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February 2, 2016

Insane Inflatable 5K a fun challenge in runDisney training

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Want to turn your runDisney training upside down? Runners and others looking for a different sort of fitness challenge might want to check out the Insane Inflatable 5K, which gives participants the opportunity to climb, bounce and slide their way through huge bounce-house-like obstacles.

The Insane Inflatable 5K, which is set up in various cities throughout the country, returned to Central Florida with a stop not far from Walt Disney World this past weekend after first appearing in Orlando in December. My 13-year-old son and his swim team, coach and some brave parents took part in the Insane Inflatable 5K on Saturday at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, so I’m sharing details about their experience in case you, too, would like to give it a shot.

The course will be set up in West Melbourne in two weeks, on Feb. 13. Then, the Insane Inflatable 5K travels to West Palm Beach on Feb. 20, Jacksonville on Feb. 27, Fort Myers on April 16, Palm Coast on April 23 and Sarasota on May 21. After a break for the hot Florida summer, it returns to Ocala, Tampa, Orlando and Miami in December. There also are courses set up simultaneously in many other states so check the schedule here.

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First, know that, like most races, registration should be done ahead of time at insaneinflatable5k.com, although there will be some on-site registrations available if spots are not filled up. There are a limited number of participants allowed per starting time, or wave, which you choose when you register. (The website shows how many spots are left for each wave.)Teams will want to make sure they pick the same wave and not wait until the last minute to register because start times are strictly enforced.

The full price of the race is about $70 per person, which I think most competitors would consider expensive. However, that price does include race insurance, a bib, a T-shirt, a medal, online access to any professional photos taken on the course and a snack after the race. Our group was able to use a Groupon to save about $20 per person, too, so be sure to check for your race there, as well. Remember that Groupons are only offered in limited quantities and for a set period of time, so don’t delay if you want to take advantage of an offer.

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There is no admission charge for spectators, who are encouraged to cheer on participants.

Once runners are registered, they will receive several emails with race instructions. You can choose to pick up your bib the night before the race, but because of the distance to the event, our team decided to wait until the morning, and we had no problems. T-shirts are distributed at the end of the race, so do not plan to wear yours during the actual event. At registration, you will be given a color-coded wristband for your wave that must be worn and you must sign a waiver – no exceptions.

As with runDisney events, each Insane Inflatable 5K runner can check one bag with things they don’t want out on the course, such as a phone, wallet and car keys. Coolers are prohibited.

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Then, it’s time to line up and get ready for your wave to go! When my son’s team ran, the participants seemed to be an even mix of kids and adults. There is no minimum age, but each runner must be at least 42 inches tall to participate.

They ran on concrete and grass to get to each inflatable, and there was hardly any waiting at each obstacle because of the well-planned starts. There are 1 or 2 water stops on the course, depending on the weather. The race culminates with an insane slide. At the bottom, finishers receive their medals, T-shirts and a bottle of water and banana to rehydrate.

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After the race, participants can visit the midway area, where food trucks, merchandise vendors, games and photo backdrops are available.

My son said he would do the Insane Inflatable 5K again in a heartbeat. He thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of the inflatable challenges and already loves running. After tackling the semi-seriousness of the recent runDisney 10K event at Epcot in January, he saw this event as a fun way for him to keep on his practice regime while he’s looking forward to something more serious and challenging in the fall – like the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. That will be a different kind of insanity, no doubt.



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February 4, 2016

What you should know about Great Wolf Lodge and its plans to build near Disney World

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Who is ready for another water park option in Orlando? This one could be one at least partially protected from the elements, so visitors would not have to worry about scheduling their days around Florida’s daily thunderstorms in the summer.

Last week, it was reported in the Orlando Sentinel that an affiliate of Great Wolf Resorts bought about 50 acres of land near Walt Disney World. This came after the company told county officials in November that it was considering building its first resort in Florida.

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Great Wolf is about to open its 13th resort in Colorado Springs, and most of the existing hotels and adjacent indoor water parks also are located in climates colder than that of Florida. The attraction is, of course, being able to spend the day at a water park when it’s too cold outside to otherwise even consider putting on a swim suit.

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And these water parks aren’t just a pool slide and a lazy river with inner tubes. Great Wolf water parks vary by location, but common features include a thrilling six-story funnel ride; four-story tube slides; family raft rides; mat-racing slides; multi-level water fort with body slides; water basketball; and zero-depth entry to wave pools and play areas for toddlers. The water parks are only open to guests staying at the resort. A limited number of day passes can be purchased for friends of those staying at Great Wolf Lodge, but you cannot just walk in and purchase a day pass.

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Water parks aren’t all that Great Wolf Lodges offer, though. There are enough other family-friendly activities and dining options that guests say they don’t have to leave the property during their stay if they don’t want to. From spas that welcome children to miniature golf, a MagiQuest scavenger hunt, an awesome aracade, and arts and crafts, there is something or everyone. Each evening, an interactive story time with appearances by the Great Wolf Kids characters is held in the lobby, and families are invited to gather round in their pajamas. And there are several restaurants and take-away food options, including a pizza place, an ice cream parlor and an on-site Starbucks.

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As the name indicates, the hotels are designed to resemble cozy lodges. Fans of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge will feel right at home! Many of the rooms have rustic-looking bunk-beds that are enclosed in either a “camping tent” or a “log cabin” to give “wolf pups” their own space. And it’s pretty common to see kids in the hotel wearing wolf-ear headbands to indicate they are part of the “Great Wolf Pack.” Hmmm … did a certain mouse we know and love give them that idea?

