Welcome back to Road To Disney. Just like the 70s and 80s, the 2000s were not kind to Disney. The new millennium presented new challenges. One of those challenges is the changing trends in animation where traditional animation was losing popularity with the rise of computer animation. This all started in the mid-90s when a little company named Pixar released Toy Story, the first feature-length computer animated movie. Since then, Pixar ended up dethroning Disney as the dominant animation studio in the industry and lead to other studios like DreamWorks and Blue Sky rising to prominence. The increasing competition put pressure on Disney as these studios (more specifically, Pixar and DreamWorks) were making movies that were as good as or better than what they were putting out. During this time, Disney once again started experimenting with new storytelling techniques and worked on technical methods that they’ve utilized during the Renaissance. Unfortunately, most of their work was met with moderate success at best and thus, we enter what some consider to be a second Dark Age. This was the time of straight-to-DVD sequels and Disney Channel Original Movies. It was rough. Let’s begin with…
Release Date: January 1, 2000
Fantasia 2000 is the sequel to one of my all-time favorite Disney films, released 60 years after the original. And it’s also the first movie I saw in theaters. By this time, things have changed and you could make an excellent sequel with more advanced technology. This is what Walt Disney originally wanted, to turn Fantasia into a film series with several sequels, but since Fantasia didn’t make the money it needed to make up for the costs, that idea was scrapped. But the years went by and Fantasia grew in popularity, the filmmakers at Disney decided to make a sequel. What did we get on the New Year Day of 2000? Well, we got a film that achieves most of the high points of the original, but adds elements that lessens the film in comparison. Once again, Disney combines their best animation with classical music compositions while utilizing different styles and animation. The best segments are Pines Of Rome (with the flying whales), Rhapsody In Blue (which has an Al Hirschield look to it), the Tin Soldier segment, and the final segment Firebird Suite (with the Sprite and the Firebird). They brought back The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the first movie and that’s always a classic. The first segment, Sympothy No. 5, is okay, but is kind of a stepdown compared to the beginning segment of the first Fantasia. Pomp and Circumstance makes for a funny Donald Duck short, but I can’t help but think of graduation every time I hear the music. The flamingo with the yo-yo sketch is easily the weakest segment. It’s not bad, but it’s unnecessary. The worst part of Fantasia 2000 is easily the celebrity appearances in-between. From an unfunny Steve Martin to Bette Midler to James Earl Jones to fucking Penn & Teller. What the hell were they thinking? It’s like they’re trying to make the movie look cooler with these celebrities, but it ends up being pandering. Despite not being at the same level as the original, Fantasia 2000 is still a really good movie that is worth checking out if you enjoy Fantasia. I give it an 8/10.
Release Date: May 19, 2000
An Iguanadon named Aladar is raised by a family of lemurs (cue the rage of paleontologists everywhere) after being separated from his mother. When a meteor strikes, they’re left looking for a new home, which puts them in the path of a herd of other dinosaurs also looking for a home. Fun fact about yours truly: as a kid, I loved dinosaurs. I thought they were the coolest things ever. While most kids were obsessed with Pokemon, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I had dinosaur toys and watched movies like Jurassic Park, The Land Before Time, and especially THIS movie. Dinosaur was unique in that it blended computer animation with live-action settings, almost like you’re watching a documentary. And in the first five minutes, it was great. There’s no dialogue, it’s just these dinosaurs living their lives. I like that they’re showcasing the less-mainstream dinosaurs that people wouldn’t know about. Instead of a T-Rex, they took the Carnotaurus and made it 3 times bigger than it actually is. So, it’s basically a T-Rex with devil horns. How awesome is that? And all of this over one of the best scores I’ve ever heard. BUT after the first five minutes, we get a tired, run-of-the-mill mediocre film where the characters talk and whatever potential was there in the first five minutes are instantly thrown away. I was originally going to skip Dinosaur, but I’m covering it anyways since Disney made it part of their canon. The story is Moses with dinosaurs. The characters are bland unoriginal archetypes; the overly-nice main lead, the forced romantic interest, two stern leaders (one voiced by Sebastian himself, Samuel E. Wright), and those ugly, UGLY lemurs. The only characters who I can tolerate are an elderly Brachiosaurus and an elderly Styracosaurus who are behind the herd, but even then, they’re not enough. There’s also some REALLY bad writing involved. Just look at the lines below.
Girls, I’m known as the ‘professor of love’ and school’s in session.
You just need a little help from the love monkey.
Any of you ladies up for a game of “monkey in the middle”?
That, children, is what’s known as a jerkosaurus.
