Mousellaneous Archives

April 4, 2018

A Look Back at WonderCon 2018


After a year off at the Los Angeles Convention Center, WonderCon returned to the Anaheim Convention Center.


The extensive and lengthy construction projects the Anaheim Convention Center has been undergoing for awhile appear to be finally completed, with the main difference being a new North Hall accessible on both ground and second story levels. The top level was mostly used for large panels with video presentations, while the bottom floor was used for the Future Tech Live Pavillion’s VR Lounge.


This was the first year for WonderCon to have a VR Lounge, although San Diego Comic-Con has had one off-site for awhile. I didn't get a chance to take a look around until Sunday when a lot of the different experiences had shut down, but it at least seems to be a nice start. Hopefully more companies like The Void will participate in the future.





[Side note: It's always amazing to me that I'll stand around and watch big strong people play some scary VR experience where they're screaming and leaping around in terror for ten minutes, and then the booth worker will turn to me and say "do you want to try it?" ALL THE NOPES.]

Panels took place throughout the weekend on subjects generally geared towards helping people understand various facets of the entertainment industry including how to break into them.

"Animated Effects in Live Action Productions" had ASIFA-Hollywood VP David Derks moderating John Van Vliet, Eli Jarra, and Roger Kupelian's discussion on their memories of animating visual effects in film and TV.


Van Vliet on "TRON:" "To me, the most iconic thing in the movie was when the guys turn into light cycles, and that's all hand animation. And the way that happened was Richard Taylor comes in, and he's like art director/visual effects director, and he would come in and...he brought down this big transparency of the motorcycle...and then he had the cells of the guys leaning over. And he says 'here's the guy leaning over, here's the motorcycle. Get him in there...Make it cool.' I love this guy! And we worked on it and so what you see in the final thing, you see the parts start to rez up and the frame where it wipes in and the cover wipes over...that was like 72 passes on the camera where we kept winding it back, doing another layer, doing another layer and we're physically winding this film back and forth and it's taking some 20-some hours to shoot, and the whole shot is like 35-40 frames, something like that. And we're literally starting to wear out the perf holes on the film--that's how much wear and tear we're at, and if we scratch one piece in there, you're dead. But that's the kind of environment we were in...In 'TRON' I think the final product is like 13 minutes of actual CG, the rest is all hand or digital."


In "Writing for Animation," veteran writers Marv Wolfman, Shelly Goldstein, and Mark Evanier gave advice and insight into breaking into the animation market.


Goldstein on writing to sell: "...It's like balancing on a tightrope. You have to learn to juxtapose being able to make a sale with what you're doing and so that can be a little difficult these days because buyers are very nervous right now despite the need of massive content. At the same time, it has to have your fingerprint on it. It has to have that one thing that you do so well that makes people say 'ok, I want to call you.'"

"Manga: An Intro For Comics Fans" featured a varied panel of enthusiasts recommending manga and anime for different interest groups.


For Disney fans, they recommended:

"The Avatar's Narrative: Writing for Video Games" was a look at the different challenges involved in writing for an interactive medium with Genese Davis, Chris Avellone, Cameron Dayton, and William Weissbaum.


Avellone on "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:" "I didn't really like Star Wars when the opportunity came up...but, if you're in game writing, you sort of have to learn to love what you're writing for obviously, so you try to find things you like about it. So I started immersing myself in Star Wars, I read all the books, watched all the movies again and I started rediscovering what I loved about Star Wars in my youth. Oh wow, it's a really great space opera story. At the same time...I started accumulating all these questions about the universe; there were things that didn't really make sense to me: Is the Force predestination? Do these characters actually have any choice in what they're doing? Is the Force actually malevolent and trying to kill all these people? Because it seemed to really like just carving that scythe right in the Jedi. I was like is that a good thing for the Force to do? It doesn't seem to care about us very much. So I'm like well, I've got these questions, so how 'bout I put them, these questions, into one character in the game, and she is the one that always brings up these doubts and questions about the Force. And then...even though I may not super love the franchise, I can have a dialogue about the franchise through that character. That character was Kreia...that was a good experience to learn to love the franchise you're working with, and if you do have questions about it, why not use one of your characters you're writing to sort of bounce those questions both in general to the world, and to the player."

Freeform (formerly ABC Family) Channel made its first big showing at WonderCon with panels and sneak peeks of two new shows: "Siren," and "Marvel's Cloak and Dagger."

Nathan ("Castle") Fillion made an appearance introducing an advanced screening of an episode from season 2 of "A Series of Unfortunate Events."


And of course there was the usual outpouring of fandom creativity manifesting in a limitless supply of merchandise and cosplay.

















See you next year at WonderCon!

November 29, 2017

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


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


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.


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. ( 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.


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 ( 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?"


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.

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."


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

October 12, 2017

Anime Expo 2017


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.


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.






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.





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...


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


(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.


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.





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.


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

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



[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.]

June 25, 2017

Recap: E3 2017


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.


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.


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.



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.






As is usual for any big convention, photo-ops and selfie opportunities abounded.






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.]






On the whole, the games that seemed to generate the most buzz online and around the floor were Marvel's Spider-Man,


Super Mario Odyssey,


Middle-Earth: Shadow of War,


Star Wars: Battlefront II,


and Monster Hunter World.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


--One of the new locations in the game is Vardos, Versio's home planet.


--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.


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.





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.

May 10, 2017

REVIEW: The Disney Afternoon Collection

by Guest Blogger Sally Jacka


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.


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.


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.


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.



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!


--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.


--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.


--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


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.

April 23, 2017

Star Wars Celebration Orlando: 40 Years of Star Wars


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

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

[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]

George Lucas

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

Dave Filoni

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

Liam Neeson (taped message)

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

Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid

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

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

Samuel L. Jackson (taped message)

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

Warwick Davis, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams

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

Peter Mayhew

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

Mark Hamill

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

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

Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford

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

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

Billie Lourd

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

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

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


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

April 10, 2017

WonderCon Returns to Anaheim


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


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



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




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

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



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


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

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

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

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


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


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









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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


March 28, 2017



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


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

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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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

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

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

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


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

March 5, 2017

KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

September 26, 2016

A Look At "Disney Art Academy"


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

September 19, 2016

"Disney Enchanted Tales" Mobile Game Debut


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

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





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


June 23, 2016

Recap: E3 2016


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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



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


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


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

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


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


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

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

...Or the ubiquitous zombies.


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



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

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


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

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


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


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


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


June 20, 2016

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

April 25, 2016

Silicon Valley Comic Con


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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




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


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


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



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


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





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





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

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

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

January 7, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Playset for Disney Infinity 3.0



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

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




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



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

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

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


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

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


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


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

October 19, 2015

Disney Infinity 3.0: Toy Box Expansion Games



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

October 16, 2015

Disney Infinity 3.0: The Force Is Strong With This One


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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





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


Another aspect of the gameplay is various missions in space, where your character is directed to fight and evade enemy spacecraft.


As it turns out, I'm not that good at hitting other ships, or even dodging stationary objects, but I do have a specific talent for flying around in an inept, random manner that makes it difficult to be hit, and fortunately all three of those abilities turn out to be about the same value, so the Empire can still be defeated.


The playsets probably take around 3-4 hours to complete if you're reasonably proficient, or 5-10 hours if you're me. It could also be longer if you stopped to do all the optional missions or racing games, etc. Difficulty settings can be dialed up or down depending on your proficiency level.

Of course the playsets are only a part of the Disney Infinity experience--there is also the Toy Box mode which allows for free-range creative play and greatly broadens the scope of what you can do with your characters. I'll examine that and the brand new Toy Box Expansion Games next time.


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

The Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Starter Pack, Disney•Pixar Inside Out and Star Wars™ Rise Against The Empire Play Sets are currently available in major North American retail stores for the PlayStation®4 and PlayStation®3 computer entertainment systems, Xbox One and Xbox 360 and the Wii U™ system from Nintendo. Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition is rated E10+ by the ESRB and developed by Avalanche Software in partnership with Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital, Studio Gobo and United Front Games. Additional Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition Play Sets, Power Discs and figures will be available later this year.

All figures and Power Discs from the 1.0 and 2.0 editions of Disney Infinity will be compatible with Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition in the enhanced Toy Box 3.0."

August 13, 2015

Disneyana Mania 2015


The Disneyana Fan Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enjoying the legacy of all things Disney, once again held their annual convention, Disneyana Mania 2015.


As always, their two-day affair was packed with presentations and banquets and a plethora of Disney luminaries.


One of the first presentations was "Sherman Brothers: A Songwriter's Observations," in which Robbie Sherman, the son of Disney Legend Robert Sherman, talked of the counterpoint that ran through much of the Sherman Brothers' music and lives.



An accomplished songsmith himself (he currently has a musical "Love Birds" playing in Edinburgh,) Sherman then presented the club with a song he wrote particularly for them, performed by "The Liberty Voices," from EPCOT's American Pavilion.

(Warning: It is as charmingly persistent an earworm as many of his father and uncle's songs ever were.)

Lunch was Disneyana's annual "Lunch With A Disney Legend," where two new legends were inducted into the Disneyana roster of Legends: Joe Lanzisero, and Dick Nunis.

Joe Lanzisero, current Senior Vice President Creative at Walt Disney Imagineering, started in animation and has worked on projects for the Disney Cruise Line and Disney Parks around the world, e.g., Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, Mystic Point, and the Aquaduck.


