Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disney Buys Lucasfilm & Star Wars - Now What?

If you are like me, your Twitter feed exploded yesterday with the news that the Walt Disney Company had purchased Lucasfilm, including the Star Wars universe, Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound.  Indiana Jones is also included, but was not figured into the deal because the rights are still entangled with Paramount.  At $4 billion, it was not a cheap purchase.  So what does it all mean?

Dollars and Cents

Was it a good financial move for Disney?  Well, let’s look at the numbers.  There is no doubt that this purchase will actually save Disney some money over the next few years.  That licensing fee that they pay for Star Tours and Star Wars Weekends?  That’s probably over.  The money that they spend getting special effects done at ILM or sound at Skywalker Sound? Definitely reduced.  No way to know for sure, but that probably saves Disney a good amount.

Then there’s the big money – content.  The rumored Star Wars live action show that Lucas was working on that most figured would end up on ABC?  Well, Disney no longer has to pay for that, they can just have Lucasfilm produce it and start selling ads. The Clone Wars cartoons on Cartoon Network?  Will those move to Disney XD?  Probably not soon, but it’s not implausible.  The increase in ad revenues from those two properties to the Disney networks could be very big.

But the biggest part of the announcement was the idea that Star Wars Episode 7, 8 and 9 will be coming soon, beginning in 2015.  If you look at the box office figures for the last three Star Wars films (Episodes I-III), they made over $1 billion between them.  Presuming Disney actually does as they say they will and release the next three films, that means a minimum of $1.5 billion in inflation adjusted dollars if the films perform as the last three did.  Add it all up, and you’re looking at coming close to the $4 billion purchase price in around 10-15 years.  That’s a good move.

The Walt Disney Studios

What does yesterday’s announcement mean for the fate of the Disney studio?  At this point, Studios chairman Alan Horn is basically presiding over several fiefdoms within the Studio structure.  There’s John Lasseter running Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, with two or three films a year coming between the two entities.  Then there’s Kevin Feige and the Marvel team, who are releasing two films a year for the foreseeable future.  Then there is Jerry Bruckheimer, who will continue to produce Pirates/Lone Ranger/National Treasure films as long as Disney will let him.  Add all of those together and you see a slate of five or six films every year before Walt Disney Pictures really gets anything going.

Now add Lucasfilm putting out a Star Wars film every three years.  Doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for original films, does it?  Right now, Disney’s slate outside of the big four entities listed above is mainly re-hashing old turf:  Malificient, Saving Mr. Banks, Oz the Great and Powerful are all revisiting older Disney films or ideas.  So the complaint that Disney is no longer a factory for original, live action content is kind of a lost cause anyway.  As much as I wish it wasn’t the case, Tron Legacy did not perform to expectations, and neither did John Carter.  Both were good, not great films that audiences tuned out.  Name the last Disney live action film that performed well at the box office and was a completely original idea.  I’ll wait.  A case can be made that Enchanted was the last one, and that’s still drawing from Disney’s past.  Beyond that, you have to look WAY back to the Narnia films, and perhaps even The Santa Clause.  I’m not saying Disney doesn’t make good live action films (I quite enjoyed The Odd Life of Timothy Green) but the public is not responding to them.  This move keeps them in the mode of churning out franchise product and relying on Pixar/WDAS to create the new properties.

The Creative End

The real key to this whole deal is Star Wars Episode VII.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  Yes, many of us geeks disliked the prequels, but audiences responded to them.  My son likes Anakin Skywalker more than Luke.  The next generation of kids will respond to the heroes of Episodes VII-IX.  But only if the movie gets it right.  The biggest decision from Disney/Lucasfilm is who will write and direct this film.

Within their “walls” Disney now has two of the best story people in Hollywood in Lasseter and Marvel’s Joss Whedon.  Both understand the importance of story first. Sure, Lasseter and the Pixar brain trust were not able to save Tron Legacy completely, but they sure improved it based on what you read about the film. Between Disney’s existing talent and the allure of Star Wars, they should be able to get whomever they desire to work on the film.  And that is the key decision.

Outside of the films, the mind boggles at the possibilities.  I already mentioned the live action show that Lucas has been working on for several years.  The Clone Wars TV show is well into its run, but who’s to say it couldn’t go on for a while longer and move over to Disney XD.  If the new Star Tours is any indication, the Imagineers are clearly drooling over the opportunities to include new Star Wars attractions at the parks.  Personally, I am looking forward to a cold beverage at Mos Eisley Cantina in the future.

