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Essential: PURPLE NOON (1960)

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-6-00-05-pm.png

There’s something unique about PURPLE NOON, which gives it a distinct advantage over the 1999 remake. And that’s Alain Delon who brings a special quality to the role of Tom Ripley. In an early scene we are shown that Tom emulates his French friend Philippe with whom he is carousing around Italy.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-22-pm.png

Philippe comes in and discovers Tom wearing his clothes and admiring himself in front of a mirror. At one point Tom becomes so entranced with his image as “Philippe,” he kisses himself in the mirror. It’s more than mere narcissism, it’s a charming sort of adoration, where he is not in love with himself but with the image of what he can become. This leads him to commit murder and assume Philippe’s identity.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-56-pm.png

In Patricia Highsmith’s novel, first published in 1955, Tom gets away with his crimes. But in PURPLE NOON, it is suggested that he has been caught– or is about to get caught at the end of the story. It’s a simple plot, really. One man covets another man’s life, has somewhat been used and abused, then takes over. Though there are greater complexities hinted at in the material.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-21-40-pm.png

After Tom has eliminated Philippe in the physical sense, he becomes “Philippe,” which means psychologically the murder victim lives on. People get fooled by Tom/”Philippe”– including Marge, who is Philippe’s girlfriend in the beginning, then Tom’s girlfriend after the murder.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-39-pm.png

Does she even know which man most satisfies her? Of course, she will never receive full attention, because he is playing a game with the police, and anyone else that might figure things out. Soon a guy named Freddy arrives from America and starts to put it all together. Tom murders Freddy, too. And in a clever twist, he pins Freddy’s killing on the dead Philippe.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-01-at-6-49-26-am.png

PURPLE NOON has glossy production values, but it’s also a hard-hitting psychological crime drama. The main character is a rich grifter; a man who switches from one locale to the next, and from one identity to the next. Ultimately, Tom Ripley gets what’s coming to him. When the police summon him at the end, he goes forward  without full knowledge that evidence of “Philippe” will be where he’s going. And that he will probably lead yet another life– in prison.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-24-16-pm.png

PURPLE NOON is directed by Rene Clement and can be streamed on FilmStruck.

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Essential: PURPLE NOON (1960)

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-6-00-05-pm.png

There’s something unique about PURPLE NOON, which gives it a distinct advantage over the 1999 remake. And that’s Alain Delon who brings a special quality to the role of Tom Ripley. In an early scene we are shown that Tom emulates his French friend Philippe with whom he is carousing around Italy.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-22-pm.png

Philippe comes in and discovers Tom wearing his clothes and admiring himself in front of a mirror. At one point Tom becomes so entranced with his image as “Philippe,” he kisses himself in the mirror. It’s more than mere narcissism, it’s a charming sort of adoration, where he is not in love with himself but with the image of what he can become. This leads him to commit murder and assume Philippe’s identity.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-56-pm.png

In Patricia Highsmith’s novel, first published in 1955, Tom gets away with his crimes. But in PURPLE NOON, it is suggested that he has been caught– or is about to get caught at the end of the story. It’s a simple plot, really. One man covets another man’s life, has somewhat been used and abused, then takes over. Though there are greater complexities hinted at in the material.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-21-40-pm.png

After Tom has eliminated Philippe in the physical sense, he becomes “Philippe,” which means psychologically the murder victim lives on. People get fooled by Tom/”Philippe”– including Marge, who is Philippe’s girlfriend in the beginning, then Tom’s girlfriend after the murder.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-39-pm.png

Does she even know which man most satisfies her? Of course, she will never receive full attention, because he is playing a game with the police, and anyone else that might figure things out. Soon a guy named Freddy arrives from America and starts to put it all together. Tom murders Freddy, too. And in a clever twist, he pins Freddy’s killing on the dead Philippe.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-01-at-6-49-26-am.png

PURPLE NOON has glossy production values, but it’s also a hard-hitting psychological crime drama. The main character is a rich grifter; a man who switches from one locale to the next, and from one identity to the next. Ultimately, Tom Ripley gets what’s coming to him. When the police summon him at the end, he goes forward  without full knowledge that evidence of “Philippe” will be where he’s going. And that he will probably lead yet another life– in prison.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-24-16-pm.png

PURPLE NOON is directed by Rene Clement and can be streamed on FilmStruck.

