2013 BAM Award Considerations – March

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

Jack the Giant Slayer
The Awakening
Sleep Tight
Straight A’s
The Last Exorcism 2
A Dark Truth
Storage 24
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Picture

The Awakening
Straight A’s

Best Foreign Film

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.


Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

Best Director

The Awakening
Straight A’s

Best Actress

Eleanor Tomlinson Jack the Giant Slayer
Rebecca Hall The Awakening
Anna Paquin Straight A’s
Ashley Bell The Last Exorcism 2

Best Actor

Nicholas Hoult Jack the Giant Slayer
Ryan Phillippe Straight A’s
Dominic Hall The Awakening
Pep Tosar Sleep Tight
Steve Carell The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Supporting Actress

Imelda Staunton The Awakening

Best Supporting Actor

Stanley Tucci Jack the Giant Slayer
Isaac Hempstead Wright The Awakening
Powers Boothe Straight A’s
Spencer Treat Clark The Last Exorcism 2
Steve Buscemi The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Jim Carrey The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Sydney Rawson Jack the Giant Slayer

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

James Kirkham Jack the Giant Slayer
Isaac Hempstead Wright The Awakening
Riley Thomas Stewart Straight A’s
Zachary Gordon The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Mason Cook The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Luke Vanek The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Peter DaCunha A Dark Truth

Best Cast

The Awakening
Straight A’s
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Youth Ensemble

The Awakening
Straight A’s
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Original Screenplay

The Awakening
Straight A’s
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Score

The Awakening
Jack the Giant Slayer

Best Editing

The Awakening
Straight A’s

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

Jack the Giant Slayer

Best Cinematography

The Awakening
Straight A’s

Best Art Direction

Jack the Giant Slayer
The Awakening

Best Costume Design

Jack the Giant Slayer
The Awakening

Best Makeup

The Awakening
Straight A’s
Storage 24

Best Visual Effects

The Awakening
Jack the Giant Slayer
Storage 24

Best (Original) Song

Short Film Saturday: Aquamania (1961)

This Goofy short is notable for a few reasons. The least of which is that this was another chapter in the series of shorts that saw Goofy take up recreational activities or sports with predictably disastrous and hilarious consequences. More interestingly than that is that later in Goofy’s filmography he became increasingly more human, compared to his embryonic state he was positively urbane at this point, such that he became a suburban father later on, and this short features his son, Junior. Interestingly, when Goofy saw a revival in the 1990s in the film A Goofy Movie and the subsequent television series Goof Troop, Junior was supplanted by an older more modern rendition of his son named Max. Seeing as how much time has passed it’d be interesting to see Disney either reintroduce Junior parallel, along side or in place of Max. I think the first possibility could be the most interesting. Sophistication in audiences has taken another step forward and alternate realities, or plot-lines are easier to sell now. It’d be neat to see, as I perpetually dislike characters getting eschewed prematurely. Regardless, this short still stands and it’s quite funny.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Parenthood (Part 13 of 17)

Warning: this article features in depth story analysis and several plot points are revealed. If you have not seen the film, read at your own peril.

What The Neverending Story is to 80s fantasy Parenthood is to the family film of the 80s, although I doubt you’ve ever seen anything like it before or since. The film was written by Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz a writing team that date back to the 70s working on Laverne and Shirley and they still work together, which is a rarity in this day and age. They’re credits include Gung Ho, Multiplicity, A League of Their Own and Spies Like Us and Parenthood was directed by Ron Howard who has always made pretty good films. 

This film has one of the best opening scenes. A father (who will later be Jason Robards) brings his son to a baseball game but has to go see some clients so he leaves him with an usher and it’s his 9th birthday. The usher sits next to him and starts a conversation the boy responds and says “You’re not really here. You’re an amalgam. A combination of all the ushers my dad left me with over the years. You see my dad, when he was a kid, was without a positive male influence,” and so on. This is hysterical dialogue coming from a kid and there’s a partial break in the fantasy and we see his wife, Karen (Mary Steenburgen); still as a kid he tells the usher that’s his wife. “The game’s over, honey,” and the fantasy is broken. We see Gil (Steve Martin) get up, no longer a boy but a middle-aged father of three.

Parenthood (1989, Universal)

That sets the stage. What’s different about Parenthood is that it shows many of the problems a family can go through by depicting an extended family that has more interaction than most American families. Gil and Karen’s main concern is for their son Kevin who has emotional difficulties and gets too tense at school. We witness their struggle against the public school’s administration who want to label him ‘special’ when we can clearly see he’s a normal child. Then there are his sisters Susan (Harley Kozak) and Helen (Dianne Wiest). Susan is married to a super-genius, Nathan (Rick Moranis) who is grooming their daughter Patty to be a genius as well. He gives her vocabulary flashcards and teaches her complicated algebra and reads Kafka to her, although she’s just four. Helen, meanwhile, is divorced from her husband and left to raise the rebellious and monosyllabic Gary (Joaquin Phoenix f.k.a. Leaf Phoenix) and the love-struck Julie (Martha Plimpton). Then there’s Larry (Tom Hulce) the get-rich-quick-schemer who never worked a day in his life who comes home to a family reunion with a son named Cool, who’s black. His explanation being “I was dating this show girl; she was doing this show Elvis on Ice. Anyway, she shows up with Cool one day and says ‘You take Cool. I shot someone. I have to leave the country. That’s a parent?’ Then of course, the patriarch, Jason Robards, who has some difficult decisions to make along the way.

