Monday, June 24, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 129 - The Shaggy Dog

This week the DFPP team is hot on the tail of the rumored Dog of Ageless Wonder when they discover that his bite is worse than his bark as a string of weredog related events start to plague a metropolitan area in the 2006 comedy The Shaggy Dog.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Blu-ray Review

Back in Episode 115 of the podcast we reviewed Oz the Great and Powerful, and since that time I have eagerly awaited being able to own a copy for my home video library.  Now, with the release of the Oz The Great And Powerful on Blu-ray Combo Pack, that has happened.  And I’m excited to tell you that this is one of the best Blu-ray releases to date this year.  It is packed with some very solid and enjoyable content, and it was enough to distract me from sitting down to watch the movie.  Sadly this means that I haven’t had a chance to look at the Second Screen app for the iPad, but I did have time to look at all of the bonus features.

Walt Disney and the Road to Oz
This is a documentary about Walt Disney’s long road to trying to create a Wizard of Oz movie.  Starting with the 1957 announcement of the Studio’s creation of the live-action film “The Rainbow Road to Oz”, that was to star the Mouseketeers.  We take a step back to the late 1930s, when Walt originally tried to acquire the rights to the Oz books, and that he missed out, and that it wasn’t until 1954 that he was finally able to purchase the rights to 11 of the Oz books.  Eventually though the original project was cancelled and transformed into “Babes in Toyland”.  After this we learn about the conceptualized, but never completed, “Candy Mountain” addition to the Storybook Land attraction at Disneyland.  It wasn’t until the 1980s with “Return to Oz” when Disney, without Walt, finally produced a live action Oz movie.  All of this leading to the creation of “Oz the Great and Powerful”.

My Journey in Oz by James Franco
We’re presented with a documentary by James Franco about the people who worked on Oz the Great and Powerful.  It’s an array of discussions with Sam Raimi, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, and James himself.  Raimi discusses some interesting background for the origins of the movie, and we learn how Mitchell Kapner was asked by the producers to write the story of the origins of the Wizard himself after learning that Kapner was in the middle of reading the Oz books to his children.

China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief
Joey King, the voice of China Girl, along with others from the film like Zach Braff (Finley) talk about how the movie brought the character to life.  We learn that Sam Raimi wanted the character to be done using a marionette and how Phillip Huber went about creating it.  We learn that having an actual physical puppet to use on set allowed for the performances of the other actors to be more natural when interacting with China Girl.  We learn how the faces of both King and Braff were filmed while voice acting and then transformed on the faces of China Girl and Finley using CGI.

Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz
We learn about how Robert Stromberg helped bring about the Land of Oz depicted in the movie.  Along with with a group of other designers they spent six months of discussions with Sam Raimi to get a direction to take the look and feel.  From scouring the original L. Frank Baum books to get the original basic feel to drawing elements from classic animated Disney works like Snow White, Bambi, and Pinocchio.  Through his knowledge of both set design and CGI he was able to bring about a world that consistent, complete, and unified.

Mila’s Metamorphosis
Mila Kunis and Howard Berger walk us through Mila’s transformation from Theodora to the Wicked Witch of the West from a Special Effects perspective.  Berger talks about how the process of putting on the facial prosthetics works, and how sometimes “old school” simply works best.  And how they worked together with Sam Raimi to create the look of “Wicked Theodora”.  Berger goes into how the coloring of Theodora is based on the old Boris Karloff Frankenstein makeup, and it is broken down into 5 colors named “Theo Stein” 1 through 5. From there costume designer Gary Jones, Berger, and Raimi, all chime in on how Mila really helped bring the character to life.

Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions
Danny Elfman starts us off by discussing how Sam Raimi first contacted him about the film, and gave him his usual pre-production pep talk about the music.  He goes on to tell us about how the waltz “Fireside Dance” was the first piece he wrote for the movie because they need it to set the mood while filming.  He was amazed a year later when he started seeing production footage at how the piece had followed Theodora through the story.  And how he later transformed it into a more “evil” sounding version to go along with her own transformation. He explains that normally he scores the opening piece of a film and then some scenes in the middle before doing the end score.  However Oz was different, he scored the ending scene first and it became the theme for the movie.

