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Jeanine Yamanaka Archives

August 15, 2018

Kim Possible, Pepper Ann and More at D23's Saturday Morning on the Lot

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On August 11, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, hosted AllEars.Net at its Gold Member event "D23's Saturday Morning on the Lot" featuring ABC and Disney Channel cartoons from 1997–2007, including such animated favorites as Recess, Pepper Ann, Teacher’s Pet, and Kim Possible.

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Michael Vargo, VP of D23, Special Events, and Disney Corporate Creative Resources, started off the morning by welcoming the members to the program and introducing the first series up for discussion, "Recess."


Recess: School's Out Trailer

Present to talk about the conception and development of "Recess" were creators/writers/producers Joe Ansolabehere and Paul Germain, as well as art director/character designer Eric Keyes, producer/director Chuck Sheetz, and director/storyboard artist Howy Parkins.

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--Ansolabehere and Germain were originally approached by Disney after they purchased ABC for a "Nickelodeon style show" they could put on the air fast.
--It occurred to them that most school-age shows revolved around life in the classroom, whereas their strongest memories of that time came from recess.
--Dave Shannon did the original concept drawings that they instantly recognized as characters from their own lives.

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--Keyes came on board when they needed someone to take Shannon's designs (from Ansolabehere's original drawings) and turn them into something that could be animated.

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--"Recess" was one of the last cel-animated shows at Disney before the big switch to digital.
--"Rugrats" was about seeing the world as a little kid -- all bright and new and ripe for exploration. "Recess" was about being older and seeing the world as potentially scary and full of bullies and learning to survive with a little help from your friends.

Next up was Mike Peraza, Disney artist and conceptual and layout designer talking about his experience on "The Proud Family."

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--"The Proud Family" was one of the first shows to showcase an African-American family on television.
--Creator Bruce Smith asked Peraza to come up with an environment for his pre-existing characters.
--In contrast to a lot of cartoons at the time that featured houses relatively unchanged from the 1930s, Peraza wanted to come up with a very hip, modern look. To do this, he drove around photographing features of contemporary Burbank, which can be seen in the show.
--After Nickelodeon passed on the show, Disney Channel picked it up.

Other shows Peraza worked on included "Disney's Doug" and "Pepper Ann."


Disney's Doug Theme Song


Pepper Ann Theme Song

"Teacher's Pet," written, created, and produced by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner and Gary Baseman (also artistic director,) was then presented.

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--The basis for every episode is Spot becoming Scott and experiencing the world as a human for the first time.
--An all-star cast of voice talent worked on the show, including Nathan Lane, Wallace Shawn, Jerry Stiller, and David Ogden Stiers.
--A principle they brought over from their long experience in such shows as "Cheers" and "Who's The Boss?" is that a character is really sustainable if they want something badly and there's something huge in the way of them getting it.

The final group of speakers came up to discuss their involvement in "Kim Possible" and "Big Hero 6: The Series:" Christy Carlson Romano, voice of Kim Possible; Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle, creators, writers and executive producers of "Kim Possible," executive producers of "Big Hero 6: The Series;" and Nick Filippi, storyboard supervisor on "Kim Possible," executive producer and supervising director of "Big Hero 6 The Series."

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--"Kim Possible" came about as the first original Disney Animation show on the Disney Channel.
--Schooley and McCorkle came up with the idea in an elevator, with one suddenly turning to the other saying "Kim Possible: She can do anything," and the other responding "Ron Stoppable: He can't."
--They were careful to make Kim Possible tough and able to hold her own in any situation, but not be unlikable.
--"When we first conceived the show, I think, if you asked us, we would say that Ron represented the two of us: The bumbling nerd characters who don't fit in so well. But, over the course of the series, by the end of the series, what we realized is Ron wasn't us. Drakken was us. Drakken is a middle-aged guy who is trying his hardest to succeed, and forever just fails."

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--One of the reasons they developed the show was that when they were growing up, they had the "James" thing -- James Bond, James Kirk -- guys who you took for granted could do anything and were great action heroes. Now that they had daughters, they wondered why they didn't have anything like that -- a female character who would be kick-ass without it being a big deal.
--Rufus came along when, after being pretty far along in development, they got a note that one of the characters should have a pet. A naked mole rat was the weirdest thing they could come up with.
--During the panel it was announced that Romano would make an appearance in the upcoming live-action "Kim Possible" movie.

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--Patton Oswalt will also be returning as Professor Dementor.

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The panel also touched briefly on "Big Hero 6: The Series."

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--It was challenging to make a series from such a successful movie, whose major theme was grief.
--They are happy to have the opportunity to delve deeper into some of the secondary characters like Gogo and Honey Lemon.

After the panel, guests were treated to "breakfast for lunch," character meet and greets, an opportunity to get autographs from all the morning's speakers, and even some lovely D23 parting gifts.

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That wasn't the end to my D23 weekend, as the day before, I also attended their "Lunch with a Disney Legend" event featuring past Chairman of Disneyland International, Jim Cora.

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On the studio lot, guests were treated to an internationally themed luncheon while Cora regaled us with stories about his days working with Walt Disney and on the Disney resorts in Tokyo and Paris.

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One of the interesting lunch topics was news of the book he's currently writing titled "Not Just A Walk in the Park" which should be out in a couple years. Cora was also asked where he would put the next Disney park, to which he replied, "well I already know where the next one will be."

After taking photos with Cora at Legends Plaza, members were once again treated to a D23 gift -- a print of Cora's three windows on Main Streets around the world.

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But the weekend wasn't over yet, as the next day I attended the D23 Mickey's of Glendale shopping opportunity over at Imagineering.

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Imagineering doesn't allow photography onsite, but suffice to say, money changed hands.

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If you'd like to attend events like these, more information on D23 along with links to purchase memberships is available at https://d23.com/.






August 7, 2018

Find the Ultimate Souvenir at "That's From Disneyland!" Pop-Up Auction and Exhibition

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Looking for the perfect Disneyland souvenir? "That's From Disneyland" probably has what you're seeking.

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Richard Kraft, co-owner of Kraft-Engel Management, is liquidating his collection of Disneyland memorabilia amassed over the course of 25 years through the Van Eaton Galleries. The pieces include 15 ride vehicles, original attraction posters, concept art, and much more.

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While Kraft's collection (dubbed "Kraftland") was a tremendous accomplishment of acquisition in its own right, it began as a mechanism to deal with his brother David's death and later continued as a means to connect with his son Nicky, as shown in the documentary "Finding Kraftland."


(Fun fact: The documentary features Stacey J. Aswad, known to every good WDW guest as the erstwhile host of "Must Do Disney" on the resort TV)

Now that his son is grown, Kraft is releasing a massive amount of Disneyland history out of his storage units and into the wild in an enormous auction of over 900 lots, the exhibition of which occupies an entire vacant sporting good store.

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The objects are loosely arranged in the different lands of Disneyland, from the hotel and park entry...

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To Main Street...

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To Frontierland...

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To Adventureland...

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To New Orleans Square...

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To Fantasyland...

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To Tomorrowland.

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While older guests peruse all the amazing objects for sale, younger ones can enjoy arts and crafts upstairs such as puppetry, drawing, and even constructing their own theme park.

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Also upstairs are posters of Kraft and his son enjoying Kraftland commissioned by such famous artists as Mad Magazine's Jack Davis, Drew Struzan, and Al Hirschfeld.

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A complete overview of the objects up for sale with informative descriptions can be found in the auction catalogue, which is available for sale in hardcopy, or free online viewing here

In the event that you don't have the discretionary income to purchase your own ride vehicle, there are still more ways you can participate in the exhibition. As befits people with their Disney associations (Kraft is talent manager to Disney Legends Richard Sherman, Alan Menken, and Danny Elfman), Kraft and Van Eaton Gallery are holding several weeks' worth of events in conjunction with the sale. Whether a concert with three Broadway Disney Princesses, signings from artists such as SHAG, a talk with Leonard Maltin and Floyd Norman, or a concert with Alan Menken, there are discussions and performances to meet any Disney fan's price point or sphere of interest. Information and tickets can be found on the Van Eaton or "That's From Disneyland" webpages -- there's also information on how to participate in the actual auction.

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While Kraft is letting his collection go, he continues to keep his relationship with Disney strong by directing/producing several concert versions of Walt Disney Animation Studio classics, such as "Disney’s The Little Mermaid in Concert at The Hollywood Bowl" (for which I bought tickets two out of the three nights it played) and "Beauty and the Beast Live in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl" on which I wrote here.

So if you're in the area, a trip to see all the wonders from Disneyland's past at "That's From Disneyland!" is highly recommended. And if you're feeling flush with cash, feel free to pick up a few things for me, as well.

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Objects from the auction are available for gawking from August 1 through 24, 2018,
Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 8 p.m., at 13730 Riverside Dr., Sherman Oaks, CA. A portion of all sales goes toward The Coffin-Siris Foundation and the CHIME Institute: Early Education Programs.





August 6, 2018

San Diego Comic-Con 2018: Her Universe "Geek Couture" Fashion Show

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San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone again, providing somewhere in the vicinity of 130,000 attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in all aspects of pop culture.

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For the 5th year running, Ashley (the voice of Ahsoka Tano in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Star Wars Rebels") Eckstein's company Her Universe presented its "geek couture" fashion show at San Diego Comic-Con.

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Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," Eckstein took the stage in a custom-made gown decked out with 500 Jack Skellington Funko Pop heads that weighed 40 pounds.

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Twenty-four designers competed with outfits inspired from all areas of pop culture with three of them winning the grand prize: The chance to design a Marvel Avengers 4 collection with Her Universe and Loungefly for retailer Hot Topic.

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Here are only a few of the presented creations--some had special effects that lit up or glowed in the dark, and I recommend watching the video to fully appreciate them.

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Black Panther

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Guardians of the Galaxy

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Teen Titans

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Black Panther

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Tangled

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Space Mountain

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Pocahontas

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Wall-E

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Howl's Moving Castle--Designer Jane Burson, Singer Winner

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Coco

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Star Wars

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The Shape of Water--Designer Cynthia Kirkland, Judges Winner

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Godzilla

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Harry Potter

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Edward Scissorhands

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Harry Potter

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Star Wars

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Aliens--Designer Kristi Siedow-Thompson, Audience Winner

Joining Eckstein on the catwalk were some of her fellow celebrities, including Jodie Whittaker, the new Thirteenth Doctor from the TV series "Doctor Who." Whittaker was wearing pieces from a new Her Universe "Doctor Who"-inspired line. Also in attendance were Matt Lanter (voice of Anakin Skywalker) with voice actor Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Trooper) wearing part of the new "Clone Wars" 10th anniversary collection.

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As a fierce celebration of fashion and fandom, the Her Universe Fashion Show is a glamorous addition to SDCC and definitely something to look forward to for 2019.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: If you want to see more Her Universe fashions, visit shopDisney.com, which has a wide selection of dresses, sweaters and jackets featuring your favorite Disney attractions!





August 1, 2018

Recap of Press Junket for Winnie the Pooh Tale "Christopher Robin"

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"Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something."
-Winnie the Pooh

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Seven years after the animated feature "Winnie the Pooh," Walt Disney Studios takes another trip back to the Hundred Acre Wood with the live-action "Christopher Robin."

"Christopher Robin" shows us a man (Ewan McGregor) a few decades removed from the young boy that romped with his stuffed animals in the wood. Years of fighting in WW II, coupled with the responsibilities of providing for his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) have turned Christopher into an anxious workaholic who treats his family with benign neglect. When matters at work and home eventually come to a boil, only a small stuffed bear and a trip through a magical tree can teach the harried adult to reconnect with the boy within and rediscover what things are truly important.

At a recent press junket, director Marc Forster and stars Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, and
Jim Cummings (“pooh” and “Tigger”) took time for some round table discussions on the upcoming release.

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Ewan McGregor

McGregor on Christopher Robin's journey: "He's opened and he finds what his truth is, I suppose, through the movie. We see it very quickly, through the montage at the beginning, the pure seven-year-old who leaves his friends at the lovely farewell ceremony which is just heartbreaking, isn't it, right off the bat. It's like 'Bambi.'"

Atwell: "The opening credits! When Dad's dying! The opening credits, and I'm already crying!"

McGregor: "So then we see that very quick montage of what his life has been, and I think especially experiencing warfare and going off and having to fight, and the impact that that seems to have on him when he comes back...and then he's in a job, and just the stress of the job, and he has responsibilities, adult responsibilities that he shoulders and carries. But when Pooh asks him 'are these people you're trying to save your friends,' he's like 'well no, I don't want to think of them as friends, because that makes it harder when you have to let them go.' There's some disconnect in him, and I think just what happens through the movie, is that he's opened up and the things that are important in his life become the things that he's able to express that to--his daughter, his wife, and also to his work, and he has a better relationship with that, and he comes up with a great idea at the end.

"And I think, within that, it could be a story about somebody finding anything--just finding their way back to who they really are, of course, is the important message."

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Hayley Atwell

Atwell on what "Christopher Robin" says about the human condition:
"What I found so heartbreaking, is that Pooh, who's almost kind of this...this beacon of love, pure, unconditional love, as pets are, as dogs--as my dog is, really--and when he is hurt by Christopher Robin, unintentionally...but when he is hurt, how he processes it...and instead of choosing to act out or to attack back or become in any way defensive...he's still so open. That, to me, is a beautiful, tender moment of unconditional love that's almost something that we kind of feel like we're born with a little bit more and then we learn more sophisticated tactics of defense and attack that make us slightly more bitter as we get older when we feel hurt by something, especially something that we love. And so the purity of that moment of when he says 'did you forget about me?' And it almost says it as a genuine question and then just is able to contain the pain of what that feels like. I find that actually in its humanity and its dignity, quite profound."

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Marc Forster

Forster on Richard Sherman: "I've been a great admirer of the Sherman Brothers--obviously their work speaks for itself. I asked early on if Richard Sherman would be willing to write a song. I just wanted one song, because as an attribute of the history of Disney and Winnie the Pooh...and then he said 'absolutely' and suddenly he wrote three songs! And he obviously wrote the first song, when Christopher Robin leaves, and the other two songs I loved so much and I couldn't really figure out where to put them...so I thought at the end, which wasn't originally in the script, that I said 'you know, we just should finally have a scene that they're all on vacation, and you see all the employees, they're finally doing nothing and on vacation--all the hoi polloi as Mark Gatiss' character says--on the beach, with the gramophones and cider. And then when we're there, why don't we have a piano there and have Richard Sherman play the piano? And unfortunately, he wasn't able to travel at the time to England, so I had our second AD who was in his 70s...I said 'why don't you sit there and play the piano?' And he said 'no, I don't know how to play the piano.' And I said 'just pretend.' And then ultimately, we got back to here and I had Richard Sherman sing the song and basically put his head on the second AD's head...but so the second AD can't play the piano, so I now have Richard Sherman sitting on the beach and the guy's just playing [mimes pounding on the piano keys] So Richard Sherman hasn't seen the movie yet, when he sees himself singing, but doing [more mime], I hope he will not be 'oh my God, what am I doing?'

'So I just love that song and wanted Richard Sherman to sing that song on the beach, and then the third song ultimately, it's also Richard Sherman singing, live performing just him in the studio, and it's just beautiful."

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Jim Cummings

Cummings on resuming the role of Tigger after the initial casting of Chris O'Dowd
: "You know, it was a surprise--it took some wind out of my sails, but like the song says, you put one foot in front of the other...it's all you can do anyways. I think what happened--because my 13 year-old and I saw it--and she just didn't know...and I think what happened was you just get used to a sound, a voice, an attitude, and in this case it was decades old. And I think they just said 'well gosh, this is such a wonderful project...we don't want to introduce such a radically new wrinkle maybe, and maybe we just go back with something that everybody's gonna glom onto, and something that they've heard.' And next thing I know, they're bringing in the Tigger lines and I hope it worked."

Previously, Jim Cummings had been kind enough to spend a few minutes with AllEars answering even more questions.

On getting started with Pooh: "Back in 1987, I had really just broke into the business, and some genius had the idea to bring back good old Winnie the Pooh from the 60s and I was there at the right time, thank goodness. I auditioned with everyone else--I understand people like Burgess Meredith auditioned and E.G. Marshall, which was kind of amazing."

On taking on a famous character: "...For the past 33 years it's been a bigger presence than it was in 1987. In 1987, he hadn't been around for 20 years. I mean, they had made three shorts, and that was it. Actually Disney Channel had 'Welcome to Pooh Corner,' but that was folks in costumes and it wasn't the same, obviously. So it wasn't really daunting because it wasn't there at the time. It would probably be daunting to take over now, but too late. They're already stuck with me."

On preparing for voice acting similarly to live acting: "Oh yeah, that's the way I do it. I played Captain Hook in a play when my daughter Raleigh was younger--she would draft me to be in plays in children's theater out in Thousand Oaks--and instead of going with a classic Captain Hook, I played him as Don Karnage from 'Tailspin.' 'I am a pirate, you know, it was too amazing...I going to gets you Peter Pans!' People just ate it up, it was so funny. I credit Chuck McCann with that idea, the late, great, Chuck McCann. He said 'kid, you gotta do your Don Karnage. Don't do that Brit. Everybody expects the Brit. Give 'em some Karnage."

On voicing Pooh in the parks:
"That's me. My kids have a little mini-tradition...they'll end up at Disneyland and they'll be all 'ok Dad, guess where we are?' They'll hold up their phone and I'll hear myself going 'hoo hoo hoo hoo!' on the ride or whatever and I'll say 'let me guess: You're on the Winnie the Pooh ride.'"

On his favorite ride: "My favorite one right now is...I'm going to mess the name up...Flight of the Phoenix? [Flight of Passage] In Pandora, at Disney World. That's crazy good! I could live on that ride. It's amazing."

Disney’s “Christopher Robin” will be released nationwide August 3, 2018.





July 30, 2018

San Diego Comic-Con 2018: D23 Takes a Trip to SDCC, Part 2

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San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone again, providing somewhere in the vicinity of 130,000 attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in all aspects of pop culture.

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While Disney's main SDCC perennials Star Wars and Marvel passed on their usual big Hall H presentations this year, they made a strong showing with D23, their official fan club. As its first big foray into the madness that is Comic-Con, D23 put on two panels and a member mixer.

[The first panel, "Celebrating 90 Years of Mickey Mouse with D23: the Official Disney Fan Club," I outlined here.]

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," D23 held what has become their annual SDCC mixer in a new locale, The House of Blues San Diego.

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Members who made it through the line to get in were treated to any number of Nightmare-themed foods, such as the "Lock, Shock, and Tacos," and the traditional D23 SDCC mac & cheese bar.

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Photo opportunities were available with Jack Skellington, Sally and the infamous Oogie Boogie, along with the spirited D23 crew.

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The event was topped off with the gift of a Nightmare Before Christmas swag bag, including patches, manga, and an insulated bottle.

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Afterwards, Con attendees could sprint back to the convention center to attend the second D23 panel, "25 Years of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas with D23: The Official Disney Fan Club."

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The panel, made up of Director Henry Selick, Animator Anthony Scott, Associate Editor Edie Ichioka, and Assistant Art Directors Kelly Asbury and Bill Boes, was joined by surprise moderator, author Neil Gaiman.

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Video selections from the panel. *Some adult language*

Some highlights from the talk:
--While Burton had written the original poem back in the '80s, and come up with Jack, Zero, and Sandy Claws, there were no other characters at the start of the project. He later worked with author Michael McDowell to expand the story, Danny Elfman to develop the songs, Caroline Thompson to write the screenplay (while production was ongoing,) and a separate story department headed by Joe Ranft.
--Discussing the rate of stop-motion animation, a good day has them accomplishing about two seconds of film time.
--Scott's favorite scene was the "Poor Jack" song, because it is such a moment of transition for Jack as he realizes who he is and what his power is. It took him six months to animate.
--Ichioka said they never told Scott that they later considered cutting out the whole sequence.
--Stop-motion has particular challenges as far as editing because of the small amount of work that can be produced on a daily basis. All of "Nightmare" was shot on film and edited without the use of current digital non-linear processing techniques that came later.
--Influences on the look of the film included German Expressionism and "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."
--At one point, there was some concern that Jack would be relatively expressionless without pupils in his skeletal eye sockets, but they found other ways to make him emote.
--Boes brought a one-quarter scale model from the film.

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All in all, a great sortie into SDCC from D23 this year--hopefully there will be even more to come next year!

Fans can join D23 at Gold Membership ($79.99), Gold Family Membership ($104.99), and General Membership (complimentary) levels at D23.com and at shopDisney.com/D23.





July 24, 2018

San Diego Comic-Con 2018: D23 Takes a Trip to SDCC, Part 1

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San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone again, providing somewhere in the vicinity of 130,000 attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in all aspects of pop culture.

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While Disney's main SDCC perennials Star Wars and Marvel passed on their usual big Hall H presentations this year, they made a strong showing with D23, their official fan club. As its first big foray into the madness that is Comic-Con, D23 put on two panels and a member mixer.

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Starting off its first-ever SDCC panel, "Celebrating 90 Years of Mickey Mouse with D23: the Official Disney Fan Club," Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline, Official Voice of Mickey Mouse Bret Iwan, and Master Disney Animator Mark Henn took the audience members through a whirlwind tour of the iconic mouse's long and famed history.

Cline detailed Mickey's birth, from the ashes of Charles Mintz's takeover of Walt's initial star "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit," and his entry into the era of motion picture "talkies." Iwan discussed the what Walt and his animators went through to innovate the process of synchronized sound and reminded us that the legacy he continues as Mickey's voice originated with Walt himself. They showed a clip from "Karnival Kid," showcasing Mickey's first words on screen. After Henn spoke on the animation debt Mickey owed to original animator Ub Iwerks, the panel touched a little on the origins of Mickey Mouse merchandise, from seamstress Charlotte Clark making the first set of plushes, to some of the more esoteric items like undies and pocket knives.

Moving on to the evolution of Mickey's appearance through the years, Henn paid tribute to Disney Legend Freddie Moore as one of the fundamental influences on developing the distinctive "Disney appeal" in animation in general and bringing increased personality and expressiveness to the mouse specifically. "Fantasia" was mentioned as providing both a huge boost to Mickey's popularity and being the first vehicle to show Mickey having eyes with pupils.

Passing through the '50s, Cline talked about Mickey's increasing exposure through television, in "The Mickey Mouse Club," and Disneyland, and then leaped forward to the '80s when Archivist Dave Smith established Mickey Mouse's birthday as November 18. The Mickey imagery on the outside of "Star Traders" at Disneyland was revealed to be Henn's work, which he describes as his "one big contribution to Disneyland." After Iwan spoke a little on his history with Disney and his assumption of the role of Mickey Mouse, Henn briefly described bringing Mickey back and forth through different styles of animation in "Get A Horse."


Get A Horse! Clip

Arriving at the present day, the panel spoke a little about some of Mickey's activities going on surrounding his 90th birthday, including Iwan's involvement in voicing Mickey in the upcoming "Kingdom Hearts III."

The panel finished with an official unveiling of the 90th birthday portrait of Mickey Mouse created by Henn, titled "Spreading Happiness Around the World."

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Fans can join D23 at Gold Membership ($79.99), Gold Family Membership ($104.99), and General Membership (complimentary) levels at D23.com and at shopDisney.com/D23.





July 19, 2018

Anime Expo 2018 Serves up Pop Culture, Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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to martial arts...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Even a dinosaur can like otome.

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






July 16, 2018

Anime Expo 2018 Serves Up Pop Culture, Part One

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

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


"Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms"


"Liz and the Blue Bird"


"The Rising of the Shield Hero"


"MY HERO ACADEMIA: Two Heroes"


"Aggretsuko: Season Two"


"Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel"

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

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

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

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


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

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






July 5, 2018

"Ant-Man and The Wasp" Press Conference

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

--Luis and Dr. Hank Pym

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

[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

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

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Video of the press conference (some potential SPOILERS):

Panel highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This is the correct answer to this question.





June 26, 2018

Early Look at Pixar Pier's Lamplight Lounge

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

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[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lamplight

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Pixar

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

-- Lamplight Lounge Menu with prices and photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How it is apparently supposed to look.

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

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

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

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

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

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Spinach Salad

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Ratatouille

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Cheddar burger

There were displays of food available for photos as well.

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Grilled Chicken Salad

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Chicken Sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potato Skins
Lamplight Lounge
Disney California Adventure® Park
Makes 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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





June 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





June 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Jack-Jack from "The Incredibles"

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

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

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

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





June 12, 2018

"Incredibles 2" Press Conference

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"Done properly, parenting is a heroic act... done properly."
--Edna Mode

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June 15, Disney-Pixar unleashes the sequel to the wildly popular "The Incredibles," aptly named "Incredibles 2." Taking place right where the first movie left off, "Incredibles 2" follows the further exploits of the Parr family, who discover coming together as a family can be just as challenging a feat as battling super-villains.

[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney-Pixar.]

A press conference was held last week to promote the new film -- in attendance were Craig T. Nelson (“Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible”), Holly Hunter (“Helen Parr / Elastigirl”), Samuel L. Jackson (“Lucius Best / Frozone”), Bob Odenkirk (“Winston Deavor”), Catherine Keener (“Evelyn Deavor”), Sophia Bush (“Voyd”), Sarah Vowell (“Violet Parr”), Huck Milner (“Dash Parr”), Director Brad Bird, Producer Nicole Grindle, and Producer John Walker.

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Video of the press conference:

Panel highlights:

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Hunter on her first take of the movie: "It was a while before I truly realized what I was really going to get to do in the movie, and I was really thrilled... But to me, it was just really fun. I don't think that this is a message movie in any way. I think it's purely like luck, luck of the draw that this happens to be dovetailing with #MeToo, and #TimesUp. But obviously, time is up, okay. And I feel that way personally and it happens to be serendipitously reflected in this particular movie. But at the same time, it's character revelation period. Everybody is having revelations including Jack-Jack. All the characters are revelations to the audience and to themselves. And so I'm no exception as Elastigirl."

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Odenkirk on dealing with character changes: "I loved it. I loved that he became more genuine. We don't know. I'm not going to give away where he ends up. But when he starts, he's exuberant and excited. And as he goes, you start to see an innocence to him that is I think is a real twist and surprising. But where it ends up I won't say."

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Bird on making films for adults: "Kids are strangely treated like beards for animated films....'I'm a single guy. But I want to see this. I found a kid. Can I come in now? Here is this kid. He was roaming the streets. I told him I would pay for his ticket. Will you let me in?' And it's like no man, it's an art form. It's for anyone that likes movies and you don't need to have a kid. People are constantly coming up to me: 'My kid really enjoyed it.' I go, 'did you like it?' They go 'oh yeah, sure...But Billy really liked it.' And I'm like, I made it for you. And Billy can come. But I'm not a kid. And I made it something that I would want to see. And we're not kids. And we worked on this."
Milner: "I'm a kid."

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Jackson and Nelson on being recognized as their characters:
Jackson: "Kids don't do that. Their parents do. And they try to make the kid know who you are: 'That's Frozone, honey.' He's looking at you like, you don't have a blue suit on. You're not making ice stuff. So nah... Now as they got older, like the kids that are going to be now, the kids were 4 and saw the movie and now are 18. So they've been waiting. They're knocking little kids over to get in line. And my daughter is 35. She's knocking big kids over to get in."

Nelson: "It's embarrassing really. Because the moms or dads are saying 'look Bill, there's Mr. Incredible. That's Mr. Incredible there.' And the kid is just staring at you. You don't look anything like him. 'Okay, well, say something like Mr. Incredible. Go ahead'...It's been 14 years, I don't remember what I said in the first one. I mean, 'okay. How about this? It's show time.' The kid is like [blank look.]"
Jackson: "Lift my car up. Hold the kid."
Nelson: "It's just embarrassing."

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Bird on the ubiquity of superheroes: "There was a dark moment when all the machinery was kicked into gear. Okay. You got the release date. Bum bum bum bum. And I realized, two years from now, the film is going to come out. There's too many superhero movies now. Are people going to be just sick of this in two years? And I went, just what I want to happen, I arrive on the scene, 'anybody ready for some fresh superheroes?' And everybody is like 'oh. Blah.' And so I had a dark moment. Then I realized that what excited me about the idea in the first place was not the superheroes--it was that it was about the family dynamic and people's roles in different parts of their lives and how superheroes...that genre is like a twisted lemon that you squeeze on top of this. It's not what the movie is about. And then I got excited again, because to me, families are kind of a continent of fresh opportunities. Because it's so universal. And so I got excited again when I thought about it that way. And that was really what excited me about the first movie."

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Along with the "Incredibles 2" panel, we got to hear more about the terminally adorable short "Bao," which I covered in some length here.

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Some of the extensive merchandise line that will be available in stores and online was on display...

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...As well as some familiar faces now appearing in theme parks near you.

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“Incredibles 2” opens in U.S. theaters on June 15, 2018.





June 4, 2018

Early Press Day for "Incredibles 2" Part "Bao"

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

[Unattributed photos and video provided by Disney]

The first half of the day was detailed in Early Press Day for "Incredibles 2" Part 1 and the second half in Early Press Day for "Incredibles 2" Part 2.

To tell us more about the short "Bao" which will be opening with "Incredibles 2," were filmmakers Domee Shi (Director), Becky Neiman (Producer) and Rona Liu (Production Designer.)

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--"Bao" has two meanings in Chinese: Said one way, it means "steamed bun," but said another, it means "treasure," or "something precious."
--While working as a story artist on "Inside Out," Shi felt the need to do an independent project all her own on weekends and decided to make an animated short on one of her life passions: Food.
--In Chinese culture, food and family go hand in hand. When you want to show you care about someone, you don't say "I love you," but "have you eaten yet?"
--As an only child, Shi's Mom was very present in her life growing up, and her difficulty letting go was the beginning inspiration for "Bao."
--Shi's mother is also a great cook and Dumpling Master who got a Cultural Consultant credit on the short.
--The setting is inspired by Toronto's Chinatown, where Shi grew up, and honors the Chinatown Grannies whose colorfulness, vivacity, and determination is mirrored in Bao's mother.

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--"Bao" was picked to be developed and released as a theatrical short after Shi submitted it in an open call at Pixar.
--Visual influences included Japanese animation such as Studio Ghibli's "My Neighbors the Yamadas."

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--The challenge was to balance the cartoon-y exaggeration of a character made of dough, with a believable portrayal of a Chinese Mom's life.

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--In Asian art, there is often an emphasis on imperfection, so they made a choice to avoid perfectly straight lines. Tops of counters wobble slightly and none of the edges exactly meet.
--Because Mom is an immigrant, her home is a mix of East meets West--the built-ins are Western, but anything the Mom might have brought to the house is Chinese.
--All the scenes with food were challenging to make authentic, because everyone knows what food looks like, how it reflects light, and how it feels to take a bite out of it.

