Archive for August, 2011

Adventures of a Lost Boy in Disneyland (Part 5): Magical and Fantasmic

Nights at Disneyland always need to end with fireworks. The only problem with this statement is that Disney has already created the best fireworks show that they will probably ever make (Remember… Dreams Come True), but decided to replace it seasonally with a different show. Magical: Disney’s New Nighttime Spectacular of Magical Celebrations (which I’m pretty sure has to be the longest name ever to grace an attraction or show at a Disney park) is a new fireworks spectacular that started in 2009 and runs during the summer, alternating with the seasonal fireworks (Halloween Screams: A Villainous Surprise in the Skies) and Remember… Dreams Come True.

The show is very much a hodge-podge of different Disney films that are combined in a way that doesn’t really make that much sense. It’s supposed to be divided up into a number of different kinds of wishes, but it really doesn’t have any sort of rhyme or reason to it. The show has songs or clips from Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Mary Poppins, Dumbo, Enchanted, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. I very much enjoyed the focus on the older Disney films, but there isn’t a lot of cohesion in the show. What makes shows like Remember… Dreams Come True and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth so amazing is that there is a central theme. IllumiNations is all about the chaotic birth of the world, the world achieving some form of order, and then unity and harmony. It’s all very moving and makes thematic sense. Remember… Dreams Come True is about Disneyland. Each segment is related to a land or attraction, everything flows well into each other and is very cohesive. Magical is none of this.

What Magical does have over these other shows is that Dumbo flies over the crowd along with the usual Tinker Bell. Seeing Dumbo up there was easily the most magical moment in the entire show and made me so excited when he took flight.

The third nighttime spectacular is something that I have definitely talked about in this blog before: Fantasmic. I’m not going to talk about the show in depth in this post (as that is a topic for another day), but what I do want to touch upon is what was changed and added to the show at Disneyland. The show started getting improvements in 2007 with some new Princess/Jungle barges, and over the years a number of technological enhancements happened such as new HD projectors for the water screens, new lighting and pyrotechnics, and new lasers. The largest improvement happened during the summer of 2009 when new characters like Flotsam and Jetsam being added by creating giant puppets that are attached to jet skis and a brand new Maleficent dragon.

The dragon is really what I wanted to talk about. When it works, it is one of the most impressive things in a show that consistently impresses. The old dragon was just a fire breathing puppet head that had a body made of glittery streamers. It was exceptionally silly and not very intimidating, but that changed when Disney created a 45 foot tall, inflatable, fire breathing puppet that looks exactly like Maleficent does in the film. The new dragon moves realistically and actually manages to be quite scary when you realize it’s size. Maleficent now even has electricity effects that course through her reptilian body when she is defeated. The problem is that the dragon does not always work. It has been lovingly nicknamed Murphy by fans due to Murphy’s Law. The dragon was originally set to premier with the beginning of the then new Summer Nightasmic, in fact, it was one of the centerpieces of the entire promotion. Unfortunately for the Disney marketing army, the dragon suffered from almost every conceivable problem it possibly could that summer. It ended up finally showing up late in the summer to the delight of many fans of Fantasmic.

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2 Weeks With the Nintendo 3DS: The Software

2 weeks ago, I came into possession of a brand new Nintendo 3DS for a mere $70 through a combination of the new price drop, a sale, and the trading in of some games, and I don’t regret a thing. I also picked up Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, but I won’t be talking about that in this post, just the system in question.

The system is fantastic, and part of the reason is how much free stuff comes in the relatively small package that is the 3DS. Practically all of the programs that come pre-installed on the system are essentially tech demos of what can be done with the system, but they are actually exceptionally fun to play around with. One of these programs are the AR Games. 6 AR Cards come with the system (one that is a basic AR Card and allows you to play most of the games and 5 Character Cards (Mario, Toon Link, Pikmin, Samus, and Kirby) that can be used to take very silly pictures.) Within the AR Games, there are 6 different games, two of which are just ways of taking pictures with the different AR Cards and one (Graffiti) that allows you to make 3D graffiti on various surfaces. It can be very entertaining, and can be much more interesting with other people playing around with it along with you. The other 3 pieces of software are actually games and they come in 3 varieties: Archery, AR Shot, and Fishing.

