Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

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The 100 Films Guide to…

Captain Jack is back

Here’s the first in a sporadic new series of posts, inspired by my 100 Favourites entries, which I’ll be using to plug some of the gaps in my review archive. As a good starting example, this is the only Pirates of the Caribbean film I haven’t covered.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 151 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 6th July 2006 (UK & others)
US Release: 7th July 2006
Budget: $225 million
Worldwide Gross: $1.066 billion

Stars
Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland)
Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings, Kingdom of Heaven)
Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice, The Imitation Game)
Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Director
Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Rango)

Screenwriters
Ted Elliott (The Mask of Zorro, The Lone Ranger)
Terry Rossio (Shrek, Godzilla vs. Kong)

Based on
Pirates of the Caribbean, a theme park ride at Disneyland.


The Story
On their wedding day, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann are arrested for piracy. To secure a pardon, all they have to do is bring in Captain Jack Sparrow. Meanwhile, the aforementioned pirate captain is hunting for a key that he can use to unlock a chest that contains leverage he may be able to use to escape a debt to the horrifying Davy Jones…

Our Heroes
Jack Sparrow (or, as half the characters pronounce it, Jack Sparrah), the pirate captain who looks like a drunken fool but is actually in possession of a sharp mind. Also Will Turner, the swashbuckling ex-blacksmith determined to prevent the execution of himself and his beloved. That would be Elizabeth Swann, the governor’s daughter who is altogether more capable than would be expected of a woman from this era.

Our Villains
The pirate-hating East India Company is represented by the scheming Cutler Beckett, who seeks to rid the seas of pirates. To do so, he intends to control Davy Jones, captain of the Flying Dutchman. A tentacled terror, Jones seeks primarily to add more damned souls to his crew — including one Jack Sparrow…

Best Supporting Character
Will Turner’s father, Bootstrap Bill, was condemned to the ocean’s depths, where he ended up committing himself to servitude on Davy Jones’ ship. Well, unless Will can find a way to set him free…

Memorable Quote
Elizabeth Swann: “There will come a time when you have a chance to do the right thing.”
Jack Sparrow: “I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass by.”

Memorable Scene
A large chunk of the climax is a set of interconnected sword fights that most famously include three men duelling each other inside a runaway waterwheel. And while that’s good, my favourite bit has always been Elizabeth, Pintel and Ragetti fighting off Davy Jones’ crew while sharing two swords (and a chest) between the three of them.

Truly Special Effect
Davy Jones is an incredible creation, the writing mass of CGI tentacles that make up his face conveying a slimy physicality that remains impressive even as some of the film’s other computer-generated effects begin to show their age.

Previously on…
Inspired by a Disney theme park ride, nobody expected much of Pirates of the Caribbean — or, as it was hastily subtitled once someone at Disney realised this could be the start of a franchise, The Curse of the Black Pearl. As that someone knew, it turned out to be something very special. Dead Man’s Chest retrofits it into being the first part of a trilogy.

Next time…
The aforementioned trilogy concludes with At World’s End, which was shot back-to-back with Dead Man’s Chest and so wraps up its many dangling plot threads. The series continued with standalone instalment On Stranger Tides, while this year’s Dead Men Tell No Tales, aka Salazar’s Revenge, looks as if it seeks to tie the whole shebang together.

Awards
1 Oscar (Visual Effects)
3 Oscar nominations (Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
1 BAFTA (Special Visual Effects)
4 BAFTA nominations (Production Design, Costume Design, Sound, Make Up & Hair)
1 Saturn award (Special Effects)
4 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Supporting Actor (Bill Nighy), Costume, Make-Up)
1 World Stunt Award (Best Fight — see “Memorable Scene”)

Verdict

The Pirates sequels have all come in for a lot of criticism ever since their first release. It was inevitable, really: the first is basically a perfect blockbuster action-adventure movie, something any follow-up would struggle to live up to. However, I think Dead Man’s Chest has improved with age. It lacks the freshness and elegant simplicity of its forebear, true, but it still has inventive sequences, memorable characters, impressive effects, and a generally fun tone, even as it’s setting up masses of mythology that will only be fully paid off in the next instalment. That also means it doesn’t quite function as a standalone adventure. But if you readjust your focus slightly, so that the film isn’t about beating Davy Jones, but instead about finding the chest and settling Jack’s debt to Jones, it’s more self-contained than it appears.

The fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, under whichever subtitle they’ve chosen for your country, is in cinemas from today.

A Christmas Carol (2009)

aka Disney’s A Christmas Carol

2016 #188
Robert Zemeckis | 88 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Disney's A Christmas Carol

You surely know the story of A Christmas Carol — if you don’t instantly, it’s the one with Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future — so what matters is which particular adaptation this is and if it’s any good.

Well, this is the one made by Robert Zemeckis back when he was obsessed with motion-captured computer animation, following the financial (though, I would argue, not artistic) success of The Polar Express and Beowulf. Fortunately A Christmas Carol seemed to kill off this diversion in his career (he’s since returned to making passably-received live-action films), because it’s the worst of that trilogy.

The theoretical star of the show is Jim Carrey, who leads as Scrooge — here performed as “Jim Carrey playing an old man” — but also portrays all the ghosts, meaning he’s the only actor on screen for much of the film. Except he’s never on screen at all, of course, because CGI. Elsewise, Gary Oldman is entirely lost within the CG of Bob Cratchit, as well as, bizarrely, playing his son, Tiny Tim. The less said about this the better. Colin Firth is also here, his character designed to actually look like him — which, frankly, is even worse. There are also small supporting roles for the likes of Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, and Lesley Manville, but no one emerges from this movie with any credit.