Good thing dialogue was included in this movie. The whole look of the movie is lifeless, taking place in mostly desert. I know it’s supposed to be a post-apocalyptic world, but globs of gray and brown are not appealing to look at. I wouldn’t have a problem with this movie being unoriginal and using the same cliches and character types that we’ve seen before, but you gotta do something unique with them to distract us from that fact and this movie doesn’t do that. It feels like they want to tell a more mature, epic story, but they couldn’t commit fully, so we wind up with a safe, mostly forgettable film that even its high points couldn’t save. I give it a low 4/10.
The Emperor’s New Groove
Release Date: December 15, 2000
Kuzco is a selfish, egotistical emperor who’s turned into a llama by his ex-advisor Yzma, who planned to kill him and take his throne. He comes across Pacha, who goes along with him on a journey back to his palace. Originally, this film was supposed to be called Kingdom Of The Sun, a retelling of The Prince And The Pauper directed by the same guy behind the Lion King and with songs composed by Sting. But the project fell through and the movie was remade into a road trip buddy comedy. Where this movie works the most is the jokes. This is one funny movie. You get your fourth wall jokes and your adult humor and a lot of them stick. The animation matches the quick-paced style making the jokes funnier. David Spade voiced Kuzco and he’s the typical jerk character who learns a lesson alongside Pacha, voiced by John Goodman. They butt heads and hate each other, but they learn to trust one another and become friends. The best characters are easily Yzma and her henchman Kronk, voiced by the late Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton respectively. This is a case where the villains are better than the heroes because these two are hilarious. I crack up every time they’re on-screen, especially Kronk, who steals the whole show. He should have his own movie.
Is this one of Disney’s best movies? No. Hell, it feels less like a Disney movie and more like a DreamWorks movie. But it is one of Disney’s funniest movies and I’m going to give it a 7/10.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Release Date: June 15, 2001
A young man named Milo comes across an ancient book that leads to the lost city of Atlantis. So with the financial backing of a family friend, he joins a crew to find Atlantis for the discovery of the century. This film is an interesting case because it shows Disney going for something different with their movies in order to keep up with the times. With Atlantis: The Lost Empire, they opted to make a big action-adventure with no songs or animal sidekicks. And it did not pay off well for Disney, doing poorly at the box office and receiving mixed reviews. What do I think of it? Well, add me to the list of people who likes this movie and thinks it’s underrated. Does it have issues? Yeah. It doesn’t have the best writing, trying to tell a more mature while mixing that with Disney. Many of the side characters, while memorable, are mostly archetypes who aren’t well-developed. The main villain is VERY obvious and he’s basically like Ratcliffe and Clayton, driven by greed. Plus, there is the whole white savior trope that makes me uneasy. With these problems, why do I even like this movie? Well, for one, I like the world of Atlantis. It’s a culture that blends magic and technology in the coolest way. I like the leads. Milo (Michael J. Fox) and Kida (Cree Summer) have some really good chemistry with one another and I like that they weren’t like other Disney couples who fall in love the moment they see each other. The animation is also spectacular. There’s not many Disney movies that look like it.
I fully acknowledge that this movie has issues that prevent some people from enjoying it, but they didn’t take away my enjoyment. It’s far from the best, but there are enough things here that I like and I appreciate Disney doing something different every once in a while. I give Atlantis: The Lost Empire a 7/10.
Lilo & Stitch
Release Date; June 21, 2002
An alien experiment named Experiment 626 escapes to Earth, specifically Hawaii, where he comes across a young girl named Lilo and her older sister Nani, who adopts him while he’s disguised as a dog and names him Stitch. While hiding, he forms a bond with Lilo and learns about the meaning of family. For most older audiences, the teasers to this movie had to have generated a “what the hell are they thinking” response as they featured Stitch appearing in other Disney movies like Aladdin and The Lion King. But then the film came out and it was a huge success, to the point where it spawned a successful franchise from sequels to a TV series and even an anime adaptation (seriously). And it’s one of my favorite animated movies. The best thing about this movie is the characters and the message. Lilo is one of the best kid characters in a Disney movie. She’s just in her own world, which is a coping mechanism for the situation she’s in being raised by Nani, who’s struggling with keeping a job after their parents died. I love their relationship. They love each other, they hate each other, they act like how siblings act. With all of the struggles they’re going through, they still stick together through ohana, which means family. Overlooking them is a social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames). They could’ve easily made him be the bad guy, but they didn’t; he’s just doing his job. Stitch walks the line between cute and creepy. He goes through his own arc where he goes from a force of destruction and chaos to someone who cares about those closest to him. His creator is Jumba, a four-eyed scientist with a Russian accent and he comes to Earth with Pleakley, a one-eyed effeminate Earth expert, to retrieve Stitch. The Hawaiian music fits the islander vibe the movie has and it includes a lot of Elvis Presley. Fun fact: this movie was my introduction to Elvis Presley. Lilo & Stitch is one of my childhood favorite movies and I’m giving it a 9/10.