He spoke briefly on his transition from animation to Imagineering, the process of developing Mystic Manor and the new Animation Magic experience on the Disney Fantasy, and his perpetual search for the next "fun, cool thing to work on."

Dick Nunis, during his tenure at the Walt Disney Company, served both as Executive Vice President of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and as President of the Outdoor Recreation Division, overseeing Walt Disney World, Epcot Center, and the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park.


With some enthusiasm, he shared anecdotes from his time working in Operations with Dick Irvine, the various challenges involved in opening "Project X," and his memories of working with "the greatest man who ever lived on the face of the Earth."


After lunch, we heard from Dennis Tanida, a Disneyana member, Architect, and Imagineer, about his accidental career with the Walt Disney Company in "Six Degrees of Separation from Walt." (Long time AllEars readers may remember Dennis from way back in 2008 when I mentioned the talk he gave in Tokyo DisneySea on the work he did for the Fortress Exploration and sailing ship Renaissance:


The first day concluded with author Jeff Barnes introducing us to his book "The Wisdom of Walt," which uses practical examples from both Walt Disney and Disneyland to help people live their dreams.


Highlights from the second day included an interview with Disney Legend Bill Sullivan about his career working operations on projects as varied as the Winter Olympics, the New York World's Fair, the Contemporary, and EPCOT.


Garner Holt, along with his team of Bill Butler, Tracy Cathey, Vic Martin, and Dave Feiten, presented a hilarious panel on "Mechanized Magic, The Art and Technology of Animatronics."


Some interesting notes: Most of the panel had worked at WDI for decades, and then left to work at Garner Holt; DCA is the first theme park where they have made the majority of the figures (120;) a large project for Garner Holt is the creation of an animated mock-up shooting gallery for the military to simulate hostile situations; Dave Feiten has animated more characters than anyone living; and they displayed what may be one of the only photos of the Confucius head created for the never-realized Disneyland Chinese Restaurant--possibly the earliest human Disney animatronic.


(Past readers may also remember Garner Holt from blogs I wrote on the 2014 TEA Awards, and the 2010 "Marvelous Mechanized Magical Kingdom" event.)

The convention ended, as it typically does, with their Celebration Banquet--this one was commemorating Cinderella's 65th Anniversary, with Disney historian and former Archivist Paula Sigman Lowery talking about the history of Cinderella.


(Lowery also co-wrote the liner notes for the recent Legacy Collection "Cinderella" soundtrack."


The Disneyana Collectables Show and Sale was the following day with overflowing amounts of the memorabilia so dear to a Disney collector's heart.




So once again Disneyana provided fans with an eventful convention filled with interesting speakers with both historical insight and a view towards the future. While it's not the cheapest convention to buy into, it is non-profit and certainly the most stress-free of all the ones I've attended this year. If you're looking for a smaller, more intimate event, with no lines and the opportunity to meet and talk with virtually all the speakers at reasonable length, I highly recommend looking into Disneyana for next year. Maybe you'll have gotten the song out of your head by then.

June 20, 2015

E3 2015: A Disturbance in the Force


E3 time again--the annual big trade show for the video game industry.


As loud and attention-grabbing as Vegas on a Saturday night, E3 showcases all the upcoming games and associated technology for all platforms and genres.


For the Disney-focused, the main emphasis this year was on the vast empire of Star Wars games currently in development.


Disney Infinity had its usual gargantuan booth filled with large art installments and game terminals. Prominently displayed was concept art and sculpts for the upcoming Star Wars characters and play sets that herald the upcoming 3.0 version (an overview of which I blogged about here.)


A wide range of Star Wars characters will be available for purchase separate from the three major play sets based on the prequels ("Twilight of the Republic") and Clone Wars, original trilogy ("Rise Against the Empire,") and "The Force Awakens."


Also recently announced was the addition of the "Star Wars Rebels" cast to the 3.0 edition.



The main announcement from E3 however, was at the Playstation Press Conference, where John G. Vignocchi, Vice President of Production for Disney Interactive, introduced a limited time package exclusive to Playstation. The Star Wars Saga Starter Pack for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 (SRP: $114.99) will include:

​Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition video game software
Star Wars "Twilight of the Republic" Play Set, with figurines of Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker
Star Wars "Rise Against the Empire" Play Set, with figurines of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia
Boba Fett figure
Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition base
Web Code card (unlocks content for PC/mobile)

Outside of this package, "Rise Against the Empire" will be available a month later, and Boba Fett will be out for purchase after the holidays.


Also around the booth were displays detailing the various changes the sculpts underwent in the process of creating each character's signature figurine.



A huge lit arch presented all the different genres of figurines created to date...


...And a decorative curtain was made entirely out of the different game discs.


In addition to Star Wars, Disney Infinity will also be coming out with a new play set based on what will soon be one of your favorite Pixar films, "Inside Out."


Also at the Playstation press conference was the announcement of a collaboration between Square Enix and Disney Interactive to continue development of "Kingdom Hearts III" for the Playstation 4 and XBox One.


This latest addition to the long "Kingdom Hearts" series will feature environments based on the WDAS classic "Tangled."


For the mobile user, "Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ" will be the first of the series to come to iOS and Android devices as a free-to-play app. It will incorporate elements of both earlier parts of the "Kingdom Hearts" saga and "Kingdom Hearts III."

"Star Wars Battlefront" was also in attendance with some playable demos and and a variety of photo ops (I previously blogged about this game, too, over here)



As the last of the big Disney-related franchises in attendance this year, the long-running MMORPG "Star Wars: The Old Republic" announced a new expansion for later this year: "Knights of the Fallen Empire."

Touted as a return to "BioWare-style cinematic storytelling," the story of your character--The Outlander--and the Emperor of the Eternal Empire will launch on October 27, 2015, and will be free to current subscribers. More information can be found at


May 13, 2015

Star Wars Celebration: Photos and Last Thoughts


For our last look back at Star Wars Celebration, I'm offering up some final thoughts and a slideshow of some of the various and sundry sights found around the Exhibitor's Floor and elsewhere.

The Good: Celebration had an enormous amount of content available and organized it fairly well in different interest tracks: Cosplay, Crafting, Literature, etc. The mobile application they developed was actually much better than the apps I've used for other conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, enabling attendees to quickly access the day's schedule and sync it with a list of personal favorites. In general, lines appeared manageable for most of the smaller panels, and getting into the Arena presentations was at least not any more painful than you should probably expect at a big convention.

Most importantly, both the presenters and the guests seemed to be imbued with a fresh sense of enthusiasm and optimism for the franchise that only ratcheted up as the weekend progressed. Some of that surely was secondary to all the new activity brought on after the Disney purchase, but the clips and reports from the people involved with the new LucasFilm gave a sense of purpose and vision that bodes well for the upcoming films.


The Bad: While the line management got reasonably effective by the end of the weekend, the start was marked by an abundance of disorganization and shrill histrionics. Finding your way to the various locations wasn't helped by the fact that they named all the different venues unenlightening things like "Celebration Stage"...and then didn't put the names on the maps they uploaded to the app. Fortunately they updated the app regularly so the information was up by the second day, but it seemed as though it took about a day for enough information to disseminate through the volunteers to render them helpful.


The Ugly: Probably the worst part of the whole convention was the Celebration Show Store. The line to get in was horrific, and the line to check out was worse. When I got in line, I assumed that the line was going to move really fast, because otherwise the length of it would have made waiting in it ridiculous. Surprise! It actually took around two hours or so to get through the line to pay. By the time I got to the cashier, I could barely remember what I was there for. By Sunday, the lines had dwindled away, but so had most of the merchandise.

It seems as though it might streamline things if they limited the number of each item one person could purchase, and possibly instituted a "fastpass"-like system so that people could reserve a window of time they could enter the store. A similar fix might help with walk-throughs such as the "Force Awakens" Exhibit that had three to four hour wait times the days I checked, obligating them to cap the line around noon the last day.

Another workaround would be to purchase the VIP tickets that offer a number of perks, including reserved seating and a preview session in the store. The disadvantages, besides the increased cost, is that they are relatively limited in number and sell out almost as soon as tickets go on sale.

On the whole, however, I thought Celebration did a great job of feeding the audience's desire for more information about the future of the Star Wars franchise, while avoiding spoilers. It introduced new players while reintroducing us to a number of old ones, and was persuasive in presenting impressive prospects to come.

Next year, Star Wars Celebration will be held July 15-17, 2016 at the Excel London Exhibition Centre. Tickets and other information are available at

May 11, 2015

Current and Upcoming Video Games from the Star Wars Universe


Video games have long been a major component of Star Wars fandom, and were well represented at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim.


The biggest video game presented was Star Wars Battlefront, by EA.

A multiplayer action shooter with impressive graphics and meticulous film mimicry, Battlefront allows players to fight for either the Empire or the Rebellion, in ground combat or in the air.


Throughout gameplay, different weapons and abilities will be unlockable, giving the player the ability to take the roles of characters such as Darth Vader and Boba Fett.


Star Wars Battlefront will be released in North America on November 17, 2015 for PS4, XBox One, and PC. The first (free) DLC Battle of Jakku will be available December 8, 2015, with pre-orders able to access it one week early.


BioWare's Massively-Multiplayer Online Game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, had a stop in their Community Cantina Tour at Celebration, in which attendees could meet and greet the developers, community team, and other players.