I ain't afraid of no ghosts... except this one

In the early days of motion-captured movies many critics were inordinately concerned with the “uncanny valley”, the effect whereby an animated human being looks almost real but there’s something undefinable that’s off about them. Robert Zemeckis attracted such criticism for The Polar Express, mainly focusing on the characters’ dead eyes. No such worries here, though: the animation looks far too cheap to come anywhere near bothering uncanny valley territory. There’s an array of ludicrously mismatched character designs, which put hyper-real humans alongside cartoonish ones, all of them with blank simplistically-textured features. Rather than a movie, it looks like one very long video game cutscene.

I don’t necessarily like getting distracted by technical merits of special effects over story, etc, but A Christmas Carol’s style — or lack thereof — is so damn distracting. Beside which, as I said at the start, this is a very familiar and oft-told tale, making the method of this particular telling all the more pertinent. At times it well conveys the free-flowing lunacy of a nightmare, at least, but who enjoys a nightmare?

2 out of 5

Toy Story 2 (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #93

The toys are back!

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 92 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G

Original Release: 24th November 1999 (USA)
UK Release: 11th February 2000
First Seen: cinema, 2000

Stars
Tom Hanks (Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code)
Tim Allen (Jungle 2 Jungle, Wild Hogs)
Joan Cusack (Addams Family Values, School of Rock)
Kelsey Grammer (Anastasia, X-Men: The Last Stand)

Director
John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars 2)

Co-directors
Ash Brannon (Surf’s Up, Rock Dog)
Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3)

Screenwriters
Andrew Stanton (Monsters, Inc., WALL·E)
Rita Hsiao (Mulan, My Little Pony: The Movie)
Doug Chamberlin (Bruno the Kid: The Animated Movie)
Chris Webb (Bruno the Kid: The Animated Movie)

Story by
John Lasseter (A Bug’s Life, Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy)
Pete Docter (Toy Story, Inside Out)
Ash Brannon (Surf’s Up, Rock Dog)
Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, Finding Dory)

The Story
After Woody is stolen by a nefarious toy collector, the rest of the toys set out to rescue him — but, tempted by the idea of spending eternity in a museum with friends from his TV show, does Woody want to be saved?

Our Heroes
Buzz and Woody are back, and now the best of friends. This time, Woody is confronted with his past when he meets a gang of other toys from the TV series he starred in, but will he stay with them or return to Andy? Meanwhile, Buzz sets out to rescue Woody, but has issues of his own to tackle when he comes face to face with his nemesis, Emperor Zurg.

Our Villain
Al McWhiggin, the owner of Al’s Toy Barn and serious toy collector, who steals Woody when he’s accidentally put in a yard sale box.

Best Supporting Character
Jessie, a cowgirl from Woody’s TV show. Fundamentally an excitable and chipper character, she was left distraught after being abandoned by her owner, and is now scared of being put back in storage — which will happen if Woody isn’t part of Al’s collection.

Memorable Quote
“You never forget kids like Emily, or Andy, but they forget you.” — Jessie

Memorable Scene
On their hunt for Woody, the other toys explore a giant toy emporium, in which Buzz comes across an aisle filled with fellow Buzzes. Spotting one with a new utility belt, he tries to acquire the accessory, only to awaken his double…

Making of
Toy Story 2 was originally commissioned by Disney as a direct-to-video sequel, because they did that a lot back then, and went into production without Pixar’s primary staff, who were already busy creating A Bug’s Life. When early work looked promising, Disney bumped the project’s status up to a full theatrical release. Conversely, Pixar were unhappy with the quality of what they were seeing. The main team took charge, redeveloping the film’s entire story in a single weekend, but still had to meet the release date Disney had already set. Although most Pixar films take years to produce, the production of Toy Story 2 was compressed into just nine months. The pressure got to people: at one point someone accidentally deleted 90% of the film’s files, representing two years work. Fortunately, another crew member working at home had back-ups of all but the last few days’ work.

Previously on…
The original Toy Story was the first computer-animated feature film.

Next time…
Toy Story 3 followed 11 years later, with Toy Story 4 set to come 9 years after that. Also shorts, TV specials, and the Buzz Lightyear spin-off (see last time).

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Song)
7 Annie Awards (Animated Feature, Directing, Writing, Female Voice Acting (Joan Cusack), Male Voice Acting (Tim Allen), Music, Storyboarding)
2 Annie Awards nominations (Character Animation, Production Design)
2 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Music)
1 Teen Choice Awards nomination (Choice Hissy Fit)

What the Critics Said
Toy Story 2 is a brilliant example of that rarest of Hollywood phenomena — a sequel to a major hit film that’s as good, if not better, than the original. This is mainly the result of a perfect mixture of two essential elements. First, there’s an excellent script by Andrew Stanton and his team of writers […] Second, there’s the remarkable technology developed by Pixar for the film A Bug’s Life. It’s this approach they’ve now taken to even greater heights […] These filmmakers have taken the 1995 characters and given them more depth, creating a new story that lets the toys interact in a larger world. It all comes down to amazing visuals and basic storytelling — and this is one heck of a good tale.” — Paul Clinton, CNN

Score: 100%

What the Public Say
Toy Story 2 is considered, by most, to be a perfect film. The characters are amazing. The stakes are higher than the first film. And the emotional beats hit harder than before. With two successes under their belt, it’s hard to believe that Pixar could not only be consistent with that quality, but somehow also manage to pull off something even more amazing than we thought possible. Expanding the mythology of this world and really making us feel for the toys that we forgot as children, Toy Story 2 is, in the words of Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.” — Jaysen Headley, Jaysen Headley Writes

Verdict

Sequels are notorious for not being as good as their progenitor. I feel like this is a trend that is increasingly being bucked — with everything Hollywood makes designed to be a franchise, Film 1 is often about setup and Film 2 is where the makers are allowed to do what they really wanted to do in the first place. But when you strike gold first time out, it’s still hard to do it justice second time round. Pixar do that and more here, with a sequel that is slicker, funnier, more exciting, and more emotional than its forebear. Even if it’s happening more often now, good sequels are still hard to do — trust Pixar to have got there ahead of the pack.

