The Best & Worst Of Disney – Part VI: The Second Dark Age

The Second Dark Age

Whoo boy was there a lot of crap released during this era. I’ve always found the situation inexplicable. Disney was doing so well with the Renaissance films. Some people would place the beginning of the second “Dark Age” at just after the release of Pocahontas, but I feel that the next few films that followed that disaster were of a much higher quality than what we got here. Speaking as a millennial who was thoroughly spoiled by being able to grow up with the films of the Disney Renaissance, I express my deepest sympathies to the children born in the 90s. There were a few silver linings in this dark cloud, but for the most part, it took a long time for Disney to dig themselves out of their rut. This is a really bad streak of average-to-terrible films, with Chicken Little being the nadir. Treasure Planet and Home On The Range‘s respective critical/financial failures are blamed for Disney executives losing faith in the financial viability of 2D Animation. So great work, guys. You killed your own damned legacy.

JUMP TO: 

Fantasia 2000 | Dinosaur | The Emperor’s New Groove | Atlantis: The Lost Empire | Lilo and Stitch | Treasure Planet | Brother Bear | Home on the Range | Chicken Little | Meet The Robinsons


fantasia_two_thousand_xlgFantasia 2000 (1999) 

Released in 1999 (and if you are young enough not to remember that year and how annoying the millennium/Y2K obsessiveness was, count yourself lucky), this was based on actual plans that Uncle Walt had for the original Fantasia. The idea was that every time it was re-released, new sequences would be added, and older ones would be rotated out. But as the original film failed, that idea was scrapped, and only picked up again 60 years later. And this was a high-ambition, high-budget sequel, not a Direct-To-Video release animated by DisneyToons. Was it successful? Eh. I think the contemporary animators focused a little bit too much on telling direct narratives rather than creating evocative scenes and moods. Even the supposed abstract sequence set to Beethoven’s 5th had a narrative. (Flee, little triangular butterfly thing! Flee!)

THE BEST:

  • It’s only around 2 minutes long, but I absolutely love the sequence set to Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals: Finale. The concept of a Flamingo who is an expert at playing with yo-yos (much to the annoyance of the others) is hilarious, and I love the expressions of the others, the synchronization and exaggeration of their movements, and the general silliness that is expressed in this sequence. It perfectly illustrates that appreciation of classical music doesn’t have to be stodgy or pretentious. If I had only one complaint, it’s that I wish that the Yo-Yo Flamingo wasn’t coloured differently than the others. He’s already clearly an individual, no need to hammer it home by making him a different shade of pink. [Also: This entire sequence was solely animated by Aladdin‘s Eric Goldberg, who makes a cameo in the introduction to the sequence. All the high fives in the world to you, sir.]

THE WORST:

  • The celebrity hosts. Bringing in celebrities to blather about the sequences in the film was a blatant act of desperation. It was important to explore the history and the artistic inspirations for the sequences, but Deems Taylor introduced the segments of Fantasia just fine without making stupid jokes, or, in the case of Penn & Teller, screaming at me. Jesus, Penn Jillette, do you have an indoor voice? If they had to go with a celebrity host, they should have had James Earl Jones narrate the whole thing. He has a voice that gives everything gravitas, and it’s much funnier if he says jokes than, say, Steve Martin sounding really corny and pathetic. (And I like Steve Martin!)

See Also: Fantasia


dinosaurDinosaur (2000)

Dinosaur is an unusual film as far as the Disney Animated Canon goes – this was Disney’s first CG feature, matching very realistic dinosaurs with live action backgrounds. Normally this would have been in the Live Action-Animation Hybrids section, but the film was retroactively added to the Canon as #39. I am yet to figure out what qualities a Disney film must have to warrant a Canon inclusion. Although the film was a financial success, 14 years later, no one ever talks about it. It seems to have failed to make any sort of impression on the public consciousness, and has basically plummeted to D-Tier Disney since they themselves don’t seem to give a hoot about marketing or re-releasing the thing.

