No Tools Of The Imagination This Week

Sorry, kids, but it’s more quarterly week off. I am supposed to be relaxing like a cat in a sun beam, but alas, I am knee-deep in other projects. I’ll be back on the job next week.

For now, enjoy life. Toys are meant to be enjoyed, meant to facilitate the imagination and all it can do. Be sociable with your toys. Share some of your treasured collection with your own kids, or nieces/nephews, or grand kids. Throw a toy party (it’s like a wine party but where everybody comes over and plays with Legos or action figures or whatever).

Toys are meant to be played with.

Tools of the Imagination – Top Ten Television Episodes

Television, as an artistic medium, is wonderful. There has been, and continues to be, so much wonderful television in the world, it rivals almost any other artistic medium. Oh, there’s awful TV out there too, make no mistake. And television is hardly the end-all of art. However, at the end of the day, TV provides is consistently with some of the most entertaining….entertainment there is.

Some, however, is better than others.

What follows is a totally subjective and terribly biased list of my favorite episodes of television of all time. I’ve tried to be systematic about this, ranking episodes on production quality (especially compared to comparable shows of the time), performance and execution (acting and directing versus special effects or animation, which would fall under production quality), narrative excellence (how it furthers the larger story of the show it is a part of), and overall awesomeness.

This is just for fun and to spark lively debate. Enjoy!

Also, please note, spoilers below.

Continue reading “Tools of the Imagination – Top Ten Television Episodes”

Tools of the Imagination – Aladdin

Aladdin
directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker, music by Alan Menken, released by the Walt Disney Company in 1992

Possibly The Perfect Disney Movie

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(image courtesy mxview.blogspot.com)

Aladdin stands the test of time as one of the best and most beloved Disney films ever made. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the early classics like Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio, as well as the most recent icons like Toy Story and Frozen.

The film has pretty much everything you could ever want in a family movie, in a musical adventure, and definitely a Disney film. If you were to go down a checklist of everything that makes for a good movie, Aladdin would likely hit all the marks. Great music. Memorable performances. Fantastic art. Everything that makes Disney movies fun is on display here.

Continue reading “Tools of the Imagination – Aladdin”

Tools of the Imagination – Ripley

Space Marine Lt. Ellen Ripley
by Kenner, part of the Aliens toy line, produced 1992

The Cart Before The Horse

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(Image courtesy of collectiondx.com)

Aliens is one of the best movies ever made.
It’s an intelligent action movie. It’s an ambitious visual tour de force. Good acting. Great sets and special effects. Nominated for everything from Academy Awards to passing the Bechdel Test. Pretty much, the question is just ‘how much does someone like aliens’. It’s never a matter of whether or not they do like Aliens.

In the wake of the 1986 film, the franchise had become a staple of science fiction, especially comics. Dark Horse Comics had produced a slew of titles for years, each more popular than the last. With the 1992 third installment, it seemed the franchise was going to heat up all over again, and so it’s little surprise that merchandisers would want to get in on it.

What is a little surprising is that those merchandisers would include children’s entertainment.

Background

Continue reading “Tools of the Imagination – Ripley”

Tools of the Imagination – Return of the King

The Return of the King
directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, written by Romeo Muller, music by Maury Laws, released 1980, available on DVD by Warner Brothers

Cartoon violence by the same people who brought you Christmas!

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(Image thanks to Nighthawk News)

Finishing up our tour of the pre-Jackson Lord of the Rings series, we have Rankin & Bass’ the Return of the King. At the same time a sequel to the Hobbit, a sequel to the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings, and also a top-down reboot of that same movie, Return of the King is a very fractured film. Rather ghastly violence, surpassing even most anime, is depicted with very cartoony characters. Stirring songs are found only scenes away from some truly terrorizing imagery. All in all, this is not the nigh-flawless masterpiece of the Hobbit but a truly ambitious and spectacular movie all its own.

