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Reviews of new Disney and Touchstone films
|Alex Stroup, editor|
Heffalumps, Bollywood, and Sea Creatures
A trio of new Disney releases for the whole family
Friday, February 11, 2005
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It is perhaps enough to simply say that Pooh's Heffalump Movie was originally intended as a direct-to-video title. Perhaps enough, but as one other title (Toy Story 2) originally intended for video shows, you can't always be sure.
Somewhat confusingly titled, since Winnie the Pooh is only minimally involved in the proceedings, the movie actually focuses on young Roo's desire to capture a heffalump. In the process he learns that just because someone is different doesn't meant they're bad.
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
It is all pretty standard cartoon fare. A simple position (summed up in the conclusion of Rabbit's description of a heffalump: And the worst thing is they're different) and a simple lesson. The only provision for adults in the audience is the very rare bit of dialogue too advanced for the targeted 5-year-olds (Tigger calls something a fait accomplicated, for example).
Coming in at a breezy 67 minutes (including credits), Pooh's Heffalump Movie is squarely within the limits of attention for the younger set, and yet at the screening I attended the children were never quite in that state of thrall that keeps them still in their seats and their lips sealed. They weren't exactly rowdy, but there was a lot of whispering and fidgeting.
The voice talent is all familiar, with most of the players having been the voice of their characters for years (if not more than a decade). The newcomer playing Lumpy the Heffalump (Kyle Stanger) has an active voice, and his strong accent provides a stimulation generally missing from the other characters.
I've always felt Pooh titles were animated in too flat of a style, with little vibrancy in the palette used. Being a product of one of Disney's television animation divisions (DisneyToons Studio in Syndey, Australia) the level of animation just isn't up to feature standards. The backgrounds, done by Japan's Studio Fuga, are very pretty but very static. As is common in television animation, unless it is a character or something being touched by a character, it does not move. Roo and Lumpy move through forests that are completely still and fields with grass that doesn't wave in the wind. These things tend to go unnoticed on a 25-inch television set, but on a 30-foot movie screen are very obvious.
The only highlight in the animation is in the Lumpy character. Perhaps doing a new character freed the animators from 35 years of Pooh style, but Lumpy is the only sign of kineticism in the whole film. He bounces around, giggles, and is sufficiently infectious to almost forget how bored you are.
At least until the next song comes along. Carly Simon is proably the biggest name associated with the whole endeavor. Simon performs every song (and somehow six are crammed into an hour) and wrote all but one of them (Winnie the Pooh by the Sherman Brothers). Sadly, they all sound the same: neither sophisticated enough for adults, or active enough for children, meaning that every 10 minutes things grind to a halt while a song covers a montage of some sort.
Combine the lack of adult interest, movie theater prices, and only 67 minutes in run time, and the smart parent will wait for video on this one. At least then you can read a book or do the dishes while your children watch it over and over.
Confidence in this cast must be high, though, as they'll all be gathering again for Pooh's Heffalump Halloween later this year. Here's hoping that it sticks to direct-to-video so that I can leave it to Kevin Krock to review.
A Bollywood version of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.
Well, you can't assume this one of targetting the lowest common denominator. Hardly an American is going to know what a Bollywood movie is. Heck, a disturbing percentage probably wouldn't recognize a British verion of Pride & Prejudice (and it would be worse if it weren't for the significant population of women who go weak at the knees at the mention of Colin Firth).
If you don't know Pride & Prejudice I'll leave you to find out on your own. But what is Bollywood? At the broadest definition, Bollywood is the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Bollywood has its own traditions and conventions, the most obvious of which is that almost everything is a musical, melodrama is the standard, and it is very clean (from a sexual point of view).
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Director Gurinder Chadha achieved unexpected success with Bend It Like Beckham, a movie that looked at blending immigrant Indian culture with the British middle class and with Bride she continues displaying and explaining Indian culture for a Western audience (much like fellow director Mira Nair).
In using the Pride & Prejudice storyline, Chadha has a storyline familiar to most watchers that provides an opportunity to compare and contrast cultures. When you consider that marriage is the element of Indian culture most familiar to Westerners (arranged marriage, that is), Pride & Prejudice is an even more obvious choice since marriage is also the central theme.
