"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I'm the absolute worst at writing movie reviews. I love almost all of them. I'm just too big a fan of seeing big moving pictures up in front of me to look with a critical eye. For me to find fault, it's got to be pretty bad. I can rattle off a few I've disliked -- Avatar, Happy Feet, the newest Benji movie, but that's about it. And my excitement at it all leads me to fill any discussion with enough spoilers to ruin the experience for others. So be for-warned, if you want the surprises in Frozen to be a surprise, read AFTER seeing the movie.

One of the best things about Frozen is that there actually ARE surprises in store for you, even after a full-fledged Disney advertising blitz. That was one of the things that struck my friend who saw it before me, so I was looking out for it and she was completely right. I don't really recall seeing either of the male lead characters in the ads, nor Marshmellow, nor the trolls.

The trolls. I LOVED the trolls. I suppose you had to figure they'd be in a movie based in Scandinavian myth, and they didn't disappoint at all. They looked like trolls should, kinda like the little troll figures you might have seen on a desk in the 70's, I thought. It was somehow familiar and heartwarming and you trusted them, or at least I did. The trolls also triggered my budding theatrical imagination. It seems all Disney movies are destined for the stage nowadays, especially the animated features. I almost thought this one looked like it was designed to be adapted into a Broadway show. When watching the trolls, I immediately imagined what my director friend would do with them on stage. She's great at involving kids in her shows and I thought these little guys would give her a great opportunity for some child stage time with little ones in rock suits suddenly unfolding into little trolls and dancing and singing away. It may or my not ever happen, but thinking about it made the movie that much more fun for me.

I'll save you going into the whole plot, but just say the movie was familiar enough to be easy and fun and very Disney-like but new and modern enough to seem completely fresh. Disney has had a tendency to be very derivative the last couple decades and I am glad to see them doing new things.

The music was spectacular, from the opening men's number through the incredible "Let It Go" to the end of the film, the music really complimented the story and was performed with incredible beauty and talent. I'll be buying this soundtrack very soon.

Oh, and not to forget the Mickey short at the beginning! I don't know what to say that wouldn't give it away other than it is worth the price of admission itself. I thought Paperman was awesome, and this tops it.

All in all, this was Disney at its best. Mom, dad and teenage son got to share in complete enjoyment of a funny, touching, exciting and absolutely beautiful film. This is what Disney is all about. Walt would be pleased.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Descendants" Coming To Disney Channel

So here's the plot outline from the D23 website:

In a present day idyllic kingdom, the benevolent teenaged son of the King and Queen (Beast and Belle from Disney’s iconic Beauty and the Beast) is poised to take the throne. His first proclamation: offer a chance at redemption to the trouble-making offspring of Cruella De Vil, Maleficent, the Evil Queen and Jafar who have been imprisoned on a forbidden island with all the other villains, sidekicks, evil step-mothers and step-sisters.  These villainous descendants (Carlos, Mal, Evvie and Jay, respectively) are allowed into the kingdom to attend prep school alongside the offspring of iconic Disney heroes including Fairy Godmother, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Mulan.  However, the evil teens face a dilemma.  Should they follow in their nefarious parents’ footsteps and help all the villains regain power or embrace their innate goodness and save the kingdom?

This sounds is to be a movie produced by and for the Disney Channel and directed by the same guy who brought us High School Musical. It's billed as an adventure/comedy, but the director is also a choreographer, so I sort of expect some song and dance involved. I may be wrong, they don't say one way or the other, but it's Disney, there ought to be some breaking into song and dance. It's supposed to premier in 2015.

I was intrigued immediately by this idea and went to read the comments about it on Facebook. Wow. People are downright mean about this one. It may not have hit me so hard if not for the explosion of snark during the recent Sound of Music Live, but coming on those heels, it did. It's almost as if people WANT to be disappointed or upset or even angry. I just don't get it.

Sure, as Disney fans we all feel invested in the culture surrounding the whole Disney experience, from movies to television to theme parks to stage shows to computer games to books to merchandise and on and on. Disney relies on that emotional investment as one key to its success. A lot of that investment is based in nostalgia and fandom for the things Disney has produced in the past, so when Disney "messes" with our memories by removing a favorite ride or changing a menu or re-making or serializing a beloved story, we can get defensive.

