Tag Archives: the little mermaid

Disney gets the Lego Treatment

maxresdefault-3Lego is one of the most popular toy manufacturers on the planet. They’ve become known for their building block style toys that come in various shapes, sizes, and colors and can be combined to form castles, pirate ships, space crafts, and other fantastic designs. They also have struck gold with their mini figures, simplistic action figures that embody the Lego design and make great pilots, captains, and heroes to pair with the various sets. It used to be you had to buy a construction set to get a figure or two, but for several years now Lego has capitalized on the appeal of its mini figures by releasing them individually in blind bag assortments. Even more recently, Lego has decided to apply a popular license for these blind bag releases. For the past two years, that license was The Simpsons. I was rather fond of this decision and really it got me back into Lego after not buying a set since I was a kid. The Simpsons I feel still had legs and a series three would have been welcomed by me, but Lego has apparently killed that line and decided to go with a new license:  Disney.

Theming a line of figures on the Disney license is almost as broad as creating a line of “People” figures. The Walt Disney Company has been putting out animated and live action films for nearly a century. The company has its own television station full of original programming, plus it owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and ABC to name a few. And since Lego already makes Star Wars and Marvel sets, it stands to reason that their Disney themed wave of mini figures could include those franchises if it wanted to. What it really means for Lego is that its first wave of Disney mini figures is an amalgamation of a few popular Disney properties. The first set of 18 Disney figures contains popular Disney creations like Mickey Mouse and Donald, characters from classic animated films like Aladdin and Peter Pan, and also a few Pixar figures to round things out. There are likely fans out there who would have preferred it if Lego stuck to the classic animated films, or maybe even just the Mickey and friends line, but Lego opted to try to please a wide consumer base.

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A motley crew of Disney plastic.

As someone who likes Disney and is married to a woman who LOVES Disney, it meant i had to collect this line with the same vigor as I did with The Simpsons. The wave hit retail on May 1st, though a few lucky individuals probably found them earlier. Like other mini figure waves, this series is released in blind bags so the consumer doesn’t know what they’re buying, unless they’re willing to sit and prod at each bag to feel the figure out. As Lego did with The Simpsons, they’ve chosen to make custom head sculpts for a lot of the Disney characters, basically all of the non-humanoid ones. That means finding Mickey and Minnie when groping a plastic bag is actually pretty easy, same for Sticth as well as the ducks, Donald and Daisy. I actually found the entire wave pretty easy to feel out and went a perfect 18 for 18 with my purchases. Now, if only I had better luck at finding the figures at big box retailers. Stores like Target and Toys R Us sell each figure for 3.99 a piece, but I got stuck hitting up specialty shops that charged 6.99. The things I do for love.

 

Unlike The Simpsons, these Disney figures are not released alongside any standard Lego sets, which is a bummer. Lego does have a line of Disney centric Lego Friends sets which focus on the various princess characters. The Friends line is Lego’s girl line, because apparently girls can’t handle traditional mini figures and bricks, and it’s clear Lego avoided duplicating characters it had already released as part of that line. The set of 18 is mostly free of the princess characters, with the exception of a mermaid Ariel. Alice from Alice in Wonderland is also included, but I don’t think she’s ever been considered a “princess.” From the Mickey and Friends collection, we have Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy. Any Disney fan immediately sees that list and says “Where’s Goofy?!” He’s missing in action here. The four who are included look pretty good though. Donald and Daisy even have a little duck “butt” piece which is pretty funny but also pragmatic. Mickey is kind of dull though as he comes with no unique pieces or accessories. He doesn’t even have a tail! That’s a problem I’ll address later as it’s a recurring problem. Not the tail, but the lack of accessories to go along with these figures.

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Ursula’s got it going on.

From the Disney animated classics group of films, there’s the following:  Alice, Cheshire Cat, Maleficent, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Stitch, Ursula, Ariel, Aladdin, and the Genie. All are done fairly well, though characters like Aladdin and Pan suffer from being a bit too conventional and kind of boring in appearance. Genie suffers a little in that he’s fairly unique, but the efforts made to convey that don’t work so well. Instead of getting a more unique sculpt, he’s actually a standard mini figure with add-on pieces to round out his look. He does have a “ghost” lower body which is kind of neat, but he still doesn’t really look all that much like the Genie from Aladdin. Plus Lego got really cheap with his gold cuffs and only painted half of his wrist. Maleficent is unique in that she doesn’t have legs, but a triangular block for a base to simulate her robes. It works pretty well as a visual, though it’s probably not fun for kids to play with. Ursula is definitely the cream of the crop as she gets a uniquely sculpted lower body that looks great. Ariel does as well, but her tail is rather blocky and unappealing to look at. I get that Lego is supposed to be blocky, but there’s just something off with Ariel’s look.

