Disney’s Sleeping Beauty fits into a trite and unchallenging category of Disney animated films. It has none of the spectacle of the company’s pre-war epic such as Fantasia or Bambi, nor the great music of the 90’s Renaissance. However, it fares slightly better than some of the truly atrocious movies the studio put out under Ron Miller in the 70s and 80s. Let’s face it: nobody who has seen this movie actually cares about the titular Princess Aurora or her prince. This movie is all about the three fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) and their duking it out with the evil (is she a witch?) Maleficent voiced by the magnificent Eleanor Audley (whose scratchy, heavy voice can be heard throughout numerous Disney creations). The fairies are hilarious and charming, constantly bickering with each other and having magic fights with their wands. Everyone knows the movie is really about them. And Maleficent is perhaps the coolest villain Disney ever came up with. I mean: how many Disney villains actually summon “all the powers of Hell” to their aid? So if you like bickering fairies and Satanic villains (that’s me!), Sleeping Beauty is worth seeing.
As noted earlier, the Walt Disney company suffered artistically under Walt’s son-in-law Ron Miller. Under the Miller regime we got such brilliant turkey fare as Return From Witch Mountain (1978), Tron (1982), and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980). Believe me, 1974’s The Rescuers is better than those, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. I had a feeling something was wrong during the opening credits when we’re shown various still frames of a bottle bouncing around in the ocean. A slideshow! In a Disney movie! I mean for God’s sake, they couldn’t spend the extra two thousand dollars to animate the opening credits? The plot involves Bernard and Bianca, two mice who work for the Rescue Aid Society. They are sent on a mission to rescue a little girl called Penny from an evil pawn broker with the salacious name of Medusa (voiced curiously enough by Geraldine Page). It’s harmless, but it’s poorly written and sloppily animated and the characters just don’t keep the audience interested. Penny is almost offensively cute and in the end you feel more identification with Medusa – or at least with her crocodilian sidekicks Nero and Brutus.
While Disney was bursting onto the scene with this like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, a Japanese animation company known as Studio Ghibli was making a name for itself on the other side of the world. Directed by the now famous Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was the sixth feature to emanate from the studio. Curiously, it doesn’t fit well into the two types of films Miyazaki likes to make, namely the high fantasy environmental epic and the cute, slow-moving children’s adventure. Porco Rosso is more like an Indiana Jones movie. Lots of action, lots of humor, with brilliant one-dimensional characters. The title refers to our “unlikely” hero Marco Rossellini who, after deserting the Italian air force during World War I is mysteriously transformed into a man with a pig’s head. Very little is made of this fact in the film. I think it would have been just as great had Marco been a human. But it’s animation and isn’t that what we came to see? Porco Rosso is, as expected, another great film from Studio Ghibli. It seems to be a running gag that everything Miyazaki touches turns to gold. Well, almost everything.