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July 19, 2018

Anime Expo 2018 Serves up Pop Culture, Part Two

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Anime Expo, the largest celebration of anime pop culture in North America, once again took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center this month. Virtually every facet of Japanese popular culture was represented with gusto as 110,000 fans devoured content for five days on video games, film, tv, cosplay, animation, music, and traditional arts.

Heading out into the convention center, the Expo encompassed two large Exhibit and Entertainment Halls that featured more than 524 Exhibitors selling goods and demoing games. For cosplayers, there were booths dedicated to costume repair and numerous photos sets, as well as historical displays from the World Cosplay Championships.

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Game companies Blizzard and Square Enix had sizeable presences, offering Overwatch and Kingdom Hearts demos and merch for anyone willing to brave the lines.

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Gamers more interested in kicking it old-school could enjoy more traditional machines as well as large areas for card/board games.

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I spoke a little in Part One about some of the differences in Japanese and US pop culture--another interesting one is the huge industry there devoted to online mobile gaming for women. The general tendency here to try to gear games exclusively towards the male audience can be seen by the almost complete lack of any big companies delving into this field--which really seems like an impressive devotion to gender division, when you consider how much money they look to be leaving on the table.

[Like most of the games at E3, these games are probably neither intended for, nor particularly appropriate for children.]

In any case, after taking in the largely testosterone-sprinkled booths at E3, having a few intended to catch women's attention was an interesting change. One of the more prolific companies releasing mobile visual novels/dating sims is NTT Solmare who featured digital slot machines, a motion capture shuriken fighting game, and an optical illusion photo op.

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Over at the incredibly popular Cybird booth, examples were regularly held of the "kabe-don" maneuver, which is a widely used romantic trope in many Asian stories.

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A slightly broader range of interests was represented at the KLabGames booth, where they had activities related to several of their games, including the phenomenally popular music-themed action video game "Utano☆Princesama Shining Live" (a cross between a dating sim and an infinitely more complex Simple Simon game) and their soccer sim "Captain Tsubasa: Dream Team."

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(In which we find out that I am even worse at virtual soccer than actual soccer, if that can be believed.)

As usual, there was the usual metric ton of merchandise as kawaii as anyone could wish for.

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Panels and displays were held on a large array of topics from voice acting...

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to martial arts...

To an in-depth discussion moderated by frequent Disney author Charles Solomon on the works of the late film director/screenwriter/producer Isao Takahata, who, along with Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, and Yasuyoshi Tokuma, co-founded Studio Ghibli.

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--Takahata was known for the research and detail he put into his works, from Japanese folklore to the realistic depiction of the architecture and culture iconic to his settings.
--Daisy Ridley, of the Star Wars franchise, actively pursued the job of dubbing one of Takahata's lesser-known works "Only Yesterday" because of her fondness for Studio Ghibli films.

--"The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" was Takahata's last film and the most expensive Japanese film to date. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2015. It illustrates Takahata's usage of space to aid in atmosphere and storytelling.

--Solomon reflected that Glen Keane once commented that the key to animation was not moving the camera, but moving the audience, and that Takahata was a master of that.

On the whole this year, I found the convention logistics greatly improved--last year the lines to get in were long enough to block traffic and make even getting a parking space a horrific ordeal. This year, although the lines were still long for the premier events, they seemed to be managed well enough where I didn't hear the same vociferous complaints as last time, despite people having to wait outside in record-breaking temperatures. (One day I walked out of the convention center after 10pm and it was literally like walking into a pre-heated oven.)

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The only space that I felt really still needs some sort of streamlining is the Artist's Alley which was always so clogged with people it was difficult to look at any one table of merchandise. It would be nice if the tables had a little more space around them so you didn't end up with large mobs of people surrounding one small display of tiny charms and congesting the walkway.

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While there admittedly isn't a lot of Disney content at Anime Expo, I think there's quite a bit that might be appealing to fans of the Disney aesthetic.

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Anyone who enjoys animation, particularly those who yearn for the days of hand-drawn animation, or games, or comics, or learning about other cultures will surely find something of interest here.

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Even a dinosaur can like otome.

At $80 for five days, Anime Expo is a reasonable bargain, although of course your experience will be a lot easier if you can spring for the Premier Fan badges that allow priority access to many locations and events. Next year Anime Expo 2019 is scheduled for July 4 – 7, with Pre-Show Night on July 3. 4-day badges for AX 2019 are now on-sale at http://www.anime-expo.org/.






July 18, 2018

Disneyland Resort Updates from July 13, 2018

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, July 13, 2018.

Starting off my visit with a look at the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge construction from the Mickey and Friends parking structure. Along Disneyland drive on the back edge of the buildings more support structures are rising to form the distant/back spires.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Wire mesh is being added to the steel support structure as the rock formation is extended out toward Critter Country.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

A closer look at the formation that has the top couple of tiers of scaffolding removed now.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The tallest of the original ones continues to be revealed. Notice the workers to get a sense of scale of this spire.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

A video clip overview of the new parking structure construction on the former Pinocchio Parking lot next to the Mickey and Friends parking structure.

Looking over the former tram stop at the project. The second floor of the new structure is starting to take shape.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

A closer look at the ramps that already started on the far side. Concrete has been poured and guessing supports for forms will start to be installed soon.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The view from ground level in the tram unload area.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Walking along Magic Way the view of the escalator area.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The Disneyland App cleared the closed establishments, replacing them with trees a couple of weeks ago.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

No visible changes to the area yet. The exterior demolition has not started. Security is still open near ESPN and the TVs are still on.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Not a lot of visible progress on the new dining locations in Downtown Disney.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Sanuk has even more scaffolding up around it...they have added a tent to try and let guests know they are still open in the middle of the construction.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

In Disney California Adventure two World of Color platforms are raised and have a fence around them as the renovation project continues.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Cold water available at Smokejumpers Grill. This made it a little more challenging to pick up our mobile order. Also noteworthy, cast members said they were having ice issues and were very reluctant to give out cups of ice (even with orders).
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

A sign marking the end of the FastPass return for Mission Breakout.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Next up for us was the Disney Jr. Dance Party. One update in the show that I was very slow to grab a picture of since I had the camera down...the video of the Racers arriving at the park now mentions and shows Pixar Pier.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The drinking fountains still have not returned.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The sign for Bing Bong's has been installed.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Many areas of Pixar Pier are without shade.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The World of Color work from the Pixar Pier side of the bay.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The Fun-size Zurg figure has been replaced by a trashcan due to an issue.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The Incredibles Preview has ended but the Pixar short films have yet to return.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Signs are up for the Play Disney Parks app near Peter Pan.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge spires from Toontown
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The backstage gate near Minnie's House features a Minnie-inspired cover right now.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

A ground level view of the gate. It appears to be a canvas wrapping/covering the gate.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

On Main Street Dance the Magic is performing before the Pixar Play Parade.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Here is a video clip of the group making their way up Main Street USA. As in years past they filled the street again.

