Archive for Disney

Futurist Manifesto

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2015 by dcairns


TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND feels like a far more personal film for Brad Bird than his MISSION IMPOSSIBLE sequel, but this also feels like a shrewd strategy: for all its ambitious scale, the Tom Cruise spy-fest was a way for Bird to acclimatize himself to live-action film-making. We know from THE INCREDIBLES that he has a love of futuristic espionage, so it was easy to see how the world of the Impossible Missions Force would appeal, but TOMORROWLAND is unadulterated Bird. Like THE INCREDIBLES it uses entertainment to put over a very personal message. I find Bird’s didactic streak easy to take in part because the things he chooses to preach about are uniquely him: RATATOUILLE really is about food, in a way that no other Disney animated film has been. THE INCREDIBLES was a plea for exceptional people to be allowed to do exceptional things, and Bird doesn’t apologise if that makes him seem elitist — it can be read as a plea for Bird himself to be allowed to do exceptional things.

TOMORROWLAND really is a manifesto, a counter-myth to the doomy dystopias of modern sci-fi (particularly, as the film makes clear, in video games) — when I said in my MAD MAX: FURY ROAD review that modern post-apocalyptic films seem to take apocalypse as inevitable, I seem to have stumbled upon Bird’s theme — TOMORROWLAND puts itself squarely in opposition to everything MAD MAX represents. (That’s as far as you can read without spoilers, and the movie does play very nicely if you don’t know anything about it…)

Disney's TOMORROWLAND Casey (Britt Robertson)  Ph: Film Frame ©Disney 2015

The backstory of the film suggests that the technocrats of Tomorrowland have been blasting us with a telepathic signal that makes us realize that the world is in danger, but that instead of galvanizing us into action, it’s depressed us into inertia. The characters in the film decide to fight back with their own message of hope, and it’s quite clear from the film’s narrative structure that TOMORROWLAND is itself that message, the hope-signal from a sunny futureworld, a beacon for us to follow to get to Jetsons utopia.

Points in the film’s favour: it is co-written by Damon Lindelof and yet makes a certain kind of sense, is consistent with itself, and doesn’t vanish beneath an avalanche of unmotivated behaviour and dim-bulb dialogue. Actually, the secret science-cult behind it all are a lot like the one in Lost.

It’s funny.

The acting is really excellent. George Clooney is fine as ever, but the kids are his equal: four REALLY great kids. Britt Robertson, technically an adult, actually (not even a teenager) should be an immediate star. She has to basically embody optimism here. I believed her, all the way.

The design is lovely, capturing that retro-future vibe elegantly and with original touches (the suspended swimming pools!) which nevertheless feel in keeping with the period (an early-sixties vision of tomorrow). There’s a stunning moment when Tomorrowland, seen previously in a vision (which turns out to have been a commercial), is revealed in its run-down, seedy present form.


Of course, the concept of a scientific elite, or any kind of elite, leaves open the question of what attitude the film should take to the muggles, the mundanes, its own audience. And here the movie encounters one slight difficulty, since, despite locating the cause of mankind’s woes in the old technocrats, it also regards their successors as our saviours. There’s one rather shocking scene where the little android girl (yes: there’s a little android girl) gets smacked by a pick-up truck and knocked flying. The owner of the truck rushes to her fallen form, and his truck is then stolen. He takes off after it, forgetting his victim, who then gets to her feet and starts running after the truck at Jamie Sommers bionic speed. What’s missing is the reaction shot from the old guy who just ran her down — he ought to be comically astonished. Such a reaction would let us off the hook from our discomfort at the thought of some guy thinking he’s killed a kid, and the fact that the movie showed us what LOOKS like a horrible child fatality. It seems like a mistake for the movie not to be interested enough in this background character to use him to defuse that anxiety.

The odd effect of this android kid doesn’t stop there. She’s beautifully played by Raffey Cassidy, but the fact that she’s playing an ageless android who is decades older than her appearance means that we get to see George Clooney playing, essentially, love scenes with a child. Because he’s George Clooney and the scenes are beautifully conceived and written, this isn’t actually icky. But there is perhaps a trace of discomfort again.


And that’s it for negative comments. Oh, when the heroine is led to a swamp, there should’ve been something IN the swamp of significance, probably, or why would android girl have led her there? Seems like android girl left her this clue and then expected her to stay put. Well, what the hell, the last time a Damon Lindelof script made this much sense was never, so we should be content with the charm and the classically beautiful storytelling and the really appealing characters.

The end credits feature some beautiful animation. Of course the drones in the audience stampeded for the exits, missing all this additional entertainment they had paid for, because it’s the end credits and the movie’s over, innit? Only one teenager, in the seat next to us, stayed. I felt like saying to him, “You’ve passed the test: here’s your pin,” but I didn’t have a Tomorrowland badge on me, just one of Jean Marais as the Beast in LA BELLE ET LA BETE, and I’m not sure how he would have reacted to that. But he deserves a prize. The movie’s point, Bird’s over-arching career-long theme, that some people are special, has some validity. Of course, everybody’s special or unique in their own way. But we should only celebrate them when they manifest it in positive ways, which is all too rare.

Here’s a film which resoundingly passes the sidewalk test and makes you glad of it. When you exit a movie, does the world look different? I came out and was struck by the view from the top of the Vue Ocean Terminal — Edinburgh — ancient, sooty Edinburgh — seemed like a dream city of the Twenty-First Century. Which, in a way, it is.