Reputed to have the most story content of its kind, the game takes place in the Star Wars "Fictional Universe," between the events of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, and some thousands of years before the events of the films. Players can choose from a wide variety of the many character classes existing in the Star Wars universe, and create their own storyline based on their choices and actions. The game is subscription-based, with a limited free-to-play option, and has been online since 2011. The latest digital expansion pack was "Shadow of Revan."

In addition to the games represented at Celebration, the highly popular Disney Infinity just announced a new 3.0 update due in the fall which will introduce Star Wars characters into their already expansive roster.

Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition will feature three Star Wars Play Sets--one set in the timeline of each of the two trilogies (Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic, and Star Wars: Rise Against the Empire,) and one taking place during the action of the upcoming "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


Additional play sets will be available based on the upcoming Pixar film "Inside Out," and the recent blockbuster "Avengers: Age of Ultron."


The Toy Box will be updated with two new multiplayer expansion games: Toy Box Speedway and Toy Box Takeover. A multitude of new figures of characters from across the broad Disney Company holdings will also be added, such as Sam Flynn and Quorra from "Tron: Legacy," and Mulan and Olaf.


All 1.0 and 2.0 figures and discs will be compatible with the 3.0 update, which will come out on PS3, PS4, XBox One, XBox 360, Wii U, PC, iOS, and Android platforms. The Starter Pack will have a suggested retail price of $64.99.


May 5, 2015

Star Wars Awakens: Upcoming Films from Star Wars Celebrations


Now I realize it's possible that some people may not have seen that trailer yet, but they are among a select population. The day it debuted at the opening ceremony of Star Wars Celebrations Anaheim alone, it racked up around 88 million views.


"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is the seventh installment of the pop culture juggernaut, given life after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012. Starting off a new trilogy which will take place some 30 years after "Return of the Jedi," the film is being directed by J.J. Abrams (lately of "Star Trek,") from a screenplay he co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan.


Because of the white-hot interest level inherent in the first new live-action Star Wars movie in a decade, the film has been shrouded in mystery--a tactic familiar to Abrams from his time on "Lost" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness." Consequently, the opening panel at Celebration, with both Abrams and Producer/Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, was avidly anticipated by attendees who waited in line all night from the afternoon prior.

While details were scarce, we found out that the movie will feature a scavenger...


A stormtrooper...


A pilot...


A super-cute droid...


...And some other familiar faces.


Later that weekend, we were treated to a return of Kennedy with director Gareth Edwards, who will be helming the first of the stand-alone "Anthology" Star Wars films, which take place outside of the core trilogy storyline.


Although still early in production (shooting will commence this summer,) "Rogue One" is reportedly a war movie, starring Felicity Jones ("Theory of Everything") as part of a rogue group of rebel fighters determined to steal some Death Star plans and bring a New Hope to the galaxy. It will be set between Episode three and four.

(Josh Trank was also scheduled to be present at the panel, but was absent due to illness. Subsequently, it was announced that he would be leaving his position as director for the second Star Wars anthology film.)

[All photos and videos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios/Lucasfilm]

April 7, 2015

Welcome back to WonderCon!


Convention season is once again upon us, starting off as usual with WonderCon, held at the Anaheim Convention Center.


This was actually an interesting year for WonderCon, as Anaheim will be playing host to a glut of conventions this year, ranging from Star Wars Celebrations later this month, to the D23 Expo in August.


(These line corrals for the Arena look familiar? If they don't now, they surely will by the end of summer.)

Possibly because of all the different events going on, there was a decrease in the usual film/television representation that usually takes place here. Marvel passed on having a booth, as they are also reputed to be doing for San Diego Comic-Con this year, presumably saving their content for Expo. All this gave the convention something of an "old-school" feel--a throwback to when comic conventions were actually about comics and celebrating fandom, rather than movie promotion and star appearances.


Panels ran in a variety of interest tracks, such as costuming, writing, gaming, art, pop culture, and fandom.


Disney/ABC Writing Program finalist Brandon Easton ran one such panel on tips from established writers on breaking into Comics and scriptwriting. Their main advice: Finish what you start--even failed projects teach more than unfinished ones.

One panel Disney did bring was "Big Hero 6: The Art of the Story," in which Story Artists Brian Kesinger and Normand Lemay described the developmental process for Big Hero 6 and showed some deleted scenes in storyboard format (no recording was allowed.)


Chris Hardwick ("The Nerdist") had a talk about his multi-media network, and announced that he would be hosting an 29-hour Avengers viewing marathon at the El Capitan in advance of the release of the next Avengers film, "Age of Ultron." Limited tickets available at


In addition to the presentations and discussions, there was, as always, an extensive Exhibitor's Floor, which was actually navigable thanks to a lack of the huge artery-clogging booths the big studios and networks usually run.


A wide range of Disney-themed merchandise was available, representing all its different franchises:










...As well as an enormous amount of cosplay. The close proximity to Disneyland seemed to encourage even more people to take the opportunity to show their #DisneySide.


























In all, although the con felt smaller this year without the big star presence it has had in the past, it also felt more individualized with an emphasis on inspiring and educating people to best express their own creativity, whether through art or film production or novels--a nice change from the more passive pop culture consumption that's usually represented. At the end of the convention, it was announced that WonderCon will be moving from Anaheim to the Los Angeles Convention Center for 2016, which likely will please some people by resulting in a bigger, broader experience, but will disappoint those looking to easily combine WonderCon with a simultaneous trip to Disneyland.

February 8, 2015

"The Story of Disneyland" Exhibition and Sale


The Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, California is currently holding an exhibition of "The Story of Disneyland" collection from February 7 through February 27, to be followed by a live and online auction on February 28 and March 1.


The collection, which has been amassed over 30 years, contains memorabilia from both Disneyland and Walt Disney World from the 1950's up to the 1980's and contains over 1000 items.


The pieces up for sale include some impressive tokens of Disneyland history, such as early layout plans and concept art.



Also on display are a wide range of costumes, from Haunted Mansion cast member outfits to an original Slue Foot Sue dress from the Golden Horseshoe.



Folks wanting a slightly more substantial keepsake from the park have an embarrassment of riches, from Enchanted Tiki Room birds, to a skeleton from the Pirates of the Caribbean, to dolls from it's a small world.




Here to tell us a little about some of the pieces personally crafted by Walt Disney and his Imagineers, are gallery owner Mike Van Eaton, and indomitable Disney Legend Bob Gurr:

The breadth and depth of the collection, and the interest it has garnered, is an amazing testament to the power Walt Disney and the early days of Disneyland still have over people, and the desire fans still have to form a tangible connection with them.


"The Story of Disneyland" collection is currently available for viewing at the Van Eaton Galleries at 13613 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, California 91423. More information about ordering catalogs (which should be online in a few days,) or participating in the auction can be found at


October 23, 2014

ScareLA: A Showcase of Fright



So, now that Halloween is creeping up on us once again, it's time to take a look back at the ScareLA convention that was held this year for the celebration of the season.


The weekend started off with a presentation commemorating the Haunted Mansion's 45th anniversary, with Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Alice Davis, hosted by's Jeff Baham.


As a part of their show schedule, ScareLA also hosted the Captured Aural Phantasy Theater, performing "Chilling Tales of the Haunted Mansion--Live" in the form of an old radio show.



Some names familiar to the Disney community presented a history of "90 Years of the Anaheim Halloween Parade"--artists Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily.


The Anaheim Halloween Parade will be held this month at 6pm, October 25th. If you are interested in either volunteering or just spectating at the parade, information on the schedule and the route can be found at I attended last year, and while it was an impressive event then, it looks like they're working hard to make it even better for this year.

Garner Holt, of Garner Holt Productions, Inc., spoke about his personal journey from childhood to leading animatronic expert, in "Garner Holt: I Was A Teenage Haunter."


He also showed slides of some of the work he's done for theme parks all over the world, including this one for the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare overlay in Tokyo Disneyland.


Some of the bigger draws were the presentations by Knotts Berry Farm and Universal Studios on their plans for the Halloween season, however there were also a variety of smaller talks on topics like the use of future technology in fear experiences, and Halloween at the Magic Castle.

Along with the regular panels and presentations, there were also activities and storytelling for kids, such as actress Amber Benson reading "The 13 Nights of Halloween."


And, of course, like any convention, there was an extensive exhibitor's floor, where a wide variety of macabre vendors plyed their wares.




As an added attraction, the floor had several mini-demos from various upcoming Haunted Attractions, such as "The Hellevator from the Field of Screams Haunted Stadium," and "Fear Station's Freakshow of Fears."


Like any good convention, there was far more offered than anyone could experience in one weekend. Simultaneous to the panel presentations, they also offered a wide range of hands-on classes on topics such as pumpkin carving, costuming, and Halloween party planning. A film screening program ran throughout the show, and a "Ghostly Gala" separate ticket party kept conventioneers entertained on into the night.

Things to note for next year:

--Lines just to get in were considerable, particularly on Saturday, and many people were turned away from the Haunted Mansion panel because the room filled to occupancy. Get there early if there's something happening first thing that you really want to see.
--If there are presentations that you have your heart set on, consider purchasing the upgraded "Fear Freak"/"Scare Students" tickets. Those guests got priority entrance before the general admission guests, and in some cases almost filled the rooms by themselves.
--If, like me, you prefer your Halloween experiences on the "not-so-scary" side, maybe take a good look at what you want to see here. This was, in some aspects, a trade show for the whole spectrum of Halloween, from the cute Haunted Mansion ghosts and bats, to chain-saw murderers and ghouls that would prowl the exhibitor's floor periodically shrieking at people for startlement purposes. Be prepared to turn from admiring a display of cartoon monsters, to gaping at an operating room tableau with bloodied instruments and flayed open bodies. ScareLA has a ton of fascinating offerings for those interested in all things Halloween and horror, but it may not be for everyone.