The tendency with anything new is to confuse originatity of experience with quality of experience (I even found Irvine, California interesting the first time I was there) and Bride & Prejudice is definitely a new experience. Though aware of Bollywood, 2001's Lagaan is pretty much the extent of my direct interaction and that was a period piece completely unlike Bride. So lacking comparison, I second guess my reactions. Did I like this part simply because I don't know how much better it could be? Did I not like that part because I didn't understand it?
I definitely left the movie theater having been entertained, though in doing some research I find that those more familiar with the genre give it only middling ratings. Several times I found myself at odds with the rest of the audience, comprised mostly of Indian professionals living in San Francisco. Sometimes they would laugh at something and I'd have no idea what the joke was; other times I would laugh and they'd be silent.
Apparently in addition to simply being a Bollywood-like movie, it also spoofs several well-known films. Imagine watching a film like Scream if it were the first horor movie you'd ever seen. You have little way of knowing what is humor and what earnest. So you eventually slip into a mindset that everything is earnest or everything is exaggeration.
So, those last three paragraphs are my long-winded way of telling you that while I'm going to tell you whether I liked the movie, I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.
Though it actually manages to be pretty faithful to the source material (and therefore pretty familiar), the Indian family and locations give Bride a sufficient novelty to keep things interesting. Everything is beautifully shot, so if you get bored with the story, you can distract yourself just looking at where they are.
It certainly helps that the cast is gorgeous (both genders). It is amazing that someone could be so famous to more than a billion people but unknown in the United States, but Aishwarya Rai, playing Lalita (the Elizabeth equivalent) was named by CBS News earlier this year as the World's Most Beautiful Woman and she certainly has a pleasant face.
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
The directness of the acting may be offputting, but it is definitely within the tradition of Bollywood. As is the fact that there are no kissing scenes, a fact that Chadha teases several times, but will be confusing to audiences unaware that kissing is a very recent addition to Bollywood films.
The songs and dance numbers underwhelm (mostly on the song side of the equation) and are generally silly ballads. The most interesting was the first, and only one in Hindi, when the men and women face off at some form of wedding shower. I was pleased to see that the writers didn't constrain song and dance to India, and when the movie moves to Los Angeles a more American version that will give audiences a better idea of how they should interpret the previous numbers.
If you're a fan of Pride & Prejudice or just new, good-hearted experiences then you could do much worse than commit your movie dollars to this film. Families should feel comfortable taking almost all children. Though rated PG-13 for sexual references, they are very mild and the most prominent one is cautionary not celebratory.
Let's just say that Bride & Prejudice is likely to be the best Bollywood film released this year in the United States, and if there are better waiting for us back in Mumbai, here's hoping that success will bring them over for us to figure it out.
As the years since Titanic have piled up, one increasingly gets the feeling that James Cameron only made movies to accumulate enough money to do what he really wanted: explore the oceans. Watching the amazing footage in Aliens of the Deep it is hard to argue with him.
Since finishing up with Titanic in 1997 Cameron has spent most of his professional life underwater, having directed Expedition: Bismark for television and 2003's IMAX 3D Ghosts of the Abyss. When he has wandered back to Hollywood as a producer it has been to focus on space with Solaris (2002) and Godspeed, out later this year.
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
For Aliens of the Deep, Cameron combines the two as he uses study of Earth-based life in extreme environments to promote the search for life on other planets, particularly Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. The results are mixed as the first half produces some amazing footage, while the second part has the feel of a propoganda film for NASA's budget.
Over the course of a year, Cameron's crew put together an effort that Jacque Cousteau could barely have concieved. Using four manned submarines, 40 dives were done in 10 deep-sea locations at depths of up to 10,000 feet. Accompanying him were not only marine biologists and geologists but astrobiologists and others focused on extraterrestrial life.
Unfortunately, despite the credentials of his companions the actual science in the movie is on the light side. Rather than being an explanation, Cameron's film tries instead to overwhelm with images both bizaare and startling in their beauty. The idea on sale is that before looking for life in the extreme environments of other planets we should look for it in the extreme environments of Earth, and that having found them it strengthens the argument for looking at other planets.
As I said, this is not a treatise; it is a coffee table booka very pretty coffee book. I could almost recommend shelling out your $10-$15 (that's what it costs in San Francisco, anyway) solely for the shots of masses of shrimp feeding off of bacteria inches from a 700-degree thermal vent. These couple of minutes deserve to be seen 70 feet high in 3D.
The rest of it though, will look just as good on your TV at home when it comes out on DVD, and you won't need to wear annoying glasses that hang halfway down your face.
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
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