This is the weakest of the additional content on the Blu-ray.  The reel is not laugh out loud funny, but there are some cute things in it such as Tony Cox blowing Knuck’s horn terribly prior to sound editing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lilo & Stitch Review by Briana Alessio

This big hearted animated film from 2002 stars a young Hawaiian girl who befriends an alien.  Many Disney fans are against the Stitch’s Great Escape attraction inside of Tomorrowland at the Walt Disney World Resort.  However, you cannot help but smile at his antics in the film. 

The film opens with an extra-terrestial court setting.  Experiment 626 (Stitch’s name on his planet) is known as the first of a new species.  The Grand Councilwoman of the planet orders him to be taken away in a desert asteroid.  On the way, he escapes with a flying vehicle of sorts, heading to a planet called “Eee-arth.”  Meanwhile, his creator named Jumba is put into prison and a one-eyed loopy-minded creature by the name of Pleakley is put in charge of his welfare.

We pan over to Hawaii where the inhabitants are catching waves at a beach.  We see an adorable little girl run over to take a picture of a rather large man wearing sunglasses and attempting to eat an ice cream cone, who appears a few other times in the film.  She arrives just in time to her hula concert.  We meet Nani, Lilo’s older sister, who is the parental figure in her life.  (We find out later on that their parents had sadly passed away.)  We meet an interesting social worker named Mr. Bubbles who checks in periodically with how they are doing.  Unfortunately, Nani cannot seem to have a grasp on the situation and continually loses both patience and the ability to control her little sister.

We then see the first “real talk” scene of the film where Nani and Lilo discuss the meaning of ohana: “ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind…or forgotten.”  Lilo and Nani see an explosion and wonder what it is.  Little do they know they are in for the ride of a lifetime.  The next day, the sisters go to the kennel to adopt a dog.  Stitch has, of course, crashed onto Earth and broken into the kennel.  The first interaction between Lilo and Stitch is awesome – she says hi and he returns her greeting with an excited “HIIIIII!” Her eyes bug out of her head and she immediately wants him.

Lilo spends time trying to teach Stitch how to be a regular “dog.”  Nani works at a restaurant where fire dancers put on shows – in fact, there is one in particular named David who likes her.  Chaos erupts thanks to Stitch and Nani is fired.  Nani’s explanation to Lilo as to why she was let go was hilarious – “The manager is a vampire and wanted me to join the legion of the undead” to which Lilo quietly responds “I knew it.”  Another great scene is when Stitch finds a blender in the kitchen and proceeds to turn it on and open the top, which results in him screaming. 

Nani attempts to get a job but Stitch manages to ruin every interview she has by causing some form of trouble.  At the final interview for a lifeguard position on a beach, Stitch comes out dressed as Elvis Presley to entertain beachgoers (my least favorite scene of the film – way too corny).  Mr. Bubbles witnesses this going on and basically informs Nani that she should be out of Lilo’s life.  Meanwhile, Jumba and Pleakley have been on Earth for a while and are also checking out what’s going on, planning how they will catch Stitch. 

Next comes the saddest part of the entire film.  A devastated Stitch reads part of The Ugly Duckling and says “I’m lost” out loud.  Per usual, I began to cry hysterically.  His little voice and ears bent downward are enough to cause the heartstrings to break.  Jumba finds Stitch and tells him that he will never belong.  Stitch replies with the other heart wrenching line of the film, stating that he was waiting for his family. 

The last part is a bit all over the place while still well done.  David finds Nani a job offer.  Jumba and Pleakley bombard the house in hopes to catch Stitch.  The house unfortunately gets blown up in the process.  Mr. Bubbles puts Lilo in the car and Stitch gets captured.  Lilo escapes the car and ends up being stolen with Stitch.  An elaborate rescue mission takes place which ends in the safe return of both Lilo and Stitch.  The Grand Councilwoman arrives on Earth to bring Stitch back to their planet, but after his heartfelt speech, the Councilwoman decides that he can stay on our planet.  Jumba and Pleakley turn into good guys and in turn help the family build a new house.  The film ends with photographs taken of the happy family.