#94 will be… transportive.

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

2016 #130
Peter Sohn | 90 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

The Good DinosaurOnce upon a time, Pixar could do no wrong. Then Cars happened; and worse, its sequel. Now, their movies remain an event, and some people still swear by everything they do, but I think there’s a greater awareness that they’re fallible. When it came out at the tail end of 2015, The Good Dinosaur was received as further evidence of that. Especially coming in the same year that gave us the universally praised (*coughoverratedcough*) Inside Out, it was instantaneously dubbed a “lesser Pixar”. But here is where completism has its merits, because I really enjoyed it.

Set in an alternate world where the dinosaurs were never wiped out and so have evolved to the point where they talk, farm, etc, the film tells the story of little Arlo, an Apatosaurus who’s regularly overshadowed by his siblings. When an accident leaves him stranded many miles from his family he must make the long trek home, finding his inner courage on the way ‘n’ that kind of thing.

There’s no denying that The Good Dinosaur contains an abundance of re-heated elements: there are multiple plot beats shared with The Land Before Time, not to mention the general “talking child dinosaurs” thing; a major inciting incident is taken from The Lion King; the episodic structure is reminiscent of The Jungle Book; animated dinosaurs on photo-real backgrounds recalls Dinosaur; and the moral message and main character arc are lifted from any number of children’s animations. While I did find this bothersome at first — especially as the worst offenders are concentrated in the saccharine first act — by the time the film had settled into its meandering middle I came to quite like it.

MalickianPixar have on several occasions produced films with an innovative opening act that descends into derivative kids’ animation runaround territory. WALL-E and Up are the worst offenders for this; Inside Out does it too, though there’s more of a mix of the two throughout the film. For many critics and viewers, the quality of those openings seem to be enough to earn the films heaps of praise. The Good Dinosaur inverts the formula: the easy, overfamiliar material is at the start, while the more meditative, mature content comes later. Clearly this didn’t work for many viewers, so I guess the lesson for Pixar is to put the clever stuff up front if they want universal praise.

Instead, The Good Dinosaur was often dismissed as only being for very young children. Some bits do come over that way, but it has quite a harsh edge at times, and the scene where the heroes get high on rotten fermented fruit is freaky even for adults (or this adult, at any rate). It’s a bit of a tonal oddity in this respect, especially when you also factor in some of the leisurely, silent moments spent admiring nature that evoke a filmmaker like Terrence Malick. No, seriously. That’s helped by the animation being mind-blowingly good. Not so much the character animation (which is still strong — the character models are more detailed than you first suspect), but the scenery those characters are placed in… wow. If you didn’t know better I’m sure much of it could pass for photography. And the way they’ve achieved water, a notoriously hard thing to capture in CGI, is absolutely incredible.

You've got a friend in mePerhaps most powerful of all is the relationship it creates between Arlo and a young human child he befriends, Spot. With humanity in a much earlier state of evolution, Spot is basically characterised as a dog — the way he moves, comes to his name, follows scents, shakes, scratches and enjoys being scratched, and so on — so of course I warmed to him. Nonetheless, though the building blocks used to create their friendship are very familiar, the way the film sells its emotional arc is ultimately immensely effective. It’s resolution may even bring a tear to the eye.

While it may take a while to warm up, The Good Dinosaur is ultimately a very affecting entry in Pixar’s canon. It’s by no means a perfect movie, but I do think it’s an underrated one. And, in all honesty, I enjoyed it more than Inside Out.

4 out of 5

Toy Story (1995)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #92

The toys are back in town.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 81 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: G

Original Release: 22nd November 1995 (USA)
UK Release: 22nd March 1996
First Seen: cinema, 1996

Stars
Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle, Catch Me If You Can)
Tim Allen (Galaxy Quest, The Shaggy Dog)

Director
John Lasseter (A Bug’s Life, Cars)

Screenwriters
Joss Whedon (Alien Resurrection, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Andrew Stanton (A Bug’s Life, John Carter)
Joel Cohen (Cheaper by the Dozen, Garfield)
Alec Sokolow (Cheaper by the Dozen, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties)

Story by
John Lasseter (Toy Story 2, Planes)
Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up)
Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3)
Joe Ranft (Beauty and the Beast, Cars)

The Story
In a world where toys come to life when humans aren’t around, Woody is six-year-old Andy’s favourite doll… until he gets Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure, for his birthday. An upset Woody clashes with Buzz, but when the bickering pair are left behind during a house move they must work together to get back to their kid.

Our Heroes
Woody is a cowboy doll, the favourite of his kid, Andy, and consequently the leader of all Andy’s toys. That is until Andy gets a shiny new Buzz Lightyear action figure, whose newness ingratiates him with all the other toys. Plus, to Woody’s continued annoyance, Buzz believes he really is a space ranger and has no idea he’s just a toy.