THE BEST:

  • James Newton Howard’s score for this film is incredible. It is far and away the best thing about this movie. It’s majestic, evocative, sweeping, glorious, sets the emotional core of each scene perfectly, all that good stuff. And there’s a touch of the John Williams magic where every note is a Big Friggin’ Deal and the music means this is a Very Important Movie. Considering that Dinosaur was almost certainly influenced by Jurassic Park, I am sure this is deliberate. This score is so good, no joke, that I’m probably going to hit it up on Spotify just so I can listen to it in full. It’s a shame that Howard’s magnificent work was attached to a film so otherwise forgettable.

THE WORST:

  • And I do mean forgettable. I just finished watching this thing 15 minutes ago, and other than the score and the pretty live action backgrounds, I can’t remember a goddamn thing about it. Not even the protagonist’s name. The movie is as boring as its title. The plot is very dull and cribs far too much from The Land Before Time (not that this would be the first nor the last time that Don Bluth Studios and Disney would swipe ideas from each other) what with the whole “Really really long migration towards a livable habitat” thing. The protagonist Whatsisname has absolutely no flaws at all – my most recent review of Lady and the Tramp II complained that Scamp was too flawed, and here we have the opposite problem. I was seriously, seriously bored during this movie, and I’ve never seen my memory of a Disney film pop out of my brain so quickly and profoundly. Well, I suppose I can just rewrite that corrupted section of my brain’s hard drive with some other Disney movie.

emperors_new_groove_ver1_xlgThe Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

Somewhere in the universe, a microcosm in the cosmos decided that “What if Disney made a Looney Tunes movie?” was a question that must be answered. This is the silliest, most genre-savvy and self-referential film in the entire canon, and it’s a standout not only for its content, but for its history. The film started out being titled as Empire of the Sun, which was going to be a Prince and the Pauper story transferred to the Incan culture, and scored by Sting. It didn’t work. The discussions for the original format of the movie and Sting’s work on it were recorded and presented by his wife Trudie Styler in the hard-to-find documentary The Sweatbox. At some point, the Disney staff said “Screw it” and went for a wacky comedy, and we got…this.

THE BEST:

  • I don’t think I could name anything other than the comedy. It is extremely quotable, and laugh-out-loud funny, even on subsequent viewings. How many films do you know of that can pull that off? I also have to give credit to the late great Eartha Kitt for her performance as Yzma. You can totally tell the woman was having a ball, and Yzma is definitely the best character in the movie. (On a side note, YouTube Snuff Out The Light, which was her original villain song. It’s pretty great.) Kronk is also a highlight in this film, and Patrick Warburton’s performance is hilarious. I also have to give a little credit to the writers for not allowing themselves to be boxed into anything – the movie is a walking anachronism, it’s aware of narrative conventions (and likes poking holes in them), and even pokes fun at its own plot holes.

THE WORST:

  • Kuzco. Although intentionally so, he’s a little too obnoxious. I have the same problem here that I did with The Black Cauldron, and that’s that I find the villains so much more interesting than the protagonists. I can totally sympathize with why Yzma wanted him out of the picture. And I’m not so sure he’s all that redeemable. It sounds to me like he’s done dangerously selfish things his entire life. If he’s capable of destroying a village on a whim, he’s probably committed genocide, and we know for sure that he has fostered poverty amongst his citizens. Thank goodness this is a comedy and those sorts of implications aren’t explored.

Atlantis_The_Lost_Empire_posterAtlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

This was the first of three sci-fi based Disney Canon films in a row, and only Lilo & Stitch was successful. Including the genre shift (Atlantis having a major steampunk flavour to it), this was a major departure for Disney in terms of its content – this was the first time I’d watched this film, and it was quite noticeable that they were shooting for a teen audience. This film has a body count literally in the hundreds, the dialogue and plot points are skewed a lot older than usual (how many 8-year-olds know what a linguist is?), there are no musical numbers, and it was only the second film after The Black Cauldron to earn a PG rating. I feel the same about this film that I do about Treasure Planet – it didn’t deserve to bomb, and while Atlantis has a better premise (a nerdy linguist finds evidence that Atlantis exists, and a friend of his grandfather puts together a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits team to go on an archeological expedition to find it), it was never going to be a hit. I can understand why WDAS wanted to target a teen audience, but there’s just no divorcing our cultural concept of Disney as the studio that makes films for kids.

