Disney DVDs galore — rarities!

How many biblical cartoons has Disney made? I’m not sure, really, but four come to mind off the top of my head. And with the exception of The Small One (1978), which comes out on DVD next month, they were all based on the story of Noah’s Ark.

The first, Father Noah’s Ark (1933), came out four years ago on the Silly Symphonies two-disc set; and the third was the Donald Duck sequence set to Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ in Fantasia 2000 (1999); and it is interesting to see how the earlier film packs in more biblical details, like the names of Noah’s sons (or even just the fact that he had any!), and how the later film recycles at least one of the earlier film’s gags (it involves rabbits). But I have never seen Noah’s Ark (1959), an Oscar-nominated stop-motion cartoon — rare for Disney, I believe — in which most of the animals were created out of household and office items such as corks and paper clips.

Well, it looks like I may get my chance to see that film soon. The newest additions to the “Walt Disney Treasures” series have been announced, and one set — Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts, 1920s – 1960s — will include this cartoon. Hurray! This announcement would make my day, if it weren’t for the fact that it has been eclipsed by the news that The Chronological Donald, Volume Two (1942-1946) is also coming out in December!

Martin Sheen goes back to Bethlehem

According to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Disney has struck an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to distribute The 3 Wise Men (2003) through that store only, from the DVD’s November 1 release date through the end of the year. The film is a French-Spanish co-production, but it sounds like the DVD will have only a Spanish track in addition to the brand-new English track, which will feature the voices of Martin Sheen, his son Emilio Estevez, Christian recording artist Jaci Velasquez, and others.

The Reporter says the film, which was released theatrically in Spain and France, was produced by Arenas Entertainment and animated by Animagicstudio, “whose principals are veterans of such Disney hits as Fantasia 2000, Hercules and Tarzan.” One Disney VP tells the paper this film “appeals to three of Wal-Mart’s core demographic groups — family, Latino and Christian”.

This is not the first time Sheen, a devout Catholic, has taken part in a Nativity play. Twenty years ago, he starred in The Fourth Wise Man (1985), an adaptation of Henry van Dyke’s The Story of the Other Wise Man, in which a magus named Artaban sees the sign in the heavens and begins a life-long search for the Messiah — missing Christmas, but ultimately finding Easter. FWIW, Sheen’s son Charlie has a bit part in that film as a menacing Roman soldier; this was before his amusing cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), to say nothing of his star-making role in Platoon (1986).

Anyway, back to The 3 Wise Men. The question for me is whether this DVD will be available in Canada. Back when DreamWorks released The Prince of Egypt (1998), they put out a special exclusive CD through Wal-Mart that had bits of the film’s Hans Zimmer score that you couldn’t find anywhere else — and this CD was unavailable at the local Wal-Marts that I checked.

Carell Almighty!

Steve Carell, AKA the 40-year-old virgin, stole the show from Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty (2003; my review; my Bible study) — and now he’s stealing the entire franchise. Variety reports:

Steve Carell is making a deal to star for Universal in “Evan Almighty.” He’ll likely increase his $500,000 salary for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” at least tenfold.

Conceived for Jim Carrey until he declined to reprise his role in “Bruce Almighty,” sequel will take the news anchor character Carell played in that film and put him on an Almighty-inspired quest to build an ark in preparation for a great flood.

Tom Shadyac will return as director, and Morgan Freeman is negotiating to encore as God. Steve Oedekerk wrote the script. Plans are for the film to begin production early next year. . . .

Sony has an option to be co-financier of the film, handle foreign distribution and split the pot with U. That studio is a player because it paid $1.5 million against $2.5 million for Bobby Florsheim/Josh Stolberg spec “The Passion of the Ark,” a comedy about a widow told by the Almighty to build the boat. Shadyac, who was part of a rival bid in that spec auction, wanted to use it as the template for a sequel, and Sony made a deal with Universal and Spyglass . . .

U prexy Donna Langley and senior veep Holly Bario will oversee the project. The studio has warmed to the idea of making a line of future “Almighty” pictures, each of which would include Freeman as God. . . .

Given how warm and soothing the God played by Morgan Freeman was, I would be surprised if they suggested that he was somehow causing this flood. Still, the first film did kind-of ask how God could allow suffering, so if the new flood were to follow the template of the old flood, the new film could conceivably ask how God could cause suffering. Or, to come at this from another angle, whereas the first film emphasized the compassion of God, the new film might emphasize his justice instead. At any rate, this could make an interesting companion piece to the original film.

Let’s just hope they don’t go the route of that glib, post-modern mini-series Noah’s Ark (1999; my review), which starred Jon Voight as Noah and F. Murray Abraham as Lot (yes, that Lot).

Is Serenity now in session?

Late to the party, I’m sure, but for those who are looking forward to Serenity, the big-screen follow-up to Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi series Firefly, and who have not gotten a whiff of the film’s “viral marketing“, check out these mysterious online clips (and, ideally, in the order that I saw them; the “first” one’s kind of a creepy head-scratcher if you haven’t seen the others yet): Session 416; Session 1; Sesson 22.

Kurelek’s Passion — the review is up!

