allegro by Dmitri Shostakovich a bad pick. It’s not exactly one of the most memorable music pieces out there, but above all it doesn’t fit the story by Hans Christian Andersen at all. If Disney had cared to understand what the story is actually about. The inclusion of a villain, the happy ending, all this is very Disney, but it destroys the very core and meaning of the story without offering anything more than a run-of-the-mill plot as replacement. I also dislike the animation, not because of the use of CGI, but because everything looks a little bit too much like plastic.


19. “Pines of Rome”

Okay, I admit it, I have in general a problem with the use of CGI animation for Fantasia segments, mostly because of two reasons: One, CGI ages way faster than traditional animation and two, it has the tendency to limit the creativity of animators. Fantasia is an opportunity to go crazy with colours and shapes, to do something different, something which would have no or only little room in a standard movie. In this case the creativity stops with taking Ottorino Respighi’s music and pair it with a bunch of flying whales.


18. “Rite of Spring”

I know, I know, many people call this their favourite Fantasia segment, especially fans of dinosaurs. I think this is the kind of piece you either really like – or not. I lean towards the latter for various reasons. The most obvious one: The segment is way too long. Most Fantasia segments have a length of something around ten minutes, fifteen minutes top. The “Rite of Spring” has 25 minutes and lacks the kind of variations in the visuals the longer pieces tend to have.
But above all I consider this a very poor interpretation of what I consider Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece. There are ballets which you can take apart and rearrange without any problems and sometimes even a better end-result. This is not one of them. The way the music crescents to a riveting staccato has purpose which is lost by Disney throwing the different music pieces of the ballet wherever they needed them, and the high point of the ballet was even cut out. It just doesn’t do the source material any justice at all.


17. “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”

Of all the segments from the original Fantasia, this is the one which aged the worst. The abstract patterns and shapes used to interpret the music by Johann Sebastian Bach were kind of revolutionary back in 1940, now the audience is so used to the computer generating similar compositions that it loses a lot of its impact. Not that a computer can create something as creative and perfect as this, but there are other segments which stand out way more.


16. “Symphony No. 5 in C minor-I. Allegro con brio”

There reasons for this placement are more or less the same I citied above. It was kind of a toss-up which segment would get the higher placement, and if I had judged them in the context of their respective movie, this one would have lost on the grounds of it not really fulfilling the task of not telling a story and just allow the music by Ludwig van Beethoven to be, but instead kind of telling a story about butterflies being chased by dark bats. Isolated though it is visually slightly more interesting so it got the higher placement this time around.


15. “The Pastoral Symphony”

There was a time when this was one of my favourite Fantasia segments. But I think my love for it steamed mostly from the music by Ludwig van Beethoven. But while I like the mystical setting, the segment is kind of pedestrian compared to other pieces. This is Olympus, why not going all out instead of sticking mostly to prancing centaurs? Plus, I have to take the original version of the segment into account. There is really no excuse for adding racist images into the setting. If Disney hadn’t fixed that for later releases, the segment would have been at the very bottom of this list. As it is, I go for the bottom half.


14. “One by One”

This short moved up and down this list multiple times. Intended to be one of the segments for the proposed but never completed Fantasia 2006 it is set to the song written and performed by Lebo M. Originally part of The Lion King, the song was cut from the movie but became later part of the musical. Now I have two reasons for the placement, and at least the first one is not a particularly good one: I resent the idea to use a song for a Fantasia segment which is already closely connected to another and very famous Disney movie.
But mostly I have trouble to really get into the story, because I feel that its message lacks substance. Now, I am all for Disney’s message of hope and believing in a better time. But to have an impact, it should be connected to a good story with levity. In this case though, I don’t feel the impact. It feels more like someone uses a big brush of colour to hide a dire situation. Speaking of colours: They are the best part of the short. They are so vibrant that they sometimes overwhelm the shapes, but in a deliberate and intriguing way.


13. “Firebird Suite”

To be precise the 1919 Version by Igor Stravinsky. This visually stunning segments expertly creates a contrast between destruction and rebirth. It would be close on the top of this list if not for the fact that it is in its core the climax of “Fantasia” all over again. I can never watch it without comparing, and this segments always comes short. If you redo a concept, you should do it either different enough that it doesn’t matter, or you should do it better.


12. “Lorenzo”

This segment is hard to judge, because I only saw it once entirely, and I can’t even remember when. Of all the segments, it is the only one I couldn’t examine again. But it kind of sticks out, partly due to its unusual animation style, but mostly because of its dark humour. To be honest, the conclusion of the story about a cat whose tail has developed a personality of its own is a little bit too dark for my taste. But I love the use of tango, the Tango Bordoneo y 900 von Osvaldo Ruggiero to be precise, for this artistic masterpiece.


11. “Clair de Lune”

This segment is just beautiful. It was originally part of Fantasia but cut for time before the original release. To the music of Debussy two egrets are flying through a swamp in the shine of the moon. It perfectly blends a realistic scene with more abstract patterns created by water and light, loses some points though for being a little bit obvious. Everything involving the moon would have been.


10. “The Flamingo with the Yo-Yo”

The title is usually given as “The Carnival of the Animals”, Finale by Camille Saint-Saëns, but let’s face it, everyone remembers this as the answer of the question: “What would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?” It is the shortest Fantasia segment to date, and often criticised for its comedic tone. I think it is hilarious. But that is not the reason I put it so high. The reason is the way the short plays with shapes, colours, light and shadow. It might be comical, but that doesn’t make it any less artistic.