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Great Wolf Resorts has several lodges in the Midwest, so I asked friends and family who live near the Cincinnati - Mason, Ohio, lodge and are repeat guests to tell me why they return time and time again, especially when the resort is not inexpensive. (Standard rooms start at about $200 and suites start at about $250 and go up from there.)

My friend Julie and her two children have stayed at Great Wolf Lodge six times. What keeps her coming back (in addition to the water park and other activities):

** “There are a lot of restaurant options in the lodge and rooms come with microwaves and refrigerators. I appreciate not having to leave the premises during our stay if we choose, especially since everyone usually has a wet head from being in the park or is exhausted from all the water fun.”

** "We lock up all electronics and usually go with another family. It is true family time playing board games, making forts, or watching movies.”

** “Service is incredible! Last year the Colts were playing in the AFC championship game, and I talked with a manager about big screen viewing options. He opened up their conference room and we watched it on a giant projection screen.“

My sister Jennifer, her husband, her two children and extended family have stayed at Great Wolf Lodge four times. The water park is a draw for them, too, but they also point out:

** “We like that it is right next to Kings Island [amusement park] so we can just walk over from the hotel.”

** “The lines aren’t as long as the ones at outdoor water parks, and it’s nice to be able to go back to your room or do other things in between being at the water park as well.”

** "There are lots of holiday activities and Great Wolf Lodge is beautifully decorated for Halloween and Christmas. When we went over fall break, there was trick-or-treating."

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Perhaps my biggest question, though, is whether Great Wolf Lodge can attract the same amount of business and loyalty in Orlando as it does in the Midwest. After all, the resort will be competing with world-class theme parks, water parks, hotels and other entertainment in a city that caters to tourists.

Would you plan an Orlando vacation that included a stay at the new Great Wolf Lodge? Please tell us in the comments.



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February 6, 2016

More students eligible to apply for SeaWorld Orlando's 2016 Environmental Scholarships

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SeaWorld Orlando is aiming to help more local students pursue careers related to the care and conservation of animals and the environment with its 2016 Environmental Scholarships. Now in its second year, the program has undergone some changes.

Students who are chosen as recipients of SeaWorld Orlando’s 2016 Environmental Scholarships will be receiving more college assistance from the theme-park company than winners in past years. Instead of awarding $1,000 scholarships, SeaWorld is giving four winners each a one-time award of $5,000 to be used at any college or university they choose to attend.

In addition, the scholarship program also is open to more students than it was in 2015. Any Florida high school senior who has a GPA of 3.0 or higher is eligible to apply. Last year, the program was only open to students in Orange County, which is where the theme park is located.

The remainder of the application process is the same. Students must visit this page on seaworldparks.com to complete the application. The application consists of written questions about the student's plans to help protect the environment. Each applicant also must submit a video that summarizes his or her conservation plans. The video cannot be longer than 5 minutes and has to be uploaded to YouTube.

The deadline is March 31, 2016.

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All of the applications received will be evaluated by representatives of SeaWorld's Education & Conservation Team. They will consider originality, creativity, content, organization, neatness and the general presentation of the application.

The winners will be announced in the spring, and their awards will be presented by SeaWorld at the winning students' school awards ceremonies.

All winners will be notified by phone and/or email. Any award notification returned to the sponsor or its agencies as undeliverable will result in disqualification and the presenting of the award to an alternate winner. All application materials submitted become the property of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, and none will be returned.

The fine print of the rules: Winners may be asked to complete photographic and video release forms. No substitution of awards will be offered and non-cash prizes may not be redeemed for cash value. The award money is intended to provide funding for the winners’ college education and may not be transferred to a third party or be used for unrelated purposes. By accepting an award, all representatives agree to permit SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and SeaWorld Orlando to use their name, voice, picture or other likeness for advertising, marketing, public relations or other promotional purposes in connection with awards program or otherwise without further compensations. Federal, state and local taxes on award money, if any, are the responsibility of the winners.

A global leader in animal care and conservation, SeaWorld has assisted more than 25,000 orphaned, injured or ill animals over the past 50 years.



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February 8, 2016

The Lion Guard Adventure brings new characters to Disney's Animal Kingdom

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How’s this for a variation on the circle of life? Animal experts from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park help ensure script accuracy with Disney Junior’s new program, “The Lion Guard.” And then they work on the tail end of the production – promotion of the finished product – with an activity inside the park. The Lion Guard Adventure debuted Sunday, and we were there to check it out.

Even though my daughter is no longer in the target age range of 2 to 7 years for the Disney Junior network, she still is interested in “The Lion Guard” and its presence at Animal Kingdom. After all, the show is a spinoff from the very popular 1994 animated movie, “The Lion King.” The franchise has had several related stories since its introduction more than two decades ago. Most recently, it has been continued with a one-hour movie, “The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar,” on Nov. 22, 2015, and then the Disney Junior series began on Jan. 15.

“The Lion Guard” centers on Kion (voiced by Max Charles), the son of Simba (Rob Lowe) and Nala (Gabrielle Union), who has taken on the role of leading a group of friends to protect the Pride Lands. Guests at Walt Disney World can take part in a scavenger hunt throughout Animal Kingdom that enables them to take fun photos with five characters from “The Lion Guard.” At the end, participants can earn a Lion Guard Mark of the Shield and become a member of the Lion Guard.

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To get started, we grabbed a complimentary map from a countertop display in one of the large gift shops near the Tree of Life. Guests can start and end their scavenger hunts with any of the characters – Kion, Ono, Bunga, Beshte and Fuli. This makes it convenient to play The Lion Guard Adventure simultaneously while going about your plans for the day. Also, because it’s a self-guided activity, The Lion Guard Adventure is open the same hours as Animal Kingdom. Be aware that the rewards, however, are handed out at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which opens 30 minutes after the park does and usually closes a couple hours earlier than the park. Check the printed daily Times Guide or MyDisneyExperience.com for exact times.