THE BEST:

  • You know the Tumblr types that learn how to critically analyze media for social issues and immediately target Disney? (I call this Baby’s First Feminism) They call for more minority cast members (especially the Princesses), mature storylines, representation of non-Western cultures, etc. They conveniently forget that this film exists. Although the protagonist is a white dude (his being voiced by Michael J. Fox instantly endears me to him though), the rest of the cast is pretty diverse – especially considering that this film takes place in 1914. The archaeological team features people from all different cultures and ages, including a teen Latina who is an engineering prodigy, and a half-African-American, half-Native-American doctor. Most notably of all, though, this film has Princess Kida, who is smart, resourceful, powerful, and *gasp* not white! Unfortunately for her, since Atlantis bombed, she was not included in the Disney Princess lineup – even though she’s an actual honest-to-god-born-of-a-King Princess and not one who merely married a Prince or…is not a Princess at all and is just there to fill diversity slots *coughPocahontascoughMulan*. Along with poor Princess Eilonwy of The Black Cauldron, Princess Kida is the Disney Princess that Time Forgot. I’m getting a little off focus here, so let’s just sum this up: Cast is not entirely white and is instead deliberately diverse. Good, Disney. Good.

THE WORST:

  • I call bullshit on the climax, in which Kida is a Damsel-In-Distress who does literally nothing the entire time. TV Tropes has indicated that this was apparently something the executives demanded. Katzenberg’s not at Disney anymore by this point, so…do I blame Eisner? Let’s go with that. You suck, Eisner. King Leonard Nimoy offers some exposition about how the crystal that sustains the Atlanteans’ lives is partially sentient and it has absorbed Kida because she’s a Royal or something along those lines and…okay, I found the ending really incoherent and convoluted. Maybe I was just tired. But in the end when the crystal restores Atlantis to its former glory, Kida STILL doesn’t do anything, it’s all the crystal. I don’t blame the directors for this, as it’s clear from earlier scenes they wanted Kida to be powerful mentally, physically and magically. I’m almost positive that her characterization was influenced by Princess Mononoke. Seriously, Disney executives. Don’t pull that kind of sexist shit ever again. You ruin your movies that way.

disney_s_lilo_and_stitch___poster__fm__by_edogg8181804-d6m25nqLilo & Stitch (2002)

By far the best movie of the Second Dark Age, and I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with me here. It’s also pretty much the only major hit Disney had during this era, which is why they made the oh-so-very-wise decision of having A: Multiple direct-to-DVD sequels (there are three sequels) and B: A very episodic TV series. There’s even an anime spinoff in which Stitch moves to Japan. Fortunately though, this movie is charming, heartbreaking, hilarious, thrilling and meaningful – all the best elements of a Disney film. It’s almost as good as the films during the Renaissance, just with a distinctly different style. (The comedy is very sly and self-aware) This film also has something that pleases me greatly in that almost everyone in the cast is Hawaiian (a culture almost completely neglected in modern media), and the primary dramatic conflict is between a pair of sisters who adore each other, but don’t really know how to connect.

THE BEST:

  • The characters. Every single character in this movie, from the protagonists to the incidental supporting cast, is unique, well-developed, and likeable. I honestly can’t decide who is my favourite character in this cast, which is usually an easy decision for me. Lilo is a hilarious child with an active imagination and realistic flaws. I see a lot of myself in Nani, a much older sister who is struggling to do the best that she can for the younger sister she has to care for. Stitch’s character arc from wanton menace to defender of ohana is incredibly charming. Jumba cracks me up with every line (Stiers’ line readings are hilarious!), and I still can’t believe the writers (especially the television series writers) got away with making Pleakley more-or-less a drag queen. And I could go on raving about the other characters. This is just an incredibly well-written movie.