As you enter Adventureland a construction wall is up. Appears they are renovating the Tiki Garden area that is adjacent to the outdoor Jolly Holiday seating.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The 2018 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band performing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at their 6:45pm set.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Pixar Pals Dance Party in Tomorrowland Terrace. Mike was out this week with Sulley
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Wow! Able to walk through Tomorrowland on a Friday night at 8pm.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The repainting of the Fireworks Factory sign near the Stage Door Cafe is moving along slowly. In two weeks a little progress was made.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge from Critter Country as the sun was setting and daylight disappearing quickly.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The spires have a variety of colors and textures across the range.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

Walking by the Matterhorn.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The All-American College Band performing in Town Square.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, July 13, 2018

The 2018 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band performing their Michael Jackson medley.

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.









July 17, 2018

Happy 63rd Birthday, Disneyland!

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Disneyland Opening Day Ticket

Yes, that's right, Disneyland opened 63 years ago today, on July 17, 1955. While a lot has changed in those 63 years, it's still true that as you pass under the train station:

"Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy"

You know, I really like that message, because I think it encourages us to appreciate our history and our imagination, and gives us hope for the future.

In honor of Disneyland's birthday, I thought it would be fun to write a little quiz, and see how much you all know about the early days of Disneyland. We haven't quite worked out the details of doing it completely on-line yet, so the answers are at the bottom of this blog.

If you enjoy the quiz, please let us know, and we'll try to do more of this kind of thing.

1. Which of these attractions did NOT open on Disneyland's opening day in 1955?

A. Peter Pan's Flight
B. Autopia
C. Matterhorn Bobsleds
D. Mark Twain Steamboat

2. What was the price of an adult Disneyland admission ticket on July 18, 1955, the first day the general public could enter the park?

A. $1.00
B. $0.75
C. $0.50
D. $0.25

3. Disneyland's Main Street, USA is thought to be inspired by what real-life town?

A. Marceline, Missouri
B. Omaha, Nebraska
C. Independence, Kansas
D. Moline, Illinois

4. When Disneyland opened, most attractions required purchase of an additional ticket to ride, with some attractions costing more. What was used to distinguish the different ticket values?

A. Colors
B. Disney Characters
C. Fruits and Vegetables
D. Letters

5. Aunt Jemima's Pancake House was an early Disneyland restaurant. What current Disneyland restaurant occupies the same location?

A. Carnation Cafe
B. Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe
C. Plaza Inn
D. River Belle Terrace

6. Which of these methods of transportation was not available when Disneyland opened?

A. Trolley Car
B. Stagecoach
C. Monorail
D. Train

7. What future U.S. president was present on Disneyland's opening day?

A. John Kennedy
B. Richard Nixon
C. Ronald Reagan
D. Gerald Ford

8. Which of the following lands was added a number of years after Disneyland opened?

A. Frontierland
B. New Orleans Square
C. Adventureland
D. Tomorrowland

9. Before Disneyland was built, what types of trees were growing on the land?

A. Apple
B. Avocado
C. Lemon
D. Orange

10. What opening day attraction traveled the longest distance?

A. Disneyland Railroad
B. Stagecoach Ride
C. Jungle Cruise
D. Casey Jr. Circus Train

Answers

1. Which of these attractions did NOT open on Disneyland's opening day in 1955?

C. Matterhorn Bobsleds
They opened in 1959.

Disneyland Matterhorn 1963


2. What was the price of an adult Disneyland admission ticket on July 18, 1955, the first day the general public could enter the park?

A. $1.00


3. Disneyland's Main Street, USA is thought to be inspired by what real-life town?

A. Marceline, Missouri

Disneyland Main Street


4. When Disneyland opened, most attractions required purchase of an additional ticket to ride, with some attractions costing more. What was used to distinguish the different ticket values?

D. Letters

Disneyland Ticket books


5. Aunt Jemima's Pancake House was an early Disneyland restaurant. What current Disneyland restaurant occupies the same location?

D. River Belle Terrace
(And that's AllEars.net's own Debra Martin Koma on the left in the photo below! Adorable!)

Disneyland Aunt Jemima


6. Which of these methods of transportation was not available when Disneyland opened?

C. Monorail
The monorail began operation in 1959.

Disneyland Monorail 1963


7. What future U.S. president was present on Disneyland's opening day?

C. Ronald Reagan


8. Which of the following lands was added a number of years after Disneyland opened?

B. New Orleans Square
New Orleans Square opened in 1966.

Disneyland New Orleans Square


9. Before Disneyland was built, what types of trees were growing on the land?

D. Orange

Disneyland orange groves from air


10. What opening day attraction traveled the longest distance?

A. Disneyland Railroad

Disneyland Railroad Train


How did you do? Were the questions too hard? Too easy? We would appreciate your feedback by leaving a comment using the form below. Thank you!







July 16, 2018

Anime Expo 2018 Serves Up Pop Culture, Part One

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Anime Expo, the largest celebration of anime pop culture in North America, once again took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center this month. Virtually every facet of Japanese popular culture was represented with gusto as 110,000 fans devoured content for five days on video games, film, tv, cosplay, animation, music, and traditional arts.

Industry panels were held by a number of anime distributors and streaming platforms such as ELEVEN Arts, Pony Canyon, Crunchyroll, Funimation, Netflix, and Aniplex, announcing numerous new titles coming to theaters and monitors near you. Here are just a sampling:


"Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms"


"Liz and the Blue Bird"


"The Rising of the Shield Hero"


"MY HERO ACADEMIA: Two Heroes"


"Aggretsuko: Season Two"


"Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel"

I was particularly pleased at ELEVEN Arts' announcement that "Haikara-san: Here Comes Miss Modern Part II" would be coming to US theaters this winter, as the wonderful Part I ended on an abrupt cliffhanger.

