My Sunday was filled with laughs, heart and obnoxious patriotism. Good times.
I’m combining these two films into one blog post because, one, sheer volume will probably require this now and again and, two, there’s not much to say about Toy Story. If you haven’t seen it by now, are you really ever going to?
1995’s Toy Story, Tim Allen’s only real movie success and Disney/Pixar’s first venture together definitely deserves its spot on AFI’s list. Not only was it the first full-length movie to be made entirely it CGI, but it’s also just the bees knees.
Now, ordinarily, I tend to pick apart things in movies that don’t make sense. If Buzz thinks he’s a space ranger, why does he follow along when Andy plays with him? Who has decided these arbitrary rules for the toys come to life? Why must they be motionless when risking their lives or the lives of others, but can suddenly throw off all the rules in the name of a dramatic climax? And why does Andy create these worlds of his own and imaginative stories with his toys when I’m sure he has a perfectly good television set?
But the truth is, this movie is so damn delightful that it deserves all the suspension of disbelief you can muster. Seriously, when this film came out it was using state-of-the-art technology and could have made a decent profit just banking on audiences’ love of a visual spectacle rather than actually caring about the movie being very good. Instead, it also has witty dialog, likable characters and a story about the fickle love of a child we all can enjoy (suck it, Avatar). It’s one of those rare film that’s critically acclaimed, technically ground-breaking and still manages to be fun to watch.
But enough gushing. Let’s talk about #98 on AFI’s list, 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy.
The movie is supposed to be a musical biography about George M. Cohan who wrote and performed many classic songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Grand Old Flag,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and the World War I smash hit “Over There.” In the end, it was so far from the actual story that when Cohan himself saw the movie, he asked, “Who was that about?”
The film begins with James Cagney as older Cohan sitting down with the president. Then he tells him about his life (born on July 4th, no joke), which gives us the bulk of the movie. From his politically incorrect childhood days of black face and child-beating to him making it big on Broadway. That’s pretty much it.
My first complaint is that not only is the plot a little thin, there isn’t really one to speak of. No real conflict, just his ease into success with most of the time being filled with flag-waving numbers and Cagney’s fancy footwork. The only real action is probably when World War I starts (saw it coming) or his father’s death, both skated over fairly quickly in time for another show-stopper.
In case you haven’t gotten my subtle hints, the biggest flaw comes down to the in-your-face Americana in the movie that makes you want to throw up stars and stripes forever. Thank God it was in black and white; I might have been overwhelmed by the sparkle and pizzaz of hundreds of American flags on screen.
However, it’s an appropriate tribute since real and movie George Cohan was presented a Congressional Gold Medal for his rousing World War I jingles. Basically, a thanks for the toe-tapping propaganda to get people excited about an unpopular war.
Before I upset loyal fans of the movie or get accused of communist sympathies, I do understand why the film embraces super-duper patriotism. Only a few days into filming, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Afterward, they made many changes to make it as uplifting and patriotic as humanly possible. And of course, when it opened Memorial Day 1942, it was a huge hit and won immense acclaim, probably why it has kept its status as a memorable film all these years.
And not to say this movie didn’t have it’s moments. Cagney really can dance like nobody’s business, some of the numbers weren’t bad and it certainly is delightful through and through. And even though I was shameless in saying this movie had no depth, there were moments that tug at the heart string.
At the very end, older Cohan leaves the White House to see a parade of WWII soldiers singing “Over There.” He marches alongside them as a young soldier says, “Hey old man, don’t you remember this song? Join in!” When he starts singing along, marching alongside our country’s heroes as a tear runs down his cheek, maybe I was touched.
Still, Toy Story was better.