Jeanine Yamanaka Archives

April 26, 2017

Cars 3: Tales of Production, Design, and Lou



"Cars 3" is rapidly approaching the finish line for release this June 16th. To learn more about it, AllEars.Net was invited up north for an early look.

[Non-attributed photos and video are courtesy of Disney.]

The trip began with a visit to Pixar Studios for a screening of some scenes from the movie still in production.





Director Dave Mullins and Producer Dana Murray screened and spoke on the adorable short "Lou," that will accompany "Cars 3" in theaters.


Dave Mullins

--John Lasseter gave Mullins guidelines on the specific ingredients that make up a Pixar film: Heart, entertainment, setting, and animation.
--Heart: The main character is flawed, but experiences personal growth throughout the film.
--Entertainment: The story must be unpredictable and funny.
--Setting: The film must transport the viewers to a place both exciting and new.
--Animation: The film must call for being animated and must use animation's full potential.
--After eight years of pitching ideas, Mullins came up with a story revolving around a character who could hide in plain sight, and a character who longed to be accepted.
--The final story stars a Lost and Found pile that loves returning toys, but fights back when a bully starts stealing from kids.
--The characters were reworked several times to make them more sympathetic.


The next day, presentations on the making of "Cars 3" kicked off with "Start to Finish: Pixar’s Production Pipeline." Supervising Animator Bobby Podesta, Supervising Technical Director Michael Fong, and Effects Supervisor Jon Reisch spoke on the film's technical process.

Michael Fong, Jon Reisch, and Bobby Podesta

--Making something visually tangible is rooted in making something emotionally tangible.
--A sequence where Lightning McQueen is in a Demolition Derby is a physical manifestation of his intangible feelings of being out of his element.


--After a research trip to real-life Demolition Derbys, the animators tried to come up with ideas as to what it would feel like, to be different types of cars in that situation, and how different characters would react to that environment.
--Technical effects are vital to creating believable interactions that ground the characters in this world. At their best, by making physical jeopardy believable, they increase the emotional stakes.
--Simulating mud was one of their big challenges for this film, much like snow was for "Frozen," and hair was for "Brave."


--The mantra "Story Is King" effects every department at Pixar, including the technical ones.
--All the visual effects in the scene need to be adjusted to avoid stealing focus from the story beat, which is McQueen's emotional state.
--If McQueen's fear, anger, and embarrassment in this sequence isn't conveyed effectively, it makes his subsequent scenes where he lashes out feel unearned.
--The goal is not photorealism, which is not always aesthetically pleasing or best for the story. The goal is Directed Realism, in which physics can be broken if true physics would detract from the storytelling.


Next up was Directing Animator Jude Brownbill, Production Designer Jay Shuster, and Characters Supervisor Michael Comet talking about the new characters to "Cars 3"--"The Next Generation."


--Looking at the next generation of cars introduced to the world of "Cars," they display all the advantages of the technological advances since the first movie came out.
--With generally better aerodynamics, they are lower to the ground with a better wind profile than McQueen.
--The virtual construction of the cars mirrors actual car construction with various shading passes done for different layers of paint, gloss coating, etc.
--McQueen is the baseline, from which all the other cars should differ in comparison.
--Subtle changes were made to McQueen to make him appear slightly less stable and older on the track.
--Aspects of all the "Cars 1" models had to be revised because the rendering quality is so much better now and flaws more evident.


--McQueen's new nemesis Jackson Storm is designed in stark contrast to McQueen: All sharp edges and corners compared to McQueen's friendlier, rounded body.


--Low to the ground, Storm has a tight suspension so he has less vibration and can make tight turns.
--He drives with precision and calculation and appears to race almost effortlessly, which makes him more of a threat to McQueen.
--Personality-wise, Storm is overconfident, arrogant, and intimidating. He cares about nothing but winning and himself.
--Outside of racing, Storm holds himself relatively still, which helps give him the aura of power. Vocally, he over-articulates and often expresses with his eyes a disdain that is in opposition to what he is saying.


--Cruz Ramirez, McQueen's young high-tech trainer, has a design somewhere between Storm and McQueen.
--She's a powerful technologically advanced racer, but in contrast to Storm, also has a heart and a passion for the sport.
--Full of enthusiasm and energy, Ramirez has done all of her training on simulators and is a little out of control when it comes to real life racing.
--Ramirez's character is based largely on her voice actor, Cristela Alonzo: Smart, determined, funny, and from modest beginnings.

"Cars 3" opens in theaters June 16, 2017.

April 23, 2017

Star Wars Celebration Orlando: 40 Years of Star Wars


Star Wars Celebration, the Lucasfilm convention devoted to all things Star Wars, has alighted on Orlando, FL this year, with its usual star-studded panels and coveted merchandise.

The first panel to kick off the weekend was "40 Years of Star Wars," which featured George Lucas on stage, reminiscing about the origins of Star Wars with most of the major recurring cast of the series.

[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]

George Lucas

"I'm not supposed to say this, and I wasn't supposed to say it's a film for twelve-year olds. It was designed to be a film, like mythology, of this is what we stand for. You're about to enter the Real World. You're twelve years old, you're going to go on into the big world, you're moving away from your parents being the center're probably scared, you don't know what's going to happen...and here's a little idea of some of the things you should pay attention to: Friendships, honesty, trust, and doing the right thing. Living on the Light Side, avoiding the Dark Side...these are the things it was meant to do."

Dave Filoni

"The most important lesson there (from "Clone Wars") honestly, and it kind of combines everything, (Lucas) used to always tell me: 'Don't be afraid.' It seems very simple, and most of the big ideas you have are very simple, but when you're coming on board to direct this major franchise that all of you love and around the world people love, it's easy to get overwhelmed by that idea, and that is going to limit you and more importantly limit your creativity, if you become afraid of it...It's just a true thing in life, as you've always said, 'just don't be afraid. Make no decision out of fear.' That's key."

Liam Neeson (taped message)

"I'm actually here on location in the Canadian Rockies. We're making a movie--a very unofficial movie...about Jar Jar Binks, and what happened to Jar Jar. Spoiler alert: He did go to the Dark Side."

Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid

McDiarmid: "The one (scene) that stands out for me is in 'Revenge of the Sith,' and that's when we all get to go to the opera...The reason I liked that so much is I'm a theater actor too, but more than that, Hayden and I could really sit down and, from my point of view anyway, have an evil chat."

Christensen: "I will share with you one of my challenges: I had been conditioned from a very young age to make the sound effect when I'm swinging a light was a difficult habit to break. I remember on a couple of occasions, George would come over after we had filmed a fight scene and, in a very encouraging way, say 'you know Hayden, that looks really great...but I can see your mouth moving don't have to do that. We add the sound effects in afterwards.'"

Samuel L. Jackson (taped message)

"And while you're all sitting there, I know you're all in my corner on this, we know Jedis can fall from incredible heights and survive, so apparently I am not dead. Yes, I have two appendages right now, but we know the long and rich history of Star Wars characters reappearing with new appendages and being stronger and better than they ever were. Mace Windu is awaiting his return! Let's make it happen!"

Warwick Davis, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams

Williams: "There are two components: (to Lando) The cape and 'Calrissian'--an Armenian name. And I thought wow, that's interesting. Let me play around with this whole idea. 'Cause I didn't want to do a kind of stereotypical, cliche kind of character. I wanted to bring something really special to it. Something bigger than life."

Peter Mayhew

On how he and Chewbacca are similar: "Well, we're the same height, for starters."

Mark Hamill

"I can never get over the fans. They are supportive; they're with you in good times, bad times...they're more supportive than my actual family."

As series star after star appeared, the roar of the crowd increased exponentially, until the final actor Harrison Ford entered and the room exploded.

Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford

Harrison: "You can have the most brilliant cast in the world, but they have a story to tell; and the story we had to tell was more than sufficient. It was full of humor, emotion, and conflict, and it was a brilliant invention of a mythology that has sustained interest for over forty years--and that's made out of whole cloth by George. An actor without a story to tell might as well go home, so it was a brilliant opportunity for all of us."

After the actors had accepted the crowd's accolades and left the stage, Lucas and Kennedy led a short tribute to the late Carrie Fisher, along with Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd.

Billie Lourd

Lucas: "...She really is a modern woman, and she isn't just a woman that, you put guy's clothes on her and she becomes a hero. She was a princess, she was a senator, she played a part that was very smart, and she was having to hold her own against two big lugs...goofballs who were screwing everything up, but she was the boss, it was her war....She was brilliant, and obviously we'll all miss her, but she'll always be the princess who took command and never backed down, never was in jeopardy--she was always helping the other guys get out of the messes they created. We'll all love her forever and ever."

Lourd: "My Mom used to say she never knew where Princess Leia ended and Carrie Fisher began. She went from being an unknown actress, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, to Princess Leia, a character synonymous with the idea of the ultimate Strong Woman. A soldier. A fighter. A beyond-capable, independent, sensible woman in control of her own destiny. A rebel who resisted the norm. She was imperfect in many ways, but her imperfections and willingness to speak about them are what made her more than perfect. My Mom, like Leia, wasn't ever afraid to speak her mind and say things that might have made most people uncomfortable, but not me and not you. That was why she loved you, because you accepted and embraced all of her: The strong, soldier of a woman she was, and also the vulnerable side of her, who often and openly fought her own Dark Side, knowing early on that we all have a Dark Side of our own, whatever it may be."

After a short retrospective of Fisher's various on-camera appearances--sharp, incisive, irreverent, and unrepentant--one of the most poignant moments of the morning came as, revealed in a corner of the room, John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, began playing "Princess Leia's Theme." They followed it up with a mini-concert of selections from the iconic soundtrack.


The music of Star Wars is so powerful and so integral a part of the cinematic experience, this performance with the in-person appearance of the legendary John Williams made it a highlight of the panel...which was already a highlight of the entire Celebration. If you could only make one session of the four days of programming, this was certainly the one to attend, and it is no wonder huge numbers of people slept out overnight to get a seat in the room. It was a phenomenal way to kick off Star Wars Celebration Orlando.

April 17, 2017

Born in China" Roundtable with Roy Conli



On April 21, 2017, Disneynature will debut its seventh theatrical feature "Born in China." To commemorate the opening, Producer Roy Conli held a roundtable Q&A about the various challenges involved in creating this True Life Adventure film.


On getting involved with "Born in China:" "I was asked to come in right after 'Big Hero 6.' The project actually started in 2013, and then I got involved right around 2014...This is the first time I've done anything like this. Early in my career I did a little live-action (I really came from theater) but I really fell in love with this format. For the first half of my career I probably thought of myself as a theatrical producer working in animation, and since I've been working with John Lasseter, I really feel like I'm an animation producer who used to work in theater, and this...I really feel like I'm just a producer now. I feel that this type of storytelling is quite different than animation...You know, when you work in animation you start with whole cloth, and you start with a script and you start boarding and then you start putting up sequences and you start from an idea to an image.

"Here, it's almost exactly opposite. You start with an image, and you work back, and somewhere you meet in the middle, and you create the story. You've got these these amazing cinematographers who are out in some of the most remote places in the world filming this stuff and journaling everything that they're seeing... so you depend on those incredible cinematographers to help feed you with the information you need to tell that True Life Adventure because they're the one who are actually experiencing it.


"Shane Moore, who was the cinematographer for the snow leopard unit...he was 253 days shooting over four trips, over six seasons. He was living in a little uninsulated shack, next to a monastery in the Qinghai Plateau. He and his very small team would leave before dawn and get back after dark and shoot straight...for the length of their visas. Now, they were coming in on journalistic visas, and essentially had to leave after three months. The first shot of snow leopard that we got was ninety days into his first stay. He had to leave the day after he got his first shot. But, it's a testament to what kind of, not only perseverance, but what kind of professionals these guys are."


"Pandas are incredibly isolated and they don't like a lot of companionship around them. And they're also 800lb animals. So a mother panda with an 800lb cub can be somewhat dangerous. So what the cinematographers on that crew did was essentially don panda suits and would put panda scent on them (you can imagine what panda scent is) and would stay a significant distance away...Shane, on the snow leopard front, started about 400 meters away with telephoto lenses and really focusing on building that relationship. By the time he ended, he was somewhere between 40-50 meters away."


On striking a balance between creating a narrative and keeping the integrity of the animal behavior: "What we're committed to is making sure that, within the filming, that we're not setting anything up, and then when it comes to the actual reportage, it's those journals that the cinematographers keep that really help us in terms of shaping the story. Then we brought on Phil Chapman and Brian Leith and a really wonderful writer by the name of David Fowler...they do an awful lot of research, we make sure we have scientists working with our writer to ensure that any information that is being passed on is accurate to the species and what's being done, and then he's using those journals to actually shape a story. Then (Director Lu) Chuan is using all that information in terms of compiling the end product.

"Now the cool thing, and what I'm so proud about with this film, is what Chuan was able to do within the structure, was bring in the Earthly, being the chiru, and the Spiritual, being the crane, and kind of parenthesizing this amazing story. Up to now, we've had a film called 'Bears,' and it was about bears...what I love about this is that it's a broader swath, and that there's an uber theme that kind of runs through, and that theme became very important. And that's what you craft, is how to tell the story so that theme can come through."


On the importance of True Life Adventures to children: "It's interesting because we really refer to these as 'True Life Adventures' as opposed to documentaries, in the sense that these are more narrative, and yet we shoot with the concept of documentary. We won't go and set up shots, we won't go and alter what is actually happening in nature.

"But for me...I grew up watching the True Life Adventures that Walt Disney actually released.
From 1948-1960 he made thirteen True Life Adventures which won eight Academy Awards, and through the 60s and 70s, they would use those on 'The Wonderful World of Disney,' so you saw those used in different ways. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, so my introduction to wildlife was through these films. So I think the Disneynature label really gives an opportunity for not only kids, but adults as well...I think it really introduces children and adults into the wonder of this world, and understanding what an amazing world the natural life has to offer...It's incredibly beautiful and incredibly important to protect."


"Born in China" opens in US theaters April 21, 2017. GO SEE IT OPENING WEEK (April 21-27, 2017)--Based on opening-week attendance, Disneynature, via the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, will make a contribution to the World Wildlife Fund to help protect wild pandas and snow leopards in China.


April 10, 2017

WonderCon Returns to Anaheim


After a year away at the Los Angeles Convention Center, WonderCon once again returned to the Anaheim Convention Center, conveniently located across the street from the Disneyland Resort.


Continuing the trend of the larger media companies pulling back from a lot of these conventions, this year saw the same shift as the last few years away from celebrities and big studio presentations, and towards more panels/booths by, about, and for fans and fandom.



Disney didn't have much of a presence this time around, its most visible asset the Disney Music Emporium booth on the floor.




Disney's ABC Television Network brought some of their properties to WonderCon, including the ever-popular "Agents of SHIELD," and their new sitcom "Imaginary Mary."

After screening the second episode of the new series, they held a brief panel with the two stars of the show, Jenna Elfman and Stephen Schneider, and executive producers Adam F. Goldberg, Doug Robinson, and Patrick Osborne, who worked on animating such films as "Big Hero 6" and "Wreck-It Ralph," and who won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2014 for "Feast."



An interesting look into the potential future of entertainment was detailed in "Secrets of Storytelling in VR and AR."


With a panel of experts from VR production companies such as Mandt VR, Clever Fox, and LittlStar, the presentation described some of the roles augmented/virtual reality can have in the storytelling process, such as the pannable 360 degree video Mandt did for the 2016 "The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration..."

...Or the 360 augmented photo writer/director Dekker Dreyer did for the "Star Wars Land" groundbreaking.

Animation fans enjoyed a variety of internationally acclaimed shorts in "The 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows," including Disney's "Inner Workings" by Leo Matsuda, and Pixar's Academy Award winning "Piper" by Alan Barillaro.

In "Rogue One: The Magic Behind the Mission," Industrial Light & Magic animation supervisor Hal Hickel, with moderator Scott Mantz, gave insight into making the stunning visual effects featured in the last Star Wars installment.


--Many different attempts were made at bringing K-2SO to life, including giving him blinking eyes which ultimately made him look too much like an animated cartoon.
--Alan Tudyk was credited for making him a full character. An example was the "and there's a fresh one if you mouth off again" sequence, in which Diego Luna suggested the slap, but Tudyk added the dialogue. A replay of the clip from the film reveals Diego covering his face to hide him cracking up.
--As an aid to developing the movement of the AT-ATs, elephants were used as reference models.
--The digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin involved taking stand-in actor Guy Henry, digitizing his facial motions, then recreating them in digital Peter Cushing's features. A keen eye to anatomical detail was given, including such factors as the change in blood flow to different areas of the face with movement.


The usual high level of cosplay was evident throughout the convention, and particularly during the annual WonderCon Masquerade.









Disney Legend Bob Gurr helped close off the weekend of panels in "The OC Automata and Animatronics Legacy," with fellow automaton builders Garner Holt, Bill Butler, and Thomas Kuntz.


The panel discussed the varied and innovative animatronic history of Orange County, including the larger parks of Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland, as well as smaller institutions such as the Japanese Deer Park.
--Bob Gurr discussed the ill-fated "charging rhino" gag that was ultimately too unreliable to be kept in the Jungle Cruise.


--The first time the term "audio-animatronic" was used in print was in a brochure for Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. (Did you think it was for the Enchanted Tiki Room? I did!)


Out on the floor, examples of some of the engineering artisans' work could be seen up close:


Garner Holt's yeti, apparently a pet project, is being developed in his workshop to communicate in American Sign Language for deaf children.


Kuntz's "Fakir," a magician performing a fascinating ball-and-cups trick was on display as well. More information on it can be found at his website, here.

More information on Bob Gurr's many contributions to the audio-animatronic industry and more can be found in his recent documentary "Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams Into Reality," which can be purchased from Ape Pen Publishing.

WonderCon continues to grow and diversify as a convention, and seems to present more in the way of fan-based and niche programming than SDCC for example. If you're looking for more opportunities to get advice and instruction about different aspects of fandom--cosplay, fan fiction--or even information on how to move from being a consumer of genre material to a producer, WonderCon has a lot to offer.


March 28, 2017



"There's this girl here--her name is Cinderella. She made me realize how powerful it is just to believe. No matter how impossible things seem...a powerful enough dream will always be enough to light the darkness." --Terra


So the latest release from Square Enix is a collection of roughly the first two-thirds of their long-running action role-playing Kingdom Hearts series, "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" which, when combined with their recent compilation of the last one-third "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue" (of which I wrote here) should get you up to speed on the current state of the Dark Seeker Saga.

So for those of us late to the Kingdom Hearts game, there was no way to play the whole thing on the Playstation 4. The games had all come out originally on multiple earlier systems, and the big HD collections 1.5 and 2.5 were only playable on the PS3. Finally, 2.8 came out for the PS4, but as I found out in my earlier review, the plot was hard going without any knowledge of the first six games.


But finally! The new "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" collection has all of the previous games represented and remastered for the PS4. It has six parts: "KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX"--the original Kingdom Hearts game with additional scenes, updated menus, and camera movement; "KINGDOM HEARTS Re:Chain of Memories"--a remake of a Game Boy Advance offering that features a card-based battle system; "KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days"--an adaptation of the original Nintendo DS game into a two-plus hour cinematic; "KINGDOM HEARTS II FINAL MIX"--"Kingdom Hearts 2" changed to HD with remixed audio; "KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep Final MIX"--a prequel to the first Kingdom Hearts; and "KINGDOM HEARTS Re:coded"--a three hour cinematic based on the Nintendo DS game with around two hours of new content to tie Re:coded and the next game "Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance" (on the 2.8 collection) together.


Storywise, the games continue to weave a complicated path. Japanese storytelling is a little different from Western storytelling, and in my experience, less linear and not as dependent on creating definitive interpretations and conclusions. The tale (referred to as the Dark Seeker Saga) begins with three youngsters: Sora, Riku, and Kairi. Their idyllic life in the Destiny Islands is fragmented by a great storm that separates the friends and takes Sora, our initial protagonist, to Traverse Town, which ends up being the initial entry point to the majority of the games. Throughout the next few games, Sora will endeavor to find his old friends as well as some new ones, accompanied by familiar faces such as Donald and Goofy.


Unfortunately, Sora may discover that to find a friend is sometimes easier than to hold onto one, and more than one game may pass before everyone is back where they belong.


In the shadows of the larger plot machinations lie some familiar Disney villains and some less-familiar creatures with obscure motives and origins. A mysterious Organization XIII is introduced, along with one of our other protagonists, Roxas who is in some way connected to Sora.



"Birth by Sleep" is the only game that stands apart from the regular timeline of events, as it precedes "Kingdom Hearts" by ten years and tells the stories of three other Keyblade wielders in three different perspectives.


In the few hours I was able to play of each one, I can say that all of the games look very good. While the animation does improve (as you'd expect) with each game outing, the HD rendering gives the whole series a consistent appearance.


Gameplay-wise, going through them sequentially is a little like taking a trip through video game evolution. There are a lot of things that make life easier for the non-skilled gamer such as myself that only start appearing in the later games--there is no autosave feature until "Kingdom Hearts 2," and no onscreen map until "Birth by Sleep." The lack of autosave is a particular pain, as you can only manually save at specific designated points in each area...which are harder to keep track of, since for the most part, you have no map. The camera controls in the first game were pretty tough for me to work since even though they were reworked to fit the same controls as KH2, you are still much more restricted in their movement than in the rest of them. This was particularly challenging when trying to finish some of the big platforming sequences, as you'd sometimes find yourself abruptly unable to look in the direction you wanted to jump.


As the series goes on, the controls get a lot smoother and they introduce an enormous amount of customization and variation to the combat system. By the time you get to "Birth by Sleep," the pages of different combinations you can make for various forms of attacks start looking like the spreadsheets for air traffic controllers. You can utilize a variety of physical attacks, aided by different types of keyblades, and combine those with magical attacks and also the powers of various people you meet along the way with whom you can link.


For those who are on the "suck" skill level of combat, such as myself, there are mercifully beginner levels on all the games. In a blow for meritocracy however, there are apparently secret endings and cinematics that the game will tell you outright you will not be able to see unless you beat it at one of the higher levels.


Probably my favorite out of the group (again, having only played a few hours of each,) was "Birth by Sleep" as the "Rashomon"-esque story structure really gives each part a unique take. Because each of the three protagonists are so different in physicality and psychology, the distinct variations in their combat animations are easy to see and well-matched.


Conversely, my least favorite aspect was how similar Sora, Roxas, and Ventus look to me. There may end up being some reason for their similarity that I haven't uncovered yet in the game, but it initially took me a good couple of minutes to figure out that it was a different short spiky-brown-haired boy this time.




The big appeal of the series, at least for me, is seeing how well-integrated this fantasy world is with all our various familiar Disney universes. Each "planet" has its own distinctive art style, from the square Eyvind Earle trees around Sleeping Beauty's castle, to the geometric neon of TRON, to the black-and-white Ub Iwerks era.


Up next for the series in April 2017, is the relaunching of the mobile game "KINGDOM HEARTS Unchained X" as "KINGDOM HEARTS Union X." This game is set early on in the history of Kingdom Hearts, before the Keyblade Wars, and will feature a multiplayer mode.

Down the road of course, lies what will probably be the final chapter of the Dark Seeker Saga, "KINGDOM HEARTS III." While still in development, we know that it will feature the worlds of "Tangled" and "Big Hero 6," and potentially involve evil forces gaining control over the lovable robot Baymax. It is currently planned to be released for the PS4 and XBox One.

If you enjoy action RPGs and Disney, I think this series is well worth checking out. It celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this month and during its lifespan has shipped over 22 million units. I think it's got legs.

"KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" is available now at the Square Enix online store for $49.99. Kingdom Hearts is a series of action role-playing games developed and published by SQUARE ENIX under the direction of Tetsuya Nomura. The series is a collaboration between SQUARE ENIX and Disney.


*A copy of "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" was provided to me for the purposes of review without restrictions on expressed thoughts or opinions.*

March 16, 2017

"Beauty and the Beast" Press Junket



March 17th, Walt Disney Studios will once again captivate moviegoers with a Tale As Old As Time, their live-action version of "Beauty and the Beast."

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

To talk about the journey they took to revisit the animated classic, cast members Gugu (“Plumette”) Mbatha-Raw, Josh (“Le Fou”) Gad, Luke (“Gaston”) Evans, Emma (“Belle”) Watson, Dan ("Beast") Stevens, Bill (Director) Condon, Audra “Garderobe” McDonald, and Alan (music/score by) Menken gathered at a recent press junket.


First, however, we were treated to a short concert by Alan Menken, in which he played us some of the old and new songs from "Beauty and the Beast," with the help of a couple friends.


Select moments from the press conference video above:


Condon on the process of adapting "Beauty and the Beast" as a live-action film: "Get over the terror first, I think...but then you know, you just start with that basic idea: You’re going to take it into a new medium, which is live action. They’re going to be actors. Emma’s going to be playing a character on real locations who has to fall in love with the beast. So all the behavior which is, you know, let’s face animated film is sort of, you know, a little more exaggerated, has to come into reality, and once you start to investigate that, then you realize, wow, there are questions maybe you never asked before that you want to know about. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village where they’re outsiders, you know, and that leads to then new songs and suddenly you’re creating something new."


Menken on developing "Evermore," a new song for the Beast: "In the Broadway show there was a song called 'If I Can’t Love Her.' But you know, each iteration of Beauty and the Beast is a different medium in a way. There’s an animated musical, there’s a stage musical, and there’s this--and they all have sort of different shapes. And the stage musical is definitely a two act structure, so we wrote this song for the Beast, because at that act break is the moment where the Beast out of anger has driven Belle away and it was important--we needed at that moment for the Beast to sort of howl for redemption or just say I’ve given up. But in the structure of a live action film, which is more of a three act structure, Bill felt, and I agree with him, that the more satisfying moment is the moment when the Beast lets Belle go because she’s no longer his prisoner, and he loves her, and the spell will not be broken now, but at least he knows what love is."


McDonald on joining the cast of "Beauty and the Beast:" "...I said yes the minute that Disney called because you say yes when Disney calls. If they told me that, you know, you were gonna sell churros in the park, I’d be like, yeah, I’m there, I'll do it. But knowing not only did it have this incredible creative team but that Emma Watson was going to be Belle, and knowing how much Emma has affected girls of my daughter’s age--and my daughter is someone who now asks for people to donate money to charities for her birthday gifts instead of presents, and that’s because of you, Emma--so knowing full well that Emma was going to make sure that Belle was somebody who was independent, who was strong, who was educated, who was sticking up for girls and women, and who does all the rescuing in the film. That’s why I knew it was going to be important for me to be a part of and for my kids to see.


Stevens on the physical demands of portraying The Beast: "Well, it was a very physical engagement, I think just to support that muscle suit on stilts was a challenge that I’d never really encountered before. I’ve definitely been taking a more physical approach to my roles in the last few years and just training myself in different ways. I think with the backstory we decided that the prince before he was the Beast was a dancer, that he loved to dance, and so I trained myself like a dancer and learned, you know, three quite different dances for this movie and worked very closely with Anthony (Choreographer Anthony Van Laast,) just in terms of, you know, his general deportment, both for the prince and the Beast, you know, and there was a lot of work dancing in stilts. And getting to know Emma, first and foremost, on the dance floor was probably, you know, I think it’s a great way to get to know your costar, and I’m going to try and do with every movie I do now, whether there’s a waltz in the movie or not.


Watson on taking Belle into the real world: "...I think when I knew I was taking on this role, I wanted to make sure that I was championing that same spirit, those same values, that same young woman that made me a part of who I am today. And so, you know, every time we would address a new scene that Bill or Steve or Evan had put together, you know...I just always had the original DNA of that woman in mind, you know, and I had my fists up. I was ready to fight because she was so crucial for me. And you know, it was just taking what was already there and just expanding it. And I love that in our version Belle is not only kind of odd and doesn’t fit in, and you know, you see her reading, and you see her not really a part of the community. In our film she’s actually an activist within her own community. She’s teaching other young girls who are part of the village to read, and you know, moments like that where you could see her expanding beyond just her own little world and trying to kind of grow it, I loved that, and yeah, that was amazing to get to do."


Evans on humanizing Gaston: "Well, I just think a villain shouldn’t start out as the bad guy. A villain should end up being the bad guy, and I think with Gaston, outwardly, you know, to a lot of people in that village, he is the hero. He’s a bit of a stud, you know. He’s got the hair, he’s got the looks, he’s always impeccably dressed, not a bad singing voice...

"...So that when the cracks start to appear, which they do very subtly, even from the door slam, you know, there’s something inside of him that he’s like...this is not what she’s supposed to be doing. And although he keeps believing that Belle will change her mind, that’s where the cracks appear in my thought process and then slowly, you know, the jealousy takes over, and who he becomes, especially Gaston as opposed to other Disney villains, he has no book of spells, he has no magic powers. He’s a human being, and he uses his status within that village to rouse a crowd and he does it all from just being himself, which is quite terrifying in a way. So I played on that, I played on the humanity of the character as much as he is larger than life. There was a lot to pull on, and obviously he was a war hero of sorts, we decided, didn’t we, Bill, from the past. That’s why his murals are all over the pub that he drinks in. And there is...this animalistic soldier, in him when he finally fights the Beast on the rooftops. You see this man out for blood, and it’s a scary moment to see the arc of somebody who was the loveable buffoon of the village to become the absolute Beast almost, the monster."


Gad on horseback riding:
"I learned a couple of great lessons on this movie, one of which is that Jews don’t belong on horses. Specifically overweight Jews. My horse was an anti-Semite...they told me was trained for this movie but I believe they found (him) in the wilds of England...So Luke and I are walking into the village on our horses, and on action all our horses need to do is walk side by side, it’s so simple. Luke’s horse does it. The two of them worked on 'The Hobbit' together, 'Three Musketeers,' have this incredible background."
Evans: "We share a trailer."
Gad: "Mm, hm, they share a trailer. Mine is a cold-blooded killer. And he proceeded to moonwalk, he walked backwards. Then, he ran through multiple extras in the village, ran around--I didn’t even know it was possible--but ran through these like pillars around, up and back again. I heard 'cut' and I heard laughing, and the laughter was coming from the horse’s trainer, and he came up to me and he goes, 'I’m so sorry. I’ve never seen this happen before.' And it was so sad. It made me feel so awful about myself. Ironically, my horse’s name was Buddy. That is a true story. He’s nobody’s buddy. I’m begging Disney to press charges against him, and I’ve told my agents to never send me another script with a horse in it again."
Evans: "Unless it’s on wheels."
Gad: "Unless it’s on wheels. In the sequel to 'Beauty and the Beast' I drive a DeLorean."


Mbatha-Raw on doing voice work: "...For me it was, you know, working on the French accent, you know, both myself and Ewan had the same dialect coach, and then just playing in the studio with Bill encouraging us to, you know, embrace that sort of inner child and that real sort of let’s pretend kind of freedom. And for me, you know, having done a few serious roles that year, you know, to be able to embrace the feather duster Plumette and to also be able to really not be limited by your own face and your own body that you can really, as I say, just play, was so joyful."


Condon on representation and inclusion:
"You know, I talked before about how we translate this into a live act – that means filling out the characters. It’s also a translation to 2017, you know? And what is this movie about? What has this story always been about? For 300 years it’s about looking closer, going deeper, you know, accepting people for who they really are, and in a very Disney way we are including everybody. I think this movie is for everybody, and on the screen you’ll see everybody, and that was important to me, I think to all of us.


Menken on doing justice to the original film:
"My mantra throughout the whole thing was don’t screw it up. I mean, for myself."

"Beauty and the Beast" will open in theaters March 17, 2017.

March 13, 2017

Ten Minutes With Don Hahn


Ever witty and urbane, "Beauty and the Beast" Executive Producer Don Hahn was gracious enough to give AllEars.Net a few minutes to talk about both versions of the Tale as Old as Time he has helmed, as well as thoughts on legendary writer, director, and lyricist Howard Ashman.


On the beginnings of a new "Beauty and the Beast": "We had talked about doing a live-action movie for years, even going back to probably ten or fifteen years ago...the movie was well-received as an animated film and on Broadway as well, a few years later, so the chance to complete the trifecta and do a live-action film seemed logical.

"But the elements weren't together. We, at different times, tried different scripts, but it never really came together until this version, and thankfully so, because the effect of having Bill Condon, Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, and having Alan Menken write new songs is kind of the perfect alignment of the planets for this movie to be retold again. So it's something we've talked about for a long time, but it's really about people. You know, computers don't make movies, studios don't make's about great people, and those people were available at this time, and lucky us to have them."


On why a live-action version: "It probably brings a little more depth to the characters, because animation is a medium of caricature--you're kind of painting with a broad brush in animation...a simpler medium in some sense, and the movies are shorter, maybe 85-90 minutes. In a live-action film, it's incredibly direct to the audience. They see the living, breathing actors on the screen, and it's a chance to flesh out their stories more: To find out more about Belle, or where she came from, or who her mother is...just understand more about those characters so you can feel more deeply about them. So that's the approach, to say here's a movie and a story and how can we augment that in ways that are really meaningful and germane to the original story. You don't want to just explode it with new songs and Belle goes surfing or something. You want to be able to take it right to the core of what those characters are and what they mean, and again, I think that's the brilliance of not only what Howard Ashman and Alan Menken gave us in the original movie, along with a great crew of animators, but also what Bill Condon does in this movie, is to be able to reimagine in ways that are really central to those characters, and finding out who they are and where they came from and why they're longing for adventure and why they're cursed and why they would ever get together. So those are all things that you can explore more deeply and I think that's why this movie resonates with people, because it gives you all those layers of the onion to explore more deeply."

On Howard Ashman: "Howard was a really interesting guy. He was tremendously schooled in musical theater--I'm making a documentary about him right now so he's kind of on the tip of my tongue these days--he grew up in Baltimore, he studied theater and got his masters degree in theater from Indiana University, and came to Broadway kind of as an outsider, but he was tremendously learned. He knew every lyric and everything from Lerner and Lowe to Rogers and Hammerstein, and not only the lyric but why they fit into this song and why they fit into this movie or this show.

"So when we would sit there working with him, and he would say 'well this dance with Belle and the's like 'King and I,' when Yul Brenner puts her hand on his waist--that's like the consummation of their relationship.' And so suddenly the dance with Belle and the Beast became an homage to 'King and I." So there's all these callbacks: Gaston was loosely based on a kind of arrogant male character from 'Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.' So he had this tremendous knowledge, and also one of the most funny people I've ever met (and you know that by his lyrics,) and then one of the most articulate people. He could easily have been a trial attorney. If you want to argue with him, you better have your case completely prepared, because he would articulate and be able to quote chapter and verse of any Broadway musical and the reason why this song fit or this lyric fit...and we did disagree with him from time to time and he was collaborative. It wasn't like he was a brick wall, he was really collaborative, but he made you bring your best game.

"So when the songs came in on 'Beauty and the Beast,' there was one day where we got in a cassette tape, back when we had cassette tapes, and it was the 'Belle' song and 'Be Our Guest' on the same tape. And imagine putting a tape in the machine and listening to this four-or-five minute opening number and how brilliant it was and how storytelling it was and how it introduced us not only to Belle but to her father and to the character of Gaston and LeFou and how all that was able to tell story and plot. So a brilliant man, sad to lose him in the middle of this animated movie and he never got to see the finished product. So much of this live-action movie is not only an homage to the original movie, but a kind of celebration of the great work that Howard had done.

"He was great. He would quote Gilbert and Sullivan and kind of an operetta feel to the opening of the movie...and there are some songs that are really original like 'Kill the Beast' is a pretty original and somewhat risky song--to do a song that late in the have the villain's song be that late. 'Beauty and the Beast' is also a really odd song because it's very poetic; there's not a lot of plot in it, but as the audience, you're sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for these characters to fall in love. Howard was able to bring that to us just through the use of these few selected words. It's funny, at the time Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was the head of the studio, wanted the song to be longer, and Howard said 'well I can't' and Jeffrey said 'of course you can' and he said 'no, I've used all the rhyming words, so all that's left with rhymes with beast would be 'yeast' and 'priest' and all these words that are totally useless.' So he was just a clever, wonderful man."

On Dan Rather's theory of "Beauty and the Beast" as AIDS metaphor:
"Well I was there and knew Howard pretty well. Howard was not a political person; he was the consummate professional, and so first and foremost that song ('Kill the Beast') would be about Gaston and Belle and the Beast. Nobody knows, but I'm almost positive it wasn't an overt commentary on the AIDS crisis.

"But having said that, on some subliminal level, it was, because with lyrics like 'we don't like what we don't understand, in fact it scares us,' it's a commentary on fear, and on fear of the Beast, and on the fear that was certainly circulating in the AIDS crisis at the time, and circulates today. I mean, human beings have always been this way, so to comment on something about the Fear Of Each Other is so thematic towards the AIDS crisis but even more so Howard was, I'm sure, professionally and specifically talking about the fear we have about somebody who's different than us. And how relevant is that today? To be able to talk about a movie like 'Beauty and the Beast' that looks beyond the facade of people, into their hearts...I mean, that's what the movie is about: Don't judge a book by its cover. Look inside Gaston and find out he's a pig inside. Look inside the Beast and find out he's this warm, wonderful big-hearted guy who made a mistake and is now living with the consequences. So there's certainly overtones of what Howard was going through in that song particularly; whether it was intentional or not, we'll never know, but it services first and foremost 'Beauty and the Beast' but it's a bittersweet thing to think about how it might be a commentary on his life."

"Beauty and the Beast" opens in theaters March 17, 2017.

March 5, 2017

KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue


"May our hearts be our guiding key." --King Mickey


Recently, Square Enix released the latest in their Kingdom Hearts compilations, "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue."

For a long time I had wanted to play the Kingdom Hearts games--described as action/RPGs that combined Disney characters and settings with a Final Fantasy aesthetic--but never had a Playstation growing up because my parents believed my time was better spent going to school and learning a trade, but my Dickensian childhood is a different story. When I finally did get a PS4, I was all overjoyed at the prospect of being able to finally to get them...only to find out that all the games had originally been released on different consoles (PS2, Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, and PS Portable) and none of them were forward compatible. Subsequently, Square Enix released two remastered collections of most of the series called "Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix" and "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix," but only for the PS3, and also not compatible with the PS4.


So I was pretty happy when it was announced that the next compilation was coming out for the PS4. This third one is the last before the eagerly awaited in-production "Kingdom Hearts 3," the announcement of which I covered at the 2015 D23 Expo. It includes three different parts: "KINGDOM HEARTS Dream Drop Distance HD," "KINGDOM HEARTS 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A fragmentary passage –," and "KINGDOM HEARTS χ Back Cover."


"Dream Drop Distance" is an adaptation of a game initially made for the 3DS and the latest game released as part of the main Kingdom Hearts story line. The cumbersome-named "fragmentary passage" is a new game showing the events following the prequel game "Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep" from one of the character's point of view, and "Back Cover" is an hour-long movie showing backstory of the series' beginnings and connective tissue of "Birth by Sleep" and the mobile game "Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ."


Starting off with "Dream Drop Distance," I quickly made my first discovery concerning Kingdom Hearts: It has an enormously complex story line and coming in on the last act is maybe not the easiest way to understand it all. There isn't a whole lot of introduction to the characters or the situations (understandable, as they might reasonably expect you to have picked up some of this during the earlier seven games) so you kind of have to roll with it. During the course of the game you actually do end up unlocking summaries to the previous games, and if you're not planning on playing those or you don't mind spoilers, those are good resources.


For those who just want a thumbnail of the pertinent backstory without totally spoiling everything, here's my understanding: There are a large number of worlds, some of which are themed to various Disney stories, but only one true world called Kingdom Hearts that was initially the source of light for all. Eventually, however, a brutal Keyblade (weapons wielded by those found worthy) War resulted in it being locked away, and it can now only be forcibly accessed by the power of the Seven Princesses (Snow White, etc.) whose hearts are made of pure light and which combined can summon the door to Kingdom Hearts. This makes them a subject of great interest to people like Maleficent who seek to exploit them, and King Mickey, Donald and Goofy, who seek to protect them. The main protagonists are two boys, Sora and Riku, who have apparently gone through the ringer during the course of these games, getting alternately possessed by darkness, losing their hearts, getting their hearts back, getting other people's hearts back, and generally going through a variety of separations and reunions facilitated by your Disney friends.


Your chief opponents throughout all of this are creatures called the Heartless who come at you in everlasting waves as is the way of video games. It ultimately turns out that there is a Heartless mastermind behind all of this who, with the help of a mysterious Organization, may have been orchestrating events from the very beginning of the tale for his own nefarious purposes.


To give you an example of how convoluted this series is, you may have wondered why this collection is numbered Kingdom Hearts 2.8--it's because it's supposed to come after the second (2.5) compilation, but also includes the new game "Fragmentary Passage" (numbered 0.2 because it comes after "Birth by Sleep" which is considered the first game, or 0.1) so 2.6 + 0.2 = 2.8. Math everyone!


As far as gameplay is concerned, "Dream Drop Distance" is the longest of the two and follows Sora and Riku on their keyblade mastery test. There are seven sleeping worlds that the pair needs to reconnect to the realm of light by unlocking the seven Keyholes of Sleep. Each boy has different objectives and slightly different stories that unlock as they progress through each world. The player is automatically switched between them after a certain amount of time fills up the Drop Gauge, and the active character falls asleep. This can be something of a pain if not managed correctly (there are different mechanisms to prolong or shorten your time,) as if you're in the middle of a fight and drop out, you'll be returned to the beginning of it when you drop back in again.



On the whole, "Dream Drop Distance" is reasonably entertaining, but is heavy on platforming and combat, as you'd expect from a 3DS port, and the story is largely confined to cut-scenes which are puzzling and enigmatic if you aren't familiar with what has gone before. The environments are very pretty and the the specialized Reality Shift attacks keep things interesting as they change to match each world.


Of the Disney-themed worlds, there are representations of "Pinocchio," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Tron: Legacy," "Fantasia" and "The Three Musketeers." Out of the bunch I found the Tron world had the most distinctive look and the light cycle racing the most entertaining of the mini-games.


"Fragmentary Passage" on the other hand, I found to be fantastic. The art on it is just gorgeous in HD and the plot is much better integrated into the game--probably closer to the main "Kingdom Hearts 1" and "Kingdom Hearts 2" games.


Fully understanding the story on this one is, again, largely dependent on knowing what went on in "Birth by Sleep," but since we're talking about the events in one game versus seven, it's a lot easier to grasp. The protagonist, Aqua, was one of the three early Keymasters who originally got Sora and Riku involved in the whole keyblade trade when they were kids (err...younger kids.) Clearly, something went south in that game, and Aqua was stuck in the Realm of Darkness for some indeterminate time. This game follows her travels in a fractured version of Cinderella as she struggles with hoards of Heartless and her own feelings of inadequacy.


Both the combat and the platforming are visually stunning and varied enough so that it never feels repetitious. Each area Aqua works through feels like a completely different experience. The game isn't terribly long but it reaches a satisfying conclusion with a team-up with Mickey at the end.


One thing that was a little surprising to me in both games is that the Disney characters weren't as involved as I expected--while they pop in occasionally, for the most part they're limited to the cut-scenes. This may be because again, these games were not the major installments in the series, but more of a bridge between what has gone before, and the upcoming "Kingdom Hearts 3."


On the whole, this was a fun collection that, while worth playing all on its own, would likely be more enjoyable if you already have a background in Kingdom Hearts lore. If that's not you, fear not--Square Enix has announced that "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" is being released for the PS4 which will include almost all of the earlier content.


"KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" is available now for preorder at the Square Enix online store for $49.99, and will be out on March 28, 2017. "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue" is currently available for the PS4.


*A copy of "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue" was provided to me for the purposes of review without restrictions on expressed thoughts or opinions.*

February 6, 2017

2017 Annie Awards


This last weekend the 2017 Annie Awards were held at UCLA. Started in 1972 by voice over legend June Foray, the award ceremony is held by ASIFA-Hollywood ("Association Internationale du Film d'Animation") and celebrates the last year's outstanding achievements in animation.

Noted to be animation's most glamorous yearly event, many luminaries of the field walked the red carpet:

"Moana's" Auli'i Cravalho

Two of this year's Winsor McCay award recipients...

Mamoru Oshii

Dale Baer

Head of Animation for "Moana," Hyrum Osmond

Ernie Hudson

Paige O'Hara, Glen Keane, and Frank Gladstone

James Hong

Producer Osnat Shurer and Directors John Musker and Ron Clements for "Moana"

Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane

"Kubo and the Two Strings" director Travis Knight

Bill Farmer and Sam Kwasman

Friz Freleng's daughters Sybil and Hope

"Zootopia" producer Clark Spencer and directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore

At the award ceremonies, "Zootopia" was the big winner, taking Best Animated Feature over fellow nominees "Moana," "Finding Dory," "Kubo and the Two Strings," and "Kung Fu Panda 3." It also won Outstanding Achievement, Character Design in an Animated Feature; Outstanding Achievement, Directing in an Animated Feature; Outstanding Achievement, Storyboarding in an Animated Feature; and Outstanding Achievement, Writing in an Animated Feature. Pixar's "Piper" took Best Animated Short Subject and "Moana" took Outstanding Achievement, Animated Effects in an Animated Production. In Outstanding Achievement, Voice Acting in an Animated Feature, Auli'i Cravalho and Jason Bateman tied for "Moana" and "Zootopia" respectively.

The Winsor McCay award recipients for contributions to the animation art form were legendary animator Dale Baer; independent animation champion Caroline Leaf; and influential anime director Mamoru Oshii. The Ub Iwerks Award for technical advancement was presented to Google Spotlight’s Virtual Reality Platform; and the Special Achievement Award was presented to "Life, Animated," a documentary about how a young autistic boy's struggle to communicate with the help of classic Disney animated characters.

The long list of quality films, shorts, and TV productions makes the current health and vigor of the animation industry obvious. Full listings of the night's nominees and winners are available at, and are a great source for new titles to put on your viewing queue.

December 26, 2016

"Destination D: Amazing Adventures" Day Two


Catching up, here are my previous blogs about D23's Destination D Amazing Adventures:
Part One: A Conversation with Bob Chapek

Part 2: Day One Continued

Continuing on to day two of D23's "Destination D 2016: Amazing Adventures," historians Keven Neary and Susan Neary spoke briefly on their new book, curated by Imagineer Vanessa Hunt, "Maps of the Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years from California to Shanghai."


(No photography or recording was permitted during the presentations. All photos thereof are courtesy of D23.)


From the early maps of Disneyland in 1955 to the international parks of the current day, their book displays all the creative artwork and history of Disney park maps.


Subsequently, attendees got a look behind the development of some of the recent Disney World entertainment additions in "New Walt Disney World Adventures."


Entertainment Show Director Tom Vazzana started us off with a look at the new holiday nighttime show at Disney Hollywood Studios, "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!"

Through a high-energy walkthrough, Vazzana talked about the different segments of the show and the technical challenges of integrating high-definition projections, lasers, fireworks, and snow.

