Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Post-Frozen Disney: A Disheartening Prospect

Hello Pop Culture Gone Bad Fans!

It's been a while, hasn't it? But I, like King Arthur, Jean Grey, and Grover

Cleveland, have returned! And instead of ruminating on my absence, why not delve into another pop culture staple, which is almost by this point distinguished by its waxing and waning.....

“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan.

Over the past two years, in an attempt to give myself time off from my graduate studies but still assure my grad student brain that I was being productive, I underwent another movie-watching mission (afficinados of this blog will remember the first one in The Kane Mission). This time, I watched all 52 animated Disney movies (as well as all the Pixar ones, but they’re not too important for the purposes of this entry).

What I noticed over this mission is that Disney undergoes cycles of quality. There is, roughly every generation, a period of amazing, highly praised films (usually with a misstep in the midst), one following which consists of decent films that have their fans, their diehards, their haters, and their meh-ers, and then just a period of god-awful. Furthermore, usually this period of quality is prefaced by a film or two that isn’t as good as the high points of this renaissance, but certainly better than the schlock that preceded it.

And all of this should have us very worried for what film comes after Frozen.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Period 1:

Classics: Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi. Even though I honestly can’t stand Bambi, I’m trying to leave my own personal taste out of this asmuch as possible.

Decent films: The South America ones, i.e. Saludos Amigos and especially Three Caballeros (really, it’s the only film people know from the 40s after Bambi)

Forgotten failures: Make Mine Music (again I’m a fan of this one, but let’s be real here), Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time

Period 2:

Preface: Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (not a full-on classic, but definitely has more a seat at the Disney table than Melody Time)

Classics: Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland (arguably the misstep of this period as it was a critical and commercial flop), Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians. Admittedly, some would put these last two in the decent category, but I’m in charge of this list and allowed my little power trips.

Decent films: Sword in the Stone (actually - as with many of the divisive films of the late 90s - there’s no middle ground on this film…people either have it as a continuation of the classics or something akin to shoving a hot coal covered in vinegar in an open wound), Jungle Book, Aristocats, Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers

Forgotten Failures: Fox and the Hound, Black Cauldron. This may seem like a small period, but it actually lasted almost ten years. The lack of animated features in general could be construed as its own aspect of the dark period. Also, The Rescuers may have been a hit at the time and even have gotten a sequel, but it has more or less lost its place in Disney history by now.

Period 3:

Preface: Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company

Classics: Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under (Misstep), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King – duh.

Decent films: Pocahontas, Hunchback, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan. All of these films are fiercely debated. They all have their haters, as well as their fans who think they’re terribly underrated. My theory on this lot is no one likes all five. At most, you like two…maybe three. And you viciously hate at least one of them.

REALLY murky area of decent or forgotten: Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur (well, everyone hates this one), Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis (surprisingly, this has its fans. I blame Joss Whedon), Lilo and Stitch (mainly because Disney has done all it can to shove Stitch down our throats)

Forgotten Failures: Oh this list is fun…Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons. Man, it’s like listing horcruxes.

We are now in Period 4. And it looks a lot like period 3.

We have our preface, Bolt, which like Great Mouse Detective (or Oliver and Company, if you’re a fan of that) is a cute talking animal film that’s far better than you expect it to be but isn’t the huge hit or inducted into Disney canon as quickly as what will follow it.

We have our Princess Fairy Tale musical (after a period of non or less musical films that often take place more in current – or future – time and are less reliant on old classic fairy tales) that really garners attention from the mainstream public back to Disney Animation: Little Mermaid, meet the Princess and the Frog.

We have our second Princess Fairy Tale music that pretty much follows all the rules of its predecessor to equal or slightly greater/lesser success. Don’t let the Oscars fool you: the debates over Little Mermaid vs. Beauty and the Beast are as fierce as those over Princess and the Frog vs. Tangled.

We have our more boy-centric, more adventurey film: Aladdin and Wreck-It Ralph.

We even have an animal-centric, sequel misstep that’s a complete flop in the midst of this renaissance: Winnie the Pooh plays the role of Rescuers Down Under.

And now we have Frozen. Reports on Frozen thus far have been mixed. I’d actually be less optimistic if I wasn’t convinced it will be The Lion King of this period.

But I could be wrong. It could be Pocahontas: a Princessy story…that’s really isn’t exactly right. But even if it is The Lion King of this period…that means Pocahontas is next. We have nowhere to go but down right now.

So what do you guys think? Am I just superstitious? Or are you ready to just hunker down for the next decade or so until another fairytale finally stumbles our way?

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