#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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#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

#115. Escape!

Have you ever just wanted to get away from it all? Just jump on a plane and go far away? Well, what if you’re trapped in a war camp? You obviously can’t just walk out the front door and not come back, since there’s probably a reason you’re being held there. Any type of prison usually induces some ideas of escape from its tenants. And why wouldn’t it? Living conditions in these institutions aren’t necessarily ideal and the fact of the matter is that most people who are trapped in these situations are likely to die while in the confines of razor-wire fences. Of course, it’s never easy to escape. Security measures are put in place to prevent such activities, so an escape is certainly a challenge. This week’s two films look at some great escapes where the main characters literally fly the coop.

Chicken RunChicken Run
Year: 2000
Rating: G
Length: 84 minutes / 1.4 hours

If there’s anything that animation is good at, it’s anthropomorphising animals in such a way that we can relate to their plights. I doubt many of us ever consider what happens on a farm, let alone from the perspective of the animals. While many human activist groups stage protests on behalf of mistreated and oppressed animals, it’s always more interesting to see animals rise up and fight for their own justice. When we see the world through their eyes, a simple egg harvesting operation ends up looking more like a gulag than a business. Fortunately, since it is animated, the tone is generally lighter than other war-camp type movies, even though the main thrust of the conflict still remains. Of course, it also means that chickens have lips and teeth, which is a little weird.

When one chicken by the name of Ginger (Julie Sawalha) has the talent to escape from the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy, the only reason she doesn’t is that she wants to escape with her friends. Unfortunately, it’s easier for one chicken to escape, but incredibly difficult for many to fly the coop at the same time. This is partly due to the lack of skill and motivation from the others, but soon all that changes when an American rooster by the name of Rocky (Mel Gibson) falls from the sky and into the fenced farmyard. Rocky, as it turns out, is injured and wants to escape the farm just as much as Ginger does. As such, he is able to rally the troops with his stories of the outside and soon everyone is going full tilt toward a new plan to escape: flying to their freedom.

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

Probably the most iconic escape movie of all time, The Great Escape has given us a lot of great moments. Whether it’s whittling away the time in the cooler or the memorable score by Elmer Bernstein, this film has been referenced a multitude of times since its release. In fact, the aforementioned Chicken Run is incredibly similar to the plot of this World War II POW adventure. However, unlike the Pacific theater film of similar content, The Bridge on the River Kwai, there is no agreements or working with their captors here. To a greater point, while very few people truly escaped in The Bridge on the River Kwai, there were a surprising amount of prisoners who managed to get outside the confines of their Nazi-controlled prison. And yet, just getting past the guards is only half the battle.

The trick with Prisoner of War camps is that everyone who has been captured has military experience. You’re not dealing with your run of the mill criminals here, and they’re being held only for the fact that they’re fighting for the other side. As such, the Nazis think they have created an escape-proof POW camp and have put many of their troublemaker prisoners inside. Unfortunately, when you get that many escape artists together, they’re bound to think of a plan. When Hilts (Steve McQueen) is brought to the camp, he quickly gains the reputation of “the Cooler King”, since he gets sent to solitary confinement more often than not for his escape attempts. And yet, while in the cooler, Hilts comes up with a plan to escape that will also allow almost one hundred others to escape with him.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 flights to freedom