Imagineer Wyatt Winter
then took the stage to talk about the development of the new Frozen Ever After attraction that's taken the place of Maelstrom in the EPCOT Norway pavilion.


--Some of the same animators that worked on the movie "Frozen," worked on the attraction to give life and consistency of movement and expression to the ride figures.


--This is the first time an attraction is using all electric figures, as opposed to hydraulic.
--The newly designed area of the pavilion is intended to travel across Norway, much like the area of Liberty Square and Frontierland travels geographically across America.


--Runestones placed around the area can be recognized as homages to Maelstrom.


After the morning break, Imagineers Jason Grandt and Alex Wright returned to Destination D with "Magic Journeys: 45 Years of Walt Disney World Adventures."


With the use of historical photos and video, the two gave everyone a quick and hilarious look at some of their favorite adventurous memories from Walt Disney World.


From a walkthrough of the departed (at least from WDW) Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to an exploration of all the different activities that used to be found at Fort Wilderness...

Magic%20Journeys%2045%20Years_3-001.jpg Discovery Island, to the Seven Seas Lagoon wave machines, to If You Had Wings, they covered the gamut of wacky to wonderful past WDW entertainment.


A look at "Pandora--The World of AVATAR" was then hosted by "AVATAR" creators James Cameron, Jon Landau (as Alpha Centauri Expeditions Founder Marshall Lamm,) and Imagineer Joe Rohde.


Enthusiastically discussing the many voyages they've taken to the planet Pandora, the group shared new concept art and insights.


--Tourists will visit Pandora at a time far in the future from the events of "Avatar," after the Resources Development Administration (RDA) war is over.
--One reason for bringing tourists to the valley of the floating mountains is the variety of habitats that can be found there. Shade and water runoff result in rainforests at the bases and underneath.
--The mountains float because Unobtanium, a naturally occurring superconductor, occurs there in large concentrations. Magnetic fields, called flux vortices, can lift the Unobtanium out of the ground, force pinning it into the air.
--A large part of Alpha Centauri Expeditions' mission is conservation. Tourists will see an environment that has been disturbed by humans but which is being ecologically rehabilitated by nature and the indigenous population.


--The Banshees, a cross between a raptor and a pterodactyl that evolved from fish, are able to bond with Na'vi who use them for riding and hunting.
--The Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI) found abandoned RDA avatar facilities in the jungle, which allow them to offer tourists the experience of a flying initiation ceremony.
--Nature follows the same rules and reflects parallels between Earth and Pandora.
--Na'vi do not use metal in construction.
--Windtraders are a Na'vi clan that unites the cultures and maintains a common language through trading. The main shop in Pandora is named after them.
--"Pongu Pongu,” the repurposed Quonset hut that is the canteen means “party party."


--Nighttime on Pandora is transformed through reactive bio-luminescence.
--A boat ride through the bio-luminescent grotto shows tourists a Na'vi Shaman performing a ceremony of song.

--The Na'vi are connected through the "Eywa" or "biological internet" whose purpose is to protect the Great Balance.
--The message of Pandora is to live in balance with the environment and with each other.

After lunch, the afternoon continued with Imagineer and Senior Production Designer Chris Merritt discussing "The Art and Adventures of Marc Davis."


--Merritt is currently co-authoring a new book, "Marc Davis Goes to WED," on Marc Davis with Pete Docter and Vanessa Hunt--two volumes, due out in 2018.
--In the 1960's Davis was moved by Walt from animation to WED to work on Disneyland.
--Some of the legendary attractions he worked on were Jungle Cruise, The Enchanted Tiki Room, and Pirates of the Caribbean.


--Davis originally proposed and designed an omnimover ride for the America Pavilion at EPCOT, as opposed to the show that was eventually developed.
--One of his last projects before he retired was a proposed addition/replacement of a Kachina doll diorama to the Grand Canyon Diorama on the Disneyland Railroad.


In "The Imagineering Adventure," Steven Vagnini brought back Disney Legend Tony Baxter and Shanghai Disneyland Portfolio Creative Director Luc Mayrand to look at some of Disney's more adventurous creations


--Baxter spoke on the three basic rationales used for getting the company to spend money on a new attraction: Timing, need, and technology.
--Big Thunder Mountain Railroad came about with the derailment of the Western River Expansion project. It both preserved part of the planned attraction and filled a vacant area for DL.


--In an attempt to preserve the threatened Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Baxter used the promotional budget for "Tarzan," that would normally have been used for a parade, etc., and rethemed it to Tarzan's Treehouse.
--Splash Mountain came about as a result of the availability of AA figures from the retired America Sings attraction and Dick Nunis' fondness for flume rides.
--"Fear - Death = Thrill" --Eddie Sotto's formula for the appeal of adventurous rides, such as Indiana Jones and the Eye of Mara.


--Mayrand then took the audience through some of the research behind the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Shanghai and showed us clips of some of the scenes.
--The original pirates attraction there was eventually split into two--a ride and a stunt show.
--Boats are driven by silent magnetic motors.
--The ride has been blessed with water from all the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions around the world.


Afterwards, Director, Animal and Science Operations Dr. Scott Terrell spoke briefly about some of the preparations that to be made to adapt the animals at Animal Kingdom to the new nighttime experiences there, in "Guiding Animals Through Change."


--Animal Kingdom scientists constructed welfare studies that developed parameters to measure change in the animals in response to changes in their environment.
--Structures in some of the habitats are completely soundproofed, so that animals can have the option of a quiet space.


--Beaker, a black vulture, was introduced to the audience, as well as Willie the aardvark.
--Vultures are currently being poisoned by the millions by poachers to avoid detection while they illegally kill animals.


Finally, to close out the weekend, Joe Rohde returned to talk about "Disney's Animal Kingdom: Evolving A New Species of Theme Park."


--Prior to AK, the idea of theme parks was based upon the Magic Kingdom: An isolated, perfected, familar storybook land that stays timeless.
--Animals do not fit in this idealized situation.
--The three core values of AK: Intrinsic value of Nature; adventure; and personal story.
--The environment must then look overcome by Nature and poorly maintained, as if adventure could happen to you differently every time.
--The berm in AK is perforated to the outside world through conservation and research.
--Various research trips involved a plethora of dangers, such as snakes, erupting volcanoes, and temple ceremonies.
--RE his earrings: "It was out of emulation and respect for indigenous peoples of the world who now all wear Gap."
--A huge amount of the animal carvings in AK are from a Balinese family.


--Whole temples in AK around Everest are designed and built in Nepal by professional craftspeople there.
--While you do not have to go to Africa for an adventure, you must be able to step out of the frame of the common everyday experience.
--On building Pandora, they realized that there was insufficient imagery in "Avatar" of the environment to create an actual place.
--Elements of Pandora then, are filled in with elements of the real world that act on the same principles--bio-luminescence, for example.
--"You cannot make this stuff up. The World has more detail than you can imagine."
--Pandora will have the same level of realism that the rest of AK has, because it is constructed with the same integrity.
--The Pandora area was originally going to be based on Eastern European mythological animals. Now it is about modern-day mythology: The things we need to think about and do in relation to our relationship to our planet.
--The Tree of Life will come to life at night and express the beauty of animals and the surrounding world.
--The park is a promise that you will have an adventure that is as if you did it for real.


December 14, 2016

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" Press Junket



Fans of the pop culture juggernaut "Star Wars" will get their next installment in theaters December 16, when Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios present "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." The first in what they originally called the Anthology films, "Rogue One" starts a series of standalone films that detail different parts of the Star Wars timeline, but are not directly connected to the Saga films that tell a continuing story of the Skywalker clan.

"Rogue One" details the events alluded to in the original "New Hope" title crawl, in which rebel spies steal the plans for the Empire's ultimate weapon--the DEATH STAR. It takes place between Episode III and Episode IV, at a time when Order 66 has all but destroyed the Jedi Order and nothing but the bravery and daring of ordinary citizens can hope to free the galaxy.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

Up at Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch, the cast and creatives behind "Rogue One" gathered to briefly discuss the film and their roles in it. The first panel consisted of Producer Kathy Kennedy, Director Gareth Edwards, Diego "Cassian" Luna, Alan "K2SO" Tudyk, Donnie "Chirrut" Yen, and Executive Producer John Knoll, who was also the VFX Supervisor, and who contributed the original story idea.


Some video highlights from the press conference:


Edwards on getting George Lucas' feedback: "So two days ago, we got to show George the movie, and we all had a phone call and I got to speak with him yesterday, and I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I can honestly say that I can die happy now. He really liked the movie, so it meant a lot. To be honest, and no offense to anyone here, it was the most important review to me...what George thought of it. You know, you guys are important too, but come on, he’s kind of God when it comes to Star Wars."


Kennedy on diversity and representation in "Rogue One:" "I think, you know, having a cast that represents and reflects the world today and having characters that people can relate to all over the world, this is very much a global industry. Films mean something to people all over the world, and it was certainly important to this story...It lent itself very, very well. These are a group of people who come together in ways that are kind of inexplicable, but they share a very common belief and they feel very strongly in their desire to do the right thing and they work together incredibly well, and having that sense of diversity as people come together was really important to our story. Every movie has reasons for why you cast certain people, but I think what we’re doing today is just being much more mindful of that, and I think it’s important."


Yen on how his martial arts background helped him relate to the Force: "You know, I always think of the force–we all have the force, it’s just we don’t realize it. It’s kind of like–I think it’s interesting to me, the Star Wars story is about reminding us of the things that we neglect and forget. And the force is–we always have these kinds of ability, and to answer your question, I don’t think of it as having the martial arts ability, it’s just being a human being–you do have the force."


Tudyk on getting into character on set as the CG droid K2SO: "I was wearing a, you know, fully body jumpsuit sort of thing, and it’s such a new technology, even still. We’ve been introduced to it a lot of different ways. Sometimes people wear cameras on their heads, sometimes there’s dots all over their face, they have balls all over their suit. The way that ILM did it, I wore a suit that was very comfortable, it didn’t have all of that restriction on it, it just had interesting designs on it was very cool looking. Come on. It was like a luge costume from like the Italian team, like it looked cool. And yeah, I mean, it didn’t have the colors, but still–and then I was on stilts so I was 7 foot 1, so I towered over everyone most of the time, and it was great, you know, just even at that height it colors how you move and helped me get into character. It was fantastic."
Luna: "It wasn't."
Tudyk: "It was basically just acting, but then the makeup and the costume came later, but because you’re on set you are able to create a character with the other actors. Without that, you can’t tell a story with the true character who can react in a moment. With some of the stuff Diego’s throwing at you, you need to be able to throw it right back."



Luna on Cassian's moral complexity: "I think it’s a modern approach to Star Wars, and we live in a different world today, you know. If you revisit all the films, it’s kind of like a stamp of what was going on and a reflection on the world back then, you know? And ours has to do the same. And we live in a where racial and cultural diversity is in fact making us richer and more interesting. But it is a complex world we live in, and making the right choice many times looks horrible, you know? And these people are in war. You know, when you mentioned Cassian doing something not heroic, I would say, no, Cassian is a true hero, as Jyn and everyone in this team, you know? It’s just that they are the heroes we can be, just regular people doing amazing stuff you know, and no special powers, no Jedis, it’s just conviction and teamwork and yeah, that hope of actually being able to shape the reality we live in, and that makes them great, you know? But yes, they have to make choices on the way and war is horrible. I mean, no one wants war to happen, none of these characters would choose war, you know, but it’s the last chance, you know, and they have to do it."


The second panel then took place with Producer Kathy Kennedy and Director Gareth Edwards returning, along with Felicity “Jyn” Jones, Ben “Krennic” Mendelsohn, Mads “Galen” Mikkelsen, and Riz “Bodhi” Ahmed.


Jones on finding her Inner Warrior: "Yeah, well, it’s in Jyn’s head, it’s very clear. She hates the Empire. So anytime she sees Stormtroopers she has this kind of a very clear instinct to take them down. So I just tapped into that, into that energy that Jyn has. And I’d never done that kind of thing before. It was very new, the whole kind of physical preparation, that side of acting. I’m kind of used to lots of, you know, talking in corsets so it was really nice to be running around with a blaster and a baton to bash Stormtroopers with. But yeah, it was an extraordinary process and you work very closely with the stunt team who take you through every kind of move and moment and support you throughout the whole thing and I’m very lucky to have a great support from the stunt team doing it."


Edwards on working with Ben Mendelsohn: "And Ben is so relaxed in front of the camera that he would start like just messing around, like he’s very playful. And I thought he was reciting Shakespeare or something, like to get himself into character, and then I would listen carefully to the lyrics and realize he was singing Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, and even like Frozen, I think. There was like times where..."
Mendelsohn: "Oh yeah, I did sing a bit of Frozen."
Edwards: "Yeah. What was it – we used to be friends or whatever?"
Mendelsohn: "Yeah, that’s right, yeah, yeah, yeah. I did the we used to be friends – no, it’s escaping me now, but yes."
Mikkelsen: "I remember it vividly."


Mikkelsen on Galen's moral complexity: "...I think that as actors we always try to find, like, the two sides of a character, but definitely it’s in this one because he’s working together with this gentleman (Mendelsohn) something that he believes from the very beginning as a project that has the ability to change the world into a better place. And though be it that it turns out that he’s working on something that he didn’t know, and for that reason he’s in a gigantic dilemma. And for other reasons I will not spoil here, the dilemma gets even bigger. So yes, that’s a gray zone here. As you said, you used to be maybe in the ‘70s and the ‘80s a little more black and white, but there are a lot of grays in here.


Ahmed on becoming an action figure: "I did get an action figure. I was very pleased because I think he’s a lot better-looking than I am. I think they accidentally modeled it on Diego or something, we're easily confused. Yeah, it was a kind of surreal, amazing moment, to be honest. I remember kind of playing with those toys as a kid and so to be part of that universe, you know, in plastic, is an amazing thing.

"Rogue One" will open in theaters December 16, 2016.

December 7, 2016

7 Things I Learned from 28 Minutes of "Rogue One"



This last weekend, Lucasfilm and director Gareth Edwards screened 28 minutes of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" up at Skywalker Ranch. While the footage seemed deliberately cut to avoid major spoilers, it was enough to get some preliminary impressions.

*If you want to go in completely spoiler free, now is the time to cut out.*

1. As a move likely intended to distinguish the anthology story "Rogue One" from the main legacy movies, the film does not begin with the usual Star Wars title crawl--just the traditional "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.."

2. What I gather: Our heroine Jyn Erso's story begins when her family is fractured by Director Orson Krennic and his Death Troopers who need her dad, Galen Erso, to work on a secret Death Star project. In a jump forward, we then see a Rebel Alliance desperate to get the plans for the Death Star from Galen. In a bid to contact him, they recruit an adult Jyn to help them assemble the people they need--Bodhi Rook, a defector pilot, and Saw Gerrera, a militant rebel offshoot leader and Jyn's old protector.

3. Asians! For those of us who remember when JJ Abrams was asked at SDCC when Asians would figure into Star Wars, and his response was "go Asians!" Lucasfilm finally delivers with Donnie Yen's Chirrut Imwe--a blind monk who is one of the few remaining believers in the Force. As you'd expect from the martial art star, his fight scene in the clips we saw was suitably impressive.


4. "Rogue One" is clearly designed to show a grittier, morally complex side to the Star Wars Universe. Far from the black-and-white 1930's film serial view of heroism that influenced Episode 4, the rebels here have apparently accepted that war means occasionally distasteful compromise.

5. Alan Tudyk continues to earn his keep as Disney's good luck charm--his K-2SO droid is a hilarious CGI blend of HK-47 from "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" and Marvin the Paranoid Android from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Easily my favorite part of everything I've seen so far, he is BB-8 for the disaffected set.


6. Things continue to be grim if you are a mom in a Disney movie.

7. Stormtroopers are still questionable shots.

"Rogue One" enters general release December 16, 2016.

December 4, 2016

"Destination D: Amazing Adventures" Day One Continued


Continuing on the first day of D23's "Destination D 2016: Amazing Adventures," film producer Don Hahn and Becky Cline, Director of the Walt Disney Archives took the audience on "A Look Back at Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures."

(No photography or recording was permitted during the presentations. All photos thereof are courtesy of D23.)


Through a variety of rarely-seen photos and video clips, Hahn and Cline gave us a glimpse at the many challenges of filming and producing the nature series that was one of the key inspirations for the original Adventureland at Disneyland.


Breaking the topic up into categories of "C's," they spoke of the filmmakers' concerns with
Companions: 50% of the photography was done by couples;
Camera equipment: One team developed what appeared to be an armored Winnebago where they shot footage and lived from, for three years;
Courage: Photographers were seen in all manners of horrific circumstances, from having to dress as bison, to being attacked by swarms of bees;
Climate: Many shoots were in less-than-hospitable environments such as the Arctic, and required any number of innovative living conditions;
Contraptions: In order to get the shots they needed, they would periodically invent devices, such as a camera that resembled a rifle to improve their accuracy in obtaining footage of birds in flight.


Hahn also spoke briefly about DisneyNature's upcoming film "Born In China," and showed the trailer for it. Referencing an early video clip they had shown of Roy Disney's troubles manufacturing a funny nature bit for Walt, Hahn pointed out how far they had come from the early days of Nature documentaries: "This is no longer the era of 'throw-a-duck.'"

Next up was Disney Legend Marty Sklar describing some of the giant contributions Imagineers Harper Goff and Bill Evans made to realizing Disneyland's Adventureland in "The Wonderland of Nature's Own Design."


From a recounting of how they first met Walt, to their involvement with concept art and practical construction design, Sklar showed some of the genius the two men put into the creation of Disneyland's most lush and mysterious land.


Destination D regular Jason Grandt moderated the next panel on "Disney Adventurelands Around the World," with fellow Imagineers Tony Baxter and Luc Mayrand.


Although they touched on the Adventurelands at all the parks, given Baxter's past role as executive producer of Disneyland Paris and Mayrand's recent position as creative lead on Treasure Cove at Shanghai Disneyland, it was kind of a "salute to all Adventurelands, but mostly Paris and Shanghai."


--Imagineering research revealed a big Western Europe interest in the tales of the Arabian Nights, leading them to retheme the entry to DLP's Adventureland in that vein.


--Similarly, they found few people there connected to the tales of Tom Sawyer, resulting in the substitution of the pirate-infested Adventure Isle.


--Over in Shanghai, a tepid response to their proposals for Frontierland caused the Imagineers to reallocate its space and integrate it with their initial Adventureland into two large lands--Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove.
--Camp Discovery, with its dramatic Challenge Trails just won a TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) Outstanding Attraction award for 2016, along with Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
--The area's signature snack, turkey legs, became so popular the lines sometimes ran up to two hours, with people who worked their way through the front of the line selling them to people at the end for profit.


A look at the lighter side of Adventure came with former Jungle Cruise skippers Archivist Justin Arthur, Skipper Canteen’s Trevor Van Dahm, and Imagineers Chris Merritt, Wyatt Winter, Kevin Lively, and Alex Grayman who recounted some of the history of the legendary attraction and its jocular narrative in "Tales from the Jungle Cruise."



Afterwards, in "Disney's Polynesian Resort 45th Anniversary," D23’s Steven Vagnini, Disney Vacation Club’s Ryan March, and Disney artists Casey Jones and Richard Terpstra commemorated the occasion by giving us a glimpse into the iconic resort's genesis and development.


--The first concept of a South Seas resort was shown on the map of the EPCOT project Walt displayed on television.
--Welton Becket, designer of landmark structures such as the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Ford and GE pavilions for the 1964 World's Fair, and the Contemporary, also designed the original look of the Polynesian Village.
--A John Curry memo from 1969 reveals that "Contemporary" and "Polynesian" were originally working names that eventually stuck with minimal additions.


--Although the resort started operation on October 1, 1971, the opening ceremony for the Polynesian was October 24th. The occasion was marked by the premier of the Electric Water Pagent and the Fantasy in the Sky firework show.
--Some early guests to the resort were Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and Fred MacMurray.


--The Polynesian Tiki was designed by WED in the late 1960s, likely based on a carving from an Oceanic Arts shield.
--It was originally considered to be Maui, but after various different representations of Maui were created, it became known as the Polynesian Tiki.


--In a particularly nice homage, original Polynesian cast member Auntie Kau’I, cultural representative Ku’ulei, and musician Kalei joined the group onstage to reminisce about Kau'l's history at the resort and give a brief hula lesson.


To finish off the day, Screenwriter Jared Bush spoke on WDAS' latest blockbuster "MOANA: Building a Legend."


Always a dynamic speaker, Bush reiterated much of what has been discussed in some of the presentations I've written about earlier, in the film's pre-release:


The Moana theme continued later that night, as guests were treated to an advance screening of "Moana" out under the stars on the Polynesian beach.

...And that was just the first day! More from the second day of Destination D: Amazing Adventures," to come!

December 1, 2016

"Destination D 2016: Amazing Adventures" A Conversation with Bob Chapek


On November 19-20, D23 held its second biennial Destination D at the Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World, "Destination D: Amazing Adventures."


The weekend's emphasis was on Adventure, in all its many incarnations throughout Disney properties around the world, and with a particular eye towards new and upcoming exotica.

(No photography or recording was permitted during the presentations. All photos thereof are courtesy of D23.)


To start us off, D23’s Jeffrey Epstein opened the weekend with Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, to talk about some of his fond Disney Park memories (pickles in bags!) and upcoming additions to the parks.


As part of the weekend's swag giveaways, attendees received their own MagicBand 2--a redesigned version with a removable center button that can be taken out (regular MagicBand 2's will come with their own custom screwdriver) and placed in a variety of personalized bracelet and non-bracelet wearable options.


Chapek then spoke in fairly nonspecific terms about what he's eagerly anticipating from "Pandora – The World of AVATAR." Some new concept art of the in-story dining and shopping areas was also released, as Deb Koma reported on here.

With the announcement that Star Tours would, as it was with the release of "Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens," be refreshed with scenes from "Star Wars: Episode VIII," Chapek again teased some concept art of the Star Wars expansion currently underway at both Disneyland and Disney Hollywood Studios.


Beyond that, Chapek again spoke generally about a major transformation in the works for EPCOT, that will make it more Disney, timeless, relevant, and family-friendly. He also expressed a wish to encase WDW guests in even more of a Disney bubble during their stay, mentioning on-property transportation as something that "is functional, when it should be magical!"


The next day, we saw an example of what he might have been talking about--a "Sorcerer-Class Concept Bus" not currently planned for production but an attempt to further differentiate the Disney transportation experience.


Inside, the bus featured mood lighting, and an audio track similar to the WDW resort hold music.


Finally, Chapek closed his part of the presentation by revealing a plan to make the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (SEA) an overarching mythology that will thread through all the different Disney Parks of the world.


Of note, SEA already makes an appearance in Fortress Explorations and Tower of Terror in Tokyo DisneySea, Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland, the Oceaneer Lab on the Disney Magic, and the upcoming Miss Fortune Falls in Typhoon Lagoon. It also features heavily in the themes of Disney Spring's Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar, the defunct Adventurer's Club, and the Magic Kingdom's Skipper Canteen.


November 16, 2016

"Moana" Press Junket



On November 23rd, Walt Disney Animation will debut its next Disney princess in "Moana"--a story of a young girl who must cross the ocean on a quest to save her island from a withering death. To accomplish this task, she must surmount any number of impediments, including a reluctant, egotistical demigod, coconut-wearing pirates, a shiny crab, a demon of earth and fire, and an intellectually challenged rooster.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

At a recent press junket, a collection of the impressive talent behind "Moana" gathered to talk about the film's creative process. In attendance was Dwayne (Maui) Johnson, Auli'i (Moana) Cravalho, Lin-Manuel (Original Songs by) Miranda, Ron (Director) Clements, John (Director) Musker, Opetaia (Original Songs by) Foa'i, and Osnat (Producer) Shurer.


Select moments from the video above:


Miranda on getting The Rock to sing: "I get a lot of questions from reporters this week being all 'how did you get The Rock to sing?' That's not what happened here. When Dwayne accepted the role, he said, 'so what are you giving me to sing?' He was really excited for this, and for me--I went to YouTube, where the answers always lie, and...I'm a big fan of his wrestling days and there was a time...where he would pull out a guitar and taunt whatever town he was in. And so I got a really good sense of his vocal range from that ten minute supercut, and then the rest of it was just writing lyrics that embody the spirit of Maui, who is this amazing demigod/trickster god...and once I had the title 'You're Welcome," which only Dwayne can pull off and still have you love him and root for him, we were off to the races."
Johnson: "...One of the best times I've ever had in my career was working on this project and certainly working on that song, because also like--we all love challenges, and this was a challenge that the bar's set so incredibly high in a Disney film to sing!"
Musker: "Dwayne's the new Angela Lansbury."


Cravalho on what it means to be Moana: "This is my first job. It's been an incredible journey for me. I'm fifteen going on sixteen, and I'm working with the best people in the entire world of whom are making a film inspired by my culture--a culture I have lived every day of my life. That is something so incredibly special for the rest of the world to see...for me, as someone who is hoping to continue in show business (now that I'm in 'show biz,' which is really exciting)...I was wondering how would I continue in this and still be Polynesian? And that might be an interesting concept...As I might potentially leave my home, what does that make me? Does that still keep me Polynesian? Am I still grounded and rooted in the way that I want to be? And I can honestly say 'yes." Because being surrounded by my family and by the Hawaiian culture every day, it seems as though I would never lose it. But to have a film like this that will inspire me, and to have a character that will inspire others as well to become rooted in who they truly are...that's something that inspires me and that I hope will inspire others as well."


Foa'i, Johnson, and Cravalho on what they hope Polynesians get out of "Moana:"
Foa'i: "My journey has been from the village to the city...There are many other cultures that will see this movie and be interested in it, but there are also, there will be Polynesians who were born in the cities who will then start the journey back to the village. That's what I'm thrilled about."
Cravalho: "I'm really excited for everyone to see this film. I know my friends are thrilled, my family is thrilled and I think we're all very proud of this film. I will admit, and I will admit this truthfully, that before I was working on this film, I was a bit wary of it. Because I think when anyone thinks of someone making a film inspired by their culture, they want it to be done right. And Disney has done a wonderful job--the Oceanic Trust that has been put together, as well as the research trips that Ron and John and Osmat were on as well. All of that has created such a wonderful well-rounded film that I'm excited for my people to see and for everyone else to see as well as they'll hopefully be inspired to research on our culture. Because our culture is, like, awesome!"
Johnson: "What Opetaia said, I think, is very resonant in the pride that they will have in the film. And there were a lot (and understandably so)...there was some hesitance from a lot of people in our culture about 'well, what's going to happen if our culture's going to be showcased for the very first time on this level, this capacity from Disney? What's going to happen?'

"I feel like the Polynesian people are going to be incredibly proud of this movie. Overall, all cultures by the way...I think what's going to touch upon all of us, regardless of where we're at in the world, where we're from, cultures, class, religion, is the voice. So, our world today, so relevant in this moment, so full of noise, there's so much noise that's happening in our world, but
the little voice that you've always gotta listen to, your gut, your can do things. You can go beyond boundaries. And you have to trust that gut and instinct. So those are the things I think our people are going to take away and the rest of the world will take away."


After the "Moana" presentation, Director Leo Matsuda and Producer Sean Lurie gave a short presentation on "Inner Workings," the terminally adorable short that will play in theaters before "Moana." Taking a stylistic reference from the acetate anatomy diagrams that used to figure heavily in encyclopedias back in the day, the short demonstrates the perpetual battle between the responsible anxieties of the brain, and the careless hedonism of the heart.


"Moana" will open in theaters November 23, 2016.

November 9, 2016

"Moana" Press Day: Filmmaker Presentations



As the release date for "Moana" rapidly approaches, we continue our look at the film's development with presentations by the filmmakers. Jared Bush (Screenwriter), Dave Pimentel (Head of Story), David Derrick (Story Artist), and Sunmee Joh (Story Artist) came together to talk about developing the story of "Moana," in "Building a Legend."

[All unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]


Jared Bush on writing a scene vs. storyboarding a scene: "'This is in a cavern of the ancestors, water rushing down to the boats. Walking amongst the huge canoes in awe, she spots a smaller canoe near the pool of water leading through a waterfall. Water jumps out of the hull from the nearest lagoon, and as the sails swell, it reveals a massive double-hulled canoe.' So something like that took me about three minutes to write, but then I hand it over to Dave...and it becomes a lifetime."


David Derrick, who has Samoan ancestry, noted that he was able to reconnect with it on various research trips, and put the pattern of his own family's tapa print throughout the film.


Sunmee Joh on Saving Heihei: "He was a character we had from the very beginning and he was in many versions of the story, but as the story progressed, we suddenly found Heihei on the chopping block. The directors really wanted to keep him, but we were having a hard time fitting him in...Then, I thought...what if we added him to the Kakamora scene?"


"Tell them what happened in this panel, when John Lasseter saw it."
"He got up with a big clap and said 'YES, HEIHEI IS SAVED!'"

Hank Driskill (Technical Supervisor), Kyle Odermatt (Visual Effects Supervisor), Marlon West (Head of Effects), and Dale Mayeda (Head of Effects) then presented some of the amazing special effects in "Moana."


--Water is an important and central figure both in the movie and in Polynesian culture.
--Conversations with colleagues at Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic helped to define what "state of the art" water rendering was, so that they could then determine how to then push the boundaries.
--80% of the shots in this movie have effects in them.
--In addition to making the water look believable, they also had to make the water a believable and interactable character.
--The general process was that the character animators would come up with a silhouette they wanted, the directors would make decisions on timing and performance, and then Effects would add fluid simulations along the surface, interior bubbles, and surrounding splashes.


Finally, animators Bill Schwab (Art Director, Characters), Amy Smeed (Head of Animation), Malcon Pierce (Animation Supervisor, Moana), and Neysa Bové (Vis Dev Artist) came together to introduce us to the film's heroine.



Neysa Bové on costume design: "Costume design is such an important part of filmmaking--you're not only trying to tell the story of the character, but you're trying to also put the personality, what they're about in it...For Moana, one challenge that I had was to come up with something that was...relevant to 2000 years ago in the Pacific Islands. We were lucky enough to have the Oceanic Trust and they were able to share with us that at that time they were working with two different fabrics--tapa and pandanus--and tapa is what she's wearing in her bodice, that's actually made from the mulberry tree, and the skirt is pandanus, (which is) sort of woven."


--Her Taualuga costume is for Moana's coming-of-age ceremony.
--Moana's costumes figure in red primarily, because it is a sign of royalty in the Pacific Islands.
--The red feather is a sign of currency.
--Construction of the costumes is taken into account during the design. Without sewing machines, the clasp on her back is a boar's tusk.


--A concerted effort was made from all departments to push the anatomy and clarify details like the interaction between eyelids and brows, folds in the hand while making a fist, and patterns of teeth and gums.
--180 different controls exist to pose just Moana's face.
--Even the eyelashes are posed separately to sell the eye motions.


"Moana" will be opening November 23, 2016.

November 4, 2016

"Doctor Strange" at the El Capitan Theatre


The Doctor Is In, at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, opening weekend for Marvel Studio's "Doctor Strange."


Presented in brilliant Dolby® 3D laser projection and Dolby Atmos® sound, the film looks and sounds amazing, in all its reality/mind-bending glory.


As a special treat for opening weekend only, guests can enjoy a theater-exclusive Meet and Greet downstairs with Doctor Strange himself before and after each show (November 4, 5 and 6) with special photo ops.



In the lobby, an actual costume from the film is on display, including the famed "Cloak of Levitation."


Over in the adjoining Disney Studio Store and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain, a small amount of "Doctor Strange" merchandise can be found, along with a limited edition comic exclusive to the location.




Those looking for a dining package can look no further than the Hard Rock Café, where they can enjoy a $30.00 Movie & Meal combo. Advance reservations are required by calling 1-818-845-3110. Tiny Tot Tuesdays will be held on November 8 and 15 at 12 p.m showings, during which lights will be dimmed and volume levels reduced.


Just announced, guests lucky enough to be attending the 7pm showing on 11/4/16 will be treated to a special guest--Executive Producer, Comic Book Legend, and Cameo Star, Stan Lee!


So By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, come on down opening weekend to watch Stephen Strange battle the Dread Dormammu and practice bad sterile OR technique at the El Capitan Theatre.

"Doctor Strange" is currently playing at the El Capitan Theatre from November 4 to 20. Tickets are available now at the El Capitan Theatre (6838 Hollywood Blvd.), online at or by calling 1-800-DISNEY6. Special group rates for parties of 20 or more are available by calling 1-818-845-3110. Daily showtimes are 12 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. Showtimes and dates are subject to change.

October 31, 2016

"Moana" Press Day: Designing the Island of Moana and the Demigod Maui



As the release date for "Moana" rapidly approaches, we continue our look at the film's development with presentations by the filmmakers. In "The Islands of Moana," Jessica Julius (Sr. Creative Executive), Ian Gooding (Production Designer), Andy Harkness (Art Director, Environments & Color), and Adolph Lusinsky (Director of Cinematography, Lighting) spoke on the challenges of creating a suitably beautiful and unique setting for "Moana."

[All unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]


The road to creating the world of "Moana" started in multiple research trips to different islands of Oceana. While learning about Polynesian culture and people, the team collected a multidisciplinary group to use as a resource they nicknamed "The Oceanic Story Trust."


Ian Gooding on constructing an authentic and distinctive island environment:
"The kinds of geology they have in that area is very different from the Caribbean...We have, in the Caribbean, the kind of volcanoes that explode, kind of like Mount St. Helen's exploded, whereas in the Pacific, they tend to have the ones that just sort of dribble...lava constantly, so you can walk right up to them and not get killed. That produces a very different island profile than one you will find elsewhere in the world. So you get very gradual falloff on the edges and wide edges where reefs will grow."


Andy Harkness on developing the specifics of Moana's home island Motonui:
"Motonui is not historically a true, actual village, so everything built and designed is inspired by the things we were told....The four basic things are the Point, the Pass of course--the Pass is where they breach the reef--the Point is where they come into the inlet, to the village reef, the Place, which is the village itself, the River, which is their freshwater source, and a Peak, which to them, which I thought was really's almost like an architectural element. So say a Chief from another village comes by and sees this, and you know immediately someone very very important lives here. It's a very special place, and it's all caused by erosion--it's all natural erosion that causes all this."


Adolph Lusinsky on the challenges of theatrically lighting water:
"A photograph really doesn't capture the color of water very well in the first also doesn't capture that memory for sure, of what you remember....We would kind of push the color to what we kind of remember it to be...We push the blue in front, the green water in back above Moana, so it gives a richer look to it, but also is also part of the theatricality, the cinematography of the image. It also gets your eye to where you want to look. So we'll use those colors as theatrical devices."


"Maui's Mythology" saw panelists Hyrum Osmond* (Head of Animation), Mack Kablan (Animation Supervisor, Maui), Eric Goldberg (2D Animator), and Carlos Cabral (Head of Characters and Tech Anim) discuss the various influences that went into creating the look and persona of the demigod Maui.



--A figure of many legends throughout Polynesia, Maui was perceived by John Musker to be a superhero with trickster elements which he felt would play well into a epic and comedic adventure story.
--Everyone in the movie, men and women, has long curly hair which is a big part of the Oceanic culture. To depict it in the naturalistic way they wanted, they needed to create new technical tools to animate hair.
--Pro wrestlers and football players were used as model body types for Maui, whose physique is generally displayed with minimal clothing.


--His magical fishhook is used not only as a weapon, but also gives him the ability to transform into different creatures.
--The most prominent transformation form is that of a hawk. The challenge was to make him look like a hawk, but still have the personality of Maui.


--Maui's tattoos are a unique blend of 2-D and CG animation.
--Famed Disney Animator Eric Goldberg was primarily responsible for developing "Mini Maui," Maui's interactive tattoo that functions both as his Greek chorus and conscience.


--Care was made to make the tattoos respectful in design and placement to their place of significance in Polynesian culture.

Next time, we'll be recounting more presentations from filmmakers in charge of visual effects and story, and take a closer look at the heroine herself.


"Moana" will be opening November 23, 2016.

*Fun fact I learned at the "D23 Presents Aloha Aulani" event--Hyrum Osmand is an ACTUAL OSMOND. Like, he was in a TV special!

October 24, 2016



One of the conventions held earlier this summer at the Anaheim Convention Center was SIGGRAPH--"Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques."


The world's largest convention focusing on computer graphics and interactivity, it features an enormous amount of educational panels, commercial booths, hands-on demos, research exhibits, and short film screenings. Historically, such groundbreaking computer generated films such as Lasseter's short "Luxo Jr." and Walt Disney Production's "TRON" have been presented there.


While a great deal of the convention is geared at a fairly high technical level, suitable to people working or studying in the field of computer graphics, there was still a large amount of content accessible to the interested layperson. (Because of the exclusive nature of the images and animation debuting here, photos were highly restricted outside of display areas.)

LAIKA, one of the prominent stop-motion animation studios in the world, held a panel on the creation of one character from their recent release "Kubo and the Two Strings."

For the monster Giant Skeleton, they created the largest animatable puppet ever--18 feet tall with a 24 foot wingspan. The construct took six months to build, one year to shoot, and took up 49 seconds of footage.


As an example of the scale involved, the filmmakers brought the foot and femur of the Skeleton, along with some of the other puppets.



Another film production session was on the making of Marvel's "Captain America: Civil War."


In this presentation, some of the VFX supervisors from the movie spoke on how they used computer pre-viz to develop and block out the fight scenes. I thought this was interesting particularly as many cast interviews at the time of the movie's premier asked about filming the big airport fight scene, and they almost always noted how it wasn't as exciting as it ended up on the screen--no wonder, since most of it was filmed with each of them alone, and then pieced together digitally afterwards.


While it seems intuitive that there was a great deal of computer manipulation to recreate different countries in their main shooting location of Atlanta, Georgia, the filmmakers had to create a specific tool to keep track of the timeline of damage in various environments, in order to work on shots out of sequence. Even physical details of the characters were digitally modded in some instances--the body of the Black Panther stunt double was altered to match that of Chadwick Boseman.


They also went through the grueling process of filming the sequence where Captain America stops a helicopter taking off from a roof which involved a mix of both practical and computer-generated elements...although, as Executive VP, Physical Production Marvel Studios Victoria Alonso pointed out, "the biceps are all real. Triceps too."


Panels were also held by WDAS on "Zootopia" and "Inner Workings" with content similar to that covered in their earlier press days. "Inner Workings" was also shown during the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival which highlights the year's best submitted digital work in animated features, shorts, VFX, video games, etc.


Outside of the structured panels, there was a large area filled with commercial booths advertising various organizations and businesses associated with the industry, and an equally large area dedicated to research projects and demonstrations with a particular focus on virtual/augmented reality.

Whether controlling a virtual Jaeger...


Experiencing full-body immersion into a virtual environment...


Constructing origami lamps using computer-generated designs...


or controlling puppets with a hands-free mask interface...


The limits to the innovation and potential growth in these areas seem to be boundless. One demo I found particularly fascinating was a booth with two half-circle constructs that had people walking around in a figure-8 pattern, all the while believing (secondary to visual/auditory/tactile cues) they were following a straight line.


If you could actually alter people's perceptions to create a larger or differently-configured space than is there in reality--that's some holodeck tech in the making there. In the realm of theme parks Imagineering alone, it is a staggering thought to imagine what attractions people could make when this sort of technology becomes standard.

To attend SIGGRAPH as a full conference is fairly pricey and people actually in the industry who are going to use it as an educational or professional networking tool will probably find it most valuable. The exhibit-only tickets are affordable however, as are tickets for the animation festival--both of which are well worth it for the glimpse they afford into the future of computer animation and imagery.


Information on SIGGRAPH 2017 can be found at

September 26, 2016

A Look At "Disney Art Academy"


Recently released as a new addition to the Nintendo 3DS "Art Academy" series, "Disney Art Academy" takes players through a step-wise series of lessons on drawing famous Disney characters.


From "The Basics," through "Color Theory," to "3D Drawing Techniques," budding artists are slowly introduced to a variety of drawing techniques and principles both theoretical and mechanical. Lessons can include instructions on how to draw in layers or general principles of Princess Portraiture.


The beginning tutorials start out with the subject pretty well drawn in, but as the player progresses, only the general outlines are given. Eventually "Free Paint" is unlocked, where the artist starts copying a demonstration character from a blank canvas.


One of the comforting parts of the program, at least for those of us unartistically inclined, is that the lessons are taught to you along with some fellow toon kids...who are not likely to show you up with their finished product. Much like when Mr. Rogers used to teach us drawing, it's sometimes an encouraging thing to see someone else try a project and not necessarily be an expert at it.


While I personally reside amongst the art-impaired, I found the program entertaining and easy enough (at least in the beginning levels) for me to produce something that looked at least vaguely like a given character. If you enjoy the Animation Academy at either Disney California Adventure or Disney Hollywood Studio, I think it's a safe bet you'll enjoy "Disney Art Academy."


(But I will never, never show you my Free Paint picture, which looked to have distinct Picasso influences. Like a total disregard for anatomy.)

"Disney Art Academy" is currently available for the Nintendo 3DS. Purchasing information can be found at

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of “Disney Art Academy” for reviewing purposes. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.

September 19, 2016

"Disney Enchanted Tales" Mobile Game Debut


Recently, Disney Interactive launched their latest free-to-play mobile city-building game, "Disney Enchanted Tales."

To help introduce it, an Enchanted Tea Party was held in which Director of Studio Production & Operations Jennifer Kropko and Art Director Jon Rick talked about the game's development.





The framing concept for the game is the idea that an enchanted quilt ties all the different Disney kingdoms together into a playable space so that their cherished stories never have to end.


The gameplay involves placing familiar landmarks around the quilt and gradually unlocking various characters to further the story.


Each of the characters have specialized tasks and activities they can be made to perform--Gaston can be seen stomping around wearing boots, Rapunzel lets down her hair to lift Mother Gothel up to the tower window, etc.


The quilt patches can be unlocked as players reach more advanced levels and accumulate in-game currency, allowing for more space to place landmarks and ornamental objects, and eventually to start different stories. Additional tales besides the starting three "Beauty and the Beast," "Tangled," and "Frozen" are already in development.


Over in the art department, a lot of care was taken to involve WDAS to insure that the game not only had its own look, but was true to the heart of the original films. To date, there has been enough animation created for the game to fill an entire feature film.


Having played the game a bit, I would say that it's a good introduction for people new to this sort of "kingdom-building" game. The art style is cute and the animations hold some neat easter eggs for fans of the films--for example, when Belle shows the book she's reading to the sheep at the fountain, a sharp eye can see her on the same page as in the movie. It is pretty slow to take off however, as a moderate amount of grinding has to be done before the player can amass enough currency and experience to start unlocking enough characters and locales to really begin advancing the story. Prior to that, you can look forward to helping Belle buy a lot of bookmarks, and Rapunzel sweep the floors...but that may just enhance your understanding of their shared desperation for a more exciting life.


"Disney Enchanted Tales" is now available on both Apple and Android platforms:


September 7, 2016

"Moana" Press Day: Producer/Director Presentations and "Inner Workings."


Fresh off their popular/critical hit "Zootopia," Walt Disney Animation Studios invited us last month to take a sneak peek at what will be their 56th animated feature: "Moana."


[Non-attributed photos courtesy of Disney]


Leading off the day was Director Leo Matsuda and Producer Sean Lurie discussing the conception and creation of their fantastic short "Inner Workings" which will accompany "Moana" in theaters. The short portrays a working man caught in the middle of his brain and heart's conflicting desires.


Leo Matsuda on the "Inner Workings" inspiration: "As you can see, I'm Japanese-Brazilian--you can probably tell from my accent--I have a Japanese side that is very disciplined and logical, but I also have my Brazilian side who loves Carnival and parties, so I feel that I've always had this tug-of-war between the two extremes in my life, and I think this short portrays some of that."


--Other influences on the short include the works of Jacques Tati, Wes Anderson, Ward Kimball, Golden Books, and the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
--Paul, the main character, was initially envisioned as a generic white guy, but the crew insisted that Matsuda's sketches looked like him, and after his fiancee agreed, he changed the character design to reflect that.
--The overlying shape of things in Paul's office is square, indicating the rigid world of the brain, as opposed to the world of the beach which is wavy and curved and where the heart wants to be.
--The journey to developing an art style that would make bodily organs adorable vs. disgusting took influences from aquatic animals and how they move in water.
--Ultimately, the story is about finding balance between the demands of the brain and heart as opposed to either abandoning all responsibilities or failing to live life to the fullest.


Next up was Producer Osnat Shurer introducing "Moana."


Shurer on the journey to making "Moana": "A few years ago, after 'Princess and the Frog,' Ron (Clements) and John (Musker)...were talking about what their next feature should be. John had long been fascinated by stories of the...South Pacific. This incredible, beautiful area of the world that many of the residents call 'Oceania.' And he read a lot of Polynesian folktales and looked at the varied and really fascinating stories of the demigod Maui, and the various stories there. Ron loved the idea, and they went together to our Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, and pitched some ideas."

--As part of the extensive research they conducted, the filmmakers went on several trips to multiple islands in the South Pacific which significantly changed the direction of the project.
--The Moorean phrase "know your mountain" became an important concept to the story: In order to know where you're going, you have to know where you come from.
--They were introduced to the concept that the ocean does not divide the islands, but in fact unites them as one.
--A variety of people they met on their voyages became regular references to them on matters of cultural representation--an "Oceanic Story Trust."
--The task of creating a soundtrack incorporating the musical rhythms of the South Pacific with a contemporary sound eventually fell to the team of Opetaia Foa‘i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
--All the leads of the film have South Pacific roots.

Auli‘i Cravalho, voice of Moana

Dwayne Johnson, voice of Maui

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements then took the stage.


After a short recap of their illustrious careers at WDAS, the two recounted the story development of "Moana": "In our research trips in the South Pacific, we learned first hand the importance of navigation to this culture. So really, we built the whole story around the true fact of the Pacific Islanders being the greatest navigators the world has ever seen. 3,000 years ago, they found their way across the Pacific starting in Taiwan, going through New Guinea, working their way from West to East. And in one of the greatest feats of nautical exploration, they used dead reckoning, they had no instruments whatever, and based on their knowledge of the stars and the currents, they found their way across the ocean in a great feat. And we wanted to celebrate that.

"But according to experts that we spoke with, about 3,000 years ago, everything stopped. All voyaging stopped. For a thousand years, everyone just stayed put and they didn't migrate. And then about 2,000 years ago, it started up again. And then they proceeded to populate the Eastern Pacific, including Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand. And because it was an oral culture, nothing was written down. To this day, no one actually knows why the voyaging stopped, or how it started again. It's a mystery.

"We came up with a theory, which is the basis of our movie...What if there happened to be one young girl that was responsible for things starting up again?"


