AN EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 16 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Ian Harrowell & Douglas McCarthy

Written by: Scott Gorden

Voices of: Bill Farmer, Jason Marsden, Jeff Bennett, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Vicki Lewis, Bebe Neuwirth, Rob Paulsen & Pauly Shore

Around the mid-90’s, Disney did something that forever changed opinions on the company as a whole. They began releasing cheap direct-to-video cash-ins on their most popular movies. This might not have been so bad if even the slightest bit of effort was being put into making the unnecessary follow-ups. With ALADDIN, THE LION KING, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, and even POCAHONTAS (for whatever reason) receiving sequels, it seemed like nothing was safe. As time went on, Disney began making cheaper cash-ins for their less successful and famous films, the underrated GOOFY MOVIE being one of them. I’ll give AN EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE this. It’s not nearly as a bad as it could have been. You can tell that some form of effort was behind-the-scenes in the making of this 2000 sequel to the 1995 hit. It’s definitely better than almost every other Disney sequel, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

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Max, P.J., and Bobby (once again voiced by Pauly Shore) have graduated high school and are college-bound. While Pete is overjoyed to finally get his son out of the house, Goofy is distraught at the new lonely life without Max. When he loses his factory job, Goofy goes back to college to get a degree…much to the dismay and humiliation of Max. Goofy is a fish-out-of-water whose stuck in the groovy 70’s. Meanwhile, Max and his friends compete against a group of stuck-up frat boys in order to win an X-Games-like competition.

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If nothing else, AN EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE tries to be enjoyable for older viewers and kids. The first movie walked a tightrope between heartfelt and wacky to far better effect, but there are moments in this sequel that are genuinely funny. One thing that I imagine far more adults enjoying than kids would be the 70’s memorabilia collected by Goofy and his newfound librarian girlfriend (referencing disco, mood rings, Gilligan’s Island, etc.) as well as a soundtrack that includes stuff like the Partridge Family and “Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.” It only makes sense that the Goofy storyline is more entertaining to me than Max’s storyline, but I can’t really imagine too many kids being interested in watching Goofy go to college. Maybe, Goofy falling down, being a klutz and embarrassing the crap out of his kid yet again….but setting this movie in college seems like a strange choice seeing as this is technically a G-rated kid’s movie.

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While Max was a likable teenage character in the first film, something about him is distinctly unlikable this time around. I can’t really place why that is, but it could be attributed to the clichéd college competition and Disney trying far too hard to make him relatable to the younger generation. As Disney went forward into the 2000’s, their TV shows were trying far more desperately to appeal to the cool kids…and rarely succeeding at it. A GOOFY MOVIE had that dated 90’s feel (especially with Pauly Shore voicing the punk character), but EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE manages to feel far more dated despite being the most recent of both movies. The X-Games subplot seems bland and has been seen way too many times in other movies.

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As far as other problems go, EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE looks cheaper in the quality of its animation. The biggest slap in the face comes from the recycled moral message that was already covered in the first film. This is where the movie really drops the ball and reveals what a pointless exercise in cashing-in this whole film really is. EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE tries way too hard to be…well…Extreme (what with the X-Games and college and whatnot), but doesn’t spend enough time on being goofy and genuine. This is still one of Disney’s better direct-to-video sequels (probably tied with the two ALADDIN follow-ups and, maybe, THE LION KING II), but that’s not necessarily a compliment when you consider the competition. You’re better off just sticking with A GOOFY MOVIE and ignoring this sequel.

Grade: C+

A GOOFY MOVIE (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Kevin Lima

Written by: Jymn Magon, Chris Matheson & Brian Pimental

Voices of: Bill Farmer, Jason Marsden, Rob Paulsen, Jim Cummings, Kellie Martin, Pauly Shore, Wallace Shawn & Frank Welker

Out of all the Disney characters, Goofy seemed like the oddest choice to center a movie around. This was especially strange, because Goofy’s feature film was being released at a time when Disney was changing its image in the midst of the “Disney Renaissance.” With the likes of ALADDIN, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, and THE LION KING having already made huge waves, I’m sure it seemed as if Disney was taking a step backwards with 1995’s A GOOFY MOVIE. However, their risk eventually paid off as this is one of Disney’s most underrated movies. It also bears mentioning that I do have serious nostalgia for this film, but I’m trying to be as non-biased as possible in this review. Taken on its own merits, A GOOFY MOVIE is a comedy unlike many that Disney has pumped out and remains refreshing to this day.

