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September 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






April 17, 2017

Born in China" Roundtable with Roy Conli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 9, 2016

"Moana" Press Day: Filmmaker Presentations

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

[All unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"Moana" will be opening November 23, 2016.

November 4, 2016

"Doctor Strange" at the El Capitan Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2016

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

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

[All unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"Moana" will be opening November 23, 2016.

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

May 18, 2015

"Tomorrowland" Press Conference

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"You wanted to see Tomorrowland. Here it comes."
--Frank Walker

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As you might have surmised, if you've visited Disneyland or EPCOT recently to see the previews, the next big Walt Disney Studios film up for release is the new Brad Bird movie, "Tomorrowland."

In a recent press junket, Bird, Screenwriter Damon Lindelof, Story writer Jeff Jensen, and cast members George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Tim McGraw, and Raffey Cassidy all gathered to talk about the upcoming film.

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(Audio from the Q&A follows. WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THE INTERVIEW. PLAY AUDIO/READ FURTHER AT YOUR OWN RISK)

Some notes from the panel:

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Brad Bird

--Brad Bird on Walt Disney's influence on "Tomorrowland:" "Some of the very last things that Walt Disney filmed were about this experimental prototype community of tomorrow...And he was talking about the park and he said, 'yeah, there will be an amusement park kind of like Disneyland, but the whole reason to do it, the main attraction, is this!' And he pointed to the city and said, 'it's going to be an actual place that you can try ideas and we'll take corporations and we'll collaborate with them on new ideas, and sell the ideas to the world, and try them out.'...Which part of it do you think wasn't done? It's that part. And it's understandable, because you needed somebody like Disney as a catalyst to make it happen. But on his deathbed, he was looking up at the ceiling and pointing out how the city would be laid out...The fact that he was, to his last moments, dreaming about this future and making crazy ideas happen, and be real, and accelerate the pace of that, was very moving to me. And if the movie caught even a little bit of that, I think we will have succeeded."

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Raffey Cassidy

--Raffey Cassidy on the relationship between her character and Britt Robertson's character: "I think the relationship between Casey and Athena is quite friendly, because Athena just wants to get Casey and Frank together, to try and save the world."

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George Clooney

--George Clooney on getting involved with the project: "I have to say, just so we're clear, when Damon and Brad showed up at my house, they said, 'We've got a part that we've written for you.' And then I opened up the description of the character and it's a 55-year-old has-been, and I'm kind of going, 'Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?'"

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Britt Robertson

---Britt Robertson on the role of NASA as a source of futuristic optimism: "NASA represents this unknown, and the human race being able to explore the universe and other things that are out there...We're talking about a movie that's saying, 'we don't know what our future is. It's not determined for us, and maybe if we go out there and explore the world, maybe if NASA wants to go and see what else is out there, then maybe that will have some helpful part in making our future something to be excited about.'"

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Tim McGraw

---Tim McGraw on his experience playing a dad, versus his real-life role as a dad: "I was thinking of the scene where we were shooting in the car, Britt and I. We had a long conversation...We were talking about life and talking about guys. It was pretty reminiscent of some of the conversations that I've had with my daughters. In fact, I had to be upset in that scene and I had just been upset with my daughter...the night before about something. There were a lot of parallels for me, for sure, yeah."

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Damon Lindelhof and Jeff Jensen

--Damon Lindelhof on coming up with the movie's concept: "...I've always been really interested in the future and I kind of feel like all the movies that I've been exposed to over the course of the last 20-30 years have shown me a future that I don't really want to be living in."

--Jeff Jensen: "...A lot of Disney really inspired and informed the movie, especially, I think, EPCOT, the whole idea and original idea behind EPCOT, and how that evolved as a sort of laboratory for the future."

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--Clooney on the theme of "Tomorrowland:" "...You know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it's rough out there. And it's not fun. And it can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it's sort of hopeless, in a way, and what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you're involved...A single voice can make a difference and I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there's still so much that we can all do to make things better. And I liked it. I thought it was great."

"Tomorrowland," rated PG, will be released in theaters May 22, 2015.

March 6, 2015

Cinderella and Frozen Fever: Press Conference with the Cast and Crew

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"Have courage and be kind."
--Ella's Mother

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The next big release from Walt Disney Studios and director Kenneth Branagh is a live-action retelling of the classic fairy tale "Cinderella," preceded by the new short "Frozen Fever," a sequel to the blockbuster animated film "Frozen."

As part of the press junket for the film's opening, a selection from "Cinderella's" prestigious cast and crew took a few moments for some roundtable interviews.

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(Audio selections from the Q&A follow. WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT ALL THE INTERVIEWS. PLAY AUDIO AT YOUR OWN RISK)

The first interviewees were Co-Director Chris Buck and Producer Peter Del Vecho for "Frozen Fever."

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Next up was Cinderella herself, Lily James.

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Just as Cinderella is always one step ahead of the Prince, so Lily James was followed by Richard Madden.

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We were then joined by "Cinderella's" Director, the wunderkind Kenneth Branagh.

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(Hopefully you cannot hear me hyperventilating because OMG, KENNETH BRANAGH.)

Afterwards, we were joined by Screenwriter Chris Weitz and Producers Allison Shearmur and David Barron.

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With a movie as dependent on wardrobe changes as "Cinderella," Costume Designer Sandy Powell had her work cut out for her. Our morning ended with her giving us a glimpse into the creation of the film's impressive gowns.

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"Cinderella," rated PG, will be released in theaters March 13, 2015.

January 23, 2015

Review: Strange Magic

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"Strange Magic," a new animated feature from Lucas film Ltd., tells the tale of the denizens of a fairy tale realm, and the hijinks that ensue when love--real and pharmaceutical--enters the picture.

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The story, conceived by George Lucas, introduces us to a fairy tale kingdom divided into a Light Side (Fairy Kingdom,) and a Dark Side (Dark Forest.) The Light Side is ruled over by a King and his two Princess daughters. The eldest, spunky, adventurous Marianne, is engaged to be married to the handsome narcissist Roland. Unfortunately, their wedding day reveals some compatibility issues that leave Marianne determined to swear off love forever.

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As it happens, the border of the Light and the Dark Side is marked by primroses--a key ingredient in a magical love potion, which would seem to be the answer to a lot of problems for both Roland and Sunny the elf, who appears to have been sadly friendzoned by the younger Princess Dawn. Unfortunately, the production of said potion has been strictly curtailed by the Bog King, who seems to rule the Dark Side on a platform of "no love potions." It seems he too has had some unfortunate history that has left him determined to swear off love forever.

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Eventually, pop songs are sung, potions are made, the wrong people are dusted, and a plethora of interesting matches are made, including what appeared to be maybe a lizard and a toadstool. In her efforts to protect her sister, Marianne must interact with the Bog King, and may discover that appearances can be deceiving, and beauty lies within.

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The voice acting in the film is perfectly respectable, with such Broadway veterans as Alan (Bog King) Cumming and Kristen (Sugar Plum Fairy) Chenoweth heading up the cast and tackling the large number of pop songs that pepper the film. One standout is Elijah Kelley who invests Sunny with enough likeability to overcome the impatience one might feel at his character's persistent credulity.

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The animation is as fluid and proficient as you'd expect, coming out of Industrial Light & Magic, even if the character designs aren't entirely appealing. The goblins of the Dark Forest come out the cutest, while the fairies suffer a little from the "uncanny valley" effect, of being a little too close to real, but not quite close enough.

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Ultimately, "Strange Magic's" main antagonist ends up being the demon of comparison: With the recent outstanding output WDAS has been producing, such as "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6," we are currently experiencing a boom time for animation. Unfortunately, whether it's because of relative inexperience or a smaller project scope, "Strange Magic" isn't really competitive with them on either an artistic or story level. That is not to say it isn't enjoyable, however, and if you and yours enjoyed "Shrek," "Gnomio and Juliet," and the Disney Fairies movies, this amalgamation may be right up your alley.

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"Strange Magic" is presented by Lucasfilm Ltd. Rated PG, it stars Alan Cumming, Evan Rachel Wood, Kristin Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph, Sam Palladio, Meredith Anne Bull, Alfred Molina, Elijah Kelley, Bob Einstein, and Peter Stormare.

Directed by Gary Rydstrom and produced by Mark S. Miller. Screenplay by David Berenbaum, Irene Mecchi, and Gary Rydstrom, based on a story by George Lucas. Musical director and
composer is Marius de Vries.

The film enters general release on January 23, 2015, and is distributed by Touchstone Pictures.

December 25, 2014

Review: Into the Woods

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"Into the woods to get the thing
That makes it worth the journeying.
Into the woods to see the King--
To sell the cow--
To make the potion...
To go to the Festival--!
Into the woods!
Into the woods!
Into the woods,
Then out of the woods...
And home before dark!"

--Prologue: Into the Woods

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"Into the Woods," Rob Marshall's filmic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's classic stage musical of the same name, is an amalgamation of fairy tales, both old and new, put under a contemporary scrutiny.

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The story revolves largely around the unnamed "Baker" and "Baker's Wife" whose desperate wish for a child drives them to enter the eponymous Woods to gather potion ingredients for their neighbor, the Witch. They learn that, as a result of a wrong the Baker's father did to the Witch, she cursed his household with sterility--a curse that can only be lifted if the couple can make the potion for the Witch by the end of the Blue Moon in three days time.

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Also entering into the Woods to achieve their aims, are Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Killer.Their stories play out pretty much as you might expect, and by the end of the first half, all that was wrong is now put right, with everyone who deserved it, destined to live Happy Ever After...

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...Or at least until the second act, in which we learn that real life is rarely as simple or pat as that in fairy tales.

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"Into the Woods" faces the always-interesting challenge of translating a stage play into a film--a medium very different in what it showcases well and what it does not. The intimacy of the close-up and realism of location shooting require a different sort of storytelling than that of the Broadway stage, and some of the changes made reflect that. The bulk of the musical numbers survive into the film with the ones eliminated referencing character traits or story details that didn't make the screenplay. As an example, the song "No More," resolving the issues between the Baker and his Father in the play, becomes less necessary when the character of the Father was largely removed. One of my personal favorites, "Maybe They're Magic," from the first half, may have been taken out in an attempt to make the Baker's Wife less morally ambiguous, although there is then less foreshadowing for some of her more questionable decisions later in the story.

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The cast does an admirable job with the score, which is as challenging as a Sondheim score usually is. The songs seem sung a little slower than in the original soundtrack, however that might be more for increasing the clarity for the audience than a lack of musical adroitness. Meryl Streep is the star, and even if you have not quite forgiven her for dissing Walt Disney earlier this year, there is no denying that she possesses the part of the Witch with a vengeance. Johnny Depp as the Wolf manages to make a big impression with a relatively small part, and somehow seems less creepy in an outfit one moviegoer described as "part wolf and part pimp," than he did as Willy Wonka.

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Child roles are always problematic, and the parts of Red Riding Hood and Jack can sometimes be played gratingly irritating, but Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone do a phenomenal job of making the parts likeable and understandable. Crawford in particular gives Red a nice element of pragmatism that is mirrored in all the other female characters of the story, as opposed to the generally less effective male characters.

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If there's one number you're going to remember, however, it's likely to be Chris (Cinderella's Prince) Pine and Billy (Rapunzel's Prince) Magnussen's "Agony," in which the narcissistic, shallow princes bewail the unusual and novel (for them) tortures of not immediately getting what they want. Tearing up the scenery like male models in an Old Spice commercial, they do a hilarious performance that makes the elimination of the second act reprise a crime.