These sagas play out so cleverly and realistically and everything in this film just works. Gil and Karen refuse to have their son put in special education and they say they’ll take him to a therapist and send him to a private school rather than have him stigmatized. What really works about the meeting is that at first there is finger-pointing but they are also defiant of the public school system, which just doesn’t work. Gil promises to get a second job and his job, getting more clients and trying to work more hours becomes a crucial part of this film. Towards the end of the film after Gil is passed over for a promotion in favor of Phil Richards, a man who is a ghost in this film, we hear about but never see him, who is single and has time to tender to his clients every need; Gil in a fit of rage quits. He comes home and his wife tells him she’s pregnant. This is one of the few films in the 80s that actually deals openly with the issue of abortion. And it’s even more difficult to do in a comedy but it’s very well-handled. We also hear some of Martin’s funniest lines here: “Let’s see how we can screw the fourth one up? Hey, I know, let’s have five, let’s have six, why don’t we have a dozen and pretend they’re donuts?” In the end they have their baby and what’s great is that Kevin does have his shining moment by winning his team a baseball game but it’s not a cure-all he goes on living day by day that won’t permanently fix the problem, just like Gil saving his birthday party didn’t as Karen pointed out, and that’s real.

Parenthood (1989, Universal)

Susan’s struggle is that she finds no romance in her life anymore and she’s frustrated that Nathan’s only concern is turning Patty into the next Kierkegaard. When she tells him they could go to Mexico over the summer he immediately thinks it’s a great chance for Patty to learn Spanish. Susan’s suggestion that she stays at Gil’s is shot down because he doesn’t like her being there. So when Nathan says we’ll get two rooms, she asks herself “Which one will I be in?” While Gil and Karen go through a crisis with their children and how best to raise them Susan and Nathan’s relationship is on the brink of falling apart. At one point, Nathan finds her diaphragm has holes in it and it starts a major fight because everything is academic with him and you must wait five years between having children. Susan is so frustrated by her relationship with him that she breaks up via flashcards. Yet we see that all she wants is to be wooed when Nathan comes into her classroom where she teaches one day singing their wedding song. At the end of this film, they’re happy and Patty has finally been allowed to be a child which was one of their major arguments.

Helen’s is the most difficult and heartwarming of all the family conflicts overcome in this film. Despite all the seemingly melodramatic events in this film it is most definitely a comedy but a very intelligent and well-constructed one that has something to say. Julie is madly in love with Tod (Keanu Reeves). We’re introduced to her as she’s hiding Tod under her bed. After her mother leaves he comes back out and they start to make love and he takes pictures. We don’t see anything and it’s very tastefully done, but the story takes a great twist. One of the best moves by the writers is the pictures. Julie and Tod go to a one hour photo booth and pick up their photos and see their mother at a work party. They go back to see if there’s another envelope for Buckman and find it was already picked up. When Julie gets home this leads to a fight that has her leave the house and move in with Tod. The fight also has some of the best lines of the film in it. Helen is looking at the picture and says “Woo, here’s one for my wallet.”

Parenthood (1989, Universal)

Through the whole movie Helen can’t get through to Gary until she breaks into his padlocked room and finds a stash of porn. After Helen talks to Tod she finds out that Gary had felt like a pervert until they had talked. See even the brain-dead boyfriend in this movie serves a purpose? Julie comes home married and her troubles with Tod escalate. Helen goes out with Gary’s science teacher and it all ends with Julie also giving birth. Now many people have overemphasized the “giving birth as a road to happiness theory” in this movie and that’s just rubbish. First, to make a happy ending and have everyone reunited; where better than a maternity ward? Secondly, the births are symbolic of life going on and the families moving on and moving past their problems, and are not to be taken in an overly-political way. Helen, for example, found peace within her family before she and her daughter gave birth.

What also makes this movie different is that there’s not a happy ending for everyone and not everyone sees the light, so to speak. Part of the strength of this film is that Larry never changes. His father has a restored car that Larry drives off with and has appraised because he owes gangsters $20,000. Prior to this encounter Frank, the father, talks to Gil and asks his advice because he knows Gil is “a good father,” and they share their miseries and the most poignant line of the film the father says “It never ends. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30 or 40 or 80, he’ll always be my son, just like Kevin is your son.” Towards the end Larry comes to his dad asking for help paying them off because he blew the money he’d gotten earlier at the track. If he doesn’t come up with the money he’ll die. In a very poignant scene we see Larry waiting by shaking his watch back and forth on his wrist. His father will pay them $1,000 a month but the worst part of it for us is that he’ll have to put off his retirement. Larry is so self-involved that not only has he found another shady business deal, this time in South America, but he almost forgets Cool and his father spares him the trouble and says he’ll take care of him.

