Reviews Archives

September 26, 2012

Frankenweenie 3D Preview



I've just returned from a preview screening of the upcoming stop-motion animated film, "Frankenweenie," directed -- in black-and-white Disney Digital 3D! -- by Tim Burton and set for release next Friday, October 5.

The free preview was one of more than a dozen taking place across the country this week, sponsored by D23, The Official Disney Fan Club. Lucky me, the screening was at a megaplex just a few miles down the road, and I was actually able to get the free tickets!

I'm sad to say that I'm old enough to remember the original "Frankenweenie," a half-hour short conceived and directed in 1984 by Burton, who was an animator for Disney at the time. It wasn't released as planned in '84, though -- in fact, Disney didn't release the short until a decade later, on home video, after Burton had scored some success with feature films like "Beetlejuice" and "Batman." How sweet a validation it must be for the director, who was let go by Disney for "wasting resources" on what they considered family unfriendly themes, to be able to bring his idea to a more fully realized life all these years later -- under the Disney Studios banner, no less.

And what a great version this new film is. If you've ever seen any of the Frankenstein movies, or read the book, you know the general premise of "Frankenweenie" -- it's basically about bringing a dead creature to life, and what ramifications such controversial science brings with it.


In this film, however, Victor Frankenstein is not a mad scientist, he's simply a grieving young boy who has tragically lost his best friend -- his devoted dog, Sparky. Encouraged by the instruction of a rather eccentric science teacher, Victor decides to tackle the ultimate science fair project and devises a way to bring Sparky back to life.

Things start out well for the reunited young hero and his reanimated pal, until a classmate discovers Victor's secret, and in a rather literal way, all hell breaks loose.


Without revealing too many spoilers for those of you who know nothing about the original short or this incarnation, I will say that the film is populated with the left-of-center characters and dark humorous touches that have become Burton trademarks. (Watch for the "Good-bye Kitty" tombstone in the pet cemetery, a little poke at the popular "Hello Kitty" character.) And while the movie itself is firmly rooted in the classic horror genre, with nods to films like "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," there is no shortage of heartstring-tugging. I mean, what dog-owner cannot relate to the sadness that the threat of losing a pet brings?

The film is voiced by a familiar group of actors, led by SCTV alums Martin Short (who tackles three roles, including that of Father Frankenstein) and Catherine O'Hara (also pulling triple duty, including the raucous gym teacher). You may also recognize Martin Landau as the science teacher, and Atticus Shaffer (better known as Brick on ABC-TV's "The Middle) as Victor's creepy classmate Edgar (or "E") Gore. (Say it out loud a few times if you don't get the pun right away.) The uncharacteristic restraint that both Short and O'Hara show in their roles as Victor's parents lends a much-needed quiet undertone to the film -- but don't worry. They both are allowed to go a bit over the top in the other characters they voice.

frankenweenie-5.jpg frankenweenie-4.jpg

The story benefits from having been expanded to nearly three times its original length (this version is 87 minutes long), although many scenes actually seemed rushed, or cut short to me. (I would have loved to see Victor putting together his makeshift lab in a little more detail, for example.) Still, the scenes between the boy and his dog seemed to be just right -- touching and bittersweet. The 3D effects were well-executed (once the projectionist made a few adjustments at the film's start!) and really added a dimension to the movie that I didn't think would be possible -- especially considering the film was shot in black and white. As I watched, I marveled as I always do at stop-motion animation. I think that I'm a patient person, but I can't imagine the painstaking care that this art form must require. Even so, I must admit that it was easy to forget that I was watching an animated film of any sort -- and more than once I found myself tearing up, thinking of my own little four-legged companion waiting for me at home.


There were many youngsters, and I'm talking about kids under 8, in the screening I attended, and I'm not so sure that this is really the film for them. While the humor in the movie's final 15 or 20 minutes may be enough to offset the earlier dark spookiness and implied violence for some, I have a suspicion that there will be several children having bad dreams tonight. Dying dogs, thunder and lightning, a cemetery at night, a snarling Godzilla-like creature and others brought back from the dead, and an angry mob -- these images all could be the ingredients for a few nightmares, so I'd be cautious about taking very sensitive children (or adults!) to see "Frankenweenie."