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In the character hunt, each character statue is marked with a Lion Guard flag, making it easy to spot. When guests find each figure, they are invited to take their own photos. (Disney’s PhotoPass photographers are not at these locations.) But please don’t do what we saw one family doing on opening day: The parents were encouraging their children to climb on the statues to pose for pictures. These statues are intentionally placed back into the foliage and not easily accessible. Not only is climbing on the statues unsafe for youngsters, but it also could damage the characters and ruin the photo ops for other guests.

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Then, participants are encouraged to take the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and head to the Conservation Station to take The Lion Guard Pledge:

“I promise
To use my keen eyes
To see right and wrong,
To use my roar, and
To be brave, fast and strong.
I will protect
My animal friends.
I pledge to the Lion Guard,
I will defend!”

Afterward, they are rewarded with a button that shows the Mark of the Shield, which is what the all Kion’s friends in the Lion Guard have. A PhotoPass photographer is stationed at this location. A cast member told me that guests do not have to participate in the scavenger hunt in order to be able to take part in the pledge and Mark of the Shield ceremony.

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The Lion Guard Adventure is really simple – for older kids and adults. For children ages 2 to 7, which is the target audience, it appears to offer them satisfaction without a lot of frustration. The Lion Guard Adventure certainly is not challenging for older kids, but they can still enjoy the scavenger hunt because it’s the only place at Walt Disney World to see these characters.



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February 11, 2016

Disney launches Magic of Storytelling campaign to benefit First Book charity

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Who better to launch a Magic of Storytelling campaign than some of the best storytellers around? I am, of course, talking about the creative folks at The Walt Disney Company.

The Magic of Storytelling campaign is a collaboration between Disney Publishing Worldwide and Disney-ABC Television Group to help First Book put new books into the hands of disadvantaged children in communities nationwide.

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First Book is a charity that Disney has partnered with for many years, but I first became aware of the organization at D23 last summer. That’s because the Disney Citizenship booth at the mega-convention offered participants the opportunity to get involved by donating a few minutes of their time to help assemble packages of books. Afterward, voluntEARS could further their donations by posting on social media with the #DisneyCitizenhip hashtag. For each post on Instagram and Twitter, Disney donated $1 to the charity. (You can read more about D23 and Disney Citizenship here.)

The Magic of Storytelling campaign features a public service announcement, special events, an extensive media campaign, social media activations and a 50-state online challenge. As part of the initiative, the first Disney Reads Day was launched this past weekend (on Feb. 6), and Disney has said it plans to make it an annual event. Disney Store locations nationwide, as well as other retailers, took part with family friendly activities, story time and even visits by celebrities.

If you missed Disney Reads Day, you still have time to take part in activities that will benefit First Book. Consumers can post a "shelfie" – a selfie with a favorite book or in front of a bookshelf. For each “shelfie” posted to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #MagicOfStorytelling by March 31, First Book will direct a book donated by Disney to an organization in need, up to 500,000 books. In addition, consumers can visit firstbook.org/BeInspired to vote online to win a donation of books for kids in need in their state. Schools and programs registered with First Book in the winning state will receive 100,000 books. Second and third place states will receive 25,000 and 10,000 books, respectively.

Disney has donated a record 50 million books to First Book.

“Storytelling is at the heart of everything we do,” said Leslie Ferraro, co-chair, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media and president, Disney Consumer Products. “Great stories change lives, unleash imaginations and foster creativity. We are incredibly proud of our ongoing, long-standing partnership with First Book and the work they have done to bring books to kids in need, and we look forward to sharing the Magic of Storytelling and Disney Reads Day with families and fans.”



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February 13, 2016

SeaWorld Orlando's Bands, Brew & BBQ event starts today, honors military

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SeaWorld Orlando kicks off its annual Bands, Brew & BBQ event today, and like last year, it is partnering with USO Central Florida to honor members of the military with special activities and discounts. The event, which runs Saturdays and Sundays through March 6 and is included with admission, features a concert each day and many experiences related to country and classic rock music. Plus, visitors can sample barbecue from local restaurants and craft beers.

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Bands, Brew and BBQ events begin at noon, with the concert at 4 p.m. Today’s headliner is Grammy-nominated Smash Mouth, and Sunday’s concert features R&B legend Gladys Knight. The concert seating is first-come, first-served, but reserved seats are available for purchase. Guests can choose from a VIP Front-Row Seating & BBQ Package (that includes Quick Queue) for $40 or Concert Floor Seating & Quick Queue for $24.

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In addition to the signature acts, the event also will feature a secondary stage to showcase local bands, and a DJ spinning music for guests to show off their line dancing. Beyond the stage, guests can enjoy a Harley-Davidson Orlando display of motorcycles and a collection of classic cars.

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Bands, Brew & BBQ is not just for adults, either. Well, the brew, is, of course, but the patriotic-themed USO Family Garden is returning, offering kids the chance to line dance, too. Plus, there will be animal encounters, Explore Zones and a host for the afternoon of activities.

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Come hungry because the smell of barbeque along Bayside Pathway will tempt your tastebuds! Local restaurants, such as Sonny’s and Tony Roma’s, join SeaWorld’s own outdoor kitchen, giving visitors many choices to sample. This year, SeaWorld Executive Chef Hector Colon has expanded the park’s offerings beyond traditional meats and sides to dishes such as slow-smoked ribs, a creative twist on chicken and waffles, and Corn Chip Chili Pie.

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To complement the barbecue, guests can taste more than 30 local and craft beers. Among them: Sierra Nevada Nooner Pilsner, Abita Brewing Co., New Belgium and Crooked Can Brewing Company. There also are wine flights available for purchase.

