31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/11-4/17

Here’s my weekly viewing guide for TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.

Day 11. In The Heat of the Night

In The Heat of the Night is one of Sidney Poitier’s most iconic performances. Abs that’s saying a lot! His character, Det. Virgil Tibbs, starts off being arrested for the murder of a prominent businessman. Once he clears his own name, he teams up with racist police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), to dolce the crime. Packed with great performances top to bottom and skillfully directed by Norman Jewison, In The Heat of the Night is a riveting crime drama and a powerful time capsule of the tumultuous late 60s.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Inherit The Wind.

Day 12. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Sometimes you just need pure escapism. And boy does this movie deliver exactly that. There’s barely a dull moment in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It follows the hapless adventures of a group of motorists and their quest to find the buried loot when they happen upon the crash scene of a reckless motorist who tells them about it as he takes his last breath. The movie has one great gag after another, an all-star cast and some inspired cameos. My favorite of the bunch is Peter Falk.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Johnny Belinda.

Day 13. Key Largo

I love film noir. And Key Largo is quintessential noir. This was the last onscreen pairing of Bogie and Bacall. And it has Bogie going toe to toe with Edward G. Robinson. It also has Claire Trevor, Lionel Barrymore and was directed by John Huston. You can’t ask for more than that!

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Kings Row.

Day 14. Leaving Las Vegas

My day 14 pick is also my insomniac theater pick. Nicholas Cage has become a punchline of late. And that’s really a shame, because he’s a very gifted actor. And this is the performance that won him an Oscar.

Cage plays a Hollywood screenwriter who loses everything because of his alcoholism. He decides to head to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. While in Vegas, he hires a high end prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue). The initial encounter doesn’t turn out that great. But the two feel a connection. They form an unlikely friendship that turns into love. Both have their own demons. But they decide to live together and make the most of whatever time they have left.

Leaving Las Vegas sounds like a gut wrenching movie because it is. But it’s also a fascinating portrait of two lonely souls. The movie theaters are packed these days with movies that give us chases and explosions. And I love a good action movie. But it’s refreshing once in a while to see a movie that devotes so much time to such authentic characters.

Day 15. Little Caesar

Edward G. Robinson makes my viewing list once again! Little Caesar is an essential pre-Code movie. And it happens to be the one that made Edward G. Robinson a star. As Caesar Enrico Bandello, Robinson delivers a ferocious performance. It’s a great look at the rise and fall of a gangster during Prohibition. Every actor that played a gangster after this movie cage out owes a debt to Robinson. It’s a performance for the ages.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Logan’s Run.

Day 16. Lover Come Back

Doris Day and Rock Hudson made a slew of great comedies together. In Lover Come Back, they work for rival advertising agencies. Day tires of Hudson’s questionable methods to get contracts (including wining and dining prospective clients). She even tries to get him kicked out of the business. It’s an endlessly inventive screwball comedy and one of their most underrated onscreen pairings.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Day 17. Mildred Pierce

Say what you want about Joan Crawford. She may have been a diva. But the woman could act. In Mildred Pierce, she plays a hardworking mother who wants her kids to have the best. She spoils her kids rotten, which is what leads to her getting divorced early in the movie. Mildred becomes an entrepreneur who eventually opens a chain of restaurants. But all that work is unappreciated but her ungrateful daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). All of this could have turned into trashy melodrama. But in the hands of its talented cast, including the wonderful Eve Arden as Mildred’s best friend, it’s an absorbing film noir.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/4-4/10

TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar festival is now underway. With so many many movies to choose from, I decided to put together weekly viewing guides. For each day of the festival I will pick one must see movie and also a bonus insomniac theater pick for movies airing late that deserve to be seen. So here are my picks for the first full week of the festival.

Day 4: Easter Parade

A musical with Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Ann Miller? Sign me up! The material is familiar and the outcome predictable. But the chemistry between the actors, the songs and the dancing make this one a flat out winner.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Entertainer.

Day 5. Five Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson has been so good for so long that I think we take him a little for granted. Five Easy Pieces is a reminder of why his career is still going strong to this day. In the movie, Nicholson plays a former concert pianist. He rebels against that career path pushed on him by his family. He instead turns to working a California oil rig, leaving his affluent home life behind. When he visits his sister in Los Angeles, he learns his father is gravely ill. So he heads home with girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) in tow. The homecoming is a rough one, with lots of family drama boiling to the surface. But it’s handled realistically and not cheap melodrama.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Flower Drum Song.