For those whose exposure to animation has largely been limited to the Disney-centric Western styles, anime (the Japanese word for "animation") can serve as something of a culture shock. In America, I think it's fair to say that there is a much larger and harsher divide between things that are considered appropriate for "adults" (where "adult" is typically meant to encompass solely older men) and "children." Consequently, things that are fanciful or cute--the stereotypical view of animation, comics, theme parks etc.--have historically been considered the purview of children and not something a self-respecting grown-up would enjoy.

In Japan, this doesn't really exist to the same degree. The result of this is that things like anime or manga don't hold the childish stigma that they do here in the West, which has the interesting effect of broadening the subject matter that's considered appropriate for those art forms. While this comparative freedom of expression can produce astonishing works that you would never find in a more restricted publishing environment, it also means that establishing whether a thing is something appropriate for you, personally, takes a little more examination. In America, if a character is cute and has a big head and large round eyes, you can usually (not always, by any means) be comfortable in thinking that it's meant to be in a G-PG-rated product.

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In Japanese art, this is not the case. In some ways, it is almost the converse of the Disney mode of seeking to produce one piece of art that all ages can enjoy; anime instead incorporates a vast variety of styles and subjects in which all ages can find something to enjoy that is specifically for them...it may just take a little work to find it. For people new to anime, I'd recommend the many gorgeous Studio Ghibli works which are great examples of the beautiful background illustrations that are also a strong characteristic of the form.


That's My Girl - Clip - Howl's Moving Castle

Next time: We hit the Exhibit Floor and attend some panels, including one moderated by frequent Disney contributor Charles Solomon.






July 5, 2018

"Ant-Man and The Wasp" Press Conference

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"Who would have believed that in your hour of need, you would turn to us?"
"Not me."

--Luis and Dr. Hank Pym

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On July 6, Marvel Studios unveils the latest chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in "Ant-Man and The Wasp." Starting up two years after the events of "Captain America: Civil War," we find Scott Lang dealing with the aftermath of getting caught on the wrong side of the Sokovia Accords. Facing the prospects of losing the family he fought so hard for in "Ant-Man," the choice between being a superhero and a father seems easy... until Hope Van Dyne and Henry Pym call on him once again to help protect their family this time--and possibly the world.

[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

To discuss Lang and Van Dyne's latest super-misadventures at a recent press conference were cast members Paul Rudd “Scott Lang/Ant-Man,” Evangeline Lilly “Hope van Dyne / The Wasp,” Hannah John-Kamen “Ghost,” Michael Douglas “Dr Hank Pym,” Laurence Fishburne “Bill Foster,” and Director Peyton Reed and Producer Kevin Feige.

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Video of the press conference (some potential SPOILERS):

Panel highlights:

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Reed on making a sequel that connected to both "Ant-Man" and "Captain America: Civil War:": "...It is a sequel to both movies. And what was cool about 'Captain America: Civil War' is we could not ignore what had happened to Scott Lang in that movie, in this movie. And it gave us an organic jumping off point, because my first reaction was… what would Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne think about Scott taking the suit and getting involved with this and fighting with the Avengers? Well, they’d be pissed off. So it really gave us this whole… starting point where it’s like, well, what if they were estranged at the beginning of the movie, as a result of this? You know, there are ramifications of the Sokovia Accords...and it really gave us a really, a natural starting point."

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John-Kamen on the nature of villany: "I guess when you play a villain, you have to play it like you’re the good guy and everyone else is bad. So everyone else is the bad guy, and you’re the good guy. So...I mean, the stakes are so high--she has such a clear objective in the movie and you know, every man for himself. Every woman for herself."

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Douglas on becoming digitally young again: "I looked pretty good, didn’t I?...That was one of the nice parts--first of all, when we started this and I discovered that Michelle Pfeiffer was going to be my wife...Having (been) such a tremendous fan of hers, never have had any chance to work with her…I was totally ecstatic. And then in reading the script to find out that Michelle Pfeiffer and I were going to be 30 years younger…even made it all that much better. So, it… it was a treat and it remains to be seen where all of this can go."

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Lilly on quantum physics: "I really love quantum physics and always did before this happened and that’s one of the reasons I was excited about this brand...you know, at one point we thought the atom was the beyond all and end all; that everything ended at the atom. That was the smallest nucleus in the world. But actually we discovered that the atom is kinetic, and that atoms exist in multiple places at the same time...and that was scientifically proven. And once you discover that, then you know that matter is kinetic and matter is displacing all the time and if it can be displaced, it can be warped. So if you can warp it then you can warp size, you can warp matter and also, can you warp time? Can you warp reality? Can you warp universes? Right?"
Rudd: "What if the way you see blue is the way I see red?"
Lilly: "Oh, dude! Dude!"

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Fishburne on playing in the MCU: "It is not the first Marvel role to come my way. In fact, years and years ago I… ran into a guy named Tim Story who directed the movie 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer' and I said to him, 'I am Norrin Radd,' and he said, 'Who?' and I said, 'I am Norrin Radd and Norrin Radd is the guy who becomes the Silver Surfer and works for Galactus,' and all that stuff. So I voiced the Silver Surfer in 'Rise of the Silver Surfer' and then I’ve been a reader since I was eight and a fan, you know, my whole life. And really enjoyed the movies and everything that, you know, they’ve done with MCU has been fantastic, because what they’ve done is… brilliantly braid the source material with, and bring it on into, the now and so it’s amazing."

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Feige on giving Wasp equal billing with Ant-Man:
"Yeah, I mean, that was, that was the first idea with the movie before…I think it was before even Civil War. Clearly that film, the first Ant-Man film, essentially is all about how qualified Hope is and her estrangement from her father, who’s preventing her from doing these things. And it was without question, in that tag of… what ended up being the tag on the first Ant-Man film, was in there from the beginning, which is her finding that suit and saying 'It’s about damn time,' so we always knew that the next one was going to be Ant-Man and The Wasp. And that it would finally be time to see her suit up and be the hero--as she said earlier, she was born to."

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Rudd on grounding Ant-Man as a regular guy: "Well, it’s true, this theme of… you know, parents and children run throughout the film, fathers and daughters. And it’s something that’s relatable because whether or not we have children of our own...we all have parents. And you know…the idea that I’m playing somebody that, like you said, doesn’t have innate super abilities is a way in. I want it to be relatable. I can relate to the character that way. Certainly when I’m thinking about it and we’re talking about story and script and everything; that’s the approach. I have a daughter roughly the age of Cassie in the film; she’s a little bit younger. And while I know for a fact she’s going to want me to build a slide after she sees the film--which is really hard to do in a New York apartment--I, you know, I know what it’s like to spend the evening playing with Barbie dolls.