SeaWorld Orlando visitors can choose from three sampler packages to experience a variety of barbecue dishes and beers:

** BBQ Tasting Sampler – Guests can choose up to five menu items from SeaWorld’s sampler selections at any of the Bands, Brew & BBQ food locations for just $20.

** Craft Brew Sampler – Guests sample 10 ice-cold craft beers -- from a selection of more than 30 brews -- for just $30.

** BBQ Tasting and Craft Brew Sampler (Best Value) – This sampler includes five menu items and five craft brew samples along the Bands, Brew & BBQ Pathway –all for only $35.

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Deb Wills has attended Bands, Brews & BBQ in the past. You can read about her visit here.

Active-duty members of the military and veterans can get half off Fun Cards, which provide admission to SeaWorld Orlando for all of 2016. They also receive 10 percent off all event packages, food, raft beer and merchandise on event dates.



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February 16, 2016

Changes to the 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend Expo

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Beginning Thursday, Walt Disney World is going to see an influx of royalty as its annual Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend commences. The event spans four days and includes runDisney kids races, a 5K, a 10K and a half marathon. The weekend begins with the start of the runDisney Health & Fitness Expo, which takes place at ESPN Wide World of Sports from Thursday through Saturday, and there are some exciting additions and changes since last month’s Expo during Marathon Weekend.

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Women who have wished the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique were open to adults will be happy to know a similar experience is available at the Expo this year. The “Glitter & Go” transformation includes a hair twist, light makeup, shimmering lip gloss, a face gem, and a light-up Princess tiara for $19.95 plus tax. To sign up, go to the HP Field House at the ESPN complex, where reservations will be taken on a walk-up basis for guests ages 3 and older. The “Glitter & Go” experience will be offered from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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Another change relates to the Disney Dooney & Bourke bags. Dooney & Bourke often releases new patterns on its high-end bags at various runDisney events. Although there wasn’t a new pattern at the 2015 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, there was for the 2016 Marathon Weekend and there is for the 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. This time around, the bags are being released and sold at the Expo – no pre-orders were taken, according to Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager at Walt Disney World. There are three bags with a dark background and images of the Disney princesses: a pouchette for $178, a crossbody for $208 and a shopper for $268.

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As usual, the Expo’s official runDisney store will feature race-specific merchandise, including the popular “I Did It!” T-shirts and car magnets for each race. There also are Tervis water bottles, which is a first, I believe. (Last month, 2016 runDisney Tervis tumblers were released for the first time.) In addition, shoppers will find wine glasses, other T-shirts and tech shirts, jackets, Sweaty Bands, Bondi Bands, mouse-ear hats for the kids races, collectible pins and more merchandise. Some of the general runDisney and Princess merchandise already is available on DisneyStore.com. This might be especially helpful for runners who won’t be able to go to the Expo on the first day, when some of the most popular merchandise sells out.

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Other vendors will be selling the latest in fitness apparel, footwear, sunglasses, high-tech gadgets and nutritional products. New Balance will be back with its Limited Edition running shoes that are especially designed for runDisney. The 2016 designs were unveiled last month – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Dumbo and Ariel -- and they have been restocked for Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. Because of popularity, New Balance requires customers to sign up for appointments in its virtual queue, and the process is different from January. Runners can sign up for a spot in the virtual queue at 7 p.m. the day before they plan to be at the Expo. Although the official rules say there will be no stand-by queue at the Expo, New Balance did allow walk-ups when the booth was uncrowded in January. Of course, reserving a spot in the virtual queue means a pair of running shoes is being held for you as well. (You can get all the details in my previous blog.)

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There is plenty to do on the expo floor, even if you are not a shopper. There are photo spots set up with aerial photos of each race course as a backdrop; guests can be among the first to see medals for all the upcoming runDisney races displayed; and runDisney coach and Olympian Jeff Galloway is available to take photos and sign autographs for runners. Many of the vendors offer giveaways and samples, as well, and there are unique products you might not find elsewhere. Both of my children enjoyed walking around the expo last year -- and that was before either of them had completed a runDisney race.

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Of course, each runner has to stop by the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for packet pickup at least a day before his or her race. Unlike Marathon Weekend, packet pickup for all races will be on the lower level of the HP Field House. Commemorative merchandise and pre-purchased merchandise must be picked up there, as well. Pickup for race shirts and gEAR bags is in the Jostens Center. That means at least two lines, and maybe three, for each runner, so plan accordingly.

A few reminders:

* You must pick up your own race packet in person and have photo identification and a signed waiver to do so. (If you forget to print your waiver at home, you can do it at the expo.)

** Legal guardians of minors must sign the waivers for minor participants, though the kids don’t have to be present to pick up their bibs.

** Race packets cannot be picked up on the day of the race.

Hours are as follows:

Thursday, January 7, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday, January 8, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 9, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Good luck to our AllEars.Net team members who will be running this weekend: Deb Wills (10K); Linda Eckwerth (10K); Laura Gilbreath (10K, Half Marathon); Lee Zimmerman 10K, Half Marathon); and my daughter, Lauren, who will be running with her dad (5K). Follow our AllEars.Net runners on social media for real-time updates.



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February 17, 2016

Deadline nears for Central Florida students to apply to be 2016 Disney Dreamers and Doers

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Just as Hollywood’s awards season is in full swing, so, too, is Walt Disney World’s version of the Oscars. The "Mousecars" -- exclusive golden Mickey Mouse statues -- are bestowed on some of the most promising students in Central Florida through the Disney Dreamers and Doers program. And if students want to be considered for the honor, they need to hurry because the deadlines have been moved up from 2015.