Just a quick note to say that my review for ChristianWeek of the DVD re-release of The Passion of Christ (1981), a short film directed by Philip Earnshaw and based on the paintings of Canadian Catholic artist William Kurelek, is now up.

Billy Graham movies — the article’s up!

My article on Billy Graham movies is up at CT Movies now, along with a sidebar on World Wide Pictures’ “top five” — which, I freely admit, tilts strongly towards the less formulaic films, or the films that felt freest to play with the formula a little bit.

Readers of this blog may recall my earlier posts on the Billy Graham movies of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, as well as this post on an earlier generation of Christian film critics.

Thanks to everyone I interviewed; it was fun, it was a trip down memory lane, it was an historical adventure!

Yep, that was me on NPR

Mike Pesca at NPR caught my review of The 40-Year-Old Virgin for CT Movies the other day, so he interviewed me for a report that appeared today on Day to Day. We spoke for half an hour, but I’m one of three interviewees who had to be packed into this five-minute report, so only a few soundbites made it in.

By sheer coincidence, last week I happened to watch ‘Homer Bad Man‘, the Simpsons episode in which Homer is interviewed for a tabloid TV show, and they hack his interview into little video clips which are stitched together to form sentences that he never actually said — and you can tell that they’ve done this because the clock in the background keeps jerking back and forth in time.

So I’ve been wondering idly for the past couple days if something similar might happen here. And, well, I think two different parts of the interview were spliced together so that they now sound like one continous thought. But it’s nothing serious.

Charlie Chaplin — a lost, um, not-treasure

If money were no object, I’d snap up the Chaplin Collection DVD boxed sets in a heartbeat. Except for three anthologies of his earlier short films that were compiled in 1938, and that are not included here, these two sets include all the feature films he directed between The Kid (1921) and The Chaplin Revue (1959), plus they have all sorts of delicious bonus features, too.

One film, however, is conspicuously absent from these sets. That film is Chaplin’s final directorial effort, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). I have seen all of his other feature films — whether on video, in film school (where I wrote this essay), or at a retrospective hosted by the Cinematheque (in anticipation of which I wrote this preview) — but this last film of his was missing from the line-up even at that otherwise exhaustive event.

At the time, someone who had seen A Countess from Hong Kong told me it was awful, so I assumed the Chaplin estate had put an embargo on it, kind of like how Stanley Kubrick put an embargo on his first feature-length film, Fear and Desire (1953). This impression was bolstered by the fact that this film was left out of the otherwise exhaustive Chaplin Collection DVD sets.

But now I discover that the film is available on DVD after all — in a collection of Marlon Brando‘s lesser films! Brando starred in Chaplin’s film, so it is one of four films you’ve probably never heard of — including The Ugly American (1963), The Appaloosa (1966) and The Night of the Following Day (1968) — that are included in this set. And FWIW, the e-mail from Videomatica that announced their acquisition of this DVD describes it like so:

When given powerful material, like “On The Waterfront” or “The Godfather”, Marlon Brando was virtually unmatched as an actor. But he was perhaps even more fascinating when given material he might have felt was beneath him. Like Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Carribean”, Brando had a way of amusing himself in a role regardless of what was going on in the rest of the film. This collection brings together four often forgotten Brando films from the sixties.

“The Countess From Hong Kong” (1967) finds Brando playing a wealthy diplomat en route to Hawaii to reconcile with his wife played by Tippi Hedren. He finds himself distracted by a shipboard romance with the irresistible Sophia Loren. Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin (it was his final film).

The completist in me wants to see this, now. Even if it sucks. And perhaps especially if it sucks!

Billy Graham’s Top Five / A handful of World Wide Pictures films worth watching.

The Hiding Place (1975)
One of the best and most ambitious Christian films ever made, this moving, realistic, and superbly-acted historical epic — based on Corrie Ten Boom’s account of how she was sent to a concentration camp with her sister for hiding Jews from the Nazis — doesn’t flinch from some of the more graphic and disturbing aspects of the Holocaust. Yes, Minister’s Nigel Hawthorne has a bit part as a cowardly pastor.

Joni (1979)
Based on Joni Eareckson’s popular account of how she found a deeper faith after a diving accident left her a quadriplegic, and filled with subtle visuals and silences, this just may be the most “cinematic” of World Wide’s films. Eareckson, playing herself, proves she is a more than capable actress as she recreates some of the most traumatic experiences in her life. Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson plays one of the hospital orderlies.

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Billy Graham Goes to the Movies

For more than 50 years, the evangelist’s organization has been making films for the purpose of bringing viewers to Christ. And it’s worked—more than 2 million times.

Forty years after the fact, Denny Wayman can still remember one of his first experiences with evangelism — and it took place in a movie theatre in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Wayman was still in junior high school when World Wide Pictures, the movie studio founded by evangelist Billy Graham, produced The Restless Ones (1965), a film about juvenile delinquents, teen pregnancy, and other social issues. The film ends with Graham issuing an altar call at one of his crusades, and just as the characters in the movie are encouraged to come forward, so too the audience in the movie theatre was invited to take a stand for Christ. And Wayman was one of the counselors who stood, waiting, at the front.

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