But I think maybe we've gone a bit too far. Look at the Disney message boards lately and all you find is complaints. The biggest investment in a Disney Theme Park since Cars Land, the coming Avatarland at Animal Kingdom, was being roundly panned before the first design element was mentioned. The new MyMagic+/FastPass+ system is driving the vacation planning geeks bonkers. And now when a new TV movie is announced, it's pounced upon and torn apart within seconds.

Ok, maybe all the things Disney does aren't for everyone. Maybe they aren't for all the Disney fans, even. But maybe we could give these things a chance before we attack the very IDEAS?

Back to Descendants, I have some questions. I wonder where the heck the Villain children came from? I mean, the heroes often end up paired up, Princess/Prince-style, but not the villains. The image of Cruella De Ville pregnant is......odd. But awesome, in its oddity. I can't wait to see how that's handled. If it isn't handled, if it's glossed over and left for us to wonder who slept with Jafar, then I'll be disappointed. But I'm going to wait and give Disney a chance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's A Small World Animated Series

 I'm in geek heaven. I just watched a Mary Blair inspired, Richard Sherman scored, Walt Disney cartoon about the Rosetta Stone. Five times. Without stopping in between. It's that good. This episode isn't even counted as a "real" episode, i think. It's sort of a commercial for Rosetta Stone language software, but the best, most subtle and pleasant commercial in the world. And, I would venture to say, the best explanation of basic linguistics for children ever. My favorite class in four years of college was an Anthropological Linguistics class. Did I mention I was in heaven? Not to give the charm away here, but I'm loving the photo the kid takes of the Mexican kids after telling them to say "cheese" and they say "queso." Awesomeness.

This series is apparently planned for six episodes, one and two are available now, and takes children around the world to explore other cultures. It's so well done, I can't say enough about it. It's cute without being annoying, the It's A Small World tune shows up a lot but doesn't smack you over the head, it is understandable to kids without talking down to them. Walt would be very, very proud of this one, I think.

If you have kids, or, really to be honest if you have a heart and soul, you owe it to yourself to check this out!

It's A Small World Animated Series Pilot

It's A Small World--Rosetta Stone

Episode One--Jolly Holi Day

Episode Two--Bricht and Braw

All Episodes on One Page

Monday, December 9, 2013

Let's See The Good Done By The Sound of Music Live

My friend shared a blog post on FaceBook this morning defending the IDEA of NBC's recent The Sound Of Music Live. The blogger, and Jen, were calling out "theatre people" for the vitriol leveled at this performance all over social media. I'll take the liberty of quoting Jen:

I, for one, was really disappointed that the majority of the theater-lovers on my friends list couldn't find the positives in "The Sound of Music Live", and instead chose to post only negative remarks. If theater is going to survive, it has to reach and engage new audiences. As a long time community theater participant, I'm not ashamed to append "by any means necessary" to that sentiment.

And the blogger, Emerson Collins, hit the nail on the head describing the atmosphere on the live interwebs duing the show:

 It quite clearly became a competition to see how creatively each person could say they hated it more than the next person.  I find that disappointing and somewhat sad.

He's right. It WAS a competition to out-snark the other person. My wife and I watched it together and she was reading and sharing the FaceBook commentary as we went along. It was truly sad. And mean. And entirely missed the point.

 I'm going to restate a lot of what Emerson wrote in his blog here, but honestly, reading his post felt like he wrote it after listening in on  Lisa and I as we watched the show and observed the reaction. NBC went way out on a limb to do this show. Live TV just doesn't happen, and people expect perfection on the tube. Very few have ever seen a live theater performance, and they don't know what to expect from one, or how to judge it. This wasn't at all exactly like live theatre. It was certainly a hybrid of that and television, with cameras following the action rather than the scenes being changed in front of the audience. But even given that, it was very different from what the modern television audience has come to expect. It took courage to even attempt such a thing, and as someone involved in community theater myself, I really, really appreciate that.