--"Moana" means "ocean" in many different South Pacific languages.
--She is 16 years old, the daughter of a chief, fearless, smart, and high-spirited.
--Her pet pig is "Pua."
--Moana's desire to explore is at odds with her father's decree that no one ever venture beyond the reefs of their island, but is fanned by the stories of her Gramma Tala.
--Her intellectually challenged rooster is "Heihei."
--Maui has a magical fishhook "like Thor's hammer."
--He is covered with tattoos, and one in particular of himself--"Mini Maui"--was supervised in 2D by famed Disney animator Eric Goldberg.

Next time, we'll be recounting presentations from animators in charge of the environments, characters, effects, story, and more.

"Moana" will be opening November 23, 2016.

August 23, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con 2016: Star Wars Publishing, D23, and the rest.


Although Star Wars didn't have any big presentations as they did last year, for "Force Awakens," they still had some presence as Star Wars Publishing held their yearly panel on upcoming publications.


For introducing younglings to the Star Wars characters and canon, Katie Cook has illustrated a couple of alphabet/poem/picture books.


For the slightly older child, storybooks adapting scenes from the films or older adult-level novels will be released, complete with stickers and read-along CDs.


Brian Rood uses a composite process for the film adaptations, in order to create art that is true to the film, but unique to the books.


For the middle school reader, a new installment of the non-canon "Star Wars: Jedi Academy" series is out with "Jedi Academy: A New Class." These books are set in the extended universe of Star Wars, far before the events of the prequels.


If you are among the legion that is the Poe Dameron fandom, "Poe Dameron: Flight Logs" promises to offer up more insight into Poe than any other vehicle thus far.


Speaking of insight, didn't you ever wonder what happened to Ashoka between (spoilers) the time she left the Jedi Order at the end of Clone Wars, and her appearance in Rebels? Now you'll know when the young adult novel "Ashoka" comes out in October.


Chuck Wendig discussed his "Aftermath" trilogy briefly, mentioning that the recently released "Life Debt" involved how the Empire dissolved and the New Republic became ascendant, and how the upcoming end of the trilogy "Empire's End" would shake out the end of "Life Debt" and bring the story into the start of "Force Awakens" by filling in the blanks of what transpired on Jakku.


A new book out next year in the Expanded Universe, or Star Wars Legends line is "Thrawn," which joins "Bloodline" in fleshing out what might have happened between the canon plot points. "Thrawn" has recently become of increasing interest after the announcement that Admiral Thrawn will be making the leap from legend to canon in Rebels this next season.


Finally, a slew of books introducing the world of the upcoming Anthology film "Rogue One" is expected, including an adult coloring book and a beautiful "Art of Rogue One" tome.




Outside of the convention center there were the usual plethora of activities. Although the lately-lamented Disney Infinity pop-up shop was out of commission, we did get a D23 Member Mixer at the Hard Rock Hotel. This was pretty fabulous, because I can tell you, by the end of the day at SDCC, the things I want more than anything else in the world are food and air conditioning, and D23 came through with both of them.


There was a macaroni-and-cheese bar and a taco bar and filled churros and I never wanted to leave.


So once I had a chance to re-hydrate and restore my blood sugar, I was able to check out the environs and the notables D23 talked into hanging out with us. Producer Don Hahn made a break for it before I was able to snap a decent photo, but I was able to catch Legend Tony Baxter and Imagineer Josh Shipley.

(And photobomber.)

The First Avenger was also there protecting the innocent, occasionally getting breaks from Thor.


On the way out we were given beach towels, which I later briefly thought I would have to use sleeping out on the ground waiting for the Hall H wristbands, and posters for "Pete's Dragon." From my perspective, it was a great event, and the ice-cold soda alone was probably worth my annual membership fee. For more photos, you can check out the D23 recap of the event here.


The annual Comic-Con International Masquerade displayed, as usual, an impressive array of costumes from all corners of pop culture fandom and, as usual, Disney and its various brands made a strong showing.





Even a marriage proposal! I thought they were doing a bit, at first.


Finally, after getting into whatever panels you could, and resigning yourself to not getting into the ones you couldn't, there was always the expansive Exhibitor's Floor to discover.

The kawaii-ful Tsum Tsums had their own booth, displaying the con-exclusive items and upcoming Tsums.







Sadly, by the end of the last day, they were--you guessed it...


Star Wars had its typical behemoth of a booth, with a variety of exhibitors selling and displaying anything and everything related to or themed towards the Skywalkers and Co.







Disney Publishing had one booth, and Star Wars Publishing had another booth--so when they were running promotions or giveaways, you had to be pretty sure which one you wanted.



Disney Music Emporium brought their booth back this year, along with the "Disneyland Records" t-shirt that I've been bugging them to carry ever since I missed out on getting one at the last D23 Expo.



They also sold what Tony Baxter said was his favorite buy of the con, a copy of the "Awesome Mix Tape" from "Guardians of the Galaxy" on actual cassette tape, with a digital copy for those who might have left their Walkmans in the 80s.


ABC Television had their booth themed to promote their new show "Designated Survivor," which I didn't experience because I feel like I get enough politics IRL as it is.


Marvel's booth was generally so crowded it was hard to get a good look at anything unless it was closed for the day. I always think it's strange that when they have a bunch of stars doing a signing, they start frantically tweeting it out and encouraging people to come by, when you need to already have obtained a ticket to get anything signed. Further, everyone who can't get into the signing line then stands around outside of it trying to get photos and completely congesting the walkways all around the booth. Security then comes by and starts yelling at everyone to keep moving, and it's all pretty much a chaotic mess.


However, in between celebrity traffic jams, you could see the Captain America statue on display that was dedicated in Prospect Park, Brooklyn earlier this year.


If you wanted one for your very own, miniature versions were for purchase.


So kind of a low-key year at SDCC for Disney, although still more panels and booth activities than one person could reasonably see for the whole weekend. Next year should prove interesting, as the current schedule has the D23 Expo and SDCC going almost back-to-back on the same week. Look forward to a LOT of blogs coming out the middle of July next year, and some very tired bloggers.


August 21, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con 2016: Marvel TV and "Once Upon A Time"



One branch of Disney that was pretty heavily represented at SDCC this year was its television divisions--both Marvel and ABC.

[Unattributed photos and videos courtesy of Disney, Marvel, and ABC.]

For fans of the Netflix series "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones," the new spin-off "Marvel's Luke Cage" had its own panel, complete with the main cast and crew. Unfortunately, security was so tight that they actually made me delete the photos I took of Head of Marvel TV, Jeph Loeb, while they watched...and about ten minutes later appeared to have abandoned the whole thing, as everyone else took photos of everything else afterwards with no problems. Alas.

On the panel, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, Frank (Detective Scarfe) Whaley, Simone (Misty Knight) Missick, Theo (Shades) Rossi, Alfre (Mariah Dillard) Woodard, and Mike (Luke Cage) Colter discussed the new series, including the smartness of the script which they described as primarily a drama set in a superhero world. It will premiere on September 30.

Along with the announcement that "Daredevil" had been picked up for a 3rd season, the audience was treated to glimpses of the upcoming Marvel TV series "Iron Fist" and "The Defenders."

[It probably goes without saying, but Netflix series tend to be more graphic/intense than usual broadcast TV. You may want to review them in advance, to decide whether they are friendly for your family, is what I am saying.]


The big panel of the weekend was the Marvel Studios presentation in Hall H, an enormous room that seats around 6,000 people. In theory, you're supposed to line up at a certain time the evening before, they hand out wristbands, and as long as you're back by 7:30am, you get a seat in the room for the day. I tried it, but it turns out that a) people actually start lining up for the wristbands like a day ahead of time, and b) people apparently started charging/cutting into the line as the wristbands started getting handed out causing enough riotous chaos that they had to stop handing out the wristbands for a considerable amount of time while they tried to restore order. Consequently, it was after 1am by the time the part of the line I was at was told that they were out of wristbands, giving everyone feelings of failure mixed with relief that we didn't have to get back in line in a few hours.

So, I didn't get to see it. If you haven't read the announcements from that panel from every other more effective blogger in the world, you can read them on the Marvel recap here.


A panel I did get to see however, was "Once Upon A Time," in which co-creators and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were joined with cast members Jared (Henry) Gilmore, Emilie (Belle) de Ravin, Rebecca (Zelena) Mader, Josh (David) Dallas, Colin (Hook) O’Donoghue, Lana (Regina) Parilla, and Jennifer (Emma) Morrison.



Kitsis and Horowitz on the definition of "hope."
Horowitz: "My definition of hope is the belief that things will get better."
Kitsis: "My definition of hope is the belief that Eddie is right."

Kitsis on whether Zeus can intervene in all eternal matters: "I feel like that was a one-time only Zeus interference."
Morrison: "Thank you Zeus!"
O'Donoghue: "He could have given me back mah hand!"

Horowitz on why the Olympian Crystal worked differently on Hades and Robin: "Well...everything that was said about the Olympian Crystal was said by I don't know. He's God of the Underworld...I don't know. Can we trust him? I would say in all seriousness, that's a question that I think some of our characters should and will ask."
Kitsis: "I would say, for a show about Hope, I would choose not to believe Hades, but we'll find out."


Gilmore on how Henry sees himself fitting in: "I think that now that Henry is The Author, he's gained that thing that I am the hero now, and my way of helping people is by being able to give them their stories and help them figure things out. I think Henry has found his place, and he believes that now he is a part of the heroes and...I think he likes it. He loves it."


Mader on what changed Zelina most--having a baby, reconciling with Regina, or finding true love with Hades: "I think it's a plethora. It's a cacophony if you will, of everything. I mean, it's a lot happened all at once in terms of life breaking down Zelina's heart, you know. I think the reason she got pregnant was for horrible reasons, but then it ended up really changing her, and I don't think she really expected or understood that having a baby meant having unconditional love, and I think that melted her heart a little bit. It was also hard for her to accept and believe that a man could actually love her because she had such a rubbish life, and then all of a sudden her sister gave her her trust when she really, quite frankly, didn't deserve it. So it's like these three people who loved her even though she didn't feel like she was worth it, and I think that's changed her in powerful fundamental ways that's been really fun to play."


de Ravin on why Belle continues to believe in Rumple: "Part of that pull is him being a bad guy. She likes that. Deep down, yes--she sees the good in him, she sees the...loving person he could be, but that darkness...she likes that. There's a side of that that definitely pulls her in."


Dallas on playing the dual roles of Charming and his evil brother James: "It was great, you know. It was a chance for Charming to see everything that he didn't want to be, or everything he didn't want to ever become. He wanted to have a relationship with his brother, and he always felt a connection with him, and he wishes he could have gotten to know him, but that just wasn't the case. But his brother was a reminder to him of everything that he wanted to avoid and stay away from and not become."


Parilla on whether Regina is now all good: "Regina's still sassy. She's not going to lose her sass...That's Regina. She's sarcastic and that's what we love about her, so she's not going to lose that. But the Evil Queen is slightly different than she used to be, I think. She's now without a conscience, so she's pure evil. And a lot of fun."


Morrison on Emma's relationship with the separated Regina and Evil Queen: "I think it's going to be complicated for Emma to navigate because she wants to believe in Regina, and she wants to believe that Good can win, but she also knows she needs to protect everyone she loves, including everyone in her family...and that includes Regina. So it's like, how do you separate the two mentally, and figure out where to draw the line and how do you do that in a way where you're not betraying the trust that you've developed with this friend for so long, so I think it's going to be complicated."


O’Donoghue on whether Hook has been changed from being dead
: "I think he's still pretty much the same Hook. I mean that they know that it's True Love with Emma and Hook...they're trying to figure out how to navigate being together and that sort of world at the minute he's the same Hook, but who knows? I think we might find out a few things about his past..."


Also mentioned: Hot Topic will be introducing a "Once Upon A Time" inspired collection this Fall in stores and online.


August 15, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con 2016: WDAS and Disney Kingdom Panels


If it's summer, you can be sure of a few things: Crowded theme parks, Olaf finding out what frozen things do, and San Diego Comic-Con.


This year's SDCC, along with almost every other con I've attended recently, was lighter on Disney material than in the past--no doubt due to their need to keep fresh material for presentation at the 2017 Expo. The recent loss of Disney Infinity and their annual pop-up store also subtracted from the Disney footprint this time around.


Nevertheless, there were still an abundance of relevant panels to attend--more than anyone could reasonably hope to see in one weekend--but I managed to make it into a few.

[Non-attributed photos and video, courtesy of Disney]


One of the first SDCC panels was Walt Disney Animation Studio's "Moana: Art of Story," in which directors Ron Clements and John Musker were joined by producer Osnat Shurer, co-head of animation Amy Smeed, and writer Jared Bush. They were later joined by voice of Moana, Auli’i Cravalho, however we were asked not to take any photos (this would be a continuing theme throughout the con.)


--Clements and Musker recounted the research trip they were "forced" to take to the South Pacific.
--Shurer spoke of the musical team creating the score for "Moana:" Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
--The loudest screams from the audience occurred whenever anyone mentioned Miranda.
--Bush (co-director of Zootopia:) "None of the animals in 'Moana' talk. I'm not really into talking animals. Not my thing."
--Bush did not get to go to the South Pacific, but instead got the coveted trip to Burbank.
--The panel briefly describes the crux of the film as being a fictitious explanation of an actual historical period in which the Pacific Islanders, who were renowned as great navigators, just stopped traveling anywhere for about 1,000 years.
--While the film is computer animated, Maui's tattoos, particularly "Mini-Maui," were hand-drawn by famed animator Eric Goldberg.
--Moana as a character is one that is going on a Hero's Journey to empower herself and discover the world around her. She does not have a romantic interest in the film.
--Dwayne Johnson sings.


The next WDAS panel I saw was "Beauty and the Beast: 25th Anniversary." This was actually a little similar to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tribute that took place a few months ago, but with more of an animation focus, versus voice talent. Moderated by producer Don Hahn, the talent consisted of directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise along with animators James Baxter, Dave Pruiksma, Nik Ranieri, and art director Brian McEntee.


--Wise and Trousdale had just finished their first foray into animation direction before "Beauty and the Beast" with "Cranium Command" for EPCOT.
--Angela Lansbury was the only one of the cast that did not have to audition for her part--Ashman and Menken wrote the song "Beauty and the Beast" with her in mind.
--Wise and Trousdale on reacting to their casting director's suggestion for the voice of the Beast: "Robbie Benson? 'ICE CASTLES?'"
--Jeffrey Katzenberg on having Robbie Benson pitched to him for the Beast: "ICE CASTLES?"
--The song "Be Our Guest" was originally storyboarded for Maurice, instead of Belle.

--A clip of Howard Ashman working with the voice actors touched on his massive contributions to the film.


--Baxter, on the difficulty of animating Belle: "The intimidating part was, she's got to be beautiful. It's in the title."
--A selection of some of the concept art for the characters was displayed.



--The filmmakers remembered having to fight for Belle's yellow dress (taken from a Chris Sanders' sketch) as marketing told them everything should be pink and lavender, because "that's what little girls wear."
--Baxter attributed his experience with the crazy camera moves in "Roger Rabbit" as enabling him to create the ground-breaking ballroom scene, where the hand-drawn couple dances on a CG background while the camera swirls around them.
--"When people say, 'well what was the software that was used," I was like it was inside James' skull."
--McEntee recounted how he ended up contributing the original design for the movie poster, and some subsequent revisions.


--Hahn closed the panel by recounting how they had hired Celene Dion to sing the pop version, but the marketing department didn't trust that she could sell it on her own, since at the time she had yet to have a US hit.


Going to the last day of SDCC, Disney and Marvel Comics brought us "Disney Kingdoms: Theme Park Stories with Marvel Comics." Actress/producer Amy Dallen moderated a panel consisting of Imagineers Josh Shipley and Andy DiGenova, Creative Director, Themed Entertainment at Marvel Brian Crosby, cover artist E.M. Gist, Animator/producer/writer/past-Imagineer Tad Stones, and writer Jim Zub.


--The panel recounted the process of pitching the comics to Joe Quesada, noting that they could expand the universe of the attractions much like the films did for "Pirates of the Caribbean," but at a vastly reduced cost.
--"Seekers of the Weird" is based on "Museum of the Weird," the original concept for "Haunted Mansion." (Someone else has the copyright on "Museum of the Weird.")
--Zub spoke of his experiences writing the "Figment" comics, and how gratifying it was to have them received so enthusiastically and finding them for sale at Walt Disney World.
--Zub also writes "Thunderbolts," which is led by the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes. In the latest issue, Barnes is seen reading a story to a little girl--"Figment."


--Zub: "This is the most indulgent thing."
--Zub on the question of a third "Figment" run: "I think you guys are going to be really happy next year."
--Stones described his early career with Disney, which included work on the World of Motion pavilion, a Space pavilion with George Lucas, and finally the Imagination pavilion.
--Interestingly, Stones said that the color of Figment changed from green to purple to match the Sherman Brothers' song--not, as is popularly said, because of the color conflict between Fuji Film and Kodak packaging.
--Stones notes that the name of Dreamfinder was "The Pretender" for about an afternoon before it changed back.
--DiGenova spoke about the "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" comics, in which they based the likeness of one of the characters on Tony Baxter. The character was initially written more villainous, but became less so after Baxter didn't see the resemblance.


--DiGenova commented on Big Thunder originally having been conceived as a much grander attraction that would have been the gatepost to Baxter's original concept for a separate land: "Discovery Bay."
--In working on the books, the team had to do research to find out what commonly held theories/names for things in the attractions were official and which were fan-based.
--Gist did covers for "Haunted Mansion," (in addition to variants by several different artists, including Crosby and frequent Disney artist, Jody Daily) which are intended to be a tour of the attraction.


--Presales on "Haunted Mansion" were the biggest of any of the Disney Kingdoms titles.
--Free copies of "Haunted Mansion" issue one will be given out in October for "Halloween Comic-Fest" at various comic book stores.
--Shipley then announced that the next Disney Kingdoms title will be "Enchanted Tiki Room."


--Cover artists so far have included Brian Kesinger, story artist at WDAS, and Imagineer Jason Grandt.
--"Enchanted Tiki Room" will debut in October.
--The series will have more of an episodic feel than the other lines, a la "Fantasy Island."
--Similarly to "Lost," each book will also focus on the group of people who arrive at the Tiki Room, how they make contact with it, and their perspectives.
--Dallen: "How do you plan to get that song out of our heads?"
--Shipley: "By singing 'it's a small world.'"


August 8, 2016

"Pete's Dragon" Press Junket



Opening in theaters this August 12th, Disney's latest live-action film "Pete's Dragon" reimagines the 1977 film's story of a lonely boy, the dragon who protects him, the shyster who threatens him, and the family that accepts him.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

Recently, a sampling of the talented folk involved in the making of "Pete's Dragon" convened at a press junket to discuss the film.


Bryce Dallas Howard (“Grace”) on comparing this movie to the original 1977 film: "I think there were no throwbacks, intentionally, other than what was at the genesis of this idea, which is that it's about a boy who is orphaned, whose family, in essence, is a dragon. You know, it's his best friend and no one believes that a dragon exists, and then we come to see that magic is actually possible. It's a story about what it takes to find your family. And I think that thematically, is very obviously similar to the first film, but this really's not even like 'inspired by''s really an original film. It's not meant to step on the memories of the 1977 version of 'Pete's Dragon.'"

Howard on what families should take away from the film: "I think it's the power of family, and I think it's the magic of family. You know, the miracle of family, honestly. Ooo--getting a little emotional!"


Director David Lowery on similarities between "Pete's Dragon" and his 2013 film "Ain't Them Bodies Saints": "A little bit of facetiousness on that part, but I really do think that both of those movies are about characters who are searching for home, searching for family. And in that movie, Casey Affleck was a guy who thought his family was one thing, and thought his life would be one thing, and turns out not to be the case, and in his pursuit of it, he realizes that he's missed out on something. And so here we have a story of a little boy and a dragon who...the little boy ultimately finds a new home as well, and the parallels became immediate to me when I realized the scene in this movie where the dragon goes and looks through a window and sees Pete, with his new family, curled up on the bed, and there's a scene in 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' when Casey Affleck walks up to a window and sees his wife and daughter sitting with a new guy on the couch...and like it's almost shot-for-shot the same. It wasn't conscious on my part, but oh, there you go."

Lowery on casting Robert Redford: "I'd been working on another project with him...but in the meantime I had been working on this script, and this one started to come together, and we were thinking of...actors to play Mr. Meacham. We had had a different idea of who that character was in mind and it was supposed to be sort of like a kind of crazier old guy, like a guy who, like, maybe doesn't have all his marbles, a little more comic relief. But then I'm like 'what if we got Robert Redford? That would be unbelievable.' And so I sent him the script and he read it and was all 'oh, this is really interesting, it's really cool--I'm not sure it's necessarily the right thing for me..." And then we rewrote the script for him, because I was like 'yes...this character is obviously not someone you could play, because...he's nuts, and you are clearly not. You are very put-together.' But we rewrote it for him, and then he agreed to do it."


Oakes Fegley (“Pete”) and Oona Laurence (“Natalie”) on their relationship to Disney:
Fegley: "I like all the animated 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' or 'The Jungle Book'...and I like 'The BFG'--I hope I like it, I haven't seen it yet, but it seems like something I would like."
Laurence: "I mean, Disney was my childhood, and it still is my childhood, so..."
Fegley: "Now it's even more."
Laurence: "...Yeah, I've seen almost all the Disney films, I love 'High School Musical,' I've seen it so many times. I love Disney. I feel so lucky to be in an actual Disney film."


Robert Redford (“Meacham”) on how he approached making this character unique: "Well, first of all, Lowery came to me and allowed me to step in and develop the character further than was written, so that sort of allowed me to take responsibility for the character and have a little bit of authorship. So my whole thing about the character was that he was a storyteller; and since storytelling was a big part of my life, growing up here in Los was a very difficult time, difficult life, lower working-class neighborhood...people didn't have much, so storytelling became a huge thing--a way out of a tough situation, and that played a big role in my life, as a kid.

"So I thought, well here's a story that really is storytelling. It involves fantasy and realism together. When I read the script, I thought, well this reminds me of my childhood, with the Disney movies that I saw, and how much I loved that when I was a little kid. "Bambi," "Fantasia"...things like that. And then he stopped making those films and went into adult stuff and I lost interest.


"What I love about it, is that (Lowery) has created a kind of atmosphere of magic. I think magic was such a part of my life, when I was young...that was your hope factor. That was that thing you hope...there's something out there beyond me, that's good. Something out there beyond me and this small world I'm living in, that's bigger and special...So you kind of hung on to that, someday I'm going to be out of here, and go.

"And what Lowery did with the character, was that, when I first read it, I was "well, it's a nice idea for a movie, but the character is..." I felt it was underdrawn, and he opened it up, and said, 'look, why don't you step in and be part of the development of the story,' so he allowed me to step in and work on the character. And then things changed. I felt like I was part of things, I felt like what could be developed was more in the storyteller, and more of him trying to see things beyond what you see in front of you. He tells his daughter, he says 'you only see what's in front of you. There's other stuff. Look around, look beyond.' I like that concept a lot."


"Pete's Dragon" will open in theaters August 12, 2016.

July 30, 2016

Recap: Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2016



This last weekend, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet held its eighth annual gathering of Disney fans, vendors, and Imagineers. Located up in Lynnwood, Washington and spearheaded by Planning Committee Chairman Don Morin, it is a celebration of all aspects of the Disney experience.


Over at the Embassy Suites, the convention's official hotel, the festivities began the afternoon prior as D23 held their own mixer complete with nachos and special guest.


Afterwards, the entertainment continued with pin trading, PNWMM Bingo, and a trivia challenge. A door decorating contest also took place later on in the evening around the hotel.


The next morning, rope drop for the main event was held at 1000 over at the Lynnwood Convention Center. As is tradition, the corridors outside the main stage/vendor area were filled with photo-ops and displays of impressive collections of Disneyana.







Once inside, there was a number of stations set up with different attractions and activities. In one corner, this year's speakers sat patiently and cordially autographing whatever materials were brought to them.

Bob Gurr

Stacia Martin

On the other side of the room was the annual charity raffle, benefiting the Ryman Arts Foundation and the Seattle Children's Hospital.


A wide variety of different items and experiences were offered up, including exclusive merchandise from Mickey's of Glendale, Club 33, and one-of-a-kind pieces of art.



Besides that, different booths had other Disneyana for sale, from books to ephemera, to Dole Whip, to original art.


In the center of the room was the stage and seating area for the day's speakers.


As the programming commenced, Don Morin introduced Stacia Martin as the first speaker.


Martin gave a wonderful presentation on her career with Disney as a Disney Artist and Historian.


Some points:
--As a life-long Orange County resident, she has never lived out of earshot of the Disneyland fireworks.
--Her professional history with Disney started at the old Disneyana shop on Main Street.
--In 1986, she moved to New Orleans Square as the first regular cast member at the Disney Gallery.
--From there she was borrowed by different divisions within the company for a variety of promotional tours across the country, doing talks and drawing sketches.
--She trained the Japanese cast members for the Disney Gallery when it opened in Tokyo Disneyland.
--WED borrowed her to help reconstruct the soundtracks (audio archeology) for the attractions in New Fantasyland.
--Other audio projects she worked on included "Disneyland Forever," "The Lost Chords," and "Walt Disney and the 1964 World's Fair."
--Her favorite Disney musical is "Happiest Millionaire."

The second speaker of the day was Disney Legend Bob Gurr.


Some interesting items in his illustrious history:
--He worked for Ford Motor Company right after Art Center College of Design, but found it was a dead-end job after two weeks, and quit.
--After quitting Ford, he formed his own company. WED Enterprises became a client.
--After two weeks, he became a WED employee.
--Published a book "How to Draw Cars of Tomorrow" at 20 years old.
--His first assignment for Disneyland was to design the body for the Autopia cars.
--Other projects for Disneyland included the parking lot trams, Mad Tea Party, Omnibus, Fire Engine, Viewliner, Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Monorail, PeopleMover, and the Motor Boat Cruise.
--At the 1964-65 World's Fair, his main focus was "Ford's Magic Skyway," however he consulted on most of the other Disney pavilions as well.
--He designed the Omnimover ride system as a means to direct the guest's attention to specific areas in a given attraction. It originated in Monsanto's "Adventure Thru Inner Space."
--The Florida monorail's shape resembles the front of a Lear Jet with a wrap-around windshield and flush rivet construction.
--He incorporated himself within two weeks of being let go from Disney.
--Subsequently, he worked on Universal Studio's King Kong, Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," the 1998 "Godzilla," the pirate ship battle at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino, the Michael Jackson tour, and a spaceship for the LA Olympics closing ceremony.
--He has a new video out through Ape Pen Publishing: "Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams Into Reality."


Last but not least, Disney Legend Marty Sklar.


Some highlights from his talk:
--Video of Richard Sherman singing to Sklar on the occasion of his retirement.
--His creation of the "Goof Award" for not-so-successful projects.
--"If you don't fail from time to time, you're probably not doing anything new."


--Video excerpt from the "Marty Sklar, Walt, and EPCOT" special feature with Leonard Maltin from the "Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland" DVD set.
--Three things that characterized Walt Disney: Inspiration, Trust, Optimism.
--On Jack Lindquist: "The greatest thing he did was the 30th anniversary of Disneyland when he did the Gift-Giver at the end, at Disneyland, they gave away 400+ cars that year."

In between speakers, there was no shortage of interesting activities, from mobile photo-ops...


...To the announcement of the winners for the annual Door Decorating Contest...

Favorites%20-%2014%20of%2030.jpg this year's installments of "Mousecenter."

But even after the dust settled for the day, the fun wasn't over for the weekend, as Sklar and Gurr were brought back on Sunday for yet another fun storytelling session.


--The two legends didn't work together until the Ford Pavilion at the 1964-65 World's Fair.
--Part of the effectiveness of Magic Skyway was placing the guests in the Ford cars for the ride.
--After the Fair opened, Disney flew people who worked on the attractions, and their families, to New York to enjoy the finished product.
--Both men are frequently asked why the Peoplemover was removed from Disneyland and when it will return.
--They reminisced about some of the shorter-lived Disneyland attractions, such as the industrial exhibits of Tomorrowland, and the Phantom Boat.
--The necessity of allowing people--kids and adults--to explore different things and take chances as part of their development was touched on by both.


--Gurr started at Disney October 5, 1954 at 23 years old.
--On the Autopia: "I won't go much further than the fact that we built 40 cars and near the end of the first week, there were two running."
--He reviewed Walt's way of working by involving and engaging his employees instead of invoking executive process.
--It's difficult for him to sort through his feelings about Disneyland, because the Disneyland of 1955 is so vivid in his mind.
--One of the few keepsakes he kept is one of the original Mr. Toad ride cars.


--Sklar started at Disney in Public Relations about a month before the opening of Disneyland, when he was 21 years old.
--He noted that any meeting with Walt ended with everyone knowing what decisions were made and what their assignments were, as opposed to modern day meetings that end in ambiguity.
--On advice to would-be Future Imagineers: "Read my book."
--"There's only one name on the door, and that's Walt Disney. You're never going to get your name in lights...but if you want to be part of something that's bigger than you are, that achieves what a team can do, working together towards the same goals and objectives--that's what we try to do in Imagineering."
--He feels Shanghai Disneyland is the best park because it has been informed from all the lessons Disney has learned from creating all the other parks.
--On why Disneyland is so special: "Number one, it's the only park that Walt ever walked in. Number two, it's the foundation of everything that came after."

In all, another great year for the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. If you're interested in attending for next year, keep an eye on for ticket sales announcements, because each year seems to sell out quicker than the last.

June 27, 2016

"The BFG" Press Junket With Filmmakers and Cast



Entering into theaters July 1 is Stephen Spielberg's newest film, "The BFG." A retelling of the Roald Dahl book, it follows the adventures of a precocious young orphan named Sophie whose curiosity results in the acquaintance of the Big Friendly Giant, and a potentially one-way trip to Giant Country. Although they initially regard each other with some suspicion, the two lonely souls eventually become fast friends and work to bring about a happy ending for themselves and children everywhere.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

At a recent press junket, some of the film's distinguished talent--old and new--gathered to talk about the experience of bringing "The BFG" to life.


Penelope Wilton (“The Queen”) on playing a child's version of Queen Elizabeth: "I think you have to start from trying to catch the person...if you don’t have a real person, then it wouldn’t be fun. If I made a fantasy queen in a fantasy, that would...cancel each other out. So it has to be based on reality so you do a double take all the time: “Did she say that? Did she say that?” And then it makes it interesting, and that’s what Roald Dahl does. That’s why he uses the queen, ‘cause in a little girl’s mind the person who is on all the stamps and all the money in England is the person who will be able to...if they have a problem, she will fix it. And so in a 9 year old’s mind, that is what she does."


Mark Rylance (“The BFG”) on the movie's appeal: "I hadn't thought of it before, but I like the fact that here's a man in a very difficult family, isn't he? It's his brothers who are doing this--they've got very degraded, they weren't always like this, and he's kind of given up on it. And he goes around behind to blow dreams, like we might give money to peaceful charities or something to compensate...But the young girl comes in and she's so marvelous, in that she says 'no, we can do better, we can change this. It doesn't have to be like this.' I was very impressed with that because increasingly I think well, maybe it all is just a jungle, just a dog-eat-dog jungle and there's nothing you can do, but the younger generation always comes through with either foolishness or hope that things can change, and in this case she actually does succeed and change the situation.

"At least, until they do a sequel."



Ruby Barnhill (“Sophie”) on what she learned from working with Stephen Spielberg: "I think I've just learned from Stephen's ok to make mistakes. I was at Parent's Evening, and my art teacher said 'every time you make a mistake in lessons, you start panicking, and you need to stop doing that because everybody makes mistakes and it's absolutely fine." And I learned from Stephen that making mistakes is ok and to just...everybody does it and you learn from them and it's fine. And so that was one thing that I really worked on."


Steven Spielberg (Director) on why he was drawn to make this film: "Because I...what really appealed to me was the fact that...the protagonist was a girl, not a boy. And it was a very strong girl. And the protagonist was going to, you know--the protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point, to believe that--four feet tall can completely outrank 25 feet of giant. And I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl’s story, and her courage, and her values, was going to, in a way, turn the cowardly lion into the brave hero at the end...which is what she turns BFG into. And I saw all kinds of Wizard of Oz comparisons when I was first reading the book, and I said, “Oh, here’s a real chance to do a story about Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion - just the two of them.”

Spielberg on Walt Disney: "I was really influenced as a kid, growing up, by Walt Disney. Walt Disney did two things for me: For one thing, he scared me more than anybody else ever scared me, then he rescued me from the fear that he instilled in me five minutes after he terrified me. And he did that like a sine wave pattern again and again and again until there was complete memorable redemption at the end. The other thing Walt Disney did, was he extolled the virtues of strong women characters. He did that throughout his entire career, through his animated films.”


"The BFG" will open in theaters July 1, 2016.

June 23, 2016

Recap: E3 2016


So back we went again for a look at this year's E3--the preeminent trade show for electronic entertainment. Here is where most of the major game companies make their big announcements and trailer releases for the year.


The big shockers for me actually came some months ago, when Disney first announced they were pulling out of E3, and then a few weeks beforehand abruptly revealed they were closing down Disney Infinity and shuttering Avalanche, their internal console game studio. While they will still be licensing their various franchises to other game developers, they are apparently ceasing to self-publish their own console games.

Another big blow to E3 was the revelation that EA, the company currently responsible for making the bulk of the Star Wars games, was also going to sit E3 out this time around.

In an interesting spin, EA instead held their own version of E3 off-site and open to everyone, not just the Industry and Media traditionally allowed into E3. All guests to EA Play were treated to swag bags, refreshments, and the opportunity to demo four of EA's upcoming games: Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, FIFA 17, and Madden NFL 17.


While it was a nice facility, outside of the demo areas it had kind of a vacant, stark vibe. There was a separate floor for VIPs which was probably more populated.


I had kind of hoped they would have some/any information on the new Star Wars projects or the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda, but there really wasn't much outside of merchandise beyond the demos for the four games.


(I did wind up demoing Battlefield and Titanfall, which was pretty humiliating as I am possible the world's worst at FPS. My experience was very much like this tweet:)

In any case, however, it was certainly easier to demo the games with specific appointment times here, rather than wait hours on the show floor as is sometimes required.


With two of the traditionally largest and splashiest booths missing, this year's E3 was quite a bit more sedate than in years past. While there were still quite a few photo-ops and demos available, it seemed a lot quieter with a lot more room to move around.



The big piece of technology that was present and promoted at what seemed almost every booth this time around was VR--either in the conventional form of games, or as a facet of what looks like an upcoming trend in theme parks rides.


I rode one ride demo that was basically a roller coaster motion simulator with a VR headset--it was nice if you're not a gonzo roller coaster fanatic as I am not, but I think people looking for the same kind of thrill as the live version will be a little disappointed.


While I don't think the VR I saw was really good enough to simulate real-life situations, where it does shine was at putting you into a completely unworldly environment. The ability to look in all directions and see a seamless 3-D environment you can travel in and interact with is astonishing. I don't know that I'm ready to plunk down the money for a system just yet (the PlayStation VR headset will launch in October of this year for a MSR of $399,) this definitely seems to be the direction the industry is headed.

Out on the main show floor, there were the usual elaborate booths set up to simulate various game environments, whether they were a street in New Orleans, complete with fortune tellers and jazz funeral processions...


...A post-apocalyptic fallout shelter...


...Wherever "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" is supposed to be...

(This booth was so popular, there were actually two lines to get one--one that took forever that enabled you to actually play the demo, and one slightly shorter just to walk in and look around.)

...Or the ubiquitous zombies.


Over at the LEGO booth, they were demoing the upcoming "LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens" game.



As far as Marvel games, Sony announced a new "Spider-Man PS4" game, in partnership with Insomniac Games.

Probably the closest Disney tie exhibited however, was over at the Square Enix booth which was heavily promoting the upcoming compilation "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue."


A crossover RPG featuring both Final Fantasy and Disney characters, the long and convoluted series has recently been repackaged into "Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix" and "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix" for the PlayStation 3. "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8" and the even-further-off "Kingdom Hearts III" which was announced at last year's D23 Expo will both be for the PlayStation 4.

While I don't have any experience with the game currently, I can tell you that if "Kingdom Hearts III" does, as they said last year, base its plot around Baymax, I am all in.


So looking back, I would say that this E3 felt the smallest of all the ones I've attended. There does seem to be a movement away from this "professionals only" show towards companies wanting to open it up to fans and players as well, which may indicate a change in the way games will be marketed and distributed in the future. E3 did give a nod to this by holding "E3 Live" which was an off-site event that was supposed to be a mini-E3 anyone could attend. Unfortunately, as I walked through it, I found it was mostly a small collection of vendors with very few game-playing opportunities available. If E3 does want to hold these kind of inclusive events, they're going to have to try to emulate the actual E3 environment a little better in order to avoid disappointing people's expectations.


Another thing that would help the experience is figuring out some way to manage the lines for the demos better. PlayStation at least had an app where you could make reservations to try out various games or watch trailers, but other popular companies had brutal lines. I tried briefly to line up for the new "South Park" demo, but bailed quickly after I was told the wait was thought to be around three hours.


In all, despite the low numbers of booths and long lines, it was another fun E3 filled with announcements and teasers for an abundance of good-looking games. Now if only I was a little better at combat...


June 20, 2016

"LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures" Premiering This Week


"Focus your abilities. Master the Force, and you can lead us to the crystals!"
"That was a lot of words, and my mind wandered in the middle."


"LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures" debuts this week on Disney XD as the latest addition to the panoply of stories in the Star Wars universe.

This new Disney XD series takes place between "The Empire Strikes Back" and
"Return of the Jedi," It follows the adventures of the Freemaker family: Sister Kordi Freemaker, older brother Zander Freemaker, younger brother Rowan Freemaker, and their droid RO-GR a.k.a. Roger.


The three siblings together make up the entirety of Freemaker Salvage and Repair--a relatively unsuccessful scavenger business that involves them collecting debris from various space battles and vehicle crashes and reformulating the LEGO bricks into spaceships they can sell. Kordi is the brains and saleswoman of the enterprise, while Zander is the gearhead that designs and constructs their ships. Rowan, as the youngest, is usually relegated to RO-GR's relatively ineffectual guardianship...which does not tend to mitigate his propensity for causing disaster.


Their lives tend to revolve around making their business pay enough to keep from getting evicted from their workspace until Rowan is discovered to have a Force Sensitivity that draws him to pieces of the legendary Kyber Saber. This, the first light saber ever made, holds enormous power and becomes a source of some interest to Emperor Palpatine and his apprentice.

Recently, Executive Producers Bill Motz and Bob Roth and the voice cast of "Freemaker," Eugene Byrd (“Zander Freemaker”), Vanessa Lengies (“Kordi Freemaker”), Nicholas Cantu (“Rowan Freemaker”), and Matthew Wood (“Roger”) met at a press conference to answer questions about the new series:


Some points of note from the discussion:
--That two of the characters were named "Kordi" and "Zander" was not intended as a nod to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
--The show aims to be more intense than you'd expect from the LEGO franchise, but still retain the fun and humor.
--They have no intention to tell the story of the Freemaker's parents.
--There will be a crossover with Luke, Leia, Dengar, and others.
--The color for the Freemakers is "nougat," a pre-existing LEGO color, indicating their undefined, mixed ethnicity.
--The storyline is "canon" in the sense that it is in continuity, enacted by a child playing with LEGO.
--Your media correspondents are willing to risk burning to death in a building to get you information on LEGO Star Wars.


"LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures" airs June 20th, 10:00 am EDT on Disney XD. A new episode will be released each day of this week at that time until June 23rd.

June 13, 2016

"Finding Dory" Filmmakers and Cast Press Conference



Debuting on June 17th, is Disney-Pixar's latest film, "Finding Dory." A continuation to the Academy Award-winning "Finding Nemo," it follows Dory, a blue tang with short-term memory loss, on her search for the parents she had lost and forgotten.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

Recently, the talent from either side of the vocal recording booths met at a press conference to talk about their experiences making the long-awaited sequel. First up was Director Andrew Stanton and Producer Lindsey Collins.


Some points of note from the video above:


Andrew Stanton on why he wanted to make this movie thirteen years after the original: "The real truth is, I wasn't expecting to ever go back. Four years with fish is a long time to work on a movie...The brain's an interesting thing. So suddenly I was watching the movie again because I hadn't watched it in years, and 2011 we had to see the 3D version, and I walked out very worried about Dory. And I couldn't stop thinking about how she needed closure."

Stanton on the themes of the movie
: "Well, I always knew that the film was going to be about her accepting herself...The premise I ultimately came with is that you're not at peace until you can truly accept who you are. And I think she was always going to be unsettled until she experienced what it was like to succeed on her own completely. And I don't think she ever really had. She had learned how to survive in the wild by being the best co-pilot ever, and so that meant she was always dependent on somebody else to be successful. I knew that the only way she was going to feel completely fulfilled is if she, like a little kid, 'did it all by myself.' And so that was really a grand design to just do that simple thing for her."


Lindsey Collins: "We also felt as though she needed to grant herself the same grace that she feels she grants everybody else. She kind of apologizes for herself...and she never expects anybody to apologize for themselves and in fact, is kind of more open with them than anybody. I think that's why people love Dory, and why the 'just keep swimming' kind of resonates so clearly, because it's such a genuine...'it's ok! Just persevere! You're gonna do it!'...And so the fact that she, as a character, was not giving herself the same was like, how do we get her to that place, and who grants that to her, and then [Stanton] was like 'the only person who can grant that to her is herself.'"

Stanton on setting "Finding Dory" at an aquarium: "Once we started to look back at the unintentional bread crumb trail of Dory, she knows how to read English, she knows how to speak whale, and she's got this odd eclectic knowledge of stuff. And so I said 'I think she has to be around Humanity. I think she has had to have just seen the most bizarre stuff." In an early pass, there was a moment where she was at the glass revisiting her exhibit and everything she ever said had an association with the wall, like Keyser Söze at the end of 'The Usual Suspects.' It was like 'sea monkey has my money,' like 'natural blue,' ...and it was funny in the moment, but it was so reliant that you were like an expert on the first movie that we just didn't use it."

--Stanton's favorite character: Hank
--Collins' favorite character: Bailey and Destiny
--Stanton voices the Loud-Mouthed Clam in addition to Crush.
--Stanton didn't want to put Crush in the film initially, for fear it would look like a vanity move, but he needed a fast way to get everyone across the ocean.
--The kelp forest environment was one that Stanton had wanted to put into the first film and finally got to use for this one. It lent Dory's search a fairy tale quality.
--The addition of Sigourney Weaver to the movie was initially an internal joke that they didn't think would make it into the final cut, but proved to be too funny to exclude.
--Stanton felt the long interval of time from the last film helped because he is now a better writer and might not have been able to break the story any earlier.

Next up was the bulk of the major voice cast of "Finding Dory:" Ellen DeGeneres (voice of “Dory”), Ed O’Neill (voice of “Hank”), Ty Burrell (voice of “Bailey”), Kaitlin Olson (voice of “Destiny”), Albert Brooks (voice of “Marlin”), Eugene Levy (voice of “Charlie”), and Hayden Rolence (voice of “Nemo.”)


The cast on whether they are a planner, like Marlin, or choose to "go with the flow" like Dory:

Albert Brooks: "I've never had a flow. So I don't know. I'm not a 'go with the flow' person. I would be a planner."

Hayden Rolence: "I guess I'm sort of a planner too."
Brooks: "Good. Thank you."

Eugene Levy: "I like to think of myself as a go with the flow person...but I'm not. So I think I would put myself in the planner category."

Kaitlin Olson: "I'm definitely a planner, and since I've had kids, I turned into an anxiety-ridden control freak planner. So the past two years of my life have been very much me consciously trying very hard to go with the flow and let it happen and I got this...I got all these mantras I'll share with you guys...yeah, I'm trying very hard to be more of a 'go with the flow' person."

Ty Burrell: "I don't think I'm a planner or a go with the flow person. Which makes me a worried person without a plan. That is not what you want."

Ed O’Neill: "I don't plan. I don't really go with the flow either. Mostly confused. I just sort of put one foot in front of the other--sort of like 'keep swimming,' right? I just sort know, I'm up in the morning, and here I am. And then...I move around..."
DeGeneres: "Very, very, very deep man."
Burrell: "I have that coffee mug, actually."
Brooks: "And then what happens? What happens around 3:00?"
DeGeneres: "I'm glad you didn't go moment by moment of your day."
O'Neill: "I stopped. I knew where that was going."
DeGeneres: "Yeah, I know. I knew where that was going, too. I'm pretty much a planner."
Brooks: "By the way, I think there may not be such a thing as a flow. I think if you don't plan, you're flowed right out the door."


Ellen DeGeneres on what she would say if she could go back in time and talk to herself at the age of six.: "I think, as Albert was saying, as you get older you get wiser and you start looking at life in a completely different way. You can tell a six-year-old whatever, but a six-year-old is going to go 'uh-uh,' so you can try...but I would tell that six-year-old that life is a very interesting journey. And that it is filled with surprises, and sometimes they're good surprises and sometimes they're bad surprises. And, they're all good. Because even the bad ones get you ready for something else and they build another part of you that you wouldn't have inside of you. And I think we're made up of all kinds of different things, and if we were just made up of joy and love and all good things, and nothing bad happened to us, we'd just be a little less layered. So I would tell that six-year-old to just take everything in and just embrace the bad with the good and...just keep swimming."

After the two panels, we were also treated to a short presentation by Director Alan Barillaro and Producer Marc Sondheimer on the development and creation of the terminally cute short "Piper" which will accompany "Finding Dory" in theaters.



An enormous amount of work went into making all the birds and aquatic animals as realistic as possible, while still investing them with the appeal and personality of an animated character.


"Piper" and "Finding Nemo" will open in theaters June 17, 2016.

June 7, 2016

Tick-Tock Tea Time with "Alice Through The Looking Glass" and the El Capitan Theatre



On selected days throughout the run of "Alice Through The Looking Glass" at the El Capitan Theatre, a special tea service was offered in conjunction at the Chado Tea Room in the Hollywood and Highland complex.


"Tick-Tock Tea Time" took place about two hours prior to the start of selected showtimes, and provided guests with a pleasant selection of scones, sandwiches, and desserts, along with all the tea you could drink.


The service began with a choice of five teas, some of which were Alice-themed, and some of which were Chado's most popular blends. The servers were diligent in pointing out which ones were caffeinated and non-caffeinated in case parents had a preference in what their children ingested. Each person received their own pot of tea, along with a glass of iced tea.


The first tier of treats for each person was a scone accompanied with strawberries and cream, and assorted jam flavors.


Next up were finger sandwiches: An open-faced salmon, cucumber with cream cheese, chicken with cranberry-lingonberry sauce, and tea-marinated egg salad.


The dessert course consisted of cookies, strawberries, and a chocolate mousse cup.

For Gosh's Sake, don't throw your crusts under the bed!

As a parting gift, each person also received a nice "Alice Through The Looking Glass" mug, presumably in which to drink their own tea at home.


The food was very nice and the whole experience fairly soothing, despite the fact that every other table was generally celebrating a birthday. Although the menu sounded a trifle twee initially, it actually was a pretty hardy meal and after sucking down a pot of tea each we were all relatively full.