Information on ScareLA can be found at their website: They are also on twitter as @ScareLosAngeles.

September 24, 2014

Once Upon a Time Season Four Premiere Event: Arendelle Comes to Storybrooke


This week, "Once Upon a Time" had its fourth season premiere event at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.


Prior to the screening, the cast held court on the red carpet outside, to the delight of their multitudes of fans.




At check-in, we traded our cameras for popcorn, drinks, and an assigned seat.


In the lobby, the persistent and the fortunate were able to catch glimpses of some of the stars making their way to their seats.




Once at your seat, a slideshow of cast photos gave you something to look at while waiting for everyone to find their way inside.




Prior to the screening of next week's season premiere, the show's creators Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz came out to give thanks to all the people involved with the show.


Then, they presented the entire main cast, including newcomers Georgina Haig (Elsa,) Elizabeth Lail (Anna,) and Michael Socha (Will Scarlet,) returning from the finished spinoff "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland."


Thoughts on the premiere episode: As you'd expect, the first episode of the season is pretty heavy on exposition, given the gap of time between when we left Elsa ice skating with Olaf at the end of "Frozen," and when we saw her bust out of Rumple's bottle after who-knows-how-long an imprisonment. Delivered largely through flashbacks, Elsa and Anna come off very well, with Lail doing a good job emulating Kristen Bell's cheerful babbling delivery.

The main questions for this season so far (and my best guesses:) What is Elsa's problem? (Anna.) Is Rumple ever going to forgo power for Belle's love? (No.) What's Regina's badness level by now?


Afterwards, the cast and crew adjourned down the street to the Roosevelt for further festivities, and the rest of us grabbed our parking validations and cars, and headed back out of Storybrooke, to home.




Once Upon a Time's new season begins on September 28, 8-9pm ET on ABC.

June 25, 2014

E3 2014: Bring on the Games (Part 2)


The second game Disney Interactive was showcasing at this year's E3 was "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved."


This game was also presented at last year's E3 (, but a final release date has been announced for October 21, 2014. A musical motion game, it has the player making directed movements in conjunction with a varied playlist of music to generate and store energy/magic. The player can then invest that magic in different landscapes to bring new color and life to them.

Since last year, new additions to the gameplay include a multiplayer mode and a new environment called "The Neighborhood."



Another new introduction is your guide through the game, Scout--one of Yen Sid's old apprentices.


The track listing contains a wide range of music from Vivaldi to Depeche Mode. While there are none of the traditional Disney tunes you might expect, both "The Nutcracker Medley" and "Night on Bald Mountain" from its namesake "Fantasia" are included.

"Fantasia: Music Evolved" will be available for the XBox One and Kinect for the XBox 360. Rated ESRB E10+.

Another game in the works is "Planes: Fire & Rescue," which will be set after the events of the upcoming film of the same name.


Although still in development, the basic gameplay is taking control of various vehicles from the movie, including Dusty, and utilizing their special talents to put out fires and run various other rescue missions. The game will be available on the Nintendo Wii, DS, and 3DS this Fall, from game publisher Little Orbit.

For fans of the long-running series Kingdom Hearts, publisher Square Enix is coming out with "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix." "Kingdom Hearts 3" was teased as being under development as well.


This is the second of the Kingdom Hearts game collections, the first one being "Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix." The collections include copies of earlier games in the series which have been remastered and enhanced. 2.5 will bundle "Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix," "Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix," and "Kingdom Hearts Re:coded."

"Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix" will be available exclusively for the Playstation 3 on Dec 2, 2014.

And as with last year, EA didn't give much more than a teaser trailer for Star Wars Battlefront.

Rumored to be coming out late next year, it was announced that Endor and Hoth will be areas represented in the game.

June 22, 2014

E3 2014: Bring on the Games (Part 1)


So E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2014 has come and gone, leaving in its wake initial impressions of everything new and upcoming in the world of video games.


All the major console companies had their usual gigantic booths displaying the latest in hardware and software...




...and of course, no shortage of avid gamers enjoying the various demos.


This year, Disney Interactive had its typically ebullient presence promoting the next generation of Disney Infinity: Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (2.0 edition.)


Many updates and changes have been packed into this updated version, with the most obvious being the addition of some of the most popular Marvel characters from the Avengers and Spider-Man franchises.


In the Play Set mode, each character will come with their own storylines, written by Marvel comic writer Brian Michael Bendis, just as in the original game. Unlike the Disney characters however, who all exist in their separate and distinct realities, the Marvel superheroes all largely inhabit the same one (often even the same city--New York,) so under certain circumstances the characters can cross over to interact with each other within their respective stories.


I had a chance to play a bit with a few of the new characters and the gameplay does seem to be much more interesting as all the actions for each hero are specifically characterized to them. In version 1.0, each character generally had differences in their modes of combat and gait as well, but the new ones have wildly distinct movements and methods of transportation. Whether web-swinging (to what do the webs attach, when you see the tops of buildings underneath you?) or flying via repulsor rays, the variety is much more engaging than before.

The Toy Box mode has also gotten several updates that make it far more enjoyable for a wider audience. While the older version provided players with enormous freedom to create anything they could imagine, the amount of time and effort required to meticulously build large, complicated structures made it somewhat frustrating for the impatient (me) or the construction-challenged (also me.) In this brave new world, players are still able to build things manually, as before, but also have the option of either calling up "builders," who can be assigned to create various structures while the player goes off to other adventures, or using a new Creator tool which can produce a randomly generated construct based on given parameters.


Another new aspect of the Toy Box is the ability to create building interiors, as well as exteriors. Tardis-like, the interiors are not limited by the dimensions of the outsides, and portal doorways can connect rooms together that are not linked geographically.


There will also be the option for more structured play in the Toy Box, as new pyramid-shaped discs will give players different missions that can be accomplished with any of the Disney Infinity characters.


In addition to new power discs capable of changing the Marvel characters' environment, outfits, and vehicles, they can also summon "Team Up" heroes to assist in a given situation, such as the Winter Soldier and the Iron Patriot.


On the Disney side, more figures are also in the works; the newest ones will be Maleficent (Angelina Jolie version,) and Merida.


New power discs for the traditional Disney characters include environments from "Wreck-it Ralph," a float from the Main Street Electrical Parade, Darkwing Duck's grappling gun, and the USS Swinetrek.


Should you need accessories, something to carry all your new Marvel gear around with you, perhaps, there will be no shortage of options in the stores on that count.


Even your headsets can be made Marvel thanks to the wide assortment of speaker plates available to personalize your Turtle Beach cans.


Disney Infinity Edition 2.0 is set to release this Fall on PlayStation 3 and 4, XBox 360 and One, Wii U, PC, and iOS. All Edition 1.0 figures, toys, and power discs will be forward compatible with the new software.

June 10, 2014

Round Up Rodeo!


Today I am arbitrarily starting a new periodic feature in which I briefly "round up" some of the miscellaneous Disney-ish happenings I've recently come across but didn't blog about earlier. Because sharing is caring.

In the beginning of May, I, along with around 80 others, boarded the Disney Fantasy for the AllEars group cruise. Were you there?

If you weren't, you missed a ton of fun, but can read all about it on Deb's Digest

As is the case with all the AllEars cruises, the ship was lovely and the company was fabulous. New for me on this cruise were the ports of the Cayman Islands and Falmouth, Jamaica. On these islands we were able to go to Hell...


...Get up close and personal with turtles...


...and have tea in an old Plantation House where they BURIED A GIRL IN THE BASEMENT.


...So, something for everybody.

After disembarking, I was able to catch a glimpse of the first weekend of Star Wars Weekend featuring some familiar faces...


...And some new fireworks.


On the whole, I think the Disney acquisition of Star Wars has really given a shot in the arm to this event which, as entertaining as it has been for the last few years, was beginning to show signs of stagnation.


After I returned from all that merriment, Disneyland hosted it's third 24hr event "Rock Your Disney Side."


Although I wasn't able to attend for the whole time, as I have in the past, I did make it from around 8pm to 6am, which seemed sufficient. This time around crowds seemed pretty consistent and didn't drop off as much in the early hours as last year.


One impressive display I was able to visit recently was the Castle Peak and Thunder Railroad


In his backyard in Anaheim, past Disneyland canoe guide David Sheegog has created an elaborate backyard railroad themed around some familiar and iconic Disney structures.


All the Disney animated features are also represented in various displays around the yard, and all five of the Disneyland Railroad engines have been replicated from scratch.


Sheegog plans further expansions for the railroad, including Rainbow Ridge, Rainbow Caverns, and Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland.


Open houses for viewing are held several times throughout the year--the dates can be found on the website. If you're in the area, I encourage you to check out this charming display!

Also in the area, the historic Anaheim Packing House saw its grand opening on May 31st.


As part of the Anaheim Packing District, it joins the Packard Building and the Farmer's Park in revitalizing Downtown Anaheim and providing a public market/food hall as well as a communal gathering space.


Although at least half of it is still under construction, there are already some strong food establishment offerings open, running the gamut from fish and chips, to ramen, to poutine, to hand-made popsicles.


