Archive for July, 2011

Update… TO THE FUTURE

So some of you might have noticed that there haven’t really been any updates after the 51 Days of Disney were over, well there’s a reason for that. The 51 Days were a very grueling time for me, so I’m taking a bit of a sabbatical until after Otakon (July 29-31st in the Baltimore Convention) while I finish some costumes for said convention and get my Disneyland content in line. I’ve got some posts to write, some videos to edit, and some pictures to sort through. After Otakon, I’m going to switch to a Wednesday/Saturday release schedule. Wednesdays will be Disneyland content until I finish with that and Saturday will be everything else (which is looking like there is going to be some TV, anime, and video game reviews coming). If I can get posts out quickly, I might switch to a 3 update a week schedule, but that is just a possibility right now.

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51 Days of Disney (Day 51): Winnie the Pooh

I will go and watch Winnie the Pooh films for the rest of my life if they are all this good, and it is so good precisely because it doesn’t try anything new.

Talking about the story of Winnie the Pooh is kind of defeating, as it is the kind of movie where a lot of things happen, but nothing really happens. Pooh (Jim Cummings), Piglet, Owl (Craig Ferguson, Roddy MacStew from Freakazoid), Rabbit (Tom Kenny, Ice King from Adventure Time), Kanga, Roo, and Christopher Robin set out to find a new tail for Eeyore (Pixar’s Bud Luckey), who lost it again. Owl decides that there should be a contest to get a new tail for the depressed donkey, and everyone sets out to find said tail. Eventually, Christopher Robin goes missing, but leaves a note saying that he will be back soon. Pooh finds it (with the help of the Narrator, voiced by John Cleese) and gives it to Owl, who misreads it and thinks “Back Soon” is “Backson” and that the Backson has taken Christopher Robin naturally gets everyone freaked out. Rabbit decides that they should set a trap for the Backson and get their friend back and of course, it doesn’t work out as well as it should.

Also, Tigger (Jim Cummings yet again) is there doing everything that Tigger usually does, which in this movie involves teaching Eeyore to be another Tigger.

The film is based off of two stories from Winnie-the-Pooh, “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One” and “In Which Piglet Meets a Huffalump”, and one story from The House at Pooh Corner, “In Which Rabbit has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings.” The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was very disjointed, which is easy to understand considering that it was three shorts that were put together to make a feature-length film, but Winnie the Pooh merges all three stories into one and the film has a much more coherent feel because of it. The film itself is only 69 minutes long, so it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at all, and it is even bundled with a brand new short called The Ballad of Nessie, which is an adorable short about how the Loch Ness Monster got to Loch Ness after her and her rubber duckie, MacQuack, got upheaved from their previous home for the building of a mini-golf green. The short is narrated by comedian Billy Connoly and has music done by Michael Giacchino.

Everyone has their own favourite Winnie the Pooh character, and my favourite is Owl, and luckily for the Owl fans out there, he has a much larger role in this film than in other Pooh properties.

The movie was made to be exactly like the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, just with a new story. The film has the same level of self-awareness as it’s predecessor, with the narrator talking directly with the characters and the characters interacting with the book itself in some very brilliant ways. When the film went into production, the Walt Disney Animation Studio decided to have some of the senior-most animators and staff work on this project to get it exactly right. The deepness of the insistence on making it exactly like the original movie even went so far as to get the same sketchy nature in the animation. If you look at things like eyebrows or stripes, you willnotice that there is very little consistency in those features.

The backgrounds were done in watercolour to really pound the idea home that they are in a storybook, and the film even opened with a short live action sequence and a new version of the Winnie the Pooh theme song and sequence from the original film. The film was hand-animated except for one sequence that has CG animated honey. As I said earlier, the film is perfect because it is almost exactly like the original film.