Day 6. Forbidden Planet

What kind of a respectable science fiction fan would I be if I didn’t make Forbidden Plan my pick for day 6? Released 65 years ago, this is quintessential science fiction viewing. It was the first science fiction movie to be given a significant budget. And it made great strides to get the genre taken seriously. Starring Leslie Nielsen as a starship commander who leads an expedition to Altair IV when contact is lost with a colony of scientists, it features groundbreaking effects and story about ideas rather than mindless action.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Funny Girl.

Day 7. Giant

The first time I saw Giant I admired it rather than loved it. I appreciated the scope of the the story and the performances. But I didn’t get why it was considered such a classic. Repeated viewings have changed that. It’s a complex, fascinating look at the world changing as a whole seen through the eyes of Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) and Jordan (Rock Hudson). It’s about the arc of the lives of those characters, as well as changing gender roles of the time. Elizabeth Taylor’s character is a feminist, something not often seen in movies of the 1950s. The dynamic between Taylor and Hudson is riveting from start to finish.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Great Race.

Day 8. The Guns of Navarone

An ambitious war movie with an all star cast, The Guns of Navarone is my pick for day 8. It tells the fascinating story of a team of allied saboteurs who are Thayer with infiltrating a Nazi occupied island. Once they manage to get in, they have to destroy two long-range field guns that are preventing 2,000 trapped British soldiers from being rescued. The cast includes Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, Richard Harris and David Niven.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Guys and Dolls.

Day 9. A Hard Day’s Night

Anyone that knows me knows that The Beatles are my favorite band of all time. So A Hard Day’s Night was an easy pick for me for day 9. The music being great isn’t surprising. But the Fab Four being such natural actors is. We get to see the distinct personalities of John, Paul, George and Ringo. And it’s a fun time capsule of 1964. This movie lets viewers enjoy spending a few days in the life of the iconic band as the deal with screaming fans and the pressure of fame. There’s a joy in A Hard Day’s Night that’s infectious. It’s a must for Beatles fans or anyone who needs a movie to lift their spirits

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Day 10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been adapted for the screen multiple times, including a wonderful musical version by Disney. But the 1939 version remains the gold standard. Featuring Charles Laughton as the tormented Quasimodo and Maureen O’ Hara as Esmeralda, the kind gypsy woman who befriends him, it’s a solid adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: I Married A Witch.

Fierce Women of Cinema: Legally Blonde

Most of the women I’ve covered this month I knew were strong characters from the get go. But the fierce woman I’ve saved for the last week of March is not one of them. That would be Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

I had zero expectations watching this movie for the first time. But I gave it a go on the recommendation of a friend. They say you should never judge a book by its cover. The same is true of judging a movie by its poster. Legally Blonde, to this day, remains one of the most pleasant film surprises of my life.

Elle Woods turns the dumb blonde trope on its ear in so many great ways. She initially works hard to get into Harvard Law School to impress her boyfriend Warner, who dumps her when he doesn’t think she’s good enough for him in the long run.

But something great happens in her college application process. She finds out how smart and resourceful she is. Legally Blonde follows Elle as she discovers her true potential and reclaims her self worth. Elle is so much more than a vapid sorority girl. Everyone that underestimates her does so at their own peril. And that’s incredibly satisfying.

Another reason Elle made my list is because of how well her character development is handled. For example, I love that she eventually befriends Warner’s girlfriend Vivian. A lesser movie would have had them being petty and tearing each other down. But they eventually bond as classmates.

There’s also the way that the movie ends. After Elle helps win a big case, Warner comes crawling back to her. Rather than give us a predictable happy ending, she rejects him. Elle finally realizes she can do better. A very empowering moment.

Elle is also refreshing because she doesn’t change who she is to be accepted. She doesn’t undergo some physical transformation or conform to what the rest of the student body thinks she should look or act like. Through her academic journey she remains true to herself. Elle takes what other people perceive as flaws in her and uses them as strengths. Even her knowledge of something as seemingly frivolous as perms helps her in the courtroom.

