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"...FERBULOUS!" - The Danville Tri-Stater
Blog, TV
Posted on Sep 02 2011 by Greg
The above critical rave is fictional, but don't you just love the way some reviews make the huzzahs really big and the sources small? ("*****A TRIUMPH!" - The Margate Pennysaver).

In the case of Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension, its acclaim was well-earned and the ratings were high. The series is one of the best series on television today, including live action and prime time. And if you follow the series, you can spot references between episodes and learn its "language," so to speak. And it's very easy to do that because Disney Channel and Disney X-D runs the already large library of episodes quite a lot.

This helps in appreciating the first TV Phineas and Ferb movie, Across the 2nd Dimension, especially the spectacular climactic scene that parades elements from numerous episodes within minutes. However, it's not necessary to be a Phineasoid to enjoy the film.

Like the series, it's chock full of eclectic songs that weave through a snappy script. It's not just a padded episode, but a well-constructed story that sets up a logical way for the basic series premise to unravel. For fans of the show, it's the equivalent of Dr. Bellows finding out the truth about Jeannie. How it resets itself to sustain the series' continuity is clever.

The DVD package comes with a bonus digital disc so you can download the movie on an I-device plus eight songs (though I recommend the soundtrack album too). There's one episode from the series with a commentary track, though I wish the feature had a commentary too.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Sep 01 2011 by Greg
It seems that no one who embarked on creating a sequel to one of Walt Disney's most celebrated animated classics went forward with a foolish sense bravado -- as if it were possible to recapture the circumstances that combined Walt himself with a "perfect storm" of artistic talents to bring the 1942 Bambi to the big screen. Add to that, a direct-to-DVD budget that would never match modern-day dollars it would have taken to reach the level of the original. Fortunately, the sequel's creative team were not that foolhardy and instead approached the project with respect, affection and reverence.

What the makers of Bambi 2 did have, however, was digital technology allowing them to fashion vivid settings very much in the painterly style of the first film; some very elaborate animation (particularly for a direct-to-DVD release) and most of all, the supervision of master animator Andreas Deja to keep the standards as high as possible.

The results are remarkably effective. It cannot summon the power and majesty of the original (and it would be outrageous to expect that in any case), but Bambi 2 is one of the most solid and satisfying of the much-maligned Disney video sequels.

In addition to the very sincere adherence to the visual style, it is the sound track that impresses, with the great Patrick Stewart voicing the Great Prince and a spot-on voice cast clearly chosen for their accuracy in reproducing the original cast instead of relying on a lot of celebrity names. The young boy voicing Thumper is especially amazing. It is a triumph of smart voice casting over marketing demands.

Also notable is Joel McNeely's score, which interpolates themes from the landmark music by Edward Plumb and the melody of the Oscar-nominated "Love is a Song." New songs, particularly "There is Life" sung by Alison Krauss, are fine complements to the new story, as were the songs in the original. One might object to the easy-listening contemporary style of these songs, but the 1942 songs were performed very much in the style of their time, as well.

On Blu-ray it all looks even better. But you'll definitely want to pair this with the Walt Disney classic and not worry too much about making comparisons. Just revel in their respective merits.

My only real issue is with the title. "Bambi 2" simply invites comparison and suggest the inherent misgivings of a sequel. I'm sure there was much discussion before the title was selected, but I would have preferred the alternate, Bambi and the Great Prince. Maybe there was a concern that this title might have made some expect that Bambi was going to encounter a rock star or a box of elbow macaroni.

Posted on Aug 29 2011 by Greg
This is why Disney is so fun and fascinating -- you always make a new discovery.

On a Disneyland album called Happy Birthday and Songs for Every Holiday, which was a reissue of a Mickey Mouse Club LP called Holidays with the Mouseketeers, there a very pretty song called "It's Easter Time." The song is credited to Meredith Willson, creator of the Broadway and movie smash The Music Man.

I've always wondered what Broadway show featured "It's Easter Time." Today I just found out that it actually came from a radio show, for which Willson was musical director.

On the February 2, 1951 episode of NBC's The Big Show, host Tallulah Bankhead announced a brand new song premiered for the first time on this show -- "It's Easter Time." And here's the twist: she spoke the opening verse (different from the one on the record), which was about a Martian visiting the Earth's churches and wondering why they were especially crowded on one particular day!

Willson was likely a Disney friend, though he to my knowledge did not compose or conduct anything specifically for Tutti Camarata (who helmed the Mouseketeer album) or Walt Disney, though I'm sure they must have known each other. However, he did lead a band of literally 76 Trombones down Main Street, U.S.A. at the Walt Disney World Grand Opening in 1971 and posthumously, his Music Man was remade by Disney for TV with Matthew Broderick.