Fishing is, well, fishing. It’s kind of boring, but the other two are fantastic. Archery is a game in which various structures pop out of the card and you are forced to move around the various structures in order to hit the targets, all of the different levels culminating with you fighting a freaking fire breathing dragon! AR Shot is a kind of mini-golf game that becomes more and more fantastical as the courses get weirder and weirder.All of the games are amusing, but won’t last more than a few hours of gameplay at one time.

Another game is Face Raiders where your face is stolen by monsters and you are forced to get it back by shooting at the monsters and taking all of them down. There are multiple levels that get progressively harder and the enemies do weirder and weirder things, and that’s really saying something considering that within the first level, there is the distinct possibility that you can be kiss attacked by your own face. The game uses the accelerometer and gyroscope in the system to track where you are moving the system to aim your tennis ball launcher at the evil hoard. The game can eventually go into the pictures that are saved on the SD Card (a 2 gig card surprisingly enough comes with the system) and can take pictures from there. The game eventually gets very hard and is easily the best game that comes with the system.

The other pieces of software aren’t really games. There’s Nintendo 3DS Camera and Nintendo 3DS Sound, the latter is a straightforward MP3 player and a method to record and play around with sound. The Camera is rather fun as it is able to take pictures in 3D (the system can also view pictures online in 3D if they are taken in 3D. For you Disney fans, check out Theme Parks in 3D in the 3DS Browser).

The system also comes with a Mii Maker and StreetPass Mii Plaza. The Mii Maker is a slightly improved version of the Mii Channel on the Wii, but adds the ability to take a picture of someone with the 3DS cameras and have the Mii Maker make the Mii for you. This particular feature requires a lot of light in order to use it, but that is more a problem with the cameras on the 3DS than it is a problem with the software. StreetPass Mii Plaza allows you to interact with other 3DS’s without actually interacting with them. When you bump into another person using StreetPass, you can get puzzle pieces from them to finish a number of different Nintendo themed 3D images in one game and in the other you can hire the Mii’s you bump into to save your Mii from an evil castle. It’s very amusing to open up the system and find that you have met three other people who have a 3DS without actually seeing them playing it.

The 3DS has multitasking, but not with everything (much to my chagrin when it comes to the 3D Pokedex). You can access your friend list (which is now just tied to 1 Friend Code per system rather than a different Friend Code for every game. This is a step in the right direction, Nintendo, but you should just allow people to use Usernames instead of Friend Codes), write notes about whatever game you are playing, read notifications, and access the internet.

I was going to talk about the hardware as well as the actual software, but I’ll talk about that sometime next week as this article is getting a bit lengthy.

Adventures of a Lost Boy in Disneyland (Part 4): The Magic, the Memories, and You!

Sorry about the lack of post on Saturday, I was moving into my new apartment and just wasn’t able to get any sort of content up.

Nighttime at Disneyland is a very full time, considering that there are 3 nighttime spectaculars in just the Disneyland park. The first of the three that I’m going to talk about is the Magic, the Memories, and You! The show takes place on it’s a small world at Disneyland and Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom and is a projection show on the face of each structure that shows various pictures and video either taken from around the parks by Disney PhotoPass photographers or sent in by guests combined with various animations. The technology is very impressive and the actual animations are cool to watch. There are sections that make the facade look like it has sections that are popping in and out, parts that make it look like it’s on fire, and parts that even make it look like it is launching into space! It’s very amusing to watch, it’s kind of a shame that the pictures sometimes get in the way of seeing the animations.

The music is good, but it’s very similar in tone to the music to Wishes. The theme for the show is very saccharine sweet and bubbly (but not necessarily in a bad way) and will get stuck in your head, and there is a variety of pieces of music from various Disney films (and even some attractions) sprinkled throughout.

