Bill Peet

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101 Dalmatians (1961) Review


Good
She may not be subtle, but Cruella De Vil is without doubt one of animation's greatest villains. How bad is she? So bad she's looking to kidnap a load of Dalmatian puppies (101 of them to be exact) in order to fashion them into a white-with-black-spots fur coat.

Such is the central plot to 101 Dalmatians (note the spelling: It's not "Dalmations"), an unabashed Disney classic with all the necessary elements: Love story, heinous baddy, talking animals, and a happy ending. Kids love the movie -- my two-year-old son refers to it as merely "Doggies!" -- but you'd be surprised how straightforward the thing is. Dogs get kidnapped by Cruella's goons, dogs eventually escape. Everything else that happens (and it isn't much; this is a 79-minute long film) is just what you'd expect.

Continue reading: 101 Dalmatians (1961) Review

Sleeping Beauty Review


Excellent
It's a shame that Sleeping Beauty is saddled with such a sissy title. It's really quite the adventure, with a horse-riding hero, a spell-flinging evil fairy, and even a freakin' dragon! This is also the movie that the now-ubiquitous Magic Kingdom is taken from, it's where our titular heroine, aka Aurora hails from. But when that evil wench Maleficent (like the evil queen from Snow White but with horns) casts a spell that ensures she'll die from being pricked from a spinning wheel, three good fairies take Aurora into the woods, dub her Briar Rose, and try to keep her from harm. By the movie's midpoint, Rose has grown up to her teens, met the love of her life, and has finally been pricked by that wheel, and only through the good magic of the fairies does she stay alive, trapped in an unending slumber. And so our hero Prince Phillip rides into Maleficent's castle, showing down her evil minions and finally Maleficent herself (who takes the form of that dragon I mentioned). Awesome!

Beauty remains one of Disney's finest works. It was unequivocally the best animated film of its era up until arguably The Jungle Book (1967) or even Disney's comeback with The Little Mermaid (1989), depending on your point of view. It succeeds thanks to its awesome score -- borrowed from Tchaikovsky's waltzes -- as well as unprecedentedly detailed animation (dig the backgrounds) and its insanely over-the-top villain ("Me, the mistress of all evil!"). There's no freakin' singing animals or easy solution to the problem -- the prince has to hack his way through a wall of thorns then beat down a dragon in order to get his lady back! Young kids may not really dig the non-caricatured imagery and the lack of child-friendly messages; this isn't exactly the kind of movie you sing along to. (Poor Tchaikovsky missed the Mickey Mouse Club era by about a century.)

Continue reading: Sleeping Beauty Review

Peter Pan (1953) Review


OK
Peter Pan may be a boy who refuses to grow up, but his movie is really one of Disney's most adult "kids'" films.

Like Pinocchio, there are a lot of mature themes in Peter Pan. The elfin Peter is full of duplicity -- he'll lie to no end to get his way. Peter and the children he has brought with him to Never Land (they don't want to grow up either) visit a local Indian tribe, and with appropriate 1950s un-PC-ness, the smoke'm peace pipe and blow smoke triangles (cue song: "What Made the Red Man Red?"). Wendy and the kids are kidnapped by an extremely effeminate sailor (the immortal Captain Hook, Pan's nemesis). Even innocent Tinkerbell looks with frustration at how wide her hips are -- before she sells out her buddies in a play for her freedom from Hook.

Continue reading: Peter Pan (1953) Review

Alice In Wonderland (1951) Review


Good
It's a little sad to think that many kids today know Alice in Wonderland only from its references in The Matrix.

Good news then that kids can see the definitive film version of the classic Lewis Carroll story, Disney's animated 1951 version. For the uninitiated, this musical rendition takes young Alice on a whirlwind ride down a rabbit hole and into a surreal fantasy land where cats vanish, hares have intense schedules, and the world is ruled by a playing card. Remarkably, Alice takes all this in stride; whether potions shrink her or make her grow uncontrollably, she doesn't seem to mind much. It's not until that Queen of Hearts shows up that things start to get dicey... what with the "Off with her head!" and all.

