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Disney Animation Blu-ray Wrap-up

Aristocats


When an eccentric millionairess wills her entire estate to her adorable high-society cats, her bumbling and greedy butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) catnaps Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her three mischievous kittens and abandons them in the French countryside. Lost and frightened, the kitty family is soon rescued by a rough-and-tumble alley cat named Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris). O’Malley escorts the ‘aristocats’ home and saves them from the perils of Edgar.

The Aristocats was released in the middle of Disney animation’s first dire bout with flops and, at best, is remembered as Lady and the Tramp in Paris with cats. There’s also a touch of 101 Dalmatians and a pinch of The Incredible Journey, but really, there’s nothing remotely inspiring about it. This isn’t to say the story, characters, and songs aren’t occasionally charming, but there is no doubt that this is Disney at their most mediocre. The screen time spent on episodic set pieces and song & dance numbers would seem to follow Disney’s usual modus operandi, but there’s little balance in between. The Aristocats probably could’ve worked well as a short subject, but, in feature length form we’re left with little sense of danger, a weak villain, and incredibly familiar characters. The animation is also among the sketchiest and dirtiest in Disney’s history, thanks to the Xerographic process the studio used throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Bill Peet-inspired designs are well executed and the physical characteristics of the animation are fine, but without classic and modern era Disney polish, the film appears unfinished. The cast—filled out with alumni from The Jungle Book, The Rescuers, and Robin Hood—also reeks of budget constraints and rushed schedules. Despite this sort of shoelace approach, the cast is sharp and the dialogue is among the film’s most charming asset. Guest stars like the redneck car chasing dogs or the wacky limey geese, are impossible to resist.

The Aristocats, as mentioned, was released in a time of huge budgetary constraints for Disney. The not-too-attractive Xerographic technique has rarely looked more sketchy and inconsistent as it does here and the 1080p HD qualities of this Blu-ray does it no favours (for the record, I’ve always thought the look worked best with 101 Dalmatians, thanks in large part to its modernist backgrounds). Of course, this isn’t the fault of the transfer itself and the film likely looked the same when it was released in theaters. It does look like the people behind this transfer have utilized some hefty DNR enhancement, based on the utter lack of grain, but this isn’t really a problem, I suppose, considering the solid lines and colour fills that make up the film. It’s just a bit of a cheat. The ink and paint backgrounds aren’t really up to the studio’s standards, but are plenty clean and sharp without compression artefacts. Minor blurring effects throughout are likely the result of lens effects during filming, rather than shortcomings on behalf of the transfer. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is just fine, which is important considering how strong the musical soundtrack is. Sound effects work is minimal, which doesn’t lead to a lot in the way of directional movement or immersive effects (even obvious cross-screen movement is generally centered), but the basics are clean and the music gets a decent stereo/surround boost. Dialogue volume is consistent and the basic effects work has plenty of dynamic range despite its generally centric qualities. The extras, which mostly follow the lead set by the previous special edition DVD, feature a ‘lost’ opening sequence (9:30, HD), ‘Oui Oui Marie’ music video (1:50, HD), ‘She Never Felt Alone’ deleted song (8:00, SD), The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs (4:20, SD), an excerpt from The Wonderful World of Disney: The Great Cat Family (12:50, SD), a song selection option, Bath Day bonus short (6:40, SD), a sing-along mode, and trailers for other Disney releases.


Disney Animation Blu-ray Wrap-up

The Tigger Movie


Most adults (especially those without children) are probably unaware exactly how good Disney’s secondary theatrical animation studio’s, DisneyToon Studios, output has been over the last decade-plus. Most of DisneyToon’s features relate to Disney Channel television animation, such as A Goofy Movie (based on Goof Troop), Doug’s 1st Movie and Recess: School’s Out, but they also took the reins on the Winnie the Pooh franchise in 2000 with The Tigger Movie, followed by Piglet’s Big Movie (2003) and Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005). The two follow-ups are perfectly entertaining features that, despite franchise fans’ fears, stick pretty close to A.A. Milne’s original material, but The Tigger Movie is something of a surprise. This isn’t just the breezy, la-ti-da entertainment we’d expect from the franchise (thought it is that too) and it’s a surprisingly frank look at the Tigger character’s psychological quirks. The storyline, which is the first feature-length stand-alone Pooh story ever (though it’s still pretty episodic), turns downright sad surprisingly early and rarely lets up as poor Tigger searches in vain for another member of his species. The melancholy isn’t overwhelming, but certainly colours the film and I imagine it’ll frustrate some younger viewers. Still, the original material’s gentle sense of humour mostly survives Tigger’s overactive and occasionally brutish behaviour. The film’s STV roots show in terms of some inconsistent animation quality, especially when compared to last year’s theatrical pseudo-reboot Winnie the Pooh, which featured quite a bit of digital augmentations. Still, the occasionally sketchy hand-drawn characters and softly painted backgrounds are quite beautiful and in-keeping with the franchise’s ongoing look.