Afterwards, guests marched down the same stairs the Academy Award attendees walk to get to the Dolby Theater and crossed the street to the El Capitan Theatre to watch "Alice Through The Looking Glass." [Reviewed by Kristen Ford here.]


As part of the tea package, VIP tickets were provided that included drinks and a commemorative popcorn bucket.


Rob Richards started off the show as usual, with a snazzy performance on the theater's Wurlitzer Organ.


After previews, the audience was treated to a new psychedelic light and projection show featuring some of the film's prevalent images.




After the movie, guests could then appreciate a display of concept art, hero props and costumes on display around the El Capitan.







On the whole, the tea/movie package was a very pleasant way to extend the movie-going experience at the El Capitan, and a great way to celebrate a special occasion. For similar future events I would note that the room was pretty small--so if you were interested in booking it, you probably wouldn't want to wait, because the chance of it selling out is high. Also, the tea room validates parking for two hours, but the theater validates for four hours, so it's best to wait until getting across the street to take care of that. (Despite that, the chances are the tea and the movie will take longer than four hours, so be prepared to add on another $2-6 onto the usual $2 parking toll.)

Unfortunately, the Tick-Tock Tea has finished its last session--however, the Chado Tea Room offers very similar tea services on a routine basis, more information about which can be found on their web page here. "Alice Through The Looking Glass" continues at the El Capitan Theatre through June 12, 2016.


Daily showtimes are 10 a.m., 1:10 p.m., 4:20 p.m., and 7:30 p.m., with a 10:40 p.m. on opening weekend (Friday through Sunday) and each Friday and Saturday during the engagement of the film. Tickets are on sale now through June 12, available at the El Capitan Theatre (6838 Hollywood Blvd.), online at or by calling 1-800-DISNEY6. Special group rates for parties of 20 or more are available by calling 1-818-845-3110. Showtimes and dates are subject to change.

May 28, 2016

Review: "Frozen--Live at the Hyperion"


A new show has taken residence at the Hyperion Theater in Disney California Adventure this summer: "Frozen--Live at the Hyperion."

[Photos and video not attributed were provided by Disney.]


Taking the place of "Aladdin--A Musical Spectacular," which ran in the same venue for thirteen years, this production takes the hit animated film into the realm of live musical theater.

To translate the widely embraced tale of two sisters divided by fear and questionable parenting, Disney Creative Entertainment enlisted the Tony Award nominated Director Liesl Tommy to weave a large-scale production involving video projections, a 2,200 square foot video wall, and a cast and crew of more than 200. Michael Curry, who co-designed the animal puppets for "The Lion King" on Broadway created versions of Olaf and Sven in the same vein.


Technically, the production is gorgeous. The back video wall is so clear and high-definition that sitting in the first ten rows of the orchestra, it didn't even initially occur to me that it wasn't a practical backdrop. The 45,000 sq. ft. "Aurora" curtain surrounding the stage looks beautiful and allows the projections to surround the audience and create a sense of environment and motion that is far and away better than any use I've seen yet made of similar effects.



The main set piece is Elsa's ice stairwell which allows her to walk out a little ways over the audience. It's an impressive structure and is used to greater effect than her ice chandelier which is pretty enough to be disappointing when it doesn't do a big "Phantom of the Opera" crash down.



The musical numbers, in many ways the strength of the original film, have justice done to them as all the Anderson-Lopez/Lopez songs are represented in the show. "For the First Time in Forever," "Love Is An Open Door," and "In Summer" in particular are expanded out into larger ensemble pieces to nice effect. While the music is all pre-recorded, the vocals are all performed live.


103 performers are used for the various performances, with a couple different actors switching out for the major roles throughout the day. From the three performances I saw, some were a little better vocally, and some had the edge as far as acting, but all did a very capable job. The standout in general for me was Olaf, all of whose actors/puppeteers really caught his quirky charm.

There would, I think, be little point in remaking an exact duplicate of the animated film on stage, and to their credit, this production does emphasize slightly different facets of the story while still adhering pretty closely to the original. The returning motif for this version is doors (of which they have seven different pairs)--the physical ones shut between the girls by their parents in childhood, and the emotional ones they must reopen to reconnect in a time of need.


Probably the weakest part of the production is, in fact, how near it keeps to the plot of the movie (which I originally reviewed here.) The resolution has always seemed rushed in parts with a lot owing to coincidence at the end. Here, because of practical limitations of time and scope, virtually all scenes with Elsa between her transformation and her reunion with Hans and Anna at the end are clipped to brief tableaus--if you blink, you might miss her capture which is barely even implied. While the Broadway production of "Frozen" currently in development is said to be completely separate from this, it's hard not to think that "Live at the Hyperion" isn't being used as something of a test, in which case one would hope that they would devise something different for these parts, that works better for stage.


By this time, I think most people have figured out for themselves whether they are on the "Frozen" train or not. If the last two years have totally burnt you out on the movie, this is probably not going to convert you into an instant fan. If you still enjoy it, as I do, then this is a nice version that is technically a huge step forward from the erstwhile "Aladdin," and could be a terrific way for people to introduce themselves to live musical theater.

The first time I watched it in previews, the group behind me discussed beforehand how none of them had seen "Frozen" before (apparently not big animation fans.) Observing them cheer for Elsa as she begins to find her power, "OH SNAP" at the Hans reveal, and rise to their feet for a standing ovation at the end makes you think that after all this time, Elsa and Anna's story of fear, loss, empowerment, love, and redemption still has life in it.


"Frozen--Live at the Hyperion" runs 70 minutes and is currently playing three shows a day. Fast Pass ticketing recommended.

May 26, 2016

"Alice Through the Looking Glass" Press Junket



On May 27, "Alice Through the Looking Glass," the sequel to Tim Burton's hit film "Alice in Wonderland" opens in theaters throughout the US.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

As part of the recent appearances the cast and crew have been making to promote the movie's premiere, a press junket was held in Beverly Hills. In attendance was Anne (“The White Queen”) Hathaway, Mia (“Alice Kingsleigh”) Wasikowska, Director James Bobin, and Producer Suzanne Todd.


Some points of interest from the discussion:


Suzanne Todd on why she decided to make this sequel: "Well, it took us a long time now, after the first movie, to come up with an idea that we felt was worth taking on--as everyone here knows, these movies are very difficult to make. So we went back into the literature: We went back into what was so popular for 150 years, and themes came up that we were were interested in...that Linda Wolverton, the screenwriter, wanted to take on, and when James [Bobin] came on board, that he was interested in. And we really focused on what you see in the movie now, which is time, and the preciousness of time, and the importance of spending time with loved ones...and also what a pretty, kick-ass girl can do if she sets her mind to it! And she does!"


Mia Wasikowska on revisiting the character of Alice: "Yeah, it was the beginning of this film she has been traveling around the world for the last two years, and she’s the captain of her own ship, so she’s coming from a very empowered place. I just love that she has this really strong sense of who she is, and despite the fact that expectations for her are really low when she returns to England, she’s able to hold onto that sense that she’s worth more than what other people want for her. Yeah, I think she’s great.”


Anne Hathaway on wearing the film's elaborate costumes: "You know, I thought that Colleen’s [Atwood] costume probably created my character. I knew I had had certain kind of incorrect ideas about who she was, and then as I found the dress I just thought, ‘oh, she’s air.’ I also started to think about the relationship between her and Helena [Bonham Carter] and I thought, if you have a family member who has a very very large personality, who has a lot of emotions, you compensate by taking up less space...and so I thought, ‘here’s somebody who’s turning herself into almost weightlessness.’ And yet, it’s still so ornamented, so I just thought it’s very rich and very airy..and that’s how I kind of came up with my airhead.”


James Bobin on how to make the new film distinct from the original, while still paying respect to it: "Of course we really owe a debt to Lewis Carroll...having Time be a person was of course Lewis Carroll’s idea. Lewis Carroll wrote in the book, when the Hatter meets Alice for the first time, ‘I’ve been stuck here since last March, when Time and I quarreled,’ so it’s kind of those bits. It’s basically trying to incorporate elements of Lewis Carroll, whilst maintaining a Tim [Burton] world, but then bringing something of what you think those things are."


Suzanne Todd on her first introduction to "Alice in Wonderland": "Growing up in California, I went to Disneyland and I rode the Alice ride! There are actually two Alice rides at Disneyland, there's Mad Tea Cups and there's an Alice's Adventures ride, and yes, as a very young girl I was, and still am, obsessed with Disney--not just Disneyland, but all Disney parks. They're the happiest places to be! After going on the Alice ride, I did get very interested and I did read the books and have a very literary reaction to it, but yes, it all started with the rides at Disneyland."

May 4, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" Part 2: Team CAPTAIN AMERICA - Press Junket



This May 6th marks the debut of Marvel Studio's latest film, "Captain America: Civil War." Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, the start of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase III sees the Earth's Mightiest Heroes splintered into two factions over the question of government registration and oversight--Team Iron Man, advocating for accountability, and Team Cap, dedicated to free will and independence.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]


At a recent press junket the two sides made an appearance to discuss the new film--separately, of course. We heard from Team Iron Man here--today belongs to Team Captain America, represented by Chris Evans, (“Steve Rogers / Captain America”) Sebastian Stan, (“Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier”) Anthony Mackie, (“Sam Wilson / Falcon”) Jeremy Renner, (“Clint Baron / Hawkeye”) Elizabeth Olsen, (“Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch”) Paul Rudd, (“Scott Lang / Ant-Man”) Director Joe Russo, and Producer Kevin Feige. Guest Blogger Amanda Bulat attended for AllEars.Net.


Some points of note from the video above:


Joe Russo on bringing action to life on film: "Action is very important to us, these movies are about action, the characters express themselves through action...action has to have storytelling to it for us, or it's vacuous and superficial. You know, you'll get tired of an action sequence if it's not either defining the character or moving the story forward in some way. It takes an incredible amount of effort and thank God we have such an incredible team of collaborators including Kevin and [screenwriters] Markus and McFeely and [executive producer] Nate Moore who works at Marvel as well who can work with us and keep us honest in terms of the storytelling. And this cast, who are also the caretakers of the characters in a way that we never could be. It's by far and away the hardest thing to do on a film."


Paul Rudd on being a fanboy: "How I felt as far as being the fanboy of the group: There was very little acting required in that scene for me. You know, they've all worked together and done this before--I've just seen the movies. I mean, I've seen all the Marvel movies so to be there on the day...I kind of couldn't stop geeking out about it. I thought Oh my God, there's The Shield and I thought there's that arm! [To Stan] You weren't looking, and I was just like [touches Stan's arm] 'Wow! Gol dang, man!' And so...even when I was getting the suit on, you know there's this area where we get changed and stuff, and it's like oh there's Iron Man's suit [plays with suit] ...and there they all are! I did feel that, that excitement of what? I can't believe I landed here! This is nuts! So it was really cool."


Kevin Feige on whether the darker tone of some of the Marvel TV series will bleed into the MCU: "What I love is you're now seeing in the film medium and the television medium the reflection of what the comics have always been. There's always been that great diversity of tone within the comics and I love that we're seeing more and more of that on various screens."


Jeremy Renner on why Hawkeye joined Team Cap: "He's the one who called. I didn't write it! Talk to these guys! They wrote it! No, I think probably retirement was quite boring, and then...go help a friend. And the moral compass is not a far cry from Cap's sort of thinking as well, anyway."
Russo: "He owes a debt to Scarlet Witch, and her brother, so when she's under duress, it's a call to arms."
Renner: "Yup."


Chris Evans on how to deal with the success of the Captain America franchise: "The first couple years of your involvement with the franchise, you're very internal, you're scared about being the thing that's going to cause're going to be awful and you're very terrified in a very egoic manner. But as you kind of continue on the journey, you kind of realize how amazing it is what they're doing and what they're accomplishing, and how fortunate you are to be a part of it, this unbelievable interwebbing of stories...and I say, keep going. Let's let the wave get bigger and bigger because it's not stopping. It's not like they're making bad movies. They're making great movies. If you want to keep putting them in this superhero box, you can, but the fact is, it's still good movies. Especially the Russos--they ground them in such an authentic way. It's real humans, real stories, real conflict. Good cinematic storytelling with like a streak of superhero flavor in it. So I say, keep it going. Like, if you can keep doing it, keep doing it."

May 3, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" Part 1: Team IRON MAN - Press Junket



This May 6th marks the debut of Marvel Studio's latest film, "Captain America: Civil War." Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, the start of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase III sees the Earth's Mightiest Heroes splintered into two factions over the question of government registration and oversight--Team Iron Man, advocating for accountability, and Team Cap, dedicated to free will and independence.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]


At a recent press junket the two sides made an appearance to discuss the new film--separately, of course. Team Iron Man was up first, represented by Robert Downey Jr., (“Tony Stark / Iron Man”) Don Cheadle, (“James Rhodes / War Machine”) Paul Bettany, (“Vision”) Emily Van Camp, (“Sharon Carter / Agent 13”) Director Anthony Russo, and Producer Kevin Feige. Guest Blogger Amanda Bulat attended for AllEars.Net.


Some points of note from the video above:


Robert Downey Jr. on Tony Stark's emotional center: "I'm still reeling from the fact that Paul Bettany was Jarvis and now he's Vision...If you just stop, you go 'so here's what's going on with Tony,' I go 'waitaminute. Did he make a guy?!' Look at him!"
Bettany: "Dad!"
Downey Jr.: "So proud of you."


Anthony Russo on technological advances in film-making: "You sort of reap the benefits and you sort of push forward every film and this movie has a very remarkable sequence I think where Robert Downey Jr. plays a twenty-year old man...which, you know, is pretty incredible."
[Downey Jr. begins to have a stroke.]
Bettany: (Reassuringly) "Wait a second, I don't think it's that hard to believe!"
Russo: "I mean, he plays someone who's around the age he was when we all first saw him on the screen."
Downey Jr.: "Aw. It's nostalgic. Very expensive nostalgia, I'm told."


Don Cheadle on War Machine getting new upgrades: "Thank God somebody finally laid it bare...I think we'll see. It's not over...unless it is, 'cause I haven't seen the movie. Do...I live? Does War Machine live? (That's some hubris.) You'll see in the next one...wait a minute..."


Kevin Feige on the casting of Black Panther: "It was relatively early on in the development process of the movie that Joe and Anthony and our screenwriters Chris and Steve thought it would be very valuable to have somebody...people who weren't quite as invested. We wanted somebody who perhaps was invested but didn't have allegiances to any one side. Who was essentially in it for very personal reasons himself. We knew we wanted to make a Black Panther movie at some point, but at that time we weren't sure exactly when that would be, but as these discussions were going on, we thought 'I think we're going to bring Black Panther into this movie...' I'm not kidding when I say Chadwick (Boseman) was the only choice. His performance in '42,' his performance in 'Get on Up,' how different those performances are...and my memory is that we called him on the conference room speaker when we were developing the movie, and...he was in his car either about to get out or had just gotten back in, and we said 'have you ever heard of Black Panther,' and he went 'YES. YES. WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME THAT.' And we said 'do you want to play the part,' and he was very excited.


Emily Van Camp on hitting a stride in portraying Sharon Carter: "I think I was definitely slightly intimidated in the first one, in 'Winter Soldier,' you know, just kind of getting used to it. I think that lent itself well for the character, she was sort of more in like a rookie stage, and it's great to see her come back in a little bit more of a mature light, she's confident..."
Moderator: "And she's still good with guns, girl!"
Van Camp: "Still good with guns!"


Paul Bettany on Vision's process of finding himself while establishing relationships with other characters: "You find Vision in 'Age of Ultron,' he is just born and omnipotent yet naive, and then in this movie you find him trying to figure out what humanity is, and how you have loyalty, because logic doesn't afford loyalty. So I think he's really interested in working out what love is, and there's this woman who has a similar problem that he's facing, which is he doesn't know the limits of his power, nor does she. Of course, love can make you feel loyal, and at the end of this movie, I think it's double-edged sword, because his response at finally having a human response, is he makes a big mistake. Which is interesting."

April 25, 2016

Silicon Valley Comic Con


This year marked the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con--a three-day event celebrating pop culture and technology, spearheaded by Steve Wozniak, key founder of Apple Computer.


Almost 60,000 guests crowded the San Jose Convention Center for what was the biggest comic con to take place in Northern California.


At the Opening Ceremonies, Wozniak related how technology has advanced to the point of giving people some of the super powers of communication and transportation that he dreamt of when he was little. Subsequently, Madame Tussauds San Francisco unveiled their latest wax figure.


On the schedule for the weekend were appearances by a number of celebrities from Disney-owned properties. Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, had a question and answer session on a wide range of topics.


Nathan Fillion, from ABC's "Castle," also had a Q&A where he related hilarious anecdotes both personal and professional.


While not strictly Disney related, the big event of the convention was a "Back to the Future" reunion of Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines).


(This marked Michael J. Fox's first appearance at a North American comic con, and the first time all three stars were available for group photo-ops.)

That evening was the Costume Contest, in which guests showed off an impressive array of cosplay.




The next day continued on with panels such as "The Heroine's Journey," in which author Valerie Estelle Frankel and film professor Patti McCarthy spoke on Joseph Campbell's classic "hero's journey" story structure, and how it contrasts with the traditional stories featuring women. Using examples from "Star Wars," "Cinderella," and "Frozen," they contrasted various plot points such as the start of the tale where the hero discovers his unique destiny/power, and realizes that he is more special than he knew, whereas the heroine usually discovers that there is something terrible and malignant in her home life, and that her situation is worse than she suspected.


Celebrity Q&A also resumed with former president and chairman of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee.


Later, Nathan Fillion returned to the stage with Walt Disney Animation Studio's current lucky charm Alan Tudyk, along with executive producer PJ Haarsma, and writer/artist Shannon Eric Dentonto, to talk about their crowd-funded internet series in the panel "Con Man: The Fan Revolt 14 Years in the Making."



Finally, as all good things must end, Steve Wozniak and Stan Lee finished off the con with a closing address in which they thanked everyone for coming and expressed their hopes for making this an annual event.


In addition to the many panels and presentations that were scheduled for the weekend, SVCC had the requisite Exhibitor's Floor, which also featured large displays from Rancho Obi-Wan (the world's largest private Star Wars collection)...





...And the Stan Lee Museum, a variety of items from Stan Lee's private collection.





For a first-time convention, SVCC was run reasonably well--while there were a number of times where it seemed as though all the volunteers were a little foggy on some of the procedural details, such as whether the rooms would be cleared after each panel (answer: Sometimes,) I actually found the staff to be more cordial than you find at the bigger, more stressful conventions. Besides the big "Back to the Future" reunion which was a separate-pay ticket, I heard few complaints about people being shut out of panels, which leads me to think that there was reasonably adequate seating for the demand.

In this era of multiple large conventions all competing for the attendance and dollars of genre fans, I think SVCC is smart to market itself as having more of an emphasis on technology as a differentiating niche. Part of that is no doubt due to Wozniak being so heavily involved with it, and his connections to the tech industries in the area. One of the big areas on the floor was a collection of VR demos that I never got through the 45-90 minute lines to experience, but which were highly touted as good examples of the new frontier of entertainment.

The guest list was impressive for a starting convention, despite some of them, like Carrie Fisher, having to cancel beforehand. If SVCC can keep up the momentum of good technology representation, celebrity guests, and the monopoly of being the only big comic con in Northern California, I see no reason why it shouldn't become a regular staple in the annual comic con circuit.

April 13, 2016

Review: "The Jungle Book"



"The Jungle Book," a new live-action retelling of the classic 1967 animated feature from Walt Disney Studios and Director Jon Favreau, reinvents the Rudyard Kipling fable for our time in dazzlingly photorealistic CG.

While keeping some of the songs and whimsy of the Disney feature, Favreau's "Jungle Book" leans more towards the darker tones of the original Kipling tales. In it, Mowgli, a boy orphaned in the jungle, is raised by wolves until the vicious tiger Shere Khan declares open season on him and he is forced to leave the only home he knows.


As he makes his way towards the Man Village, Mowgli is alternately advised by the orderly, regimented Bagheera and the free-spirited Baloo...


...While eluding the grasps of both the predatory Kaa...


...And the ambitious King Louie.


To get the obvious out of the way, the CG on this film is amazing. Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles, it is astonishing how convincing it is--the environment, the animals, the wind and the water all are almost indistinguishable from real, and are absolutely convincing as characters and backdrop for the story.


The voice cast is used to good effect and is as skillful as their combined star power would lead you to expect. Bill Murray shows an impressive sensitivity behind the jovial Baloo and Lupita Nyong’o's Raksha has a goodbye moment with Mowgli with more emotion behind it than many a similar scene between human actors.


The only voice that rings a little light for the role is Scarlett Johansson, whose Kaa never really sounds quite as menacing as she looks. In contrast, the one voice I really wasn't sure about from the trailers was Christopher Walken--however he turned out to maybe be one of the few actors possessing the ideal skill set for the alternately creepy menace/song-and-dance man/Gigantopithecus, King Louie.


Speaking of music, one could hardly think about the 1967 "Jungle Book" without its deservedly popular score. While Murray does hum a few bars of "Bare Necessities," the big number is reserved for Walken and "I Wanna Be Like You," on which Richard Sherman consulted and wrote new lyrics.

Neel Sethi has the lion's share of the business on this one as the only physical character in the film. Fortunately he's naturally engaging, giving Mowgli a cleverness and initiative the animated one lacked, while easily avoiding the child actor pitfalls of annoying and cloying.


Ultimately, I think the film works well because it deviates strongly from both the original book and animated predecessor. Each version on some level reflects the time it came from: Kipling's story, in which Mowgli is abandoned/betrayed by both the wolves and mankind and winds up living solitary and apart is often thought to be commentary on British Imperialism in India. The 1967 feature, coming at a time of social revolution and the Vietnam War shows Mowgli retreating from the jungle and all its dangers, to the safety and familiarity of Man's Village. Today's Mowgli faces a Shere Khan as fueled by fear and hatred as revenge: Whose most chilling scene is that where he amiably teaches the wolf cubs that caring for others who are not your kind, is only to impoverish and weaken you and yours.


While the filmmakers tend to stress the themes of family in "The Jungle Book," what I found most prominent in the film was Mowgli's journey to discover what it means, to be a Man. Is it simply DNA and opposable thumbs? The ability to use tools and understand Physics? A facility for slaughter and destruction? Or a capacity for acts of compassion for others who look, speak, and act differently, at great personal cost? How interesting to live in a time where film animals often display the best of humanity, while TV politicians continually demonstrate the worst of beasts.


"The Jungle Book" is presented by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Rated PG, it stars Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Neel Sethi and Christopher Walken.

Directed by Jon Favreau and produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor. Screenplay by Justin Marks.

The film enters general release on April 15, 2015.

April 6, 2016

Press Junket: "The Jungle Book"



Coming out on April 15th is Walt Disney Studio's latest film, "The Jungle Book." Directed by Jon Favreau, it tells the familiar story of Mowgli, an orphan raised in the jungle, who must seek out Man's Village for protection against the murderous tiger, Shere Khan.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

At a press junket, Director Jon Favreau, Producer Brigham Taylor, and Actors Neel ("Mowgli”) Sethi, Sir Ben (voice of “Bagheera”) Kingsley, Lupita (voice of “Raksha”) Nyong'o, and Giancarlo (voice of “Akela”) Esposito gathered to discuss the process of conceptualizing and realizing "The Jungle Book."



Jon Favreau: [On why remake "The Jungle Book" now.] "...We (Favreau and Chair of Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn) had common ground of both having great affection for this property. And the question became 'if we love it so much in those other forms, why do it now?' And as he pointed out to saw 'Life of Pi,' you realized that the technology may have come to a point where you can actually tell the story in a different way, and maybe bring something that just existed in his imagination while he was growing up, onto the big screen...100 years ago was the book, 50 years ago was the animated film, and now 50 years later, it's time to update the film for our generation."


Neel Sethi: [On becoming part of the cast.] "It felt like it was too easy, like that shouldn't have happened so easily. I just auditioned once and Jon really liked me. The first time I met Sir Ben Kingsley and Lupita...I voice recorded with Sir Ben and I met you (Lupita) at D23...and that was a lot of fun. I got to see my face!"



Giancarlo Esposito: [On how he got involved with the film.] "...It's synchronicitous, because for me, this story came from my Mother...I come from divorced parents and I have a brother, so my Mother would read this Law of the Jungle to us because it was us three--we had to survive! It was the three of us, and so it really meant something very deep inside me. It's like I tell my four girls now, 'never leave a man behind! If you go to the bathroom or anywhere, never leave anyone behind!' So it plays through."



Sir Ben Kingsley: [On getting into character.] "My secret to my performance I discovered later, which is odd, but I had an intuitive feeling/grasp of something in him...and I realized later, that I actually am playing Kipling, that Bagheera is...the voice of Rudyard Kipling in the story. So...although I didn't recognize it, sometimes an actor's intuition is buried, and you don't realize what you're mining as a source of energy until, perhaps, afterwards. I'm privileged to be the voice of Kipling, a man I greatly admire and love and when I was in...the Cubs, actually, which is before the Boy Scouts, our troop leader was called 'Akela.'"



Lupita Nyong'o: [On getting involved with the project.] "This is my first voice-over role, and I was attracted to it because Raksha is like the Eternal Mother. She chooses to take care of this creature who is not one of her own, but as though he was...I did a session...really early on, and then a few months later Jon called me in again, but this time he had Neel's performance captured and that really grounded the Mother-Son relationship for me. To see the vulnerability of this boy and the love he had for the wolf--it only made my love for him grow even more. And it's such a beautiful image to see these two very different creatures have this very real bond."



Brigham Taylor: [On producing such a unique film.] "The biggest job I had was to find the right filmmaker...we knew when Alan (Horn) talked about making this title, what we could do with this title, and we all imagined what it could be, we started to figure out what kind of skill sets we needed to pull that off. We needed someone who had the warmth and humanity to inject it with the charm and with the thematic quality you know you need. And you also had to have someone who knew how to master this incredibly complex thing, because we knew there wasn't going to be a live animal on the set. There couldn't be. In fact, to portray it the way Kipling had imagined it, had envisioned it, perhaps even for the first time, because he was envisioning a live action world with a child living amongst these animals...we needed someone who could do all that, and when you looked at the list, it whittled down to one guy."

Favreau: "...And he wasn't available..."

Taylor: "...And then we called Jon."

March 30, 2016

"Star Wars Rebels" Season 2 Finale Tonight!


Tonight, March 30th, the action-packed second season of "Star Wars Rebels" comes to a close with the one-hour finale "Twilight of the Apprentice: Part I and II."

[Photos and video courtesy of Disney]

For those who may have fallen a few episodes behind, you can quickly catch up with the episodes available for streaming on the DisneyXD website. For those lacking the time, here's the rough setup: The events in the series take place between the films Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.While the Rebels have managed to elude the Imperial forces searching for them, the Force-sensitive Inquisitors continue to hunt Kanan and Ezra at every turn. In a desperate ploy to gain an edge over the Inquisitors, Kanan, Ezra, and Ashoka visit a ruined planet seeking knowledge of the Dark Side, but finding old friends and new enemies. Confrontations ensue, from which no one will emerge unchanged.

As a meeting with her old master seems increasingly inevitable, here's a video recap of Ahsoka Tano's history in case you (like I) still haven't finished Clone Wars.

Disney XD held a screening event this week at the Walt Disney Studios Theater, at which most of the major "Star Wars Rebels" cast and crew made an appearance.


While I can't tell you much more about the episode or the discussion that followed without spoiling it, I can say that the finale has a lot of action and game-changing events that set up some interesting stories to be told in Season Three. Be sure to watch tonight, Wednesday, March 30 (9:00 p.m. ET/PT) on Disney XD!


March 14, 2016

"Zootopia" at the El Capitan Theatre


People looking for the complete "Zootopia" viewing experience can head towards Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for some charming extras.


As usual, House Organist Rob Richards starts off every show with a rousing Disney medley.


After the trailers, a Wild Animal Encounter show takes place, in which audiences are given a glimpse of some of the prominent animals seen in the film, along with some short but informative presentations.




Subsequently, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde take the stage and dance up a storm to the tune of Shakira's "Try Everything."


The movie itself is presented in Dolby Vision™ and Dolby Atmos® and looks and sounds as great as you'd expect. (AllEars Blogger Kristin Ford reviewed it here.) Afterwards, moviegoers can enjoy a exhibit downstairs detailing some of the research and concept art that went into the making of "Zootopia."





On your way out, "Zootopia" photo ops are available, as is a wide variety of merchandise in the adjoining Disney Studio Store and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain.



So if it's your first time seeing it, or even your seventh (it's really good, you guys,) head on over to the El Capitan Theatre for a full night of "Zootopia."


"Zootopia" is currently playing at the El Capitan Theatre until April 10, 2016. On select dates, El Capitan guests may enjoy breakfast, meet Judy Hopps and receive a commemorative photo before seeing the 10 a.m. movie. Seating is limited and advanced reservations are required with purchase of movie ticket. El Capitan guests may also enjoy a Dave & Busters Movie & a Meal Offer, which includes a reserved seat for “Zootopia,” choice of entrée from the Dave & Busters Eat & Play menu and a $10 Dave & Busters game card. Reservations required 24 hours in advance with movie ticket. The El Capitan Theatre will also host a special Tiny Tot Tuesday every Tuesday at 10 a.m. during the run of “Zootopia.” During these screenings, parents and small children may enjoy the movie with lights dimmed and reduced sound levels.

March 1, 2016

"Zootopia" Press Day, Part 4


So as you might recall from our first, second, and third installments, we took a visit to the Walt Disney Animation Studios Tujunga Campus to get some exciting details on their upcoming 55th animated feature, "Zootopia."


[Photos provided by Disney.]

The next department to speak to us was Animation with Head of Animation Renato dos Anjos and Animation Supervisors Kira Lehtomaki (Judy Hopps,) Nathan Engelhardt (Clawhauser, Gazelle,) Jennifer Hager (Chief Bogo, Gazelle,) and Chad Sellers (Mr. Big.)


"Our great challenge was that our guys were walking around on two legs, and the real animals are walking around on four legs...We did a lot of testing, a lot of trying/figuring things out and we kind of figured that if you could capture, like, the movement of their head or the cadence of their walk then it really felt like the animal, even though it didn't really look like the animal."

--Although they looked at some of the classic Disney animated films, they wanted most of their animal modeling to reflect real life.
--While they had some animals come into the studios, they also went on a research trip to Kenya.
--An effort was made to reflect how prey animals tend to move in herds, almost like one large organism.
--Wildebeest turn out to be not the brightest animals on the Savannah.

"The African Cape Buffalo...we learned that these guys are one of the scariest, meanest animals in Africa. They're really nasty. They have a horrible temper, and we learned that if they see somebody coming...they'll just stop and turn and stare you down. It's very creepy."


--Cheetah have strong, piston-like legs and keep their heads relatively stationary as they run...which was a challenge to implement into the less-than-athletic Clawhauser.

"Another animal found in Zootopia is the weasel...You can see in the reference...this really erratic quality to the movement style and it's almost like it's very broken, too. We have a weasel in Zootopia and he's a thief, and so you see him running with this duffel bag over his head and really found fun areas to pepper in that erratic, ropy quality into his lower torso/hip area. You can see him bouncing all around while his upper torso is remaining isolated."

--John Lasseter, in order to illustrate something specific he wants in a scene, will occasionally film reference material of himself.
--Rabbits turn out to be relatively athletic, with a specific jump mechanism called "binky" in which they jump in the air and flick their head around. This was incorporated into Judy's movements as part of her police officer physicality.
--The character of Judy Hopps changed when Ginnifer Goodwin was cast, from a more seasoned, sarcastic, disillutioned police veteran to an optimistic, genuine personality.


After the main presentation, Renato dos Anjos and Kira Lehtomaki gave us a few minutes for some individual discussion.


On what was some of their biggest challenges to animate:

"Nick was a challenge with his long muzzle, because we're used to having human characters with the mouths more on the front of the face, but then suddenly we had this character that had this big long muzzle...and I think that's where "Robin Hood" came into it as a big help, looking back at it because you'll see as he opens up his mouth, his jaw is receded back because you don't want this kind of crocodile-look...where it's just hinged here and it just opens. But it was really tricky to kind of design all the mouth shapes around that long muzzle because it's so different from what we've got."


On whether the acting in animation is different for a more contemporary story:

"I think Disney always, regardless of whether it's more contemporary or classic...there's always sincerity, and there's always heart and that's always present so that's always what we're trying to communicate through our characters."
"What drives me, as an animator, is making our characters believable. My hope is, when people watch the film, they're not thinking 'oh, that's an animated movie," I want them to just enjoy the movie for what it is and the characters for the situations they're going through..."
"We want them to think it's all real."
"Because it is in my head!"


The last department was Story, with Writer and Co-Director Jared Bush, Writer Phil Johnston, Story Artist Marc Smith and Head of Editorial Fabienne Rawley.


The panel illustrated the process they go through revising the movie by showing both an older version of a scene and then the scene as it plays in the finished film.

--They took us through a scene at the end of the first act where Judy faces disappointment and showed how the initial pitch would have been acted, and then the fully animated and voiced track.
--Then they said they threw the whole thing in the toilet, because the movie had developed so that Judy was a stronger character and the scene didn't work anymore.
--They reworked it to be funnier to give it more energy as the story flows into the second act.
--New small actions give Judy more agency.

An example of the progression of a scene from a different part of the movie:





On what drew them to the project:

"I...was really attracted to the comedy...and then the themes of the movie. While it's not, in no's not a message movie, it's not preachy--it's a comedy, but it is about something. It deals with bias and the way we prejudge each other and I like that I'm going to be able to talk to my kids about that, using this as a tool to do that. And that to me was very attractive."

Finally, the day ended with Producer Clark Spencer giving us a few minutes to discuss how he came to be involved with "Zootopia."


"So what happens is, when you finish a film (I finished 'Wreck-it Ralph') you come off and there are lots of projects in development and they always want a team of people who are going to work well together. I had worked with Byron on 'Bolt,' and I love him. I had worked with Byron all the way back on 'Lilo and Stitch' when he was a supervising animator and I was producing that movie and I have always thought that I wanted to be able to work with him again because of the fact that he is so talented. He's got such a great sense of humor and a real warm heart so I know every story he tells is going to have all those elements in it, and a real sense of appeal because there is nobody who draws like Byron. His designs are unbelievable.

"Then he pitched me this story and when I thought about this incredible mammal world and this incredible city I was immediately drawn to it. But the most important thing was I loved the message of the film. I thought 'how bold to go out there and tell a story about predator and prey, two groups that assume something about each other and then realize that they're actually wrong.' I thought, in today's world, that was a really profound thing to tackle. And I knew it would be super hard--very hard to figure out the balance of it throughout the film--but I thought it was a really important idea that I wanted to be a part of."


"Zootopia" opens in general release March 4, 2016.

February 22, 2016

"Countdown to Zootopia," at the El Capitan Theatre


For seven days, the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood is having a special movie series called "Countdown to Zootopia."


Building up to the general release of "Zootopia" on March 4th, each night will feature a different movie from Disney's Second Renaissance/Revival period complete with giveaways, raffles, and appearances by special guests from the films' cast and crew at the 7pm showings.


In the lobby there is a display of concept art and maquettes from all the films, along with a variety of photo-ops.





People were calling him "Olaf." Just NO.

THIS is Olaf.

Everyone attending the 7pm shows will get a special piece of artwork designed from that particular film, with the first 75 people in line getting the chance to have it signed by the filmmakers!


"Wreck-It Ralph" director Rich Moore


"Frozen" Co-Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

After the traditional Wurlitzer Organ pre-show performance, the filmmakers take the stage for a short presentation and raffle.

Having attended the first two nights, I can say that it's a treat to see these animation classics (and their accompanying shorts) up on the big screen again--they look gorgeous and have all the beauty and cleverness you'd expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Some of the older films have not been seen in the theaters since their original release, and others may have failed to get the full reception they deserved, considering Pixar was coming strong out of the gate, co-releasing such films as "Up" and "Toy Story 3" at the time.

For the price of the ticket, which includes the giveaways, potential autographs, presentations, and popcorn and soda, "Countdown to Zootopia" is a great way to pass the time while waiting for WDAS to release their next classic.


Tickets for "Countdown to Zootopia" are available at Prices: Single reserved seat admission -- $10 includes small popcorn and drink; Single VIP preferred reserved seat -- $20 includes VIP popcorn and drink. The El Capitan Theatre is located at 6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood CA 90028

February 18, 2016

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" at the El Capitan Theatre



For one night only, the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood had a special showing of the Walt Disney classic, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to commemorate its release in the new home video series, Walt Disney Signature Collection.


The evening began with a short drawing for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" Collection Blu-rays, and then a few words by renowned Disney animator, Mark Henn.

After watching a short documentary on the making of "Snow White," the princess herself came out to greet the audience.

In the lobby, Walt Disney Animation Studios showcased some original works of arts inspired by the Dwarfs from the film, including long-time animator Eric Goldberg.





As for the movie itself, I suspect I don't have to tell anyone what a masterpiece it is, or how its artistry is unmatched by any other animated film beyond "Pinocchio" and maybe a handful of others. That the first feature-length animated feature was made at all, is an enormous credit to the determination of Walt Disney, and the unqualified success of it must have been one of the largest unalloyed triumphs of his career.

I will say that I continue to disagree with those who put "Snow White" up, along with many of the earlier princess films, as having poor examples of weak female characters. In "Snow White," the kingdom is ruled solely by a female monarch who has not only political power but intrinsic magical skills as well. She has clearly defined goals and takes decisive, if questionably ethical, action to achieve them. Snow White, on the other hand, has to learn to confront her fears and fend for her own survival on the run. She works for her room and board at the cottage, and transforms the Dwarfs with her intrinsic kindness and civilizing influence. While there is some debate about it, to my mind the movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, which is more than you can say of a large proportion of films today.


The film has countless strong scenes, most markedly the chilling moment after Snow White bites the apple and the Evil Queen mutters the poison's effects. With just a lifeless "thud" of an arm hitting the floor and the remnants of an apple rolling away, Disney evokes an almost Hitchcockian degree of horror.

One of my favorites moments is Snow White's hysterical flight and subsequent realization that the benign forest creatures were the object of all her terror. What a comforting thing for children to be told--that in their darkest hours, if they can just hold on until the light comes again, they may find the source of their dismay nothing more than their own fears and anxiety.


The Walt Disney Signature Collection allows viewers to experience classic Disney films in Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA,) and on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack. Some of the new special features included with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:" “In Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Iconography,” “@DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess,” “The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Facts You May Not Know About Snow White,” “Snow White in Seventy Seconds,” and “Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White”

January 20, 2016

"Zootopia" Press Day, Part 3


So as you might recall from our last installment, we took a visit to the Walt Disney Animation Studios Tujunga Campus to get some exciting details on their upcoming 55th animated feature, "Zootopia."


[Photos provided by Disney]

Different departments took turns revealing some of the process involved in creating a big animation project like Zootopia. The first subject was "Characters: Creating the Citizens of Zootopia," with Character Design Supervisor Cory Loftis, Character Look Supervisor Michelle Robinson, Character CG Supervisor Dave Komorowski and Simulation Supervisor Claudia Chung Sanii.


"Early on in the film, we partnered with Cory and Cory has drawn us this lineup of the kinds of characters we wanted to place in Zootopia...we quickly found that scale was going to be a big issue because our smallest critter is our mouse, over there, and our largest character is our giraffe and actually the discrepancy is such that it would'd have to stack 97 of those mice head to toe in order to reach the top of the giraffe's head."


Other considerations:
--Shots had to be framed so that Judy Hopps, the protagonist, is visible and on the same level with animals both much larger and smaller than she is.
--Each habitat had to have representation, so animals from all ecosystems needed to be developed in both male and female varieties, using color and shape.
--Clothing specific and appropriate to each animal and environment had to designed.
--Quadruped animals required adaptation to bipedal movement, without losing their distinctive animalness.

"One of the things we discussed were all the classic Disney animal movies...we ultimately decided that it was the personalities that were so memorable about them. We wanted to make sure those personalities came across in the characters of Zootopia, and that's not necessarily through the design, but you have to give the animators all those dials to push so that they can get the performance to get that character across."


--Pants proved a specific problem, as animal and human anatomy had to be blended to make them look like they fit right.
--Some animals couldn't wear pants because their legs were too short, so they were kept in shorts.
--The hardest part was getting the cloth of the clothes to move believably, given the different anatomy and movement of each species.
--Designs for both Nick and Judy evolved throughout development to accommodate the changes made in their characters.
--Research started at Animal Kingdom Lodge and San Diego Wild Animal Park.
--A small team went on a two-week safari to Kenya.
--The differences in fur became apparent after many trips to the Natural History Museum: Texture, light refraction/reflection/transmission, etc.
--At the time, there were around 400 unique species and costumes that dress the world of Zootopia.


Afterwards, Loftis gave AllEars a few minutes to talk about differences he noted working on video game-related animation ("Wreck-it Ralph") versus actual video games ("Wildstar.")


"The work itself is actually very similar...what we spend our time focusing on is very different...When you're running around in a game, you're always thinking about the player, right? And they're doing all the action, they're making their own story, so you're trying to put as much cool stuff in front of them as possible. Give them the coolest armor and the coolest creatures to kill and the coolest environments to be in and the coolest stuff to ride--you're always doing that. But when you go to film, you're trying to create the same things, except all those things are in service to the story. So if that cool thing is distracting from the performance happening on the screen--it's no good, right? Everything is in service to that acting, that performance, that scene, and that's the biggest thing it took to get used to, is trying to make stuff not too cool and not too distracting in the background and have it add to the story instead of distract from it."

The next panel was "Production Design/Environments: Building a Magnificent Mammal Metropolis," with Art Director of Environments Matthias Lechner and Environment Look Supervisor Lance Summers.


"When we designed the city of Zootopia, we wanted to make it feel like a real city. Not just some typical future city, but with dirt...buildings from different eras, some better kept up, some falling down...all the stuff that you find in a real city."


--On arranging the various habitats of Tundratown, the Rainforest District, etc., around the downtown of Zootopia where all the animals mix, the layout ended up slightly resembling that of a Disney park with a central hub and surrounding lands.
--Sahara Square is the first part of the city Judy Hopps encounters--a ritzy area with beaches and lots of nightlife, given that most of the animals are nocturnal.


--A surrounding wall radiates heat from one side for Sahara Square, and cold from the other, to create Tundratown: An city covered with ice and snow, and influenced heavily by Russian architecture.


--The Rainforest District is marked by constant rainfall and moist vegetation. With a preponderance of vertical structures, aerial forms of transportation are necessary.


--Little Rodentia is designed to be a perfect tiny town that's set off so it won't get trampled by larger animals.
--Of course it gets trampled by larger animals in a madcap chase.
--Elements of the city appear to be repurposed elements from larger structures. Vegetation is strategically placed to reinforce scale.


On whether the hub-and-spoke transportation system of Zootopia was influenced by the Progress City models: "Well, it's Zootopia with utopia in it, so yes, that's part of what you were supposed to see when you look at that city. It's also a very green's a nice environment. You get a chance to make a city, you might as well make a nice one."

Next time with "Zootopia:" We hear from the Animation and Story departments.

January 7, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Playset for Disney Infinity 3.0



Concomitant to the release of the wildly successful blockbuster of the same name, Disney Infinity launched their third Star Wars playset: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

The playset ships with characters Rey and Finn, with Kylo Ren and Poe available separately.




An associated power disc pack contains Poe’s Resistance Jacket, Resistance Tactical Strike, Quad Jumper, and Finn’s Stormtrooper Costume.



As far as the gameplay is concerned, there aren't a whole lot of surprises for players who have already run through the previous two Star Wars playsets. Ironically, just as the movie is thought to be closely related to "A New Hope," the structure of "The Force Awakens" playset runs very similar to that of "Rise Against the Empire." It starts off with a pretty fast and succinct retelling of the first half-hour or so of the film, and then passes from a tutorial mission to an open-ended quest to raise money by doing odd jobs for denizens of Jakku. Once off Jakku you meet up with Han (who appears to have aged a little more in the game than he did IRL) who takes you to Takodana.

From the looks of it, Han's taking us to eat at Rainforest Cafe.

After finding Maz Kanata, and doing a series of missions for her benefit, you engage in a fairly large-scale space battle. You then infiltrate a ship and eventually meet up with Kylo Ren in a final series of increasingly difficult boss battles.


I talked a little bit about the specifics of playset gameplay when Disney Infinity came out with their first two Star Wars sets here. Most of it is still true here, with a few tweaks.

Some random thoughts:
--Another layer is added to the never-ending accumulation of wealth by giving the characters the capacity to scavenge random debris around the various areas, as Rey starts off doing in the movie.
--I'm not sure whether it's just that I'm now more familiar with the controls, but I felt this playset did a better job of explicitly demonstrating the basic commands than the other ones during the initial demo.
--I am a pretty poor shot as a starship gunner.
--Like Henry Jones Sr. bad.
--Another level of complexity is that not every character seems to have the same equivalent capabilities, causing some missions to stall out temporarily if, say, you just killed off all your characters with the hacking ability.
--Like all the other games, the auto-targeting is a little fickle. You can shoot a guy nine times, and then all of a sudden your character may decide they'd rather aim at a wall or a hapless bystander.
--Interesting to see how with time, the game has morphed from a fairly basic platformer to a straightforward RPG.
--Once again, it's a Good Thing to have as many figures as possible to interchange. Some of the battles are huge and long and there's no way to save, so if you kill off all your characters, you'll be put back at the last checkpoint...which is a pain if you were almost at the end of the fight.
--Being able to use as many of the Star Wars characters as you can find Champion Coins enables you to stage some pretty bizarre match-ups. Towards the end, I found one battle where I couldn't put a dent in Kylo Ren using Rey, Darth Vader, or Kylo Ren.


All in all, it's a fun game that anyone who enjoyed the movie should appreciate. It carefully skirts some of the larger dramatic points and mysteries of the film (example: After your big missions with Han, he simply isn't seen after a certain point. We can only assume he's living comfortably in a farm, out in the country) in favor of yielding an arguably more satisfying conclusion, which is probably appropriate for a video game.


The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Play Set will be available at a suggested retail price of $34.99. Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren character figures (MSRP: $13.99 each) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens themed Power Disc Pack (MSRP: $9.99) will be sold separately.

December 28, 2015

A Tour of Walt Disney's Office Suite


Earlier this month, the Walt Disney Archives (WDA) unveiled the recently-restored suite of offices used by Walt Disney at the Walt Disney Studios.


As part of the 75th anniversary of the Studio, the WDA seized the opportunity to renovate and restore Walt Disney's original offices to the state he left them, back in 1966. As a permanent exhibit, it is a tribute to Walt Disney and a fascinating look into the working environment he personally shaped for himself.


The first of the four room suite is Walt's secretary's office, featuring her desk and filing cabinet, and an impressive award cabinet.



