#292. Animated Classic Literature

Anyone who grew up during the late 1990’s is probably familiar with the PBS show, Wishbone. As a child soon to be headed into junior high, I enjoyed the show at face value, but deep down in my subconscious I was learning about classic literature. For years, these episodes were my only exposure to famous pieces of literature, and thus my only knowledge of their plots until I read some of them many decades later. Disney has also done a pretty good job of adapting many classic tales to the big screen. Through their animation studio, many fairy tales were memorably created and still remain almost as the de-facto versions of their source material. That being said, some of the adaptations weren’t as obvious as others. This week’s two films look at some classic literature in an animated format.

Treasure PlanetTreasure Planet
Year: 2002
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Up until the 21st Century, Disney had animated many well-known stories from various sources. From fairy tales to short stories to novels, much of their source material was in the public domain. Once the new millennium came around, they started to create some original stories like The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and Lilo & Stitch (2002). While this trend has mostly continued, there were a few films animated during this timeframe that held to the formula of adapting classic literature. While being thinly veiled as something different, Treasure Planet (2002) was an almost-direct adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Treasure Island, merely with sci-fi trappings available via new, 3-D animation techniques (with traditional, 2-D animation being interposed on top of it).

Just like any other teenager, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has a longing for adventure. While Alponian solar cruising works for the time being, when he is given a map by the pilot of a crashed spaceship, he sets out to find where it leads. Despite the final words of the pilot warning Jim to “beware the cyborg”, one of the friends he makes while aboard the RLS Legacy is none other than half-robot cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). After taking control of the ship during a mutiny he planned, Silver lets Jim and some ousted leaders of the ship escape to Treasure Planet. Once on the planet, the original crew finds a robot by the name of B.E.N. (Martin Short) who has literally lost his memory. In searching for the robot’s missing piece, Jim discovers that the map is also able to open portals, including to the center of the planet where the treasure is stored. Unfortunately, this triggers the planet to explode, forcing them to abandon the treasure.

The Lion KingThe Lion King
Year: 1994
Rating: G
Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours

Most kids who go to see an animated film won’t necessarily pick up on the source material like their parents will. Even famous films like The Great Escape (1963) and Seven Samurai (1954) have received the animated treatment in Chicken Run (2000) and A Bug’s Life (1998), respectively. While I enjoyed these animated films as a child, it wasn’t until I was older that I realized I’d seen these plots somewhere else before. Unlike Treasure Planet (2002), it took me some time to realize The Lion King (1994) was William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in disguise. Even though it’s not a direct adaptation, many of the main characters are there. Simba is Hamlet, Scar is Claudius, and even Timon and Pumbaa are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Obviously, some of the more violent and dramatic moments from the play were toned down in the animation, but the main thrust of Hamlet still lies there in the African plains.

Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is the male cub born to Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the leader of a pride of African lions. Because Simba is now next in line to the throne, Scar (Jeremy Irons) sets about trying to kill both Mufasa and Simba so he can become king. While his plan to use a wildebeest stampede to kill them both only kills Mufasa, Scar convinces Simba it’s the cub’s fault and forces him into exile. Simba (Matthew Broderick), having now grown up in the jungle with his friends Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), returns to the Pride Lands to confront his uncle Scar. Along the way, he is visited by the ghost of Mufasa, who tells him he is the rightful king of the land. Once back home, with the help of the lionesses, Simba fights Scar and eventually wins, sending him into exile. Unfortunately, Scar’s hyena henchmen have different plans, as they overheard him betray them to everyone.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different Disney adaptations

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#236. Lengthy Running Times

In a world that is having an increasingly difficult time sitting still for an extended amount of time, any movie longer than 90 minutes can be a struggle to watch. Especially with the ubiquitous nature of smart phones shortening our attention spans, many of us won’t even bother watching a video that’s longer than seven seconds. Part of the solution many movies have resorted to in recent years has been to split films into two-parts so that they are easier to watch, instead of sitting through a four hour film. Other solutions have been to keep the pace of the plot set so fast as to keep the audience enthralled all the way to the end credits. This latter option often includes plenty of flashy and disorienting action to keep the excitement level at a point where viewers won’t glance at their watches. This week’s two films have lengthy running times, but are worth the watch if you can pay attention long enough.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Year: 1975Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

Movies with running times above 3 hours have been around since nearly the beginning of cinema itself. Many of these films were merely adapting the tenets of the theatre. With its plays and musicals, many theatre productions included overtures and intermissions. These plays and musicals were quite long, easily spanning several hours. This is why many lengthy films also followed suit by including overtures and intermissions for audiences to get up and stretch. While the latest notable film to have an intermission was made in 2001 (Pearl Harbor), quite a few films from the 1960’s and 1970’s had intermissions, even if they were cut out in home media. That being said, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) does not have an intermission, or fast-paced plot, or any exciting action. It merely has the life of a homemaker, revealed in near real-time.