 

Thanks, TopBilled, for your PURPLE NOON post.  I've never seen this film, but after reading your post, I am even more anxious to do so.  Having seen "The Talented Mr. Ripley", I'm particularly interested in watching Alain Delon's performance in this role, since I was not enamored of Matt Damon's performance and as a result, I became more interested in Jude Law's performance as Philippe.  However, from your post, it is Delon's performance that intensifies the film and makes the criminal character of Tom Ripley more cold bloodedly interesting.  I'm really looking forward to seeing this film.  

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Thanks, TopBilled, for your PURPLE NOON post.  I've never seen this film, but after reading your post, I am even more anxious to do so.  Having seen "The Talented Mr. Ripley", I'm particularly interested in watching Alain Delon's performance in this role, since I was not enamored of Matt Damon's performance and as a result, I became more interested in Jude Law's performance as Philippe.  However, from your post, it is Delon's performance that intensifies the film and makes the criminal character of Tom Ripley more cold bloodedly interesting.  I'm really looking forward to seeing this film.  

 

You're welcome Marsha. So many more things to say about this great film and about Alain Delon.

 

First, unlike Damon who was well-established, this was Delon's breakthrough hit. So when he made it he was not yet a star. I think he's a lot hungrier than Damon in the role, he's not a polished movie actor at this point, and we get a much grittier, more realistic portrayal of a man who wants the good things in life (which I would assume is an extension of Delon's own desire to become famous and successful). We get a blend of innocence and calculated determination, totally missing from Damon's performance. 

 

I think Freddy's death is actually more interesting than Philippe's. Visually Clement's camera uses some different angles when Freddy enters the hotel suite and Tom clobbers him. Then we have the sequence where Tom takes him down to the car and drives the body away, meeting people on the sidewalk and acting like Freddy is just drunk instead of dead. Clement provides very fluid camera movement to accommodate such action, and it's all so smooth and well-staged. 

 

Psychologically Freddy's death takes on greater dimension if you see Tom as someone who assumes multiple personalities. Meaning Tom has become Philippe killing Freddy so Tom can continue to live the good life.

 

One thing I didn't mention in my review is that PURPLE NOON was released around the same time as Hitchcock's PSYCHO. But while we learn about Norman's background with his mother, we don't get very much background on Tom's early life. He's really on his own, and unlike Norman, he's nomadic. He just keeps moving on, so his desperate and dangerous activities continue quite easily and cover more ground.

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Essential: THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974)

 

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It takes a while for some bad guys to take Pelham One Two Three. This is because Peter Stone’s screenplay concerns itself with establishing the individual identities of the crooks; showing us the various passengers on a subway they commandeer; presenting the lieutenant who inevitably gets drawn into the intrigue; and the lieutenant’s coworkers; as well as a politician who has a stake in the outcome. It’s not quite a cast of thousands but almost, and they each represent a unique point of view.
 

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Walter Matthau in a non-comedic role plays Lt. Zachary Garber, a savvy gent who does things by-the-book in order to thwart the criminal gang. The crooks go by color-coded names, and they are led by Robert Shaw– a mercenary who is about as ruthless as they come.
 

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Shaw’s cohorts include Martin Balsam as a former motorman who knows how to steer things after they get rid of the original conductor; as well as a gangster type character portrayed by Hector Elizondo. Also in this lawless group is Earl Hindman as a powerful brute. In short, these are four men you don’t want to mess with– which unfortunately some passengers learn the hard way.
 

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Stone’s screenplay is based on Morton Freedgood’s bestselling novel and it uses the basic scenario to give us some detailed character sketches. Stone also presents aspects of New York City that make the story’s metropolitan setting a character in its own right. Because the drama builds so gradually, we get a sense of people with interconnecting lives and competing agendas. A large portion of the action, of course, takes place underground. So we are plunged into a somewhat claustrophobic environment that becomes increasingly tense when things begin to unravel.
 