Our Villain
Sid, Andy’s nasty neighbour kid who does terrible, terrible things to toys…

Best Supporting Character
Mr Potato Head, whose various body parts are slotted on and therefore removable and interchangeable. Hilarity ensues. Also has a nice line in snarky comments.

Memorable Quote
“To infinity, and beyond!” — Buzz Lightyear

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.” — Buzz Lightyear

Memorable Scene
One of Buzz’s claims as a real space ranger is that he can fly, so Woody challenges him to prove it. Buzz closes his eyes, dives off the bed… and, through a series of flukes, bounces and coasts his way around the room, landing back on the bed. “That wasn’t flying,” cries Woody, “that was falling with style!”

Memorable Song
The film’s themes are perfectly reflected in Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated and endlessly catchy song, You’ve Got a Friend in Me. Both Toy Story sequels have tried to emulate it, with… less success.

Technical Wizardry
Only the whole movie — it was the first feature-length wholly-computer-generated animated film. As such, we have it to thank/blame for the current entire state of popular Western animation.

Making of
The animators perfected the movement of the toy soldiers by nailing a pair of shoes to a wooden plank and trying to walk around in them.

Previously on…
Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film — there is, in that sense, literally nothing before it.

Next time…
Two feature film sequels, both of which are at least as artistically successful as this first, with a fourth set to follow in 2018. Also, three short films and two TV specials to date, plus direct-to-video spin-off movie Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins and the TV series that follows it. You could also argue the entirety of Pixar’s highly-praised output is a follow-up to the success of Toy Story, as well as American feature animation’s almost entire conversion from traditional cel animation to 3D CGI.

Awards
1 Special Achievement Oscar to John Lasseter for “the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.”
3 Oscar nominations (Original Screenplay, Song, Musical or Comedy Score)
1 BAFTA nomination (Visual Effects)
8 Annie Awards (Animated Feature, Directing, Writing, Producing, Music, Production Design, Animation, Technical Achievement)
1 Annie Awards nomination (Voice Acting (Tom Hanks))
2 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Writing)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“Far from just a technological breakthrough, this hellzapoppin fairy tale […] is a magically witty and humane entertainment. It has the purity, the ecstatic freedom of imagination, that’s the hallmark of the greatest children’s films. It also has the kind of spring-loaded allusive prankishness that, at times, will tickle adults even more than it does kids. The moment Mr. Potato Head arranges his snap-on features into a Cubist mash and says, ”I’m Picasso,” it’s clear that director John Lasseter and his team of writer-technicians have taken their most anarchic impulses and run with them. […] In its techno-cool photo-realist way, though, this movie, too, invites you to gaze upon the textures of the physical world with new eyes. What Bambi and Snow White did for nature, Toy Story, amazingly, does for plastic — for the synthetic gizmo culture of the modern mall brat. The film’s wit (and resonance) is that it brings toys to life exactly the way children do in their heads. It molds plastic into pure imagination.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

Score: 100%

What the Public Say
“The Animation is superb. Given that this was one of the first ever feature length computer animated movies, those guys at Pixar really hit the nail on the head. The colours are vibrant and the characters are dynamic. An excellent use of Blues, Yellows and Reds really accentuate the ‘children’ and ‘toys’ feel. There are also beautiful realistic elements such as a scene where Woody and Buzz find themselves under a lorry in a petrol station. With this, I was simply amazed at the attention to detail with the stones, tarmac and oil stains on the textures. It really looks like you are close-up to the ground and I love it!” — Alexander Potter, Pottercraft’s Pictures

Verdict

Just because something’s the first to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good, but Pixar didn’t strike gold with Toy Story just because computer animation was New. It’s the likeable characters, how they develop and learn, the amusing situations they’re put in, plus some heartwarming messages about friendship. There’s more emotion and character development in these wooden-and-plastic toys generated with pixels in a computer than many a film can achieve with real human beings, and that’s why Pixar came to revolutionise and dominate the Western animation genre.

Some would say “the original is still the best”, and it is up there, but on Sunday I will beg to differ…

#93 will be… a superior sequel.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #70

Prepare to be blown out of the water.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 143 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 9th July 2003 (USA)
UK Release: 8th August 2003
First Seen: cinema, August 2003

Stars
Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Finding Neverland)
Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings, Troy)
Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, Pride & Prejudice)
Geoffrey Rush (Quills, The King’s Speech)

Director
Gore Verbinski (The Ring, The Lone Ranger)

Screenwriters
Ted Elliott (Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)
Terry Rossio (Small Soldiers, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)

Story by
Ted Elliott (Treasure Planet, National Treasure: Book of Secrets)
Terry Rossio (The Mask of Zorro, The Lone Ranger)
Stuart Beattie (Collateral, 30 Days of Night)
Jay Wolpert (The Count of Monte Cristo)

Based on
Pirates of the Caribbean, a theme park ride at Disneyland.

The Story
When feared pirate ship the Black Pearl lays siege to the British outpost Port Royal and kidnaps the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann, her childhood friend (and secret admirer) Will Turner teams up with notorious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow to rescue her. Jack has his own axe to grind with the crew of the Pearl, who are afflicted by a supernatural curse that they believe Elizabeth may be the key to breaking.

Our Heroes
Will Turner, a humble blacksmith and self-taught expert swordsman. Doesn’t like pirates, but is forced to team up with one. That would be self-proclaimed captain Jack Sparrow, who is apparently a bumbling buffoon prone to wild exaggeration about his exploits, but is actually strangely competent and honourable. Not to forget Elizabeth Swann, the governor’s daughter who is more strong-minded and capable than women of her time are supposed to be. Hates corsets, too.