"That’s the glue. That’s the soul of it. And… the love that a family shares and how we need each other. You know, parents need their kids; kids need their parents. And if we could somehow build a very funny movie, one that appeals to all ages that, you’re right, that families and kids could see but that actually still has all of the elements that fits it in the Marvel Universe and all ages are going to be wowed by certain aspects of it--that idea that I can identify myself in that, in that role was huge."

Later, AllEars was privileged to get a brief chat with the charming Abby Ryder Fortson who plays Scott Lang's daughter Cassie.

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On getting into acting: "My parents were always actors, so I started working...I booked my first commercial with my Dad when I was four, and my Mom did a job when I was still in her stomach. I was going to so many auditions with my parents...they were having the auditions and I was just sitting in the room with them, one day I just said 'hey, when can I do this?'"

On becoming a part of "Ant-Man:" "I auditioned."

John Fortson, Abby's Dad: "Us all being actors, Abby just kind of came up to me one day, as I'm coaching my wife and friends, and she's like 'oh, ok, papa, you're coaching me' and we would just make up lines back and forth, and as she was an early reader, she just has an incredible ability to memorize. Right away she'd read something a couple times and she's got it down. She just really seemed to enjoy meeting people and the whole process and working and so she's been going ever since."

On the role of Cassie: "I think that Cassie is more independent and more aware of what her father is doing in this film, more than the first one...Cassie is really just like me, so I really just got to play with her."

On acting: "My favorite part of acting is getting to play different characters and just bringing different characters to life."

On Paul Rudd: "It was really fun to work with him, because Paul is just a really sweet, kind, wonderful actor--he's very funny!"

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On whether she's visited the Disney Parks:
"I've gone three times to Disney. Out here."

On her favorite ride: "I really like Pirates of the Caribbean.*"

“Ant-Man and The Wasp” hits U.S. theaters on July 6, 2018.

*This is the correct answer to this question.





July 2, 2018

Disneyland Resort Updates from June 29, 2018

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, June 29, 2018.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge from the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. Not a lot of visible progress this visit. Most of the work is being done on the other side of the buildings or inside.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Scaffolding is starting to be removed from some of the spires so you can see the detail of the rock formations emerging now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

The wire mesh for the rock work is starting to be applied to the large steel structure.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

A look at the new parking structure construction on the former Pinocchio Parking lot.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Support columns are up throughout the site and they are starting to install temporary supports for the second floor.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

A video clip overview of the project.

In Carthay Circle Five was performing...no sign of Dime or their car.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

The Radiator Springs FastPass distribution has moved to Cars Land. The old location in Bugs Land has just a barrier and sign up today. This area will be walled off for a Marvel project in the near future.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

The new distribution location is this area next to Ramone's. Carts are brought out. Once distribution ends the carts are rolled backstage again. It had concluded for the day by the time I arrived (1:30pm)

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Out on Pixar Pier work on Bing Bong's store continues. Facade lights and signs are now installed.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

In Paradise Garden the Pixar Pals photo op is still set up but the pals have relocated to Pixar Pier now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

The movie poster photo op is still there as part of Pixar Fest.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Five Got Rhythm was performing on the band stand now that the Pixarharmonic Orchestra has moved to Pixar Pier.

Paradise Gardens Park trash cans still say Paradise Pier on them.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Over at Disneyland Starbucks has You are here mugs featuring New Orleans Square now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

A look at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge from the top deck of the Mark Twain
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Fastpass return times sign is being installed for Pirates of the Caribbean. No date on when FastPass will launch but it is getting close now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Laod Bhang & Co Fireworks Rocket Factory sign is being repainted in Frontierland.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

In Downtown Disney the construction walls for Naples work now extend to Sanuk. With a new restaurant also going in on the other side Sanuk is now surrounded by walls. They have a table out front to show people they are still open.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Everything west of the Monorail beam in Downtown Disney is now closed in preparation for the new hotel construction. Rainforest Cafe, ESPN Zone, and the AMC Theaters closed several weeks ago, with the rest of the locations, like Starbucks, closing this past week.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Disney Vacation Club sales location is also shuttered.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

As well as Earl of Sandwich.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

From the Monorail you can see part of the Downtown Disney parking lot is closed and being used as a staging are for the upcoming project. Looks like wood for all the walls that will be going up next week is onsite now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

The 2018 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band performing a Disneyland attraction medley in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Pixar Pals Dance Party takes over the Tomorrowland Terrace from 7-10:30pm nightly as part of Pixar Fest now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Dug on the dance floor.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Russell was nearby.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

A DJ keeps the party going.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

An overview of the dance floor.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Sulley stopped by.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Emile and Remy from Ratatouille

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Took a quick walk through Pixar Pier as the sun was setting.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Several of the lights looked to still be a work in progress or just not on yet.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Zurg has arrived at the Poultry Palace - he didn't make it for the opening of Pixar Pier.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

2018 All-American College Band performing "Bubbles Was a Cheerleader" at the Main Street Train Station.

The 2018 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band performing their Earth, Wind and Fire tribute.

Closed out my evening with Together Forever from Main Street USA.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

I gave the new Play Disney Parks App a try earlier in the day when I visited the Haunted Mansion. I loaded the app and selected the Haunted Mansion.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

It said it would trigger an achievement after I exited.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Nothing happened and I manually clicked that I was there, still nothing. Later in the evening while waiting for Together Forever I looked again to try some of the trivia and it showed I had the Haunted Mansion Achievement.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

I clicked on it and this is what it shows. I did not play beyond this since the show began.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, June 29, 2018

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.









June 26, 2018

Early Look at Pixar Pier's Lamplight Lounge

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One of the many re-imagined spaces in Disney California Adventure's recently-opened Pixar Pier area is the new sit-down restaurant Lamplight Lounge.

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[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney]

This location has been a restaurant from DCA's opening, and has undergone as many transformations as DCA itself. Originally "Avalon Cove by Wolfgang Puck," it was a fine dining establishment that was as short-lived as it was ambitious. It closed within a year and eventually reopened as "Ariel’s Grotto - Disney Princess Celebration" which was a character dining experience and a prix fixe package option when "World of Color" started up in 2010.

