Walt Disney Television Animation/Walt Disney Video (September 4 2007), single disc, 56 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Rated G, Retail: $26.99
Those Disney Princesses are back in two new tales. Aladdin’s Jasmine discovers that good old hard work is what will get a girl ahead in life and, in her first cheaply animated follow-up ever, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty learns to believe in herself. A girl couldn’t probably ask for anything more! Oh, wait…she could, and so could us fans…
The Sweatbox Review:
Okay, from that little dry synopsis there you’ve already got my general feeling towards this latest in the Disney spin-off line that promotes their Princesses – basically any of their animated heroines that they can put a royal spin on, hence Pocahontas’ and Mulan’s inclusion in various other merchandise. I am, of course, being way too harsh from the off. Disney is a profit seeking company and, like it or not, it always has been. The difference was that, back in Walt’s day, the money was ploughed back into the company – “What is money good for if you don’t do anything with it” was the Mousetro’s philosophy – while today it’s all about the bottom line, share values and pleasing Wall Street.
Into this world came the direct to video sequels, films that, in their right place and when done well, succeeded in their own little way. An offshoot of that unit, now these films have been halted by those who seek to steer Disney back to being about quality, were a number of merchandising lines that shouldn’t be regarded as tarnishing the “Art” and are simply more about the “Product”. And, as much as it may surprise many of you, I don’t actually have a problem with that.
Walt Disney himself spun characters off into their own worlds. The Mickey Mouse Club leant the classic characters a new lease of life, the DisneyLand series a place to see the old movies and even premiere new ones. Jiminy Cricket was used in the I’m No Fool series of educational shorts. Comics were big business in that era, and Lady And The Tramp’s Scamp was a long-running hit on those pages. Walt made compilation features and television programs galore based around old cartoon output combined with new animation. He took Scrooge McDuck – a comics phenomenon – and put him on the screen long before DuckTales came along.
But…all those things had one common element: quality. Be it a big screen or small screen film, feature animation or short, DisneyLand ride concept or comic panel, all of Walt’s output had to reach certain levels. And that’s what’s missing today in products like this. I don’t think it’s down to age or gender either…I’m very happy to sit and enjoy what would be alluded to as being “chick flicks”, intended for any audience and age. Quality is quality, and kids know that too. Unfortunately, it’s missing in spades here, and woe betide any parents who end up having to sit through this jumbled mess. Oh well, it’s only an hour long…
Picking up almost 50 years since she last graced screens in Walt’s ambitious, modern-styled Sleeping Beauty, Aurora’s episode Keys To The Kingdom starts things off with the first half of this two-handed compilation. In a story reminiscent of one of the similar episodes in Cinderella II, the little woman is put at the head of the royal household for the day when the men folk go off for “a conference”. What, like the annual “Beating Off Malevolent Fire-Breathing Witch-Dragons Convention” or something? I heard that’s a favorite. Anyway, things soon prove all too much for Aurora, and she turns to Fauna, Flora and Merryweather to help her out. Alas, the three fairies have all left town too (what?) but Merryweather was thoughtful enough to leave Aurora her wand to use in the event of emergency. Things that turn out too good to be true usually are and of course the Princess finds out that magic isn’t the key and must resort to her own inventiveness to put things right.
Picking up who-knows-where in the Aladdin continuum (sounds like a Bourne movie!), More Than A Peacock Princess finds Jasmine fed up with her royal duties (yep, all those free lunches, glorifying parades and sitting for portraits can must really be tiring) and yearning for something “important” to do. Making sure the young audience ladies in waiting have a good career goal illustrated to them, Jasmine’s Dad the Sultan suggests working at the local school, presumably so the women of the world grow up longing to become the teachers that learn the boys to go off and fight the wars, corporate or otherwise. Eventually, Jasmine is able to rescue the Sultan’s runaway horse – and thus a strange young Aladdin clone’s job – and gain respect from her students, so that all is good in Disney marketing’s world of balance.
