Disney+ original movies are what we will kindly call a mixed bag… unkindly we can say I’d like to put a mix of them into a bag and then throw that bag in a river. They aren’t good, and today I will be talking about another not good one because apparently somehow we started with a movie called Magic Camp that was meant to be written and star the iconic Steve Martin and ended up with a discount TV movie starring Jeffrey Tambor… fun.
Were it not for Howard Ashman, there’s a chance that Disney studios wouldn’t be the behemoth that it is today. The legendary lyricist is partially responsible (in conjunction with his friend Alan Menkin) for the songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beastand Aladdin which would be the three films that began the Disney Renaissance and, effectively, saved the company. He also wrote one of the greatest musicals of all time with Little Shop of Horrors, a masterpiece no one expected to work. His career was the stuff that icons are made of but judge as Howard was reaching his peak, he was taken from us. Now, in this hell year, we are given a documentary to honour a legend who should never be forgotten.
In 2001, Eoin Colfer released Artemis Fowl which was the first in a series of eight novels surrounding the adventures of the titular Artemis as he fights fairies, tries to save his father and… uh… do his taxes? I’ll be honest, I never read the Artemis Fowl book series as around that time I was just getting into the Harry Potter series (Yes, I’m aware that I bet on the wrong horse there. Sure Harry Potter had a good run of movies but… well, now I have to deal with liking the work of a transphobe so the Artemis Fowl fans won this in the long run) and didn’t have time for another book series about a 12-year-old in a battle with fantastical creatures stories, When I heard there was going to be a film of Artemis Fowl released this year I was mostly just happy to see Disney making a film that wasn’t just a remake of their earlier work. Then the apocalypse happened and Disney seemed almost eager to move this film to their streaming service… and having seen it, I can see why because oh god this one isn’t good.
In 2000, Jerry Spinelli released the novel Stargirl to critical acclaim. The book was a New York Times bestseller, won multiple awards and even had a sequel called Love, Stargirl. It even got adapted into a stage play and has led to the creation of groups known as Stargirl Societies, designed to encourage young people to be themselves. With all this acclaim and cultural impact, a film adaptation was somewhat inevitable and since Disney is a mega-corporation with a streaming service in search of original content it seems only logical that they would be the ones to take the ball and run with it… or, in this case, take the ball and casually walk down a footpath with it while whistling music by The Go-Go’s.
You know, I’ve tackled a fair few streaming networks over the years. I’ve dealt with Netflix originals, Stan originals and Shudder originals but I’ve somehow managed to avoid Disney Plus originals because none of them really leapt out at me. I almost watched that Lady and the Tramp remake but… well, I suffered through three Disney Remakes in one year, I’m allowed to skip one of them. There are a few original films on there but I figured they weren’t going to be that important for me to need to look through… and then the world decided to malfunction and every cinema closed, so I may as well throw the Disney Plus originals into my diet because why the hell not?
Released: 26th March Seen: 21st March (Advance Screening Weekend)
Onward might go down as one of the unluckiest movies in recent Disney history since its release just happened to fall when the coronavirus pandemic basically shut down everything, including most theatres. Normally a Pixar film is basically guaranteed to make 100 million in the first week, get its budget covered in the second week and be on the way to one of the highest grossing films of the year. That’s now not happening, thanks to corona. If you want to be in genuine shock at just how suddenly this hit, go look at the box office of Onward. Onward is still technically the top grossing film in America and yet it’s barely cracking a thousand bucks a theatre. I bring this up because it explains why they made a pivot and released this one straight to VOD in the states and why it’ll be on Disney+ soon. So now the question becomes “Is this film worth a slightly higher than normal rental price to stream at home” and honestly? Yeah, because it’s a pretty great film.
In 2014, Disney (the dark overlord of entertainment that will one day consume us all) released Maleficent. Maleficent was their version of a “What If” story that featured one of their most iconic villains of all time and asked the question “What if the Mistress of all evil was good?” Asking that question netted them over $750 million worldwide and an Oscar nomination, though it received mixed critical praise. This was a film I saw long before I started reviewing so here is a short version of my thoughts of the original film… I hate it with every fibre of my being and cast it into the fiery pits of hell where it belongs.
The first film that I have any memory of seeing in a cinema is the 1994 animated classic The Lion King. While my memory is a little sketchy (because I was 6) I still remember how enthralling it was, this glorious creation that was chock full of drama and laughs and bright glorious colours that just seemed to leap off the screen. I remember the legendary stampede and my mother crying at Mufasa’s death. Truly it was the film that started me on a journey to loving cinema and of all the movies that I could’ve seen as my first theatrical experience, I’m glad it was that one. Now, here we are, 25 years later and I’m angry and bitter and hate everything and have to watch as the first film I remember seeing is slowly sucked dry right before my eyes and all I’m left with is a withered husk of a film… I’m not going to be happy during this review, just so we’re clear.
When we think of the Disney Renaissance we think of this brief period between 1989 and 1999 when Disney was putting out hit after hit, some of the best films that appear in their catalogue. Right in the front end of that list, dropping in 1992 is the film Aladdin. Based on the Arabic folktale, Aladdin remains one of Disney’s most beloved films. It’s a simple love story, enchanting tunes and, of course, its legendary performance by the late Robin Williams has cemented it into cinema history. Even today the original film holds up with great comedy and award-winning songs that everyone knows. A Whole New World, Friend Like Me, Prince Ali, these are some of the best songs ever put on film. The movie was such a hit it led to two direct-to-video sequels (one of them is actually good) and a TV series that everyone who was a child in the 90s watched. There’s even an adaptation of the show on Broadway but one thing that there will never be is a live-action film remake… at least, that’s what I thought until we inexplicably let Disney think that it would be acceptable to plunder their vaults and turn their classic animated films into subpar live action drivel, but apparently we’re allowing that now so guess what I have to do right now? That’s right, weep and cry because I had to watch this bland lifeless thing that alleges to be a movie.
In 1941 Disney released its fourth animated theatrical film. Dumbo holds a special place in Disney history. Clocking in at 64 minutes, the film was made to try and cover the losses brought on by Fantasia (Which at the time hadn’t turned a profit because WW2 cut off a large part of the market) and during its production, there was a five-week strike at Disney’s studio. On a budget of under a million dollars with a mandate to keep everything as simple as possible, Disney somehow did the impossible and created one of the most beautiful animated films of all time. The film still works today, with the notable exception of the crow sequence (one of the crows is called Jim… that should probably clue you into the problem), and it’s proof of just what Disney is capable of doing and is so truly beloved that it even earned a spot in the US National Film Registry in the Library of Congress, meaning it will be preserved forever as something culturally significant… and then Tim Burton said “WAIT! I HAVEN’T RUINED ENOUGH CLASSIC MOVIES YET!” and decided to remake it.