The End Result

Based on all of this, Disney made a very shrewd move.  When Iger took over the company, they had great success with the Princess brand and somewhat with the Cars brand on the merchandise side.  Since then, he’s brought Pixar into the fold, giving Disney access to the Toy Story characters as well as the Incredibles.  He’s bought Marvel, bringing the Avengers and (hopefully) eventually the X-Men into the parks and movie theatres.  Now with Star Wars, Disney is a complete content company with the best loved brands by young boys AND young girls.  They have toddler programming, world class attractions, the best movies and an unmatched merchandise program.  Think of this: the next time you go into a Target or Walmart, Disney now owns at least two entire aisles in the toy department.  That alone makes this a huge move, but the possibilities to come are endless.  I can’t wait to see what happens.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 95 - Hocus Pocus

This week the DFPP team trick-or-treats in Salem Massachusetts to celebrate Halloween and discovers that three old witches and a magic book don’t have anything on a container of salt and a talking cat in the 1993 horror comedy Hocus Pocus.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Blu-ray Review of Pete's Dragon: 35th Anniversary Edition

The last time I took a visit to the fine town of Passamaquoddy was back in Episode 36 of the Disney Film Project Podcast.  And now more than a year later I’m looking at the 35th Anniversary Edition of the movie Pete’s Dragon on Blu-ray.  One of the most fantastic qualities of this new release is the color restoration of the film.  It corrects many of the problems I had with watching the DVD release last year.  The film is now more vibrant and clear, and it looks fantastic on my HD television.  Making this clearly the best version of the movie to date.

Unfortunately that’s where it ends.  The Blu-ray menu has a single static image of Elliott, Pete, Lampie, and Nora.  That’s a lot of wasted potential for what is more commonly a dynamic screen element.  The menu itself has the single redeeming quality of the colors being the green and fuschia of Elliott.  There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish - however, there are only English and French audio tracks.  There is also no audio commentary.

The Blu-ray has 3 Bonus Features, one of which, “Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic”, has appeared on some releases of the movie in the past.  This movie goes into some really good and enjoyable detail about how the animated and live action elements of the movie were combined.  Taking us all the way back to the 1920s with the Alice Comedies, and how instrumental Ub Iwerks was in changing the medium to help create films like The Three Caballeros, Mary Poppins, and Pete’s Dragon.  Thanks to the Sodium Vapor Process.

The second feature is a the deleted storyboard sequence: “Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliot”.  In this we get to see storyboards of a scene where Doc Terminus and his assistant Hoagy were plotting out the ways they would take advantage of Elliott once they capture him, but Elliot overhears.  In the final bonus feature we get to hear a demo recording of the song “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)” set to some of the original storyboards of this movie sequence.

For lovers of the movie Pete’s Dragon itself this is a must have release for the enhanced quality of the film in high definition.  However for lovers of the Blu-ray format and its expansive range in the realm of bonus and other hidden features this release is lacking.  Fans of Elliott and his antics and the zaniness of the “evil” Doc Terminus will definitely want to own this if they’re in the process of upgrading their library like I am.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 94 - Frankenweenie

This week the DFPP team feels the pull to the land of opportunity to follow rumors of unspeakable uses of science only to discover that sometimes love heals all wounds with the help of lightning in the 2012 horror comedy Frankenweenie.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Mouse Detective Review by Briana Alessio

This excellent Disney film from 1986 takes place in 1897, London.  It is a very short feature…approximately one hour and 14 minutes; however, this is guaranteed to cause smiles, laughs, and a tear or two just like any amazing Disney film should.  Obviously, not everyone will feel the same way I do.  There are no princesses or princes, and there is definitely a lack of castles.  In the grand scheme of things, this is actually quite simple.  The simplicity is what I love about it.

The atmosphere is damp and foggy.  I personally love how the film opens.  The background is rather fuzzy but soon comes into focus as we see Flaversham’s toy shop.  The toymaker mouse Hiram Flaversham presents his daughter Olivia with a gift, which is a musical ballerina mouse figurine.  A large shadow with oversized ears is shown outside of the shop, and soon after Olivia hides while some yelling and loud noises are heard.  When she comes out of her hiding place, both her father and the kidnapper have disappeared.  Luckily, she has seen that it is a bat who has entered the shop.

Soon after, she is discovered by Dr. David Q Dawson, who helps her find Basil of Baker Street, the best mouse detective in the city.  With the assistance of Basil’s awesome dog Toby, they go on a desperate search to track down Olivia’s father.  The blossoming relationship between Basil and Olivia is quite precious; at first, he does not want much to do with her, as deciphering is his main game so he has little need for children and their activities.  However, the compassion she has for her father in addition to her determination soon wins a place in his heart and they form a kind friendship.