The music was done by Henry Jackman, who also did the score for this summer’s X-Men: First Class, and had songs done by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who was also the voice of Kanga) and Robert Lopez (who co-wrote two very family friendly Broadway musicals called Avenue Q and the Book of Mormon). Some of the songs, including a new version of “Winnie the Pooh” were sung by Zooey Deschanel. The best song in the film, which is also the best part of the film, is the “Backson Song”. It was very fun song that is made even better by the fact that the film switches to a style that very much looks like it was animated on a chalk board. The score is enjoyable, but nothing remarkable. It was very obvious that they were trying to copy the success of Buddy Baker’s original score, which was in turn inspired by the Sherman Brother’s songs for the film, but the score for Winnie the Pooh never quite reaches the same level.

Winnie the Pooh is an amazing film that everyone should see, it’s genuinely hilarious (with Disney actually managing to make a great Raiders of the Lost Ark reference after the second try and a fantastic stream of knot related puns that lasts for a good few minutes). They managed to make a movie that does basically does nothing new, but still feels fresh. They even managed to put a slight spin on the characters, and actually managed to make me like Rabbit by making him completely crazy instead of being just a wet-blanket like he always was. Go see this film as soon as you can.

Also, stay through the incredibly charming credits for a hilarious surprise.

51 Days of Disney (Day 50): Tangled

Here we are, almost at the end of a long journey. At least this is a happy ending. I love Tangled movie with a passion, and it’s actually the movie I have currently seen the most in theatres with a record 6 times.

“This is the story of how I died. But don’t worry, this is actually a fun story and the truth is it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel…”

Yes, those are the first lines of the film. Our hero, Flynn Rider, is also our narrator and he proceeds to tell us a variation on the Rapunzel faerie tale. A magical golden flower was born from a drop of sunlight that had the power to heal anyone. The queen of a kingdom was about to have a baby, but became terminally ill, so the king had everyone in the kingdom go out and look for the magic flower, but Mother Gothel hid the flower and hoarded it’s healing powers. Eventually, she messes up with the hiding of the flower and the palace guards find the flower and heal the queen. Rapunzel is born with a full head of golden hair and to celebrate her birth, the King and Queen launch a lantern into the sky, but Mother Gothel breaks into the castle and kidnaps the princess when she finds out that Rapunzel’s hair now holds the healing power. She tries to merely cut off a piece of Rapunzel’s hair, but that strand turns brown and loses it’s power. Mother Gothel locks Rapunzel in a tower and raises her there for 18 years as her daughter.

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is, very understandably, bored with her life in the tower and for her birthday wants to go and see the floating lanterns that are released every year on her birthday. She asks Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) to let her go, but Gothel convinces her that the world is a dark and cruel place that will just want to use her for her hair. Meanwhile, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) and the Stabbington Brothers (one of which is played by Ron Perlman) steal the princess’ crown from the castle and run off into the forest while being chased by the captain of the guards and his horse Maximus. Flynn betrays the Stabbingtons and steals the crown for himself. He eventually escapes the guards by running into a cave that just so happens to lead to Rapunzel’s tower. He climbs it and she knocks him out with a frying pan (a trend that will continue) and hides him in her wardrobe.

Eventually, after tying him up in her hair, Rapunzel convinces Flynn by hiding the crown and not telling him where it is to take her to see the lights, but as soon she gets out of the tower, she freaks out in a good and a bad way about leaving and Flynn tries to take advantage of this and get the crown and leave. Rapunzel holds her ground and the two set off on a journey full of adventure, action, and comedy all to accomplish their dreams.

The writing in the film is fantastic. The scene where Flynn is tied up in Rapunzel’s hair is brilliant considering the fact that throughout half of the scene, it seems like Flynn is more trying to pick her up than escape. Actually, most of the things that Flynn says are pretty hilarious. The same can be said regarding everything Pascal does, and he even has the odd distinction of being hilarious and adorable, but never annoying. The back and forth between happiness and sadness in the scene where Rapunzel is debating whether or not she should have left the tower is great from the sheer distinction of not only the emotions she is feeling, but also the constantly changing scenery and her realistic actions. Also, if I could swing by my hair around a tree, I totally would in a heart beat. The characters are very developed, which really helps you get involved in the fantastic story.

