Disney Double-Shot Triple-Shot
Brother Bear - Buy from Amazon
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Buy from Amazon
Mulan - Buy from Amazon
This week there are three Disney Blu-ray Double-Shots coming out. This includes one that I've previously reviewed on DVD, but two that I missed the first time around. Each film includes a major theatrical release, plus the direct-to-DVD sequels. How many of the theatrical releases are worth owning? Are any of the direct-to-DVD sequels worth picking up? Are the double-shots worth the money?
Brother Bear takes place in North America shortly after the end of the last ice age. It begins with an elder of the village telling others a story about him and his two brothers. The village elder explains about spirits that change all things. This includes the change of the seasons, as well as coming of age. We then flash back to the three brothers, Sitka, the oldest of the three and the wisest; Denahi (Jason Raize), the middle brother and the one who gives Kenia the most trouble; and Kenia, the youngest and most impulsive. It is the day Kenia will receive his animal totem and become a man. Sitka was given the eagle of guidance. Denahi was given the wolf of wisdom. Kenia expects he will be given a sabre-tooth tiger of courage. Instead, the shaman woman, Tanana (Joan Copeland) gives a bear of love. He is not happy. He doesn't like bears, because he considers them thieves, because they steal the tribe's food. Maybe they wouldn't steal the food if he tied it up properly.
During the ceremony to get his totem, a bear steals the village's fish, because Kenia didn't tie it up properly. He even saw that it fell, but didn't care, because he was too excited to get his totem. Kenia runs off to get the food, with Sitka and Denahi following shortly behind. Kenia gets into a fight with the bear and his brothers have to rescue him. In the end, Sitka sacrifices himself to save his brothers, although the bear gets away.
Kenia vows revenge on the bear and goes to hunt him down. Denahi warns Kenia not to kill the bear, because it will upset the spirits, but Kenia goes out anyway. Thus Kenia gets the upper hand and slays the bear, but Denahi was right and the spirits try to fix this balance by turning Kenia into a bear. Denahi arrives just in time to see the aftermath of the transformation (Kenia's torn clothing, a bear, and no Kenia) and assumes the bear killed and ate his brother. He vows revenge on this new bear, but before he can do anything, Kenia falls off the cliff and into the rapids. It's a very bumpy ride and it doesn't end till Kenia is passed out on the river bank.
Tanana finds Kenia and nurses him back to life. At first Kenia thinks his transformation was a dream, but when he realizes what happened, he freaks out. She tells him Sitka did this to him and in order to turn back, Kenia will have to convince Sitka he's changed. She says that he must head to a certain tall mountain where the lights touch the Earth. Here, he will have to talk to Sitka and ask him how to turn back into a human. Before Kenia can ask where exactly that is, she vanishes. He tries asking the animals where to go, but the first ones he meets are Tuke and Rutt, who are less than useful. He then meets a young bear, Koda, who agrees to lead him there, if Kenia helps him get to the salmon spawning grounds first.
Meanwhile, Denahi is still determined to kill that bear, not knowing it is his brother.
This film earned poor reviews and missed expectations at the box office, and it is not surprising that this happened. The movie isn't bad, per se, but it is oh so average. This mediocrity begins with the script, which brings very little new to the genre. There are a number of Disney films made around the same time that touch on too many of the same things (finding a new family, Native American spiritualism, etc.) and sadly nothing here works as well as the earlier films did. Easily the best part of the movie is the chemistry between Tuke and Rutt.
Extras start with an audio commentary track with Tuke and Rutt in character. It makes the movie much more enjoyable to watch. There is also a massive six-part, 45-minute long making of featurette. Up next are three deleted scenes, plus an introduction, some outtakes, and two deleted songs.
The technical presentation is excellent, which should be no surprise, as Disney excels at that. The details are great, the colors pop, the blacks are deep. There are no compression issues to deal with. The audio is clear and there's enough activity in the surround sound speakers to feel immersive.
Brother Bear 2
Brother Bear 2 is a lot harder to talk about, because there's enough continuity between the two films that a lot of basic plot details for this film are spoilers for the first one. You have been warned... At the end of the first movie, Kenia (now voiced by Patrick Dempsey) decides to remain a bear and becomes a big brother to Koda. In this movie, love is in the air and Kenia reconnects with a childhood friend, Nita, who was from a neighboring village. He has been dreaming about her. As children, he gave her an amulet and the spirits bonded them, but now that she's an adult, she's being married to a man from a neighboring village. In order to do this, she will have to destroy the amulet, and Kenia must go with her.
Brother Bear 2 is arguably the best of the Disney direct-to-DVD sequels, but that's not really a compliment for two reasons. Firstly, the original wasn't very good, so it set a low bar to get over. Secondly, the average Disney direct-to-DVD sequel is so bad that being the best of a bad lot is hardly a reason to celebrate. There are some things that work better here than in the first film, while Tuke and Rutt remain the best part of the movie. It should entertain kids, but the best Disney films are something adults will enjoy watching by themselves.
The only extra is an eight-minute featurette on the music. The technical presentation isn't as good this time around, but that's largely due to a much lower budget. There's nothing inherently wrong with the transfer and it clearly looks better than it did on DVD.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The film begins in Paris with a Gypsy singing about the bells of the Notre Dame. He then begins to tell some kids about the story about the bell-ringer. Many years before, a group of gypsies were trying to sneak into Paris. Gypsies are not welcome in Paris, at least not by Judge Claude Frollo, whose hatred of the Gypsies rises to the level of genocidal. One of the Gypsies was carrying her child when they were caught. She runs, but Judge Frollo quickly catches her on horseback and kills her, right on the steps of Notre Dame. He sees she was carrying a baby, and not stolen goods like he thought, but when he looks at the deformed child, he decides to kill it as well. The Archdeacon steps in to prevent this death and guilts Frollo into raising the child as his own.