All of this works because it has a sharp script and because Reese Witherspoon is absolutely charming, making it impossible not to root for Elle in and out of the courtroom. Legally Blonde feels like the successor to Clueless, another movie with a blonde haired lead who is much deeper than you expect.

Elle Woods is the feminist icon I never knew I needed.

Fierce Females of Cinema: Belle

I wanted to cover at least one Disney Princess for this look at Fierce Females of Cinema. And it was really tough picking just one. There’s Merida, Pocahontas, Moana, Merida…and, my personal favorite, Mulan, to name a few. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought Belle from Beauty and the Beast deserved to be recognized.

The character of Belle was a significant turning point for Disney Princesses. Most in the past had been passive and defined largely by their romantic relationships. While Belle does find true love at the end, the movie is about so much more than that.

In an era packed with superhero movies, Belle might appear not as impressive at first glance. But Belle’s superpowers are intellectual curiosity and empathy. To me, that is every bit as important to show to young women as physically strong characters like Wonder Woman.

Another reason I chose Belle this week is that the character is seen as an outcast by the other villagers for being bookish and less interested in romance. She’s smart and proud of it. Her father Maurice is an outcast too. And they support each other in spite of what the other villagers think. Beauty and the Beast celebrates being different in a way that never feels forced.

Belle also wins points with me for standing up to misogyny. One of my favorite parts of the movie is early on when Gaston proposes to her in a particularly condescending way and the way she rejects him in the end is very satisfying.

Finally, the whole relationship between Belle and the Beast is handled so well. Anyone that dismisses the love story as nothing more than Stockholm Syndrome really misses the point. Belle and the Beast don’t start off on the right foot. But that’s to be expected at first since Belle is literally a prisoner (taking her father’s place so he can be free).

But Belle and the Beast through their time together end up bringing out the best in each other. Belle eventually charms the Beast out of his anger and the Beast eventually learns to not judge a book by its cover (which is what got him cursed in the first place). This romantic arc is satisfying because it doesn’t just happen magically overnight. It takes these two very different people working through their problems over the course of the movie for us to get the happy ending.

Beauty and the Beast is great for so many reasons. The animation is stellar, the music is superb, it has a great villain, etc. But one of the many reasons it endured is because it has a heroine who shows you don’t have to conform to be accepted by society or find true love. The significance of that message cannot be overstated.

Fierce Females of Cinema: The Silence of the Lambs

This week’s fierce female of cinema is Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. As played by Jodie Foster, Clearice is a resourceful heroine. I think of her as the precursor to Dana Scully (The X-Files hit the airwaves two years later).

One of the many things that’s refreshing about Clarice Starling is that she isn’t sexualized. Her attire is chic business casual. She doesn’t have a tacked on love interest. Her strongest relationship is with fellow FBI trainee Kasi (Ardelia Mapp). They have just the right amount of screen time to establish them as supportive colleagues.

Clarice’s relationship with mentor Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) is also handled really well. They really feel like equals. The movie never feels preachy about its gender politics. It’s content to let its protagonist’s character development speak for itself, rather than raising it in blunt dialogue passages.

While Clarice doesn’t look physically imposing a la Wonder Woman, she’s a real world superhero in her own way. Her superpowers are her smarts and resourcefulness. But she’s also allowed to make mistakes and be vulnerable. That’s part of what makes her scenes with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and the movie as a whole so compelling. She’s one of the most relatable movie characters of the last few decades.

The Silence of the Lambs succeeds where its sequel Hannibal fails for a multitude of reasons. One of them is the casting. As much as I love Julianne Moore, there’s just no one that can play the part of Clarice Starling quite like Jodie Foster. Although, to be fair to Moore, the script for Hannibal didn’t give her much to work with. It’s more interested in showing the graphic parts of the novel than involving us in a compelling mystery. And that’s a real shame.

By the end of The Silence of the Lambs, we’re thrilled that Clarice Starling is now a full fledged FBI agent. Anyone that can go through what she does? A wonderful addition to the bureau.

Fierce Females of Cinema: Bend It Like Beckham

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorite female movie characters. To kick things off (literally and figuratively) I’ll be covering Bend It Like Beckham. Whether you’re into soccer or not, this movie has something for everyone. And a big part of what makes this little movie shine is its magnetic female leads.