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Now re-conceptualized as a "California casual gastropub," the restaurant still features the same panoramic view of Paradise Bay, but has a virtually all-new menu and a design that pays tribute to all the talented Pixar artisans.

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Handwritten notes and quotations from various Pixar employees adorn some of the walls, giving the eatery the air of a place where Pixar artists and storytellers come to relax and hang out. The sketch art chandelier (similar to the one in the Art of Animation resort at Walt Disney World) represents the notes and drawings generated in the course of creating one of the classic Pixar films.

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(The chandelier features blank pages at the top and more detailed drawings at the bottom, depicting graphically a film's evolution.)

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Over on the t-shirt wall, some of the crew shirts designed specifically for members of different departments on different films are on display.

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Replicating an actual conference table at Pixar, one booth sports a table containing die-cast "Cars" toys, with a variety of different Pixar toys and design notes to and from the manufacturers decorating the walls.

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Even the signs on the restrooms mirror the restroom signs that can be found at the Emeryville studio.

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Pixar

As part of the media preview, Disney hosted a meal at Lamplight Lounge for us to take a look at the new menu.

-- Lamplight Lounge Menu with prices and photos

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Surely the most impressive drink of the night was the Infinity Fizz: A combination of Powerade, apple juice, and cherry pearls, over a chunk of sublimating dry ice created a Buzz Lightyear-green smoking concoction with dancing pink balls.

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The taste was a sweet-tart flavor that reminded me a little of "Nerds" candy. They don't give you a straw because the fumes going up your nose is supposed to be part of the experience--thankfully there's a perforated platform separating the dry ice from the rest of the drink so you don't get a mouthful of frozen carbon dioxide as another part of the experience. I thought that on the whole it was a fun thing to try, but the glass isn't that big and ends up being about 2/3rds full so probably not something I'd necessarily afford every time out.

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The other specialty drink I tried was the 2319, named after the child contamination code from "Monsters Inc." A blend of strawberry, coconut, pineapple juice and Coke, this seemed like a perfectly respectable smoothy, but I couldn't taste the Coke at all.

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As is often the case, the appetizers had a leg up on the entrees as far as variety and creativity, and I was able to taste a few of them. The one that I had the most expectations for was the tuna poke with covering rice bowl that you're supposed to smash with a big spoon.

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While I did like it, I found it a little disappointing--the dome, which was kind of built up to me as this big production ended up performing a little like those puffy chips you get with peking duck after they've gone a little stale. It didn't really break very easily, and I was finally able to kind of cut a hole in the top before just removing the whole thing.

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The other thing was that on looking at other photos of this same dish, every other example of it had it neatly stacked up in a layered cylinder, whereas the presentation of this one kind of looked like it had some tectonic instability. Tastewise it was pretty good, with the watermelon working better in concert with the ahi than I had expected in terms of both flavor and texture. The dome was not edible, but everyone else I spoke with afterwards liked theirs and said it shattered like glass, so this may just have been an unfortunate outlier.

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How it is apparently supposed to look.

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The other appetizer I had was the crab and tuna rolls. I enjoyed these and appreciated that they didn't go with fake krab in them. The nori was a little tough, but that's hard to keep otherwise under conditions of mass production.

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Other appetizers I didn't primarily order but got to taste included the evergreen Cove Bar lobster nachos which seemed pretty identical to the old ones.

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Possibly my surprise favorite was the potato skins which were crispy and went well with the cheese. The one thing I did think was odd was the fact that I didn't actually see any skin on the paddies which were more like oversized tater tots.

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As far as the "Bigger Bites," I had the Salmon PLT which I liked quite a bit (despite being pretty full by this time.) The salmon was cooked well and the pancetta was every bit as crispy as described. The one thing that did seem off was that the description had it coming on focaccia, and it instead came on what appeared to be the same bun as the burger and the chicken sandwich. The fries were very good.

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While I didn't get to try these entrees, they looked like they were good sized portions, making the Bigger Bites probably a better deal than the Bites as far as a cost/volume ratio given that the appetizers range around $15-20, and the entrees run around $20-23.

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Spinach Salad

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Ratatouille

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Cheddar burger

There were displays of food available for photos as well.

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Grilled Chicken Salad

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Chicken Sandwich

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The only dessert on the menu was donuts, but they were done very well. I liked the dipping sauces which were strawberry and chocolate, as they almost gave the dish the air of a deconstructed jelly or chocolate donut.

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Up top, the old Cove Bar has largely remained close to its most recent incarnation, with the addition of Pixar Pier-related signs. You can order the Bites here, but not the Bigger Bites.

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Finally, my favorite part of Lamplight may actually be the adorable sketch coasters they use here.

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There are about seven different ones, counting one blank that people can use to make their own masterpiece. Characters represented include Jeff Pidgeon's alien, Domee Shi's Bao, and Pete Docter's cast of "Up."

So as a whole, I found Lamplight Lounge to be a pretty solid choice for a sit-down meal at DCA. Aside from the dome on the poke, I liked everything I tried. If I wasn't absolutely knocked out by anything, it may have more to do with a need for the kitchen to have a little time to settle into its new menu. People who enjoy admiring details will find a lot to pore over on the walls and tables here, and you'd be hard-pressed to beat the view.

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If you're interested in more about the food, Laura Gilbreath spoke to DCA Culinary Director Chef John State about what's available at Pixar Pier, especially the Lamplight Lounge:

For those who would like to take a taste of the Lamplight Lounge home, here's a recipe for the Potato Skins appetizer:

Potato Skins
Lamplight Lounge
Disney California Adventure® Park
Makes 12

POTATOES
8 cups cold water
9 cloves garlic, peeled
2 shallots, peeled
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 pound small gold potatoes (12 small potatoes)
1 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne

CAPER YOGURT
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 (5.5 ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

SMOKED PAPRIKA AÏOLI
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 teaspoons chopped chives
1 clove garlic, minced

POTATO SKINS
Canola oil, for frying
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/2 cup shredded Manchego cheese
Micro cilantro

FOR POTATOES:
1. Combine water, garlic, shallot, thyme, lemon, salt, and potatoes in
stock pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 12-15 minutes,
until potatoes are tender.
2. Drain potatoes and cool for 10 minutes.
3. Combine cornstarch, paprika, and cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. Smash potatoes gently between two baking sheets until they are in
slightly flattened circles.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
6. Roll smashed potatoes in cornstarch mix and coat on all sides. Place
on parchment lined baking pan and freeze for at least 2 hours.