 

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The piece Lego fanatics have been waiting years for:  duck butt.

Pixar is also featured, albeit in a minor way. There aren’t many Pixar characters that would work as Lego mini figures, but Lego did pick some suitable ones. From Toy Story, there’s Buzz Lightyear and the Alien, and from The Incredibles we have Mr. Incredible and his foe Syndrome. Buzz is the star of the four. While he doesn’t quite look like the Buzz we know and love, the unique pieces included give him a lot of personality. The Alien gets a unique head sculpt and looks fine, while Mr. Incredible and Syndrome look about as good as they can, though they’re a little boring. I don’t dislike any of the four, and actually really like Buzz, but I am left wishing Lego had stuck with more conventional Disney properties and gave Pixar its own wave.

 

With any release like this, it’s easy to zero in on what’s missing. Properties like Pinnochio, Snow White, and The Lion King are synonymous with Disney but not represented here. There’s also a lack of quality accessories that’s kind of disappointing. Mickey comes with none, when he should come with Pluto. He could have come with some clothing type accessories like his sorcerer’s hat, something which is better than nothing. Ursula comes with King Triton’s trident but not his crown, and Ariel comes with an oyster shell with a pink jewel in it. Maybe I need to watch The Little Mermaid again because I don’t remember that amongst her many treasures. I’d rather she come with a fork, I mean, dinglehopper, though a Flounder would have been better. Stitch, Cheshire Cat, and the Alien all come with no accessories, and Aladdin and the Genie both come with the same lamp. Couldn’t Aladdin at least have come with a black Jafar’s lamp? These figures aren’t really all that cheap, the least Lego could do is make sure each character has at least one appropriate accessory to round them out.

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Pan looks kind of bloodthirsty, not that Hook looks like any less of a maniac.

Criticisms aside, I do think this is a pretty solid wave of mini figures and a nice start for the Disney line. I assume there will at least be a wave two and I’m hopeful Lego will explore some Disney sets, especially if they’re based on Disney World or Disneyland. As far as a potential wave 2 is concerned, I would assume some characters are no-brainers. Goofy, Woody, and Jessie seem like locks. Near locks would include Mrs. Incredible, Frozone, and Jafar. If Lego really wants to stick with the films its already touched upon, then characters like King Triton and the Queen of Hearts certainly have a shot as well. I’m hopeful that Pinnochio and Jiminy Cricket get a look, and a Beast and Gaston would be pretty awesome. It’ll probably be nearly a year before we know what’s to come, but until then it will be fun to speculate.

UPDATE:  Well it took Lego a few months to unveil it, they did indeed confirm a Lego version of Disney World’s iconic Cinderella Castle is coming this September. It will retail for $350 (ouch!) and total over 4,000 pieces and come bundled with 5 mini figures. Making her traditional Lego debut will be Tinker Belle and she’s joined by a tuxedo-clad Mickey, a red polka-dot version of Minnie, a pink version of Daisy, and Donald, who appears to be identical to his previously released figure. It looks pretty slick, and it’s hard to argue with the character choices. The castle interior looks like it will be full of easter eggs, and possibly hints for future mini figures, and the only initial piece of criticism I could offer is the depth of the castle looks shallow. It likely would have benefitted from a hinged design to make the base at least appear bigger. Aside from that, it’s a nice piece of eye candy and something I’m going to have to buy for my Disney-obsessed wife.LEGO_71040_fi

 


Oliver & Company

Oliver & Company (1988)

Oliver & Company (1988)

Memories are a funny thing.  What we choose to remember and forget really isn’t up to us.  The brain just kind of erases and deletes things as it sees fit without any conscious thought or action.  And when it comes to what we see and how we perceive our world, the brain has more say in that than we are often aware.  The eyes allow one to see, but it’s the brain that has to decode the feed like a receiver and actually tell the body what is there.  As a result, we can often remember things not how we saw them, but how we perceived them.  It gets really interesting when trying to recall a first memory. I have a few that could be considered my first memory and they’re all from around age 2.  The thing is though, I don’t know if these memories are real or if I’ve created them in just trying to reach back or from hearing a story.  It can be kind of wild to really think about it, and perhaps I’m better off just accepting what my brain says are my earliest memories.