For more than three decades, this award program has recognized local students who have inspired others and made the world a better place. In return, The Walt Disney Co. hopes to inspire and reward the area's student leaders with theme-park tickets -- or even annual passes -- to Walt Disney World and provide Disney-themed keepsakes, such as the Mousecars.

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Disney relies on each school in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties to nominate one child for the honor of being named a Disney Dreamer and Doer.

The process begins when students are asked to nominate themselves by writing a 300-word paragraph describing their achievements. The official rules give these examples of student contributions: "strengthening their families; conservation/environmental projects; helping others; safety; school achievement in spite of barriers; improving their schools; serving as a role model for siblings/friends; or any other positive action." An addition to the rules for 2016 notes: “High academic achievement and volunteer involvement can be considered but should not be the only determining factors to select a school’s Disney Dreamer and Doer.”

Then, the student asks a teacher to champion his or her application by writing a 75-word endorsement. The two essays are turned in to the school's principal by the school's announced deadline, and a school winner is chosen based on the strength of the essay. (Grammatical accuracy is not a factor.)

This year's deadline for each school to submit its Disney Dreamer and Doer winner is Feb. 29, 2016. That means each school likely has set earlier deadlines - within the next week -- that local students will want to check.

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In total, there are about 400 students from elementary, middle- and high-school students in Central Florida chosen to receive the one-day park-hopper tickets, medals and certificates.

Once a school's Disney Dreamer and Doer is chosen, he or she is entered in a larger competition, Disney's Shining Stars. The awards are given to 15 students -- one elementary, middle and high school student in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties. Disney officials, not school principals, choose the Shining Stars. Shining Stars receive Disney World annual passes for their immediate families for one year, Mousecar statues and certificates noting their accomplishments. Plus, the Shining Stars and their families are invited to an Epcot Illuminations Dessert Party on June 4.

"Students may be comfortable in the spotlight, or shy away from it. Some take positive action that is visible; some actions may not be visible to many," the Disney press release states. "We believe all students do good things and have the potential to be a Disney Dreamer and Doer. We look forward to hearing about students in each of these categories."

Among past winners are a student who learned to give back after living in a homeless shelter; a student who organized book drives for needy kids; and a student who excelled in science education with a goal of creating clean, unlimited power sources.

Schools will be notified beginning April 11 if their students are among this year's Shining Stars.



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February 19, 2016

Free activities for runners at Walt Disney World this weekend

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Feeling motivated by the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend that’s going on now? Here are a few free and low-cost activities for runners at Walt Disney World to check out this weekend.

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Keep those muscles loose with a run (or walk) around your Walt Disney World hotel or take in a change of scenery at another location at the resort. Disney has worked with New Balance, the official running shoe of runDisney, to create and identify New Balance Running Trails – more than 16 miles of trails throughout the property that are open 24 hours a day. Among the choices:

** The Animal Kingdom resort area has a mile-long paved trail that connects the three All-Star Resorts (Movies, Music and Sports). At Coronado Springs Resort, there is a 0.75-mile-long promenade that loops around Lago Dorado.

** In the Epcot resort area, runners can make loops around Crescent Lake and Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club. The longest course follows Epcot Resorts Boulevard and Buena Vista Drive toward Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At Disney’s Caribbean Beach hotel, a 1.2-mile promenade circles Barefoot Bay. Runners looking for long distance can choose from 2-, 3- and 4-mile routes at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.

** The Magic Kingdom resort area offers one of the most unique paths -- a 2.5-mile-long trek through Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Plus, there’s a 0.75-mile shaded fitness trail and bike path that connects Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Or run along the iconic Seven Seas Lagoon for about a mile between the Polynesian and Grand Floridian hotels. You’ll pass the wedding pavilion and have a great view of the Magic Kingdom! At the Contemporary hotel, circle Bay Lake Tower and the South Garden Wing on the 0.9-mile paved jogging path.

** Finally, the Disney Springs hotels and others have their paths, as well. Jog along the Sassagoula River on a 1.7-mile promenade connecting the Riverside and French Quarter Resort areas of the Port Orleans hotel. At Saratoga Springs and Old Key West, paths take runners past the fairways of Lake Buena Vista Golf Course. Pop Century offers two loops: 1.1 or 1.38 miles. Art of Animation also has a 1.38-mile trail, but it passes the larger-than-life courtyards inspired by Walt Disney and Disney•Pixar classics “Cars,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.”

The front desk at each hotel can provide maps of its trails.

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On Sunday, Disney Springs Marketplace hosts the Happily Ever After Party from noon to 8 p.m. The party is open to runners, their families and the general public. However, be sure to wear your medal to take advantage of many great offers. Last year, the Disney food trucks gave out free cupcakes with purchase; Little Mismatched gave away free socks; Fit2Run had free gifts; and many restaurants, including Starbucks, Rainforest Café, T-Rex, and Wolfgang Puck, offered runners 10 percent to 15 percent off their bills.

In addition, runners can stop by Disney’s Wonderful World of Memories to have their finisher’s medals engraved with their race times (for a charge). Forgot to purchase something at the runDisney Health and Fitness Expo? Last year, a Disney merchandise truck sold race merchandise.

Speaking of the expo, runDisney participants have to stop by there to pick up their race packets, but the event is open to the public, as well. And it’s free admission and free parking! Of course, there is plenty of merchandise for sale, but many of the vendors offer giveaways and samples, too, and there are unique products you might not find elsewhere.