The villain of the film is named Ratigan, who is persistent in believing he is not a rat.  At one point in the film, there is a drunken mouse who outwardly calls him a rat, to which he calls for his beloved cat to eat him.  Ratigan’s sidekick Fidget, who sounds much like an exaggerated version of Peter Lorre, is the peg legged bat who has kidnapped Mr. Flaversham for Ratigan’s use.  His plan is to overtake the mouse queen of England and to be in control himself.  The plot unrolls in an insanely comical but touching way. 

I would like to say that one of the reasons I love this film so much may be because of the various nods to Sherlock Holmes.  I grew up admiring Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of Holmes, and the tribute to him in this film is awe inspiring for me.  The lead mouse detective is named Basil, an obvious nod to said actor Basil Rathbone.  His assistant is Dr. Dawson, a name change from Dr. Watson, Holmes’ right hand man.  In fact, there are a couple scenes where Basil actually says things such as “It’s elementary, my dear Dawson” and “All in a day’s work, Doctor.”  There are many moments throughout this where we see the love and respect Disney has for Rathbone’s amazing character Sherlock Holmes during the 1939-1946 timeframe.  The dedication to him makes my heart a happy one.

Barrie Ingham voices Basil of Baker Street.  Ingham has appeared in many TV shows and films of the British variety including the original 1960s Doctor Who series.  The fantastic Vincent Prince voices Ratigan.  Price is well known for his chilling voice and disturbing roles in horror films, such as 1959’s House on Haunted Hill (one of my favorite films to watch during Halloween).  Dawson is voiced by Val Bettin.  Bettin has voiced the Sultan of Agrabah in The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves, including voicing the roles of Sultan and Hamed in the 1994 & 1995 Aladdin animated television series.  Fidget is voiced by Candy Candido.  Candido has given us the Captain of the Guards in 1973’s Disney classic Robin Hood, as well as the Indian Chief in Peter Pan and an uncredited performance as the angry apple tree in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz (you may or may not be familiar with that film for it is not well known…ahem).  Alan Young voices Hiram Flaversham.  Young, a brilliant actor both through self and voice portrayals, is well known for playing Wilbur and Angus Post in the 1960s television show Mister Ed.  His voice is unmistakenly heard in Disney’s various animated shows/films as Scrooge McDuck.  AND he portrayed the roles of David and James Filby in my favorite science fiction film, The Time Machine from 1960.  Also, the archive sound voice of Sherlock Holmes is given to us by the one and only Basil Rathbone.  Appropriate, no?

The Great Mouse Detective is directed by Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, and John Musker.  Clements and Musker are known for their wonderful talent as they have given us The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and The Princess and the Frog.  Mattinson and Michener have written for The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound among many others.

As promised in my Ratatouille blog post, here are five pieces of interesting information about this week’s film…

1.)  As we all know, Vincent Price was not shy when it came to acting.  During his recording sessions for the voice of Ratigan, his exaggerated “Shakespearean” hand/arm gestures were worked into the animated poses of Ratigan’s character.
2.)  In the toy shop, there is a music box of fireman musicians.  This is a dedication to the Disney animator Ward Kimball, as he had a Dixieland jazz group called The Firehouse Five, Plus Two.  They performed at Disneyland and on The Mickey Mouse Club television show.
3.)  During a moment when Basil of Baker Street is looking for a map, he unrolls one which is supposed to be a treasure map but one of the locations claims to be Downtown Burbank.
4.)  The clock tower scene toward the end of the film is the first advanced use of computer animation in any feature length animated piece (mainly the use of clock gears).
5.)  This film helped to achieve a dream which Vincent Price had – that was to voice a character in a Disney film.

My favorite part is when we first meet Toby, Basil’s villain-sniffing dog.  Toby is the mode of transportation that Basil takes advantage of to get to places he cannot go to by himself.  By utilizing Toby’s services the first time in the film, he attaches Toby’s collar and as Toby begins his sprint, Basil gets whisked away as he flies through the air.  The best part about this is that Basil is yelling “Tally hooooooo!” during the flee.  Not only does this add to the hilarity of the scene, but it is heart-warming to see Toby representing the horse of the film.  Also, it is comical how Toby dislikes Dawson throughout the duration of this, but seems to somehow warm up to him during the latter portion.  My favorite character is Olivia Flaversham.  She is adorable and her motivation throughout the film is endearing.  She has a heart of a gold and a voice which will melt the soul of the most critical animated film viewer.  Also, she has a fantastic name and if I were to ever become British that would be my new alias.

