Legacy Content

Jim on Film
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by (archives)
May 18, 2005
Jim talks about some of his favorite "non-Disney" Disney films.

When I first learned that Disney was not really only Disney, I was more than a little shocked. Quite young at the time, it had never occurred to me that the studio that had made all my favorite Disney movies and was such a huge presence had ever made anything else. Not only was it a shock to learn that this was the case, I was really shocked to learn some of the movies made by Disney.

For me, Disney is Disney, and anything without that label isn’t. I guess I’m pretty narrow-minded. As a result, I’ve never given much thought to non-Disney Disney movies, except to take note of their existence, which has resulted in a working knowledge of them.

Part of this attitude comes from the general lackluster quality of many Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures releases. The singles and doubles approach to filmmaking proved profitable on many levels, but it also hindered the studio from making many non-Disney films that will have lasting value. Looking at my limited shelf of non-Disney movies, most of them are titles Disney wouldn’t have touched-expensive superhero movies like X-Men, smart and gentle pictures like Sense and Sensibility, or star-driven features like The Client.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t any non-Disney Disney films that have made an impression or have been enjoyable. While You Were Sleeping, Sister Act, and Pearl Harbor were all great movies, but here are just some of the non-Disney Disney titles that have captured my memory above and beyond.

Emma (1996) You gotta love Jane Austen. Miramax released this splendid adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel of a cupid who is “armed and dangerous,? as the film’s tagline declared. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a fine performance as Emma, the matchmaker who means well but cannot see far enough beyond herself to get it right. While it’s been many years since seeing the movie, it’s faithful clinging to Austen’s story and heart has always remained with me.

To me, Emma was always a film that should have been made and released by Disney. A film like Emma could have taken the family studio in some exciting new directions.

Evita (1996) At the time that the film version of Evita was in theaters, I couldn’t understand why people weren’t running to see it. I thought it was unjust that Madonna wasn’t at least nominated for an Academy Award. Now, so many years later and with much more theatrical experience behind me, I can definitely see the limitations in the film, but it is still a glorious film experience every time I watch it.

Director Alan Parker, with his characters moving in unison and his use of noir-esque camera shots during a bounty of montages, definitely puts style over substance, but it is so striking visually that it’s hard to blame him for the choice. It’s also that style which rescues Madonna’s performance, who teeters between strong, emotional vocals and artificial emoting. Within Parker’s stylistic world, Madonna makes for an effective and passionate Eva Peron, one whose voice probably couldn’t carry the character on stage but works nicely for film.

The highlight of the film for me has always been the Waltz for Eva and Ché, a beautifully choreographed dance in which Evita offers her defense and then spirals into her bout with cancer. You Must Love Me, written specifically for the film and deservingly winning the Academy Award, is another touching moment performed perfectly by Madonna. To Madonna’s credit, by the end of the movie, the audience feels something for this complex woman and grieves over her premature death.

Felicity, pilot episode (1998) The first episode of the Touchstone drama Felicity, which aired on the WB, originally caught my eye because of Mouseketeer Keri Russell. I wasn’t prepared for how clearly it would reflect my own thoughts and experiences upon high school graduation, a time in which the world seems open to limitless possibilities and teenagers are first released from the constraint of parents and school in order to pursue them. Felicity’s desire to break out of what her parents expected her to do and to experience that which she knew was waiting for her if she would only have the courage to pursue it speaks so clearly to life at that age. Her first days in college, meeting new people, and struggling through the new experiences tapped into a vein of universal experience.

Sadly, the next episode would set the tone for the rest of the series, which quickly reduced itself to maudlin sentiment as Felicity struggled with which boy she should choose, which is a sappy, overused premise that lacks any hint of reality or of the untapped potential that sprouted from the pilot episode.

Maybe This Time (1995-1996) The very talented Marie Osmond and Betty White starred in this under-rated Touchstone sitcom that aired on ABC . Marie Osmond’s Julia was a single mother raising her daughter while operating her coffee shop with the help of her mother, played by Betty White. The sitcom was rare enough to feature a regular Asian cast member in a role that was not only comedic but managed to be so without depending upon Asian stereotypes. Also featured in the cast was Craig Ferguson, who is host of his own late night show on CBS.

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