What struck me first was how choppy this overall presentation was. We’re not actually given a full “program”, and more of a story selection from the menu, which acts as an introduction in its own right. I suppose that’s an interesting way of using the DVD format and combining it with programmed content, but the effect wasn’t a smooth as it could have been. The stories themselves also didn’t add up: in Aurora’s segment, the fairies were able to travel by flight without the aid of Merryweather’s wand but when they needed to get back it was clear she suddenly needed it. So how did she fly in the first place? And then it took them longer to magic themselves back to the castle than for Hubert to deliver an important speech and for the rest of the royals to travel back in their coach? Why does Jasmine appear to sleep in her day-to-day outfit? In full make-up and accessories? Why does Iago quote A Few Good Men? Why is everything so rushed, undercooked, and confused?
Likewise, in the animation designs, the hard, angular style of Sleeping Beauty against the rounded softness of Aladdin, don’t compliment each other very well and clashed somewhat. The drawing itself, over both stories, was fairly adequate, but only on the scale of a generously budgeted TV episode rather than approaching the feature quality that the DTVs were striving towards when they were unceremoniously cut off. The flat cartooning, which tries overacting to cover its shortcomings, is credited to Toon City, and while the computer coloring and backgrounds add the pre-requisite sheen, the draughtsmanship is awfully short on draught. Worst seemed to be the close-ups, where the Princesses themselves were most alarmingly off model.
But, at least the target audience of young, excited females are being given a dose of new footage here, unlike the TV episode selected Disney Princess titles of yore. We’ve since become used to seeing Jasmine float on and off model in those past outings, and so one might feel that we’ve been given about average TV animation here, but the surprise of seeing Aurora back on the screen in anything less than stunningly clean personality animation is especially jarring. The backgrounds attempt to do an Eyvind Earle but come off as copycats of what we’ve seen before and all-too-clearly bland new images that have simply been spray-painted with grit and dirt to give it the old school look. What doesn’t help is the passing of time, and how Aurora betrays her underwhelming, passive attitude from the 1950s for the now usual, Broadway bound – dare I say it – cool girl in the palace, singing inane carbon copy songs including a title song that sounds more hoedown than royal. The other voices continue the some good/some bad trends established in previous TV and DTV offerings, with recent Cruella De Vil Susanne Blakeslee doing her best Julie Andrews knock off in the narration and the most authentic being King Hubert’s stand-in, but for someone who once reached operatic heights, Aurora is painfully thin on the high notes. Maybe all that sleep got to her vocal chords…?
Right…this disc has been created, marketed and intended directly for little dreamers, and I am probably reading way too much into what is ostensibly a child’s product, but even on its own terms, I just didn’t see it working. It’s not only repetitive (Jasmine’s song may just as well been a rearranged reprise of Aurora’s melody) but there are no elements of danger, hardly any excitement (apart from Jasmine’s horse bolting), with everything wrapped up too cutesy and non-threatening. I’m sure the Mouse has done its market research, but from my experience, the audience they’re going for here like a bit of trouble, they like seeing the Princess’ friends like the Prince, or Aladdin, or the Genie (who all go missing here), and they like being able to see their heroines coming out on top after a pretty rough fight. Let me tell you that there’s a reason Cinderella II is reviled not only by collectors but by the young kids who see it as boring, while the admittedly exciting Cinderella III gets thumbs up and re-runs aplenty. And as if the moral of the story got lost in the substandard, workmanlike storytelling along the way, the Princesses both pop up for a confirmation at the end of their segments, just like those Filmation cartoons used to do on TV.
I’d love to be able to get excited by things like this. And, actually, I am…for the long-in-development Disney Fairies line that will concentrate on Tinkerbell and her Pixie Hollow chums. I love that; the idea of taking a character and filling in the backstory, totally away from the technique and story elements that an audience will have known them from. Mickey Mouse gets re-invented all the time – I wish they’d do more with him – but it just doesn’t work with characters like the Princesses when we’re being asked to believe there is any kind of prestige to the release. Run it on TV – fine – that’s where it belongs, as nothing more than the toy commercial or moral teaching child’s tale they’re designed as, but essentially these are the same characters in the same situations doing the same old routines. And doing them badly, as if they’ve either forgotten the moves, or simply going through the motions.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There were rumors that this release would see a new story for Beauty And The Beast’s Belle, but that didn’t prove to be the case until one checks out the Sneak Previews that open up the disc and find that there are even more Disney Princess stories on the way, the next featuring the aforementioned Belle and a new tale for Mulan, as if her direct-to-video sequel wasn’t enough. Other peeks on the disc run through for The Jungle Book Platinum Edition (in it’s 1.33 negative when all we’ll be getting is a 1.78:1 crop), this winter’s theatrical hopeful Enchanted, Meet The Robinsons, Tinker Bell, Disney Parks, another Enchanted Tales (with Cinders and Mulan), plus franchise releases in the High School Musical 2, Little Einsteins and My Friends Tigger And Pooh lines.