Later, Shi and Neiman were able to take some time with AllEars to touch on some more topics:

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Domee Shi

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Shi on filmmaking Influences: "Growing up, I've always been a huge fan of classic Disney movies as well as Japanese anime, but my favorite Disney film is probably '101 Dalmations.' A lot of Asian filmmakers too--I love (Yasujirō) Ozu's films like 'Tokyo Story' where he just explores, like, the guilt of adult children having to deal with their parents getting older. I really loved Edward Yang's work; 'Yi Yi' is a great film that we referenced...and I loved Ang Lee's film 'Eat Drink Man Woman'--that was also a huge influence on me too, especially the opening (and) that relationship between parents and children, and then food being the center of it."

Shi on differences between Eastern and Western storytelling: "I definitely feel like a lot of Asian films, they really highlight the little moments in life, like the slice-of-life details: How a person wakes up in the morning and prepares breakfast or like little details in Miyazaki movies. I just love how he sweats over every detail of making breakfast, like cracking the eggs, letting the bacon simmer, and the way the characters would eat food is not just biting, he would be very observant of real life and how you would actually bite into a bun, and we really wanted to pay tribute to that in this short too."
Neiman: "Those kinds of details help with that authenticity, and it also helps with the believability, and makes it feel more universal. The thing that we have found is that it resonates with everybody, regardless of background and upbringing. It's just such a universal theme of family and food bringing people together."

On Pixar in the parks: Shi: "I don't go to the parks a lot..."
Neiman: "There's the Pixar Lounge. So at California Adventure, they're opening up 'Pixar Pier,'
and one of the attractions is a restaurant/lounge area, and a lot of the artists..."
Shi: "Oh! So one of the coasters is going to have sketches and drawings by artists at Pixar, and I donated a couple of my drawings, so hopefully one of mine will be there."
Neiman: "And might have Bao on it!"

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"Incredibles 2" with "Bao" comes to US theaters June 15, 2018.





May 31, 2018

Early Press Day for "Incredibles 2" Part 2.

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

[Unattributed photos and video provided by Disney]

The first half of the day was detailed in Early Press Day for "Incredibles2" Part 1. After the first two panels and the studio tour, we were given a look at some of the characters' new costumes with Bryn Imagire (Shading Art Director), Fran Kalal (Tailoring Lead), and Deanna Marsigliese (Character Artist) in "NO CAPES!"

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Deanna Marsigliese, Fran Kalal, and Bryn Imagire

--Costume design for animation is no different than costume design for live-action.
--The two major components of the process are "be creatively theoretical" (abstract thinking through storytelling) and "be creatively practical" (efficiency.)
--Initial focus is on what the designs should communicate and how they can facilitate storytelling.
--On developing costumes for Edna Mode's fashion line, designers went back to look at her character from the first movie.
--While Edna likes things bold and dramatic and 'now'/mid-century, designers often don't design to their own tastes, but create what will suit their models.
--Edna, however, clearly states that she hates models, so her designs tend to be vehicles celebrating the superheroes and superpowers she prefers.

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--Practicality comes into play largely with the hundreds of background characters which each need clothing but do not need the specificity of the main characters.
--The tone for the average character's costume is day-to-day mid-century modern with elements of nostalgia.
--Rather than the glamorous ads of the period, research focused on images from home sewing patterns.
--Background clothing should be evocative but not compete for attention with that of the main characters.
--Because technology was so much more primitive when the first film was made, the fabrics for the supersuits were actually just textured straight onto the characters' bodies.
--The new suits are constructed from patterns so they have better texture and don't stretch as much as the previous ones.
--For the family's everyday clothes, designers took inspiration from Paul Newman for Bob and Mary Tyler Moore for Helen.
--Accessories add to the completion of a character by adding details down to sunglasses, pearl buttons, etc.
--They thought it would be funny if Bob never put Jack-Jack in anything but diapers when he was home alone with him, so Jack-Jack only wears clothes when Helen is home.
--Famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head was a big influence for Edna Mode's outfits in the first film. In this one, Brad Bird stated that Edna is half Japanese and half German, so her clothes were revamped to reflect that.
--Looking at Japanese designers, they noted that in contrast to the flamboyant clothes they made for others, the costumers tended to wear more grounded, comfortable clothing with accents from nature.

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--For newcomer Evelyn Deavor, Bird specified fashion influences from Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Diane Keaton, and Annie Lennox: Bohemian, practical, and a blend of masculine form and feminine accents.

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--In Character Tailoring, designs are taken and realized on the computer to act like physical costumes.
--To costume the background males, they made twelve unique garments and refit them to six different body types. With variations in pattern and color, they were then able to create 72 uniquely costumed characters (their "Mad Men" lineup.)

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At a press conference also held that day, Writer-Director Brad Bird and Producers Nicole Grindle and Producer John Walker fielded questions about the sequel.

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Bird on time constraints: "The original 'Incredibles' was supposed to be after 'Cars.' It was going to be 'Nemo,' 'Cars,' 'Incredibles' and our reels came together a little earlier than 'Cars' did, so we moved up, and the same situation happened here with 'Toy Story 4.' They'd been going a number of different directions in story and it was concluded that we were a little further along than they were, so we moved up. So that was a challenge for us, but the studio is three times bigger than it was at the time of 'Incredibles' so if we didn't choke, we could actually, theoretically, get the movie made, and then that is what came to pass.

"When I got involved with 'Ratatouille,' it was a little over a year and a half between my involvement and the finished film, and we only retained two lines of dialogue and two shots from all of the previous versions that had been done. So it was like running in front of a train, laying down track in front of a moving train like Wallace and Gromit. But, as Nicole said, everyone rallied and as long as it's clear where we want to go, people rise to the occasion."

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Bird on setting the film directly after the ending of "Incredibles:" "I thought about aging everybody the way everybody does, and then I thought no, that sucks...One of the conceits of the original film is that I tried, initially, when I was first starting to work on the project, long before Pixar or anything like that...I went to a comic book shop and thought I've got to think up new powers. And after about a half an hour in the comic book shop I realized every power has been done by somebody, somewhere, even if it's only self-published a hundred issues in Ohio. Then, right after that little epiphany, I realized I'm not very interested in the powers. That's not the part that interests me. What interests me is the idea of having a family and having a reason to hide the powers. And once I had that insight into what I wanted to do, I picked the powers based on who they were in the family.
And so men are always expected to be strong, so I had Bob have super-strength. Mothers are always pulled in a million different directions, so I had her be elastic. Teen-agers are insecure and defensive, so I had Violet have force fields and invisibility. Ten-year-olds are energy balls that can't be stopped, and babies are unknowns: Maybe they have no powers, maybe they have all powers. We don't know.

"So that idea changes if you age the characters up. The insight into the periods of your life and those particular perspectives disappear once you age them up. I'm not interested in a college-age Jack-Jack, I'm just not....I also was on the first eight seasons of 'The Simpsons' and that's worked out rather well for that, so I'll stick with that."

Bird on diversity: "We are just telling the story we want to tell. Some people have remarked..."oh (they) geared this towards the #MeToo movement because it's got a female lead" and all this stuff...I had that idea right on the heels of the first film. That's the oldest idea in this current movie, that and exploring Jack-Jack's powers. So we don't really respond to whatever the thing of the moment is, because our lead time is so long. We just kind of tell the stories we want to tell.

"But, that said, you know the first walkaround character in Disneyland that was black is Frozone. And so, you know, I think we've done okay and we will continue to present that sort of world because that is the world that we live in."

Bird on making sequels: "You want the characters to feel consistent, you want the world to feel consistent, but you don't want to be able to know what's going to happen next. So that's the challenge, and it's not an easy challenge to meet."
Walker: "And the fact that we took fourteen years to do it suggests that we took the challenge seriously."
Bird: "The thing is, that many sequels are cash grabs. There's a saying in the business that I can't stand where they go [gangster voice] 'YOU DON'T MAKE ANOTHER ONE, YOU'RE LEAVIN' MONEY ON DA TABLE!' You know, money on the table does not make me get up in the morning. Making something that people are going to enjoy a hundred years from now is what gets me up. So if it were a cash grab, we would not have taken fourteen years. It makes no financial sense to wait this long. It's sheerly that we have a story that we wanted to tell."

Bird on artistic control:
"I'm elbows in. I have very strong opinions about how I like to see things staged, I mean, ask people. Some people have (asked) why am I the only Pixar director that works alone...and I always look at the other filmmakers and I go WHY WOULD YOU GIVE UP ANY PART OF THIS MOVIE? WHY WOULD YOU GIVE THAT UP? WHY WOULD YOU GIVE IT TO SOMEONE ELSE TO DO and they just wave at me, like 'shut up.' So that's the best way to handle me. Tell me to shut up.

"I'm not opposed to other people's notions. I just want to make sure I get mine in first."

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At the end of the day we were treated to a tour of Pixar's relatively new Archives facility. While we could have stayed there all week looking at the tons of concept art and maquettes and other Pixar relics, we were shown at least a small portion of the various pieces of the studio's history. Some of them, such as the original Woody bust, had recently been on tour as part of a traveling Pixar exhibit, but will probably not be loaned out again as they are irreplaceable.

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More to come, including the terminally adorable short "Bao!"

"Incredibles 2" comes to US theaters June 15, 2018.





May 30, 2018

"Beauty and the Beast" in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl

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After the sell-out success of "Little Mermaid Live in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl" back in 2016, Disney has returned to the venue with "Beauty and the Beast Live in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl."

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In conjunction with a showing of the 1991 animated classic, the night also featured a costume contest..

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A performance of "Bare Necessities" by recent American Idol winner Maddie Poppe...

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Several songs by DCappella, Disney Music Group’s new a cappella singing group...

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...And a few instrumental versions of Disney tunes by pianist Emily Bear performing the 1948 Disney short “Bumble Boogie," and violin soloist Sandy Cameron and cello soloist Tina Guo performing numbers from the film.

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The main event consisted of concert performances of the musical numbers from the film, with star performers Zooey Deschanel as Belle, Kelsey Grammer as Lumiere, Taye Diggs as Gaston, Rebel Wilson as LeFou, Jane Krakowski as Mrs. Potts, Anthony Evans as the Beast, and Marissa Jaret Winokur as Wardrobe.

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The songs were done as professionally as you'd expect, with Tony award winners Krakowski, Grammer, and Winokur as vocal standouts strong enough to make Deschanel's Belle seem a little tentative. The orchestra, led by conductor Michael Kosarin, sounded gorgeous and included many musicians who played on the original soundtrack.

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Probably the best addition to the film was the framing animation added to the iconic Hollywood Bowl facade which really added to the immersive viewing experience.

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The movie, of course, is as brilliant as always. There are always those who will quibble about plot consistency or the timelines or mutter (as Wilson's Gaston did) of bestiality--as if being anything in a Disney movie ever made you ineligible for love--but there is so much that is perfect about "Beauty and the Beast" that it remains my personal favorite animated feature. From the amazing Howard Ashman songs, to the heroine who is sufficiently self-confident to dump her trespassing suitor into the mud, to Gaston, who I feel is one of the best Disney villains of all time--all the more frightening by how easily he wins the town's approval and plays on their fears and paranoia to fan them into a violent mob.

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The night closed with an appearance by composer and Disney Legend Alan Menken who beautifully performed "How Does A Moment Last Forever" from the recent live-action remake, followed by the titular "Beauty and the Beast."

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"Beauty and the Beast" in Concert provided a great musical evening showcasing a masterpiece of animation as should befit a Tale As Old As Time.

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May 23, 2018

KINGDOM HEARTS III: A First Look

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Scheduled for release sometime later this year on the Playstation 4 and XBox One, the long-awaited KINGDOM HEARTS III (KH3) is finally beginning to lift the veil a little and give us a glimpse at what lies ahead for Sora and his Disney friends. Recently, we were invited to a premiere event that featured a panel with Franchise Director Tetsuya Nomura and Co-Director Tai Yasue, and then gave us some hands-on time with the new game.

[For those who want to get up to speed on the Kingdom Hearts saga, you can play the recently released bundles KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX and KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue about which I previously wrote.]

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Some notes from the panel:

[Unattributed photos/video are courtesy of Square Enix/Disney]

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--The Kingdom Hearts series has been going on for about sixteen years.
--While it does follow a single story line, the overarching theme is "heart."
--KH3 will conclude the "Dark Seeker Saga," and will be a resolution of the fight against Xehanort.
--Knowing that everyone may have different entry points into the Kingdom Hearts series, they feel that anyone can enjoy KH3 on its own and then return to play from the beginning if they are interested in more of the story.
--KH3 is the first title to include the worlds of Pixar.
--The size and scope of each world is determined by the themes and concepts they assign to them. In Toy Story, they wanted to include robots the player could ride and control, and in Hercules they wanted a large-scale enemy--so the levels were designed to feature those elements.
--The process of making Kingdom Hearts is similar to that of making the animated features, with storyboarding, voice direction, etc.
--To better allow players to enjoy the verticality of some worlds (like Hercules) the flow-motion mechanic, introduced in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, will be back.

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--Link abilities (also from Kingdom Hearts 3D) return with the capacity to summon characters such as Ariel and Wreck-it Ralph who assist the player with specialized attacks: Ariel jumps and leaves puddles of water from which fountains spray up, while Ralph creates exploding blocks.

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--New to KH3 are Keyblade transformations which are world-specific and deal accentuated attacks after the player scores enough consecutive hits--in the Toy Story world, the keyblade becomes a Hyper Hammer. Multiple themed Keyblades can be equipped and used in different combinations.

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--"Attractions" is another new element of combat, where Sora can summon theme park ride vehicles which each have characteristic attacks and finishing moves.

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--They are close to finalizing the release date and plan to announce it early next month (perhaps at E3?)

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The second half of the event was the hands-on demo. We were first able to play a few of the minigames that are throwbacks to classic Disney shorts and 80s handheld consoles.

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Next was actual core gameplay. The first scenario was a Titan boss battle from the realm of Hercules. Here, the Autorunning feature that allows Sora to make small leaps on his own, as well as run up 90 degree walls was introduced. For people who are platforming-impaired such as myself, this is a huge advantage, because I can literally sit around trying to make one jump for an entire afternoon. We also got to use the Attraction attack which was visually stunning and dealt a lot of damage if you could remember to execute the finishing move, but seemed kind of non-intuitive depending on the ride vehicle used--it was easy to conceptualize how to shoot from the Astro Blaster car, for example, but I spent several attacks wondering how to aim a train.

The last segment we were shown was the world of Toy Story. This area showed off the extent of world-building they were able to do and really let players explore the various scenarios. The different effects used by the area-specific Keyblades were shown off well, along with the Giga robots Sora can enter and control, and the characters he can link. The impressive part of this world was just how accurate it looked and felt compared to the original films. Everything looks authentic down to the different gaits all the characters have running from location to location. The fact that the game is fully voiced now--not just the cutscenes--with a lot of the original voice actors only serves to make it even more of a cinematic experience.

From what we saw, the next installment of Kingdom Hearts looks to be a smooth continuation of Kingdom Hearts 3D with improved movement, audio/visual components, and variation in combat. If it's still a little challenging for me to control the camera and figure out what's happening during some of the more flamboyant attacks, well that could easily be either a correction between now and release, or more likely, operator error. In any case, if the demo is any indication, exploring the previously-announced worlds of "Big Hero 6" and "Tangled" in KH3 is something to avidly anticipate.





May 13, 2018

"Solo: A Star Wars Story" Press Conference

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"I have a good feeling about this."
--Han Solo

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May 25th, Lucasfilm delivers the next installment of the Star Wars anthology films, "Solo: A Star Wars Story." It recounts the origin of the infamous rogue and scoundrel Han Solo and his initial encounters with some of his lifelong friends and frienemies.

In anticipation of the opening, cast and filmmakers held a press junket to discuss revisiting the legendary character and adding to his mythos. In attendance was Thandie Newton (Val), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37), Woody Harrelson (Tobias Beckett), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Emilia Clarke (Qi'Ra), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), and Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos), along with screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan, and director Ron Howard.

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Full video of the press conference (some dicey language:)

Some quotes from the panel:

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Howard on what excited him about the film: "I'm very excited about the character relationships, because this is a little bit different from the other movies. It's really this one guy's adventure story. It's why I feel like in some ways it's kind of similar to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' which Larry also wrote. It is a single hero's journey. There's a lot of fun in that journey and a lot of twists and turns, but it's really about that character. We had that going with this. And so all of the different relationships are very important to me because it's all about what impact all these characters are going to have on this young Han Solo. So that was interesting.

"The excitement was again, making even the action scenes be cool, be Star Wars, but really be about testing Han Solo. What does this mean? What does this tell us about Han Solo? And so it kind of defined the way the action scenes would be cut, would be shot, and roll out. It's challenging, but it was really fun and exciting work, and the big surprise for me was what a blast it was to do those action scenes."

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The Kasdans on getting to tell Han's story:
Lawrence: "From the moment I was relatively young and I first saw Han Solo in the Cantina, I immediately sparked to him. He lifted up the whole movie instantly and I loved the movie, but at that moment I thought oh, this movie has got me. This is a kind of character that I have loved always...this is a character who's reckless, who's cynical, doesn't trust anybody, who's a little bit stupid -- I love that -- he just does things that he shouldn't do, he gets in over his head instantly."
Jonathan: "Andi I think he wanted me to write with him because I am all those things."

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Ehrenreich on getting feedback from Harrison Ford: "Right before we started shooting, I wanted to talk to Harrison, just to kind of pay respect and have him give us the blessing for the film. So we had lunch, I guess, two years ago or something, and he was really encouraging, really supportive. Then we went off, shot the film and everything like that, and today I was doing an interview and they were talking about is there anything else you'd like to ask him, and I was like 'well, uhm,' and they're like 'well you have your chance' and he was behind me. And is just so effusive about the movie and it meant so much to me and I know for Ron and Kathy and everyone, you know it's such a huge deal to have him really genuinely love it, really genuinely enjoy the film and it meant a lot to me that he took the time to come out here."

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Glover on taking on the role of Lando: "When I heard they were making these, I told my agent 'if they're doing anything with Lando, I have to be Lando" and he was like 'I hear you... I don't like your odds." That was exactly what I needed to hear, because I really did audition like it was the only role I wanted in the world, because it really was."

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Suotamo on becoming the well-loved Chewbacca: "This was a life-changer for me. I was borderline jobless when I got this role, you know. My now-fiancee (my then-girlfriend) has seen me go from living with my Mom to becoming Chewbacca. That's the span of our relationship. She says I've been like this the whole time, it's just now that this behavior suits me."

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Clarke on the femme fatale, Qi'ra: "We meet her quite early on, with Han, and then they get separated for whatever reason. When we find her again, she seems to have lived a pretty dark life in that time. So when you re-find her, you can't quite figure out what it is that's happened to her in the time you haven't been with her, and who it is that she is now. I think that's a question that keeps coming up throughout the movie."

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Harrelson on how he sees Beckett: "Well, I felt it was a really easy character for me to play 'cause he's a scoundrel and a thief."

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Newton on being on such legendary sets: "The first day I was on set, and I had my son with me and he was two years old, and he didn't know anything about Star Wars, he's two, right? And we were on this amazing set--it was extraordinary--and I was chatting with the crew and stuff, and my kid just started to walk away and we watched where he was going. He was going towards R2-D2. And everyone kind of moved to the side, and my kid just walked over, and the guy who was operating R2-D2's remote control saw my son, knew it was my kid, and started to make R2-D2 kind of chat with my kid...but not in language, in R2-D2 speak. And my son would sort of gabble back and R2 gabbled to him, and it ended, I kid you not, with my son hugging R2-D2. And that was the first impression my son has had of that character, of Star Wars, and what I mean is like, this is the stuff that dreams are made of."

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Waller-Bridge on L3 as an individual: "She's a self-made droid, so she created herself out of parts of other droids which sounds kind of frightening when you put it like that...she creates herself out of astromech droids and protocol droids and so she turned herself into a unique creature that's kind of taller, stronger, more independent than she originally was. She's got a great attitude, she's very upbeat, she's very fun to be around...yeah, she's fearless, she's uncensored, she is very funny, and she's revolutionary--she has an agenda which is bigger than the sum of her parts...and it's great to play that. It's great to play a droid with a message."

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Bettany on what he wanted to do with Vos: "Having texted Ron, having said 'hey Ron, have you ever spent long winter evenings like I have, wondering why you're not in the Star Wars franchise?' and he said 'give me a minute"...so I came on set really quickly and he whispered 'oligarch' in my ear and I went 'GOT IT.' It was just lovely to play somebody--having come from Avengers where Vision is fundamentally good--just to someone who's deliciously bad and really okay with it. Just no neurosis, no guilt, just super happy about being evil...he's really good at hurting people, and you know, some people are really good at piano or whatever..."

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” opens in U.S. theaters on May 25, 2018.

Shop Solo: A Star Wars Story! Make the Kessel Run and explore new t-shirts, action packed toys and more.





May 9, 2018

Review: "Travels with Walt Disney"

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For those of us with minor or not-so-minor obsessions concerning all things Disney, one of the few things as fascinating as history of the Walt Disney Company or its parks is background on the man himself. Consequently, I was very pleased to get a review copy from Disney Consumer Products of Jeff Kurtti's new book "Travels with Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World."

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[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney Editions.]

The book recounts, in photo essay form, many of Walt Disney's personal and professional journeys around the globe. Interestingly enough, the structure of the book eschews a traditional chronological timeline and instead groups different trips together on the basis of means of transportation and purpose of travel. This gives each chapter a more cohesive feel as disparate destinations are linked by Walt's love of trains or his involvement in overseas film production, but does sometimes lead to a slight feeling of disjointedness as the reader continues to flip back and forth through the decades.

What the book feels like, more than anything, is a mini-trip through part of The Walt Disney Family Museum, which uses a similar audio-visual approach towards detailing Walt Disney's life and works.

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This similarity is hardly surprising since Kurtti was also creative director/content consultant/media producer for The Walt Disney Family Museum. His talent for giving a nice overview of Walt Disney as a person without delving into a lot of speculative drama is as apparent in his book as in his exhibits.

"Travels with Walt Disney" is not only a window into an era where travel was more genteel and less gestapo, but a elegant, smooth, and pleasant look at Walt in some of his less-public moments. It reveals his life-long curiosity about the world and its denizens, and how that fed into the amazing projects he executed. The last chapter, bringing it all around, shows old photos of Disneyland and the many famous international celebrities that ultimately came to visit Walt's kingdom--created from all the best parts of the world he spent a lifetime exploring.

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https://www.amazon.com/Travels-Walt-Disney-Photographic-Editions/dp/1484737687

Series: Disney Editions Deluxe
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Disney Editions (April 3, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1484737687
ISBN-13: 978-1484737682





April 28, 2018

Review: "Avengers: Infinity War" - Spoilers Noted

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"We're in the endgame now."
--Dr. Strange

[Photos and video provided by Disney.]

"Avengers: Infinity War," the first half of the third installment of the "Avengers" films brings together a panoply of heroes from every Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise over the last ten years in a gargantuan confrontation with a truly universal threat.

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For years now, one common background element of all the MCU films has been the mysterious and powerful Thanos who has been gathering the Infinity Stones for a murky, nefarious purpose. In "Infinity War," some two years after "Captain America: Civil War," that purpose is brought to light just as most of our heroes have reached their most fractured state.

[If, like me, you have lost track of the Infinity Stones through the decade, here is a Marvel Studios-provided cheat sheet:]

THE INFINITY STONES PRIMER

SPACE STONE (Tesseract)
Color: Blue
Power: Used to control space and create advanced weaponry
Currently in possession: Asgard

REALITY STONE (Aether)
Color: Red
Power: Ability to warp reality at will, immense strength, durability, powers, and subjective
influence over the universe
Currently in Possession: The Collector

POWER STONE (Orb)
Color:Purple
Power: Increases physical abilities, allows manipulation of energy. Can obliterate an entire
planet when unleashed.
Currently in Possession: Nova Corps

MIND STONE (from Loki’s scepter)
Color: Yellow
Power: Subjugate the minds of others, bending them to the will of the user. Increased
intelligence.
Currently in Possession: Vision

TIME STONE
(Eye of Agamotto)
Color: Green
Power: Able to control the flow of time.
Currently in Possession: Doctor Strange

SOUL STONE
Color: Orange
Power: Unknown
Currently in Possession: Unknown

To combat this menace, all of our heroes, from Earth and beyond, will find that superheroism often makes for strange bedfellows while hoping that in unity there is strength. Whether they can muster up sufficient unity is only one of the questions posed in "Infinity War."

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[For months, we've been reminded that #ThanosDemandsYourSilence about most of the plot points in an effort to avoid spoiling the movie. While I will try to stick with what I think is common knowledge about the film, if you want to go in to see it as a completely blank slate, I'd avoid reading anything about it, including the rest of this.]

The main attraction of "Infinity War" is its star-studded cast made up of principals from countless blockbusters. Whether new or old to the MCU stable, they all do as polished a job as you'd expect from folks who have been inhabiting the same characters for ages.

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The number of characters is a mixed blessing, however, as even with a running time of almost three hours, we don't get the chance to spend as much time as we'd like with each of them. They do a good job of trying to give each person at least a moment to shine, but many of the main cast are more or less sidelined beyond the big action sequences. The film employs the technique of splitting everyone up into groups of varied combinations to break them into manageable story lines, and then focuses largely on a couple of them--mainly on just a few members of each.

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The person who gets the most on-screen development is our Big Bad, Thanos. Determined to fulfill his destiny of annihilating half the beings in the universe, he has his own tragic backstory and twisted motivations that Josh Brolin uses to create a villain as sympathetic as he is fearsome. Few things make a being more indomitable than having the courage of their convictions, and whatever else you may think of Thanos, he does not lack for that.

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The look of the film is, as always, MCU pitch-perfect whether on-location in Edinburgh or under the dome of Wakanda. Many of the characters' appearances have changed somewhat as a result of intervening events, Chris Evans' Captain America in particular. No longer the clean-shaven, Star Spangled Man With A Plan, Steve Rogers' years of being hunted by his own country seems to have beaten some of his trademark optimism and faith in humanity out of him. While he still operates on a strict moral code, his guarded nature is evident in his terse speech and physically manifested in his new beard. Set adrift from most of his old alliances, Rogers is notably free of the stars-and-stripes, even on his shields, when he gets them.

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Thor looks much as we left him after "Thor: Ragnarok:" Minus his hammer, some of his hair, and one eye. We find, however, that while still pretty good-humored (Chris Hemsworth still unfairly funny for someone who looks "like a pirate had a baby with an angel,") the loss of almost all of his family and kingdom from Ragnarok has left him somewhat fatalistic and a long way from the exuberant dude who was initially banished from Asgard for his aggressive pursuit of battle and glory.

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As usual, the lynchpin tying it altogether is Robert Downey Jr., whose Tony Stark is in the unenviable position of having finally achieved a measure of peace before all Thanos breaks loose. With the welfare of his Pepper Potts relationship and the well-being of his surrogate son Peter Parker on one hand and the fate of the universe on the other, Stark embodies the general theme of the Russo Brother's story: What does it cost to be a hero?

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Ultimately, the main complaint that anyone will have about "Infinity War" is likely to be the ending, which has the transitory nature of the ending of any first half to a story. While some events seem likely to have permanent consequences, others seem equally likely to be reversed in the second half which detracts a bit from the gravitas of the moment. The other is that some of the big conflicts developed in "Civil War" aren't addressed here, but there is a whole other movie coming for that.

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If you've been following along with our heroes all this time however, there's a good chance you won't be disappointed by "Infinity War." It has all the importance and grandeur of the event movie that it is, while preserving the small character bits that make the films endearing. When it chooses to be funny it is hilarious, with Banner, Drax, Spider-Man, and Okoye being standouts. For those fond of the long-standing MCU tradition of someone always getting their arm cut off in each Stage 2 film, there are a LOT of arms flying off in "Infinity War," usually in the course of the many spectacular battle sequences. While some of the fighting seems to go a trifle long, there are many beats that are perfect, such as the formidable trinity of Okoye, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch going to town on yet another Daughter of Thanos.

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It is a general rule for the conventional structure of a story, that the first half of it sets up the problem and the last half resolves it. "Infinity War" leaves a lot of balls still in the air with a lot of characters' fates in the balance. If some of our long-standing heroes have gotten to the point in their lives where they no longer want to continue with the stress and disruption of being an Avenger, it seems clear that some of their real-life actors feel the same. That being the case, there seems to be no security that we will ultimately end this story with all the players with which we started. Cleverly, the story manages it so that many of the newer characters from franchises we know will continue afterwards are benched by the end, leaving mostly the old guard to face part 2. Who is leaving? Who will return? Only Thanos and Kevin Feige know for sure.

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Click to enlarge.

"Avengers: Infinity War" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillian, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Chris Pratt.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo. Produced by Kevin Feige. The Executive Producers were Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Trinh Tran, Jon Favreau, Jame Gunn, and Stan Lee.

Rating: PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes. The film enters general release on April 27, 2018, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

**You're gonna think there's no intra-credit scene but there is. They just make you wait for it.

Shop Avengers: Infinity War action figures, t-shirts, costumes, backpacks and more!





April 24, 2018

"Avengers: Infinity War" Press Junket

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"Oh! We're using our made-up names!"
--Spider-Man

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On April 27th, the culmination of the last ten years and 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe films comes together with the opening of "Avengers: Infinity War."

At a recent press junket, the bulk of the MCU pantheon (minus Chris Evans, currently appearing in "Lobby Hero" on Broadway,) assembled to answer one question each, moderated by Grandmaster Jeff Goldblum.

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...That it still took almost an hour lets you know how many stars were there.

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Full video of the press conference--some dicey language is used.

Some words from each of the celebrities:

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Robert Downey Jr. on appearing in Avengers 4: "Yes, we already filmed it...I gotta see the screening tomorrow. If I die tomorrow, I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be confused. We'll see."

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Letitia Wright on inspiring teens in math and science: "I'm really happy that this film and this character, Shuri, has allowed young kids to feel, like, learning is cool and that they can contribute to the world with science and math and technology and engineering and also young women as well getting pulled into that whole movement. I feel like it's not just a thing for the guys...it's also for young women to young men (young women, old women...you know)...anyone to just get into and contribute positively."

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Don Cheadle on continuing Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine's problems from "Avengers: Civil War:" "Where it comes to Rhodes, and I'm glad this is something that's carried through and wasn't just dropped, it's a line that...actually goes through both of the films and comes into play in a very important way (I won't give it away,) but it's something that factors in all the way through. So it's nice to have something that's cohesive, that continues and keeps me grounded and keeps the character grounded."

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Chris Hemsworth on which scene he found challenging: "Thor meeting the Guardians. It felt like the first day at school for me because they all knew each other and I didn't, so I was the new kid and they all look at you...and it's a weird sort of nervous butterflies fluttering around my body...but I squeezed them out. Chris Pratt gave me a big hug and all the butterflies flew out of my ears...I've been in the hospital. I'm still trippin'."

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Kevin Feige on what he uses to pull all the themes/characters/stories together: "You won't be surprised to hear, it's the comics. It's the comics that we look at when there's just a notion of let's do an Iron Man movie or let's have the audacity to do a version of the Infinity Gauntlet--it starts with those comics and us getting to rip pages out (or rip copies of pages out,) put them on the walls, and start to be inspired. And in every single movie we've made, up to and especially 'Infinity War,' there are direct images, storylines, rarely but sometimes actual lines of dialogue, that come from those pages that we put up around our development room for inspiration."