Lilo was voiced by Daveigh Chase who continued to voice Lilo for the sequels, video games and the animated series; she has also appeared in many television shows.  Christopher Michael Sanders voices Stitch.  Sanders was also a director for the film.  David Ogden Stiers portrays Jumba; Stiers has been in many films and also provided the voices for Governor Ratcliffe and Wiggins in Pocahontas as well as the voices of Cogsworth and of the Narrator in Beauty and the Beast.

Lilo & Stitch was directed by Dean DeBlois and the above mentioned Christopher Michael Sanders.  DeBlois and Sanders have also been involved in the writing department of Mulan

Five Facts:
      1.)  During the photo montage at the end, the film pays homage to Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting.
      2.)  The film earned $145 million at the box office, Disney’s highest earned film since 1999’s Tarzan.
      3.)  The producer Clark Spencer said the story was originally supposed to take place in Kansas rather than on Kauai.
      4.)  During the scene where Lilo shows Stitch where he will sleep, a Hidden Mickey is seen in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
      5.)  In the scene at the hotel, Stitch carries a rose which was inspired by an animation student who gave flowers to fellow animation students as well as animators themselves at the annual Disney Institute animation classes.

Lilo & Stitch is a highly enjoyable film.  With classic animation and charm galore, this is an absolutely heartfelt piece from start to finish.  Despite a couple moments of Stitch’s occasional gross humor, you immediately forget about it and instead fall in love with all of the characters.  While this is not a personal favorite of mine, it is indeed one which I would call an excellent animated film and one worthy of watching every year.

My Rating:  4/5

I have just determined this situation to be far too hazardous.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 128 - Lilo & Stitch

This week the DFPP team heads to the island of Kauai to investigate reports of an invasive new species with possible extraterrestrial origins and learn that a little ohana can tame the most dangerous of beasts in the 2002 animated adventure Lilo & Stitch.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Minnie's the Wizard of Dizz DVD Release

Normally, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is not something I would review, but after the Disney Film Project Podcast took a look at Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, when Disney decided to release the special Minnie’s The Wizard of Dizz, I thought I would take a look.  It’s not that I haven’t seen an episode of the show before - I have been known to get down with the Hot Dog Dance once or twice before myself (Goofy if you must know).  The point is that it’s still just a television show, not a movie.  And I’ll be honest, despite this feature coming in at 101 minutes long, it’s still just an episode of the show albeit a longer one.  Sofia was much different in retrospect.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad at all.  It’s just not a movie.  It has all the exact same elements of every episode of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse that keep kids coming back for more.  Minnie, Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto are all there along with a few others.  Instead of Toodles they sub in an identical, but pink character (because blue and pink are reversed in the Clubhouse world and Dizz) named Woodles.  Etc.

There are a number of nods to the Wizard of Oz throughout.  For starters you have Minnie and Pluto playing the roles of Dorothy and Toto, though their journey to Dizz, on a pink tornado, is a lot less catastrophic than Dorothy’s journey to Oz.  Along the way they meet Clarabelle the Good Witch, who provides her with “Sparkly Green Shoes” that should be able to help her to get home, but in her usual forgetful way, Clarabelle forgets how.  This puts Minnie at odds with Pete the Bad Witch.  Along the way she meets the Chipmunchkins, Scarecrow Goofy, Mickey the Tin Mouse, and Donald the Lion.  And the all head off down the “Pink Polkadotted Road” to find the Wizard of Dizz.

In addition, the DVD has 2 more episodes of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the DVD as well: “The Golden Boo Boo” and “Goofy’s Gone”.  There’s also 10 episodes of Minnie’s Bow-Toons, which are small shorts involving Minnie Mouse and some friends.  And iOS users will be able to download a free copy of the Minnie Bow Maker app (normally $3.99).  Overall this appears to be a relatively good value for parents to buy for their kids who are Mickey Mouse Clubhouse fans - especially with prices currently in the $12 to $15 range.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 127 - The Shaggy Dog

This week the DFPP team is hot on the trail of rumored black magic artifacts when they stumble into a spy ring bent on stealing pocket watches and the mysterious case of a disappearing boy and dog in the 1959 comedy The Shaggy Dog.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Let's Stick Together

The relationship between Donald and Spike the bee has been one to watch in the latest versions of the Donald Duck shorts.  As I’ve said here many times, the best Donald Duck shorts are ones where he gets progressively frustrated, leading to some sort of manic blow up.  Certainly the original Spike & Donald shorts started off this way, but when we get to Let’s Stick Together, things have changed.  In this one, the two become partners rather than adversaries, and it leads to some intriguing gags.