Continue reading: Alice In Wonderland (1951) Review

Sleeping Beauty Review


Excellent
It's a shame that Sleeping Beauty is saddled with such a sissy title. It's really quite the adventure, with a horse-riding hero, a spell-flinging evil fairy, and even a freakin' dragon! This is also the movie that the now-ubiquitous Magic Kingdom is taken from, it's where our titular heroine, aka Aurora hails from. But when that evil wench Maleficent (like the evil queen from Snow White but with horns) casts a spell that ensures she'll die from being pricked from a spinning wheel, three good fairies take Aurora into the woods, dub her Briar Rose, and try to keep her from harm. By the movie's midpoint, Rose has grown up to her teens, met the love of her life, and has finally been pricked by that wheel, and only through the good magic of the fairies does she stay alive, trapped in an unending slumber. And so our hero Prince Phillip rides into Maleficent's castle, showing down her evil minions and finally Maleficent herself (who takes the form of that dragon I mentioned). Awesome!

Beauty remains one of Disney's finest works. It was unequivocally the best animated film of its era up until arguably The Jungle Book (1967) or even Disney's comeback with The Little Mermaid (1989), depending on your point of view. It succeeds thanks to its awesome score -- borrowed from Tchaikovsky's waltzes -- as well as unprecedentedly detailed animation (dig the backgrounds) and its insanely over-the-top villain ("Me, the mistress of all evil!"). There's no freakin' singing animals or easy solution to the problem -- the prince has to hack his way through a wall of thorns then beat down a dragon in order to get his lady back! Young kids may not really dig the non-caricatured imagery and the lack of child-friendly messages; this isn't exactly the kind of movie you sing along to. (Poor Tchaikovsky missed the Mickey Mouse Club era by about a century.)

Continue reading: Sleeping Beauty Review

Alice In Wonderland (1951) Review


Good
It's a little sad to think that many kids today know Alice in Wonderland only from its references in The Matrix.

Good news then that kids can see the definitive film version of the classic Lewis Carroll story, Disney's animated 1951 version. For the uninitiated, this musical rendition takes young Alice on a whirlwind ride down a rabbit hole and into a surreal fantasy land where cats vanish, hares have intense schedules, and the world is ruled by a playing card. Remarkably, Alice takes all this in stride; whether potions shrink her or make her grow uncontrollably, she doesn't seem to mind much. It's not until that Queen of Hearts shows up that things start to get dicey... what with the "Off with her head!" and all.

Continue reading: Alice In Wonderland (1951) Review

Peter Pan (1953) Review


OK
Peter Pan may be a boy who refuses to grow up, but his movie is really one of Disney's most adult "kids'" films.

Like Pinocchio, there are a lot of mature themes in Peter Pan. The elfin Peter is full of duplicity -- he'll lie to no end to get his way. Peter and the children he has brought with him to Never Land (they don't want to grow up either) visit a local Indian tribe, and with appropriate 1950s un-PC-ness, the smoke'm peace pipe and blow smoke triangles (cue song: "What Made the Red Man Red?"). Wendy and the kids are kidnapped by an extremely effeminate sailor (the immortal Captain Hook, Pan's nemesis). Even innocent Tinkerbell looks with frustration at how wide her hips are -- before she sells out her buddies in a play for her freedom from Hook.

Continue reading: Peter Pan (1953) Review

Cinderella Review


Excellent
She talks to birds, lives in a secluded room, and makes little outfits for mice. What a wacko.

Nah, just kidding. We're talking about Cinderella, one of history's most beloved fairy tale characters, and an early star of Disney's animated feature canon, brought to life in this 1950 classic. In Disney history, Cinderella is a transition of sorts: the first major release in eight years (late-'40s titles like Make Mine Music are not as timeless), it kicked off a string of major successes that line home video shelves now, decades later. Business and legacy aside, what little girl doesn't love the magic of this movie?

Continue reading: Cinderella Review

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