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Zoe Saldana on Gamora's arc: "I will speak on behalf of also Karen Gillan's character Nebula--we had so much fun with the arc that the Russo Brothers and obviously Kevin Feige spearheading us, with the relationship that these daughters have with their father, because they finally get an opportunity to sort of address what it was like to have a dad that's so complicated...so it was fabulous. It was great."

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Scarlett Johansson on fashion elements of the movie: "I got the fashion question?! I honestly really don't know how to answer that question. I wear a leather unitard for most of this film, and I have been for the last ten years, so if you think of any fashion elements that you would like to include, please let us know. I have a new vest for once, so that was pretty exciting. And I have a new hairstyle as well, if you haven't noticed already--it's a little bit polarizing, I can see. It's fine. It was a choice I made and I'm sticking by it. So there you go."

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Anthony Mackie on fighting for screen time: "A wise man once said, 'some men need an hour to make their presence felt, some men need 30 seconds.'" [mic drop]

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Tom Holland on his new Spider Suit: "I didn't actually get to wear the Iron Spider suit because it's too amazing to exist in real life, so I...stood amongst these gods wearing pajamas. Wasn't quite as heroic as I'd liked, and I haven't seen the film yet so I can't tell you what it does in real life, but I can tell you it would be amazing, and we'll have to see."

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Benedict Cumberbatch on whether he's read the top-secret final movie script
: "I read a script...whether I read the script is for them (the Russo Brothers) to know. And me to find out when I see the movie tomorrow."

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Chadwick Boseman on whether "Infinity Wars" is "Black Panther 1.5:" "'Avengers: Infinity War' is 'Avengers: Infinity War.' It's not Black Panther 1.5 or Black Panther 2 or anything like that. I think we have a strong presence within the movie and it was great to have some of these (not going to say who, exactly,) in Wakanda, but it is its own movie. It's great to go from what we did in 'Black Panther' and bring some of that into Avengers--it was a relief, actually. It's its own thing."

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Pom Klementieff on whether Mantis sees any growth in the new film: "Maybe a little bit, but she still has this kind of child-like way of thinking, and she asks a lot of questions. I think it brings up comedy and sometimes these movies need some...innocence. I think she's going to evolve a little bit more in the next one, but this one I think she's still kind of the same."

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Josh Brolin on which characters most impressed Thanos: "I looked, in the trailer, like I was impressed with other people? Then obviously I didn't do my job correctly. Being a person of the color purple and being naked on the set the whole time I was doing this in order to create a vibe of fear, I really thought I scared everybody, but apparently not.

"Was there someone I was impressed by? Oh, Anthony Mackie. Strangely enough, it only took 25 seconds for me to be impressed by him. Everybody has their weakness, and Anthony Mackie is Thanos' weakness. Who was also naked on set, by the way."

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Paul Bettany on any on-set anecdotes: "Well snitches end up in ditches and all the best anecdotes end up unsayable."

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Chris Pratt on how Star-Lord feels to see humans again after 30 years: "That's a good question. You know, it borders on...you know, it might be best for you to see it, so I'm going to talk about bass fishing. April, as you know, is a big month for open-mouth bass..."

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Dave Bautista on Drax meeting Thanos and working with Brolin:
"Let me kill time while I think of a way to answer this without giving anything away. Man...ask me about my fashion sense...Back to your question, I can't answer it, obviously. I haven't seen the movie, don't know anything about the movie, don't know anything about the storyline, haven't read the script, haven't read one of the fake scripts...Back to my fashion sense..."

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Anthony Russo
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Joe Russo

Anthony Russo on whether Agent Coulson will make a comeback: "All these unanswerable questions. What can I say, other than talk about bass fishing some more?"

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Winston Duke on whether Wakanda gets destroyed: "As you know, I can't say anything...It's going to be a fun adventure. You're going to enjoy it. That's all I can tell you."
Johansson: "But tell us who made that fabulous jacket?"
Duke: "Armani. Giorgio Armani."

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Mark Ruffalo on Environmentalism: "I try not to be that one person who's always going on about an issue, but I can't help myself. I think, more than anything, I try to use my time outside of the movies to make my friends know that it's safe to speak out about the things they care about, and that it's important for them and that it's actually enriching as artists...No matter what that thing is, whether it's environmental issues or social justice issues or equality issues or education or all the really wonderful things there are to do today in front of us. And in that way, I feel like I can be the most impactful with this gift that I've been given, of sitting up here with these tremendously talented people."

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Elizabeth Olsen on Scarlet Witch getting a solo film: "Paul (Bettany) and I joke a lot about how much we would love to do like a 'House of M' spin-off, a really domesticated indie version of it. And I think that would be a lot of fun--that part of her story is why I love this character so much."

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Danai Gurira on the rumor of an all-female Marvel movie pitch: "I know no details on that...But the awesome thing that I think is happening, that we see happening across many dimensions in the entertainment industry is we see more women take the helm in various realms, and is...not only about time, but it will make the world a better place. I think so, I look forward to the future."

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Tom Hiddleston on who his favorite MCU character is: "I'm not going to pick anyone, actually. [gestures to Helmsworth] My brother from a different mother. I'm astonished that I'm still here, as you may be. And Loki has fallen through a wormhole and faked his own death and I never honestly expected to be playing this part for so long...the great privilege that I've had is working with every single person on this stage...Because Kevin and everyone that works at Marvel...the writing has been so great...they create these characters with such precision that what happens in the space between those characters is always unique. And you're guaranteed to see that tomorrow night."

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Sebastian Stan on whether Bucky is accepted/back to baseline: "I think you definitely see shades of the 'old,' so to speak, Bucky...I guess the guy smiles finally. As far as accepted, I wouldn't necessarily go so far as saying that. He's just kind of seeing where his allies are, he's been enjoying coconut water in Wakanda, and everything else is peachy."

"Avengers: Infinity War," rated PG-13, will be released in theaters April 27, 2018.





April 16, 2018

Early Press Day for "Incredibles 2" Part 1.

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Earlier this month, Disney-Pixar invited AllEars down to Pixar Studios to take an early look at their upcoming "Incredibles 2."

[Unattributed photos and video provided by Disney]

After we were shown a few sequences from the gorgeous but still-in-progress film, we were treated to a few panels by the "Incredibles 2" filmmakers. First off were Ralph Eggleston (Production Designer), Philip Metschan (Visual Designer), Bryn Imagire (Shading Art Director) and Nathan Fariss (Sets Supervisor) on "Creating the Worlds of Incredibles 2."

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Bryn Imagire and Ralph Eggleston

--Production design and art directors come up with the overall look of the film and its specifics.
--They then build corrals of visual information that everyone can understand and utilize.
--Different areas for which they create the starting points: Character design, environments, props and dressing, sets, costumes and costume changes, textures, and lighting.
--One main architectural influence for the city was "mid-century mundane:" Mid-century elements that exist in-between iconic structures.
--The world of the Incredibles is not about "small." Structures are bigger than life, with the characters as small details.
--Safari Court is a motel where the family lives for some weeks after some unfortunate incidents.
--Iconic textures of this time period that were incorporated include sleek, simple furniture shapes and "nubbly" fabrics.
--The new Parr home was reworked after an initial design to give the impression of an arrow shooting upwards.

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--Terrazzo floors were a big mid-century design element they used in the Parr house, with their appearance of a luxurious aggregate of materials.

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--An effort was made to bring the "outside in" with plants, water features, dark exotic woods.

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Philip Metschan

--The pre-vis department makes simple 3-D models that can serve as a prototype for subsequent iterations for easier collaboration.
--They create maps and try to choreograph how the characters live within the spaces.

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Nathan Fariss

--The set department takes a lot of the concept art, research, and pre-vis, and turns it into the environments you see in the film--the props, architecture (inside and out,) vehicles, vegetation, etc.

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--Sub-departments of modeling makes the objects, and set dressing arranges them in a design that creates and is consistent with the look of the film. Shading adds color and texture and determines how an object reacts to light, while set extension and skies fill out the world and create the world in long shot.

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--Because the film utilizes so much of the city from so many angles, the set department took the time to create an entire virtual city for it.

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--Even elements that were carried over from the original film needed to be reworked because the technology is so different and the purposes for which they were used in the film were often different, such as the Underminer's drill vehicle.
--To ease the viewer into the slightly different technical look between films, an effort was made to keep the very beginning of the film consistent with the first "Incredibles," with a progressive improvement in rendering, etc. as the drill vehicle goes first underground and then back up again.

The next group presenting was Ted Mathot (Story Supervisor), Mahyar Abousaeedi (Layout Supervisor), Kureha Yokoo (Animator), Amit Baadkar (Effects Artist) on "Anatomy of an Action Scene," in which they broke down the process of creating a high-speed runaway train chase with Elastigirl on her Elasticycle.

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--Hand-drawn story reels are where the sequence starts, in the story department.

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--In the first pass, Helen was the only active participant in the chase. It was decided that it would be logical for the police to be involved, which gives Helen more obstacles and introduces a world view into the scene.
--The key to the reality of "The Incredibles" is a balance between the mundane and the super, so Helen is required to field phone calls from her family on routine household matters regardless of her state of urgency.

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--How Helen might enter and stop the train was reconceptualized in order to make her problem-solving solution distinct to her super abilities.
--Layout then takes the finalized story reels and cinematically translate them into film.
--While the chase kept its sensation of speed on the ground, alterations of the terrain and frequent checkbacks with the train were necessary to keep the action moving once Elastigirl takes to the air, leaping from building to building.

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--Because the Maglev train wouldn't have conventional brakes, they needed to figure out how Helen could stop the train using her specific powers and thinking her way through, rather than muscling it as Mr. Incredible might.
--Creating the Elasticycle, their main concerns was that it match her style and be an extension of her powers--flexible and nimble.

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--Although the bike had to enhance Helen's super-capabilities, it was important that it not make her so invincible that there be no stakes in the chase. The audience has to remember that Helen has her vulnerabilities as well.

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Between panels, we were treated to a short tour of the terminally cool Pixar campus and the "Incredibles 2" concept art displayed around the atrium and corridors. Everyone wanted a job here by the time it was over.

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More to come!

"Incredibles 2" comes to US theaters June 15, 2018.





April 14, 2018

"Together Forever--A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular", New at Disneyland

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Together Forever

In conjunction with its new limited-time event Pixar Fest, Disneyland has debuted a new fireworks show "Together Forever--A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular."

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[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

Celebrating the many warm relationships enjoyed by all the Pixar characters, the show utilizes pyrotechnics, projection mapping, water screens, a new musical score, and special Pixar flying elements to entertain and engage park guests. Laura Gilbreath had an opportunity to speak with former Disneyland Ambassador Allie Kawamoto about the new show.

Opening with Buzz Lightyear instead of Tinker Bell, the theme of the show is introduced with his newly reworked dialogue, "to friendship...and beyond!" Later, Carl Fredricksen's house from "Up" appears as the largest object ever flown around the castle.

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Mapped projections are used to give the show an immersive element on Main Street, Sleeping Beauty Castle and the facade of "it's a small world," while projections on water screens are used on Rivers of America. Each viewing location has been created to have some different effects that make each a slightly distinctive experience.

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In a segment dedicated to Pixar's last big hit "Coco," Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel) sings "The World Es Mi Familia" while ten skeletons from the Land of the Dead appear atop the buildings of Main Street.

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While the show takes the Pixar denizens familiar to all of us on the journey of friendship through peril and adventure, guests can be reassured that in the end the characters and the relationships they have forged, both with each other and with the audience members, will be "Together Forever."





March 12, 2018

Review: "A Wrinkle in Time"

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From director Ava DuVernay and "Frozen" screenwriter Jennifer Lee, comes Walt Disney Studio's adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle's classic book "A Wrinkle in Time."

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Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is the brilliant daughter of two talented physicists who, along with her even more brilliant younger adopted brother Charles Wallace ((Deric McCabe,) looks to have the perfect family life until her father abruptly vanishes. Four years later and her apparent state of abandonment has taken its toll on Meg who is angry, resentful, self-loathing, and subject to bullying by teachers and students alike at her school.

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One night, she discovers that Charles Wallace has been in contact for awhile with three powerful and otherworldly beings--Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)--who believe Meg's father (Chris Pine) disappeared as a result of his discovery of tessering, which is a method of instantaneous travel based on frequency waves. They offer to help find him, and soon Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg's earnest admirer/schoolmate Calvin O'Keefe (Levi Miller) are tessering from planet to planet searching for clues as to his whereabouts.

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Ultimately, what was a search party eventually turns into a rescue party, and Meg must use all her theoretical knowledge and strength of will to face down negative forces from without and within if she is to return home with her family intact.

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The book "A Wrinkle in Time" has a complex and abstract storyline that has already defied successful adaptation once in a poorly-received made-for-TV movie in 2003. I read the book when I was little and remember it being conceptually difficult with a reasonable amount of it spent explaining the theoretical physics behind what was pretty obviously magic. Even with the access to the characters' internal thoughts that one has in a book and does not in a film, the actions and resolution were a little confusing to my seven-year-old understanding.

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The film does a pretty good job of streamlining the dense plot, but almost falls to the other extreme of abbreviating the children's journey to the point of robbing it of impact. They travel to visually arresting planets and land in situations both creepy and bucolic, but often leave with barely an interaction with their surroundings. One of the more striking scenes from the book is when the kids arrive on the corrupted planet of Camazotz where everyone looks, acts, and thinks exactly the same. In what some feel is an allegory of 1960s communism, the evil force of "IT" explains how much better life is when everyone is of one Borg-like hive mind and there is no conflict because there are no conflicting points of view. For Meg in the book, this is a teachable moment where she learns to discard her earlier dreams of being able to be just like everyone else. In the film, while Meg clearly doesn't like who she is, her sense of individuality seems pretty strong even at the beginning, so it's hard to know how significant the scene is for her.

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The characters too suffer a little from the necessity of condensing a book down to a screenplay. I vaguely remember Calvin in the book as having some specific part in helping the mission along--here, there really isn't much time to develop the character into more than an ego boost for Meg, much like the traditional female role might be for a male protagonist. We are constantly told that Charles Wallace is one of the greatest minds of our time, but hardly get to see him do anything more than an extroverted schoolchild would do normally. (The fact that in the theater I saw it, it was difficult to make out what McCabe was yelling at times probably didn't help.) Similarly the three "Mrs." Whatsit, Who, and Which have barely enough screen time to make distinct impressions (rude, quotations, Oprah.) It's a shame that they aren't used more, considering how interesting they are and how prominently they're featured in the advertising.

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But the movie is beautifully done and has a nice empowering message for young girls. The parts of the film on Earth have a kind of dreamy contemporary feel, similar to that of the 2016 "Pete's Dragon" remake, and the concept of the kids getting recruited to visit a different space/time to fight evil reminded me somewhat of the 2015 "Tomorrowland." If you enjoyed those movies, or if you read and liked the book, or if you're ok with a little plot ambiguity, you should give this one a try.

"A Wrinkle in Time" is presented by Walt Disney Studios. Rated PG, it stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peňa and introducing Storm Reid with Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine.

Directed by Ava DuVernay and produced by Jim Whitaker, and Catherine Hand. Executive Producered by Doug Merrifield . Screenplay by Jennifer Lee, based upon the novel by Madeleine L’Engle.

The film entered general release on March 9, 2018.





March 5, 2018

Star Wars Rebels: Series Finale

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"Star Wars Rebels," the animated series chronicling the exploits of jedi-in-training Ezra Bridger and the intrepid crew of the Ghost, reaches its 90-minute finale Monday, March 5 (8:30 p.m. ET/PT) on Disney XD.

To give the popular series a suitable send-off, cast members Vanessa (Hera Syndulla) Marshall, Steve (Garazeb "Zeb" Orrelios) Blum, Tiya (Sabine Wren) Sircar, Taylor (Ezra Bridger) Gray, and executive producer/supervising director Dave Filoni attended an advance screening of the finale and participated in a Q&A about their thoughts on the last four years.

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Filoni on the nature of evil: "Basically, our story ends and then Scarif and the whole Luke Skywalker thing happens. When Luke happens, the Emperor's attention is completely refocused...he has a series of defeats, he loses the Death Star...now his trying to subject fear on the galaxy is completely inversed and now the Emperor is actually afraid, because that wasn't supposed to happen. And so when evil starts to sense a series of events that's not supposed to happen, they become afraid. Because the secret to every evil character and every real villain is that they're the most afraid. And the reason they've accumulated this power and they persecute people is because they're terrified inside. And so they cause pain and devastation to compensate for this fear."

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Gray on Ezra's character development throughout the series: "I think I kind of followed Freddie's (Freddie Prinze Jr./Kanan) lead, in the way that Kanan kind of led the way with his whole selfless act and how he came to be whole. And watching Freddie, I think I just followed in his footsteps the best that I could."

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Marshall on what she'll take away from Hera: "I know we have a lot of hope in the Star Wars saga, but she, in particular, seemed to embody a ton of it, and I'm going to take that with me, especially in these very trying times. I think we all need that, and we're all here for each other, and we always will be."

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Sircar on learning from Sabine: "Playing this character who's so strong and so capable and so unwilling to be vulnerable, you know, was easy for me. No! Not the strong and capable part--the unwilling to be vulnerable is what I meant. So that was a little bit of a learning experience for me...I got to go on that journey with Sabine during 'Trials of the Darksaber.' So that was both challenging and really nice for me to get to experience that along with Sabine."

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Blum on how the series changed him: "The thing that was more difficult for me, just personally, was that ability to charge in, not knowing what's on the other side and sometimes just not thinking about it--thinking more about the bigger picture, about the people I'm protecting, and how important my family is to me. So I think Zeb helped me to take more risks in my life. Conversely, I got to play some Dark Side guys too--Dave let me play a lot of troopers and bad guys and my fiancee Mary Elizabeth McGlynn was Governor Pryce, so we got to explore that side of it too. I feel like I had a complete lifetime during the course of recording this show. A complete experience as a person and as a character."

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As far as the finale goes, it seems like a fitting send off to the little family we've followed for four years. In their attempts to liberate Lothal from the clutches of Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Empire, daring plans will be plotted, reversals and re-reversals will occur at the best and worst times, and sacrifices of all kinds will be asked of all of them.

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We say goodbye to some characters, hello to others, and leave the rest in such ambiguity as to make the prospect of seeing them again someday uncertain. In typical Filoni style, as many questions are created as resolved...but perhaps in the end, we don't need answers--just the Force.

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February 17, 2018

Review: "Black Panther"

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"Don't freeze."
"I never freeze."
--Okoye and T'Challa

"Black Panther," the latest brick in the Marvel Cinematic Universe monolith, follows T'Challa shortly after the events of "Captain America: Civil War," as he struggles to adapt to his new role as King of Wakanda. The already-complicated political dilemmas of ruling a nation are compounded by his additional role of Black Panther; his slow-burning relationship with War Dog/Wakandan spy Nakia; a world that hungers for vibranium--the source of Wakanda's wealth and technology; and a man with an axe to grind who intends to use Wakanda as a whetstone.

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While Coogler delivers plenty of action in the film--there are so many fight scenes, Wakanda's second major resource must be Bactine--the characters are where the movie shines. All the people in the world of "Black Panther" feel real and dimensional and capable of having opposing views while still treating each other with respect. It's a bizarre thing to say about a superhero movie, but I wish the action had been cut back a little so we could have spent more time building up the various interpersonal relationships.

Pounce in for the Black Panther collection at shopDisney!

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Ironically, the supporting characters are so strong, Black Panther himself ends up being the least interesting one in the film. While Chadwick Boseman does a nice job of portraying the smart and decent T'Challa, he comes off a little bland compared to the dynamic Women of Wakanda.

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From the coolly intimidating Okoye (Danai Gurira,) head of the Dora Milaje all-female fighting force, to the brave and empathetic Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), to the brilliant scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright who is pitch-perfect as the sister to whom T'Challa is both King and dorky older brother,) to the regal Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett,) it is in many ways the strong, independent women who drive the movie and embody the best of Wakanda.

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Wakanda itself is a main character in the movie--beautiful and multifaceted, it is built up as a utopia of sorts, with equal parts environmental harmony and supernaturally advanced technology. Founded on the vibranium that landed there in a meteorite long ago, Wakanda enjoys a lifestyle rich with culture and tradition, supported by all the advanced science and medicine an enlightened society freed from the shackles of colonization or the paranoia of war might develop.

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It is Wakanda's good fortune that brings about one of the main conflicts of the film: Does Wakanda have a right to keep all of its resources to itself, knowing how many suffer throughout the world they might help? Or does Wakanda's responsibility to keep its own people safe and preserve the purity of their lifestyle take precedent? The three main men of the film, T'Challa, W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya,) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) all have different visions of where the future of Wakanda lies. Poignantly, all three have suffered similar tragedies, pointing out again that heroism or villainy lies not so much in what life hands you, but in your response to it.

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Ultimately, Coogler has managed to make "Black Panther" a fun ride with a meaningful core. It's the superhero movie that feels the least like a superhero movie, which is a breath of fresh air in a genre that's in danger of getting a little played out recently. The characters seem more realized and the issues more topically relevant than most movies out there, which is a big accomplishment in a film where drinking a flower gives you superpowers.

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Because of the rarity of a superhero film written and cast with a predominately black viewpoint, it is difficult to discuss "Black Panther" without mentioning the significance of race in film. I am not a black person, and consequently it seems presumptuous to think that I could adequately express what it might signify for one to see a movie like "Black Panther." I am Japanese-American however, and I can tell you definitively what it would mean to me to see a tentpole blockbuster like this with a largely Japanese cast including even one empowered woman who doesn't either die in the first ten minutes of the film or spend the whole storyline helping/pining over a hero who never thinks of her as more than a swell kid: Quite a bit.

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"Black Panther" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.

Pounce in for the Black Panther collection at shopDisney!

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige. The Executive Producers are Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov, and Stan Lee. Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole.

The film enters general release on February 16, 2017.

** With Infinity War coming down the pike, Shuri probably hasn't healed her last broken white boy.





February 12, 2018

"Black Panther" Press Junket

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This week the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to theaters: "Black Panther."

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

At a recent press conference the cast and creatives for "Black Panther" met to help introduce the world to Wakanda. In attendance: Chadwick Boseman “T’Challa / Black Panther,” Michael B. Jordan “Killmonger,” Letitia Wright “Shuri,” Lupita Nyong’o “Nakia,” Danai Gurira “Okoye,” Martin Freeman “Everett K Ross,” Daniel Kaluuya “W’Kabi,” Winston Duke “M’Baku,” Angela Bassett “Ramonda,” Forest Whitaker “Zuri,” Andy Serkis “Ulysses Klaue,” Director Ryan Coogler, and Producer Kevin Feige.

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Select moments from the press conference video above:

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Jordan on the film's effectiveness: "I call Ryan...the night before, or the day before, or the day of, and I was like, ‘Man, I’m anxious; I’m nervous, man. I don’t know...what to expect.’ And he says, ‘Look, man, just look at it and try to be a fan. Just watch it, you know what I’m saying, and try to enjoy it.’ And in the back of my head I’m like, yeah, that’s never gonna happen, but I’m gonna try. And when I sat down with my family and the audience...I had that same type of reaction. It was like, man, this is what it feels like. There’s nothing that I could have--I couldn’t describe that feeling before actually sitting down and watching that film...people who looked like you...empowered, and having those...socially relevant themes, but in a movie that you want to sit down and watch, and you can enjoy, that Marvel does so well. So I think it was a really good balance, and everybody won; everybody did amazing, amazing jobs in performances.."

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Bassett on portraying a powerful woman on screen: "In African culture, you know, they feel as if there is no king without a queen...and I think in this story, it highlights the queen...the warrior...the general...the young sister, you know. So I was so proud to have my daughter, and my son there last night, because in their faces, and in their spirit, they were feeling themselves. And they stood taller after last night."

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Gurira on having her head shaved for her character: "This pride around it, and this sort of embracing of this--this sort of symbol of power in these women. And then the beauty of how he wrote that moment; I loved that moment where she like, doesn’t want a wig. She doesn’t want to cover up. This is her joy, and her pride, is in walking in with that...with that bald head with that tattoo on it. And I was like...it was so subversive, you know, and it’s so subversive in the right way, to say what’s not necessarily beauty. You don’t have to have hair to be beautiful."

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Wright on whether Shuri is smarter than T'Challa: "I think what I love about it...with how it was written, is that the men are always behind the women, as well. So no one’s like undermined--the men are not, you know, ‘you shouldn’t be in technology, and you shouldn’t be in math,’ they’re like, ‘no, go ahead.’ So T’Challa is like, ‘go ahead, Sis. This is your department. This is your domain. Like--kill it.’
"But she's cooler than him, but not smarter than him."

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Coogler on making a blockbuster film that also has meaning: "...I grew up loving comic books. I love not just comic books, but I love pop culture. I love toys, actions figures, you know, video games, all of that stuff. When I got older and...realized that I wanted to make movies, that’s how I fell in love with internationalism, and, you know, cinema that...left you with something to chew on, with something to think about. But I never fell out of love with those types of films, you know, and those types of stories. And I think the best versions of those stories, you know, do both things."

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Feige on having the courage to address societal issues: "Well I think it’s happened for the comics, so it’s happened with the movie. Ryan wrote this for the most part, you know, a year and a half ago, two years ago, so things have happened in the world which makes the film seem more relevant. There are other things in the film that have been relevant for centuries, but the truth of the matter is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the whole Marvel bullpen created Wakanda and created T’Challa and created Black Panther and made him a smarter, more accomplished character than any of the other white characters in the mid 1960s. So they had the guts to do that in the mid 1960s. The least we can do is live up to that and allow this story to be told the way it needed to be told and not shy away from things that the Marvel founders didn’t shy away from in the height of the civil rights era."

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Serkis and Freeman on being in a movie with a predominantly Black cast:

Serkis: "Actually we were just talking about that earlier on and it was very funny ‘cause you reminded me of a story of Ryan saying to us before we were about to do our scene. Ryan came up to us and said, you know, I’ve never actually directed two white actors before.
"No, it was just an incredible experience, you know, and to be part of it was...I just think this film is so important and to be able to be part of something that is so groundbreaking and yes, should have been made many years ago, you know...But now is the time and now is a brilliant time because things are changing rapidly in every single aspect of filmmaking and so it should and the needle should swing right the other way because we need to really change things."

Freeman: "...That was lovely and I have spoken to Ryan a bit about that sort of in the process before filming. And we both agreed that we didn’t want (Agent Ross) just to be a schmuck, you know, and we didn’t want him just to be a comic foil; that it needs to be a little bit more 3D than that and I was very pleased when I was reading...bits of the script and then new bits of the script that were coming in. They were making it more emphatic, more sympathetic, and a bit more can do...because clearly it’s not Agent Ross’s film by a long way, but he plays his part. There is sort of an ambivalence about Ross I think...‘cause you’re not quite sure if he’s gonna be down with T’Challa or not, but he ends up having his eyes opened by this country that he knew nothing about and a civilization that he knew nothing about and realizing that it had something to offer and he went away learning a bit from it, you know. So I was very pleased that Ross had his kind of moment of heroism at the end...He gets in his plane and he gets to help out. He has his little Hans Solo moment. So I was really pleased and I thought that was generous on the film’s part...‘cause like Andy says, you know, we’re not short of white heroes in movies, so I thought to make one of the two white characters...a bit of a hero, I thought spoke very well of them actually."

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Boseman on having T'Challa speak with an African accent: "You know I think as actors this is separate from the movie, but...when you’re trained you’re trained very often from a European perspective. What is considered great or classical is very often British and its certain writers and I happen to come from a background that does not believe that, you know. I went to Oxford to study, but I went to Howard and we were taught to respect our writers and our classics just as much and believe that it takes the same skill level and same technique and sometimes techniques that are a little bit different to pull that off. And so I think you have to be, you have to tell the stories and be true to yourself as an artist. And, you know...there was a time period where people were asking me questions about whether or not an audience could sit through a movie with a lead character who spoke with that accent. (And it was not Kevin by the way, so just making sure you know that.) And so I became adamant about the fact that that is not true. That the intonations and melodies inside an African accent are just as classical as a British one or a European one and that all of the emotions and aspects of a character can be shown and expressions can be shown through that accent and we have to take this opportunity to show that and he just wouldn’t, if he had never been conquered, if his ancestors had never been conquered and he’s never been conquered and Wakanda is what it is, he doesn’t have to go to Oxford to study. He doesn’t have to go to Cambridge or Yale or any place to study. He actually got his education at home and he would not then assimilate a language that is the colonizer’s language in order to speak to his people. So he had to speak with an African accent."

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Kaluuya on how a country balances self-preservation vs. altruism.: "I don’t think there is a right and wrong. I just think is the cause just and if the cause is just you just do what you need to do...and then sometimes there’s sacrifices, but there’s also sacrifices if you don’t do it, and that’s the battle that we’re in. We’re putting it out there and everyone makes their own decisions."

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Nyong’o on the film's takeaway message: "Well I would say what I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique and we all have our own sense of power and our own agency and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other. And I think that’s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female this idea. I think often times in movies we fall into that trap where women, there’s very few of us and then we are against each other. There’s a competitive spirit and stuff like that and this film freezes all that. And we see women going about their business and supporting each other, even arguing with each other, you know; having different points of view, but still not being against each other. And I think that’s extremely important and...the fact that in this film there’s so many of us, we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation and we see women alongside men and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential, yeah."

A variety of merchandise for all ages is available in conjunction with the movie's release:

"Black Panther" will open in theaters February 16, 2018.






February 7, 2018

Anime Los Angeles 2018

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For those interested in getting an early start on convention season this year, Anime Los Angeles headed things off last month, oddly enough in Ontario.

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While kind of a drive from the LA/OC locations major conventions are usually held, the relative remoteness made it a breeze to find and access parking which was pretty cheap for convention center standards--$7 versus the $25 LA Convention Center usually charges. The bulk of the programming took place at the Ontario Convention Center, however there were also some satellite locations at nearby hotels as well where people could indulge in manga or karaoke or any number of related activities.

Over in the convention center, there was the usual extensive Exhibitor's Hall with merchandise representing a myriad of anime/manga/visual novel franchises.

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(A side note: Am I the last person to have heard of the ita bag concept? In case I'm not, the ita bag is a backpack or tote that features a windowed area where people can display pins and keychains and stuffed animal "straps" on their bag but have them protected by a clear plastic outer covering. I thought this was genius, because I can't tell you how many cute pins and buttons I own that I'd never think of wearing to the parks for fear of losing them or getting them damaged.)

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While there were a number of interactive activities such as fashion shows, idol competitions, and dance competitions, the bulk of the guest panels seemed to revolve around voice acting and cosplay. The highlight of the weekend was the 20th Anniversary panel for "Cowboy Bebop," widely regarded as one of the most influential anime titles of all time.