FOR CAPER YOGURT:
1. Heat butter in small skillet over medium heat until melted. Add
drained capers and cook for 5 minutes. Remove capers from butter
and cool for 15 minutes.
2. Combine Greek yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and salt in a small bowl.
Add reserved capers. Season with pepper, to taste. Refrigerate until
ready to serve.

FOR SMOKED PAPRIKA AÏOLI:
1. Combine mayonnaise, smoked paprika, lemon juice and zest, chives,
and garlic in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

FOR POTATO SKINS:
1. Preheat oil in deep fryer to 350°F.
2. Drain capers and fry for 3-5 minutes, until crispy. Drain on paper
towels.
3. Remove potatoes from freezer and fry for 3 minutes, until crispy.
4. Top potatoes with Manchego cheese, fried capers, and micro cilantro.
5. Serve with caper yogurt and paprika aïoli.


*Be sure to ask your server to show you the secret dining room!

For the downstairs dining area, reservations are available up to 60 days in advance on Disneyland.com or by calling Disneyland Dining. The upstairs area is first come, first serve.





June 25, 2018

Pixar Pier - Now Open at Disney California Adventure

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Pixar Pier

Pixar Pier, the re-imagining of Paradise Pier, is now open at Disney California Adventure. Four themed neighborhoods: Incredibles Park, Toy Story Boardwalk, Pixar Promenade and Inside Out Headquarters, are inspired by beloved Pixar stories and characters.

Jeanine and I both had the chance to go through the new area, so here's some pictures from both of us.

There's a beautiful archway at the entrance. Eventually Luxo Jr., the Pixar lamp, will sit in the center of the arch, and will have light and motion.

Pixar Pier

Knick's Knacks has been open for over a month, but the exterior was not complete. Within the last week the snow globes over the entrances were added. The shop has all kinds of Pixar-themed merchandise from movies like "Up", "Finding Nemo", "Coco", and "WALL-E" - and right now there's a large section of "Incredibles" merchandise. Some of it is exclusive to this location.

Knick's Knacks

The Lamplight Lounge replaced Ariel's Grotto and the Cove Bar. Jeanine will have a much more in-depth look at this restaurant. It's really beautifully done. The top level of the restaurant is still the bar/lounge area. Like the former Cove Bar, it's first come, first serve. Reservations are available for the dining area downstairs. There's an indoor dining room and a large covered patio area outside.

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The menu is "California casual gastropub." Sushi, lobster nachos, sandwiches, salads, etc. All gorgeous to look at. The couple of items I've tried have been very good. The menu is divided into "Bites", or small plate items intended to be shared, and "Bigger Bites", which are entree-sized, though could be shared. Only the "Bites" are available upstairs, while the full menu, which also includes the kids "Budding Artists" menu and dessert, is available downstairs.

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Lamplight Lounge Menu

Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats has also been open for over a month. Soft serve chocolate and vanilla ice cream is available, but the most popular item is the non-dairy lemon soft serve (essentially lemon-flavored Dole whip). It's served either in a cone topped with white chocolate or as part of the Pixar Pier Parfait, in a cup with a layer of blue raspberry slush. It's incredibly photogenic. (I love the colorful umbrellas - they are all around Pixar Pier.)

Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats

Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats Menu

New billboards with Pixar characters adorn the wooden fence along the boardwalk. Many guests enjoy posing with balloons at Disney, so there's a bunch of Pixar-colored balloons painted on the fence for that purpose. I personally really liked the fish painting.

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Incredibles Park is the first neighborhood in Pixar Pier, home of the Incredicoaster. It's mid-century modern architecture, with lots of geometric shapes like triangles. The arch features one of the three murals in the area which were designed by Teddy Newton, character designer on "The Incredibles".

Incredibles Park

The former California Screamin' attraction has been re-imagined into the Incredicoaster. The story: the city of Municiberg is re-dedicating their beloved classic roller coaster, and renaming it the Incredicoaster in honor of the Parr family. The family is riding the coaster for its inaugural launch, except for Edna and Jack-Jack, who are too short to ride. Jack-Jack teleports away from Edna to check out the coaster on his own while his family rushes to save riders from his unpredictable superpowers.

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The queue is more interesting now - there are dividers between some of the rows which have information on the different characters.

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There are also monitors overhead featuring video of the family as they are interviewed prior to the inaugural launch of the re-dedicated roller coaster.

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On the walls in the loading area and approaching the loading area is the second of the murals - it extends down the stairs. Very colorful. (This is only part of it.)

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I took a ride on the Incredicoaster with a Disney Imagineer which you can see in the video below.

There were no changes to the roller coaster ride experience at all - no changes to the track or the vehicles (other than the paint job). The modifications made were to add story elements. The tubes were further enclosed with some figures and effects added. Two more extensive static scenes were added along the track: one just after leaving the station, and the other just before returning to the station.

I thought it was a lot of fun, though as I said, there's no difference in the actual ride - it's still as fast and smooth as before. There's a lot of dialog between the family while they are looking for Jack-Jack, but I found it hard to hear. The scenes on the ride go by so fast that I missed seeing most of the characters - and I knew what I was supposed to be looking for. At an earlier media event, one of the Imagineers said: "It's hard to tell a story at 55 miles per hour." It's hard to see the story at that speed, also. I think part of that is the lighting, going from light to shadow with no time for your eyes to adjust. I think/hope that the scenes will be easier to see at night, and that will enhance the experience.

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Upon exiting the attraction there's the Jack-Jack's Cookie Num Nums kiosk, where the third of the murals is located. There are three kinds of cookies, including a gluten-friendly option, and several varieties of milk, including almond and soy.

Jack-Jack's Cookie Num Nums

Jack-Jack's Cookie Num Nums Menu

The Incredibles waterfall wall separates Incredibles Park from the forthcoming Jessie's Critter Carousel.

Incredibles Park

Toy Story Boardwalk is the next neighborhood. Jessie's Critter Carousel is still under construction and will open in 2019, but Toy Story Midway Mania is up and running.

Jessie's Critter Coaster

Toy Story Midway Mania

Poultry Palace is a food kiosk offering chicken and turkey legs and corn on the cob. The meal comes in this cute cardboard carton.

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Poultry Palace Menu

Señor Buzz Churros features two different churros - a classic cinnamon sugar and a spicy "Caliente" churro.