Front and Centaur

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by dcairns


Marvelling all over again at FANTASIA, which occupies a key role in my cinema-going life. It must have been an early example of a movie I went to all by myself, not out of any social urge. Truth be told, once I was old enough to not require parental supervision at the movies, there wasn’t anyone around I wanted to see them with or who wanted to go with me, until my best friend Robert joined in. FANTASIA was one I had known about for years but never seen, because I don’t think it had ever turned up on re-release and of course Disney kept their movies off TV for the most part. Oh, and I was a bit of a classical music fan in my early teens — it was another reason for the assholes at school to hate me — the looks on their faces when they asked what kind of music I liked were kind of priceless. That, having long hair in the eighties, and not liking football were enough to ensure pariah status with the right people.


I don’t think I was aesthetically developed enough to be properly repelled by the film’s most egregious artistic crimes, but I enjoyed the bits that work just as much as I do today. Who was it said, “Too much beauty is disgusting”? Attributing any sort of beauty to the film’s Olympian interlude may seem controversial, but consider: ladled over the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony are a lot of colours, variously bright and brash or even muted and sombre, but all individually pleasing to the eye. The shapes are all soft, sensuous and curving, with not a jagged or discordant angle in sight. And the movement is elegant, arcing, balletic. And the creatures are woodland animals and nymphs and flying babies and cute girls and jocks with equine underparts. And they’re all pastel pinks and purples and blues. The combination of this is enough to provoke a Technicolor yawn from anyone, turning the screen to a Jackson Pollock explosion, which would be an improvement.

In other words, unlike the Toccata and Fugue, which mingles extreme gaudiness and vulgarity with some sublime abstract imagery, or the Nutcracker Suite which features whole sections of gorgeous kitsch, this great conglomeration of beautiful components results in an eye-aching pastel inferno which would serve as an ideal hell for anyone with an iota of taste. It’s all the more shocking coming after the restraint of the Rite of Spring sequence, which has plenty of almost monochromatic shots, all sulphurous yellow or muddy brown.


The only hints of ugliness allowed in Disney’s Olympus are some spectacularly unpleasing character designs — Bacchus ought to be a relief from all the idealised body shapes and clean living on display, but he’s an unfunny bore and I was rooting for Zeus to immolate him with a thunderbolt — and the typical, yet heightened Disney sexual weirdness. The centaurettes, with their pert breasts and no nipples — (later, in Night on Bald Mountain, the harpies are allowed nipples, so evidently nipples are a sign of evil) — are posed about the place so seductively, we can be almost certain Disney was sexually attracted to horses (and fish). And there’s the usual ass-play, about which whole monographs have been written. Disney’s anal obsession. The best one is probably the centaurette spanking her hindquarters with a twig-as-riding-crop to make herself jump a fence, which brings up all kinds of curious thoughts. It seems she’s not only a conglomeration of two animals, her lower section has a will of its own. King Lear had something to say about that, as I recall.

Still, one aspect of the film’s vulgar heroism is its capacity to do everything beyond belief — when it succeeds, it astonishes (frame grabbing these images gave me a new respect for the artistry in every image), and when it fails it doesn’t settle for falling flat, it crashes towards the earth’s core like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff and leaving a coyote-shaped crater in the desert floor.


If you’re revisiting it, and I recommend you do, I recommend the Blu-Ray.

UK: Fantasia [Blu-ray]

US: Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 (Two movie Collection) (Special Edition)

No Excuse

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2014 by dcairns


In the first film I directed, I was lucky to have a Distinguished Thespian, from whom I learned crucial stuff (“Never ask for effects, because if you do, that’s all you’ll get”). And I heard some good stories, though alas I missed a lot of them while setting up shots. I would walk in to fetch our star and catch him in the middle of a sentence like “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” One time I caught the line, “Of course the best films to be in, for drugs, were the Disney films.” Some surprised looks. “Because you got these cool Californian guys coming over…”

But no chemical intoxicant can really excuse this — a broken-down toy robot with the voice of Slim Pickens. I like Slim Pickens, but make him play a cute robot with sympathetic cartoon eyes and you really are thumbing my vomit button very hard indeed. Stuff like this makes you actually respect how restrained George Lucas was — his cute robot was essentially a fat bullet with legs. No anthropomorphism at all, and no voice. The audience does the humanizing.

If rampant hallucinogen abuse can’t excuse the film’s robots (Roddy McDowell voices the other one, FFS), it may at least explain the deeply bananas ending, probably the most batshit crazy ending to a kids film ever — even more disorienting than TIME BANDITS. As the heroes plunge into the titular singularity, TV director Gary Nelson spins his cast in a tumbrel, replays their dialogue at them through an echo chamber, dilates them with an optical printer and otherwise confuses the young audience, Maximilian Schell floats by in dreadlocks as if attempting a very special James Bond title sequence, seemingly mates with his hulking Gort-substitute robot henchman, then finds himself INSIDE the robot looking out, then he’s on a papier-mache promontory in heavy metal Hell — the weirdness is so extreme it even wakes composer John Barry from his movie-long slumber to offer up some swooning arpeggios, as he does.


And then it’s Heaven, which is of course far more skeletally imagined, and then there’s more normal outer space and the cast look very confused and then the movie kind of stops.

Obviously they were thinking of 2001, and obviously they weren’t able to handle the visual abstraction and so needed to show some kind of solid imagery. And their ideas were thoroughly confused. I think Professor Hawking would refute their depiction of an event horizon.


It couldn’t happen now, and it shouldn’t have happened then. But, after a movie that just recycles 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in space with a sticky STAR WARS paste slathered over everything, an ending so batshit crazy has to be welcomed. They tried something, finally.



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