March to Disney: Expanding Alexander’s Day

If there’s one critique I could never get behind in the realm of book-to-film adaptation it’s the kind I hear a great deal surrounding the transition of Where the Wild Things Are from beloved children’s classic to film property. Many found it odd, confounding even, that a 20-page book with scarcely any prose and mostly illustrations would be suitable for film treatment. I personally like the possibilities of expansion over contraction more times than not.

Stephen King when discussing rewriting in On Writing confesses to being more of a putter-inner than a taker-outer, which is to say he’d love to expand on a narrative rather than omit any time. The wisdom to know when to edit as opposed to over-embroider makes a skilled writer. However, a literal adaptation of something as sparse as Alexander… would not only be un-artful, but also far too short for a feature film. Therefore, expansion is necessary.

Furthermore, taking a short story and making it a feature is far less embellishment than taking a single volume and making it two or three films. Therefore, in the over-analytical film news cycle of today it’s a far less worrisome leap.

In fact, expanding on the book diminishes the over-analytical complaint that Alexander is whiny. By turning the film into a narrative with many prongs wherein everyone has a calamitous day it allows the protagonist to come to a realization on his own with minimal wallowing in self-pity and maximizing comedic moments.

However, it is another successful adaptation of a children’s tale that is well-liked in the Disney realm. The only truly bothersome moments are the very Disney realm of it all, which is double-edged sword. For example, the Peter Pan musical the daughter rehearses are with songs from the film not the musical; and the principal’s reference to Wreck-It Ralph seem somewhat extraneous. It would also be a bit odd if this family was being created in a supposedly real world that pretended Disney was not a thing. Furthermore, the viral sensation that Dick Van Dyke is involved in creating is a highlight of the film for sure.

A completely appreciated wrinkle was building in a fully healthy obsession for Alexander that rounds out his character (his obsession with all things Australian). It’s happy accident that Ed Oxenbould is also Australian, but it adds good dimension, sets up a great gag and introduces cool animals – and once again shows off the knack actors of all ages have adapting to American dialects.

Ultimately, the warmth and humor of the tale and the talent of the cast win out and deliver on the promise of a well-thought out expansive adaptation.

2013 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animation

One thing I most definitely praise the Academy as well as the sponsors who help bring this showcase to being (DirecTV, AT&T and Shorts HD) is that they are bringing the Oscar nominated shorts to a wider audience, whereas before you were in the dark and few, if any of these shorts, had any life beyond the ceremonies. Not to mention the fact that they’re now being sold on iTunes too.

The animated slate screened first this year, and it’s an even stronger field than last year. Especially when you consider that none of the nominated films has any significant dialogue. One merely had a news broadcast on TV, which is of no consequence.

Fresh Guacamole

Fresh Guacamole (2012, PES)

This could well be the most creative of the nominees, but while there is abundant cleverness in the replacement of literal props with representative artifacts, its brevity and simplicity may be to its detriment considering the other nominees.

Adam and Dog

Adam and Dog (2011, Minkyu Lee)

This is a very well-drawn and interesting depiction of the first dog and the first man, which is very poignant.

Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels (2012, National Film and Television School)

Is perhaps the most moving of the selections. As opposed to a short like Reverso, which I featured on a short film Saturday, here you get a very literal metaphor for the unusual upside-downness of the world.

Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”

Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare (2012, Gracie Films)

Here you have a nomination that hearkens back to yesteryear inasmuch as it is a notable lead from a popular stable of characters in this short tale. As you might expect from Matt Groening there is a lot of intelligence and humor in this short, but also a very cinematic sensibility.

Paperman

Paperman (2012, Disney)

Walt Disney Animation Studios is also nominated for this charming little short that they had play prior to the start of Wreck-It Ralph. It’s another coup for the studio pushing the company brand to greater heights. I likely have little pet peeves about each of these shorts, this one is the largest though.

Highly Commended Selections

To fill out the program there is usually a selection of Highly Commended shorts. This year’s crop isn’t as strong overall if memory serves.

The Gruffalo’s Child

The Gruffalo's Child (2012, E1 Entertainment)

I didn’t really care for the original, and like this one less so. As beautiful as the animation is, and as much as I appreciate the technique, the storytelling is too basic and stilted in its storybook predictability.

Dripped

Dripped (2011, ChezEddy)

It’s a creative idea that doesn’t feel quite as fully developed as the others.

Abiogenesis

Abiogenesis (2011, Fuzzy Realms Media)

Of the three selections, this is by far the best and presents the double-edged sword of including Highly Commended films because I honestly don’t understand how this film wasn’t nominated. It’s sheer brilliance.