THE WORST:

  • This is also related to the excellent character writing in this movie, but I want to deck the shit out of Myrtle and her sycophantic friends. Myrtle reminds me very uncomfortably of the kind of bullies I had to deal with at Lilo’s age, and for that reason, I utterly hate her. Her nasty comments, her deliberate exclusion, her utter cruelty to a little girl who just recently lost her parents…ugh. I identify with Lilo almost as much as I identify with Nani – a nonconformist girl who lost a close family member, and who has no idea how to truly “belong” with people. Admittedly I’m not quite into the morbid stuff Lilo is, but it’s clear Lilo hasn’t really worked through her traumas yet, and Myrtle’s bullying just makes all of that so much worse.

See Also: Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has A Glitch, Stitch! The Movie, Leroy and Stitch


treasure_planet_xlg Treasure Planet (2002)

I’m honestly kind of shocked that Disney thought “Treasure Island…in SPACE!!” was a good enough premise to animate, but I am presuming that John Musker and Ron Clements (who directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog) managed to sell the idea based on their track record. It’s certainly unusual as far as Disney films go – it’s pure sci-fi (so no genre blending like Lilo & Stitch), no musical numbers, and, oh yeah, it was a massive bomb. I never bothered to go to see it back when it was first released in theatres as I thought the premise was dumb – I guess a lot of people agreed with me. I finally got around to seeing it on Netflix and I have to say it’s…okay. There are some really beautiful shots, and the blending of CGI is decent for the time period. It didn’t deserve to bomb massively, but there really is no way this movie ever could have been a hit.

THE BEST:

  • This film’s version of Long John Silver, who is a cyborg with mechanical parts replacing his severed limbs rather than having a pegleg and so on (which also makes him doubly prophetically named), is a fantastically written character. I go nuts for morally ambiguous characters, and Silver is just amazing. His conflicts over his dreams of riches vs. not wanting to hurt or betray Jim make a really good character arc. Considering how many Disney villains are just 100% evil, kill everyone ever, steal all the riches, kick all the puppies, eat all the babies, etc, it’s nice to see something different for a change.

THE WORST:

  • How aggressively mediocre all the other characters are in comparison. Jim Hawkins comes off as a whiny teenager (and I have little patience for them), the astronomer is extremely irritating, Captain Amelia is a waste of a character who had some potential (She’s good at her job, she is a stoic prim-and-proper British catlady thing despite this being space and not Earth, and she falls in love with the astronomer. That’s her whole character arc.), the crew members are just generic bad guys…ergh. And don’t get me started on the sidekicks. The shapeshifter blob was a walking plot device, and B.O.B. got annoying way, way, way too fast.

brother_bearBrother Bear (2003)

The toilet humour right in the teaser poster is a sign of the quality entertainment you get with this film. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) there is no crude humour in the movie itself, but I wonder if the movie might have been improved if there had been, because oh my god, I have never seen a Disney movie more boring than this one. It was torturous to sit though. So the plot is that an asshole Aboriginal Canadian gets turned into a Bear by his dead brother’s spirit to teach him a lesson somethingsomethingALLINDIANSAREMAGIC!! Disney inexplicably brought back Phil Collins to score this film after Tarzan, which, yeah, had a hit song with You’ll Be In My Heart, but Phil Collins is utterly divisive and the songs he wrote for this film are TERRIBLE. Ugh. Last night I tweeted “PHIL COLLINS I WILL DRINK YOUR BLOOD AND ROAST YOUR FLESH.” The movie made me a little…reactive.

THE BEST:

THE WORST:

  • There are a lot of things wrong with this movie. A lot. They cast a white guy (Joaquin Phoenix) to play an an ancient Aboriginal (not that I really know what tribe these people were) They did that thing where white people depict Indians/Natives/Aboriginals/First Nations/Insert Politically Correct Synonym Here as literally magical and mystical and in tuuuune with naaaatuuuuureee. All of the characters in the movie, especially the protagonist, are desperately unlikable. The plot barely explains anything, and even in a moment where Kenai is confessing to Koda that he was the one who killed Koda’s mother, they actually fade out his dialogue to shoehorn in another Phil Collins song. WHY WOULD YOU DELIBERATELY STOP THE DRAMATIC CLIMAX LIKE THAT? WHY, DISNEY? WHY? And Phil Collins really should have been ashamed of himself for the lyrics he wrote. “All we have we share/And all of us we care” What is this, kindergarten? And the rest of the film is just so, so, so boring. I didn’t care about the Bears’ journey, I didn’t care about Kenai’s character development, the “action scenes” were predictable, the movie took FOREVER to get to the “Turns Into A Bear” part, there is just so much equally wrong with this movie I cannot pick just one thing. It’s terrible and Disney never should have released something so desperately dull. Friggin’ Brother Bear. Sucks.