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The main flaw of "Into the Woods" the film, is probably the same flaw of "Into the Woods" the play, which is the mildly unsettled second act. The first half, following the traditional fairy tale molds, has a nice traditional storytelling arc that wraps up all the problems neatly. The second half shows the rapid unraveling of those ends, as "happy ever after" is shown to be largely an illusion. In one sense, the film is a victim of its more visually straightforward nature, as a confrontation with a giant, dealt with more or less off-stage in the original, must be shown and proves to be somewhat puzzling as to how it would practically work. There has also always been some incongruity present in the end, as in the big finale "No One is Alone," the cast sings about how "witches can be right/giants can be good..." but apparently it's ok to kill them anyway?

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People who study such things note that in fairy tales, the Woods represents a place of metamorphosis--an unknown territory where people enter on the road to maturation, to discover what they want and who they want to be. All the characters of "Into the Woods" walk in with clearly defined wishes and goals and emerge triumphant at the half-way point. But what happens after? Real Life doesn't just stop after you reach a high-water mark--it keeps marching along, messy and unclear and ambiguous, and perhaps it's fitting after all, that the film's ending is equally inconclusive.

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Ultimately, there are many different messages that can be taken away from "Into the Woods:" "You can't get what you want until you know what you want;" "being nice and good is not the same as being right;" "all people are connected on some level;" "wishes come true, not free." Perhaps the most practical one I took away was "don't live next door to a witch."

"Into the Woods" is rated PG. It stars Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, and Johnny Depp.

"Into the woods, each time you go,
There's more to learn of what you know.
Into the woods, but not too slow--"

Directed by Rob Marshall and produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt, and Callum McDougal. Screenplay by James Lapine. Based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

"Into the woods to mind the Wolf,
To heed the Witch,
To honor the Giant...
To go to the Festival!
Into the woods,
Into the woods,
Into the woods,
Then out of the woods--
And happy ever after!"

The film enters general release on December 25, 2014.

"I wish..."

December 24, 2014

Into the Woods: Press Conference with the Cast

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"I wish...
More than anything...
More than life...
More than jewels...
More than the moon..."
--Prologue: "Into the Woods"

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For Christmas this year, Rob Marshall and Walt Disney Studios are giving the cinema-going public "Into the Woods."

In preparation for opening, the studio held a screening and press conference with some of the the film's star-studded cast, costume designer, and director.

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(No posed photos or video were allowed during the course of the roundtable discussions. Audio selections from the Q&A follow.)

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WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT ALL THE INTERVIEWS. PLAY AUDIO AT YOUR OWN RISK

First up was the hilarious duo of Tracy (Jack's Mother) Ullman, and Christine (Stepmother) Baranski.

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Next was Costume Designer Colleen Atwood.

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We were then joined by Director Rob Marshall.

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The morning ended with three of the film's stars, Emily (The Baker's Wife) Blunt, Anna (Cinderella) Kendrick, and James (The Baker) Corden.

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"Into the Woods," rated PG, will be released in theaters December 25, 2014.

November 24, 2014

Big Hero 6 - Jason's 1st Impressions

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com shares his first impressions of Disney's latest animated feature, Big Hero 6.

Los Angeles Premiere Of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Big Hero 6" - Red Carpet


HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 04: (L-R) Director Don Hall, producer Roy Conli, actors Daniel Henney, Maya Rudolph, Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios John Lasseter, actors Genesis Rodriguez, T.J. Miller, Director Chris Williams, Katie Lowes, Damon Wayans Jr. and Head of Disney Animation Andrew Millstein, attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Big Hero 6" at El Capitan Theatre on November 4, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Disney has another solid film on their hands. While quite different than Frozen you will still find an engaging story as well as interesting and entertaining characters.

Big Hero 6 is about the relationship between a boy, Hiro, and his robot Baymax, and the adventures that ensue as Hiro, Baymax and their four friends (Go Go Tomago, Honey Lemon, Wasabi, and Fred) work to solve a mystery of what is brewing in San Fransokyo. At its core is a story of personal loss and working through it. To learn more about the who, what, and where check out my introduction/tutorial on the film here.

Big Hero 6 - Jason's 1st Impressions


"BIG HERO 6" Pictured (L-R): Baymax & Hiro. 2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

I was really surprised by the film. I thought the story twists made for unexpected storyline and unanticipated depth to the film. I think Roy Conli (Producer) described it succinctly - “It’s a Disney movie with Marvel DNA”. It is not a stereotypical comic book/action film, but instead a Disney take on it. It stands alone somewhere between the Marvel films and Pixar’s Incredibles and a traditional Disney animated film. It is hard to pigeonhole/define this film.

Big Hero 6 - Jason's 1st Impressions


"BIG HERO 6" Pictured: Baymax. 2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Big Hero 6 is visually detailed. The film continues the Disney heritage of creating ground breaking tools for animation dating back to the early days of the Studios when they experimented with such aspects of film making as synchronized sound and the multi-plane camera. The new creations for Big Hero 6 were a new rendering engine called Hyperion which allowed for more realistic handling of light as well as Denizen which revolutionized how crowds were created and animated. For a computer geek like me it is really impressive the level of detail, lighting, and movement in this film. The number of action scenes, sets, and San Fransokyo itself are amazing to look at. It is very easy to sit back and enjoy the film and forget that everything you are seeing was created by artists and programmers in a computer. But for us geeks we like to really dig into this and the work the team put out with Big Hero 6 is impressive.


Winston from Disney's Feast

Two tips for viewing Big Hero 6. Be sure to be seated on time so you can catch the short that precedes the film. It is entitled Feast and is really enjoyable. I have seen the short twice now, once in 2D and once in 3D and I thought the 3D added some extra fun/dimension to it and worked very well with the style of Feast. You can read my first impressions of it here. And secondly as has become a tradition in many films recently be sure to stay all the way through the credits, especially if you are a Marvel fan. There is a bonus tag at the end that is a great closing note for the film.

In conclusion I would highly recommend Big Hero 6. I was entertained and I think Big Hero 6 appeals to a wide audience and age spectrum. Do not write it off as a traditional comic film or just another Disney animated film: there is more to it. Disney continues its tradition of creating dialog and scenes that work for both kids and adults at the same time. And a bonus for parents this time around...it is not a musical so you will not be hearing the songs sung by kids endlessly. Keep in mind it is a different kind of film from Frozen...it is not a fairytale so I think comparing the two is a little apples to oranges and is not entirely fair.


Related posts on the Geek's Blog:


Be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from Disney as well as on my site http://disneygeek.com


November 7, 2014

Review: Big Hero 6

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Fresh off their wildly popular "Frozen," Walt Disney Animation Studios presents their latest offering, "Big Hero 6."

*************** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ***************

"Big Hero 6" tells the exciting action story of young robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada who, with the help of the adorable robot Baymax, his friends GoGo Tamago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred, forms the superhero team Big Hero 6. Together, they use their powers to try to fight the mysterious villain Yokai and bring it to justice.

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Wait...Maybe that wasn't the story.

OK, "Big Hero 6" is actually the inspiring story of a bunch of young brainiacs that come to realize that technical brilliance can be as good a source for superpowers as any radioactive spider bite, and that cohesive teamwork can create a force far stronger than each individual.

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Actually, you know, that might not be it either.

Well, "Big Hero 6" is really a comedy about a sharp and cynical boy who forms a relationship with a naive and compassionate robot, and the funny friction that ends up taking off their rough edges and molding them into friends.

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No...

Loosely based on a 1998 comic mini-series (at the press conference, the directors stated "all we took was the name,") "Big Hero 6" is a complicated film with a dazzling array of engaging characters, gorgeous artwork, and multilayered storylines.

While the original source material was set in Japan, the film creators reset it in an amalgamation of San Francisco and Tokyo--the beautiful San Fransokyo. This serves a number of different functions: It differentiates it from the "real world" of the rest of the Marvel Universe, avoiding the inevitable question of why the Avengers don't swoop in and save everyone; and gives it a unique identity as one of the few animated features revolving around a Japanese-American protagonist. With so little Asian representation in entertainment in general, the movie might be significant for that alone.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I might be biased, because the Bot Fighter in the beginning of the picture has the first half of my last name printed on the back of his jacket.]

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The voice acting, as we've come to expect from any WDAS production, is top-rate, with Ryan Potter doing an endearingly convincing Hiro. Although his character is often selfish and angry, Potter lets us see the pain and uncertainty behind his actions that keep us firmly on his side. Similarly, Daniel Henney does a lot with a short amount of time to show us how special an older brother Tadashi is to Hiro, and why his understanding and compassion are so important an influence on him. Alan Tudyk provides his usual deft performance as well, moving him one notch closer to John Ratzenberger status with WDAS.

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But the heart of the movie is Baymax, and that Baymax is as successful as he is at touching both Hiro and the audience, is due in no small part to Scott Adsit. Taking the newbie robot from his first, child-like beginnings, to a position of parity among the fledgling super-hero team, to an almost parental role for Hiro, Adsit expertly treads a line between expressing the emotionless robot and the soul he must certainly develop through the course of the movie. The relationship between them drives the story, and as Potter said in one of his interviews, it is apparent that as Hiro rebuilds Baymax physically, Baymax rebuilds Hiro emotionally.

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Although the trailers all emphasize the action and comedy inherent in the film (and there is an abundance of both,) the story turns much darker than you might expect. Characters experience loss and must grapple with overcoming all the resultant grief and anger you'd expect. I've seen some question whether it might, in fact, be too much for children--and while every parent certainly should make their own decisions, I would say that although Hiro lives in an imaginary world, and has fantastical technology at his disposal, all of the problems that matter to him, are problems that can exist in real life to anyone--child or adult. I don't think it's giving anything away to say that by the end of the film, Hiro survives and begins recovering from his issues...and I would think that would help encourage any kid facing similar ones to do the same.

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Tragedies happen to everyone, often for no good reason at all. What "Big Hero 6" tells us, is that heartbreak doesn't define us. What we do afterwards, does.

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"Big Hero 6," in fact, manages to be both everything and nothing you'd expect. It incorporates all the above storylines, and still, like the team Big Hero 6 itself, ends up being more than the sum of its parts.

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"Big Hero 6" is presented by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Rated PG, it features the voice talents of Scott (Baymax) Adsit, Ryan (Hiro Hamada) Potter, Daniel (Tadashi Hamada) Henney, T.J. (Fred) Miller, Jamie (GoGo Tomago) Chung, Damon (Wasabi)
Wayans Jr., Genesis (Honey Lemon) Rodriguez, James (Professor Robert Callaghan) Cromwell, Alan (Alistair Krei) Tudyk, and Maya (Aunt Cass) Rudolph.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, and produced by Roy Conli.

The film enters general release in 3D on November 7, 2014.

*At the screening I saw, the last moments after the credits were suspiciously blank. This is a movie, at least tangentially from the Marvel Universe, however, so I think any True Believer would probably be safe in expecting a post-credit sequence.

October 31, 2014

Big Hero 6: Press Conference with the Cast

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"I fail to see how flying makes me a better Healthcare Companion."
"I fail to see how you fail to see that it's awesome."
--Baymax and Hiro Hamada, "Big Hero 6"

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Coming up swiftly on release date is Walt Disney Animation Studio's latest offering "Big Hero 6."