9. “Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack”

I pondered long if I should count this as segment, and to be honest, I mostly did because “Top 20” sounds better than “Top 19”. The next problem was the placement. The jam session is nice, but nothing to write home about. But I love the concept of turning the soundtrack in a character, a straight line which changes shapes based on the sound it makes. So much creativity deserves a place in the top ten.


8. “Pomp and Circumstance”

There are often complains that the piece reminds the audience to much of a graduation ceremony. Perhaps that is true. Not being American I never attended one which used this particular melody. But to be honest, I wasn’t even aware that there is more to this piece by Edward Elgar than the bit which is sometimes shown in TV Shows or Movies. Hearing Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 gave me a new appreciation for this piece. Normally I would take points for not being particularly artsy, but the animation meshes so perfectly with the music that it kind of makes up for it. While the story is predictable, it does manage to tap into my emotions.


7. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

To be honest, I think this segment is kind of overrated. It might be the most iconic of all the original Fantasia segments, but I think this is less a matter of it being the most memorable, and more a matter of Disney constantly using scenes from it to advertise both for the movie itself and for Mickey Mouse. In this segment based on Goethe’s 1797 poem “Der Zauberlehrling” and accompanied by Paul Dukas musical version of it, Mickey Mouse plays the role of the young apprentice who attempts some of his master’s magic tricks but doesn’t know how to control them.
Part of me thinks that it is kind of crime to rip the poetry from the story, because Goethe manages to play so masterfully with words and special sounds, that one can practically hear the water waging (notice what I did there?). Disney kind of makes up to it with going all out in Mickey’s power fantasies. Still, I might have put it one place lower if not for the artistically merit of the animation. The play with shadows and perspective, the way the brooms become more and more threatening (they are freaking brooms!!!!!!) make this segment special in its own right.


6. “Dance of the Hours”

I guess it is mostly my German humour which makes me love this one so much. Yes, contrary to popular believe Germans have humour. They even have different kinds of humour. The kind which speaks to me the most is taking a normal situation and then adding one element to it which pushes the situation to comical. Like taking a standard ballet and adding some unusual dancers. I doubt that Amilcare Ponchielli ever considered the possibility that one day ostriches, hippos, elephants and crocodiles would perform on his music, but the result is hilarious. I especially love the way the animators considered the way those animals can move before turning them into dancers. But one shouldn’t overlook how carefully every detail is arranged, either. Especially the night segments is just unforgettable, with the way black and red is used there to create a threatening atmosphere.


5. “The Little Matchgirl”

This segment is what “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” should have been. This time Disney captured the spirit of the famous Hans Christian Andersen story perfectly. Set to the third movement of Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Alexander Borodin, it has all the sadness but also the spark of hope of the original tale, while not disguising the tragic of a little girl dying during the bustle of Christmas preparation. Remember what I wrote above about levity? This is exactly what I meant. No matter how many matches this little girl lights, it will still die in the end if nobody helps her. There might be hope in this world but it doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from humans who open their hearts to other humans.
The art style is kind of anime-inspired, with an emphasis on the expressive face of the little girl and softened in a way that it fits perfectly into the Russian setting Disney picked. The setting and time are, btw, the only changes to the original story, which is set at a non-specific place (but most likely middle-Europe considering the origin of the author) and during New Year’s Eve, not Christmas.


4. “The Nutcracker Suite”

I adore Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, especially his ballets. And I admit, for this reason alone I am inclined to give this segment a high rating. The other reason is that there are still many elements from the original ballet in the animation, even though Disney changed the story of the Nutcracker a fairy dance of the seasons. Especially recognisable are pieces like the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, the “Chinese Dance”, the “Dance of the Flutes”, the “Arabian Dance”, the “Russian Dance” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” (it is kind of fun that Disney took that literally) which are presented with fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves. More than any other segment this is animation dancing over the screen, and hence one of my favourite pieces.


3. “Destino”

Remember Bette Midler mentioning in Fantasia 2000 a Salvador Dalí based “idea that featured baseball as a metaphor for life”? That project, on which Walt Disney was originally working with Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí in 1945, was picked up again by Roy Disney for Fantasia 2006 and the result is stunning. Featuring music written by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez and performed by Dora Luz it is one of the few segments which are paired with a song instead of an instrumental. The short takes full advantage of animation as medium, plays with forms and perspectives and the result is (not surprisingly) surreal. I would never dare to even try to interpret it apart from it having something to do with time, love and destiny, but it is a fascinating watch which will stay with you for a long, long time. An animated piece of art.


2. “Rhapsody in Blue”

Combining George Gershwin with the art style of Al Hirschfeld to capture the spirit of New York City in the 1930s was a stroke of genius of Disney. This is one of the true stand-out segments, in which every elements fits together perfectly. Depicting a day in the lives of four people within the Depression-era bustling metropolis, the segment perfectly captures the mood during the time, the big gap between rich and poor, the underlying sadness while at the same time the city is growing into the sky.


1. “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria”

I hate being predictable, but this is one of Disney’s most daring pieces. Chernabog is one of the most memorable figures of Fantasia, and the dance of the spirits is always fascinating to watch. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more dynamic performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, and the spirit in this piece just underlines the uplifting calmness of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”.


Overall I like most Fantasia segments. but especially those which take advantage of the subject matter and for which the animators thought out of the box.  And looking at what was planed for “Fantasia 2006”, I am very disappointed that the project was cancelled. It had the potential to be better than both “Fantasia” and “Fantasia 2000”. A part of me is still hoping that one day they will pick it up again…if with or without the finished segments (I hope with – I really want to see “Destino” on the big screen), “Fantasia” should never truly end.