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Señor Buzz Churros Menu

Pixar Promenade is a neighborhood where all Pixar stories can come together. The Boardwalk Games are still here, now with Pixar characters. La Luna Star Catcher, WALL-E Space Race, Heimlich's Candy Corn Toss, and Bullseye Stallion Stampede. Playing the games requires purchase of a prepaid card from one of the dispensing machines near the game booths.

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Heimlich Candy Corn Toss Bullseye Stallion Stampede

Pixar Games

Each game awards different plush characters as prizes.

La Luna Star Catcher WALL-E Space Race Heimlich Candy Corn Toss Bullseye Stallion Stampede

The Pixar Ball fountain is located near the games. Like the big black sphere in Disneyland's Tomorrowland, this is a kugel fountain. The ball sits inside a shallow bowl and is supported almost weightlessly by aquaplaning on a thin layer of water.

Pixar Ball fountain

The Pixarmonic Orchestra will perform in the new bandshell.

Pixar Pier bandshell

The attraction here is the Pixar Pal-A-Round, a re-imagining of the former Mickey's Fun Wheel. Each of the 24 gondola cars is painted with a different Pixar character, representing 12 pairs of Pixar pals, e.g. WALL-E and EVE, Joy and Sadness, Russell and Dug. There are still swinging cars and non-swinging cars.

Pixar Pal-A-Round

The Angry Dogs food kiosk offers hot dogs of different spice levels: the Angry Dog and the Slightly Annoyed Dog.

Angry Dogs

Condiments available include Buffalo hot sauce and sriracha as well as ketchup and mustard.

Angry Dogs condiments

Angry Dogs Menu

The Inside Out Headquarters neighborhood is still to come. Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff will open later this summer.

Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff

Many sweet treats will be available, including candy tears, Rainbow Unicorn cotton candy, and Memory Refreshers frozen slushes, along with Pixar-themed cake pops, candy apples and more. A new family-friendly attraction, Inside Out Emotional Whirl will open in 2019.

Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff

That finishes our tour of Pixar Pier. Remember: Adventure is out there!

Pixar Pier exit






June 20, 2018

Recap: 2018 E3 Expo Offers Peek at Upcoming Disney, Star Wars Games and More

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Once again, E3 has come and gone, leaving a plethora of game announcements and trailers in its wake. This second year of the show opening up to paying fans featured increased programming, more virtual queues for demos, and a continued diaspora of companies headed offsite with individual installations.

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[Obviously, there were a million more announcements and games demoed than I've touched on here--many trailers and individual company press conferences are available on online for those interested in a more in-depth look. These are just the highlights from the standpoint of a non-hardcore gamer/Disney fan/me.]

Prior even to the start of E3 proper, EA rolled out its offerings with the return of their offsite: "EA Play.Fan Fest" This year, they moved further away to the Hollywood Palladium and featured demos of Battlefield V, various EA SPORTS games, Anthem, Unravel 2, Command and Conquer Rivals, a new expansion pack for The Sims™ 4, a new mode for Star Wars Battlefront II as well as several of their mobile games.

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During their press conference, DICE announced various additions planned for Star Wars Battlefront II, including a new Starfighter mode, multiplayer sandbox experience, and Clone Wars content to add to the current Han Solo campaign.

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They also announced a new Star Wars game set between Episodes 3 and 4 during the time of the Jedi extermination--Jedi: Fallen Order, set for release at the holiday season of 2019. (Newsletter signup here.)

Their major gameplay reveal was for the upcoming BioWare game Anthem. Billed as a multiplayer co-op with BioWare storytelling integrated in, Anthem delivers a shared, living world that is experienced communally, but also has individual bases where a character's personal stories can play out.

The setup, a world abandoned by its gods who left environmental-altering tools for the inhabitants to reshape it, seems a little familiar to BioWare's last game, the polarizing Mass Effect: Andromeda, but we'll find out for sure when it releases on February 22, 2019.

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Over at the Microsoft press conference, 50 games were shown, which pretty much made it more or less a trailer clip show. Among the many, a new trailer for a DLC for the action game Cuphead was debuted:

Cuphead is a fascinating game, as cute as its boss battles are challenging, that features animation inspired by the cartoons of the 1930s, complete with hand-drawn cels, watercolor backgrounds, and an original jazz score. Later on in E3, a panel at their Coliseum venue presented a look at the process of hand-drawn animation featuring Disney animator ("Beauty and the Beast," "Lion King") James Baxter, and Studio MDHR lead animator Hanna Abi-Hanna. The two worked quickly to animate a short sequence having been given random starting and ending poses of Cuphead's new playable character Ms. Chalice while Executive Producer Maja Modelhauer described the studio's virtual office process.

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For the Disney fan, the biggest upcoming game is Kingdom Hearts 3 (KH3) which got exposure at three different press conferences. At Microsoft, KH3 got a new trailer showcasing some footage from the Frozen universe, including the subplots that Elsa is in danger of falling to the Dark Side, and Aqua (from Birth By Sleep) has maybe already fallen.

In Square Enix's press conference they debuted a slightly expanded version of the Microsoft Kingdom Hearts trailer, and confirmed some of the Disney worlds in the game as being Tangled, Big Hero Six, Hercules, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc.

Another world was added to the list at Sony's press conference, for which they saved the Pirates of the Caribbean story trailer.

[Previous blogs to catch you up on Kingdom Hearts are here, where I talk about the remastered collection of the first two Kingdom Hearts games, and here, where I recently got an early look at Kingdom Hearts III.] KH3 will release on January 29, 2019 on the PS4 and XBox One.

The game that generated the most buzz of the Microsoft press conference, and arguably of all of E3 this year, was Cyberpunk 2077. A single-player story-driven RPG from CD Projekt Red (the studio who produced the massive Witcher 3,) it appears to follow a member of a criminal element through a large dystopian metropolis with "Blade Runner" overtones.


[This game clearly has dark, violent aspects and is probably not for children.]

One of Sony's major games from their press conference was Marvel's Spider-Man, from which they showed a gameplay trailer. Set eight years into Parker's Spider-Man career, the video shows Electro staging a jailbreak at The Raft, and some of the combat between Spider-Man and his iconic supervillains (along with Electro,) Rhino, Vulture, Scorpion, and Mr. Negative. Spider-Man will be released on September 7 for the PS4.

Over on the Coliseum stage, easily one of the highlights of E3 this year was the live reading of select scenes from LucasArts' 1998 Grim Fandango.