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The 2009 remake turned the story into a battle of wills between the lieutenant and the mastermind of the hijacking. But the 1974 version is considerably better, because it depicts a broader cross-section of people involved in the siege all trying to get out alive. Many of them do not know how to survive. The hijacking is supposed to bring a considerable sum of money to the gang for turning the hostages back over, and it is supposed to lead to the perfect getaway which they’ve painstakingly mapped out. But the lieutenant and his men put the kibosh on all that. In the end, three of the gang members have been killed and only one remains standing– the motorman/conductor played by Martin Balsam. There’s a clever twist in the last scene that prevents Balsam from getting away with the money. It's nothing to sneeze at.
 

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THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is directed by Joseph Sargent and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
 

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Thanks, TopBilled, for your post on "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three".  The film is a top-notch suspense thriller and after having seen it many times, it never fails to satisfy and leave me on edge even though I know the ending.   

 

As an interesting footnote, after the film was released, for many years the New York City Transit Authority banned any train leaving Pelham station at 1:23 feeling it would be too much of a reminder to the public.  Eventually this policy was rescinded, however, dispatchers have in most cases avoided scheduling a Pelham train at 1:23.  

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Thanks, TopBilled, for your post on "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three".  The film is a top-notch suspense thriller and after having seen it many times, it never fails to satisfy and leave me on edge even though I know the ending.   

 

As an interesting footnote, after the film was released, for many years the New York City Transit Authority banned any train leaving Pelham station at 1:23 feeling it would be too much of a reminder to the public.  Eventually this policy was rescinded, however, dispatchers have in most cases avoided scheduling a Pelham train at 1:23.  

 

Thanks Marsha for the bit of trivia. Interesting how movies can affect real life.

 

Tomorrow I will wrap-up this month's theme with my review of A SIMPLE PLAN. 

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Essential: PURPLE NOON (1960)

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-6-00-05-pm.png

There’s something unique about PURPLE NOON, which gives it a distinct advantage over the 1999 remake. And that’s Alain Delon who brings a special quality to the role of Tom Ripley. In an early scene we are shown that Tom emulates his French friend Philippe with whom he is carousing around Italy.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-22-pm.png

Philippe comes in and discovers Tom wearing his clothes and admiring himself in front of a mirror. At one point Tom becomes so entranced with his image as “Philippe,” he kisses himself in the mirror. It’s more than mere narcissism, it’s a charming sort of adoration, where he is not in love with himself but with the image of what he can become. This leads him to commit murder and assume Philippe’s identity.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-56-pm.png

In Patricia Highsmith’s novel, first published in 1955, Tom gets away with his crimes. But in PURPLE NOON, it is suggested that he has been caught– or is about to get caught at the end of the story. It’s a simple plot, really. One man covets another man’s life, has somewhat been used and abused, then takes over. Though there are greater complexities hinted at in the material.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-21-40-pm.png

After Tom has eliminated Philippe in the physical sense, he becomes “Philippe,” which means psychologically the murder victim lives on. People get fooled by Tom/”Philippe”– including Marge, who is Philippe’s girlfriend in the beginning, then Tom’s girlfriend after the murder.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-23-39-pm.png

Does she even know which man most satisfies her? Of course, she will never receive full attention, because he is playing a game with the police, and anyone else that might figure things out. Soon a guy named Freddy arrives from America and starts to put it all together. Tom murders Freddy, too. And in a clever twist, he pins Freddy’s killing on the dead Philippe.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-01-at-6-49-26-am.png

PURPLE NOON has glossy production values, but it’s also a hard-hitting psychological crime drama. The main character is a rich grifter; a man who switches from one locale to the next, and from one identity to the next. Ultimately, Tom Ripley gets what’s coming to him. When the police summon him at the end, he goes forward  without full knowledge that evidence of “Philippe” will be where he’s going. And that he will probably lead yet another life– in prison.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-08-at-5-24-16-pm.png

PURPLE NOON is directed by Rene Clement and can be streamed on FilmStruck.

