Doing a “live-action” remake of an animated film, particularly one as enduring as so many of Disney’s, is not actually a bad idea by definition. It is nakedly a commercial enterprise. The inherent conservatism of a company rehashing properties it’s already dined out on for decades for yet another round at the box office is undignified whoever’s doing it. That said, there’s no reason why this can’t result in a great film.
A lot of the Disney remakes aren’t great films. I’ve seen most of them now. The ones Linda Woolverton has (co-)written are the most interesting conceptually, since they are the revisionist takes on Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, but the resulting films are the least successful. Then you have the remakes of the 90s films – Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin – which are relatively inoffensive, and make some interesting changes, but mostly they seem entirely unnecessary. I enjoyed 101 Dalmatians as a kid, and 102 less. I’d like to watch them again.
The Jungle Book and Cinderella are towards the top of the pile. It might be because they are more interested in the source material of the films, and the experience of watching the animated versions, rather than rather shallowly aping the original. It could be that Branagh and Favreau are more hit than miss when it comes to films on this scale. It could be dumb luck. In any case, they’re the only ones where I’d consider putting them on rather than the original once in a while, rather than hardly ever.
The best films are ones that fit the definition more dubiously, since they’re based on hybrid movies. Pete’s Dragon turns the musical comedy into a children’s fantasy adventure in the woods. It’s far from perfect, but I admire it, and I should seek out more films by David Lowery. The best is Mary Poppins Returns, which does the Force Awakens sequel-remake trick right. I love that film with bells on. It’s approaching Paddington when it comes to the best modern family entertainment.
So with all that throat-clearing out of the way we come to the remake of Lady and the Tramp. You’ve got to be honest about how you reacted to a film. Since it was released straight to Disney+, I had no confidence in it at all. However, not only was I pleasantly surprised, I really enjoyed it. Critically, it’s a game of two halves, to use a cliche. The CG dog faces never work, but the real dogs are very cute. The script essentially turns the slight original into a boilerplate pet adventure film, but the classical romance overtones really work. The song replacing “The Siamese Cat Song” is forgettable, but it’s 300% less racist.
Uncritically, it’s a warm hug of a film. The classic moments are recreated and improved upon. (“Bella Notte” is pretty funny, and still sweet.) The voice acting is never less than engaging throughout. The human actors are perfectly fine. “He’s a Tramp” is a more convincing musical number than the entirety of Cats. I highly recommend it, particularly in such strange and uncertain times. It tickles the part of my brain that loves Once and the Before Trilogy. It’s certainly worth spending the £5.99 or doing the free trial to get Disney+ and watch it. You may be surprised by how much you like it – although less likely now that I’ve hyped it up somewhat.
Over the past four months or so I’ve (re)watched most of the Star Wars films, leading up to the one that happened before Christmas, and today I’ve just finished off the Indiana Jones series. I wasn’t blogging while I was watching Star Wars, but now I’m in a position where I’ve seen the popular pre-Disney Lucasfilm output, in many cases for the first time in perhaps decades. My post-Disney opinion is very linked to my position on the films made in the ‘70s and ‘80s: I didn’t watch them a lot growing up, so I don’t have the intense nostalgia for them others do, and so I prefer the ‘10s films that shake things up to the ones which attempt to just coddle the adult fans of these, as Patrick Willems puts it, movies about space wizards intended for children.
You would think, then, I wouldn’t care for the film I watched today, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Certainly, public opinion is pretty cool on this film. It is also the least liked among critics, at a glance, but at 78% on that accursed site Rotten Tomatoes it’s still well in the clear as far as that’s concerned. (The first is at 95%, the second 85%, and the third 88%, which proves nothing except to comfort me in my assertion that the first film is a league apart from any of its sequels.)
Actually, I liked it as much as any of the others, and even prefer it to one. It doesn’t bother me to have a divergent opinion, nor do I take it as a badge of pride. It is useful, though, to explore why you think something, and putting my workings in front of me in this regard has meant what was intended as a quick note on Letterboxd has quickly expanded into a 2000+ word thesis with a potted history of Lucasfilm and its position in the industry, just so we’re all on the same page.
They’re threatening an Indiana Jones 5 without the involvement of either Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, which seems pointless to me. Ahead of that, it’s worth asking myself three questions: how do I view these filmmakers? How do I consider their work? As a consequence, why do I like Indy 4 much more than its reputation would suggest? We’ll start with the history.
Let’s lead off with the sad news. After two decades, my parents’ tabby cat was put down on Saturday. You’ll have seen her in this Instagram post with what may seem like an unfortunate caption, now we’re this side of things, but a cat her age, that’s just the reality of things. Here’s a picture of her in her younger days, and we’ll talk about her a little more after it.