The various items are a mix of originals, reproductions, and occasional props from "Saving Mr. Banks." The displayed specialty honorary award Walt received for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is one such prop.


Moving on into Walt's formal office, one is struck by a variety of toys and figurines decorating the shelves, most of which were apparently gifts. As the place where he would commonly meet with dignitaries or heads of companies, the furniture is impressive, without being ostentatious.



While the desk side of the room had been reproduced earlier as part of the exhibit installed in the 70s for "The Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," the opposite side (where the audience would have been) was a completely new recreation.


In the corner sits the grand piano where the Sherman Brothers used to play "Feed the Birds" whenever Walt's mood required it.


The third room was Walt's working office--where he read scripts and met with his Imagineers and planned out the future.

[Photo by Disney]

The contents of his desk have been ordered as exactly as possible to the way Dave Smith inventoried it when he started the Archives in 1970.


On the opposite wall are large photos and schematics of his future plans for both Disneyland and EPCOT.


The far wall, as also seen in "Saving Mr. Banks," has sliding doors that retract to reveal Walt's kitchen, complete with some of his favorite foods.


Finally, the fourth room was used as Walt's private quarters. As few people ever saw the inside of that room, barring his immediate family and the Disney Studio Nurse, Hazel George, this room was not recreated, and only a photo of it shows what it used to look like.


Instead, the room has been refashioned into a rotating exhibit space. This first exhibit is dedicated to Kem Weber--an architect who was a major influence on the Streamline Moderne look of the studio, down to designing the furniture and the font used throughout.



A last case in this room also holds a small assortment of Walt Disney's personal effects.


For a more in-depth view of the suite, I invite you to check out the video I took of the tour Chief Archivist Becky Cline gave to us, assisted by Disney Legend Bob Gurr and Archivist Kevin Kern.

If you have any interest in Walt Disney, I think this is a great opportunity to peer into a snapshot of time when he was arguably at the height of his powers and involved in so many projects that could have been so influential to the world around him. If your interest goes way past the common into fascination/hero worship like mine, then this is a remarkable experience to see the things with which Walt chose to surround himself; to stand where he must have stood; and to look out on the vistas he must have contemplated while devising all the myriad creations that continue to bring joy to so many worldwide.


On January 29, 2016, D23 is offering a special tour of Walt's offices with presentation and dinner at the Disney favorite, Tam O'Shanter. Details can be found at Tickets will go on sale January 4, 2016. Subsequent Studio tours will take place on April 9th, June 25th, and November 19th.


December 16, 2015

Review: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"


"You sure you're up for this?"
"Hell, no."
--Han Solo and Finn

Opening this week is what must surely be one of the most anticipated films of recent history: The latest installment of the evergreen Star Wars saga, "The Force Awakens."


Set a few decades after the events of "Return of the Jedi," this story revolves around the increasingly powerful First Order--a military organization based around the glorification of the now-fallen Galactic Empire that seeks to once again subject the galaxy to oppressive domination.


Rising up to stop them is the Resistance--a new version of the Rebel Alliance--led by General Leia Organa. In an effort to gain an advantage in their struggle, one of their best pilots is sent on a daring mission to uncover the location of a lost asset. Captured by a team from the First Order, headed by powerful Force Sensitive Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron manages to hide the map in a small droid who takes off into the Jakku desert in search of help.


Along the way, BB-8 will pick up a scavenger...


An ex-stormtrooper...


And who knows who else? Along the way there are traumatic separations, gallant rescues, touching reunions, and a whole lot of explosions, as you'd expect from a Star Wars film.


Director JJ Abrams parallels "A New Hope" pretty closely in some regards, but is savvy enough to realize that today's audiences would have difficulty viewing the stark good-vs-evil space conflicts with the same naiveté as they did in the 1970s. Here, an effort has been made to ensure all characters have layered motivations and mixed impulses--which sometimes robs the Dark Side of the almost absolute menace Darth Vader illustrated so well.


Of the new characters, Daisy Ridley does an excellent job with Rey, making her both strong and self-sufficient, without turning her into a dour Lara Croft. John Boyega invests Finn with a light sense of humor that plays well off of the others.


As far as the villains Kylo (Adam Driver) Ren and General (Domhnall Gleeson) Hux go, they get the slightly more challenging part of trying to jockey for favor from the CGI Supreme (Andy Serkis) Leader (Captain EO anybody?) There's little denying that Serkis is the King of Motion Capture, but I'm not sure if he's solely the reason I kept wondering why Gollum was running the First Order.



The three major returning cast members look great and are used to good effect throughout the film. Although the storyline is definitely centered around the new cast, the legacy cast serves to ground the film in Star Wars history and lends it a depth it would certainly not have had without them.


While the plot is action-filled and stuffed with enough references and winks to the original films to satisfy any long-time fan, I found the first half to be stronger overall. The introduction of the new characters and their escape from the First Order feels both exciting and fresh. The second half, in which a lot of conflicts resolve in somewhat predictable ways, seems a little familiar. The fact that the story is also clearly meant to continue from film to film gives it something of a serialized air.


At the end of the day, however, none of that really matters: This is Star Wars...or as close to it as we've come since 1983. It looks great and it feels authentic. If you weren't a fan before, you'd be hard-pressed not to be a fan by the time you leave.


"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is presented by Lucasfilm and directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated PG-13, it stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max Von Sydow.

"Aren't you Han Solo?" "I used to be."

Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are producing with Tommy Harper
and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The screenplay is by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” releases in U.S. theaters on December 18, 2015.

December 1, 2015

"Zootopia" Press Day, Part 1



Earlier this year, Walt Disney Animation Studios gave us a sneak peek at some of the work they've been doing on their 55th animated feature, "Zootopia."

[All photos and video provided by Disney]

"Zootopia" tells the story of Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin) Hopps--a bunny from out-of-town, whose dream is to come to the big city of Zootopia and become the first bunny on the police force. Unfortunately, this proves more difficult than she anticipated, when the larger, more predatory animals on the force relegate her to the position of meter maid.


Still determined to do the best job she can, Hopps pursues her job with enthusiasm until she runs afowl of Nick (Jason Bateman) Wilde: A con artist fox with more angles than a dodecahedron.


When Judy's big (and only) chance to become a real police officer ends up depending on getting Nick's cooperation to solve a dangerous case, Judy's determination and Nick's wits will be tested to the utmost.


On the way to untangling Judy's case, the two unwilling allies also abut ideologies--Nick's fatalistic view that each animal's position in the natural order of things is immutable, and Judy's optimistic belief that in Zootopia, no matter what you are, you can be anything.


In the next installment, we'll look at the Walt Disney Animation Studios Tujunga Campus, where filmmakers Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush, Clark Spencer, and many other talented animators shared insight into the detailed research and development they did for "Zootopia."

November 25, 2015

Review: "The Good Dinosaur"



"The Good Dinosaur," Pixar's latest cinematic offering, tells the tale of a young agrarian dinosaur on a journey to face his fears--both real and imagined. While being helped and hindered in his quest by a variety of creatures, Arlo's strongest influence comes from his relationship with "Spot," a young feral human.


Technically, the picture is as proficient as Pixar animation always is: The backgrounds of the American Northwest are gorgeous and border on photorealism. Water--whether portrayed as a flash flood, a glassy lake, or a rough river--is rendered particularly well.


The voice casting is on par, with standouts being Jeffrey Wright as Arlo's fond but frustrated Poppa whose misguided attempts to help Arlo overcome his fear start off his journey, and Sam Elliot's archetypal cowboy-dinosaur Butch who becomes a surrogate father and gives Arlo the insight to end it.

The movie tends to be a study in contradiction--the realistic backgrounds vs. the cartoony Arlo, and the placid life of an herbivore's farm vs. the rough violence of the carnivore cowboys. Even Spot follows scenes of slapstick dog behavior with ones of clearly human sentiment and understanding.


While there are a lot of very effective scenes in the film, there is a curious disjointed quality to it as well. Arlo spends a great deal of the movie as a fairly typical juvenile lead, but occasionally has some great reaction shots as experiences like trying to translate cowboy slang or watching Spot rip the head off a bug with his teeth clearly overload his sensibilities. The best segments are extremely original and show the potential Peter Sohn has as director--the Pet Collector is hilarious, and a "Harold and Kumar"-esque sequence fairly daring for Disney.

The more traditional parts of the story-line however, tend to feel a little too familiar to some of the classic Disney/Pixar filmography, and suffer from comparison. At this point in the game, if you're going to do a father-son story about fear and loss and identity, it needs to stand up to hits such as "The Lion King" and "Finding Nemo." If you're doing a boy and his dog story, it has to battle for recognition against "Old Yeller," and so on. "The Good Dinosaur" doesn't quite meet those standards.


The story also seems to drift a little from the original stated concept, which was a look at an Earth where dinosaurs became the dominant life form and evolved a civilization. While the beginning scenes show an ingenious look at how the dinosaurs adapt farming techniques to their biological constraints, later on in the film there are too many instances of dinosaurs frantically trying to grasp something with their obviously non-prehensile feet. Despite the fact that they are the product of millions of years of evolution, it still feels as though they're reacting to their environment in stunted human ways.


Ultimately, for all it's flaws, "The Good Dinosaur" is a beautiful film with some nice moments and an uneven story. When it works, it really works, showing that it might be Peter Sohn's first film, but it will undoubtedly not be his last.


Showing with "The Good Dinosaur," is the short "Sanjay's Super Team," which I wrote a little about here, when I saw it playing with "Aladdin," at the El Capitan Theatre. It is a fabulous short that I enjoy more each time I see it--probably the best since "Paperman."


Based on Director Sanjay Patel's own experiences as a first-generation Indian-American, it is not only wildly entertaining, but incredibly insightful into the conflict children of recent immigrants have, reconciling American pop culture with their traditional ethnic heritage. Well worth the price of admission alone.

"The Good Dinosaur" is presented by Disney•Pixar. Rated PG, it stars Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Steve Zahn, AJ Buckley, Anna Paquin, and Sam Elliott.

Directed by Peter Sohn and produced by Denise Ream. Screenplay by Meg Lefauve, Original concept and development by Bob Peterson. Executive Produced by John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Andrew Stanton.

The film enters general release on November 25, 2015.

November 23, 2015

"The Good Dinosaur" and "Sanjay's Super Team" Press Day



Coming out this week is Pixar's latest film, "The Good Dinosaur." Helmed by Peter Sohn, it follows Arlo the dinosaur as he tries to navigate his way past his fears in order to make his mark on the world.

[All photos and video courtesy of Disney/Pixar.]

At a recent press day, some of the cast and creatives sat for roundtable discussions about the movie and their thoughts on it.


First up was Jeffrey (Poppa) Wright, and Raymond (Arlo) Ochoa.



Jeffrey Wright: [On what the movie says about fatherhood.] "...That's the core issue/challenge for Papa, for my character. And so, what I tried to draw on in order to understand the emotions and the dynamics of...this relationship, was to draw on my relationship with my son and my daughter. And it's a lesson I think that, we all, if we're trying to be responsible parents, come up against in our work with our kids. It's really the central question of how--what level of encouragement or what level of...when pushing your kids does more damage than good. And how do you strike that balance between a nurturing posture and one that's a bit too overbearing? All parents go through that. And so that's what is so wonderful about this movie, because you are experiencing this movie through the relationships you have through either your parents or your children. So we, as audience members, therefore bring a lot to the table as we're watching this. I think it's a fantastic story to take in--for parents to take in with their kids, or for kids to take in with their parents.

"...And on Thanksgiving, too, I mean, come on. What else you gonna do, right?"


Raymond Ochoa: [On what he liked best about the movie.] "Well, on a movie side, where it's like, 'what is your favorite scene?' That was really when my Papa takes me out to the field and he shows me when you move your tail these fireflies come out...and I like that scene so much because I felt it was a bonding moment between me and my dad, and the reason why is because later on, I do the exact same thing to Spot. I show him the fireflies. And I felt like I connected with him in a bonding moment.

"...You know at the beginning of the movie, I hated Spot. I did not like him. So, to know the change in the level between you not liking him and bonding with him, like he's my pet, that's what I found so cool about it."

Following them was AJ (Nash) Buckley, Anna (Ramsey) Paquin, and Sam (Butch) Elliot.




Anna Paquin: [On getting called to be a Pixar character.] "Well, I'd already said yes before they actually told me what I was about...and, I want to say that they seemed ever so slightly nervous that I might be offended that they wanted me to be this like, big, bad-ass T-Rex, that I was...I was so bracing myself to be like, some little thing like this, that's really wimpy, 'cause I'm a girl. And I'm like, 'That's fantastic!' And they're like, 'really?' And I'm like, 'yeah, that's awesome! I get to be, you know, one of the dudes.'

"Except a girl! Even cooler!"


AJ Buckley: [On developing his character.] "I asked (Pete Sohn) when we sat down, 'why did this happen?' He said, 'I saw your character on Justified, and I loved the sound of your voice.' And these guys were already cast, and they took scenes from Justified, and examined it, and mixed it with them, and it fit, and I was like, 'okay.' He said, 'I just want you to do Danny Crow,' and Danny Crow on Justified was this horrible, like, sociopath...And I'm like, 'Huh?' So...We were trying to find the voice and I was trying to figure out like, how to be a dinosaur...and so, my character on the show chewed--on Justified, chewed. So, I needed chew. And they only had Jolly Ranchers there. So I picked up a Jolly Rancher, and put the Jolly my lip there, and Nash came out."


Sam Elliot: [On being part of the Pixar legacy.] "Well, I think it's huge. For obvious reasons. It's huge for me, personally, because the 25th of November, if my mother were still living--she passed away three years ago--would've been her 100th birthday. So that's like, a milestone for me. But, I mean, anytime you get to be involved with a company like Pixar, it doesn't matter what day it is, or date it is, or anything else. I mean, this is a gift. I just look at this as a gift, and a grand opportunity, over the long haul...and the great reward is gonna be on Tuesday. I'm going to be seeing it with an audience, see it with my family, and I know my mom's up there, thinking, 'that's my boy.' Pretty cool."

The next session was with Director Peter Sohn and Producer Denise Ream.


Peter Sohn: [On being the Pet Collector.] "Every character that Arlo meets was all in terms of support of Arlo's journey. In terms of the world, of the frontier, that he was kind of this...transient character that's been living out in the woods too long. But it was almost meant to represent...the end-of-the-line version of Arlo. Like, if he was stuck out in the woods, would he be afraid of everything...and so terrified that he would come up with these protection things that would project him from there. Like, would Arlo fall into this world. 'You have to keep him, so that he can protect you.' And never grow up, essentially."


Finally, from the fantastic short "Sanjay's Super Team," we had Director Sanjay Patel and Producer Nicole Grindle.


Nicole Grindle: [On conceiving the short.] " So, Sanjay has written a number of books. He's been at Pixar for 20 years, doing traditional Pixar animation, art, but over the years, he developed an interest in pursuing South Asian art and learning more about his culture, and that led to him writing these books, and that led to there being several shows of his work at the Asian Art Museum.

"And eventually some folks at Pixar sort of figured he was doing all of this cool stuff. And they said, 'oh. Let's bring your artwork in-house. Let's do a show at Pixar.' We do that every now and then. And when we did that, John Lassiter saw this show, this beautiful artwork, and said, 'Sanjay, you have to make a short film.' That's not usually how short films are chosen at Pixar. People don't usually get invited. So, Sanjay was invited to do this and he said, 'no,' at first. He didn't want to do it, it wasn't what he had set out to do. And he was eventually persuaded to do it."

Sanjay Patel: [On the emptiness of the portrayed home environment.] "This is an immigrant that left all of that ethno-stuff back in the home country, and they got nothing here in some part of Southern California...that choice was really, really important to me and the artists that we were explaining this to, they got it instantly. Especially the immigrants. They were like, 'oh, I had apartment like that, we got it.' And, you know, story-wise, there's other reasons why we did's incredibly important that that room have--it's kind of like this room. There is...nothing in here. And it really creates a vacuum. So, imagine if there's a big-screen TV in here, playing awesome cartoons. Of course this kid's gonna escape into that world, because his home is just this beige-on-beige box, without detail, without color, without any kind of interest. We save all of that for when he wakes up in his daydream--that's the payoff. And that's also the truth of most immigrants. The truth of my parents' experience as well."


Sanjay Patel: [On the importance of representation.] "When you don't see any reflection of you, or your community, or your parents on TV, or in pop culture, other than a show, you just kind of figure out a way to exclude yourself. You figure out a way to...not be included, or you're suddenly told that you're...not important. You don't matter.

"This is the number one reason I wanted to make this short. This is the number one reason, that I have nieces and nephews, and...I make all this great stuff for Pixar, but they were never going to get stuff that had any reflection from--that looked like their families, and so the second I had this opportunity, that was the purpose for me."

November 19, 2015

Star Wars: Season of the Force



We continue our look at Disneyland's new Star Wars celebration in Tomorrowland, with some of the new attraction additions and overlays.

[As always, any unattributed photos or videos are courtesy of Disney.]


Over in the Tomorrowland (née Magic Eye) Theater, "Star Wars: Path of the Jedi" has taken over Captain EO's erstwhile home to showcase a visual primer of the Star Wars filmography. Loosely following the history of Luke Skywalker, it serves as an introduction or reminder of iconic images and concepts to prepare viewers for the upcoming film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
has received an update in the form of a new destination--the planet Jakku, from "The Force Awakens." Along with the new environs, passengers will get a glimpse at some new characters from the film (no spoilers, though,) and some new additional easter eggs hidden within the traditional locations. All speeders will visit Jakku, with the second destination randomized.

The biggest change up is in Space Mountain's transformation into Hyperspace Mountain. In this new adventure, a star destroyer off Jakku is the catalyst for a colossal firefight between Rebel X-wing Starfighters and Imperial TIE fighters.

Within the queue, the display screens have been updated to reflect your mission objectives.



I personally thought this was a very fun reimagineering of this attraction. The new soundtrack, inspired by the classical John Williams score and recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, really elevates the experience--much as it does with the movies themselves.

“Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, farm boy.”

There's even more to come, as on December 8th, Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple will open up and replace the popular Jedi Training Academy. In this interactive experience, younglings will find out whether they can go the distance as a Jedi at a secret and ancient Jedi temple. These trials will require candidates to face not only their own spirit, but formidable villains such as Darth Vader and the Seventh Sister Inquisitor from "Star Wars Rebels."


So quite a bit for the Star Wars fan to discover at "Season of the Force." Anyone looking to ramp up their excitement for "The Force Awakens" should check it out while it's here, because although there is no announced ending date, a season traditionally does not remain with you always, unlike The Force.


November 17, 2015

Season of the Force: Star Wars Launch Bay


This week, Disneyland debuted a brand-new celebration of all things Star Wars--Season of the Force.

[Unless otherwise attributed, all photos and videos courtesy of Disney.]


Taking place in Tomorrowland, a Star Wars retheming has been given to several of the locations there, including the Carousel Theater...


The Magic Eye Theater...


And Space Mountain.


In addition, Star Tours--The Adventures Continue has received a new adventure on the planet Jakku with some debuting characters from the upcoming film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


In today's installment, we'll look at the Launch Bay, which replaces Innoventions in the bottom floor of the now-stationary Carousel Theater, and which is the central hub of all the Star Wars activities.


Right inside the entrance is the Launch Bay Theater, which is currently playing a great video featuring insight from a wide assortment of luminaries involved with Star Wars, such as J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Gareth Edwards. Also located around the lower level are themed galleries displaying replicas of props, costumes, and models from all reaches of the Star Wars universe.


Over in the Light and Dark Side galleries, guest can peruse replicas of helmets and lightsabers utilized by famous heroes and villains of the Jedi and Sith.



In the Preview Gallery, exhibits from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" are on display, again with both Light and Dark sides represented.






There is also a Starship Gallery, dedicated to iconic starships and their famed captains.



Over in the Cantina, your typical wretched hive of scum and villainy, photo-ops abound with establishment-provided sabacc and holochess tables. Who knows which Star Wars characters may drop by to interact as well? Hopefully they'll take to you better than Dr. Evazan took to Luke.


Throughout the Launch Bay, you'll note the pervasive use of Aurebesh--the writing system used to transcribe Basic, the most common language in Star Wars. (Another fun detail is revealed on a closer look at the area's Cast Members' name badges, and specifically at their city...or planet...of origin.)


The Star Wars Game Center has systems set up for players to experience the latest Star Wars video games. Currently they are demoing the new Star Wars playsets from Disney Infinity 3.0, with some content and game codes available exclusively at this location.


The heart of the Launch Bay experience is the live-action character interactions all around the building. First Order stormtroopers will be patrolling the outside of the area, while guests within may find themselves face to face with Boba Fett, Chewbacca, or the Dark Lord of the Sith himself.

I have a bad feeling about this...

For those who want to take home mementos of their time in Launch Bay, merchandise of all price points is available at the Launch Bay Cargo.


For the action figure collectors, vintage Star Wars actions figures were scanned and reproduced in 3-D for a new, less civilized age.


Whether your tastes run towards a souvenir shirt...


...Or something a bit more ostentatious, Disney has you covered.


But of course, the Launch Bay is only a part of what Disneyland has in store for you in Seasons of the Force. More to come!

November 14, 2015

Holidaytime Returns to the Disneyland Resort


Starting November 13, 2015 and going on until January 6, 2016, the holidays have arrived at Disneyland!

[Unattributed photos/video courtesy of Disney.]


As is tradition, Disneyland kicked off its season with the ceremonial lighting of "it's a small world." This year's honored guest was U.S. Marine Sgt. Juan Valdez, a recipient of the Purple Heart, with his wife and service dog.


Joining Valdez was Disneyland Ambassador Allie Kawamoto, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto.

Fun facts: the holiday facade of "it's a small world" includes more than 60,000 LED lights, with almost 30,000 miniature LED lights in the surrounding landscaping. The European scene in "it's a small world" Holiday is scented with pine near the 20ft Christmas tree.


Of course, that's not all nearly all the holiday offerings at the Disneyland Resort--coming back for its 21st season is "A Christmas Fantasy Parade."






More recent to the lineup is the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay complete with new gingerbread house...


...And the return of "Jingle Cruise:" The Skippers' attempts to make a Merry Christmas for themselves, deep in the Jungle.


Missing from last year is the "Jingle Jangle Jamboree" in Big Thunder Ranch, due to that area's incipient closure, and " Holiday Magic" fireworks, replaced by the 60th Anniversary "Disneyland Forever" pyrotechnics and projections.

Over at Disney California Adventure, "World of Color" will be running two different versions each night--the first show will be "World of Color--Winter Dreams," and the second show will be "World of Color--Celebrate!"

Back this year is the high-energy favorite "Disney ¡Viva Navidad!"




"Olaf's Snow Fest" has also returned, with appropriate seasonal decor, befitting the snowy land of Arendelle.


If sledding and snow fun isn't energetic enough for you and yours, Olaf has more in store for you over in the Downtown Disney Winter Village, where you can skate on "Olaf's Frozen Ice Rink." For those who'd rather just get in their Christmas wish lists, Santa also has multiple locations (he moves fast) over in Critter Country in Disneyland, and in Elias & Co over in Disney California Adventure.


But wait! We haven't even gotten to the brand new stuff! In our next installment, we'll talk about Star Wars Season of the Force which has given a whole new emphasis to Tomorrowland.

Happy Holidays!

October 19, 2015

Disney Infinity 3.0: Toy Box Expansion Games



So outside of the playsets, of which I spoke here, the other half of the Disney Infinity experience (one-third, I guess, if you count collecting the figurines) is the Toy Box mode. Here, players can construct their own environments using virtually any element of the Disney pantheon.


New features that streamline the toy box interface are present in 3.0, such as "Flynn's Arcade," which facilitates the match up of players looking for competitive Toy Box games, and the "El Capitan" theater, which is an all-media access point for players wanting to up/download Toy Boxes, or watch the latest episode of Toy Box TV.


"Sidekicks," mini characters that you can now recruit to help out your main character in combat, etc., can be upgraded by feeding them various items you either find throughout your adventures, or grow in the Sidekick Portal from the Toy Box Hub.


When I first tried out Disney Infinity 1.0, I was frankly underwhelmed. It's a concept best suited to people with a deep interest in world-building, and as someone with pretty limited experience with Legos and Tinker Toys (yes, I'm old,) I had some trepidation to begin with, anyway. When I actually tried to build something, it was more or less a disaster, where I felt like I was going through tutorial after tutorial, with detailed instructions that I couldn't read on my low-definition TV. Couple this with the lack of internet connectivity that the Wii platform had, and it wasn't something I found particularly compelling.


In contrast, the 3.0 Toy Box is like night and day. The process of building was considerably streamlined in 2.0 with a variety of pre-made templates and "builders" who can handle the mechanics of creating a toy box for those of us creatively-impaired, while the option to do it manually is still present for the engineering types. 3.0 continues in that bent, introducing new tools to create paths, play music, and dispense toys.


While I might still not have a burning desire to make my own Magic Kingdom, the easy access to community-made Toy Boxes gives the game enormous replayability. There are some varying degrees of quality, as you'd expect from community-derived content, but some of them are incredibly detailed and are as entertaining as many Facebook/app games I've seen.


Brand-new to this edition are the Toy Box Expansion Games. These are stand-alone games that can be played with any of the Toy Box assets, up to four players online, two players in local co-op, or one person and your trusty sidekick.


The Toy Box Speedway is a racing game with three different game modes (Time Trial, Race, and Combat) and nine different themed tracks ranging from Sugar Rush to Halloween Town, to Gravity Falls, or Tatooine.


Like most kart-racing games, I think this one is probably most entertaining when played with a bunch of people competing, but even just running trials on your own, the tracks are creatively designed with impressive variability.


Of the two, however, I actually think Toy Box Takeover is the more exciting--Syndrome, from "The Incredibles," steals the Power of Creation and builds a number of different lands you have to battle through before accessing his Supervillain Lair to take it back. In the past, I've heard people wish that they could use any character in the playsets instead of just being limited to the characters from that particular franchise, and weren't interested in playing the non-professionally done toy box games. This is perfect then, because any and all characters can be utilized (and believe me, I died a LOT, so I used quite a few) throughout.


The interesting part is the strategy you need to evolve as the game progresses, with which character to use at which times--some are heavy-duty fighters, some are lithe jumpers, some have better ranged powers, etc. Unfortunately, since there's no way of knowing before you enter a given level what challenges you'll face, you have to be ready to switch out on the fly, or suffer the indignity of watching Darth Vader miss a jump into lava, and have only Minnie Mouse and Olaf left for the Boss Fight.


One thing I did notice, is that it was occasionally possible to find yourself trapped in an area with no perceivable exit. The game doesn't appear to have a way to save at a particular point, and switching to a different character just puts you back in the same spot, leaving you with the only recourse of starting the whole area over again by going back to the Hub--a bummer, if you were almost finished with it.


In general, however, I think the Toy Box Takeover is an immensely entertaining addition to Disney Infinity 3.0, and really fills a want for more adventures people can play with all the diverse characters available. Hopefully Disney Interactive will put out more expansion games like this in the future...although maybe not too soon, given that I played this one so long, I think I bruised my thumbs. Oh what? Look, you can't let someone like Syndrome keep that kind of power!


"Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Video Game and Base are required to play the Toy Box Expansion Games. Toy Box Takeover and Toy Box Speedway will be sold separately at the suggested retail price of $19.99 each."

October 16, 2015

Disney Infinity 3.0: The Force Is Strong With This One


This month, Disney Interactive released the anticipated "Disney Infinity 3.0"--the latest iteration of the popular hybrid toy/video game, along with two "Star Wars" playsets, "Twilight of the Republic," and "Rise Against the Empire."



I have previously looked at some of the specific changes made for this version both at E3 [] and SDCC [] but this is the first time I've gotten a chance to play through on a console at home since version 1.0.


On comparing the two versions, I can say that 3.0 is roughly a thousand times more entertaining than 1.0, with the caveat that I have 1.0 on the Wii, which did not have access to the Disney Infinity internet features, and 3.0 on the PS4...which is a little like using a Tesla and a VW bug to compare driving experiences.


Looking just at the two "Star Wars" playsets, there's an enormous jump in the quality of storytelling that goes on, with the games doing a surprisingly good job following the timelines of their individual trilogies. In general, a cinematic cutscene sets up where you are in the plot, after which your chosen character is free to wander about exploring and taking on missions. The missions are color-coded with some being integral to advancing the game and others intended to accumulate skills and experience.


When you start off in a given playset, there are only so many characters you can utilize in it...but as the game progresses, you can find "champion coins" which allow you to unlock a variety of different (but related) playable characters. Ultimately, finding all of them would allow you to play all the Star Wars characters in any of the Star Wars playsets.


This becomes important as the game progresses, because when your character "dies," unless you want to revert back to the last checkpoint, you need to switch them out with a different character while the dead one rests ("I'm getting better!") The problem I have, possibly because of the new and more challenging combat styles, or because I might not have mad combat skilz, is that I typically start dying during the big Boss fights--but once I die with the character I've been using awhile, I now have to switch it out with a new low-level character who then dies even faster. The end of the fight typically becomes a mad rush with me throwing every conceivable character I've unlocked at the antagonist hoping they get in a couple of good hits before he casually wipes them out and I go looking for another figure to put on the base. My best advice would be to either not be the flail at combat that I am, or make sure you have a decent assortment of figures to fall back on.


And after all, why wouldn't you get as many figures as you could? They are arguably the best part of the whole affair, with a distinctive art style and an impressive level of detail. Even if you don't have any intention of playing the game at all, it's hard to think any Disney fan wouldn't be tempted to start collecting their favorite characters. Each successive version of the game allows you to use the earlier version characters in the Toy Box, but is not compatible with earlier version playsets--so if you want to keep playing those, you'll have to hold onto your earlier versions and platforms.


Recently, Disney Infinity released images of some figures for their third "Star Wars" playset, "The Force Awakens:"





To develop your characters, there is a new Skill Tree interface that allows you to level up certain skills and abilities RPG-style. Each character has individual specializations according to their canonical fighting styles, and points can be allocated to develop melee attacks versus ranged or force powers. Some clearly read better than others, however--Leia's special skill seems to be "call other guys to come fight for her," which sounds a little weak.


Another aspect of the gameplay is various missions in space, where your character is directed to fight and evade enemy spacecraft.


As it turns out, I'm not that good at hitting other ships, or even dodging stationary objects, but I do have a specific talent for flying around in an inept, random manner that makes it difficult to be hit, and fortunately all three of those abilities turn out to be about the same value, so the Empire can still be defeated.


The playsets probably take around 3-4 hours to complete if you're reasonably proficient, or 5-10 hours if you're me. It could also be longer if you stopped to do all the optional missions or racing games, etc. Difficulty settings can be dialed up or down depending on your proficiency level.

Of course the playsets are only a part of the Disney Infinity experience--there is also the Toy Box mode which allows for free-range creative play and greatly broadens the scope of what you can do with your characters. I'll examine that and the brand new Toy Box Expansion Games next time.


"Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Video Game and Base are required to play the Toy Box Expansion Games. Toy Box Takeover and Toy Box Speedway will be sold separately at the suggested retail price of $19.99 each.

The Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Starter Pack, Disney•Pixar Inside Out and Star Wars™ Rise Against The Empire Play Sets are currently available in major North American retail stores for the PlayStation®4 and PlayStation®3 computer entertainment systems, Xbox One and Xbox 360 and the Wii U™ system from Nintendo. Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition is rated E10+ by the ESRB and developed by Avalanche Software in partnership with Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital, Studio Gobo and United Front Games. Additional Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Play Sets, Power Discs and figures will be available later this year.

All figures and Power Discs from the 1.0 and 2.0 editions of Disney Infinity will be compatible with Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition in the enhanced Toy Box 3.0."

October 14, 2015

Star Wars Rebels Season 2: The Return of Old Friends and New Enemies



Wednesday, October 14, starts the second season of "Star Wars Rebels"--the Disney XD series that bridges the time gap between Episodes III and IV in the Star Wars saga, and shows the gradual evolution of the Rebellion under the Empire's oppressive rule. []

This season shows an escalation of the conflict as the ragtag crew of the Ghost joins up with a larger group of rebels under the supervision of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" hero Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) and faces off against legendary adversaries such as Darth Vader (James Earl Jones.)

In the first two episodes, Ahsoka sends the Ghost on a mission to find some old friends and recruit them as allies. That those friends turn out to be Clones (Dee Bradley Baker) only complicates matters for Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.,) whose memories of Order 66 and his Jedi Master's death are still painfully fresh.


This season promises a deeper look into the backstories of our main characters: The fate of Ezra's (Taylor Gray) parents, Hera's (Vanessa Marshall) father, and Sabine's (Tiya Sircar) family will be explored, as well as Chopper's history. Keeping it in the family in real life, it was recently disclosed that one of the major villains for this season will be the Seventh Sister Inquisitor, voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar, wife to Freddie Prinze Jr.

In a recent press conference, Dave Filoni, Freddie Prinze Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Ashley Eckstein, and Dee Bradley Baker formed a panel that discussed many of the themes and developments for the upcoming season.

Having seen the first two episodes of the season, I can say that the show is off to an impressive start. Where the animation style was a little jarring last season, it has improved to a really cinematic level this time around. The art design is wonderful, with visual references to Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" in the Clone's mobile fortress.


This beginning of this season skillfully treads a line between keeping the action family-friendly, yet giving the storyline enough weight and importance to be appealing to adults. While the antagonists are formidable (you are never under the illusion, for example, that the Darth Vader here is not the same Darth Vader that canonically slaughtered a roomful of kids in Episode III before he even got going on the Dark Side,) the protagonists are resourceful and never fail to demonstrate how determination and the strength they derive from their families--biological or consciously formed--lead them to prevail.


"Star Wars Rebels" starts its new season Wednesday, October 14 (9:30 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD.

September 25, 2015

"Emperor's New Groove:" 15th Anniversary Celebration at the El Capitan


Recently, as part of Oh My Disney's annual Throwback Week at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, they celebrated the 15th Anniversary of the classic animated film "Emperor's New Groove."


Theatergoers were treated to a night of Kuzcotainment including a Mickey Ear headband decorating station, trivia contest, spinach puffs (non-poisoned,) and costume contest.



The heart of the evening was a hilarious panel with the film's creators, including Executive Producer Don Hahn, Director Mark Dindal, Producer Randy Fullmer, Screenwriter David Reynolds, Head of Story Steve Anderson, and Story Writer Chris Williams.


Some panel highlights:
--The Peruvian-influenced art direction was the only constant during the switch over from the originally planned/boarded "Kingdom of the Sun," to the existing "Emperor's New Groove."
--"We learned very quickly that the best way to make a movie is to use up most of the money and most of the time, and then get some really wacky people and put them in a room and a good movie comes out." --Randy Fullmer
--Steve Anderson had actually wanted to work on a different movie, called "Sweating Bullets," which ended up as "Home on the Range."
--"Sting had written a song or two for her (Eartha Kitt) in the first version, that was incredible, that we had to explain to Sting that we would no longer be using. And that was a bad moment, but we had a lot of bad moments." --Randy Fullmer
--"This is actually like group therapy, fifteen years later." --Don Hahn
--David Spade had grown a little tired by the time he was recording the second script. "We had embraced that we were incompetent, but it was new to him." --Randy Fullmer
--"I remember I boarded that scene where the angel and devil Kronk were talking to each other, doing the one-armed pushups and all that, and it went over and it seemed like 'this is actually going to be in the movie!...This movie can contain this!' But then I remember another day, I pitched a scene that involved live-action footage of the space shuttle...and I could tell by their faces that it was not going to be in the movie. So I figured out one of the boundaries." --Chris Williams
--They showed some clips from the documentary "The Sweatbox," which recorded the struggle the film went through, from initial development to its eventual metamorphosis. As far as I know, it has never been released in its entirety, although it does pop up online from time to time.
--Adam West recorded a deleted character for the film.
--"It was a terror ride." --Randy Fullmer
--"Physicians are standing by for Randy." --Don Hahn

September 23, 2015

"Aladdin" Back at the El Capitan



One of the classic jewels of the Disney Animation Renaissance Era, John Musker and Ron Clements' "Aladdin" returns to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for a limited engagement from September 17 to October 7, 2015.


As part of a special opening night presentation, the first 50 applicants that showed up for auditions at the El Capitan earlier that day were winnowed down to five who each got to sing parts of "A Whole New World" with Aladdin's singing voice Brad Kane, American Idol style. The audience then selected one lucky winner who then sang the whole thing with him over the animated sequence on stage.

As part of every showing, audiences will be treated to a song and dance by the Genie, as well.


Along with previews for "Zootopia" and "The Good Dinosaur," the new Pixar short "Sanjay's Super Team" is showing with "Aladdin." Giving an insightful (based on the director's own experiences) and non-pandering glimpse at the difficulties of reconciling different beliefs and traditions with American pop culture, it is a thoughtful and touching piece that I think is the best short Pixar has done in awhile.


As a film, Aladdin still holds up to repeat viewing. The art direction and character design is great, and the whole project is given added poignancy when you remember it was the last film Howard Ashman worked on before passing. Still and all, it's hard to think that it would still remain in our collective consciousness as vividly as it does, without the genius mix of Robin Williams and Eric Goldberg. Perhaps never before or since has a voice and caricature so seamlessly blended together to realize the potential of the animated character.


Not all frenetic standup (unlike some of his live action performances,) Williams does some impressive acting as well. On rewatching, it is the Genie's need for freedom that becomes the more compelling storyline, versus a young boy's struggle for self-validation.


Daily showtimes are 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are on sale now, and available
at the El Capitan Theatre (6838 Hollywood Blvd.), online at, or by
calling 1-800-DISNEY6. Tiny Tot Tuesday showings are at 10am each Tuesday, and a special breakfast with Genie can be reserved in advance--call for details.

September 9, 2015

D23 Expo 2015: "Frozen," Mouseketeers, and Expo's End


So when we last spoke, the Disney Interactive panel had just finished, and we had battled our way to receive our Expo exclusive power disc that smarter minds than mine sold on ebay for around $200 before we were even out of the room.

[Photos and video not otherwise attributed were provided by Disney.]


The next presentation I saw was "'An Animator's Gallery': Presented by Dave A. Bossert and Eric Goldberg." A film director and long-time Disney animator, Goldberg has done work on a number of animated classics such as "Aladdin," "Fantasia/2000," and most recently, the short "Get a Horse!"


As part of the decor for a projected "Sardi's"-esque restaurant for Shanghai Disneyland, Goldberg drew over 200 caricatures of Disney characters in a style inspired by Al Hirschfeld. The collection of images were on display at the Roy E. Disney Animation building in Burbank, and are now viewable in his new book, "An Animator's Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters."

The book was available for purchase at Expo, in advance of general release, and Goldberg did several signings of both the book and some special images he drew particularly for Expo, including one of his characters, Aladdin's Genie, to celebrate the late Robin Williams.


Next up was one of the big concerts for the weekend, "Frozen FANdemonium: A Musical Celebration!"


Hosted by Chris Montan, President of Walt Disney Music, the hit songwriting team/couple Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez took us through their journey in creating the music and songs from the blockbuster "Frozen."


Not only singing the familiar songs from the movie, they also performed some songs that did not make the cut such as "Take Off All Your Clothes and Rub Yourself With Snow," and "Someone Else's Shoes" (featuring such masterful lyrics as "his feet smell like reindeer poop/your feet smell like tomato soup.")

[Fun Fact: All the male trolls are sung by cast members of "Book of Mormon," and all the female ones are sung by cast members of "Kinky Boots."]

Then the original cast of "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" assembled, with Agatha Lee Monn and Katie Lopez joined by Kristen Bell!


After Bell sang a couple of numbers, including the cut song "More Than Just the Spare," our second surprise guest, Josh Gad, took the stage for "In Summer."


At this point, Montan noted that there was one other song to the score, and as they all feigned pondering what it was, Lopez played a few bars of "Frozen Heart," which Anderson-Lopez termed "everyone's favorite song about ice cutting."


A rousing singalong to "Let It Go" ensued, as the panel's entire cast was joined onstage by "Frozen" filmmakers Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, Executive Producer Peter Del Vecho, and John Lasseter.


As all good Disney finales do, it ended with a burst of confetti and thunderous applause from the audience, which also included "Once Upon A Time" stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, and Lana Parilla.

Video by MouseInfo.

Finally, we come to my very last presentation for D23 Expo 2015: "Celebrating Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club - 60 Magical yEARS."


Author Lorraine Santoli moderated a panel of some of the original Mousketeers: Sherry Alberoni, Sharon Baird, Bobby Burgess, Tommy Cole, Darlene Gillespie, Cubby O'Brien, and Doreen Tracey. Together they reminisced about the process of filming the classic series, and the people involved with it.


Prior to the start, I think I was unsure whether I was really going to connect with the presentation, given that (as old as I am,) I wasn't around to see the original series when it first aired. Ultimately, however, it was utterly charming. All the cast members were so full of enthusiasm for being together and going over old times, and so ready to perform at the drop of a hat, as they must have been back in the day, and had such fond memories of their time on the show, that it was impossible not to see how they mesmerized people with their good-hearted joie de vivre on the 1955 show.


Each of them in turn got up and did a number with their old selves on screen which was simply swell. I encourage everyone to watch the full video of the panel because it's amazing that 60 years later they can match the energy, if not always the movements, of their original performance.



Afterwards, they spoke a bit on some of the various serials that were introduced on the show; they eventually got to the popular "Spin and Marty," at which time Tim Considine and David Stollery took the stage to share their memories.


As part of a tribute to some of the old cast no longer with us, Tommy Cole sang Jimmy Dodd's song "Annette."


After the traditional ending of the Mickey Mouse Club, Director of the Walt Disney Archives Becky Cline surprised all the original Mouseketeers with a special presentation by Leonard Maltin. Original "Mousecars" that Walt had made up for special intra-company awards and never given away had been found and were presented to each person on the panel.


In return, the Mouseketeers surprised Leonard Maltin for all his work in keeping alive the memory of The Mickey Mouse Club by making him an Honorary Mouseketeer.


In a time where every child star seems to have about three good years before they burn out in some horrific and publicly reprehensible fashion, it is such a relief to feel that this group was exactly as they seemed on camera or off--happy kids working hard and having a blast in an environment that had been tailored to keep them that way, who continue to have nothing but fond memories of one of the greatest periods of their lives.

"Till we're old and grey, we won't forget the day of the Mouseketeer Matinée!"

Video by Laughing Place

Thoughts on the Expo:
The Good:
--I felt like this year's Expo had more programming and more interesting booths than the last one. Although none of the individual booths matched the breadth and scope of the 2013 Imagineering/Parks and Resorts booth, the addition of Pixar to the Studios/Animation area really punched them up as far as talks/demos/signings.
--The Archives Exhibit benefited greatly by being on the floor this year, instead of relegated to upstairs in one of the ballrooms. Not only did it make it stand out a lot more, but the openness of it made it possible for people to get at least a look at the contents if they weren't able to stand the hours-long line that it typically had.
--The Charter Lounge which, in the past, has been pretty anemic, had much improved offerings this year, including complementary coffee and popcorn. It may not seem like much, but when you haven't had time to break for food all day, free popcorn that you don't have to line up for can make all the mood difference in the world.
--The mobile app was terrific. If you go to a bunch of conventions, you've noticed a growing trend towards using mobile apps for schedules and maps, etc. versus having to cart around a large, heavy booklet that is often outdated by the time the convention actually takes place. Previously, most of the apps were pretty unhelpful, with a non-intuitive interface, but this year everyone seems to have finally figured them out--both SDCC and Expo's apps were incredibly effective, to the point that I never needed a physical schedule for either one at all. Listings were updated when StagePasses were out for a given panel, and alerts were sounded when something timely was happening, like trading card releases. It was a huge asset.
--The cosplay was really impressive this time around. Out of all the conventions I've attended this year, the Expo cosplay in general looked way more detailed and elaborate than any of the others.


The Bad:
--Lines still are and probably always will be the bane of convention-going. While I think everyone realizes and accepts that there will be some line-waiting, I dislike the growing movement towards making it impossible to see popular panels if you're not either willing to pony up a huge amount of dough, or wait out on the sidewalks with the roaches and the hobos the whole night before.
--In the Blair Witch-esque basement housing the big Hall D23 lines, there were a lot of monitors showing promotional videos for people waiting down there for hours. Why couldn't they simulcast the Hall panels in there, for the people in overflow who couldn't make it in?
--Similarly, everyone also understands that there is so much programming no one person can see it all...but it was disappointing that so much of the major content was programmed against each other (likely to make people choose and cut down on lines.) It often seemed as though there would be around three or four different panels that sounded fantastic at the same time, and then a couple of hours where there was relatively little happening--in particular, Friday and Saturday seemed overflowing with presentations, and in comparison, Sunday seemed kind of lean.
--Time also feels particularly crunched since Expo cut back from four days to three days. Adding back that fourth day would really help on spacing out talks so people could see more of them. Alternately, Disneyana structures their convention so that talks happen on the first few days, and then the last day is solely for the sales floor. If they can't extend the panel schedule to a fourth day, maybe they could run an extra day just for the floor, so that people could have more time to see the offerings down there without worrying about leaving to go stand in lines elsewhere.
--There's still a lot of miscommunication on things like where and when lines are supposed to form, passes are to be given out, etc. On the first day, it's fairly understandable, but after that there really should be a structure of how volunteers and convention workers can find out the answers to questions in place.
--Lack of evening content. The first Expo, they ran movies with filmmaker intros way into the night. The second one, they had the big Richard Sherman/Alan Menken concert in the evening. This year there really wasn't anything past about 7pm. That, and the lack of a big finale event, gave it a little bit of an unfinished feeling which might have been ameliorated by putting either the "FANdemonium" or "The Originals" in the Saturday night slot.


The Ugly:
--Shopping was probably the number one least pleasant experience I had at Expo. The lines were amazingly long--often hours long--and I personally did not find the StorePass useful at all. In the first place, you had to be in line for StorePass right around 9am, because the line was usually cut before 9:30am (making it virtually unobtainable for general admission ticket holders, who couldn't enter until 10am.) The one time I did get in line around 9am, we were marched over to the pass desk and then...nothing. I finally asked when they were going to hand out the passes, and they said they weren't going to start until 10am, which meant that you were looking at an hour's wait for the pass on top of whatever wait you were going to find when you returned.
--[Side Note: This was the first Expo I attended with a Media pass, and while there's no denying it allowed me to see more than I would have seen without it, the shopping restrictions were pretty impressive. We were initially told we (holders of "non-revenue passes") could not enter the stores during convention hours, but could come in for an hour after the floor closed. When I returned to Mickey's of Glendale, they said they had changed their minds and were only letting cast members purchase things then, but I could come back during the next day. When I came back the next day, they said again, that we could only enter that evening. When I pointed out that I had and was denied, they replied that they had seen media inside the store. When I said that could very well be true, but it wasn't me, they shrugged and started to leave. When I asked if there was someone I could ask who might know definitively, they said "no. Sorry, we're busy."
To their credit, they were always very polite, and a different store worker did let me in at the very end of the Expo, but they clearly neither needed nor were particularly concerned about getting your money if you did not have a paid ticket.]
--Trading Cards. I didn't really participate in this, but I understand a lot of people enjoyed collecting them, which is great. On occasion, however, they would issue alerts through the app that a special card was being handed out at a certain time, and then you saw a mob scene like people were trying to get on the last copter out of 'Nam. I guess it's to their credit that they developed something that people embraced with such enthusiasm, but wow, they maybe need to put some more people out there regulating it because it was just luck it didn't all end in bloodshed.
--Size of Archive Stage. While I thought they did a much better job this year getting larger capacity rooms for the popular panels, the Archive Stage, in my eyes, was way too small. Expo is a celebration of the Disney Company in all its myriad facets, and one of the most important is its history. To relegate some of the fantastic presentations they had to such a tiny area is to really limit their exposure in a completely unnecessary manner. I saw almost none of them, partially because it didn't seem worth the time investment to go all the way over there for such a small chance of getting in. For a club with a fanbase so interested in every aspect of Walt Disney and his company, D23 probably should be able to have faith that they can execute this level of historical programming and have a good sized crowd show up.