 

Actually, neither film is faithful to Patricia Highsmith's original novel.

 

But I do prefer the re-make, because it openly embraces the implied homosexual context of the original novel.

 

Also, I do prefer Matt Damon to Alan Delon, because Matt Damon is much more convincing as a young man who is desperate to make himself over.

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Essential: A SIMPLE PLAN (1998)

 

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A SIMPLE PLAN was released by Paramount in the late ’90s when neo-noir was making a bit of a comeback. Set in Minnesota, and filmed there as well as in Wisconsin, it is best remembered for its wintery landscapes and its uniformly strong acting. Bill Paxton stars as lead character Hank Mitchell, a man who would like to get ahead in life just once. Bridget Fonda plays his money-hungry wife Sarah (the Lady Macbeth of the story). And featured as Paxton’s loser brother Jacob, who helps find some loot, is Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton was nominated for a supporting Oscar, and should have nabbed it.
 

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The plot is quite simple. Hank and Jacob are out driving one day with Jacob’s friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), when they discover a deserted plane with a duffel bag that contains over four million dollars. They don’t know how the plane crashed in a snow-covered area or whose money it might have been. But if they just stay quiet, they might be able to keep the cash if nobody comes to claim it. That's easier said than done.
 

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The guys take off with the dough and Hank puts it somewhere for safe keeping. But soon they decide, because of Sarah’s nagging, that they should cheat Lou out of his share. They go to Lou’s house, start drinking with him and do a little role play. Hank and Jacob want Lou to pretend he’s saying something self-incriminating. Jacob says it’s all in fun and after one too many beers, Lou does say it, which Hank secretly records on tape.
 

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Their little game of pretend turns into a huge tragedy when Lou realizes he’s been tricked. He goes for his rifle, and threatens to kill Hank if he doesn’t turn over the tape. Jacob comes to Hank’s defense; there is a graphic shootout that leaves Lou dead on the floor, along with his wife. Hank and Jacob decide to shoot up the place even more and make it look like Lou lost his mind and killed his wife, then himself. Somehow the sheriff believes it all.
 

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Things become even more complicated when an investigator (Gary Cole) shows up to locate the downed aircraft and retrieve the missing money. It is soon revealed that he’s not an actual lawman but someone only interested in getting his hands on the four million.
 

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Hank and Jacob return to the site of the crash with him, and there’s a standoff. To say it ends badly for Jacob is putting it mildly. Hank survives, and the movie’s coda shows him and his wife back to how they were in the beginning, struggling to survive financially (because Hank decided to burn the ill-gotten money). The best thing to do when you come across something that doesn’t belong to you is to just go about your business as if you didn't see it. Keep life simple.
 

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A SIMPLE PLAN is directed by Sam Raimi and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

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Theme for July 2017: Disney Renaissance


 


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Saturday July 8, 2017


POCAHONTAS (1995), with Irene Bedard. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.


 


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Saturday July 15, 2017


THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996), with Tom Hulce. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.


 

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Saturday July 22, 2017


HERCULES (1997), with Tate Donovan. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.


 


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Saturday July 29, 2017


MULAN (1998), with Ming-Na Wen. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.




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Theme for July 2017: Disney Renaissance

 

screen-shot-2017-06-26-at-12-36-13-pm.pn

 

Saturday July 8, 2017

POCAHONTAS (1995), with Irene Bedard. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-26-at-12-36-04-pm.pn

 

Saturday July 15, 2017

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996), with Tom Hulce. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.

 
screen-shot-2017-06-26-at-12-37-51-pm.pn

 

Saturday July22, 2017

HERCULES (1997), with Tate Donovan. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.

 

screen-shot-2017-06-26-at-12-37-43-pm.pn

 

Saturday July 29, 2017

MULAN (1998), with Ming-Na Wen. Studio/production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation.

 

I am so looking forward to your discussion of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Thomas Hulce, because Thomas Hulce's amazing talent never achieved the stardom that it truly deserved.

