Thursday, August 23, 2018

Delayed Disney Deconstruction Descriptions

Given its concept and cast, my daughter and I both had Christopher Robin on our radar since it was announced.

We saw it opening day on vacation in Colorado, but I was too busy hiking, accidentally joining the zoo, and avoiding practitioners of the local herbs to do the write up before now.

The film was a perfectly executed mix of the pitfalls of growing up too much, balanced with the fun and sweetness of a Pooh story.  Disney showed its awesomeness once more by not only using the Sherman Brothers' songs from the original films, but getting Richard Sherman to write three new ones, and show up playing piano during the credits.

It’s hard to talk about this film without citing the similarities to Hook.   I'm one of the minority of fans of that Spielberg film, but I can see the issues with it for those who aren't as invested in both the original tale and Robin Williams as I am.

Peter Pan is a story about the importance of growing up, personified by Wendy, starring a boy who refuses to grow up, personified by Peter.  In Hook, the act of falling in love and deciding to become an adult is what removes all fun and emotion from Peter’s life…a dubious starting point at best.

Ewan McGregor, who makes the entire film work, always displays elements of hope showing the boyhood version of Christopher Robin is still within him.  He is forced into being a “proper and serious” adult by the mechanisms of attending British Boarding school, serving in the infantry during World War II (one of the great innocence removers in history) and the post war business environment.

But it is his loving and fun side that attracts his wife to him, and glimpses of it remain even in his darker moments. I kept hoping for an Agent Carter reference as Haley Atwell stepped effortlessly into another phenomenal turn in a period role.

Peter Pan, in his original appearance, was irresponsible and kind of a jerk most of the time. Emotionally connecting to his abandoned allies trying to reawaken that can be a bit rough.

Christopher Robin was the intelligent and responsible one of the group in the Milne tales and Disney shorts. Emotionally connecting to his impulsive, frequently incorrect, but good hearted friends as they try to restore his (and his daughter Madeline’s) sense of innocence and wonder was much easier.

The voice actors for Pooh and friends, both new and returning (Jim Cummings...yay!) were amazing. More than the staggeringly realistic special effects it is those voices that bring the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood back to life.

The rest of the human cast was excellent as well. Mark Gatiss stood out as a Pythonian malice angled upper class twit.  Bronte Carmichael as Madeline Robin had reactions that gave equal weight and reality to the too frequently existing occurrences of a child worrying that a parent values work over happiness, and the happier, whimsical notions of following the ideas of a bunch of stuffed animals to go on an adventure.

It is a perfectly handled nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up with the characters, and a perfectly handled presentation of family and “magic” being the important things in life.

Yes, there are happy and sad tears throughout, all in a good way.

The saddest part in this whole movie, however, is a meta one.  People most in need of seeing a story about how sharing love, childhood innocence and a sense of fun with one’s family is far more important than any scholastic or career successes and the notion that the former can lead to the latter but never the other way around, are precisely those individuals who will never see this film.

Speaking of Delayed Disney:

My niece Veronica made her stage debut in The Lion King Junior, put on by the Mount Tabor Arts Summer Camp at the Tabernacle.

She seems to have found the creative outlet best suited to her. (Not counting Dance, which every member of my family seems to have the genes for…except me.)  Her older sister Aurora may have found hers with painting, and their younger sibling Morgan…

Is six, and still has random modes of creativity shooting out of him at all times.

The cast worked on the show for two weeks, with only an extra week for sets and costumes.

This would be insane by itself.

What made it more insane were the results.  Starting with looking at pictures of the Broadway costumes and saying, “We need to do this,” they put on a show with appearances and performances as good as the best middle school- and rivaling some of the high school-  productions I’ve seen in this area.

The stylized “tribal storytellers” feel of the original Broadway version was perfect to allow scaling down the mechanics without losing the sensations.  Recreating the multi-level wildebeest stampede on the tiny little stage was particularly impressive.

The cast was outstanding.  Veronica and the rest of the ensemble, through constant quick changes, played a plethora of jungle animals.

Scar was menacing and lorded over the stage whenever she was there.  (Like most kid productions there were a lot of “Female actor/ male character” roles that worked out just fine.) Mufassa was powerful and commanding while Surabi and Sarafina were regal. Nala was emotionally powerful, Simba was Hamletty, Zazu was C3P-0 style lovably annoying, and the Hyenas were menacingly hysterical. Timon and Pumba had impeccable comic timing.

And Rafiki was equal parts spooky wise guide and goofy insane lunatic.     

It must have been impressive. Two local bats were so moved by the presentation they felt the need to enter the theater for the finale version of Circle of Life.

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