All in all, however, it was a grand Expo--probably the best since the first one. Although some might find the emphasis on Disney's recent acquisitions Star Wars and Marvel a dilution of the Disney content, I think there's no denying the increase in energy and star power the two properties bring to occasions like this. They haven't formally announced the next one, which I find a little worrisome, given that they usually say something about it at the end of the current one, but here's hoping we all reconvene in two years time, to continue celebrating the fantastical company Walt built, along with all its wondrous creations.

"Fun and wonder are the important elements, in addition to quality in production and performance, which are most responsible for the success of Disney productions.” -Walt Disney


September 5, 2015

D23 Expo 2015: Disney Store and Disney Interactive



Last day of the Expo! One more turn around the floor before the crowds hit.

[All photos and video, unless otherwise attributed, are courtesy of Disney.]

Over in the Disney Consumer Products Pavilion, new merchandise, some of which I've only seen at the Disney Stores in Japan, was displayed with a heavy Tsum Tsum emphasis.

The Pixar section of the Walt Disney Studios booth had an exhibit of concept art and sculpts from their latest film "Inside Out."

Also in the WDS booth was a small area set up for animators to give talks and demos throughout the day. It was a huge disappointment that I never was able to get over there while they were going on, because their schedule sounded fantastic.

Photo ops abounded, from the spacepod in "Guardians of the Galaxy"

DSC04238.JPG Baymax, in San Fransokyo.

At this point, I had wanted to try to get into the Disney Store booth, because I have a minor Tsum Tsum problem (I can stop anytime I want! You don't know me! You're not my real Mom!) Bearing in mind that this was the only booth I wasn't able to ever get into last Expo, I headed over just as the floor opened to Gold/Silver members. What I found was this line--which didn't look that bad.

...Except those were actually the people with the Sorcerer's package, some of whom had been waiting something like an hour or so for the store to open. On the other side of the walkway, there was a corral probably 2-3x larger, that had another hour or two worth of line already in it, waiting to go in after the Sorcerers.

So it didn't happen. I did eventually get to walk in and look around, but I had to promise not to buy anything.

The tree in the center was designed to show the dualism of the limited edition Hero/Villain Disney Fairytale Designer doll pairs, with Happily Ever After on top, and Happily Evil on the bottom.

There were Star Wars action figures, of which the C3P0 and R2D2 were exclusive to Expo shoppers.

At least the Peter Pan and Captain Hook dolls looked like they were fighting. The girls all just looked like they were pretty much snuggling up to their villains, which was particularly disturbing for Elsa and Hans.

So close, and yet so far. The cast member I spoke with thought that the goat was Expo exclusive.

At this point, by the time I stopped sobbing, it was time to go up and try to see some panels. By and large, the morning panels were almost always partially empty, likely due to the fact that a lot of people were still outside waiting to get let in.

There were actually a ton of panels I wanted to see at the same time, and yet I also was going to have to leave early to get checked in to the Hall D23 panel right after, so I basically ran along the second floor, popping in and out of each panel that was going on in the time I had.


Disney Artist and Historian Stacia Martin did her usual charming job with "Sounds Delightful: Disneyland Edition," in which she played seldom heard vinyl recordings associated with Disneyland to celebrate its 60th anniversary.


Down the hallway, "Disney Kingdoms" was doing an expanded version of their panel from SDCC (which I wrote about here) with writer Jim Zub, Josh Shipley and Thomas Morris from Disney, and Bill Rosemann and David Gabriel from Marvel.


Next up was "It's Game Time: Disney Interactive Takes the Stage."


Jimmy Pitaro, Co-Chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media and President of Disney Interactive, started off the presentation with "Kingdom Hearts III."


Square Enix's Shinji Hashimoto (Kingdom Hearts Executive Producer) took the stage to make some special announcements, the first of which was that "Kingdom Hearts III" will have a world based on "Big Hero 6."

Video by Kingdom Hearts

Projected plotline involves the Powers of Darkness taking control of the original Baymax left in the portal.


The presentation ended, with the appearance onstage of Baymax!


Mobile gaming was up next, with the announcement of a new game, "Disney Magic Kingdoms."


Disney Interactive's Scott Humphries and Executive Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering Tom Morris introduced the game, which will allow players to create their own version of Disneyland, complete with castle and iconic attractions, while overcoming evil plots carried out by Disney's classic villains.

Video by theroarbots.

The "Playmation" system was presented by Afsoun Yazdian, director of product management for Playmation.


Billed as "physical play for a digital generation," the system includes wearable gear that can interact with a toy base, other player's gear, and a mobile app to send you on missions with the Avengers as Iron Man or the Hulk.

Video by Playmation

Bandai's Denny Chiu showed off "Star Wars Battle Pod," a new arcade game with a 180 degree dome screen that puts you into some of the most iconic battles of the Star Wars films.


[I was actually able to play this at the Disney Interactive booth--it was an impressive action simulator, and the wrap around experience looked and sounded great. I'm pretty sure I failed the mission however, so the Force may actually be not that strong with me.]

Video by Bandai

On to "Star Wars: Battlefront" with EA Star Wars GM Justin McCully.


[I previously blogged about this game here]

Special limited edition PS4 bundles inspired by Darth Vader will be available for both "Battlefront" and "Disney Infinity" November 17.

To finish off the panel, John Blackburn, SVP/GM for Disney Infinity, and John Vignocchi, VP of Production, took the stage to present "Disney Infinity 3.0."


Among other things, they debuted the new trailer for the "Twilight of the Republic" playset that comes with the 3.0 Starter Pack.

The next in the Star Wars trilogy of playsets will be "Rise Against the Empire," featuring the cast of Episodes IV-VI, which will release September 29, 2015 (PS3 and PS4 owners can get it now.)


The new Marvel playset in the works is "Marvel Battlegrounds," and will be the first to have four-person simultaneous play. Any Marvel characters will be playable with it, including the newly-introduced Hulkbuster and Ultron, and it will have an original story and unique gameplay.


New characters to "Disney Infinity" are Peter Pan, Olaf, Mulan, Mickey, Minnie, Sam and Quorra from "Tron Legacy," Spot from "The Good Dinosaur," and Judy and Nick from "Zootopia."


Sora's keyblade will be the Ultimate Unlock for 3.0, joining Luke's lightsaber and landspeeder as a playable object earned when the player owns and levels up every Disney Infinity character. Everyone in the audience also received an Expo-exclusive power disc that gave Mickey the King Mickey outfit from Kingdom Hearts.


Finally, to end the panel, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega took the stage to introduce their figurines (which they voiced) for the third of the Star Wars playsets, "The Force Awakens."


...And that was just the morning! Next time we'll revisit the last afternoon, and sum up.

August 27, 2015

D23 Expo 2015: Movies and Parks and Once Upon A Time


Saturday, typically the busiest day of any convention, started out as usual for me with a quick run around the Exhibitor's Floor to get a look at some of the booths and exhibits before all the panels of the day started.

The John Lasseter Hawaiian Shirt Exhibit showcased all the hawaiian shirts he's commissioned for the various Pixar films throughout the years.

Over at the Disney Music Emporium, they were offering an Expo-exclusive shirt for $15 with a $50 music purchase.

The Disney Store booth displayed the special merchandise of the day for the next day outside the entrance so you could plan accordingly.

The Walt Disney Studios booth had costumes on display from all the big films they were going to present at this day's Live Action panel.

Overnight, a beanstalk had erupted from the Walt Disney Animation Studios area, celebrating the new film "Gigantic," which was announced in the Animation panel the day before.

Finally made it into Mickey's of Glendale, which was on the same difficulty level as breaking into Fort Knox, and took in all the Shanghai Disneyland and other Imagineering-exclusive merchandise available.

On to the Walt Disney Studios Live Action presentation. I actually live-tweeted this one, so if, for some reason, you haven't already heard what transpired, you can see those tweets here

[All photos and video, unless otherwise attributed, are courtesy of Disney.]


The panel was also covered in more detail over on the AllEars News Blog, here.

Highlights from Marvel included the appearance of Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie to introduce "Captain America: Civil War:"

D23 - Saturday 8/15 - Live Action Falcon and Captain America Intros from Disney D23 on Vimeo.

A much more comfortable Johnny Depp returning to Hall D23 for The Walt Disney Studios and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tails" as Captain Jack Sparrow:

D23 - Saturday 8/15 - Johhny Depp as Jack Sparrow from Disney D23 on Vimeo.

And JJ Abrams with the cast of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" being joined by Harrison Ford:

D23 - Saturday 8/15 - Star Wars The Force Awakens - JJ Abrams brings Harrison Ford onstage from Disney D23 on Vimeo.

D23 - Saturday 8/15 - Star Wars The Force Awakens - Harrison Ford from Disney D23 on Vimeo.

So then we thought it was done, but no! Then, in a bizarre twist, Iger came back and announced Star Wars Land! During the Studios panel, and some two-and-a-half hours before the Parks and Resorts panel! It was quite a surprise.

D23 - Saturday 8/15 - Star Wars The Force Awakens - Bob Iger announces Star Wars themed lands at Disney Parks from Disney D23 on Vimeo.

After the panel, guests were given posters of "Jungle Book," and a new Drew Struzan image for "Force Awakens."

In between the two big Hall D23 panels of the day were some outstanding smaller ones. "Welcome to Zootopia," featured a large group of the film's directors, writers, producer and production designer hosted by animator Darrin Butters.


They gave some background into the research they did for the film, including a trip to Africa in both Animal Kingdom and the actual continent, and showed us some concept art and preview clips.

"Disney on Broadway: 'The Originals'" was a phenomenal concert featuring Ashley Brown, Broadway's original Mary Poppins, James Monroe Iglehart, Broadway's original Genie, and Josh Strickland, Broadway's original Tarzan.

D23 - Saturday 8/15 - The Originals Broadway Musicals Medley from Disney D23 on Vimeo.

At the end, it was announced that "Frozen" will be the next big Disney on Broadway production.


Next up was the big "Walt Disney Parks and Resorts" presentation, the announcements from which were posted up here


This was kind of an unusual panel, mostly because it started out with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek coming out and delivering almost word-for-word, the exact same speech that Iger had just given in the Studios presentation (you would have remembered too, if you had just heard the deathless prose "...ever wondered what bantha fodder smells like? Or the taste of blue milk?")


Most of the announcements were just expounding on topics long in the works, with the bulk of the content going to Imagineer Bob Weis presenting on Shanghai Disneyland.


Longstanding Imagineer Joe Rohde was joined by "Avatar" director and producer James Cameron and Jon Landau to give probably the most effective segment on "Pandora: World of Avatar."


The final bizarre note to the panel was a prolonged bit in the "Iron Man Experience" presentation where they kept teasing the appearance of Iron Man, and just when everyone was hoping Robert Downey Junior would show up, Stan Lee made an appearance! He declared himself the World's Greatest Cameo Actor, and showed us his clip roll from all the movies he'd been in! In the Parks and Resorts panel! It was quite a surprise.


Then a cast member chorus did a very nice medley of songs from Disney nighttime spectaculars around the world to play us off.

Video by MouseSteps

The last panel I had for the day was "Once Upon a Time: An Evening with Snow White & the Evil Queen."


Video by MouseInfo

Hosted by Jeffrey Epstein, the erstwhile D23 Disney Geek, creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were quizzed on what we might expect to see in the upcoming Season 5, from Camelot to the introduction of Amy Manson as Merida.


Actresses Ginnifer (Snow White) Goodwin and Lana (Evil Queen) Parilla then joined them for a rousing discussion on the long and sometimes troubled relationship between the step-relatives.


--Parilla's favorite line: "I shall destroy your happiness if it is the last thing I do."
--Snow's reaction to Dark Swan is to consider herself a failure as a mother, versus Regina's resentment at being in Emma's debt.
--Camelot exists in the same time frame as the Enchanted Forest. "Like Anaheim and LA. No time difference." "But a lot of traffic."

Eventually they decided to take a question from the audience, and the man in the Jango Fett helmet was none other than Josh (Prince Charming) Dallas!


After hopping up on stage and getting a quick smooch and lipstick wipe-off from his real-life wife, Dallas took his share of questions.


--"I had to ride a giant pickle once."
--"It was meant to be a dragon."
--"It was a dragon in post-production!"
--"It was Maleficent, to be honest."
--"I rode...Maleficent..."
--"D23 after dark."

--"Full-on bromance" between Prince Charming and King Arthur.


--Goodwin is a Charter Member of D23.
--None of the others seem like they've spent a huge amount of time with the Disney catalog.
--Overarching themes for the next season: Sometimes things aren't what they appear to be; and Love is a very dangerous weapon.


So that was it for the second day of Expo. Two midnights gone!

Thoughts on the day:

--The live action presentation was pretty strong, I thought, with some loss of momentum in the middle...but when you're sandwiched in between Marvel and Star Wars, there's only so much you can do.
--Marvel once again shows impressive finesse when it comes to these fan events, largely due to Kevin Feige's easy affability and obvious knowledge of his topic. Notably, he was the only presenter who didn't use the teleprompter at all.
--Probably the biggest surprise for me was how good "Jungle Book" looked, for a film that really didn't generate any blip on my radar at all, when it was announced. The cast is impressive, and Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, was utterly charming.
--The movie that came off the flattest for me overall was "Pete's Dragon." Maybe it's just an association with Bryce Dallas Howard, but it had the feel of a mashup between "Jurassic Park" and "The Village."
--I was trying to explain it to my Mom later, and was all "it's a live-action remake of 'Pete's Dragon'...wait a minute, it already was live-action!"
--Ah Harrison.
--"Zootopia" looks as cute as you'd expect a Disney animated feature about animals to be, with some pretty funny voice work by Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin.
--The Disney on Broadway concert was great and it is too bad it wasn't scheduled as a nighttime event like the Richard Sherman and Dick Van Dyke concerts have been in the past, because they probably could have easily filled Hall D23. As it was, it was impossible to see all of it if you also attended the Studios and the Parks presentations.
--Joe Rohde is one of the great presenters left at Imagineering, who really gives the impression of putting not just passion but brains into his projects. He always has an overriding vision that keeps his talks from degenerating into simple marketing spiels.
--Both Shanghai Disneyland and Pandora really looked great and exceeded the expectations I had developed from their earlier concept art.
--While the two new attractions planned for DHS' Toy Story Land will help differentiate it from the ones in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, that's a lot of parks to have the same fairly uncomplicated land.
--Man, I cannot tell you how grateful I am that none of the panels I attended did Q&A. General Q&A is the worst. I have never seen a Q&A that wasn't pre-screened that didn't devolve down to "can I have a hug/kiss/autograph/selfie?"

August 25, 2015

D23 Expo 2015: Disney Legends and Imagineers, Both New and Old


So the sun shone brightly on the first day of D23 Expo 2015...A little too brightly, as a heatwave ensured temperatures hitting around 100 degrees every day of the weekend.


While attendees were able to escape the heat for the rest of the day once inside, lines to get in had people waiting out in the sun for longer than was probably magical--an hour more for those not Gold or Silver D23 members, who had to wait until 1000 to gain access to the Exhibitor's Floor.


[Unless otherwise marked, all photos provided by Disney.]

Prior to opening, the Disney Store booth put on a little show each day to officially unlock itself for the day's commerce.


The booth featured a variety of merchandise, some of which changed daily, that was either not yet for general sale or was exclusive to the Expo. Lines, accordingly, were huge from before opening to after closing, typically ranging from 45 minutes to 2-3 hours.

(To be honest, if I had known at this point the kind of wait people were going to have to undergo the rest of the weekend to get into this booth, I'd have tried harder to fight the kid to open it.)

On the way over to the Disney Legends Award ceremony, I passed by the Pixar Studios booth where "Good Dinosaur" Director Pete Sohn and Producer Denise Ream were signing lithographs.



The Disney Legends Awards was held in the huge "Hall D23" which took the place of the Arena this Expo for the largest presentations. While the capacity was almost doubled, the visibility from the flat seating in the cavernous hall was not nearly as good as the tiered circular Arena seating.


Bob Iger, Walt Disney Company CEO, hosted the Legends Awards, and started off by welcoming everyone to the D23 Expo


A number of Disney luminaries were honored, among them animator Andreas Deja,


Original Disney Ambassador Julie Reihm Casaletto,


Filmmaker George Lucas,


And surprise recipient Johnny Depp, who actually seemed as surprised as anyone to be there.


After the award ceremony, I was able to take a look around the Parks and Resorts booths, dedicated to the Pandora area being created for Animal Kingdom, and Shanghai Disneyland.



[Deb Koma already described these booths in her blog here.]

The Shanghai booth in particular was particularly well done, and presented a level of detail in the park's design that I hadn't seen before.


After exploring those areas, I was able to take a quick look around the floor at some of the smaller displays. The Tsum Tsum booth had a sneak peek at some of the vinyl Tsums that will be coming out, complete with stackable props.


Over at "An Animator's Gallery: Eric Goldberg," over 100 of his Hirschfeld-esque caricatures of various Disney characters were on display, including one he did particularly for the Expo.


So at this point, I attempted to get into the big Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios panel, also in Hall D23. Attentive readers can probably foresee the difficulty here a lot sooner than I did, which is actually arguably a cardinal rule of con-going: If People Have Been Waiting Out All Night To Attend A Panel, You Should Probably Not Get In Line An Hour Before It Starts. To be fair, I found the line corrals, which were in the basement, confusing as it wasn't immediately obvious to me which lines were moving where, in what order, and what doors people were being taken out. Periodically the line would move, and I would just have to assume folks were going up some back way and not getting eaten like that Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man."


As time went by, it was about 45 minutes after the presentation was supposed to have started that they finally called it and told everyone else in the standby queue (surprise! I was in the standby queue!) to leave. After I staggered back upstairs, I saw some people leaving the panel and went over to see if there was any open space...and was basically waved in. Sadly, the previews ran over by around an hour, causing me to have to leave early to attend another panel, but I did manage to see presentations on "Zootopia," "Gigantic," and "Moana." And The Rock!


[More animation panel details:]

The last panel for the day was "Imagineering 60 Years of Disneyland"--a two-part discussion about Disneyland with both Legendary and current Imagineers. Moderated by filmmaker Leslie Iwerks, the guests included Marty Sklar, Orlando Ferrante, Richard M. Sherman, Kim Irvine, Tony Baxter, Charita Carter, Steve Davison, and Kevin Rafferty.




Although there wasn't really any new ground covered in the interviews, the Imagineers are all engaging speakers and clearly have an enormous amount of enthusiasm for their work at Disneyland and reverence for the original Imagineers that made it possible.

Here are the full video presentations courtesy of MouseSteps and Jeff Lange DVD

A strong ending to Friday, but the weekend had barely begun...

Thoughts on the day:
--The Disney Store booth, both this Expo and last Expo, is the only booth that I was never able to enter, except as a brief tour.
--Status matters: Gold and Silver D23 members were able to enter the floor at 0900, an hour ahead of general or non-members. During that hour, entire panels and autograph sessions were held that, while not strictly labeled as just for paid members, were clearly not accessible to others.
--Even panels that started at 1000 when everyone should have been able to enter were hard for general/non-members to attend, as they required people to be in a separate line from the general admittance line considerably earlier. This became more challenging as different panels starting at the same time had different lines and masses of people made distinguishing them difficult.
--I don't know if it's his incipient retirement or what, but Iger seemed way more at ease on stage than he has at almost any other time I've seen him, including his taped intro to the 2011 Expo, where he basically said "have a good time! I'm on vacation!"
--In general, for a big, popular event at a convention, getting in line 1-2 hours ahead of time is just the worst. Chances are excellent that you won't get in and will end up spending an uncomfortably long amount of time standing around in the Line of Futility. If you're unwilling to commit to the long haul wait, you're probably better off just showing up right before and seeing if, by some fluke, you can walk in. You'll have about the same chance of getting in (slim->none) but you won't have wasted a lot of time verifying it.
--At SDCC, a lot of the panels end on the quarter-hour, which gives people a chance to race over to a different panel starting on the hour. That would have been helpful at Expo, where I frequently had to leave a presentation early to ensure getting a seat at the next panel. Given that a lot of the events started late and ran over, this sometimes meant that I missed around half of the first panel, and then had to stand around waiting for the second one.

August 19, 2015

D23 Expo 2015: "Disneyland: The Exhibit"


Expo Time!


The 2015 Expo took place from August 14-16 at the Anaheim Convention Center, and as usual, the biennial Disneyfest was a virtual cornucopia of offerings from every branch of the Walt Disney Company.


My Expo experience started the day before opening, as I attended the media preview for “Walt Disney Archives Presents—Disneyland: The Exhibit.”


The largest of all the exhibits the Archives has produced for Expo, it housed over 300 pieces honoring Disneyland's 60 years of being the Happiest Place on Earth.




A nice tour of the exhibit is over on the AllEars.Net YouTube channel:

Additionally, a handful of Disney Legends were also in attendance, taking in the view:

Marty Sklar, former Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering

Tony Baxter, former Senior Vice President of Creative Development in Walt Disney Imagineering

Bill Farmer, voice of Goofy

Later, as the time for the opening of the exhibit for the Sorcerer level guests drew near, the Dapper Dans came out to perform a few numbers for the waiting crowd.


After a few words, head of D23 Adam Sanderson, Becky Cline, director of Walt Disney Archives, and Mickey Mouse all gathered to cut the ribbon and officially open the exhibit.

[Photo by Disney]

As a last surprise, John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering, put in a surprise appearance to welcome the Sorcerers to the 2015 D23 Expo.

Thoughts on the day:
--The placement of the exhibit on the main exhibitor's floor was a big improvement this year. It felt like it had a lot more space to move around and see things, and the openness meant that people who couldn't wait out the lines to get in could still see the larger pieces from outside. It also made it more prominent for people who might have forgotten about it and missed it when it was upstairs with the presentation rooms.
--I liked the unified Disneyland theme it had this year, vs the more hodge-podge collections they've had before, where concept art for the House of the Future could be displayed next to a dress from High School Musical.
--Some of the more historically significant items have been on display a number of times in the recent past, particularly at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library exhibit.

I'll be back with more D23 Expo blogs!

August 13, 2015

Disneyana Mania 2015


The Disneyana Fan Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enjoying the legacy of all things Disney, once again held their annual convention, Disneyana Mania 2015.


As always, their two-day affair was packed with presentations and banquets and a plethora of Disney luminaries.


One of the first presentations was "Sherman Brothers: A Songwriter's Observations," in which Robbie Sherman, the son of Disney Legend Robert Sherman, talked of the counterpoint that ran through much of the Sherman Brothers' music and lives.



An accomplished songsmith himself (he currently has a musical "Love Birds" playing in Edinburgh,) Sherman then presented the club with a song he wrote particularly for them, performed by "The Liberty Voices," from EPCOT's American Pavilion.

(Warning: It is as charmingly persistent an earworm as many of his father and uncle's songs ever were.)

Lunch was Disneyana's annual "Lunch With A Disney Legend," where two new legends were inducted into the Disneyana roster of Legends: Joe Lanzisero, and Dick Nunis.

Joe Lanzisero, current Senior Vice President Creative at Walt Disney Imagineering, started in animation and has worked on projects for the Disney Cruise Line and Disney Parks around the world, e.g., Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, Mystic Point, and the Aquaduck.


He spoke briefly on his transition from animation to Imagineering, the process of developing Mystic Manor and the new Animation Magic experience on the Disney Fantasy, and his perpetual search for the next "fun, cool thing to work on."

Dick Nunis, during his tenure at the Walt Disney Company, served both as Executive Vice President of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and as President of the Outdoor Recreation Division, overseeing Walt Disney World, Epcot Center, and the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park.


With some enthusiasm, he shared anecdotes from his time working in Operations with Dick Irvine, the various challenges involved in opening "Project X," and his memories of working with "the greatest man who ever lived on the face of the Earth."


After lunch, we heard from Dennis Tanida, a Disneyana member, Architect, and Imagineer, about his accidental career with the Walt Disney Company in "Six Degrees of Separation from Walt." (Long time AllEars readers may remember Dennis from way back in 2008 when I mentioned the talk he gave in Tokyo DisneySea on the work he did for the Fortress Exploration and sailing ship Renaissance:


The first day concluded with author Jeff Barnes introducing us to his book "The Wisdom of Walt," which uses practical examples from both Walt Disney and Disneyland to help people live their dreams.


Highlights from the second day included an interview with Disney Legend Bill Sullivan about his career working operations on projects as varied as the Winter Olympics, the New York World's Fair, the Contemporary, and EPCOT.


Garner Holt, along with his team of Bill Butler, Tracy Cathey, Vic Martin, and Dave Feiten, presented a hilarious panel on "Mechanized Magic, The Art and Technology of Animatronics."


Some interesting notes: Most of the panel had worked at WDI for decades, and then left to work at Garner Holt; DCA is the first theme park where they have made the majority of the figures (120;) a large project for Garner Holt is the creation of an animated mock-up shooting gallery for the military to simulate hostile situations; Dave Feiten has animated more characters than anyone living; and they displayed what may be one of the only photos of the Confucius head created for the never-realized Disneyland Chinese Restaurant--possibly the earliest human Disney animatronic.


(Past readers may also remember Garner Holt from blogs I wrote on the 2014 TEA Awards, and the 2010 "Marvelous Mechanized Magical Kingdom" event.)

The convention ended, as it typically does, with their Celebration Banquet--this one was commemorating Cinderella's 65th Anniversary, with Disney historian and former Archivist Paula Sigman Lowery talking about the history of Cinderella.


(Lowery also co-wrote the liner notes for the recent Legacy Collection "Cinderella" soundtrack."


The Disneyana Collectables Show and Sale was the following day with overflowing amounts of the memorabilia so dear to a Disney collector's heart.




So once again Disneyana provided fans with an eventful convention filled with interesting speakers with both historical insight and a view towards the future. While it's not the cheapest convention to buy into, it is non-profit and certainly the most stress-free of all the ones I've attended this year. If you're looking for a smaller, more intimate event, with no lines and the opportunity to meet and talk with virtually all the speakers at reasonable length, I highly recommend looking into Disneyana for next year. Maybe you'll have gotten the song out of your head by then.

August 10, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015: Photos From the Floor


So to finish up SDCC for this year, here are some photos from in and around the Exhibitor's Floor--generally the heart of any convention.

Over at the Disney booth, they had a display of a variety of new upcoming Tsum Tsum products, along with a contest to guess how many Tsums were in a given container.



From the looks of it, there should be some Marvel Tsum Tsums in the pipeline--booth workers would only note that they expected Marvel Tsums to be added to the game, shortly.


Over at the Marvel booth, promotion was high for the new release "Ant-Man."


Leveraging their social media, they featured a vending machine that required guests to post a photo with a code number in order to get a randomly dispensed prize.


Over at Sideshow Collectables, the usual dazzling array of detailed figures from virtually every franchise imaginable was on display.




The ABC Network booth this year was a mockup of a sound stage, in which people could take a gander at set replicas for "The Muppets" sitcom, including those for Miss Piggy's late night talk show, "Up Late With Miss Piggy."



All around the floor there was a plethora of books, art, and merchandise either of Disney properties, or by Disney artists.









...And of course there were the meticulously assembled cosplayers.


The winners of the Comic-Con International Masquerade was a group called "Women of the Haunted Mansion."


It is, after all, an essential part of the con atmosphere to have people wandering around in costumes often more carefully put together than you'd find in a professional exhibition.








Ah, Comic-Con.

August 4, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015: A Smattering of Panels


At Comic-Con, there are panels for just about every topic and every source of fandom imaginable, most of which are scheduled directly opposite the panels you want to see. Consequently, although there were a myriad of presentations concerning Disney products and Disney personalities, one was forced to pick and choose which ones to attend and which ones to shrug and decide to pick up on YouTube afterwards.


(This is a skill that may come into more practice at the upcoming D23 Expo, but that's another blog.)


"Disney Kingdoms" featured Imagineers Josh Shipley and Andy DiGenova, along with former Imagineer Brian Crosby, Marvel's SVP of Sales & Marketing David Gabriel, and author of the "Figment" comic series, Jim Zub.


These creators discussed the origins and development of the popular Disney Kingdoms comic line, with an emphasis on "Figment," which was recently announced to have a sequel series, "Figment 2."


In the sequel, Dreamfinder and Figment find themselves transported to the modern day, where their Academy has taken on a rather familiar configuration...


"Floyd Norman Documentary" showcased an impressive lineup of panelists discussing the upcoming documentary on the life and career of phenomenal Disney Legend/Animator Floyd Norman.


Filmmaker Michael Fiore showed the first teaser trailer for the documentary and moderated a short discussion during which each panel member spoke of their past histories with Norman.

Floyd Norman - An Animated Life - Teaser 1 from Michael Fiore Films on Vimeo.

Norman was also celebrating his 80th birthday and showed no signs of slowing down whatsoever.


ABC's popular series "Once Upon a Time" was represented in a large panel with the majority of the main cast members, along with co-creators and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz.


The presentation started off with a trailer catching people up on the history of Emma Swan and the journey that has brought her to becoming the Dark Swan of next season.

Moderator Yvette Nicole Brown made sure each actor got their share of questions as they merrily swapped around their name cards.



Upon being asked what Belle would like for herself at this point, Emilie de Ravin commented "a vacation." Robert Carlyle speculated that Rumpelstiltskin still has some trickery to fall back on, even without his magic, but isn't doing all that much right now, as he's in a coma.


Asked about which lady on OUAT holds Robin Hood's heart (figuratively) Sean Maguire said that by the script, he understands Regina does...however he suggested they resolve it by all going on Maury Povich's show (Adam and Eddie: "Thanks for spoiling the Maury reveal!") Rebecca Mader commented that Zelena is the best character she every played, by virtue of her being a total psychopath.


Lana Parrilla spoke briefly on the evolution Regina's had over the last few seasons, and how Henry's influence and her newly-inherited family have all helped her get over the notion that she would never be happy without her true love--that her happiness has to come from herself.


On the flip side of evil, Jennifer Morrison explained her understanding that Emma had lost faith in her own moral strength over the past season, having found out that her parents had manipulated her inherent goodness before birth, and was unsure how much her ability to overcome her past obstacles was due to her own strength.


From an acting standpoint, she was looking forward to the fun of villainy, as evidenced in this teaser clip.

The wildly popular Colin O’Donoghue was asked what Hook would ask The Author to change about his life--"two hands?"


Real-life couple Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas noted that having their first baby "changed everything," as Goodwin no longer has to act to get a panic attack when Emma is threatened. Asked about their turn as Dark Side versions of their characters, Dallas said that they loved it and that he misses the guyliner.


In a response to a query on why anyone with any sense stays in Storybrooke, they played a comical piece by Jane Espenson, with Patton Oswalt, getting to the heart of some lesser known Storybrooke denizens.

Finally, Kitsis and Horowitz thanked the fan base for supporting them through to their fifth season, and speculated that the series has drawn together people who are tired of cynicism.


One last little reveal, and then the panel was concluded.

July 29, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015: Star Wars


While SDCC is a grand paean to just about every facet of pop culture, its love affair with Star Wars has been long and legion. 2015, arguably one of the most exciting years in Star Wars fandom, was no exception. While there were a wide range of different presentations on virtually every aspect of the Star Wars universe, here are a representative few.

Lucasfilm made a grand showing with two panels from just their Star Wars Publishing branch alone on Friday morning. In the first one, NYT bestselling authors Alexandra (The Darkest Minds) Bracken, Adam (A Tale Dark and Grim) Gidwitz, and Tom (Origami Yoda) Angleberger spoke on how each of them approached retelling a different movie of the second trilogy for a younger audience.


Bracken approached A New Hope as "The Star Wars Breakfast Club," splitting the narrative in three parts, each from the perspective of Leia, Han, and Luke. Gidwitz wrote much of Empire in second person, so the readers will feel that they, personally, are training with Yoda or facing Darth Vader.


The second half of the panel starred a variety of writers who occupy wildly different genres within the Star Wars universe.


The Wangs create the Star Wars Epic Yarns books, in which each film is retold in twelve images and twelve words, using yarn figures made from needle felting.


Ultimate Star Wars, by Adam Bray, is a comprehensive and chronological encyclopedia that covers the entire Star Wars canon.


Jen Heddle, Senior Editor for Lucasbooks, presented the adult canonical Star Wars novels. A New Dawn takes place before the start of "Star Wars Rebels," and shows Kanan's backstory--how he meets up with Hera and joins the Rebellion. Tarkin tells the origin story of the infamous Grand Moff, and Lords of the Sith is "our Vader-Emperor road trip," as the two crash on Ryloth and leave a swath of destruction in their wake trying to get out.


Christie Golden spoke about her new book, Dark Disciple, which is a novelization of eight unaired episodes of "The Clone Wars," and focuses on Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos.


Star Wars: Aftermath , an upcoming novel by Chuck Wendig, is part of the large panel of "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" books designed to lead the way up to the film's opening. Set after "Return of the Jedi," it features Wedge Antilles and was announced to be the start of a trilogy.


Finally, Marvel's Star Wars comics were discussed, the majority of which take place between "A New Hope," and "Empire Strikes Back."


As a new announcement from the panel, Chewbacca will be getting his own series (but he still won't talk.)


Later that day was the big Hall H Lucasfilm presentation. Given that JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy had already presented at Star Wars Celebration not too long ago, and that they had announced there would be no new trailer, I'm not sure what anyone was expecting--certainly not what they got...

Initially, the panel started off with Abrams, Kennedy, and screenwriter Lawrence ("Empire Strikes Back") Kasdan, who spoke briefly about their fondness for the project and the two years they spent developing the script for "The Force Awakens."


After noting that they tried to utilize practical effects versus CGI, an actual animatronic creature shambled out onto stage and marched back and forth to demonstrate some of the intricate builds.


At moderator Chris Hardwick's urging, Abrams admitted to having brought some footage, which showed behind-the-scenes shots, and revealed Simon Pegg as one of the cast members.

After that, the three cast members that were present at the Star Wars Celebration panel joined the table: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac.


Some brief questions later, Hardwick announced that since we'd seen the Light Side, it was time to be introduced to the Dark Side, and brought out Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gwendoline Christie as Kylo Ren, General Hux, and Captain Phasma.




A short discussion ensued, on the differences between, "evil" and "morally justified" and "right," and then Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were introduced!


They had also been at Star Wars Celebrations and who knows how many other gatherings recently, so they had an easy and familiar banter. Anticipation in the room was rising for the one original cast member who had not been present for much of the publicity appearances to date, however, and to the crowd's delight, Hardwick next presented Harrison Ford!


While Ford has always in the past seemed a little dismissive of Star Wars and his role in it, he appeared genuinely moved by the entire experience and appreciative of everyone's continued enthusiasm in a way that was both surprising and touching.


(Or, he could have just been acting. He's a pretty good actor.)


So at this point, the audience was already excited to the point of spontaneous combustion, when the panel suddenly turned into the preshow for "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster." Abrams announced that he had arranged a Star Wars concert for us (remember, Hall H holds around 6,400 people, and it was at capacity) complete with fake counting before he admitted everyone could go. We were then walked out to the back of the Convention Center, and then over to the Marina, where everyone was given a credential and a lightsaber.



It took about 90 minutes for everyone to walk over (at one point, vans with the stars drove by and Mark Hamill high-fived people out of the window as they passed.)


Eventually Abrams and Kennedy once more took the stage, and thanked the fans for their years of support and for making their way over to the concert without killing anyone.


They then brought the "Force Awakens" stars back to the stage, most of whom bounded out, crossing lightsabers with anyone within reach.


(Ford, the last one out, used his as a cane.)


After the cast finally left the stage, a taped message from Composer John Williams played, in which he said he was busy working on his score for the next movie, and introduced the San Diego Symphony.


...And then the concert started, and if you don't think it was a surreal experience, to be standing out in the San Diego Marina, while a live symphony orchestra played the score to "Star Wars," among around 6.5k hyped up fans with lightsabers, I am here to tell you otherwise.

Then, when we got to the end of the evening, there was one more surprise left:

It was certainly a night not soon forgotten.

If you would like to see the whole panel, "Flicks and the City" has it on YouTube:

July 26, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015: Disney Infinity


Comic-Con everybody!


One of the largest pop culture convocations in the world was recently held yet again--San Diego Comic-Con.


As they have done the last couple of years, Disney Infinity made their usual impressive showing with a pop-up location outside of the Convention Center, close to Petco Park. By hosting at an exterior location, people were able to get some hands-on experience with new Disney Infinity assets whether or not they were able to obtain SDCC badges.


Inside, multiple terminals were set up for gamers to play with the new "Inside Out" and "Star Wars" playsets, along with the Toy Box Expansion games that are all features of Disney Infinity 3.0, set for release on August 30.



A green screen experience and an art gallery featuring the concept and development art that went into the myriad of Disney Infinity figurines were also presented in a similar format to that of their E3 booth, which I wrote about earlier here.


I had a chance to demonstrate my extremely limited platforming skills with the "Inside Out" playset, in which each of the emotions can be swapped out strategically to best meet the needs of a given level with their specific abilities (e.g., Anger can walk on lava, but falls through clouds; Joy can walk on clouds for a little while, but falls through if you take too long; Sadness can float on clouds all the live-long day.)


The "Star Wars" sets are marked by a more sophisticated combat system, which has been retooled by Avalanche Software and Ninja (Devil May Cry) Theory to include better responsiveness and more combos and finishing moves.

Darth Maul, no.

There were also a variety of events taking place throughout the day at the pop-up, such as scavenger hunts, pre-orders, and a live taping of Disney Infinity's popular web series "Toy Box TV."

Watch live video from Disney on Twitch

Finally, fortunate guests were able to take home one of a selection of upcoming 3.0 characters.


In all, judging from the long lines that were constantly forming to get in, Disney Infinity had another hit on their hands with their SDCC pop-up store, and people lucky enough to get in and pre-order got a bonus figurine and a fun look at the game's next evolutionary step. Everybody wins!

" I can't actually throw up in my mouth, but if I could I would do it!"

July 17, 2015

Review: "Ant-Man"


"I know a guy."

"Ant-Man," the final entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Phase Two," is a lighter, smaller film (in more ways than one) than its world-shattering brethren, and serves as a refreshing change of pace as we head into what appears to be a grimmer time for all our heroes.

Our story begins when Scott Lang, a Quixotic modern-day Robin Hood, is released from jail from stealing one too many times from the rich and giving to the poor. Turning over a new leaf, his only concern is to be a part of his daughter's life from which his incarceration has long absented him.


Unfortunately, his ex-wife and her policeman fiancé somewhat rightfully expect him to present himself as a financially responsible father figure before they will let him see Cassie, and in a world where not even Baskin-Robbins will give an ex-con a job, it looks like she might be ready to leave for college before he can fulfill his obligations. Desperation sets in and leaves him vulnerable when his good-tempered ex-cellmate Luis brings him a plan for a heist that could net him the money he needs.


It turns out, however, that fortune comes in different manifestations, and what he takes from the Pym vault may bring him something more valuable than money--a second chance to prove himself a hero, both to his daughter and to himself.


Like all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the big splashy action scenes are expertly done and look wonderfully convincing as Scott navigates a miniature world of ants and water droplets and toys. Probably the most impressive effect however, is in the beginning flashback, where we see Michael Douglas some thirty years in the past as SHIELD scientist Hank Pym refuses to share his Pym Particles with a suspiciously militaristic world. Now, it's not like I don't know that Michael Douglas is some years past his "Romancing the Stone" years, but minutes went by before I remembered that, because the job they did digitally making him younger was amazing. Not a hint of the "Tron Legacy" plastic-y look, this looked like the real deal.


As Pym, tortured by guilt over both the implications of his scientific discovery and his inability to keep his family together, Douglas does the masterful job that you'd expect from a star of his caliber. Strong enough to sell his past turn at super-heroics, he's professional enough to keep the more teary interactions with his daughter, Hope van Dyne, from becoming maudlin.


If there is one aspect that rings a little tired, it's the variation on the "Chosen One" trope present in Hope van Dyne. As one more super-competent female character who is relegated to hating/helping/liking the goofier male character fulfill his destiny, she takes her place in a wide pantheon of girls from "Matrix's" Trinity to "Lego Movie's" Wyldstyle. It is true, though, that the movie is called "Ant-MAN," and at least here, we're given a rationale for her status and the hope that she will evolve past it in future movies.


Ultimately, "Ant-Man" is a self-contained heist movie, as much as "Ocean's Eleven," with just enough references and cameos to connect it to the rest of the MCU. This does it the favor of not burdening it with the sometimes-ponderous backstory of Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet that peppers the main timeline movies and keeps its storytelling light and nimble.


While the film has more than its share of laughs, it also tries to maintain an emotional core of how people are shaped by the belief others have in them--whether it's Scott, trying to "become the hero (Cassie) thinks (he) is," or the villainous Darren Cross, trying to overcome his hurt at Pym's rejection, or even the comical Luis stepping up to infiltrate Pym Technologies.


"Ant-Man," much like last year's "Guardians of the Galaxy," is both fun and funny. With it, Marvel Studios adds the heist film to its superhero subgenres next to "Winter Soldier's" spy thriller and "Guardians'" SF movie and gives us a breathing moment of levity before hurdling into next year's divisive and dramatic "Civil War" storyline.


"Ant-Man" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly,
Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I. ” Harris, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, and Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by Peyton Reed and produced by Kevin Feige. The Executive Producers are Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Stan Lee, and Edgar Wright. Screenplay by Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd, based on a story by Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish.

The film enters general release on July 17, 2015, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

**Looks like we're coming up on the end of the line.

June 20, 2015

E3 2015: A Disturbance in the Force


E3 time again--the annual big trade show for the video game industry.


As loud and attention-grabbing as Vegas on a Saturday night, E3 showcases all the upcoming games and associated technology for all platforms and genres.


For the Disney-focused, the main emphasis this year was on the vast empire of Star Wars games currently in development.


Disney Infinity had its usual gargantuan booth filled with large art installments and game terminals. Prominently displayed was concept art and sculpts for the upcoming Star Wars characters and play sets that herald the upcoming 3.0 version (an overview of which I blogged about here.)


A wide range of Star Wars characters will be available for purchase separate from the three major play sets based on the prequels ("Twilight of the Republic") and Clone Wars, original trilogy ("Rise Against the Empire,") and "The Force Awakens."


Also recently announced was the addition of the "Star Wars Rebels" cast to the 3.0 edition.



The main announcement from E3 however, was at the Playstation Press Conference, where John G. Vignocchi, Vice President of Production for Disney Interactive, introduced a limited time package exclusive to Playstation. The Star Wars Saga Starter Pack for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 (SRP: $114.99) will include:

​Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition video game software
Star Wars "Twilight of the Republic" Play Set, with figurines of Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker
Star Wars "Rise Against the Empire" Play Set, with figurines of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia
Boba Fett figure
Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition base
Web Code card (unlocks content for PC/mobile)

Outside of this package, "Rise Against the Empire" will be available a month later, and Boba Fett will be out for purchase after the holidays.


Also around the booth were displays detailing the various changes the sculpts underwent in the process of creating each character's signature figurine.



A huge lit arch presented all the different genres of figurines created to date...


...And a decorative curtain was made entirely out of the different game discs.


In addition to Star Wars, Disney Infinity will also be coming out with a new play set based on what will soon be one of your favorite Pixar films, "Inside Out."


Also at the Playstation press conference was the announcement of a collaboration between Square Enix and Disney Interactive to continue development of "Kingdom Hearts III" for the Playstation 4 and XBox One.


This latest addition to the long "Kingdom Hearts" series will feature environments based on the WDAS classic "Tangled."


For the mobile user, "Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ" will be the first of the series to come to iOS and Android devices as a free-to-play app. It will incorporate elements of both earlier parts of the "Kingdom Hearts" saga and "Kingdom Hearts III."

"Star Wars Battlefront" was also in attendance with some playable demos and and a variety of photo ops (I previously blogged about this game, too, over here)



As the last of the big Disney-related franchises in attendance this year, the long-running MMORPG "Star Wars: The Old Republic" announced a new expansion for later this year: "Knights of the Fallen Empire."

Touted as a return to "BioWare-style cinematic storytelling," the story of your character--The Outlander--and the Emperor of the Eternal Empire will launch on October 27, 2015, and will be free to current subscribers. More information can be found at


June 19, 2015

Review: "Inside Out"



"That's Long-Term Memory! You could get lost in there!"
"Think positive!"
"Ok, I'm positive you will get lost in there."
--Sadness and Joy

"Inside Out," The latest offspring from the mind of Pete Docter, looks inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl and observes the nature of the emotions that drive her, as well as their changing relationships to her and to each other.


The film's setting, a young girl named Riley, is an essentially happy-go-lucky child, living a relatively bucolic life in Minnesota, when her world is abruptly upended by a move to San Francisco. Working frantically to try to keep her charge happy, Joy, along with the core memories that support different personality facets, manages to get flung far away from headquarters into the vast reaches of Riley's mind. Lost along with her is Sadness, a generally disregarded emotion, who has begun to be subject to strange and unnerving impulses that threaten to undo all of Joy's efforts.


In their absence, Riley is forced to navigate a new school, a new house, friends that seem to be moving on without her, and her increasingly tense parents with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust at the helm. Without the steadfast positivity of Joy, the emotional release of Sadness, or the support of her Islands of Personality, the remaining emotions may lead her into a tragic decision that could result in her feeling...nothing at all.


As a movie, "Inside Out" is beautiful. The characters are deceptively simple in design and concept, and yet are elevated through Pixar's usual technical excellence. The emotions' surfaces, although initially looking a little like muppet-y felt, are actually covered with particles of energy that constantly radiate off of them. Joy, as part of her exuberant nature, radiates light and is sometimes the only light source in a dark environment.


As far as the voice acting, it is exceptionally good--no doubt due to some inspired casting. Amy Poehler does a great job with Joy, whose relentless enthusiasm might have been more irritating than endearing in lesser hands. Lewis Black generally steals the show when Anger is around however, getting the lion's share of the funny lines and reactions.