Release Date: November 27, 2002
Jim Hawkins comes across a map that leads to a planet full of treasure called Treasure Planet (duh). So he sets out with a crew of eccentric characters to find the planet and its riches. This movie is noticeable for two things: it’s the third time that Disney has ever done an adaptation of Treasure Island and it’s one of Disney’s biggest box office bombs with a budget of $140 million and only making $110 million worldwide. What went wrong and did this movie deserve it? Honestly, this is a decent movie that has its ups and downs. Like most Disney movies of its time, Treasure Planet blends traditional and computer animation and it looks pretty, even with some of the computer animation not holding up. The world has a futuristic steampunk aesthetic that brings a new variation of the Treasure Island story. There’s a lot of action and adventure galore. It’s pirates in space. What more do you want? Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a troubled teen who has a reason to feel the way he feels since his father left. He sees looking for Treasure Planet as an opportunity to make up for his mother, who runs an inn. Coming along on his journey is his mother’s friend Dr. Delbert Doppler. John Silver is a pirate disguised as a cook who plans to take the treasure from Treasure Planet. His relationship with Jim is really strong. Even though he does diabolical things, he still has a soft spot for Jim. I also like the relationship between Doppler and the captain, who’s a cat lady. There’s also a robot named BEN voiced by Martin Short who shouts half his lines and it gets annoying, but he’s not in the movie much. Is it the best pirate film? Probably not, but there is a lot of good things to admire and it is worth checking out. I give it a 7/10.
Release Date: November 1, 2003
An Inuit young man named Kenai seeks out revenge against a bear that killed his oldest brother. When he finds the bear and kills it, the spirit world punishes him for his selfish act by turning him into a bear. In order to turn back into a human, he must reach the highest mountain peak during the Northern lights. Along the way, he comes across a bear cub named Koda who befriends him and they learn a message about brotherhood or some shit. Brother Bear is what I like to call wasted potential. The positives: the animation is stellar. This is one gorgeous movie, but you’d expect that from Disney. Also, everything having to do with the people and their culture are really interesting. And credit where it’s due, there are elements of an interesting story here. It’s like they want to make up for Pocahontas. Unfortunately, when Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) is turned into a bear, that’s where the film goes downhill. What was supposed to be a serious story has now become a joke because everything involving the talking animals is shit. There’s two moose who are just Canadian stereotypes, eh? And they’re not funny at all. Any scene with them drags the story down. Koda (Jeremy Suarez a.k.a. Jordan from The Bernie Mac Show) is annoying. I try not to be too harsh on kid actors and Jeremy is doing the best he can, but I can’t stand his character. There’s a subplot where Koda says he can’t find his mom and if you think about the bear that Kenai killed earlier in the movie, you know where this is going. What makes it worse is the scene where Kenai tells Koda the truth about his mother and a song is playing over it. What a load of shit. Speaking of songs, the songs are done by Phil Collins and while I like his work from Tarzan, here, it doesn’t resonate. I only remember the first song and that’s it. Brother Bear, a collection of good ideas that’s smothered by terrible jokes and terrible execution. Skip this one. I give it a 3/10.
Home On The Range
Release Date: April 2, 2004
Bust a moo?
Bust a moo?!
BUST A MOO?!
A trio of cows live on a farm that’s about to be foreclosed. So they decide to capture an infamous cow rustler and use the bounty money to save the farm. This was the point where Disney were just throwing shit at the wall to see what would stick and boy, does this not stick. This movie killed traditional animation at Disney. It would be five years before Disney released another traditionally-animated movie in theaters. That’s how bad this movie is. The animation is passable by the standards of lesser studios, but mediocre by Disney standards. All of the characters are either annoying or bland and the most annoying is the main character, voiced by Roseanne Barr. The jokes are not that funny. There are jokes that left me speechless like when the camera is focused on the main cow’s udders and she says…
Yeah. They’re real. Stop staring.
The songs are forgettable. Alan Menken was involved and he was clearly on his off days here because I don’t remember how any of these songs go. This movie is an embarrassing, pandering pile of cow dung and the fact that it comes from Disney is heartbreaking. I give it a 2/10.