Easily the best scene in Tangled is the “Kingdom Dance” and “I See the Light” boat sequence. “Kingdom Dance” is great because it finally shows Rapunzel actually living a normal life and her and Flynn actually starting to connect in a romantic fashion, which comes to a head in “I See the Light.” It’s the love song/scene for the film, so emotions are already high, but that combined with the fact that the characters are so well developed in this film and the fact that the romance doesn’t really come right out of left field (like it did in Princess and the Frog), it really makes you get caught up in the beauty of the moment. When I first saw the film, I was geeking out heavily about that scene. It is easily one of the most beautiful scenes ever in an animated film, if not film in general. The color and lighting look amazing, and while that is actually something that can be said about the whole film, it goes doubly for this scene. The choice to keep the color palate limited to mostly violets, whites, yellows, and oranges really adds to the general warmth and romantic feelings of the scene.

The score was done by Alan Menken and the lyrics were done by Glen Slater. As stated above, the best scene in the film is the “Kingdom Dance” and “I See the Light” scene. Those are also the best score and song, respectively. My other personal favourite in the song department is “When Will my Life Begin” and it’s second reprise. Some of you are probably saying “But Ryan, there is only one reprise of that song” and you are only half right. The song ended up being cut from the film, along with part of “Mother Knows Best”, but can still be found on the soundtrack for the film. Alan Menken has said that he was going for a sound that sounded like a combination of 60’s folk rock and medieval music for the score and songs of the film, and you can definitely hear some folkiness in “When Will my Life Begin.” Finally, unlike Princess and the Frog and most of the musicals from the 90’s, there is a genuinely good song in the credits. I was never a fan of those soft rock covers of the big song from the film, and the song from Princess and the Frog didn’t even have any context within the film, but “Something That I Want” is both relevant and good. Of course, it doesn’t help that I really like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (who did the song) and that the credit sequence just oozes charm.

Tangled was in production for around 6 years and went through numerous changes. It was originally conceived as Rapunzel Unbraided and from what I saw of the early production work, it sounded like the writers of Shrek tried to write a Disney film. It was going to be snarky and sarcastic, like a Dreamworks movie, and I am glad that it was rewritten when John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer. The film then became Rapunzel, but it was changed again when Princess and the Frog didn’t perform as amazingly at the box office as Disney thought it would (despite the fact that it more than made back it’s budget). The character of Flynn Rider was developed further and his role was expanded greatly to make him into one of the two main characters in the film along with Rapunzel. The film was made to be a bit more action packed and the title was changed to Tangled. Part of this was to make the film more appealing to boys, who Disney did not think would want to go see a Princess film, but it really seems to have made it into a better film.

The 6 years in production were not just used in changing the story and characters around, the film had a great amount of development behind it on the technological front. It’s John Lasseter’s belief that “art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art” and it is shown very well in the production of this film. Disney took on the challenge of creating an animated film in which the main character has 70 feet of hair, which presented an interesting problem for the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The two hardest things to animate in CG convincingly are people and hair, and Rapunzel is both human and has a mess of hair. Other studios would merely make the hair in sections and would animate each section, but this is Disney were talking about here. They’re not going to just take the easy way out, they are going to develop all new technology to convincingly animate and render her hair. They’re also going to throw away the photo-realistic rendering of other CG animated films and make Tangled look fresh and new. Glen Keane, who returned to the studio to animate Rapunzel, had the ambition of making the computer “bend its knee to the artist” instead of the other way around, having the computer dictate how the artistic style would look due to the limitations of the technology. The long development time of the film combined with the development of the new technology to create and render the hair, made Tangled the second most expensive film in the history of cinema and the most expensive animated film ever with a price tag of 260 million dollars, but it ended up grossing around 591 million dollars in the box office.

Along with the amazing animation, Tangled has some amazing lighting. It should considering the fact that there were around 30 people that almost only worked on the lighting for the film. The lighting is very impressive and is actually able to display various different kinds of light from different sources convincingly. The lighting is the best during “I See the Light” with sources of light coming from millions of different light sources and various colors of light.

