Archive for the ‘Rambling’ Category

Lost Boy TV: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

There are two topics that I am immensely surprised that I have not talked about on this blog yet (two of which should be very apparent if you follow the official Adventures of a Lost Boy Tumblr, and while I’m in a schilling mood, like us on Facebook). Those topics are Pokemon and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

If this were any time before October of 2010, I would have been disgusted by the idea of even liking My Little Pony. The original show was terrible, as were a large number of the animated shows from the 1980’s that were made to sell toys. Only a few actually tried to tell some sort of meaningful story or provide content outside of constantly introducing new characters in order to keep selling toys. Luckily for fans of animation, the 1990’s ended up being what is referred to the “creator-driven era” of animation where the creators of the shows had almost complete control over the design, writing, and creation of their shows. It was a period of unbridled creativity in the animation industry when creations such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, Animaniacs, and Tiny Toons were created to much critical acclaim and success. The two worlds have now collided with the creation of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by combining a number of the tennants of the creator-driven era of animation (including one of the big names of the era, Lauren Faust) with the sheer merchandising power of the 1980’s shows.

Friendship is Magic follows the adventures of Twilight Sparkle, a unicorn and magical prodigy, who moves to the town of Ponyville from Canterlot because her teacher, Princess Celestia, wants her to learn about the magic of friendship. There she meets the fun-loving Pinky Pie, the speed demon Rainbow Dash, the loyal and hardworking Applejack, the creative Rarity, and the kind but incredibly shy Fluttershy and they all embark on adventures that always seem to end with a message.

Yeah. That’s it. That’s the show.

This is the point where you ask: Ryan, why are you watching My Little Pony?

And this is the point where I tell you.

To put it succinctly, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is one of the most brilliant animated shows to come out in years. The story for the show as a whole is kind of silly and incredibly simple, but the actual stories for the episodes are pretty awesome. To give some examples, here are some plot synopsis for a few of my personal favourite episodes from season 1:

  • Applebuck Season (episode 4): “With her big brother hurt, Applejack volunteers to harvest the apple crop in her family’s orchard all by herself. However, she is too prideful and stubborn to accept any help from the other ponies. She gradually works herself to the point of exhaustion, causing problems when she promises to help the others around town.”
  • Dragonshy (episode 7): A sleeping dragon’s smoke is disrupting the skies of Equestria and Twilight Sparkle is tasked with getting it to leave. All of her friends are set to head to the dragon’s lair, with the exception of the fearful Fluttershy, who is not used to the rocky terrain, much less a giant dragon. The timid Pegasus must find the resolve necessary when her friends are in danger.
  • Winter Wrap-Up (episode 11): Winter comes to an end, and Ponyville prepares for an annual cleanup to make way for spring. Twilight wants to take part as well, and is willing to do so without the use of her magic in the name of tradition. Everything she tries ends in disaster, but an argument among the disorganized teams inspires her to find her own way to help.
  • Sonic Rainboom (episode 16): Rainbow Dash is preparing herself for an upcoming contest, with a day with the famous Wonderbolts as the grand prize, and is sure that an old move she claimed to have pulled off long ago will guarantee her a win. However, she becomes increasingly nervous that she won’t succeed. Rarity, who has gained beautiful wings by Twilight’s magic to join in cheering her on, is recommended to enter the same event. Can Dash gather the confidence to win, or will she be overshadowed by her friend’s elegance?
  • Stare Master (episode 17): Fluttershy has great experience with all kinds of animals, but it is an entirely different story when she offers to take care of Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle for the night. Will she be able to keep them out of trouble, and what exactly is “The Stare”?

The stories for the episodes are usually very entertaining, but what makes the show so genuinely good are the characters. The characters are all incredibly well defined as so that you can usually sum them up in one word, but each of the mane six (yes, that is actually what they are referred to on the internet) goes through some major amount of character development over the season as they learn lessons that allow them to grow as ponies. While the descriptions of the mane six can be summed up in a few words, their characters are much deeper than many people would expect. Rarity is obsessed with fashion, but she is not someone who acts like a bimbo and just goes to the mall and talks about shoes. She is incredibly creative and is obsessed with fashion as so that she can use ideas that she sees in the clothes in order to inspire her to push forward her own designs as to make her boutique more prevalent. She’s a business woman, as is her friend Applejack. Applejack, at first glance, is (for lack of a better term) a hick. In reality, she is a hard-working and determined pony who wants to keep her family’s apple farm open and will always stand by her friends. Each of the characters have layers upon layers to them that allows for deeper story lines to be written about them. The show also involves each of the mane 6 having a complete mental breakdown at some point in the show, which leads to both hilarity (or in Pinky Pie’s case, horror) and some major grounding for the character.

