by Collin Souter
Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of the hand-drawn animated division of Walt Disney Studios. Like myself, many of you have been fortunate enough to grow up with the likes of Mr. Walt Disney and his unforgettable animated characters. We hissed maliciously at the evil Queen in “Snow White.” We crawled under our chairs in horror at the thought of being swallowed by the whale in “Pinocchio.” We grew to appreciate classical music with the groundbreaking experiment “Fantasia.” We ignored the ‘70s. We sang along with “The Little Mermaid.” We gaped in awe of “The Lion King,” and finally we laughed and cried our way through the wonderfully weird “Lilo & Stitch.” And, of course, it all ends with the, uuhhh, animated movie “Brother Bear.”(Whisper…whisper…)
"Rent it on video instead (What do you mean it's not out yet?)"
No, I’m not going to talk about “Teacher’s Pet.” (Whisper…) No, the last hand-drawn Disney movie is “Brother Bear.” It made about $70 million at the box office, that’s not a bad note to go out on. Now, leave me alone and let me get on with the eulogy.
My friends. “Brother Bear” was a well-meaning film, one that I find fitting as the swan song of our beloved animated division of Walt Disney Studios. It encompassed many of the old-fashioned themes and traditions we hold dear, while also holding true to the contemporary soundtrack tradition of the past decade, that of the innocuous pop song.
What now? (Whisper…whisper…Not only that, but…whisper…whisper…) Sigh! Okay, fine. Fine! We were going to try to put a bright smile on this sad day by talking about the positive things about the Disney studios and the positive things we could say about “Brother Bear,” but I guess we shouldn’t deny it any further. The final hand-drawn animated feature to come out of the Disney studios is, in fact, “Teacher’s Pet.”
Happy now? Yeah, I thought so. Folks, I tried to avoid this matter because, unlike most of you, I have actually seen “Teacher’s Pet.” Oh, sure, not the most God-awful thing I’ve ever seen, but certainly not the most—what’s the word?—well, Disney. I mean, I would expect it out of Nickelodeon Studios, sure, but, well… I guess I should re-think this. Every year at around this time, the folks at Disney dump a cheaply made animated product in hopes of making some coin in the first quarter, so I guess a harmless, envelope-pulling concoction like “Teacher’s Pet” shouldn’t surprise me.
Yet, when looking at it in the context of the Big Picture, it can be quite depressing, indeed. This month, several of Disney’s animators jumped ship in hopes of starting their own animation facilities. It signals the end of, not just an era, but a way of life for moviegoers. Sure, any cynic can look at the catalog of Disney flicks from the past 10 years, focus solely on the misses (“Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Hercules,” “Treasure Planet,” “Atlantis: The Lost Continent,” etc.) and claim the studio became too greedy and lost its ability to tell compelling stories, which would be true. And, sure, those same cynics can also point out that Pixar, in fact, saved that studio’s animation department and could very well continue to do so in the future.
But that’s Pixar, people. I’m talking Disney, full-out, traditional, hand-drawn animated Disney, a name parents and children have trusted for over half a century. And it all ends today with “Teacher’s Pet,” a movie based on some drunken doodling someone once did on a napkin at Denny’s at three o’clock in the morning. Oh, and it’s also based on a TV show. It’s a movie that thinks it can get by on flat, feature-less animation with zero depth or detail. “The Simpsons” can get away with that, but mainly because of the details within the behavior of the characters. The characters in “Teacher’s Pet” basically just scream and shout and because of the lackluster animation, I found it impossible to be engaged by it. Take it from Pixar. The eyes need to be a window into something.
Don’t get me wrong, people, the creators tried, they really did. “Teacher’s Pet” follows what has become a tradition of contemporary animation: Keep it cute for the kids, but lace it with in-jokes for the adults. “Teacher’s Pet” references “On the Waterfront,” “City of Lost Children” and “Sound of Music,” among other things. It also tries to get our toes tapping with some original songs, the cleverest being one in which all fifty states get examined and satirized. And it occasionally tries for a “Simpsons” sensibility with scatological and absurd humor, but it never really earns the huge laughs it strives for.
Neither do the characters, for that matter. The main one, the dog Spot (voiced by a screeching Nathan Lane), dreams about being a human being and learns about a mad scientist named Dr. Crank in Florida (where else?) who can turn animals into humans. Eager to make the switch, Spot hitches a ride with his owners, Leonard Helperman (Shaun Flemming) and his mother (voiced by Debra Jo Rupp, the mom on “That ‘70s Show”). On their tail is an orange cat and a green bird, who also live with them, and know the scientist is up to no good. They try to stop Spot from going through with the operation before it’s too late.
Yeah, you guessed it. It’s a road movie plot spiked with Disney in-jokes, no doubt meant to get the parents thinking, “You know, I should really get my kid out of here and make them watch the original ‘Pinocchio.’ I’ll go out and BUY ONE RIGHT NOW! While I’m at it, I’ll go buy a copy of ‘Shrek’.” My friends, we are witnessing not the death of Disney’s animation department, but the near-death, the “last gasp…the death rattle,” as Lester Bangs would have said. Come. Let us re-write the eulogy.
Ahem!Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to assist in the suicide of the animation department of Walt Disney Studios. “Teacher’s Pet” opened this weekend with barely enough notice to even crack the top 10. Perhaps, my friends, someone, somewhere will take this into account and realize that the history books will not lie about this. “Teacher’s Pet” will go down as their “Countess From Hong Kong,” their “Wagon’s East.” Maybe it’s not quite as bad as those movies, but it will remain a chapter that most purists and historians will not want to discuss at length or uncover. Perhaps, we will get one more chance at greatness before finally sealing shut the doors of this Magic Kingdom. Let us pray. Amen.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8474&reviewer=233
originally posted: 01/22/04 06:42:19