Really the only problem I have with the show is how it is presented. At the Magic Kingdom, the show runs right before Wishes, so it makes the whole experience feel like a pre-show more than an actual full-blown show, and to be quite honest, I feel like that should be the way it is shown. The Magic, the Memories, and You! is a good show on it’s own, but it’s not the overly big nighttime spectacular that people are used to seeing at a Disney park, it’s very subdued and is almost completely confined to the facade of each building except for a handful of fireworks at the end. At Disneyland, the show is shown on it’s own at the very back of the park, so many people leave the show feeling let down that it wasn’t as big as they were expecting. The show (minus the pictures and video for each show) is more-or-less the same on both coasts, just with the version at the Magic Kingdom being taller and the version at Disneyland being spread out across a longer distance.

The show presents many possibilities for the future of Disney’s nighttime shows. The show uses around 16 projectors to present it and the Imagineers used 3D models of each building to make sure the animation synced up perfectly with the features. I’m much more intrigued by the possibilites that the show presents. There could be some very cool shows made in the future using this technology combined with fireworks. Imagine a firework show that combined the music of “I See the Light” with fireworks and lanterns floating all around on the castle, or they could have the Genie conjure all kinds of things on the castle’s face or even become the castle himself while “Friend Like Me” plays. Imagine a Halloween show in which the Disney Villains actually take over the castle and Maleficent transforms into her dragon form and sets it alight! The possibilities for this technology are much more interesting than the Magic, the Memories, and You!

 

Adventures of a Lost Boy in Disneyland (Part 3): Captain EO

In the continuing trend of old attractions being reborn, Captain EO has returned to the Magic Eye Theatre at Disneyland (along with EPCOT, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland, all four of which replaced Honey… I Shrunk the Audience). The attraction originally ran at the Magic Eye Theatre from 1986 to 1997, was replaced by Honey… I Shrunk the Audience, and then was reopened after the unfortunate death of Michael Jackson as the Captain EO Tribute.

The show ran at EPCOT from 1986 to 1994, and to be quite honest I don’t think I had seen it during that original run. My family had been to Walt Disney World 2 or 3 times by that point, but my mom was never a fan of Michael Jackson (I know it’s a travesty) so we never would have gone in and saw it. I, on the other hand, have loved his music ever since I heard it on an Alvin and the Chipmunks VHS that had Alvin animated into part of the “Beat It” music video and continue to love it to this day, even going so far as to get the DJ at my prom to play “Thriller” and got a large group of my friends to dance what parts of the dance we knew while being watched by the rest of the senior class.

Captain EO follows the story of the infamous Captain Eo (Michael Jackson) and his ragtag crew of aliens and robots as they deliver a peace offering to a hostile alien planet. It, of course, goes wrong and Eo and his crew must use the power of music to save the planet.

Captain EO is a very 80’s show past the point of hilarity. At one point the robot crew members transform into instruments, and when I say transform, I don’t mean in a somewhat realistic (or at least plausible) fashion like in Transformers, I’m talking about a Getter Robo style transformation in which they just kind of mold themselves into whatever they need to be. Captain Eo also has a superpower, he has the ability to fire beams out of his hands that can turn anyone into an 80’s background dancer and instantly teach them the dance for the song at hand. He can also fly for some reason. It is exceptionally silly, but that is one of the reasons that I love it so much.

The film features the Michael Jackson songs “Change the World” and “Another Part of Me” which were not available until very recently. The source audio for the entire show (including those songs) can be found for free download here.

The movie was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who also directed the Thriller music video (and some movies that no one has ever heard of like the Godfather and Apocalypse Now) and was produced by George Lucas. Industrial Light and Magic did the special effects, which were amazing for the time and still manage to hold up pretty well (seriously, that is the magic of practical effects, they tend to not look nearly as dated as CG). The movie is very enjoyable and exceptionally well made, but I have a few problems with the theatre itself. At Disneyland, they didn’t do anything to change the actual theatre for the tribute, so the odd shaped screen is still there and they use the moveable theatre technology that is used in Honey… I Shrunk the Audience to make the theatre “dance” to the beat (which is really distracting).