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One can only assume that A GOOFY MOVIE takes place after all of the previous hijinks with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and (of course) Goofy, seeing as Goofy and Pete have kids of their own. Max, Goofy’s son, is a typical rebellious teenager trying to catch the eye of his high school crush, Roxanne. He accomplishes this by crashing an assembly, but lands himself in hot water with the principal. With Goofy worried about his son becoming a juvenile delinquent (and “winding up in the electric chair”), he decides to take an impromptu road trip with Max. The only problem is that Max had a date lined up with Roxanne. In order to avoid humiliation, Max lies about the road trip and promises to appear on the stage of a famous rock star’s concert. Goofy and Max encounter turbulence on their wacky vacation, only to find that their father-son bond can get them through anything.

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Like many Disney films, A GOOFY MOVIE uses musical numbers throughout its story. Each of these songs sticks out for unique reasons, whether they’re wacky or sentimental or undeniably catchy. Some of these tunes have aged a bit seeing as this was the 90’s (mainly the opening number of “After Today”), but they are all enjoyable to some degree. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a moral in what some could consider a Goofy short turned feature film, you’d be surprised at how touching the overall message about fathers and sons really is. A GOOFY MOVIE mainly sticks to being, well, goofy, but there’s definitely a sweet and heartfelt side too. It’s all boosted by Goofy appearing as a lovable (though extremely annoying) father and Max coming off as a sympathetic teenager trying to live his own life.

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GOOFY MOVIE is also very, very funny. The fast-paced road trip plot gives an excuse to launch Goofy and Max into unexpected ridiculous areas, including a possum theme park and an encounter with Bigfoot. If there’s any film I’d compare A GOOFY MOVIE to, it would be Disney does National Lampoon’s VACATION. The humor is far less crass than that adult comedy, but there’s an edgier side to a few of the jokes that observant older viewers will catch. As funny as the wacky humor and funny lines of dialogue are, not everything works…especially Pauly Shore voicing a Mohawk-sporting, sunglasses-wearing punk (yet another sign that this was the 90’s).

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It may not be nearly up to the same level as ALADDIN or THE LION KING, but A GOOFY MOVIE is well worth watching for Disney fans. This was made at a time when Disney was trying a little too hard to be cool with their TV shows and that sort of translates to this film in its sheer 90’s-ness (fashion trends and Pauly Shore). As a result, GOOFY MOVIE isn’t necessarily great or close to perfect, but it’s one of Disney’s most underrated efforts. Don’t judge it, until you watch it. Two decades later (I can’t believe it’s been that long), A GOOFY MOVIE remains a solid film in Disney’s animated library.

Grade: B+

HERCULES (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker

Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker & Barry Johnson

Voices of: Tate Donovan, Josh Keaton, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Susan Egan, Rip Torn, Bobcat Goldthwait & Matt Frewer

It happened. I had been on such a good streak for a while and I finally stumbled across some misguided nostalgia from my childhood yet again. I vaguely remember seeing HERCULES at the drive-in. I was six years-old at the time, Disney movies were pretty much the only films that I was able to see on the big screen. At the time, I loved this film. This was on repeat at my house after it hit its VHS release. Having watched this Disney take on mythology for the first time in a solid decade, I can safely say that I really don’t like this film anymore. I’ve heard people complain about HERCULES for Disneyfying Greek mythology or misrepresenting certain parts of the legend of Hercules. Neither of those are my complaints with this movie, instead my problems with Disney’s version of HERCULES stem from it feeling far too rushed with little to no character development, the dusty pop culture references, and interchangeable musical numbers. 1997’s HERCULES is a big mixed bag.

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Zeus and Hera have given birth to a new Greek god named Hercules. The baby has immeasurable strength and is loved by every god on Mount Olympus. However, the ruler of the underworld, Hades, decides to kill Hercules in order to secure an evil future plan for the control of Mount Olympus. The assassination attempt goes sour and Hercules winds up as a Demi-God. As an awkward misfit with superhuman strength, the teenage Hercules discovers his true identity and trains under the guidance of Phil to become a hero. Hoping that his good deeds will eventually earn him a place back in Mount Olympus, Hercules winds up falling for frequent damsel-in-distress Meg and draws the attention of Hades, who is more than a little pissed to find that Hercules is still alive.