The story of Let’s Stick Together is told by an aged Spike, looking down from his tree perch on a bearded Donald.  The entire story is told in flashback, which gives it a more cohesive narrative than some of the other shorts we have looked at recently.  The tale unfolds before the viewer, rather than making quick transitions from gag to gag.  There is a higher degree of storytelling going on in this short than in others of the early 1950s, and it’s a welcome sight.

Having Spike as the narrator, though, tends to make things much more about him, as the story is told from his point of view.  To that end, it’s not really a Donald Duck story, but more about the bee’s interactions with him.  We hear how the bee was trying to find a new occupation, and ended up working with Donald as a trash collector, using his stinger to give Donald a break.  It’s a cute gag that ends up as the foundation for the story, as Donald finds new and intriguing ways to use Spike’s stinger to create new businesses.  My favorite is when Donald has his little friend tattoo sailors who have come in for Fleet Week. 

Through all kinds of ventures, such as Spike popping the balloons that Donald just sold to kids or creating a factory that has Spike sewing things together with his stinger, Donald is looking for the next big buck.  Spike, though, has different plans when he meets a female bee in the greenhouse after a particularly long day.  Once he falls in love, there’s no turning back.  Hearts and love messages end up on every single piece that Spike is sewing, causing Donald to go crazy.  He takes it too far, trying to crush the female with a fly swatter, causing the break-up of the duo.

In the end Donald goes a little nuts, but not in the way that he has in other shorts.  It’s a simple touch, but inverting the formula of having his antagonist drive him crazy and making them partners made the whole thing feel fresh.  They even end up re-uniting at the end, because Spike has had enough of his badgering wife.  It’s so interesting because it makes for something unique, which was not the hallmark of Disney shorts of the time. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Man's Best Friend

After watching both the 1959 and 2006 versions of The Shaggy Dog recently for the Disney Film Project podcast, I wasn’t at all looking forward to watching Goofy deal with a canine friend in Man’s Best Friend.  It is, however, a continuation of the George Geef version of the Goof, the third distinct evolution of my favorite character.  After all, he began as Dippy Dawg, evolved into the “How To” genius that’s his most famous form, and during the early 1950s has become the suburban dad.  With that comes the need to deal with owning a dog.

This short also features three distinct sections, sort of breaking down each piece of the dog owning process.  The first bit deals with Geef seeing the proverbial doggie in the window, and deciding to purchase it and train it.  There’s some good comedy here, such as Goofy actually laying down and doing the tricks himself rather than the dog, Bowser, doing them.  It’s pretty standard stuff, however, as the dog proves to be smarter than the master.  That’s pretty normal for this kind of short.

The second bit is a different type of comedy, though, as it takes the normal dog vs. man dynamic and upends it a bit, as the dog forces Goofy into conflict with his neighbors.  After Bowser trashes every thing within walking distance, Goofy is forced to repay his neighbors for the damages in a nice funny scene.  Unfortunately, that’s about the only good gag in the middle part of the short.  The rest is merely Goofy being dragged along by the larger Bowser, which is a typical gag.

The final section, though, is a nice payoff, as we see Bowser’s ability, or lack thereof, to be a guard dog.  The dog ends up sleeping through the thieves breaking into the house, their eventual capture by the police, and everything in between.  But when Goofy returns from his fancy outing, Bowser is immediately awake and attacks his master, with all the ferocity he did not display for the thieves.

Man’s Best Friend ends up playing out like a typical George Geef short, which means that the gags are good, not great, and the storyline is rather predictable.  That doesn’t necessarily mean bad, it just means that it’s not the wild action we were used to from the “How To” shorts.  It’s something that has been a slow change for the company from the late 1930s to the 1950s, but ends up making a lot of shorts that people will count as sugary or simple.  In my opinion, Man’s Best Friend falls in that groove, being a nice, funny short, but not original or very compelling.  Still, worth the watch if you like Goofy like I do.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 126 - The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band

This week the DFPP team and their friend Gretchen head off to Keystone, South Dakota to see if they can put it over with Grover and get caught up in all the singing and dancing in the 1968 musical comedy The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band.