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I am so looking forward to your discussion of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Thomas Hulce, because Thomas Hulce's amazing talent never achieved the stardom that it truly deserved.

 

Thanks Ray. I will be starting with POCAHONTAS this Saturday.

 

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Essential: POCAHONTAS (1995)

 

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At the beginning of this animated feature, there is a prologue showing Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson) as he leaves England and heads to the new world. He and his shipboard companions have dreams about finding gold, though they’re not as greedy as Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) who is leading the group’s expedition to Virginia.

 

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After the prologue and opening credits, there’s a lengthy sequence that establishes the title character. We see Pocahontas has been promised in marriage to a native man named Kocoum. It’s considered a good match, by her father at least. Of course, she thinks there might be another path for her, which is conveyed beautifully in the song ‘Just Around the Riverbend.’ Though the sentiments are meant to appeal to a young female audience looking to the future, I would say these feelings can apply to anyone faced with a major turning point in his or her life.

 

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After this segment Pocahontas visits Grandmother Willow, a truly great character which combines elements of native American spiritualism and feminism. She speaks directly to our young heroine when she sings ‘Listen with Your Heart.’ And we can be fairly certain that Pocahontas will indeed listen with her heart and find what’s just around the river bend for her. It will not be Kocoum, but John Smith.

 

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Of course, it should be pointed out that the real-life relationship between these two might have been much different than it’s depicted in the movie. Disney tells it as a sweeping love story with history merely serving as the backdrop. The moment when Pocahontas and John Smith meet in the movie is magical. Grandmother Willow’s song gets a slight reprise on the soundtrack, and Pocahontas knows what her destiny will be. It’s powerful.

 

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From here the movie charts the continuing relationship of this unique couple, and it also presents Ratcliffe’s nearly unstoppable quest for gold. Mixed in with these main characters are the typical secondary animal figures who serve as their friends. Ratcliffe has a rascally pug named Percy.

 

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Interspersed throughout the narrative are mini-lessons on the environment, and the differences between civilized folks and savages. These ideas culminate in the Oscar-awarded song ‘Colors of the Wind.’ Broadway actress Judy Kuhn sings it in the film; and popular recording artist Vanessa Williams had a big hit with it on radio. Alan Menkin and Stephen Schwartz truly outdid themselves, and so did the Walt Disney company.

 

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POCAHONTAS is directed by Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg. It can be streamed on Hulu.

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I like the graphic designs in this one, reminding me of 1950s SLEEPING BEAUTY. All flat and angular, but not exactly "UPA-ish". The forests are very impressionistic, making one nostalgic of an America without city pollution, traffic infested highways and airports and land fills. Watch this and Donald Duck in the short subject THE LITTERBUG afterward.

 

One great thing about it is that its success inspired other non-Caucasian heroines like MULAN, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and the more recent MOANA so that every Disney Princess in America can have a Disney character matching her skin tone. There were native Americans in past Disney features (cue song "What makes the Red Man red?" from PETER PAN) but they did better this time around by not making her say "how". (Then again, Tiger Lily is every bit as sexy playing Wendy's competition.)

 

It is not a bad movie, but I personally view this as the weakest of the nineties features.

 

My problem is that Pocahontas looks like a Barbie doll and John Smith looks like every other Prince Charming with the trendy post-1980s Man Mountain biceps.

 

One problem could also be the timing of its release, although it still did very well at the box-office. It lacked that drawing power of both THE LION KING from the year before and the first of the Pixars coming a couple months later, TOY STORY. Unlike those two features, this story meanders and there isn't much fun and excitement; the "comedy relief" going to a raccoon and a pug.

 

Yeah... it took TOO many liberties with history. We expect this in an animated cartoon that is not supposed to be viewed as a documentary. However they were trying so hard to be taken seriously, unlike Mr. Magoo in PAUL REVERE (1965). If it weren't so serious in tone, some of us wouldn't nitpick its inaccuracies.

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I like the graphic designs in this one, reminding me of 1950s SLEEPING BEAUTY. All flat and angular, but not exactly "UPA-ish". The forests are very impressionistic, making one nostalgic of an America without city pollution, traffic infested highways and airports and land fills. Watch this and Donald Duck in the short subject THE LITTERBUG afterward.

