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In this episode: Dinosaur | The Other Conquest | The Little Mermaid Video Sequel
I have been busy. Oh, so busy. Busy as a busy, busy bee. And busy is as busy does. Which means no time for movies. And this during the start of the summer movie season. Sniff. Well, one of the very good reasons I've been busy is I've been making a little movie of my own. That is correct, sir! David and I shot and are about to edit (on my Mac G3 at home, natch) a 3.5 minute short. I would love to tell you all about it now, but that's not why I'm here. Oh, don't worry. You'll get a mass mailing at the end of the week asking you to go to iCAST.com and download our movie so we can win mucho bucks! But not yet. The first round is won on number of downloads, so don't touch any of the other movies in the competition! I thank you.

Lemme start this round of critique with the most relevant movie, Dinosaur, which I saw at an employee screening. It was part of my being busy!

Dinosaur
Dinosaur is a movie worthy of viewing because it is a marvel of technology and visual art. In case you haven't heard, it uses film shot on location and super-imposes CG dinosaur characters over it. This mixture of live action and CG is often breathtaking and awe-inspiring. However, it is also sometimes obviously fake. One moment, you're blown away by the shockingly photorealistic fur on the CG lemurs, the next your furrowing your simian brow at the exaggerated and clumsy facial renderings of same lemurs. Nonetheless, the movie is gorgeous to behold, especially in a DLP digital theater. (Read my DLP comments starting here.) Most people won't even notice the CG problems and will be immersed completely in the movie.

Oh, unless, that is, the story doesn't get in the way. Here. Let me heave a gigantic

A huge sigh.
The Disney formula is getting pretty tiring to me. It's obvious now that, when a new animated project is getting off the ground at Disney, the filmmakers are offered a little brown box, something akin to the tea box proffered towards diners in fancier restaurants. Inside Disney's box are plot elements and characters, all neatly sealed in colorful envelopes. "Here," says the Disney content supervisor. "Take your pick. This is all we have to offer." The tea bags Dinosaur's creators chose to choose contain dried leaves and spices from past Disney fare like The Lion King, Tarzan, Hercules, Mulan, and even A Bug's Life. And they didn't bother to deviate too much from what they got.

Dinosaur is a fun movie. I enjoyed it very much. But I would have liked it better had someone maybe decided to do some creative writing. Better writing could have spackled in the cracks between the Disney plot pieces and made the movie more palatable as a whole, like Tarzan was. The characters would have been more original. The plot twists wouldn't have been so transparent. And so on and so on. The movie is slightly more violent--it's rated PG--and that adds a little something new. But it's not enough. I'd see Dinosaur again just to watch the visuals, but I won't count it as one of my Disney favorites.

 

 

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THE OTHER CONQUEST
(La Otra Conquista)

I saw this one weeks ago and just haven't had time to write about it. (You may recall I've been busy, busy, busy.) Marcy and I saw this when the showing of Gladiator we attempted to see was sold out. It was a mistake only because we were both very tired, it was late, and the movie is slow.

This is a Mexican movie. A movie from Mexico. Now, Mexico is not known for its film exports, but this one did so well in its native land that it somehow caught the attention of us Gringos and we brought it to our shores (which are the same shores as Mexico's, but no one admits that).

[NOTE: Since I wrote this, Mexican movies have become rather in vogue and, more importantly, extremely artistic and impressive. Check out Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También for examples of such. —3/29/02]

The Other Conquest is challenging. The story centers around an Aztec man named Topiltzin (Damián Delgado), who witnesses the massacre of his people by the Spanish in 1520. His attempts to keep the ways of his people alive come into direct conflict with the increasing presence of the Spaniards. Topiltzin ends up being captured and held by that infamous man of letters, Cortés (Iñaki Aierra). Being an illegitimate son of the emperor Moctezuma, Topiltzin is put into the hands of Friar Diego (José Carlos Rodríguez) instead of being executed. It becomes Diego's quest to conquer the heathen spirit of Topiltzin and show him the way of the one true God.

There is a lot of religious symbolism that flew right past me in this movie. This is thanks to my pedestrian knowledge of religion, gained solely from my winning submission to the "Draw God, Win a Theology Scholarship!" contest. They all wore sandals in the Bible, at least that much I do know. Some of the symbolism in The Other Conquest was impossible to miss, though. The comparisons between the Aztec goddess mother and the Spaniards' Virgin Mary, for instance, are blunt.

Is Topiltzin becoming a true Christian believer, or is he putting on a clever facade to fool the ignorant invaders? This is where the drama lies. The movie, being non-American, has a unique pace and style (see my limp-headed comments about a similar phenomenon in the All About My Mother review.) It feels rather disjointed, in fact. Director Salvador Carrasco strives to make the pain of religious conversion felt by the audience. I was not very attached to the characters, however, so I didn't get too emotional. Watching religion destroy a culture is always depressing (see The Mission), and so it is here, but the movie plays more on the brain than the heart. That ain't bad, just different. And in the tired state I was in that night, it didn't work on me the way it should have. The Other Conquest is rather unique, and is an educational experience. Go see it more to be informed and less to be entertained.

 

 

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THE LITTLE MERMAID II
Return to the Sea

I'll probably get fired if it's discovered I'm writing anything about this movie, especially 'cause what I'm about to type down is powerfully negative. But I don't care. This straight-to-video release doesn't come out 'til September, but it's not too late to tell you to NOT BUY IT!

Disney was very good for the longest time. The company (or Company, as it should be typed) stayed away from doing sequels to its ancient and beloved films. But then came the mediocre sequels to Aladdin, which proved to be immensely profitable. That begat The Lion King II, a very successful and above-decent video release. Well, friends, the floodgates are open. We've already had the abysmal Pocahontas II and the forgettable Beauty and the Beast Enchanted Christmas thingy. Expect to see lots of video sequels to Disney classics over the next couple of years, including TITLES REMOVED BECAUSE I REALLY WILL GET FIRED! (Toy Story 2 started off as a straight-to-video sequel, but because Pixar was involved, it was brilliant and got bumped up to theatrical status.)

The very, very basics of Little Mermaid II are sound and would work quite well if given over to anyone with creative vision. As it is, however, LMII is the product of corporate accounting. I sat stunned during our sales meeting last week listening to the suits go on about how far animation has come since the original Little Mermaid, and then watching them disprove that point in nearly every frame of the sequel. Blech. I can't say the animation was as bad as TV quality, but I can say it was closer to that than Disney's usual theatrical quality. And talk about the Disney formula? Gag. It was sad to see sidekicks Timon from The Lion King and Chien-Po from Mulan reincarnated as a sidekick penguin and walrus, respectively. They were not funny. Scuttle, Sebastian, and Flounder were useless. The villain is Ursula's thin sister Morgana, played in the same funny over-blown style by Pat Carroll. Oh, hey... there's another clue to why the movie is second-rate. Listen to the actors' voices. Listen to the energy some of them, like Pat, put into their characters. Now watch the animation. Unlike the feature animators, the Disney TV animators can't capture that emotion in the drawings. The animation is flat, which is another reason why the movie is flat.

I could go into all the other reasons this "film" is no good, but you get the point. Besides, I'm busy and need to stop now. Really. Very busy. Too busy even to see Mission: Impossible 2 today! What a tragedy.

 

--Steve

5/24/00

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©2000 Steven Lekowicz except
Dinosaur logo and The Little Mermaid II picture © Disney Enterprises, Inc.
The Other Conquest picture © Carrasco & Domingo Films S.A. de C.V.