I didn’t quite get the point of the FastPlay feature on this title. Since the menu acts as an introduction to the stories, it seemed to get stuck when it reached those options. The intro is unintentionally amusing in its own right, with Susanne Blakeslee’s “Julie Andrews” trying to make the notion of a storybook castle enticing by repeating the word “castle” in a pawsh accent several times. It’s also the longest menu set up I’ve come across in a long while, running almost a minute before we can select anything from the Sleeping Beauty inspired storybook itself.
Belle does pop up in the best supplement, a “music video” clip from that held back new story that looks like it will debut in a future Disney Princess title, Kingdom Of Kindness, featuring the Care Bears, probably. Of course, I’m kidding. The (awful) song, You’ll Never Lose This Love, isn’t anything to write to Broadway about, and the animation will either get one interested in seeing the next batch of Princess stories, or put them off for good, with poor modelling and, even worse, lip-sync that looks like she’s often singing another song. Stories this ain’t!
A couple of games are neither that well designed or enjoyable to play. Aurora Dress Up is like the same thing on the Anastasia special edition where the player must dress the Princess appropriately for the ball. Unfortunately, unlike the more fun Anastasia game, this one is limited in its choices and does not allow the choosing of ridiculous items of clothing for Aurora to wear. A jester’s outfit is all there for the trying, but when picked we’re told it’s not suitable for a Princess, and that is that. Spoilsports.
Find Sahara (or “Sir Haira” going by pawsh Andrews) is better designed, but not much more fun to play. We’re asked to find Jasmine’s steed Sahara by jumping on the Magic Carpet and tracking him down, though once again it’s essentially a pre-determined ride and picking any route alternate to where the game really wants to take you results in a “I don’t think he’s there” retort which only leaves other options limited. The best line, which I found hysterical, was “Those are horse tracks, and Sahara is a horse!” That’ll help, thanks. All extras are presented in 4×3 ratio.
Well, at least the package looks good, with nicely modelled heroines gracing the front of the sleeve, though the typically over-the-top fancy-schmancy design exaggerates things to the point of being too much. The white keepcase is accompanied – in first run pressings at least – by a gold foiled and embossed slipcover, which only looks more bulky rather than particularly enticing. Inside, a two-sided insert lists a chapter index and advertising for Hanna Montana on one side, and a bonus features listing on the other, with an odd image of our two heroines whose hands seem to be in rather suggestive positions… There is more advertising, but of course, pushing a Disney World sweepstakes, and a booklet promoting nothing but more pink ‘n’ gold themed toys, games, kids’ disc releases, and the Movie Rewards program. Ouch…all that gold effect can give you a headache!
Ink And Paint:
Completed and released in the same year and running less than an hour, there would be a major outcry if this didn’t look absolutely stunning. It does, all the better to pick out all the inaccuracies in the animation!
The soundtrack is on par with mid-to-high level television or direct-to-video titles. Voices are to the front, music to the sides, and the occasional sound effect might whizz to the back, but apart from that there’s nothing to get excited about. An entirely sufficient mix that does the job. English, French and Spanish dubs are included, with additional English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
This is Disney Product with a capital P. After the successes of Ariel’s Undersea Adventures, the Aladdin TV show and the various home video and DVD releases of such material, how can we blame the Studio for continuing to create such content if it’s being bought in the masses? Personally, I’d like to see this kind of thing where it belongs: on television. It’s known that the Cinderella II trio of stories was intended for a Cinders program that never happened, at that Belle’s own Magical World went very much the same way. Why not combine those concepts and actually run a show, Disney Princesses, with a new episode with a different Princess every time? Not trying to dress up such things as “movies” and having parents paying over the odds ($27 for just over 50 minutes) is clearly the way to go. As such, my advice is to wait until this inevitably hits TV anyway…there’s nothing new to see here.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?