As a story, "Inside Out" is a fascinating piece for a number of reasons: In only 102 minutes, Docter manages to create an entire mostly-cohesive reality complete with its own complicated rules and geography. From the architecturally distinct Islands of Personality, to the glitzy sound stages of Dream Productions, to the horror show that is the Subconscious, Joy and Sadness travel through a variety of areas that are all instantly engaging and recognizable. Pixar also does a great job of representing San Francisco as filtered through Riley's different mindsets--glamorous and post-card pretty when she first arrives, and then grungy, cramped, and outré once she's forced to settle in.

[Side Note: Having once moved to San Francisco myself, I could instantly recognize and completely empathize with the truth of Riley's perceptions.]


It's interesting, storywise, that it manages to be one of the darkest of the Pixar films without actually having a physical antagonist. All the struggle and conflict that occurs, happens because of time and nature...and the clear outcome of that is as inexorable as those two forces can make it. While I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that the film ends with Riley having every prospect of living a happy, successful life, there is a bittersweet melancholy to it that harkens back to "Toy Story 3," in which the caretakers of childhood have to adapt to the beginning of the end of that era, and accept that things will no longer be quite the way they were. It's a hard lesson for anyone in that position to learn, and how affecting it will be for you, probably depends on, as the Phrenologists say, your "Organ of Adhesiveness."


"Inside Out" is a gentle film, one that looks at childhood as a wonderful vibrant time of primary colors and primary emotions...Which eventually and inevitably evolves into the more complicated yet equally satisfying state of adulthood. Docter said in one interview*, that "(the) change from child to adult is sad and difficult and beautiful and necessary..." In many ways, so is "Inside Out."


"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory."
--Leonard Nimoy


"Inside Out" Rated PG, it stars Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, and Kaitlyn Dias.

Directed by Pete Docter, with a screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley. Produced by Jonas Rivera.

The film enters general release with the animated short "Lava," on June 19, 2015, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.




June 15, 2015

"Inside out" Press Conference


"Do you ever look at someone and wonder 'what is going on inside their head?'"


Blockbuster factory Disney-Pixar's fifteenth film "Inside Out" examines the turbulent mechanisms and dynamics of the five primary emotions driving an eleven year-old girl's mind.

At a recent press junket, Director Pete Docter, Producer Jonas Rivera, and cast members Amy Poehler (“Joy,”) Bill Hader (“Fear,”) Mindy Kaling (“Disgust,”) Phyllis Smith (“Sadness,”) and Lewis Black (“Anger”) gathered for some equally unruly panels discussing everything from emotions, to Pixar, to Islands of Personality.

[Photos provided by Disney/Pixar]



Some notes from the panels:

Pete Docter

--Pete Docter on the influence of "Cranium Command:" "I actually animated on that when I was at Disney in '89, and at the beginning, there's a preshow with all the heads. So I did a lot of the Xerox, and my head was in it, so that was kind of cool. But I think it actually showcases kind of the difference between the approach."


"In this film, we really made it − well, let me talk about that one. It was like they were talking to the stomach and the heart and the liver and different things. In this one, we said, let's just differentiate from the body and make it the mind. And so that allowed us a whole different playground."

Jonas Rivera

--Jonas Rivera on the Pixar synchronicity: "I'll tell a quick story about Michael Giacchino because he scored both films. We got into the car. This is the first scoring day on 'Up' back in 2009...Michael had done some of the films at Pixar, but we had never really worked with him. And we get in the car at Warner Bros. after we're done scoring that first day. We were gonna do what you do. You go to Disneyland after you're done scoring your movie...And so we're driving down the freeway. We get in Michael's car. And he turns on his car, and he had had some CDs...Blasting out of the stereo was the theme of the Muppet Show, right? And I'm in the back, and Pete says, 'Oh, wow, I was listening to that same disc on the way to the airport.' And I thought, oh, my God. What two cars on the planet Earth had those two songs in, right?"


*Caution: While the panel was hilarious in parts, they also used mature language and referenced mature topics.*

Phyllis Smith

--Phyllis Smith: on life with the characters beyond the film: "I'm very happy to be Sad.'"

Mindy Kaling

---Mindy Kaling on relating to her character: "...The character Disgust has a lot of qualities of a very impatient, judgmental adolescent girl and because I seem to be recurring in playing that role over and over again in my career – she just says the things I say on a really bad day – the thing I really wanna say but then don’t say it. Basically, in my mind the parenthetical role or her lines is 'I can’t, I can’t with this;' it’s just like what she’s always thinking."

Bill Hader

---Bill Hader on how he would convince a child to see "Inside Out:" "...What’s so great about this movie is that they chose to make a film about a time in your life that we all have to go through – when you go from being young and then you start to go – when you’re an adolescent, things start to change and things start to get a little hard for you and a lot of normal movies don’t talk about that. I wish I had that growing up because I would go through that and you look for answers and you think you’re the only one going through this thing and they did in this film in such a beautiful, fantastical way and that’s why you have to see it. It’s a movie I wish existed – my life would have been a little easier I think if this movie existed when I was a kid."

Amy Poehler

--Amy Poehler on the emotionally sophisticated themes of "Inside Out:" "Pixar doesn’t patronize their young audience and they don’t underestimate the intelligence of their audience...So they keep raising the bar and also they assume that you and your big brain is gonna show up and your big heart. They assume you’re gonna take all those things with you when you go see their movies; and you’re so rewarded when you do."

Lewis Black

--Lewis Black on his own Islands of Personality: "Barbecue Island...Pork in a variety of fashions served in all sorts of delightful ways lathered with sauce. That’s a big island and the other is Tahiti...That’s where I go. When you look at me and you’re like 'Where’s Lewis?' He’s in Tahiti."

After the panels, Director Jim Murphy and Producer Andrea Warren gave a presentation on the adorable short "Lava," which is playing with "Inside Out."


Murphy briefly recounted his long-standing affection for Hawaiian music and culture, and then displayed some of the concept art that was produced during the project's long development phase.


Additionally, he sang a rendition of the equally adorable song "Lava" that he wrote himself, which involved him traveling to Hawaii, buying a ukelele, and then learning to play it.

"Inside Out" and "Lava," rated PG, will be released in theaters June 19, 2015.

June 1, 2015

Disneyland Forever: Disney in the Sky With Diamonds


As part of the nighttime trifecta Disneyland debuted for its Diamond 60th Anniversary Celebration, the longtime favorite firework show (debuted ten years ago for the 50th Anniversary) "Remember...Dreams Come True" was replaced by "Disneyland Forever."


The major innovation for "Disneyland Forever" is the projection technology utilized to turn a variety of surfaces throughout the park into multi-dimensional screens for images enhancing the show experience. Guests can experience the pyrotechnic spectacular differently depending on where in the park they view it--near "it's a small world," by Rivers of America, at the Hub, or on Main Street.




While the show is bookended by references to Disneyland's orange grove origins and its "Forever Young" magic, the bulk of the show calls back to musical numbers from a variety of classical Disney films. From the rooftops of London in "Step in Time," to the African plains of "Circle of Life," to the depths of the ocean 'Under the Sea," to the fairy tale lands of Corona ("I See the Light") and Arendelle ("Let It Go,") the show travels quickly throughout the Disney Studios film catalog.



From all the different vantage points, each view has its strong and weak points: The projections are by far sharper and best visualized on Main Street. The flying elements--Tinker Bell and Nemo--along with the specialized Matterhorn effect during the "Mount Wannahockaloogie" section are only well seen from the Hub area. While I haven't seen the show from the "it's a small world" arcade yet, I would assume that as at Rivers of America, it's a trade-off between a slightly decreased theatrical impact and a greatly increased ease of viewing.


While to my mind, the show lacks the nostalgic elements that "Remember..." packed with its great use of park audio, the projections are impressive, and Disneyland can now join Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland in having a big, projection-heavy nighttime show. The pyrotechnics are wonderful and the new Richard Sherman song "A Kiss Goodnight" lovely, if a bit melancholy for a show that purports to go on "Forever."


Here's a view of the fireworks and projections on the Castle and Matterhorn from the Hub:

The whole "Disneyland Forever" show, as viewed from Main Street and Rivers of America, can also be viewed over on the AllEars.Net YouTube channel.

May 27, 2015

Up All Night - Disneyland Diamond Anniversary 24-hour Party

Disneyland 24 hour event

As part of the kickoff of the Diamond Anniversary Celebration, Disneyland also threw a 24-hour party. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure were open from 6 a.m. on Friday, May 22, through 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 23. Jason, Jeanine, and Laura attended and provide their comments and photos below.

12:00 a.m.,Hour -6

Laura: When I left Disneyland just before midnight on the 21st, there were already hundreds of guests queued up in the tram area east of the Esplanade, some with tents set up, many with sleeping bags or blankets. The people at the head of the line had arrived at 3:00 p.m., so they had already been waiting for 9 hours!

Disneyland 24 hour event

When we returned at 5:30, the Bag Check line stretched all the way back to the guest drop-off area on Harbor, but it was steadily moving. Once past bag check, the line at the turnstiles was short.

Main Street wasn't yet totally packed, but it was getting close. Guests were being held at the end of Main Street.

Disneyland 24 hour event

6:00 a.m., Hour 0

Laura: At 6:00 there were fireworks along Main Street and over the castle, and guests began WALKING :-) towards their destinations. And people were already staking out spots for the first Paint the Night parade - which didn't start until 8:50 that night!

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: At 6:00 we were on Main Street and ready to start the day. It was incredible to watch a constant stream of guests walk by us for around 30 minutes straight!

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: 0600 On Main Street, roughly six hours before I typically like to start my day. At least Mickey and the Cast Members waiting to welcome everyone in looked more awake than I felt.


After the countdown and the fireworks, the floodgates opened.


7:00 a.m., Hour 1

Laura: After breakfast we walked back up Main Street. You'd think this huge line was for some kind of exclusive merchandise...but it was the line for Starbucks!

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: The new Peter Pan window at the Emporium debuted that day. The others are still to come.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: After the first of what would be several Diet Cokes of the day, we commemorated the hour at one of the many clock face photo-ops set up around the parks. Jason and I nominated Laura as the subject.


8:00 a.m., Hour 2

Laura: Matterhorn Bobsleds had just opened to guests that day, and many people rushed there first thing to get a look at the new Abominable Snowman. The line was 150 minutes long! Other than the Matterhorn, wait times elsewhere were much shorter than I expected given the number of people in the park.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: This is the end of the line for popcorn can see the cart in the distance, around the corner. Laura counted just under 100 guests in line.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: The cause for the long popcorn lines was the introduction of quite a few new popcorn buckets. These Big Thunder Mountain buckets look somewhat related to the "Seven Dwarfs Mine Train" cars in WDW.


9:00 a.m., Hour 3

Laura: We went over to DCA to check on conditions there. It was a lot less busy than Disneyland. We were even able to get Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses with a 2:05 (p.m.) return time.

Many of the PhotoPass photographers had a clock face at their station to use in the photos. And the Disneyland Resort Twitter folks were doing something fun: if you added the #Disneyland60 hash tag to your tweets, they might pick them up and retweet them with something extra added! It's actually an animation, and the diamonds sparkle.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: A special edition of the Buena Vista Bugle was on the newsstands that day.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Even DCA got its share of accessorization for the 60th.


10:00 a.m., Hour 4

Laura: The Carthay Circle Restaurant has been blinged up for the anniversary, also. I know some don't care for it, but I like it.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: I had to check out of my hotel and move my car...this is the line of cars to get into the Toy Story lot. I ended up trying to go for the Mickey and Friends garage and it was closed so I ended up back at Toy Story, which is where I should have gone in the first place.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: I also had to pack and get out of my hotel room. After returning, I stopped by the Media Center for another Diet Coke and checked out some of the merchandise displays, such as this one for light-up drink diamonds.


11:00 a.m., Hour 5

Laura: We checked out some of the new entertainment for the Anniversary celebration. The Red Car Trolley News Boys have added a new song, and Minnie Mouse, dressed as a flapper, has an appearance in the show.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: 60th Anniversary cotton candy bags. All of the napkins, cups, plates, etc. are also new for the anniversary.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: Hopefully the new number "If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It" won't encourage the misattribution of the phrase to Walt Disney.


12:00 p.m., Hour 6

Laura: Just a couple of people in front of me at the popcorn cart near the Fun Wheel when I bought a purple Mickey balloon popcorn bucket for a friend. (The red one was available at the cart near Soarin' over California, and the blue from the cart near the Storytellers statue.)

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: We caught a performance of Five and Dime's new show which includes three new songs: "Million Dollar Baby", "I've Got Rhythm", and "Sing Sing Sing."

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: Another photo-op! Jason and I volunteered Laura again.


1:00 p.m., Hour 7

Laura: Donna the Dog Lady, one of the Citizens of Buena Vista Street, and her dog Lady were wearing some special anniversary jewelry.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: Returned to Disneyland and found most of the curb space along Main Street already claimed for the 8:50pm Paint the Night Parade.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: One more photo-op. Laura wasn't feeling this one.


Laura: Actually I wanted to do this one, but the line was always too long - even at 4:00 a.m.!

2:00 p.m., Hour 8

Laura: We'd gone back to Disneyland where I was in search of the Anniversary stein (which was sold out for the day). I already had several purchases I wanted to take back to my hotel, so I left Disneyland around 2:00. There was a huge crowd of people in the Esplanade, and the turnstiles were closed - only a few people were being allowed in the park. I asked a cast member and was told they were only allowing re-entrys. I asked if those with dining reservations would be allowed in and he said yes - we would be able to bypass the line and re-enter one hour prior to our reservation time. Since Lee had gone back to San Diego, and was returning that afternoon, I hoped that was going to work!

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: Passing by Sleeping Beauty Castle. The park had stopped admitting new guests by this point so the crowd leveled off and as more guests claimed their spots for the parade and fireworks the rest of the park was pleasant to walk around.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: Quick run into The Star Trader for a merchandise run--the anniversary "R2-D60."


3:00 p.m., Hour 9

Jason: Stopped for lunch and Jeanine and Beci joined us. They had this mocha chocolate funnel cake from the Stage Door Cafe (which by the way took us half an hour to get because of a very slow moving line).

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: For verily, we did partake of the mocha chocolate funnel cake. And it was good.


4:00 p.m., Hour 10

Jason: My first attraction of the day, the Mark Twain. As you can see New Orleans Square looks better than on many Friday afternoons.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: So at one point, while we're digesting an enormous amount of funnel cake, we look up and see the Mark Twain going by, suddenly realize we could be on it right now, and run over.


Laura: We attempted our return to Disneyland at 4:30 - our dinner reservation was 5:20. Disneyland Resort had tweeted that Disneyland was still closed to entries, but DCA was still available. The line for bag check extended all the way back to the guest drop-off area! Because of our dining reservation we bypassed it and were allowed in, where we were sent to the "Special Event" turnstile. The cast member had reservation lists from all of the restaurants. Most of the people in front of us had problems, but she was able to quickly find ours and let us in the park. Whew.

5:00 p.m., Hour 11

Laura: On our way back to Frontierland we stopped by the Times board. Considering the park was at capacity, the wait times weren't that bad - on a busy summer day the waits for the "E-ticket" rides approach two hours. But a lot of people were waiting for the parade and not riding rides. The crowds along the parade route looked like the parade was 30 minutes away and not almost four hours!

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: Stopped by the Springtime Roundup and saw Mickey. The area was very quiet with the usual short lines.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: At this point it was time for our dinner reservation at Cafe Orleans. Unfortunately, their fire alarm had gone off earlier, and as a result, they were backed up by about 45 minutes and had dispensed all their pagers. This restaurant must have bad luck, because the last 24hr day I tried to eat there, they had had a power outage and couldn't seat anyone then, either.


6:00 p.m., Hour 12

Laura: Halfway there! About a month ago I'd booked the Fantasmic! dining package at River Belle Terrace because I wanted to see how the Disneyland Forever fireworks would look from the Rivers of America. Lee and I had a lovely dinner - the restaurant was an oasis of calm, and it was very nice to be able to sit and relax and enjoy a good meal. The food was surprisingly good, and we had excellent service. It was my first real meal of the day - the food lines in the parks were SO long! There were a number of special food items just for the day, but for me the lines were just too long to justify it. Our meal was definitely worth the $42/person price tag on this particular day. And as you'll see from the photo, we enjoyed our little art project, too. :-)

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: A check of Main Street.. not is usually worse after the 6:30 Soundsational parade!

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: So we finally got seated and served.


One thing you had to be mindful of by this stage of the game was the fact that the restrooms were starting to uniformly have lines extending outside the doors. New Orleans and Main Street were particularly bad in this regard, for men and women alike.

7:00 p.m., Hour 13

Laura: There were special 24-hour event photo stations set up throughout both parks. Most of them had 20-30 minute lines, but this one in Tomorrowland was short. It was nice to finally have one of these photos with Lee in it! Disney blinged this one up for us, too.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: Time for some music...a Hard Day's Night performing at the Tomorrowland Terrace.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: So by this time we were hearing (with what was becoming progressively weaker cell service) that Disneyland was in Stage Three Closure--no admittance or re-admittance to any guests. Curious, we went out to the front of the park to check it out, and the esplanade...didn't look too bad, actually. Apparently all the guests that had been there earlier had either been diverted to DCA or otherwise dispersed. Speculative thinking was that the park would be closed until after midnight.


8:00 p.m., Hour 14

Laura: We had met Jason and party in Tomorrowland where they had a table since they were listening to the band at Tomorrowland Terrace. It was very nice to sit for a while and chat while listening to the music. We all had Fastpasses for the 9:00 Fantasmic!, so not long after 8:00 we went looking for a restroom. With so many people in the park the lines had been out the door - even for the men's side - at most of them. The one near the Tomorrowland train station is large, and usually empty, but even it had a line out the door on the women's side. But because the facility was so large the line moved quickly.

Jason: Passing by Sleeping Beauty Castle on the way to Frontierland for Fantasmic. Cast Members would not let people stop for a photo so this was taken while walking...

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: Going up to the train station to catch a ride over to New Orleans Square for Fantasmic! afforded us a nice view of an increasingly over-populated Main Street.


9:00 p.m., Hour 15

Laura: Time for Fantasmic! Our section was near the center, so we had a great view. Unfortunately we'd forgotten the seat cushions we got in January (only Blue Bayou gives those out), so it was rather uncomfortable after a while. After Fantasmic! ended we had a short wait for Disneyland Forever. was still a great show! I felt that we had a terrific view. The fireworks were almost centered over the mist screen. So unlike Main Street, we didn't have to look to the left or right to see the projections, and then miss the fireworks that were straight ahead. We weren't as immersed in the projections as we were on Main Street, and they weren't quite as clear on the water as the buildings, but it was still terrific, and a slightly different experience than seeing them from Main Street - which is what Steve Davison has been telling us all along. Lots of "oohs" and "ahs" from the crowd.

Disneyland Forever

Jason: Fantasmic followed by Disneyland Forever. This picture is from near the end of Disneyland Forever and I thought a great way to end my day in the park.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Laura: I found it very interesting that Jason and I independently chose the same scene from Disneyland Forever, but I left them both in to demonstrate how the view of the show is different depending on your location.

Jason: A quick note on Disneyland Forever from the Fantasmic viewing area. I watched from the Pirates Bridge which offered a decent view of the show. During Disneyland Forever the use of the water screens, some limited effects and additional fireworks in the area was a nice plus compared to previous shows. It is a solid alternate experience. If you did not know what you were missing on Main Street I think you would walk away satisfied. For me it did not hold the same level of immersion as Main Street and I kept thinking of what I was missing. Anyone watch from the Small World Mall? Curious how that looks. Also I would like to see how it is from up near the castle where you can clearly see those projections. So far out of the two locations I have tried Main Street is a clear winner but Fantasmic is not a bad alternative.

Jeanine: I was also up on the Pirates Bridge (section "green") for Fantasmic! and Disneyland Forever. It's a nice vantage point, but a pretty small area--if you're not one of the first people there, you're going to be behind people which can be no sweat if you're tall (Jason) but problematic if you're short (me.) I thought the projections on the water screens were fine and actually easier to make out than trying to see the castle ones from a distance (I had not seen the fireworks from Main Street at that time.) The main disadvantage is that you don't get the full effect of the castle fireworks or the various flying elements of the show.


10:00 p.m., Hour 16

Laura: Lee and I left Disneyland. Our plan was to sleep for a few hours and then return to DCA - I had a Fastpass for World of Color at 3:00 a.m. LOTS of people were leaving Disneyland now that they had seen both the parade and the fireworks, but there were still lots of people in the Esplanade waiting to get into Disneyland, and lots of people outside the bag check area waiting to enter the Esplanade.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jason: A look at the Esplanade on my way out as I headed for my car. The park was still closed and would be for several more hours. Guests were kept back from the entrance so there was no problem leaving and not a long wait for the Toy Story bus either.

Disneyland 24 hour event

Jeanine: By the time Disneyland Forever finished, we had been standing in that one spot for something like two hours, so wandering around to find a place to sit down was kind of a priority. Unfortunately, while the lines for the attractions might have been manageable, most surfaces available for sitting were already taken up by people apparently hunkered down for the night.


11:00 p.m., Hour 17

Jeanine: At least there was a moment now to get some rides in. Managed to see the Haunted Mansion's newest occupant.


Also tried to get coffee at Starbucks, but the line was to the door and estimated to be about one hour long. Decided to wait until breakfast.

12:00 a.m., Hour 18

Jeanine: Ok, time for breakfast. The only difficulty was that, although the reservation at Carnation Cafe was for breakfast, they were only serving the dinner menu. Fortunately, a cherry malt is also the Breakfast of Champions.


Now, I was beginning to hear that, although the park was still closed to entering guests, parts of Disneyland were relatively empty. Since I was still on Main Street, where everyone was clustered for the 0100 Paint the Night parade, I didn't see it.

1:00 a.m., Hour 19

Jeanine: Went out to the front again to see how things were going, now that the parade had gone by and Main Street was beginning to clear. From the looks of things, it seemed clear that they would begin to start letting people in again shortly, although you got different opinions on that depending on how peripheral the Cast Member was. Meanwhile, the Dapper Dans worked overtime.


2:00 a.m., Hour 20

Jeanine: I had a FP for the 0300 World of Color: Celebrate! but decided I wouldn't go if I couldn't come back to Disneyland. While I sat there in the front mulling it over, they finally opened up the gates to all guests, who came running in, whooping and shrieking up a storm. Finally, I decided to chance it, figuring that there was no way Disneyland would refill up to capacity in the time it took to watch World of Color. After exiting Disneyland, however, I found that there was a huge stationary line in the esplanade waiting to get into DCA. I asked a Cast Member how I would get in, and they replied that DCA was at capacity and closed. It might reopen soon, but all these people would need to be cleared out before anyone else would get in. Gave up, went back in to Disneyland, and checked out the new exhibit "Drawing Disneyland: The Early Years" in the Disney Gallery, which highlights five of the original WED Imagineers who were instrumental in designing the different lands of Disneyland.

Harper Goff--Adventureland

Laura: Our alarm went off at 2:00. Lee opted to get some more sleep, but I went to the parks - I was hoping that by now the security line was gone/reasonable. The most recent tweet from Disneyland Resort said that Disneyland was still not open, but guests were still allowed to enter DCA. At 2:20 the bag check line had maybe 200 people in it, but we were told that BOTH parks were at capacity and they weren't letting anyone in. Since the 1:50 Paint the Night parade had recently ended I saw lots of people coming out of the Esplanade, so I hoped that would change soon. At 2:45 they opened bag check, and we were free to enter either park once inside. I hot-footed it to Paradise Bay.

3:00 a.m., Hour 21

Laura: The World of Color area was PACKED - even with my Fastpass I wouldn't have had a good spot, and I wanted to see how it looked from the side anyway. So I went over to Jumpin' Jellyfish. I was surprised that there weren't too many people over there - I even got a spot on the rail, even though I arrived just before 3:00.

I thought the show looked good even from the side - the projection screen on the Fun Wheel was very clear, so I still had some idea of what was going on. It's much better to see it from the front, of course - there's a lot you miss when you can't see the projections on the mist screens. But it's still interesting to see the fountains from the side.

World of Color - Celebrate

Jeanine: Finally got to use one FP for the day--Indiana Jones at 0310.


4:00 a.m., Hour 22

Laura: Once World of Color ended, lots of people left. There were still quite a few over at the Diamond Mad T Party, though. The "White Rabbit" DJ was on stage, and there were a number of people enjoying the music - a few were even dancing.

Diamond Mad T Party

Jeanine: Went over to scope out the Toontown Pajama Party, which was supposed to end around 0400. Toontown had played host to a pajama party previously on a 24hr day, but skipped it last time. This year saw a return of the bean bag chairs, the cartoons up on a big-ish screen, and karaoke.


Mickey and Co. were also in pajamas and busy meeting and greeting.


5:00 a.m., Hour 23

Jeanine: Rode Roger Rabbit for the First Time in Forever (I don't get back to Toontown all that often) and then exited the closing Toontown for it's a small world. I did not get transported to "Tomorrowland," despite wearing the symbol, but did meet up with Laura and took a ride on Casey Jr.


Laura: I went back over to Disneyland. Not too many people still roaming around - most who were still in the park were sitting around, trying to make it through the final hour! I met Jeanine back at "it's a small world".

Disneyland 24 hour event its a small world

6:00 a.m., Hour 24

Laura: No closing ceremony - we were at the castle, and there was an announcement, and nothing else. We made our way out to Main Street hoping to see the characters waving goodbye from the train station, but no. While I didn't make it the full 24 hours, I managed to be in the parks for about 17 hours, which was more than I expected to do. It was an interesting experience: sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, though much more of the former than the latter for me.

Jeanine: We close out one more 24hr day at the Castle.


While there was a congratulatory announcement and a playing of the Mickey Mouse Club Theme Song, it's always a little anti-climactic when they don't have any live hosts or fireworks or anything to commemorate the ending. Additionally, the characters they usually have out by the train station waving goodbye to people leaving after 24hrs, were whisked away almost at the same time as they were playing the announcement at the castle, leaving only Disneyland Ambassador Allie Kawamoto and Walt Disney World Ambassador Nathaniel Palma.


Final Comments

Jason: When Disneyland announced another 24 hour day to kick off the 60th anniversary and that they would hold it on Memorial Day weekend and start three new night time shows on the same day I thought it was an idea asking for trouble. I hoped they were planning plenty of preview opportunities to relieve some of the pressure on being there opening night. The controversial decision to close Disneyland in the early afternoon and not reopen it until well after the second Paint the Night Parade paid dividends for those inside the park but left those outside frustrated and people like me scratching our heads at the decision to run the 2nd parade so long after the first. For those of us inside Disneyland all day if you were not checking in with those outside the berm you experienced a fairly pleasant day. The crowds were heavy but felt less so than the holidays thanks to the large number of guests holding spots for Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever. The park never felt over crowded to me and I have been there on some high attendance days...the largest being the final day of the Main Street Electrical Parade. The food lines were long and slow and as the day went on the restroom lines were substantial but other than that it was a relatively smooth day. For those outside the berm though it was a completely different story.

Jeanine: I would agree with Jason that it seemed like a combination of factors likely to draw in huge amounts of people--a situation which ultimately proved to be true. The organization and communication which appeared to work fairly well in the morning, eventually seemed to break down under crushing volumes of guests and fatigue as the day wore on, with Cast Members doing the best they could with outdated or distorted information.

If Disneyland, with its relatively small areas, plans to court these kinds of crowds for these kinds of events in the future, they might need to take a page from some of the international parks more used to dealing with these issues. In Tokyo Disneyland, guests are prohibited from putting down blankets or reserving seats for parades and shows until around an hour ahead of time. While difficult to enforce in our society, more focused on individual freedoms, such a policy might have helped free up some of the congestion on Main Street, where people were sprawled out on the sidewalks from 0700. In some aspects, however, Disneyland did relatively well--counter service restaurants had fairly dauntingly long lines, but sit down restaurants seemed to have a lot of availability, particularly after midnight. The restroom situation was inconvenient, but nowhere near as bad as, say, Universal Studios Japan that I visited last year, where lines for the women's restrooms ran around 45 minutes for most of the day.

I've done three full 24hr days by now, (plus one just overnight) and while it's a long, tiring endeavor, and you can't plan on doing many attractions, there continues to be something special about being in the parks all night long which will doubtless continue to attract crowds whenever the occasions occur, with or without new shows, or parades, or even diamonds.

Laura: Ditto what Jason and Jeanine said. I want to say thank you to the Disneyland cast members, who managed to be gracious and patient under what had to be very difficult conditions for them. And I was also impressed with the behavior of the guests, too - though we were all tired, I thought people were more pleasant and courteous than they are on a normal day. This was my first 24-hour experience: as Jeanine said, there's something special about being in the parks all night long - or most of the night, at least. :-)

May 22, 2015

Review: "Tomorrowland"



"If I was walking down the street and I saw somebody with a jetpack flying over me, I'd believe that anything's possible. I'd be inspired. Doesn't that make the world a better place?"
--Frank Walker

"Tomorrowland," Brad Bird's latest oeuvre, is a paean to a time when the future was perceived as bright and limitless, and technology inspirational rather than oppressive.


The filmmakers have been fairly insistent on maintaining secrecy over the details of the plot, but in brief, "Tomorrowland" tells the story of why an essentially optimistic world might lose its sense of wonder and turn towards cynicism and despair. It does so through the eyes of a bright young girl named Casey Newton who gets a glimpse of Tomorrowland--where the best of all possible futures is being developed--and then is determined to see more.


On her adventure, she will encounter any number of dangers, and enlist the help of Frank Walker, a bitter loner who knows more about Tomorrowland than he would like to admit, and Athena, a young girl who is at once much more and much less than she appears.


Long-time Disney fans might remember that the first reveal on this film was in the summer of 2013, when Disney unveiled an alternate reality game called "The Optimist." Based around the story of another bright young girl investigating a secret society of visionaries, players traveled around Disneyland and Los Angeles to different Walt-Disney-related landmarks, uncovering clues and special items. Ultimately, the game revealed that Walt Disney (among others) was a member of the Plus Ultra society--people who believed in and worked to make a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow. They operated out of a secret/hidden locale that was accessible through the "it's a small world" exhibit at the 1964-65 World's Fair.


The game culminated at the 2013 D23 Expo, where people solved riddles, took a ride on the Lily Belle, and ended up in the Main Street Cinema, where a short film confirmed the society's existence and proffered membership pins for those ingenious enough to make it to the end.


At the same Expo, Bird and Lindelof uncovered the "Dusty Old Box" that apparently was found in the Walt Disney Studios and dated back to 1952. In it were articles and blueprints that seemed to verify Walt Disney and his Imagineers' Plus Ultra involvement. The contents, along with a variety of other artifacts were on display and viewable through a mobile app:


I go through this backstory, so that, like me, you can go in with a knowledge and appreciation of the depth of thought that went into the world of this movie, and unlike me, will not have the expectation that it will all have much to do with this particular movie. The retro World's Fair segment and the futuristic Tomorrowland are beautiful and beautifully done, but make up relatively short sequences in the beginning and end of the film. The bulk of the film is the "Wizard of Oz" style journey Casey takes that spans time and space, and utilizes motorcycles, bicycles, rockets, and a Chevrolet Volt.


George Clooney, although not making an appearance until after the film is well underway, is a good choice for the part of the cranky, defeated Walker. His innate charm keeps the character likeable despite his initially forceful repulsion of Casey and complicated relationship with Athena.


The highlight of the movie however, is Raffey Cassidy who is fabulous as Athena. In some ways carrying the bulk of the film on her tiny, sturdy shoulders, she has all the bright appeal of a young girl, but the depth and maturity of something quite a bit older.

"I'm the Future, Frank Walker."

At the end of the day, "Tomorrowland" proves to be an enjoyable action-adventure movie with some nice performances and some beautiful set pieces. As you'd expect, from someone with Bird's eye for detail, the World's Fair recreation (keep a look out for Composer Michael Giacchino as the "it's a small world" ride operator) and especially the Tomorrowland visions are spectacular--so much so that it comes as something of a let-down that after a brief glimpse it's taken away from us, just as with Casey.


The movie's message, that the Future is likely to be as good or bad as you make it, is a positive one, and the emphasis on a teenage girl's intelligence and perception over her romantic proclivities is refreshing. If I still think wistfully on the film that might have been, that focused more on Walt Disney and Disneyland's involvement in "Tomorrowland's" secret society (material that was included in the film's precursor novel "Before Tomorrowland") it is more on me than on Bird or Lindelof. It's hardly their fault, after all, that I went in wanting "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," and they gave me "In Search of the Castaways."


"When I touched this pin, I saw this place--someplace amazing. And it felt like anything was possible. And then it was gone."
--Casey Newton

"Tomorrowland." Rated PG, it stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, and Thomas Robinson.

Directed by Brad Bird, with a screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird, based on a story by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird, and Jeff Jensen. Produced by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird, and Jeffrey Chernov. The Executive Producers are John Walker, Bernard Bellew, Jeff Jensen, and Brigham Taylor.

The film enters general release on May 22, 2015, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

May 18, 2015

"Tomorrowland" Press Conference


"You wanted to see Tomorrowland. Here it comes."
--Frank Walker


As you might have surmised, if you've visited Disneyland or EPCOT recently to see the previews, the next big Walt Disney Studios film up for release is the new Brad Bird movie, "Tomorrowland."

In a recent press junket, Bird, Screenwriter Damon Lindelof, Story writer Jeff Jensen, and cast members George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Tim McGraw, and Raffey Cassidy all gathered to talk about the upcoming film.



Some notes from the panel:

Brad Bird

--Brad Bird on Walt Disney's influence on "Tomorrowland:" "Some of the very last things that Walt Disney filmed were about this experimental prototype community of tomorrow...And he was talking about the park and he said, 'yeah, there will be an amusement park kind of like Disneyland, but the whole reason to do it, the main attraction, is this!' And he pointed to the city and said, 'it's going to be an actual place that you can try ideas and we'll take corporations and we'll collaborate with them on new ideas, and sell the ideas to the world, and try them out.'...Which part of it do you think wasn't done? It's that part. And it's understandable, because you needed somebody like Disney as a catalyst to make it happen. But on his deathbed, he was looking up at the ceiling and pointing out how the city would be laid out...The fact that he was, to his last moments, dreaming about this future and making crazy ideas happen, and be real, and accelerate the pace of that, was very moving to me. And if the movie caught even a little bit of that, I think we will have succeeded."

Raffey Cassidy

--Raffey Cassidy on the relationship between her character and Britt Robertson's character: "I think the relationship between Casey and Athena is quite friendly, because Athena just wants to get Casey and Frank together, to try and save the world."

George Clooney

--George Clooney on getting involved with the project: "I have to say, just so we're clear, when Damon and Brad showed up at my house, they said, 'We've got a part that we've written for you.' And then I opened up the description of the character and it's a 55-year-old has-been, and I'm kind of going, 'Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?'"

Britt Robertson

---Britt Robertson on the role of NASA as a source of futuristic optimism: "NASA represents this unknown, and the human race being able to explore the universe and other things that are out there...We're talking about a movie that's saying, 'we don't know what our future is. It's not determined for us, and maybe if we go out there and explore the world, maybe if NASA wants to go and see what else is out there, then maybe that will have some helpful part in making our future something to be excited about.'"

Tim McGraw

---Tim McGraw on his experience playing a dad, versus his real-life role as a dad: "I was thinking of the scene where we were shooting in the car, Britt and I. We had a long conversation...We were talking about life and talking about guys. It was pretty reminiscent of some of the conversations that I've had with my daughters. In fact, I had to be upset in that scene and I had just been upset with my daughter...the night before about something. There were a lot of parallels for me, for sure, yeah."

Damon Lindelhof and Jeff Jensen

--Damon Lindelhof on coming up with the movie's concept: "...I've always been really interested in the future and I kind of feel like all the movies that I've been exposed to over the course of the last 20-30 years have shown me a future that I don't really want to be living in."

--Jeff Jensen: "...A lot of Disney really inspired and informed the movie, especially, I think, EPCOT, the whole idea and original idea behind EPCOT, and how that evolved as a sort of laboratory for the future."


--Clooney on the theme of "Tomorrowland:" "...You know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it's rough out there. And it's not fun. And it can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it's sort of hopeless, in a way, and what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you're involved...A single voice can make a difference and I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there's still so much that we can all do to make things better. And I liked it. I thought it was great."

"Tomorrowland," rated PG, will be released in theaters May 22, 2015.

May 16, 2015

"Tomorrowland" Walks the Blue Carpet



On May 9, 2015, Walt Disney Studio's "Tomorrowland" had its world premiere at the AMC Downtown Disney 12 in Anaheim. Celebrity attendees walked a futuristic blue carpet down to the theater, greeting media and enthusiastic fans alike.

Present for the opening of the film were cast members George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Tim McGraw, and Thomas Robinson, as well as Director/Producer/Writer Brad Bird, Producer/Writer Damon Lindelof, Producer Jeffrey Chernov, Executive Producer John Walker, Executive Producer and Story Writer Jeff Jensen, Composer Michael Giacchino, and Co-Producer/VFX Tom Peitzman. Other luminaries attending included Disney Legends Tony Baxter, Bob Gurr, and Richard Sherman, along with Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, TJ Miller from "Big Hero 6," and Brett Dalton from "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD."

Among those kind enough to share a few words with us were Jeff Jensen, Richard Sherman, Tom Peitzman, Tony Baxter, Alan Horn, Michael Giacchino, Brett Dalton, and George Clooney.

"Tomorrowland" will be opening in general theaters on May 22, 2015.

May 13, 2015

Star Wars Celebration: Photos and Last Thoughts


For our last look back at Star Wars Celebration, I'm offering up some final thoughts and a slideshow of some of the various and sundry sights found around the Exhibitor's Floor and elsewhere.

The Good: Celebration had an enormous amount of content available and organized it fairly well in different interest tracks: Cosplay, Crafting, Literature, etc. The mobile application they developed was actually much better than the apps I've used for other conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, enabling attendees to quickly access the day's schedule and sync it with a list of personal favorites. In general, lines appeared manageable for most of the smaller panels, and getting into the Arena presentations was at least not any more painful than you should probably expect at a big convention.

Most importantly, both the presenters and the guests seemed to be imbued with a fresh sense of enthusiasm and optimism for the franchise that only ratcheted up as the weekend progressed. Some of that surely was secondary to all the new activity brought on after the Disney purchase, but the clips and reports from the people involved with the new LucasFilm gave a sense of purpose and vision that bodes well for the upcoming films.


The Bad: While the line management got reasonably effective by the end of the weekend, the start was marked by an abundance of disorganization and shrill histrionics. Finding your way to the various locations wasn't helped by the fact that they named all the different venues unenlightening things like "Celebration Stage"...and then didn't put the names on the maps they uploaded to the app. Fortunately they updated the app regularly so the information was up by the second day, but it seemed as though it took about a day for enough information to disseminate through the volunteers to render them helpful.


The Ugly: Probably the worst part of the whole convention was the Celebration Show Store. The line to get in was horrific, and the line to check out was worse. When I got in line, I assumed that the line was going to move really fast, because otherwise the length of it would have made waiting in it ridiculous. Surprise! It actually took around two hours or so to get through the line to pay. By the time I got to the cashier, I could barely remember what I was there for. By Sunday, the lines had dwindled away, but so had most of the merchandise.

It seems as though it might streamline things if they limited the number of each item one person could purchase, and possibly instituted a "fastpass"-like system so that people could reserve a window of time they could enter the store. A similar fix might help with walk-throughs such as the "Force Awakens" Exhibit that had three to four hour wait times the days I checked, obligating them to cap the line around noon the last day.

Another workaround would be to purchase the VIP tickets that offer a number of perks, including reserved seating and a preview session in the store. The disadvantages, besides the increased cost, is that they are relatively limited in number and sell out almost as soon as tickets go on sale.

On the whole, however, I thought Celebration did a great job of feeding the audience's desire for more information about the future of the Star Wars franchise, while avoiding spoilers. It introduced new players while reintroducing us to a number of old ones, and was persuasive in presenting impressive prospects to come.

Next year, Star Wars Celebration will be held July 15-17, 2016 at the Excel London Exhibition Centre. Tickets and other information are available at

May 11, 2015

Current and Upcoming Video Games from the Star Wars Universe


Video games have long been a major component of Star Wars fandom, and were well represented at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim.


The biggest video game presented was Star Wars Battlefront, by EA.

A multiplayer action shooter with impressive graphics and meticulous film mimicry, Battlefront allows players to fight for either the Empire or the Rebellion, in ground combat or in the air.


Throughout gameplay, different weapons and abilities will be unlockable, giving the player the ability to take the roles of characters such as Darth Vader and Boba Fett.


Star Wars Battlefront will be released in North America on November 17, 2015 for PS4, XBox One, and PC. The first (free) DLC Battle of Jakku will be available December 8, 2015, with pre-orders able to access it one week early.


BioWare's Massively-Multiplayer Online Game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, had a stop in their Community Cantina Tour at Celebration, in which attendees could meet and greet the developers, community team, and other players.

Reputed to have the most story content of its kind, the game takes place in the Star Wars "Fictional Universe," between the events of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, and some thousands of years before the events of the films. Players can choose from a wide variety of the many character classes existing in the Star Wars universe, and create their own storyline based on their choices and actions. The game is subscription-based, with a limited free-to-play option, and has been online since 2011. The latest digital expansion pack was "Shadow of Revan."

In addition to the games represented at Celebration, the highly popular Disney Infinity just announced a new 3.0 update due in the fall which will introduce Star Wars characters into their already expansive roster.

Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition will feature three Star Wars Play Sets--one set in the timeline of each of the two trilogies (Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic, and Star Wars: Rise Against the Empire,) and one taking place during the action of the upcoming "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


Additional play sets will be available based on the upcoming Pixar film "Inside Out," and the recent blockbuster "Avengers: Age of Ultron."


The Toy Box will be updated with two new multiplayer expansion games: Toy Box Speedway and Toy Box Takeover. A multitude of new figures of characters from across the broad Disney Company holdings will also be added, such as Sam Flynn and Quorra from "Tron: Legacy," and Mulan and Olaf.


All 1.0 and 2.0 figures and discs will be compatible with the 3.0 update, which will come out on PS3, PS4, XBox One, XBox 360, Wii U, PC, iOS, and Android platforms. The Starter Pack will have a suggested retail price of $64.99.


May 5, 2015

Star Wars Awakens: Upcoming Films from Star Wars Celebrations


Now I realize it's possible that some people may not have seen that trailer yet, but they are among a select population. The day it debuted at the opening ceremony of Star Wars Celebrations Anaheim alone, it racked up around 88 million views.


"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is the seventh installment of the pop culture juggernaut, given life after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012. Starting off a new trilogy which will take place some 30 years after "Return of the Jedi," the film is being directed by J.J. Abrams (lately of "Star Trek,") from a screenplay he co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan.


Because of the white-hot interest level inherent in the first new live-action Star Wars movie in a decade, the film has been shrouded in mystery--a tactic familiar to Abrams from his time on "Lost" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness." Consequently, the opening panel at Celebration, with both Abrams and Producer/Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, was avidly anticipated by attendees who waited in line all night from the afternoon prior.

While details were scarce, we found out that the movie will feature a scavenger...


A stormtrooper...


A pilot...


A super-cute droid...


...And some other familiar faces.


Later that weekend, we were treated to a return of Kennedy with director Gareth Edwards, who will be helming the first of the stand-alone "Anthology" Star Wars films, which take place outside of the core trilogy storyline.


Although still early in production (shooting will commence this summer,) "Rogue One" is reportedly a war movie, starring Felicity Jones ("Theory of Everything") as part of a rogue group of rebel fighters determined to steal some Death Star plans and bring a New Hope to the galaxy. It will be set between Episode three and four.

(Josh Trank was also scheduled to be present at the panel, but was absent due to illness. Subsequently, it was announced that he would be leaving his position as director for the second Star Wars anthology film.)

[All photos and videos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios/Lucasfilm]

May 1, 2015

Review: "Avengers: Age of Ultron"



"You didn't see that coming?"

"Avengers: Age of Ultron," the penultimate of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase Two films, calls once more on all our old friends (and a few new ones) to save Earth from imminent destruction.


Segueing smoothly from the "Marvel: Agents of SHIELD" setup this week, "Ultron" starts off with the team charging into action in snowy, war-torn Sokovia to retrieve Loki's scepter from HYDRA. Mission accomplished, the Avengers can finally afford some time for well-earned revelry...until Tony Stark's scientific curiosity, hubris, and personal demons set in motion actions of global endangerment.


To make things right, the heroes will travel the world trying to shut down an enemy as free-form as the internet, and as malevolent as a vicious child. New faces and old fears batter them at every turn, and the ruthless calculus of war and sacrifice may dominate in the end.


In an effort to differentiate this film from its blockbuster predecessor, Whedon makes a pointed effort to make the team's internal conflicts more personal and the violent consequences more international. Where "Avengers" showed the threat of an alien invasion largely confined to New York, "Ultron" filmed around the world in South Africa, Italy, and South Korea, grounding its more fantastical elements in real settings.


Where the film shines, however, is the smaller moments, when the team members are able to take a breath and interact as people rather than soldiers-at-arms. Peppered with Whedon's trademark humor, the party at the beginning is funny enough to regret that it isn't longer. All the actors--some of which have been inhabiting these characters for the last five to seven years--wear their personae like well-worn jeans, imbuing them with a comfortable sense of history.

[Shout out to Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill, who is subsequently shown doing what any real person would do after running around barefoot, shooting and fighting in a room full of glass walls.]


While all the heroes, the previously neglected Hawkeye in particular, get their moments of backstory and personal turmoil, Robert Downey Jr. heads up the cast with a solid performance of the billionaire genius who is as brash and egotistical as he is tortured.


James Spader as the titular Ultron also does a phenomenal job, making the "murderbot" an almost sympathetic creature of confusion and rage. Witty and almost inadvertently evil in parts, Ultron could easily claim ancestry from some of Whedon's larger "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" villains.

"You've obviously never made an omlet."

The one element that clouds the movie a little is the need to keep setting up the major Phase Three storyline with Thanos and the Infinity gems. The woven-in exposition is slightly opaque for anyone only casually following the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and leads to a scene with Thor and...some sort of scrying pool...that seems at once very coincidental and unconvincing. While it doesn't ultimately detract much from the pace of the film, it feels like one segment that was graphed onto the storyline in an inorganic manner.


Ultimately, the movie is a fun, action-filled romp that manages the feat, somewhat unique in today's comic book movies, of caring about its characters--both the headliners and the extras. The easy comparison would be with DC's grey, joyless "Man of Steel" which featured huge battle scenes between super-powered combatants who grimly rack up enough collateral damage to depopulate several cities without blinking.