The date on that image file is 25th January 2004. The earliest picture I can find says 7th January 2000 in the metadata, and I’m pretty sure that’s not someone failing to set up the camera properly. Throughout that entire time she was simply known as Tabby, because she wasn’t supposed to be our cat. Our cat was Thomas. We adopted Thomas as a kitten, when I was young enough that naming him after the Tank Engine seemed like a natural thing to do. I’m going to post an image of him from around the same time, too, because he was an very handsome cat. (He died when I was in high school, at some point in the mid-2000s.)
Tabby wasn’t even the first cat to wander in. Before her that was Smudge, a white-and-black hobo cat with oily fur, who popped in through the cat flap for a year or two, had some food, gave some attention as gratitude, then went on his way. At some point he just stopped coming, although he did pop back years later for one final visit.
Tabby was a little different. I believe she was a neighbour family’s cat, a young one who had given birth to a litter. She didn’t want anything to do with the kittens, and I think the family didn’t want much to do with her, so she ended up crossing the road to our house. Thomas wasn’t particularly fond of other cats, or later, dog, imposing on his territory, but he was more grumpy than vicious about it, and eventually got used to the idea.
Tabby was a very nervous cat for much of her life. She would run from everyone and at the slightest provocation. She would only sit on Mum usually. She would groom obsessively, and shed layers of fur everywhere she sat. Many a time was I wearing unintentional fur trousers. And she never really took to house training, meaning certain rugs and patches of lino were sacrificed to this. She was very beautiful, and essentially sweet-natured, so I did like her a lot, even if she wasn’t particularly confident with me. I don’t think my sister ever fully took to her, though.
By the time I got to undergrad, Tabby hit the second phase of her life, where she seemed to be in some sort of mental decline. It was like she’d forget who you were from moment-to-moment. Previously, she was nervous of most people, but in a consistent manner. Now, she was either terrified of you, like you were a stranger, or was your best friend, and would sit on you for hours, which seemed even more like she had no idea who you were. Combined with the continued lack of bladder control, this was the period where we all assumed she was on her way out in terms of months rather than years. Yet, as we know, she hung around, and even survived a house move last year.
In the final phase of her life she levelled out. Perhaps her mind had completely gone, perhaps she decided she was too old to have her defences up all the time. She even remained relatively healthy, to my parents’ surprise and slight dismay when the vets told them this over the past few years. Unfortunately, her last visit showed she was in terminal decline, so the kindest thing to do was put her down. Mum said on the phone that Tabby barely knew she was going, and passed peacefully.
From a rough start, she had a very long and happy life in the family. While it’s a little strange she’s gone, I’m glad I got to see her last month before she went, and we’d all be lucky to live proportionally as long as she did. Though I will always be grumpy that she never got a proper name. (Tabitha was a but of a retronym.)
Right, after that, some happier news. Leela (previously Cassie) is currently winding its way around legs and door frames in a vain attempt to get fed. before teatime. She is settling in well, though it is still early days. She has no respect for God nor man, so we should probably read up on how to train her to come when she is called, get down from the counter, and not scratch at every closed door. (She has just scratched at my bedroom door, which is currently open, which may be a new low for her.) My aim is for her to be fat and obedient.
She’s not like any cat I’ve lived with before. She’s nothing like Thomas, the late Dylan, or the still-going-strong Charlie. My experience of those cats (my housemates say Dylan was more independent before I knew him) was they were pretty chilled out. They love(d) being slung on a shoulder, sat on a lap, and possess(ed) a reasonable grasp of boundaries. It’s tempting to compare her with Tabby, since they have a similar background, but she’s nowhere near as high strung. (Luckily, my housemate has just come home to feed her, then take her for some jabs, so I can actually write this.)
Part of why I’m having trouble grasping her character is that it’s fairly contradictory. One moment she’s a business cat, with various appointments at the window or in the garden or whatever dimension cats end up in when they go outside. She doesn’t have any time for you, or what you may want from her. Then she’s a bundle of energy, racing around the house, wanting to be played with and paid attention to and generally causing a ruckus. Then she’ll decide to stop – she’s not tired, necessarily, but she’s decided she’s done. She’ll then happily curl up by herself on a bed or a cushion. She may start sprawling out on her back like a dog, legs going everywhere, either as a response to being stroked, or of her own volition. She does seem to like to be stroked, or sometimes held, until suddenly she doesn’t. Which is where the biting begins. Then she’ll spring away, and sulk somewhere else. She’ll want to be let out. Then five minutes later, in. Then out. Then in. This is normal cat behaviour, but usually the intervals are longer.