Parenthood (1989, Universal)

In all this drama it’s hard to see the humor in the film so here’s some: When Tod begs Julie to come back after a momentary breakup she says “I wouldn’t live with you if the world was flooded with piss and you lived in a tree,” when Larry comes home Gil’s son Justin asks “Who’s that?” Gil responds “It’s my kid brother, Larry, your uncle. Don’t give him any money.” And the list goes on and on. This is truly a great movie about how insane family life is and how we tend to need each other anyway. This film made nearly $100 million when it was released in 1989 yet, oddly, I’ve heard few people talk about it. This is probably Steve Martin’s best work before he started writing and showing us his intellectual side, not that this film isn’t smart, but it’s no Picasso at the Lapin Agile. This is most definitely one of the most underrated films I’ve ever seen and a quintessential 80s comedy that no one can top.

March to Disney: Disney Animated Feature Ranking

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

To be honest, this list was part of the motivation for me to do this theme. Another, as has been the case for a lot of what I’m planning this year, is a not insignificant stack of unseen DVDs and Blus (that I’ve now amazingly gotten through, so far as Disney films are concerned!).

So, to cut a long story short: this list was an imperative, but not one I looked forward to compiling. Any list is really splitting hairs. That becomes even more apparent when you’re picking from a group of films you generally love, some of which have been with you since early childhood. Any list can have a decent amount of pliability. Meaning that come next year I could revisit the concept and change the order. So I thought it more important to stratify my Disney films seen rather than be obsessed about “Well, is this one #3 or is it closer to #7?”

To split the films up in this way, should render a lot of these selections immutable, rather than losing sleep over which films crack the top 10.

Lastly, a few footnotes: I have excluded hybrid films for the purposes of this list (things like Song of the South and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) because it’s not fair to compare mixed medium films with wholly animated ones. Also, only films by Walt Disney Animation Studios are eligible (So Pixar titles, and things like A Goofy Movie and The Brave Little Toaster, produced by different divisions, but released by Disney are also ineligible) essentially these are the films that were “counted” (e.g. back in the days when Disney would announce its “35th full length animated feature”).

Any films I have yet to see will be noted at the bottom. Should I see them between now and next year, I will update the post accordingly.

As I tend to say for every list: all things are relative. For the most part I absolutely adore Disney animated films so some films that I love will slip when ranked and be branded with a moniker of “Middling.” That’s a comparative label. Many of them get very high scores on their own.

Three Caballeros (1943, Disney)

Package films are included and sprinkled throughout. It’s hard to compare a package films to a standard feature narrative so the ranking of some may belie their quality. If you’ve not seen The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Fun & Fancy Free, Make Mine Music and Melody Time they come highly recommended.

The Crème de la Crème

Robin Hood
Peter Pan
The Lion King
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Little Mermaid
Sleeping Beauty
Alice in Wonderland

Excellent Works

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The Fox and the Hound
Beauty and the Beast
The Jungle Book
The Sword in the Stone
Lady and the Tramp
101 Dalmations
The Aristocats

Great Works

The Rescuers
The Rescuers Down Under
The Great Mouse Detective
Wreck-It Ralph
Winnie the Pooh

Middling Works

Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Black Cauldron
Oliver and Company

Lesser Works

Fantasia 2000
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Chicken Little

Films Unseen to Date

The Emperor’s New Groove
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Lilo & Stitch
Treasure Planet
Brother Bear
Home on the Range
The Princess and the Frog

March to Disney: Titles That Should Come Out of the Vault

To be brief, I completely and totally understand the inherent logic of Disney’s vaulting strategy. As a business model, it seems to have worked, because if it wasn’t working the practice would’ve been discontinued by now. Essentially the idea is: if you make a film available only for a limited time every x number of years you’ll drive up demand and sell more.

To be honest, I can deal with the larger titles, a majority of the animated features are ones that I’ve rushed to get when a new format came around. Upgrades are always a questionable call, but ultimately I’ve gone and gotten things over again a few times. Those are the titles I would consider strategically vaulted.

Now, there are then the lesser known titles, which seem to be buried more so than anything. Granted when you’re putting out a new title on DVD there are expenses such as marketing, manufacture, restoration and mastering, but one solution would seem to Disc on Demand, like Warner Archive. Now, Disney launched its own made-to-order line in 2011, but have scarcely used it releasing three titles per year.

Another possibility that Disney does seem to be using more is digital. However, as I talk about here, I still struggle to detach myself from physical copies of movies. And even in the digital realm I’d much rather a digital copy that I can play on a computer or phone and move about rather than one stored elsewhere that I have access to. However, if you are interested Disney does have many OOP titles available for purchase only via Amazon Instant Video things like The Prince and the Pauper.

In the list below, however, I will list currently unavailable Disney titles I’d like to see released on some platform.

