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BLOG TRACKS

CINDERELLA: DREAMS (AND STEP-NIGHTMARES) ON BLU-RAY
Blog, Movies, Music, Records
Posted on Oct 08 2012 by Greg
What's the most nightmarishly terrifying scene in movie history? The shower scene in Psycho? Sure. Tippi and those pesky birds? Maybe. Moviedom's got an endless parade of horrors, most of them supernatural, many of the inhuman sort.

But I would venture that few movie viilains can quite match the level of cruelty contained in what is also one of the most beloved family classics of all time. It's that scene in Cinderella, in which the stepmother incites the stepsisters into ripping Cinderella's dress to shreds -- while she's wearing it. Moments earlier, we saw her all happy in anticipation of going to the royal ball and perhaps being treated more as a peer by her family.

Am I overdramatizing? Perhaps. But the story of Cinderella is eternal because so many of us identify with her. We've been in situations that allow others to inflict cruelty on us. Call it bullying, call it abuse, physical or mental. What Walt Disney's Cinderella did was to take a bare bones story and make us worry that it might not end happily, even though we know full well that it does. Walt Disney and his amazing artists did it by making the characters seem so real, this familiar fairy tale becomes downright riveting.



As a character, Cinderella is extraordinarily likable, a feat that cannot be said of all Disney animated feature lead characters. Usually we identify with the sidekicks -- and the Disney version has lots of them in the form of compassionate mice -- but in this film, they only reinforce our kinship with the leading lady.

As a film, Cinderella was crucial in reviving the Disney studio's postwar doldrums, so much so that its creators did as much as possible to assure its success, even to cutting the live-action model footage to match exactly what the animators had to produce, with little wiggle room (except for Ward Kimball, who apparently had relatively free rein with the mice and Lucifer, the cat).

Speaking of Lucifer, the meows and shrieks were provided by the radiant June Foray in her feature film debut. She just turned 95 last month.

The voice cast benefits also from Lucille Bliss as Anastasia (she was also Smurfette on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon), and Rhoda Williams as the stepsisters, Eleanor Audley as the stepmother (who also played Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion attraction), Verna Felton as the Fairy Godmother (also the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and star of TV's December Bride among countless others) and even narration by Betty Lou Gerson (Cruella DeVil in 101 Dalmatians).

2012 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Diane Disney Miller Introduction
- Personalized Digital Storybook "Bibbidi Bobbidi You"
- Behind the Magic - a New Disney Princess Fantasyland
- Tangled Ever After short
PLUS All the bonus features from the 2005 2-disc DVD except:
- Cinderella Stories Presented by ESPN
- A Dream is a Wish Video - DChannel Circle of Stars
- The Making of the Music Video
- Every Girl Can be a Princess video montage

2102 DVD Features:
- Diane Disney Miller Introduction
- Behind the Magic - a New Disney Princess Fantasyland
- Tangled Ever After

The Cinderella original sound track album has also been reissued in a Special Edition one-disc album and a two-disc Collectors Edition CD set that includes brand-new renditions of "Lost Chords" deleted songs.











THE GOLD STANDARD: CHILDHOOD TREASURES RETURN
Blog, TV, People, Music, Records
Posted on Sep 29 2012 by Greg
There was a time when legends like Danny Kaye, Alfred Hitchcock, Soupy Sales and Shari Lewis sang songs and shared stories on vinyl records. Often Mitch Miller directed the orchestra. This was the decades-long era of Golden Records--and now it's returning on CD and download in the form of classic original recordings as well as new versions featuring with celebrities like Ed Asner, Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Silverstone and many more.

Golden Records started as 6" yellow 78 RPM records some of us played with steel needles on acoustic kiddie players. Along came 45 RPM and LP records from the Golden label in New York under the supervision of Arthur Shimkin, who would also lead the Columbia and Sesame Street children's labels.

The original Golden Records themselves may have been small in size, but their influence in the industry was huge. The first records for Mickey Mouse Club Records, Howdy Doody, Roy Rogers, you name it, they recorded or were distributed by Golden.

By early '60s, the Golden sound became more mellow under the baton of Jim Timmens. A light jazz style was the usual sound of late 60s/70s producer Ralph Stein, while at the same time Producer Howard Scott brought original musicals, folk songs and rich London-based styles to the label.