The artistic style was made to resemble traditional oil paintings of the Rococo era like the work of Jean-Honore Fragonard. The art direction team mostly used his famous painting, the Swing, as their major reference for the particular art style they were going for. The film also used the art of Claire Keane, Glenn Keane’s daughter, as both concept art and as the paintings that Rapunzel painted throughout the film. Her paintings can best be described as whimsical, with bright and vibrant colors, an over-simplified style that is somehow also extremely detailed and is highly expressive. It’s very reminiscent of Mary Blair’s distinctive style, but still very different. What I find to be very bizzarre is that her paintings are like Mary Blair’s, but her drawings are very similar to her father’s drawings. Their style is scarily similar to one another, but that is to be expected slightly if your father becomes a source of inspiration. An interesting little tidbit is that Glen Keane based the character of Rapunzel off of Claire. So all of it comes full circle.

Here are some other little tidbits about the film. In the scene when Rapunzel is in the nursery, look at her mobile, all of the things on the mobile are relevant to the story. There’s a horse for Maximus, a duckling for the Snuggly Duckling, a cupid for the old thug, a chameleon for Pascal, and a blue bird which can be seen when she first leaves the tower. The scene with the toddler Rapunzel was originally not in the film, it was added when the animators saw the Baby Rapunzel doll for the Disney Store and loved the design.

Tangled is really the return to the Renaissance that Disney was looking for. The Princess and the Frog was fantastic, and it was almost there, but not quite where it needed to be. Tangled has a fantastic story with well developed characters, another good Alan Menken score with memorable songs, and some of the best animation to grace the studio. It’s a modern masterpiece and easily stands up against some of the best films in the canon.

A Harry Potter Retrospective

The Harry Potter books were huge for me as a child. I choose my words very carefully, so huge has a double meaning here. The Harry Potter books were something that defined all of the other kids I knew, it divided us up into two categories: those who had read them or those who had not. Just about everyone read them, it was a phenomenon. Also, for a 9 year old who was very small for his age, those books were literally huge.

I’ll probably talk about the books in a much larger capacity eventually, but that is not a topic for today.

The Harry Potter books got children to read again. Kids would sit in their homes not because they were watching some of the genuinely amazing 90’s TV shows or playing games on the Super Nintendo, but rather because they wanted to see what happened to an 11-year-old wizard in training who was plagued by the problems that faced them (homework, bullies, girls, dickish teachers, girls…), along with some much larger pickles, but done so in a way that kept everyone interested and wanting to just read one more page before going to bed.

I practically absorbed these books. I read each one until the pages fell out of their bindings. Do you know what I did when that happened? I carefully put the page back where it was supposed to be and would keep on reading the books. There came a point where my copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire literally fell apart and my mom gladly went out and bought me another copy, because it meant that I was reading something instead of playing Final Fantasy VII. I would finish one and would instantly start on the next if I had it, if I didn’t, I would either start again from the beginning of the series or just re-read the book that was just finished again.

Then the movies came.

The movies were announced and I finally got my mom to start reading. I quickly learned that this was a big mistake, as suddenly, I wouldn’t have one of the books for about a year as my mom read the books seemingly as slowly as she possibly could. Luckily for me at this point, I had moved onto reading other books, but they all felt like there was something missing from them. None of them quite had that spark that got me obsessed with reading like the Harry Potter books did, so my reading slowed down almost to a crawl. If I had found another series or various books that kept that spark going, I feel like I would have read more in the period between then and a few years ago.

The movies managed to fill my Harry Potter itch for a while, until they started being mediocre, but for some reason, even though I complained about a number of them in the middle, I kept watching each one as it was released in theatres. Each movie became an event, and now that the last movie is being released, the events are over.

One of the last things distinctly from my childhood is coming to an end.

Sure I’ll always have things like Disney movies and Nintendo series, but they’re not quite the same. I grew up with Harry Potter and Harry Potter grew up with me. For me, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is this summer’s Toy Story 3, and I know that I will be crying tears of both happiness and sadness through the entire film.

Goodbye, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, you will always have a special place in my heart.