In preparation for opening, the studio held a screening and press conference with the film's voice cast, directors, and producer, along with the producer for "Feast," the animated short preceding "Big Hero 6" in theaters.

(No photos or video were allowed during the course of the roundtable discussions. Audio selections from the Q&A follow.)

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WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT ALL THE INTERVIEWS. PLAY AUDIO AT YOUR OWN RISK

First up were the lead voices of "Big Hero 6," Ryan (Hiro Hamada) Potter, and Scott (Baymax) Adsit.

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Next was "Feast" Producer Kristina Reed.

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Directors Chris Williams and Don Hall then joined us, along with Producer Roy Conli.

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Finally, the rest of the main voice cast came in. First, the girls--Genesis (Honey Lemon) Rodriguez, paired with Jamie (Go Go Tomago) Chung...

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...And then the boys, Damon (Wasabi) Wayans Jr., paired with T.J. (Fred) Miller.

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"Big Hero 6," rated PG, will be released in 3D on November 7, 2014.

October 29, 2014

Marvel Event: Phase III Revealed

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On a random Tuesday morning in October, Marvel invited both fans and media to the El Capitan Theatre for an unspecified presentation.

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As we waited for the multitudes of fans to file in, organist Rob Richards entertained us with tunes including the theme to "Star Trek." "Avengers" writer/director Joss Whedon and "Captain America: Winter Soldier" directors Anthony and Joe Russo were also in the audience.

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Finally, the show started with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige taking the stage and introducing the recently released trailer to the upcoming "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

Feige then proceeded to display a timeline for Marvel Studios, extending forward through May of 2019, and filled it in with all the movies they have planned for release throughout the years.

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Some of the highlights:

--"Captain America 3," May 6, 2015
--"Dr. Strange," November 4, 2016
--"Guardians of the Galaxy 2," May 5, 2017
--"Thor: Ragnarok," July 28, 2017
--"Black Panther," November 3, 2017
--"Captain Marvel" (Carol Danvers version,) July 6, 2018
--"Inhumans," November 2, 2018
--"Avengers: Infinity War Part 1," May 4, 2018
--"Avengers: Infinity War Part 2," May 3, 2019
--Video clip from "Infinity War" revealed Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet (finally.)
--Video clip from "Age of Ultron" showed a short scene between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers chopping wood and arguing the different sides of morality vs. expediency (as they do.)
--"Captain America 3," originally posted as "Serpent Society," then revealed as a fake-out for "Civil War."
--"Civil War" will follow the big Avengers comic book event, which reflected the world's real-life concerns with terrorism versus privacy. The storyline has the government requiring all superheros to forgo secret identities and submit to registration, with Stark and Rogers facing off on each side of the issue.
--Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans appear on stage to amiably continue the apparent conflict.

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--Chadwick Boseman is introduced as the new Black Panther.

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After the presentation, Feige held a brief Q&A about some of the topics brought up earlier:

In all, an impressive line up looks to be in store, from a studio with a phenomenal track record to date.

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September 29, 2014

A Look Around the Roy E Disney Building - Walt Disney Animation Studios

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I had the opportunity to spend a day at the Walt Disney Animation Studio to learn about Big Hero 6. This was the end of July and they were on the final stretch of Animation for the film. We were given access and a tour of the studio in addition to the information sessions. This is the fourth and final post in the series. This post features a pictorial look around the Roy E Disney Animation Building on the Disney Studio Lot in Burbank, CA. Most of the pictures in this update were taken the day of the event by a Disney photographer, I did post a couple of my own to fill in a couple gaps. I will be leaving out a majority of the session pictures that were used in my previous posts.

We start off the tour with my parking space. It was in the Zorro parking structure with a view of the water tower. To the left through the trees you can just barely make out the Michael Eisner Building (the Dwarf building).

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Looking back at the Zorro parking structure lobby/elevators.

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Crossed Buena Vista Street (the original not DCA version) and made my way up to the Roy E Disney building.

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As is the tradition the upcoming film has taken over the lobby and much of the common space of the building. As soon as you enter this graphic is on the wall.

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Made my way to the reception/security desk to check in. Baymax is watching...

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The wall opposite the desk features microbots.

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Some awards on display from previous films.

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First stop this morning the main theater on the first floor for a presentation and screening of "Feast" then an introduction to Big Hero 6 before heading upstairs.

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Normally photography is heavily restricted in the building - there are signs like this throughout - but we were able to take pictures and were provided with pictures of several areas.

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Big Hero 6 has taken over the main walkway in the center of the second floor of the building. The current productions are housed on this floor as well as the Caffeine Patch which is a common meeting area in the middle of the floor.

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The left side of the hallway features Big Hero 6.

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Roy E Disney - Walt Disney Animation Studios - Big Hero 6 Day Tour - Caffeine Patch

On the right side "Feast".

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Further down the hall on the right is the Caffeine Patch. This is a common gathering spot for the building and a hub for casual meetings, conversations, etc. It features tables, chairs, couches, TVs - places to sit and talk. Nearby (to the right out of this shot) are some notable offices, John Lasseter's and Ed Catmull's to name a couple. The area had a Big Hero 6 overlay.

Roy E Disney - Walt Disney Animation Studios - Big Hero 6 Day Tour - Caffeine Patch

It also acted as the central spot for our day with groups departing from here and lunch being served here.

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Here is the actual coffee counter...with its San Fransokyo makeover.

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More props in the area

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Thought this was great...even newspaper stands.

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There was a 3D printer creating microbot models.

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Roy E Disney - Walt Disney Animation Studios - Big Hero 6 Day Tour - MicroBots

Roy E Disney - Walt Disney Animation Studios - Big Hero 6 Day Tour - MicroBots

Baymax was nearby for pictures.

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Turning down a central corridor near the production pods there is a display featuring "Feast".

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Roy E Disney - Walt Disney Animation Studios - Big Hero 6 Day Tour - Feast

Artwork featuring the cast of Big Hero 6 in their regular close and super hero gear was on the opposite wall.

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The floor houses two active production pods. This is the one for Big Hero 6. Inside are the offices for the film's leadership team. The second pod was the next Disney Animation Studio release, Zootopia. No photos allowed down there.

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We spent time shuttling between story rooms and screening rooms on the second and third floors the rest of the day. I included some pictures of the inside of these sessions in part 3 of my Big Hero 6 posts if you were curious. To close with a look at the past. Olaf and a Fix-It Felix video game were in one of the Hallways.

Roy E Disney - Walt Disney Animation Studios - Big Hero 6 Day Tour - Olaf and Fix It Felix

September 19, 2014

El Capitan Special Engagement: Disney's "Tangled"

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For a limited time, Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre is showing a special engagement of Disney's "Tangled."

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Preceding the 2010 cinematic update on the fairy tale "Rapunzel" is a song and dance from Princess Sofia, of "Sophia the First," with a brief look at the upcoming Disney Junior show "Sofia the First: The Curse of Princess Ivy."

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For those endowed with fanciful follicles, there is also a "Crazy Hair Nights Parade" for all ages.

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Following the film, the audience is treated to yet another princess as Rapunzel herself comes out to dance a little as the credits roll.

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She does dance off before the credits end, however, so people wanting more of a meet-and-greet with her should consider booking a breakfast with commemorative photo offered on select days before the 10am show (reservations required.)

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After the credits, the short "Tangled Ever After" runs--it seems a little odd to have a short after the main presentation, but it is a sequel.

People adjourning to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop next door can find a limited amount of merchandise to accompany them home.

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So, if you're ready to see some other princesses besides the Arendelle sisters, you might consider checking out some old friends down at the El Capitan, where Rapunzel still has her frying pan, Flynn still has his smolder, and Mother Gothel still Knows Best.

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"Tangled" will be running at the El Capitan from September 12 to October 9, 2014. Showtimes are at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.elcapitantickets.com or by calling 1-800-DISNEY6.

Additionally, on Sundays at 4pm and Wednesdays at 7 p.m., El Capitan will be showing the Spanish language and 3D version of Disney's "Tangled."







September 8, 2014

Big Hero Six Part 2

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Big Hero Six
I had the opportunity to spend a day at the Walt Disney Animation Studio to learn about Big Hero 6. I have previously posted Part I featuring a look at “Feast” the new short that will be accompanying Big Hero 6, as well as Part II, which featured a primer on Big Hero 6. In this third installment I want to share some of the interesting factoids/notes I took away from the experience.

I spent the day in the Roy E. Disney Animation Building, the Sorcerer hat building located on the Disney lot in Burbank, CA. This is the home of the Disney Animation Studios. Pictured above is the main lobby. Big Hero 6 has taken over the walls as you enter the building and around the first floor lobby. Below are two more pictures from the first floor.

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Big Hero Six

The morning started off in the theater on the first floor.

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After the Feast presentation I covered in a previous posting, the producer Roy Conli and directors Don Hall and Chris Williams (pictured below) introduced us to the film and characters. We were shown several clips and scenes in various stages of completion to illustrate what they were presenting. In total we saw maybe 20 minutes, they were careful not to reveal too much of the plot or key aspects. It was almost an extended teaser. Much of what was discussed was covered in my overview blog posting already.

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The bulk of the day consisted of five sessions looking at different aspects of putting the film together -- think DVD/Blu-ray bonus material but live, interactive and extended. The sessions took place in screening and story rooms on the second floor and third floors of the building.

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Session 1: Capturing a Character - The Animation of Big Hero 6

Description: Head of Animation Zach Parrish (“Wreck-It Ralph”) and members of his team, including legendary Disney animator Mark Henn (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Frozen”) highlight the enormous scope of the film’s animation, from creating the biggest action sequences in Disney Animation history to richly nuanced character performances in CG.

My Notes:

  • The film utilized 85 animators
  • 5 animation supervisors
  • Their new software allowed for crowd/background characters to be much more dynamic, more variation, and produced more efficiently. There were 701 unique characters created, 1,324 animation cycles, 632,124 retargeted cycles
  • 7 action sequences more than any other Disney animated feature film
  • Baymax walk modeled on a baby penguin
  • The style of animation for Baymax was called unimating because the goal was to simplify his movements
  • Basic steps involved in animation are layout, animation pre-viz, live test, blocking pass, animate -- gather notes and repeat as necessary for each step
  • They demonstrated a way that they collect notes on the film. In real time someone can draw over the frames/scenes being screened and these notes are saved and able to be recalled later.

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Session 2: Visual Effects

Description: On “Big Hero 6,” the visual effects artists were challenged to take this high-octane, action-packed adventure to the next level, all while creating new techniques along the way. From Wasabi’s fighting blades to Fred’s fire breathing suit, Head of Effects Michael Kaschalk and Effects Production Supervisor Nathan Curtis present the complex and varied challenges to bringing action to life.

My Notes:

  • A large portion of this presentation was devoted to one of the key effects of the film, Microbots. These tiny reconfigurable robots are Hiro's invention and play a major role. To create them and get them to move and create objects was a monumental task. In several scenes there are 20 million microbots in the shot.
  • Big Hero 6 used a new rendered developed for the Disney Animation Studios called Hyperion
  • As the films become more complex the need for Visual Effects continues to grow. The team at Disney Animation Studios has grown too. For comparison:
    • 13 Tangled
    • 31 Wreck-It Ralph
    • 35 Frozen
    • 40 Big Hero 6
  • Part of the job of the visual effects team is to explore the science of the effects they are trying to create to understand how it is really happening so they can better model/recreate it for the films. To do this they took research trips to research labs at Universities including CMU, MIT and Harvard
  • The Visual Effects team collaborates with the other teams working on the film and they even embed a member with the animation team to help ensure a constant flow of information between the two.