Song of the South

Song of the South (1946, Disney)

I’ve mentioned it on numerous occasions: Disney pretends like this film doesn’t exist only until it’s time for another greatest hits compilation then they dust of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” or get one of their new singers to cover it. You can’t have it both ways. Aside from the fact that it should be available. Maybe On Demand would be the way to go here. Only those with a familiarity with the product or the studio go that route, it’d be less likely to cause a stir that way than if it was sitting on a shelf in Best Buy.

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire

Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire (2000, Disney Channel)

There aren’t that many DCOMS, there are even fewer this good and most of them are usually connected with a holiday. This is hands down my favorite of them all.

Spin and Marty

Spin and Marty (Disney, 1955)

The characters Spin and Marty were introduced to young audiences as a serial story that was part of the The Mickey Mouse Club. The Adventures of Spin and Marty was released as part of the Disney Treasures collection. That constitutes the first season of the show. The second and third seasons have yet to be released. Disc on Demand has proven to be a great solution for shows that have small but dedicated followings. I think this would qualify.

Kniga Masterov

Kniga Masterov (2009, Disney)

I am not sure this is the film I mentioned in the Zokkomon piece, which may have been a Disney channel film, but it is also a fantasy and looks pretty awesome. When part of my premise in that write up was this line should get diversified, I had to find something right? You will find a trailer and a clip here. I believe this is a great idea for all studios. Many of the majors produce films the world over, and most nations have their own genre cinema as well as their more artistic directors. Watching either kind of film from another country is usually a rewarding experience in one way or another. It seems like Russia would be the next logical spot for Disney World Cinema to release some titles from.

Good Morning, Miss Bliss

Good Morning, Miss Bliss (1988, Disney Channel)

OK, so this is kind of a representative choice. Here’s the thing Disney Channel is now in its 30th year. At the start of the last decade it started getting serious in terms of creating popular shows that became phenomena, but they still don’t package their shows properly on DVD, collecting a handful random, disjointed episodes by theme and not by season.

So, if choosing one title to represent Disney, why this one? This was one of the first comedic scripted shows The Disney Channel did (I just learned it was them). Furthermore, I don’t think I ever saw the show as Good Morning, Miss Bliss; but rather repackaged as Saved by the Bell, as some characters do transition over there. Not knocking Saved by the Bell‘s song at all, everyone of a certain age knows it, but I also never saw this show’s opening.

Now, I realize these same episodes are likely included in the Saved by the Bell set, and rights can be complicated. So, if that really bothers you a lot pretend I said Even Stevens, because that had “Influenza: The Musical,” one of the best single episodes of anything, and it was back when Shia LaBouef was funny and we all liked him.

What do you want to see Disney release? I always am eager to learn of new titles. It also bears mentioning that there are great online resources to try and gather momentum for releases like Open Vault Disney.

March to Disney: Disney at the BAM Awards

This past year I didn’t get around to affixing a nomination table to my BAM Awards, when I’m tidying up before 2013 festivities I likely shall. Another thing that always interested me around Oscar time, that I never did for myself, was to total the nominations per distributor.

Seeing as how this is the first ever theme I’ve run that’s been exclusively focused on one studio, I figured it was time to at least glance back at the Disney films that have made a dent in my Awards over the years.

There were a few ways I could go about doing this. In the end, I decided year-by-year would be best, and if I noted themes in categories I’d try to mention it in closing.



Disney gets punked by Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon Studios’ first film Harriet the Spy tied for the most nominations with 9. I can’t guarantee I saw any Disney titles in that calendar year. I only recently saw The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I do know that Disney didn’t get any noms.


Nil again. There will be some believe me.


No nominations.


No nominations. Mind you former subsidiaries have been nominated through these years such as Miramax and Hollywood Pictures whose film The Sixth Sense had the winningest year to date.


No nominations.


Max Keeble's Big Move (2001, Disney)

Though A.I. would go on to trounce the field in most categories, here can be found Disney’s first BAM Award nominations.

Max Keeble’s Big Move was one of the surprises of the year for me and it garnered 6 nominations, including Best Picture, Most Underrated and Best Performance by a Child Actor for Alex Linz. It didn’t happen to win any of said awards, but it’s quite a debut.

Ironically, Disney, via DCOMs (Disney Channel Original Movies), “dominated” the now-defunct Worst Picture category (including one that stars Linz) but didn’t “win” that award either.

Nominations: 9
Wins: 0


The Santa Clause 2 (2002, Disney)

Disney returns to the Awards with two films nominated in the worst category The Santa Claus 2 and Get a Clue, a theatrical and DCOM respectively. The latter had a catchy theme song; both have very sparse moments that spare them the dubious distinction.

Nominations: 2
Wins: 0


Is a year I lost my records for. All I can recall are the winners, but everything came up Universal that year with Peter Pan winning 10 and Love Actually taking two.


Pixel Perfect (2004, Disney Channel)

Disney’s first “win” is for another DCOM nominated in the now-discontinued Worst Picture category. There have been good ones, by the way. Some very good ones even, including Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, High School Musical, Girl vs. Monster, The Suite Life Movie, etc.