Even her basic actions are contradictory. She wags her tail because she’s happy, or because she’s pissed off. She’ll smell your hand, and rub herself all over your shins both affectionately and as a scent-marking power play. She bites out of affection, and also not affection. She’ll want to be with you, and follow you around – she’s even slept on my bed a couple of nights this week, and one astonishing moment even sat on Alex’s lap (probably because he’s the only one not picking her up and carting her places). She’ll want to have nothing to do with you, and pretend you don’t exist. She learned how to meow, but only to generally complain about the state of the world. It gives no indication of what she wants.
Right now, perfect example: been fed, let out, now it’s hailing, now she’s back in demanding to be fed again. Cats don’t usually want to eat this much. She’s on the cusp of moving up a weight category. Sure. a lot of this is all new-owner stuff, but it’s worth pointing out, and trying to see her clearly. At the moment she’s at the level of those awful little yappy dogs owned by little old ladies. These ladies claim their pets are as sweet as pie, harmless, but are they actually over-indulged, ill-disciplined and bad company. Actually, this is hard to prove, but I think her behaviour gets worse the more people that are around. If she’s left on her own, there are no signs of bad behaviour – broken ornaments, wet patches and the like. If it’s just
There is probably a sweet and lovely cat here, but at the moment Leela is a complete pain in the arse, and a full-time job. Except it’s a cat, and you can’t really do much with it. And if you start adapting to all its weird behaviours, then pretty soon the cat’s running your life. I had hoped finally getting her outside would calm her down, but no dice so far. I like her, but she needs to work on herself. Don’t we all?
If you’re on letterboxd, I’m here.
Films seen: 30
Films directed by women: 6 (up 4)
Strong recommendations: Room 237, Clueless, Okja, Suspiria (1977), Parasite, The Lighthouse, Lady Bird, Blade Runner, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ocean Waves
Obviously, great month of film. I haven’t been reviewing them as I’ve been watching them this month, so it’s a much fuller diary than expected. I don’t expect I’ll watch as many next month.
Many of the new films have non-UK release dates, which I regret, but can’t be bothered to change. I’ve started tracking the number of films I’ve seen that have been directed by women to 1) keep me honest and 2) subtly pressure me into seeing more of them.
Quick note on inclusion: I put in short films if I remember to. I leave out behind-the-scenes docs unless I’m compelled otherwise. I’m making this up as I go along.
Full list follows:
Hello! It’s been a minute. Nothing important or interesting has happened to stop the flow of posts, just the normal unpredictable drama of a life lived.
I typed just twice there while I was writing. It’s something I’ve done all my life, repeat words as I’m setting them down. I remember getting corrected in primary school for doing it in an exercise. It happens because I don’t necessarily look at the pen, paper, keyboard or screen as I’m writing. Which is good, because my screen is slowly dying, and will randomly strobe an ‘OSD locked’ notification complaining that the buttons are being pressed, and I’m pressing no such buttons. If I weren’t deadly poor, it’d be for the scrapheap.
When writing, I’m making the sentence in my head, while letting the fingers record it pretty much as I’m saying it up there. It makes me a slow thinker, but not too slow a typist. But not quick at either. So if I stop at an awkward point, and then pick up on that word and take the rest of the sentence forward, the word can end up appearing twice. That primary school correction still bugs me because it’s not actually a sign of bad writing, as it was taken at the time, but of the process of composition happening elsewhere than on the page.
Writing on a page was actually one of the skills I learned on my master’s, bizarrely. My natural mode of poetry composition is similar to what I described, and when I’m happy the thought is completed the poem stops. This produces work that can be good, but can also be overly neat and stop short of fully exploring the topic. What I learned was something closer to free-writing, where the pen driving the thought, where the mechanical act of needing to write something is pulling the words behind it. You don’t just stop at the earliest convenience, you pry and worry at the piece. When it works, which is never a guarantee, it’s like in Spirited Away where they’re pulling that rope of rubbish and sludge out of the Stink Spirit, and in doing so transform it into a River Spirit, clean and beautiful. It’s something I recommend you trying: go out past the edge of something, and see what you find.
We’ve been watching a bit more anime recently, what with the debut of the Studio Ghibli collection on Netflix inspiring a (re)watch, and revisiting Blade Runner pointed down some anime-related paths. There may be posts forthcoming on some specific things arising from these movies, but there will certainly be a full round-up of this month’s films on Sunday 1 March. (I saw both Parasite and The Lighthouse solo on Valentine’s Day, and what a day that was.)
Otherwise, somewhat busy month. Visited the parents for a week (it was meant to be housesitting, but then they never left). Still working my way back into a rhythm – I slept until 11am today, for no real reason. Some old-but-great wireless headphones have given my turntable and my Spotify account a new lease on life. No real plans for the next however-long-you’ve-got, so I’m just chugging on really. And we’ll do cat news in another post. Otherwise, we’re back to it.