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Session 3: Meet the Directors and Producer

Description: Directors Chris Williams (“Bolt”) & Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and producer Roy Conli (“Tangled”, “Treasure Planet”) answer your questions about “Big Hero 6”!

  • Collaboration is the word of the day. With two directors managing a large team it was essential to creating the final product.
  • One of the interesting things they learned on their research trip to Tokyo was how it keeps reinventing itself. The city keeps tearing down and rebuilding as needed. A building older than 30 years seemed really old.
  • The film was set in the near future so it would be familiar but still able to push the boundaries.

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Session 4: Production Design (Jin Kim, Lorelay Bove, Shiyoon Kim, Kyle Odermatt)

Description: Join Production Designer Paul Felix and members of the visual development team as they walk through the artistic design choices and research that went into the creation of San Fransokyo and the unique character designs of “Big Hero 6.

  • Lorelay Bove (Visual Development Artist) spoke about the first explorations they did for the film, including a set of Travel posters for San Fransokyo 3 years ago
  • Baymax is an inflatable robot, inspired by some they saw on a research trip to CMU top learn about soft robotics
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  • Shiyoon Kim talked about how a lot of Hiro is based on his childhood and people he knew
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  • Costume Color overview
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  • The walked us through a sample of how a research photo can inspire a building in the film. In this case Aunt Cass's Cafe. In the series of images below you will see a photograph of a building in San Francisco, a first exploration of what it could look like in the film, then a frame from the film.
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Session 5: Script & Story

Description: “Big Hero 6” Screenwriter Robert Baird and Head of Story Paul Briggs show how script and storyboards work together to bring a Disney animated feature film to the screen.

  • The take-away from this presentation is how long and difficult the process is to nail down the story and create the script for a film. The process begins by creating storyboard for the various sequences of the film and stringing them together. These boards can be very elaborate. Big Hero 6 had approximating 30 sequences and each took approx. 1,000 drawings to convey.
  • As the boards and story take shape there are screenings along the way to check on the progress, gather feedback, etc.. typically there are about 8 major screenings over the several years of development.
  • The first screening occurs approximately a year into development and is usually a complete disaster. Things that you think are working well fall flat, the audience is lost, etc.. almost everything thrown out and reworked.
  • With each screening the story starts to solidify and progress. In general it really does not start to come together until the 4th screening

Note: All images on this posting are provided by Disney

September 7, 2014

Big Hero Six Part 1

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Big Hero 6 Introduction

I had the opportunity to spend a day at the Walt Disney Animation Studio to learn about "Big Hero 6". This post is part two of three. The first post looked at the short, “Feast”, that will accompany the film. In this piece I wanted to share an introduction/primer to the Who, What, Where, and When of "Big Hero 6". In the third and final part I will share some factoids and interesting pieces of information I learned while at the preview day about what it took to bring Big Hero 6 to the screen.


What:

“Big Hero 6” is Walt Disney Animation Studios 54th feature film, to be released November 7, 2014. It is directed by Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”) and produced by Roy Conli (“Tangled”).

Big Hero 6 is inspired by a Marvel comic with the same name, about a robotics genius named Hiro Hamada, who learns how to harness his skills. Through a series of events, Hiro, Baymax his robot, and four of their friends, find themselves in the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in San Fransokyo. Hiro transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes to solve the mystery.
Here is the official trailer that was released on July 15, 2014




Where/When:
Big Hero 6 takes place in San Fransokyo in the not-too-distant future. As the name suggests, San Fransokyo is a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. Here is some first-look footage Disney released back in May 2013


To illustrate the blending of the two cities here is a piece of concept art showing a bridge in San Fransokyo
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Who (Meet the Cast):

Hiro Hamada

Voice: Ryan Potter
Notes: 14-year-old robotics prodigy, inspired to gain admission to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology by his older brother Tadashi
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Baymax

Voice:
Scott Adsit

Notes: An inflatable robot designed to be a personal healthcare companion conceived and built by Tadashi. His goal/purpose is to help people.

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Fred

Voice: T.J. Miller

Notes: A laid-back sign-twirling, monster-loving, comic-book fanboy

Big Hero 6 - Fred
Go Go Tomago

Voice: Jamie Chung

Notes:
An adrenaline junkie who is tough, athletic, very loyal, and not much of a conversationalist. Her character was inspired by bicycle messengers.


Honey Lemon

Voice: Genesis Rodriguez

Notes: An optimistic chemistry whiz with a unique fashion sense and can-do attitutde.

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Wasabi

Voice: Damon Wayans , Jr.

Notes: Is committed to precision, super smart, and has martial arts skills.

Big Hero 6 - Wasabi

Other Characters

Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) - Hiro and Tadashi's aunt and guardian. She owns a bakery and coffee shop in San Fransokyo.

Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney) - Hiro’s older brother and guide. He created Baymax and looks out for his younger brother.

Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) - Heads up the robotics program at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.

Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) - An illustrious alum of San Fransokyo Institute of Technology who is the owner of the biggest technology company in the world.


"Big Hero 6" opening in theaters on November 7, 2014. Check back soon for Part III of my day at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, which will feature some information I learned on the making of the film. If you missed part I, a look at the short, "Feast", that will preced the film, you may want to check that out. I will not be reviewing the film in any of the three parts because this was an early preview. We saw less than 30 minutes of footage and it was incomplete, out of sequence, and only enough to give a flavor for the film and for the rest of the day.

August 6, 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy:" Press Conference with the Cast

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"Guardians of the Galaxy," the latest blockbuster from the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has just opened to overwhelming acclaim. The comedy/space epic adventure stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, a self-interested interplanetary thief and scoundrel, who finds himself thrown together with an unlikely team of rogues in a frantic attempt to save a planet from destruction, and a race from genocide.

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As part of their extensive promotional tour, the film's director, James Gunn, and cast came to Burbank for a press conference at the Walt Disney Studios. Scroll to the bottom of this blog for footage from the Press Conference.

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Among the things we learned:

---One of the things that drew Gunn to the project was his childhood obsession with different planets in the solar system, for which he would draw pictures and people with different races, pets, houses, water systems, etc.

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---Pratt found the idea that he might be responsible for giving men body image problems "the nicest thing anyone ever said to me."
---Pratt knows that anyone with those problems can change them around if they are willing to work hard, and get a good coach and be coachable.
---Pratt is offering a course for $4,500 up front. (No, he is not. It's a bit.)
---[I would consider signing up for Pratt's course.]

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---Gunn initially did not want to test Pratt for the role, who he knew as "the chubby guy from "Parks and Rec."
---Twenty seconds after Pratt began reading, Gunn turned to his casting director and commented "chubby or not, if he's chubby, the world's gonna have to be ready for the first chubby super hero."
---Gunn says the heart of the movie is about opening yourself up to care, in a world where you're supposed to be cool and tough.
---[Say, wouldn't it be great if there was a place you could visit, to escape the cynical, snarky world? Where age could relive fond memories of the past, and youth could savor the challenge and promise of the future?]

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---Zoe Saldana (Gamora) fought the stunt people who "are hard, and think that girls are stupid," for her vision that her character's fighting style would be graceful, like a bullfighter.

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---Benecio Del Toro (The Collector) was the first kid in his neighborhood to have a pet alligator.
---Pratt complained that Saldana and Michael Rooker (Yondu) both kicked and hit him pretty hard during the course of the filming. "I felt my organs shake."

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---Vin Diesel (Groot) said he was sent a book of conceptual art when first in talks to do the picture. When he showed it to his kids and asked them which character they wanted him to play, "they all pointed at the tree."

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---Diesel noted that having recently dealt with death in both his personal and professional life, it was therapeutic to play a character like Groot, who celebrates life.
---Diesel's children now consider all trees to be his "brothers and sisters."

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---Each member of the cast named a particular song from the soundtrack that was important to them, except Rooker, who doesn't know the music.

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Also at the Studios, Hasbro had a display of some of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" merchandise they have available.

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So for an exciting, good-hearted adventure, hie thyself to the local cinema!

Related Links:
** Jeanine's review of the movie

** Deb and Linda's review of the movie


August 5, 2014

Disney's Upcoming short "Feast"

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Feast

I was able to attend an event at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and spend the day in the Roy E Disney Animation Building (the one with the sorcerer hat pictured above). We started the day off with a screening of "Feast". This will be the short accompanying "Big Hero 6" in theaters starting November 7, 2014.

Feast

The film shows the evolution of one man's (James) romance with a woman (Kirby) through the eyes of their dog (Winston) in a series of short scenes covering several years in the 6 minutes of the film. The short's director Patrick Osborne chose a different path to sharing this story. He based the shots on a technique that was inspired by his use of the 1 Second Everyday app. This application takes a second of video and then stitches it together to create a film of your experiences. Patrick used it to catalog his life by looking at the meals he ate each day. This led to the basic structure of "Feast". As the title, "Feast", implies food and meal situations are a key component. They are the setting and activity that the film revolves around.

Feast

"Feast" is the first short of a new program within Walt Disney Animation Studios to pitch and create shorts. As part of this program anyone at the Studios is invited to pitch to the studio's creative brain trust, made up of the studio's directors, story leads and John Lasseter. The team then picks the one to go into development. This is Patrick Osborne's first time as director but not the first short he has worked on. He was the head of Animation on "Paperman". He was also the co-head of animation on "Big Hero 6" prior to departing to direct this short.

In addition to this new program Patrick talked about the process to bring the short to the big screen, including the compressed time frame, about 18 months, and the many hats the director of a short wears while ushering it through the development process. He said that as soon as it was given the green light he was tossed into story development and they flushed out the story, taking his initial concept and visuals and turning it into the first treatment. Then they established the look of the film. The team started with traditional drawings then migrated to CG tests to achieve the look he wanted. Next up was shot production. One aspect that he highlighted here that interested me is the use of current technology - as they review the dailies they can annotate directly onto the frames as they are meeting. No more need for interpretation and writing it all down and you can leave visual notes/drawings as well as text directly on each frame/sequence you want to reference. The software handles everything and when he or the animators returned to their desks they could call up the footage and notes.

I found "Feast" to be very entertaining. In the span of six minutes with very little screen time devoted to the human characters, you will be taken on a roller coaster ride of human emotion and relationships as seen from Winston's perspective. The short's style and format goes in a different direction than traditional animation with the look, feel, shot selection and pacing giving it a unique feel that works well. Be sure to arrive on time for Big Hero 6 so you do not miss "Feast". It's worth seeing.


August 1, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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"Guardians of the Galaxy," the latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU,) introduces us to the space-faring scoundrel Peter Quill and the rag-tag band that unites around him in his attempt to save the galaxy.

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*************** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ***************

After an initial sequence more reminiscent of the four-minute montage in "Up" than with the film's slapstick-y trailers, the movie settles in to tell the story of Quill's efforts to obtain, and then regain, a mysterious and powerful orb. In the process of doing so, he is thrown together with four other miscreants: Gamora, an assassin with a heart of gold; Drax, a warrior consumed with regret and vengeance; Rocket, a genetically/cybernetically enhanced raccoon and bounty hunter; and Groot, a powerful sentient tree-creature.

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While the group is initially bound by mutual need and dislike, grudging respect eventually turns to affection and the group evolves from a bunch of isolated beings only out for themselves, into a team willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the galaxy.