Nominations: 1
Wins: 1


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

Hindsight’s always 20/20 but in retrospect Disney dumping the Narnia franchise is a mixed bag. After Caspian wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, a change was due it just seems that maybe the shift to Fox puts more pressure and onus on Walden Media, and though they may be fan-pleasers and great to me, future installments may be slow to come.

The current plan to be brief is The Magician’s Nephew next as opposed to The Silver Chair, which would make more sense in terms of cast continuity. Either project seems a ways off right now.

This aside is a lead-in is because Disney, when they had Narnia, had their biggest BAM triumph to date with Narnia not only garnering a staggering number nominations, but winning Best Picture.

In fact, Narnia alone earned more nominations than all Disney films from 1996-2004 at the BAMs combined (with 13 and four wins).

Nominations: 13
Wins: 4


High School Musical (2006, Disney Channel)

This was a good year for Disney wherein they had two films earn multiple nominations AND multiple wins.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (3 Nominations, 1 Win)
High School Musical (6 Nominations, 1 Win)

Nominations: 9
Wins: 2


Bridge to Terabithia (2007, Disney)

This year was a first for Disney in a few ways. It was the first time Disney had three films nominated.

It also marked the first time two actors in Disney films made their presence known in multiple categories. Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb earned not only Child Actor nominations, but lead Actor and Actress nominations respectively for Bridge to Terabithia.

On a dubious note, the Pirates of the Caribbean that made me fall asleep was released.

Bridge to Terabithia – 5 Nominations (1 Win)
High School Musical 2 – 1 Nomination
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wold’s End 1 Nomination (1 Win)

Nominations: 7
Wins: 2


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

Prince Caspian, as mentioned before, was not up to par but did capture two wins (Makeup and FX) and High School Musical 3 was up for 3 nominations, all in positive categories.

Nominations: 8
Wins: 2


Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009, Disney)

Not a banner year, but it kept the nomination streak alive with Old Dogs grabbing an Underrated nod and Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” earning a Song nomination.

Nominations: 2
Wins: 0


You Again (2010, Disney)

In total nominations, 2010 was a worse year for Disney. If being literal there were no nominations. However, Touchstone is a Disney brand whose name appears on You Again. Billy Unger’s performance in said film, along with the deep cast of The White Ribbon, were the catalysts for the first bifurcation of the youth acting categories.

So since I’m being anal retentive about whether or not its branded solely Disney, having omitted some Dinsey/Pixar titles, let’s call this one a shutout with an important footnote.

Also, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader cleaned up a lot of nods here, but was the first Fox film of the series.

Nominations: 0
Wins: 0


Similar note as above Touchstone appeared with The Help.

Nominations: 0
Wins: 0


No nominations, though as mentioned Timothy Green was widely overlooked and if not for the shifting focus of my “underrated” selections it would’ve been there.

Nominations: 0
Wins: 0

Total Nominations: 51
Wins: 11

Despite the droughts that averages to 3 nomination a year and about a win every other year, which is pretty darn good I’m assuming – I think other distributors may have bigger pops at more infrequent intervals. I guess I’ll find out if I should do another studio-centric theme.

March to Disney: Terabithia, Timothy Green, and Other Inauspicious Ends

Warning: Spoiler alert! There is story analysis that reveals key plot points below, proceed with caution.

If there’s one misconception about Disney films that bothers me it’s the tonality myth of the happy ending. Firstly, A lot of people act as if this applies only to Disney films and wasn’t part of the Hollywood formula since time immemorial. More so that that, however, what Disney films have exemplified, especially under the stewardship of Walt himself, was that they were not fearful of putting kids through the emotional wringer because that ending was waiting – in many ways it becomes not about the the ending, but the journey. Now, I will acknowledge there is a lot of Disney fare that is light escapism, the iconic example of Pollyanna being one I’ve not yet seen. However, as I will demonstrate here, films by the company have frequently not been afraid to bring real life emotions and traumas into their stories and aren’t just fun and games.

Now, the cornerstones of my argument are two more recent live actions films, but the pattern was established long ago. Here are some quick examples:

In Snow White not only is the witch frightening but we believe Snow White will be unconscious until her eventual demise.

The Pleasure Island sequence in Pinocchio is fairly shocking to a young child.

The treatment of Dumbo’s mother and her imprisonment, when she’s labeled as mad is rather brutal, and wrenches much emotion from the story.

If you want the stakes raised:

Sleeping Beauty is the first Disney title that comes to mind with any bloodshed, as minimal as it is.

Bambi’s mother is quickly, shockingly and almost unceremoniously, killed.

A more visually realized death is that of Mustafa in the Lion King.

Old Yeller has to be put down.

And if you’re saying, OK, what about endings? I’d propose Pocahontas without going into too much detail and spoiling it. It may not be a tragic finish, but it’s certainly not a “they lived happily ever after” one either.

And in terms of shorts you can look upon The Little Matchgirl as bittersweet at best. Not only is that a beautifully rendered tale, but it does treat an Andersen tale with a pathos closer to the original than The Little Mermaid did.