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Virtually all the voice cast from the English dubbed version was there, including series star Steve Blum, who can currently be heard as Zeb Orrelios on "Star Wars Rebels," Attila on "Tangled: The Series," and Makucha on "Lion Guard;" Mary Elizabeth McGlynn who also plays Governer Pryce on "Star Wars Rebels" and has been Dialogue Director on "Penn Zero" and "Tangled: The Series;" and writer Marc Handler, presently Executive Producer at The Walt Disney Company-China. The panelists each told how they got involved with the project, and marked on how grateful they were to have been a part of something that's ultimately become important to such a large audience.

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The other major panel I attended was "Forging Epicness!" with Grant Imahara (Robot Builder/Engineer for Lucasfilm, "Mythbusters," Walt Disney Imagineering;) Fon Davis (Model Maker for Industrial Light and Magic;) Tony Swatton (Blacksmith/Swordsmith for Euro Disney, Walt Disney Studios;) Steve Winsett (Special Effects Makeup/Specialty Costuming for Walt Disney Studios;) and Bryan Forrest (Actor/Blacksmith for "Black Sails" and "Man at Arms.")

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This was a pretty fascinating discussion on the often-hazardous process involved in creating much of the special effects we enjoy in movies, TV, theme parks, etc. By the end of it, you had to admire the level of proficiency apparently required in these fields just to keep all your fingers attached.

Outside of the panels the four days were otherwise filled with almost non-stop live performances, anime video, manga lounges, Japanese cultural presentations, and workshops on anything from stuntfighting to cosplay technique.

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So if you have an interest in anime and are looking for a convention experience less stressful than the usual suspects happening later this year, I'd encourage a look at Anime Los Angeles which has an impressive amount of content but a small con feel. You can find more information at their website: http://www.animelosangeles.org/

[While most anime shares the Disney "big-head-big-eyes" standards of cuteness, unlike in the US, Japanese animation is not primarily considered the province for children, and many of them revolve around adult topics and imagery. Viewers of all ages sensitive to such subjects may be forewarned.]

While on your way out to the Ontario Convention Center, you might also want to stop by one of the two Disney Store outlets left around the LA area at the Ontario Mills Mall. They only had a couple of racks of things from the parks when I visited, but I was told that the volume they stock from there fluctuates, so you might get lucky.

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January 7, 2018

“Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" Now Open at Downtown Disney

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Recently "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" opened up at a new VOID Experience Center in Downtown Disney at the Anaheim Disneyland Resort. It is a hyper-reality, multi-sensory experience created in tandem by Lucasfilm's ILMxLAB and The VOID to immerse you in the Star Wars universe.

In the interests of not being responsible for any perceived spoilers, here's the official story overview for the experience:

"A galaxy far, far away needs your help. In groups of four, be transported with family and friends into Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire.

Under the orders of the budding rebellion, you and your friends will travel to the molten planet of Mustafar. Your mission is to recover Imperial intelligence vital to the rebellion’s survival. Alongside the pragmatic droid K-2S0, your team must navigate through an enemy facility walking into danger at every turn. Disguised as Stormtroopers, grab your blaster, solve puzzles, and fight giant lava monsters in an effort to complete your mission."

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The story takes place between Star Wars Episodes III and IV, and features "Rogue One" characters K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk,) Cassian Andor (Diego Luna,) and Sam Witwer as Athex.

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Prior to opening, we were given the opportunity to go through the experience. It takes approximately 30 minutes from start to finish, with about 10 minutes spent filling out waivers and getting suited up. Participants buckle themselves into a vest and helmet and choose colored accents for their Stormtrooper appearance to distinguish each other within the group.

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After watching a short film in which Cassian entrusts you with a mission vital to the Rebellion, you enter a small loading area where your visors go down and your group is magically transformed into stormtroopers. On entering the ship with K-2S0 and Athex, they begin filling you in on the plan, and you are off on your adventure. On the conclusion (hopefully successful) of the campaign, you return your gear and exit out into the lobby where souvenir apparel and in-attraction photos can be purchased.

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I thought the whole thing was remarkably impressive and a lot of fun. The first minute or so is basically taken up by everyone marveling that they can look down at themselves and see nothing but stormtrooper. It seems amazing that you can look at your own armored hands moving around and grabbing things without having to hold anything or wear sensor gloves. While there are some moments where you might appear to be in peril, such as crossing a bridge over lava or feeling vibration when someone shoots you, there is no jumping, running, or climbing permitted throughout the experience. The main people who might have difficulty with this are those who suffer from claustrophobia, as the quarters are pretty close at some times, both virtually and physically, with the helmet covering the top half of your face.

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One thing that surprised me was how almost everything you see actually exists in some physical form. From doorframes to guns to control panels, you actually manipulate and interact with objects with your own stormtrooper hands in a pretty convincing manner. Even more impressive was the thought which only occurred to me in retrospect, that your whole journey which takes you onto ships and space stations, out onto balconies and into elevators--it all occurs in the space of what used to be about two Downtown Disney shops. The manipulation and distortion of your sense of space is really amazing, considering there are more than one group going through at the same time and you never run into each other in that small space.

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[For those five of you that read my blog on SIGGRAPH 2016, you may reflect on my moment of prescience when I went on about how amazed I was at the display of the rudimentary beginnings of this sort of technology, and how great I thought the potential was for theme park attractions.]

Afterwards, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Cliff Plumer, CEO, The VOID; Curtis Hickman, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, The VOID; Vicki Dobbs Beck, Executive in Charge, ILMxLAB; Mark Miller, Executive Creative Producer, ILMxLAB; and Disneyland Ambassador Mikey Trujillo.

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Of course, it's not a Disney celebration without confetti cannons.

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And after a group photo of all the people involved with the creation of "Secrets of the Empire," the attraction opened and the Mustafar tourism department just got a lot happier.

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[Sharp-eyed readers may be able to pick out Sam Witwer in the photo who was also present.]

"Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" opened at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, CA January 5, 2018, having previously opened at both Disney Springs at WDW in Orlando, FL and Westfield in London (Shepard's Bush) on December 16, 2017. Tickets may be purchased from The VOID website (www.thevoid.com) for $29.95. Guests must be at least 10 years old and those requiring mobility assistance may be accommodated depending on their ability to transfer/size of their wheelchair.






December 11, 2017

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Press Conference

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This week the eagerly-anticipated second chapter of the third trilogy in the Star Wars saga opens--"Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

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

On hand recently (accompanied by their Praetorian Guard and droids) to talk about the latest entry in the media phenomenon that is Star Wars were the main members of its extensive cast: John Boyega “Finn,”Daisy Ridley “Rey,” Andy Serkis “Supreme Leader Snoke,” Adam Driver “Kylo Ren,” Mark Hamill “Luke Skywalker,” Oscar Isaac “Poe Dameron,” Laura Dern “Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo,” Gwendoline Christie “Captain Phasma,” Domhnall Gleeson “General Hux,” Kelly Marie Tran “Rose Tico,” and Director Rian Johnson.

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Select moments from the press conference video above:

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Serkis on how "The Last Jedi" distinguishes itself: "I was blown away when I saw the movie. I just was so caught up with it, not least because it was really intimate and very emotional and I wasn’t expecting that at all. I mean, I knew obviously that it was going to go that way, but it was very, very powerful and it touches you and what Rian’s done incredibly is make this dance between...these great kind of epic moments and hilarious antics, you know, literally flipping on a dime and then going right into the heart of these beautiful characters."

Driver and Gleeson on Hux and Ren's relationship:

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Driver: "I think...definitely there’s a competition and it’s maybe yet to be discovered where that comes from. If anything I think that’s more of a testament to kind of what everyone has been saying of Rian’s inability to not mind a character in every moment...So I love playing those scenes, especially with Domhnall, ‘cause he’s a great actor and there’s nothing...taken for granted where, you know, oh, this happens and it moves on. If anything, Rian slows the pace and there’s not a moment that’s taken for granted. It’s always broken up into little pieces and the story in our mind comes first before an explosion."

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Gleeson: "I think it’s funny, you know, like there’s just such a huge amount of drama going on in that group of people but then also just a huge amount of bitchy infighting as well, which I think is really fun to see them kind of really hurt each other from the inside as well as from the outside. You know, the united front thing is difficult for them sometimes."

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Tran and Dern on representing women in Star Wars:

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Tran: "...It feels like both an honor and a responsibility at the same time. I feel like from the beginning when I initially found out I got this role, I just felt like I wanted to do the whole thing justice, and I’m so excited that guys, the girls in this movie kick some butt! Every single one is so good, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it."

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Dern: "I just want to pay tribute to Rian for being one of the most brilliantly subversive filmmakers I’ve ever been able to bear witness to...in the case of the look of my character, I was moved by the fact that he really wanted her strength to first lead with a very deep femininity. To see a powerful female character also be feminine, is something that moves away from a stereotype that’s sometimes perceived (that) strong female characters must be like the boys. I thought that was a really interesting choice to get to witness."

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Johnson on the perils of meeting your heroes in Star Wars: "You know, I think these movies to some extent are always about...to really boil it down, you know, if you look back at Lucas...famously drawing from The Hero’s Journey myth that Joseph Campbell wrote about...the hero’s journey is not about becoming a hero, it’s not about becoming Hercules, it’s about really adolescence. It’s about the transition from childhood into adulthood, and finding your place in the world, and having these new powers that you’re feeling inside yourself for the first time. You don’t know what to do with them, you don’t know who it is you’re going to get help from, who’s going to be unreliable, who’s not. Navigating those very tricky waters that we all have to navigate--that’s why it’s so universal. So part of that is, you know, your relationship to heroes and people you thought were your heroes, people you don’t expect to become your heroes. And that’s definitely something that plays out in this film."

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Hamill on returning to Luke Skywalker: "I don’t think any line in the script epitomized my reaction more than 'this is not going to go the way you think.' And Rian pushed me out of my comfort zone, as if I weren’t as intimidated and terrified to begin with, but I’m grateful, because you have to trust someone and he was the only Obi Wan available to me, not only in my choices as an actor, but my choices in sock wear."
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Boyega, Isaac, and Ridley on their characters after Han Solo's death:

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Boyega: "I think we’re just keeping it moving, to be honest with you, man. It’s true, the pressure’s on man, you know, there’s no time. I think that’s the one thing that’s unique to me about watching this movie was just the commentary on war. I think there hasn’t been a Star Wars movie yet that has explored war in the way 'The Last Jedi' does. It’s very messy, the categorizing of good and evil is all mixed together, so you know, in terms of Han, there’s no...you know, I’m sure we all feel sentimental if someone was to sit Finn down or sit Rey down, but Rey’s off training, she’s got stuff to do. I’ve got back injury, I’ve got stuff to do. I can’t think about Han at the moment. He died."

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Isaac: "I mean, I think it’s reverberating but he’s right. You know, it’s a dire situation, it’s critical. The Resistance is on its last legs. You know, they’re trying to survive. First Order’s right on top of us. You know, it is like war, where you go to just keep moving to try to survive, and so you feel, I think, the momentum of everything that happened in 'The Force Awakens' just pushing and getting to a critical mass in this film."

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Ridley: "I will interject there, and I think this is the beauty of having storylines that are sort of happening in tandem and affecting each other, ‘cause I would say that Rey at least is very much affected by it...Rey, as a character, has been alone for a really long time and she’s really open to love and friendship, so Finn and BB-8 come along and it’s like this amazing adventure. And then Han, like without trying to...she seeks something from him because there’s an intimacy and there’s a sort of figure of something she’s never dreamed of for her, that gets, you know, snatched away...
"So for Rey at least there is some time. Everything’s moving forward, but she has some time to ask questions and wonder what it is that would have led someone to do something like that, and also how that directly affects the world around her...and then you know, she’s worried about Finn at home, so I would say she’s maybe a little more affected, at least emotionally on screen, than the others."

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Christie on what Carrie Fisher as Leia meant to her: "Well, she was very significant because I was first shown 'A New Hope' when I was six, and I remember thinking, wow, that character’s really different. I watched TV and film obsessively from such a young age but it stayed with me throughout my formative years, of she’s really interesting, she’s really smart, she’s really funny, she’s courageous, she’s bold, she doesn’t care what people think, and she isn’t prepared to be told what to do. And she doesn’t look the same as a sort of homogenized presentation of a woman that we had been used to seeing--so that was really instrumental to me, as someone that didn’t feel like they fitted that homogenized view of what a woman was supposed to be, that there was inspiration there, that you could be an individual and celebrate yourself and be successful without giving yourself over, without necessarily making some sort of terrible, huge compromise. So it was a big inspiration for me. And you know, to play a character as well from what we’ve seen in 'The Force Awakens'...I was very excited when I was shown just the basic element of the costume, and here we were seeing character whereby a woman wasn’t--her femininity was not delineated in terms of the shape of her body, in terms of her physical attractiveness. Those elements, that weird random group of elements which we’re born with in some kind of odd lottery and then we’re judged on in society. And I was just delighted to be able to have that opportunity."

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" will open in theaters December 15, 2017.






November 29, 2017

A Look Behind the Making of Pixar's "Coco"

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"Coco," Pixar's 19th animated feature, was released Thanksgiving week in the US. As part of an early press day back in August, AllEars.Net was invited to take an advance look at some of the footage and get introduced to some of the places and people of "Coco." (I wrote a bit about the first part of this day here.)

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

Another panel we were treated to was "A Universal Story Of Family" with Adrian Molina (Writer and Co-Director) and Dean Kelly (Story Artist) discussing how the production team did research on the specifics of Día de los Muertos in order to make the film both culturally authentic and respectful.

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--The origin of the film began in fall of 2011 when director Unkrich and Story Supervisor Jason Katz presented an idea for a story set in Mexico based on a young boy getting trapped in the Land of the Dead on Día de los Muertos and his journey to get out.
--It would explore universal themes of family, and what it means to be part of a family.
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--Researchers went to Mexico to experience the Day of the Dead and the culture first-hand.
--Part of the celebration is that the souls of the dead are welcomed back to the world of the living to reunite with their families.
--An ofrenda ("offering" in Spanish) is an altar decorated to greet the spirits as they return for Día de los Muertos. It contains the foods and objects the dead enjoyed in life to nourish them when they come home.

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--All of this keeps present the idea that your ancestors watch over you and are connected to you.
--The marigold paths are created so that their distinctive smell will guide the spirits back.

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--Early in development, they decided the conflict that would drive the story forward would be Miguel having a dream of which his family disapproved.
--Examples of the conflict's visual manifestations include Miguel getting literally trapped under the ofrenda (representing his family traditions) and his family figuratively shackling him by dropping a cobbler's apron on him.
--In order to convey Miguel's dreams of becoming a musician, story writers went through various revisions where he both discussed and later sang about what he wanted.
--Ultimately, the same things were conveyed simply by showing Miguel's secret room, decorated completely in Ernesto de la Cruz memorabilia. This makeshift ofrenda reveals Miguel's longing for connection to someone outside of his family who understands his dreams.

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--The montage of video clips Miguel assembles of different de la Cruz performances and interviews are reminiscent of the old World of Color segments they used to do on animators and made people feel the depth of Miguel's passion instead of just understanding it.

Next up were Harley Jessup (Production Designer), Danielle Feinberg (DP-Lighting), and Chris Bernardi (Sets Supervisor) talking about "The Land Of The Living And The Land Of The Dead."

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--Miguel's environment is based on a typical rural Mexican town, with the shoe workshop intended to feel oppressive with the tools and materials of generations of shoemakers.

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--The Day of the Dead displays use flowers for daytime decorations, and hundreds of candles to light up the cemeteries at night.

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--The Marigold Grand Central Station in the Land of the Dead, with its cast-iron, Industrial Revolution ties, was inspired by several buildings including the Palacio de Correos de Mexico.

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By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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--The Land of the Living is whitewashed walls with accents of brilliant color and dusty streets. The Land of the Dead, by contrast, is nighttime, lit with artificial/theatrical lighting.
--There is no living vegetation in the Land of the Dead, except for the marigold petals they bring back from the Land of the Living.
--The vertical architecture in the Land of the Dead reflects the passage of time, with Mayan pyramid influences on the bottom and progressively modernizing to the present day at the top.

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--The Land of the Dead is marked by skull motives and lit by 7 million lights.

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--The lighting is designed to not only enhance the impression of Mexico, but to adjust the mood of a scene as well.

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Finally, "Coco" would not have been complete without the music that pervades the entirety of the film. Michael Giacchino (Composer), Germaine Franco (Orchestrator), Camilo Lara (Consultant), Adrian Molina (Writer and Co-Director), and Federico Ramos (Guitarist) came together to talk (and play) "The Music of Coco."

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--The goal was to create music for the film as if it came organically from a small town in Mexico.
--They recorded with many musicians in Mexico to develop the sonic landscape of Miguel's hometown, Santa Cecilia.
--Both well-known traditional music from throughout Mexico was used, as well as music composed by Giacchino in various Mexican styles, such as Mariachi.
--Giacchino wrote Miguel's theme to embody his youthful buoyancy and confidence in his dreams.
--Hector, Giacchino envisioned as a traveling salesman of sorts, who only cared about getting what he wanted out of a deal. His theme is a waltz.
--The song "Remember Me" (by "Frozen" songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez) is an iconic song that is played several different ways and encapsulates the many themes that run throughout the movie.

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--"Un Poco Loco" serves the needs of the story as a song Miguel sings at a talent show, but also reflects the conflicts he has with both Hector and his extended family. The idea is that even if you love someone and want to get along with them, they can occasionally drive you crazy.

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"Coco" opened in theaters November 22, 2017, along with the featurette "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" which I wrote about here. Now playing! Go!

Shanghai Disneyland Trip Report: Getting There Wasn't Half the Fun

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So this month I finally unlocked the achievement of visiting all Disney Parks worldwide for the second time by visiting Shanghai Disneyland.

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In this report, for the edification of those who might be considering a trip out there, I thought I'd go over the process I went through to arrive at Shanghai Disneyland. Spoiler: It didn't go exactly as I had planned. There is an old saying in which someone who has been "Shanghaied" has been coerced or drugged or kidnapped and conscripted into a ship's crew, presumably then headed to a foreign port like Shanghai. Those people had a smoother time than I did getting to Shanghai.

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To begin with, I was going to spend about four days in Shanghai. This qualified me for the relatively-recent "144-hr Visa-Exemption" which states roughly that as long as you are coming from one country and leaving to different one, you don't need to purchase a visa to visit Shanghai provided your visit is less than 144 hours. (https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-transit-144hour.htm) My flight there, that I had booked with miles, was on JAL and I had a ticket leaving there for Tokyo on the cutely named Peach Airline. I had some concerns that people at my departure airport, LAX, wouldn't know about the whole "not-needing-a-visa" policy, but I had all my documentation, so I went, hoping for the best.

It turned out that my fears about the airport agents not knowing about the visa were groundless. What I should have been worried about was the fact that my flight connected in Narita, which then made it look like I was coming and going from the same country, so they wouldn't check me into the flight without a visa. The visa that I didn't have.

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The JAL agents said they couldn't do anything about finding me a different flight because I had booked it with American Airline miles, and said I should contact them. I called, and the phone agent could only find a flight that left later that evening (my original flight was for 1pm) and connected in Dallas and then left the next day for Shanghai. After switching to that flight, I figured I would walk over to American Airlines and see if the desk agent could find anything better than that.

Turns out now was the time where no one had ever heard of the 144-visa exemption. The people at the desk there were positive that there was no such thing and that perhaps I had made it up. I showed them webpages and they said those were probably unofficial pages that had made it up. I showed them the official Shanghai Immigration webpage (http://www.sh-immigration.gov.cn/listPageEn.aspx?lx=40&id=4414) and they didn't want to read the whole thing but they said it probably didn't apply to me. They asked a manager who had also never heard of it. They checked a webpage that they said was their definitive source for information and it didn't list it. I asked them to contact JAL and China Eastern Airlines because they knew about it. They called them and then said that those airlines would take it and then said "well go book on those airlines then." It was a very long discussion that eventually got to the point where they said "why are you even going if you're only going for a few days?"

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It turns out, if an airline lets you go to China without a visa and you needed one, they apparently just shove you on the next plane back home and then fine both the airline and the agent who let you go more money than either one wants to get fined. Consequently, there isn't a huge incentive for anyone to give you the benefit of the doubt on this. In spite of this, they finally agreed to let me go, and then actually found me an easier flight that left around midnight and connected through Hong Kong (which counts as a different country) and arrived around noon, the day after I was supposed to get there.

So at this point, I figured I should contact the Toy Story Hotel where I had a reservation, and tell them that I was going to be a day late. I figured they'd probably end up charging me for the night anyway, since it was already less than 24hrs before I was supposed to check in. Unfortunately, with the time difference, the reservation phone lines (while you can book a hotel reservation at Shanghai Disneyland online, you can only cancel or change it by calling) weren't going to open for another five hours or so.

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The pitiful salad I had at the Wolfgang Puck's in the Tom Bradley terminal while I sat around for like ten hours. Don't eat there.

When I finally got through, they said they needed me to go get a letter from the airlines saying that they needed to change my flight to a different day and then email it to them. By this time, it was around 5:30pm and there weren't even the same airlines at the same desks as when I was originally checking in. I said I could try, but asked if I could just bring it when I checked in, and the phone agent said "no, if you don't show up on your date of arrival, we cancel your whole reservation and don't refund your money."

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So the best I could end up doing was writing an email describing the whole sordid affair, including my original flight itinerary and my latest itinerary and then sending it off and hoping for the best. It's a good thing I can sleep on planes, or it would have been a long flight to Hong Kong, wondering if I was going to be homeless in Shanghai. Fortunately, by the time we landed in Hong Kong, Disney had emailed me back and said they would let it pass.

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What it looks like for ten hours from the back of a Cathay Pacific plane.

A brief connection in Hong Kong in the wee hours of the morning gave me just enough time to check out the Disney Store there, and consider that I would probably have brought some Hong Kong dollars with me, if I had woken up that morning thinking that I was going to Hong Kong.

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At long last, I finally made it to Shanghai, and except for the part where I fell off a bus onto the tarmac (I'm telling you, it was a tough trip) everything went relatively smoothly going through immigration and collecting my baggage.

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Although there was a shuttle bus that would apparently take you to the Shanghai Disney area, it wasn't leaving for another half hour and I sort of felt like I had filled my quota for sitting around in airports for the time being, and caught a cab at the cab station. After being directed to get into a cab and showing him the hotel address I had printed out in Chinese, the cab drove about a car length before stopping and taking all my stuff out and putting into the cab in front of me, who was simultaneously kicking out his passenger and putting him into my cab. My best guess is that the cab I got had no idea where Shanghai Disney was, and handed me off to someone who was more of a fan, judging from the Duffy pin on his dashboard. Ultimately, with only a little random driving, we arrived at the Toy Story Hotel.

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So what have we learned from this? Well, if you're thinking of making the trek over to Shanghai Disneyland (or even just Shanghai,) here are some things I'd recommend:

--If you have any doubts about doing the 144-hour visa thing, you might consider running your specific itinerary by the airline in advance. If you can get to the airport before your departure date to do it that would probably be safer, but unless you can guarantee that the same people will be there when you check in, you should still be prepared for the possibility of debate.
--Have printouts of everything to show people: Your hotel confirmation, your departure flight information, your hotel address in Mandarin, etc.
--If you can, try to book these big flights with miles. If I had just paid for the flights with cash, there's a good chance the whole trip would have ended with the first vetoed flight, because they probably wouldn't have made much of an effort to rebook me, and to get a new flight out that same day would have been exorbitant. At least with reward trips, you can move them around without a change fee, subject to availability.
--Google Voice is a good choice when you have to call Shanghai several times in a day. It cost one cent a minute and the sound was about as good as anything sounds in the middle of a busy airport terminal.
--Inside the Pudong Airport, there are people who will approach you dressed just like airport employees offering to get you a cab. Don't do it. A cab from the official cab station to Shanghai Disneyland should cost around $15-20 (I paid around $24 but I think we got lost once.) A private/sketchy cab not from the cab station could cost you anywhere up to around $60.
--At the end of the day, don't stress over it all too much. Even though my experience was reasonably traumatic, other people went through the same procedure at the same desk a couple days afterwards, and their agents barely looked at their paperwork before checking them in. Could this have been because everyone there heard about a crazy person who spent a whole day arguing about it some days earlier? We'll never know.





November 15, 2017

Celebrate the Holidays with "Olaf's Frozen Adventure"

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"Olaf's Frozen Adventure," one of Disney-Pixar's holiday offerings for this season, is a 21-minute featurette scheduled to play in conjunction with “Coco,” opening on Nov. 22, 2017.

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

Set some six months after the events of "Frozen," the newly reconciled Anna and Elsa eagerly anticipate celebrating the holidays with everyone, only to find their years of isolation have left them solidly out of their citizens' seasonal rituals. To help salvage their spirits, Olaf takes it upon himself to investigate what the holidays mean to people and to bring the best of the Arendelle traditions back to the sisters.

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Along the way, Olaf meets with various upsets that ultimately challenge what defines traditions and family as he learns what the holidays are all about.

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At a recent press day, Producer Roy Conli, Josh Gad “Olaf”, and Directors Stevie Wermers-Skelton & Kevin Deters met to discuss the making of "Olaf's Frozen Adventure."

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--Gad on returning to sing as Olaf: "It's difficult when they write it as high as they keep writing it. Bobby Lopez, who wrote 'Book of Mormon'...he would always write it about an octave higher than I deserved to sing it, and carried that tradition over to 'Frozen.' So when the brilliant songwriters Kate and Elyssa came in and did this, I was like 'oh great, they've been speaking to Bobby and Kristen.'"

--Gad on singing "That Time of Year" at the 2017 D23 Expo: "It's a tongue-twister, and we had to sing it live at D23. So, before I got there, they're like 'we're gonna have a monitor right in front of you and you'll be able to lip-synch to Olaf's animation.' And I get there and I'm like 'that's great because I've never sung this live,' and they're like 'by the way, that monitor that we told you about? That doesn't exist. You're just gonna have to do it. You're going to have to wing it.' And I'm like 'wait...what?!' So we did it...my heart was beating through my chest, but it was surreal, like we actually landed it. Once in a lifetime. I promise you, nine out of ten times that would have been a disaster."

Conli on attaching "Olaf" to "Coco:" "Yeah, I think it's interesting because it's the thematic connection. Both films have to do with tradition and have to do with family. And we actually showed this up at Pixar about a year and a half ago at a summit, a marketing summit, and that's when they said 'this is such a great pair.' So it became a very natural fit, a very easy thing."

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Gad on what he would like kids to take away from the film: "I would love--it's funny because these holidays are so wonderfully rich with memories for me, growing up. Memories I have of these holidays. Holidays in general have become really commercialized, right? There's a lot about holidays now that's driven by we gotta go shopping, we gotta go do this, we gotta go do that...this movie is, I think, I hope, an emotional reminder about the bond of family...that to me is the power of 'Olaf's Frozen Adventure.' It is about traditions, but more than that, it's about family. And I love that. I hope that my girls, when they see this movie, they start to think about the traditions that they want to make with each other."

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After the panel and screening, guests were treated to a variety of Olaf-themed snacks, photo-ops, and activities.

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Finally, as a special treat, songwriters Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson were introduced and performed "When We're Together."

"Olaf's Frozen Adventure" opens with "Coco" in theaters November 22, 2017.

October 31, 2017

"Thor: Ragnarok" Press Junket

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November 3rd, Marvel Studios will continue its slow march towards "Infinity War" with the next tale in the God of Thunder's narrative, "Thor: Ragnarok."

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

On hand at a recent press junket to discuss the current state of Thor were Chris Hemsworth / Thor, Tessa Thompson / Valkyrie, Mark Ruffalo / The Hulk, Jeff Goldblum / Grandmaster, Tom Hiddleston / Loki, Taika Waititi / Director / Korg, Karl Urban / Skurge, Rachel House / Topaz, and Kevin Feige / Producer.

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Select moments from the press conference video above:

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Feige on picking Waititi to direct: "We wanted a new sensibility. We wanted to take Thor--and if you look at everything Chris has done as this character, there have been moments of humor--and we wanted to build on that. And if you look at the movie, it’s got the epic action. It’s got Thor arguably more powerful than he’s ever been in any of the films, with his powers going up against the Hulk, but at the same time embracing what Mr. Hemsworth does better than anyone up until now has ever been able to see, which is his acting chops expands to comedy in an amazing way. And Taika gave them the confidence to explore that, and to try things."

Urban on preparing to take on Thor: "The working out schedule was rather intense. In fact, Taika came to me and he said, ‘Listen, you need to tone it down. You can’t be bigger than Chris, okay?’ So I did, you know."

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Feige and Waititi on what happened to Lady Sif:
Waititi: "Kevin."
Feige: "If she had been on Asgard, she might not be alive, so that's one of the advantages."
Waititi: "Lady Sif is an actor in New York, on a TV show at the moment."
Feige: "Oh, that's true."
Waititi: "She was busy."
Feige: "I've been quoting; I've been using 'A Force Awakens' quote today when people ask me that, which is to say 'that's a good question for another time.'"

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Ruffalo on doing a Hulk movie: "I would love to do a Hulk movie, and I think we all would love to do one. But about a year ago, before I even had this part, or were talking about doing this--it was well over a year ago--Kevin had asked me to come over and have a script meeting. And basically he sat me down and he said, ‘What would you like to do if you had a stand-alone Hulk movie?’ And I said, ‘I’d like to do this, this, and this; and this and this--and then this. And then this, and this, and this, and then it would end like this.’ And he’s like, ‘I love that. Let’s do that over the next three movies, starting with Thor 3 and carry it on through Avengers 3 and Avengers 4.’ And so that’s my stand-alone Hulk movie."

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Thompson on playing an originally white character: "You know, the things that I thought about the particulars of Valkyrie had more to do with, like mass and size. For example, I thought, like ‘Oh, I’m short,’ you know. Or like, ‘I’m not buff enough.’ Or how...you know, she’s arguably as strong as Thor. How do I stand, you know, next to a person like Chris Hemsworth and feel, and feel like that’s true, you know. So I didn’t think so much...I mean, satisfying Norse mythology, it’s mystifying, and fantastical, and glorious, and also very confusing and doesn’t make a lot of sense, you know. And I remember someone online saying like, ‘You know, Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie is white genocide.’ Which is just as mystifying as Norse mythology. I just figured like, you know, this thing that I’m tasked to do with any character that has its own iconography is to capture the spirit of the character, and I think the spirit of all of us, at the risk of sounding, you know, cheesy, has very little to do with what color we are. So I just didn’t really invest in that."

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Goldblum on joining the Marvel Universe: "...you know, Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito, and Victoria Alonso, and Brad Winderbaum--the whole upper tier of creative leaders--do something unique. They know how to make these epic productions, and popular movies, but they want to make good movies. And they somehow uniquely know how to do them, that feels to me like an actorly, workshop-y, character-y, improvisatory, delightful experience...and to make a movie that I think skins the cat like this is just...I’m grateful, overwhelmingly grateful."