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To do so, they end up opposing any number of forces, including the military forces of Xandar; Gamora's assassin sister without a heart of gold, Nebula; Quill's surrogate father, Yondu the bandit; and the story's "Big Bad," Ronan.

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Based on a relatively obscure team of comic book characters dating back to 1969, "Guardians" allows the MCU to both expand their canonically known universe, and simultaneously tell a story completely new to most of their audience. Combining both broad comedy and the grandeur of a traditional space epic, director James Gunn succeeds in dishing up a satisfying adventure that often seems like the love child of Indiana Jones and Captain EO.

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Chris Pratt, as Peter Quill, does a fine job of depicting the lone human of the film as a cocky survivor, still deeply wounded by his loss of both his mother and his planet. Although the ship-full of bandits who raised him may have taught him that only suckers care about others, the experience he gets working with a team shows him the value of family and brings him to the realization that it's never too late to do the right thing. While it might have been expected that Pratt would have the comedic chops from his work on "Parks and Recreation," the heart with which he imbues Quill is surprisingly effective.

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My personal favorite of the movie however, is Groot--who, despite being limited to vocalizing one sentence ("I am Groot") manages to be as expressive as any of the others. Ironically, of all of them, it's Groot who comes with the least amount of growing to do, as his taciturn compassion contrasts and balances Rocket's aggressive tendencies beautifully.

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Ultimately, what I find unique about "Guardians" as opposed to the other MCU films is how the characters struggle to achieve heroism. Rather than most superheroes who either spring out with fully-formed noble intentions from the beginning, or who surmount some life tragedy from a fairly privileged position, these guys are depicted as competent criminals, but vaguely penny-ante, and pretty jerky from the beginning. It's their journey to discover the potential in themselves and the strength they derive from each other that makes them both compelling and relatable (even the raccoon and the tree.)

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At one point in the movie, John C. Reilly's Corpsman Dey of the Nova Corps is relaying a warning from Quill (an escaped criminal) to Glenn Close's Nova Prime, in which he says "I may be an A-hole, but I'm not 100% d---." Nova Prime asks Dey, "do you believe him?" Dey responds "well, I don't think anyone's 100% d---..." Which is probably as good an overall message as any.

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"Guardians of the Galaxy" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, Glenn Close as Nova Prime and Benicio Del Toro as The Collector.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by James Gunn and produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. The Executive Producers are Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham, Nik Korda, and Stan Lee.

The film enters general release on August 1, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

*At the screening I saw, the last moments after the credits were suspiciously blank. This is a MCU film however, and chances are that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably got an post-credit sequence.

April 4, 2014

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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"Captain America: Winter Soldier" is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking place two years after the events of "Avengers," it follows Steve Rogers (Captain America) as he tries to adjust to a world some 70 years advanced from the one he knew.

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Unlike others of his fellow Avengers, Cap has no Malibu mansion or Asgardian castle to return to after the end of their last venture. We find him leading a somewhat solitary existence in Washington DC, taking on stealth missions for SHIELD and doing a lot of jogging. As time has gone by, he's made a friend of fellow jogger/ex-military paratrooper Sam Wilson (Falcon) and developed nagging suspicions about his boss, Director Nick Fury, his partner, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow,) and the entire SHIELD organization.

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His initial misgivings prove to be all too well-founded, when attacks are made on key SHIELD personnel, encrypted files are passed off, and the only advice Rogers has to guide him is "trust no one."

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As the story progresses, Captain America will need to untangle a wide-reaching conspiracy in an effort to stop the deaths of innocents, fighting both old friends, new foes, and the mysterious Winter Soldier.

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The bulk of the film is a call-back to the spy thrillers of the 1970's, so the choice of Robert Redford as guest star this time around is particularly appropriate. Having aged gracefully out of his naive-hero turn from "Three Days of the Condor," Redford here smoothly and skillfully assumes the Cliff Robertson role of the film--the man in power, bent on protecting the public's best interests regardless of the cost. The only downside of this casting is that a star of his magnitude is hard to see as anyone else--if you come out of the film remembering what his character's name was (Alexander Pierce) versus referring to him as "Robert Redford," you're doing better than I did.

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Despite being the title character, Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier probably has fewer lines than any of the others. His origin--not much of a spoiler by this time--gives him a built-in relationship to Rogers that saves his screen time for the film's huge fight scenes. The battles themselves are well staged and choreographed with good specificity to each character's fighting styles, and my only wish would be that they were filmed with longer shots so we could get a better look at all the work that went into them.

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Like all the rest of the recent Marvel films, "Winter Soldier" has a polish and wit about it that clearly elevates it above the vast majority of the other superhero sagas. Although the plot might be as lightweight and gimmick-dependent as others of its ilk, what gives the Captain America movies their strong appeal is their respect for their protagonist. Steve Rogers is clearly a Boy Scout of the highest order, a man of principle who refuses to compromise his belief in truth and freedom and honor. It would be easy, so easy, as we have seen with DC's treatment of Superman, to treat this as some outmoded, naive delusion that needs to be updated for today's more cynical time. Instead, although we do see Cap struggle to reconcile this grittier, nastier reality with his more gracious past (and Chris Evans does a fabulous job portraying Rogers as a man outside of his time,) we are confident that his faith in Humanity and its intrinsic worth will always win out. More than his ten-times-normal strength or agility, it is Captain America's conviction in the good in people and his trust in the possibility of a better tomorrow that makes him a hero.

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Small flaws or not, "Winter Soldier" looks to be another smash hit for Marvel Studios, an entity whose box office clout is proving as powerful as any of the superheroes in its stable.

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"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

*Always stay to the end of the credits.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The Executive Producers are Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo and Stan Lee.

The film enters general release on April 4, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

**Hail Hydra.

February 24, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Planes: Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises"

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"Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre"
--Paul Valéry

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Miyazaki's new (and reportedly last) film "The Wind Rises," loosely based on the lives of engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori, is a gorgeous and bittersweet look at prewar Japan and the consequences of pursuing a dream.

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Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) a smart, kind, brave boy whose only flaw seems to be myopia, dreams of building planes from childhood. He is encouraged by famed Italian aeronautical designer Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci) who he meets regularly throughout his life in dreams.

The film spans thirty years of Jiro's life, from the 1910's to the 1940's. Throughout that time, Jiro grows up, studies, and eventually makes a career for himself as a genius aeronautic engineer. Along the way he finds love and romance in the form of Nahoko (voiced by Emily Blunt,) but is never swayed from his life's passion to design a plane of surpassing beauty and elegance.

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The star of the film however, is the surrounding world of Japan which transitions in the course of the story from the Taisho Era (1912-1926) to the early Showa period (1926-1989.) Dreamy rural countrysides eventually make way for urbanization in the form of larger cities, and the jumble of infrastructure that accompanies new development. As with all Miyazaki's work, each frame shows careful attention to and affection for every detail--even the trains Jiro takes to different parts of the country and throughout Europe modernize with the times.

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While set in other times, other places, this might be a heartwarming Horatio Alger story about a boy realizing his lifelong dreams, there is an inescapable undercurrent of tension and sadness throughout. Destruction and devastation is rampant after the Great Kanto Earthquake, and the Great Depression results in general poverty and pervasive illness. Jiro and his fellow engineer pal Honjo (John Krasinski) work constantly to improve their airplane designs but are hampered by what they see as Japan's backwards state of technology, and are overjoyed when they are finally able to travel to Germany to learn more modern techniques.

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Through it all, each momentous incident in Jiro's or Japan's history is marked by a sudden gust of the titular wind foretelling profound change. We know how this story will end from the start, and what will happen to Jiro's Mitsubishi A6M1s (later to become the Zero Fighters) and the men who fly them. The characters understand too, but like most of us, are helpless to concentrate on anything but their own personal struggles and dreams. Larger issues of politics and war are acknowledged, but like earthquakes, only as functions of larger forces beyond any individual control.

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But the wind keeps rising, and the world keeps changing. We are frequently told that "if we can dream it, then we can do it"...but what then? Ultimately we may discover, along with Jiro, that some thought needs to be given to the consequences, once the dreaming and the doing are done.

"The Wind Rises" is currently in limited release in North American theaters, with general theatrical release scheduled for February 28 under the Touchstone Pictures banner.

December 11, 2013

"Saving Mr. Banks:" Press Conference with the Cast

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One of the most anticipated movies for fans of Disney history is rapidly coming up on release: "Saving Mr. Banks," a fictionalized account of the machinations and negotiations that went on behind the development and creation of the classic film "Mary Poppins."

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Featuring a star-studded cast, the film marks the first time Walt Disney has been portrayed in feature-length drama. Academy award winners Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson take the lead roles of Walt and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, while Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak play the Sherman Brothers, who did the music and lyrics and book adaptation for the film. Colin Farrell plays P.L. Traver's father in flashbacks, while Bradley Whitford depicts screenwriter Don DaGradi. Last month the cast, along with Director John Lee Hancock, Writer Kelly Marcel, and Producer Alison Owen all gathered at the Beverly Hills Hotel for a press conference.

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Here are some excerpts from the good-humored cast's press conference. Among the things we learned:
---Both Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson did extensive research into their characters to try to make them authentic to life.
---Emma Thompson can put on P.L. Traver's voice at the drop of a hat
---Tom Hank's granddaughter is maybe not a fan of Pooh
---BJ Novak had never seen Mary Poppins prior to working on "Saving Mr. Banks."
---There will probably not be a third "Nanny McPhee" movie.

"Saving Mr. Banks" will be out in limited release December 13, 2013; and in general release December 20, 2013.

November 22, 2013

"Frozen:" A Tale of Two Unconventional Princesses

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"When I was just a little girl,
My mama used to tuck me into bed,
And she'd read me a story.
It always was about a princess in distress
And how a guy would save her
And end up with the glory.
I'd lie in bed
And think about
The person that I wanted to be,
Then one day I realized
The fairy tale life wasn't for me."
---"Cinderella"

When the details of "Frozen" first came out, there was a certain amount of concern that it would be anti-feminist. The fear that the original tale of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," which involved a female protagonist, Gerda, a female antagonist, The Snow Queen, and a largely-inert male rescue object, Kai, would be transformed into a conventional Disney Princess narrative caused a certain amount of hue and cry.

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In retrospect, it seems like a safe assumption that a movie written and co-directed by the first female director in Disney Animation feature history would star strong female characters, and Jennifer Lee has not disappointed us. "Frozen" is a tale entirely different from its fairy tale roots, but no less a story of a girl utilizing her courage and strength to save someone she loves.

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"Frozen" begins with sister princesses Elsa and Anna as children, who find Elsa's icy powers a source of joy and entertainment until they accidentally injure Anna. While Anna is healed and her memory erased of the incident, Elsa is constrained to repress her emotions (which seem to trigger her uncontrolled freezing abilities) and hide herself away from everyone, Anna in particular, in an attempt to pass for "normal." After their parents meet their inevitable end, Elsa must be crowned Queen of Arendelle and the castle opened to the public, exposing the lonely Anna and the fearful Elsa to their deepest dreams and nightmares. When the dust settles, Elsa has run away, reviled as a monster, her powers inadvertently plunging the kingdom into perpetual Winter. Anna must set off on a journey to find and save her sister, enlisting the help of mountain man Kristoff, his BFF, reindeer Sven, and the eternally innocent snowman Olaf along the way.