Life as a single mother can be a regular series of events, repeated ad nauseum. For each of the three hours of this film’s running time, we get a glimpse into three days of Jeanne Dielman’s (Delphine Seyrig) life. There is cleaning to do, dinner to cook, and a bedroom “job” to perform to keep her and her son living comfortably. However, when the small details start to go awry, we see Jeanne slowly succumb to the stress she hides right beneath her stoic surface. Whether it’s the countless hours spent alone in the house or the exceptional standards of homemaking that she holds herself to, the subsequent days definitely show that she is almost at her breaking point. Finally, on the third day, Jeanne has a sudden release with one of her “clients”. Perhaps as a result, she cuts her session short in an unforeseen outburst of violence.

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Year: 2003The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Rating: PG-13
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

If there’s one thing that the Academy Awards likes, it’s a long movie. Often, the nominees for Best Picture are regularly over 2 ½ hours long, and will sometimes even break the three-hour mark. Additionally, some films of a particular series might have different release dates, but are considered as one, complete film when placed back-to-back. In these cases, franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings all could be considered singular films with running times at or over 12 hours long! In regards to the last series of the aforementioned list, which won Best Picture in 2003, the fact that it was shot all at once with the same actors gives credence to the thought that all three films are actually a single film split into three parts. With the “extended editions” of these films considered to be the true film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings story, get ready for a half-day movie marathon.

The third installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King follows Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) as they complete the final push into Mordor to destroy Sauron’s ring of power. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the Fellowship (established in the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)) bolster their forces to take on Sauron’s army. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) gains alliances of kings, both living and dead, and battles his way to Sauron’s front door. Having traveled a very long way and endured numerous obstacles and struggles, Frodo and Sam wearily make their way into Mount Doom, the source of (and therefore only way to destroy) the ring of power. As the battle heats up between good and evil, Gollum (Andy Serkis) sees his last chance to obtain the ring for himself. Will Sauron win in the end, or will Frodo be able to rid Middle Earth of the ring once and for all?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 movie marathons

#117. Hired Warriors

With bullying being an increasingly serious problem, we start to see that it’s been around much longer than we’d like to admit. Now granted, the scholastic bully is a more modern problem, but they have existed in many forms for many decades. Still, the question remains: how does one deal with a bully? Generally, bullies are stronger and more confident than the ones they pick on, so one option is to hire someone who is much stronger and much more confident to fight the bully on your behalf. And yet, people won’t just fight your battles for you for free, so these fighters often have to be paid for their services. Even though the title of “mercenary” can be looked down upon, sometimes they are necessary. This week’s two films look at two sets of mercenaries who fight for the little people (figuratively and literally).

Seven SamuraiSeven Samurai
Year: 1954
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

Dealing with one bully may be difficult, but dealing with a whole gang of them is nearly impossible. When the enemy is a faceless mob, there’s no way to really stop the harassment. Now, let’s say you want to hire someone to fight for you. That’s great, except you don’t have any money. How would you get someone to fight for you when you can’t even begin to pay for them? Most warriors will only fight for themselves or their ideals, so the only other option is to get them to get them to pity your plight. And yet, occasionally you’ll run across a warrior that will actually fight for the underdog pro bono. Unfortunately, since these warriors are hard to come by, it’ll still be a difficult job to repel the attacks of the mob of bullies. Still, a handful of warriors is better than nothing.

Bandits usually get whatever they want, especially if they’re harassing downtrodden farmers. Everyone’s got to eat, so the bandits figure that stealing the farmers’ crops is a simple way to keep their bellies full. Of course, after a few harvests, the farmers have had enough. Heading into town to seek out some help, they find a samurai who’s down on his luck. Since he also has to eat and has not had as many opportunities to do so, he takes up their offer of giving him three square meals a day to help defend their crops. After the samurai gathers six more to help the villagers, they teach the lowly peasants how to fight for nothing more than three bowls of rice a day. The true test of the warriors comes when the bandits return: is the farmers’ plight enough for them to fight and even die for?