Our Villains
Captain Barbossa (a villain of Rickman-esque likeability) and his undead pirate crew just want to lift their terrible curse, but, being pirates, tend to go about that mission with excessive violence.

Best Supporting Character
Two of Barbossa’s crew, Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) and Pintel (Lee Arenberg), who make a comedy double act. Or maybe triple act, with Ragetti’s wooden eye.

Memorable Quote
“You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner… you’re in one!” — Barbossa

Memorable Scene
Barbossa orders his crew to attack a British Navy ship from underwater. As the moon emerges from behind a cloud to reveal the true skeletal form of the undead crew, they march along the seabed to their target…

Memorable Music
Originally set to be scored by Alan Silvestri, who’d worked with director Gore Verbinski on a couple of previous movies, the composer fell out with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and it was decided to go with Hans Zimmer instead. Unfortunately Zimmer was busy, but he pointed them in the direction of newer composer Klaus Badelt, one of Zimmer’s mentees at his company Media Ventures. Presumably Badelt struggled, because Zimmer ended up drafting several of the score’s main themes in one night, and a team of additional composers (anywhere from seven to fifteen, depending which source you listen to) was brought in to help finish it off. (One of them, incidentally, was Ramin Djawadi, who has since gone on to be noticed for Game of Thrones.) The final score is credited to Badelt, but the soundtrack’s most famous cue — He’s a Pirate — is actually a development of a piece Zimmer wrote for forgotten Wesley Snipes action-thriller Drop Zone. You can’t really argue a score created like that has any artistic integrity, but it’s fun and exciting, and He’s a Pirate is a really, really good piratical action theme.

Truly Special Effect
All of the CGI was strikingly photo-real at the time, the main showcase being the skeletal pirates, especially as they switched from being normal humans to skeletons (and back again) as they moved in and out of the moonlight. I guess it’s aged a little now, but, to be fair, it is 13 years old. Couple this with the even-better work featured in the sequels and it shows ILM are still at the forefront of the industry.

Making of
There’s always been something of a tonal similarity between the Pirates films and the Monkey Island series of computer games, which turned out to be more than coincidence when it eventually emerged that, just a couple of years before Pirates, screenwriter Ted Elliott had been working on a Monkey Island film for Steven Spielberg which never came to fruition. As if to compound the point, Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert revealed in 2004 that the original game was inspired by the novel On Stranger Tides, and in 2007 Disney bought the rights to the novel and used its title and bits of its plot for the fourth Pirates film.

Next time…
Initially followed by a pair of shot-back-to-back trilogy-forming sequels, their cumulative success turned it into a franchise: a fourth movie followed in 2011, with a fifth shot last year for release next summer. Also inspired a host of piratical TV series, and Disney to attempt various other ride adaptations and genre mash-ups (see: The Lone Ranger).

Awards
5 Oscar nominations (Actor (Johnny Depp), Makeup, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects)
1 BAFTA (Make Up/Hair)
4 BAFTA nominations (Actor (Johnny Depp), Costume Design, Sound, Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Costumes)
10 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Actor (Johnny Depp), Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Director, Music, Make Up, Special Effects, DVD Special Edition, Genre Face of the Future (Keira Knightley))
2 MTV Movie Awards Mexico (Sexiest Hero (Orlando Bloom), Best Look (Johnny Depp))
1 World Stunt Award (Best Fight for the blacksmith shop sword fight)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

What the Critics Said
“it’s Johnny Depp’s inspired turn as Captain Jack Sparrow that really marks the spot. Depp, arguing that pirates were the rock stars of their day, models his entire performance on Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: it’s there in every slurred vowel and every drug-fried wiggle of the head. There’s an endearing dignity to Sparrow’s hunger for fame. “You are, without doubt, the worst pirate I’ve heard of,” says one British officer. “Yes,” replies Jack, “but you have heard of me.” Gloriously over-the-top, this performance is pitched only as high as the film’s fun factor itself. In terms of physical precision and verbal delivery, it’s a masterclass in comedy acting.” — Alan Morrison, Empire

Score: 79%

What the Public Say
“manages the weird assignment of capturing the sensibility of a theme park boat ride inside a Spielbergian adventure romp. This is all the things popcorn movies should be: fun, energetic, simple enough to quickly grasp but full enough to not seem stupid, anchored by strong personalities among all the side characters (Geoffrey Rush’s florid villain is a great bit of acting in its own right, unfairly overshadowed by Depp), and a cohesive world with a sense of history and depth.” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

Verdict

It seemed like such a terrible idea when it was first announced: films based on Disney theme park rides? What the hell were they thinking?! The other movies produced by this initiative turned out to be as terrible as everyone expected, but somehow Pirates of the Caribbean — which also had to contend with the fact that cinematic pirates were deeply unpopular after the studio-killing disaster of CutThroat Island eight years before — wasn’t. Not just “not bad”, either, but an exciting, humorous, creepy, fun movie. That the sequels haven’t lived up to it is disappointing, but the first still stands as a near-perfect example of big-budget swashbuckling entertainment — it’s basically the dictionary definition of a summer blockbuster.

#71 goes to show… you never can tell.

Mary Poppins (1964)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #58

It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 139 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G (1972)

Original Release: 27th August 1964 (USA)
UK Release: 23rd December 1964
First Seen: by osmosis in childhood.