By contrast, in "Ultron," virtually every battle revolves around the need to protect the surrounding civilians from the inevitable morbidity and mortality that follows any of their confrontations. The concern becomes an even larger issue as the fear of failing this duty propels Stark to the questionable actions that drive this movie...and perhaps some of the Phase Three movies as well. Even the portrayals of combat evolve as the seriousness of the matter increases throughout the film, from the more cartoon-y sped-up fighting in the opening, where ricocheting bullets unerringly find HYDRA shins and arms in lieu of more vital targets, to the final battle--gritty and dirty, with stakes alarmingly high.


What measures will Stark and his "Iron Legion" take to ensure the security of Earth? At what point does an armed security force change from a protective guardian to an oppressive gestapo? Something for Stark to consider while we wait for "Captain America: Civil War." Maybe something for the rest of us to consider as well.


"Avengers: Age of Ultron" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård with James Spader and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon and produced by Kevin Feige. The Executive Producers are Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham, Patricia Whitcher, Stan Lee, and Jon Favreau.

The film enters general release on May 1, 2015, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

**Kidding. Unless they slip one in later, this one doesn't have an end-credit scene.

April 27, 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" Press Junket


"Avengers...Time to work for a living."
--Tony Stark


So, excluding those currently undergoing life in a hermitage, most of the movie-going public is likely aware that the new and upcoming addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

As part of the media blitz for the movie's opening, the extensive cast, along with Writer/Director Joss Whedon and Producer Kevin Feige stopped by the Walt Disney Studios for a brief press conference.



(In the interests of making this a family-friendly blog, one word has been clipped from one of Robert Downey Jr.'s responses.)

Some notes from the panel:

Scarlett Johansson

--Biggest challenge for Whedon: Making sure everyone in the cast ("there are like...47 of them...") got their moments and fit together into the same narrative.

Joss Whedon

--Whedon's starting point for creating a sequel to "The Avengers" was to think of the smallest moments he hadn't covered yet: "How can I get inside their hearts; how can they be funny?"

Elizabeth Olsen

--Make sure you open your press conferences with a question for RDJ.

James Spader, Mark Ruffalo, and Chris Hemsworth

---James Spader on his experience with motion-capture: "I really don't have any idea what was all happened very quickly. I was really just trying to hold on and stay on the train that was moving very very quickly..."

Robert Downey Jr.

---Chris Hemsworth's favorite superhero growing up was Superman, on the basis of it being the only superhero film available to him then. James Spader had no comic books growing up.

Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans

--Jeremy Renner on Hawkeye's development: "I speak in this movie, which is awesome."

Chris Evans

--Scarlett Johansson on Black Widow's development: "...She had this moment of false hope where she kind of felt like she had put in the work and there should be some sort of personal payoff...she realizes that her calling is a greater one...that is what is most heroic about her..."

Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, and Cobie Smulders

--Mark Ruffalo on creating Bruce Banner a character distinct from the Hulk: "I was helped out by the fact that I'm GREEN and HUGE, that helped me with the distinction between the two characters so I can't take full credit for that."

Aaron Taylor Johnson and Kevin Feige

--Whedon used to be in love with a woman named Betty.

Kevin Feige

--"Veronica" is the opposite of "Betty."

"Avengers: Age of Ultron," rated PG-13, will be released in theaters May 1, 2015.

April 7, 2015

Welcome back to WonderCon!


Convention season is once again upon us, starting off as usual with WonderCon, held at the Anaheim Convention Center.


This was actually an interesting year for WonderCon, as Anaheim will be playing host to a glut of conventions this year, ranging from Star Wars Celebrations later this month, to the D23 Expo in August.


(These line corrals for the Arena look familiar? If they don't now, they surely will by the end of summer.)

Possibly because of all the different events going on, there was a decrease in the usual film/television representation that usually takes place here. Marvel passed on having a booth, as they are also reputed to be doing for San Diego Comic-Con this year, presumably saving their content for Expo. All this gave the convention something of an "old-school" feel--a throwback to when comic conventions were actually about comics and celebrating fandom, rather than movie promotion and star appearances.


Panels ran in a variety of interest tracks, such as costuming, writing, gaming, art, pop culture, and fandom.


Disney/ABC Writing Program finalist Brandon Easton ran one such panel on tips from established writers on breaking into Comics and scriptwriting. Their main advice: Finish what you start--even failed projects teach more than unfinished ones.

One panel Disney did bring was "Big Hero 6: The Art of the Story," in which Story Artists Brian Kesinger and Normand Lemay described the developmental process for Big Hero 6 and showed some deleted scenes in storyboard format (no recording was allowed.)


Chris Hardwick ("The Nerdist") had a talk about his multi-media network, and announced that he would be hosting an 29-hour Avengers viewing marathon at the El Capitan in advance of the release of the next Avengers film, "Age of Ultron." Limited tickets available at


In addition to the presentations and discussions, there was, as always, an extensive Exhibitor's Floor, which was actually navigable thanks to a lack of the huge artery-clogging booths the big studios and networks usually run.


A wide range of Disney-themed merchandise was available, representing all its different franchises:










...As well as an enormous amount of cosplay. The close proximity to Disneyland seemed to encourage even more people to take the opportunity to show their #DisneySide.


























In all, although the con felt smaller this year without the big star presence it has had in the past, it also felt more individualized with an emphasis on inspiring and educating people to best express their own creativity, whether through art or film production or novels--a nice change from the more passive pop culture consumption that's usually represented. At the end of the convention, it was announced that WonderCon will be moving from Anaheim to the Los Angeles Convention Center for 2016, which likely will please some people by resulting in a bigger, broader experience, but will disappoint those looking to easily combine WonderCon with a simultaneous trip to Disneyland.

March 13, 2015

Review: Cinderella



"Cinderella," a new live-action retelling of the classic fairy tale from Walt Disney Studios and Director Kenneth Branagh, regally depicts the well-known story of a girl, a fairy godmother, and a glass slipper.


Loosely based on the 1950 animated film, this version is gently updated for the modern times, with more backstory given to Ella's happy early days with her parents, and a longer look at the Prince who inevitably wins her heart.


It is her mother (Hayley Atwell) who encourages Ella's imagination and perception of good in everyone, and who leaves her with the strong commendation to "have courage and be kind!" Unfortunately, her father's second choice for a wife, Lady (Cate Blanchett) Tremaine, only holds truck with the first part.


Ultimately, as in the 1950's edition, Cinderella does make it to the ball, with a little help from her friends, and loses a shoe but gains a Prince in the end.


As the unwaveringly gracious Cinderella, Lily James gives a charming performance of a young woman determined to adhere to her dying Mother's advice (who wouldn't listen to Agent Peggy Carter?) and see the best in everyone. Helena Bonham Carter does her usual quirky best as the Fairy Godmother, and if her sequence alone seems to have dropped out of a Tim Burton film, that may just be by power of association.


The star of the film however, is Cate Blanchett. As the mostly-fearsome Lady Tremaine, she strikes a powerful image clad in sharply angled outfits reminiscent of Joan Crawford at her most hard-boiled. Treading a thin line, she manages to make the archetypal Evil Stepmother understandable, if not sympathetic: A product of love lost, thwarted ambition, and seething resentment. Her portrayal is so vivid that although you might wish she was given more screen time, to do so would likely overshadow the film's less-defined protagonists.


As a work of art, the movie looks gorgeous: Branagh is no stranger to sumptuously designed productions, and it shows here. Between the elaborate, striking costumes by Sandy Powell and the colossal baroque sets by Dante Ferretti, the world of "Cinderella" is as magical as any Fairy Godmother could wish.


While most of the film is a direct callback from the 1950 film, the new scenes meant to make the story a little more accessible to contemporary audiences work very well, with the most successful being the initial meeting of Ella and Prince/Apprentice Kit. The brief hint of "mansplaining" that goes on as Kit tries to help Ella control her horse, and her subsequent indignation at his tradition-based conservative viewpoints helps to establish them as equals and makes their exhaustive efforts to be together more believable.


Probably both the best and the worst thing about "Cinderella" is that it is an unabashedly unironic retelling of a very familiar story. There are no dramatic reversals at the end--the Stepmother is not revealed to be the heroine and Cinderella does not learn kung fu and slay any dragons. It is an elegant, straightforward tale that dares to recommend kindness and courage over anger and vindictiveness in a world that, like ours, seldom distinguishes between them...and perhaps, sometimes, that's all that's required.


Also playing with "Cinderella" is "Frozen Fever," the animated short sequel to "Frozen." It has Elsa planning a grand celebration for Anna's birthday, when she abruptly finds that a cold maybe bothers her anyway. With the same cute characters everyone loved from the original movie, and another catchy tune from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, there's little chance that this one's not going to go over like gangbusters. All they have to worry about at this point, is whether the Disney Stores will subsequently be able to keep the Snowgies on the shelves.

"Cinderella" is presented by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Rated PG, it stars Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and produced by Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur, and David Barron. Screenplay by Chris Weitz.

The film enters general release on March 13, 2015.

March 6, 2015

Cinderella and Frozen Fever: Press Conference with the Cast and Crew


"Have courage and be kind."
--Ella's Mother


The next big release from Walt Disney Studios and director Kenneth Branagh is a live-action retelling of the classic fairy tale "Cinderella," preceded by the new short "Frozen Fever," a sequel to the blockbuster animated film "Frozen."

As part of the press junket for the film's opening, a selection from "Cinderella's" prestigious cast and crew took a few moments for some roundtable interviews.



The first interviewees were Co-Director Chris Buck and Producer Peter Del Vecho for "Frozen Fever."



Next up was Cinderella herself, Lily James.



Just as Cinderella is always one step ahead of the Prince, so Lily James was followed by Richard Madden.



We were then joined by "Cinderella's" Director, the wunderkind Kenneth Branagh.



(Hopefully you cannot hear me hyperventilating because OMG, KENNETH BRANAGH.)

Afterwards, we were joined by Screenwriter Chris Weitz and Producers Allison Shearmur and David Barron.



With a movie as dependent on wardrobe changes as "Cinderella," Costume Designer Sandy Powell had her work cut out for her. Our morning ended with her giving us a glimpse into the creation of the film's impressive gowns.


"Cinderella," rated PG, will be released in theaters March 13, 2015.

January 23, 2015

Review: Strange Magic



"Strange Magic," a new animated feature from Lucas film Ltd., tells the tale of the denizens of a fairy tale realm, and the hijinks that ensue when love--real and pharmaceutical--enters the picture.


The story, conceived by George Lucas, introduces us to a fairy tale kingdom divided into a Light Side (Fairy Kingdom,) and a Dark Side (Dark Forest.) The Light Side is ruled over by a King and his two Princess daughters. The eldest, spunky, adventurous Marianne, is engaged to be married to the handsome narcissist Roland. Unfortunately, their wedding day reveals some compatibility issues that leave Marianne determined to swear off love forever.


As it happens, the border of the Light and the Dark Side is marked by primroses--a key ingredient in a magical love potion, which would seem to be the answer to a lot of problems for both Roland and Sunny the elf, who appears to have been sadly friendzoned by the younger Princess Dawn. Unfortunately, the production of said potion has been strictly curtailed by the Bog King, who seems to rule the Dark Side on a platform of "no love potions." It seems he too has had some unfortunate history that has left him determined to swear off love forever.



Eventually, pop songs are sung, potions are made, the wrong people are dusted, and a plethora of interesting matches are made, including what appeared to be maybe a lizard and a toadstool. In her efforts to protect her sister, Marianne must interact with the Bog King, and may discover that appearances can be deceiving, and beauty lies within.


The voice acting in the film is perfectly respectable, with such Broadway veterans as Alan (Bog King) Cumming and Kristen (Sugar Plum Fairy) Chenoweth heading up the cast and tackling the large number of pop songs that pepper the film. One standout is Elijah Kelley who invests Sunny with enough likeability to overcome the impatience one might feel at his character's persistent credulity.


The animation is as fluid and proficient as you'd expect, coming out of Industrial Light & Magic, even if the character designs aren't entirely appealing. The goblins of the Dark Forest come out the cutest, while the fairies suffer a little from the "uncanny valley" effect, of being a little too close to real, but not quite close enough.


Ultimately, "Strange Magic's" main antagonist ends up being the demon of comparison: With the recent outstanding output WDAS has been producing, such as "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6," we are currently experiencing a boom time for animation. Unfortunately, whether it's because of relative inexperience or a smaller project scope, "Strange Magic" isn't really competitive with them on either an artistic or story level. That is not to say it isn't enjoyable, however, and if you and yours enjoyed "Shrek," "Gnomio and Juliet," and the Disney Fairies movies, this amalgamation may be right up your alley.


"Strange Magic" is presented by Lucasfilm Ltd. Rated PG, it stars Alan Cumming, Evan Rachel Wood, Kristin Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph, Sam Palladio, Meredith Anne Bull, Alfred Molina, Elijah Kelley, Bob Einstein, and Peter Stormare.

Directed by Gary Rydstrom and produced by Mark S. Miller. Screenplay by David Berenbaum, Irene Mecchi, and Gary Rydstrom, based on a story by George Lucas. Musical director and
composer is Marius de Vries.

The film enters general release on January 23, 2015, and is distributed by Touchstone Pictures.

January 3, 2015

Three Kings Day at the Disneyland Resort



This weekend, January 2-6, 2015, Disney California Adventure will once again finish off its popular "Disney ¡Viva Navidad!" event with its annual Three Kings Day Finale. Here to tell us more about it, is performer and Cast Member, Carlos Martinez, with musicians Josh Dishan and Johnny Gomez:

A new addition to this year's festivities is "The Spirit of Navidad," a musical storytelling performance with bilingual performers who tell the story of Dia de Los Reyes while singing traditional holiday songs.


Along with the aforementioned Rosca de Reyes, there are a number of Mexican specialty foods available at the Paradise Gardens, such as pozole, torta al pastor, and champurrado. Toby Hollis, Area Chef for Pacific Wharf and the Boardwalk restaurants, demonstrated the making of buñuelos for us:

Of course all the spectacle and activity of ¡Viva Navidad! will still be ongoing, with character appearances by Fiesta Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy, and the Three Caballeros.


The ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party will also continue to enthrall people six times a day throughout the weekend.


Kids may also participate in arts and crafts, along with face painting and the making of paper crowns for Three Kings Day.


All this is only available at the Disneyland Resort until January 6th, so hurry out and enjoy the Three Kings Day offerings--rich in culture, food, music, and dance.


December 25, 2014

Review: Into the Woods


"Into the woods to get the thing
That makes it worth the journeying.
Into the woods to see the King--
To sell the cow--
To make the potion...
To go to the Festival--!
Into the woods!
Into the woods!
Into the woods,
Then out of the woods...
And home before dark!"

--Prologue: Into the Woods


"Into the Woods," Rob Marshall's filmic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's classic stage musical of the same name, is an amalgamation of fairy tales, both old and new, put under a contemporary scrutiny.


The story revolves largely around the unnamed "Baker" and "Baker's Wife" whose desperate wish for a child drives them to enter the eponymous Woods to gather potion ingredients for their neighbor, the Witch. They learn that, as a result of a wrong the Baker's father did to the Witch, she cursed his household with sterility--a curse that can only be lifted if the couple can make the potion for the Witch by the end of the Blue Moon in three days time.


Also entering into the Woods to achieve their aims, are Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Killer.Their stories play out pretty much as you might expect, and by the end of the first half, all that was wrong is now put right, with everyone who deserved it, destined to live Happy Ever After...


...Or at least until the second act, in which we learn that real life is rarely as simple or pat as that in fairy tales.


"Into the Woods" faces the always-interesting challenge of translating a stage play into a film--a medium very different in what it showcases well and what it does not. The intimacy of the close-up and realism of location shooting require a different sort of storytelling than that of the Broadway stage, and some of the changes made reflect that. The bulk of the musical numbers survive into the film with the ones eliminated referencing character traits or story details that didn't make the screenplay. As an example, the song "No More," resolving the issues between the Baker and his Father in the play, becomes less necessary when the character of the Father was largely removed. One of my personal favorites, "Maybe They're Magic," from the first half, may have been taken out in an attempt to make the Baker's Wife less morally ambiguous, although there is then less foreshadowing for some of her more questionable decisions later in the story.


The cast does an admirable job with the score, which is as challenging as a Sondheim score usually is. The songs seem sung a little slower than in the original soundtrack, however that might be more for increasing the clarity for the audience than a lack of musical adroitness. Meryl Streep is the star, and even if you have not quite forgiven her for dissing Walt Disney earlier this year, there is no denying that she possesses the part of the Witch with a vengeance. Johnny Depp as the Wolf manages to make a big impression with a relatively small part, and somehow seems less creepy in an outfit one moviegoer described as "part wolf and part pimp," than he did as Willy Wonka.


Child roles are always problematic, and the parts of Red Riding Hood and Jack can sometimes be played gratingly irritating, but Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone do a phenomenal job of making the parts likeable and understandable. Crawford in particular gives Red a nice element of pragmatism that is mirrored in all the other female characters of the story, as opposed to the generally less effective male characters.


If there's one number you're going to remember, however, it's likely to be Chris (Cinderella's Prince) Pine and Billy (Rapunzel's Prince) Magnussen's "Agony," in which the narcissistic, shallow princes bewail the unusual and novel (for them) tortures of not immediately getting what they want. Tearing up the scenery like male models in an Old Spice commercial, they do a hilarious performance that makes the elimination of the second act reprise a crime.


The main flaw of "Into the Woods" the film, is probably the same flaw of "Into the Woods" the play, which is the mildly unsettled second act. The first half, following the traditional fairy tale molds, has a nice traditional storytelling arc that wraps up all the problems neatly. The second half shows the rapid unraveling of those ends, as "happy ever after" is shown to be largely an illusion. In one sense, the film is a victim of its more visually straightforward nature, as a confrontation with a giant, dealt with more or less off-stage in the original, must be shown and proves to be somewhat puzzling as to how it would practically work. There has also always been some incongruity present in the end, as in the big finale "No One is Alone," the cast sings about how "witches can be right/giants can be good..." but apparently it's ok to kill them anyway?


People who study such things note that in fairy tales, the Woods represents a place of metamorphosis--an unknown territory where people enter on the road to maturation, to discover what they want and who they want to be. All the characters of "Into the Woods" walk in with clearly defined wishes and goals and emerge triumphant at the half-way point. But what happens after? Real Life doesn't just stop after you reach a high-water mark--it keeps marching along, messy and unclear and ambiguous, and perhaps it's fitting after all, that the film's ending is equally inconclusive.


Ultimately, there are many different messages that can be taken away from "Into the Woods:" "You can't get what you want until you know what you want;" "being nice and good is not the same as being right;" "all people are connected on some level;" "wishes come true, not free." Perhaps the most practical one I took away was "don't live next door to a witch."

"Into the Woods" is rated PG. It stars Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, and Johnny Depp.

"Into the woods, each time you go,
There's more to learn of what you know.
Into the woods, but not too slow--"

Directed by Rob Marshall and produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt, and Callum McDougal. Screenplay by James Lapine. Based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

"Into the woods to mind the Wolf,
To heed the Witch,
To honor the Giant...
To go to the Festival!
Into the woods,
Into the woods,
Into the woods,
Then out of the woods--
And happy ever after!"

The film enters general release on December 25, 2014.

"I wish..."

December 24, 2014

Into the Woods: Press Conference with the Cast


"I wish...
More than anything...
More than life...
More than jewels...
More than the moon..."
--Prologue: "Into the Woods"


For Christmas this year, Rob Marshall and Walt Disney Studios are giving the cinema-going public "Into the Woods."

In preparation for opening, the studio held a screening and press conference with some of the the film's star-studded cast, costume designer, and director.


(No posed photos or video were allowed during the course of the roundtable discussions. Audio selections from the Q&A follow.)



First up was the hilarious duo of Tracy (Jack's Mother) Ullman, and Christine (Stepmother) Baranski.




Next was Costume Designer Colleen Atwood.



We were then joined by Director Rob Marshall.


The morning ended with three of the film's stars, Emily (The Baker's Wife) Blunt, Anna (Cinderella) Kendrick, and James (The Baker) Corden.




"Into the Woods," rated PG, will be released in theaters December 25, 2014.

December 19, 2014

D23 Destination D: Attraction Rewind, Day 1


DESTINATION D MAGIC BAND WINNERS: Jeff Finger , Chuck Strom and Claude Herbert! Send Deb your address via the Contact Us Form:

On November 22-23, D23 held its big annual event at the Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World, "Destination D: Attraction Rewind."

D23 Destination D Attraction Rewind Program

The emphasis on Saturday's schedule was an exploration of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair--a landmark in Disney history due to the four exhibits Disney presented there, all marvels of themed attraction innovation.

(No photography or recording was permitted during the presentations. All photos thereof are courtesy of D23.)

Early Construction at the 1964-65 World's Fair

To start us off, Historian Bill Cotter gave us a general overview in his presentation "Welcome to the World's Fair."

Worlds Fair Historian Bill Cotter

Displaying only a portion of his extensive (22,000!) collection of World's Fair photos (located online at Cotter took us on a whirlwind tour of the construction and layout of the Fair. Some of the futuristic developments the fair introduced: Phone booths, touch-tone phones, computers, carbon-free copies, and Bel-Gem waffles.

Next up were Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Bob Gurr generally discussing the Disney contributions in "Walt Disney--A Giant at the New York World's Fair."

Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Bob Gurr

With the easy familiarity born of all their cumulative years of Disney service, Sklar and Gurr shared many of their memories developing and experiencing the Fair attractions with Walt and the other classic Imagineers. Two notes they made of Walt's forethought: He had contracts drawn up to take possession of all the attractions he built after the fair for Disneyland (ending a six-year stagnant period;) and the month the Fair opened was the same month he began quietly purchasing land in Florida.

Walt Disney's its a small world New York Worlds Fair

Because neither Sklar or Gurr worked extensively on "it's a small world," video segments were played with Disney Legends Richard Sherman and Rolly Crump talking about their contributions on that attraction.

Photos of its a small world from the World's Fair

Interview with Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar

After a short break, Historian Stacia Martin shared with us "Disney Music Magic at the New York World's Fair."

Disney Historian Stacia Martin

Martin played a number of musical selections for us, including some of the impressive orchestral scores Buddy Baker came up with for Mr. Lincoln and Carousel, proof-of-concept recordings for the iasw roundelay, and George Bruns' many and varied musical adaptations for the Ford queue, as played by the Autoparts Harmonic.

Autoparts Harmonic Photo

The first of the Disney Fair pavilions discussed was "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln," with 2007 Disney Ambassador and Historian Michael Kelley and Imagineer Jack Gladish.

Michael Kelley and Jack Gladish

Interview with Imagineer Jack Gladish

The two went back over the history of Audio-Animatronic development from the Buddy Ebsen "Dancing Man" footage to the problems making forehead plastic crinkle when Lincoln moved his eyebrows. (Oddly enough, no thought at all was apparently given to this when Gary Sinese taped his "Mission: Space" footage right after botox.)

Artist Rendering of Mr. Lincoln

The initial presentation of the Lincoln figure was so impressive, the Illinois Commission was able to convince Robert Moses, Head of the World's Fair Corporation, to pitch in money for it--the only financial support he gave to any exhibitor--just so he could have the pavilion in the Fair.

After lunch we reconvened to hear Bill Cotter and Bob Gurr return to the stage to talk about Walt, cars, and dinosaurs in "Ford's Magic Skyway."

Bill Cotter and Bob Gurr

Sadly, this is the one ride that did not make it back to Disneyland, as Walt apparently deemed the ride system too large to take back and fit into the park. Consequently, his contracts for the Skyway were written for him to be able to take the dinosaurs and a few other small pieces, and leave the rest.

Fords Magic Skyway at New York World's Fair

The presentation ended with a video ride through reconstruction which is the closest any of us will get to riding Ford's Magic Skyway today.

[For more concept pictures on this ride, I refer you back to a blog I wrote on the 2010 Destination D, when we were still allowed to take photos:]

Marty Sklar then returned as well, to talk with Imagineer Gary Landrum about the making of "Carousel of Progress."

Marty Sklar and Gary Landrum

The two went through a brief history of the attraction, detailing its proposed origin for the unrealized Edison Square, then its first life in Progressland, and again, to its subsequent existence in Disneyland's Tomorrowland.

Carousel of Progress

Carousel of Progress

Tim O'Day, standing in for an absent Alice Davis, had a chat with Disney Legend and assistant manager of the Disney World's Fair projects, Bill Sullivan about "it's a small world," and some of the Imagineers that worked on it.

Marc Davis, Walt Disney, and Mary Blair

Artist Rendering its a small world

Interview with Disney Legend Bill "Sully" Sullivan, Worlds Fair Historian Bill Cotter and Imagineer Gary Landrum

Next up was Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline, who gave us a fascinating look at some proposed projects that did not come to fruition in "Lost on the Way to the World's Fair." The highlight was a presentation of the script and concept art (long misattributed to the Tiki Room,) for a theater show pitched for the Coke Pavilion, entitled "Legends of the Enchanted Island."

Legends of the Enchanted Island

The first day of Destination D presentations then closed out with "Tomorrowland's" Supervising Art Director Ramsey Avery, discussing the work that was done for the film to reconstruct parts of the World's Fair in "A Sneak Peak at Disney's Tomorrowland."

Ramsey Avery

While they did show some footage just for the Destination D event, you can get a quick glimpse of some of their work in the recently released trailer:


Here's how you can win a special Destination D Magic Band! Simply leave a comment below about Destination D Attraction Rewind OR leave a comment on one of the videos posted in this blog between now and midnight December 24, 2014. We will pick a comment at random for the Magic Band!


...And that was just the first day! More from the second day of Destination D: Attraction Rewind, to come!

November 14, 2014

Holidaytime at Disneyland


November 13th marked this year's arrival of the holiday season to the Disneyland Resort!


To kick it off, the ceremonial lighting of "it's a small world" took place, presided over by the Gallardo Family. Their daughter Maya had battled acute myelogenous leukemia when she was 16 months old, but was ultimately cured by a stem cell transplant from her older brother Aaron.

Afterwards, the family was joined by their Pediatric Hematologist, Dr. Rosenthal.


Later, the "A Christmas Fantasy" parade ran for its 20th year, celebrating its anniversary with the addition of "Frozen" princesses Anna and Elsa.


Finally, over at Disney California Adventure, a newly-reworked version of last year's "World of Color - Winter Dreams" opened with an increased "Frozen" presence, as the songs "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and "Love is an Open Door" were added into the spectacle.

In addition to these holiday offerings, there is a plethora of returning entertainment around the two parks:

--Jingle Jangle Jamboree in Big Thunder Ranch
--Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle
--" Holiday Magic" fireworks
--Haunted Mansion Holiday
--Jingle Cruise
--"Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort" guided tour

Disney California Adventure

--"Disney ¡Viva Navidad!"
--Classic department store Santa at Elias & Co.
--Holiday version of "Mad T Party"
--Seasonal makeovers to Cars Land, "a bug's land," and Buena Vista Street

Downtown Disney
--"Olaf's Frozen Ice Rink"
--Downtown Disney Winter Village
--Gingerbread House in the Grand Californian

Happy Holidays!


November 7, 2014

Review: Big Hero 6



Fresh off their wildly popular "Frozen," Walt Disney Animation Studios presents their latest offering, "Big Hero 6."

*************** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ***************

"Big Hero 6" tells the exciting action story of young robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada who, with the help of the adorable robot Baymax, his friends GoGo Tamago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred, forms the superhero team Big Hero 6. Together, they use their powers to try to fight the mysterious villain Yokai and bring it to justice.


Wait...Maybe that wasn't the story.

OK, "Big Hero 6" is actually the inspiring story of a bunch of young brainiacs that come to realize that technical brilliance can be as good a source for superpowers as any radioactive spider bite, and that cohesive teamwork can create a force far stronger than each individual.


Actually, you know, that might not be it either.

Well, "Big Hero 6" is really a comedy about a sharp and cynical boy who forms a relationship with a naive and compassionate robot, and the funny friction that ends up taking off their rough edges and molding them into friends.



Loosely based on a 1998 comic mini-series (at the press conference, the directors stated "all we took was the name,") "Big Hero 6" is a complicated film with a dazzling array of engaging characters, gorgeous artwork, and multilayered storylines.

While the original source material was set in Japan, the film creators reset it in an amalgamation of San Francisco and Tokyo--the beautiful San Fransokyo. This serves a number of different functions: It differentiates it from the "real world" of the rest of the Marvel Universe, avoiding the inevitable question of why the Avengers don't swoop in and save everyone; and gives it a unique identity as one of the few animated features revolving around a Japanese-American protagonist. With so little Asian representation in entertainment in general, the movie might be significant for that alone.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I might be biased, because the Bot Fighter in the beginning of the picture has the first half of my last name printed on the back of his jacket.]


The voice acting, as we've come to expect from any WDAS production, is top-rate, with Ryan Potter doing an endearingly convincing Hiro. Although his character is often selfish and angry, Potter lets us see the pain and uncertainty behind his actions that keep us firmly on his side. Similarly, Daniel Henney does a lot with a short amount of time to show us how special an older brother Tadashi is to Hiro, and why his understanding and compassion are so important an influence on him. Alan Tudyk provides his usual deft performance as well, moving him one notch closer to John Ratzenberger status with WDAS.


But the heart of the movie is Baymax, and that Baymax is as successful as he is at touching both Hiro and the audience, is due in no small part to Scott Adsit. Taking the newbie robot from his first, child-like beginnings, to a position of parity among the fledgling super-hero team, to an almost parental role for Hiro, Adsit expertly treads a line between expressing the emotionless robot and the soul he must certainly develop through the course of the movie. The relationship between them drives the story, and as Potter said in one of his interviews, it is apparent that as Hiro rebuilds Baymax physically, Baymax rebuilds Hiro emotionally.


Although the trailers all emphasize the action and comedy inherent in the film (and there is an abundance of both,) the story turns much darker than you might expect. Characters experience loss and must grapple with overcoming all the resultant grief and anger you'd expect. I've seen some question whether it might, in fact, be too much for children--and while every parent certainly should make their own decisions, I would say that although Hiro lives in an imaginary world, and has fantastical technology at his disposal, all of the problems that matter to him, are problems that can exist in real life to anyone--child or adult. I don't think it's giving anything away to say that by the end of the film, Hiro survives and begins recovering from his issues...and I would think that would help encourage any kid facing similar ones to do the same.


Tragedies happen to everyone, often for no good reason at all. What "Big Hero 6" tells us, is that heartbreak doesn't define us. What we do afterwards, does.


"Big Hero 6," in fact, manages to be both everything and nothing you'd expect. It incorporates all the above storylines, and still, like the team Big Hero 6 itself, ends up being more than the sum of its parts.


"Big Hero 6" is presented by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Rated PG, it features the voice talents of Scott (Baymax) Adsit, Ryan (Hiro Hamada) Potter, Daniel (Tadashi Hamada) Henney, T.J. (Fred) Miller, Jamie (GoGo Tomago) Chung, Damon (Wasabi)
Wayans Jr., Genesis (Honey Lemon) Rodriguez, James (Professor Robert Callaghan) Cromwell, Alan (Alistair Krei) Tudyk, and Maya (Aunt Cass) Rudolph.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, and produced by Roy Conli.

The film enters general release in 3D on November 7, 2014.

*At the screening I saw, the last moments after the credits were suspiciously blank. This is a movie, at least tangentially from the Marvel Universe, however, so I think any True Believer would probably be safe in expecting a post-credit sequence.

October 31, 2014

Big Hero 6: Press Conference with the Cast


"I fail to see how flying makes me a better Healthcare Companion."
"I fail to see how you fail to see that it's awesome."
--Baymax and Hiro Hamada, "Big Hero 6"


Coming up swiftly on release date is Walt Disney Animation Studio's latest offering "Big Hero 6."

In preparation for opening, the studio held a screening and press conference with the film's voice cast, directors, and producer, along with the producer for "Feast," the animated short preceding "Big Hero 6" in theaters.

(No photos or video were allowed during the course of the roundtable discussions. Audio selections from the Q&A follow.)



First up were the lead voices of "Big Hero 6," Ryan (Hiro Hamada) Potter, and Scott (Baymax) Adsit.


Next was "Feast" Producer Kristina Reed.


Directors Chris Williams and Don Hall then joined us, along with Producer Roy Conli.


Finally, the rest of the main voice cast came in. First, the girls--Genesis (Honey Lemon) Rodriguez, paired with Jamie (Go Go Tomago) Chung...


...And then the boys, Damon (Wasabi) Wayans Jr., paired with T.J. (Fred) Miller.


"Big Hero 6," rated PG, will be released in 3D on November 7, 2014.

October 23, 2014

ScareLA: A Showcase of Fright



So, now that Halloween is creeping up on us once again, it's time to take a look back at the ScareLA convention that was held this year for the celebration of the season.


The weekend started off with a presentation commemorating the Haunted Mansion's 45th anniversary, with Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Alice Davis, hosted by's Jeff Baham.


As a part of their show schedule, ScareLA also hosted the Captured Aural Phantasy Theater, performing "Chilling Tales of the Haunted Mansion--Live" in the form of an old radio show.



Some names familiar to the Disney community presented a history of "90 Years of the Anaheim Halloween Parade"--artists Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily.


The Anaheim Halloween Parade will be held this month at 6pm, October 25th. If you are interested in either volunteering or just spectating at the parade, information on the schedule and the route can be found at I attended last year, and while it was an impressive event then, it looks like they're working hard to make it even better for this year.

Garner Holt, of Garner Holt Productions, Inc., spoke about his personal journey from childhood to leading animatronic expert, in "Garner Holt: I Was A Teenage Haunter."


He also showed slides of some of the work he's done for theme parks all over the world, including this one for the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare overlay in Tokyo Disneyland.


Some of the bigger draws were the presentations by Knotts Berry Farm and Universal Studios on their plans for the Halloween season, however there were also a variety of smaller talks on topics like the use of future technology in fear experiences, and Halloween at the Magic Castle.

Along with the regular panels and presentations, there were also activities and storytelling for kids, such as actress Amber Benson reading "The 13 Nights of Halloween."


And, of course, like any convention, there was an extensive exhibitor's floor, where a wide variety of macabre vendors plyed their wares.




As an added attraction, the floor had several mini-demos from various upcoming Haunted Attractions, such as "The Hellevator from the Field of Screams Haunted Stadium," and "Fear Station's Freakshow of Fears."


Like any good convention, there was far more offered than anyone could experience in one weekend. Simultaneous to the panel presentations, they also offered a wide range of hands-on classes on topics such as pumpkin carving, costuming, and Halloween party planning. A film screening program ran throughout the show, and a "Ghostly Gala" separate ticket party kept conventioneers entertained on into the night.

Things to note for next year:

--Lines just to get in were considerable, particularly on Saturday, and many people were turned away from the Haunted Mansion panel because the room filled to occupancy. Get there early if there's something happening first thing that you really want to see.
--If there are presentations that you have your heart set on, consider purchasing the upgraded "Fear Freak"/"Scare Students" tickets. Those guests got priority entrance before the general admission guests, and in some cases almost filled the rooms by themselves.
--If, like me, you prefer your Halloween experiences on the "not-so-scary" side, maybe take a good look at what you want to see here. This was, in some aspects, a trade show for the whole spectrum of Halloween, from the cute Haunted Mansion ghosts and bats, to chain-saw murderers and ghouls that would prowl the exhibitor's floor periodically shrieking at people for startlement purposes. Be prepared to turn from admiring a display of cartoon monsters, to gaping at an operating room tableau with bloodied instruments and flayed open bodies. ScareLA has a ton of fascinating offerings for those interested in all things Halloween and horror, but it may not be for everyone.

Information on ScareLA can be found at their website: They are also on twitter as @ScareLosAngeles.

September 30, 2014

Star Wars Rebels: So it Begins...


"If all you do is fight for your own life, then your life is worth nothing!"


This week sees the start of a new chapter in the Star Wars saga--"Star Wars Rebels."

This new Disney XD series takes place between "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," and "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope." It tells the story of the Galactic Empire's increasingly oppressive rule over its citizens, and the burgeoning sparks of outrage that ultimately kindle into outright rebellion.


Our entry point into the current state of affairs on the planet Lothal is Ezra Bridger, (voiced by Taylor Gray) a 14-year-old thief and con artist, with a finely developed sense of self-preservation, but an atrophied sense of altruism. A clear analogue to Aladdin, he is introduced in a sequence strikingly similar to "One Jump," even down to the local authorities running him off with the sneer "Loth-rat!"

As a result of his own innate sense of opportunism, and at least partially guided by the Force, Ezra is forced to throw his lot in with the crew of the starship Ghost--a ragtag band working to improve conditions for those downtrodden by the Empire.


While the ship is captained by the motherly but authoratative Twi'lek Hera Syndulla (voiced by Vanessa Marshall,) it is Kanan Jarrus (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) who must resume the Jedi role he abandoned after Order 66 in order to teach the Force-sensitive Ezra. Together, with Sabine Wren (voiced by Tiya Sircar,) a Mandalorian demolition expert and tagger; muscle Zeb Orrelios (voiced by Steve Blum,) a Lasat honor guard; and a disgruntled astromech droid called Chopper, they begin to show Ezra the benefit of being part of a group and the value of caring about others.


Helmed by Dave Filoni, the series can be expected to have a feeling of continuity with his last project, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." While both series, to some degree, revolve around young protagonists learning the ways of the Force, "Rebels" seems likely to revolve more around the team dynamics, with a less episodic feel than "Clone Wars." The CGI is occasionally a little jarring with a slightly different feel than the past animated series, but that may be due to the art design borrowing from the original Star Wars concept art by Ralph McQuarrie, which may be in turn designed to distinguish the series from the upcoming live-action Star Wars sequels.

Recently, Filoni and the voice cast of "Rebels" met at a press conference to answer questions about the new series:


Ultimately, the series looks to fill in an interesting portion of Star Wars history, as the spirit of rebellion develops both in Ezra and in the galaxy at large. At what point does oppression and injustice become so widespread and intolerable that they overbalance a person's instincts to stay uninvolved? How much suffering does one have to see before deciding to take action against it? Compelling questions for any time, whether it's here and now, or a Long Time Ago.


"Star Wars Rebels" will air its one-hour Movie Premiere on October 3rd, 9pm ET/PT on the Disney Channel. The Series Premiere will air on October 13th, 9pm ET/PT on Disney XD.


September 24, 2014

Once Upon a Time Season Four Premiere Event: Arendelle Comes to Storybrooke


This week, "Once Upon a Time" had its fourth season premiere event at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.


Prior to the screening, the cast held court on the red carpet outside, to the delight of their multitudes of fans.




At check-in, we traded our cameras for popcorn, drinks, and an assigned seat.


In the lobby, the persistent and the fortunate were able to catch glimpses of some of the stars making their way to their seats.




Once at your seat, a slideshow of cast photos gave you something to look at while waiting for everyone to find their way inside.




Prior to the screening of next week's season premiere, the show's creators Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz came out to give thanks to all the people involved with the show.


Then, they presented the entire main cast, including newcomers Georgina Haig (Elsa,) Elizabeth Lail (Anna,) and Michael Socha (Will Scarlet,) returning from the finished spinoff "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland."


Thoughts on the premiere episode: As you'd expect, the first episode of the season is pretty heavy on exposition, given the gap of time between when we left Elsa ice skating with Olaf at the end of "Frozen," and when we saw her bust out of Rumple's bottle after who-knows-how-long an imprisonment. Delivered largely through flashbacks, Elsa and Anna come off very well, with Lail doing a good job emulating Kristen Bell's cheerful babbling delivery.

The main questions for this season so far (and my best guesses:) What is Elsa's problem? (Anna.) Is Rumple ever going to forgo power for Belle's love? (No.) What's Regina's badness level by now?


Afterwards, the cast and crew adjourned down the street to the Roosevelt for further festivities, and the rest of us grabbed our parking validations and cars, and headed back out of Storybrooke, to home.




Once Upon a Time's new season begins on September 28, 8-9pm ET on ABC.

September 19, 2014

El Capitan Special Engagement: Disney's "Tangled"


For a limited time, Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre is showing a special engagement of Disney's "Tangled."


Preceding the 2010 cinematic update on the fairy tale "Rapunzel" is a song and dance from Princess Sofia, of "Sophia the First," with a brief look at the upcoming Disney Junior show "Sofia the First: The Curse of Princess Ivy."


For those endowed with fanciful follicles, there is also a "Crazy Hair Nights Parade" for all ages.


Following the film, the audience is treated to yet another princess as Rapunzel herself comes out to dance a little as the credits roll.


She does dance off before the credits end, however, so people wanting more of a meet-and-greet with her should consider booking a breakfast with commemorative photo offered on select days before the 10am show (reservations required.)


After the credits, the short "Tangled Ever After" runs--it seems a little odd to have a short after the main presentation, but it is a sequel.

People adjourning to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop next door can find a limited amount of merchandise to accompany them home.


So, if you're ready to see some other princesses besides the Arendelle sisters, you might consider checking out some old friends down at the El Capitan, where Rapunzel still has her frying pan, Flynn still has his smolder, and Mother Gothel still Knows Best.


"Tangled" will be running at the El Capitan from September 12 to October 9, 2014. Showtimes are at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 1-800-DISNEY6.

Additionally, on Sundays at 4pm and Wednesdays at 7 p.m., El Capitan will be showing the Spanish language and 3D version of Disney's "Tangled."

September 3, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Something Good, Something Bad — A Bit of Both. [Part 5]


So the largest amount of representation Disney brought to SDCC this year was, unsurprisingly, their Marvel properties.


Marvel's "Agents of SHIELD" had a panel in Ballroom 20, which is probably the second-hardest room to get into at SDCC. To go through the line for Ballroom 20, you habitually have to go outside, walk a good part of the length of the convention center, go back in, walk BACK the same length of the convention center, and then, after some double-backs, maybe get to cross the aisle and enter the room. Needless to say, I didn't make it.

I did, however, manage to catch a few glimpses of the cast, as they made their appearances over at their booth on the Exhibit Hall floor.




Of course, their big gun was Marvel Studios, which has been dominating the box office for the last few years.


Their booth, filled with rotating movie props, special limited-edition merchandise, and occasional franchise stars, could always be counted on to block floor traffic all day long.



They too held a panel, however theirs was in the infamous Hall H, which has the distinction of being THE hardest to enter. Part of the puzzle is the fact that the rooms aren't cleared after each session--once in, the con-goer can effectively squat in there for the duration of the programming day. Because of this, it develops that someone who wants to see, say, the Marvel panel at the end of the day, needs to get in that room at the beginning, because there's effectively no seat turnover during popular days. To get into the Marvel panel, which was towards the end of Saturday, some people had been in line since around 2-4pm the previous day.


So it didn't happen for me. Luckily, there are many YouTube recordings of all the panels up by now, including these snippets:

In addition to the panels and appearances, there was an endless stream of merchandise available to commemorate all the characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.






Like any convention, SDCC brought out an immense number of cosplayers, who drew from every influence under the sun. This year, however, I almost think I saw as many Elsas as metal-bikini-Leias, which is saying something.







So, although I did attend more non-Disney talks, these last blog entries make up the bulk of the Disney content from this year's 2014.

The "pro:" A ton of offerings, touching on virtually every piece of existing pop culture; .chances to see and get autographs from any number of celebrities; more merchandise than you could even examine during the course of 4.5 days.


The "con:" So crowded. Every year seems more crowded than the next. This year, I was determined to try to at least walk by every booth on the Exhibit Hall floor, but huge pockets of people would block the aisles and make certain intersections almost completely impassable, so I wound up traversing a lot of the same pathways repeatedly to get around them. Everything is so much in demand, to see one star-filled panel or buy one limited edition piece of merchandise, you might have to give up seeing anything else for half of the day before, and sleep out on the sidewalk with the roaches and the hobos.


For next time: There is also an enormous amount of stuff outside of the convention center--this year saw a huge Simpsons area; a parkour course; a chance to zipline over Gotham; an entire area of Petco Park given over to an "Experience Zone" with interactive exhibits from a number of different properties, such as Comedy Central and Sleepy Hollow; and several different locations where different organizations centralized to offer celebrity talks, game demos, and more. Just trying to navigate around inside the convention center was so difficult, I didn't have much time to explore around outside until Sunday, when a lot of it was already starting to be broken down.


And with that, another SDCC goes in the books. Until next year, San Diego!


August 22, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Something Good, Something Bad — A Bit of Both. [Part 3]


While Disney didn't have much to present at SDCC on the next Star Wars movie, currently in production, Star Wars in general was as prevalent as it usually is.

Frequent Star Wars Weekend host Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka from The Clone Wars) was present in the Exhibit Hall, at the Her Universe booth.

Star Wars cosplayers were out in "Force."





And there was plenty of merchandise related to both the existing movies, and Disney's next foray into the Star Wars universe, "Star Wars Rebels."




Premiering this Fall, the new animated series (which was prominently featured at Disney Hollywood Studios' Star Wars Weekends this year) takes place directly after the enactment of Order 66, which called for the termination of all Jedi. The story follows Ezra, a 14-year old Aladdin-esque urchin, who joins up with the crew of the Ghost to fight back against the ever-increasing oppression of the new Galactic Empire, and to learn what it means to have a cause larger than yourself.

As a backdrop to his journey, the series will show the grassroots origin of the rebellion from a handful of scattered individuals to the Rebel Alliance seen in Star Wars IV.

At the main Star Wars Rebels panel discussion, Dave Filoni (Executive Producer,) Freddie Prinze Jr. ("Kanan,") Simon Kinberg (Executive Producer,) Steve Blum ("Zeb,") Taylor Gray ("Ezra,") Tiya Sircar ("Sabine,") and Vanessa Marshall ("Hera") were in attendance.


Some of the discussed topics:
--Marshall is by far the biggest Star Wars fan of the cast.
--Light saber fights will be infrequent on the show, given that all the remaining Jedi are in hiding.
--"Rebels" will resemble the original trilogy more than Filoni's last series "Clone Wars."
--The cast often records as an ensemble, developing a family dynamic similar to that of their characters.
--Art direction is aimed towards the original Ralph McQuarrie designs.
--During SDCC weekend, Marshall and Sircar became honorary members of the costume club "Mandalorian Mercs."
--The series will begin with the Jedi branded as traitors, and show how the Empire oppression gradually breeds rebellion.
--As the show progresses, each character's motivation for joining the rebellion will be revealed.
--Prinze Jr. says that Kanan has an adolescent darker side as a result of having his training cut short when Order 66 exterminated over 90% of the Jedi, but learns control by teaching Ezra.
--The ship's droid "Chopper" is less cooperative than R2-D2.
--Fan expresses doubt that a "girl" like Sircar would be interested in Star Wars, setting genre social equality back another 60 years.

The next day a roundtable discussion with the panelists was held:


Freddie Prinze Jr.

Simon Kinberg


Dave Filoni


Vanessa Marshall and Steve Blum


Tiya Sircar and Taylor Gray


"Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion," the series premiere, will air September 29 on, the WATCH Disney XD app for smartphones and tablets, and Disney Channel SVOD; October 3 at 9pm ET/PT on the Disney Channel; October 4 on Disney XD VOD, and for purchase through Apple iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play; and October 6 on Disney XD at 8pm ET/PT.