One early memory I’m pretty confident in is my first trip to a movie theater.  I don’t know what went into it, where it was, or even what we did when there, but I do know that the first movie I ever saw in a theater was Disney’s Oliver & Company.  Oliver & Company came out in 1988 so I would have been around 4 years old.  Now everyone is used to films coming out on DVD or Blu Ray around six months after a film debuts in theaters.  When I was a kid this was not the case at all.  Some were released in about a year, but with Disney it was several years or not at all.  Disney spent a ton of money on its animated films and many did not turn a profit during the initial theatrical run.  Disney banked on theatrical re-releases to stay afloat so the company was very careful in what it released for the home market.  This philosophy was in place until The Little Mermaid was released and the home video market was thriving.  At that point, Disney had made a bunch of money already off the film and figured to make a whole lot more if it was available for Christmas.  The Little Mermaid was the film that followed Oliver & Company.  As such, Oliver & Company didn’t see a home video release until 1996, long after I stopped caring about Disney movies.

The film starts off like it might be a buddy flick with Oliver and Dodger before the cast is eventually expanded upon.

The film starts off like it might be a buddy flick with Oliver and Dodger before the cast is eventually expanded upon.

Because of Disney’s home video release schedule, when I sat down recently to watch my newly purchased copy of Oliver & Company on Blu Ray it was the first time I had seen the movie since I was four years old and in a theater for the first time.  It was kind of a surreal experience as I watched this film.  There were things I remembered, like Tito’s “Hey man, check it out,” line, and there were things I forgot I remembered like Dodger’s memorable “Why Should I Worry?” song.  There were also many things I had completely forgotten.  Before I sat down to watch the film a second time I could not have even begun to speculate on what the villain looked like.  I probably would not have remembered the name of the little girl (Jenny) and I certainly would not have been able to recall any of the names of the other dogs in the picture.  In many ways I felt like I was seeing the film for the first time, but there was an old familiarity there as well that created a rather warm experience.

Oliver & Company is probably not a film remembered by many.  I wasn’t even aware of the Blu Ray release and I’m someone who is pretty plugged into these kinds of things.  That’s not to say the film isn’t noteworthy for a few reasons.  Most notably, it was the film that basically laid the groundwork for all of the Disney animated features to follow.  Films that would prove to be far more successful than Oliver & Company (not that Oliver & Company wasn’t a success, it just wasn’t as big as the films to follow) like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.  It was the first to really utilize that Broadway format of interspersing narrative and song in a very MTV like fashion.  Sometimes the plot feels almost ancillary, as if it exists simply to move the film to the next music video.  I’m not a fan of this approach, and as a result, I tend to prefer Disney’s older films to the modern ones but there are films that are able to succeed with this approach.  Oliver & Company does, but on the most basic level.  It’s harmless entertainment and it has a good heart but there’s no deep undercurrent to the plot or there really aren’t any big visual moments.  The villain of the film is only ever lurking on the periphery.  He’s menacing, but not on the level of any of the big villains to follow.  This is partially due to the film’s short running time (74 minutes) and due to the fact that the story is a fairly simple one.

Marin's Tito ends up being the star of the film.

Marin’s Tito ends up being the star of the film.

The protagonist of the film is a small orange kitten named Oliver trying to find a place for himself in the world.  As indicated by the title, this is an adaptation of Dickens’ Oliver Twist but only loosely so.  There are quite a few celebrities on the cast for this one including a young Joey Lawrence as Oliver.  Billy Joel plays Dodger, a street-wise dog who is basically the alpha of a pack of thieving canines doing the bidding of the mostly harmless thief Fagin, played by Dom DeLuise.   Cheech Marin plays Tito, the wise-cracking chihuahua and Bette Midler is a pampered poodle named Georgette.  The cast does a good job with what they are given with Marin probably showing the best.  The music is obviously a big part of the picture and the opening number “Once Upon a Time in New York City” is performed well by Huey Lewis.  Joel’s number “Why Should I Worry?” is the star of the film.  It starts off as a smooth jazz number before the heat gets turned up.  It’s infectious.  The rest of the musical numbers fall pretty flat though.  Midler’s “Perfect Isn’t Easy” is supposed to be another big number that makes use of some early CAD technology but it just isn’t there.  The film kind of meanders along for the last half of the picture as a result.

Visually the film resembles a lot of the other Disney works that utilize the Xerox technology that debuted with One-Hundred and One Dalmatians.  The edges of the characters are rough and sketch-like.  Some of the backgrounds are as well.  It works when the film is trying to present some of the grimier locations in New York but it doesn’t work for the glitzy Times Square.  Disney’s animation, like its profits, took off after Oliver & Company and the company was willing to invest a bit more into each successive picture.  This isn’t a bad looking movie and it has its own visual charms, but it does lag behind Disney’s better works.

Oliver & Company is a really unremarkable movie but one that does hold a lot of nostalgic value for me.  If I didn’t have such a unique relationship with it I probably would not own it.  That’s not to say that it’s bad or anything.  I did enjoy watching the film for what it is, but it is mostly disposable entertainment.  For adult animation fans, this is hardly essential viewing, but if you have kids that will consume anything Disney then they will have some fun with Oliver & Company.


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