The show is very much akin to the Cartoon Cartoon shows that ran on the Cartoon Network in the 90’s and early 2000’s, and a lot of that is because of the involvement of Lauren Faust. The show is very funny and exceptionally well designed as so that they can constantly add characters and locations and not have it feel bloated or unnecessary. Most of this comes from it’s writing and the fact that it draws surprisingly heavily from various mythologies and general fantasy lore. A large amount of the comedy comes from Pinky Pie, who genuinely seems to not only understand that she lives in a cartoon world, but genuinely relishes the idea of it. It also helps that she is completely crazy. This all really comes from the involvement of Lauren Faust.

For those of you not in the know, Lauren Faust worked on shows like the Powerpuff Girls, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and movies like the Iron Giant and Cats Don’t Dance. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was partially her creation and if you loved that show, then you will definitely love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as they are incredibly similar in tone and style.

Friendship is Magic is easily one of the best looking shows I have ever seen to be made using Adobe Flash. Everything is crisp and fluid and the style of the show works really well with both the strengths and limitations of Flash. The character designs don’t look like the old creepy vaguely pony  looking designs of the old My Little Pony, and now have taken on a much more angular and stylistic design (much to the show’s benefit). Every character is super distinctive from each other, with no pony design looking the same, or usually even close, to another. The great animation is complemented with some great music (well, except for the theme song. The theme song can die in a fire). The show even has musical numbers in a number of episodes, but they always work within the confines of the show and never feel obtrusive. It doesn’t help that they are super catchy, though (“Winter Wrap-Up” is almost constantly stuck in my head).

This show is huge on the internet. Practically every single episode has numerous memes that have sprung from them and there are almost constant flamewars between fans of the show and people who hate it. 4Chan, that den of internet villainy, actually banned people from talking about Ponies because the Bronies (male fans of the show) were starting to take over the image board. People are constantly creating fanart of characters, or making pony-fied versions of themselves, or making super awesome cosplay of the characters. The internet created names for background characters that have been adopted by the entire community. Characters like Doctor Whooves (who actually is a Doctor Who reference), DJ P0N-3, Lyra, Octavia, and the internet favourite Derpy Hooves. What is surprising about all of this, though, is that Lauren Faust follows all of this and not only acknowledges that it’s there, but actually plays to the fans. As of season 2, Derpy Hooves is actually canon. She appeared in an episode with a talking role and was actually named Derpy Hooves! Friendship is Magic has become this oddity in that while it was made to appeal to young girls, the largest demographic who watches it is actually males in their 20’s (and not in a creepy way). The creators of the show even put in a number of references for adults, such as putting pony-fied versions of the Dude, Walter, and Donny from the Big Lebowski in an episode that partially takes place in a bowling alley.

I can honestly say that most people will enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic if they can get past the idea that it is My Little Pony. The show is immaculately designed and genuinely hilarious with a strong continuity and some genuinely useful (and sometimes surprisingly adult) lessons that can benefit everyone, not just little girls. If you take my advice to watch the show, I would suggest starting with one of the episodes I listed above in order to see if you like the show. Use one of those episodes as a litmus test: if you like it, go back and watch the show from the beginning. If you don’t, then just don’t watch the rest of the show. Chances are pretty high that you’ll enjoy it, though.

Before anyone asks who my favourite pony is: Big Macintosh is best pony.

Advertisements

Muppet Mayhem (Part 4): The Muppets Remember Jim Henson (and a Jim Henson Retrospective)

On May 16th, 1990, Jim Henson passed away from a bacterial infection at the age of 53, and it was a death that shook the world. Jim Henson died before it was his time to leave this earth. There was so much more that he could have achieved if he was just given the time. When he was on this little blue planet, though, his creations left a lasting impression on the world and as such, there would be a memorial for him, but who would do it? Why not the lovable bunch of monsters and animals that he set upon the world? The Muppets are tasked in the filming of a memorial for Jim Henson, but they don’t know who he is. Through a number of guest stars, they learn about the man who created them and end up putting on a very touching memorial for one of the most creative and important men in showbusiness.