A couple of quick, additional comments here.  I love how Basil repeatedly mispronounces Olivia’s last name, including calling her by the last name of Flamhammer at one point.  Also, another scene which I absolutely love involves Olivia spotting Fidget hanging upside down outside of a window.  She screams causing him to scream and fall.  I actually rewound the DVD to watch this scene a few times, leaving me in hysterics.  Lastly, in one of the toy shop scenes, I saw a toy elephant which bore a striking resemblance to Dumbo.  I may be wrong but it was quite the spitting image.

The Great Mouse Detective has a lot of heart through its characters.  I know I may sound cliché with certain blog posts, but despite being animated, the characters must have a blend of chemistry and be able to form a concentrated universe of understanding.  Thankfully, this film achieves that and so much more.  The blending connection of the characters form into a unifying sense of loss, betrayal, and relief.  I highly recommend this film and it is one which I look forward to seeing again in the near future.

My Rating:  4/5

Remember, Dawson, we’re low-life ruffians.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 93 - The Great Mouse Detective

This week the DFPP team have called in their friend Kevin to help them investigate a case in London when they uncover a plot to topple the crown using toys, mice, and Vincent Price in the 1986 animated adventure The Great Mouse Detective.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cinderella: Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

As we’re doing our final preparations to record our milestone 100th episode, I look back and realize that it’s been almost a year since the Disney Film Project reviewed Cinderella back in Episode 51 of our Podcast.  I’ve always borrowed or rented this movie over the years, as for some reason as I had just never gotten around to purchasing a copy.  Now Disney has released their Blu-ray Diamond Edition of Cinderella, and provided me with a copy for review, and let me tell you this is an amazing release of the movie.  

It is chock so full of extras I can’t even cover them all here.  Not only did they provide great new bonus features, they also included all of the original DVD bonus features that have been collected over the years.  I’ve spent literally hours going through these features alone. Including several play options, one of the simplest, yet most interesting is the DisneyView option.  This is a feature that’s been around a few years now, and exists so that movies in older aspect rations can be displayed on newer HD televisions without having a letterboxing effect on the left and right of the screen.  What is done is that special artwork is displayed in those areas instead.  It’s a nice way to enjoy your movie.

You can also start the movie off with an introduction by Diane Disney Miller.  She talks about Walt’s involvement with the movie as well as the Walt Disney Family Museum.  She tells us about all the Cinderella related artwork you can find there, and how important the movie was to him.  Looking forward to go there someday and look around.  Also, for those of you who like to break out their iPads while watching, Disney also has provided a Second Screen App to bring an interactive element to watching.  Having sat through a few movies this way in the past, they are great fun.

One of my favorite features on the Blu-ray has to be the piece about Mary Alice O’Connor who you might recognize as the woman who was the inspiration for Disney’s Fairy Godmother.  We learn that when Disney was in the pre-production stages of the movie they were having a designing a look and feel for Fairy Godmother.  Layout artist Ken O’Connor and husband to Mary Alice took a stab at it by envisioning how she might look when she was older.  When Walt saw his sketches he approved it immediately and the rest is history. We also learn about how the Mary Alice O'Connor Family Center came to be.

There is a feature on the Blu-ray where actress Ginnifer Goodwin who plays Snow White on Once Upon A Time takes us through “new” Fantasyland. It’s a little odd watching it as the footage is many months old and feels dated considering that park guests have been walking through these changes to Fantasyland for the past few days now, and there is much more up to date information online.  If you’ve been keeping up to date with the expansion you can skip this feature entirely.

Tangled fans will be excited to find a copy of the short Tangled Ever After on the Blu-ray.  This short was originally released back in January 2012 and was shown in front of the 3D release of Beauty and the Beast.  Without spoiling too much, Maximus and Pascal have to rescue the royal wedding of Rapunzel & Flynn and mayhem ensues.  There’s also a short feature about designer Christian Louboutin’s journey to create his own interpretation of Cinderella’s glass slippers.  It’s an okay though drawn out short that was produced by Disney.  Animation fans may enjoy finding some unique characters created for this short.

There are also several of what I like to call “adjusted media” pieces hidden throughout the Blu-ray.  Including an alternate opening for the movie that only ever existed as storyboards and sketches.  What we get is a run through of these sketches and a voiceover that acts them out for us.  We also get some deleted musical pieces that are introduced by Don Hahn.  These include “The Cinderella Work Song” and “Dancing on a Cloud” and there are a number of other unused songs on the Blu-ray as well.  

There are a number of previews on this Blu-ray as well.  Fans will find most interesting one for the upcoming Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray release.  This Blu-ray will be released on February 5, 2013 to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the movie. I’m looking forward to it as it’s one of my favorite of the animated classics.

