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November 23, 1988 - Image 5

Resource type:
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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-11-23

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ARTS

Page 5

The Michigan Doily

Wednesday, November 23, 1988

BY ALYSSA KATZ
Tired of the cutthroat competition and complexity of
college? Do you yearn for a return to childhood, to a
time of innocence and carefree bliss?
Sorry, there's no going back. But at least you can
go through the motions of being a kid. You could
infiltrate a school group at the Natural Science
Museum, put "kick me" signs on peoples' backs - or
you could trek out to the movies and throw popcorn
and spit wads while watching The Land Before Time
and Oliver & Company.
These two films are the latest in the Steven
B Spielberg/Don Bluth vs. Disney animation wars that
began a couple of years ago with An American Tail
t (Spielberg) and The Great Mouse Detective (Disney).
.While Steven Spielberg and ex-Disney animator Don
Bluth have set out to make quality animated films
~resembling classics of the genre, Walt Disney Studios
has attempted, through the use of computer graphics
and other advanced production techniques, to modernize
the animation process. But by relying on worn
stereotypes and flat characters, the venerable Disney has
clearly lost this battle.
Disney's Oliver & Company is a retelling of
Oliver Twist set in New York, with cats and dogs
. splaying many of the roles. Oliver is a tiny, cuddly
orphaned kitten who is adopted, first by a gang of
thieving dogs led by the bumbling Fagin, then by a
lonely little rich girl named Jenny. All of them are
threatened by Sykes, an evil extortionist, and his
vicious dobermans.
The production quality is excellent. The film's
director, George Scribner, is remarkably successful in
the difficult task of animating authentic-looking New
York streets. The computer animation used in this film
is often effective, allowing for amazing changes in
visual perspective. The musical numbers, sung by
Billy Joel and Bette Midler (who play a street-smart
dog and a pampered poodle, respectively) are not
spectacular, but are still entertaining.
The film's major flaw is that its characters are two-
dimensional (figuratively speaking, of course). Instead
of focusing on the development of one or two
characters, Scribner tries to give all of them a chance to
shine in the spotlight. This means that not one of
them, not even the protagonist Oliver, is given a
chance to develop much of a personality, and we never
get very close to them. As a result, it's hard to be
upset when terrible things happen to Oliver and his
friends.
This tendency towards oversimplified characteriz-
ation becomes downright offensive in the case of Tito,
a chihuahua whose voice is provided by Cheech Marin.
Tito is a stereotypical Chicano, clearly provided as

Dinos

VS.

Disney
Spielberg/Bluth's prehistoricLand outdoes
Disney's old dogs and new computer tricks

done some impressive work. But if you're looking for
an interesting script, don't bother with it.
Don Bluth, the co-producer and director of The Land
Before Time, seems to have beaten the Disney studios
at their own game by creating a film which, while not
as brilliant as the old Disney films such as Pinocchio
and Cinderella, manages nevertheless to be both
beautiful looking and fun to watch. Bluth uses
conventional animation - no computers were em-
ployed in making the film - to create, among other
things, elaborate prehistoric landscapes and the cutest
baby dinosaurs in cinematic history.
To its benefit, The Land Before Time has an almost
nonexistent plot. Littlefoot, a baby brontosaurus (or
"longneck" in this film's jargon), loses his mother
when she is slaughtered by a vicious Tyrannosaurus. In
her dying moments, she tells Littlefoot that he must
find his way to a distant green valley to be reunited
with his grandparents. Our intrepid little hero sets off
and meets up with a diverse bunch of other lost little
dinosaurs, who accompany him on his journey.
The Disney influence is pervasive. Some shots at
the beginning of the film look like they could have
been lifted directly from the "Rite of Spring" sequence
in Fantasia. An adorable interlude involving a bunch of
tiny pterodactyls is reminiscent of the old Silly
Symphonies. Littlefoot's mother's death brings Bambi
to mind. These homages help give The Land Before
Time pleasantly reassuring familiarity.
An additional reason to see The Land Before Time
is that it is preceded by Family Dog, a great animated
short about a dog's life in a suburban hell. In fact, in
its own way, Family Dog is better than either of the
full-length features. It brings a refreshing sense of
cynicism to the often over-sentimental world of anima-
tion.
Unfortunately, the film also pays tribute to
Spielberg by incorporating too much of his trademark
sentimentality. Bring a toothbrush to the theater -
things can get almost unbearably sweet at times.
Littlefoot occasionally sees images of his dead mother:
in his shadow, in a pond, in a cloud. During these
scenes, choral music surges forth, her voice echoes
down from above, and the little dinosaur cries out to
his mother. The dialogue is also corny at times, as
when Littlefoot is told, "some things you see with
your eyes; other things you see with your heart".
Cynics should keep their distance from this film; it,
may make them ill.
If you can tolerate the mushiness, you'll probably
enjoy this movie. It has a lot going for it: gorgeous
animation, a good sense of humor.and imagination, and
a brief running time - things wrap up before they
have .a chance to get boring. Disney could learn
something from this.