Release Date: November 4, 2005
In a world of anthropomorphic animals, Chicken Little is scrutinized by the town he lives in because they think he’s crazy for saying the sky is falling. With the threat of an alien invasion coming, Chicken Little and his friends must warn the town before it’s too late. I’m not gonna mince words here: this is the worst animated Disney movie that’s not Mars Needs Moms. I initially didn’t know what film I hated more, this or Home On The Range. But the more I looked into both movies, the more I realize that Chicken Little was worse. This was Disney’s first fully-computer animated feature film and boy, was this not a good first step. The animation isn’t even that bad. It’s cartoony, but I’ve seen worse cartoony-looking effects. The movie throws a lot of jokes and gags at you and very few of them work. They weren’t even trying. Chicken Little himself seems like a nice guy who’s inventive and creative. His friends aren’t that bad either, even when they’re basically stereotypes (the ugly girl, the fat guy, the mute guy). The rest of the characters, I despise mainly because of how harsh they are to Chicken Little. The way the world is just beating down on this poor guy isn’t even funny, it’s depressing because he doesn’t do anything to deserve such scorn. The character I hate the most is Chicken Little’s dad Buck Cluck. This is a guy who’s embarrassed of his own son and doesn’t support him when he needed it. Worst. Father. Ever. You wanna know how much I hate these characters? When that alien invasion does happen, I was rooting for the aliens to wipe these assholes out. I hate this movie so much. Unfunny jokes, unlikable characters, sub-standard animation, it’s chicken shit. I give it a 2/10.
Meet The Robinsons
Release Date: March 30, 2007
A young boy named Lewis hopes to become an inventor, but his inventions always go wrong. One day, he comes across another young boy named Wilbur who claims to be from the future. He takes Lewis to the future to meets his wacky, eccentric family. Along the way, the Bowler Hat Guy is after Lewis, hoping to steal his inventions and become famous. John Lasseter saved Disney. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar and John Lasseter became the chief creative officer of both studios. He made some changes to Meet The Robinsons before its release and how is the movie? Well, even though it’s not perfect, this is what Disney needed because it’s an improvement over the last three films. This isn’t a movie that’s driven by plot, but by its heart and humor. Just like Chicken Little, they throw a lot of jokes and gags at you at breakneck speed, but most of them work. This is a movie that thrives on insanity. Just look at The Robinson family. Every second, some crazy shit happens, which leads into problems. There is a lot of characters and most of them don’t get any proper development, they’re there for quick jokes and gags, which makes the second-third of the movie feel rushed. What I like most about this movie is its message of perseverance and how it’s okay to fail and use failure as motivation. It’s shown in our main characters Lewis, Wilbur, and the Bowler Hat Guy (who’s an underrated, hilarious villain). Overall, Meet The Robinsons has a weak story and uneven pacing, but that’s forgiven by its heart, humor, and a great message for everyone, ending with a quote from Walt Disney himself. I give it an 8/10.
Release Date: November 21, 2008
A dog named Bolt thinks he’s a superhero, spending his entire life on the set of a hit TV show. When he believes that his owner has been kidnapped, he sets out on a cross country journey along with a stray cat and a hamster to save her. I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed this movie. It nails what makes Disney one of the best in animation, plus, it shows that Disney are getting the hang on this computer animation thing. The characters in this movie are really likable, especially the animals. John Travolta voices Bolt and he was excellent. He’s kinda like Buzz Lightyear in the first Toy Story: he thinks he’s a hero when in reality, he’s just portraying a fictional character. He’s so into the role that it’s endearing and he is a likable character. The cat, Mittens, is the Woody to Bolt’s Buzz, someone who brings him back to reality. She’s kind of jaded, but she has a reason to be. The hamster is pretty much a fanboy who’s excited to see his idol, who happens to be Bolt. Penny, Bolt’s owner, is voiced by Miley Cyrus and… you all know I’m not the biggest fan of hers, but she wasn’t that bad in this movie.
I know. I know. But I have to give credit where credit is due and Miley does a fine enough job for a character that isn’t in the movie much despite her scoring second billing in the marketing (Hannah Montana was huge at the time). There’s also a lot of exciting action, even if most of it wasn’t real. Bolt is a good family film with heart, humor, and a lot of likability. I give it an 8/10.
Both Bolt and Meet The Robinsons were very important films that helped Disney get out of their funk. With John Lasseter involved, Disney was getting their groove back, which inevitably leads to a revival. Stay tuned next month when we finally conclude Road To Disney with the Revival.