Overall I found this to be one of the most solid Blu-ray releases that Disney has put out to date.  There’s something for everyone who loves Cinderella.  History, nostalgia, and trivia with a very modern touch you can’t go wrong owning this Diamond Edition release. It is a welcome addition to my collection.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How To Catch A Cold

From time to time, Disney made educational films or commercial shorts for companies that were willing to pay the money.  One such film produced in 1951 is How To Catch A Cold, where the Kleenex corporation asked Disney to demonstrate why using their products was such a good idea when fighting off a cold.  What they ended up with was a 10 minute film that uses some new characters to educate as only Disney can.

Watching this film, it felt like a flashback, but not to 1951, instead it seemed like a part of EPCOT Center or some of the great Wonderful World of Disney shorts from Walt’s time.  The story focuses on the Common Man, a character that catches a cold and does so by doing many of the things our parents always told us about: working too much, exhausting himself, leaving drafty windows open, staying out in the rain and oh yeah, being around someone who has a cold.

It’s interesting to contrast that with what we know now about colds, which is that they are primarily contracted because of viruses.  There is some good info in this short, however, as presented by the other new character, Common Sense.  This is a miniature version of Common Man, with a voice that seems more Jiminy Cricket than anything else.  In fact, this whole short seems very much like what I remember from my school days, which showed the “I’m No Fool” series with Jiminy explaining similar things.

In this case, the subject of the cold is shown and painstakingly detailed as to what the Common Man did to contract the deadly disease.  As I watched, I felt my own throat start closing up.  It’s that convincing.  I really feel like Common Man should have given political speeches explaining complex policy.  Using the patented Disney formula of taking real world concepts and animating them in simple drawings, either X’s and O’s  to show germs or diagrams of houses to show how a cold spreads, the short methodically takes you through how it all works. 

Surprisingly, this is among the most entertaining shorts of 1951 so far. While the Donald and Goofy and Pluto shorts have been mostly rehashed versions of familiar tropes, this is something different. Sure, the subject matter is not something I would normally want to spend time pondering, but it is something I can relate to.  I imagine the same was true for many audiences at the time.  It also shows an evolution of Disney using animation to educate. It began with Victory Through Air Power and would continue through the excellent Man In Space series on the Disneyland TV show.  If you’re looking to see how that evolution worked, definitely check out How To Catch A Cold.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Captain EO Review by Ryan Kilpatrick

After I was unable to join the crew down in Walt Disney World a few weeks ago, I was asked by our lovely producer, Cheryl, to view Captain EO and write about it.  When Cheryl gives you an assignment, you do it, so today at lunch I pulled up the ole YouTube and gave Captain EO a second look.  I have to say, it’s a tough one to evaluate.

After all, Captain EO contains some of my favorite things from the world of film. First of all, George Lucas.  I mean…stop right there, right? Star Wars? Indiana Jones? Come on! But then there’s Francis Ford Coppola.  Heard of him.  Not a hack.  Did a few great Mafia movies I hear.  Putting those two together should be the recipe for a cinematic masterpiece, right? Then comes Michael Jackson.

I loved Michael as a kid. Thought his music was fun, he did some great videos, and was the consummate entertainer.  Watching Captain EO is watching him in his prime. This is the same Michael who moonwalked across the stage or made the Thriller video. The two songs in Captain EO – “We Are Here To Change the World” and “Another Part of Me” – are among my favorites in his catalog. It’s hard to walk out of the Imagination pavilion not singing those songs if you go to see this 3D show.

However, the film itself is a bit silly. Okay, it’s a lot silly. Captain EO, who is part of some unnamed galactic army type thing, crash lands on a planet of junk with his less than helpful friends and uses his music to transform the evil denizens to life affirming citizens. If you think I’m making that up, just go watch it.  When I watched this as a kid, in the Imagination pavilion, I thought it was funny. And this is someone who liked Michael. As an adult, I find it incredibly silly.

There is absolutely a difference, however, between watching it on YouTube and watching it in EPCOT.  The last time I watched it on property, last fall, I really enjoyed it. Part of it was the nostalgia of seeing this on the big screen again, and the fact that I could walk out of the theater and buy Michael’s rainbow t-shirt.  I didn’t, just for the record. But there was a huge rush associated with watching the film in its original location, brought back to life by Disney. 

As I reflected on it, though, I realized how flat out lame some of it actually was. Obviously you can’t expect special effects from the 80s to match today’s, but the special effects in this film are, shall we say, Dr. Who-esque.  And not today’s Doctor, either.  I’m talking Tom Baker, Scarf wearing Doctor.  While the music is fantastic, the paper thin plot is just awful. I get the idea, letting Michael be Michael but finding a way to wrap it in some sort of adventure.  But the execution is pretty terrible. 