The show blends comedy and intense emotions in a very effective manner. The meta humour reaches a new level of weirdness when the Muppets actually adress the fact that there is someone below them controlling them and even don’t know what a puppet is at one point. They interact with the guest recordings and end up planning one of the silliest shows ever (seriously, it involves Vikings, a tap dancing Whoopie cushion, and accountants) until they find a bunch of letters to Kermit talking about his best friend Jim and how he touched their lives and that they send their condolences. As soon as they pulled out the folder of letters, I said out loud “oh no, oh no no no” as I knew that this was going to be the point that the Muppets made me cry deeply and heavily.

They did not fail at this goal. I was emotionally broken through that segment and the inspirational music number until Kermit came in and told them that they did a great job. The fact that Kermit wasn’t there throughout the entire special gave a weight to it with a thought of “would the Muppets continue after this?” when the special first aired, but he showed up to tell us that “we’ll see you soon with more Muppet stuff, because that’s the way the boss would want it!” All fears were put to rest, and the characters became something more that day. Even more than ever, they were their own people. They weren’t just puppets, they were alive. Even if their puppeteer left, someone else would step in to keep the world smiling and laughing. Jim Henson did not want the world to mourn his death (his wishes were that there would be a dixieland band at his funeral and no one was to wear black), but instead to celebrate his life.

“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children. ” – Jim Henson

Jim Henson was one of the most important people in my life that I never actually met or directly interacted with. He taught me through Sesame Street how to say the alphabet, how to count, how to spell and do math and even about different cultures. Through Fraggle Rock he taught me not to treat people different because of their colour or religion. Through the Muppets, he taught me about the idea of unconventional families and that no matter what, there would always be someone by your side even if you are a weirdo. But most importantly, in everything he did he taught me that someone can find happiness in anything and everything, even a simple piece of felt attached to a sleeve and dowels. Jim and his cohorts entertained me to no end through the puppets he made real.

Even more important that how he affected me was how he actively made the world a better place.

“My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there.” – Jim Henson

You did, Jim. Sesame Street is broadcast in 140 countries around the world and many of those countries are ones where children normally do not have any hope for a good education, so Sesame Street is specifically designed to incite a desire to learn in everyone who watches it with the hope that it will actually allow them to have a better life. It gives both the children and their parents hope that the cycle will be broken, and inspiring that level of hope is one of the hardest things to do, but Jim Henson managed to not do it just once, but thousands of times.

“As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.” – Jim Henson

This is honestly one of the hardest posts for me to write (I’ve actually tried to write a post similar to this in the past, but I just couldn’t finish it). How do you speak about someone who educated and entertained you practically from birth? How do you manage to convey intense emotions into words? To me, Kermit the Frog is not a puppet, he is a living being, and Jim Henson isn’t just the man who controlled him and gave him a voice, he is Kermit’s dad. The Jim Henson company has gone to But I know that Jim did make Kermit the frog we know him as, that he did provide that nasally voice, operated those wonderful flailing arms, and made those amazingly emotive facial movements with his fingers.

Thank you, Jim Henson, for having a profound effect on my life, and thank you for being a source of joy for millions upon millions of people the world over.

Just as a warning, this song will more than likely make you cry like a baby, but it pretty accurately sums up my feelings in a much more coherent manner:

Adventures of a Lost Boy in Disneyland (Day 10): A New California Adventure

Or alternatively titled: A Whole New Wooorrrllldddd! (S0rry, I couldn’t resist).

Or the alternative alternative title: Ryan Visits Construction Wall Adventure

In all seriousness, though, walking into California Adventure after a number of years (that combined with the fact that I had only gone into the park 2 or 3 times and only for a few hours) made the entire experience feel new. The first thing that anyone would notice walking in would be the obscene amount of construction walls at the first area of the park. When I was there, the new entrance way based off of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was uncovered, but it was not open yet. People were still forced to work their way around the new gates and enter from the side of them. That being said, these were easily the best construction walls in the entire park that I saw.