Flash forward many years, and Judge Frollo's child, Quasimodo, has grown up to be the bell-ringer and a kind man. However, Judge Frollo told Quasimodo that his mother abandoned him and that he is a monster and that the people of Paris will never accept him. Fortunately, he as three friends, Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. Unfortunately, these three characters are hideously annoying. One of the worst parts of the movie and a near total miscalculation by the writers.
Before we get to the Festival of Fools, we meet Captain Phoebus as he rides into Paris. He sees Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy woman, and is smitten. When she is accosted by town guards, Phoebus intervenes, which allows her to get away. He has been summoned by Judge Frollo to lead the town guard. Frollo hopes Captain Phoebus will help him finally get rid of all of the Gypsies once and for all. But first, Frollo has to go to the Festival of Fools, because he is a city official, and he invites Phoebus to go along.
While watching the Festival from the church, Quasimodo, gets mixed up in the festivities. He tries his best to avoid being seen, but that doesn't work out for him. At first, the crowds there think his malformed face is a mask and crown him the King of the Fools. Then when they learn it is not a mask, they turn on him. Captain Phoebus asks for permission to end the cruelty, but Frollo refuses. It is then that Esmeralda comes to Quasimodo's rescue. This earns her the ire of Judge Frollo, but at the same time, her beauty entices him. Does this mean he will have a change of heart about exterminating the Gypsies? Nope. In fact, he thinks she's used Gypsy magic on him and he's more determined than ever to get rid of all of the Gyspies.
This film earned very good reviews, but it is not among the classics in Disney's filmography. It also missed expectations at the box office. In my opinion, the critics are way too kind. The film just doesn't work for me. I don't think the animation is as good as other Disney films of the era, although the backgrounds did look amazing. Most of the music is merely average and some of the songs were grating. Some of the characters worked, Judge Frollo makes a good villain, even if he lacked the complexity that he had in the book. I didn't get the appeal of Esmeralda. Voice work is different than live action acting and many actors who are good in one are not in the other. Esmeralda comes off as wooden and doesn't have the charisma needed. Don't get me started on the gargoyles. Finally, there's serious issues with the tone. Much of the movie is way too cartoonish for adults, or even older kids, but there are also too many really dark scenes that will be disturbing for younger kids. It takes a really good touch to balance these extremes, but the filmmakers failed here.
There are no new extras on the Blu-ray, just the audio commentary, making of featurette, and the Multi-Language Reel for the film. Also, the technical presentation isn't as strong as Brother Bear was. There are some issues with aliasing and banding, while there is crushing in some of the darker scenes. I think this is a result of trying to squeeze two movies onto one disc. It is not terrible, but it is closer to average than we've come to expect from Disney. The audio is better with clear dialogue and good use of the surround sound speakers. It's not among the best I've heard, but is is solid enough to be an improvement over the DVD.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II
Do I really have to talk about this movie? It's terrible from top to bottom. I'm not a fan of the original, and this one does everything worse. The film takes place several years after the events of the first film with Esmeralda and Phoebus married with a kid, Zephyr. Quasimodo is still living in the cathedral, but is an accepted member of the city.
A circus comes to town led by Sarousch, but he is actually a thief and uses the circus to steal from everyone. He has blackmailed Madellaine into helping him steal. Her job is to get close to Quasimodo, so they can steal La Fidèle, the most sacred of Notre Dame's bells. At first, Madellaine is repulsed by Quasimodo, but when she sees how kind he is, she begins to have feelings for him. Now she doesn't want to help Sarousch steal anymore.
Everything about this film, from the animation to the music, to the writing, etc. is worse than the first film. Many of the voice actors are back, so if you liked the cast the first time around, that's a plus. Really the only good thing about this movie is its running time. It's really short.
There is a short behind the scenes featurette with Jennifer Love Hewitt and an animated poem. Neither are worth the time. Additionally, the technical presentation is weak, because the film looks and sounds cheap. The level of detail is a lot worse and there are compression issues and digital artifacts, etc. The audio is fine, but nothing special.
I've previously reviewed these two films. I really like the first movie, as it has a great story centered on a strong female character. There's plenty of action and an intimidating villain. It does have an unfortunate tendency to go for silly humor in an otherwise serious story, but that's the only major complaint I had.
The disc is shovelware, but there's plenty of extras, including an audio commentary track and nearly an hour-long making of featurette. The Blu-ray also sports the best technical presentation of the three double-shots in this review. The details are great, the colors are vivid, the blacks are deep. There are no significant compression issues or digital artifacts. The audio is just as good with clear dialogue and lots of activity in the surround sound speakers.
On the other hand, the sequel is so unnecessary. It's not particularly bad compared to most direct-to-DVD sequels, but it doesn't have enough to make it worth watching over re-watching the original.
Again, it is shovelware, but this time the extras are much more limited. There's a short featurette on the cast, some deleted scenes, and a music video. The film itself is much cheaper than the original, and you can tell by its technical presentation. That said, it did look better than I was expecting.
I would rank these three releases in this order: Mulan - Buy from Amazon, Brother Bear - Buy from Amazon, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Buy from Amazon. Mulan is definitely worth picking up, while Brother Bear and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are more mixed in their executions.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Date posted: 2013-03-10