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Plus, there is plenty to do on the expo floor, too, even if you are not a shopper. There are photo spots set up with photos of each race course as a backdrop, as well as a green screen for a shot of you crossing the finish line; KT Tape has a booth where you can get your legs taped for support before and after running; and runDisney coach and Olympian Jeff Galloway is available to take photos and sign autographs for runners. Galloway also joins runDisney Nutritionist Tara Guidas for talks together and separately in the speaker series. They cover topics such as “Waist Management: Running, Nutrition and Weight Loss,” “Stay Strong to the Finish,” and “Running Your First Half Marathon.”

Whether you’re registered to run at Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend or you’re just getting started in the sport, you’re sure to find inspiration at Walt Disney World this weekend.



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February 23, 2016

Disney's 'Dream Big, Princess' campaign launches with events at Disney Parks, on TV

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The Walt Disney Co. has announced a new initiative that is designed to inspire girls in particular, and kids in general, “to realize their full potential and dream big.” The “Dream Big, Princess” campaign launched last week with stories of real girls who share the qualities of other strong women, the Disney Princesses, and are role models themselves.

Over the next year, “Dream Big, Princess” will be celebrated with new themes each month tied to the Disney Princesses, such as kindness, friendship and adventure. Stories of girls who have dreamed big have debuted on the Company Clips channel at Disney Parks hotels and cruise ships. The first featured a 16-year-old pilot Canadian, Texas, and a 14-year-old world champion rock climber from New York City.

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The campaign had a natural fit this past weekend with runDisney’s Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend at Walt Disney World. The campaign slogan was displayed on a photo background near the corrals for the 5K, 10K and half marathon races, and runners were invited to pose with photo props that had words of encouragement and congratulations.

The “Dream Big, Princess” campaign also was highlighted in Sunday’s television special, “The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60.” Actress Kerry Washington introduced a montage of clips from Disney Princess movies by saying, “From the beginning a hallmark of Disney feature animations and films has been starring roles played by strong, female characters. These heroines have gone far beyond battling the Evil Queens and Wicked Stepmothers. They believe their own paths; run kingdoms, or queendoms; and master powerful forces that leave us in awe, proving once and for all that girls do rule.”

In the clips, celebrities talk about the importance of what girls see on the screen – and that it needs to be a reflection of themselves as well as the women they want to emulate. In addition, girls need to own their own power and to fight for what they believe in. In other words, they need to be strong and they can be anything they want to be; they dream big.

On Friday, Feb. 26, Disney Junior reaches out to the youngest princesses with its “Day of Big Dreams” from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Disney Channel.

To support the new campaign, Disney Consumer Products has released quite a few products with the slogan. “Dream Big, Princess” is emblazoned on everything from nightgowns to coloring books. And kids can visit the official Disney Princess website and follow @TheDisneyPrincesses on Instagram for inspiration and a fun look at the princesses.



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February 25, 2016

What are you looking forward to at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival?

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Spring is just around the corner – at least for those of us visiting Walt Disney World next week. Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival returns on Wednesday for its 23rd year, and we can’t wait! My family and I have some perennial favorites that only can be experienced during the 90-day festival, and I’m sure you do, too. Do we share some of the same must-dos? Here's our checklist:

** Playgrounds, playgrounds, playgrounds. During the festival, two character-themed playground-type areas are installed at Epcot. The largest is located along Imagination Walkway between Future World and World Showcase, and the other usually is situated on the walkway near Test Track. Landscape Structures has been providing -- and customizing -- the large play structures for the festival for years. This year, both playgrounds will be illuminated at night and have extended operating hours. Although my son now is too old and my daughter is aging out of these play areas, I will always fondly recall our visits to them and recommend them to families with young children. Yes, you really should take time out of a Disney day to let your kids play in these gardens.

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** Butterfly garden. Look for a tented structure near the center of Epcot and you’ll spot the butterfly garden, where you can step inside and see butterflies in the various stages of development and many flying freely in the tent. In addition, the plants and flowers are chosen to attract butterflies, so you can learn how to grow your backyard butterfly garden. Plus, sponsor GoGosqueeZ usually has a booth nearby where employees are handing out samples.

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** Tinker Bell’s house. For the last several years, the Tinker Bell topiary has been perched outside the butterfly garden and nearby is a replica of her home, which features an overturned teacup just like in the movies! The house was built by two Florida artists who have helped create several pieces in the festival each year. Years ago, the festival featured topiaries and miniature houses for all the Disney Fairies, and my young children would spend hours studying them. We wish every year they would be brought back!

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** Outdoor Kitchens. Who doesn’t like to eat?! Recognizing the popularity of its fall Food and Wine Festival, Walt Disney World introduced similar food booths at its spring festival. The booths are situated around the World Showcase promenade, allowing guests to walk and sample the appetizer-size portions and sip beverages. You can peruse the full menus for 2016 here. We were happy to see some of our favorites returning: Pulled Pig Sliders; Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, BW Farm Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction; Frushi; Candied Strawberries; and Dole Whips.

What are you looking forward to at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival? Tell us in the comments!



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February 27, 2016

SeaWorld Orlando's 2016 summer camp registration is open

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For years I have written about the unique experiences that SeaWorld Orlando offers children at its summer day and resident camps, but last year was the first year my dolphin-loving daughter experienced the fun for herself. And she loved every minute of the five days! We’re already making plans for her to attend another summer camp, and you can too, because 2016 registration is now open.

SeaWorld Orlando offers a wide variety of day camps for kids from preschool age through middle school. Sleep-away camps are available for middle- and high-school students. All of the camps are designed to allow children to interact with the marine animals as well as learn about the park's animal residents. The first camp begins June 13, and the last camp of the summer begins Aug. 8. They all run Monday through Friday.