With an emphasis on fresh food in a unique setting (and free wifi,) the Packing House seems sure to become a busy social hub for the community. The close proximity to Disneyland makes it a good choice for off-property dining as well.


Anaheim Packing House website

Then on June 7th, the Pasadena Symphony and POPS started their summer concert series at the LA Arboretum. Led by Principle Conductor Michael Feinstein, their first entry of the season, "Feinstein's Favorites" included a number of guest performers, one of which was Richard White--the voice of Gaston, from "Beauty and the Beast."

The series will be ongoing throughout the summer, and information can be found at The next concert, "Broadway's Leading Ladies," will be held on June 28th, and will feature (among many other talents,) Susan Egan, who is the voice of Meg in "Hercules," and who originated the role of Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway.

Also on June 7th, the artist SHAG, who has previously done work for Disney commemorating Disneyland's 50th Anniversary, Walt Disney World's 40th Anniversary, the Disney Cruise Line, and more, had a signing at the WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney. The Gallery debuted his latest piece, "Morning in the Magic Kingdom."


Customers were allowed to have two items signed that had to be purchased at the event. Vouchers were handed out at time of purchase with a number to hold your space in line.


Finally, this week brings us to E3--Electronic Entertainment Expo--which should herald all the latest news as far as Disney's video games. The expectation is that we'll be treated to demos of Disney Infinity's new Marvel additions, as well as updates on Disney Fantasia and hopefully the announcement of upcoming games in the Star Wars universe.


One of the events taking place during the expo open to all comers is "Video Games Live"--a concert of video game music performed live. While they do shows worldwide, this one, on June 11th, will be premiering music from Disney Fantasia as well as a multitude of other properties. Ticket information can be found here.

So! That's what's been happening around here. Until next time!

May 9, 2014

Wonderful, Wonderful WonderCon.


In the summer, a young (or less-young) nerd's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of cons. This year's convention season kicked off with WonderCon, once again held in Anaheim.


Disney was well represented by many of its myriad branches in panels, merchandise, and, of course, cosplay.


For aspiring TV writers, the panel, "Disney|ABC The Art of the Pitch: The Writer. The Director. The Story," showcased various mentors and current participants of the Disney/ABC talent development program describing the application process. At the end of the session, they took pitches from people in the audience and critiqued their presentations.


One of the most popular panels I was able to get into was "Frozen: The Art of Story."


Made up of a number of artists who worked on various aspects of "Frozen" (Jeff Ranjo, Fawn Veerasunthorn, Nicole Mitchell, and Normand Lemay,) the group discussed different ways the film's story developed and showed storyboards of alternate versions of some of the scenes. One hilarious segment (unfortunately we weren't allowed to record or take photos) involved Veerasunthorn pitching a slightly different version of the Elsa-Anna ballroom confrontation scene:

"Elsa: You can't marry a man you just met!"
"Anna: You can if it's true love!"
"Elsa: What do you know about true love?"
"Anna: I could ask you the same thing!"
[Audience: "oooooh."]
"Elsa: I'm sorry, I do not give you my blessing. Now if you'll excuse me..."
"Hans: Your Majesty, if I may..."
"Elsa: No, you may not. This is between me and my sister."
"Anna: Ha! There's nothing between you and me, thanks to you! And you know what? I don't need your blessing! You're not my mother!"
[Audience: "OOOOH!"]
"Elsa: I may not be your mother, but I am your Queen."
[Audience: "OH SNAP."]
"Elsa: ...And as your Queen, I forbid it."
"Anna: ...WHAT..."
[Audience dies.]


She also spoke on how initially Hans wasn't present in this scene, but that it made Anna look like maybe she was just imagining the whole relationship in the first place. Putting him in gave the scene both an emotional and a physical representation of the break between the sisters.

"The Making of The Star Wars" had artist Mike Mayhew show how he developed the art style he used to help create "The Star Wars"--a series put out by Dark Horse Comics officially adapting George Lucas' original screenplay for Star Wars.



The popular ABC show "Once Upon A Time" was also represented with co-creators and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, along with Josh Dallas (Prince Charming,) and Rebecca Mader (Wicked Witch of the West,) presenting the next week's episode and answering questions.

They also had an autograph session, which, if you could figure out where to line up in the morning and won the lottery, scored you the chance to get all their signatures on a mini-poster.


Past ABC/Disney Fellow and present "Once Upon A Time" writer/producer Jane Espenson was present on several panels during the weekend, including "TV Guide Magazine's Fan Favorites Showrunners" with Chris Carter (X-Files,) and "Husbands: Breaking Through."



On the Marvel front, while the studios were conspicuously absent, editor Sana Amanat and writers Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel), James Robinson (Fantastic Four), and Mark Waid (Daredevil) spoke on the "All-New Marvel NOW!" panel about the many changes coming to the fictional and publishing world of Marvel following the events of the "Avengers vs. X-Men" storyline.


Finally, almost every con these days has a masquerade contest, and WonderCon is no exception.


From Avatar to the winning entry from Frozen, there was a plethora of contenders.


Hosting was Star Wars Weekend regular Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano.)


This is, of course, only a smattering of all the different talks and games and videos that were available throughout the show. Of course the exhibitor's floor was the usual huge draw that it always is for eager shoppers and purveyors of art.





Did I mention the cosplay?





...WonderCon never bothered him anyway...

May 3, 2014

Disney Infinity 2.0: Here Come the Avengers!


This week Disney Infinity held an event introducing their next generation of the popular Disney Infinity video game, Disney Infinity 2.0, and some of the new characters, notably Marvel Cinematic Universe's The Avengers.


During the presentation, hosted by Marvel's Agents of SHIELD star Clark Gregg, various details of "Phase Two," were shown and described. Among them were:

--All figures, power discs, and toy boxes from both versions will be compatible with Disney Infinity 2.0.
--The new starter pack includes one Marvel Avengers playset, three heroes, and two new interactive game pieces providing structured games for the toy box mode.
--Future plans include additional Disney content as well as Marvel.
--Supported platforms will include WiiU, PS3, XBox 360, iOS, PC, PS4, and XBox One.
--The new environment, Marvel Manhattan, will be four times larger than the largest of the previous playsets.
--Combat will be specialized to exploit each Avenger's traditional fighting strengths.
--Construction in the toy box mode has been streamlined, with the additional option of "builders" that can be used to automatically build things for you.
--Interiors will be accessible, with the player able to decorate their "home."
--"Tower Defense" and "Dungeon Crawler" games are provided for the toy box mode. Each will take approximately three to four hours each to complete.
--Agent Coulson's "Lola" will be represented as a mode of transportation.
--They have hired (and plan to hire more) a gamer as a Disney Infinity builder on the basis of his community-shared, user-generated content.
--In the latest trailer, future characters can be recognized, such as MODOK, Loki, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spiderman.

March 27, 2014

CTN animation eXpo: An In-Depth Look at the Art and Business of Animation


For those with a deep interest in the field of Animation, either as entertainment or as a profession, one event that should be on your radar is the CTN (Creative Talent Network) Animation Expo held annually in Burbank.


For those like myself, with a recreational interest in animation, the eXpo offers a variety of panels and discussions with some of the top animators working today. At last year's convention, I was able to see, among other things, a presentation on the making of Frozen; a group interview of veteran Disney animators Mark Henn, Bert Klein, Tony DeRosa; and an interview/Q&A with past Disney animator Andreas Deja.



There was also a showing of the Ted Thomas documentary "Growing Up With the Nine Old Men," that was included in the recent Diamond edition re-release of Peter Pan, along with a Q&A (moderated by Andreas Deja) and dvd signing afterwards.


This was, of course, only a tiny amount of what's available to be seen at the eXpo--at any given time there are not only the larger presentations, but smaller live demonstrations and workshops.



A large area is also designated for exhibitors, selling anything from art supplies, to art itself.


The main focus of the eXpo is on up-and-coming animators however, so to that end there was a myriad of studio booths recruiting animators and affording them opportunities to network and make professional connections.

While there was certainly more activity presented than any one person could take in, it was at times a little logistically difficult to navigate secondary to the large numbers of attendants. The hotel parking was pretty limited, requiring the overflow to drive around looking for street parking or park in the airport lot across the street. Most of the demos and drawing models were placed around the lobby corridors making it difficult to pass through to the next area.

The main difficulty I found was just trying to get into the panels as the lines were fairly formidable for the larger talks, and the rooms relatively small. You can circumvent the lines by way of either purchasing a VIP ticket for the weekend or picking up a "fastpass" which are available for select presentations in limited quantities.

While a lot of the weekend's content may seem a little technical for the average animation enthusiast, there is probably not another meeting that puts such a focus on animation talent or provides potential animators with as many career opportunities. If you already harbor a vested interest in this field, I strongly encourage you to check out this year's eXpo.

Information on the 2014 CTN animation eXpo can be found at It will be held at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center, from November 21-23. Early Bird registration is now open.

November 22, 2013

Grand Opening of The New Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop.


On November 15, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company officially opened to replace the recently-departed Disney's Soda Fountain & Studio Store, to become the new Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop.


Despite some overcast weather, spirits were bright as host Andrea Feczko introduced the Hollywood High band and a few familiar faces.


She was followed by a number of officials, each of which spoke on the benefits this merging of Ghirardelli, Disney, and Hollywood will bring.


Marty Thompson, President and CEO of Ghirardelli's Chocolate Company...