Bend It like Beckham follows two young women who want to play professional soccer against the wishes of their parents. One is Jess (Parminder Nagra). She has moved to England with her Indian family. Her parents, especially her mother, want her to give up soccer. In her mother’s mind, Jess should focus on two things: learning how to cook a traditional Indian dinner and attract an Indian husband.

The other girl is Jules (Keira Knightley). She’s a tomboy who plays on the local girl’s soccer team. Jules’ mother wants her to give up soccer because she thinks a muscular, athletic girl will scare of any eligible men.

Jules spots Jess playing soccer in the park with some young men and recruits her to try out for her team: the Hounslow Harriers. Coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Myers), is hesitant at first. But Jess’ tryout quickly wins him over.

Jess hides her soccer playing from her parents as long as she can. But she’d eventually found out. She ends up sneaking out to play when her parents thinks she’s going elsewhere.

There are cultural and generational clashes in this movie. But they’re handled in very believable ways. One of my favorite developments is how Jess’ dad eventually comes to support her ambitions, not wanting her to give up on her dreams as he did. That revelation in the movie moves me to tears every time.

While a lot of Bend It Like Beckham‘s plot feels familiar, its characters do not. Jules and Jess are a magnetic duo who are a joy to watch in every frame of the movie. Even when the movie gets to the slightly forced plot twist of both of them crushing on their coach, Parminder Negra and Keira Knightley make it compelling because they’re such appealing actresses.

Bend It Like Beckham celebrates following your dreams, Indian culture, the power of friendship and is a fascinating look at bridging cultural/generational gaps. It’s smart and has a great sense of humor. At the center of it all are two fierce women who are the definition of friendship and squad goals. I can’t say enough good things about this little gem of a movie.

Disney Virtual Film Festival: Week 6

Here it is. The last week of the virtual Disney film festival. I’ve really enjoyed going through the Disney library chronologically. Here’s what I enjoyed during the final week.

Up

If there’s a Disney movie that has a more powerful opening than Up, I haven’t seen it. The segment that opens the movie and tells the story of Carl and Ellie’s romance packs more raw emotion than most live action movies do in their entire running times. Most of it is told without dialogue. And it all works beautifully. What’s great is that the couple’s struggles are so relatable. They have big dreams, but one life crisis after another gives them a setback. Home repairs, medical bills, a car breaking down…There isn’t a moment you can’t in someway connect with.

After Ellie dies, Carl becomes isolated and bitter. He has an incident with a construction worker that gets him labeled a public menace. Rather than go quietly to a rest home, he flies off to Paradise Falls, with his house carried by balloons. The visual of that alone makes this movie a masterpiece.

But Carl ends up taking along a stowaway kid named Russell. The way that relationship is developed is just great. I won’t reveal what else happens when they get to Paradise Falls. But this movie has an abundance of imagination from a visual and narrative standpoint. If you’re not in tears during the last scene, you’re dead inside.

The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog may not have had the financial success of Up or Frozen. But don’t let that deter you. This movie is a hidden gem. It’s not a PIXAR movie. It’s a throwback to the animation style of Disney’s Golden Age. And it features Disney’s first African American princess: Tiana. But Tiana isn’t a typical Disney princess. Tiana is a hardworking gal who dreams of opening her own restaurant. She plans to do that with the all the tips she makes waitressing.

My favorite type of music is jazz. And one of the many delights of The Princess and the Frog is its music by Randy Newman. The story takes place in New Orleans. And it really embraces Louisiana culture. So we get to see Mardis Gras and other rich parts of Southern culture.

I love the spirit of this movie. Tiana isn’t a typical Disney leafing lady who wants a man above all else. She’s an entrepreneur who wants to run her own business. The movie is a pure delight.