Captain EO is a very fun attraction that is a throwback to a very different time and to be quite honest, I would very much prefer it to remain in the Magic Eye Theatre rather than bring back Honey… I Shrunk the Audience.

Lost Boy TV: Thundercats (a Preview)

When it was announced that a new Thundercats series was in production, I along with many others who grew up with the series were immensely skeptical about the quality of the new version of a classic show. When some production art was released, a schism was formed. Many people did not like the updated character designs, but I was one of the equally large group of people who through that they were improvements over the decidingly silly spandex laden designs of the original 80’s show. They still retain some of the individual flavour of each character, and each character that has been revealed in the new show still have the recognizable powers of their 1980’s counterparts. The 2011 Thundercats seems like it’s going to work as it doesn’t completely throw out all of the things that people knew and loved about the originals, it’s more of an update of the franchise.

The story of the 2011 show starts before the original series with Lion-O not even being the king of Thundera yet, he is still a prince who is just trying to find his way. Tygra is his adopted brother, and is the much more capable of the two, which makes everyone think that he would be the much better choice for the heir to the throne of Thundera than his brother. Snarf is no longer the most annoying thing in the show as he doesn’t ever speak and is now just completely adorable. Cheetara is a member of the warrior clerics who has an interest in Lion-O. WilyKat and WilyKit are orphans who have to pick pockets in order to survive.

As of the writing of this post, there are only three episodes of the show that have aired. Lion-O and his adopted brother Tygra live in relative happiness with their father, Claudius (voiced by Larry Kenney, the voice of Lion-O in the 80’s series). This all changes when the Lizardmen attack Thundera with legendary technology and take it over. The Lizardmen take the survivors hostage, but Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, WilyKat, WilyKit, and Snarf escape and must seek out the Book of Omens before Mumm-Ra has a chance to get his hands on it and the magic is possesses. The show has taken on a much darker tone and has a larger focus on an overarching story than the very episodic original series.

The animation in the show is rather amazing. The show is a combined effort between Studio 4°C and Warner Brothers Animation and the results are stunning. The animation is fluid and detailed, which should be expected of a property with this prestige and budget.

The most important thing to note is that they do still do the “THUNDER! THUNDER! THUNDERCATS! HO!” and the theme song for the new show is an instrumental version of the original Thundercats theme song.

What I have seen of the show is leaving me very hopeful for the rest of the season, so I will more than likely review the whole first season as soon as it’s finished. Thundercats airs at 8:30 every Friday night on Cartoon Network

Adventures of a Lost Boy in Disneyland (Part 2): Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through

This is one of the attractions that has been open for a number of years, but is a very new experience for me due to the limited number of visits I am actually able to make to sunny Southern California. The attraction re-opened after a number of years of closure in late 2008, but the history of the attraction has already been covered in my review of the Sleeping Beauty film. I would highly suggest you re-read that article as there is going to be some names and terms that were explained in that article that are used here.

What was not talked about regarding the history of the attraction was what brought upon the return of the walk-through. While the Disney company was preparing the 50th anniversary home-video release of Sleeping Beauty, they asked Imagineering if there had been any Sleeping Beauty attractions in the parks, as they wanted to have a special feature like the fan-favourite special feature on the Little Mermaid DVD that showed a virtual ride through of a planned Little Mermaid dark ride. Tony Baxter mentioned the walk-through and a large number of people at both Imagineering and Walt Disney Home Entertainment were immensely surprised that the attraction had even existed. The group decided to go down to Disneyland and see if the attraction was still intact despite the closed doors and to their great surprise, the scenes were still there (albeit weathered by time) in their 1977 versions. The decision was brought down to re-open the attraction, but in it’s 1957 version, as that was to be the version featured on the DVD, and to Imagineering’s great surprise, many of the 1957 scenes were still in the attraction, just covered up by the newer ones.

