At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
When you think of classic animated films, you can’t possibly forget the features Disney has brought into our lives. Most of us grew up with at least a handful of cartoon epics – depending on the generation – and now with Tangled, Disney is bringing the long line of princess-themed animated features to a close. As they move on into their next phase of Disney magic with Rapunzel and her tower-escape accomplice, Flynn Ryder, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look back at Disney’s best trusty companions starting from the release of their first animated feature 73 years ago.
These friendly faces have been with us since Disney’s original glory days,providing the foundation for the sidekicks that followed them in the long line of animated classics. Despite the fact that they aren’t necessarily original characters, the Disney spin on them has made each beloved character synonymous with the Mouse House.
The Seven Dwarfs
Okay, I’m already cheating by picking more than one sidekick at a time, but you can’t really separate one dwarf from the others. In addition to providing comic relief and a few tender moments, Sleepy, Sneezy, Happy, Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful, and Doc were really the best friends a girl whose stepmom tried to have her killed and subsequently drove her into the woods could have. Not only do they take her in (once she wins them over by being the best, most helpful singing houseguest ever) but when Snow White falls into her poison apple nap, they overtake the evil queen and send her to her death. If that wasn’t enough, their adorable little beards and dig, dig, digging Hi-ho’s should seal the deal.
This tiny guy has become one of the Disney mascots, appearing in countless other cartoon ventures and singing the unofficial Disney theme “When You Wish Upon a Star,” but we fell in love with the little chirper back in 1940 when his heart, courage and bravery helped little Pinocchio find his way back to Geppetto and real boyhood. The puppet’s “official conscience” (he’s got a badge and everything) wasn’t actually supposed to see the end of the film according to the original story, but Walt Disney altered the tale and Jiminy's been a symbol of Disney magic ever since.
You really can’t say Disney without thinking of this spritely, stubborn little lady. Her pixie dust is sprinkled over almost every Mousey venture and if Mickey wasn’t Walt’s right-hand man, she could have a chance at giving the cheery mouse a run for his money as the most beloved Disney character. Of course, she earned her post by playing the trusty, yet feisty, sidekick to Peter Pan eventually putting her life on the line to save Peter from Captain Hook’s gift-wrapped bomb. Like Jiminy, Tink’s status as a Disney mascot has landed her roles in handfuls of other cartoons and films.
The Ultimate BFFs
These folks may not have special powers or super strength; they can be timid and they don’t always get it right, but their fierce friendship helps keep our heroes on track and in good company.
Winnie the Pooh is a lovable dope and his best friend is always there to help him along. He may be tiny, he may be squeamish, but his heart is ten times his stature. His sweet disposition and great capacity for friendship make him very special to the honey-loving bear. Piglet often overcomes his immense fear of dark, dangerous situations when it’s up to him to save the day.
Much like Piglet, Flounder is fearful but loves wholeheartedly and comes through when it really matters. As Ariel’s lifelong best friend in The Little Mermaid, the little blue and yellow fish supports her unconventional (and unpopular) affinity for human culture and is the one who eventually gives her the statue of Prince Eric that King Triton blasts to smithereens.
Aladdin’s little monkey doesn’t always do the right thing, but his heart always finds its way eventually. He probably causes just as much trouble for his partner in crime as he solves for him -- need I bring up the giant ruby incident in the Cave of Wonders? -- but he manages to overcome his often selfish and childish ways when it comes down to it.
The Class Clowns
These guys share some similarities with the Ultimate BFFs, but they keep us in stitches along the way and usually get their voices from big name actors. Every Disney character has a little humor for good measure, but these sidekicks raise the bar on animated funny.
Robin Williams’ blue genie changed the landscape of animated sidekicks forever. The actor did the unthinkable while recording dialogue for Genie – he improvised and adlibbed many of his lines, creating quite a bit of work for animators. Genie morphs into 52 different characters at-will throughout the film and proliferates laughs even in the darkest of times.
Timon and Pumbaa
I’m breaking the rules again, but you can’t have Tweedle Dee without Tweedle Dum and you can’t have Timon without Pumbaa. After they save young Simba from the desert, the duo help him adapt to jungle life and teach him the ways of their problem-free philosophy, Hakuna Matata (it means no worries, for the rest of your days), all the while allowing the Broadway-style antics of actors Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella to keep audiences giggling.
In addition to the fact that the little one-eyed, round, horned, skinny-legged monster from Monsters Inc. is funny-looking, his voice is provided by the classically hilarious Billy Crystal. As a scare assistant to the very large and very fuzzy professional scarer, Sully, Mike is wound a little tight. He attempts to keep Sully’s wistful decisions from causing bigger problems, but manages to make being uptight hilarious.
Villains need assistance too, even the evil queen in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs has her magic mirror. The best of the bad guy sidekicks are often hilarious and sometimes equally as hapless, but they always manage to muck it up for the good guys.
Captain Hook’s only friend and first mate may not always be the most helpful pal; he may be an idiot from time to time; and his loyalty may be driven by fear, but he’s really all Hook’s got. The other pirates begrudgingly follow their cantankerous leader, but Smee bumbles and stumbles throughout Neverland never failing to serve his baddie bestie. It’s a kind of loyalty you could almost admire if it wasn’t pointing in the wrong direction.
Flotsam and Jetsam
These twin moray eels assist Ursula and planning the destruction of the beautiful mermaid princess, Ariel. They creepily finish each others’ sentences and spend most of their time with their tails tightly entwined, but the thing that makes these villains great evil sidekicks is the crystal ball and portal that they create when their yellow eyes combine. Without them, Ursula would have had a hard time keeping tabs on poor Ariel.
This foul, feathered friend does Jafar’s evil bidding in Aladdin and manages to create an appropriate setting for Gilbert Godfried’s grating voice (although we can enjoy momentary relief each time we watch the Sultan stuff a handful of crackers into the macaw’s mouth). He’s got a good heart somewhere in that little body and he’s usually good for a laugh, but he tends to cling to the dark side, giving Jafar the idea to marry Jasmine for control of the kingdom and using his mimicking skills to trick Aladdin and his friends.
Sidekicks are always there to help, but some could earn awards or medals for their guidance and assistance in our heroes’ and heroines’ romantic fates.
Though he may not actually have hands, Lumiere manages to act as a helping hand, allowing The Beast and Belle to eventually find common ground. He acts a sort of double agent because while he’s undoubtedly The Beast’s closest friend, he’s also the one that defies The Beast's rules and coaxes Belle out of hiding when she's locked in her room. He may be a bit of a ladies’ man, but he manages to help bring the troubled yet fated pair together.
Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian is a Disney original. Though he wasn’t part of Hans Christian Anderson’s original story, the film wouldn’t be complete without the Jamaican crustacean. He starts out as Triton’s right-hand man and vows to watch after Ariel, but when he sees how she longs for dry land his heart overcomes his brain and he follows her to keep her from harm. He provides the perfect romantic setting once on land, cooing “Kiss The Girl” to help coax the handsome prince into kissing the newly be-legged Ariel.
He may be the newest member on the sidekick roster, but Ray definitely deserves a spot on the list. The firey, Cajun firefly is a hopeless romantic who despite his toothless grin oozes Bayou charm and selflessly devotes himself to helping Prince Naveen and Tiana find their way to the voodoo priestess so they can undo their froggy forms in The Princess and The Frog. The sweet little bug’s undying love for the Evening Star whom he refers to as Evangeline is what eventually helps Prince Naveen uncover his deep love for Tiana.
Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.