What I find to be the most perplexing about the California Adventure redux is that the new entrance land, Buena Vista Street, is going to be one of the last areas of the park to open. One would have thought that a brand new front would have brought more people into the front, and not having tons of construction walls before you get into the park would have made more people think the park wasn’t closed. The idea of the immensely tacky (and not in any sort of endearing way) Sunshine Plaza going away and making way for a well themed area based on the past is an exciting one, and from some of the artwork seen at the Blue Sky Cellar (which will be a topic for another day), it isn’t just a rehashing of Hollywood Boulevard at Hollywood Studios. It is going to be based more off of the real Los Angeles of the past and less of of the heightened and almost fantastical version of Hollywood presented in Hollywood Boulevard.

Like the area surrounding the new gates, this area was another Construction Wall Land (the most magical land ever found at a Disney park!), but unlike the walls surrounding the gate, these were themed more to advertisements that would have been found in the 1920’s, but with the usual Disney slant. The largest inconvenience that this area presented, though, was the fact that the construction of the Carthay Circle theatre (which is acutally slightly to the left side of the new land) was taking up the entire area and one of the main throughways through the park was completely cut off. While the fixing of California Adventure will be great when it’s done, going while it’s still in process can be very frustrating. (Especially when you’re trying to manuver around the area to get to the Grizzly River Rapids FastPass distribution as so that you can get a FastPass for World of Color because that is totally the reason that you wanted to go to Disneyland in the first place)

Paradise Pier is an area that used to infuriate me, and it still slightly does, but enourmously less than it used to. Paradise Pier still has one of the same problems that it had before, the fact that all of the rides and attractions were just off-the-wall carnival/amusement park faire. There’s the flying swings, the ferris wheel (though Mickey’s Fun Wheel was easily one of the most fun things I did in the park, but only if you ride the swinging gondolas), and various spinning/dropping rides. The area used to have a few more attractions, but thankfully they were destroyed when the area started it’s refurbishment. Some more of these very standard attractions still need to go, but the Silly Symphony Swings, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, and King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea can stay, and need to be replaced with some more “Disney” attractions. They need to make more attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania that take the idea of something from a carnival or amusement park and turn it into something new and interesting. Putting that rant aside, the area is definitely much more aesthetically pleasing to look at, the new look for the land was started when Toy Story Midway Mania opened and everything else just fell into place. The Victorian style buildings and structures are gorgeous to look at and there are numerous little touches around the area that made me smile from ear to ear.

Unfortunately, the new eateries and Goofy’s Sky School were not open by the time I was there (they opened shortly afterwards, which really annoyed me), but the Little Mermaid attraction was open (for part of the day, it broke down for a few hours and actually scared me a little bit with the thought that I wouldn’t be able to experience it). Once again, though, different topic for a different day.

Most of the other areas in the park were just about the same, except for the Hollywood Pictures Backlot which was set up for ElecTRONica (and is rumoured to be in the next wave of improvements to the park). I did get to look in at some of the construction of Cars Land, and I’m pretty excited for that to open.

 

Happy 40th Anniversary, Walt Disney World!

On October 1st 1971, the world was introduced to a brand new kind of entertainment area. The idea was to take the already new concept of a theme park that was introduced by Disneyland and purchase enough land to seclude the area and control all of the theming both inside and outside of the park. Walt Disney World was originally going to be an experimental city, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was going to be the city centre and would be a marvel of city planning, there was going to be a Disneyland-style theme park, but it was hardly going to be the theme park and entertainment mecca that it eventually became. Unfortunately, this plan died when Walt Disney passed away in 1966 and the resort ended up becoming the area that we know of today.

Only a small amount of the theme parks and hotels are actually turning 40 years old today, but it is still a reason to celebrate. I wish I could be down at the Magic Kingdom for the ceremony, but I am really wondering if Disney is going to do something on the scale of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration for Walt Disney World. Maybe for the 50th anniversary, one can hope.

On the Disney Parks Blog, you can download a retro park map today for free. I kind of want to get it printed out and use it as a poster.

 

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.