51 Days of Disney (Day 49): Princess and the Frog

I have actually been looking forward to this review, as I don’t actually need to review anything. I have already reviewed this film, so reviewing it a second time would be daft unless I had something new to say about it, and I really don’t. You can find my review of the Princess and the Frog from December of 2009 here.

Just as a note, my review of Winnie the Pooh will absolutely not be out on Friday. I am working literally all day and won’t be able to see the film until Saturday at the earliest.

51 Days of Disney (Day 48): Bolt

Bolt (John Travolta) is the dog superhero star of the biggest show on TV, which makes him one of the biggest stars, the problem is that he doesn’t even know it. The director of the show believes in full method acting for the dog, making him think that his owner and co-star, Penny (Miley Cyrus), is constantly in danger from the evil Dr. Calico (Malcom McDowell). A woman from the network tells the director that the show’s formula has become stagnant, so they need to make it so that things get changed up in the show. The most recent episode ends with a cliff-hanger with Penny getting kidnapped by Dr. Calico and this sends Bolt into a frenzy looking for her. He ends up running off and falling into a shipping box and gets sent to New York.

Bolt eventually teams up with a stray cat named Mittens and a hamster named Rhino, who happens to be Bolt’s biggest fan, to get back to Hollywood and his precious Penny. Throughout the journey, Bolt notices that his powers are gone, he rationalizes this by the packing peanuts he finds on him and thinks that they sapped his power. Back in Hollywood, the director convinces Penny to continue filming with a Bolt lookalike, but Penny can’t handle it. Will Bolt get back to Penny? Find out when you watch the movie.

Bolt is both the first film in the Disney Animated Canon to have the new Walt Disney Pictures intro, but also the new Walt Disney Animation Studios intro. I love both of them so much, but I find it really interesting that the castle in the Walt Disney Pictures intro is an amalgamation of Sleeping Beauty Castle and Cinderella Castle. If you look closely at some of the towers and architectural forms, you can see pieces of each castle combined into one.

Bolt was originally conceived as American Dog and was going to be directed by Chris Sanders, and originally had a very different story. The story was originally about a famous TV star dog named Henry who gets stranded in a Nevada desert with a one-eyed cat and an oversized radioactive rabbit. The three look for new homes while Henry still thinks that he is on TV. When John Lasseter was brought on as executive producer, he and various Pixar and Disney directors viewed some early cuts of the film and offered Sanders some notes on how to improve the story, but Sanders resisted accepting the suggestions and was summarily removed from the project. Lasseter was quoted as saying:

Chris Sanders is extremely talented, but he couldn’t take it to the place it had to be.

The film would have been exceptionally different if Chris Sanders had been left on the project and would have probably been much closer in tone and general quirkiness to Lilo and Stitch, but the film would have ended up being more like some of the Disney films of the early to mid 2000’s that were trying to break the mold of what Disney was known for rather than trying to bring the more back to it’s roots. I really wish that Disney and Sanders could have come to some sort of agreement, as Chris Sanders would not have left the studio and I would have loved to have seen American Dog.

In the spirit of bringing the studio back, Bolt is all about the story. The reworked story is very strong and emotionally resonant with some exceptionally fun moments and great writing. The interactions between Bolt and Mittens are brisk and funny and really play off of the delusional nature of Bolt closer to the beginning of the film. Even Rhino, who had the possibility of being very annoying, comes off as being funny and endearing. The voice acting even got better with the revamping of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. John Travolta and Miley Cyrus have pretty distintive voices, but they managed to be relatively subdued in this film. I despise Miley Cyrus, but I actually enjoyed her voice acting in Bolt.

The animation in Bolt was done in an almost photo-realistic CG rendering, which looks stunning, but what really makes it special is the fact that Disney managed to adapt the soft style that the studio is known for into 3D animation. The film manages to look like a traditional Disney film, but also not look like one.

Bolt is a fun addition to the Disney canon that has both a foot in the future and a foot in the past of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

A Day in the Life of John Lasseter

If you ever thought you had a busy work life, you should check out John Lasseter’s life:

That being said, he has one of the coolest houses ever. Seriously, secret passage to train library? Sign me up, please.