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Blanchett on fight with Hemsworth: "I didn't do enough of it. I kept wanting to do more."
Hemsworth: "You wanted to hit me."
Blanchett: "...Look, it was, it was hugely enjoyable for me. And apart from working with these guys, obviously, the chance to finally, in my deep middle age, to get fit and to wear that much lycra was really exciting for me."

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Hiddleston on Loki's ability to change: "...In a way, in this film, it is about, I think--I’m not spoiling anything--but the development of the relationship between Thor and Loki... Thor has evolved, and grown, and matured; and Loki in a way is stuck in his struggles of the past. And that’s, in a way, that’s the challenge for Loki in this, is that he’s got to confront the fact that time is moving on, and people change, and...so I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see, we’ll see. There’s room to grow, and I’m still here. And we’ll see where he goes next."

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Hemsworth on whether he misses his hammer: "It just helped to kind of shed anything too familiar. You know, I feel like, well, holding the hammer, or even the wig in the previous costume, certainly just put me in a place, and set me on a path of what I already knew. And I wanted it to be unfamiliar, and so everything from the hammer, to the costume, the hair...made me, and allowed me to move differently, and (the lack of them) forced me to move differently, and so that was a great thing. And--I don’t really miss it, no. I’ve got one at home."

"Thor: Ragnarok" will open in theaters November 3, 2017.






October 27, 2017

San Diego Comic-Con 2017: Marvel Studios

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To continue with some of the goings-on at San Diego Comic-Con this year, Marvel had it's usual boisterous booth that was constantly jammed full of people trying to purchase limited edition merchandise, get autographs, take photos with the costume/prop displays from their upcoming movies such as "Black Panther" and "Thor: Ragnarok," or just fill their bags with random free swag.

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Over in the infamous Hall H, hordes of conventioneers packed the 6,500-person large room to capacity all day to see the Marvel Studios panel that was conveniently scheduled as the last of the day.

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President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, started off the panel discussing the in-production "Ant-Man and The Wasp."

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--Michelle Pfieffer will play the original Janet Van Dyne.
--Hannah John-Kamen will play a character called "Ghost."
--Walter Goggins will play Sonny Burch.
--Randall Park will play Jimmy Woo.
--Laurence Fishburne will play Dr. Bill Foster.

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Next up was some preliminary information on "Captain Marvel."

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--Samuel Jackson will return as Nick Fury, with both eyes.
--Set in the 1990s, it precedes the events of Iron Man 1.
--The villains will mark the first MCU appearance of the Skrulls.

At this point, Feige was presented with the Inkpot Award from Comic-Con International for his contributions to the worlds of comics and film.

A star-studded panel on "Thor: Ragnarok" was next, with Chris Hemsworth/Thor; Tessa Thompson/Valkyrie; Mark Ruffalo/The Hulk; Jeff Goldblum/Grandmaster; Tom Hiddleston/Loki; Taika Waititi/Director; Karl Urban/Skurge; Rachel House/Topaz; and Cate Blanchett/Hera.

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--Waititi jokes that his involvement with the film was a personal favor to Hemsworth, and that he will always help a friend in need, even if it means directing a major tentpole movie.
--Ragnarok will take place four years after "Thor: Dark World."

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--Thor starts off the movie bereft of his hair and his hammer.
--Hulk has refused to turn back into Banner for two years.
--Goldblum plays The Collector's brother--the oldest living characters in the universe.
--Valkyrie is an ex-elite warrior of Asgard hanging around the gladiator planet Sakaar.

After the Ragnarok trailer, host Chris Hardwick brought out the cast of "Black Panther," including director Ryan Coogler, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, and Andy Serkis.

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--Black Panther is returning to Wakanda from the events of "Civil War," and undergoing a transition period of learning to become a king which is rapidly interrupted.
--Coogler states that the best part of the Black Panther comics for him, was that the hero got his power from the people around him, and from his history.

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--Wright says that her character, T'Challa's sister Shuri, is Wakanda's technological wizard.
--Gurira's character Okoye is driven by her love for the people and the nation of Wakanda and her need to protect them.
--Jordan plays Erik Killmonger who has his own views on Wakanda and how it should be ruled.
--Whitaker describes Zuri as a spiritual leader who was close friends with T'Challa's father, the king, and who has known T'Challa since he was little.
--Kaluuya's W'Kabe is T'Challa's oldest childhood friend and head of Wakanda's security.
--Nyong'o plays Nakia, a spy (war dog) who reports back to Wakanda on the rest of the world's activities.
--"Wakanda needs to know what's going on in the world; the world does not need to know about Wakanda."


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--Serkis was excited to come back to play Klaw because he gets to wear pants in this film and also gets an arm sewn back on.
--Duke says his character, M'Baku is a big, strong, majestic, ferocious, beloved leader of the best tribe in Wakanda.
--The rest of the cast begs to differ.


[Not the same trailer as was shown at SDCC.]

Finally, the Avengers cast members returned with Joe Russo to show the same trailer they had brought to Expo, the week before.

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[Not the convention-exclusive footage]

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" release date: July 6, 2018
"Captain Marvel" release date: March 8, 2019
"Thor: Ragnarok" release date: November 3, 2017
"Black Panther" release date: February 16, 2018
"Avengers: Infinity War" release date: May 4, 2018





October 15, 2017

"Star Wars Rebels" Fourth and Final Season Premiere

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This week, Monday, October 16th, "Star Wars Rebels" starts its countdown to the end with the one-hour fourth season premier episode "Heroes of Mandalore: Parts One and Two."

[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney]

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For those who may have fallen a few (or more than a few) episodes behind, you can now binge watch all three preceding seasons on the DisneyNow app. For those lacking the time or who just need a quick reminder, Disney has put together a collection of clips to acquaint you with the story so far:

This first episode of the season focuses on Sabine who, on a mission to rescue her father from the Empire, finds a devastating weapon and must decide whether to use or destroy it.

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For a more in-depth look at "Star Wars Rebels," we can take a look back at this year's Star Wars Celebration Orlando at which Rebels was represented in a couple panels. The first was "Dave Filoni: Animated Origins and Unexpected Fates," with Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo.


[The panel begins at 1:25:00]

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--Filoni on George Lucas wanting to bring back Darth Maul: "We would be in a story meeting and he would often say something like 'I've got an idea and you're going to love it' and I was always like 'oooh. That so seldom lines up. But then he said 'we're going to bring Darth Maul back,' and I said 'really...how does that work?' And he goes 'I don't know! You'll figure it out!'"

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--On Maul: "Maul hasn't experienced any personal growth. He hasn't gotten over anything. He hasn't grown, except in his anger and his need for revenge."
--On the Obi-Wan-Darth Maul fight: "I know it's dangerous to not do a big fight, I know a lot of people would want a big fight, and it's just Maul's technique to go really quick, 1-2-3. So it didn't feel like Maul if he didn't get a shot in at all, so that it's block-block, then he goes for that move...that's where I decided to put that move in (the move that took down Qui-Gon.) It also visually tells the story that Obi-Wan paid attention, you know that moment was put into his brain, and that he could defeat it. Again, it shows a progression from master to apprentice that Obi-Wan then could later defeat something that Qui-Gon couldn't."

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--Filoni had originally planned for nine clones to return to Rebels as an homage to Walt Disney's Nine Old Men of animation, but Production cut them down.

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Later on in the course of the weekend, "Star Wars Rebels" had their big Season Four panel with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Steve Blum, Taylor Gray, Tiya Sircar, Freddie Prinze Jr, and Vanessa Marshall in house.

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[The panel begins at 1:10:00]

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--Prinze Jr.: "Season 4, he's still blind but he sees more than he has ever seen before. He knows what path these rebels need to be on--it takes him some time to figure it out, but once he does, it is a certainty that you have seen in other Jedi before, and you will recognize it as a historical moment in this character's development and growth...Season 4, the stuff that Kanan has to go through is very adult, but Star Wars has always been very adult, even for kids, and it teaches real lessons and the good guys don't always win and sometimes people you loved, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, who's supposed to be there forever...that moment for me, as a kid, is what locked me into Star Wars, because it seemed real...and Obi-Wan got got, and that made me hate Darth Vader for three movies! So when you see a Jedi with clarity, I think you sort of...you get a sense of belonging to that person, 'cause you've seen Kanan struggle for so many years to be a decent Jedi. But I think his mistakes made me fall in love with him, and I hope his faults are what make you guys fall in love with him too."

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--Sircar: "If there are any Mandelorian fans out there, I think you will be happy with some specific episodes in this upcoming season. I think you might be surprised where we end up and...who might show up? There might be some people you know, there might be some people you've never seen before, they might all be Mandelorian...is that good? I will say that I think Sabine is in a new place this season. Over this last Season 3, we saw her sort of step into her own in a way we hadn't seen her before--we always knew she was super capable...the epitome of this Mandelorian warrior who happens to also be this incredibly creative artist--I don't think we've seen that kind of dichotomy before...I think she's gotten beyond those issues with this family and now she's got all these other issues with her other family, and we'll get to explore some of those in Season 4."

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--Marshall: "I think things are coming to a pinpoint there, and I think that she's really impacted by the losses that the group experiences in Season 3. I think she's more focused and committed than ever to get the job done. It's vital, it's essential, and...not that she was kidding earlier, but I think the windows of opportunity and...not the hope, because they always have hope, but I feel they are pressed to the very edges of their ability to handle what's put before them. It's now time to really get it done, and I think you'll see that in Season 4."

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--Blum: "He's actually becoming a more responsible citizen, I think, rather than just being a tough musclehead, so I think we'll be looking forward to him making maybe smarter remarks and better choices. We'll see."

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--Gray: "We've seen him grow up. He's seen the good and the bad...Season 4 is really a thing of deciding what kind of Jedi--and even transcending that--what kind of person he wants to be as he grows up, having seen everything. And he realizes that as he's stepped away from Lothal and joined this family and become dependent on them and learned what he can, it's now time to go back and see what he can do for his people."

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--Filoni: "I firmly believe that each generation has to have their own piece of Star Wars. I feel that this show, for a lot of kids growing up with it, is as much a part of Star Wars as any of the movies, and I really appreciate that love from you guys. And I feel creatively, that I can make this story about these characters the most meaningful that it can be by arcing it to where I need to get to at the end of this season. So I know that's tough, it's tough for me, but believe me, I can say that I know what it's like when I don't get to end a series, and what happens when you don't end a series is you wind up making t-shirts and you have to prolong...it wasn't as fun."

After the big presentation the panel members (minus Prinze Jr.) met for a somewhat smaller press conference.

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--Filoni notes that while the winding down of the series may include somber and tragic events, this is part of the hero's journey that must be experienced to achieve a joyful, inspirational whole.
--He also predicts that Kanan and Ezra in this last season will explore their relationship and commitment to The Force and face the choice of whether to act out of fear and succumb to wickedness, or hold fast to their belief and faith in love and virtue and stay with the Light Side.
--On being asked what about their characters do they wish kids to find inspirational: Marshall picks Hera's ability to hold onto hope; Blum likes Zeb's willingness to be vulnerable; Sircar thinks Sabine demonstrates how people can form new families where they least suspect; and Gray admires Ezra's self-confidence and inner strength.
--Thrawn is the first major villain to return for another season.
--Marshall was elated to hear Hera mentioned in "Rogue One," as "it's like a life insurance policy."

"Star Wars Rebels" returns for its fourth and final season beginning Monday, October 16 with five airings of the one-hour episode "Heroes of Mandalore: Parts One and Two" throughout the day (12:30am, 3:00am, 7:30am, 5:30pm and 9pm EDT/PDT) on Disney XD and the DisneyNow App.





October 12, 2017

Anime Expo 2017

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So a convention that was new to me for this year was Anime Expo--a celebration of Japanese pop culture and the largest North American anime convention.

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Organized by the non-profit Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, it has a variety of events, performances, and panels dealing with anime, manga, video games, and virtually every other form of entertainment, with the addition of cultural demonstrations on subjects like taiko drumming, ikebana, or the wearing of a traditional Japanese kimono and hakama.

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Panels ranged from such diverse topics as voice acting/localization in video games like "Persona 5;" screenings of upcoming anime such as "The Ancient Magus' Bride" and "Lupin the Third--Italian Game;" and live concerts of music from anime soundtracks.

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As a big voice-over fan, I found a lot of the panels featuring Japanese dubbing actors pretty fascinating. Daisuke Hirakawa, who dubs Will Turner in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films and Loki in the "Avengers" series made an appearance...

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...As did Miyu Irino, voice for Haku in "Spirited Away" and Sora in "Kingdom Hearts."

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(I actually don't know if this is a thing particular to Japanese talent, but a lot of the panels with performers present did not allow photos of any kind along with announcing what I thought was somewhat amusing and very Japanese, that the actors would not be giving any "high-fives.")

Out on the exhibitor's floor, Tokyopop was selling a large selection of their Disney Manga collection--officially licensed retellings of some of the classic Disney tales in the distinctive manga style.

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One of their original series is "Kilala Princess," which tells the tale of a young girl pursuing a quest through multiple worlds of different Disney princesses a la "Kingdom Hearts" style.

Of course, like any good convention, there was a ton of cosplay.

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Probably the biggest hurdle to attending this expo was the sheer volume of guests enjoying the weekend there. The first two days I drove to the convention center, it took me around 90 minutes to find a parking lot because the lines to get in through security crossed streets and blocked traffic into some of the lots in the area. While the first day reported wait times of hours just to enter, the expo management seemed to respond pretty quickly in terms of adding more entrance stations and staff to streamline entry for subsequent days. If possible however, I would recommend trying to get their Premier Fan tickets that allow for separate, shorter lines to get into the building and the panel rooms faster.

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On the whole, I found this to be one of the more interesting conventions I attended this year, mostly because the panels and merchandise offerings were so different from what you found at the more generalized cons that seemed to have a lot of overlap. For those unfamiliar with anime or manga, I find a lot of it shares a good deal of the Disney aesthetic in a lot of ways, as is evident in such properties as the Studio Ghibli films. For people interested in exposure to Japanese pop culture, this certainly had an impressive array of opportunities to learn more about it. More information about Anime Expo 2018 (which will be held on July 5-8) can be found at http://www.anime-expo.org/

If you find yourself unable to get to a big convention like Anime Expo, you can still keep your eye out for various pop-up locations that are becoming more prevalent in Los Angeles. This last weekend, Aniplex USA, a production and distribution company for anime in North America, put on a pop-up cafe with special donuts and photo-ops in conjunction with Cafe Dulce in Japan in the Little Tokyo area of LA to promote their new series "Blend-S," currently airing on Crunchyroll.com.

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[While most anime shares the Disney "big-head-big-eyes" standards of cuteness, unlike in the US, Japanese animation is not primarily considered the province for children, and many of them revolve around adult topics and imagery. Viewers of all ages sensitive to such subjects may be forewarned.]






October 4, 2017

San Diego Comic-Con 2017: "Once Upon A Time"

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So this year, San Diego Comic-Con ran a scant few days after the big D23 Expo. While this did have the result of Expo draining off some of the Disney content that would usually be present at SDCC, there was still the usual enormous amount of things happening throughout the weekend.

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Out on the exhibitor's floor, ABC brought back their "Once Upon A Time" booth, promoting the series in preparation for its next rebooted season.

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After the usual moderate wait, guests could enter and get an introduction to the series' new trailer with a holographic Captain Hook.

Afterwards, people had the opportunity to duel with the aforementioned Captain Hook who is clearly positioned to be in a lead position this season.

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Later on in the weekend, Yvette Nicole Brown once again moderated the yearly OUAT panel which included Co-creators and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, writer David H. Goodman, and cast members Colin O’Donoghue, Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle...

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Dania (Cinderella) Ramirez, Andrew J. (Older Henry Mills) West, and Gabrielle (Wicked Stepmother Lady Tremaine) Anwar.

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Some of the panel highlights:

--"If your real fear is 'oh my God, are you going to erase the last six years,' we are not. But we are going to take a few new characters and go on a new journey, and we hope you come with us on it."

The audience was then shown the first scene of the next season:

--Adam and Eddie respond to O'Donoghue's query of where Henry gets the gas for his motorcycle that he rides for years throughout various fairy tale realms: "I don't think we're here for you to poke at plot holes! If there is a bean that can transport him to a new book, don't worry about fuel!" "Episode 5: A Land Without Chevron."
--At the time of the panel, the cast was in the middle of the second episode and had a limited knowledge of what was in store for their characters.
--On the new season: "Henry's on a new adventure. Henry's left home and he wants to go and visit other Storybrookes with different stories and different characters. And he obviously falls in love with Cinderella much like the romance his grandparents had and what happens, is what always happens, is he gets into some trouble and he calls out for help from his family. And the three people you see on the stage, that you know and love, come to his rescue. So it's really these three and Henry on an epic adventure, and that's the next chapter of 'Once Upon A Time.'"
--The theme for next season: "Never stop fighting for what you believe in, and never give up."
--Favorite fairy tales: O'Donoghue and Parilla--Hansel and Gretel; Carlyle--Snow White; Ramirez--Little Mermaid (Disney;) West--Sword in the Stone; Anwar--Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen.)
--On what Mr. Gold's first name is: Kitsis: "Mister." Carlyle: "Barbara."
--Kitsis on new characters: "We are going to meet Rose Reynolds who is going to be playing a new version of Alice in Wonderland since no one watched the spin-off. AND YOU KNOW WHO I'M LOOKING AT, BECAUSE I'M LOOKING AT ALL OF YOU."

The panel closed with an SDCC-specific trailer for the new season:

The new season of "Once Upon A Time" starts Friday, October 6, 2017.





September 20, 2017

Fathom Events: "Lupin The 3rd 'The Castle Of Cagliostro'"

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This month, Fathom Events presented the classic 1979 Japanese animated feature "Lupin the 3rd 'The Castle of Cagliostro.'"

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Lupin III was a long-running manga by the artist Monkey Punch that eventually spawned multiple TV series, feature films (animated and live-action,) TV specials, video games, and musicals. The franchise is entering its 50th anniversary this year, and this first US theatrical screening of "The Castle of Cagliostro" is part of the celebration.

The critically and popularly acclaimed film marked the first directorial outing for animation legend Hayao Miyazaki who also wrote the screenplay and worked on design and storyboarding for it. As part of the Fathom Events extra features, Pixar's John Lasseter taped an interview preceding the movie in which he described the great impact the film had on him in both professional and personal ways.

The main character, Lupin III, is grandson to the famous gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, and has followed in his footsteps as a master thief. Lupin generally works with a team made up of Daisuke Jigen, a crackshot marksman, Goemon Ishikawa, a supremely skilled swordsman, and Fujiko Mine, a fellow thief who is sometimes Lupin's rival, sometimes his friend, and sometimes more. His personal Javert is Inspector Zenigata, who follows him around the globe, determined to bring the thief to justice.

In "Castle of Cagliostro," Lupin and his gang find themselves in the position of attempting to rescue a princess from a forced marriage to a corrupt regent. In the process, they must solve ancient riddles, survive alarming chases both on wheels and in the air, and expose a world-wide counterfeiting scheme.

As is always the case, Miyazaki's work is beautiful with gorgeous backdrops of European countryside framing the slightly more cartoon-y 1970s character animation. Some of the wonderful traits that would become trademarks of his later Studio Ghibli works are seen here: Cynics are revealed to have hidden streaks of nobility; women are strong, competent and clever without having to resort to sex appeal to gain their aims; and young girls are capable of immense acts of courage and kindness which ultimately lead to their own happy endings.

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If you would like to see more of Miyazaki's work on the big screen (and why would you not?) Fathom Events is continuing its Studio Ghibli Fest that started back in June. The next film scheduled is "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" in theaters September 24 and 25, followed by "Spirited Away" in October, and "Howl's Moving Castle" in November. Information and ticketing can be found at the Fathom Events website: https://www.fathomevents.com/series/studio-ghibli-fest






September 15, 2017

D23 Expo: All The Rest (Day 3)

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Expo time has come and gone--that once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I covered some of the major presentations earlier (Animation, Live-Action Studios, Video Games, Day 1, and Day 2) so we're now down to a summation of the rest of what the 2017 D23 Expo had to offer, and some quick thoughts on each.

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[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

So the last day of D23 Expo started off with another run through on the floor checking out some of the many smaller displays and exhibits.

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The first panel of the day for me was "Celebration of an Animated Classic: 'The Lion King,'" hosted by producer Don Hahn, and co-director Rob Minkoff.

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This was a great discussion of the history of "The Lion King" production, which included cast members Ernie Sabella, Jim Cummings, and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as animators Mark Henn and Tony Bancroft.

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In one segment, Minkoff, Hahn (ably playing an empty 3-gallon water bottle,) and Sabella hilariously recreate Timon's seminal "Hula Song."

The end of the panel included a surprise appearance by the unannounced Goldberg, as well as a huge choral performance of "Circle of Life" which was one of the highlights of the weekend.

While dashing back across the convention center to the next event, I had a chance to stop by the Disney Store booth which was perennially packed with people trying to stock up on limited edition merchandise. I never was able to get in there for shopping purposes, but they did let me take a quick jog around to get a glimpse of stuff I couldn't buy.

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Meanwhile, over at the Disney Music Emporium booth, composer Michael Giacchino was signing any of a number of the soundtracks he's done for a myriad of Disney projects.

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The booth also had out a new Disneyland Records t-shirt, changing it up from the old one they've been selling at conventions since the last Expo.

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At this point, it was time for the big performance of the weekend, "A Whole New World of Alan Menken." This was basically the same as his one-man show he brought to The Segerstrom Center for the Arts last year, slightly condensed and introduced by Zachary (Eugene Fitzherbert from "Tangled") Levi.

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Menken's a great performer and the musical catalog speaks for itself. It was wonderful.

Afterwards, if you sprinted fast enough, you were able to catch the tail end of the also wonderful "Susan Egan: The Belle of Broadway"

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For the First Time in Forever, I finally made it upstairs and into the Stage 28 venue to see "Maps of the Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years from California to Shanghai."

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This presentation explored the terrific book "Maps of Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years from California to Shanghai" with host Jeff Kurtti, Imagineer/Curator Vanessa Hunt, Disney Legend Marty Sklar, and Imagineer Matt McKim--son of Disney theme park cartographer/Legend Sam McKim.

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It was a great look at the many maps created for all the Disney parks, and their value as not only pieces of art, but historical records of the parks' evolution.

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The takeaway was a huge appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry that went into all the maps through the years, and a regret that they haven't continued doing more of them.

Running down to the last panel of the weekend, I took a quick run by the Marvel Studios booth that had been gradually uncovering different figures as they made announcements about their highly anticipated "Infinity War."

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Finally, the Expo wrapped up with "Legends of Walt Disney Imagineering," hosted by John Stamos and featuring Disney Legends Tony Baxter, Wayne Jackson, and Marty Sklar.

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The group reminisced about the many phenomenally talented men and women who pooled their talents together for so many amazing creations, and even compared their respective action figures.

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Towards the end of the presentation, Imagineering President Bob Weis came out to present Jackson with a miniature replica of Tokyo Disneyland's castle as a gift from the Oriental Land Company.

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While there may not have been any new Imagineering revelations from any of the participants, it was a nice chance to get to hear them speak with obvious respect and affection for all their fellow Imagineers and revisit times gone by.

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It's a cruel thing that we rarely get to know how long a window of opportunity is going to stay open. This ended up being the last photo I ever took of Marty Sklar. I had many opportunities to hear him speak and exchange greetings with him over the years, and if they had been doubled, it wouldn't have been long enough.

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SO, for anyone who's hung in here for this long, here are some parting thoughts on this year's Expo.

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Top Five Things I Thought Went Well:

1) I thought the StagePass set up worked better this time around. Even though the lines were still enormous, I felt like I waited less time for the ones I needed to pick up--whether this was a factor of having more people distributing them or not, I don't know.

2) A lot of quality programming, as usual. Even though it seems as though the number of rooms running panels diminishes every two years, there were still far more presentations I would have liked to see than I could have ever fit in.

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3) Offering two different times to see the Alan Menken concert. Clearly, from past Expos, this was going to be a huge draw, and putting him in the largest venue while giving people two chances to get in to see him was a generous move and a good way to avoid the queue horror of the Dick Van Dyke concert in 2011.

4) Using the official app. This time I thought the app was much more functional and incorporated more information than in previous years, and as someone who's suffered the back pain of lugging around thick convention programs in the past, this is a huge asset. What would be nice for future years would be a way to synchronize your schedule across your phone, iPad, laptop, etc.

5) Having larger venues. Although there were still long, chaotic lines for the big presentations, a lot of the smaller/mid-size ones I attended weren't packed sardine-style as they have been some years which makes for a nicer experience.

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Top Five Things That Could Have Gone Better:

1) Lines are still an issue. While I didn't personally experience waiting in the Hall D23 queue downstairs which periodically sounded like "The Return of the Archons" festival time, I did get to see the lines around the Show Floor which varied wildly from orderly to Hunger Games. I think there needs to be more cast members manning the lines with more consistent information on how to proactively organize all the guests trying to get into something.

2) The Show Floor. This was kind of a surprise to me because usually the floor is so outstanding at Expo. The lack of an Imagineering booth was a big hurt as far as official content, and the Parks and Resorts booth was kind of sparse outside of the one big model. Aside from that, just leaving a big empty space next to the Arena entrance (where the line for it had been previously) meant that no one really had much of a reason to head over to that part of the convention center, so it was easy to miss all the booths in the D23 Emporium section altogether.

3) Hall D23. It's great that they created a huge room so more guests could be in there with the big presentations, but I felt that it was at the expense of actually letting you see the presentations. I'm sure if you were up close it was a great view, but I was generally far enough away that I couldn't make out much looking directly at the stage. For the most part, I was usually between two screens and would try to position myself so I could see at least one of them without having to look through the phone screen of the guy in front of me...and then discover that they were broadcasting the stage feed to the other screen, while the one I was looking at would have a stationary image. The room is just too big for that many chairs to be on a flat level for anyone further back than the first section to see well--a situation that was pointed up every time I watched something in the Arena, which was actually constructed to have decent sight lines. Much like my beef with the Hollywood Bowl, I feel like if you're watching the whole thing on screens anyway, there isn't much difference between seeing it from an overflow room, or in fact, at home on YouTube. Maybe what would work better would be to go back to holding the big presentations in the Arena, and then using Hall D23 for overflow with more screens set up around the room.

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4) Counter-programming. There were so many presentations that it really hurt me to miss: "Marc Davis Goes to WED" with Pete Docter; Don Hahn's "Yesterday's Tomorrow: Disney's Magical Mid-Century;" "Park Stars: Original Characters of the Disney Parks;" "The Power of the Princess" with four original princess voice artists; and so many more. I get that we can't all go to everything but it's still painful.

5) Timing is everything. With so many people and so much good content, it's a shame that everything has to feel so rushed. The first Expo was four days long and programming started around 9 am and sometimes didn't end until 1am the next day. This year had most of the panels starting around 10am all three days, and everything wound up by around 7pm. I feel like adding back that fourth day would be a big improvement, even if only the show floor was open, because at least then people would have a better shot at getting their shopping done, viewing the exhibits, etc.

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For another thing, having Expo right in front of San Diego Comic-Con is just grueling. I understand why it might be easier to coordinate celebrity schedules if they can appear at both conventions the same week, but holy moly it makes for an exhausting and expensive couple of weeks. I hope they space it out in the future, for the preservation of both my life force and my wallet.

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All in all however, as fatiguing and occasionally frustrating as it is, D23 Expo is still the main game in town for the Disney conventioneer. I'm ready for the next one now...right after a short nap.

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September 6, 2017

D23 Expo: All The Rest (Day 2)

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Expo time! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I covered some of the major presentations earlier (Animation, Live-Action Studios, Video Games, and Day 1) so we're now down to a summation of the rest of what the 2017 D23 Expo had to offer, and some quick thoughts on each.

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[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

So Saturday was a day filled with a lot of the aforementioned panels for me but I did manage to take a quick run around the floor again, trying to pick up some of the booths and exhibits I hadn't seen on day 1.

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Costco exclusive!

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Forward my mail to Tsum Tsum City.

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If you missed the Combine Car at Expo, you can see it at Walt's Barn in Griffith Park, which is a very good trip for any reason.

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For all your Muppet wardrobe needs.

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A coffee bar with Disney latte art. Seems like a good concept for the parks, if they didn't already have Starbucks.

The big D23 Archive pavilion this year was "Walt Disney Archives Presents--A Pirate's Life For Me: Disney's Rascals, Scoundrels And Really Bad Eggs."

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The extensive pavilion displayed pirate-y artifacts from the animated films...

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Live action films...

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Television...

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And park attractions.

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This afternoon was also the day of the announcement-filled Parks and Resorts panel, which Deb Wills ably recapped here:

At the same time, because D23 always tries to hurt me with counterprogramming, the "Once Upon A Time" panel was held in the Arena. Although you couldn't go to both, co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and star Colin O'Donoghue could be seen afterwards over in Talent Central providing autographs and photos for lucky guests.

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The final panel of the day was "'A Kiss Goodnight' with Disney Legends Richard Sherman and Floyd Norman." This had the two legends discussing the development and creation of their new book "A Kiss Goodnight" with Wendy Lefkon, editorial director of Disney Editions, and some of the contributing artists and writers. There was even a short Richard Sherman performance at the end, with singer Juliana Hansen!





August 28, 2017

An Early Look at Pixar's "Coco"

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"Coco," Pixar's 19th scheduled animated feature, is currently under production for a release this Fall. As part of an early press day, AllEars.Net was invited to take an advance look at some of the footage and get introduced to some of the places and people of "Coco."

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

Over at Pixar Studios, the atrium of the Steve Jobs Building was decked out in "Coco" decor.

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In the screening room, Director Lee Unkrich, with Producer Darla Anderson and Writer/Co-Director Adrian Molina introduced us to the first 35 minutes of "Coco" and some of the cultural consultants that helped them create a film true to the culture in which it takes place. Unkrich noted that he first pitched the idea for the film back in 2011 and since then has taken multiple research trips to Mexico that inspired "Coco's" themes of family and remembrance...core tenets of Día de Muertos.

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"Coco" is a story about a young boy, Miguel, who finds himself caught between his aspirations to become a great musician like his star idol the late Ernesto de la Cruz, and his music-loathing family. In his desperation, a rash act on Día de Muertos traps him in the Land of the Dead; his only way out is to undertake a journey throughout the fantastical realm with the prospect of acceding to his family's demands if he fails.

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The next day, presentations on the making of "Coco" kicked off with Alonso Martinez (Character/Rigging Artist), Nick Rosario (Directing Animator), and Christian Hoffman (Characters Supervisor) talking about "Pepita and Dante: A Closer Look"

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Two of the non-humanoid characters supporting Miguel and his domineering great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda are his street dog Dante and her spirit guide Pepita.

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--Dante is a Xoloitzcuintli dog, which is the national dog of Mexico.
--It is an ancient breed of dog, whose name is taken from the Aztec word for "dog."
--They are said to guard homes against evil spirits or intruders, and sometimes have healing powers.
--They are also said to serve as guide dogs for people transitioning from this world to the next.