Big Hero 6

If you’re a fan of comic book movies, then you’ll love Big Hero 6. It plays out like a comic book origin story. But what makes Big Hero 6 is its rich visuals and quirky but lovable characters. It’s set in San Fransokyo (a fictional version of Sam Francisco). And the realization of the city is really a sight to see. The protagonist is Hiro Hamada, a child prodigy in robotics. Inspired by his brother, Hiro puts on a presentation of one of his own inventions to get into the same school. Tragedy strikes when his brother is killed in an accident and his invention is stolen. With the help of friends from school, as well as a health robot named Baymax (invented by his brother), Hiro sets out to get his invention back from proper intent on using it for nefarious purposes. Hiro and his friends are a fun ragtag bunch. And sharing their adventure is a blast from start to finish. Baymax is more than just comic relief, which I did not expect when I first saw it. This whole movie was really a pleasant surprise.

Disney Virtual Film Festival: Week 5

I’m in the home stretch of the Disney Virtual Film Festival. Only one more week! It’s been a blast strolling down memory lane with Disney movies. Herr’s a look at what I watched this week.

Ratatouille

On paper, Ratatouille is a movie that shouldn’t have worked. A rat that wants to become a gourmet chef? Come on! But the movie is filled with enough imagination and excellent voiceover work to make it into a package that works in a quirky, offbeat way. Patton Oswalt gives a lot of charm to Remy, the movie’s protagonist. But the real treat is the late Peter O’ Toole as the snobby food critic Anton Ego. I have no idea what got O’ Toole to sign on. But I’m glad he did. He brings just the right gravitas to the role, especially in the movie’s moving closing monologue. The visuals are great. But when aren’t they in a PIXAR movie? The detailed design of the restaurant, the rats’ hideout and the city of Paris itself are particularly good. Credit director Brad Bird, who also helmed The Incredibles for delivering another winner here.

Lilo & Stitch

I was really late to the party on Lilo & Stitch. But, when I finally saw it a few years ago, it was a revelation. The visuals are bright and gorgeous. Even something as simple as a sequence of surfing is a visual wonder to behold. The story has elements of E.T. An alien escapes from space and crashes in Hawaii. The alien then ends up at a local animal shelter where he is adopted by young Lilo. Lilo names the creature Stitch and the two outsiders bond.

This isn’t just a movie with an alien and a lot of mindless space battles. Lilo and Stitch are kindred spirits. Both are quirky and misunderstood. And neither fits in really well with regular society. On top of all of this, Lilo has a relationship with her sister Nani that is among the most realistic I have ever seen in a movie live action or animated. Nani took on caring for Lilo after their parents died. Nani struggling to make it as a single mom really adds a lot to an already rich story. Lilo & Stitch is deeper than you might expect. And the quality of the animation is up there with anything from Disney’s Golden Age.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

It still boggles my mind that Disney hasn’t adapted the whole Narnia series yet. Why stop at number three, especially with the success of things like Harry Potter? But I digress. This is a very solid adaptation of the first book that introduces us to the Pevensie children. They travel to the fantasy world of Narnia through a mysterious wardrobe cabinet. Once there, they learn that they are the children destined to save Narnia, with the help of Aslan the lion.

The threat to Narnia is the White Witch. She’s played with villainous gusto by the always wonderful Tilda Swinton. Her performance and the outfits she rocks should both have won a ton of awards. Great acting and costume design. The world of Narnia is beautifully brought to life.

The movie never feels overloaded with CGI, which I found refreshing. The story does build to a climactic battle sequence. But what we remember isn’t the battle so much as what lead to it. The growth of the children through their journey is the real centerpiece. By the time we get to the battle, we know what it means to the kids and those that helped them along the way. This is a fun and also moving first entry in the series.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

The plot of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is so convoluted that it should sink before getting out of port. But what makes it worth seeing are the performances of its cast, led by Johnny Depp, who even managed to earn an Oscar nomination for it. There’s also a scenery chewing performance by Geoffrey Rush as the cursed Captain Barbossa, Keira Knightley as the damsel in distress (with pluck) Elizabeth and Orlando Bloom as blacksmith Will Turner. All of them make the thin story work. Rush and Depp in particular are fun to watch.

There are some great action set pieces and Klaus Badelt’s score is terrific. The parts are sometimes greater than the whole. But it’s fun all the same. A very enjoyable popcorn movie.

Disney Virtual Film Festival: Week 4

The virtual Disney film festival continues! Here’s a look back at what I enjoyed during week 4.