Stars
Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music, Torn Curtain)
Dick Van Dyke (Bye Bye Birdie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
David Tomlinson (The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Karen Dotrice (The Gnome-Mobile, The Thirty-Nine Steps)

Director
Robert Stevenson (Jane Eyre, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Screenwriter
Bill Walsh (The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Don DaGradi (Blackbeard’s Ghost, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Based on
the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.

Music and Lyrics
Richard M. Sherman (The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
Robert B. Sherman (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)

The Story
Not impressed by the nannies selected by their domineering father, Jane and Michael Banks write a letter describing their ideal applicant. Conversely, Mr Banks is not impressed with their requirements, and tears up the letter and throws it in the fire… from whence it reaches Mary Poppins, who floats down to bring fun and discipline to all of the Banks household.

Our Hero
The magical nanny who comes from the sky, Mary Poppins can be (whisper it) actually a little bit annoying at times. Julie Andrews, on the other hand, is practically perfect in every way.

Our Villains
Ultimately, bankers. Some things never change.

Best Supporting Character
Ostensibly this is the story of children Jane and Michael Banks and their need for a SuperNanny to help them with their oh-so-terrible father — and, as a child, that’s where your focus lies. Really (and I guess you need to grow up at least a bit to see this), it’s about how said SuperNanny saves their father, Mr Banks, helping to transform him from a miserable corporate drone into a joyful family man. David Tomlinson negotiates this arc fantastically.

Memorable Quote
“You know, you can say it backwards, which is ‘docious-ali-expi-istic-fragil-cali-rupus’… but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?” — Mary Poppins

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” — Mary Poppins

Memorable Scene
Chimneysweeps dancing on the rooftops! (Fun fact: I always thought Step In Time was called Stepping Time. I mean, the dance does contain a lot of, sort of, steps…)

Best Song as a Child
Iiiiiiit’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. (Sacrilege maybe, but the version from the 2004 stage musical is even better.)

Best Song as an Adult
When I was little, the whole part of the film around the bank, Feed the Birds, etc, was The Boring Bit between the fun and the return of the fun. Now, I still think most of Feed the Birds is a little insipid, but the instrumental reprise as Mr Banks walks slowly back to the bank, his world and everything he knows torn asunder, his humiliation imminent… It’s heartbreaking, and the music is most of the reason why.

Technical Wizardry
The sequence where Mary, the children, and Bert jump into one of the latter’s street paintings — all of it animated, with the exception of the leads — is a sterling extended example of combining live-action with cel animation.

Truly Special Effect
As a lad, I could never work out how exactly they’d managed to create Mary’s bottomless bag. I haven’t watched the film for a while and imagine it’s painfully obvious now… I also used to think the little bird that lands on her hand was a miraculous effect and didn’t understand why some people slagged it off, but then I watched that bit on YouTube a couple of years ago and finally saw what everyone else saw. Oh, the sadness of ageing…

Letting the Side Down
The fact that real cockneys don’t sound like Dick Van Dyke. No, I don’t mean it the other way round — the fact that the real-life denizens of East London sound nothing like Bert is the problem here, not Bert’s accent. That is how I think cockneys should sound, and it always will be.

Making of
See: Saving Mr. Banks. Knowing biopics it’s probably not 100% accurate, but it is a good film.

Next time…
Despite several attempts, a sequel never happened. The director and/or writers worked together on multiple films at Disney over the next few years — most famously, an early-’70s blatant attempt to recreate the Poppins magic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Mary Poppins herself returned in 2004 in a Cameron Mackintosh-produced West End musical, based on the film but re-incorporating more from the books. Talk of it being adapted into a film seem to have come to nowt. Instead, a (very) belated sequel with Emily Blunt in the title role is due in 2018.

Awards
5 Oscars (Actress (Julie Andrews), Song (Chim Chim Cher-ee), Substantially Original Score, Editing, Visual Effects)
8 Oscar nominations (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Color Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Costume Design, Sound, Scoring of Music Adaptation or Treatment)
1 BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Julie Andrews))

What the Critics Said
“Of course, it is sentimental. And, as Mary Poppins says, “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their feelings.” But being not practically perfect, I find it irresistible. Plenty of other adults will feel the same way. And, needless to say, so will the kids.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Score: 100%

What the Public Say
“It is the single glowing moment of sheer unmixed genius in the long stretch of lightweight successes and dreary failures that made up nearly three whole decades of Disney’s output in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s; a fantasy of the most delicate touch and charming disposition, sweet and precious while being neither sickening nor cloying.” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

Verdict

I feel like Mary Poppins is the kind of movie that it would’ve been easy to overlook in putting together this list of favourites — a childhood favourite, that’s maybe so obvious you kind of forget about it as A Movie — which is one of the reasons I made sure to get it on here. Another is how well it works for both children and adults. As the former, the magical adventures and toe-tapping songs are pure joy, a wonder-filled experience that doesn’t date. As the latter, those elements are still entertaining, but the depth of some of the film’s messages (especially pertaining to the adults) really comes through. It’s a film for all ages, and one for the ages too.

#59 will be…

Zootropolis (2016)

aka Zootopia

2016 #116
Byron Howard & Rich Moore | 109 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

ZootropolisDisney’s 55th Animated Classic is their second highest-grossing ever, the 25th film to take over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, which makes it a hit of Frozen-sized proportions (at least financially — parents must be glad there’s no Let It Go-esque earworm involved). That said, I’d perhaps argue it’s a Disney movie aimed as much (perhaps even more) at the studio’s adult fans as its child ones. But I’ll come to that in a bit.

