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PETER PAN RETURNS TO THE DVD SCREEN
Blog, TV
Posted on Apr 12 2012 by Greg
Jake and the Never Land Pirates combines a tot's-eye-view of make believe pirate games (where pirates have pop music dances and tea parties) with the Peter Pan setting -- plus a morsel of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, a dash of Dora and the coins of Mario Bros.

What is doesn't always have is Peter himself, except in this "feature" special now on DVD (actually a hour long episode) in which he does appear and the gang help him regain his gift of flight and happy thoughts. (Fans of Walt Disney's original 1953 Peter Pan might get a kick out of his reverse angle song, "I Can't Fly, I Can't Fly, I Can't Fly."

Adam Wylie, who costarred as a child on Picket Fences and has become a veteran of stage, TV and voice acting (as well as a magician at Disneyland), voices Peter with a good feel for Bobby Driscoll's performance. The show really doesn't try to recapture the film, but instead take a colorful preschool approach, with simple characters designs and lots of peppy songs. There's even a live-action pair of singing pirates in each episode (similar to what Filmation did back in the early '70s with The Hardy Boys).

The breakout star of every show is Captain Hook, played brilliantly by Corey Burton completely for comedy and minus the menace. To keep true to the source material, Hook, Smee and his crew are never familiar with the more contemporary materials that Jake and company enjoy, calling anything modern a "thingy" or some such. Scooby Doo fans take note: more than once, Hook refers to the young pirates as "meddling swabs."



The DVD is generously supplied with other episodes in addition to "Peter Returns" with ten additional segments, or the equivalent of five half hour shows -- including one featuring Hook's mother, voiced by Sharon Osbourne!







ONE OF 2011'S BEST & BIGGEST BIG-SCREEN TRIBUTES
Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 25 2012 by Greg
Last year, three major films paid tribute to beloved genres, all largely delighting their proponents and enlisting new audiences as to why they were great in the first place. One is the Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Artist, capturing Hollywood's golden age with no cynicism or irony, as seen through the eyes of young French filmmakers discovering the joys of classic moviedom; another is Hugo, an impassioned gateway to a master of celluloid magic, this time drawing the uninitiated into not-to-be-forgotten wonders through his discovery by young people.

The third is The Muppets, the first Muppet project to fire on nearly every cylinder and recapturing the shameless lunacy of Jim Henson's iconic variety show-- once the most popular TV show in the world. Other attempts to bring back their spark have had their moments and should not be dismissed (believe it or not, one project that best captured it in recent years was Elmo's Christmas Countdown with Ben Stiller, which was as much in the spirit of The Muppet Show as Sesame Street.)

It took superfan Jason Segel's A-list clout to get the movie greenlit and Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin's encyclopediac passion for The Muppet Show to make it work. And in the tradition of the self-reflexive, we-know-we're-in-a-movie tradition of the Muppets, the plot is a surprisingly direct address at whether anybody still cares about Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang.

Even Disney, who owns the franchise and released the movie, isn't spared if you know the history: the villain's claim that he owns the names of our friends and they have no rights to them anymore is reminiscent of the attitude attributed to a Disney regime of the past. (But of course, in the words of Basil Fawlty, "We're all friends now!")

Bobin was an inspired selection as director. Though Flight of the Conchords may not seem, at first, to be a cousin in comedy to The Muppet Show (and it's certainly not for children), but the wide-eyed naivete, the shameless absurdity and the earnestness of its main characters is very much in the same vein. Conchords star Bret McKenzie's Muppet songs are very much like sanitized versions of his comic tunes for the Conchords BBC Radio series and HBO TV show.

McKenzie's "Man or Muppet" has made history as the first Oscar winner for the Muppets. Not "Rainbow Connection" nor "The First Time it Happens" won their statuettes -- there hasn't even been a special Oscar for Jim Henson. The song is funny and memorable but I really like "Life's a Happy Song" and Amy Adams' "Party of One."

Speaking of the radiant Ms. Adams, she has little to do in the film (as is the tradition in Muppet productions, after all) but she makes every moment shine. I can't help draw a parallel, this time to another loving tribute film in which she starred -- Enchanted -- which has a lot of similarities in tone and sincerity to The Muppets.



The DVD/Blu-ray/movie & music download package, aka the Wocka Wocka edition, certainly offers a lot for the money. Once again, DVD owners will not get every feature as Blu-ray owners, which still seems not nice.

One thing DVD owners do not get, besides a nicer-looking picture,
is the entertaining audio commentary (thank you!) with Segel, Bobin and co-writer Nick Stoller. Segel constantly ribs the Disney folks in the studio with them by relentlessly cross-promoting in classic Disney synergy fashion, as well as remind us of almost every film in Adams' resume.

One interesting Blu-ray feature is also quite curious: whenever the disc is paused, an "intermission" sequence pops on. Each time, it rests on a different point in a series of connecting gags. It's a nice idea-- but it also prevents the viewer from freezing a frame to catch a quick Muppety gag in the background (a funny sign, inside joke, etc.) So ironically, the DVD owner can freeze frames while the Blu-ray watcher cannot. Wocka wocka, indeed!







