BAMBI (1942). Is it nothing short of monstrous not to consider the beloved Bambi one of the very best of Disney's 50 (and counting) official animated features? Arriving in the first wave of the studio's cherished big-screen output, this saga about a young deer's maturation contains neither the dark complexity of Pinocchio nor the bright hilarity of Dumbo — though it surely deserves some sort of mention for the emotional devastation caused when "Man" takes out Bambi's mom, a seminal cinematic moment for children that surpasses even the fate of Old Yeller. Where the picture most triumphs is in its vision of nature and the inevitability of change, growth and the cycle beginning anew each season. Walt Disney elected to use real children to provide the voices of the youthful characters (as opposed to the usual course of adults pretending to be kids), and this decision makes the oversized "acting" often difficult to take. But the characters are all genuinely likable, from Friend Owl to Flower the skunk to the scene-stealing Thumper the rabbit.
Blu-ray extras include an interactive exploration of Walt's story meetings for Bambi (featuring interviews, voice reenactments, cartoons and more); an interactive "activity book" centering on Bambi's forest home; an interactive art gallery (with production photos, storyboards and more); a 9-minute making-of piece; two deleted scenes; and the deleted song "Twitterpated."
11 HARROWHOUSE (1974). Charles Grodin has enlivened many a film as either the comic foil (Midnight Run, Heaven Can Wait) or sad-sack protagonist (The Heartbreak Kid, Beethoven), but whoever had the bright idea of casting him as a jewel thief/romantic lead in 11 Harrowhouse was clearly barking up the wrong tree. Then again, perhaps it was Grodin himself, since he was also responsible for bringing Gerald A. Browne's novel to the screen (he receives "adaptation" credit; Jeffrey Bloom gets "screenplay" billing). Grodin plays a diamond salesman who's hired by an inscrutable millionaire (Trevor Howard) to rob a London clearinghouse (located at the title address) of its sizable gem reserve from under the nose of its ruthlessly efficient head (John Gielgud). His wealthy girlfriend (Candice Bergen) is game to lend a hand, but the most valuable assistance comes from a disgruntled employee (James Mason) at the facility. Grodin's voice-over narration throughout the course of the picture is overbearing, while Bergen delivers the same sort of monotonous performance that earned her a label as one of the worst actresses of the seventies (check out The Golden Turkey Awards as evidence). Mason offers a measure of dignity to the project; the rest is slapdash and unconvincing, climaxing with an endless chase through Howard's opulent estate.
The only extra on the DVD is the original theatrical trailer.
THE LAST UNICORN (1982). Shades of Bambi: Would the act of giving The Last Unicorn a mediocre rating be tantamount to kicking a puppy? This animated feature from the Rankin-Bass team (with further backing from Japan, Germany and England) was hardly a blockbuster upon its original release (at least not stateside), but over time it has developed a sizable following — heck, even my own daughter (now 19) has watched it countless times over the years. Peter S. Beagle adapted his own novel about the title critter (voiced by Mia Farrow), who sets out to discover if there are any other unicorns existing outside her neck of the woods. She eventually teams up with a bumbling wizard named Schmendrick (Alan Arkin as the least likely mythical character ever), finds herself frequently fleeing from the menacing (and vodka-free) Red Bull, and, after she's turned into a human, falling for the dashing son (Jeff Bridges) of a menacing king (Christopher Lee). A few scattered scenes exhibit some innovation, but for the most part, the animation is limp and practically all of the actors deliver alarmingly flat line readings. And the less said about the music score by America, the better. Note: For legal (and shameful) reasons too knotty to explain here, Beagle only makes money from sales of this title when it's purchased through Conlan Press (www.conlanpress.com); anyone planning to buy this Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack should keep that in mind.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Beagle and publisher Connor Cochran; a 13-minute making-of featurette; a piece on Beagle's various works; a photo gallery; and a gallery of works from the 2010 The Last Unicorn art contest.
LOVE & OTHER DRUGS (2010). For all the pleasure it reportedly provides, Viagra does flirt with potential side effects, including headache, upset stomach and blurred vision. Similarly, while Love & Other Drugs offers its own pleasures, this adaptation of Jamie Reidy's Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman results in such possible side effects as irritation, frustration and disgust. For the most part, this is an intelligent piece in which cocky pharmaceutical salesman Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to make his mark in business while also engaging in a no-strings-attached relationship with the no-nonsense Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway). The picture is initially as light and carefree as their romance, but as their mutual commitment deepens, so does the film, with Maggie's medical misfortune — and Jake's reaction to it — resulting in some standout sequences and coaxing a knockout performance from Hathaway. Alas, the idiotic character of Jamie's odious brother (Josh Gad) cheapens an otherwise mature seriocomedy, and some formulaic romcom trappings feel equally out of place. The mental and emotional stimulation caused by the film is strong enough to recommend it, but had some flaccid passages been trimmed, its studio might have had an awards contender on its hands.
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