Set in a world of anthropomorphised animals, Zootropolis introduces us to Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a small-town bunny who joins the police force in the titular big city,* the first rabbit to do so. Despite there being a spate of mysterious disappearances across the city, Judy gets lumped with traffic duty, where she soon encounters small-time con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). That association comes in handy when she manages to get assigned one of the missing person animal cases and notices that Nick may have been a witness to the abduction. Soon, the mismatched pair begin to uncover an aggressive conspiracy…

Disney animations may be best known as musicals based on fairytales, but they certainly don’t make up 100% of their Classics line, especially in recent years. I think Zootropolis may be the first time they’ve attempted a neo-noir crime thriller, though. And I bet no one ever thought they’d see a Disney film with a sequence set at a nudist resort. Or in a drugs lab, for that matter. Or one with a substantial parody of The Godfather and clear references to Breaking Bad. And you thought Inside Out was clever for having one line from Chinatown

Once you factor in the many references to discussions that currently dominate social discourse — there are abundant riffs on the language of real-life concerns about race, gender, and sexuality — you begin to see how Zootropolis could be seen as a Disney film that’s primarily aimed at adults. Those concerns ultimately become thematic points so large that they cross the line from being subtextual “one for the adults” asides into being textual “vital to the plot” tenets of the film. So given the genre trappings, nudist resorts, drugs labs, parodies of 18-rated media, and very grown-up thematic points, you do have to wonder if Zootropolis functions better for adults who like Disney films than it does for kids who like Disney films. That sounds like a criticism, but it’s only one to an extent, because the kind of adult this notion supposes the film is aimed at is… well, me.

However, that’s not to say kids can’t get enjoyment out of it: there are plenty of colourful characters and locations, relatable situations, cross generational humour, and a moral lesson young’uns will understand. There’s the DMV sequence, for instance, which is grounded in an adult experience but so funny it must cross over. Considering all the praise I’ve heard for that one scene, it’s also a feat it lives up to the hype. It’s gorgeously animated throughout, bolstered by a world that has been magnificently realised, with all the different themed districts of the city. (After all the Disney movies that have had contrived TV series spin-offs, this is a film that actually feels like it deserves one. The setup is obvious — a police procedural — and the world the film suggests is big enough to warrant it. Heck, it practically demands it — there’s so much more of this world, you want to see it explored.) Michael Giacchino’s score is different too: memorable and fun, in part thanks to using a cornucopia of unusual instruments to provide a ‘world music’ sound that’s in-keeping with the movie.

If I had any problem it’d be that the story takes a little while to warm up, really coming alive (at least for me) once it gets stuck into the main investigation. That’s not to say the first act is without its merits (there are both amusing and awe-inspiring sequences there, plus some moments that are nicely paid off later), but the film’s need/desire to establish the familiar “you can be whatever you dream if you just try” moral message makes it take a little longer than might be ideal. Adults will probably guess whodunnit well before the reveal, too, but that doesn’t mean the journey getting there is any less fun.

There’s a quote on the cover of Zootropolis’ US Blu-ray that calls it the best Disney movie in 20 years. As much as I liked Bolt and Tangled,** and Mulan and The Princess and the Frog, and, yes, even Frozen, I think Zootropolis is at the very least a contender for that crown.

4 out of 5

Zootropolis is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

It placed 15th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

* I watched a US copy of the film, so I have a question for anyone who watched it in the UK: we all know they changed the title from Zootopia to Zootropolis, but did they actually change the name of the city in the film too? That’s a lot of redubbing if they did… ^

** Both co-directed by Zootropolis’ Byron Howard. Developing a pretty good track record, that man. ^

Cinderella (2015)

2016 #43
Kenneth Branagh | 101 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English | U / PG

Disney’s animated classic is re-imagined in live-action, losing the songs but expanding the story. The latter serves to find a little more realism in the setup (how Cinders became a servant to her stepmother, etc), as well as in the characters’ motivations and actions.

Cate Blanchett excels (as ever) as the evil stepmother, and Lily James sells Ella’s perfectness as delightful rather than irritating. It’s kinda odd to see Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden as a clean-cut Prince, though.

Branagh brings requisite class and gloss for a remake that, while not a classic like the original, is a worthy revisioning.

4 out of 5

The Lion King (1994)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #52

The greatest adventure of all is
finding our place in the circle of life.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 88 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G

Original Release: 15th June 1994
UK Release: 7th October 1994
First Seen: VHS, c.1995

Stars
Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Election)
James Earl Jones (Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian)
Jeremy Irons (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Die Hard with a Vengeance)
Rowan Atkinson (Bean, Johnny English)

Directors
Roger Allers (Open Season, The Prophet)
Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little, Mr. Peabody & Sherman)

Screenwriters
Irene Mecchi (Brave, Strange Magic)
Jonathan Roberts (James and the Giant Peach, Jack Frost)
Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, Alice Through the Looking Glass)

Story by
Deep breath… Burny Mattinson, Barry Johnson, Lorna Cook, Thom Enriquez, Andy Gaskill, Gary Trousdale, Jim Capobianco, Kevin Harkey, Jorgen Klubien, Chris Sanders, Tom Sito, Larry Leker, Joe Ranft, Rick Maki, Ed Gombert, Francis Glebas & Mark Kausler; with additional story by J.T. Allen, George Scribner, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Jenny Tripp, Bob Tzudiker, Chris Vogler, Kirk Wise & Noni White; and the story supervisor was Brenda Chapman.

Sort of based on
Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare.