In the late 70s, Golden Records became Wonderland Records, having added titles from the Riverside Wonderland catalog and some classic Capitol albums into the fold. By the 80s, two-time Grammy winning composer/producer Dennis Scott provided some of his earliest work before moving to Sesame Street.

Then there was nothing.

The label fell into a morass of legal issues and virtually vanished. Several companies made valiant attempts to reissue the records but the issues persisted until Shout! Factory released a handful of successful albums and compilations a few years back.

Now Verse Music Group has stepped up to reboot Golden Records as a brand, as you can see on their website or Facebook page, and created a two-tiered series that satisfies those of us who love the classic recordings and introduces them to today's parents and kids in a fresh new way with current showbiz names.



The first album in this "Celebrity Series" offers the distinctive musical style many of us cherish, but remastered to crystal clarity, with the stories read by the above actors, plus songs sung by Didi Conn (Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, Shining Time Station).

Two albums of remastered and restored original Golden Records are being released in the "Timeless Series" and are budget priced, along with Halloween and Christmas collections in the celebrity series. Even if you and your young children have never heard Golden Records, there nothing else that sounds like them. For the price alone, you'd be much better off sharing these songs with your kids in this manner than hearing thin, synth versions often on current budget kids' CDs.

This is a very ambitious project indeed, with many albums coming soon in both series. If you fondly  remember the classic sound of these discs--which sold in the multi-millions in their day--hearing it remastered in such a spectacular way is like striking gold.







REAL-LIFE FAMILY DRAMA THAT'S "REALER" A REALITY SHOW
Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 07 2012 by Greg
When the filmmakers who brought the Disneynature feature film Chimpanzee to the movie screen, they may have expected some hazards (wait until you see the eye-popping bonus feature in which they're constantly tormented by bees), but they never expected a rare and amazing story to tell itself right before their cameras.



A young chimp, named Oscar for the film, suffers a difficult loss and a astonishing gain. Sorry if that's too much of a spoiler, but that is only one of the experiences you will share in this, perhaps the most remarkable of the Disneynature film series. Tim Allen narrates with a fine blend of warmth, concern and humor as this chimpanzee troup lives through various challenges, searches for food and has fun -- like most families.

The film is so engrossing, the 78 minutes seem to fly by. Generous bonus sequences that chronicle the creation of the film, though not as plentiful for DVD users, are almost as fascinating as the film itself. If you see this on Blu-ray, prepare for a breathtaking ride. Some of the scenes are so lush and painterly, they look as if they came from a classic Disney animated feature -- particularly a stunning long upward pan resembling a fantastic mulit-plane Disney sequence.

Young children may be unnerved by some of the material, and there is a disclaimer about the bee sequence -- it's that intense.

it's nice to be able to watch this from a comfy chair in a climate-controlled room and be grateful to the filmmakers for going to such extreme lengths to capture all of this for all of us to experience.






DO SEQUELS WORK OR DO THEY NOT?
Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 06 2012 by Greg
Walt Disney did not believe in sequels, at least as far as his animated features were concerned. He did not have a problem with Son of Flubber, The Monkey's Uncle, Savage Sam or Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, but these films surely were a different matter to him entirely.

Of course, debate and comment has never stopped since the direct-to-video release of The Return of Jafar. This sequel to Aladdin was so successful, it opened the door for direct-to-video (and occasional theatrical) releases of follow-ups (and even second follow-ups) to Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, The Fox and the Hound, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan, Brother Bear, Lilo and Stitch, The Emperor's New Groove and others I've probably left out. Lots of Pooh, too.

All of these sequels were produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, later known as DisneyToon Studios, on budgets far less then their originals and with staffs combining talents from around the world. With less money and a different working circumstance, one cannot expect every one of these sequels to strike the same chords.

However, it's not for lack of trying. Despite the constraints, some creative teams were often capable of remarkable results, especially if the team involved was emotionally invested in the original classic AND if there is a second story worthy of telling.

Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure seems a natural for a sequel, since Scamp himself was a popular comic book character for many years. The first movie laid some groundwork for Tramp's new life as a domestic dog.



The creators of the sequel emphatically yearned to recreate the magic of Walt Disney's 1955 canine family romance. For a art direction standpoint, they succeeded admirably. The background elements of Lady and the Tramp were mined for research and look almost exactly like the original. Animation poses were studied for accuracy. The degree to which these details were reached is worthy of celebration. This is one of the few sequels to feature an audio commentary (thank you!) and the folks involved were earnest indeed.