The attraction can best be described as “charming.” It’s one of those attractions that many guests would probably skip over on their visit for a larger attraction if they didn’t have enough time, but it’s honestly their loss as the attraction has a large amount of polish for it’s small size. The story is told through a combination of story-books, little vignettes, music, and some exceedingly clever yet simple special effects. Some of those effects are the kind of things where people would look at them and think that they are something much more advanced, like the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, but would be very surprised to find out how the effects were made. The best effect in the entire attraction is Maleficent’s transformation into the fire-breathing dragon. It looks like it is a projection effect, but the whole effect moves so fluidly from her transforming in the very top and back of the scene to her breathing fire and setting the very front of the scene “on fire” that it is quite amazing. The vignettes look like they are ripped right from the movie stylistically, but they have a surprising amount of depth in them with some very exaggerated forced perspective when needed and design based around the same properties as the multi-plane camera. The scenes are based off of the original Eyvind Earl and Ken Anderson drawings for the original version of the attraction, but re-created and expanded. The Imagineers added more scenes that were missing from the 1957 original version to make a more full version of the story.

The attraction is one that is not easy for some people to navigate, so Imagineering took one of the smaller shops in Fantasyland and converted it into a very small theatre that shows an HD virtual walk-through of the attraction with surround sound for those people who can’t traverse the stairs up and through the castle. It has been rumoured that the reason that the attraction was closed in the first place was because it couldn’t follow meet the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This was something that Disney definitely had to meet if the attraction were to ever re-open.

While it is nice that there is a Sleeping Beauty attraction out there in the world, I really wish that Imagineering would just go and make a dark ride based off of the movie. The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough is a very good A-Ticket attraction, and one of the most amusing attractions that I saw at Disneyland, but I feel like Imagineering could do much more with the Sleeping Beauty property in the parks.

Lost Boy TV: Black Dynamite the Animated Series

He’s super bad. He’s outta sight. He’s Black Dynamite!

Black Dynamite has to be one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s perfect in that it takes the absurd nature of the story elements and plays it completely straight. There is no winking at the camera, there is no one in the cast laughing at the silliness of the plot or events. They are completely serious about what it going on. So when Adult Swim announced that they were going to be making a Black Dynamite animated series, I was super stoked. The pilot was released on AdultSwim.com today, and I sure as hell watched it.

It was everything I wanted it to be and more.

The animation is spectacular, the voice actors from the movie came back to voice their animated counter-parts, and the writing is on par with the movie. It even has flash backs that have an 8-year-old Black Dynamite having a full mustache and afro and is referred to as 8-year-old Black Dynamite (just like in the movie). The action scenes are fluid and well, action packed (go figure). Also, it has pimpin’ puppets. I’m not kidding. Puppet Street is a real street and can be found on the corner of MLK Boulevard. “Bullhorn, I’m starting to get the feeling that show we see on TV is just a show.” What made me the happiest is that there was even the “DYNAMITE. DYNAMITE” whenever Black Dynamite did something awesome, just like in the movie. This show is literally just the movie, just animated and with a new story.

The pilot follows Black Dynamite being called upon once again by the man in order to stop a sinister plot, this time perpetrated by the puppets of a public access TV show called Puppet Street led by their pimpin’ master Frog Kurtis (a thinly veiled take-off of Kermit the Frog). Frog Kurtis is using his power over children to get them to steal money and weapons from their parents in order to get him all the money the man never paid him from being on public access TV for all those years, so it’s up to Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), Honey Bee (Kym Whitley), Bullhorn (Byron Minns), and of course, Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) to stop him for the sake of the children, because as Black Dynamite said: “I never told nobody this, but I used to be a children.”

The only problem I had with this pilot is that it was only around 11 minutes long, but this is being remedied for the actual broadcast of the show. The episodes will be a full 22 minutes long when the show starts airing on Adult Swim in the Spring of 2012.