Saturday, July 19, 2014

The 6 Best Live Action Disney Films of the 1990s

The 1990s saw the release of a number of great Disney animated films, including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (which I would argue was their last great animated film), but the studio also released a fairly impressive number of good live action films among the dreck of badly advised remakes (frequently of Disney films from the 1960s), sequels, and live action reboots.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996) is probably one of the weaker Muppet films, but it has much to recommend it. The opening song, "Shiver My Timbers," is one of the best pirate songs to be found in any pirate film, witty, silly, but also quite atmospheric. The Muppets don't translate as well to this story as they do to A Christmas Carol, with many of the characters, particularly Miss Piggy, shoehorned in, though there are a few new characters that liven the cast, including Clueless Morgan, Old Tom, Real Old Tom, and Dead Tom. Tim Curry as Long John Silver lends the film an edgier quality and much of the dialogue by Jerry Juhl, Kirk R. Thatcher, and James V. Hart is very funny. Despite its flaws, Muppet Treasure Island is solid entertainment.

A particularly unusual Disney outing, Frank and Ollie (1995) is a very charming documentary film about best friends and Disney animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who worked on every great Disney film from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on, until their retirement in the 1970s. Both men are warm, sweet, and frank, and the story of their friendship is even more compelling than the many anecdotes about the making of the films, what it was like working at the studio, and Walt Disney himself. I loved this gentle, lovely, but never cloying film, and cannot recommend it more highly to any enthusiast of animation.

Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker (who gives by far her best ever performance), and the incomparable Kathy Najimy, Hocus Pocus (1993) is an irreverent, endlessly quotable Halloween comedy about some teenagers who accidentally revive three witches intent on sucking out the lives of all the children of Salem. Any kid who grew up in the 90s is likely to have fond memories of this one, but it's well worth re-watching as adults because so much of the humor, from Madonna references, sex jokes, and pretty much everything that comes out of Bette Midler's mouth, certainly went over my head, and I would imagine this was the case with most kids.

One of Disney's most successful dramatic films, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991) is based on Sonora Carver's memoir about her career as a horse diver during the Great Depression. Its period recreation is impeccable, with beautiful almost sepia-toned cinematography by Daryn Okada, and an astute selection of period music complemented by Mason Daring's score. The understated performances by Gabrielle Anwar, Michael Schoeffling, Cliff Robertson, and Dylan Kussman render the film touching, rather than sentimental.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) was the first Muppet film made after Jim Henson's untimely death and the filmmakers were clearly intent on making the best possible film in tribute to his memory. They absolutely succeeded; the only Muppet film that tops The Muppet Christmas Carol is the first Muppet film, The Muppet Movie. The lovely, clever songs by Paul Williams are as great even as the classic "Rainbow Connection." The casting of the Muppets is absolutely brilliant: Gonzo as Charles Dickens (accompanied by his pal Rizzo the Rat as himself), Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit, and Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig, Scrooge's first employer. Michael Caine's performance as Scrooge is as great as, if not even better, than Alaistair Sim's in the 1951 adaptation. The Muppet Christmas Carol also retains more of Dickens's original text than any other adaptation. This film is far too easily dismissed as kiddie fare and it deserves a greater critical reputation.

The best live action film released by Disney in the 1990s was Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). Although it's technically a remake of a 1963 film (not currently available), the film stands on its own. Don Ameche, Sally Field, and Michael J. Fox provide the voices for the three pets, who separated from their beloved child owners, determine to get home through the wilderness of the Rockies no matter what it takes. This is the kind of film that Disney does best - a heartwarming story about family and the love between children and their pets, a paean to sincerity in the face of cynicism. But it's very difficult to dismiss the film out of hand, precisely because what might at first appear to be maudlin and preachy cuts right to the heart of anyone who has ever loved a pet.

No comments:

Post a Comment