You can probably find this Big Show episode somewhere on the net to buy or download. This 90-minute variety spectacular was NBC's last ditch effort to create "appointment radio" with a star-filled show -- but TV won the battle.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Aug 25 2011 by Greg
A new Walt Disney Home Entertainment product line has just introduced three live-action Walt Disney Pictures features, all filmed in India in Hindi language with optional English subtitles. Disney initiated an ambitious roster of movie productions in India in recent years, including one animated feature called Roadside Romeo.

The recent trio of live-action features -- all released with the full-blown Walt Disney Pictures logo and intro -- are actually quite different in style and tone, all PG family-friendly for the most part (only one is rated PG-13 for violence).

My favorite of the three films is a gentle, offbeat family comedy/drama called Do Dooni Chaar, which translates as "Two Twice Equals Four." An underpaid, under-appreciated school teacher struggles with family squabbles as he putt-putts to work every day on a broken down scooter. His lame but lovable efforts to impress relatives, deal with his adolescent children and scrape together enough money for a small car (even buying boxes of detergent and, using the law of averages, get a winning prize ticket inside one of the boxes) are amusing and just far out enough to be funny but not so outlandish to be ridiculous..

The film is pretty stark and unsentimental, yet it ends on a very sweet, believable note. Along the way, there are some songs. Music and songs are a staple of Bollywood films, but rather than songs stopping the action and the cast singing and breaking character, the songs are heard on the soundtrack much as they are in American films and TV shows.

My 12-year-old son loved Zokkomon, which was aimed squarely at his age group. A sort of Karate Kid-meets-Zorro, Jr., this Disney Channel-style feature concerns a small, superstitious village under the corrupt thumb of a greedy despot, whose adopted nephew (shades of Harry Potter) becomes a ghostly superhero that spurs the children into action and helps lead the adults into realizing the truth.

This film could easily be dubbed and shown on Disney XD. Might be a little creepy for very small children, though. The songs in this film were a blend of off- and on-camera singing but they still seem to make sense and accentuate the narrative.

The most lavish of the three films, Once Upon Warrior, is also the most typical of what "Bollywood" films are "supposed" to be, at least based on my limited knowledge of them and my daughter's observations of films she watches at the home of our Indian neighbors. That makes it a rather unique experience for American audiences unacquainted with the "typical" genre.

Once Upon A Warrior is a full-blown action/adventure/fantasy, drenched in color and detail and played to the hilt by its cast. It comes complete with a dashing, rebellious hero, a lovely and mysterious maiden and a Maleficent-like evil witch to whom power is everything.

The film veers from grim, serious drama to broad comedy, not always seamlessly. Again, I'm looking at it with an inexperienced eye, so perhaps it's just perfect to the Indian audience, to whom it is is primarily directed. There is a lot of action violence, including a scene in which the hero has his eyes stabbed out (we really don't see, but we know), so it's not for everyone.

The songs are the most interesting aspect. This is something I am told is a staple of Bollywood movies, in which the actors seem to completely break out in song and change their attitude as they bop and sing to the bouncy tune. It's a little jarring at times and kind of amusing. But perhaps that is the intent -- we're not supposed to take any of this too seriously, let's take a break and have some fun and dance a bit. It's certainly an entertaining thing to behold.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Aug 19 2011 by Greg
What makes Mars Needs Moms an unfortunate misfire isn't so much what it is, but what it could have been. The talent was there, with a fine cast, a seasoned group of artists behind the scenes and an interesting idea. I just wonder what might have happened had this been a CG or a live action movie.

Motion capture, or as it is now insistently known, "performance capture," records the actions of the actors and transfers them into what is more akin to the "rotoscoping" process in Gulliver's Travels (1939). It seems best used for non-human creatures, like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or to affect a total dreamlike feeling, as in The Polar Express. Somehow it is emerging more as a tool than a medium.

When I saw Jim Carrey in A Christmas Carol, I really wanted to see his own face, since he was doing such an outstanding job. I felt the same way about Joan Cusack in Mars. Why cover such artistry with a plastic sheet? Kind of like my Aunt Sadie's couch. (Sorry, that was a little harsh.)

The aliens are less disturbing and odd than the humans in Mars Needs Moms. Maybe this process will keep getting better each time, but who knows. What is a fact is that Disney is now taking the words "of Mars" off John Carter of Mars to avoid any comparison. They needn't have worried--it's not the word "Mars" that kept people away, though many of us might have thought of the B-grade sci-fi comedy Mars Needs Women when hearing the title Mars Needs Moms.

The Blu-ray looks marvelous--this is a very elaborate production, so I would not say to avoid it, actually-- and there are a few extras, including footage of the actors before the process was added, which only serves to show how much we should have seen their real faces rather than overlays.

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