Bridge to Terabithia (2007, Disney)

With these more recent titles, however, I feel there is a sort of return to that notion that Disney always implied, if he didn’t say outright. Bridge to Terabithia in some ways I feel suffered critically, and perhaps financially too, due to the known plot point of Leslie’s death. It reminds me of the debate that surrounded My Girl. Thomas J’s death was seen as a detriment to the film by some, but in essence that’s part of what makes the film what it is. You can argue the merits of killing a child character but its functionality within the plot is really what determines how well the film works. Similarly, with last year’s Brave, you can dislike what the major reveal was, but the story was built to go there, its how it operated and functioned from that point on that matters.

With Terabithia the chronicle really is about Jess (Josh Hutcherson), and the fact that both he and Leslie carry a film that does wander into more serious territory was rewarded with several BAM nominations. The story is told through Jess’s eyes. It’s his coming-of-age that is being told. He has a skill (drawing) that some look upon and scoff at; he’s the one who has to come to terms with his own personality, to follow his dreams even though he’s called a dreamer; to embrace his imagination as a gift rather than a burden. Leslie is the catalyst to him doing those things. She creates an elaborate fantasy world that they share. Jess losing her is the ultimate test of if he can accept himself as he is. Can he forgive himself or will he blame himself? Can he draw again? Will he “return to Terabithia” anew now that he lost his traveling companion? The end of the film is a redemptive one, but it’s not one I would call happy because of all that came before it.

As for Timothy Green, this was an oft-overlooked, far too misunderstood film last year. As Roger Ebert stated very well in his review, the fact that Timothy’s fairytale like appearance is left a mystery and never logically explained is a boon to the story not a burden. As magically as he appears, you can tell that his time will be limited, there is a foreboding even at the most wondrous times he shares with his temporary parents that is apparent in the film, even if you didn’t infer it from the title. His departure is heart-wrenching and perfectly portrayed by CJ Adams, Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, and the way it’s portrayed visually is even better.

Yes, the young couple in the end does get what they want. They still have the wonderful memories they shared with Timothy, but they also still bear the hurt of having known him for such a short time and having lost him. And if you think about it there are two deaths in that film.

No, you won’t always get the deepest, most intellectual treatment of every subject in a Disney film, but don’t go just based on a handful of titles and take in the totality of the entire film and not just the ending. Yes, even Disney films can feature real hurt, pain and emotions, and those that do are usually among the best.

Short Film Saturday: Runaway Brain (1995)

Since the YouTube clip I’m linking to features the introduction by Leonard Maltin, there’s not much else I really need to say except this is a great departure form the usual from Mickey, especially in a fairly modern piece. Please note: the clip does feature Spanish subtitles, do your best to ignore them should you not need them.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The Neverending Story (Part 12 of 17)

Note: This piece contains in depth story analysis. It is not recommended reading if you’ve not seen the film.

Five Films

We’ve taken a very broad look at the 80s. Now I want to take a closer look at five films that in their own unique way captured a different part of the 80s flavor. In my opinion, they are at least great pieces of entertainment, and on some level great films. One film The Neverending Story I rediscovered as an adult; one, Parenthood, I saw as a child, the other three I saw for a first time as a mature viewer. Each of them capture the character and magic of the 80s in their visuals, plot and themes and in such a different way I’ve included them all here:

The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story (1984, Warner Bros.)

This is a film adapted from a book, which was a phenomenon written by German children’s author Michael Ende. It was produced entirely in Germany with an English-speaking cast thus the official title of the film is Die Unendliche Geschichte. The film was directed by Wolfgang Petersen. This was, in fact, his follow up to Das Boot. This is a film I watched anew after many years of not having seen it anywhere. I first saw this when I was in the fourth grade. In fact, it was screened to us before we went on a field trip to see the sequel. The next time I saw this film again was a year or two ago on cable (as of this writing). I was absolutely amazed by the sheer fantasy and wonder of this film. The affect this film has is timeless and perhaps it’s even more profound now.

The tale is about a boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver), this name does carry symbolism as it is similar to bastion, and our protagonist lives in a dream-world. Ironically, he will visit a world of fantasy and there will be created another great symbiosis of the 80s. The difference between adults and children is also drawn out right away in this film. His father (Gerald McCraney) yells at him because he was drawing horses in class. Bastian corrects him and says they were Unicorns and his father doesn’t understand what he said. This is fundamental dichotomy: Adults lose their imagination and prefer pragmatism. 

We see the plight that makes Bastian escape to his fantasy world when three bullies accost him. As fate would have it, he stumbles into a book store run by Mr. Koreander (Thomas Hill). Barret Oliver was a young actor of some note in the 1980s, he was no Henry Thomas but he had some good performances, this one was not especially convincing. It is especially weak when he challenges Koreander saying he does read. This meeting introduces one of the many towering concepts these ideas are amazing on their own but we find them all here in one gem of a film. These concepts are: 1) A story that has no end, 2) Fantasia is the world of human fantasy and has no borders, 3) Fantasia is starting to die because people have begun to lose hope, 4) The Nothing, 5) The reader is actually part of the story. 

The Neverending Story (1984, Warner Bros.)