home_on_the_rangeHome On The Range (2004)

This film, if my recollection is right, is the first Disney Animated Feature in the Western genre since the Wartime Era. And I really think that was a major, major mistake on their part. I think what Disney wanted to go for was a throwback to the cartoons of the 40s-50s, which were quite often Westerns, but realistically speaking, Western is a dead genre as far as modern audiences are concerned. And what we got here with this film is a weird kind of mish-mash between the mood of the classic Disney shorts and some decidedly anachronistic and edgy jokes courtesy of Roseanne Barr. This film is quite divisive, and is often blamed for killing Disney’s 2D animation unit. It doesn’t share all the blame (I think Treasure Planet‘s massive financial failure was really the nail in the coffin) and, if I’m being honest, this film is not really bad, it’s just painfully average. And painfully average + unpopular genre = Bad Disney! Go to your room!

THE BEST:

  • I’m going to digress a little and talk about a weird little quirk about Canadian media. Don’t worry, I’m going to relate it back to this film. Anyway, the CRTC, which is the Canadian equivalent of the FCC, noticed that Canadians were ignoring their own media in favour of American imports, to the point where most Canadians struggle to name 5 films or 5 TV series that were produced here. The CRTC enacts a law stipulating that all radio and television stations must feature at least 30% Canadian content (media performed, produced, and/or created by Canadians) in its programming. The result was that radio stations would play a hell of a lot of the same few artists (e.g. Celine Dion, Sarah McLachlan, Nickelback, Justin Bieber) but certain artists, despite being from Canada, are anathema to the radio stations, for reasons I am yet to figure out. One of those artists that is rarely played, minus one song (Constant Craving), is Edmonton’s k.d. lang. I don’t know if it’s because she’s considered country, or because she’s a lesbian (I really, really hope not) but…she doesn’t ever get airplay on the mainstream Canadian pop radio stations.
  • ANYWAY. k.d. lang performs a song on the soundtrack of Home on the Range, Little Patch of Heaven, and it is a very good song (relatively speaking) and her vocals in it are fantastic. Disney brought back Alan Menken to compose the music for this film, although it’s still not quite a musical. The music is a mixture of diegetic (the characters directly performing or reacting to the music) and non-diegetic (music that is used to set a mood such as a montage, which the characters are not directly aware of) songs, which is another weird little past-crashes-into-present quirk of this movie. They recognized that Little Patch of Heaven was by far the best song on the soundtrack, which is why it’s reprised at the end. The song’s a total earworm, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather have an earworm song than a song I instantly forget, which usually happens with the songs written for the sequels. I like k.d. lang. I wish I could hear her more often, because she has a great voice.

THE WORST:

  • Roseanne Barr actively repels me. I have never liked her, I have never enjoyed her standup or her sitcom, I found her abrasive and pushy and arrogant and annoying as shit. And this was long before I found out that she is a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), which basically means that she likes to treat trans women like shit and fearmonger about them attacking little girls in public bathrooms (a thing that has NEVER happened, incidentally). She’s broken more than a few hearts and ruined more than a few lives. So rewatching this film, now knowing what I know about Barr, made the experience very cringeworthy. Maggie, the character she plays in this film, is just a bovine version of herself. She doesn’t ruin the film, but she definitely set a weird tone by making a boob/udder joke right in her introductory scene. What is it with cartoon writers and their bizarre focus on cow udders? It is the most messed up thing, seriously.

chicken_little_ver2_xlgChicken Little (2005)

LOL, BUTTS! Amazing how their teaser posters during this era say nothing good about the films they’re promoting. Oh my LORD this film was torture. Like, this may actually unseat The Fox and the Hound as my least favourite Disney film. [I ultimately decided I hated both films equally.] This was the last film released under Michael Eisner’s tenure (he would be replaced by Bob Iger after the Disney-Pixar merger). He decided to scrap the original script treatment and make Chicken Little a boy, because he thought that audiences would prefer it. Up yours, Eisner. Disney was trying desperately to prove that they could compete with Dreamworks (hence the emphasis on snarky pop culture references) and didn’t need Pixar (hence why this was made in CG). The film did okay financially, but Chicken Little is the lowest rated Disney feature film on Rotten Tomatoes. Soooo…yes. Disney did need Pixar.

