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Director: Chris Bailey
Release Date: August 11, 1995
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

When compared to ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ (1983) and ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ (1990), ‘Runaway Brain’ is a much less classic or classy affair. Based on a story idea by Tim Hauser, it has a genuine modern setting (in the first scene we watch Mickey playing a Snow White video game) and a horror motive, not seen in a Mickey Mouse film since ‘The Mad Doctor’ (1933).

The premise of the film plays on the relationship between Mickey and Minnie: to celebrate their anniversary, Mickey has planned a trip to a miniature golf course, but Minnie mistakes it for a trip to Hawaii on the same newspaper page, and runs off, happy as she can be. Mickey, however, is horrified by this mistake, realizing he cannot afford the necessary $999,99.

Luckily, Pluto helps him out by showing him the wanted ads, and Mickey immediately finds one offering exactly this amount for only a day of mindless work. This, of course, is a less rosy proposition than it seems, and soon Mickey finds himself prisoner of a mad chimp called Dr. Frankenollie (the name is a nice reference to legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and the character may be based on the mad professors Ecks, Doublex and Triplex from Floyd Gottfredson’s classic 1932 Mickey Mouse comic ‘Blaggard Castle’). This Frankenstein-like chimp swaps Mickey’s brain for a giant Pete-like monster, unfortunately dying during the process (this is the only death occurring in a Mickey Mouse film).

Mickey has never before been deformed so much as in this cartoon: while the real Mickey is trapped in giant Peg-leg Pete’s body, monster Mickey has become a rugged, wild character, running after Minnie in a chase that ends on top of a skyscraper, recalling that other great 1930s horror film, ‘King Kong’. Luckily, Mickey saves the day, and halfway a frantic chase, his and the monster’s brain get swapped back again when they both land on a power line.

‘Runaway Brain’ is a clear attempt to modernize Mickey: the short is fast paced, full of extreme angles and surprisingly gross gags (for a Disney cartoon that is). It’s not entirely successful in its attempt, however. The rather ugly color design is all too typical of the early 1990s, and Mickey’s playing of a video game actually makes the short look dated. This scene frankly adds nothing to the rest of the film, which has a much more timeless character due to its Frankenstein meets King Kong-like story.

Watching the distorted version of Mickey is rather unsettling, and it’s rather surprising that the studio allowed the animators to get away with such a deformation of their corporate symbol. Indeed, the merchandise department was far from happy with this short. Nevertheless, like the earlier ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ ‘Runaway Brain’ was good enough for an Academy Award nomination, showing that Hollywood had not quite forgotten the mouse. Yet, the film understandably lost to the Wallace and Gromit film ‘A Close Shave’.

There’s much to say for the cartoon, however. The animation, supervised by Andreas Deja, is top notch, and a great example of the high standards of 2D animation of the Disney renaissance, before the threat of computer animation kicked in, and cut this development short. As one can expect, the action is relentless, and the short is over before you know it. The best gag may be when the monster discovers a picture from ‘Steamboat Willie’ (1928) in Mickey’s wallet, prompting our hero to say ‘that’s old’.

Watch ‘Runaway Brain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 128
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Prince and the Pauper
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Get a Horse!

‘Runaway Brain ‘ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume two’

Directors: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Release Date: June 15, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

When ‘The Lion King’ was released I went to see the film three times in a row. At the time I lived on the tiny Caribbean isle of Tobago, and I went three times, partly because there was little else to do, partly because the film would disappear from the screen in ca. five days, anyway, but most importantly because the film made a deep impression on me. Strangely enough, I hadn’t seen the movie since, so after 25 years it has become high time.


Luckily, the film holds up very well after all these years. Indeed, not only was ‘The Lion King’ the highest grossing animation film thus far on its release, the movie still is one of the most popular animation films of all time. For example, it takes place 34 at IMDb’s top rated movie, as the second animated movie, after ‘Spirited Away’ on place 27, checked on November 21, 2020).

In that regard ‘The Lion King’ can be seen as the pinnacle of the Disney renaissance, because it tops an excellent row of Disney features (‘The Little Mermaid’ from 1988), ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from 1990, and ‘Aladdin’ from 1992), while the subsequent Disney movies of the nineties, while still good, would not reach the same heights again, nor stir the same sensation as these first four features did.

According to Mark Mayerson in ‘Animation Art’ this was partly because Disney’s success “caused other companies to start producing animated features. This diluted the talent pool and forced up wages and budgets” prompting management to interfere more in the film making process. Mayerson also detects pretentiousness and a lack of warmth in these later pictures (Animation Art, p. 305).