Great concepts are essential to a good fantasy and here we have it five great ones. I will expound on them now. Obviously the narrative within cinematic context must end but the idea of this book Bastian finds doesn’t is that everyone who reads it forms the story. All the imaginations of the world form their universe; it’s great. The first example of the great production design is the book that contains The Neverending Story. It has on its cover two snakes that are eating each other which give us an alternate symbol for eternity. 

The story he experiences (isn’t that what we do with the very best stories, experience them, we also don’t want them to end) takes place in Fantasia which is the world that is created by the dreams of human beings. What’s great is that there is an inference that we will identify with this story because everyone who reads this book will shape the tale and they are ultimately the ones who will save Fantasia. 

All this talk of saving Fantasia leads me to the next great idea. The Nothing is literally nothing, the film explains this right away “A hole would be something no it was, nothing,” the Rock Biter says. The Nothing has come about because people have started to lose hope and have stopped dreaming. “And people who had lost hope are easy to control.” The reader, Bastian, must complete the story such that Fantasia can be saved. Thus, we can also infer a grander vision that every time someone some one stops dreaming part of Fantasia dies. Its fate is always in the balance.

The Neverending Story (1984, Warner Bros.)

The reader’s active participation in the story is also a great touch. Everyone at one point or another wanted to shape the story they were reading. This is a great piece of fantasy and in this manner the film has two heroes: Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), who goes on a classic fantastical quest to try and save the Childlike Empress, whose death would end Fantasia; and Bastian, who manages to recreate Fantasia even when there was only a speck of sand left just by the power of his imagination! This also creates another bookish film a lá The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which is less a cinematic adaptation but embracing of two separate art forms. 

The flow of this story is unbelievably smooth and quick. While it’s a little over 90 minutes long a bad or poorly paced 90 minute film can feel like it’s two hours long or more. We are introduced to the idea of the nothing by an assorted cast of fantastic creatures: a night-hob, a racing snail and a Rock Biter, a rock-formed creature that eats rocks. They travel to the Ivory Tower, this is one of the magnificently designed sets of the film, even though this first shot is probably just a matte painting it is just fantastic. Then there are The Swamps of Sadness, Engyebook’s Hut and the Ivory Tower itself are as other examples of fantastic sets made for this film. At the Tower news of the Empress’s illness and its connection to the Nothing are given and a brave warrior is called to go on a quest to find the one who can defeat the nothing, one who lives beyond the boundaries of Fantasia.

Atreyu proves he’s the one who’s meant to go on this quest; Noah Hathaway had a great fantastical accent which seems as if it was an amalgam of British and Australian speech patterns. Bastian immediately identifies with Atreyu and we identify with both of them in turn. It seems the amount of symbiotic connections this film makes is endless. The two snakes turn out to be the AURYN, a magical amulet that protects the wearer. Yet another classic fantasy element; it’s such mishmash and yet the story itself is so much more unique than most 80s fantasy like Legend, which was purposefully a combination many fantasy epics.

The Neverending Story (1984, Warner Bros.)

Atreyu journeys through the Swamps of Sadness where if you let the sadness that emanates from the place get to you, you will sink into the mud and die. He is brave and makes it but his horse Artax dies. This is a huge event not only in the film’s dramatic context but production-wise this is a bold move in a kid’s movie where only someone like Disney usually had the guts to do something like that. He then encounters Morla the Ancient One. The dialogue in this scene is great. Morla keeps referring to itself as “we” and Atreyu asks “Are there more than one of you.” The response “We haven’t talked to anyone in so long. So we started to talking to ourselves.” Morla later starts sneezing because it’s literally allergic to youth.

He’s told he must go to see the Southern Oracle, which is more than 10,000 miles away. As Atreyu walks dejected through the swamp, we see class at Bastian’s school is no longer in session but he stays to continue reading because he can’t put the book down. Atreyu is taken most of the way by Falkor a full animatronic luck-dragon that was 43-feet in length. There Atreyu meets Engyebook and Urgl an old couple who fight incessantly. Engyebook is a scientist and does everything experimentally and never takes a chance in his life. There are two gates you must pass before reach the Oracle are giant twin sphinxes, these are another pair of great symbolic moments. The premise of the first gate is that anyone who doesn’t feel their own worth is destroyed by the gate. Beams shoot out of the sphinxes eyes and kill the unworthy. We see a man in armor get burned. This film stayed PG oddly enough despite the fact that we see his face burnt to a crisp and the statues have large exposed breasts. Atreyu makes it through after some trepidation and the second gate is the magic mirror gate where he must come face to face with his true self and who does he see in the mirror but Bastian. This is the second time Bastian is given a hint that the people in the story know of him. The third time the Empress pleads outright with him telling him every place Bastian had followed Atreyu and pleads for a name.