THE BEST:

  • Siiigh. Okay, so you know how the trailers really pushed that whole alien invasion plot? That doesn’t happen until more than halfway through the film. And around the middle of the film, Chicken Little discovers that the sky really did fall on him – or, at least, a cloaking panel on the bottom of an alien spacecraft that imitates the sky. So he and his plucky friends go into the alien ship, meet and befriend an alien baby, and then hilarity ensues and the baby is left behind on Earth. Baby’s Dad brings his planet’s entire alien armada to invade Chicken Little’s hometown to find his baby. ANYWAY. The baby is cute. It makes cute noises. I see why Alien Dad wanted to rescue him. His name is Kirby, though he doesn’t inhale things. I didn’t mind the baby. Good baby.

THE WORST:

  • I really can’t narrow it down to one thing here. So buckle your seatbelts, it’s rant time. (And it’ll be a bumpy night etc etc All About Eve reference)
  • Disney thinking that they should imitate Dreamworks’ snarky, dated, fractured fairy tale, pop-culture reference laden plots, with silly talking animals who are overly anthropomorphized, is just ridiculous. Katzenberg was being a big whiny baby who basically engineered Shrek to give the finger to his former employers. Don’t do what Katzenberg does. Ever.
  • Eisner’s insistence on making Chicken Little a boy, when most versions of the story have a female protagonist is sexist asinine crap. He assumed people would be more likely to see a film with a boy as the protagonist. Bullshit. What is very obvious from most of the films in this era is that they were trying desperately for the tween & teen boy demographic, as if they aren’t catered to enough. It was a massive failure and a stupid idea and good riddance Eisner.
  • The animation is really hideously ugly. The character designs are abhorrent, the style looks cheap, and the animal bodies are stretched and exaggerated to the point where they actively repel me. It doesn’t look like Disney quality animation. It looks like that cheap crap that animation studio in Brazil churns out to compete with Disney.
  • The characters are so incredibly poorly written. To give a couple of examples, Buck Cluck is an absolutely terrible father, who has basically emotionally abused his son from neglect because he cares more about sucking up to the townspeople than being a supportive dad. When he finally does clue in that his son was right all along, he keeps saying out loud how supportive he’s being now. Yeah, I bet that’ll last long. CL’s friend Runt of the Litter is just basically one walking fat & gay joke – lol he got stuck in a desk, lol he likes disco music, lol he likes Barbra Streisand, lol he eats a lot. The townspeople themselves are so hostile and so cruel to CL, it made the entire tone of the film horrible to sit through.
  • The plot is asinine. They basically threw out the original fairy tale to the point where I wonder why they even bothered referencing it at all. There’s no moral lesson about not panicking and not blindly following people. Most notably, the sky actually WAS falling! Instead, we’ve got this ridiculous baseball story that uses the “In the bottom of the 9th the hero hits a home run” cliche (and reaches its climax in the middle of the film), an alien “invasion” story that sounds stupider the more I try to explain it, and the major emotional conflict is that Buck Cluck is an absolutely terrible father.
  • The voice acting is godawful. This film is probably what I will point to in the future as an example of why Hollywood has got to stop relying on celebrity voice actors. Chicken Little, Abby Mallard and Runt of the Litter do NOT sound like children. They don’t even sound like teenagers. I can’t even figure out what the hell age they’re supposed to be, but the actors weren’t even TRYING to sound younger, they were just reading the lines in their normal speaking voices. I really, really hate that.
  • EDIT: I was reminded of one last plot point that was absolutely horrific in its implications. Foxy Loxy is a tomboy bully in this film, whose “comeuppance” was that the aliens scrambled her brain to the point where she became a traditionally feminine mindless zombie. Runt of the Litter now has the hots for Scrambled Brain Foxy, who is no longer capable of expressing any sort of conscious thought. Okay, so she was a bully. What happened to her is an absolutely disproportionate punishment, because the whole “Runt wants her now she’s docile” thing has rape implications, and she has basically become a vegetable. And the audience is supposed to think that destroying a little girl’s mind and agency is a good thing?
  • This entire film is just a disaster. A cynical, poorly plotted, poorly written, poorly acted, poorly animated, slavishly derivative disaster. Oh my god did I hate it.