A Bug’s LifeA Bug's Life
Year: 1998
Rating: G
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

One of the earliest stories of bullying comes from the animal kingdom in the form of one of Aesop’s many fables. While the “bullying” is actually done by the ants in this version, by allowing the grasshopper to starve because he did not plan ahead for the winter, Pixar has taken this idea and flipped it on its head. After all, grasshoppers are stronger than ants, so why shouldn’t the grasshopper bully the ants into giving it all of their food? Does this sound familiar? Well, it should, because A Bug’s Life is loosely based on the aforementioned Seven Samurai. However, ants don’t really have the skills to hire samurai, so they do the next best thing: hire some bigger bugs. Once again, the crop of these farming insects is at stake on the gamble of some hired fighters.

Hopper (Kevin Spacey) and his gang of grasshoppers is disappointed to find that the ants they’ve been bullying don’t have the food that they have come to collect. These downtrodden insects are shocked to find that the tinkerer of the group, Flik (Dave Foley), has accidentally doomed them to starvation because Hopper is now asking for more food in less time, with no time to gather food for themselves. In the guise of banishment, Flik sets out to find some bigger bugs that will fight for the ants. When he finds them in the city, he gets them to come back to the anthill, but under some false pretenses. While these warrior bugs cannot fight, but instead excel at acting and vaudevillian routines, they still help the ants with a plan that could drive the grasshoppers away.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 free soldiers of fortune

#116. Originals of Adaptations

Ideas for movies often come from many sources. Most often, a literary work is turned into a film version, with varying results in terms of quality. Sometimes original ideas are used, but those are increasingly rare in this modern Hollywood which is more interested in sequels and remakes than anything original. And yet, what’s strange is that sometimes movies are the source of more movies. Now, I’m not talking about sequels, remakes, or even reboots, but rather films based on past films. While you might argue that reboots fill this category, I’m referring to something a bit different: films adapted from films. While reboots may have the same characters in a different plot and remakes have both the same characters and plot, adapted films have the same plot, but different characters. This week’s two films look at some originals that were eventually adapted.

The Great EscapeThe Great Escape
Year: 1963
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 172 minutes / 2.86 hours

There have been many films that have covered World War II, and of those films there have been many that have covered the war-camp aspect of this global conflict. And yet, when you make a movie that is as memorable and classic as The Great Escape, it’s hard not to adapt it to future movies about the same topic. Oftentimes, the motifs and themes brought forth in a film like this are used in comedy. Once it becomes part of the popular culture, it is liable to be poked fun at and stolen outright. Of course, one does wonder why a film would have such a large cultural impact, and I believe that The Great Escape does so by taking a serious subject (prisoners of war) and making it lighter and entertaining. After all, at that point, there’s not much of a stretch to chickens.

Perhaps the most famous prisoner of war escape ever executed, The Great Escape tells the story of an American captain (Steve McQueen) and a group of British soldiers who manage to make their way out of a camp that the Germans believed was “escape proof.” Through some intense planning and teamwork, the imprisoned soldiers cleverly hide the fact that they’re digging a tunnel to escape. By the time that their Nazi captors find the tunnel, over 50 soldiers have made their way outside of the camp and are on their way to freedom. Unfortunately, most of them are captured again and brought back to the camp, or are killed in the chase. Based on a true story, The Great Escape is a film that is referenced often, including the clay animated movie, Chicken Run (2000).

Seven SamuraiSeven Samurai
Year: 1954
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

Many consider Seven Samurai one of the greatest pieces of work in all of film. This Japanese movie has been imported through an adaptation of the basic plot in the film, The Magnificent Seven (1960). However, nothing can quite compare to Akira Kurosawa’s original masterpiece. And yet, this story that was created sixty years ago has seen its influence in other films as well. Aside from the western mentioned earlier, Seven Samurai was the basis for A Bug’s Life as well as the futuristic anime, Samurai 7 (the latter of which was a more faithful adaptation). I think that with all these great adaptations, it’s no wonder that this film is considered one of the greatest, not only of Japanese cinema, but across the entire world as well. After all, who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

Set in Japan in the 1600’s, the plot revolves around a small village that has been frequently attacked by a group of guerrilla thieves. In order to save their village, the elders hire seven unemployed samurai to protect their town. Receiving nothing in payment but food and shelter, these seven misfits manage to repel the thieves and protect the village. Of course, even with the skills of the samurai protecting them, these rural folk are still going to have a difficult time repelling the future attacks of the thieves. Even though a samurai is a well honed fighting machine, even seven of them couldn’t possibly stand up against an army of attackers. Despite its 2 and a half hour length, Seven Samurai deserves a viewing due to the quality of the emotion, drama and action.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 originals adapted for future films