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--The animators looked at many of Disney's famous dogs such as those from "Lady and the Tramp," and Dug from "Up" to develop Dante's movements.
--His relative hairlessness exposed more anatomy and required animators to pay more attention to his structure and skin wrinkles.
--Dante's almost prehensile tongue was modeled after the tentacles developed for Hank, the octopus in "Finding Dory."
--To give him a little more personality as a beat-up, derpy street dog, he was given patchy skin, a broken ear, a walleye, and a tongue that's always hanging out.

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--In contrast, Pepita is both formidable and imposing whose appearance derives from the Mexican folk art alebrije.

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--Alebrijes are traditionally brightly colored and chimerical--almost dreamlike.
--Different families crafting these may use specific and distinctive patterns on them.
--Making them spirit guides was an addition made by the film's storyline.
--Pepita has a lizard tale, eagle feet and wings, front arms/head of a jaguar, and ram horns.

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--The combination of different animal anatomy made it challenging to develop a believable and natural movement for her.
--On the other hand, developing a fantastical anatomical structure allowed the animators to consider how each structure (such as fingernails) might enhance her expressions and personality.

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Next up was Daniel Arriaga (Character Art Director), Gini Santos (Supervising Animator), Byron Bashforth (Character Shading Lead), Emron Grover (Simulation Technical Director) talking of the work involved "Bringing Skeletons to Life."

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--One of the challenges was creating characters who could express emotion without fleshy structures such as ears, nose, eyes, or lips.
--There was also the issue of how a skeletal structure would fill out or support clothing.
--Another question that had to be addressed was whether skeletons could grow hair, or if they would simulate their appearance in life with wigs, etc.

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--Additionally, skeleton animators had to determine whether the same usual methods of squash and stretch would work when used with rigid, bony structures.
--Hector, a skeleton partner Miguel makes in the Land of the Dead, has a gait based on that of Ratso from "Midnight Cowboy."
--In order to better show the characters' thought processes, animators committed to giving the skeletons eyes and eyelids, as well as lips.
--A new collision system for animating clothing needed to be developed as the bones were too thin and small to utilize the typical method of showing fabric interacting with flesh.
--Cloth-bone fusion was used so that a skeleton's clothes would fill in the gaps where the bones would naturally separate with movement.
--In skeletons like Hector with a lot of exposed bone, the bony structure was simplified with fusion of some bones like the ribs.

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--Shading work in animation involves determining an object's color, texture, and translucency.
--Ultimately the characters had to be relatable as skeletons, but still be appealing enough to not be scary.

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"Coco" opens in theaters November 22, 2017.

RIP Great Movie Ride, Universe of Energy, and Main Street Electrical Parade

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So we took a short break from our everlasting Expo coverage to make a hasty Walt Disney World and Disneyland pilgrimage to say goodbye to a couple of old friends.

Over at Disneyland, the evergreen Main Street Electrical Parade glowed away once again. It's always a little sad to see something that's been around that long leave, but it's also a little hard to get too worked up about it, given that it has come back from the dead more times than Ra's al Ghul.

Between Disneyland, DCA, and the Magic Kingdom, it ran for about 45 years and was periodically replaced by "Light Magic," "Spectromagic," and "Paint the Night," with varying degrees of success. Its final form was shy a few floats that had gone by the wayside with the years, such as the Blue Fairy and the Cigar Indians, but it still commanded pretty respectable crowds even up to the end.

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Although successors such as Tokyo Disneyland's "Dreamlights" are arguably superior in both content and technology, MSEP will always have the cache of being the nighttime parade most guests remember from their childhood (as it's probably older than most of them) and having one of the most distinctive tunes in the Disney catalogue.

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So back at the D23 Expo, many announcements were made about the addition of new rides to some of the parks over in Walt Disney World. What was not announced at the time, was the many closures that would be happening to accommodate those rides. One of the sacrifices was the EPCOT pavilion "Universe of Energy" and its attraction "Ellen's Energy Adventure."

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While the ride itself had gone through some changes, in many ways it had remained true to its original vision of educating people on the topic of the production, utilization, and conservation of energy. Both versions also kept the traveling theater ride system and the trip through the primeval diorama.

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[For a much better review of this ride than I can furnish, I encourage you to re-read Jack Spence's blog on it.]

While the filmed portion was starting to seem a little dated both in appearance (it clearly features Ellen from "The Ellen Show" days, versus the contemporary "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" Ellen) and discourse, and I was never a huge fan of the radio segment ("MAMMALS ARE GETTING HAIRIER!") I think it's a pity they're taking it out instead of updating it. I am a huge fan of long attractions and this one clocked in at around 40 minutes (in air conditioning,) which made waiting for it, if you ever even found a wait for it, a pretty good deal, time-wise. The cars were enormous, so if you had big groups it was easy to get everyone on, and all ages could ride it. More than that, it represented one of the last gasps of the original EPCOT edutainment mission which I've always found so admirably ambitious. It will be replaced with a "Guardians of the Galaxy" attraction.

The real gut-punch of the lot, however, and the main reason for me making a hastily-scheduled trip to Florida in the unbearable heat and humidity of August, was the closure of "The Great Movie Ride."

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The original symbol of the Disney-MGM Studios Park, and what I always considered the flagship attraction there, GMR took guests on a 20 minute trip into the classic film genres utilizing audio-animatronics, live actors, theater cars, screens, and branching storylines.

[Again, for a better, more in-depth look at the attraction, check back at Jack Spence's 2009 blog on it.]

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This had always been one of my favorite attractions at WDW, because it was so unique and so specific to the MGM Studios Park. As a huge classic film buff, I loved all the movies it referenced right down to the trailers they used to play in the pre-show area.

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Even the outside, a detailed replica of the Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, was fantastic and beautiful to me. If you live in Los Angeles, you're used to visiting the real, current-day Hollywood which is frankly something of a dump. It's dirty and crowded and the scent of failed dreams (which oddly closely resembles that of urine) is pervasive there. This version, just like a lot of the rest of MGM Studios, was the sort of clean, friendly, hypersaturated "Hollywood that never was and always will be" that a kid growing up watching MGM musicals would dream about.

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I am a particular fan of musicals, so it was always a joy for me that no less than four archetypal movie musicals were celebrated in the ride: "Footlight Parade," "Singin' in the Rain," "Mary Poppins," and "Wizard of Oz."

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In so many ways, I felt the ride was exceptionally well crafted. The juxtaposition of the different movie genres kept guests' attention engaged, and the constant variation in live performances from the Cowboy or the Gangster made for high re-rideability.

Last trip with The Cowboy. #greatmovieride #disneyhollywoodstudio #GMR #disney #disneyworld #waltdisneyworld #MGMStudios

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While I was there, I was able to attend a function where we were able to walk through the attraction after closing, and former Imagineer Brian Collins gave a brief talk about his involvement with the attraction.

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He also gave us copies of character profiles he wrote for the Bandit and Gangster roles which were intended solely for the use of the performers. (Apparently not all read them, as the Bandit one notes "do not try to talk with a strong Western accent. It sounds bad, is very cliche and is, in general, bad show.")

Roughly five hours after that ended, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the D23 event they held the next morning before opening. At this event, Imagineers Gary Landrum and Diego Parras walked attendees through the attraction pointing out different details of the ride and how they related to enhancing each scenario's authenticity and levels of communication.

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Afterwards, we were given a great print of original concept art for the attraction's marquee.

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[At this point, I start ranting. If the gripings of one little person doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world to you, you are free to cut out now, with my blessing.]

In all the rationales people ever gave me for wanting this attraction replaced, I frankly never found any with which I had much sympathy. Most of them end up being:

a) "It's old and needs to be updated." While the ride did suffer from the wear and tear of years and periodically spotty maintenance, I'm not so sure the films depicted in it did need updating. These films were chosen because they were, in fact, Great Movies and I don't think their status really changed with time. Films like "Raiders of the Lost Arc" and "Casablanca" were chosen because they were some of the best of their genres, and they still are. It's not like we stopped reading Shakespeare or Dickens because they've been around awhile and needed to be replaced with something new.

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If you want a comparison between whether updated tech can compete with consummate craftsmanship, take a look at these two clips. One is one of the oldest of the currently used major audio-animatronics, and one is the very newest.

Which one is more arresting? What story is more interesting? Who has a more clearly defined viewpoint, with goals and personality? Can you tell what either one is thinking? How many times would you want to see one, versus the other?

b) "It's not relevant because kids/young adults/no one has heard of these movies anymore." This one is my very favorite. How dull would it be, to only experience things that show you what you already know? What kind of low expectations must you have for humanity, to think that only the completely familiar could be of any interest? Why wouldn't you think that people who haven't seen these films might get interested in them and watch them on their own and thereby increase their personal experiential database? Going back to the whole concept of "edutainment," this ride could serve as the guests' introduction to films and genres they never saw before, and arguably widen their worlds--not a bad function for a theme park attraction.

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At the end of the day, however, although I do feel that objectively GMR was a good and necessary ride for the park, a lot of my nostalgia is subjective as well. For one thing, I associate it quite a bit with my original trips to WDW with people and situations that are no longer repeatable. For another, my actual favorite movie of all time is "Singin' in the Rain," and two of the things I enjoyed most about the MGM Studios park was the raining umbrella back on Streets of America, and the Gene Kelly segment in GMR. They're both gone now, and although I'm sure their replacements ("Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway" for GMR) will be fine, and people will enjoy them immensely, I'll always be a little bit sorry not to see them there.

"Enjoy the rest of your day here at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and I'll see you at the movies: The stuff dreams are made of."





August 7, 2017

D23 Expo: All The Rest (Day 1)

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Expo time has arrived! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I covered some of the major presentations earlier (Animation, Live-Action Studios, and Video Games) so we're now down to a summation of the rest of what the 2017 D23 Expo had to offer, and some quick thoughts on each.

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[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

So the first panel I saw on Friday, the start of Expo, was the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony. Receiving awards this year were Carrie Fisher, actress/author; Clyde “Gerry” Geronimi, animator/supervising director; Manuel Gonzales, cartoonist; Garry Marshall, TV producer/movie director;

Mark Hamill, actor;
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Wayne Jackson, Walt Disney Imagineer;
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Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, co-creators of myriad Marvel characters;
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Julie Taymor, filmmaker and musical theater director;
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Oprah Winfrey, producer/actress/talk show host/philanthropist;
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and Whoopi Goldberg, actress/comedienne/producer/talk show host.
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The ceremony was a nice acknowledgement of all the contributions the various Legends have made to the Walt Disney Company. In between awards, there were a number of performances including the Cadaver Dans, and what appeared to be an interpretive dance number of all the recipients.

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The Good: It's always nice to see people finally get recognized for a career-worth of hard work, especially Jackson and Geronimi who have really put time into the Disney Company.
The Bad: Since these ceremonies became public, it seems like there's been some tendency for them to pick some recipients because they're celebrities and will make a good showing, rather than because of any long Disney history. I'd rather see fewer Legends recognized each Expo, if that would allow them to choose people who have been a significant part of Disney.
The Meh: While all the interstitial acts were the usual Disney quality (most of them courtesy of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars") the concepts behind them were often puzzling. The long interpretive dance number was particularly confusing, as initially it seemed like they were just going to dance versions of all the Marvel super heroes, but then became evident they were going to dance interpretations of most of the award winners' oeuvres. It's a difficult thing, as the Legends awards are given out to performance and non-performance fields and someone may have done significant work in, say, accounting, but have nothing showy with which to excite a crowd.

In between panels I was able to take a quick run-around the show floor and took a quick peek at the Parks and Resorts booth with its impressive Star Wars Land model.

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Also taking in (and showing off) the sights was Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter.

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Thoughts: I only got a quick gawk at this booth, but my impression was that the model was great...but that's almost all there was. Compared to the much more elaborate booth they had for Shanghai and Pandora in the past, this seemed like a small version of something you'd see in Launch Bay. I believe they occasionally had someone wander around doing a spiel, but they weren't doing it when I was by and no one working the booth had much of a capacity to answer questions, either because the information was restricted or just absent. It was also a little disappointing that Imagineering didn't have a booth at all this year, when theirs has traditionally been the highlight of the whole floor.

Right next door was the terminally adorable joint Pixar and Walt Disney Animation booth.

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Within, they had a number of photo-ops...

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Displays of exclusive film crew t-shirts (I want them)...

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And a variety of what sounded like great presentations in their small stage that, unfortunately I was never able to make.

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"Animating Moana," with Hyrum Osmond and Amy Smeed

There were also a number of animator signings that were held throughout the weekend, the only one of which I was able to catch was Brad Bird and Nicole Paradis Grindle, Director and Producer respectively of the in-production "Incredibles 2."

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Thoughts: I love this booth, even though the facade and stage set up is basically identical to last time, and a lot of the art on exhibition has been shown at different events throughout the last two years. I always wish I had more time to go to the presentations and signings they have here because historically I only ever manage to stumble my way into one signing per Expo.

While the programming here was great, the logistics of getting into the programming were often pretty rough. There were a lot of instances where a random line would form way in advance of an event, and if you asked the CMs, they would hedge on whether they were planning on acknowledging the line or not. Ultimately, they would just start handing out tickets at an opening of the roped-off queue and whoever happened to be standing around there in a crowd at that time got one until they ran out. There really needs to be a more formal organization in advance, I think, because getting crushed forward by a mob of people towards the Brad Bird ticketguy (who was constantly yelling "NO PUSHING! I'LL CANCEL THE WHOLE THING IF THERE'S PUSHING!") was a little nerve wracking.

What I do love however is the way they give you artwork for the artists to sign. At one of the last conventions I attended, they provided exactly nothing for people to sign, which means that people got to bring their own items, which then leads to people showing up with wheelbarrows of items probably headed straight to eBay for signatures. On the other hand, if you are perennially unprepared like me, you never have anything--even paper--on hand for people to sign, so that's fun too. The way Disney does it keeps it much more organized and the line moving much more fluidly.

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The last panel of the day I saw was "Melodies in Walt's Time: The Music of Disney Live-Action Films." This was a celebration of Walt Disney's live-action musicals of the 1960s, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and accompanied by a 20-voice chorus.

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After going through a selection of songs from a number of films such as "Mary Poppins," Summer Magic," and "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band," with guests Leonard Maltin and Karen Dotrice, the last half of the program went in depth with "The Happiest Millionaire" as Lesley Ann Warren and Joyce Bulifant talked about the filmmaking process.

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At the end, Richard Sherman came out as well, to enjoy the audience's accolades for so many film scores of fabulous music.

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Thoughts: This was kind of a peculiar panel, and not quite what I had expected. The first 45 minutes or so went about how I had thought, with Leonard Maltin and Whoopi and various celebrities discussing different films and the chorus singing songs from them. The last half, however, was almost completely just conversation about "Happiest Millionaire," that was moore or less identical to the Disneyana event held back in February. With all the Sherman songs performed throughout the night, it seemed like an obvious choice to have Richard Sherman (who has done whole concerts by himself at past Expos) come out and perform or at least join in the discussion, but he was saved for basically a curtain call at the end. The chorus was great and the soloists did a nice job, but both were underused in the last half as well. On the whole, a good panel if you didn't attend the Disneyana event, but I think the topic really has greater potential than what was done here.





July 29, 2017

D23 Expo: "Disney, Marvel Studios & Lucasfilm--Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios"

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Expo time has arrived! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I attended all Expo weekend and will be reporting back on the highlights.

One of the major events of the second day was the Walt Disney Studios panel "Disney, Marvel Studios & Lucasfilm--Live action at The Walt Disney Studios," in which Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and his special guests presented some of the many live-action projects currently in the works for all the affiliated Disney studios.

Back from the Animation panel the day before, Alan Horn introduced the Disney studio trifecta of Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm, and noted that as diverse as they all are, they are bound together by common qualities of integrity and decency. They are apparently also bound together by phenomenal popularity, as five of the top grossing films of 2016 were all Disney: "Finding Dory," "Captain America: Civil War," "Zootopia," "Rogue One," and "Jungle Book."

[All photos and video provided by Disney.]

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Starting off with the Walt Disney Studios, Horn introduced Sean Bailey, President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, to talk about their upcoming slate of movies.

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First up was "Wrinkle in Time," an adaptation of the classic Madeleine L’Engle book. Director Ava DuVernay, as well as stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and Storm Reid took the stage to introduce the teaser trailer.

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Meg Murray, a young daughter of two renowned physicists, must embark on a fabulous journey aided by three celestial guides, her classmate, and her younger brother to locate and rescue her missing father and battle a powerful evil. “A Wrinkle in Time” opens nationwide March 9, 2018.

Next was “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mackenzie Foy as Clara, Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger, Morgan Freeman as godfather Drosselmeyer, and famed ballet dancer Misty Copeland, it is a fanciful retelling of the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale. With an as-yet-unreleased trailer that seemed reminiscent of Tim Burton's hugely popular "Alice in Wonderland," "Nutcracker" sees protagonist Clara venturing through the lands of Snowflakes, Flowers, Sweets, and the less-benign-sounding Fourth Realm, where she must face the tyrannical Mother Ginger and a gang of mice. The CGI Mouse King movements are based on that of dancer Lil Buck, who gave a live performance of "jooking," his style of street dancing.

"Nutcracker" will open in U.S. theaters on November 2, 2018.

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Director Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt then took the stage to talk about "Mary Poppins Returns."

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A musical sequel to the original movie, "Returns" sees Blunt's Poppins revisit a grown Jane and Michael Banks with her friend Jack, a street lamplighter played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in order to restore childhood joy and wonder to their lives. Also joining her is Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks, Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks, Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen, Colin Firth as Fidelity Fiduciary’s William Weatherall Wilkins, Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy, Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady, and Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr., the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character.

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--Blunt noted that her take on Mary Poppins is a little closer to the character from the book than Julie Andrews' and is more "acerbic and weird."
--Julie Andrews is not in the film, in part because she felt she would detract too much from what should be Blunt's movie.
--One of the tables from the original movie was lent to the production from Club 33, where it is usually in residence.
--Marshall stated that Dick Van Dyke felt the production and the set had the same sense of joy as the original.

The audience was treated to a first look at the film, accompanied by a live orchestra performing original new music from the score conducted by composer Marc Shaiman

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The clips we saw looked very good--I have been a little wary of how the remake of such a classic will turn out, but the iconic Mary Poppins imagery/shots were done well and continue to be markedly evocative. The fact that we were watching it with live orchestration didn't hurt it any, either.

“Mary Poppins Returns” will be released in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25, 2018.

Afterwards, Bailey confirmed three more live-action remakes: "Aladdin," directed by Guy Ritchie with Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Will Smith as the Genie; "Mulan," directed by Niki Caro; and "Jungle Cruise," starring Dwayne Johnson.

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Tim Burton, still in London working on the live-action "Dumbo," sent a video greeting.

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The film stars Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, and Colette Marchant. “Dumbo” is slated for release on March 29, 2019.

Finally, Jon Favreau gave the audience a first glimpse at the opening Pride Rock sequence in his live-action/CGI remake of "The Lion King."

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With Donald Glover as Simba, and James Earl Jones as Mufasa, “The Lion King” is slated for theaters on July 19, 2019.

Horn then came back on to introduce the Lucasfilm segment by introducing "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" writer/director Rian Johnson, and giving spoilers for anyone who hadn't seen the end of "Rogue One" yet.

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Johnson started off proving his Disney cred by reminding everyone he used to direct the "You're Watching Disney Channel" commercials.

"This wasn't 'High School Musical' Disney Channel--this was 'Halloweentown' Disney Channel. But we're not here to talk about Halloweentown..."
[Huge audience reaction]
"This might be the only crowd where it's a let down to not talk about Halloweentown."

Subsequently, cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro joined Johnson on stage to talk about "Last Jedi."

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[Main takeaway here was that Christie is an Amazon. The next tallest person there came up to about her chin.]

The final member of the cast then entered, which was of course, Mark Hamill.

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"Thank you for not making me stand next to Gwendolyn. You think I'm already a little short for a stormtrooper?"

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Lucasfilm finished off their segment with a behind-the-scenes video in which the late Carrie Fisher figured prominently. "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" picks up where "Force Awakens" ends, and will open in U.S. theaters on Dec. 15, 2017.

Finally, Marvel Studios was up at bat, with President/producer Kevin Feige announcing their first ten year anniversary celebration.

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The cornerstone of the celebration will be "Avengers: Infinity War," which will have virtually every Marvel Cinematic Universe character in it. At this point, Josh Brolin (Thanos) appeared to help usher in an enormous amount of cast members on stage, including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff.

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Co-director Joe Russo closed out the presentation by introducing a video with appearances by every character in "Infinity War." While largely old footage, there were some new clips towards the end, mostly depicting the entry of the Guardians of the Galaxy into the larger MCU story-line. It was a LOT of characters.


[This is not that video, which has yet to be released, but an earlier one talking about the start of production on "Infinity War."

Clearly, it is going to be quite a showdown. “Avengers: Infinity War” releases in U.S. theaters on May 4, 2018.

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July 19, 2017

Happy 62nd Anniversary, Disneyland! Welcome Back, Fantasmic!

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On July 17th, 2017, Disneyland celebrated its 62nd anniversary as a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

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As part of an anniversary moment, the Disneyland Ambassadors, the Dapper Dans, the Disneyland Band, and 62 of the classic Disney characters gathered for the traditional playing of Walt Disney's opening day speech, a little song, a little dance, and a whole lot of confetti.

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One of the anniversary gifts Disneyland chose to share with us that day was the opening of a brand new "Fantasmic!"

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New scenes to the long-running nighttime spectacular include Aladdin and Jasmine flying their carpet to the strains of "A Whole New World,"

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Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean on board the Columbia,

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and the addition of new characters from "Tangled," "The Lion King," "Finding Nemo," and "Aladdin."

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With the new emergence of projection mapping as the universally favorite show modality, there is no lack of it here. The whole surface of the Tom Sawyer Island stage has been digitally mapped and all technical elements of the show upgraded to provide clearer, brighter images on the island and the water.

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Whether you are new to the show or a long time "Fantasmic!" fanatic, you will surely want to come by and check out this updated version. Are the powers of Mickey’s incredible imagination still strong enough and bright enough to withstand the evil forces that invade Mickey’s dream? You are about to find out.

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July 18, 2017

D23 Expo: "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films"

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Expo time is here! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I'm attending this weekend and will try to report back on the highlights.

One of the highlights of the first day was the Animation panel "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films," in which John Lasseter and his special guests presented some of the many animation projects currently in the works for both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disney Pixar.

Introducing the panel was Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn who showed a brief montage of a lot of the upcoming films, animated and live-action. After the crowd went berserk over a quick view of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the remake of "Mary Poppins," he joked that the demand was such that they would bring back a version of "Mary Poppins" every fifty years.

[All photos and video provided by Disney.]

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He then introduced John Lasseter who came out with a t-shirt cannon and merrily shot shirts into the crowds. (I did not get a shirt.)

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After he finished lobbing projectiles into the audience, he began by introducing a clip called "Speed Test" from a Disneytoon Studio featurette as yet unnamed, which showed some fighter jets (with the trademark sentient vehicle eyes) and which will take a look at the future of Aviation. It will open April 12, 2019.

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Next Lasseter turned his attention to Walt Disney Animation Studios and their next visit back to Arendelle, "Olaf's Frozen Adventure," which will open with Pixar's "Coco."

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To help introduce the story of Olaf's quest to find some holiday traditions for the previously-estranged royal siblings Anna and Elsa, Kristen Bell took the stage.

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Unfortunately, as they began to play a clip from the short, the audio mysteriously cut out and who but Josh Gad should come to the rescue, singing one of the songs, “That Time of Year,” written by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, live with the animation track running behind him.

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Subsequently, Josh Gad noted that he was glad Olaf finally got a film where he was the star. Bell pointed out that it was really an ensemble effort, to which Gad replied "really? it's not called 'ENSEMBLE's Frozen Adventure!'"

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Moving on to "Frozen 2," not a whole lot of information was given, except that the original cast would be back, and it wouldn't be titled "Thawed." The original production team of Co-directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Producer Peter del Vecchio are all returning, and have already gone on a research trip around Scandinavia to prepare for it. It will open November 27, 2019.

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The next film up was the sequel to "Wreck-It Ralph," "Ralph Breaks the Internet." Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, along with comedian Sarah Silverman, who returns as the voice of Vanellope von Schweetz, showed clips of BFFs Ralph and Vanellope escaping their arcade into the Internet. A new character, Yesss, was introduced, with actress Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) doing voice duty for her.

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They then showed a rough animation sequence where Vanellope and Ralph go to the Oh My Disney website and meet up with all manners of Disney consumers (I am reasonably certain the Tsum Tsum obsessed girl was not modeled after me.) Later, Vanellope has an encounter with a huge number of Disney princesses that is as hilarious as it is audacious for a company usually so careful with its property usage. It's not as coarse as, say, Shrek, but comes close to the same sensibility. All the original voice actresses came back: Auli‘i Cravalho (“Moana”), Kristen Bell (Anna in “Frozen”), Kelly MacDonald (Merida in “Brave”), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel in “Tangled”), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog”), Irene Bedard (“Pocahontas”), Linda Larkin (Jasmine in “Aladdin”), Paige O’Hara (Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”) and Jodi Benson (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,”) and in fact came out on stage for the largest grouping of Disney Princesses ever. "Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2" is opening November 21, 2018.

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Moving on to "Incredibles 2," they began with a video clip showing various models and designers giving tribute to one of the great design minds of our time, Edna Mode.

Subsequently Director Brad Bird did Edna Mode as a voice over where she finally agreed to come onstage "but only in the form of a disillusioned middle-aged man."

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In their new, mid-century modern design house, the Parrs resume life as a family that just happens to have super powers. Mrs. Incredible fights crime while Mr. Incredible does a stint as a stay-at-home Dad to baby Jack Jack. For the story, Bird promises new allies and enemies, with appearances from old friends as well.

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Bird was joined onstage with the cast of "Incredibles 2" which included all the original voices (Mr. and Mrs. Incredible--Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, Violet--Sarah Vowell, and Frozone--Samuel L. Jackson) with the exception of Dash, now played by Huck Milner.

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After all the actors took turns giving newcomer Milner some helpful career advice (Jackson: "Never read the comments.") they showed a short clip from the film, depicting Jack Jack still manifesting his powers while putting the smackdown on a raccoon. "Incredibles 2" is scheduled for release on June 15, 2018.

Lasseter then made the announcement that on "Toy Story 4," he would no longer be co-directing, but that Pixar veteran Josh Cooley would be the full director. While they had no footage ready at this early date, they did show a short docu/mocumentary on a typical day in the life of a Pixar director. "Toy Story 4" has an opening date of June 21, 2019.

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"Monster's University" director Dan Scanlon then presented the concept behind "Untitled Dan Scanlon Movie." It will be set in a magical suburb, in a world where magic exists, but at a level of difficulty that most utilize contemporary technology instead. There are no humans--just elves, trolls, and sprites, and unicorns are rodents. The story is based on Scanlon's personal history of having lost his father at a young age, and revolves around two teenage elves in a similar situation, who embark on a journey to spend one last magical day with their father.

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Finally, director Lee Unkrich, co-director and screenwriter Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson presented "Coco," in which Miguel, a young boy from a music-hating family, dreams of a career as a musician. His desperation to follow in his deceased idol's footsteps causes him to defy his family's wishes and earns him a trip to the Land of the Dead.

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Michael Giacchino is in charge of the score, while the main song "Remember Me," is penned by "Frozen's" Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. As a finale, guests at the presentation were treated to the first ever public performance of "Remember Me," with special guest Benjamin Bratt (voice of Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel's musical inspiration) singing it along with 160 performers including the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea and Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles.

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"Coco" will be in theaters Nov. 22, 2017.

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July 9, 2017

Helpful Hints for the Infrequent Conventioneer

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In case you are one of the vast majority of Mankind who does not regularly read my missives here, I regularly attend a lot of events--particularly conventions--of a variety of subjects and emphases. As we are once again approaching Disney's arguably largest event, D23 Expo, I thought it might be useful to share some general observations that might help people organize their thoughts for enjoyable con-going.

Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail:
Yes, this is a trite saying, and it also is a true one--painfully so, as many attendees of many conventions can attest. Unless a convention is a reasonably small affair where guests are pretty much guaranteed to be able to see every offering, there will be far more going on than you could possibly see or do, and far more people wanting to see or do each thing than could possible fit in the event's capacity. Consequently, it's a crucial thing to try to figure out your goals in advance. Do you love shopping and merchandise? Are you an autograph hound? Is your passion checking out exhibits? If you don't go over the schedules and lists of what's available, you'll run a good chance of missing out on the things you really want to see.

Personally, I mainly enjoy watching as many presentations on different topics as I can, which offers its own unique challenges. As a general rule, programming schedules are often set up to force choices between popular panels in order to break up crowds and lines. You need to prioritize the things you want to see vs the things you don't care about so much, vs the things you would sell your mother to see.

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Some things you might want to consider:
--Make a list of the panels you want to see. Then make a "plan B" and sometimes a "plan C" in case you don't get into the panels you want to see.
--Be realistic about your "plan B" and don't make it the same time as "plan A," because by the time you find out "plan A" isn't going to work, you'll have already missed your opportunity for "plan B."
--Look at a map and see how far apart the rooms are. If you want to see two panels twenty minutes apart and one is on the third floor of the convention center and the next one is in the ballroom of a hotel three blocks away, you are probably not going to make it.
--Have a sense of how popular the panels are going to be. Looking at the Expo schedule, there will be one panel on Disney Studios' Live Action films. Given the popularity of the MCU, and that they've already announced that "Star Wars" won't be making an appearance at SDCC this year, there will probably be a huge amount of interest in this, and likely a lineup that will start the night before. On the other hand, the Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media are doing Pancake Art demonstrations several times a day each day, so expect an easier time seeing that.
--Go all in, or not at all. If you know you have to see a thing, then get there hours (sometimes a day) ahead to scope out how bad the line is. If you blow that opportunity, then my best advice is to just show up 10-30 minutes beforehand and hope for the best. At least then, if you don't get in, you didn't invest that much time in finding out and were available to do something else in the meantime. What you don't want to do is start waiting an hour or two ahead of time in a line where everyone who is going to get in lined up three to four hours ago. I once spoke to a mother and daughter behind me in line who said they had spent their entire Expo day going from one line to the next, waiting a couple hours, and then not getting in. Don't Be Those People.

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Know How To Get What You Want If What You Want Is To Collect Things:
Check in advance whether your favorite companies or product lines have booths, and whether they are offering any limited edition items you want. If you know you will die coming home without that specific one-day-only-special-edition thing, you also need to look at a map of the floor and find out where that booth is, because you will likely only get one shot to safely hustle your way over there first thing at opening to get in line for it. Check official twitter accounts and webpages that are live reporting such things to see what the lines are like in advance--at SDCC, people regularly sleep out overnight to be the first ones into the Mattel or Hasbro booths, so this can be serious business. Know also that booth lines are not necessarily at the booths: In order to free up the passageways that can get clogged with huge lines, people are frequently lined up against the walls of the exhibitor's floor and then walked over in groups as people leave the booth. If you rush over to a booth for a popular item, and then realize the line is actually halfway across the room, it's probably going to be capped by the time you get over there and find it.