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The biggest problems with HERCULES become apparent in the first five minutes of running time. We are introduced to the Muses who sing a gospel themed tune prologue about titans and gods. The song is forgettable and forced. The pacing of the prologue feels overly rushed and doesn’t give the viewer enough time to gander at the images being presented on the screen. It doesn’t get much better from that point, because the Muses reappear to sing more gospel tunes about Hercules’s progress throughout. Even when the Muses aren’t part of a musical number, the songs from Hercules (the best of the bunch, but only okay), Phil (way too forced) and Meg (a simplistic song about being in love) are pretty mediocre for the most part. The pacing of this film is messy. It feels like the filmmakers tried to cram all of the Hercules story into the space of 90 minutes while focusing too much on pop culture references.

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Since the script feels like it’s rushing by way too fast, this doesn’t exactly leave much room for character development. We get the whole conflict of a teenage Hercules in the space of 5 minutes and it’s mainly played up as a tired joke. I couldn’t feel much for Hercules, because he’s simply the bland hero. While Meg definitely has more attitude than your typical helpless damsel in distress, she’s not exactly likable and you might wonder what Hercules sees in her. Meanwhile, Danny DeVito is simply shouting his lines as Phil. James Woods’s Hades is the only character in HERCULES that I actually liked. The casting decision was pretty genius and he plays the God of the Underworld as a slick, slimy jerk with deadly intentions. He’s simply a blast to watch, but his moments (much like everything else in this film) pass by far too quickly. Though Hades is a solid villain, his two demon sidekicks, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer), perform a tired slapstick routine for the entire movie.

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If there’s anything that I can honestly praise in HERCULES, aside from James Woods playing Hades, it would be the animation style itself. The songs might be forced. The characters might be bland. The movie might move at a pace that’s too fast for its own good. In spite of all of these things, 1997’s HERCULES looks cool. There’s a combination of CGI and traditional animation on display. It blends together quite well, especially in a sequence when Hercules faces off against a many-headed Hydra. The odd animation style is creative and I liked it a lot. It’s really a pit that it’s being wasted on such a mediocre script.

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HERCULES has two qualities that could possibly make it worth recommending to certain people. You have James Woods playing Hades. That would sell me on morbid curiosity alone. The animation is really unlike anything that Disney has done before or since. It’s a very odd look and I enjoyed the visuals a lot. However, that doesn’t nearly make up for bland characters, shaky pacing, and forced musical numbers. I didn’t like HERCULES, but not because it put an overly Disney spin on Greek mythology. Instead, it’s simply because I found the film to be a mixed bag with two good qualities and a lot of bad ones. Overall, HERCULES is on the lower end of Disney’s animated spectrum (not including direct-to-video sequels, of course).

Grade: C

MULAN (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook

Written by: Rita Hsiao, Philip LaZebnik & Chris Sanders

Voices of: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, Jerry Tondo & James Hong

During the 90’s, the Disney Renaissance was in full force. The studio had hit a streak of hits with LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and THE LION KING. Though none of their other Renaissance efforts reached the massive success that those three aforementioned films raked in, Disney was pumping out creative and interesting projects. You really wouldn’t assume that a company known for focusing on fairy tales, talking animals, and family friendly material would touch a Chinese legend or a war story…but that’s exactly what they do in 1998’s MULAN to glorious effect. This beautifully animated film is among Disney’s best. It’s a fantastic, progressive and amazing piece of work that I absolutely adore.

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In Ancient China, Fa Mulan is a young woman struggling to find her identity. While society wants to place her in the strict position of subservient wife, Mulan yearns for something more. When the Huns attack China and her elderly father is summoned to war, Mulan decides to make a sacrifice to save her father’s life and preserve their family honor. She cuts her hair, dons his armor and sneaks off in the middle of the night to take his place in the army. Aided by the small dragon Mushu, Mulan struggles to become a “man” in her military camp and keep her identity a secret from her fellow soldiers. This is easier said than done and the Huns are drawing closer.

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MULAN walks a fine line in Disney entertainment between all-out seriousness and silly fun. It would normally be difficult to take any film seriously that has Eddie Murphy voicing a dragon, but that’s exactly how MULAN should be taken. Yes, there’s some comic relief, but the film has a remarkably mature attitude and vision of the legend that it’s retelling. There’s not only the obvious message about sexism and never judging a book by its cover, but morals about the importance of family, identity, and doing what is right in the face of danger. Mulan is an instantly likable protagonist who goes through big character arcs by the end of the film. She’s a heroine for the ages and that’s especially impressive when you consider that this is a “kid’s movie.” Mushu and a lucky cricket deliver comic relief that will entertain kids, while the colorful side characters provide the best jokes in the whole film. Everything is boosted by a soundtrack full of memorable and powerful musical numbers that perfectly blend right into the story. This entire film is one of those wonderful occasions where everyone in the family can enjoy this film for the same reasons. It’s a story about strength and courage that can be appreciated by all ages.