But if you enjoy Tim Burton's work and can appreciate what amounts to a loving tribute/parody of the classic horror movie genre, then by all means, treat yourself to "Frankenweenie" when it comes to a theater near you.


For more about "Frankenweenie," visit the official site:

July 29, 2008

Review of Tales From the Laughing Place Magazine

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

When it comes to magazines, the rule of thumb in our family is to stick to the Three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle. We've tried to reduce the number of magazine subscriptions we receive each month. When we're through with an issue we try to hand it off to a neighbor who might be interested in the topic. When our pile of magazines starts to resemble a skyscraper and is in danger of crushing a small pet should it topple, then we haul it off to recycling.

I'm sharing background info so you can understand my reaction when I asked a friend to borrow some copies of Tales from the Laughing Place so that I could do a review. I was not a subscriber, so I thought this would be a great way to look at several issues at once.

Her response? "Sure, but please send them back when you're done".because I save them."

"What?" Thought I. "Why would someone want to hang on to a magazine?"

As soon as the envelope arrived, I could quickly understand why these magazines were treasured. Tales From the Laughing Place isn't so much a magazine as it is a collector's item for anyone who loves Disney.

Tales From the Laughing Place Photo

Each issue is devoted to a specific topic related to Disney parks all over the world. Past topics have included a focus on The Happiest Celebration on Earth, an in-depth look at Hong Kong Disneyland, and a retrospective on twenty-five years of EPCOT in celebration of its anniversary last year.

Tales From the Laughing Place Photo

I found the EPCOT issue particularly interesting and difficult to put down. In the space of a few minutes, I read an interview with Marty Sklar about the development of EPCOT and learned about the design considerations of Figment's eyes.

I knew that the geodesic dome was a design of Buckminster Fuller, but found that the name Spaceship Earth was also his (based on his publication Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth which was published in the 1960s). Finally, in an article about how the O' Canada film was updated, I was intrigued to learn how the producers used "green screen" technology to build scenes around Martin Short.

Anyone who has a deep fascination with all things Disney will appreciate the time taken to develop these articles. The editors and writers often reach back and choose stories about the history of the attractions to help readers understand the next steps Disney is taking in park development. Each article I read was well researched, clearly explained, and interesting enough to warrant rereading.

Tales From the Laughing Place Photo

Tales from the Laughing Place is published four times per year and subscriptions cost $36. That seems a bit pricey for so few issues, however, I used to work in the publishing business and the first thing I noticed about this magazine is that it's made with the "good paper," that expensive, high-gloss paper that makes it seems more like a book than a magazine.

The layout of the magazine is more than eye-catching - it is stunning. From the choice of fonts to the way each page has been carefully crafted made me look forward seeing the way the pages were constructed nearly as much as the content.

Tales From the Laughing Place Photo

Many of the park photographs are from unconventional angles and I found myself trying to figure out where each photo was taken, wondering why I hadn't noticed some of these things, and looking forward to taking a closer look the next time I am in the parks.

So, as I carefully pack up the issues that I borrowed and prepare them to be sent back to my friend, I should mention that in the course of writing this review of Tales from the Laughing Place, I became a subscriber. Old issues of this publication will end up on my bookshelf among my Disney books and not in the recycling bin. And I won't even pass the issues on to a friend (unless they promise to return them, of course).

You can subscribe or find past issues of Tales from the Laughing Place by visiting

Check out my other Disney Magazine Review:

Orlando Attractions Magazine

March 25, 2008

Orlando Attractions Magazine - A Review

Orlando Attractions Magazine - A Review

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

I remember the fateful day back in 2005".I received my monthly Disney Magazine and, just as I had every other month, I devoured its contents, wanting more and more Disney information "only to receive a notice a few weeks later that this issue would be the last: the magazine was abruptly closing its doors and would no longer be available.