Day camps are organized by grade level for children going into preschool through eighth grade. Campers will focus on a different animal each day – including whales, sharks, dolphins, penguins and sea lions -- and learn about them through songs, take-home arts and crafts, as well as by talking with zoological staff. Lunch, snacks, a camp T-shirt and water bottle are included in the price of camp. Participants who meet the height requirements also will have the opportunity to experience rides together.

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The camp themes and experiences seem to remain the same from year to year, and this year is no exception. However, there are multiple offerings for each grade level, so campers who return more than once will continue to have experiences that are new to them.

Children ages 3 and 4 can experience SeaFari from 9 a.m. to noon each day. The price is $275, and this is the only camp planned for a parent and child to experience together. That price is for the pair, a complimentary T-shirt and water bottle for the camper, and a snack each day. The camp offers up-close animal encounters, crafts and select animal shows.

Camps for children going into grades 1 through 8 take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and cost $350 per week. (SeaWorld pass members can save $50 per camp by registering through the pass member website or by calling 1-800-406-2244.) After care is available from 3 to 5 p.m. for an additional $75 per camper per week.

Programs for upcoming kindergarten and first-graders include: Sea Hideaway (learn how animals find the best hiding places and explore animal camouflage); Do You See What I Sea? (find out how your senses compare to sharks, whales, dolphins and much more); and Secrets of the Sea (uncover the secrets of killer whales, polar bears, and other sea critters).

Kids going into second and third grade can pick from these topics: What's For Lunch? (find out what types of food the animals eat and then help feed dolphins, flamingos and sting rays); Ocean Odyssey (discover why some animals migrate and where they go); and Animal Addresses (learn how killer whales, sea lions, penguins and other animals adapt to their surroundings).

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Campers entering fourth and fifth grades in the fall have their choice of Animal Antics (explore the world of animal behavior and training with up-close encounters); Walk on the Wild Side (learn about a variety of animals with hands-on experiences); and Feeding Frenzy (learn how SeaWorld prepares food for over 41,000 animals and feed some of the residents).

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Last year, my then-10-year-old daughter, who wants to be a marine biologist and dolphin trainer, attended the Animal Antics day camp. Despite our family having annual passes to SeaWorld Orlando for years, my daughter was really excited about each day’s activities. She especially loved all the animal encounters, which are not things you can do in the park without a special small-group tour, and the behind-the-scenes activities. The campers also were able to talk to a variety of animal trainers, which she took full advantage of. This summer, my daughter will be able to delve into even more experiences related to her future career.

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Upcoming sixth- to eighth-grade campers focus on careers related to animal care: Wild Careers (go behind the scenes to see what it's like to work with the animals and help construct toys for them); Marine Biology 101 (discover what it's like to be a real marine biologist and conduct hands-on experiments); and Animal Sciences (learn how biology, geography and other sciences all play a role in studying marine animals and visit the park's research facilities). During these three camps, the participants will spend one day at Aquatica, SeaWorld's nearby water park.

For day camps, a same-day after-camp admission to SeaWorld is available at a discounted rate.

Students going into seventh through twelfth grades can attend resident career "sleep-away" camps. These campers experience what it takes to train and work with marine animals and have the opportunity to touch a penguin, snorkel in a shark cage, work with the animal care staff and create an enriching environment for our animals. Plus, participants spend a day at Discovery Cove swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with tropical fish and rays and feeding exotic birds in a free-flight aviary. They also will visit Aquatica.

Resident camps cost $1,200, which includes all camp activities, lodging onsite at SeaWorld and at its partner hotel for five nights, plus all meals and snacks. Supervision and guidance is provided 24 hours a day for the entire duration.

SeaWorld camps are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), a nationally recognized association focused on health, safety and program quality.

For more information, visit SeaWorldCamps.com/Orlando or call 1-800-406-2244.



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February 29, 2016

Actors Bateman, Goodwin discuss their roles as Nick and Judy in Disney's 'Zootopia'

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If you’ve got kids, or you’re a Disney fan, you already know that “Zootopia,” the entertainment studio’s 55th animated feature film, comes out on Friday (March 4). What you might not know, however, is that it’s a richly layered movie with elements that will appeal not just to children and Disney fans, but to parents and casual moviegoers, as well. It offers laughs for all ages with the antics of a bunny and fox, but it also surprises adults with clever references to pop culture and film noir. Moreover, “Zootopia” leaves viewers of all ages with a collection of positive messages from a comedy-adventure movie that isn’t necessarily trying to lecture its audience.

Given all the nuances of this film, it’s no surprise that when I was invited to join a group of writers for roundtable interviews with the actors who voice the lead characters, we had a wide range of questions. Ginnifer Goodwin voices Judy Hopps, a bunny determined to move to Zootopia where “anyone can be anything” so she can join the police force. Jason Bateman voices Nick Wilde, a slick city fox who opens Judy’s eyes to the real world and ultimately helps her solve a crime mystery. Bateman spoke to our group of ten writers at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World, while Goodwin chatted with us via video-conferencing from Disney Studios in Los Angeles.

Both actors are parents: Bateman has two daughters, ages 4 and 9, and Goodwin has a 2-year-old son and is pregnant with her second son. Naturally, we were interested in how those familial relationships helped shape the actors’ interest in being a part of “Zootopia,” their characters’ development, and the messages they hope children and adults take away from the movie. Here are some of the questions we asked Bateman and Goodwin.

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What was it like to play an animated character when most of your roles have been live-action parts?

Bateman: It is an interesting process. … I don’t know what those pictures are where you stare at a pattern and after a while your eyes start to see three-dimension and then you can never see it the other way. There’s that kind of a process when you recognize somebody’s voice behind an animated character. For the first few minutes, all you can do is see that actor’s face and then after a few minutes you only see that character and you can’t imagine them sounding any other way. There’s a transition there. It’s going to be interesting to see if my 4-year-old has that at all. I wonder if she’s going to hear me. I wonder if she’s going to know that’s me. … The two screenings I’ve had access to started well after her bedtime, and she’s not much to be with after she gets tired so she’s going to have to wait.