Perhaps more attention might have been given to the story (or, as in some corporate situations, perhaps it could have benefitted from less unnecessary meddling).

In hundreds of comics, Scamp was a cute puppy who got into mischief. For this film, Scamp is a lovable yet discontented adolescent (which distances him from some of the audience already). It's as if the script must undo something that was fine in the first film.

We get less time with our old friend Tramp (and even less with Lady, voiced by the heavenly Jodi Benson). In revisiting most of the same locations as the first story -- including the Italian restaurant, which is very clever -- the film can't keep from chewing its cabbage twice.

Still it's a pleasant film with very nice songs by the great Melissa Manchester and one of my favorite lyricists, Norman Gimbel (who worded "A Whale of a Tale" for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a hit parade of TV themes and the excellent Pufnstuf movie score).

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World has the benefit of having lots of additional story left to tell so it doesn't lend itself to the repetition of some sequels. It's actually one of Disney's best direct-to-video sequels story-wise, since the first film kind of left things hanging.

Being a fictionalized biography, it is known that Pocahontas had quite a life after she met John Rolfe and moved to England. The film makes the most of every opportunity, from the My Fair Lady-like sequence in which the young maiden is versed in the English trappings for a grand ball to the inspiring way Pocahontas stands up to yet another king for what is right and true.

Whether or not most of the story actually happened is beside the point -- this is Hollywood, folks -- and there's even a disclaimer at the end of the credits encouraging viewers to read up on the real-life lady. Now that both Pocahontas and Pocahontas II are combined on one Blu-ray, the films fit together nicely.



One can dispute whether or which film has better songs, but why? Just enjoy the musical excellence in both: Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz in one, Marty Panzer and Larry Grossman in the other. Grossman is another of my musical heroes, having written the incredible "Just One Person" for the musical Snoopy. This gorgeous song became a Muppet Show icon (he wrote for that series, too). Bernadette Peters sang it to Kermit when he guest-hosted The Tonight Show and it was performed at Jim Henson's memorial service.

He also wrote another iconic song -- the countermelody, "Peace on Earth" for David Bowie to sing as Bing Crosby crooned "Little Drummer Boy" on Bing's last TV special. Both Pocahontas 1 & II soundtracks are currently available for download on amazon.







FRENCH KITTY CATS, HILLBILLY DOGS & MRS NAUGATUCK IN ONE MOVIE!
Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 05 2012 by Greg
The first Disney animated feature produced after Walt Disney's passing was 1970's The Aristocats. While it has never been held in the same esteem as Snow White, Fantasia, or even latter-day classics like Beauty and the Beast, it's a thoroughly entertaining romp that places characters and set pieces over a very basic plot reminiscent of 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp.

It's also a bit puzzling because it combines disparate voice acting performances from, among others, Hungarian Eva Gabor as a French cat, Pat Buttram and George Lindsey as country cornpone dawgs in rural France and even an elegant performance by Hermione Baddeley as Madame Bonfamille -- a change of pace from her more familiar blustering Mary Poppins/Happiest Millionaire domestics or the bawdy Mrs. Naugatuck on TV's Maude.



What's loveliest about The Aristocats as a film, especially in the crisp light of Blu-ray on this new edition, is the masterful animation, captured in its spontaneous glory through the Xerox process, a method of copying pencil art directly onto animation cels in place of inking each line again.

As kids, we called this the "scritchy lines" type of animation -- not as clean and polished and at the time, not as preferable. But seeing it today in an age where even TV animation has a slickness and therefore a distancing perfection, this kind of animation is now precious and rare. On Blu-ray, you can really appreciate the lines as they vibrate in every motion. Not a nuance is lost.

Another fine aspect of The Aristocats is its score. Though not a musical in general, there are several fine songs by Terry Gilkyson, Floyd Huddleston, Al Rinker and especially the Sherman Brothers, who apparently created several songs left unused in the film. Richard Sherman is very much a presence on the bonus features (carried over from the previous DVD release and now primarily on the Blu-ray disc). Richard narrates an entire opening sequence that is very different from the one we know.

But from a Mouse Tracks perspective, the most fantastic thing about the bonus features is that they include mention of our beloved Robie Lester, who provided Eva Gabor's singing vocals for Duchess the cat. The appearance of these material on the DVD was the very first time her significant contribution was acknowledged and it's nice to know it's also here on the Blu-ray.









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