The Tigger Movie opens in colourful, sharply detailed live-action, but quickly delves into the usual Disney brand of Hundred Acer Wood animation. Presented in 1.78:1, 1080p HD, I’m pretty sure this particular film hasn’t looked better, at least not since its tepid theatrical release. This is an incredibly clean transfer with generally nothing to even hint at the involvement of film in the filmmaking process. The film’s lower budget does make for some less than smooth fusions between foreground cell animation and painted backgrounds, and the HD image quality doesn’t do the mix any favours in this regard. The super sharp details are kinder to the backgrounds themselves, which feature clean, black outlines and soft watercolor (Gouache?) blends free of any noticeably blocking or bleeding effects. The Tigger Movie was originally intended as a straight to video release, but the Sherman Brothers’ score was so impressive that it convinced CEO Michael Eisner to put the extra money into a theatrical release. As such, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is one of the release’s more important elements. The musical track leans especially heavy on vocal performances over instrumentations, which keeps the center channel busy and moves the symphony mostly to the stereo and surround channels, where they tend to sit a little more quietly. But even outside of the music this track is particularly lively, featuring a medley of ambient nature sounds and oodles of directional movement, thanks largely to Tigger’s hyperactive activities. The climatic avalanche is practically Michael Bay-worthy in its audio fury. The extras include A Tigger Tale (6:20, HD), ten Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (24:20, HD), ‘Round My Family Tree’ Sing-Along Song, Kenny Loggins ‘Your Heart Will Lead You Home’ music video, and trailers.


Disney Animation Blu-ray Wrap-up

Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure


The one film in this triple review I hadn’t seen before, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure is more or less what we’ve come to expect from STV Disney animation. It’s unnecessary, it feels a little disrespectful in its very existence (Walt really wouldn’t have approved), but, ultimately, it’s just fine, even somewhat entertaining in a ‘the babysitter is busy today’ kind of way. Not surprisingly, Scamp’s Adventure is an entirely unnecessary sequel and, like too many of these STV follow-ups, it follows the children of the original film’s characters. In almost utter opposition to the original film’s surprisingly mature themes, Scamp’s Adventure is aimed at particularly young viewers. The plot resolves around a series of overused tropes about misbehaviour and learning to fit in. The moral of the story is the story, which seems to be an ongoing problem with similarly unimaginative video follow-ups. Generally speaking this is just a Lady and the Tramp-flavoured version of Oliver and Company with a hint of the also unneeded Fox and the Hound sequel (or mid-quel, technically). There are some random thrills and unmemorable song breaks (the love song is a pale imitation of ‘Bella Notte’) tossed in to keep the whole thing feature-length, but it all just feels like more formula. The animation is at least average for Disney STV type, including some amusing characterizations and well-executed CG props, but character designs are shamefully recycled and the voice works is sub-par, despite a decent cast of B-animation standbys, like Jim Cummings, Kath Soucie, Nick Jameson, Tress MacNeille, Michael Gough, and Cathy Moriarty. Chazz Palminteri manages to stand out as a bitchy, pseudo-tough guy Rottweiler.

Scamp’s Adventure has all the hallmarks of a made-for-video animated feature and this 1080p transfer doesn’t do its less than smooth element blends any real favours. The HD quality is nice for some of the more vibrant colours and subtle, CG-assisted blends, but the smaller budget keeps background depth at a minimum. The included DVD copy is generally softer, revealing less background texture. There’s also a lot more compression noise along the harsher solid hues on the DVD, while this Blu-ray features only hints of blocking on some of the warmer cell shades. A keen eye will also notice some minor haloes on the harsher black lines. Like the other discs in this review, this one comes fitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The material doesn’t require more than a stereo surround track, but there are a couple pieces of directional material in the busier musical and action scenes. For the most part, this is a vocal heavy-track with little in the way of ambience outside of music. The vocals are clear enough, but there are some issues with exactly how loud the vocals are during the musical moments, which, oddly enough, seems to flatten the whole thing out. Danny Troob’s score is left so quiet on the track that it goes missing altogether at some points. Extras include an audio commentary with director Darrell Rooney, animation director Steve Trenbirth, and co-director/producer Jeannine Roussel, puppy trivia track that pops up during the feature, The Making of Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure (16:30, SD), five sing-alongs, and three short Pluto cartoons.


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