Also try to do the bulk of your shopping as early as possible, hopefully before the convention actually starts, if you can. Recently, I've been seeing a marked increase (even at Disney events) in sellers bringing merchandise in woefully insufficient amounts, often selling out by the end of preview night. While some booths will only sell a certain amount each day and then restock each night, some, either by design or accident, will just blow out all their goods immediately and then, I guess, just take a nap for the next couple days. Check sizing as well, if you're looking at t-shirts: Mickey's of Glendale and PIXAR are notorious for selling women's shirts in styles that run considerably smaller than most.

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...But Maybe You Shouldn't:
There are a lot of booths, and most of them will be giving away something: Art lithographs, posters, brochures, shirts, books...sometimes even chairs. In every case, as soon as people see there's something being passed out, huge mobs will form to try to get it. If you're desperate, you can usually tough it out in line, or haunt a given booth to try to time when they start distributing. Unfortunately, after a certain amount of time, it can be hard to know if you are desperate because you actually want something, or just because the crowd mentality has driven you insane and made you believe that it's reasonable to stand in line for 45 minutes for a paper tube (PSA: I've done this.) Sometimes you should step back and really consider whether it's worth spending your time and effort to get something that's just going to sit untouched in the free convention-provided tote bag in the corner of your room for the next five years.

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DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO

Security Might Not Make You Safer, But It Will Make You Late:
With the increased anxiety everyone has nowadays about security, measures to get into different panels and the convention itself have gotten increasingly elaborate and time-consuming. Unless you have some sort of priority access to entering in the morning, you may want to consider showing up hours early in case the given event decides it needs to search your bags, make you go through metal detectors, etc. As you remember from the airport, this takes forever with just your every-day people, but at a con where every third cosplayer has multiple bags with food, electronics, and prop weaponry, this can stretch into an eternity. I just finished attending one event where some people waited over five hours to get in the first day, and the lines stretched over blocks, snarling traffic so bad it took me 90 minutes just to circle the building to find parking. Few hate mornings more than I, but this is one time where you have to bite the bullet if you want to maximize your time.

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Everybody Has To Eat:
Eventually, you are probably going to expect to eat during the day, but where? And when? If the eating options in the convention center are limited, expect long lines that may cut into the event you wanted to see afterwards. It also goes without saying that the prices will be higher than normal, and the quality somewhat lower. You can bring your own food, assuming you have the energy and time to do it when you stagger back home exhausted each day, but then know that a lot of meeting rooms won't allow food or drinks. There may be only a comparative handful of tables and chairs in any convention center, and by and large you can't even sit on the ground most places, or people will come and yell at you to leave before the Fire Marshal declares you a hazard. I'm particularly bad at meal planning and have spent more than one con week subsiding on a diet of M&Ms and kettle corn.

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...But Maybe You Shouldn't:
Look, there's no doubt that the healthiest thing for you is to eat regular meals, but just be aware that any time not spent getting in line can make or break you for the next thing. I remember being in one panel and discussing with the woman next to me that we both wanted to go to the book-signing right afterwards. She went to the restroom and I didn't, and that's why we ended up meeting again, this time on opposite sides of the line cut-off rope.

On Q&A:
I have seen a lot of Q&A in my time, and some of it has been very insightful, and some of it has been at least interesting, and a WHOLE LOT of it has been reeeaaally bad. People are entitled to say whatever they want, of course, but for all that is Holy, I beg you to reflect on this.

Your question might be a bad question if:
--You start off saying "well, I guess this isn't really a question..."
--The topic can really only be of any interest to you and your immediate family.
--You are requesting one of the panelists touch you in a sexual or even non-sexual manner.
--You have been talking for over five minutes and have still not gotten to anything remotely close to a question.
--What you are saying is insulting/hostile/demanding/racist/sexist/terrible.
--The moderator tries to stop you by saying "we're not answering questions on that today."
--The moderator tries to stop you by saying "NO, DON'T COME UP HERE."
--You want someone on the panel to take a selfie with you or autograph an item.
--You are rapping.

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As Long As You've Got Your Health:
Con crud is a real thing. You're going to be stuck in a number of rooms and corridors with literally thousands of other people, some of whom are going to be Patient Zero for some horrific disease. You're going to be jammed into crowds where you can barely move because the cast of "Agents of SHIELD" are out on a table signing autographs and everyone wants a photo and the guy next to you is coughing non-stop into your face. Pity the poor celebrities, who are constantly assaulted with pleas for hugs/kisses/handshakes from everyone--no wonder they all charge >$100 for a picture nowadays. I actually found it fascinating that at Anime Expo (a convention I'll talk about in another blog soon) most of the predominantly Asian celebrities specified for autograph sessions "NO HIGH FIVES."

To a certain point there's nothing you can do. If you crap out and it's your turn to get some debilitating cold, you're going to get it. The best you can do for your immune system is to get as much sleep as you can, eat appropriately, and use hand sanitizer liberally. I'm also a huge believer in just holding your breath as long as you can in ultra crowded conditions--I've also considered using masks as they do in Japan, although those are more effective if the sick people use them.

As always, nothing is universal, and for many people none of these suggestions will be applicable. Some people don't have any goals or expectations going into these things, and are content to just wander around taking in the sights and then going home when the crowds become oppressive. Other people purchase priority access memberships ("Sorcerer's Package" for D23 Expo and "Master Jedi VIP" for Star Wars Celebration) which enable them to bypass the worst of the lines at a sizeable cost. That even at $2,250 the Sorcerer's Packages sold out in seconds is a measure of how valuable people find that advantage. Here, as is often the case, "money talks" and the rest of us...wait in line.

See you at the Expo!

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June 25, 2017

Recap: E3 2017

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So once again it's time 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.

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So the big change-up this year was the addition of non-industry/media folk to the mix. For the first time anyone--even you, Dear Reader--could purchase a ticket for all three days of E3 for $150-250. That this was coming down the pike might have been anticipated from last year's E3, which also promoted a mini-E3 off-site for the general public.

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With several of the big game companies (such as EA and Bethesda) either not participating or having their focus on off-site installations, the first day on the Exhibitor's Floor was pretty much a madhouse.

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Booths were so jammed full of people, you could barely move in some of the closer passageways. Fortunately, after the first day, crowds seemed to die down quite a bit and it was actually possible to get a look around.

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As is usual for any big convention, photo-ops and selfie opportunities abounded.

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Because of the prohibitive wait times and my fondness for oxygen, I didn't shove my way into many demos this year, but as is typically the case, all the new games in the works were introduced in the various big company press conferences that took place prior to E3.

[Advisory: Games are rough, and some of the trailers depict language and activities you might not want emulated in your household. Watcher beware.]


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On the whole, the games that seemed to generate the most buzz online and around the floor were Marvel's Spider-Man,

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Super Mario Odyssey,

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of War,

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Star Wars: Battlefront II,

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and Monster Hunter World.

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Also new to this year was the addition of panel discussions to E3. Previously there was no formal programming--just demos that were often back in meeting rooms for invitation only. Perhaps because they were now charging admission they felt the need for more content and took over The Novo (a club in the L.A. Live complex) and turned it into the E3 Coliseum. Although the experience watching the presentations there was fine, logistically it was difficult as the theater was a few blocks away from the convention center, making walking it a haul that you wouldn't want to make multiple times in the day in the blazing heat. Additionally, they didn't allow you to bring your own food in, so if you planned to stay in for most of the day, you were forced to rely on the bar inside for food which wasn't much of an economical option. Because I was able to utilize the media entrance, I'm not sure how the wait was generally to get in, but I also didn't speak to any non-media people at E3 who attended any of the Coliseum talks, so possibly they weren't hugely popular.

The first panel I watched was "Swing Behind the Scenes with the New Spider-Man for PS4."

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Ryan Penagos (Marvel Digital Media,) Bill Rosemann (Marvel Games,) and Bryan Intihar and Jon Paquette from Insomniac Games discussed the upcoming web-slinging game...or at least tried to, because a few minutes into their time, the sound of a pop and glass tinkling heralded the breaking of a bulb in one of the overhead lights that promptly CAUGHT FIRE. Although they tried bravely to carry on, eventually the amount of smoke that was generated, together with the flames the audience could see from the light fixture, forced them to stop until it was put out.

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By the time they came back, they basically had just enough time to run through the trailer with commentary.

It's a good looking game, but the main things I took away were a) the Marvel and Insomniac guys displayed pretty good sangfroid about carrying on in a room that's on fire, and b) the smoke detectors at The Novo are maybe not that adequate.

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The next panel was an interview between two funny men Jack (Brutal Legend) Black, and Tim (Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, The Secret of Monkey Island) Schafer.

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Their discussion ran the gamut from what superpower they would want (Schafer picks invisibility;) what they're playing nowadays (Black: "Titanfall 2," Schafer: "Zelda," on Switch;) and favorite games (Black: "Red Dead Redemption.") The middle of the conversation was memorable for an audience member who suddenly shouted over their discussion that she wanted to come up and take a photo and get a hug from Jack Black, which would have once more proved that Q&A is a bad thing, except we hadn't even gotten to the Q&A part yet.

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Other panels I saw were basically gameplay demos of "Middle-earth: Shadow of War," and "Life is Strange: Before the Storm."

I had been hoping for some word of "Kingdom Hearts III," but there was a pronounced lack of Disney content in general at E3, presumably because they're holding everything back for Expo next month. There was a concert of "Kingdom Hearts" music performed during E3, at which Square Enix revealed a new trailer for it.

"Star Wars Battlefront II" was first unveiled over in Orlando back at Star Wars Celebration, where we got our first look at the latest installment of the Battlefront series.


[Star Wars Battlefront II panel starts at 4:27:04]

Things we learned from that panel:
--The focus they had making the game was "anyone can be a hero."
--New to this installment is the single-player campaign/storyline.
--This game tells the story of some of the elite special forces soldiers of the Empire and their reactions to the destruction of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi
--The protagonist is Iden Versio, Commander of the Inferno Squadron.
--Events in the game are considered official Star Wars canon.
--Backstory on the Inferno Squadron will be revealed in the novel "Star Wars Battlefront II" Inferno Squadron," on July 25, 2017.

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--One of the new locations in the game is Vardos, Versio's home planet.

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--In the single player mode, players will have the opportunity to play as Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren.
--For multiplayer, all eras of Star Wars will be playable, including notables such as Darth Maul.
--New classes will be introduced with new unlockable abilities.
--Combat now extends into space, with space ships again hailing from all Star Wars eras.
--Game release date is November 17, 2017.

At E3, Battlefront II had its biggest moments during the EA press conference [video above--Star Wars Battlefront II segment starts at 46:50] where Janina Gavankar, actress for Iden Versio, gave a more in-depth look at the game.
--Battlefront II has more than 3x the content of Battlefront I.
--A new battlepoint system enables players to earn points to spend on new weapons, vehicles, or heroes.
--Finn and Captain Plasma will be present as part of the first season of free content.
--All post-launch additions will be free for all game owners.

As part of the press conference, the first gameplay trailer and live multiplayer gameplay were presented as well.

So looking back, I would say that the addition of paying guests to E3 definitely made it more challenging to maneuver around and see things than in previous years, not just because of the added volume, but because the crowd behavior of people who attend things on a purely recreational basis is different from that of people who are there for at least semi-professional reasons. One example is the tote bags that they usually just have lying out in racks in the convention center lobby--typically, they sit there all three days as people occasionally grab them when they need to have something to hold their giveaways. This year, not only were they all out the first day after about half an hour, but for the rest of the days people would line up, sometimes for up to an hour, until workers came out to hand out a few more boxes of bags.

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In general, there were fewer things given out for free because now companies were allowed to sell merchandise on the floor, which they couldn't do in the past.

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All in all, this felt somewhat like a transition year for E3, with maybe not quite enough content for paying guests yet, and a need to balance out the experience for Industry Professionals. For those of us in-between, it's still a loud, noisy celebration of digital entertainment that is always attention-grabbing and engrossing, even when the room is on fire.






June 16, 2017

"Cars 3" Press Conference

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June 16th, Disney-Pixar embarks on one more road trip with Lightning McQueen in "Cars 3."

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

While in town for the film's premier at the Anaheim Convention Center, performers Owen Wilson “Lightning McQueen,” Armie Hammer “Jackson Storm,” Cristela Alonzo “Cruz Ramirez,” Kerry Washington “Natalie Certain,” Nathan Fillion “Sterling,” Lea DeLaria “Miss Fritter,” Isiah Whitlock Jr. “River Scott,” Larry the Cable Guy “Mater,” with Director Brian Fee and Producer Kevin Reher, gathered at a press conference to talk about bringing Lightning McQueen's last chance at the Big Time to life.

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[SPOILERS FOR THE FILM AND ITS ENDING DISCUSSED. FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED.]

Select moments from the press conference video above:

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Wilson on the enduring appeal of "Cars.": "I think that it's also the animators...did a pretty good job. 'Cause I know when they were first kind of animating the cars, before they figured out where they were going to do the eyes and stuff...there's something kind of human or inviting about the expressions, and so I think that helps to kind of make the cars more relatable and life-like to people. I think that's a big part of it. And the voice! The voices! Don't forget these voices! Pump a little life into this!" (gestures towards car stand-ins.)

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Hammer on the how Jackson Storm measures up to McQueen: "It's definitely a change. He's part of this class of racers called The Next Gen, and they're faster, they're smarter, they're better looking...just saying! I mean look at that thing! (gestures towards Jackson Storm) Look at it!"
Wilson: "That does look pretty cool."
Hammer: "I want to put a motor in that thing and take it home!"

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Alonzo on whether "Cars 3" will appeal to all genders: "It's not really about boys and girls for me, personally--I actually approach it as an economic level. 'Cause I grew up so poor...that I want poor kids to know that they have a shot at doing it. So for me, I think the lesson surpasses gender and actually goes to the childhood that somebody has...

"I love that you said that this is Pixar's 'Wonder Woman,' because for me, I think that we don't have enough stories about female characters actually in a world with male characters, where they get to succeed in a way that isn't romantic or anything--it's just being empowered and succeeding. So, I think it surpasses gender for me. It's just anybody, any kid, that feels disenfranchised, disappointed, feels like they don't belong, feels like what's the point...this is the story for them. For me, this is a story about hope. And we need more stories like that, because the kids are the ones that grow up and they're the ones who take over the country."

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Washington on why "Cars 3" resonates with everyone: "What's so special to me about this film is not that the girl beats the boy, but that they win together. And I feel like that's such an important message, that she wins, but that they win together. That there's room for the Mentor and the Mentee. There's room for the girl and the boy. There's room for the Champion and the Newcomer, and that if we work together, there's room for everybody at the table. And I think that's the one of the most special things about the film."

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Fee on the message of "Cars 3:" "It was a very important movie for me, personally, and for us as a studio. Again, coming at it from a parent, you know...There are certain scenes with McQueen and finding out what he meant to Doc Hudson--to finding out that he was the most important thing in Doc's life...you know, that's a scene that I had with my kids, when I realized that being their father was the most important thing in my life. So it's a very personal story to try to get as a parent, going through transitions, right? But also, just having two daughters and again, wanting them to have the freedom and the courage to do whatever they want without any barriers. And if there are barriers, what do they need to break through the barriers? These are the things we tried to get into the film."

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Next up was the second panel of the morning with the second half of the major cast.

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Whitlock Jr. on the importance of knowing your history: "I really feel that we need to pay attention to a lot of the pioneers, a lot of the people who have come before us and some of the struggles, especially with the character that I play, Wendell Scott. We need to pay attention to that, to see how we got to where we are today and I know with Wendell Scott (River Scott that I play)...he did not have the sponsors and the equipment and especially racing in the segregated South...There were so many obstacles, and yet he was able to persevere. And I think that's the key word there is "perseverance"--overcoming a lot of those obstacles to be successful. That's sort of the heart of racing...when we think about racing, we think about the passion and the heart and what it's all about. I think the character I play exhibited that over time."

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Cable Guy on Mater:
"I think Mater has a good role in this. Mater does what he's supposed to do, you know? Just when you're about to cry, Mater says something stupid and then you laugh again. There's no "Cars" without Mater. That's what it's all about! About McQueen and Mater and what's going on in their lives. I don't care if Mater's got one line, Mater's Mater and he'll always be Mater."

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Fillion on working with Pixar: "Here's my theory: Nothing happens by accident in a Pixar movie. They tell a story one pixel at a time. So. By the time it gets to the point where I'm sitting there in front of a microphone, all the hard work has actually been done. I rely very heavily on the director, we get to play around a little bit, but in all honesty, you're looking at a Thanksgiving meal, and Nathan is the pepper. You know what I mean? The work is kinda been done. Just need a little pepper buddy! <snap> ...and you're done."

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DeLaria on having input on Miss Fritter's design:
"They used my high school on the side of the bus, which I think is amazing. And the license plate is my birthday. It wasn't like...I didn't call them up "I WON'T DO IT UNLESS MY BIRTHDAY IS THE LICENSE PLATE!" They called me and said 'what's your birthday? What high school did you go to?' and the next thing I knew, I was actually saying my high school in the script and it was on the bus, and I just think that's kinda great."

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Fee on 'Humphrey Hop:" "I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid, Disney Channel and...'Humphrey Hop' is one of those songs, now I'm 43 years old, and still a week doesn't go by that I'm not singing that tune in my head. It's just ingrained. It's a childhood favorite...it's just one of those moments where you kind of realize well, I'm directing the movie. I can do whatever I want. I want the 'Humphrey Hop' in there! I'm glad someone else recognized it and got something out of it, because I thought that was just for me."

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Reher on the Pixar method of filmmaking: "My favorite is when some...we've had a couple comments where people come up and said 'I was crying over a car! Come on! Wow, you killed me!' And then I'm like yeah, we did right. We did it right.

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In conjunction with the two panels, we were treated to a presentation on the short "Lou" with Director Dave Mullins and Producer Dana Murray.

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This was very similar to the talk the two gave at the Early Press Day that took place at Pixar previously this year (I wrote it up here.) In it, the duo described Pixar's method of developing an animated short which is as long and as painstaking as you'd expect of its quality of work.

"Cars 3" will open in theaters with "Lou" on June 16, 2017.

June 1, 2017

Cars 3 Early Press Day: On Writing and Racing

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"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. (I detailed the first half of the presentations here.)

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

So the second day of the press sessions began bright and early in the morning at the Sonoma Raceway.

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To give us insight into Lightning McQueen's world of racing, we were taken in "hot laps" around the track, three cars at a time. Things I learned from this: 1) Toyota Camrys can go a lot faster than you'd think. 2) There are sheep and stuff out there around the Sonoma Raceway track. 3) Those cars come a LOT closer to each other while jockeying for position than you might strictly consider comfortable. Like really close. Like I could have stretched my arm out and high-fived the people in the car passing us.

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At any rate, it was a lot of fun! And I didn't die!

The next "Cars 3" presentation was "The Story of Our Story," with writers Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, and Mike Rich, and Story Supervisor Scott Morse talking about the screenwriting process.

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--When we last saw McQueen, he was on top of the world, living a great life...which is good for him, and bad for a story. Their immediate problem was to ensure that McQueen had a problem.
--"Cars 3" is actually the third act of the Cars story. When McQueen was young, he was brash and fast and had limited respect for the sport of racing. Now, he faces many of the same concerns as aging athletes--feelings of obsolescence and ending.
--Some athletes make the mistake of trying to stay young. The great ones adapt and learn to use the wisdom they've accumulated to find a place for themselves.

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--Jackson Storm is the inverse of McQueen, with all the speed and swagger McQueen had when he was young. He represents the same thing McQueen represented to the older cars when he came along--the up-and-comer who can take their standing away from them.
--Cruz Ramirez was initially just a techie superfan, but failed to push McQueen to where he needed to be emotionally in that incarnation.

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--Ultimately Ramirez evolved into a personal trainer that treats McQueen as an old guy...which is exactly what he does not want.

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--The conversation that takes place between the two generations: McQueen refuses to face the truth that he is old, so he fails to accept it/move on, and Ramirez has accepted a bad "truth" about herself that she doesn't have what it takes to be a racer. As the movie progresses, the two heal each other.
--Cruz ultimately became an avatar of sorts for the lack of confidence/"imposter syndrome" that sometimes afflicts professional women both at Pixar and beyond.

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--"Cars 3" is more spiritually related to "Cars" than "Cars 2," which was more Mater's movie.
--Homage was paid to the late Paul Newman by using pieces of his old recordings for Doc Hudson in this film.

Our final panel was with Creative Director Jay Ward and Former Crew Chief for Hendrick Motorsports Ray Evernham on the "History of Racing."

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--NASCAR stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
--After the war, the illegal production of moonshine became popular in the economically-depressed South.
--To distribute their product, Moonshiners would employ Bootleggers--fast drivers with souped-up cars that could speed their booze from the stills of the North Carolina woods to big cities like Charlotte and Atlanta.
--Rivalries eventually evolved to the point where drivers would compete in dirt fields to see who was fastest.
--As people began to come and watch the races, Bill France Sr. organized and promoted them into a money-making affair.
--The initial cars raced tended to be 1938-44 pre-war Fords. Bootleggers wanted cars that didn't stand out, and these cars were plain black with back seats that could be removed to run 100 gallons of product.
--Some of the legends of NASCAR are honored in "Cars 3" by having characters inspired by them, and in some cases getting to do the voices themselves.

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From left: River Scott (voice of Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Junior “Midnight” Moon (voice of Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson), Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper), Louise “Barnstormer” Nash (voice of Margo Martindale), and Lightning himself (voice of Owen Wilson).

After the panels we were treated to a brief walk around the racetrack in which we got to see a real-life Mack the Truck...

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...And were taught how to change tires "pit-stop" style. Since I don't even know how to change a tire "normal" style, this was pretty interesting although given that the race car tires weigh about eighty pounds, I don't think I'll be volunteering for pit crew duty anytime soon.

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But I got to use an air gun on the bolts! And didn't die!

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Guido and Luigi look on in horror at my tire changing skilz.

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

May 28, 2017

Preview of Summer of Heroes at Disney California Adventure

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Jeanine, Jason, and Laura continue with their coverage of the Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! opening at Disney California Adventure with this preview of the Summer of Heroes.

The Summer of Heroes promotion includes limited time food and beverage, merchandise, and entertainment opportunities featuring Marvel Super Heroes. It runs until September 10.

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Avengers Training Initiative gives youngsters a chance to interact with Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Avengers special agents. Along the lines of the Jedi Training Academy, but with an Avengers theme. Training sessions take place several times a day on the Hollywood Backlot stage. Signups are available on a first come-first serve basis - on the day we were there the kiosk was outside Stage 17. If your child wishes to participate, we recommend making sign-up your first order of the day.

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Kids are separated into several groups where they have to work as a team. The also learn a sequence of defensive, evasive, and even offensive moves, which they later demonstrate against a HYDRA villain. (The Captain America shields they used had some entertaining Frisbee-like qualities when flung at the villain.)

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Jeanine: So when I saw the sneak peek presentation on it a little while ago (seen here) I thought this looked like a pretty interesting show. I would have been impressed if it actually did show kids some basic self-defense moves, which doesn't seem like a bad thing for anyone to know nowadays. My other thought on walking up to the show a little late, was that Iron Man sounds a lot like Tom Hanks doing Woody for some reason.

Black Widow Encounter - She patrols the Hollywood Backlot in her black armored vehicle, and interacts with guests. The more traditional meet-and-greet opportunity with Spider-Man and Captain America is also still available.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off! - As you'll see in the video below, we experienced a version of this during the Grand Opening event, though this may not be quite what guests will experience. The Disneyland web site lists it as an activity for kids and tweens. The Dance Off concludes with a visit by Groot, who "sticks" around for a meet and greet afterward.

Hero Action Center - What Super Hero are you most like? Is it Captain America, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Black Widow? Or perhaps Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, or Spider-Man? At the Hero Action Center in the Hollywood Backlot you can take an interactive quiz that asks a series of questions to determine what Super Hero is most like you. The quiz is administered via a touch screen tablet. Afterward you'll receive a comic book and a sticker representing your Super Hero. There's a photo backdrop with a Photo Pass photographer, also.

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Jeanine: Considering I usually get "You are Ursula" on all these tests, this was pretty vindicating.

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Food for Super Heroes (or mere mortals)

There are a number of new food and beverages choices, in multiple locations around Hollywood Land.

Award Weiners - Three words: Funnel Cake Fries. Laura is really looking forward to these. They are available separately or included in the Angry Little Pudding Cup (below), a chocolate pudding, chocolate cookie, and whipped cream parfait.

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Schmoozies - Schmoozies will now be open in the morning, serving doughnuts in addition to smoothies and hot beverages . Doughnuts are available while they last. The Hulk-themed doughnut, filled with blackberry and black currant, will be available every day. As you might expect, it's huge. The other three will rotate. The Captain America doughnut is an apple pie doughnut, the "Spider Bite" is cinnamon spiced (think Red Hot candies), and the Groot doughnut is maple and bacon.

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Cosmic Canteen - This is located on the far end of the Hollywood Backlot next to the Monsters, Inc. attraction. It will have a variety of "Cosmic Cocktails" and non-alcoholic "Breakout Beverages". Groot-shaped bread will be available - it's sourdough bread with cheese or jalapeno cheese. The eyes are black olives. The bread will also be available at Fairfax Market.

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Studio Catering Co. - the food truck in the backlot. A number of different items here! The Super Hero sub includes peppered salami, capocollo, mortadela and provolone, topped with lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, and pepperoncini.

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Multiverse Parfait with chocolate cake, white and dark chocolate mousse and cherry jelly, topped with chocolate ganache.

Falafel pitas: Chickpea fritters served with two different accompaniments - spinach, cucumber/mint slaw and yogurt sauce or pickled red cabbage, yellow peppers and charamoula sauce. Laura worked with a Disney chef to make some fritters:

Knowhere Eats will be a food kiosk (re-purposed from the Food and Wine Festival). It opens June 6, and in the meantime these items will be available at the Cosmic Canteen and Studio Catering Co. All of the food items are available with a vegetarian version.

The Most Dangerous Tacos in the Galaxy - Barbacoa beef tacos on green tortillas.

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Obviously Nachos - Blue corn tortilla chips with mojo-marinated chicken, red pepper cheese sauce and chipotle crema. Laura tried these and thought they were very good - not too spicy at all.

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Space Outpost Tacos - chicken street tacos with chopped cilantro and onions.

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Several alcoholic beverages are also available.

Summer of Heroes Merchandise - most is available only in Disney California Adventure, much of it exclusive to the Collector's Warehouse at the exit of the Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction. Lots of cute Baby Groot items. We got an overview:

While it's not a part of the Summer of Heroes, another new attraction also opened at Disney California Adventure: Disney Junior Dance Party!. This show for pre-school kids includes some of their favorite Disney Junior characters, like Doc McStuffins, Sophia the First, and characters from The Lion Guard and Mickey and Minnie Mouse from Mickey and the Roadster Racers. There's special effects like bubbles, snow, and confetti, and the kids are encouraged to get up and dance to the music.

Jeanine: I'm not sure I ever actually saw the show that preceded this one, but the dance party seemed high energy and fast-paced enough to keep most of the children's attention engaged. I would only make the additional observation that anyone going should probably expect exposure to the sights, sounds, and olfactory stimuli characteristic of a youthful audience.

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Jeanine: So between "Mission: BREAKOUT!" and "Summer of Heroes," there's a lot coming to Hollywood Land this season. Frankly, I'm just glad the three of us were able to cover it all and get out without any mishaps.

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...Oops.





May 27, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! Grand Opening

Jeanine, Jason, and Laura all attended the Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! opening at Disney California Adventure, so the blogs on the event are going to be collaborative efforts.

Jeanine and Laura have already presented a lot of background information on the attraction in two earlier blogs:
Sneak Peek at "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" and "Summer of Heroes"
First Look at Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

This time we had more time to wander around the entire queue. The exterior queue is known as the "Gardens of the Galaxy". It is also part of the Collection, and features unusual plants and audio recordings.

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Laura had the opportunity to do a recorded ride-through of Mission: BREAKOUT! She says: "I really enjoyed the attraction. There are six versions, with six different songs, though I've only experienced the one. I thought the visuals - which were filmed with the actors from the movie specifically for the attraction - worked well, though I wish they could have been a little longer. While the ride seems to have more intense motion than before, it is broken up by several stops - so that we can see those scenes. While I'm still not really convinced that this attraction fits into Hollywood Land, it was a lot of fun."

Laura also says:
"After the ride, be sure to listen to some of the comments you'll hear while you're still in the ride vehicle."

"Also, as you're in the exit hallway headed towards the Collector's Warehouse (gift shop), listen to the music and to some of the dialog and sounds you hear. I had the area to myself - once the ride is open I hope you'll still be able to hear it over the voices of everyone exiting the attraction."

Jeanine: "Having more time to walk around the entry this time, I noticed a similar effect in the main collection room--some of the exhibits move or talk, although they don't necessarily do it often and they don't do the same things all the time. The Ultron Sentry occasionally sings 'I've Got No Strings,' as in 'Age of Ultron,' but when I waited around for him to do it again, he said a different line."

Later in the day Laura spoke with Estefania Harbuck, Creative Producer for the attraction:

That night we all attended the Grand Opening of the Tivan Collection.

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Bob Chapek, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, was there, along with Director/Writer James Gunn.

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Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

Several members of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast were in attendance, including Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Benicio Del Toro (Taneleer Tivan),Michael Rooker (Yondu), and Pom Klementieff (Mantis).

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The opening concluded with fireworks and lights on the Fortress.

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Video of Opening Ceremony:

Afterwards, guests wanting to tour the Tivan Collection were treated to a Groot greet out in front of the citadel.

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We'll have more on the events taking place during the Summer of Heroes promotion in our next blog.

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(Jeanine: "Try not to call him a Trash Panda.")



May 25, 2017

Sneak Peek at "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" and "Summer of Heroes"

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Opening May 27 at Disney California Adventure is the newly rethemed attraction "Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!."

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Taking the place of the lightning-scarred "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" in the back of Hollywood Land, GotGMB is set in the massive citadel of Taneleer Tivan, The Collector, from the Marvel comics and the MCU films "Thor: The Dark World, " and "Guardians of the Galaxy."

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Surrounding the building is a collection of totems and fauna designed to pay tribute to The Collector and his artifacts referred to as "Gardens of the Galaxy."

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AllEars.Net was invited to take an early look at the attraction, guided by Imagineer and lead Creative Executive Joe Rohde.

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Once inside what used to be the hotel lobby, guests are met by a large assortment of glass cases containing any number of unique items in Tivan's collection.

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At the far end of the room is a screen where guests touring the collection are met by a video introduction from their host, revealing some of his newer, more reluctant acquisitions.

