Hercules (1997, Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements) English 7

Voices Tate Donovan, James Woods, Danny DeVito, Rip Torn, Susan Egan

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(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Vibrant. Unique.

After a plot by the scheming Hades (Woods) goes astray, Hercules (Donovan), son of Zeus (Torn), winds up mortal and raised by adoptive parents. Not fitting in due to his immense strength, Hercules sets out on a quest and learns of his true lineage, but in order to reclaim his position as a god, he’ll have to prove himself worthy. Working from a diverse array of Greek and Roman mythology, Hercules is a fast-paced, funny, surprisingly light (despite its dark humor at times) animated comedy with great characters and music. The gospel choir as the Greek chorus was an inspired idea, as was DeVito as the Satyr/coach, and James Woods as the bad guy. Not as substantial as some of the other films Disney released during their Renaissance, but a fantastic film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Rescuers (1977, Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman) English 7

Voices of Eva Gabor, Bob Newhart, Geraldine Page, Joe Flynn, Bernard Fox, Pat Buttram

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(7-Very Good Film)

Charming. Picturesque. Adventurous.

When the elegant mouse, Ms. Bianca (Gabor), volunteers for a rescue mission, she chooses bashful janitor, Bernard (Newhart), as her partner. The mission: to save a little orphan girl who’s been kidnapped by an evil treasure hunter, Madame Medusa (Page). Medusa uses the girl to crawl into a dangerous cave where a priceless treasure is hidden. The lone hit for Disney during their 1970s, post-Walt Disney’s death period, The Rescuers makes for a wonderful adventure. Lays on the pathos rather thick, but it works, and Madame Medusa is a fantastically vile villain. Bernard and Ms. Bianca are a suitably romantic and heroic pair, thanks to the voice work of Newhart and Gabor. It’s a fast-paced, efficient film, not as substantial as Disney’s early classics or their ’90s output, but a very good film nonetheless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Mulan (1998, Directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook) English 9

Voices of Ming-Na Wen, B.D Wong, Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, Pat Morita, James Hong, George Takei

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(9-Great Film)

Grand. Rousing. Unique.

Spectacular animated adventure derived from an ancient Chinese legend, Mulan makes an excellent addition to Disney’s tradition of female protagonists. She impersonates a male warrior fighting against the Huns in order to spare her crippled father. Themes of identity, self-empowerment, and feminism give the film its weight, and Eddie Murphy as the underwhelming dragon Mushu makes sure there is always enough comic relief, also a number of fantastic songs.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Sleeping Beauty (1959, Directed by Clyde Geronimi) English 5

Voices of Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Taylor Holmes

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Slight. Uninspired. Mediocre.

Cursed by the bitter fairy, Maleficent, Princess Aurora is destined to die at the age of sixteen from being pricked by a spindle. Her fairy godmothers alter the curse as best they can so that instead of death she will be put in eternal sleep. That’s where a prince comes in. Oddly blasé work from pretty good source material by the Disney people, this classic is not especially thrilling, funny, romantic, musical, or scary. Perfectly mediocre.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Watership Down (1978, Directed by Martin Rosen) English 8

Voices of John Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Roy Kinnear, Zero Mostel, Ralph Richardson, Richard Briers

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Faithful. Thrilling. Scary.

An apocalyptic vision of sorts causes Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and a coterie of rabbits to search for a new home in this thrilling adventure film based on Richard Adam’s novel for all ages.  Though animated, this story about this group of rabbits’ odyssey is actually horrific at points. The filmmakers don’t water down the material-rabbits are shown being killed on screen-and its biblical and political undertones (Moses and the Israelites looking for the promised land, totalitarian societies) give the not-so-cute rabbit tale dramatic heft. The 1970s was a poor decade for animation, but this British picture is an exception. Probably the best-animated film of that decade.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Paranorman (2012, Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell) English 7

Voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garland

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(7-Very Good Film)

Impressive. Fun. Anticlimactic.

Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is an odd little boy. He can see and talk with ghosts, and since no one in his small town of Blithe Hollow believes him, Norman is looked at as a bit of a freak. A reckoning from beyond the grave is coming, however, and Norman is the only one with the power to stop it, with some help from his friends. The combination of stop-motion and computer animation is stunning. It’s a beautiful film and there’s a lot of humor and great detail in the animation. The story, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. The finale is a bit of a let down; not delivering on scares or thrills. Paranorman was set up to be something of an homage to the Goonies but eschews adventure about midway through, and instead becomes more about hijinks and physical humor.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass) English 7

Voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn, Robie Lester, Paul Frees

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Imaginative. Wonderful.

The old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials were fantastic. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is perhaps the best of the bunch.  As told by the great Fred Astaire, Santa Claus/Kris Kringle’s story shows him go from adopted orphan baby to famous toy maker to Christmas saint, at large due to his refusal to stop delivering toys in a town that’s outlawed them. Plenty of catchy music, an inventive story, and classic, unforgettable claymation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-