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Although Olaf has been the main thrust of the film's marketing to date, his charm is much more apparent in the context of the movie than the trailers. Although he could easily have come off as doltish, his brand of humorous, yet insightful naïveté resembles that of Hobbes (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more than anything else.

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The animation art is gorgeous, and the voice acting in the film is as good as you'd expect it to be, with Josh Gad as Olaf and the ever-versatile Alan Tudyk as the Duke of Weselton as standouts. The songs, by husband-and-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are clever, if a little contemporary feeling in parts for such a timeless, fairy tale atmosphere ("Love is an Open Door," in particular, seems as though it could be sung as easily on Avenue Q as on the parapets of Arendelle.) Idina Menzel shows off the powerhouse vocals that won her the Tony for "Wicked" in "Let it Go," Elsa's big "Defying Gravity" moment, and Kristen Bell invests Anna with all of her not-inconsiderable quirky charm.

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While the film is marvelous, it's not a perfect one--for one thing, the time we spend with Elsa seems a little short-changed for such a fascinating, wounded character. Once she makes her initial transformation into full-blown Snow Queen mode, it feels like we only see her in a handful of action sequences until the end. There are also a few moments in the resolution that are a little more dependent on coincidence than might strictly be desirable, but these are relatively minor quibbles.

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As a whole, this is a movie which aims for the scope and import of the more mythic Disney films of the past. It has been compared to "Tangled" quite a bit, because of the similarities in the princesses' facial features, but the feel of the story and the sense that this is a Serious Motion Picture more resembles "Beauty and the Beast" to me. While the plot seems initially fairly straightforward, it develops enough twists and turns by the end that it takes a very different shape than you might expect.

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Ultimately, however, I think this film ends up being special for the fairly novel themes it brings to the Disney Animated Feature pantheon: That there are other types of love besides romantic love; that personal power, whether involving ice, like Elsa, or the capacity for love, like Anna, can become warped and destructive if repressed with fear and wielded with inexperience; and that the courage, determination, and self-sacrifice to overcome those obstacles and rescue yourself and others is exclusive to no gender.

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"I don't wanna be like Cinderella
Sitting in a dark old dusty cellar
Waiting for somebody
To come and set me free
I don't wanna be like Snow White waiting
For a handsome prince to come and save me
On a horse of white
Unless we're riding side by side
Don't want to depend on no one else
I'd rather rescue myself."
--"Cinderella"

"Frozen" is rated PG and will enter into general release on November 27, 2013.

November 21, 2013

"Frozen" Walks the White Carpet

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On November 19, 2013, Walt Disney Animation Studio's "Frozen" had its world premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. A snowy-white carpet stood in for the typical red, as celebrity attendants were treated to hot chocolate from Ghirardelli and an actual mountain of snow with ice carvings.

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Present for the opening of the film were cast members Kristen Bell, Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Edie McClurg, Spencer Ganus, Tyree Brown, and Eva Bella, as well as Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, Producer Peter Del Vecho, Executive Producer John Lasseter. Other luminaries attending included Bailee Madison, Dave Foley, and Kevin Sorbo.

"Frozen" will be opening in general theaters on November 27, 2013, but will have a special early engagement at the El Capitan Theatre from November 22, 2013, to January 5, 2014.

November 6, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

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"If you betray him, I'll kill you."
"It seems there'll be a line."

"Thor: The Dark World," the sequel to "Thor," is a return to our favorite Asgardians as they once again face down a threat to all things everywhere. This time around, the megalomanics are the thought-to-be-extinct Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, led by the appropriately evil Malekith. They seek the Aether, which is some sort of diffuse power that will enable them to turn light into darkness across the Nine Realms at the time of Convergence. See, the Nine Realms are the nine worlds supported by Yggdrasil, a mighty Ash Tree, and...

At this point, I'm reminded of the time I tried to explain M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water" to someone, and by the time I got to the invincible monkeys, they didn't want to hear it anymore. While you could spend a lot of time examining the complicated Norse mythology or the even more complicated technobabble Astrophysicist Jane Foster constantly spouts, it all boils down to a pretty clearly defined battle of good and evil woven around the alternate storyline of Thor's maturation and growth as a person. Director Alan Taylor has explained his concept of "Dark World" does not merely refer to the desolate world of Svartalfheim, but to the state of adulthood Thor must enter, dealing with difficult choices and losses along the way.

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The key joy of this movie, as with the last "Thor," is Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Always riding an edge of unpredictability, Hiddleston keeps us constantly guessing as to how much of Loki is a tortured, self-loathing soul unable to come to grips with his adoptive past, and how much is just evil SOB. His interactions with the stolid, almost stodgy Thor are particularly good, and mirror their individual fighting styles--one quick and subtle as a poniard, the other blunt and direct as a hammer. A brief cameo by Chris Evans comes as a fun surprise as well.

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Where the film bogs for me, is anytime we cut back to Jane Foster. I wasn't a fan of this character in the first movie, and she hasn't grown on me in this one either. Whether she's obsessing with her research to the extent of being a jerk to the people around her or spending the last two years sobbing in her pajamas over a guy she met for...what, two days in the last movie?--Foster seems to hit most of the unpleasant female characteristics of the typical Lois-Lane-analogue. Natalie Portman is a fine actress, but she doesn't seem as though she has much more to go on here, than she did as Padmé, back on Tatooine.

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On the whole, however, the film is a fun romp with enough terrain-shattering battles to suit anyone likely to be interested in superhero movies. If it sometimes goes overboard with the exposition and the more-mundane Earthling interactions, it more than makes up for it with the grandeur of Asgard and Loki's mocking banter.

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At the end of the day, reviews hardly matter anymore for the Marvel films--as they become progressively more intertwined it will become a matter of course that anyone wanting to keep up with one branch of the franchise will likely feel the need to see all the others in order to grasp the whole picture. If you, along with the bulk of Humanity, liked "Avengers," you're probably going to see "Thor: The Dark World," and like it, too.

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"Thor: The Dark World" will be in general theatrical release November 8, 2013.

October 28, 2013

A Look Ahead: "Get A Horse," and "Frozen" Part II.

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Surely by now, you must have heard of "Frozen," the upcoming film from Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS.) In case you haven't, here's one of their latest trailers:

To better appreciate the work that went into this film, WDAS invited us to hear from some of the artisans that collaborated to produce it.

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In the first panel, "The Artistry of Arendelle," Assistant Art Director Lisa Keene, Art Director Michael Giaimo, and Visual Development Artist Brittney Lee showed us some of the research the art department conducted to construct the fictional kingdom of Arendelle.

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With the blessings of John Lasseter, the art direction team went on a research trip to Norway, from which they took away three major design components: Fjords...

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Stave churches...

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And the idea of Rosemaling, the folk art decorations that adorn both the architecture and the characters in the film.

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All three combine to give an appearance to the castle complex of Arendelle unlike any of the other Disney films, with the "rustically elegant" castle nestled beside a lake, surrounded by the massive vertical faces of the fjords.

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On the subject of snow and ice, they described the conceptual difficulty of lighting and coloring something that, on the surface, is completely monotone. As they continued to examine the subject, however, they found a wide variety in the quality of light that filters through icicles or reflects off crystals, and additionally added in coloration through Elsa's magic.

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To research this, they visited ice hotels in Quebec and studied the ice structures lit from within.

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Ultimately, the jewel-like palette of the film reflects both the physically realistic quality of light found in nature, and the more magical elements introduced by Elsa and her emotions.

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They finished by talking about how each character incorporates rosemaling distinctive to their personas into their costuming--Anna being carefree and light, has floral motifs, while Elsa's dress is initially reserved, and then subsequently snowflake-based after her power is set free.

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Elsa's snowflake theme is shown even in the ice castle she creates for herself, a six-sided structure that grows by mimicking the growth patterns of crystals.

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Next up was "Meet the Directors and Producer of "Frozen," in which Producer Peter Del Vecho and Co-Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck spoke on a number of different topics touching the development of the story and the process of putting the various pieces together to make a movie.

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Some of the items discussed:
--When the story was initially conceived, the girls were not sisters. This relationship was added later, to give them an additional emotional bond.

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--The ending (which we were not shown,) is original and distinctive enough that it never changed from inception. Their main concern through script development was to ensure that the story earned the ending.

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--Robert Lopez (The Book of Morman, Avenue Q) became involved as songwriter from a past project he had done with Del Vecho.

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--Challenges included being asked to move up the finishing date, which required them to start production while they were still developing the story.

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--While Elsa is seen as the antagonist in the trailers, she and Anna are created to both have issues and arcs that need to be resolved. The true villains of the piece are those that exploit fear for their own personal gain.

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In "Acting Through Animation," Head of Animation Lino DiSalvo and Animation Supervisors Wayne Unten and Becky Bresee recounted all the different measures they took to breathe life into the cast of "Frozen."

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To this purpose, they brought in actors and acting coaches to show them techniques for building an authentic internal life for each of the characters. Even details such as how Idina Menzel's muscles move when taking breaths during a song were carefully incorporated.

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They also went over how they construct a scene, often recording themselves acting out the performance and then taking notes on key, strong poses on which to base the animation.

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They had brought in a reindeer to take notes on its behavior, however they were disappointed to find that reindeer are only slightly less smart than cows, and that their behavior lacked animation in general. They eventually used a hybrid of dogs as a model for Sven.

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(Subsequent to this event, a minor firestorm broke out around the internet over a comment that DiSalvo made, to the effect that women were difficult to animate, because you have to show them emoting, but also keep them pretty and distinguishable from each other. Many used this as an example of what they perceive to be Disney's reinforcement of a monotonous and unrealistic standard of attractiveness. While such a debate is clearly beyond the scope of this article, as someone completely biased pro-Disney, I can only observe that it seems like a lot to hang on one off-handed comment, particularly directed towards two characters who are sisters and who could reasonably be expected to look somewhat alike.)

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In the "Rigging Lab," Effects Supervisor Marlon West, Principal Software Engineer Andy Selle, Animation Technology Manager Evan Goldberg and Effects Supervisor Dale Mayeda demonstrated the Character of Snow, and some of the devices used to pan around a previously-mapped virtual world.

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In an effort to make the snow in the film believable, the team worked with a CalTech Professor to recreate the branching and plating growth of crystals in order to generate snowflakes and Elsa's castle.

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Later, they demonstrated the camera rig used to naturally shoot different angles and viewpoints on a virtual landscape with the same physical movements used for a real one.

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While we were not shown the entire film, it's clear that "Frozen" has the same technical excellence and gorgeous artistry one could reasonably expect from a studio with such a pedigree. The story, far from the "wacky hijinks" air of the earlier trailers or the chauvinistic bent anticipated by some, is one of surprising gravity--the tale of two sisters who start off at an impasse between freedom and responsibility, and who ultimately must make an emotional and literal journey to reconnect in the middle. Like "Sense and Sensibility," except with magic and a singing snowman.

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The movie is currently being promoted as the biggest film event to come out of WDAS since "Lion King;" only time will tell whether "Frozen" can live up to such illustrious company, but from what I've seen, it has the potential to be a very good movie, indeed.

Also? I am totally Team Elsa.

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"Frozen" will open in theaters in 3D on November 27, 2013. For more information, you can see their website at Disney.com/Frozen.

Disclaimer: As invited media, AllEars was granted access to the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Production Team.

October 7, 2013

A Look Ahead: "Get A Horse," and "Frozen" Part I.

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Recently, Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) hosted a sneak peek at their upcoming productions "Get A Horse," and "Frozen," over at their Burbank offices.