 

One great thing about it is that its success inspired other non-Caucasian heroines like MULAN, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and the more recent MOANA so that every Disney Princess in America can have a Disney character matching her skin tone. There were native Americans in past Disney features (cue song "What makes the Red Man red?" from PETER PAN) but they did better this time around by not making her say "how". (Then again, Tiger Lily is every bit as sexy playing Wendy's competition.)

 

It is not a bad movie, but I personally view this as the weakest of the nineties features.

 

My problem is that Pocahontas looks like a Barbie doll and John Smith looks like every other Prince Charming with the trendy post-1980s Man Mountain biceps.

 

One problem could also be the timing of its release, although it still did very well at the box-office. It lacked that drawing power of both THE LION KING from the year before and the first of the Pixars coming a couple months later, TOY STORY. Unlike those two features, this story meanders and there isn't much fun and excitement; the "comedy relief" going to a raccoon and a pug.

 

Yeah... it took TOO many liberties with history. We expect this in an animated cartoon that is not supposed to be viewed as a documentary. However they were trying so hard to be taken seriously, unlike Mr. Magoo in PAUL REVERE (1965). If it weren't so serious in tone, some of us wouldn't nitpick its inaccuracies.

 

Thanks for the comment. I like what you said about how Smith was rendered to look like a Prince Charming. In a way, he is overly romanticized and less historical. 

 

The impressionistic forests are fantastic. I think this film casts a different spell than the other 90s Disney animated features. They went a bit outside the proverbial box with the subject matter.

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I think the big boo-boo with John Smith is that they recycled old model sheets as an easy way out. Here is what I added to Year in Hollywood 1995, yet to be posted:

 

with that version of John Smith, voiced by Mel Gibson, looking like a blonde version of hulky bulky Prince Eric in THE LITTLE MERMAID and the macho Gaston whom Belle tried to get away from in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

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I think the big boo-boo with John Smith is that they recycled old model sheets as an easy way out. Here is what I added to Year in Hollywood 1995, yet to be posted:

 

with that version of John Smith, voiced by Mel Gibson, looking like a blonde version of hulky bulky Prince Eric in THE LITTLE MERMAID and the macho Gaston whom Belle tried to get away from in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

 

Sounds plausible to me. Probably what they did. But would they admit it..?

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I think most critics and Disney fans agree that THE HUNCHBACK was a better effort because they were forced to create all new model sheets for characters. Then again, if you think about it, was there much to distinguish between the much earlier Snow White's or Cinderella's princes? I do think Aurora's Prince Philip (SLEEPING BEAUTY) was an improvement since he does a lot more in the story battling Maleficent and convincing Pop that this is the 14th century and he will marry the woman he loves. Yet his design wasn't all that different than the others.

 

What got bad by the eighties and nineties post-LITTLE MERMAID were all of the "man mountains". Everybody criticizes the Disney princesses for looking like Barbies, but the guys all look like they belong on the covers of Men's Health & Fitness.

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I think most critics and Disney fans agree that THE HUNCHBACK was a better effort because they were forced to create all new model sheets for characters. Then again, if you think about it, was there much to distinguish between the much earlier Snow White's or Cinderella's princes? I do think Aurora's Prince Philip (SLEEPING BEAUTY) was an improvement since he does a lot more in the story battling Maleficent and convincing Pop that this is the 14th century and he will marry the woman he loves. Yet his design wasn't all that different than the others.

 

What got bad by the eighties and nineties post-LITTLE MERMAID were all of the "man mountains". Everybody criticizes the Disney princesses for looking like Barbies, but the guys all look like they belong on the covers of Men's Health & Fitness.

 

Yes, they're almost too chiseled. I haven't seen HERCULES yet but will get to it after HUNCHBACK. And I expect the drawings to make him look like Mr. Universe.

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Not to jump the gun, but HERCULES had an even more pleasing graphic style. Post-Pixar, there was some interesting experimentation, including another FANTASIA, during that second half of the decade before DINOSAUR pushed Disney's in-house department into increasing digital territory.

