A note: I don’t know if you could tell but I like tradition around here. It’s just part of the reason why I’m happy to have Josh of Mousterpiece Cinema stop by during each holiday season with his Disney-themed gift guide. Here’s to another great year of films and passing them on to family and friends we love. Enjoy! -e
Presuming that you survived the latest Black Friday crush at your local retailers–raise your hand if you were waiting in line to shop on Thanksgiving, instead of gobbling down a turkey dinner with your family–then you may still need to handle some holiday shopping for your friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and complete strangers. (Hey, you might be a big gift-giver. No judging here.) If you’re buying for someone who’s just as much of a Disney fan as you are–and potentially as much of a fan of their films as their characters and theme parks–there’s plenty of great options for you this year. Let’s get into them.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad/Fun and Fancy Free: If you pay attention to Disney’s home media trends, you may have noticed that pretty much all of the movies in their official animated canon have been released on Blu-ray. However, among the holdovers are the 1940s-era package films, with these two, from 1948 and 1949, being the first to make the transfer to HD. Here’s the thing: I’m not recommending this Blu-ray double feature for either of these films. Ichabod is, arguably, a better package than Fun and Fancy Free, but what makes this recent Blu-ray truly special is the sole supplement on the disc: the 1941 film The Reluctant Dragon. This film is essentially a carefully constructed behind-the-scenes look at the Walt Disney Studios right before the infamous animators’ strike occurred and, subsequently, Disney’s animators worked with the U.S. government during World War II. It’s a most fascinating time capsule, featuring gadfly Robert Benchley as our surrogate, traveling the studio from its ink-and-paint department all the way to meeting Walt Disney in the screening room. While the film is streaming on Netflix (and will air on TCM later this month), if you know a Disney die-hard, they’ll want to watch this film and own it in perpetuity.
Muppets Most Wanted: When it opened earlier this year, Muppets Most Wanted didn’t end up garnering nearly as much praise as its 2011 predecessor, and that’s a shame. While it’s far less reliant on nostalgia for the Muppets themselves, this follow-up winds up being more reliant on the actual Muppets, who ended up being supporting characters in a Jason Segel vehicle. (A good Jason Segel vehicle, mind, but a vehicle nonetheless.) Even better? The Muppets Most Wanted Blu-ray features an extended cut of the film, stretching the heist picture just past 2 hours of wackiness and general Muppety goodness. For the Muppet fan in your life, this one will do just fine.
The Jungle Book: Perhaps you’re shopping for a person who loves Disney, but also loves the simple things in life. You know, the basics. The…there’s some phrase I’m trying to conjure up in my mind, but the words fail me. Anyway, The Jungle Book, the last film on which Walt Disney had serious sway over before he passed away in 1966, has been on Blu-ray for nearly a full year, restoring this classic to HD glory. It’s not exactly the studio’s finest work, but so many of its songs are classics of the canon, and the animation is colorful and vibrant in HD. So if you just want the bare necessities–there’s the phrase!–this one’s a perfect purchase.
The Wind Rises: If you’re buying gifts for a fan of animation, then you need to buy this Blu-ray. They’ll thank you later. The last great master of hand-drawn animation is Hayao Miyazaki, and The Wind Rises is, sadly, his final film. (His company, Studio Ghibli, also appears to be closing up shop for features, which is equally distressing.) The Wind Rises isn’t a family film, mind you: it’s a biography of the designer who created the Japanese Zero plane, used in World War II against the Allies. But Miyazaki’s take on the life of Jiro Horikoshi is soulful, internal, and utterly gorgeous. Disney’s been releasing Ghibli films on Blu-ray for the last few years, but this is one of their finest discs yet.
Sleeping Beauty: This one’s kind of a cheat, but a cheat created by Disney itself. You may remember that the 1959 classic has already been on Blu-ray, back in 2008. However, it wasn’t too long before Sleeping Beauty was put back into the fabled and fictional Disney vault, only returning on a new Blu-ray this fall to tie in with the release of Maleficent on home media. (This one’s better, trust me.) Sleeping Beauty is one of the most beautiful and daring films of Disney’s canon, a lyrical take on the famous fairy tale, culminating in an utterly terrifying climax wherein a heroic prince takes on Maleficent in her dragon form, representing all the “powers of Hell.” If you’re buying gifts for someone who doesn’t already have the Platinum Edition Blu-ray, this one’s a solid bet.