"Frank & Ollie"
Opens: May 3, 1996 | Rated: G
The first 40 minutes of "Frank and Ollie," a documentary about the two most influential animators in the history of the Disney Studios, is like listening to your grandfather tell his best stories.
Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson -- who met at Stanford in 1931 and have been bosom buddies ever since -- collaborated to create dozens of Disney features and hundreds of shorts over 50 years, and narrate much of the movie themselves through interviews.
The film is cleverly edited and directed by Theodore Thomas (Frank's son) and is punctuated with short scenes of day to day drudgery (taking out the trash, etc.), all the while telling stories of life in the animation studios and singing the praises of Walt himself.
On several occasions they act out their favorite scenes, immediately followed by the same scenes from the actual films. Interviews with film historians and current Disney captains like Andy Gaskill (director of "The Lion King") are sprinkled throughout, as are a few indications of what was happening in the real world while Frank and Ollie were hunched over their sketch pads.
All this holds you transfixed for a time, but soon the stories become somewhat mundane and fall into a repetitive pattern -- "Then we made this movie and this funny thing happened...Then we made that movie and that funny thing happened..."
The last 40 minutes of "Frank and Ollie" is like listening to your grandfather tell his best stories for the fifteenth time. You listen politely out of respect, but boredom is setting in.
Many of the problems with "Frank and Ollie" are due entirely to the fact that Frank's son directed it. He leaves in details that are of interest to no one but himself, and doesn't answer question the audience has -- Are Frank and Ollie retired? What was their last film? -- because he knows the answers and it never occurred to him that we might not.
"Frank and Ollie" will certainly become a perennial broadcast on cable television, and it's shot with the small screen in mind, so not seeing it in the theater will be no great loss.
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