Given the challenge of drawing an audience to something new, they needed an ace in the hole. They found Carrie Underwood. I'm no great fan myself, heck, I was calling her Trisha Yearwood up until I sat down to watch the show, but lots and lots of people love the woman. She has a built in following and a name recognition (I don't count) that brought an audience to this show that a Broadway actress never could have. Was she a great actress, or even a very good one? Nope. She acted like a pop singer. Because, well, it's what she is. It's fine to criticize her acting, to an extent, but not to criticize HER for her acting. She was giving her all in an effort to make a show come to life for people who may have never had that experience. When was the last time YOU tried to do that, or anything like it?  Carrie Underwood did more, I think, to ensure theater will hang on for a while than the collected casts of all those shows on Broadway that very few can afford to go see. Emerson points out the numbers:

 18.5 million people watched the show, the largest non-sports NBC Thursday night since the Frasier finale in 2004.  (For the record, it would take twenty 3000-seat theatres nearly a year of performing every night of the week to reach that many people.)

Believe me, I  am in a position to fret over the number of tickets sold to live community theatre shows, and those are some stellar numbers. People saw something very close to live theater. It may have made them consider seeing an actual live theatre show in their own communities. It may have made some want to see one in MY community. It made the idea more accessible, I think, and that is important.

It's also what "theater people" tend to be worst in the world at doing themselves. I believe the race to be snarkiest is rooted in the basic elitism of many involved in theater.  I am in the theater, I serve as a board member of Brunswick Little Theatre, actually I'm going to be president of the group in a few weeks, but I am not of the theater. I've been made aware of that in ways blatant and subtle, purposeful and accidental, many times over the last couple years, and particularly during my service on the board. I have definite opinions about the arts and their role in the human condition, but I am hesitant to share them too much for fear of looking like a fool in front of these people. I'm getting over that. 

But I'm not over it yet. This is the closest I'll come to sharing my opinions on this beyond Lisa and my close friends. Jen and Emerson shared their concern about all the negativity turning people off of theater in general, or turning entertainment companies like NBC away from attempting a similar project in the future, but it affected me as well. Despite being as free with my opinions as anyone you are likely to meet, I never once commented on The Sound Of Music the other night. My disgust at the hate-fest was shared with Lisa alone. I've not even commented on Jen's post sharing the blog I enjoyed so much beyond simply "like"ing it. And I won't.

See, because I'm on that board and I have and will in the future advocate for or against performing certain shows or presenting theater in a certain way, I'm paranoid about what my "theatre people" friends will think of my opinion. I didn't want to be the only one out there pointing out the positives of Sound of Music because I feared it would make my opinion even less valid to the board than it is now. I'm pretty sure my fellow board members all put me somewhere on the spectrum between blithering idiot and raving lunatic. Even the ones I consider friends. The condescension at those meetings has been unreal. I am a pretty confident guy, but it has even gotten to me. I mean, I do have very little experience in theater, but that doesn't mean I don't love it. It doesn't mean people that haven't had the chance to experience it couldn't or wouldn't love it.

There is this natural feeling among many theatre people that the "others" are incapable of appreciating a show that isn't as basic and simple and familiar as possible. I suspect these people don't want to challenge audiences, or bring new audiences into the more accessible shows, because they like being an elite, knowing about things others don't. I mean if the guy who framed their house can enjoy and discuss in detail a bare bones, avant-garde production of Beowulf, how does that Masters of Education hanging on their wall make them a better person than him? And yes, I had that discussion with a builder friend of mine.

Art is meant to be enjoyed. It lives more with each person it reaches. Theatre is meant to be seen, it can and should be enjoyed by anyone with a heart to touch. The Sound Of Music did that for some people. We should not only let them enjoy it, but celebrate their discovery of a new genre and invite them into our world.

So, thanks Jen and Emerson. Remember you two, for the same reason that it is particularity hurtful to a show for theater people to hate all over it, the positive opinions of people like yourself influence and encourage the rest of us just as strongly. And we need it.