Disney Magazine Covers

For the Disney fans who can't get enough (and if you're reading this, that probably includes you), it doesn't matter what the medium: We want our Disney!

Books, Travel Channel specials, podcasts, blogs, and websites - it doesn't matter - if it's Disney-related - bring it on! That's why I was so excited to see a new, Orlando-based publication spring up.

Orlando Attractions magazine, published by Ricky Brigante (of the Inside the Magic podcast) and edited by Matt Roseboom, hit the stands with its premier issue in December 2007 and, in many ways, is filling a void for fans who need more Disney"and who are also interested in learning more about the happenings in the Orlando area.


I took a peek at the first two issues and noticed some things that I really liked, for example both issues had several reoccurring features that were interesting. The Work in Progress section gives readers a snap-shot of the status of the attractions at Disney, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and other attractions in the area.

I was pleased to see a description and projected opening day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. The progress of Disney Studios' Toy Story Mania, with a photo and link to the attraction website was also described in this section.

The Photo Finds section appears as a bulletin board with fun photos and captions of happenings and special events in the area. The Restaurant Report section offers a glimpse at some of the areas new and long-standing dining experiences. The Vacation Planner is a handy three-month glimpse at special events, concerts, festivals, and special parties around the area (quite handy to browse and check off what you might want to do when you're in the area). T

he magazine also features attraction-inspired cartoons (there is a niche for everything) called Bemusement Park, as well as some puzzles. At the accompanying website ( , readers can order back-issues of the magazine, review videos and photos, and read a blog about current Orlando happenings.

Based upon the first two issues, a strength of this magazine is its in-depth feature articles.

Issue One documented EPCOT's 25th anniversary celebration in October 2007 with construction photos and early EPCOT maps, perspectives from Disney leaders, a special merchandise overview, and park milestones. In addition, the writers recognized the extraordinary efforts of the Disney-fan community (led by Celebration 25's Adam Roth) who attracted the attention of Disney and who worked with Disney leaders to make the event a tremendous success.


This first issue also featured an article describing the enhanced features of the Haunted Mansion, which re-opened after an extensive refurbishment this past fall.

Issue Two took an in-depth look at the development of the new Simpsons ride a Universal Studios including an interview with the executive show producer. This sneak-peek details the theming and merchandising in the area that will immerse visitors in the world of the Simpsons.


While the magazine has a lot to offer, there is still room for improvement. In some sections the magazine layout looks and feels more like a free flyer that one might find in a road-side pamphlet stand (the higher-quality paper chosen for Issue Two was a good choice in helping the magazine distinguish itself from the freebies).

Also, because the format of the magazine combines all area attractions together and I found myself saying, "Ok, now where is this happening again? Where was this event?" Another suggestion would be to group attraction info together in their own sections or code them in some way (by color or by icon) so that readers can quickly identify where the events are taking place.

Finally, while I'm thrilled that the magazine is choosing to review some new and interesting dining experiences, I'd like the see the Restaurant Report section extended to include reviews of more menu items and suggested choices for those with special diets.

However, it would seem reasonable that any new magazine would go through some "growing pains" and this publication has the potential to fill a niche for those who want more in-depth information about the many attractions in the Orlando area.

While it doesn't completely replace my beloved Disney Magazine, Orlando Attractions is a fun read for those of us who adore Walt Disney World, Universal, and other attractions in the area.

Here's the cover for Issue #3!


Website: Orlando Attractions Magazine

January 29, 2008

Lou Mongello’s Audio Guide to Walt Disney World - A Review

Lou Mongello's Audio Guide to Walt Disney World:
Your Portable Personal Guide to Main Street, USA

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Think about that first time you went to the Magic Kingdom. Remember all of the excitement as you hit Main Street, USA as you entered the Happiest Place on Earth? Perhaps you "rocketed" over to Tomorrowland to get a ride on Space Mountain. Maybe you scooted over to Adventureland to hop aboard a pirate boat? Quite possibly you were drawn right to Cinderella's Castle to get a closer look.

