For Reel

The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
August 20, 2016, 12:08 pm
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Director(s): Alfred L. Werker & Hamilton Luske
2.5 Stars
The Reluctant DragonThe financial losses of Fantasia and Pinocchio led Disney to release this quick, cheap feature as a showcase of their new animation facility, complimenting the studio tour with a handful of already completed shorts. Disney had not yet worked with live-action, and so Robert Benchley and a production team from Fox were brought onboard to film a “documentary” sequence involving Benchley’s trip to the Disney studio with the intentions of selling a story idea. The live-action portions are undoubtedly the film’s highlight—although they are nothing but a fantasy (in reality, hundreds of the studio’s workers picketed outside the studio the same year), the glimpses of the cell animations and the multiplane camera do allow one a genuine peak backstage. Disney enthusiasts are also treated to early looks at Dumbo, Bambi, and the reference models for films like Peter Pan (which halted production for years after this film was released). Unfortunately, the animated segments of The Reluctant Dragon are just not particularly good, with cheap, rushed animation and subpar storytelling. The one exception is Baby Weems if only for its interesting aesthetic—the film introduces the short as a series of storyboards, and therefore the animation is simple and rendered in muted colors (it looks somewhat like the recent Studio Ghibli film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya). Little more than a commercial for the dream factory, The Reluctant Dragon is a hugely unique historical artifact of the studio at the brink of collapse, but ironically does better at its own myth-making than seducing one with exceptional animations.

Alice in Wonderland (1951)
May 10, 2016, 7:02 pm
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Director(s): Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
3 Stars
Alice in WonderlandAlice in Wonderland offers almost none of what one would expect of a classical Disney film. Among other things, there is a lack of a firmly sympathetic protagonist (it would be impossible for an audience to identify with Alice as her offhand acceptance of her surroundings betrays one’s sense of wonder), a hugely impressionistic design scheme, and a structure that plays more like a “package” film than it does a narrative. For these reasons, it is not surprising that Walt Disney disowned the film, literally apologizing for what Lewis Carroll’s intricate work had turned into. And yet, if Alice in Wonderland is certainly among the most exhausting of the studio’s efforts, its very relentlessness does make for some oddball interest. That the film’s cult status is tied very much to drug culture feels almost inevitable—not only does the picture deal with the surreal, but it makes no attempt to ground the viewer into the world of the film. If other Disney entertainments wash over audiences with a sense of comfort, Alice in Wonderland has a more dizzying effect, alternating between grating (the Mad Hatter is as obnoxious as it gets) and slightly horrific (the Cheshire Cat still plays as a disturbing menace).