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"Get A Horse," the latest short to come out of WDAS and the first to be directed by a woman, combines 1928 artistry with 2013 technology to produce a rollicking interlude starring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and their old nemesis Peg-Leg Pete.

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Director Lauren MacMullan and her co-heads of animation Disney Legend Eric Goldberg (2D) and CG artist Adam Green (3D) collaborated to create footage incredibly authentic to the first Mickey shorts, even down to combing all the originals for voice clips from role originators Walt Disney, Marcellite Garner, and Billy Bletcher.

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Although a huge amount of effort went into making the animation identical to the loose, rubber-limbed animation of the 1920's, every line of the short is new and created specifically for this short.

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MacMullan and Producer Dorothy McKim presented the short, along with a short talk on the various challenges they had giving it an authentic period feel. Animated as a theatrical short shown on a cinema stage, the action begins with black-and-white footage of our characters enjoying a musical hayride, until Peg-Leg Pete comes upon them and tries to intrude on their fun. Numerous fast-paced episodes of conflict lead up to a grand chase sequence in which the characters constantly pop in and out of the flat black-and-white screen to emerge colored and in 3-D across the screen's stage.

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Care was taken to make sure the 3-D versions were consistent with the time--rather than have real world textures, the characters have a "fondant" appearance, with the colors taken from old company Christmas Cards (the only color representations from then.) The 2-D footage was also aged appropriately, as if subject to the same errors and skips inherent in early hand-drawn animation.

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I thought this short was an amazing example of what the combination of CG and hand-drawn animation can produce and certainly puts the lie to the "one or the other" mentality. The care and detailing involved in making it is evident in every frame and will hopefully spark a revival of interest in revisiting this style of animation, which is sometimes unfairly disregarded by people who equate "old" with "unsophisticated."

The short was premiered for the first time in the US at the D23 Expo and will be shown in front of "Frozen" on November 27, 2013.

Disclaimer: As invited media, AllEars was granted access to the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Production Team.

August 7, 2013

Disney's Planes: The World of Cars Takes Flight

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"Disney's Planes" is a new 3-D animated feature from Disneytoon Studios set in the same world as Pixar's "Cars."

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Early in the film, Dusty the cropduster wistfully exclaims that he wants to prove that he "can do more than what he was built for." His journey towards that goal, more than his race around the world, makes up the heart of this latest Disney feature.

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In this third of the in-production (rumored) Planes Trilogy, our protagonist Dusty yearns to leave his cropdusting life behind for the glamorous, fast-paced life of a racing plane. Despite warnings from his personal mechanic Dottie that he is simply not built for that kind of metal fatigue, he manages to scrape his way into the prestigious "Wings Around the Globe" race. As it progresses, Dusty is faced with danger, romance, betrayal, and heartache, and is forced to prove his mettle in more ways than he could ever have dreamt.

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[SPOILERS]

Going into this film, you might expect it to have a lot in common with its Cars progenitors, and you'd be right. There's the small town/old crusty coach with a secret/dim-witted truck BFF/cute car pittys from Cars 1, and the international race/serious car deaths from Cars 2. What you might not expect is the wild tonal shifts the picture makes as it swings from gentle Pixar-ish character-based humor, to Dreamworks-ish topical/sometimes-crass humor, to realistic shots of Dusty taking on damage, to a oddly long and violent "Saving Private Ryan"-ish segment in a military flashback.

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The main quibble I have with the picture is its main character, Dusty. He starts off the movie as a nice, determined, wisecracking dude, and ends it pretty much the same. There's no character arc, because there aren't any really distinguishing features about him--he helps others with their problems and works hard at racing, but doesn't really have any personal issues beyond his fear of heights to overcome. The acrophobia seems a little tacked on as well, and when he surmounts it, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for why he does, except that...he does. This featurelessness more than anything else brands this as more of a children's movie for me, as often children's protagonists seem deliberately uncomplicated so that a kid can identify/replace himself with them. Then again, I thought the same thing about Harry Potter, and he proved pretty popular regardless.

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It is probably not overstating matters to say that many people enjoyed Cars 1 and 2. It is probably also not overstating matters to say that many people had difficulties with the logistics of their world, as it was presented. Where were the people? How do the cars exist as completely independent entities? Cars have a Pope? I think it's a safe bet to say that if you couldn't get over cars not having opposable thumbs in those movies, Planes is not for you. On the other hand, if you enjoyed the Cars franchise before, but were maybe put off by the complicated plotting of Cars 2, you will likely enjoy Planes. If it occasionally shows its direct-to-video roots, it's still a pretty film to look at, with a lot of arresting action thrown in and an inspiring message of overcoming your physical limitations...which ends up working out better for Dusty than Mike Wazowski.

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Subsequent to the media screening, AllEars was able to attend the Red Carpet opening of Disney's Planes' World Premiere, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Attending were the majority of the film's voice talent, along with Director Klay Hall, Producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn, p.g.a, Executive Producer John Lasseter, and a slew of other cinema notables.

Screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard was kind enough to talk to us for a minute about working in the universe of Cars, and plans for the future movies.

Disney's Planes will open August 9, 2013. Director: Klay Hall; Voice of Dusty: Dane Cook. This is the first picture of the Cars franchise to get a PG rating.

AllEars was invited to the preview showing of Planes and the Red Carpet event.

January 15, 2013

Peter Pan: Now Playing at the El Capitan Theatre

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January 11, The El Capitan Theatre opened their limited engagement of the Disney classic Peter Pan.

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To mark the occasion, they had a live panel of folks involved with the making of the film, moderated by noted film critic Leonard Maltin.

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Making up the panel were Ted Thomas, son of legendary animator Frank Thomas; Margaret Kerry, live reference model for Tinker Bell; and Kathryn Beaumont, voice actress for Wendy.

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Each panelist subsequently told a number of anecdotes about their recollections of the film-making process. Beaumont remembered how accessible Walt Disney was--how she would see him walking the hallway or waiting in line at the cafeteria, just like all the other team members. At the time, they were still recording the voices with the actors together, which she remembered being much more conducive to dynamic reads. She was particularly excited to find herself recording with Hans Conried, the voice of Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, as she was a big fan of his from his radio work.

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The always-irrepressible Kerry discussed the persistence of the (false) rumor that Marilyn Monroe was actually the physical model for Tinker Bell, and the joy she found in doing the voice (as well as the body) of the red-headed mermaid--which led her to pursue other voice work in her career.

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Thomas recollected his father at the time of the making of the film, and how he was assigned to animate mostly villains after the war, leading to him designing Captain Hook. Between performing all night each night with the Firehouse Five Plus Two at the Mocambo in Hollywood and an eight-week bout with pneumonia, he eventually hit on the combination of menace-with-elevated-self-image that embodies the Captain Hook we have today.

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To finish the panel, we were then treated to a teaser trailer of Thomas' new documentary "Growing Up With the Nine Old Men," in which he catches up with the other animators' children and they discuss their shared experiences. It looks fascinating, and will be included on the upcoming DVD release.

The next part in the program was a short pre-show with Jake, from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which was then followed by a never-before-seen episode from the show.

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So then the feature presentation played, and wow, but it looks great. Between the fantastic line drawing and the Mary-Blair inspired backgrounds, there is absolutely no surprise that it is such a classic. The animation is meticulous to the point that each character--even secondary ones like Mrs. Darling--are so well developed that there isn't a frame they're on screen, when you cannot look at their faces and tell instantly what they are thinking, and what their point of view is. If you haven't seen Peter Pan in its entirety before (full admission: I had not. Don't ask.) you owe it to yourself to see it on the big screen because it is a masterwork of a type of animation that simply isn't done anymore.

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Once the movie is over, your experience continues with photo-ops in the lobby.

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Next door in the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store, there is a variety of food-related experiences to partake in--a character breakfast with Jake and a specialty sundae--that tie in with the movie. There is also a plethora of merchandise to purchase, enabling you to take the magic home.

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Peter Pan runs multiple times a day at the El Capitan Theatre until February 7, 2013. For more information, please see http://elcapitan.go.com/

June 25, 2012

Brave: Now Playing at the El Capitan Theatre

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June 22, Disney-Pixar's new movie Brave opened at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.

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For Brave, the El Capitan experience comes complete with a live stage show--this brand new one involves many of the classic Disney/Pixar characters in a musical salute to Hollywood's 125th anniversary.

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The small cast performs standards including "Be A Clown," "Cheek to Cheek," and "Another Opening, Another Show."

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As a finale, they head to Scotland to lead into your feature presentation...

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Culminating in the presentation of the girl of the hour.

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Following the show, the short La Luna, and the feature film Brave are presented in Disney Digital 3D, and Dolby® Atmos™ for excellent video and audio clarity. For a review of this visually stunning film, I direct you to Deb's recent blog

After the movie, patrons are invited to head next door to Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store, where a plethora of merchandise is available for purchase.

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At the Soda Fountain, you can partake in the "Brave" sundae, with shortbread, strawberry cheesecake ice cream, strawberry syrup, marshmallow, and whipped cream. Alternatively, if you want a little more time with Merida than the show provided, you can enjoy breakfast with Merida in a package that includes a ticket to the movie for afterwards.

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All in all, El Capitan once again provides a terrific evening of entertainment in an elegant setting. Anyone looking to see Brave during its run there (June 22-August 12,) should certainly consider it for a first-class time.

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El Capitan Official Website

April 3, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides Sneak Peek

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From now until May 30, Disneyland is offering a special "sneak peek" experience for the new Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides movie on selected nights. Lee and I had the opportunity to see what this was all about last Saturday.

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The "experience" takes place at night at the Festival Arena behind Big Thunder Ranch - this was also were many of the Family Fun Weekends were held earlier this year.

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Things get started at about 7:00 p.m. along Big Thunder Trail, where they have placed several merchandise and beverage carts. Two of the carts offer a variety of pirate-themed merchandise, such as hats, t-shirts, "hooks", and swords. Various light-up glowy things are also available.

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The beverage cart serves hot chocolate and Pirate Grog - we tried the latter. It's a cold punch with a light-up ice cube. Lots of tropical flavors light passion fruit, mango and pineapple. It was pretty tasty, but rather expensive at $6.25 for what was probably about 12 ounces of beverage.

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The lines to get in were pretty long on the night we were there. To entertain us while waiting there was a strolling, singing, guitar-playing pirate who walked back and forth along the line. Once we got closer to the entrance, there was a small stage set up, where Poisonous Pat and the peg-legged parrot Captain Squawk were holding court. Not sure how it was done, but Captain Squawk was able to interact with the guests and see and hear them. As each group went by they would give pirate names to some of the guests, administer the pirate oath, and then answer some questions.

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After we went by Captain Squawk we were lined up in a holding area in Big Thunder Ranch, and then were admitted into the Festival Arena.

In some ways it's unfortunate that this event is held at night. The Festival Arena area was decorated to look like the deck of the Queen Anne's Revenge, but because it was dark, we really couldn't see it very well. There's a large screen in the front, and there were pirates in the rigging on both sides as we entered, with other pirates up on some of the other "masts", who were interacting with the guests.

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Once inside, there were lots of cast members directing us on where to go - once there, we had to sit down on the ground. There are some benches way in the back for those who can't sit on the ground and there are designated areas for those in wheelchairs or ECVs.