That said, I have to give credit to Angelica Huston as the villain of the piece.  She could have mailed this one in. Instead, she went the other way and went over the top with it, chewing up the scenery and hissing and clawing her way through the 3D.  If this were a period drama, you’d have room to criticize her performance.  In this very wacky environment, her performance is pitch perfect.

All told, Captain EO is a memorable part of my youth, but it’s just not something I particularly enjoy. It’s worth watching, no doubt about it, but don’t just seek it out on YouTube.  If you are going to watch it, head down to EPCOT and enjoy the Imagination pavilion while you’re at it. 

Captain EO – 2/5

“Show me this gift!”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 92 - Captain EO

This week the DFPP team grabs the wrong Kilpatrick and heads into space with friends Dana and Shalon only to discover that changing the world involves a whole lot of dancing and singing in the 1986 musical space opera Captain EO.

Blu-ray Review Of Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta!

Digging back into our vault here at the Disney Film Project, you may recall a very early episode of ours that went completely to the dogs.  We really couldn’t help ourselves as we reviewed the first two Beverly Hills Chihuahua movies back in Episode 11.  As they’re movies about two live action talking dogs, Papi & Chloe, as the central characters it’s hard not to take the content with a bit of humor as it’s intended.  After all actor and comedian George Lopez voices one of the main characters.

So I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the new Blu-ray release of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta!”.  We’re considering, but not promising, to do a podcast episode on this movie next year.  So rather than speak directly about the movie, I thought I’d keep this strictly to the features of the Blu-ray.  However, truth be told, after you get through all of the trailers on the Blu-ray there’s not much content left to review.

One of the trailers reveals a new Disney Junior show called “Sofia the First”, which it seems will be about a young princess named Sofia going to Royal Prep school.  Her instructors will be the fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  From time to time the various Disney Princesses will appear in this show.  There are also advertisements for the upcoming Brave Blu-ray release as well as a Blu-ray containing both Cinderella II and Cinderella III.

There’s a short on the Blu-ray called “Hangin’ With Papi” where we spend a day on the set with Papi.  It’s filmed in a documentary format where Papi is being interviewed and we hear commentary from other members of the cast and crew.   Papi makes a plea to all the “babes” declaring that he only has eyes for Chloe.  We also get to visit wardrobe with Papi, and learn that the cast has great respect for him.  One even calls him the “Marlon Brando of our time”.  On the flip side the cast all seems to recognize that Chloe is a complete diva (duh!).

The last bit of content on the Blu-ray is the music video for “Living Your Dreams” which is the theme song for the movie.  It is performed by actress Raini Rodriguez, and is provided in both English and Spanish versions.  My only problem is that both of these look clearly dubbed, and therefore lack production value.  The song itself is catchy in either language, and the video gets across some of what is going on in the film.

Overall, if you like the whole talking dog meme of the prior Beverly Hills Chihuahua films you’ll very likely want to pick up a copy of this movie or at least go rent it.  But like the originals, this is not a movie for everyone.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Nature's Half Acre

The True Life Adventure series is far from my favorite thing that Disney has ever done. However, it’s an important part of the Walt Disney legacy, and something that the company returns to over and over again. These films became such a part of the Disney lexicon that they would form the basis of Adventureland at Disneyland and become part of the Disneyland TV show. The previous entries in this series, Seal Island and Beaver Valley, were of varying quality. With Nature’s Half Acre, I feel like Disney hit their stride.

Not identifying where it’s set, Nature’s Half Acre, in a similar way to the previous films, tracks the change of seasons in one set place. This time it’s a small plot of land where birds and bugs interact throughout the seasons. We begin the short in spring, where the various activities of the creatures is wound into a song called “Symphony of Spring” which was written for the short.  A woodpecker’s taps are integrated, as are the long crawls of an inchworm. Obviously these are set to music, but there’s a nice rhythm to the piece that serves as an easy intro to the subject.

Winston Hibler, the narrator of these True Life Adventure films, brings things right into focus after that, however, as the majority of the film focuses on the relationship between predator and prey. It begins with birds eating caterpillars, and grabbing food from other sources that they can feed to their young. Many of us have seen or heard of mother birds feeding their children in the nest, but seeing it here is a powerful image. It also allows us to find a narrative that was lacking so much in the previous films. By flowing from one animal to the next, we get a sense of place and character.

That warm and comforting image is then immediately undercut as we cut to scenes of everyone eating everyone else. That’s not me being snarky, that’s actually what Hibler calls it at the end of the sequence.  We have spiders eating bees, after we see the amazing inside of a beehive and how it looks.  We have preying mantis eating anything they can find. And of course the birds pick off all the week bugs.  No joke, the majority of the film is animals eating each other.