Do you see a lot of yourself in the animated performance?

Bateman: They captured the half-interested eyelids, you know. I can see that. He’s a real smart-ass and he’s always got his fist on his hip and he kind of wants to get on with it. So there’s a lot of body language in it that is similar to me. The facial characteristics, I think they’re beautifully subtle and sort of those caricature elements. There were two cameras inside the booth the whole time and that’s what they do so they can give the animators a guideline if they need it or want it at certain times. It really is just sort of for facial tics because you’re hidden by that script. You’re not asked [to] “give us some body movements” so they know what to animate.

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What did your older daughter think of watching you on screen?

Bateman: [She] has seen the film and gave it real high marks. All she sees are these films [animated movies] so she’s got a real fine opinion about them. She loved it, and I really tried to drill down a bit to see if she was trying to be nice. … She came by the studio while we were recording a couple of times. She’s a big, big fan of animated movies … so for her to look behind the curtain and see that you sit in a booth and there’s a microphone and you only do four scenes at a time and it’s a two-hour session every few months. … For her it was really a cool window into how these things she loves so much get done.

Did your older daughter have questions about some of the more serious themes of “Zootopia,” such as prejudice and inclusiveness?

Bateman: You know, not yet. The central message of Judy’s sense of optimism and enthusiasm and “I’m going to go to the big city and make it” kind of thread is a great one for young girls to see. She immediately runs into this pessimistic and cynical character who is saying life’s not all cherries and ice cream and she kind of proves him wrong. So that part she really loves. The other stuff, I’m sure on future viewings, will start to kind of permeate, but until then I’m going to let her take her own time with it. It’s nice with these Disney films that parents have this tool to kind of hit pause and start referencing these friendly animals that are carrying some of the heavier water for us parents. You can kind of draw the parallels there when you broach these types of subjects.

Do you think when one of the characters says “fear always works” it’s going to get across to anyone?

Bateman: It hit me and it hit you, and I would hope that that hits a lot of people because, as you said, it’s extremely relevant and topical. That would be the one that I hope lands the most because that’s a real dangerous thing as far as using fear-mongering to either gather or hold onto power. It’s a real dangerous slope. There was no way they could have known that four years ago when they started writing all this stuff, but I’m glad that they timing has worked out for them.

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Goodwin, too, expressed an appreciation for how the characters in this film could appeal to youngsters and adults alike, and how the movie’s messages come across along with its humor.

Did you relate to Judy and her goals?

Goodwin: I feel like they just animated me. There are qualities Judy has that I wish I had, but then there are a lot of overlapping things. I feel like we’re both fiercely optimistic and ambitious, but I think we also are idealistic and a bit self-righteous. I would like to think I take as much responsibility for my actions as she does, but I’m sure I don’t. I wish I were as fearless as Judy, and I know I’m not. But we’re both triers, and I know that how we express ourselves is exactly the same because after I even tried to act with a voice I thought they would want me to portray Judy, they said, we actually would love for you to bring yourself to the character. So I feel like it really was just me animated.

Can you talk about the complex themes in the movie?

Goodwin: That’s what makes this movie so special. It’s a comedy, it’s an action-movie, it’s a buddy cop movie, it’s about friendship, it’s about an homage to film noir in Hollywood and, yes, there are overlying themes and underlying themes that I hope are the things that people really leave carrying with them. Most articulated is the idea that either you are what you are or anyone can be anything, and that’s the first thing I would hope my kids would pick up on and discuss it afterward when they’re finally old enough to see the movie. And then there are ideas about taking responsibility for our actions and there is great social commentary and it’s really, creepily timely right now. It could be really political but to realize this movie was written years ago is also to realize that these issues are timeless, unfortunately. I think it’s a really ballsy move for Disney to make the statements that they’re making and that they’re not doing it in a message movie. … They’re just actively asking questions and then leaving it for the audience to make their own decisions about.

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Are you excited for your children to see “Zootopia”?

Goodwin: No. My husband and I decided very recently that we’re not going to let our kids see “Zootopia” for quite a while because – it has nothing do with the content – we just showed our son his first movie about a month ago. We’ve kept him away from all screens of all kinds – he’s almost 2 -- and he had the flu about a month ago and we let him watch “Winnie the Pooh” and he thinks that Winnie the Pooh is real. He thinks that character exists in the world, and, by the way, he thinks that animated character is the same one he saw walking around at Disneyland a couple weeks later. And the last thing I want to do is shatter that illusion by having him understand at all what acting is. And so I don’t want him to recognize Mommy’s voice. Therefore, I’ll keep him from those things until he really gets the concept of how entertainment is made.

How would you feel about Judy and Nick getting together in a sequel?

Goodwin: I’m not all about the animal husbandry. … One of the things I love most about the movie honestly … it’s so rare that we really can just celebrate a platonic friendship of a male and female character. There’s no sexuality there, and I think that’s maybe what makes it so brilliant. You can actually have such a gorgeous relationship and not bring sex into it. … I would like to see Nick have to prove to Judy that the world is worth saving. I’d like their roles to flip flop. I’d like to see her go to her darker place and have Nick be the one that pulls her out of it.

DISCLAIMER: I took part in a “Zootopia” press junket, during which I attended an advance screening of the movie, a party at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and round-table interviews with actors and filmmakers. Although coverage of the movie was expected, my opinions are completely my own.



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About February 2016

This page contains all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in February 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2016 is the previous archive.

March 2016 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.