Dave Hollis, Executive Vice President of Theatrical Exhibition, Sales and Distribution...


Tom LaBonge, Council District 4, Councilman...


...and Central Area Representative from Mayor Garcetti's office, Kimberly Rodriguez.

In a blast of confetti, the ribbon was cut and the shop was open for business.


Inside, there's been some re-arrangement of the retail and dining space, which Ghirardelli shares with Disney's Studio Store Hollywood.


Ice cream orders are taken at the registers, and then brought to tables with a matching order number.


While the film vault motif that earlier decorated the walls is gone, the ties to Tinseltown remain.


Merchandise is now available both from Ghirardelli...


And Disney, including the traditional pin releases and the items tying in with the currently-playing movie.



Despite the fact that they no longer routinely offer regular meal service, they will continue the character breakfasts and signature sundaes themed to the current film releases.


Just as the combination of chocolate and Disney seems a natural, an afternoon spent with a movie at El Capitan and ice cream at Ghirardelli's can only be considered a winning combination.


Ghirardelli's Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop is located at 6834 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028. Hours are Sunday - Thursday: 9 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Friday - Saturday: 9 a.m. - 12:00 a.m.


July 28, 2013

Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story



A new upcoming online video series from Disney Interactive Video will be debuting at the D23 Expo next month: Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story. Here to explain a little about it is Matt Wyatt, Director of Creative / Producer at Disney Online Originals.

On my visit to the studios, Matt and the rest of the Creative Team showed us some of the planning and storyboard materials in use during the making of this stop-motion animated story, and exhibited some of the different sets being filmed. Displaying the careful detail they've built into the world mythology of the Vinylmation existence, the whole physical Vinylmation plane is constructed to superimpose exactly on a map of Disneyland.


In another room, we were shown the process of developing a shot from the storyboards...


...To the set construction...


...To the scene direction and cinematography.


The dialogue-free story involves vinylmations of all sizes, from the giants to the miniatures who distill the vinylmation paint from the flowers.


Even some of the Park Starz get cameos.


The fairly new branch of the Disney company works on something of a limited budget. Margie Gilmore, VP of Disney Online Originals, described their daily challenge as one of producing Disney quality with a shoestring budget. Some of the sets were built with materials scavenged off of the outside of the studio building.


Gilmore observed that the film was being created using "passion, hard work, and dumpster diving."


To make the look consistent with the Vinylmation world, Regino Roy, Co-Director / Co-Creator / Production Designer for the series showed us how even the trains were designed to mimic the vinylmation monorails

Here then, is the newly-released trailer.

Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story - Teaser on Disney Video

So knowing relatively little about the whole project (or even Vinylmation as a whole,) I think I was expecting something along the lines of a series of Vinylmation commercials. What you get instead with Blank, is a gentle, sometimes poignant tale of self-actualization, similar in some ways to Wall-E, in which characters strive to make connections and reconcile the differences between what they are and what their society requires them to be. The fact that the main characters have no facial features or voices would seem to render them completely without expression, and yet their point of views are always very clear. The art design and soundtrack are impressively attractive and imply a much higher production budget than what the studio says it enjoys.

Even if you're not much of a Vinylmation fan, I think Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story is worth a viewing. If you are a fan, it's a no-brainer. The first three episodes will be shown at the D23 Expo this year, with another nine three-minute episodes to follow.


June 26, 2013

E3: The Wrap Up


So as far as the Disney video games besides Disney Infinity and Ducktales Remastered, there were several others represented at E3.

Phineas and Ferb: Quest for Cool Stuff is a platformer game in which you can play as either Phineas and Ferb, hunting for artifacts to populate their Museum of Cool, or you can play as Agent P, out to foil the evil plans of Dr. Doofenshmirtz. [Multiple platforms]

Kingdom Hearts III was announced in development by Square Enix. Despite the name, this will be the eighth installment of the Kingdom Hearts series--an action role-playing game which combines characters from the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy to wield keyblades and battle the Heartless. [Playstation 4, XBox One]

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a side-scrolling platformer which will be remade for release later this year. Although the 3-D graphics will certainly be an update from the original 16-bit version, presumably the storyline of Mickey entering the Castle of Illusion to save Minnie will not. [Playstation 3, XBox 360, PC]

Possibly the game with the most confusing trailer was announced shortly before E3--Fantasia: Music Evolved. Billed as a successor to the movie Fantasia, it is a motion-controlled music rhythm game in which the player follows gesture prompts to gain points/energy that are subsequently used to open up and give life to different virtual environments. Oddly enough, there has so far been no indication that any Disney music or characters will be used--the Fantasia tie-in seems to be the manner in which the player conducts "molecular magic" like Sorcerer Mickey. My favorite part? Jazz clams! [XBox One, XBox 360]

...and, oh yes...

June 10, 2013

E3: Disney Infinity


In a media event associated with the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) this week, Disney Interactive released new footage of their upcoming release Disney Infinity: A video game in which real toy figures encode virtual Disney characters for play in both pre-set and user-designed environments.


The starter pack comes with three figures--Mr. Incredible, Sully, and Captain Jack Sparrow.


Each figure comes with their own appropriate environment and story-driven game, which, when finished, allows the player to unlock various assets for use in the "toy box" mode. In this mode, the players can build their own worlds, using characters, buildings, vehicles, etc., from any of the available franchises, interweaving them as they please.


Figures can be purchased in three-packs, or individually. In addition, there are discs that you can layer on to add different powers to a given character, or new environmental assets.


While the game can be played singly, it seems clear that a great part of the game is the interaction players can have with each other, particularly in either fighting or competing in different games and races they can personally design.


The newest figures capitalize on the upcoming Disney film The Lone Ranger. This, along with the utilization of the Monsters University environment, shows the versatility of the platform as far as being able to keep up to date with future Disney properties.


The starter pack is currently available for pre-order online, with release scheduled for August 18, 2013.

June 8, 2013

E3: iam8bit's Art Show and Scrooge's Money Pit


As we enter into the beginning of summer, we once again approach E3--the annual trade show for the computer/video game industry. This year looks to be one of significant Disney presence, given the upcoming launch of their new Disney Infinity franchise, and the nostalgic DuckTales Remastered.

One of the kickoff events was the opening of the videogame-themed art show iam8bit Entertainment System at the iam8bit gallery in Los Angeles.


The show displays a multitude of art pieces celebrating all things gamer, with a nod to various and sundry other areas of geekery.


The main attraction for the Disneyphile, however, would definitely be Scrooge's Money Bin, in which you can burrow around and take photos. Here's the artist's rendering...


...And here's the actuality.


In addition to the pit itself, they had various props people could pose with, including crowns, jewels, and, in a nod to fans of the original DuckTales game, the Green Cheese of Longevity.


Trailers for the Capcom-Disney property were recently released, showing footage from the Amazon and Transylvania areas of DuckTales Remastered, respectively:

iam8bit Entertainment System is located at iam8bit Gallery, 2147 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026 and is set to run from June 7 to June 30, 2013. The gallery is open only certain days and hours of the week, so check for specifics. Street parking available.

May 6, 2013

Welcome to WonderCon!


Earlier this year, the Anaheim Convention Center played host to WonderCon--a smaller sibling to the gargantuan San Diego Comic Con.


While there wasn't a huge Disney presence in either the Exhibitor's Hall or the panel presentations, there was the usual abundance of costumes and cosplayers out and about.


Guillermo del Toro, still said to be connected to a future Haunted Mansion film for Disney, was there presenting a newly-cut trailer for his newest film, Pacific Rim.


Although it's tough not to get behind giant robots battling alien dinosaurs, I might be the only one wanting to see it just to hear the voice of GLaDOS from the Portal video games.

Even in the Trek Nation panel, it was possible to find hints of Disney, if you knew where to look.


Of course, Disney's grandest new acquisition was well-represented in costumes and booths and build-your-own construction projects and pretty much anything else you could imagine.




Some familiar Disney creators were also out in force, such as The Avengers' Joss Whedon, promoting his new independent film Much Ado About Nothing.


Also in attendance was Once Upon A Time writer Jane Espenson, on panels for both Buffy Season Nine and her internet series Husbands.


If finding characters for photo opportunities was too hard at Disneyland, guests had only to walk down the block to find a plethora of costumed folk from properties as recent as Wreck-it Ralph...


...and its Academy-award winning accompanying short, Paperman.


While WonderCon is historically held in San Francisco, recent renovations being done to their convention center have necessitated its move down south for last year and this year. It is unknown as to whether it will stay in Anaheim next year, or return to San Francisco.

February 5, 2013

Thanks for the Memories, Tony Baxter!


One of the very first events I covered for AllEars on my own was the return of Captain EO to Disneyland's Tomorrowland. I figured I was just going to take a few photos, see the movie, and listen to presentations--instead it turned out to be pretty much solely interview opportunities, which I found paralyzingly intimidating. To compound the situation, the interviews included one with Tony Baxter--TONY BAXTER! The Senior Vice President, Creative Development, Walt Disney Imagineering Tony Baxter! The guy who did Big Thunder! Splash Mountain! Star Tours! Indiana Jones! The 1983 redo of Fantasyland! Disneyland Paris, for gosh sakes!


It all turned out happily, thank goodness, in spite of me. Mr. Baxter was as gracious as anyone could wish, and probably more so than I merited.