Things come full circle, though, as the film slides into winter, showing how the various creatures react to the oncoming frost.  Some build cocoons, others burrow into the earth, but they all prepare for the harsh winter.  These shots of the winter scenery are a stark contrast with the early vistas of spring that were so beautiful and inspiring. It also helps establish a narrative flow for the film, tracking the seasons.

When spring reveals itself again, it’s a rebirth for the creatures and the viewer.  The harsh realities of nature, with animals eating each other throughout the film, are forgotten.  The “Symphony of Spring” returns, this time holding more promise, because we know what the animals have gone through leading into spring. It’s that arc of character for the film that made Nature’s Half Acre more enjoyable.  While I’m still not a fan of the True Life Adventures, this one provided much more entertainment than previous editions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ratatouille Review by Briana Alessio

Ratatouille Review by Briana Alessio

This Disney/Pixar film from 2007 stars a rat named Remy who wants more than anything to be a chef.  Taking place in France, he stumbles across a “garbage boy” by the name of Linguini who is working at Gusteau’s restaurant.  Linguini uses Remy to guide him in cooking, and a great relationship develops among the two.  In addition, we see a blossoming relationship between Linguini and Colette, the only female cook in the restaurant.  (Note: This week’s blog post is going to be ridiculously long, so consider yourself warned.)

Ratatouille opens in a non-traditional Disney fashion.  First we see a story about Gusteau unravel on a black and white television, which then fades to black as the beginning credits roll on-screen.  This cuts to a cottage, where we hear a woman screaming and a couple of gunshots.  As the cottage scene goes on, it poses a personal issue for me.  First of all, this film is rated G.  I feel that when you are going to bring a weapon like this into a Disney film, you should give it a PG rating, especially when there is a crazy woman repeatedly shooting at two rats.  Maybe if we heard one gunshot in the distance and did not have the rifle right in our faces, then I would feel differently about it.  It just took me by surprise in an unpleasant way.  Enough about that though.

After Remy flies out the window with the cookbook over his head, the scene freezes as he explains how he got there in the first place.  There is a laugh-out-loud worthy scene of Remy and Emile being on the roof with a piece of food, then sparks burst as they fall to the ground.  They both agree that the food tastes “lightning-y” after this experience.  We soon see what leads Remy to crash out the window, and he eventually winds up being separated from his family (no thanks to crazy lady and her rifle).  Remy paddles through a dark tunnel, and he must decide between two paths to take inside of said tunnel.  For some reason, this reminds of me the Jungle Cruise attraction in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  You know when you’re asked whether you want to go into the tunnel, and the mysterious music plays as your boat goes through it?  It is similar to me.

Anyhow, we have found out that Gusteau has sadly passed away.  His ghost becomes a regular visitor to Remy, as he instructs him as to what steps he should take in life.  Great words of wisdom for Remy are “a cook makes, a thief takes.”  Remy winds up being right near Gusteau’s restaurant (after taking the tunnel’s left hand path, mind you) and he decides to watch from the roof.  Of course, he falls through the window and we witness some chaos taking place.  His scampering around the kitchen was brilliantly executed through animation, and truly makes the viewer feel as though he is also the size of a rat, sensing the near claustrophobia and helplessness of the moment.  After all of this insanity, the chef sees Remy and orders Linguini to take him outside and kill him.  The hesitation on Linguini’s face in this scene reminds me of Snow White, when the Evil Queen orders the huntsman to kill Snow White, and instead he lets her go.  However, they of course have added humor to this scene.  Linguini decides to let Remy live, and at first Remy wants to make an escape, but soon after chooses to stick with him.

Linguini brings Remy to his apartment and they discover that by Remy sitting atop Linguini’s head and pulling his hair in different ways, he can guide him to use certain ingredients to the meal he is cooking.  After much spilling of uncooked spaghetti and red wine, they both finally get the knack of how to perform this delicate operation, which leads to success in the kitchen.  I do not want to reveal the entire film through a blog post so I will stop here.  Now let me discuss some things I loved.

There are some fantastic lines in this film from various characters.  Horst’s “I killed a man with THIS thumb”, and later proving his point by simply raising this thumb to Chef Skinner, left me in stitches.  Also quite enjoyable was the scene of Skinner’s attempt to get Linguini drunk…which he succeeded in.  Loved the line “let us toast your non-idiocy!” in addition to Linguini’s description of Ratatouille sounding like Rat and Patootie, “which does NOT sound delicious.”  Also wonderful is Linguini’s meeting with the cooks about Ego’s upcoming visit.  He accidentally reverses his wording and informs them that “appetite is coming and he is going to have a big Ego.”  Another scene worthy of a laugh out loud moment is during Ego’s visit when he informs Mustafa to tell the chef to “hit me with his best shot”, to which a restaurant guest replies “I’ll have whatever he’s having”, a nod to the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.