Original voice actors reunited for the night with Tony Plana as Manny Calavera, Maria Canals-Barrera as Mercedes Colomar, Alan Blumenfeld as Glottis, Patrick Dollaghan as Domino Hurley, and Jim Ward as Hector LeMans. Game director Tim Schafer narrated, and special guest star Jack Black filled in for miscellaneous parts. Original music composer Peter McConnell provided live music for the show.

ILMxLAB, known to Star Wars fans as the Lucasfilm immersive entertainment division behind the popular Downtown Disney attraction "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire," held a panel discussion on "Pioneering Immersive Storytelling."

--While storytelling can take many different forms in VR as in any other medium, they have been working on giving guests an immersive cinematic experience: To let them feel they have entered the other side of the movie screen and can explore the worlds they have previously enjoyed watching.
--In VR/AR entertainment, creators have to give up some control over the experience's narrative. The emphasis may ultimately become providing worlds where stories can happen, rather than driving a linear storyline.
--Alternatively, each person going through the experience will have their own individual story specific to them, depending on their actions and what they bring with them.
--One of the goals of location-based VR like "Secrets of the Empire," is not just suspension of disbelief, but absence of disbelief.
--On looking at the actual physical space of "Secrets of the Empire," Mohen Leo (Director of Content and Platform Strategy at ILMxLAB) concluded that realizing the environment as it really was paled in significance to his memories of the fake environment.
--Challenges include making guests feel a part of the environment and not just an observer, while the technology to have characters respond specifically to any guest input is not yet available.

Later, "Avengers: Infinity War" director Joe Russo and Fortnite creative director Donald Mustard talked about the future of storytelling and the integration of Avengers into Fortnite* in "Worlds Collide."

--The more compelling the viewpoint, the greater the emotional connection a work will have with its audience, and worldbuilding is a component of propelling that.
--While Russo feels that 2-dimensional storytelling has had a good run, the traditional two-hour film experience may be done in 5-10 years. His kids lack the nostalgic ties he has to movie watching and are more interested in quickly and easily absorbing innovative content.
--Immersion will be the key component of entertainment in the future. The question will be how to allow players agency while still molding a narrative around them.
--When technology makes it more ubiquitous, AR may change the world, as each person will be able to curate their own existence to suit their own interests/tastes.
--Russo contacted Mustard through Disney about three weeks before the opening of "Infinity War" to put Avengers into Fortnite, and they both felt it was authentic to what the twelve-year-old inside of themselves would want.
--The point of view of "Infinity War" is Thano's point of view, so as the focal point of the film, they found a way to give him a limited time event in Fortnite.

Beyond the panel discussions, E3 showcased the usual sedate, understated displays as usual:

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Overall, I felt like the flow of foot traffic was improved this time around (except the first day around the SEGA/ATLUS booth, because people will crush a body for a Persona 5 bag) over last year where the new influx of paying guests had increased the body count to unwieldy numbers. Part of this was possibly because of the continued exodus of companies who used to have major crowd-collecting booths such as EA--Microsoft was the latest defector this year, moving its Fan Fest to an off-site location at Microsoft Theater in LA Live. Subsequently there also seemed like there were fewer things to do as the remaining booths sported pretty lengthy lines for the more popular demos. One thing that did help was the increasing use companies are making of online reservations for demo spots--the only way I got in to check out some of the Playstation VR titles.

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The Coliseum panel lineup was much improved and I think revealed a greater understanding of what kind of programming is needed to make people trek the couple blocks over there from the convention center. In general, the concerts and performances were a much better draw than last year where it was mostly the same trailer discussions you might have the opportunity to see elsewhere.

Probably the main negative I saw for this show was the bizarre security guidelines E3 put out prior to the show, forbidding backpacks in the convention center and any bags at all in the Coliseum (I ended up having to buy a lock so I could leave my stuff at the convention center before going to panels.) While they started out saying that no one would be admitted to the panels with a camera or even readmitted into the convention center with the large bags given away inside the convention center, it quickly became evident that these rules were not being enforced in virtually any meaningful way and by the end, people were bringing pretty much anything, including video cameras and the waist-tall Final Fantasy bags pretty much anywhere.

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E3 is clearly continuing to evolve from the industry-only trade show it used to be, into a video game convention along the lines of PAX. This year looked like a step in the right direction--a trend which we will hopefully see continue on next year.

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*It's possible that, like myself, you are unfamiliar with Fortnite, which is a free-to-play multiplayer survival game that has proved to be incredibly popular.





June 18, 2018

Early Press Day for "Incredibles 2" Part Jack-Jack

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Earlier this year, Disney-Pixar invited AllEars down to Pixar Studios to take an early look at their upcoming "Incredibles 2" and its accompanying short "Bao."

[Unattributed photos and video provided by Disney]
I recounted some of the presentations and press conferences held there in Part 1, Part 2, and Part "Bao." The last segment was one on the MVP and newest team member of "Incredibles 2," Jack-Jack, in "You…Have…POWERS!!" presented by Tony Fucile (Supervising Animator), Bill Watral (Effects Supervisor), and Jason Johnston (Effects Artist)

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--As the original "The Incredibles" was set in mid-twentieth century, the decision was made to design the characters contrary to the then-current hyper-realistic trend, and more like animators and caricature artists of that time period such as Al Hirschfeld would draw.

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--For "Incredibles 2," they decided to redesign Jack-Jack's fire effect look because it was going to play a bigger part and get more screen time.

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Jack-Jack from "The Incredibles"

--Art director Ralph Eggleston was very specific that Jack-Jack is not on fire, but is the source of the fire, and should not be shown smoking or in embers, as opposed to things he sets on fire.

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--Ultimately, the approved new fire effect for Jack-Jack has a base fire simulation on a blurred render of Jack-Jack without his eyes. A body fire simulation is combined with a mask of his body without his head to create a fire effect only on his body and not his head, making it easier to read his expressions. His eyes are remade with an orange glow, and the various fire simulations layered to create the fire fringe around him and the darkening flames that occasionally pass over his body.

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--Jack-Jack also has a "sticky goo" effect as well as powers of invisibility, laser vision, levitation, the ability to hang out on the ceiling and walls, multiplication, phasing/moving through closed doors, projecting bolts of electricity, telekinesis, teleportation, transforming into heavy metal, and turning into a demon baby.

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"Incredibles 2" with "Bao" opened in US theaters on June 15, 2018.





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