Last week, Tony Baxter, Senior Vice President, Creative Development, Walt Disney Imagineering, announced his departure from his full-time position at WDI with this letter: As is consistent with the rest of his career, it is marked with intelligence, insight, and affection both for his work in the parks and the people who helped him create so many amazing attractions.


While it's beyond my capabilities to give his work with WDI the overview and historical context it deserves, I can say that having started early enough to benefit from working with some of Walt's original Imagineers and having stayed late enough to mentor today's up-and-coming Imagineers, he served as a valuable bridging point. He was able to incorporate the integrity of the older ideals and values as regards Disney's entertainment aspirations with newer technology and methodology to create projects that had both depth and breadth of appeal. Even in times when it seemed others in the company had abandoned all other concerns for the quickest way to cash out, he represented a force that pushed for quality and the Disney Difference which, in the end, is really why I'm here writing (and presumably you're here reading) about Disneyland and not Six Flags.


One of the events where he featured prominently was at last year's 20th Anniversary celebration at Disneyland Paris, where he gave talks to both the NFFC group specifically, and to the park in general.


Even more recently, at the last Destination D, he was part of a presentation on some of the original WDI members who worked on the parks, as well as a group interview afterwards, addressing some of the modern-day frustrations today's designers face.

While I certainly don't know him personally, I did have the chance to meet and interview him again a few times more over the years, and he never ceased to be as kind and thoughtful to even the hundredth person looking for a signature as he was back at Captain EO.


How Disney will adapt to his absence remains to be seen--I can only hope that they take his espoused philosophies to heart and use them to continue to create the type of attractions that are as meaningful and relevant to future generations as the ones Mr. Baxter gave us. For Mr. Baxter himself, it seems hardly necessary to wish someone luck who has the talent and passion he's always displayed with WDI. Perhaps instead we can simply say "have fun, and come back soon."


Over at the always informative/entertaining blog Progress City USA, D23's Michael Crawford has his own tribute to Tony Baxter, in which he says he will pass on any comments to Tony Baxter. If you have any well-wishes to express to him, I encourage you to check out and leave them there.

June 11, 2012

Disney at E3: It's an Oswald World After All.


For people not familiar, E3 (or the Electronic Entertainment Expo,) is an annual video game conference that takes place at the Los Angeles Convention center that showcases games, gaming platforms, and gaming accessories that will be coming out to market in the next year.

This time around, Disney had a fairly large presence, largely showcasing their big game for the year, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.


Whereas the last game had the player taking the role of Mickey, sometimes opposed to the bitter and vaguely antagonistic Oswald, this game has the two working together with synergistic abilities, giving the player the ability to swap between them during gameplay.


Game designer Warren Spector gave a few talks during the course of the show about some of the changes players can expect from the first game: No longer a Wii exclusive, it will be coming out (on November 18, no less,) on the XBox 360 and the PS3 as well. Changes made to the environment will no longer be reset on revisiting the same area later in the game--decisions made are permanent, and irrevocably affect the course of the game. The camera movement, a large source of complaints in the first game, has been retooled. Most interesting for those of us not big-time gamers--everyone talks this time!


David Garabaldi and George Anzaldo also gave performances, painting and dancing simultaneously together to illustrate "The Power of Two."



There was also a large display of Disney memorabilia (much of it provided by the Disney Archives) as it pertained to the properties featured in the games: Oswald, gremlins, and Mickey.


In case you doubted Spector's devotion to the property, a good portion was also from his private collection.


Oh...and there were the ears.


As a promotional giveaway, the booth gave out free personalized Oswald ear hats. This rapidly became the hit of the show, and the line to order them grew to almost completely encircle the booth. They gave you a time to come back and pick them up and finally...


They showcased a number of other games as well, of course, including their companion to the upcoming movie of the same name, "Wreck-it Ralph."


In a Tron-esque move, the movie was based on an old video game "Fix-it Felix Jr.," and now the movie has inspired a completely new game that has been designed to be the old game from the movie.


They also had a bar giving out Vitamin water to promote their terribly successful mobile game "Where's My Water," which will be coming out with new levels, and a spin-off "Where's My Perry," from the series Phineas and Ferb.


In the back, hidden, oddly enough by an abundance of foliage that attracted the attention of a swarm of gnats by the end of the show, was a display of their other upcoming movie tie-in game, "Brave: The Video Game."


A platformer that will be available on most gaming systems, it does have spoilers in the cutscenes, so it may be advisable to see the movie first.

So it looks like a good year ahead for Disney if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have to finally go finish Epic Mickey 1...


December 31, 2011

Season's Greetings! Still!


Although I am very fond of the holiday season, I often find myself woefully behind on celebrating it. Often, our household ends up postponing a lot of the actual enjoyment of Christmas things--movies, music, etc.--in lieu of meeting the many cheerful obligations that must needs be met before the actual Christmas Day. I understand many people have their tree up directly after Thanksgiving, and then are briskly sweeping the last of the needles out to the curb the day after Christmas. I understand that these families exist, and yet they are as remote from us, who only get our tree down when the city threatens to stop recycling them, as a functioning Yeti.

Perhaps you too, are not completely tired of the holiday season? After all, even Disneyland is keeping their ornamentation up until Three Kings Day, this year. If, like me, you are just now getting the time to relax into the seasonal spirit, I offer up some festive images from some of the various parks and resorts I visited recently.

From the East Coast, to the West, and off to the Far East, best wishes for the upcoming year!

November 26, 2011

Holidays at the Tokyo Disney Resort: Part 1--Prep and Landing.


Long-time blog readers may remember the one of the last times I paid a visit to the Tokyo Disney Resort, it was Tokyo Disneyland's 25th Anniversary (those who have an interest to do so, may check out my report from that trip: ) This year being Tokyo DisneySea's turn to have their 10th Anniversary, I decided it was time for another look.


Since that trip report, Jack Spence also visited the resort and did an insanely detailed blog on all the lands and attractions that were there at the time: Consequently, I'll try to focus more on things that might have changed since those blogs, rather than repeating the information already out there. I'll also try to highlight planning tips that I've found to make my trips easier.

Planning tip #1: Upgrade the flight over, if possible.

Flights are expensive, and international flights are even more expensive. International flights in business or first class are often astronomical, but can be obtained cheaper with the use of frequent flyer miles. Often, if you sign up for the credit card for whatever airline you're hoping to fly, you can earn a large sign-up bonus of 50K+ miles that can be enough to upgrade an economy ticket to the next class up, usually with a copay of some $200-400. As someone who usually stays at the Pop when she visits WDW, this seems like an expensive and unnecessary indulgence; but man, as the years pass, those 10+ hour flights are not getting any shorter. As someone who also can't make these trips all that often, it becomes more and more worth it to just bite the bullet and spend the money, rather than end up incapacitated for the first day or so, with fatigue and puffy extremities.

Additionally, I've had an uncomfortable tendency to get a horrific cold by the end of my Japan trips, which would chronologically put my exposure time likely on the plane ride over. While everyone on the plane is still breathing the same recycled air, I have noticed a decreased incidence of illness when not riding in economy for the first flight (as always, correlation does not imply causation. The placebo effect is, however, a wonderful thing.)

If you've read my earlier Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR) blog, you know I'm a fan of the Airport Limo Bus, and did in fact manage to get a flight over there in time to catch the last bus directly from Narita Airport to Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel. While my first choice (in my dreams) for hotel would be the TDR's Miracosta Hotel, and my TDR Official Hotel first choice would be the Hilton Tokyo Bay, the Sheraton has the advantage of being slightly cheaper, particularly with its cash-and-points option, that allows you to use half the miles and pay half the price for rooms at times of low-to-average occupancy levels.


It's a perfectly nice hotel, but with a little more of a convention/wedding hotel atmosphere than a family/Disney oriented one. I did love the view from my room this time around, which, shortly after I arrived, gave me a pretty good view of the fireworks.


One thing to remember about the resort is that everything closes up fairly early--most of the employees rely on the train/subway system for transportation, which does not run all night long. Consequently, almost everything will be closed by 10pm in order to give the CMs time to put everything in order and be able to make it home. So if you're looking for food after that's pretty slim pickings. I think the latest place in the Ikspiari mall I found open was Ku'Aina (one branch of a Hawaiian burger chain,) which was open until 11:30pm.

One of the advantages of staying in the Official Disney Hotels is that you can purchase your tickets at the hotel in advance, and can get into the parks when they've been closed (for capacity) to all other ticket sales for the day. One change I noticed this time, was that the hotel had a sign out announcing that they no longer took credit cards for tickets--only cash or vouchers.

Planning Tip #2: Exchange slightly more cash than you'd expect at the beginning of your trip.

In Asian countries in general, I've found a greater reliance on cash versus credit cards than in the US. Personally, I'm used to paying for gum with a credit card, but there? Not so much. Unless you're lucky/wise enough to have your money in a bank that refunds ATM transaction costs, you'll probably pay a fee every time you take money out--so I try to take out all I'll need right at the beginning, at the airport (there is no shortage, unfortunately, of things to spend it on.)


Credit cards will also generally charge a foreign currency exchange fee from around 1-3%--if you think you're going to make a significant amount of charges, or if you're likely to make a habit out of international travel, you may want to find a fee-free card. Most of those have an annual fee but many waive it for the first year, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which is what I used on this trip.


Planning Tip #3: Check the resort calendars.

The TDR multi-day (four days maximum) tickets mandate that you choose a specific park for each of the first 2 days of the ticket in advance. After that, you can park hop for a maximum of 2 additional days, before you have to buy another which time you're back to single park days again*.