Main Street

Remember the second time you visited? You were probably a bit more confident, took your time"and maybe by your third or fourth trip you felt like a pro".and started noticing all of the details that make Walt Disney World so special?

For many of us, the details are one of the many reasons we keep coming back to the Magic Kingdom. Lou Mongello, author of the Walt Disney World Trivia books, has put his love of the history and details of WDW to create The Audio Guide to Walt Disney World. The recording, which took Mongello about 18 months to write, record, and edit, can be likened to an audio guide that you rent when you go to a blockbuster museum exhibit, the type that gives you more inside information about what you're looking at, listening to, and experiencing.

Main Street Audio Guide Cover

This on-going series, which will eventually feature each the lands of the Magic Kingdom, has high-appeal for those wanting to get the "back story" about the architecture, music, and production aspects of Main Street, USA.

Mongello had several goals in mind when producing this audio guide. "I really want to be able to both enhance the vacation experience for the Guest who is visiting the parks, as well as give people a little bit of the "magic" at home as they prepare for their next visit, or just when they need a little bit of Disney in between their visits." In addition, this recording is an excellent resource for those visitors who are visually impaired, as Mongello's descriptions are rich and detailed.
Production is a strength of Mongello's, who has earned two podcast awards during the past few years. His narration is that of a seasoned tour-guide: the pacing is excellent, allowing the listener time to take in the details being presented.

Another appealing aspect of the production is the ambient noise in the background. Normally, "noise" isn't viewed as a strength - but, as Mongello narrates, he uses "Main Street" activity and music to enhance the topic at hand. You'll hear the Dapper Dans, horse-drawn trolleys, visitors mulling around, as well as rag-time piano players who perform outside of Casey's. Mongello spent days just recording the background sounds that helps the listener feel as if they are really at the Magic Kingdom, strolling down Main Street - you can almost imagine Cinderella's castle off in the distance.

"Spending 7 hours walking up and down Main Street in complete silence, or standing in one spot hoping that the kids in the family of four walking towards me weren't about to have a loud, screaming meltdown was a pretty unique experience," says Mongello.

From the significance of the bricks and signs as you enter Main Street, to Crystal Palace bordering Adventureland, to the hub at the center of the park, Mongello explains some truly interesting aspects of the park encountered by arriving visitors.

You learn the history and the development of many of the buildings. For example, many Disney fans know about the use of forced perspective for the buildings on Main Street, where the scale of the buildings changes on the upper stories to make the buildings appear larger than they really are), but did you know that the Exposition Hall is the only building on Main Street that was built to full scale to block the view of the Contemporary Hotel in the background?

I also learned that Main Street was actually designed to look long and majestic, with the castle in the distance as the visitor enters, but looks shorter as you look towards the train station, with your back toward the castle so that weary visitors would not be overwhelmed by the long walk back down the street after a tiring day at the park.

The names features on the windows on Main Street have long held a fascination for many visitors, but, if you're like me, you might only know handful of names. Mongello details the backgrounds and histories of many Disney notables and legends, as well as how they each had a significant impact on the park's design.

Main Street Windows

Among the many things I learned about these "credits" which "roll" on Main Street was that not all of them are listed on windows. There is actually a door, located at the end of Disney clothiers, which says "Open Since 1971, Magic Kingdom Casting Agency. This door, dedicated in 2005, recognizes the contributions of the thousands of Disney cast members, who are, of course, some of the most important contributors to the success of the park.

Main Street Door Honoring Cast Members

Of this project, Mongello says, "I hope to be able to open people's eyes to the incredible detail, history and story that is present throughout the parks and resorts, introduce them to some true "hidden treasures", and even use it as a planning tool. It was designed not only for the WDW "expert," but for the first-time visitors as well."

He has achieved this - and I highly recommend this audio CD for Disney-lovers of all ages. It is available for $9.99 (plus shipping).

Mongello plans to tackle Adventureland next, as well as the remainder of the lands in the Magic Kingdom. Plans for audio tours of EPCOT are also in the works in the distant future.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in the Reviews category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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