Spoiler alert: I do want to make mention of the one scene which choked me up.  This is when Anton Ego tries the ratatouille for the first time.  He is brought back to memories of his childhood, and there is a slow motion scene of him dropping his critique pen.  There is always a moment in life where we eat a delicious food which brings us back to being a carefree child.  It is a rare occurrence, but it does happen.  We then hear his emotional description of what he considers to be an incredible meal. 

Remy is voiced by Patton Oswalt.  He was a regular (Spence) on the long running TV show The King of Queens.  He also voiced a couple of professors in Kim Possible, the popular Disney TV series which ran from 2003 to 2007.  Chef Skinner is voiced by Ian Holm.  Holm has appeared in a countless number of films, including the portrayal of Ash in the 1979 classic Alien (parental guidance is so very much required for that one), and he is currently filming the series of Hobbit films.  Lou Romano plays Linguini (they look a LOT alike, especially around the eyes).  Romano is a voice actor who has lent his talent as Snotrod in Cars and Bernie Kropp in The Incredibles.  Brian Dennehy voices Django, Remy’s father, and Janeane Garofalo gives us Colette.  Peter Sohn portrays Emile; Sohn provided various voices for The Incredibles, and also directed the wonderful short Partly Cloudy.  The awesome Will Arnett voices Horst.  We also hear John Ratzenberger as Mustafa and Brad Garrett as Gusteau.  Last but definitely not least, the wonderful Peter O’Toole plays Anton Ego.  This was the best actor they could have hired for this role.  Honestly, O’Toole could read me the phone book and I would be the happiest person in the world. 

Ratatouille is directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava.  Bird has also directed Disney’s The Incredibles and Warner Brothers’ The Iron Giant.  Pinkava has worked in the animation department for A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2.  The soundtrack for this film is brilliant, especially the Michael Giacchino piece called “Le Festin” which is performed by Camille.

Although I will hopefully be co-hosting the podcast more often now, when I do blog, I want to try a segment called Five Facts.  I will list five interesting facts about the film, courtesy of IMDb.  So here goes:

1.)  A chef by the name of Thomas Keller of the restaurant French Laundry assisted the crew of this film to teach them how to cook.  Keller’s voice can be heard as a guest of Gusteau’s in the film.
2.)  The animators gave Remy 1.15 million strands of hair, while Colette has 115,000.  The typical individual has 110,000.  This is incredibly accurate.
3.)  During the scene where Remy exits the sewers, there is a barking dog.  Although only the silhouette is shown, this is Dug from the then-upcoming hit Up.
4.)  In the trailer for the film, the gentleman discussing cheeses is actually the director, Brad Bird.
5.)  The famous Pizza Planet truck from Toy Story is shown on the bridge over the Seine during the scene where Skinner is chasing Remy.

My favorite character is Emile.  There is something about his charm and wit that captures my heart.  I love that he will do just about anything for the sake of food.  Also, when Remy asks him if he detects nuttiness in a particular food item, Emile’s witty response of “Oh, I detect nuttiness” is fantastic and well done.  My favorite scene in this film takes place in the kitchen when Remy puts a pair of sunglasses on Linguini to try to hide the fact that he is asleep.  The look on his face as Colette tries to speak to him is absolutely priceless.  This reminds me a lot of select scenes from the 1989 dark comedy Weekend at Bernie’s

I feel that Ratatouille could have been so many levels of fantastic if Remy’s character was voiced by a different actor.  This is horrible to say, but I truly feel that the film lacks heart and connection because of it.  I have nothing against Patton Oswalt, but do you know how the character connects to the audience member through his voice and actions?  The animation skills are top notch, and the eyes are captivating and lure you right in.  However, the voice of Remy just leaves you feeling like it is not a Disney film at all.  This film is definitely geared toward adults more so than children.  Kids might not understand many of the jokes or understand much of what is happening.  Don’t get me wrong, the storyline is brilliant.  I just feel that with a couple of tweaks and changes, it could have been tons better and had more of a charm to it.  I did enjoy the second half of Ratatouille more than the first half.  I will definitely watch this again in the future, it is just not a favorite of mine.

My Rating:  3.5/5

The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 91 - Ratatouille

This week the DFPP team and their friend AJ decide to budget in a field trip to Paris for some gastronomic research and find that the greatest things in life often come from the most unexpected places in the 2007 animated film Ratatouille.

Enjoy the show!