This holiday season viewer's have two sets of cute animals to choose from. Above
abandoned puddy-tat Oliver updates Dickens in Oliver & Company. Below, Littlefoot
gets help from his friends in finding his grandparents.

right,
(left)

comic relief - he hot-wires cars, leers at attractive
female canines, is highly talkative and listens to salsa
music. It is a shame that a movie aimed at
impressionable children contains such a blatantly racist
stereotype.
And although Oliver and Company has a pleasant
visual style, it lacks a soul. The plot churns on
mechanically; events follow one after another in a
predictable sequence, with a few musical numbers

intervening. The film also has the dubious distinction
of being the first Disney animated film to contain a
product advertisement (for Coca-Cola).
Although it contains some cute little touches, such
as the fact that one of the dog thieves is a Shakespeare-
loving snob,Oliver and Company fails to be much
more than a lot of nice looking animated scenes which
don't amount to very much. If you like good
animation, go see the film; Scribner and his crew have

Hound: Critics

take stage

BY DEBRA CHESNIN
FOR some people, the names Bird-
boot and Moon recall unlucky friends
whose parents named them during the
'60s. For others, the names are
reminiscent of Frank Zappa and his
children. For a select few, however,
the names are connected with Tom
Stoppard, and in particular, his
play,The Real Inspector Hound.
Birdboot and Moon are variations
on character names that appear in
many of Stoppard's plays, which in-
clude The Real Thing and Rosen-
crantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
"Sometimes the name will be Bird-
foot or something similar," says
producer Peter Knox. "I don't
personally know why, but he seems
to have a fascination with those
names."
In The Real Inspector Hound,
Birdboot and Moon are two drama
critics who attend a mystery with the
purpose of reviewing it, but find
themselves caught up in the play and
'the ensuing action on stage. Birdboot

is "a philandering type who buys
drinks for the actresses and promises
them that he will write a great review
of them," describes Knox. Moon is
an up-and-coming reviewer who
watches as his older partner falls in
love with the actresses he is sup-
posed to be reviewing.
The onstage play is populated by
such stereotypical murder mystery

otherwise does not deal with the
types of "socially relevant, minority
issues, women's issues and general
social struggles" that Production
Network usually focuses on, accord-
ing to staff member Linda Kendall.
In part, this is because Production
Network is only sponsoring the play,
which is being produced by Knox and
directed by B.J. Wallingford. Knox is

"It's got a twilight zone-y sort of experience... The
critic gets caught in the play within the play, but he
doesn't really notice and neither do the other
characters."
-Peter Knox, producer of The Real Inspector Hound

Knox admits that, although his
father worked for the Detroit Reper-
tory Theatre, he does not have either
the connections or the wish to be-
come "rich and famous." "I've grown
up in the design and technical aspect
of the theatre but I also love acting
and producing." says Knox. "I just
want to be able to do the kind of art
that I want to do and not be con-
trolled by the kind of art that I have
to do."
THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND
will be performed Thursday, Novem-
ber 25 through Sunday, December 4
at Performance Network. Thursday,
Friday, and Saturday performances
begin at 8 p.m., and Sunday perfor-
mances are at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are
$8, $6 for students and seniors.
WEEKEND
MAGAZINE
Fridays in The Daily
763-0379

--- Monday, November 28 and Tuesday, November 29, 7:30
p.m., Performance Network, 409 W. Washington
Three women needed for the roles of three effervescent, adventurous
explorers in the Performance Network production of On the Verge; or The
Geography of Yearning. Age range: 20s to mid-40s. Also, one man to
play a wide variety of roles, including a 16-year-old gas station attendant,
Madame Nhu, the Dragon Lady, and a middle-aged stockbroker.
Prepared audition pieces are not necessary. Copies of the script are
available at Performance Network. Call 663-0681 for more information.
" Week of December 5, Call Board of the Theatre
Department, 2nd floor, Frieze Building
Audition information for the Musical Theatre Program's winter show,
Dragons, will be posted. Auditions are tentatively scheduled for the
second week of classes winter term, January 9-15.
Auditions and Opportunities runs each Wednesday. If you have any
information regarding theater auditions or similar opportunities, contact
Cherie Curry at 763-0379.
A BOLD
STATEMENT

Y

FREE TUTORING
in all 100-200 level
Math & Science courses
UGLi rm 307
Mon-Thur 7-11 pm
Bursley rm 2333 (by main
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Mon & Thur 8-10 pm
Markley's Library
Mon & Wed 7-9 pm
S. Quad Dining Hall
Mon & Thur 8-10 pm
Sponsored by LSA St. Gov't,
UMEC, and MSA

characters as Mangus, the wheelchair
ridden half-brother of Lord Muldoon.
"It's got a twilight zone-y sort of
experience," says Knox. "The critic
gets caught in the play within the
play, but he doesn't really notice and
neither do the other characters."
The play makes fun of stereotypes
of murder mysteries and critics but
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a University School of Art alumnus
and supports himself by doing free-
lance work. "Theatre is my first love
but it is hard to make a living at it,"
says Knox. "I don't have any plans
to be rich and famous. I think people
who have that goal are either fooling
themselves or have good connec-
tions."

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