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After making their way out of the collection room into Tivan's private office (previously the library,) guests touring the facility are met with another taped message from The Collector that is abruptly interrupted by Rocket Raccoon, a Guardian of the Galaxy (the smart one.) He has a plan to free his friends that requires your participation, some peril, and a lot of explosions.

Moving through the power room, sharp eyes (it's pretty dark) may notice a number of items in the Collection that appear somewhat familiar.

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Entering the Gantry Lift, part of The Collector's staff will seat you and have you raise your hands for scanning (coincidentally checking for seatbelts at the same time) and then your tour/breakout commences.

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As far as the actual ride is concerned, there are six different drop profiles, each with their own different soundtrack. Intermittent pauses take place where the doors open to reveal clips of the Guardians escaping their boxes, dealing with all the other occupants that have also been let free, and making their getaway. Like Star Tours, these segments can randomize separately, so you may see the same ones in conjunction with different drop profiles or completely different ones. The original cast was present for all the video which was directed by "Guardians" writer/director James Gunn.

Mechanically, as you might expect, the ride isn't intrinsically different from ToT. I did feel that the drops were generally more prolonged/intense, with more time spent hovering in free-fall off the seat than previously. I've seen complaints about the in-ride sequences being just video screens, but unless we're saying the ToT ghosts were real, I don't think that's much of a change. On the whole, I think that whereas ToT depended more on suspense and atmosphere to yield a frightening/thrilling experience, GotGMB uses loud and dynamic action, humor, and mixtape music to give riders more of a shock/surprise.

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After disembarking the lift, "backstage" corridors lead you, as usual, back to a conveniently located gift store where you can buy all the merchandise a Guardian would want.

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At the end of the ride, Joe Rohde returned for a brief Q&A, along with Dave Bushore, VP, Franchise Creative & Marketing at Marvel Studios and Brian Crosby, Creative Director of Marvel Themed Entertainment. Some things they addressed to varying degrees: Why Guardians? How does The Collector's Citadel fit in with Hollywood Land? What was the reaction of the cast to being a part of a ride?

Having broken out the Guardians, we were then taken backstage where we were given an advance look at some of the different facets of the "Summer of Heroes" event coming to DCA.

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Executive Chef John State shared with us some of the many new culinary creations that will be available around Hollywood Land to keep heroes well-fueled for crime fighting.

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The three things I was able to taste were the Promising Future Falafel, the Most Dangerous Tacos in the Galaxy, and the Multiverse Parfait. My favorite was probably the parfait which was a little on the sweet side but which incorporated an impressive number of different flavored layers. The tacos were too spicy for my palate, but I am a complete spice wimp so your mileage will probably vary.

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Finally, Dan Fields, Executive Creative Director, Disney Parks Live Entertainment, gave a presentation (accompanied by some special guests) on a few of the various superheroes that might be encountered this summer.

Whether joining Star-Lord and Gamora for "Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off!" or getting drilled by Black Widow and Hawkeye in "Avengers Training Initiative," guests will find no shortage of chances to Hero Up.

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Clearly, a lot of activity going on in Hollywood Land this summer--one thing to note is the increasing emphasis on live character interaction for seasonal events which one could speculate is preparing people for more of the same to come in "Star Wars Land." Whether or not the encroachment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on DCA signals the beginning of a more wide-spread change in theme remains to be seen, but amidst all this uncertainty, there is a constant...

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...He is Groot.

May 24, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Press Junket

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This week, Walt Disney Studios releases its fifth entry into the evergreen "Pirates of the Caribbean" series with "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."

While in town for the premiere, some of the film's cast and creatives were made available for mini-press conferences on the process of telling Dead Men's Tales.

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

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Geoffrey Rush “Barbossa”

On the evolution of Barbossa: "...Of course, in the first film I got shot, you know, and I went well, it was fun. That was nice. Gore Verbinski phoned me up and said 'we're going to shift parts two and three to Asia--we're not going to just repeat the same sausage factory idea' and Jerry Bruckheimer is a very bold and creative producer on that level, and he said 'we're going to bring you back.' I said 'what, from the dead?' He said 'yeah, with voodoo!' I said 'not movie magic.' You can't just kinda go 'we want him back because he's popular.'

"But there was a purpose in that, in that I had to get all of the global pirate lords together to break Tia Dalma's curse in her association with Davy Jones and so forth. So I became the politician, and I liked that. And I think Barbossa's vanity liked the power base. I was going to get the G-20 of global pirates. And then I got to work for the King in the next film, and in this one, I'm kind of a corporate CEO--a rather vulgarly wealthy pirate. His taste is appalling. If he'd only spent some of the money on dental hygiene or his skin, you know...I always thought I'm in a commercial film, I should try to get an SK-II moisturizer ad, but no one's offered."

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Joachim Ronning / Director, Espen Sandberg / Director

On making this part of the "Pirates" franchise their own: "Well, we really studied the other movies, and especially number one...we really wanted to have a very strong emotional core. Every character had a journey--like in the first one, you have this young couple that traveled through the movie and you have all the other strong characters surrounding them...

"But Jack doesn't really have a character arc, you know, he doesn't learn a thing. So we still wanted to explore him too, so that's why we created the backstory, and that's something that we brought to it because we were curious about that: How did Jack become Jack Sparrow? And also we tied in Salazar's story in that, so we made sure it became a personal vengeance. And of course, Barbossa, we wanted to give him a really strong journey as well because he's such a great character and we want to do him justice.

"The third was interesting also, with the family theme of the film, of the franchise. We tell this story of what's really the treasure for a pirate."

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Jerry Bruckheimer / Producer

On continuing with the Pirates franchise: "Listen, I've made a lot of movies and I've certainly been very successful--I don't have to work anymore--but when I stand back in the audience and watch people really enjoy what we created...that's my thrill. We can take 'em for two hours and make 'em forget about whatever was bothering them and have a very positive experience--that's great! Because that's what I remember as a kid...I remember going to the theater and feeling great when I walked out. I forgot about everything that was going on in my life: The homework I didn't do or the test I failed or whatever it is, and I felt great. I just want to give that back to audiences, that's all."

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Javier Bardem “Captain Salazar”

On becoming Salazar:
"It was three hours makeup...drives you nuts. The first thing they do is to give you a coffee. Very nice. It's five o'clock in the morning, it's cold, it's Australia, you know you have a fourteen hour day in front of you, and then they give you coffee...and the second thing they do is to put glue all over your face. Actual glue! With a brush! Like you have a dog [lick sounds] on your face. Then they put this chicken breast on you, because there are chicken breasts...then they say 'don't talk, eat, or drink for the next three hours.' Then you start to get crazy. Then when they say 'ACTION,' you have the rage of the character."

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Kaya Scodelario “Carina Smyth”

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Brenton Thwaites “Henry”

Scodelario on Strong Female Characters: "There's a reason why that question never gets asked to guys, because their characters are always fleshed out and interesting and they're assumed that they're going to be strong and independent and all these things but yet there still has to have this conversation over a strong independent female role. And it's such a shame, but I think it's great that we're speaking really honestly about it now and I'm happy to fight a fight for that. It's an honor to play a woman that is so layered and so interesting, because I don't know a single female that isn't. I don't know any woman that's just simple, that you can define in one word or one sentence, so why should that be what we see in a movie? There's so many stories to be told, there's so many layers to peel back, and she's great and I'm really grateful to Disney for making sure that is a part of this franchise, and still holding strong with it."

On the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction:
Thwaites: "I've been on the one in Shanghai a week ago, and the one in LA a couple days ago."
Scodelario: "A COUPLE DAYS AGO?"
Thwaites: "...Yeah? I took my family--I did the family thing."
Scodelario: "I've never been to Disneyland!"
Thwaites: "The one in LA is great for story, you know, because you're there and you see the old dolls drinking beer and it's kind of fun and soft and a great ride...I had my little kid with me and she was loving it. But the one in Shanghai is a spectacle. It feels like a fifty-foot screen, you know, 180 degrees in curvature...you feel like you're at the bottom of the ocean. It's 3-D so water's spinning at you and there's air and people yelling and...yeah, it's crazy."

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"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" opens in US theaters May 26, 2017.

May 10, 2017

REVIEW: The Disney Afternoon Collection

by Guest Blogger Sally Jacka

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Like most children of the late '80s/early '90s, the Disney Afternoon was a huge part of my childhood. I’d race home from school every day to watch my favorite cartoons in a convenient block of television featuring songs that I can still sing to this day. I was pretty obsessed! Despite that, I still managed to clock an embarrassingly short amount of time to die while previewing this game at WonderCon. (I got an awesome slap bracelet out of that experience, so there was an upside.)

[Screenshots and video provided by Capcom.]

Regardless, I’m up for the task and it’s time to step right up and come on in, here’s where the fun begins… see what I did there? Let’s just get to the review.

The Disney Afternoon Collection is here to tap into all the nostalgia we’re harboring for the simpler times of childhood. This “brand new” offering features 6 classic games in a sleek collected format.

The games are in 1080p HD which I’m not sure really matters when everything is in 8-bit. This could also just be one of those things I don’t understand because I’m an old lady and don’t care if my media is in high definition or not. My husband, who I made play these games when I got angry because I kept dying and who is very much about resolutions, also says that this isn’t a huge deal. You are also able to customize your screen some with game-specific frames, different aspect ratios, and filters that mimic old television screens, in case you feel like taking the nostalgia of playing these games to the next level.

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The biggest addition to The Disney Afternoon Collection is the “Rewind” feature. This button is a godsend! At WonderCon, the Capcom rep at the booth told me they added it because people don’t remember how hard these games actually are. There is literally no way I would have gotten through more than three minutes of these games without it. Though it feels a little like cheating, it’s a great option for those of us who want to re-experience these games without the insane frustration of having to start all the way at the beginning of a level after death. That still happens, but it’s a little less frustrating when you get the hang of rewind and learn you can cheat death! The only drawback to this feature is in the Chip ‘n Dale two-player mode, where only Player 1 can rewind. It’s a minor inconvenience, but both players being able to rewind would probably also be annoying.

There are two other game-play options that have been added to all six games in the collection. The Boss Rush mode allows you to fight all the bosses in your game of choice in rapid succession. This is a fun new feature, for me at least, because I’m usually so bad at these games that I can’t get to the boss battle.

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The other mode is Time Attack, where you attempt to beat the game as fast as possible. We looked into this feature on the original DuckTales game and the fastest time as of this writing was 7 minutes and 30 seconds. This is completely insane! The best part of this feature is that you can watch other players' run-throughs to see how they did it. It’s interesting to be able to see how someone else runs/glitches their way through the game and I’m sure for someone trying to improve their time it’s also a good learning tool. Again, as I die a lot and “rewind” is not available in Time Attack, this is not a mode for me, but it is fun to watch.

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This collection also comes with some great extra features, including the isolated soundtracks for each game. You also get to take a peek at the Disney Afternoon Museum. This is basically a gallery of box art, advertisements and source material vs final concept art for the featured games. We spent a lot of time browsing through the vintage images and reminiscing about the gaming days of old. It’s a neat addition, especially for Disney fans who want to see more than just the old restored games.

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Assorted thoughts:

--The Moon Theme is so insane to me. It is the catchiest song -- arguably moreso than the main DuckTale theme. There is also such an insane, almost cult-like following for the music, especially in my experience, with 30-something males. Honestly, we played that level the longest and the song has been stuck in my head ALL DAY!

--I wanna name a punk band "Beagle Boys on the Moon."

--I’m not a big fan of bees in real life, but the bees in the jungle level of DuckTales are the worst! THE WORST!

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--Both Chip and Dale games are decidedly easier with two players. However, the fact that you can incapacitate the other player is annoying and would have gotten this game banned in my childhood home.

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--TaleSpin was probably the hardest of the games for me and involved a lot of death and rewinding before I finally gave up. Also, the physics of Baloo just hanging upside-down and not moving left lots of questions. It does at least give you the option to turn your ship around and shoot behind you which is not common for most side-scrollers. This game also actually allows you to use game currency to upgrade your items.

--Darkwing Duck was the game I was most looking forward to and it was worth it alone just to see Darkwing on an 8-bit Ratcatcher. It’s also the only game to recreate the source material’s theme song and opening credits in 8-bit, which is adorable.

--The one boss battle I played in Darkwing was against Quackerjack & Mr. Banana Brain. I am very confused by the latter dropping banana peels on you. I never assumed he was sentient and thought he was just the product of an insane clown duck’s dementia. That might be one of the weirder sentences I’ve ever written.

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--I know there are limited pixels and color palettes but so much of the coloring of so many of the characters (I’m looking at you, Dewey and Louie) in each game was wrong. This bugged me, but I’m a nerd so this probably doesn’t bother other “normal” people

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So, after playing through some of all six games, I can say that this collection is an excellent addition to your Disney game library. There’s a feeling of nostalgia whether you played the games when you were younger or just love all things Disney Afternoon. For those who are better at video games than I hope to be, it’s a ton of fun to get to revisit these classics from the past. And for those who have kids of their own, it’s a great intro to the world of The Disney Afternoon. The addition of features like “rewind” make it much easier for us non-gamers to enjoy the games without the frustration of losing quickly. The added bonuses of different game-play modes and bonus material make it an even better value for gamers and fans. I mean, to me, it’s honestly all just worth it to listen to those 8-bit theme songs on repeat!

"The Disney Afternoon Collection" is currently available in North America and Europe for $19.99 as a digital download on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

DISCLAIMER: A copy of "The Disney Afternoon Collection" was provided to me for the purposes of review without restrictions on expressed thoughts or opinions.

May 3, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Press Conference

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"All you do is yell at each other. You're not friends."
"No. We're family."
--Nebula and Drax, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2"

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May 5th, Star-Lord and his ragtag band of miscreants are once again tapped to save the galaxy in Marvel Studios' "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2."

As part of the premier events for the movie, the cast and creatives involved gathered at a press conference to talk about the making of the film. In attendance was Chris Pratt “Peter Quill/Star-Lord," Kurt Russell "Ego," Elizabeth Debicki "Ayesha," Michael Rooker ‘Yondu,” James Gunn/Director, Zoe Saldana “Gamora,” Sylvester Stallone “member of Nova Corps,” Karen Gillan "Nebula," Dave Bautista “Drax the Destroyer,” Pom Klementieff "Mantis," Sean Gunn “Kraglin,“ and Kevin Feige/Producer.

[Photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

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Chris Pratt on working with Kurt Russell: "You know, there’s this thing that happens...you promised yourself you’re not gonna do the thing where you geek out, but...it’s a little inauthentic if you don’t, because if you just go in there and you be like, oh what is it, Kurt? Hey, nice to meet you. Chris. And if I don’t acknowledge...how much I love him and what a fan I am, if you don’t get that out of the way, then it feels a little inauthentic. So I think I did that immediately, and...it doesn’t really take that long to tell someone that you really love them, you really respect their work, and for them to go, yeah thanks. And then, that’s it. At that point, you move forward and there’s this really cool thing that is probably the one thing I never would’ve imagined looking for when I first moved to Hollywood, but like the greatest, the greatest part of it, the biggest secret, is you become somebody’s friend and somebody’s peer rather than a fan. And that’s really nice, and I think Kurt and I have become friends. We connected on a lot of things outside of just the movie. And you know, I have his cell phone number and I’ll give it to each and every one of you--"
Kurt Russell: "Yeah. 310..."

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Zoe Saldana on her favorite part of the filmmaking process: "I think that what I loved the most and it may sound selfish but definitely the relationship between Gamora and Nebula. I just, I’m one of three sisters. I have been itching and yearning to see more of a female presence in action films because I love action films. I’m not that deep...I love watching The Equalizer and I’ll watch that 50 times over any kind of dramatic piece. And so to have a film with three female characters that are adding such unique qualities to the film...they are very relevant and their relationships are explored deeply. I was appreciative and super excited and in a way anxious because I know that Gamora is a much more reserved character, so we couldn’t make it a soap opera like I would have wanted to. I wanted to be crying with nose goo and everything and James is like, “You’re like the Clint Eastwood of the movie,” and I was like, “Who’s that? What’s that?” But anyway, that was my favorite. And my least favorite was obviously the makeup process, so."

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Sean Gunn on playing the dual role of Kraglin and motion reference actor for Rocket: "I played two roles in the movie… you know… when you act there’s both the input and the output. The input is the work you put into it and what you do on set and then the output is what you see onscreen, so for me the input is very similar for both characters, but the output is, is totally different because it takes a whole team of people to make Rocket. So, you know, I’m just a member of that team. But yeah, it’s interesting in this movie because Rocket and Kraglin have a few scenes that they’re in together, so…juggling the two things was a very strange and challenging experience for me. But I love it."

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James Gunn on sequels: "...So many sequels are not good. The primary reason in studying them seemed to be that so many of them just kind of do the same thing the first movie did with different template, and so they say, oh people liked the dance-off in the first movie, so what’s our version of the dance-off? People liked “we are Groot” in the first movie, what’s our version of “we are Groot”? And instead of doing that, we really tried to let these characters grow and change. We want to watch them become new people and different people in every film that we come up with. And I think allowing them to be themselves and do their thing, I know that sounds strange because I’m writing what they say, but sometimes I’m just letting it happen inside my own imagination and letting the characters go where they want to go. I think the thing that I didn’t want to mess up was just trying to be a rehash of the first movie."

Gunn on belonging: "I never feel like I belong. I feel like Rocket, you know. So I think that...for me it’s a very personal film. I have always felt like I didn’t belong. And fortunately I have some people around me who maybe helped me feel like I’m not completely alone in the world, and just as importantly, I think I grew up with some art, some movies, you know, by people...everybody from David Cronenberg to Steven Spielberg, movies where an outcast didn’t feel so alone or music by Alice Cooper, The Clash, for outcasts. Or maybe I was this little kid in Manchester, Missouri who felt like he was completely alienated from all his peers, and by listening and, you know, hearing music and watching movies, I felt a little bit less alone, and I hope that that’s what the Guardians does for people. It’s a movie about outcasts for outcasts. And there’s people all over the world that it touches, and that’s the most rewarding thing by far about making these movies."

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Kurt Russell on becoming young: "Dennis Liddiard’s been my makeup man for 28 movies, and before we went in there...we assumed that it was gonna be all CGI. And he said to James and the cinematographer, hey, I can young this guy down. I got some tricks in my bag. Would that be helpful? And they said, yeah, as much as you can. That would be great. And I was speaking to the gal last night who does the CGI. She said, what did you think of what we did? And I said, I thought it was great. But I understand you didn’t do a whole lot. She said, no we didn’t...we touched it up here and there. He did a fantastic job. He does have a lot of tricks, not just makeup. Cosmetics I should say. But there’s a lot that goes into that actually. It’s not just what you think. Without giving away things, because I hate giving away tricks, you have to create an impression, not an image. And there’s stuff that goes into that. And you want them to look certain places and not look other places...then when you’ve got the help of modern day abilities with technology, I think it’s a much more natural look..."

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Sylvester Stallone on becoming part of the Guardians Universe: "...Early on in my career I just always became fascinated with mythology and Joseph Campbell and you know, Man of a Thousand Faces and so on and so forth. So when I started doing Rambo, whatever...there was an evolution that takes place and each generation has to define itself and find its own heroes and find its own mythology and this is the new...generation, and maybe even the next generation’s mythology...When Kevin invited me on board I said, 'This is interesting because I haven’t gone here"...I mean, I’m kind of earthbound, I’m terrestrial. You know what I mean? This is something that takes place in a whole other sphere where James and the Marvel people have created their own world, their own reality. So I said, yeah, let me visit. Let me drop in here and see what’s up, where the future’s going, you know, and it was great. And it got me out of the house from my three daughters, which is really…Thank you. That’s why I gave you my salary back. My pleasure, my pleasure."

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Kevin Feige on whether Stakar is assembling the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 1969 comics at the end: "Yeah, they’re definitely the original Guardians. That was the fun of it, and when James had the idea to do more with the Yondu character who was also an original Guardians, the notion that he had a team once like Peter does now...it’d be fun to see them. And he’s (Ving Rhames) definitely Charlie 27. Where we see them in the future, time will tell."

Feige on Stan Lee's cameo: "Stan Lee clearly exists, you know, above and apart from the reality of all the films. So the notion that he could be sitting there on a cosmic pit stop during the jump gate sequence in Guardians was something very fun and James had that idea and we shot that, shot that cameo and loved it so much...you see it a couple of times in the movie and it wasn’t in for a long time and we put it back in towards the end of the process where he references that time he was a Federal Express agent and we thought it would be fun to put that and keep that in there because that really says, so wait a minute, he’s this same character who’s popped up in all these films."

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Dave Bautista on what is "family:": "It just doesn’t have to be one definition to family. I think just the people you love in your lives, like these people up here are...we’re a family, you know. I think that’s what it is and I think that’s the message of our film, that you know, even though families may be dysfunctional, it’s still at the end of the day, do you love this person? Do you care for this person? Would you do anything for this person? And if that answer is yes, then they are your family.."

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" opens May 5, 2017.

May 1, 2017

Star Wars Celebration Orlando: The Last Jedi

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

One of the most anticipated panel of the weekend was "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which promised to yield more information on this year's sequel to the blockbuster "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


[The panel begins at 10:29]

[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]

The panel began with the introduction of its host, everyone's favorite snowman, Josh Gad.

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Josh Gad

[So this was a great panel, but actually one of my favorite parts is that I ended up sitting next to a very nice person who was apparently attending Celebration as part of a work obligation and turned out to be the one person on Earth with zero knowledge of Star Wars.]

After a short history of his love affair with the Star Wars universe, Gad wasted little time in bringing out the cast and creatives of "The Last Jedi."

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Writer/Director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy

[Person next to me: "Who did they say the guy was again?"]

Johnson on the status of "The Last Jedi:" "We're in post-production, we're still editing but we're very far along. We're doing quite well and it's all coming together."

Kennedy on working with Johnson: "He has an amazing uniqueness to what he does. He also writes as beautifully as he directs, which is quite incredible, and he writes amazingly fierce and independent women."

Next on stage was the star of "The Last Jedi," Daisy (Rey) Ridley.

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Daisy Ridley

Gad: "I've got a couple of questions I'd like to ask you, up to you whether or not you want to answer. Are you and Luke related by blood?"
Ridley: "..."
Gad: "No to that one. Are you a Skywalker? Is your name Rey Skywalker?"
Ridley: "..."
Gad: "Is your name Rey Kenobi?"
Ridley: [Crowd roars] "That's a popular answer, clearly."
Gad: "WHO DOESN'T KNOW THEIR OWN LAST NAME? Can you imagine if I went up to you and said 'my entire name is Josh, good to meet you?' Are you the Madonna of Jakku?"

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Ridley: "In 'The Last Jedi,' we go deeper into Rey's story, and what is very apparent from where we left off in 'Force Awakens' and where we begin with 'The Last Jedi,' is Rey has a certain expectation as to what she might be getting from Luke and what that might entail, and as a lot of people know, it's difficult when you meet your heroes because it might not be what you expect."

Of course, no current-day Star Wars panel is complete without the appearance of BB-8.

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BB-8

[Person next to me: "Did he say...B, B...ate?!"]

Gad: "How are you today, 8. Do you mind if I call you 8?"
BB-8: BEEP
Gad: "Oh, he says 'no, please call me BB-8. Unlike Daisy, I have a full name, and I intend to use it.' Oh, that's passive-aggressive, BB-8."

Johnson: "He's the Buster Keaton of this movie."

Joining his co-star next, was John (Finn) Boyega.

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John Boyega

Boyega: "I think Finn definitely stood up for himself after the end of 'Force Awakens,' and caught a bit of an injury to the back. So he's in recovery, but he will be back in 'The Last Jedi'...and he's not playing this time!

"In 'The Last Jedi,' it's a test for all the characters, but specifically for Finn--he wants to find his place now. Is he going to be a part of The Resistance or is he going to keep running away from The First Order? We'll see."

Johnson then introduced one of the new characters from "The Last Jedi"--Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran.

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Kelly Marie Tran

Tran: "So my character's name is Rose, she's part of The Resistance, and she works Maintenance, and I just can't wait for you to meet her!"

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Johnson: "Rose is a Maintenance worker in The Resistance. For me, growing up, one of the things, as a kid in Colorado, watching these movies...watching Luke Skywalker kind of get pulled out of--and I think that's why people respond to Rey also--get pulled out of wherever he is and be this unlikely hero...the notion that anyone out there, any of us, can step up and turn into a hero...that's where the character of Rose comes from. She's not a soldier, she's not looking to become a hero, and she gets pulled in a very big way into an adventure in this movie with Finn, and Kelly just embodies that for me."

Finally, the MVP of the whole weekend, Mark Hamill completed the panel.

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Mark Hamill

"In 7, you discovered Luke obviously as a hermit on this island, that he's...there's so much unsaid about where he's been and what he's done...actors like to write their own backstories, you know. You want to figure out what you've done and where you've been, but I realized that wasn't really important to the story of 'Force Awakens'...To a certain extent, it's not Luke's story anymore, but I think he's an important part of the overall arc of the saga and, again, there's a lot of mystery about him, even within the film, so you have to fill in your own backstory."

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"And by the way, I look down and I see Olaf, I see Wonder Woman, I see God, I see my daugh--my colleague Daisy, my son...and this one, if she were any cuter, she'd be an actual Disney cartoon."

After a few more anecdotes and insights from Hamill on being part of the Star Wars legacy, Kennedy and Johnson revealed the new teaser poster for "The Last Jedi," after which they closed the panel by showing the new teaser trailer.

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[Person next to me: "What was the symbol everyone cheered about at the end?"
Me: "It was the symbol of the Jedi Order."
Them: "..."
Me: "..."
Them: "LUKE'S A JEDI?!"]

So although the panel didn't reveal all that much about the "The Last Jedi," I think the general expectations of cast introductions and a new trailer were certainly met. Mark Hamill always puts on a great performance for affairs like this, and continued to do so in numerous presentations throughout the weekend. The new character of Rose is particularly exciting to me, because as people may remember from when "Rogue One" was coming out, one of my pet issues I vehemently support is ASIANS IN SPACE. This one's a woman, too! Hope she doesn't die!

"The Last Jedi" is scheduled for general US release December 15, 2017. Enjoy the trailer, and know that no matter what questions you might be left with, you will never be the most confused person watching it.

More coverage from Star Wars Celebration Orlando: "40 Years of Star Wars"

April 26, 2017

Cars 3: Tales of Production, Design, and Lou

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"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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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--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."

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--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.

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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."

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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

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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.]

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George Lucas

"I'm not supposed to say this, and I wasn't supposed to say it then...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 focus...you'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."

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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."

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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."

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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 saber...it 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 and...you don't have to do that. We add the sound effects in afterwards.'"

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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!"

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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."

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Peter Mayhew

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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"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."

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"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."

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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."

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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."

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"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.

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April 10, 2017

WonderCon Returns to Anaheim

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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.

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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.

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

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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."

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

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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.

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--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.

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

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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.

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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.

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--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!)

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

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

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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.

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March 28, 2017

KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX

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"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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*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

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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.

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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.

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Select moments from the press conference video above:

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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 it...an 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."

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 movies..it's about great people, and those people were available at this time, and lucky us to have them."

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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 Beast...it'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 movie...to 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

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

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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.

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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."

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"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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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"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.

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*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

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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:

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"Moana's" Auli'i Cravalho

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

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Mamoru Oshii

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Dale Baer

Head of Animation for "Moana," Hyrum Osmond
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Ernie Hudson
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Paige O'Hara, Glen Keane, and Frank Gladstone
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James Hong
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Producer Osnat Shurer and Directors John Musker and Ron Clements for "Moana"
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Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane
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"Kubo and the Two Strings" director Travis Knight
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Bill Farmer and Sam Kwasman
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Friz Freleng's daughters Sybil and Hope
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"Zootopia" producer Clark Spencer and directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore
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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 http://annieawards.org/nominees/#23, and are a great source for new titles to put on your viewing queue.

December 26, 2016

"Destination D: Amazing Adventures" Day Two

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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."

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

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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.

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

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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.



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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.

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--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.

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--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.

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

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

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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.

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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...

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...to 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.

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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.

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

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--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.

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--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."

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--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."

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--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.

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--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.

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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
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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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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."

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--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.

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--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.

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

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--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.

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--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.

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December 14, 2016

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" Press Junket

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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.

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Some video highlights from the press conference:

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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."

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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."

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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 see...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."

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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 which..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."

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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 diverse...world 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."

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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.

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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"

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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

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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."

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--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.

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

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--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.

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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."

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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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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

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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:
http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2016/09/moana_press_day_director_prese.html
http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2016/10/moana_press_day_designing_the.html
http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2016/11/moana_press_day_filmmaker_pres.html
http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2016/11/moana_press_junket.html

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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

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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!"

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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November 16, 2016

"Moana" Press Junket

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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.

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Select moments from the video above:

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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."

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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."

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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 intuition...you 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."

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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.

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

November 9, 2016

"Moana" Press Day: Filmmaker Presentations

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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.]

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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."

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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.

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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?"

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"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."

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--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.

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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.

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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."

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--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.

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--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.

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"Moana" will be opening November 23, 2016.

November 4, 2016

"Doctor Strange" at the El Capitan Theatre

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 www.elcapitantickets.com 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

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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.]

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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."

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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."

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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 fascinating...it'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."

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Adolph Lusinsky on the challenges of theatrically lighting water:
"A photograph really doesn't capture the color of water very well in the first place...it 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."

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"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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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"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

SIGGRAPH 2016

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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...

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

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Constructing origami lamps using computer-generated designs...

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

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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.

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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.

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Information on SIGGRAPH 2017 can be found at http://s2017.siggraph.org/

September 26, 2016

A Look At "Disney Art Academy"

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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(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 http://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/disney-art-academy-3ds

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"Disney Enchanted Tales" is now available on both Apple and Android platforms: http://lol.disney.com/disney-enchanted-tales

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September 7, 2016

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

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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."

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[Non-attributed photos courtesy of Disney]

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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.

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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."

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--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.

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Next up was Producer Osnat Shurer introducing "Moana."

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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.

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Auli‘i Cravalho, voice of Moana

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Dwayne Johnson, voice of Maui

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements then took the stage.

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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?"

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--"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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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(And photobomber.)

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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August 21, 2016

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

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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.]

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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.

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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.

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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 Hades...so 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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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O’Donoghue on whether Hook has been changed from being dead
: "I think he's still pretty much the same Hook. I mean he...now 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 now...so at the minute he's the same Hook, but who knows? I think we might find out a few things about his past..."

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

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August 15, 2016

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

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.)

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--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.

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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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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--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.

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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.

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--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."

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--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.

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--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.

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--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."

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--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.'"

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August 8, 2016

"Pete's Dragon" Press Junket

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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.

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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 was...it's not even like 'inspired by'...it'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!"

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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."

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Oakes Fegley (“Pete”) and Oona Laurence (“Natalie”) on their relationship to Disney:
Fegley: "I like all the animated films...like '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."

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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 Angeles...it 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.

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"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."

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

July 30, 2016

Recap: Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bob Gurr

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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."

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Last but not least, Disney Legend Marty Sklar.

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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."

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--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...

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

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...to 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.

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--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