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The seriousness of the film comes in that this is technically a war movie. Mulan is a soldier and though there aren’t going be bloody battle sequences (after all, this is still Disney), but there are definitely dark moments throughout. The opening of the film shows us the Huns attacking the Great Wall of China and even if you’re seven years old (which I was when I first saw this movie), you can easily guess that those guards on the wall were killed. A walk through the burning landscape of a fallen Chinese camp is especially grim for this family film, but the risk to go that dark pays off in the final third that shows the courage of people willing to rise to the occasion to protect their families and friends. If there is any problem to be found in this film, it would be Shan Yu who is pretty much played as a bland villainous warlord. That’s far from a glaring flaw though.

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During Disney’s Renaissance (1989-1999), the studio was taking far more risks about which stories to tell. These new stories took us from the African savanna to Arabian nights to pre-Colonial America to France. Ancient China is certainly a creative and original setting for a family film. I imagine that it came out of nowhere for Disney fans at the time and they were all the more rewarded through it. MULAN is an A-worthy treasure from Disney!

Grade: A

ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action Violence

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Directed by: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise

Written by: Tab Murphy & David Reynolds

Voices of: Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, Don Novello, Phil Morris, Claudia Christian, Jacqueline Obradors, Corey Burton & Leonard Nimoy

After the Disney Renaissance in the late-80’s and early-90’s, it seemed like the studio’s animated output was in an ever more noticeable slump. It’s not as if every single one of these movies were bad, but they definitely were on the a lower level from the amazing streak that included LION KING, BEAUTY & THE BEAST and ALADDIN. ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE was probably the definite tipping point where Disney’s animation was just failing to connect with most general audiences. You have to give Disney points for aiming to tell a Jules Verne-esque adventure as opposed to a safer fairy tale property. The studio expected that this film would be a massive hit too. So much so that they ordered two episodes for a TV series (later transformed into yet another unnecessary direct-to-video sequel) and had begun planning to construct a ride in their California theme park (which was soon scrapped right after this movie flopped at the box office). However, ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE is a decent out-of-the-ordinary adventure that I feel is a bit underrated.

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It’s 1914 and the geeky Milo Thatch finds himself trying to finance a quest to the lost city of Atlantis. Milo’s dream journey comes true when he meets Preston Whitmore (a friend of his grandfather’s). With all the resources that he needs (multiple submarines, vehicles, and an eccentric crew), Milo sets off on an exciting expedition to the legendary lost city of Atlantis. Along the way, he and his fellow crew members will encounter giant underwater beasties, deadly environments, a power beyond anyone’s imagination and a thriving civilization thought to be dead.

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Again, props to Disney for stepping out of their comfort zone. That’s the one sure thing that I can really praise about the weird time period (and downfall) after Disney’s animated Renaissance. Disney kept trying new things, even if their executions of those ideas made for a few missed opportunities. ATLANTIS feels like the studio was trying too hard in areas, especially with the quirky band of characters. There’s not much to any of these crew members except for little chuckles. The Frenchman acts like a dirty mole and that’s played for laughs. The demolitions expert has a soft side, but passionately loves explosives. Then there’s the chain-smoking communications expert who’s apathetic about everything. Those are only a handful of the many one-note jokes of characters in ATLANTIS. Milo is a bland protagonist too, but the worst character comes in an unremarkable villain whose only motivation is clichéd greed. It’s been seen before and in much better movies.

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Now that those complaints have been addressed, I can say that this film is beautifully animated with a very distinct style that I haven’t seen pulled off in any other Disney releases. The combination of computer animation as well as traditional 2D drawings work really well into a unique look. The action scenes are pretty exciting and well-done. Though the characters might be as bland as can be, the plot of ATLANTIS is highly creative. You can tell there was a lot of imagination at work. One could argue that a giant piece of exposition at the end, which proceeds to explain every plot hole and answer every question in the space of a single conversation, seems to be drag on for too long and is almost making itself up as it goes along.

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Even if it did lose its studio a lot of money (as well as a failed TV series and a scrapped theme park ride), ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE has earned a respectable cult following since its release. Problems are evident in bland characters, a slightly distracting focus on being hip, and one monologue that seems to be making itself up as it goes along. There’s still far more positive qualities here that outweigh the complaints. In the end, ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE is an entertaining science-fiction adventure that may have signaled a further downward spiral in Disney’s box office performance, but holds up as an underrated and unique animated flick.

Grade: B-

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