What certainly didn’t help was Toy Story’s big hit in 1995, suddenly shifting the future of animation from traditional to computer generated animation, a process that more or less was completed ten years later, after which traditionally animated features would become extremely rare, at least in the United States.

Indeed, even in ‘The Lion King’ one of the biggest stirs among audiences (including me) was the computer generated stampede of wildebeests. This tour-de-force of computer animation was an impressive feat on the big screen, and though computer animation has been pushing the envelope ever forward since, the scene still holds up today, interestingly partly because the wildebeests are based on hand drawn designs.

There are more technical stunts to be found in ‘The Lion King’, both aided by the computer and not. Especially the opening scenes are literally stuffed with them, showing a sequence of mind-blowing images of African nature to the song ‘The Circle of Life’.

But much more impressive in the end is the character animation, which is top notch throughout, and which has an apparent effortlessness to it that never ceases to amaze. Especially the work by Andreas Deja and his team on Scar is impressive, making him a worthy successor of that other outstanding feline villain of the silver screen, Shere Khan (Jungle Book, 1967), greatly helped by his voice artist Jeremy Irons, who gives the character the perfect mix of self-pithy, sarcasm and sinister slyness.

Another stand out in the voices are Mufasa’s voice, which is deep and commanding, yet fatherly and compassionate, and which is provided by James Earl Jones of Darth Vader fame. Yet another is Whoopi Goldberg as the leader of a villain trio of hyenas.

Being a nineties Disney film, ‘The Lion King’ of course is a musical, a genre that certainly is not my favorite, but I must admit that Elton John’s and Tim Rice’s songs hold up very well, greatly aided by the imagery. ‘The Circle of Life’, as said, makes an impressive opener; ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ is spiced by very bold colors, and stylized background art (as well as anteaters, which do not occur in Africa – a strange and unnecessary error); Scar’s song ‘Be prepared’ is accompanied by evil greens and purples in a clear echo of Maleficent in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959), and the love ballad ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ is rescued from sappiness by the inclusion of Timon and Pumbaa mourning the loss of their friend. All these songs propel the story forward, none more so than the best song of all, ‘Hakuna Matata’, which neatly changes the infant Simba into the adult one.

Which brings me to the main reason the film still is a great classic: it’s told so well. The pace of the film is almost flawless, with exciting and more relaxing scenes distributed in perfect fashion. The only implausible scenes come at the end of the film: first there is Rafik’s all too simple cure of Simba’s guilt complex. I bet many psychiatric patients would die for such a quick resolution of their youth inflicted mental problems. Moreover, this scene includes a very unconvincing mystical dialogue between Simba and his deceased father. The finale uses two little too evident symbols of change and renewal (fire and rain), and how Simba manages to turn the wasteland of his kingdom into a prosperous country again remains an utter mystery.

Nevertheless, the guilt that haunts Simba makes him an interesting and relatable lead character – like Aladdin he isn’t a flawless hero. And while it’s understandable he embraces Pumbaa’s and Timon’s relaxed lifestyle, it clearly cannot cure him from the haunts of his past, which he just has to face in the end, which means he has to overcome his biggest fears and insecurities.

It’s a great feat that the film makers have managed to weave such a deep theme into the more classic usurper tale, which is notably dark: we watch both a murder and a dead body on the screen, in what must be the most harrowing scene in a Disney animation film since the death of Bambi’s mother in ‘Bambi’ (1942), the film with which ‘The Lion King’ has most in common: both follow the main protagonist in his youth and in his adult life, both depict a very romantic concept of nature, and both have ‘the circle of life’ as their main theme, with ‘The Lion King’’s opening and closing scenes being undisputed echoes of the closing scene of the classic from the 1940s.

Because ‘The Lion King’ is a rather serious tale, it’s a little low on comedy. Indeed, there are very few real gags in this film, one of them unusually self-parodying: at one point a caged Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) starts singing ‘it’s a small world after all’, which immediately prompts Scar in an anxious ‘No, no, anything but that!’. The other great gag of the movie is when Timon refers to the sad Simba as ‘He looks blue’, on which Pumbaa replies ‘I’d say brownish gold’. That said, the film is absolutely balanced in its mix of humor and drama, and never becomes heavy-handed.

In all, ‘The Lion King’ has hold up after these 25 years, and has his rightful place as one of the greatest films of all time, animated or not. And I seriously wonder why a remake was at all necessary or welcome, for in my opinion the original cannot be topped.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Lion King’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Lion King’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

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