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So after we were settled, we learned more about this "secret meeting" of Captain Jack's crew that we'd been invited to. But first, as new crew members we had to take the Pirate Oath:

"I, (state your name)" (to which we all dutifully replied "I, state your name" :-) )

"Can always be trusted not to be trusted.
To run from any fight I cannot win.
To win any fight I cannot run from.
To plunder treasure with a hearty laugh.
And to drink free rum with a hearty heart."

(I think only Captain Squawk's version had that last line.)

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A young audience member was appointed First Mate and got to come up on stage and read some words of warning on a scroll, which were accompanied by some flaming torch effects.

After some additional silliness, and a chorus of "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me", we were told to stow "all Canons[sic] or other devices that will steal our souls", and to put on our 3-D glasses, and then the preview began.

Rather than a series of clips from the movie, this was one extended scene, about 8-9 minutes long. I found it a little odd to be plunked down in the middle of the movie, without really knowing what was going on, but it wasn't that hard to figure out. There was a lot of action, and a lot of 3D effects - they looked pretty good, but I personally find them a little cheesy and distracting.

When the lights came on, we found our live pirates "hanging around", matching something we'd seen at the end of the movie clip. That was pretty cool, and unexpected.

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On the way out we had time to look a little bit more closely at some of the set pieces.

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The warnings Captain Squawk had issued about avoiding a ship with red sails made a lot more sense once there was a little more light!

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I had thought Jack Sparrow would be part of the "secret meeting". But instead, he was standing near the exit as we were about to get back onto Big Thunder Trail again. Since he was behind a fence and not posing for photos with individuals, it was actually a good way for most everyone to get a pretty good look at him.

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I'm not sure how many people are allowed into the Festival area at a time - a couple hundred maybe? They can do two shows an hour, by the time they load everyone in, do the show, and then empty the area again. We were in line before 7:00, and saw the second show, which started about 7:45.

We were seated in the center, about 2/3 of the way back, but still had a really good view of the screen and what was going on. Getting up afterwards after sitting on the concrete for about 20 minutes was a little bit of a challenge, though. :-)

It was a fun experience, though because they were trying to get people in and out of there I felt rushed and not able to take a closer look at what they had done back in the Festival Arena. Maybe that adds more mystery to it? I think we'll try to see it again if the line isn't too long.



June 24, 2010

Toy Story 3 and the Fun Zone, at the El Capitan

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Toy Story 3 opened last weekend to general acclaim, winning an opening weekend box office of over $100 million--larger than any other Pixar movie to date. It also accomplished that even rarer feat, of being worthy of its hype.

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The third installment of the Toy Story characters brings something of a bittersweet coda to the tale of Andy's Toys, but there is adventure and giggles enough on the way to balance it out. While there seems to be a larger reliance of action sequences than in the more character-driven preceding films, Pixar has hardly ever needed more than a few frames of a character's expression to show their state of mind. It's a wonderfully crafted film, and anyone who enjoyed the first two films would certainly enjoy the third.

At the El Capitan, following the 3-D presentation, viewers have the additional treat of enjoying the Toy Story 3 Fun Zone, which takes place at Hollywood High School, about one block in back of the theater.

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Audiences are escorted out of the side entrance, and various CMs and signage are evident, marking the way over to the Fun Zone.

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Once at the Fun Zone, there are a plethora of amusements for the family.

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Several themed carnival games are available. No extra charge, but no prizes, either.

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For the smaller fry, a bounce house and craft area were popular activities.

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About 30 minutes after we all trekked over from the theater, they announced a small stage show: Dancing With the Toys. A female host narrated, as Woody, Buzz, and Jessie engaged in about five dance numbers set to the music from the film. While there wasn't a huge amount of seating, there was a fair amount of movement in and out of the area while the show progressed, that there were almost always some open seats (turns out, salsa dancing isn't quite as attention-grabbing for toddlers as say, Legos.)

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For the more energetic kids, there was a whole playground with mazes, slides, and hanging rings.

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For the less-active, there were an abundance of photo opportunities, in addition to Woody and Buzz who were meeting-and-greeting at various places around the Zone. They also had a green-screen setup where you could have yourself digitally superimposed on a Toy Story background and download your photo for free for 24 hours.

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Not enough? For the older kids, or pretty much anyone, there was a large set up of X-Boxes playing the new Toy Story video games, and a number of displays on the new board games, train sets, and collectable merchandise now out.

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Because this is Disney after all, there is no shortages of things to spend your money on, either. Snacks are available at a small concession stand, and there is a separate tent filled with all the Toy Story merchandise you could want.

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A separate "Lotso's Lounge" tent was closed off for the night I went, but is apparently available for birthday parties or other large gatherings.

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Finally, the big eye-catching outdoors activites: A tricycle race, bungee-jumping apparatus, and ferris wheel.

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The tricycle race was the most rambunctious area--they have oversized tricycles as well, so the races aren't exclusively for the young of body.

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The bungee-jumping and ferris wheel weren't operating on preview night, but looked as though they'd be appropriately fun.

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The Fun Zone lasted for about 2 hours after the movie, at which time they announced closing time and gently herded people out. On the whole, it had a lot (Lotso?) to offer families with younger members. For adults, it's a pleasant add-on to the El Capitan movie-going experience. Of note, while there was a great deal of supervision for people going over to the Fun Zone, there was pretty much none coming back, so caution while cutting across parking lots is probably advised.

It's interesting to consider that Toy Story 1 was Pixar's first film, and to imagine how the three films might mirror the different places the filmmakers were at, professionally and personally, while they made them--the anxiety of being new and overestimating their potential; the fears of obsolescence and lack of relevance; and finally, the acknowledgement that every story has an ending.

We are told, however, that plastic can last forever without biodegrading, so who knows? If the Toys can have that kind of staying power, why not Pixar?

December 6, 2009

The Princess and the Frog Studio Screening

Jeanine Yamanaka attended one of the special screenings of The Princess and the Frog at the Disney Studios in Burbank. I hope you'll enjoy reading about her experience as much as I did.

The Princess and the Frog, and The Ultimate Disney Experience

As part of their big promotional campaign for the opening of The Princess and the Frog, Disney created an event by which guests could (for a fairly substantial fee) not only see the movie in advance of the official opening date, but see it on the Disney Studio lot in Burbank. In addition, they were invited to stay afterward for a meet-and-greet with all the Disney Princesses, see props, swing on ropes, and take part in all manner of diversions.

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The pricing was tiered at $50 for reserved seating, and $30 for general admission. The reserved seating also included extras such as popcorn (with souvenir bucket,) soda, beads, commemorative lithograph, etc, however both groups had entry into the post-show event. Personally, I balked a little, both at the prices and at the prospect of facing the traffic up to Burbank during rush hour, however after Goldstar.com offered discount tickets around the $20 price-point, I capitulated.

On arriving at the studios, cheerful cast members swiftly directed cars into the Zorro parking lot and pointed out painted frog feet on the sidewalk, denoting the path to the check-in building.

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This was designated the Prop Room, and had a number of large props and set pieces from recent films such as Narnia and Pirates of the Caribbean. After checking in, people were exhorted to purchase food from the concession stand nearby and then leave in groups with various cast members who escorted them to the theater. They were fairly explicit that we were not allowed to have cameras, so I don't have photos of this room, not wanting to be suppressed with extreme prejudice by the camera police. I don't know if other people felt the same way, but it would explain why, when we approached the theater, Mickey Mouse was standing near a backdrop waving happily to us, and everyone in the group was all "oh, how cute--hurry up and get inside so we can get a seat." He seemed a little surprised that no one stopped to meet and greet him, but...that's Show Business.

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The Studio Theater was a relatively small affair which has apparently not been opened to the public since the opening of Fantasia. Consequently, there is a lot of Fantasia memorabilia displayed in the tiny lobby area. On the night I went it was probably about 3/4 full, with the middle half-a-dozen rows in the center reserved for the VIP seating.

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The movie was excellent, with songs it took me a good 3 days to get out of my head. Go see it.

After the showing, we were allowed to retrieve the cameras we had to check prior to entering the theater, and were guided to Stage 3 (originally built for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) where every princess under the sun was waiting to be met and greeted on personalized wagons.

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One of the first things that caught the eye on walking in however, was a cart offering studio tours. Since one was leaving just then, I tagged along.

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The tour was very much like the ones offered by D23, although a bit shorter, and without the time allotted for Dave Smith and the Archives. The first stop was the Animation Building, in which the 9 Old Men had offices, back in the day. The long hallway that runs the length of the building is covered on both sides with artwork from their many animated films depicting the different stages in animated film development.

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We then walked on to see the Team Disney Burbank building, designed by Michael Graves and also occasionally called "The Seven Dwarves Building" for the enormous statues supporting the roof of the building, as the proceeds from the film Snow White supported the whole building of the studio in the first place.

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This building faces Legends Plaza, which is a small courtyard dotted with plaques commemorating all the different personages who have been awarded the status of "Disney Legend," in the studio's annual ceremony. The three statues there are an enlarged version of the Legends award, the Partners statue, and the Sharing the Magic statue. After everyone had taken photos with all the statues ("it's the only time you're going to get your photo with them, without other people in the picture," our guide told us,) we entered the Frank Wells building, which houses the Archives. Although it was closed (apparently Dave Smith didn't want to wait up for us) we were able to see the lobby displays of famous Disney hats and costumes, and one of only a couple multiplane cameras.

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Eventually, we walked back to Stage 3, observing different landmarks such as the water tower and listening to stories and trivia about how the business was run in the early days.

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The whole tour took about 25 minutes, and we were accompanied at all times by security people, apparently placed to prevent people from just making a break for it and running wild over the studio grounds looking for cels.

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By the time we returned to the event, most of the attendees with children had left, leaving most of the princesses with little to do but stand on their platforms twirling and gracefully posing for the open air. If they were concerned that the floor would open up and drop all the collected Disney royalty into the bottom of the 60-foot water tank built underneath them, it certainly didn't show.

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On one side of the princess area was a character drawing class, run by an actual animator from the Princess and the Frog movie, teaching how to draw the Cajun lightning bug, Ray.

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Surrounding that corner, numerous examples of concept art from the film were hung on the walls, and various cases of memorabilia were displayed as well, dating from the Walt era of the studios, to the dress that the Princess Tiana reference model wore for the animators. There was also a craft table for youngsters, and a small store that seemed to stock mostly Princess Tiana dolls and large numbers of plush frogs.

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On the other side was a small playground with swings and ropes, and different carnival-like games, including a magnetic dart board. There was no charge for playing...but no prizes either. The last element was a small cupcake concession area which sold Princess and Frog cupcakes, decorated with various rings and toppers. They were not cheap, however I think by this time everyone's frame of price reference had been shifted up, where $3.00 no longer seemed unreasonable for a cupcake.

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The most interesting part of the evening for me, was to see how few people were there for experiences that are usually so sought-after. To be in a studio tour of about 5, after blood was practically spilt when the D23 studio tour tickets were released, seemed as odd as seeing Mickey and all the Princesses forlornly dancing around by themselves, minus the frantic families that usually stalk them down like Gaston hunts down elk. Given how popular all these things usually are, and how well everything was presented here, I'm at a loss as to why it was so sparsely attended that they had to start dumping tickets on discount websites.

Although the event had been advertised to go until 10:30pm, they announced it over around 10:00, probably because there were only a couple people wandering around by then. We then followed the frog feet on the pavement outside back out to Zorro, where the happy cast members cheerfully waved us home.

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About Movie Events

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

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