This film has developed quite a cult following although it had quite a good run at the box-office. There are many websites online dedicated both to the film and the novel. The seemingly great mystery of the film is what Bastian’s mother’s name is because this is the Empresses new name. He yells it out the window during a storm and it seems purposely drowned out. On the DVD there is no subtitle to tell us what he says even when you have the feature on. This is one of Petersen’s greatest touches. It could be any kid’s mother’s name, even though if you listen carefully you can decipher it (hint: it’s the same thing he says in the book.). His best work was in adapting the novel to film. He didn’t try to adapt the whole thing, but saw a definite point where the novel stops telling one story and starts telling another. At page 180 of the novel Bastian has saved Fantasia, in the book he goes there and it wanders off into battles with Xiathis, which are used and terribly adapted in the sequel. Petersen had great foresight and knew, this is the best part of the book, and this is my film, Ende can keep the rest.

The Neverending Story (19484, Warner Bros.)

The Neverending Story is a great departure for Wolfgang Petersen. It is also a monumental fantasy, and perfect for the 1980s where it seemed people were starting to lose hope, and they had some good reasons to, but the cinema was trying to give them something to hold onto. The novel was on the bestseller list in Germany for four years and the film became a phenomenon in and of itself. It’s a little gem that could only have been a product of the 80s. 

End Notes

Miraculously the film does succeed as Oliver is a supporting player. The film does have kinks in its armor like why an attic key is so easy for him to find in a school but it still works and you’ll see why.

In Ende’s novel the land is called Fantastica but it was changed to Fantasia in the film so that people would have a name they could identify with and also to make allusion to the Disney film.

Morla is a giant tortoise who literally is the Shell Mountain. It’s gender is never established one way or another, however, if forced to guess I believe Morla is a woman.

Film Thought: The Foundation of Everything is Drama

I’ve always believed that drama is the foundation of all other genres, which could be interpreted to mean that everything is essentially a cross-genre piece, but essentially what lead me to this premise was thinking about how to to approach myriad genres as a writer, I think this can also apply to acting. There are few things that fall outside this cross-section.

Comedy is driven by obsession and as silly, or outlandish as scenarios may get the performers and the world created for them has to be one where there are stakes, consequences, needs and desires that ground these things. Even in parody comedies this should apply. Many cite The Naked Gun series as one of the best examples of this subgenre, and much credit in that case is due to Leslie Nielsen. For as preposterous as what he was saying or doing was he was committed to it, there was a dramatic intent bordering on deadpan that tethered the silliness of the situation to reality.

When applying this precept to horror it carries an additional even more significant burden. A comedy that does not make one laugh cannot really be said to be effective, but a horror film that one doesn’t find scary can be. A horror film is designed to terrify, to frighten, to scare to disquiet. Stephen King in discussing horror literature breaks down his own hierarchy wherein the gross-out is his last recourse.

The issue with the effectiveness of horror films effect on an individual in some cases can be heavily influenced by the individual. As a child I was rather sheltered, and kept to mostly age appropriate fare for quite some time. I didn’t like scary films. Gremlins scared me until, I later watched it in whole and found its dual intent. The first horror film that I really openly embraced, where I enjoyed being scared was The Shining. From there I was hooked and I sought out more.

Yet, seeking out more becomes the issue. You want to learn the genre but there are then fewer and fewer of those films with that seismic impact on you, even if it is that good. You get desensitized, to an extent to the more visceral elements of the film, which are its primary objective.

Thus, if a viewer is desensitized, or a horror film just isn’t as scary as it could be, what recourse is there for it? There is that foundation of drama. If the dramatic beats are set and strong; and I’ve said it’s not necessary before, and that’s true, but if the acting is strong, if the conflict is palpable; if the characters have some definition; if their goals, obstacles and needs are, at some point defined; then you’ve established drama in a horror film. You have there your foundation and the subjective matter of “Is this scary?” while it still matters, isn’t as as pivotal as it might’ve been.

As I said, this is a notion I’ve had for a while and it recently crystallized when I viewed a ghost story entitled The Awakening. It has its creepy moments, and this is easier to do in a ghost story perhaps than in other subgenres, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it terribly frightening, but the character’s conflicts and arcs, their interaction, the human emotion and struggle of the film; in short, the drama is really what drew me to it which is what brought this thought back foremost in my mind.

This may be why some films, and I won’t name names, that insist that their knowing cheesiness and lack of production value is their strongest asset don’t work for me. Great things have been done by filmmakers with limited resources who staunchly believed in what they were trying to commit to celluloid and did their damnedest. Usually, those are the films where you can smile and love it even through the glaring faults.

To conclude, I just want to clarify, if it wasn’t clear already, that I do not mean that everything needs to be treated sternly and severely, which is part of why I made references to comedies and Gremlins. The sensibility has to work for the film in question, however, even in a light tone there’s a dramatic foundation to it, a commitment, a dedication, which does not make itself apparent in the aforementioned unnamed films. To me that is what still strikes me as one of the fascinating things about the horror genre is that there is a when-all-else-fails contingency plan. That’s not to say that all films deal with material in a way that can transcend so well, or treat their foundation with the respect it requires, but it is there and those who use it well are really worth noting.

The foundation of everything is drama. The fenestration you add to it creates genre. It’s a building block to all film narratives, but with the horror film I feel it’s a most crucial one, because the prime objective is so very hard to achieve on a mass level that there needs to be something to fall back on.