Background
Stories abound of how the mantle of the finale of The Lord of the Rings ended up in Rankin & Bass’ hands and not with Bakshi to finish. Given how different the Return of the King is from The Lord of the Rings, it is easy to forget that Ralph Bakshi’s take on the Tolkien legend was a commercial success. Never the less, his sequel was never realized and Rankin and Bass got to follow-up the Hobbit.

Bringing back the vast majority of the cast and crew from the Hobbit, this film feels much like a sequel to that movie, but with a far darker tone. This is a movie about war, genocide, and supernatural extermination. And while the makers of half the Christmas cartoons you know and love handled it as tactfully as possible, there is no getting around the rampant deaths and endless carnage on full display.

Story – 3 out of 5
Unlike the Hobbit, which kept close to the original narrative, and The Lord of the Rings, which took liberties but remained mostly true, Return of the King makes severe narrative changes. Rankin and Bass actively sought to reference the events of the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers as little as possible. Aside from a very brief flashback at the beginning of the film, there’s no explanation of why Frodo is in Mordor or how he got captured or how Samwise has the ring. Likewise, there’s little explanation as to who Aragorn is or why he’s returning to Gondor.
Whole characters are eschewed as well. Gimli and Legolas are entirely absent from the film, while no mention is made of Boromir. While Pippin has a few scenes, Merry is little more than a cameo.
Overall, the story is there but so many ‘small’ changes have been made, it almost feels like a different tale.

Art – 4 out of 5
Much like the Hobbit, the art in the Return of the King is rich and gorgeous. The backgrounds and architecture are beautifully drawn and the character art is distinctive. There is some monotony to the backgrounds, especially in Mordor but that seems to be more a stylistic choice than a flaw in the attempt.

Animation – 4 out of 5
While the animation isn’t amazing, it is just short of it. The characters move smoothly and naturally. There are a lot of great scenes and ambitious cinematography.

Characters – 3 out of 5
There are really only two characters in this story: Gandalf and Samwise. Both are vividly depicted and portrayed, but no one else gets nearly the screen time. Even Frodo is almost a supporting character to Samwise in this depiction of the tale, with no real character arc or development. Everyone else is just given too little time to flesh out. Aragorn has all of two scenes, Pippin and Merry disappear for whole sequences at a time, and anybody tuning in to see Eowyn will love the scene (because, man, she out-bad asses the baddest-ass that ever badassed) but there’s really no character to speak of.
The one saving grace, besides Gandalf and Samwise, is the music. As much a character as the individuals themselves, the movie has a great soundtrack and score. ‘Doom’, with the accompanying narration by Gandalf, is one of the most haunting songs ever heard. ‘Where There’s A Whip’ and ‘Retreat’ are two stirring and catchy songs that will stay with you long after the film is over.

Acting – 4 out of 5
The acting in the film is touch and go. Some of the performers are trying their hardest but just don’t seem to be hitting the mark (I’m looking at you, Casey Kasem, god rest your amazing voice). Theodore Bikel as Aragorn is doing his best but he comes across as less ranger badass and more King David. Orson Bean as Frodo doesn’t sound wounded and exhausted so much as just kind of whiney.
The saving grace to the film are Roddy MacDowall and John Huston. MacDowall plays Samwise and his performance is as distinctive as it is excellent. The performance is a little melodramatic, but what about this movie isn’t? John Huston, however, really shines as Gandalf. This is an amazing performance that underscores the white wizard’s uncertainty in his private thoughts but his need to be outwardly in control. And his scene with the Witchking (played by the underrated John Stephenson) is legendary in every sense of the word.

Overall – 4 out of 5
Were it not for this film’s pedigree (as family to the superior Hobbit and the ambitious Lord of the Rings), it might be more-easily forgotten, but between its intermittent excellence, fantastic music, and its willingness to confront the horrors present in the story, it deserves some real credit. It’s easily the weakest of the three animated Tolkein stories, but it’s still head-and-shoulders above most of its animated peers.