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Essential: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996)

 

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Disney’s next animated feature was a reworking of Victor Hugo’s tale about a deformed bell ringer named Quasimodo (Tom Hulce). In the painstakingly detailed opening sequence, we learn how the gypsy orphan came to be raised by ruthless Judge Frollo (Tony Jay). Quasimodo’s name means ‘half formed’ and he is perceived by some to be a monster, not fully human. Definitely not worthy of inclusion in proper society, so he must be hidden away. A lot can be read into what the character represents historically as well as socio-culturally.
 

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Hugo’s classic story had been dramatized as a silent film with Lon Chaney Sr., and in sound versions with Charles Laughton and Anthony Quinn. Their Quasimodos were older. Disney’s casting of Tom Hulce was done to make him younger, and to sound closer to the age of 20, which is what Hugo originally intended.
 

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As in so many other animated features from this studio, themes appeal to young children, adolescents and adults. There are grand Broadway-style tunes, composed by Alan Menken. And there are comical sidekicks– though in this instance, they are not animals but lifelike gargoyles. It should be noted two of the gargoyles are named Victor and Hugo (Charles Kimbrough and Jason Alexander). A third one is named Laverne, and she’s voiced by veteran character actress Mary Wickes in her final role.
 

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In some ways the artists abandon Hugo’s vision. While they get certain key visual details correct, they move beyond the literary characterizations and recast them as archetypes that have worked in countless other Disney productions. So instead of a story about deformity, misogyny and a misunderstood outcast, we get a male Cinderella. His being confined in the bell tower for so many years is not unlike Cinderella’s containment inside her stepmother’s home.
 

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In fact Frollo is the male counterpart of the wicked stepmother. And while Cinderella longed to go to the ball and meet the prince, Quasimodo desires to go to the Festival of Fools where he will spend time with a gypsy girl named Esmeralda (Demi Moore). Quasimodo wants to leave the sanctuary of the church to join the outside world just like Cinderella did.
 

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Some reviewers play up the darker aspects of the story. But Disney’s crew lightens the proceedings considerably. It’s not as sinister or brooding as it could have been. And there’s no way they would have had the guts to present a downbeat ending the way the book does, where all the main characters die. (We can guess what ‘Hamlet’ would be like if the company ever attempted an animated feature of Shakespeare’s great tragedy.) Here Disney makes sure Quasimodo and Esmeralda are not killed off though they do give Frollo a horrific death. Frollo’s death allows for an upbeat resolution, which according to the Disney formula, ensures it will be commercially successful. So when Quasimodo walks off with the crowd at the end, we feel good even if we wonder who will take over the ringing of the bells, bells, bells.
 

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THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is directed by Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise. It can be streamed on Hulu.

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I saw this in theaters, then on VHS. It was better than POCAHONTAS, but obviously inferior to at least two of the famous live-action versions. At least it was different. Yeah, we didn't need all of the songs.

 

Did a check-up on Mary Wickes, our lovable nurse in NOW VOYAGER who kept Bette Davis' Charlotte from going insane with Mother (Gladys Cooper). I was surprised to learn that she was also one of the models used by animator Marc Davis to animate Cruella Da Vil back in the day.

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I saw this in theaters, then on VHS. It was better than POCAHONTAS, but obviously inferior to at least two of the famous live-action versions. At least it was different. Yeah, we didn't need all of the songs.

 

Did a check-up on Mary Wickes, our lovable nurse in NOW VOYAGER who kept Bette Davis' Charlotte from going insane with Mother (Gladys Cooper). I was surprised to learn that she was also one of the models used by animator Marc Davis to animate Cruella Da Vil back in the day.

 

It probably wasn't meant to be compared to the earlier live action versions (though that was inevitable). I read Victor Hugo's family was upset his name was not included in the film's advertising, and they criticized the studio for its over commercializing of the story.

 

Interesting about Mary Wickes. She died before she could finish voicing all the lines. So six remaining lines were done by Jane Withers, who took over in the direct-to-video sequel a few years later.

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