THIS FEEL GOOD COMEDY OF THE SUMMER..."DARK SHADOWS?"
Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 16 2012 by Greg
Maybe I missed something, but it seems to me that they've carefully kept secret that the new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton remake of the TV gothic serial Dark Shadows is actually a wacky, campy, bawdy comedy romp.

Take a look at the trailer.

While watching this, at first I thought it was a mere remake of the 1970 feature, House of Dark Shadows. Then when I saw such moments as Barnabas flabbergasted by the television set (remininiscent of Queen Victoria's reaction on a Bewitched episode), it dawned on me that this was going to be a sly send-up.

Of course, the editors of the trailer may have been made to deliberately emphasize the comic scenes, and the movie may really turn out to be more like Sweeney Todd. Seems unlikely, though, because the original series was wildly camp too. The actors have played it completely seriously back then, but with the limited budget, precarious props and legendary bloopers, it was sometimes one of the most hysterically funny shows on television (or at least funnier than some intentionally funny programs).

Will this approach work? I can't wait to see it and find out. But like the first Brady Bunch movie, which deftly balanced fandom with satire, this might be the kind of inspired escapist stuff that we've needed in depressed times.



Is Barnabas Collins the Shirley Temple of today? Time will tell.







THE WORLD HAS LOST A BROTHER
Blog
Posted on Mar 06 2012 by Greg
Robert B. Sherman, brother of Richard M. Sherman, passed away today and the impact is that of losing a Gershwin. There really aren't words to do justice to what he has given the world -- to quote another great songwriting team, "All the rest is talk."


Burl Ives sings "On the Front Porch" in Walt Disney's Summer Magic,
one of Robert Sherman's personal favorite son
gs.









"OH, YES IT'S TRUE. IT'S TERRIBLY TRUE. ENGLAND DOES SWING LIKE A PENDULUM DO."
Blog, TV, Records
Posted on Feb 29 2012 by Greg
That's one of the strange but funny lines spoken by Davy Jones on the iconic '60s series The Monkees, a show which completely fabricated a pop band for TV yet ironically, in catching the lightning in a bottle, launched a real, albeit dysfunctional, pop legend.

One fourth of that lightning, perhaps the most assured and polished one -- aka the "cute one" -- was Davy, the Manchester-born song-and-dance man who, according to several accounts, would "do forty-five minutes if the refrigerator light went on."

Already a contract actor/singer with Columbia Pictures (he released his own album on the Colpix label before The Monkees), Davy was the first signed for the series. Another experienced young actor (and emerging singer), Micky Dolenz, was combined with musician/composers Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. With some improv training and backed by Don Kirshner's dream-team of music writers and producers (including Neil Diamond, Carole King, Harry Nilsson and other icons), The Monkees burned up the music charts and the TV ratings right out of the gate.

In about a year, the eager young performers rebelled against Kirshner, asserted themselves as a genuine group and became one -- almost following a Beatles-like rise and fallout about half the time. Their albums went from hook-driven solid gold to eclectic, experimental head-scratching curios, but always fascinating and beguiling. Their sole movie, the free-form Head (co-written by Jack Nicholson), literally featured the "pre-fab four" leaping off a bridge to a suicidal end, symbolically drawing a curtain over the original group as it was first concocted.

But Davy Jones remained the most accessible in the ensuing years, from appearances on The Brady Bunch to in-jokes on Spongebob Squarepants. He'd always be one of whatever three or sometimes four Monkees who reunited. He wrote his biography and kept recording albums for his own label, many of which are found on his website.

I was privileged to interview Davy for various Disney Parks articles, as he was an annual fixture performer at the Flower Power Concert Series at Epcot (he was scheduled to appear this May). He was a wonderful talker, his mind moving so rapidly that his thoughts would overlap. The Epcot audience adored him and the feeling was mutual, not only during performances, but for autograph sessions at The American Adventure. Much what he told me wasn't just about himself and performing, but about his wife and his daughters.

The Monkees TV show, like the original TV Batman, still holds up astonishingly well, for sheer, fearless, brash lunacy. Even though The Monkees' show owed much to Richard Lester's Beatle films, watching a show every week, or every day in syndication, is different than watching movies, especially when you also have records to listen to between broadcasts. That was life as a kid in the mid-sixties. My friends and I sat around and listened to Monkee records, watched the show, collected Monkee bubble gum cards and so on.

Seeing them in concert for the first time in 1986 was like seeing the cast of Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie live on stage. And the songs held up a hundred times better than the show.

Davy soloed on several of the biggest hits, particularly Valleri and Daydream Believer. These and other Monkee songs have been remade by other performers, and likely will last so long that few will even realize there was a "pre-fab four" that struggled for an artistic level and peer respect that always seemed a little out of their reach. But that didn't matter to the public, who love them and always well.

Davy's career, of course, encompassed more than The Monkees (his TV appearance as Broadway's Artful Dodger in Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show occurred, surprisingly, on the same night that The Beatles performed). But to most of us, he'll be the one who, when asked to stand up, would say "I am standing up" as a running Monkees gag. He never seemed to mind poking fun at himself or looking silly, as long as he was entertaining.

Somewhere up above, a refrigerator light has just lit up.












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