meet-the-robinsons-poster-bigMeet The Robinsons (2007)

The Disney-Pixar merger was completed around the time that this film was finishing production. One of John Lasseter’s first decisions was to demand that 1/3rd of the movie be rewritten and reanimated, which says how terrible the first draft must have been considering that we got something so utterly mediocre as the final result. I only just finished rewatching this film, and I’ve already forgotten most of it. It’s just that unremarkable. Compared to the other Second Dark Age entries, it’s not that bad, but it helps to illustrate one big problem. What do the Dark Age and Second Dark Age have in common, besides critical indifference? None of the films are Broadway-style musicals. Most of them have non-diegetic pop music as their soundtrack, and the ones that do have musical scores have modern styles of music that date the film rather badly (Oliver and Company, I’m looking at you). The most beloved Disney films are the ones where the music swells and the characters sing their feelings. Let’s hope that with the success of the Second Renaissance, the Disney executives have finally learned their lesson.

THE BEST:

  • As a lifelong fan of Jay Ward, I have a great deal of affection for the Snidley Whiplash-inspired Bowler Hat Guy. I’ll avoid discussing the twist surrounding his character as I consider it to be one aspect of the “Worst,” but I did genuinely find him amusing. His over-the-top villainy and inability to think his plans through make him one of the most well-written characters of the movie (which isn’t saying much) since he actually has more than one character trait. One weird little thing about this movie is that it’s a strong contrast between the past and the future, and I don’t just mean in a time travel sense. Everyone in the future has an old-timey name – Wilbur, Cornelius, Franny (Francine), Lucille, Bud, Mildred, Tallulah… And Bowler Hat Guy is, well, defined by his old-timey hat. It doesn’t work for the family members, but it does work for him. Mostly because bowler hats look silly.

THE WORST:

  • Okay, I am fascinated by time travel. Utterly fascinated. My favourite movie? Back to the Future. My favourite game? Chrono Trigger. My favourite TV series? Sailor Moon. My favourite book? Is not related to time travel. So I’ve spent many a year pondering out the rules for time travel, and if there’s one thing I’ve understood about writing a time travel story is that you have to make the rules make sense. And Meet The Robinsons barely makes any sense at all. This stuff can get really mind-bending, so I’ll just give two examples of how the imprecise time travel rules in Meet The Robinsons create paradoxes. #1: Lewis tells DOR-15 that he will never invent “her” and she disintegrates. But how can he tell her that he’ll never invent her if she doesn’t get invented and then travels to the past and screws with the timeline so that he finds out she’s evil and thus vows not to invent her? #2: Lewis wakes up Goob in time for him to win the ball game, resulting in him not turning twisted and resentful. But how can he prevent Goob from becoming Bowler Hat Guy if Bowler Hat Guy doesn’t steal the time machine and get Wilbur to chase after him and then Wilbur brings Lewis to the future where he eventually meets Bowler Hat Guy who explains how Lewis ruined his life? See what I mean? There’s no explanation of a “ripple effect,” there’s no explanation of alternate timelines, there’s no explanation as to how Bowler Hat Guy got a dinosaur inside the time machine, there’s no explanation as to how Lewis is immune to DOR-15’s messing with the timestream, there’s not even any fallout from Lewis knowing WAY too much about his own future! I SPIT ON YOUR BAD TIME TRAVEL RULES, DISNEY!

And then somehow they turned things around, birthing

Part VII: The Second Renaissance.

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