Friday, December 17, 2004

Disney’s rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall...

Disney shut
its traditional animation studio earlier this year essentially
conceding that the future belongs to computer animation.
The last big Disney release in the traditional style was “Home on the Range”
which did mediocre at the Box Office ($50 million), slightly less than
”Brother Bear” ($85 million) which had preceded it.
Disney has been on a downward
since the peak of its latest animation renneissance with “The
Lion King” ($328 million) in 1994. The next year, “Pocohantas” pulled in
less than half that amount ($141 million) and in 1996 “The Hunchback of
Notre Dame” just barely made it across the $100 million mark. Even worse,
1997’s “Hercules” couldn¹t even break into triple digits, stalling at $99
million and becoming the first major Disney animated release to miss that
mark since 1990’s “The Rescuers Down Under.”
”Mulan” did slightly better in 1998 ($120 million) as did “Tarzan” in 1999
($171 million), but none were breaking box office records like Disney
executives had hoped.
In the meantime, Pixar’s computer animated films like “Toy Story” ($191
million), “A Bug¹s Life” ($162 million) and “Toy Story II” ($245 million)
were mopping up at the box office.
So Disney tried to revamp its formula, first with a hipper, cutting edge comedy “The Emperor’s New Groove” ($89 million) and then with the modernistic “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” ($84 million). Then it looked like they were finally heading back in the right direction with the minor hit “Lilo & Stitch” ($145 million). But Pixar had just released ”Monsters Inc.” ($255 million) and Disney’s next film was the hugely disappointing “Treasure Planet” which made a paltry $38 million.
That is probably when the Disney executives decided to pull the plug. They went ahead and let the last two films in the pike finish up and then they canned their animation staff.

I think that will prove to be a big mistake. This is not the first time Disney went through a downturn with its animation pictures. The first golden period started right at the beginning with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1937. This was followed by a string of hits that are now classics including “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio” in 1940, “Dumbo” in 1941 and “Bambi” in 1942. But things fell off during the latter part of the decade when the most memorable film was probably “Song of the South” in 1946.
But Disney bounced back with another string of hits in 1950 beginning with “Cinderella”, followed by “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), “Peter Pan” (1953), “Lady and the Tramp” (1955) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). This strong period carried into the 1960s with “101 Dalmations” (1961), “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “The Jungle Book” (1967).
But then things fell off once again and there was another long period with few hit movies until the studio hit its stride once more beginning with “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 and “Aladdin” in 1992 leading up to “The Lion King.”
If Disney’s current executives would just be patient I’m sure the studio would strike another vein of gold before long. But now they may have gone and killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Missing Movies - 2004

I’ve been pretty remiss in my movie watching this year. I guess being a new parent had somethingto do with it.
I’ve only seen two movies in the theater this year - Spider Man II and National Treasure. But what is most surprising to me is that I have only seen six movies overall that were released in 2004:

Spider Man II
National Treasure
Shrek II
Fahrenheit 9/11
Around the World in 80 Days
Laws of Attraction

That’s it. Don’t ask me about Academy Awards this year. I haven’t a clue. Oh, I guess I could make an educated guess based on what I’ve read, but I haven’t seen anything that will get more than a couple of technical nominations.
I wasn’t quite this bad in 2003, but I was close. I’ve since caught up on most of the 2003 films I wanted to see and I likewise will probably see most of the 2004 movies in ‘05.

Following is my annual End of Year List of Movies I Still Want To See:

Finding Neverland
The Aviator
Million Dollar Baby
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Incredibles
Bourne Supremacy
I, Robot
Van Helsing
Polar Express
The Terminal
Ladder 49
The Manchurian Candidate
Friday Night Lights
Hell Boy
King Arthur
Home on the Range
Ocean’s Twelve
Sky Captain
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Alamo
The Passion of the Christ
The Day After Tomorrow
Shark Tale
Dodge Ball
Starsky & Hutch
Secret Window


So as not to seem like I have seen no movies this year, here are the 2003 films that I saw in 2004:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Finding Nemo
Matrix Revolutions
Master and Commander
The Last Samurai
Freaky Friday
Cold Mountain
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Love Actually
Lost in Translation
Under the Tuscan Sun
Secondhand Lions
Whale Rider

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The more things change...

The Wall Street Journal on Monday had a Page 1 feature story about the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. The reason for the story is to report the alarming news that the Corps is facing big changes being pushed by the new commandant Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne.
The only problem with the story (which unfortunately is not available online) is that it could have been written when I was there 20 years ago. The Corps is always undergoing big changes.
Here is what Van Alstyne is demanding: He wants the cadets to spend more time studying and less time hazing freshmen. That's not any different. They have always stressed studying and have tried various methods of getting cadet grades up. When I was there we had three hours a night of enforced study time. If you had a big test the next day you were allowed to sleep in and skip morning formation. The cadets with the highest grades usually got the best assignments and were promoted higher than the rest.
The article claims that cadets get up at 5 a.m. every morning and go on runs. I recall setting my alarm for 6 a.m. and morning runs were only done once a week and were a good excuse to get out of going to morning formation. It is true that some cadets wouldn't get enough sleep and would doze off in class, but the smart ones would not schedule early morning classes and would go back to bed for a couple of hours after morning formation.
The article also notes that Van Alstyne cracked down on some cadets who were caught paddling underclassmen with axe handles. But that practice was forbidden when I was there and would have earned a suspension even back then.
I always thought the Corps changed significantly between my freshman and sophomore years. That was the year that a cadet who had concealed a heart condition from his superiors collapsed and died after a morning workout session. The commandant's office at the time came down pretty hard on us. Suddenly we were not allowed to make freshmen do more than a dozen push-ups at a time. We had to allow them to eat their meals - no more "fish bites" which meant three chews and swallow. Old Army was dead!
But in reality the Corps was still the Corps. Little things like that change all the time but the important things stay the same. This reporter obviously listened to too many old Ags who can't see the forest for the trees. When I read the story I see things haven't really changed that much after all.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Planting a legitimate question

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot last week during a Q&A session with soldiers about to go into Iraq when one of the troops asked the following question:

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?"

The question garnered cheers from the troops and proved a major embarrassment to Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.
But now the Pentagon is questioning whether the question was appropriate because it was apparently “planted” by a reporter who was embedded with the troops.

I don’t believe the reporter did anything wrong in this instance and the very fact that the Bush administration is raising this as an issue is simply an effort on their part to skirt the issue and divert attention from their own malfeasance and irresponsible handling of the Iraq war.
It is not like the reporter in question forced the soldier to ask a question that he wasn’t willing to ask himself. In fact, the question was based on concerns expressed by many soldiers that the reporter had come across while being embedded with their unit. The fact that the question garnered applause from the rest of the troops after it was asked bears this out.
Also, the fact that the question was crafted by the reporter and may not have been in the soldier’s own words shouldn’t make it any less credible. Otherwise we should probably question just about everything that comes out of President Bush’s mouth since most of what he says is pre-scripted for him by a White House speechwriter.