Songs by
Elton John (The Muse, Gnomeo & Juliet)
Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Aladdin)

The Story
The savannahs of Africa are ruled by the lion Mufasa, a kindly king who is struggling to instil some sense of life’s importance in his reckless young son and heir, Simba. But Mufasa’s brother, Scar, lusts for power, and manipulates Mufasa and Simba to gain it…

Our Hero
Lion cub Simba is heir to his father’s throne as ruler of the Pride Lands, and a naughty, unruly prince who just can’t wait to be king. All that changes when he winds up outcast, and has to learn to grow up before returning to save his kingdom.

Our Villain
King Mufasa’s jealous brother, Scar, who also just can’t wait to be king. Obviously that’s not going to happen under the regular rules of succession, but Scar is a cunning and conniving sort. Well, he is the villain.

Best Supporting Characters
After running away, Simba falls in with meerkat Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and warthog Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), who have a laid-back attitude to life, and raise the lion cub to have the same. So successful they had their own spin-off series and were the stars of a sequel, too.

Memorable Quote
Mufasa: “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.”
Simba: “But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?”
Mufasa: “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Hakuna matata” — a wonderful phrase, it means no worries for the rest of your days.

Memorable Scene
The opening sequence, in which all the animals gather to celebrate the birth of Simba, scored to Circle of Life, is a majestic sequence — so impressive, in fact, that Disney used it, uncut and unadorned, as the film’s trailer.

Best Song
Big romantic number Can You Feel the Love Tonight won the Oscar, and there were nominations for epic opener Circle of Life and quotable comedy hit Hakuna Matata, and you shouldn’t overlook the fun and impressive choreography of I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, but for me the best number is Scar’s Be Prepared. I do love a good villain’s song.

Technical Wizardry
The Lion King continues Disney’s integration of CGI into their animated features, this time using it to create the pivotal wildebeest stampede. A new program had to be written for the sequence, which allowed hundreds of computer generated animals to run without colliding into each other. It took the CG department three years to animate the scene.

Making of
Voice actor Frank Welker (who has over 760 credits to his name on IMDb, including originating Fred in Scooby-Doo and voicing Megatron in the Transformers animated series) provided all of the film’s lion roars. No recordings of actual lions were used.

Next time…
As one of the biggest successes of the Disney Renaissance, The Lion King has naturally had more than its share of follow-ups. The headline has to be the stage musical adaptation of the film, which opened in 1997. It’s the third longest-running show in Broadway history, and is “the highest-earning entertainment property in history in any medium”. In 1998, direct-to-video sequel The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride was released. Apparently its plot is influenced by Romeo and Juliet. A second direct-to-DVD sequel, The Lion King 1½ (known as The Lion King 3 in some countries, including the UK), was released in 2004. It’s based on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, re-telling the first movie from Timon and Pumbaa’s perspective. I watched it years ago and really enjoyed it, an opinion supported by its strong 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. On television, spin-off series The Lion King’s Timon & Pumbaa ran for three seasons from 1995, and just last year TV ‘movie’ (it’s only 45 minutes) The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar heralded the start of a new series, The Lion Guard. It’s been renewed for a second season.

Awards
2 Oscars (Song (Can You Feel the Love Tonight), Score)
2 Oscar nominations (Song (both Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata))
2 BAFTA nominations (Music, Sound)
3 Annie Awards (Film, Voice Acting (Jeremy Irons), Individual Achievement for Story Contribution)
3 Annie nominations (Individual Achievement for Artistic Excellence (x3))
2 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Performance by a Younger Actor (Jonathan Taylor Thomas))

What the Critics Said
“Even the inescapable hype cannot diminish the fact that this is one great film. Consider that this movie delivers strong characters, a sophisticated story, good music, captivating visuals and loads of emotion — all within the confines of a G-rated cartoon. […] The most exhilarating part of The Lion King is that it’s not just great animation, but superior filmmaking. Outstanding character animation is a given at Disney, which handles the nuances of movement better than anyone. But the last few animated features show an increasing mastery of cinematography techniques. In The Lion King, the eye of the camera ranges from point of view to overhead to moving with the scene. The opening sequence where the plains animals trek to see the newborn cub and the wildebeest stampede scene are breathtaking.” — Bill Wedo, Philadelphia Daily News

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“Timone and Pumba [sic] are two of the more interesting comic relief characters in Disney films. I’d argue that they’re one of the most wonderful depictions of a same-sex parenting couple that I have ever seen. I don’t want to get drawn into a debate over their sexuality, but the pair are partners in the truest sense of the word, sharing a life. They sleep together, for crying out loud. I don’t care about their sexuality or anything like that, because we’ll never get an answer on that and it’s immaterial. All that matters is that they complete one another, and it’s sweet. […] Even when Simba arrives, it’s very clear that the dynamic is different – Simba isn’t an equal partner in the relationship like Timone and Pumba. They’re a family, but Timone and Pumba are more of a couple.” — Darren Mooney, the m0vie blog

Verdict

My third Disney pick is consecutive to my previous two (Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast) in Disney’s history of animated classics, which goes to show how successful their ’90s Renaissance was. (Also, when my childhood was.) The Lion King succeeds by combining a selection of memorable, hummable songs with an epic tale of royal politicking — but, y’know, in a Disney way. Unafraid to include plot twists that place it alongside Bambi in the company’s canon, but with some well-performed comedy characters to lighten the mood, it manages to be one of Disney’s most entertaining but also most philosophical (in its way) films.

#53 has… my sword, and my bow, and my axe.