This, coupled with the fact that the resort frequently changes up its entertainment on a seasonal basis, means it's relatively important to find out if there's some reason to be in a given park on a given day, because there's not much flexibility for changing your mind afterwards. In my case, the first full day I had was the last day before the holiday season started, and consequently the last day they would be performing their Anniversary show "Be Magical" at Tokyo DisneySea (TDS) until January. My choice then was to get a four-day ticket with the schedule "TDS, Tokyo Disneyland (TDL,) Park Hopper, Park Hopper." This is printed right on the ticket you get, and might end up being important if you aren't staying in one of the Resort or Official hotels, because if one of the parks gets busy, they'll deny entrance to off-property folk who don't have a pass specifically designating that park for that day.

Next time: We finally get into a park.

*The exception to this is if you stay at an official Disney hotel (one of the Ambassador, Miracosta, or Disneyland Hotels,) you can buy tickets that allow you to park hop from the first day. These are slightly more expensive than the regular tickets.

December 30, 2010

Followup: A Little Disney in Your Decorating


A while ago I shared some of my Disney holiday decorations, and invited you to share yours. Disney is popular with a lot of you! Here's what you sent.

Mary Virginia wrote:

Disney Christmas ornaments are my favorite way to incorporate my two favorites: Disney & Christmas!

As a young child (5 years old, actually), I apparently begged enough that my mother brother and I each an ornament. His was Mickey and some presents stuffed in a stocking. Mine was Tinkerbell. Every year, these were my favorite ornaments to find on the Christmas tree.

Sadly, those ornaments are no more (thanks Katrina). However, I went to WDW last Christmas, and bought a new special ornament: a glass ball shaped like Mickey with a bride Minnie and a groom Mickey. It says "Just Married" and I got it personalized with our wedding date. It doesn't match ANY of my other ornaments, but I don't care! It is my new favorite. Who knows what kind of ornament I'll come home with this year!

From Melissa:

Most years, I just love to put out the monorail and circle it around the tree. We also have the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and the Contemporary where the monorail circles, and right in the middle in front of the tree.... Why, Cinderella's castle of course! The Christmas tree varies from year to year, but my favorite is the theme of magenta, teal, and purple!

We got married one year ago this weekend, and I am planning on getting at least one Disney Christmas ornament each year. Our first one was the Bride & Groom Mickey & Minnie sitting in a ring, and for this year, I have these adorable snowglobe ornaments!

As you can probably tell, we love Disney and I cherish each and every time we go, which is at least once a month!

Emma, all the way from Surrey, England, writes:

Nearly all of our tree decorations are Disney-related! We have a Mickey & Minnie tree-topper rather than a star or angel; I have bought sets of baubles from the Disney Store - and each trip to WDW we buy one more decoration for our tree :)

Happy Holidays!

Dale Knight says:

We have an Alice in Wonderland themed Christmas Tree. It's upside down and has a tea party set up underneath of it. We also put a "hidden mickey" on each of our six themed Christmas trees.

(I'd love to see a picture of that one! :-) )

From Pat:

A little late, but here is my Disney Decorating:

I have a beautiful Mickey & Minnie Tree Skirt, my tree is about 3/4 Disney ornaments(Characters). The rest are some old family and some of my favorites that came from EPCOT's Germany. My DD stocking is Mickey, I have a singing Tigger & Roo in a rocking chair, and don't forget the Mickey Shape hanging door bells. We have cookie cutters in Mickey Shapes for our butter cookies and I always have Disney wrapping paper for some gifts.

Merry Mickey Christmas to all.

From Lauren:

We don't have a separate "Disney Tree" but I'd say about 40% of our ornaments are Disney, all pretty much by accident. Whenever we travel we always pick up an ornament (or 2 or 5!) and it seems that Disney ornaments have prevailed over every other vacation we've taken!! Other than that, we have a small Disney themed train and a plush Eeyore we picked up a couple years ago who likes to sit in front of our fireplace. Thankfully our pets never thought he was a toy and accepted him into our home!

Damico writes:

My wife Karin & I are long time Disneyworld enthusiasts (my first visit was one week after opening). We decorate our entire 8 foot tree with Disney ornaments of every type that we've collected over the last twelve years. We generally add 4-5 ornaments a year and are getting to the point have having to pick and choose what will fit !!! Every visit (usually 4-5 times per year) we hit the Christmas store in the Marketplace to see what's new. In addition we have a niche in one of our living room walls that I use to build a Disney Christmas village every year using pieces bought over the years. Everything goes up Thanksgiving weekend and comes down after New Years so we celebrate a month Of Disney Christmas.

(Sounds like it's time to get a bigger tree! :-) )

Thanks to all of you for sharing your Disney decorating tips.

Have a very Disney New Year!

November 28, 2010

Little Bit of Disney in Your Decorating


It's that time of year...the days are shorter, the nights are colder, and mailboxes are filled with catalogs and sale ads. When the President starts pardoning turkeys we know it's time to start rooting around in our closets, attics, and storage units and pulling out the holiday decorations.

I have a lot of Disney-themed favorite character is Tigger, so I have Tigger stockings (and stocking holder), stuffed holiday-themed Tiggers of mulltiple sizes, Tigger Christmas tree ornaments, etc. It's hard to pick a favorite, but if I HAD to (and for this blog, I do have to), I'd have to say it's an "animated plush". It's Tigger and Pooh in a red sleigh, and when you turn it on, they bounce and move from side-to-side as they sing "Jingle Bells". It always makes me smile.

What about the rest of you? I'm sure some of you have entire rooms and/or Christmas trees with a Disney holiday theme. How do you bring Disney into your holiday decorating? What are some of your favorite Disney decorations? I'll share your favorites and holiday ideas in a future blog.

(When you send your comments, be sure to enter the word 'blog' in the box provided - that's something we've had to put in place to try to foil the spammers.)

August 20, 2010

Buried (Disney) Treasure - Part 2


So, in a previous blog entry on "Buried (Disney) Treasure" I talked about an item I would be blogging about separately. Because after all, what's a treasure hunt without a treasure map? :-) Though in this case, the map WAS the treasure.


This map of Disneyland was given to me earlier this year by my Evil Twin - she found it at a flea market. We're pretty sure that it was from about mid-1973 (the copyright says 1972), since there are some attractions listed that opened/closed/changed sponsorships in 1973.

Some things I found interesting:

The map is called Walt Disney's Guide to Disneyland. The quote on the left side of this picture is Walt's Opening Day dedication speech. (Larger versions of some of these photos are available by clicking on the photo.)


Space Mountain (called "Spaceport and Rocket Flight Future Attraction" on the map) already has its distinct look - even though construction hasn't even begun and it won't open at Disneyland until 1977!


This map actually shows the attraction buildings and even lists the scenes inside, like this one of the Primeval World. Did you know there were such things as Edaphosaurus and Ornithomimus?


I'd forgotten how different Fantasyland was before its big makeover in 1983. Among other changes, Skull Rock and the Pirate Ship completely disappeared, and Dumbo and the Mad Tea Party were relocated.


Bear Country, home of the Country Bear Jamboree, had just opened in early 1972 - it is featured prominently in the lower left corner of the map.


Main Street still featured a lot of unique shops, like a Candle Shop, and Hurricane Lamp Shop and even a Tobacco Shop. I find it interesting that the Magic Shop and the Mad Hatter are still in the same location today!


I hope you enjoyed my search for buried treasure!

August 16, 2010

Buried (Disney) Treasure


I've been cleaning my desk over the last week or so - which in some ways is more like an archeological dig - or a treasure hunt without a map! I've unearthed some interesting items in the piles, and thought I would share some of them. (These are in no particular order at this point - I didn't catalog them - Indy would be SO disappointed in me!)


Celebrate button - circa 2009


World of Color light-up bracelet - blue, of course! From June 11, 2010.


World of Color cookie from the June 10, 2010 World Premiere event. (No, I am not planning to eat it.)


Small Tigger notepad, with orange pages. Date unknown.


Mickey Monitor from spring 2009, showcasing Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival.


Ahhh...this was a find - an 10th anniversary button! Very rare. Do you realize that AllEars will be celebrating its 15th anniversary in January 2011?


At the D23 Expo this year we were shut out of the Muppets presentation (too many people wanted to attend!) so they took our names and addresses and promise to send "something cute". This showed up about a month later. Not exactly what I was hoping wasn't even autographed!


Zagat's new (at the time) Disneyland Guide, from April 2009.


I don't remember who gave this to me or how long I've had it - it might just be the oldest thing on this list! (Though far from being the oldest thing on my desk...that honor probably goes to a piece of Half Dome cable, used from 1934-1984 - but that's not Disney-related.)


Map of Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, from May 2007. I don't think they give these out anymore.


Ahhh...another treasure! A map from Disneyland's 50th anniversary, July 17, 2005. This particular item was actually protected in a sturdy envelope.


These were actually not on my desk, but they're on a shelf in my office, and I figured they went with the preceding item. :-)


And a treasure collection isn't complete without some gold coins, aye Matey? These are mint chocolate coins (even better than gold, in my book!) from our Med cruise in May.

I actually have one other item I want to share, but I'll save that one for a separate blog entry.

What Disney treasures are buried on YOUR desk?

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About Mousellaneous

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in the Mousellaneous category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Hong Kong Disneyland is the previous category.

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