Toy Story

It’s hard to believe that Toy Story came out 25 years ago. The first feature length animated movie done completely on computers looks as dazzling now as it did back in 1995. The technical breakthrough has aged remarkably well. What’s amazing is that not only to Buzz, Woody and the toys look great, but so do the humans and the human world. The houses, street flying by during the chase at the end…it all works. While Toy Story 2 is my favorite in the series, the first one is still a little masterpiece of its own.

The Emperor’s New Groove

It had been quite a while since I saw The Emperor’s New Groove. When it came out, I enjoyed it and moved on. This time, I really appreciated the simplicity of the story and its wicked sense of humor. Yzma and Krono are a great villainous duo and Kuzco and Pacha are a fun odd couple. It’s a broad screwball comedy that has a goofy charm to it.

Tarzan

Like The Emperor’s New Groove, Tarzan had been off my radar for a while. There are moments of animation in it that are absolutely exhilarating, especially Tarzan flying through the jungle on tree vines and tree branches. The Phil Collins songs are great. And it has an ending that’s deeper than you expect. It was a joy to revisit it.

Mulan

Everyone has a favorite Disney leading lady. Mine is Mulan. And Mulan is an overlooked masterpiece of the Disney Renaissance. It struck a chord with me back in 1998. The songs are better than they get credit for (Reflection and I’ll Make A Man Out of You stand out in particular). The animation is solid. The avalanche scene is especially strong. And it’s refreshing to have a leading lady who has romantic feelings for a man, but romance isn’t her only goal in life.

Pocahontas

Is Pocahontas historically accurate? Not by a long shot! But this is an animated movie, not a documentary. And while the historical accuracy is a perfectly valid criticism, it shouldn’t stop people from checking out one of Disney’s most stunning movies from a purely artistic standpoint. The drawings of the natural landscape are just downright gorgeous. Just Around The River Bend, Colors of the Wind and Savages are the standout songs. Every frame of the movie is a work of art. While it does oversimplify history of the time, it’s artistic merits make it a worthy classic. And the ending hits you right in the feels.

Disney Virtual Film Festival: Week 3

It’s week 3 of my virtual Disney film festival. Here’s what I watched.

The Fox and the Hound

The Fox and the Hound is finally getting recognized as the classic it is. The 80s was a rough decade for Disney animation (until 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid). The Fox and the Hound marked a return stylistically to the Disney classics of the past. It doesn’t sugarcoat its storyline either. There are some genuinely dark/sad moments, including Todd having to be abandoned by his owner and Todd and Copper fighting a scary grizzly bear.

The Black Cauldron

This is the one that almost wrecked Disney animation. The production of The Black Cauldron was absolutely chaotic. And that shows in the movie to an extent. The narrative is choppy and schizophrenic. Part of that is because parts of it were cut without regard to the coherency of the storyline. And yet, there are some things to genuinely love about The Black Cauldron. Disney dares to go dark in its storyline and its visuals. The drawing of the Horned King in particular is amazing, as well as the visualization of an army of the Dead. While the end result is ultimately a mixed bag, The Black Cauldron’s ambition is to be admired. I love it in a cult classic sort of way.

The Little Mermaid

After the critical/commercial failure of The Black Cauldron, Disney emerged from the ashes and hit a home run. The Little Mermaid is a complete triumph. From the great songs (Under The Sea, Poor Unfortunate Souls, Part of Your World), to the gorgeous visuals, not to mention a great villain (Ursula ranks up there with Maleficent and the Evil Queen), this is a winner. There’s nothing here to dislike.

The Great Mouse Detective

What’s the first Disney movie you saw? Mine was The Great Mouse Detective. It was my introduction to the world of Sherlock Holmes (it’s a mouse version of that) and it also introduced me to the incredible Vincent Price. Price voices the villain Professor Ratigan. If a hero is only as good as its villain, then it’s no surprise that this movie is a winner. Price’s voiceover work is brilliant. And Ratigan is evil because he likes to be evil. So he’s in the tradition of great Disney villains. Basil of Baker Street is an engaging hero who relies on his smarts and Ratigan is an equal and great foil. The third act where Ratigan and Basil fight it out inside Big Ben is visually striking and also thrilling. The Great Mouse Detective deserves a bigger audience IMHO. It’s too often overlooked by the public.