August 29, 2008
Western and Animated Releases Include Real Gems
By Jeff Vice Deseret News
According to an old adage, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
However, "sincerity" doesn't explain why other studios have tried to "flatter" the Walt Disney Co. so many times by imitating the look and style of the studio's most successful animated features.
And simply copying the Mouse House's formula isn't as easy as it may sound. It takes memorable stories, first-class animation and top- notch voice talent. You have to make sure that your film appeals to everyone as well ... so it's not an endurance test for parents.
(Such Disney classics as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,""Dumbo,""Pinocchio" and "The Jungle Book" all have considerable appeal for adults who saw them when they were kids.)
Here are a few recent and upcoming DVD releases of animated features that are being aimed at children and families:
-- "The Blue Elephant" (Genius Products/The Weinstein Co., rated PG, $19.97) is a new cartoon produced by the Jim Henson Co.'s new animation house. (But the animation is entirely digital and does not feature any of Henson's beloved "Muppets.")
The film, which is being released Tuesday, is loosely based on an Indian legend about a heroic pachyderm -- here, he's named Khan and becomes separated from his herd. The voice cast includes Carl Reiner and Martin Short, who narrates the movie as well.
Unfortunately, the digitally rendered animation is stiff and inexpressive at times, especially when it comes to the human characters. Also, there's a fair amount of violent action, including a climactic battle scene that may be a little disturbing for very young ones.
-- "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, $29.99) is a "prequel" to the 1989 animated hit.
Original cast members Jodi Benson and Samuel E. Wright reprise their voice roles as the title character and the singing crustacean Sebastian, respectively.
And while it's not as winning as the earlier film, the music- filled "Ariel's Beginning" will still appeal to "Little Mermaid" fans.
Bonus features: Deleted scenes, sing-along option, "Splashdance" behind-the-scenes featurette.
-- "The Ultimate Mulan 2-Movie Collection" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, $34.99) boasts both the two-disc, "special edition" of Disney's 1998 animated hit and its 2005, direct- to-video sequel.
The less-inspired but still fun "Mulan II" features much of the same voice cast, including Ming-Na as the title character. (But Donny Osmond is missed as the singing voice for Shang, as is Eddie Murphy, as the voice of the smart-alecky dragon Mushu.)
Bonus features: Deleted scenes, "Discovering Mulan,""DisneyPedia" and music videos ("Mulan"); deleted scenes, Mushu's Guess Who Game, music video and "Voices of Mulan II" ("Mulan II").
-- "Tortoise vs. Hare" (Genius Products/The Weinstein Co., rated G, $19.98) also comes from the Jim Henson Co. and is part of its "Unstable Fables" series.
The film, which is being released Sept. 9, revisits the much- told tale, with Danny Glover and Jay Leno voicing the longtime rivals. (Keke Palmer and Drake Bell supply voices for their respective children, who are dragged into their competition.)
"Tortoise vs. Hare" has an unfortunate penchant for dumb slapstick and flatulence humor and has limited appeal -- except for maybe very young audiences.
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