New Fantasyland Will be Great, But it Could be Even Better

Most of you Disney fans out there should already know about the New Fantasyland coming to the Magic Kingdom in 2012. It’s the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom and is adding some pretty cool attractions and restaurants to Fantasyland, attractions like the Under the Sea: the Journey of the Little Mermaid (which is just a renamed version of the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at Disney California Adventure), Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Enchanted Tales with Belle, the Beast’s Castle, the Princess Fantasy Hall, and the Great Goofini; and restaurants like Gaston’s Tavern and Be Our Guest Restaurant. I am terribly excited about what is going on over and beyond the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Lagoon and the possibility that the East Coast Fantasyland could finally match up to it’s West Coast sister.

The plans in this image are the original ones, so the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is not included. This image is in this post just as a visual aide for the area

As stated earlier, the expansion is going to add a number of new attractions, but one thing that I noticed while looking over the concept art for the entire area is a lack of expandability. The announced attractions will completely fill up the open area in Fantasyland, from it’s a small world and Pinocchio’s Village Haus, across Fantasyland and all the way over to the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, absorbing Mickey’s Toontown Fair in the process. I don’t have any problem with the attractions being added into Fantasyland, and they’re much better than the numerous Princess meet-and-greets that were originally planned. My problem comes from something that was told at Destination D, which was kind of like a miniature D23 Expo that happened this past weekend. Tony Baxter did a panel about attractions that were never built and two of the attractions named were a new version of the Alice in Wonderland dark ride and a Sleeping Beauty dark ride.

When I heard about these attractions via Twitter, as I could not be at Destination D myself, my heart immediately sank. Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland are two of my favourite Disney movies, and the thought of maybe being able to have attractions based off of those movies so relatively close to home was a tantalizing thought. In fact, that was the reason that I started doing the research, I desperately wanted to know if there was any more room in the Magic Kingdom (because there sure as hell isn’t any in Disneyland). The Alice in Wonderland attraction would be similar to that of Roger Rabbit’s CarToon Spin at Disneyland and would feature ride vehicles that looked like teacups that would spin throughout parts of the attraction, and the ride system could have even been like Crush’s Coaster at the Disney Studios in Disneyland Resort Paris, with a combination of a standard dark ride and a roller coaster sort of like Primeval Whirl at Animal Kingdom. All and all, the Alice in Wonderland dark ride could have ended up being like the announced Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (a combination dark-ride/roller coaster) but it could have been so much better. Besides, since when does Disney not have multiple attractions that are very similar in ride system (I’m looking at you Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye and Countdown to Extinction).

The Sleeping Beauty attraction would have been a more standard dark-ride attraction, but there would have been a possibly full sized Maleficent dragon that breathed fire at the ride car, which would definitely make it a more thrilling experience than say Snow White’s Scary Adventures. I really wish that these attractions could have been built in an American Fantasyland, that being said, the plans for Shanghai Disneyland is supposed to be a new breed of Disneyland style park, and we might get at least one of these attractions there. Fingers crossed!

There’s Some Spooky Stuff Going on at the old Gracey Estate

There have been some major changes going on at the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom recently. The one that is most visible as of right now is something that has been changing throughout the parks, namely the introduction of interactive queue elements that make people WANT to wait in line. They have one at Soarin’ (I doubt people actually want to wait in this line, it’s more that the FastPasses are gone by noon and the attraction is still wildly popular), Space Mountain, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and there are plans to have one of the most ornate ones put into the new version of Dumbo the Flying Elephant that will be a part of the Storybook Circus in the New Fantasyland. Little is known about what is being put into the Haunted Mansion’s queue, but a lot of Disney fans (myself included) are hoping that it will somehow contain the same humour that is found in the graveyard that the Imagineers tore up to expand the queue. All we know is that is is being built.

One thing about the changes going on in the Haunted Mansion is this:

My first thought is: Disney y u do dis?

The best word to describe this change is shoddy. They replaced some spectacular audio-animatronics and one of the most amusing effects in a Disney park with some projections. Just some projections. The only thing that gives me solace is that Cast Members are saying that this effect is only a work in progress, and I really hope so. I would even be fine with the projections if they were to put the mirrors back up, just so that you could see yourself riding with the Hitchhiking Ghosts again. I want to be able to ride out with Phineas, Ezra, and Gus again, Disney. Just let me have this one.

I’ll keep you readers posted as to what happens with the changes to the Haunted Mansion when the information becomes available to me.